Locust Food


Part One — Mount Road


The bright December sunshine of South India lit Mount Road from end to end, from Fort St. George to the Marmalong Bridge. An airman flying over Madras City would have seen it like a long black snake, writhing from north to south, always roughly parallel to the white eastward line of the Bay breakers. Like sparse beads on a string or like irregular fins on the snake, Madras was threaded along it. The black line crossed the island like a ribbon, nosed through the gut of traffic between the Willingdon Bridge and Spencer’s, cut the babel and squalor of the Thousand Lights bazaar and tailed off southwards, avenued in magnificent trees, through Teynampet and Saidapet to the Adyar river. Beyond, it took open country—the yellow Race-course buildings of Guindy, the holy hillock of St. Thomas’ Mount, the quarries of Pallavaram. Like a thread it ran through the city of Madras, north to south, and Madras clung to it—shops, churches, clubs, hotels, great bungalows in their grounds, the close huddle of bazaars. The impartial December sun lit all with a level, colourful yet soulless radiance.

Where the beads crowded thickest, in the best part of the Mount Road shopping centre, the imposing façade of South Indian Services gave back the light triumphantly. Mock temple pillars split immense areas of plate glass; within, the magnificent forms of thoroughbred motor-cars lurked amidst carpets, rosewood writing tables and vast palms in brassbound wooden pots. An imposing prosperous place was South Indian Services as befitted the heart and nucleus of enormous conceptions—too imposing for the taste of one of the partners who owned it, not imposing enough for the other. On the former of these partners—on Martin Blacklock Armory—the sun now shone, for he was working in the repair yard on the carburettor of a Stiegler car. On the latter—on Charles Heseltine Barclay—the sun did not shine, for he was standing in the showroom on a strip of red carpet, his hands in the pockets of a remarkable silk suit, whistling softly. Martin Armory’s brain was busy, for the carburettor of the Stiegler Straight Eight was a troublesome—indeed a finicking—piece of machinery; Charlie Barclay’s mind was vacant—he was thinking that soon it would be about time for a gin-and-bitters.

Somewhere also in Madras—probably in the cool upstairs room of a big Chetput bungalow—was Cassie van Rennen, very lovely, very competent, completely in command of herself and her affairs: and in the background of the thoughts of Martin Armory Cassie was—as always of late—a principal ingredient. Later in the day—if this tormenting carburettor could be made just right—Martin would take Cassie for a trial run in the Stiegler. And the run would have implications beyond mere business transaction, would involve relationships transcending those of salesman and client. . . .

At the moment Cassie was not thinking of Martin; she was sending invitations, answering invitations, ordering dinners, lunches, drinks, ice, fruit. For the moment the running of her brother’s big house, the expansive social side of his life, his American conception of hospitality, absorbed her ample energy. But presently, when the rush of all this was over, she would sit back in her chair and bite the end of her fountain-pen; and the forehead above her red-brown eyes would knit and she would begin to puzzle over Martin Armory—what he thought, what he wanted, what he did with his life, what was wrong with the man.


For the fifth time in the straight level mile by Teynampet Martin put his foot down sharply on the accelerator of the Stiegler Straight Eight. For the fifth time the Stiegler Straight Eight responded briskly, choked, coughed that exasperating dry cough and responded again.

Patiently Martin threw his gear into neutral and allowed the big car to roll itself to a standstill in the shade of a vast banyan. Patiently he descended and surveyed the sleek monster. The Stiegler Straight Eight was nothing if not impressive; it was in motors what Charlie Barclay was among men. It was finished in an unusual shade of golden brown; it was upholstered in terra-cotta leather; with Transatlantic profusion it was chromium-plated wherever chromium-plating would go. But at the moment Martin hated it.

Kandaswami, the Indian foreman fitter, crept laboriously from the cushionless back seat on the edge of which he had been perched. The Stiegler overpowered Kandaswami, it was so bright, so clean, so rich in colour, so like the paintings of Hindu gods in a German oleograph, so unlike life.

“I t’ink better taking back to the Comp’ny,” he volunteered.

Martin’s black eyes glowered at him.

“I daresay you do. But we’re not going to. This car’s got to run to-day somehow sometime. That missie coming this afternoon.”

“That missie buying this car?” Kandaswami had all the interest of his class in a deal, though it meant nothing personally to himself.

“Not if it makes noises like that. That missie knowing plenty.” For a moment the vision of “that missie” stood before him—Cassie van Rennen, infinitely cool, infinitely provocative, appraising car—and dealer—with her level eyes. Yes—she knew plenty. . . . Cassie’s soft American voice; “Ma’tin,” —how did she pronounce Martin; was it the “r” or the “t” she left out? Anyway it was charming—”Mar’in, it’s a dud.” Cassie! What a name—and she herself almost the perfect girl, gold-brown (like the Stiegler), soft yet deadly, sleepy yet immediately alive, completely feminine yet completely capable. Cassie; why the devil did she exist; and why, of all places in the known world, in Madras? He threw up the Stiegler’s immense bonnet. The engine raced under his fingers, roared; then again—pop!

“Man made this thing,” thought Martin, “therefore man can mend it.” Cassie would have admired his face as he bent over his work; it was a good face, fine-drawn, the skin a little tightly stretched over the framework, the black hair drawing away from the high temples; pale, featureless yet rich in expression. It was not a young man’s face, it was older than the twenty-nine years it should have represented; bitter experience hid in the tight upper lip and the creases at the corners of the curiously dark eyes; it was a set face—it would change little now in twenty years. A good face, what is called a Scots face, a little out-of-date, attractive, reliable, not handsome. . . . Long fingers, fine as a musician’s, fiddled with the Stiegler’s intricate adjustments.

Martin was thinking, “These Stiegler carburettors will do us down yet; who’s going to take all this trouble with the things? We should have had the Jutbins.” Yet Charlie had been right in a way. “Damn-it-all-oldboy” Charlie had exclaimed in one of his agglutinate phrases, “You can’t have a car called a Jutbin. Everybody’ll be calling it the Dustbin in a week.” Why hadn’t Jutbin Brothers of Toledo seen that for themselves and called their otherwise excellent cars by some name other than their own? Sometimes Americans had no sense of humour: and sometimes they had. Cassie, for instance; when the gold lights began their dance in Cassie’s smoky eyes you knew she was laughing at you. She knew plenty; she knew a lot too much. . . . “Ma’tin!” Or was it “Mar’in” ? . . . Both; neither.

The Stiegler, suddenly capitulating, conceded by its booming roar that human ingenuity had for the moment achieved a possible; Martin and Kandaswami climbed back into their places. Martin ran the big car slowly to the end of the straight, wheeled, ran it back again half-way, stepped prayerfully on the accelerator pedal. The Stiegler leapt with a silent accession of speed like the spring of a tiger. Apprehensively Martin tried it again; again the tiger leapt. He sat back in his seat with a sigh of relief. If the Stiegler would do that for Cassie— He realised with a tinge of weariness that the getting of this car just right for Cassie had occupied almost an entire forenoon; the clock on St. George’s Cathedral made it just twelve and far away in the Fort the midday time gun boomed. In four hours Cassie would come for her car.

“I’ll try her down the Marina,” thought Martin and swung right-handed into the shaded reaches of Cathedral Road. Cassie! One of these days he would have to go to Cassie and say to her, “Either you or I will have to leave this city.” And the gold lights would jump up in Cassie’s brown eyes and she would say “Ma’tin,”—or was it “Mar’in”?—“don’t be fo-o-olish.” How many “o’s” did she put into “foolish?” Uncatchable, charming mispronunciations!

Cathedral Road opened suddenly on the Bay of Bengal—blue, empty, fretting ceaselessly at the sands. The Marina lay like a shiny black ribbon; in the evening it would be crowded with a procession of cars, but now it was deserted, it was the Stiegler’s own to devour. The noon sunshine of December was vivid enough to illuminate, yet not strong enough to kill colour; it was hot yet fresh. The intensely blue sea threw itself on the Beach in froths of dazzling white curiously soundless; in the gardens the cannas blazed incredibly; the sun struck lesser suns from the tarred surface of the roadway. Beauty, thought Martin,—it leapt on you suddenly and caught you unawares; content fell on you silently as a cloud; peace wrapped you ere you knew it. . . . Then it fled leaving a vacuum in which nothing seemed important; Madras appeared a good place as places go; selling motors as tolerable as anything else. Once you had crashed—for good, for ever—nothing made any great odds.

He pressed his pedal and his tiger sprang roaring beneath him; the sea and the cannas and the white sand flew by in a blur. The big office buildings at the north end raced to meet him, passed like red clouds, he was at the Napier Bridge. . . . It wasn’t a bad world, though it might hold horrible things. Not a bad world though it made you pay for your mistakes. Not a bad world for those who restrained expectation and those who refused to look backwards. He pulled up and gave the wheel to the passionless Kandaswami.

“She’ll do now—till four.”


The Mount Road showrooms of South Indian Services were lavish; from the mock temple pillars sprang horses, lions, spearmen, monsters in the best tradition; between the pillars and through the acres of plate glass the passer-by discerned the magnificent forms of the Stiegler Straight Eight in all its varieties and of its working sisters the Stiegler Six bus and the Stiegler Light Six truck. Golden-brown—or canary yellow in the sports models—they gleamed forth upon Mount Road like fires, blasting additional light and warmth into that already over-lit and overheated thoroughfare. Tempting, expensive things! Still, Martin admitted to himself, they made a noble show; if only Sissie could sell them all—and the vast consignments that waited to follow them. He gazed up at the immense gilt letters over the door, at the whole challenging reckless frontage. Sissie! South Indian Services had originally been called, more informatively, South Indian Motor Services but the soul of Charlie Barclay had revolted against this ponderous title. “Damn-it-all-oldboy,” had said Charlie, “what can you do with it? S.I.M.S.—Sims. Doesn’t mean anything. But cut out the ‘Motor’ and you get S.I.S.—Sis, Sissie. Snappy, oldboy.”

“S.O.S. more likely,” Martin had said gloomily, looking more like a fifteenth century Scottish poet than usual.

Entering from the glare of Mount Road, Martin saw Charlie posed superbly against a rich background of Stieglers, and he was struck again by Charlie’s placid perfection. He was like an impossibly fine waxwork. Martin was twenty-nine and might have passed for thirty-five; Charlie at thirty-three had the blandly provocative face of a choir-boy. His fair hair with just the trace of a wave surmounted a round countenance on which not a single line or wrinkle or blemish existed; his blue eyes swam in whites of a porcelain clarity. Yet to Martin’s knowledge—for they lived together—Charlie as often as not began his day with the restorative known as a Horse’s Neck and he was ready at any or all hours to partake of a cocktail or a pink gin or a mixed vermouth with anybody who offered. “Why doesn’t he get tight?” Martin used to wonder, but no ordinary day of pink gins and Club tiffins could make Charlie in any degree tight; and no amount of late nights and lounging forenoons and complete absence of exercise could mar or mark the cherub’s face he turned upon the world. “I pay cash,” Martin would reflect nursing a sick headache after a Bachelors’ Ball or a Rugger Dinner, “Charlie does it on tick.” It was comforting at such times to reflect on the magnitude of Charlie’s probable bill; for there was something more than a little maddening in that waxen invulnerability, that apparently complete immunity from the punishment of ordinary sin.

There he stood among his golden Stieglers, a little too sleek, a little too luminous, but garbed in a silk suit no other man in Madras could buy—let alone wear; clear of eye, even and white of teeth, beautiful, godlike. Who wouldn’t buy a car from such a creature? Who wouldn’t fall for him?

“Hallo, oldboy!” Charlie’s “oldboy” cannot be reproduced on paper; it was not two words, it was not even one, it was just a sound. As a German says “Bitte” whenever a pleasant noise is required, so Charlie said “Oldboy.”

“Hallo, oldboy. I was just thinking of having a spot. Come through and join me. You’ve had a long morning, eh?”

Martin felt weary. “That damned carburettor. You know, Charlie, we ought to have had the Jutbins.”

Charlie was splashing gin into a tumbler.

“Well, we haven’t. And anyway the Stiegler’s a better bus. What more do you want? We were damned lucky to get it. If I hadn’t sweated blood with those sharks in Bombay——”

“Everybody isn’t going to spend a whole morning scuttering with a carburettor.”

“Everybody isn’t going to take out a girl in the afternoon. You will have everything so darned perfect; no pleasing you. Carburettor’d have adjusted itself in time; they all do. Here’s cheers, oldboy.”

Martin drank and felt better. It was impossible to look at Charlie—assured, immaculate, king of his world—without a sense of immediate improvement.

Charlie never even sweated though the wise men said that went onto the credit account too.

“You look a bit tucked-up this morning, Marty. Now listen. I sold a seven-seater saloon to the Zamindar of Kalladi an hour ago. Call that nothing? I was going to keep it to cheer you up at lunch but now I’ve let it go.”

Martin frowned.

“Kalladi? H’m. He’s not too flourishing these days. Did he pay for it? “

“He paid two thousand down.”

“It cost us more than that.”

“Dear old chap!” Charlie drained his glass. “He’ll pay all right. I’m always telling you—if you’re going to do business in this country, you’ve got to give endless credit. We all live by signing chits. Why, even Government have the sense to realise that. Look at their loans. . . . Let’s tiffin.”

“Just a moment. Did you take anything from Kalladi in part payment.”

“Well—yes. I allowed him a thousand on an old Buick. I’ll trade it for eight hundred to-morrow. Now, Marty, old chap, don’t fuss. Look here——”

On the way to lunch and all through lunch Charlie expatiated on his theories of business. You had to give credit, he explained again; look at these other firms—look at Crewle Brothers, look at George Niven. Always dunning, always shoving in their accounts, cadging, pestering. “Let ’em!” cried Charlie magnificently. “They’ll sicken their customers and round they’ll all come to Sissie. Everybody hates paying and everybody hates being dunned, but there isn’t one fellow in five hundred that doesn’t pay up in the end.” As to buying in other cars in part payment—“I saw your face, oldboy, when I said that about Kalladi’s Buick”—-how, Charlie asked, could you fill the world with Stieglers unless you cleared away the others? We’re here to carpet this Presidency with Stieglers, oldboy—carpet the place with them; how can we if there’s other things in the way? Look at the up-country bus-owner; if he’ll take on a Stiegler I’ll give him the very best price for whatever he’s got——”

“Which he hasn’t paid for,” Martin interjected.

“That’s his funeral—or his financial backer’s. No oldboy, you’ve got to be big, you’ve got to have vision. That’s where the Crewles and the rest of them slip up. Answer me this, Marty, how long have we been running Sissie?”

Martin yawned. “Ever since—well, you know. Seven weary years.”

“And has Sissie done well or hasn’t she?”

“She’s done well—amazing well. I’m not saying she hasn’t. But at the rate you want to go——”

Charlie, fighting his cheroot, waved his hands and plunged into fresh enthusiasms. Martin had begun lunch in a mood of depression; why, he thought, did God throw moments at you, flash glimpses, dower you with irrecoverable snatches of delight—and then resile, hide, vanish? That moment of emergence from Cathedral Road into the living radiance of the Marina—there had been something in that moment more than a blue sea and perfect weather. One saw peace, one visualised content, one was allowed to bathe in them for a moment; then they were gone. Why? Where? One could drive down Cathedral Road and into the Marina a thousand times and never feel again that exquisite flash of apperception. . . . So Martin sat depressed while Charlie rattled on about his carpet of Stieglers; but in the end Charlie won. It was impossible not to be carried away by Charlie, impossible not to be convinced. Martin, drugged by waves of optimism, fell into smiling somnolence.

Charlie too had fallen silent; he was grinding the butt of his cheroot in a copper ash-tray. Presently he looked up.

“What time’s Miss van Rennen coming?”


“Four, eh? . . . Look here, oldboy——”


“You’re not—you’re not getting soft?”

“No, I’m not.”

“I mean—you won’t go forgetting——”

“No, Charlie, I won’t go forgetting. Don’t worry.”

“You see, oldboy—” He looked into Martin’s face and stopped. “Well, I needn’t say more. You don’t mind my saying so much? You’re not vexed?”

Martin was touched. “Of course not. You can say anything you like to me; you know that by now.”

“It’s only——” Charlie rose uneasily from his chair—“Well, it would be a mess-up, wouldn’t it? There’s certain considerations——”

Martin rose with him. “There’s certain considerations, Charlie, that whatever I do about them, anyway I won’t go forgetting them.” “What grammar!” he thought; but it passed muster with Charlie.

Charlie proposed himself a siesta and Martin drove back to Sissie alone. Sissie’s plate glass frontage shone radiant in the afternoon sunshine. Martin saw it again as maniacally ambitious, prodigiously cocksure—-God knew why it hadn’t failed. Yet even this lunatic bluff, this castle of impudence, fell far short of Charlie’s soaring dreams. A Presidency “carpeted” with Stieglers, a Sissie in every South Indian town, a network of service stations, virtually the control of motor transport from the Bombay border to Comorin, a voice—a dictatorship—in the Government’s road policy; oh, madness, madness! The thing must crash; neither Martin Armory nor Charlie Barclay nor anybody else could hold it up.

In the yard Cassie’s Stiegler stood waiting, superbly spotless. Martin closed his eyes and instantly he saw Cassie as if she stood there by its side, tall and cool and slim in something reddish-purple, in terra-cotta brown, in smoked gold—some Cassie colour, unique, her very own. The lines of her body showed and did not show; you never saw them, you always saw them. He looked under her big hat and there were the eyes of that almost red brown with the gold specks dancing. The skin of her cheeks was dark—not sallow but brownly dark; there was one tiny mole at the corner of her jaw and neck. Looking downwards from her eyes you thought her brown; looking upwards from her throat you found her milky white. She had a little tilted nose with nostrils that did not exactly match; and below them was that amazing mouth—the mouth that spoke so when it was shut, that sang irrecoverable songs when it was silent. And behind all, covered by all, a deep deep thing that had a counterpart somewhere as deep in himself. . . . And Cassie’s slow soft voice, the least thing husky, the low musical Virginian voice speaking those clipped lost consonants, those accumulated “o’s,” as different from the crude American accent as a fine violin from a saxophone. . . .

Martin opened his eyes. Maudlin, all this, or worse. For the less he saw of Cassie and the sooner he saw no more of Cassie the better; and the cruel act of conclusion would lie in his own hands. It was conceivable that the Amalgamated Oil Trust of America would remove their Madras manager, Ness van Rennen, elsewhere; in which case his sister, who was Cassie, would presumably follow him. It was conceivable—but it was in the last degree unlikely. The Trust were doing more and more business every day; one saw their Aota pumps and their immense Aota lorries everywhere and in ever-increasing numbers; Ness van Rennen was a first-class man and held their confidence. Moreover, it was little more than a year since Ness had come to Madras—some nine months since Martin Armory had first met Cassie at a Chetput dinner-party. There would be no transfer for Ness, no leave; Cassie loved her brother and she enjoyed Madras and there she would stay. So—there would be no help from without and whatever were to be done must be done by the hand and the tongue of Martin Armory. And it would have to be done; even if it came to revealing that unspeakable secret which Charlie—and one other—so faithfully guarded, to disclosing those “certain considerations” Martin wasn’t to go forgetting; even then, it would have to be done.

“Oh, Ma’tin, don’t be so fo-o-olish!”


A clerk answered Martin’s bell; said Martin, “I want to see our account with Stieglers Limited in Bombay; will you get it?” While the papers were being brought he descended a spiral staircase of wrought iron into Sissie’s other department—the works.

It was on the works side of Sissie that Charlie’s soaring schemes had originally concentrated; his idea had been to make a corner in the repair work of the Presidency; even at this interval of time—seven weary years, as he had said himself—Martin could hear his vivid expatiations. “Up-country specially, oldboy. You know what it is—firms all over the place and not one of them doing a decent reliable job. But then Sissie—you can depend upon Sissie. Fellows will come to know that. Then we get the work. Fellows will say, “There’s a Sissie over at So-and-so; I’ll take the old bus there.” They won’t mind paying us a bit more, for they’ll know the job will—be—done. I’d have a Sissie in every Municipality in Madras— there’s eighty of them. That would do to start with.” To-day Martin would have asked him where he expected to find competent supervision for all these scattered Sissies; at that time—at that horrible time the question of possible profits on the motor repairing industry had seemed the last, most infinitely unimportant detail of a completely meaningless world.

“What would I have done”—Martin asked himself the question not for the first time or the fiftieth “what would I have done then if it hadn’t been for Charlie? Would I have cut my throat or not? What would have happened?”

The big, high-roofed workshop was full of din. Martin called up the engineer, Peters, a Eurasian.

“Busy, Peters?”

“More’n we can do, sir. Much more.”

So Charlie had been right. Of course it was the best season of the year—the heart of the cold weather, people were getting their cars into order for Christmas touring and so on. Still, the fact remained that Sissie, charging five per cent. more than any other Mount Road firm, was getting the business. The colossal cheek, the glorious impudence of the whole venture overwhelmed Martin again; these two young men—infants, you might say; he himself had been twenty-two—descending upon Madras from the Bombay side with half a dozen introductions and calmly setting themselves up in this monstrous palace in the leading thoroughfare of the City. Two young men who had been Club members in Bombay—and became so again in Madras—setting up as tradesmen; two young asses, who really knew nothing about it, setting up to bluff an already overcrowded industry. Six months one would have given them at a generous estimate; less than that, it had been, according to the Crewle brothers and to George Niven; and now Sissie had been flourishing for seven years. If this Stiegler venture came off, if they could really sell Stieglers in quantity, Sissie might flourish for ever. Of course it was all Charlie; his own functions had been merely those of an occasional brake on Charlie’s wilder exuberances. Charlie was irresistible; he convinced, conquered. If anything happened to Charlie? Oh, well, nothing would. Don’t worry—it may never happen: splendid motto.

Back in the office, Martin went through the Stiegler account with some care. It was considerably heavier than he had thought. Already Sissie had two up-country branches—at Indole in the north and Hotnipatam in the south; Charlie had loaded these with Stiegler buses and trucks. The Mount Road showroom was as full as it would hold, there was a consignment ready to rail from Bombay and there were big advance orders placed in America through the Bombay house. “If we get stuck with these—” Martin thought, and had a moment’s dryness in the throat. But there was no great likelihood of that, after all; motor transport was booming, common-sense suggested that the boom could only be in its infancy; the Stiegler cars were undoubtedly first-class and were as undoubtedly catching on. Sissie owed a great deal of money; and a great many people owed a great deal of money to Sissie; and if everybody paid everybody it would be all right. That was how things seemed to stand.

Martin lit a cheroot and drove himself back to the big bungalow in Nungambakam; a clean silk suit was necessary before Cassie could be met. A couple of malis were already throwing water on the potted plants along the drive; the drawing-room was a cave of cool, shadowy magnificence, slightly reminiscent perhaps of Sissie’s show-room. They did themselves well, Martin reflected, he and Charlie: well, why shouldn’t they? He ordered a bath; while it came he mounted to his little sanctum and sat down.

Seven years ago when he and Charlie first came to live in that bungalow, Martin had been indifferent to most features of a destroyed and blasted world; but one thing his soul had demanded—a retiring-place for himself. Big or small, bare or richly-furnished, one required a hidey-hole one could enter and bar to outsiders. Rather surprisingly Charlie had felt the same, had in fact opened the question himself “Dining-room, drawing-room, lounge,” he had said. “And one private sitting-room each, oldboy. Chaps can’t live together if they can’t get away from each other once in a while. A room each; you don’t come into mine—I don’t come into yours.” So they had arranged it.

Martin’s sanctum was on the second floor—a little oblong room opening on three sides into the cool verandahs of the old-time Madras bungalow. He had furnished it with Spartan simplicity—a drab carpet with a blue border, some comfortable Singapore cane chairs with blue cushions. On the walls hung reproductions of old water-colours of South India—Daniels, Salt—intriguingly subfusc. On the right, looking through the verandah into the green of the compound, was a big oak writing-table; but on the left, facing the door, was the object that dominated the room—a very fine photograph enlarged to life size, of a middle-aged woman. It stood on an easel, challenging every entrant; of all things in the room it must be seen first. The bold signature, enlarged with the rest of the photograph, stared all comers in the face; “Frances Macneill” it said, proclaiming nationality. But there was no need of that revealing “Mac”; whatever is meant by a Scots face looked out from that picture. It was not a beautiful face, certain tastes would have called it almost plain; but it was a splendid face, magnificently serene, commandingly alive. Alone and by itself it would have furnished, would have beautified any room.

Ages ago Martin with defiant bravado had set up that easel and that picture in the Bombay flat he then inhabited with Charlie—and others; and it was then that Charlie, quite unwittingly, had laid the foundations of their friendship. There were wild scenes sometimes in that flat and Martin had felt doubts as to setting up the picture at all; Paton might say something or Gibb or even Charlie—in which case there would be murder done or near it. What happened was that Charlie came in and said with the callous bluntness of youth,

“Who’s that?”

“That,” said young Martin sententiously, as he had long determined to say it at just this moment, “is the only woman I ever loved.”

“Gosh!” said Charlie, “I don’t wonder.” He looked from the picture to Martin and back again; something of Martin’s pale gravity was there, something of Martin’s discontent, a stabilised, settled version of the doubt that looked out sometimes from Martin’s dark eyes. It would have staggered Martin in those days to suppose that Charlie thought of such things; it would have choked Charlie to speak of them. He said only,

“Not your mother?”

“No,” said Martin. “Her sister. My mother’s name was Macneill.”

“She’s like you,” said Charlie. “A bit, I mean,” he added hastily. “She’s fine.”

“You don’t mind my putting her up here?”

“Mind? Good God, no!”

“You don’t think the other chaps will say anything?”

“Wait till they do. This flat needs something decent in it darned badly. As for Paton and Gibb—I’m senior here.”

Martin loved him from that moment.

And now Frances Macneill stood in the Nungambakam bungalow and shed the serenity of her face over Martin’s sanctum. And how she did bring back old times, Martin thought, sitting now on the edge of his writing-table and looking into her eyes. Old, old times—incredible times, times in the life of some totally different person; Forfarshire, the Sidlaw Hills, Shielin, old General Macneill, Balcaldie, the Manse. These were items surely that could never have existed in the same life with Sissie and Charlie Barclay and Mount Road and—other things. Fras, Babs, Cassie; Shielin, Balcaldie, Frances Macneill—all one world? Not credible; definitely impossible to believe.

The eyes looked into his as they had looked at a little boy in a kilt come up from the Balcaldie Manse to spend a week-end at Shielin. And nothing in life—this much was certain—could ever again be so fine as those week-ends of escape and delight. One had felt so good; one had been so good.

“Are you liking, Martin dear?” As if the world depended on his answer.

“Terribly liking, Auntie Frances.” . . . Terribly indeed one had liked.

Well—it wasn’t Shielin, it was Mount Road; it wasn’t Auntie Frances, it was Life.


“Miss van Rennen here, sir.”

Martin, back at his office table at Sissie’s, glanced at his watch; four-thirty-five. He hadn’t thought it was so late; when one took to thinking, time flew.

“All right, Raghavan—I’ll come.”

In the showroom was Cassie; and at once and for the hundredth time Martin was struck by her genius for distinction. Cassie knew the beauty of her body and was adept in its presentation; adhering to a single decorative system, she contrived always to vary. Long lines—a faint stripe perhaps—that much could be predicted; but where did she unearth her materials, where did she discover these amazingly becoming, amazingly suitable colours? How did she contrive continually to ring the changes on the unique, the individual, the unprecedented? To-night she was vague golds and burnt sienna and very thin lines of almost black exactly complimentary to—a Stiegler car. Martin smiled; Cassie had foresight. He thought whimsically, “Cassie presents Cassie.”

“I’m late, Martin?”

“Not for you, Miss van Rennen.”

The smoky eyes with the elves of flame dancing in them glanced up under the brim of the big hat; the dark eyebrows lifted.

“Miss van Rennen, eh? Haven’t I got a name?”

“Yes. Cassandra.”

“Oh, listen to it! What’s Cassie done? Oh, Martin, be friends!”

“Ma’tin”; and “f’ends”; and the soft voice deliciously slurring the consonants.

“I am friends. But this is business. I’m here to show you the Stiegler Straight Eight; Model QV; otherwise the Philadelphia Sports Tourer.”

She smiled and sighed.

“We-ell. Show me it.”

Martin put on his hat. “Will you drive or shall I?”

“Oh, you, please. At first anyway.”

“And where shall we go. Mount? Elliott’s Beach? Pallavaram?”

“You sound like a bus conductor.” Cassie considered; the wonderful mouth trembled slightly, as a hovering bird trembles in a haze of heat. “Let’s go somewhere different. Isn’t there a place called Red Hills?”

“There is. It’s a particularly unpleasant drive.”

“But nice when you’re there?”

“Not too bad.”

“Then we’ll go. You’ve got to drive; I’ll shut my eyes till we reach the nice part.”

Martin started up the car, swung away through Nungambakam, Kilpauk, Perambur, the devious crowded streets of Sembiam. The Indian pedestrian with his passion for suicide by motor absorbed most of his attention; he said little. Cassie said nothing at all but her eyes were not shut; Martin was confidently aware that she was studying him under those dark lashes. What was she thinking about? Out on the Nellore road at last—broad and shady but horrible of surface—he found leisure to ask her.

“You’re very silent.”

“I’m enjoying myself. . . . Martin?”


“Are you happy? I don’t mean just now”—she checked quickly the flippancy that had risen to his tongue—“I mean generally. Don’t you sometimes regret——”

Did he sometimes regret? He bent over the wheel.

“Only mugs regret. . . . Shall I let her out a bit?”

“If you want to.” She knew herself snubbed, drew back into her corner, fell silent again. But when the car crested the low laterite ridge and the expanse of the Red Hills Lake spread out before them, she cried out in pleasure.

“Oh, lovely. Oh, I’m glad we came.”

Martin pulled up. “Well, we’re here.” He smiled mischievously. “Nothing to do now but go back.”

Cassie drew her slim body out of the car and shook out her skirt.

“I’m not going back yet. Let’s walk.”

They strolled along the huge bund of the reservoir. The lake was full after the monsoon rains; it stretched vast and shimmering to a distant frame of dun-ochre and washed emerald; the sun dropping towards the west struck level across it like a flame. Far away in the haze the square-shaped Ramagiri hills stood serene and complacent; further still, the jutting crag of Nagari. The lucid peace of the Indian evening embraced, absorbed the whole.

At the sluice Cassie sat down on the parapet.

“And people tell you,” she said slowly, “that India’s ugly. Can you beat it?”

Martin smiled. “You get the blind everywhere. And the blind leading them.”

She poked the gravel with her sunshade and peeped at him sideways. “Martin, you’ve never answered my question.”

“What question?”

“I asked if you didn’t sometimes regret?”

“Regret what?”

She laughed. “Give me a cigarette and quit whatting. You can’t put me off that way. Don’t be English. . . . You know quite well you didn’t plan to spend your life selling automobiles.”

Martin resigned himself; if Cassie were determined to be serious, serious she would be.

“So long as they’re good automobiles? And so long as I do sell them?”

“You should worry. But that’s not my question, I . . I want to” (not “wanna,” yet not “want to” either; what did she say?) “I want to know what you did before and what you planned to do instead. Let’s start with the war anyway.”

“I wasn’t in the war. I did join up but they blew time before I could get onto the ground. That was in ’18.”

“And you were eighteen then; wasn’t that the age?”

Martin nodded.

“And you’re twenty-nine now.”

“Your arithmetic, madam——”

She threw out a hand. “Now, Martin. Be friends. I want to talk to you. . . . Tell me, what did you plan to do then?”

Martin drew a pipe from his pocket and examined it carefully. “I wanted to be a doctor.”

“And what went wrong?”

Martin hid behind the flame of a match.

“That would be a long story. And a dull one.”

“Maybe, maybe not.”

“Things happened. And then other things. Anyway——”

Cassie’s eyes, smokily considering, never left him; she leaned forward.

“Tell, Martin.”

He shook himself erect.

“No, Cassie.” Too late he remembered that she was to have been “Miss van Rennen”—-and saw instantly that she remembered too. He went on hastily. “I—I just made rather a muck of things and sculled about a bit. But by God’s grace I knew a first-class chap——”

“You mean Mr. Barclay?”

“I mean Charlie. And he pulled me out and put me where I am now. And damned lucky to be there. I told you only mugs regretted, but if I regretted that I should be something super in the mug market.”

Cassie’s voice was almost inaudible. “But maybe you regret the other things. The other things that happened.”

“Maybe I do,” said Martin, “Maybe I don’t. I’ve no great patience with regretters. Mug’s game.”

He glanced sideways at the watch on his wrist and she caught him.

“You want to go?”

“I don’t want to—I’ve got to.”

“You’ve a date somewhere?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Oh—then.” She was on her feet at once, cool, smiling, but disappointed.

Dead-still, in steel-blue and red-gold, evening made her brief visit. Soon there would be night and a moon; meantime time and space halted in that tense, exquisite interval that closes the Indian day. The lake and the red laterite hills and the distant trees and the white bulk of the bungalow lay bathed, steeped, saturated in light that came from nowhere, that came from everywhere at once.

Cassie turned her proud little head; if the hurt was still in her eyes she veiled it with those long lashes.

“You know, Martin, there must be a God. Look at all that.” She swept the evening with her arm. “Don’t you think?”

“M-m?” Martin felt doubtful. “I don’t feel any very certain persuasion. But then, you see, I was brought up in a Manse. My father was a Minister.”

“Manse? Minister?”

“I don’t know the American for Manse. A Minister’s what you’d call a parson—no, a preacher. And a good word too. That’s just what my father was. A preacher. He was always preaching.”

“Isn’t he alive, then?”

Martin looked at her curiously.

“I’m not quite sure. . . . My mother’s dead. She spoilt me.”

“Something’s spoilt you.”

Martin, despite himself, was stung to question.

“What makes you say that?”

Cassie fingered her bizarre red-brown beads.

“I don’t think you want to be told—not by me anyway. But I—I’ve watched you a bit now and then when you weren’t knowing. You’re bitter—but then lots of young men are that; it’s a kind of pose with them. But you’ve got a look about you, sometimes——”

He fell back, hating himself, on flippancy.

“Oh? I’ve a look about me sometimes, have I?” Cassie let her beads fall clashing.

“I’d have talked to you, Martin, I’d have liked to talk to you—if you’d have been friends. But you won’t be. You don’t want to be, I suppose.”

Something warm suddenly took Martin by the heart; he knew that his blood stirred. He said slowly,

“We couldn’t be friends, Cassie.”

He regretted it infinitely as soon as it was said. But if she had heard him at all she took no notice; she walked on idly, fingering her beads, her face turned away.

On the drive back she chatted vivaciously—of a hundred items in the small daily life of Madras, of this club acquaintance and that. Martin, driving with care through the dusty, infinitely tortuous by-roads by which the city is entered from the north-west, let her rattle on. Enough had been said, he thought, for one afternoon; too much.

She asked him to take her to the Adyar Club and he swung right at the Cathedral; on the Teynampet straight of unblessed memory the Stiegler soared to sixty steadily and without choke or cough. Slowing down, Martin suddenly remembered that he was giving a business demonstration; Charlie would want to know something.

“How do you like her?” he asked.

Cassie came out of a reverie.

“Oh, I like her. I’m going to have her. You’re sure I could drive her?”

“An infant could.”

“Well, I’ll have a try to-morrow morning. There’s a lot of little things I want to learn about her. Will you send her round?”

“I’ll bring her round.”

There was a flat emphasised silence. Then Cassie said,

“No, Martin. You’ve been ever so kind; I won’t take more of your time. Send a driver.”

Martin looked straight in front of him. “I’ll send the foreman.”

They ran noiselessly into the porch of the Adyar; it was a dance evening and the band invited. Cassie paused, her foot on the step.

“Come in, Martin. Have a drink.”

He shook his head. “I can’t; I told you I had an appointment.”

“It must be a very important appointment.”

“It is.”

“It’s a girl, Martin.” She had her back to the lights of the Club, her face was a blur of darkness; she might be joking, she might not; an inflection in her voice advised him to walk warily.

“It isn’t a girl, Cassie. I’ll tell you who it is.”

She lingered. “Well—who?”

“It’s an elderly gentleman who used to be an Inspector in the Reserve Police.

“And he’s—important?”


“You won’t even come in and have a drink with Ness? He’s here. I won’t ask you to dance.”

“If I could come in you wouldn’t need to. . . . No, Miss van Rennen.”

She laughed—low, delicious, kind.

“Good night, Mr. Armory.”

Mugs regretted, Martin told himself as he slipped back towards Mount Road; only mugs regretted; undeniably true. You considered your circumstances and you made a decision and you carried it out; if thereafter you regretted and whined to go back you declared yourself a fool. God dealt no second chances; compensations, yes; second chances, no.

Yet there were items the most resolute must regret—such as the deliberate wounding of Cassie. Cassie had staged that evening—towards some aim, some climax she herself in all probability saw but dimly; yet stage it she certainly had. The gentle confidence inviting serenity of Red Hills had been no chance decision; Cassie had started out with a hope, however unformed, an intention, however vague. That hope and intention it had been his wretched business to destroy. Cassie had steered for a fixed point, a new milestone in friendship, ready perhaps to go further if fate willed; it had been his business—his wretched business—to see that they never even reached the preliminary point. Finally, he must needs cap all with his idiot offer to bring the car to her next day. Then she had shown how deep the hurt had gone. “You’ve been ever so kind: I won’t take more of your time.” Kind! He’d been a brute.

But it had to be done; God knew it had to be done. As surely as now at the cross-roads he must turn south instead of north. Instead of taking Cassie in his arms and dancing with her on the Adyar floor; instead of going back to the bungalow for a drink; instead of doing any of these things which a free and sensible and unhaunted man would do, he must now turn south into the darkened country and make for St. Thomas’ Mount.

You didn’t get a second chance; there was no re-deal. Certain mistakes, once made, were made for ever.


A fanfare of Cantonment bugles led Martin into St. Thomas’ Mount. The December moon, still short of the full, lit the empty parade-ground with a blaze of infinitely refined sunshine; on the far side the white of the church glimmered; on the summit of the Mount itself a dim lamp, orange-yellow against the moonlight, marked the ancient chapel with its miraculous bleeding stone. Great trees stood like black castles in the windless evening; in the lines someone played softly on a drum, singing the endless aimless Indian songs. For the moment tranquility descended on Martin again; the god whom Cassie had seen at Red Hills stooped towards him in passing. Whatever one regretted, one could never at least regret India; the intriguing, repelling, enchanting mistress of a country that she was!

The little house called “Colenso” stood discreetly back from the road—a rough, pitted by-way, never intended for Stieglers. It was almost buried in black mango trees—the wild sort that bears small, ill-flavoured, scarcely edible fruit. Splashed with the blaze of moonlight, barred with the tree-shadows, it looked camouflaged—a secret little house, hiding. A swinging lamp burned in the verandah; from a paddy-field at the back came the multitudinous roar of frogs.

Martin switched off his lights, threw his hat into the back seat, pushed his way through the familiar wheezing gate. For the thousandth time perhaps he strode up the shallow steps and into the house where, for seven long years, he had kept his son.

A little man, sandy-haired, rosy-faced, incongruously young-looking, sprang from a cane chair; blue eyes sparkled above the tiny waxed moustache of the ex-N.C.O. Eighteen years Army; ten years Reserve Police; that, Cottle would have told you proudly, was his record.

“Why, Mr. Armory! We wasn’t expecting you to-night.”

“I know, Cottle, I know. But I’ve something to show you.”

“Something good?”

“Very good—-so far as it goes.”

“Then I’ll call the missis.” His parade-ground bellow shook the quiet little house. “Julie! Julie!”

Mrs. Cottle, a darkly pretty Eurasian woman, stole into the room almost without sound. She wore a green sleeveless frock; a single broad gold bangle glowed on her brown arm; under the black waves of her fine hair lustrous eyes looked out expectantly.

“Good evening, Mrs. Cottle.”

“Oh, Mister Armory.” She spoke softly but with the unmistakable cadence of her kind; the big brown sleepy eyes searched Martin’s face. “You ’aven’t come to say anything’s wrong?”

Martin burst out laughing. “You’re a bright pair. I come to show you something interesting and you both want to know if anything’s ‘wrong’.”

“It’s most often like that,” said Mrs. Cottle, remembering doubtless the interminable catastrophes of a vast Eurasian connection. “But Francie’s all right isn’t it?”

For the ten thousandth time Martin winced at that “Francie”; he hated it beyond expression. For the ten thousandth time he disguised his feelings.

“Very much so.”

“He’ll be coming for Christmas?”

“He’ll be coming.”

The Cottles looked at each other.

“We’ve missed him.”

“And I’ll bet he’s missed you,” said Martin kindly. “If he hasn’t he’s an ungrateful young devil.”

“Oh, Mr. Armory!” Julie was shocked. “To call thee sweet child by such a name. Why——”

Cottle came to the rescue. “Now, missis, you might let us see what Mr. Armory’s brought. We could do with the sight of something cheery.”

Martin fished in his breast pocket, drew out the letter that had crackled there through all that drive with Cassie. If Cassie could have seen it!

“It’s his school report,” he said with sheepish pride. “First term.”

The Cottles snatched the paper from his hands and bent over it together, spelling out the entries, the fair head jostling the dark. Martin, standing a little apart, watched them quizzically. What dears they were after all; and how amazingly decent they had been to himself and to—Fras. They gave little cries of excitement as they studied the report; Cottle said “’Ere,” and jabbed with a thumb. “Conduct excellent,” read Mrs. Cottle proudly. “Look to that now!” Like a chorus they intoned together the concluding verdict of the report—“Has made a very good beginning.” “What price that?” said Cottle. “Oh, I will cry,” said his wife—and did.

“I said St. ’Bastian’s was the place for ’im,” said the ex-inspector, bristling with satisfaction. “It’s a good school. You can’t get away from it.”

Martin put the report carefully back in his pocket.

“There’s another thing,” he said. “I’ve had a letter from the Principal, Brother Gervase. He says the kid has done jolly well all round and then he goes on to say he read from the letter in his hand—“‘Did you know he has a quite unusual talent for music? Brother Baptiste says he will make him a violinist. It may seem foolish to talk so of a child of seven, but Brother Baptiste rarely is mistaken.’ It does seem foolish to me. You can’t play the violin at seven.”

The Cottles were looking at each other.

“Did we know?” said Cottle. “Did we?”

“Always I said it,” said his wife.

“Well, then, you did,” said Martin, half-laughing, “but everybody thinks their own kids are winners. I always thought he liked Mrs. Cottle’s playing.” Flash-like came the memory of those awful evenings—the cracked piano, the fearsome repertoire Mrs. Cottle played with laboured accomplishment—“Le Jet d’Eau,” “By the Rippling Brook,” “Auf Capri”—the boy standing silent at her knee, his little dark head on a level with the keyboard.

“He did like it,” said Mrs. Cottle positively. “Always when I played he would be good. And when he was naughty I would say——”

“Well, anyway, it’s fine,” said her husband cutting in on the flow of reminiscences. “And now, sir, what about a drink?”

Martin declined. “Must be going—late already.”

“Well, one of your favourites, then?” He wrenched off the lid of a drying-tin and held it out, beaming. For seven years Cottle’s discovery in cheroots—“two-eight a ’undred and silver paper round every blinkin’ one of ’em”—had been a minor bane of Martin’s life; for seven years he had kept up the illusion that they were his “favourites.” Smaller things no doubt have been accounted to man for righteousness.

Martin lit the favourite, sucked it and assumed his usual relish. At the foot of the road it would go overboard, but Cottle, good soul, would never know.

“Good night, Mrs. Cottle. I’m glad he’s done you credit.”

Mrs. Cottle fidgeted. “About ’is ’ealth, sir. . . Always ’e was ’aving these colds.”

Martin’s face darkened. The boy, otherwise sturdy and strong, had been troubled at times with what seemed a mild sort of asthma ending invariably in a badly inflamed throat. Doctors, as usual, had differed; two out of three had been buoyantly reassuring, the third gloomy. Now, as ever, it was the verdict of the third that Martin remembered.

“They don’t mention it,” he said uneasily. “They’ve never written. If there had been anything really bad they must have told me.”

Mrs. Cottle was only half-satisfied. “We’ll see him at Christmas?” The note of alarmed suspicion still hung in her voice.

“I won’t let you down. You’ll see him.”

Cottle came to the gate. “I’m glad ’e’s got such a good chit, sir. Shows we done our bit—me an’ the missis.”

“I never doubted that. . . . I’m glad about the music. If it’s true it might—make up for a lot.” Martin swung the gate, thought suddenly of the dark lonely road back to Madras. “You know, Cottle, I rather envy you—you and the missis.”

Cottle had the readiness of his class to dilate on his private affairs.

“She’s been a good wife to me, ’as Julie. But then I ’ad sense.” For the hundredth time he vented his little piece of self-complacence. “I ’ad the sense not to take ’er out of India and I ’ad the sense not to ’ave any kids. I ain’t regretted it.”

Martin smiled. “Only mugs regret, Cottle.” Regret, its apologia, seemed to be that day’s topic.

“You’re right,” said Cottle absently. His mind passed along an obvious transition. “We’ve missed little Francie,” he said.

Martin slipped in his gears.

“Well—so have I.”

*  *  *

It was the Church that had recommended the Cottles; the Church, coping with a wild, impossible young man, desperate of appearance and smelling slightly of brandy (“Spot of Justerini before battle, oldboy,” had been Charlie’s advice); the Church, not altogether distinguishing itself.

The Church, as represented by a local Chaplain, had been lying down resting after lunch in preparation for a strenuous evening’s tennis at the Bishop’s; and at first it had been almost grossly uninterested in Martin. Presently, however, Martin’s hag-ridden eyes had focused attention; here was a young man, bother him, who would not go away unsatisfied. His case, blow it, must be considered.

“But your child is—er—dark.”

“I know. I’m saying so. I don’t need you to tell me that.” Hate—fifteenth century hate—had burned in Martin’s face.

“There are Homes,” the Church had suggested. “Very reliable——”

“I know. I don’t want Homes. I won’t put the child in a Home. I come to ask you to recommend me to some decent people who’ll look after it. There’s no use talking to me about Homes.” He said something about “planters’ bastards” which the Church was mercifully too absent to hear.

“And the child is, or is to be, a—er—-Catholic?”


“But you are not a Catholic.”


“Then why——?”

“I can’t explain. It’s just so.”

The Church had stroked its chin. “It’s really very difficult. . . . You really ought to have gone to the Priest. . . . I don’t know. . . . You say the child is—er—illegitimate.”

“It is and it isn’t.”

“My dear fellow”—the Church looked timidly into that furnace of devouring hate—“that’s really impossible. The child must be illegitimate or not.”

“Well, then, I suppose it is.”

The Church sighed. “The pity of it!” Martin clenched his fists.

“I’m prepared to pay anything in reason. But it must be a decent household.” His control broke. “For God’s sake suggest something.” Tears of fatigue, of fury, of infinite bitterness stood in his eyes.

The Church reflected. “You insist on a European household.”

“I can’t insist on that. Good class Eurasian would do. It must be decent. They’d—they’d have to be kind to the kid, love it a bit. I’ll pay anything in reason.”

The Church decided that a chit to the Priest would meet the case; it bowed Martin out with promises; now he was going it could afford to be generous. It actually saw him to the door where a somewhat draggled ayah was showing a six-month’s child the Church’s bougainvillaea.

“That’s the kid,” said Martin—not without a glow. The little creature was smiling—looking wonderfully attractive.

“Oh—er—yes,” said the Church, and went hastily back to prepare for its tennis. But the tennis served God’s purpose after all, for at the Bishop’s the Church met a colleague from the Mount and the colleague suggested the Cottles.

“The woman wants to adopt a child—they’ve been childless; by arrangement, I believe—though she’s a Catholic. He calls himself one but he comes to me really when he wants to talk. But I doubt if they’d take on mere looking after. We can try. But—half-bred child, mother unknown or unproduced . . . it isn’t very hopeful.”

If Martin and his son had seen Cottle first, they would probably have been shown the door of Colenso for ever. But it was Mrs. Cottle who was in when they presented themselves and by good fortune Mrs. Cottle fell in love with Fras. There was something, too, in the dry, frenzied misery of Martin that went to her good little heart. Martin, a hate-ridden Ishmael on the outlook for open scorn or the crueller insult of smothered laughter, found instead a soft and comprehending kindness. So far did they go in friendship at that first meeting that Martin impetuously abandoned all his carefully made up tale—-most of it Charlie’s—of a tragically dead wife and mother. He looked Julie in her dark eyes.

“The kid—well, it’s——”

Understanding looked back at him.

“’is mother—she wasn’t like you-all?”

Martin nodded. “She wasn’t.” He took his resolve. “Never mind about his mother. He’ll have my name, he’ll be my son.”

Cottle’s Julie stroked the little dark head.

“Most of the time like he’ll be staying with us?”

All the time. I’ll only come and see him sometimes. Not often.”

Fras had reached out and taken Julie’s finger. She meditated.

“Always I wanted to adopt one baby. My ’usband doesn’t like——”

Martin was quick. “It’ll be just as if you’d adopted him.”

“Oh look to him!” cried Julie. Fras was smiling broadly: she suddenly kissed him. Martin saw that he had won.

Cottle, blasphemously angry, found his initial fulminations met with tears, his subsequent arguments with stubborn and protracted counters. He loved his wife—if you have given up everything for a woman it is folly not to love her—and in the end he gave way. But for long he was a difficulty—was short cross, as rude as he dared, as contemptuous as Martin would allow.

“I don’t ’alf like it,” he told his closer friends. “Not in our house. It ain’t the thing. I don’t say as ’e ain’t a Sahib. But what about the mother? What do we know? She might ha’ been anything. She wasn’t white anyway, that’s certain.”

But despite all protestations and convictions, time brought Cottle to like Martin and Martin to like Cottle. Martin came to admire the resolute, cocksure little man, to pass over the painful N.C.O. righteousnesses with which he was stocked; he had made his pact with life, and he had made his programme and carried it out. “I ’ad sense.” He had balanced the attractions of his Julie against the attractions of a retirement to his native Kent, the attractions of possible “nippers”; he had made his calculation and whatever the result had been, at least he had the sense to be satisfied with it. In turn, Cottle studied and approved Martin; from pure condemnation he came to a grudging admission of good intention—”’E’s no doubt doin’ ’is best now”; thence to speculation—“There’s something queer about this”; thence to downright curiosity—“I’d like to ’ear the ’ole story; two sides to it mebbe.” One night, suddenly, he heard it.

It was Fras’s second birthday and the celebration at Colenso had been on an unprecedented scale—not merely materially but spiritually as well. Cottle had condescended; he had been present from the outset, had played with the child quite genially, had dropped for the first time—and as it happened for ever—his attitude of superior virtue. He went so far as to see Martin to the gate—a thing he had never done before. He was in a soft mood, inclined to babble about “Francie.”

“’E’s smart,” said Cottle. “’E’s a clever one, that. I suppose, Mr. Armory” (in those days Cottle never said “sir”) “’e must get it from you. . . . In the nature o’ things——”

“He can’t,” said Martin absently.

Eh?” said Cottle.

Martin swung the gate, looking at him kindly.

“You’ve been extraordinarily decent to me,” he said reflectively. “You and Mrs. Cottle.”

Cottle’s genuine heart was smitten at this tribute he knew to be undeserved.

“Mrs. Cottle maybe,” he said slowly. “I can’t say as I meself——” He fired suddenly. “I didn’t like it, y’know; I never said I did.”

“The way it was put to you,” said Martin, “I wouldn’t altogether blame you.”

Cottle was instantly eager.

“Meanin’ it was put to me—meanin’ it was maybe put to me wrong-like?”

The dark hid Martin’s smile. “Can you keep a secret, Cottle? From everybody?”

“I can.” The little man pulled himself erect. “I’m a believer in secrets. A still tongue keeps the peace. They say confession’s good for your soul—but it’s generally damn cruel on someone else’s. . . . There’s things I ’aven’t told Julie—no, and never will neither.”

“Then walk down this road with me,” said Martin, “and I’ll tell you something.”

In the dark, up and down, they walked together. It was a May night, breathlessly hot and sticky after a thunder-shower; ever afterwards the smell of wet earth and mango leaves and the sight of watery stars against retreating thunderheads were to remind Martin of that first of the Three Confessions,—that confession he meant then and long afterwards to be the first and the last and the only. The end of it brought them back to the gate and the waiting car.

“Now you know,” said Martin, “and you’ve deserved to. I’ll never tell this to anybody again.”

“In the name o’ God,” said Cottle, “why did ye never tell us before?”

“I don’t like talking about my private affairs. The Padres jumped to conclusions. So did Mrs. Cottle. I let them do it. That’s all.”

Cottle was non-plussed.

“It wasn’t fair. If me and the missis had known——” The generous enthusiasms within him burst their bounds. “If—if ye’ll pardon me sayin’ it, sir, I think you’re a bloody fine gentleman.”

Martin laughed; amusing how the habitually familiar “bloody” cancelled out the newly-respectful “sir.”

“I think I’m a bloody fine fool.”


“What went wrong?” Cassie had asked; and Martin had said, “That would be a long story.” In that he spoke no more than the truth. For this is the story Martin should have told Cassie that afternoon by the Red Hills lake. This is the story he did tell Cottle in the steamy lane at St. Thomas’s Mount, that night when he challenged the alert gods by saying, “I will never tell this to anybody again.” The gods knew better.

The story began on a date of some intrinsic importance—the eleventh of November, nineteen-hundred-and-eighteen. On the afternoon of that day Martin Armory, being then eighteen and a half, was for the first time in his life riotously drunk—a condition common to over ninety per cent of the rank and file in the training camp of the 4th East Grampians at Nicholmuir, near Balcaldie, in the county of Forfarshire. Late in that day, when the dusk was dropping, two hundred stout fellows, all very considerably the better for liquor, broke camp (there being none to stop them) and came pelting into Balcaldie town, filled with the desire for such a celebration as never was on sea or land. The certainty of the cells before dawn did little to diminish their ardour or the enterprise of their leaders—of whom Martin Armory was one.

Of the events in Balcaldie that evening no detailed statement remains. The police were sober but they were also indulgent; if with their eyes they saw some very strange sights, they set a judicious seal upon their tongues. No doubt there was a very considerable disturbance in Balcaldie—as elsewhere; no doubt windows were broken, inflammable objects burnt, inflammable matrons embraced in the streets, inflamed citizens hurled into the Jubilee Fountain; and it is incontrovertible that a leading part in all these confusions was taken by the contingent from Nicholmuir. All this would have mattered little; twenty-four hours would have paid all scores that arose from it. But there lived in Balcaldie a flat, ill-natured wisp of a girl, by name Annie Linsay, said to be no better than she should be, credited indeed among the Nicholmuir experts (who should have known) with being a “tart.” On a day when better girls were forgetting to be strict, Annie found it incumbent upon her to assert her virtue. At about six of the evening she appeared at the Police Station with a complaint of indecent assault—no less; and she named as the accused Martin Armory and two others from Nicholmuir. And nothing would dissuade her from exacting her pound of flesh.

“Ach, Annie!” said the perplexed sergeant, “ye ken fine what day it is. They boys is jist merry.”

“Look at ma cla’es,” said the virtuous Annie—and indeed they were not as they should have been.

“An’ ane o’ them the minister’s son an’ a’,” pursued the sergeant. “Ach, Annie. . . .”

“The mair shame t’ him,” was Annie’s stern reply.

The sergeant scratched his head, wishing her at the devil; but he saw no way out of it.

“Are ye bent on goin’ on wi’ this?” he asked crossly. Annie was bent.

The case, as a case, collapsed from the outset; no evidence was forthcoming to corroborate Miss Linsay’s statements. The corporal who had accompanied Martin and his friends and who had retained a reasonable control over his faculties, said when questioned, “Him? He wudna ha’ touched her wi’ a midden rake!” Others agreed. Annie stuck to it grimly: God knows what ancient spite or slight, what long nursed childhood’s grievance may have inspired her, but budge she would not an iota. “It wis him: whit wey wad I no’ ken the Minister’s son?” Martin himself said he had no recollection of such an occurrence and he did not think it a thing he was likely to have done; but then he had no recollection of the evening at all. Others again agreed. The police made it mistaken identity. The ill-used Annie went her ways with her indecent assault—for which there was certainly some superficial evidence—added to the great fist of unsolved mysteries.

But all this did not prevent Martin’s coming up before his father, did not prevent a long antagonism rising to a head, did not prevent a hundred foolishnesses of upbringing bearing their unpleasant fruit at last.

The Reverend Blacklock Armory was a bleak man, short in imagination and in sympathy, a man soured by a marriage above his station and by long physical intimacy with a mentally estranged wife whom he suspected of laughing at him in private. Over Martin, their only child, these two had quarrelled with increasing bitterness for fifteen years—till a sudden pneumonia had taken off Martin’s mother in one amazing week. Martin himself had given their incompatibilities little help. He was all that might be expected in the product of a hard Puritanical father and a surreptitiously indulgent mother—rough, rebellious, coltish, shy; he hated his home as vigorously and passionately as he loved his Aunt Frances at Shielin; as soon as he discovered that his aunt and his father were enemies he fled from Balcaldie to Shielin at every chance. Then came the War, offering avenues of more complete and permanent escape; twice Martin tried to enlist under age and was dragged out again by his father; the age limit at last passed, he joined the Army after a scene unparalleled even in the Balcaldie Manse. It was a scene still warm in memory when, a week after the Armistice, Annie Linsay’s father, a drunken little weed of a house-painter, came there whining; the Rev. Blacklock Armory, alone of all Balcaldie, believed against his own son.

“Martin, did you do this?”

His son faced him across the “study” table—a white-faced boy with a sullen mouth and a mane of black hair.

“I dunno.”

“You don’t—know? You must know one way or another.”

“I tell you I don’t. Haven’t you ever been tight? I don’t remember a thing about it from the time we left camp.”

That had been the overture, and from there the scene had worked in miserable crescendo to its tremendous finale. Martin said unforgettable things to his father; his father, opening batteries no older man should fire upon a younger, replied in kind.

“Give me some money,” Martin had cried at white heat, “and you’ll never see me again.”

“You must have plenty of money.”

“I haven’t.”

“What have you done with it?”

It transpired that Martin with quixotic generosity had paid fines for half the “boys” from Nicholmuir.

“They hadn’t the money: I had. We were all in the blind together.”

The Rev. Blacklock Armory winced.

“So that’s how you spend your earnings. Paying fines for a pack of drunken blackguards.”

“I might have spent it worse,” shrieked Martin “I might have spent it on a lot of damned psalm-singing ministers! “

Crude, unedifying, entirely horrible, the stupid scene climaxed. Sentence was pronounced the next day. Martin was guilty on two counts—Annie Linsay and intolerable insubordination; his plans of studying medicine were annihilated; on the contrary he would be shipped off to India to the firm of Livingstone and Co., in Bombay; and he might thank Providence for the existence of old General Macneill at Shielin whose Oriental influence was strong enough to secure a waster like himself a place in so reputable a house. And if his father did not hear from him again he would conclude

“You won’t!” said Martin savagely. “By God you won’t.”

Only Martin’s aunt, that Frances Macneill who was to stand open-eyed on the easel, came to see him off by the boat. She said,

“You know, Martin dear, it sounds funny, but I’m glad. I’m glad you’re getting right away. I’m glad you’re leaving your home. I shouldn’t say it of the dead, but Mary never did wisely by you, and your father—oh, Martin, your father’s a beast!”

Martin grinned. “I’m rather a beast myself. But I’m your beast, Auntie. You’ve always been a darling. I ought to have been your son all along.”

She wept a little and kissed him; and he never saw her again, for three years later she died.

And at that time absorbing things were happening to Martin.

Ensued Bombay, the flat, Charlie Barclay, Paton, Gibb, chaos.

How he came to live in the flat Martin was never very sure; he removed to it after eighteen months in a particularly horrible boarding-house which that pious philanthropist, Sir Archibald Livingstone, recommended to his younger assistants—and where, it was believed, he maintained a complicated system of espionage upon them. The move to the flat was connected with a big Rugger match at which—or more probably after which—Charlie Barclay and Martin took a fancy to one another. There was a vacant room and Charlie issued an invitation.

Martin said he couldn’t afford it.

“Oh, it doesn’t really cost very much,” said Gibb who was present, “Charlie stands all the drinks and nobody’s ever able to eat anything. So there’s only the rent.”

Paton, a big horse-faced Rugger forward, said grinning,

“There’s Babs.”

“Babs isn’t compulsory.” said Gibb.

“Isn’t she?” said Paton, “She thinks she is.”

“Who’s Babs?” said Martin.

“Babs,” Charlie explained, “is our little friend. Don’t worry about Babs, oldboy; you’ll find out all about her soon enough.”

He did. Coming hurriedly into the sitting-room one Saturday afternoon he discovered an exceedingly pretty girl in a state of considerable undress sitting on the sofa on Gibb’s knee. Nobody moved, but the girl cocked her fine brown eyes, disfigured by plucked artificial brows, at Martin.

“I say!” he said, “I’m sorry.”

“Oh, don’t mention it,” said Gibb airily. “Meet our Babs.”

The girl smiled; she was bewitchingly pretty and unquestionably white—“pukka European” as the odd local language had it. There was a hint of auburn in her dark brown hair; her skin, where it showed was like snow.

“It was hot,” she said, “I took off my frock. You don’t mind?”

“Mind!” said Martin, “Good lord, no—I like it.”

“We all do,” said Gibb, caressing her. Martin felt a moment’s repulsion for Gibb—he might keep that till Martin was out of the room; but Gibb was a coarse-fibred brute. And then, looking across the room, he met the eyes of that picture on the easel; he had set it there only the previous week. With a flash of fury he realised that the girl’s eyes were on it too. Curse Gibb; hadn’t he a bedroom?

“Well,” he said awkwardly, “I’ll carry on.”

“So long,” said Babs, “I hope we know each other better.”

Martin grinned. “It won’t be my fault if we don’t.”

She must have lain in wait for him, for an hour later he met her again dressed and hatted and ostensibly just leaving the flat. She smiled at him pleasantly.

“I’ve got my frock on now; you won’t be afraid of me.”

Martin took a step towards her in mock eagerness. “If you think I’m afraid of a girl without her frock on——”

She stopped him with a hand on his sleeve; he noticed that the nails, ultra-pointed, were over-stained with carmine.

“We’ll see one of these nights. I’m tired now.”

Martin grinned. “Exhausting bloke, Gibb.”

She drew herself up; it pleased Martin to see that she was capable of offence.

“Well, well,” he said, “The sleep of the just— eh?”

Her smile proclaimed her knowledge of the hidden joke.

“Maybe, she said. “Your name’s Martin, isn’t it? I think you’re nice. But I’m going now really.”

But she hung for a minute, incapable of tearing herself away.

“That’s your mother’s picture, isn’t it?” she said suddenly.

Hatred flamed again in Martin.

“No,” he said shortly, “it isn’t.”

The flat was an extraordinary place, inhabited by extraordinary people. Except for a certain esprit de corps, a sort of Three Musketeerism, its occupants appeared devoid of any finer—certainly of any gentler—feeling. Paton and Gibb were, like Martin, ex-Army and their pose of “Que voulez-vous? C’est la guerre—and what the hell does anything matter?” was familiar enough to him; he fell into it easily. But Charlie Barclay had come East half-way through the War to do in India the war work in which his firm specialised; in order to hold his own with these sophisticates he was obliged to pose as the doyen, the disillusioned amateur of the Orient. He did it very well indeed; his bored, experienced, disinterested, “I sh’dn’t, oldboy,—really I sh’dn’t,” would have dissuaded Princes. He drank constantly and without visible effect; never did he become damp or tousled or crumpled—not on the foulest, soddenest pre-monsoon evening. Once Martin, coming home from the Club very conscious of lank hair and damp hands and smudges on his suit, asked Charlie the name of his tailor.

“It isn’t the tailor, oldboy.”

“Well, give me some tips. How do you do it?” Charlie was gratified and thereafter took Martin under his special protection; he confided to Martin that he didn’t really care for Paton and that Gibb was a bounder. “Sponges a bit,” said Charlie in the voice of one mentioning leprosy. “My guv’nor’s pretty well off and he lets me have a decent allowance and I don’t mind doing my share and a bit more but—oh, well, there are limits.” And one night—on which night Martin knew their friendship was indeed ripening—he blasphemed his own gods. “We all talk a hell of a lot, oldboy; I do, more than anybody. You’d think to hear me I’d done every last thing there was to do. I haven’t really. In point of fact I haven’t done hardly anything. There’s a chap in Macniven and Stewart’s——”

Weeks of work in the cotton business; wild Saturday nights that usually became somewhat hazy in the recollection; Sunday mornings occupied in a “gin-crawl” from flat to flat or Club to Club—a poor life, Martin reflected, for a fellow who had meant of all things to be a doctor, to pick up broken bodies and make them well, to come into darkened houses like light.

Still, it passed; happy or dismal, profitable or otherwise, it passed. . . . And there was always Babs, who now liked him very much—Babs’ white arms and her scented hair and her little teeth biting your ear while her body comforted you. . . .

*  *  *

On that evening—it was the 7th of February, 1922, and a date he was never to forget—Martin had his last letter (had he known it) from Frances Macneill: reading it hurriedly he learned that she had a bronchial cold, was in bed, required a nurse at nights. There was nothing in it to alarm and he put it aside and forgot it. For presently Charlie came in with news that drove Balcaldie and Shielin into the confines of outer space.

“Chaps,” said Charlie gravely, “let’s have drinks round. A hell of a thing’s happened.”

The drinks were served—a function which in the flat never took very long. Blonde, sleek, poised on his toes, Charlie surveyed the company.

“Spit it out,” said Martin.

“I will,” said Charlie. “Short and sweet, it’s just this: Babs is in the family way.”

There was a minute’s dead silence. Paton muttered an oath. Gibb, the first to recover, swilled half his drink and set down his tumbler with a bang.

“Well, it wasn’t me,” he said. “I’ll swear to that in any court in the land. It’s impossible.”

Paton stirred uneasily. “I can’t go quite so far as that. God moves in a mysterious way and so on; but I don’t see how it could have happened.”

Charlie threw a glance from his blue eyes at Martin. “There you are,” it said, “what did I tell you? What can you expect? Bounders!” Aloud he said, sipping his drink,

“Gents, you don’t seem to quite get the point. It doesn’t much matter who’s to blame—that’s a side-issue. We won’t go into it. The point is that Babs has been our little friend here for a good long time. As I don’t need to tell you, she’s a nurse in the Cowasjee Lying-in Hospital. The Board of Governors is made up of old sticks like Mehterdas and Sir Frank Mitchell and old Livingstone and they’re down on anything of this kind like—like Christians. Babs’ll work as long as she can and then she’s out of a job and they won’t take her back. Question is, as I say, what are we going to do about it?”

Martin raised his head. “You said Livingstone?”

“Yes; why?”

“Oh, nothing. Only an extra touch, one of his firm being in it and all. Me.”

“Gosh, yes; I’d overlooked that. But that’s a side-issue too. What—are—we—going—to—do?”

Gibb finished his drink; there was a hard glint in his eyes.

“It’s all very well, Charlie. Babs has been here a lot; nobody’s going to deny it. But—how do we know what she does outside? She’s supposed to be square, you always said she was square, but I’ve had my doubts. And I have them now a damned sight more.”

“Well?” said Charlie, noting from the corner of his eye Paton’s confirmative nod.

“Well, it’s just this. If you’re going to suggest that somebody should marry the girl, I’m standing out.”

Charlie took a large mouthful of his drink and controlled himself with an obvious effort.

“Don’t be an ass, Gibby. Who’s talking about marriages? Of course that’s bunk. What I was going to suggest—a decent subscription all round. See her through her trouble, send her back to her people, may be so-much a month for a while afterwards——”

It was Martin who flung himself out of his chair, white-faced, staring.

“You can’t do it, Charlie. You can’t do it. I won’t have part in it.”

Charlie eyed him in amaze. “What the hell’s the matter?”

“You can’t turn her off like that. With a—a—bastard and all. Someone’ll have to stand by her. Money won’t do. Damn it, she’s a nice little thing, she’s a bonny little thing “

“She’s a damned immoral little thing,” said Gibb.

Martin turned on him fiercely. “Who’s fault’s that? Cheap country-bred parents—her father’s a retired Municipal Overseer in Mhow. Convent education. Hospital nurse. Blights like—us—knocking about. What the hell d’you expect? And on the strength of all this, you want to turn her down with a few rupees. . . . It won’t do, I tell you.”

Gibb’s long eyes narrowed. “You said someone would have to stand by her. Who do you propose for the job?”

Martin was ablaze; the Martin who had loved Frances Macneill, her ideals, her fairies; the Martin of a thousand childish generosities; the Martin who had paid the fines for the Nicholmuir contingent. But as the amazing resolution was born in his heart the heat in his voice died down.

“I wouldn’t have got up to propose you, would I?” he said. “But I propose myself. I’ll do it. I will.” He looked round the bewildered circle. “After all, in a way it’s my job. Gibb says it couldn’t have been him; Paton ditto. That leaves it between me and Charlie. It could have been me. I’ll admit it. Charlie hasn’t spoken; he doesn’t need to. I’ll take it on. It’s all done-finish.”

Charlie hurled his empty glass into an arm-chair. “Oh, is it? Oh, will you? I haven’t spoken but I will now. I’m standing in on this. If it could have been you it damn well could have been me. If you think I’m going to let you do a damn-fool thing like this——”

Martin felt himself in command of the situation; he smiled.

“You can’t help it; it isn’t your say. It’s not you I’m asking to marry me. If Babs says she won’t——”

Gibb interrupted with a snarl of disgust. “‘If Babs says she won’t’,” he mocked. “If Babs says ‘No’ to a thousand-chip note! For God’s sake don’t be an ass, Martin. You can’t do it.”

“Oh, shut up. It was most likely my doing——”

Gibb sprang from his chair. “I’m damned if it was—any more than it was mine. It may have been you and it may have been Jock Gracie in Macniven and Stewart’s and it may have been any blessed fellow in the whole of Bombay. Charlie thinks she’s an angel; he thinks she’s a sort of—of—Trilby. I don’t. How do we know where she goes or what she does when she isn’t here? Don’t——”

Martin smiled again. “I’ll ask her. I’ll back her answer with everything I’ve got.”

Gibb fell back aghast: this was beyond him. “You’re balmy. You’re insane. If you offer holy matrimony and the real daddy offers the toe of his boot——”

Charlie flung himself into the lunatic discussion. “No, Martin, no. You can’t. You mustn’t. Look here—you can’t leave me out.”

Martin’s smile never varied. “You can’t come in, old chap. It would be bigamy.”

“I’ll toss you for it.”

“You’re a king among men, Charlie, and I won’t ever forget it. But—it’s too big a show for tossing.”

“But—but—damn it, I’m senior here. I’m years older than you. I can’t let you do it. I brought you to this bloody flat. What am I to say to your people?”

Martin’s smile went suddenly bitter. “You needn’t bother about them.”

Charlie played a last desperate card; he flung out a hand towards the picture.

“What about that?”

“She’d say I was doing right.” In the uplift of the moment Martin believed it. “Now—’nough said. Let’s get down to it. Does anyone know where Babs is now?”

There was a pause.

“As a matter of fact,” said Charlie sheepishly, “she’s in your bedroom.”

“Oh hell!” said Martin a trifle non-plussed. “Who put her there?”

“She put herself there. When she came this evening and told me, she said that was where she wanted to wait. She’s soft on you, Martin.”

“She’s got a damned good eye for a mug——” Gibb began; but Martin stopped him.

“That’ll do,” he said and went to the door. Charlie sprang in his way.

“You shan’t do it.”

Martin was breathing through his nose. “Stand clear, Charlie, or I’ll strike you. You can’t stop me. Nobody can now.”

Charlie made a helpless gesture and gave way.

Ten steps took Martin into his room. Babs was sitting in a cane armchair under the fan; she had thrown her hat on the bed and was staring blankly in front of her. She had not apparently been crying.

“Hello, Babs.”

She swung round to him; her face under the waved hair looked upwards; terror hid in it under a mask of sullenness.

“It’s you Marty boy? You’ve heard?”

He nodded.

“What am I to do?”

Martin sat down on the arm of her chair; he took in his the little white, over-tended, over-garnished hands that had petted him often and often.

“I’ll tell you,” he said, “when you’ve answered me one question. . . . Babs, on your honour, do you think the baby is ours? Yours, and mine?”

Her figure stiffened in the chair with the rigid intensity of a spasm.

“Why—why do you ask?” Her eyes searched him.

“I’ll tell you when you answer me.” But he saw that she had guessed, that she realised what hung upon her reply.

Her eyes, beautified by torment, ran round the room, ran from Martin’s shoes to his collar—but no higher—and down again; almost inaudibly she said,

“Yes. So help me God.”

“Very well,” said Martin, “will you marry me, Babs?”

Martin’s married life in Bombay lasted for a little over six weeks—and was no married life at all. The religious ceremony took place—a confused embarrassing affair because Babs turned out to be a Roman Catholic; the unbreakable tie was established; otherwise life went on unchanged.

At a very early stage Martin had asked when the baby was likely to appear; Babs had given it three months.

“And I can’t go on working much longer, darling. I’m feeling awful.”

“You shan’t go on working any longer,” said Martin and drafted her resignation to the Cowasjee Hospital. He took her away and established her in a little Eurasian boarding-house hotel which charged far more than it could justify. Himself, both before and after the marriage, remained at the flat. In the circumstances there seemed no point in moving.

Indeed, the most vital part of the whole absurd affair was his interview with Sir Archibald Livingstone. Sir Archibald’s particular aversion in Bombay was brothels; next to that he viewed marriage among the junior members of his staff. As Martin said, he liked to have you both ways. . . . He sneered and stormed, while Martin stood humbly before him wondering what he would say if he knew the truth.

“Going to be married, are you, you young idiot? You know the firm’s rules?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you tell me you can afford it?”

“Yes, sir. I’ve some money of my own.” There’s going to be some hard swearing over this business, he thought; an odd lie or two won’t matter.

“Does your father approve?”

“I haven’t asked him.”

“Are you going to?”


Sir Archibald fumed. “And who is the young lady?” Martin was ready for this: he had thought out a beautiful young lady. He lied on glibly and thoroughly, salving his conscience with the thought that as it was the Livingstones of this world that made such lying necessary, some of it at least must count against them for Heaven.

On the actual marriage ceremony let Charlie’s comment suffice.

“My God,” said Charlie in the flat, poised on his toes and surveying a gloomy Paton and a morose Gibb, “to think that a pal should be married out of this flat this day and here we are all sitting stone sober at six in the evening. Can you beat it?”

*  *  *

The Cowasjee Hospital—without sanction of the Board of Governors—was kind; it took Babs into a private ward of its own; Lavery, its senior staff surgeon, took charge of her case. And in the inevitable process of time the morning arose when Lavery on the hospital steps met a flurried perspiring Martin, his hair unbrushed, his mouth wrung. Martin knew himself haggard, untidy, horrible: he could hardly meet Lavery’s eyes.

“It’s all right,” said Lavery. “There’s no hurry, young fellow, she’s sleeping like the dead.”

“Bad time?” gasped Martin.


Martin put a steadying hand to the door-post. “You’ve been good to us.”

Lavery looked at him curiously; how to say the thing he had in mind; how to find words for a most preposterously impossible announcement?

“I don’t know that we have,” he said.

Martin was struck by his tone; so far Lavery had been anything but gentle; he had regarded Martin as a public pest—a young fool who got a useful European nurse into a mess and chose a time of shorthandedness at the Hospital for his infernal incontinence; and he had been at no pains to disguise his feelings. Now there was a new note in his voice.

“I don’t know,” he repeated aimlessly.

“Your message said—a—boy.” Martin’s breath was coming back slowly.

“Yes. Fine boy. Eight and a quarter.”

“Can—can I see it. Him, I mean.” He smiled for the first time.

“Do you feel you must?”

“Yes. Please.”

“Well——” Lavery hesitated a minute. “Come on then. You won’t see much.” He led the way down a tiled passage in which Martin’s footsteps seemed to crash like bomb explosions. “We’ve darkened the ward to let her sleep it out. You can just manage a peep.”

Martin tiptoed into the clean, silent little room. Babs lay mostly on her back turned away from him, one white arm flung over her head. She was sound asleep. At her right side in the crook of her other arm a thing snuggled; it was very close to her, pushing its face against her body; it made faint petulant striving noises; it writhed resolutely, boring its way further and nearer. He could see very little of it—only the back and top of its head that were covered with a ridiculous blackish down.

The immature helplessness of that black feathery stuff caught suddenly at his heart. He said, “Poor little devil!” and felt absurd tears warm in his eyes. What on earth was he to do with it; what on God’s good earth was he to do with it at all?

Lavery pulled him away. He had a note-book in his hand.

“I just want one or two particulars. I know something of you, of course. Been out a year or two, haven’t you?”

“Two and a bit,” said Martin. He was paying no attention.

“Do you happen to know,” said Lavery, “if there was ever any foreign blood in your family? Spanish or anything?”

“Good Lord, no,” said Martin. “Not that I ever heard of anyway.” What a silly question, he thought.

Lavery seemed to hesitate again, then snapped up his note-book.

“Oh—well. Come round again this evening. Not before. She had a lot of chloroform and she’s sure to be sick. We don’t want you till she’s fit for you. If you don’t mind.”

“Of course I don’t mind,” smiled Martin. He went round to Charlie, working at the office of his firm of engineers, and announced the news. Charlie passed a hand over his impeccable hair.

“I don’t know what the devil to say; I really don’t. But you know I wish you all the luck in the world anyway.” He held out his hand and Martin wrung it.

“You can’t say fairer than that.”

“We ought to have a drink on it, oldboy. Come upstairs.”

“No,” said Martin. “I don’t feel like drinking somehow.” He was thinking of that tiny head, nosing and thrusting for sustenance, feathered so pathetically with that infantile protection.

But presently Charlie had another visitor. To his surprise, Lavery’s card came in on a salver and Lavery himself came striding after it.

“You remember me? Lavery. We’ve met once or twice at the Rugger.”

Charlie admitted the acquaintanceship. “And what can we do for you to-day?”

Lavery set his big bony elbows on the table; he breathed heavily as an aid to concentration.

“A lot . . . If I knew where to begin. You’re young Armory’s pal, aren’t you?”

“I hope I’m the best pal he has.”

“You can prove it. Will you see him this afternoon?”

“I could.”

“Then do. He’s coming round to see his offspring—you’d heard about that, I suppose?—this evening and there’s something you must tell him before he comes. It seems to be your job. I tried and I couldn’t.”

Charlie felt his hair begin to rise.

“Whatever’s up? The kid isn’t going to die or anything?”

“Not a hope. It’s a thoroughly healthy little brute. There’s just one thing wrong with it.”


“It’s as black as your boot.”

“Christ!” said Charlie, and for the second time that day ran a hand over his hair. His first sensation was a wild uncontrollable desire to laugh. Then he thought of Martin; Martin knew his world—-he would realise keenly and immediately that the first reaction of everyone to the story would be a wild uncontrollable desire to laugh. He would picture all Bombay laughing at him—and quite a part of Bombay would be laughing at him. Proud, uncompromising, abruptly offendable Martin! “Christ!” said Charlie again. He pulled himself together.

“D’you mean—really black? Not just black-haired. Martin’s that, you know.”

“Don’t I know it? I even went so far as to ask him if there had ever been any foreign blood in his family, just as a comic kind of hope. None. Anyway, it couldn’t have come out like this.”

“But maybe Babs. . . . What was her name—Millar?”

“Yes, Millar. I’ve looked up Babs in our records—we’ve got all the details with her application. Maternal grandparents pukka English; paternal grandparents country-bred—but probably from pukka great grandparents, though I can’t be sure. Anyway there’s nothing in it that could account for quite so pronounced duskiness as this. The child is a definite Eurasian and that’s all there is about it.”

Charlie ventured something about a throw-back.

“It’s not impossible—given Indian blood somewhere far back. But it’s a deuce of a long way back here for a deuce of a strong throw. I’ve seen a Parsee and a Scandinavian produce a thing like a sweep, but I never knew anything so dusky as this come out of even tolerably pure European ancestry. Now Babs is practically as European as I am and your pal’s unquestionable. So——”

“Then you think——”

“I think your pal’s been had, done, swindled. I think daddy was one Indian gentlyman. There.”

“But Babs——” Charlie was on the point of tears. “Well, she used to come to us a lot, as you doubtless know.”

“I know. I’ve cursed you often. She was a good little nurse.”

“Well, we thought she was square with us. I’d have trusted her anywhere. And you say—Indians.”

Lavery picked up his hat.

“You don’t understand the type. They just drift from male to male.” (He put it even more bluntly than that.) “Anything does that comes along and asks for it. They don’t think—just drift. . . . Well, I’ll be getting along. Do your best!”

“Spot of Justerini,” was Charlie’s thought; he made his way up to the tiffin-room. How in God’s name was he to tell Martin? What was he to say to Martin? Because, look at it how you liked, say what you liked, pile on the pathetic, the tragic as heavily as you pleased, the thing remained intrinsically laughable. It was Rabelais, it was Balzac, it was Boccaccio—any of these old reprobate writers who drew their bawdy humour from the disreputable half of the human body. It was comic. And all Bombay—all the world if they heard of it—would see it as such.

Suddenly Charlie was overcome. He began to rock with laughter; he put his arms on the table and his head on his arms and gave way to it. A black bastard . . . “There was a young maid of Spitzbergen” . . . Oh hell!

He sat up at last and drew his handkerchief over his face.

“That’s over,” he said soberly, “now we’ll laugh at it no more.”

*  *  *

Martin did not go that evening to see his son; instead he stayed with Charlie, and Charlie alternately plied him with “spots” and held him down by main force lest he should run out into the streets and be killed. An evening, a night and a forenoon they struggled—a lunatic evening, a night of hell and a forenoon of wearied, beaten resignation. At the end of that time Martin was quieter and some sort of a plan had been formed. The demand to curse God and accept immediate death had left him for the time being; he was beginning to fall back on his reserves, to pick out the positions on which he meant to stand and fight.

On the third day Charlie took him early to the Club—“Must show up, oldboy, or they’ll start yapping”—and at the Club they met—by accident it seemed, in fact by design of Charlie’s—Geddes, of a leading firm of Bombay solicitors. To him Martin was persuaded to give an outline of the case, supplemented by Charlie. “We’re not consulting you professionally but do be a friend and give us a tip or two,” was Charlie’s line. Geddes looked thoughtful.

“It’s not easy,” he said. “I’ll ask you to come down to the office. I’d like to look up some cases. You see, you marry the girl knowing there’s a child in utero, knowing quite well that the child may not be—probably isn’t—yours. You must admit it’s a case that doesn’t often arise. If the child had been born pure white you would presumably have carried on, though that wouldn’t have made it any more yours. The only thing you didn’t bargain for was a half-caste. But there wasn’t any guarantee against that. You had no reason to suppose that the child would be pure white; you didn’t know much about the girl and you didn’t try to learn. It’s a queer business. I don’t know what the courts would say. Taking it all round, it seems eminently a case for personal settlement.”

“I don’t care what happens,” said Martin. “Except——” He stated his points—”I can’t have her back. She mustn’t have the child.”

“I don’t suppose she particularly wants it,” said Geddes. “Did you say she had people in the north of India? Mhow? Well, I suggest that you send her to them with an allowance. As to the child——”

“I’ll keep that,” said Martin quickly.

Geddes gaped. “But what on earth can you do with it?”

“I’ll bring it up. I’ll see to it. It’s my son.”

“But—but—my dear chap, it—it isn’t. And how will you explain it?”

“I won’t explain it. People can take it or leave it. If they’re such swine——”

Charlie’s eyebrows signalled. “Let it go meantime; he’ll see sense later.” Geddes shrugged his shoulder.

“Of course that’s your affair. But don’t you think it’s needlessly Quixotic?”

“I don’t care what it is. It’s what’s going to happen.”

Geddes shrugged again. The law was made to protect reasonable people; this fellow——

In the Club Charlie and Martin met Lavery; he came up at once with outstretched hand.

“I’ve been expecting you at the hospital. I’m damned sorry about it all.”

“I’ll come soon,” said Martin, gulping, “Is the kid all right?”


“Has Babs asked for me at all?”

“Well—no.” Lavery scraped with his foot in embarrassment. “She’s quite well, but she just lies there. She knows, of course, the kid’s a give-away. She knows what you must be feeling. She doesn’t need to say anything. If you could manage to look in——”

“I don’t want to see her.”

“I daresay not, but——”

“I want the kid. I want it as soon as possible. How soon can I have it?”

“We-ell, physically, of course, you could hardly have it for a bit. I expect she’ll nurse it for quite a while. Then there’ll be other difficulties.”

“What’s the earliest—the very earliest?”

“What about a year?”


“Well, I should say six months was the absolute minimum.”

“Then six months.”

“You can’t look after a six-months child.”

“Yes I can. I’m going to.”

“Do you——”

Charlie’s eyebrows signalled adjournment; Lavery said good night.

In the car going home to the flat Martin was silent for a time; suddenly he said;

“I’ll like having Frances.”

Charlie, dreaming in his corner, sat up.

“Frances? Who’s Frances?”

“Oh, I forgot to tell you,” said Martin, “the kid’s name is Frances Macneill Armory—Frances spelt with an ‘e’. Like hers.”

*  *  *

Martin put off that first visit to Babs as long as possible; when he eventually made it he found her out of bed and lying in a long cane chair in the hospital verandah. The infant slept in a cot by her side; he glanced at it and glanced away. Its skin was certainly dark though not so dark as they had made out; he thought it hideous; then its helplessness smote him again.

Babs was pale; her face lacked the accustomed clever touches of rouge, she looked tired, sulky, cross.

“You haven’t hurried, Martin boy.”

“Why should I?”

“Didn’t you want to see your”—she corrected herself hastily—“the baby.”

“I’ll see plenty of it—afterwards.” “When you’re gone,” he wanted to say but checked himself.

She looked up at him. “Are you very angry?”

“You told me a lie,” he said.

“I didn’t.”

“You said on your honour you thought the baby would be ours.”

“Well. It might have been.”

“You must have known it was much more likely to be this other fellow’s.”

“You never asked me about any other fellow. If you had I would have told you.”

Martin shrugged; so that was how she salved her conscience. What a mind!

“If you can’t see you had to tell me about him without my asking then there’s no use talking about it.”

She turned her shoulder on him. “There isn’t any use talking. . . . Anyway I’ll never tell you who it was.”

“I don’t care a curse who it was.”

“You do.”

“I don’t. Not one damn.”

His flat, expressionless tones carried conviction; silently she began to cry. She cried partly out of wretchedness and partly because she wanted him to feel aggrieved, curious, hurt, betrayed, vengeful—and he wouldn’t. Manifestly he felt nothing more than disgust. She sobbed, giving herself what gratification she could.

“You’ll never know either—never. So there!”

“I’ll never want to.”

Bitterly comprehending, she wept on into her pillows. Martin looked once more at the sleeping child with its stressed, distorted, olive-coloured face; then he went slowly away.

Thereafter arrangements moved more slowly, but in the end it was much on the lines sketched by Geddes that a compromise was effected. Babs was to go back to her parents in the north—what she was to say to them neither Martin nor herself nor anybody else suggested—and Martin was to send her a hundred and fifty rupees a month through the Post Office on condition that she never came south of Bombay. Her receipts on the Money Order forms would be evidence of her continued existence—he wished no other. She bound herself to make no attempt whatever to communicate with Frances in any way—on condition that he was brought up as a Roman Catholic. She stuck to this point with a tenacity as remarkable as the laxity with which she conceded all others; had Martin been ten times opposed to it he would have been driven to give in. As it was, he let her have it without a fight.

“It doesn’t matter two hoots,” he told Charlie. “I don’t suppose he’ll bother much about religion.” (This gravely over the head of a mite still drinking his mother’s milk!) “And anyway all the schools hereabouts are Catholic and he’d have to become one for comfort’s sake anyway.”

*  *  *

And then suddenly an English mail brought news of another sort; birth had its counterpart in death. Far away at Shielin Frances Macneill passed one night into that distant fairy country of which she had caught so many glimpses. The news—a curt note from the General—was belated and it was followed sharply by a lawyer’s letter, an amazing document which Martin read and re-read and finally carried to Charlie. But there was no doubt about it; by his aunt’s will Martin benefited to the extent of just over ten thousand pounds.

Charlie, of course, was jubilant, full of boisterous congratulation: but Martin stood twisting the lawyer’s letter in his hands. He said dismally,

“It would have been all right a year ago. It’s no good now.”

“Rot, oldboy!” said Charlie decidedly. “Ten thousand’s ten thousand always. You can do anything with it. Anything.”

Martin was staring at the floor. “You know, Charlie, there must be a god.”

Eh?” Charlie threw him the scared look of one who suspects incipient insanity.

“A rum kind of god, rather a devil. He knocks you out with one hand and passes you ten thousand with the other just to make up.”

“You’re talking tripe, oldboy. I wish any god would pass me ten thousand—I wouldn’t look at it twice. If you don’t want it, give it to me.”

“I will if you like,” said Martin half-laughing—not knowing that that was in fact what he would do.

Charlie’s advice, in view of the windfall, was to abandon Livingstone’s and go into planting, putting the capital into either an estate or a company. “Tea, oldboy; coffee; take your choice.” But Martin was still too sore, too blank with horror, to contemplate a change; he announced his intention of sticking to Livingstone’s. He reckoned, however, without that grim philanthropist, Sir Archibald. On Frances’s third monthly birthday a polite letter from Livingstone’s announced that in view of the necessity for reducing over-head expenses they were obliged to curtail their staff and to dispense with the services amongst others, of Mr. M. Armory. “That’s a lie,” said Martin. “Nobody’s been axed except me.” And next day a personal letter from Sir Archibald proved him in the right. Sir Archibald in two pages of typescript announced his disgust at the scandals in which a member of his staff had become involved; he had only now learned of these, and was almost equally if not more pained to remember the gratuitous falsehoods he had been told. His kindness had been poorly repaid—and so on. Mr. Armory would realise—and so forth. He concluded by expressing his regret at having to take such a step in the case of one recommended to him by “an old and valued friend”; “though the circumstances in which you were sent out to me might perhaps have warned me what to expect.” Flat Annie Linsay in her disordered “cla’es” raised her head ghost-like from the past—strange fons et origo of everything. Martin laughed grimly and threw Sir Archibald in the fire.

“He thinks he’s kicking me out into the street, but he isn’t. I’m a capitalist now.”

“Sucks for Livingstone’s,” said Charlie.

Paton had been transferred suddenly from Bombay, Gibb had left the flat in search, as he professed, of a less mouldy atmosphere, Charlie and Martin lived on there together. Martin had grown fond of Charlie; Charlie in turn felt that he owed Martin some vague but tremendous reparation—perhaps for his own fatal delusion that Babs had played square by the flat. Time and again Martin assured him that this would have made no difference. “I backed Babs and I backed a loser and that’s all there is to it”—but Charlie remained contrite. On Fras’s sixth monthly birthday Babs was to go and Martin was to take him from the Eurasian family where he had boarded mother and child to another more convenient to himself. But the last part of this programme never took effect, for one night in the flat Charlie, after a specially late sitting at the Club and a specially excellent dinner, was delivered of the idea of “Sissie.” He was delivered of it quite suddenly, but whole and complete, a magnificent child; and for the rest of the night and long into the morning he explained “Sissie” to Martin. . . . New ground, oldboy: Madras . . . Co-ordination, Marty; let’s get the entire road transport of South India into our hands. . . . Credit, Marty; give them credit and they’ll buy twice as much and only one in five hundred won’t pay in the end. . . . Service, Marty; a service that really does the job—gosh, there’s lakhs in it. . . .

“But why do you think you can do it in Madras?” said Martin, with indifferent interest, “why not here?”

“Prophet without honour, oldboy,” said Charlie. “Besides, you can get away with anything in Madras.”

Slowly, while the hours ticked round and spot succeeded spot, “Sissie” as a full-blown conception came into being.

Martin had yawned away to bed, not taking Sissie very seriously; so many schemes had fluttered through Charlie’s brain in the hours between Club and bedtime and fluttered out of it again in the hours between bed-time and breakfast. But next day Charlie came back to this one again.

“I’m sick of this job here, oldboy; I’m making nothing out of it—never will . . . My Gov’nor’ll come in with Sissie, I know he will. . . . And, Marty—Sissie’s the thing for you. Sissie’s where you want to put that ten thousand.”

“Put it where you like,” said Martin wearily. “It doesn’t matter to me. I’m finished.”

“Bosh!” said Charlie, “The past’s the past. Locust-food, oldboy. They’ve eaten it. Let ’em.”

During the next week or two Martin thought things over, even making a few careless enquiries. His life seemed like a man who had fallen down a mountain and injured himself in every way except fatally; it mattered little what happened to him afterwards. “Sissie” would be fun; Charlie was a grand chap—he clung to Charlie. “Sissie” offered escape from Bombay and its covert grins, real or imagined—a great thing in itself. It offered a new field in which to forget all this horror and treachery and downfall; in which to explain a Fras whose antecedents would be unknown. He could keep the little creature—this dark-skinned, bright-eyed, alert little responsibility—with him or near him as he never could in Bombay. He had no ties except Babs—and the Post Office functioned anywhere. . . . In the end he paid his debts—not small—and wastefully deposited in a Bank a sum representing Babs’ allowance for ten years to come, instructing them to dole it out monthly by Money Order and send him the receipts. The rest of the windfall he brought with both hands to Charlie. Charlie was moved to the point of discomfort.

“You won’t regret it, oldboy,” he said huskily, “I’ll promise you that.”

“If you lose the lot to-morrow,” said Martin, “I don’t care a damn. The kid’s the important thing now.”

Charlie stared down at Fras kicking in his basket. He said, “Gosh, yes, oldboy,” as if struck by a new idea. Fras, newly-transported to the flat on the eve of departure, smiled his roguish smile and rolled his amazingly intelligent eyes; only a close observer would have noted the sallowness of the cheeks, the subfusc brown, deeper than sunburn, on the little limbs.

“He isn’t going to be all that dark,” said Martin with a tinge of pride. “It’s leaving him. Ayah says it’ll leave him more yet. . . . He’s rather a nice little beast. . . . And now we’ll hide him.”

And for seven long years nobody ever found Colenso.

*  *  *

So that is the story, the long, unedifying story, which Cassie should have heard at Red Hills. And that is the story Cottle did hear in the wet, hot lane outside Colenso; at the close of which he said that Martin was a bloody fine gentleman; to which Martin replied that he held himself a bloody fine fool.

“And the missis?” said Cottle, pursuing the last vestige, “She still alive?”

“The missis?” Martin was puzzled for a moment. “Oh, Babs. My wife. Yes, she’s alive. Or anyway she was on the tenth.”

“Well, I’m jiggered!” said Cottle—using the unexpurgated form of the word.


On the opening day of the Christmas holidays Martin went down to the Central Station early in the morning to meet his son. He had cut it rather fine and the train had arrived before he reached the platform; suddenly among the crowd he saw the boy coming towards him. Two or three other boys were with him and a lay brother in a white cassock soiled by the train journey. Martin’s heart was suddenly wrung; pathetically small the little creature looked, pathetically manlike in his blue St. Sebastian’s blazer and khaki shorts. Yet he carried himself well, he held his head erect, he did not slouch. Cottle’s drill, Mrs. Cottle’s lectures—they bore their fruits.

Martin glanced at the other boys; one of them was very dark indeed, another was being welcomed by a terrible Eurasian family—expansive, raucous mother; frilled, ribboned, giggling sisters; a weedy, nondescript youth with a drooping gasper. “Mei darleeng!” the mother cried. “Good God!” thought Martin, “This won’t do at all—not for long anyway.”

Solemnly he shook hands with his son. “Hullo Fras.”

“Hullo, dads.” The child was full of the gravity of the occasion. “This is Brother Baptiste. He teaches me music.”

Martin shook hands again. “Glad to hear you can teach him anything, Brother. He’s a good boy, I hope?”

“Frances is always good.” The brother spoke with a Continental accent not quite French; Martin put him down as Belgian. “As for the music—Brother Gervase wrote to you, is it not?”

“He did,” said Martin. “I was surprised.”

Brother Baptiste laughed. “We are all surprise. We will be more surprise yet. The boy will learn to play.” He went off beaming.

“Where’s Uncle Tom?” said Frances. “Where’s Aunt Julie.” Martin’s conscience stabbed him again; he must scotch that “Uncle” and “Aunt” sometime soon.

“They’re at the bungalow. Do you want to see them?”

“Yes, rather,” said Frances. “I’ve been longing to see them.” He spoke carefully, Martin noted, and with a slight but definite “country” accent; no great matter, of course, at his age, but just another of the things that couldn’t be allowed to go on.

“We’ll go and see them soon. Meantime we’ll have some breakfast. Then we’ll see some engines.”

The child slipped his hand into Martin’s. “I am glad to be back, dads.”

In the Stiegler, clear of the City streets, Martin slowed down.

“Well, Fras, old chap, now we’re alone, have you still got a hug for me?”

The child threw his arms impulsively round his neck, and kissed him eagerly.

“Was that a good one?”

“I could do with another.”

The little arms came round him again, straining; topis banged together, they both laughed.

“Oh, dads, I like you awfully. I like Uncle Tom and Aunt Julie, but I like you best.”

“Mind you do always,” said Martin glowing.

Julie’s tiffin and the long afternoon at Colenso were not items of entertainment to which Martin eagerly looked forward, but he knew they were inevitable; they were made worth while by the enthusiastic voluble delight of the Cottles in their “Francie’s” return. Towards tea-time, Julie sprang a surprise. From the bedroom she produced a violin and handed it to the child.

“Now, Francie, you play one little tune.”

He took it gravely. “What will I play?”

“’E knows so many, eh?” cried Cottle slapping his knee, “’E’s a treat.”

“Play anything you feel like,” said Martin.

The child tucked the violin under his chin and drew the bow across the strings. Martin had expected something quite childish—most probably a hymn; but Fras launched boldly into the Braga. It was not, of course, a classical performance; he made mistakes, slurred notes here and there. But he drew tone from the mediocre instrument, he played the stock old piece with character; in particular he played it easily, without labour. The Cottles applauded boisterously; Martin knowing little about music, sat silently amazed.

“Ong-core!” roared Cottle, “Ong-core!” Fras made a second shot—less successful—at the Minuet in G. In the middle the A string broke; just as well, perhaps, Martin thought. There being no spare string, the performance ended.

“’E’s a blinkin’ marvel,” said Cottle. He turned to Martin. “Was any of your folk musical-like sir?”

Martin smiled at him. “No. I had an aunt who played the ’cello a bit. But nothing wonderful.”

Presently Julie took Fras out of the room and Cottle turned a confused face on Martin.

“That was a mug’s question o’ mine just now if y’ like. About your ancestors, I mean. But y’ know, sir, what with keepin’ it quiet from Julie and so on, I sometimes forget the truth you told me.”

Martin laughed. “I don’t blame you. I forget it sometimes myself. Go on keeping it quiet anyway.”

After tea Martin spirited Fras away in the Stiegler and they drove forty miles south through a drowsy evening with threatenings of late monsoon rain. Martin had chosen for their Christmas retreat a little Travellers’ Bungalow set between the thunderous, surf-beaten beach and a still lagoon backwater. He had found the place in the course of his wanderings—Ichangudi, it was called—and had marked it down for future use on some such occasion as this. The bungalow was comfortable—a solid place built by some old-time long-forgotten Collector and taken over by the District Board as a public rest-house; it was little frequented, inaccessible—few in the Madras Clubs had ever heard of it. The bathing was safe and excellent; there were fishing, butterfly-hunting, race-running, a hundred forms of fun for Fras; and it was, in its best hours, a place of rare beauty where Martin himself could idle away his days. . . . In it, for the three weeks of Fras’s holidays, he set himself to cultivate his son.

As for Sissie, Sissie must look after herself. Martin had said so to Charlie.

“I’ll have to go to—Bombay for three weeks. You don’t mind?”

Charlie had not minded—knowing perfectly well what called his partner away—but Martin, regarding him with unusual closeness, had been seized with sudden compunction. Charlie was not looking too well, he thought; he had a puffy shininess instead of the old sleekness; he was fat yet not so much fat as charged, inflated, explosive. Martin had been conscience-stricken.

“I don’t like leaving you at the busy season and all. But you know how it is. I don’t see much of the little chap nowadays. If I don’t take this chance——”

Charlie had waved his hands. “For God’s sake, oldboy. The only thing I ask you is—don’t tell me where you actually go.”

“It’s a place you never heard of,” said Martin.

“And I never will,” said Charlie genial as ever. But Martin was worried about him.

At Ichangudi, however, he forgot to worry about Charlie—so absorbed was he in the seven-year-old who shared his days. Little by little, tactfully unhurrying, Martin extracted from Fras the story of that first term at St. Sebastians. St. Sebastian’s was at Melmuri, five thousand feet up on the Muri hills; since Brother Gervase had taken over its management it was making a name. Its fees were low—for concession pupils they were negligible—and its educational work was good; as a result it attracted the offspring of that motley middle population of India—country-bred European, the better class Eurasian, certain sects of Indian Christians. Into this variegated assemblage Martin had launched the boy with something like fear; now he drew a sigh of relief—nothing very awful had happened.

“And you’ve kept fit, eh?”

“Oh, rather. I had some colds.” Martin frowned.

“Still these colds?”

“Yes . . . I don’t like my colds, dads, because they make my ears buzz and I can’t do my music.”

“And you like your music still?”

“Oh, rather. Oh, frightfully!”

Walking that night by the moonlit backwater Martin told himself he was luckier than he deserved. With Charlie’s loyal help—and Cottle’s, who didn’t know Charlie at all—he had carried his secret in safety for seven years—and that in India where there are no doors, no windows and ten thousand peering eyes. And the longer a secret was kept the less chance there was of discovery; the longer Jekyll persisted, the more monstrously inconceivable was Hyde. So far as that went he had succeeded astonishingly.

But it had been at a cost—and at cost to another; it hadn’t been fair on Fras. Martin censured himself; he had thought more of himself and his need for secrecy and less of the boy’s welfare. Fras had been isolated with the Cottles, starved for the baby companionship he needed. Martin believed in asking as few questions as possible and he never knew just how the Cottles accounted for “Francie” or just what story Julie told to the infinitely curious, endlessly inquisitive mothers and wives of her circle. Whatever it was, he knew at least that it did not always go down; there had been parents who would not let their children play with Fras. And at best the child had been far too much with his elders; he was too old; he talked like a grandfather. And all this premature precocious musical talent only enhanced the need for the safety-valve of youthful company. Fras was ten or eleven already in his mind and his ways; he was losing his fun; it wasn’t fair.

Martin thought—not for the first time—“I wish I had put less money into Sissie.” He could take it out again, of course, but the moment was unpropitious; there was a minor slump, a very flat period everywhere, made doubly dangerous for Sissie by Charlie’s refusal to recognise it. . . . Yet something better must be done for Fras. His music—that must be developed; and his health—those persistent asthmatic “colds” must be stopped. And altogether and in general present standards were inadequate. St. Sebastian’s would serve—but only for a time. Martin thought of that Eurasian mother at the Central Station; “Mei darleeng”; it wouldn’t do. And the Cottle menage—”Uncle Tom” and “Aunt Julie”—would have to be wound up. Children came to an age when they required to meet culture. The Cottles had been perfect bricks; but Julie’s drawing-room was a nightmare and Cottle’s taste in everything was on the level of the silver-papered “favourites.” Hating himself for these thoughts, Martin realised that the kind creatures had served their day.

“But after all,” thought Martin, throwing the butt of his cheroot into the lagoon amidst a fusillade of terrified frogs, “I am lucky, first and last. Think what it might have been; think what he might have been. God knows who his father was; he might have turned out anything. He might have hated me. I might have hated him. Whereas——” he hesitated, soliloquising—-“he makes life possible. He’s a compensation—the compensation. He is.”

He went slowly back to the bungalow, enjoying the glory of the night; in the verandah he stole a glance at Fras, sleeping under his mosquito net. The child slept soundly and sweetly; he looked almost fair-skinned now, little darker than many of the French. Something in the remote helplessness of his attitude reminded Martin of that first time he had seen him—his back turned, his face thrusting into Babs’ right breast, that idiotic, appealing thatch of black down on his head. Suddenly he felt again the tears warm in his eyes; he slipped up a corner of the net and kissed the boy’s cheek.

The three weeks slipped away—a golden time, happy, blameless, restful, good. They were not disturbed, and as to letters, the arrangement was that Charlie opened everything and sent what he thought necessary or private to Martin at the railway junction five miles from Ichangudi. It was needless conspiracy but it pleased Charlie and secrecy had become with Martin a second nature. Once a week or so, Martin went to the junction and collected the accumulation and dealt with it then and there; in it he found one day an invitation from Cassie to the New Year’s Dance at the Adyar Club. He scribbled on it “Settle this for me” and posted it back to Charlie. But the letter had broken the spell, rent the curtain Martin had thrown between him and his world. Tramping home across the flat fields to Ichangudi, Martin saw in his mind the brown-gold girl in some wonderful Cassie-coloured dress, an ostrich fan in her hand, standing at the top of the Club steps, tapping a bronze-shod foot impatiently. At the sight of Martin the gold elves would begin their dance in her shrouded eyes, her cheek would darken a little as the blood came into it, she would step forward with outstretched hand. “Oh, Ma’in!”—that lovely vocable she made of his name. And he would say, “The usual dances, Cassie?” And she, “I’ve kept them”—and her nod would be full of promise as if it were more than dances that she kept for him. Oh, Cassie! . . . Well, it wouldn’t happen.

The long, hot, uninteresting walk and the insistent unsolicited picture of Cassie depressed him; he felt tired and out of spirit. But at Ichangudi Fras was on the look-out and came running wildly to meet him, calling out “Dads, Dads; I’m glad you’re back.” Martin came out of his dreams and caught the boy up on to his shoulder. “Gosh, Fras, I’m glad to be back here too.” He launched into a precise account of engines seen at the junction.

On the last day of the holidays Martin saw Fras off at the Central Station through the torments usual to such occasions. He exchanged banalities with Brother Baptiste.

“Yes, I heard him play. He’s wonderful. But don’t hurry him on too much, Brother. He’s only a baby really.”

Baptiste pursed his lips.

“Certainly I will not ’urry on. But I cannot ’old back what is there.”

The train moved at last; Martin waved a hand.

“Take care of yourself. It’s been a nice time, hasn’t it?”

Fras leaned from the window, his little face eager.

“Oh, dads, let’s always—you and me—spend holidays together.”

Martin waved till the train was out of sight, and walked up the platform with a blur before his eyes.

“Thank God he said that,” he thought.


Afterwards it seemed to Martin that these Christmas days at Ichangudi rang down the curtain on enjoyment. For a multitude of days thereafter worry fell upon worry’s heels, trouble chased trouble.

To begin with there was the worry of Fras himself, Fras’s future, Fras’s present. Once the thought invaded Martin’s mind, it met him at every turn. He had cheated Fras, betrayed him. Money that should have been kept for Fras had been thrown recklessly on the fire of Charlie’s insane ambitions. He had stuffed the boy away among Cottles with waxed moustaches and bead curtains and a floor strewn with “h’s” when he should either have gone and lived among the Cottles himself or taken Fras to share the glories of Nungumbakam. Not possible? It should have been made possible. . . . That the boy had turned out so well was no excuse—rather the contrary. By all canons of breeding Fras should have been worthless—Babs’ drifting acquiescence blended with the God-knew-what of his Indian father. Instead—instead it was as if by giving him the name he had infused into him something of the great spirit, the beautiful being of that other Frances. The child was far too good for the stuffy Catholicism, the second-hand Public School eyewash of St. Sebastian’s. Out of all that he must come—and soon. Martin made himself belated remorseful promises; as soon as business looked up again he would take it in hand. Home for Fras; a first-class Preparatory School; a fund set apart. . . .

The worry of Fras came mostly at night; by day there was a bigger and more immediate worry—the worry of Charlie.

Charlie was far from fit—he became less and less fit with every day that passed: beyond shadow of doubt all these years of Clubs and tiffin-parties and sitting about with small drinks were at last beginning to take effect. The bill, long delayed, was coming in—and it wasn’t small. Charlie’s eye was still clear and his skin smooth, but he had that curious charged, explosive look as if he were stuffed with something that might presently destroy him. He looked glazed. Nor was it only his looks; at times after a few drinks he would talk stupidly. “Charlie’s getting tight,” Martin had thought once or twice—a thing he had never thought before in his life. Sometimes, drinks or no drinks, Charlie was vague, repeated himself. Once, point-blank, Martin asked him,

“Charlie, are you feeling all right?”

“Never better, oldboy,” had said Charlie—but a little, Martin thought, as if he had been waiting in dread for the question—“Touch of indigestion, maybe.”

The day came when Wanderlust Limited, whom Martin was to know better, impinged upon Sissie’s affairs. Wanderlust Limited were the new travel agency that was causing the old established businesses to shake in their shoes; and Wanderlust Limited had pitched acutely upon the south of India as an unexplored but promising land. They appeared in Mount Road in the form of small, dapper, radioactive man called Stiff—a half-educated dynamic creature who made one think instantly in lakhs. That at least was the effect he seemed to have upon Charlie.

“By gosh!” said Charlie excitedly when he had gone, “Business is going to look up. What did I tell you, Marty? Here comes the wave.”

“Oh, go easy,” said Martin. “He talks a lot, but what earthly difference does he make?”

“Dammit, he’s ordered six lorries and two cars. Call that nothing?”

“I call it a pretty timely order. But that’s the end of him. You told him yourself that the Stieglers would last him five years.”

Charlie looked at him with that now familiar expression of a stuffed animal.

“Well, maybe I did. But they won’t. We’ll get an order every year. Anyway that’s a small thing. There’s big things coming, oldboy—I feel it in my bones.”

Ten days later the Charlie worries came to a head. It was the convention in Sissie that each partner attended to a separate branch of the business—Martin being workshop, Charlie sales—but that any correspondence of real importance should be seen by both. Martin observed this rule with almost over-meticulous care; he doubted sometimes whether Charlie was equally considerate. On this particular day there came to Martin an order on Stieglers in Bombay passed by Charlie of such staggering magnitude that Martin rubbed his eyes and read it through again. Whistling, he went to Charlie,

“Can we really send this, old chap?”

Charlie looked at the paper.

“Of course, not. Good God, no!”

Martin was puzzled. “But I thought you meant it to go?”

“Me!” Charlie was more like a stuffed beast than ever. “How could I? Have a heart, Marty.”

“Then why did you pass it?”

“I never passed it; don’t be silly.”

“But, my dear chap, you must have. How else could it have come to me?”

“I didn’t. Rot. Someone’s made a muddle.” He banged his bell. “Send Raghavan.”

Bleakly, uneasily, Martin waited for the clerk; watched Charlie thrust the paper under his nose.

“See this paper. Mr. Armory says I gave this order. I never did. You know it.”

As much from Charlie’s vehemence as from the quick embarrassed sideways glance of the clerk, Martin knew that something of this kind had happened before. But on the previous occasion—occasions?—it had been stopped in time.

“Come on,” said Charlie crossly, “speak. You’ve got a tongue, haven’t you?”

The clerk writhed in acute discomfort. In the end, however, he blurted out,

“Master gave me that order. Master can remember.” He gave details. Charlie’s actual words, unmistakably Caroline. It was suddenly and frightfully clear to Martin that Charlie did remember—now; and that previously he had completely forgotten. He waved the clerk out of the room. “All right, Raghavan—doesn’t matter.” Then he sat down on Charlie’s table.

“Old chap, this can’t go on. There’s something far wrong. Will you see a doctor?”

Charlie wiped his brow—Charlie who never sweated.

“Maybe I’d better. Now it’s happened, oldboy, I’ll confess I’ve had a fright or two. This damned indigestion——”

“We’ll have Chapman in this evening,” said Martin decisively.

Chapman was worse than expectations. Martin gave him a whisky-and-soda in his sanctum after the examination and Chapman, gulping it in his odd frog-like way, pronounced opinion.

“It’s simply this—Barclay’s been hitting it up too hard and too long. You can’t do it—not in India. Lots of fellows think they can—and look as if they were succeeding—but they’re not. It waits for them.”

“Sort of credit account,” said Martin, thinking of his old theory.

“Exactly. And your pal’s bill’s come in.”

“What’s the matter with him?”

“All sorts of things. He’s got a blood pressure like nothing on earth. I told him to go home. He says he won’t. I told him to go away for a bit. He won’t do that either—says you’re on the verge of making a fortune. Are you?”

Martin shook his head gloomily. “Not that I know of.”

“I ask because fellows in that state sometimes get ideas—sort of magnifico-mania——”

“Good God!” Martin jumped. “You don’t mean to say he’s going off his head?”

“Not seriously. It isn’t a question of head. But he may be mildly queer. I expect he is, isn’t he? Forgets? Repeats himself?”

Martin nodded miserably. “It has happened. But Chapman, this is awful. Is he fit to come to business?”

“Yes—if you watch him. He shouldn’t really, but if he won’t go away he may as well.”

“But—but—will he get worse?”

“He won’t easily get better. Let me know how it goes.”

Martin crossed the landing and found Charlie struggling into dress clothes.

“Comic ass, Chapman,” said Charlie with an attempt at jauntiness. “He’s been trying to frighten me.”

Martin put a hand on his shoulder.

“You’re ill, old chap. Go easy.”

“Bunk!” said Charlie wriggling; but Martin kept his hand where it was.

“Don’t be an old ass. You’ve been a hell of a pal to me. I couldn’t get on without you. Do take care of yourself.”

Charlie shook himself free.

“Rot! I’m perfectly all right. These damned doctors—you call a chap in to prescribe for a touch of indigestion and he goes poking about blethering—he goes poking about blethering, he goes poking about blethering “

“You’ve said that thrice,” said Martin calmly.

Fear leapt up in Charlie’s blue eyes. “I know, damn you! I’ll get it in a minute. He goes poking about blethering—like a goat.” He completed his sentence with a rapid effort that turned him childishly peevish. “You keep interrupting me. . . . I wish you’d clear out.”

Martin went, sighing.

For now this trouble of Charlie’s, quite apart from its intrinsic horribleness, threw fresh fuel on the third worry—in some ways the worst worry of all—the worry of Sissie. Was Sissie all right or wasn’t she? Martin didn’t know; if the books were correct, Sissie owed a tremendous amount of money—and not all in one basket either. Stiegler’s account was grim—and there were others with certain financial corporations and syndicates that made Martin whistle. The Mount Road premises were on a half-mortgage that took away most of their value as capital; there remained the stock and the sales. And the sales were going down.

This last was not Sissie’s fault or Sissie’s peculiarity; everybody’s sales were going down throughout the trade. But the difference lay in the fact that Crewle Brothers and Niven and the minor dealers were cutting their coats accordingly; Charlie was ordering a complete new outfit. Charlie was spreading himself at a time when expansion was not the game—building castles in the middle of the earthquake. At the last meeting of their trade association, Reuben Crewle, a lame ugly little Tynesider, had put it to them from the chair.

“We’ve reached saturation point,” he had said. “It’s pro tem, of course, but there it is. We’ll have to mark time and wait.”

Charlie had leapt up to contradict him, had spoken at some length. He produced a fist of road mileages in South India; there were so many thousand miles of roads, so many buses, so many lorries, a vast number of miles to every commercial vehicle; you couldn’t call that saturation or anything like it. But it struck even Martin that Charlie was talking to encourage himself rather than to convince the meeting; and presently that hard Scot, George Niven, pointed out that in making his calculations Charlie had included thousands of miles of village roads—earth roads, cart tracks, sand, over which no bus or lorry could possibly travel. Charlie had become very excited, rather incoherent, and had ended by making a fool of himself.

“Oh, well,” Crewle had said from the chair, “Mr. Barclay has his views, I have mine. We’ll see.”

“By God we will!” said Charlie.

The immediate upshot of that meeting had been a rather disconcerting amalgamation between Crewle Brothers and the leading Indian firm. They coalesced into Carnatic Motors Limited. George Niven stood out. Charlie affected to regard this as excellent.

“Three cornered fight, oldboy. It’ll be a duel yet. Coffee for one. Put your shirt on Sissie.”

“She’ll need it,” grumbled Martin, “she’s feeling a draught all right.”

Charlie’s reply was Rabelaisian, and they turned the subject away into laughter.

But all through a pleasant February and the first half of a hot dry March Martin’s worries mounted upon him. Charlie had taken himself in hand to some extent, was following Chapman’s directions; he seemed to be improving though he was still manifestly anything but well. Chapman, dreary fellow, refused to encourage. “These things don’t get better like that,” was all he would say. And to Martin’s agonised, “But is he getting worse? Will he get worse?” “Pretty well bound to. Slowly, you know, slowly.”

On the last day of March Martin sat down and took stock of his affairs and arraigned himself again on the subject of Fras. He had always felt that if anything “happened” to Charlie, Sissie must collapse, and now there was little use in saying “if” anything happened to Charlie, because something had happened to Charlie—-and something disastrous at that. From her books Martin gathered that Sissie could just balance her affairs if a suitable arrangement could be arrived at with Stieglers in regard to outstandings and the cancellation of recent big orders; that was to say, Sissie could in these circumstances close down without going through the bankruptcy courts. Whether he or Charlie could save anything personal from the wreck was a much more doubtful matter. Cold logic laid the old conclusion before him—if he was to do the right thing by Fras then he must draw his capital out of Sissie. Under a slipshod deed of partnership, signed in these days of bitterness when Martin had scarcely taken the trouble to read it, this was to some extent provided for. Temptation whispered; his was much the smaller share of the capital; his withdrawal would inevitably accelerate Sissie’s doom— it couldn’t cause it. And it would save Fras.

Martin twisted his paper of calculations into a screw and threw it under the table. That was what he must do—and, of course, he couldn’t do it. If Charlie had been fit and Sissie flourishing, the act would have been difficult enough; as things were—unthinkable. There was nothing on earth to do but adhere grimly to the chosen course and hope, however idiotically, for the best.

Fras wrote from Melmuri. “Dear Dads, I wish we could have another holiday like Christmas. But it is a long time till June.” (“A hell of a time,” thought Martin. “Where will we all be then?”) “I haven’t had any colds this term. Please send me a stamp album, all the chaps are collecting.” . . . Well, Fras was a compensation—and a gratuitous one, for he might have been a cross. “I’ll go out and get him a stamp album,” thought Martin, reaching for his topi, “while there’s anything to get it with. I owe him that.”

Fras and Charlie; Charlie and Fras; one couldn’t stand by both of them. Which had the superior claim? God knew; the ethics of the thing were insoluble.

Crossing Mount Road to the stationers, Martin found himself wishing for the hundredth time that he could tell Cassie; she was just the one person whose advice could be asked, whose advice would be decisive. For the hundredth time he heard her asking, What went wrong?”

But Cassie had ceased to exist. The thing, the horrible thing, had been done: Cassie was finished.

On a bright late-January day she had brought the Stiegler round to Sissie’s. The celebrated carburettor had been misfunctioning again; she demanded Martin; nobody else understood it; Peters wouldn’t do. Willy-nilly he had to go down to her. And there she was—as ever, in long stripes and a huge terai hat and an ensemble of those colours that were Cassie and Cassie alone. As usual the solemn virginity of a priestess and the allure of experienced woman met in her and miraculously did not clash.

“Miss van Rennen!”

She moved imperceptibly. “Cassie’s dead again, is she?”

“This is business.” He threw up the Stiegler’s lordly bonnet. “You’ve been at this adjustment again. I’ve told you twenty times there’s no use turning that screw only. It doesn’t do anything. Now look here——”

He was conscious of her eyes upon his back; she had an unfair advantage.

“Where did you go for Christmas?”

Martin bent deeper over the engine.

“I had to go to Bombay. Business. Surely Charlie told you.”

“Yes.” (She didn’t say “Yea,” she didn’t say “Yes” she didn’t lisp, what the devil did she do with the word?) “He rang up about my party.” (“Pa’y”—like “Martin”—another of her words.) “You ought to have come.”

“I wish I could have.”

“Like hell you do.” Her voice mocked him gently. He worked feverishly at the carburettor while she described the New Year’s Dance; he saw himself bringing in the New Year on the sand-dune outside the Ichangudi bungalow while Fras slept under his mosquito net in the verandah. If Cassie could have seen that! Presently he sent her away down Mount Road, the Stiegler booming magnificently under her small lizard-skin shoe.

But Cassie was only put off, not done with. Twice in February she had “parties,” twice she wrote inviting him. The first time he said he was ill and kept to the house for thirty-six hours in half-comic fear that she might come and drag him out. The second time she gave him short notice and he bolted out of Madras and spent the night in an uncomfortable little rest-house on the Great North road. Then in March she came again to Sissie’s and demanded him; Martin, worried over Charlie, worried over Fras, worried over business, could think of no excuse for not seeing her. And the moment he did see her— slim, composed, perfect—he knew that he must end it.

“I’m in love with her,” he thought irritably, “I suppose she’s in love with me. There’s something deep in her that strikes something deep in me, and these things somehow seem to get at each other. It won’t do any longer; if we aren’t in trouble already we jolly soon will be.”

“It’s the last Adyar dance of the season,” Cassie was saying. “You can’t refuse me this time. You just can’t. In ten days I’ll be up in the hills and I won’t worry you any more.”

“You’ll always worry me,” said Martin.

She stared at him. “You’ve actually said something nice. I suppose that means you’re going to try to wriggle out. You can’t. I won’t let you. You’ve been a perfect pig to me.”

Martin murmured uneasily; he had been; it was true.

“Now I’ve humbled myself. You can’t kick me when I’m down. You’ll come?”

Martin looked at her with admiration; she knew what she wanted, did Cassie, and she meant to have it. . . . The trouble was, it was what he wanted too—-Lord! how he wanted it.

“You’ll come, Martin?”

His resolution was taken. “I’ll come,” he said.

“Honest to God?”

“Honest to God.”

She went, a little surprised, he thought, at her easy victory.

On the Friday night Martin stood himself a pint of champagne at dinner and followed it up with two of poor Charlie’s “spots of Justerini.” Charlie, condemned to go to bed early and enjoy no more dances and above all no more Justerinis, watched him with envy.

“You’re liquoring up a bit?”

“It’s a hot night. Got to do something.”

“Hell!” said Charlie wearily, “I wish I had your chance. . . . Give them all my love.” He went off humming “Love and Wine”; Martin could have wept.

That Cassie would have staged her scene, probably rehearsed it in her mind, Martin had no doubt; his one hope was to spring his version of it first. In his over-eagerness he blundered and sprang it too early. It was more or less inevitable, however; Cassie had a new dress, and a new scent; heaven had supplied the inevitable Adyar moon and under it she moved like some dim Sybil holding in her hands all the beauty of the world. The lines of her body melted into the moonlight; you never saw them—you always saw them. As ever, the Vision approached, just showed, vanished. The deep thing that was in Cassie came out and called to the deep thing that was in Martin and together and apart they walked on the moonlit lawns. In a little while, Martin knew, these two deep deep things would unite and then the physical Cassie would be in the physical Martin’s arms and he would kiss her and kiss her—and that was just what must not happen. How could one kiss a girl like Cassie in a way like that, and then forthwith tell her the sorry tale of Babs and the Bombay flat and of Fras and Colenso? Out of the question; the knife! Escape—and soon.

He caught Cassie off her guard, dreaming contentedly after the third dance.

“Cassie! Look here.”

She wheeled on him, immediately alert; in the moonlight he saw her tender mouth, never entirely still.


Martin clasped his hands and prayed for help. What was he to say?

“You—you said I’d been a pig to you. That was quite true. But did it ever strike you I was being a pig on purpose?”

“Of course it did.” Her voice was low, deliberately even. “I’m not a fool.”

“Well, you must have wondered sometimes—why?” She said nothing at all; Martin ploughed on.

“The last twice—the last lots of times—you’ve asked me to anything I’ve refused. Rudely sometimes. To-night I’ve come. You must be wondering——”

She threw out her arms with a sudden gesture of impatience.

“Oh, Martin, Martin. For God’s sake stop talking all round it like a stage part. Don’t I know. Can’t you say straight out that you like me and you don’t want to like me? Isn’t that it?”

Martin, tripped in mid-stride, had a sense of falling to the ground. He said weakly after a minute,

“Well, it is.”

“You see I want to be friends and you don’t want to be. Isn’t that it too? I know it is, Martin. Do stop talking like a gook and tell me straight.”

There was a minute’s silence. Then Martin pulled himself together.

“It’s true,” he said, “It’s what I came here tonight to say and now I may as well go through with it. You say you want to be friends. So do I. We can’t be friends, Cassie.”

“Why not?” Her voice—that deep, rather husky voice that stirred him so—was almost inaudible.

Martin turned to her in the moonlight.

“My dear, you’re far, far too attractive for that.”

In the silence that followed her hand left her knee on which it had lain and came warmly, confidingly to his. The band burst out suddenly in insane interruption blaring stupidly from another world.

“I—-I don’t quite know what you’re telling me, Martin.”

“I’m telling you we—you and I—couldn’t be friends, Cassie.”

Her hand tightened a little on the back of his.

“Yes, but—why? Is it because we could—we could be something else? Something more?”

Martin kept his voice steady with an effort.

“We could. But we can’t.”

She seemed to say again, “Why?”

“I can’t tell you. Just because.”

She drew her hand away.

“Oh, Martin, don’t be foolish!” (The lovely chiming phrase again!) “If there’s a reason, you can tell me. Is there a reason or are you just being silly?”

“There’s a reason, Cassie.”

“Then tell me it.”

“I can’t even do that.”

“Why not?”

“If I could tell you why not I could tell you the reason. Don’t you see? I can only ask you to believe that there is a reason and that it’s—fatal.”

She fell to playing with her fan. “I don’t see at all. I think you’re simply idiotic. I’m not a child. If it’s anything bad——”

Horrified, Martin heard tears in her voice; he spurred to his close.

“I can’t tell you, Cassie.”

“Then why did you come here to-night?”

“Because—I’ve got to say it, Cassie—I’m not ever going to see you again.”

In the dead silence that followed, the band, somewhere outside the universe, thumped and jangled and jigged. “It’s done,” thought Martin, feeling his forehead cold and damp, “Thank God, it’s done. I’ve said it.”

“And you won’t tell me why.” Her voice had steadied; at least she wasn’t going to cry.

“I can’t.”

“Then I don’t quite know why you came to-night. You’ve been cruel. I suppose you didn’t think——”

Martin got to his feet.

“I thought and thought and thought,” he said. The deep rushed suddenly to meet its companion; he felt himself overcome, swept on the irresistible wave. “Cassie, you’re lovely and a darling and I just mustn’t see you. That’s all.”

There was a further silence. Then she said,

“Please go.”

He hung over her, stupidly irresolute.

“But will you——”

“I’ll manage. Please go now.”

Dazed, Martin walked out of the moonlight into the blaze of the Club—and ran straight into Ness van Rennen. Ness was as unlike his sister as possible—a stocky, square-chinned American.

“Seen Cass?” he said. Cass! thought Martin as usual—what a frightful diminutive.

“She’s sitting out with someone,” he lied, gazing stupidly at his host. What insane parents these two must have had, he was thinking; fancy calling your children Nestor and Cassandra. Amazing!

“Well, I’m durned,” said Ness. “And her own brother’s dance too. Well, come and have one.”

Dreamily Martin followed him into the bar, drank reciprocated. And outside Cassie was sitting—alone, alone.

Martin had booked his programme only up to halfway, knowing that he must leave as soon as the dreadful thing had been said. But, blundering idiot, he had said it too soon; dances—with other girls—remained to be got through. He danced them out with dutiful exactness of step but in complete unconsciousness of his surroundings. “I’ve said it,” he kept thinking, “I’ve got it said. It’s over.” His partners chattered, the band tinkled and blared, the room spun round, cool liquid went down his throat—it was all a dream.

After the seventh dance he collected his hat and went to say good night to his host. With true American hospitality Ness was instantly concerned.

“You feeling all right?”

“Not too bright,” said Martin and muttered something about headaches.

“What in hell’s wrong with the evening anyway?” said Ness. “Here’s Cass had to go home too—and she’s no quitter unless she’s reached limit. By Gosh, I hope——”

“I expect she’ll be all right.” Martin assured him inanely. He was conscious of gibbering. “It’s a hot night, you know—of course, it’s March, but it’s a hot night.” He got away.

Hot night? Worse, worse than that. Oh, Cassie!


Stiegler’s letter arrived on a roasting morning of late April—a nasty morning with the mercury climbing a steady three degrees to the hour. It came to Charlie and he brought it in a great state of excitement to Martin.

“It’s the bloody limit. It isn’t business. It’s piracy, piracy with insult. Marty, oldboy——”

Martin read the two pages typed on some large-lettered robust machine; he was surprised on the whole that it had not made its appearance sooner. It was not offensively worded; it called a spade a spade but nothing worse. He threw it back.

“I don’t think we can take exception, Charlie. Facts are facts after all. Their arithmetic’s correct.”

“To hell with their arithmetic,” said Charlie. “What about their manners?” He pondered a while. “I’ll have to go to Bombay—that’s what it comes to.”

“You can’t,” said Martin sharply; Charlie was already far too excited for so hot a morning. “Let me go.” But Charlie thought Martin could do no good.

“You have to know Meiklejohn. Even then it’s bad enough. I got the Agency through Meiklejohn; this agreement they’re so precious snappy about this morning was made by Meiklejohn. No, Marty, I’ll have to go.”

“You’ll see Chapman first,” Martin insisted.

Chapman as usual was vaguely negative. Strictly speaking Charlie should not go, but then strictly speaking he should be having complete rest and treatment. As he was having neither—Chapman gave the disgruntled gesture with which he normally dismissed Charlie.

“But,” pursued Martin, “is it safe to let him go? Is he fit to look after himself? Suppose anything happens?”

“Nothing much will happen,” said Chapman. “It’s an infinitely slow disease. He’s only in the early stages. There may be a sort of temporary aphasia—he may forget where he is—but only for a minute or two. It’s like”—he strove for an illustration comprehensible to his hearer—“like a block in a petrol pipe. It gives way of itself.”

“Some blocks don’t,” said Martin doubtfully. But in the end he saw Charlie off by the Bombay mail fortified with a liberal supply of ice and all conceivable comforts.

“Back on Friday, oldboy,” shouted Charlie; and it was the last thing Martin ever heard him say.

For Charlie did not come back on Friday. Martin, who had gone to the station to meet him, returned disappointed to Sissie expecting some communication. But there was no communication. Saturday passed and Sunday—hot, anxious, unpleasant days. On Monday Martin sent a regardless wire to Stieglers. Stieglers wired back “Barclay saw us Wednesday—Thursday draft revised agreement posted you to-day.” “Damn the agreement,” said Martin, but he read it eagerly enough when it did in fact arrive the next day. It was a substantial improvement on the position and embodied most of the points Charlie and Martin had decided they would aim at if things became serious. Martin’s heart softened to old Charlie; he had been as good as his word—he and his Meiklejohn; he had got more out of Stieglers than anyone else could have done—more than Martin could have believed possible. But where was he, what had become of him, why didn’t he come back?

“I wish I’d gone with him,” thought Martin, “Why in God’s name didn’t I?”

Next morning, when another Bombay Mail had disgorged no Charlie, Martin began belated wiring to the Bombay Police; his telegrams described Charlie minutely and added “possible case of lost memory.” It could hardly, Martin now thought, be anything else; an accident—a murder even, to take the extreme and most unlikely case—would be known by now. The Bombay Police, perhaps accustomed to such enquiries, were smart; on Friday morning came the bombshell. Their telegram told Martin, “Charles Heseltine Barclay sailed Marseilles Strathisla last Friday.”

For a moment as he gazed at the flimsy paper with the pasted strips upon it, Sissie roared round Martin like an earthquake. What in the name of Heaven—? Charlie? Charlie? What had he done? Then, as the volcanic eruption slowed down and familiar objects resumed their positions, came the steadying realisation that whatever had happened to Charlie—whether he had bolted or gone mad or lost his memory or been carried unconscious onto the boat—it was the end of an eight-years stage in the history of Martin Armory. And of Frances Macneill Armory, his son. Sissie had crashed.

By the forenoon post came Charlie’s letter. The envelope was addressed in Charlie’s handwriting— shaky but unquestionably Charlie’s—to “Martin Martin Armory Armory, Esq.” at the address of the Bombay flat of eight years ago. Mechanically turning it over to slit it open, Martin saw on the flap the P. and O. crest and “S.S. Strathisla.” So the worst had happened; Charlie had gone phut. The delay was explained—everything was explained. It was the merest chance that the Bombay postal records had gone back long enough and that the letter had been forwarded at all. “Oh, poor old Charlie,” thought Martin, “my poor old partner. And why the hell did I let him go alone? I’ll never forgive myself for this.” He slit the envelope and pulled out a wad of sheets.

It was an extraordinary letter—a blend of keen sense and gibberish. It started on Taj Mahal notepaper with an account of Charlie’s visit to Stieglers perfectly sensible and clear. He said just what he had done and presently the reason emerged for Stieglers’ satisfactory terms. “I had to put down the dibs, oldboy,—five thousand quid hard; but I’ve done it and now we’re clear. We’ll get it all back from Sissie, never fear.” So—Charlie had paid off a big slice of Stiegler; that much was clear. At this stage, it was further clear, he entertained no idea of sailing for England. This part of the letter finished “More to-morrow.” To-morrow the letter went on—still on the hotel paper—but in quite a different style, very rambling and inconsecutive. “Poor dear old chap,” thought Martin; “that day at Stieglers was too much for him; it just finished him. I knew it would; damn that ass Chapman!” He read on, but the letter ended in the middle of a sheet and the middle of a sentence. It restarted on Strathisla notepaper, beginning briskly and sensibly enough. “Dear Marty, you’ll be surprised to hear that I’ve decided to sail (‘sail’ was repeated) for England.” From this there was a rapid and appalling decline. “I thought when I’d got so far having got so far so far I thought it is better to go when I had got so far to England.” Martin threw it down with tears in his eyes; “My poor old Charlie!” He picked it up presently and struggled through it to the end; then tore it across and across and threw it in the waste-paper-basket. “I couldn’t read that twice,” he thought. “My God; Charlie!” What Charlie had striven so terribly to say was apparently that he had bought off Stieglers and that he now surrendered Sissie to Martin with all his best wishes; now that Stieglers were squared Martin should do handsomely out of it. Charlie hoped he would. “It’ll be a good thing for the kid too,” Charlie had managed to say in a lucid interval. . . . And all the time the hard fact was that if Martin was lucky and if he could dispose of the stock and the business on reasonably useful terms Sissie might close down without bankruptcy. “And I don’t even know his home address,” thought Martin. “Was there ever such a mucker—-ever? Nice thing for his old guv’nor too.” He laid his head on his arms and stayed so for some little time. Clerks came, peered apprehensively, went away. Martin had his ill hour in peace.

At the end of that time he called for the principal books and for certain statements he had had prepared; he sat with them till four in the afternoon, then he put on his topi and went round to George Niven. Those who live on the slopes of volcanoes have generally some idea of what they will do when the eruption starts, and Martin had thought out his plan. Sissie must be dumped upon somebody—and at a certain minimum figure—and George Niven was the only hope. The Crewle brothers, those canny Tynesiders, were out of the question; their recent amalgamation into Carnatic Motors Limited had been the epoch-making step of a lifetime—they would make no further step for the next twenty years. But George had been disgruntled at being left out of that unforeseen deal; he might not be averse to flourishing an amalgamation—-a purchase rather—of his own. There was a vast quantity of good stuff in Sissie—and it would go for a song. In any case, faute de mieux, George Niven must be tried. Martin only prayed that his personal dislike of the little thin-lipped rat of a Dundonian might not leap out on him and destroy any chance of agreement.

Mr. Niven was in and would see Mr. Armory—after a little waiting, just to show the visitor where he stood. He pushed a tin of cigarettes towards Martin with an assumption of geniality.

“Well, it’s heating up. Hot weather now all right. Ay, well—I hear ye’re in trouble.”

“I wouldn’t put it quite like that.”

“Well, anyway I hear ye’re shutting up shop.”

Martin was prepared for the lightning rumours of the bazaar; it was practically certain that George would have heard something. How much?

“That depends,” he said. “I’ll admit I’m in a difficulty. My partner’s been ordered home for his health. The sales side of the business is too heavy for me.”

His opponent tittered. “Then ye’re no Hercules, Armory.” Martin passed the brutality over.

“My partner went to Bombay to see a—a specialist——”

“What in? Defunct motor businesses?”

Martin thought it was time for a gesture; he reached for his topi.

“If you’re going to talk like that——”

“Bide man, bide!” Niven threw out a protesting hand. “That was just fun. As a brother Scot ye must know folks must have their bit jokie.”

“By Gosh!” thought Martin, “he’s going to nibble.” Aloud he began an exposition of his errand; first-class business . . . going concern . . . coming concern . . . stuck up by the misfortune of serious illness falling on the organising partner. They talked on, Niven putting studiously careless questions that did not deceive Martin. Finally George said with an air of closing the interview,

“And what is it ye want with me?”

Martin studied him; he expected no mercy; Barclay and Armory—intruders, invaders, out of the usual trade class altogether and worst of all, successful—had never been popular with the Association; and George Niven was the last man on earth to be magnanimous. Martin drew breath.

“I want to sell out. And I thought of giving you the first offer.”

“Oh? And why me?”

“Well”—Martin smiled caressingly—”needless to say.”

Flattered, George took a fresh cigarette. “Well, let’s hear.”

His heart thumping, Martin named a sum thirty per cent above his essential minimum. There was a silence while Niven puffed and thought.

“Of course that’s absurd. Half of that’ll be for your up-country depots. I wouldna touch them with the tongs. A daft idea. Ye can’t run up-country depots without payin’ for supervision at a rate that’ll make overheads run away wi’ you. Any fool knows that.”

“One fool didn’t,” thought Martin, feeling his temper surge. He said,

“There’s some good plant in them.”

“Sell it for what it’ll fetch,” said Niven. “It’s useless to me.” He ruminated. “But it’s a fact that I do want a new showroom and workshop in Mount Road. We’re growing out of our crib here—” (“You’re not,” thought Martin, “but you do want to go one better than the Crewles.”) “Of course the price—fair ridic’lous——”

Martin reached for his topi again. “I was afraid you’d say no. I heard you weren’t doing any better than the rest of us——”

Niven, silly little fool, was drawn.

“Oh? Oh, indeed? Where heard ye that? Maybe from Carnatic Motors. Ask you themselves for their own books. I’ll tell ye——”

He treated Martin to ten minutes on the trumpet. Martin, fingering his topi in silence, thought, “I knew he was jealous of Crewle.” In the end George, trumpeting himself into complacence, consented to look into it. They stood up, Niven’s eyes slanting: Martin scented crisis.

“About yourself, Armory. Ye’d expect to be taken in, no doubt. . . . I couldna think of it.”

Martin’s temper snapped at last.

“Neither could I. Wait till you’re asked.”

Niven stared. “But what’ll ye do—set up on your own?”

“I don’t think that’s any of our present concern. I won’t ask anything from you anyway.”

“Hoity-toity!” said Niven. But Martin knew that the last obstacle was removed.

In the end, after a haggle of a fortnight, when George had backed and filled and wriggled to his small heart’s content, Sissie changed hands at a price just seven per cent above Martin’s minimum, counting in the up-country depots—mercifully few so far—which Charlie’s ranging vision had established. With Niven’s cheque once in the bank, Martin sat down and cleared account after account, loan after loan. They came in endless procession and there were black moments when Martin feared lest Niven’s cheque would fail to cover them after all. Latterly Charlie had indeed splarged—and the convention of joint control had been observed even more loosely than Martin had expected. Sissie’s bad debts—and Charlie’s extravagance with credits made these a handsome total—went over to Niven for what he could make of them. The best of Sissie’s staff followed them; the others would drift about and make a living or not make a living after the easy Indian fashion. They passed apathetically away and Martin said good-bye to them without serious pang.

Finally he sat down and struck a balance. All cleared and paid off, the bungalow sub-let, the furniture sold, there remained of his and Charlie’s capital the princely sum of three hundred pounds. Half of that, Martin decided, was Charlie’s. Charlie’s ultimate transaction with Stieglers remained a little obscure; he had paid a good deal of money from his private account, but a good deal from the firm’s too. But anyway, thought Martin, what’s the point in boggling over shillings at this time of day? Solemnly he wrote a cheque for one hundred and fifty pounds and sent it to Charlie with a covering letter. Since that shattering screed from the Strathisla not a word had been heard of Charlie; but again that had no bearing on the present question. Alive or dead, the money was his.

The letters posted, Martin stood with his personal possessions and the sum of about two hundred pounds in the bank; the Babs fund—that extravagant but now fortunate arrangement—would persist for some years yet, but on the two hundred he, Martin, must live for what appeared an indefinite period. He had been too busy so far to face the grim question of the future; but now it recurred with some insistence. He surveyed himself, his record and qualifications, with a hard smile. “Kicked out from home,” he thought, “on charges of drunkenness (admitted) and indecent assault (disproved). Sacked from one firm; failed in another. Present age, thirty. Experience, nothing to speak of. Marketable assets, ditto. Capital, nil. There’ll be a rush for me—-I don’t think!”

And Fras? What about Fras now?


So far as Fras was concerned, no explanations were necessary. He had always been an acquiescent child, strangely incurious over practicalities. He believed that Martin was his father and he had entered into the home life of so few other children that he never realised what an unconventional father he possessed or how unusual his domestic arrangements were. He accepted; the problem of his relationship with the Cottles—why he lived with them instead of with his father, where his father lived—hardly seemed to trouble him at all. Martin had first tormented himself with the fear that Fras would ask about his mother, then—as the years went by and Fras never did—soothed himself so long with a delusion of security, that when one day Fras suddenly asked the question, he had forgotten the convenient lie he had meant to tell. Instead, he had said, “Don’t ask me about that just now, chappie; I’ll tell you one day.” Fras had nodded solemnly and never returned to the subject. What went on in his aloof little mind? Martin did not know. He took things for granted that would have stimulated most children to curiosity, demanded information on odd subjects most children would have left alone. He had uncannily acute intuitions. . . . But at all events, Fras, knowing nothing of what had been his father’s life, had no need now of explanations. So far as Fras was concerned the universe went on without material change.

It was not so with others. Early in the proceedings Martin had surveyed his list of Clubs and had struck through it ruthlessly with a blue pencil. No more clubs. Modifying this, he kept the Madras Gymkhana and sent in his resignation of all the others. In a way it was his official announcement of catastrophe; men came clumsily, kindly, to express their sympathy. “Bad luck,” they said, or “Cruel hard lines” or similar blundering phrases. Women wrote charming letters; women had always liked Martin with his fifteenth century Scots face and the blend of humour and temper that lurked in his dark eyes. Ness van Rennen came one day to see him—sturdily prosperous; he asked what Martin was going to do, but he made no offer.

“I don’t quite know,” said Martin, “I’ll find something.” “If you were only anybody else,” he thought, “I might touch you for a job. But you’re Cassie’s brother. Can’t be done.”

“It’s rough,” said Ness. “Cass is in a great way over it.”

Martin’s eyebrows went up. “She’s heard? I thought she was in the Hills?”

“She’s in the Hills all right; but she hears most things, Hills or no Hills. She’s sick as mud about it. We all are.”

“She’s all right? Having a good time?”

“Oh, swell. Cass can look after herself.”

Could she, Martin wondered.

The bottom level of humiliation was reached, Martin found, when he had to sit down and write to St. Sebastian’s. A few months ago he had been contemptuous of St. Sebastian’s; it wasn’t good enough for Fras; something better was to be found. Now he was obliged to write very humbly to Brother Gervase saying that unless they allowed him concession fees Fras would not be able to stay at all. The music lessons would have to be given up; every possible economy would have to be practised; Brother Gervase must understand that Fras’ father had lost everything—everything; that until he got some sort of employment which would bring him in a livelihood he would have nothing at all. . . . It was a difficult letter to write and Martin tore up draft after draft. And also it brought him face to face again with the problem; what was going to happen? Thirty; sacked from one business, failed in another, secretly married, an inexplicable “son” of nearly eight—it was a poor equipment with which to assail a falling market. Business was sinking everywhere, firms were cutting down staffs, axing was going on all round. . . . For a moment Martin’s hand shook, his throat went dry.

St. ’Bastian’s at any rate turned up trumps. Brother Gervase wrote just the right letter, infinitely comforting. Perhaps he was used to such cases—had seen so many hopes crash, so many dreams come down to the humblest modification of their original grandeur, that he had learned just how to deal with their broken, disappointed authors. St. ’Bastian’s would allow Fras the concession fees; or, if Martin preferred, they would keep him indefinitely at no fees at all and Martin could pay them back when things improved. They liked Fras—they wanted him. As to the music, on no account must that be dropped; Brother Baptiste would not hear of it; Brother Baptiste would teach the boy for his own pleasure and amusement. . . . Decent, they were decent: Martin could almost have cried. But Cottle took a more practical view.

“They’re ’Oly Romans, sir. That kind’ll never let a nipper out of their ’ands—specially a boy. They’re afraid if he gets out, ’e’ll go Protestant.”

“You’re a Holy Roman yourself, Cottle.”

“’Ave to be, sir—-on account of the missis. She made a point of it. . . . That’s ’ow I know ’em. I’m not saying they’re not good folk. But they don’t let go.”

“I hope they won’t,” said Martin crossly; for the nonce Cottle jarred.

So Sissie was settled. And Fras was settled. And now there remained only the comparatively minor problem of keeping body and soul together. That and one other problem, the problem of Cassie—solved, settled, yet persisting. For Cassie, who was finished, continued; Cassie, who was dead, still lived with intolerable allure. And within the week after Ness’s visit Cassie showed that she was still only put off, not done with.

In the earliest days of the crash Martin had paid off the servants at the bungalow and transferred himself to a miserable hostelry whose name he had never till that moment heard—the Lotus Hotel in the unexplored postal district of Parktown. He was sitting one afternoon in his squalid box of a bedroom when the “butler” of the hotel—a dirty, red-eyed, drunken lout—came rapping at his door.

“Sar! Sar! One lady done come see master.”

Martin roared at him to come in. “You must be making a mistake.”

“No mistake, master. That lady saying Amry dorai. I telling wait in the drawing-room.”

Martin put down the pipe he had just lit; certainly there were no two “Amry dorais” in Madras; someone had found him out. Almost as certainly he knew who that someone was—it could only be Cassie. And if it were Cassie, the sooner she was relieved from the alleged “drawing-room” of the Lotus Hotel the better. It smelt, and its fans were ornamental rather than of use. He reached out for his coat.

“All right. Clear out. I’ll come.”

It was Cassie—-Cassie unexpectedly and unusually in a creamy white with pleats in it; Cassie in a wonderful hat of a warm brown; Cassie looking lovely, if absurdly out of place in that shoddy setting. His breath a little taken away, he said foolishly, “What on earth are you doing here? I thought you were in the Hills.”

She gave him her hand, let it linger on his for a moment.

“Martin.” Oh, that word! “Do you really want to ask that?”

“Ask what?”

“Why I’m here.”

Martin’s flippancy fell from him. “I can only suppose you came because you’re Cassie. And because I haven’t deserved it. How did you know where to find me? “

She smiled. “There are Post Offices, you know. You can’t hide in Madras. Not from me anyway.”

“But, Cassie.” Martin was touched beyond expression; it was good of her, it was more than good. “You haven’t really come all the way from Ooty just for that.”

“Well, and if I have? I’m not so set on Ooty——”

“Say that again.”



She said it, smiling—with a score of ‘o’s that were not ‘o’s but some letter unknown to language. Then the smile died out of her face. She looked round the room.

“Martin, is it really as bad as this?”

“It’s worse, Cassie.”

“You mean——”

“I mean it’s been an absolute knock-out. Total crash—hull and cargo. We’ve paid debts, we’ve avoided the Receiver. And that’s all.”

“Nothing left?”


“Oh, Martin!” She sighed. “I don’t know if you care to tell me “

“I’ll tell you anything. I’ve no secrets.” (“Haven’t you!” he thought.) He furnished an outline of Sissie’s disasters, a little impeded by her manifest concern.

“Well—what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know.”

“You haven’t got another—another——”

“Another job? No. I’m a gentleman of leisure.”

Her foot began to swing at the end of her slim, fawn-silk leg; he saw the familiar darkening of her face as the blood came into it.

“Martin. . . . You’ll have to let me help.”

“You can’t help, Cassie.”

“I just surely can. Ness——”

“Ness is no good.”

“Oh, Martin—why?”

“He’s your brother.”

Her cheek darkened further.

“Martin, you’re provoking. I’d think—I’d think you hated me “

“If you didn’t know I—didn’t? It’s the same thing anyway.”

She smiled up at him, the flecks in her eyes dancing.

“You can be nice, Martin, sometimes. . . . But you weren’t all that nice to me last time we met. Remember?”

“My God,” thought Martin, “I should think I do. And it’s all to be done again, too.” Aloud he said,

“I haven’t forgotten. I’m not likely to.” Desperate, he sprang up from his chair and took a turn round the room. “Look here, Cassie, for God’s sake don’t think I don’t appreciate this. It’s been good of you; it’s been great of you—especially after that infernal night at Adyar. There isn’t another girl would have done it. But now—you’ve just got to go back. Go back and have a good time and don’t bother about anything.”

In the silence that followed he stole a glance at her. She sat very still in her basket chair, her long straight legs stretched out in front of her, her hands clasped in her lap. Martin saw suddenly that she was in torment.

“I can’t do that,” she said at last. “I don’t want a good time. Not with you—like this.” She threw up her head, turned on him the full battery of her face. “Martin, you’ve just about got to let me help.”

He steadied himself. “My dear, you can’t help.”

“There must be ways. Isn’t there anything I can do? Forget that night at the Adyar, forget everything except this afternoon; just treat me as a pal. There must be something.”

“There’s nothing.”

She flushed magnificently.

“There’s one thing anyway. There’s money. Martin, I’ve got such heaps; I don’t know what to do with it. Not Ness’s—my own. Let me lend you——”

He shook his head. “If I knew I could pay you back, I might. As it is—no, no, no!”

“I don’t want it back. Let me give it to you.”

She tore open her handbag. “I’ve got a cheque book here——”

Martin put his hands on her shoulders. “Cassie you’re an absolute darling. You’ve been just splendid’ But—absolutely no.”

Slowly she drew back the zip fastener of her bag; she sighed deeply again.

“I was afraid you’d say that. Seems as if I’ve had my journey for nothing. . . . But there must be something I can do. . . . Martin, never mind about anything that—that might have happened. We can come back to all that. It’s to-day, Martin—now. And I’m Cassie and you’re Martin and I want to help and I can help and you’ve just got to let me.”

He felt his hands clench, pushed them away in his pockets.

“You’re a dear—as always. You’re the best girl that ever was. You help people by just being alive. But leaving out that—there’s nothing.”

She bit her lip. “You mean you just won’t let me—not in any circumstances?”

“I mean I just can’t let you—not in the present circumstances.”

She said, “Oh, shucks; Martin, you’re impossible.” Not without relief he saw that she was growing angry. He said,

“I just am, Cassie; leave it at that.”

She jumped up at last from her chair, thoroughly cross; picked up her bag; gave a push or two to her hat.

“I see. . . . Well, I won’t try any more. I guess I was a fool to come. . . . I’d better quit now, hadn’t I?” Her temper suddenly got the better of her. “I swallow my pride, I come all the way down here; and you just stand and say, No, No, No——”

Martin was beyond the power of speech. “If I open my mouth,” he thought, “I’ll beg her to sit down again and then God only knows what may happen; if I keep quiet, she’ll go.” As suddenly as it had left her, control returned; she sighed, smiled, melted into laughter.

“I’m sorry, Martin. . . . Better forget this afternoon too.”

He watched her cross the room lithe and graceful; watched her for an instant silhouetted against the glare of the porch; watched her go proudly down the steps. He heard the familiar whistle of the Stiegler engine starting; it gathered force, boomed, roared, sang steadily away into silence. . . . Exit Cassie. . . .

In the vast and death-like stillness that seemed suddenly to embrace the afternoon Martin stood asking himself,

“And now?”


Part Two — Poyser’s Gardens


On a moonless night of his fourth week in the Lotus Hotel Martin woke suddenly just as the clock on the Scots Kirk was sounding two. The electric fan had fused—a not uncommon catastrophe chez Lotus—and the room was sweltering, but Martin knew it was not the heat that had awakened him; it was the Present, the unpalatable Present, come to sit by his side.

The Present carried its banner and the banner took the form of the Lotus Hotel’s last weekly bill, laid invitingly on his breakfast plate the previous day. God knew it had been as low as might be and contained no single item that could have been cut out; God knew he had paid it—and God knew how. Wretched as the Lotus Hotel was, it was too expensive for Martin. A move must be made; but where?

Like fireworks or illuminations against the darkness of the stuffy little room, budgets and figures circled. Servants’ wages fifty rupees a month—cook-boy twenty-five, shared waterman and sweeper fifteen between them, dhobi ten. Rent—if you could get anything habitable at the price—fifty. Stores, soda, ice, stationery, postage—fifty all told. Bazaar—say, twenty-five; that was twelve annas a day, no Indian servant of the class he could employ would touch it on less. Clubs, nil; transport, flat feet or the trams. Drinks—a purely medicinal whisky in the evening—say, twenty. One hundred and ninety-five rupees a month; call it two hundred. Call it two thousand, call it twenty, call it anything you like where was it to come from? For there was nobody in the City of Madras who would pay Martin Armory two hundred annas.

What was there he could do for a living? Tugging the damp collar of his pyjamas away from his neck Martin answered himself, “Nothing.” Works foreman? Nobody wanted one—at a wage he could live on. Chauffeur? Nobody in India employed English drivers—even the Governor had Indians. Outside India that was a possible hope; but one could not get outside India because one lacked the money for the fare. And because of Fras. . . . Clerical work? Out of the question with a thousand Indians—graduates too—falling over each other to do it admirably at thirty pounds a year. . . . So—nothing!

Martin sat up on the edge of his bed and rubbed his face with a damp handkerchief; the August night, still and breathless, was like a hothouse; hard as one might be, one dripped. “I’ve been a mug,” he thought, “But the letter’s posted now.” The letter was to Barclay senior, Charlie’s “guv’nor,” in reply to one just received and answered with urgency because of the temptations it involved. Charlie, wrote the “Guv’nor,” was very ill indeed; whatever happened, he could never and would never return to India. “I don’t want to trouble him with figures just now” (“Poor old chap!” thought Martin, reading, “Charlie must be quite beyond figures by this time.”) “and I can’t quite make out how things stand in your business. Please tell me.” Martin had been tempted; the “Guv’nor” according to Charlie had been rolling; why shouldn’t he hear the truth? He might stand in and help if he knew how bad things were. Martin had devoted a whole day to an elaborate history of Sissie’s final twelvemonth, had read it over, realised it was a black indictment of Charlie’s incompetence or worse and—had torn it up. He couldn’t send it; apart from loyalty to Charlie, it would break the old man to pieces. Instead he replied laconically and in curt business phrases; everything was settled, all accounts closed; he himself was thinking of starting in a new line. “It’s true,” he said with a wry smile as his letter dropped into the box, “every word of it.” Well, so it was; and why annoy others who had troubles of their own in plenty.

“I suppose I ought to be calling down curses on Charlie,” Martin mused. “Well, I just can’t. It wasn’t his fault, poor old chap. And but for Charlie I’d have gone under in Bombay. And then what would have happened to Fras?” Fras had played a solo at St. ’Bastian’s break-up concert and had staggered them, it seemed, more than a bit. He was in the Nilgiris now, holidaying with Brother Baptiste; you could not bring a child to the Lotus Hotel in August even if you could afford it. You became indebted, therefore, to good men such as Brother Gervase and Brother Baptiste—to the ’Oly Romans.

Martin got up, drank a glass of water and changed into dry pyjamas. Presently, somehow, he forced himself into a second sleep.

With the morning he carried out the night’s resolve; he sought out the oily Goanese proprietor of the hotel and told him he would be moving almost at once. This achieved, he took his topi and went out on a rather aimless search. The morning was still as the night, heavy, unbreathable; the trams groaned and jangled; carts cluttered the roadway; green-black drainage rotted in the gutters. “Cess-pool!” thought Martin. But the throng and the stir and the dirt meant at least possible work; up-country there could be no opening at all.

Near the Harris Bridge he ran suddenly into a small bustling man who peered at him and then thrust out a hand with a brisk “Hullo!”

Martin looked at him blankly. “Let’s see——”

“Stiff!” said the little man explosively.

Martin took his hand, smiling. “Oh yes, of course. You’re Wanderlust.”

“I am so. And what are you these days?”

Martin shrugged with an attempt at levity. “Gentleman of leisure.”

“Then you’ve leisure to come and have one with me. I’m at Bosotto’s.” He ran a penetrating reddish eye over and through Martin, an eye so keen that it must surely perceive poverty, ruin, the Lotus Hotel, everything. “A soft one if you insist.” An enormous Stiegler rolled sleekly forward. “You know that car, eh?”

Martin got in. “I suppose we sold it to you.”

“Yeh. Good car but a hell-fire carburettor.”

Martin agreed, drawing his eyelids together a little; Stiegler carburettors were one of the things—the many things—that recalled Cassie. He tried to make a joke of it. “One advantage in not being a salesman any longer—you can speak the truth.”

Stiff grinned, showing an unexpected gap where a front tooth had been lost; it gave him a debauched, sinister look.

“Can’t imagine you as a salesman,” he said disconcertingly. “Your job’s something else.” The red eyes flashed over Martin again; the car slid up to Bosotto’s Hotel. “Beer, eh?”

“Gin, please,” said Martin, “Gin slice.” They sat down at a little marble-topped table.

“Kind o’ Continental this place, eh?” said Stiff, “You travelled much?”

“Not on the Continent,” said Martin, “I know South India pretty well.”

The red eyes came round to him again. “You do? Say, can you pronounce this?” He pulled a time-table from his pocket and thrust a disconcertingly grimy finger-nail against the name of a station.

“Of course I can,” said Martin, “Singaraperumalkoil.”

“Gosh!” said Stiff, “I’ll take your word for it. That sort of thing gets me beat.” He held up a huge tumbler of beer. “Chin-chin.” He drank, set down the glass and spoke all in one movement as it seemed. “See here, why don’t you take on our new job at Hotni?”

Martin choked on his gin. “Your what?”

Stiff leaned across the table, his little eyes gimletting.

“Sorry, I’m goin’ too fast. But you want a job, don’t you? Let’s call it an interim job if you like. I know you’ve broken up your business. And you’ve done nothing since, eh?”

Martin decided that one couldn’t snub a man whose gin one was drinking. Besides—why not admit what everybody knew? He said, “Just about it.”

“And you won’t get a job in this dam’ hole,” said Stiff. “It’s dead. Flat. Nothing doing.”

Martin smiled in spite of himself; when Stiff said “dead” and “flat” it was as if he spat Madras City into the Bay of Bengal.

“Well, now,” pursued Stiff, “We-ell, now. Wanderlust’s got an office here in Madras City and a man in it—or a bit of a man anyway. Spelder his name is. Wash-out. No guts. They want to open a branch at Hotni to cope with the tourist traffic to the big temples—you know, at Wishy-Washy and Punkum-Bunkum and Tirry-tootalum and all them. You can name ’em all right.”

Martin laughed and nodded. “I’ve even seen most of them.”

“There now!” Stiff leaned closer. “Well, what happens? Wanderlust offer Spelder two-fifty a month extra to run the branch at Hotni. The great sap says he can’t do it. I’m told to find someone who can and will. So now, bo,”—Stiff had all the non-American’s love of the traditional Americanisms—“so now, bo, what about you?”

Martin sipped his gin; in the whirring fan figures circulated again; servants’ wages fifty, rent fifty (you could probably get that at Hotnipatam) stores-and-such ninety-five, one-hundred and ninety-five rupees a month, call it two hundred. “You said two-fifty a month?” he said at last.

“Oh, have a heart, laddie!” Stiff was shocked. “I said that to Spelder extra. For a whole-timer they’d give three-fifty anyway, may be three-seventy-five. And annual increments. And see here, bo”—he leant so far forward that he seemed to be sitting on Martin’s chest—”they must sack Spelder one day. He’s a mutt. He’s a dud. Then you’d get Madras.”

Martin sat considering; Fras? Fras? Fras? Worth it or not? Stiff mistook the cause of his hesitation.

“It’s a job anyway. Interim job if you like—-just to keep your hand in. And it’s your job. You’ve got the education for it. ‘This, ladies and gentlemen, is the celebrated temple of Jiggery-pokey. On my left the great god Wish-Wash.’ I can see you at it. The way you read that name out of the timetable——”

Martin still fingered his glass; Fras? Money for Fras, future for Fras? Could one do better? Any alternative?

Between beer and anxiety Stiff was perspiring freely. “A single chap like you—no family or nothing. . . . They might make it four hundred after a year. . . . Come on, boy—help me out. I’ve gotta find someone for the dam’ place; I want you. Give us a hand.”

Smilingly Martin put down his glass, his mind made up.

“If you put it like that,” he said. He fumbled surreptitiously in his pocket, fingering the few coins he found there. “What about the other half of that beer?”


So for two years—and a little over—from August of 1930 to October of 1932—Martin saw no more of Madras or Madras of Martin. Instead he lived at Club Road, Hotnipatam; and the rent was only forty rupees a month, not fifty. Time was when Hotnipatam had boasted its score of “European” officials: Collector, judge, policeman, doctor, a brace of engineers, and assistants in all these departments; and in those days No. 4 Club Road could not have been had for forty rupees a month. But Indianisation had done its work; the Club was reduced to seven members; the bungalows that had always been “European” were let to Indians—who disliked them—or stood empty. Martin’s landlord, a little consequential Chetti, a Municipal Councillor, amiably anxious to do good if this did not conflict too obviously with other interests, grumbled about it. “But what I can do?” he said. “Now all the British people are going.”

“You’re getting swaraj,” Martin told him. “You can’t have it both ways.”

“Oh—swaraj,” said the Chetti vaguely.

Curious years; an odd interlude, a compartment, a slice it seemed out of somebody else’s life into which one had inadvertently wandered. They gave Martin, broken so far only to Presidency headquarter cities, his first knowledge of the rural India, the infinite, discrete, daunting mofussil. An up-country official might have smiled to hear Hotnipatam described as rural or mofussil; it had a population of a lakh and a half, tarred roads (some of them) electric light and a protected water supply; it sprawled its ugly length along the vast bend of the Vandiar River with all the attributes of town. But to Martin it was at first amazingly rustic. And for such as Martin it had one quality new and of importance; its “Europeans” were either Club members or they were not; and between the two a gulf yawned unbridgeable. There were no grades, no ascending and descending sequence of Clubs as in Madras. Martin found himself ex hypothesi among the “nots”; he would have joined the Club if anyone had suggested it to him, but nobody did. Nobody in the Club world took any notice of him at all. The rest of the “nots” were Missionaries, with whom Martin had no contact, and an impossible bounder called Blackford, the branch manager of Littlebury’s stores, whom he avoided al sight. . . . A lonely furrow, Hotnipatam, if ever there was one.

The work of Wanderlust Limited proved to be a short seasonal rush with occasional crises and enormous blank periods. The worst crises arose on the days when shiploads of Americans, on a cheap “world tour,” were decanted from the Ceylon mail at Hotnipatam at five a.m., had to be shown the fort and temples at Hotni, fed, emptied, buss-ed to Kalyansamudram, shown more temples, fed again, rested, buss-ed on to Shivanur, shown temples again, fed yet a third time and packed into the Madras Express at nine p.m. They came in droves of fifty, sometimes seventy, on one dreadful day a hundred and seven. They were mostly “teachers” and varied from skittish maidens in extraordinary clothes to venerable old gentlemen quite incapable of keeping pace with the rest of the party. They were normally accompanied by a perspiring “conductor” whose one idea was to escape from them and drink beer. They gaped, ejaculated, offered witticisms, gaped and passed away. They understood as much about India, had as much appreciation of what Martin tried to show them as as Stiff. A few talked loudly about “heathen”; one or two, whispering behind a hand, wanted to be shown the “naughty carvings,” or put half-ashamed, surreptitious questions about “the ex-act co-notation of the lingam.” They gaped, giggled, postured, gaped, passed. Not one in a hundred realised what these gruelling days meant to Martin—sixteen hours of incessant battle to run to a timetable cut and dovetailed to the last minute, sixteen hours that must go like clockwork with anything but clockwork materials.

One night at Shivanur Martin left them at the temple in disgust and handing them over to their conductor turned back himself into the twilit temple court. In the dusk the place was a presence of peace; it spread away from him in its perfect proportions, blurred by the half-light, till they seemed to hold in themselves the secrets alike of infinity and of eternal time. The temple trustee—an Ayyangar Brahmin—was superintending the locking-away of the jewels; Wanderlust’s patrons always wanted to see the “jools”—and invariably decried them loudly and harshly, not understanding the difference between cut and uncut stones. Martin spoke to him.

“It’s good of you people to let them come in like this. All these——” He stuck for a word.

The Brahmin smiled. “If they wish to see, how can we refuse? The temple is everybody’s property. So far as caste will allow, everybody must be permitted to enter.”

Far up the long straight aisle of columns the lights round the shrine twinked in the dark. A pujari was worshipping with a camphor flame; by its fitful fight the outlines of the idol were just visible.

“But it’s so beautiful,” said Martin, “so fine. They don’t appreciate——”

The Brahmin played with the ends of the scarf round his shoulders. “Something they must pick up . . . . You like our temple?”

“I love it,” said Martin, realising suddenly that he did. The Brahmin gave him an odd look.

“I’m finding India,” thought Martin. “I never knew it before.” And on cold-weather days when there were no tourists he would take a bus or a jatka into the country—the simple, peaceful South Indian countryside—and wander aimlessly. His range was strictly limited and the dilatory habits of the buses, their utter disregard of timetables, their interminable halts for any or no reason, were hard to endure; but the days stuck in Martin’s mind with a queer realisation of enjoyment. Little up-country villages with a temple and a tank; a great tamarind or mango tree in the heat of the day; an absurd shrine-crowned rock sticking up like a lingam out of green paddy-fields and a still sunset seen from the top of it: there was nothing in all these items, yet there was everything. There was peace, content, that good feeling of coming close to the earth and being part of it; that glimpse of something that would not reveal itself further but was most certainly there. Nothing moved, nothing hurried; all tarried, as it were, for the coming of a god—who really might at any minute come. “How the devil,” thought Martin, “can you expect action from a people bred in all this? No wonder they talk and talk; it’s just thinking aloud. There’s nothing to do here but think.”

No. 4 Club Road had a flat roof to its single story, accessible by means of a rickety, ladder-like stair, and there after dinner Martin would sit with a petrol lamp and read. At first the nights were heavy and opaque and the petrol lamp was clouded by a multitude of suicidal insects; then came weeks of sheeting rain—a bad time to get through for the country was closed and the city was a swamp of mud-and-water and floating, stagnating dirt; then at last came the cold-weather nights. Night after night the stars wheeled in brilliance over Martin’s roof; moon after moon was born and grew to magnificence and waned; morning after morning came up fresh, new, virgin beyond virginity. Till it all culminated, as it seemed, in the nights of March with a moon of almost intolerable brilliance, with the scents of night flowers, with spring’s advance and the near presence of the gods.

Down in the city was a sad sight—or so Martin should have found it; a yard where buses were stabled and where unlearned native workmen destroyed their interior anatomy. It had a wooden arch over the gateway flamboyant with lettering about the “Radha-Krishna Motor School.” But under this lettering were discernible words that had formerly held place upon that arch—and the words were “South Indian Services.” It was the local Sissie’s former home—one of the few up-country depots Charlie’s enthusiasm had succeeded in establishing. A sad sight it should have been for Martin’s eyes.

But Martin lay in his long chair on the roof of No. 4 Club Road, drowsily content. In a soft sky of cloudlets a smiling moon came up, putting out one by one the patient stars; the air was rich with jasmine; the Chetti’s tamarinds rustled in the night breeze. Over on the Maidan a man sang endlessly, loudly, foolishly as he walked along; from the city came the distant beat of the inevitable drums. India pressed round Martin, mothering him, soothing, stilling. “Only stay quiet, only take things as they come; don’t fidget, don’t strive; I will keep you happy.”

“I’m not altogether sorry,” thought Martin, “that Sissie went phut.”

“I’m going into a trance,” he thought. “Well; why not?”


Fras came for half his Christmas holidays; the Cottles claimed the other half and as there was now no question of cutting out the Cottles their claim was honoured. A final December drove of Americans went through and then Martin and Fras embarked on a ten-days’ tour by motor-bus and cart and jatka that took them across the Mysore frontiers on the one side and down to the beaches of Rameswaram on the other. Martin studied the boy and was increasingly pleased with him. He was strong—tougher physically than he looked, those asthmatic throaty “colds” were less frequent. He was quiet, sensible, unexacting; with a queer grown-up resolution and self-reliance that came near bringing the tears to Martin’s eyes. Gifted with intuition, he seemed to realise a tremendous deal without being told. He remained small and slight and his face had darkened a little; much much later in life it would darken again; meanwhile he would retain that rather attractive olivey-brown. He had Babs’ fine-textured skin and the pigment lay on it lightly, like the veneer on an egg-shell; his features were clean-cut, intelligent, alive. “I’m lucky,” thought Martin once more, “What mightn’t he have been?” As ever, he talked far ahead of his years, and was devotedly considerate of Martin.

Fras rarely asked questions—though his active little mind must have been full of them; he had the gift—bred in him perhaps subconsciously by his circumstances—of accepting whatever happened. It endeared him to Martin who knew himself a bad liar primed with unconvincing explanations. “I shall have to face it some day,” he thought; but the present was precious, the cold-weather sunshine was gay and lively, the world was meant to be explored not explained. India had entered into Martin at Hotni and he took the line of least resistance. “Don’t fidget, don’t strive; I will keep you happy. . . .”

Yet one night they came to it. Fras, a little figure in white pyjamas sitting up for a time before bed, said suddenly “Dads?”

Martin looked up. “Yes?”

“Dads, I wish you’d tell me about my mother.” He caught the quick look of distaste that flashed across Martin’s face and hastened to qualify his demand. “I don’t want to know, if it’s anything—— But the chaps keep asking.”

Martin stretched out from his long chair and patted the boy’s arm.

“It’s all right, old boy. There’s nothing much to tell. Your mother and I had a row once—a bad row. We don’t see each other now. That’s all there is to it. Understand?”

The little image on the chair was as serious as a bishop—and very much the man of the world.

“Oh, yes. De Silva’s people are like that. And there are some other chaps. I only wanted to know. . . . My mother’s alive, isn’t she?”

“Yes,” said Martin and added idly. “Would you like to see her?”

He was unprepared for what he evoked; the boy’s eyes woke to fury, he pulled himself straight.

“No. No. Rather not. If she was nasty to you I’d hate her. I’d like to kill her.”

“Good God!” thought Martin. Aloud he said, “But maybe I was nasty to her?”

Fras shook his head. “No. It must have been her fault. I’d kill her if I saw her.”

“Well, don’t worry,” said Martin soothingly, “you needn’t ever see her if you don’t want to.”

“I’ll never want to,” said Fras. He paused a minute. “Dads?” “You are my dad, aren’t you?”

Martin hesitated. Now for it? But the child was only eight—or so little over it as made no matter; you couldn’t explain to him the difference between a real physiological father and one who was a father in every aspect except the essential of procreation. Obviously the next question would be, “Then if you weren’t, who was?” And how could one then explain that one didn’t know—that nobody knew, perhaps not even Babs herself?

“Yes,” he said.

“I’m glad,” said Fras solemnly. “Goodnight, dads.”

So long as he was glad about it, Martin thought, it sufficed. But the memory of that talk came back to him again and again in the long evenings after Fras was gone. “The boy’s growing into something extraordinary,” thought Martin; “what am I going to do with him? How am I going to be fair to him, give him the chance he ought to have?” Wanderlust had compromised on three hundred a month to begin with, with annual increments of twenty-five, and Martin had been in no position to refuse. There was no apparent prospect of anything better—ever. What to do, as the Indians said?

But the great moon swam over Hotnipatam and the stars wheeled infinitely slowly and the drums of the bazaar, the songs of the passers-by were endless and aimless. Martin fell back into the old attitude: Babs, Cassie, Charlie, Bombay, Madras, relapsed into the unreal.

“Something ’ll happen; and if it doesn’t, we’re not too bad as we are.”

Fras had been gone many weeks and the bright days, the inspired nights, of March were passing over Hotni when Spelder in Madras sent down to Martin’s care a very special party. They were elderly Americans—two men and a lady—and Spelder in a private covering letter hinted at millions. “Everything must be absolutely O.K.,” wrote Spelder, “these aren’t the ordinaries.” Martin arranged the Municipal Travellers’ Bungalow—after exhaustive operations with phenyle and whitewash and eked it out with the tents Wanderlust kept for its more ambitious patrons. He went himself to the station to meet their train from Madras; but two women got out instead of one, and it was not for a full minute that Martin realised that the second woman was Cassie.

Like a man grasping a nettle in either hand Martin went forward and introduced himself. Mrs. Segard, the elderly American lady, was graciously polite, the men shook hands easily, Cassie went as white as a sheet. For once she was taken aback, for once control failed her.

“I—I didn’t know you were here.”

“I’ve been here for a long time,” said Martin. “Ness knew.”

Cassie was a little breathless. “He never told me.” She pulled herself together and turned explainingly to her friends. “I—I did some business with Mr. Armory once in Madras. We’re lucky to find him here.”

The Americans murmured those pleasant speeches which seem to come naturally to their lips and sound effusive only when spoken in English. Quickening, Martin plunged into his duties.

But the next two days were nightmare. Martin carried through his excellent programme—Kalyansamudram, Perumalkottai, Shivanur, all the stock places. The Americans proved delightful; they were charming, cultured people—Virginians like the van Rennens themselves—well read, sympathetic to India, big enough in mind to understand what they saw, their company should have been a rare and unexpected treat. Yet the days were nightmare. For wherever they went, there also went Cassie—hard, dry, silent, upright, looking straight in front of her. Or if she were not there, Martin knew that she was sitting alone in the dreary Travellers’ Bungalow at Hotnipatam—and that she sat there because his presence annihilated enjoyment everywhere else. The other Americans were concerned.

“Poor Miss van Rennen. She’s below par. Headache, maybe. Of course it’s hot—real hot.”

“It’s March,” said Martin sulkily.

“Yet she don’t seem to feel the heat as a general rule—not in Madras. Of course the sun down here—so much drier.”

Cassie withheld herself till the last hour; and then, as always when she was ready, she staged her scene. It was at Shivanur; her friends were turning over the jewel-studded trappings of the god—the little gold cases for his feet and his hands when he went in procession, his ceremonial head-dresses of gold and stones. Martin was apart looking for the hundredth time at the separate shrine to Subrahmanya—itself a little jewel, perfect in poise and balance and execution. Suddenly there was Cassie. He looked up with a start.

“You feeling better?”

“I’m not ill.” Her soft voice seemed to come from far away. “But you’ve hurt me terribly, Martin. Unforgivably. You might have told me you were here.”

“And if I had?”

“I—I mightn’t have come. I should have been allowed to know anyway.”

“Ness knew. He might have told you.”

“Well, he didn’t.” (No, thought Martin, he wouldn’t. A good fellow Ness but—one didn’t want to encourage friendship between a precious sister and down-and-outers. Ness had always aimed high for Cassie; he would be content now to let Martin drop below the horizon.)

“Does it matter?” he said.

“Yes, it matters. I walk into—this. I get out of a wretched train and find—you—standing on the platform. Damn it, Martin, I’m flesh and blood. But that’s not what hurts.”

“Then what, Cassie?”

She traced with the tip of her sunshade the intricate pattern of a lotus carved in everlasting stone on a pillar.

“You know quite well. The last time we met I asked you to be—friends. You wouldn’t let me lend you money or anything, and of course I respected you for that.” (Cassie’s wonderful “re-spected,” full of new consonants, set Martin’s pulses tingling again.) “But I did think you’d let me know how you got on. When I never heard I thought you’d gone home. Even then I thought you’d tell me some day how things were going with you. I never thought—I never thought—you’d be so near and never writing a word to me.”

She turned away; horrified, Martin saw that in her eyes the bright sunset was mirrored in tears. He said stupidly,


But she was not to be mollified, she was done with him.

“It don’t matter now. I know now how you feel.” Her voice hardened. “I won’t trouble you any more. Ever.”

She walked towards her friends. Martin heard himself—or was it somebody else?—saying,

“I’d like you to look at this little shrine to Subrahmanya. The authorities say——”

They looked at it charmingly.

At the station, waiting for the evening train to take them southwards, Cassie simply turned her back. The non-Segard American, who had hitherto said very little, came and spoke to Martin.

“I guess I know why they call this the Land of Regrets: it’s because everyone regrets leaving it.”

Martin smiled. “I’ve never regretted coming here anyway.”

The older man looked at him curiously. “And I guess you know,” he said.

Martin thought he had touched that afternoon one of the lowest depths of hell. But he found a lower when he woke on his roof at midnight in the compelling radiance of the March moon, the air singing with jasmine, the whole open-armed night expectantly waiting for her god. And he thought of Cassie, the brown-gold girl, that beautiful lost thing. . . .


In the narrow metre-gauge carriage where a couple of noisy fans played shuttlecock with the same content of exhausted air, Cassie first slept, then woke, slept again with a determined effort and woke finally and for ever. The train rocked idly forward through the moonlit night; conscious of long hours in which to reach Madras, it made no effort, lurching along as though it were itself half asleep. Occasionally a girder bridge roared or the flare on the platform of a sleepy station rose, blazed at the window, fell away behind. The effect was dramatic, unreal; the hot still night outside was like a thing imaged in glass or water; propped on her pillows in the dark compartment, Cassie looked out at its endless sequence of monotonies; she felt carried in a dream, infinitely remote.

Her thoughts ran with the steady surge of the train. Martin, she thought,—I shan’t see him again. Was I a beast to him? Her hand stole out to the little folding table beside her berth; perhaps I was, she thought, perhaps I should write him a little note, say something kinder. But in the other berth Mrs. Segard, feeling the heat, tossed in difficult slumber; impossible to switch on even the reading-light without disturbing her. The train stumbled over points, shrieked for a level crossing that fell behind with a vision of held-up bullock-carts patiently waiting in a string. Cassie drew back her hand, her mood changing. Why should I she thought; why should I write to Martin now or to-morrow or ever again? I won’t.

“I won’t trouble you any more,” she had said at Shivanur. “Ever.” Well, she would keep to that. Gazing out into the placid moonlight she thought back over Martin—over the Martin-and-Cassie episode. The queer creature he had been, the queerly upsetting, attracting-repelling, advancing-receding mixture! That first dinner party when her hostess had said, “Mr. Armory”; and she had looked level—that was his first recommendation to tall Cassie—level into the pale set face under the dark hair. They had seemed to ripen to acquaintance immediately; at a stride they overtopped all preliminaries. She had gone home thinking, “I like him, I’ve made a friend.” Then she made Ness ask him to dinner and he had been as cold as a star and as distant; and so for the next two or three encounters. And so on and so on it had gone for the year or so of their friendship; up and down, hot and cold, forward, backward. Yet just as he had seemed unable to break away altogether, so she had been unable to refuse herself to him. “But I will now,” she thought, “now and for ever.”

“After all,” she thought, “he’s been a beast to me—rather a cad. He talks of all these reasons he can’t tell me; I don’t believe there are any. If there were he’d tell me them soon enough. I guess he s just romancing. And I’ve made myself cheap to him too. . . . Well, I won’t ever again. Martin’s over. I’m through.”

The train dragged itself into Nallayur, hung there interminably while babel raged on the platform outside. Vendors went bawling up and down—fruit, coffee, palaharams, anna toys. Crude, raucous voices bellowed to one another; women squalled and wrangled. Mrs. Segard tossed and woke.

“Oh, Cass—can you sleep?”

Cassie said nothing, made no movement; her companion, deceived, sighed “You lucky thing,” turned over, strove again after rest. A man beat deafeningly on a hanging rail, the train started with a sudden jerk, recommenced its loafing journey through the blue-grey night. Cassie glanced at Mrs. Segard—a hump dimly visible under a white sheet. In a few days Mrs. Segard would be in Yorktown, Virginia; she would see Cassie’s father, old Nick van Rennen. Poppa; the old darling that he was—and the fury he would feel if anybody told him his daughter had been making herself cheap with a Britisher, if he heard of that humiliating afternoon in that loathsome hotel. And he would be quite right too; old Virginia rose proudly to the challenge; Tidewater folk had no need to cadge for friends, no need to pursue people who fobbed them off with silly stories. Ness never made himself cheap; and Cassie—well, this once but never again. No!

At Egmore terminus Ness was waiting sleekly immaculate as if it were noon instead of six a.m. and as if no such things as sleepless nights in a dirty train could possible exist. And George Lincoln had come down with him, tall and smiling, and his friend Beverley and two others. Bully of them; because they had all come down at that unconscionable hour of the morning simply and solely to see her, Cassie whom Martin Armory rejected. Their little tribute provided the balm her sore spirits needed; she was grateful to them and said so. They made suitably comical replies.

“Oh, we just naturally had to.”

“Place was a desert—eh, George?”

“I’ll say it was.”

Nice fellows; friends; good to be back!

On the way to the bungalow, sweeping in the Stiegler through streets still cool and deserted, Cassie turned on her brother.

“Did you know Martin Armory was at Hotni?”

His eyes narrowed. “I did hear it. See him at all?”

“I had to; he’s in Wanderlust’s. You might have told me, Ness.”

He looked away from her. “So I might, sis; so I would if I’d just thought of it. . . . You don’t need to worry about him.”

She shook herself crossly. “I’m not worrying. But it was awkward meeting like that. And—I don’t want him to go down and out, Ness.”

Delicately he took the ash from his cigar on the rim of the door. “You can’t keep some folks in the game, sis. They’ve just got to go under.”

The car slowed and turned; the great bungalow, bowered in trees and greenery, rose before them; the red earth drive had already been sprinkled, it was cool and welcoming. The cannas were going off a little, she noticed, and somewhere a coppersmith bird was insistent: hot weather coming, the Hills, Ootacamund, another world. . . .

She sighed.


In October of the year Spelder in Madras saved Wanderlust the trouble of sacking him. A lone, dreary man, he made a lone dreary end of it by blowing off half his grey head with a shot-gun in his boarding-house bedroom, somewhere between two and four on a pouring monsoon morning. For some reason nobody heard the report; the boy, coming with Spelder’s morning tea was the first to light upon that dismal chamber—and promptly dropped the tray and ran yelling. Poor Miss Keyes, who kept the boarding-house, could hardly be expected to face the immediate necessities of the situation; so the work was done in the end by young Third—and it was no work for a highly-strung, under-nourished boy on a wet Madras morning.

The news came to Martin in the form of a couple of telegrams sent off from different places and at different times but arriving almost simultaneously. Wanderlust from Bombay said officially, “Spelder Madras committed suicide. Take over Madras office forthwith.” The second, from some outlandish up-country township said, “What did I tell you. Congratulations. Stiff.” But Martin lapped in Hotnipatam and in indolence, thought it no matter for congratulation. . . . So here ended Hotnipatam and the temples and the pleasant days up-country, and all the long, long thoughts on the lit and scented roof of Number Four. Protesting, the dreamer woke.

Madras welcomed Martin with a typical north-east morning; the buses, with their rain-sheets down, churning through the water-logged streets, the trams groaning dismally, black trees tossing in a water-laden gale. Indians struggled in the blast, cowering under umbrellas, their clothes flapping round their bare brown legs like the frocks of girls pitiably caught by a tide; they conveyed an effect of cold and wretchedness and an ineffectual struggle against fate. Stiff—to whom Wanderlust had apparently transferred the affair—had followed up his wire with two letters—one containing official instructions, the other confidential. “So far as I know,” said the latter, “everything was O.K. and I suppose he just got fed-up with life. Don’t blame him—in Madras. But you can’t be too careful; better get round first thing to his rooms and take over all his private papers.” So it was that Martin, conscious of a bad Refreshment Room breakfast inside him and the black wet misery of the day without, saw for the first time the yellow façade of Poyser’s Gardens.

A sad-looking boy was extracted from some matey-room region. “I’d like to see Miss Keyes, please,” said Martin and was left standing in a lounge not wholly unreminiscent of the Lotus Hotel. Brilliant cushions strove with an evil dark-blue distemper; pictures of vivacious ladies who had either taken off or failed to put on everything above their underclothes, cocked snooks, as it were, at four solid Victorian engravings of large political and state assemblies. On a writing-table in the corner stood a fat rank of directories and dictionaries; The Snark’s Winter Annual sprawled, its impudent cover upwards, in one of the Singapore chairs. “So much taste,” Martin quoted to himself, “and all of it bad.”

Miss Keyes presently emerged—untidily dressy and crowned with an extraordinary carrot-coloured wig. “How in the name of God,” thought Martin, “did she get here? She’s pure Rothesay.” He drew a card from his case and handed it to her, smiling: “This’ll explain me.”

The name of Wanderlust Limited threw the poor lady into even greater perturbation; she fluttered hopelessly. “Oh poor Mr. Spelder, poor Mr. Spelder! Such a nice, quiet gentleman. Of course nobody ever expected—I could never have thought——”

Martin soothed her. “Of course not, of course not. It must have been a dreadful shock. He explained his errand. “I’ve come to take over his papers.”

Miss Keyes was hopelessly undecided again, “I don’t know. I don’t know. Of course the police sealed up everything. Dreadful, dreadful.”

“That’s all right,” said Martin, “I’ve fixed that up. I’ve got permission to take over all his things.” He showed it. “If you don’t mind, I’ll go up.”

“It isn’t up,” said Miss Keyes. “Not that room. Oh, no, no. We had his boxes all brought down. They’re here—along the passage.”

Through clashing Japanese bead curtains Martin traversed a long drab dining-room with little tables like islands in a rather empty sea. In a tiny box-like room the pitiful relics of Spelder were collected, the blatant police seals shining on them like drops of bright blood. He wondered if Miss Keyes, with her carrot-coloured wig, were going to sit over him while he did his work, and decided to drop a broad hint.

“I’ll manage nicely now,” he said, “if you’ll just leave me to it.”

She hesitated again and took herself away.

For a couple of hours Martin, feeling very like a burglar, toiled through the personal belongings of the man he had never seen. It was a disagreeable task, made gloomier by the dreary day outside which drizzled, thickened, roared in deluge, drizzled again. The little room was now half-dark, now alight with a silver-grey radiance that made mock of sunshine. There was no fan, and Martin, sweating in the washhouse atmosphere, threw off first his coat and then his collar and tie. Spelder, mercifully, had been a man of few possessions—a box of sober clothing, a box of sober books, a bundle of wholly unimportant papers. A queer drab compartmented life his must have been, as dreary as this grey waste of swamp and cloud; but how did he find the courage to quit it? In the middle of Martin’s labours a brisk young man, freckled and with a thatch of ill-cut sandy hair, came bustling in.

“So you’re Spelder the Second. Can I help?”

“I don’t think so,” said Martin, “who are you?”

The young man threw away the stump of his cigarette.

“Oh, I’m Pigott. I’m on the Daily. I just looked in to see what I could do. I live here, you see.”

Martin looked at the hard tough little man. “Was it you that—er—found him?”

Pigott shook his cropped head. “No, that was young Third. Shook him a bit, too. They shouldn’t send chaps like Third out here—too sensitive. He works in Gammells, the publishers, and he believes in reforms for India. Writes pomes. Poor little devil!”

Martin waited, assuming polite interest.

“You thinking of coming in here? I’ve bagged Spelder’s room, but my old one’s going.”

“I hadn’t thought about it at all.”

“You might do worse. . . . It’s cheap and the food’s not too bad except when old Keyes buys up a job lot of tinned salmon. She’s an incompetent old hen. But it’s not too bad really. Adair’s trying and Mrs. Smallwood snores in the evenings. But you get used to anything.”

Martin laughed in spite of himself; the little man’s cocksure swagger was almost comic and his thatch jumped up and down when he grew excited.

“You don’t make it sound very attractive.”

“Oh, I’m not pressing you,” said Pigott and went out.

The work done at last, Martin restored his collar and tie and prepared to escape. But in the passage he found Miss Keyes blocking his path.

“There was something I wanted to say, Mr. Armory. Of course you don’t think—— But of course this has been a severe blow to me. Mr. Spelder had one of my best rooms. Of course——” Like some Indians, Martin thought—she can’t begin a sentence without “of course.” “Of course so late in the season I shan’t fill it easily. I was wondering if you——”

“I hadn’t intended——” Martin began and then stopped himself. What had he intended? Nothing. He had achieved no intention at all. He couldn’t run a house on Wanderlust’s pay, he knew nobody to chum with, in the big hotels (even if he could afford them) he would be constantly meeting people he wished now to avoid, he couldn’t go back to a place like the Lotus; why not Poyser’s Gardens? He murmured something about expense.

Miss Keyes hardened. “Mr. Spelder did not find it expensive.”

“But I shan’t get Mr. Spelder’s pay. And—and I have to send remittances home.”

“It is most inexpensive,” said Miss Keyes severely—and named a figure indeed reasonable enough.

Martin still wriggled, less from any sound reason than from an instinctive dislike of being jockeyed into even the desirable.

“I don’t like the boarding-house system.”

“There is no boarding-house system here.” Miss Keyes took the ascendant grandly. “Of course you will have your own separate table in the dining-room. You can be as private as you wish. But of course you will find the other guests very pleasant people. Of course there are very few. I have only Mr. and Mrs. Smallwood and young Mr. Third—such a nice gentlemanly young man—and Mr. Adair. And Mr. Pigott.” (Somehow the impression was conveyed that Mr. Pigott was not quite so nice as Mr. Adair or Mr. Adair as Mr. Third.) “Of course Mrs. Adair is not out yet; but she must have sailed—let me see—last Wednesday. Or was it the seventeenth——”

Martin, thinking it desirable to stem the tide, asked to see the room. He found it unexpectedly attractive. The impression conveyed by the front of Poyser’s Gardens as seen from its rain-sodden drive had been of a gloom and dilapidation approaching that of the House of Usher; within, however, it was fresh, neat and—except for that appalling lounge—inoffensive. This room, that looked out on a huge banyan tree, was not unlike that other room in Nungumbakam where Frances Macneill’s portrait had stood upon its easel. Well, it could stand here as acceptably; it must be growing inured to vicissitudes, to this light upon it and to that. Martin made a quick decision.

“I’ll try it.”

Miss Keyes hardened again and pounced. “Of course—for a month. And the usual notices.”

Martin shrugged. “All right.”

In the afternoon he retrieved his luggage from Egmore Station and found Wanderlust Limited nestling in one of the lanes near by. Under the aegis of an apprehensive-looking clerk he formally took charge and reported to the Head Office. The Madras Wanderlust seemed, as was natural, to do a more regular business than the Hotnipatam branch—more booking of steamer passages, less of the personally conducted tour; at the moment it seemed to have no business at all. Martin stood at his new office window and watched the Indians plashing patiently across the water-logged square in front of Egmore station while the rain roared and leapt on their futile umbrellas. So Spelder must often have stood and surveyed this prospect; no doubt he had leisure enough. . . . A little mouse of a creature he had been—grey, routine-bound, timid; how did the little mouse ever screw up courage for that tremendous culmination when he placed the muzzle in his mouth and thumbed down the trigger? God that made him knew.

Martin shook himself abruptly, turned away from the window, banged about some files and summoned a clerk. “This won’t do,” he thought; “no more thinking about Spelder. And if it’s wet this month it’ll be fine next.” He picked up a file of steamer programmes, became immediately bored with it and reached out for that morning’s Daily. It opened at the account of a Government House function; he read idly. “Mrs. Graham looked handsome in black net . . . Blue was Mrs. Williamson’s choice . . . Miss van Rennen was well suited by old gold . . . Miss Jeeves. . . .”

The paper fell from Martin’s fingers. Miss van Rennen; Cassie. And Cassie was somewhere only a mile away, looking out too at the rain, bored no doubt, idle, alone. A taxi could take one there in five minutes. . . . No taxi could take one there in five years. . . .

“Here beginneth the second lesson,” thought Martin, “Oh, God, make something happen. Something new.”


Between seven-thirty and eight in the evening Miss Keyes’ “guests” homed to Poyser’s Gardens. There was a riot of motor-cycle engines, a clamour for boys, the thunder of zinc bath-tubs hurriedly filled. Round about eight they gathered, bathed and dressed, in the lounge for what seemed to be a ritual of short drinks. “I don’t particularly want to meet these people,” was Martin’s thought, “but meet them I must and now’s the time.” Advancing into the lounge with this intention, he recollected suddenly that Poyser s Gardens had no licence and that he had been too busy all day to think of “laying in.” A mortifying moment.

A fair, florid youngish man standing akimbo at the writing-table came to his rescue.

“You want the best drinks. We have them. Give it a name. Gin-and-it? . . . I’m Adair.”

The gentleman whom Pigott found trying, Martin thought, and studied him for a minute. He had the look of the fellow to whom his friends always said, “You’re putting on weight, old chap”; the rigorous waisting of his dinner jacket made the effect worse. Good-looking up to a point, but rather a smug smile and there was something undetectable but unpleasant about the corners of his mouth and nostril. Too fair for Martin’s taste. Too fat. Martin thought he would not like him very much; but there was no point in refusing the drink.

“Gin and bitters, please,” he said, “I forgot to get anything in.”

Adair spun the bitters in a glass. “Old Cross ought to have a licence.”


“Keyes. We call this place the Cross Keyes. And of course Poisonous Gardens. That must have occurred to you.”

“It didn’t,” said Martin solemnly, “but then I’ve had a pretty busy day.”

Adair sipped from his glass. “And you’re Scotch too, eh? Well, never mind—so am I, though I never saw the blessed country. But I had a Scotch grandfather. Hoots aye, ye ken. . . . Did you unearth any lurid secrets out of Blood-and-Iron’s boxes?”

“Blood-and-Iron” was manifestly Spelder; if I had, thought Martin, I shouldn’t tell you; there was something offensive in Adair’s jauntiness on such a subject. Spelder’s pathetic clothes—the shirts and ties so tastefully chosen, the suits so carefully folded away, the dreadfully alive shoes so full of feet that were not there—lingered still too vividly in Martin’s memory.

“I don’t think he’d any secrets, poor chap,” he said quietly, “lurid or otherwise.”

“He was a pretty lurid sight anyway at the end,” said Adair. “Gosh, I was glad my Mem wasn’t here that day.”

Martin nearly said “Your what?”; then he realised that this was Adair’s method of referring to his wife. Something had been said of the wife; she snored? No, no, that was Mrs. Smallwood.

“Your wife’s at home, isn’t she?” he said, with the slightest corrective emphasis on “wife.”

“She is and she isn’t,” said Adair, “At the moment of writing she ought to be on the vasty deep in which case she’s anything but at home, poor lass. I’ll bet it’s a case of basins for one. Poor old Doshie’s no matlow.”

Martin, his brain busy with the task of translating these remarks into English, was deciding that he now definitely disliked Adair and was wondering what to say next when a tall dark boy with gazelle’s eyes in a tormented face came into the lounge. Adair immediately became noisy.

“Whatho; the lads of the village. Let me introduce No Quarter, Three-Ninths, Five-Fifteenths—otherwise one Third. Fraction, meet Mr. Armory. Say, Bo, I’m mighty glad t’ have you know me. Have a spot, Decimal?”

“N-no thanks, Adair.” The boy spoke in a soft voice, stammering slightly. Pigott came in, nodded, ignored an effusive invitation from Adair, found his own bottle and mixed himself a drink. Martin noticed again that he had a nervous habit of jerking his eyebrows and that when he did so the pointed, rough-ended thatch on the top of his head jumped absurdly in sympathy. He drank and said morosely,

“Hell of a night,”

“Hail, hail the gang’s all here, what the hell do we care, what the hell do we care,” chanted Adair. “Hail——”

“But they aren’t,” said Martin. “Surely there’s someone missing. Isn’t there a Mr. and Mrs. Smallwood?”

“Oh the Tinytimbers don’t drink,” said Adair. “They——”

“The poor old chap lost all his money in Cargill’s smash,” said Pigott dourly, “He’s seventy. Prostate gland, too, I believe. He goes on doing some work for his firm——”

“Precious little work,” said Adair.

“It’s Mason and Co. anyway,” snapped Pigott. “A darned sight better firm than Cribb’s.”

“Ah,” said Adair. “But moi, je suis Cribbs. Ze Tinytimber, ’e is not ze Mason. Vasn’t it?”

“Oh Christ!” said Pigott, slamming down his glass. “Let’s dine.” He stalked away.

“Now, Piggy-wiggy,” said Adair. “Naughty tempah!” But behind the light words Martin just saw that nasty curl at the corners of his mouth.

Martin had feared that Adair or Third might suggest his joining them at table, but the principle of “separate tables” was evidently one revered religiously in observance. Experientia docet, Martin thought; I expect they’ve learned to thank God for it. Third sat with a book in an ingenious little reading-stand, with clips to prevent the fan disturbing his pages. Pigott, at the other end of the room, struggled with the recalcitrant pages of the Daily. Adair sat jauntily upright staring round him; one would require a book, thought Martin, to combat that conversational eye; he resolved to procure one before next evening. Opposite Martin sat the Smallwoods, slowly, silently eating their way through yet another dinner. Martin had seen men of seventy in India who were alert and vigorous; this was not one of these. Bearded and bent, stooping despairfully over his food, poor old Smallwood was clearly finished and done; that flying splinter from Cargill’s smash had knocked the life out of him long ago. And out of his wife who sat with a face like a stuffed sheep staring at the vase of flowers in the table centre.

But Adair could not leave them alone; he shouted as he sat down,

“Good evening, Mr. Smallwood; business good to-day?”

“Oh, very fair, very fair,” said the old man in a toneless bleat; Martin knew instinctively that Adair bawled his caddish question and the old man baa-ed back his gallant answer five evenings out of seven.

“Ha, ha!” said Adair. “We’ll have that bottle yet.” He winked across at Martin who looked away; more routine clearly and not very enjoyable. Mrs. Smallwood smiled a purely mechanical smile, weary and meaningless, as if someone unseen had pulled her mouth earwards at either end.

After dinner—well enough cooked but hopelessly uninteresting—Martin would have gone to his room, but Adair suggested billiards. “We’ve a four for fleas at last—-think of that now.”

“Is there a table?” said Martin in surprise.

“There’s a kind of a one,” said Pigott, “in the smoking-room.”

“It c-comes up and down every time we play on it,” explained Third.

“It’s a keep-your-boys-at-home,” said Adair.

“Golf pills and three feet cues. Not just Roberts-and-Inman, but it keeps little Willie out of the Club bar.”

“Not always,” said Pigott pointedly.

“Puss-puss!” said Adair.

The table was set up by the weary-eyed servants and they played. Martin, no master of the game, had an extraordinary run of luck with the unaccustomed equipment and made break after break. He and Third won easily. Pigott said nothing, but Adair who had drunk a good deal was snappish.

“You’re a bit of a dark horse, Almirah,” he said.

(So I’m to be “Almirah,” thought Martin). “Misspent youth, I fear.”

“Bad loser,” thought Martin and wondered if Adair’s jokes were ever anything but the obvious. He turned to Third.

“I’ve been admiring your book-rest. Could you tell me where you got it?”

Third stammered that a g-girl g-gave it to him at h-home. Adair fell on the harmless little admission like a tiger.

“Watch No Quarter, Almirah; he’s a devil with the girls. We call him the Teynampet Terror. What happened at Frenchy’s? Why did they close Nawab’s Gardens? Ask——”

“Oh, shut up, Adair,” said Third, blushing to Martin’s delight. “We don’t want a l-list of the knocking shops in Madras even if you d-do know them all.”

“And you a married man too,” said Piggot grimly, filling his pipe.

“That’ll do, Piggy,” said Adair; but the corner of his mouth twitched upwards and backwards again in a tiny snarl. “Well, I shall go and play shut-eye. Sweet dreams, chappies.”

He went out.

“God!” said Pigott with two hard ‘d’s at the end, “One night I’ll break that Bulgarian’s neck.”

“Oh, poor devil,” said Martin. “He’s harmless. He only wants to be bright.”

Pigott snorted. “You wait till you’ve had it night after night for six months. His everlasting blasted facetiousness——”

“I think he’s a b-bounder,” said Third.

“Oh, you think we’re all bounders,” said Pigott with swift change of sides. “But anyway his name’s Wilfred and he hates it to be known. That’s why I’ve told you, Armory, and don’t you forget it.”

Martin promised to keep Wilfred in mind. “There’s a Mrs. Adair, isn’t there?” he asked idly. “on her way out apparently. What’s she like?”

Pigott struck a match and held it over his pipe while he suspended judgment.

“Queer,” he said at last. “Deep, I should say. She’s never said much here.”

“Anyway, she isn’t as bright as he is?”

“Good Lord, no. She isn’t like that at all. She’s stand-offish, I think. Cold. Sits and stares. I think he feeds her up at times——”

“Sometimes he makes a b-butt of her,” said Third. “That’s why I said he was a b-bounder.”

“He doesn’t altogether mean it,” said the judicial Pigott. “But he gets tight sometimes—not blotto but blithery—and then he just must be funny. She catches it with the rest. They’re a rum couple—you’d wonder how they ever married. Of course she’s a little bit older than he is as he’ll tell you pretty soon—and before her face too.”

That’s caddish,” said Martin; and Third: “He is a c-cad.”

Pigott snorted. “You and your c-cads, Fraction! Anyway, Armory, you needn’t bother about her—if she says as much as ‘Good morning’ you’ll be favoured. Above herself, I say.”

At least, thought Martin with relief, Mrs. Adair isn’t bright; a female counterpart of the scintillating Wilfred would turn Poyser’s Gardens into a second Blackpool and we should all be dining in bathing-suits and dancing to the gramophone between courses.

Presently Pigott and Third fell into a political argument which Martin rightly guessed to be another item in the Cross Keyes routine. Loathing all politics, especially those of India, he rose with good nights which neither of the excited participants acknowledged.

Piggot’s voice followed him. “The stick, I tell you, the stick. The only thing the Oriental understands. . . . One thing or the other—rule or clear out; and rule means school and school means stick.”

And Third—“No, Pigott, no. You’ve got to l-lead Indians. You can lead them anywhere. They’re loyalty’s own self once they put faith in you. We’ve lost them. We’ve got to get them back. . . . Somebody’s got to lead them on. . . . That somebody ought to be us . . . P—Pigott——”

“Nightly at ten!” thought Martin—prophetically as he was to learn. In the hall, where the keys hung, he was surprised to encounter Adair. “Hallo!” he said, “I thought you’d gone to bed.”

Adair shook his head and Martin noticed that the smug smile had become very foolish. “Slipped across to the jolly old Club. This place gets my nerves.” He slurred his words a little. “But when my mem comes we’ll go off the deep end. Whoopee! Oh, boy!”

“I expect so,” said Martin with deliberate indifference. Long experience warned him against half-drunk men who began to talk of their wives.

Adair stared at him; with the garrulity of his condition he could not leave his subject. “My mem’s a bit of a flier you know. . . . I don’t mind telling you she comes from rather a good family. Ra-ther good. . . . We’ve been married five years,” he went on in a burst of confidence, “no kiddies yet but we’ll see about that, we’ll see about that. Anyway my mem’s coming out. ’S funny to think that in ten days she’ll be standing here. Good old Dolly. Good old Dot. . . .”

“He’ll get maudlin about her in a minute,” thought Martin, “and it’s been a long, long day.” He said a firm “Good night.”

“You’ll like my mem,” said Adair, pursuing him rather erratically up the stairs.


After five days in Poyser’s Gardens Martin decided that “the usual notices” must be applied and that he must go the moment his stipulated month was up; after ten, he felt he had become inured and might as well stay there for ever. Except that it was barred to Fras, the Cross Keyes had really no serious disadvantage; and for his Christmas holidays—now drawing near—something better could be arranged. Poisonous Gardens had grave drawbacks—Adair’s untiring humour, Pigott’s slashing dogmatism—but then what place had none? Adair was certainly “trying”; he was interminably, inexhaustibly and often tastelessly funny; he seemed incapable of natural unaffected speech, he rained clichés and music-hall catchwords. “When he’s not being a Scot or an American or a Jew-boy,” said Pigott, “he’s being Wilfred Adair—and I don’t know which is worst.” And almost more tiresome than Adair’s determination to amuse were Pigott and Third’s political arguments. Martin was attracted by the timid, eager boy with his Quixotic enthusiasms, but any developments towards friendship failed for lack of opportunity. The possibility of five minutes’ sane talk in Poyser’s Gardens appeared remote; either Adair burst in with annihilating humour or Pigott came, his thatch jumping up and down, primed for battle. “Why the devil do you argue with him?” said Martin testily to Third. “He knows he’s right.” And Third, “I just c-can’t let him say these things; they’re so wrong, so s-stupid.” Sighing, Martin realised that he was beyond the age when contest with pig-headed certainty held any attraction.

However—Fras was getting on famously at St. ’Bastian’s; Wanderlust came to the scratch on pay day; things might be worse.

On the evening of the eighteenth of December he came home cross and tired; his thought as he stabled his dilapidated car—a second-hand Chevrolet bought on the instalment system—was “If Adair’s funny to-night, he’s for it.” But for once there was a vacant table at dinner; for once poor old Smallwood was able to swallow his soup in peace; for once there was no question of that idiotic game in the “smoking-room.” Martin asked.

“Where’s our Wilfred?”

Pigott emitted one of his sardonic snorts. “She’s arriving to-morrow, so Wilfred’s gone to the Gym. to beat it up. That’s the kind of fellow he is.”

“Oh well,” said Martin—impelled to defend Adair just because Pigott attacked him—“there’s no harm in a bit of a binge now and then.”

“If I had a wife,” said the virtuous Pigott, “I wouldn’t go and blow stale whisky all over her the day she came back to me.”

“If you had a wife, P-Pigott,” said Third unexpectedly, “she w-wouldn’t c-come back to you. You’d have sh-shouted her down too often.”

Pigott glared; Martin said soothingly; “So to-morrow night we’ll see the celebrated Mem.”

“You won’t see much of her,” Pigott snorted again. “She doesn’t talk to the likes of us. Little snob—that’s what she is.”

It’s just possible, Martin thought, that Mrs. Adair may prove the saving of this rather terrible galley. He would have put further questions, but in the absence of billiards the inevitable happened—Pigott began to lay down the law about India, Third took him up, they were at it again. Once again the Pigott constitution for India was laid down; firm, efficient, beneficent British rule—with a background of solid machine-guns. Third struggling against the torrent—”B-but it’s their c-country, Pigott; and we p-promised them . . .” Martin wandered away. All this jargon of autonomies and safeguards seemed completely out of key with his India—the India of the old grey stone temples and the wandering, aimless music and the garlands and the camphor flames. “Democratic institutions”; who wanted democratic institutions in a country where the very gods had walked—where any day the very gods might walk again? “Adult franchise,” “joint electorates,”—meaningless, bosh!

Next day he forgot everything in a spate of work. Wanderlust’s head office demanded, almost by return, the detailed programme for a Ten Days’ Tour among the principal South Indian Temples. The almost animal obduracy of railway time-tables and the paucity of places where even a small European party could be fed and lodged without elaborate arrangements kept Martin hard at the task all day. The game became as entrancing as a jig-saw puzzle; dark fell on Martin still in office and the eight o’clock gun boomed from the Fort as he splashed homewards in the dilapidated Chevrolet. The short-drink ritual was over when he came down to dinner, the Lounge was empty, the dining-room lapped in the usual solemn process of concerted nourishment. Martin entered almost sheepishly, carefully looking at nothing, set his book in the rack he had copied from Third’s and cautiously raised his eyes. He had expected a blast of raillery from Adair, a blazing spot-light of witticism; lifting his eyes, he understood the reason for his escape. Adair had changed his place at table, he sat now with his back to Martin and Martin, raising his eyes, looked straight at Mrs. Adair. Her head was erect and her eyes—dark eyes under fair hair—looked straight back into his.

For a moment that might have been an hour Martin had the most extraordinary sensations. It was as if something struck him heavily yet pleasantly, as if he received a deliciously mortal wound. Something turned over in his heart, something leapt inside him crying, “Look, look—let me look!” Martin met Mrs. Adair’s dark eyes and the dark eyes met his; and instantly it was as though these eyes had never done anything but meet. “But we know each other,” they said. “So there you are,” they said. “Let me see her,” shouted the leaping thing in Martin. “Let me speak to her; don’t lose a minute.” The dark eyes, still, immensely deep, omniscient, looked straight into his; they sent back his message. “Yes, it’s you; yes, it’s me.” “Look, look,” shouted the creature newborn in Martin. “As much as you like,” came the immediate reply, “as often as you like. We’ve met.”

Then as suddenly Martin came to himself. “My God!” he thought, “what am I about? Where are my manners?” But Mrs. Adair smiled at him and he smiled back, sealing it. The thing was done. He dragged his eyes down to the page of his novel—and it might have been a Coptic manuscript. The boy put food in front of him; it might have been sawdust. Shaking a little, he tried to eat. But what was this insane thing that rose inside him and held out its arms in welcome? What rose to welcome it in return? Something did—something cardinal, something primal. “I’m going mad,” thought Martin, “I’ve never been like this in my life.” He felt his forehead damp and cold. Solemnly he read a page of his book, re-read it; comprehended not a word; read it a third time; gave it up; determined not to look again; looked.

She was going on with her dinner, not regarding him at all. “Thank God,” he thought—and instantly wished her to look up. But she remained perversely interested in her plate. She was fair-haired, he saw, but not so very fair either; a gold of sorts for which no exact name so far existed. Light gold? Silver gold? Neither. And her eyes, too, had been elusive: were they very light brown, dark brown, dark green hazel? Were they dark in themselves or only by contrast with her hair? Pale green frock; jade bangle; and she was a little thing—exact, rounded-off everywhere, neat, finished, perfected. And instantly he saw the curve of her cheek as she bent her head and at the sight his heart turned over again. For it was a new shape come into the world and beauty was born with it, and the curve of the cheek was so lovely in outline and so delicious in colour and so soft— e felt it soft across the width of the room—that he was wrung and wrung. Immediately the thing leapt up again shouting, “Let me see her again. Make her look up. Make her look at me again.” And as if at command of the master, she did look up and her eyes met Martin’s again and she smiled and looked away. But not before the eyes had said, “Still there? Still here.”

Frowning, Martin concentrated upon his suddenly obscure novelist. “I’m thirty-two,” he thought, “I’m going on like a fool . . . I’m thirty-two; she must be about the same. . . . I don’t feel thirty-two; I feel younger than Third. . . . She feels it too; I know she does . . . I must see more of her at once—much more . . . I mustn’t see any more of her—any more at all.” With an effort he turned his page; and simultaneously Adair’s chair went back with a noisy scrape and they were coming across the room towards the door. Towards his table, towards him; he couldn’t avoid it.

She was a little smaller than he had thought—-and infinitely prettier. She hadn’t cut her hair—or she had grown it again. She was made exquisitely, with an almost shop-window neatness; but she had a form, she was a woman. She moved slowly, sweetly. The dark eyes were there—dark brown undoubtedly now, deep, fathomless; under them the soft cheek curved out and down——

“Sir, Mr. Arsenal,”—Adair’s insane babble began—”Doshie, meet Mr. Armory, the Cross Keyes latest victim.” “How do you do, Mr. Almirah,” said she, getting the name wrong as usual. “Almirah, my Mem; the only wife I’ve ever kept. Dorothy by name; otherwise Dot, Dotty, Dolly or anything else I happen to fancy. Our Mister Armory, Missis A., née Spelder of Wandered-and-Lost Unlimited. Pills champion of Poisonous Gardens. Now then, mix it up—mix it up.”

The eyes, solving all doubts, had said to Martin, “Don’t bother about him; it’s us.” Her mouth was generous, full-lipped, the corners lifted in a little enquiring smile. Her expression was tired, yet expectant; steeled to patience yet still impatient for something. For what? Her eyelashes were very long and dark; they drooped to the curve of the cheek—so soft, so round.

“How do you do,” he said; and thought, “How many—things—have begun with these words?”

She smiled up at him. “Forgive my husband; he can’t help it.”

Martin smiled back. “We’ve noticed it.”

“I like that,” said Adair. “When my erring spouse is just restored to my mahanly buzzom can’t I throw a spot of jawah de veever? Let’s make whoopee. Come and join us in a stomachic with the chicorice. Portmanteau word, chicorice—chicory and licquorice. Cross calls it caw-fee.”

Martin, struggling with this flood of humour which he only dimly heard, strove to reply brightly in kind. “Have a heart! . . . I’ve only started dinner.”

Adair shook his head in mock sorrow.

“Sad case; lives for his Little Mary. . . . Well, Missis A., it’s me for the smokes. Coming?”

“Of course.” But she lingered. “I shan’t sit up to-night, Mr. Armory. I’ve been sea-sick for weeks. Don’t think me rude. You’ll be here another night?”

Martin smiled. “For ever so far as I know.”

“Then—another time. You won’t run away?”

He shook his head and watched her go into the lounge. Now why had she said that. Run away? Either I must or I mustn’t—I don’t know which. . . . And the thing inside him jumped up again shouting. . . .

She had gone upstairs when after a deliberately long interval he emerged into the lounge; the place was deserted, but Adair’s complacent tenor came crowingly from the “smoking-room,” mingled with Pigott’s determined rasp and the click of the diminutive billiard balls. Martin found his key and went tiptoe upstairs to his room as though he feared pursuit or dreaded to break a spell. In his room with the door locked behind him he sat down and stared at his face in the mirror. It had not changed as he had half expected: the familiar pallid oblong looked out at him; the long jaws with the skin tight-stretched, the cleft chin, the dark socketed eyes under the thick black hair that was never completely tidy. What could she have seen in all that; yet she had seen something—he knew it; she had seen in him just what he had seen in her. . . . His face stared back at him—the fifteenth century poet with his pen dipped in bitter experience and some of its lines etched round the mouth and eyes. Unchanged; but the world was different.

He lit a cigarette and sprang up angrily from the table. What’s come to me?” he thought. “I’m sitting here gaping at myself like a girl after her first dance.” . . . But when one saw a thing one—loved; yes, loved; yes, loved: saw it suddenly, all in a moment; saw it return one’s own feelings. . . . He threw open the verandah doors, looked out into the night dewy, starlit, quiet. If we go on together, he thought, if we see each other again, if we speak to each other, we’ll be in love. In love, in love, in love silly phrase, abused phrase, wonderful phrase. But Babs, Fras, Adair—impossible obstacles. Absurd. “And yet, and yet”—he threw out his arms to the night—“I’m glad of it, I’m glad. If I’m a fool, I’m a fool. I’m glad even of that. The gods do walk—indeed they do.”

But others walked besides the gods. Footsteps—heavy, slightly unsteady footsteps—came up the stairs, resolutely passed his door, tramped along the landing. Adair. Adair going to bed, going to——

Martin sat down on his bed and gasping, reached for another cigarette. Across the room in the mirror he saw his white face for a moment; seen thus, without premeditation, it suddenly frightened him. It was like a murderer’s face; like Ruthven’s face coming in upon Rizzio. . . .

Was it gods that walked or was it devils? And in any case what did man do next?


What man does next—or at any time—is normally whatever he has denied that he will do: Martin had said “I won’t run away,”—-and promptly he bolted.

For Martin wakened early to strong resolves, to a conflict of emotional cross-currents that ended in whirlpool. He would leave Poyser’s Gardens; no, he wouldn’t. He would stay on but wouldn’t speak to the Adairs at all. That was impossible? Very well then, he would leave Poyser’s Gardens. No, he wouldn’t. He would explore this new thing, this extraordinary new thing, this amazing sensation of meeting—at two-and-thirty, mark you, and after a not unsophisticate life—the culmination, the rationale of all previous experience. He wasn’t going to behave like a beast or a lunatic; he could talk to her about all sorts of things, they must become friends, close lovely friends. They couldn’t? Very well then—he would leave Poyser’s Gardens. No, he wouldn’t; he would stay and take himself in hand. . . . And so on.

He spent the day taking himself very seriously in hand—and Wanderlust got small value for his pay. The process was successful—as are all battles where there is no opponent. By evening he had himself in hand so tightly that he was cocksure. He came down into the variegated lounge ready to talk of anything, to be charmingly conversational on all subjects; and the bright cushions and the pictures of ladies in their combinations and stockings shone and winked at him in the electric light and Pigott was condemning Irwin’s policy to Third, but—there were no Adairs. The wind of confidence knocked out of him with a rush, Martin asked why.

“Didn’t you know?” said Pigott, “they’re dining out. They’re asked out a lot. God knows why,” he added sourly.

So the evening was simplicity itself and they had routine three-cornered billiards and a routine three-cornered argument as to whether Lord Irwin was a damned psalm-singing missionary (Pigott) or not. All very safe—and flat to the point of despair. Just as they were closing down Adair came in. He had the foolish smile on his face but less than his usual self-confidence.

“A spot, for God’s sake,” he said and drank with a shaky hand. He laughed self-consciously. “I needed that. Jolly nearly piled up the old bus. Tried to take this corner too sharp and—oh, boy, some skid. But we got off with a dent on the wing. . . . Mem’s gone upstairs; said you’d excuse her. It cramped her style a bit.”

“You’ll do it one night,” said Pigott with a gloomy exultation.

“And s-serve you right,” said Third.

Martin suddenly heard his own voice, unfamiliar, hard as steel, cold as ice; he hardly knew where it came from.

“Drunk men who drive cars ought to be shot.”

Pigott gaped in surprise; Third paled; Adair looked sulkily into Martin’s face and did not like what he saw there.

“Oh, drunk? Who’s talking about being drunk? I was speeding a bit, that’s all.”

“You’ve had a skinful.” The voice, bitter as Ruthven’s might have been to Rizzio, cut across the silence again. “You’d better go to bed.”

Adair had another look at the fifteenth-century face; his inane smile became fixed; the evil thing at the corner of his mouth appeared. “Oh, thanks!” he said jauntily. “Don’t mention it”; but he went out. Martin came to himself.

“I say, I’m afraid I said too much.”

Pigott set down his glass with a bang. “Don’t you fret yourself. You can’t say too much with a chap like that. It’s water off a duck’s back. But he’ll cop it one of these nights. He can no more drive than my foot. Not even sober.”

But the incident shook appallingly Martin’s untried confidence in his powers of self-control. Nothing on earth—not the Governor of Madras and the Lord Bishop and the head of Wanderlust’s all standing by and disapproving—could have prevented his falling on Adair. It had burst out of him: some-one else had spoken. And why? Not because Adair had driven a car while he was half-drunk but because Adair had endangered—Dorothy. Suppose it happened again—as it would happen again. Suppose Adair was rude to his wife in public—as apparently he often was—could Martin keep his tongue quiet? “Not a hope,” he told himself in the solitude of his room—“not an earthly. What’s more, I’d overdo it. I’d make a scene, I’d give myself away, I’d give her away.”

Ruthven, white-faced, looked wolfishly at him from the mirror.

Lying awake through that dreary night while the fan murmured over his head, Martin decided that he required breathing-space. The thing had come upon him too suddenly; he had looked up from his book at table thinking to see the idiot grin of Adair and instead he had faced—anything cardinal, anything catastrophic; fate, the future, life, love, ruination, hell, bliss. Naturally one was shaken; naturally one demanded time to recover. Insidiously the attractive counsels of cowardice wound themselves round Martin’s mind. He really ought to go south and test the links in that Ten Days’ Tour; he ought to inspect the Hotnipatam branch, now reduced to a mere post office in the hands of his late clerk. And—here cowardice leapt in with the effect of inspiration—it was to Hotni, of course, that Fras must come for Christmas. Clearly, then, Christmas must be spent at Hotni. That carried one over to the new year; by which time one would have got oneself thoroughly in hand, sufficiently in hand at any rate to cope with what might have been after all—must have been after all—a pure effort of the imagination.

The next night, after a swithering, tormented day, Martin fled south.

*  *  *

Fras came to Hotni, grown again tremendously both in body and mind. Martin was able to hire an ancient Ford, still miraculously holding together, and in it they traversed the country checking up the Ten Days’ Tour. Martin found Fras more and more a companion; but more and more the old problem recurred—how to give him his due? Fras was paying fees again at St. ’Bastian s, and Brother Gervase was hinting at scholarships—the Presidency College, an Indian University: Brother Baptiste was proposing advanced musical studies. Could it be done? The financial outlook was unhopeful and there seemed no likelihood of any change. Stiff, on a flying visit to Madras, had professed himself damned at Martin’s ingratitude; “A twelvemonth ago you hadn’t a bean; now it’s six hundred and you ain’t satisfied.” But Fras and his requirements could not be explained to Stiff.

For the second half of the holidays they went to Colenso where Cottle, armed with a Christmas box of the redoubtable “favourites;” proclaimed his content. “Like old times, ’aving ye both ’ere together.” But Cottle, Martin saw, was ageing; his ruddy face seemed to have collapsed and the crisscross of tiny purple veins on his cheeks had coloured and intensified. Cottle, despite his assumed geniality, was worried.

“The missis ain’t too well, sir; she’s bin very poorly right through this dam monsoon.” With the non-reticence of his class on all bodily disorders, he plunged into a glowing account. Martin had to stop him; it didn’t do to think of Julie as possessing components like those whose names Cottle was bandying about in the verandah of Colenso. He cut into the flow of obstetrics.

“Are you sure you’re having the best doctor?”

“Well, sir, we’d like to ’ave Foreman in Madras. But the missis won’t go to the Maternity and ’e asks three ’undred to come out ’ere and look ’er over. We ’aven’t——”

“Get him,” said Martin suddenly. “I’ll pay.” He cut short Cottle’s embarrassing protestations of gratitude. “My dear chap, when I look at Fras and think what he owes to you and Julie I wonder how I have the nerve to keep any of my pay at all.”

“It’s ’andsome, sir, it’s most ’andsome,” stammered poor Cottle. “Not but what Francie does us credit.

Martin hardly winced at the “Francie” now.

On the day of Foreman’s visit, however, Fras was in bed with one of his “colds.” Foreman, finished with Julie and looking glum over her, said to Martin’s enquiry,

“She’s not well. She’s let things go too long. . . . What’s wrong with the boy?”

Martin began to explain. Fras, normally an angel of patience over his “colds,” was for once fractious; he said, moaning a little: “My ears hurt so.”

“Ears, eh?” Foreman bent over the bed and made a brief examination. He put a finger under Fras’s jaw and said, “Swallow; breathe; swallow.” Fras moaned a little again and Foreman said, “Your ears buzz, don’t they? Like when you listen to a sea-shell.” Outside in the distant lines a bugle blew and Foreman said, “Did you hear that?” and Fras looking at him quite stupidly said, “What? I didn’t hear anything.”

Foreman turned to Martin. “Has he any tendency to deafness?”

Martin jumped. Deafness! There mustn’t be any tendency to deafness. If Fras went deaf what became of the music? If Fras went deaf! He said, “I’ve noticed nothing.”

Foreman put on his topi. “Watch it. I’d let an ear and throat man see him if I were you. You might see Pellick at the General Hospital.” He drove away in his car, leaving a double shadow behind him.

Martin rang up the General Hospital the next day but Pellick was on a month’s leave; nothing to be done meantime. At Wanderlust’s office he found an envelope addressed in an unfamiliar feminine handwriting; a Christmas card fell out of it and a slip of blue notepaper.

“Dear Mr. Armory, You don’t look the sort of man who would break his promises but all the same you ran away. We are putting Christmas cards on everybody’s tables here, so I’m sending you yours as Cross says she doesn’t know when you’ll be back. Yours sincerely, Dorothy Adair.” There was a postscript—“You’ll think me forward for this. I am.” Martin looked at the letter as if he saw it through a haze; then suddenly he kissed it—and forthwith tore it into very small pieces. The Christmas card—printed “Luck! From the Adairs”—lay at the back of Wanderlust’s drawer at Egmore for a very long time to come.

But the old black day arrived—the last day of the holidays; now Fras must be sent off from the Central Station and Martin could no longer plausibly remain at Colenso. It was a brilliant cold-weather morning, clear and blue as if monsoons had never been; but to Martin it meant the beginning of that procession of months that would end with the spring days and the carnival nights of March and April. What would have happened by then?

Fras off by the early afternoon express, Martin walked himself tired along the Harbour Arm and then made his way back to Poyser’s Gardens. He had anticipated that the place would be deserted at that hour, but to his surprise old Smallwood was in the pathetically gay lounge reading a volume of Dickens. They greeted one another; Martin falling back for once on Adair, said,

“How’s business?”

The old man bleated. “Very dull, Mr. Armory, very dull. They’re axing men everywhere; I don’t know where it’ll stop. But”—he gave a complacent giggle—“they still seem to have room for an old buffer like me.”

“I should think so,” said Martin heartily: he knew—as did every one except Smallwood himself—that two directors of Masons paid the useless old man’s salary out of their own pockets.

“And that’s more”—Smallwood giggled again—“than can be said for some. Some that think themselves very smart. Ve-ry smart.” Intense malice suddenly replaced his glee. “Such as our young friend Adair.”

“Adair?” The name struck Martin rigid.

“Yes, Adair. He’ll find himself axed all right. I know it. And I can’t say I’m sorry. I can’t say——”

Martin interrupted him. “But are you sure——”

“He’s got a month,” said old Smallwood going back to his Dickens. “Ask him if you like—he can’t deny it. One month; no more.”

Martin went slowly upstairs. So? A month; four weeks; thirty-one days. One ought to be able to play out time at that.

Or—there was the other way of looking at it. After that month—after thirty-one days of time—he would not see her again. Nothing, that is, which happened during these thirty-one days could have any permanent meaning or effect. Did it matter, therefore, what happened?


After all, the meeting was easily accomplished, easily—too easily?—overpast. Reality made mock of Martin’s anticipations. He made a strung-up, self-conscious entrance into the lounge—deliberately late; and Pigott and “Wilfred” and Third were having an argument over by the writing-table; and Mrs. Adair—and Dorothy—was sitting idly in a black lace dress in one of the gaily-cushioned Singapore chairs. And she was smiling; speaking; it was quite easy after all.

“So you’re back? I was beginning to think we’d dreamt you.”

Martin stood over the chair. “I’m real enough. And thank you for the card.”

“Oh, we always send Christmas cards; it’s one of our failings. Most people curse us for it.”

“I didn’t. I don’t get so many cards as all that. In fact, come to think of it, I didn’t get any others at all.”

“Then I’m so glad we sent ours. I think it’s a pity so many people forget Christmas nowadays or say they hate it. I always try——”

They wandered into a conventional talk about Christmas, its advantages, its nuisances. It was almost a tedious talk, but she had a deep quiet voice and a saving smile that redeemed the commonplace. She talked well—easily, sensibly, yet attractively: she was unforced, without effort. Presently Adair came and was contrastingly facetious on the subject of the Scots Hogmanay; his wife listened to him with that brooding impatient patience as if in the rattle of his tongue she took opportunity to escape away into some place of her own where other affairs waited. Then they were breaking up for dinner and it was all over. Sitting in his old place and dutifully arranging his book on the reading-stand, Martin saw from the corner of his eyes the light-gold head bent over the menu, remembered almost with a start the hot rapture of those first moments when he had looked up and met the dark eyes that had spoken so much and so quickly. Had that ever happened? Something, stirring feebly in Martin, said “Yes, it did; and it can’t un-happen either, do what you like.” He opened his book and flattened the pages with intention.

Yes, the meeting was easy—and further meetings were easy—so long as one fled promptly to one’s book and read attentively about remote imaginary beings. They remained easy as the days ran on so long as one kept strictly to banalities or avoided that preposterous lounge or left it the moment Adair began his almost nightly pastime of wife-baiting. That one could not be asked or expected to endure. He talked at and round and over her, he drowned her in the seas of his low-comedian wit; it became impossible to make a sane remark, and any attempt at expostulation or diversion only drew a fresh deluge upon Dorothy. It was unbearable for Martin to remain in the room on these occasions; but it was relatively easy to ascend and sit on his bed and glare at Ruthven’s face in the mirror. Yet despite all precautions the night arrived when Ruthven came out of the mirror with his hand upon his hilt and black murder in his heart.

They were sitting in the lounge—all except the melancholy Smallwoods—drinking the “chicorice.” Pigott was openly picking his teeth and Adair, a little fuddled and rather out of the conversation, was watching him with an expression quizzically unpleasant; the mean, ugly thing at the corner of his mouth was in evidence. The talk had been of Wanderlust and the Ten Days’ Tour; thence it had slipped to temples and thence again by an easy transition to the professional dancing-girls of the temples, the devadasis. Pigott, desisting an instant from his dental operations, said forthrightly,

“Filthy brutes!”

Martin, impelled as ever to defend the indefensible so soon as someone attacked it, set out to make a case for the devadasis. “After all it’s god’s service. As they see it.”

“God’s grandmother!” said Pigott. “It’s just dirt, it’s bestiality.”

Dorothy, in an evil moment, tried to support Martin; she said something about underlying ideas. Adair, who was in what Pigott called the blithery stage, saw his chance; he shook his finger waggishly.

“Now, now, Mrs. Adair; we can’t have this. You can’t be an underlying Deva-doshie. I don’t allow my wives to underlie anybody but me. Besides, they like ’em young and slend-ah.” He wheeled on Martin with a hideous wink. “Forty and a buttock. Hoots aye, ye ken.”

It was not the extreme brutality, it was not Pigott’s unpleasant grin, that drew forth Ruthven dagger in hand; it was Dorothy’s face. Normally on these occasions she sat impassive, staring past her husband at something only she herself saw; to-night she flushed painfully. Perhaps she was tired, perhaps for the nonce off her guard. At all events the dark eyes grew enormous; the generous mouth drooped; for one awful moment Martin thought she would burst into tears. Control left him. “I’ll wring your fat neck,” he thought, “I’ll make you get down and lick her shoes.” In another moment he would have turned on Adair, perhaps seized him; then suddenly the dark eyes caught and commanded him; and instantly it was as it had been in that very first moment. “Don’t,” said the eyes darkly. “Don’t say anything. It’s us. I know. You know. Let it pass. What does it matter to us?” And straight the thing in Martin leaped up shouting. “That was her!” it cried. “I heard her. She’s back!” His hand dropped to his side; he stopped as if shot.

Adair yawned; his baiting accomplished, he had lost interest. “What about some pills?” he said rudely. “We’re talking enough—let’s play some for a change.”

Pigott and Third were willing; Martin still mistrustful of speech, shook his head. Adair grinned at him.

“No likee makee-play bailee? All right; stay and talk to the Mem about the god’s br-r-raw bit lassikies. ‘She was poor but she was honest’.” He departed humming.

Dorothy had risen from her chair and was picking up her book. She said uncertainly, “I think I’ll go up.”

Martin took a step towards her. “Won’t you stay for a little? We don’t often get the chance.”

She shook her head. “I think not to-night.”

“Don’t be vexed,” said Martin. He struggled for words that would say enough yet would not say too much—“I—I expect he doesn’t meant to hurt, you know. He—he’s just one of those chaps who must make jokes.”

The eyes, lifted to his at last. “I should know that. I wonder if there’s anything in this world quite so cruel as the professional humorist? . . . Or quite such hell as living with one.”

Martin lost hold; the words slipped from him before he knew.

“Why in God’s name did you ever marry him?”

She smiled unoffended. “That would be a long story.” The eyes were looking into his now, level and deep and still: “Yes,” they said, “it’s us. It’s you and me but this isn’t our time or our place. Some day.” Aloud she said, “I did anyway.”

Martin said, “I wish you hadn’t.”

She shrugged her shoulders, white and smooth against the black lace.

“It’ll be all the same a hundred years hence. Now I’m going.”

But Martin pursued. “When will I see you?”

She smiled again, “Any time. Every time.”

“Any time—every time—except to-night,” said Martin crossly. “We don’t get so many chances. And I want to talk to you.”

The eyes lit suddenly; she laid a hand on his arm. “My dear, we’ll talk. But I’m dead to-night. I get killed sometimes. You’ll have to forgive me.”

“Oh, well——” He stood back huffily.

But at the door of the lounge she paused and half turned.

“I want to talk too.”

Inside Martin the secret spirit clamoured.


At Wanderlust’s life went stupidly on, a life made up of the meaningless urgencies of other people’s movements. It seemed to Martin that he was like the central pole on one of those spinning platforms in Fun City; people came from all conceivable directions, cannoned against him, shot off in all conceivable directions. The stream of cold-weather tourists rolled through Madras, the early hot-weather leave folk were making their happy plans. Up they came to him and off they went spinning. Only he himself sat there immobile, wooden, fixed—like the central pole.

Ninety per cent. of his clients were people he did not know by sight, but one day Ness van Rennen came in to “make some reservations” for a party of friends. He looked very prosperous and Martin told him so. “Business good?”

“So-so,” said Ness. “I suppose we can’t complain. We’re one of the few that haven’t had to start axing yet. Thank God I’m not a rubber planter. Gasoline’s one of the things folks ’ve just got to have. But these transport taxes are killing us. You don’t look too bad.”

“I’m alive,” said Martin. “That’s about all.”

Ness picked up his tickets. “I suppose they’re O.K.? It’s usually Cass who does this sort of job.” Whether or not Martin winced, he was swiftly conscious of his blunder. “She was busy this morning,” he added lamely.

Martin steadied his voice. “She’s keeping fit?”

“Oh, bully. Well—we’ll hope to see you around one of these days.” He stumped away out, solid, comfortable—slightly reminiscent of Charlie.

“But he came on purpose,” thought Martin bitterly. “He could have got these tickets anywhere. He came on purpose—just to say that Cassie couldn’t. Or wouldn’t. Gentle hint—polite warning off. He doesn’t want me ‘around’—and no more does she.”

Cassie! Martin got up and paced his little office and the brown-gold girl kept step by his side. Cassie; she ought to be a ghost now—but she refused to die. On the contrary she was alarmingly alive; at the chance mention of her name she leapt into amazing vitality. There she stood, clear as a vision—alert, composed, watchful; Cassie; essential Cassie. . . . But—Dorothy? So lovely, so desirable, so desired! With his mind in a whirl he turned back to his neglected table.

That evening Adair caught him over the short drinks. He had borne no malice for the rebuke in regard to the motor accident so narrowly averted; if he remembered it at all, it had left him complacent.

“Almirah, old lad, we’ve been stuck with a party for the Gym. Dance on Saturday. The Linnets in my firm and a wench who’s staying with them—her cousin, if you want to know. The Mem’s going to ask you and I jest wanna tell you you’ve jest gotta come.”

Martin, taken by surprise, had no excuse ready. He muttered, “I don’t think——”

“We don’t want you to think—we want you to come. You see, we’re stuck for a third man.” (“Polite form of invitation!” thought Martin). “Pigott’s as much use at a dance as a bookie at a prayer meeting and the Mem doesn’t want to ask young Third because he gets excited and amorous-like.” He mistook Martin’s expression and blundered hideously. “You may well raise your eyebrows, old son; Doll’s a good old pal but she’s no vamp. But young Fraction—case of suppressed emotions or something.”

“You frightful, unspeakable cad,” was Martin’s thought. He said, coldly, “I’m sorry, I can’t come. I’m really no good at dancing.”

“And that’s lie number two, I expect,” said Adair. “Anyway, you don’t need to dance. The Mem’s no flier either; you can sit and yarn to her about lingams and all that. Now that’s on and don’t you forget it.”

“You’re curiously anxious to have her off your hands,” thought Martin. Anyway, forewarned was forearmed; this was an invitation to refuse with adamantine rigidity. But when Dorothy came with her request, the eyes said suddenly, “I’ll be there, I’ll see you there.” Martin, trying to refuse, found his lips dry.

“Well, will you give me a lot of dances?”

“Nobody else will want them. Mr. Linnet will be taken up with his wife’s cousin and Mrs. Linnet will be taken up with—-Wilfred. So, you see, it will be you and me.”

Again the words were out before Martin could stop them. “Oh, Dorothy, will it?”

The eyes did not waver. “Yes—Martin.”

He looked at her miserably. “I meant to refuse.”

“You can’t refuse.”

“You’re right,” he said, “I can’t.”

The dinner party at Poyser’s Gardens before the dance was terrible—and was little assisted by the sheep-like staring of the Smallwoods, the boomerang sneers of Pigott (who thought he danced magnificently) and the hurt, girlish tragedy of Third. Linnet turned out to be a second-rate Adair; he strove throughout the meal to cap Wilfred’s witticisms with a hopeless unsuccess he seemed incapable of realising. His wife was a vexatious chatterer, grossly made-up and with much too low a dress; the cousin a flat, pallid girl with straight badly-cut black hair and unpleasant eyes. Desperately Martin booked the first two dances with Mrs. Linnet, the next two with Dorothy, the next two with Miss Walsh. “My God,” he thought, “what an evening it’s going to be.”

Yet the Gymkhana Club was cheerful enough—bright, a good band and the lawn outside swimming in the rich January moonlight. Martin thought suddenly of Charlie—“Spot of Justerini before battle, oldboy”; he had one in the almost empty bar and drank it to Charlie’s health. Charlie’s health! he thought; is Charlie even alive? The Guv’nor had never written again: no news had come through. Straightening his tie, he went to do his duty. But Mrs. Linnet proved an excellent dancer and by the mercy of heaven a silent one; her only drawback was that she would lean forward, and with that very low dress——

“Oh, well,” thought Martin, “if she doesn’t mind, I needn’t; but she might as well be naked from the waist up.” Apparently he pleased her; for on the sofa after the dance she looked at him with a new interest.

“I didn’t think you’d dance so well somehow,” she said; before he had time to be embarrassed her mind flitted on and away. “Wilf’s a wonder, isn’t he?”

Martin hastily agreed but evidently with insufficient warmth, for she eyed him with disapproval.

“I don’t believe you’re keen on Wilf. Lots of people aren’t. He’s too quick for them, if you see what I mean. He scores off them and they get jealous, see?”

Martin put his tongue in his cheek. “That’s it, I expect.” Wilf! And—jealous!

At the end of the interval she jumped up with unflattering alacrity.

“Well, you’ve been nicer’n I thought. See you later.”

“Not if I can help it,” thought Martin. Dorothy came to him smiling.

“Well, what did you think of Ruby?”

Martin returned the smile. “She seems to be one of those women who seek safety in nakedness.”

She nodded appreciatively. “And as usual there isn’t much to show.”

Martin grinned. “Oh, Dorothy, why don’t we talk oftener. We speak the same language, don’t we?”

“Don’t we. And—are you surprised?”

“N-no. Are you?”

“Yes. I’d given up hope of ever meeting you.”

“But you have.”

“I have. Heigho!”

By tacit consent, it seemed, they had not attempted to dance but had wandered onto and along the moonlit lawn. Two chairs by a small copper-topped table invited; a peon hovered; Martin ordered brandies-and-soda and offered cigarettes.

“Dorothy, how did you get into this sort of crowd?”

She was silent for a moment; the end of her cigarette glowed an exaggerated red in the silver moonlight.

“I don’t quite know. Carelessness, I suppose. I mistook something for something else.”

“And how on earth do you stick it?”

“One can what one must. I’ve got to. I’ve married Wilfred——”


“I can’t quite think now. He was part of the something I mistook for something else. But what does it matter? Don’t let’s talk about him. I don’t mistake you for anything else anyway.”



“When did you know?”

She burst into a ripple of laughter. “The old old question! The first minute I saw you. The old old answer!”

“But, Dorothy, do these things happen?”

“What things?”

“Why, seeing a person suddenly, and then instantly feeling——”

“You ought to know. A few weeks ago I would have said they didn’t. Now I know better. Don’t you?”

“Don’t I? Oh, Dorothy——”

“You seem to like my name.”

“I love it.”

“Well, you can have it. I rather like it myself but nobody else seems to. Nobody uses it anyway; my husband never does.”

“Dottie,” quoted Martin, “Dill-Doll. Oh, God! I could kill him when he does that. Pigott said the other night, ‘I could bear anything if he’d sometimes call his wife by her right name. But all these Dolly’s and Doddie’s—’ And young Third said, ‘I think D-Doshie’s the worst.’ Solemn as an owl.”

They realised that they were both laughing.

“Thank God we can laugh at it,” said Martin.

“I’ll laugh at anything to-night. Even at Mr. Linnet who is now coming to dance with me.”

Martin found his mouth dry again. “Dorothy?”

“My dear?”

“You’ll come back?”

Her eyes looked into his, the dark eyes, veiled in those wonderful lashes. They were lit with a kindness that was infinite, that loved him, that surrendered everything to his wish. “I am here for your delight,” they said. “Your delight is my delight and I am here.” So loudly and clearly they spoke their message that he hardly heard her voice say,

“I’ll come back.”

“Miss Walsh!” thought Martin with a sense of horror. But Miss Walsh had forestalled him; she had removed herself with someone more amusing and gone into hiding most probably in one of the cars parked under the trees outside. Adair was in the bar—and growing noisy; Mrs. Linnet was just vanishing upstairs into the ladies’ room. “Thank God,” thought Martin. “Free!” and lit a cigarette and roamed on to the lawn and along to the little table round which the scent of Dorothy still seemed to linger. “Things were said here,” he thought, “we can never go back now. We’ve said things you can’t unsay. Who wants to? Thirty-one days: perhaps less. What’s going to happen? God knows. I can’t stop it now. I tried. I tried my best. There’s things you can’t stop and this is one of them. Thirty-one days. Let it go.”

The two dances came quickly—as it seemed to Martin—to an end; at the earliest opportunity Linnet left Dorothy and went off in search of Miss Walsh—whom, as Martin noted with amusement, he immediately found. Dorothy remained sitting on the sofa where he had left her and as Martin went in he thought again, “She’s prettier than I thought—much prettier. She’s lovely.” There she sat so exact, so perfectly finished, yet somehow a little helpless, a little indeterminate; there she sat with her air of impatient waiting. He took Linnet’s vacant place by her side.

“What shall we do now?”

She looked up at him in mock mischief.

“If you don’t want to dance with me, Mr. Armory, I think you had better take me home.”

He took up her raillery. “I’d like to dance with you. I’d like to take you home. But there are other things I’d like still better.”

“Then let’s do them.” She stood up quickly, suddenly a little breathless. “I’ll get a wrap and we’ll drive down to the Marina. This moonlight’s too good to waste in this silly place. We can have an hour anyway. They’ll never miss us.”

He stood beside her looking round the room. Adair was dancing luridly with Mrs. Linnet; Linnet was in a corner with the unpleasant-eyed Miss Walsh, just moving for decency’s sake and no more. They all seemed well-occupied, set for an indefinite period. He suddenly found himself shaking.



“You—you know what it means.”

Her smile came and went. “I’ve tried to tell you this evening that I’m not quite a fool, Martin. You don’t seem to get it.” She sobered suddenly. “Yes, my dear—I know what it means.”

Martin, too indifferent to battle against determined hospitality, had accepted a lift to the Gymkhana in the Adairs’ car. It was this car—a big heavy Studebaker—that Dorothy now extricated with difficulty from the tangle in the park. “Let me drive,” she said, “I know you drive much better but let me do it—to-night.” Martin was only too ready to sit by her side and drink in the moonlight, now blazing bright. They slipped across the bridge and down by the Senate House and presently were sailing south down the vast midnight emptiness of the Marina. It seemed to the entranced Martin that they did actually sail, that they left the earth and voyaged through some translucent material that was neither water nor air. Near the Public Works office the rich scent of temple-flowers came sweeping; Martin thought, “Spring, it’s almost a spring night now. It can’t last;, it’s too heavenly. I must die or wake.” Almost with a start he realised that Dorothy had stopped the car by the kerb; beyond lay the sand, brilliant silver; beyond that the jewelled, thunderous, curiously silent surf. “Infinity,” thought Martin; and at the word remembered infinity’s antithesis—time.

“Dorothy, is it true that you’re going away?”

“Going away?”

“I mean home—on leave.”

She was silent a moment. Then she said,

“Who told you that?”

“I heard it.”

She sighed. “I wondered when you’d hear it. Yes, it’s true. But not on leave. He’s been axed. They’re calling it compulsory leave, but really it’s the sack.”

Martin said rather breathlessly, “Soon?”

“We’ve taken passages from Bombay on the fourth of February.”

Martin suddenly and abruptly sat up. “The fourth of February! But, my God, this is January fourteenth. My God, Dorothy, that means three weeks! That means—My God——”

In the moonlight he saw the beautiful tender smile creep slowly into her face.

“I’ve been here for a month. You ran away, Martin.”

“I didn’t know.”

“You wasted a lot of time, my dear.”

Suddenly Martin was shot by desire, shot through and through by incontrollable feeling. He said thickly, “I’ll waste no more.” Then he took her in his arms. She said in a whisper, “Yes, Martin, goon.” Then for a little space she could say no more. Martin kissed her lips and slowly, slowly she kissed him back till it seemed as if she gathered him entirely away from himself and entirely into the essence and fibre of her own soft being. . . .

He broke away from her at last and they looked at each other half shyly, half in triumph.

“I didn’t know there could be things like that,” said Martin, “did you?”

She nodded. “I knew. Or I thought there must be, anyway. But I didn’t think there would ever be any for me.”

They gazed at each other in the swimming moonlight. “Darling!” they said, foolishly. “Sweetheart!” For a moment they murmured absurdities; then they found themselves laughing. Martin said rather ruefully,

“We’ve taken things pretty fast, haven’t we?”

She caressed his sleeve.

“Why take them slow? If we’d had time I’d have made you do everything by quarter-inches. As it is——”

“As it is!” said Martin savagely. Impassioned, he threw his arms round her again, dragging her to him. Her filmy clothes slipped this way and that; here and there, softer than satin, warmly delicious, sweet-scented, her skin met his fingers. Touching it, he touched a substance entirely new. She murmured, “Don’t darling, oh don’t”; and then in almost inaudible contradiction, “Do anything you like.”

He put her aside at last, pushing her almost roughly against the sham-leather upholstery of the car. She smoothed her hair, straightened her crumpled frock.

“Darling, we’ll have to get back. They’ll begin to wonder—even they——”

Martin said slowly, “If we must.”

“We must, my dear.” She pulled a little mirror from her vanity bag. “But there’s more, Martin.”

“More?” he repeated foolishly. She broke into laughter at the sight of his face.

“Don’t you want any more, Martin?”

“Oh, Dorothy!”

She laughed again. “Well, cheer up, darling—we’ll get our chance. There’s—there’s the three weeks.”

“The Ides of February, eh?”

She took him up quickly.

“Ay, Caesar, but not come.”

“And when they do, Dorothy?”

She kissed him quickly. “We’ll see when that happens. Don’t worry.”

Slowly Martin felt himself emerge from trance; slowly figures appeared—Fras, Babs. He shook himself into reality.

“But, Dorothy dear, we’ll have to talk it over. I don’t know that I can let it go just like that. What’s to happen?”

She kissed him again.

“We’ll know what to do when the time comes. Don’t worry.”

He struggled on. “But there’s things I must tell you at once.”

“You can’t—to-night. No time.”

He shook himself free. Clearer and clearer those figures were coming back to him. There was a sudden amazing vision of Cassie, vivid as a photograph. Then Babs, Babs, Fras, the Cottles—-the whole millstone medley.

“Well, not to-night, then, but you must give me a time. And soon. I must tell you these things.”

“You’re sure you must, Martin?” Her voice was wistful.

“Yes. Absolutely. . . . What about to-morrow?”

“To-morrow’s Sunday. I can’t come to-morrow. Wilfred’s at home all day and he can’t amuse himself at all without me.”

“Then Monday.”

She considered. “No; Wednesday. Wilfred’s playing golf with Linnet. We’ll go out into the country somewhere and you can tell me—if you still feel you must. But I don’t want to hear anything, Martin dear—really I don’t.”

He let that pass; clearer and clearer the remorseless figures of real life were coming back.

“Let’s go, Martin.” Resolutely she started the engine.

He said idiotically,

“I suppose I ought to feel I’m doing wrong; but you know, I don’t.”

She looked at him with smiling contempt.

“How could it be wrong, silly? Nothing so lovely could possibly be wrong. It’s us—you and me. If it’s much too good to be true, it’s much much too good to be wrong.”

Drugged in the moonlight, Martin fell back into his thoughts. Suddenly he smelt the temple-flowers again. . . .

At the Gymkhana the dance was in crescendo but Adair, manifestly at least in the “blithery” stage, was waiting in the porch. Swaying a little, he said something indistinct about “joy-riding” and pushed Dorothy from the driver’s seat.

“Look here,” said Martin, “Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure,” said Adair sulkily. “Think I can’t drive?” He shot out of the avenue into Mount Road. “This car drives herself.” He expatiated on the merits of the car while he held a fast but unsteady course up the Mount tram-lines. “Drives herself, drives herself,” he repeated till Martin thought he was falling asleep. He stole a glance at Dorothy in the back seat; her eyes said, “What does it matter? You’re here. I’m here. Nothing can happen now.” At the Nungambakam corner Adair went wide, braked hard, half-skidded, straightened and went roaring up the High Road.

“Good old bus,” he shouted in idiotic glee. “That’s where we nearly crashed the other night. Send ’em along, boys.”

“And you’ll crash altogether next night,” said Martin; “two pounds less pressure in the back tyres and you’d have been for it now.”

“Oh, rot!” said Adair, missing the Poyser’s Gardens gate-post by an inch.

Upstairs Martin found his letters come by the late delivery. An uninteresting-looking collection, but among them was the counterfoil receipt of a money order form. He turned it over and stood staring at it idly. It was a receipt for a hundred and fifty rupees dated four days back; and it bore the familiar signature, “Barbara Armory.”

“Well,” thought Martin, “Wednesday. Leave it at that.”


On Sunday Martin put his troubles and distractions into his second-hand car and spent the day and night at a little remote Travellers’ Bungalow hidden among the Nellore hills; as a result he did not see Dorothy again till Monday evening. She talked for a little after dinner—mostly to Third—and then went out somewhere with Adair. Martin wondered what Adair would make of things if he knew; and it was consoling to reflect that “Wilf’s” first—and perhaps final—reaction would be staggered surprise. Not the surprise of the betrayed—merely uncomprehending surprise that his wife should become to anybody a creature of passion, an intimate in love. “Doll’s no vamp,” he had said—the great besotted owl; when she held in herself every lure, attraction, beauty, delight! If a man was so perversely blind, if a man were quite such a fool, could it be wrong to supplant him?

Martin asked himself another question; the Ides of February; what happens after the Ides? He found that less easy to answer. What had Dorothy said? “Leave it till the time comes. We’ll know what to do when the time comes.” But what courses were, in reality open—what alternative other than submission to events, reversion to one’s place in the progress of other lives? Martin must follow Fras; Dorothy must follow Adair. What could happen but termination, closure, end?

“But Ides or no Ides,” thought Martin, “thank God it’s happened.”

On the Tuesday evening the Adairs dined out and he did not see them at all. And so they were at Wednesday.

By Martin’s choice they drove through the pleasant smoke-blue evening to Satyali, stabled the car and climbed the bund of the immense irrigation tank. The tank was still nearly full, and the sheet of sunlit water seemed literally endless; clouded here and there with sitting companies of duck, it stretched interminably away. At the steps some Hindu women were bathing and the level evening sun struck their bright saris into coloured lamps. Over in the west a radiant sunset was preparing. Once again Martin felt his heart torn with the delight of this India, this entrancing, unstable, capricious, hide-and-seeking mistress of a country. Dorothy, her hands clasped together, was rapt.

“Oh, Martin, it’s beautiful.”

He smiled. “Haven’t you been here before?”

“Never. Wilfred would never dream of coming here. He wouldn’t see anything to do. There isn’t anything to do, of course.”

“Except just look at it. . . . I’m sorry for the Wilfreds. They miss India. And there’s such a lot of them.”

“He’s made me miss it too. . . . Oh, Martin, if you and I could just have gone about together——”

They walked a little way along the bund and sat down under a tamarind. Dorothy locked her arms round her knees and looked at him almost mischievously under her broad-brimmed hat.

“And now, Martin?”

He started; for the moment he had almost forgotten the purpose of their visit.

“Well, now for it.” He pulled a slip of paper from his pocket. “Read that.”

Her eyes puzzled over it, reading. “It’s a money order receipt,” she said.

“And can you read the signature?”

“‘Barbara Armory.’ . . . Well, Martin, who is it? Don’t make mysteries. Barbara Armory might be anybody; she might be your mother or your sister or your aunt or your cousin——”

“Or my wife.”

There was a silence. Then, “I knew that was what she was,” said Dorothy, “as soon as you showed me the paper. I only talked for talking.” . . . Her voice was grave. “Is there any more you want to tell me, Martin?”

Martin had filled his pipe; he lit it; no wonder fellows on the stage liked to bring in these gestures, he thought,—they did help one through.

“Lots,” he said. “It’s a long, sordid, stupid story—more stupid than sordid. I’ve never told it to anybody except once when I more or less had to.” (For a moment Martin was back again outside Colenso in the thick May night, the stars coming out one by one behind the retreating thunder-heads: a long time ago now.)

“And are you sure you want to tell me now?”

“Quite sure.”

She flung out her arms passionately. “Don’t tell me, Martin. Don’t. I don’t want to hear. It can’t matter to me. Nothing could make any difference. I know now you’ve got a wife and she’s alive. But she can’t really matter to you for if she had you’d never have done what you’ve done with me. That’s all I care about. I’d be interested to know how you married her and how you came to leave her if we’d time, but—just interested. Just as I’d be interested—if we had time for it—in finding out who your people were and where you went to school. It’s a thing that affects you, so naturally I’m interested, but it’s not a thing that affects us—you and me. I know that now. And you mustn’t think of it like that. Mustn’t Martin.”

She paused, breathless and flushed with her long speech. Martin said, “Dorothy, you darling!”

Then, under the tamarind tree on the bank of the Satyali Tank, he made the Second Confession, while the sun dipped into the westward clouds and the duck began to wheel against the afterglow. He told her of the Reverend Blacklock Armory and Frances Macneill and Annie Linsay, insanely fatal as the doom of a Hindu play; and of Charlie Barclay and Gibb and Paton and the flat and Babs Millar. He told her of Fras and the birth of Fras and the problem that he was—his musical gifts, his cleverness at his books and the impossibility—so far as could be seen—of ever being able to do anything adequate for him. She interrupted him only once—when he spoke of Fras’ first advent on the scene.

“Martin dear, tell me straight out—how dark is he?”

“Light Eurasian,” said Martin. “Maybe dark Spanish. I can’t make it better than that.”

She nodded. “Go on.”

Martin finished his Confession. At the end she sat silent for a long time while he smoked his pipe to the last grain and knocked out the ash on the granite coping. The rattle seemed to rouse her.

“Martin, could I see—Fras? I’d love to above all things.”

He considered. “I don’t see how. He’s in the Muris. He’ll be coming for Easter holidays. But if you’re going almost at once——”

She nodded gravely. “Well—one can’t have everything. I have you anyway. Or have I, Martin? “

You know, sweetheart.”

“And I’ve heard about Fras.” She threw her arms suddenly and impulsively round his neck. “I loved to hear about it, Martin darling, and I love you for telling me. But it’s just as I said—it doesn’t make any difference. Babs can never know about us and if she did it wouldn’t matter. Don’t you see it? We’re outside—outside everything.”

Martin was troubled; thoughts that had disturbed his Sunday in the Nellore hills came back in force.

“But, Dorothy, can we leave it just like that? I mean, is it your idea that after the Ides, as I call it, everything just—ends?”

“What else can it do, Martin?”

Martin groaned in despair. She was logically, incontrovertibly right; what else could it do? And yet the idea was horrible.

“I could get a divorce. Adair would divorce you. We could live somewhere together.”

She broke into rueful laughter. “My poor darling, what on? I haven’t an anna except what Wilfred gives me. My father was a schoolmaster who never saved anything. You’ve your pay—while that lasts. It wouldn’t do for three.”


“Three, silly—you, me, Fras.”

“Fras!” he said as if the word were a talisman.

“Yes, Fras. It’s Fras that matters. He’s much more important than either of us now. We’ve both had all we’re going to get; he’s just beginning. It’s Fras that matters. He’s got a future. Martin and Dorothy haven’t. We’re lucky to have a present, sweetest, we can’t have everything.” She stroked the bare forearm under his short-sleeved shirt. “Don’t worry, Martin. If things end at your old Ides, they end good, anyway. . . . Things ought to end at their best, Martin darling. It’ll be that way with us.’

“But, Dorothy, how can you go on? How can you stick it?”

“I can. I shall have to. One can what one must. I shall have Wilfred to look after; I’ll try to be nicer to him.”

“Nicer! You—to him?”

“I easily could. I’ve always disappointed him. I wronged him to begin with by marrying him at all—I wasn’t what he thought I was and I knew it. His friends didn’t take to me or I to them and I didn’t try either. They all thought he was so brilliant and I began to see he was so—so Oh, well, never mind. I’ll try to do better in future. I can—after this.”

The sun had dropped out of sight; an immense canopy of flame-and-rose stood over the world; where it was not on fire, the water shone with the steely quality of moonlight. In the shadows the duck wheeled and chanted. In a few minutes it would be dark. A man walking along the bund burst into a loud, wild, devil-scaring song. Like a closing cordon of wolves the immense terrifying night began to creep in upon them from all sides. A little cowed, a little daunted, they moved closer together; their voices sank.

“We’ve had this, Martin.”

“Yes. But, oh, Dorothy, Dorothy, it isn’t enough.”

“I know. But, my dear——”

“Dorothy, if I’m to let you go in a fortnight, I must have as much of you first as any man has had or can have.”

“You’ve had fifty times, a thousand times as much already.”

“I can’t let you go without—that.”

“Darling, I don’t want you to. You can have anything you like—anything we can. But it’s a question of opportunity.”

“Then we’ll make the opportunity, Dorothy. Twenty-four hours. . . . I’ll find a place. . . .” In his mind he had found it already—Ichangudi of that long past Christmas holiday. Ichangudi, silent and hidden between the moonlit lagoon and the cocopalms and the sea sand. Yes, Ichangudi. “I’ll find a place,” he repeated. “Trust me.”

“I’ll trust you, Martin. . . Martin, there just might be a chance. I think Wilfred may go to Bombay ahead of me. A day ahead anyway. He wants to hit it up with some of his old friends there. They don’t want me. I could stay in Madras till the last minute. . . . It might happen like that. . . .”

“And, Dorothy, if it happened like that and if I could find a place that wouldn’t let us down?”

“It would have to be perfect, Martin. I couldn’t bear it to be hurried—or worried—or hole-and-corner.”

“I’ll make it perfect. . . . But if it happens like that with Adair, and if I fix up the perfect place— Dorothy, would you come?”

In the dark that was now almost as complete as it ever would be that Indian night, her voice trembled and shook.

“Come? Come? Oh, Martin, Martin, how could I do anything else?”


Next morning at breakfast there was a letter, a letter from Brother Gervase, a letter opened in casual enquiry, read with an increasing sensation of chill and laid down at last in grim, heart-thumping terror. Fras was ill, Fras was ill. The bright morning with all its sounds and movements died away into a two-minute silence while a universal voice enunciated this news about Fras. The shining sky darkened suddenly and then blazed as with a flaming newspaper headline, “Fras ill.” The visible world became a little room on the Muris and a little boy lying on a bed. Bronchitis; suddenly turning acute and dangerous; could Martin manage to come up?

Could he? Could he manage anything else! Hastily he wrote out two telegrams—one to Wanderlust, a second to Brother Gervase; “Coming. Get best doctor possible.” He handed the forms to Cross Keyes’ depressed servitor.

“And look here, boy.”


“Is Mrs. Adair’s ayah about? Then tell her asking memsahib speak a minute.”

The boy went off gaping incuriously. Martin stole up to the landing and almost immediately as it seemed Dorothy was before him in a pale green dressing-gown with paler gold dragons sprawling across it. Even in that brief moment he had time to think of the sweet softness of her; that cheek curve; that white forearm; the gentle kindness, the dearness.

“What is it, Martin?”

He handed her the letter and telegram. “Read.” She read and he watched her face whiten.

“O-oh, Martin, poor Martin. Of course you’ll go?”

“I’m going now. That’s why I came to tell you. I may be away some days. Dorothy, you—you don’t mind, do you?”

“Martin! What can you think of me. Of course!”

“And Dorothy——”


“Isn’t it like fate that I told you all about—Fras—last night. Otherwise I’d have had to tell you now, and it wouldn’t have been the same thing, would it?”

Her smile came and went: he thought, “I was a fool to say that; of course she understands—everything.” She said,

“I’m glad you told me as you did, and now I’m gladder than ever. You’ll write me how things go?”

“Of course.”

She looked hastily round the landing, put her arms on his shoulders and lightly kissed his lips; the loose green sleeves fell back to show white satin skin.

“Good-bye, darling Martin. Keep up your heart. I’ll be waiting for you when you come back.”

He kissed her quickly and went. “I’ll be waiting for you”; the comfort of that anyway!

And then, everything accomplished, the day degenerated into grinding torment. A snail of an express crawled through a hideous country of nightmare hillocks. Fras in pain, Fras suffering. The wheels ground out on the up-grades, “Fras worse; Fras worse” in steady head-splitting beats: and on the down, in dactyls, “Illness of Fras, illness of Fras.” Karumbur Junction, reeking in the heart of its arid plain, had the air of a place of doom. The guard, looking at his watch, seemed to say, “Yes, you’ve cut it too fine; yes, you’re too late.” The hired car onwards rattled endlessly along a road every mile of which was exactly like every other, while for all its valiance the sun dropped in the sky. The Muri Ghat was a never-ending ladder to despair; bend after bend; hair-pin after hair-pin; crawling, crawling nightmare. . . .

But at the top Fras was better, as Martin knew the moment he saw Brother Gervase standing on the school steps with both his hands held out. Martin leapt from the car and almost fell.

“How’s the boy?”

Better, better; Fras was better. And for a long minute there was a mist and in it Brother Gervase and Brother Baptiste, and Brother Baptiste seemed to be crying. Or was it Martin Armory who was crying? Brother Gervase said, stroking his little grey beard,

“I got the D.M.O. Colonel Beecher. I thought you would wish——”

Martin took his hands. “Of course, Brother, of course. Thank God you did.” Beecher? There had been an I.M.S. Beecher in Madras in the old Sissie days: Martin had met him once or twice. Awkward a little to meet him again now, but what did that matter? If the fellow could make Fras well——

“He comes again in the morning. You stay to see him?”

“I shan’t leave till I do. . . . Brother, can I see the boy now?”

“He sleeps, I think. But if you are very, very quiet——”

On a very large white pillow Fras’s little dark head lay motionless. The room was deadly quiet save for the boy’s heavy regular breathing; Martin thought frightfully, If it had been quiet altogether! “Fras matters.” Who said that? Dorothy—and oh God, she was right; Fras mattered before and above everything. . . . The boy’s face was frail with endurance, weakened, unsexed; lying there so deep in sleep, he seemed to Martin for the first time to resemble Babs. So Babs had sometimes slept—tired-out, all the pert mischief gone out of her face leaving it merely sexless and frail. . . .

Martin leaned over and kissed the boy’s cheek.

“Good night, old chap.”

Later he looked from his little cell-like room into a night of luminous tranquillity, cold and still as a picture. The waning moon—the moon still of the Gymkhana Dance—-was coming up over dark mangoes, sprawling on its back, incredibly soft and spent. The stress and turmoil of the interminable day died down; Fras, who had occupied it since morning, suddenly receded. Fras was all right—all right. The peace of India—the narcotic peace born of immensity—crept round Martin.

“Beauty!” he thought. “Dorothy!”

*  *  *

Next morning came Beecher; he made a long examination, professed himself so far satisfied, told Martin he might safely go back to Madras. Martin hovered on the verge of explanations about Fras, saw that Beecher was taking all for granted, and gave up the idea. Beecher had clearly forgotten Martin Armory, cared nothing who Frances Macneill Armory might be, would presently disremember their names. People of no importance they were now—stuff too poor for scandal. Martin said,

“Will he be all right now?”

“Should be.” Beecher gave him a shrewd, calculating should-I-tell-him look. “There’s just one thing —maybe it’s happened before. You can tell me. While this bronchial business was at its height he was almost stone deaf.”

Again the cold hand of fear reached out for Martin’s heart. “Deaf! He mustn’t go deaf.”

Beecher shrugged. “There may be a tendency. Have you noticed it before?”

“Well—yes; when he’s had these throaty sort of colds.”

“Exactly. I don’t think they are colds—they’re a sort of catarrhal inflammation. Something sets it up—dust, pollen from flowers, some irritant. And I suppose you know that ears and throat are intimately connected.”

Martin found himself gasping. “You’re not telling me he’ll go deaf? Permanently deaf?”

“I don’t like to say. Ears and throat aren’t my line. But from what I’ve seen and heard now I’d advise you to see a specialist. If this sort of thing goes on—— You say he’s always had these colds, as you call them?”

“Yes, off and on.”

“Well, every time he gets one he’ll go deafish for the time being.”

“And that’ll get worse?”

“It’ll tend to. I don’t like to say more at present. See some good man in this particular line.”

Foreman’s advice again. Martin said, “Who do you suggest? I’ve heard Pellick spoken of—at the G.H., you know.”

Beecher nodded. “Yes, Pellick would do you very well. I should let him see the boy.”

“Would Easter do? I could have him down in the holidays?”

“Oh, yes—Easter would do. There’s no violent hurry.”

“Meaning,” said Martin quickly, “that it’s not too hopeful any time?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that. But ears are a complicated business—they’re a study in themselves. See Pellick.”

Martin wrote down Pellick’s name—as if he would forget it! “And about your fee?”

“Oh, that’ll be all right. I’ll send you a note.”

Martin felt himself flushing. “I—I’d like to have an idea. I’m not too flourishing these days.”

Beecher gave him a keen look. “Illegitimate son, of course,” he was thinking, “but he’s given him his own name and he stands by the kid all right.” He suddenly named a sum which was less than half Martin’s estimate; for the life of him Martin could not keep the relief out of his voice.

“I’ll send you a money order.”

Beecher nodded. “Any time. . . . I’ll give you a line to Pellick.”

In the afternoon Fras had a temperature—slight but in the circumstances terrifying. It was a Friday and the Saturday was a public holiday; Martin decided to stay till the Sunday evening and return to Madras on Monday morning. Wanderlust could manage—or not. He thought for one bitter moment of Dorothy and the Ides and the fleeting shortness of time; then put all such thoughts out of his head. First things first.

On Saturday Fras was better: Martin sat with him for as long as was permitted and it seemed as if he saw the boy for the first time. There might so easily have been no Fras to see. And then what?

It was Fras that mattered—Fras that mattered.


Back in Madras, the days went by in procession; sometimes slowly, sometimes with the galloping rapidity of panic. It was a week since that nightmare visit to the Muris; it was ten days; it was ten days to the Ides; it was a week. The night came when Adair, putting away the toy cue after the game of imitation billiards, said,

“Sad occasion, gents. For the last time the great and only Adair has played on this table. This time to-morrow I’ll be in the train for Bombay.”

Martin’s heart leapt, but it was Pigott who answered.

“You’re in a hurry. I thought your boat didn’t sail till the seventh.”

“No more she does.” A sly look crept into his face. “But there’s one or two lads of the village over there I want to see before I go. Not to mention the lassies de la ville. I want a night or two in the old place.”

Pigott grumbled. “You’ve been mighty choop about it. We could have given you and your memsahib a farewell dinner. We don’t get many excitements here.”

Adair lit a cigarette. “Hectic night in Poisonous Gardens. Our Representative entertains Departing Friends. But as far as the Mem’s concerned you can have your farewell dinner all right. Two or three of them. She’s not coming with me. She doesn’t start till Wednesday.”

It seemed to Martin that the room had become suddenly very still; and that some thing great reached out of the stillness and laid a hand upon his shoulder.

“No, laddie,” said Adair jauntily, “we don’t carry any coals to Newcastle. Not in this boat.”

“You swine!” thought Martin. Third said coldly,

“Won’t she find the j-journey a bit d-difficult all alone?”

Adair shrugged. “She didn’t want to come. Take a lesson, Fraction, and never marry women older than yourself—they can’t keep up. Doshie doesn’t like late nights. I do. Hence these tears.”

“You tick,” thought Martin. “You outsider.” Then his mind changed. “You make it easy,” he thought. “One can’t wrong a creature like you.” He went out of the room.

In the lounge Dorothy was reading a book; she looked up at his approach and the dark eyes met his and held them.

“So he’s told you,” she said. “I can see it.”

Martin nodded. “Yes, he’s told us. . . . Dorothy.”

“My dear?”

“Dorothy. It’s our chance.”

Her eyes dropped to the book; slowly, as if it were a matter of great consequence, she dogs-eared a page and closed it.

“Dorothy, it can happen now. Is it going to?”

“You want it to, Martin?”

“I can’t live if it doesn’t.”

She stood up suddenly and put both hands on his shoulders.

“You’re sure, Martin, sure?”

“Surer than I’ve ever been of anything.”

“And you won’t regret it afterwards? You won’t reproach yourself or talk to yourself of wickedness or wrongness or anything like that?”

He smiled in spite of his gravity. “I’ll try not to.”

“Try’s not enough. You must promise me not to. Here and now. You won’t think about it as right or wrong or anything—but just something that happened. Something nice. You’ll just keep Dorothy as a rather nice memory to take out and look at sometimes?”

“I promise,” he said.

Her hands fell from his shoulders. “Then, my dear, I’ll do anything you like. I’m yours.”

“You’ll come?”

“I’ll come.”

Quickly he caught and kissed her. “You darling! You darling!” She sprang away from him in alarm.

“Martin! You silly! Anybody might have seen.”

“Nobody did.” His heart was singing within him; “I’m young again,” he thought, “it’s magnificent!” “I’ll make it worth while to you, Dorothy,” he said. “I’ll make it worth while to you. You won’t regret it either.”

She smiled up at him—the slow, kind smile in which eyes and mouth worked together. He heard Pigott’s harsh voice as the smoking-room door opened. He picked up her hand, squeezed it hard, dropped it.

“I can’t face them any more to-night. Good night, darling.”

Her eyes smiled up at him in gentle content.

Regrets? he thought, taking the stairs two at a time, regrets? Of course not. Only mugs regretted—the old story, the old certainty. If you were going to regret a thing, why wilfully do it at all?

Twenty-four hours! . . .


Ichangudi lay waiting in the placid sunset, lit like a chamber made ready for reception. Motionless and windless, the backwater was stained with the spilt colours of the sky, like a pavement of tinted glass; beyond, the tiled roof of the bungalow showed through the coco-palms, half-hidden behind the sand-hills. A string of egrets flew lazily, dazzling white against

Dorothy had asked, “Where are we going?” But before Martin could answer she had put a hand across his mouth and stopped him. “No, don’t tell me; I’ll see when we get there. I know it’ll be perfect anyway.”

Martin said, “I want it to be. I’ve tried to make it so. If it’s not good enough—no place could be quite good enough for to-night, Dorothy—it’s not for want of my thinking. . . . But you’ll have to work, my dear?”

“Work, Martin?”

“Yes, your ladyship, work. You’ll have to make the beds. You’ll have to cook. I’ve got a cold dinner for to-night, but there’ll be to-morrow.”

She clasped her hands in delight. “How lovely, how lovely! I was so afraid you’d go to some hotel. I might have known you wouldn’t do anything so obvious. You’re not an obvious person, you know, Martin. Work? I’ll love it.”

He was anxious to be assured that he had done right. “I thought of bringing a servant. Then I thought not. I’ve a good boy and I could trust him, but——”

“Of course not, Martin. Servants are a curse; you never know when they’re peeping and peering. We’ll be ourselves—just Dorothy and Martin.”

He corrected gently. “Just you and me.”

The dilapidated rattling car sped gallantly south; almost it seemed to realise, to make a special effort. They slipped through village after village; Madras City, Colenso, Wanderlust, Poyser’s Gardens, fell away and away behind them; new worlds lurked in the sunset ahead. At the Kiriyur crossroads Dorothy moved nearer to Martin, slid an arm through his.

“I’ve never been further than this. Now it’s all new. Now it’s all you.”

“You and me,” he corrected again. “It sounds too good to be true.”

She sighed. “That’s just what it is. It isn’t true, it isn’t real. It’s not happening. We’ve stolen a day from another life altogether. We’re out of the world.”

Her grave eyes surveyed the flying landscape—green paddy fields, scrub jungle, tanks, shrines, the immense avenue trees.

“It’s a nice world, Martin—this one.”

Dinner was festive. Cold salmon, cold pheasant— Martin, regardless, had ransacked the cold storage; a bottle of white wine; ice; pâté. It was eaten on the sand in the light of a rising moon aided by a hurricane lamp; Martin and Dorothy sat on the ends of the tablecloth to keep it down. A light breeze stirred idly and the leaves of the palms made a soft clashing; far away the inevitable village drum punctuated the steady roll of the Bay breakers. The minutes flew; one grasped at them, clung to them; but inexorably they were gone.

With the cigarettes Dorothy crept round and sat beside him. He put his arm round her.


“Oh, happy, Martin. . . . Martin, I’m a wicked woman, I’m a false wife, I’m doing terribly wrong. But, oh, Martin, I do love you so.”

*  *  *

In the night Martin woke; looking from the verandah he saw the moon dropping to the west. So late already; so much of the time gone! The moon had the cold brilliance of a coin; it was hard and clean-cut as a piece of metal hung in the sky. The breeze was dead.

In the other bed Dorothy lay soft and broken in sleep. One arm was curled back behind her head the other hung over the edge of the bed. She had thrown back the bedclothes; white skin shone in the moonlight. Martin felt himself stirred beyond endurance. “My God,” he thought, “I’ve lived to-night; I’ve experienced. I’ve had something I never had before—something most people never have at all. Whatever happens I’ve had it. God himself can’t take it away from me. . . .” He got up and walked down the verandah, gazing into the serene beauty of the night. Ichangudi! It was a place alone and single now among all the places of earth. It always would be. He could never come here again.

“It isn’t real,” he thought. “All this isn’t happening at all. It’s some sort of time-space dream. As Dorothy said, we’re out of the world. We’re in a third life.” Abruptly his mood changed. No, he thought, this is real, it’s the only reality. It must go on—for ever; at any rate as long as I live. All over to-morrow— my God, to-day? Nonsense. I can’t bear it. I’ll write to Babs, he thought, I’ll have it out with her. Then I’ll take Fras home. We’ll get rid of Adair somehow—he doesn’t count. Then I’ll have Dorothy always, always. I must. It can’t end like this; it’s only beginning.

He lit a cigarette, stepped out into the moonlight and paced noiselessly in the soft sand. Presently, with the nearer approach of morning, the breeze sprang up again; it struck keenly through the warm night like a sword. Dorothy stirred in her sleep. “She’ll get cold,” he thought and went to pull the sheet over the soft white breast. But instead he knelt and kissed it and she half woke and put her arms round his neck and drew him towards her, saying sleepily,

“Come, darling, come.”

*  *  *

In the morning they bathed. “I want to do all the things with you that I like most doing for themselves,” said Martin. “But I haven’t brought a bathing-dress,” Dorothy objected, “I didn’t know.” “You’ll have to make-do,” Martin told her. In the end they bathed, on that deserted beach, shamelessly unclad. The great rollers crashed about them; they reared up like immense walls of glass in which one could see the fish swimming; poised a moment, then thundered into foaming ruin. The warm white surf frothed and caressed; on the dry sand, already growing warm to the touch, scarlet crabs ran this way and that; a red and black butterfly flitted incongruously on the verge of the water. The mounting sun blazed. India! thought Martin, Heavenly place; I don’t want to leave it; yet, because Dorothy’s leaving it, I must.

After breakfast they wandered out into the sandhills and sat together under a coco-palm. It was hot but not too hot, bright yet not blinding. But the inexorable minutes ran on; one by one they marched up, passed, receded.

“We’ve all to-day,” said Dorothy. “Right on till evening. Martin, isn’t it lovely?”

Martin, lying on one arm, watched the sand trickling through his fingers; like an hour-glass, he thought.

“Dorothy,” he said, “I’m not going to lose you. I can’t.”

She said nothing but stared pensively in front of her.

“Not after this, Dorothy. Not now. I thought I could, but now I know it’s impossible. The world’s changed since yesterday.”

She sighed again. “But, Martin darling, what else is there? What else can we do?”

He began to elaborate to her the plan he had thought out in the night; with the bright day it emerged more clearly. She must go home, must “sail at the Ides”; that had gone too far now to be stopped. But Martin would follow. He would write to Babs, set that neglected house in order in the first place. Then he would follow. “It may take six months, Dorothy it may take a year—I don’t know. But that wouldn’t matter.”

“Fras?” she said.

“It’ll do Fras good—best thing for him. He’ll get a better chance at home.”

She laid a soft hand on his mouth.

“Don’t, darling. It’s no good. This is just an interlude—a fairy interlude. It couldn’t go on. Just be glad of it. Don’t try for more.”

He said doggedly, “You can’t stop me.”

“I can’t stop you. I would if I could. But I’ll hide from you. You’ll never find me.”

“You can hide; I’ll find you. You can run away; I’ll come after you.”

“And then, darling?”

“Then I’ll get a job and we’ll share it.”

Her hand gently ruffled his hair. “Practical Martin! But, sweetest, wouldn’t it be better to get the job first?”

He pulled down the white hand and kissed it.

“You’re laughing at me. I don’t care. I know the job will be the difficult bit—the only difficult bit. But if I can do the rest I can get the job too. . . . Dorothy, it must happen.”

The touch of her hand grew so light as to be almost imperceptible; Martin knew she was shaking her head.

“It won’t, darling.”

He was disconcerted by her certainty; to reassure himself he repeated,

“It must.”

“It won’t, Martin.”

“Dorothy, why not?”

“It just won’t. I know it won’t. That’s all.”

She bent down and kissed him.

“Don’t worry about it, darling. To-day’s to-day. It’s ours; it always will be. Nobody can take it away from us now. ‘Unborn to-morrow and dead yesterday what matter either if to-day be sweet?’ Stick to today, Martin.”

Relentlessly the minutes ran on. Minute after minute, they approached, passed, receded. There were not so very many of them left now.

*  *  *

“Our second sunset, Martin. Second and last.”

“For the time being, Dorothy.”

Her grave, kind smile came and went.

“Say it so, my dear, if it comforts you. . . . Martin, will you do something for me and not think me silly?”

“What is it?”

“I want you to go down to the boat and wait for me. Just leave me for a few minutes. I’ll come soon. . . . Our little house, Martin; I want to say good-bye to it all by myself.”

He kissed her cheek. “You dear thing! Whatever you like.”

At the edge of the backwater the boat was waiting. Stolid, indifferent, the two boatmen squatted by the bow. It mattered nothing to them who came to Ichangudi or what they did there. If lovers came or an Inspector of Salt, it was all the same; all comers paid for the boat; what else mattered?

“If people leave ghosts,” thought Martin idly, “ours ought to stay here.” He thought fantastically of a ghost Martin and a ghost Dorothy living perpetually the twenty-four hours over and over again, re-enacting for ever and ever the minutes of that dear adventure.

Dorothy came slowly down from the bungalow. She was holding herself in hand, but as she came near he saw her lip quiver; then suddenly she threw herself into his arms in a passion of blinding tears. Th stolid boatmen gaped uncomprehendingly; but white people were always doing unintelligible things; who knew? In Martin’s arms Dorothy sobbed and sobbed uncontrollably, bitterly.

“I meant to be so brave. I meant to be so brave. But I can’t, I can’t. It’s you, Martin, it’s you. . . . Martin, Martin.”


Having driven back to Madras, Martin drove straight out of it again. They had arranged it so by agreement; Dorothy was to catch the Bombay Mail that night; Martin was to drive her direct from Ichangudi to the Central Station. To Poyser’s Gardens and others she would have left the night before; her luggage had all been taken down to the station the previous day and stored there. Her ayah had been paid off and sent away. All simple enough.

“But I can’t stay and see you go,” Martin had said, “there are things I can’t do. I can’t even be in Madras when you leave it. I must get out of the place—right away.”

Smiling, she had kissed him. “Whatever you like. It won’t matter by then. I’ll have had you and I’ll keep you. Wherever you go you’ll be with me.”

So Martin wheeled away from the gloomy porch of the Central Station, not daring to look back at the figure he knew stood on the top of the steps and looked wistfully after him. . . . And all that night he drove on the roads, circling aimlessly, sometimes on the fringe of the City, sometimes twenty miles away; while the hard bright moon, at the first quarter, passed from the zenith to the horizon. Like the moon, the years of his life in India passed slowly across the background of the night—the long baker’s dozen of years, the years that the locust had eaten. . . . “Locust-food, oldboy”; Charlie’s odd contemptuous phrase for the past came back bitterly; that was what it came to a procession of years, a vast gallery of days and hours—consumed, vanished. Only to-night, their culmination, had consequence, and that only for a time. . . . And somewhere in the abyss of this same night the Bombay Mail was grinding northwards and westwards, and with every stroke of its pistons and every revolution of its wheels the gap widened and widened. . . . Dawn, creeping grey-red out of the Bay in a curtain of smoky clouds, found him sick with sleeplessness, his tobacco finished, his cigarette-case empty. He pulled to the roadside and slept for an hour on the back seat of the car; and woke uncomfortable and stiff to find the sun up and day well started. In a half-awakened township he refilled his petrol tank and drank a cup of sweet sticky native-made coffee; then he crept back to the accursed city. At least the night was over.

In the clean morning sunshine Poyser’s Gardens was like a dead body or an empty shell—like anything from which the essential being has for ever departed. He ran the car quietly into its shed and crept up to his bare room by the back stair; the old house seemed oddly silent, oddly stale. His boy brought him a cup of tea and Martin intercepted a curious sidelong glance. How much did he know or guess; what were they saying in the servants’ godowns? It didn’t matter—nothing mattered. . . . Shaved and bathed he felt more resolute, better able to go on with the world; but as he looked over his uninteresting letters panic came back.

“I can’t go on with this,” he thought, “I can’t sit on in this place doing nothing.” “I’ll write,” he thought, “I’ll write to Dorothy. I’ll put everything we said on paper; she won’t be able to say no. And I’ll write to Babs; yes, I’ll write to Babs. Two sentences’ll do it—one. ‘I want a divorce.’ I’ll tell her she can have her allowance just the same unless or until she remarries. I’ll manage that somehow. Yes, I’ll write. The first free day I’ll write these letters.”

Childishly, as if to make everything certain he drew out his engagement-book. Against Sunday the 5th February he wrote in big capitals “Letters.”


But Martin never wrote those letters.


A cutting from the Times of India, the morning of Saturday, the 4th February, 1933. The cutting has a heading in small capitals, “Motor Fatality in Bombay,” and a sub-heading in smaller capitals, “Europeans Killed.” And the cutting then runs thus,

“At an early hour yesterday morning when a car containing a party of four Europeans, ascertained to be Mr. and Mrs. Adair and Mr. and Mrs. Leyman, was proceeding towards the Ballard Pier, the car skidded for some cause at present unknown, crashed into an electric standard and overturned. All the occupants were thrown out with the exception of Mr. Adair who was driving. Mrs. Adair was instantaneously killed and Mr. Leyman died before medical assistance could be procured. Mrs. Leyman lies in hospital in a critical condition. Mr. Adair, although pinned under the car, was comparatively slightly injured. Beyond the fact that the car was travelling at the time at a high rate of speed the cause of the accident is unknown.”

So Adair “copped it” at last, as Pigott foretold. And Dorothy sailed at the Ides—on a long, long voyage.


Part Three — Colenso


At Colenso the black mango trees crowded more thickly, casting a darker shade, veiling more completely the discreet little house. Stuffy and compact, it sat behind its green-mossed garden wall and in such breeze as ever managed to penetrate its mysteries its veil of bead curtains eddied and clashed. Even lying in the long chairs in its tiny verandah its inhabitants were but dimly exposed to the passers-by in the lane a few paces away; retiring behind these incessantly whispering curtains, they became entirely concealed even though a Petromax lamp blazed beside them in the room. Never, Martin thought, was there a little house so equipped for the keeping of secrets; and now, he thought grimly, it has another to keep. The secret of Ichangudi, the secret of a tortured Martin who crept into it one evening a fugitive in the extremity of grief. Martin’s secrets; the house was charged with them.

Poyser’s Gardens had passed by slow, cold stages of awakening from the unreal to the unendurable. First had come old Smallwood. The old man hardly made a pretence of working now; he was always hanging about the lounge, wandering aimlessly to the writing-table, sitting there doing nothing, wandering aimlessly away. His wife watched him like a sheep, hardly ever speaking; except that her body functioned, she was dead.

Smallwood, in the role of first torturer, caught Martin hurrying out to office.

“You’ve seen the paper? You’ve seen about our young friend Adair?”

Martin gripped himself. “I saw it.”

“Cocksure he was. ‘And how’s business to-day Mr. Smallwood!’” He sniggered in senile glee, then turned suddenly to senile bitterness. “He’ll do no more business anyway in this City. And he’s killed that wife of his, too.”

Martin held himself—easily, he thought, surprisingly easily. “He wouldn’t do it if he knew,” he told himself. “He wouldn’t do this if he knew. He doesn’t know. You’ll have to get used to this sort of thing.” Aloud he said, “I was sorry.”

Smallwood pursed his lips, his fingers scrabbled in his thin old beard.

“Oh, sorry; yes, of course, in a kind of a way one’s sorry. But he got his deserts, Mr. Armory, he got his deserts. It was coming to him. . . . I wonder what they’ll do about it. Do you think they’ll make it manslaughter?”

“I really haven’t thought about it,” said Martin, “I’m—I’m in a bit of a hurry this morning.” He got past old Smallwood and out.

But Cross Keyes was in the porch, tending her crotons. “Of course, it’s terrible. . . . Of course they’d left here, hadn’t they? So it isn’t really the house, is it? Otherwise, one would begin to think—— Of course, there was poor Mr. Spelder. . . . You don’t believe in that kind of thing, do you now, Mr. Armory?”

Martin said something. “What kind of thing?” he was thinking, “What is she talking about?” The Ichangudi bungalow stood in the porch and Dorothy was coming down the sand-hills to the boat. “Our little house, Martin. . . . I meant to be so brave.” Gymkhana moonlight and the Marina and the scent of temple-flowers. . . . Suddenly he realised that he was in his car, driving over the Egmore bridge. How had he got there? He didn’t know.

In the evening there was Pigott. Pigott had recaptured his Spelder-affair attitude—a bravado of grimness, a deliberate brutality. He swung into the smoking-room after dinner, his thatch twitching, his jaw set for ruthless utterance.

“We got the whole story to-night.”

Pettigrew, the male component of a colourless pair who had succeeded promptly to the Adair’s room, said “What story?”

“The Adair crash. The Associated Press had spread itself. But I’ve cut it all down to a para. After all they weren’t really well-known in Madras, were they?”

His hypnotic eye met Martin’s. Martin heard himself say solemnly, “No, not really well-known.”

“Gymkhana crowd. . . . But he must have been going some. One side of the car was stripped. It was this chap Leyman’s car—a Dodge. Fancy letting Adair drive your car! I knew he’d do it one of these nights; I’ve said so often in this room. You’ve heard me, Armory.”

“Often,” said the mechanical Martin, “in this room.”

“Tight again, of course; last beano before sailing and so on. They say he’ll get two years. He can’t get less.”

“He ought to get more,” contributed Pettigrew.

“We-ell;” Pigott carried all the judicial acumen of the Full Bench, “they may let him off lightly, taking all the circumstances into consideration. After all, you know, it’s a pretty bloody business to kill your own wife and your own pal and smash up his wife so she’ll never walk again. He’s had his punishment. They’ll probably look at it like that.” He hankered back to the gruesome. “But it must have been some smash. The chap, what’s-his-name, Leyman’s head was pretty nearly off. The other woman’s legs—— But the odd thing is, they say Mrs. Adair herself wasn’t marked. Not so’s you’d notice.”

“No?” said Pettigrew in the role of Greek chorus “No. Fracture of the base of the skull. When they picked her up they thought she was only stunned But of course it must have been instantaneous.”

“That’s something,” said Pettigrew banal to the last. Martin heard himself saying gravely to himself somewhere deep in his being, “I don’t think I can stand this. I really don’t think I can stand this. I don’t really need to stand it.” He got up and went out without a word.

Pettigrew followed him, yawning. Pigott heard a choking sound behind him and swung round to meet the white face, the immense eyes, the quivering lips of Third.

“You b-bloody f-fool, Pigott; you b-bloody great f-fool. Couldn’t you s-see he was k-keen on her.”

“Eh, wha-at?” Pigott was taken aback, “Who was keen on who?”

“Armory of course. On D-dorothy Adair. And you wouldn’t stop talking about it. You f-fool, Pigott, you great fool!”

“Oh rot, Fraction,” said Pigott, “there was nothing of the kind. Why, you hardly ever saw them together. You imagined it. You’re always imagining some slop or other. Quit dreaming.”

“Thank God I am,” cried Third, stammering frightfully, “Thank God I have got an imagination. Thank God I do dream. Thank God I amn’t a mass of materialism like you. And you—my God, you—are the kind of person who’s been ruling this country; you’re the kind of person, God help it, who’s going to rule this country in the future, if you get your way. You write in papers; you put down your beastly horrible ideas in print. You write things about Indians; my God, P—Pigott, you d-dare to write about Indians. You——!”

Upstairs Martin sat on his bed and looked into his mirror whence the white, tortured face—Ruthven’s face at Rizzio’s murder—looked back at him. So he had sat one night before and heard Adair’s heavy footsteps go past his door and along to another door that opened to him as of right. Well, that would never happen any more now; never again; and neither would—anything else. In the name of God, thought Martin for the thousandth time, what am I going to do?

In the mirror the Ichangudi bungalow took the place of Ruthven’s face; the Ichangudi bungalow in sunlight, in moonlight; a laughing voice said, “It’s a nice world, Martin, this one. . . .” But—Ichangudi was Fras’s as well as Dorothy’s; they had been happy there together, they could be happy together somewhere again. “Fras matters”; Dorothy herself had said that, she had always been splendid about Fras from the first moment she had heard of his existence. If she were here now she would say, “Turn to Fras, Martin; Fras matters.” Like a tocsin or a gunshot the name of Fras suddenly filled and reverberated in Martin’s mind. He thought of the boy as he had seen him last, lying in the little cot at Melmuri, resolute with endurance, amazingly courageous. . . . . Yes, thank God, there was Fras.

But Poyser’s Gardens became increasingly torture. Knowing nothing of Third’s outburst, Martin caught Pigott’s eye constantly and quizzically upon him. What was he thinking? Had some of the hangers-on of his paper, the professional garbage-mongers of Madras, ferreted something out; had they unearthed Ichangudi? Third was hysterical and jumpy, Pettigrew stupid as a block. Even into old Mrs. Smallwood’s vacant stare Martin read speculation and criticism. Smallwood did not speak again of the subject; why? Did they know, did they guess, had they discovered Martin and Dorothy? If so, he must get out and at once. . . . Whether or not, he must get out and at once. . . . Dorothy in a basket-chair in a black lace evening dress; Dorothy on the landing in a green dressing-gown with golden dragons; man could not be asked to bear it. And to bear it all in silence; never a confidant, never a friend, never an understanding soul to whom to say “Dorothy and I.”

And there were nightmares in the bad hours of the night when the church clocks answered one another across the dreary City and far away one could hear the market carts rumbling on Mount Road. Headless people lying in wreckage; a fast car skidding, striking an electric standard—he heard the crash of it; one side “stripped”; strangers, street-scum, running to pick up the living and the dead. And the dead. Spelder came back, Spelder with his grey face and his grey life. Within this ugly old house Spelder had shot himself—just across the passage where now you could hear Pigott snoring aggressively. Would he, Martin Armory, do well to come to that; should Wanderlust have a second suicide? A grey life Spelder seemed to have run—but was it really so; had something just like this happened to Spelder before he wrought that monstrous act? There was nothing in his papers or his possessions to show it—but neither would there be anything in the papers or possessions of Martin Armory. Nowhere in writing was the name of Ichangudi or the name of Dorothy. . . .

But then Spelder had no Fras. And again the name of Fras would conquer and oust those other names, and the nightmare shapes would draw back and there would be life again and Martin, somehow, would sleep. . . .

Pigott snoring in the nights; Third’s jumping nerves; old Smallwood’s silences; his wife’s half-dead staring eyes; and ghosts, ghosts, ghosts. Spelder’s ghost; a worse ghost than Spelder’s. . . .


And then one morning when Martin sat in Wanderlust’s office, bright now with late February sunshine, Cottle pushed open the door and walked in. But a changed Cottle, flat and unfamiliar, a defeated, groping Cottle with all the cocksureness knocked out of him. Before he could sink down into one of the green leather chairs Wanderlust provided for its patrons, Martin noticed the black tie, the broad black band on Cottle’s sleeve. He pointed to them sharply.

“What’s that?”

Cottle turned half-dead eyes upon him.

“It’s Julie. She’s gone.”

Martin’s swimming mind strove to grapple with this new reality, strove for the nonce to shut out the sunshine of Ichangudi, dark eyes, fair hair, a smile that loved. Julie—her illness—Foreman’s gloom—three hundred rupees that should really have been kept for Fras; it came back.

“Why didn’t I know about this? Why wasn’t I told?”

“You ’adn’t been round since Christmas. And it came sudden-like at the end. An’ that knocked me—some’ow I didn’t think of you. . . . It was a week last Tuesday.” He began noiselessly to cry.

The complete breakdown of Cottle pulled Martin together. It was incredible to see in this white-faced, round-shouldered collapse the spruce, rosy little man whose complacence Martin had so often damned. He got up and laid a hand on Cottle’s shoulder.

“Tell me about it. Better to tell.”

Chokingly, Cottle began; as usual he elaborated his details disconcertingly; unthinkable bits of poor Julie were pulled out and paraded for inspection. A blaze of Ichangudi sunshine swept past Martin; somebody standing on the steps at the Central Station. . . . “I can’t keep my mind on this,” he thought “I must try.” But the telling helped Cottle; he drew comfort from the very minutiae of his recital. Then he came to the funeral; he narrated it at first with a pleased appreciation of the well-executed arrangements; then his voice faltered.

“It was the earth falling on the coffin as did it. They chuck in earth, you know, sir. Christ, I can ’ear it now.” He cried again. Earth must have fallen on another coffin, thought Martin, far away; who stood by on that occasion? Strangers, strangers: did it matter? Ichangudi; the Satyali tank bund and the duck wheeling against the crimson sunset. . . . He pulled himself up with a gasp.

“Look here, come out and lunch with me. We’ll go to the Connemara Hotel. I’ll bet you’ve had nothing to eat for days.”

“It’s the truth,” whimpered Cottle. “Some’ow I couldn’t. Though they was all very kind. Very kind they was.”

“Except me,” thought Martin with a stab. “I was at other things.” Resolutely he took Cottle’s arm. “Buck up, Uncle—the worst’s over.”

At the Connemara Cottle ate with unexpected heartiness which Martin made a pretence of emulating; gradually the good food and a bottle of iced Melbourne did their work. Cottle perked up.

“Come to think of it, you’re not lookin’ too good yourself. Sort o’ pulled down like.”

“I’ve had a worrying time,” said Martin.


“Business, eh? They’re all complaining.”

“Yes, business. And—Fras. You didn’t hear about Fras.” He plunged into a long circumstantial account of the journey to Melmuri that roused Cottle to interested attention. Presently, over cheroots and coffee in the verandah, Martin took his resolution and opened fire.

“And what are you going to do?”

“Gawd knows.” Cottle threw out his hands in a gesture of despair. “Gawd in ’eaven only knows. Y’see I never counted on this. Maybe I should ’ave; dessay it was silly not to. But the fact remains I didn’t. Never. And now it’s got me.”

“Yes,” said Martin, “It’s the things we don’t count on that get us.” Like once at dinner, he thought, at Poyser’s Gardens; one walked into things—crash!

“Some’ow I never gave it a thought.” Cottle was pursuing his own line of reminiscence. “Julie was younger ’n me; seven years. I thought, I’ll go first for certain; I was planning to leave her well-placed—she would ha’ been, too. Now—she’s left me.”

The simple phrase cut Martin like a knife; neat, tidy, calm, contented Julie, she had left her Cottle and in ten days he had become the wreck of a man. He repeated, “What are you going to do?”

Cottle met his gaze. “What can I do? It’s a fair knock-out. Y’see I’d put everything into this. When first I asked Julie, she said, “You’ll want me to go to England.” I said, “No,” I says, “England nothin’.” (“I ’ad sense”—the old cocksure boast came back pitifully now.) “I says, ‘If you’ll be Mrs. Cottle I’ll be done with England. We’ll set up a little ’ouse out ’ere, I says, and there we’ll live and there we’ll die.’ But I didn’t think it’d be ’er as’d die. Give you me word I didn’t. An’ now—where am I? You ask me, what am I goin’ to do? I ask you, sir—an’ I’m waitin’ your answer.”

There was no answer, Martin thought; Cottle had calculated staked, lost; no utterable answer to the broken gambler’s question, “What will I do next? has ever been found. He looked at Cottle again and framed his resolution.

“It’s bad,” he said, “it’s as bad as it can be. But there’s only one thing to do in these cases” (“Your own case, my friend,” he thought) “and that’s play for time. You want a bit of time to look round. Look here, Cottle, I’m not happy where I am or comfortable; how’d you like it if I came and stayed with you for a bit?”

Reward, if any were required, was immediate in the flash of galvanising light that set up Cottle’s whole body.

“You wouldn’t do it, sir?”

“I’m saying I will.”

“You ask me, would I like it? Would I like it? Oh, Christ——”

“Then it’s fixed,” said Martin. They wrung hands and tears stood again on Cottle’s cheeks.

“It’s the beer, sir, I expect,” he said sheepishly, “It’s made me sentimental-like. Not being accustomed just of late.”

Martin patted his shoulder. “No, old chap. It’s something better than the beer. You’re a good soul, Cottle: we’ve both been through a bit. We ought to get on.”

“We’ll get on all right,” said Cottle, gulping. “Maybe Francie——”


Yet Colenso, the discreet little house, failed to satisfy; it became almost as intolerable as Poyser’s Gardens. For within its walls and behind poor Julie’s pathetic curtains Martin still walked alone with himself: there was still lacking the essential confidant to whom could be said those wonderful words, “Dorothy and I.”

In the first enthusiasm of reunion at the Connemara, Martin had almost imagined himself finding that confidant in Cottle. Cottle had heard one confession; why not another? “After all, Uncle,” he would begin, “we’re much in the same boat.” And then he would tell everything—the Gymkhana lawn, the Marina, Satyali, Ichangudi itself. At the names his heart turned over within him; it cried out to talk of them, to clothe them in words, to be done with this annihilating silence. But forty-eight hours of Colenso exposed the folly of all such ideas; Cottle’s limitations, forgotten or blurred by absence, became in Colenso appallingly distinct. “’E took a tart up-country”: clothe the idyll in poetry, cause it to live again by virtue of the tongues of angels—that would be Cottle’s mental summing-up. Ruefully, half-laughing, Martin admitted it. And besides, common-sense asserted that Cottle and Martin were not in the same boat at all. And Cottle was wrapped, poor soul, in his own great trouble; at first he brightened but only to relapse into a bewildered incompetence. Endlessly he repeated his grudge against God as formulated at the Connemara.

“I’d banked on all this goin’ on. I’d put everything into this little show. Now what am I goin’ to do?”

Once Martin got as far as “You’re not the only one”; but Cottle, sunk in his own misery, missed it and the chance was lost. Fortunately, as Martin told himself in a saner moment.

Daily and hourly Martin asked himself Cottle’s question—and could only provide himself with the answer he gave again and again to Cottle; “Play for time; you want time to look round.” At least there was a date to look forward to, however. On the twelfth of April—soon now—St. ’Bastian’s was to close for the hot-weather vacation; on the thirteenth of April, therefore—soon now—Fras must arrive at Colenso. Martin had not intended to bring the boy to Madras in the hot weather—Brother Baptiste could have taken him somewhere as before; now, however, he felt he must see him. And there was a better reason than that; Pellick, missed at Christmas, must be caught at Easter; that grim engagement at the General Hospital could no longer be put off. Fras himself was delighted. “You know, Dads,” he wrote “I’d rather be with you than anywhere else. I don’t care about a bit of heat—we’ll have fun.” St. ’Bastian’s he thought, might close a day or two earlier owing to the appearance of stray cases of measles; Fras took natural delight in this misfortune. “Maybe I’ll walk in and surprise you one afternoon. You’ll like that, won’t you?” Like it? thought Martin I’m living for it.

But there were hours in the hot sleepless nights—trebly hot and stuffy in the fanless, airless Colenso—when even this failed to comfort. Cottle was lucky; he tumbled into his bed at nine-thirty and life was a blank to him until six next morning; he snored frightfully and Martin, unable to escape the noise in that tiny house, wondered again and again how any woman—even the placid, uncomplaining Julie—could have lain night after night in such resonant company. Martin lay awake more and more, dreaming, remembering, till the heart turned over again in his body and cried out for expression or—extinction. Supposing Fras did come—what good? He couldn’t make a confidant of Fras; and make a confidant of someone he must.

“I understand now how murderers feel,” thought Martin rising one night for the sixth time to sip water from the terra-cotta “cooler,” “I understand now how they’ve got to tell somebody.” He gazed out into the little compound, black-shadowed; peered, through the mangoes at the riding moon. The night was quiet outside, but Cottle’s snoring—lucky devil!—reverberated. “There isn’t a soul on earth,” thought Martin, “that I can speak to. Not one. Why isn’t Aunt Frances still alive?” In the moonshot dusk of Julie’s “drawing-room” he saw her portrait standing on its easel as it had stood for the last three years—for he had never taken it, after all, to Poyser’s Gardens. But the face was dim, it would not come alive to him, it gave him no comfort.

He wandered out into the dusty lane. There the night was poised on its dead-centre, immensely still, as if one were caged in a globe of luminous glass. Somewhere hot-weather flowers smelt rankly; insects were faintly awake; towards the parade-ground a dog broke out into pariah hysterics, setting off a chorus that swelled, dwindled, died in remote outposts. Sighing, Martin turned back to his uninviting bed.

And then suddenly, as with the effect of a vision, he saw Cassie; it was as if she stood on the dusty moonlit roadway in front of him. Cassie in creamy white with long gold-brown lines; Cassie smiling. Cassie, who was always supremely in command of herself, yet was tender, kind. Cassie who was fond of Martin Armory; Cassie with whom Martin Armory had been in love. Had been? When had it ceased? Had it ever ceased? . . .

Instantly, at all events, he knew it was Cassie whom he must tell; why on earth had he not thought of her sooner? Cassie must hear it all, at once. In the unreal glass cage of the night the absurdity of it did not strike him at all; the moon did not ask him, “How in the circumstances can you summon Cassie to tell her about Dorothy?” Nothing in that glazed serenity said to him, “You last saw Cassie two years ago at Hotnipatam station and she turned her back on you; you last spoke to her at the Shivanur temple and she gave you to understand you had offended her mortally. How in the name of all that’s preposterous can you do it?” Nothing put these thoughts in his mind; instead, his heart leapt in relief, saying, “Yes, Cassie;. Cassie is the person. You’ve solved it at last.” The acquiescent night, silent and doting, seemed if anything to approve. Eager, Martin found paper and a pen, dragged a chair into a moon-flooded corner of the verandah wrote his letter there and then.

“You once said I was to tell you if you could d anything to help me. I want a friend to help me now worse than I’ve ever wanted anything. Will you come and see me here the evening after to-morrow? Saturday? This little house is off the main south road.” He concluded with prosaic directions—signed himself, as of old, Martin. It did not occur to him that she might quite well have forgotten who “Martin” was.

“I’ll post it now,” he thought and walked in his slippers through the noiseless dust to the pillar-box at the corner of the parade-ground. The maidan stretched away from him in an immense sheet of silvered yellow; the church and the houses on the far side of it were the colour of old ivory. The faintest breeze moved; a cock was awake and excited in the bazaar beyond the south road. There was a premonition of morning. Martin’s letter dropped with a clang in the empty box; few missives accumulated there in those dead hours of the night. He turned away and only then, when it was done and irrevocable, he felt a quiver of doubt.


Rather wonderfully, rather magnificently, Cassie came.

Unregenerate and following old custom, she came late when Martin had ceased to hope, when his growing doubt had swelled into a universe of disbelief. She hadn’t come; she couldn’t come; then suddenly she was there. The little house was very quiet, in that still hour of the Indian evening when no free agent remains within doors: Cottle was away at the Staff Sergeants’ Club where he sat three nights a week pretending to read the papers with an eye cocked for a possible audience, praying hard that someone would call him to talk of forgotten days or listen to one of his hopelessly démodé anecdotes. Hiding behind the curtains, Martin saw Cassie’s huge car draw up in the already twilit lane, blocking it like an elephant, saw that she had come alone and without witnesses, saw her puzzled look at the name-board as if she asked herself, “Can this be the right place?” The garden gate creaked; he saw her walk up the short path. She walked steadily, but Martin saw her face pale and apprehensive; her eyes flickered from side to side as though she felt herself walking into a trap. . . . So much he saw; then he was in the verandah to meet her.

“Cassie! You came.”

Her dark blush came and went; but she had herself, as ever, in hand.

“Seems so, doesn’t it? . . . Well, Martin” (the old, wonderful vocable!) “When you put it like you did——”

He released her hand. “Anyway, you’re here. . . . Would you like some tea?”

She smiled, glanced at the tiny watch on her wrist.

“I guess it’s past tea-time. And I guess it wasn’t to give me tea you asked me here.”

“You guess right.” Martin sat her down in the basket chair into which she subsided with all the old slow grace. He called for a punkah; a beady-eyed brat of the cook’s, peeping at the fine lady, came and pulled it. Inanities ran through Martin’s brain; constraint began to fall. It was Cassie, controlled as ever, who broke it.

“Well, Martin, what’s happened?”

He pulled himself together. He was moved at the sight of her—unexpectedly moved. Already the deep thing in Cassie was reaching out again to the deep thing in Martin; already he was beginning to repent of what he had done. But it was too late for repentance now.

“I’m in trouble, Cassie.”

“You said so. But there’s trouble and trouble.”

“It’s a girl, Cassie.”

There was the briefest dead silence, hardly noticeable had it not been so intensely dead.

“I wondered. . . . Well, tell me. Do I know her?”

“I don’t think so.”

“What’s her name?”

“Dorothy Adair.”

Cassie considered it gravely. “It’s a nice name. But I don’t think I know her. I can’t remember any Miss Adair “

Mrs. Adair.”

“O-oh.” There was another of those desperately dead silences. “Oh, Martin, you silly. That kind of mess. I didn’t think you——”

“It wasn’t that kind of mess, Cassie. It was—different.”

“It’s always different. And it’s always that kind of mess with Mrs.’s. Martin, I could shake you. Where does she live?”

Martin reached out for her hand. “You’ll have to be kind about it, Cassie. You see, she doesn’t live anywhere. She’s dead.”

Martin felt the hand in his quiver, stiffen and relax. All Cassie relaxed. Was it dismay? Was it sympathy? Was it relief?

“But, Martin. . . . Oh, poor Martin! Were you very fond of her?” Suddenly Martin saw that Cassie was prepared to be kind to Dorothy because she was dead; he braced himself against the implications of that vision.

“I couldn’t tell you how fond. And yet”—he gave a wry smile—“it’s to tell you that and nothing else that I’ve dragged you out here.”

“But, Martin—I don’t quite know. Would she like it?”,

“Yes—no—I don’t know. Anyway, I’ve got to tell somebody. I must. It’s like being a murderer, Cassie. You know they go about for a bit and then walk into a Police Station and give themselves up. They just have to tell somebody. I’m like that.”

“And I’m the police?” Her eyes flickered an instant; Martin saw the gold specks dance in them. “Well, you’d better confess. Get it out.”

Martin drew a hand across his forehead; in spite of the flapping punkah it was damp. He took a long breath.

“Before I start, Cassie, I want you to know I’ve been bad. It—it wasn’t any sort of joke or flirtation or anything like that. I’ve been—I’ve been criminal.”

She laid a cool hand on his.

“Poor criminal! You don’t seem to have got much out of it. Maybe—maybe it wasn’t so bad.”

“It was,” he said desperately, “It was. It was as bad as it could be. Do you understand what I mean?”

“I—I think so. The seventh Commandment? Was that it?”

“Yes. If it applied. You’ll hear.”

She drew away her hand. “Well, tell, Martin. I’m listening.”

Then it all came with a rush—the whole jumbled story; Hotnipatam; Spelder’s suicide; the Cross Keyes; the sudden incredible shock of that first night at dinner. When he came to that Martin felt himself failing; I can’t convince, he thought, I can’t tell it; I can hardly believe it now myself. He floundered desperately.

“I—I don’t know, Cassie. There aren’t words. I just saw her and instantly I knew somehow that we, that we—— Oh Lord, how to tell you and avoid claptrap! There aren’t words . . . Cassie, do you believe it could happen like that? Two people who’d never seen each other before? Suddenly——”

“I don’t know, Martin. It never happened to me. But you’re telling how it happened to you I’ll take your word for it.”

I didn’t think it could happen. But it did. And of course, you can see for yourself that in that instant everything happened. You can see that?”

“But—that wasn’t all, Martin?”

“My God, no!” He went on slowly and in detail satiating himself with the delight of words at last. “So Dorothy and I——” “Then we—Dorothy and I——” . . . He came to Satyali and its desperate resolve; faltered a little. “You see, Cassie, things couldn’t stop where they were; you do see that, Cassie?”

“I see how you felt, Martin. Go on.”

But he faltered and floundered increasingly; each expression seemed more idiotic than the last, more inadequate, more frustrating to the image desired. Terror seized him that she understood nothing—or understood it only as a common sordid story of adultery; was she making any more of it than Cottle with his “tart up-country”? Could he make her see it as he saw it, communicate one tenth of his own rapture? Increasingly he felt failure; increasingly he felt a fool. He threw out his hands.

“I can’t explain it; I can’t tell it. I was a fool to try. There aren’t words in the language. . . . The loveliest, dearest thing that ever happened to mortal man; and it all comes out like—like some idiot housemaid writing slush letters in a penny paper. Oh, Cassie, do see it! It was different, I tell you, it was different. It was lovely, it wasn’t earth— I can’t explain.”

Her voice seemed to come from far away, from behind the blazing sunshine of Ichangudi, from behind the sun itself.

“Don’t explain, Martin. Just tell. I’ll try to do the explaining myself. . . . So you went to this place together?”

“We went—my God, we went.” The sunshine blazed to an explosion, vanished. He wiped his forehead again with a shaking hand, strove to tell on. “And then, and then——” The steps of the Central Station; that insane moonstruck night wandering the roads in his car; dawn on the Trunk Road—empty, meaningless; then the resolve; then the Daily lying on the table in the ill-assorted lounge of Poyser’s Gardens, the paragraph that put an end to everything. He drew the cutting from his pocket-book.

“Read it and tear it up. I kept it—I don’t know why. It was the first I heard of it.”

She read slowly and carefully and handed it back; mechanically he replaced it in his pocket-book, forgetting his resolution to have it destroyed. He realised that night had almost fallen; the little cluttered-up room had grown almost dark. He thrust back his chair.

“Well, I’ve told you. . . . It’s getting dark; would you like a lamp?”

“No; let’s sit as we are for a minute. Then I must go anyway . . .. Martin.”


“I don’t think you did right. I think you ought to have told her husband. I don’t think you ought to have let her go like that.”

“You see it like that, do you? So did I—in the end. But she wouldn’t stay. Haven’t I made that plain? She said it was just an interlude—couldn’t be anything else.” He laughed bitterly. “My God, she was right, too. It was just an interlude; it cant be anything else now—ever.”

Cassie turned the ring on her finger this way and that.

“I think maybe she was a wise girl. I think maybe she was right. If it was as lovely as you say, as wonderful——”

“It was, Cassie. You believe it? You don’t think it was just like—anybody?”

She smiled gravely. “If you say so, Martin. But if it was all that, I don’t see how it could have gone on. Folks can’t live on these heights, it seems to me; but maybe I just don’t know. But maybe she was a wise girl; that’s what I mean. Maybe it was just an interlude; maybe it couldn’t be more. Anyway you can’t spoil it now.”

He looked at her in a sudden glow of gratitude; she did understand after all. Flash-like, he thought her lovely.

“You do understand, Cassie.”

“I’m glad. If I’ve helped.” She stood up, poised, controlled, magnificent. “Martin, tell me one thing.”


“Why did you ask me here to tell me this?”

He laughed a little awkwardly. “I’ve told you. The murderer and the police.”

“But me of all people. Didn’t you think——”

“I don’t know that I did. I just had to tell.”

“But you didn’t have to tell just anybody. You had to tell just me. Wasn’t it?”

“Of course. But——”

“It wasn’t of course, at all.” Yet strangely, she seemed pleased. “Don’t you see I was the last person—the very last person—you could have asked here for that purpose? Goodness, Martin, don’t you see that?”

Martin looked at her in the gloom; she was dim in the dusk, edgeless but tremendously alive.

“I see it now,” he said slowly, “I’ve seen it since you’ve been here. But I didn’t see it before. It was a crazy thing to do—daft. I see it now. In a way it was an insult. You of all people.”

The gold specks danced.

“You’re saying a lot of things without saying them, Martin.”

He grinned at last. “Well, you’re hearing them all right.”

“Yes. . . . Martin, now you’ve told, do you feel different?”

He reflected. “I do—a bit.”

“How different?”

He thought again, hunting for words. “Since you came here, since I’ve seen you again, she—Dorothy—seems more unreal than ever. She was always——”

He burst out suddenly. “Damn it all, Cassie, just think how it all happened. I saw her for the first time in my life on the nineteenth of December. Hardly again till the Gymkhana Dance I told you about. That was the fourteenth of January.”

She smiled. “You’ve got the dates pat, Martin.”

He said grimly. “I’m not likely to forget them. And I’ll give you another—first February. I said good-bye to her then. In forty-eight hours she was dead—killed. Eighteen days for the whole thing and then, bus, finis, end. Down comes the curtain that will never go up again. I can’t feel it was real; I can’t believe it happened.”

Her foot tapped the floor with the old gesture, commanding his attention.

“But I’m real, Martin?”

“You’re real, Cassie. You’ve always been real. Even through—all that, you were real all right.”

The third of these silences, desperately dead, fell between them. She broke it with a rather breathless laugh.

“Oh, Martin! Queer Martin. . . . Well, I’m going. You’ll kindly tell me no doubt when you want me again.”

He stepped between her and the door.

“I say, Cassie.”

“Well, Martin?”

“Can’t we be friends again?”

This time she laughed outright.

“Martin, your head’s turned. ‘We can’t be friends Cassie; we can’t be friends; not us.’ And now he says ‘Can’t we be friends again.’ And you know, Martin men call women inconsistent.”

He stood miserably by the door.

“Don’t laugh at me, Cassie. I’m pretty down. Make your own terms. But let’s see each other a bit.”

Her deep voice dropped a tone or two.

“We’ll see each other, Martin. You haven’t shown much interest in me—not one question. But I’m silly with curiosity about you. And this little house and all. How did you get here? Who furnished it? You never did. Martin, I’m just full of questions.”

“Well, stay,” he said. “Stay and I’ll answer them.”

She pretended to look at her watch again. “No, I must fly. Good-bye, Martin.”

Martin turned to the verandah doorway trying to think of some expression of gratitude that would not sound absurd; and as he turned, it was darkened by an incoming shadow. “Damn,” he thought, “Cottle; now I’ll have to explain.” And before the thought was complete in his mind a voice, a young voice clear as music, cried through the silent house—

“Dads! Dads! Oh, dads, where are you? . . . It’s me. . . . It’s Fras.”


From the still silence that followed, the dead little house seemed to Martin to explode all round him; its walls burst outwards, fell, vanished; it was no longer a place of safety, a place of secrets. Actually and physically it did explode into light; for as if at a signal the “butler” entered from the rear with a roaring blazing Petromax lamp. In the crude white glare Martin saw Fras’s dark little face framed in the doorway, thrust forward, eager, following up the fatal question he had cried so clearly: a tinge of puzzlement was just beginning to replace delight. Turning his head Martin saw Cassie and wondered if his own face were as white and as set. For some seconds his mind whirled; explanations, consequences, possibilities of even yet saving the situation leapt and jostled each other; then confusion cleared to sanity. Whatever happened, the first and most important thing was to wipe that growing puzzlement from the boy’s face, to restore the delight. Whatever happened, Fras must be welcomed home. He sprang forward.

“Fras, dear chappie. How did you get here? Give me a hug. This lady won’t mind. A good one.”

The boy’s arms flew round his neck warmly, desperately. For a moment Martin forgot everything. Fras mattered!

“It was the measles, Dads. I wrote you. They closed down suddenly and sent us all away. Five days early. I thought I’d give you a surprise. I said to Brother, ‘Don’t wire: I’ll give Dads a surprise.’” He seemed to become suddenly aware of Cassie’s stiff silence; he broke away from Martin. “I’m sorry, Dads,—I didn’t know there was anybody——”

Martin was smiling. “It doesn’t matter a bit: the main thing is you’ve come.” Explanations? he thought. Lies? It’s still possible; the secret isn’t done for yet. . . . Then he rejected it. No!

He turned easily to Cassie.

“Cassie, it’s my son, Frances. Fras for short. Fras, shake hands with Miss van Rennen.”

Cassie, splendidly in control, held out her hand in silence; Fras shook it perfunctorily, his interest clearly all with Martin, a little doubtful of this tall, quiet stranger so patently outside his scheme of things. Thankfully Martin realised that despite everything he himself was in command of the situation. I can keep command, he thought, but I’ll have to be quick. He put an arm round Fras’s shoulders.

“I was just going to see this lady home, Fras. It’s not far. I’ll be back in a jiff.”

The boy nodded; Martin hung for a minute on Cassie. Would she forbid it? But Cassie said nothing picked up her hand-bag, moved to the door.

“So long, Fras,” said Martin. “Back soon.”

In the darkened path, black as night after the glare of the lamp, she turned on him.


He took her arm. “Get into the car, my dear. I’ll drive you somewhere. I can’t tell you about it here. Jump in, like a good girl.”

She obeyed him like an automaton; not till the car had started did she find her voice.

“Do you want to tell me, Martin? I’ve stumbled on something. . . . On top of the other——”

“I want to tell you, Cassie. Even if I didn’t, God evidently means it to happen. I don’t see you in years. Then just for once I ask you out here. This turns up. . . . The kid wasn’t due till next Thursday—Easter. It’s Fate.”

He drove swiftly through the cantonment to the quiet stretch of road beyond the Officers’ Mess, drew into the near side, stopped the engine. “And now, Cassie—questions?”

Her voice came to him low and husky, almost inaudible.

“It’s not for me to ask questions. I don’t get it at all yet. I wish it hadn’t happened. I’d give anything it hadn’t happened. Tell me what you must, Martin, and let me go.”

In silence she stretched out her hand for a cigarette. Laboriously Martin began the Third Confession—that confession which of all confessions he had never intended to make. Say you’ll never do a thing, he thought, and you’ll find yourself doing it. It was true. . . . He began again at Bombay, the Flat, Charlie. “You remember Charlie? Charlie Barclay?” But her mind had jumped.

“You said your son, Martin. But, Martin, you’re not—married?”

He said grimly, “But I am.” In the abysmal silence that followed he started afresh. This time she did not interrupt. Baldly he reeled off his confession; she sat like a stone; it was impossible to guess what she was thinking; his voice fell flatter and flatter, the story became more and more like some crude, ill-written scenario. Till he said, finally, “Now we’ll go home” she neither spoke nor moved: then she turned her face towards him.

“I’m shaken, Martin. I’m—-I’m frightened.”

He said gently, “You were never frightened, Cassie.”

“I’m frightened now. That such things could happen. All these years. And then to find a thing like this—just by accident, like picking up something in the street. And you tell me your wife’s still alive?”

“She is.”

“And you’ve been married all these years. Years and years and years. And I never knew. Martin, it’s too much. . . . And that woman living somewhere all this time.”

Odd, Martin thought, how Dorothy had concentrated on Fras, Cassie on Babs. It was the other woman that interested Cassie. But then, for Dorothy, there had been at the time no other woman. As if his thought of Dorothy had communicated itself, she asked,

“Did Dorothy—did Mrs. Adair know?”

“Yes. I had to tell her.”

“I see that,” she said slowly. “But—others surely also. Your friends.”

“A secret’s a secret, Cassie. You either keep it or you don’t.”

“Who knew? Mr. Barclay? This man what-is-it—Cottle?”



“Yes. For a few days.”

“But I never knew. I was never to know. I never would have but for—measles at the boy’s school. . . . Martin, you can’t expect me to like it.”

He touched her hand. “I don’t, my dear. I only want you to see that it couldn’t be helped. One makes a mistake like I did when I married Babs; all sorts of hellish consequences follow for ever. One of the worst—the worst, maybe—is that now and then one has to hurt one’s friends. One shouldn’t have friends.”

She put her finger quickly on the fallacy.

“You can’t have friends and secrets. . . . And you were the person who never regretted anything.”

“No use regretting, Cassie. A thing’s done: it’s got to be done.”

Her mind wandered for a while in silence. She said at last, “To-day, too.”

He looked up quickly. “Meaning?”

“Oh, nothing—just nothing. You haven’t displayed any very flattering interest in my affairs—you haven’t asked me one single question. But there was a thing I was bothering about. A small thing of course—compared to yours.” Bitterness tinged her voice for an instant. “Just a girl’s thing. But I thought maybe to-day would help with it. . . . Well, I was wrong.”

“I can hardly ask you to tell me it now, Cassie.”

She shook herself together. “No, Martin, I don’t think you can. Anyway, I couldn’t think of telling you.”

“That’s bad, Cassie.”

“It’s bad, Martin. It’s all bad. Too bad. We’ll go home now. It’s been—it’s been a bit too much for one afternoon. I’ll drive.”

She drove the long mile in silence and stopped at the end of the Colenso lane.

“I’ll put you down here if you don’t mind. The lane’s narrow.”

“Of course.” He got out. God inspire me, he thought, to say something useful. But all he could say was,

“There’s one thing, Cassie. I’m glad you know. Believe that.”

She shrugged her shoulders. “Oh, I’ll believe it. I guess you’re glad enough—now it’s happened. But—-one doesn’t care much for forced confidences, you know, Martin.”

“It’s saved me telling lies anyway. You’d have asked me about Colenso and Cottle and so on. I’d have had to tell you something. I’d have hated that, Cassie.”

In the driving-seat her figure was dim, her face a point of white; yet he felt her eyes upon him.

“You’d have lied, Martin?”

“I’d have had to.”

“You’d have lied—to me?”

“A secret’s a secret, Cassie. I’d have had to.”

She slipped in her gear.

“You didn’t lie to Dorothy.”

*  *  *

Fras spent a riotous evening; Cottle, back from his Club and mellowed by one or two whiskies—“God bless the makers,” thought Martin, taking a stiff one himself—was delighted to see him, and more cheerful than he had been since Martin’s arrival. Martin, his head in a whirl, played wild games and thanked God for the necessity of amusing the young. They made you keep up appearances; even if they served no other purpose in the world, that alone would justify them. Delighted with the success of his “surprise,” Fras went to bed. But there he fell into a serious mood; sitting up inside the cage of his mosquito curtain, he said gravely,

“I’m sorry, Dads, if I barged in.”

“Barged in?” Martin repeated. “What do you mean?”

“When you were talking to that tall lady.”

Martin reassured him volubly. “What, rot! Of course you didn’t. It was grand your coming in like that. She just came to see me. We weren’t talking about anything particular.” How easily one lied to little boys! But—little boys had their instincts that defied one’s careful falsehoods.

“Are you thinking of marrying that lady, Dads?”

Martin spun round: Fras was uncanny. “Good Lord, no.” He pulled himself together as from a blow. “Besides, old chap, how could I? There’s your mother, you know.”

Fras clenched his fists. “I hate my mother.”

So it still persisted, thought Martin; queer. Aloud he said,

“But why, Fras? You haven’t anything to hate her about.”

“She was nasty to you. I’d kill her if I saw her. I hope I never do.”

Martin, feeling uncomfortable, turned it off with a laugh. “Well, you needn’t. That’s not likely to happen. I wouldn’t worry about that if I were you.”

He turned the lamp low and set it out in the verandah.

“You’re glad I came, Dads?”

“Absolutely glad.”

“It was a good surprise, wasn’t it.”


“And you’re nothing but glad?”

“Nothing but glad, Fras.”


For the first mile from the Colenso lane, Cassie drove fast with the determination to get home as quickly as might be; but presently her mood changed. At the Corporation Toll-gate she turned away on the long detour by the Guindy Park gates and the Marina. The soft warm dusk of the evening soothed her; insufferably hot if one sat still, it was pleasant to move in the air of the car’s smooth progress. The Marina, with its lamps contesting the starlight and its strings of crawling or stationary cars, had the narcotic quality of a slow-motion picture, of a place arrested in a dream. At Bosotto’s, however, where for a brief hour in the evening Madras has almost the aspect of a city, Cassie came regretfully back to life. She swung the car into Mount Road, spun southward to the Cathedral, up the long dark stretch of Nungambakam High Road, home. The huge bungalow blazed with electricity; for a moment it loomed over her monstrous, almost—by contrast with that little hutch at the Mount—gross. She pulled up in the great pillared porch; gave orders for the car to be put away; went in, thinking “Peace at last.”

In the hall her brother met her. Ness was already dressed for dinner; he looked sleek and comfortable in what he still called a “Tuxedo.” He combined in a curious way the chubbiness of Charlie Barclay with clean-carved and polished features; never was there a less hazy face. Like Charlie, he always seemed newly shaved. For once Cassie disliked the scrutiny of his hard, glinting blue eyes.

“You’re late,” he said.

Cassie glanced at her wrist watch. “It’s later than I thought; I went round by the Marina. Its a lovely evening.”

Ness felt his stiff collar. “It’s a darned hot one.” He scrutinised her again. “You look a bit done-up—scared-like. You look’s you’d seen a ghost.”

Cassie drew off her hat. “Well, in a way I have I saw Martin Armory.”

A cloud came over Ness’s face, quite a heavy cloud “Armory?” he said. “That guy?” He decided to be brotherly. “So you keep one beau waiting while you run another? Pretty way to do.”

She looked up, startled.

“Not Barty, Ness?”

He nodded. “He’s in the drawing-room.”

“Oh, Ness!” Her voice was full of real vexation. “Why couldn’t you tell me before I took my hat off? I’m a sight.”

Ness said, indulgently smiling. “He won’t mind. He says you asked him to come.”

Cassie bit her finger. “Maybe I did. Maybe I half did, anyway. I don’t seem to know what I’m doing these days.”

“You do a heap too much, that’s why. . . . I wish you hadn’t seen Armory.” The shadow descended again over his purposeful face. “Where——”

She laid a hand on his arm.

“Be good to me to-night, Ness. I’m tired.”

He kissed her cheek. “Amn’t I always?” He glanced at the clock. “For the land’s sake go and see Barty or we’ll have him to dinner. And after.”

In the drawing-room Cassie looked more closely than usual at the tall, fair, fresh-faced boy who rose to greet her. Her thought was, “I’m years older than he is. To-night I look it. He’ll see.” She said,

“Oh, Barty.”

He smiled sulkily as he took her hand.

“Cassie! It’s not fair do’s. I’ve been here since seven.”

She sank down to a sofa and patted a place beside her.

“I’m sorry I’m late, Barty. I couldn’t help it. Things happened. But it don’t matter. The night’s young anyway.”

“But it isn’t. You know I’m on duty after dinner.”

“How should I know? I don’t.”

“But I told you.”

“Did you?”

His bewildered, rather stupid eyes searched her.

“You know I did. I told you just after that last dance. And you said you’d be in early.”

It was true—bother him—all true. She felt herself unreasonably cross and turned desperately to compassion.

“Oh, Barty, I’m so sorry. . . . You’ll stay to dinner anyway.”

He gazed at her. “You know quite well I can’t. I’ve got to get back to Government House.”

“But if you’re not on duty till after dinner “

“That doesn’t matter; I’ve got to dine in anyway.”

“Poor Barty. But if you will be an Aide and live in G.H.——”

“But I’m sure I told you all about it.” He was still sulky.

“I must have forgotten.” (“I’m being hateful to him,” she thought. “Why? This isn’t any way to behave.”) “I guess I was tired or something when you told me.”

“You didn’t look very tired,” he gloomed. “Not half so tired as you do now.”

“I knew it,” she thought. “He’s bound to see. God knows what I look like.” Aloud she said, “I am tired to-night, Barty. I don’t know why. It’s—it’s a hot evening.”

“It’s a rotten evening,” said Barty firmly. “It’s wrecked now, anyway. I’ve got to go. Oh, damn.” For a moment he looked as if he were on the point of childish tears; compassion welled up again in her heart.

“I’m sorry, Barty.”

He stood up. “I’d hoped for such a lot this evening. I thought it was going to be just topping. I thought I’d be able to talk to you for an hour anyway. Just our two selves. Serves me right for thinking anything so jolly could happen.”

She felt dropping with fatigue, insane with lack of interest; but she made an effort.

“But it will happen, Barty. Another night. Lots of other nights.”

But he had sunk into the fathomless despair of youth; beyond reach, nothing could rouse him. For the twentieth time the question that had tortured him for the last hour and a half trembled on his lips. “Where have you been all the evening?” he wanted to say: for the twentieth time he dared not. Instead, he said,

“Why won’t you call me Phil? You half promised you would.”

“But Barty’s nice. Everybody calls you Barty. At G.H.; everywhere.”

“That’s just why I want you to be different. I don’t want you to call me what everybody calls me. Besides, I’m sick of it. Just because I happen to be a Baronet——”

“Well, Phil, then.”

He brightened. “Will you always call me that?”

“Of course. When I don’t forget.” She glanced at her watch. “Barty—Phil, I mean—it’s after eight. If you won’t dine. . . .”

“Well, when will you come riding again? Tomorrow?”

“Not to-morrow. Next day. No—wait a bit; next week. Oh, I don’t know.” Her head was spinning; Dorothy Adair; Fras; she wanted to think about these people and think and think; and now she had to arrange a ride with Barty Lipscombe. With Sir Philip Lipscombe, Bart, Aide-de-Camp to His Excellency the Governor of Madras: whereas there was a real, live man called Martin Armory——

“I don’t know,” she repeated, “I’ll send you a chit.”

“Oh, all right.” He moved towards the door. “If it’s like that. But I thought you liked our last ride together.”

Memory struck: she had liked it very much indeed: very nearly that night she had been in love with Barty. Desperately she cried, “So I did. It was—it was”—she sought an adjective that would appeal—“it was topping.”

He halted. “I don’t understand you to-night.” Despair nerved his tongue. “Cassie, you don’t like me to-night so much as you did yesterday.”

“Oh Bar—oh, Phil, I do, I do. I never liked you so much as I’ve done to-night.” (If he would only go!) “You’ve been sweet. I’m a beast and a pig. I don’t know why. Girls are like that sometimes, I guess. Poor old Phil!”

The speech had its visible effect; Barty brightened further.

“May I write to you when I get back to G.H? Fixing up something?”

“Yes—oh, yes. Something nice. A ride or a sail.”

“Soon, Cassie?”

She nodded: smiled brilliantly; at last he was gone.

In the hall stood Ness, a cocktail in his hand, his long clean-shaven lips drawn into a humorous smile.

“Hullo, Lady Lipscombe!”

Quite suddenly Cassie burst into blinding tears upon his shoulder.

“Oh, Ness, be good to me. I’m tired.”

His arm went round her; his cocktail spilt on the wicker-topped table.

“But, sweetie! Whatever’s the matter?”

She sobbed on. “I don’t know, Ness. I’m just silly.”

“You’re tired stiff. Run upstairs and change and we’ll have a nice dinner. I’ll get out some of the Barsac for you. That be nice?”

She kissed him. “I’m a fool, Buddy. I guess it’s time I got away to the Hills. I’ll go next week.”

“You just about will,” he said, petting her. But when she was gone upstairs his face hardened. He mixed himself a second cocktail, lit a fresh cigarette.

“That God-damned Armory,” he muttered; and his voice was all American and his face was much more carven than chubby.


At breakfast Cottle retained his overnight cheerfulness; to the delight of Martin, who had been rather apprehensive of the effect of his funereal glooms on Fras, he was positively exuberant. Again and again he expressed his pleasure in the return of his “Francie.”

“Cor! It’s good to see the kid back again about the place.” It seemed as if Fras, instead of reminding him of Julie, had driven her ghost away.

But half-way through breakfast a disconcerting thing occurred. Cottle suddenly waved his knife and said, with his mouth rather full.

“’Ark to old Mathews’ gramophone. Sunday mornin’; ’alf past nine. Reg’lar as a clock.”

Martin listened; the strains of the Aldershot Tattoo came, hoarsely brassy, over the compound wall.

“Aldershot Tattoo,” said Cottle. “Next, the Stein Song. Next, She’s a Very Good Friend. Old Mathews’ Sunday reg’lar.”

Fras too was listening—but expectantly. Presently he said in a rather odd little voice,

“When’s it going to start?”

Cottle guffawed idiotically. “That’s good. “When’s it goin’ to start,” ’e says—an’ it started these three minutes past. Wake up, Francie?”

Martin saw fright in the boy’s eyes. “Don’t you hear it, Fras?” he said quietly.

The boy shook his head. “I don’t, Dads. It’s one of my mornings, I expect.”

“What d’you mean?” said Martin sharply.

“Well—it’s like that sometimes. Some mornings I can hardly hear anything. I can’t even hear people speaking when they’re quite close. I’ve got a bit of a sore throat. It isn’t anything.”

Cottle was staring. “But you can ’ear me, Francie. You can ’ear your dad?”

Fras nodded reassuringly. “Oh yes. But I couldn’t hear Dads when he spoke from the bathroom this morning. It’s nothing, Uncle. It’ll be all right in an hour or two.”

“Does it often happen?” Martin strove to keep his voice even.

“Not very, Dads. Once or twice a month maybe.”

“Getting oftener?”

“N-no. I don’t think so. Maybe a little.”

“Always when you’ve a sore throat?”

“Oh yes. It never lasts. I expect it’s just one of my colds.”

“I expect so,” said Martin with a studied idleness on which he congratulated himself. For in truth the light had gone out of the morning. He was back again in Brother Gervase’s room at Melmuri listening to Beecher, kind in intention but none too comforting in fact. Beecher had said there would be a “tendency” which would “tend” to get worse; there would be no rapid catastrophe but a gradual slow decline. Precisely, in fact, what seemed to be happening. Well, Pellick had been written to, an appointment made; in a few days now they would know the best and the worst so far as Pellick could indicate them “You haven’t opened your letters yet, Dads” said Fras.

“Blow letters,” said Martin, glad to abandon his thoughts. “There isn’t any office to-day. It’s Sunday. We’ll go somewhere—-you and I and Uncle.”

“Hooray!” said Fras, and Cottle said grinning “You ’eard that all right, Francie.”

But Martin was turning over the little heap of unopened letters; and as he did so he knew the day again darkened by the shadow of a second blow. For there lay amongst Wanderlust’s official covers and the steamer notices and advertisements an odd envelope obviously out of a cheap stationery set, an ugly bluish purple in colour and addressed in a stiff schoolgirl hand that—apart from the signatures on money order counterfoils—Martin had not seen for a decade. Fingering it he instinctively knew it meant trouble; he tried to read the postmark, but while the “Madras” was maddeningly plain the office of origin was totally illegible. He turned it over twice, decided to read it after breakfast, then with instant self-contradiction he ripped it open so forcibly that the sheet dropped out on his plate. “It isn’t long, anyway,” he thought.

To the strains of the Stein Song blasted out by Mr. Mathews’ aggressive gramophone Martin read the first letter Babs, Mrs. Armory, had written him since the days of Bombay. Certainly it was brief; as certainly it foreboded trouble. It opened explosively as if with intermediate sentences surviving an excised exordium; its close was equally abrupt. Just at the end a single word was heavily obliterated. It had all the symptoms of a draft made up of many previous drafts and reaching the pillar-box not as satisfactory but in final despair of anything better.

“Dear Martin,—It seems to have got to this that I have to come and see you. You can guess if I come so far it’s something pretty special. But I can’t write it all down here. That’s why I have to come. I got your address out of a book in the Post Office.” (The letter had of course been addressed to Wanderlust’s.) “I write because I think I should warn you I’m coming and I know you’ll not run away. Your wife, Babs Armory.”

It was between the “your” and the “wife” that the word had been heavily scored out; Martin thought it might have been “faithful”; on the other hand it might have been some single-‘f’d contraction of “affectionate.” In any case it hardly seemed to Martin to deserve the importance Babs had given it.

The rapid imbecile patter of “She’s a very good Friend” was penetrating from the next compound; Fras was saying to Cottle, “I think I can just hear it a bit now; it’s the Stein Song, isn’t it?” and Cottle with unusual tact was replying, “Stein Song it is, Francie; you’re ’earin’ perfect now.” Martin swept his letters into a heap.

“Come on; let’s get out. It’ll be too hot in an hour or two. Let’s make the beach somewhere while it’s still cool.”

They rose obediently; but Martin had forgotten Fras’s uncanny instinct; As he had harked back to Cassie, so he now harked back to the letters.

“Anything in the post, Dads?”

“Nothing, old chap.”

“Nothing nasty?”

“N-no.” He took a sudden decision. “Only one rather funny thing. I told you last night you weren’t likely to see your mother. Well, you are. She’s coming down here.”

Fras paled; his fists clenched into hard little balls “She’d better not come here. She’ll hear some things. I’ll tell her. I hate her. I wish she was dead.”

Cottle was appalled. “Lor, Francie. She’s your mother, boy, your own mother.”

“I don’t care. I hate her. I’d like to kill her.”

Martin ran his hand over the boy’s hair.

“If she comes, she may want to see you. She may not; but if she does, you’ll have to be a Sahib. You’ll have to give me a hand.”

The boy drew away from him. “I’ll try, Dads. I can’t promise.” He went slowly out of the room.

Across the breakfast table Martin met Cottle’s eye.

“She’s after ’im, eh?”

Martin shrugged. “I don’t know. She doesn’t say.”

Cottle knew better. “You bet she is. She’s ’eard of ’is cleverness an’ the fiddle an’ all that an’ she’s after ’im. Thinks there’s something to be made. I know that kind.” A note of anxiety crept into his voice. “You won’t let ’er get ’im, sir; not our Francie?”

What an ass Cottle was, thought Martin, with his slop about mothers before the boy and his melodrama behind his back. He tried not to speak crossly.

“How the devil do I know what I’ll do? I don’t know why she’s suddenly written or why she’s suddenly come. I did expect something of this kind once, but not for five years past. How do I know what she’s after?”

“She don’t say?”

“Not a hint—except that it’s something special, I expect she’s after one or the other of us—and it’s not likely to be me.”

Cottle spat out the end of a cigarette.

“The bitch!” he said violently, and then suddenly remembering that he spoke of Martin’s wife, “begging your pardon, sir.”

“Oh, poor little devil,” said Martin. “Come on; for God’s sake let’s get out if we’re going.”

But the day at Elliott’s Beach—it was there among the groves of casuarina that they made their picnic—was hardly an unqualified success. It was red-hot and blazing; and it seemed impossible to get away from the smell of the fishing-village, go where one would. Fras clearly felt the heat, and Martin blamed himself again; the boy should not be here at all. Cottle drank beer, slept, snored, woke liverish and over-tired. All afternoon they skated on the thin ice of mutual irritation. All day Martin was experimenting with Fras’s hearing—trying strengths and inflections of voice upon him, torturing himself with suspicions, doubts, certainties, passing through all stages from panic to reassurance and back again. And all day there moved before him, against a permanent but tangled background of Dorothy and Cassie and the sand-and-sun of Ichangudi the suddenly lucid and central figure of Babs. Babs with her brown eyes and her snow-white skin and her impudent tilted nose; and the cheap scent she used to dab behind her ears and between her breasts; and the habit she had of biting one—in all sorts of places. Poor little devil! What would she be like now? And what—oh, what—did she want?

With the cool of the dusk the cars of the fashionable came swinging down the road to the beach in a steady stream. And among them there came a great red tourer that halted for a time on the bastion facing the sea. In it there sat a tall girl in a dress the sunset lifted from brown to gold; and by her side a long, fair, fresh-faced young man in a silk suit even Charlie could not have bettered. For half an hour they sat there in close and intimate talk; then the red car hooted softly for its liveried driver and swept grandly away. Its occupants did not see Martin, but Martin saw them and the sight made him cross to Cottle and curt even with Fras. He knew Cassie’s companion by sight—Lipscombe, the Baronet A.D.C. fellow from Government House; he had heard their names coupled before, casually yet unforgettably. Once by Pigott, once by a chattering woman in Wanderlust’s office. And now there they were. Cottle, with the innocent tactlessness of those whom the devil inspires, was tempted to admire the red car.

“Captain Lipscombe that is,” he said beamingly. “One o’ the Gov’ment ’ouse Aides. Wish I ’ad ’is money.”

Martin, toiling savagely in the deep sand, snarled in reply. But Cottle could not see that his topic was distasteful; he pursued it with relish.

“They do say ’e don’t get on any too well at Gov’ment ’Ouse. Wants to marry some girl and ’Er Ex is agin it. I did ’ear the name——”

Martin stopped in his traces. “Blast the bloody man? What does he matter to us?” Recovering too late, he met shamefacedly Cottle’s pained and Fras’s uncomprehending stare.

A black day altogether—a day, as the Hindus would say, out of the Bad Time, a hellish day. And more of the same—much more of the same—to come.


On the Monday morning Cassie’s telephone rang; Martin’s voice, tinged with anxiety, vibrated over the wires.

“Cassie, can I possibly come and see you this evening?”

Cassie could not help laughing.

“You queer thing, Martin! You don’t speak to me for two years and then you suddenly want to see me every other day.”

The voice was humble. “I wouldn’t bother you, Cassie. Not after Saturday. Though I didn’t mean that to be as bad as it turned out. But in a way this arises out of Saturday. Can I come?”

She considered, wondering whether she really wanted to see Martin or not. Sunday had brought remorse for her treatment of Barty; it had been abominable; she had encouraged Barty—no use denying it—and then chilled him. What did one leave to cocottes, street girls, vamps? Horrible! And she liked Barty—immensely, permanently. And he had been very sweet at Elliott’s Beach, bearing, it seemed, no malice for what had been after all cavalier treatment—positively grateful to be rung up and summoned in the middle of his Sunday afternoon.

“Is it very important, Martin?”

“Fairly. To me, anyway.”

He means, she thought, that it must therefore be important to me. But is it? Do I want to renew Martin? I could go on with Barty if it weren’t for Martin. Martin’s an obstacle—the obstacle. . . . Anyway this evening’s impossible.

“I can’t this evening,” she said. “I’m going out riding.”

There was a pause. Then Martin’s voice again, perceptibly harder.

“To-morrow evening? I could wait till then.”

“I’m afraid that’s booked also. . . . You see, Martin, if you leave people altogether alone for years and years they have to make their own little arrangements.”

He was exasperated. “I know, I know. You can’t suppose I like acting like this. But you did offer to help—once. And this thing, coming right on top of Saturday afternoon, it looks like Fate. I want your advice.”

Mollified, she spoke more gently. “Well come just after lunch.”

“Don’t, you want to rest?”

“That can wait. I don’t suppose you’ll be very long, will you?”

“Oh, no . . . no.” Huffed, he rang off.

Martin, after a fretting morning, came rather too sharply after lunch for he collided with Ness on his way back to office. Ness’s face openly hardened at sight of him.

“Hullo. You’re a stranger.”

“I’m afraid so . . . I came to see Cassie.”

“We-ell,” Ness’s drawl was purposely provocative. “I don’t know if she’s at home. It’s not her usual time——”

“Oh, yes, she is. She’s expecting me. It was the only time we could fix.”

Ness proffered his cigarette-case with a shrewd look.

“Seems Cass is pretty full up with dates these days. I hardly see her myself.”

Martin accepted a cigarette; lit it. “She always was.”

“Yeh. . . . But there’s a special attraction nowadays. Maybe you’ve heard.”

“I’ve seen,” thought Martin, “but I shan’t give you any change.” Aloud he said, “I don’t hear very much. Not that sort of thing.”

“No? Well, the little birds in this place chirp quite a lot. I thought maybe—— Well, Cass has a beau.” His unfriendly eyes stared into Martin’s. “Mighty high circles and all that. There’s a title. I’ll say no more. I daresay you can put two and two together.” His round, smiling face suddenly stiffened into an expression that shouted at Martin, “And don’t you go trying to interfere.” Martin heard it quite well; he threw away his hardly begun cigarette.

“I’d better go in.”

Ness nodded. “And I’ll be getting away down town. . . Say, Martin, don’t keep Cass longer’n you can help. She wants her rest these days.”

Flushing, Martin mounted the steps; warned off, he thought, told not to be a nuisance—like a housemaid’s follower. But he had a pang of remorse when he saw Cassie. She did look tired, strained, troubled. She made him sit down facing her in a great cushion-cumbered basket chair and she looked at him inscrutably, her fingers locked round one slim knee.

“Martin, I don’t know what’s happened to you this time, but I guess it can’t be anything bigger than what you told me Saturday afternoon. Well, I told you that afternoon that I’d worries of my own. You weren’t interested, but I’m afraid you’ll just about have to hear them now before we go any further.”

He leant forward eagerly.

“Of course, Cassie—I want to. I want to hear everything you can tell me.”

She was softened. “It’s sweet of you, Martin. Because your things were big things, out-of-the-way things. Mine is just ordinary—the most ordinary thing on earth. . . . You see, Martin, I’m thinking about getting married.”

Martin took a deep breath. “I’d almost gathered so from Ness. He would hardly let me in.”

She smiled. “Poor old Ness. He’s worried about me. And he’s worried about himself. You see, Martin, there’s a girl and he just can’t get right ahead with his affairs till I clear up mine. So you see I’ve got to get down to it.”

“It’s—it’s rather American of him.”

“American—and chivalrous.”

“Well, anyway, you’re not going to marry Ness. You’re going to marry——”

“Well, Martin?”

“Captain Sir Philip Lipscombe.”

She started. “Who told you?”

Martin laughed. “As your brother has just said little birds in this sweet city are given to chirping. But I’ll admit it was a shot in the dark. We don’t hear much about Society engagements out at Colenso.”

“There isn’t any engagement—yet.”

Martin breathed again. “Well—an understanding?”

She moved about restlessly in her chair. “I don’t think there’s even that. I know and he knows, but it’s difficult to put it all into words. In a way it’s like this. I know that in a few days’ time he’ll certainly ask me to marry him.”

“And you’ll be thoroughly surprised.”

“Martin! Don’t be so foolish.” (The old, enchanted phrase!) “I’m not a Victorian miss.”

“Then what will you say?”

Her eyes fell to her lap, her fingers played with the braid on the cushion.

“I suppose I’ll say yes. I suppose I’ll just about have to.”

Martin thought of a thousand possible speeches. The heroic—and absurd; “I can’t do without you; say nothing of the kind.” Variations on the trite theme of marriages contracted merely because one “supposed one would have to.” Something difficult and tedious about love. Did she love this Lipscombe fellow? Clearly she didn’t know herself, and in that case she was unlikely to answer Martin. Something biting about Ness and his American chivalry—but that was not likely to go down very well, and anyway was nothing to the point. What was he to say? Then suddenly he knew that there was nothing to be said because he had already said everything; in the silence Cassie had heard every one of these imaginary speeches, heard them the instant he as much as thought them. “You’re saying a great deal without saying it,” Cassie had said at Colenso, and he had replied, “You seem to be hearing it all right.” It was so again—it was always so with Cassie and Martin. Miraculously, without a word spoken, Cassie had somehow said, “I know you care for me, though it may not have looked like it, and I know you can’t, in the circumstances, say so. If you could, it might be very different. As you can’t, I suppose I’ll say yes.” Only the last five words had been spoken aloud, yet all had been somehow expressed. One progressed better by leaving things unspoken. Why then tempt the pitfalls of open speech? He said slowly and after a pause,

“Yes, I suppose you will. If you like him enough.” She nodded, and the nod conveyed infinite understanding.

“I like him enough. . . . Now that’s so much for me. What about you?”

He thought for a minute of conventional speeches; decided to leave them unsaid. Briskly he drew Babs’ letter from his pocket. “It’s rather odd the way things happen. Read that.” As she read he went on with his commentary. “On Saturday night Fras was worrying about seeing his mother.”

She raised her eyes. “Does he want to see her?”

“No. For some reason he hates the idea of her. Not my fault, honestly, Cassie; I didn’t put it into him. It’s just there. But that’s not the point. I told him not to worry; he wasn’t likely to see her. Now this comes.”

“Does he know?”

“Yes. I had to tell him. If she asks to see him——”

“But, Martin, do you think she will?”

“I’m afraid, my dear, it’s just for that that she’s coming.”

Her face went white with instant comprehension.

“But? Martin, you don’t mean—she’d want take him away?”

“It’s what I’m afraid of.”

“But—but you can’t let her.”

“No, I can’t let her. So there’ll be hell all round.”

She bit her finger. “If it’s only that——”

He laughed despite himself. “Isn’t it enough? Hell for me, hell for Fras. Rows, ugliness, beastliness.”

“Well, bad enough of course. But I meant, I was thinking, she couldn’t really take him away—legally I mean? You couldn’t be left all alone without him?”

“No. I don’t see how that could happen. But she may want to start seeing him sometimes—or to live near us; I couldn’t allow that either. And, you know she can always make first-class trouble.”

“Trouble? How?”

“She could tell Fras I’m not his father.”

“But—if she did?”

“It would shake the kid frightfully. I’ve told him I am. And, don’t you see, the next question would be, if you weren’t, who was? You see where that leads us?”

She said almost inaudibly, “Yes; I see. . . . Oh, Martin, what a muddle you’ve made of it all. Oh, Martin, I’m so sorry.”

He stared at his shoes. “No good being sorry now. Point is, what am I to do when she comes?”

“You’ll have to see her. And you’ll have to fight her. She mustn’t get Fras away from you.”

“I’ll fight her all right.”

Her eyes dwelt on his bent head. “And you’ll tell me what happens.”

“Of course—if you want to know.”


“Well, I will.” He stood up. “I feel better already.”

“I’ve helped, Martin?”

“More than anything on earth. I can face it now.”

She flushed with pleasure. “Oh, Martin, it’s good to hear you say that. It’s just fine. And, Martin you—you don’t need to be alone with it again. Not ever.”

“Not even after—Lady Lipscombe?”

She stood up beside him. “Oh, well, that may never happen.”

He caught her eyes. “Yes, it will, Cassie.”

“Will it, Martin?”

“Of course it will. And good luck to it.”

He kissed her cheek lightly and walked out.

*  *  *

Wanderlust did nothing to help out the doleful day: there was no work worth mentioning, no correspondence but a peevish letter from the Directors at Delhi commenting sourly on the falling off in business in the Madras office. As if business were not falling—crashing, thundering into ruin—everywhere. Sickened, Martin closed the office and drove himself home an hour earlier than usual. Driving, he tasted despair. In the next few days he must hear something disagreeable, possibly something fatal, about Fras’s hearing. In the next few days Babs must descend upon them, and whatever her business, expected or unexpected, it could only make for trouble. She must want something, and nothing she was likely to want could be given her. In the next few days Cassie’s engagement to her baronet Aide must be announced; quite clearly she meant to go through with it. She wasn’t in love with him, but manifestly she liked him and with a deep affection which was probably a sounder basis on which to found the edifice of marriage than—than Ichangudi. She would marry him—to help Ness if there were no other reason; and there were a dozen other excellent reasons. That would be the end of Cassie so far as Martin was concerned. Herself had said it would not; but that was nonsense; for one thing, Sir Philip Lipscombe would speedily transplant her to regions far removed from Madras, infinitely removed from Colenso. In all human probability Martin would never see Cassie again.

Driving slowly out Mount Road in his secondhand Chev, Martin let himself realise to the full just how much Cassie had meant. It had been illicit formerly to dwell on such notions, but now that Cassie knew about Babs, had seen Fras, was going off almost at once with her Barty, one might allow oneself the thought. All these years in Madras, from the first day almost that he had seen her, Cassie had stood somewhere in Martin’s background; always, from the first confidences and agreements they had exchanged at that forgotten dinner-table, always there had been something in Cassie on which Martin had relied. Essential Cassie! Always, at intervals, the deep thing in Cassie had called its fellow deep out of Martin and the two had walked together in a country of understanding. Always, knowing the truth, one had played with illusions, shelved facts, dangled impossible miracles. Always one had pretended that one day one might have Cassie to oneself, and the pretence had been none the less sweet because it was notoriously impossible. Impossible?—never was there a course so bunkered with unsurmountable obstacles. Babs. Fras. Barty. Well, Babs could be got rid of; Cassie had seen Fras and remained friends; she didn’t love Barty—yet. But with all these cleared, there remained the final, fatal obstacle—penury. I’ve no money, thought Martin, none at all; I never will have any; if I ever do, I must spend it on Fras. Fatal; hopeless. . . . Black, black, black: Cassie was going to be Lady Lipscombe, Fras was going deaf, Wanderlust were turning nasty, Babs was heading south with her load of trouble; and the money, the relatively little money that would have meant hope and a fighting chance—it couldn’t be got.

Quid est, Catulle? Quid moraris emori?


Babs might have come at any time; morning after morning Martin sat waiting her in Wanderlust’s stifling office, the fan roaring full duty above his head. A week passed since her letter—nearly a fortnight. He became wrought-up as a lover, wrung with unprofitable waiting; and he closed the office on the Saturday of a nerve-tearing week with a gasp of relief. And of course in the end Babs came on the Sunday evening—and to Colenso. It had been a blazing day—the last April incandescence before the first hot-weather thunderstorm; it had been too hot to think even of the sea beaches, but Fras and Cottle had gone up the Mount to search for the evening breeze that could not reach Colenso. Martin, played out, was lying in a long chair in the verandah when the jatka—poverty’s carriage in India—rattled up to the gate. The first he saw of Babs was her long slim legs in white cotton stockings struggling out of the jatka; the rest of her followed.

Furious, he rose to meet her; what right had she to storm his defences like this? In his rage all his rehearsed gambits were forgotten.

“Why on earth did you come on a Sunday? Why on earth did you come here?”

She scrutinised him calmly. “I forgot it was Sunday. And do you suppose I wanted to drive miles and miles to this awful place? I’ve been looking for you since seven this morning. I’m half dead. And now you’re going to be cross.”

He returned her survey and found her remarkably little changed. She had broadened round the bust and round the hips; her soft, impudent little face had fallen from cheek-bone to jaw, had been nipped here, flattened there by the years; but she was still white, alert, pretty.

“You haven’t changed much,” he said.

She replied disconcertingly, “I can’t say the same for you. I’d hardly have known you. That boy in Bombay—— Your hair——”

Damn the woman, he thought, she’s getting me at a disadvantage; I mustn’t get rattled. With an effort he recovered his temper and laughed.

“Well, let’s leave personalities out of it. You’d better come in. Would you like some tea?”

The surprise in her eyes proclaimed how doubtful of her reception she had been, how much of bravado she had been carrying.

“That’s nice of you,” she said. “I didn’t think you’d offer me tea.”

He laughed again. “Good Lord, we’re not going to meet on these terms. Of course you must have tea. I’ll get some ready in a minute. Come along.”

She stepped gingerly across the threshold, casting swift glances this way and that like a wary fawn.

“Who’s all here? Besides you, I mean.”

He grasped his nettle. “The boy’s here—Frances. He’s out at the moment. And the man the house belongs to.”

Nothing moved in her face at the mention of Frances. She said,

“No women?”


She seemed relieved. “Well, can I go to your room for a minute and tidy up? If I look as bad as I feel I must be pretty awful. I haven’t seen a glass or a bathroom all day. Why on earth do you live away out here?”

“Because I can’t afford to live anywhere else.”

She laughed and went away through the swing half-doors into his bedroom. The servants were all out—all except that beady-eyed brat of the cook’s who had pulled the punkah for Cassie. With his help Martin got a kettle boiled and collected the materials for tea, wondering the while if there was the slightest chance of accomplishing the meal and getting rid of Babs before Fras returned. He came back to the living-room with his tray to find her standing in front of Frances Macneill.

“You’ve still got that?”

He set down the tray with a crash. “Yes; of course.”

“Brings things back, don’t it? That flat and all. D’you ever hear from that other fellow what-is-it, Barclay?”

“He went home long ago. Very ill. I don’t know if he’s alive.”

She shrugged her shoulders. “Oh, well, it doesn’t matter. . . . For God’s sake give me some tea.”

He poured out a cup, handed her the roughly-cut bread, the greasy half-melted butter. She said “Ta,” in an absent manner, studying him surreptitiously. He thought it time to open the engagement while the advantage was with him.

“Look here, Babs, I don’t want to be unkind or anything, but—well, I haven’t been looking forward to this visit and——”

She smiled maliciously, sipping sweet tea from the tea-spoon.

“Never meant to see Babs again, did you?”

“I think I made that clear at the time. . . . So, you see, I’m not enjoying this just enormously and the sooner we get down to brass tacks the better. And to be absolutely frank, I’d sooner we got it over before the boy—before Frances comes in.”

She stared at him over her cup with an “Oh!” that might have meant anything. Then she said slowly,

“I don’t look so bad. Even in your rotten old mirror. You needn’t——”

“It’s not that. You look very nice. But I want to know where I stand.”

She popped the last morsel of her bread-and-butter sandwich into her mouth and rubbed her fingers together.

“In other words, you want to know what I’ve come for.”

“Well—-yes, I do.”

“And you can’t guess?”

“I’m not going to guess. I’m asking you.”

“I bet you’d never guess what it was, anyway.” Martin drew a quick breath that did not escape her. “’Spect you’ve guessed a lot these last few days. ’Spect you guessed wrong most times. . . . Well, as I wrote you, it was something pretty special or I wouldn’t have come all this way to say it.”

A thought struck him. “By the way, what was ‘all this way?’ Where have you come from?”

She stared at him.

“Bombay, of course. Didn’t I say?”

“Not a word.”

“Oh, sorry. Well, it’s Bombay. I’ve been back there a few years now. I do private nursing. Rabbit-catching, mostly. Dee-ar little babas. I come with the stork. I do all right. And the fare’s not so very much—not if you travel Intermediate.”

“Good God!” Martin had a vision of dim, box-like compartments partitioned off, no doubt, from the Third Class but participating in its smell, heat and uproar; and of drab Eurasian females glimpsed sitting in them half-dead. “You shouldn’t have come Intermediate, Babs. Why didn’t you tell me; I’d have sent you the fare.”

“Would you, Marty?” (Marty; a long time since anyone had called him that!) “Well, you can give me the second-class fare back—if you want to after hearing what I’ve got to tell you.”

“I’ll give it you in any case. Out with it.”

“Can’t guess, Marty?”

He shook his head.

“What is it women do want—usually?”

He grew irritated. “Tell me at once—please.”

“Well”—she fiddled with the tea-things, temporarily embarrassed—“I want my freedom. I want to get married again. That’s all.”

Martin’s relief was stupendous, staggering; it seemed as if all his anxieties, all the horrid suggestions of his imagination rushed from the room with an exultant roar. And—why hadn’t he thought of it? Dorothy had been in his life, Cassie; why should not Babs in turn have had her men? Why ever hadn’t he thought of it? He could have shouted aloud; as it was, he repeated, gaping,—

“You want——”

She smiled a little ruefully at his consternation.

“I want you to divorce me. I want to get married again to somebody else. . . . And you aren’t very flattering either, old Marty, being so struck of a heap and all. Damn it, I’m not so completely on the shelf as all that.” Hurt pride turned to malice. “Don’t judge others by yourself. If you’re through with life I’m not. I’m no back number. Anyway, there’s a man who doesn’t think so, God bless him. And that’s why I’ve come.”

He put out a hand to her for the first time.

“My dear, I apologise. I’m sure you look nice enough for anything or anybody. It wasn’t that at all. It was just that I’d been imagining all sorts of things—anything in the wide world but that.”

“And some of them pretty nasty, I expect.”

“We’ll forget them all now. The real thing’s of course the one thing I never thought of; and it should have been the first one to strike me.” He was warm with relief, boyish. “So let me congratulate you with all my heart. And I only hope the man’s a good chap.”

She was sobered by his enthusiasm.

“I did you a bad turn once, Marty. I wouldn’t have done you another. Honest to God. If it hadn’t been for Joe you’d never have seen me again. And I had to come because I didn’t know how you’d take it.”

“Why, how else could I take it?”

She was embarrassed again: vaguely he realised the picture she had formed of him—vindictively disobliging, the pitched battle she had been anticipating; the relief was not all on his side.

“I see that now, Marty—now I’ve seen you again. But I’d forgotten you a bit, I suppose. I thought—I thought you’d make trouble.”

“Just what I thought about you.” For the first time they both laughed. He offered her a cigarette and lit it for her. She accepted, smiling: “That’s one of the tricks I’ll have to teach Joe. Manners, you know.”

He laid a hand on her arm. “Tell me about Joe.” Puffing away at the cheap “Gasper” she told. Joe was in the veterinary department—an assistant-surgeon; a certain job but no great prospects. “These Brahmins won’t let him get on; being an Anglo-Indian——”

“An Anglo-Indian?” said Martin. She flushed.

“I didn’t mean to tell you that. I meant to have said European. But it’s true; his mother was Eurasian. Anyway, whatever he is, he’ll get his pay month by month and he won’t be axed, and that’s something these days.”

“A lot,” said Martin, thinking of Sissie—and Wanderlust.

“He’s not dark, not really, not more than——” she stopped in sudden confusion.

“Than Frances,” said Martin coolly. “If a thing’s so, my dear girl, why not say it. . . I expect he’s a good chap anyway.”

She sighed. “He’s been an angel to me.” She broke into a long description of Joe, the veterinary assistant; their meeting, their courtship. “I fought against it, Marty; I wanted to be through with that.” But Joe had persisted, persisted, asked her at last to marry him. Then she had perforce told him about Martin; so far he had been led to think her a war widow.

“I told him every first and last thing that ever happened to me. God! it was a bad five minutes, that. Give me another cigarette; I want to forget about it.”

For a time Joe had vanished and the world had been very dark; but one wonderful day he had returned, weeping, defeated. “I don’t care a damn what you’ve been in the past,” he had said, as reported by Babs, “but in the future you’ve got to be mine.”

She paused triumphant while Martin murmured something appropriate. At least, apparently, Joe knew what he wanted: pray Heaven it would not disappoint him when he got it.

“I thought, of course, you’d refuse to divorce me. I thought, He hates me like hell and now I’m going to ask a favour of him; what a hope! And Joe won’t have anything but straight marriage.” She moistened her lips; quite clearly the fear still clung to her. “But you wouldn’t really do that, would you, Marty.”

Martin was horrified. “My poor little Babs,” he said, “did you really think I’d do that?” My God, he thought, and this is my wife; I married this girl and that’s all the understanding of me she ever had.

Babs’s voice became tearful. “Well, I thought you might. I hadn’t seen you for a long time remember. I’d forgotten you. I thought it might be a sort of revenge for you.”

He got up and put an arm on her shoulder. “Well, you won’t think so any more, will you?”

He had half expected tears, but he had forgotten Babs as surely as she had forgotten him; she was eagerly business-like.

“No. But listen. I can give you evidence. I went to a lawyer and he said, ‘You’ll have to give him evidence.’ And so I can.”

He forgot himself and smiled. “I daresay.” But it was a fatal error. She sprang up and confronted him, blazing with fury.

“What do you mean, you daresay. You dam’ well dare not! I was straight after you married me and I’ve been straight ever since. But I’ve got your evidence. I shared a room at the Splendid in Bombay last Thursday night with a man. Number two-five-seven; write it down. The roomboy’s name’s Murugesan—write down that too. We’re in the book as Mr. and Mrs. Martin because I suggested the name. You’ll recognise it. A young planter he was; going home the next day on the P. and O. He was so dam’ tight that he couldn’t touch me, but who’s to know that? He was a nice boy and didn’t he get a fright in the morning when he woke up and saw me properly. ‘Good God,’ he says, ‘I thought you were a tart.’ And he wanted to give me fifty rupees, but I wouldn’t take a bean. ‘You’ve done me a favour,’ I says. ‘Oh,’ he says, ‘it’s like that, is it? Well, keep my name out of it.’ And so I will—for the very good reason that I don’t know it. . . .” The reminiscence had cured her rage; fear came back in its place. “It’ll do, won’t it? It’ll be enough? Say it’ll do.”

Martin shuddered. “I’ll make it do. I’ll go to a lawyer. They’ll write to you. Better get a lawyer yourself; it won’t cost much. I’ll find the money if Joe can’t. It won’t be anything; I bring a petition; you don’t defend; all over.”

She looked at him for an instant in speechless gratitude; then burst at last into tears. He walked over to the window till the fit should have passed, and the sudden thought came to him that he was more alone than ever. Even Babs had found someone; he was left—solus, uncompanioned. Dorothy dead; Cassie vanishing beyond reach. . . . But there was still Fras; and Fras was secure now. . . . He half turned at his post.

“Babs I’ve agreed; I’ve made no conditions. But will you tell me one thing?”

She raised a tear-blotted face with a sound of interrogation.

“Who was Fras’s father?”

She sat biting her lip, her handkerchief desperately clasped in one hand.

“Martin, I don’t know.”

He winced and turned away. “It was as bad as that, Babs?”

She hung her head. “It was as bad as that.”

“I see.”

When next he looked round she was busily repairing her face; she hesitated and spoke.

“There were two of them. I’ll tell you their names if you want. They were doctors in the hospital.”

“No; it’s all right. I don’t want to know any more.” Poor Fras, he thought; even with an Indian father, he has to choose between two. And then he thought again, what the devil does it matter now? Fras is Fras now—my Fras: to hell with his fathers! I’ve heard all I want, he thought, and henceforward not another question, not another word, not another thought on the subject.

Babs had restored her face to her satisfaction; the traces of tears were gone. Now, he thought, pray Heaven she’ll go. Simultaneously he heard the familiar screech of the gate: too late anyway! She said suddenly, “Am I to see him?”

“You can see him now—in two minutes,” said Martin quietly, “he’s just coming in.”

A thousand times Martin had pictured the nightmare meeting of Fras and Babs, but never had he staged it at Colenso; never had he imagined it as it now in fact occurred. As on the occasion of Cassie’s visit, the room blazed suddenly into brilliant light; at Fras’s entry, as at a signal, the butler came shuffling in with the dreadful Petromax illumination of which poor Julie had been so proud. The room was suddenly bright as a saloon bar. As on the former occasion, Fras came in full of his own thoughts and had spoken some of them before he was aware of the stranger’s presence.

“Uncle stopped at the Sergeants’ Club. He said—— Oh!”

He stood staring; Babs, sitting in her chair, stared back at him.

“It’s your mother, Fras,” said Martin, and there was a dead, dead silence.

Of the two, Martin noticed not without pride, it was Fras who was the more composed. He said not a word, but just stood and looked his fill, his lips hard and close, his eyes enormous. Babs was far less firmly in hand; she shook a little, her lower lip came and went between her teeth, she dropped her cheap vanity bag and picked it up again. Quite evidently she had not the remotest notion what to do; Martin, pitying her, would not help. He felt his own temper rising; she dared to sit there and look Fras in his face and she could not tell him his father’s name to within two—and black at that. She dared!

She could dare, it seemed, no longer; she stretched out a hand towards Fras with an effort at bravado.

“Shake, Frances.”

The boy shook his head, stepped back a pace; his face paled. “God help her,” thought Martin, “it’s coming.”

Fras said low but clearly, “I won’t shake hands with you. Not ever. You’re bad.”

Babs tried to carry it off. “Don’t be a silly boy. Come and give your mother a kiss.”

Fras stepped back one more pace, went yet a shade paler. He said, with the same low clarity,

Kiss? Kiss you?”

It was the minimum of words, but the world’s lexicons could not have expressed the volume of contempt and hate Fras put into them. And he was adult in that moment; it was a man’s hate and a man’s disgust—and so Babs felt it. Martin saw her go back as to a blow, saw her fingers fly to her mouth, her eyes widen. She can’t stand it, he thought, no woman could. The boy’s possessed. She’ll scream.

Babs did not scream; she said in a voice like someone else’s, “Why not?”

Fras came back his two steps.

“Because I hate you. You were a beast to my Dads. I hope you’ll die.”

“Steady, Fras,” said Martin, but he was too late. Babs had sprung to her feet; gamin fury had roused in her the gamin courage. She was insane with rage, she had forgotten everything, her back was to the wall.

“‘Dads!’” she screamed. “Your Dads. Dads, is it, you little piebald ape. I’ll tell you——”

Like a flash Martin sprang on her, like a flash his arm went round her shoulders, his hand clapped down on her mouth. He said over his shoulder to Fras, “Clear out, old chap, I’ll see to this,” and in one glance saw Fras going obediently through the half-doors and the butler’s face, like preposterous comic relief, gaping amazedly from the back verandah. Then with the weight of his hand on Babs’ mouth he pushed her back into the chair from which she had risen. He felt her teeth in his flesh, in the soft part of the palm below the thumb, but steadily he pushed her down, held her there. The words choked in her throat, the scream never came; he took his hand away and wiped blood from it with his handkerchief.

“No, you don’t,” he said. “No, you don’t.”

She looked up at him scarlet-faced, gasping for breath.

“The little bastard,” she panted, “the little bloody bastard.”

Martin shrugged. “I’m sorry, Babs. I’m sorry it happened. I hoped it could have been avoided. But—there it is. That’s what he thinks.”

She drew a long long breath; the colour in her face died.

“I’m sorry, too, Marty, I never meant it. I couldn’t have supposed—— The little devil! . . . Give me a drink.”

He got her a soda and she sipped it slowly. Presently she set down the tumbler, patted her hair, straightened herself up.

“You’ve given him a nice idea of his mother, Marty.”

“It’s not worth denying,” Martin thought, “she’d never believe a word I say.” Nevertheless he denied it. But the words seemed to float meaningless over her head. She reached out for the grey felt hat she had thrown on the table.

“I suppose I might have expected it. All right, Marty—say no more.”

“Say you no more,” said Martin.

“I won’t. I wouldn’t have done it now if he hadn’t cheeked me. Anyway, there’s been no harm done.”

No harm done; that much, thought Martin, was mercifully certain. Fras had learned nothing, guessed nothing—had been disgusted by an ugly scene but nothing worse. “Clear out, old chap,” Martin had said; and the little fellow had just quietly and decently obeyed. He said,

“No harm done—this time.”

Sulkily she looked up. “And there won’t be any other time.”

“No, Babs. That’s part of the bargain.”

“Sure. . . .” Her mind went back. “Little piebald devil; you can have him, Marty boy, for me. I don’t suppose I’ll see him again. Or you either. I don’t suppose I want to. . . . Well—goodbye.”

“Good-bye,” said Martin solemnly. “And good luck with Joe.”

“Oh, Joe!” she said vaguely. They walked in silence to the gate. He took some notes from his pocket and she looked up sharply.

“What’s all this?”

“Your second-class fare to Bombay.”

She stood in a curious hesitation between defiance and tears.

“You give me this? After all I said. After all I would have done.”

“You wouldn’t have done it really.”

“Well, I’ll take it.” She thrust the notes away into her bag. “You know, Martin, you’re a kind of a sort of a man really. I like you. I wish I’d been your wife a bit longer. . . . Now look the other way while I get into this dam jatka because I don’t feel we’re married any more and I haven’t anything on underneath. Too hot. Bye-bye.”

The driver yelped, whacked his stick on the shafts; the jatka clattered off down the lane. Little bawd, he thought, little gamin; full of gutter pluck and gutter impudence to the last. God help her. . . . And God help Joe!

And then suddenly, blindingly, like the first lightning of a storm, came the realisation—I’m free! He stood in the dark lane outside Colenso, saying the marvellous thing. “Practically speaking, I’m free. Practically speaking, there’s no more Babs. Practically speaking, I’m a bachelor again. My gracious God, I’m free!”


On Monday morning came a second ordeal and in many ways a worse—Pellick at the General Hospital. Pellick was at first sight rather an alarming figure; he was immensely tall, with wispy red hair and the uncompromising ugliness that may or may not go with genius. He sniffed and looked coldly; for the first five minutes Martin, keyed up and acutely nervous, imagined him thinking to himself, “All this fuss about a little Eurasian brat.” Presently, however, it became obvious that this was completely unjust; Eurasian brat or Governor’s offspring, Pellick was intensely interested in Fras. He was capable and thorough; he tested Fras with a variety of odd instruments, he made long and diligent play with a thing like a tuning-fork, he gazed and groped into Fras’s throat. At the end of a half-hour that seemed to Martin like thirty years he told Fras to run outside.

“I can’t tell you much more than Beecher told you. I gather he warned you there was trouble.”

Martin gulped. “Yes, but what kind of trouble? What is it, anyway?”

Pellick, leaning his long person against a table, proffered cigarettes.

“It’s very difficult to explain to a layman. But I’ll try. Hearing’s a very beautiful but a very complicated mechanism. It’s like—how shall I put it?—like a gramophone. In a gramophone you have the record and you have the wave-vibrations in the atmosphere, haven’t you? Well, between the two, connecting them, you have the sound-box. In a way it’s the same thing with ears; there’s the internal ear and the external ear and between the two, something like the sound-box in a gramophone, there’s what we call the middle ear. It’s a complicated series of gadgets and it’s essential that the air pressure on either side of it should be equalised. Look here, you’ve been up in a plane?”

Martin nodded.

“And dropped suddenly? And been deaf for a bit?”


“Well, that was because the air pressures weren’t equalised quickly enough. . . . Well, to equalise these air pressures—I’m putting it very crudely, you understand—there’s a thing called the Eustachian tube which connects this middle ear affair with the throat. And if there’s anything wrong in the throat it doesn’t work. And that’s where the young man’s troubles come in.”

Martin nodded again. “These infernal colds of his.”

“These colds of his as you call them. But they’re not colds really. They’re a kind of inflammation that gets set up by something to which the boy’s vulnerable, and the back of his throat fills up with bacilli and this Eustachian tube I’m telling you about gets inflamed and—well, there it is.”

Martin sat silent. “And what’s to be done about it? I thought perhaps some operation——”

“There’s no operation—not as you understand ‘operation’—no cutting operation, that is.”

“It won’t just go away of itself?”

“I’m afraid not. Judging by the history I should say it would rather tend to get worse.”


“Periods would lengthen and the degree of deafness would intensify. He might become deaf altogether.”

Martin cried out. “But he mustn’t do that! You see——” He explained about the music. Pellick nodded sympathetically; he did not look at all cold or sniffing now—or even ugly.

“It’s tragic, it’s most tragic. But I shouldn’t be treating you fairly if I didn’t tell you that the position’s grave.”

Martin, white-faced, gripped the arms of his chair. “But isn’t there anything to be done?”

Pellick offered another cigarette. “There’s one fellow—I studied with him once—who’s made an entire speciality of cases just like this. He claims to have prevented deafness in them. I believe he has, too.”

“And where’s he?”


“Leipzig!” Why not say Kamschatka and be done with it!

“He’s a fellow called Stiebel. He runs a place called the Ohr-Klinik Stiebel in Leipzig, Feundlerstrasse.”

“And you tell me to go to him?”

Pellick shifted his long legs uncomfortably. “Of course I don’t know your circumstances, Mr.—er—Armory; but from what I’ve seen of the case, that’s really the only advice I could give you.”

Martin stared at his topi. “Expensive?”

“Well, there’d be the transport to Leipzig itself. Living there for—well, four months at a minimum. And the treatment—three visits a week and three treatments a week for the first month; not so many after that. There’s a lot to it, you know—vaccines, desensitising and all that. We have to find what it is that starts these ‘colds’ as you call them—it may be anything. It may be pollen or dust or something quite special, but, anyway, there’s a something to which the boy is specially vulnerable. We’ve got to identify that. Then there’s the bacteriology of his throat to be investigated. It’s bound to be a long job. I should say the treatment could hardly cost less than a hundred and fifty pounds—two hundred pounds, say.”

Martin sat thinking, will anybody tell me where I can raise two hundred rupees—let alone pounds? And the fares to Germany and all; and the exchange against us. Pellick stretched out a hand. “I’m sorry; it’s an infernal business.”

Martin looked up. “But you think this Stiebel fellow could do it? I know you can’t give me certainties, but it’s a hope?”

“It’s a hope; quite definitely. I believe he’s been very successful.”

“And it’s the only hope?”

“In my opinion—yes.”

“And otherwise he’ll go deaf; deaf enough certainly to ruin his music.”

“Deaf enough certainly to rule out music as a career.”

“I see. Thanks.” Martin stood up and shook hands. “You’ve been very patient and kind.”

Outside he picked up Fras, who with characteristic tact said nothing till they were half-way home. Then he asked what Pellick had said. Martin, coming out of a brown study, lied quickly and convincingly.

“Oh, more or less what we thought. It’s mostly that old throat of yours. We’ll get it better all right.”

Fras accepted without question. “I’m glad. I don’t want to be deaf. You know, dads——”


“An awfully queer chap came to ’Bastians this year to do the music exams. Of course, I’m through mine meantime; but Brother made me play to him. He made an awful song and dance about it—this queer chap did, I mean.”

“Well, I don’t wonder. For a kid of eleven you don’t play so badly, do you?”

“Ye-es; but this chap was extra. He was a German and he waved his hands about and shouted. He said I must take up music as a profession. You know, Dads——”


“I’d like to awfully.”

“So you will, old chap. So you’re going to—one of these days.”

“What this chap said, he’d give Brother a letter to some Professor, some school or other in Leipzig. And he sat down and wrote it then and there and Brother’s got it. Might be rather a stunt, Dads? If we could ever get there.”

“Ah—if!” said Martin absently. Leipzig!—the very site of the Ohr-Klinik Stiebel; it was amazing. I don’t believe in the hand of God in these things, Martin thought, but—talk of coincidences! Yet it isn’t such a very long arm after all; Leipzig’s a great place for music and a great place for doctors. Why not?

“You’d like to go to Leipzig, Fras?”

“Oh, Dads! Could we?”

“I’ll think of it, old chap. I’ll think of every possible way. And all the impossible ones too. If it can be done at all, we’ll do it.”

“Just you and me, Dads.”


“And Uncle Tom?”

“No,” said Martin firmly. “Uncle wouldn’t like Leipzig. We’ll get uncle home to England amongst his pals and then you and me’ll beat it for Leipzig and you’ll play and play and never get deaf any more.”

And then, he thought silently, pigs’ll fly over Colenso.


No pigs appeared in the blue-grey, brassy sky that stifled St. Thomas’ Mount; and Martin came no nearer Leipzig. The business of the General Hospital over, he realised that there was no justification for keeping Fras an hour longer in the stewing hot-weather of Madras, and he packed the boy off to Brother Baptiste to hunt butterflies through the mild summer of the Muris. Fras protested—more keenly and vigorously this time than ever before.

“But if you can stick it, Dads——”

“I’m old and tough and ugly,” Martin told him, “Besides, I make money here. Oceans of it. Push off, my lad.”

Fras was inclined to sulk. “I’m not a kid any longer.”

But Martin had a new weapon now. “You’ll have to go, old chap. That bloke at the hospital said coming down here was bad for your ears. So up you go.”

Fras departed at last with a bad grace, and Martin set himself once more to the twin problems of enduring Cottle and Colenso and of devising some means of reaching Leipzig. Cottle, poor soul, avoided a relapse into his former gloom, but the hot weather made him liverish and testy; he took a violent and increasing dislike to the house and the servants, and abused the latter wearisomely and without end. Worse he took to staying late at the Staff Sergeants’ Club and “yarning” to its younger and more foolish members, to the accompaniment of rather more whiskies than he could altogether stand. Usually now he ate very little dinner and fell asleep in his chair and snored frightfully. I’ll bury him next, thought Martin, if he doesn’t pull up.

The day after Fras left, it occurred to Martin that he must urgently speak to Cassie. She ought to hear about Pellick, the divorce, about Babs and Fras; she ought to hear everything. And perhaps he should tell her his plans for Leipzig and his difficulties, and if this time she offered to lend him the money—well, perhaps he should let her do it. Fras mattered; there lay the universal truth to which one must adhere; that was the categorical, the thing one must never forget. Perhaps one should sink one’s pride on Fras’s account. Perhaps. . . . Tentatively, he rang the van Rennen bungalow. But, as he should have known if his wits had been more than half alive, Missy done gone to the Hills ten days ago. Of course; he should have known it; yet desolation, solitude, misery crept over the telephone wire into the day.

Late in the sleepless night that followed, inspiration about Leipzig came; of course—Wanderlust! Wanderlust were everywhere; they must have an office in a place like Leipzig; if not they must start one. In the watches of the night the idea seemed so brilliant and final that it sent him to sleep; next day it was less attractive. Still, it was a stone worth turning, and one must turn all stones or risk losing treasure. Under his roaring fan in the shrunken red-hot Egmore office Martin wrote to his employers, lashing himself to optimism that the letter might contain—and convey—the necessary plausibility. He detailed the case: his son—they know I’m married, he reflected, why shouldn’t I have a son?—his only son . . . musical talents . . . threatened deafness. . . . Pellick I.M.S. . . . Leipzig . . . the Ohr-Klinik Stiebel. The queer essential combination of medical and musical advantages. Could Wanderlust see their way to transfer him—in any capacity whatsoever—to Leipzig? He hoped his work in Madras had given satisfaction—and reflected gloomily that there had been of late precious little work at all. “I am quick at picking up languages and am already not unacquainted with German.” I can’t pitch it higher than that, he thought; it was impossible to say more for the sketchy recollection of school smatterings plus a few travel phrases picked up on a six-days’ passage of the Salzkammergut with Frances Macneill. He read through his letter and laughed at it; it was the letter of a lunatic; it would secure him the sack—no more and no less. He took it up, folded, to tear it in two; then his mood changed and he pushed it into an envelope and threw it, hurriedly addressed, into the tray. Leave no stone unturned. . . .

The hot-weather days dragged on and on, each a little harder, a little heavier than the last. Colenso became a blast furnace by day, a baker’s oven by night. Cottle was out a great deal but he had stopped drinking; catching sight of him once or twice in the company of a luxuriant but not unhandsome female of the same extraction as poor Julie, Martin put two and two together. Cottle must be thinking of marrying again. The lady was manifestly of a respectability so high as to put anything less honourable out of the question; and—oh, well, Romance apart, it would be the best thing that could happen for poor Uncle. If Cottle married again it would mean Martin’s exit from Colenso, but that hardly mattered now. Excelsior; Leipzig! One must think of Cottle himself, decent soul—and one shuddered to think of him “back home” where he had no home, trying vainly to pick up “the boys” he had dropped twenty unbridgeable years ago, wandering round aimless and friendless paying for drinks in order to cadge an unintelligent listener in this pub or that. Better a belated—even a rather ridiculous—romance.

Martin filled the dreary days—which Wanderlust’s diminishing business left sadly empty—by instituting his divorce proceedings against Babs. Repugnant as the process was, a promise was a promise and must be kept. Killifen, the junior partner in Welsh and Knight, who had been left in Madras to cope with the hot weather business while his senior went to the hills, had been an acquaintance of Martin’s in the great days of Sissie; they had been fellow-members of several clubs. Killifen’s face as Martin unfolded his tale was almost a reward in itself for the undertaking of this trying business; it became one incredulous gape of astonishment. At the close of Martin’s recital he broke out impulsively.

“It’s unprofessional, I know, to say it, but by God, it’s the rummest thing I ever heard.”

Martin smiled, feeling the age of Methusaleh.

“It’s a rum world. It’s the rummest thing I ever heard either. But we’ve got to go on with it. I suppose it’s all right?”

Killifen became professional again. “Oh, yes; oh, rather. As at present advised, I should say it was all plain sailing. I’ll have to get onto that hotel. Two-five-seven, eh, and the room-boy, Murugesan. . . . Will—er—Mrs. Armory be represented?”

“I don’t know. I want you to see that she is. See that she gets a decent lawyer. I’ll pay, if necessary.”

Killifen’s eyebrows went up. “Good God, we can’t do that!”

Martin laughed. “Well, let’s do what we can. . . . I want to help the poor little thing “

As day succeeded to blue-lit, metallic, scorching day, Martin began to regret his letter to Wanderlust, the more so as no reply to it arrived. It had been a stupid, senseless impulse. Even supposing Martin and Fras translated by magic carpet to the city of Leipzig, funds would still be hopelessly lacking for Fras’s cure; no point therefore in going to Leipzig at all, no point in worrying Wanderlust with absurd letters, which could only make them doubt their Madras representative’s sanity. But as the days passed Martin began to hope that the letter had been lost in the post; the Congressites had recently revived that form of nuisance which consisted in pushing burning or corrosive stuff into letter-boxes; perhaps one of these incendiaries had fatally intercepted his ridiculous communication. If so, no loss.

Cottle, hunting for fresh grievances, complained one morning that he could not go outside the door for the attentions of a certain Mrs. Duckett. “Them widows,” said Cottle and blew a long breath heavy with meaning.

Martin, in no wise deceived, replied that widows were a public danger. “But she’ll have you one of these days, Uncle, if you’re not careful. You watch her.”

Cottle ruminated in evident gratification. “She’s a kind sort o’ woman in her way; but inquisitive—cor! she ought to ha’ been a vakil.”

“What does she ask about?” said Martin. “Money, I’ll bet, and have you any children, Mr. Cottle?”

“So she does,” Cottle admitted, “but mostly just of late she’s been askin’ about you.”

“About me?”

“Yes—’ow you come to be ’ere with me an’ so on. She wanted to know ’ad you a share in this ’ouse an’ was you a lodger an’ all that. “’E’s no lodger,” I says, “an’ ’e’s no legal share as you might say in the ’ouse; but as long as Tom Cottle’s above ground,” I says, “‘E’s the right to as much of it as ’e bloomin’ well likes an’ welcome.” Oh, I told ’er straight.”

Martin was touched. “But you know, my dear chap, I’d never stand in your way——”

But Cottle, the old humbug, recollected himself. “Gawd ’elp us, ’ow can you say a thing like that sir, an’ poor Julie not in ’er grave three months.”

The next day was Sunday and was the day that Martin came to remember for long afterwards as Black Sunday. It was one of the cruellest days of a fierce hot weather; morning dawned sourly after an evil night like a pack of merciless hounds breaking from dark cover. Filmed in heat the sun crept up the sky, striking like a flail; the uneasy earth, still baked from yesterday, caught up his bolts and hurled them back. The air died, thickened, solidified into a jelly of heat. Colenso became intolerable. Cottle, temporarily shying off Mrs. Ducket, had indulged in what he called a “late night” at the Staff Sergeants’ Club; he had a head and lay about the house, fistless and miserably ill. To Martin it seemed that just as the stifling day shut down upon Colenso, so fate closed in upon himself. He had betrayed Fras, betrayed him by his inability to make money—the money that would hurl back for ever this terror of deafness, the money that would provide proper teaching and turn Fras into one of the violinists of Europe, the money that—didn’t exist. Fras would just be educated—somehow—at St. ’Bastian’s and in the end he would go deaf or as nearly deaf as made no matter. . . .

There was a hitch in the progress of the divorce; the room-boy, Murugesan, had been dismissed for theft, there was difficulty in tracing him; they would get him, no doubt, in time; meanwhile it was a halt, an irritation. . . . He couldn’t talk to Cassie; more than probably he would never see Cassie again. . . . Cottle, even Cottle, was wondering how to get rid of him and bring home his Mrs. Duckett. . . . Thoroughly down, he sank from depression to sheer morbidity; he made up his mind to go and look at Ichangudi.

The early evening had the fury of an extended and intensified noon; the road danced crazily in the heat; dry burning blasts came in under the windscreen and took him by the throat. It was a day transported from hell; distorted India, shrunk and colourless, sprawled round him, hideously unrecognisable. Yet Martin, the parched skin standing away from his flesh, made Ichangudi. The backwater stank and was loathsome, but the boat carried him across—the same boat, the same boatmen. There stood the bungalow, half hidden by, half appearing round, the sand-hill, there stood the palms that had taken on beauty in two sunsets; here they had dined, sitting on the sand. He struggled over the sand-hill to the bungalow; it was shut and bolted, but he stood in the verandah listening, remembering. Beyond the sand-hills the sea crashed on the beach, as before, as ever; rearing wall after glassy wall to founder in white ruin. Here they had bathed; he could tell the very spot where Dorothy, laughing and blushing, had thrown down that green kimono with the pale gold dragons. Here it had all happened, the place stood unaltered in the smallest particular, everything should have come back in an annihilating rush of emotion; but—amazingly Martin felt no emotion at all. The place was there but it was like all other places; it was dead and it would not come alive. Only by a conscious effort of memory could, he tell himself, “Here I said this and Dorothy said that. Here it was we did so-and-so and the other. . And even then something behind memory questioned him, “Did we?”

He sat a long time on the very summit of the sand-hill watching the red ball of the sun sink at last into orange and sepia fumes. The blue of starlight began to struggle with the crimson and flame; the backwater was paved again with shattered colours. “Now surely she will come,” he thought; but nothing came, nothing happened. A kite winged past, mewing disconsolately; a drum began to beat in the fishing village. It was all ordinary, commonplace; it might have been anywhere; it was dead. Now he could not even see Dorothy’s face or her figure or anything of her at all. She was not there. With that glimpse of her stepping shyly from her green-and-gold kimono, she seemed to have fled his vision for ever.

The night was as dark as it would ever be—and probably as cool; he walked down again to the boat. Here surely someone should say “Our little house, Martin,” or “I meant to be so brave.” Self-consciously he listened; the incoming tide swilling up the backwater, lapped against the boat; the old men muttered and coughed; but no voice spoke. There was nothing there at all. It was as if Dorothy herself, dead Dorothy, stood between him and the past so that he might not see back into it. “Dead yesterday.” So suddenly come, so short a stay, so finally gone. January fourteenth—first February. Interlude. Dream.

The old men poled him across the creek with grunts and hiccoughs; the over-heated Chev started again reluctantly; Ichangudi fell behind into the silver, starlit east. Shocked, chagrined, he realised that he could never go back there again; that episode in the fourth dimension was closed. There it lay like a jewel preserved in its box; and like a jewel in a box it could be taken out and looked at; but it could never come out of itself. Nothing could alter it; Fras could not alter it; Cassie could not alter it: but as certainly it could never affect Fras, so it could never affect Cassie. Utterly apart from ordinary life, utterly divorced from the rest of experience, it had been the brief gift of Heaven—irrational as light, impermanent as the blue feather that fell from the wing of a bird.


Black Sunday was an important day for Cassie; and for Barty it might have been the most important day of his life.

Once on the Hills, Cassie found herself swept as usual into a new existence. On the Nilgiris atmospheres changed and values; contriving to retain Madras associations, the place was remotely different. New leaders—never heard of in Madras—took command. And the change was all in favour of Barty. Government House, Ootacamund, was a much more real, much more dominating institution than Government House, Madras. In Madras “G.H.” no doubt existed, as the law existed or religion; but like the law and religion was encountered only in deliberate or occasional contact; here in the bright playground of the Hills, its members were omnipotent and universal. In the flat swamps of Nungambakam and Chetput, the fact that he was Government House had done Barty little good—had made him indeed something of an intruder. Here in this sunlit world of Governors and Residents and Maharajas, of garden parties and hunting and the Governor’s Band at the Assembly Rooms, he came into his own; he took the lead as by right.

Cassie found it a relief to be away from Ness for a little. Ness would proclaim by the hour and with conviction the equality of all men; and would then in a breath reveal himself the complete snob. There was no doubt that Ness liked the sound of Lady Lipscombe, liked it terribly; and there was equally no doubt, Cassie told herself with ungenerous irritation, that he would have kicked all Lipscombe’s and all baronets into the Bay of Bengal the moment they began to worry his sister. But Ness, dear fellow, had been rather a trial just of late; he was so constantly watchful, so remorselessly kind, so determinedly uninterested, unguessing, so burstingly eager to be told what he wanted to hear. It was restful to get away from him for a little and from the endless dinner-parties in the big bungalow and from the endless young elegants, English and American, of the Madras business set. And quite apart from Ness, quite apart from Barty, there was the relief of coolness after heat, beauty after hideousness, all the glory and welcome and embrace and salvation of the Hills.

On the morning of Black Sunday, Cassie knew the day was monumental, decisive, a milestone. It was the day of Mrs. Kendle’s picnic. Mrs. Kendle was the widow of a Rangoon merchant who had made a fortune during the War out of Burma rice; she owned a large sprawling house near the lake and she devoted herself to two pursuits which varied according to season—bridge in the winter and Government House in the summer. She addressed all members of the Government House staff by their Government House names and she was said to have held the confidences of every A.D.C. in her time, every unmarried Military Secretary and even a Private Secretary or two. Cassie guessed—quite correctly—that she held Barty’s.

Barty, blundering, stammering, altogether short of that assurance he displayed at State dinner-parties and really a very pleasant young man, had told Mrs. Kendle his secret. Mrs. Kendle had stroked her red-gold hair—dyed admittedly but admirably—and had laughed at him.

“If we never got anything more difficult than that——! Of course it’ll come right. You do your bit; I’ll do mine.”

So Mrs. Kendle arranged her picnic and Cassie dressed on Black Sunday with an unusual degree of trepidation. For the nonce she wished Ness were beside her or any of the cheerful young men of Madras—just someone from the familiar world. These Hills people were charming and kind, but they were out against her; they were going to make a little wall of themselves, a little house, a little trap, and shut herself and Barty up in it. It’s a hateful way of doing things, she thought; but I suppose it’s time-honoured and English-gentlemanly. Seems they must have a picnic or a dance for it; making a show of me—all these folk! But her petulance softened; he’s a dear she thought—but I wish we could have cut all this overture.

At Sheffield corner where the horses were waiting for the long downland ride to the Krurmund Hut she looked quickly round the party. Much as she had expected. Three married couples—Waylings, Hawkes, Trevins. Miss Crompton and her foil Miss Greer. Two nameless young men she had spoken to at the Golf Club; a youth dimly remembered from a dance at Woodside; unknown handsome cross-looking matron; that old Centaur Colonel Berrymore; Barty’s fellow-Aide, young Templeford; Barty himself. Charming people, amusing, well-bred, easy; but strangers and just to-day—enemies. Only four of the company knew Ness by sight; not one—the thought came with staggering suddenness—not one had ever heard of Martin Armory.

“Now why in thunder,” said Cassie to herself, “do I get thinking of him?” Young Templeford mounted her—acting best man already, eh? “Oh, Martin,” she prayed silently, “be a sport. Keep away from me to-day.”

They moved off slowly uphill. Mrs. Kendle said something pleasant about her horse; idly Cassie replied, praising him. “I’ve galloped him a lot this season already. He’s extraordinarily sure-footed.” Mrs. Kendle smiled and nodded. “Feet like hands; he’ll not put you down.” She faded away without effort. The married couples adjusted themselves. Colonel Berrymore and Templeford went galloping away over the hill-tops; the young Golf Club men did their duty by the Misses Crompton and Greer; the Woodsider fell in between Mrs. Kendle and the unknown matron. It was all as smoothly done as if under the direction of an accomplished producer. “Now for the hero,” thought Cassie, “‘Here comes the Prince’.” She heard his horse come trotting up beside her.

“Oh, Cassie, I am so glad you came.”

“Of course I came. Who wouldn’t? It’s lovely.”

“Rather! I feel it too.” He looked round in search of an adjective. “It’s topping—absolutely topping. Isn’t it?”

On our wedding night, she thought, he’ll call it topping. Yet he’s a dear; I really do like him awfully. She said solemnly,

“Absolutely topping.”

He drew eagerly nearer. “I say, Cassie——”

But the moment was not yet. With shrieks and yells the Misses Crompton and Greer shot by, pursued resolutely by the Golf Club youths. Fresh, unholdable, Cassie’s horse leapt after them. She charged the hill, Barty thundering in the rear, crying, “Steady, Cassie, steady.” They pulled up on the summit and she saw his face white in the sunshine.

“What’s the matter, you great goose?”

He was a little puffed. “I—I thought he was getting away with you.”

Cassie concealed her pique in laughter; just like these Government House youths thinking they knew everything; she might show him yet. She said, “Caesar won’t get away with me in a hurry. I can ride, Barty. Even if he did”—Mrs. Kendle’s picturesque phrase presented itself; she thought Barty would like it—“he’s got feet like hands.”

They ambled on, Barty ingenuously fulsome, Cassie tranquilly admired—yet with a little corner of her mind fugitive in some remote distance, she hardly knew where.

The day’s storm—inevitable at that time of year— was kind to Mrs. Kendle and chose the most suitable hour to arrive. As they straggled over the vast arena of the Downs, pathetic specks against that immensity, the billowing mist at the back of Mukurti reared suddenly like a horse above the grim jag of the mountain, passing as by a miracle from white to a burnished black. Quite suddenly a vast thunderstorm rose at them out of Malabar; other dragon heads peered over the dazzling Kundahs on which presently the light went out. It was touch-and-go for the last couples to reach the Krurmund Hut before the black deluge came roaring—not so much rain as a very deep, very thin river, bursting downhill with the fury of an avalanche. In the gloom lightning blazed and the thunder cannonaded like a barrage; the darkened, over-crowded little hut became a refuge, a fortress, an island.

Lunch was noisily gay, charged with self-congratulation for their narrow escape; but the afternoon was a detestable decrescendo. The first blast of the storm, the blaze and thunder and hurricane, passed over quickly enough; but it was succeeded by long hours of varyingly thick drizzle, of monotonous heavy dripping, of mists pouring this way and that like frightened sheep. Mrs. Kendle strove nobly with the occasion, bustling her guests from one inane and noisy game to another; but as her party consisted mainly of pairs who desired—licitly or illicitly—to escape and be alone with one another tension grew and the gaiety became increasingly forced. Tea found them still cooped in the hut which was now quite manifestly too small for the company, and even Mrs. Kendle was looking ruefully through the tobacco-reek at the empty tea-cups when the sword of an angel smote flaming through the gloom, light burst on them from all sides at once, the mists flew up as no theatre curtain ever did and there was God’s world, shining-wet and loud with running water but lit by the rich sunlight of a perfect evening.

In the surge for the open air Cassie found Barty at her side.

“You’ll let me ride home with you? Won’t you?”

She said, but quite absently, “Yes—oh, yes.”

For Cassie had hated her lunch. She had sat between Trevin (who was occupied when bare civility did not demand him elsewhere, with Mrs. Hawke’s foot under the table) and Colonel Berrymore who had regaled her with interminable hunting runs and point-to-point races till her reeling brain could hardly determine whether he had won the hunt or killed in the point-to-point. And she had hated the long afternoon even more bitterly; by its sheer inanity it had forced her into the last region she had desired to explore—namely, her own thoughts. She had discovered at last where that fugitive corner of her mind had gone: it was in Madras; it was going down the Nungambakam High Road, it was turning south at the Cathedral, it was hurrying out through Saidapet and Guindy, it was hearing bugles, it saw a little stuffy house buried in black mango-trees. It was looking at a little dark-skinned boy, it was seeing visions of a very lovely fair woman who had heard no lies and had known all about love, and of a harpy (and another thing beginning with the same three letters) who didn’t know all about her son’s father. And the corner of her mind refused now to be fugitive alone; it tugged at her demanding that she should follow. Leave all these silly people; come with me; it’s hot here, horrible; but there’s something worth coming for. . . . Hateful afternoon a week long. The only enjoyable items were Barty’s occasional humble and apprehensive glances; discounted by quite a different glance from Mrs. Kendle which Cassie was not intended to see—shrewd, calculating, a soiling look. Cassie’s dislike of Mrs. Kendle became infinite; began to embrace Barty.

Outside, she drew in long breaths of the cold, wet air and became conscious of a headache; she felt suddenly tired. I’ll bolt, she thought, I must get away for a minute, I can’t stand this without a respite. She strolled to the stable, found her horse ready, got a syce to put her up. Quietly and alone, as if there had never been any party at all, she rode away from the hut, along the stream, upwards out of the declivity. At the top she knew her safety stirrup was too long—the syce must have tampered with it; but—escape first, stirrup afterwards. She rode along parallel to the path to Ooty. In the vast brilliant amphitheatre of the hills she was absolutely alone; there was no living thing in sight but a herd of Toda buffaloes flowing like a procession of ants down the side of a distant valley. Away beyond Ootacamund the black clouds were retreating; a fine rainbow hung over Dodabetta like a scimitar.

For a mile or so Cassie rode in complete happiness, her whole mind now quite openly following that truant fragment through the hot byways of St. Thomas’s Mount. Then the thought of the company she had abandoned came worrying back; reluctantly she admitted that she was not treating them fairly. They would wonder what had become of her, perhaps institute search-parties, get themselves benighted looking for her. Bother people; still, one had accepted the invitation, one must conform. And presently one was going to accept another invitation, more important. Or was one? There had been no doubt a few hours ago; it was silly to let a wet afternoon and a tiresome party make all that difference. Yet somehow, by something, the difference had been made; there it was in front of her—yawning, widening.

Cassie cantered Caesar to the top of one of the innumerable rounded hill-tops of the Downs and wheeled him to face the sunset. The sun was dropping fast and its illumination through the rain-washed air was positively devastating; every blade of grass stood out like a tree, every morsel of gravel like the Bass Rock. Cassie was wearing a light-coloured riding-coat that must shine in that brilliance like a lamp; anyone looking along the sun’s rays from the Krurmund direction could not fail to see and recognise her. Barty certainly could not. She waited patiently.

In front of her the Greek theatre of the Downs lay empty, inert, silent; they sloped and sank away towards the Avalanche valley where the great westward wall of the Kundahs rose up final as doom. Some of the peaks were already in shadow, others glowed golden-red, they cut into the sky in a keen, faintly luminous, faintly vibrating line. The rain-sodden sholas lay along their vast sides like spills of ink in fantastic marks and patterns; here and there the white threads of falling flood water picked out their dark gravity. Staring into the sunset, Cassie was caught again by the imperishable, bewitching loveliness of the hills; as always at the sight of beauty, tears came into her eyes. And in the same moment something happened—as sudden, as final as in that moment when Martin, looking up from his novel, met the dark eyes of Dorothy Adair. As suddenly, as surely, as irrevocably as Martin had then known that he looked at his fate, so Cassie knew now that she looked at hers. And that fate was Martin. She knew as if a god himself had given her the message that she wanted Martin and Martin only, that she would wed Martin Armory or no man, that in no circumstances whatever could she lose him and let him go. In ten minutes, in twenty, in thirty Barty would come for his answer and now, God help her, she could hardly remember what Barty looked like.

She took off her Terai riding-hat and shook out her hair. “Martin,” she said aloud, “Martin darling. Oh, Martin!” Downs, Kundahs, sky and sun dissolved in radiant mist.

Then suddenly, like a jack-in-the-box, there shot up from under a rise a hundred yards away the expected figure at last. Barty saw her at once and spurred towards her shouting; she could hear no detail, but made out something about his looking everywhere. Over a similar more distant rise to the east Templeford—apparently a fellow searcher—came riding.

Asked afterwards by Ness and others what possessed her, Cassie could give no answer. A devil seemed to enter into her and inspire her to his own mad ends; she felt she must disturb this inertia, break up this glass landscape, introduce an element of speed. She let Barty come within twenty yards of her, then suddenly swung round Caesar with a violence that startled him. “Catch me, Barty,” she yelled and then unconscious whether he had understood or not she went flying down the reverse of the hillock towards Ooty.

The enjoyment of that first insane flight was brief. It lasted just for the time it took her to realise in the first place that her stirrup was really much too long altogether, hopelessly long, in fact, and in the second that Caesar this time had “got away with her.” She realised both when at the foot of the knoll she tried to swing the big horse westward for the road and when with a leap and a swerve that nearly threw her from the saddle he charged away eastward into the blind country towards Parson’s Valley. For a moment Cassie was thrilled, but the thrill turned quickly to fright.

It was all very well so long as Caesar followed the contours, but he could not follow the contours for ever. Supposing he came to a “staircase”—one of those almost perpendicular hill-sides? Or a bog with a crossing—a horrid causeway of rough slippery stone, perhaps with a sheer bank on to and off it? She fought for control, but for the first time in history Caesar defied her; nothing would stop him or even slow him. Barty had realised what had happened; she could hear him pounding along and shouting behind; Caesar could hear him, too, and it made him no wiser. She could see Templeford at times riding hard along the corresponding contour of a sister hill; he, too, was shouting and making frantic signs to pull to the left; silly idiot, what was the good of that? Did he think she was still fooling? Barty’s despairing voice came through the roar of the wind; something about a crossing; so there was a bog ahead, was there? Her hat was gone, her absurd stirrup came and went, Caesar raced on like a train. “Left, left, left,” came in a monotonous yell from Templeford, and then Barty, suddenly clear as the wind was cut off, “Left, Cassie, left.” Then Caesar rounded the bend of the hill-side and hell, death, nemesis, the finish, spread themselves before Cassie. A descent like the side of a house, stepped with cattle-tracks and bunkered by a scattered herd of Toda buffaloes; at the foot a long black oozing bog wending down a gully; white and shining, the rough stones of a crossing—and a bad one; the near end hidden by a drop, the far betraying itself by a steep slide of yellow mud. And down went Caesar.

From the sight of that valley spread so invitingly below her Cassie’s personal recollection stopped. What actually happened was that Caesar went hard down the slope for the crossing, scattering the buffaloes right and left. Half way down he suddenly seemed to realise what he was doing and to strive to check his career. Barty, following, thought Cassie had pulled him up; Templeford, from the other side of the gully, knew better. Right at the top of the mudslide—an almost sheer seven-foot shute on to the crossing—the horse made another attempt to pull up, slipped hopelessly, overshot the slide altogether and went rolling over himself into the bog. By the mercies of Heaven and the useless stirrup Cassie was flung wide the other side, stood most neatly on her head on the edge of the drop, toppled over, shot down the slide and spread-eagled on the stones of the causeway. There she lay.

Barty, still following with a white face, was naturally the first to reach her; Templeford saw him come hell-for-leather down the slope, take the slide on his horse’s behind and half fall, half fling himself face first on the causeway. When Templeford, after a piece of fiendish riding he was under no obligation whatever to attempt, got down and round to the spot Barty, his face a mask of tears and dirt and blood from a cut forehead, was grovelling on the causeway, crying out that Cassie was dead. And indeed Cassie looked like it; but Templeford after a test or two was reassured. The colour came back into his cheeks.

“Don’t be a bloody old fool!” he said roughly. “It’s only concussion. I don’t believe there’s even a bone broken.” (And by magic it proved there was not.)

Barty blubbered. “I’m done for now. I haven’t a chance now.”

“Oh, rot,” said his friend with deliberate curtness “You’re all right. You can go home with her now and all.”

Barty turned a stained and disfigured face upon him.

“I’ve said nothing, you ass. I never got anything said. That bloody rain——”

There are tragedies none the less bitter because they are unaccompanied by tragic pomp; there are speeches none the less heartrending because they lack high-flown expression. Templeford looked into his friend’s face and spoke soberly.

“I’m damned sorry, old man. Rough luck.” A voice hailed them; they saw Colonel Berrymore making his way along the side of the bog. “Come on, Barty, buck up. There’s things to be done. . . . Here’s that bloody old fool Berrymore; pull yourself together, old man.”

Obediently Barty pulled himself together out of the wreck of his day, the wreck of his life; tradition took hold, worked. And suddenly, to reward him, Cassie’s eyelids flickered, her eyes opened wide and she said quite loudly and clearly,


But Heaven in its mercy permitted Barty to misunderstand. He thought—he thinks to this day —she said “Barty.”


That was Black Sunday—Martin’s and Cassie’s. On the Monday morning Martin found the letter waiting for him at Wanderlust’s. It was an English Mail letter and should by rights have reached him on the Saturday, but it had been addressed to a Bank and had been forwarded from there. It was a thickish letter on rather sumptuous private notepaper in an envelope of generous dimensions monogrammed on the flap. Address in holograph in a bold, masculine hand. Not so many letters like this arrived for Martin Armory, Esq.; he slit it open expectantly.

“Dear Mr. Armory,—You will be hearing from our lawyers by this mail if not next but I want to get this in first if possible.” Who the devil was this? Martin glanced at the embossed heading; “Stillhouses, Kent”—unknown address; he flicked over several pages to the signature. “Yours very sincerely, Heseltine Barclay.” By Jove, “the Gov’nor”; Charlie’s Gov’nor again.

“You must have wondered often during these years why you never heard from my son”—well, that settled it—“your friend Charlie, and you must have wondered whether he were alive or dead. The truth is, he was very rarely able to write letters and as for being alive or dead, I am afraid, poor fellow, he was really neither the one nor the other. You know how he came home to me three years ago—a wreck. Well, he got astonishingly better at first and I had all sorts of hopes; but after six months he got another attack of the sort I imagine him to have had in India and after that he was never himself again or anything like it. He died three weeks ago to-day and as you may suppose, it was a very terrible grief to me indeed.”

Martin laid down the letter with a hand that shook. So Charlie had lived all those years and now lived no longer. Suddenly he saw Charlie vivid and clear, poised against his showroom background of palms and Stieglers—immaculate, cherubic whistling softly: saw him again in the Flat, again poised, looking round to sum up the forces he had to deal with. “Short and sweet, it’s just this; Babs is in the family way.” And yet again, jigging lightly up and down upon his toes, “Locust-food old boy; they’ve eaten it; let ’em!” Charlie! The letter blurred before his eyes as he tried to read on.

“I might have let you find out this by chance or from the papers but for two things. The first is that Charlie made a will. He must have done this soon after he came home from India, but I knew nothing of it till after his death when they showed it to me. By this will he leaves ‘all of which I die possessed’ to you; he says, ‘to Martin Armory, of Madras, to make up.’ In those days he used to say he had ‘done you down’ in some way; I am quite sure he never did so intentionally, but there may have been something—you will know. In any case his will could hardly have been more than a gesture, for after his disasters in the east he died possessed of absolutely nothing—except a single item which I believe he had forgotten all about.” (“I’ll bet he had,” thought Martin, “or we’d have had it in Sissie. Charlie would never have hedged an anna.”) “This was a block of shares in one of our subsidiary concerns I had made over to him on his twenty-first birthday. That was fourteen years ago and he might easily have forgotten—especially as the shares were practically valueless at the time, and I only gave them to Charlie to secure him the nominal controlling interest in one of our concerns necessary to qualify for a directorship. But Charlie went off to India and wouldn’t be a director. After he came back I kept the shares in his name always hoping; but a time comes when there’s hope no more.”

“Anyway that’s not the present point.” The letter briskly opened a new paragraph and a new sheet after, Martin guessed, an interval in which the Gov’nor sat back and contemplated vanished dreams. “The point is that for reasons I needn’t go into, these shares are now very good. They may be worth £6,000 or £7,000, and the point is they’re yours, and because it was poor Charlie’s wish, let me say at once, my dear Mr. Armory, that I am delighted it should be so. I will admit that our lawyers did suggest contesting the will, but I would rather cut my hand off. I should regard it as a gross disloyalty to Charlie. The shares are yours, and I’m glad of it.”

Martin put down the letter again. Six thousand to seven thousand pounds; not rupees—pounds, pounds sterling. It was insane, grotesque, lunatic. And yet one was less shaken by the magnitude of the sum than by the magnitude of the Gov’nor. He’s just lost a son, Martin thought,—-the only son the War left him; a will’s sprung upon him handing out six thousand to a total stranger; and yet he can still write like this! There are people in the world: I see now where Charlie got it. He picked up the letter; more yet.

“But there’s another thing. I have told you that Charlie’s will said, ‘To Martin Armory, to make up’ and how he had this queer idea, poor fellow, that you had suffered through his fault.” (“Not so queer either,” thought Martin ruefully, “if you come down to brass tacks.”) “Well, three months ago he was very ill; he was too ill to talk sensibly but sometimes with much labour he could write. One day he asked for paper and after a time he managed to write what we read as ‘Sissie crashed Marty broke my fault must do something.’ I knew ‘Sissie’ was your joint business and Marty yourself and I took it upon myself to make some enquiries as to how you were getting on in Madras. Forgive me; but you’ll remember I wrote to yourself once before about it and you didn’t give me very much encouragement.” Martin remembered; the long documented indictment of Charlie’s mismanagement that had gone into the waste-paper basket. Well, thank God it had; thank God the Gov’nor never saw it. “So this time I asked others and I learned, if you will let me say so, that things were none too good. Now that slip of paper—it is before me now—was the last thing my boy ever wrote and one of the last coherent things he either wrote or said, and for that reason, Mr. Armory, I hold it sacred. I won’t ask why you rebuffed me before; if it was for the reason I suspect, I like you all the better for it. In any case I am going to take the chance of a second rebuff and do what Charlie would have wished—and what, from all I know of you I am very glad and ready to do—offer you a post in my firm. Its exact nature we can settle if and when you accept; the salary I would propose will not be less than £600 a year. Of course your present circumstances may make this offer appear ridiculous or your inclinations may find it distasteful, but I hope not—for a variety of reasons. Yours very sincerely,

“Heseltine Barclay.”

Martin laid down the letter for the third and last time; slowly he filled himself a pipe and as he looked round the four cramped, colour-washed walls of Wanderlust he burst into a sudden guffaw that set the clerk peering apprehensively round the corner of his screen. (So Mr. Spelder had laughed once or twice, just before—the incident.) Six hundred pounds a year and the dividends on six thousand; it was practically an income of a thousand a year. It was an end of Wanderlust, an end of India; it was Fras’s music; it was the Ohr Klinik Stiebel; it was—by God, it was! Just for a moment the room swam round Martin; he drooped forward to his table and laid his head on his arms. The clerk’s teeth chattered.

Presently Martin picked up his other letters. There was one long one with an imposing seal; the lawyers had almost out-raced the Gov’nor after all. “In re Charles Heseltine Barclay deceased . . . Compliments . . . 2,000 £1 shares Mottray Bay Development Company Ltd. . . .” So! Six thousand pounds. . . . Three bills; two advertisements; the weekly report from Hotnipatam—nil, as usual. And at the bottom, Wanderlust.

Wanderlust informed Mr. Armory that owing to falling off of business they were closing down their Madras branch and as they were effecting corresponding general reductions in their staff at all stations they regretted the necessity of terminating Mr. Armory’s services. Would Mr. Armory receive this as the notice prescribed in his agreement? They believed this also answered the points raised in his letter of 27th ult.

The Leipzig letter—that idiotic effusion. Yes, this answered it, indeed and indeed it did. For the moment Martin went cold and shivered; no laughter now. Suppose the Gov’nor’s letter had not come in.

Well, it had—and there was no further argument. He stretched out to the rack for a cable form. “Heseltine Barclay, Yalcrab, London.” (That was the old cable address and no doubt they kept it.) “Your letter April 28th. Very gladly accept your offer. Deeply sorry about Charlie. Will try to help in his place.—Armory.” Ruinous even at DLT rates, but let it go. He scribbled an inland telegram to Fras, equally regardless. “Stroke of luck old chap. Leipzig will come off. We start almost at once.” Horray. Dads.” Anyone else to tell? Yes—Cassie. But that should be done in person.

He rang for the clerk; then, changing his mind he put on his topi and went out into the blinding May morning and started up the dissolute Chev. Deliberately and unnecessarily he drove the whole tortuous way to the General Post Office on the Beach. This was an occasion—a triumphal procession, an evacuation, a farewell. The wonderful letter crackled in his pocket, the liberator, the solver of everything; Fras’s music; the Ohr Klinik Stiebel; Leipzig. It even solved Cottle, he thought with a wry smile; Mrs. Duckett would be in Colenso now before Christmas—and a very good thing too. The Chev clanked and reverberated like a processional band. Mount Road lay in a daze of heat that shimmered back from the noble frontage of Sissie, whereon George Niven’s name now flaunted itself; he had a passing impulse to go in and gloat over George who had never ceased, poor devil, to regret his purchase of these overwhelming premises. Instead, he thought sadly of Charlie, and drove away across the incandescent wastes of the Island where the Gymkhana lawn made a green oasis. Front Line Beach was a hell of locomotive smoke, trams, handcarts; the G.P.O. was an oven; but the cable and the telegram were successfully if slowly despatched. Charged still with the half-mournful, half-triumphant essence of farewell, Martin retraced his course along the shiny snake of Mount Road to whose flanks all these items cohered—the Gymkhana Club, Sissie, far-away Colenso, all the life and substance of Madras that in a matter of days now would be—Locust-food, no more than that.


Ness van Rennen had postponed his visit to Ooty and postponed it again; hurrying up now, still a week ahead of his latest intentions, he found his sister for the first time in her life a cross and exacting convalescent. Cassie, after a highly disagreeable period during which she seemed able to remember only unessentials, had returned to a world racked by decreasing headaches and illuminated by a vast realisation of Martin. Those late afternoon minutes with the level sun striking from the Kundahs seemed to have coalesced into permanency; what had been intimations in those minutes were now creeds, what had been emotion had become law. Parallel with these categorical imperatives that demanded Martin, Martin only, Martin always, ran a hideous scripture of logic and reason insistent upon Babs and Fras and upon Martin’s complete penury, demonstrating that of all impossible things in the world Martin was the one thing absolutely unattainable. Between “He must” and “He can’t” Cassie tossed in furious misery.

Of Barty, one of her earliest callers, she enquired anxiously what she had said on the way home from Mrs. Kendle’s disastrous picnic. Barty, perplexed and despondent, scratched his head.

“You didn’t say very much. You couldn’t remember your name or where we were going though we kept on telling you. Concussion’s like that, you know.”

“Did I say anything—queer?”

“N-no. Have you ever been in South Africa?”

“No, never. Why?”

“Because you spoke once or twice about Colenso. And I thought you said something about France, too.”

“That was Fras,” she thought; but on the whole she was relieved. And at the sight of Ness she cried with pleasure.

“I’m all right, you silly,” she told him. “But you’ll just have to be good to me. . . . Ness, there’s something I want you to do for me.”

He petted her arm. “Of course, honey, anything.”

“You won’t like it.”

“Let’s hear.”

“Well, I want you to tell Barty not to come.” At the sight of his lifting eyebrows, his tightening lips, she hurried on. “And, Ness, I want you to tell him something else. I can’t go on with him; I can’t possibly. Someone’s got to tell him, and it had better be you.”

“But, Cass——” His brow wrinkled with vexation. “Are you sure?”

“Dead certain sure. I never was as sure of anything.”


“Oh, don’t worry me, Ness. I just can’t and that’s all, and you must tell him.”

“But hadn’t you better wait a bit? Wait till you’re better?”

“If I wait a hundred years it’ll make no difference.” Her voice rose sharply. “It’s off, Ness, can’t you understand—off. It’s done-finish.”

He sat on the edge of the bed twisting the counterpane in his solid fingers.

“But, Cass, it’s rough on him. Have you thought of that?”

She struck at his hand. “Have I thought of anything else? Oh, Ness, don’t be an owl. Be a brother. Do this for me if I never ask you anything else.”

“But—a broken engagement. It’s not the game, Cass.”

“There isn’t any engagement. There never was.” She was eagerly insistent on that. “He never asked me. But I know he’s going to. Any moment. He’d have done it last Sunday but for Caesar. I knew that at the time. Maybe that’s why I was so daft.”

He sat silent.

“Ness!” she said; tears threatened, imminent.

He got up in very considerable distress. “We-ell, if it’s like that——”

“You’ll tell him, then?”

“’Spose I’ll have to.” He went out gloomily.

When he had gone she cried again—tears seemed to come easily these days. “I hate myself,” she thought, “Oh, Lord, how I hate myself. Why didn’t I break my neck?”

Presently she slept, and woke to find tea and letters on a tray by her bedside; and of all amazing things a letter from Martin. She tore it open eagerly.

He said very little—as usual. “I read in the paper about your accident. I hope you’re all right again because I’m coming up to see you on Friday. There’s something I must tell you and I must say it to yourself.” Not another word.

Cassie laid down the letter and forgot to pour out her tea. “There’s something I must tell you and I must say it to yourself.” When a man wrote that he usually meant one thing and one thing only. For a long minute Cassie lay wide-eyed, a finger on her mouth, dreaming; then she shook herself together. It would be a lovely thing if Martin meant it; but he could not possibly mean it, and there was an end of that. Babs; Fras; the accusing figures rose before her; never yet had she had time to think them out as she had intended. But there they were—existing, continuing. He didn’t mean it, couldn’t; couldn’t, didn’t; never.

Ness came in late. He looked chilled and shrunk, for his quarter of an hour at Government House—though not nearly so bad as it might have been—had been sufficiently unpleasant. The fact that Phil had behaved splendidly made it almost worse. Ness had driven up the long sweep of the Government House avenue in the gathering dusk of another May thunderstorm; as he reached the summit clouds billowed over the Dodabetta saddle and spilt into the bright valley of Ooty; the afternoon dissolved into appropriate gloom. Waiting in the A.D.C.’s’ room he wondered, “What on earth am I to say? How do I open?” But Barty coming in quickly with a sort of gallant resignation in his bearing, made it easy. “Thank God,” groaned Ness, “he’s going to meet me.”

“I know what you’ve come about,” Barty said. “Or I think I do. It’s—it’s Cassie, isn’t it?”

Ness admitted it gloomily; he began to enunciate his message.

“Don’t,” said Barty, “you needn’t. I know it all already. I lost my chance the day of that damned picnic.”

He pushed a huge silver cigarette-box towards Cassie’s brother; Ness helped himself with a sombre face. It’s all up, he thought; Phil’s accepting it, Phil’s quitting—-nothing more to be done. I didn’t think it of Cass. He lit his cigarette from a petrol lighter.

“I just hate all this, Phil. You’re certain sure it’s all that bad?”

Barty’s smile was almost consciously angelic; so martyrs have smiled as the faggots were lit. In the midst of his despair he was obliged to admire himself a little; it helped him through.

“Dead sure, old chap. It’s all over. I had a chance; I lost it. Bad luck; there it all is.”

Ness drew savagely at his cigarette; encouraged by the unexpected easiness of Barty, he asked the question he had not dared to ask his sister.

“Look here, Phil—you don’t think there’s anybody else?”

Barty shook his head; he had asked himself that question often enough and anxiously enough to be sure of the answer.

“Absolutely not. I’m sure of that. It’s just that she doesn’t like me enough. What more do you want?”

“Nothing,” said Ness. “Oh hell!” Declining Barty’s offer of tea, he drove himself out to the Golf Course and wandered miserably through the wet silver radiance of the evening. Once or twice he murmured half aloud, “I didn’t think it of Cass,” and the irreconcilable doubt in his mind left him charged with black suspicion. If there was nobody else then it was sheer caprice—and caprice was no part of Cassie’s make-up. He went home at last, vexed and dispirited, and there she was as he had left her. He was cross with Cassie, he looked sourly down upon her and the sight of him at the end of her bed, so grim, so patient, woke Cassie’s easy tears again. She pulled her handkerchief from under the pillow; as it came something crackled against it; Martin’s letter. “There’s something I must tell you——” She dabbed her eyes.

Ness mistook her motive; but as ever, her tears softened him completely. “You don’t need to cry, honey. It’s done. It’s over.”

“Oh, Ness—you dear! Was he—was he very——”

“I’ll say he was. What did you expect him to be?”

Tears came again. “I’ve been a beast to him. But I really thought—I really did——”

“It don’t matter now.” She became aware of something penetrating in his gaze, something hard. “Listen, Sis, you’re not—you’re not double-crossing us?”

She sat up staring. “Double-crossing? What on earth do you mean?”

“Well—is there anybody else?”

She said firmly, as it seemed to herself with conviction, “No!”

His eyes were still hard. “I thought maybe—that Armory.”

She reflected for a moment; then with a sudden inspiration pulled the crackling letter from under her pillow and threw it to him.

“Read that. And you’ll know as much as I do.”

With maddening deliberation he drew the letter from the envelope, put on his glasses—which she knew he didn’t need—and read it slowly through. His lower lip began to stick out.

“This can’t mean but one thing, Sis.”

She was able to laugh. “You thought that too. Well——”


“Well, it doesn’t mean that. . . .”

“How do you know?”

“Because it can’t. I know it can’t.”

He threw the letter on the bed. “I should just about think not. That down-and-outer! Have a heart!”

“No, Ness. Ness, don’t be hard on him. He’s had a bad time—a real bad time. The kind you and I can hardly imagine.”

“Well, he asked for it. He and his precious pal Barclay. If anyone asked for trouble they did. A pair of empty-headed, half-baked——”

Cassie pushed the letter back into its place.

“I didn’t mean that. I wasn’t thinking of that. He’s had—other things. Bad things; really bad.”

He gave her a suspicious glance. “You seem to know a mighty lot about it.”

“I do.” Pride crept into her voice. “I know all about it. . . . Oh, Ness, I wish I could tell you.”

“Reckon you’d better.”

“No. I can’t. It’s a secret—and it isn’t mine.” (“A secret’s a secret, Cassie; you either keep it or you don’t.” The Officers’ Mess at the Mount and a flame-of-the-forest tree in full bloom and that hateful afternoon.) “But it’s the queerest story. You’d never guess——”

Ness was soured. “I’m guessing nothing. I don’t want to hear any secrets.” He walked over to the window and stood there gazing into the twilight. Suddenly he said,


She said in a small voice, “Yes?”

“We’ve been pals out here, haven’t we?”

“You’ve been a dear to me, Ness. I hope I’ve been half as good to you.”

“Then tell me something. Suppose he does mean—that?”

“But he can’t.”

“But supposing he did.”

“He can’t. If you only knew how utterly absolutely he can’t——”

Ness studied the darkened garden; there’s been a hell of a lot going on behind the scenes here, he was thinking—-a hell of a lot I never heard of. Chilled, he gave a little shiver.

“Well—I’ll say no more. It makes no odds anyway. Whatever he means, he couldn’t get you.”

Her voice changed suddenly, dropping a tone.

“Couldn’t he, Ness?”

He crossed the room and stared down at her, suddenly truculent. “If he comes here——”

Instantly something broke in Cassie; she collapsed inwards upon herself; all strength went out of her. Doubting his eyes, Ness saw her face crumple into the most extraordinary look—soft, doting, yielding, desiring—an utterly incredible look for Cassie. Doubting his ears, he heard her say in a whisper,

“He’d only have to ask. He’d only have to ask.”

The moment lengthened and dimmed. Ness really and thoroughly shocked, jerked himself out of his consternation.

“Well, thank the Lord he can’t. He hasn’t a bean.”

Cassie, too, had recovered. “Of course not.” She heard herself laughing unsteadily. “And even if he had millions there’s—other things. . . . Oh Ness, get the picquet cards quick and let’s play. Or I’ll say things I shouldn’t.”

Ness went to the writing-table, his head whirling still. Cass double-crossing; and the nerve people had! Armory!

*  *  *

The late moon, already gone in its last quarter and lying rakishly on its back, looked in upon Cassie sleepless. Her head and back had begun to ache again; she thought, I shouldn’t have played that picquet with Ness—it’s tired me. Yet I had to—or Ness would have had the whole story. I said far too much as it was.

She turned crossly on her pillow and the letter crackled. She said into her pillow, “I love you, Martin. Oh, Martin, if it could only be like that. If that was what you were really coming to say to me——”

“He’d only have to ask.” Had she really said that—and in Ness’s hearing? Yes, she had—and it was true. If only he could. But—Babs—Fras; they rose before her implacable—Babs the bedizened, hard-eyed street-walker of her own imaginings; Fras the rather dear little boy she had seen. I wouldn’t mind Fras—I’d like him. But—Babs, the irremovable, green-eyed, crimson-lipped—obstacle. And even if there were no Babs, she thought, he hasn’t got a bean, as Ness said. Not one. He’d never come to me on Wanderlust’s pay; I don’t know that I’d want him to. And yet that’s silly-idiotic; could I make him see it? A vicious thought came suddenly and darkened the moon. “He’d have asked his Dorothy; he was going to.”

Dorothy! She turned again in bed and stared at the moonlit window. I’m glad she’s dead, she thought with sudden fury, I hate her. Whatever happens, I’ll always be a little jealous of Dorothy; she took things I could have got. Whatever happened I couldn’t forget that. As it is—she’s had, I haven’t. She had her twenty-four hours at where-is-it, Ichangudi. If I could have even that——

The look that had startled Ness crept into her face, intensified, froze. Lips apart, brown eyes wide and dusky, she lay staring at the night. . . . Oh, Martin, if you could only ask. . . . Oh, Martin, if only you were here. . . . Oh, God, make some miracle. . . .


The late rakish moon, dimmed by a haze that was half-dust, half-moisture, lit the vague sandhills of Ichangudi. The bungalow was locked and shuttered—there were no guests; the boatmen lay asleep in the village, their boat was moored in the lagoon, moving imperceptibly with the lap of the making tide. In that remote hour of night the place was completely still, wrapped in a drowse of heat. For once the surf was loud; triumphantly it battered on the beach, leaping and capering like something imperishably imbecile. The moon sprawled stupidly, indecently, on its back; its light was yellow and tarnished. The loud surf, implacable, eternal, was king; it danced and postured like an idiot at a funeral. Quite empty the place was, quite dead; guarding like a tomb the spirit of that brief beauty which lives and perishes in the hour when dreams come true.


“There’s something I must tell you and I must say it to yourself.” Martin, of course, had not meant the impossible thing—had scarcely known what he did mean except that he had fallen into arrears with Cassie which should be made up. Cassie stopped short with that afternoon in her own bungalow when Babs was still a cloud of sinister possibilities; she had never heard of Veterinary Joe or the divorce; still less of the Guv’nor’s letter. Martin should have written; but to write at all was to write at length and his was never a ready pen and—oh, Lord, these interminable explanations! So much easier to go and tell her; so much more profitable to look into Cassie’s dark eyes and say things without saying them. He had been thinking, when he wrote, of all these arrears—of Babs and Leipzig and the curious chance that was driving him out of India and into a new life. The more he thought of it the less, ungratefully, he wanted to go. Leaving India was hard in itself, and besides that, it meant leaving Cassie—leaving her to Barty; and that went against the grain, it splintered and tore the grain to shreds. Behind the sentence as he penned it had flickered the half-idea, “I won’t give her up. It’s different now. I mustn’t.” But the old discipline died hard.

“It’s too late,” he thought, signing his last letters for Wanderlust. “Like everything else in this blasted world, it’s come too late.”

Cottle, in his small way, failed. Cottle’s reaction to the news—too late suppressed and smothered in clumsy camouflage—had been an unmistakable flash of relief. Poor old uncle, thought Martin—he’s been wondering how to get rid of me. He listened to Cottle’s ponderous elaborations.

“Took me a bit sudden-like,” panted Cottle guiltily. “It’s a bit rapid. Give us a chance. When are y’ going?”

“As soon as ever I can. A fortnight. Three weeks. Like that.”

Cottle felt for his pipe. “An’ I’ll be left ’ere all alone, all by myself, eh?” Martin smiled at the pathetic deceit; you’ll never be an actor, Uncle Tom, he thought: and Mrs. Duckett will be sitting in this chair within six months—and her name won’t be Duckett either. He passed it off with a joke, but the episode left him unreasonably depressed. Everybody glad to see the last of him; Babs aching for her Joe, Cottle for his Duckett. Nobody for Martin Armory. “You can’t have both secrets and friends”—horrible truth. Well—Fras.

Martin shut the Egmore office on the Thursday afternoon by the simple process of locking the door and putting up a type-written card “Temporarily closed.” “Sissie the Second,” he thought, “But anyway there’s no George Niven this time.” He dined at the Central Station and thought of the awful impermanence of Indian friendships; of all the men and women he and Charlie had known in their first year in Madras, how many were in the City to-night? Not a great number. He paid his bill and wandered about the stifling vault of the station mechanically collecting engines’ names for Fras. The great black, sleek creatures stood about, hissing and fidgeting for the start of the evening mails—Petunia, King Henry, Rob Roy, Sakuntala. In that atmosphere of adventurous departure his spirits revived.

His own express pulled out slowly at last; the draught of its motion brought a new boon into the world—--moving and breathable air. Martin, feeling suddenly tired, went to bed at once; after two hours’ heavy sleep he found himself soaked through with sweat and violently awake. Sitting up, he switched on his lights. The train was loafing westwards, climbing slowly; and he thought instantly of another labouring dallying train—that day he went to Melmuri when Fras had been so ill. What a day that had been; Dorothy’s golden dragons and all. . . . Dreaming, his mind went back; again, as the night slipped by, the past slipped by in its arms.

He thought suddenly of the American at Hotnipatam and his quiet wistful eyes and his “Land of Regrets.” Land of Regrets? No, regretting was a mug’s game still. “Locust-food, oldboy.” That was a braver way to look at it. “They’ve eaten it. Let ’em.” Poor dear old Charlie. “The years that the locust hath eaten”; where did that come from? Must be the Bible; Isaiah, probably, it sounded like Isaiah. Suddenly he was back in Balcaldie Church, a little untidy boy in a kilt, his father, dominating and complacent, was eyeing him from the pulpit. “You will find my text in the something chapter of Isaiah, the something-or-other verse”; and Martin’s mother, scented, lacey, fluffy—and always with that baffling air of bitterly contemptuous amusement—was finding the place for him. Across the church he could see his Aunt Frances’ hat in the Shielin pew; his father’s voice rasped on senselessly, exhorting, fulminating—blethering. “And now unto Him who is able to keep us from falling”. . . . Locust-food.

The crushing depression of the small hours crept towards Martin, alone in the brightly-lit compartment. He saw a slim dark boy with untidy hair accepting with sour grudgery a desk in Livingstone’s, listening with half-veiled hate to Sir Archibald’s platitudes. Sir Archibald Livingstone—retired these ten years, maybe dead. “Didn’t try,” he thought, “rather a young swine those days. Well, I’ve learned—a little.” But what a mess—what a mess first and last; and all over, all Locust-food, now. “We’ve had all we’re going to get”; even Dorothy had said that—and it was true. Too late; the years vanished; the locusts got them, they didn’t come back. . . . The beasts of the small hours crept closer, licking their lips.

Like life, the train went on and on, up and down. It crested a long gradient, began to swing down the further side into another stifling basin. Martin saw great shapes, black against starlight; he looked at his watch. Yes, the slow night was passing; these must be the Muris, and up there somewhere Fras was sleeping. Fras, he thought; yes, but I can’t make the rest of my life out of Fras. I’m only thirty-three when all’s said and done; I feel just as I’ve felt for the last ten years; ten years hence it won’t be much different. With the downward rush of the train a blast of almost cold air played on his face; with the increase of speed the tempo of his mind changed. The black mood left him, the beasts of the small hours drew back snarling. He began to think of Cassie and the letter he had written her—a perfunctory, infuriating thing. “There’s something I must tell you” and so on; who could make anything of that? What was he going to say to Cassie—say to her in words and say to her without saying?

He thought, why am I sitting in this train? Because I’m going to Ooty. And why am I going to Ooty? To see Cassie. And why do I want to see Cassie? To tell her that Babs is remarrying and that I’m free, and that a miracle of a job has fallen from blue heaven and that I’m taking Fras to Leipzig three weeks to-morrow to get his ears mended and so—good-bye. I’m going to Ooty to say good-bye to Cassie when I needn’t, when I don’t want to. . . .

Am I? Am I? I’m not!

He sat back, breathless and shaken, and drew a handkerchief across his forehead. What is it, he thought; it’s like revelation! But it’s true. He stretched out a hand that trembled and poured himself a cold drink from his thermos. I’ll do it, I’ll try my luck, I’ll do it. If Barty’s got her, he’s got her; if he hasn’t, then—I—will. I will. He drank gasping.

The train swept into a flaring junction; he lay still, waiting its pleasure . . . Cassie! The brown-gold girl; always with him since their very first meeting, always necessary; essential Cassie. Soon in a few months at most—there would be no more Babs; they had found that wretched room-boy and he was ready to give his odious evidence. Soon, therefore—freedom. Soon Fras would be settled in Leipzig, going on with his music there, getting his treatment. Soon there would be a thousand a year—at least—and a job at home: it wouldn’t be living on Cassie’s money, you couldn’t call it that—not by any stretch of language. . . . I’ll do it, I’ll go for it; I will. And if it’s not too late, I’ll win. Barring Barty, I’ll win.

Suddenly the figure of Ness stood before him—solid, stolid, an American version of poor Charlie’s poised immaculate sheen—Ness, fundamentally hostile, setting his firm lips and lighting a cigarette and demanding explanations. Oh Lord, these explanations! Babs—Fras—-the whole story to go over again; the business of remembering the bits Cassie knew and Ness didn’t, the bits that were new to both of them. For a long moment that wall of explanation loomed up before him, unscalable, fatal; he could never struggle over it. Then, as the train jerked forward, he laughed. If Cassie’s with me—once Cassie’s with me—she can do half the explaining. If Cassie’s with me—once Cassie’s with me—nothing on earth will stop us.

His light went out at last; he threw himself back on the hot discomfort of his bed. Only a few hours more anyway. Over a hill that same cocked sprawling moon, yellowish and abandoned, came leering. . . . Those old forgotten, trance-like moons on the roof at Hotnipatam; spring moons and the scent of jasmine, and men singing and singing across the maidan. . . . A long time ago now—a long time ago. Land of Regrets? . . . Locust-food? . . . Thank God, I’m falling asleep at last.

Towards Ooty, towards sunrise, the train rocked leisurely on, cushioned in the soft Indian night that was never completely dark, never completely still; that was astonishingly awake with the comings and goings of odd people, with the toil of insects, with drums and dogs and the faint conversations of birds.

The End