The Circassian Beauty
: The Coming Conquest Of England
Captain Heideck's statement that he travelled for a Hamburg firm was
not really an untruth. As a matter of fact he was engaged in commercial
undertakings, which served as a cloak for the real object of his
He had been commissioned by the chief of the General Staff to study
the Indian military organisation, and, in particular, the strategic
importance of the North-west frontier, and for this purpo
leave had been granted him.
But the General had expressly stated to him--
"You travel as a private gentleman, and should you come into conflict
with the English, we shall in no manner accept responsibility for your
actions and adventures. We furnish you with a passport in your own name,
but, of course, without denoting your military rank. It is also a matter
of course that we should not fail to disclose it in case inquiries are
addressed to us in this regard. In a certain sense you may be said to
travel at your own risk. Your own tact must be your safest guide."
Hereupon Heideck entered into correspondence with his uncle, and
received from him the necessary letters of introduction to his
Indian agents. He reached the northern provinces by way of Bombay
and Allahabad, visiting on the way all the more important garrison
towns--Cawnpore, Lucknow, Delhi, and Lahore. After finishing his
business in Chanidigot, his intention was to proceed further north,
making his way to Afghanistan by way of the Khyber Pass. It was purely
with a view to this journey that he had wished to become more intimate
with the Russian. He was absolutely certain that the Russian had
received a commission from his Government similar to his own, and
certain hints that the Prince had let drop strengthened his opinion that
the latter intended to take the same route as himself. Accordingly, it
could only redound to the advantage of the German officer if he joined
his Russian comrade, who would be in a position to procure him valuable
introductions when once on Russian territory.
When Heideck woke early the next morning the Prince's potent bowl of
the evening before made itself perceptible in various disagreeable after
effects; but the cold bath that Morar Gopal got ready for him, added to
a cup of tea, put him on his legs again.
It was an Indian morning of dazzling beauty into which he stepped.
February in the Indus Valley in 29 degrees longitude has a temperature
like that of May in Rome. In the hours of midday the thermometer usually
rises to 100 degrees Fahr.; but the evenings are refreshingly cool, and
the nights, with their damp fogs, even appreciably chilly.
Heideck made his toilet on this morning with special care, for he had
been invited to a conference with the Minister of the Maharajah, in
order to negotiate with him about some indigo business.
The Minister lived in a house on the outskirts of the town. It was a
one-story building, with broad airy verandahs, situate in the middle of
a large garden. When Heideck arrived, the staircase of the entrance hall
was occupied by a crowd of divers people waiting to be received. But he,
as a representative of the white race, was saved the tiresome annoyance
of waiting his turn. The porter, dressed in white muslin, and adorned,
as a sign of his office, with a broad red scarf, conducted him at once
into the Minister's study, a room furnished in European style.
It was only in his outward appearance, namely, his colour and his
features, that the Minister looked like an Indian. Both dress and
manners were those of a Western diplomatist. Giving Heideck his hand,
he told him that His Highness himself wished to negotiate with him about
the indigo business.
"The price you intend to pay is exceedingly low," he whispered in a tone
Heideck was evidently prepared for this objection.
"Your Excellency may be right in saying that the price offered is lower
than in former years; but it is still very high, if the changes which
have since occurred in the market values are taken into consideration.
In Germany a substitute has been found in aniline, which is so cheap
that within a measurable distance of time no indigo whatever will be
bought. If I may be permitted to give His Highness any advice, I would
recommend him in the future to establish an industry instead of planting
"And which, may I ask, are you thinking of?"
"Oil mills and cotton mills would appear to me to be the most
profitable. You could with them meet both European and Japanese
An Indian servant came with a message, and the Minister invited Heideck
to drive with him to the Maharajah. They entered an open carriage horsed
by two quick Turkestan horses. The yellow uniformed coachman, who had an
extraordinary likeness to a dressed-up monkey, clicked his tongue,
and away they went through spacious grounds to the palace, whose
white marble walls soon gleamed through the foliage of the palms and
During the short drive Heideck pondered on the innumerable battles that
had seethed over this ground, before English sovereignty had, as
it seemed, stopped for ever all religious struggles, all bloody
insurrections, and all the incursions of foreign conquerors. Here, on
this place, where Alexander the Great's invincible hosts had fought and
died, where Mohammedans and Hindoos, Afghans and worshippers of the
sun had fought their sanguinary conflicts, works of peace had been
established which would endure for generations to come. It was a triumph
of civilisation; and a student of India's historical past could scarcely
fail to be impressed by it.
The Maharajah of Chanidigot was, like the majority of his
fellow-countrymen, a believer in Islam, and the exterior view of his
palace at once betrayed the Mohammedan prince. Away from the main
building, but connected with it by a covered gallery, was a small
wing--the harem, the interior of which was sufficiently guarded from
prying eyes. Here, as in the adornment of the palace, the most splendid
lavishness had been employed. Heideck thought the while with pity on the
poor subjects of the Maharajah whose slavery had to provide the means
for all this meretricious luxury. The Minister and his companion were
not conducted into the large audience hall, which was set apart for
special functions, but into a loggia on the first floor. Between the
graceful marble pillars, which supported it, one looked out into
an inner court, which, with exotic plants, afforded an enchanting
spectacle. A gently splashing fountain, springing from a marble basin in
the centre, cast up a fine spray as high as the loggia and dispersed a
The Minister left him waiting for a considerable time, but then returned
and gave him a mute sign to accompany him to the Prince.
The room in which the Maharajah received them was strangely furnished,
presenting to the eyes of a European a not altogether happy combination
of Eastern luxury and English style. Among splendid carpets and precious
weapons, with which the walls were adorned, there hung glaring pictures
of truly barbaric taste--such as in Germany would hardly be met with in
the house of a fairly well-to-do citizen. Similar incongruities there
were many, and perhaps the appearance of the Prince himself was the most
incongruous of them all. For this stalwart man with the soft black beard
and penetrating eyes, who in the picturesque attire of his country would
doubtless have been a handsome and imposing figure, made an inharmonious
impression in his grey English suit and with the red turban on his head.
He sat in an English club chair, covered with red Russia leather and
gently inclined his head in response to Heideck's deep bow.
It did not escape the notice of the German officer that the Maharajah
looked extremely annoyed, and Heideck concluded that it was the low
price he had offered for his indigo which had made him so. But the first
words of the Prince reassured him. "As I learn," he said in somewhat
broken English, "you are in fact a European, but no Englishman, and so I
hope to hear the truth from you. I am quite ready to reward you for your
"I am accustomed to speak the truth, even without reward, Highness!"
The Maharajah measured him with a mistrustful look. "I am a true friend
of England," he continued after a short hesitation, "and am on the best
of terms with the Viceroy; but things are now happening which I cannot
possibly understand. This very morning I received a message from
Calcutta, which absolutely astonished me. The Indian Government intends
to mass an army corps at Quetta, and calls upon me to despatch thither a
contingent of a thousand infantry, five hundred cavalry, a battery, and
two thousand camels. Can you tell me, sir, what makes England mass such
a large force at Quetta?"
"It will only be a precautionary measure, Highness! perhaps disturbances
have broken out again in Afghanistan."
"Disturbances in Afghanistan, do you say? Then Russia must have a hand
in it. Can you perhaps give me more definite information?"
Heideck had to express his inability to do so, and the Maharajah, who
did not conceal his vexation, began to open his heart to the stranger in
a rather imprudent way.
"I am a faithful friend of the English, but the burden they lay upon us
is becoming every day more intolerable. If England is bent upon war, why
should we sacrifice our blood and treasure upon it? Do we not know full
well what powerful foes England has? You do not belong to this nation,
as my Minister informed me; you are in a position, therefore, to
instruct me about these matters. It is true I have been in Europe, but
I was not permitted to go beyond London, whither I had proceeded to
congratulate the late Queen on her birthday. I have seen nothing but
many, many ships and a gigantic dirty town. Are there not in Europe
strong and powerful states hostile to England?"
Such questions were disagreeable for Heideck to answer, and he therefore
preferred to avoid giving a definite reply.
"I have been in India for nearly a year," he replied, "and know about
such political matters only what the India Times and other English
newspapers report. Of course, there is always a certain rivalry among
the European great Powers, and England has, during the past few decades,
become so great that she cannot fail to have enemies; but on this point,
as also on that of the present political situation, I do not venture to
express an opinion."
The Maharajah gloomily shook his head.
"Transact the business with this gentleman in the way you think best,"
he said, turning abruptly to his Minister, a wave of the hand at the
same time denoting to the young German that the audience was at an end.
As Heideck again stepped into the loggia he saw Captain Irwin appear at
the entrance door in company with an official of the Court. The British
officer started on perceiving the man who passed for a commercial
traveller. He cast at him a malicious look, and an almost inimical
reserve lay in the manner with which he returned Heideck's salutation.
The latter took little notice, and slowly wended his way through the
extensive park, in whose magnificent old trees monkeys were disporting
themselves. The Maharajah's communication to him as to the English
orders which he had received, taken in conjunction with General Ivanov's
advance, entirely preoccupied him. After this he was no longer in doubt
that serious military events were impending, or were even then in full
swing. Quetta, in Beluchistan, lying directly on the Afghan frontier,
was the gate of the line of march towards Kandahar; and if England was
summoning the Indian princes to its aid the situation could be none
other than critical. War had certainly not yet been declared, but
Heideck's mission might, under the circumstances, suddenly acquire a
peculiar importance, and it was, at all events, impossible to make at
this moment any definite plans for the immediate future.
The walk to his bungalow in the immediate vicinity of the English camp
took perhaps an hour, and was sufficient to give him a keen appetite.
He was not, therefore, at all disappointed to find his Russian comrade
sitting at breakfast in a shady spot before the door of the hotel, and,
heartily returning his salutation, he lost no time in seating himself
at the table. Prince Tchajawadse looked pale, and applied himself to
soda-water, which, contrary to all established usage, he drank without
the slightest admixture of whisky. The appetising dish of eggs and bacon
was standing untouched before him, and he smiled rather sadly when he
saw what an inroad his guest made upon it.
They had hardly exchanged a few commonplace words when two Indian girls
made their appearance, offering all sorts of nicknacks for sale. The
younger, whose bare breast glowed like bronze, was of marvellous beauty,
even the paint on her face could not destroy the natural grace of her
fine features. Yet, beautiful as she was, she was as great a coquette.
She had evidently determined to make an impression on the Russian.
Stepping behind his chair, she held her glittering little wares before
his face. Her manner became more and more intimate. At length she
slipped a golden bracelet on her slender brown wrist and bent, in order
that he should notice it, so far over his shoulder that her glowing
young breast touched his cheek.
Prince Tchajawadse was of too passionate a temperament to long resist
such a temptation. His eyes flashed, and with a rapid movement he turned
round and embraced the girl's lithe body with his arm.
A stop was put to further familiarities, however, for this little
adventure, which was very distasteful to Heideck, was suddenly
Without being perceived by those sitting at the table, the handsome
young page of the Prince had stepped from the door of the bungalow
with a plate of bananas and mangoes in his hand. For a few seconds he
regarded with flashing eyes the scene just described, and then, stealing
nearer with noiseless steps, flung, without saying a word, the plate
with the fruit with such vigour and unerring aim at the dark beauty,
that the girl, with a loud cry, clasped her hand upon her wounded
shoulder, while the fragments of china fell clattering to the ground.
The next moment she and her companion had disappeared in hurried flight.
The Prince's face was livid with rage; he sprang up and seized the
riding-whip which lay near him.
Heideck was on the point of intervening in order to save the disguised
girl from a similar punishment to that which his new friend had meted
out the day before to his Indian "boy," but he soon saw that his
intervention was unnecessary.
Standing bolt upright and with an almost disdainful quiver of his fair
lips, the young page stepped straight up to the Prince. A half-loud
hissing word, the meaning of which Heideck did not understand, must have
suddenly pacified the wrath of the Russian, for he let his upraised arm
fall and threw the whip on to the table.
"Go and fetch us another plate of dessert, Georgi," he said quietly, as
if nothing had happened. "It's a confounded nuisance, that these Indian
vagabonds don't allow one a moment's peace."
A triumphant smile played across the face of the Circassian beauty.
She threw a friendly glance at Heideck and silently returned to the
bungalow. Full of admiration and not without a slight emotion of envy
for the happy possessor of such an entrancing female beauty, Heideck
followed her with his eyes, as she tripped gracefully away with her
lithe graceful figure. A remark was just on the point of passing his
lips, acquainting the Prince that he had discovered the certainly
very transparent secret of his disguised lady companion, when he was
prevented doing so by a fresh incident.
An English soldier in orderly's uniform stepped up to the table and
handed Heideck, whom he must have known by sight, with a military
salute, a letter.
"From the Colonel," he said, "and I am ordered to say that the matter is
With surprise, Heideck took the missive. It contained in polite, but yet
somewhat decided terms, a request that Herr Hermann Heideck would
favour him with a visit as soon as possible. This, considering the
high official position that Colonel Baird occupied in Chanidigot, was
tantamount to a command, which he was bound to obey without delay or
Baird was the commander-in-chief of the detachment stationed in
Chanidigot, consisting of an infantry regiment, about six hundred
strong, a lancer regiment of two hundred and forty sabres, and a battery
of field artillery. As in all the other residences of the great Indian
chiefs, the British Government had stationed here also a military force,
strong enough to keep the Maharajah in respect and to nip all seeds
of insurrection in the bud. As Colonel Baird, moreover, occupied the
position of Resident at the Court of the Prince, and thus combined all
the military and diplomatic power in his own person, he had come to be
regarded as the real lord and master in Chanidigot.
His bungalow was in the centre of the camp, which lay in the middle of
a broad grassy plain. It consisted of a group of buildings which
surrounded a quadrangular courtyard, adorned with exotics and a
As it appeared, he had given orders that Heideck was to be admitted
immediately on arrival; for the adjutant, to whom he had announced
himself, conducted him at once into the study of his superior officer.
Quite politely, though with a frigidity that contrasted with his former
behaviour towards the popular guest of the officers' mess, the fine man,
with his martial carriage, thanked him for his prompt visit.
"Please be seated, Mr. Heideck," he began. "I have been very unwilling
to disturb you, but I could not spare you this trouble. I have received
the intelligence that you were received by the Maharajah this morning."
"It is true. I had to talk to him about some business; I am on the point
of purchasing from him a large consignment of indigo for my Hamburg
"I have, of course, nothing to do with your business; but I must inform
you that we do not approve of direct communication between Europeans and
the native princes. You will, therefore, for the future, be best advised
to communicate with me when you are summoned to the Maharajah, so that
we may arrive at an understanding as to what you may, or may not, say
to him. We cannot, unfortunately, trust all the Indian princes, and this
one here is, perhaps, the most unreliable of them all. You must not,
however, regard what I say to you as an expression of any want of
confidence in yourself. The responsibility of my position imposes upon
me, as you see, the greatest possible prudence."
"I understand that completely, Colonel!"
"At this very moment the situation appears to be more than ever
complicated. I shall be very much surprised, if we are not on the eve
of very disquieting times. The Governor-General of Turkestan is marching
this way, and his advance guard has already passed the Afghan frontier."
Heideck had difficulty in concealing the excitement, which this
confirmation of Tchajawadse's story aroused in him.
"Is that certain, Colonel? What do the Russians want in Afghanistan?"
"What do the Russians want there? Now, my dear Mr. Heideck, I think
that is plain enough. Their advance means war with us. Russia will, of
course, not openly allow this at present. They treat their advance as
a matter which only concerns the Emir and with which we have nothing to
do. But one must be very simple not to discern their real intentions."
"And may I ask, Colonel, what you are thinking of doing?"
Colonel Baird must really have held the young German for a very
trustworthy or, at least, for a very harmless personage, for he replied
to his question at once--
"The Russian advance guard has crossed the Amu Darya and is marching up
the Murghab Valley upon Herat. We shall take our measures accordingly.
The Muscovites will have been deceived in us. We are not, after all, so
patient and long-suffering as to let our dear neighbours slip in by the
open door. I think the Russian generals will pull long faces when they
suddenly find themselves confronted in Afghanistan by our battalions, by
our Sikhs and Gourkas."
The adjutant made his appearance with what was evidently an important
message, and as Heideck perceived that the Colonel wished to speak
privately to his orderly officer, he considered that politeness required
him to retire.
The words of the Colonel, "The Russian advance into Afghanistan means
war," rung unceasingly in his ears. He thanked his good fortune for
having brought him at the right moment to the theatre of the great
events in the world's history, and all his thoughts were now solely
directed as to the "where and how" of his being able, on the outbreak of
hostilities, to be present both as spectator and observer.
That his Russian friend was animated by the same desire he could all the
easier surmise, owing to the fact that Prince Tchajawadse belonged,
of course, to one of the nations immediately concerned. He hastened,
therefore, to acquaint him with the results of his interview with
Colonel Baird. The effect of his communications upon the Prince was
quite as he had anticipated.
"So, really! The advance guard is already across the Amu Darya. War
will, then, break out just in the proper quarter," exclaimed the Russian
in a loud outburst of joy. "In our army the fear prevailed that the Tsar
would never brace himself up to the decision to make war. Powerful and
irresistible influences must have been at work to have finally conquered
his love of peace."
"You will, of course, get to the army as soon as possible?" inquired
Heideck; and as the Prince answered in the affirmative, he continued:
"I should be grateful to you if you would allow me to join you. But how
shall we get across the frontier? It is to be hoped that we shall be
allowed to pass quietly as unsuspected merchants."
"That is not quite so certain; we shall probably not be able to leave
India quite as readily as we entered it; but, at any rate, we must try
our best. We can reach Peshawar by rail in twelve hours and Quetta in
fifteen. Both these lines of railway are not likely at present to
be blocked by military trains, but we shall do well to hasten our
departure. In all probability we shall, either by way of Peshawar
or Quetta, soon meet with Russian troops, for I have no doubt that
a Russian army corps is also on the march upon Cabul, although the
Colonel, as you say, only spoke of an advance guard moving on Herat."
"I would suggest that we go by way of Peshawar and the Khyber Pass,
because we should thus reach Cabul most speedily and with the greater
"We will talk more of this anon, comrade! At all events, it is settled
that we travel together. I hope most fervently that in the great theatre
of the world your nation is at this present moment standing shoulder to
shoulder with mine against England."