In 1908, when a young Bess Crawford lived in India, an unforgettable incident darkened the otherwise happy time. Her father's regiment discovered it had a murderer in its ranks, an officer who killed five people yet was never brought to trial.
A decade later, tending to the wounded on the battlefields of France during World War I, Bess learns from a dying man that the alleged murderer, Lieutenant Wade, is alive and serving at the Front. According to reliable reports, he'd died years before, so how did Wade escape India? What drove a good man to murder in cold blood? Bess uses her leave to investigate. But when she stumbles on the horrific truth, she is shaken to her very core. The facts reveal a reality that could have been her own fate.
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A Question of Honor
By Charles Todd
HarperCollins PublishersCopyright © 2013 Charles Todd
All rights reserved.
England, Summer 1918
The afternoon sun was warm on my face as I stepped out
the door of Rudyard Kipling's house in East Sussex. Simon Bran-
don, his expression unreadable, followed me, pulling the door shut
I wasn't sure why he wasn't his usual steady self.
As we turned to walk together around the house, toward the
back lawns and the stream and water meadows beyond, I said, refer-
ring to our host, “He's still grieving. Poor man.”
As soon as war broke out in 1914, Rudyard Kipling had urged his
only son to join the Army. Jack had been killed at Loos barely a year
later. His body had never been recovered. He'd been eighteen, still a
“I remember Jack,” I went on. “Once or twice he visited Melinda
when I was there.”
“You can't find a house in England that isn't grieving. We've lost
a generation, Bess. The best we have.”
I knew that all too well. I'd watched so many men die.
“Mr. Kipling is going to be on the Graves Commission. It's fit-
ting, don't you think?”
“He'll know what words to put on the monuments,” Simon an-
swered. “That will matter.”
Melinda Crawford had asked Simon to drive her down to Bate-
man's to call on Mr. Kipling. Worried about him, she made a point
of regular visits. But this time her driver was suffering from a bout
of malaria. Just home from France on a brief leave, I'd decided to
come with them. I hadn't been to Kent in some time—it was where
Melinda lived—and on the long drive down to East Sussex we'd en-
joyed each other's company.
As we rounded the house and walked on to the gardens Simon
commented, as if it had been on his mind most of the day, “She's
talking about returning to India.” I didn't need to ask who she was.
“Once the war is over. She wants me to take her there.”
Surprised, I stopped, staring down at the reflection of the
summer sky in the quiet surface of the pools. “Is that a good idea?
It's such a long journey at her age.”
Simon was looking back at the house. “I don't know.” I'd always
had a feeling that Simon didn't want to return there. If anyone could
persuade him, it was Melinda.
Her father, like mine, had been an officer in the Army, and she
had grown up in India, just as I had, although of course decades
apart. Indeed she had been something of a heroine as a child during
the Great Indian Mutiny of 1857, for she and her mother had been
caught in the dreadful Siege of Lucknow. She had married another
officer stationed out there and later lost him to cholera. Afterward,
alone but for her Indian servants, she'd traveled the world while she
I turned to look too, thinking as I had on other visits how really
beautiful the Kipling house was. Someone moved past one of the
upstairs windows, and I waved.
Mr. Kipling had told Melinda that it was love at first sight when
he came to Bateman's. Born in India of British parents, he'd finally
settled in England. The house couldn't be more different from those
A Question of Honor
in Bombay or Delhi or even Simla. Like Melinda Crawford, he'd put
down roots in this cooler climate, but a part of his heart was still in
the East. It showed most clearly in his writing.
“Perhaps she wants to visit her husband's grave again,” I sug-
gested as we walked on. “Surely most of the people she knew are
long since dead as well.”
I watched fluffy summer clouds drifting across the pool, almost
as real as the ones in the sky above us. Then we walked on in a
companionable silence, taking the path through the copse that led
toward the high grass of the meadow. The hem of my skirt caught
on the dry stalk of a spring wildflower, and Simon bent to set it free.
“Do you want to go back?” I asked him, curious. “To India, I
“I don't know,” he said again.
We paused on the bridge over the stream, looking down at the
slow-moving water below. The sound of it passing over the stones in
the streambed was a soothing murmur. But I could sense the ten-
sion in the man beside me.
I didn't press. Whatever Simon had left behind in India, he had
never spoken to me about it. I wondered sometimes if my mother
knew. Simon was devoted to her, and I'd always had a feeling that
something had happened to him in India before my father's regi-
ment had been sent home from that last posting. It would explain
why he was in her debt.
At the time, I'd been considered too young to be included in
family secrets, but had Melinda known? Was that why she wished to
return to India? For Simon's sake—as well as her own?
Changing the subject, I said lightly, “I haven't had a chance to
ask. Are you well enough to return to duty?”
Neither my mother nor I knew what services my father, the
Colonel Sahib, and Simon Brandon performed for the Army. Expe-
rienced men, both of them, they would disappear for a day or a week
without explanation. It often had to do with training and some-
times went well beyond training. I was certain that Simon had gone
behind enemy lines more than once, but I'd said nothing to anyone
Simon smiled. “I've been told I'm sound as a bell.”
I was glad for his sake, but I was also worried. The war was cer-
tain to end before very long—the arrival of the American forces
under General Pershing was helping turn the tide at last—but until
it did, Simon would be in the thick
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