A.E. W. Mason.

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red-faced, plethoric gentleman, broke in.

"India!" he exclaimed indignantly. "Bless my soul, what on earth sends
all you young fellows racing out to India? A great mistake! I once went
to India myself - to shoot a tiger. I stayed there for months and never
saw one. Not a tiger, sir!"

But Linforth was paying very little attention to the plethoric gentleman.
Sir John introduced him as Colonel Fitzwarren, and Linforth bowed
politely. Then he asked of Sir John:

"Your car was not seriously damaged, I suppose?"

"Keep us here two days," said Sir John. "The chauffeur will have to go on
by diligence to-morrow to get a new sparking plug. Perhaps we shall see
more of you in consequence."

Linforth's eyes travelled back to Mrs. Oliver.

"We are in no hurry," he said slowly. "We shall rest here probably for a
day or so. May I introduce my friend?"

He introduced him as the son of the Khan of Chiltistan, and Mrs. Oliver's
eyes, which had been quietly resting upon Linforth's face, turned towards
Shere Ali, and as quietly rested upon his.

"Then, perhaps, you can tell me," said Colonel Fitzwarren, "how it was I
never saw a tiger in India, though I stayed there four months. A most
disappointing country, I call it. I looked for a tiger everywhere and I
never saw one - no, not one."

The Colonel's one idea of the Indian Peninsula was a huge tiger waiting
somewhere in a jungle to be shot.

But Shere Ali was paying no more attention to the Colonel's
disparagements than Linforth had done.

"Will you join us at supper?" said Sir John, and both young men replied
simultaneously, "We shall be very pleased."

Sir John Casson smiled. He could never quite be sure whether it was or
was not to Mrs. Oliver's credit that her looks made so powerful an appeal
to the chivalry of young men. "All young men immediately want to protect
her," he was wont to say, "and their trouble is that they can't find
anyone to protect her from."

He watched Shere Ali and Dick Linforth with a sly amusement, and as a
result of his watching promised himself yet more amusement during the
next two days. He was roused from this pleasing anticipation by his
irascible friend, Colonel Fitzwarren, who, without the slightest warning,
flung a loud and defiant challenge across the table to Shere All.

"I don't believe there is one," he cried, and breathed heavily.

Shere Ali interrupted his conversation with Mrs. Oliver. "One what?" he
asked with a smile.

"Tiger, sir, tiger," said the Colonel, rapping with his knuckles upon the
table. "Of what else should I be speaking? I don't believe there's a
tiger in India outside the Zoo. Otherwise, why didn't I see one?"

Colonel Fitzwarren glared at Shere Ali as though he held him personally
responsible for that unhappy omission. Sir John, however, intervened with
smooth speeches and for the rest of supper the conversation was kept to
less painful topics. But the Colonel had not said his last word. As they
went upstairs to their rooms he turned to Shere Ali, who was just behind
him, and sighed heavily.

"If I had shot a tiger in India," he said, with an indescribable look
of pathos upon his big red face, "it would have made a great difference
to my life."



"So you go to parties nowadays," said Mrs. Linforth, and Sir John Casson,
leaning his back against the wall of the ball-room, puzzled his brains
for the name of the lady with the pleasant winning face to whom he had
just been introduced. At first it had seemed to him merely that her
hearing was better than his. The "nowadays," however, showed that it was
her memory which had the advantage. They were apparently old
acquaintances; and Sir John belonged to an old-fashioned school which
thought it discourtesy to forget even the least memorable of his

"You were not so easily persuaded to decorate a ball-room at Mussoorie,"
Mrs. Linforth continued.

Sir John smiled, and there was a little bitterness in the smile.

"Ah!" he said, and there was a hint, too, of bitterness in his voice, "I
was wanted to decorate ball-rooms then. So I didn't go. Now I am not
wanted. So I do."

"That's not the true explanation," Mrs. Linforth said gently, and she
shook her head. She spoke so gently and with so clear a note of sympathy
and comprehension that Sir John was at more pains than ever to discover
who she was. To hardly anyone would it naturally have occurred that Sir
John Casson, with a tail of letters to his name, and a handsome pension,
enjoyed at an age when his faculties were alert and his bodily strength
not yet diminished, could stand in need of sympathy. But that precisely
was the fact, as the woman at his side understood. A great ruler
yesterday, with a council and an organized Government, subordinated to
his leadership, he now merely lived at Camberley, and as he had
confessed, was a bore at his club. And life at Camberley was dull.

He looked closely at Mrs. Linforth. She was a woman of forty, or perhaps
a year or two more. On the other hand, she might be a year or two less.
She had the figure of a young woman, and though her dark hair was flecked
with grey, he knew that was not to be accounted as a sign of either age
or trouble. Yet she looked as if trouble had been no stranger to her.
There were little lines about the eyes which told their tale to a shrewd
observer, though the face smiled never so pleasantly. In what summer, he
wondered, had she come up to the hill station of Mussoorie.

"No," he said. "I did not give you the real explanation. Now I will."

He nodded towards a girl who was at that moment crossing the ball-room
towards the door, upon the arm of a young man.

"That's the explanation."

Mrs. Linforth looked at the girl and smiled.

"The explanation seems to be enjoying itself," she said. "Yours?"

"Mine," replied Sir John with evident pride.

"She is very pretty," said Mrs. Linforth, and the sincerity of her
admiration made the father glow with satisfaction. Phyllis Casson was a
girl of eighteen, with the fresh looks and the clear eyes of her years. A
bright colour graced her cheeks, where, when she laughed, the dimples
played, and the white dress she wore was matched by the whiteness of her
throat. She was talking gaily with the youth on whose arm her hand
lightly rested.

"Who is he?" asked Mrs. Linforth.

Sir John raised his shoulders.

"I am not concerned," he replied. "The explanation is amusing itself, as
it ought to do, being only eighteen. The explanation wants everyone to
love her at the present moment. When she wants only one, then it will be
time for me to begin to get flurried." He turned abruptly to his
companion. "I would like you to know her."

"Thank you," said Mrs. Linforth, as she bowed to an acquaintance.

"Would you like to dance?" asked Sir John. "If so, I'll stand aside."

"No. I came here to look on," she explained.

"Lady Marfield," and she nodded towards their hostess, "is my cousin,
and - well, I don't want to grow rusty. You see I have an explanation
too - oh, not here! He's at Chatham, and it's as well to keep up with the
world - " She broke off abruptly, and with a perceptible start of
surprise. She was looking towards the door. Casson followed the direction
of her eyes, and saw young Linforth in the doorway.

At last he remembered. There had been one hot weather, years ago, when
this boy's father and his newly-married wife had come up to the
hill-station of Mussoorie. He remembered that Linforth had sent his wife
back to England, when he went North into Chiltistan on that work from
which he was never to return. It was the wife who was now at his side.

"I thought you said he was at Chatham," said Sir John, as Dick Linforth
advanced into the room.

"So I believed he was. He must have changed his mind at the last moment."
Then she looked with a little surprise at her companion. "You know him?"

"Yes," said Sir John, "I will tell you how it happened. I was dining
eighteen months ago at the Sappers' mess at Chatham. And that boy's face
came out of the crowd and took my eyes and my imagination too. You know,
perhaps, how that happens at times. There seems to be no particular
reason why it should happen at the moment. Afterwards you realise that
there was very good reason. A great career, perhaps, perhaps only some
one signal act, an act typical of a whole unknown life, leaps to light
and justifies the claim the young face made upon your sympathy. Anyhow, I
noticed young Linforth. It was not his good looks which attracted me.
There was something else. I made inquiries. The Colonel was not a very
observant man. Linforth was one of the subalterns - a good bat and a good
change bowler. That was all. Only I happened to look round the walls of
the Sappers' mess. There are portraits hung there of famous members of
that mess who were thought of no particular account when they were
subalterns at Chatham. There's one alive to-day. Another died at

"Yes," said Mrs. Linforth.

"Well, I made the acquaintance of your son that night," said Sir John.

Mrs. Linforth stood for a moment silent, her face for the moment quite
beautiful. Then she broke into a laugh.

"I am glad I scratched your back first," she said. "And as for the
cricket, it's quite true. I taught him to keep a straight bat myself."

Meanwhile, Dick Linforth was walking across the floor of the ball-room,
quite unconscious of the two who talked of him. He was not, indeed,
looking about him at all. It seemed to both his mother and Sir John, as
they watched him steadily moving in and out amongst the throng - for it
was the height of the season, and Lady Marfield's big drawing-room in
Chesterfield Gardens was crowded - that he was making his way to a
definite spot, as though just at this moment he had a definite

"He changed his mind at the last moment," said Sir John with a laugh,
which gave to him the look of a boy. "Let us see who it is that has
brought him up from Chatham to London at the last moment!"

"Would it be fair?" asked Mrs. Linforth reluctantly. She was, indeed, no
less curious upon the point than her companion, and while she asked the
question, her eyes followed her son's movements. He was tall, and though
he moved quickly and easily, it was possible to keep him in view.

A gap in the crowd opened before them, making a lane - and at the end of
the lane they saw Linforth approach a lady and receive the welcome of
her smile. For a moment the gap remained open, and then the bright
frocks and black coats swept across the space. But both had seen, and
Mrs. Linforth, in addition, was aware of a barely perceptible start made
by Sir John at her side.

She looked at him sharply. His face had grown grave.

"You know her?" asked Mrs. Linforth. There was anxiety in her voice.
There was also a note of jealousy.


"Who is she?"

"Mrs. Oliver. Violet Oliver."


"A widow. I introduced her to your son at La Grave in the Dauphiné
country last summer. Our motor-car had broken down. We all stayed for a
couple of days together in the same hotel. Mrs. Oliver is a friend of my
daughter's. Phyllis admires her very much, and in most instances I am
prepared to trust Phyllis' instincts."

"But not in this instance," said Mrs. Linforth quietly. She had been
quick to note a very slight embarrassment in Sir John Casson's manner.

"I don't say that," he replied quickly - a little too quickly.

"Will you find me a chair?" said Mrs. Linforth, looking about her. "There
are two over here." She led the way to the chairs which were placed in a
nook of the room not very far from the door by which Linforth had
entered. She took her seat, and when Sir John had seated himself beside
her, she said:

"Please tell me what you know of her."

Sir John spread out his hands in protest.

"Certainly, I will. But there is nothing to her discredit, so far as I
know, Mrs. Linforth - nothing at all. Beyond that she is beautiful - really
beautiful, as few women are. That, no doubt, will be looked upon as a
crime by many, though you and I will not be of that number."

Sybil Linforth maintained a determined silence - not for anything would
she admit, even to herself, that Violet Oliver was beautiful.

"You are telling me nothing," she said.

"There is so little to tell," replied Sir John. "Violet Oliver comes of a
family which is known, though it is not rich. She studied music with a
view to making her living as a singer. For she has a very sweet voice,
though its want of power forbade grand opera. Her studies were
interrupted by the appearance of a cavalry captain, who made love to her.
She liked it, whereas she did not like studying music. Very naturally she
married the cavalry officer. Captain Oliver took her with him abroad,
and, I believe, brought her to India. At all events she knows something
of India, and has friends there. She is going back there this winter.
Captain Oliver was killed in a hill campaign two years ago. Mrs. Oliver
is now twenty-three years old. That is all."

Mrs. Linforth, however, was not satisfied.

"Was Captain Oliver rich?" she asked.

"Not that I know of," said Sir John. "His widow lives in a little house
at the wrong end of Curzon Street."

"But she is wearing to-night very beautiful pearls," said Sybil
Linforth quietly.

Sir John Casson moved suddenly in his chair. Moreover, Sybil Linforth's
eyes were at that moment resting with a quiet scrutiny upon his face.

"It was difficult to see exactly what she was wearing," he said. "The gap
in the crowd filled up so quickly."

"There was time enough for any woman," said Mrs. Linforth with a smile.
"And more than time enough for any mother."

"Mrs. Oliver is always, I believe, exquisitely dressed," said Sir John
with an assumption of carelessness. "I am not much of a judge myself."

But his carelessness did not deceive his companion. Sybil Linforth was
certain, absolutely certain, that the cause of the constraint and
embarrassment which had been audible in Sir John's voice, and noticeable
in his very manner, was that double string of big pearls of perfect
colour which adorned Violet Oliver's white throat.

She looked Sir John straight in the face.

"Would you introduce Dick to Mrs. Oliver now, if you had not done it
before?" she asked.

"My dear lady," protested Sir John, "if I met Dick at a little hotel in
the Dauphiné, and did not introduce him to the ladies who were travelling
with me, it would surely reflect upon Dick, not upon the ladies"; and
with that subtle evasion Sir John escaped from the fire of questions. He
turned the conversation into another channel, pluming himself upon his
cleverness. But he forgot that the subtlest evasions of the male mind are
clumsy and obvious to a woman, especially if the woman be on the alert.
Sybil Linforth did not think Sir John had showed any cleverness whatever.
She let him turn the conversation, because she knew what she had set out
to know. That string of pearls had made the difference between Sir John's
estimate of Violet Oliver last year and his estimate of her this season.



Violet Oliver took a quick step forward when she caught sight of
Linforth's tall and well-knit figure coming towards her; and the smile
with which she welcomed him was a warm smile of genuine pleasure. There
were people who called Violet Oliver affected - chiefly ladies. But
Phyllis Casson was not one of them.

"There is no one more natural in the room," she was in the habit of
stoutly declaring when she heard the gossips at work, and we know, on her
father's authority, that Phyllis Casson's judgments were in most
instances to be respected. Certainly it was not Violet Oliver's fault
that her face in repose took on a wistful and pathetic look, and that her
dark quiet eyes, even when her thoughts were absent - and her thoughts
were often absent - rested pensively upon you with an unconscious
flattery. It appeared that she was pondering deeply who and what you
were; whereas she was probably debating whether she should or should not
powder her nose before she went in to supper. Nor was she to blame
because at the approach of a friend that sweet and thoughtful face would
twinkle suddenly into mischief and amusement. "She is as God made her,"
Phyllis Casson protested, "and He made her beautiful."

It will be recognised, therefore, that there was truth in Sir John's
observation that young men wanted to protect her. But the bald statement
is not sufficient. Whether that quick transition from pensiveness to a
dancing gaiety was the cause, or whether it only helped her beauty, this
is certain. Young men went down before her like ninepins in a bowling
alley. There was something singularly virginal about her. She had, too,
quite naturally, an affectionate manner which it was difficult to resist;
and above all she made no effort ever. What she said and what she did
seemed always purely spontaneous. For the rest, she was a little over the
general height of women, and even looked a little taller. For she was
very fragile, and dainty, like an exquisite piece of china. Her head was
small, and, poised as it was upon a slender throat, looked almost
overweighted by the wealth of her dark hair. Her features were finely
chiselled from the nose to the oval of her chin, and the red bow of her
lips; and, with all her fragility, a delicate colour in her cheeks spoke
of health.

"You have come!" she said.

Linforth took her little white-gloved hand in his.

"You knew I should," he answered.

"Yes, I knew that. But I didn't know that I should have to wait," she
replied reproachfully. "I was here, in this corner, at the moment."

"I couldn't catch an earlier train. I only got your telegram saying you
would be at the dance late in the afternoon."

"I did not know that I should be coming until this morning," she said.

"Then it was very kind of you to send the telegram at all."

"Yes, it was," said Violet Oliver simply, and Linforth laughed.

"Shall we dance?" he asked.

Mrs. Oliver nodded.

"Round the room as far as the door. I am hungry. We will go downstairs
and have supper."

Linforth could have wished for nothing better. But the moment that his
arm was about her waist and they had started for the door, Violet Oliver
realised that her partner was the lightest dancer in the room. She
herself loved dancing, and for once in a way to be steered in and out
amongst the couples without a bump or even a single entanglement of her
satin train was a pleasure not to be foregone. She gave herself up to it.

"Let us go on," she said. "I did not know. You see, we have never danced
together before. I had not thought of you in that way."

She ceased to speak, being content to dance. Linforth for his part was
content to watch her, to hold her as something very precious, and to
evoke a smile upon her lips when her eyes met his. "I had not thought of
you in that way!" she had said. Did not that mean that she had at all
events been thinking of him in some way? And with that flattery still
sweet in his thoughts, he was aware that her feet suddenly faltered. He
looked at her face. It had changed. Yet so swiftly did it recover its
composure that Linforth had not even the time to understand what the
change implied. Annoyance, surprise, fear! One of these feelings,
certainly, or perhaps a trifle of each. Linforth could not make sure.
There had been a flash of some sudden emotion. That at all events was
certain. But in guessing fear, he argued, his wits must surely have gone
far astray; though fear was the first guess which he had made.

"What was the matter?"

Violet Oliver answered readily.

"A big man was jigging down upon us. I saw him over your shoulder. I
dislike being bumped by big men," she said, with a little easy laugh.
"And still more I hate having a new frock torn."

Dick Linforth was content with the answer. But it happened that Sybil
Linforth was looking on from her chair in the corner, and the corner was
very close to the spot where for a moment Violet Oliver had lost
countenance. She looked sharply at Sir John Casson, who might have
noticed or might not. His face betrayed nothing whatever. He went on
talking placidly, but Mrs. Linforth ceased to listen to him.

Violet Oliver waltzed with her partner once more round the room.
Then she said:

"Let us stop!" and in almost the same breath she added, "Oh, there's
your friend."

Linforth turned and saw standing just within the doorway his friend
Shere Ali.

"You could hardly tell that he was not English," she went on; and indeed,
with his straight features, his supple figure, and a colour no darker
than many a sunburnt Englishman wears every August, Shere Ali might have
passed unnoticed by a stranger. It seemed that he had been watching for
the couple to stop dancing. For no sooner had they stopped than he
advanced quickly towards them.

Linforth, however, had not as yet noticed him.

"It can't be Shere Ali," he said. "He is in the country. I heard from him
only to-day."

"Yet it is he," said Mrs. Oliver, and then Linforth saw him.

"Hallo!" he said softly to himself, and as Shere Ali joined them he added
aloud, "something has happened."

"Yes, I have news," said Shere Ali. But he was looking at Mrs. Oliver,
and spoke as though the news had been pushed for a moment into the back
of his mind.

"What is it?" asked Linforth.

Shere Ali turned to Linforth.

"I go back to Chiltistan."

"When?" asked Linforth, and a note of envy was audible in his voice. Mrs.
Oliver heard it and understood it. She shrugged her shoulders

"By the first boat to Bombay."

"In a week's time, then?" said Mrs. Oliver, quickly.

Shere Ali glanced swiftly at her, seeking the meaning of that question.
Did regret prompt it? Or, on the other hand, was she glad?

"Yes, in a week's time," he replied slowly.

"Why?" asked Linforth. "Is there trouble in Chiltistan?" He spoke
regretfully. It would be hard luck if that uneasy State were to wake
again into turmoil while he was kept kicking his heels at Chatham.

"Yes, there is trouble," Shere Ali replied. "But it is not the kind of
trouble which will help you forward with the Road."

The trouble, indeed, was of quite another kind. The Russians were not
stirring behind the Hindu Kush or on the Pamirs. The turbulent people of
Chiltistan were making trouble, and profit out of the trouble, it is
true. That they would be sure to do somewhere, and, moreover, they would
do it with a sense of humour more common upon the Frontier than in the
Provinces of India. But they were not at the moment making trouble in
their own country. They were heard of in Masulipatam and other cities of
Madras, where they were badly wanted by the police and not often caught.
The quarrel in Chiltistan lay between the British Raj, as represented by
the Resident, and the Khan, who was spending the revenue of his State
chiefly upon his own amusements. It was claimed that the Resident should
henceforth supervise the disposition of the revenue, and it had been
suggested to the Khan that unless he consented to the proposal he would
have to retire into private life in some other quarter of the Indian
Peninsula. To give to the suggestion the necessary persuasive power, the
young Prince was to be brought back at once, so that he might be ready at
a moment's notice to succeed. This reason, however, was not given to
Shere Ali. He was merely informed by the Indian Government that he must
return to his country at once.

Shere Ali stood before Mrs. Oliver.

"You will give me a dance?" he said.

"After supper," she replied, and she laid her hand within Linforth's arm.
But Shere Ali did not give way.

"Where shall I find you?" he asked.

"By the door, here."

And upon that Shere Ali's voice changed to one of appeal. There came a
note of longing into his voice. He looked at Violet Oliver with burning
eyes. He seemed unaware Linforth was standing by.

"You will not fail me?" he said; and Linforth moved impatiently.

"No. I shall be there," said Violet Oliver, and she spoke hurriedly and
moved by through the doorway. Beneath her eyelids she stole a glance at
her companion. His face was clouded. The scene which he had witnessed had
jarred upon him, and still jarred. When he spoke to her his voice had a
sternness which Violet Oliver had not heard before. But she had always
been aware that it might be heard, if at any time he disapproved.

"'Your friend,' you called him, speaking to me," he said. "It seems that
he is your friend too."

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Online LibraryA.E. W. MasonThe Broken Road → online text (page 5 of 22)