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- A Fascinating Traitor - 20/66 -
must talk with you about it. I might have had the Star of India. You see, it's an empty honor. And I hate to break away for good, after all. Do you know anything from Anstruther? He was up here, you know."
"I have him now!" secretly exulted Hawke, as he said gravely, "You know what duty is, I cannot speak as yet, but you can depend on me as soon as my honor will permit--"
"Yes, yes, I know," said Hugh Johnstone, with a sigh, rising from the table. "You must make yourself at home here. In fact, I am thinking of sending my daughter back to Europe. Douglas Fraser can have them well bestowed; that is, if I have to remain and fight out this Baronetcy affair, then I could put you up here." Alan Hawke bowed his thanks.
They had wandered back to the reception-room. With an affected surprise the Major consulted his watch. "By Jove! I've got a heavy official mail to prepare, and I'm to dine to-day with Harry Hardwicke, of the Engineers. General Willoughby wants a private conference with me, and Hardwicke is the only confidential man he has. He gets his Majority soon, and Willoughby will lose him on promotion. A fine fellow and a rising man."
"See here, Hawke! Come in to-morrow and dine with me at seven. I want to have a long talk with you," said the uneasy host.
"You may absolutely depend on me, Sir Hugh," heartily answered the visitor, with a fine forgetfulness as to the title. When he rode away, Major Hawke caught sight of a womanly figure at a window above him, watching his retreat in due state, and there was the flutter of a handkerchief as his carriage drove around the oval. "I wonder if Ram Lal knows about the jewels. I must buy him out and out, or make Berthe Louison do it unconsciously for me," so mused the victorious renegade. "He is afraid of me! Now to dispatch Ram Lal to Allahabad. I must only see Berthe Louison, at night, in her own bungalow, for my shy old bird would take the alarm were we seen together. What the devil is her game? I know mine, and I swear that I will soon know hers. I have him guessing now. I must hunt up Hardwicke and call on old Willoughby to keep up the dumb show. Johnstone may watch me--very likely he will. He is afraid of some coup de theatre." He drove in a leisurely way back to the Club and sported the oak after giving Ram Lal his last orders.
"I think I hear the jingle of gold 'in the near future,' as the Yankees say; and, Miss Justine, you shall open the way to the veiled Rose of Delhi for me, while Berthe Louison tortures this old vetch. Place aux dames! Place aux dames!" he laughed.
"A DEVIL FOR LUCK."
THE MYSTERIOUS BUNGALOW.
If the fates favored Major Alan Hawke upon this eventful day, for as he was contentedly awaiting the news of Ram Lal's departure for Allahabad, the card of Captain Harry Hardwicke, A. D. C., and of the Engineers, was sent up to him. With a neat bit of Indian art, old Ram Lal had sent the carriage around to report, as a mute signal of his own departure. It was a flood tide of good fortune!
In ten minutes, the Major and his welcome guest were spinning along in the cool of the evening, toward the deserted ruins of the old city of Delhi! As they passed through the Lahore gate, Hardwicke's pith helmet was doffed with a jerk, as a superb carriage passed them, proceeding in a stately swing. Major Alan Hawke bowed low as he caught the cold eye of the would-be Sir Hugh Johnstone.
"Who are the ladies, Hardwicke?" laughed the Major, as he saw the young officer's face suddenly crimson. "For a man who won the V. C. in your dashing style, you seem to be a bit beauty-shy!" They were hardly settled yet for their cozy chat. Hardwicke lit a cheroot to cover his evident confusion.
"I know" he slowly answered, "that one of them is Miss or Madame Delande, old Fraser's house duenna--I will still call him Fraser, you see--the other is the mystery of Delhi. Popularly supposed to be the old boy's daughter, and his sole heiress, Miss Nadine," concluded the young aid-de-camp. "The old curmudgeon keeps her judiciously veiled from mortal ken. No man but General Willoughby has ever exchanged a word with her. The dear old boy--his memory does not go back beyond his last B. and S.--he can't even sketch her beauty in words. And she is as hazy, even to the Madam-General--our secret commanding officer. There is a continuous affront to society in this old monomaniac's treatment of that girl."
"You would like to storm the Castle Perilous, and awaken the Sleeping Beauty?" archly said Hawke, as they rolled along under a huge alley of banyan trees.
"Not at all," gravely said Hardwicke. "She is only a girl, like other girls, I presume; but, this old fool is only fit for the old days, when the kings of Oude flew kites and hunted with the cheetah; or, half drunken, dozed, lolling away their lives in these marble-screened zenanas, with the automatic beauties of the seraglio. Our English cannon have knocked all that nonsense silly. Here is a high-spirited, Christian English girl, shut up like a slave. It's only the unfairness of the thing that strikes me." Hawke eyed the blue-eyed, rosy young fellow of twenty-six with an evident interest. Stalwart and symmetrical in figure, Hardwicke's frank, manly face glowed in indignation.
"You've won your spurs quickly out here," said Hawke. "You have not been long enough in India to case-harden into the cursed egotism of this hard-hearted land, and remember, age, crawling on, has indurated old 'Fraser-Johnstone.' He was never an amiable character. What do the ladies of the city say of this strange social situation? I never knew that the old beast had a daughter till to-day."
Captain Hardwicke wearily replied: "They all hold aloof, of course, after some very rough rebuffs, as I believe the old boy will clear out for good when he gets his baronetcy. It's possible that the girl is half a foreigner after all," mused Hardwicke. "The duenna is surely a continental."
"Yes; but she seems to be a very nice person. I was there to-day at tiffin," finally said Major Hawke,
"She had very little to say, and cleared out at once. I did not see Miss Johnstone." They fell into an easy, rattling chronicle of things past and present, and before the two hours' ride was over, the astute Major felt that he had divined General Willoughby's object in sending his pet aid-de-camp to reconnoitre Hawke's lines and pierce the mystery of his rumored employment.
"I suppose that you will come up and duly report to the Chief," rather uneasily said Captain Hardwicke, as they neared the Club on their return. Hawke cast a glance at the superb domes of the Jumma Musjid towering in the thin air above them, as he slowly answered:
"I am only here on a roving secret commission. I shall call, of course, and pay my personal respects to His Excellency, the General Commanding. I am an official will-o'-the-wisp, just now, but my blushing honors are strictly civil, and, by the way, in expectancy. Where does your promotion carry you?"
"Oh, anywhere--everywhere," laughed Hardwicke. "I may be sent home. I'm entitled to a long leave--there's my wound, you know. I've only stayed on here to oblige Willoughby." It was easy to see that the frank, splendid young fellow was but awkwardly filling his role of polite inquisitor, for they talked shop a couple of hours over a bottle at the Club, and Hardwicke at last took his leave, no whit the wiser.
"If he did not post me as to the heiress, at least, old Willoughby gets no valuable information," laughed the Major, that night. "The boy seems to be ambitious and heart-whole. Old Johnstone will soon clear out to the Highlands, I suppose, with this hidden pearl." But Major Hawke laughed softly when the morning brought to him a personal invitation to dine "informally" with General Willoughby. "Wants to know, you know," laughed the Major. "All I have to do is to keep cool and let him drink himself jolly, and so, answer his own questions."
"That Hardwicke is an uncommonly fine young fellow." So decided the Major as he splashed into his morning tub. There was one man, however, in Delhi who now viewed Hawke's presence with a secret alarm, amounting to dismay. It was the stern old miserly Scotsman who had paced his floor half the night in a vain effort to reassure himself. "What does he know? I must have old Ram Lal watch him," mused Hugh Johnstone. "I was a fool not to have cleared out from here months ago, before these spies were set upon me. First, Anstruther; now this fellow, Hawke, and, perhaps, even Hardwicke. If it were not for the old matter I would go to-morrow, and let the Baronetcy go hang--or find me in the Highlands. But, I must make one last attempt to get them out. I must--" and the old man slept the weary sleep of utter exhaustion.
Before the nabob awoke, Captain Henry Hardwicke, swinging away on his morning gallop, had reviewed the strange attitude of Major Hawke. "He is very intimate with Hugh Johnstone, and he is a man of the world, too. I will yet see this charming child, when the ban of her prison seclusion is lifted." He vaguely remembered the one timid and girlish glance of the beautiful dark eyes, when he had been presented, pro-forma, to the Veiled Rose upon that one memorable state visit. He then rode out of his way to gaze at the exterior of the great marble house, and was rewarded by the sight of a graceful woman walking there under her governess's escort in the dewy freshness of the early morn.
He doffed his helmet as Miss Justine paused among the flowers, and then Miss Nadine Johnstone looked up to see the graceful rider disappear behind the fringing trees.
"That was Captain Hardwicke, was it not?" asked the lonely girl. Miss Justine was busied in dreaming of her meeting of the morrow.
"Yes, it was," she absently replied.
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