Heideck looked at her in amazement.
“No, dearest Edith, I have not thought of it. It would have been a useless and foolish idea, so long as my duty and honour prescribe most definitely what I have to do.”
“Duty and honour! Of course, I ought to have known that you would at once be ready again with fine words. It is so convenient to be able to take shelter behind so unassailable a rampart, if at the same time it falls in with one’s own wishes.”
“Edith! How unjust the melancholy events of the last few weeks have made you! If you think it over quietly, you will see that my personal wishes and my heart’s desires are not in question at all. And really I do not understand what you think I could possibly do.”
“Oh, there would be more than one way of sparing us the pain of a separation, but I will only mention the first that occurs to me. Couldn’t we very well remain together in India? If it is the question of money that makes you hesitate, I can soon make your mind easy on that point. I have enough money for both of us, and what is mine is yours. If we retire to a part of the country which the war cannot reach, a hill station such as Poona or Mahabeleshwar, no one will trouble you with questions or think of following you. And if you live there and devote yourself to your love instead of slaying your fellow-men, it will be more acceptable to God.”
In spite of the seriousness with which she spoke, Heideck could not help smiling as he answered: “What a wonderful picture of the world and its affairs is sometimes drawn in a pretty woman’s little head! It is really fortunate that we sober-minded men do not allow our heart to run away with our head so easily. Otherwise we should come badly off, for you yourselves would certainly be the first to turn away from us with contempt, if we tried to purchase the happiness of your love at any price—even at the price of your respect.”
Edith Irwin did not contradict him. Silent and sorrowful, for a long time she looked out upon the bright moonlight Indian night. Then, when Heideck approached her, to take leave of her with tender words, she said in a voice which cut him to the heart: “Whether we understand each other or not, in one thing at least you shall be under no delusion. Whereever you may go—into a paradise of peace or the hell of war—I will not forsake you.”
With passionate impetuosity she flung herself into his arms and pressed her burning lips upon his. Then, as if afraid of her own heart’s passion, she gently pushed him towards the door.
As Heideck had foreseen, the announcement of the victory was followed by disastrous tidings for the English. Up to noon on the following day Bombay had waited in vain for confirmation of the despatch and fuller particulars. Very late in the evening, amidst a general feeling of depression, the Governor published the following despatch from the Commander-in-Chief:—