The Adventures of an A.D.C.

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Lest any unacquainted with the East should regard the Babu-English of the letters given in Chapter VI as unduly exaggerated, the author desires to vouch for their authenticity as written in all seriousness, having either actually received them or seen the originals. A few necessary emendations only have been made.

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Chapter I

How I became an A.D.C.

The heat was appalling. The punkah I that swung lazily and spasmodically overhead seemed scarcely to disturb the suffocating air. The glare of the afternoon sun crept in between the chinks of the closed shutters, casting glowing lines of fire in blinding flashes across the darkness within. I lay on the small camp-bed in the middle of the bare barrack-like room, aimlessly trying to get through the long slow-moving hours of the seemingly endless afternoon. It was too hot to read. I had flung away last season’s novel from home—the latest we could boast in Daulutpur—-from sheer sickness of disgust. It talked of Devonshire lanes and mist and the sea breezes that play over moor and heather, and I knew that, long for them as I might, those things were not for me for many a day to come. Even the charming little supper at the “Savoy” that the book described with such tantalising minuteness woke hot resentment against the long procession of murghis roast and murghis fried and currie bhats that stretched out before me. It was too hot even to sleep. The pillow literally scorched my face as I lay on it. Twice I had thrown a jug of water over it, but each time after a few minutes’ relief it had dried again with almost uncanny rapidity. There was no more water in the ghurra. To rouse the Bearer, probably asleep in his quarters across the compound, was an exertion far too great to contemplate. To lie like a log, motionless, just enduring it, seemed the least of evils.

For us subalterns the day had begun at five a.m. and ended, as far as duty was concerned, at eleven. Even at sunrise, by no stretch of imagination, could it have been called cool, and by the time we usually got back from parade the heat was overpowering. A tub and chota haziri, followed by a dreary spell of office work, brought us to eleven o’clock breakfast—a large meal of many undesirable courses for which no one had any appetite and which every one abused on principle. After that there was nothing to be done but to get through the afternoon as best one might. At first, fresh out from home, I had struggled against the lassitude and sleepiness that crept over me in those long hours and had wrestled with a new tongue, imparted by an exasperatingly submissive Munshi who always assured me I was right when I knew full well that I was wrong. But soon the appalling drowsiness had won the day. Like every one else in the mess on getting back to my quarters after breakfast, I hastily divested myself of all superfluous clothing and lay full length beneath the punkah until the afternoon had passed away.

Having got through the heat of the day there was nothing much better to follow in Daulutpur. Of course there was the Club. Now my short experience of clubs at home had led me to look upon them as nice comfortable places where a man could go when he liked and do as he liked when he got there—talk to his friends if he liked, play bridge if he liked, just lounge and do nothing if he liked, and please himself generally. But the Club at Daulutpur was not at all like that. It was a place where everybody had to go, unless they were absolutely and completely indifferent to public opinion, and where everybody had to do as everybody else liked whether they wanted to or not. If you stayed away people thought you must be ill and came round at once to see what was the matter. For that is one of the strange things about India. People who do not show the least interest in you when you are well suddenly become kindness itself as soon as you get ill. But if, when you have missed going to the Club and people have come round to see how you are, you are found to be quite well and strong and to have missed turning up at the Club out of malice aforethought, their manners freeze at once and straightway they go home and abuse you, and ever afterwards you have the reputation of putting on side—a reputation you will find it very hard to live down. Of course I admit there was some justification for other people’s annoyance if you did not go to the Club in Daulutpur. There were only just two fours for bridge and tennis, so that if you did not turn up you spoiled the games. Wherefore if you wanted to live peaceably with all men, you began by turning up regularly at the Club. Not that this, too, was without its dangers from the peaceable point of view. No one’s temper is quite at its best in the hot weather in India. Prickly heat and a continual thirst do not conduce to sweetness of disposition, and when you have to meet the same people night after night in exactly the same place, you have to be of a very placid nature to stand it at all.

I meditated sadly on these things as I lay beneath the punkah. There were still two hours more before it was time for tea and to prepare for a half-hearted game of tennis at the Club. Polo was only a very occasional joy in Daulutpur. The minutes seemed to creep by as if the heat made even them drag wearily. Yet sleep refused to come. Only the brain had fallen to a dead dull slumber as if some heavy weight had crushed it into nothingness. The mosquitoes alone buzzed on with ceaseless, maddening energy. Even the huge bath towel, pinned on to the punkah so that it flapped just over my head, failed to keep them off, as the punkahwala too grew drowsy and the rope slackened in his hand. It was too hot to use bad language at him any more. There was nothing to be done but just to lie still and wait if by chance sleep might come. It came at last.

It was all just as I had left it. Yet surely the breeze that blew in over the bay was fresher, more invigorating, more intoxicating. Surely the fishing boats, riding at anchor, danced more merrily and the sea was a deeper blue. The tiny cluster of cottages under the cliff looked dazzlingly clear as if new scrubbed. It was as if my eyes had been suddenly opened and I saw for the first time all that I had never seen before. I drank in large draughts of the glorious cool air and wondered vaguely why I had never consciously felt the intoxicating joy of it before. Then suddenly it all went dark again.

“Saheb, Saheb.”

I woke with a start to the bare familiar room and the mosquitoes and the heat.

“Saheb, chitti hai.”

My Bearer was standing at the foot of the bed with a letter in his hand. A dozen times I had told him not to wake me, save for an urgent official slip, if by chance I did fall asleep in the afternoon. Yet here he was with a note obviously ladylike and unofficial. I swore at him as I took it. It was one of Mrs. Henson’s unmistakably large mauve envelopes, and I anticipated nothing as I tore it open save the usual conventional note of invitation, which was all Mrs. Henson’s notes had ever contained for me before. I little dreamed as I read it to what great things so unexpected a beginning was to lead. For, save that she added that she particularly wanted to see me, the note was short and conventional, merely inviting me to tea that afternoon at five o’clock.

Of course I accepted. Even if one wants to, one cannot plead a previous engagement when there are only a dozen people in the station and everybody knows what everybody else is doing every minute of the day. Mrs. Henson was the Major’s wife and lived about a mile beyond cantonments. They were recent arrivals in the regiment, the Major having been transferred to us some two months previously as second in command. Mrs. Henson was young and pretty and fascinating, and her arrival had naturally furnished Daulutpur with food for much conversation and excitement. Now the Colonel was a bachelor and withal a lady’s man. His devotion to little Mrs. Cantelupe, the Captain’s wife, had been most constant ever since she came out eighteen months before. She had appropriated him at the outset in her quiet, determined, smiling little way and no one else had had a chance. If ever any woman ruled a regiment and the station it was Mrs. Cantelupe. But Mrs. Henson’s arrival quickly threatened to upset all that.

However fresh and charming she may be when she comes out from home, a woman is bound to lose something of it after eighteen months in India, and somehow Mrs. Henson with her charm and loveliness and her smart new clothes made poor little Mrs. Cantelupe look almost plain and dowdy. Added to which Mrs. Henson had twice her rival’s brains. So naturally every one at once predicted what would happen. Two months, however, had gone by and it had not quite happened yet. The Colonel had been more faithful than the gossips of the station had given him credit for, but there could be no doubt, even to the most indifferent onlooker, that it was coming, and that the fresh and charming Mrs. Henson would soon succeed in ousting his old love from the Colonel’s favour. Mrs. Cantelupe was reported to be doing all she knew to keep her hold, and the rest of the station sat by and gloated over it. All this had seemed to me horribly petty and gossipy hitherto. But in a small Indian station everybody else’s affairs are your affairs, as I was soon to learn from personal experience. I little dreamed of what immense importance to me the struggle between Mrs. Cantelupe and Mrs. Henson was to prove.

As Mrs. Henson had said that she particularly wished to see me, I was a little surprised on arrival to find two other ladies of the station also there, as well as Mrs. Forwood and Bobbie. Mrs. Forwood was Mrs. Henson’s sister, who had been staying with her for the last ten days on her way up to the hills. She was also the mother of Bobbie, a precocious child of six of whom I always fought particularly shy, but who persisted, I could almost have believed out of sheer devilment, in paying me the most embarrassing attentions on every occasion that we met. I heard a buzz of conversation as I crossed the veranda, but it stopped suddenly as I entered the drawing-room. Is there anything more embarrassing than to enter a room and to hear an animated conversation break off abruptly as you appear? I was young and shy and rather sensitive in those days, so of course I thought they must have been talking about me. Now being older and more experienced I should merely think that, being all ladies, they were talking about things that were exclusively of interest to themselves. Anyhow, an entrance like that is embarrassing enough. What happened when I got inside the room made things much worse. It was a huge, long drawing-room, and Mrs. Henson and her guests were seated at the upper end. As I came up the room Bobbie made a dart to meet me and clung round my knees in the annoying way he had.

“Oh! Mr. Wynford,” he greeted me in his shrill childish treble, “Aunt Betty says you are such a nice young man.”

Of course an awful pause followed. I disengaged myself from Bobbie’s embrace and went forward to meet “Aunt Betty’s” outstretched hand which seemed to have frozen in mid air at Bobbie’s embarrassing speech. Then we all laughed and immediately tried to look and talk as if nothing had happened and succeeded very badly. I was so dazed that the only thing I was definitely conscious of was a wild desire to murder Bobbie. I was a subaltern in those days and rather shy with ladies. Besides, “a nice young man”!—could anything from a man’s point of view be more damning? I felt that I must change the whole of my nature straight away to avoid being called anything like that again.

I think, after that very unexpected exposé of Aunt Betty’s opinion of me, the other ladies felt that she would like to be left alone with her “nice young man.” At any rate they speedily took their departure, carrying with them Mrs. Forwood and, to my unspeakable relief, Bobbie also.

“Now that they have gone, we can have a nice little talk “ said Mrs. Henson brightly, settling herself comfortably on the coolest seat beneath the punkah. Then she suddenly looked at me and smiled. I felt sure she was thinking of the “nice young man.” We were neither of us devoid of a sense of humour. We both laughed.

“Yes,” she nodded, looking at me critically when the laugh was over, “you will do; you will do very well indeed.”

“Do!” I exclaimed in surprise.

She still regarded me with her head slightly on one side in an appraising sort of way. It made me feel rather like a pony being valued.

“Yes,” she said smilingly, “you will do excellently. How would you like to be an A.D.C.?”

The proposition took me utterly by surprise.

“An A.D.C. I” I repeated incredulously. “Impossible.”

“You would like it?” she asked.

“In my wildest dreams,” I replied, carried away by my enthusiasm as I saw that she was serious, “in my wildest dreams I never dreamed of anything so delightful or exalted. I should simply jump at the chance if I had it.”

Seductive visions of escape from this deadly little station and the heat of the plains flashed across my brain. I caught glimpses of some gay and festive hill resort, much polo, many gymkhanas, and all that maketh glad a young man’s heart in India. But they quickly fled and I fell back heavily on stern reality. What chance had a penniless subaltern in a native infantry regiment of a coveted billet like that of an A.D.C.!

“The Lieutenant-Governor of the Northern Provinces wants an A.D.C. at once,” Mrs. Henson was explaining. “He has two, you know, but one of them has just gone down with enteric and the other has to go home suddenly on urgent private affairs, so he is threatened with being left without one at all. He happens to know of no one he particularly wants to have just now, so he has wired down to the Colonel this morning to ask if he has any one in the regiment who would do. The Colonel is his brother-in-law, you know.”

I remembered to have heard among much other gossip at Daulutpur that the Lieutenant-Governor of the Northern Provinces had married the Colonel’s sister as his second wife. It was all I knew about him.

“The Colonel said that though he did not as a rule believe in letting his subalterns go as A.D.C.’s, he felt he could not refuse in an emergency like this,” continued Mrs. Henson, “especially with two more subs. joining next month. The only question is which of you is to go.”

I suddenly saw myself being weighed in the balance with Jimmy Ladson, and my spirits sank. There could be no doubt that Jimmy weighed heavily. He was my senior by two years, an excellent all-round sportsman with money of his own, and half a dozen ponies to my one, and a good sort generally. Ladies as a rule loved him, and in spite of that he was almost universally popular with men. There was no doubt about it that Jimmy Ladson would make an excellent A.D.C.

“Of course I told him that there was no doubt it should be you,” said Mrs. Henson smilingly.

I must confess that I wondered greatly why she should have so unexpectedly come forward as my champion. It was extremely kind of her, but still I wondered.

“It’s awfully good of you,” I said gratefully.

“I don’t want to raise your hopes too high,” she added quickly, “but I had to tell you about it to make sure you would take it if the chance offered.”

I hastened again to leave her in no doubt whatever on that point.

“Very well then,” she said, as I rose to go. “I will do my best with the Colonel. You shall know as soon as I know.”

I went on to the Club with my head in a whirl. It had all been so sudden and utterly unexpected. An hour before I had had nothing to look forward to beyond the same dull daily round in Daulutpur for the whole hot weather. Now in a moment there had opened out a new and fascinating possibility. But as I had already said to Mrs. Henson it sounded much too good to be true. If it should come to pass it would be a piece of colossal luck such as had never come my way before.

Now some people will perhaps think that to become an A.D.C. is not such an ideal thing as to make all this fuss about. Many a keen soldier would probably scoff at the idea of accepting such a billet at all. To them it would mean giving up military duty and running at the heels of a civilian, carrying her ladyship’s cloak and escorting her daughter, duties quite beneath the dignity of a soldier. Now there is no denying that it does mean all these things to a very great extent. But to me just then it meant something very much more too. It meant escape from the heat of the plains and the deadly dullness of Daulutpur. It meant being at the centre of things and enjoying the best in the way of social life that India could afford. It was not as if the regiment and Daulutpur offered opportunities to a keen soldier. There was nothing to be done save parades and the dull routine of unimportant office work. Moreover, I was only twenty-two. To be an A.D.C. just then seemed all that was most to be desired.

I could not help wondering again as I played a desultory game of tennis in the stifling heat why Mrs. Henson should be championing my cause so warmly. During the short time she had been in the station I had seen very little of her. She and Mrs. Cantelupe were the only ladies who braved public opinion and did not come to the Club every evening. So far as I could remember she had never before shown me any particular mark of favour, though of course she must once have said that I was “a nice young man.” She had been much too busily engaged in captivating the Colonel and ousting Mrs. Cantelupe to pay very much attention to a subaltern. But I was soon to learn why she was so keenly advocating my claims to become an A.D.C.

After tennis Daulutpur invariably sat out on the chaboutra. It was one of those sacred customs that no one ever dreamed of breaking. The chaboutra, I must explain for the uninitiated, was a low circular platform of brick-cement raised about a foot from the ground in front of the Club, and on it every evening the Club-bearer set out two stiff semicircles of wicker arm-chairs under the punkah, which swung from a gallows-like erection overhead. It was on the chaboutra that all the gossip of the station was retailed. Therefore it was wiser to be present there every evening, so that one’s private affairs could not be openly discussed.

It was on the chaboutra that I discovered how I came to have so great a chance of becoming an A.D.C. We were all sitting there vainly trying to quench our thirsts, reading the papers or gossiping as the case might be. Close by me, as I sat trying to read Punch in the intervals of mopping my face, were Mrs. Leigh-Hawk and Mrs. Du Boulay, whose conversation, so far as it reached me, appeared to be divided between the enormities of their ayahs and the extortions of their cooks. Mrs. Leigh-Hawk was the wife of a local zemindari proprietor. Her nationality was not quite assured, and her friends were divided into the Whites and the Blacks. Mrs. Du Boulay was the wife of the Deputy Commissioner who was always at war with the regiment over that terrible rock of offence—the Table of Precedence. Their conversation was not exciting to an outsider, until suddenly the Colonel’s dog-cart flashed by. He was driving Mrs. Cantelupe. A perfect buzz of conversation immediately arose on the chaboutra.

“The Colonel had a letter this morning from his brother-in-law Sir Humphrey Sturt,” announced Mrs. Leigh-Hawk slowly and impressively as if fully aware of the importance of the news. “He wants an A.D.C., and he has asked the Colonel to let him have one from the regiment.”

It was an announcement of great interest to the station. Its reception visibly gratified Mrs. Leigh-Hawk. Everybody immediately stopped reading or gossiping and listened.

“Ah! “ said Mrs. Du Boulay meaningly after the first pause of newly awakened interest. “Then it will, of course, be Mr. Ladson.”

“I am not so sure”—Mrs. Leigh-Hawk fixed Mrs. Du Boulay with a significant look and nodded her head sagely—-“I am not so sure. There’s Mrs. Henson.”

“It was Mrs. Cantelupe driving with the Colonel to-night.”

“Oh! that’s nothing,” maintained Mrs. Leigh-Hawk; “he can hardly drop her all at once after all these months of devotion.”

Suddenly a new light dawned upon me. I began to see more clearly on what lay my chances of becoming an A.D.C.

For the first time I awoke to find myself taking an absorbing interest in the petty politics of the station. I was annoyed to discover that I was straining my ears to catch every word of the conversation which only a few minutes before had excited nothing but a mild disgust. The struggle between Mrs. Henson and Mrs. Cantelupe, which I had always hitherto viewed with such intolerant contempt, had all at once become of vital importance to myself. On the issue of it undoubtedly hung my chances of becoming an A.D.C.

“Besides,” I heard Mrs. Leigh-Hawk continuing the discussion, “Mrs. Henson particularly dislikes Mr. Ladson.”

That was the first I had heard of it. But I was learning much just then.

“And for that reason might be only too glad to get rid of him for a time out of the regiment,” urged Mrs. Du Boulay.

“No,” objected Mrs. Leigh-Hawk decidedly; “it would be too great a feather in his cap and Mrs. Cantelupe’s. Mr. Ladson will not get it if Mrs. Henson can keep him out of it.”

“But who has Mrs. Henson got to set up against him?” asked Mrs. Du Boulay, still unconvinced.

“Oh! there are others,” said Mrs. Leigh-Hawk vaguely. It was evident that she had not yet fixed on any one for the post.

“Let’s see,” said Mrs. Du Boulay meditatively. “There’s——”

There was a pause that grew so prolonged that I weakly looked up from the pages of Punch, impelled by curiosity. I found four eyes fixed upon me critically.

“Why there’s you,” they both said together.

I laughed nervously. It was impossible to pretend that I had not heard.

“I should not be at all surprised if Mrs. Henson championed you.”

“No such luck,” I murmured confusedly, feeling myself horribly guilty with the eyes of every one now upon me, evidently regarding me with suddenly awakened interest as a possible A.D.C.

“Yes,” repeated Mrs. Leigh-Hawk, for the first time agreeing with her adversary, and regarding me thoughtfully, “I should not be at all surprised if she got the billet for you. She likes you too.”

I thought she too was going to tell me that Mrs. Henson had called me a nice young man, but she spared me that. I laughed it off as easily as I could, and got up to find another paper. Then a few minutes later I went inside to make a fourth at bridge. Mrs. Leigh-Hawk and Mrs. Du Boulay were still discussing the chances of every possible and impossible candidate in Daulutpur for the post of A.D.C. But Jimmy Ladson and I were favourites.

For a day and a half I lived in a state of torturing uncertainty. Daulutpur seemed hotter and duller and more undesirable than ever, and I felt that to go through six months more of it after a glimpse of “the-might-have-been” would be wellnigh impossible. Mrs. Henson made no sign. I watched Jimmy Ladson every time I met him with feverish anxiety, and wondered if he were watching me. At the Club I deliberately laid myself out to hear the latest gossip. I felt that if things went on like this I should be speedily drawn into the thick of all the intrigues in the station. If good things were to be gained only in this way, however contemptible it might seem, it would be hard to stand aloof and keep out of them even if one could.

On the morning of the third day I had a charming little note from Mrs. Henson. It was evidently written in the first moment of triumph, which I knew full well was not on my account but because of the victory she had won over Mrs. Cantelupe. For the note announced that the Colonel had wired to the Lieutenant-Governor recommending me and that the Lieutenant-Governor had wired back accepting. Later in the same day I got a wire from the Private Secretary saying that I had been appointed A.D.C., and asking me to join immediately. I executed a war dance on the spot and without regret prepared to say farewell to Daulutpur.

It did not take me long to pack up. Besides my personal effects, which all went comfortably into three trunks of modest dimensions, I possessed only one camp-bed, one camp-table and one easy-chair, which I joyfully sold at a dead loss to a dealer in the bazaar, and by seven o’clock that same evening had nothing further to do but to await the midnight train to carry me off to begin my new duties as A.D.C.

Even when I had strapped the last trunk, paid the last rupee and written the last chit joyfully recommending the most incompetent of servants, it seemed too good to be true. Here was I, a junior subaltern in a native infantry regiment, without influence and without assets save only youth, health, plenty of energy, one pony, the King’s uniform and a very limited banking account, going off to one of the best hill stations to take up a billet many another better qualified would have jumped at. It was amazing to me as I worked out step by step how it had come about. It was truly a chapter of accidents. In the first place it was due to the fact that one of the A.D.C.’s had suddenly gone down with enteric and the other had been called home on urgent private affairs; then to the fact that my Colonel was the Lieutenant-Governor’s brother-in-law; then that the Colonel was a bachelor, and that two ladies were contending for his favour. I just happened to be on the spot as a possible rival to Mrs. Cantelupe’s nominee. I owed the billet to a lady who had hitherto shown no particular interest in my welfare and who had secured the billet for me not for my sake at all, but in order to prevent another woman getting it for her particular man. Personally I did not seem to count at all. I was merely a pawn in the game. But, of course, to start with I was undoubtedly “a nice young man”!

Chapter II

En Route to Government House

A fifty-eight hours’ railway journey lies between Daulutpur and Monaling, the hill station which was to be the scene of my experiences as an A.D.C. The train left at the uncomfortable hour of midnight, on a hot, suffocating night in the early part of May. Jimmy Ladson and half a dozen other fellows had come to see me off. Jimmy evidently bore me no ill will for my success, but I never quite knew how much he knew. But being a great friend of Mrs. Cantelupe, he must have known much, and he took it nobly. For it is not the pleasantest thing in the world to see another fellow off to a ripping billet in the hills in the month of May, and to know that you yourself have got to swelter in the plains for the next six months, and that but for the other fellow you would have been going to the hills to take up the self-same billet yourself. So I looked upon Jimmy, who could smile upon me as cheerily as ever, as a real good sort.

“Good luck to you!” he said as the train moved out of the station. “I suppose we shall see you back again some day.”

“Some day,” I called out cheerfully, mopping my face in the appalling heat and devoutly trusting that that day might be somewhere a long way off.

It was cooler, or perhaps I should say less hot, after we had left Daulutpur, and the motion of the train began to give something of a breeze. Fortunately there was no one else in my compartment, so I was able to spread myself in a way one can only do in a first-class carriage on an Indian line. Don’t let any one think I was unduly extravagant in travelling first class. That is one of the many things you don’t want to do but have to do in India. Nobody travels second except natives, Eurasians and very hard-up white men. Babies, on the other hand, invariably travel second. But you don’t always escape inconveniences in a first-class carriage, as I was soon to discover. Even its size and commodiousness have their disadvantages. Tempted by its spaciousness, few passengers can resist bringing into it not only their personal belongings, but everything that should have gone into the goods van as well. It is amazing the quantity of luggage you can cram inside if you only try. Of course you must not mind a certain amount of inconvenience yourself, and be quite callous about inconveniencing other people. But the latter soon wears off, even if you feel it at first, after you have gained some experience of travelling in the East.

It was literally roastingly hot all next day. The sun had awakened me at a most unearthly hour, pouring full into the carriage as it rose across the bare, flat, barren expanse of dried-up paddy fields. In the lightest of garments, and buoyed by the thought of the hills to come, I managed to get through the long hot hours of the day. It was not until evening that diversion came, and then it was not exactly the diversion one would have chosen. We were due at Bandelpur Junction at half-past six; at that most premature and unappetising of hours one had to have dinner. Only mail trains in India—and not always those—are so advanced as to carry refreshment cars attached, so one has to get out on to the hot, stuffy platform, hunt excitedly for the refreshment room, which is often a dreary waste away, eat very bad food wretchedly cooked and hurriedly served, and fly back to one’s carriage as the train is on the move, to regret at leisure the hastily eaten meal.

That is exactly what happened at Bandelpur. I only got back to my compartment breathless and very hot as the last whistle sounded, pushing my way through a crowd of natives who hung about the door. There was thus no time to protest against what I found inside. I only just had time to jump in as the train moved off. Inside a most unwelcome sight met my eyes. A very large fat native sat perched on the edge of the seat, most of his clothing in a tumbled heap beside him. He was wearing only slippers and a cloth tied round his waist, displaying to the full his enormous arms and shoulders and the rolls and rolls of fat that fell over one another down his chest. Of course he was very damp and sticky. If you are fat like that it is impossible to keep cool on a hot night in a railway carriage, even if you do discard all clothing. He was also chewing pan and exuding that strange and powerful odour which only a native can do.

But it was not after all the man himself that I minded most. It was his luggage. It was the most extraordinary luggage I have ever seen. It consisted almost entirely of innumerable cages of birds of every description. They simply covered the floor of all one side of the compartment and peeped out from underneath the seat. There was one large wicker cage containing about a dozen canaries on the seat itself. All the rest were small cages, and in them was a wonderful variety of feathered fowls, from parrots and cockatoos to minas and bulbuls, shamas and golden orioles. Many of them could sing and seemed determined that one should know it.

I sat down on my berth, regarding the scene with a mixture of amusement and annoyance. My fellow passenger, on the other hand, paid not the slightest attention to me. Depositing the large cage of canaries on almost the only available space left on the floor, he laid himself down full length on his berth and in an incredibly short space of time was snoring peacefully, his huge fat body shaking like a jelly with every motion of the train. The whole thing was so comic that my sense of humour conquered my annoyance, and instead of venting my indignation at the intrusion I soon followed his example and peacefully prepared for bed.

I had lain down for about half an hour and was vainly endeavouring to sleep when the train drew up at one of the many intermediate stations at which we stopped. Almost immediately the door on the opposite side opened, and two coolies thrust their way in among the cages on the floor, depositing a bag and bundle of bedding on the only remaining available space. This was too much and I sat up prepared to resist the second intrusion to the utmost. But no one followed the luggage, and from my side of the carriage I could see no one on the platform. It was not until the train was actually on the move that the owner jumped in. Again it was too late to protest, and the new comer and I faced one another as I sat up on my berth. For a moment he glanced round the carriage, then back at me.

“These yours?” he asked, pointing at the bird-cages. His eyes positively danced with amusement.

“No,” I said.

“His then,” he said, with a smile, pointing at the huge sleeping figure on the opposite berth. “Good, very good. We will soon change tout cela, as they say in France.”

He clambered over half a dozen cages and sat down on his roll of bedding, which had been placed near me. He too was a native, but as unlike my other fellow traveller as he well could be. He was dressed in ultra-English fashion, and his high white collar and stiff white cuffs made one marvel how he wore them in that frightful heat. His neat grey flannel suit and brown boots were evidently English-made, and the only objection to them was that they made him look as over-dressed as his fellow countryman on the opposite seat was under-dressed. He was of medium height and rather strongly built, with a round clean-shaven face that simply radiated cheeriness and good humour. His large dark eyes twinkled with fun and merriment as I have never seen a native’s do before or since. He must have been a man of over thirty, yet he had the manners of a schoolboy just released from supervision. His general alertness was marvellous, and in spite of the high white collar and the English clothes he did not seem to feel the heat.

“Yes,” he said, nodding cheerily as he saw me regarding him with some interest. “I am England-returned.”

For a moment I failed to grasp his meaning. Then I saw.

“Cambridge and Middle Temple and prize man at both,” he went on, ingenuously giving me these unasked-for details about himself. “Now managing uterine uncle’s estate in Madras.”

There was something engaging about his frank open manner and quick jerky speech.

“My name,” he added, “is Mr. Harinath Bose, M.A., B.L., Barrister-at-law.”

He turned suddenly and looked at the fat, sloppy figure on the opposite seat.

“It is well to be England-returned,” he said, with a little expressive movement of his delicately shaped small hands, “otherwise—like that.”

I laughed. I found it was not necessary to say anything. So long as I showed interest and answered when a direct question was put to me, it was all that he required. Such a form of conversation has its advantages on a hot stuffy night in a railway carriage, and my companion interested me in spite of myself as a specimen of a class of Indian I had never before come in contact with.

“Yet that,” he added quickly, “is what we should all have been if it had not been for you.”

This was indeed gratifying to hear in these Swadeshi days. My interest grew.

He got up and looked down at the huge sleeping figure.

“One of the old ruling race,” he said, turning to me again. “The descendant of kings. But for you he and his like would be ruling over us.” He shook his head and laughed as he sat down again beside me. “No, no. I prefer you.”

I murmured my appreciation, feeling that here at last was indeed a native after one’s own heart. I was not prepared for his next remark.

“You are probably a sub.,” he said, regarding me critically out of his humorous eyes. “Awfully cocksure and a bit of a brute but with a white man’s heart. You go straight. That’s just it. He couldn’t”—he pointed over to the sleeping figure—“neither could I. It’s not my fault, it’s not his. But—there you are, and it can’t be helped.”

The serious look which had come over his face for a moment vanished and the cheeriness returned.

“You are honest at least,” I said.

“To you—because it pays,” was the quick reply; “to him”—pointing again to the sleeping figure—“no. It would not pay. It could not be done. See, he has no right to make this first-class compartment into a house of singing birds. It is defrauding the company. Besides,” he added, stooping and picking up one of the cages, “birds are meant to fly, not to be constrained with bars.”

He leaned over and opened the door of the cage against the window as the train came to a stop at the next station, and a glorious golden oriole flew out into the night. I looked round quickly. The owner was still snoring, peacefully unconscious.

“There is no use for the cage when the bird has flown, is there?” laughed Mr. Harinath Bose as he dropped the cage out of the window.

It was all done so quickly and unexpectedly that I had had no time to remonstrate. But when he took up the largest cage full of canaries and literally emptied them out on to the line, I thought it time to interfere.

“I do so hate to see the little things caged,” he pleaded comically.

“But they are not yours to let loose,” I said.

He smiled round at me as he struggled with a parrot’s cage that would not open.

“Did I not tell you I could not be honest with him?” he asked, jerking the cage in the direction of the sleeping owner. “He is rich. He can afford. Poor Polly,” he went on humorously. “Cage won’t open. We must give her away as she is.” He leaned out of the window. “Hie, little boy,” he called, “would you like a bird? There, run away and don’t tell anybody till you get home.”

“And you too!” as another little boy hurried up to see what was going on. “Would you like a bird too? Then you shall have one.” He dived into the carriage and seized another cage which happened to contain a couple of little green love-birds, which he presented with an air of great benevolence to the second small boy.

Fortunately the train moved out of the station or our carriage would soon have been surrounded. What was I to do? It was really no affair of mine. Yet no Englishman likes to sit by and see another man unfairly despoiled of his property. But Mr. Harinath Bose refused to see my point of view and prattled on with a wicked twinkle in his eye, as he opened two more cages, about how glad the little birds must be that they had met him.

“Look here,” I said at last, “if you don’t stop it I’ll wake the owner up.”

He looked round at me with his quick smile.

“In that case,” he said pleasantly, “I shall at once accuse you of having done it.”

I gasped at his effrontery.

“Think! “ he went on, as if he were summing up to a jury. “Which of us is he most likely to believe? You, a young subaltern doubtless full of monkey tricks, or me his fellow countryman, an M.A., B.L., Barrister-at- law? Besides, he doubtless cannot speak your language. Again I have the advantage.”

I laughed, admitting that he had.

“Yet I thought you were always honest with a white man,” I protested.

“With an honest man,” he corrected. “You give me away, I give you away. See?”

I did not quite see where the dishonesty of my telling a man that his property was being stolen exactly came in, but it was useless to argue. Moreover, by this time he had released the last of the birds and thrown the last of the cages out on to the line.

“And so to bed, as Pepys would say,” he laughed, and proceeding to lower the upper berth above my head, clambered up with a cheery “good night” and was soon fast asleep, untroubled by qualms of conscience.

I glanced over at the huge sleeping figure opposite, as I too lay down, and wondered much what his awakening would be like.

The sun was streaming into the carriage when I awoke next morning. But it was not the sun that woke me, it was a cry from the fat gentleman on the opposite seat. He was sitting up, staring round the compartment and rubbing his eyes in amazement. Then he looked at me helplessly, evidently feeling that I was of another race and tongue and of little use to him in his distress, but catching sight of Mr. Harinath Bose above he brightened up. My friend of the night before jumped up and a long and animated conversation ensued between them. Though I could understand little of it, there could be no mistaking the sympathy and solicitude expressed on the countenance and in the manner of Mr. Harinath Bose. He turned to me and explained without the suspicion of a smile. This gentleman, the agent of the Amir of Afghanistan, had been robbed of seventeen cages of birds which he was taking to His Majesty at Kabul. Was it not disgraceful that such a thing should have happened on a Government line? He himself was dictating forthwith a letter to the Viceroy claiming justice. Suiting the action to the word he produced paper and a stylo pen and after much sympathetic confabulation with the one-time owner of the birds he wrote. When he had finished the letter he read it over in Urdu, then handed it to me. This is what I read:—

“May it please Your Excellency,

“I, Emil Chandau Roy, accredited agent of the Amir of Afghanistan, am, with Your Excellency’s kind permission, in great pain. Sent to India for the purpose I was travelling back with seventeen new wives for His Majesty when woe is me. They have been robbed from me from under this very nose. Alas! how I can return to His Majesty without his seventeen new love-birds whom he so amorously awaits. Pray thou assist me to their recovery, that the amicable relations that exist at present between His Majesty and Your Excellency be not engendered, and for this benefit your humble servant shall ever pray for your long life and eternal welfare.”

The letter was duly signed and sealed by the unsuspecting “accredited agent” and posted at the next station. An hour later we reached Jaranagor Junction, where I had to change, and I saw my fellow travellers again no more. Mr. Harinath Bose was still sympathetic and condoling.

I was lucky enough to find a compartment to myself again on the train that was to take me to the foot of the hills, and it was not till the afternoon that my solitude was broken. Then it was most unpleasantly disturbed. The door was flung violently open, and half a dozen naked and perspiring coolies struggled in carrying various impedimenta in the shape of trunks, helmet case, despatch box, bundle of bedding, gun cases and tiffin basket. There was not much room left in the carriage when the coolies had finished. Then came the owner of this healthy assortment. He was quite obviously a Colonel of sorts. Nobody else could have been quite so like the popular Colonel of fiction. His language to the coolies who surrounded the carriage door and clamoured for more pice showed him to be of a choleric temperament. So knowing that I had to be boxed up with him for some time to come I tried to look amiable. He settled himself and his belongings with much precision, then he sat down and, fixing his one eyeglass, glared at me.

“What are you in?” he asked, as if I had no right to be in anything.

“The 153rd,” I answered in as non-committal a voice as I could.

“H’m!” It was evident that he did not approve of me or the regiment, I could not be sure which. He still regarded me with a fixed and embarrassing stare.

“Goin’ to join your regiment?”

I grew restless under this uncalled-for catechism.

“No,” I said, “I am going up to Monaling.”

“H’m!” he snorted. “Goin’ up to poodle-fake, I suppose.”

I grew really annoyed.

“No,” I said, ostentatiously taking up a book and opening it deliberately. “I am going up to be A.D.C. to the Lieutenant-Governor.”

“H’m!” he snorted again angrily. “Then I hope you’ll keep a few decent manners. It’s more than most of ’em do. Damned young cubs, most of ’em.”

After that I retired as much as I could into my book. The Colonel was not the kind of man one desired to carry on a prolonged conversation with. Fortunately he was very hot and very cross and tried to sleep most of the time; though, unless one can swear and sleep at the same time, I am afraid he did not have much success.

At 6 a.m. next morning we had to change at Charanghur at the foot of the hills. From there a narrow-gauge railway runs up to Monaling, zigzagging up the face of the mountains—a veritable triumph of modern engineering. The heat even at that early hour was appalling. Right under the shadow of the towering hills above, Charanghur seemed to be cut off from every breath of air. Hot and dirty after a two nights’ journey across the plains, the dozen European passengers scrambled through chota haziri and rushed to secure their seats in the hill train. My chief object was to avoid the fiery Colonel, whom I had long since conceived a great desire to see no more. There were only three first-class compartments on the train. In them the seats were arranged in the form of arm-chairs, each carriage containing six, three aside. They were very comfortable, but they had their disadvantages. They were quite open at the sides with a sort of Cape-cart hood of canvas overhead. They were all very well so long as it did not rain and was not too cold, but I found afterwards that it was generally one or the other on the Charanghur-Monaling railway.

I saw the Colonel safely ensconced in one of the compartments and promptly installed myself in another, which, so far, was empty. Then leaving my Bearer to guard my seat and my belongings, I hurried off to snatch a hasty chota haziri amidst the bustle of departure. The refreshment room was unexpectedly crowded. Another train from another direction had apparently just arrived, bringing with it a large contingent for the hills. So it was as I expected on returning to my carriage. There were no less than five other people installed there, all of them ladies. Being rather a shy young man I hastened along to see if there was not a seat to be obtained in less exclusively female society, but there was only one in the whole train and that was next to the irate Colonel. I preferred the five unknown ladies.

Two of the ladies were obviously, at 6 a.m. in the morning, mother and daughter. By electric light I think I should have mistaken them for sisters, but the fatigue of a long railway journey and turning out at 6 a.m. had told heavily on Mamma. Their luggage was varied and voluminous, and they insisted on bringing all they could with them into the compartment to their own and every one else’s inconvenience. There could be no doubt as to their name since every article was labelled with it in the largest possible letters— Strafford-Willis. Mrs. Strafford-Willis was very much excited about her heavy luggage which had been placed in the goods van. She was afraid that it had not been transferred to the hill railway, so, being young and foolish, I offered to get out and go and look for it. Of course it had been transferred all right, but the sure and certain knowledge much relieved the mind of Mrs. Strafford-Willis. She settled down for the journey after that, and began to devote her attention to me. She seemed really to notice me now for the first time. Her manners were of the inquisitive, insinuating type.

“You are going up to Monaling?” she asked unnecessarily, since the train went nowhere else. Her accent was one that I was soon to become familiar with in Monaling, the accent known as chi-chi.

“Yes,” I answered, somewhat shortly, reflecting that after all it might have been better to have taken that seat next the Colonel, whose catechism was over, rather than submit to it all afresh.

“Your regiment is up there?” she continued, regarding me as if she had not quite made up her mind whether I was worth cultivating or not.

“No,” I replied with cold politeness. “I am just coming from my regiment at Daulutpur.”

I turned and gazed out at the scenery. It was extremely annoying being catechised like this by every stranger one came across. I began to think there must be a certain want of dignity about me that led people to give full rein to their inquisitiveness.

I think Mrs. Strafford-Willis was a little impressed by my evident annoyance. It is extraordinary what an impressive effect a cold demeanour has upon certain people. She was silent for a moment, then curiosity evidently got the better of her.

“You are just going up on leave then, I suppose?” she asked ingratiatingly.

I turned and looked her full in the face.

“No,” I replied, determined to put an end to her questioning, “I am going up to be A.D.C. to the Lieutenant-Governor.”

I don’t think that anything I have ever said before or since has produced such a remarkable effect.

All five ladies sat up with a rustle and turned their eyes upon me with suddenly aroused interest. The stout elderly lady in the corner hastily fumbled for her lorgnettes and fixed them full upon me with great animation. The thin lady by my side visibly drew away from me in an excess of admiration and respect, while the still thinner lady beyond her leaned forward and unblushingly stared at me with large astonished eyes as a child stares at some strange monster in the Zoo. Mrs. Strafford-Willis’s first instinct was quite obviously to fall upon her knees to kowtow, and she only checked it by an effort. Her manner melted like snow before a summer sun and she was suffused with smiles as she murmured something pleasantly unintelligible. Miss Strafford-Willis evidently thought at once about her hair and wished she looked better. They all grew ten years younger as they smiled upon me.

I sat feeling rather dazed and devoutly wishing that I had not disclosed my identity. I had never anticipated what a sensation the announcement would cause. Not having known much hitherto of A.D.C.’s, I had no idea of their supreme importance. It was quite a new experience for me, a penniless young subaltern, suddenly to find myself an object of such evident interest and admiration.

As I have said before, I was rather shy with ladies, and five of them at once regarding me with great appreciation was most embarrassing. Before I knew quite what had happened, there was a general buzz of conversation. Everybody seemed to be talking to me at once. Mrs. Strafford-Willis was so animated that I almost feared she was going to embrace me. Her whole manner had changed until she was scarcely recognisable. She was all sweetness and honey. A most cordial invitation to come and see her evidently expected as cordial a one in return to Government House. I sat tight, still feeling rather dazed, but determined not to give myself away.

Meanwhile the train had begun the ascent and crept slowly higher and higher. It was a marvellous journey. Through the dense forest the narrow line forced its way, cutting for itself a ledge along the precipitous mountainside. Winding zigzag up its irregular face, round some gigantic eminence in the full glare of the sunlight or deep into the shadow of some enormous hollow in the rocks, the little train, toylike in its diminutiveness on these vast mountain summits, pluckily but slowly made its way. Above towered an almost perpendicular wall of cliff; below yawned a precipice of a thousand feet, the narrow ledge between the two but just sufficing for the passing of the train. Above and below was one vast expanse of vegetation—giant trees of the primeval forest heavy with enormous creepers, the ground below a jungle of undergrowth. Here and there a clump of feathery bamboos or an enormous palm lent new beauty and new shades of colour to this glorious stretch of green. It was a veritable riot of luxuriant vegetation, stag-moss and exquisite fern covering every inch of ground that tree and shrub had not appropriated. No avenue I have ever seen could compare with that through which the tiny Monaling train crept slowly upwards.

To me it was all new, and after the burning barrenness and dead monotony of the level plains round Daulutpur it was a perfect joy. Not the least pleasant part of it was the gradually cooling atmosphere. Here and there between the trees one caught glimpses of the plains below—a vast expanse lost in the far horizon, across which the rivers wound like lines of white, and each time they came in sight they drew still further off, like things of another world. One could feel it grow colder with almost every turn of the wheel, and long before one reached the top one was glad of one’s thickest coat. My fellow travellers showed no appreciation whatever of the scenery. Whether they really cared for none of these things or whether the excitement of travelling up with an A.D.C. had thrust them temporarily into oblivion I was unable to discover. All the way up I remained indisputably the object of chief interest. The air of animation that had suddenly pervaded the compartment at my announcement of myself as an A.D.C. lasted until the end of the journey. It was with great empressement that the five ladies bade me good-bye when we alighted on the platform at Monaling. They all hoped to see me again soon and that I should find time to come and see them in the midst of my many new duties. I never quite knew how it happened, but before I realised what I was doing I found myself carrying Mrs. Strafford-Willis’s hand-bag and thrusting my way through the crowd of natives on the platform in search of her rickshaw. Of course, on the way I got wedged in the crowd close up against my friend the Colonel, with Mrs. and Miss Strafford-Willis close behind me. He said nothing, but glared at me, and I knew what he thought—”poodle-faking.” A moment later I was gazing up the road after the retreating rickshaws with somewhat mixed feelings at my adventures as an A.D.C. before I had yet assumed the office.

Chapter III

My First Day as an A.D.C.

It was somewhat of a shock to my newly acquired importance to find no one on the platform at Monaling to meet me. I had wired the time of my arrival to the Private Secretary before leaving Daulutpur, so I could hardly be unexpected at Government House. I had at least expected a gorgeous red and gold chaprassi to look after my luggage and show me the way. But gradually the platform cleared and no one turned up. All my fellow passengers had hurried off in rickshaws, and the peppery Colonel had departed on a peppery little pony sent to meet him. At last I was left almost alone, and rather crestfallen I set about making my own arrangements. I hired a disreputable-looking rickshaw, and getting coolies to carry my luggage, we set out for Government House, which I was informed was about a mile away.

It was only just nine o’clock, and all the first freshness of a spring morning still hung about Monaling. The houses lay scattered along the crest of a spur or upon its slopes, half hidden among the trees, with glimpses here and there of gardens gay with annuals. Everywhere there was a wealth of living green and colour. Behind, like a circle of guardian giants, rose the enormous mass of snow-clad peaks, of a dazzling whiteness in the morning light. There are no driving roads in Monaling save one, and no one is allowed a carriage save the Lieutenant-Governor, the rest of the station having to fall back on ponies, rickshaws and dandies. A rickshaw is rather like a grown-up go-cart, drawn by two coolies, with two more pushing behind. Dandies resemble nothing but themselves, being merely open boxes with a pole at either end which the coolies carry on their shoulders. It was the first time I had ever been in a rickshaw, and I hoped never to go again. It made one feel like a child in a perambulator, and it also made one feel unpleasantly heavy as the coolies struggled with much groaning and grunting up the steep hill-sides.

Far above the station, on a peak by itself, I could see Government House. It was a tremendous pull up, but the four coolies, clad in the raggedest and dirtiest of coloured garments, with bare legs showing their splendid sturdiness and muscle, managed it with surprising ease. There were few people about at that hour, though down below, as one climbed further up, one could see the open bazaar teeming with life: the stalls set out under low roofs and a varied stream of humanity moving in and out among them. The names of the houses as one flashed by could not fail to arrest the eye. In Monaling when christening your house you do not trouble to think of a suitable and appropriate name. You choose one that looks well, and the more high-sounding and imposing the better it is. Say you have a long, low bungalow of strange irregular shape, evidently the result of many additions, and you want a name for it. “Edinburgh Castle” appears to you a nice and distinguished name, and you accordingly label it that by means of a large black board with white letters. Or again, you have a little one-storied cottage of about six rooms, and to make sure that it shall not be overlooked you call it “Blenheim Palace.” “Dorchester House,” “Hornby Castle,” and “Hampton Court” were other names I caught sight of on that first morning ride. It reminded one of comic opera. It was as if some late reveller had labelled them thus for fun, and their owners as yet slept peacefully unconscious of the comic figures that they cut. But after a time one got so used to these high-flown names—as to many other things in Monaling—that one altogether ceased to notice their incongruity.

The gates of Government House stood wide open. A sentry, a sturdy Gurkha rifleman in scarlet and green, saluted as we dashed through. There was one more long steep ascent and we were under the porch, with three red and gold chaprassis salaaming before us. The house was a long low white building, all on the ground floor, covered with creeper from end to end. It was not imposing and not quite what one expected of a Government House, but it had an air of comfort, and the grounds were beautiful, while the view out over the valleys below and away to the hills beyond was one of the grandest it would be possible to find anywhere.

The oldest and most venerable chaprassi, with a grey beard, was talking volubly in Hindustani. I failed to understand most of what he said, but I gathered that he was forthwith going off to announce my arrival to the “Presence.” I waited in the hall some five minutes, feeling cold and hungry and unmistakably chilled at my reception. I did not know a soul in the whole of Monaling, and for a moment I thought regretfully of the regiment even in the heat of Daulutpur, where at least I knew everybody and everybody knew me.

After what seemed a long delay, the chaprassi returned accompanied by the A.D.C. whom I was to relieve. There was no mistaking from the first glimpse of him that he was an A.D.C. Even I, who had never seen one before, knew at once that he was an A.D.C. He had a proprietary air as if the whole house and everything in sight belonged to him, and he made you feel when he looked at you as if you were a mere fly on the horizon and had no right even to be that. He was the kind of person you instinctively disliked at first sight and never wished to see again. I heard afterwards that he had wanted the post of A.D.C. for a special chum of his but “The Presences” had had enough of him and had no wish to sample another like him.

“Hullo! you’ve come, have you?” was all his greeting.

He said it in the tone that made you feel that you had either come at a horribly inconvenient hour or had not been expected at all.

“Yes,” I said, trying not to show how much I disliked the manner of him. “Didn’t you get my telegram?”

“Telegram—telegram!” he repeated in a loud important voice as he turned to lead the way along the corridor. “Don’t know. Can’t say.”

Half-way down the passage with rooms on either side he stopped and spoke to the chaprassi in Hindustani.

Nau lumber,” answered the chaprassi, which even my Hindustani enabled me to comprehend as “No. 9.”

A little further on the A.D.C. stopped again and flung open a door.

“There’s your room,” he vouchsafed as I stepped inside. “Hope you’ve got all you want.”

I turned to reply and met the door slamming in my face!

I sat down on the bed and laughed. There was nothing else to be done. I had not by any means got all I wanted. I wanted my Bearer and my luggage and a bath and breakfast, and as I waited for them the words of the peppery Colonel in the train came back to me.

“Damned young cubs, most of ’em,” he had said unflatteringly of A.D.C.’s, and I vowed, even as I laughed over the occurrence, to keep a few decent manners, which my predecessor had evidently failed to do. The old chaprassi, however, had retained his native courtesy in spite of the glitter of red and gold, and he soon turned up with my Bearer and kit. A bath and a change had a wonderful effect after the long journey, and I felt well equipped again to meet all the other vicissitudes that might beset the path of an incoming A.D.C.

But the first thing necessary was undoubtedly breakfast. I was positively ravenous, having had nothing but tea and toast about 6 a.m. at Charanghur. There seemed to be no one about, but I discovered the dining-room and entered cautiously, fearing to come upon “The Presences” still at breakfast. But it was evident that that meal was long since over and the table was already laid for lunch. It was impossible, however, to think of waiting for that meal, which must be at least two hours ahead. Cautiously I rang the bell, feeling horribly like an unauthorised intruder, yet anything was better than throwing myself on the mercies of the A.D.C. The bell rang with a clamour that seemed as if it must resound through the whole house, and a venerable Kitmatghar answered it in haste. I explained in my best Hindustani that I had had no breakfast. He at least was sympathetic. He threw up his hands in horror. The Saheb had had no breakfast! It was horrible; it was world-destroying. Food should be placed before the Presence without a moment’s delay.

Within a few minutes he was back with tea and eggs and bacon and cold meat and much jam and marmalade. I made the biggest meal I had made for many days. One had had no use for an appetite in the heat of Daulutpur. Thus fortified I meditated upon my next move. That I had been completely forgotten was evident. I wandered out into the hall. It was an enormous one, dark panelled, with a huge fireplace, such as one might expect to find in some old English manor-house. There was no one there. A glass door communicated with a kind of vestibule that led to the porch. I looked through it and saw the same three chaprassis in red and gold squatting on their heels and gossiping away the time. There were several doors opening out of the hall. They were all closed. The only one I knew was the one that communicated with the dining-room. It was just eleven o’clock. I felt that it was quite time I made my presence known. I went out into the porch and called the old chaprassi. He hurried up the steps salaaming deeply.

“Where is the Lat Saheb?” I asked.

“The Presence is in his dufter khana,” he replied.

“And the Private Secretary Saheb?”

“He also is in his dufter khana.”

I decided that I would approach him. Fortunately the A.D.C. was to give over charge to me and depart immediately, so that I should see little more of him, but with the private secretary I should have to live for several months to come. I devoutly hoped he had “kept a few manners.” I was a little afraid, though, for he was a heaven-born civilian, and all heaven-borns are supposed to put on side.

The old chaprassi hurried off and in less than a minute was back again. With him came the private secretary.

Now at sight of that private secretary I rejoiced greatly. There are some people who you can tell at a glance are the right sort. He was one of them. He was the kind of man you liked at first sight and that even the most difficult person could not fail to get on with. He gripped my hand and smiled cheerily.

“I’m awfully sorry,” he said. “I didn’t know that you had arrived. I thought you were coming by a later train. Lawson never told me. But then Lawson never does tell me anything.”

He smiled at me and I think read in my answering smile that I too had gauged what sort of a man Lawson was. But that was the worst he ever said of him, though I knew afterwards that he had suffered much. I made light of my lack of welcome, but Bentham—that I discovered later was his name—was awfully upset.

“Nothing to meet you at the station?” he said, taking me by both arms and smiling his solicitude. “I am sorry. H.H. would be furious if he knew. But you have had breakfast? Come along, then, I’ll take you in to see H.H.”

He took me by the arm in the cheeriest, friendliest way and led me across the hall, talking all the time. I found that this was characteristic of Bentham—he always talked and always smiled. Opening the door at the further end of the hall he ushered me into the sanctum of His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor of the Northern Provinces.

“This is Wynford, sir. He has just arrived,” Bentham said by way of introduction.

The tall, lean man with the parchment face, who sat at a large desk covered with papers of all sorts, finished the sentence he was writing and then looked up. He fixed a monocle in his eye as he rose to greet me.

“Ah!” he exclaimed. “You are Mr. Wynford, or shall I now say Captain Wynford?”

He regarded me critically but kindly as he held my hand. He was evidently almost as interested in seeing what I was like as I was in inspecting him.

“You have been very prompt in responding to my call,” he went on as we sat down and Bentham left us alone. “Let me see. You had your telegram of appointment, probably, yes probably, only the day before yesterday, yet here you are after a fifty-eight hours’ railway journey only two days later. Very good, very good—a very good beginning, Captain Wynford.”

Sir Humphrey smiled upon me with a large and approving smile. He talked always in the manner of one addressing a large audience. It made one feel uncomfortably small when one was sole auditor, as if one were not nearly large enough.

“Lawson will doubtless have already inducted you into your new duties as A.D.C.,” he continued, and he said it so definitely as a statement of fact that I felt it would have been positively rude to contradict him. “There remains then nothing for me to do but to hand you over to my wife. To-day is her At Home day, so she is counting on your services, I know. Good, very good.”

He rose from his chair and moved towards the door, but before he could reach it, it was flung open and a radiant Vision flew into the room.

“Oh, father dear, the new A.D.C.——!”

Then the Vision saw me and stopped suddenly.

“My dear Sybilla,” exclaimed His Honour, smiling fondly upon her, “when will you remember that this is my official sanctum, and that when you burst in upon me in this most unceremonious—I might almost say kitten-like—manner, you may find me engaged in the most important and secret affairs of state?”

He positively purred over her, both her hands in his, apparently forgetting me. The Vision looked round at me out of the corner of her eyes, which seemed to dance with fun and humour.

“But let me introduce you to the new A.D.C.,” went on His Honour. “My daughter—Captain Wynford.”

The Vision and I bowed conventionally. She raised her eyes, serious, thoughtful, demure brown eyes, and I could not imagine as I looked into them how I could possibly have thought a moment before that they had danced with fun and humour.

“It is now 11.15,” said His Honour, addressing the Vision after consulting his watch, “and as calling begins at twelve, you had better take Captain Wynford and introduce him to your mother, and generally instruct him in his new duties.”

With that and a genial smile he dismissed us. It was evident that my predecessor had already left without vouchsafing me any idea of what my new duties were. The first of them I was apparently going to learn from the Vision. It struck me as a bit comic that I should have to be inducted into my new duties by a slip of a girl, but if it did not seem exactly fitting, it promised to be extremely pleasant.

“This is the hall where every one arrives and you receive them,” said Miss Sturt demurely as we passed through it, “and this is the drawing-room,” pointing towards large folding-doors which had been thrown open, and over which hung heavy dark red curtains. A chaprassi stood beside them, evidently already on duty, and held them up as we approached. Miss Sturt just looked inside.

“Come,” she said, drawing back with a smile; “I will be the first visitor and you shall announce me just for practice.” It was true that her wonderful brown eyes could dance with fun and humour. “I’ll give you a very difficult name just to see if you get it right,” she laughed. “Mother gets awfully annoyed if the A.D.C.’s don’t say the names clearly and distinctly. So you will be careful to say it loudly and distinctly, won’t you?”

“There’s nobody in there, is there?” I asked, looking in between the curtains.

“Oh, no,” she said demurely, almost reproachfully, her brown eyes fixed upon me. “We are quite alone.”

She almost ran across the hall and out into the porch, keen as a child on a new game. I received her as she arrived with slow and stately gait at the top of the steps.

“Miss Footling-Bootie,” she said as I bowed and waited for her name.

I stalked across the hall in front of her with all the military gait I knew. The chaprassi flung back the curtains and I advanced three paces inside, as directed. Then in my loudest and most distinct tones I announced, “Miss Footling-Bootie.”

To my infinite amazement and confusion, a lady rose hastily from a high-backed chair beside the fireplace. I turned hurriedly to seek the help of “Miss Footling-Bootie,” but to add to my embarrassment no “Miss Footling-Bootie” came. I was badly left. I could imagine the merriment in the Vision’s brown eyes as she pictured my confusion. The lady by the fireplace stood looking at me with a dazed expression as if she thought I were an escaped lunatic. I gave one helpless glance back into the hall. It was empty. Then I advanced and explained the situation as best I could to the lady by the fireplace. She was evidently Lady Sturt. She received my explanation with a sigh of relief and sat down again.

“I was dozing,” she said, regarding me dreamily as if she were about to doze again, “and I thought you were mad.”

I laughed.

“There was no mistaking the visitor’s name,” she nodded, talking to me as if she had known me for years, “and that’s such a comfort. It’s so dreadful not to know whom you are talking to. Yet that is continually happening to me. Often, I assure you, I sit here talking to people without in the least knowing who they are, and that’s so awkward. One doesn’t like to mention anything for fear their sister or their cousin or their aunt might have done it. And people think it seems so strange not to have known, though I suppose it really doesn’t much matter. Still, I do like to know whom I’m talking to.”

I hastened to assure her that I would always shout out people’s names distinctly.

“And do, whenever you get the chance, whisper to me something about the person whom you are going to introduce,” she went on conversationally. “It’s so nice to be able to say the right thing to the right person. Somehow I have never been able to do it, though I’ve always tried. Only yesterday Captain Lawson—annoying man, Captain Lawson, I’m glad he’s gone—was bringing up some one to introduce, and I thought he whispered ‘interesting wife.’ So, of course, I asked after his wife. And he’d never had one! Wasn’t it annoying of him? Of course it didn’t really matter, and it wasn’t so bad as if he had had one and she was dead. But still, I do like to know whom I’m talking to. By the way,” she added, suddenly waking out of the dreamy abstracted way in which she talked, “I don’t know your name yet.”

She smiled upon me with a perfectly enchanting smile that absolutely illuminated her face. I was immensely struck with the pleasant smiles I had met on the faces of every one, save Captain Lawson, so far in Monaling. I learned afterwards that the smile went by the name of the “Government House smile.” Needless to say it added much to the popularity of the Presences. There is nothing like the power of a smile.

I told Lady Sturt my name.

“Wynford,” she repeated thoughtfully; “Wynford. I know the name, of course I know the name. There was once a Mrs. Wynford who lived at Bath. But she couldn’t be related to you,” she added quite hastily, shaking her head and regarding me with a far-off look, “she couldn’t possibly be related to you.”

I longed to ask why she couldn’t possibly be related to me, but I refrained.

“She couldn’t possibly be related to you,” she repeated again abstractedly, still regarding me fixedly.

I felt quite embarrassed. Was it that the Mrs. Wynford who lived at Bath wasn’t quite nice, or that I did not come up to her standard?

“I never knew her husband,” went on Lady Sturt reminiscently. “But I suppose she must have had one. Unless she invented him. Quite likely”—she nodded her head sagely and sleepily—“quite likely.”

By that I divined that the lady of Bath who bore my name was “not quite nice.”

“Quite likely,” murmured Lady Sturt once again, placidly closing her eyes. Whether she was still thinking of the suspected enormities of the Bath lady or of nothing at all it was impossible to say.

Suddenly she opened her eyes and fixed them on me with a very wide-awake look.

“It is now exactly seventeen minutes to twelve,” she said.

It was so direct and simple and to the point after her last rather wandering remarks that I almost jumped. I found that this was characteristic of Lady Sturt. Just when you imagined she had drowsed off into some by-path of thought or into complete forgetfulness she suddenly astonished you by some very practical and apposite remark.

“And visitors begin to arrive at twelve o’clock,” I said, rising. “I will be back again in uniform in ten minutes,” and with that I hurried off.

I was on duty some minutes before the clock struck twelve. Two of the gorgeous chaprassis in red and gold stood in the porch. Two more were in position across the hall ready to draw aside the heavy curtains that screened the drawing-room. I stood at the top of the steps waiting for the first comers.

Now I am sorry to say it, but the first lady who arrived I had doubts about admitting. My first thought when I saw her was that her looking-glass must be in a very dark corner of her dressing-room or she couldn’t possibly have come out like that. My second thought was, Could it possibly be that she was storming the gates of Government House knowing that I was a new A.D.C. and didn’t know who was who? She had golden fluffy hair that looked as if it had long since given up trying to pretend it was not a wig, and one doesn’t like to say it of a lady, but the colour on her cheeks simply yelled at you that it was not her own. She looked as one does when one makes up to have one’s photograph taken the morning after some theatricals. As for her hat and dress, being a mere man one hesitates to criticise, but there could be no doubt that they were both much too bright, and that the hat was perched at an altogether wicked angle on the fluffy head. I looked at her with many misgivings as I saw her coming up the steps. But when she reached the top of them and I went forward to meet her, a kindly soul looked out from the painted face and from under the fluffy hair. I was reassured. When I looked at her cards as she handed them to me I saw that she was the wife of a planter whose name was known throughout the province.

After that the callers came in quick succession. To me they were all new faces. But if I looked with interest at them, they certainly looked with curiosity at me. I was not long left in doubt about the importance of the advent of a new A.D.C. Altogether there were forty-three callers between twelve and two. I felt rather like a glorified flunkey at first as I ushered them in and shouted out their names; but I soon got used to that and began rather to enjoy it. After many months at Daulutpur, where one knew everybody, it was a joy to see so many new faces. I must have walked a considerable distance to and fro across the hall and up and down the steps assisting ladies to alight and helping them into their rickshaws.

Of course I did not get to know much of the people I merely announced and assisted to arrive and depart, but I naturally formed many first impressions of some of the people I was going to see and hear much of during the next few months. There was little Mrs. Kintoul, petite and confiding, always in a hurry and always with a grievance. She was apologising for her disreputable dandy walas even before I had helped her out of her dandy. All her own men were down with fever, so tiresome of them. She really believed they did it just to annoy her, and she really couldn’t put her smart uniform on these dirty men from the bazaar, so she had to come with them just as they were, though it was annoying to have to come with men like this when you had smart-looking men and smart uniforms at home. However, it didn’t really matter so long as she had got here, and she was awfully pleased to see me and hoped that I should like Monaling. She said it all and much more in one breath as I led her up the stairs and across the hall, and she was still talking as she entered the drawing-room and greeted Lady Sturt. Then came Mrs. Mangleton, the Colonel’s wife, who was known as “The Hawk,” a bird she strongly resembled in appearance. She cared for nothing but bridge. Mrs. Bondling arrived just behind her in pink, bringing Miss Bondling, also wearing pink and a nervous smile. She was just out from home, Mrs. Bondling told me in a stage whisper, and very shy. She certainly looked both, but I was destined very soon to see the shyness wear off with a rapidity extraordinary even for eighteen in an Indian hill station. Mrs. Bondling was young and frisky and excitable. She generally rushed about the station wildly on a tired-looking hill pony to the great danger of herself and other people. Then there was Mrs. Strensham who was cold and haughty and very beautiful, but you were not quite certain the first time you met her whether she really had a soul. There was just something about her beauty that suggested that she hadn’t. She had the most glorious blue eyes that looked at you with a wonderful depth of expression or with none at all. At first sight you couldn’t tell which. It was most upsetting. Everybody who met Mrs. Strensham once longed to meet her again to find out. But I’m not sure that anybody ever did find out. Lastly, there was Mrs. Grainger, the Bishop’s wife. She was quite young and gay and fashionably dressed, and she made you want very much to see what the Bishop could be like. No one would have guessed she was a bishop’s wife without her cards or the Bishop.

But of them all there was only one with whom I fell in love straight away. Her name was Mrs. Hugesson-Willoughby, but she was known to every one as Berengaria. She was the kind of woman whom everybody loves at first sight and loves always. It sounds impossible, but it’s true. You might laugh sometimes at her little eccentricities and you might often disapprove of her actions, but you always kept a soft spot in your heart for her. She possessed in the largest measure of any woman I have ever known that divinest gift of the gods—the gift of being lovable. But the gods had been kind to Berengaria, for she had too that rarest of gifts, not only the power of being thought delightful but that much greater power of making other people think themselves delightful. She happened to be leaving when no one else was either arriving or departing, and stayed chatting pleasantly with me on the steps. It was nothing exactly that she said, it was just her manner and personality, but she made me feel for the first time since I had arrived in Monaling that I really was born to be an A.D.C. I felt twice the man I had before. I tried to remember afterwards what it was that she had said. But I couldn’t. I could only remember a charming personality, radiating kindness and happiness and sympathy. She asked me to tea next Sunday, and I promised to go if I could possibly get away.

The men, of course, gave themselves away less at first sight. I don’t quite know why it is that it is always so much easier to tell what a woman is like when you first see her than it is in the case of a man. I suppose it is partly that a woman is allowed to show so much more individuality in dress than a man. A man must be dressed more or less exactly like every other man. He may have the latest thing in collars or an extra button on his sleeves or a deeper roll to the collar of his coat and he may wear a fancy waistcoat, but that’s about all. His hat must be like another man’s and he hasn’t many possible ways of doing his hair. Just think what individuality a woman can show in a hat, or in the way she does her hair, or still more in the way she wears the one upon the other. Now if a man has the courage to show anything more than the least suspicion of originality in his dress, he gets called a bounder, and ninety-nine men out of a hundred would rather dress in black for the rest of their lives than risk the chance of being called that. And the more secretly they suspect that they really are bounders the more terrified are they of being called by that name. Therefore they dress very neatly, hoping thereby to escape much notice.

So it was natural that the men who came to call that first day at Government House did not leave so vivid an impression on my mind as the ladies. There were one or two, however, whom once having seen one was not likely to forget. Colonel Mangleton, who commanded the regiment, the South Norhams, was the kind of man any subaltern worth the name would do anything for.

“Hallo!” he said cheerily as he came up the steps, “you young Wynford?”

“Yes,” I said as he gripped my hand.

“Bless my soul,” he said, looking me up and down with rather a comical smile on his clean-cut soldierly face, “knew you twenty years ago. Knew your father. Went through the Afghan war together. One of the finest soldiers I ever knew. If the War Office had only known its business he would never have retired when he did.” He laid his hand on my shoulder as we passed across the hall and his voice softened. “Knew your mother, too,” he added. “You’ve got a lot to live up to, youngster. Come and dine next Wednesday at the mess.”

I smiled at the contrast as I turned from announcing him to meet another Colonel—the one of my previous day’s acquaintance in the train.

“H’m—begun already,” he snorted, standing afar off and regarding me with the kind of look that made one feel it was positively indecent to be there at all. “Haven’t had time to get your head turned yet, I suppose,” he sneered as he passed on, having effectively roused all the worst passions in my nature. I felt now I could almost understand some officers being shot in the back by their own men in war time.

After that came two of the “heaven-born.” They were quite ordinary mortals to look at and their figures simply cried aloud for compulsory military service. A good course of drill would have made of them twice the men they were. They did not seem, however, to have much side. In fact they seemed quite subdued and awed. Perhaps they were thinking of the time when they might have A.D.C.’s to usher in their guests.

I was not sorry when the clock struck two and the last of the visitors had gone. The chaprassis carried off the big visiting books and we went in to lunch. I was hungry again as a hunter. There is nothing like the air of Monaling for a jaded appetite.

At lunch there was only the household, Sir Humphrey, Lady and Miss Sturt, Bentham, the private secretary, and myself. Sir Humphrey did most of the talking, addressing his remarks to the company in general as to some large public gathering. He always gave me the impression of practising in private life for his public appearances. But he was kindness itself and most interested in me and my doings. Lady Sturt was very tired after the strain of receiving for two hours and dozed most of the time, entirely forgetting to eat one course, to which she had liberally helped herself and which the Kitmatghar finally took away. Miss Sturt scarcely raised her eyes off her plate, and when she did they wore so serious and innocent an expression that I felt it would be positively brutal ever to remind her of the trick she had played me at our first meeting that morning. Over Bentham I rejoiced greatly. I foresaw that it would be impossible not to get on well with him. He was a heaven-born but very human, and the best of good fellows. I discovered later that he was known as the “Ornament of the Service,” and you can imagine what one must be to be an ornament among the heaven-born. He was the best all-round man I have ever come across. A crack polo player, none rode better than he on the flat or across country, while at tennis and golf he was the equal of any man in the station, and all the ladies voted him the best dancer in Monaling. In addition to all this he was delightfully entertaining socially. And withal he was modest, not stupidly and conceitedly modest as some people can be, but just simple and natural and unassuming. Certainly being private secretary for over a year had not spoiled Ralph Bentham. In fact, I rather think that being such a good sort himself, he had always seen the best in other people, and consequently had had such a good time generally that nothing would ever spoil him. He offered me the use of his polo ponies till mine arrived, and a man who loves polo and yet offers you his polo ponies at first sight before he has even seen you ride must be a good sort.

After lunch Bentham took me off to the room known as “The Den,” especially set apart for the A.D.C.’s and private secretary. It was a delightful room, with a glorious view of the snows from the veranda beyond, and was reading, smoking, and sitting-room in one, with offices opening out on either side, one for the A.D.C.’s and the other for the private secretary.

“It’s awful rough luck on you there not being an A.D.C. on the spot to show you the ropes,” said Bentham as we filled our pipes and took long chairs in the veranda. “Lawson had arranged to go on leave on urgent private affairs by the mail and a man from the Brecknock Regiment was coming in his place. But he wired about a week ago to say he could not come as he had had an accident at polo, and then Wilmot, the other A.D.C., who has been with the Sturts all their time and thoroughly knows the ropes, goes down suddenly with enteric. It has been an awful upset, and now we have to get still another new man to take Wilmot’s place. He comes to-morrow, a man from the Ipswich Regiment, Wilkins by name. I suppose you have never met him?”

As it happened I had met him. We had travelled out together, our first voyage, and we had rather chummed up. He was an amusing fellow but rather mad. I was glad he was coming.

“You will be the youngest pair of A.D.C.’s on record I should think,” said Bentham. “Don’t let them rush you. They are a queer lot up here, some of them. Many of them are not on the Government House list and a lot more are only just on, asked to big public functions only, like garden parties and the State ball. The chief object in life of those who are not on is to get on, and of those who are just on to get further on and be asked to lunch or dinner. They will try to rush you, being new to the game and no old hand on the spot who is up to all their little tricks. But I know pretty well most of the politics of the station by this time, and if there’s any help I can give you, here I am.”

I inwardly resolved to say little and to do less until I had got into the swim of things.

“By the way,” added Bentham, with a smile, “an important part of your duties consists in keeping Lady Sturt up to her engagements. Every morning you send up with her chota haziri a note telling her of her engagements for the day, and it’s just as well to put the timings on half an hour, as she’s always late. You’ll find it best too,” he laughed, “to make up her mind for her, though even then you’ll have difficulty in making her stick to it. To-day is an off-day luckily, and so is to-morrow, but after that there are two or three things on nearly every day for a week. I’ll show you the engagement card.”

We went inside, and I was inducted into many more of the rites and customs of Government House. Then while we were having tea came a message that Lady Sturt would like to drive out at five o’clock and that she would like Captain Wynford to accompany her.

There was only one drive in Monaling, but it was a delightful one. It ran right along one side of the ridge on which the station was built and returned on the other. There were glorious views its full length, of the valleys beneath and of the many ranges of hills beyond, with the long snow line of peaks away in the far distance. In places it was extremely steep, though the hill horses that drew the carriage made light of it and would have cantered up the steepest bits had the coachman let them. No one else was allowed to drive in Monaling except the Lieutenant-Governor and his household. Lady Sturt drove most evenings. She always said that it was the privilege she valued most as “Lady Governess.”

That evening Bentham was dining out, so we had a very quiet dinner and a game of bridge afterwards. Miss Sturt and I were partners. I left it to her three times and each time she went hearts. She left it to me three times and each time I had to go spades. I think she felt that it was a poor return. Lady Sturt woke up and played a surprisingly good game. His Honour counted the trumps in a whisper as they fell and revoked once. I saw and my partner saw, but we neither of us spoke. I felt, that it would be hardly a tactful beginning to my career as A.D.C. to convict my chief of a revoke. They all went off to bed quite early, and I retired to “The Den” to smoke a pipe before turning in.

I had just made myself comfortable in an easy-chair before the fire, and was wondering what time Bentham would return, when a servant came in with a message that the Miss Saheb wanted to speak to me. I got up and went out into the corridor, and saw Miss Sturt standing with an ayah at the further end. She came a few steps to meet me as I went forward.

“I am so sorry to trouble you, Captain Wynford,” she said, raising her serious, beautiful eyes to mine, “but I am so afraid of bats.”

“Of bats?” I repeated in surprise.

For a moment a gleam of amusement danced in her eyes.

“It was very wrong of me to play you that trick this morning,” she said sweetly, “but this really is not a trick. There really is a bat in my room, and I can’t go to bed with it there, I’m so afraid of it. I asked the Bearer to drive it out for me, but he said he believed it was a reincarnation of his great-great-grandmother or something of the kind, and so he daren’t touch it. Do you think you could get rid of it for me?”

“Of course,” I said, feeling that this strange and unexpected duty must be all in the day’s work of an A.D.C.

“I should be so grateful if you would,” she said, leading the way inside, followed by the ayah and the Bearer.

On the wall high up against the roof had settled an enormous brown bat. We all four stood looking at it. Then I glanced round the room.

“I must have a long pole,” I said, taking command of operations.

“I’m afraid I don’t keep such a thing here,” said Miss Sturt helplessly.

“Or a mop,” I added.

“Or that either,” added Miss Sturt.

We both laughed.

“But without one or the other,” I said, “the bat remains.”

“Let us go and see what we can find,” suggested Miss Sturt.

We set off down the corridor. Half-way a brilliant inspiration came to me.

“A polo stick might do,” I said.

“Of course,” she answered. “How lucky it is that you are tall.”

For just the fraction of a second her eyes rested on me approvingly. I hurried off to get a polo stick, inspired to valiant deeds by that one glance.

In less than a minute I was back fully equipped. I found Miss Sturt armed with a long driving-whip from the hall. Together we set forth. Inside the room we stopped dead. The bat had disappeared.

“It must have flown out of the window,” said Miss Sturt. I may have been mistaken, but I thought I caught a note of disappointment in her voice.

We looked at one another and laughed again.

“It reminds me of the four-and-twenty tailors who set out to kill a snail,” she said.

She handed me the driving-whip.

“I’m quite sorry the bat fled,” I said as she gave me her hand. “Good night.”

But I had scarcely got outside the room when I heard a little scream from within. Miss Sturt hurriedly opened the door. She was pale and breathless.

“Oh!” she said, shuddering, “I nearly touched it. It was sitting on my dressing-gown on the dress-stand over there.”

She pointed to it in the further corner of the room. But the bat, disturbed in its position on the dressing-gown, had once more taken up its position on the wall. I approached cautiously, polo stick in hand.

“How lucky it is you are so tall,” murmured Miss Sturt again, and again I felt inspired to valiant deeds.

I raised the stick and steadily took aim.

“Please don’t damage the wall,” hastily added Miss Sturt. “It’s just been redone.”

Whether that put me off just at the critical moment or whether the bat was too quick for me I don’t know, but anyhow the polo stick came down with a crash, making a huge dent and scattering the plaster far and wide, while the bat flew off round and round the room in swift skimming circles.

Miss Sturt looked at me reproachfully. “I’m awfully sorry,” I apologised, ruefully viewing my handiwork.

“It doesn’t matter,” she said, looking at it too. “So long as you get rid of the bat,” she added quickly.

I felt that my reputation and forgiveness depended upon that. Wildly I chased it round and round the room, making furtive and generally futile dabs at it with the polo stick. Once I got in a good blow, and the bat squeaked and half fell, but recovered and flew away again.

“Oh! please do kill it outright,” implored Miss Sturt. “I do so hate to hear an animal in pain.”

I felt that a stick was no good. I must catch it in a towel. The ayah handed me one—a large bath towel.

But the bath towel had its dangers. With the first throw I missed the bat and knocked a glass bottle off the dressing-table. It fell and broke with a crash. I was so desperate that I didn’t even stop to apologise. I heard a little moan from Miss Sturt. It maddened me. I felt she must be losing confidence in me. I struck out wildly and several more things fell over, including the dress-stand—but not the bat.

“You are making a dreadful noise,” was all she said. “Mother sleeps next door. Don’t wake mother.”

The bat still flew round and round, but higher up, almost out of reach. Suddenly it made a swoop and almost hit Miss Sturt in the face as it flew by.

“If it catches in my hair,” I heard her wail as she shrank against the wall, “oh, if it catches in my hair I shall die of fright.”

I sprang upon a chair with the towel held aloft in my hands and simply leapt upon the bat, towel and all, as it flew by. The chair slipped under me on the polished boards and I fell full length upon the floor. But I had caught the bat.

I scrambled up, hugging the towel and the bat in my arms, and faced Lady Sturt in a pale blue dressing-gown in the open doorway. She regarded me with a dazed look like one suddenly awakened untimely out of sleep. Hot and breathless I looked round appealingly to Miss Sturt, and this time she did not fail me. She hastened forward and explained.

“I thought so,” was all Lady Sturt said, sleepily and mysteriously nodding her head at me. “It has happened before. There’s a bat in my room too.”

I suppose I ought to have offered my services at once, but I felt quite unequal to catching Lady Sturt’s bat after the exertions I had just gone through. Fortunately her next remark relieved my mind.

“But I don’t mind them,” she added, preparing to depart. “I cover up my head and go to sleep.”

I heaved a sigh of infinite relief, as I stooped to pick up the polo stick and riding-whip.

“But it was very clever of you to catch the bat,” she turned in the doorway to remark, “very clever indeed. And now you had better go to bed.”

I thought I had too, and hastened to say good night.

“I’m afraid I’ve done an awful lot of damage,” I said, looking at the havoc I had caused.

“Oh, that doesn’t matter!” laughed Miss Sturt, as she gave me her hand. “You’ve done what I asked you to, haven’t you?”

Just for the minutest fraction of a second she held my hand.

“You’ve caught the bat,” she said, and laughed again.

I hurried off with the bat clasped in the towel in my arms and my head in a whirl, so unexpected and varied had been my first day’s experiences as an A.D.C.

Chapter IV

His Honour’s Revoke

I was up early next morning. It seemed wicked to lie in bed and to miss the glorious freshness of those first hours. The air was clear and exhilarating like wine after those terrible hot mornings down in the plains. But early as I was, Miss Sturt had evidently been earlier. I found her walking in the garden as I started out to explore the grounds. She had a large garden hat with roses on it that half hid her face, and she carried a pink sunshade. She looked even more charming, if possible, in the morning light than she had done the night before. The first name that I had given her—the Vision—was surely the most appropriate that could have been bestowed upon her. She greeted me with a smile.

“I hope you did not kill the bat,” she said.

“No,” I was fortunately able truthfully to reply. “I let it loose out of the window of ‘The Den’.”

“I’m glad,” she said, looking at me with serious eyes from under the wide-brimmed hat. “I was afraid you might have killed it.”

“Why?” I asked anxiously, feeling that the words implied reproach.

She laughed, and when she laughed you could not imagine how you could ever have thought her expression grave and serious.

“You did look fierce at times,” she said.

“It was the damage I was doing to your property that annoyed me,” I protested.

“But you caught the bat,” she laughed again.

We had reached a tiny summer-house at the end of the path on the very edge of the cliff that looked out over the valley to the snow-clad hills beyond.

“By the way,” said Miss Sturt as we entered and sat down, “I saw what you saw last night.”

She closed her parasol and began thoughtfully tracing patterns with the tip of it on the path.

“The bat?” I asked, puzzled.

“No,” she answered, raising her eyes and nodding her head significantly in a way that suddenly reminded me of her mother, “bridge.”

Then I divined. She was referring to His Honour’s revoke at bridge the night before.

“1 wanted to consult you about it,” she said. The way she said it made you at once realise how weak and fragile and confiding she was, and how very strong and capable you were. It was a very pleasant feeling.

“Yes?” I asked, putting all the sympathy I could into the word.

“It’s very dreadful,” she said, and there was almost the sound of tears in her voice. “I’m dreadfully worried about it.”

Her eyes were fixed on the tip of her parasol. One felt that if she raised them they would be full of trouble. One longed to take her in one’s arms and comfort her. Instead, one had to urge one’s brains to think of something suitable to say. It was a pity, as I felt I should have been so much better at the one than at the other.

“But does it often happen?” I asked, for want of anything better to say.

“Once in every game,” she answered, with a plaintive little sigh, “and sometimes twice.”

“But quite a lot of people never see a revoke,” I said hopefully.

But Miss Sturt refused to be comforted.

“It’s the other way,” she answered dismally. “It’s a case of a dog and a bad name. People say he revokes in every hand now. You’ve no idea how spiteful Monaling can be.”

“How horrid of them,” I said indignantly.

“Yes,” she murmured.

For a moment there was silence. I felt an intense desire to say something helpful. Had she not wished to consult me?

“But it doesn’t really matter,” I urged. “We were not playing for money last night.”

Miss Sturt raised her large serious eyes to mine. They were full of trouble.

“But he generally does,” she said. “That’s just the point.”

I had to admit to myself that of course it was. I could only hope that he generally lost.

“And does he often win?” I asked hesitatingly.

A gleam of humour came into her eyes as she raised them again and gazed out at the snows.

“A revoke generally proves to the interest of the revoker,” she said. “He nearly always wins.”

The case was evidently as black as it could be. What could I say?

“It’s one of his weaknesses,” she added sadly. “He’s prouder of his winnings at bridge than of almost anything else.”

“I suppose——” I said, then hesitated.

The tip of the sunshade paused in its perambulations over the gravel. It was evidently waiting for me to continue.

“I suppose he thinks himself a good player?” I blundered.

The faintest tremor moved the corners of her lips. The tip of the parasol moved over the ground again.

“He’s convinced of it,” she said.

For a moment there was silence. Then she turned towards me and took my breath away with the suddenness and awkwardness of the question she put to me.

“Why didn’t you point out his revoke to him last night?” she asked.

What could I say? It was most unkind of her to turn upon me when I was doing my best to help her solve the difficulty. I suppose it did show a certain want of courage in not pointing out the revoke, yet, I ask, would it have been an exactly tactful beginning for an A.D.C. to point out a revoke on the part of his Chief the very first night? Why didn’t Miss Sturt do it herself, instead of asking me why I didn’t do it? It was really more her place than mine. I very nearly committed myself to a tu quoque. Fortunately I refrained. I replied with another question.

“Has any one ever pointed out a revoke to him?” I asked.

Again that flicker of a smile hovered round her lips.

“Once,” she said.

She dug the point of the parasol several times quite viciously into the ground. I waited.

“What happened?” I asked at last, full of interest in the man or woman who had done what I had not dared to do last night.

“He was transferred down to the plains almost directly afterwards. Of course it had nothing whatever to do with his claiming the revoke, but of course Monaling said it had.” Her eyes flashed their indignation. “As if father would do such a thing as that.”

“Absurd,” I murmured. “A mere coincidence, of course.”

“Monaling is horribly gossipy and very spiteful,” she added with warmth.

Then she turned to me appealingly.

“But what can we do, Captain Wynford? We can’t let this go on.”

I felt that this was a most unpleasantly knotty problem to place before an A.D.C. on his second day of office. Privately I thought that there was really nothing to be done, but I didn’t like to say so.

“Did he habitually revoke before he became L.-G.?” I asked, to gain time.

The Vision flashed a smile upon me.

“I can’t say,” she answered, as the garden hat half hid her face again. “I have only been out three months.”

“And does Lady Sturt never notice?”

“Apparently not.”

“Or is it that she too doesn’t like to say?” I ventured.

Miss Sturt shook her head.

“If she saw she would say and think afterwards.”

I laughed. It was so exactly what I imagined Lady Sturt would do.

“I had thought of an anonymous letter,” she said, “but it would be such a cruel blow to him.”

“Oh, yes,” I agreed hastily, “don’t let us be anonymous.”

Suddenly a brilliant inspiration seized me.

“The only plan I can suggest,” I said, “is to make Lady Sturt see.”

My companion sprang up in her excitement.

“Why of course,” she exclaimed laughingly. “How clever of you to have thought of it.”

But she and I foresaw the difficulty that lay in our path at the same moment.

“How could we make her see?” she asked.

“Would you mind telling her if she herself revoked?”

“But she never does revoke,” Miss Sturt objected.

“Yet if she did,” I persisted, as a new idea came to me, “would you mind telling her?”

For a moment she hesitated.

“No,” she answered doubtfully, “I don’t think I should.”

“Then next time they play together and he revokes,” I said with decision, “you must accuse her of having done it.”

Miss Sturt raised large serious eyes in quick surprise.

“I see,” she said thoughtfully. “In the hope that he will see it. But I don’t think he will.”

I felt that she really must be underestimating His Honour’s capacity at bridge, but she evidently thought not.

“It’s extraordinary how stupid at bridge some very clever men can be,” she sighed.

Suddenly the breakfast gong boomed out.

“Breakfast?” cried Miss Sturt, springing up. “I had at least one hundred things to do before breakfast. And you’ve kept me talking here all this time. Oh! Captain Wynford.”

And she had the effrontery to look round at me reproachfully as we hurried up the garden path. I laughed.

“I know,” she said penitently. “It is I who should apologise for taking up so much of your time. But you have been very helpful.”

She gave me a charming smile as we went up the steps.

“And I shall try your plan to-night,” she added. “I shall look to you to back me up.”

That night before dinner the time and opportunity arrived. We were the same four as the night before, and in the second hand His Honour revoked. My partner had played the twelfth heart—the four. The nine of hearts was still out and obviously marked down to her right in Sir Humphrey’s hand. Lady Sturt discarded. I put on a small trump and Sir Humphrey trumped higher. Miss Sturt’s eyes and mine met across the table.

“Partner,” she said, impulsively leaning forward and regardless of the rules of the game, “I’m sorry to give you away, but you’ve revoked.”

“Me?” I exclaimed in astonishment, equally regardless of the rules of grammar.

“My dear Sybilla,” exclaimed Sir Humphrey, indulgently patting her hand, “you should have left me to point that out at the end of the game. I was not likely to pass it by; and now see how you have interrupted the game. It’s my hand, is it not?”

He smiled upon her fondly, and having trumped the last trick proceeded to take the lead. After one helpless glance at me my partner followed suit, and so we played out the game, the revoke fixed fast upon my innocent head. After the first moment of breathless surprise the comic side of it struck both of us. My partner’s eyes literally danced with amusement, while I had much ado to exhibit the crushed demeanour appropriate to a man who had just been convicted of a revoke. Solemnly at the end of the game Sir Humphrey claimed his three tricks, and meekly my partner and I yielded them up. There was no revoke again that night.

I found the Vision alone in the garden again next morning. We naturally laughed heartily over the occurrence of the night before.

“You made an awful hash of it,” I said when the laugh was over.

“I consider that you showed great lack of stamina in not openly declaring that you hadn’t got the thirteenth heart,” was her rejoinder.

“I couldn’t contradict a lady,” I pleaded, “neither could I contradict the Chief when he had practically said that he too had noticed my revoke.”

“It was very rough on you,” she admitted. “But at the last moment I didn’t quite like to accuse mother.”

“You didn’t mind accusing me,” I laughed.

“Oh, no!” said Miss Sturt sweetly.

I wondered what she meant by that. She gave me little time to think.

“It only makes it the more essential that we should definitely convict him of a revoke,” she determined.

“Would it really do much good to convict him of one?” I asked sceptically.

“I think it would,” she answered thoughtfully. “I have an idea that if we made him see that he had revoked once he would not do it again. He would be more careful and be on his guard against it.”

“We’ll try again,” I said, “on the very next opportunity.”

Miss Sturt flashed a smile of approval at the suggestion.

“You’ve been so helpful,” she said gratefully, “and next time I really will accuse mother and not you.”

It was some days, however, before the opportunity occurred. We were very full of engagements just then, and there was no time for a quiet game of bridge. Even when there was time later on we four never seemed to meet at the same table. Wilkins, the other A.D.C., known familiarly as Hampy, had arrived, and he played several times in my place. Whenever Miss Sturt tried to arrange it, something always happened to upset her plans.

“It seems as if Fate were against us,” she said hopelessly one day, when the game arranged had fallen through. His Honour had sent a salaam from his study to say he was sorry he could not play.

Privately I was not at all sorry that the evil day had been postponed, but of course I did not say so. Instead, I helped her make plans for a four again the following evening.

“I suppose it is rather unfilial conduct to plot like this,” she said thoughtfully, toying with the cards.

“Oh, no,” I protested cheerfully.

“It’s all for father’s good though, isn’t it?” She raised her serious eyes to mine, and I assured her that it was not only for his good but for the good of other people too.

The following night the game came off and His Honour did not revoke.

Miss Sturt was in despair. All through the game she and I had watched and waited. I was on tenter-hooks of suspense as to what was going to happen. If I had revoked in earnest that night I should not have been surprised. But that which we so eagerly and certainly expected never came. The last hand was played and there was no revoke. My partner and I gazed at one another blankly across the table. Then with a smile she bent and added up the score. For the first time she and I had won the rubber.

It was about a week later that we four played together again. Then the long anticipated moment came. In the third hand His Honour revoked.

The lead was with my partner and she led with the king of hearts. Taking the trick she led the ace. Lady Sturt played the queen. I failed and discarded. His Honour trumped it. My partner having all the other hearts save one and Lady Sturt having played a queen on my partner’s ace, the probabilities were strong that the remaining heart was with His Honour. My partner took the risk.

“Revoke!” she cried. She laid her hand affectionately on Lady Sturt’s. “Mother dear, it’s you this time.”

“Sybilla, my dear Sybilla,” His Honour intervened, “when will you learn the game?”

“But it is a revoke,” she persisted. “Please let me see. If it isn’t mother it must be Captain Wynford again.” She turned upon me in her distress. “You both discarded.”

“I did not discard,” said Lady Sturt, as one awaking out of sleep.

“I discarded,” I said.

I felt that it was time to come to my partner’s help.

“Let’s see, shall we, sir?” I said, turning up the cards which His Honour had gathered up. I laid them in a row across the table facing His Honour.

“I played the queen,” asserted Lady Sturt.

“I only had one heart,” I said, with my eyes on my partner, “and it fell to yours first round.”

“I led the ace,” was all she said.

His Honour was gazing first at the cards on the table, then at his own hand. He seemed suddenly to have shrunk and to look older. He was no longer His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor of the Northern Provinces. He was merely a man who had revoked at bridge. There was something pathetic about it. He looked so utterly crushed. I have never before or since seen smiling geniality and confidence so suddenly and pathetically abased. I felt that it was brutal of us to bring it home to him like this. I glanced furtively across the table. The Vision’s eyes, full of trouble and distress, gazed into mine. Lady Sturt lent back in her chair and closed her eyes as if she dreaded what was coming.

The pause was horrible. It seemed as if His Honour would never speak. I turned away my head and took an interest in the score.

“My dear Aminta,” he said at last, slowly raising his head and looking at his wife, “I must be getting old. I’ve revoked at bridge.”

The sound of his voice seemed to startle Lady Sturt. She sat up hastily and taking off her pince-nez wiped them slowly with her handkerchief. I saw that they were wet.

“We all do that sometimes,” she said, with a strange softness in her voice.

“For years, I should not like to say how many years, I have not revoked,” he went on, once more glancing from the cards in his hand to those on the table. He seemed quite dazed. “I must be getting old, Aminta! I must be getting old.”

It was pitiable. The Vision’s eyes, full of tears, looked towards me appealingly.

“Accidents will happen, sir,” I said cheerfully.

Slowly, without a word, he gathered up the trick and the game proceeded. For the second time Miss Sturt and I won the rubber. As we finished the dressing gong sounded.

“Revoked,” said His Honour as he affectionately put his arm through Lady Sturt’s and led her away. “If ever I do that again, Aminta, I shall give up bridge.”

It was not until I was sitting out at a dance that same night with Miss Sturt that I had a chance of speaking to her alone.

“I shall never forgive myself,” she said, alluding at once to the subject that was evidently uppermost in her mind.

“Why not?” I asked cheerfully. “It was certainly painful but successful.”

“That remains to be seen,” she answered pessimistically, declining to be comforted.

“Somehow I don’t think he will revoke again,” I affirmed.

“Still I ought not to have done it,” she maintained. “If any one did it, it should have been mother.”

I looked round at her quickly.

“Mother knew,” she nodded.

“And never spoke?” I asked in surprise.

“All these years she has never told him.”

I somehow felt that we had rushed in where angels had feared to tread.

“They are the most devoted couple I have ever met or heard of,” she added softly.

For just the fraction of a second my hand rested on hers as the band struck up again and we rose to go. I longed to ask her if she could not conceive of another couple as devoted, but wisdom checked the impulse. As we entered the ballroom she turned to me laughingly—

“But I am more than half inclined to agree with you,” she said. “He will not revoke again.”

And the astonishing thing was that our prediction came true. His Honour was never known to revoke again.

Chapter V

I Gain Much Useful Information

Being off duty on the Sunday afternoon following my arrival in Monaling, I went to tea as promised with Berengaria. I suppose I should have written Mrs. Hugesson-Willoughby. My only excuse is that when every one called her by the shorter name one insensibly fell into the habit oneself, and that it somehow suited her so much better than the formal surname. For there was nothing formal about Berengaria. She was delightful unconventionality itself.

I had met her at various places several times during the few days that had intervened, and I looked forward to a delightful hour over the cakes. For Berengaria had told me that it was to be a tête-à-tête, so that we might “get to know one another better.” I met Miss Sturt in the hall as I was starting. I told her where I was going.

“I’m sure you’ll enjoy yourself,” she said, lifting her face and smiling sweetly, but I thought I divined something wicked and malicious about the smile in spite of its sweetness.

“What makes you so sure?” I asked as she passed on into the drawing-room.

“Because,” she said, looking over her shoulder with her most innocent expression, “I feel sure you and Berengaria will get on excellently together.”

I somehow felt as if Berengaria and I had been weighed in the balances and found wanting. Yet Miss Sturt and Berengaria were the greatest friends. I puzzled my brains and recalled her expression twenty times as I rode along to try and divine what she had meant. There was always something so elusive about the Vision. You were never quite certain whether she spoke in fun or earnest. That to me was, I think, her special charm. One was never quite certain of her. I don’t know whether I am different from other men, but anything elusive, that one cannot be certain of or altogether understand, appeals to me immensely. I have heard other men say, talking of friend or acquaintance, “She’s awfully nice, always the same”; and privately I have thought, “How dull.” Of course I understand what they mean, and that sort may be very nice and peaceful after marriage, but before I think one wants a little something else. There is nothing like the pleasure of uncertainty. It is such a mistake to make oneself so patent for all to read at sight.

Pondering on suchlike things I arrived at Berengaria’s. It was just as I expected. Her drawing-room was the cosiest one could imagine. A cheery fire of logs blazed on the hearth before which two comfortable arm-chairs had been drawn forward, a tea-table shining with dainty white napery and silver in the firelight spread between them. Here were all manner of wonderful things to eat. Berengaria, looking about twenty-five in the firelight, rose from one of the easy-chairs and greeted me as I entered. She was dressed in something white and fluffy, and made you feel that she had done it just for you.

“I’m so glad you could come,” she said, greeting me with just the right amount of obvious pleasure in her welcome. “You see I’ve asked no one to meet you.”

“I’m glad,” I said, as we sat down. “A tête-à-tête is so much better than a crowd.”

“Ah! I expect you have enough of crowds,” said Berengaria, as she poured me out a cup of tea. “That’s the one thing I should dislike about an A.D.C.’s life—the having to live always in the public eye. Now we lesser mortals when we get bored can just disappear and nobody notices or cares, but you must always be en évidence. And how do you like Monaling?”

“I like it immensely,” I said, taking one of a delicious pile of scones that Berengaria handed me, “what I have seen of it.”

“Ah! you will see nothing but the best of it,” she went on smilingly, “for you are a very great personage. I suppose you have discovered that?”

“I suppose I am,” I laughed, enjoying the scone and feeling that it was good to be Berengaria’s friend in Berengaria’s cosy drawing-room.

“I wonder if you have half realised how important you are,” she said thoughtfully as she cut a slice of delicious-looking walnut cake. “I think you ought to realise how important you are. It will make you an all the better A.D.C.”

I laughed, thinking of the angry Colonel’s “damned young cubs,” and amused at Berengaria’s sudden seriousness.

“You are far more important than the Lieutenant-Governor and all the rest of the station put together,” she continued, nibbling daintily at the walnut cake and nodding across at me. “Have you discovered that? If you haven’t, discover it at once and get over it. You’ll be a most insufferable personage until you have.”

She gave me a radiant smile as she poured me out more tea.

“I’ve seen such nice young fellows come up to be A.D.C.’s,” she said, looking at me with a sparkle of amusement in her eye, as she handed me the cup, “and in the briefest possible space of time they have become insufferable, their heads quite turned. I’m not going to let you get spoilt. If I see signs of it I shall ask you to tea and lecture you again like this.”

“In that case,” I began, selecting a particularly large slice of the walnut cake, “I shall——”

“Don’t be absurd,” said Berengaria laughingly, but blushing nevertheless. “Say those pretty things to Miss Sturt.”

Then I think that I must have blushed too, and that Berengaria saw.

“She’s very charming,” she said.

“Very,” I agreed.

“You’ll fall in love with her, I expect.”

“I think I have already,” I confessed.

We both laughed.

“Boy and girl,” murmured Berengaria.

“I’m older than I look,” I protested.

“Everybody said on Monday when they saw you on duty at calling time that you were the youngest A.D.C. they had had at Government House for years,” she affirmed.

“By the way,” I said, ignoring the imputation of excessive youth, “I wish you would tell me who the people were who called that day. I know practically nothing about most of them but their names.”

Berengaria poured herself out another cup of tea.

“But Government House must be full of information on the subject,” she objected.

“It’s not,” I assured her. “I can find out nothing there. His Honour leaves all social matters to Lady Sturt and the A.D.C’s. Lady Sturt is too vague to remember anything very definite about anybody: Miss Sturt says she never talks scandal, and Bentham, being the best of good sorts himself, never says anything but ‘awfully good sort,’ or awfully nice woman’ about everybody.”

Berengaria smiled and handed me more cake.

“So you want me to be very definite, to talk scandal and to rake out everybody’s skeleton,” she laughed.

“Nothing of the kind,” I protested, taking my third slice of cake. “I simply want useful information about people to enable me to perform my duties as A.D.C. with tact and discretion. I don’t want to send two people into dinner who are not on speaking terms, or ask a widow how her husband is, or discuss the Deceased Wife’s Sister Bill before a couple who have gone and done it, or otherwise put my foot in it.”

“Oh, of course that’s very different,” allowed Berengaria serio-comically. “In that case I think I ought to help you.”

“Of course I hate gossip,” I assured her; “but I feel I ought to know.”

Berengaria nodded sympathetically.

“Whom shall we begin with?” she asked, settling herself back comfortably in her chair.

I foresaw that I was well upon the road to the acquisition of much useful information.

“Mrs. Hartman was the first lady I saw in Monaling after Lady and Miss Sturt,” I said.

I felt that Mrs. Hartman would prove a certain draw. I was not disappointed. Berengaria literally sat up.

“That woman!” she exclaimed. “She’s my bête noire.”

Then characteristically, having said something that she thought was not quite kind, she immediately relented.

“But I believe she’s really a good sort,” she added, “if only you can get over outward appearances. Where did you meet her?”

“I only saw her when she came to call,” I explained.

“Well, I believe that’s the worst of her,” laughed Berengaria. “I cannot think how she can dress as she does, or how her husband allows it. It’s not surprising that people thought her not quite quite when she first came up into these parts. Of course you’ve heard the story about her.”

“I’m a stranger as yet in these parts,” I pleaded, “and know nothing. Please tell me.”

“It’s such scandal,” said Berengaria, smiling at me doubtfully. “I’m not sure I ought.”

I felt that Berengaria positively pleaded for encouragement.

“I suppose everybody knows it,” I suggested.

“Oh! everybody.”

“Then it’s only a question of my knowing sooner or later.”

“I suppose it is,” she admitted.

I felt that the victory was nearly won.

“And if you told me I should know the truth and not have to pick up my information from the scandal-mongers of the station.”

I saw at once that I had made a false step.

“Oh! but I’m not at all sure that I always know the truth,” said Berengaria hastily. “Please don’t vouch for anything I say—I mean, I only know what other people say.”

We both laughed.

“Please let me know what other people say about Mrs. Hartman,” I said.

“In this particular case I really do happen to know the truth,” Berengaria salved her conscience and began. “It’s some fifteen years ago now that the Hartmans first appeared upon the scene. He’s a planter of sorts, as you probably know, and grows fruit on a garden about five miles out. Well, when she first went round calling, people who were at home and saw her were so horrified at the sight of her that most of them never even returned her call. I believe she was even more pink and gold in those days, so you can guess she was rather startling. Of course Mrs. Hartman was furious, and asked some one she knew why it was that they did not return her calls. The friend, as friends sometimes do, told her the brutal truth. What the friend really said, of course, nobody knows; but what do you think happened?”

“What?” I asked, deeply interested.

Berengaria deliberately chose a piece of toffee from the tray. Then she flashed a smile at me.

“There appeared one morning in the local paper the announcement of her marriage to Mr. Hartman ten years before,” she said.

I laughed.

“Did people call after that?” I asked.

“That’s not all,” nodded Berengaria significantly.

I looked my interest and waited for more to come.

“Mrs. Hartman evidently had an enemy who knew. A week later appeared another announcement—of her wedding to a Mr. Fox ten months before her marriage to Mr. Hartman!”

“Great Scott!” I said. “What had she done with Mr. Fox?”

“That’s what everybody wanted to know,” laughed Berengaria. “Everybody in Monaling went about asking everybody else ‘What did Mrs. Hartman do with Mr. Fox?’”

“And then?” I asked. “Did you ever discover?”

Berengaria laughed softly.

“There was yet a third announcement some days later,” she said, and paused again, choosing more toffee.

“How thrilling!” I exclaimed. “What was it?”

“It announced the death of Mr. Fox.”

I drew a breath of relief for Mrs. Hartman’s reputation. Then from Berengaria’s expression I saw that there was yet more to come.

“But when?” I asked.

“Five days before his widow married Mr. Hartman.”

I gasped at her effrontery.

“How dreadful!” I exclaimed.

“Everybody marvelled at her truthfulness in that announcement,” said Berengaria, giving her full credit where it was due. “She could so easily have altered the date.”

“It would certainly have looked better,” I said.

“But even that’s not all,” added Berengaria significantly.

“More!” I exclaimed. “What an eventful life.”

Berengaria paused dramatically.

“Where do you think Mr. Fox died?” she asked.


“At Timbuctoo.”

“How very improbable,” I cried involuntarily.

“It’s true,” she affirmed.

But I was still sceptical.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“I have a friend who has a friend who has been to Timbuctoo and seen Mr. Fox’s grave there.”

For a moment I was silent, following out a train of thought.

“And Mrs. Fox married Mr. Hartman five days later?” I asked at length.

“Yes,” smiled Berengaria, divining my line of thought.

“Where?” I asked slowly, feeling that Mrs. Hartman’s future reputation in my eyes must depend very largely on the answer.

“In Kamschatka.”

Mrs. Hartman’s last chance seemed gone.

“What was she doing there?” I exclaimed.

Berengaria looked at me with a delightful little shrug and chose yet another bit of toffee.

“Perhaps some one wired out news of Mr. Fox’s death,” I suggested, feeling that one ought to do one’s best for Mrs. Hartman’s reputation.

Berengaria nibbled her toffee delicately, then glanced up at me with a questioning smile.

“From Timbuctoo to Kamschatka?”

I laughed. It seemed improbable. But of course I knew nothing of the means of telegraphic communication between those two places.

“The most charitable suggestion, I think,” said Berengaria, “is that Mrs. Hartman has the gift of second sight.”

Even then it seemed a bit sudden. However, I accepted the second-sight theory. It is always well—in this best of all possible worlds—to think the best. At any rate she had been honest as to dates.

“That really is all?” I asked, disappointed that the mystery must be left unsolved.

“Yes,” sighed Berengaria. “That’s all we know. No one knows to this day what really happened, but unfortunately every one knows Mrs. Hartman.”

She took a little silver box of cigarettes from off the table and handed them across to me.

“But I will not ask her to dinner,” she added firmly. “Neither will I ask Mrs. Binsley.”

“Mrs. Binsley?” I asked as I took a cigarette. “Who is she?”

“What!” cried Berengaria, “you haven’t heard of Mrs. Binsley?”

“I have not yet been here a week,” I pleaded.

“Of course, I forgot,” laughed Berengaria. “But I should have thought you would have heard of her even within the week. She’s been run away with twice.”

I paused in the lighting of my cigarette to express astonishment. I never knew the ladies of Monaling had led such adventurous lives. It was most interesting.

“Tell me more,” I said.

Berengaria leant back again in her chair with a delightful little laugh.

“Remember, I am only telling you all this because you think you ought to know,” she reminded me with a gleam of humour in her eyes; “I should never gossip like this otherwise.”

“Of course not,” I said impressively, as one into whose head no thought of such a thing had entered. “Of course not.”

Then I waited to hear of Mrs. Binsley.

“1 don’t know much about the first time,” she began, “but they do say that she wasn’t very young even then.”

“Was she very beautiful?” I interrupted.

Berengaria smiled.

“You will doubtless see her very soon,” she said, “and I don’t think you will be able to imagine her as ever having been anything but distinctly plain.”

I wondered. There is no subject that a man and woman can differ on more than on other people’s looks.

“But there must have been something about her,” I protested.

“Ah!” said Berengaria, nodding her head sagely, “there it is.”

I felt mystified and wanted to know more.

“She had no money, so of course there must have been a charm about her somewhere,” she admitted, “but what it was no one can discover. To women she could never have been attractive, I think, but men evidently found her so. Being a man, you may be able to find the charm in her when you meet her.”

Berengaria smiled at me maliciously.

“What is Mr. Binsley like who ran away with her last?” I asked.

“He’s in the Civil Service, and the strangest part of it is that he is one of the handsomest men in India and very ambitious. Of course they are married now, but they won’t have him in Simla. It’s ruined his career that way, but he’s still devoted to her. She’s a mystery, like the Vampire.”

“The Vampire?” I repeated, foreseeing yet further information.

Berengaria laughed.

“It’s quite refreshing to find some one who doesn’t know all the little stories of the place,” she said, evidently beginning to enjoy her role of imparting information. “The Vampire has buried three husbands, and is looking for a fourth.”

“He’ll be a brave man,” I laughed, helping myself to another cigarette.

“No one knows who she was originally,” went on Berengaria; “but she came out to India first as governess to a Member of Council’s children. Then the Member of Council’s wife died, and she married the Member of Council. The Viceroy was awfully angry about it, but, of course, he had to receive her. That was husband number one. Within a year he was dead. Instead of going home, however, she remained up in Simla and very soon married husband number two. It was rather a drop on the Table of Precedence, as he was only a Major, but he was in a crack British regiment and he had money. But she managed to keep him alive even a shorter time than the Member of Council, and he died within six months of the wedding. Nothing daunted, she married again, still out here—she must have been quite a wealthy widow by this time—and though husband number three—a civilian in the Secretariat here—lived a little longer, he’s dead too.”

“How very dreadful!” I said. “Surely she’ll never get a fourth!”

Berengaria gazed thoughtfully into the pile of glowing logs.

“I think she will,” she finally decided. “She’s very rich, and I suppose she’s very charming, though a woman cannot see it. And men are such fools,” she ended, smiling across at me.

“Some are,” I corrected.

But Berengaria shook her head.

“No,” she persisted, “all are.”

“Well, perhaps where a woman is concerned,” I admitted, “all men are fools once.”

Berengaria laughed.

“We’ll accept your amendment,” she said. “It’s excusable to make a fool of oneself once in one’s life. It’s doing it twice that is unforgivable.”

“I thought the only unforgivable sin was being found out,” I ventured.

“That’s a cynical view to take of life, and much too old for you yet,” declared Berengaria decidedly. “Make a fool of yourself once and get it over and be a sensible human being ever afterwards.”

With one of those quick changes of thought and expression that were so characteristic of her she grew suddenly grave from gay. For just the fraction of a minute her eyes gazed pensively into the firelight. I wondered what thoughts of a bygone day were flitting through her mind. Surely she, the self-possessed, the woman of the world, the altogether charming Berengaria, could never even once have made a fool of herself.

“Yes,” she repeated softly, “make a fool of yourself once, if you must, and get it over, the sooner the better. Then put the thought of it away and don’t ever draw it out to think or look upon again.”

She sighed softly as if she stored away some hidden memory. Then with a sudden movement she was her old bright self again.

“We’ve been talking dreadful scandal,” she laughed.

“Oh, no!” I said, “you’ve only been imparting knowledge that every well-conducted A.D.C. ought to know. I shall not now talk of deaths and marriages and newspaper announcements to Mrs. Hartman, of elopements to Mrs. Binsley, or of Bluebeard and Henry the Eighth to the Vampire, as I should otherwise probably have done.”

Berengaria laughed.

“In that case,” she said, “I really have done good.”

“Undoubtedly you have,” I assured her. “Please tell me more. I want to know everything about everybody.”

“How dreadful!” she exclaimed. “We none of us could stand that. But I’ll tell you a little about Mrs. Bondling if you like.”

“Do,” I said. “She called the other day in pink with a daughter also in pink.”

“Yes,” laughed Berengaria, “because it so obviously is not her colour, I suppose. She’s never been inside Government House except to call.”

This was interesting and really concerned me and my duties as an A.D.C.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Ah! “ said Berengaria mysteriously, “you must ask your predecessor that. He wouldn’t have them.”

I felt that there was more behind.

“Of course, she’s not quite quite,” she added, evidently not giving me the real reason.

“But such lots of people seem not to be that up here,” I protested, but Berengaria ignored the protest.

“Hasn’t she set siege to you yet?” she asked.

“No,” I said.

“You’re certain to hear from her soon, then,” she laughed; “she’s determined to get into Government House some day somehow.”

“Who is, or was, Mr. Bondling?” I asked.

“That’s partly it,” she answered. “Nobody knows.”

“Then what’s she doing here?” I persisted.

“Oh! everybody knows that,” she laughed. “She’s staying with her sister, Mrs. Strafford- Willis, and trying to marry off Miss Bondling”

I had almost forgotten my fellow travellers of the journey up, but the name recalled them.

“Mrs. Strafford-Willis!” I exclaimed. “I travelled up with her.”

I told Berengaria of my experiences in the train.

“What a chance for Mrs. Strafford-Willis,” she said. “I’m sure she wouldn’t miss it. I can imagine how she smiled upon you. You had better beware. Every conceivable resource of Mrs. and Miss Strafford-Willis, not to speak of Mr. Strafford-Willis, who is tall and strong, will be brought to bear upon you. I wonder if you’ll end by asking them to dinner. They’ve never risen to that as yet, but they’ll never rest until they do.”

I thought that that would naturally be for His Honour and Lady Sturt to decide, and I said so to Berengaria. She laughed.

“You evidently have not yet acquired the full knowledge of your own importance,” she said. “You’ll soon find out that the A.D.C.’s invite, and that His Honour merely approves the list.”

“Or disapproves,” I ventured.

“It would be a very poor A.D.C. who would let His Honour do that. No,” she laughed, “the hopes of the Strafford-Willises and the Bondlings rest on you.”

I grew quite depressed. It was rather trying to feel that the happiness of two families depended upon you and that a mere invitation to dinner would make them supremely happy.

“By the way,” went on Berengaria, “talking of the Strafford-Willises and the Bondlings, I suppose you know that half Monaling is related to the other half?”

“No, I didn’t know,” I said. “That makes life difficult.”

“It does, very difficult,” agreed Berengaria. “You can never speak of anybody with safety in the presence of more than two people. Lady Sturt is always making appalling mistakes. She’s so vague about who’s who. The Strafford-Willises and the Fortleys are the worst. Every other woman you meet up here seems to be, or to have been, either a Strafford-Willis or a Fortley.”

“Quite half a dozen of the two names called last Monday,” I said.

“It was a very full day last Monday, I believe,” remarked Berengaria, with a provoking smile. “I hear they all came to see you.”

“About the Strafford-Willises and the Fortleys,” I said, smiling down Berengaria’s remark. “Please explain to me the exact relationships. I was never good at genealogical tables, but I must try and remember theirs.”

“There you ask a hard thing of me,” was her reply, “for I too was never of a genealogical turn of mind. It’s always rather a shock to me to remember that I must have had eight great-grandparents, while the thought of sixteen great-great-grands positively makes the brain reel. Just think how many different personalities struggling for the mastery there must be in each of us.”

I laughed. Berengaria had a wonderful way of putting into words a very obvious thought that somehow had never consciously occurred to one before.

“But returning to the Monaling relationships,” she went on thoughtfully, “the original Mr. Strafford-Willis was a civilian who settled down here with a large family after he retired. He died, and Mrs. Strafford-Willis then married Colonel Fortley, who was a widower also with a large family, and also retired and settled down here. They had about half a dozen children more, making about thirty in all among the three families, I believe. Then to complicate matters, two of Mrs. Fortley’s children by her first marriage married two of Colonel Fortley’s children by his first wife, and as if that were not enough Mrs. Fortley’s first husband’s brother’s widow also appeared upon the scene with her little flock which has now intermarried with its cousins and step-cousins.”

“Hold, hold! enough, enough!” I cried, “and yet they want to increase the possibilities and complications of life by bringing in a Deceased Wife’s Sister’s Bill.”

With that I rose to go. It was getting late.

“We really have been gossiping,” said Berengaria as she gave me her hand.

“It’s been both pleasant and instructive,” I assured her cheerfully. “Call it by what name you will.”

But Berengaria’s mind misgave her.

“I’m not sure I ought to have told you all I have,” she said doubtfully as she went with me towards the door.

“But it’s all true,” I consoled her. “It can’t be wrong to tell the truth.”

“I’m not quite sure it was all true,” she admitted, self-reproachfully. “I’m not quite sure that Mrs. Binsley has been run away with twice.”

I laughed. Berengaria had come out with me into the veranda. We stood on the steps waiting for my pony to be brought round.

“But I know she has once,” she added, brightening.

“Oh! that’s all right,” I said cheerfully, as the pony came up and we passed down the steps. “A woman who would do that sort of thing once would do it twice.”

“I’m not so sure,” mused Berengaria as she caressed my pony’s nose. “I’m not so sure. It would depend.”

“On what?” I asked as I gathered up the reins.

“On many things and two things in particular,” she answered smilingly as she drew back to let me mount.

I jumped into the saddle.

“And those?” I asked again as she turned to mount the steps.

“The two things that make the world go round,” she laughed over her shoulder, passing up.

For a moment she paused on the topmost step.

“It’s only the lucky man has both,” she called back as if giving me the clue.

“Love and money?” I hazarded.

But Berengaria only laughed again and waved her hand.

“Good-bye,” she called and passed within.

I rode away pondering on many things and on two things in particular.

Chapter VI

The Post-bag at Government House

I made a collection of curious letters received at Government House while I was there as A.D.C. Some of them struck me as much too funny to be lost. A Government House letter-bag contains some quaint epistles from both Indians and Europeans. The former are the more amusing, the latter the more startling as being written by people whom one would expect to know better.

The Indian native has a wonderful facility for acquiring the English language. It is amazing how readily many of them with but the merest smattering of education and often with none at all have managed to pick up an acquaintance with it. But a little knowledge in this case often proves a dangerous thing. Acquiring it by chance and not in the orthodox way by means of grammar and syntax, they evince a particular fondness for idioms and metaphors. Their own language being so fertile in proverbs and metaphors they naturally seek for something to correspond with them in English. The result is often an amazing jumble of half-understood words and phrases, in which Irish bulls and mixed metaphors abound. The very first letter that I received personally from a native after taking over charge as A.D.C. was a delightful collection of parables and proverbs flung together. The writer craved my intercession with His Honour in these words:—

“Honorable Sir,

“Aware that you bask always in the Presence, be pleased to regard this worm too poor to turn, who is indeed but sight for sore eyes. For him the bubble has burst and the last straw broken the camel’s back. If you do not soon please to plead for him a post worth rupees twenty per month, this wretched sparrow will soon cease to chirp. And may the Almighty (whom your Honour much resembles) grant you long life, etc. etc.

“Your truly humble worm,

“Purinath Das.”

In their utter self-abasement they seem to have a particular fondness for likening themselves to worms. The following “worm” addressed His Honour direct:—

“Honoured Protector of the Poor,

“Having heard of your Almighty mercy and loving-kindness to us worms, I make bold to tell you my circumstances.

“By the grace of God, your Lordship, I have seven children, all babes and sucklings.

“Besides this abominable litter I have many relations, male and female, all dependent upon me. What have I done that I should be blessed with such cursed trials?

“As your Lordship is my Father and my Mother I would require that you take this worm and wife and suckles and relations, both male and female, and provide for us from your bounty at a remuneration of rupees twenty per month.

“I cannot read or write and have only the suckle qualifications and male relations and feminine, but by the grace of God and your Lordship I look forward to years of prosperity and happiness.

“We all sing loudly of your praises, your justice and your mercy: therefore call us all that we may fatten on your love and gentleness. Call quickly.

“Your faithful worm and beast,

“Pindari Das
(despicable brute and unwilling father of babies).”

“Rupees twenty” seemed to be the usual monthly remuneration expected by these aspiring applicants. When one remembers that that sum only amounts to one pound six shillings and eight pence in English money, one can only regard it as a very modest demand on .=the part of the above “faithful worm,” considering the large following he would have brought with him, if called, to “fatten” on it.

Budding aspirants for posts on “rupees twenty per month” were not at all above approaching Lady Sturt in the hope that she might intercede on their behalf. One letter addressed to her ran:—

“Respectable Madam,

“Knowing well your noble heart to be like water towards us poor wretches gushing out in pity upon us, I do not hesitate to throw my awful circumstances at your feet, which are godlike. I can read, but writing is difficult, yet would I gladly embrace a post worth rupees twenty per month. One word from you and God himself could withhold nothing. On this hope I live. You are my Father and my Mother, and for this I shall ever pray, etc.

“Your affectionate slave,

“Gurudas Mitra.”

The cook at Government House was a Goanese, whom I had often interviewed and inspected as part of my duties as A.D.C. He was quite a humble-looking individual, though doubtless claiming descent from some noble Portuguese adventurer, and had generally appeared in the very scanty costume of the kitchen. I had known him only as “cook” or “Bawarchi.” I was to find out his full name and titles from the cover of a letter addressed to him. The superscription that it bore was this:—

“Illustrissimo Excellentissimo Gironimo Norohna
“c/o Sturt,

That His Honour, stripped of all his titles, should be reduced solely to the particularly plain and bold patronymic with which he came into the world, in order to figure merely as “care of” for his “Illustrissimo Excellentissimo” cook, was a ludicrous reversal of things of which none enjoyed the humour more than His Honour himself.

A garden party that His Honour and Lady Sturt gave was productive of quite a crop of amusing replies from the invited guests. One was from the son of a local celebrity to whom an invitation had been sent. It ran:—

“Dear Sir,

“I regret to inform you that my late father is now resident at Heaven, and therefore he must beg to excuse from your Honour’s Garden Party.

“Craving your Honour’s pardon for such unwarrantable liberty,

“Your Honour’s faithful servant,

“Haridas Sirkar.”

My office Babu, who did the clerical work of the invitations, apparently saw nothing worthy of comment in this production.

“Sir, he is no more,” was all he said, impressively. “His name must be struck off the Government House list.”

Another reply was an even quainter essay in English. It was worded:—

“Dear Lord,

“Profuse sweat broke out upon me on seeing the date of your godlike party. Alas for my ill fate! I shall be one hundred miles away as the cock crows on the date fixed attending sick father who cannot die. May the Almighty and your Honour forgive us both.

“Your humble servant,

“Behari Chandra Sen.”

Yet another was from a Babu who regretted that, performing the Sradh ceremony of his father, he had had his “head shaved like a billiard ball or perhaps potato,” and so begged to be excused from coming into His Honour’s presence. A last wrote that he had recently had “major operations performed upon his corpus vilus, which had left it very weak,” and therefore he could not come, but doctor’s certificate in due form would follow if necessary.

Among a number of telegrams that arrived on the day of the party, two were quite worth preserving. One ran:—

“Regretting cannot come party suffering great pain in interior.”

The other was condensed and showed both stress of mind and a keen desire for economy. It read:—

“Cholera victimated uncle’s sister. Caught other sister. Self, mother, uncle symptomated. Please excuse.”

In one of the drawers of the desk which I inherited from my predecessor I came upon a small packet of letters tied up with red tape. As the top one was addressed to “The A.D.C. in Waiting,” I concluded that they must be more or less official and opened them. They proved to be a collection of letters from Europeans in the station, most of them being complaints about the writers’ omissions from Government House invitations. I was astounded, as I read them, to find how not only people of no standing who hovered on the fringe of the Government House list but even officials of quite high positions were wont to air their social grievances through the A.D.C. A Commissioner wrote from the plains to point out that though his wife and daughter had been in Monaling the whole of the season they had only just been asked to dinner in August, and that even then his wife had not been given her proper place as decreed by the Warrant of Precedence for India laid down under Sign Manual of Her Majesty the Queen Empress. He also complained that his daughter had been studiously omitted from all the “young” parties, such as picnics and dances, given by Government House. He felt certain that these omissions and slights were not intentional on the part of Sir Humphrey and Lady Sturt, who were old friends of his, and that the mistake had been on the part of the A.D.C. who would doubtless now put things right.

On the back of each of the letters or on a slip pinned to them Lawson, my predecessor, had pencilled his reply. This is what he had written to the Commissioner of Amulnagger:—

“Dear Sir,

“Your letter of the 30th inst. It is meeting with the attention it deserves.

“Since you refer to the Table of Precedence, allow me to point out to you that it expressly observes that ‘the entries apply exclusively to the persons named therein.’ The husband of the lady who preceded your wife in to dinner was not named therein.

“Yours faithfully,

“R. S. J. Lawson.”

Of course Lawson was right about the Table of Precedence. Much as that historic document is venerated and consulted, it is extraordinary how few people realise that it only regulates the precedence of the people mentioned therein, and that those not so mentioned, consisting chiefly of the non-official community, can be placed where their host or hostess chooses, above, below or among them. The heart-burnings that arise over these vexed questions are difficult to understand by any one who has not lived among an official community. Of course it is generally the people furthest down on the list—there are seventy-eight groups with seventy-eight sub-groups—who are most tenacious of their rights and make the most noise, but on the other hand they are the people who oftenest fail to get their proper places. No one would dare to send in a Member of Council’s wife or a High Court Judge’s wife out of her proper turn.

Yet even high officials have to suffer sometimes, as I found out from several of the letters in the bundle. One was a highly indignant one from a Mr. Justice Turnstall in another province. His wife had left her own provincial hill station and had gone up to Monaling for the hot weather. There she had been sent in to dinner at Government House behind the wife of the Commissioner of Monaling. This, to my mind, seemed quite right and proper—that the wife of a local official of such importance as the Commissioner of the Division should on her ground take precedence of a High Court Judge’s wife from an altogether different province. But the Table of Precedence has decreed otherwise. So great are the majesty and respect that the Bench has acquired that High Court Judges come under number sixteen of the Table, whereas Commissioners of Divisions within their respective charges come as low down as number thirty-two. I found from the letters that Mr. Justice Turnstall, not satisfied with my predecessor’s reply to his complaint, had thought the matter of sufficient importance to bring it to the notice of His Honour direct, with the result that Lawson had had to write and apologise for the slight that had been unintentionally put upon Mrs. Justice Turnstall. Thereupon the Commissioner of the Division had joined in the fray. Lady Sturt being at home that hot weather and neither of the members of the Board of Revenue having wives on the spot, Mrs. Longston, the Commissioner’s wife, would have been first lady in the station but for the intrusion of the High Court Judge’s wife from elsewhere. So the trouble began. There were no less than eight letters in all on the subject. Mrs. Longston had not given up her claims without a fight for it. It did seem rather rough luck that she should be ousted by an absolute stranger to the province. So bitter did the feud between Mrs. Longston and Mrs. Turnstall become and so distressed was His Honour about it that Lady Sturt was hastily written for to come out and take precedence of them both. Before this could happen, however, the comic opera situation was suddenly upset by the arrival of the Hon. Mrs. Walkampton, a soldier’s wife from the cantonments at Dharamzet. She being a peer’s daughter, took precedence in her own right immediately after the wives of Members of Council, who are number nine on the list, thus quite ousting Mrs. Justice Turnstall at number sixteen. The comic part of the whole thing was that the Hon. Mrs. Walkampton was a girl of twenty of the quiet, modest and retiring type, yet to whom the two veteran Anglo-Indian Memsahebs had to cede pas. His Honour welcomed her with open arms as the unwitting saviour of the situation. He had evidently been so disgusted with the behaviour of Mrs. Longston and Mrs. Justice Turnstall that he had told Lawson he wished to have as little to say to them in future as possible, and that whenever they were asked to Government House Mrs. Walkampton was to be asked too, so that he might give her chief honours.

“Such storms in a tea-cup,” laughed Berengaria when I talked the matter over with her later. “If any one does not give me my proper precedence I either put it down to ignorance, in which case I smile pityingly upon the poor thing for not knowing any better, or else to intentional insult, when I smile still more pityingly upon a hostess whose manners don’t rise above offering you food with one hand and hitting you on the head with the other. But I never show I’m hit.”

Which golden rule let me recommend for future guidance to the ladies of Monaling.

There was one more letter in the bundle with the reply pencilled on the back that showed something of my predecessor’s methods. The letter was from a non-official member of the community, and referred to a party His Honour was giving on the occasion of the opening of a museum in the new building which had just been erected for it. It ran:—

“Monaling, June 17th.

“Dear Lawson,

“I have not received a card for the museum party on Thursday next. I should be very glad if you would let me have one.

I believe all the gentlemen of the place have been invited.

“Yours sincerely,

“F. L. Lamplough.”

The reply was brief.

“Dear Sir,

“Your letter of the 17th.

“You are quite right. All the gentlemen of the place have been invited to the museum party on Thursday next.

“Yours faithfully,

“R. J. S. Lawson.”

I was more merciful to the follies and the weaknesses of my correspondents while I was A.D.C. and destroyed all letters before I left. I was determined that so far as I could enable her to get it, poor Mrs. Bondling should have another chance. My correspondence with her was certainly the most serio-tragic of any that I had while A.D.C.

Mrs. Bondling, as Berengaria had told me, had never been asked to dine at Government House, and it was the ambition of her life to get an invitation. Both she and Miss Bondling, as well as the Strafford-Willis connection, had set siege to me from the outset. They had done everything but ask outright for an invitation, and I felt that they would do that soon if they didn’t get it before. There was no actual reason, so far as I knew, why they should not get it. Their social status was certainly not so high as to demand it, though on the other hand it was not so low as to put it out of the question. They were just members of the very large class of people in Monaling who were on the Government House list, but only for big and formal entertainments. As they never had been asked to dinner I did not feel that it was my place as a new-comer to suggest that they should be, or that there was any good reason for doing so. I felt, however, that Mrs. Bondling would not let me maintain this position of masterly inaction without making a fight for it. Consequently I was very glad when events settled themselves.

As I have remarked, the air of Monaling had a speedy and wonderful effect upon the personality of Miss Bondling. From an extremely shy and nervous little girl in pink she developed with astonishing rapidity into a woman of the world in black with pearl earrings. We were very anxious to get up amateur theatricals at Government House, but the talent in Monaling that year was remarkable by its absence. The piece we wanted to get up was Flinder’s Uncle, and with great difficulty we got together the cast, started rehearsals and issued invitations for the night fixed upon. Miss Bondling had not been asked to act. We all felt that she could act, but Miss Sturt, who was practically stage managing, had ignored the suggestion of her name. All had gone well until a few days before the performance, when “Marjory,” the heroine of the piece, went down with enteric fever. In despair we looked round for some one to take her place. There was only Miss Bondling who we felt could do justice to the part. It was not a moment to let social distinctions stand in the way. We sent her an urgent note of invitation. Needless to say, Miss Bondling came. She learned her part in a surprisingly short space of time, she proved an astonishingly good actress and was undoubtedly the success of the piece. Added to all this, she made herself so agreeable, was so ready to help and to take any amount of trouble, that we all felt we owed her a real debt of gratitude. We talked it over afterwards and we all agreed that the time of Mrs. and Miss Bondling had come at last. I consulted Miss Sturt and then included their names in the next dinner party list for His Honour’s and Lady Sturt’s approval. There was no objection made, and the long-desired card that would excite such joy in the bosom of the Bondling family was despatched.

Now it happened that only two official Memsahebs had been asked to that particular dinner party, and both of them a few hours before the dinner-hour sent round to say that they were unable to come, both having been suddenly laid up. Of course this necessitated an entire re-arrangement of the table, and on looking up the list to see who should go in with His Honour under the revised list it was found that there was no official Memsaheb and that Mrs. Bondling being the senior among the remaining non-official guests ought by courtesy to take the place of first lady. It was rather comic, that, having waited so long for an invitation, she should straightway the first time she got it jump into the leading place. But it would have been very marked to have given her any other place than that to which her age entitled her, and consequently she was sent in with His Honour. The effect of such a triumph upon Mrs. Bondling herself, however, was little anticipated. It was exciting enough for her that it was her first dinner party at Government House, but to find on arriving in the hall that she was to be taken in as chief guest was an altogether unexpected and staggering joy. She entered the drawing-room a changed woman. All her pushfulness and self-assertion had fallen from her. The triumph which she had so long awaited and which now burst upon her with doubled splendour seemed suddenly to have overawed her and robbed her of all her self-confidence. She whom it was hard to associate with those qualities was positively shy and timid and diffident. Silent and overawed she passed in on the Lieutenant-Governor’s arm, taking her triumph with altogether unexpected quietness and humility.

I was at the further end of the table and so saw little of what followed. My attention was first attracted by a lull in the general conversation, above which rose rather noticeably Mrs. Bondling’s excited and hysterical tones. I was rather surprised as she had appeared so particularly subdued at the commencement of the proceedings, but thought nothing more of it, as the buzz of conversation began again, until I caught Lady Sturt’s stony disapproving look fixed on the opposite side of the table. I could not see Mrs. Bondling from where I sat, but it was evident that it was upon her that Lady Sturt’s disapproving glance was fixed. Mrs. Bondling’s voice was undoubtedly high-pitched and excited and it never seemed to pause for breath. Once or twice it attracted general attention all round the table in a momentary pause during which the voice went on seemingly quite regardless of its breaking in rather loudly on the silence. I felt quite relieved when Lady Sturt rose, which it struck me that she did unusually early. The door was at my end of the table, and following Lady Sturt, who always led the way, naturally came Mrs. Bondling who had taken precedence of the other ladies. In the doorway Lady Sturt turned as she generally did to allow the chief lady to join her. For a moment there was a pause. The other ladies waited for Mrs. Bondling to go first, and all eyes turned towards her as the pause grew perceptible. Then Mrs. Bondling came. Over her coming one would fain draw a veil, for dreadful to relate there was a dazed expression on her face and ever so slight an unsteadiness in her walk that could betoken only sudden illness or one other scarcely-to-be-mentioned horrible alternative. I gazed after her in amazement as I followed her and Lady Sturt across the hall into the drawing-room to see the ladies seated. Lady Sturt spoke to her once and Mrs. Bondling laughed nervously in reply. Then in the middle of the drawing-room Lady Sturt turned and faced her with a stony stare. Poor Mrs. Bondling seemed literally to shrivel up beneath it. Fortunately the other ladies followed close behind, and Lady Sturt having crushed Mrs. Bondling moved away and spoke to one of them. The unfortunate Mrs. Bondling made straight for me and in a whisper implored me to get her away and let her escape off home. I saw that she was on the verge of a complete breakdown, so as quietly as possible I got her out of the drawing-room and saw her into her rickshaw. She seemed absolutely dazed and could only murmur that she felt most dreadfully ill. At the last moment Miss Bondling hurried out, and I must say carried it off remarkably well, sympathising with her mother’s illness and generally treating the whole thing in as natural a manner as possible.

The correspondence began the next morning. Daylight had evidently brought to Mrs. Bondling a full sense of the awfulness of the situation. I received the following letter from her about 11 a.m. It ran:—

“Dear Captain Wynford,

“I feel I must write just a line to apologise to Lady Sturt for leaving last night without saying ‘good night’ to her, but I was really feeling so dreadfully ill that I don’t quite know what I actually did or did not do, and my daughter tells me that what I did or did not do, I don’t quite know which, I feel so ill over it, might be liable to be misunderstood. My daughter says the only thing to be done is to leave it alone, but I felt I must write to you privately to make sure that everything is all right and that Lady Sturt is not annoyed. Do please let me have a line to that effect, it would so much relieve my mind, and do please forgive my troubling you.

“Yours sincerely,

“Ella Bondling.”

What could I reply? Particularly as Mrs. Bondling’s behaviour had formed the subject of conversation at breakfast. His Honour had said that she had been amusing, but Lady Sturt had said with emphasis that she must never be asked again. What could I reply to her letter? The truth in her present frame of mind appeared altogether too brutal. I fear that I took refuge in the weak alternative and for the first day did not reply at all.

Mrs. Bondling, however, was evidently unable to stand the suspense. I received another letter from her on the following afternoon.

“Dear Captain Wynford [it ran],

“I should be so glad if you would let me have a reply to my note. I am so anxious to know that it is all right, and that Lady Sturt is not annoyed. I am so upset about it.

“Yours sincerely,

“Ella Bondling.”

There was no help for it. I had to reply. I interviewed Lady Sturt and told her of the contents of Mrs. Bondling’s letters. But Lady Sturt, to my surprise, was firm, and made the reply still more difficult to write by definitely instructing me to strike Mrs. Bondling’s name off the Government House list. For long I sat and pondered on my reply. Then I finally wrote:—

“Dear Mrs. Bondling,

“Please forgive the delay in answering your first letter. I have laid the matter before Lady Sturt, and I am sorry to say that it was not very well received.

“Yours sincerely,

“P. S. Wynford.”

I felt it was an unsatisfactory letter, but short of telling her the brutal truth that her name had been struck off the Government House list, which I felt she was not just now in a fit frame of mind to bear philosophically, I did not see what else I could write. That same evening I got the following letter in reply. It covered seven sheets of paper.

“Dear Captain Wynford,

“Your letter has very naturally very much upset me; in fact, I was so upset that my daughter saw it and I had to tell her that I had written to you. She said I had acted very foolishly in not passing the matter over or in not telling you the whole truth, if I must write. So I write, dear Captain Wynford, to tell you the whole truth and to ask you to help me. It was like this: I felt it such an honour to be asked to dine at Government House—never in my life having been asked before—and then when I arrived to find I was going to be taken in by the Lieutenant-Governor was such an unexpected honour that I felt quite overcome. My heart seemed to stop beating. Of course I was very pleased, but on the other hand I was really terrified because I had only spoken about two words to His Honour before and he had always rather overawed me and I suddenly felt that I should have nothing to say to him. I get like that sometimes and I can’t say a word. It was very dreadful, and going in with His Honour it was as I feared. I couldn’t think of anything to say and His Honour said nothing and the silence was awful as we sat down. I knew that I was tongue-tied and that awful long dinner loomed ahead and so I did a foolish thing. When the champagne came round I took some. I never take champagne, but I felt it was my only hope then as I had heard that it gave nervous people confidence, and so I took some, and before I had taken half a glass I felt quite a different being and I felt that I could talk and I did talk. But I think I must have drunk more than I actually knew I did unconsciously. I felt so grateful to it. But never taking it ordinarily, it had a dreadful effect upon me, and after the first brief period of exhilaration had passed off I began to feel dreadfully ill. I was all right until I got up to leave the dining-room and then it suddenly flashed upon me what had happened and I felt so dreadfully ill and overcome. Dear Captain Wynford, will you please explain all this to Lady Sturt and make her understand? I know how awful it must have looked and you can’t imagine how bad I feel about it. It was such cruel luck to happen just my very first dinner party at Government House to which I had looked forward for so very long. Do please explain all this to Lady Sturt and let me know what she says. I shall not rest a moment till I hear from you.

“Yours sincerely,

“Ella Bondling.”

I felt that poor Mrs. Bondling must not be left in suspense now whatever her fate might be and I took the letter at once to Lady Sturt. She read it through in silence and handed it back to me without a word. I ventured to put in a word in Mrs. Bondling’s favour, pointing out how very unfortunate it was that this should have happened to her the very first time she had dined at Government House, and that though the result of the champagne was disastrous the intention had been if not quite legitimate at least excusable. But Lady Sturt regarded me coldly and even I as I urged her claims to reinstatement I saw that Mrs. Bondling’s cause was lost.

“She is a very vulgar woman,” was all she said. “Perhaps worse might happen if she ever came again. Please see that she never does come again.”

I am bound to say my sympathies were with the unfortunate Mrs. Bondling and I was surprised at Lady Sturt’s hardness. I made one last feeble effort.

“Am I to write and tell her that?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Lady Sturt, nodding her head at me solemnly. “Tell her that. Tell her that we forgive her and that we won’t give her the opportunity of doing it again.”

Poor Mrs. Bondling took the blow very hardly, as I imagined she would do. At first she wanted to disappear from the station altogether, but I think Miss Bondling and the Strafford-Willis connection persuaded her out of that. Of course it was the talk of all Monaling and the story soon became grossly exaggerated. Mrs. Bondling had a most unfortunate time of it. Having given herself great airs in consequence of the invitation to Government House, her downfall was a cause of triumph to those who had not been asked, while those who were already within the charmed circle gathered up their skirts and passed by this one, who, having once got there, was now so definitely excluded. Mrs. Bondling’s only hope was in the next Lieutenant- Governor or in the next Lieutenant-Governor’s wife or A.D.C. as the case might be.

The most ridiculous letters of all were two written to me in all seriousness by a French visitor to Monaling. The writer was a girl evidently still in her teens who, accompanied by her mother, had arrived in the station at the beginning of the season. No one was able to discover where they had come from or why they had come, and they thought fit to vouchsafe no explanations. They called at Government House and on a few of the most important people, but they scarcely went out anywhere, declining almost all invitations on the ground of the mother’s health. Who they might be and what they were doing in Monaling naturally furnished the station with much food for speculation. They had taken a house for the season, which was an unusual thing for visitors unconnected with India to do, and their French nationality naturally added to the curiosity they aroused. But much as the station talked, nothing was ever discovered about them. The rumour went that they were spies, though what spies of French nationality, even if in the pay of the Russian Government, should be doing in Monaling was more than any one could say. Madame D’Autun, the mother, spoke English fluently, though with a decidedly foreign accent. The following letter will show the extent of her daughter’s acquaintance with the language.

I should add that the house taken by Madame D’Autun adjoined the Government House grounds and was quite close to one of the bungalows in the latter, which the A.D.C.’s sometimes occupied when there was a large house-party for the Race Week or the Birthday. It was while we were living in the bungalow during the Monaling Race Week that I received the following letter:—

“Dear Mr. A.D.C.,

“I should like to ask you a favour. I am in great distress about my beautiful tortoiseshell-coloured cat which Colonel Mason was so kind to present to me last Friday. You know I am so awfully fond of cats, and this one was so pretty and sweet and knew me already so nicely. Since yesterday morning my kitten was missed to my great grief. Now I hear that it had gone to your bungalow and been caught by your servants. I hear your Boy has taken my cat away in his house. Now I would ask you very much, dear Mr. A.D.C., have the great kindness please to order your servant to bring my dear little pussy back to me. Of course I shall gladly pay him a backsheesh. I should be very much obliged to you if you would have the kindness to help me. Please excuse my queer English. I do not know very much, but I should like to get my pussy back.

“With kind thoughts,

“Yours sincerely,

“Adèle D’Autun.”

After Bentham, Hampy, and I had laughed over this effusion we questioned our servants. They told us that they had found a “jungly” cat eating our chota haziri the morning before and that they had caught it and deported it to the bazaar, where they had let it loose. It seemed rather an improbable story that native servants should have had sufficient energy and initiative to catch a “jungly” cat and deport it into the bazaar, but that was all we could get out of them. So I wrote off to this effect to Madame D’Autun. We had been rather puzzled to know whether the letter was from the mother or the daughter. The reply to my note left us in no doubt. It ran:—

“Dear Mr. Wynford,

“My mother thanks you very much for your letter you wrote to her yesterday. But it was not my mother who wrote to you about the cat. It was me (Mdlle. D’Autun). I really cannot make out how you could think my mother had written to you a letter in such queer English. And then my mother does not like cats half as much as I do. She never could have said ‘my sweet cat,’ etc., and then I should like to let you know your servants have told you a self-invented story and not the truth about that cat they had caught in your bungalow. Before I wrote to you my first letter they had told our servants that cat had looked very beautiful, and they had said nothing about that she had been stealing your food. I simply do not believe them. And if it was a ‘jungly’ cat, then why did they not kill it at once? Why had your Boy taken it to his house and to the bazaar? Of course to sell her. Our servants had gone to his house yesterday, and not only your ayah, but also the people in the bazaar who had seen the cat, say she had looked very pretty. Colonel Mason would get quite angry if he heard anybody calling that cat he presented me a ‘jungly’ cat. Your Boy says he let her loose in the bazaar. This I simply do not believe. He has sold her. Excuse, please, my troubling you. I thank you very much for all the trouble you had about my dear lost pussy.

“My many regards,

“Yours sincerely,

“Adèle D’Autun.”

Needless to add, the “dear lost pussy” was never seen again. Madame and Mademoiselle D’Autun themselves disappeared almost as suddenly and mysteriously a few months later. They left no P.P.C. cards anywhere and told no one that they were going. Where they went to and what became of them still remains a mystery in Monaling until this day.

Chapter VII

We Visit the Mofussil

It was the immemorial custom of the Lieutenant-Governor of the Northern Provinces to descend from the hills and make a short tour in the plains during the rainy season. Now if there was one thing that His Honour, Sir Humphrey Sturt, loved, it was a precedent. If you wanted to get him to do anything, you had only to show him a precedent and he was perfectly happy and did what you wanted like a lamb. The only danger was that before the thing could be carried through some one else might show him another precedent pointing the other way. Whereupon unless one precedent was indisputably stronger than the other, his mind became so agitated that when possible he followed neither for fear of breaking either.

Lady and Miss Sturt, I found, usually accompanied His Honour on the tour, but owing to Lady Sturt’s physical inability to make up her mind, it was never really certain whether they would go or not until they had actually started. Miss Sturt was quite capable of making up her mind and always did make it up at once, but she was one of those provoking people who seem to take a perverse pleasure in never letting you know which way they have made it up. Bentham had told me something of what I was to expect, so I was not surprised when Lady Sturt changed her mind every time the topic was broached. Miss Sturt on these occasions persistently said nothing, and it was impossible to tell whether she wanted to go or not. Now that sort of attitude annoys me intensely. If people are so constituted as not to have the strength of mind to decide whether they want a thing or not, of course that’s different; but when one knew, as in the case of Miss Sturt, that she probably had made up her mind at the outset whether she did want to go or not, one felt that it was extremely annoying of her not to show it. Especially as I was naturally very keen that she should go.

“What do you say?” I asked her once as we rose from lunch, at which the tour had formed the chief topic of conversation and during which Lady Sturt had changed her mind at least twice. “Are you keen on going?”

“Oh! very keen,” she answered, raising smiling, innocent grey eyes to mine; “if mother wishes it.”

A few days later the same topic of conversation again cropped up.

“You are not very keen on going?” I asked, as indifferently as I could, while the discussion waxed keen at the other end of the table.

“Oh! no,” she replied, as demurely as before; “not at all, if mother doesn’t wish it.”

I could have torn my hair, or hers, I am not sure which. Yet I am not sure that this uncertainty about her was not one of her chiefest charms. A man always wants most what he has not got, and a spice of uncertainty as to whether he will get it or not but adds to his desire.

When the day for setting out drew near, however, she left me in no doubt as to her desires. I think it was that she was very keen to go herself and that she saw that it was necessary for her to take decisive measures if things were not to fall through. Although it had been already gazetted that Lady and Miss Sturt accompanied His Honour on tour, the announcement added no whit to the certainty of their going. Lady Sturt, with truly royal, or rather non-royal, disregard of fixed engagements, never seemed to realise the inconvenience entailed to other people by altering her plans at the last moment if she felt so inclined. On this occasion, however, she did seem to have made up her mind, so far as she was capable of doing such a thing, in favour of going. Miss Sturt had evidently been diplomatic.

Two days before the date fixed for leaving Monaling, the latter came to me and asked that Lady Sturt’s and her heavy luggage might be sent on ahead to be put on board the steam launch on which we did the tour.

“I think it should go at once,” she said sweetly, smiling up at me with a gleam of amusement in her eyes.

I understood.

“It shall go immediately,” I said, and straightway hurried out into the hall where the pile of luggage already stood strapped and labelled.

An hour later I was standing in the courtyard at the back of the house seeing the things off on bullock carts to the station. The next train left at twelve o’clock, and knowing Lady Sturt, I knew that it was safest that they should catch it. The courtyard clock struck half-past eleven as the last box was strapped on. As the carts began to move off, Miss Sturt rode into the courtyard and a syce ran forward to hold her pony. I helped her to dismount and we stood for a moment talking. The bullock carts rolled slowly out of the courtyard.

Just as the last one turned the corner one of the magnificent red and gold chaprassis came out with a little folded note of pale grey paper that I recognised from long familiarity as Lady Sturt’s. He handed it with a deep salaam to the Miss Saheb. Our eyes met as she opened it and I think we both somehow guessed what it contained. She read it and then looked at me quizzically.

“Is it?” I asked.

She understood.

“It is,” she said.

We both looked after the disappearing bullock carts as they passed by on the road below. Then she refolded the note with an air of determination and handed it to me.

“Will you please say that I am out and that you are keeping it till I return?” she asked, giving me the note and not waiting for my reply. Turning, she called the syce to bring back the pony, and I assisted her to mount. She flashed a smile upon me as she seated herself in the saddle.

“The train goes at twelve o’clock?”

I assured her smilingly that it did.

“I shall be back at a quarter past,” she laughed as she prepared to move off. Then she turned in the saddle. “Wouldn’t it be as well if you rode after me with the note?”

I took a step forward as the pony fretted to be away.

“In that case,” I said, “wouldn’t it be as well if I knew which way to find you?”

She laughed again as she gave the pony his head.

“But it isn’t at all necessary that you should find me,” she called back, and with that and a last mocking smile back at me she trotted away down the hill.

I ordered my pony post-haste, but it was five minutes later before I was in the saddle. Every road in Monaling, it was a common saying, led to Government House, and search as I might along many of them I could find no trace of the Vision. As the clock struck twelve I rode back into the courtyard. To my surprise I saw Miss Sturt talking to her mother on the steps. For the fraction of a second I wondered if the enchantress had played me false. Dismounting, I joined them.

“I have been looking for you everywhere,” I said, addressing Miss Sturt and mopping my brow as if I had been making an exhausting and exhaustive search, “to give you a note from Lady Sturt,” and I handed her the little folded note of grey paper.

“For me!” she said, taking it with well-feigned surprise. “From mother?”

She turned towards her mother inquiringly as she opened it.

“Did I write?” asked Lady Sturt, vaguely regarding the note in her daughter’s hand. “Did I?” She looked up at me as if expecting an answer and then forgot. “I’ve told the chaprassis before,” she said with sudden energy, “that I will not have pariah dogs running about the compound, and there’s one now on the flower-beds. If I did write”—she lapsed into vagueness again—“I don’t recollect what it was about, so it can’t have been very important. If they won’t drive that dog away I shall have to interfere; yet if there is one thing I do hate, it’s anything in the nature of nagging. I always seem to be finding fault. What was it I wrote to you about, Sybilla?”

The Vision looked up quickly.

“Oh, mother dear,” she exclaimed, with obvious distress, “it was to say that you would not go on tour!”

“Of course, of course,” said Lady Sturt, smiling indulgently as if, after all, her forgetting was quite excusable, “how stupid of me to forget. I remembered this morning that I got a touch of rheumatism last time and I think it would be best not to go.”

“But, mother dear,” said the Vision, again with the same distress, “the boxes have already gone.”

“Gone!” exclaimed Lady Sturt, for the moment much upset. “Gone!”

But fortunately she was one of those delightful people with a firm belief in the ultimate good. She quickly recovered herself and seemed really grateful that the boxes had gone.

“Of course, if they have gone,” she said resignedly, “if Providence really did ordain that you should not get my note until it was too late, then everything is settled. One can’t fight against Providence,” she added, turning to me, “can one?”

I assured her that it must have been ordained that she should go on tour these rains, and quite happy she hurried off first to talk seriously to the chaprassis for not driving the pariah dogs out of the compound and then to make further preparations for the tour which had at last been definitely decided upon.

The Vision and I were left standing on the steps. Our eyes met and smiled at one another.

“We really ought not to have done it,” she said.

I felt that Miss Sturt’s peculiarly susceptible conscience was troubling her again.

“One must play the part of Providence sometimes,” I laughed. “Some people are born to have things decided for them. Fortunately there are other people born capable of deciding for them.”

“All the same,” she persisted penitently as we turned to pass inside. “All the same we ought not to have done it really.”

Now I am quite willing to admit that theoretically perhaps we ought not. On the other hand, I am sufficiently a casuist in some things to think that the means justifies the end. In this case, for instance, we had taken the simplest course that offered itself to make up Lady Sturt’s mind for her and everything turned out for the best. Being one of those people constitutionally incapable of making up their minds, Lady Sturt was only too thankful when circumstances or Providence, as she generally called it, stepped in and made it up for her. Unfortunately, while quite incapable of making up her mind herself, she obstinately refused to let other people make it up for her. Consequently it had to be done by means of diplomacy, and everybody knows that anything is legitimate if you can only call it that. Any little artifice and perhaps a momentary blindness to truth are soon forgotten and forgiven. Tact itself, after all, is only the art of concealing things unpleasant. And that way lies deception.

I felt it necessary to say all this because there is no doubt that we did on this and many other occasions deceive poor Lady Sturt. I must admit also that the thought did flash across my mind that if the Vision was thus capable of practising a mild deception upon her mother, might she not in time to come be led to do the same towards one even nearer and dearer? It was a most uncomfortable thought which I hastily dismissed from my mind. There is nothing, I find, like cultivating a habit of dismissing uncomfortable thoughts from one’s mind. Its the only thing that makes life worth living. Still if one has a mind at all it’s impossible altogether to prevent disagreeable thoughts flitting across it from time to time. I could not help momentarily remembering some trite saying like “the best daughter makes the best wife” and “like mother like daughter,” and unpleasant things like that. But what man really in love ever stops to think about them? He knows at the back of his mind that he will have to think about that sort of thing later on, and most men having subscribed to that wisest of all texts, “Sufficient unto the day,” are content to put it off till then.

Two days later we were all assembled on the Monaling platform prepared for our monsoon tour. Now the departure of the Lieutenant-Governor of the Northern Provinces was always an affair of state. Some Lieutenant-Governors prefer to creep about with as little ceremonial as they can. Not so Sir Humphrey Sturt. He never arrived or departed privately when he could possibly arrive or depart publicly. So when we arrived at the station on that particular morning in July we found all the official world had come to see us off and, as usual on such occasions, the native element had turned up in full force.

There was the Maharaja of Bhintala, a magnificent figure of a man, a Rajput of the old school loyal to the core, who, every time I saw him, carried me back in thought to Mutiny days and to those who did not break faith in the great betrayal. Beside him stood the little boy Raja of Birpur, with the face of a cherub and the record of a man about town. Then came various municipal officials, chairmen and vice-chairmen, members and secretaries of boards innumerable and honorary office holders galore, while in the background, perspiringly eager to catch a glimpse of official recognition, congregated a crowd of Babus of all sizes and ages and varying degrees of respectability and importance. But for once, with all their eccentricities from a Western point of view, they paled in interest beside the little band of Europeans that stood beside them.

I had never been present at a similar function before and, to my astonishment, when I arrived, I scarcely recognised my new-made friends whom I had been seeing daily for the last three months. In place of the free-and-easy attire of Indian life, they had suddenly clothed themselves in strange and wonderful garments. They looked more like paid mourners at a funeral than anything else one could imagine. I had known before that it was de rigueur for all officials not entitled to wear uniform to appear in frock-coats and top hats on these occasions, but I had never imagined that the effect would be anything like it was. Now in India the number of occasions on which you require these garments is very limited indeed. The public arrivals and departures of Lieutenant-Governors were almost the only occasions when they were absolutely essential in Monaling. Even in Calcutta itself, the Viceregal city, I believe, you only need the top hat when you call on Sundays between the hours of twelve and two, or at a Government House garden party. Consequently no one is likely to invest in many new top hats, and the one that you bring out with you generally survives with more or less respectability until you go home again. Unfortunately, however, the Indian climate does not lend itself to the beautification and preservation of top hats. The brims have a strange and wonderful habit of growing limp and uncurling and sticking straight out, while the silk loses all its gloss and assumes a brown and mangy hue. As for the frock-coat, though one would imagine that the fashions did not change much in that line, it is astonishing how antiquated it is possible for it to look. Of course, much laying by in tin-lined trunks, not packed with exactly tailor-like precision, does not tend to their improvement, and from their appearance it is obvious that some of them must have lain by many years with but few airings. There was one particular frock-coat on the Monaling platform on that particular morning that must have caught the most unobservant eye. It belonged to a senior member of the Civil Service. I think he must have seen me glancing at it as he stood close beside me. He leaned forward and whispered to me confidentially.

“I’m rather proud of it,” he said, with a chuckle. “I’ve had it just seventeen years.”

I looked admiring incredulity.

“And I can still wear it,” he added proudly.

He was short and undeniably had a presence. The frock-coat, so far from being able to be buttoned right over as a self-respecting frock-coat should, only just met as it lay unbuttoned on his rotund figure.

“I admit I’ve had a new waistcoat,” he said hurriedly, as if suddenly pulled up short by an official desire for strict accuracy, “but the coat’s all right so long as they don’t wear them buttoned up.”

I longed to see what the back looked like. From the front view it appeared as if there must be rather a strain upon it. I glanced up at the top hat. The senior member of the Civil Service chuckled again.

“I’m even prouder of that,” he said.

I tried to keep the amusement out of my eyes and look sympathetic. He was quite serious. How any one could have been seen dead in a hat like that, let alone be proud of it, was difficult to understand.

“I’ve had that ten years,” he boasted, “so long that the shape has come into fashion again.”

Privately I wondered what shape he really thought it was, but before I could reply I saw the Senior Member composing his features to greet the Lieutenant-Governor, who approached us round the circle.

Fortunately, being a soldier, I do not need to sport a frock-coat and top hat of my own out here. My acquaintance with other people’s, however, is naturally extensive. A.D.C.’s are in the way of meeting more of them than any one else in India. They literally strew an L.-G.’s path, wherever he goes, and an A.D.C., not being bothered to listen and reply to addresses, has time to appreciate their beauties to the full. Now my advice, as a disinterested and impartial spectator, is to leave your top hat at home with a sister or a cousin or an aunt—it must be the right sort of sister or cousin or aunt, or they won’t know how to treat it—and wear a topi with your frocker out here. A topi is the only possible headgear yet invented, except a topper, that you can wear with a frock-coat and not look a bounder in. Of course, if you are a native of India you can wear a frock-coat and brown trousers with bright yellow boots and a stiff dress shirt and dress waistcoat, the whole surmounted by a bowler, and none of your fellow countrymen will even so much as smile at your get-up. A sense of the ridiculous makes life so much brighter for oneself, but it’s a terrible restriction on the action of other people. No Englishman can stand being laughed at. Therefore he must wear either a topi or topper with his frock-coat. Of course the great advantage of leaving your topper at home is that when you go back again five or ten years hence the chances are that its own particular shape will in all probability have come once more into fashion. There being only a certain number of shapes, yours is bound to come in again some day, if you only wait long enough. All these little devices, of course, have only to be resorted to if you are poor or of an economical turn of mind. But I’ve known men quite careless about money matters generally who show a remarkable reluctance to part with an old top hat.

Meanwhile we were all waiting on the Monaling platform until His Honour and Lady Sturt had shaken hands with everybody who had a right to be shaken hands with and bidden them all good-bye. Any one would have thought from the time this took and the state and ceremony of our departure that we were starting off on an adventurous journey to the North Pole instead of for a month’s tour in the plains comparatively close at hand. But it being the custom to set out on the monsoon tour with much formal leave-taking, nothing would have induced His Honour to forego it.

We were off at last amidst much respectful salaaming and the raising of many toppers, and the monsoon tour had begun. It was an uneventful journey down to the plains save that I made a most undesirably closer acquaintance with Poppums. Poppums, beloved of Lady Sturt, was a nasty fat little King Charles spaniel who spent most of his life asleep on his mistress’s train. He was quite unoffensive and unobtrusive while he could lie there peaceably, but travelling naturally interfered with his sedentary habits and made him a most unmitigated nuisance. So troublesome did Lady Sturt find him during the first few hours of the journey that she sent him in to me to look after. If there is anything unpleasant to be done, or that anybody else doesn’t want to do, there is always the A.D.C. to do it. So I took what care I could of Poppums, who twice nearly fell out of the carriage window and was twice nearly strangled being hauled back by his chain.

It took us all that day and night and part of the next morning to reach Munnighat where we were going to join the launch. Bentham and Hampy had gone on by the previous train to see that everything was all right on board. They were due to meet us with all the local celebrities at 8 a.m. on the platform at Munnighat. His Honour had promised to lay the foundation stone of the hospital there and to preside at the prize distribution of the local school before going on board the launch. The orders were to meet in the saloon at 7.45 a.m. ready for the public arrival at 8 a.m. Punctually to time we were all there except Sir Humphrey. Five minutes before the train was due he hurried in putting on his grey felt topi. He seemed, I thought, unusually perturbed and twice consulted some notes he held in his hand. He was generally so immovably and impressively calm that one noticed the slightest variation. Just as the train began to slow down he half put his head out of the window as if to see on which side of the platform we should draw up. And then a terrible thing happened. As he withdrew his head, his topi hit against the side of the carriage, and, before he could save it, fell off on to the line. We in the carriage saw it happen and sat for a moment dumb with consternation. Neither His Honour nor I had a spare topi with us, all our heavy luggage having gone on ahead. The train was perceptibly slowing down and in a couple of minutes we should be drawing up opposite the red-carpeted platform covered with a crowd of bowing officials and local celebrities. And His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor of the Northern Provinces had no topi to meet them in. For a moment we all looked at one another in a horror-stricken silence. Sir Humphrey almost wept. Then Lady Sturt rose to the occasion as she sometimes did.

“Never mind, never mind,” she said quickly as the train slowed more and more. “I think Captain Wynford’s topi ought to fit you, dear.”

It was really the only solution. Giving in to the inevitable, I took it off and offered it to His Honour. As I did so I had a vivid glimpse of the immediate inconveniences of being without it, much as a drowning man must have of his past life, save that my glimpse was of things yet to come.

“Yes, take mine,” I said cheerfully, secretly hoping that it wouldn’t fit.

The train had almost reached the platform.

His Honour seized it as a drowning man catches at a straw and put it on his head. It fitted admirably. I have never seen such a look of infinite relief pass over any one’s face before or since.

“My dear fellow,” he said, with excess of gratitude seizing me by the hand. “My dear fellow.”

The train slowed up opposite the red carpet and with great dignity His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor, calm and unruffled, descended.

“You can easily tie a handkerchief round your head, can’t you?” said Lady Sturt, as she too descended. Fortunately Jim and Bentham were there to help them out. I perforce had to stand back as the sun was blazing full on the platform.

Imagine an A.D.C. in uniform with a handkerchief tied round his head! I tried to look pleasant.

“I will lend you my sunshade if you like,” offered Miss Sturt sweetly, descending in her turn, and preparing to open it.

I took no notice and looked round to see what could be done. His Honour and Lady Sturt were going through the usual course of handshaking under a tiny shamiana of particularly light construction in the centre of the platform, under which it would be impossible to stand without a topi. But something had to be done. I could not remain in the train, and Bentham and Hampy were too much engaged with His Honour for me to attract their attention. I got out on to the platform, but it was impossible to stand a moment in the sun without the certainty of sunstroke. There was no help for it. I had to run to take refuge in the shade near the booking-office quite away from the red carpet, where nobody at all was standing. It must have looked very ridiculous, but it was either that or sunstroke, and though I have all the Englishman’s horror of looking ridiculous one has to draw the line at sunstroke. Fortunately, however, all eyes were upon His Honour, who was looking very dignified in my topi, and I don’t think many people even noticed me. Everybody had closed up round the Government House party. Only one quite old native gentleman, on the outskirts of the crowd, regarded me furtively with considerable suspicion. It was necessary for me to do something and that quickly. The old gentleman had a kind face, and what was even more important was wearing a quite respectable white topi that would not look too conspicuously out of place surmounting my uniform. So I beckoned to the old gentleman seductively. He came forward with some show of hesitation and suspicion. In full uniform, but hatless, and hugging the shelter of the booking-office, I must have looked a bit mad. Hastily I explained to him the situation. His looks did not belie him. He had a kind heart, and what was again even more important a head much the same size as mine. And the topi was practically brand-new. In two minutes I was resuming my usual place in close attendance on His Honour while my unknown friend was standing in the shade of the booking-office. When I looked round at him he was calmly and unconcernedly doing what Lady Sturt had suggested I should do—tying a large white handkerchief round his head. So fortunate is one in having compatriots who have not been blessed with a sense of the ridiculous. I never saw my friend in need again, but I sent him back his topi a few hours later with much gratitude.

The reception on the platform was soon over and we were driving through the gaily decorated streets towards the site of the new hospital. His Honour, Lady Sturt, the Collector of the district, an extremely shy apologetic little man, and myself occupied the first carriage. For a time all went well, though the little Collector was visibly nervous. Then suddenly the carriage came to a dead stop with such a violent jolt that Lady Sturt was almost precipitated into my arms. The Collector peered anxiously round his side of the carriage to see what had happened. Lady Sturt jumped up and craned her neck to see over the box seat. As I too leaned out one of the strangest sights that I have ever seen met my eyes. All along the road as far as one could see there were two rows of men lying flat on their faces on the ground, effectively preventing the carriage from moving onwards. Clothed alike, and at equal distances apart, it was evident that they had been put to line the road on either side. Now flat and motionless, stretched full length, they looked like nine-pins that had been knocked down at one blow or like victims waiting for the Car of Juggernaut to pass over them. The crowd that had gathered along the roadway on either side stood still in unbroken order gazing with breathless astonishment at the extraordinary sight.

The men who lay on the ground wore the short blue tunics and blue pugarees that one grows familiar with in the Indian Mofussil. They were the chowkidars or village police, who carry something of the force and majesty of law into the remotest villages of the jungle. They are a useful race and perform a variety of duties, and they are much in evidence when the Collector Saheb goes on tour or when the Lieutenant-Governor appears. On these occasions they are often put to line the road, as they had been to-day. Why they had suddenly cast themselves full length on the ground in front of His Honour’s carriage instead of standing upright in the orthodox impassive manner one could only wonder. Meanwhile we sat in the carriage waiting to move on, and wondering what was going to happen next.

It was quite the most comic sight I have ever seen. The chowkidars continued to lie full length across the road, flat on their faces, absolutely impassive, like dummy figures. Not so much as one of them peered up to see what was happening. His Honour sat still in his seat, his monocle fixed upon the poor little Collector Saheb with unmistakably dignified disapproval. Lady Sturt, standing up to see over the front of the carriage, peered through her lorgnettes, surveying the scene with undisguised interest. The unfortunate Collector, who in ordinary circumstances was sufficiently shy and apologetic, was reduced to a pitiable state of heat and distress. He got out finally and ran excitedly to the first chowkidar, who lay, regardless of the danger he was running, almost under the horses’ feet, and tried to drag him up. It was irresistibly funny. It reminded one of a dummy race at a gymkhana. But this proved a particularly refractory dummy. The little Collector tugged at it as hard as he could, but it would persist in lying flat on its face. Hot and perspiring with the exertion and with horror at what had happened, he desisted at last and looked round helplessly, mopping his brow. I felt really sorry for him. Sir Humphrey’s eye was still fixed upon him with a stony stare. Suddenly I had an inspiration. I jumped out of the carriage and spoke to the Collector Saheb.

“Is there no other road to the hospital?” I asked.

“Of course,” he said, brightening visibly, “of course. I ought to have thought of it.”

He gave a hurried order to the coachman, and we got back into the carriage, which immediately turned round and drove back in the direction we had come. It was very humiliating. The Lieutenant-Governor of the Northern Provinces was forced to turn back on making a public entry into Munnighat and drive ignominiously down a side street where there were no decorations. It was such a very narrow side street that the huge Raja’s carriage we were in almost touched the walls on either side as we drove along.

“But why were they lying on the ground?” asked Lady Sturt in a dazed sort of way as we drove off.

“I can’t think, I can’t think!” exclaimed the worried little Collector, looking appealingly at Sir Humphrey.

But Sir Humphrey spoke never a word. His silence was so much more terrible than any words could have been. His monocle and Lady Sturt’s lorgnettes were both upon the responsible local dignitary, and he grew visibly older under their glassy stare. Again I felt real sorry for him. But there was worse to come. Suddenly the carriage stopped again.

“Why they’ve done it again,” exclaimed Lady Sturt, jumping up excitedly in the carriage; “they’ve done it again.”

Her tone was so indignant that I almost expected to hear her say, “Off with their heads,” like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland. Indeed, the whole scene was reminiscent of that immortal phantasy. Again the road was strewn with prostrate figures. They no longer lay in neat lines, fallen prostrate just where they had been placed along the route as before, but anyhow in a thick mass that almost completely hid the roadway. They must have guessed that we were driving round another way and hurried off through bystreets to circumvent us. This last blow fell heavily on the already distracted Collector Saheb, and he jumped out of the carriage and rushed wildly in among the prostrate forms, addressing them in impassioned tones. It was very funny. Appeal and gesticulate as one may, it is impossible to make any impression on an audience that will persist in lying flat on its face on the ground. The poor little man hopped frantically among the prostrate blue-clad figures, and my only fear was that he might resort in a fit of desperation to actual physical violence which would have been fatal to his future prospects with His Honour’s eye upon him. For His Honour in those days had very strict views about Europeans hitting natives under any circumstances. But after this very trying day I always thought he regarded such offences a little more leniently.

“I think we had better get out and walk, sir,” I said, seeing the unfinished buildings of the hospital whose foundation stone we had come to lay about a hundred yards off at the end of the street.

His Honour rose in an impressive silence and with dignity descended from the carriage.

“Aminta dear, you cannot walk,” he said. “I will cut the ceremony short after the way I have been treated. Meanwhile you will remain seated in the carriage.”

“Indeed I shall do nothing of the kind,” said Lady Sturt with unwonted determination, preparing to dismount. “Men who are capable of lying on the ground like that in front of the Lieutenant-Governor’s carriage are capable of anything. I could never trust them again.”

I assisted her to alight, and we picked our way beside the prostrate forms, reaching the hospital hot and ruffled, but without further adventure, the unfortunate Collector Saheb trotting along behind us very crestfallen and sad.

The laying of the foundation stone passed off much as such functions usually do. We were all garlanded with enormous strings of strong-scented flowers that made one look supremely ridiculous and made the air under the shamiana seem hotter and more suffocating with their smell. Sir Humphrey’s speech was calm and dignified, and no one would have suspected the indignation that I knew lay close beneath his suave and gracious manner. After the stone had been well and truly laid we drove to the school, which was not far off. All sign of the chowkidars had disappeared. What the Collector Saheb had done with them while we were performing the ceremony at the hospital I never knew and what their grievance was that induced them to bestrew themselves in the Lieutenant-Governor’s path I never rightly understood. They objected, so far as I could gather, to some new regulation that was being introduced, and they had taken this extremely effective way of bringing their objections to His Honour’s notice.

At the school there was a crowded attendance of scholars and their proud parents and guardians of the sterner sex, the mothers and the sisters and the female cousins and the aunts being strictly purdah nashin, and therefore missing all these festive functions. We were garlanded afresh and seated in a row behind a table covered with the prize books, facing the audience. As soon as we had taken our places two tiny children about three feet high suddenly appeared apparently from under the table and stood on the other side of it facing us. They could just see over the top of it, and as soon as they appeared they began to recite together in shrill monotonous sing-song voices an ode of welcome to His Honour in English. Most of it was of the usual fulsomely flattering type, and it dragged on for verse after verse until one thought it would never stop. The last two verses, however, were worth waiting for. Almost breathless but still unconquered, the shrill monotonous voices droned slowly on and ended with these lines :—

“You are pride of all the land,
Humbly do we touch your hand.
See your Lady by you sit
In a robe of perfect fit.

“You do come in Emperor’s name
To distribute praise or blame.
Long live Humphrey, long live Sturt,
May they ever have their desert.”

“It made me feel like two people in one,” said Lady Sturt as we drove away, “and somehow reminded me of the Athanasian Creed.”

“It reminded me of Humpty Dumpty,” laughed Miss Sturt irreverently.

“I’m bound to say I thought of the cat with many lives,” I put in.

“But what I liked best,” said His Honour as he took his wife’s hand in his and gently patted it, completely restored to good humour again, “what I liked best of all was the stress they laid upon the fit of my dear Aminta’s gown.”

Chapter VIII

Hampy’s Engagement

“For Heaven’s sake, Wyn, give me a peg!” cried Hampy, bursting in upon me in “The Den” late one night. “I’m engaged to be married.”

I started up out of the big arm-chair in which I had fallen asleep in front of a blazing log fire. Hampy had thrown himself into the chair on the other side of the fireplace. I rubbed my eyes, thinking the astonishing statement must be the fiction of a dream.

“Hullo! What’s that?” I exclaimed.

Hampy looked at me solemnly.

“I’m not drunk,” he said, shaking his head. Then, as I still regarded him suspiciously, he added deliberately, “I only wish I were.”

I laughed. Hampy’s expression was so irresistibly comic.

“I’m engaged to be married,” he repeated impressively, “and I want a peg.”

“Then why on earth don’t you get one yourself?” I asked him, still resentful at being so abruptly awakened, but getting up and mixing him one at the sideboard, nevertheless. For it was obvious that Hampy really was upset.

“I’m engaged to be married,” he repeated again solemnly, his eyes following me as I moved across the room.

“You’ve told me that three times now,” I said unsympathetically, handing him the peg, “and I’m getting tired.”

He drank off the peg at one gulp and put down the glass. Then he seemed to rouse himself a bit.

“If you were not so beastly unsympathetic,” he said, gloomily gazing into the fire, “I should tell you all about it.”

Hampy was one of those delightfully frank and open-hearted people who always must tell some one all about it. Of course I was most interested and curious to hear.

“My dear Hampy!” I exclaimed, “I ought to have congratulated you.”

I got up and held out my hand. Hampy rose and gripped it and clung on to it as if it were a remnant of his bachelor days that he feared to let hold of.

“But I’m not sure that I meant to do it,” he said, still very solemnly.

I should have laughed but that Hampy was so serious. What can you do but smile feebly when a man says a thing like that to you?

“You go and sleep it over, Hampy,” I said, releasing my hand with difficulty and taking him by the arm; “you’ll feel better about it in the morning.”

But Hampy was not to be comforted.

“No,” he said gloomily, “I think I shall feel worse.”

At that I was very sorry, but I laughed. Hampy’s gloominess had such an extremely comic side.

“Unsympathetic brute,” he murmured, releasing himself and collapsing into his chair again; “unfeeling, unsympathetic brute.”

I saw that the only thing that would do him any good would be to let him tell me “all about it.” I drew my chair up closer to his.

“Come,” I said encouragingly, “tell me all about it. How did it happen?”

“That’s just what I’m not sure about,” he cried out. “My head’s so dazed, I’m not sure about anything except that I’m engaged to be married.”

That phrase seemed to have got on his brain. I almost laughed again, but managed just in time to preserve a serious face.

“But you must know where you proposed,” I said gently and suggestively, as a counsel tries to bring out relevant facts from his own witness.

“Oh! that was in a kala jagah, he said impatiently, as if the locale were an altogether insignificant part of the proceeding.

For the benefit of the uninitiated I must explain that a kala jagah is a particularly Anglo-Indian institution, a “dark place,” designed for the benefit of couples during the intervals between the various items on the programme at a dance. In them things many and strange have happened.

“You did propose then?” I ventured.

For a long time Hampy was silent, considering.

“1 suppose I did,” he said quietly, at last.

He looked round at me with a dazed look in his eyes.

“But hang it all,” he cried, “you can’t expect a man to remember much about a thing like that.”

It was hopeless trying to extract information from a man in his present frame of mind. I gave it up.

“Oh! very well,” I said, getting up leisurely; “if you don’t want to tell me anything about it I’ll go to bed.”

That roused him.

“Don’t go,” he said anxiously, jumping up; “please don’t go. I’m really not in a fit state to be left alone. I’ll tell you all I can remember, I really will.”

I sat down again resignedly.

“It was in a kala jagah,” he began. “At least I think it was in a kala jagah that it actually happened,” he corrected himself, “or it may have been the supper-room or the veranda. I really can’t remember now, but it will all come back to me in the morning. I wasn’t in a fit state to notice details. I was so horribly upset because I knew she meant to do it.”

“She meant to do it!” I exclaimed in surprise.

“Oh, well, she meant me to do it, which comes to much the same thing,” he protested. “I knew she did. I had seen it in her eyes for days before, and now she has done it.”

“You’ve done it, you mean,” I corrected quietly. I felt that Hampy really must be made to see that he was a responsible agent and not be allowed to shift the blame on to other people.

“Oh, yes, if you like to put it that way,” he said indifferently.

“But did you really do it?” I asked, trying to get hold of something definite and hoping that all this, after all, might only be a delusion of Hampy’s excited imagination. “What did you actually say?”

“I don’t remember saying anything,” he replied gloomily.

“Well, then, what did she say?” I asked in despair.

“Oh! I do remember that,” he answered quickly, showing a momentary gleam of intelligence. “She said she was very unhappy at home.”

“But after all,” I expostulated, “one can’t get engaged to all the girls who are unhappy at home.”

“No,” Hampy muttered surlily, “it’s quite bad enough to have to get engaged to one.”

“Look here, Hampy,” I said decidedly, “if it’s as bad as that you mustn’t let it go on any further.”

I suddenly remembered that I didn’t even know the lady’s name.

“By the way,” I said, “you haven’t told me her name yet.”

Hampy hesitated.

“I’m not sure I ought to mention names after all I’ve said,” he answered stupidly.

“You idiot!” I laughed. “If you’re engaged to her I’m bound to know soon.”

“I forgot,” he said humbly; “I’m so dazed I forgot.”

That gave me another idea. I wondered if any one knew of the engagement besides Hampy and the lady concerned. If Hampy was so anxious to back out of it, it would be a blessing if no one else knew of it.

“By the way,” I asked, “does anybody else know yet?”

“Know?” he almost shrieked. “Know? I should think they did. She took me to her mother at once.”

That looked bad. I feared she must be a young woman who knew her way about. I almost feared to ask her name again. There were such very strange people in Monaling.

“And of course that settled it,” went on Hampy, getting more communicative and reminiscent. “I can’t think why I went with her. But I was so dazed. The only thing I remember about it was my fear that the mother was going to embrace me. I did escape that though,” he added in the tone of one trying to live thankfully on small mercies.

“If you really didn’t mean to propose,” I said, “I can’t think how you can have been so weak as to allow yourself to have been drawn into it.”

At that Hampy turned upon me angrily.

“Weak,” he exclaimed excitedly, “I wasn’t weak. I always have thought that any woman could marry any man if she really wanted to, and now I know it. You’d have been married too,” he ended rudely, “long before this if any girl had really wanted you.”

I ignored the rudeness of a man drunk, if not with wine, at least with being engaged.

“Oh, well!” I said cheerily, “you will doubtless be very happy.”

I got up to go to bed. It was after twelve o’clock. Hampy jumped up and seized me by the coat tails.

“Look here, old man,” he said appealingly, “you must get me out of this.”

I pushed him back into his chair and sat on the arm of it and talked to him in a fatherly manner.

“You’re a fool, Hampy,” I said, shaking my head over him, “a pucca fool.”

“I know,” he admitted penitently. “Call me what you like. Call me any nasty name you can think of, but only get me out of this.”

He had grown calmer at last and I. felt there was a chance of getting something sane and sensible out of him.

“You must go round and see her mother the first thing in the morning,” I said.

Hampy shivered.

“Not that,” he said; “not that. Anything but that.”

“Well, her father then,” I modified it.

“Thank Heaven, she hasn’t got one,” he exclaimed, with the first appearance of real cheerfulness that evening.

“Poor fatherless girl!” I said, shaking my head at him again. “Oh! Hampy.”

“She’s got a mother,” he said gloomily. “You needn’t pity her.”

I thought that perhaps she might be all the more to be pitied on that account. But I didn’t say so. It was well to be careful. She might some day be Hampy’s mother-in-law.

“Well,” I said, “you must go and see them to-morrow morning.”

Hampy shrivelled again.

“Couldn’t you do it for me?” he asked, his excitement beginning to return. “I shouldn’t know what to say. I should only get deeper into it. I’m such an ass in a thing like that. I say, can’t you get me out of it?”

“No, Hampy,” I said seriously, “you must pull yourself together and get out of it yourself. But I’ll help you all I can.”

He gripped my hand but he did not look very hopeful.

“But before we go any further you must tell me the lady’s name,” I said.

Hampy blushed and looked sheepish. Then he glanced up at me comically apologetic.

“Tottie,” he whispered.

Of course I knew who Tottie was. Everybody in Monaling did. It was even worse than I had feared. She was the fourth of seven daughters of a retired official in some subordinate service who had retired and died in Monaling, leaving his widow with six unmarried daughters to bring up and bring out. How she managed to do it remained a mystery. Yet she was doing it with considerable rapidity and success. The eldest daughter had been married while Mr. Simcox lived and the family had not yet migrated to retirement in the hills. Over her the rest of the family had drawn a veil. Either Mrs. Simcox had not been so ambitious in those days or the eldest Miss Simcox had displayed a mind of her own. She had married a subordinate in the Medical Service and the family spoke of her no more. Only rumour, which knows everything in Monaling, knew about her and of course told everybody. For in some marvellous way Mrs. Simcox had managed to get more or less into society in that most exclusive of hill stations. It may have been on account of the beauty of the third Miss Simcox, since beauty in itself is proverbially a passport anywhere. The second Miss Simcox had married a man in the Public Works, while the beautiful third Miss Simcox wedded no less than a heaven-born. For Mrs. Simcox it had been a great triumph. Yet instead of resting on her oars, this had only excited her to yet further efforts. And unfortunately all those efforts were needed. For the fourth Miss Simcox was Tottie.

Now I always dislike a man who says anything disparaging of a lady. It puts me against him at once. If he can’t say anything good he should say nothing at all. I remember remarking that once to Berengaria and she only laughed. “How very dull and silent that would make us,” she commented. It was obvious from the discussion which followed that there must be a wide divergence between a man’s and a woman’s opinion on the subject. But when you come to write a book it’s different. You simply have to say the unpleasant as well as the pleasant things or the story would not move on, much less be a truthful account of one’s adventures as an A.D.C.

Having relieved my mind of all that I will proceed to talk about Tottie. She was short and fair and far from beautiful and before her elder sister’s marriage she had received but little public notice. The only saying of hers that survived was that she thought there must be a special heaven reserved for plain girls who had beautiful sisters. But with the elder sister’s marriage to a civilian the year before a great and wonderful change had come overTottie’s life. From being generally snubbed and neglected in the family circle and getting only what the elder and more beautiful sister didn’t want, she suddenly found herself the centre of interest and the apple of her mother’s eye. Mrs. Simcox having so successfully married off the third daughter immediately set about doing likewise with the fourth. With three more still to come out, it behoved her to lose no time. Wisely she had kept the remaining three at school in another hill station so that each succeeding debutante should not trample too obviously on the other’s heels. But everybody knew that they were there. This was Tottie’s second season and rumour said that number five could not possibly stay at school any longer. So Mrs. Simcox was on the war-path, ably seconded by Tottie. When I heard that it was she to whom Hampy had proposed I was much afraid. But of course I didn’t tell Hampy so. Such an engagement, with Hampy in his present frame of mind too, must be broken at all cost. I searched about in my mind for the means.

“You must invent some story that makes it impossible,” I decided.

It was probably wrong of me to suggest it, but I felt that anything was better for all parties than that Hampy should continue to be engaged to a girl whom he didn’t want to be engaged to, and I knew that Hampy alone and unaided would never have the courage or the skill to escape.

Hampy sat up.

“Couldn’t I say I’m frightfully in debt?” he suggested more cheerfully.

“No good, Hampy,” I said, dashing his hopes, “your reputation’s too good. She wouldn’t believe it.”

“Or that I had fits?” he suggested again, unabashed.

“No,” I answered; “Kipling has done that.”

“Or that there was madness in the family?” he cried, now thoroughly entering into the spirit of the thing.

I laughed at Hampy’s eagerness but considered his suggestion.

“That does sound possible,” I admitted thoughtfully, “if you don’t mind casting doubts upon the sanity of your relations.”

But Hampy waved aside the objection.

“Oh! that doesn’t matter,” he said cheerfully. “They are quite sane enough to stand it.”

He was immensely taken with the idea. He seemed to regard it as a huge joke and characteristically for the time being quite forgot the seriousness of the situation.

“That settles it,” he said happily. “I shall go round to-morrow morning and explain that my feelings carried me away to-night and that I ought never to have proposed as there is madness in my family. That ought to put even Mrs. Simcox off.”

Hampy laughed, but even then my mind misgave me.

“Now go to bed,” I said, feeling that these things lay with the morrow, “and wake up fit and very brave in the morning.”

Whereupon Hampy said good night and went to bed quite cheerfully. I went to bed marvelling at the ease and thoughtlessness with which some people got engaged and disengaged again. But the latter proved less easy of accomplishment than Hampy had foreseen.

Hampy and I met at chota haziri again next morning and he was still full of hope and confidence in his design. After that I did not see him to speak to alone again until he went off about eleven o’clock for the fateful interview. Already I had seen a note arrive for him from Mrs. Simcox, so that she was already on the alert. But apparently nothing daunted by its contents, whatever they may have been, I saw him set out very cheerful and brave and certain of success. I eyed him doubtfully as he rode down the drive. He was no match for a mother with seven daughters, four of them still unmarried. He was to find me in “The Den” on his return to tell me the result. I awaited his coming with much interest but some misgiving. I had not long to wait. It was only about half-past eleven when he burst in upon me. I saw at once that the worst had happened. He stood with his back to the fireplace and looked down at me blankly, with something of the dazed look he had worn the night before.

“Well?” I asked at last, breaking the awkward silence.

“I’m still engaged,” he said, nodding his head mechanically.

Then he suddenly laughed. It was one of those dreadful laughs that send a chill through one. I have never been inside a mad-house—even as a visitor—but I should imagine that must be the kind of laugh you hear there. If there really had been madness in Hampy’s family I felt that I should not have been surprised. Flinging himself into a chair he burst into peal after peal of laughter.

I grew alarmed.

“Oh! shut up,” I called out angrily, “and tell me what happened.”

“I told her,” he said in the midst of his laughter, while the tears rolled down his cheeks, “I told her.”

He gradually grew calmer.

“And what did she say?”

Hampy stopped laughing and turned and faced me.

“By Jove! she’s a clever one,” he said. “What do you think she said when I broke it to her that there was madness in my family? ‘Oh!’ she said cheerfully, brushing it aside, ‘you needn’t worry about that; both my father and my uncle died in a lunatic asylum. So there’s no need for you to worry about that.’”

At that I laughed so much that Hampy in turn began to get annoyed. It was a contingency that we had not foreseen. Poor Hampy admitted that it had clean bowled him out and that he had come away with the engagement more firmly fixed up than ever.

After that, of course, His Honour and Lady Sturt had to be informed. Both of them were particularly annoyed. Lady Sturt was very much upset because Hampy’s mother was a very old friend of hers and she had promised to look after him all she could when he came out to India. It was for this reason that Hampy had been brought up to act as A.D.C., and Lady Sturt now felt that instead of looking after him to good effect she had actually put him in the way of committing this folly by bringing him up to Monaling. She held a long consultation with Sir Humphrey as soon as she heard about it and the result was that Hampy was sent back to his regiment in disgrace. It was of course part of the irony of the whole thing that Hampy was only too delighted to go. “One never knows what absence may not do,” he said to me gleefully at parting.

“Except one thing,” I said cynically: “make the heart grow fonder. It never does that.”

“Heaven forbid!” said Hampy, as he wrung my hand and hurried off for a final leave-taking with Miss Simcox. “And everybody thinks that I am really in love,” he called back, “and sorry to be off. What a world!”

So Hampy departed, outwardly in great depression of spirits, but inwardly with much joy.

Now fortunately for Hampy there appeared upon the scene shortly afterwards another suitor, eligible and willing, for his fair fiancée’s hand. He belonged to a less exalted service, it is true, but yet to one not to be looked down upon by the mother of seven daughters, four still unmarried and number five waiting to “come out” until number four had gone off. Perhaps, too, Mrs. Simcox had realised the uncertainty of Hampy and a less brilliant bird in the hand proved more attractive than a more gorgeous one in the plains. Moreover, the new arrival was ready and willing and the marriage bells might peal out at once. So Hampy got the chuck much to his joy, and, moreover, it gave him the great satisfaction, which appealed to his sense of humour, of posing as a person deeply wronged. And Hampy being an attractive youth met with much sympathy and revelled in it. Only I knew how little he deserved it.

Chapter IX

Two A.D.C.’s and a Private Secretary

Fortunately Jack Wilmot was sufficiently recovered from his attack of enteric to take up his duties as A.D.C. again when Hampy had suddenly to disappear. The Sturts, with whom he had been during the whole of their time at Government House, welcomed him back with open arms; and though, of course, I ceased to be senior A.D.C. after his return, I, too, was soon very glad that he had come. For when I saw him all the glamour that had previously invested the person of an A.D.C. in my mind, and which my brief experience of Captain Lawson had considerably damped, revived again. He was the kind of man one saw at once was just made to be an A.D.C. He had a calm and pleasant manner and a charming smile that nothing could ever ruffle and that shed itself on small and great alike. He had a cheerful word and just the right word for everybody. He seemed to be everywhere at the right moment just when he was wanted, yet was never obtrusively very important. For arranging things he had a perfect genius, and what made him most loved, I think, was that he was just as pleasant to elderly, uninteresting mammas as he was to their fascinating married and unmarried daughters, while with all men he seemed at once to be able to discern and lay emphasis upon whatever they might have in common. Of course, some people said in consequence that he was insincere. People who have not got charming manners themselves are invariably suspicious of other people who have. They think that because a man or a woman can smile all round and be pleasant to every one, he or she must be a fraud, which shows but a very limited acquaintance with the world and life in general. If any one ever deserved his popularity it was Jack Wilmot. And I say that after having lived with him for six months, which is about the best test going. For if you have got anything evil in your nature, the man who chums with you for six months is bound to find it out, especially if you not only live together, but work together too.

Of course, having practically run Government House so long, he did not expect to be interfered with, and I had at least enough tact to take very much second place, and more or less put myself at his disposal. We took public duty on alternate days, and the work was by no means light. Let no aspiring subaltern think that being an A.D.C. is all gold and glitter. Between us we practically ran the whole house, managed the entertainments, issued invitations, arranged lunches and dinners and garden parties, and kept both His Honour and Lady Sturt up to their engagements. We kept printed lists of all engagements as up-to-date as possible, and every night we wrote out two slips, one for His Honour and one for Lady Sturt, detailing their engagements for the following day; and these slips were carried up every morning framed in neat little silver frames with their chota haziri, unless, of course, there was any very early engagement, when we gave them warning the night before. Sir Humphrey was generally very much up-to-date as to his engagements, but Lady Sturt had to be very carefully watched. She always forgot or was late if she possibly could be, and the A.D.C. in waiting had to keep a close look-out and bring her up to time. Of course, one was very much handicapped in the case of Lady Sturt, as one could only send messages in through an ayah. Whereas in the case of His Honour one could, if necessary, pursue him even into the privacy of his dressing-room, which opened out of his study.

It was in our room, known familiarly as the “den,” that I spent some of the most enjoyable hours of my time as A.D.C. in Monaling. It was seldom that we all met there during the day, but after dinner or on off nights, when the family had gone to bed, we generally assembled there and talked much gossip over a gleaming fire of logs. It was there that we settled many of the comings and goings of those in authority, and generally disposed of the affairs of the province to our own satisfaction. For let no budding civilian imagine that when he becomes L.-G. he will be able to do what he likes. He will be bound hand and foot by precedents and rules and regulations innumerable as to many things, while as to others his private secretary and his A.D.C.’s will decide for him, apart from actual official routine, upon which his secretaries will expect to be heard and listened to with much respect. And let no Burra Memsaheb, smiling her way up the ladder that leads to Government House, think that she will have things all her own way when she gets there. For the A.D.C.’s, though they will submissively carry her cloak and help her into her carriage, will rule her comings and her goings with a rod of iron, issue her invitations and arrange her dinner parties, and generally keep her amused and employed. I am bound to admit that I was astonished at the power of an A.D.C. At last I understood why he was such a popular person. It was not only the glitter of the gold and scarlet that attracted, but he was veritably the Peter who held the keys of Government House. It was in his power to open or shut, to give or withhold; and as there are few people who like to be left out of things, there were few people who did not smile upon an A.D.C. Lady Sturt, it was said, when she first arrived at Government House, had endeavoured to direct and order things herself, but a multiplicity of engagements soon rendered that impossible, and she was only too glad to surrender herself into the hands of a capable and strong-minded A.D.C. in the person of Jack Wilmot.

It was the first night since the latter had returned that we had had an off night, and we three—two A.D.C.’s and a private secretary—were gathered round a roaring log fire in the den, all three enjoying the luxury of being completely off duty for the day.

“I’m not sure that being an A.D.C. is a soldier’s billet,” said Jack in that charming voice of his that somehow always seemed to invite conversation.

Now I had already had several doubts that way myself, but being so new-fledged an A.D.C., I thought it would ill become me to abuse my calling.

“Oh! why not?” I said, “I’m quite happy.”

Jack knocked the ashes out of his pipe.

“It’s very jolly fooling,” he admitted, “but it isn’t soldiering.”

“But is there such a thing as soldiering in India in the hot weather in time of peace?” I asked doubtfully. “I have not been out here long, but I’m bound to say that I’ve seen nothing of it yet. You can’t call it soldiering to ride out to parade every morning and afterwards watch men missing targets at the range.”

“True,” said Jack cheerily, though taking an unusually gloomy view of life, “but it’s a little nearer the real thing than hopping round at a bazaar carrying a lady’s cloak as I’ve been doing all the afternoon.”

“But somebody must do that just for the look of the thing,” I argued, “and that somebody must be a soldier. So why not you and I?”

“True again,” admitted Jack, though still unconvinced. “But pleasant as it is, it has its drawbacks even from our point of view. I’ve been thinking a lot lately, you know, lying on my back in hospital,” he laughed genially, “and being an A.D.C. has its drawbacks. It doesn’t exactly make one loved in the regiment to which one has got to go back in the end. I know all the other fellows think I’m shirking the ordinary daily grind and having a ripping easy time up here.”

I thought of my own Colonel’s words and knew that what Jack said was true, and it was not a very pleasant thought even though, as I have already said, an A.D.C. by no means has an altogether easy time of it. Yet keen as I was on soldiering, the prospect of going back to Daulutpur and plodding through the daily round all through the hot weather and rains in that dullest of cantonments in the plains was not attractive. I lay back deeper in my chair and enjoyed the comfort and glow of the log fire all the more in contrast with the picture of Daulutpur I had just conjured up.

Suddenly Bentham, who had been drowsing, half asleep in his chair, woke up.

“What are you fellows talking about?” he asked in his downright decisive way. “Of course, any soldier would rather be an A.D.C. than sweat in the plains at ordinary regimental duty.”

“I’m not so sure,” put in Jack as decidedly. “I have known fellows refuse the post.”

“Every rule has its exceptions,” said Bentham in his best civilian manner, “and there are, of course, men who don’t care about society and all that sort of thing. But just think for a moment how you A.D.C.’s score. You get the best of everything, you get more pay and live like fighting cocks for nothing. You are in the very thick of everything that’s going on, and in the best of climates that the province can offer. You’ve got all the ladies everywhere at your feet, and you live in the odour of scarlet and gold and champagne all your days. Of course, the gilt does drop off the gingerbread at times,” he chuckled wickedly, regardless of mixed metaphors, “when you have to carry Her Ladyship’s spaniel and hold her bouquet and generally see to the set of her train.”

“When I hear you talk, Bentham,” Jack said chaffingly, “I sometimes regret that I didn’t go into the Civil Service myself.”

“Don’t fret, old man,” Bentham answered cheerily in the same tone, “you would never have got in.”

Jack threw a cushion at him. It was one of our favourite amusements to draw Bentham on the subject of the Civil Service.

“That’s just like you conceited civilians,” Jack said; “you all think that we soldiers haven’t got any brains at all.”

“Simply because we haven’t passed an absurdly constituted examination which any man of average intelligence could cram up for, you think you have the right to look down upon us,” I added.

“Not at all, not at all,” said Bentham graciously, with a wave of the hand. “We don’t look down upon you. It’s yourselves. Knowing yourselves to be so immeasurably below us, you imagine we must look down upon you. But we don’t. I assure you that we don’t.”

“Well, I’m blest,” Jack exploded. “For pure and unadulterated side I always have said, ‘Give me a civilian.’”

Bentham sat up and helped himself to a peg.

“Now I ask you,” he said, smiling round at us placidly, “Now I ask you, could any fellow who knew me say that I put on side?”

Now it was a fact that in spite of all the things he said when we rotted him, Bentham hadn’t got any real side at all. He had much too keen a sense of humour, and it’s impossible to put on side if you’ve got a real sense of humour, because putting on side is so absolutely ridiculous and mirth-provoking. Nobody, moreover, puts on side in India unless they have either had their heads turned by sudden elevation from suburban insignificance to official importance, or have a nasty secret feeling at the bottom of their hearts that they really are quite unworthy of notice, and that nobody ever would notice them unless they cultivated a manner and put on lots of side.

“But what about the exception to the rule?” laughed Jack. “If you haven’t got any side, it doesn’t follow that most other civilians haven’t also.”

At that Bentham whistled softly and turned to light his pipe.

“And you are not all such brilliant specimens of humanity,” I added. “You say Jack and I could never have got in, but I’m blest if we couldn’t have done as well as Hodgkins.”

“I admit,” said Bentham frankly—“I admit that it is a mystery to me how some men did get in.”

“And you must admit that there are a lot of men who have got in whom you could very well do without,” said Jack.

“Yes, I’ll admit that too,” said Bentham, stretching himself out comfortably in his chair; “but what service hasn’t?”

“We haven’t,” I maintained; “if we get a bad bargain we hoof him out.”

“Yes, we’ve had quite a lot of instances of disgraceful ragging in the Army lately, haven’t we?” he said genially.

“And you’ve no esprit de corps,” I said, ignoring his remark.

“Ah!” Bentham admitted, “there you have hit the nail on the head.”

He settled himself in his chair in a way that we knew foreboded a dissertation. We took long drinks and composed ourselves to listen and, of course, to criticise.

“There you hit upon the great thing that our service lacks,” he went on. “You soldiers chum up in a way we never do. I suppose you have got your prejudices among yourselves, and a cavalry man does, as he is popularly supposed to do, look down a bit on an infantry man, and an Indian Army man is a little bit jealous of an R.E.; but still, there is a freemasonry among you that is totally lacking among us. It’s partly due, I take it, to the fact that we are not thrown together in the same way that you are. We have got nothing to correspond to the cantonment and the mess, and we, consequently, never get the same opportunities of knowing one another as you officers in a regiment. The youngster coming out from home doesn’t get the discipline of the mess and the nonsense knocked out of him as a subaltern does. Added to which a soldier is generally—I won’t say in all cases, but generally—a gentleman to start with, and even in these democratic days that’s something, and even those who don’t start as such get something of the kind knocked into them by constant contact with other men of the mess, and if there is anything in them at all, they can’t help catching the spirit of the regiment. Unfortunately, the Civil Service is absolutely open to anybody who can pass an examination, without regard to mental, moral, or physical fitness.”

Bentham stopped only to take a drink. The selection of members of the Civil Service was a subject on which he had strong views, and we knew he had much more yet to say.

“Now if only we could introduce some of the principles of selection laid down by Cecil Rhodes for his Oxford scholars, it would be an excellent thing,” he went on. “Rhodes was a grand man. We could have done with him out here. He knew the kind of man we wanted at Oxford to kindle and keep alive the Imperial idea, and he would have seen at once the kind of man we want out here—not the bookworm, who has mugged up half a dozen subjects, but who has no physique, and no more breadth of view than a porpoise, and no manners into the bargain. For if any place ever wanted a gentleman—a pucca Saheb— it’s India. It’s an insult to send some clumsy boor, with the tact and manners of an elephant, to rule over a courteous, high-born race, which is quicker to spot deficiencies of breeding than any other I have ever come across.”

“It’s extraordinary how few Englishmen make enough impression on the natives to leave a name behind them nowadays even in a small way,” said Jack, as Bentham paused for a moment. “In my regiment, for instance, there are many officers who have left a name behind them, but none of recent date, and I expect it’s the same with you civilians in the districts.”

“It is. But that’s the modern system,” Bentham complained. “Everything with us now is cut and dried—all red tape and official correspondence. The man at the helm who manipulates them is merely a machine, one man does just as well as another; the brilliant man is tied hand and foot by official routine, and never gets a chance, while so cut and dried are the regulations, that the feeblest civilian can’t go far wrong unless he’s a fool of the first water. Many transfers, mountainous official correspondence, and innumerable petty inspections effectually prevent an officer from ever getting to know the people of his district and their real wants and needs.”

“Hodgkins told me that he had had no less than eight transfers in one year,” I put in.

Bentham laughed.

“Ah! he was kept moving,” he said. “Nobody wanted him anywhere, and Government had a down upon him. Poor chap, he took it very philosophically. As he said, everything has its compensations. He got over six weeks’ leave in joining-time alone during the year.”

“What’s he done to get so dropped upon?” I asked.

Bentham hesitated a moment.

“Have you seen him?” he asked significantly.

“Yes,” I said; “he certainly doesn’t look very wholesome. But if Government is so sick of him, why doesn’t it turn him out?”

“That seems a difficult thing,” Jack put in; “as some one once said, the Indian Civil Service is the hardest service in the world to get in, and the hardest to get kicked out of once you are in.”

“You can do almost anything and still hold on,” Bentham admitted, “though, of course, Government can give you a pretty bad time of it—stop your promotion or degrade you, or something in that line. But it hesitates a long time before finally chucking you out.”

“Has anybody within the memory of man ever been chucked out of the service in the Northern Provinces?” I asked.

“Only one, so far as I know,” Bentham replied; “a man called Hartside, about twenty years ago. He was famous in his day, I believe, and quite mad.”

“Wasn’t he the man who used to take a tame tiger into court with him?” said Jack.

“That’s the man,” laughed Bentham. “It was rather a neat device of his for keeping litigants away. If any one approached him with a petition he made the tiger growl.”

“But he had to do something worse than that to get dismissed, hadn’t he?”

“Oh! that was only one of many things,” said Bentham. “He took to bringing his own private affairs into his judgments, and what was a still worse offence, abusing Government in them. Finally—the last straw that Government couldn’t stand—one of his own servants brought a case against him, which he tried himself and acquitted himself, and then brought a case against the servant for bringing a false case against him, which he also tried himself and gave his servant two years’ rigorous. Government really had to say ‘good-bye’ to him then, but I believe at the very last it was merciful, and allowed him to retire on medical certificate.”

“One of the best stories I have heard of your service,” put in Jack, “was of a magistrate who fined a planter, a friend of his, twenty rupees for a petty assault upon a native. The planter, having carefully brought no money with him, and being far from home, borrowed the twenty rupees from the magistrate to pay the fine with, and never paid it back. That planter must have had a sense of humour. One can only hope that the magistrate had, too.”

“It’s extraordinary how few real curiosities we’ve got left in the service,” said Bentham reminiscently. “When I first came out there were at least half a dozen old busters as eccentric as they could be; but the times are against individuality of any kind, I suppose. It’s a pity, because eccentric as some of them undoubtedly were, they were the men whom the natives understood and knew best, and who have left their names behind them in these districts. There was old Marston in my first district, who must have retired at least thirty years before, yet every native in the place knew him by name. He made every man who came to present a petition to him first dig out a basketful of earth from a tank he wanted excavated. He would listen to nobody, whoever he might be, until he had dug his basketful of earth, and the result was that he got a magnificent tank excavated at no expense, and which has been of immense benefit to the locality ever since. No one ever complained. It was the Saheb’s order, and one that they could understand, so they obeyed it willingly. But just imagine a Collector Saheb asking such a thing now! Why, he would be pilloried in every native newspaper in the province within twenty-four hours.”

“Talking of native newspapers,” I put in, “I never can understand how they have been allowed to go the length they have done.”

“Can’t you?” said Bentham quietly. “Can’t you? Why, we govern India by a man at Whitehall who has never so much as seen it and who is bound to form his view of the Indian people from the best of the infinitesimal minority of high-class and educated natives whom he meets in London.”

“It is ridiculous,” agreed Jack. “Instead of nearly everything being left, as it should be, to the Viceroy, who is on the spot and surrounded by men who have spent their lives out here and know all that a white man can know about. India, the Secretary of State, surrounded by a lot of ignorant fanatics in the House of Commons, is giving him less and less rope and taking the initiative more and more.”

“If only those at home could see something of the ordinary cultivator class which forms ninety-five per cent of the whole population of India, they wouldn’t talk of an elective and representative government again,” said Bentham. “Wait a few hundred years and it may be possible. We didn’t spring from the ancient Britons by any means in a day. It took us centuries to get where we are, yet some of the idiots at home expect the ignorant Indian peasant to jump to their own level of intelligence (save the mark!) at a single leap.”

“The old Anglo-Indian collector of a district was a far better representative of the wants and needs of the people under him than any native is ever likely to be, however carefully you may get him elected by modern English methods of election,” Jack said, knocking the ashes out of his pipe and preparing to go to bed. “If they do try a representative system, the people who will get elected will be the professional classes, the lawyers chiefly, and it’s quite obvious whom they will represent—themselves, and themselves only.”

“The big landowners and the noble classes will have something to say to that, too,” said Bentham. “I heard the Maharajah of Dumpur only yesterday on this very thing. He had come to see His Honour, who wanted to consult him on the present situation. He’s a fine, magnificent specimen of an Indian nobleman, if you like. ‘Popular election! Representative assemblies! What talk is this?’ he said. ‘We do not want them. We have free access to the Lat Saheb. We can lay our complaints before him. He will set things right. Our ryots, do they want these new-fangled things? They do not even know their meaning. For centuries they have been our ryots, and they have been content. Are you going to give them representatives over our heads? For we will not represent them in your new-fangled assemblies. We, shall we who have ruled of right for centuries, condescend to put ourselves up to be voted for, bidden for like cattle at an auction, by our own ryots? Then who will represent them? Some sharp-witted pleader with no principles, with nothing to lose and everything to gain, him they will set to rule over us, and he in turn will stir them up against us and break the ties of centuries. Sir, go slowly,’ he ended. ‘We are a slow people, who have no love for change. We are not like the West. We cling to that which is old. It may be good or it may be bad, but leave us to find out the bad and discard it gradually as time goes by. Move slowly, sir, for as it is we are well and prosperous, and who knows what these changes may bring? Yet once move, and even you may find it hard to move things back again.’ It was a splendid appeal, and I agreed with every word of it.”

“How did His Honour take it?” I asked.

Bentham hesitated a moment. I felt that I had asked a State secret.

“Oh, outwardly, of course, very sympathetically,” he answered discreetly. Then suddenly he added impetuously, “But, of course, everybody who knows anything knows that he’s absolutely bound hand and foot. Although he’s the head of the province he daren’t say what he thinks. Above him there’s the Viceroy, and behind him again, still more dominant, looms the Secretary of State. Talk about an autocracy! We can’t call our minds our own out here.”

“If only they would leave us to arrange things,” said Jack, yawning and moving off.

“It would be a jolly sight better,” added Bentham as he, too, rose. “But they won’t, so it’s no use worrying, and we had better go to bed. Good night.”

He shot through the doorway still indignant.

“Are things really as bad as Bentham makes out?” I asked Jack as we followed him.

Jack laughed in his delightfully infectious way.

“Sleep well, old man,” he said, slipping his arm through mine. “There are just a few good men and true left still, and if they can’t manage it, and things go to the dogs, well, there’s you and I—we can fight for our own. We’ll have a devil of a time if we do. What? So long.”

Chapter X

The Five Miss Powells

Berengaria had asked me to tea again with a purpose. She had admitted it quite frankly as she gave me the invitation at the Club the night before.

“Come to tea to-morrow,” she had said. “I want to ask you a very great favour.”

She gave me one of her charming smiles as I accepted.

“Now most people,” she had added laughingly, “would have asked you to tea and then when they had got you there have broken it to you gently that they wanted a favour from you. You see I’m honest. But I’m not sure I should be, if I didn’t know that it paid best.” She laughed as she said good night. “Till to-morrow then, and of course coming to tea means that you have granted the favour beforehand.”

It was very delightful being given tea again in Berengaria’s charming little drawing-room. It was three months since I had sat there first, and though I had often been hospitably entertained in the interval by that most hospitable of Memsahebs, many engagements had always prevented another tête-à-tête. So I felt it was good to be seated there again before the blazing logs while the rain poured down outside. Berengaria was wise in selecting time and place if she really wanted to ask a favour. I felt in the mood to promise anything as Berengaria gave me tea and talked in her own delightful cheery way. I wondered what the favour was that she wanted, and as I wondered I began to grow just the least little bit nervous. She quite often, I knew, was seized with ideas that the rest of the world considered rather wild and impossible. As I looked at her I sincerely trusted that the favour might be one that I could grant. It would be difficult indeed to refuse if Berengaria asked.

“And now to business,” she said as we finished tea and settled ourselves comfortably in our chairs.

“Well?” I asked smilingly, not showing any trepidation. “What can I do for you?”

For a moment Berengaria was silent. It was one of her great arts as a conversationalist that she always knew the value of an effective pause and just where to place it.

“I want you to be kind to some very unfortunate people,” she said at last, with a charmingly restrained note in her voice.

I wondered what “being kind” in Berengaria’s vocabulary really meant.

“Perhaps you know them?” she continued. “The Miss Powells.”

“The Miss Powells!” I repeated, searching in my mind for a memory of them.

“But probably you don’t know them,” Berengaria rather hurried on. “They are the most inoffensive old things possible and never go anywhere and have such a dull time of it.”

I wondered again what possible connection the woes of the Miss Powells could have with me. But I said nothing and sat listening to Berengaria, who had grown eloquent at the thought of them.

“I cannot imagine anything more awful,” she was saying, “than to live in an Indian hill station all the year round and yet to be shut out from the life that goes on there. The deadliness of it, the dreariness! Year in year out the poor dear Miss Powells lead their solitary lives. You see that they are—ladies, more or less,” Berengaria rather stumbled over it, as if they really were not quite but as if she wished they were, “so they can’t mix with subordinates and yet they are not in with our set, which is the only set really in the place. It’s so dreadful for them. Nothing ever happens and they lead their set grey lives with nothing to look forward to and nothing to look back upon. They are here all the year round because they can’t afford to go away. They can’t even afford to take in a daily paper or buy books or even belong to a library. Just think of it, and yet they are so intelligent, or at least I mean they would be if only they had the chance,” she ended rather lamely as if still striving after truth though determined to paint the picture in the deepest shades.

I am afraid that I was not gathering a very favourable impression of the Miss Powells. It seemed to me that Berengaria was trying to make the best of them but found it extremely difficult to do so consistently with truth. I still waited patiently to hear in what way I was to be made of use to them.

“It makes me quite unhappy when I think of them,” Berengaria continued, unmindful of my unsympathetic silence. “I have so much and they have so little. I suppose, yes, I suppose——” she hesitated, and then made a plunge the heroism of which I only fully realised afterwards, “I suppose we are much about the same age and yet how different our lives have been. I have got everything that I could desire, at least almost everything, and these poor things seem to have nothing in comparison. Just think. They told me they only had two letters from home all last year. Poor things! I fear it’s only home to them by courtesy, for I don’t think they’ve ever been there. Not that they are a bit dark,” she added hastily. “They are quite white and the daughters of a retired Colonel.”

“Who is dead, I presume?” I put in somewhat anxiously.

“Who is dead,” said Berengaria softly, “and their mother.”

I tried to rouse up sympathy for them in my mind as poor solitary orphans, but, imaginary as they still were to me, they somehow did not seem to fit the part.

“What age——” I began, and then suddenly stopped, remembering that Berengaria had said that they were about her own age.

She looked round at me with a look of amusement in her eyes. We both laughed.

“Getting on,” she said, “rapidly getting on in life.”

“Quite young,” I protested, “oh! quite young. The best age to be and to stay at.”

“Ah!” said Berengaria, with a flash of humour. “Some people stay at it a very long time.”

“I don’t blame them,” I laughed, glad to get away from the subject of the Miss Powells. “Why shouldn’t they?”

“But it’s possible to stay too long,” she sighed. “Now there is a certain lady whom you and I both know who has been there already within the memory of man, and they do say that she has been there so long that she will never be able to move on now and will have to stay there till she dies. I should like to grow old gracefully, white hair and all that sort of thing, when the time comes. No, it’s a mistake to stay too long at any age. To linger a while is all that one should do.”

Berengaria gazed musingly into the fire, her thoughts, to my great joy, apparently far from the Miss Powells.

“Do you think it allowable for a woman to make up?” I asked, conversationally trying to lead her thoughts still further afield.

But I was not prepared for the sudden onslaught Berengaria made upon me.

“A man ought to know nothing about those things,” she flashed round upon me, “and consequently ought never to discuss them.”

Then she smiled.

“But let us talk about the Miss Powells,” she said.

I resigned myself to the inevitable.

“By the way, how many are there of them?” I asked, suddenly remembering that I did not know.

Berengaria lay back in her chair and hesitated a moment. Then she made the terrible admission, half defiantly—

“There are five of them,” she said.

“Great Scott!” I cried, surprised into an exclamation; “that’s awkward.”

“Awkward?” Berengaria repeated, sitting up. “Why?”

I felt that I had made an unfortunate remark.

“Oh! I don’t know,” I said lamely; “only five seems such a very unwieldy number, don’t you think?”

I privately thought it a most inconvenient number to have to be “kind” to. It would take such a lot of kindness to go round. Multiplied like that, too, the Miss Powells seemed somehow so much more uninteresting.

“It’s a great comfort there are not more,” said Berengaria, with her usual determination to look on the bright side of things. “There once were seven.”

I hastily agreed that it was better as it was. Seven Miss Powells would have been quite an impossible number to be “kind” to. Then an idea struck me.

“Is there,” I ventured diffidently, remembering that their ages were somewhere near Berengaria’s, “is there any hope of their getting married?”

“Oh! none,” said Berengaria decidedly, knocking that slender hope at once on the head. “They’re not at all that sort.”

I suddenly wondered what had happened to the other two Miss Powells. Berengaria looked round at me mysteriously when I asked her.

“Oh!” she said, nodding her head at me solemnly. “I don’t think we shall ever know.”

I grew interested. The two Miss Powells, who were not, struck one as having such infinitely greater possibilities than the five who were.

“Never know?” I repeated in surprise. “Why not?”

Berengaria looked at me significantly.

“I never can get the other five to speak of them,” she said. “They shut up when I broach the subject in the most uncommunicative manner that shows there must be something wrong. All I know is that both of them are still alive so far as the other five know.”

“And have you no idea where they are?” I asked, my curiosity being aroused.

“I have been told——” Berengaria began, then hesitated.


“But of course it’s only gossip,” she laughed.

“Oh, of course,” I said. “But what is it?”

“I have been told,” Berengaria admitted rather hurriedly, “that they are in a harem.”

“In a harem,” I exclaimed. I was more than surprised. The picture I had conjured up of the five Miss Powells did not seem at all to fit in with the idea of two more sisters in a harem.

“I suppose,” I said, absently giving expression to my thoughts, “I suppose being seven they found men so scarce that they couldn’t hope for one each.”

“But not necessarily the same harem,” said Berengaria quickly, looking rather shocked.

“I don’t see why not,” I laughed. “The Mussulman was not at all in need of the Deceased Wife’s Sister Bill.”

But Berengaria still looked shocked and hurriedly got back to firmer ground.

“Anyhow, I want you to be kind to those that are left,” she said.

“But what can I do for them?” I asked, feeling that they would probably have had each a much better time without my help if they had chosen the harem too.

Berengaria, brought to the point at last, rushed at it characteristically.

“I thought it would brighten their lives so much,” she said, “if only we could get them made members of the Club.”

I whistled softly under my breath. My three months’ experience of Monaling told me that Berengaria was asking a hard thing.

Now in this most desirable of hill stations there were two things needful—to be on the Government House list and to belong to the Club. The former practically always included the latter, but the latter by no means always implied the former. Therefore, if you did not even belong to the Club, you were ipso facto nobody at all and did not belong to society in Monaling. It did not matter much what else you might or might not be. You might be unmistakably dusky and country-born and you might be quite objectionable in many ways, but so long as you belonged to the Club you bore the hall-mark of respectability and you had every right to social recognition. Of course if you were an official, that is, an official of any of the recognised superior services, you got into the Club more or less as a matter of right. Nobody as a rule ever thought of blackballing one of this select coterie. There was a story once of a civilian having been blackballed, but the story was apocryphal and nobody believed it. But beyond this continually shifting official population, Monaling possessed another much more permanent one. It had been there since the days when hill stations first began, as Berengaria had explained to me the first time I came to tea with her. Some of the old houses, built when the ancestors of those who now occupied them first found their way to this perfect spot among the mountains, still survived, built not in the light and airy, zinc-roofed style of modern Monaling, but in the palatial solid Anglo-Indian style of seventy years ago. These ancestors had been the old Anglo-Indians who had become so Indianised that home offered them no attractions in their old age. In many cases they had married natives or East Indians, and such family ties as they had were therefore in this country. Others who came to Monaling in those early days were men who had made fortunes when fortunes were to be made, who owned large tracts of land or many indigo factories which they could not leave, and so they too gradually drifted into settling down permanently in this country, making themselves comfortable in their large roomy bungalows in the plains and in their houses on the hills, where they spent the hot season in comfort with still an eye on zemindari and factory down below. Their children brought up out here knew no other home, and so gradually there arose what in Anglo-Indian parlance are known as “county families.”

Now it was among these county families of Monaling that the Club proved such a terrible source of heart-burning. Naturally being practically permanent residents and coming here regularly year after year, even if they did not live here all the year round, they formed a society apart by themselves. The officials were only there for six months of the year at the most, and owing to constant changes they varied very much from year to year. Consequently the county families, though many of them knew and mixed with the officials, relied for their society for the most part on themselves. The fact, however, that they knew one another extremely well by no means implies that they lived amicably one with another. They seemed to have imported all the envy, hatred, malice and all uncharitableness of a small station in the plains into Monaling. Having no official status to regulate rank among them as the officials had, they were left to fight it out amongst themselves with dire results. For the county families varied in kind even more than the various degrees enumerated on the Table of Precedence. At the head of them admittedly stood the Heskeths, who had been among the earliest settlers. They were extremely well off, owned a splendid house and entertained lavishly. Many people wondered why they had never gone home and settled there. They were rich enough to have done so comfortably, but having lived all their lives in Monaling and on their zemindari in the plains, where they were lords of all they surveyed, I suppose they preferred that to social insignificance at home where they knew nobody and where they would have felt out of place. Perhaps they were wise after all in sticking to their own setting. Behind them came many grades of wealth, colour or social importance among the county families, far down the scale of which, I suspected, there dwelt the five Miss Powells.

Now the great question that always absorbed this part of Monaling society was where the line should be drawn amongst them for eligibility to the Club. There was continual war between those who were out and those who were in. The latter were extremely anxious as a body to keep the former from getting in. The moment any one outside was lucky enough to get in he was immediately seized with all the zeal of a convert and having safely passed the portal himself was only too anxious to disown his late colleagues in distress and retain the glory of having got in by keeping other people out. There was thus a saying that it was no harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for any one who was out to get into the Club in Monaling. No one could be put up for election without first being approved by the committee, and as the committee consisted partly of officials and partly of non-officials and only met during the season, the difficulties of creeping in were enhanced. For this cause many worthy and respectable families languished outside the Club and consequently were of no account in Monaling, besides having a very dull time of it generally. It was to this unfortunate company that the five Miss Powells evidently belonged.

“It’s a difficult thing to tackle,” I said as the memory of all these things flashed across my mind.

“I know,” Berengaria replied characteristically, “but that only makes it so much more exciting.”

It is always a mistake to enter into the question of motives, though I could not help wondering—but no! Berengaria’s heart was of the kindest and I will not rob it by a thought of any of its goodness.

“You will have to square the committee first,” I said.

“Of whom you are one,” added Berengaria, with a malicious little twinkle at me out of the corner of her eye.

I laughed. I had been run to earth at last. It was the rule for Government House always to be represented on the committee of the Club and I had taken on the job on my first arrival.

I searched round hurriedly in my mind for some insuperable objection that would absolutely prevent their being nominated, for already I scented afar off a big station row. There would be many who would not tamely submit to seeing the five Miss Powells sail into the Club unmolested. Suddenly an inspiration came to me.

“But didn’t you say that they were too poor even to take in a newspaper or belong to a lending library?” I asked. “Surely the Club subscription for five people would be rather heavy.”

Berengaria blushed and gazed into the fire with rather a guilty look.

“I don’t think we need trouble about their subscriptions,” she said quietly and half apologetically. “They will be paid all right if only we can get them in.”

And by that I knew that Berengaria herself was going to pay for them. I felt ashamed of all my evil thoughts with regard to motives of a moment ago.

“It will be difficult nevertheless,” I repeated. “Has there ever been a talk of getting them in before?”

“Not that I am aware of,” she replied, looking at her watch, “but as they will be here in ten minutes we can ask them.”

I leaped out of my chair.

“Be here in ten minutes!” I exclaimed, all my kind thoughts of Berengaria vanishing again as I hastily jumped to the conclusion that she had planned for me to meet them. I looked down at her coldly.

Berengaria looked up at me and saw what was in my thoughts.

“Of course I don’t expect you to meet them,” she said sweetly.

I still looked down at her trying to read her inmost thoughts. Had she really planned the meeting?

“You’ve stayed rather a long time for tea, you know,” she said, smiling up at me.

I turned and looked at the clock on the mantelpiece. It was twenty-five minutes past six. As I had arrived before five o’clock, there could be no doubt that I had stayed rather a long time for tea. However, that was certainly Berengaria’s fault, for we had only just come to the point even then.

I turned back and found Berengaria still smiling up at me. I sat down again.

“But I really can’t meet all five at once,” I said protestingly. I had lost a good deal of my shyness with ladies during the three months I had been A.D.C., but the five Miss Powells sounded formidable.

“Are they all five coming?”

“I asked them all,” smiled Berengaria, watching me with much interest.

I got up with some determination. There was the sound of some one arriving in the veranda.

“You know your way out through the dining-room?” Berengaria questioned, still smiling, as she waved her hand towards a doorway that opened on the opposite side of the room to that which one would enter from the veranda.

A chaprassi came in to ask if she were at home to visitors. She gave them a salaam and turned again to me. I deliberately sat down again.

Berengaria leaned across and laid her hand lightly for a second on the sleeve of my coat.

“If I were a man,” she said softly, “I should call you a brick.”

To my intense relief only three of the Miss Powells had come.

“But where are your sisters?” asked Berengaria as she greeted them kindly and introduced them to me.

“We thought we had better not all come,” said the first Miss Powell modestly; “there are such a lot of us.”

“We do fill a room so,” murmured the second.

“It is so fortunate that we are none of us very big,” smiled the third, a pale little woman of very uncertain age.

“It’s because I’m the smallest that the others generally let me come, I believe,” said the first, who was evidently the youngest, yet who gave one the impression of always taking the lead.

“Oh! we could never do without Trudie,” said the other two together, regarding her with much pride. Then they grew silent.

It was evident that my presence rather embarrassed them. We all sat down rather formally, Berengaria talking kindly all the while. I suddenly felt that I had nothing whatever to say. The three Miss Powells were the kind of people who made you feel at once that they regarded you as a being of another world and that there was a great gulf fixed between you. Having nothing whatever to say I was silent, but I tried to appear as sympathetically silent as I could. Berengaria fortunately was perfectly at her ease and talked continuously. It was marvellous to me how she seemed to find subjects in common with them and put them completely at their ease and bring out all that was best in them. My heart went out to them as I heard them talk. They were like children, bubbling over with pleasure at being seated in a Burra Memsaheb’s drawing-room and at being entertained by her. They were so modest and diffident that I could never imagine them taking undue advantage of her kindness; in fact, as Berengaria had said, they were such simple harmless souls that one couldn’t help liking them and no one could really object to them. Having seen them I sympathised with her desire to get them into the Club far more than I had done before. They certainly would not be likely to offend anybody unless sudden prosperity had a very deleterious effect upon their characters.

“I am giving a garden party on the 29th,” Berengaria was saying. “I have not issued the invitations yet, but you must be sure and keep that day free.”

“Oh! we are not likely to be engaged,” said the first.

“We so seldom go anywhere,” supplemented the second.

“It is kind of you to ask us,” added the third.

“And you must all come,” smiled Berengaria.

“It will be a treat,” said the first, literally purring with pleasure.

“We shall look forward to it all through the month,” beamed the second.

“It is kind of you to ask us,” repeated the third as if she were too much overcome with gratitude to think of anything else to say.

“It is to be a real old-fashioned garden party,” Berengaria went on, “no tennis, no badminton, no games of any kind. You are all just to come to admire my garden and talk to each other and drink tea and listen to the band. I’ve just heard that I can have the Wapshire Band for the 29th, so I shall issue my invitations to-morrow.”

“Couldn’t we help you write out the invitation cards?” asked all three Miss Powells at once, kindling at the thought of being useful. “We should so like to do it for you.”

“Oh! I couldn’t think of letting you take the trouble,” said Berengaria, but as I rose to go I foresaw that she would be saved much trouble in sending out those invitation cards. I thought that having stayed so long and smiled all round amiably I had done my part and they would be happier with Berengaria alone.

I saw Berengaria again on the following day and she could talk of nothing else than the five Miss Powells and the Club, so I finally promised to broach the subject at the committee meeting to be held a few days later. Now there were six of us on the committee of the Monaling Club. The president was a retired Forest officer who had settled down permanently in Monaling. He was just the man for the post, with plenty of leisure and a great interest in Club affairs, and as free from enemies as it was possible to be in an Indian hill station. I got hold of him before the meeting and told him what I had been asked to do. He said that so far as he was concerned he was quite willing that the Miss Powells should be put up for election, but he warned me that there would sure to be a certain amount of opposition. Then there was Colonel Hawtrey, rather hot and peppery, who had only been put on the committee because he had made himself such a nuisance off it and the other members thought he would be less troublesome if he sat among them. Which had proved to be correct, for an official position at the Club had calmed him considerably. I gave him a drink before the committee meeting and trusted to luck with him. Simpson, a civilian, was the third member. I couldn’t get hold of him beforehand to speak to him about it. I caught the fourth man, however, at the bar just before the meeting began. He was Jack Hartley, a tea planter close by, a very good fellow and a keen sportsman. It didn’t affect him at all, he said, whether the Miss Powells got into the Club or not. There only remained one more, but he was a member of one of the leading county families and it was from him that I anticipated trouble. Like all the non-officials in Monaling, he was extremely jealous of the officials, and I felt that it would not do the five Miss Powells any good in his eyes that they were being proposed by the official section.

The committee met in a little room set apart for the secretary near the entrance to the Club. We got through the business of the meeting without any difference of opinion in very quick time. The last thing always was for the president to ask if any one had any new name to submit for election. There was apparently no one else to be proposed, so I somewhat diffidently broke the silence saying I had been asked to suggest the names of the Miss Powells.

I saw the dusky member of the committee bristle as I mentioned their names. He snorted rather fiercely and wriggled in a particularly annoying way in his chair as I went on to say that several people in the station were anxious that they should be made members.

“Are they on the Government House list?” he snapped almost before I had finished, pouncing on me like a cat on a mouse.

“What has that got to do with it?” I asked rather shortly.

“Got to do with it?” he chuckled, looking at me in a way that made me long to throttle him. “Got a copy of the rules?” He turned to the president and held out his hand for the copy that always lay on the table. “According to Rule III, section 2,” he went on, finding the place, “you will see that one of the necessary qualifications for membership of the Monaling Club is being on the Government House list.”

He handed me the book open at the rule as he spoke. I read it angrily. There could be no doubt about it.

“Are the Miss Powells on the Government House list?” he asked, with a sneer, knowing full well that they were not.

“In that case,” I said, ignoring him and turning to the president, “I regret that they cannot be put up yet.”

I laid just the slightest stress upon the last word.

With that the meeting closed and, boiling with rage against the dusky member, I almost ran into the arms of Berengaria anxiously awaiting the result of the meeting in the hall. She was very angry too when I told her, and we retired to a quiet corner in the reading-room to discuss it.

“I will never forgive Mr. Harding for being such a pig,” she exclaimed.

“Oh! well,” I said, taking a calmer and more practical view of things again, “since there is the rule we had to run up against it some time.”

“True,” said Berengaria thoughtfully. “Now which shall we do—alter the rule or get the Miss Powells on the Government House list?”

I laughed. Berengaria, having set her mind to it, had no thought of being turned back by a little thing like this. It was delightful to hear the note of determination in her voice. She would carry through her purpose come what might. Any obstacle that stood in the way must be promptly removed.

There could be no hesitation which was the lesser of the two evils if one of them had to be tackled. To get one of the rules of the Club altered would be a serious matter which would divide all Monaling into rival camps, particularly as this was a rule that struck at the very foundation of the social life of the station. Yet on the other hand I foresaw that the delicate task of engineering the five Miss Powells on to the Government House list would fall to me. I felt that Berengaria was rather taking shelter behind me, and that in the eyes of the station I alone should be standing forth as the champion of these ladies of the unrecognised social position. Sorry as I might be for them, I had no desire to associate myself with them thus publicly. Fortunately, however, there were five of them and even the youngest of an age and appearance to nip scandal in the bud.

“I think,” said Berengaria, looking at me with a smile as I pondered on these things, “I think it would be easier for us to get them on the Government House list.”

“It will require some tact,” I said, not wishing to raise her hopes.

“Not more than we possess between us,” she said in a way that implied a special compliment to me.

I smiled. I was being so pleasantly cornered.

“Of course, if you very much wish it,” I said.

“I do, I do indeed,” she urged. “And you’ll manage it?”

“Lady Sturt is apt to be very decided at times,” I reminded her, endeavouring to make her see the difficulty of the situation. “Remember Mrs. Bondling.”

“Oh! that was quite different,” she exclaimed decidedly, “and the Miss Powells are so inoffensive.”

“Still, Lady Sturt——” I began.

“But everybody knows what influence you have,” interrupted the seductive voice at my side, “everybody knows that Lady Sturt, and even His Honour himself, do just what you want.”

I laughed. It was really wonderful what I had done in a short three months according to Berengaria in persuasive mood.

“Why should you not tackle Lady Sturt yourself?” I asked, turning the tables upon her; “she thinks an awful lot of you.”

“Oh! no,” said Berengaria hastily as she rose to go, “you’d do it so much better. You will do it, won’t you?”

Berengaria looked straight into my eyes with one of her fascinating smiles and of course I said I would.

The following day I had an opportunity of broaching the subject to Lady Sturt. She was in a particularly dreamy mood, however, and didn’t seem as if she quite realised what it was I wanted. She nodded her head and looked very wise with the sort of look that seemed to go right through one and come out the other side without stopping to gather any information by the way.

“Do you think they might be allowed to call next Monday?” I asked at last. “They are very harmless and several people in the station are very anxious to get them on the Club.”

“Why have they not called before?” she said, with one of her quick to-the-point questions, suddenly appearing to take an interest in the matter.

“They are much too modest,” I replied truthfully, “they would never think of calling unless they had an intimation that they might.”

“I’m not sure that I approve of too much modesty,” nodded Lady Sturt thoughtfully, “it leads to immodesty in other people.”

I failed for the moment to follow the train of her thought and waited for further enlightenment.

“It’s a little immodest of me, I think, to send any one an intimation that I want them to call upon me,” she exclaimed.

I hastened to reassure her.

“I don’t think so,” I said deprecatingly. “You see, a Lieutenant-Governor’s wife is such a very great person and the Miss Powells consider themselves such very small fry; An intimation from you to them would be almost equivalent to a royal command.”

Lady Sturt nodded sagely.

“Ah!” she said expressively, “just now, just now perhaps. But soon I shall be living in a suburban villa in an English country town. What then? What then?”

Which reflection, though doubtless true, was hardly relevant. I tried to draw her back towards the question of the five Miss Powells.

“You will not mind them calling, then, next Monday,” I said, “and being put on the Government House List?”

“No,” said Lady Sturt dreamily, “no, I don’t mind. I suppose I shall be trying to get on some one else’s list soon, so I may as well be kind.”

With that I went off gladly and mentioned the matter to His Honour. He had much, but little of importance, to say. If his dear Aminta agreed, of course he was quite willing. The question was one entirely of a social nature and therefore more largely in her province than in his. Still it was not a good plan to encourage people of that sort too much, etc. etc.

I rode off to see Berengaria that afternoon to tell her the good news. Her pleasure and gratitude more than recompensed me for the trouble I had taken. I realised then more fully than I had done before one of the secrets of Berengaria’s charm. She possessed that rarest of virtues—gratitude. For even the smallest thing done for her she showed her pleasure and thanks in the most charming way and she never forgot what one had done. Of course, one does not do things for people because they are grateful. One often does things for people who are markedly ungrateful. But no one will deny that it adds tremendously to the pleasure of doing things for other people when one knows that they will show their pleasure and gratitude in an open and unmistakable way.

Berengaria wrote off at once with great glee to tell the five Miss Powells, and on the following Monday they came to call at Government House in two batches, first three, and half an hour later the remaining two. They were obviously a little nervous and started visibly as I announced their names. As they confessed to Berengaria afterwards they had never heard them called out so loudly before and it gave them quite a shock.

They were invited to a Government House garden party the following week and so appeared in the face of all Monaling as on the Government House list. At the next committee meeting I was unable to be present, but the president consented, at my request, to put forward their names again, and this time they passed the committee stage without a dissentient voice. To my great surprise when I saw their names duly proposed above the ballot boxes on the hall table I found below Berengaria’s name as proposer the name of Mr. Harding as seconder. Berengaria had smiled upon him to good effect in the interval.

“Never have an enemy if you can help it. Disarm him by making him into a friend,” she had once said to me, and she had evidently acted on that principle in the case of Mr. Harding, whom she had vowed never to forgive.

There was of course much talk in Monaling over the sudden elevation of the five Miss Powells to Government House rank. Much of it I heard, but much that must have taken place among the non-Government House set, from which the Miss Powells had just escaped, I of course did not. Yet that must have been undoubtedly the more diverting. Of course everybody knew that Berengaria had done it, and I foresaw many people smiling longingly in her direction hoping that they might catch her fancy and rise to social heights upon it as the five Miss Powells had done. There was still some doubt, however, whether those ladies would sail successfully into the Monaling Club. Some of the permanent residents who were already members were rather indignant that these inoffensive ladies whom they had always been accustomed to look down upon should suddenly be elevated to their own level.

An extraordinarily large number of people voted, Berengaria’s tactful solicitations having doubtless swollen the number of the Miss Powells’ supporters. One blackball in ten was sufficient to exclude them, and Berengaria told me on the afternoon of the last day that she had been round in the morning when no one was about to count the number of voters and that these were sixty-eight. That meant that seven blackballs would exclude. Berengaria was rather anxious later in the day, as many of the county families voted at the last moment, but I don’t think she ever really seriously considered their being actually blackballed.

The result when it was announced fell upon her like a thunder clap. The ballot was always closed and counted at seven o’clock on Saturday evening, and having a dinner party on that night she had awaited the result at home. I had promised to look in and bring her news of it on my way back to Government House.

She saw at once by my face what had happened. The five Miss Powells had been blackballed.

“They will feel it so terribly,” was the first thing she said, with tears in her eyes. “It is so much worse than if I had never put them up at all.”

And with the thought of that Berengaria broke down and wept. Now few men can stand by and see a woman weep. Yet what was there to be said? It certainly was much worse than if they had been left to their original obscurity and had never been put up at all. Extremely shy and sensitive they would undoubtedly feel it very much. It is such poor comfort to say “it can’t be helped.”

Berengaria wept at first out of sympathy with the five Miss Powells, but gradually as she wept I noticed a change. She wept with rage at her own protégées having been rejected. It was a healthy change. The tears began to dry.

“How dare they!” she said, dabbing her eyes with an absurd little pocket-handkerchief. “A pack of nasty mean old cats!”

I abused them roundly in the hope that it might relieve Berengaria. I think it did.

“Thank you,” she said.

Then she smiled.

“You must get me the list of all those who voted,” she said, drying her last tears and clearing the decks, as it were, for action.

I shifted uneasily in my chair. I had no desire to add to Berengaria’s distress, but there are some things a fellow can’t do.

“I—I don’t know that I can quite do that,” I said reluctantly, as she evidently waited for an answer.

“Why not?” she asked, sitting up and facing me with the light of battle in her eyes.

“Well, you see,” I said in my most conciliatory voice, “being a member of the committee I could hardly give away the names of the voters after the ballot.”

“But weren’t they exposed on the hall table for a whole week for every one to see?” she asked indignantly.

“But that was before the ballot closed,” I said. “I don’t think that any member of the committee ought to disclose anything after that except the mere fact of election or non-election.”

“Oh, you men, you men!” exclaimed Berengaria, with a shrug, “you really have the most absurd notions on some things.”

I was silent. I was very much afraid that in her present frame of mind she might not take my refusal well.

“I would do anything for a friend,” she went on. “Of course it is different doing a thing that is not—well, not quite quite,” she looked round at me with a half-smile, “for one’s own benefit and doing it for a friend. There are lots of things that I might hesitate to do for myself that I should not hesitate to do for a friend.”

I saw with relief that Berengaria’s good humour was restored.

“Ah! you forget the lines about love and honour,” I ventured.

“But you mustn’t quote them,” interrupted Berengaria hastily.

“I could not”—I began smilingly—

But Berengaria blushed and rose quickly.

“They are not at all applicable,” she laughed, “and much too affectionate. Come, I must go and write to break the news to those poor dear Miss Powells.”

A month later the five Miss Powells were full-fledged members of the Monaling Club. How Berengaria managed it, Berengaria alone knows. I do know, however, that she managed to get the list of all those who had voted. How she got it I also know, but I won’t tell, though let me hasten to add that I did not give it to her, neither was I privy to her getting it, nor have I it in any way upon my conscience. Strangely enough, for that very select and difficult Club, no rule preventing any one once blackballed from being put up again the very next week was in existence. So a fortnight later when Berengaria had evidently arranged things to her satisfaction the Miss Powells were again put up. There were considerably fewer votes this time, which probably meant that those who had previously blackballed abstained from voting the second time.

It was a great triumph for Berengaria, and I may give away the secret of the ballot to this extent, that there were no blackballs in it at all this time.

Chapter XI

Globe Trotters at Government House

Not the least interesting feature of life at Government House was the continuous succession of globe trotters who descended upon us and were hospitably entertained. There had not been many of them in Monaling, for India is no place for the globe trotter in the hot weather. But as soon as we had got settled in our winter quarters at Government House in Aminabad a stream of visitors set in and furnished us with a constant source of interest and amusement. Their variety was amazing and their nationalities covered nearly every quarter of the globe. They ran from a Russian Princess to a Radical M.P. and from a Japanese General to a French Prima Donna.

The first to arrive that cold weather were a German Baron and Baroness. Related to a high official at Berlin, they had come to us with an introduction from a very Exalted Personage indeed, and I was deputed to go to the station to meet them. I shall never forget the shock I had on their arrival. They evidently belonged to that large class of traveller which makes a point of wearing its oldest clothes whenever it journeys far from home. That German Baron and Baroness had made of themselves the quaintest couple I have ever seen. It was impossible at first sight to decide what nationality they might be. They were both rather short and insignificant and but for their extraordinary get-up you would never have noticed them at all. They seemed to have brought for their outfit just everything they should not have done. They looked as if every shop they had entered had palmed off upon them everything that was hopelessly out of date and that nobody else would buy. Their topis were things of terror, of a shape that might have been worn in the fifties or have possibly lingered as late as the seventies, but had surely never been seen since. I always wondered where they could possibly have got them, until one day the Baroness confided to me that she had got the whole of her own and her husband’s outfit by correspondence from—Manchester.

“The shops at Schwartzenburgh knew not the Indian outfit,” the Baroness explained to me in detail in her slow and rather broken English. “Even in Berlin they knew not much, so I said to Heinrich, ‘We will write direct to England to send us all we need.’ But Heinrich he said to me, ‘We know no shop. How can we write?’ ‘Never mind,’ I said, ‘we will put on the envelope, “Indian Outfitters, London,” and the Post Office, which is so clever, will see that it will reach.’ But Heinrich say, ‘No, London is too big. It will never find.’ Then I say, ‘We will write Manchester, which is not so big and which has much Indian cotton. It will find in Manchester.’ And it found.”

As I saw more and more of those outfits it was borne in upon me what a perfect god-send that order must have been to those “Indian Outfitters, Manchester.” They must have disposed of all their old and unsalable stock at one go. The Baron and Baroness had evidently spared no expense, since they seemed to be supplied with every possible thing they could not possibly want. Having lived all their lives near the provincial town of Schwartzenburgh, they had but the remotest idea of the necessities of Indian travel and appeared to have taken with touching simplicity and gratitude whatever the “Indian Outfitters, Manchester,” had sent them. And the delightful part about them was that they never seemed to discover that the enormous number of absurdly unnecessary and unsuitable things they had burdened themselves with were not absolutely essential and desirable.

Both the Baron and the Baroness had all the typical globe trotter’s desire to see everything. They were going round the world and although they had already done the greater part of it their interest was still insatiable. A very fat volume of the guide-book style accompanied them everywhere, which seemed to have something to say about everything. I found it lying on a couch in the drawing-room one day, and picking it up saw that it was written in German and purported to be a Guide-Book to the World! Amused at the typically German audacity of the thing, I opened it at random and the first thing my eye fell upon was a description of Calcutta. The first words I read related to the hotels there and the second one on the list was quaintly described as “not praised by the English, but recommended to Germans.” At which, knowing that hotel, I was much amused. I was proceeding to see what further gems this guide-book of the world contained when I was interrupted by the hurried return of the Baroness in search of it.

“Ah!” she exclaimed, with an exclamation of intense relief as she saw it in my hands. “I did have fear that it was lost, and there is no other like it on this part of the globe.”

The conversation of the Baron and Baroness was a continual joy. The Baron, who had apparently never before in his life left his ancestral estate in some remote corner of the German Empire, had been suddenly seized with a desire to travel. Strangely enough, the chief desire that his experiences abroad seemed to have aroused in him was to be mistaken for an Englishman. That it was a desire quite impossible of attainment never seemed to occur to him. He was evidently not observant or he would have long since discarded the outfit with which he started out, but there was one thing that he noticed and that worried him. It was their first evening at Government House, and we had only a very small dinner party, with only some half a dozen casual outside guests. It was by no means one of our smart guest nights. The Baron and Baroness were, however, much impressed. The “Indian Outfitters, Manchester,” had failed to provide them with anything at all smart and they looked particularly dowdy even at this quiet dinner party.

The Baroness, however, had one very fine diamond star and the Baron one large diamond in the middle of his shirt front. It was this diamond that was worrying him as he surveyed the scene in the drawing-room before dinner. He had realised that among English people it was not quite the thing and it hurt him. I went up to speak to him for a moment and he confided his distress to me.

“You Englishmen do not wear the jewels,” he said, fingering the diamond stud and looking up at me enquiringly.

“No,” I said, “we don’t wear them ourselves. We put them all on our wives.”

“Ah!” he said, looking round the room keenly with his small ferrety eyes and quite unconscious of the humour of his remark, “ah! I have not seen those ladies yet.”

Another amusing guest at Government House that cold weather was a Russian Princess. She was travelling without her husband, attended by a German lady, Frau von Hausbauer, of remarkably forbidding appearance and of most uncertain age. The Princess herself was young, not beautiful, but with the indefinable charm of the well-born woman. Curious people, with ill-bred inquisitiveness, got hold of the Almanach de Gotha, and discovered the date of her birth and everything that that book beloved of snobs had to say about her. When it was discovered that she was aged thirty-one everybody was amazed. She looked little more than in the early twenties. And when it was further discovered by some one of research with a genealogical turn of mind that she was a great-grandniece of the Empress Marie Louise, even those few who had ostentatiously sniffed at a mere Russian Princess fell down and worshipped.

The Princess arrived at Government House on the morning of the State ball, which was always the great event of the social season in Aminabad, and generally took place in the first week of the new year. We had particularly arranged the arrival of the Princess to take place the day after the ball in order to avoid difficulties about precedence. It is always arranged beforehand who shall dance in the State Lancers and sit at His Honour’s and Lady Sturt’s table at supper, and there was no place for a Russian Princess on the Indian Table of Precedence. We had therefore arranged to avoid all difficulties by fixing her arrival to take place after the date of the ball. But the night before that important event we got a telegram from her saying that she was arriving on the following morning—on the very day of the ball. It was a great upset, as we had to rearrange the State Lancers and the supper and have fresh cards printed for both. A European Princess being such a rarity in India and so much in actual rank above any of the ladies of Aminabad it was impossible to give her any but first place, and it was arranged that she should dance in the State Lancers with His Honour, who should also take her into supper. Of course, some of the chief ladies of Aminabad were annoyed at being passed over by the foreigner; but fortunately, as already explained, the Table of Precedence saves itself and gives the harassed entertainer latitude by expressly stipulating that it only regulates the precedence of those mentioned therein as among themselves. A European Princess not being mentioned therein could happily take precedence of them all. We awaited her arrival with much expectation.

She arrived by an early morning train, and it was not until just before breakfast that I saw her. I had sent up a note with her chota haziri telling her of the arrangements for the day and that she had been put down to dance with His Honour in the State Lancers and to go into supper with him afterwards. About half-past eight I got a message from her asking if she might speak to me. I found her waiting in the hall. She was dressed very simply and quietly but very charmingly, presenting a marked contrast to the German Baroness and with no suggestion of the globe trotter.

“Ah!” she said in a delightfully mellifluous voice, coming forward holding out the note I had written to her, “it is you who have wrote this note?”

“Yes,” I said.

“It would indeed give me great felicity to dance with your great man,” she smiled; “but alas! I have no baggage.”

“No baggage?” I exclaimed.

She spread out her hands expressively.

“It is all lost,” she explained helplessly; “it is—what you call?—no more.”

“But where is it?” I asked, trying not to smile at the Princess’s distress, which somehow reminded me of that of a child which had lost its toy. “What has become of it?”

Ma foi!” she exclaimed; “but it is that I am asking you.”

“But where did you see it last?” I asked, trying to elucidate the mystery.

“Me! I have not seen it since Bombay.”

She wrung her hands, but laughed at the same time irresponsibly, as if, while it was very dreadful to have lost her luggage, it was too absurd to expect her to have looked after it.

“But you saw it properly labelled there for Aminabad?” I suggested.

“Not me,” she said, with a shrug and a shake of the head, “not me, but Frau von Hausbauer, and she is imbecile.”

With one of the sudden changes of manner that were characteristic of her, tears sprang into her eyes, and I was terribly afraid that she would break down and weep.

“It will be all right,” I assured her hastily. “We will find it for you. I will telephone to the station-master at once, and you shall get it as soon as it can possibly be got.”

Then I was afraid that she was going to fall upon my neck and embrace me.

“You are kind,” she said sweetly, looking at me with interest and apparently noticing me now for the first time. “And you will have everything here in time for the ball to-night?”

I again assured her that I would do my best, and kept my doubts to myself. Knowing the fate of luggage once lost sight of on an Indian railway line, I was not exactly hopeful of its speedy reappearance. However, I went off at once to telephone to the station-master and put all the influence of Government House to work, while the Princess went into breakfast quite happy and content with my assurances.

There was only one other train that the boxes could possibly arrive by. The one after that reached Aminabad at three a.m., just as the last guests would be departing from the State Ball. Much telephoning to the station-master and much wiring on his part produced no news of the missing luggage. When the afternoon train arrived without it there could be no further concealing the fact from the Princess that there was no chance of its turning up in time for the ball.

I sent up a message to ask if I might see her. She came down to the hall at once, and I broke the news to her as gently as I could.

Ma foi,” she exclaimed, looking at me reproachfully, “and I did trust you so. You seemed so brave.”

I smiled, but tragedy was written on the Princess’s face. I assured her that I had done all that man could do, at which she still looked so reproachful that I felt I must do something more to help her.

“Couldn’t you borrow something to wear for the ball to-night?” I ventured.

I had heard of ladies going to balls and drawing-rooms in borrowed plumes, but as I glanced at the Princess from head to foot I realised that it would be difficult to find another figure like hers in Aminabad. The Princess divined my thoughts even as I spoke.

“Ah! if I were not so tall,” she exclaimed. Then she added with something of contempt, “But no, it is not possible. I could not wear these Englishwomen’s clothes. They fit like—what you call it?—nosebags.” And she laughed in spite of her distress.

“Have you nothing that you could possibly make do?” I asked hopefully. She surely could not have lost all her luggage. She must have kept a dressing-case or handbag in the carriage with her.

“Nothing,” she cried pathetically. “I have nothing. There was nothing saved but a tea-basket, the rugs, and a handbag in which there was nothing but a robe-de-nuit and a dressing-gown. One cannot come in those.”

“The dressing-gown,” I said despairingly, seizing upon what seemed to be the most substantial part of the luggage still retained, “could not that be made to do service as a ball gown?”

The Princess gave a little shriek of horror.

“Oh, you men!” she cried.

Then she laughed gaily.

“But you have not seen it,” she said merrily. “Come, I will it to you show.”

She turned and, laughing, ran across the hall. I followed her along the corridor and waited in her sitting-room, while she disappeared into the room beyond. In a moment she returned with something pink and lacy in her hand.

“It will do,” she exclaimed enthusiastically, “it will do. I will cut here and put a diamond buckle here. These Englishwomen, they will think it is the latest thing from Paris. Give me not away, my friend.”

I left her quite happy and calling Frau von Hausbauer to her assistance. I felt well satisfied at solving the difficulty, though I wondered greatly how that extremely light and filmy garment was going to be transformed so as not to proclaim aloud its origin at a State ball.

When the Princess appeared at dinner that night she certainly created a sensation. Her jewels were magnificent, but the garment that she wore, even to an inexperienced eye like mine, was unmistakably a dressing-gown.

“I thought it best to leave it as it was,” she whispered to me as the guests arrived. “I like not the pretence. Was it not better to appear in a dressing-gown pure and simple than in something that was not one or other? Please tell everybody that I have lost my luggage.”

I admired the Princess’s courage immensely. She was, of course, the sensation of the ball. Her height and the charming dignity and gracefulness of her carriage alone would have made her noticeable anywhere, and it was just this that made the dressing-gown look most incongruous. Yet if any one had wanted an illustration of the argument that Royalty is recognisable apart from its surroundings, the Princess would have furnished it that evening. No one seeing her even in that extraordinary get-up could have failed to recognise that she was an aristocrat of the aristocrats. There was something indefinable about her that no disguise could hide.

For five days the Princess and Frau von Hausbauer stayed with us, and still their luggage failed to turn up. It was then that evil-minded people murmured “Becky Sharp,” and looked her up in the Almanach de Gotha, and were rather disappointed when they found her there. At the end of the five days she left to go on a shooting expedition with the Maharajah of Gylapur in Southern India, and we never saw or heard of her again, beyond a characteristically charming letter of thanks to Lady Sturt.

Of course, we had the travelling M.P. No cold weather would be complete without him. Yet why is he always a Radical of the most pronounced type? I suppose the serious, sober, sensible M.P. does come, but just because he is serious, sober, and sensible one doesn’t hear of him. We had no fewer than three M.P.’s the cold weather I was at Government House, and all of them were advanced Radicals. Two of them came together, and they had previously announced in so many words that they were coming to disapprove of everything and to unearth grave scandals in the governance of India which had lain hidden hitherto and which it had been reserved for their brilliant intellects to expose to the public gaze. But Sir Humphrey had already experienced how great a worry and annoyance such lunatics at large could become if the disaffected party among the natives got hold of them and crammed them with absurd ideas. So when he heard that these two particular Radical M.P.’s were going to honour his province with a visit, he promptly sent them an invitation to come and stay at Government House, and said that he was deputing a special officer to show them everything they might desire to see. They wrote back accepting his offer, and His Honour selected the most tactful and urbane member of the Civil Service he could find, putting him on special duty to trot round with the Radical M.P.’s. It was a brilliant plan and completely outmanoeuvred the disaffected party. The specially selected civilian took them everywhere they wanted to go, explained everything to them, let them meet their native friends and listen to their woes to their hearts’ content, but at the same time quietly exposing them and all their works, and proving the falsity of the wild, unfounded allegations that they delighted to scatter abroad. The result was that those two Radical M.P.’s had unrivalled opportunities for getting to know all there was to know about the province and hearing both sides of every question. One by one their previous prejudices and illusions fell away when confronted by the real facts on the spot, and they finally went home wiser if not sadder men. Of course, they did not subsequently gain such notoriety as they would have done if they had written absurd statements to the Press and declaimed against our rule in India, but if they proved somewhat of a disappointment to their party, they gained the respect of all honest men, both at home and in India, when they declared fairly what they had seen and known, and paid their tribute to the rectitude, integrity, and justice of our rule in India as at present constituted.

The third M.P., however, who came after them was too far gone in conceit and prejudice to be answerable to reason. He only spent one day in Aminabad, and he came to dinner at Government House in a tweed suit and a red tie, with particularly heavy brown boots, surely the most extraordinary figure who has ever dined at Government House in Aminabad.

“I would have forgiven him that,” said Lady Sturt afterwards, “if he had had any brains. But he hadn’t. All he could do was to abuse other people who didn’t agree with him, and that is always a sign of a bad digestion or a small mind, and I don’t know which is worse. Poor man, poor man,” she murmured pityingly, “he may even have been cursed with both.”

Chapter XII


Even the best of good things must come to an end, and for the last few weeks every one at Government House had been in that unsettled state that precedes final departure from familiar scenes. On the first of March His Honour’s term of office as Lieutenant-Governor of the Northern Provinces was due to expire, and ever since the passing of the Christmas and New Year festivities that date had loomed ahead painfully prominent in all our minds. To His Honour it meant a final severance from India after nearly forty years’ service; thirty-five of which Lady Sturt had shared with him. It was one of her proudest boasts that while Sir Humphrey had been serving in the plains in his earlier days she had never once left him during the hot weather for more than ten days at a time. She was one of the old school of Anglo-Indian Memsahebs and had little sympathy with her modern sisters, who for the most part think it essential to rush home or to the hills as soon as the hot weather begins and stay there until it is cool again, leaving their husbands to bear the burden and heat of the day alone, and of course send them handsome remittances to help them bear the separation as cheerfully as they can. She had from the first thoroughly identified herself with her husband and her husband’s interests, and Sir Humphrey always declared that it was solely due to the fact that he had a wife always by his side to look after him, to feed him, and to cheer him at the best and the worst seasons of the year alike that he had kept such excellent health and had, consequently, been able to do the good work for Government that had met with such exalted reward. He was never tired of paying this tribute to his dear Aminta, and I always liked to see the smile she gave him in return. They were one of those devoted couples one sees more often in India than anywhere else, I am inclined to think. In the Indian mofussil married couples are bound to see so much of one another that they either drift more apart or become more devoted than under other conditions, where husband and wife see less of one another and where the middle stage between indifference and devotion is more easily maintainable.

To both His Honour and Lady Sturt the wrench at leaving India for good was tremendous. During forty years they had naturally grown thoroughly accustomed to Indian ways and Anglo-Indian methods of thought and had lost touch considerably with home life. Neither Sir Humphrey nor Lady Sturt had many relations and practically no home ties, Sybilla being their only child. Thus their retirement offered them few attractions. On the other hand, it had many drawbacks. It meant a drop in pay from something like £7,500 a year to £1,000 retiring pension, for it is one of the strange anomalies of the Civil Service that the man who just manages to get through twenty-one years’ undistinguished active service and retires on the very first day possible gets the same pension as the man who, like Sir Humphrey, puts in some thirty-five years’ most distinguished active service, ending up as Lieutenant- Governor of the Northern Provinces. Of course, the pay of an L.-G. looks on paper infinitely larger than it really is; the absolutely necessary expenses being extremely heavy, and few there be who save much out of it. Even so, after having so large a sum at his command, it is a big descent to the pension of one thousand pounds.

But even greater and more terrible than the descent in actual pay is the descent in social position. Even the Collector Saheb and the Commissioner Saheb, who have ruled over their tens and over their thousands, must feel the mantle of importance fall heavily from them when they finally renounce their charges, but how much more a Lieutenant-Governor, who has ruled over his millions and to whom a whole province, native and European alike, have deferred. It is difficult for the average Englishman who has never been to India to realise how extremely important many of his very average and undistinguished fellow-countrymen become the moment they set foot officially on Indian soil. It is doubly difficult for him to realise it because some of these high and dignified officials immediately lose all trace of their greatness when once the Indian sun has ceased to shine upon them. It seems as if there were something in the English climate that dims at once the Oriental halo of importance that so lately surrounded them. Sad and humbled, they pass by half apologetically, lost and jostled in the crowd.

As for Miss Sturt, the change meant scarcely less for her. As the only daughter at Government House, she had had the very best of times that India could give a young and charming girl. At every dance she was the prettiest and best-dressed girl there and every man in the room would have liked to dance with her. She could have filled her programme ten times over. For every gymkhana, every picnic, every social function of any kind she was the most sought-for guest. No one thought of getting up anything without first making certain of Miss Sturt. At home she would still be a pretty and charming girl, but she would no longer be upon a pedestal that showed off those good qualities to the greatest advantage. She would only be one among many pretty and charming girls, and being quite unknown, would have to make her own way everywhere instead of having everything made smooth for her as the daughter of Government House. Both Lady and Miss Sturt fully realised the position. His Honour, being a man much occupied with heavy official duties, had probably thought about it less.

“If there is one thing I do like it is space,” said Lady Sturt to me one day, taking a particularly pessimistic view of life. “Yet I foresee nothing but a villa on retirement and if there is one thing I do hate it’s a villa, nasty, poky, cheap, red-bricked, with a tiny garden back and front for flowers to die in. I only do hope it won’t be semi-detached.”

I laughed hopefully.

“Oh! you can get something quite nice in the country very reasonably nowadays, I believe,” I said, trying to cheer her.

“The country,” she repeated dolefully. “It always rains there in England, and we shall never be able to get anywhere because we shan’t be able to afford to keep enough horses. Besides, Sir Humphrey, having been at the head of things so long, would be miserable buried away in the country. No, it will have to be a villa on the outskirts of a town.”

“Where father can take an interest in local politics and perhaps get on the town council,” put in Miss Sturt flippantly. “That would be so nice for father and keep him well amused.”

Lady Sturt threw up her hands.

“After ruling twenty million people,” she said.

“He would probably be able to run for Parliament,” I suggested, still trying to cheer her up. “That would be much more suitable and really occupy his time.”

“That we should never be able to afford,” she interrupted decidedly and dolefully. “I have never before so much regretted having no money of my own as I do now,” she added. Then she turned to me in a motherly way, but regarding me very solemnly. “I don’t want you to be mercenary or to marry for money,” she said impressively, “but take my advice and don’t marry a girl who has not got a little money of her own.”

“What very worldly advice to give to a young man, mother,” protested Miss Sturt, shocked but smiling.

“It may sound so, it may sound so,” said Lady Sturt dreamily. “But it’s my advice, all the same. Now if only I had just a little, just a few, a very few hundreds a year, it would make all the difference. Sir Humphrey might go into Parliament—it is just what he would like. It does seem hard,” she ended, “just for the sake of, say, a couple of hundred a year.”

Not having even that small amount as yet in the way of private income, I could thoroughly sympathise with her. I felt, however, that for a subaltern in an Indian line regiment to attempt to supplement his extremely modest pay by allying himself with a lady possessed of those desirable means was not to be thought of. It had always been impressed into me in my earlier years that no soldier under the rank of captain, unless possessed of ample private means, ought ever to marry, and so strong was the force of early precept that I never regarded marriage in those days as within the bounds of possibility.

Those last few weeks before we finally said good-bye seemed to pass in a breathless rush. There was the packing up of all the goods and chattels that the Sturts had collected round them, not only during their tenancy of Government House, but during all their long service in India. Lady Sturt’s collection of native brass and copper work was one of the finest in the province, and when it came to be packed, filled no less than sixty-five large boxes. Then there were the many addresses presented to Sir Humphrey, with silver caskets and boxes and trowels galore, which filled no little space. When all the heavy luggage was finally ready it formed a most formidable array. Lady Sturt almost wept over the amount it would cost to get it home, and it was her idea to let it start at the last possible moment, so that, taking the longer route, it would arrive home considerably after them, by which time she hoped to have a house ready to receive it, and so the extra cost of storing it would be avoided. “One has to think of these little things,” said Lady Sturt sorrowfully as we surveyed the piles of luggage. It stood mountains high in one of the go-downs, and evidently weighed heavily on Lady Sturt’s mind, for, as she confidentially confessed to me, more than ninety-five per cent of it all was really hers.

Of course, there were any number of farewell entertainments to be given and attended. They were rather trying to the chief actors and much prolonged the agony of parting. Not only every native prince and noble, but every conceivable association and institution seemed to vie with one another to give us the heartiest of farewells. It was, of course, extremely gratifying to His Honour. There could be no manner of doubt as to the popularity of both Sir Humphrey and Lady Sturt and of their régime, both politically and socially. But as Lady Sturt said, so many farewell dinners and other festivities were very wearing both to body and mind. Towards the end we were all of us so done up generally that the feeling of weariness somewhat mitigated the grief of parting. In the end we all looked forward to the day when we should have bidden the final farewell and be actually on the way home.

For it had been decided that I should accompany the family home. I had taken no leave of any kind since I first came out to India, and as three months’ leave was consequently due to me, I had decided to go home before taking up my duty again with the regiment. The incoming Lieutenant-Governor, as is customary, was bringing an entirely new staff with him, so Bentham, Wilmot and I had to revert to our ordinary duties again. It was just before the beginning of the hot weather, and the opportunity of escaping ninety days of that in the plains was one not to be allowed to slip. Moreover, I should be on duty as far as Bombay, as the Lieutenant-Governor, although he has given over charge, is always given the honours of such until he has finally quitted Indian soil.

The first of March, which had so long loomed ahead of us, came at last. The arrival and departure of a Lieutenant-Governor are not, of course, the occasions of State that those of a Viceroy are, but under Sir Humphrey’s direction the arrival of the new Lieutenant-Governor and his own departure were surrounded with much ceremony. The train bringing the former, accompanied by his wife and two daughters, was due at Aminabad at the uncomfortable hour of 6 a.m. The whole of the staff under the retiring régime, as well as several of the members of the new staff, assembled on the platform to meet it. Of course, there was the usual crowd of officials, native and European, all eager to greet the Rising Sun in the person of Sir George Linton, in the hollow of whose hand lay the fortunes of many of them for five years to come. But as yet there was no guard of honour and no National Anthem, for Sir George had not yet signed the magic words that raised him from a private individual to the Governorship of a great province. Six in the morning is not the most becoming hour of the day to arrive, and it was hard luck on Lady and the Misses Linton that they had to make their first appearance in Aminabad under such a disadvantage, especially after a bone-shaking journey of many hundreds of miles over an Indian railway.

I drove with Sir George and Lady Linton in the first carriage. Waiting to receive us at the top of the Government House steps were His Honour, Lady and Miss Sturt with all those officials who had not gone to the station. It had been arranged that the formal handing over charge should take place immediately on Sir George’s arrival. With this object, after the first greetings and introductions, we passed on into the ball-room. At one end on the dais a table and the necessary papers had been arranged at which sat, first Sir Humphrey signing the words that divested himself of all authority, and then Sir George, signing the name that invested him with all the honours, dignities, and responsibilities of his office. As he rose from the table the first gun of the salute thundered out from the fort close by acknowledging the new Ruler of the Northern Provinces, while the band on the Terrace struck up “God Save the King.” It was an impressive moment as the new Ruler and the old shook hands amidst the booming of the guns. One sun had set and another had arisen. There was no doubt that Sir Humphrey felt it keenly and that the parting was a real grief to him. We were to start immediately, and he and Lady Sturt passed round the room bidding each and all good-bye. Every one accompanied us out on to the steps again, and Sir George, now His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor, and Lady Linton drove back with us to the station as a compliment to see us off. At the station this time there was a guard of honour and a band. These things had grown so familiar that one hardly noticed them. Now that they were almost things of the past one looked upon them in a new light and with a new interest, as things one would probably never see again turned out in one’s own special honour. The last farewells were quickly said and the train moved slowly out of the station to the cheering of the crowd, the waving of many handkerchiefs, the playing again of “God Save the King,” and the booming of the salute for the last time in Aminabad in honour of Sir Humphrey Sturt. We all sank back into the carriage with a sigh of relief when it was all over, and Lady Sturt wiped away a few tears, while even Miss Sturt, who was not that sort, looked fixedly out of the window as if as yet she dared not let us see her face. Sir Humphrey still bore himself as one invested with the outward dignity of a Lieutenant-Governor, but already, even as the train drew quickly further from Aminabad and a few hours later left the Northern Provinces behind altogether, I foresaw the great and terrible change that was bound to come.

At Bombay we were met by an A.D.C. from Government House, where we were driven to spend the few hours that remained before our steamer sailed. There we were most delightfully and charmingly entertained, and there we caught our last glimpse of official India. Later the same day we went on board, and as we left the quay in the Governor’s launch the guns of the salute thundered out for the last time of all a parting tribute to the late Lieutenant-Governor. The echo of the last one died away as we climbed on board the liner, where, mixing with the other passengers amidst all the excitement and disorder of departure, we seemed to sink our identity, ceasing to be the greatest personages in the land before whom every one gave way and losing ourselves as ordinary individuals in the crowd.

That journey home on the P. and O. steamer was full of rude awakenings for poor Sir Humphrey and Lady Sturt. There were several smart society people returning home from a cold-weather visit to the East, including at least two peers and peeresses. They had been allotted the chief places at the captain’s table. They were considerably higher in rank and far smarter and more interesting in the eyes of the crowd on board than the ex-Lieutenant-Governor of the Northern Provinces and his wife, who had both seemed dignified and imposing in the setting of Government House and in the midst of official Indian life, but who suddenly seemed to have lost much of their distinction and impressiveness and to have become just merely passengers on board. It was one of the most pathetic sights I have ever seen. When for five years you have been first and everything has been arranged for you and you have been received everywhere with empressement and everybody has made way for you and everything has conspired to force upon you a knowledge of the importance of your position, it is something of a shock to have to descend among the crowd again and to struggle and jostle for your place. Both Sir Humphrey and Lady Sturt seemed to have aged suddenly and to have lost the sprightliness and cheeriness that had always so distinguished them at Government House, all of which in the idle hours that one is forced to spend on board ship gave one food for much reflection. It is so much easier to be gracious and charming when you are first, and every one hangs upon your words and gets out of your way, than it is to exhibit those same qualities when no one pays particular attention to what you say and jostles you roughly in the crowd if you don’t move on. Besides, when you are first and ruling at Government House, with many entertainments to give and many nice fat billets to bestow, everybody is only too ready to think you charming and nice, whereas when you are merely a retired Indian civilian, with only a pension of a thousand pounds, the world has not nearly so keen a desire to cultivate your acquaintance.

It was not, however, until we landed at Marseilles that the humiliation was complete. To see poor Lady Sturt, who for five years had walked on red carpet with an attentive A.D.C. before her, now burdened with cumbersome parcels, thrusting her way amongst the crowd on the quay, was indeed a sermon on the vanity of human greatness. Sir Humphrey I caught a glimpse of on the gangway. He had a hat-box in each hand and a roll of rugs and sticks and sunshades and umbrellas under his arm. The gangway was very crowded, and it was long since Sir Humphrey had carried anything more cumbersome than a walking-stick. At the bottom of the gangway one of the hat-boxes flew open and its contents rolled wildly over the quay. Then he who had lately been the stately and dignified Lieutenant-Governor of the Northern Provinces of India made frantic grabs at his wandering belongings and got inextricably mixed up with his own impedimenta and other people’s until a movement of the crowd hid him from my view. Miss Sturt’s youth and her sense of humour saved her, but she too had a rough time of it with two hand-bags and several sundries that Lady Sturt scattered behind her, passing on unconscious of her loss. We all met on the outskirts of the crowd, very hot and dishevelled and generally unlike ourselves.

“If there is one thing I do hate it is being hustled,” said Lady Sturt pathetically, still clutching such various packages as had survived her stormy passage through the crowd and looking much as if she had just scrambled through a hedge. Some one brushed violently against her as she spoke and passed on without the faintest pretence of an apology. “It’s five years since I’ve been hustled like that,” was all she said, not indignantly, but sadly, and more as if to herself than to us. Then she turned to Sir Humphrey with a faint smile. “I’m too old to begin again,” she said. “I think I shall welcome the villa after all, if only it’s far enough from the road to be peaceful and quiet.” Sir Humphrey was stooping on the ground trying to refasten the refractory hat-box. He rose up as she spoke and I was shocked at the change in him. He seemed to have aged ten years. In hunting for his scattered possessions his hat had fallen ofF and for the first time since I had known him I noticed that his hair, usually smooth and trim, was ruffled, and great drops of perspiration stood out on his forehead.

“We shall get accustomed to it, Aminta dear,” he said, taking off his hat and mopping his brow but striving to be cheerful. “Everything depends upon what one is accustomed to.” A violent dig in the back from a roll of rugs and umbrellas ill controlled by a lady of stout appearance almost threw him into Lady Sturt’s arms. “Besides,” he said, recovering himself and putting up his eyeglass and surveying the lady of stout appearance and the crowd generally, “besides, when we have grown accustomed to this sort of thing, we shall doubtless be able to push and strive and struggle as successfully as any.”

To add to our difficulties there had been some mistake over the reserved carriage that had been especially ordered on the train through to Calais. I had myself twice written to the agents about it some weeks ahead, but nothing seemed to have been heard of it, and we had to scramble in where we could in the ordinary passenger train, the express being full up. Just before we left the agents’ representative discovered us and delivered to Sir Humphrey some half a dozen letters that had been sent to await his arrival. The first one he opened was short, but evidently of a pleasing nature. As he raised his head from perusing it he was almost His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor again. But for a moment he said nothing. Turning to the other letters he hastily looked through them and tore one open. As he read it, he was once more the old Sir Humphrey I had known. Then he told us the good news. A famous University of the north had conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Law and hoped that he would be able to be present in person on the following degree day, when a very Distinguished and Royal Personage as Chancellor would preside. Not only was this extremely gratifying, but Sir Humphrey, Lady and Miss Sturt had been asked to join the house-party to meet the Distinguished and Royal Personage and his no less Distinguished and Royal Princess. This unexpected good news had a wonderfully cheering effect upon the party. It seemed a sudden check in our rapid descent from the pinnacle of greatness to the dead level of the commonplace. We clutched at it as drowning men clutch at a straw.

It was characteristic of Lady Sturt that she should suddenly put an extremely pertinent question. What was the date of the Convocation and of the royal house-party? Even Sir Humphrey in the first excitement of the moment had forgotten this important point. A hasty consultation of the letters almost threw the party into despair again. An eager calculation of dates, however, proved that they could just do it, with some twenty-four hours to spare in Town on their way through. Wires were despatched accepting both the degree and the invitation to the house-party, and with devout hopes that no accident might occur to delay us on the way we left Marseilles.

But there was another and a still greater difficulty to be solved. Thinking that they were going straight down into the country, Lady and Miss Sturt had left all their heavy luggage to go round by sea and it was not long before they were again bewailing their fate. They had no clothes fit to appear in. Could anything be harder than to be asked to stay in the same house with Royalty and to know that all one’s dainty confections were gaily sailing off round Gibraltar, hopelessly beyond retrieving? Even poor Lady Sturt, whose mind was above clothes as a rule, felt that the one black evening dress that reposed in her cabin trunk was not only unsuitable but quite impossible. As for Miss Sturt, she had kept something a little more possible, but still something that, to use her own disgusted phrase, she would not have been “seen dead in” in the presence of Royalty.

“We must get new clothes made in London,” said Lady Sturt hopefully.

“In twenty-four hours?” exclaimed Miss Sturt, refusing to be comforted.

“I forgot that,” admitted Lady Sturt. “But still they do such wonderful things nowadays, we must see if we can’t get them to do that.”

“You can buy the skirts ready made, can’t you?” I suggested, trying to be helpful.

Miss Sturt gave me a scornful glance.

“I have seen them all ready in the shop windows in Regent Street,” I protested, “with bits of gauze wrapped round the top to represent the bodice.”

But the Vision blushed and turned away to consult her mother as to plans upon arrival in Town. I felt that I had intruded in regions where the masculine mind is of no avail.

The remainder of the journey passed without incident. At Calais, on descending from the train and boarding the steamer and again on landing at Dover, we met with much the same experiences as at Marseilles, but the whole of the ex-Lieutenant-Governor’s party had somewhat recovered from its first shock and stood the jostling and the struggling much better than at first. The thought of the coveted degree and the royal house-party close ahead had cheered it up.

On the platform at Charing Cross I said good-bye to them. Having lived with them so many months and having got to know them so intimately it was sad to feel that the end had come. However, it was good to feel that they too were sorry to say good-bye to me and to hear again from Sir Humphrey’s own lips as he once more wrung my hand at parting, that he was more than satisfied with the way I had performed my duties as an A.D.C.

I had promised to go and stay with them wherever they might be before going back to India and they had promised to write and tell me how the great events of the following days passed off. I received letters from all three before a fortnight had passed, letters which were extremely characteristic and with which in full I conclude this chronicle of my doings as an A.D.C., presenting them as “chits” in the approved Anglo-Indian manner.

Sir Humphrey wrote:—

“Hamlyn House, April 30th.

“My dear Wynford,

“I should be doing justice neither to myself nor to you did I not take this early opportunity of writing to tell you of my very hearty appreciation of your services as A.D.C. To say that I was always fully satisfied but little expresses your worth or my appreciation and regard. I am indeed most grateful for all that you did—for your energy, your tact and your continual willingness to help in any matter whatsoever, however far outside your actual province it might be. My wife joins me in all that I have said and is writing to you herself. My daughter, who is also writing to you, will doubtless tell you all the news of the Convocation and the house-party, both of which passed off with much ceremony and due éclat.

“With my best wishes for your future career,

“Believe me, dear Wynford,

“Yours very sincerely,

“Humphrey Sturt.”

Lady Sturt’s letter was longer and more discursive. She wrote:—

“Dear Captain Wynford,

“I feel I must write and tell you how much I appreciate all that you did for us as A.D.C. If I say that I appreciate you much more now that we have lost you I am sure you will understand what I mean. I don’t think it’s very clear, but you will understand. In fact, I never should have thought it possible to miss anything so much as I have missed you. Yet perhaps it’s as well, as I should have developed into a mere figure-head and needed you permanently by to pull the strings. I don’t think I’m really lazy and inactive, and I really did do a great deal at Monaling and Aminabad, didn’t I? Yet everything was made so easy for one there. I realise it now. You or another A.D.C. were always at hand to tell me what was to be done and to do all the arranging and to make things as easy as possible. Now, to do the little things again for oneself is very trying. Of course Sybilla is very useful, but I think she feels it too. And of course it’s very dull for her here. We’ve taken this house furnished for six months while we can look round. We heard of it while staying with the Hendleys for the royal house-party. It is just outside their park gates, and though small it is not at any rate the villa that I dreaded. I feel that all I want is to remain here at peace for a little while. I do so dread travelling by train, to be jostled and hustled after having had one’s own special train, or at least a special carriage, and everything made ready for one. I’ve such a horror of a crowd now. It’s very foolish of me and it will doubtless very soon pass oft. You must come and stay with us as soon as you can and as long as you can.

“Yours very sincerely,

“Aminta Sturt.”

Miss Sturt’s letter I give last, though it was the first received, as being the longest and the most entertaining. It ran:—

“Dear Mr. Wynford,

“I had almost forgotten and written you down ‘Captain.’ Then I suddenly remembered with much joy that you too had fallen in dignity. Isn’t that sentence a sure sign of a nasty horrid nature? But when one has fallen so immeasurably in rank and dignity oneself it’s a little consoling to think that some one else has fallen too!

“Well, here we are suddenly settled in this little cottage by the roadside. They call it the Dower House, but it seems horribly small and cramped, with very low ceilings, and I never seem able to breathe inside it after the nice big airy Indian houses. I feel suffocated mentally and physically. The Hendleys, of course, are very nice, but they seem to be always away, and there is no one else save the Vicar and his wife, aged about one hundred and forty between them. I haven’t got a horse and we haven’t yet got a carriage, so I take gentle little walks with father across the fields—the roads are much too dangerous for pedestrians on account of the motors.

“But I must not forget to tell you what happened immediately after we said good-bye to you at Charing Cross. It was really rather funny though tragic at the time. We rushed off to a hotel and then I hustled mother ofF to a shop to get new clothes. We had to leave by seven o’clock the next day, but that shop rose to the occasion nobly and promised us everything we wanted in the time. We ordered a full new rig-out and it was all to be round at the hotel by five o’clock next afternoon. We were in great feather. But, alas! next day we had been out all the afternoon, and on returning about half-past five we hoped to find that everything had arrived. Imagine our horror on asking at the Inquiry Office to find that the things had come but that the idiot of a man sent with them had taken them away again, as he refused to leave them without cash down. Mother and I looked at one another helplessly for a minute. It was so cruel to see all one’s beautiful things, that one had counted upon to delight the eyes of Royalty, swept away like that. But I took prompt action. It would soon be time to start for the station. There was nothing to be done but to hurry round to the shop on the way and rescue them. Taking everything we had with us, we set out in a dreadful old four-wheeler that simply crawled. It was the most irritating drive I have ever had. Should we or should we not succeed in rescuing our clothes? Awful possibility, might we be obliged to appear in what we had? Being a man I can’t expect you to sympathise fully. But any woman would.

“We reached the shop at last. It was closed. Mother would have given in then, but I still clung to a last hope. ‘Let’s see if we can get in at the back,’ I said to father and we hurried out and down a side street that looked promising. Joy of joys, there was a man just closing up the back door. We flung ourselves upon him in passionate appeal. He looked at us suspiciously, but admitted that some parcels had just been returned undelivered. Reluctantly he reopened the door and let us in. There in a sort of warehouse were our parcels with a note. I literally fell upon them in my joy, but I think my obvious delight deepened the suspicion of the shopman. He resolutely declined to let those things go without the cash. Opening the note he found the bill inside. Although I think he still had some doubts as to our identity, he agreed to let us have the things on our paying cash for them. The bill came to forty-five pounds odd. Father at once produced his cheque-book, but that evil and suspicious shopman waved his hand. A cheque wouldn’t do. He must have cash. I stood clutching the largest parcel and looked appealingly at father. Was he worth that amount in cash as he stood? For a moment he looked at me doubtfully, then he emptied out his pockets on a table. He had four ten-pound notes and just over four pounds in cash. Fortunately I had a few pounds. But the great question was whether if we paid for the goods we should have enough money to buy our tickets. That shopman was inexorable. He refused to take anything on account. Time was passing and we had to catch that train. So I persuaded father to pay and trust to luck that we might be able to pay for our tickets afterwards. We hurried off to the station in fear and trembling and found that we had just enough to get second-class tickets, but how much should you think that left us over? Just ninepence. And it was a night journey, and we were to dine on board the train—the three of us on ninepence! Poor mother was already faint with hunger and anxiety, but we daren’t even get her a little brandy on only ninepence. ‘My only hope,’ said father, looking round the platform anxiously, ‘is that I may see a friend.’ But though we stood up above the crowd on the steps of the carriage and carefully scanned every corner of the platform there was not one face in sight we knew. It made one feel very lonely, especially as it meant no dinner too! The first whistle had gone and we were giving up hope when father suddenly exclaimed, ‘There’s Patrick!’ and simply tore off across the platform. You know how dignified father is generally. It would have been comic if it hadn’t been so tragic to see him careering over the platform like that. Patrick, I should explain, is a most undesirable second cousin of father’s who has all his life been trying to get a billet or help of some sort out of him. Father had always spoken of him in the coldest and most disapproving manner, so that the joy in his voice as he exclaimed ‘There’s Patrick’ and the warmth with which he shook Patrick’s hand and dragged him towards the carriage door were all the more remarkable. I never quite knew what father said to him, but there was only about a minute to say it in, and before any of us had quite recovered our breath we were steaming out of the station and father had fallen back on the seat with an infinite sigh of relief clutching two golden sovereigns in his hand. The last I saw of Patrick he was standing looking after the train with a slightly dazed look, like the look of a man who has been badly done and has only just realised it when too late. As for us we hurried off without remorse and dined sumptuously on our borrowed gold and after that all went well with us. The Convocation was very stately and imposing (and so of course was father) and the Royal and Distinguished Personages were more than gracious. But I have already written unconscionably many pages. You shall hear the rest when you come to stay with us.

“Your sincerely,

“Sybilla Sturt.”

The End


Book Review

The Adventures of an A.D.C. by Shelland Bradley (The Bodley Head)

So slight a thread of narrative holds together “The Adventures of an A.D.C” that its several chapters suggest the rare art of the essay, which wanders like a leisure stream through kind and gentle and gossipy country. Our Eastern possessions are a Promised Land to the novelist. To regard an Englishman moving in the life and air of what is broadly called the Native, ruling him and his ancient traditions with a mushroom but inflexible civilisation, while the Native invests him with an Oriental magnificence, is an interesting spectacle and stirring to national pride. It combines the imperial glamour with a piquancy of fancy dress. And when, as in Miss Bradler’s book, he is seen with such knowledge and kind humour, we get as far as most of us are likely to travel, Kipling in hand, to the heart of Anglo-India. The young officer who, by a fluke of feminine rivalry, gets the billet of A.D.C. and leaves his regiment in the heat of Daulutper for the Government House of Monaling, tells of his doings there with a gay spontaneity, unconscious of bookmaking, which is wonderfully effective. He must have been a heaven-sent A.D.C. to the stately LieutenantG-overnor of the Northern Provinces and his kindly, erratic wife, and he is certainly a remarkable triumph for the lady who has painted him with masculine insight untricked by one of the meretricious ornaments which the fair fondly invent for the brave. He is interested in women, and in love, yet neither sighing nor dying; proud of his profession, but honestly glad to desert the discomfort of it awhile for Lady Sturt’s cool drawing-room; confessedly open to gossip, though treating it with that kindly detachment of the male which finds a honey of sweet human interest in the nettles; and possessed of a well-bred chivalry that would wish always to be generous, but sees as well the necessity of being just, even to himself. A man’s man, built as truly for men’s friendship as women’s love, and Miss Bradley is to be congratulated for him. He is a delightful guide in the tracking of the wheels within wheels that turn a corner of Anglo-Indian society, one with whom one laughs often, and reflects sometimes. If his duties suggest a more suitable title of A.D.B.—B. standing for boudoir—it is also true that the observance of Tables of Precedence and the pilotage of Lieutenant-Governors’ wives through social engagements are as vital elements of civil government as the pattern of a rifle or the conduct of parade to successful war. Keeping is as important as acquiring and often needs more finesse. Miss Shelland Bradley’s A.D.C. writes an entertaining and convincing page from the great story of how we are keeping India.

Source: The Sketch: A Journal of Art and Actuality, Volume 70. (June 8, 1910)