“Ah! I know,” her father said. “He seems so to you. But it is nerve that your protector will need, child; and Ratcliffe possesses more nerve than all the rest of the garrison put together. No, it must be Ratcliffe, Muriel. And remember to give him all your trust, all your confidence. For whatever he does will be with my authority—with my—full—approval.”
His voice failed suddenly and he rose, turning sharply away from the light. She clung to his arm silently, in a passion of tenderness, though she was far from understanding the suffering those last words revealed. She had never seen him thus moved before.
After a few seconds he turned back to her, and bending kissed her piteous face. She clung closely to him with an agonised longing to keep him with her; but he put her gently from him at last.
“Lie down again, dear,” he said, “and get what rest you can. Try not to be frightened at the noise. There is sure to be an assault, but the fort will hold to-night.”
He stood a moment, looking down at her. Then again he stooped and kissed her. “Good-bye, my darling,” he said huskily, “till we meet again!”
And so hurriedly, as if not trusting himself to remain longer, he left her.
THE VICTIM OF TREACHERY
There came again the running rattle of rifle-firing from the valley below the fort, and Muriel Roscoe, lying on her couch, pressed both hands to her eyes and shivered. It seemed impossible that the end could be so near. She felt as if she had existed for years in this living nightmare of many horrors, had lain down and had slept with that dreadful sound in her ears from the very beginning of things. The life she had led before these ghastly happenings had become so vague a memory that it almost seemed to belong to a previous existence, to an earlier and a happier era. As in a dream she now recalled the vision of her English school-life. It lay not a year behind her, but she felt herself to have changed so fundamentally since those sunny, peaceful days that she seemed to be a different person altogether. The Muriel Roscoe of those days had been a merry, light-hearted personality. She had revelled in games and all outdoor amusements. Moreover, she had been quick to learn, and her lessons had never caused her any trouble. A daring sprite she had been, with a most fertile imagination and a longing for adventure that had never been fully satisfied, possessing withal so tender and loving a heart that the very bees in the garden had been among her cherished friends. She remembered all the sunny ideals of that golden time and marvelled at herself, forgetting utterly the eager, even passionate, craving that had then been hers for the wider life, the broader knowledge, that lay beyond her reach, forgetting the feverish impatience with which she had longed for the day of her emancipation when she might join her father in the wonderful glowing East which she so often pictured in her dreams. Of her mother she had no memory. She had died at her birth. Her father was all the world to her; and when at last he had travelled home on a brief leave and taken her from her quiet English life to the strange, swift existence of the land of his exile, her soul had overflowed with happiness.