MAKING NEW ACQUAINTANCES

Frederick’s fellow-passengers on board the mail steamer comprised
the usual contingent of Calcutta and Bombay merchants; of judges,
collectors, and other members of the Indian Civil Service en route to
rejoin their posts on the expiration of their leave of absence, and of
a considerable sprinkling of military men, some of whom were on their
way to the East for the first time. There were also quite a number of
ladies and young girls who had been spending the hot season in England,
and who were returning for the winter to their husbands and fathers.
Besides these, there were several Parsee and other native traders, who,
having been welcomed as princes and nabobs at Paris, and elsewhere
in Europe, found it difficult to reconcile themselves again to the
contemptuous treatment which even the humblest British subaltern deems
it his duty to extend to the “black men.”

For the first three days after leaving Suez, Frederick failed to put in
an appearance either at table or on deck, and remained most of the time
in the seclusion of his own cabin. His nerves had been rudely shaken by
the exciting scenes attending his departure from Cairo, and he felt a
cold shiver run down his back when he thought of the terrible fate that
would have been his lot had he fallen into the hands of the janizaries
and eunuchs of M. le Pasha. With all its veneer of civilization, Egypt
was then, and still is to this day, an essentially oriental country.
The mysteries of the harem are still as dark and shadowy as in days of
yore; and notwithstanding all that may be said to the contrary, neither
justice nor police legislation has ever succeeded in penetrating the
Zenana. Within its walls, the pasha, or bey, especially if he be
wealthy and influential, is absolute master of life and death of the
inmates. He is accountable to no one for what goes on in his harem; and
the stranger who dares to commit the unpardonable offense of invading
its sanctity must be prepared to face either death or the most horrible
forms of mutilation and torture.

Of remorse for the death of the pasha’s second wife, Frederick felt
none. He had strangled her in self-defense; and, although he had no
intention of killing her at the time, yet he considered that she fully
merited her fate. He was equally indifferent as to what had become of
the princess. His enthusiasm had given way to feelings of anger against
her for causing him to incur so terrible a danger. It is evident,
however, that she must have succeeded in giving some satisfactory
explanation to the pasha, both as to the presence of a stranger in her
apartments, and as to the death of his second wife, for she is alive to
this day, and neither increasing age nor corpulency had had the effect
of putting a stop to her adventures, which from time to time furnish a
piece of gossip, seasoned highly enough even for the jaded palates of
the Cairenes. Her husband, the pasha, expired somewhat suddenly a few
years ago, and she has not since remarried.

On the fourth day of the voyage, just as the vessel was steaming past
the barren island of Perim, Frederick, who by this time had entirely
recovered, made his way on deck, and, with a cigar in his mouth, leaned
against the bulwarks, watching signals which were being displayed
from the masthead of the fort. He was just about to turn away and to
stroll forward for the purpose of inspecting the strange assortment
of native deck passengers bound for Aden, when he was accosted by a
handsome young Englishman, who requested the favor of a light for his
pipe. A conversation sprang up between the two, during the course of
which Frederick discovered that his new acquaintance was a wealthy
young guardsman, Sir Charles Montgomery by name, who was on his way
out to take up a staff appointment at Calcutta. The name of General
von Waldberg was not unknown to the baronet, and he therefore had no
hesitancy about introducing Frederick not only to his fellow-officers,
but also to most of of the other prominent passengers on board. The
young count soon became a great favorite, especially with the ladies.
Much of his time, however, was spent in the smoking-room on deck,
playing cards with Sir Charles, and some four or five of the latter’s
messmates. During the first two days Frederick lost heavily, which
he could ill afford, for, after paying his hotel bill at Cairo, and
purchasing his passage for Bombay, he had found that his money was
almost exhausted. On the third day, however, his spell of bad luck came
to an end, and from that time forth his winnings were considerable.
No matter what the game might be, his hand was invariably such as to
arouse the envy and admiration of all beholders. Both Sir Charles and
two other of the officers lost large sums to him, and at length one
night, on rising from the card-table, the baronet was sharply taken to
task by one of his fellow-losers, a Captain Clery, who inquired, with
some asperity, whether he was sure of “that dused German fellow.”

“What do you mean? What on earth are you driving at, my dear Clery?
What should I know more about him than you do yourself? There is no
doubt about his being the son of old General von Waldberg, whose name
you are just as well acquainted with as I am.”

“That is just what puzzles me,” replied the captain. “How can you
explain the fact that a man of his station and military training should
be here on board a Bombay-bound steamer, instead of being with the
German Army before Paris? There is something very fishy and queer about
him.”

“I don’t agree with you one bit,” retorted Sir Charles. “I think he is
a very nice fellow—remarkably bright and amusing, and exceedingly wide
awake and clever.”

“Too clever by half,” muttered Captain Clery, savagely twisting his
heavy blonde mustache. “I am going to watch his game. I don’t believe
he plays fair. It isn’t natural that he should win whenever there is a
heavy stake on the table. I believe he is simply plucking us like so
many blue-necked pigeons.”

Had Frederick obtained any inkling of the purport of Captain Clery’s
remarks about his extraordinary run of luck, or was it mere coincidence
that he lost twenty guineas at _ecarte_ on the following afternoon? Be
this as it may, the fact remains that during the rest of the voyage
he seized various pretexts for absenting himself from the card-table,
and devoted his whole time to a very lovely girl, Florence Fitzpatrick
by name, to whom he had been presented by Sir Charles. Her father,
who hailed from County Cork, held a high command in the Army of the
“Guicowar,” or King of Baroda, and had made the acquaintance of General
von Waldberg some years previously at Vienna. The old count had not
only treated him with much kindness and consideration, but had also
obtained him facilities for attending the annual maneuvers of the
Prussian and Austrian Armies. He was therefore delighted to have an
opportunity of making some return for the courtesy shown to him by
Frederick’s father, and warmly pressed the young man to visit him at
Baroda.

About a fortnight after landing in India, just as Frederick was
beginning to grow heartily sick of Bombay, he received a letter from
Colonel Fitzpatrick reminding him of his promise to spend a few weeks
at Baroda, and urging him to come up at once so as to be in time for
a big tiger-hunt which was about to take place. Accordingly, on the
next day, having telegraphed to the colonel to announce his impending
arrival, he started on his journey up country.