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Authors: Patricia Wentworth

Devil's Wind

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Devil's Wind

Patricia Wentworth

To Geraldine

AN ADDRESS

TO A LADY FOR WHOM I HAVE THE GREATEST RESPECT

MADAM CLIO:

I have taken two liberties with the facts which are your province, and after the modern manner I hereby make the honourable amend upon —not in —a white sheet.

That Sereek Dhundoo Punth, commonly known as the Nana Sahib, had a nephew known as the Rao Sahib, is a solid fact. I have given him a half share of English blood, which is fiction. Those of my readers who have been in India will understand my motive.

This is the first liberty which I have taken.

I now pass to the second.

Your votaries are in the habit of stating that the survivors of Cawnpore were four, and four only—to wit, the four survivors of No. 1 boat, Major Vibart's.

Some of the said votaries throw in a casual reference to Mr. Shepherd, but omit to remark that four and one make five.

May I be permitted to enumerate the persons who actually did come alive through the siege and massacre?

They are as follows:

1. Captain Mowbray Thompson, Mr. Delafosse, Private Murphy, and Private Sullivan, usually alluded to as the four survivors of Cawnpore.

2. Mr. Shepherd, who left the Entrenchment a few days before the surrender, and was imprisoned by the Nana.

3. Elizabeth Spiers, her mother, brother, and little sister Isabella.

4. Mrs. Eliza Bradshaw and Mrs. Elizabeth Letts. These women, with the Spiers family, owed their escape from the massacre at the Suttee Chowra Ghaut chiefly to the fact that they were dark enough to pass as natives.

5. A native wet nurse.

6. Two European women whose names have always been suppressed.

7. Miss Wheeler, Sir Hugh's youngest daughter, a girl of nineteen. She was carried away by a Mohammedan trooper, and for a long time search was made for her. The survivors were therefore thirteen in number, without counting the native wet nurse.

I need, therefore, make no apology for the escape of Adela, and in the matter of Richard and Helen I throw myself upon your indulgence.

The boat actually grounded as I have described, and the first great downpour of the rains came on. It might have happened. Next day the boat was captured and taken back to Cawnpore.

For the subsequent wanderings and adventures of Richard and Helen there is ample warrant.

This, Clio, is my apology, and I am, Your very respectful servant,

Patricia Wentworth.

CHAPTER I

HOW MRS. MIDDLETON DISAPPROVED

Sometimes a marriage for love,

Sometimes a marriage for gold,

Sometimes a head too hot,

Sometimes a heart too cold.

Each one seeking his own

Whether for money or pleasure,

Leads to a marriage in haste,

Leads to repentance at leisure.

In the year 1854 Mrs. Lauriston's London drawing-room was as ugly as contemporary taste could make it. This is saying much, but not too much.

The June sunshine slanted in, and rested with unsparing candour upon a cabbage-coloured carpet patterned with monstrous magenta blooms of uncertain family. Gloomy oil-paintings in gorgeous, fog-dimmed frames covered the greater part of the wall space.

Helen Wilmot had never been able to decide whether she thought the wall-paper uglier than the portraits, or the portraits more frightful than the wall-paper. She found a certain fascination in following the immense green curves and spirals that wound and twisted between the pictures. She had a fancy that there in secret, behind the unattractive presentments of great-uncle James and great-aunt Maria, that ebullient vegetable growth must burst into flower. She had beguiled many a dull half-hour by speculating as to the sort of bloom it would produce, and had decided ultimately on an orchidaceous nightmare of orange and maroon. The stamens, she thought, would be green—a very bright green—and they would bear monstrous pollen sacs of a pale, unwholesome pink.

In the middle of the room stood a large round table. It was made of handsome polished wood, very good and solid. Everything that stood on it had its own little mat. The photograph album with the gold initials on a ground of crimson plush lay upon a miniature carpet of emerald silk and wool. A daguerreotype in a folding frame stood by itself on a little orange-coloured island. It was a likeness of Mr. Lauriston, and his widow used to gaze tearfully at it when her sister Harriet was more masterful than usual, or her daughter Adela harder to manage.

Mrs. Lauriston was a pretty, faded little woman of uncertain health. All the strong colour in the room annihilated her own delicate tints. It accentuated the grey in the fair hair which she wore dressed à l'Impératrice, and drew attention to the fine, interlacing lines about her mouth and eyes. She wore a beige-coloured dress, and the sofa which she so seldom left was upholstered in dark maroon to match the curtains. Only Helen thought it ugly, but then Helen had spent nearly all her twenty years of life with her mother's people, and her grandmother, old Mrs. Delamere, had possessed many beautiful things, some brought from India, and some inherited from her French relations.

Helen Wilmot looked at her aunt now, and thought for the hundredth time that she was like a water-colour drawing—an amateur water-colour drawing. There were the same pretty tints, all faint and indeterminate, the same weak lines, and absence of definition. She made up her mind that she would like to see Mrs. Lauriston in a room full of soft old faded things, with a little very pale gilding here and there. Helen was very fond of making pictures in her own mind. She would have liked to paint them, but she lacked the skill, and had sense to know that she lacked it.

If Mrs. Lauriston was like a water-colour, Helen herself resembled an etching. Her pallor had the same warm, living quality, and the shadows on her hair and dress, the same deep tone.

She sat by the window with her lap full of embroidery silks, that shone like jewels against the black of her full skirt. The sunlight just glanced across one sloping shoulder and threw her head into strong relief. She was all black and white in the strong light—white skin, white hands, white neck, white collar; black dress, black hair, and eyes that looked black too until she raised them, and you saw that they were a very deep, soft grey.

She raised them now because Mrs. Lauriston made a little restless movement.

“Helen, my dear.”

“Yes, Aunt Lucy.”

“Did I hear a carriage?”

Helen took a fold of her dress in one hand, so as to keep her silks from slipping, and leaned sideways towards the window. One corner of her mouth twitched a little, and she caught it between her teeth.

“Well, my dear?” said Mrs. Lauriston, fidgeting, and Helen turned a perfectly grave face towards her.

“Dear Aunt Lucy, I was counting; I had just got up to ten—”

“Ten?”

“Ten carriages. I think the very fat lady at No. 12 must be giving a party.”

“My dear, what has that to do with us? Oh, my love, you don't say the window is open! How exceedingly careless of Mary! Pray shut it. The least breath—and really to-day when I feel so unequal, and Harriet coming. Not, of course,” she explained, collecting herself, “that I am not very pleased to see your Aunt Harriet—very pleased indeed.”

“Oh, of course,” murmured Helen, and bent her head over a tangled skein.

Mrs. Lauriston put her handkerchief to her lips for a moment.

“Yes, of course,” she said nervously, “but at the same time, love, your Aunt Harriet—she is sure to talk so much about Hetty, and Hetty's marriage, and you know so much conversation—and then I think she was rather offended at my not coming to the wedding, and I have not seen her since, so altogether—”

“Yes,” said Helen without a smile, “conversation about Hetty is rather tiring.”

“And that she should have made such a match!” exclaimed Mrs. Lauriston with sudden energy. “Sir Henry Lavington, and all that money, and Hetty always was plain.”

“Plain and sensible. I don't know which is worse, but I suppose he wanted a sensible wife,” remarked Helen.

“My love, you should not disparage sense. I am sure you have plenty. Now if Sir Henry had fallen in love with you! But Hetty—it is more than I can understand. Hetty never attracted me, my dear, but of course her mother could not be expected to understand that, nor should I wish it.”

Helen laid a blue and a green skein together, and wished that the bluebells were not over, and that she was not in London.

“Shall I leave you and Aunt Harriet for a little when she conies, Aunt Lucy?” she asked.

“Oh, no, my dear, not at first—oh, no. If I thought I should like a little private talk with her later on, I could let you know. It would be quite easy. I could ask you to fetch me a handkerchief, or my smelling salts, and you need not come back for a time; but at first—oh, I really think it will be a relief to have you here, my dear. Harriet is all that is excellent, but you know my nerves are not very strong, and if she is offended—no, no, my love, I had much rather you stayed.”

Mrs. Lauriston's soft voice fluttered as she spoke. She patted a refractory cushion into position, and settled herself against it.

“I hope Adela will come in before your aunt leaves,” she said, and sighed a little. “I am afraid Harriet will think she should have been at home; but really, just now, my dear child, one is so anxious, it does not seem as if one should interfere, and Mrs. Willoughby was so very eager to have her.”

“Oh, she is sure to be home early because of Hetty's party this evening,” said Helen, cheerfully.

Mrs. Lauriston clasped her hands.

“Helen, do you think—” she began, and then paused, panting a little.

“My dear, are you in Adela's confidence at all?”

Helen looked up with a shade on her brow.

“No, I don't think I am,” she said.

“And I certainly am not,” said Adela's mother, “and oh, my love, I feel so anxious, so very anxious. Young Manners now—do you suppose—do you imagine that Adela means to accept him?”

“I am sure I hope not,” said Miss Wilmot with decision.

“Oh, but, my dear, why should you say that? Such a good-looking young man, such splendid dark eyes—I always think dark eyes are so romantic—and so devoted. I really never saw anything like his devotion! And then Manners Park, and such a satisfactory provision.”

“Yes,” said Helen. She stopped to thread a needle. “Yes, if he is able to establish his claim.”

“Oh, my dear, surely there is no doubt about that. It would be most unfair. Why, his father was a cousin of Mr. Lauriston's great-grandmother, or was it his grandmother's stepmother was a Manners? He could never be passed over, and his mother a lady of such high rank, sister— or is it cousin?—to that wealthy Rajah of Bithoor, whose portrait Mr. Azimullah showed us, and who, he said, would be a sort of Emperor, only we have taken away his kingdom, or stopped the revenues, but fortunately he has plenty of money of his own besides. Oh, no, Francis Manners is certain to succeed with his claim, and his father's marriage so romantic too.”

“Dear Aunt Lucy,” said Helen, half laughing. Then she bit her lip. “He has to prove that there was a marriage,” she said.

She took a few delicate stitches and did not look at her aunt.

“My love, you shock me,” exclaimed Mrs. Lauriston. A faint colour made her look younger. “You shock me, indeed you do. Colonel Manners was married. To suppose otherwise—Helen, my dear! I think, love, that you should struggle with that unfortunate prejudice against persons with dark blood in their veins. It is that which puts such shocking ideas into your head. Mr. Azimullah now, so handsome, such charming manners, but I notice how you avoid him when he comes here. You get it from your father, I suppose. In fact I have observed that all Anglo-Indians are the same. I fear going to India and joining your father will not improve you. It is an unchristian prejudice, love, not that of course I would for a moment seek to imply that dear Edward was unchristian. I do hope, my dear, you would not imagine such a thing, or your excellent grandmother, and after she had brought you up so nicely, and to be such a good girl, and now that she is dead and all. No, no, my dear, all I meant was that prejudices of this nature should be struggled against; and oh, Helen, my dear, you won't try to imbue Adela with such notions? I am so anxious, so very anxious about her future. You know, love, there will be so little, oh, so little when I am gone, and Adela is so beautiful.”

Mrs. Lauriston's voice trembled very much, and became almost inaudible.

Helen dropped all her silks on the floor, and ran to her. “Dear Aunt Lucy, what is it? Why do you trouble yourself? Adela is beautiful, and there are much nicer people to fall in love with her than poor Mr. Manners.”

“No, no. There's only Captain Morton, and he is poor, and Adela is not fit to be poor, and go to India,—and I want to see her married before I die.”

“You are going to live to be a great-grandmother like old aunt Maria,” said Helen, kissing one of the trembling hands. “Only you'll make a much, much nicer one, and all the great-grandchildren will love you.”

“My dear, you shouldn't. Oh, Helen, love—”

“What is it, dearest?”

“My health,” whispered Mrs. Lauriston.

Helen gave her a little pat.

“You are just delicate, and delicate people always live the longest. Yes, it is quite true. Grandmamma always said so. And there's nothing really wrong with you, is there?”

“I don't know,” said Mrs. Lauriston in a low, hurried tone. Her eyes looked past Helen as if she saw something that frightened her.

“Now, Aunt Lucy, dear,” said Helen cheerfully, “don't upset yourself. Adela will make a splendid match, and live happy ever after, and you will spoil her children, and they will adore you, and—oh, that really is the carriage at last.”

In a moment Mrs. Lauriston was all in a flutter. Death and marriage were uncertain, but Harriet was at the door. “Oh, my dear, my eyes. Do they look red? Give me my handkerchief, and then push it under the cushion in case I want to send you for one—and move that chair a little, no, not so close, yes, that will do. Oh, I wish Adela were in, but there, her aunt never was really fond of her, and—Helen, my vinaigrette—yes, it fell down, I think. Have you found it? Oh, thank you, my dear.”

The door opened as she took the little cut glass bottle. The maid announced Mrs. Middleton, and Harriet Middleton came into the room with a great rustling of violet silk.

She wore a shawl of China crepe and an immensely full skirt trimmed with seven rows of broad black velvet ribbon. On her head was a bonnet with an inner frill of blonde, showing the abundant black hair which always looked as if it had been freshly lacquered. She had a handsome, wooden face, with very smooth, dark eyebrows, and firm red cheeks. Her voice was as strong and deep as a man's.

One of the red cheeks just brushed her sister's pale one, and she settled herself into the chair which Helen proffered.

“Well, Lucy, you look poorly enough,” she remarked, “but what else you can expect when you lie on a sofa all day, I don't know. How d'ye do, Helen. Come here, and let me have a look at you. How long is it since I saw you last?”

Helen appeared to be giving the matter her earnest attention. “About two years, I think, Aunt Harriet,” she said.

Mrs. Middleton looked disapprovingly at her niece. The light caught her prominent brown eyes and gave them a shiny look. They reminded Helen of small bull's-eyes.

“You are as pale as a piece of plaster too, and less like Edward than ever. And where on earth you and Adela got that untidy frizzly hair from, I am sure I don't know. None of our family ever had such a thing. My girls have both got hair like mine, I am thankful to say, nice, smooth hair that can be kept tidy, and plenty of it. But a great deal can be done with pomatum. Wilkin's is the best. I will send you a pot to try. I gave one to Adela when she came down for Hetty's wedding. Has she used it?”

Helen looked interested, and Mrs. Lauriston observed feebly:

“Adela wears her hair in ringlets.”

“And very untidy she looked. That was why I gave her the pomatum, Lucy; but, of course, if you encourage her—By the way, where is Adela?”

“Adela has—has gone out. She had an engagement, Harriet—she was so sorry—”

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