Chapter I. The Bride

Wherein a woman with a love of freedom, two soldiers in the Indian Army, and a snake-bite are most intimately concerned.

"And that is the major's bride? Ah, what a pity!"

The soft, Irish eyes of Mrs. Raleigh, the surgeon's wife, looked across the ball-room with a very real compassion in their grey depths.

"Pity?" said young Turner, the subaltern, who chanced to be at that moment in attendance upon her. "It's worse than that; it's a monstrous shame! She's only nineteen, you know; and he is twenty years older at least."

Mrs. Raleigh sighed.

"You have met her, Phil," she said. "I am going to get you to introduce me. Let us go across to her."

Mrs. Raleigh was greatly beloved by all subalterns. Her husband's bungalow was open to them day and night, and they took full advantage of the fact.

It was not that there was anything particularly brilliant about the surgeon's wife, but her ready sympathy made her a general favourite, and her kindness of heart was known to be equal to the severest strain.

Therefore, among the boys of the regiment she ruled supreme, and the expression of her lightest wish generally provoked a jealous scramble.

On the present occasion, however, young Turner did not display any special alacrity to serve her.

"There's such a crowd round her it's difficult to squeeze in edgeways," he said. "I shouldn't trouble to go across yet if I were you."

Mrs. Raleigh laughed a little and laid her hand on his arm.

"So you don't like hovering on the outskirts, Phil," she said.

He frowned, and then as suddenly smiled.

"I'm not the sort that cares to fool with a married woman," he declared. "There goes Devereux to swell the throng. I say, let's go and have a drink."

She laughed again as she rose to accompany him. Phil Turner was severely honest in all his ways, and, being a good woman, she liked him for it.

Nevertheless, though she yielded, her eyes still dwelt upon the girl in bridal white who sat like a queen among her courtiers. The dark head that was held so regally erect caught and chained the elder woman's fancy. And the vivid, careless beauty of the face was a thing to bear away in the heart and dream of in solitude. For the girl was lovely with that loveliness which even the most grudging must acknowledge. She shone in the crowd that surrounded her like a rare and brilliant flower in a garden of herbs.

Phil Turner's arm stirred with slight impatience under Mrs. Raleigh's hand, and she turned beside him.

"There is nothing like a really beautiful English girl in all the world," she said, with a smile and another glance in the bride's direction.

Young Turner grunted, and she gave his arm a slight shake.

"You don't deceive me," she said. "You admire her as much as I do. Now, be honest."

He looked at her for a moment moodily. Then----

"Yes," he said abruptly, "I do admire her. But, as for the major, I think he's the biggest fool on this side of the Indian Ocean, and that's saying a good deal."

Mrs. Raleigh shook her head as if she desired to disagree.

"Time alone will prove," she said.