The Captain's Wife

: The Coming Conquest Of England

As a married man, Captain Irwin was not quartered in one of the wooden

barracks of the English camp, but had his own bungalow in the suburbs.

It was a house of one story with a broad verandah, was surrounded by

a large well-kept garden, and formerly served a high official of the

Maharajah as a residence. Apart from it lay two smaller buildings used

as servants' quarters, of which, however, only one was at present in

The sun of that same day, that had brought Hermann Heideck face to face

with such momentous matters affecting his future for his final decision,

was sinking rapidly into the heavens as he passed through the cactus

hedge and bamboo thicket of the garden surrounding Irwin's bungalow.

He was attired in an evening dress of the lightest black cloth, such as

is prescribed by English custom for a visit paid at the dinner-hour in

those climes.

He did not come that evening of his own initiative, for Irwin's morning

salutation did not promise anything in the way of an invitation. A

letter from Mrs. Irwin had, to his surprise, begged his company at

this hour. He had gathered from the tone of the letter that something

especially urgent required his presence, and he was not slow in

supposing that the reason was the unfortunate party at poker in which

the Captain had taken part.

What, however, could have induced Mrs. Irwin to appeal to him was still

an enigma, for his relations to the beautiful young wife had until then

not been of a confidential nature. He had met her on several occasions

in big society functions, at the officers' polo-parties, and at similar

gatherings, and if, attracted by her grace and intellect, he had perhaps

paid more attention to the Captain's wife than to any of the other

ladies of the party, their relations had been strictly confined within

conventional limits, and it would never have occurred to him to imagine

himself specially favoured by Mrs. Irwin.

The dainty Indian handmaid of the lady received him and conducted him to

the verandah. Mrs. Irwin, who, dressed in red silk, had been seated in

a rocking-chair, advanced a few steps to meet him. Once more Irwin felt

himself enchanted by the charm of her appearance.

She was a genuine English beauty of tall and splendid proportions,

finely chiselled features, and that white transparent skin which lends

to Albion's daughters their distinctive charm. Abundant dark brown hair

clustered in thick, natural folds round the broad forehead, and her blue

eyes had the clear, calm gaze of a personality at once intelligent and


At this moment the young wife, whom Heideck had hitherto only known as

the placid and unemotional lady of the world, certainly seemed to labour

under some excitement, which she could not completely conceal. There

was something of embarrassment in the manner with which she received her


"I am exceedingly obliged to you for coming, Mr. Heideck. My invitation

will have surprised you, but I did not know what else to do. Please let

us go into the drawing-room; it is getting very chilly outside."

Heideck did not notice anything of the chilliness of which she

complained, but he thought he understood that it was only the fear of

eavesdropping that prompted the wish of the young wife. As a matter

of fact, she closed the glass door behind him, and motioned him to be

seated in one of the large cane chairs before her.

"Captain Irwin is not at home," she began, evidently struggling with

severe embarrassment. "He has ridden off to inspect his squadron, and

will not be home, as he told me, before daybreak."

Heideck did not quite understand why she told him this. Had he been a

flirt, convinced of his own irresistibility, he would perhaps have

found in her words a very transparent encouragement; but he was far from

discerning any such meaning in Edith's words. The respect in which he

had held this beautiful young wife, since the first moment of their

acquaintance, sufficiently protected her from any such dishonourable

suspicions. That she had bidden him there at a time when she must know

that their conversation would not be disturbed by the presence of her

husband, must assuredly have had other reasons than the mere desire for

an adventure.

And as he saw her sitting before him, with a look of deep distress on

her face, there arose in his heart no other than the honest wish to

be able to do this poor creature, who was evidently most unhappy, some

chivalrous service.

But he had not the courage to suggest anything of the sort before she

had given him in an unequivocal way a right to do so. Hence it was that

he waited in silence for anything further that she might wish to say.

And there was a fairly long and somewhat painful pause before Mrs.

Irwin, evidently collecting all her courage, went on: "You witnessed

the scene that took place last evening in the officers' mess between my

husband and Captain McGregor? If I have been rightly informed, I owe it

solely to you that my husband did not, in the excitement of the moment,

lay hand on himself."

Heideck turned modestly away.

"I did absolutely nothing to give me any claim to your gratitude, Mrs.

Irwin, and I do not really believe that your husband would have so far

forgot himself as to commit such a silly and desperate deed. At the last

moment, a thought of you would certainly have restrained him from taking

such a step."

He was surprised at the expression of disdain which the face of the

young wife assumed as he said this, and at the hard ring in her voice,

when she replied--

"Thoughts of me? No! how little you know my husband. He is not wont

to make the smallest sacrifice for me, and, maybe, his voluntary death

would not, after all, be the worst misery he is capable of inflicting on


She saw the look of utter surprise in his eyes, and therefore quickly


"You will, I know, consider me the most heartless woman in the world

because I can talk to a stranger like this; but is not in your country

loss of honour regarded as worse than death?"

"Under certain circumstances--yes; but your husband's position is not,

I hope, to be viewed in this tragic light. Judging from the impression

that Captain McGregor's personality has made upon me, I should say

that he is not the man to drive Mr. Irwin to take an extreme course on

account of a recklessly incurred debt at cards."

"Oh no! you judge of that honourable man quite correctly. He would

be best pleased to forego the whole amount, and with the intention of

bringing about such an arrangement he called here this afternoon. But

the foolish pride and unbounded vanity of Irwin brought all his good

intentions to naught. The result of McGregor's well-meant endeavours

was only a violent scene, which made matters a thousand times worse. My

husband is determined to pay his debt at any price."

"And--pardon me the indiscreet question--is he capable of doing so?"

"If he uses my fortune for the purpose--certainly! and I have at once

placed it at his disposal; and I further told him that he could take

everything, even the last penny, if this sacrifice on my part would

suffice to get rid of him for ever."

Heideck could scarcely believe his ears. He was prepared for anything on

earth except to hear such confessions. He began to doubt this woman, who

hitherto had seemed to him to be the paragon of all feminine virtues,

and he sought an opportunity of escaping from further confessions of the

kind, which, as he told himself, she would repent of in the course of an

hour or so.

"Nobody can expect of you, Mrs. Irwin, that for a criminal recklessness,

a hasty action on the part of your husband, who was probably deep in his

cups, you should make such a tremendous sacrifice; but, as you have now

done me the honour to consult me on these matters, it is perhaps not

unbecoming on my part if I tell you that your husband should, in my

opinion, be forced to bear the consequences of his action. You need not

be at all apprehensive that these consequences will be very serious.

McGregor will certainly not press him; and as we seem to be on the

threshold of a war, his superior officers are not likely to be too

severe upon him in this matter. He will, perhaps, either find an

opportunity to rehabilitate his compromised honour or will find his

death on the battlefield. Within a few weeks, or months, all these

matters which at present cause you so much trouble will present quite a

different aspect."

"You are very kind, Mr. Heideck, and I thank you for your friendly

intentions; but I would not have invited you here at this unusual hour

had it been solely my intention to enlist your kind sympathy. I am in a

most deplorable plight--doubly so, because there is no one here to whom

I can turn for advice and assistance. That in my despair I thought of

you has, no doubt, greatly surprised you; and now I can myself hardly

understand how I could have presumed to trouble you with my worries."

"If you would only, Mrs. Irwin, show me how I can be of service to you,

I would pray you to make any use you will of me. I am absolutely and

entirely at your disposal, and your confidence would make me exceedingly


"As a gentleman, you could not, of course, give any other answer. But,

in your heart of hearts, you probably consider my conduct both unwomanly

and unbecoming, for it is true that we hardly know each other. Over in

England, and certainly in your German fatherland quite as well, such

casual meetings as ours have been could not possibly give me the right

to treat you as a friend, and I do not really know how far you are

influenced by these European considerations."

"In Germany, as in England, every defenceless and unhappy woman would

have an immediate claim upon my assistance," he seriously replied. "If

you give me the preference over your friends here, I, on my part, have

only to be grateful, and need not inquire further into your motives."

"But, of course, I will tell you what my motives are. My friends in this

place are naturally my husband's comrades, and I cannot turn to them if

I do not intend to sign Irwin's death warrant. Not a single man amongst

them would allow that a man of my husband's stamp should remain an hour

longer a member of the corps of officers in the British Army."

"I do not quite understand you, Mrs. Irwin. The gambling debt of your

husband is, after all, no longer a secret to his comrades."

"That is not the point. How do you judge of a man who would sell his

wife to pay his gambling debts?"

This last sentence struck Heideck like a blow. With dilated eyes he

stared at the young wife who had launched such a terrible indictment

against her husband. Never had she looked to him so charming as in this

moment, when a sensation of womanly shame had suffused her pale cheeks

with a crimson blush. Never had he felt with such clearness what a

precious treasure this charming creature would be to a man to whom she

gave herself in love for his very own; and the less he doubted that

she had just spoken the simple truth, the more did his heart rise in

passionate wrath at the miserable reptile who was abandoned enough to

drag this precious pearl in the mire.

"I do not presume to connect your question with Captain Irwin," said

Heideck, in a perceptibly tremulous voice, "for if he were really

capable of doing so--"

Edith interrupted him, pointing to a small case that lay on the little

table beside her.

"Would you kindly just look at this ring, Mr. Heideck?"

He did as he was asked, and thought he recognised the beautiful diamond

ring that he had yesterday seen sparkling on Irwin's finger. He asked

whether it was so, and the young wife nodded assent.

"I gave it to my husband on our wedding-day. The ring is an heirloom in

my family. Jewellers value it at more than a thousand pounds."

"And why, may I ask, does your husband no longer wear it?"

"Because he intends to sell it. Of course, the Maharajah is the only

person who can afford the luxury of such articles, and my husband wishes

me to conclude the bargain with the Prince."

"You, Mrs. Irwin? And why, pray, does he not do it himself?"

"Because the Maharajah will not pay him the price he demands. My husband

will not let the ring go under two lakhs."

"But that is a tremendous sum! That would be paying for it twelve times


"My husband is, all the same, certain that the bargain would come off

quite easily, provided I personally negotiated it."

It was impossible to misunderstand the meaning of these words, and so

great was the indignation they awoke in Heideck, that he sprang up in a

bound from his chair.

"No! that is impossible--it cannot be! He cannot possibly have suggested

that! You must have misunderstood him. No man, no officer, no gentleman,

could ever be guilty of such a low, mean action!"

"You would be less surprised if you had had the opportunity to know

him, as I have had, during the short time of our wedded life. There is

practically no act or deed of his that would surprise me now. He has

long since ceased to love me; and a wife, whose person has become

indifferent to him, has, in his eyes, only a marketable value. It may be

that some excuse can even be found for his way of regarding things. It

is, possibly, an atavistic relapse into the views of his ancestors, who,

when they were sick of their wives, led them with a halter round their

necks into the marketplace and sold them to the highest bidder. They say

it is not so long ago that this pretty custom has gone out of vogue."

"No more, Mrs. Irwin," Heideck broke in; "I cannot bear to hear you

speak like that. I must say that I still consider the Captain to have

been out of his mind when he dared to expect such a thing of you."

The young wife shook her head with a severe quiver of the lips. "Oh no!

he was neither intoxicated nor especially excited when he asked me to do

him this 'LITTLE' kindness; he probably considered that I ought to

feel myself intensely flattered that His Indian Highness thought my

insignificant person worth such a large price. I have certainly for some

time past been quite conscious of the fact that, quite unwittingly, I

have attracted the notice of the Maharajah. Immediately after our first

meeting he began to annoy me with his attentions. I never took any

notice, and never, for one moment, dreamt of the possibility that

his--his--what shall I call it--his admiration could rise to criminal

desires; but, after what I have experienced to-day, I cannot help

believing that it is the case."

"But this monstrosity, Mrs. Irwin, will be past and gone as soon as you

indignantly repudiate the suggestion of your abandoned husband?"

"Between him and me--yes, that is true. But I am not at all certain if

the Maharajah's infatuation will then have really ceased to exist. My

Indian handmaid has been told by one of her countrymen to warn me of a

danger that threatens me. The man did not tell her wherein this danger

consists, but I am at a loss to know from what quarter it should

threaten, if not from the Maharajah."

Heideck shook his head incredulously.

"You have certainly nothing to fear in that quarter; he knows full well

that he would have the whole of the British power against him dared

he only--be it with one word--attempt to wrong the wife of an English

officer. He would be a sheer madman to allow things to come to that


"Well, after all, he may have some despotic insanity in him. We must

not forget that the time is not so far distant when all these tyrants

disposed absolutely of the life and death and body and soul of their

subjects. Who knows, too, what my husband--But perhaps you are right.

It may only be a foolish suspicion that has upset me; and it is just for

this reason that I did not wish to speak about it to any of my husband's

messmates. I have opened my heart to you alone. I know that you are an

honourable man, and that nobody will learn from your mouth what we have

spoken about during this past hour."

"I am very much indebted to you, Mrs. Irwin, for your confidence, and

should be only too willing to do what I could to relieve your anxiety

and trouble. You are apprehensive of some unknown danger, and you are

this night, in your husband's absence, without any other protection but

that of your Indian servants. Would you permit me to remain close by,

until tomorrow daybreak?"

With a blush that made her heart beat faster, Edith Irwin shook her


"No! no! that is impossible; and I do not think that here, in the

protection of my house and among my own servants, any mishap could

befall me. Only in case that something should happen to me at another

time and at another place, I would beg of you to acquaint Colonel Baird

with the subject of our conversation this evening; people will then

perhaps better understand the connexion of things."

And now Heideck perfectly understood why she had chosen to make him, a

stranger, her confidant; and he thought that he understood also that it

was not so much of an attempt on the part of the Maharajah as of her

own husband's villainy that the unhappy young wife was afraid. But his

delicate feelings restrained him from saying in outspoken language that

he had comprehended what she wished to convey. It was after all enough

that she knew she could rely upon him; and of this she must have been

already sufficiently convinced, although it was only the fire of his

eyes that told her so, and the long, warm kiss that his lips impressed

upon the small, icy-cold hand which the poor young lady presented to him

at parting.

"You will permit me to pay you another call tomorrow, will you not?"

"I will send you word when I expect you. I should not care for you to

meet my husband; perhaps he has some idea that you are friendly inclined

towards me; and that would be sufficient to fill him with suspicion and

aversion towards you."

She clapped her hands, and as the Indian handmaid entered the room to

escort the visitor to the door, Heideck had to leave her last remark

unanswered. But, as on the threshold he again turned to bow his

farewell, his eyes met hers, and though their lips were dumb, they had

perhaps told one another more in this single second than during the

whole time of their long tete-a-tete.