She did not finish her sentence, but Heideck knew well enough what she had omitted to say. An irresistible impulse made him answer—
“You must not allow yourself to be driven to take any course repugnant to your heart, Mrs. Irwin. And who is there who would dare to attempt to force you?”
“Oh, Mr. Heideck, you have no idea what regard for so-called ‘good form’ means for us English people. No scandal—for Heaven’s sake, no scandal! That is the first and prime law of our Society. Kind as the Colonel and his wife have been to me until now, I am very much afraid they would drop me, without question of my guilt or innocence, if I should allow anything to take place which they consider a scandal.”
“And yet you must obey solely your own feeling—only the commands of your heart and conscience, Mrs. Irwin; not the narrow views of the Colonel or any other person. You must not become a martyr to a prejudice—I simply cannot hear the idea. And you must promise me—”
He stopped short. A sudden lull in the general conversation caused him to be silent also. And he fancied he saw the intelligent and penetrating eyes of Mrs. Baird directed upon himself with an expression of mistrust. He was displeased with himself. Displeased, because the intoxicating proximity of the adored being, and his aversion for her husband, that had almost increased to passionate hatred, had led him into the danger of compromising her. But when, soon afterwards, he took his leave, together with the other guests, a soft pressure of Edith’s hand gave him the delightful assurance that she was far from being angry with him.
Every day now brought fresh news, and the threatening spectre of war drew nearer and nearer. The order for mobilisation had been given. The field-troops were separated from the depot, destined to remain in Chanidigot. The infantry were provided with ammunition, and were daily exercised in firing and bayonet drill. Horses were bought up and a transport organised, which comprised an enormous number of camels. The commissariat stores were replenished, and the officers eagerly studied the maps of Afghanistan.
According to Heideck’s ideas of mobilisation progress was much too slow, and the Maharajah appeared still less in a hurry with the equipment of his auxiliary troops.
Military trains from the South passed without cessation through Chanidigot, carrying horses and troops further north. Their immediate goal was Peshawar, where Lieutenant-General Sir Bindon Blood, Commander-in-Chief of the Punjab Army Corps, had concentrated a large field-army. Heideck noticed with surprise that the regiments which were being hurried up had been drafted from the most heterogeneous corps, so that, therefore, the tactical union of these corps, as well as their organisation, had been destroyed. No