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E-text prepared by Stephen Hope, Jen Haines, and the Project Gutenberg
Online Distributed Proofreading Team (http://www.pgdp.net)



Transcribers note:

All inconsistent, unusual and unorthodox spelling has been left
as as it was in the original book.





CAPTAIN DESMOND, V.C.

by

MAUD DIVER

Author of 'The Great Amulet,' 'Candles in the Wind,' Etc.


"One who never turned his back, but marched breast forward,
Never doubted clouds would break;
Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph;
Held, we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better,
Sleep - to wake."
- ROBERT BROWNING.


Revised Edition, in Large Part Rewritten







William Blackwood and Sons
Edinburgh and London
MCMXVII

All Rights reserved




_THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED TO_
_MY SON CYRIL,_
_AND TO_
_Mrs ALAN BATTEN_
_IN ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF ALL THAT IT OWES_
_TO HER GENEROUS HELP AND INTEREST._
_M. D._




AUTHOR'S NOTE.


In revising and partially rewriting my novel, 'Captain Desmond, V.C.,' I
have been glad to make good the opportunity afforded me of bringing the
Aftermath nearer to my original conception than it was in its first form.
The three short chapters now substituted for the one final scene are
therefore, in essence, no innovation. They represent more or less what I
conceived at the time, but suppressed through fear of making my book too
long; and thereby risked upsetting the balance of sympathy, which I hope
the fresh chapters may tend to restore.

M. D.



CONTENTS.

BOOK I.

CHAP. PAGE

I. JUDGE FOR YOURSELF 3

II. I WANT TO BE FIRST 13

III. THE BIG CHAPS 21

IV. ESPECIALLY WOMEN 30

V. AN EXPURGATED EDITION 39

VI. GENIUS OF CHARACTER 46

VII. BRIGHT EYES OF DANGER 55

VIII. STICK TO THE FRONTIER 66

IX. WE'LL JUST FORGET 80

X. A SQUARE BARGAIN 94

XI. YOU DON'T KNOW DESMOND 108

XII. NOW IT'S DIFFERENT 119

XIII. IT ISN'T FAIR 129

XIV. I SIMPLY INSIST 140

XV. GOOD ENOUGH, ISN'T IT? 151

XVI. SIGNED AND SEALED 156

BOOK II.

XVII. YOU WANT TO GO! 167

XVIII. LOVE THAT IS LIFE! 177

XIX. IT'S NOT MAJOR WYNDHAM 182

XX. THE DEVIL'S PECULIARITY? 196

XXI. I AM YOURS 207

XXII. THE CHEAPER MAN 213

XXIII. YOU GO ALONE 228

XXIV. I WANT LADYBIRD 234

XXV. THE MOONLIGHT SONATA 242

XXVI. STAND TO YOUR GUNS 249

XXVII. THE EXECRABLE UNKNOWN 259

XXVIII. YOU SHALL NOT - ! 265

XXIX. THE UTTERMOST FARTHING 274

XXX. SHE SHALL UNDERSTAND 285

XXXI. THE LOSS OF ALL 298

XXXII. EVEN TO THE UTMOST 303

XXXIII. THE ONE BIG THING 313

XXXIV. C'ÉTAIT MA VIE 319

AFTERMATH 323


BOOK I.


"If we impinge, never so lightly, on the life of a fellow-mortal,
the touch of our personality, like the ripple of a stone cast
into a pond, widens and widens, in unending circles, through the
æons, till the far-off gods themselves cannot tell where action
ceases." - KIPLING.




Captain Desmond, V.C.




CHAPTER I.

JUDGE FOR YOURSELF.

"Do we move ourselves, or are moved by an Unseen Hand at
a game?" - TENNYSON.


Honor Meredith folded her arms upon the window-ledge of the carriage
and looked out into the night: a night of strange, unearthly beauty.

The full moon hung low in the west like a lamp. A chequered mantle of
light and shadow lay over the mountain-barrier of India's
north-western frontier, and over the desolate levels through which the
train, with its solitary English passenger, sauntered at the rate of
seven miles an hour. Even this degree of speed was clearly something
of an achievement, attainable only by incessant halting to take
breath - for ten or fifteen minutes - at embryo stations: a platform, a
shelter, and a few unhappy-looking out-buildings set down in a land of
death and silence - a profitless desert, hard as the nether millstone
and unfruitful as the grave.

During these pauses the fret and jar of the labouring train gave place
to a babel of voices - shouting, expostulating, denunciating in every
conceivable key. For the third-class passenger in the East is nothing
if not vociferous, and the itch of travel has penetrated even to these
outskirts of empire.

Sleep, except in broken snatches, was a blessing past praying for,
and as the moon swung downward to the hills, Honor Meredith had
settled herself at the open window, to watch the lifeless wastes glide
silently past, and await the coming of dawn.

She had been journeying thus, with only moon and stars, and unfamiliar
scenes of earth for company, since eight o'clock; and morning was near
at hand. The informal civilisation of Rawal Pindi lay fifty miles
behind her; and five miles ahead lay Kushalghur, a handful of
buildings on the south bank of the Indus, where the narrow line of
railway came abruptly to an end. Beyond the Indus a lone wide
cart-road stretched, through thirty miles of boulder-strewn desert, to
the little frontier station of Kohat.

For six years it had been Honor's dream to cross the Indus and join
her favourite brother, the second-in-command of a Punjab cavalry
regiment; to come into touch with an India other than the
light-hearted India of luxury and smooth sailing, which she had
enjoyed as only daughter of General Sir John Meredith, K.C.B., and
now, with the completion of her father's term of service, her dream
had become an almost incredible reality.

It was not without secret qualms of heart and conscience that the
General had yielded to her wish. For frontier life in those earlier
times still preserved its distinctive flavour of isolation and hazard,
which has been the making of its men, and the making or marring of its
women; and which the northward trend of the "fire-carriage" has almost
converted into a thing of the past. But sympathy with her mettlesome
spirit, which was of his own bestowing, had outweighed Sir John's
anxiety. On the eve of sailing he had despatched her with his blessing
and, by way of practical accessory, a handsome revolver, which he had
taught her to use as accurately as a man.

And now, while she sat alone in the mellow moonlight of early morning,
within a few miles of the greatest river of the Punjab, not even the
pain of recent parting could lessen the thrill of independence and
adventure, that quickened her pulses, and stirred the deep waters of
her soul.

At five-and-twenty this girl still remained heart-whole, as at
nineteen: still looked confidently forward to the best that life has
to give. For, despite a strong practical strain in her nature, she was
an idealist at the core. She could not understand that temper of mind
which sets out to buy a gold watch, and declines upon a silver one
because the other is not instantly attainable. She would have the best
or none: and, with the enviable assurance of youth, she never doubted
but that the best would be forthcoming in good time.

For this cause, no doubt, she had failed to make the brilliant match
tacitly expected of her by a large circle of friends ever since her
arrival in the country. None the less, she had gone cheerfully on her
way, untrammelled by criticism, quite unaware of failure, and
eternally interested in the manifold drama of Indian and Anglo-Indian
life. Her father and four soldier brothers had set her standard of
manhood, and had set it high; and although in the past eight years
many men had been passionately convinced of their ability to satisfy
her needs of heart and brain, not one among them had succeeded in
convincing Sir John Meredith's clear-sighted daughter.

But thought of all these things was far from her as she watched the
moon dip to the jagged peaks that shouldered the stars along the
western horizon. The present held her; the future beckoned with an
encouraging finger; and she had no quarrel with the past.

* * * * *

By now the moon's last rim formed a golden sickle behind a blunt
shoulder of rock; while over the eastward levels the topaz-yellow of
an Indian dawn rushed at one stride to the zenith of heaven. In the
clear light the girl's beauty took on a new distinctness, a new living
charm. The upward-sweeping mass of her hair showed the softness of
bronze, save where the sun burnished it to copper. Breadth of brow,
and the strong moulding of her nose and chin, suggested powers rather
befitting a man than a woman. But in the eyes and lips the woman
triumphed - eyes blue-grey under very straight brows, and lips that
even in repose preserved a rebellious tendency to lift at the corners.
From her father, and a long line of fighting ancestors, Honor had
gotten the large build of a large nature; the notable lift of her
head; and the hot blood, coupled with endurance, that stamps the race
current coin across the world.

A jolt of unusual violence, flinging her against the carriage door,
announced conclusively her arrival at the last of the embryo stations,
and straightway the stillness of dawn was affronted by a riot of life
and sound. Men, women, and children, cooking-pots and bundles,
overflowed on to the sunlit platform; and through their midst, with a
dignified aloofness that only flowers to perfection in the East, Honor
Meredith's tall _chuprassee_[1] made his way to her carriage window.
Beside him, in a scarlet coat over full white skirts, cowered the
distressed figure of an old ayah, who for twenty years had been a
pillar of the household of Meredith.

[1] Government servant.

"Hai, hai, Miss Sahib!" she broke out, lifting wrinkled hands in
protest. "How was it possible to sleep in such a night of strange
noises, and of many devils let loose; the rail _gharri_[2] itself
being the worst devil of them all! Behold, your Honour hath brought us
to an evil country, without water and without food. A country of
murderers and barefaced women. Not once, since the leaving of Pindi,
have I dared close an eyelid lest some unknown evil befall me."

[2] Carriage.

A statement which set her companion smiling under the shelter of his
moustache and beard, at thought of the many times he had saved her
slumbering form from collision against the woodwork of the train. But,
with the courtesy of his kind, he forebore to discomfort her by
mention of such trifling details.

"It is necessary to cross the river on foot, Miss Sahib," he said: and
without more ado Honor fared forth into the untempered sunlight,
closely followed by her two attendants, and a string of half-naked
coolies bearing her luggage.

From the dreary little terminus a cart-track sloped to the river,
which at this point sweeps southward with a strong rush of water, its
steep banks forming a plateau on either hand. The narrow gorge was
spanned by a rough bridge of boats lashed firmly together; and on the
farther side Honor found a lone dak bungalow, its homely dovecot and
wheeling pigeons striking a friendly note amid the callousness of the
surrounding country.

An armed orderly, who had been taking his ease in the verandah, sprang
smartly to his feet and saluted; and behind him, on the threshold, a
red-bearded khansamah, who might have walked straight out of an Old
Testament picture-book, proffered obsequious welcome to the _Major
Sahib's Miss_. Honor bestowed a glance of approval upon her new
protector, whose natural endowments were enhanced by the picturesque
uniform of the Punjab Cavalry. A khaki tunic, reaching almost to his
knees, was relieved by heavy steel shoulder-chains and a broad
kummerband of red and blue. These colours were repeated in the peaked
cap and voluminous turban, while over the kummerband was buckled the
severe leathern sword-belt of the West.

The man held out a letter; and Honor, summarily dismissing the
khansamah, - who thrust himself upon her notice with the insistent
meekness of his kind, - passed on into the one sitting-room, with its
bare table and half-dozen dilapidated chairs. Balancing herself on the
former, she broke the seal with impatient fingers, for the sight of
her brother's handwriting gladdened her like a hand-clasp across
thirty miles of space.

Then she started, and all the light went out of her eyes.

"DEAREST GIRL" (she read), -
"Just a line to save you from a shock at sight of me.
The old trouble - Peshawar fever. Mackay has run me to
earth at last and insisted on a Board. I'm afraid it's a
case of a year's sick leave at home, bad luck to it. But
I see no reason to throw up our fine plan altogether. If
you would like to wait out here for me, the Desmonds
will gladly give you a home. He made the offer at once,
and I know I couldn't leave you in better hands. Full
details when we meet. It's a hard blow for us both; but
you have grit enough for two, and here's a chance to
prove it. Hurry up that tonga-driver. - Your loving,
JOHN."

Honor read the short letter through twice, then, with less of
elasticity in her step, sought refreshment of mind and body in the hot
water awaiting her in the next room.

An hour later the tonga was well on its way, speeding at a hand-gallop
over the dead level of road, with never an incident of shade, or a
spear-point of green, to soften the forbidding face of it; with never
a sound to shatter the sunlit stillness, save the three-fold sound of
their going - the clatter of hoofs, the clank and rattle of the
tonga-bar rising and falling to a tune of its own making, and the
brazen-throated twang of the horn, which the tonga-drivers of Upper
India have elevated to a fine art.

And on either hand, to the utmost limit of vision, lay the emptiness
of the desert, bounded by unfriendly hills. A pitiless country, where
the line of duty smites the eye at every turn; the line of beauty
being conspicuous only by its absence. A country that straightens the
back, and strings up nerve and muscle; where men learn to endure
hardness, and carry their lives in their hands with cheerful
unconcern, expecting and receiving small credit for either from those
whose safety they ensure, and who know little, and care less, about
matters so scantly relevant to their immediate comfort or concern.

Honor had elected to sit in front by the strapping Pathan driver;
while Parbutti, ayah, her flow of speech frozen at its source by the
near neighbourhood of a sword and loaded carbine, put as much space
between the orderly and her own small person as the narrow back-seat
of the tonga would permit.

The English girl's eyes had in them now less of dreaminess, and more
of thought. The abrupt change in her outlook brought Evelyn Desmond's
pretty, effective figure to the forefront of her mind. For ten
years, - the period of Honor's education in England, - the two girls had
lived and learned together as sisters; and, despite natures radically
opposed, a very real love had sprung up between them. They had not
met, however, since Evelyn Dacre's somewhat hasty marriage to Captain
Desmond, V.C., a brother officer of John Meredith; a soldier of no
little promise and distinction, and a true frontiersman, both by
heritage and inclination, since every Desmond who came to India went
straight to the Border as a matter of course. Honor knew the man by
hearsay only, but she knew every inch of her friend's character, and
the knowledge gave her food for much interested speculation. There are
few things more puzzling than the marriages of our friends, unless it
be our own.

But after the first stoppage to change horses, Honor flung meditation
to the winds, and turned her eyes and mind upon the life of the road.
For, as day took completer possession of the heavens, it became
evident that life, of a leisurely, intermittent sort, flourished even
upon this highway to the other end of nowhere.

A line of camels, strung together like a grotesque living necklace,
sauntered past, led by a loose-robed Pathan, as supercilious of aspect
as the shuffling brutes who bobbed and gurgled in his wake. Or it
might be a group of bullock-carts going down to Kushalghur, to meet
consignments of stores and all the minor necessaries of life, - for in
those days Kohat was innocent of shops. At rare intervals, colourless
mud hamlets - each with its warlike watch-tower - huddled close to the
road as if for company and protection. Here the monotonous round of
life was already astir. Women of a remarkable height and grace, in
dark-blue draperies peculiar to the Frontier, went about their work
with superb movement of untrammelled limbs, and groups of shiny bronze
babies shrilled to the heartsome notes of the tonga-horn. There were also
whitewashed police _chokhis_,[3] where blue-coated, yellow-trousered
policemen squatted, and smoked, and spat, in glorious idleness, from dawn
to dusk, and exchanged full-flavoured compliments with the Pathan driver
in passing. For the rest there was always the passionless serenity of the
desert, with its crop of thriftless thorn-bushes, whose berries showed
like blood-drops pricked from the hard heart of the land; and beyond the
desert, looming steadily nearer with every mile of progress, the rugged
majesty of the hills.

[3] Police stations.

As the third hour of their journeying drew to an end, a sudden vision
of green, like an emerald dropped on the drab face of the plain,
brought a flush to Honor's cheeks, a light into her eyes.

"It is Kohat, Miss Sahib," the driver announced with a comprehensive
wave of his hand.

A breath of ice-cool air came to her from an open watercourse at the
roadside, and the fragrance of a hundred roses from the one beautiful
garden in the station that surrounded the Deputy-Commissioner's house.
They passed for a while between overarching trees, but the glimpse of
Eden was short-lived. At the avenue's end they came abruptly into the
cantonment itself: stony, barren, unlovely, the dead level broken here
and there by rounded hummocks unworthy to be called hills. On the
east, behind a protective mud-wall, lay the native city; on the north
and west, the bungalows of the little garrison - flat-roofed,
square-shouldered buildings, with lizard-haunted slits of windows
fifteen feet above the ground, set in the midst of bare, pebble-strewn
compounds; though here and there some fortunate boasted a
thirsty-looking tree, or a handful of rose-bushes blooming bravely in
this, the Indian month of roses.

At the foot of the highest hummock, crowned with buildings of uniform
ugliness, the tonga-driver drew rein and indicated a steep pathway.

"The bungalow of the Major Sahib is above," he said, "and the Presence
must needs walk."

The Presence did more than walk. In the verandah at the path's end a
tall figure stood awaiting her; and before Parbutti and the orderly
had collected her belongings, she was in John Meredith's arms.

The remarkable likeness between the two was very apparent as they
stood together thus; though the man's face was marred by ill-health,
and by the distressing prominence of his eye-bones and strongly-marked
jaw. He led her into the dining-room with more of lover-like than
brother-like tenderness; for despite his forty years no woman had yet
dethroned this beautiful sister of his from the foremost place in his
heart.

He set her down at the breakfast-table, himself poured out her tea,
and dismissed the kitmutgar as soon as might be, Honor watching him
the while with troubled solicitude in her eyes.

"It's crushing, John!" she said at length. "And you do look horribly
ill."

"Well, my dear girl, is it likely I'd desert the regiment, and forfeit
a year of your good company unless devils within were pretty
imperative?"

She smiled and shook her head.

"But you ought to have told us about it sooner, ... me, at any rate.
When did you know the decision of the Board?"

"Yesterday. Desmond was with me at the time. I didn't write before
that about things being uncertain, for fear the good old man should
take fright and whisk you off home. And I thought that even if I
couldn't square the Board, you'd find waiting out here for me the
lesser evil."

"Very much the lesser evil. What a barbarian people at home would
think me if they knew it! And you must go, ... when?"

"In four or five days; as soon as my leave is sanctioned."

"And, naturally, I stay here with you till then."

"Well, ... partially. But when your heavy luggage came yesterday, it
seemed simpler to send it straight to the Desmonds, and that you
should settle in and sleep over there. We're all sitting in one
another's pockets here, and you and I can be together all day, never
fear. Will that arrangement suit your Royal Highness?"

"My Royal Highness is as wax in your hands," she answered, with a
swift softening of face and voice. "I won't start being autocratic
till I get you back again. Only - sit down at once, please. You don't
look fit to stand."

He obeyed with unconcealed willingness, at the same time handing her a
note.

"It is from Mrs Desmond. She is expecting you over there this
afternoon."

Honor looked mutinous.

"But I want to stay with you. I shall see plenty of Evelyn later."

"Still, I think we must spare her an hour to-day. The little woman's
keen to see you, and I'd like Desmond to feel that we appreciate his
prompt kindness. He'll be down at the Lines all the afternoon. It's
our day for tent-pegging. You might ride down with Mrs Desmond, and
bring me news of what my men are doing. I'm mad at not being able to
be there myself."

She deserted her breakfast, and knelt down beside him.

"Dear man! Of course I'll go and find out all about it from Captain
Desmond. I needn't stay long to do that."

"No. You can say you want to get back to me. Desmond will understand."

"He's rather a fine fellow, isn't he?"

"One of the best I know. The last man who ought to be hampered by a
woman."

"I might take that as a dismissal! How about yourself!"

"Ah, that's quite another matter." And he laid a hand upon the soft
abundance of her hair. "Mine is only a two years' contract. And, in
any case, _I_ would never allow myself to be handicapped by a
woman - not even by you. But I don't feel so certain about Desmond."

"Poor little Evelyn! Do you mean, ... is there any question of her
really hampering him, ... seriously?"

Meredith hesitated. A half-smile hovered in his tired eyes.

"As I'm strongly against the whole affair, and have hardly forgiven
him yet for marrying at all, it is fairer for me to say nothing about
her one way or the other. You must judge for yourself."




CHAPTER II.

I WANT TO BE FIRST.

"A breath of light, a pulse of tender fire,
Too dear for doubt, too driftless for desire."
- SWINBURNE.


Sixteen months earlier, Evelyn Dacre - having come out to India with a
party of tourist friends - had chanced to spend Christmas week at
Lahore: a week which brings half the Punjab together for purposes of
festivity and sport. Here, by some mysterious process, which no
science will ever be able to fathom or explain, she had cast an
instantaneous and unaccountable spell over a man of rare singleness of
purpose, whose heart was set to court action, danger, hardship in
every conceivable form: a man for whom a girl-wife fresh out from
"Home" seemed as hazardous an investment as could well be imagined.

But with all his fine qualities of head and heart, Theo Desmond was
little given to cool deliberation in the critical moments of life.
This chance-met girl, fragile as a flower and delicately tinted as a
piece of porcelain, full of enthusiasm for her new surroundings and of
a delight half shy, half spontaneous in the companionship of a man so
unlike the _blasé_, self-centred youths of her limited experience,



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