Diana Barrington

Chapter I

“Beauty and the Beast”

“Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its fragrance on the desert air.”
— Gray

The Karrhan River, Central India, winds its stately course beside no great historical capital, no teeming sacred city, or trim, modern, military cantonment; it merely glides majestically through vast tracts of unexplored jungle, wide, sun-scorched plains, belts of magnificent forest trees, and acres of cane.

Once, amazing spectacle! it is spanned by a hideous black railway bridge, over which the train thunders daily at sundown; striking terror into the hearts of the groups of Deer, or Bison, who may be standing knee-deep in its reedy shallows. Sailing lazily along, hour after hour, you behold no more stirring sight than a lean brown ryot angling for marseer, a blue kingfisher with an eye to business, or a gaunt, supercilious heron;—unless by chance, with a slight quickening of the pulse, you recognise the mighty sign-manual of the lord of the jungle, where from yonder spit of land he slaked his thirst, after a hearty meal on some miserable young buffalo.

For fifty, aye for a hundred miles, the Karrhan sweeps on through a boundless expanse of savage scenery, desolate, splendid, and silent; and the eye, having become accustomed to such surroundings, opens in wide astonishment, when round a sharp bend of the river, standing in prominent relief upon the right-hand bank, a large, solitary Bungalow comes into sight! It is no mirage, or optical delusion, stare as you will, it is a solid fact: A rambling, weather-beaten, stone building, isolated, but by no means deserted; at the foot of some rugged steps, a boat lies moored, the garden and orange groves are in full cultivation, and outside a long range of stables, several high-caste Arabs stand picketed beneath the cork trees. The deep verandah facing the river is matted, and furnished with chairs and tables, and embellished with numerous horns and skins, not to mention the skeletons of snakes and monkeys, and the grinning skulls of tigers and alligators, that are fancifully disposed along its walls.

On a certain April evening, not many years ago, this verandah was occupied by two somewhat incongruous companions: a large panther, and a young lady. I may as well introduce myself without further preamble. Of course I am the young lady, Diana Barrington, commonly called Ranee, aged eighteen, and very much at any one’s service, who will be so good as to amuse me, or find some pleasant occupation for my idle hands to do! Jaina, the panther, has been my playmate and companion ever since she was the size of a kitten; she is as demure and decorous as any domestic puss, and is really and truly a gentle and agreeable beast! Perhaps the picture of “Beauty and the Beast” may here rise before some good-natured imaginations; but alas! I greatly fear that every one’s suffrages would be bestowed on Jaina! She is a superb specimen of her kind, young, lithe, and graceful, and her coat resembles tawny velvet, skilfully painted by some cunning hand. At the present moment she lies stretched at full length at my feet, asleep, with that complete abandon and enjoyment which is ever peculiar to the great Cat tribe. Yes, undoubtedly Jaina is a Beauty; nevertheless I do not desire to pose as the Beast. Like Jaina, I am young and slender—but otherwise, my claims to admiration are but small. My face is pale, and colourless, my features are sharp, and I certainly owe nothing to my coat—a scanty white cotton garment, with full body and wide sleeves, made in a fashion that was popular some twenty years previously; a shabby leather belt girdles my waist, and a pair of fantastic gold bangles adorn my thin, sunburnt wrists, and these form my sole ornament.

I have no doubt that my countenance wore an exceedingly cross and discontented expression, as I sat in a low cane chair, with Jaina at my feet, D’Aubigny’s “History of the Reformation” face downwards in my lap, and my eyes fixed abstractedly on the far-away plains across the river, and the distant blue horizon.

Why am I discontented? How promptly I would answer this question! I am tired to death, of my dull, unvaried life, in this old grey Bungalow, which has been my home as long as I can remember. I am weary and heartsick of this oppressive solitude; not another dwelling meets my eyes, as they roam over the river bank, and lovely but sterile landscape; not a sound breaks the silence save the jingling bells of pack bullocks, who are crossing a ford lower down the river, the “ziz, ziz, ziz” of some irritating insect, and the note of the maddening Coppersmith, or “Brain-fever” bird! For once, my mind has assumed an attitude of angry interrogation. Is all my life to be spent thus? This is my eighteenth birthday. Eighteen years have already slipped away, unmarked by one notable event; are eighteen more to drift by in the same colourless fashion? Am I never to see other places, and other faces, or that great unknown mystery called the World—the world which lies beyond those vast yellow plains and vague violet-tinted hills? I long fiercely, and rebelliously—and quite uselessly—for something more soul-satisfying than the wild, surrounding jungle, and the monotonous sullen Karrhan: perhaps not an unnatural craving on the part of a girl who had spent all her days in a lonely Bungalow in Central India, with no other companions than her taciturn father, and a tyrannical old nurse.

Hitherto I had been tolerably contented with my lot; but this drowsy, sultry afternoon, my idle thoughts have wandered into unusual channels, and I sit alone, glowering fiercely across the river, and asking myself the why and wherefore of many things—and asking in vain! Why do we live here alone, aloof from the haunts of men? Why, except Father Paul’s, do we never see another white face?—and indeed his is nearly black from exposure to the sun. I strain my eyes into the past, and can recall no companions, save those who are with me still. I recollect as landmarks my first pony, my struggle with a gaudy alphabet, the time when father broke his leg, and when Hassan killed a cobra in my bed-room; then a vista of long and weary days spent over books and figures, rides at daybreak after jackal, and stirring scenes out tiger-shooting: these memories bring me down to the present time. I know that father enjoys our isolated life, it suits his taste in every respect. He is a ripe Oriental scholar—he has actually written two works on Sanscrit—and an enthusiastic sportsman, and when not buried among books and manuscripts, he is generally plunged in the jungle. Having attempted to sketch myself, I will endeavour to do the same kind office for him. He is elderly, tall, and spare, with a stern brown face, grizzly hair and beard, and rather sad blue eyes—why they should look sad, I have never yet discovered; maybe it is only my imagination? Perhaps I call things by their wrong names, who knows? I have so little experience. Father is very clever, very energetic; imperious, and somewhat curt in his manner, but never imperious or curt to me. I often wish he were not quite so silent, for I love the sound of the human voice—my own especially! if he and Peggy are to be believed. As to father’s costume, it is as far in the wake of the fashion as mine: it consists of breeches, long untanned boots, with spurs, a linen coat bound round the waist with a gay crimson scarf, and a similar scarf, twisted into a turban, forms his invariable head-gear. Between shooting and reading, writing and smoking, father seems to fill in his days very satisfactorily, and Peggy Magee has also her distractions. Twice a year, she repairs (for the good of her soul, she says) to the Catholic Mission at Kolar, a distance of a hundred miles—accomplished in a country bullock cart—and there she remains for ten days with a fellow-countrywoman, ostensibly to “rest her bones,” thus obtaining sundry glimpses of society, and a sufficient supply of new ideas, to last her for some months; moreover, she is not without resources and entertainment at home! She rules the native servants—and that with no light sceptre—from Hassan, the lordly Mahomedan butler, down to the cheapest garden coolie, and she also attempts to rule me; but this is as futile as her efforts at proselytising our domestics; and she has moreover a potent relaxation, in the shape of a little brown tea-pot, that stands among charcoal embers all day—aye, and all night—long. Yes, between gossiping, scolding, tea-drinking, and managing her fellow-creatures, Mrs. Magee seems to get a good deal of enjoyment out of life; and this was one of the new ideas that flashed through my gloomy mind, as I languidly turned over the leaves of my book. Undoubtedly Peggy and father had their amusements, I grumbled to myself, “but what had I?

My present amusement was supposed to be getting up D’Aubigny’s odious history; for father invariably left me a very long stiff task whenever he went from home; and he was from home at present. It was well to be him! it was well to be Peggy! It was even well to be Jaina, who had no dry books to read, no mind to improve, and had never done anything but eat, and sleep, and play, since Pochell the Shikarri had brought her home in his game-bag, a starving orphan, no bigger than a rat. Yes, undoubtedly Jaina had a very happy life, and I gazed down at her enviously; as I looked, the Panther suddenly unclosed two glittering, orange orbs, and I was aware that some strange shadow had fallen across the verandah. Turning my head, I discovered an olive-skinned, white-clad Bengali, with portentous turban, inviting my notice by a series of profound salaams.

Chapter II

The Fortune-Teller

“Within that awful volume lies
The mystery of mysteries.”
The Monastery

“You need not be afraid of the panther,” I remarked in fluent Hindostani—my thoughtful assurance to all strangers—“she is perfectly tame.”

An odd, almost contemptuous, smile passed over the Bengali’s face, and, half closing his narrow, black eyes, salaamed more deeply than ever.

This smile was not lost upon me—very few things were—and, raising my voice quite half an octave, imperiously demanded, who he was, and what he wanted?

“Cherisher of the poor!” he replied, “I am an humble fortune-teller, and your highness’s slave.”

“And how can you tell fortunes?” I inquired, now looking at him with redoubled interest.

“By these!” suddenly dropping into a sitting posture, and exhibiting a large yellow book and some square brass beads, covered with strange characters and strung together on a silken string. “By these,” he reiterated, “and the stars. Missy Baba will have a great fortune. It is written on her face.”

“Missy Baba” felt sorely tempted, as she eagerly eyed the book and beads.

“Perhaps,” I said to myself, “here was one, who could solve all my perplexities, enlighten my gloomy mind, and raise the veil of the future! But,” argued another thought, “He is sure to be an impostor. Fortune-telling is a remnant of the dark ages; and what would your father say?” However, in the end, curiosity, and an intense craving for any addition to the scanty events of the day, clamorously silenced all my scruples; and with a dignified wave of my hand, I commanded him to open the yellow book, and commence to read my future, without further delay.  “Your royal highness giving money?” he inquired, with an air of insinuating deference.

“Yes, of course,” I returned impatiently. “Whatever you like.”

“The ornament of the universe, who has eyes and hands like a Queen, and sits with a live panther for her footstool, could not give her servant less than twenty rupees.”

“Very well, you shall have twenty rupees,” I answered magnificently—secretly greatly delighted with this ridiculous piece of flattery. The Bengali made a salaam to the very matting, and asked permission to examine my left hand. I held it out, a thin brown member, much hardened by the use of oar and reins, and having studied it respectfully for fully five minutes, the fortune-teller collapsed once more on the verandah, and buried himself in his yellow book. In this he remained immersed for a considerable time—all his proceedings were of a leisurely character. At last, after a period of silent contemplation, that sorely tried my patience, he requested me to “touch the brass beads, and to stand up, that he might draw my horoscope,” producing, as he spoke, a brass disc from some mysterious fold in his raiment. I rose at once as requested, and he immediately commenced to draw a circle round me, looking all the time as solemn as if the fate of a nation was trembling in the balance. At this critical moment, a door into the verandah was flung open, and a brisk little elderly woman, with a sharp, swarthy face, bright, sharp, dark eyes—in short, Peggy Magee—appeared upon the scene.

“Oh, holy Timothy and the saints protect me! and what’s all this?” she demanded in a brogue that had lost nothing of its freshness during twenty years’ exile. “What are you after now, Miss Ranee?”

“Why, having my fortune told, Peg. This man is drawing my horoscope,” was my calm rejoinder from the middle of the magic circle.

“Drawing your telescope!’ she screamed. “Drawing the senses out your mind; drawing the eyes out of me head! Tell him to be off at wance, or I’ll set the panther him.”

Peggy Magee was no linguist, and, beyond slight smattering of Marathi, had never murdered any language but her own.

In answer to this violent harangue, I merely laughed provokingly, and said: “Nonsense, Peg; he shall tell your fortune too, if you will only have patience.”

“In troth and he won’t,” she exclaimed; “nor yours ayther. Be off, out of this, with your books and beads, ye thief of the world!” to the Bengali, who merely raised his impenetrable black eyes, and looked from Peggy to me, with an air of serene neutrality.

“And I say, that he shall not go off with his book and his beads,” I retorted defiantly. “Why are you so disagreeable, Peggy, just because a little pleasure comes in my way?”

“Pleasure!” she ejaculated. “And ye call that pleasure! Well, well, well, I always knew ye had but little sense!”

“Pallia,” I interrupted, turning to a fat, much jewelled ayah, who was peeping through a doorway, with true native instinct for gravitating towards any sight, “do YOU believe in fortune tellers?”

“Some people telling, when their tongue moves, the world moves,” replied Pallia in her dreamiest voice.

“And have you ever had your fortune told?”

“Never, Missy; these fortune wallahs, taking too much money,” rejoined this cautious female.

“But do you believe in them?” I persisted. “Sometimes telling true,” she answered, unabashed by Peggy’s scowls and signs. “Ten words not true, five words true.”

“Well, five true words are better than nothing,” I remarked, as I once more seated myself, and challenged Peggy with a glance of defiance.

“Miss Diana,” she burst out—she only called me Diana when she was furiously angry—“what would your papa say?”

“I’ll tell you all about that afterwards, Peg; at present I want hear what the fortune-teller says,” raising my hand enjoin silence, for I noticed with lively satisfaction that he was last prepared impart his discoveries. Squatting shoeless on the edge the verandah, and reading from the yellow book, he slowly expounded what he was pleased call “my future life” in sonorous Hindostani, to which most thrilling narrative I listened with breathless interest; Pallia, with a wide display of white teeth, and Peggy, with a grim countenance, and her arms squared over her apron-strings, in the attitude of some neighbouring idol.

“Well! and I hope he has told you enough lies?” she demanded, as soon as he had ceased to speak.

“You shall hear every word, Peggy,” I replied in my most coaxing voice; “but do sit down, and make yourself pleasant! You know you are just dying to hear all the fine things that are going to happen to me.”

“Well then, indeed, Miss Ranee, I am not”—seating herself with a plunge, nevertheless.

“He says that I have a dancing foot, and a singing throat,” I began with some elation. “He says that I am a bird without wings!”

“Balderdash!” ejaculated Peggy ferociously.

“He says that I have no mother; that father is a learned man, and reads the Vedas, that he is a great Shikarri, and that he has been away from home—— ”

“Pah!” broke in my listener angrily, “and sure, and would not any wan of the servants tell you all that for nothing?

“Wait! wait! wait!” I said impatiently. “Don’t be in such a hurry! He says that I was born under a lucky star.”

“Then God knows ye were not,” exclaimed Peggy, with an emphasis that was as fierce as it was startling.

“He tells me that I shall soon see strange white faces.”

“The sorra a wan, save Father Paul’s! Where else would ye see a Christian in this dissolute wilderness?”

“He says that the three greatest events of my life will happen at the full of the moon.”

“Oh faix, then, ’tis himself is making rare sport of you!” she remarked derisively. “Sure the full of the moon is the grand time for mad people!”

“He says that I shall marry,” I continued doggedly.

“Oh, av coorse,” she sneered; “and if I was to give him a couple of rupees, he would promise as much for me.”

“Now, Peggy!” I cried, blazing out at last, “if you interrupt again, you shall not hear another word.”

“Oh, well, well, well! say your say, ’tis you that loves to do the talking! An’ what more?”

“A woman is to exercise great influence over my life.”

“That’s meeself, I take it,” she muttered with a sniff.

“And—and—and—” here I broke down quite suddenly.

“And what?” she demanded, “come, out with it!”

“A Rat will bring me Happiness—and an Elephant, Fortune,” I faltered rather sheepishly.

“A Rat, and an Elephant!” she shrieked, bursting into a loud contemptuous laugh. “An Elephant! No less! You’re sure it wasn’t an ass?

I shook my head indignantly, and went on: “On the whole, I am to have a happy life. I shall meet with clouds, but they will pass; my future will be sunny, and my life long!”

“The Lord send it!” said Peggy in her driest tone. “And how much are you to pay for all this?”

“Only twenty rupees,” I rejoined indifferently.

Only twenty rupees!” she repeated. “Did I ever hear the like of that? Why, I’d have promised you a king, and a palace, for quarter the price. Twenty rupees! Well, if that doesn’t bate all!”

As Mrs. Magee had thrown in her angry and scornful interruptions, and received each separate prediction with a sneer of derision, their author stood aloof, with folded arms and impassive face, and surveyed her with an air of unruffled dignity. He was ignorant of her actual words, but fully alive to their import—contempt requires no verbal interpretation. The fiery little Irishwoman could not resist the temptation of having one good fling in her own tongue, and shaking her fist close under his chiselled nose, she screamed:

“You’re an imposther! And I don’t believe wan word of your lies, ye slutherin vagabond; not if you were to go down on your knees, and swear to them on the Bible; so there’s for ye!”

“The owl is a small bird, but it has a loud screech,” observed the Bengali, with aggravating composure.

“What’s that he is after saying, Miss Ranee?” she demanded furiously.

“Oh, never mind! nothing particular—only something about birds,” I replied with extraordinary prudence. “Pay him, and let him go.”

“And I suppose, I bid give the money, since you passed your word?” glaring at him as she spoke.

“Of course, Peggy.”

“Well, it’s a terrible sum, for the purest tomfoolery!”

“May be so, Peg; but you must remember how seldom I have a chance of spending any money; and if what he says comes true; and I get fortune, and friends, and wonderful good luck; all for the paltry sum of twenty rupees, I am sure no one will deny that I have made an excellent bargain.”

So saying, I stooped and picked up D’Aubigny’s masterpiece, and sauntering down the verandah accompanied by Jaina, passed out of sight.

Chapter III

Eighteen Years

“The story of my life from year to year.”

If there be any truth in the old adage, I ought to have been one of the healthiest and wisest of my sex! From my tenderest age, I had been afoot soon after dawn, and had retired to rest not much later than the birds. In my childhood, the intervening hours of the long, long, Indian days were filled in by a ride on my pony, lessons, play, a walk with Peggy—supper, and bed. As years rolled on, my pony was exchanged for a horse, pot-hooks and hangers for Latin and algebra, and my doll was superseded by the chess-board—having received tearful and honourable burial in a cigar box in the garden. My education was decidedly of a masculine character. Father taught me to construe Virgil, and triumphantly assisted me over the pons asinorum. I wrote a fine bold hand, had a decided taste for mathematics—but not the smallest idea of the value of money—and was fairly well grounded in English literature. Morally, I had been trained to speak the truth, to abhor all manner of deceit, treachery, and cruelty, and, indeed, had more than once given a practical illustration of the benefit of my education, by administering justice from the side-saddle, and personally chastising men who were ill-using children, and children who were maltreating animals! With regard to my accomplishments I cannot say much for myself! I can play chess, I can sew and darn, I can whistle, and I am a respectable shot, and an experienced horse-woman; that is to say, I have been accustomed from childhood to gallop over rough ground, to clear nullahs, and swim rivers; more than this—and I tell it with some diffidence—I can ride sideways at full gallop on father’s saddle—a performance highly obnoxious to Peggy, and stigmatised as “tricks and capers;” indeed, I am as much at home on horseback as a duck is in its own particular pond. I have, I believe, a warm heart and temper, an unbounded fund of intelligent curiosity, and unlimited capacities for getting up the steam, about the most trivial event, at the shortest possible notice! I have also an enormous, if uncultivated, organ of wonder—which organ was no doubt subsequently a very great trial and bore to my acquaintances. But to sum up my accomplishments, such as they are: I can ride and shoot, pull a strong oar, and play a fairly good game of chess; besides this, I am learned in the lore the jungle. I know the names of the various grain crops, and can tell at a glance where the Gram merges into acres of Cholum, and Cholum gives place to Kodo—that mean, but useful product of the poorest land. The jungle trees, too, are all, as it were, my friends. like the noble Banyan, the holy Peepul, the delicate Tamarind, the Teak with its enormous leaves, the Ebony tree, the Shisham, and even the beautiful, wicked Mowha—whose flowers distil Daroo, that maddening native liquor. I am intimately acquainted with all the birds, from the hideous kite to the delicate flycatcher; and down in the sands of river-beds, where the clear, bright water trickles temptingly among dark blue rocks, and where there are shady nooks and inviting pools, I can read in a second who have been slaking their thirst—from the pug of the tiger to the paw of the jackal—the sambur, bear, cheetah, pig, panther, hyena: I know them all, as well as I know my alphabet!

So much for my accomplishments. But on the other hand, I have never seen a piano, never seen a picture, never written a letter, never heard of crewel work, crazy work, the game of lawn tennis, or the latest fashions. Alas! that I must confess the truth, I am nothing but an ignorant, uncivilised, uncouth, little jungle girl. A jungle girl, indeed! Every well-beaten pathway for miles around is familiar to me. I know the Malgoozar, (or head-man) of every village, and many of the inhabitants of the knots of hovels scattered over the land. Perhaps “hovel” is too harsh a name for those snug and sunny mud abodes, with their thatched roofs covered with melons, their small patch of garden bright with marigolds, their gaudy scarlet doorways; outside of which, the lank red cat, the pariah puppy, and buffalo calf, lie snoozing intimately in the noonday. Humble and poor as are these homes, they look clean, and bright, and cheerful. What though the mistress of the house labours daily as coolie, for the Biblical price of a sparrow; and carries grain, earth, wood, or water on her head, with high-kilted saree and inimitable grace; and the master spends his time in sitting aloft in a murga, i.e., a large rude basket, raised on sticks, in a gram or jawarri field, clapping with his wooden clapper, and making the welkin ring with hideous shouts—in short, acting as scarecrow to the flocks of green parrots, who, perched in trees around, make bold raids upon the precious crops; so do the solemn-faced, insolent monkeys; so do the sambur; so do the spotted deer. Still, when the stone-carrying and parrot-scaring are over for the day, many merry, talkative parties may be met, returning joyously to bake the immortal chupattie and to feast. Truly primitive are we in the jungle! Our only clock is the sun; and here may be seen two women grinding at the mill, women drawing water from a well, similar to the one frequented by Rebecca, and in these regions the ox (unmuzzled) still treadeth out the corn!

Within the last six months I had become the possessor of a superb Arab, once destined for the Indian turf, but who, instead of leading a brilliant career at Bombay, Poona, or Hyderabad, had, thanks to father’s tempting cheque, been consigned to the unappreciative jungle to carry me. “Cassim’s” coat was like driven snow, without a speck of colour; he was not a washed-out, or flea-bitten gray, as are many of his kindred, but a dazzlingly white horse, whose small head and long silky mane testified to his high descent from the stables of the caliphs; and as I invariably wore a white habit, we were rather a conspicuous couple, and easily identified at a long distance. Each morning at sunrise, we set out to scour the neighbouring plains; so early were we, that we frequently met a hyena skulking to his lair, a belated jackal shuffling along to his shelter in the nullah, and the hungry crane flapping to his breakfast in the shallows. Lightly he cantered over perilous foot tracks between flooded paddy fields; over cracked and sandy ground; under the walls of red-roofed villages of immemorial antiquity, whose inhabitants were as yet barely astir. But my favourite ride was to take a straight line across country, and strike into the great trunk road, that passed ten miles from Paldi—a road that was the direct highway into the world I was so anxious to see. It was lined with huge Tamarind and Peepul trees, and looked like a long green ribbon, as it wound over the vast flats of waving crops or bare yellow plains, right into the town of Jubbulpore itself. Following this interesting route, I saw something of life on a small scale. I beheld hundreds of lumbering carts, laden with cotton and grain; tribes of chattering coolies; travellers riding small dejected-looking ponies, with gay bead necklaces and pitiably gaunt ribs; family parties on foot, the man carrying some light article—such as the baby—the woman heavily laden with the household goods and chattels; now a roaming musician, with a wind and water instrument, capable of terrible unearthly sounds; now a foul and frightful fakir; occasionally a wedding cortège would pass by, the little bridegroom borne aloft under a red satin canopy, generally in floods of tears—poor victim! he would rather be at home, in his own mud walled courtyard, making “saumi” houses, or playing with the puppy, than being carried round the country like a little god!

For three or four miles, I would accompany this tide that was setting from the jungle to the town, longing, but not daring, to go further than a certain bridge; and here I would reluctantly turn Cassim’s head towards the sun, and gallop home to my bath and breakfast—and an inevitable scolding from Peggy. After breakfast I read, I worked, I copied out manuscript for father; in the afternoon I did my best to kill time, until he and I started for our ride or walk—this was the best part of the twenty-four hours in my opinion, especially when father was not in one of his silent moods; hand in hand we would ride together in the soft evening light and, he would tell me stories, bons mots, and anecdotes; or better still, repeat whole cantos of “Marmion,” “Childe Harold,” “The Lady of the Lake.” He had a delightful voice, and a wonderful memory, and I taxed both remorselessly. I had favourite bits, that I encored again and again: Lord Byron’s “Dream,” “Locksley Hall,” and scenes from “The Merchant of Venice,” “Othello,” and “Hamlet.” I know that I was insatiable and pitiless in my demands; but when it is borne in mind that among our considerable library, we did not boast of one novel, or one volume of poetry (save Watts’ Hymns), my eager cry of “Please go on, oh, do not stop yet. More, more!” may perhaps be excused. We generally returned from our ride, or sail, just in time for dinner. After dinner, we played chess, and went to bed at an hour when many people were just sitting down to the principal function of the day. Such was my life, week after week, month after month; and the breaking of the monsoon, and the setting in of the hot weather, were the only great events that marked the years as they rolled slowly by! Most places, however humble, have some history, and our big stone Bungalow on the banks of the Karrhan was no exception to the rule. Tradition declared, that it had been built by “John Company” for one of their collectors from the ruins of an old Mahratta fort, and that numerous other bungalows were once neighbours; moreover it was said, that the village of Burga—a mile down the river—had been formerly quite a flourishing and important town, and had actually boasted a market-place, a kotwal, a Dâk Bungalow, and a Catholic chapel! But time and trade had wrought changes; the collector had been removed to a more central district; Tappals, with heavy letter bags, ceased to come jingling by; and pale, nankeen-clad clerks disappeared from the roads, which fell into mere bullock-tracks, the Bungalows (save one) into ruins, and the village of Burga, straightway back into heathendom, and the worship of Ram and Seeva! These legends had foundations in every sense. Our dwelling had undoubtedly been the abode of some “Burra Sahib;” the heavy old black wood furniture, the massive carvings about doors, and cornices, and punkah frames, the long range of stables, immense compound of many acres, and imposing avenue of gigantic Peepul trees, pointed to the residence of a more important functionary than mere clerk! A tangle of brick and stone ruins, the remains of an old gateway, and the outline of a once imposing courtyard about a quarter mile away, indicated the site of the fort; on the road to Burga, a few crazy gate piers, some ancient orange groves, and shapeless mounds of earth, testified to the site of the other Bungalows; and almost hidden in a mango tope, with a bar across the entrance, to keep out cattle and wild beasts, stood the little deserted chapel.

And Burga, also bore witness out of the mouth of its most venerable patriarch! He remembered when the chapel was crowded with worshippers, and he himself had knelt beside his mother, with her cloth over her head, whilst a white man in a black gown had preached to them in their native tongue; but this was long ago—oh, eighty years ago! Whatever Burga may have been in palmy days, it was now nothing more than an ordinary mud village, clustering round a dilapidated fort, and fortified against marauding beasts by formidable hedge of cactus. It was thickly populated by men, women, and children; droves of brown goats, black sheep, sacred pampered white cows, broken-hearted ponies, and ghostly pariah dogs. Many an evening, when father was from home, have I ridden to the top of a hill overlooking Burga—a hill conspicuous by its shrine and hideous scarlet idol—and there like a mounted sentry, or a white equestrian statue, would remain for fully half-an-hour, as immovable as Cassim would permit. From my post of observation I eagerly watched the crowds who swarmed and buzzed in the narrow alleys below me; crowds who were gossiping, bargaining, backbiting, and flirting, much as they did in civilised capitals—had I but known it! The various phases of life were similar to those elsewhere, in spite of the difference of climate, caste, and complexion. For instance, outside a low doorway, five old women are squatted, with their grey heads close together, their lean brown hands gesticulating, tearing to tatters the reputation of some absent friend, or discussing with ravenous appetite the latest village scandal. Prominent at yonder corner stands a bold-eyed beauty, with heavy gold ornaments on her arms, and a brass lotah poised jauntily on her hip—she is engaged in agreeable dalliance with a stalwart grain-dealer—a fact that has been noted by her mother in-law, and our beauty will hear more about it by-and-by, when her husband returns from the plough. Behold that fat money-lender, who plays “spider” to those heedless flies, passing on his pony, and acknowledging the respectful salaams of his clients. See those youths gambling for a few annas, with agonised intentness; and, finally, note yonder urchin in a gaudy cap, and with an armful of sweets, followed by an obsequious retinue of affectionate young friends, and say if these have not their prototypes elsewhere?

As I gazed down upon the little world beneath me, my heart was no stranger to the pangs of envy! I would gladly have changed places with one of the crowd—just for an hour; especially with a certain pretty girl, in an orange saree (a native cloth), who was always surrounded by a little court of admirers, as she leant against the public well, not drawing water for the evening meal—her ostensible errand—but bantering a circle of ecstatic listeners!

“How did it feel to mix with other people? with other girls? to laugh and talk, and be a popular favourite? But what was the use of wondering and wishing?” I would ask myself dolefully—I would never know; and with this melancholy conviction uppermost in my mind, I would turn Cassim’s head down the hill, and ride slowly and sorrowfully, towards home and my solitary evening meal. It may seem inexplicable—worse still, positively disgraceful—that an educated girl, of English parentage, could find attractions, in such a place as Burga, and envy the lot of a heathen beauty in an orange saree! But then, it must be charitably borne in mind, that that remote, miserable, mud village, with primitive inhabitants, paltry little grain shops, and prowling pariah dogs, was the nearest approach to town, or society, that I had ever seen!

Chapter IV

Fine Feathers

“Yesterday for you, to-day for me.” — Sancho Panza

A whole month! thirty long days! had elapsed since the fortune-teller had made a diversion in my monotonous life, and so far not one single item of his predictions had been fulfilled—a fact that Peggy Magee did not permit me to forget. Father was still absent, for, as every sportsman is aware, the hot weather is the meridian of the Shikar season, when jungles are leafless, and rivers are low; and as the hot weather was still in full blast, I was still alone, and growing hourly more discontented with my lot. The intense heat, the lack of companionship, and a naturally restless and enterprising disposition, made me “a blister and a heart-scald, to all who had to do with me,” according to Peggy Magee. One thing was very certain; it would not be her fault, if I ever developed into a young woman with an exalted opinion of myself. One breathless, blazing afternoon I sat alone in the darkened drawing-room, gazing out on the fiery glare before me—the ground burnt to a brick colour, the atmosphere quivering with a yellow haze of heat—at the drooping trees with withered leaves and shrivelled seed-pods, the thirsty dusty plants, and still more thirsty birds—crows, sparrows and minars—who were sheltering in the verandah, with their miserable beaks agape.

Such was the prospect out of doors, and for fully two hours longer the sun was master of the situation; I dared not face him till he was well down upon his way into the red west. Indoors, my resources were at a very low ebb: it was far too hot to sew, I had no light fancy-work, no drawing materials, no piano, no novels, no letters to write—absolutely nothing to do, except to grapple with the “History of the Reformation,” and to get up my task, like a good little girl! But I was not at all in an industrious frame of mind, my brain was in a torpid condition, and all my spare energies were devoted to parrying and slaying the clouds of ferocious mosquitoes, who were literally thirsting for my blood! There I sat, like one in a trance, dimly conscious of the roar of the hot wind outside, and making occasional languid passes at my insect foes. Suddenly the old clock behind me underwent some violent internal convulsion, and clanged out “one, two, three, four,” and I rose, stretched myself, yawned extravagantly, and resolved to restore animation, by a good long talk—or quite possibly an animated argument—with Peggy. Having this laudable object in view, I passed into the dining room and sought her in her own particular sanctum; the sanctum was vacant, an empty cup, the little hard-worked tea-pot, and her beads, were on the table; for what mysterious rite, or heavy task had Peggy Magee thus recently fortified herself? She was not to be found on her usual battle-field, the back verandah; nor yet in the lamp room, or Maty’s pantry. At last I discovered her, in a distant apartment, known as “the office,” and chiefly used for the storage of grain, oil, newspapers, and father’s old boots.  It was a part of the house that I rarely entered; but now, seeing the door ajar, I pushed it back, and to my great astonishment beheld Peggy, her dress carefully turned up, a handkerchief pinned over her cap, kneeling in front of a large open bullock trunk! Spread around her on sheets on the floor were—could I believe my eyes?—many articles of gorgeous apparel. I saw a pink satin garment, a magnificent vision, of gold embroidery, an “arrangement” in blue and silver, that shamed the evening sky; also flowers, fans, feathers, slippers, in short I beheld “Dress” for the first time in my life, and, with the bound of an antelope, I was in the midst of these treasures,

“I declare to goodness, Miss Ranee! I wish you would not be giving me these turns,” cried Peggy, irritably. “Prancing in like a wild goat! What ails ye? What do ye want now?” spreading out her arms over the box—as if she feared a raid on its contents, then, and there.

“I only want to hear the sound of my own voice,” I replied, dropping on my knees beside her as I spoke.

“Augh! There’s no fear of your not hearing plenty of that—’tis the music ye like best in the world. But run away now, like a good child, and amuse yourself.”

I need scarcely remark that I had not the smallest intention of complying with this polite request. Firstly, because I was tired of my own company. Secondly, because I saw the means of ample amusement before me. Thirdly, because I am certain that Peggy has some private and mysterious reason for wishing to be rid of me—and this latter conviction is alone sufficient to nail me to the spot.

“Do you hear me, honey?” reiterated my companion peevishly. “I don’t want ye.”

“Nonsense, Peg,” I retorted. “You know you always want me, so don’t say what you don’t mean.”

“Well, any way, I can spare you now, darlin’. I have a few small things to redd up. Can’t ye go out? Ye have not been beyond the place this three days; the house will grow on you, and there’s your white horse just leppin’ out of his skin!

“Let him lepp,” I rejoined contemptuously. “It’s too hot ride, this broiling day.”

“Well,” persisted Peggy, hastily concealing the glories of various things from my eager eyes, “ye might take the panther for a walk, or go and play with the two little bears, like a good girl.”

“The bears indeed!” I echoed indignantly. “Horrid little wretches! They are learning the use of their claws; and just look at my arms, with scratches. Now that they can take care of themselves, I’ll have them turned loose to get their own living.”

“Is it the bears!—to sport and poach over the whole place? I’d sooner drown them with my own two hands. Well, dearie, and what are you waiting for?”

“Why, to help you to unpack, of course,” was my ready reply, as I plunged both arms elbow deep into the trunk in front of me. “Oh, I never, never saw such lovely things,” not doubting that this delightful box had been despatched to me by father as “a surprise,” similar to my new habit and saddle last Christmas. “Just look at this,” I continued, dragging out a gorgeous crimson and gold opera cloak, and throwing it over my shoulders; “and this,” snatching up a large red feather fan. Thus equipped, I commenced to pace the room in what I flattered myself was the true fine-lady fashion, smiling and fanning myself, and nodding coquettishly at Peggy, who still remained kneeling on the floor, her hands on her hips, her mouth wide open—but speechless.

“Well, how do I look?” I inquired conceitedly. “Do these fine feathers become me?”

But Peggy still continued to stare at me with a kind of basilisk gaze. Then she suddenly buried her face in her apron, and exclaimed in a strange, choked voice: “Oh, for God’s sake, don’t, Miss Ranee! You are just her living image.”

As I paused, and confronted her in blank dismay, she removed her apron from her eyes and said, with passionate vehemence:

“Take them off, core of me heart! Take them off!”

“Why, what do you mean?” I stammered out, rather frightened at her strange manner and the storm I had unwittingly raised. “Are these things not for me? When did they come here?”

“They came when we came; in or about seventeen year ago. Will that please you?”

“Then, then,” speaking with an effort, “they are not new, they must have been my mother’s,” bringing out that unfamiliar name, with some hesitation.

“Yes,” replied Peggy, “and many a time I put that same cloak over her shoulders, and elegantly it became her.”

I felt that to wear it thus, gaily masquerading about the room, was nothing less than sacrilege; and, slowly removing it, I folded it up with much care. I stood for some seconds in silence; then, acting under sudden impulse, flung myself on my knees beside Peggy, and, throwing my arm round her neck, said:

“Peggy Magee! tell me a great deal about my mother!”

“And what I can tell ye, but what ye know already?” said Peggy, struggling to release herself. “Sure isn’t she dead this seventeen year, and what good will it do you, darlin’, or her ayther, going back over that? Ye don’t remember her, av coorse?”

“Not the least. How old was I when I lost her?”

“Ye were in or about a twelvemonth old.”

“And she was quite young?”

“Barely wan and twenty.”

“Not very much older than I am myself,” I remarked thoughtfully. “What was she like?”

“Oh, just beautiful!”

“Then, Peggy,” I said, bending eagerly towards her, and looking her searchingly, “since you say that I am like her—tell me the truth—it can do no harm, here in the jungle—am I beautiful?”

“Oh faix,” greatly nonplussed, and hastily wiping her face. “There does be likenesses. There’s many a time a terrible resemblance between two people, and wan handsome, and the other is not! Now there was me, and me cousin Kate—for I never had no sister but meeself—and she was as fine girl as you would see, with curly hair, and clear skin, and we were often mislaid for one another, though I was as black as a crow. It’s the same with you.”

“Only I am not as black as a crow,” I retorted sharply. “And that is no answer to my question, Peggy Magee,” bringing my face close to hers as I spoke. “Am I pretty? If you do not tell me the truth, I shall complain to Father Paul, and he will make you do penance.”

“As if the holy man would mind you, and your looks!” she answered, giving me an indignant push. “A pretty face is the devil’s trap. And you are just as the Lord made you! as I’ve told you a hundred and wan times.”

“Yes, so you have,” I acquiesced with a sigh; “and I don’t suppose my looks matter one single straw. But, dear, nice, handsome Peggy, I won’t ask you any more questions about myself, if you will only tell me about my mother; father never speaks of her. Was he very fond of her?”

“He just worshipped the sole of her shoe,”replied Peggy, illustrating the remark with a dainty little slipper.

“And when she died so young and pretty, he must have been in great grief. Was he not?”

“He was just like a madman, no more and no less!”

“Poor father! No wonder he is grave and silent.”

“No wonder at all, me darlin’.”

“Why have I never seen these things before?”

“Because they were put away designedly on purpose, behind the flour chest; and more betoken ye have no call to see them now. The master would be just raging if he knew! He would think these things were putting notions of dress and finery into your head. I am just raking through them, to see if there’s anything tame enough to cut up for you, for you are getting past them white cottons, and as grown up as you’ll ever be!”

“As grown up as you are, Peg.”

“An’ don’t talk of me, my heart; sure, an old woman only grows down, like a cow’s tail.”

“Peggy,” I inquired, after a long and reflective silence. “Do you think we shall ever leave this?”

“My darling child!” she rejoined; “and don’t I pray for it night and morning, on me bended knees. And haven’t I given pounds, and pounds, of candles over it to the chapel at Kolar? I’d die off at wance, if I thought I’d never see Howth Hill again, or get the taste of a Bay herring, foreby laying me four bones in holy Glasnevin. I’ve often had it in me mind to ax the masther, but when it came to the pinch, the heart failed me; he is a stern man, and has quare notions.”

“Notions about what?” I asked eagerly.

“Well, about you, for wan. Look at your edecation, Latin and figures, and books full of close print, like a boy; and riding and shooting, as bold as any young man.”

“Yes; and any more notions?”

“And plenty,” rejoined Peggy, with much emphasis. “He thinks to bring you up above the world, like a spring of water on the top of a mountain, with nothing but the stars between you and heaven; but, as I says to Father Paul, you can’t go against Providence; and if a girl’s to be married, she’ll be married, even if she was locked in a box, at the bottom of a lake, like St. Patrick’s Sarpent!”

“Yes; but I don’t want to be married,” I exclaimed impatiently; “I only wish to see other places, and people that I have read about. I want to see the World.”

“There ye go, with the old cry,” said Peggy, angrily. “The world is an awful, bad place; as I’ve often told you. Ye are best where you are.”

“That’s all very fine for you to say, Peggy,” I rejoined peevishly. “You have had your day, now I want to have mine.”

“And sure, and aren’t you having a beautiful one?” she demanded, in her shrillest key; “not a care, or a want on earth! A splendid house, a grand garden, horses to ride, servants to wait on ye, your father just wrapped up in you, and me, that would give me heart’s blood for you. What more do ye want?”

Certainly, from this point of view, it seemed impossible—and not merely impossible, but abominably ungrateful—to wish for any change; and I was silent; but it was not in my nature to be mute for long, and presently I exclaimed:

“Peggy, I often wonder why you stay here?”

“There’s more nor you does that, Honey. Mary Flannigan, at the ‘Mission,’ is fairly lost over it.”

“You have no change, except to Kolar,” I continued; “and one hundred miles in a bullock cart can’t be pleasure.”

“In truth, an’ it is not,” she replied emphatically. “Them journeys, and joltings, has aged me wonderfully; but, you see, I go for my duties, and the sake of my soul; it’s not pleasure I am looking for, at my time of life.”

“But surely you had some, when you were young?”

“Well, maybe I had—I’ll tell no lie about it, for a lie is sinful. I believe I had fine times, when I was in a good place in Baggot Street, and Jim Magee was courting me! Jim was as smart a boy as ever wore a red coat on his back, and cap on his ear.”

“And how did he court you?” I inquired, with redoubled interest.

“Oh, well; when I’d be sent to the pillar with a letter, he was frequently convanient to the corner, and we had a word, and a joke—and there was me Sunday out! However, I made a bad hand of meself when I married a lance-corporal—and me people were black against it; when I followed Jim over the says to this heathen country. Oh wirra, wirra! and little I guessed the road I was going!”

“But why do you stay, Peg?”

“Well, dearie, first it was the gratitude got hold of me. I had terrible times, when Jimmy went on the drink, and lost his stripe; and only for the Captain’s lady, I’d have been wanting bread, or a tack of clothes. Jimmy was awful, when he had the cross drop, and he would never allow he was drunk; he always swore ’twas a wakeness of the legs came over him. Signs on it, there was no wakeness in his arm! Ah well, I’ve no call going back over that. Jimmy died, and then me baby was took; and your father, a civil doctor, in elegant practice, fetched me home—”

“For what?”

“Why, nurse for you, and what else? You were only four days old. And gave me me black, and a headstone for Jimmy, and every thing the first quality; and I stayed where I was well off, instead of going home to be jeered at for marrying a soldier. The people always said I’d come to want and the wash-tub, and sooner than let them crow over me I vowed to meself I’d die out here. Oh, I’m proud, though maybe you never guessed it, Miss Ranee.”

“Well, Peggy, go on,” I urged.

“It was at Agra we were those days, a town with a real Irish name, and fine gardens, and beautiful chapel to some heathen queen. Och them was the gay times for races and balls! Your mother loved a ball, and was just like a feather on the floor. And I had hapes of offers; but once, as I said to them all, was more than enough for Peggy Magee. Well then, when trouble came, your father broke up house and moved here, and I came, too; first, for the grand pay and lucre, that was making a lady of me; and then you grew on me, ye poor little motherless crature; and I stopped from months to years, for I felt that it would be dragging the heart out of me, to lave you.” Here Peggy drew her hand hastily across her eyes; but, before I had time to speak, she was herself again, and, briskly shaking out a pink satin skirt, exclaimed: “See that now?”

“What is it, Peg?” I asked impressively.

“Why, a ball-dress,” she replied; “an’ what else?”

“How lovely!” I ejaculated. “But, Peggy, where is the body? What! that little narrow thing, without neck or sleeves? Do people really—”

“And to be sure they do,” she interrupted. “Why, no one, not even the rale old wans, goes to a ball in a high gown.”

“Well, I never knew that before,” I answered meekly. “At any rate, it must be delightfully cool! It is certainly a beautiful dress,” surveying it with grave admiration. Hitherto, Peggy’s veteran black silk had been my “ne plus ultra” of splendour. What though it lagged twenty years behind the fashion, since I had never heard of that rigid institution.

“Here’s a white satin,” continued Peggy, “the fellow of it, only it’s as yallow now as a duck’s foot; and here’s a rale grand thing,” unfolding, as she spoke, a red and blue bundle, with much jingling of bells. “’Twas in this she went to the Governor’s ball,” shaking it vigorously, till every little clapper tinkled.

“And what is it?” I cried, seizing on it eagerly. “Why!” holding it at my waist, “just look! it would only come a little below my knees! Peggy Magee, how dare you tell me that my mother ever wore this! Just look for yourself, and see how short is,” I demanded, indignantly.

“Oh, short enough!” admitted Peggy with rather nervous cough. “But you are tall, very tall. She went as Folly, there’s the cap and bells.”

“Folly, what does it mean?”

“Folly just means a gay young female fool; and faix there does be many, needs no charge of dress, nor bells, nor caps, to call themselves that,” she returned emphatically; hurriedly rolling up the costume as she spoke.

“What pretty little red shoes!” I exclaimed, picking up a pair. “I wonder if they would fit me?”

Peggy took no notice, but went on folding up, and putting by, one thing after another; nothing tame, nothing capable of “cutting up” for me, had been forthcoming. I sat down on a box, and tried on the slippers. They fitted me exactly; never had I seen my feet look to such advantage.

“May I keep them, Peg?” I asked in my most wheedling voice, “not to wear, never to wear; but just because they were my mother’s. It’s very hard if I may not have something of hers, even this little old pair of shoes!”

For an answer Peggy reached over, stripped them one after the other off my reluctant feet, threw them in on the top of the box, closed it, locked it, and finally sat down on the lid, completely exhausted with her labours.

“That’s too bad of you!” I remonstrated, nearly crying. “Why may I not have the little shoes!”

“I dare not give them, nor lay a finger on one of these things. Your father is very jealous of them, and no one is to touch them, or look at them.”

“And yet you were going take a whole dress out for me?” I retorted with angry sarcasm.

“Something he would never miss—he’d know them slippers; she had foot like—” then she stopped abruptly and said, “Who’s that bothering at the door?”

“Oh, the letters; no, the letters is newspapers.”

“Yes,” I answered, running to take them; “two for John Barrington, and one for Mrs. Margaret Magee.”

“And no line from the masther! well, that’s strange; there’s only himself makes me anxious! What good is them two native Shikarris, that would let a gun run through their hands like melted butter, if they saw a tiger, and them tigers is desperate peevish brutes by all accounts. I am always in dread for fear one of them would give him a clip of its paw, and stretch him, ay, and maybe ate him too!”

“Nonsense, Peg. Father is much too good a shot and too experienced ever to run any risks. Who is your paper from?”

“Mee brother the car-driver! I know his fine black writing. He is not like me; I never could round on the letters, and the pen always gets the upper hand of me.”

“But you can’t read, Peggy!”

“Only small words, darlin’. You see it takes a person to know grammar, and I never had no grammar.”

I stared blankly at Peggy, vainly trying to make some sense of this extraordinary speech, and she continued:

“I’ll get you to read me a spell by-and-by. I’m fond of an air of the paper.”

“Yes,” I answered, “but you know father only allows me to read the debates.”

“Oh, the speeches! them’s too dry entirely, and you are old enough now for robberies, and railway accidents, and all that! After dinner, when the house is quiet, I’ll get you to read me a good murder!”

“Peggy!” I ejaculated. “How can you be so blood-thirsty?”

“Is it me blood-thirsty! she echoed in her shrillest key, “me, that could never kill a chicken! But murders is good reading, being a warning and example with regard to the hangings. Now mind, dearie, you never let on the master about this box; if he knew you were meddling with it, we would just have to tie the roof on the house! Come away now; I am going draw myself a cup of tea!”

Meanwhile, as I rose, I caught sight of an article Peggy had overlooked, a small green morocco book lying the floor. I pounced on it at once.

“Look here; see what you have forgotten,” I cried, opening it as I spoke, and reading aloud “‘Poems by Thomas Moore. Marion Saunders—1865.’ Now, Peg–dear Peg,” throwing my arms round her neck as I spoke, “surely I may keep this, where can be the harm? Do—do let me have it!”

Peggy never could withstand my caresses, and between them and a strong disinclination to open the box, she gave in, but with anything but a good grace.

“Well, since you are so set, I suppose you must have it. Show!” turning over the leaves rather suspiciously. “It’s empty—well—take it; but if ever your father lays eyes on it he’ll just put me outside the door; mind that.”

“Very well; I promise that he shall never see it,” I returned, most fervently. “Peg, you are an old duck!” And with a glow of satisfaction at having carried my point, and at the same time a guilty sense of possessing my first secret, I took myself off, along with my new treasure, in order that I might examine it at leisure in the privacy of my own chamber.

Chapter V

Rebellion

“The same sick gaze on the same lack
Of lustre in the level gray.
It seems but yesterday come back
With nothing new—and not to-day.” — Owen Meredith

Once alone, I inspected my prize far more thoroughly, than I had done under Peggy’s little sharp dark eyes. I hoped that I might discover some scrap of my mother’s writing, some pencilled note, that would bring me nearer to her, and bridge the great chasm of years and unreality that lay between us. In my secret heart I worshipped the memory of my young mother, whom I had never seen. Oh that I could recall her face, however dimly! But alas, the past, so far as it concerned her, was a blank! Reverently, as if it were some sacred relic, I turned over the leaves of the volume in my hand, and between two of them—stuck in as a kind of marker—was a little white and gold card, which puzzled me sorely for a long time. I made out at last that it was a list of names at a ball; people’s names were scribbled opposite the dances—there were twenty in all. My mother had danced every one! No wonder Peggy had said she was fond of balls. I pored over this little programme for a long time, studying every letter, every line, every pencil mark. The date of the dance was nearly seventeen years previously, when I was quite a baby. I wondered if I had been brought to look at her in all her finery. I wondered, if she had come and kissed me in my cot before she started. Then I went over to the looking-glass, and stared at myself intently as I repeated Peggy’s speech of that after noon, “Her very image!” Only of course her face was not as thin and white as mine, for mine was almost colourless, owing to my having spent my life on the plains.

Certainly the reflection before me had but slender claims to beauty—a small, sharp, white face—and oh, such large, eager-looking, hazel eyes. I declare as I looked into my own eyes, they quite frightened me, they had such an earnest, searching gaze, as if they knew nothing, and wanted to know everything. Their expression was so grave and so piercing, that I could hardly believe they belonged to me. It seemed as if some imprisoned spirit was gazing out of them—the weird and crazy fancy of a foolish girl, brought up in the wilderness! My brows were dark and straight; my hair—my sole beauty—immensely long and thick, came to my knees; even Peggy was proud of it, and I myself loved to pull it all down and let it envelop me like a pale yellow mantle. As I was thus engaged in minutely examining my features, I heard Peggy singing in the passage; her singing was rather monotonous, for she sang continually, and never varied her song:

“It’s a sorrowful ditty
 I’ll sing to you now;
It’s about an old man
 Who had but one cow.”

“He—And it’s there you are, figuring before the glass,” she cried, pausing in the doorway, “Did I ever see such concate! Such wicked concate! So much for letting you get the taste of dress and finery! I knew how it would be.”

“It’s not ‘concate,’ as you call it,” I retorted indignantly; “and it’s nonsense to fancy that looking at a pink satin dress would make me what you call wicked, all at once.”

“Then what are you up to?” she asked imperiously.

I hesitated, and then replied:

“I wanted, by looking at my own face, to try and imagine what my mother was like.”

“Was like! Oh, then heaven send you sense! One would think you were short of a day in the week. There, have done with such folly, and whip on your habit. Your horse is tearing about outside, and Laloo is hard set to hold him to the ground.”

Thus hustled by Peggy, I hurried into my habit, and was soon in the saddle, and taking my usual solitary gallop across the plains, over tracts of delightful wilderness, which no plough had ever touched.

*  *  *

A few days after this eventful afternoon, father returned in an unusually cheerful humour, and laden with spoils of the chase. His bag consisted of four tigers, a leopard, two bison, sambur, cheetul, and black buck; and other small fry too numerous to mention. What a bustle there was! Coolies, and Shikarris, and country carts were very much in the foreground. Stacks of horns lay on the burnt-up grass, and several recently shot (and rather odoriferous) skins, were pegged out to dry. Certainly a man makes a wonderful difference in a house. Father’s tramping boots and loud voice were a welcome change to the silence and repose of the bungalow, with only Peggy and I for its tenants, and our decorous tribe of cat-footed servants. Father proudly displayed all his booty, and then walked round the stables and the garden with me, narrating his adventures in brief, pithy sentences. I, on my side, unfolded my scanty budget of domestic news. The brown Arab was lame; the Dhoby’s son had small-pox; and the Karrhan river was lower than it had been for twenty years. N.B.—I omitted to mention the fortune-teller’s visit, or my delightful discoveries in the old bullock trunk!

After dinner, we adjourned, as usual, to the drawing-room, a large, white-washed apartment, carpeted with tiger skins, furnished with heavy old black carved furniture and two enormous punkahs. The only decorations it could boast were a couple of hideous scriptural pictures in wool-work, that had fallen to Peggy in a religious raffle, and which father’s politeness had compelled him to accept. Father and I sat opposite to one another at a large round table, he deeply absorbed in a newspaper, and a political crisis that had occurred four months previously; I, darning my thoughts into a sock in my hand, and vainly trying to stifle my yawns, vainly indeed; they were not merely loud, but infectious; and much to my delight, father laid down his paper, and desired me to get out the chessboard; a request that I obeyed with the greatest alacrity. As I paused and meditated over the moves, I was conscious that father’s eyes were now and then rivetted on me, with unusual intentness; once I met them point-blank, and he was surprised into saying:

“Yes; I am looking at you in wonder, Ranee! Living with you, day after day, I saw no change in you; you seemed to be still a little girl; now, a short absence”—did he call three months a short absence?—“has opened my eyes. I realise that you are grown up. How old are you?”

“I shall be nineteen next birthday.”

“Nineteen,” he echoed incredulously.

“Yes, I was eighteen six weeks ago.”

“And are still eighteen. You won’t be so anxious to put the clock on in ten years’ time. Well, we must celebrate your birthday, your arrival at years of discretion—or indiscretion—in some fashion. What would you like to do?” I laid down the pawn in my hand, I gazed reflectively at the lamp; there were so many things that I would “like to do.” I would like to go to Europe, or even to Bombay; I would like to visit Delhi, Agra, Cashmere; but what was the use of indulging in castles in the air? I, who wanted so many things, that were only names to me; at last I blurted out:

“Next time Peggy goes to Kolar I should like to go with her.”

“For what?” inquired my father, very sternly.

(How lucky it was that I had said nothing of Bombay!)

“To see it, to see the world,” I faltered timidly. “There is a railway station, a chapel, and a shop.”

“The station is a shed, the chapel a barn, and the shop, a musty store, reeking with bad cheese and kerosene oil; much better come out into tents for a week and study Nature.”

“But I am so sick of Nature! I know it all so well: parched plains, dry rivers, leafless trees in the hot weather; green, plains, splendid foliage, torrents—and snakes, in the rains.”

“Anything is better than that hole, Kolar.”

“Still I should like to see it; I am so ignorant of common things,” I grumbled bravely.

“You are an unusually well-educated girl; you are a fair Latin and French scholar, well read in English literature, and no contemptible mathematician—and that reminds me to ask if you have read ‘D’Aubigny’s History’ and Motley’s ‘Dutch Republic?’”

“I tried to read them,” I answered. “‘The ‘Republic’ I did wade through; but as for the other, I found it too dry, nearly as dry as the ‘Karrhan’, so I threw it into what remains of the river. I did,” I reiterated defiantly. “The crocodiles have eaten it long ago; I hope they were able to digest it, for it was beyond me.”

“You, threw the—book—into the river,” repeated father slowly, as if scarcely believing his ears.

“Yes,” I rejoined quite boldly, and now blazing into open rebellion. “After all, what is the use of learning to me, to whom so many things are empty names?” And then I leant my elbows on the table, and met father’s look of utter amazement, with a counter glance of angry defiance. The accumulated broodings of the last three months were boiling in my brain, and the memory of endless, idle, weary days spurred my courage into passion.

“What is the use of it all?” I demanded excitedly. “It is like describing scenery to a person who was born blind. I have never seen a ship, or a church, or a painting. I have never heard any music but the village tom-toms, or seen any work of art except an idol. I have never spoken to a lady since I was born. I am sick of this life.” Here I paused, half choked by the fluttering of my heart, and nearly breathless with emotion, and in conclusion jerked out my usual parrot cry: “I want to see the world!”

“You won’t see much of it at Kolar,” rejoined father with unexpected composure; but he looked both grieved and astounded. “The less you mix in it the better. I lived in it for thirty years, and found that all is vanity. Friendship is nought. Love is nought. Fame is nought. But what is the use of talking to you? Like all the innocent and young, you believe it will be different for you—your life will surely be sunny—it could not be otherwise—if I will only open the cage door and let you fly away.”

“Oh, father!” I expostulated in a milder key. “Home is not a prison. If I did fly away, I would come back.”

“Well, at any rate, you are tired of home now,” he went on sharply.

This was quite true, and my eyes sank before his with a sense of guilt.

“Perhaps you would not believe it. Nevertheless, the day may come when you will look back upon your present existence as a thirsty traveller in a scorching desert recalls some cool oasis he has rashly quitted. Here, if you have no friends, you have no enemies; if you have no society, you have no slander; if you have no lovers, you have no heart-burnings and no tears.”

“Lovers!” I echoed indignantly. “I never thought of lovers. I should hate them.”

Father took no notice of this rash statement, but sat silent for some seconds with a harassed look upon his face, whilst I waited in some trepidation for him to speak.

“I see, you are disgusted with this simple life. You are tired of your books, verses, flowers, and pets. Had I the eloquence of Burke, I would be only wasting my breath in trying to convince you that this is the happiest existence. Your young nature, full of hope, and life, and energy, craves a change. You cannot help yourself.” Then he muttered in a lower voice, as if speaking to himself: “It is in the blood.” Another pause, and he continued: “My dear-bought experience is a battered, second-hand article, and of no use to any one but myself. I have known and feared that this day would come, Ranee. I have shut my eyes to the fact that you are no longer a child, when a doll and a pony fulfilled all your aspirations. I have been like an ostrich, hiding my head in the sand, and like that infatuated bird, I have been a fool.”

As he concluded, his voice sank almost to a whisper, his eyes looked strangely misty. My heart was ever easily touched, and it now felt a pang as if a sword had pierced it. My passion, quickly kindled, was as quickly extinguished. “Oh what a wicked, unhappy, ungrateful girl I was!” Resting my arms on the table, and laying my head in them, I burst into a storm of tears.

My tears were rarely, rarely seen, and father was greatly shocked, I have no doubt. He did not know what to do with me. At last he rose slowly, and came over and laid his hand on my shoulder and said:

“Diana, my dear, I cannot stand this. You shall do with your life as you like. Your happiness is my happiness. I am a blighted man. All is over as far as I am concerned myself. I shall live and die here; but you shall see the world. I have a sister at home. You shall go to her—you shall—”

“What! and leave you alone, father?” I interrupted between my sobs. “No—never. Do not mind what I said. I was in a rage about nothing. I was tired and cross. It is only when you are away that I am so wretched. When you are at home I want no one but you.”

“Is this true?” he inquired, putting his hand under my chin and raising my tear-stained face to his. “But I need not ask. Your lips have never learned how to make pretty, false speeches. Thank God you don’t know how to tell a lie. You mean what you say.”

“Yes, father; I will stay with you always,” I answered, drawing a long quivering breath; “but won’t you talk to me a little more?”

“Talk to you! Don’t I talk to you?” he echoed in astonishment.

“Very little, and you never laugh.”

“Well, I must try and mend my ways. I am a selfish old hermit, and a dull companion. I have forgotten how to laugh, but I will grin—I will reform. Yes, my poor little girl, I will never leave you by yourself again, to be devoured by that lion, ‘ennui.’ Remember that you are all I have, Ranee, and if you go into the world, I lose you.”

I raised my brimming eyes to his, and faltered out:

“Father, I will never leave you, as long as I live—unless you send me away,” I added, with a sickly smile.

“And that I will never do,” was his emphatic reply, as he stooped and gravely kissed me.

Thus I, Diana Barrington, vowed myself to the jungle for life, and thus the only “scene” which had ever taken place between us, came to a harmonious conclusion. But when I had cleared away the unfinished game of chess, and gone to bed, I heard father pacing the drawing-room, for more than an hour—a sure sign that he was working out some serious mental problem.

Chapter VI

“The Begum’s Necklace”

“What precious drops are these,
Which silently each other’s track pursue?”
— Dryden

A few evenings, after this memorable conversation, father came into the drawing-room, carrying a candle in one hand, and a curious Indian box in the other.

“Look at this, Ranee,” he said, holding out the latter, “and tell me what you think of its contents.”

I seized it promptly—still standing by the centre table, on which stood a large Argand lamp. It was a narrow case, covered with faded Indian silk, fastened by massive silver clasps, and when opened it emitted a faint perfume of otto of roses. I took out a roll of chamois leather, that fitted it tightly, then came cotton wool. I raised the wool, and gave an involuntary scream. Large bright things, like drops of water, strung together, lay before me. They flashed in the light like fire-flies and dew. Never, never, had I seen, or dreamt, of anything like what was beneath my dazzled eyes! A thick necklace, with heavy pendants, and all made of these bright stones!

“What are they?” I asked, almost in a whisper.

“They are diamonds—diamonds of the first water.”

“And for me?”

“Yes; but they are not much use to you, except to look at. They are worth a large sum of money—there are not many such necklaces to be seen.”

“And when did you get it?” I asked, fingering it timidly.

“It was given to me by a native Prince. You see,” spreading it out, “it is quite an Eastern design. This thick collar of brilliants, four deep, for the throatlet, and then the large pendants with big stones. An English jeweller would have got the same effect, with half the material, and half the expense.”

“But surely not such a blaze of light?” I said, holding up the heavy necklace, which sparkled and flashed, till it made my eyes blink—the diamonds were rudely cut, but large and flawless, and from the centre of the necklet hung a pendant containing one remarkable stone, that flung forth a lurid flame, that almost dimmed its satellites.

“Put it on,” said father, taking it from me; and clasping it round my neck, he surveyed me critically.

“How do I look?” I asked—my vain, invariable query.

“Oh, as to that, every one looks well in diamonds; including, no doubt, the dusky-skinned lady, for whom this ornament was originally made,” was his somewhat damping rejoinder.

“And how did you come by it?” I inquired curiously.

A strange expression passed over his face, and for a moment he made no reply, then he said with a short laugh:

“Do you think I stole it, or got it by bribery and corruption? You know I was a doctor long ago?”

“Yes, father,” I answered in a low voice.

“A civil doctor in large practice. I frequently attended native noblemen, who gave me enormous fees—certainly not like this,” touching my necklace. “The Rajah of Odore had but one son—he was at the point of death, and I performed a very difficult operation on him, and under Providence saved his life; and his father in his gratitude insisted on giving me this bauble. He forced it on me, asking if I thought he could ever repay me? His wife was dead—he did not care for jewels—he was rich, and he valued his son’s life far beyond a few bright stones. He was so determined that I should take them, that he said if I did not accept them, he would throw them into the Ganges then and there. So I took them, and when I had received his magnificent gift, and thanked him, he said rather mysteriously: ‘Do not thank me too much. I am glad to be rid of the jewels, thus honourably. It has ever been an unlucky necklace. May it bring you nothing but good fortune!’”

“An unlucky necklace! What did he mean?” I asked anxiously.

“I had the curiosity to inquire; and he told me, that it was of immense antiquity, and, once upon a time, the cause of violent quarrels in a Zenana. A legend said, that one woman had strangled another with it, and that the wearer cursed her murderess and the necklace, with her last breath.”

“This necklace that I have on now!” I almost shrieked, hastily unclasping it. It was very heavy, and it slipped between my trembling fingers, and fell with a clang and a flash upon the table.

“It is only an Indian legend, Ranee,” said father, contemptuously, “and you know what that is worth. Surely you are not superstitious—most precious stones have a history.”

“And what else did you hear?” I asked evasively.

“I heard that it belonged to one of the Begums of Oude, in the days of Warren Hastings. She was implicated in the rebellion of Cheit Singh, and was imprisoned by the Nawab Vizier, and plundered of it, and all her other treasures. It passed through many hands, till it came to be part of the loot of Delhi; a drunken soldier found it, and, taking it for glass, sold it for a few rupees to a native jeweller, who subsequently disposed of it to my Rajah, who doubtless got it cheap. He said that the centre stone of the pendant was all but matchless. But it has rather an uncanny name; it is called the ‘Evil Eye,’” concluded father, with a smile to which I could not possibly respond.

“Then I am sure I shall not like this necklace—I feel quite afraid of it already,” I remarked rather nervously. “I would rather not have anything to say to it—please take it back.”

“Pooh! Don’t be childish; don’t talk nonsense. Go away and look at yourself in the glass, and come back here again, and then tell me if you are afraid of it!”

So I gathered up the Begum’s necklace without further protest, went away to my own room, lit two candles, and gazed at myself exhaustively!

My neck and throat looked one blaze of diamonds, I could not take my eyes off my own reflection. Afraid of the necklace? No, I had never seen anything so splendid in all my life; plundered Begums, and strangled women, were swept out of my mind, by this vision of blinding brilliancy. My neck seemed encircled by a band of fire, as I turned my head from side to side, trying to catch each new scintillation with the glee of a child.

“So you are there at the glass again!” said a voice that made me jump, and turning I beheld Peggy.

“Oh, my gracious!” she ejaculated. “And you have on the Begum’s necklace. What are you doing with it, Miss Ranee?”

“Admiring it, Peggy,” I answered, with a toss of my fair locks. “It is not the Begum’s any longer. It is mine!

“Oh, and has he given you that? Well, he gave you a nice present when he went about it. It’s an unlucky article, if all tales be true, and works terrible things, for them that owns it.”

“Now, Peggy,” I cried, instantly in arms to do battle for my treasure. “How can you talk such nonsense?”—precisely what father had recently said to me—“you, who are always despising the poor, superstitious heathen. How can there be any harm in senseless bits of stone? Just ask yourself!”

“Well,” rejoined Peggy doggedly. “Me mind misgives me all the same. That middle bead has a wicked dazzle in it, as if it was just daring you not to wink at it! Any way, I’ll keep them for you, my heart, and lock them away with the plate, safe and sound.”

“Indeed no, thank you very much, Peggy. I’ll keep them myself, and I know all about this bead, as you call it; it is named the Evil Eye.”

“An’ I would not doubt it! Well, eye or no eye, mind that you can’t be wearing them jewels, unless you want to have us all murdered in our beds. Ye can see the flash of them like the Kish light, and blazing diamonds is as dangerous in a house as a barrel of gunpowder. What in the world put it into the masther’s head to go and give you such a thing?” she concluded irritably.

“He gave it to me to please me,” I returned loftily. “The usual reason for making presents, and also as a reward for promising to be contented here always, and to say no more about wanting to see the world.”

“He stops your mouth with diamonds, to keep you from craving and clamouring; to live easy at home!” cried Mrs. Magee, raising her eyes and hands. “And ’tis little he knows of girls, and their ways, when he goes and gives you jewels fit for the Queen, by way of making you content in the jungle. Oh, the poor unfortunate, innocent man! The Lord help him!”

And with this pious invocation, Peggy solemnly stalked out of the room, and did not forget to shut the door behind her. Peggy disapproved of the necklace, that was very clear; but then she was superstitious. The more I looked at it, the more I was enamoured of it: I could hardly bring myself to take it off. In the end I folded it up carefully in its chamois leather covering, and put it under my pillow, and slept on it; and dreamt of Begums, and palaces, of wearing my diamonds in the presence of thousands of spectators, who shouted, and clapped their hands, and shrieked out, that “I was an Indian Princess, and that I had the Evil Eye!”

Chapter VII

Father Paul

“Of manners gentle, of affections mild,
In wit a man; simplicity a child.” — Pope

I should like to know, if anything in this world looks more melancholy than an abandoned Indian station?—a station, that in the grand old days of “John Company,” was the centre of a great district, and boasted a judge, a collector, a couple of infantry regiments, some squadrons of cavalry, half-a-dozen young ladies, a church, an assembly-room, and a thickly-crowded cemetery; but that, thanks to being three or four hundred miles from the new-fangled railway-line, had found itself suddenly deserted! The fiat went forth, head quarters were removed to a more central position, and the forsaken cantonment was left without appeal—to Snakes—Jackals—and utter desolation. True, a few old Chuprassies and Peons—too old to transplant, still linger in corners of godowns and cook-houses; true that one brave Eurasian family went and took up a triumphant and gratuitous tenure, of the General’s palatial abode—but they left it, within a month, in a state of the deepest dejection; there was no holding out against the surrounding silence. The gardens are invariably the first to go—how soon they resemble a wilderness! then the Bungalows gradually become—first shabby—then “out of repair”—finally roofless ruins. Month by month, year by year, the buildings fall hopelessly to decay, and the once well-worn roads, become more grass-grown and indistinct. To ride through an old, forgotten, Indian station—where the word “Ichabod” seems scrawled on every crumbling wall—is a most truly depressing experience!

Paldi was such—on a very humble scale; but it had never been a military cantonment and no gaping, roofless barracks, no dreary, silent horse lines, no sad, forgotten cemetery, was its lot! Still, as one approached it from the higher ground, it had a mournful, forlorn appearance, and looked strangely out of keeping, with the surrounding jungle, and vast flat tracts of cotton soil. There were the mounds of the old Bungalows, their compounds still recognisable, with their hedges of aloe, and wide breaches, there was a wide stretch of level ground, known as “the race-course”—indeed a few of the wooden posts still marked its outline, though most of them lay rotting in the surrounding Cholum fields; there stood a gaunt, gray, gable end, once a part of the busy factory, now a shelter for sheep, and goats; last of all, our own substantial-looking abode, with its great avenue of Peepuls, and its massive, solid walls, standing out above the river-bank, as if in broad defiance of Time, who had so cruelly smitten its companions.

“Father, how did you ever discover this place?” I asked one evening as we came within sight of Paldi, after a long gallop over the hot yellow plains. “It must be a hundred miles from everywhere—even the villagers within quite a short distance have never heard of it!”

“I came across it accidentally,” he answered, “many years ago, when I was out with a shooting party. It was not a heap of ruins then. Most of the Bungalows were standing, and ours had the traces of considerable taste and care—the furniture was as you see it now, and I suppose too heavy for transport; the garden was not quite a wilderness; and a melancholy old man who had once been a Khansamah was in charge, and showed us all over the premises.”

“Yes—please tell me more,” I urged eagerly.

“Well, I took a fancy to the place, and said to one of my companions, that if ever a man was driven by circumstances to seek a sanctuary from the world, here was the spot, where he could most effectually bury himself alive.”

“Yes,” I acquiesced. Father’s remark was undeniable.

“And I recalled Paldi to mind—long afterwards—and bought the Bungalow, and a hundred acres, for a mere song; here, for the last seventeen years, I have figuratively interred myself—and you!”

“Yes,” I again assented in a faint voice. I would gladly have forfeited my diamond necklace for the power to ask one question, but I could not put my thoughts into words. A scorching suspicion flashed through my brain, with the vividness of fire on a dark night, that it might not be grief or eccentricity, or an overpowering love of sport and Sanscrit, that had chained father to this desolate spot. My lips moved, but I could not articulate a sound; however, I fancy that my eyes, for once, undertook their office, for father, searching my tell-tale face—crimson one moment, white the next—said:

“No, no, Ranee—it is not what you suppose. No, my dear, nothing compels me to stay here—I live in this place at my own pleasure—pleasure! That is hardly the right word. Why,” he exclaimed in quite another voice, “I do believe I see Father Paul’s green bullock cart, and Mannette the goat, half-way up our avenue. Come along, come along, or he will be there before us;” and we broke simultaneously into a sharp canter, and, nevertheless, we were only just in time to welcome our venerable guest, as he stiffly alighted at the back verandah.

Father Paul Marèchale was an old French priest, our only friend, and our sole visitor! About three times a year he came to see us, and stayed a week or two; always receiving an enthusiastic welcome from our little household. Father liked him—he was his one rare cultivated companion. I loved him, he was my dear confidant and adviser—a kind of medium between father and Peggy, more sympathetic than him, more intellectual than her; and Peggy—to Peggy he was simply a blessed saint, and her adored spiritual pastor. As long as I remembered anything, I remembered Father Paul, his shabby black soutane, and gigantic solar topee; the expression of his face was mild and benevolent—though his dark eyes could be piercing at times; his snowy hair fell over his shoulders, whilst his venerable beard descended to his waist. He was a well-known character in Central India, famed for his energy, his eloquence, and his entire devotion to his work. As a young man, he had traversed hundreds of miles on foot, with the staff in his hand—after the manner of the early disciples, merely subsisting on rice and chupatties; fanning the dying embers of Christianity in some remote districts, and kindling it for the first time in others; but now, that he was old and lame, he travelled in a little bullock cart, which represented his home. It contained a few books, his vestments, and some simple medicines for the benefit of his scattered flock. His sole companions were a native driver, a milch goat, and a little red cock (whose function it was to call him betimes). The bird was perfectly tame, and travelled on the roof of the cart—he, and Mannette the goat, were both celebrities in their way, and much prized by their master; and, indeed, it occasionally happened that when Mannette was tired, she took her turn inside the bandy, and the padre followed on foot. Thus accompanied, Father Paul journeyed over miles and miles of plains, to reach far-away villages, where lived descendants of St. Francis Xavier’s converts, who had possibly not been visited by a priest for years—here he would halt his cart under a shady tree, assemble all the community, teach, exhort, expound to them for several days, administer the sacraments, and then pass on. The field was so large, and the labourers so few.

“Where have you been, Father Paul?” I asked, as I sprang down from the saddle, and seized both his hands most eagerly. “How long you have stayed away!—we thought you were lost.”

“Yes, we have not laid eyes on your Reverence for this eight months,” added Peggy reproachfully.

“You shall hear all about me, my friends. I made a long march to-day to reach my ‘oasis’ in the desert, and we are all tired,” pointing to the dusty and exhausted animals.

“Come along, then,” said father, “and rest. Ranee and Peggy will look after your creature comforts, and your creatures’ comfort, and have your room ready in no time.”

To this the padre acquiesced without a word, whilst Peggy went away to the kitchen, and I took charge of the bullocks, and Mannette, and Hugo, the cock.

Hugo was easily disposed of—or rather he disposed of himself, after a light supper of grain, on the roof of the cart, as usual. Mannette I led off to the stables. She had her own especial stall, at a prudent distance from Jaina’s lair. The bullocks and their driver knew their quarters. When I returned breathless with giving orders, and passing from store to spare room, and spare room to store room, I found Peggy in her own sanctum, busily occupied in making some first-rate café noir, such as his Reverence loved. She looked up at me, and nodded her head three times very solemnly.

“He took the master’s arm,” she said, “a thing he never done before. Well, well, well! he has wore himself out in a good cause, and slaved, and spent himself this fifty year, and hasn’t he it all before him?”

“I suppose he has,” I assented. “He certainly has not had much pleasure in this life.”

“Pleasure!” she snorted. “You are always thinking of that, even in Heaven! God forgive you, Miss Diana, but I’m afraid you are a real bad girl!”

“I dare say I am, and I cannot help it.”

“I wish I could take ye to hear the new coadjutor at Kolar! He is a terribly wicked preacher, and ’tis him would make ye tremble for your soul! Not like his Reverence here, so gentle and so encouraging—’tis too much encouragement he gives you, I’m thinking.”

I did not deign to notice this remark. I had no time to argue now, but, snatching up the tray in front of Peggy, carried it out into the verandah with my own fair hands. As I poured out Father Paul’s favourite beverage, and anxiously plied him with eatables, I was amazed to hear that he had actually been to France, since he had last paid us a visit.

“To France!” father and I had echoed in one breath; and I added: “Why did you go? And how long did you stay?”

“I went, my child, because I had an irrepressible craving to see my native land, after an absence of forty years. I could not rest, so painful was the longing. Well, I went; and guess how long I stayed. Two days! Yes, I am in earnest. My wish was as a Dead Sea apple. I arrived on the spot, where every stone, and every face, were burnt into my memory, by years and years of exile. I sought my old home, near the village among the vine-yards. The village was unchanged, it was I who was changed. I walked up the narrow streets, a stranger. Not one familiar face met mine, not a soul stretched out a hand of welcome to the lame old priest! Our very name was forgotten and out of mind. My brothers were dead, and I was the last of my race. I looked into the butcher’s shop, with the familiar name ‘Moreau’ still above it. I visited the forge, the shoemaker’s, and the cabaret, and then I sat down and called for bread and cheese, and put a few questions to the stout good-natured hostess. She told me that Dubois, the big vine-dresser, was dead, his sons were killed in the war. Monsieur Girault, the curé! Oh, he was long before her days. And the family at the château. Yes, Polté, a jeweller from the Rue de la Paix. The old family were all dead and buried. ‘Pardon, madame, all but one,’ interrupted a red-faced man, with a fierce eye. ‘There was one, a priest, who went to the Indies, to squeeze money from the blacks; and he, if he is not dead, he ought to be.’ I sat and listened. The old family was not quite forgotten. It was discussed, abused, ridiculed. There was not one spark of gratitude or regret attached to our name. Then I saw that these things were sent to me as a lesson and a penance. Our true home is heaven; that is the only country on which we should fix our hearts. So I prayed for a while, in the little old chapel, and straightway set my face towards the east. I had been two days in France—two days!—forty-eight hours after forty years! But it was enough. My duty lay in this land, and I have come back here to work—and die.”

“Do not talk of dying,” I said impetuously. “We cannot spare you, either to heaven, or France.”

He shook his head at me, and then pursued:

“The flesh is weak. As I travelled through the rich sunny plains of my own beautiful native country, tears, hot tears, rolled down my cheeks. They did, indeed, mon enfant. I came back to my flock, and Chinnia, and the bullocks, and Mannette the goat. Their welcome warmed my foolish old heart. They had not forgotten!”

“And two months are not forty years,” remarked father drily. He did not believe in constancy—or gratitude, I knew; but he need not have said so to poor Father Paul, who believed in everything that was good of everybody.

Father and our old friend used to sit up talking, discussing, and arguing, till very late hours at night, and Peggy, and her Pastor, generally conversed in the morning, whilst his conversations with me usually took place out of doors, in the cool of the evening, before sundown. Together we would pace the garden, the avenue, the compound, he with his venerable head bent upon his chest, his hands loosely clasped behind his back, gravely listening to my crude, wild ideas—ideas, which he pruned, modified, or cut down, in a friendly and delicate manner. I know that Peggy, standing afar off, with her arms akimbo, surveyed these walks and talks with unmitigated approval; she had her own ideas about these discourses. The holy man, who had spent his best years in converting the heathen, would never die happy, until her own little lamb was gathered into his Church. But Peggy was wrong! Father Paul never made the slightest attempt to proselytise me. No; I was a Protestant. Every morning father read aloud two chapters and the daily Psalms to Peggy and myself, and up to quite a recent date, I struggled through my Catechism and Collect every Sunday; and father always had morning service, and this also Peggy attended. Though a very strict Catholic, I believe she was shamed into this liberality by our generous example, for we were always present at Father Paul’s ministrations in the little chapel in the mango grove. When it was known that he was with us, quite a large congregation would assemble there—sometimes as many as fifty people, who had probably been walking all night, would kneel to receive his blessing, as he celebrated mass at the rude stone altar. And from its steps he afterwards delivered an eloquent address in the Marathi tongue. To these toil-worn peasants, but one degree removed from want, what need to preach of the dangers of riches, sloth, and worldly ambition? No need to denounce avarice, to men in the vice-like grasp of money-lenders, or to preach temperance to people who lived on grain, and water. Their lives of unmitigated labour set them apart from many temptations: it was all work—nothing but work. To these weary, eager listeners, he spoke of faith, of an easy yoke, and of another and a better country. More than once, Peggy amazed me as she and I walked home together, by suddenly breaking out as it were into argument with a third, and invisible party. “And where’s the harm, will ye tell me that? And don’t I attend their prayers? and aren’t we all striving to get to the same place?”

From which it was evident that, although Peggy Magee lived in the jungle, and was a poor ignorant creature, who could neither read or write, she had an unusually liberal mind. One evening Father Paul and I stood on the bank of the river, and watched in silence a gorgeous Indian sun sink to the west, as it were in flames. Our eyes were fixed on the brilliant crimson horizon, and the banks of golden clouds, that threw graceful palms, feathery bamboos, and a wedge-shaped flock of wild fowl, into bold relief.

“How beautiful the world is!” exclaimed the old priest, out of the fulness of his heart. “How beautiful!” he repeated in a dreamy voice. “Who would not enjoy the stillness of nature!”

I made no answer, palms and sunsets were such very common sights, and certainly did not embody the world, in my opinion, nor did the stillness of nature appeal to my tastes.

Ma fille,” he said, suddenly turning to me, and fixing his sunken dark eyes on mine, “I want to talk to you seriously. Our friend Peggy tells me that you are weary of this life. Is it so?”

“Not always,” I answered, colouring; “only when father is away, and then as your people say, je m’ennuie!”

“Ah,” he sighed, “my foolish little lamb, so safely folded, you do not know when you are well off; but it is ever thus! Si vieillesse pouvait, si jeunesse savait. Why are you discontented when your father is away? You have Peggy, your pets, and your books.”

“It is no good,” I answered brusquely. “When I am alone, I feel desperate at times, and as if I must get on Cassim’s back, and gallop away to see the world. I long for change, as you longed for France.”

“And to find it all vanity and disappointment.”

“It may be so; but oh, Father Paul, surely I have a life of my own, to live apart from all this!” stretching my hands with a sudden passionate gesture, towards the setting sun, and tinted plains. “I want to live, to feel, to act!”

“Act the part of a good daughter, feel for the sorrows of others, lead a pure and innocent life, is not that sufficient for you?”

“It ought to be, I know. And oh, mon Père! and it is only to you that I dare to say such a wicked thing, it is not enough. No, try as I will, pray as I will, to keep my thoughts at home and within bounds, they fly away in spite of me, into the great world. Father Paul, you know my heart now, I wish to be happy here, I must be happy here; give me a cure for this disease of discontent.”

“Alas, my child! I wish I could,” he answered mournfully. “Let us try and go to the root of the matter. What is your most ardent wish, supposing you left this peaceful home? What do you want to do?”

“I wish to do something great before I die, I want to be known, to be celebrated, to be talked of,” clasping my hands together feverishly, as I spoke.

“To be talked of! oh, my poor child!”

“Yes, to sacrifice myself for some noble cause, some great person. Father Paul, you will think me mad, but I believe there will be stirring scenes in my life yet. You look grave; does what I say distress you?”

“No, ma fille, but yours is a restless, impetuous spirit; full of doubts and discontent. You are impressionable, impulsive, hot-tempered, and easily led; alas! the world would be full of pitfalls for you.—You imagine yourself capable of some heroic self-sacrifice, and yet you cannot undertake the simple duty, that has been put in your hand. Be a comfort to your father, be satisfied with the pleasure of your present lot. Ah,” very sternly, “I see the task is too easy! One reads your thoughts so plainly! Take care, my daughter, that a far heavier one is not required of you, as a punishment for your vain wishes, and selfish discontent.”

I shivered involuntarily as he spoke; it seemed to my excited imagination, that there was a ring of prophetic warning, in that last sentence, and a chill tremor of apprehension seized me in an icy grasp. “I wish you could see some of our holy women, and the lives of devotion they lead,” he went on in a different voice.

“Do you mean nuns?” I asked in a very subdued key.

“Yes, nuns tolling from morning to night among heathen children, nursing the sick, consoling the dying, and maintaining themselves by their own hands. They have no luxuries, no servants, no airy rooms, no punkahs, no ice, nothing to alleviate the heat of this climate. During the cholera at Pùrda the Reverend Mother and seven Sisters died at their posts; there is no devotion like theirs!”

“No doubt,” I acquiesced; “but even among the heathen there is devotion, and charity too. Some of our own servants, are angels compared to me.”

“How do you mean?” he demanded very gravely.

“Do you see that old man over there?” I replied, pointing to a garden coolie, with thin, withered arms, and sunken, patient face. “He is the most devoted and unselfish man, I know. If you will come with me to the back of the Bungalow, I will show you what I mean.”

In answer to my invitation, Father Paul accompanied me round to a large building that was probably once a double coach-house, and at first sight seemed dark, and empty; but soon our eyes became accustomed to the gloom, and there was a stir in a distant corner, and we made out a rude mud bed covered with a native blanket, under which lay some small object that looked like a child. Hearing steps it pushed aside the covering with a brown, shrivelled claw, and then it appeared to be a monkey, but on closer inspection, it was no monkey, but a human being; a little, withered old man, who rose, scrambled down on the floor, and came towards us on all fours. He was bent double with age, his head was hairless, his mouth toothless, his eyes purblind and sunken in their sockets; altogether he was a most startling spectacle—the very rind and shell of humanity!

“This is old Rukoo,” I said, introducing him. “He was once a Marathi soldier, and fought in the days of Clive and Wellington. He must be a hundred and twenty years of age at the very least, as he was one of the garrison of “Ram Tek” fort ninety years ago.”

“Yes,” assented Father Paul, instinctively retreating, as the ancient warrior, hastily groping about in search of me, fastened his skinny fingers in his soutane, and clamorously demanded alms and betel-nut, in a cracked, unearthly voice.

“You shall have it, Rukoo, you shall have bread and coffee,” I stooped down and shouted in Marathi; “but you must be good and go back to bed and lie down.” He always obeyed me, strange to say, and he now turned round at once, and slowly crawled back to his lair, with many guttural mutterings. “He used to spend his days among the ruins by the river,” I explained to Father Paul; “and as a small child I was very much afraid of him, and thought, he was the man who had an evil spirit, and dwelt among the tombs; but as I grew bigger we became great friends, and I used to ask him questions about battles, and plunder—but he never would talk of himself.”

“I should think his reminiscences would be interesting. He is fifty years older than I am; he is a living link with the distant past,” said the padre, thoughtfully.

“Yes, but when I ask him questions, he only shakes his head and says, ‘No, that is my life.’”

“And about this act of charity, ma fille?

“Oh, I was forgetting—this garden coolie I pointed out is old, and wretchedly poor, his wages are but four rupees a month—barely sufficient to feed himself—and yet for many years he has supported that old creature, who is not even a relation; and he goes hungry, and in rags, that he may have blankets and plenty of rice and ghee, and returns after his long day’s work, to cook for him, and feed him—and for all his pains, gets nothing but scratches and abuse; yet still he toils on, year after year, looking for no reward, here or elsewhere. Now the nuns expect to find their reward in Heaven!”

“Nay, nay, my child,” he interrupted; “I am not denying the existence of noble lives among these people; alas! there are many great souls striving in outer darkness. Should not that miserable old coolie be a noble example to you?—you who have youth, health, friends, luxuries—and yet you are discontented.”

I hung my head with shame—I had been rebuked, silenced, and condemned, out of my own mouth! When Father Paul left us on this occasion, he promised to return before long—he was only going to a village a hundred miles off, in the Taluk of Sydapet.

“Good-bye, my child, God bless you! Let me find you a more contented girl, when I return.”

These were his last words, as we parted company beside an old temple, to which I had escorted him on horseback. I remained for some time, wistfully watching, until the little green bullock-cart, cock and goat, had turned a corner of the track, and then I rode slowly homewards, recalling as I went, my recent talks with the padre, and his unusually long private conversations with father. I puzzled my head considerably, over one mysterious sentence of his, that I had accidentally overheard, as I entered the dining-room the previous evening:

“And still you say that you will never tell her.”

To which father answered, “Never.”

Chapter VIII

“The Prince”

“Also, he set at all the brazen doors,
A doubled guard;
Yet who shall shut out fate?” — Arnold

“Ram Tek,” once garrisoned by old Rukoo, was a massive Mahratta stronghold, that crowned one of a range of hills about ten miles west of Paldi. To reach it, we struck across a bare plain intersected by the sandy beds of water-courses, with an occasional oasis, in the shape of an isolated village, half hidden in a mango tope, and here and there a Hindoo shrine, and here and there, a few Mahomedan graves. After the rains, this tract of country would be extremely fertile, covered with thick crops of paddy, grain, cotton, and cholum, and the dry nullahs metamorphosed into rushing brown torrents. Now, under the fierce May sun (setting at present) father and I urged our horses over a plain as barren and as arid as their own Arabian deserts. We were bound for Ram Tek, where father had business with an old Brahmin priest, and I was always delighted to accompany him on these expeditions, for the ruined fort and quaint old temple retained their first attractions for me still. Within a mile of our destination, we came upon an ancient paved road lined with forest trees, and the hills that had looked so blue afar off, seemed suddenly changed to green, and completely clothed with shrubs. We soon reached a straggling red-roofed village, that clustered round the foot of the hill, on the summit of which stood a rugged old fort, above whose casemented walls towered the white domes of several holy temples—landmark for many miles. Hundreds of years previously, some Mahratta freebooter, had made them the centre of his fastness, from whence he doubtless frequently descended to harry and pillage the neighbouring plains. Father and I, rode slowly up a narrow, and very steep track, that wound round the hill, between rocks and trees, and lovely flowering shrubs, many of the latter being covered with red, and purple flowers. Families of large, able-bodied monkeys, lumbered lazily from tree to tree, and now and then, a gaudy peacock and his wives swept hurriedly across our path. Having reached a plateau, we dismounted, and entered the fort, by a narrow back-door in the outer wall. The interior was immense—it afforded scope for many temples—half a dozen tanks of green stagnant water, a whole herd of sacred cows, and numbers of sleek, dreamy-eyed Brahmins. The highest and holiest temple of all was guarded by a man in scarlet, armed with a drawn sword, and seated near him on the steps, was a mild-faced old man, with his long beard neatly parted in the middle, and tucked behind his ears: this was father’s particular friend “Govindoo,” and the Chief Priest of Ram, the Monkey God! He greeted us most cordially, and almost immediately, he and father fell into a serious literary discussion,—a discussion that had no interest for me. I did not care two straws about the “Metakshara,” much less the “Vyahavara Mayuka,” and carefully gathering together my clean white habit, I clambered up the walls of the fort, and with my elbows resting on the ramparts, surveyed the scene. There I beheld, stretching far away to the north, and covered with impassable forests, the great highlands of Central India, once part of the Maharastra, or Kingdom of the Peishwas; the country directly below me, was coloured brown and red, and yellowish, dotted with villages, concealed in shady topes of Peepul, or tamarind; diversified by one or two patches of glittering water; and over all, the evening clouds were drifting, and casting rapid, rugged, shadows as they chased each other into the west. I turned and looked back on the grim old fort, with its rusty cannon, and placid priests, and cows. I had seen them all so often! I knew the face of every Brahmin—yea, of every cow! Father seemed entirely absorbed in earnest philosophic discourse. No chance of his company for another hour. So I resolved to go down, and spend that time, in my favourite seat by the water; and telling him where to find me, I quitted the temples, passed through the great entrance, guarded on either side by a gigantic stone monkey, and slowly descended the six hundred steps, which led to the sacred lake. These steps were protected by elaborately carved balustrades, and gradually wound round the hill, till they reached the water at its base: they were luxurious steps! broken by long, generously planned, breathing spaces—and shallow steps, that cost little exertion to descend; passing between shady trees, flowering shrubs, and carved idols in niches, and at every turn catching some new glimpse of the holy lake, that lay beneath, embosomed in the lap of low green hills. This lake was entirely surrounded by curious old temples—temples to Pigs, Elephants, and Monkeys, and hidden among a tangle of Tamarind, and Neem, and Peepul trees, was a large village. I found its inhabitants much as usual—fishing, washing, gossiping, and praying—I reached the end of my journey, and took up my station, in my favourite resort in the porch of a building called the “Rat” Temple, because it contained an enormous effigy of one of those unworthy little beasts. Here, with my back to the hill, and with the water at my feet, I sat, and looked at the lake, which resembled a burnished mirror, and threw back such accurate reflections, that it seemed to be lined with a double row of shrines. I was by no means “far from the madding crowd!” Men and women were talking and laughing, and washing brass chatties. Pious Brahmins, were dipping devoutly, and reciting the “mantras,” or evening prayer; not far from me, a schoolboy in spectacles, was proudly displaying a new book—“The Thousand and One Persian Days” to a large and eager circle. At first, I had slightly diverted their attention; but after all, I was no novelty, and soon they trooped off, to a great flat stone jutting out into the water, where they clustered round the scholar, like a swarm of bees, whilst he read aloud in a sing-song voice. Another flat stone was shared by two women, with a large scarlet idol, and a little naked child, from a distant doorway, made the hills and temples echo with her shrill cries, to her mother, to “come home, come home.” I took off my hat, leant my head against the stone-work, and fell into an agreeable reverie. As I gazed dreamily at the water, I set to work on a superb air castle, and gave myself, in imagination, many pleasant experiences, which were refused by reality. Balls, and ball dresses, pictures, carriages, sight-seeing, and troops of appreciative friends—girl friends—lovers and admirers? No. Perhaps some day when I was much older—and tired of amusing myself—and seeing strange things, I might happen to meet—somebody. The gabbling of the crowd, the droning of the reading-boy, the cooing of doves, and the occasional screech of a peacock in the woods, gradually became vague and distant sounds—I caught myself nodding twice—at length, I leant back (my thick plaits making a kind of cushion against the stone-work) and yielded, without further protest, to the treacherous seduction of Sleep.

How long I slumbered, I know not; but at last I was effectually aroused, by hearing father’s, quick spurred foot, coming along the flagged pavement, and descending the steps. Strange to say, he never glanced back into my well-known niche; but passed rapidly down to the water’s edge. I gazed in amazement, and then I discovered that I was looking at a stranger! A man, not so tall as father, but well-built, slight, and very erect. He wore a wide, gray felt hat, brown riding-boots and cord breeches, a checked cotton coat, and carried a little cane in his hand, with which he tapped his boot, as he surveyed the scene, blissfully unconscious of my presence.

I rose, pushed back my hair, and rubbed my sleepy eyes—perhaps I was still asleep?

At this instant, the vision turned sharply round, and discovered me! He took off his hat, lifted it quite off his head, and I saw that he was young and good-looking. He had very dark blue eyes, a clearly-cut aquiline nose, close-cropped black hair, and no beard—merely a moustache, which concealed an exceedingly short upper lip, and—as I afterwards discovered—very brilliant white teeth. I stood and stared, I hope not rudely; but he was the first European I had ever beheld, excepting father, Peggy, and the padre. And he on his side, looked back at me, with an equal, if not excessive display, of interest and amazement; undoubtedly he was much surprised to see an English girl, in this outlandish spot! For a moment there was a dead silence, and then he spoke in a pleasant, clear, deliberate voice:

“I hope I have not startled you?”

I made no reply. For once in my life, I was speechless, and dazed with astonishment.

“I am afraid I disturbed your slumbers!” he continued with a sort of twinkle in his eye; still I could not recover the use of my tongue. I merely continued to stare stupidly at my interlocutor, and struggle vainly, to recall my manners, and my self-command.

Then as if struck by some happy thought, he addressed me in French, but before he had uttered half a dozen words, I stammered out, “I am English.”

“Ah, I thought so!” he rejoined quite coolly, and turning his head he glanced up at the sky, then back at me, and laughed, and said:

“I am only looking to see if there are any more coming!—for of course you dropped from the clouds?”

“Of course,” I answered with involuntary readiness; the words seemed to escape me unawares.

After this, there was another silence. How blue his eyes were, and how merry, and how straight they looked out from under his level black brows!

“It’s a queer old place,” he remarked, turning once more, and surveying the sacred lake and temples, “and well worth coming a few miles out of one’s way to see.”

As he evidently expected a reply, I favoured him with one that astonished him. I said:

“Is it?”

“Certainly it is!” he returned, looking at me sharply. “I fancy some of these shrines are a couple of thousand years old! It was by the merest accident we came here. I am out with a shooting party—like yourself, I conclude—and as this was a blank day, and we were all rather sick of the Dâk Bungalow at Saloor, we tossed a rupee to see whether we would come over here or not. I am awfully glad we came—now.”

If this was intended as a compliment, it was entirely thrown away on my more than Arcadian simplicity, but “pitch and toss,” I thoroughly understood; I had often tossed Peggy for sweets, and plaintains, in my early years. Little did I guess that by the spinning of a coin, in the Dâk Bungalow at Saloor, my future lot in life had been decided.

At this moment, a shrill familiar whistle, resounded from the top of the hill—father’s usual signal for me—so without a single farewell word, or glance, I seized my hat, gathered up my habit, ran up the steps, and hurried away. But I had barely reached the Great Stone Monkeys, defending the long ascent, when I heard a voice saying:

“I believe this is your property,” and turning I saw the stranger beside me, holding out my whip, which in my flurry I had dropped, and forgotten. It was a pretty little gold-mounted toy—a recent “surprise” from father; and my full name, “Diana Barrington,” was engraved on the handle—and I felt certain as I took it from its finder, that he had made himself master of this piece of information.

“Will you allow me to see you back to your party?” he said. “You are bound to meet a lot of dirty Fakeers on these steps.”

Party! What did he mean? And the idea of requiring an escort, in case of meeting Fakeers, and Brahmins—many of whom were personal acquaintances—was too ridiculous! I could not help smiling as I said, “No, thank you. And you have not half seen the lake. The big temple at the far end,” standing and pointing with my whip, “has some carvings that are well worth examining.”

“Thanks, no. I have seen quite enough”—probably more than he expected for that matter—“I am only down on parole, the others are waiting for me, half-way up—they were too lazy to come any further. The terrors of going back were too much for them.”

The terrors of going back were not too much for me. I was well used to these six hundred steps, and could run up them almost as nimbly as a goat. I commenced to run now, and I flatter myself that my speed and agility astonished my companion, who lazily remonstrated, and said:

“Where is the hurry?”

To me the “hurry” was embodied in a stern person, in a large scarlet turban, who did not like to be kept waiting. So I turned a deaf ear to his expostulations, and dashed on in silence. Fast we went, and faster and faster, until at last—and I confess it with shame and blushes—it became a downright race between us. He was wiry and active, and firmly resolved not to be beaten by a girl. Moreover he had a wonderful stride, and very frequently, and most unfairly, took two steps at a time. I had the advantage of knowing my ground, and here and there made a clever, if rather shabby, short cut. All the same, I was defeated. When we had done about three hundred steps—naturally in dead silence—I was compelled to stop, and put my hand to my side, and pant for breath.

“Had enough of it?” shouted my opponent, halting half-way up the flight above me, and mopping his forehead with a very smart handkerchief.

I nodded in reply, for I could not speak.

“If you had beaten me,” he said, descending to my level, “I should have gone straight down, and drowned myself in the lake.”

And then we both burst out laughing, and a joint laugh, as every one knows, is a huge stride in making people acquainted. After this, we plodded up together at a more reasonable pace, I treating his pressing invitations to “sit down and rest” with the contempt they merited.

“Miss Barrington,” he said suddenly, “allow me to congratulate you on your extraordinary activity. I never saw a girl run like you in all my born days.”

“How do you know that my name is Barrington?” I asked rather stiffly.

“Much against my will, I was taught to read, and I cauld not help seeing your name on your whip. It ought to be ‘Atalanta,’ not Diana.”

I was about to retort with some sharp little speech—for I had an uneasy suspicion that this good-looking stranger was making fun of me, and becoming altogether too familiar—when the sound of singing arrested my tongue. Somewhere above us, on the steps, some one was singing in a rollicking, melodious voice. The words of the song—distinctly audible as we toiled up—were truly extraordinary, and not only extraordinary, but mysterious.

“Oh, had I a lumpty tum, tumpty tum, too,
In the land of the olive and fig, I would sing,
Oh my lumpty tum, tumpty to you,
And play on the thing-a-majig!
And if in the tumpty tum battle I fall,
A lumpty is all that I crave!
Oh bury me deep in the what-you-may-call,
And plant thing-am-bobs over my grave.”

“What is that?” I asked excitedly.

“Oh, that’s Peter,” replied my companion complacently. “He is allaying Colonel Raitt’s impatience with soft Lydian airs.”

“Peter,” I repeated.

“Yes. We call him Peter, although his name is George, and I am sure I don’t know why, unless from that line in King John

If his name be George, I’ll call him Peter, For new-made honour doth forget men’s names.

I believe some wag at school dubbed him Peter, and it suits him down to the ground.”

“Hallo, Hugh!” shouted a voice directly above us. “Come along, old man. Don’t be all night. What the dickens has kept you?”

And as we rounded a curve of the steps, we came in sight of two more strangers—(and then they possibly understood, what had delayed their companion!)—sitting, one on each side of the low balustrade, smoking most industriously.

One was a little, copper-coloured, elderly man, with a stubbly beard, bushy eyebrows, and an aggressive-looking cocked nose; he was clad in a rough green shikar suit, a huge sun topee; a pair of short, sturdy, stockinged legs, with creditable calves, were thrust out in front of him. The other was a mere youth, with pale, sharply-cut features, quick gray eyes, very light hair, and an almost imperceptible moustache—he had no claims to good looks—but he had a clever shrewd face with a nice frank expression; his expression on beholding me, was so irresistibly comic, that I had considerable difficulty in keeping my countenance and gravity, and I fiercely impressed on my giddy inclinations, that I was among total strangers, and that I was to try and behave like a lady—to quote Peggy’s oft-repeated injunction.

But this young man’s eyes seemed to expand, and his mouth was half open! I noticed that he and the elder sportsman had abandoned themselves more entirely to their jungle surroundings, than my companion—they looked unshorn, and their flannel shirts were open at the throat—and minus collars; whilst he, not only wore a collar, but a neat silk tie, loosely knotted beneath it!

“You see I was not the only sightseer,” he triumphantly explained, as his two friends removed their cheroots, and rose, and stared. How they did stare! “Miss Barrington, will—will you permit me to introduce Colonel Raitt, and Mr. Hare?”

Colonel Raitt and Mr. Hare lifted their topees and bowed. Never had people been presented to me before, and I did not know what to do. I had a wild idea of taking off my hat, but luckily abandoned it, and did nothing!

Another shikar party, of course!” said Colonel Raitt with a forced smile. “I thought we were first in this part of the world—but it’s just our luck all over!—isn’t it?” turning to my first acquaintance; who replied:

“Our luck! I should just think so!” And he looked straight at me.

“Have your people had good sport?” continued the old gentleman.

“Yes—thank you!” I answered in a hurried whisper.

“Well, it’s more than we can say! We have been out six weeks, and made no bag at all—beyond a few black buck, and cheetul.”

“One cheetul, four black buck, a peacock, and a porcupine,” supplemented Mr. Hare very glibly. “Most extraordinary! and I have the best shikarri in the Presidency. What sport had your people?” continued Colonel Raitt, of course addressing himself to me.

“Father got four tigers, ten panther, and I forget how many bison, and wild buffalo,” I answered modestly.

“The deuce he did!” exclaimed Colonel in great excitement. “And how many guns were out?”

“He generally takes two rifles,” was my innocent rejoinder.

“And—was it in this neighbourhood that he made the bag?”

“No.”

“And now I suppose he has come to beat this side of the country,” exclaimed my questioner, with transparent annoyance. “Is your camp in the neighbourhood?” he continued sharply.

I felt the hot blood rising to my cheeks.

“Why,” I asked myself, “should this ugly old man, stand right in my way asking me all these stupid questions?” I made no reply—and tried to edge onwards.

“Where is your camp?” he reiterated imperiously.

“We have no camp,” I answered impatiently, “we live here.”

What!” he almost shouted.

Another shrill and still more peremptory whistle came sounding from above us, and hearing this second summons I started forward, in somewhat guilty haste.

“I—I—should like to have a talk with your father, young lady,” panted Colonel Raitt, as he vainly endeavoured to keep pace with me. “I should like to—to—to meet your father, Miss Barrington!”

His wish was fulfilled almost before the words were out of his mouth; in another second, father appeared in sight—red sash, red turban, yellow boots and all—striding hastily down in search of his daughter! He stopped abruptly—as well he might—when he beheld me racing up the steps, closely followed by the three strangers.

Chapter IX

The Horse with the Silver Bangle

“She was a phantom of delight,
When first she gleamed upon my sight” — Wordsworth.

Father remained mute and motionless, on a certain stone landing, whilst we rapidly approached him; and his dark countenance wore an expression far more akin to angry astonishment, than cordial welcome to brother sportsmen.

“Sir,” gasped out Colonel Raitt, as he reached his level, “I am delighted to make your acquaintance. Your daughter tells me—Why—why—God bless my soul, if it is not the Spider! John Barrington! Barrington! my old friend, of course—of course. Who would have expected to come across a schoolfellow here!” stretching out as he spoke two broad mahogany paws, and grasping father’s hand in a vice. “It’s twenty years and more since we met, but I never forget a face. Don’t you remember Raitt at Mawle’s, and Raitt of the Tom-Toms? I’m in the Irrigation business now!”

“Yes,” replied father, rather grimly; “Booby Raitt, or Second Raitt, as they used to call you; I recollect you well.”

“And are glad to see me, I hope, for the sake of old times,” interrupted the other, not a whit disconcerted by these uncomplimentary reminiscences. “If it was by nothing else, I’d know you by that scar on your cheek-bone—when I shied a slate at Jones Minor, and hit you.”

“What are you doing in this part of the country?” inquired father, after a pause.

“Just what you are doing yourself, my dear fellow! Shooting—only we have had no luck at all. These are my companions, Captain Fitzroy, and Mr. Hare,” introducing the pair with a wave of his hand. “We have made a wretched bag so far. I’m a notorious Shikarri, John, the Boss of the Presidency, and I never had such a season. I can’t make out what’s come to all the big game. Your daughter tells me, you have done uncommonly well, and are camped in the neighbourhood, and I hope, for the sake of old days, you will put us on to a good thing?”

“Where is your camp?” inquired father brusquely.

“We sent it off to the banks of the Karrhan, about ten miles away as the crow flies. It’s a place that has not been disturbed for years, and these two fellows insisted on coming here to do a bit of sight-seeing. I don’t believe in sight-seeing; it’s only an excuse for getting up an appetite, and it’s a day lost, in my opinion, or would have been, but for meeting you!”

“And, Miss Barrington,” supplemented Mr. Hare, who had been hitherto standing rather in the background, and turning up the collar of his coat, and vainly struggling to re-arrange his toilette.

“Ah, Peter, my boy!” said Colonel Raitt, “you never forget the ladies. I suppose,” turning to father, “your horses are in the village, like our own; and it’s time for us to be getting back.”

“Yes, I should think it was,” he acquiesced somewhat grimly.

“You and I, John, will toddle down together, and let the young fellows escort your daughter. That will be about right, eh?” He spoke in the authoritative tone, of one accustomed to organise shooting trips, and post beaters; and we all meekly obeyed his commands. I walked on up the few remaining flights of steps, between Captain Fitzroy and Mr. Hare, and father fell behind, with his schoolfellow.

“Now that’s what I call a curious coincidence,” remarked Mr. Hare in a hearty voice. “Fancy discovering an old pal on the top of a hill, in the jungle! Queer, is it not?”

“Yes,” I muttered, half under my breath.

“And such a hill,” he continued; “better, as Shakespeare says, ‘to bear the hills you know, than those you know not of.’ They say there are six hundred steps between the fort and the lake, but in my opinion, they run into six figures. Thank goodness, here is the old gate at last! Shall we pause, and survey the landscape?”

We halted, and turned round and looked back upon the gray, winding steps, the distant lake, the older couple toiling slowly up, apparently engaged in earnest conversation:

“Quite a Mahratta Gibraltar in its day,” observed Captain Fitzroy, as we moved on, and passed under the walls of the old, red fort, festooned with crimson creepers.

I made no reply; I had always understood that Gibraltar was on the sea, and did not comprehend such figures of speech.

“You were not in earnest, when you said that you lived here, Miss Barrington?” he continued, with his eyes fixed on my face.

“Yes, quite in earnest,” I retorted shortly.

“And have you any neighbours?”

“No.”

(At first, as will be seen, I was shy and silent, fearful that I should display my ignorance by speaking unadvisedly with my lips, but soon my love of talking overbore all my qualms!)

“Look here, Miss Barrington,” burst out his companion, “I know you are chaffing us. You are out on a big ‘shoot’ like ourselves, only you are from the Bengal side; all the same, you are not going to get a rise out of me!” and he nodded twice impressively.

The most part of this speech was Greek, as far as I was concerned, and I merely gazed at him in blank amazement.

“You do it awfully well, that I will say,” was his next strange remark. “I suppose these are your horses,” pointing to Cassim and Tippoo, who were standing under the village Peepul trees. “What beauties! Won’t you allow me to assist you to mount?”

“No, thank you,” I replied, as I put my foot in the stirrup, and nimbly swung myself into the saddle—a feat that seemed to astonish my companions considerably. At this point we were joined by Colonel Raitt and father—who had come surprisingly fast down-hill; and the latter said as he mounted Tippoo, “Colonel Raitt has promised to put up with us for a couple of days, Ranee, so you might canter on ahead, and prepare Peggy, and send a coolie over to Burga to fetch up their camp.”

I need scarcely say, that I was not permitted to start on my errand alone. I, and my previous escort, were speedily clattering down the narrow village streets, whilst Colonel Raitt’s elderly galloway, vainly endeavoured to keep pace, with the fiery and impatient Tippoo. We young people were presently far ahead; soon we had passed the last temple, the last little white-washed house, where the evening meal was in preparation, and the herd or weaver, and his family, sat gossiping in the verandah, with their next-door neighbours. Then we cleared an ancient bridge, and struck out into the plain, which embraced the foot of these hills; miles of park-like country covered with clumps of magnificent Peepul, Tamarind, and Plane trees, thickets of Thorn, and romantic-looking glades. The sun was just sinking, and a vivid primrose glow illuminated half the sky, twilight was falling, and the cries of the jungle-cock and pea-fowl were hushed. Behind us rose a dazzling silver moon—an Indian moon (which seems larger, brighter, and nearer, than in colder climes), and turned the landscape into a fairy-land of beauty. It was such a night as is unknown in higher latitudes, languorously warm, strangely silent, with that death-like stillness, that is met with in the jungle. The sound of our horses’ hoofs on the burnt-up grass, and the chirp of the cheekul (a bird that is supposed to live on the moonbeams), were the only sounds that fell on the ear. Presently a small herd of graceful antelope, skimmed lightly across the road and over the brow of a low hill, and soon after them, to the intense excitement of my two companions, a good-sized panther, crept stealthily over the same track, and then springing among some rocks, was lost to sight.

“Just our luck, to see that brute when our rifles are two miles away,” exclaimed Mr. Hare. “I don’t suppose we shall get such another chance.”

“Oh yes you will,” I replied cheerfully, “there are quantities of panther in this part of the country; the natives trap them in large numbers—last season I shot three myself.”

You did!” he ejaculated in an awestruck tone.

“Yes. Does it seem very strange?” I asked rather anxiously. “They came prowling round our place, after calves and goats and dogs; and when father was away last year I sat up and watched for them by moonlight, and shot three. They used to come up close to the verandah, and upon the roof of the cowsheds; and as they had carried off two favourite dogs, and eaten a foal, and several calves, I thought I would try and get rid of them,” I concluded apologetically. “Does it seem extraordinary?” I added, with an unusually guilty feeling.

“Well—it—is—unusual,” returned Mr. Hare slowly. “I only wish I could boast of having bagged a brace and a half of panthers. Have you ever shot a tiger?”

“Only one—and that was by accident. I used to go out regularly with father, and sit up in the machan in the tree, watching the beat; and once I saw a yellow thing moving through the underwood, and father told me to fire, and I fired, and found that I had killed a tiger!”

“And do you often go out?”

“No; not now—not since I saw a man killed.”

“How was that?” they asked in one breath.

“He was our shikarri, and always foolhardy; he climbed down from his machan too soon, and a wounded tigress sprang at him and dragged him—Oh!” and I shuddered irrepressibly, “I shall never forget it. Father shot the tigress—but it was too late.”

“And did the man die on the spot?”

“No—not quite. I bandaged up his wounds in our puggarees, and we carried him back to camp, and the natives burned the tiger’s whiskers, but he died that night.”

“Is there supposed to be any special charm, in burning the tiger’s whiskers?” asked Captain Fitzroy very gravely.

“The natives think so!”

“What rum people they are!” said Mr. Hare. “And by the way, Miss Barrington, what is that queer thing on your horse’s off fore-leg? It looks like a bracelet.”

“It is a bangle—a horse’s bangle.”

“I never knew that horses sported jewellery—but one is never too old to learn.”

“Caligula’s horse wore golden shoes,” I remarked; “and I am sure Cassim, is quite as deserving.”

“Caligula!” exclaimed Mr. Hare, with a long stare, and a sorely puzzled expression. “Didn’t he win the Derby ages ago?”

Captain Fitzroy laughed delightedly, and said:

“Try again, Peter, my friend! At present you are wildly astray.”

“Oh—yes, I know—of course I know,” said Peter eagerly. “He was the fellow who sat in an arm-chair, at the seaside.”

His comrade darted a hasty, and deprecating glance at me, and said:

“Pity our ignorance, Miss Barrington! But do not altogether despise us! Is there any history attached to your horse’s ornament?”

“It is an ancient Mahratta custom,” I rejoined; “and this bangle was dug up in our compound, and has a curiously chased inscription; and I had it put on Cassim—more by way of a joke, than anything.”

“And had the bangle any meaning, in former times?”

“Yes. Father says, that when a horseman assumed it in old fighting days, it was a token, that he was resolved to conquer, or die.”

“No need to ask which you will do!” said Mr. Hare.

“No,” I replied quite seriously. “I have nothing to conquer except Cassim.”

“You will have many slaves besides him, thousands of captives, I should say,” he returned gallantly—no longer oppressed by the absence of collar, tie, and waistcoat.

Was this flattery? If it was I did not like it. I looked indignantly—nay I probably scowled at Mr. Hare; and turning my back on the youth, set off at a smart canter.

“Does that silver bangle not interfere with your horse’s action?” inquired Captain Fitzroy, as he overtook me.

“You shall judge for yourself, now we are clear of the trees,” I answered complacently. “It is all safe going, for the next four miles,” and giving Cassim his head, I merged his canter into a brisk gallop.

Cassim had been pulling, and tearing, at his bit for some time past. He was going home, he was fresh, and he was possibly hungry. Moreover, he was much excited by the strange companions thundering in his wake, and the brisk gallop, soon increased to racing speed! With the bit between his teeth, his head well down between his fore-legs, he was completely my master—not my slave, and I was most painfully alive to the fact. Breathless as was the evening, a violent wind seemed to be singing past my ears, such was the mad pace of my runaway steed.

I knew that there was nothing for it, but to sit still and keep cool; and I was a hardy girl, in excellent training, well used to pulling horses, and mad gallops—though never so mad a gallop, as this. Of course, I was too proud, to scream to my eager pursuers to pull up; and I led them on, at break-neck pace, across the level, moonlit plain. For more than two miles I kept ahead at unabated speed, and then I came to broken ground, a regular network of the dry beds of water-courses. My heart beat a good deal faster, as I cleared the first of these; their breadth and depth, I knew, from continually clambering up and down them by daylight; but at this pace, Cassim must fly into them, or over them, according to the limits of his jumping powers! A few moderate ones he took in his stride, lightly skimming the broken ground, with that cat-like sure-footedness, for which an Arab is unequalled. But now we were nearing the “Big Nullah”—I recognised its vicinity by a gaunt, white Oolee, with bare, distorted arms—a very ghost of a tree—and we were making for the very widest part! I gave a frantic tug at Cassim’s mouth; it was like cast iron! he was going as fresh, and as fast, as when he had first started. Nearer and nearer, came the ghostly Oolee, nearer and nearer the “Big Nullah;” if we failed to clear it, we would be killed—for it was at least a hundred feet in depth. Nerved to desperation, I struck Cassim with all my might; he sprang madly forward, a dark chasm yawned beneath us, there was a sharp rattle of falling stones, a shout of horror from behind us; but we were over, and had left the “Big Nullah” in our wake! Infuriated by his recent punishment, Cassim tore along as if he had merely cleared a potato furrow, instead of a gulf of twenty feet; but presently the rising ground began to tell on him, and in about five minutes more, he had settled down into a moderate canter. Very soon, I was joined by Captain Fitzroy, his face looked white—or was it the moonlight?—and his voice was strangely unsteady.

“Well, Miss Barrington,” he exclaimed, “I can’t say much for you as a pilot, nor for the value you place on your neck—or ours. I can now realise, the experience of those unhappy wretches who have ridden with Herne the Huntsman! I can assure you, that you and your white horse had a most weird effect, as you showed us the way across country. Candidly, did you want to commit suicide just now, when you rode at that yawner?”

“No,” I answered brusquely; “it was Cassim’s fault. I could not hold him!”

“What? He had bolted, had he? Is he often given to that sort of thing?”

“Not often. Sometimes he pulls very hard, but never as much as to-night. Please do not say anything about it—it would only make father nervous.”

“So I should imagine!” he rejoined dryly. “It made me uncommonly nervous. I really began to suppose, that you, and your white horse, were a phantom pair, that were leading me on to destruction.”

“Where is Mr. Hare?” I asked abruptly.

“At the bottom of the first nullah, I should imagine. His pony is not what you would call a free goer; and even I, on an Australian steeple-chaser, had as much as I could do to ‘see the way you went,’ as they say. That Arab of yours, has an extraordinary turn of speed, but he is not fit for a lady—he is not a lady’s horse, you must confess.”

“I confess nothing,” I answered. “I do not know what a lady’s horse should be like, for I have never seen a lady.”

At this amazing statement my companion turned, and looked at me steadfastly, and said: “You are not in earnest, Miss Barrington?”

“Why should I not be in earnest?”

“Do you mean to say that you have lived in the jungle always? Are you serious?”

I nodded impatiently.

I suppose something, in my face, and voice assured him that I was not joking—as he and Mr. Hare seemed to suppose—and for quite two minutes there was silence between us.

“Would it be impertinent of me to ask why you lead such a solitary existence?—Do not answer, if I am too bold.”

“I could not answer, if I would,” I rejoined; “for I do not know myself, beyond the fact that father likes this kind of life.”

“And your mother?”

“My mother is dead. She died when I was a baby.”

“And you have no society at all?

“No—none.”

“Then we, must be quite an extraordinary novelty?”

“Indeed you are. What brought you to this part of India?”

“Well, Colonel Raitt came out, because it is the thing to go for a big shoot in the hot weather; and he has his reputation to maintain. Peter Hare came, because he likes to get away from society, and to be able to go without a collar! I came, on the chance of bagging a tiger or two, and because I like to see the world.”

“You call coming out into the jungle seeing the world?” I exclaimed, in indignant astonishment.

“Well, yes, it is to me; and I suppose going to Gurrumpore, would be seeing the world to you!”

“Yes, in one way; but the place I most wish to see is England—and especially London. What is London like? What do you think would strike me most, if I were to go there?”

(I was not shy now; my foot was on my native plain, although my name was not MacGregor, and this stranger was not the least bit formidable.)

“You ask a very difficult question,” he said, pulling his moustache reflectively. “Let me try and imagine myself in your place! Well—I would not be surprised if it was the Fog.”

“The Fog! What is Fog?” I ejaculated indignantly. “Captain Fitzroy, I see you take me for an uneducated savage. You are laughing at me—”

“Upon my honour I am not,” he interrupted eagerly. “I only give you my own experience. I know that when I run up to town from the country, the Fog is what capsizes me.”

“And don’t you go and see the British Museum, and the Tower, and Westminster Abbey?”

“Not always,” laughing. “I was taken to all those places when I was a kid.”

A kid! What did he mean?

“Is Colonel Raitt married?” I inquired, suddenly skipping to another subject.

“Yes, very much so,” was his enigmatic reply.

“And what is Mrs. Raitt like?”

“How shall I describe her? She is neither young or beautiful, and casts an unusually large shadow—and she has a wonderful knack of calling things by their wrong names; but she is a very good old soul, though I am sorry to say she does not like me. I am in what she would call her ‘black boots.’”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, that my dog Tumbie was out walking one day, and he came across her cat—”

“Well?” I said impatiently.

“Well, the cat died.—Mrs. Raitt is convinced that I was an accomplice to the murder, but I solemnly declare I had no hand in it. Tumbie was out on his own hook.”

“Hook!” Here was another strange word. “Are there any Miss Raitts?” I pursued relentlessly.

“One—sole daughter of their house and home.”

“And does she like you?” I asked with barbarous simplicity.

“I don’t know. I never asked her.”

“And are you married?”

“I! What put such an awful idea into your head? Have I that abject look, peculiar to Benedicts?”

“I do not understand you,” I answered rather stiffly.

“No! I am a bachelor. I am a poor man, and cannot afford such a luxury as Mrs. Fitzroy.”

“You do not look poor,” I remarked incredulously, glancing at his handsome horse.

“Well, I am not absolutely a beggar in rags, whining for a crust; but there are degrees of poverty, though you may not know it.”

“I do not know much about anything,” I answered with unusual humility. “And here we are almost at home,” now pointing to the great cactus hedge. “Here is our boundary.”

“And a very formidable affair,” he rejoined. “The hedge that guarded the sleeping princess, and impaled all her unfortunate suitors, must have been of the same material.”

“Impaled! How dreadful!” I exclaimed, aghast. “Where did it happen? In Gurrumpore?”

“No,” laughing loudly. “It happened in a fairy tale. Do you mean to say, that you have never read it?”

“Never. I should like to hear it.”

“Mr. Hare is the latest from the nursery, and I know he will only be too delighted to relate it to you. And here he comes!”

“You are a nice child’s guide, Miss Barrington” he shouted, “that I will say. Defend me from what you call ‘good going.’ I doubt if I have a whole bone in my body. I am sure I shall get what Mrs. Raitt calls ‘discussion of the brain.’ I’ve been at the bottom of two nullahs, and ‘Ally Sloper’ is done for. You will have to stand me a new pony.”

“Well, that won’t be a very serious affair,” remarked his friend, gravely eyeing the animal in question. “I shall not allow you to impose on Miss Barrington—Ally Sloper’s outside value is fifteen rupees! A mere grass-cutter’s ‘tat,’ with a head the size of a portmanteau.”

This remark gave rise to a most animated discussion between the two young men, and the sound of their voices, and of our horses’ hoofs, brought Peggy into the back verandah; and who shall describe her sensations, when she beheld this unexampled procession coming up the avenue?

I trotted over to her at once, and in a few hurried sentences sketched out the situation.

“God bless us!” was her first ejaculation; then her hospitable instincts coming to the fore, she added: “Take them round to the front, core of me heart, and ask them if they have a mouth on them, whilst I just whip off me old gown, and get out the best things. Here,” raising her voice, “Laloo, and Ragoo, where are ye, ye idle rapscallions? Can’t ye come and take the gentlemen’s horses?” And still calling “Laloo, and Ragoo,” she hurried out of sight.

Chapter X

Our First Dinner-Party

“Rich and rare were the gems she wore.” — Moore

As I was arraying myself for dinner, Peggy bustled quickly into my room; her face was red from cooking, although she was invested in her best dress, and a very smart new apron. “They are after pitching the tents in the compound,” she said, “and the two young gentlemen are dressing there—the old wan is in his Reverence’s room. Will ye tell me, Miss Ranee, and how did ye ever come across them?”

“We met them at Ram Tek. They were sight-seeing. Father and Colonel Raitt were at school together; is it not extraordinary?” I answered in a series of jerky sentences—being occupied with my refractory hair; never had I found it so difficult to arrange.

“Well—well—and do ye tell me that? And they are great over the shooting already—from all I can hear. I don’t doubt, but there is a cross of contrariness, sent us for our sins—there’s a fate in these things; in all the time I’m here, Miss Ranee, me stores were never so low—think of it! After seventeen year—three strangers landing in on me like this—and me entirely out of vinegar, and blacking, and scented soap!” And Peggy looked absolutely tragic.

“And what is there for dinner?” I inquired anxiously (although our meals were generally conceived in a large and liberal spirit).

“Oh—soup, av coorse—Marseer out of the river, stewed parrots, an elegant young peacock, curry, black buck, teal, sweets, plantains, and water-melon—we might be worse, seeing we are taken so short—along with his Reverence’s claret, they bid to do finely.”

“Yes, I suppose so,” I admitted, “with plenty of flowers, and the silver-branch candlesticks.”

“I don’t care a hair about the dinner,” said Peggy recklessly. “What is troubling me the most is yourself; sure you have not a tack to wear! What is to be done with you at all? The only decent thing you have is your new blue habit.”

“Habit, indeed! There’s the pink satin,” I began eagerly.

“Hush! never throw an eye to that; one would be as mad-looking as the other. You will just have to do as you are.”

I gazed at my reflection most discontentedly. Alas! I did not look the least bit different to any other day, in a clean white dress, and my shabby old belt.

“I thought the eyes would just drop out of me head, when I saw you riding up the avenue, with a train after you,” continued Peggy, “and officers, no less! The young one has a lovely smile, and is full of his jokes—he says he is going to learn the brogue off me. Well, honey!” turning me round as she spoke, “I suppose your hair will do. Put this red flower in the front of your frock; I wish we had something to lighten you up.”

At this instant a splendid idea flashed upon me, and laying both my hands on Peggy’s shoulders, and bringing my face quite close to hers, I whispered excitedly: “The diamonds, Peggy! The Begum’s necklace!”

“Musha, and so there is; but that would be going to the fair altogether! That would be too much dress.”

“But what good are they, if they are never to be seen, or worn?” I argued impatiently. “When shall I have such an opportunity for showing them off? They may lie for another eighteen years, and not a soul cross the threshold. Now is my chance!”

“That’s true enough!” she once more acquiesced. “I suppose you may as well give them a turn, when you can.”

This meant assent, and in an amazingly short time she was carefully clasping my only bit of finery—the Begum’s necklace—round my throat. And splendid it looked! How the stones flashed, and shone, they seemed too bright and dazzling; my first impulse was to take it off, but vanity stayed my hand. In spite of my paltry white gown, and poor little bunch of red flowers, I now looked dressed, and equal to any occasion; the diamond necklace seemed to have given me an air of dignity, importance, and magnificence. After a steady survey, I turned to Peggy, and asked “if I would do, and how I looked?”

“Oh! an will ye not be bothering me,” she answered very crossly—I believe she now most sincerely regretted her compliance. “Sure ye have no looks. You are just a pale, skinny, little girl. It’s more to the purpose, how the dinner table looks! I can’t trust that omadhan, Hassan, to lay a plate”—hustling me out of the room as she spoke. “The gentlemen is ready, so go away and talk to them, and don’t be getting your head turned!”

Thus cautioned, and driven forth, I walked into the drawing-room, which had quite a gala look, and was most brilliantly illuminated, and found myself the last arrival. The three guests were surprisingly smartened up, and—could I believe my eyes?—father, for once, had discarded his fantastic sash and turban, and wore a loose sack coat and trousers. He, and Colonel Raitt, and Captain Fitzroy, were discussing the Tiger carpet, and Mr. Hare stood apart, contemplating one of Peggy’s pictures, with a broad grin on his face. As I entered rather consciously, I felt that every eye was now centred on me, and I thought I heard a slight exclamation of horrified disapproval escape from father. However, this may have been imagination; but it was certainly not imagination, that the company, who were talking so briskly together when I appeared upon the scene—were now stricken dumb. And how Colonel Raitt stared! indeed, so did his two companions, but they surveyed me in a less obtrusive fashion, whilst he gaped open-mouthed. Luckily the spell was broken by Hassan, who now threw back the door with the usual formula:

“Dinner ready on the table.”

Colonel Raitt advanced to me, holding out his arm, and said in a most deferential manner: “May I take you in to dinner, Miss Barrington?”

“Thank you, no!” was my astonishing reply. “I can walk alone quite well. Did you think I was lame, like the padre?”

“There, lead the way, Ranee,” said father rather sharply, and I could tell by the tone of his voice, that I had made some terrible mistake. So waving further controversy with Colonel Raitt, I proceeded into the dining-room, as desired.

Dinner was a success. I had sufficient intelligence to grasp that agreeable fact, as I sat in unusual silence between father and Captain Fitzroy; we were badly placed; but the table was round. I had seated myself beside father, as a matter of course, and Captain Fitzroy had established himself, on my right hand—seemingly also as a matter of course. The table looked very pretty—it was decorated with Poinsettias and Palms, with true Eastern fingers; the peacock proved tender, his Reverence’s claret was appreciated, and the guests themselves furnished forth the sauce, to wit, an excellent appetite. I imagine that they were all incapable of any further surprise, after their experiences of the afternoon, and they accepted the well-served dinner, rich appointments, and excellent cooking, with placid resignation.

At length, Colonel Raitt exclaimed in a pause between the two helpings of peacock: “Just listen to that Hyena, and the Jackals across the river! Only for their giving tongue, no one would believe that we were in the heart of the jungle! This is rather different to the way we live in camp, or even at Dâk Bungalows,” examining, as he spoke, a massive silver salt-cellar—and I noticed that he turned over the spoon in search of the hall-mark.

“Some Dâk Bungalows are very good,” remarked Captain Fitzroy. “But the one we stopped at yesterday, carried ‘roughing it,’ to an extreme, and the cooking was done with kerosene oil.”

“Yes, that Kansamah ought to be strangled,” added Colonel Raitt with angry vehemence. I subsequently discovered, that he was rather a “bon vivant,” and apt to be very querulous, under culinary disappointment.

“The usual thing,” said father, “a sudden-death chicken and a curry!”

“A curry! yes,” rejoined my neighbour; “a curry that I shall never forget—hot enough to take the tin lining off a box, and a veteran fowl with an enormous amount of bone and muscle.”

“How do you get your stores, Barrington?” inquired his old schoolfellow. “This is first-rate wine!”

“They come from Bombay to Kolar, and from Kolar by cart.”

“And I suppose you procure your books, novels, and other literature in the same way, Miss Barrington?” said Captain Fitzroy.

Hitherto I had sat silent and critical—diffident of my undeveloped social powers; merely contenting myself with monosyllables, and listening with all my might; now, no longer able to restrain my tongue, I launched forth:

“Yes, we get books sometimes, but not novels—I never read them!” and I stated the fact with considerable complacency.

“Never read a novel!” he repeated, with a stare of wondering amusement. “Never read a love story! You are not in earnest?

“Of course I am. What is a love story about? What is a novel like?”

“Can’t you guess?” still looking at me fixedly. “Well, generally about a maiden more beautiful than the dawn, who meets a young man under some picturesque or thrilling circumstances. They fall madly in love; thousands of obstacles supervene in the way of their happiness; he goes to the wars, or he goes out of his mind; she becomes a Sister of Mercy, or has the small-pox! However, in the end all is satisfactorily cleared up, and they marry, and live blissfully ever after.”

“And do novels end like this as a rule?”

“Yes; ninety per cent. wind up with a wedding.”

“But I would like to hear how the people get on afterwards?”

“Ah, afterwards, they are not nearly so interesting; the interest ceases, and the story ends, when they are married; and I believe it is just as well! I should be afraid of discovering my favourite heroine throwing plates at her husband, or screaming at the servants.”

“And have you a favourite heroine?”

“Many,” he rejoined expressively.

“And which do you like best of all? What is she called?”

He turned a little more towards me, and said with the air of imparting a profound confidence:

“My favourite heroine used to be called Rebecca, daughter of Isaac of York; recently she has been superseded by the Fair One with the Golden Locks!”

“Oh, well, I am not much wiser than I was before,” I retorted rather impatiently; but apparently Mr. Hare knew all about her, for I noticed that he was grinning from ear to ear.

“What is your favourite study?” continued Captain Fitzroy.

“I read travels, essays, biographies, and history. I like history best.”

“Yes? Well, I dare say you absorb a good deal of fiction there.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, aghast. “Is not all history true?

“I am afraid not. I am sorry to inform you that many of our cherished illusions, are gradually being exploded.”

“I don’t understand you.”

“Well, you know the pretty story of Helen of Troy?”

I nodded.

“Some unpleasant German critics declare, that she must have been sixty years old at the time of the siege; and I fancy that the affection of her suitors—if she had any—must have been platonic! Then as to Cleopatra and the ear-ring, her organisation was truly remarkable, if it enabled her to quaff off nitric acid, which is the only fluid in which a pearl will dissolve. To come down to comparatively recent times, it is known that Fair Rosamond, instead of being poisoned by Queen Eleanor, died at a good old age, in Godstow Convent.”

“Don’t!” I exclaimed indignantly. “I won’t hear any more.”

“Then you would rather that she had partaken of the cup of cold poison?” he asked maliciously.

I made no reply. Captain Fitzroy made fun of history, possibly he was making fun of me! and for some seconds I maintained a stately silence.

“May I presume to remark your magnificent necklace?” he asked in a tone of exaggerated deference: “you look like the Queen of Diamonds.”

“Do you think so?” I rejoined rather stiffly; but I listened with delighted complacency, to his unbounded admiration of my dazzling ornament. The necklace had a curious effect on me—when I thought of it, or touched it, I felt intoxicated with pride and arrogance.

“An heirloom?” inquired my companion.

“No; it was given to father by a native prince. He rather wanted to get rid of it—he said it was unlucky; and the centre stone is called the Evil Eye.”

“A nice respectable name! and it has an odd, fiery expression of its own. However, I am sure its evil propensities and ill luck, will vanish now that it is in your possession,” he concluded politely.

“I hope so,” I exclaimed so fervently, that he smiled. “This is the first time I have ever worn it.”

“Well, you will have lots of opportunities of displaying it by-and-by.”

“How?” I asked brusquely.

“You don’t mean to say that you are going to be buried alive in the jungle all your life?” he returned rather sharply.

“I don’t know what you mean by being buried alive, but I know that I shall always live, and no doubt, die here.”

“Nonsense! your father would never be so selfish—”

“Hush,” I interrupted, “father is not selfish: you must not say such things.”

“And are you content?” looking at me narrowly.

“Not always,” I confessed. “When father is from home, and I am alone with Peggy for months, I often long for wings, to fly away,” here I lowered my voice to a whisper in case my parent should hear me, and added, “and see the world.”

“I don’t wonder,” rejoined my companion; “it would be odd if you did not.”

Meanwhile sport, and tiger stories, had been raging between the two elders and Mr. Hare, and Colonel Raitt’s loud voice had almost drowned our tamer conversation. (N.B.—His idea of conversation was discussion.) But now, Captain Fitzroy was to be drawn into the general mêlée, and Colonel Raitt, suddenly leaning over, said eagerly:

“I say, Fitzroy, what’s that they tell about the tigers near Mittoor?”

“Oh, you mean on the line of rail! They have eaten every single pointsman, and now they sit on the embankment, licking their lips at the guards of passing trains.”

“No, no, but bar all chaff.”

“Well, then, bar all chaff. They say—mind you I don’t say it—that the pointsmen on the Mittoor line are now kept in strong iron cages; completely reversing the old order of things, and that the tiger brings his little family to inspect them—precisely as we do, to his relations at the Zoo!”

“How extraordinary!” I remarked with much vivacity.

“Ah, Miss Barrington, if you enjoy really fine tiger stories, you should know Colonel Bouncer of Gurrumpore,” said Mr. Hare. “He tells the grandest yarns in India.”

“Does he? Do you know any of them?” I eagerly inquired.

“I think I could manage to remember one or two—but not to do them justice. One, that I can never forget, is about his killing a twelve-foot tiger with a toothpick.”

“A what?” I almost screamed.

“A toothpick,” he repeated with the utmost gravity. “He, I mean of course Colonel Bouncer, was walking through the jungle one day, quite unarmed and unprepared, when he was suddenly confronted by a monstrous tiger, who sprang upon him with a horrible roar, and, with one stroke of its paw, laid him low. As the brute stood over him, lashing his tail, in anticipation of a good meal, Colonel Bouncer naturally believed that his last moment had arrived; but a happy idea struck him, he thought of his sharp gold tooth-pick, the gift of his grandmother; in a second it was out, he had an extensive knowledge of anatomy, and feeling for the tiger’s heart, he plunged the tooth-pick up to the hilt, and without, a groan or struggle the king of the forest fell dead.”

“That’s all very well in its way,” remarked Captain Fitzroy condescendingly, “but I prefer his bird stories. Miss Barrington,” turning and addressing me, “I’m sure you would like to hear about Colonel Bouncer’s pet minar. It was the very apple of his eye, and talked fluent English with a London accent; it could repeat whatever it heard, and, whatever it did not immediately reproduce, was stored up in its mind! One day, one fatal day, the bird was missing, it had either been stolen or it had taken French leave, and flown away. Colonel Bouncer was inconsolable—inconsolable for weeks. However, one evening, he was riding through a forest, and was rather startled by hearing a human voice; presently he came to a little glade or opening, and there he beheld, to his intense surprise, a large circle of minars, and perched in the midst was his own long-lost bird—it was teaching the others the Lord’s Prayer! What do you say to that?” inquired Captain Fitzroy impressively.

“I say—I say—that I don’t believe it!” I answered impetuously; “no, nor the tiger-story either! What a wicked man! How could he tell such dreadful untruths?”

“Oh, poor old chap, he has told them so often that he has come to believing in them most firmly himself. There’s something in that.”

“He was in great form at your mess, not long ago. He told a tremendous stretcher about a flock of pigeons—you remember it, don’t you, Fitzroy?” said Colonel Raitt—“about a cloud of pigeons that actually darkened the sun, and they all pitched in his compound in such numbers that you could not see a blade of grass!”

I remember it well,” responded Mr. Hare, with a nod and a grin. “And he went in to fetch his gun, and fired among them, and was frightfully riled with Fitzroy, for, when he looked round with a proud air and said, ‘Now, gentlemen, how many do you think I bagged?’ Fitz instantly answered, ‘Ten thousand!’ So, just to disappoint him, he roared out, ‘Not one, sir—not a feather!’ And he would not tell another yarn that night! It was too bad of you, Fitz! He knew you were pulling his leg!”

Pulling his leg! What an outrageous thing to do! But before I had time to make any inquiry or observation, I caught father’s eye. He was looking at me most significantly. What did he want?

“Ranee,” he said, “we are going to smoke. Would you not like to go into the drawing-room?”

“Oh, no, thank you,” was my artless rejoinder; “I would much rather remain here. You know I like the smell of cigars.”

“Nevertheless, my dear, you will be better in the other room,” he said gravely; and I read in his face that I had committed another frightful social enormity, and that I was to depart. So I rose, with as much dignity as I could muster, and Captain Fitzroy also got up and walked to the door, and opened it for me to pass out.

Was this a joke? Was it a signal that he considered it was high time for me to be off, and that they were delighted to be rid of me?

I glanced at him suspiciously, as he stood erect, door in hand. No; luckily for him, his ever-smiling eyes were perfectly unembarrassed, and his face was as solemn, as the proverbial owl.

Chapter XI

The Rose of the Desert

“Was it a vision or a waking dream?
Fled is that music—do I wake or sleep?”
— Keats

Coffee was served outside, and chairs were placed at the edge of the bank, overlooking the river, and here I was joined—in a flatteringly short space of time—by the two young men.

“I found this guitar,” said Mr. Hare. “It was hanging in the verandah. Of course you play, Miss Barrington?”

Now this guitar had been a present from Peggy, after one of her pilgrimages. It was a nice, portable, musical instrument, and I believe she supposed that possessing a guitar, and playing on it, were one and the same thing.

“No,” I replied. “But I hope you do.”

“Yes, and sings like a nightingale,” said his friend. “Peter, strike up. The moon, the river, and last, not least, the presence of a lady should inspire you.”

“We are all musical,” remarked Peter, carefully screwing up the strings. “Fitzroy here fiddles like a Paganini or Nero; and you should just hear Colonel Raitt singing—”

“Or rather you should not. Don’t ask him, Miss Barrington, if you will be advised by me; he roars like one of his own tigers. And here he comes,” as Colonel Raitt and father appeared in the verandah, and came over and joined our circle by the river-bank.

“Colonel Raitt tells me, that your leave is up in a week,” said the latter, seating himself by Captain Fitzroy; “and if you and Mr. Hare can manage to stay for three days, I think I could show you some sport, in the shape of a tiger or two.”

Naturally Captain Fitzroy and his friend could stay, and were full of gratitude and eager anticipations.

“You see,” continued father, “you are strangers, and don’t know the country—I do. I have lived here for seventeen years, and I am looked upon as a lord of the soil, and all the tigers and big game within fifty miles are preserved solely for me. Shikarris would take your money, and tell you lots of lies, but they would never dare to beat for one of my tigers! I know a place, about a day’s march from this, where we ought to get something—I have made arrangements now, and we start at daylight to-morrow.”

“Good Lord!” yelled Colonel Raitt, bounding out of his chair, upsetting a table and coffee-cups. “What’s this?—A tiger here?”

“It’s only my tame panther,” I explained serenely. “She is like a cat, and follows me all over the place. She is quite harmless. I have had her since she was the size of a kitten.”

I was amazed at the old man’s unworthy panic, for which I could see no reason.

“A nice kitten! I don’t like the look of her at all. Send the brute away. Call her off,” he cried excitedly, as Jaina now commenced to rub herself affectionately against his legs.

“I’ll take her away if you like,” rising and dragging her by the collar. “But she must do her tricks first, and show every one how accomplished she is. Now, Jaina, die for your country.”

Jaina obediently flung herself down with a heavy thump, and closed her eyes. After this, I made her sit up—which she did very badly—and jump through a hoop—which she accomplished very gracefully. Then father, seeing that his old schoolfellow still looked exceedingly unhappy, and was in a state of grotesque alarm, said:

“There, Ranee, that will do. Take her away.” And accordingly, with my handkerchief run through her collar, I led her off to her bed, in the stables, escorted by Mr. Peter Hare, who assured me that I ought to exhibit Jaina, and that “the Lion Queen was not in the same street with me.” Here was another of his dark sayings. What street?

“I see you have a boat on the river,” he remarked as he sauntered back. “Suppose we go for a row. It will be awfully jolly and cool. Do come.”

I did not need any pressing, I was very fond of boating, and three minutes later, saw us floating down the Karrhan. Peter rowed well—with long, easy strokes; whilst I reclined in the stern, with my diamonds flashing in the moonlight, and the tiller ropes in my lap.

“Turn about is fair play,” said my companion, nodding up at the party on the bank.

“Why, what do you mean?” I asked innocently.

“I only mean, that Fitzroy had your company all the way home—that he sat beside you at dinner, and never let me get in a word edge-ways—and it’s my innings now.’

“What does ‘Innings’ mean—and ‘Jolly’—and ‘Hook’?”

“Oh! life is a great deal too short to explain things,” said Mr. Hare lazily. “Let me sing you a little song instead.”

I have no doubt, that Peter knew that his charming tenor voice, was a powerful agent in his favour, and he speedily shipped his oars, slung the guitar ribbon over his shoulder, and struck up “Oft in the Stilly Night.” I recognised the words, they were Moore’s, and leaning back with one hand rippling through the tepid water, I gave myself up to the delights of the moment. Surely it was not I—Ranee Barrington, who was drifting down the Karrhan—vis-à-vis with a strange young man, who was singing melting love songs to the old guitar?—for “Oft in the Stilly Night” had been followed by “Love’s Young Dream,” and a charming Serenade. My thoughts recurred to the fortune-teller’s prediction. This undoubtedly was “a great event,” and was not the moon shining full overhead?

Suddenly Mr. Hare ceased to sing—laid the guitar across his knees, and said: “I think we have the best of it down here, instead of being up above, listening to old Raitt’s everlasting Shikar talk! Don’t you find it deadly dull here, Miss Barrington?”

“Sometimes.”

“By Jove! When girls call Gurrumpore slow, I wonder what they would say to this!

“Are there many pretty girls at Gurrumpore?”

“No-o. Rather a scratch pack.”

“A what?

“Well—a fiddle-headed lot.”

Fiddle-headed! I don’t understand—am I fiddle-headed?” I asked, as I dabbled my hand in the waters of the Karrhan.

“Rather not,” impressively.

“What would you call me then?”

“I’d call you an uncommonly pretty girl,” was the bold reply. “I’d call you the Rose of the Desert!”

I sat up, dried my hand deliberately, and looked at him steadily. He appeared to be quite serious.

“I am only giving you a plain answer, to your plain question, and you look as if you could shoot me.” And he laughed a laugh, of unabashed audacity.

“How do the girls at Gurrumpore pass their time?” I asked, with my usual abruptness—I could not afford to quarrel with him about nonsense. My object was to utilise every precious moment, and gather up as much information about the outer world as I could possibly scrape together, to ruminate upon, when they had departed.

“They have tiffin parties, tennis parties, tea parties, dinners, and dances, and lots of jolly new frocks, and sundry flirtations.”

“And what is a flirtation?”

“Oh, Fitzroy will tell you what it is, if you ask him! If you appealed to Fitzroy to define it, perhaps he would say that you and I were carrying on one now.”

“Would he really?” I exclaimed in intense surprise. “Is going out in a boat, a flirtation?”

“Not always; but at any rate Fitz would be wrong. You and I don’t know how to flirt! We are far too young and innocent, are not we?”

“Never mind what we are, but tell me some more about Gurrumpore,” I said imperiously.

“Oh, it’s a capital little station, sociable and sporting, cheap and not nasty, and suits me down to the ground.”

“And what is your regiment like?”

“Magnificent fellows, raised from the old Mahratta Horse, you know. But it was the uniform, that fetched me.”

“Fetched you from where?”

“Oh, I say!” shaking his head—“attracted me. We wear turbans, and heaps of gold embroidery, and leopard skins. You should just see me, in full war-paint, and as to Fitz—!”

Apparently “Fitz” was too splendid for words. “He is a friend of yours, is he not?”

“Yes; we live together. He bosses the show, and keeps me up to the mark, and out of scrapes.”

“What scrapes?” I questioned, with ruthless curiosity.

“Well, scrapes pecuniary, and scrapes matrimonial. I’m horribly susceptible, I can tell you. He is my skipper too. He is a capital fellow, a ripping good rider: every one likes Fitz.”

“Why?”

“Oh, I can’t explain things—well—but men like him, because he is so straight, and such a good chap, and such first-rate company. Women like him, because he is good-looking and amusing, and he is not a bit afraid of them. All the same, he is not a marrying man—and if there was a regimental matrimonial lottery to-morrow he would not fetch four annas!”

“I don’t understand you in the least, you might just as well talk Chinese!” I said impatiently.

“You can understand, perhaps, that Fitz is poor? Once he was well off, and in a crack regiment at home, and tooled their drag. Now, he has nothing but his pay, and all he has to his name, is an old bamboo cart worth thirty rupees, and a horse that he got a great bargain, because it bolts! He is as poor as Job, and it speaks well for our single-mindedness when I tell you, that he is one of the most popular fellows in Gurrumpore! And that there is not a girl in the place, would not marry him if he asked her.”

“I don’t believe that,” I said indignantly, “they cannot all be in love with him! Now tell me about some other people.”

“Well, to begin with our colonel, his name is Fred Gimlette; he is a most distinguished officer; his breast is quite plated with medals—if he gets any more, we must stick them on his back; he is a great warrior, and we are all very proud of him. And then there is Mrs. Gimlette, his wife—a fine old soldier, too” And he grinned ridiculously.

“Has she fought battles?” I asked in awestruck amazement.

“Only with her servants, and her tradespeople. She is a regular character, and has quite a craze for buying and selling. If she has nothing of her own on hand, she will trade for other people, from a pair of horses, to a pair of scissors—it’s all one to her, and is her sole amusement. She let Fitz and me in for an awful old lamp, that blows up when it’s lighted.”

“What a dreadful person! And who else is there in your regiment?”

“There’s Sadler, our horsey man; he has not a single idea beyond the stable; and Conroy—Conroy is a nailing good cricketer, and is very well in some ways; but he is a sponge.”

“A sponge!” I echoed.

“Yes; he is no worse off than I am, and yet he never has a single thing to his name, He indents on my uniform—rather hard lines on my kit, having to do for two—thank goodness my boots won’t fit him! he borrows my socks, gloves, and shirts. He has had a portmanteau, and cheroot case of mine so long, that he believes they are his own. He broke the knees of Fitzroy’s Tandstikker—”

“What’s that?” I interrupted.

“Tandstikker is an A 1 pony—a country bred; and as his two previous masters both got married, and Tandstikker was a great feature, and factor in their courtships—hence his name,—however, there’s no fear of Fitzroy, he is warranted not to ignite. Conroy took the pony out of the stable one night, without the formality of asking leave, and galloped him round the guards, and came to awful grief in the dark over a stone drain. He had also a pleasant habit, of calling every afternoon after we had gone out, and telling our butler to give him a cheroot and a ‘peg’: it saved him getting them at the club house, where he would have to pay. However, I soon stopped that little game,” he concluded triumphantly.

“Then you don’t like Mr. Conroy?” I said bluntly.

“Yes; I do in a way. He is very good-natured. You can’t put him out, however much you slang him. He is a capital cricketer, and an immense favourite with outsiders—of course they don’t know his little peculiarities. He is always ready to exercise a fellow’s horse (saddle or harness), or to ride a race, and he gets lots of mounts with the bobbery pack. ‘Con’ certainly manages to do his amusements cheaply. He pays for nothing; and, talking of payment, what are you going to pay me for these songs?”

“In what way?”

“You might give me those jolly flowers in your dress?”

“But they would be no use to you—you can’t wear them;” nevertheless holding out one of them as I spoke.

“Oh, can’t I?” sticking it in his button-hole. “Looks rather neat, eh? We must have you down to Gurrumpore this cold weather, and show you something of life and society. I shall keep this flower until we meet again, as a souvenir of you and of this lovely night.” And once more taking up the guitar, he warbled —

“Do you recall that night in June Upon the Danube river;

“Ahem, the Karrhan I mean,” shaking his head.

“I’ll ne’er forget that night in June Upon the Karrhan river. Our boat kept measure with its oars—”

“There’s father’s whistle,” I interrupted, half rising. “We must go back at once.”

Mr. Hare muttered something that sounded uncommonly like —

Blow his whistle!”

And then calmly proceeded to argue as follows: “Firstly, it might not be father’s whistle at all. Secondly, that if it was, how did I know that it was intended to summon me? Thirdly, that we were very happy as we were!”

After a most animated altercation, in which I signally routed my companion, we got the boat’s head round, and rowed slowly homewards; at the top of the steps we encountered Captain Fitzroy, apparently awaiting us. He glanced at me, and then looked very hard at Peter—looked at him twice, when he beheld my flower so jauntily displayed in his button-hole. And it occurred to me that he was not altogether pleased with his friend. What had he done? However, all he said was:

“Well, Peter, I need not ask if you have enjoyed yourself! Perhaps, now, you will kindly make your singing more general and give us a song up here.”

“It’s rather late,” objected Peter.

“Not a bit of it. Never too late to mend!” said the other significantly.

“Yes, Hare, sing us something, like a good fellow,” chimed in Colonel Raitt.

He and father had been going over old days, so Captain Fitzroy whispered to me, but that almost every reminiscence my parent put forward, had been either flatly contradicted, or largely revised. Nevertheless I had never seen him so animated or so cheerful.

“Well, what is it to be?” said Peter, lazily leaning back in a low chair—“A Romany Lass?”

“No; give us that thing from ‘Departmental Ditties,’ that you put to a tune—‘The Lover’s Litany.’”

After a rather sharp discussion, for and against, Mr. Hare succumbed to his comrades’ wishes, twanged a few careless chords, and cleared his throat, and having premised that he did not hold himself responsible for the sentiments in the song, commenced the following ditty:

Eyes of grey, a sodden quay,
 Driving rain and falling tears,
As the steamer wears to sea
 In a parting storm of tears.
Sing, for Faith and Hope are high,
 None so true as you and I.
Sing the Lover’s Litany:  
“Love like ours can never die.”

Eyes of black, a throbbing keel,
 Milky foam to left and right;
Whispered converse near the wheel,
 In the brilliant tropic night.
Cross that rules the Southern sky!
 Stars that sweep, and wheel, and fly!
Hear the Lover’s Litany:
 “Love like ours can never die.”

Eyes of blue, the Simla hills,
 Silvered with the moonlight hoar,
Pleading of the waltz that thrills,
 Dies and echoes round Benmore
“Mabel,” “officers,” “good-bye,”
 Glamour, wine, and witchery—
On my soul’s sincerity,
 “Love like ours can never die.”

Eyes of brown—a dusty plain,
 Split and parched with heat of June,
Flying hoof and tightened rein,
 Hearts that beat the old, old tune.
Side by side the horses fly,
 Frame we now the old reply
Of the Lover’s Litany:
 “Love like ours can never die.”

Here Mr. Hare stopped, and would have led us to suppose, that this was the end of the song.

“Go on, Peter,” said his friend, “don’t shirk the last verse—the last verse is the best of all.”

“It’s too long,” objected his victim; nevertheless he once more struck up,

Maidens of your charity!
 Pity my most luckless state
Four times Cupid’s debtor I—
 Bankrupt in quadruplicate.
Spite of Cupid’s perjury,
 If another maid should try,
I dare sing the Litany,
 Sing the Lover’s Litany,
“Love like ours can never die.”

“Ah, very good—capital,” said Colonel Raitt, knocking the ash off his cheroot, and nodding his bald head approvingly.

“Very good, is it not?” agreed Captain Fitzroy, playfully patting his comrade’s shoulder. “And sung by the original hero; the author had Mr. Peter Hare before his mind’s eye, when he wrote it.”

“Come, now, I like that,” said Peter rather sulkily.

“Only that he toned down the sketch,” continued his comrade pleasantly. And he looked at me with a meaning smile and said, “Peter is dangerous.”

Did he intend me to take this as a joke, or a warning, or what?

“Ranee,” said father rather sharply, “we start at daybreak to-morrow, and we are going to turn in quite early—you had better go to bed.”

Thus somewhat peremptorily dismissed, I rose obediently, bade a general good-night, and retired to my own apartment, took off my glittering necklace, and sat down; I got no further with my toilette, but was still fully dressed, and busily reviewing the events of this most wonderful day when Peggy entered—twenty times in the twenty-four hours she was in and out of my room.

“Blessed hour!” she ejaculated. “And are you not in bed yet? Where is your necklace? Oh, I see—Come, take off your dress. Where’s the flowers that was in it?”

“Everything was very nice—they were delighted with the dinner,” I remarked, with, an artful desire to turn the conversation.

“Oh, and they had a good right to be,” rather crossly. “And aren’t you destroyed, with the thirst?

“Thirst, no. Why should I be thirsty?” I asked innocently.

“From all—you talked,” she returned; “your tongue was going like a clapper.”

“What do you think of them, Peg?” I inquired, with another effort to change the conversation.

“Oh, faix, Colonel Raitt talks as much as yourself! and has a voice, that would split a pitcher. The wan they call Fitzroy, is a handsome man, and looks like a soldier; he has a merry eye of his own, that little escapes. The young one is a boy—and as plain as a hape of stones; but his singing bates all—he would coax the fish out of the water! And he seems a pious young man—what was that about a Litany? I could not rightly catch the words.”

“It was not at all a pious song, Peggy,” I answered, with an involuntary smile.

“And who was in the boat with him, and you?” she continued peremptorily.

“No one.”

“And what did you do with the flowers, eh?”

“I gave them to him,” I answered boldly.

“Oh! I declare this sort of work won’t do at all, Miss Ranee. Is that the sort of girl you are? You have no call to be boating with gentlemen, and giving them flowers—a nice name—a real nice name you will be getting yourself, if you don’t mind.”

“Mr. Hare has given me a very nice name already,” I answered rather saucily.

“‘The wild girl of the woods,’ I’ll go bail!”

“No, indeed; and as you would never guess it, I may as well tell you at once. He said I was ‘the Rose of the Desert.’ Is not it a pretty idea? What do you think of that?

“I think Mr. Hare was making rare sport of you,” rejoined Peggy, with angry promptitude. “Rose, indeed! without a tint of colour in your face. It’s a yellow rose he manes.”

And with this blighting interpretation, of my first charming compliment, the disagreeable old woman blew out the candle, and left me in the dark.

Chapter XII

“Princess of the Jungle”

“I am monarch of all I survey,
My right there is none to dispute.”
— Cowper

The shooting-party started long before dawn, such was their zeal—started hours before I was awake, and remained absent for three whole days. At length news arrived, in the mysterious way in which news travels from mouth to mouth, and village to village, in India, that the Tiger Lord (meaning father) had had good sport, and was returning along the river with two dead tigers. As soon as the sun was on the decline, I mounted Cassim, and set off in the direction from which the Shikar party were expected. They were coming from the dense line of forest that lay at the foot of some distant hills. Few people, (comparatively), are acquainted with an Indian jungle. Do those who have never travelled through one, picture miles of low, green scrub, thousands of black boulder-stones, and herds of graceful antelopes; or great stretches of tall grass, intersected by sandy water-courses; fields of heavy-headed Jawarri, ravaged by flocks of green parrots; crops of yellow linseed, dotted with greedy, black-faced monkeys? Do people imagine, leagues of dense primeval forest, with gigantic flowering trees—trees almost smothered in the embrace of fragrant white creepers, trees with pink blossoms, and leaves like brown plush; where the Teak and Neem, Peepul and Bamboo, flourish together, and the Sensitive Plant grows, undisturbed, to the height of several feet? Do people picture, the shady, rocky nullahs, where the tiger lies in ambush, and the maidenhair fern carpets all the damp, dim nooks? or the brilliant blue jays, golden orioles, doves, peacocks, and irrepressible “Why-did-you-do-it” birds? No; no one who who has never seen it can possibly conjure up before their mind’s eye, the silence, the dignity, and the beauty, of an Indian jungle!

Through such a jungle I rode along, now at a canter, now at a walk, for fully ten miles, and at last the faint sounds of jubilant “tom-toms” fell upon my ear, and I halted by the broken wall of an ancient tank—once brimful, and covered with delicate pink water-lilies; now, thanks to the hot weather, empty, dry, and baked. Presently the procession came in view—first, the two young men, riding rather in advance; then the tom-toms, rending the hot, still air; next the bodies of the slain, each slung to a stout pole, and carried by twenty coolies; then, carts with tents and baggage; lastly Colonel Raitt and father, followed by an enthusiastic crowd.

“Well,” I called out, “so you have had good sport!”

Grand!” roared Colonel Raitt. “I have shot a monster—a man-eater ten feet long!”

After a few minutes of somewhat incoherent conversation, interrupted by sudden bursts of triumph from Colonel Raitt, father said rather impatiently:

“Come, Ranee, it will soon be dark; we must push on. You will hear it all at home.”

“Long before that, Miss Barrington!” said Peter eagerly. “We won’t put your patience to such a terrible test. Come and ride in front with us—you will lead the van nobly!—and we will tell you all about our brave deeds, as we pursue the line of march.”

In another moment, I was riding at the head of the procession, well in advance of the tom-toms, and with a cavalier on either side.

“It was your father who killed the large tiger,” said Peter. “Colonel Raitt pinked him slightly, but you know, first hit gets the skin.”

“Yes; and I was surprised to hear that the brute had grown a foot since his death,” added Captain Fitzroy very gravely.

“Oh, my dear fellow! he will have grown three more by the time we get to Gurrumpore.”

“And who shot the other tiger?” I inquired. “I did,” said Mr. Hare triumphantly.

“We flushed the first tiger not far from a riverside village about twenty miles off. He was more than suspected of being a man-eater: however, he did not disdain a nice young bullock we had kindly tied up, and killed and ate the best part of him last night.”

“Now, Fitz,” broke in his comrade, “give me a chance. You know I can tell a story twice as well as you can.”

“It depends upon what you call a story,” retorted the other with a laugh. “However, all right, fire away.”

“Well, you see, Miss Barrington,” he began volubly, “Fitz and I were perched up on the same machan, in one tree, and the two old gentlemen were in another, and the jungle, where we knew ‘stripes’ was lying up, was beaten by a hundred coolies with tom-toms, and crackers, and shouts, and yells, and great throwing of stones and clods of earth. At last, after a ghastly wait of about two hours, not daring to smoke or speak, I was just thinking that it wasn’t quite good enough, sitting on a narrow shelf, concealed like an owl in an ivy bush, and I would nip down and stretch my legs; when there was a crash in the underwood, and out galloped a large tiger. Old Tommy fired and grazed him, and then your father rolled him over very neatly, with a bullet in his brain. The greatest excitement naturally ensued, and we all descended to examine the slain. He looked a huge brute as he lay stretched out, and Colonel Raitt was nearly delirious with delight. ‘I wish there were a few more to shoot, now I have my eye in,’ he said, as he peacocked round his quarry. The wish was barely out of his mouth, when a beater dashed into the little circle, and scattered us with one word —

‘Tigress!’

“How I got back into our machan, I cannot tell—perhaps Fitz knows—and we were hardly there before we caught sight of a long orange body creeping through the jungle like a great cat.”

“I could distinctly hear the thumping of your heart, my friend,” supplemented Captain Fitzroy.

“I dare say. I don’t deny, that I was in a most deadly funk. She advanced into the open space, looked about her, and lashed her tail as much as to say, ‘What’s all this row about?’ Then she gave a roar that nearly shook me out of the machan, when she became aware of the corpse of her lord and master. She approached it softly, smelt all round it, and then her roars were appalling—rage and grief combined. After this, she began to sniff about, presumably for us. And old Tommy—I mean Colonel Raitt—who was not back in his machan, but the very first tree to hand—dropped his rifle, he was in such a mortal funk; and no wonder, for his perch was a mere sapling. This performance brought the beast just nicely opposite to where we were posted,—only ten feet above her. I fired in a flurry, and hit her in the shoulder; the shot capsized her, and she rolled over, tearing the wound with her teeth. Then she got up again, caught sight of us, and came straight at our miserable lop-sided machan.”

“A charging tiger is a wonderful sight,” remarked Captain Fitzroy; “with ears laid back—mouth open.”

Will you shut up, and let me finish?” said his comrade impatiently. “She made one bound, Miss Barrington, and actually got her claws on to the edge of our little platform; and I shall never forget what I felt, when I saw her yellow eyes, and felt her hot breath, within two feet of me! Luckily Fitzroy was ready, and fired both barrels into her head, and she fell back plump—stone dead—carrying the machan and us, with her in the fall; and there we all lay in a heap. However, when we had extricated ourselves, beyond a few bruises, and scratches, and an awful fright, we were not a bit the worse.”

“A most thrilling adventure, Mr. Hare,” I remarked. “So you and Colonel Raitt, have each got a fine tiger.”

“Yes,” he replied, with a grin of preposterous complacency.

“And they were both killed by other people!”

“What a nasty one for me, Miss Barrington! And I had intended, to have offered you the claws and whiskers.”

“Pray don’t. Tigers’ skins and claws are no novelty to us,” I answered ungratefully.

“After this awful snub, I suppose I ought to hide my diminished head. Perhaps you will be so kind as to imagine, that I have made some effective repartee.”

“I have no imagination,” I returned with barbarous candour.

“Does your father always shoot from machans—like to-day?” inquired Captain Fitzroy.

“No; but he wanted to make sure of some sport. He has no elephant, and sometimes—indeed generally—he goes on foot.”

“An uncommonly risky proceeding.”

“I say, Fitz,” broke in his friend, “it’s your turn now. I know you had an awkward adventure once, with a man-eater. Tell us about it; something or other, pour passer le temps.”

“I am sure Miss Barrington is sick of sporting stories, and this one, does not redound particularly to my credit.”

“But I should like to hear it, all the same,” I assured him with unintentional rudeness.

“It’s not much of a tale, I must prepare you. It happened some years ago, when I was particularly young and foolish, and was what is called a Griffin—”

“Come, that will do for a preface. Go on with the story; you are no Griffin now,” said Mr. Hare.

“Well, I was out shooting—with two other fellows, Grey and Vandeleur—on two months’ leave. Grey, the head of our party, was a splendid sportsman, and thanks to him, and to our being in a capital jungle, we had extraordinary luck. I actually bagged four tigers myself, and went up forty degrees in my own estimation—having never killed anything previously that was bigger than a rabbit—and I was a long way, the keenest and the most foolhardy, of the whole party. We were on the look-out for a notorious man-eater, and, after a forced march, had camped at the foot of a great range of low-wooded hills, overlooking a fertile country; but most of the crops stood uncut, many roads were entirely deserted, and five or six villages had been abandoned, owing to the depredations of this tiger. He was said to have carried off, at least, a hundred and fifty people, from fields, off carts, and even out of their huts. A large reward was on his head—many paragraphs had appeared about him in the paper—and the fame of ‘the Korai man-eater’ was spread abroad from Calcutta to Bombay. For my own part, my greatest ambition, was to be known as the fellow, who had rid the country of this pest! He was said to be recognisable, by a crooked toe, that stuck out quite horizontally from one of his fore paws—also he was a large lank brute, with a deep wound in his back, where a hatchet had been flung at him, as he carried off a woman. We were now within his so-called ‘beat,’ a radius of fifteen miles, and although my companions resolved to rest for the remainder of the day after a long march—rest was out of the question for me. I felt as fresh as paint, and started off alone in the afternoon, with a shot gun over my shoulder—to explore the surrounding country, and to bring in ‘khubber’ of the tiger—and wild pigeons for the pot. After a couple of miles of tramp, through Bamboo jungle, I came to the dry bed of a river, over-shadowed with fine forest trees—here and there, in the white sand, were a few pools of water, and round the pools, were dozens of tracks: Pig, Sambur, Hyena, Jackal. As I plunged along in the fine deep sand, I suddenly saw something that made my heart beat a little faster,—the pugs of a large tiger—so large, they seemed the circumference of a plate; they were going right up the nullah, and were not two hours old! I looked a little closer, and sure enough, one of them left a distinct impression of the notorious crooked toe! I was on the track of the Korai man-eater. The pugs were easily followed along the sand for fifty yards, then they went up a bank, and were by no means, so readily traced; however, with patience and observation—learned from my friend Grey—I made them out here, and there, for nearly half a mile. When I came to a rough Country road, bordered with Bamboos, some one had recently been cutting them, for a pile lay on the road—a bill-hook, yes! and a man’s turban. Next I noticed a great splash of blood further on; the man’s waist-cloth stretched, and unwound like a snake. I went further among the bamboos—and, I won’t mind telling you what I saw—I felt cold and queer, and full of both horror and fury,—there was no sign of the monster. Presently my anger cooled, and I began to retrace my steps, and to realise, that I was a long way from camp, with only a shot gun in my hand. I had gone about two miles, walking quickly, in the direction of our halting place, full of my discovery, and burning for the morrow’s beat. The jungle at sundown is silent—as I am sure you know, Miss Barrington—silent and lonely, and I was a good deal startled by hearing the sudden sharp snap of a twig, at some distance behind me, just as if some one had stepped on it. I glanced round, and saw a low, lank shape, distinctly defined against the red sky. It was creeping along stealthily and swiftly, just as I have seen a cat creeping after a mouse. I had been tracking the Korai man-eater—and he was now tracking me.—I cannot describe what I felt. My gun was of no use, merely charged with shot; to run would be instant destruction, so I walked on very rapidly, till I came to a bend or corner where I was out of sight, and then I took to my heels, and fled for my life; but running was no good, I had barely time to scramble into a tree, when the tiger was beneath it. There I sat, astride a branch,—a prisoner. It got darker and darker, and I could only make out a shape, and a pair of greedy, glittering eyes. I shall never forget that night, and when dawn came—”

“You awoke, and it was all a dream,” interrupted his friend facetiously.

“I did nothing of the sort,” he retorted rather shortly. “I was released at daybreak by Grey and Vandeleur, who had been in a mortal fright about me—the tiger was shot the same day,” thus winding up his tale with extraordinary abruptness.

“Who shot him?” I asked with unquenchable curiosity.

“Well, I did; but we put three or four bullets into him before he was despatched.”

“And did you not feel very proud?” I inquired in astonishment.

“Not nearly as proud, as I expected to feel. The sensation of being chased by an animal, who wants to make a supper off you, is rather lowering to a man’s self-esteem—one has shared the experience, of a Rat or a Mouse.”

Meanwhile as we rode along, we skirted large villages, passed through small ones, and met on the open plains, many flocks, and herds, pacing solemnly homewards. In the villages, and on the plains alike, all who witnessed our triumphal procession, paused and gazed on us admiringly, including the pariah Dogs, hideous blue Buffaloes, and even the indolent, self-possessed Crows. When we reached the high road, we encountered great trains of heavily-laden carts, rumbling along at the rate of two miles an hour, carrying traffic from point to point, in lieu of the unromantic railway. In many cases, the drivers were sound asleep under their matting covers, but the bullocks with serious faces, and comfortable sacking coats, still kept the line with mechanical propriety. Occasionally we passed these carriers, already bivouacked, and performing the evening ablutions, or feeding their cattle, or squatting round great fires, cooking the inevitable chupattie. When the firelight fell on me, and my well-known white horse, I was always greeted with profound salaams—for Cassim and I, were a familiar object, to all the frequenters of the grand trunk road.

“I see you are a great personage in this part of the world, Miss Barrington,” remarked Captain Fitzroy. “Wherever you go, you are received like Royalty; you are the Princess of the Jungle.”

“My name, Ranee, is my only claim to that rank,” I answered, raising my hand to acknowledge a whole group of salaams.

“That must be your modesty; surely there is some more solid reason, which causes all the population, old and young, to prostrate themselves before your very shadow?”

“It is for father’s sake,” I answered frankly. “He is much looked up to and respected. He is called the Tiger Lord.”

“The Tiger Lord,” ejaculated Mr. Hare. “What a jolly name!”

“Yes; long ago this country was infested with Tigers. There were man-eaters like the one that followed Captain Fitzroy, villages were deserted, crops left standing, and people only ventured out armed, and in bands. ‘Holloo,’ our Shikarri, saw the bodies of twenty people, who had been killed by one Tiger, and he and another man, were attacked by him, in broad daylight, and beat him off with their hatchets with the greatest difficulty: he was said to have killed nearly two hundred victims. Father killed him, by stratagem at last; for he was so cunning, it was almost impossible to track him. He dressed up a dummy man on a bullock-cart, and drove behind on another, along a road the Tiger haunted—and the plan succeeded, for the brute sprang on the dummy, and father shot him dead. Of course there was great joy all over the country, and people began to venture out once more, and to drive off the deer and wild pigs who were destroying their crops. Father has killed such numbers of tigers, that this district is now considered comparatively safe.”

“Then I don’t wonder that he is looked upon as a great man, and called the Tiger Lord,” said Mr. Hare emphatically.

“Yes, and besides this, he practises his profession still, for the benefit of the people. They have great faith in him, and come many miles to consult him, and—and—” here I stammered and hesitated, “and lastly, he gives them money.”

“A species of benevolence, which appeals to them more directly, than killing tigers, and healing disease,” remarked Captain Fitzroy rather drily. (Our household expenses were very small, we had our own flocks and herds, our clothes cost next to nothing, grain and wages were extremely cheap, and father was able to divide what seemed a princely income among our poorer neighbours.)

“And how does he disburse it?” asked Mr. Hare.

“Some come to the Bungalow—the blind, and aged, that live close by. A piece of silver, is a fortune to them, for coppers and shell cowries, are the coin of the country. To those at a distance, I ride, with their pensions; and, for others, father sends the money to the village malgoozar.”

“I wonder you are not afraid of being robbed,” remarked Peter, “going about the country with bags of coin!”

“No one would rob me!” I answered, rather haughtily.

“Well, any way, I’m sure you are jolly well humbugged,” persisted this irrepressible youth.

“I don’t think so,” I returned stoutly. “I see all the poverty, misery, and patience with my own eyes.”

“Of course you speak the language perfectly?” remarked Captain Fitzroy. “Yes; Marathi, Hindostani, and a little Telagu.”

“Ah!” he exclaimed with a smile—he really had a charming smile. “I wonder if your Hindostani is similar to that of other ladies—all in the imperative mood? Ow—low—jow?”

To this question I did not condescend a reply.

“Look here, Miss Barrington,” said Peter suddenly. “Are you not in want of an assistant-almoner, or private secretary? For I know, a highly respectable young man, who can be well recommended; no encumbrance, no objection to travel—and who might suit.”

“Meaning himself,” said Captain Fitzroy, in answer to my stare of interrogation. “But do not have anything to say to him. He is idle, impudent, and impecunious, and would bolt with the money, and your diamond necklace, on the first opportunity.”

“And this man calls himself my friend!” exclaimed Peter, with mock indignation; and Peter’s remark brought us to the avenue of Peepul trees, and the end of our ride.

Chapter XIII

“Who Is Mrs. Grundy?”

“But, for mine own part, it was Greek to me.” — Julius Cæsar

The day after the Tiger procession, was one of the hottest I ever experienced. The hours slowly weltered on, till evening, and then we all assembled, and sat on the verandah, and endeavoured to bear up against the thermometer.

Colonel Raitt smoked, Captain Fitzroy played chess with me, and Mr. Hare made a third at the table, and kept up a running fire of remarks on our game, and made ridiculous suggestions that, to people of less beautiful tempers, would have been irritating,—if not absolutely maddening.

“Look here, Miss Barrington,” said Colonel Raitt suddenly. “I’ll tell you what it is! We must have you down to Gurrumpore next cold weather. I have a daughter about your age”—(she was twenty-five)—“would you like to come?”

“Very much indeed, thank you!” was my strictly truthful reply.

“We have a fine big house—there’s lots of room in it—and so, after the first break in the rains, we shall expect you.”

Here Mr. Hare chimed in, and he and Colonel Raitt, alternately painted the delights of Gurrumpore in glowing colours—and indeed it did not need their brilliant descriptions, to fire my easily-wrought-upon imagination. I listened eagerly, with parted lips, whilst one inducement after another was placed before me. Meanwhile, as I afterwards remembered, Captain Fitzroy toyed with the neglected chessman and said nothing!

“Oh, Barrington, here you are at last!” exclaimed Colonel Raitt, as father, who had been arranging for their departure at cockcrow next morning, now joined us. “You are just in the nick of time! Your daughter and I have it all settled. After the rains she is coming down to Gurrumpore.”

Father made no reply, but sat down, and commenced to stir his coffee.

“Well, what do you say, eh?”

“Oh, if it is all arranged, there is no occasion to refer to me!

“Father, you know very well that nothing is ever decided without you,” I broke in impetuously. “Perhaps the next time you go away from home—”

“I am not going from home,” he replied shortly.

I knew his moods, and my heart, that had beat so fast in anticipation of unknown delights, now sank like lead.

“Much obliged to you, Raitt, but I cannot spare her. She would be out of her element in your gay life, and miserably homesick, before she was twenty-four hours in Gurrumpore. She is far happier where she is.”

“Now, John Barrington, you don’t mean to tell me, that you are going to keep the girl a prisoner for life,” began Colonel Raitt explosively; but catching a look in father’s face, he paused, and rounded off his sentence somewhat lamely, saying, “oh, of course every one knows their own business best, and I never put my finger in another man’s pie. I think I’ll take a second cup of coffee.” Needless to say, that I had listened with breathless interest, whilst my fate hung trembling in the balance; and as I turned to resume my interrupted game of chess, I could not prevent my lip from quivering, and two unruly tears escaped from my eyes, and fell with unmistakable little splashes on the chess-board; and it was only by an immense outlay of self-command that I was enabled to keep back many others. No one, but a girl brought up as I had been, could understand the pang I felt, as I saw the only available door into the outer world, thus figuratively locked and bolted! Colonel Raitt did not notice me, neither did father; but my wet eyes were not lost on Peter Hare, for I saw him making frantic signs to Colonel Raitt to renew the assault; but Colonel Raitt was insensible to the hint—he and I knew father, and the other did not. Captain Fitzroy now contrived in some mysterious manner to upset the chessboard—which catastrophe created a merciful diversion—and then briskly suggested, that “as the moon was up, we might as well go outside, and take a stroll.” This idea was cordially welcomed by the whole party, and we sallied forth en masse (which seemed to me not quite the original programme). We sauntered about the place, and at last found our way to the old ruins. They had quite an imposing appearance in the moonlight, and father pointed out the supposed whereabouts of the great courtyard, the tanks, towers, baths, and women’s quarters; to each suggested site, Colonel Raitt took objection, and as he wrangled and argued against the possibility of the ruin, having ever been a fort at all, we younger folk, rather meanly moved on, leaving him gesticulating violently, to his victimised schoolfellow.

“I hope your father will change his mind about Gurrumpore,” said Peter. “We must see you down there this winter.”

“I do not think you will—indeed I am certain I shall never see Gurrumpore,” I answered dismally.

“We shall never forget our visit to Paldi,” said Captain Fitzroy with unexpected emphasis.

“Forget it! No!” echoed Peter. “And if we are not to look forward, to seeing you at Gurrumpore, Miss Barrington, we shall spend the rest of our lives, with our heads over our shoulders, looking back.” Here he was suddenly interrupted by the sight of a Hyena. “Hullo! hullo!” he cried; “there he goes, lobbing along, by that old wall. Come along, Fitz, and have a spurt. Hie on, Tumbie!” to Captain Fitzroy’s dog. This animal eagerly accepted the invitation which its master disdained, and set off as full of zeal and enthusiasm, as Peter himself.

“Blessed Hyena!” muttered Captain Fitzroy, as he stood and looked after the pair in full chase of a shadowy something, that was crossing the ruins.

“What did you say?” I inquired suspiciously.

“Oh, only that it’s not good enough! I’m too old for that sort of thing.”

“How old are you?” was my uncivilised question.

“Twenty-eight,” he replied, with a look of amusement. “Twenty-eight, on the second of April—a narrow shave.”

“Ten years older than I am! I wonder what I shall be like in ten years’ time?”

“Ten years’ time?” turning, and gravely surveying me. “Perhaps not quite so slight, and possibly not quite so light-hearted.”

Am I light-hearted?”

“Well, I should say so, from the way I saw you skipping about with a kid this morning. You make me feel quite a child again, to watch you, and I was strongly inclined to go and cut in, and join the fun.”

“Then go now,” pointing to the ruins.

“No, no, that’s another thing. After dinner, is not before breakfast! Look here, Miss Barrington,” he added more seriously; “perhaps you may have wondered, when they were all urging you to come to Gurrumpore, why I said nothing?”

I had wondered, and had done more than wonder, I had been deeply hurt, for I liked Captain Fitzroy the best of all our visitors, and his strange indifference, had given me a twinge of mind, that was as painful as it was extraordinary!

“Don’t you think, that I should like to see you again?” he asked, with his eyes riveted upon me.

I made no answer—silence was golden.

“Well, I thought there was no use in praising up the place, or in arguing with your father, because I know for a positive fact, that you will be in Gurrumpore before long.”

“Never!” I dissented emphatically.

“And I say yes, and in less than six months. My presentiments never fail me.”

“But when father says I am not to go—how can I?” I demanded rather scornfully.

“Ah, that is more than I can explain. I can only tell you that you will go! I wonder what you will think of everything. I am inclined to envy you!”

“Envy me?” I echoed in querulous amazement.

“Certainly. Life is new to you. You will be like a person brought from another planet. You have much to see, and many novel sensations to experience; and you will wonder at the rest of the world, to whom ‘there is nothing new, and nothing true, and it does not signify’!”

“Is that your case?”

“Not quite; but I must confess that a few of my illusions have been dispelled. I have removed the gilt, and penetrated to the brown ginger-bread.”

“I am sure the world beyond the jungle, the world of society, is a most delightful place. Oh! if I only could see it for a month, I should be happy,” I said, clasping my hands rapturously.

“You talk as if it was Heaven, Miss Barrington. I only wish it were, for your sake,—and my own.”

“I fancy a good deal of that, lies in one’s own power,” I remarked sententiously.

“Undoubtedly; and it is in your power, to make this jungle a paradise to yourself.”

“Nonsense,” I said indignantly. “You are as bad as Father Paul.”

“Who is Father Paul?” he asked. “A missionary?”

“Never mind now; but please tell me, do I strike you as being strangely uncouth, and ignorant?”

“No, by no means,” was his polite, and inevitable reply.

“But I am very ignorant,” I admitted in a doleful voice.

“Sometimes ignorance is bliss, and when it departs, bliss is apt to follow.”

I don’t think ignorance is bliss. I want to see—”

“And to be seen,” he suggested rather sharply.

“No, but to meet people, and to know what their lives are like, and to make acquaintances with other ladies.”

“Yes,” he said, looking at me with that odd twinkle in his eye, and his head a little on one side. “I wonder what you will say to Mrs. Grundy?”

“Who is Mrs. Grundy?” I asked. “Does she live in Gurrumpore?”

“Yes, she lives in Gurrumpore. As to who she is, never mind, as you said just now, when I made a similar inquiry about Father Paul.”

“And I was very rude! I am afraid I am often very rude, but I am so anxious to make the most of my time, and ask you questions. I’ll tell you all about Father Paul now, if you will tell me about that, that—lady?”

“Too late,” he said, shaking his head quite gravely. “I am offended, you have wounded my feelings in their most sensitive point.”

“Have I really?” I asked in genuine alarm. “I did not mean it—please forgive me.”

At this he burst out laughing, and said: “Never mind, Miss Barrington, I was only joking. Is there any other question I can answer for you? I place my knowledge at your disposal!”

“Yes,” I returned promptly—ever ready and athirst for information.—“Tell me what is a flirtation? Mr. Hare would not explain to me, he said I was to ask you. Is it a game, that girls play at in Gurrumpore, or what?”

Captain Fitzroy gave me a quick side-glance, and then replied:

“Mr. Hare is a proficient! He knows a great deal more about it, than I do.”

“But you have not answered my question,” I persisted. “What is it?”

“Well, Punch, who is a good authority, declared that it was ‘a spoon with nothing in it.’”

I gazed at him blankly. He was trying to mystify me, on purpose.

“Who is Punch?” I demanded rather sharply.

“What! Have you never seen Punch?” he exclaimed with a gesture of mock despair. “Then, Miss Barrington, I give you up.”

Seeing that I looked excessively miserable, he added: “Never mind, when you come down to Gurrumpore, you shall be introduced to Mr. Punch, as well as Mrs. Grundy; and I dare say we might manage to show you a flirtation or two.”

For a moment he remained silently looking at me, with that puzzling expression in his eyes. Then dropping his bantering tone, added: “Do you know, Miss Barrington, that we shall always be your oldest friends? Although you only saw us for the first time last Monday, you can never get out of that.”

“Do you think I shall want to get out of it?” I asked indignantly. “Am I likely to have so many friends?”

“Well, many or few, you will not forget our claim, will you? If Peter and I can ever serve you in any way, you will give us the first refusal, before strange folks. Promise!”

“I promise,” I said rather shortly—just to oblige him, for I was fully convinced, in my own mind, that I would never see one or other of them again. I turned away rather hastily, and gazed at the plains across the river, the dim mysterious line of distant forest, then at the reflections of the stars, all glittering so brightly on the bosom of the Karrhan. How lovely it all looked! Hateful, unfeeling scene! and it would look just the same to-morrow, after they had gone.

“I could fancy some people, becoming very much attached to this place,” remarked my companion thoughtfully.

“And I can not,” I retorted very sharply.

“Yet you have many sources of enjoyment!” he urged, with irritating tranquillity.

“Do you think so? How would you like this life yourself?”

“I am different. I am a soldier, a born wanderer—a stirring life for me, or none; I only said some people. And I question whether you have not much the best of it, leading this wild, free existence—the Lady Bountiful, and Queen of all the country—than as one of the mob of tennis-playing girls, in Gurrumpore.”

“You are only saying this to tease me!” I exclaimed impatiently. “You know there is no comparison between us.”

“No comparison, indeed,” and he laughed and shrugged his shoulders as he spoke.

“Captain Fitzroy,” I said reproachfully, “you laugh at everything. Is everything ridiculous, is everything a joke? Do you believe in anything?”

“Yes, of course, I believe in lots of things.”

“As for instance?” I asked peremptorily.

“Well, I can give you one on the spot; I believe in you.”

“Believe there’s dew! Bosh, my dear fellow,” panted Peter, who now came running up, hot and breathless, “whoever saw dew on a night like this?”

“And so it was a wild-goose chase, after all,” said his friend, not a whit discomposed by the interruption.

“Yes! No one would suppose to look at the beggar that he was lobbing along at such a pace. I say, Miss Barrington, you may not be aware of the fact, but your father’s whistle has been going for the last ten minutes!”

Chapter XIV

Peggy Feels Better

“Come quickly, gentle lady, The fit’s upon me now!”
— Beaumont and Fletcher

After a storm a calm, after excitement reaction. After the departure of our three guests, a dead, dull, flatness, settled down like a pall upon Paldi, and something else as well; the clouds which had been banking up for weeks in the west, now began to utter low growls of thunder, and vivid lightning flashed along the horizon, like a glittering blade. The heat was insupportable; all Nature seemed to be crying aloud for rain, for life! The stony yellow earth, the shrunken, languid river, the leafless trees, the starving, panting cattle. And then it came at last, heralded by a few large drops, then by a thunderstorm, finally the deluge! A deluge, that seemed as if it would beat the Bungalow into the ground, or sweep it away into the now brown, and brimming Karrhan. Floods from far distant hills renewed its life, and it now swept away past Paldi, a wide, very rapid, and majestic river. It was going into the world to towns, and possibly to sea-ports, and to ships. I watched it enviously, as hour after hour, it hurried by, in one increasing torrent, with great eddies and streaks of white foam, whirling on its bosom. The rains descended for a fortnight, and afforded Peggy ample leisure for praying and cooking; father passed the time in correcting manuscripts, and curing skins; I, unlucky wretch, had, as usual, nothing to do. I had no hobby. Besides this, the rains never agreed with me, nor revived me, like the earth and trees; on the contrary, I always felt languid and depressed, and my naturally sharp, white face, looked sharper and whiter than ever.

One pouring, dull afternoon, I sat in the drawing-room alone, endeavouring to do some stitching, as well as the light would permit, and vainly trying not to think of the delights of Gurrumpore, when I was abruptly joined by Peggy, with a flushed face, and rather sparkling eyes—with her, an infallible sign, of great indignation, or of great joy. It was indignation this time.

“Well!” she said, suddenly sitting down and fanning herself with her apron. “I’ve been having it out with the masther, at long last!”

“About what?” I asked, laying down my work.

“Why, about you, and what else? I put a good deal off me mind, and I’m all the better for it”

“What do you mean, Peggy? What were you saying about me?” I inquired, with very natural curiosity.

“Well, I’ll just tell you every word said, as if you were there yourself. He was saying, ‘That you looked very pale and thin, and had no appetite, and no spirit;’ and he said, ‘that it was the bad effect a glimpse of the world had on you, and what was to be done?’

“‘There’s only one cure that I’m aware of,’ says I, just up to him. ‘And that’s a hair of the dog that bit her! Let her go off to Colonel Raitt’s, and get some diversion. Sure, it’s not in nature, for the child to live here always.’

“‘We do,’ says he.

“‘The back of me hand to you,’ says I. ‘Sure I am an ould woman, and you’re an ould man, and we have had our sport. I’m like an ould cat basking in the sun, and she’s a young kitten, looking for something to play with. It’s my opinion that if ye keep her cooped up, she will, only pine and pine, till she goes off in a decline.’

‘“Where did ye get that notion?’ says the masther, turning on me very sharp.

“‘I just took it out of me own head, and there’s me advice, since you axed it, to take or lave.’

“‘You don’t think,’ says he, and then he got it out at last, ‘you don’t think that either of those young fellows, have been making love to her?’

“‘Have they been making love to me?’ says I. ‘Glory to goodness, sure she has no notion of lovers and courtin’ yet!’

“‘Maybe they put it into her head,’ says he.

“‘Not they,’ says I. ‘The young one was too full of his jokes and capers; and the other, was just an honourable gentleman—he saw she was but an innocent child, and he left her as he found her. And besides that, ye never gave them a chance; sure, out of the four days they were staying here, they were away for three; and when they wor here, if she was out of your sight for five minutes, there was your whistle going, like the driver on an express train!’

“‘They had a good deal of talk together all the same,’ says he.

“‘Well,’ says I, ‘but you are the quare man! Living so much alone, has twisted your mind. If it will be any relief, or pleasure to you, to know, I can give you a sketch of their discourse: they talked of books, and strange countries, and how he put in his time—no more harm than if they were two young ladies;—faix, nor maybe half as much!’

“‘I had a letter last week from Mrs. Raitt, begging me to allow Ranee to pay them a visit.’

“‘And what did you say?’ says I.

“‘That I could not spare her.’

“Now, Miss Ranee, after this I fell into a terrible passion, he looked so cool, and so dead set, in his own way, as if there was no such thing as youth and pleasure.”

“I don’t believe there is,” I replied. “I feel as if I was about fifty years of age; it is only six weeks since Colonel Raitt went away, and it seems to be at least six years. And what else did you say?”

“I said—but, mind you, this was only to frighten him—‘that one of these days, he would have to spare you in a way he would like less. There’s one grave in the compound already,’ says I, ‘the collector’s wife, and you are just going the right way to have another.’”

“Oh, Peggy!” I interrupted, greatly shocked. “How could you say that? You know she drowned herself in the Karrhan.”

“Of course she did! Sure don’t we all know that!”

“‘The place is not unhealthy,’ says the masther, ‘and you are only trying to frighten me.’

‘“Well, look at her,’ was all I said. ‘Isn’t she a shadow of what she ought to be? No colour, no appetite, and a face as long, as if she was going to a priest’s funeral. One would think you were King Pharaoh, and she was the children of Israel, your heart is so hardened against letting her go.’ To make a long story short, Miss Ranee, some time next year, you are to go down to Bombay, and take a trip on the say, as far as Suez. I got that promise for you, and indeed it’s not much. There’s no great pleasure in a railway journey; and if you take after most people, regarding the say, you will be praying the captain on your bended knees, to let you get out and walk.”

“I would ten times rather go to Gurrumpore,” I remarked ungratefully.

“Ay; but he won’t listen to that—at no price. Maybe I should not have told you, all this, Miss Ranee?”

“Maybe not, Peggy,” I assented thoughtfully.

“Well, it’s too late to think of that now! When I am angry, the tongue, gits the upper hand of me, and I can’t stop, till I say my say.” (A not uncommon peculiarity.)

“Who is to come with me, if I go away, Peggy?” I asked rather gloomily.

“Why, I will, for one. I’ll stick by you, wherever you go; and stay with you, by say or land, till I become that old, that maybe you’ll have to shoot me! Well, I’m wasting me time finely here, and I must go off now and print the butter—faix, it wasn’t much butter I put on me words to the master. I had the best of him this time!” And with this triumphant reflection, she hurried out of the room; and soon after, I heard her droning away, at her solitary song, a sure sign that she was busily occupied in both mind and body.

“It’s a sorrowful ditty
 I’ll sing to you now,
It’s about an old man
 Who had but one cow.
He often times brought her
 To the byre to be fed—
But now to his great grief
 His p–o–o–r cow is dead.
Arrah—Drimmin Duhh—a—r—agra,
Arrah—Drimmin Duhh—a—r—agra—
Arrah—Drimmin Deelish
Wusrusthu ma cree!”

The lament at the end of the verse, being given in a wild, wailing screech. Then followed quite gaily:

“Her sides they were short,
 And her tail it was long,
You could spansel her legs
 With a brogue maker’s thong;
Her sides they were short,
 And her tail it was frisky,
And her milk, it was stronger,
 And swater than whisky.
Arrah—Drimmin Duhh—a—r—agra,
Arrah—Drimmin Duhh—a—r—agra—
Arrah—Drimmin Deelish
Wusrusthu ma cree!”

Chapter XV

Rukoo’s Legacy

“Be thy intents wicked or charitable,
Thou comest in such a questionable shape.”
Hamlet

And so the days dragged by, more drowsily than ever, but one of them, to our great satisfaction, brought Father Paul; and never had Father Paul been so welcome—no, not since he had first discovered our jungle retreat. I believe the true reason of this was, that we had each some special confidence to make to him—something to impart, that we could not comfortably confide in one another. The padre was in the highest spirits, and was by far the most lively and talkative of the whole party; although for once, it was we, who had a great budget of surprising news for his attentive ear! He was a most sympathetic listener, and a close examiner—very closely he cross-questioned me, and I, was only too delighted to recall and relate, all the events, hour by hour, and word by word, of these two, never-to-be-forgotten, wonderful days.

“And which of the guests did you like best?” he asked playfully.

I was silent, and to assist my memory, he added: “Your father’s old schoolfellow?”

“No, certainly not,” I returned brusquely.

“No. Then who?”

It never occurred to my artless mind, to give an evasive answer, much less to tell an untruth. I was accustomed to speak out boldly, and fearlessly; and without a stammer or a blush, I replied, “Captain Fitzroy.”

“Oh!” regarding me fixedly, “and what is he like?” no longer speaking in a bantering tone.

“He is tall,” I promptly rejoined, “but not so tall as father, and holds himself very erect. He rides splendidly. He is always in a good humour, and is very amusing.”

“Amusing, is he?” said Father Paul, drawing in his lips.

“Yes, he has such merry, dark blue eyes. I could imagine his having a very pretty sister. I liked Mr. Hare, too,” I added hastily, “only he treated me as if I was quite a little girl, and he talked such nonsense—indeed, I like them all, Father Paul. I wish you had seen them! I wish you had been here!”

“I wish I had,” he echoed gravely. “Tell me some more about them, ma fille.”

Thus encouraged, I proceeded to sketch Colonel Raitt, and then Mr. Hare, with rapid, vigorous strokes. It was new to me, to be asked to describe people—and I liked it; but I noticed that the padre was not much interested in these latest portraits, and seemed unusually grave and distrait.

The night after the padre’s arrival, I, who was a notorious dreamer, and gloried in relating my visions, had the most horrible dream I ever experienced. I dreamt, that some appalling object—not human—was chasing me through the old ruins, and worse than this, it was overtaking me! I had rushed into a passage, from which there was no outlet, and was tearing at the wall with frantic fingers, whilst this too awful something was approaching me at last. Nearer it came; it seemed to have clutched me, and so vivid was the vision, that I awoke with a stifled shriek. The room was in total darkness; the little nightlight, flickered spasmodically, at its last gasp. There was not a sound to be heard, save the rushing of the river, or the squeak of a musk rat in the old black wood wainscot. With a deep sigh of relief, that it was only a dream after all, I closed my eyes, and was just dropping off to sleep, with the delightful facility of eighteen, when my heart suddenly stopped beating, a cold perspiration broke out on my forehead, for I distinctly felt, an icy skeleton hand, passed slowly across my face.

I could not scream, or articulate, my very tongue seemed paralysed! With a desperate jerk, I sought the only possible refuge, and plunged my head under the bed-clothes. There I lay half-suffocated, listening to the violent thumping of my own heart, until a distant clock struck “one,” and I really could not exist without air any longer. Air, I must have, at all costs, and I timidly uncovered my face, and lay in agonised expectancy of the icy hand, for what seemed to me hours. People said that the collector’s wife roamed about her old haunts still—a tall woman in a gray dress, with black hair falling over her shoulders; a young woman, too, given to suddenly appearing in doorways in the dusk, and pacing the verandah, wringing her hands, and, stranger than all, to playing on the old piano on stormy nights! This was a miracle of miracles, for that venerable instrument had no key-board, and all the interior and strings had long been removed. The wires were used to twine creepers, and the empty vacuum served as a box, to contain newspapers, work, and lumber of all kinds. Still the servants whispered, and I wormed it out of Peggy, who had heard it at Kolar, that on windy nights, most wonderful music, had been heard in our drawing-room, and that a woman’s thrilling voice, was distinctly audible, singing, “Home, Sweet Home.”

These stories, that I scoffed at in the daylight, came back to me now, in the darkness and solitude, and I suppose, I ought to be ashamed to confess, that I trembled all over, exactly as if I had the ague!

Hark! What was that sound, that groping noise, near the door? I was just on the point of making another dash under the bed-clothes, when I heard a voice out of the darkness—a familiar, cracked, guttural voice, which said, “Maharanee!”

“Who—who—is it?” I quavered out tremulously.

“It is only old Rukoo, Hazoor,” was the answer from the doorway. “Ghureeb Purwar! Come out and speak to your slave.”

To know that I owed my fright, to a human visitor, was some small consolation, but I was excessively wroth with old Rukoo; the miserable old creature had lost his way, and given me a terrible fright.

I rose, and lit a candle. The candle completely restored my confidence. I threw on a dressing-gown, and marched out into the verandah, in a very lofty, and indignant frame of mind.

“Pray what does this mean?” I demanded, waving my taper, over the wretched little crouching figure. “Have you gone mad? What do you want?”

“I am come to bring you a great fortune, Maharanee,” he gibbered, laying hold of the skirt of my dressing-gown. “I am going at last:—my heart is cold—my hour has come; but before I go, I must speak to some one, of Soondra’s treasure—the great treasure, which lies buried in the ruins.”

“And can you not wait till the daytime?” I asked very sharply.

“No, at the word gold, even a corpse will open its mouth, and this fortune is all for you. Oh, my beautiful Maharanee, that are like the goddess Seeta herself. To you alone, will I confide the secret of the ruins. Ah, silence may defy a mountain, and I have kept silence long.”

“And about what?” I asked impatiently, as I stood barefooted and shivering in the cold verandah. “Do be quick, for I am perished.”

“About lakhs of rupees, and piles of rubies, and diamonds, and emeralds, arms of gold, and horse trappings of pearl, trappings of jewels! Ghureeb Purwar!” throwing up his withered arms as he spoke.

“And why have you not taken it yourself?”

“Hazoor! can a hawk carry away the sky?” he screamed. “Moreover, you know that all these buried treasures, are guarded by an evil spirit, and there is one here, that is too strong for any magic wallah; there is a curse on the spot. Hazoor! you have often asked me to tell you the story of my life. Will you hear it now? Will you listen to me before it ends—you who are beautiful as the star Arundathi?”

The night was bitterly cold, a chill, misty rain, was drifting into the verandah. A more unseasonable hour, for a confidential communication, could not well be imagined. Nevertheless, I was under the command of my curiosity,—and my curiosity was tyrannical, and desired me to remain; so I sat down on a low chair, placed my candle on a table, and intimated by a sign to Rukoo, who squatted on the floor, that I was willing to hear what he had to say.

“But you know,” I expostulated, “that it is very strange of you, rousing me in this way in the middle of the night. Why could you not have waited until to-morrow?”

“To-morrow I shall not be here,” he screamed in his cracked voice. “To-morrow, I shall know much. I shall know whose are the true Gods, yours, or ours. Hearken well, Maharanee, for I am coming to my last breath. I was a soldier once, like all my kin. My father was killed at the battle of Paniput. Then I took service under Janojee, and was one of the thirty thousand horsemen, that scoured these plains. Our enemies were as cotton before the wind. I was with Nizam Ali, when he sacked the city of Poonah. Ah,” drawing a dreadful rattling breath, “those were days! Afterwards, I took service under a chief who owned this fort. A fierce, strong man—they called him ‘Soondra Bagh.’ Yes, he had no more pity than a tiger. He killed, and plundered many people, he tortured prisoners to find treasure. He had no mercy, no, not even on the women of his own house! Ah! the old well at the East gate, could it speak! Hazoor, you would not think, that these two arms, could wield a Tulwar, or these two hands,” holding up a pair of fleshless claws, “could strangle a soft screaming throat, but they did.”

I looked down at the ghastly little figure, in front of me, and shuddered involuntarily. Surely he was in his dotage.

“There was one,” he continued hoarsely. “She was a slave from the North. She was fair as the moon; but her heart was black. Her hair swept the ground, as we bore her along. She knew well where. Had she not sent others to the same place? We bricked her up alive.”

“Rukoo,” I cried indignantly, “you are insane. or you are a fiend!”

“Nay, Hazoor, I was but a servant. She fought like a wild panther, and we tied her hands. She struggled desperately, she was so strong, and young; her shrieks, I hear them now. We gagged her, but ere that, she screamed to me ‘to save her, and I should have all the great treasure.’ Then ‘Soondra’ thrust his turban in her mouth, but not before I had heard the words, ‘Elephant Stone.’ Afterwards, I remembered having been told, that in the women’s quarter, in the court-yard, on one of the large flags, was traced the figure of an elephant. The stones have sunk, they are covered with the dust of ages; one hundred monsoons have swept over the place, but the Elephant Stone, and the treasure are still there.”

“And the woman? What about the woman?” I shouted in his ear.

“We bricked her up with stones and mortar—still alive; but when the stones were breast-high, I had compassion, and threw a great piece of rock on her chest, so that she might not linger, but die soon.”

Wretch!” I shrieked passionately.

“Ay, our race are soldiers; we are used to killing. She is the worst of all, she never rests.”

Here he was obliged to pause, gasping painfully for breath.

“Years afterwards, the fort was taken, Soondra was strangled, and the place looted; but no one knew the secret of the Elephant Stone but me. I have been starving at times, though I am the richest man in the country. Many a night have I slept above my fortune; many a year; I loved to feel that, within a few feet of me, were gold mohurs, and big jewels: they were all mine, and they nourished me, and kept me alive, though I had never seen them. The Elephant Stone, has sunk, you will have a difficulty to reach it; it lies a foot below the earth and mud which covers what was once a marble courtyard; it is the furthest off, and the Elephant Stone is close to a mark I have made on the wall—three round holes.”

“Why have you never tried to take the treasure yourself?” I asked for the second time.

“What can one old man do, Hazoor? When the fort was sacked, I was then aged. I crept to the women’s quarter, and saw the stone, that was all I could do. To reveal its secret, were to offer my body to the river, my throat to the knife; besides, she would not let me. No, Maharanee, my hands have never touched it; but yours are pure, she cannot prevail against you. Here, you are like a beautiful ruby in an old rag, in this desolate jungle. But with this fortune, decked with priceless jewels, you will go to great cities—you will rule men, and you will not forget old Rukoo, who—”

“What the Devil is this? Or is it the Devil?” suddenly demanded a gruff voice, and father, lamp in hand, and rather sketchily attired, appeared on the verandah. “What does this mean? I heard you shouting at some one. What is the old man doing?” he asked imperiously.

“He came and awoke me,” I answered. “He thinks he is going to die. He had been telling me most awful things about a woman, that was murdered, and about a great treasure that is buried in the ruins.”

“Great fiddlestick!” echoed my parent angrily, “he has been drinking bang, the old brute; where is he?” he demanded, waving his light about. “What has become of him?”

But there was no one to be seen, or heard; Rukoo had suddenly and mysteriously, melted away into the surrounding darkness.

“I am sure there is something in it, father,” I remarked. “He never did this before.”

“I should hope not, or he would have been pitched out, neck and crop. The idea of his daring to come, and awake you in the middle of the night, in order to relate some cock-and-bull story that had suddenly occurred to him. It’s beyond a joke. He is crazy.”

“I do not think so,” I persisted. “He talked more sensibly than I ever heard him.”

“He might easily do that.”

“He declares there is a great treasure buried under an Elephant Stone, that is,” correcting myself, “an Elephant is traced on the Stone.”

“Oh! What stone?”

“One in the far courtyard. It is not visible now.”

“No,” sarcastically. “I shouldn’t think it was.”

“But, father, I believe there is something in it,” I argued boldly, “for I was told, that an Elephant would bring me fortune.”

“Where did you hear such rubbish?”

“From a fortune-teller, about four months ago.”

“Diana, I am surprised at you,” he exclaimed very sternly. “So much for bringing you up surrounded by superstitious natives. There is some excuse for old Rukoo—a gibbering idiot—but there is really no such plea for you! Go to your room at once, and never let me hear you talk such nonsense again.”

Thus severely admonished, I went back to bed in a most crestfallen condition; but I was too excited to sleep! Sleep did not visit me, till the twittering of birds, and gray streaks of light, as well as the shouts of drovers, and tinkling of cattle bells, betokened that the rest of the world was awakening.

Chapter XVI

Soondra’s Treasure

“Heaps of pearls, Inestimable stones, unvalued jewels.”
Richard III

No account of my early years could possibly be complete, without honourable mention of our chief domestics; and in our lonely, isolated life, they played no inconspicuous part. First in rank and importance came “Hassan,” our Mohammedan butler; with black eyes and beard, sharp, hawk-like features, and snowy clothes. His manners were deferential, even to Peggy; his footfall was cat-like, and his voice low. He was an invaluable servant—smart, capable, and full of resource. He could do many things, from making a pie, to grooming a horse, or pitching a tent; but he was rarely called upon to undertake any tasks, beyond his own legitimate province. During the many years he had been at Paldi, no one had ever seen Hassan once out of temper. He was always polite, always dignified—and nearly always silent. Peggy declared, that the only thing he cared for was money; that nothing but the “love of lucre” kept him in the jungle—which was very probable; and that he robbed father out of the face! If this was the case, I can only add, that he robbed him, in a very attentive and gentlemanlike manner.

“Jairan” was a complete contrast to Hassan; he was responsible for all our cows and herds. A good-humoured, simple-minded, man, with clear high-bred features, and soft brown eyes. He wore an enormous yellow turban, year after year, and belonged to the “Gowlee” caste; was next door to a Brahmin, and most rigorous with regard to washing and prayers, and lived meagrely on chupatties and water. Now, Hassan was a self-indulgent creature, and smoked cheroots, ate meat twice a day, and, despite of his religion, was not like Jairan, a patron of our well.

Hoolo, father’s head shikarri, was another influential person. He was neither Mohammedan, or a mild Hindoo, but a “Gond,” one of the aboriginal inhabitants of the district. His ancestors lived a wild forest life; killed and ate animals, and worshipped stocks and stones. In appearance he was forty years of age, short of stature, lean and bony, and somewhat of the Malay type, with a flat nose, swarthy skin, and high cheek-bones. He talked with much fluency and gesticulations, had an overweening opinion of himself, and was very off-hand, even in his manner to father—whom he nevertheless, not merely respected, but adored. He scorned small game, and devoted himself entirely to collecting “Kubber” about tiger; travelling scores of miles with this sole end in view. Hoolo, was unequalled at organising a beat, making a machan, and bargaining for a miserable “Gara.” More than this, he was a brave man, and a good shot, and his lacerated, scarred, brown back, and arms, told a tale of close quarters with bears, and panthers. Hoolo’s reputation was only second to his master’s; he was the “Tiger Lord’s” right hand, or deputy, and had acquired a popularity that he enjoyed with legitimate dignity, and self-satisfaction.

Last, but not least, was “Pallia,” my Ayah, who had been with us for seventeen years—with considerable interludes of visiting her relations. When, tempted by father’s large wages, she had first taken service at Paldi, she was thin, meek, and deeply in debt, like many of her class. The money-lenders had foreclosed on all her jewels, that pride of a native woman’s existence (and well they may be, as they represent her sole fortune, and her social value!). A pair of copper bangles, and one tiny gold nose-ring, were all that adorned her lean person. But now, she was prosperous, her daughters were married, and handsomely adorned with gold ornaments, and she herself tinkled as she moved; numerous heavy bangles and anklets—all solid gold, no sealing-wax, as she earnestly assured us—decorated her wrists and ankles; her ears were almost hidden by large gold jewelled bosses, and a valuable ruby depended from her left nostril. She wore a silken saree, her velvet betel bag was always full, she drank coffee at her own good pleasure, and swaggered, as she walked.

Besides all this, she was no longer poor, and meek, and humble, but lazy, garrulous, and insolent, much addicted to gossip, and to quoting pithy native proverbs to enforce her remarks. Pallia and Peggy were outwardly on good terms, and never had any disagreement, excepting when Peggy, hot from the Mission at Kolar, made a renewed attempt to convert her fellow-servant; but Pallia had the same stereotyped reply to her eloquent persuasions.

“All my people good people,” she would modestly affirm. “All my people who are dead, died heathen. Why I turning Christian?”

“Foolish woman!” Peggy would retort. “And if they are all in hell, is that any reason for you to go after them?”

“Where they are gone, I will go, same place,” was Pallia’s brave reply. “And why you talk to me like this, Missy Peggy? It is no use—it is like throwing one stone, among a flock of crows.”

Then Peggy would argue, and Pallia would recriminate, the controversy would wax hotter and hotter, and these attempts at conversion, generally ended in floods of tears, and high words. Pallia, who had gleaned—from listening,—some idea of Mrs. Magee’s former social status, generally wound up the scene, by launching a poisoned dart about “second-hand people”—meaning second-class people—“second-hand people and soldiers’ wives.” And it would be my delicate mission, to heal the breach between Peggy and her subordinate, for the hundredth time!

The morning after my nocturnal adventure, Pallia came hurrying into my room, in a state of unusual excitement She wanted to be first with some piece of news—that was plain to be seen.

“What you think, Miss Ranee?” she said. “That old Rukoo, dead at last!”

I sat up, and looked at her sleepily.

“Yes, true I telling; one of the coolies found him this morning stiff and dead.”

“Dead! And where did they find him?”

“In the ruins—in the far-away court, where he always used to live. He is, oh, so small!—as light as a baby—no bigger than a monkey—he could not weigh a quarter maund! How glad I am that he is dead! He was a bad old man—as deceitful as an elephant, and as thievish as a cat. ‘Yana’ forgot him, but he has come for him at last.”

Marvellous to relate, I had sufficient sense and self-restraint, to hold my tongue, and refrained from imparting my recent adventure, to the loquacious Pallia. But it was not in human nature, to keep it altogether to myself; and when Peggy was brushing and plaiting my long locks, I related my experiences very deliberately and impressively; for I wished Peggy, to share my own firm conviction, that there was something more important in Rukoo’s disclosure, than the gibbering nonsense of a doting old man. Peggy was easily persuaded, and listened to my narrative with the deepest interest, and numerous ejaculations of “And do ye tell me so?” “And did I ever hear the like!” punctuated by painfully excited tugs, at my unfortunate hair; and when my toilette was completed, she rushed off with the tremendous news to Father Paul; and, to our great comfort and satisfaction, he was of the opinion, that there was something in it too!

As we stood talking together like three conspirators, father joined us, and the padre boldly accosted him at once.

“My friend, we are talking of last night.”

“So I supposed,” he said, rather gruffly. “That aged person, who disturbed Ranee, will have to find other quarters.”

“He has found them,” said the padre gravely. “He is dead!”

“Oh!”

“I am not sceptical of great hidden hoards in this country,” continued Father Paul. “If you had wandered over it for as many years as I have done, you would believe in buried treasure too.”

“Ah! you always think the best of everything and everybody, and give even mother earth more credit than she deserves!” said father.

“At least you will admit, that in former times, Mahrattas were notorious robbers, my friend.”

“Oh, yes; I’ll admit that of them, even to the present day!” he answered promptly.

“They carried off untold riches, from travelling caravans and merchants, and even sacked and burnt whole towns. Thousands of lakhs were thus taken—taken years, ay, centuries, ago—and have never been traced or discovered. Notorious jewels, of enormous value, have totally disappeared. Where are they?”

Father shrugged his shoulders, as much as to say that he neither knew, or cared.

“Well, I will tell you,” continued the padre, holding out his hand, as if he were offering the treasure there, and then. “They are buried—hidden away in earth and sand, never to be seen by human eyes again. Those who concealed them are dead, and the secret is buried with them, in their graves.”

“You are quite eloquent about this badly invested capital, Father Paul. And yet you set your face against riches!”

“Yes, for myself. I have taken the vow of poverty. But riches are a great power; and I am thinking of my poor!”

“Well,” rejoined father, “since you and Ranee are so sanguine, you shall have a dozen coolies to dig and root wherever you please, and if you do come across a marvellous horde, some will have to go to the Government, the rest you can divide between you; one half for your charities, and the other for Ranee’s fortune!”

“Ah, I see, you don’t believe in it, my friend. What if I take you at your word?”

“I mean what I say,” returned father emphatically. “I don’t believe you will find a brass ‘Dub;’ but if you do unearth a great treasure, I give you my share of it, with all my heart.”

“Well, the ground is nice, and soft, after the rains,” I broke in eagerly, “and a dozen coolies can easily clear out the sand and stuff from the far courtyard; and if we do find a stone with an Elephant traced on it, father, perhaps you will believe in the treasure?”

“Perhaps,” and he laughed. “And now perhaps you will give us some breakfast.”

All that morning, through a searching, drizzling rain, Father Paul and I sat on a step in the inner courtyard, under the shelter of one big umbrella, and anxiously superintended the languid proceedings of a dozen coolies with spades and baskets. The whole court was to be cleared, to disarm suspicion, and this excavating work among the ruins, was supposed to be one of Bibi Ranee’s numerous strange freaks.

Little did those simply-clad natives suppose, that they were actually digging for a great treasure—Soondra’s chief spoil. I sat on the stone for nearly three hours, the very reverse of patience; and at the end of that time, the portion near the wall had been cleared, and displayed a marble pavement, and oh, joy! one of the blocks had the figure of an Elephant, cut quite distinctly into the stone.

Nothing in the way of raising that stone, could be accomplished till after dark; so we reluctantly left our post, telling the coolies to “work away,” and carried our great news into the house. My excitement was at fever-heat, and I danced about the dining-room in a manner which justified our astonished servants, in considering me stark, staring mad. Peggy, in her own way, was fully as jubilant, the treasure seemed already discovered, and she said as much to father, who answered imperturbably: “And if it is there, we shall have a nice piece of work to raise the stone. It is a feat that will require time, and strength, and, above all, secrecy; and if we do come upon gold and jewels, the news will be all over the place, and we shall have a band of Dacoits here, before we can say ‘Jack Robinson.’ However, the fact of a stone having an Elephant traced on it, proves nothing to me.”

It proved a hard night’s work to him, all the same. He and Hassan, Hoolo, and Pochell, the shikarris, and another, laboured with ropes and chisels, for hours of darkness, whilst I held the light, and the padre and Peggy, gave all the assistance in their power. I, too, would gladly have dragged and delved, but father would not hear of it. An hour, two hours, passed, with but small results—patience, as I have already hinted, was not one of my strong points; and as I had caught a bad cold, from my recent midnight interview, I did not require much pressing to return to the Bungalow, and there await the grand result—if grand it was to be!

I went into the drawing-room, and took up a book and tried to read; what a farce! And yet it was not the love of money, or the greed of jewels, that made my heart beat so fast, as I sat alone and waited. It was the craving for excitement, novelty, and something new to see, and talk about. This was the chief desire, that filled my restless, discontented mind. It seemed ages, before the heavy tramping of approaching feet assured me that something had been discovered, and then Peggy burst in lamp in hand, her hair greatly disordered (she always wore two little flat curls at the side of her face), her dress covered with dust and mud, and her apron in rags.

“Here it is, Miss Ranee! We have something for our trouble after all; but me back is fairly broke.”

Peggy was followed by father and the padre, and the servants, who were staggering along under the weight of a very heavy, curiously-shaped, chest.

They placed it down upon the floor, and left, and soon afterwards returned, bending under another larger and much heavier chest; and then they all stood wiping their faces, and panting for breath.

“And is that all?” I asked rather contemptuously.

“Yes,” gasped Peggy, who had helped to carry in number two. “And now we are going to see what’s in them! I feel so nervous, and so anxious, that me knees is just giving under me. Supposing there was nothing in them but bones!”

“We shall soon see,” said father, instantly commencing operations on the smaller chest. They were both long, and narrow, covered with plates of copper, and soldered with brass. Nevertheless, there was not much difficulty in opening them. Number one, contained a few rolls of ancient MS., bundles of silken garments, richly mounted pistols, and daggers, and quantities of silver ornaments, and bags of ancient rupees; on the whole, number one was a disappointment! But number two, was better; the top was stuffed with embroidered veils, then came silver horse trappings, covered with gold bosses and seed pearls—things seemed to have been thrust in in haste; next a turban stiff with blood, but blazing with a diamond aigrette, then wrapped in a woman’s saree came quantities of splendid jewels. Peggy and I held our breath, as father disentangled them, and handed them out one after another. A belt two inches deep, entirely encrusted with diamonds, and fastened by an enormous ruby clasp. After this, a chain sufficiently long to twist twice round one’s neck, and composed of emeralds the size of marbles, and bored like beads; this was followed by strings of large pearls, diamond aigrettes, made of flat, rudely-cut stones; sapphire and ruby buttons, massive gold belts and bangles, necklets, earrings, and nose-rings, all studded with jewels of great value. Some were bent, and broken, as if they had been wrenched from their owners with considerable violence.

After the jewels, came ancient gold coins and gold mohurs, bits of broken gold cups, great stirrup-irons; you could easily bury your arms elbow deep in gold; no wonder the chest had been so heavy. At the very bottom of this box, was a coat, with dark stains—richly embroidered with pearls; and that was all.

After this, the last article, had been taken out, and examined, there was a dead silence, which was first broken by Father Paul.

“What riches!” he exclaimed. “What power for good or evil!”

“I suppose them things is worth a hape of money, your Reverence,” said Peggy deferentially.

“Yes, Peggy; I am no great judge, but I should think that diamond belt alone, must represent some thousands.”

“Then good luck to the ould Elephant,” she cried, snapping her fingers. “Your fortune is made, Miss Ranee, me jewel! Come away off to your bed now. You haven’t an eye in your head for sleep.”

“What do you think of it all, Ranee?” inquired father gravely.

“Oh, it’s wonderful! very wonderful!” I returned, with a tremendous yawn, for it was how about two o’clock in the morning, and all my ejaculations of admiration, and amazement, had long been exhausted.

“She’s half dead with the sleep,” explained Peggy. “You see she is not used to being up all night. We will leave you, and his Reverence, to discourse on the fortune, and go to our beds. Every bone in me body is sore! I feel as if I had been at a robbery, and house-breaking. Signs on it, they were terrible thieves in those days! Come away, my heart. You are fairly dead with the sleep;” and, taking me by the arm, we left father, and the padre, to discuss the great discovery; and Hassan, to finger, value, and repack the jewels.

Chapter XVII

Released

“Thus we may see,” quoth he, “how the world wags.”
As You Like It

“See now, Miss Ranee,” said Peggy, as she awoke me the next morning with a violent shake, “see now, it’s all hours, and I’ve had to tell that Pallia enough lies to thatch a gallows about last night’s work—and your being in bed still.”

“Last night’s work!” I echoed, being more than half asleep. “Last night!” as memory revived. “Oh, then it was not a dream, and we did find Soondra’s treasure, after all!”

“And av coorse we did,” rejoined Peggy, emphatically, “and it just shows what a real divil money is, and all it can do. Sit up, Alannah, and listen to what I’m going to tell you. Your father is for letting you away to Gurrumpore after all.”

As she made this amazing statement she took a step backwards, placed her hands on her hips, so as to judge of the full effect of her announcement.

“To Gurrumpore!” I exclaimed, looking, I flatter myself, quite as much surprised as she anticipated. “And why? Why now?

“Faix, ye may well ask. Sure I all but went on me bended knees to him to let you get a taste of life, and he nearly ate me, and his Reverence talked to him, too, but he was as deaf as a beetle. It was the money worked upon him, just the lucre that did it.”

“Peggy,” I exclaimed, indignantly, “I believe you are raving mad.”

“Get out with your nonsense, Miss Ranee! and what would ail me to go mad? Mad, indeed! and me the only one in it that has a grain of sense at all. It’s entirely settled. They talked it over, and backwards and forwards, till daylight. Your father has his Reverence walked off his legs, and his Reverence has the master talked into raison. You’ll hardly believe me, but he was for berryin’ it again.”

“No!” I almost shrieked.

“Well, now I am sending off at wance, by this day’s Tappal, to Bombay for dresses, and hats, and finery for you; they’ll cost a power of money, and mind you take care of them, for visiting is very mauling to clothes, and when your things come, I’m to escort you down to Gurrumpore and leave you there, and then come home and mind the place, while his Reverence and the masther, take off the valuables and sells them. The masther is a man of his word, and they are going shares—forby what government lays hold of—and they bid to give that Hassan something good, for when he saw them jewels and things his eyes were just standing out of his head, like a poisoned rat.”

“And why does not father go away as usual, and leave me here?” I asked, in great bewilderment.

“And sure, and didn’t he pass his word to you, and does he ever go back of that?” demanded Peggy angrily “There now, be quick and dress yourself; your bath is ready, and hurry out, and hear all their schames for yourself.”

I needed no second bidding to hasten my toilet, and I heard a great deal of father’s “schemes,” not merely in the course of the morning, but during the next ten days; and I gradually began to realize the great event that lay before me, and to vibrate between ecstatic expectation, and semi-delirious spirits, and cold fits of terror at the prospect of setting out for a strange and unknown region.

At night I would say, as I laid my head on my pillow: “Five days more and I shall be in Gurrumpore—five more days I shall have seen quantities of things that are but empty names to me now! I shall be the friend of Carrie Raitt, as well as the friend of Peter Hare and Captain Fitzroy. I shall be happier than words can express!” And I fell asleep and dreamt of the golden hours that were in store.

In the morning the cold fit invariably attacked me. How could I leave father? Only five more days to spend with father! How could I, ignorant as a child (more ignorant, as I subsequently discovered, than many children) of the ways of the world, face all alone that, to me, undiscovered country?

During the last few days my heart was like a pendulum. I wished to go—I wished to stay,—and I was alternately wildly excited, or painfully depressed.

I received many lectures, and much excellent advice, from father, the padre, and Peggy. The latter especially held forth, long and eloquently, on what she termed “behaviour”—what I was to do, what I was not to do, and how I was to take Miss Raitt for my model in all things. “And the Lord send that she is a good girl, and raal lady!” was Peggy’s usual conclusion, uttered with the fervency of a prayer.

Father did not say much; but I often found his eyes fixed on me with a very sad, wistful expression.

“I feel as if I was sending you out like a lamb among wolves,” he remarked, on one occasion. “You know so little of the world; you are so sanguine, simple-minded, and child-like.”

This was true, and I was silent.

“I know that you are incapable of a lie or a mean action; but you are impulsive, quick tempered, and, I am afraid, easily influenced. A girl like you, will be thrown among many snares; and there is one thing, I may as well tell you myself, as leave it to some young flattering fool in Gurrumpore. Have you any idea of your own appearance?”

“Oh, yes; I know that I am pretty,” I answered, gazing frankly into his face.

“And pray who told you so?” he demanded very sternly. “Peggy?”

“Mr. Hare—but—I asked him—”

“You asked him!” After an expressive silence, he added, “I doubt if it is wise, to educate a girl in complete seclusion, and ignorance of all the laws of polite society. An Indian squaw would hardly put such a question to a brave of her tribe! Perhaps my experiment will be a failure—perhaps, I have unintentionally done you a wrong, Ranee. I wanted to bring you up a child of nature, ignorant of the world, and its wickedness; but, as the padre has pointed out, if I—if anything were to happen to me, you would be left alone and totally friendless, and as helpless and inexperienced as a new-born infant.”

“Do not talk like that!” I returned impetuously. “You are not going to leave me alone; it is I who am leaving you—but only for a few weeks. Father, if you wish me to stay—”

“No, no,” he interrupted. “It is best that you should go and learn experience, and see other young people, and try your wings. Remember what I have told you. Do not take all the world into your confidence. Do not brag of the treasure, or the Begum’s necklace; think twice before you speak—if you can; and whatever friends you make, or lose—keep the friendship of your own conscience.”

At last the day of departure arrived; my gay, new toilettes were packed into a yellow tin box, and a green carpet bag; these, with a hamper of provisions, were placed on a country cart, and then Peggy and I, each climbed into a separate “chukra.” I, in floods of tears, after taking an hysterical farewell of the padre, the Panther, Cassim, and the whole retinue of domestics; and then in single file we drove solemnly away. One word about a chukra;—A chukra consists of a couple of rude wheels, a ruder seat, of jungle wood—on which you sit Turkish fashion—and a pole, to which are hooked a pair of little trotting bullocks, with big bells round their necks, hung from silver or cowrie necklaces; and further equipped with sacking, or wadded coats, with a neat aperture for the hump. These bullocks, common to the Central Provinces, trot as fast as ponies, are as sure-footed as goats, and carry a chukra over broken ground in a truly amazing style. The poorest, possess this vehicle—thus most native women may be said to “keep their carriage”—and the ubiquitous bullocks plough, thrash, draw water, carry loads, are broken alike to saddle and harness, live on the barest pasture, share the family apartment, and finally, when old and useless, furnish their owners with a series of noble meals. Our journey by road took two days, halting at night at Dâk Bungalows. Father escorted us on horseback, and headed our little procession; I came next; then Peggy; finally, the baggage; and we ultimately made quite an imposing entrée into Kolar Railway Station. There I beheld a train, for the first time, and what the celebrated native termed “The Fire Devil shut up in a box,” and was nearly as much impressed, as he was.

Father said but little to me on the journey from home, but as he stood, with his hand in mine, over the window of the railway-carriage, he looked at me wistfully, and said: “You will be back in a month, Ranee; you won’t stay longer?”

“No, no, no,” I sobbed; “not an hour longer.”

“But you will never be the same Ranee, that I am looking at to-day,” he replied. “I shall be wiser, I hope. I shall have quantities to tell you; but otherwise I shall be exactly as I am now. Why should I be different?”

He made no answer, but shook his head mournfully. A bell rang, the whistle sounded, and he had only time to say:

“Good-bye, God bless you,” ere the train had carried me out of his sight.

What a difference between this rapid, smooth motion, and the jolting of a chukra, over country tracks, dry watercourses, and even boulder-stones! I realised this, when my first burst of grief was over. I glanced at Peggy; she was gazing dreamily out of the window, humming her old tune:

’Tis a sorrowful ditty
I’ll sing to you now.

I was utterly sick of this song, and turned and addressed myself to the landscape on my right hand.

The country that I scanned was very disappointing; there was nothing to be seen that was not contemptuously familiar to me. Fields of Ragee, Cholum, and cotton, with their inevitable machans, and clapping occupants. The droves of sheep and goats, the thick cactus hedge, that bordered the line of rail; the mud villages, and solitary temples, was I not well acquainted with them all? One thing did surprise me, the enormous number of native passengers who swarmed in, and out, of the train, every time we stopped. It looked as if the whole population was on the move. Stalwart coolies, snowy Baboos, Parsees, and men of all sorts and conditions, accompanied by their families, and carrying luggage, varying from a small Gladstone bag, to a bundle of rags, and a curry-stone.

After an uneventful journey of twenty-four hours, through a flat, uninteresting landscape, and past dozens of insignificant little stations, Peggy and I, found ourselves slowly steaming into a considerable terminus; and my heart gave a bound of trepidation, and anticipation, as I read on a large painted board, the word “Gurrumpore.”

Chapter XVIII

Gurrumpore

“And listens like a three years’ child.” — Coleridge

Somewhere or other, I had gleaned the adage that “first impressions were half the battle,” and with this valuable maxim well in view, I arrayed myself in my best clothes, several stations before we reached our destination. Alas, miserable ignorant! I imagined my appearance to be entirely beyond the reach of criticism, as I stepped out on the glaring platform at Gurrumpore. I was attired in a ready-made/ginger-coloured costume, lavishly trimmed with cotton-backed satin and blonde lace; my head was almost entirely extinguished by an enormous white hat, loaded with slightly tumbled artificial flowers; a row of big blue beads encircled my throat; and a pair of white kid gloves completed my toilette. Over these latter, I had fought and wrangled up to the last moment with Peggy, who was the warm advocate of a pair of black silk mittens. She was still dressed jungle-fashion, in a decent purple cotton, a thin black shawl, and a “drawn” silk bonnet, and she carried in her hand, a bulging blue bonnet-box, containing my precious new hat number two.

We were met by Colonel Raitt, now so spruce and shaven, that I hardly recognised him, until his loud authoritative voice set all my doubts at rest! My slender supply of luggage was easily collected, and then for the first time in my life, I found myself trotting away behind a pair of horses. This experience was as agreeable as it was novel; it was strange to a jungle girl like me, to be drawn by a pair of animals who had neither horns or humps; and who would resist the mild (?) method of tail-twisting, or the sharp impressive goad! As we drove away, I gave but little attention to my conveyance or my Jehu. I was staring about with greedy eyes, and taking in everything as we passed. If I were summoned home by the next train, at any rate, I could say that I had seen Gurrumpore. Its smooth roads were lined with fine trees and trimly cut hedges, and bordered by many large thatched Bungalows standing in spacious compounds—strange-looking bare spaces, with white lines, were common to all, and these, Colonel Raitt explained to me, were tennis-courts.

“And so your father allowed you to come to us after all?” he remarked triumphantly.

“Yes,” I answered shortly. Was not my presence a sufficient reply?

“Well, I hope you will have a good time; there’s lots going on now. We have a niece staying with us, Loo Lawless. Her husband is in the Irrigation Department, at Sodabee, but Sodabee does not agree with her. She required a change, and lively society, so she came to us for a few months—this is our gay season, she is fond of fun.”

“Is she nice?” I asked bluntly.

“You shall judge for yourself in a few minutes. She is a tremendous favourite, with her aunt, and me—as clever as Old Boots.”

“Boots—Old Boots,” I muttered in a puzzled undertone. “And in what way is she clever?”

“You’ll find out soon enough! She makes every one like her—every one, put their shoulders to her little wheel; and she gets whatever she wants,” he concluded with a chuckle.

“Oh, and is that being clever?” I inquired in great surprise.

“To be sure it is,” he answered heartily, and then he abruptly changed the current of conversation, into his favourite channel, i.e., Shikar. Meanwhile, we had been bowling along at a rapid pace, and we met various other people driving, who ducked under the hoods of their bullock tongas, twisting their necks to salute Colonel Raitt, and seemed particularly anxious to catch sight of me—a wish, that for some inscrutable reason, my companion invariably foiled. These bullock tongas, as I subsequently discovered, were a distinctive feature of Gurrumpore. No establishment, was complete without an equipage consisting of a stout kind of Croydon, with a hood like that on a bathing machine, a pair of fast-trotting bullocks, and a semi-nude, but resolute driver perched upon the pole. In vain, was it represented to the inhabitants of Gurrumpore, that their mode of transit was barbarous and obsolete, and their conveyances insultingly stigmatised as “Cow-Carts.” They declared with one voice, that they were cheap, convenient, and comfortable, and that beyond the bounds of the Club, church, and railway station, no one ever wished to drive. However, they could not deny, that the bullocks had serious drawbacks—a maddening trick of suddenly lying down, in the middle of the road, when you were particularly pressed for time; an irresistible habit, of rushing headlong into every open gateway, and taking you up to the door of your deadliest enemy, or to some habitation that you had important reasons for wishing to avoid; and no amount of tail-twisting, or “language,” would induce some pairs, to pass Club, church, or their own residence. But to resume my journey, to the Raitts’ Bungalow, we soon came in sight of it, an unusually large Bee-hive, situated at an angle of the road, and approached by two short avenues; it had a “Pot” garden in front, a tennis-ground on one side, and the compound was shaded by several magnificent Tamarind trees, and two or three clumps, of feathery Bamboos. We drew up under an immense thatched porch with considerable dash, and Colonel Raitt said, as he helped me to descend:

“Here we are, and there’s the missus. Out you get, and mind the wheel!”

I stumbled awkwardly up the steps; my dress was a foot too long in front; my hat was displaced by my descent; and altogether I knew that I presented a most raffish appearance.

“Welcome, my dear!” said Mrs. Raitt, receiving me into a capacious embrace. “Welcome a hundred times.” When she released me, I saw that she was a stout, elderly woman, with flaxen hair, and a round, good-natured face. She took me immediately under her wing, and marched me into the drawing-room, which opened straight off the verandah—a large dim apartment, crowded with furniture. Two ladies, and a gentleman, were standing up, evidently expecting me.

“Here is my daughter Carrie, who has been just dying to see you,” said Mrs. Raitt, introducing us.

So this was Carrie Raitt, who was to be my bosom friend! I looked at her eagerly, and experienced my first disappointment. She was as tall as I was, her hair was brown, her face was round like her mother’s, her eyes were very blue, but small; they gazed gravely into mine without a smile. Possibly she was clever, good-natured, and amiable; but she was not at all pretty, and the cool shake-hands she bestowed on me largely discounted her mother’s speech, her manners were decidedly stiff, and her reception was not enthusiastic.

“And this is my niece, Loo Lawless!”

I turned, and saw a charming little lady in white, with primrose ribbons. She had wonderful eyes, and a most bewitching smile. To my great surprise, she put up her pretty face and kissed me affectionately, and said:

“I am delighted you have come at last. We have heard so much about you.”

Her manners were caressing, and her voice reminded me somehow, of the cooing of doves, in the woods round Ram Tek.

The third stranger was a man, with a long pale face, and a long pale moustache. He was presented as Captain Bane; and when he had made me a very low bow, he subsided into an arm-chair, and glanced significantly at Mrs. Lawless. Then he took up a little bit of round glass, rubbed it carefully with his handkerchief, stuck it deliberately in his right eye, and fixed his attention on me.

“My dear child,” said Mrs. Raitt effusively, “I am sure you must be half dead. Take off your hat, and sit down—do.”

In answer to this invitation, I looked vaguely about, amongst a bewildering supply of chairs, and finally seated myself on a red stool. “Not there! Not there!” screamed the old lady. “That’s a tea-table! Here, beside me, on this big sofa. It’s a mercy you are light.”

I took the place assigned to me, covered with blushes and confusion. I dared not raise my eyes; but I heard a faint titter, which I attributed to Carrie.

“You will have a cup of tea, won’t you, Miss Barrington?” she asked.

I glared at her indignantly. She was sitting before a tray, covered with pretty cups and saucers, and held up the teapot as she spoke. “No, thank you,” I snapped resentfully.

“What, no tea!’” she echoed, in a key of incredulous amazement.

“I have not dined yet,” I rejoined, in a tone that I flatter myself effectually disposed of argument.

“And what sort of a journey did you have?” inquired Mrs. Lawless, taking a seat beside me, tea-cup in hand.

“Beautiful,” was my ridiculous reply; but I was thinking of her exquisite eyes – eyes that had fastened on mine, and were apparently endeavouring to read my very soul.

“Beautiful!” drawled Captain Bane. “Well, that is not the adjective I should apply to an Indian railway journey. You must be easily pleased.”

“And all the better for her,” retorted Mrs. Raitt, as she stirred her tea. “She’s like me; she and I, have never been out of India to get high notions.”

I am sure that this remark, was made with the benevolent intention, of putting me at my ease; but it had the opposite effect of making me, if possible, more hot and shy than ever.

“I only learnt reading, and writing, and wool-work, and ‘The Blue Bells of Scotland’ at the convent,” continued Mrs. Raitt; “and I was just your age, when I met Raitt at a temperance dance, and we were married in a month! Maybe you’ll have the same luck.”

“I hope not,” I rejoined impetuously. It was a rude remark, but it escaped from my lips almost unawares.

Captain Bane slowly removed, and re-polished his eye-glass, as if to have a still better view of me, and Mrs. Raitt laughed boisterously, and said:

“Oh! Just you wait till you see some of the nice beaux we have here in Gurrumpore.”

“What are beaux?” I inquired, with my unquenchable thirst for information. “Not ribbons, are they?”

“Bless your heart!” And she laughed now till the tears stood in her eyes. “Bless your heart!” she repeated. “Never fear, you’ll soon know, and have a dozen of them. You remind me a good deal of what I was.”

I stared at her vacantly. She was fat; her figure resembled a badly-stuffed cushion. She had a red face, a double chin, and a very scanty supply of hair. Should I ever resemble her?

“Yes, you may well look,” she chuckled; “but at eighteen I had a heap of yellow curls, and was just a bag o’ bones.”

“Mother!” expostulated Carrie in a shocked voice.

“Well! What now? Carrie is always checking me; but it ain’t a bit of good. She has had a grand education—first in a London college, and then in a Paris cemetery—seminary, I mean. There I go, you see,” she added triumphantly.

“I am sure Miss Barrington would like to come to her room,” said Carrie, rising rather suddenly.

“I’m sure she would,” replied her mother; “but you are not to be ‘Missing’ each other, a couple of girls, like you. Now, Diana, go along with Carrie, and take a nice rest before evening, and just make yourself perfectly at home.”

I rose with alacrity, thankful to escape from Captain Bane’s ironical observance, and followed Carrie out of the room. Rather to my surprise, Mrs. Lawless accompanied us, and wound her arm round my waist, and said:

“You are going to be a great friend of mine too, I hope. Carrie shan’t have you all to herself. You must like me a little, won’t you?”

“I am sure I shall,” I answered ardently, as I looked back into her beseeching eyes. Carrie, meanwhile, unconscious of our alliance, marched on ahead, and threw open the door of a large, comfortable-looking bed-room, where Peggy, minus her shawl, was unpacking my slender wardrobe: the pièce de résistance, my evening dress, was already laid out on the bed in all its glory. It was a very brilliant pink grenadine, with green stripes, garnished with quantities of green ribbons.

I thought it lovely, and looked to my companions to confirm my admiration.

Instead of which, Mrs. Lawless threw up her hands with a little scream, and exclaimed:

“Where did you get the Christy Minstrel frock? Was it made in the jungle, or did it come out of the Ark?”

“No, it came from Bombay, mam,” rejoined Peggy, very stiffly.

“Oh!—And you are the Irish nurse we have heard of. I hope you are going to stay, and amuse us.”

“No, thank you, mam. I bid to go back to-morrow, on the first train.”

“What hair you have!” remarked Carrie, as I removed my hat. “What a weight it must be!”

“Is that its natural colour, dear?” inquired Mrs. Lawless, half playfully.

“And what else?” demanded Peggy sharply. “If we are behind the fashions in the jungle, we are not painted Jezebels—glory be to good ness!” And she stared hard into Mrs. Lawless’ face.

“No?” returned that lady, seemingly a little cowed. “Well, your young lady has seen the last of the jungle. We are going to get her married, and settled in Gurrumpore.”

“Are you, indeed, mam?” very drily.

“Every one is dying to see you,” said Carrie, who was helping to put away my things in various drawers, and wardrobes.

“Why?” I asked with a thrill of apprehension.

Why? What a question!” ejaculated Mrs. Lawless, who had been trying on my hat, before the glass. “When a shooting party return from the chase, and tell all the com munity, that in the jungles of Werda, they discovered something much more startling than the largest of tigers—nothing less than a fair-haired English girl, who rode a superb white Arab, and possessed a tame panther, and matchless diamonds—why, naturally, all Gurrumpore is panting to see her.”

“Yes,” supplemented Carrie. “The story spread all over the place, like wildfire, and by the time it got as far as the Sapper Lines, it was improved out of all recognition—you wore boys’ clothes, smoked a hookah, chewed betel-nut, and had only one eye.”

“What a shame!” I exclaimed indignantly.

“Yes, yes; but no one believed in it, dear,” said Mrs. Lawless soothingly. “In fact, most people thought the whole story, was one of Uncle Tom’s jokes. I assure you, that when they heard that you were really and truly coming, there was nearly a riot at the Club. Captain Bane gave me no peace, till I asked him in to afternoon tea, to have a private view.”

“Do people expect to see a wild beast?” I asked angrily.

“No, my love, they expect to see some thing charming—I won’t tell you what. I only wish they would get up the same excitement about me.”

“Well, now I dare say—Diana,” bringing it out with a jerk, “would like to lie down and rest,” suggested Carrie.

“I dare say she would,” assented her cousin; “and as we are going out—the house will be quiet. Mind you don’t crush that exquisite garment,” pointing dramatically to the bed. “Ta ta, for the present,” and with a queer little laugh, Mrs. Lawless playfully pushed Carrie out of the room, and then followed her.

“Well, Peggy, what do you think of it all?” I asked, as soon as the door was closed. “All what?” very crossly.

“Why, the place, and the people.”

“The place is just a little up-country station; and as to the people, I’ll pass an opinion on them, when I see them.”

“You have seen Miss Raitt and Mrs. Lawless.”

“Miss Raitt is the plain one, I suppose; and the other is the little lady with rings down to her knuckles, and an eye of her own in her head. Unless I’m much mistaken, she’s a nice play-boy!”

“And what is that?”

“Oh, you’ll know soon enough; you stick by the old lady, and keep your eyes open, and your mouth shut, and you’ll come to no harm, I hope.”

“But don’t you think, Mrs. Lawless is beautiful?” I urged appealingly.

“Her clothes is beautiful, that I’ll allow; and one thing is certain, Miss Ranee, them blaygards, took us in finely about the dresses; they thought any old rubbish would do for the jungle! Ye can’t be seen in them. The fashions is greatly altered since my day—no crinolines, nor wide sleeves—everything just teetotally capsized.”

“What am I to do?” I asked in despair.

“Faix, you are just a figure of fun; don’t ye feel it yourself, dear? If ye had seen the grin on that one, when she was trying on your hat! I’ll spake to Mrs. Raitt, and get three or four Dirzees, to run you up some decent dresses. I’ve plenty of money the masther give me.”

As Peggy talked, I had been rapidly making my toilette. I was much too eager, and excited, to repose; in fact, I was not in the least tired—if I had wanted rest, I would have ample leisure for that at home; not now, when every moment was precious—so I made my way back to the drawing-room. How odd it looked! Dozens of little framed photographs covered the tables; cloths, and draperies, were actually arranged upon the walls; bows and handkerchiefs decorated the backs of chairs. As I crossed the thick Persian carpet, I noticed an open carriage, and a dog-cart, under the porch, and Captain Bane in the verandah, conversing with Mrs. Lawless and Carrie. They were evidently going out to drive; how much I should like to go too! As I stood, uncertain whether to advance or retreat, a side door opened, and Mrs. Raitt sailed forth, with a wonderful green bonnet on her head. She rustled down the steps, followed by Carrie, and they both got into the open carriage. Captain Bane assisted Mrs. Lawless to ascend the dog-cart, and with some remark about “Band,” and a scream from Mrs. Raitt to a servant “to get the subscription made up at the chemist’s,” they all drove away, leaving me just as much alone, as if I were sitting in my own verandah, on the banks of the Karrhan.

Chapter XIX

I See a Little of the World

“What sort of a world will the world be now?
Oh, never again what the world hath been.”
Owen Meredith

At the end of twenty-four hours, I had made several important discoveries. I discovered that Mrs. Lawless was not nearly as young as I had at first supposed (eighteen), and that extraordinary phenomenon, her hair, was twice as luxuriant in the afternoon, as it was in the very early morning! I discovered, that she was—for the present, at any rate—the real mistress of the Raitts’ mansion; I discovered, that Colonel Raitt was a meek man in the bosom of his family, that Mrs. Raitt was the most good natured, and most easy-going of women, and that I liked Carrie after all. She was brusque and undemonstrative, and Sydney Smith would have said that her manners “had no frill;” but deeds speak louder than words, and she entirely gained Peggy’s affections, by the kind and practical interest, she took in my wardrobe. The day after my arrival, behold four Dirzees squatting in the verandah, and sewing away at their usual leisure on my behalf; they were surrounded by piles of cambric and muslin, and before them stood Carrie, with a fashion-plate in her hand, haranguing them with amazing eloquence.

Loo Lawless, lolling in a cane chair, and toying with a big black fan, looked on, and laughed at Carrie’s zeal, but made no suggestions, beyond the statement, that “She did not believe in Dirzees, and got all her things out from home.”

“Yes, Loo, and that reminds me,” said her cousin with sudden animation, “that that brown dress of yours, will be just what we want, for a pattern for this,” holding up some white material as she spoke. “Can I go and fetch it?”

A momentary silence. I glanced up, just in time to see Mrs. Lawless making a hideous grimace at Carrie; then she said in her sweetest, and most cooing voice: “So sorry, darling, but the brown is not available; it is ripped up.”

“Why,” began Carrie; then catching sight of my interested countenance, she stopped, became very red, and said as she threw down the stuff: “Never mind, I have a dress that will do nearly as well.” What did this by-play mean? Did it mean, that the charming little lady did not choose to lend me a pattern? Impossible, quite impossible. Mrs. Lawless, and Carrie went out to tiffin that day, and then Peggy took her departure, leaving me dissolved in tears—though this was by no means our first separation—and Peggy’s last whispered commands were, that I was not to make too free with “that wan,” meaning pretty Mrs. Lawless! When Peggy had driven away, Mrs. Raitt tenderly consoled me, and patted me on the arm, and said in her most motherly manner: “Now, don’t take on, lovey. We are all going to be very good to you here, and make you as happy as a queen; put on your hat, and you and I will take a little drive, and go and see the polo.”

I am now gratefully alive to the fact, that Mrs. Raitt was a brave and noble woman, and wholly above the small-mindedness of caring for appearances, when she took me out, in my grotesque get-up, and trotted me round the cantonment of Gurrumpore.

“Lean back, dearie, and look as if the whole place belonged to you;” this was her injunction, as we bowled along the smooth red roads, past the church—I rather scandalised her by asking what it was?—past the barracks, past the public gardens, and, finally, up to the polo-ground—a level, green plain, enclosed by white railings, inside of which many traps were drawn up, chiefly bullock tongas; the bullocks placidly lying down and chewing the cud, and taking no interest whatever in the galloping and charging of the many hoofs beside them.

The game of polo was rather incoherently explained to me by my chaperone, but I soon grasped the subject, and was as eager and interested a spectator as any present, breathlessly watching the two teams—now rushing headlong en masse, now a good stroke, a quick turn, and a charge in the opposite direction. Once I saw two riders, their ponies almost locked together, in mad pursuit of the same ball, and one of these I recognised as Captain Fitzroy.

“I can’t bear to watch them,” exclaimed Mrs. Raitt plaintively. “I always turn my head the other way, for fear of seeing an accident. That Fitzroy is a desperate rider—look at him now, tearing after the ball, like a cat after a mouse. Ah, he has missed! and back it goes!

“There’s Moss, in the red sash; and you know Captain Bane; and that’s Hare, without a cap. Laws! here they are again,” as part of the two teams came thundering towards us, as if they meant to charge the railings. There was some smart play, and after a sharp skirmish, one vigorous blow from Peter Hare, and the ball travelled away towards Blue’s goal; then Moss dashed forwards, and dealt it a feeble back-stroke; then a momentary struggle ensued between him and Captain Fitzroy, who had come up at full gallop, made a capital shot, and sent the ball within two yards of the goal. A neck and neck race ensued between him and Moss, but he won with a rush, and sent it skimming away between the two blue flags.

After this there was a murmur of approval, and a little clapping of hands, and “Well done, Blues;” then there was a pause, and I fancy that people began to discover that I was on the ground. Carrie and Mrs. Lawless, the centre of a little group, nodded and waved their parasols from afar;—they, and most of the spectators, were seated under an awning, inside the rails;—and several people accosted Mrs. Raitt, or walked past the carriage very slowly, and gazed exhaustively at me. Among those who came up, and spoke to us, was Peter Hare, looking very hot, and very much pleased to see me. “Well, so you have come to Gurrumpore after all,” he said, wringing my hand. “You arrived to-day?”

“No, yesterday.”

“Fitz does not know you are here, or he would come, and make his salaams. May I get in, Mrs. Raitt, and sit and jaw for a few minutes?”

Of course he might; in another second he was seated opposite to us, fanning himself furiously with Mrs. Raitt’s fan, and chatting away to me.

“Of course, you know nothing of the people yet,” he said. “I’ll enlighten your ignorance a little. In the first place, let me show you Conroy. Do you see that smart youth over there, in the red-and-white striped coat, and riding a bay pony? That’s him; and that’s my coat, and Mayne’s nag. That soldierly-looking man, leaning over the rails, is Gimlette, our Colonel; that’s his wife in the ravishing yellow costume. She has her eye on you already, and is prepared to sell you a—a hat,” glancing dubiously at mine, “a side-saddle, a—a second-hand wedding-cake!”

“Now, now, Mr. Hare,” expostulated Mrs. Raitt, shaking her green feathers disapprovingly.

“Do you notice that tall fellow standing beside Mrs. Lawless? That’s Hicks, our chief lady-killer. Isn’t he splendid? His lashes are so long, that he can’t wear an eye-glass,” continued Peter with unabashed frivolity.

“Really!” I ejaculated, with the most perfect good faith.

“Yes, really,” he returned impressively. “That little girl in pink, is our best tennis player. She won’t marry any of us. When we say, ‘Love all,’ she says ‘Deuce.’”

“Mr. Hare, come now, behave yourself,” in terrupted Mrs. Raitt indignantly. “How can you tell the girl such nonsense? I’ll have to turn you out, upon my word I will.”

“I’ll have to turn myself out. Time is up, I see,” he retorted, springing down. “I’m only giving Miss Barrington a carte du pays. I’ll finish it all another time,” and lifting his hat, he ran off.

Karr du payee – I suppose that’s another word for nonsense. Of course you knew him before,” said Mrs. Raitt. “Yes, I met him at home.”

“He and Fitzroy, live together, and are great friends. Fitzroy is a nice fellow, always the same; a pleasant word, and a smile, and a laugh, even for an old woman like me! Ay, deary me!” heaving a heavy sigh. “It’s a pity he is so poor. It’s always the nice ones that have no money.”

“Is it?” I said innocently, accepting this melancholy announcement, with unquestioning belief.

“But I don’t care much for Mr. Hare,” she continued, “he gives himself airs, and makes fun of his betters, all because his father is a baronet. (Oh, Peter, Peter!) And he is an awful flirt. I can’t think what people see in him, except his spirits and his impudence; in my opinion he is just nothing, but a gay Lutheran.”

A gay Lutheran I was quite a novel character to me, and as I pondered over its possible inconsistencies, she said:

“Now, dearie, if you don’t mind, we will go down to the Bazaar, and do a bit of shopping.”

Mind! Was not the word “shop,” a sufficiently potent spell, to draw me from any entertainment? I, who had never seen a shop in my life!

After a short drive, we drew up at an establishment brilliantly lit up, the walls covered with mirrors and pictures, and stands and tables heaped up with European stores, saddlery, cutlery, stationery, and patent medicines. As Mrs. Raitt gave her orders, to a deferential Parsee in spectacles, I roamed about from case to case, gloating over ribbons, shoes, candied sweets, and Christmas cards. At length Mrs. Raitt called out imperatively:

“Come along, child, I won’t keep you any longer; we must hurry, or we shall be late for all the fun at the Club-Rooms.”

Chapter XX

I See a Little More of the World

“Lift not the painted veil,
Which those who live call life.”

The Club-Rooms, as I soon discovered, were the great feature in Gurrumpore, and the daily rendezvous for all Society. The Club itself, was a large, rambling, thatched building, with two entrances; it stood in the middle of a considerable compound, containing many first rate tennis-courts, numerous narrow walks, and cunningly-placed seats, to hold two—no more. Inside the premises, there was a fine ball-room, a billiard-room, a bar for the men, a library, spacious reading-room, and round the whole building ran a deep pillared verandah, up and down which people sat, or walked, on rainy days, or in the gracious twilight, when the seats outside, suggested snakes!

As we drove up, the murmur of many voices inside, and the crowd of vacant bullock tongas outside, signified that we were late arrivals, and I hastily descended in the wake of my hostess, to run—did I know it—the gauntlet of all Gurrumpore! We passed a considerable group in the entrance, and a crowd about the billiard door, and then we went into a long verandah. To our left hand, two rows of chairs were drawn up, vis-à-vis, and almost every seat was occupied. At the end of the row was a table, where two servants were serving tea and coffee, and several ladies, tennis bat in hand, stood round in little groups.

“This is the ladies’ parliament,” whispered Mrs. Raitt, as she seated herself, and called aloud for “two iced lemonades.”

I crept into a chair next to hers, over-awed, not to say terrified, by my position; there was an appreciable lull in the buzz of conversation, and I was, as usual, the cynosure of every eye.

“This is my young friend Miss Barrington,” explained my hostess, as she dispensed a few nods among our immediate neighbours. “Miss Barrington—Mrs. Gimlette, Mrs. Mayne—both in Moryson’s Horse—Mrs. Jones, and Miss Corkery.” All four ladies smiled, and bowed pleasantly at me—scarlet, miserable me! Mrs. Mayne, of Moryson’s Horse, was a mere girl, not older than myself; she came and sat next me, and her sweet face, and rather timid manners, soon put me tolerably at my ease; and I found myself chatting away to her, quite as volubly as if I had known her for a month. Indeed, all the ladies near me, had made civil little remarks, hoping I did not find it hot, or that I would like Gurrumpore, and so on, and in spite of an uncomfortable feeling, that many eyes sought my hat, I felt more at ease than I expected, and I was actually beginning to enjoy myself very much. Mrs. Mayne had confided to me that she was only nineteen, and just out, and nearly as complete a stranger to everything as I was; this was comfortable news. “Her husband was in Moryson’s Horse; and oh, did I not know Captain Fitzroy, and was he not charming? She and Dick, were so fond of him.”

At this juncture, a little fair lady, came up and sat down over against me, coffee-cup in hand. She was rather pretty, her features were well-formed, but they had a pinched look, and her eyes were too closely set together, and had a very hard expression; she wore a pair of dainty little gold glasses, with a kind of long handle, by means of which she applied them to her eyes and focussed her surroundings.

“Introduce me to your friend, Mrs. Raitt,” was her first remark.

Mrs. Raitt instantly said: “Miss Barrington—Mrs. Little.”

Mrs. Little handed her coffee-cup to a servant, held up her eye-glass, and looked at me in silence. There was something in her prolonged examination, that made me feel inclined to rush at her, and box her ears.

“And for how long have you left the jungle, Miss Barrington?” This was a new way of putting it.

“For as long as her father will spare her,” replied Mrs. Raitt precipitately. “For three months, at least.”

“Oh, how nice that will be for you! Any news?” turning to my hostess, and dropping her glasses, as much as to say she had seen quite enough of me.

“No, except about Mrs. Kennedy.”

“Pooh,” indignantly, “that’s an old story. “Have you heard that the Smiths have taken the Drummonds’ ayah after all?

“What, that horrid woman? She is not honest!”

“Yes; but you see, she thoroughly understands the art of doing up a lady. She learnt that, in her last place.”

“I am glad to see Mrs. King out the first time since her illness,” said my hostess, benignantly looking after a lady, who passed by, leaning on another.

“Yes; but she is a ghost! She has lost all her looks: she is as thin as a famine coolie.”

“Ah, she has no appetite, poor thing.”

“No, she is chiefly supported on stimulants, and considering that her father—” and here she leant across—whisper, whisper, whisper.

“I don’t believe one word of it,” said Mrs. Raitt, drawing herself back, and looking rather angry; “not one word!”

“Well, will you believe, that Mrs. Spooner, at Sholapore, is getting her sister married?”

“Nonsense! you don’t say so!” now beaming on her informant.

“Yes; a hideous girl, with a nose like an early rose potato—to Mr. Rode of the Engineers.”

“But I always thought that Mr. Rode—”

Here Mrs. Raitt, came suddenly to a full stop.

“Was Mrs. Spooner’s attaché,” continued Mrs. Little very briskly; “quite true; but she was so deadly sick of her sister, that she ordered Mr. Rode to marry her, and, of course, now that he is a relation, he can kiss Mrs. Spooner, don’t you see?”

“Oh, fie, fie, Mrs. Little!” said Mrs. Raitt, reddening, and glancing nervously at me. “You should not say such things, even in joke. Carrie,” to her daughter, who had just come up, “will you take Diana, and show her about the place? It’s dull for her, sitting here.”

“Dull,” to quote Captain Bane, was not the adjective I should have used.

Carrie escorted me to the ball-room, where numbers of people were about to play badminton, and were sitting or standing, with bats in their hands; but I was very shy, and hung back, refusing to go further than the door.

“Well, then, come along, and see the reading room and library,” said Carrie; “you’ll get over all your scruples in two or three days.”

The library, and the reading-room, both proved to be empty. The latter was a larger apartment dedicated to newspapers and silence, and merely divided from the library by a great red cotton screen; it was entirely lined with books from floor to ceiling, and contained plenty of nice low chairs, and a table covered with the latest magazines. As I stood examining these, a man put his head in at the door, and Carrie said:

“All right, I’m coming! Diana, would you not like to come and watch the badminton?”

“No, no; please let me stay here and look over the books,” I pleaded. I really quailed, at the idea of facing the badminton room.

“Very well, then, there’s the last Queen,” pushing me a paper. “I shall come and fetch you, as soon as the game is over—and I won’t be long.” So saying, she hurried away, with her impatient partner, and left me to my own devices.

I was soon ensconced in a comfortable chair, and turning over the leaves of a picture paper, with the deepest interest; presently I became aware that the reading-room was occupied. I leant my head back, by which means I peeped round the screen, and I saw Mrs. Little and a bald gentleman. They were tossing over the papers, and talking to one another across the table, and I was a good deal startled to find, that every word they uttered, was perfectly audible to me; I coughed loudly, but it seemed to make no difference, they still rattled on, in the same high key.

“Listen to those idiots playing badminton,” said the man, as shouts of laughter came from the ball-room.

“I wonder you don’t play,” said Mrs. Little; “they wanted another to make up the set.”

“Thanks, it’s too hot; and I’d much rather stay here and talk to you,” was his gallant reply.

“Have you seen the importation?” she asked, with a giggle.

“Yes,” he returned. “And what an awful sell! what a cruel disappointment!”

“I never beheld such an object; looks like a servant, and a half-witted one, too.”

“It was too bad of old Ananias, to tell us such crams!” exclaimed the man, in an injured tone.

Up to this, it never dawned on my unsuspicious mind, that they were speaking of me; but the rest of the sentence, set my heart beating double time, and my face in a blaze.

“He laid it on pretty thick, about the golden hair, and the white Arab, and the diamonds; she sounded like a princess in a fairy tale.”

“But who ever believed old Tommy Raitt?”

“I know,” he continued; “but he was corroborated by Hare and Fitzroy—especially Fitz.”

“Oh, he was making fun of the whole thing,” said Mrs. Little scornfully.

“Perhaps he was spoony on the young lady,” suggested the other with a chuckle.

Indeed, this idea seemed to tickle them amazingly, and they laughed both loud and long. Then Mrs. Little said breathlessly:

“No, I could not think so badly of him as that. Did you ever behold such a hat out of burlesque—such a creature altogether? I pity the Raitts!”

I could not stand any more of this—Trembling with passion, and excitement, and overwhelmed with shame and mortification, I rose, flung down the paper, pushed past the screen, and confronted them. I could not articulate—no, not a syllable; but I was determined not to sneak away, as if I had committed a theft, and resolved that they should know, that I had heard them.

No pen, no brush, could give the faintest idea of their faces of consternation, as their eyes fell on me. I paused for a second, and looked at them – glared at them, no doubt—and then walked out into the verandah, and the darkness. There was only one lucid idea in my mind. I was going home, yes, back to the jungle by the next train. I glanced at the lighted Club, the groups of recumbent bullocks, and listened to the rattle of the billiard balls, and the shrieks of laughter from the badminton players, and then I turned and set off down the road at the top of my speed. I knew the direction of the Raitts’ house, its size was unmistakable, and before long it came in sight; as I entered the avenue I slackened my pace, suddenly remembering that there was no train, that could possibly take me home before twelve the next day, and at this moment, I was rather startled to find some one beside me, riding on a pony.

“Miss Barrington, I am sure, by the pace,” said Captain Fitzroy’s cheery voice. “What on earth has happened?” he asked as he dismounted. “Is anything chasing you?”

“No.”

“What are you running from, then?”

“I am running from a woman’s tongue,” I answered brusquely. “I am going home at once. Good-bye,” and turning my back on him, I ran up the steps. I was not at all pleased with my companion. He was spoony—hateful unknown word! He had ridiculed us, and laughed at our hospitality. I am not sure that this, was not the very bitterest drop in my cup of humiliation.

But he was not to be shaken off so easily; he coolly called a servant to take his horse, and following me into the drawing-room, said with an air of quiet determination: “Now, Miss Barrington, tell me what it all means.”

“It means,” I said, confronting him quite fiercely, “that I have seen enough of the world, that I am sick of Gurrumpore, and that I am going home. It means, that I am the laughing-stock of the whole place!”

And here, I am truly ashamed to say, I snatched off my hat, tore feathers, flowers, and ribbons out of it, and then threw it on the floor, glad to wreak my passion on a tangible object. Captain Fitzroy meanwhile surveyed the performance with the utmost serenity; his countenance never betrayed the amazement he must have experienced:

After an expressive pause he said:

“Well, Miss Barrington, I hope that has been some relief to your feelings!”

I made no reply, but flung myself down on the sofa, buried my head in the cushions, and burst into tears. So this, was the end of all my castle-building, and of my dreams, and of my hopes. Bitter disappointment, universal ridicule, a sarcastic question, and a tattered hat!

Chapter XXI

What Is The Meaning of the Word Spoony?”

“How green you are, and fresh, in this old world.”
King John

There I lay, and sobbed convulsively, with my hair all over my shoulders—a picture of humiliation, and despair. Another man, would have been painfully embarrassed; another man would have fled precipitately—but not Captain Fitzroy. Nothing was capable of putting him out, in any sense of the word—neither angry upbraiding, or tattered hats—or even tears—he was still there, and seemingly not a whit disconcerted. At length I raised myself to a sitting posture, glared at him savagely, and gasped out, in would-be imperious tones: “I wish you would go away.” The only notice he vouchsafed this polite speech, was to take a chair, and sit down.

“Go away,” I reiterated, with childish passion. “I hope I shall never see you again—I—I—hate you—there!”

But even this, outrageous, and unladylike conduct, had not the smallest effect—he merely said in a tone of dogged determination: “Time is no object, and I shall not stir”—dragging his chair a little nearer to the sofa—“until you tell me what I have done. Why are you so angry with me?”

No answer.

“Tell me what has happened? Remember that I am an old friend. Who has been vexing you? Not Mrs. Raitt, I, know. Was it Mrs. Lawless?” he added, almost in a whisper.

“No, no; I like her—the best of all. It was no one in this house,” I returned in a sobbing voice.

“Then perhaps you are labouring under some mistake, that I can explain away?” was his next suggestion.

“You cannot explain away, what I have heard with my own ears, can you?” I demanded—pushing my hair back, and staring at him fixedly.

“Perhaps if you would tell me—?”

“Yes, I’ll tell you!” I said fiercely. “Listeners never hear any good of themselves, do they? I was in the library just now, and a lady and gentleman came into the reading room. They talked—I never dreamt that they meant me at first—and I paused, half choked with emotion.

“Well, go on.”

“They said I was a creature—that I was like a servant!”

“Yes?” he answered with unmoved interrogation

“The man said that I was a sell, which must be something horrible—and that Colonel Raitt, was like Ananias; the woman said, that you made fun of us, when you came back from Paldi – and that—that—that you were spoony on me.”

As I brought out this last, and as I thought, most terrible accusation, we were sitting directly opposite to one another—I on the sofa, and he on a chair, with his arms folded, gravely surveying me. An indescribable expression flitted over his features, and a slight quivering of his moustache was undeniable! He was going to laugh—he was about to add insult to injury, and thereby to crown his offences.

“What does the word spoony mean?” I demanded peremptorily. “If you won’t tell me, I shall ask Mrs. Raitt; for I must know, and shall!”

“It is only, a slang term—nothing more,” he answered confusedly.

“Everything I don’t understand, is a slang term,” I said furiously. “Of course, I know that it means something bad!

“It does not,” he said hastily. “It means that I like you! And, by Jove, it’s the only true word they said. Do you believe, Miss Barrington, that I—that any of us—would ridicule your father’s hospitality, and your kindness? I thought you knew us better than that!

“But she said so!” I retorted doggedly.

“Some people say more than their prayers! I suppose you have no idea who she was?”

“Yes, I have. I walked straight through the room, to let them know that I had heard. Her name is Mrs. Little.”

“Who has the sharpest tongue in Asia! She never speaks a good word for any one.”

“Captain Fitzroy, why did you not tell me that people talked like this?”

“Like Mrs. Little! Heaven forbid! She is matchless, and was certainly born under Scorpion—that most malign of stars!”

“It is no matter to me, what star she was born under!” I answered explosively. “I shall go home. Father was quite right—I am out of my element here.”

“Nonsense! You must give Gurrumpore a chance! Every one wants to be kind to you, and to make much of the Jungle Princess.”

“At any rate, they all laugh at my hat—I see it in their faces,” I exclaimed indignantly.

“If they ever did, you have put such bad form out of their power for the future—it will never show again. Promise me one thing, Miss Barrington—promise that you will say no more about going home, and that you will keep tonight’s little adventure to yourself. Do not tell Mrs. Raitt, or Mrs. Lawless; there would only be a row; and Gurrumpore is hot enough, without sending round the fiery cross; and besides which, I expect that you have given Mrs. Little a jolly good fright, for once in her life.”

By this time, I had cooled down considerably. Undoubtedly, it would make me look exceedingly foolish, if I returned home the next day—especially after my eloquent pleadings, about wanting to “see the world.” So after a little I composed myself, and listened with considerable interest, to all that Captain Fitzroy had to tell me, about a certain little chestnut waler of his, that would be just the very thing to carry me, and that he would send it round for me to try, the next morning, at half-past six o’clock—as Colonel Raitt had nothing that I could possibly be seen on. There was Miss Raitt’s Arab, the carriage horses, and my old friend, the fat Galloway—and that was the whole stud.

Presently he stooped, and picked up the débris of my hat; a feather here, a flower there; and said:

“You had better stow this away—and no questions asked,” he added, with a smile.

“I don’t often get into a fury,” I said apologetically, “and I hope you won’t mind all the rude things I said when I was in a rage.”

“Pray don’t mention it!” he replied, with a look of bantering gravity.

“What sort of a temper have you?” I inquired.

“A vile family temper—kept under admirable control,” he answered, with a twinkle in his eye.

“You are joking,” I rejoined. “I am sure that you have a very sweet disposition, and that nothing could put you into a passion.”

“Thank you, Miss Barrington. You owed me some little compliment, for telling me just now—that you hated me.”

“You knew I did not mean that. I never mean anything I say, when I am in a fury.”

“Is that the case? Well, I shall know next time. Now I must be off,” he said, rising and taking my hand. “You will be ready to ride at half-past six o’clock to-morrow, and you won’t forget your promise—oh, good evening, Mrs. Lawless”—to that lady, who had just entered the drawing-room.

“So you are here, Captain Fitzroy!” she exclaimed. “Aunt Sara has been in such a terrible state of mind. She thought Miss Barrington was lost; we were afraid that she had run away back to the jungle.”

She stared hard at me, and must have noticed my red eyes, dishevelled locks, and per chance, the rags of my hat, in my hand; but she said nothing; and I, feeling that some excuse for my behaviour was evidently expected, stammered out:

“I walked—home—I did not care for—the Club.”

Then Mrs. Lawless took entire possession of Captain Fitzroy, and chatted away to him, with an effusion of manner, that I soon found was one of her peculiarities. As long as there was a man among the company, be he old or young, handsome or hideous, a tottering veteran, or a mere youth from school, she invariably monopolised him completely. No one else had a chance! She had a knack of centring all attention in her own little person, to the exclusion of every other woman present.

When Captain Fitzroy had departed, she came sidling over to me, and placed her hands on my shoulders, and—gazing up into my face, said with an air of affectionate solicitude: “You were looking very solemn just now, darling. What was that, you were promising Fitz?”

“I cannot tell you,” I said, drawing back.

“My dear, you need not be so wonderfully mysterious about it,” she exclaimed rather tartly. “You were not promising to be his, I know. Captain Fitzroy only flirts with married women. So be warned in time. He does not encourage girls.”

Having made this nice, agreeable, little speech, she nodded her head at me playfully, and went out of the room, humming a tune, leaving me in some doubt as to whether I really liked Mrs. Lawless so very much after all.

Chapter XXII

“Unlimited Loo”

“Heart in her lips, and soul within her eyes, Soft as her clime, and sunny as her skies.”
— Byron

There is no need, to linger to describe in detail, all the delights of my earliest few weeks at Gurrumpore. My ecstasies over little English children, a regiment on parade (notably Moryson’s horse), and other novel sights; nor my experience in church, on my first Sunday, and my awe and emotion, caused by the pealing organ, and the choral service. Carrie sat beside me, and found my places, just as if I was a child—for our manner of reading prayers at home was straight on, without any divergence for chants or collects. Carrie also nudged me gently, as to when I should stand up, or kneel down, all of which necessary instructions were the occasion of great diversion to Mrs. Lawless, who more than once, buried her face in her handkerchief to smother her laughter. I was scarlet, and on the verge of tears, and glanced apprehensively at our neighbours across the aisle—Captain Fitzroy, Mr. Hare, and Mr. Conroy, all clad in gorgeous uniform, all armed with clanking sword, all looking the beau ideal of “beaux sabreurs,” and I was much relieved to find, that their faces were grave, to sternness!

As days went by—flew by, I should say—my gowns were completed, I possessed a very smart sailor hat, and was otherwise dressed, like other people. Also, I showed a great aptitude for tennis, badminton, and tilting at the ring. I rode well forward with the “Bobbery” pack, and joined in all amusements, with the eager exuberance of youth. I now knew every one in the station, even that combustible element Mrs. Little—and was not afraid of her! I no longer feared to face the merry badminton players—or even the more solemn ordeal, of the ladies’ parliament! Indeed, I frequently took my seat there, boldly ordered tea or coffee, joined in discussions with other girls, listened to debates about forthcoming dances, and heard Mrs. Moody, our chief “speaker,” lay down the law, on the vital subjects of dress, deportment, and domestics. In short, I laughed, and talked, and danced, and played, and enjoyed life, just as I had longed to do, in those dreamy hours, on the banks of the Karrhan.

Every one was kind to me, every one made much of me, as Captain Fitzroy had predicted. What days these were! How busy! How pleasant! How brief! After that, one horrible shock, I had had no more disillusions. I sent long weekly budgets to father and Peggy, containing glowing accounts of all my doings. How I had won the bracelet for tilting at the ring, and carried off the honours in the shape of several brushes out hunting; how I was no longer in the “duffers’.” set at tennis, and how I was learning to waltz, and found it delightfully easy.

Father wrote to me frequently, short, but pithy letters, and, to my surprise, and delight, he volunteered entirely of his own accord—or was Peggy at his elbow? – to extend my original leave of absence to three months. Every morning we rode, that is to say, Carrie, Colonel Raitt, Mrs. Lawless, and I. The latter hinted that “she would not have ridden Captain Fitzroy’s chestnut,” and displayed an almost pathetic anxiety as to “what my father would say?”

She would not ride. Perhaps, because she could not;” but this remark I made mentally, not aloud, and it ill became her, to be so sensitive about my steed, when she herself invariably borrowed Mr. Delafosse’s Deccanee pony, Raspberry Jam.

Captain Fitzroy joined our party as often as his duty would permit; but I was no longer entirely at my ease in his society. Unfortunately, I had had the meaning of the word “spoon,” and the verb—if there be such—“to spoon,” exhaustively explained to me by Mrs. Lawless, and I was overwhelmed with shame when I thought of how angrily I had taxed him on the subject, on that memorable evening in the Raitts’ drawing-room.

No—I felt myself getting red every time I met him; and although I rode his horse, I generally manoeuvred, so as to avoid the horse’s master—and manoeuvred successfully.

I preferred galloping after the hounds, alongside of Peter Hare, or Mr. Conroy; there was no gêne—no guilty arrière pensée, connected with either of them.

After our morning rides, I found myself a good deal associated with Loo Lawless—the truth was, we were both idlers—but I would have occupied myself if I could, and she could,—but would not! I was not able to play on the piano, to draw, or to execute pretty trifles, with my needle. Carrie was a first-rate musician, and practised conscientiously; she painted remarkably well, and had ample employment for her spare hours. Mrs. Raitt was engrossed in housekeeping, and although I helped her, by arranging flowers, and dusting china, still I found many spare moments to lounge away in company with Mrs. Lawless; she seemed far more affectionate to me, than to her own cousin. She used to come into my room, and amuse herself with arranging my hair. She taught me to waltz, she leant heavily on my arm when we walked; she called me “Darling,” and “Love,” and kissed me repeatedly; and if we were playing in different sets at tennis—and we played every evening of our lives except Sunday—she would join me subsequently, with as much rapture as if we had been separated for years (and if I were talking to a man, she invariably took possession of him, and marched him off).

Our afternoons were dedicated to tennis; we dined at eight o’clock, and nearly always had some people to dinner—friends of Loo’s—Captain Bane, Mr. Delafosse, or Colonel Strange—guests who took a very subordinate interest in Carrie, or me! Colonel Raitt was devoted to his pretty niece; she flattered him about his shooting, about his riding—yes, and about his looks—in a way that, figuratively speaking, made me sit up, and draw my breath hard. Mrs. Raitt (remarkable woman) liked every one that pleased her husband; but even to my rather blunt perceptions, it seemed that Carrie was not very enthusiastic about her captivating cousin. How was this? It was beyond my feeble comprehension—that is to say, in those early days.

In those early days I was very fond of Loo Lawless. I admired her as ardently, as if I had been a young man;—I liked her better than any one in Gurrumpore, and—extraordinary experience!—on some days I liked her much better than others! And now that the glamour of that period has subsided, let me endeavour to describe her, calmly, dispassionately, and impartially. She was short, and rather plump—with a neat, trim plumpness; her hair was dark brown; her nose was insignificant; but what brilliant teeth! and what an enchanting smile! As to her eyes, they were the most remarkable I had ever seen—I doubt if there were such another pair in India—they were a greenish-gray—more green than gray—changeable as a chameleon! I have seen them the colour of the summer sea; again, I have seen them the colour of a thunder-cloud; they were veiled by delightful black lashes, that curled upwards—and were alternately melting, provoking, appealing, or malicious; their everyday expression was a kind of merry, interrogative twinkle—but at all times, they were eyes of matchless eloquence. What things those eyes have said to me!—they have told me they admired me, loved me, pitied me, distrusted me, hated me. Wicked eyes!—lying eyes!—what have you not said to other people?

Besides her indisputable personal attractions, Loo Lawless had most captivating manners; she could be all things to all men—ay, and to all women too! She had such spirits, such a charm, and such irresistible little “ways,” that she stormed, and captured, the hearts of the most flinty, and prejudiced, old fogies; what wonder, that she carried the easily-gained affections of a simple little goose like me?

She danced well, played tennis admirably, sang with immense feeling, and expression (in her face), dressed irreproachably, and talked amusingly. It seemed to me, that she was an Admirable Crichton in petticoats, and I became her slave. Such was the spell, that she cast over people, that no matter what tales they had heard about her—as, for instance, that she was selfish, rapacious, time-serving, unscrupulous, false, and vain—no one ever remembered, much less believed, a word of them, after a quarter of an hour of her sole, and exclusive attention.

Whenever she appeared at the Club, the Polo, or the Band, she was instantly surrounded by a little group of worshippers—and indeed, I do not think she could have existed, without the fumes of incense. She was the Queen of Gurrumpore. Where was the General’s wife—a very pretty, domestic, little woman? Figuratively speaking, nowhere. Where was Mrs. Mayne—a bride, years younger than Loo Lawless, and with a most attractive face? Nowhere. Where were the girls of the station? Nowhere. They simply stood, and looked on, or “held the candles,” so to speak, whilst the bewitching little matron captivated all the most eligible swains. Where were Carrie and I? Alas, that I must confess the humiliating fact, we were nowhere; it was our humble rôle to be Loo’s ladies-in waiting, whilst she held her court, at dance or tennis party, and to share the attentions of Captain Fitzroy, Mr. Conroy, or Peter Hare, whilst she distributed smiles, and glances, among half-a-dozen men.

I could not help feeling some curiosity, to get at the bottom of the problem; what was it about Mrs. Lawless that was so irresistible, so magnetic? I hinted this question to Peter one day, in all good faith—Peter, who never formed one of her train, or belonged to what was called the army of “enchanted subalterns”—and Peter answered, in his off-hand way:

“Oh, men never run after her, you know.”

“Oh, never!” I repeated ironically, “we can all see that.”

“No, she runs after them, and takes ’em up; and they don’t mind.”

“What on earth do you mean?”

“Well, I mean, that she does heaps of things, you girls would not do—she writes to fellows, and asks them to come and see her, to take her out for drives, to lend her horses; to escort her to places, to play tennis. I know one chap who used to get three or four ‘chits’ a day—till at last he gave up answering, and said ‘Plenty Salaam,’ and that choked her off. She asks men to dance with her, too—”

“Not she!”—I interrupted, with scornful incredulity.

“But she does—they rather like it—it saves ’em a lot of trouble! She is awfully down on girls, I can tell you. Death on them! never gives them a good word—and hates to see them coming to the front.”

“I know you are not in earnest,” I said, “and that you don’t care for Mrs. Lawless—nor she for you; and you are only saying all this, to get what you would call ‘a rise’ out of me—but you won’t.

“Upon my honour, I am not joking,” said Peter very eagerly. “She’s about the fastest little woman in India—she goes by the name of ‘unlimited Loo!’ and it suits her down to the ground.”

“How can you say such horrible things?” I burst out indignantly. “Mrs. Lawless fast! Mrs. Lawless not like girls! She is most kind to me—and am I not a girl? Mrs. Lawless write to men, and ask them to drive her out, or to dance with her! She would no more think of doing such things, than I would myself.”

“Oh, all right. All right,” said Peter impatiently. “How long have you known her?”

“Four weeks.”

“Ah, four weeks is too short a time.”

“For what?” I asked shortly.

“Well, for her to get tired of you—and for you to find her out!”

After this outrageous speech, Peter and I had a violent quarrel. He had a hot temper, as well as myself, and when Greek meets Greek, we know what happens! So Peter and I dug up our hatchets, and went upon the war-path, and were very “cool” and disagreeable to one another for a considerable time—and all about Mrs. Lawless, whom he profanely called, “unlimited Loo”!

Chapter XXIII

A Maiden Race

“Between two horses, which doth bear him best.”
Henry VI

For years to come, I am afraid I shall be remembered, and referred to, in Gurrumpore, as “the girl who rode a hurdle-race.” It sounds badly; it looks almost worse in writing, than it sounds; but I assure every one, most solemnly, that my “making such a horrible exhibition of myself”—I here quote Loo Lawless—was entirely unpremeditated on my part.

The Gurrumpore races were imminent; it was to be just a nice little friendly meeting, and almost every one who possessed a horse, or pony, had entered it for something, believing it to have as good a chance as their neighbours’ steeds, of which, for the most part, they entertained the meanest opinion.

Polo ponies, and chargers, were the élite of the competitors, and there were some fine Arabs running in the “Desert Sweepstake,” and several well-bred walers, entered for the “Gurrumpore Cup”; but besides these, respectable elderly animals, who drew the master to office in the morning, and the missus for her evening airing, were amazed to find themselves careering madly round the course, in company with polo ponies, children’s “tats,” ladies’ hacks, and bonâ fide racers!

Every morning, every one, who had an interest in the meeting—and who had not?—even the parson, had an entry in “The Liliput” for children’s ponies—repaired to the scene of action, to superintend their horses’ performances. Needless to mention, that we never missed a morning; and it so happened, that on the one before the races, the hurdles were up for the benefit of the jumping competitors. Perhaps was a beautiful fencer, and I was tempted to boast of his exploits to Captain Sadler, who was the horsey man, par excellence, of the whole station.

“Jumps a bit—yes,” he admitted, casting a supercilious glance at my mount, “but he is not in the same class as Dandy Jim.”

Meaning, the rather weedy-looking bay he was riding. “Dandy is a moral, for the hurdle race to-morrow. There’s not a nag in the place, can touch him,” he added complacently.

“He might not be so sure of it, if Perhaps were running. You have no idea how capitally he jumps. He took the Gymkana railings yesterday like a bird.”

“Pooh!” scornfully. “My dear Miss Barrington, Perhaps, would not see the way Dandy Jim was going. He is a nice, handy little horse, I’ll allow; but as for pace, the Liliput Cup, is about his form! He is as slow as a house.”

“I think you are wrong,” I answered, a good deal nettled.

“No—not this time. Candidly, I never thought much of Perhaps. He is just cut out for the work he is doing at present—carrying a lady.” I noticed a slight contraction of his left eye, as he glanced at a bystander, and he spoke in a jeering way, that was highly exasperating.

“Are you going round the course now?” I asked imperiously. “Yes—I suppose those people on the stand expect it! And I may as well give them a treat.” Such was his inconceivably arrogant reply.

“Well, look here, Captain Sadler,” I said, now wound up to do, and dare, anything, “I’ll go too. There are six hurdles up, and I’ll race you round the course, for a pair of gloves.”

He stared at me for a second, to see if I was really in earnest. Then he broke into a boisterous laugh, and slapped his leg, and said: “Done with you. I say, Mayne—I say, Fitz, there’s going to be a race, over six flights of hurdles, between Dandy Jim and Perhaps. Now riders up!”

“Nonsense,” rejoined Captain Fitzroy, looking at me incredulously.

“No, it’s not nonsense,” I responded, stooping over and speaking very eagerly in a lower key. “Please don’t say a word, Captain Fitzroy—unless—unless you are afraid of something happening to the horse.”

“I’m not thinking of the horse. I’m thinking of you.”

“No fear of me,” I answered recklessly. “I must ride, and I must beat Captain Sadler. He said Perhaps was only fit to run with children’s ponies.”

“If you ride in this frame of mind, you will certainly break your neck! I don’t care a rap what he says about the beast, and, mind, you, Dandy Jim is very good.”

“Even so! I heard Mr. Hare say yesterday, that Perhaps was as hard as nails, and fit to run for a man’s life. Don’t stop me, please, Captain Fitzroy—let me go,” I pleaded, in a hurried whisper. “Let us get off at once, before any one knows a word about it; it’s not a bit more difficult than tilting at the ring.”

“No, but ten times more dangerous.” By this time, two or three people had joined us; the proposed “match” had been noised abroad, various groups had broken up, and were streaming down towards the starting-post.

“Let us start at once, Captain Sadler,” I said nervously. “We shall have a large crowd here, in another minute.”

Captain Sadler agreed, and Captain Fitzroy, after vainly endeavouring to dissuade me from my folly, was ultimately overcome by my fiery and eloquent protestations. He cast a look at my girths and bridle, and said: “Give him his head at the hurdles, and he will jump a town.” Some one ran to the judge’s box; some one placed me in a line with Captain Sadler; some one else waved a handkerchief, and said, “Off;” and away we went! Perhaps, had evidently been raced before, and he tore along in a high state of excitement; he snatched at his bit, and rushed the first hurdle, and hit it with a bang—a bad beginning! and my opponent, who was a little behind, shouted, “Hullo, that was a near thing!” The second hurdle we did better, and the third was a neat performance. And now I began, being half-way round, to “come away” from Dandy Jim, who was still lying about three lengths behind, and seemed disposed to ride a “waiting race.” I believe that Captain Sadler was confident, that I would soon pump Perhaps, and that then he would have nothing to do but come to the front, and canter in, hands down! But Perhaps was game, and Perhaps was fast, and when at length, Dandy Jim began to make the running, he had a considerable distance to pull up; the pace was now what Peter Hare subsequently called a cracker, and Dandy Jim caught me (agonising moment!) Just as I came to the last hurdle, Perhaps, who was going as strong as ever, flew over, but Dandy Jim, who was rather blown, pecked, blundered, and fell. I did not know this at the time, for I dared not look back. I galloped in, an easy winner, by about fifty lengths.

My escapade was greeted by a roar of welcome from the stand; handkerchiefs and topees were waved, and I was immediately surrounded by an excited crowd of men, women, and children. Such a race was some thing out of the common, and had the unquestionable enjoyment, which is attached to “the unexpected.”

“The prettiest thing I ever saw,” exclaimed Captain Bane, for once roused into animation. “Fitzroy, you should be a proud man.”

“Well done,” said Carrie, hurrying up breathlessly, her eyes dancing with excitement. “What nerve you have, Diana! How could you dare to do it?”

“Miss Barrington,” said Peter, quite in his old manner, “you rode in brilliant style! I am proud to know you!” Then lowering his voice, he said: “The regiment will subscribe a Cup. You have rid us of a nuisance. After to-day, Sadler can never make us miserable, with his bragging. He and the unconquered Dandy Jim, have been signally beaten by a girl!”

“You rode him splendidly,” said Captain Fitzroy. “You made the running just at the right moment, though I don’t suppose you knew it. Perhaps is a well-known stayer.”

“And why did you not enter him for any race?”

“What would you have had to ride?”

“Oh—was that the reason?” I said, blushing. “I wish I had known it before.”

“Diana!” exclaimed Mrs. Lawless, now coming up, and looking excessively red, and angry, “what possessed you? How could you make such a horrible exhibition of yourself? Uncle Tom is most awfully put out.” Considering that Uncle Tom had been one of the first to greet me with yells of enthusiasm, this announcement sat very lightly on me; and I laughed, and said: “I did it on the spur of the moment, and because I was rather in a rage. I should never have done it in cold blood.”

“I should hope not,”—sarcastically. “How could you allow her to do such a thing, Captain Fitzroy?” now turning to him, with a pair of beautiful, reproachful eyes.

“A wilful girl—much less woman—who dare stand in her way?” he answered with a laugh.

“Ah, you laugh before her; but I know you disapprove of it in your heart. You would be furious, if one of your sisters had done such a thing.”

“I should be immensely surprised, I must say. My sister cannot ride a bit. After all, Mrs. Lawless, I don’t see anything to be so shocked about! Miss Barrington has galloped round the course with Captain Sadler—she has cleared six stiff hurdles—she has witched us all with her horsemanship. I’ve never seen any thing to approach it—neither have you, I am sure?”

“Only among jockeys, certainly,” she answered, with a flash of her eye. “And now, Diana, my love! (?) if you are not going to enter for any more races, let us be getting home.”

To this I meekly assented, and I was carried away then and there, from the very midst of my triumph.

On the following day, the great Gurrumpore Race Meeting took place, with considerable éclat, and was pronounced to be an unqualified success—not merely by The Gurrumpore Gazette, the frequenters of the billiard-room, and ladies’ parliament, but by strangers from afar! There were six well-filled, well-contested events. There were extravagant lotteries. There were all the Gurrumpore spins in their beautiful new frocks! There were all the young men in their gaudiest “Jarran” coats; and there was a capital tent, where superior refreshments were supplied gratis (by the officers of the garrison). No doubt, frequenters of Ascot, and Newmarket, would jeer at the circular course, laid out among cotton fields, with that awkward corner, from which so many horses bolted home. They certainly would turn up their noses at the “grand stand,” merely a substantial shed, open on all sides, with tiers of rude brick steps, for the accommodation of spectators—there were no benches. Early in the day, every lady, who wished to sit, sent up her own particular chair. You see we were primitive people! There were no tickets of admittance; there was no ring; the weighing took place in a pair of great commissariat scales. in the open; the judge’s box was represented by a camp-stool at the winning post.

Besides all the upper ten of Gurrumpore, the races were attended by crowds of soldiers in white, and hordes of gazing natives, who squatted in masses all along by the “run in,” and there were strangers from a distance, of whose patronage we all felt proud—there was actually one man who had come the whole way from Jubbulpore. These enterprising people were considered the guests of the station, and treated with distinguished honour, and true Indian hospitality.

Our races may not have been very brilliant, and undoubtedly our arrangements were crude; but I am certain, that there was far more fun, conviviality, and excitement, over them, than at half the big meetings at home. Here, every spectator on the stand had an interest in some event; yea, from the children upwards! Charger races, hack races, hurdle races, a race for pig stickers, a race for polo ponies, and a race for ladies’ horses, followed one another in rapid succession, for time was invaluable. Then the remorseless Indian twilight put a premature end to the day’s sport; winners and losers set their regretful faces homewards, and the grand annual meeting at Gurrumpore, was numbered with the past.

That same evening, Colonel and Mrs. Raitt entertained their friends at a dinner party of twenty-four. I was almost the earliest arrival in the drawing-room, for this was my first big function, and I was wearing a party dress (oh, not the pink and green) for the first time; it was a smart black gown, with a square-cut body, and elbow sleeves; and, to tell the unvarnished truth, I was greatly delighted with my general appearance!

Loo Lawless, despite my feeble expostulations, had insisted on cutting my hair in a fringe, and had dressed it on the top of my head, according to the latest fashion. I was somewhat doubtful of the result; but she had no misgivings, and silenced all my fears, assuring me impressively, “that I looked another creature.” This was indisputable; but query—which creature looked the best? The one I had been that morning, or, the one I now represented?

With respect to this vital question, Loo solemnly declared, comb in hand, that there could not be a moment’s hesitation, so, thus pacified, complimented, and cajoled, I marched into the empty drawing-room, minus my doubts, and seated myself in an arm-chair—within an easy distance of a mirror.

Captain Fitzroy was a punctual arrival, and seemed to be quite taken aback, when I rose and received him—in lieu of Mrs. Raitt, who was fussing over the dessert. “Miss—Barrington,” he exclaimed, “why, I scarcely recognised you!”

“Yes, my hair makes a great difference. Mrs. Lawless cut it in a fringe, as you see. I hope you think it is an improvement to my personal appearance?” I inquired saucily. I was doing my best to talk, and look, like the enchanting Loo.

“Well, since you ask me”—he always spoke his mind promptly and fearlessly, but now he hesitated for a moment—“I cannot say that I do.”

“No, I know that. I need never expect any nice speeches from you,” I replied, sitting down.

“I’m afraid you have a short memory, Miss Barrington. I made you at least half-a dozen pretty speeches this very afternoon.”

“Oh, but they included your own horse. I like pretty little compliments all to myself—”

“And you hear so many,” he returned, with a keen glance. “What will you do, when you go back to Paldi?”

I shrugged my shoulders carelessly—a trick I had learnt from Loo—and made no reply.

“I am afraid, you will have to keep a paid flatterer, like some of the Mahomedan nobles. I really see no other resource,” looking at me with affected compassion.

“How rude you are!” I answered, with feigned indignation, for I never quite knew, whether Captain Fitzroy, was in jest or earnest.

“I do not mean to be rude; but, in my mind, compliments hold a low place; next worst thing to paying them, is receiving them.”

“Why, who would pay compliments to you? or to any man? Compliments are our prevenative.”

Captain Fitzroy made no answer, beyond an odd laugh. At this moment, I noticed Loo Lawless, waving imperative signals with a twenty-guinea fan, and, with a muttered excuse, he left me, and crossed the room to where she was holding her usual little court. He took Loo in to dinner—her own arrangement—and I had Major Spinks, of course. When I say “of course,” I must make a little digression, and explain myself.

Major Spinks, of the Bombardiers, was an admirer of mine, upon whom all Gurrumpore looked favourably. He was fat, fair, and forty; his face was red; his hair stood up on end, in fierce defiance of any description of brush. But he was warranted “eligible” by all the matrons of the place, and had constituted himself my shadow. He stuck to me with the persistence of a “Burr,” and I could not shake him off. At dinners, by one consent, he sat beside me; at tennis, he hovered near me; whenever we met, our hostess paired us off; and Loo confided to me that he had seven hundred a year besides his pay, and that every one thought it would be an excellent match for me.

“Who is every one?” I inquired contemptuously.

“Auntie—Mrs. Gimlette —”

“Mrs. Gimlette!” I interrupted indignantly. “Does she want to sell another second-hand trousseau and cake?” Her transactions with a notorious trousseau, and cake, had largely benefited one of her friends, and made some distant strangers her enemies for life! But to return to our mutton—only it happened to be a roast turkey. I went in, as a matter of course, with Major Spinks, and sat silent and glum. I wonder he could endure me! Loo Lawless and her companion were directly opposite, and appeared to be having capital fun. She was particularly bright and animated. Once she looked across at us, and said something, and laughed maliciously. This was certainly one of the days when I did not like her. After dinner, we had the usual after-dinner music; good, bad, and indifferent. Mrs. Lawless sang a pathetic little ditty; Carrie, and Captain Fitzroy, played a duet between the piano and violin, Beethoven’s “Adelaide.” It was a rare treat, quite the feature of the evening—next to Loo’s barefaced flirtation with the chief performer. The violin seemed actually to speak, and to say: “Adelaide! Adelaide!” Ever impressionable, and passionately fond of music, I was moved to the verge of tears. With various others, I stood near the piano, and as the duet ceased, I overheard Loo murmur:

“Come along, Captain Fitzroy, it is dreadfully hot in this room, and quite a poetical night outside. Do take me out into the verandah, and we will look for a nice cosy seat.”

I now began to fear, that there was something in Peter’s story after all, as I gazed in amazement after the pair, as they made their exit together; but, to my intense surprise, in less than five minutes, Captain Fitzroy had returned from the verandah, and was standing before me.

“What have you done with Mrs. Lawless?” I asked with engaging naïveté.

“I have resigned my place to a worthier man,” he returned composedly, “and I have come back to talk to you.”

“Have you? But I am not inclined to go and search for a cosy seat in the verandah.”

“No? Then we will remain here,” sitting down as he spoke.

“Well, what have you got to say?” I inquired, rather imperiously. He looked at me with an air of amused con templation, and said:

“I am afraid your Royal Highness is getting spoiled!”

“If I am, your conscience is clear!”

“Yes, thank goodness! Look here, Miss Barrington, why are you always so short with me? What have I done?”

“Nothing!” was my mendacious answer.

“I am glad to hear it, for I should like us to part as friends.”

“Part! I am not going away.”

“But I am,” he replied imperturbably.

“Oh!” feeling very blank indeed.

“I’m only going on leave for a fortnight; but you may not be here when I return.”

“Yes, I shall. Father has given me leave to stay till nearly Christmas.”

“I am delighted to hear it; and you like Gurrumpore?”

“Immensely.”

“As much as you expected? No serpent in your Eden?”

“No, not even a scorpion,” I replied triumphantly. “And about your horse, whilst you are away?”

“I hope you will still honour me by using him.”

“But, Captain Fitzroy—really, I do not think I should. You have been very kind, you have given me a great deal of pleasure, but—”

“Now, who has been putting this but into your head?”

“A friend of yours—Mrs. Lawless!” I answered pointedly.

“A friend of mine, is she? Look here, Miss Barrington; if I say something to you, will you promise not to wither me?”

“I don’t know,” I answered cautiously.

“Well, anyway, I’ll risk it! Do not make a bosom friend of Mrs. Lawless. I notice that you are always together. She is not a suitable companion for a little country mouse like you.”

“I dare say you mean kindly, in wishing to choose my friends, Captain Fitzroy,” I said, drawing myself up with much dignity: “But, don’t you think, you are rather—rather”—I was going to say impertinent, but changed it to “interfering?”

“Ah, I thought I should catch it! Goodness knows, I mean kindly. I am speaking to you, as I would to my sister.”

“And yet you admire Mrs. Lawless, do you not?”

“I—I only burn incense at a distance,” was his evasive reply.

“And you like her—are on excellent terms with her?”

“Light skirmishing terms! A certain amount of civility, is not liking. No, I do not like her. I know her of old; I know you, too, Miss Barrington. They say that it is a fatal mistake, for a man to advise a woman; still, I must chance it, since no one else will warn you. Do not be too intimate with Mrs. Lawless. Let me speak to you as if I was your brother. Do not confide in her; do not read any of her French novels; and, for Heaven’s sake, do not take her for your model; you have Miss Raitt, and heaps of girls of your own age; and – by Jove! here she comes!”

“You two seem to be settling the affairs of the nation,” said Loo, stopping immediately in front of us; and I could tell, by a certain gleam in her eye, that her temper was a little warped.

“Miss Barrington has been promising me to ride Perhaps when I am away,” rejoined my companion, with admirable readiness.

“Oh, is that all?” shrugging her shoulders. “I dare say she did not require much pressing.” And as she still remained standing in front of us, and did not seem inclined to move on, Captain Fitzroy got up, and offered her his seat, into which she immediately sank, with an air of graceful exhaustion, and proceeded to engage him in conversation, in her usual sprightly manner.

Thus, by one bold and skilful manoeuvre, Loo had appropriated Captain Fitzroy, and his place!

He stood directly before us, talking impartially to both, for although Loo made desperate exertions, to monopolise the entire conversation, he would insist on including me, in all their half-bantering discussions. Loo talked rapidly, with feverish vivacity, looking up earnestly into his face, as she spoke, and he looked back into her beautiful, appealing eyes with a cool, direct gaze, and was as indifferent and self-possessed, as if he was conversing with his grandmother. I was unusually silent and piano, the social atmosphere in my neighbourhood seemed charged with electricity. It appeared to me, that Loo Lawless made some very stinging covert speeches, under the guise of amusing remarks, and received in return, several terribly effective rejoinders. After one of these checks, she turned to me, and giving me a little nudge with her elbow, said, in a whisper:

“Diana, darling, I left my fan in the verandah; would you mind fetching it! You are younger than I am. Oh, never mind—never mind! Captain Fitzroy,” she exclaimed imploringly, “it’s of no consequence. Don’t you trouble about it.”

But Captain Fitzroy was already half-way across the room, in search of the missing article, and his envied place was instantly occupied by two of Loo’s hovering satellites. As time went on, there was no appearance of the fan, or of the searcher, and in an evil moment I exclaimed:

“Captain Fitzroy has never come back, Loo; he has forgotten all about your fan.”

“Not at all,” she retorted, in her quick way. “I made a mistake; the fan is here,” coolly displaying it, beside her. “I never expected to see him again; the fan was only an excuse for him to get away from you. He never can endure talking to a girl!”

And she looked round her little circle, and laughed, as if she had said something brilliantly witty. I do not know whether they smiled applause or not, for I did not dare to raise my eyes, and sat crimson to the very roots of my hair, and covered with shame and embarrassment. No doubt Loo Lawless could be charming, when she chose, but I do maintain, that in the art of making little, sprightly, spiteful speeches, she stood unrivalled among her sex.

Chapter XXIV

“Tribute”

“Till now, I never knew thee.”
— Henry VIII

No need for me to draw back from intimacy with Loo Lawless! Ever since the remarkable feat, by which I had made myself notorious—I allude, of course, to the hurdle-race—and had reaped the harvest of notoriety in the shape of much flattering attention, Loo had been decidedly cool to me, and the days when I did not like her, were now surprisingly frequent; therefore, I was very much astonished, one idle, sleepy afternoon, to receive an urgent invitation from Loo Lawless, to “come into her diggings, and look at all her pretty things.” This was an honour, that I had never been accorded, even in the early days of our ardent friendship. She had often favoured me with long séances in my apartment, but neither Carrie, or I, had ever penetrated to her bower, which was somewhat out of the way, and where she spent hours in writing letters, dozing, reading, and dressing. It was the largest bedroom in the house, and delightfully cool and lofty. A writing-table stood in one window, littered with letters and photographs; photographs in a variety of pretty frames, were scattered lavishly on brackets, on shelves, and even on the toilet-table; all portraits of men—chiefly in uniform, and mostly young and good-looking. As I stood gazing at this picture gallery, and counting the numbers in amazement (I had already reckoned up thirty-seven), Loo—who had been shuffling away some outspread correspondence—came over, and placed a small faded photograph in my hand, and said in a mournful voice: “This is Freddy, my darling husband.” I glanced at it, and beheld the portrait of what Carlyle would have called, “a very trivial-looking person!” His forehead slanted back, he had no chin worth mentioning, weakness was stamped on every lineament, and the expression of his face was pitifully abject: I could not say that he was handsome, or even that he looked clever.

“Where is he?” I asked, rather lamely. “At Sodabee; an awful station, poor fellow, with no one to speak to, but the doctor and the police officer; it is frightfully hot, and unhealthy, and out of the way, but the pay is capital, and that is the main thing, especially as I am going home next year! I am wretchedly delicate, and I can’t stand Sodabee—such a depressing place! I went to the hills for the last hot weather, and then I offered to go back, but Freddy would not hear of it, and sent me to Gurrumpore.”

“And is he not very lonely?”

“Well, no. You see he has his office work, all day, and when I am there he is always so miserable, and so anxious about me. Now I want to show you some of my pretty things,” and turning away, she opened a drawer, and took out half-a-dozen velvet and morocco cases.

“See these diamond stars. Are they not lovely? Are your diamonds as fine?”

“Yes; but these are beautiful,” I said admiringly.

“And look at this exquisite pearl and amethyst necklet, Indian style; Colonel Robinson gave it to me, on my birthday. This pretty gold chatelaine, was from poor Stanley Clark, a dear boy, but frightfully hard up; he has since had to fly the country! This duck of a sapphire ring, was pressed into my hand, by old Doctor Box. Oh, wouldn’t his wife be wild, if she knew? She has a large family, and keeps him awfully tight in hand when she is out here! It must have cost, at least, a thousand rupees.”

“And the diamond swallow brooch?” I said, taking it out of its pale-blue velvet case. “I almost think I like it the best of all.”

“Yes, is it not charming?” she exclaimed enthusiastically “And look at the sweet little heart in its beak—so deliciously significant! Guess who gave it to me.”

“Your husband?” I hazarded.

“Bah! He puts his money in the bank.”

“Colonel Raitt?”

“Worse and worse! He dare not give me anything, now that Carrie has come out. Try again.” As I stood pondering, with the brooch in my hand, she gave a sort of little bubbling laugh, and said: “What do you say to Captain Fitzroy?”

What could I say to Captain Fitzroy?

I felt the colour creeping up to my very temples, so much was I surprised. At first I could only turn over the brooch—too stunned to speak. At last I found my tongue, and said:

“And were they all birthday presents?”

“No, you delightfully simple child.”

“Then—why —?” I began incoherently.

“Why do people give me pretty things? you would say. Because they like it, and be cause I am so attractive, as the old lady said when she was struck by lightning. Of course, when one is rather out of the common, in the way of looks, men will be silly, and women will be jealous. Look at this lovely little turquoise-mounted whip, it was given to me along with a saddle, and bridle; those silver-backed brushes I won in a bet. Are they not nice? I had eight of these very heavy gold bangles—all offerings from different people—but I was hard up at home, and sold them for ten pounds apiece. However, I am collecting again. Now come and inspect my best frocks,” opening a wardrobe. “Alas, there is no occasion for wearing them here.”

“Are they presents too?” I inquired, staring at the array before me.

“No. I draw the line at clothes. A habit, or a velvet dress, I don’t so much mind,” she admitted quite frankly, “and Sir Foster Jones gave me that cream-and-gold brocade; but it’s a favour to take anything from old fogies like him; and he adores dress.”

“Is it right to accept presents from—every one?” I asked bluntly.

“Why not—from friends? If these men had not spent their coin on presents for me, they would most probably have squandered it foolishly on shooting trips, cards, and racing. They like giving things to a pretty woman. So, if you are offered any little odds and ends, such as gloves, books, bangles, don’t be silly, like Carrie, but take them, and make no fuss. All is fish that comes into my net.”

So it seemed! My eyes, wandering round, caught sight of a large cabinet photo of Captain Fitzroy in uniform. I took it up, and examined it closely.

So he did not like Mrs. Lawless! She was not a suitable companion for me. Nevertheless, he had given her a lovely brooch, and a significantly large picture of himself.

“Ah!” she said, with a little conscious giggle; “you are looking at Hugh Fitzroy. He gave me that at Christmas. Tell me, Diana—how do you like him?”

“Not at all,” I answered very sharply. How could I like so false a man?

“Oh!” with affected amazement. “Now I thought you did, and was going to warn you; but as you don’t care about him, it is no matter,” she concluded composedly.

“What were you going to say?” I asked, with assumed unconcern.

“Only that, of course he is very good-looking, and amusing, and rather interesting, for he has been very well off, and now he is the reverse. All the same, I do not think he is a desirable acquaintance for you. He may divert himself—possibly get you talked about, and certainly have no intentions. But, to do him justice, he never goes in for girls! Besides, he has not a sou, but his pay. And you must marry well. Every ‘spin’ who comes here, gets married.”

“And what about Carrie She has been here for three years. She is not married.”

“Ah! poor dear Carrie! She is so oppressively amiable, and matter-of-fact. Unfortunately, all her adorers invariably desert her for me,” rejoined Loo, with a soft laugh.

“Do they? But you are married. Why should you have adorers?” I asked, with some austerity.

“I call them friends, my dear; and it’s nonsense to suppose that because a woman is married, she is to have no more amusement, or that the marriage service is a sort of extinguisher on a girl. I believe in friendship between men and women. I much—ten thousand times—prefer them, to my own sex; they have no nasty spite, they don’t backbite one another, and they are most generous.” (Certainly she had every reason to say so.) “Yes, I believe in platonic friendship, in spite of what old cats of gossips say. And, unluckily for Carrie, friendship for me is incompatible with love for her.”

“And does she not like you?”

“Like me?” casting up her eyes. “You sweet little, innocent angel, she loathes me—quite naturally!”

“And you know this, and kiss her, and call her dear!” I exclaimed indignantly.

“Yes, certainly I admit the soft impeachment; it amuses me and it aggravates her. And then, we have to keep up appearances with our elders. Uncle Tom, and Aunt Sally put me quite at the top of the class; but Carrie, dear, sensible girl, would gladly see me in the corner or the black hole. However, she has tact enough to hold her tongue. Now, you are a girl entirely after my own heart—a child in mind, young, fresh, and impressionable as wax. I have taken you in hand, and taught you how to dress, dance, and do your hair; but you have a great deal to learn yet. I shall have the pleasure of completing your education, and you shall be so metamorphosed that your own father won’t know you! You shall be my pupil, you highly favoured girl.”

I thought of Captain Fitzroy’s words, became excessively red, and made no reply.

“Here comes tea! I ordered mine in here. Push the things off that little table, and sit down in that big chair. Now, my dear, I’ll give you one or two maxims to begin with, whilst you sip your tea. Dress is a great factor in all a woman’s successes; maxim number two, all men are fools,” and she nodded her head, as if she had delivered some weighty judgment.

“Loo!” I ejaculated, with expanded eyes.

“Yes. Flatter them; the oldest, the youngest, the sourest, the cleverest, they have all their vulnerable point; and I need not tell an intelligent girl like you, that no citadel is stronger than its weak point.”

“I know one man who has no weak point—and that is my father.”

“But I am certain that he has—and what is more, I can name it, now.”

“Then name it!” I said sceptically.

“Why—you—yourself!” she answered, nodding and smiling. I felt that there was truth in this, and was silent.

“Yes,” she pursued, “I flatter myself, that I could turn your father—or any man—round my little finger in a day—that is, if I chose to take the trouble.”

She looked such a pretty little creature, as she lay back in an arm-chair, dressed in a soft silk and lace tea-gown, and so pleasantly assured of her own powers, that I believed her most implicitly. Certainly she could wind me round her finger, in ten minutes!

“You are looking very grave—what are you thinking about?” she asked playfully.

“I am wondering, what is the weapon by which you, as you say, vanquish all mankind.”

“I have already told you, my dear! My magic philtre is cheap, effectual, pleasant to the taste, and delightful to swallow—it is called Flattery. You open your innocent, hazel eyes—you stare at me as if I had two heads, you ridiculous little jungle girl,” and she stood up as she spoke, and patted my cheek with two pretty, jewel-decked fingers. “Don’t you believe me?” she added smilingly.

I shook my head, but made no other reply.

“And yet you believe in other things?” she exclaimed. “See what it is to be young and simple! You believe in Mrs. Fair’s complexion, in Mrs. Gimlette’s bargains, in Uncle Tom’s Shikar stories, in Carrie’s good-nature, and—in Captain Fitzroy,” and she looked at me, with her head on one side, and laughed—such a mocking little laugh! “Well, my dear, I would not dispel your fond illusions for the world! I declare there is five o’clock striking—I must get dressed at once, for Colonel Strange will be waiting, and tearing out his few remaining hairs.”

And with another pat on the cheek, and a beaming smile, I was dismissed; and returned to my own apartment, a sadder, and a wiser girl.

Chapter XXV

Perhaps

“He’s honest, on mine honour.”
Henry VIII

“I shall make Bertie Delafosse give us a picnic to Amba,” said Loo Lawless, one day, about a week after she had shown me her pretty things, including the swallow brooch. “This place wants stirring up, and we must do something—or rather he must.”

“Young Delafosse! Oh, no, Loo,” remonstrated Carrie. “You know the poor boy has hardly anything but his pay. He cannot make ends meet as it is!”

“On the contrary,” she rejoined cheerfully, “he is head over ears in debt, and this picnic won’t affect him one way or the other! I think it perfectly shocking and too disgraceful of parents, to put their sons into the army, with a pittance of fifty pounds a year. It’s downright wicked. What is a young fellow to do? His mess bill, and band subscription, swallow up all his pay, so these boys tell me; and they have to provide rent, servants, traps, clothes, uniform—out of what?” leaning sud denly back in a long cane lounge, and holding out her peacock-feather fan, with a dramatic gesture.

Loo’s virtuous wrath, against the British parent, was rather amusing. How many miserable youths, had half-ruined themselves, to stock her jewel-case? How many cashmere draperies, and Indian curiosities, and dozens of French gloves—yes, and low be it whispered, silk stockings—had not been laid at her feet? I thought of this, and said nothing. However, Carrie was far bolder, and spoke her mind, without restraint.

“I think, Loo, you often forget how careful these young men have to be; it is cruel to hint for things, and to put them to expense—yes, and to flirt with them, as you do.”

“Hint for things! Never did such a mean trick in my life! And as for flirting with boys —” here she broke into a shameless laugh—“I can’t help it, if they are so ridiculously susceptible and sentimental. Indeed, I like to see them suffer—it is good for them. And they always avenge themselves on girls later on. It’s capital fun—and seriously, my dear Carrie, I am not a Dragon, going about seeking to devour these artless youths. I am very good to them: I teach them to dance, I teach them pretty manners. As to Bertie Delafosse, he would go to Jericho and back, to please me, and I shall certainly make him get up some entertainment; he may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb! We will have a jolly picnic to the old palace at Amba, some day this week—a moonlight picnic, of course.”

“There is no moon,” I remarked triumphantly.

“No, that’s true! The dear fellow would get it for me, if he could; well, never mind, we must do our best with Chinese lanterns.”

“Loo, you are not in earnest?” I exclaimed.

“Of course I am!” was her prompt retort. “Why should I not be in earnest?”

In vain I pleaded, and Carrie pleaded. Loo was immovable—the picnic was to take place, lanterns and all!

Who would believe, to look at her, as she lay back in her chair, parrying our joint attack, with smiles, and jests, and pouts, that she was as selfish as a crocodile, and as hard as the nether millstone?

In spite of all that we could urge, a picnic to Amba was to come off within five days, and so it did—but not at Mr. Delafosse’s expense. Carrie cleverly contrived to transfer the entertainment to her parents’ shoulders.

Colonel Raitt was ready and willing, to entertain the whole of the central provinces, if need be, at an hour’s notice! Mrs. Raitt—than whom a more liberal, and hospitable woman never lived—eagerly fell in with her daughter’s views, and issued invitations to the whole station for an early dinner at Amba, on the following Thursday.

Amba was about eight miles from Gurrumpore—a deserted palace, standing in the middle of beautiful walled-in gardens. The owner, a wealthy Nawab, visited it during the fruit season for two or three days, and, otherwise, the gardens, and orange-groves, and mango topes, were leased out to an enterprising fruit-merchant. The palace was a picturesque, three-storied building, and had three open verandahs running round it—and a flat roof commanding a fine view. It had a history, too.

There were dark stories of the Mutiny—of a white woman in captivity, who stabbed a former owner, and then drowned herself in the adjoining tank.

The palace stood in the middle of the garden; long walks and avenues radiated from it in all directions; orange-trees, palms, bananas, jessamine, pomegranates grew in great luxuriance, and the ground was irrigated by large white marble reservoirs, and small aqueducts. These had been somewhat neglected, and were overgrown with exquisite water-lilies.

Dinner took place in one of the lower apartments of the palace, at the unusual hour of five o’clock; but then every one wanted to walk about the gardens afterwards, and get home before dark. At six, the evening was lovely, with the short-lived Indian twilight, and already one or two silver stars twinkled in the sky.

I wandered about with Peter. We were now mutually restored to one another’s good graces. At the corner of one of the walks we encountered a little party: Mrs. Little, Mr. Hicks, and a yard or two behind them, strolled Captain Fitzroy. I had already seen him at a distance, across the table. He had only returned to Gurrumpore that afternoon.

After a general greeting, we all stood talking in a circle, and Captain Fitzroy said: “Well, what has been going on in Gurrumpore since I left? How has every one been behaving?”

And he looked at Mrs. Little with grave interrogation.

“We are getting up tableaux vivants, and you are to take part in three scenes,” she replied unsuspiciously.

“I?”

“Yes; you know all about it, and we are relying on you, with the utmost confidence, to coach us carefully, and pose us gracefully.”

“I shall give you my patronage, and my moral support; no more,” he answered, with a laugh.

“That’s all nonsense. You are to be Ivanhoe to Miss Jones’s Rebecca,” returned Mrs. Little, with decision.

“Ivanhoe with dark hair! and Rebecca with—well, a tip-tilted nose. Anything else?”

“They talked of you as Lancelot for Mrs. Lawless’s Guinevere.”

“But it got no further than talk, I hope,” he said, visibly alarmed.

“No; Captain Bane is to be the happy man.”

“Ah, that is more like it,” he exclaimed, with great relief.

“Yes; they will do the part of lovers’ con amore,” said Mrs. Little. “They won’t want much coaching!” And she simpered significantly.

“Mrs. Little,” I broke in, like the impulsive young savage that I was, “what do you mean? How can you hint at such things? They like each other; yes, we can all see that. And where is the harm?” I continued indignantly. “He is married, and she is married; they cannot fall in love with each other now.”

I saw Mrs. Little shoot a curious glance at Captain Fitzroy, I saw him look down, and, all of a sudden, apropos of nothing, he began to tell us about a very funny fellow-traveller, whom he had met in the train, and, presently, Mrs. Little and Mr. Hicks moved away, and Peter and his brother-officer and I, walked on together between the orange-trees.

“Look here, Peter,” said Peter’s comrade and Captain, “this path is much too narrow for three; suppose you go, and do the civil to your Colonel’s wife?”

“Suppose you go yourself,” said Peter scornfully.

“Have I not been ministering to her wants or the last hour? Come, it’s your turn to go on duty,” and, greatly to my amazement, Mr. Hare meekly and obediently left us. Before I could express my opinion of this exceedingly cool proceeding, Captain Fitzroy said:

“Well, what have you been doing with your self, Miss Barrington?”

“Nothing in particular.”

“The usual routine of amusements?”

“Yes.”

“By the way, has Sadler ever paid you those gloves ?”

“Yes; he paid in two ways—he sent me sevens.”

“Oh, that was a petty revenge! Well, never mind,” fumbling at his pocket and producing a small parcel. “Perhaps commissioned me to bring you a small souvenir of that memorable day, and he and I hope you will accept it. I have had his name, and the date, put on.”

As he spoke, he opened a morocco case, and there was still sufficient light for me to see, that it contained a very pretty gold bangle, with a sparkling diamond horseshoe. He held it to wards me; but I drew back very stiffly, and said:

“Thank you, no; I would rather not accept it; I am not as fond of presents as—as—other people. It is very kind of you to think of me; but—”

“I have been guilty of a great piece of impertinence. Is that what you wish to say, Miss Barrington?”

“No, certainly not; but I know father would not wish me to take it.”

“Then that settles the matter,” shutting up the case with a sharp snap, and looking unusually grave! He was offended for once? No—not at all! The next moment he said, in quite his usual manner:

“There is going to be a splendid sunset,” pointing to a golden glow that was bathing the whole garden. “Let us go up on the roof of the palace, and look at it; shall we?”

“Very well,” I assented, and with this harmless, and laudable object in view, we toiled up three flights of very narrow, dark, spiral stairs.

I was the first to reach the top, and fling back the door, and step out upon the roof. We were not the only people who had come up to survey the sunset! There, in the middle of the broad expanse, and in admirable relief against the yellow sky, stood a couple with their backs to us, gazing westward, with great intentness; but surely the lady could have contemplated the scene without support?

As the door clapped, she turned quickly round and beheld me, and they started apart. It was Loo Lawless, and Captain Bane!

“Oh, you tiresome girl!” she exclaimed, half playfully, half irritably. “How you made me jump! I wish you would not come and disturb us, when we are practising for the tableaux.”

“It was a great pity, certainly,” said my companion, taking off his hat with a sweep, “for it was a charming pose; and if the tableau comes up to the rehearsal, it will be crowned with a glorious and immortal success.”

“So YOU have come back?” she said, rather scornfully.

“I have—and I now beg to report myself to Mrs. Lawless.”

“Oh, as far as I am concerned, you may take any amount of leave!” she returned, with a shrug; “but since you are up here, you may as well stay,” speaking exactly, as if she was the proprietor of the whole of the central provinces

“Thank you—but,” looking over the balustrade, “every one seems to be getting under way; there is a storm coming up. Miss Barrington, you are riding, and I think we had better make a start.”

“I think so too,” added Loo significantly “Mind you get well away—before the crowd.”

I accepted her advice in the most perfect good faith, and hurried, downstairs. Once we reached the garden gates, we found every one in a great hurry, calling for their horses, and bustling into their bullock-tongas. The sun had set, a faint yellow streak lay along the horizon, and a high, dusty wind came rising from the east. Carrie and her mother were already en route, and Captain Fitzroy hastily mounted me (I was riding Carrie’s Arab), and saying: “We had better push on before it gets any darker,” we set off at a smart gallop.

The road was a mere bullock track, up and down water-courses, along the sides of Paddy fields, and over a great, flat plain of treacherous cotton soil, without a single landmark. When we had gone a considerable distance, we brought our horses to a walk, to breathe them, and my companion said: “Well, Miss Barrington, you have never asked me what I have been doing?”

“No.”

“I have been most agreeably employed, in receiving a nice little legacy.”

“I am very glad to hear it,” I said; “and did that occupy your whole time”

“No, I have been arranging all my worldly affairs.”

“You talk as if you thought you were going to die!” I exclaimed.

“I am contemplating something nearly as serious,” he rejoined. “I am thinking of getting married.”

“Married!” I echoed, in great amazement. Then, when I had collected my wits, in a small degree, I said: “And to a widow, of course?”

“No, certainly not. Why a widow?”

“Because I have been told for a fact, that you do not encourage girls.”

“I could swear that it was Mrs. Lawless, who made that speech. What a kind little creature she is! No—it was always the other way about—girls have never encouraged me! Can you guess who she is?”

“Miss Binks, who was the belle of Gurrumpore, last cold weather!”

“No, I scarcely knew her. Wasn’t she the young lady with lots of pretty frocks, who came out to escape from the persecutions of a suitor with twenty thousand a year? No! She knew by instinct the right sort of people to be civil to, and never threw a thought to a poor devil like me.”

The news of Captain Fitzroy’s approaching marriage—for some unaccountable reason—did not please me, and for half-a-mile, I cantered on in dead silence; very unusual thoughts were seething in my brain. If I had liked him, if he had been what I once supposed, this intelligence would have caused me—yes, to myself I might whisper it—a heartache! As it was, I knew him to be false, and double-faced, and I pitied the girl—at least I tried to pity her! After all, perhaps he was joking—he was so seldom in earnest.

“Who is it?” I asked, after an appreciable pause. “Any one in Gurrumpore?”

“Yes. Tell me, Miss Barrington, if she were a friend of yours, would you put in a good word for me?” I knew that he was looking at me intently, but the light was so dim that we could not distinguish each other’s features.

I felt a sort of lump rising in my throat.

“Would you?” he repeated, and here he leant over and laid his hand on Selim’s Crest.

“No,” I answered sharply. “The truth is best; I would not!”

This ungenerous, not to say startling reply, astonished him; it was evidently not what he had anticipated, for he snatched his hand off Selim’s mane, and, I suppose, involuntarily spurred his own fiery young horse, for it reared and plunged, in a manner that would have unseated most people.

“Of course, you have some reason for what you say?” he said, in a stern, incisive tone.

“I have.”

“And of course you will tell me, what it is?”

“I do not think it is necessary.”

“Don’t you think that is rather rough on me?”

“You mean that it is unjust. It may be so; I shall tell you the reason another time, perhaps.”

“Perhaps!’” echoed Peter, now joining us, and catching the last word. “And why are you not riding him this evening?”

“I am not going to ride him any more,” I answered, rather confusedly.

“Have you and Fitzroy fallen out? Been having a row, eh?”

“Oh dear, no,” I rejoined, noticing that Perhaps’ owner had dropped behind; “but I have monopolised him too long as it is, and Carrie and I are going to ride Selim, turn about.”

I did not see Captain Fitzroy again, till the lights of Gurrumpore came glimmering out of the darkness; and as we all gradually dispersed, and went our several ways, he raised his hat as he cantered past, and said “Good night.”

A few of the guests returned home with us to a semi-dinner, semi-supper meal, and made merry over the lost roads, lost hats, and lost tempers, occasioned by the wind and darkness.

The effect of a picnic is generally supposed to be gay and exhilarating; but I was unusually dull, silent, and distraite. Was Captain Fitzroy in jest, or in earnest? If in earnest, who could the young lady be? She was in Gurrumpore at present; but, as I mentally reviewed all the girls in the station, he scarcely ever spoke to any one of them, except Carrie and myself. It certainly was not Carrie.

Could he have meant me? If he had meant me, my rude rejection of his overtures sat very lightly on my dismissed suitor. I saw him playing polo and tennis, with as much zeal as ever. He even spoke to me on one unavoidable occasion, and was just as pleasant as usual. In the end, it appeared to me, that I was by far the most concerned of the two, for I did like him. Strange, that I should continue to like a man, whom I had ceased to respect. At last, I could hold my tongue no longer, and one night, as we were brushing our hair, I confided the whole story to Carrie.

The question was, was Captain Fitzroy in jest, or in earnest? What did she think?

Carrie thought he was most decidedly in earnest.

“And of course he meant you,” she added. “I have expected it for a long time; and even mother, who is as blind as an old bat to most things, saw that. If you had not snubbed him so ferociously, he would have proposed to you on the spot; in fact, he did ask you in a way, and you snapped his nose off; but I suppose you know your own heart best.”

My own heart, just at present, was very much out of order, and was working in a way, that painfully surprised me. I had no control over it whatever; no more than over a broken watch.

“I wish Loo knew that Captain Fitzroy had been on the point of proposing to you. How angry she would be!” exclaimed Carrie.

“Why?”

“Because she tried to exercise her fascinations on him, and found him granite.”

“Did she?” I rejoined ironically. “He told me that he did not like her. And yet I know, that quite recently, he gave her a most lovely diamond brooch, and his photograph. He is not straight; and that’s why—why—”

“Listen to me, Di,” said Carrie, starting up, and throwing down her brush, with sudden excitement. “I see it all now, quite plainly. You like him, and he likes you—and I am not going to stand by, and allow Loo to spoil your life, as she spoiled mine. Last Christmas, I, too, had a lover—he was not handsome, or amusing, or even clever, like Hugh Fitzroy, but he suited me, and I was very happy—until Loo came. She laid out her snares; she attracted him, of course. He could not help himself; I was jealous. Then she made mischief. She distorted speeches; she—well, at any rate, in a moment of passion, I wrote a hasty letter, for which I am now very sorry, and there was an end of it. But you shall not be another victim, although Loo has unlimited capacities for mischief, and is as spiteful as she is rapacious. Do you know how she got that brooch! I shall tell you—she never would, nor would he—he is too chivalrous to expose her. She got it in this way. She made him carry her shawl one evening—playfully tossed it to him, as we were all walking home, and afterwards pretended that there was a diamond swallow brooch in it, which he had dropped, and lost! She described it graphically, even to the heart in its beak; but no such brooch was ever found, simply because it had never existed. I, who knew all her trinkets, had never seen such an article. But there was a great search, and a great fuss; Loo actually shed tears to him about it, and of course he had to buy another, and its purchase must have swallowed up—no, I don’t mean a pun—a whole month’s pay.”

“How wicked of her!” I burst out indignantly.

“Yes, was it not? And as to the photograph—it was one of two he brought, for mother to select from, and Loo asked for it. Captain Fitzroy never liked her—she knows this, and has been looking out impatiently for opportunities of vengeance. However, he is well able to take care of himself, and can be very sarcastic on occasions; but you offer her a rash temptation. She will pay him out through you!”

“How?” I asked, in genuine alarm.

“Well, already she has done nobly! Have you not snubbed him, and refused him—thanks to her misrepresentations? He is utterly incapable of behaving as you supposed. Yes, my dear, thanks to Loo, you repulsed him, and I do not think he is a man who will ever come forward a second time.”

“No,” I replied, with restored self-control. “And if he did, it would still be no, for I can never marry any one.”

“Why not?” she asked incredulously

“Because I shall never leave father—never can, and never will.”

To which impressively stated filial sentiment, Carrie derisively ejaculated one word; the word “Fiddlestick!”

After this, I bade her an abrupt good night, and withdrew to my own room, and hurried into bed, where I had a nice, enjoyable cry.

Chapter XXVI

Cinderella

“Thus grief still treads upon the heels of pleasure.”
— Congreve

Formany weeks, the approaching fancy ball at Gurrumpore had been the principal topic of conversation within a radius of many miles. Inhabitants of remote little stations, and dwellers in far distant districts, had all been bidden to take part in this important festivity, and, latterly, nothing was discussed, in the ladies’ parliament, but costumes, wigs, ornaments, and suitable historical, comic, or fairy, characters. This period was remarkable for a wonderful community of goods—every one helped their friends, not merely with cheap advice, and frank criticism, but in a really handsome manner, with loans of such useful properties, as boots, petticoats, uniforms, and wigs. There was to be one notable feature in the programme—a fairy quadrille, and I had been specially selected to personate “Cinderella” at the ball. Carrie was to be “Red Riding Hood,” Mrs. Mayne, “Beauty,” and her husband, “The Beast.” Besides these, we were to have “Blue Beard,” “Jack the Giant-Killer,” “The Marquis of Carabas,” and the “Yellow Dwarf.” Toilettes required for these enchanted characters were a great strain upon the resources of Gurrumpore, and nobly Gurrumpore came out of the ordeal. Almost every day we met some of the “Fairy,” or other Quadrilles, questing about the Bazaar, in the eager search of such extraordinary articles as fur, feathers, mail armour, horns, tails, and fiddles.

A few evenings before the great event, we were sitting out under the tamarind trees, in Colonel Raitt’s compound, after an impromptu tennis-party. Mr. Hare, Colonel Gimlette, the Maynes, and Mr. Delafosse, were resting in those cheap cane chairs, for which Gurrumpore is so justly famous, quaffing iced pegs, or claret cup, and the conversation naturally turned on the one popular topic, the fancy ball.

“Only guess what Conroy is going as?” said Peter, looking round our little circle, with a broad grin on his face. “He can’t get any one to lend him a costume, and so he is going as a coolie!”

“A coolie?” I echoed doubtfully. “Yes, painted brown, you know, with a cloth, and a turban. It will be cheap, and cool.”

“Cool! I should think so; he won’t be allowed in,” said Loo severely.

“Why not? We have no Lord Chamberlain here! And it is not a bit more hazardous than some dresses I have seen. By the way, Mrs. Lawless, your costume is a dead secret, is it not?”

“Yes,” she replied, with a glance half-interrogative, half furious, for Mr. Hare’s speech had savoured of imputation.

“But there is no mystery about yours, Miss Barrington?” he continued. “You are going as the Sleeping Beauty. Won’t you find it awfully slow, lying on a sofa with your eyes shut?”

“Nonsense,” I answered impatiently. “You know very well, that I am going as Cinderella.”

“And what about the slippers? A pair of glass dishes? Well, then, salt-cellars. Bear in mind, that to keep up the part, you must come away at twelve sharp; and of course supper-less.”

“I shall stay until the very last note of ‘God save the Queen,’” I rejoined emphatically. “It is my very first ball.”

“Did you hear that Dr. King is going as a Mustard Plaster?” inquired Mrs. Mayne, with a solemn face.

“No!” exclaimed Carrie. “What a lovely idea! How we shall cry, if we dance with him!”

“Yes,” chimed in Captain Mayne. “And Miss Todd is to represent a Garden, and Tom Wright and his brother, are going as ‘Tweedle Dum,’ and “Tweedle Dee,” and Rock, as the Cat and Fiddle.”

“And,” supplemented Loo, “Mrs. Bland in a costume that will show her feet, and Mrs. White in a costume that will display her hair; but the most amusing thing I have heard with regard to the ball, is about Mrs. Little! Miss Skinner is to personate Hope, that we can all understand; but imagine Mrs. Little, daring to personate Charity!” This announcement created quite a sensation, and many were the ejaculations of amazement and incredulity. I overheard Colonel Gimlette mutter to Mr. Delafosse, that “the only correct costume for Mrs. Little, was a white sheet and a long candle.”

“A sheet,” echoed Mrs. Raitt. “Oh fie! and isn’t the whole place well lighted up with kerosene lamps? I’m lending four myself.” Here it was eagerly explained, to this ignorant old lady, that a sheet and candle signified the next thing to capital punishment! Loo Lawless, in particular, was loud and eloquent on the subject. Had she not suffered many things of Mrs. Little? Had she not been figuratively broken on the wheel, drawn, quartered, and buried at a crossroads, by Mrs. Little’s tongue?

The eventful day at length arrived. Carrie and I were very busy, from early morn till dusk. There were heads to powder, costumes to alter, and one or two vain individuals, who had actually to be sewn into their clothes. Meanwhile, Loo remained in strict retirement, in her own apartment, goading the mysterious operations of four Dirzees, who were working in her particular verandah. Carrie’s room had been resigned to Robinson Crusoe, and Puss in Boots, from the district. So she and I shared mine, and dressed one another, with much zeal and interest. “I wonder what Loo will come out as?” said Carrie, as she arranged her jaunty little cloak over her shoulders. “She has such taste, and thinks of all sorts of capital ideas.”

“And yet she would not give us one hint,” I remarked, rather bitterly. “However, after all, we are not so bad.”

“You are capital,” said Carrie. “You look just like a girl in a fairy tale.”

“How can you tell? You have never seen a girl in a fairy tale,” I argued, with a laugh. My costume was composed of cheap white native satin, covered with remarkably effective silver tinsel. I wore a thick girdle of mock pearls, from which depended a silver tinsel slipper; my shoes were of the same material, and a silver star sparkled in my flowing hair, and altogether, if not a correct impersonation, it was—thanks to many friendly hints—a very pretty dress. When Carrie and I, had put the last finishing touches to each other’s toilettes, we went into the drawing-room, previous to starting, and there held a sort of domestic “kit inspection.” Mrs. Raitt looked supremely happy, as Queen Anne—although she did not resemble that sovereign lady, in any way, but bulk of figure. Colonel Raitt, in a cotton jacket, and leather leggings, represented a native Shikarri, and carried a belt full of knives, an ancient match-lock, and a tiger-skin over his shoulders. Presently Loo rustled in, and all our conjectures and curiosity were at an end. She was attired in a white brocaded dress, strewn with hearts of all sizes, broken and otherwise; on her head a crown and long veil, in her hand she carried a sceptre, and wore gorgeous accessories, in the shape of all her jewellery. “The Queen of Hearts,” shouted Colonel Raitt, “A splendid idea! Loo, you really look the character down to the ground.” Her self-elected Majesty accepted our congratulations rather nonchalantly, and then glanced at Carrie’s costume, with a somewhat contemptuous stare.

“Neat,” she said, after a moment’s silence—“really very neat: not at all so bad.”

Then she turned, and looked me up and down, and said, with a smile of slow disparagement: “Diana, my dear, are you quite certain that the body is not crooked?”

“Quite,” I answered, with indignant brevity.

“Oh, well, it strikes me as being rather to one side; however, if you are satisfied, of course it’s all right,” and with an elevation of shoulders, and eyebrows, that spoke volumes of commisera tion, she turned to inspect her aunt and uncle.

Colonel and Mrs. Raitt (lucky people) were “passed” with the warmest encomiums; and then Queen Loo departed alone, in the brougham—for she required a whole carriage for her train, veil, and sceptre; and soon afterwards we four (comparatively unimportant characters) packed ourselves into a bullock-tonga, and drove away, in the highest spirits.

In a very short time we arrived at the scene of action—the Club—and the Rooms, which Carrie and I had helped to decorate, looked brilliant, and the company absolutely dazzling. Peter Hare received us; he was one of the stewards of the ball, and represented Mephis topheles—or some kind of Demon—and carried his tail jauntily over his arm; he invited me graciously for the first dance, a set of Lancers. Loo Lawless was our vis-à-vis, and ere we began, Peter, by way of a little preliminary divertissement, led me up to her, and executed a profound reverence, with his hand on his heart.

“Go away—go away,” she exclaimed impa tiently. “I have not the faintest idea of who you are, you ridiculous creature! I don’t know you at all.”

“Pardon me, madam,” he returned significantly, “you know me only too well.”

And he bowed himself to the ground

“Oh!” she retorted, with her usual presence of mind; “Mr. Hare, is it not? Really, a most suitable disguise! Diana, my dear, I cannot compliment you on your company,” and she tittered spitefully; but, for once, I was totally unabashed.

I danced away merrily, with Tweedle Dum, with the Cat and Fiddle, and even with the Mustard Plaster; and then came the most notable event of the evening—the “Fairy Quadrille.” For this, I had been for weeks engaged to Captain Fitzroy, and was very doubtful if he would arrive to claim his dance—under our present somewhat strained relations—but my fears were groundless. He came up, and reminded me of our Quadrille, with the utmost sang-froid. He wore one of the handsomest dresses in the room—the splendid uniform of a White Hussar in the Austrian service—and doubtless a relic of richer, and happier days.

As we waited for our set to form, Loo Lawless, passing, paused, and said compassionately: “Poor Cinderella! So you have no Prince!”

“For the present, I am his humble and inadequate substitute,” said my partner, with a rather haughty inclination.

“I thought you were going as the Marquis of Carabas,” she remarked, with a curious flash from her deadly eyes.

“And am I not he?” he asked, with affected amazement. “There is nothing to prove that he was not in the army; the most anxious research has failed to throw any light on the subject of his attire—unless perhaps his boots—and you see I am in long boots, like the Cat.”

“How utterly ridiculous you are!” she exclaimed, with a shrug of her shoulders, and bestowing a patronising little pat on my arm, she passed on.

“A capital ball, is it not?” remarked Captain Fitzroy, after a reflective pause.

“Delightful!” I rejoined. “But what goes to make a capital ball?—for I have never been to one before.”

“Well, if you ask me—a good floor, good music, about three partners, a champagne supper, and lots of sitting out in various ‘Kala Juggas’—you know what they are?”

“Oh!” I ejaculated, not a little startled, at this unexpected description.

“Some of the dresses are admirable,” he went on, “but a few are rather mysterious. For instance, Mrs. Gimlette”—who was conversing in a lively manner with another dowager—“she is all black and yellow stripes. Is she a tigress, or what?”

“She is supposed to be a Queen Bee,” I answered gravely.

“And Conroy presents a sufficiently ridiculous spectacle; also that unfortunate girl over there, in leaves. What is she?”

“She is a Garden!” I answered, in a choked voice.

“The leaves are all curling up, and I notice that she has to be taken out, and watered between the dances. I fancy she is rather sorry for herself by this time,” said my companion impressively. “And look at that blazing gown opposite! If we stare long enough, we are bound to see “Pears’ Soap” on the ceiling. I wonder if the lady would oblige us, by walking round between the dances.”

Thus Captain Fitzroy rattled on, evidently bent on filling up awkward pauses, and keeping well aloof from personal topics and dangerous grounds.

For my own part, I was particularly silent and stupid, and made several monstrous blunders in the “Fairy Quadrille.” When it came to an end, we walked away arm-in-arm, like the rest of the dancers, along the wide verandah, and then down the steps into the moonlit compound.

Much as I generally appreciated ices I declined to visit the refreshment tent, and stood on the broad central walk, uncertain what to do next.

It was impossible to return to the deserted ball-room. I could not, and would not, saunter off to a secluded seat, and I was thrown into Captain Fitzroy’s sole society, until the band struck up the following dance. I must take my head out of the sand, and boldly face the situation. I owed him an amende honorable, and the sooner I made it, the better; and having torn the palm out of my glove, and worked myself up to the necessary pitch of resolution, I blurted out:

“Captain Fitzroy!” and then came to a full stop.

“Yes,” he replied, turning his eyes from the crowds round the tents, the people strolling about, and the couples sitting ostentatiously aloof.

“I-I-I want to say something to you.”

He looked at me eagerly, and then exclaimed with an air of conviction: “Miss Barrington, you are going to tell me the reason—now.”

This guess of his, was of an immense assistance to my stammering tongue, and I replied, in a low voice:

“I made a mistake. I—I was misled. There was no reason—”

“And have you guessed who the young lady is?” he asked, with a startling change in his tone.

I shook my head, and looked hard at the gravel

“Then you are the only one in Gurrumpore who does not know,” he went on, with growing vehemence. “It is—yourself.”

What a strange, brusque avowal, and what a strange place to prefer it—standing in this, a broad pathway, in the middle of all Gurrumpore society! But Gurrumpore society was far too much engrossed with refreshments, and flirtations, to notice us.

I have been told, that Anthony Trollope always blushed as he wrote love scenes, and I am not going to detail my own personal experience. Enough to notify, that before I went back to the ball-room, I was engaged to Captain Fitzroy.

My protestations, and negatives, had been eloquently overruled—the more easily, because my own heart was a traitor, and on the side of the besieger. It was in vain, that I declared that I could never leave home, that Captain Fitzroy knew what my life was, that I was everything to father, that he could not live without me. But it appeared that Captain Fitzroy could not live without me either! and he was hopeful of obtaining father’s consent—of enticing him from his jungle fastness.

“Why should he not live with us?”

“Us!” Transporting pronoun!

I glanced at the White Hussar, with his grave, unflinching eyes fixed on mine, at the wide, bright sky, and round, silver moon. Surely this was one of the great events in my life—foretold by the fortune-teller!

At this moment the band struck up, and I saw Colonel Gimlette, my future partner, advancing towards me with unwelcome alacrity.

“You will dance, with me again,” whispered Captain Fitzroy hurriedly. “You could not get out of this, could you? But you’ll give me all Peter’s dances—and Conroy’s—and Delafosse’s?”

I could not help laughing at this cool request, and before I was able to make any definite promise, I was led away by his commanding officer, whose actions were notoriously short, sharp, and decisive.

“I can’t allow Fitzroy to monopolise half my dance,” he remarked, as he hurried me up the steps, and round the verandah. He little guessed that Fitzroy was anxious to monopolise me altogether!

My heart beat very fast, and I seemed to tread on air, as I walked beside Colonel Gimlette. I was for the moment, in a transport of happiness.

Hugh Fitzroy loved me—and this was enough. Yes, as I re-entered the ball-room, the felicity of the original Cinderella, at the summit of her bliss, could never have been but a pale reflection of mine. Hugh Fitzroy’s impassioned words—his expressive eyes—the eager, tremulous hand he had laid on mine—all were before me, as I waltzed round the room in a kind of dream; but even as I waltzed, cold conviction came whispering in my ear:

“Your father will never consent—you know this well. You must give up Hugh Fitzroy, and say ‘No’ as bravely as you can, and go back to the jungle for the rest of your life. You have had your wish; you have seen the world; you have tasted of the cup of pleasure. You have been mad, to give your heart to this handsome young officer. You will have to choose between him and your father! How can you leave your father? How can you be a traitress to him? How can you break your word?”

Yes, I knew that I had been looking at a kind of mirage of happiness. Love and lovers were not for me. Still, the present was mine. I would spend all my capital now—to-day—to morrow—and close my eyes to the blank, hopeless future, and to the agony of that cruel little word, “Good-bye.”

Colonel Gimlette was an untiring mover, and an active dancer for his age, but presently we came to anchor in a safe corner, and he commenced to discuss the various characters who were wheeling past. It is more than likely, that my remarks were often incoherent, and wide of the mark—for naturally, I was thinking more of one character in particular, than the many in general!

We both admired Mrs. Mayne as Beauty, and pitied her husband, who figured in many bear skins as “The Beast,” and Colonel Gimlette was in raptures over the Queen of Hearts, but was rather disposed to be severe on his own sex.

“Look at Wakefield,” he exclaimed. “He dances like a broken umbrella! And Sadler—upon my word, in a small room, Sadler is dangerous; and there’s Tompkins of Cheetapore—what is Tompkins? If I could not turn out better than that,” and he shook his head, and glanced once more round the company. “Hare is good; so is that Brigand; but now, there is the best character in the room,” he added, with much animation. “Do you see him, standing by the pillar, and talking to Raitt and Fitzroy? An old French Priest. I declare he is magnificent—as like as life! I wonder where he got the long white beard, and the benevolent expression?”

I glanced over in the direction indicated, and my heart stood still. The best character in the room was Father Paul. Undoubtedly, he had come to fetch me. He had brought bad news, for both Colonel Raitt and Captain Fitzroy looked unusually grave.

“What ails you, Cinderella?” inquired my partner, as I suddenly left his side, and darted out into the verandah.

“Where are you going?” he asked playfully. “The clock is not striking twelve.”

But I knew that it was, in one sense, for me. I met Mrs. Raitt hurrying towards me, in a state of unusual excitement.

“You need not tell me,” I said hastily. “There is bad news from home.”

“Yes, my darling girl; your father is ill!”

“Very ill?”

“I do not know,” she replied, with an uneasy glance at the Padre, who now joined us, and said:

“Ranee, ma fille, I have come to take you home. We must leave at once. The train goes at one o’clock, and it is now half-past twelve. There is no other for twelve hours, and hours are precious, when one has a long journey.”

“But it’s twenty minutes to one, now,” remonstrated Mrs. Raitt; “she would never catch the train—and she can’t go like that,” pointing at my dress.

“Yes, she can,” retorted Captain Fitzroy. “What is dress? Here, lend her a warm cloak, and a thing for her head. My dog-cart is outside, and I’ll have her at the station in ten minutes.”

Before he had ceased to speak, I was enveloped in some one’s mantle. I tore off my tinsel star, and twisted a wrap over my head. I was shaking all over, yet I believe I looked perfectly cool, and said: “Now I am ready.”

“Ready to travel three hundred miles like that,” screamed Mrs. Raitt, “in a ball-dress!”

“Now, Mrs. Raitt, I know you are a sensible woman,” said Captain Fitzroy, who seemed to have taken the management of the whole thing into his own hands, whilst Father Paul and I stood dumb. “You know a sick man’s fancy, and twelve hours are a long time. I’ll drive them to the station now, and see them off. Leave all to me.”

Five precious minutes, were wasted in useless talk. In the end, Captain Fitzroy had his way. There were a few hurried embraces, and farewells, and then I found myself perched up in a very high dog-cart, and rapidly leaving the lighted Club, the merry dancers, and the fancy ball. The band was playing a waltz, strangely appropriate to the moment, “Bid me good-bye.” I could hear its thrilling strains in the still, tropic night, long, long after we had driven away.

I cannot attempt to describe my sensations, so sharply changed from the heights of bliss, to the depths of sorrow and suspense. I sat like a girl in a trance, as we dashed along, through the cool night air, under the light of the staring white moon. Unconsciously to myself, tears were trickling down my face; my companion turned, and saw them. “Don’t,” he said; “never meet trouble half-way; time enough for tears when you know that there is reason for weeping. Keep up your heart, be brave.”

“How can I be brave?” I sobbed. “I am sure that he is dying. I should never have left him; I shall never forgive myself. Never—never—never!”

“By George, there is the bell!” he exclaimed. “Hold on behind,” to the Padre, and he put the horse into a gallop. There was not a second to lose, as we tore into the station. The train was delayed for a moment, whilst we were hurried into a first-class carriage. Captain Fitzroy ran for our tickets, threw a rug over my knees, and we were off.

Chapter XXVII

The Last Sunset

“And with the setting sun,
Dropt from the zenith, like a falling star.”
— Milton

Once we were alone, I leant forward, and took Father Paul’s lean, brown hand in mine, and said:

“Tell me everything—keep nothing back.”

“It was all through the treasure, ma fille. Alas! that we ever found it; alas! for its fair possibilities, and our foolish joy. It was dangerous to move, and difficult to dispose of. One journey to Bombay, was accomplished in safety, and I removed my share, without suspicion, in the bullock-bandy; but when your father was making a second trip, there was some treachery. Peggy suspects Hassan. I cannot tell whom I suspect; but some one in the house, must have betrayed the gold, and jewels, which were concealed in a cotton waggon. About twenty miles from home, your father was set upon by Dacoits. His servants fled, and he alone remained, and resisted; but he was one to twenty, and soon overpowered. The Dacoits—Tantia Bheel’s gang – tied him to a tree, whilst they ransacked the carts, and carried off their booty. They spared your father’s life, no doubt, on account of his good name in the district: but long hours of exposure to the sun, brought on fever; and I will not conceal from you, that he is very ill. A native apothecary is attending him, and he prescribes for himself; but he wants you.”

Of course he wanted me. I need not expatiate on that hideous journey in a ball-dress. The night seemed endless, as we rattled along through the cool, moonlit country. I sat with my hands clenched, my eyes staring before me, telling myself: “Perhaps, as I sit helpless here, he is calling for me, dying.”

Oh, the weary, dusty day, the glare, the dried-up river-beds, the primitive wells, the monotonous little railway stations, the flocks and herds! The hours seemed days.

We reached home at night, at twelve o’clock. Peggy hurried out to meet me, and hugged me in silence. Then I threw her my cloak, and, pushing past her, went straight into father’s room. He was lying on his little camp cot, looking, oh, so woefully changed! His features were pinched, his eyes sunken. He had aged years, since I had last seen him. A native apothecary sat near, and fanned him; and the room was lit by one shaded lamp.

Father was apparently asleep. No; when he heard my step, he opened his eyes, and looked at me; his whole face brightened, and, with a gesture of joy and surprise, he exclaimed, with outstretched hands:

“Marion.”

He was delirious. He took me for my mother, in my tumbled ball-dress, with my bare neck and arms. “Don’t you know me, father?” I whispered, taking his burning hand in mine. “Say you know me; say you know Ranee.”

“Yes”—passing his thin hand across his eyes—“yes—Ranee—of course, I know you. You have come back. What does this mean?” glancing at my dress.

“I was at a ball when I heard. I came straight away. We did not lose a moment. You are not very ill, are you?”

He looked at me thoughtfully for quite a long time, and then he said:

“I shall be better—soon. Ranee, sit there where I can see you.” As he gazed at me sorrowfully, tears stood in his eyes. “You were happy in the world you wished so much to see. I am glad I let you go. It was all for the best.”

“And I am bitterly sorry that I ever went,” I exclaimed passionately. “If I had stayed—”

“It would have made no difference,” he interrupted, in a feeble voice. “It was all for the best—you have made friends for yourself—and you have been a good daughter: my comfort and companion for eighteen years. Always remember that.”

When he had said this, he closed his eyes as if exhausted, and lay motionless, with his hand in mine. Presently Peggy stole in, and said some thing about “a cup of tea;” but I shook my head, and motioned her away. I could not, and would not stir. I was still sitting at my post when the daylight broke, and the bamboos began to whisper in the faint morning breeze. Then Father Paul came, and ordered me away to take some refreshment, and to change my dress. Little did I guess how, and when, I should take it off, when I had eagerly assumed my gay fairy costume.

All through the long day, we watched be side him, as he lay in a kind of stupor, and late that evening Peggy came in stealthily, and whispered in my ear:

“Come out at wance! Here’s Captain Fitzroy come, and brought a doctor. They have ridden from Kolar, and he has the doctor dead beat and destroyed.”

I got up instantly, and stole into the verandah. The very sight of Captain Fitzroy’s face, gave me confidence and hope.

“How is he?” he asked eagerly, as he took my hand.

“Very ill,” I returned. “I am so glad you have brought Dr. King. Thank you both for coming.”

“Colonel and Miss Raitt were in the same train with us,” he explained; “but they are stuck fast at Kolar. However, they will be here to-morrow night. We pushed on as fast as possible; King has brought some medicines.”

Poor Dr. King! he had collapsed into a long chair in a condition of pitiable prostration, but when he had been refreshed by a “Peg,” he rose, and said in an exhausted voice:

“I think, Miss Barrington, I’ll go and look at your patient now. Had I not better see him at once?”

What a difference in our positions, and surroundings, from the last time we had spoken to one another, when he had been a Mustard Plaster, and I a brilliant Cinderella! After Dr. King had accompanied me to the sick room, and had taken father’s pulse, and temperature, he looked very grave. Though he talked cheerfully enough to me, I was sure he had not done so to others. I suspected much from their tell-tale faces, and their forced words of encouragement, and hope.

The next afternoon, father was quite conscious, but very weak. He had a long interview with the Padre, of which I grudged every second; then Captain Fitzroy was with them for a time; finally I was sent for.

“Ranee,” said father, fixing his eyes on me, “I have known, that you were watching beside me for hours, but I could not speak; and now that I have found my voice, I must tell you something, that it would be cruel to keep from you any longer—I am going to leave you.”

He uttered these words with a solemn, pathetic distinctness, that made my heart stand still.

“Oh, no, no, you will not! I could not bear it!” I exclaimed piteously, wringing my hands in poignant grief.

“Yes, it is a road that we must all travel, and travel alone. But, Ranee,” and here he took my hand, “I am not leaving you without friends—I am not leaving you alone;” and he looked at Captain Fitzroy, and motioned him to come nearer. “There have been words between you two; and I am glad of it. Are you willing to take him for your husband, Ranee?” and he drew my hand closer to Captain Fitzroy’s, and placed it in his, with his feeble fingers

“No, no,” I sobbed, filled with agonising remorse, that I could ever have left father—that I could ever have allowed this stranger, to eclipse him in my thoughts – that I could ever have forgotten our long, long days of closest companionship; the love, the scenes, the words, that had bound us together for eighteen years. “No, no,” I answered, as my tears kept dropping fast; “I will die with you!”

“Ranee, my child, don’t talk like this; don’t let us part so. Don’t tremble. I had something to say to you—to tell you, but—but—there is no time—and—after all—silence is best. You have been a good daughter—you have been my comfort. Be a good wife, and may God bless you.”

He seemed exhausted after this long speech, and lay back, faint and breathless. Once more he spoke, in a feeble, gasping voice, and looking from Hugh to Father Paul, he said: “Raise me up a little, that I may look on the sun, just once more.”

The window, or rather door, into the verandah stood wide open, and across the river the sun was setting in true Eastern splendour. He gazed at it steadily for some seconds, then his head sank back. They laid him gently down. I did not know till afterwards, why Peggy beckoned me so hastily out of the room. He was dead.

Father was buried the next evening—no, not near the collector’s wife—but under a palm tree, by the river. Colonel Raitt read the service over him, and Carrie, Peggy, the Padre, and Hugh and I stood round the grave. They were all very kind to me—even Colonel Raitt, in his loud, rough way, and Hugh. He was to be Hugh in future.

“I’m not sure, that I like a match made up beside a deathbed,” said Peggy, some time after father’s death. “Of course, I knew at wance, that a young man would not gallop here all the way from Kolar, dragging the doctor after him, just for the pure love of the poor master. Well, anyway, the master thought a power of him, and said so, and he is a gentleman reared, and he would put his eyes on two sticks, to plaze ye; so I suppose, unless ye want to break his heart in three halves, ye bid to marry him—and maybe he’ll do as well as another.”

I subsequently discovered the reason, of the rather qualified approval. Peggy, in her own mind, had intended me to make what she called a “grand match,” and thought that with my money, and my diamonds, I ought to marry a lord at the very least, instead of what she rather contemptuously termed “a captain in the horse soldiers.” She did not impart this idea to me, for a considerable time; I was too wretched to listen to what she said, in those early days of grief. I seemed to care for nobody—no, not even for Hugh. It was my first sorrow, and I did not attempt to bear it with fortitude. I was both stunned and heart-broken, and doubtless a great trial to all my friends. After a short time, devoted to packing, and making arrangements, the Bungalow on the Karrhan was abandoned to the owls and the mice; the servants were pensioned; poor Jaina was shot—Colonel Raitt undertook the execution with the greatest pleasure—and one chapter in my life was closed for ever.

Chapter XXVIII

Captain and Mrs. Fitzroy at Home.

“There’s no place like home.”

Eighteen months have elapsed, since I left my old home by the banks of the Karrhan; and during that time, I have travelled over a good part of England, and the Continent, and I have seen “the world” on quite an extensive scale; and I have been Mrs. Hugh Fitzroy for considerably more than a year. I have seen English lakes, and Scotch mountains, French cathedrals, and Italian palaces. I have seen London in the height of the season; I have seen the finest pictures, and statues, and heard the best actors and singers of the day. In short, I have been shown most things that Western civilisation had to lay before my empty Eastern mind.

And notwithstanding all, I was glad to return to India; and I mentally hailed the first palm tree, and the first lank brown native, as long lost, dear, and welcome friends! I had not many friends; roving about, as we had done, we had no time for more than making dozens of passing acquaintances. As to Hugh’s relations—what am I to say?

His mother was a handsome, courtly, old lady, with piercing dark eyes, a fringe of snow white curls, and a repose of manner, to which I was totally unaccustomed. She treated me with polite forbearance, nay, with a certain amount of affectionate amusement; but considered me more in the light of a strange natural curiosity, than as her son’s wife. We had very few tastes in common. She was musical—I could not play a note; she was fond of fancy work, and looked to me for assistance, as her sight was failing—I could not put in a stitch. She thought much of “birth,” as she called it, a subject that did not interest me in the least. She had a passion—I can call it nothing else—for bits of venerable lace—yellow with age; also for cracked—and to my mind excessively hideous—china. Asked my opinion, I frankly stated that, “the lace was dirty, and old, and might be thrown away; that the china was both ugly and useless.” Imagine my mother-in-law’s feelings! Here was a girl, who neither sang or did fancy work; who scoffed at old Mechlin, and turned up her nose at old Chelsea, who rose at six o’clock of a morning; who enjoyed street organs; who jabbered Hindostani as if it were her native tongue, and went to church in a cotton dress, and sailor’s hat.

Mrs. Fitzroy, senior, thought much of dress, and took me seriously in hand, and found me, I must say, a creditable pupil. On the general ground of dress, we found one absorbing topic; and Hugh naturally provided another. Strange to say, he was not the favourite child. She had a daughter, Lady Lovelace Goring, who, thanks to her beauty (I was quite right in supposing that Hugh had a pretty sister), had married well. The old lady was very proud of her handsome, haughty Beatrice, who lived in Belgrave Square, and kept a whole retinue of powdered men-servants, as haughty as herself.

Beatrice had always been a “comfort,” said her mother, but Hugh had been rather wild.

“What do you mean?” I asked, with blazing eyes.

“Only that he was extravagant – very extravagant. You need not be so very touchy, my dear! When he was in the Lancers, he kept hunters, and race-horses, and polo ponies—and betted too—and was in rather a fast set; but he was young—only two-and-twenty when his father died, and the crash came. That was a most unhappy business.”

At any rate for Hugh, on him fell the brunt of the family misfortunes. He resigned his share of the wreck to his mother and sister; it enabled them to live very comfortably, to dress, to go into society; whilst he went out to India, to carve out a new fortune with his sword. His marriage with me, a girl born and brought up in that country, was a severe shock to his relations; but when they subsequently heard that I was entitled to a thousand a year, when I came of age, their feelings underwent some modification; and I flatter myself, that my manners, and appearance, were much better than they had anticipated. And after I had appeared at a large dinner party at Lady Lovelace Goring’s, wearing the Begum’s necklace, I became quite a favourite in Belgrave Square, and was taken to the Opera, and driven in the Park, and told that every one who had seen them had said, that I possessed the most magnificent diamonds they had ever come across!

Beatrice and I, had but little in common. Beatrice was nervous, and femininely timid; I had no nerves, and was afraid of nothing! No; not even of my mother-in-law! Beatrice was full of tact, diplomacy, and petty deceits; I was brusque, outspoken, and over-candid. Beatrice loved the world of fashion, and wor shipped at the shrine of social ambition. Her idea of pure enjoyment was, to be most exquisitely dressed—better dressed than any woman present—to enter a crowded party, rather late, and to feel that every eye was turned upon the beautiful Lady Lovelace Goring—her husband was beneath notice, a little, stout, shiny faced man, with a bald head—or to recline in her well-appointed landau, under a lace parasol, and make a sort of triumphal procession up the Row. I frequently occupied a place beside her, but my ideal of happiness was elsewhere. In my mind’s eye, I saw the great Banyans; the waving acres of ripe Jawarri; the sweet scented acacia trees, and their wreaths of golden flowers; the slender, graceful, native women, with their dark-blue sarees, and silver ornaments; merry and loquacious, on a penny a day. I saw the wide-spreading plain, and my free-going Arab, galloping mile after mile against a faintly perfumed evening breeze. This was my idea of enjoyment, and, you see, I was an uncivilised, untamed, jungle girl still. I did not care much for the bright dresses, the gay “parade” of men and women, in the Park; but I liked an early walk there, with Hugh, when milk-carts were about, and I could laugh, and talk, completely at my ease, and run races with Mrs. Fitzroy’s black poodle—ay, and swim him in the Serpentine. Yes, those were delightful mornings, and oh! the amount of bread and butter that I consumed at breakfast! Was it not all recorded, in subsequent conversations, between my mother-in-law, and Beatrice?

When we returned to India, “Moryson’s Horse,” were no longer at Gurrumpore, but were quartered at Sindi, a very large and fashionable station, where the community were much too large, and too exalted, to know one another as intimately, as they had done at primitive, sociable, thatch-roofed Gurrumpore. But then, it was nearly ten times the size of that insignificant spot, and boasted a Resident, and staff; two Generals, an Archdeacon, several Judges, many important civilians, and half-a dozen regiments, European, and native, cavalry and infantry.

A bullock-tonga was as unknown in Sindi as in Rotten Row, and society took the air in landaus, victorias, T-carts, or smart little broughams; people dressed fashionably, lived in fine two-storied Bungalows, as elaborately furnished as the climate would permit. No Durries here, or plain teak-wood chairs and tables, but Persian and Indian carpets, handsome hangings, and furniture that hailed from Bond Street and Tottenham Court Road; solemn belted peons, with silver salvers, and silver badges—family crests emblazoned on both—took in your cards with as much condescension as a London servant.

Sindi was the place for rich people. In Gurrumpore all were alike, since there was no way of spending money; but here there was ample scope for outlay. Money came to the front, and distanced poverty; indeed, poverty was quite in another “set.” Money gave dinners, tennis-parties, and dances; money kept six horses, rented a Bungalow at two hundred rupees a month, and swam down the stream with all the big brass pots. Poverty contented itself with an humble, one-storied abode, in an unfashionable road, a pair of bullocks, to water the garden, and a pony and cart.

At least, this was our ménage—for, until I came of age, we had only two hundred a year, of Hugh’s, besides his pay, and, though we were not rich, we were extremely well contented with our lot; yes, and with each other. Our Bungalow, though not fashionably situated, was very pretty, and stood in a delightful garden; and our interest and enthusiasm in “doing up” our first home, were, I am certain, felt to be ridiculously childish, by our dignified domestics. Hugh had his two chargers, and I had Cassim still, besides Candace, a stylish black pony, who went in the cart. I insisted on keeping fowls, to Hugh’s distraction, as he was very fond of gardening, and laboured in our garden during all his spare moments. I worked hard also, and had a very respectable fernery, of which I was not a little proud. Indoors, our live stock consisted of a black kitten, a yellow puppy, and a talking minar, who called “Hugh,” and “Diana,” in the most natural way in the world.

The Raitt family were still at Gurrumpore, and Carrie had stayed with us for a month, when we arrived, and had assisted us to pitch our tent, and set up our little household gods; as to Peter, he was in and out all day, and Mrs. Mayne and Gimlette were with the regiment; so I was quite surrounded by old friends. Mrs. Gimlette had taken the deepest interest in our furnishing, and had insisted on providing us with half-a-dozen things (dead bargains) for which we had no possible occasion: a broken sewing-machine, a damaged filter, a set of double harness. I stood out valiantly against these “alarming sacrifices;” but Hugh was weak—and then, you see, she was his Colonel’s wife. And I will say this for her, that, had we wished to get rid of anything, she would have disposed of it for us, far more promptly than any professional auctioneer.

Besides our acquaintances, we were of course obliged to make the inevitable round of formal calls—at least, I had to make them, for Hugh flatly refused to accompany me; indeed, to be just, he had a great deal to do, as he was adjutant of his regiment, and, what with squadron drill, and parades, at dawn, “orderly room” after breakfast, and “stables” in the evening, I enjoyed but little of his society. We were constantly asked out to dinner, and I had many visitors—chiefly men—who sat a surprisingly long time. In the early mornings I rode; in the evenings we attended polo, cricket, sports, or lawn-tennis parties; but at Sindi there was no general rendezvous, like the good old Club at Gurrumpore. I saw a great deal of Peter, and he now made me his counsellor-in-chief, and laid all his scrapes before me—love, and otherwise.

“I fall in love with every girl I see,” he boldly confessed, as we sat together, one evening, in the verandah, after dinner.

Peter was nothing, if not outspoken.

“You never fell in love with me,” I retorted triumphantly.

“Yes, of course I did; but when I saw that Fitz had a fancy for you, being my friend, of course I had scruples about cutting him out.”

“Well, you are an impudent, conceited boy!” I exclaimed; “as if there was any comparison between you.”

“Boy!” he echoed; “I am much older than you are, Mrs. Fitz. I am five-and-twenty. Be good enough to respect your elders.”

“Nonsense; you mean that you are eighteen!”

“No; five-and-twenty. It’s a wonder I have not been snapped up long ago; and I’ve had some very narrow squeaks, I can tell you. Once the band struck up and saved me, by drowning my voice just as I was on the eve of committing myself. Once I was refused, thank goodness. I like all girls; love them tremendously for a time; but I don’t think I would care for any one as a fixture.”

“I should not think that any one of them would care for you, as a fixture,” I retorted scornfully.

“Don’t you?” he rejoined, with a rudely incredulous laugh.

“Look here,” he continued, in another tone, “I lost a pot of money over those races last week.”

“Why did you ever have anything to say to them?” I asked impatiently.

“Why, indeed? Why did you ride a hurdle race, Mrs. Fitzroy?”

“Hush! If you ever breathe a word of that in Sindi, I will never speak to you again.”

“All right; but I tell you what it is, if I don’t pull off something in Bombay, next month, I shall be up a gum-tree.”

“A What?”

“Well, there will be a crisis in my affairs, and a stud for sale,” he rejoined very dismally.

“And what will you do?”

“Ride other people’s horses, like Conroy; it’s cheaper, and pleasanter, all round. Did you hear that Conroy got a ‘pip’ on parade this morning? Dismounted without leave! Mind you chaff him well!”

“How did he get thrown—he is such a good horseman?”

“I’ll tell you. The Miss Peacocks were looking on, and he was showing off on his new re-mount. I suspect he has a slight weakness for the youngest Miss P—; but if that’s the case, we must put him in a padded room at once, and give him a box of dolls to play with.”

“Poor Mr. Conroy; how you do worry him!” I replied reproachfully.

“Let us go in now, and worry Hugh,” suggested this incorrigible youth. “He has probably gone to sleep.”

“No, indeed; he is writing,” I rejoined, “and if you had some of his work to do, it would keep you out of mischief.”

“Keep me out of mischief; that’s rather a good joke. I say, I saw you riding with that fellow Hassard the last two mornings. What a tailor he is! I wonder you like to be seen with him.”

“He is not a good rider,” I admitted, “but he is a very clever man.”

“Is he Well, I never heard that before; but I have heard, that he is a celebrated lady killer, and he likes young ladies,” and here Peter looked at me expressively, out of the corner of his eye.

“Nevertheless, you need not be the least nervous about me,” I answered promptly.

“What people can see in him, is more than I can understand,” he went on discontentedly. “High shoulders, a red moustache, a cold gray eye, and forty-five, if a day.”

This was a shamelessly unfair portrait. Colonel Hassard was what is called “a gentlemanly-looking man,” with a slight figure, brilliant white teeth, and fascinating manners. He moved in the best set in Sindi, dressed admirably, drove one of the best turns-out in the place. He held an easy and lucrative appointment, and was a person of considerable social importance. Colonel Hassard was always exceedingly agreeable to me; but this was not the reason why I asked him to tea, why I accepted his escort on the ride, and why at balls I invariably gave him two dances. The real truth I did not choose to impart to Peter, and it was this:

On the first occasion, when he called on me, I came into the drawing-room, and found him seated in an easy-chair, with “Moore’s Poems” in his hand. I had left it about quite by accident. After some preliminary talk about balls, and tennis, he said in an airy way:

“I see that you have a book that once belonged to a lady I used to know—Marion Saunders.”

“Yes?” I answered in a low voice.

“May I ask how it came into your hands?”

“Quite naturally,” I replied, rather stiffly. “She was my mother.”

At first he appeared too amazed to speak. Then he said:

“So that is it! I was wondering how it was, that your face seemed so familiar. You are very like her.”

“Did you know her well?” I inquired eagerly.

“Not very well,” as if pondering over his reply. “Not intimately; but she was a connection of mine, a sort of cousin.”

“Indeed! Please tell me all you remember about her.”

My visitor looked considerably mystified, but he replied: “I have not heard of her for a long time; but twenty years ago, she was out and out the prettiest woman in the North-West Provinces. Where is she now?”

“In heaven,” I answered very gravely. “She died when I was an infant.”

Colonel Hassard stared hard at me, and said: “Oh, I beg your pardon; I had quite lost sight of her. I—I—did not know—”

And after this, he changed the subject rather abruptly; but all the same, I felt that he had established a link between us, and I admitted him to my good graces at once. He was my mother’s cousin; the only relation of hers whom I had ever seen. He had known my mother.

“Well, who has been here to day?”—inquired Hugh, as he came in from the orderly room, hot, and fagged, and hungry—“the usual levee?”

“Yes. Captain Ross, and Mr. Bland, and a Mr. Cook—”

“Plain Cook they call him,” interrupted Hugh with a grin.

“So he is,” I assented ruthlessly. “And, oh! a most delightful man, Hugh, who says he was a cousin of my mother’s.”

“And who may he be?”

“Colonel Hassard. See, here is his card ‘Colonel Julian Hassard, Inspector of Public Buildings.’”

“Oh,” fingering it rather contemptuously, “he is not up to much. Rather an ass, isn’t he?”

“Hugh!” I remonstrated resentfully, “he is nothing of the sort. Please to remember that he is my cousin, and a most charming man.”

“Man!” he echoed; “there is nothing manly about him. He belongs to the tame cat tribe. He can’t shoot, he can’t ride—”

“Yes, he can,” I protested.

“Pooh; no one has ever seen him on anything but an old crock, or go at any better pace, than what you may call a furious walk! He can’t even play tennis. All he is good for, is dressing himself up like a tailor’s block. It would take a smart pony to get over his collars, and he only cares for tooling about in a phaeton, and sitting in ladies’ pockets.”

“He is very well bred, and intellectual.”

“Oh, is he?” rising nonchalantly, and lighting a cigarette. “And how did he improve your mind? What did he talk about?”

“A great many things; among others, he mildly hinted that I was very pretty,” I rejoined complacently.

“Confound his impudence!”

“He was not impudent—” I began hastily.

“Oh, no; only intellectual, of course,” interrupted Hugh sarcastically.

“Do listen, and don’t interrupt. He said that my mother was beautiful; and then, after a decent little interval, he told me that I was very like her. There was no harm in that, now, was there? I have asked him to tea on Sunday.”

“Yes, he is just the man for that sort of thing—tea and muffins. Be sure you don’t forget the muffins.”

“Now, Hugh,” I exclaimed indignantly, “considering that he is the first relation of mine that I’ve ever met, I think you might be a little more—more civil.”

“Am I not civil?” and, with a lazy laugh, he picked up Billy, the black kitten, and put him on my shoulder, from which I vainly tried to dislodge him with a shrug.

“Billy,” he said impressively, “there is another tame cat coming. There, there, now, Ranee, I’m only joking,” and he gave my ear a pinch. “If you like him, and he is your cousin, he is welcome here; ask him to dinner, ask him to tea, ask him to stay. Do what ever you please—as long as you don’t lend him a horse.”

And tucking Billy under his arm, he strolled off to the stables.

Chapter XXIX

In the Vortex

“I live not in myself, but I become
Portion of that around me.”
— Byron

Hugh was adjutant of his regiment, and had consequently a great deal to do; parades, orderly-room, “stables,” absorbed so much of his time, that but a very miserable margin remained for me. He was not one of Her Majesty’s “hard bargains,” and did not elude or shuffle over his duties, sign his name a few times, and gallop back to his Bungalow, to his long chair, cheroot, and sporting paper—like a neighbour of ours who shall be nameless. No, whether in cantonment, or the tented field, he was a red-hot soldier; he liked his profession, his work, and his men; he was excessively proud of his sowars, and with good reason. They were splendid-looking fellows—Jâts, Rajpoots, and Punjabees—lithe and sinewy in figure, admirable horsemen, brave warriors, wearing not a few scars and medals, and—yes, I say it boldly, polished gentlemen. In regard to birth and untarnished pedigree, who can surpass a Rajpoot? And for their chivalrous manners, and high-bred courtesy, those who have come across them can testify. As an instance in point, I was told by a much impressed civilian, that on one occasion, when on tour, and far from the line of rail, he was transported to his destination in an ancient chariot lent by a nawab, and drawn by troop horses: Two sowars rode postilion the whole way – fifty miles—and at the end of the journey, after an exceptionally long stage, this gentleman beckoned to one of them, and placed ten rupees in his hand—tantamount to a hundred pounds to you or me.

The man salaamed profoundly, and returned it with the deepest respect.

“We only came to serve you; that is all we ask for,” was his surprising announcement.

“At least, if you will not accept it for yourself, you have a mother, or a child?” urged the traveller.

But no; they were politely inflexible, and presently, untackling their smoking team, set off on their road back to Sindi, having faithfully executed their duty, and preserved their self esteem.

It was among soldiers like these, that Hugh passed half of his days, and he was, as it were, the soul, or mainspring, of this body of men—men whose distinguishing traits were physical manliness, cool, unflinching courage, indestructible self-control, and a pride of race, and caste, that no words could convey.

At this period of our lives, it was Hugh’s rôle to work, and, my happy lot to play! He wished me to amuse myself, and he trusted me implicitly. I rode in the mornings, went out to tiffin-parties without him; but in the evenings, he attended me to dinners and balls. At the latter he would stand indoors, an interested or satirical spectator, with other lazy or incapable companions; but as the hours wore on, he would become more and more bored, and, whenever I approached him, privately exhorted me to “come home.” How different from former days; but then, you see, he had to be on parade at five in the morning, and I had not; and so it came to pass, that I frequently relieved him of duty, and went out to dances under the command of Mrs. Gimlette. She made a formidable-looking chaperone, with her square jaw, bushy brows, and bright black eyes. But her looks belied her, for her ideas of her responsibilities would make some matrons be considered distressingly lax. She took me to a ball, launched me, and then retired to a comfortable nook, or some coign of vantage, with a kindred spirit, and never thought of me again, till the small hours of the morning.

“I have been young myself, and loved dancing,” she remarked more than once, “and as long as you don’t dance all night with one man, you may dance till daylight as far as I’m concerned.”

And I took her at her word.

I saw a good deal of Colonel Hassard now, not only at balls and tennis parties, but in our own house. He and Hugh were always delightfully polite to one another, though they had but little in common; one was a man of war, and the other a man of peace. The latter had foolishly taken it into his head that, because Hugh rode races and shot big game, he was ignorant of all literature beyond the drill-book and The Field; but he was quickly disabused, discomfited, and disgusted when, on endeavouring to trip up Hugh on some debated quotation, he himself experienced an excessively nasty fall. Hugh was ever ready to set his lance in rest, and ride out, and do the offered battle, and, after one or two sharp encounters, Colonel Hassard avoided entering the lists against him. However, on the whole, they got on very well, considering that they looked at most social objects from a different point of view. As for my newly-found relation, and myself, we were excellent friends. He was amusing, agreeable, and good-natured, and flattered my silly, giddy head with many trivial, but impressively-stated confidences; he sent me bouquets, lent me books, rode with me, and, when I smashed up the cart—being a wild and inexperienced whip drove me out in his stanhope till my own trap was repaired. To this arrangement, Hugh had slightly demurred, but I easily talked him over, and pointed out that Mrs. Larkworthy drove with Colonel Wilde, and Mrs. Wilde with Captain Larkworthy, and in the end he yielded, saying: “But there is no Mrs. Hassard for me to tool about. However, once in a way it is no matter. Get him to drive you to the polo this evening; we are playing the station.”

I must frankly acknowledge, that about this period I was as idle, gay, and heedless a young woman as you could find in the whole of Sindi, from the race-course to the Silladar Lines, which is the utmost extent of the station. At home I was necessarily a good deal alone; and when I had interviewed my sharp Madrassee cook (and taken my orders from him), arranged the flowers, and watered my ferns, my duties were at an end, and the remainder of the day was devoted to tennis, and chatter, and dressing, and dancing. I liked to be surrounded by half-a-dozen would-be partners in a ball-room. I liked pretty frocks; I liked to know that people stood and looked after me, when I went sailing down the ride on Cassim. I liked dancing straight through a programme (with good partners and a good floor, bien entendu), I liked popularity, and I adored admiration. Ada Mayne, whom I figuratively led by the nose; whom I ordered out to tennis, to riding parties, and picnics; whose dresses I selected, whose menus I suggested; simple little Ada, lifted up her voice to advise me, and gently intimated “that, now I was considered one of the belles of Sindi, she was afraid I was getting spoilt, and becoming too fond of society and incessant frivolity. A dinner and ball to night; the tennis tournament to-morrow, when you play in the ladies’ doubles; theatricals to morrow night; a picnic and dance on Friday. Diana! how can your head stand such a perpetual whirl?” she asked with grave interrogation.

“I can stand any amount of amusement,” I answered gaily. “It may make my head a little giddy, that’s all. Would you have me sit at home and darn socks?” (I had had enough of sitting at home.)

Peter—rude, unmannerly, candid friend—hinted that “I was being drawn into the vortex, and had better take a pull at myself.”

“You talk as if I were a horse,” I exclaimed indignantly. “In the season here, every one goes at the same pace.”

“Yes, the pace that kills; and, to carry out the illustration, last season one or two bolted, and several broke down. Oh!” (in answer to my angry exclamation). “Now, now, now! I mean nothing personal. We all know that you’ve got a snaffle mouth. I’m only afraid that you’ll knock yourself up. If I had a wife, I should not allow her to go out as much as you do; nor would I like her to be run after, discussed, and admired, or to live in the fierce light that beats upon an Indian beauty, like Mrs. Hugh Fitzroy.”

“No,” I rejoined; “you would be a domestic monster, a second Henry VIII, a Bluebeard. I am thankful to say that Hugh and Jealousy have never been introduced to one another.”

“Quite so; but if they ever are, there will be the devil to pay. Excuse strong language.”

I laughed derisively, and said:

“Oh, of course; am I not always making excuses for you? However, with regard to Hugh, you may say what you please, but you are wrong.”

“Well, all I wish to remark is, that I sincerely hope you may never discover that I am right.”

And with the undeniable conversational ad vantage which is attached to “the last word,” he precipitately departed.

Shortly after this little scene, Mrs. Gimlette favoured me with her views on the subject. She found me, alone, absorbed in the harmless domestic task of dusting my drawing-room. She paused in the doorway, and nodded her old brown hat, adorned with what had once been a fine ostrich feather, but now resembled a herring-bone.

“Well,” she commenced, without the formality of ‘good morning,’ “what are you going to do about that tea?”

“What tea?” I inquired, with base and useless evasion.

“Why, that Assam tea, I told you of Mrs. Flatt-Sole has got a hundred pound chest, and wants to get rid of part of it. Will you take twenty pounds at one rupee four annas a pound?—it’s a dead bargain, and you won’t get such another chance.”

“No, thank you, Mrs. Gimlette,” I answered firmly. “Why not?” she returned rather peremptorily.

“Well, to tell you the truth, I’ve been told that the tea is mouldy.”

“Hoh! What nonsense! It’s got a little damp, that’s all. Water never does tea any harm.”

“Don’t you think so? Now, I think it destroys it occasionally. For instance, at Mrs. Smith-Smith’s, yesterday, the tea was so weak it could scarcely leave the pot!”

“Well, well, I’m not come to bandy jokes with you this morning,” sitting down and removing her gloves; “I want to speak to you seriously; just to give you a gentle hint.”

But there was no delicate ambiguity, about the next remark. “You are a great deal too much with Colonel Hassard, young lady.”

“Mrs. Gimlette!” I exclaimed, feeling my face in a flame.

“Yes; and he is a regular wolf in sheep’s clothing; a notorious admirer of pretty married women; altogether a most dangerous man.”

“I have never seen anything dangerous about him,” I returned indignantly. “He is a gentleman, well read, and never speaks ill of any one—”

“Because he knows that he lives in such a Crystal Palace himself,” she interrupted scornfully.

“He is forty-seven,” I pursued; “I am twenty. There is more than a quarter of a century between us. He is old enough to be my father, and he looks upon me as a relation, which I am. And if one is to believe everything that is said of people in Sindi and, for that matter, in most places—there would be an end of all society. We should live like Trappists. You know you told me yourself, Mrs. Gimlette, that you heard that Mrs. Wilde was a ballet dancer, and it turns out that she is the daughter of a bishop.”

“True; but there is no mistake about Colonel Hassard; and if you go on riding and driving with him, you will get yourself nicely talked about,” she continued, in a tone of sepulchral warning. “I think it my duty, as your Colonel’s wife, to open your eyes.”

“After all, I’ve only driven with him three or four times; and as to meeting him on the ride, by heaven, that is purely accident! However, if I did my hair in a new way, people would talk.”

Only that my temper was now rather ruffled, I would have told my exultant monitor the true and sentimental reason of my partiality for Colonel Hassard’s society. He was a sort of tangible link between my mother and myself. On his own merits, agreeable and gentlemanly as he was, he was perfectly indifferent to me, and only for one reason I would not have cared a fig if I never saw him again.

“I myself have been a beauty,” resumed Mrs. Gimlette, “as I’ve often told you” (this was strictly true); “I was what was called a sparkling brunette, and dark hair, and eyes, were the fashion in my day. I have known what it is to be surrounded with worshippers; but I was always prudent. And now I am a sharp, observant woman” (this was also strictly true), “and I have seen much. I have seen a great deal of unhappiness arise from a few rides, and a few dances, and a few bouquets of flowers. A pretty young married lady should only go out driving with a husband.”

“Whose husband?” I asked audaciously.

“Why, her own, of course,” she rejoined, greatly scandalised.

“Well, if Colonel Gimlette will let Hugh off ‘stables’, of course I shall be only too happy to go out with mine,” I remarked rather sarcastically.

“Ah! I don’t know about that, when we have only three officers doing duty now.”

“At any rate, Mrs. Gimlette, Darby and Joan driving together is a spectacle that has rather gone out of fashion,” I replied, resolved to shock her, and reckless of the consequences. “Why, even Sir Montagu and Lady Power rarely drive together; she is accompanied by an aide-de-camp, and he by some highly favoured outsider. In fact, he constantly rides with me of a morning,” I concluded triumphantly.

This statement rather staggered my visitor, but she was not easily routed, and soon rallied, and retorted:

“What people of that age and position may do, a girl like you may not do; but, follow your own way if you like, and a nice kettle of fish it will turn out. My duties in the matter is done.”

When Mrs. Gimlette was annoyed, she frequently rose superior to the Queen’s English. She was greatly annoyed now. Moreover, she was not a conciliatory diplomatist, and I was impatient of dictation, and stubborn, with the strength of conscious innocence: and I would give no pledge, that I would cease from evil doing, and cast Colonel Hassard’s acquaintance to the winds. So our interview was closed by Mrs. Gimlette standing on her rank and dignity, and by my mounting my high horse; and we took leave of one another, with a majesty of demeanour, that would have provoked a smile from any looker-on.

However, to do her justice, Mrs. Gimlette never bore malice, and we made up our little difference next day—and I took ten pounds of the tea to seal our reconciliation; but occasionally, she dealt me a smart back-handed slap, by always referring to our bone of contention as “that horrible man, your friend, Colonel Hassard.” He was not my friend, and never would be; he was merely a pleasant acquaintance, that was all. But I was not going to allow Mrs. Gimlette to choose my acquaintances, and lecture me into the bargain. Peggy Magee alone seemed to have the right to scold me; and Peggy was at home, in the bosom of her family, who dwelt in a village called “Bally-ma-carrot,” somewhere up in the Dublin mountains. But Peggy was coming out to India in the spring, having, like that inimitable matron, Mrs. Micawber, expressed her resolution “that she would never, never desert me.” Meanwhile Pallia filled her place most adequately in her own opinion, and actually took upon herself to rebuke me, as well as her betters.

“Master” was her idol, though she rarely saw him, and I do not think he had spoken to her three times in her life. The burden of her frequent song was something in this key: “Master working very hard; very hard that work. Missus amusing herself. Missus going to big Tamashar; spending plenty money. Missus dancing all night; coming home early morning, that time master going parade. Missus too tired to tell her prayers and read Bible. That all very bad business.”

Although a heathen, Pallia was extremely strict about my devotions, and took good care that I said my prayers night and morning; not, I hope, that I required to be reminded of them; but once or twice, when there was a hurry, and I would have postponed reading till after breakfast, Pallia was inflexible.

“Breakfast can wait. Missus cannot keep God waiting, I know, though Missus worship Jesus Christ, and I worship Ram Sawmy.”

The habits of years—of years from infancy—were not to be lightly shaken off, and in some way I fell under Pallia’s thrall. She also ruled the whole establishment as Peggy’s deputy; and I am certain that she prayed most fervently, and even offered up sacrifices, against Peggy’s return! and she constantly and warmly remonstrated against Peggy’s receiving her wages, as if she were at her post. This extravagance weighed heavily on Pallia’s mind. “Why feed a bullock after it is sold?” she would in dignantly inquire; “that very foolish business,” meaning, that Peggy had retired, she hoped for ever, from our service—was amply able to maintain herself, and a delightful good riddance into the bargain!

Chapter XXX

Mrs. Vavasour

“A lady richly clad as she—
Beautiful exceedingly.”
— Coleridge

The Honourable Lawrence Vavasour, the head of the Paddy Field Department, was a little, lean man, with an ashen face, a cold, sardonic smile, and a supercilious manner, and was reputed to have no interest in life beyond blue books, red-tape, and his handsome wife. She had but recently returned from England, and was of quite another type; indeed, the fame of Mrs. Vavasour’s beauty, and grace, her dances, dinners, and dresses, reached me long before I had the honour of her acquaintance. She called on me in the evening; but I was out (of course). I duly returned the visit, and “Missus’ door was shut ;” so that the first time I actually saw her, was at a large dinner at the Residency. She was the last arrival, and although I did not catch her name, I knew instinctively who she was. She was tall—taller than her husband—with a beautiful, cold face and a stately carriage. She looked about twenty-eight years of age, and was dressed in white, with diamond ornaments. After she had said a few words to our hostess, she came over and seated herself on a sofa close to me, and, languidly beckoning Colonel Hassard to her side, she said:

“I find myself quite a stranger! Who are all these new people ? Who is that dreadful woman in pea-green?”

“Mrs. Hales.”

“Oh—really. Then I am not surprised that her lord and master prefers district to domestic life! And who is that good-looking young man—standing by the door—over there; he seems frightfully bored!”

“Oh,” lowering his voice, “that’s Fitzroy, of Moryson’s Horse,” and he glanced significantly towards me.

“Indeed! I have heard of her—point her out to me!” she continued, entirely ignoring his hint.

“Mrs. Fitzroy,” he said, “may I introduce you to Mrs. Vavasour?”

Mrs. Vavasour bowed, and gazed at me, as deliberately, as if I was some article offered for sale!

“How do you like Sindi?” she asked in a sweet, flute-like voice.

“Very much,” I answered stiffly.

“Your first Indian station, I suppose?”

“No. I was born, and brought up out here.”

“Ah,” looking me over with an air of supercilious surprise, “I should not have thought it.” And this exhausted her remarks.

Presently we were all seated at dinner (forty feeding as one), and more than once, I found my new acquaintance glancing across in my direction—but she always averted her eyes when they met mine. For my own part, I stared at her, as much as I dared, without an actual breach of good breeding. I admired her immensely—the shape of her head and throat were faultless—she had light brown hair, a dazzling complexion, and beautifully chiselled features—her smile was enchanting—when it made its rare appearance. If I found a fault, it was that her jaw was a little too square, and her lips were somewhat thin and pale. After dinner, she sat rather aloof from the crowd of ladies, fanning herself languidly, and contributing but little to the general buzz of conversation. When we were joined by the gentlemen, Colonel Hassard came over at once, and took a seat beside me, and said:

“Well, how are you getting on?”

“Very well.”

“What a pretty frock that is—I admire pretty ‘Europe’ frocks – not like some one sees so often, the trail of the Dirzee is over them all! And now,” looking at me with a curious expression in his rather hard light-blue eyes, “tell me what you think of Mrs. Vavasour!”

“I think she is very handsome, and very haughty; she seems to look down on every one—as if they were not good enough to touch the hem of her robe,” I rejoined, with some resentment.

Colonel Hassard laughed; that is to say, showed his brilliant white teeth—but his eyes never smiled, they remained cold, flinty, and critical.

“She is a great lady here,” he explained, “and has her own little set. The crucial test of being in the best society, is to be able to say—‘yes’—when asked if Mrs. Vavasour knows you; mind you, not you knowing her. Then she has her choice and particular friends, about half-a-dozen—Mrs. Larkworthy, Mrs. Toole, Colonel Tipping, Captain Wilde—they go by the name of ‘The Clique,’ are most cruelly exclusive, and keep all would-be intruders, at arms’ length. The Clique rather fell to pieces when she was at home, but now it will be re-formed, and no doubt there will be some new recruits. I saw her looking at you at dinner, and I should not wonder if she enlisted you.”

“I?” I exclaimed. “No, thank you. If she wants a new recruit, she must look else where.”

“Oh, wait and see: If she takes a fancy to you—and something tells me that she will—she is irresistible to men and women alike.”

Here Hugh came up, and, with a careless nod to Colonel Hassard, took a seat at the other side of me, and said: “Such a joke, Di! I have had a rare good time! I was told off to take down Mrs. Vokes—her husband is in the Topsey Turvey Department. At first she was happy enough. She took me for an aide-de-camp. There’s a feather in my cap! But when she cross-questioned me, and discovered that I was nothing but a miserable captain of what she calls ‘Black Horse,’ her temper was completely upset. Of course I pretended that I did not know what she meant, and assured her that the regiment were entirely mounted on browns and bays; that blacks were no good, and never up to much.”

“And where is she? Show her to me.”

“Over there, exchanging deep confidences with another dowager. She is the lady with a round thing on her head; looks as if it ought to have a palm growing out of it. She never condescended to eat or drink, but sat fanning herself furiously, with an occasional snub to me by way of keeping up the ball of conversation. ‘Such arrangements! Perfectly disgraceful! So different to the last people! No proper precedence kept. Mrs. Binns sitting up there close to the centre-piece, just because she was pert, and thought herself pretty. Her husband was only in the ‘Canals,’ and had no position whatever, whereas she herself ranked as a colonel; that is to say Mr. Vokes did, and it was all the same.’”

“And what did you say?”

“Soothed her, of course, in my most conciliatory manner; told her I only wished I was in her position, and that I ranked as a colonel. And, by the way, Di, what do you think? Mrs. Vavasour honoured me with a few polite remarks, and I have promised and vowed in your name, that you will go and have tiffin with her to-morrow.”

“Oh, Hugh! How could you?” I exclaimed aghast. “I won’t. You shall go yourself.”

“I only wish I could. Hurrah! Thank goodness! The upper ten are moving, and we shall be able to take our departure at last.”

Chapter XXXI

Diamonds

“Pluck the heart out of my mystery.”
Hamlet

Afterwards, when Hugh declared that I was “far too intimate with Mrs. Vavasour,” I could (and did) triumphantly twit him with the fact, that it was he, himself, who had first thrust me into her society. We became acquaintances—intimate acquaintances—friends—in short, as Colonel Hassard had predicted, I was one of Mrs. Vavasour’s most ardent worshippers; my impulsive and impressionable nature, fell an easy captive to her beautiful face, her electric smile, her soft low voice, and the fascination of her manner; her brilliant surroundings, her trailing silken tea-gowns, delicately perfumed laces—a faint odour of wood violets permeated all her belongings—stately velvet dresses, and sparkling jewels, each had—think as meanly of me as you will—their influence on Diana Fitzroy. After this confession, I am sure no one will be surprised to hear, that I had enlisted under her colours, and become one of the most prominent members of “The Clique.” The Queen of the Clique had taken me up, and installed me, figuratively, at her right hand—this was a compliment she rarely paid to her own sex; in fact, to tell the truth, she was not nearly so popular with them, as with men! Of course, detraction, and envy, are the tax that is levied on all who are remarkable in being raised above their neighbours, by means of beauty, or social success; and there were many poisonous whispers about Mrs. Vavasour—which whispers were conscientiously imparted to me, by Mrs. Gimlette, who had not been taken up by that somewhat exclusive lady. To do Mrs. Gimlette justice, she was not an ill-natured woman, and rarely criticised any one, unless under the strongest provocation; but she concentrated all the mild amount of acid in her nature, into an undying hatred for Mrs. Vavasour. I think myself, that the beginning of the feud was based on the offer, and scornful rejection, of a second-hand Stilton cheese, and a set of black lace flounces. Be that as it may, at the very name of “Mrs. Lawrence Vavasour,” Mrs. Gimlette at once struck a key of high emotional excitement. She never tired of warning me against my new friend, nor failed in her so-called “duty” in repeating to me—“what people said.”

They said, that Mrs. Vavasour married her husband for his money (which, by the way, he kept in a very tight grasp). They said, that she was older than she looked, and docked fully ten years off her age—that she was never visible in the daylight, without a veil—and that at night, she was only happy in a dim light, or within the orbit of rose shaded lamps. They said, that she betted on races, and that her bets were not for innocent gloves and bangles, but for those rather expensive animals, known in sporting slang as “monkeys” and “ponies.” They said, that she had no feeling; that she could fascinate whom she pleased, make use of them, for her own ends, and then toss them aside like a bit of orange-peel. They said, that she had broken many men’s hearts—with the sorcery of her words and smiles—and that not a few women had been made miserable by the same.

They said that she had a history!

They said, in short, that she was both false and dangerous. But there was no real evidence; this was only the zephyr of cantonment “talk”—a whisper which had not made itself audible in public—not yet. Mrs. Vavasour was a source of disappointment to her enemies – her beauty was an irritant to their jealousy, her languid silvery laugh fanned their fury. Her diamonds, her Parisian toilettes, were an affront to them. They had no particulars of her past history—their slander, though scathing, was secret.

And all this was merely the worthless cackle of “the outer barbarians,” as she playfully termed them—people whom she declined to know. Turn-about is fair play, and she said many witty things at their expense. Ada Mayne and I were much patronised by her. I—especially I (she said to my face)—was so utterly fresh, innocent, and simple – I amazed, and amused, her by turns. “The Clique,” at this period, comprised Mrs. Vavasour (beautiful, gracious, and clever), Mrs. Larkworthy (a piquant, little woman, given to cigarettes, slang, and a picturesque undress), Mrs. Fitzroy (given to laughing and levity), Colonel Hassard, Mr. Toole, the Honourable Arthur Toole, Major Skinner (of the Queen Dowager Dragoons), Captain Gandy, Mr. Wilde, and Mrs. Popp-Kiss. I saw a great deal of my dear, dear Mrs. Vavasour. How, I often asked myself indignantly, could I have believed her to be cold, cynical, and contemptuously condescending? She was the best, as well as the most beautiful, of women. I frequently spent a day with her, to my great delight and content; answered her “chits,” mended her lace, and read her to sleep, as she reclined in a long arm-chair, under the heavy, swinging punkah. In the evening, when we drove to the sand, I took the bores off her hands, and made myself useful in various ways. She, on her side, flattered, petted, and dazzled me by turns. She was well-informed, she was sympathetic, she was witty, and, as I have said before, I worshipped her with all the ardour of a fresh young mind, that was intensely, and childishly susceptible. Many a night I dined in Mrs. Vavasour’s palatial Bungalow (and relegated Hugh, to the merry entertainments at his mess). I took part in charming little feasts, got up entirely for the delectation of The Clique, and nothing but The Clique. Mrs. Vavasour had larger dinners, where the company was somewhat mixed, which she called “her wild beast shows,” and she had also had her “State” banquets, but I was on much too intimate a footing, to be asked to either of these. The Clique were inseparable; we danced, dined, rode, drove with one another incessantly, and if any of the party were obliged to go to some affair to which all were not bidden, those who went, and those who remained at home, professed to be equally bored and miserable; I say professed—as far as I was concerned, the only member of our society I really cared about was Mrs. Vavasour. Mr. Larkworthy was too noisy and too fast. Major Skinner had such an overweening opinion of himself, and no opinion whatever of the rest of the world. Mr. Toole was silly. Colonel Hassard—yes—I liked him well enough, and I was alive to the fact that he liked me. Hugh was not a member of The Clique; he and Peter laughed—nay, roared over it, in the rudest manner, and joked me about it, until I ended in losing my temper. As for Mrs. Gimlette, I need scarcely say that she did not approve of “The Clique,” and said some very sharp things about my “fashionable friends.” However, I did not care. I felt convinced that Mrs. Gimlette envied me in her heart; and call me a little goose, or a little snob, or what you please, but when at sports or polo, I felt a secret thrill of rapture, as I rolled along in Mrs. Vavasour’s luxurious landau, an attaché on the back seat, and smiled and nodded to Mrs. Gimlette with her wretched old pair of Arabs and dusty waggonette.

Hugh had gone away for two or three days on duty, an experimental march, to try the mettle of men and horses, and I was asked to spend that time with Mrs. Vavasour—Ada Mayne’s house boasted no spare room, Mrs. Gimlette’s did—but once in her power what might she not sell me! So I gladly accepted Mrs. Vavasour’s invitation, and was to accompany her to a general reception and concert at the Residency; but my arrangements were totally upset by a severe cold, which altered my appearance, stupefied my senses, and forced me to stay at home, and take but a languid interest in the prospective entertainment. Mrs. Vavasour came to see me once or twice, ordered me camphor on lump sugar, and was urgent in rousing me to action. “You must not miss the concert on any account, it will be the event of the season,” she said; “you will have it dinned into your ears for a month, every one wanting to tell you all about it; besides, I wish you to go for my sake! I like to have a pretty girl in my train now I am no longer a girl myself! The Prince of Bergamot is globe trotting; he will be there. I know him very well, and I shall introduce him to you, my dear! How angry all the old ladies will be—ladies with daughters; I do so enjoy seeing them stare, and scowl, and whisper.” This was all very well for Mrs. Vavasour, who held an unassailable position, but I was not so sure that I would like to see them stare, and whisper, at my expense, I had not acquired that kind of nerve yet. “It’s quite settled,” she said; “if you are all right on Thursday, you dress, wrap up well, and come over in my brougham, go to the concert with me, and stay all night. What about your dress—white?”

“Yes,” I answered; “and I have some diamonds. Do you think I might wear them?”

“Think! Of course I think you may wear them! I don’t believe in beauty unadorned. How is it that I have never seen them?”

“I rarely wear them,” I answered. “Hugh says that I am too young, and that they are too remarkable.”

“Too young! What nonsense! As to being remarkable, my sweet simple Angelina, they won’t even be looked at, when Lady Powers’ are in the room, not to speak of mine and a dozen others; but wear them, by all means, they will be a nice finish to your toilet. The usual wedding star and crescent, I presume?”

“No; what I mean is a necklace.”

“A necklace! Oh, that’s all the better, my love, as long” (and she laughed) “as they are not Irish diamonds.”

I was really rather nettled, at this contemptuous disbelief in my jewels—my marvellous jewels—but I merely answered meekly: “No; they are all real, and very old.”

“And you are not old enough to wear them? Well, you must strike a balance between you.” And she went away laughing.

My cold was better by the Thursday evening, and I dressed myself in a pretty white silky gauze gown, with a considerable amount of interest. When my misty skirts had been arranged, my necklace clasped round my throat, my long gloves drawn on, I went over to a cheval glass, and took a good, long look at my own reflection.

To my partial eyes, I was absolutely dazzling (and no thanks to me, when I was thus dressed in a Paris costume, and wore matchless diamonds). I was young, of course, and tall, and slim, and had quantities of golden hair; still, what did I not owe to my clothes? What a very different appearance I now presented, to what I had done in old days, in the limp white cotton garment called by courtesy a “dress,” in which I had disported myself, on the banks of the Karrhan! Certainly dress worked wonders, and I was now looking so particularly nice, that my only regret was, that Hugh was not present to admire me.

At last I wrapped myself up in my opera cloak, stepped into the brougham, which had been sent to fetch me, and proceeded to, Mrs. Vavasour’s splendid abode. I found my friend sitting before her dressing-table, putting the last touches to her toilette—ill-natured people said that these touches were artistic, and that she and her maid thoroughly understood the use of the most subtle French cosmetics. There was nothing of that description now visible to the eye, at any rate.

Silver-backed brushes, boxes, and scent bottles were littered about lavishly. Silver sconces held the candles from the wings of her mirror, which was draped in lace. Everything spoke of taste and luxury; but there were no rouge pots, lip salves, eyebrow pencils, or other suspicious articles about.

“Well, so here you are at last,” she said. “No, don’t kiss me—I shall only toss your dress, and you will disarrange mine. Now tell me candidly, what you think of my toilette?”

As she spoke, she rose, and looked towards me, and I gazed at her from head to foot, with a long, exhaustive stare. As I have already stated, she was a strikingly handsome woman, with classic features, luminous eyes; her smile was perfect—a flash that lit up her face with a sort of radiance—and yet her smile was only a trick, that her lips, and eyelashes, accomplished between them!

She was dressed in a gown of pale blue, veiled with priceless lace, and through the lace folds of pink were here and there visible; it was so magnificent, that it was indescribable—which is the true test of a well-made frock. It suited her admirably—it was fit for a queen to wear, and very queenly she looked! Diamonds shone in her hair, on her neck, and along the top of her low corsage, and she carried a big pink feather fan. I had never seen her look so well in all my life. Doubtless my eyes expressed my admiration, for she laughed, and tapped me playfully on the cheek, and said:

“I see that you think I will do, my simple Angelina.”

“Do! You look beautiful—even for you!” I exclaimed with heart-felt sincerity. “You will eclipse every one, as usual.”

She smiled—a dreamy sort of smile. She was so well accustomed to do this, that she accepted my pretty speech, as a matter of course.

“Now take off your wrap,” she said, “and let me see your toilette.”

In answer to her wish, I obediently removed my cloak, turning away from her as I did so, to lay it on a chair behind me.

“The back view is charming—the body fits like a glove. Now for the front!”

Then as I moved, and faced her, her eyes were naturally caught by my diamond neck lace. She recoiled a step—and stood holding out her arms as one blinded, while her face became livid; the face of a woman, who had aged twenty years. Her eyes looked as if they were gazing at some horrible thing—when all the time, they were fastened with a sort of basilisk stare, on my necklace!

She put her hand to her throat, and gasped, as if she would speak, and could not. Twice she tried to articulate, and tried in vain, whilst her maid and I, stood and looked at her, with both fear and amazement.

At last she burst out with a great effort, and in a hoarse, strange voice—so different to her usual silvery tone:

“Where”—pointing to my necklace—“where did you get that?”

“I have had it for a long time,” I faltered.

“That is no answer. Who gave it to you?”

Her gaze was less intense, her manner less excited, than at first, but her eyes blazed strangely.

“My father gave it to me,” I murmured. “It was given to him by an Indian prince.”

“And your father’s name?” she asked breathlessly.

“Was John Barrington.”

What was it about my diamonds, that had such a terrible effect on Mrs. Vavasour?

She still stared fixedly at them, and at me. Her face was absolutely ghastly. Vainly she struggled for self-command; self command was now beyond her reach. She staggered forward-groped blindly for her chair, then fell on the ground in a heap, in a dead faint.

Coxon (her maid) and I, were at our wits’ end. We chafed her hands, burnt feathers under her nose, and with the help of her own fan, gradually brought her round. She languidly opened her eyes, and as they fell on me, she shuddered visibly. Was it at me, or at my diamonds?

“Go down to the drawing-room, dear,” she said, shutting her eyes once more; “I shall be all right directly. Coxon will give me—some sal volatile.”

“But you won’t think of going to the Re ception?” I ventured to say.

“Yes, but I shall, of course. Now, love, do go!” she added, rather irritably; and I went—having no other alternative.

As I sat in that great, big drawing-room below, and exchanged a few bald remarks with the Honourable Lawrence, I was consumed by a perfect fever of curiosity. What was there about my necklace, that it had such a terrible effect upon Mrs. Vavasour? Her white, haggard face, and wild eyes, still haunted me painfully.

It was evident, that she had seen it before; when and where? I had not the courage to cross-examine her. She was a woman of a close, reserved nature, who parried and resisted all personal questions, but who had not the smallest hesitation, in asking them herself!

Nevertheless, during all the time she had known me, she had never evinced the least curiosity about me, or my connections. She seemed to have no desire to learn anything about me, beyond what she knew, i.e., that I was young, pretty, and popular; that I dressed in good taste, rode well, danced, and played tennis with much zest and enjoyment, and was the wife of Captain Fitzroy, whose regiment was stationed at Sindi.

In a marvellously short time, the door opened and she swam into the room, looking as composed, as lovely, as bewitching, as ever. There was not a trace about her face or costume of the recent scene—in short, it might have been a dream.

“Very sorry I have kept you, love. I had one of my horrible attacks; they come on at the most unexpected and inconvenient times; but I get over them, as you see. Lawrence, my dear,” turning to him, “will you call for the carriage? I am afraid we are late.”

As we drove through the cantonment, my patroness, and friend, was unusually lively, and talked incessantly. I, on my side, was as unusually silent, and preoccupied. All the way to the ball I was anxiously asking myself:

“What was the connection, between Mrs. Vavasour’s attack, and my diamonds?”

Chapter XXXII

Mrs. Vavasour’s Caprice

“He cast off his friends, as a huntsman his pack,
For he knew when he pleased, he could whistle them back.”
— Goldsmith

The concert, and reception, were everything that Mrs. Vavasour had predicted—in short, a splendid success. A raised platform at the end of the grand entrance hall was gracefully decorated with palms and flowers, and accommodated a well-known lady vocalist, stout and shrill, and a tiny violinist, who was almost concealed by his violoncello, which he nevertheless played superbly, though much of his performance was, figuratively, over the heads of his audience. During the interval we partook of ices, and other refreshments, and promenaded through the vast drawing-rooms – I, with the Maynes at first, and subsequently, oh, exalted moments! with the Prince of Bergamot, whilst Mrs. Vavasour strolled about in a stately manner, with the great ones of the Presidency, and smiled and talked, in her gayest vein, with that notable visitor, the Marquis of Carrosse-Tranquille. The hour was late, when supper was served, and when I found myself with Mrs. Vavasour, the Clique en masse, a naval man exploring inland, a young M.P. exploring India, seated at a round table discussing a most dainty repast; we were all talking, and laughing, and eating, and drinking, and criticising the music, the company, and their costumes.

“Apropos of such things,” said the sailor, looking hard at me, “half the people were raving about your necklace. Excuse me, Mrs. Fitzroy, but I really must notice your diamonds—they recall the story of my old messmate Sindbad. Surely, such diamonds have a history?”

I glanced rather nervously at Mrs. Vavasour, but she met my look with a reassuring smile, and said: “Yes, I am certain that the necklace has a story. Do tell us all about it.”

“Yes—do, Mrs. Fitzroy,” echoed half-a-dozen voices.

“There is not much to relate,” I answered reluctantly. “And you could not have come to a worse person in the world for a history. I have not the art of telling stories.” At this, which was taken up in quite another meaning, there was a loud laugh, especially from the sailor, who declared that “they never suspected me of such wickedness, and only implored me to tell them all I knew about my wonderful diamonds.”

“My father gave them to me, when I was eighteen, and he told me that they were presented to him by a native prince, as a fee for saving the life of his son and heir. He did not want to take the necklace, but the Nawab insisted, and when he had accepted it, he told him that he was delighted to get rid of it, although it was of immense value. It was always considered very unlucky, and the centre stone was called the ‘Evil Eye.’”

“Not a reassuring name,” remarked the naval man. “And has it ever brought you bad luck?”

“No—I don’t think it is a bit different to other necklaces.”

“Oh—is it not? That big centre stone has quite a wicked red gleam. One would almost imagine that the ‘Evil Eye’ was fixed on Mrs. Vavasour, and that it owed her a grudge,” said the sailor facetiously.

Mrs. Vavasour, whose face had again be come very haggard-looking, drank off the glass of champagne that stood beside her, and retorted playfully: “All sailors are superstitious! Where did your father live?” looking hastily at me. “In the Punjaub at first, I think; but as long as I can remember, we lived a hundred. miles from a little station, called, Kolar—in the Central Provinces.”

“And how long did your exile last?”

“From the time I was a year old till I was eighteen.”

How ghastly she had become! And with what curious, half-veiled intentness Colonel Hassard seemed to watch us both.

“And—then?” she inquired in a lower voice, with her eyes on her fan.

“And then my father died,” I answered very briefly.

“What a rum, out-of-the-way sort of life you must have led!” drawled Mr. Toole.

“Yes. I began by telling you the history of my necklace, and I find I have been telling you the history of myself—I did not bargain for that.”

“Supposing we were all to relate our lives in turn,” suggested Colonel Hassard, “like the characters in a Christmas magazine! Stories told at the supper-table, eh? Capital idea. Now, Mrs. Vavasour, I know that you have seen a great deal of the world, and I am certain, that in the story of your life, interesting incidents have not been wanting.”

Mrs. Vavasour raised her eyes, and shot a glance at him—a mere flash—but I saw it, and all I can say is—that I am thankful that it was not directed at me.

Mrs. Vavasour was evidently put out about something; she snubbed Major Skipper remorselessly, to his intense bewilderment, and the delight of his associates; sneered at Mrs. Larkworthy, and actually silenced Colonel Hassard. Soon afterwards, she rose from the table, suggested that it was getting late, and the rather sub dued party, broke up, and dispersed.

We drove home in dead silence, and I almost fancied that Mrs. Vavasour was asleep. She did not kiss me as usual; but as we stood in the lofty entrance hall under the lamp, looked fixedly at me, and gave an odd little laugh—then with a wave of her hand she said:

“Coxon! take Mrs. Fitzroy to her room. See that she has all she wants.” To me she added: “Good-night, my child. Sleep well.”

I did not meet her the next morning; but she wrote me a little note, from her bed, in pencil, saying she was “completely knocked up, could talk to no one—not even to me, and that I was to order the carriage, to take me home, whenever I pleased.”

Thus I was politely dismissed, and returned to my own abode, as early as possible. When Hugh came home just in time for dinner, I repeated all the little domestic incidents, that had happened in his absence—told him about the concert, and the company, and I did more than this—as we sat alone over our dessert, I described the strange scene in Mrs. Vavasour’s dressing-room, and asked him very seriously (as being an older, and much wiser person than I was) if he could give any explanation, of that same?

For my pains, he first of all laughed im moderately, and then he said:

“To be sure I can. Why, any one could unravel that mystery! On the subject of those diamonds of yours, my little Ranee – you are not quite sane. You imagine that they turn the head of every one that looks at them. Mrs. Vavasour admired them, and asked about them quite naturally. Then she had an attack on the nerves—not from envy of your grand parure, but possibly the labours of the toilet were too much for her. They say she takes three hours to dress!”

“Now, Hugh, do you mean to insinuate that she ‘makes up,’ as it is called!” I expostulated vehemently.

“I do not insinuate it,” he answered; “but, quite between ourselves—I say it plainly—I refuse to credit her with any of her complexion, or with more than half her hair!”

“Oh, Hugh!” I expostulated, in real distress. “You are not serious!”

“Am I ever what you call serious?” pick ing a flower off the table, and throwing it at Billy, who deliberately smelt, and rejected it, with an air of lofty disdain.

“No,” I rejoined; “you laugh at every thing. I almost think I should like to see if you could be worked up into a really towering passion.”

“Then it’s a pity that you were not on parade this morning,” now aiming a flower at me.

“Hugh,” I asked, as I looked at his bright, laughing, dark blue eyes, “I wonder if you could be jealous?”

“I—I don’t know; but if you think of experimenting on me, in Punch’s immortal words, I say Don’t! Thank goodness, there is nothing going on to-night! Let us walk over to the Maynes, and have a game of whist.”

After the Residency Ball, I saw comparatively little of Mrs. Vavasour for weeks, and her behaviour to me was most peculiar. A passing bow, and a winning smile, were all that she vouchsafed me, and as time wore on the humiliating truth dawned upon me—indeed, it was plain to the whole world of Sindi. I had been quietly dropped—I had been cast out of The Clique! I saw a new recruit, a pretty, fast little woman, occupying my seat in the carriage, filling my place at picnics, concerts, and riding parties.

The discovery was bitter, but I bore up bravely, and calmly submitted to Mrs. Gimlette’s gibes, and Peter’s chaff. I was of the stuff of which adherents should be made. I endured my sovereign’s caprices, and loved, and admired her, as much as ever. Her oddities made no difference to me, I was as completely infatuated and enslaved by her, as if I wore real fetters. Some days she did not notice me at all! On one of these occasions, I was driving with Hugh, and for once he was roused to indignation—and to great indignation for him!

“She blows hot, and she blows cold, Ranee; embraces you one day, turns her back on you the next—I don’t like it! and I vote we drop her,” he said quite seriously.

“Drop Mrs. Vavasour!” I almost screamed; so unheard of, so, I may say, irreverent was the proposition.

“Why not? She merely took you up as a kind of whim—she is given to taking violent fancies to young women, introducing them to her well-born, but rapid set, and then throwing them off, like an old glove. Let us take the initiative, and drop her first.”

“Hugh, you are not really in earnest,” I asked, in great dismay. “I thought you admired Mrs. Vavasour so much.”

“I admire her appearance, and I am not insensible to the fascination of her manner; but I have come to the conclusion, that she is not a nice companion for my unsophisticated little wife. There are queer stories about Mrs. Vavasour, I can tell you.”

“Yes, stories, indeed,” I retorted passionately; “wicked tales, invented by mean, vulgar, horrible people, whom she refuses to know—stories made up of spite and envy. I know what they are worth.”

Some may be false,” said Hugh, with unruffled good temper, “I grant you that—but it is a fact, that a good deal of genteel gambling goes on, on the sly, at her house; when fogies have departed and the Honourable Lawrence has retired, Toole and Skinner – that little woman with the wicked black eyes, and Mrs. Vavasour, all play, as well as any outsider that they can get hold of.”

“A nice, harmless, round game.”

“Round game, yes; harmless, no. Metcalfe, of the Dowager’s Dragoons, dropped two thousand rupees there, the night before last.”

“Oh, Hugh 1 No; impossible.”

“And oh, Diana, yes; possible! And there are rumours of betting on big events, and rumours of debts. In short, they say so much about her, that, despite her style, her looks, and her position, I do not wish my wife to be seen in her company, lest ill-natured people should say, ‘Birds of a feather flock together.’ I don’t want her to influence your mind, which is now wax to receive, and marble to retain, and therefore, I say unto thee, oh young woman, be prudent—be discreet—and let us drop Mrs. Vavasour.”

“But, Hugh, I like her so much—and she has done nothing to me!” I pleaded, in woeful tones.

“No—nothing beyond giving you the cold shoulder. Sorry for you, my dear, but I fancy that you will soon have to choose between her, and your character of being a nicely behaved little girl. You need not cut her abruptly—Let there be no crash, no sudden snapping of ties. Just drift away from her quietly. You can make yourself comfortable about her feelings; she has not half as much heart as your frightful pariah pup.”

“I don’t see how I can do it!” I answered tearfully. “We are engaged to a wild beast dinner there on Wednesday—and we must go.”

“I suppose so—and for the last time!” grumbled Hugh. “Why should I assist at a menagerie dinner? I wonder if she imagines herself like Circe, who changed all her adorers into beasts !”

“Mrs. Vavasour has no admirers!” I exclaimed fiercely.

“Not now, perhaps !” he promptly retorted. “She is contented with general admiration. Do not accept any further invitations. Next time she ignores you, let it be final, and let her see that, for the future, you intend to herd with the outer barbarians, and to cast in your lot with the ruck.”

Thus in family council, and at the bidding of my lord and master—who could assume rather an imperious manner when he chose—it was decided, that Captain and Mrs. Fitzroy were to take an early opportunity of dropping Mrs. Vavasour.

About this time, we succeeded in entrapping Father Paul into spending a week with us. Here was a friend of mine, of whom Hugh warmly approved, and to whom he accorded a most cordial welcome; but the sight of me, driving the venerable man in our pony-cart, was too much for the equanimity of Mrs. Vavasour and Mrs. Larkworthy. How they stared! and how Mrs. Larkworthy laughed! But Mrs. Vavasour’s smile of scornful amusement, was worse than any laugh. This stung me more than all. Slights to myself I could endure; but to see my dear, kind, old friend the source of merriment and ridicule was more than I could bear; and the next time I met, Mrs. Vavasour, I gave her the coolest bow I knew how to execute—a mere lowering of the eyelids.

Colonel Hassard, still affected my society, and, indeed, to do them justice, so did all the gentlemen members of The Clique; they danced with me, talked to me, and were as pleasant and friendly as of yore. Vainly they inquired “Why I never came to Mrs. Vavasour’s now, and what was the reason of the coolness between us?”

I never gave them any satisfactory reply, for, to tell the honest truth, I did not know myself.

Chapter XXXIII

“The Secret”

“Why, this is very midsummer madness.”
Twelfth Night

“Moryson’s Horse” did not often indulge in “guest nights,” but on such rare occasions we three ladies—Mrs. Gimlette, Ada Mayne, and myself—generally dined together. One dark, and starless night, early in September, Mrs. Gimlette and Ada had spent the evening with me, and had gone home early—in fact, by the light of a mutual lantern; but I still sat up, strumming on the piano, for I was learning music, and was anxious to be able to play Hugh’s accompaniments, a pleasing task that now fell to other ladies, and—well, the truth is best—made me feel ridiculously jealous. The piano (a cottage) stood out, new style, from the wall, with its back artistically clothed with a handsome Indian drapery. From where I sat, rather in a corner, behind the instrument, no one entering the room could see me. During a lull in my performance, and as I was searching for another piece of music, my quick ear caught the sound of footsteps on the gravel outside.

“Could it be Hugh returned already?” No; for it was only eleven o’clock. The footsteps ceased; it must have been imagination—an echo from the road—so I resumed my seat once more, and struggled through my new piece with unusually bold execution, as there was not a soul in the house to hear the erratic runs, wrong notes, or, in short, the hideous din that I was making. After this I closed the piano, and stood up; as I did so, my eye was caught by a tall, black figure in the verandah; a figure which was stooping down, and looking through the glass entrance door.

I am not more cowardly than my neighbours, but I must candidly confess, that my heart beat desperately fast. It was past eleven o’clock—the servants were all asleep in their go-downs, and I was alone in the house.

As I stood uncertain what to do, the figure apparently made up its mind, for turning the handle of the door, it walked into the room, and then I saw, to my amazement, that it was Mrs. Vavasour in a black evening dress, and with a lace shawl over her head. The skirts of her gown were very much soiled with red dust. Was it possible that she had come on foot?

“How do you do, Mrs. Vavasour?” I said, rather stiffly. She made no immediate reply, but slowly removed her wrap, laid it down, and then approached in silence, and seated herself in a low chair. There was something startling in her demeanour, and her face looked very white—her lips were set into one thin line.

He is out?” she asked abruptly.

“Yes, dining at mess, if you mean Hugh.”

“Something drove me forth to see you to night, after Lawrence had gone to his Blue Books; and what do you think it was?” she asked, gazing up at me.

I could not form a guess, but stood and waited for her to tell me.

“It was a hateful old hag, called ‘necessity.’”

Mrs. Vavasour’s manner lacked its usual repose, she appeared to be in a state of intense, suppressed excitement.

“I walked the whole way, and I shall walk back. I do not wish any one to know of this visit; I wanted to see you, privately—and to tell you something of the last importance.”

“To tell me?” I echoed in astonishment.

“Yes, you.” And now she rose and began to pace up and down the room, in a restless, cat-like fashion.

“What I have to say is for your ear alone. Before we go further, will you fetch a Testament?”

I thought this an extraordinary request. Was she going to read, and expound to me at this time of the night? Nevertheless, to hear was to obey, and I left the room, and presently returned with what she required.

She almost snatched the book out of my hand, opened it, and read aloud:

“‘Diana Barrington—From her Father.’ Yes, this will do,” she said, now drawing close to where I stood, beside the piano. “I am going to entrust you with a secret, that you must swear on this book, never to reveal it to human being.”

“I will promise to keep your secret,” I answered, holding back; “but I would rather not take an oath.”

“But you must take an oath!” she rejoined, with a gesture of angry impatience, “otherwise I cannot tell you the secret.”

“Then I am afraid I must decline to hear it.”

“That is out of your power—you are bound to hear it!” she went on in a low, excited tone.

“I do not see why.”

“Not now—you will see presently.”

“At least allow me to tell Hugh.”

“No – I cannot permit you to tell any one.”

“Does it concern you alone?”

“You and me,” she answered briefly. “Come! we are losing valuable time. I may never again have such a golden opportunity, Diana. Make up your mind, and take the oath.”

“No – I cannot—I will not—promise to keep what seems to be a serious matter from Hugh,” I answered stoutly. “I have never had a secret from him—nor he from me.”

“Bah! You little, credulous goose! He has hundreds of secrets, that you have never dreamt of.”

Then, in a sharper tone, and with a look in her face, that I had never seen before, she said:

“Understand, that this secret concerns you vitally. At your peril, refuse to hear it.”

There was a gleam in her eye, that absolutely frightened me, and I recoiled a step or two, and got well behind the piano; for a horrible idea had darted into my mind —

Mrs. Vavasour was insane!

“Speak!” she reiterated fiercely, leaning both her arms on the top of the instrument, and looking at me so fixedly, that I began to tremble. The poor thing was quite off her head. I sincerely hoped, she would not get hold of my steel paper-knife! I must humour her, that being, I had heard, the only way to manage lunatics.

“Swear!” she added, now beholding my abject terror, and tendering the book.

“I—I–swear,” I stammered out, as I kissed it timidly, “to keep your secret.”

“And never breathe it to a soul.”

“And never breathe it to a soul,” I repeated mechanically.

“Now,” she exclaimed, “I am going to tell you something very strange—but you have good nerves, I know. Here, give me your hand!”

I stretched it out, very reluctantly, over the top of the piano; she took it—I may say seized it—tightly in hers.

“Diana,” she continued peremptorily, “look at me—do you know who I am?”

She was certainly getting worse and worse.

“Yes,” I faltered, in a low voice, “you are Mrs. Vavasour.”

“I am—and I am something else.”

This fact was but too apparent; she was a mad woman! Leaning over, and looking at me with burning eyes, a white, drawn face, and quivering lips, she said, with a quick catch in her breath:

“I am your mother!”

When she uttered these four words, I gave a little scream, tore my hand from her grasp, and staggered back against the wall. Then I glanced wildly round, for some means of escape; but I was hemmed into a corner by the piano, and music-stool—and she was mistress of the position.

“Did you hear me?” she asked quietly.

“Mrs. Vavasour – dear Mrs. Vavasour!” I began tremulously, “I am sure you are ill—or you are—joking. My mother died twenty years ago.”

“You need not be so desperately alarmed—you need not look so white, and scared,” said my unwelcome visitor. “You do not suppose that I am going to do you any bodily harm. I am really your mother, though I can easily believe, that just at present, it is impossible for your mind to grasp the fact.”

“My mother is dead! My mother is dead!” I repeated, in a voice that I scarcely recognised as my own. “I lost her when I was an infant.”

“Yes, you lost her, certainly; but there are other ways of losing people than death.”

I said nothing. I merely leant against the wall, and looked at her. What folly it was to attempt to argue, with this poor crazy creature!

“Your father was a hard man; he judged me without mercy; he treated me most cruelly.”

Then she leant her elbows on the top of the piano, and buried her face in her hands, and, for what seemed to me a long time, there was silence.

“Can you not guess it?” she asked in a sort of stifled voice; and, still with her hands before her face, she added, in a husky whisper, “he divorced me!”

“Wicked woman!” I exclaimed, roused into fury, by this aspersion on the fame of what was most sacred to me, and now casting away all fear to the winds, “how dare you say such a thing of the dead?”

“Then you don’t believe me?” staring at me with fierce incredulity. “Come here, then, and I will soon convince you,” and, taking me very firmly by the arm, she half-led, half dragged me, before the pride of my whole drawing-room—a long mirror.

I did not attempt to resist—mad people are proverbially strong—but how long was this going to last! And oh, when would Hugh come? “Look there,” she said, pointing with one hand. I looked, and saw a tall, commanding figure in black, and a white figure, not so tall, cowering by its side—a truly abject spec tacle! “Look there, and say if we are not mother and daughter?—only you will never be as beautiful as I was!” (which was quite true). “The same brow—the same shaped head—the same eyes and hair—the same turn of the upper lip – ay, and the same little mole on the left cheek. Look at our hands—they are precisely the same in shape and size, even to the very nails. As to your foot, I know it is small—as small as this,” exhibiting a dainty little foot, in an open-worked stocking, and a muddy satin shoe.

I now remembered with a pang—a pang of agony, that seemed actually to contract my heart-how one day—a day I could never forget—I had, in defiance of Peggy, tried on a pair of fairy slippers; and how they had fitted!

“Still unbelieving, Diana—in spite of the evidence of our faces? For my part, I have often trembled, lest the likeness would be remarked.”

“Mrs. Vavasour!” I said, struggling with many conflicting emotions, “why do you wish to pretend to be, what is impossible You—you—could not be what you say. You are too young!”

“I was forty-two last March,” she rejoined. This seemed quite as incredible as anything else. “Yes, to you alone do I divulge it. Now I see that you are not persuaded—ask me some questions.”

“What was my birthday?” I inquired, merely to humour her.

“The fourth of April, eighteen sixty-four.”

“And my father’s second name?”

“Second name!” placing her hand to her head. “John—John—it was an odd name—it began with a G. Stay! I have it. Gascoigne. Is there anything else I can say to convince you?”

“There was a box kept in the store-room of our Bungalow; it was never opened, because it contained things that had been my mother’s. I saw them once. Tell me what I saw—and then I will believe you.”

“What you saw in that old bullock-trunk? Nothing easier. You saw two or three tumbled satin ball-dresses—a pink for one—a few books, a fancy costume in which I went as Folly to the Governor’s ball, and a heap of rubbish. The box was black, and had M. B.—Marion Barrington—on it in little brass nails. Now I see by your face that you are convinced.”

Yes, I was beginning to believe in this strange story now; my head felt reeling, my knees shook under me, my hands were damp and clammy. It was terrible to me, that my most tender memories, nurtured secretly—but none the less strong—were all at once, to be swept away for ever and ever, by a few strange words from Mrs. Vavasour; and oh, what words they were! I walked slowly away from her, and sat down.

“How long have you known me—when did you recognise me?” I asked, in a low voice.

“The night you wore the Begum’s necklace! That necklace. It was mine once—I knew it, but too well—and now it has been the means of restoring me my daughter! Diana, your diamonds have given you a mother.”

“That—that was months ago,” I stammered, literally grasping at straws.

“Yes—and I doubt, if I would ever have told you the truth, if I had not found myself in the most desperate straits, and you are my only resource—I want your help!”

“How?” I asked incredulously. “How can I help you?”

“With money!” was her brief reply.

I laughed hysterically. The idea of rich Mrs. Vavasour, coming to me for money, was as crazy an idea, as any that she had promul gated, during this mad half-hour!

“But I have not a penny—that is, of my own. Hugh gives me all his pay, and his cheques too—but —”

“Yes—yes,” impatiently, “I know all that! But I also happen to know, that you come into a very comfortable fortune when you are of age. Our dear Hugh was not quite so recklessly in love as we supposed, was he? How I wish you had not married him—you could have done a thousand times better! There, I declare – I hear him coming!—Let me out by your dressing-room—turn down the lamp—quick—quick—quick,” and snatching up her shawl, she hurried through the dining-room, then through my room, and dressing-room, and with a wave of her hand, disappeared instantly into the darkness.

Chapter XXXIV

“Tears”

“That it should come to this!”
— Hamlet.

When I had heard Mrs. Vavasour’s light foot steps, hurrying quickly away, I went back to the drawing-room, and met Hugh—and I felt a miserable, guilty wretch. “Hullo! not gone to bed yet?” he exclaimed. “What on earth has kept you up so late? Has Mrs. Gimlette been entertaining you? Has she been holding an auction?”

“No,” I answered, with a nervous laugh. “Had you a pleasant evening?”

“Pretty fair ! Some of The Clique were there, and some rather rowdy fellows. I left them singing songs, and breaking up chairs. I’ve got a note to write to-night, and—I want a candle,” he said, walking off to a large apartment, which was his dressing-room and office combined.

As I placed the lighted candle beside him, he glanced up at me, and exclaimed:

“Ranee! What on earth ails you? You look like a ghost!”

“Nothing ails me,” I answered. “I am only a little sleepy,” and then I went away to the drawing-room, and stood in the dim light. I could not bear Pallia’s chatter, just yet. I pressed my hands to my temples—how they throbbed! Was I going mad, or was it all true?

It was true—yes—and here I got up, and began to pace about the room. Things came back to me now—father’s silence, Peggy’s silence, Colonel Hassard’s silence, his evasive answers, and his averted eyes, when I questioned him; his odd, inscrutable expression, when he asked me what I thought of Mrs. Vavasour? I saw it all—all, I rushed to the sofa, and threw myself down and wept. Oh, how I wept! And why should I cry? Should not I, so friendless, save for Hugh, be thankful to know that I had a mother living? No, in my heart I could not rejoice. Mrs. Vavasour, as my mother, was intolerable—far, far rather, would I believe her to be lying in her grave.

“What is all this?” said a voice that I easily recognised. I raised my head, and saw Hugh, candle in hand.

“I thought I heard a noise in here, and I find it’s you. What is the matter?”

I was silent; sobs were my only answer. Hugh was grieved—yes, and indignant—that I would not confide in him. No, I would not tell him anything, in spite of his most tender and anxious inquiries.

“It must be something serious, Ranee. I’ve not seen you cry yourself into this state —” And he stopped. He was going to say, “since your father died.” What would have been his feelings, if I had told him that I was weeping—because my mother was alive?

“Come, you know, I can’t bear to see you shed a tear. Have you been having a row with Mrs. Gimlette?”

“No.”

“Nor Ada Mayne’”

“How ridiculous! No,” I answered, now endeavouring to dry my eyes, and swallow down my sobs.

“Well, I see you won’t tell me what has worried you. I shall try and find out for myself.”

And he was quite as good as his word; for when we met at tiffin next day, after his return from orderly-room, he first of all regaled me with little bits of news; then he told me a story, which made me laugh; and then he said, in the most casual manner:

“These nocturnal visits from Mrs. Vavasour do not agree with you, my dear! I cannot have her coming here after eleven o’clock, making a sitting of two hours, and then leaving my wife to cry all night. I knew she was here, for Peter met her—and on foot! She has been telling you, something unpleasant. What was it?”

I could not answer, and looked guiltily at my plate.

“Well, she shan’t have a chance of telling you anything more, for I have just told Runga-sawmy” (our butler) “that in future, when Mrs. Vavasour calls, ‘Missus can’t see.’”

“Oh, Hugh! No—you haven’t—no, surely you are joking,” I remonstrated tremulously.

“No, not this time! I have my suspicions about that very captivating woman; and, in future, to please me, Ranee, will you promise not to see her, or speak to her any more?”

In answer to this, I burst into tears, like the goose that I was, and thus evaded the necessity of making a direct reply. “I am sure you must have had enough of her last evening, to do for a lifetime,” continued Hugh. “Come, dry your eyes, and put on your hat, and I’ll take you for a drive, well out of the station. You had better wear a veil, for if any one met us, they would swear we had been having our first quarrel.”

We had our first quarrel that evening, all the same—the first, and alas! by no means our last.

I went away to my room, to bathe my eyes, and scribble a note to Mrs. Vavasour. I could not call her mother, and commenced it as usual, and said:

“Tuesday evening.

“My husband says that I am not to receive you again. He knows nothing. I send you a line to prepare you; perhaps it would be better that we should not see each other, for some time.

“Yours,

“Diana Fitzroy.”

This note I hastily scrawled, and thrust into my blotter, not having time to address it, for Hugh was whistling and sounding the gong, and giving every sign of impatience

“You have been ages!” he said, as I came out into the verandah. “Have you been improving your complexion? Let me see! No, you are still ghastly; the air will do you good. Peter is coming to dinner, and I’ve sent a line over to Hassard—he is back from Bombay, and will tell you all the latest news, and cheer you up.”

This was indeed kind, and thoughtful, of Hugh, for I knew that in his heart of hearts he was not enthusiastic about my cousin, and looked down upon him as a “tame cat,” and a milksop!

I was all the better for my long drive, and came home with bright eyes, a fresh colour, and a good appetite. Before I dressed for dinner, I folded, stamped, and addressed my note, and despatched it to the pillar-box by Pallia. Yes, I was already too cunning to send it by a messenger! Then I attired myself carefully, and went into the drawing-room, to receive Colonel Hassard—an early arrival. We had not met for a month, and when the first few questions were over, he said rather suddenly, eyeing me keenly as he spoke:

“And how is your friend, Mrs. Vavasour? Do you see much of her now?”

I became very red and confused, and stammered out “That I had seen her recently.”

Looking me full in the face, and holding my eyes as it were with his own, he said:

“Have you ever heard who she was before she married Mr. Vavasour?”

This question completely routed my self control, and for the second time that day, I burst into tears, and my tears in this instance, spoke volumes.

“I see,” he said in a low voice, “you know. For my own part, I recognised her at once, and it gave me a strange sensation to see mother and daughter, so often side by side—and so entirely ignorant of the tie between them. You are in a very unfortunate position—a terrible position—my poor little cousin, and I pity you, from the bottom of my heart.”

What bad luck it was for me, that just at this moment we were joined by Hugh! He heard Colonel Hassard say sympathetically: “My poor little cousin, I pity you from the bottom of my heart,” and he found me greatly agitated, and in tears.

This curious incident, he could not fail to notice. Oh, why could he not have come sooner or later! No one would have guessed from his manner that he had heard anything out of the common. He acquitted himself as host so well, that I began to flatter myself, that my fears were groundless. He made Peter sing; he played the violin in a manner that would have put Amphion to shame; he fiddled away my fears; he exorcised my low spirits, and laughed, and joked, and was the life of the little party. In due time, our guests went away, and I was about to take myself off to bed, when Hugh called out, just as I reached the door:

“Wait a moment, Ranee, I have something to say to you.”

I looked round. He was sitting in the same chair that she had occupied the previous night. I began to imagine, that there was something fatal in that chair, to me!

“Come here,” he said in a peremptory tone, to which I was unaccustomed.

“I asked you to-day, most earnestly, to have nothing to do with Mrs. Vavasour; and you consented, at least, I took silence for consent. Now I find, to my great concern, that you are not to be trusted. I met your ayah, with a letter in her hand, this evening, and as I was going to the mess, I took it from her and posted it myself. I did not look at the address from any motives of curiosity—you and I have had no secrets between us – God knows I have had none from you!—and when I glanced at the note, I saw that it was addressed to Mrs. Vavasour. I posted it, but remember it is the last you will write to her. Do you hear me, Ranee?” he added sternly.

“Yes, I hear you; I am not deaf.”

“Do you heed me?”

“No. I shall probably write to Mrs. Vavasour again, and if I said I would not, I should be telling you an untruth.”

“Then you defy me?”

“Yes.”

“And disobey me?” he asked, in a low, firm voice but with a latent storm in his eyes.

“Only in this—yes.”

“Well, at any rate,” you are candid. Do you think your candour will carry you so far, as to tell me, what you were saying to Colonel Hassard this evening, in this very room? Why were you weeping? Why was he talking of a terrible position, and pitying his poor little cousin, from the bottom of his heart?”

Dead silence.

“Diana – you must tell me—and I will know.”

I raised my eyes, and looked at him. I tried to speak, but I knew not what to say. I was already suffering sorely for my promise; I would have given all I possessed to retract—but my lips were sealed.

“If this goes on, I shall go mad,” I said, suddenly casting myself into an easy-chair.

“And I also shall go mad if this goes on?” echoed Hugh, with grim sarcasm. “My wife, who never had a secret from me, all of a sudden holds long interviews with two people—has some heavy burden on her mind; sheds tears with Mrs. Vavasour, and shares her secret with her—sheds tears with Colonel Hassard, shares her secret with him, receives his sympathy, and I am left out in the cold. By Jove! I think it’s enough to drive me mad!” And now he rose, and began to walk about the room.

“If Ada Mayne had your confidence, I would not mind so much. She is an honest, good little creature, for all her feather-head. I could even put up with Mrs. Gimlette; but when I know that your secret is shared with Mrs. Vavasour—that arch-enchantress, and intriguer—I know that it must be bad.”

“This I may tell you,” I said, rising to my feet, “that it is not. It is perfectly harmless.”

“And yet it is connected with that woman?”

“It is.”

“And with you and Colonel Hassard ”

“Yes!”

“Ah!”

I could give no idea of the angry scorn that Hugh threw into that, “Ah!” It spoke volumes.

“I can’t wonder now that your father kept you so strictly secluded,” continued Hugh passionately. “No doubt he had reason to believe in your aptitude for getting into hot water, and for carrying on intrigues with wealthy men, and wicked women.”

“Hugh,” I interrupted, with a stamp of my feet, “how can you be so cruel?—you are angry—you don’t know what you say. How could I, a mere child, brought up in the wilds from infancy, never seeing a stranger till I met you, how can I possibly be what you say?”

“You may have lacked opportunity! These tastes are hereditary; doubtless the taint is in your blood. Your father was a good, honest gentleman; but how do I know, what your mother was?”

“Oh, Hugh! dear Hugh!” I cried, clasping my hands. “Do not speak like this! If you knew all, instead of reproaching me, you would pity me. Indeed you would!”

“Like Colonel Hassard,” he sneered.

“Yes, like Colonel Hassard,” I answered, now in a towering passion. “He never would, or could, taunt me as you have done. He is a gentleman!”

“And I am not? Thank you!”

“Oh, Hugh!” I exclaimed, dismayed at the growing gulf between us. “Have patience Do not goad me into saying things I do not mean! You joked to-day about our first quarrel. Is not this it?”

“And whose fault is it, pray?” he inquired, with a bitter smile. “It lies entirely with you, to clear up the whole matter. I will humbly beg your pardon, Ranee, if I have misunderstood you—and I know that I have allowed my naturally hot temper to carry me too far. Only whisper two words in my ear, only make me—your husband—as wise as strangers; only tell me your secret!”

“I cannot!” I answered, wringing my hands in distraction.

“I thought not!” he rejoined fiercely. “There is the test.”

And then he went out of the room, and slammed the door after him, with a bang that shook the whole Bungalow.

After this, our first quarrel, Hugh did not speak to me—except at meals, and then only to ask me what I would take—for a whole week; and I need not say that I was wretched. I lived, as it were, on the edge of a volcano. I had no taste for intrigues, or secrets, and Mrs. Vavasour seemed to relish both; she delighted, apparently, in snatching a few words at the band, or at a tennis party, or dance; in thrusting notes into my reluctant hand, and sending them inside books, flowers, and music. These notes made me miserable; I dreaded them as I would a scorpion, for I never knew when one might drop out before Hugh!

There was never anything important in them, and surely they could not have been written out of a pure spirit of mischief, and love of danger? Danger, that could not touch her. As for me, I lived, so to speak, in a powder-mill.

One morning, about a week after our domestic battle, Hugh—who was now polite to me, and no more—said, as we sat at breakfast:

“I met a man yesterday who told me all about your dear friend, Mrs. Vavasour. She is a divorced woman.”

My heart stood still, and I put down my cup, which rattled in the saucer.

Divorced—yes! And she was my mother. I became crimson.

“Did you know that she ran away from an excellent husband, and forsook an infant in arms” (that was me), “and went off in a most cold-blooded manner with an old lover?”

“No,” I answered, greatly disturbed, and secretly grasping the table to steady myself.

“Since then, she has been an adventuress on the face of the globe, until good luck threw that old mole, Mr. Vavasour, in her way. She married him, and turned over a new leaf. She has discovered that it pays to be good, and I certainly won’t stand in her way; her history shall go no further—and I asked the fellow who knows it, to keep it dark; but I thought you ought to see her, in her true colours.”

“Did you hear her name?” I asked, almost in a whisper.

“No. And now, Diana, one word. The General is taking me, as aide-de-camp, to the camp of exercise at Cheetapore. I tried to cry off, but it was no good. I don’t want to leave you here with her alone; promise me, that you will not admit her in my absence. Promise me, that you will not write to her. I ask this pledge from you, in remembrance of old days by the Karrhan. I say no more. Even if you don’t mind me, think of your father. What would he have thought of Mrs. Vavasour? What would he have said, had he known that you, in spite of me, insisted on having her for a bosom friend?—What would he have said, I ask you?”

Of course I could not answer, and say he would have said: “She is the girl’s mother,” and I held my tongue.

“Will you give me your promise,” he urged, “and let me go off to my duty, with a light heart? Come, Ranee!”

“When are you going?”

“Immediately! My traps are packed, my charger has gone to the station, the cart is waiting for me, and I am waiting for you.”

“Yes, Hugh, I’ll promise,” I faltered.

“And you won’t break your word, as you did before? Mind, if you do, I’ll never forgive you.”

“Yes, you may depend on me this time, Hugh.”

“All right then, good-bye,” seizing his hat.

“Come back! Come back; you have forgotten something,” I cried, running to the door.

“What is it?” impatiently.

“Why, to kiss me,” I said, lifting my face to his.

“Oh, is that it? Well, really you are so pretty, I cannot resist you,” stooping down and kissing me twice. “Good-bye, Ranee: Now, mind you are a good girl whilst I am from home.” So saying, he got into the cart, and, with a farewell shake of his whip, drove rapidly away.

Decidedly I was getting into his good graces once more (he called me “Ranee”). Oh, that I might remain there! Oh, that fate and circumstances would leave me alone!

I passed the morning practising Hugh’s accompaniments, embroidering him a smoking cap, and making stern resolutions with regard to Mrs. Vavasour – resolutions, alas! that the first contest with her strong will, and invincible powers of persuasion, scattered to the four winds in three minutes’ time. But how I succumbed, how I got into deeper trouble than ever, must be told on another occasion.

Chapter XXXV

“It Is for You to Ransom Me”

“And let me wring your heart, for so I shall,
If it be made of penetrable stuff.”
Hamlet

The good resolutions that I made merely lasted till the first time I met Mrs. Vavasour, and this happened to be at a large “musical” afternoon tea, for which the General’s wife had issued cards to all the élite of Sindi.

“My dear,” she whispered, hedging me into a corner with her fan, “I have a thousand things that I must say to you. Is it true that your husband is from home?”

“Yes,” I faltered most reluctantly.

“Joy! What a piece of good luck! Then I am coming to see you to-morrow night, without fail.”

“No, no,” I protested imploringly. “I have promised Hugh that I will not enter your house, or receive you in mine.”

“Why?” she asked, with a flash of her expressive eyes.

“Because he—he has heard something. He knows —”

She drew back a step, and laid her hand on the back of a chair near her, as if to steady herself. Her beautiful face looked haggard and livid, and in a husky, uncertain voice, she faltered:

What does he know?”

“Not who you are, nor your former name; but—but —”

“Then I am ruined!” she exclaimed, in a hoarse whisper. “My story will be all over Sindi.”

“No; it is safe. The man he heard it from, was a stranger passing through. He knows little—no names.”

“Ah!” and she made a hasty movement of satisfaction and relief, and passed her handker chief over her lips. “Diana, I must meet you somewhere to-morrow without fail.”

“No—no! Wait till Hugh comes back; and then I will—”

“I cannot,” she interrupted brusquely, “my business is far too urgent. I have not an hour to lose. I want your help—your substantial help.”

“My help?” I echoed.

“Yes—yours! I have an idea! You know the Temple Gardens, close to your Bungalow? They are lovely; but no one ever goes near them, because they are not the fashion! You know the little Pagoda—by the band-stand—I shall meet you there at three o’clock to-morrow. Stay—no—I have an engagement. Let me see. I’ll meet you there at eleven o’clock at night. Come on foot; it’s not more than five minutes walk from you.”

“But I really dare not,” I whispered.

“Bah! you little, trembling mouse! Are you afraid to keep a tryst with your own mother? Should you ever have a daughter of your own, how would you like her to shrink from you, as you do from me? No tie in the world is so close, as that which binds us. Do you not owe duty and obedience to me, as well as to your husband? I will do you no harm with him. What people never know cannot hurt them. Remember, eleven o’clock without fail.”

And, as she uttered this command, she allowed herself to be drawn back into the crowd, and a circle of friends instantly closed round her, whilst I stood alone, and aloof, in my secluded corner, and trembled, when I thought of the engagement to which I stood committed.

After all, I would not go. This was my doughty determination, as I was discovered by some acquaintances, and asked in a cheery manner, “when Hugh was coming back?” and told that I was not looking at all up to the mark; my pale face, and distrait air, being laughingly attributed to his absence.

Little did they guess, to whom it was really due—that queenly lady in black lace, who was holding a kind of little court, upon a distant sofa.

I slept badly that night, and the ensuing day seemed endless; ten times an hour I resolved not to keep my appointment, ten times an hour I changed my mind, and of course in the end—I went. I was like a person mesmerised, and altogether under the power of a stronger mind than my own. To a certain extent I was obliged to confide in Pallia—I could not shake her off; no, she evidently descried some secret from afar, and flatly refused to go to her rice—an unheard-of occurrence. At length, I boldly informed her that as the night was hot, I was going for a walk in the Temple Gardens.

“Temple Gardens at this hour?” she exclaimed, in a shrill voice

“Yes.”

“And alone?”

“No, with another lady.”

Pallia sniffed. Oh, the insolence, and in credulity of that sniff!

Up to the very last moment I wavered—ay, up to five minutes to eleven—and then—I fled out of the compound, with a shawl over my head, and stole along the shady side of the moonlit high road. It seemed to me that every native I passed, turned and looked after me, and how my heart beat! No worse conspirator, or subject for secret meetings, existed than I—Diana Fitzroy. When I reached the great iron gates, and saw the long garden avenues stretching out before me in the moonlight, I ceased to skulk, and increased my pace to a rapid run; I soon reached the centre of this lovely, select spot, a white Pagoda, with steps leading up to it, and pillars all round, and a few seats inside. Mrs. Vavasour was already there.

“Good heavens!” she exclaimed. “I wonder you did not have the police after you in full cry—running like that. You are ten minutes late, and I was just thinking of going to your house—for speak to you I must.”

“Why could you not speak to me yester day?” I panted breathlessly.

“Because I have much to say—that must be said in private. This is a capital place—it has no walls, and no ears, and we can talk for an hour undisturbed. At home, I have gone to bed with a bad headache. What have you done, dear?” and she laughed softly.

“Nothing. I dare say the servants think I am asleep, and I am sure I hope so!”

“Ah—you are a sweet, domestic little creature; you will never be suspected. Now sit down on this bench, and take off your shawl.” I removed the shawl, but did not sit; I preferred to remain standing on the steps. “The reason I have summoned you,” she continued, “is a potent one—I want money.”

“Money!” I repeated. “And I have always thought you were immensely rich.”

“I wish I was. Lawrence has splendid pay; but I am extravagant, and I am sure you would never suppose that Lawrence was the most close-fisted man in Sindi. He disburses all the money himself; I have not a farthing, except one hundred a year that he allows me for dress; and I need not tell you, that a hundred a year is a mere drop in the ocean to a woman like me. Mr. Vavasour likes to hear me quoted, as ‘the best dressed woman in the Presidency,’ and knows that my clothes cost four times his pittance; and yet he cruelly pretends not to see it—or affects to imagine that I have some private source of income, and laughs in my face, when I ask for an advance. He started me with some good lace and diamonds—that was for his own credit—more he will not do.” I looked at her fixedly, but did not speak. “Now, my dear child, it has come to my ears, that you have twenty thousand pounds in the five per cents. (a nice little fortune), and I am sure that you will not grudge some of it to me, will you, my pretty Diana?”

“How much do you require?” I asked, with my usual bluntness.

“I must have four thousand pounds by this day week,” she answered, with business-like promptitude.

“Four thousand rupees, is it not?” I faltered.

“No – pounds. Four thousand pounds, or fifty thousand rupees.”

“Four thousand pounds!” I echoed, rather blankly.

“Four from twenty leaves sixteen; a very comfortable little sum.”

“I cannot touch a penny of my capital. If it had been hundreds, I might help you; thousands are beyond my power.”

“Is this really so?” she asked, with a tight expression about her lips. “Is it all so strictly tied up?”

“Yes—till I come of age.”

“Then you can raise money from the soucars,” she said impatiently.

“No, I could not, and would not, if I could.”

“What! not to save your own mother from ruin!’” she demanded passionately, and her eyes shone strangely in the moonlight.

“What do you mean by ruin?” I inquired. “Were you not ruined when you forsook husband and child—to – to – no—I cannot say it. If this be true, what claim have you on me?”

She stood and surveyed me, for a moment, and then said, with curious slowness, and scorn: “There spoke John Barrington’s daughter—you are like him—hard as the nether millstone; and you are well named ‘Diana, for you would be pitiless to any one who was not made of stone like yourself. All the same, you cannot put me aside; the ties of blood are too strong. As to having left my home, you shall hear my side of the story, and judge. Hitherto, slander, and scurrilous smoking-room stories, are all that have come to your ears. Confess?”

“Yes, I suppose it is true. And oh, mother, I would give my right hand, if you could but refute them,” I added desperately.

“Last night I sat up till two o’clock, and wrote out my history for your eyes alone. I have it with me,” producing from her pocket what looked like a thick letter. “Take it, and read it at your leisure, and then say, if I am the dreadful character that no doubt your husband paints. Of course he has warned you against me. As if I would not be the best friend in the world to my own daughter! You will try and help me, won’t you, darling I know you will, when you hear the horrible fix I am in.”

“What fix do you mean?” I asked nervously.

“Well—to commence—my debts to my milliner are serious. They have been rolling on for years, like a huge snowball. Now and then, when I have had a little luck, I have thrown sops of one, two, and even three hundred pounds.”

“Three hundred to a dressmaker!” I exclaimed aghast. Indeed, to me three hundred pounds to any one, was sufficiently appalling. Father had a horror of debt, and—so had Hugh.

“Yes, you savagely brought up child! Why, what do you think my bonnets and dresses for the races come to? Well, I won’t shock you! but one of my parasols cost fifteen pounds. A woman in my position must dress, and lead the fashion, if she is to keep to the fore at all. I speak to you precisely as if I were thinking aloud. I am no longer young—I have a daughter of twenty, and other women would soon eclipse me, had I not an art which is shared by very few—the art of dressing exquisitely. This art is an expensive taste—my gowns begin at thirty guineas, and I never put a bonnet on my head under three. In a dowdy, unbecoming costume, no one would look at me twice. As it is, you see, they look at me very frequently! Minus my pretty clothes, I should lose my prestige, even with Lawrence—appearances go a long way with him.”

“No, no, no,” I protested emphatically, “you would not have me believe that your only hold upon your husband, and ‘friends, is through your dress, and that their affection is measured by the style of a gown, and the shape of a bonnet. You are joking.”

“Bonnets and brains, and the remains of beauty. As to joking, I never felt less in the humour for a jest, than I do this evening. I am at the end of my resources, my sole hope is in you.” She caught her breath as she ceased, and fixed on me a look of intense earnestness.

“But with every desire to help you, I have not the power. It is true, that I keep all our money, and have the spending of it—”

“What a delightful husband Captain Fitzroy must be!” she exclaimed, with a contemptuous hardening of the lips.

“But—I get him to look over my accounts, ** and add them up—and so even—if I could—”

“Even if you could— You will, when you hear,” she interrupted. “For years I have been in debt to ‘Tulle & Torchon,’ and as to Madame Chemisette, she has become a regular bug bear, in spite of large sums on account, and has even hinted, that she will take no more orders. This would be a fatal blow—for no one in the world fits like her. I had an awful bill, and a lawyer’s letter from her last mail—threatening all sorts of things. Then as mis fortunes never come singly, a wretch who knows my story, and draws an income from the fact, has written to say, that he is in desperate straits, and I must help him, otherwise he will sell the secret to Lawrence, who knows nothing, beyond that I was a widow, whom he met on board ship; he thinks there is no one like me, poor little man—and if he knew—I am lost,” she concluded, with fierce, deliberate emphasis.

“I wonder you can bear to deceive him. If I were you, I could never sleep at night”

“Oh, I am quite accustomed to my sword of Damocles by this time. In order to extricate myself, I tried to do a little gamble on the races, and, by the best advice, I plunged on ‘King Fortune.’ There was nothing lucky about him but his name—he was nowhere—and I lost four thousand rupees the first day. The second, I went in more deeply than ever, to try and recover that, and I lost still more. It was only throwing good money after bad. Then I built all my hopes on the last day. I was positively desperate. If I had backed your husband, in the hurdle-race, I should have saved a thousand rupees out of the five; but as I don’t like him for one thing, and I had no conception that he was such a capital jockey for another, I backed Captain Jones on “Lamp lighter,’ and they were nowhere. During that horrible afternoon, I had to talk, and be gay, pleasant and cool, whilst all the time a fox, like the Spartan Boy’s, was rending my vitals – a little animal called ‘Despair.’ For it was the same story, after every race—Lost, lost, lost! And as I drove away from the course, I seemed to see Ruin sitting on the back seat! Altogether I had lost ten thousand rupees.”

“Oh!” I ejaculated faintly.

“Yes; nominally Captain Carden owes the money, and he has not a fraction. They are my debts. If he is posted as a defaulter, he will lose his commission, and I cannot allow him to suffer for me. I must take the consequences in my own hands, and the consequence of that would be, that Lawrence would turn me out of the house, my friends would turn me out of society, and my creditors would turn me out of the country! So you see, now, what I mean, when I say that I am in a fix.”

“I see,” I admitted, in a bewildered tone. “But what can I do? As far as my own allowance goes, you shall have it always, and as much more as I can save besides, when I come of age.”

“Allowance!” scornfully. “A wretched little mite! You might as well offer me half-a-crown a week at once, or attempt to bale the sea with a bucket. Have I not impressed upon you that it is now, or never! I talk of thousands in a week’s time; you prate of an allowance, and years. You are really enough to drive me mad!”

“And what can I do? Have you any plan?” I asked, with an effort.

“Yes, and my plan is this: If I have not four thousand pounds by next Saturday, life will be played out for me—and worthless. I shall not choose to exist as a disgraced woman, at whose name every one shrugs their shoulders. Imagine the triumph of Mrs. Flatt-Sole, of Mrs. Smith-Smith, and the delight of that old-clothes woman, your dear Mrs. Gimlette! I shall never drag out my days in a miserable lodging – a shabby Arab, without means to enjoy life, with out means to dress, without means to do more than keep body and soul together! No; I shall go down with my colours nailed to the mast—I shall destroy myself !”

“Oh, never!” I almost shrieked.

“Yes,” she replied resolutely, bringing her glittering dark eyes to bear on mine. “I have long carried a bottle—a dear little bottle, about with me. It contains a deadly, but not unpleasant poison—Extract of Indian Hemp—four drops in a cup of coffee—and—you sleep, and never wake again. If I cannot extricate myself from this pit of despair, I shall fall back on that—as my very last resource. You are my last but one. I mean what I say. I shall do it, as surely as I stand here. So you see, that you, to whom I gave life, absolutely hold my life in your hands. It is for you to ransom me, for four thousand pounds—or to let me perish.”

“Mother! mother!” I sobbed, now wringing my hands in a state of distraction. “You are my mother, and I will abide by whatever you say. Tell me quickly what I am to do, and how I am to save you!”

“Yes—I will tell you, without a moment’s delay,” she answered promptly, her face relaxing from a sort of strained expression. “You shall hear, how you can ransom me, my daughter. You have your marvellous diamonds—they are absolutely your own; neither tied up or entailed. I am surprised that it has not already occurred to you—that—you can pawn—or sell the Begum’s necklace!”

Chapter XXXVI

“As Easy as ‘A B C’”

“I do perceive here a divided duty.”
Othello

So I could! I could sell my necklace! The idea flashed upon me now, for the first time. The diamonds were entirely my own property, to dispose of as I pleased

“Yes,” I said; “of course there are the diamonds.”

“They are too valuable, and too startling to sell; and there would be no market for them here, in such a limited time,” said Mrs. Vavasour thoughtfully. “The only arrangement possible, will be to raise money on them; the more the better,” she added, with unusual vivacity.

“But what am I to say to Hugh?” I timidly inquired.

“Nothing!” she answered sharply. “Would you study what you are ‘to say to Hugh,’ when, as you know, my very existence is trembling in the balance? I declare, Diana, you are like your father, utterly unsympathetic, and as hard as granite.”

“Oh, mother, mother, don’t say that!” I cried, covering my eyes with my hands, to conceal the tears which were trickling down my cheeks. “You know I would do anything for you; anything but lose Hugh, and already he is changed to me, because of you.”

“Then let him change back again! If a pretty girl, with a large fortune, and a sweet, yielding disposition, is not able to keep her hold upon her husband, I say, let him GO. And now, to wind up our little business, you have heard of ‘Coopoodoo,’ the great banker, jeweller, and money-lender? His headquarters are here. He deals in jewels, as well as in advancing cash at twenty-five per cent. He will take the necklace. Lawrence’s niece is coming to-morrow, to stay a week, and I cannot possibly get away, I am sorry to say; for I had fully intended to have managed this affair myself, and taken all the trouble off your hands.”

So it had all been planned, and thought out, before I realised this with a sharp pang.

“You will be swindled, of course; your very face, so innocent and guileless, seems to say: ‘Cheat me!’ However, Julian Hassard shall go with you as my deputy. He, alone, knows our secret, and he will manage the business capitally, for in his wild days, long ago, he had many dealings with the soucars, on his own account.”

“No—no—no,” I said impatiently; “I would rather go alone—I would rather he did not know.”

“Then the whole affair will fall through. What do you know of business, or of raising money?”

This was true; I knew no more about such things than Billy, the black kitten.

“Once you have promised, you will not turn back? And as to objecting to poor Julian Hassard’s company! have you not driven about with him in his stanhope for hours? And what is the difference between driving in a stanhope in the evening, and down to the Bazaar in a brougham in the morning?”

True—indeed; where was the difference?

“Well, I suppose it must be as you say,” I admitted, after a long pause.

“Yes, I have thought it all out carefully. I shall send Julian a line, and tell him to go and have tea with you to-morrow afternoon, and talk it all over. He will manage the bargaining and the business; you have nothing to do but to hand the necklace to Coopoodoo, sign your name, and bring me back a cheque, and my freedom—it is all as easy as A B C!”

“It is as easy as A B C to you, who are not an actor in the play; but it is not the same to me. I have already learnt that it is as easy as A B C to get into scrapes with Hugh; but the riddle of the sphinx is a mere child’s play to the difficulty of getting out of his black books—I am deep in them already.”

“Nonsense! Rubbish! He is away now most providentially, and he will never know about this scrape. That I guarantee! You are not half—half bold enough, my pretty Diana. A girl with your face might brave Blue Beard himself!! Well, I declare, there is twelve o’clock striking, and we must go at once—come along.”

We walked down the steps together, and through that lovely, moonlit garden, with its groves of oranges, and borders of rose-trees, scenting the cool, still air. There was not a sound to be heard, but the croak of a frog in a pool, or the flapping of a passing bat. Who would believe that this fragrant, peaceful spot existed in the very heart of a great military station? And what a contrast, its peaceful beauty formed, to the wild excitement of my own mind—my mind, which was the scene of a mortal combat between warring impulses—Duty to my husband, and Duty to my mother—fought hand to hand!

The sound of our high-heeled shoes, crunching the gravel, awoke Mrs. Vavasour’s sleeping coachman; he rubbed his eyes, and stared at me in sleepy astonishment; then we both got into the brougham, which left me at the corner of a road, close to our Bungalow; there I descended, and ran home as fast as I could, and felt deeply humiliated, and depressed, as I crept in stealthily by my dressing-room door. I found Pallia awaiting me—silence on her lips, suspicion in her eye—more than suspicion—accusation!

Her silence was a relief – I was far too preoccupied to talk. As she was brushing my hair, I suddenly remembered the letter, and I desired Pallia to search the pocket of my dress, and hand it to me. I opened the envelope, and found within it, five sheets of closely-written pages, which pages Pallia literally glared at; then she found her tongue, and burst out:

“When master coming home? Poor master! I wish master was at home!”

(For my own part, I was devoutly thankful that he was not.)

“Never mind poor master!” I rejoined im patiently. “It is nearly one o’clock, Pallia– go to your bed.”

“Missy not going yet?” she asked, with affected surprise

“No.”

“No! Missy, going to read letter!” And with one long, lingering look, she stalked away, leaving me to peruse my epistle undisturbed. I read it over three times, and I think I could write it down, almost word for word.

Chapter XXXVII

A Letter

“Thou canst not say I did it.”
Macbeth

“Tuesday Night.

“My Dear Diana,

“Instead of telling you my history by word of mouth, I think it will be simpler and pleasanter to write it all down, and give it to you to read at your leisure. I make one stipulation, namely, that when we meet, you never by word, or hint, refer to what I am about to record for your sole benefit.

“In the first place, I was born more than forty-one years ago at Maidstone, in Kent, where my father was a doctor in fairly good practice. I was one of a numerous flock. We were eleven in number, and I must say that I agree with my brother George, who declared that every second girl in a large family ought to be drowned in infancy: there were nine of us! Whilst I was still in short frocks and Butter’s spelling, my eldest sister, Jessie, had the great good luck to marry an Indian judge, who carried her off to the land of the sun, to the intense satisfaction of herself and her relations. We were poor, and obscure, and had no fortunes beyond our faces; but our faces were attractive, and we were called ‘the Fair Maids of Kent,’ and we had strong hopes that Jessie—to whom we were all now greatly attached—and with whom we constantly corresponded, would give her pretty sister a chance in the Indian market. (If I seem to write frivolously, dear, it is the fault of too glib a pen, and not the true nature of my aching heart.) At first, Jessie merely sent presents of Cashmere cloaks, filagree work, and curry; but at last she wrote for Ada, and in six months’ time Ada was married to a wealthy civilian. After Ada, Annie went out—but poor Annie died, and then there was a pause. Then Ada sent for May, and married her off in a short time to a colonel of Hussars. This was brilliant! I came next to May in age, and far before her in looks, and Jessie, not to be surpassed by Ada, sent for me, and I, and my outfit—which was in reality my trousseau—and all that father could afford to give me, were despatched with gratifying alacrity.

“I was very pretty, with golden hair, brown eyes, and roses, and lilies, and innocence, in my face; I was far better-looking than you, my pale Diana, in spite of your haunting eyes. I had a great success; all the bachelors of Tom-Tombad were at my feet. Yes, old and young, rich and poor; I could, as Jessie triumphantly expressed it, have married any one within fifty miles. And the man of her choice was Sir Hector MacOstrich, K.C.B., bald, bloated, and burly, but rich, renowned, and absolutely silly about me. Sir Hector was Jessie’s beau ideal—mine was a very different person. A handsome, and fascinating subaltern, as penniless as myself—his name was Algernon Garnett. To Jessie he was a detestable detrimental, to me he was divine. I would marry Algy and no one else. Vainly my sister stormed, and raved, and sarcastically inquired, ‘What we were going to live on?’ and cruelly reminded me, that Algy had not yet proposed.

“‘No, but he will!’ I returned, fully confident that Algy loved me and none other. How many times had he hinted as much! How many times had the question seemed trembling on his lips! How many moonlight walks, how many rides and dances had we mutually enjoyed! In short, his attentions were so marked that my large circle of admirers, seeing that they were not appreciated, began to melt away, to sheer off, including, to Jessie’s distraction, Sir Hector MacOstrich, K.C.B. ‘I tell you what it is,’ she said to me furiously, ‘if you persist in your mad folly, and will marry (if he asks you) this beggarly “Sub.” when you could have been Lady MacOstrich, I wash my hands of you, for ever. To think of my getting you out and paying for your passage, knowing you were the beauty of the family, and expecting that you would do me credit, and make a grander match than May’s, that Ada is always bragging about; and here you are, with all your chances, going to throw yourself away—and do worse than marry a poor curate at home—for the curate would neither drink or gamble, and Algy Garnett does both.’ Many and violent were the quarrels between Jessie and me, and her husband naturally took her part. My life was anything but a bed of roses, and my only solace was in Algy’s society. Judge, then, of Jessie’s joy, when he was suddenly ordered off at a day’s notice, and although he bade me a tender, if hurried fare well, he never breathed a word that could be construed into an offer of marriage. I was heart-broken, and not merely heart-broken, I was most bitterly humiliated. ‘All the world,’ quoth Jessie—and what a tongue she had!—‘knew that I was desperately in love with Algy Garnett, and that he had flirted, and ridden away!’ How she triumphed! And how I hated her, although she was my own sister! I resolved to have a home of my own, at any price. And Sir Hector, having departed, I accepted the attentions of a new adorer, a handsome, clever, rather taciturn worshipper—one John Barrington—a rising civil surgeon, with a large practice, and considerable savings. I did not pretend to care for him—not much—but he was satisfied with my graciously permitting him to love me, and I was satisfied to leave Jessie’s house, to be my own mistress, and to have a devoted slave. The happy day was fixed, my wedding-cake had arrived, I had been endowed with many presents, varying in value from a butter-knife to a buggy, and the ceremony was to take place in three days’ time, when I received a letter from Algy—the first I had ever had. ‘Heartless wretch!’ I said, as I tore it open. ‘A note of congratulation, of course.’ But no—ere I got to the bottom of the first page, I saw that it was the long-delayed offer of marriage, and rushing breathless into Jessie’s room, threw it into her lap, and cried:

“‘It is not too late yet.’

“He said that circumstances, which he would explain hereafter, had prevented him from asking me to be his wife; but that now he was in a position to speak, and that nothing could paint his anxiety of mind, lest I had doubted him—that surely I had guessed his feelings, and knew that his heart was mine, and that he would never sleep or rest till he received my answer—an answer upon which all his future happiness in life depended. I now know that it was a cruel letter—which cost him nothing, but a half-anna stamp. What did it not cost me?

“I was quivering with emotion, as Jessie calmly perused it, and walked about the room, in a state of frantic joy!

“‘The man is mad!’ she said at last. ‘He only sends you this letter, to upset you.’

“‘Jessie!’ I screamed.

“‘Yes,’ she persisted. ‘He knows perfectly well, that you are on the eve of being married, and that your answer must be, No! Why, Captain Jones, who chums with him, sent you a cruet-stand three weeks ago; and even if the letter was not prompted by the wicked desire to disturb your mind, and retain your affection—he is months too late; he cannot marry you NOW.’

“I argued, pleaded, stormed; but I could not move her. The wedding must go on—either that, or I went home in the very next steamer! As a last resource, I sent for the bridegroom. I had a most terrible interview with him; I told him the whole story, I showed him the letter, and besought him to release me—and he would not!

“‘You are the only woman, I have ever cared for,’ he said. ‘I have staked my all on you. I know that I shall make you happy, and I shall never relinquish you to any one but Death. I know Algy Garnett, he is an unscrupulous, unprincipled, handsome scamp; he would tire of you in three months’ time, and bring you to misery, want, and beggary. I know him as he really is—you do not.’

“True, too true; love is blind.

“Vainly I protested, and vainly I wept. I might just as well have protested, and wept, before a graven image. The wedding was to be. Jessie and my lover were both too strong for me—they were armed with the conviction, that they were acting for my true happiness; and when people have this weapon in their hands—they show no mercy.

“My true happiness! What hollow mockery! I wrote one wild, distracted letter to Algy, and shut myself up in my room till the day of the wedding. Then I appeared calm, and self-possessed;—but I was not a pretty bride, despite my magnificent satin gown. I believe the guests whispered among themselves, that I looked both white and sullen.

“As we, the happy couple, drove off after the ceremony, I turned to my husband, and said:

“‘Poor man! I pity you. The day will come, when you will find that you had been wiser to have put a pistol to your head, and blown your brains out, than have married me against my will. You will repent this day, yet.’

“‘Never, he answered bravely. “Never, whilst I live—or you either.’

“After this, we went to reside at Agra, and under the influence of every possible indulgence, and unlimited admiration, my smiles returned, and I cheered up. None so gay as pretty Mrs. Barrington. I spent money as it were, with both hands, and my husband granted all my caprices, without the least hesitation. I had horses, carriages, jewels, dresses; I gave entertainments that would not have been out of place at Government House. I dressed, and danced, and rode, and flirted, and treated my husband as if he was my slave. And so he was; he worshipped me; and the more I plagued him, the harder he worked, that I might play, and be excessively happy. Looking back dispassionately on my life, I have come to the conclusion that I was happy—these were my best days! Then your brother was born, and I must confess that I was deeply disgusted. I never pretended to care for children, and they returned the compliment most cordially. Little Arthur was a sickly, wailing, importunate infant; he lived for two years, and then, in the hot weather, he pined away. And yes—I was sorry—really sorry; and I cried a good deal, when they put him into his tiny white coffin. But you were a sweet little darling, with golden hair like floss silk, and always well, and always happy. I was proud of you, and had you in to show off at all my tiffin parties.

“We had a very gay season in ’64. I had scores of engagements, and many pretty dresses ay, and many pretty bills. Your father now began to be seriously alarmed, and to remon strate with me, and say that I was ruining him; but I believed that he was coining money, so I merely laughed in his face, and spent—or owed—as much as ever!

“Our first serious difference was about the Begum’s necklace. He would not allow me to wear it; so, when he went away for a few days, I got it out, and wore it night after night, at dinners, concerts, and balls. He was very angry—for him. I had never seen him angry before. He said that I had vowed to love, honour, and obey. I replied, ‘Nothing of the sort!—that I had vowed to love, honour, and be gay! and would obey no one.’

“This was the beginning of many quarrels—quarrels which generally took place after balls, when I had been admired, and when he had been jealous.

“Then Algy Garnett came to Agra, and, needless to write it, your father viewed the renewal of our friendship with the strongest disfavour. He sternly forbade me to ask Algy to the house, or to dance, or ride with him, and I snapped my fingers at his orders—and we had some unpleasant scenes. He was never loud or violent; but he was stern and determined in his rages, and frightened me, and I promised most solemnly to give up all acquaintance with Algy Garnett. And now, when all is over, and I look back upon those days, as if they were a dream, I must confess that I provoked him beyond all bounds, and that he was a good, just, and honourable man—generous, and long-suffering, to the last degree

“Algy Garnett, and another officer, gave a ball, to which we were asked—indeed, I may say that it was given for me! Your father would not hear of my going, naturally—and he left the station to visit a distant patient. Nevertheless, in spite of his orders, I went to the ball, fully resolved to enjoy myself. After all, what was a scolding? and as I was whirling round the room in Algy’s arms, my heart leapt into my mouth, for there in a doorway stood your father—a most unwelcome spectator. How dark his face was—he looked as if he would kill me. I hurried my partner out of the crowd, and told him my fears; he tried to appease them, to the best of his power. Then I went home, and then came the storm.

“Diana, I declare to you most solemnly, that if your father had not terrified me, and threatened me, and told me he would carry me off to a little up-country station—where I would never see a soul—I would never have done it. As it was, I ran away in my ball dress to Captain Garnett’s Bungalow, and threw myself on his protection.

“It was a mad act, and I repented it almost instantly. Repented it the moment I saw Algy’s face of horror, and embarrassment; but it was too late to retract – my reputation was gone! and there was nothing for it, but to wait for a divorce, and then marry. We went home to England, and I tried to ‘live it down.’ I tried hard! I abased myself to people I despised; I was good-natured to people I loathed; I devoured humble pie! but it was all of no avail! I led a miserable life. Algy tired of me in less than three months, and daily upbraided me, with having ruined his prospects, and spoiled his career. And we were so poor! Algy gambled, squandered, caroused, and amused himself—whilst I, in squalid lodgings, or a bare barrack-room, often dined on dry bread and weak tea. He had society—I had none. I was poverty-stricken, pinched, and shabby; and who would know the notorious Mrs. Garnett? After months of misery, and privation, diphtheria (which was raging in the town where we were quartered) attacked both Algy and me. I had a desperate struggle for life—Algy died, and I was left destitute—worse, for I was in debt. It was in those days of grinding poverty, that I learnt to be a professor of the art—and it is an art—of staving off bills, and reassuring impatient creditors. I wrote to your father’s agents, and he generously sent me five hundred pounds, which set me up in life once more. I purchased a rich and tasteful outfit, as a sort of stock-in trade, and accepted a situation as chaperone and companion to a wealthy Dutch family in Singapore. On my passage out, I met Mr. Vavasour. We saw a good deal of each other on board the steamer. He fell in love with the pretty, forlorn widow, and we were married in Calcutta. I have been Mrs. Vavasour for fifteen years. As Mrs. Barrington, or Mrs. Garnett, I am forgotten by the world. If any one thinks of either reckless Mrs. Barrington, or shabby Mrs. Garnett, they believe her to be dead. My sisters cast me off eighteen years ago, and I have no claim—I mean the claim of affection—on any of my own sex but yourself. You see how my life has been blighted, my child. How hardly fate has used me! And I am convinced, that your tender little heart, will ache for me. Now you know all—now you have heard MY side of the story—you will surely say—that I am far more to be pitied, than blamed!”

Here I came to the end of the last sheet, and conclusion of the letter.

Chapter XXXVIII

“The Diamonds Must Go”

“Though this may be play to you,
’Tis death to us.”
— Roger L’Estrange.

At five o’clock the next day, Colonel Hassard came up behind his glossy bays, looking exceptionally spruce—even for him. He never seemed to wear quite the same garments as other men, or to put them on in the same way. Hugh always declared, that he gave HIM the idea of being very carefully dressed by his mamma, and then told to run about, and not spoil his clothes! All the same, Hugh himself was excessively fastidious about the cut of his boots and coats; and as to his shirts, and collars! the harried and heart-broken Dhoby could a tale unfold. I think Colonel Hassard had an inkling that Hugh did not admire him, and once or twice he gently, and half playfully, hinted that Hugh was rather fond of bachelor amusements, such as polo, shooting, and racing, and did not half appreciate the domestic treasure he possessed. These hints were as vague, and unsubstantial, as gossamer—so delicately were they insinuated;—had there been anything tangible to take hold of, I would have seized upon it indignantly. Still, when Colonel Hassard, and his smiles, had departed, he left some uncomfortable thorn-pricks, rankling in my mind.

“You are looking very pale and fagged, my little cousin,” observed my visitor, still holding my hand in his, and gazing tenderly into my face.

“I have a headache, that is all,” I replied, snatching away my fingers, and sitting down abruptly.

“I’ll tell you what I think, shall I?” he asked, in a confidential tone, as he took a seat beside me. “You are a bit moped—you are too much alone. Come now, confess, hasn’t Fitzroy gone off to the Cheetapore Races?”

“He has done nothing of the sort,” I answered sharply. “He has gone to the camp of exercise, as General Green’s A.D.C.”

“Oh—well—all right, all right,” putting up his hand deprecatingly. “I only know, that I would not leave my wife day after day all alone.”

“What do you mean?” I inquired. “Is Hugh not to do his duty?”

“No—but I think he puts too much aside for what he calls duty,” he replied, with an air of sorrowful disapproval. “He never rides with you of a morning. I come in here of an afternoon, and find you alone. . Later on, he is away at racquets or polo—such men ought never to marry.”

“You mean that Hugh ought never to have married me!”

“I do,” he returned, with an air of the deepest solemnity. “And I entirely differ from you,” I said hotly. “He suits me perfectly. I should hate a man who took an hour over his tie, lolled on a sofa, reading poetry, or sat hand in-hand with me looking at the moon, and criticised my dress like a milliner. I like to know that my husband is a man, and not an old woman. He shoots tigers, plays polo, and rides races, with my full approval,” I concluded breathlessly. “Long, long may he continue to do so, my dear Mrs. Fitzroy—a wife, with your views, deserves to be canonised! You are an angel, superior to the petty feelings of your sex. Nevertheless, I should have thought—” And here he paused abruptly. “Thought what?” I asked impatiently. “Never mind, never mind – least said is soonest mended, and we won’t quarrel. I’ll just leave my little thought, to be supplied by your own imagination. Don’t mind me. Fitzroy is a capital fellow, and we won’t say another word about him—especially as you look tired and worried. Mrs. Vavasour told me to come here this afternoon, as you wanted to see me most particularly.”

“Yes,” I replied, with an involuntary sigh.

“Your husband does not like Mrs. Vavasour, and knows—nothing?” he asked, with a glance full of keen and searching expression.

“Nothing,” I answered faintly.

“He has forbidden you to go to her house, and I hear that you evaded that little difficulty, by meeting her in the Temple Gardens. How soon a girl learns the lesson to deceive!” But he smiled quite benignantly.

“Colonel Hassard,” I said bitterly, “do you think I like deceiving Hugh? You know little what it costs me. I am torn in two between my duty to my mother, and my duty to my husband.”

“And HE goes to the wall,” he exclaimed. “But—hush—I forgot, that in these little Bungalows, with three or four doors into every room, every word is audible; and you cannot imagine the interest that native servants take in our affairs, and how we are discussed, commented on, and weighed in the balance with other masters and mistresses; all our little foibles, and all our dearest secrets, are a common topic of conversation in the Bazaar. You are cross with me this evening! You have forgotten to put sugar in my tea. Show that you are magnanimous, and come with me for a nice long drive round the race-course; it will do your head good. You can then tell me, in what way I can serve you, and we will have no listeners.”

This seemed a good idea. I knew Pallia to be an indefatigable eavesdropper, and indeed as I rose, and went to get my hat, I overtook her, leaving the dining-room, with rather suspicious haste. “I am going out, Pallia,” I said, “and I want my hat, and things at once.” She made no answer at the moment; but as she handed me my shoes, she looked at me fixedly, and said abruptly: “When master coming home?”

“What do you mean?” I asked. “Do you suppose that master would object to my driving with Colonel Hassard, you stupid woman? Where is the harm—and why not?”

“Why not, indeed?” shrugging her fat shoulders. “When one has given the elephant, why dispute about the goad?” I stared at her, much mystified by this dark saying. “Tell me at once, Pallia, what you are driving at?”

“Missy getting long, long letters—like one book, Missy going out alone at night, walking, to Temple Gardens. Poor master! I wish Peggy was here.”

This aspiration showed, that she was literally at her wits’ end. Pallia evidently thought that I was embarked in a serious flirtation with Colonel Hassard—a man who was twenty-five years older than myself, and whom I looked upon as a sort of uncle!

The idea did not make me angry—it was too funny—much too funny. I leant back in my chair, and indulged in a fit of almost hysterical laughter. I laughed, till the tears actually coursed down my cheeks.

When I had recovered my gravity, I stood up, and dried my eyes, and told Pallia “that she was ten times more foolish than she used to be,” and hastily taking my gloves, and parasol, I went out, and joined my cavalier.

“You seemed to be enjoying an excellent joke just now,” he remarked a little suspiciously. “Is it transferable?”

“No,” I replied confusedly, and becoming rather red, “it is not, and it was a very poor jest indeed, one of Pallia’s; but it made me laugh—little things, amuse little minds.”

I noticed her, watching secretly in the side verandah, as we drove rapidly away. We avoided the popular resorts—band, polo ground, and gardens, and soon arrived at the deserted race course, and turning our heads in the direction of the breeze (such as it was), came to a stand still. I removed my hat, for my head was burning.

“Now,” said my companion abruptly, “let us have our talk out. What is this mysterious piece of business?”

“It is Mrs. Vavasour’s business,” I answered promptly. “She is in absolute need of four thousand pounds, and must have it by Saturday, without fail.”

Here Colonel Hassard was surprised into executing a long whistle. “And from what direction, is this large sum going to fall into her lap?”

“From the direction of my jewel-case,” I replied. “I am going to sell my diamonds.”

“To pay her debts – never, as long as I can speak against it. I see she is just the same as she was in former days, a kind of Juggernaut car, to all her worshippers.”

“Oh, Colonel Hassard, don’t!” I exclaimed. “She is in desperate straits. If she cannot get this money she is ruined, and she has no one to look to but me.”

“You, and she, seem to consider your husbands mere outsiders” and he laughed a short, odd laugh.

“I do not; but she has sealed my lips. I have promised never to tell Hugh.”

“A wonderful woman!” he ejaculated—“a wonderful woman!”

“And I am to raise money on my necklace at once,” I continued; “it is worth thousands. You have seen it, have you not? Coopoodoo is the man to deal with, and we are to take it to him to-morrow.”

“We?” he echoed, rather sharply. “What do you mean by we?”

“Did she not tell you, that you are to go with me?” I asked in great surprise. “She said you would manage everything, and that I had nothing to do but sign my name.”

“And hand over the diamonds? Well, it is not a business, that I shall countenance at all.”

“Then I must go alone,” I said firmly. “It must be done, and done without any delay,” my mind recalling her threat about the dear little bottle, and her face of stern resolution. “I understood that it would be all arranged between you and Mrs. Vavasour, and that I had nothing to do but go with you.”

“I never heard a word about it until now,” he answered emphatically. “She knows that I would do nothing for her; I would not walk across the road to please her. But for you, my kind, sympathetic little cousin, I would go to the end of the world,” he added in a lower tone, and looking me full in the face.

“Would you? And yet the first time I ask you to help me, you say, no,” I retorted, with tears standing in my eyes. “I shall be dreadfully frightened—going alone. I know so little about borrowing money.”

“Of course. When you talk in that way, you put me in a corner at once,” he said plaintively. “Who could say no, to a pair of pretty eyes, with tears in them?”

“Don’t—don’t talk like that,” I interrupted angrily. “I hate it!”

“Well, then, I won’t; though, of course, you know that you are very pretty—pretty enough to rule the station! There—there! no more. Of course, I must do whatever you want; though I never undertook a task for which I had less relish—but your wishes are law to me.”

“Why?” I asked, rather fiercely. “Oh—well—because—I am—your—friend—your relative—and—and—in short—because they are—” he stammered out in broken sentences.

“It is very good of you to offer to help me,” I replied, already contrite for my rude, abrupt query. “I will tell you at once, what we are to do. We must go to Coopoodoo to-morrow, leave my necklace, and bring away four thousand pounds.”

“I see! You put the matter in a nut-shell; but it is not half as easy, as it sounds. We must manage to have a private interview with old Coopoodoo, the head of the firm, and this requires due notice; we could not manage it before Friday. Just let me think it over for a moment,” and he paused reflectively, and stared at his boots. At this instant, a gay carriage came up behind us, and dashed past, in a little cloud of dust. “There she goes,” he exclaimed, “on the box of the General’s drag, enjoying life as usual, to the utmost drop of the cup of pleasure; whilst you and I sit here, plotting on her behalf like a couple of conspirators; you in tears—tears for her debts and difficulties—difficulties that she always slips out of, as a snake out of its skin! or that she fastens securely on other people’s shoulders.”

“Colonel Hassard,” I said appealingly, “do not say such things—they hurt me.”

“Call me Cousin Julian, and I’ll never breathe a syllable to displease you, and I’ll undertake this business, as if it was my own.”

“Then, Cousin Julian,” I promptly rejoined, “please do not say anything more, about Mrs. Vavasour.”

“Only just one question. What excuse has she provided you with; what sop are you to throw Fitzroy, when he misses your necklace?”

“No excuse; nothing,” I answered, rather dismally.

“Then, take my advice before it is too late: go home now, and write to her, and say that you have found the scheme impracticable. I will wait for the note, and leave it at her house myself.”

“No, no,” I replied. “I see even clearer than you can, the risks I am running; but run them I must. The diamonds are my own; it is I who lose them, no one else; and as to Hugh—” Here I was obliged to stop, and gulp down a very uncomfortable lump in my throat.

“And as to Hugh—he has an imperturbable good temper,” he added cheerfully, “and you can turn him round your little finger?”

And he laughed interrogatively, and looked at me with a rather odd expression, in his light gray eyes. I made no reply to this, and only said in a low voice:

“The diamonds must go. I have no alternative.”

“Well, then, I shall call for you on Friday at eleven o’clock; be ready. And perhaps you might as well wear a veil. We will go to old Coopoodoo’s private residence, and see what we can do with him. I expect we shall work it all right between us. And now, as it is getting late, we had better be moving.”

“Good-bye,” I said, as I descended at home. “You will not fail me on Friday, will you?”

“Neither Friday, or ever,” was his chivalrous reply.

Chapter XXXIX

Coopoodoo the Soucar

“Some of us will smart for it.”
Much Ado About Nothing.

Punctually at eleven o’clock on Friday, I was ready, veiled—with a handbag on my arm containing the Begum’s necklace; but it was past twelve o’clock, before Colonel Hassard called for me, and hurried me into his neat little brougham. As we drove out of one gate, visitors drove in at the other, and as they subsequently passed us, I saw, that it was Mrs. Lawless, and another lady! She could not possibly recognise me through a white gauze veil, and I gazed at her in unaffected amazement, and consternation. What had brought her to Sindi?

Colonel Hassard presently pulled up the venetian shutters, as he found the glare of the hot white roads insufferable, and we drove along in semi-darkness, through unfamiliar and unfashionable parts of the cantonment—through a great Bazaar, lined with narrow little shops displaying bales of brilliantly coloured cotton, and silk goods, alluring to the native eye; and finally we arrived at a large stone house, surrounded by high, weather-stained walls. It had once been the residence of some important European functionary, but now it was abandoned to Coopoodoo & Co. We drove into a court yard, half court, half garden, with large shrubs, and orange-trees in painted tubs, and drew up before a long verandah, thronged with money changers, borrowers, and peons. Colonel Hassard whispered a word to one of these latter, and immediately afterwards we were ushered into a large office, where many clerks were at work. From the office we passed into another large room at the back—and here Coopoodoo himself presided, sitting at a table; half-a dozen men sat cross-legged on a divan, that ran round the apartment, writing busily – all Hindoos, all clad in showy garments, all clean, immovable, and supercilious. I suppose the important function of lending money, had grown into their minds, and given them a mean opinion of their fellow-creatures.

Coopoodoo himself rose, and salaamed. He was an elderly man, enormously fat, and had a big, round face, a little hard black eye, and an unctuous smile. He wore a small white turban, and thin spotted muslin clothes; his breast was perfectly bare, and round his fat neck, hung a massive gold chain. He also displayed a splendid ring on either little finger, and great diamonds sparkled in his ears. He spoke English remarkably well, but rather slowly, and said, as he waved us into two chairs, and rubbed his large fat hands:

“What can I do for you to-day?”

“We wish to raise a sum of money on some diamonds,” replied Colonel Hassard, in an off-hand way, leaning his arm on the top of the hand, which held his inseparable walking stick.

“Diamonds! Ah, they are a drug in the market. The African diamond fields have reduced their value enormously, and place them within the reach of everybody.”

“True,” assented my companion politely. “Small stones; but I believe fine ones still hold their own?”

“By fine stones, you mean flawless, and of a good colour,” glancing complacently at one of his rings. “These always do command a certain marketable value. But money is scarce, and times are bad, and— ”

Here Coopoodoo groaned as if in mortal agony, and in a mannner that made me start; but I presently discovered, that it was a habit of his;—possibly contracted to extort sympathy during some illness, and never subsequently abandoned. “This lady,” he continued, looking sharply at me, “wishes to sell her diamonds?”

“Yes, or to raise money on them,” I answered timidly.

“Call Mr. Schammel,” he said, turning to a Portuguese clerk. “Mr. Schammel is a German specialist, of great experience,” he explained to us. “He does business for me, and can tell the value of a stone to a pice, and its weight to a grain, at the first glance—though I am not a very bad judge myself.”

“You do a good deal of business in jewellery,” said Colonel Hassard.

“Pretty well! For Nawabs and that; not much European business.”

“No! With them it is another branch—and one which pays better—the money-lending at twenty-five per cent, on the best securities.”

“Ah,” with a shrug of his fat shoulders. “It may seem high interest; but consider our risks! consider our losses! We do not clear more than eighteen per cent. Think of the officers who go away to England, and never pay. Think of the expense of sending agents after them—to the Punjaub, Cashmere, and even to Persia!”

“You always reach them, I know. In England or Persia, it is all one; you have firms who do your business at the client’s expense, and they lay their hands on him at once.”

“Well, think of the officers who die in our debt How can we reach them?” he asked tragically. “There was a colonel who died of cholera six months ago—he owed us eight thousand rupees.”

“How sad! Well, you could stand more than that, Coopoodoo Ragoo.”

“Yes—I do not deny that we have made handsomely by officers—in former years they were in our books for all their service. Ay, and civil employ was good too. But now times are changed. People do not spend as they did, they try, and live within their means!” And he groaned and shook his head, as much as to say that they were all miserable creatures! “Ah—this is Mr. Schammel at last,” as a stout German, in large gold spectacles, came hurrying in.

“Mr. Schammel, this lady has some diamonds to show. She wants to raise money on them.”

Mr. Schammel bowed to me—rubbed his hands, and looked amused; decidedly their expectations of the value of my jewels were on a very moderate scale.

“Perhaps madam would allow us to see the stones?” said the German, with a strong accent.

“Certainly,” I answered, hastily fumbling at my bag.

“Are they Brazilian, or African?” he inquired. “Stars, ear-rings, or brooches?”

“No,” I returned, still wrestling with the lock; “the diamonds are Indian, and the ornament I wish to sell is a necklace.”

“A rivière?”

“You shall see it immediately,” I responded, now pulling out the parcel of chamois leather. “If you will kindly clear a space on the table, you can then judge of it for yourself.”

The table was covered with a dark red cloth, and books, and papers were hurriedly moved aside. The conviction that I was about to open Mr. Schammel’s eyes, gave me a certain amount of courage. It was the last triumph that my precious necklace was ever likely to afford me. As I slowly unrolled it, I thought of the murmurs of admiration, and the whispers, and glances that surrounded me, when it flashed upon my neck.

I deftly unwrapped it, and with a quick movement, laid the dazzling object on the red cloth. It sparkled, it blazed, the stones seemed to run into one another, and make a blinding band of light. For fully as long as you could count twenty, there was a dead silence, and then Herr Schammel, for once thrown off his professional balance, loudly ejaculated:

“Gott in Himmel!”

Coopoodoo merely groaned heavily. At last he said:

“This is the most—most—extraordinary article I have seen for some time.”

“It is not extraordinary,” said Colonel Hassard coolly. “It is absolutely unique, and is, as it is—as I am sure you are aware—matchless.”

Coopoodoo, and the German, continued to stare, and one or two of the clerks, stole up, and looked over their shoulders. All the faces expressed amazement, slightly tinctured with awe. Mr. Schammel now sat down, and drew the necklace gently towards him, fixed a little microscope in his eye, and proceeded to examine it closely. For a long time he was silent; at last he pushed it over to Coopoodoo, and exclaimed: “A very old ornament: in miserable condition.”

“You allude to the setting,” said my champion; “it is about five hundred years old.”

“The stones are cut in a most barbarous fashion. Such cutting is a deadly crime,” continued Herr Schammel, now warming to his subject, and proceeding to make little of an ornament, that had literally taken away his breath!

“I know nothing of lapidary work,” rejoined Colonel Hassard. “But I do know that the necklace was once the property of a Royal Court; that it is of enormous value; even my ignorant eye can discern that.”

“The centre stone is of astounding brilliancy,” admitted the German, pointing, as he spoke, to the Evil Eye, which seemed to wink back at his finger with a fierce, lurid flash.

“Coopoodoo,” he said, “what is your opinion of that white diamond?”

Coopoodoo shook his head, and groaned, and said something I could not catch.

“And now,” continued Herr Schammel, looking at my agent over his spectacles, “may I ask, what value you put upon these stones at a rough guess?”

“At a rough guess, about fifteen thousand pounds,” he replied, without a moment’s hesitation.

Herr Schammel stared as if he sincerely pitied him, and then laughed, and said: “My dear sir, if you mentioned fifteen thousand rupees, you will be nearer the mark.”

“Will you pledge your professional reputation on that opinion?” inquired Colonel Hassard drily.

Herr Schammel looked rather uneasy, glanced hastily at his employer, and replied:

“From such a cursory inspection, I could not say anything that would bind me, one way or the other; but this much I may state—that you greatly over-rate their marketable worth.”

“And yet I have been told, by competent judges, that twenty thousand pounds was beneath their value,” I now broke in, indignantly; for this beating down, and decrying, in the face of the sensation the necklace had at first occasioned, made me excessively angry.

“Oh, my dear, beautiful, young lady!” exclaimed Schammel, placing his fat, white hands in an attitude of prayer, and looking at me with his head on one side, “that was some flatterer! Nothing pleases a lady more, than to have her jewels appraised at double their value. Your friend was not thinking of becoming a purchaser; and there is a vast difference, between admiring an article, and buying it.”

“Well, look here,” said Colonel Hassard, rising, “we will go away, and leave you to examine the necklace at your leisure, and come back in half an hour.”

“Yes, yes,” said Coopoodoo eagerly, “that is a very good plan. Come back in half an hour, and we will do business. We will mean while consult, and examine, and let you know, what we can offer.”

We walked out, preceded by Herr Schammel, who attended me to the brougham in a most courtly manner. Undoubtedly he considered that a lady possessing such diamonds was entitled to the highest respect. We drove about slowly for half an hour, and I removed my veil, and put the window down, regardless of meeting one or two familiar and astonished faces. When time was up, we returned to Coopoodoo, and I remained in the carriage, whilst “Cousin Julian” went in, and bore the brunt of the bargaining and wrangling. He was absent a whole hour, and then he came out, and told me that it was all right—that he had had a tremendously tough struggle, to make anything like decent terms—that he had fought single handed one against four—that they had talked, and argued, and expounded, and backed one another’s opinion, but that he was inflexible: “Four thousand pounds—or nothing.”

So now I was sent for, and requested to sign a receipt for a cheque for four thousand pounds, received from Coopoodoo Ragoo on account of the necklace pawned—ugly word! The cheque was on the local bank; but it was too late that day to cash it. I received it languidly—a wretched little slip of blue paper in exchange for my lovely necklace, which Coopoodoo now swept up with an eager, greedy hand—and I signed “Diana Fitzroy,” in rather trembling characters. There was another paper to sign a long, prim-looking document, with a large, brown stamp at the top—which set forth the following facts:

“That if Mrs. Diana Fitzroy did not redeem her necklace within a period of two years, it was to become the sole property of Coopoodoo on the further payment of six thousand pounds; and meanwhile, that Mrs. Diana Fitzroy was to undertake to pay interest, at the rate of ten per cent. on the four thousand pounds already advanced; and to this she set her hand and seal.”

This I also signed, in still more shaky writing. Little, little did I guess that those two signatures were, figuratively, two big nails that I had hammered into my own coffin!

“And now,” said Coopoodoo, looking over at Colonel Hassard, “is this young lady your daughter?”

“No,” reddening with annoyance. “Your—wife?” with a sort of doubtful cough. “No—a—distant connection.”

“Ah—well, we must ask you to back her signature with yours – as a guarantee for the interest.”

“Oh, certainly,” and he took up the pen at once, and dashed off “Julian Hassard.”

And now that the bargain was concluded, Coopoodoo and Herr Schammel permitted their professional attitude to relax, and broke forth into unbridled praise of the Begum’s necklace.

“Such stones were rare—such stones only come into the market once in a lifetime. The central pendant was surely historical, and could I favour them with any information?”

I told them all that was in my power, and that the age of the necklace was unknown; but that it had been worn by princesses of ancient houses, and princes too, and had been on more than one battle-field, and the spoil of conquerors; the occasion of more than one Court intrigue; that it had been reputed to have been an instrument of murder. Above all, that it was regarded with great superstition, and the centre stone was known as the “Evil Eye.”

As I mentioned this, it seemed to emit an angry flash at me, from where Herr Schammel held it up rapturously against his waistcoat. Perhaps it was enraged with me for having pawned it! Perhaps it was threatening to punish me in some way! Who knows?

“There is sufficient material for four necklaces,” observed the German triumphantly. “The stones are massed, and modelled together most extravagantly. If you do not redeem it, we shall break it up, and distribute the stones. The Emperor of Russia, and the Sultan, have agents looking out for really fine gems, and I know of purchasers in America and Australia.”

Coopoodoo’s eyes glistened, and he groaned as if in great agony, and seemed altogether pleased with his bargain. Colonel Hassard pocketed the cheque; I resumed my empty bag, and we withdrew, followed out to the door this time by Coopoodoo, Herr Schammel, and all the clerks.

It was late in the afternoon when I reached home, worn out by the heat and excitement, and with my head aching, as if it was going to fall off. I spent the rest of the day lying in a dark room, with ice on my temples—whilst Pallia fanned me steadily. Pallia was silent, stolid, and most unsympathetic. Her whole bearing said as plainly as words: “Missus cannot eat or drink. Missus very sick. Serves her right!”

Chapter XL

For the Honour of the Regiment

“But optics sharp it needs, I ween,
To see what is not to be seen.”
— J. Trumbull

Early on the following morning, Coxon, Mrs. Vavasour’s maid, came down, and asked if she could see me. Of course she was admitted. She had come to give me her mistress’s kind love, and had I been able to do the little commission for her? And if so, would I be at the library at four o’clock:

“Please say yes to both questions,” I replied, with unusual brevity.

Coxon was well accustomed to such mysterious errands, no doubt; she cast a sharp glance round the room, and then retired, with a curtsey and a smile.

“And so you have managed it all beauti fully?” said Mrs. Vavasour, that same afternoon, as we stood side by side before a bookcase labelled “Novels,” and pretended to search for one. “You are a darling,” she added, as I placed an envelope in her hand. She tore it open instantly, and critically inspected the contents. “It seems to be all right,” she said, “and on the bank here. What a relief! Julian Hassard is a capital man of business—I mean for this sort of business. Here, you are looking for a book—what more suitable than this, ‘The Queen’s Necklace,’ by Dumas? See, I am putting a little note in it for you. Now I must go—I have not a second to lose. My Burr, as I call her—Lawrence’s niece—is waiting for me in the carriage below,” and thrusting “The Queen’s Necklace” into my reluctant hand, and bowing gracefully to one or two friends, she walked off, with her cheque in her pocket.

Well, at any rate I had done my duty, and no one expected to be thanked for that, but when I thought of my poor pawned diamonds, I felt a sort of tightness in my throat; and when I thought of what Hugh would say, if he knew what I had done, my heart beat rather faster than usual. I did think she would have seemed a little grateful. She did not even say “thank you,” but seemed to take it entirely as a mere matter of course. After all, was she not right? She was my mother, and my service to her was but her due!

Yes, I had done all I could. She must know that I had helped her, to the very utmost of my power, and, having accomplished my task, I might now surely look for my reward in peace at home; no more nocturnal interviews; no more stealthy little notes. I accepted it as a good omen, that when I drove up to our own door, in the little cart, I found Hugh had arrived, and was sitting in the verandah, nursing Billy. He seemed delighted to see me, and, now that a load was off my mind, the delight was mutual. We went into the drawing-room, where afternoon tea was waiting for me, and I took off my hat, and sat down before the tray, and began to talk with my usual glibness. Presently I noticed that Hugh was staring at me, as he stood with his cup and saucer in his hand.

“You are looking very much below the mark. What is the matter?” he asked, very gravely.

“Nothing. I’ve had rather a headache the last day or two.”

“Perhaps you have been too much indoors. Were you out yesterday?”

Out! I should rather think I had been out! What would he have said, if I had replied: “Yes, nearly all day, raising money from a soucar on my diamonds!” But I merely muttered a monosyllabic assent, and kept my eyes on the floor.

“I suppose Peter has looked you up often, and Ada Mayne?”

“Yes, and Mr. Conroy called yesterday, when I was not at home, and carried off a double bridle, your new brown riding-boots, and three or four polo sticks.”

“The deuce is in Conroy,” he exclaimed, and we both laughed. “The boots will punish him severely!” he remarked. “And now, what about Mrs. Vavasour, Ranee? Have you kept your promise?” suddenly transfixing me with his dark blue eyes.

“Yes,” I answered, looking into the teapot.

“You have not entered her house whilst I have been away?”

“No.”

“Nor has she been in this?”

“No.” This almost in a whisper.

“That’s a good girl!” now stooping down, and sweeping my blazing cheek with his moustache. I had the grace to blush still. I was not a hardened sinner; and my only wonder is, that Hugh did not notice my guilty face. He did not often kiss me, and perhaps he thought I was blushing at that. Dear, honourable, loyal Hugh! he would no more have suspected me of telling a lie, than he would tell one himself.

“That’s a good girl,” he repeated; “and you will find that your virtue will have its reward.” (And I surely did, but not in the sense that he intended.) “I don’t mind having another cup of tea,” he said, and as he stood with it in his hand (he was one of those men who stand or walk about, but rarely sit), he said, “I can’t endure Mrs. Vavasour! I have taken the most inveterate dislike to the woman, with her airs, and her dresses, and her fascinating ways. I do not deny her looks, nor that she is an admirable hostess, and seems to know how to say the right word to everybody; but her cold, stately manners do not impress me—especially as I feel that, all the time she is talking to me, her thoughts are far away, and she is, figuratively, looking over my head.”

“She is very nearly as tall as you are,” I remarked. Hugh was only five feet nine, and this was one for him!

“Very likely. Ill weeds grow apace,” he retorted coolly. “She is an ill weed: her mind is poisonous. She would soon contaminate you, my little Jungle-flower. I would almost as soon see you associating with a ‘case’ of small pox.”

“Why are you so dreadfully bitter against her?” I asked combatively.

“Because I know her history, ancient and modern,” was his prompt reply. “It is not nice reading. No wonder she never turns over the back pages.”

And I also knew her history. Was it not all written out for my benefit, on five sheets of crested paper, and locked away in my dressing-case, in the next room? So I sat silent, and played with the fringe of the tea-cloth, and perhaps looked as I felt, wretchedly uncomfortable.

“Well,” said Hugh, after a long pause, “I shall go down to the mess, and hear all the news, and bring Peter back to dinner.” Peter was our constant guest, and often a third at our table, joined our rides, and coiled himself up in the back seat of the pony-cart. To-night he returned with Hugh, literally boiling over with spirits. He and Hugh kept up nearly all the conversation, with jokes, and stories, and smart retorts; as for me, I was dull, if not downright stupid. I had not yet recovered my mental equilibrium, nor the pang of parting with the Begum’s necklace, nor the shame, and prevarications, that transaction had entailed. Presently Peter said something that caused me to prick up my ears.

“I suppose you have heard that we had a mess meeting to-day, and have settled to give a big ball?”

“No,” I replied. “How delightful!”

“You see, the people here have been awfully civil, and we have only had a couple of days’ ‘sports,’ and a few afternoon dances, so we have made up our minds to give a ‘hop’ that will take the shine out of every ball that has been given in Sindi, since nautches were first invented! Supper from Bombay—fountains of scent—mountains of ice, and rivers of the best champagne. We are going to ask the whole Residency.”

“And all the people from Calcutta and Madras, and pay their railway fare to and fro, and their hotel bills for a week,” added Hugh, with the utmost gravity.

“Nonsense! But what does Colonel Tanner say to all this?” (he was our second in command).

“Oh, he knows, we ought to do something, and he has given in; he is coming.”

“And he will have to dance in the first quadrille,” I said, clapping my hands. “What will he do? He thinks balls are wicked.”

“He will be like St. Francis de Sales, who said there was no harm in a ball, if you thought all the time of hell and damnation.”

“Hugh!” I exclaimed, “I am surprised at you! Where did you pick up such a horrid idea?”

“Never you mind; you must write down at once to Madame—what’s her name? and order a really smart frock, and do me credit.”

“I say ditto to Mr. Burke,” said Peter, “and I’ll take leave to provide the bouquet, if you will promise me something.”

“Well—what is it?”

“That you will wear your diamonds for the honour of the regiment—they reflect as much glory on us as the mess plate!”

“Yes,” chimed in Hugh, “I am, as you are painfully aware, generally against their display, they look so startlingly out of place on the meek little neck of the wife of a humble Captain of Black Horse. Nevertheless, on the occasion of a big regimental ball, we are bound to put our best foot foremost, so I quite endorse Peter’s request, that at the forthcoming ‘Tamasha,’ Mrs. Fitzroy will, by special desire, wear her diamond necklace.”

(Would she!)

“And it will be quite an additional attraction,” said Peter. “Shall we put it in the in vitation cards? What do you say?” grinning at me.

What could I say? I said nothing intelligible. I smiled a faint assent, but my blood ran cold. Here was a contingency for which I was wholly unprepared!

Chapter XLI

The Whisper

“Ask me no questions, and I’ll tell you no fibs.”
— Goldsmith

The little note, that had been slipped into “The Queen’s Necklace,” was merely a line, saying:

“Burn my letter. Burn it yourself. Do not send it out to the cook-house, to be read by educated domestics, and blazoned in the Bazaar. –M. V.”

I accordingly unlocked my dressing-case, and held the sheets, one after the other, over a lighted candle, till they were in ashes, whilst Pallia gravely superintended the entire performance, and then, thus calmly delivered her soul:

“Missy getting letter when Master is away. Master coming back; Missy plenty fraiding burning letter.I know all about such things; once before, I also living with one very bad lady!”

“Pallia,” I said, roused to great indignation, “if you ever dare to speak to me like this again, I shall send you away.”

“Missy sending—but I never going! Another ayah coming, telling stories in Bazaar of Missy, I never saying one word. I knowing you, Miss Ranee, this nineteen year, when you were—oh—such a pretty Baba. You may beat me—you may give me no pay; I still stop all the same.” And she folded her arms, and looked as if she was resolved to take root in my room for the rest of her life; and there was no use quarrelling with her, for between gibes, and protests, she always had the last word!

What mental agonies I suffered ere the ball took place, can never even be guessed at. How was I to account for the absence of my diamonds? So much for being the owner of remarkable jewels. My state of mind during the next three weeks was a new experience to myself—and others. I was restless, distraite, and—and—irritable. I no longer enjoyed my morning gallops, or lingered with fond fingers over the dusting of my drawing-room treasures, or arranged flowers, or bustled about the house and stables with plantains for the ponies, and grain for the fowl. I was cross to Hugh, and used to hunt the puppy out of the house, and threw our beloved “Billy” out of the drawing-room chairs in a manner that astonished him. No, I had no compunction about his afternoon doze. As for Pallia, she and I had ceased to be on speaking terms, and I spent most of my time wandering aimlessly to and fro, and wondering—wondering – my little mind in a frenzy, my brain in a fever—as to what I was to do.

I snatched a word with Mrs. Vavasour at an afternoon dance (when Hugh was not looking). She was, as usual, to all appearance, radiantly happy, and handsome, and stately—and the admired of all beholders. Her impatient reply to my whispered entreaty was this:

“Brazen it out! What a little goose you must be! He will believe anything you tell him, thanks to your artless eyes! Tell him that the clasp is broken. Tell him anything you like!”

“Oh, I cannot say that,” I whispered appealingly. “Do, do help me.”

But already her head was turned away in an opposite direction; already she was speaking to a good-looking gunner; and I saw that I must rely on myself alone, to get out of this horrible dilemma! The clasp excuse answered for once. When I came tripping into our drawing-room on the eventful evening, clad in a cloud of sea green tulle, Hugh exclaimed: “I say, this is something like a turn-out! But,” he added, as I moved into the full lamp light, “where are the diamonds?”

“They would not go with the dress,” I replied carelessly, but my heart was palpitating wildly.

“No? I should have thought that they would have gone with anything. And you are always so keen about wearing them. Run away and put them on—you know you promised Peter.”

“Yes; but then I had not seen my dress,” I answered promptly. Alas! how readily I was adapting myself to the art of telling lies! “You observe that this is a sea costume!”

“Do you mean a bathing-dress?”

“No, you stupid man.”

“Well, that is the only sea costume that I am acquainted with—and of course I have only seen it at a respectful distance.”

“I mean a dress that typifies the ocean,” I explained. “Look at the green tulle draped over green satin, with coral, and sea-weed, and shells. Is it not novel and lovely?”

“You are a swell of the ocean, I grant; but why not the diamonds?”

“Don’t you see, that they would not be in keeping; now this dear little string of seed pearls is the very thing, and matches my bracelets.”

“Sham!” he remarked, with great con tempt. “Yes, they are not real, of course.”

“Well, even if they are a little out of keeping, I prefer real diamonds, to mock pearls, any day.”

“No doubt,” I answered, now hard pressed, and falling back on my other course. “But the clasp of the necklace is out of order.”

“Oh! and why did you not say so at first? You are like a fellow who was had up before his colonel, for not attending as a member of a court-martial, and who gave his reasons for his absence as follows:

“‘Firstly, because I was slightly indisposed.

“‘Secondly, because of the inclemency of the weather.

“‘Thirdly, because it entirely escaped my memory.’”

I laughed quite naturally and heartily at this illustration of myself, and then hastily led the way to our hired brougham, declaring that, as we represented a portion of the host and hostess, we had no time to lose.

Every one, as Peter had prophesied, was at our ball, not only the residents of Sindi, but people from many other stations, and even from Bombay! The room was beautifully decorated, and the ante-rooms and long verandahs were arranged in what Hugh called the “sympathetic” style. There was a room for chaperones, full of soft and slumber-provoking chairs; there were tents for whist, for refreshments, and for flirtations; there were long passages with Chinese lanterns, palms, ferns, and seats—here and there—affording accommodation for two. As we entered, Ada Mayne accosted me and said:

“My dear, your dress is delightful; but—where are the diamonds?”

“They would not correspond with the costume,” I muttered impatiently. “Then, if I had only known that in time, I would have worn them,” she rejoined. “It’s a sin not to display them on some one in the regiment.”

Mrs. Gimlette, in a new and hot-looking red plush, reproached me playfully; but she was too much occupied to waste time on my short comings.

I was engaged for the first dance to Colonel Hassard, but, instead of taking our places in the “Lancers,” we strolled out to the tea-room. I wanted to talk to him, and to thank him for his help, for I had scarcely seen him since our joint expedition. So we sat close together on the same ottoman, our faces partly concealed by my large white fan, and I rapidly related how I had made over the cheque, how Hugh had questioned me, and the desperate straits I had been put to to account for wearing a miserable little string of mock pearls instead of my beautiful diamonds; to all of which recital, my companion listened with the deepest interest and sympathy.

“I have a horrible presentiment, that I cannot shake off, that the diamond necklace will get me into trouble yet,” I concluded impressively.

“And I have a horrible presentiment, that I cannot shake off, that if I monopolise you any longer, I shall get into trouble too,” and he laughed—that is to say, he displayed his teeth. I followed his glance, and saw Hugh standing at the buffet, ostensibly waiting upon a stout old lady, but in reality watching us with eyes of stern incredulity.

“Come,” I said, rising, “I must hope for the best—I am engaged for this dance to Mr. Hare.”

“And you will give me number seventeen?”

“Yes;” and I nodded, and turned away to Peter, who had come in search of me.

Peter was a capital partner, and, after a long turn round and round the room, we paused to rest, and watch other people, and he seized this opportunity to upbraid me bitterly for not wearing my necklace.

“You have broken your word, Mrs. Fitz—I did not think you would have done that!—and you have never condescended to wear my humble offering.”

“I did not deserve it; and it would not go with my dress.”

“Well, it is a stunning frock—heaps of people say so; and you and Fitz go a long way in keeping up the average good looks of the corps—and here he comes! You are never going to be so ridiculous as to give him a dance?”

“Why not?”

“Because you must have quite enough of one another as partners for life. Look here, Fitz.” (to Hugh), “it is very greedy of you to want to dance with your wife; and this is a divine waltz—just one to lift you off the floor! You might let me have it, like a good fellow.”

“And what about your own partner—for I presume you are engaged?” said Hugh sternly.

“Oh, she’ll think I could not find her,” was his ineffably cool reply.

“I shall be no party to such treatment,” said Hugh, giving him a playful push. “Go, and do your duty.”

In another moment I was swimming round the room to the strains of a dolorous waltz. I glanced over Hugh’s shoulder, and took in the fringe of spectators watching the dancers. Mrs. Vavasour, who thoroughly understood the art of arrival and departure, stood in a doorway, as usual the centre of a little crowd of satellites, chiefly composed of “The Clique.” I fancied that her eyes followed me languidly; indeed, I may state without undue conceit, that a good many people watched us. Hugh was a first-rate dancer, and I—if I was nothing else, was one of the best dressed young women in the room—and, was it imagination? as I floated by, did I really hear the spectators whisper to one another: “Where are her diamonds to-night?”

We stopped at last, and I leant against the wall, and fanned myself vigorously. Then I glanced at Hugh, and met his eyes. Strange to say they did not smile, as was their invariable habit when they looked at me, and I knew at once, by their expression, that he was about to make some disagreeable remark.

But just at this moment Mrs. Lawless came fluttering up to us—in a very décolletée costume, and judging by the diamonds and bangles she displayed, she had been “collecting” most industriously since I last saw her. “You delightful creatures!” she exclaimed, a little out of breath. “How charming it is to see married people dancing together! Some friends just now would not believe that you were not an engaged couple!”

“And how have you been, Diana?” suddenly clasping my arm, and looking up into my face with the tenderest interest.

“Very well indeed.”

“Really? You are looking rather thin, and pale. Not half so well as in those dear old days at Gurrumpore; but you,” turning to Hugh, “are not a bit altered.”

“Did you expect to see me with gray hair?” he asked cynically.

At this she laughed—shrugged her shoulders, and exclaimed:

“No, not just yet.”

“I am sorry we missed each other when we called,” I remarked politely.

“Yes, dear, and I would have run over to see you often, but you do live so, out of the way – in such an unfashionable part! The friends that I am staying with, live next door to the Vavasours, in a splendid house! By the way, darling” (and by this I knew that she was going to say something nasty), “I was so amused that day I called on you. You were out, certainly—had but just left the compound with a gentleman—you were in a delightfully mysterious-looking little green brougham, and closely veiled.”

Her wonderful eyes seemed to taunt me, and she glanced expressively at Hugh.

But Hugh was a man who had a wonderful command over himself, and he made no sign.

“Yes,” I rejoined, with the courage of desperation, “I was only going down to the Bazaar with my cousin, Colonel Hassard, to see some curiosities.” Well! was not a Soucar’s establish-- ment a curiosity to me?

“Ah!” she exclaimed, with a laugh, and a slight gesture of her hand in which I discerned insolent incredulity. “So that was it? And now, Captain Fitzroy, I suppose you thought my card was full—I have kept a dance for you, for the sake of auld lang syne.”

“I am sure I am most highly honoured, Mrs. Lawless; but, unfortunately, I am engaged for every dance. You see, being one of the hosts, I must do my duty.”

“Including dancing with your wife,” shaking her fan at him with a playful air. “Yes, of course. Well, never mind, you shall take me in to supper. I shall be near the fountain. Don’t forget,” and with a smile, and a wave of her fan, she passed on.

“Just the same as ever,” I remarked, with forced composure.

“Yes; but look here, Diana, what on earth induces you to make yourself so conspicuous with that ass Hassard?”

“What do you mean?” I asked, rather fiercely.

“I mean, that I had no idea that you had such a genius for flirting. You looked like a pair of conspirators this evening. You sat out two dances, with him whispering behind your fan, and altogether behaving yourself in a way that surprised and amazed me! And what is this story about a brougham and a veil, eh?”

“Do you not know Mrs. Lawless?” I asked, with affected surprise—Mrs. Lawless evil reputation did me a noble turn now.

“Well, I won’t have you so intimate with Hassard, although he says he is your cousin.”

“He is more—he is my friend!” (gratefully recalling the visit to Coopoodoo).

“And I won’t allow you to have any friend of my own sex but myself,” was Hugh’s resolute reply.

“Oh—what a liberal and generous mind! Must I no longer speak to Peter?”

(Who among the passers by, would have supposed that Captain and Mrs. Fitzroy, as they leant against the wall, and conversed in low tones, were carrying on a pitched battle?)

“Peter is totally different, and when you couple him and Hassard in one breath—”

“Mrs. Fitzroy,” said a voice on my other side. I turned quickly; there was the man himself. “Can I say a word to you?” he asked, rather eagerly.

“Of course you can—a thousand, if you will,” I rejoined, for Hugh’s benefit. “Is it anything very important?” holding up my fan, as if to make a screen.

“Well, it is rather,” bending his head down towards me—how very bald he was getting!—and speaking in a low and hurried voice. “I thought I would tell you,” he concluded aloud, and standing erect as he spoke, and then he moved quickly away.

The face that I exhibited, when I moved my fan, must have been chalky white; I felt beads of perspiration standing on my forehead. Even Hugh was startled out of his wrath, by my ghastly appearance.

“What is the matter with you, Ranee? What has that fellow been saying to you, to make you look like this?—Come at once out of this hot room.”

I shook my head, and stammered out:

“It is nothing. The heat is stifling, and I feel very giddy.”

Was it likely that I could repeat what had just been whispered into my horrified ear: “There is an old lady in the inner room—looks like a Jewess, or rich Armenian—she is wearing your diamond necklace”?

I felt as if I were going to faint, and tottered out of the ball-room, and managed to reach the door of the outer room, and, sending Hugh to fetch a glass of cold water, I gazed around where chaperones were benched in dozens. Yes! there, near the door, sat a stout old lady, in crimson velvet, cut square in front, and sure enough, round her throat I recognised my late necklace—a necklace, that no one who had once seen it, could possibly mistake. I fancied, too, that there was an unusually vivid flash—a kind of triumphant glare—in the “Evil Eye” as it encountered mine!

Chapter XLII

Poor Mrs. Moonathoon!

“They fool me, to the top of my bent.”
Hamlet

When I had ascertained that my necklace was really present, I felt quite desperate. I glanced round the ante-room, in which I was standing, and noticed Mrs. Vavasour, reclining in an arm chair, and whispering to a man who sat very close to her, with his head bent, and his hands clasped.

In an instant I was beside her—at her left side—and, with a hasty “excuse me,” I leant over, and whispered in my turn:

“An old lady in the next room is wearing my diamonds! You must get her away.”

“I!” aloud, with a look of languid amusement. “My dear Mrs. Fitzroy, what have I to say to her—what can I do?”

“What I tell you,” I repeated, also aloud, maddened to frenzy by her equanimity, and nonchalance. “Mrs. Vavasour, you must! If not, I will leave you to bear the consequences.” And quivering with agitation, ay, and indignation, I walked away, and was just in time to seat myself, as Hugh came towards me with a glass of water. (I believe that the man, who had been listening to the dialogue between Mrs. Vavasour and Mrs. Fitzroy, subsequently gave out, to his immediate friends, that the latter had the most awful temper, and that he did not envy Fitz!)

“I had the greatest work to get it,” said Hugh, handing me the tumbler. “If it had only been champagne – but water is scarce. I am sorry I have been so long.”

Poor Hugh! He had already recovered his good humour. Little did he suspect what his absence had been to me. My eyes filled with remorseful tears, when I thought how good and loyal he had always been to me, and how treacherously I was behaving to him; and all for the sake of one who did not value my efforts on her behalf—no more than if they had never cost me a thought, a pang, or a tear! I saw her staring hard at me once or twice; evidently she looked to me to extricate myself out of the scrape—as best I could—and as usual; but for once I was firm, and I returned her significant and imperious glances, with counter glances of stony indifference. I was resolved not to move, nor to lift one finger to save myself; and yet I knew that my fate was literally trembling in the balance; and were Hugh, or Peter, or any of my friends to pass through the door at which I sat sentry, the whole story of the sale of my diamonds would be known; and after that, the deluge!

Just at this crisis, Hugh was called away. He left me reluctantly, and with many tender apologies. He would have been surprised had he known how much more freely I breathed, and how much better I felt, as I saw him vanish towards the ball-room.

Presently Mrs. Vavasour rose, and came towards me, with graceful deliberation

“What do you mean?” she whispered impatiently, as she stood beside me in the door way. “Where is the old woman? Show her to me,” beckoning me closer, with a nod of her head.

“You will see her soon enough,” I answered, rising. “She is over there on the sofa, and looks as if she was asleep.”

“It’s Mrs. Moonathoon—an enormously rich Armenian. Luckily, I know her—come along”—and she advanced into the room.

“Dear Mrs. Moonathoon,” sidling up to her; “this is an unexpected meeting. Where did you come from?”

“Oh—Mrs. Vavasour!” blinking incredulously, and delighted at such gracious notice from that cold and exclusive lady. “I came from Bombay for a little change. I am stopping with a niece, and I got a card for this ball. They are doing it very well, aren’t they? I wonder when supper will be served?”

“Very shortly, I believe, what magnificent diamonds you are wearing! My dear Mrs. Moonathoon, they are superb!”

“Yes—ain’t they?” smiling a fat, complacent smile. “You don’t see their match every day.”

“No. But how dangerous to wear what is not your own!” said Mrs. Vavasour impressively.

“What do you mean?” exclaimed the old lady, becoming a deep puce.

“I merely mean that that necklace belongs to a relation of mine. She left it with Coopoodoo to take care of, as it is of enormous value. She will be astonished when she hears of this. In fact, she is present to-night, and if you will take my advice, you will not let her see it, for she has rather a temper, and is quite capable of flying at you, and making a dreadful scene. You surely have not purchased the necklace from Coopoodoo?”

“Oh, dear me! dear me!” moaned the now terrified Mrs. Moonathoon. “What are you telling me? I only hired it for the night, for three hundred rupees, from Hookum, in Bombay—you know, the great jeweller’s shop in Rampart Row. He said he got it from his partner, Coopoodoo, and that it was in pawn for fifty thousand rupees.”

“Never mind what he told you, my dear madam. Speaking as your friend, I strongly recommend you to take off the necklace, and put it into your pocket, before it is seen. It is well known here, I can assure you—is it not, Diana?” appealing to me.

“It is,” I answered, with emphatic corroboration.

“If you will be so very good as to unfasten it, I will do as you advise,” said the now trembling Mrs. Moonathoon—“or perhaps the young lady,” glancing at me piteously, “would be so kind?”

And I was so kind as to unfasten the clasp, with the greatest alacrity, and place the diamonds in her hand.

“Put it away—hide it!” I could not resist saying, in my eagerness and anxiety. “For goodness’ sake, don’t let any one see it!”

“Is she coming?” stammered the old lady, in unmistakable alarm. “Do you see her?”

“No,” replied Mrs. Vavasour, turning round, and slowly surveying the door. “But you must be cautious. I do not know what she would say to Coopoodoo, if she knew that he hired out her diamonds at so much a night. I am certain she would prosecute him, and you would be called in as a witness, and it would be in all the papers. I am sure you would not like that—nor for every one in India to know that you wore borrowed jewels—so do be careful, my dear Mrs. Moonathoon.”

And with this remark, she walked away, leaving the unfortunate old lady to await supper with what appetite she might. Poor Mrs. Moonathoon, I was sorry for her, and only that I was afraid that she might be tempted to make some awkward confidences, I would have despatched Hugh himself to look after her, and escort her to table when the tune of “Roast Beef” resounded through the mess-house.

“You see how cleverly I can manage things,” said Mrs. Vavasour, taking my arm, and leading me into a secluded nook between the palms. “I never lose my head, or my nerves, as you do. Why, your very face, as you sat beside that door, was enough to rouse any one’s suspicions—guilt was stamped on it—you looked as if you had been stealing the spoons! When a crisis occurs, you have not a scrap of pluck, or presence of mind. So different to me. Now, my courage always rises with the occasion.”

“Very likely,” I answered, rather tartly (but my nerves had been shaken to a most painful tension). “You have had plenty of practice, and I have not.”

She looked at me fixedly, and bit her lip, and said: “That is no way to speak to me. Here is a pretty return, for helping you out of an awkward scrape!”

“A scrape that I got into for your sole benefit,” I replied, breaking at last into open rebellion. “And now that I have sacrificed my diamonds, I think you might release me from my promise, and let me tell Hugh—the diamonds may go, I do not grudge them, nor the tears and trouble they have cost me; but, mother, I appeal to you, by any affection you ever bore me, when I was a little flaxen-haired baby, let me tell Hugh. I cannot bear to deceive him, and it will break my heart, if I lose his confidence and respect.”

“No,” she said shortly, “you cannot tell Hugh yet. If you told him now, it would ruin me.”

“But I am certain—” I began.

“And I am certain,” she interrupted, “that his knowledge of our secret, would be fatal to my happiness.”

“And what of my happiness, mother?” I asked, with trembling lips.

“Don’t!” she exclaimed, turning away her face; “when you look at me like that, with those imploring eyes, you are the image of your Aunt Annie.”

“Who died?”

“Yes, the little goose—she took a like affair to heart, and it killed her.”

“I shall die, too, if this goes on,” I said tearfully. “This double-dealing will kill me.”

“Not at all! You are tough—like me. Our delicate looks are the most complete delusion—this is quite between ourselves. As for your happiness about which you are so solicitous, you have youth, and health, and beauty. They are happiness.”

“I don’t believe in happiness,” I exclaimed bitterly; “it is a ghost. Who has ever seen it!”

“What a quaint idea! I am sure you picked it up from your father; it is so like what he would say! Well, my little moraliser, I cannot stay with you any longer. I believe in a certain kind of happiness; I believe in supper; I believe I am hungry; and I believe that I see Sir Foster White searching for me everywhere. Good-bye, my pretty dreamer.”

I stood, and watched her tall, graceful figure, and satin train pass gradually from the room, and then I sat down alone. My appetite, like Mrs. Moonathoon’s, had been most effectually dispelled.

Chapter XLIII

“So Much for a Kiss”

“The last link is broken
That bound me to thee.”
— Miss F. Steers

“What, all alone?” exclaimed Hugh, “and buried in a brown study. Oh, I say! this will never do! Rouse up at once, and come and have some supper. We have made up a jolly little party—the Maynes, Peter, and Goodchild, and ourselves. I have been hunting for you everywhere, for Peter told me you were dancing.”

“And what are you going to do with Mrs. Lawless?” I asked, with an effort at sprightliness.

“Oh, I could not find her. She was out promenading. I hope she won’t catch cold. Come; you know you are a dreadfully greedy girl for sweets, and the strawberry ices and Peliti’s bon bons will all be gone, if you don’t look sharp.”

So I suffered myself to be led away, and, under the influence of Hugh’s really anxious attentions, and the mirth of a very merry party, I soon recovered my wonted spirits, pulled crackers, and bandied jests, the more especially as that, to me, detestable word “diamonds,” was not uttered in my hearing for the remainder of the evening.

I danced number seventeen—a valse—with Colonel Hassard, and afterwards—when the music had ceased—he led me out to one of the tents outside—a most popular resort. It was one immense marquee, pitched all round the trunk of a huge tree, and divided into a dozen little bowers, merely separated by a piece of canvas. Each retreat was lighted by fairy lamps, and furnished with a couple of luxurious seats, or a sofa.

The one we entered contained two inviting arm-chairs, drawn up in a friendly way, side by side; and it was delicately illumined by a rose-shaded lamp—my own lamp, as I noticed—for to a large regimental affair like this ball, we all contributed furniture, lights, flowers, etc.

I cast myself into one of the inviting arm chairs, with a mixture of weariness, and satisfaction. Here we were quite secluded from the vulgar gaze, and I was anxious to tell my partner all about my late scene with Mrs. Moonathoon, to consult him as to how the repetition of such a “scare” could be avoided, also to ask him how I was to pay the interest money? No one, who has not been similarly situated, can realise the solace and relief it was to me to put my fears into words, and to pour my troubles into one sympathetic human ear. Of course, I had recently learnt that Hugh did not approve of this particular organ! But I was fully assured, in my own mind, that if Hugh knew all, he would like and appreciate Cousin Julian, quite as much as I did!

I lost no time in unfolding my tale, and was soon most eager and confidential, and declaim ing with my hands, and with my fan, according to my wont. I earnestly besought my companion to tell me, how I was to prevent the necklace from being let out on hire? and thereby causing my public disgrace. “Oh! I shall have a word with Coopoodoo,” he replied, “and it will be all right. The old rascal thought it would be a safe little game in Bombay.”

“And what about the interest?” I continued anxiously.

“Oh, Mrs. Vavasour will surely see to that!”

“No—she will not; she said so most distinctly.”

“Then I’m afraid you are legally responsible! What a country this is for what they call ‘taking interest,’” he exclaimed; “it’s the universal bane—from the coolie, who pays one anna a rupee per month—seventy-two per cent.—up to the Prince of a Province, all will promise any interest to ensure present ease.”

“It has not ensured me much present ease,” I retorted rather fretfully.

“No; the present ease went to some one else,” and he laughed, as if the fact tickled him not a little.

“Supposing I declined to pay interest, what would happen?”

“You would be run in,” he replied, with a lazy smile.

“And that would be rather disagreeable. How much have I to pay?”

“About three hundred rupees a month,” he rejoined, with the utmost tranquillity. “Three hundred rupees a month!” I nearly screamed. “And where am I to get it! I might be able to pay it after I am of age—but now it is out of the question.”

“You might make some arrangement after next quarter, but not before,” he answered musingly.

“What am I to do?” I asked distractedly. “I seem to go in deeper and deeper.”

“I can only think of one remedy,” he said, in a low voice. “I will pay the interest—I will be your banker.”

“No, no, no; that would be worse than all! But, surely Coopoodoo would wait, if you asked him. The interest might accumulate till I was of age, and then Colonel Raitt and the Padre would pay. What do you say?” I asked eagerly.

“I say that I will square it,” edging his chair nearer to mine, “and I say, too, that you must not bother your pretty head about it,”—and what was this he was murmuring?—“My poor, little, worried darling!” and he suddenly stooped forward, and I felt a long, impassioned kiss pressed upon my bare arm! It was an audible kiss; and there was a laugh—some rude man’s delighted laugh—from the next partition.

As for myself, I felt as stunned, and horror stricken, as if Colonel Hassard had struck me! Mrs. Gimlette’s repeated warning came back to me now, as many warnings do—too late, too late! I jumped up with burning cheeks, and quivering lips, and my companion also rose—but more deliberately.

“How—how – dare you!” I stammered, in a fury.

“For God’s sake, don’t make a scene,” he whispered excitedly, and pointed to the thin bit of canvas that divided us from our neighbours. “You are not really angry with me, are you? It was all your own fault, for having such a maddeningly tempting arm, Diana; you know that I adore you!” And he met my indignant gaze with a bold, unflinching stare.

“I don’t understand you,” I faltered tremulously.

“If you don’t understand, that it is not altogether because you are a far away connection, that I have been your shadow, and your slave, you must be lamentably deficient in perception, my darling!”

“Stop!” I interrupted. “I do begin to comprehend you, at last! And I thought you were my friend—like Mr. Mayne, or Mr. Hare!” I spoke aloud, for our neighbours—a hilarious couple—had departed.

“Friend,” he echoed contemptuously. “Bah! Give me one kiss of your own accord—just one—and I’ll forfeit ten years of my life I’ll settle it up all right with Coopoodoo; he shall never trouble you again, or cost you a thought—much less a tear. Only give me one kiss—and make me happy!” He concluded in a tone at once imploring and caressing.

“You, then, think me so—so—disgraceful, that I would sell my kisses for money—for a year’s interest! You believe I would do that!” I exclaimed, in a voice that shook with passion.

“Then give me one for nothing,” he pleaded, unabashed. “Diana, you know that you do like me—Let your heart assert itself for once. You cannot live without love—without a sympathetic, kindred soul. What is Fitzroy—?” now endeavouring to take my hand.

“Fitzroy!” I interrupted fiercely, and recoiling towards the entrance. “Fitzroy is a man who would kill you, if he heard you insulting his wife. I did like you—you seemed kind, and sincere, and true—in short, a gentleman; now I see you, as you are—I loathe you, and I will never speak to you again. Mrs. Gimlette was right when she said you were a wolf in sheep’s clothing—”

“Oh, Mrs. Gimlette said that, did she? Well I am not worse than her husband, who is an old ass in a lion’s skin. And if I am a wolf, you cannot blame me for living up to my reputation, can you?” he asked with a sneer. “Come, don’t be a little fool, even if it is to be open war. Let us leave this together, and allow me, at any rate, to escort you back to the ball-room. No use in publishing our difference of opinion”—(difference of opinion!)—“to all Sindi. If you rush out, in a frantic fury, and I follow you alone, what will people think? As to insulting you—it is the last thing of which I am capable. I made you an offer that many women would have jumped at, and you blaze up in my face, like a catharine-wheel. I had no idea,” he added, with withering sarcasm, “that Mrs. Vavasour’s daughter—a girl who was brought up in the jungle, and has shot tigers, and ridden steeple-chases—would be as prudish as an old maid; but since you are so high, and mighty, pray manage your own affairs. Your kisses will not often fetch four thousand rupees.”

As he concluded, I turned my back on him with an irrepressible shudder, and walked out of the tent without any reply. I felt as if the ground was shaking under my feet, and absolutely sick with horror and humiliation. As I passed into the open, I heard a pleading treble voice say pathetically:

“Oh—don’t let us go for a second, please. I must see who they are.”

She was undoubtedly alluding to us! Yes; there at a little distance, standing expectant in the full glare of the Chinese lanterns, was Mrs. Lawless—and Hugh. Mrs. Lawless stared at me with unfeigned amazement, shot one malicious glance at my companion—and laughed—what a laugh! As for Hugh, I did not venture to look at him, and I walked straight on with my head erect, as if I did not feel humbled to the very dust. When I entered the mess-house, I was instantly seized upon by an exploring partner, and drawn into the mazy waltz. I danced away incessantly for the remainder of the evening—anything was better than “sitting out” and thinking. I was one of the very last ladies to leave the ball-room. At four in the morning, I found myself alone in the cloak-room with Loo Lawless. She was standing at the glass, en folding her petit figure in a superb plush mantle—possibly a gift. I took no notice of her, but searched for my wrap in dead silence. However, she soon came sidling over to me, and said in a voice of detestable significance:

Ahem! ‘Still waters run deep.’ Oh, goddess of the silver crescent! Oh, cold Diana! I am surprised.”

“At what?” I asked, with a ghastly attempt at unconcern.

“We were in the tent—your husband and I: and what is a canvas wall? We heard a sound like this,” and she kissed the back of her hand with audible enjoyment.

“You did?” I stammered. “I do not deny it. He kissed my arm. I shall never—never—speak to him as long as I live. Did Hugh—?

Here I stopped abruptly, for Pride laid her finger on my lips.

“Of course he did,” she returned, with a malignant giggle. “He laughed—he thought it was one of those rowdy Miss Russells, I fancy; but when you marched out, looking like the Queen of all the Amazons, I was so utterly flabbergasted, that I nearly tumbled down!’

“Why should you be so shocked?” I asked sarcastically.

“Ah! My dear, I am beginning to see the errors of my little ways. I am going to turn over a new leaf, and abjure balls, and take a class in Sunday School, and join the Blue Ribbon Army.”

“I don’t believe a word of it!” I said, as I turned to quit the room, “you are joking!”

“Of course I am—and so were you, about the arm,” she called after me. A truly Parthian shaft.

Hugh and I drove home in silence. On some occasions, it is convenient to be assumed to be asleep. The next afternoon, after a miserable night, I went into Hugh’s writing-room, and made a clean breast of it. And, young ladies, let me assure you that it is not an easy thing to tell your husband, that another man—against whom he has warned you—has been making love to you. I told my tale as briefly as I could, with a good deal of stammering, many blushes, and a few tears; but I got it out at last.

He looked at me quietly, but keenly, for some seconds, and then he said:

“You knew that I knew, Diana. Have you made a virtue of necessity?”

“I have not,” I answered forcibly. “Do you think that I would not have told you—” I was endeavouring to be calm and self-possessed, and was failing wretchedly. Finally I faltered out: “You are not angry with me, are you, Hugh? Of course I shall never speak to him again.”

“I should hope not, indeed”—very sternly.

“You won’t take any notice, will you—you won’t tell any one?” I urged beseechingly.

“Good Lord, Diana! do you think I am mad?”

“And you won’t horsewhip him?”

“No—I shall resist—I must resist—that over whelming temptation for your sake. I always had a feeling that that fellow was not on the square, for he spoke of a lady the other day in a way that showed him in his true colours, and made me feel inclined to wring his neck. However, we will say no more about him. There now, don’t cry; you were a good girl, to come and tell me everything.”

But, alas! like Sapphira, I had kept something back. I had made no mention of the bribe that I had been offered. It was entirely out of my power to tell Hugh “everything!”

Chapter XLIV

All Is Lost, Including Honour

“Most ignorant of what he is most assur’d.”
Measure for Measure

After our grand, much lauded, regimental ball, and the resulting “grand total” of our mess bills—all went smoothly for a month. There was not a ripple on the surface, to denote the gathering storm which was coming up so surely, and so fast. Miserably deluded girl! I believed that the worst was tided over, and that I was going to have a spell of fair weather at last. I had scraped together, and paid off the interest money. Hugh had given me his race winnings to “buy myself something nice,” instead of which, the money was most opportune in meeting my ever haunting debt, and went straight into Coopoodoo’s capacious pocket. Mrs. Vavasour had never once spoken to me since the ball. Colonel Hassard had been promoted to another sphere (not Heaven), and in every direction, the clouds were lifting. Some tiresome “board,” or court-martial, summoned Hugh to Bombay for three days, at this rather critical period; but the horrible guilty time was past, when his absence was a relief, and I grumbled a good deal against boards and courts-martial, as I drove him to the station.

“I shall be back on Friday,” he said cheerfully, “and I shall bring you something nice—I know you like a ‘surprise,’ so you can amuse yourself, during the next few days, in guessing what it is to be—I promise you that it will be something beyond your wildest dreams!”

During the succeeding three days, needless to state, I cast many thoughts in the direction of my present. I even called Ada Mayne and Mrs. Gimlette into consultation. Mrs. Gimlette believed it would be an American cooking-stove, for which I had expressed a hankering. Ada was inclined to think it would be some article of jewellery, and I myself had visions of a new pony! Friday came, and one o’clock, but no Hugh, and I had such a nice little tiffin waiting him, a pint of hock in ice. I had decked the drawing-room with fresh flowers, attired myself in his favourite dress, and tied a smart pink ribbon round Billy’s neck. Two struck—three—four. I was ravenously hungry, and could wait no longer, and Mrs. Gimlette, who had looked in for a moment, consolingly remarked: “Oh, he is probably bringing the cooking stove, and waited to get it packed. He will come by the night train; but if not, remember that I can get you a second-hand one at half the price.” Immediately after she left, a hired gharry drew up, and, to my amazement, Hugh jumped out, flung the man his fare, and came quickly up the steps. I ran to meet him in great delight, saying:

“Why, I sent the cart to the train for you hours ago! Where have you been?” I stared at him; he looked very strange and white, and not like himself; and he did not make any attempt to greet me, but went straight over and closed the glass door leading into the dining-room—closed it and drew the bolt! This was exceedingly odd behaviour! I stood in the middle of the room and stared, and Billy sat on the top of the piano and stared. Whenever that awful hour comes back to me, a small black cat, with a large pink bow round its neck, invariably forms part of the picture.

“What is the matter? What does this mean?” I asked anxiously, my anxiety intensified by an undefined fear. Was any one dead? I wondered—Peggy, or Father Paul? I was about to hear bad news. No need to tell me that.

Hugh turned and looked at me, and the sternness of his face, seemed to paralyse my tongue.

“It means,” he said, taking me by the wrist, in a grasp like steel, and speaking in a low but perfectly distinct tone—“it means that I have found you out!”

I was conscious of becoming cold all over, and, no doubt, as he made the announcement, every particle of colour sank from my abominably tell-tale countenance.

“Yes,” he continued with a grim smile, that was positively ghastly, “I intended a nice little surprise for you, and found to my cost that the boot was on the other foot—that you had arranged a similar affair for me!—a surprise with a vengeance.”

“Tell me what you mean?” I inquired, plucking up a little spirit—resolved to try and show, if possible, a few of Mrs. Vavasour’s qualities, when she found herself in hot water—courage, coolness, and presence of mind.

“I mean, that I have discovered why you were unable to wear your necklace at the ball—you could not wear what was not in your possession—you have sold it.”

“Yes—I have raised money on it,” I faltered, suddenly sitting down on the nearest chair, and trembling violently.

“You have deceived me from first to last, you wicked girl!” he said hoarsely; “and by a mere accident, I have discovered your practices. My eyes have been opened once for all, and I am amazed to find that you, whom I believed to be as innocent and inexperienced as a child, have the boldness, and resource of the most accomplished intriguer! Let me tell you how much I know, that you may fully understand how little you and I can have to say to one another in future. You are as practically dead to me now, as my wife, as if you were in your coffin. No, you need not speak—exculpation is out of the question, and deeds are louder than words. You have told many lies, you have hoodwinked me completely; you shall never have the chance of doing so again.”

“What lies have I told?” making a pitiful effort to speak boldly

“They are too numerous to be counted; but I may mention the fables about your necklace, and the solemn promise you made with regard to Mrs. Vavasour—and broke. You had the assurance to deny that you met her, whilst I was away.”

“No, I only said I did not go to her house, or write to her,” I faltered in self-defence.

“There,” putting up his hand, “no more. Shall I tell you what I did in Bombay yesterday? Like the precious idiot I was, I wanted to make you a present, with an old debt that had been paid me most unexpectedly, and with this virtuous intention in view I went to Hookum’s, the great jeweller’s. There were a good many people in the shop, and several ladies were leaning over one particular case in ecstasies of admiration. I glanced at the case in passing, and to my great surprise, I saw that the very pretty thing they were admiring, was no more or less than your necklace! At first I thought that I must be mistaken, I could not credit my own eyes, believing, as I most firmly did, that your necklace was lying in your dressing-case, with a broken clasp. However, as I was on the spot, I thought I would make inquiries, and I asked leave to examine the magnificent diamonds more closely, and I soon had the necklace spread before me—it was yours! Supposing it to have been stolen, I had an interview with Hookum, and, he calmly in formed me that the jewel was the property of Coopoodoo Ragoo, his partner, who had sent it to him, to clean and repair; more than this he would not tell me, beyond the fact that it was not for sale, was a most wonderful article, and attracted crowds to his establishment. After this unsatisfactory explanation, I got into the train and came here to-day, and went direct to old Coopoodoo, and asked for a private audience. At first he was not inclined to communicate any information, beyond the meagre statement that the diamonds were partly his property—he had advanced a large sum on them to a lady, whose name he refused to divulge.”

Here Hugh paused, and looked at me fixedly, and I looked back at him. The pallor of his face was startling—a ghostly, ashen shade—his eyes were dark with anger (they now seemed black, not blue), and I shivered involuntarily under their piercing, unsparing gaze. I was guilty, and yet not guilty, and I cowered before him like a convicted criminal, and passed my handkerchief across my trembling, speechless lips:

“Coopoodoo was staunch to you,” he continued, “until I produced my card, and asked if the lady’s name was not the same as my own? I told him that I was ready to swear to my wife’s necklace, and begged to know how it had come into his hands, and assured him that if he declined to answer a very civil, simple question, he would find his mistake. Think,” he said, turning on me fiercely, “of my having to beg of a soucar to admit me into his confidence, in a matter concerning my own wife!”

As he spoke, he sometimes paced the room, sometimes paused, and stood before me; but I sat as motionless throughout, as if I had been turned into stone.

“Coopoodoo admitted, at last, that my surmise was correct, and that, about six weeks previously, a young lady and a gentleman had come to him, and offered the necklace for sale; the lady was very young, and she had hair like sunshine; the man was Colonel Hassard. He arranged the whole transaction, and was a very keen customer, and a clever gentleman at a bargain. The diamonds were splendid—a truly Royal ornament; there were few such nowadays. To prove his words, he produced a written receipt for four thousand pounds, signed ‘Diana Fitzroy,’ in a tremulous scrawl—a guilty scrawl; also a kind of joint deed, signed by you, and Hassard, undertaking to pay the interest for two years, if the necklace was not previously, redeemed. You may, or may not, imagine the awful blow this was to me. For some time I sat stupefied, and finally, I staggered out of the place like a drunken man. The next thing that I wished to find out, was this: What you had done with the money? I had the number of the cheque, and I went at once to the bank; it had been drawn in favour of Mrs. Vavasour, who had cashed it at once. I saw the cheque. I had it in my hand.”

He paused, and struggled with some choking of his breath, and did not speak for several seconds. I was totally dumb; my tongue was powerless. I was living through the most awful moment of my life.

“Now,” he resumed, pacing the floor, “what I have found out is—needless to ask you—why you secretly pawned your diamonds, and made over such a sum as four thousand pounds to Mrs. Vavasour? No one gives without a return, nowadays. You paid that money for value received. What value? I ask myself. Mrs. Vavasour is in possession of some secret of yours. That sum is hush-money—the price of her silence. A large price; but she is a needy woman, I know, and the secret must be worth much to you.”

“Stop!” I cried fiercely.

“Mrs. Vavasour is a bad woman,” he went on, in a rapid, suppressed tone. “Birds of a feather flock together. Julian Hassard is your— No, I cannot say it! Mrs. Vavasour has you both in her power—you were both in her precious clique. She has hinted at disclosing certain facts to me, and consequently, you and Hassard hurry down to Coopoodoo’s – Hassard naturally transacts your business—and pawn the diamonds, for a good round sum, with which you are enabled to stop the woman’s mouth.”

Again I endeavoured to interrupt him, and in vain.

“You see,” he said impressively, “I have unravelled the whole story, and a very edifying story it is! One thing, it shall not come into the papers. I would far sooner shoot myself, than see my name dragged through the gutter. Whatever may have happened to it in private, there will be no legal proceedings; but I shall keep you under a strict guard, for the rest of your days—figuratively chained up, like some dangerous animal. As to Hassard—”

“Hugh, Hugh,” I cried, finding voice at last, and rising with my hands pressed to my head. “You are wrong—wrong. I am innocent of all, but a secret that is not mine.”

“Innocent, of course you are,” he sneered. “How innocent to steal down veiled to Coopoodoo, to pawn your necklace!”

“I did go to him,” and I stopped, and gasped for breath.

“Thank you, I am already in possession of that fact.”

“But that is all,” I protested, in an agonised voice. “I implore you to believe me. I have lost my diamonds, I have lost my peace of mind for months. Oh, don’t—don’t let me lose you,” and I clutched his arm convulsively.

“Do not touch me,” pushing my hand away roughly. “Keep your tears, and caresses, to yourself—it makes me sick with shame to see you. Sit down, whilst I try and collect my thoughts, and arrange what I am to do with you.” He paced the room once or twice in silence, then he snatched up that day’s paper, which lay on a sofa, and looked at it for a few moments. “The Rome goes the day after to-morrow. We shall go in her. We start for Bombay by the eight o’clock train this evening.” As I still sat immovable, he added: “You have not much time to spare. Just three hours, to get ready to start for England.”

“Before I go—before I get ready—I must speak. You have condemned me unheard. You are merciless.”

“No, I am not. I have judged you by your own acts, and by the strongest circumstantial evidence. Do you think that it was a pleasure to me, to find you out?”

“If I am tried and condemned, I can at least claim one favour, like a criminal on the scaffold. I must write to Mrs. Vavasour, and receive a reply from her before eight o’clock to-night.”

“You shall,” he said cuttingly, “provided that I read your letter, and her reply. I’ll send a syce riding, so that there will be no delay.

” He opened the door as he ceased speaking, and went into the dining-room, and ordered a syce and horse to be ready to start; he also ordered the pony-cart for half-past seven. I then sat down at my little writing-table—oh, surely not for the very last time!—and scrawled off a frantic note to Mrs. Vavasour.

Chapter XLV

No Reprieve

“One woe doth tread upon another’s heel,
So fast they follow.” —Hamlet.

I could scarcely hold the pen, my hand trembled so excessively; and this is what I said, without any preface whatever:

“All is known about the diamonds. My husband saw them at Hookum’s, in Bombay, and is very angry; he thinks terrible things of me, which must be cleared up within the next two hours. I beseech you, most earnestly, to release me from my promise; my very life itself, depends upon a favourable answer to this letter

“For God’s sake say yes.

“Yours,

“D. Fitzroy.”

Outside the envelope I wrote: “Most urgent,” and then handed it to Hugh, who glanced over it, and said: “I doubt if she can make it out. I can’t read half. What’s this about demons?”

“Diamonds,” I said. “I can’t do better,” and, indeed, he could see for himself, that I was shaking from head to foot.

“Well, now,” he continued, “you had better go at once to Pallia, and pack your things. Take all you value, for you are never coming back.”

Perhaps I was not going, hope whispered in my ear—the answer must come in an hour’s time; and surely—oh, very certainly it would be yes. Did ever lover desire that little word, as I desired it? No—never! I sat on the side of my bed, with my watch before me, counting the moments till the messenger would return. I had seen him gallop out of the compound, on Hugh’s first charger—an animal that had never been used to carry a message in its life.

Pallia was bustling about, and seemed to take the crash with the utmost composure—she had apparently expected something of the kind.

“Missy going England. Master plenty angry. I too going Bombay. Missy never minding me. Missy is found out. The fruit of the tree will fall at its foot. Poor master—poor master,” she muttered to herself.

“Be quiet, Pallia!” I exclaimed indignantly.

“Yes, Miss Ranee. When you go to England, you will be quiet; you will have no friends—no master, or Peggy, or Missy Mayne—nor poor Pallia, to scold—you will be alone, and like a blind man who has thrown his staff in the air! or like a straw on a wave.”

But time was far too valuable to waste in words, and she dragged out my boxes, and began to cram them with things, as fast as possible. She was a clever packer, an excellent lady’s ayah—when she chose. I watched her laying out my travelling dress, and hat, and gloves—it was her firm conviction that I was to go. I followed her arrangements, with a sort of horrible fascination.

Was I really going away in less than two hours—thrust out of my pretty little home for ever, to be sent to exile, in far away, cold, foggy England, where I had no friends?

I looked round the room at all my little ornaments, pictures, and knicknacks, in which I took such pride; there was a framed photo I had only hung up last week, a bracket that Peter had carved for me, a little clock that Hugh said was “a present from Billy”; there were various bits of salvage, from the old Bungalow on the Karrhan. As I gazed about, in a kind of dreary amazement, there was a knock at the door, and Hugh’s voice said:

“The answer has come.” I started up at once, and rushed out. How my heart was beating! Here was my reprieve And when Hugh knew all—oh, how penitent he would be!

“Sit down,” he said, with an imperative gesture, as I entered the drawing-room. “I have opened the note.”

“Give it to me,” I said feverishly—“give it to me!”

“Presently,” he returned, moving back a pace.

“I shall read it aloud to you, and you will hear how it sounds.

“Dear Diana,

“Your letter (which is half illegible) received. What a bore this is about your diamonds! What evil little imp conducted your husband into Hookum’s? I am sorry that I can do nothing. Possibly you have not heard, as I have not seen you lately, that Mr. Vavasour has been ill, and we are off to Australia for six months to-morrow. I feel overwhelmed with all I have to do. All married people have rows, more or less—the great thing is, not to be afraid of your husband (I grant that yours is a specially bad case). You married a bear, in my opinion. Still, bears can be tamed, and, after his sulks are over, you must smooth him down, and humour him, and after a time he will dance very prettily.

“Whatever happens, brave it out—this is my own private receipt, and has never failed me yet. As to what you ask—it is out of the question at present. Au revoir, my dear. If you are still at Sindi when we return, you and I will have many a laugh over the ridiculous fuss that has been made, all because you have taken the liberty of doing what you like with your own property. Captain Fitzroy seems to forget that he is a pauper—married (of course most disinterestedly) to a girl with a large fortune, upon which he means to live; do not allow him to bully you into the bargain! Stop the supplies, that’s the way to tame them all! I hope when I return, that I shall find you the happy proprietor of a very nicely-behaved, intelligent, dancing bear.

“Yours till then,

“M. Vavasour.”

This was a pretty letter to fall into a husband’s hands; and more especially the hands that were holding it. I could give no idea of the sarcastic emphasis, with which Hugh read aloud this (to me) fatal document. If my affairs could be any worse than they were already, this letter—so sublimely indifferent to my fate, so mocking in its tone of easy patronage, so insolent in its reference to my “dancing bear,” this letter hurled me to the lowest abyss, to which misfortune could fling me. In it, Hugh saw, in his mind’s eye, the reflection of letters of mine—letters that had doubtless abused him, sneered at him, and ridiculed his empty pockets.

When he had concluded reading it, he looked up with steady, inflexible eyes, handed it to me politely, and said:

“I am sure you would like to keep this valuable autograph letter, in your own possession. I am glad that I have been able to furnish you and Mrs. Vavasour, with so much diversion in the past; but your amusement at my expense is at an end—from to-day.”

As he spoke, I tore the letter into atoms, and frantically scattered it on the floor—and—laughed—yes—laughed—immoderately. I could not say what I was laughing at, but I felt as if something had snapped in my head, and that it was all—most amusing, and excessively funny!

“I have been seriously considering what I am to do with you, Mrs. Fitzroy,” he said, when I was a little more collected. “This terrible thing, which has exploded our home, is not known in Sindi, nor to my brother officers. The only people in the secret are you and I—Mrs. Vavasour, and Hassard—and the servants.”

“The servants know nothing.”

“That depends upon what you call nothing! They know that you went out at eleven o’clock one night alone, and on foot, to meet some one in the Temple Gardens.”

“It was Pallia who told you!” I cried passionately.

“Yes—she volunteered the information, for I have not yet fallen so low, as to question her.”

“And she has eaten of our bread for twenty years! Oh, what ingratitude!—what treachery!”

“My mother must be told,” he continued, as if I had not spoken. “Of course I could not ask her to receive you under her roof, but she will see, that you are placed in some strict family, who will never believe your word, or trust you out of their sight. Peggy shall live with you. She is a respectable old woman. Your own money will not be available for some time. After you are of age, you can live on it very comfortably, unless there are other heavy calls on your purse, similar to the one made upon it recently, by your brilliant correspondent. I shall return to the mess, and my bachelor life; and if any one asks questions, I shall tell them—that the air of Sindi did not suit you, and I was obliged to send you home—not the first matrimonial breach, that has been sheltered behind the word ‘Climate!’”

“And I — what am I to say?” I asked distractedly.

“Say”—turning on me fiercely—“say that your sins have found you out—say that you are one of a tribe that is becoming unpleasantly numerous—say that you are a disgraced and discarded wife!” And with this overwhelming speech, he left me.

Chapter XLVI

“To Be Transported for Life”

“And life is thorny, and youth is vain;
And to be wroth with one we love,
Doth work like madness in the brain.”
— Coleridge

After this, I felt very strange—oh, very strange, indeed! I dressed, I scrambled together my few little treasures—Father’s watch, a pipe, and Bible; Hugh’s photograph, and an old smoking cap. Just something out of the wreck. Dinner was served, and I sat down in my hat and jacket; but I ate nothing, and Hugh scarcely touched a morsel. He only spoke once: “You had better eat some soup, or something; you will get nothing till eleven to-morrow,” was his sole observation in a chilly voice.

I imagine that I astonished him a good deal by suddenly bursting into wild peals of laughter. Never had I laughed so long or so heartily, as I did over this most melancholy meal – the funeral feast, as it were, of our married life. Hugh stared at me stonily, which only made 1me laugh the more. The servants stood round, amazed out of their usual dignified demeanour

Missus eating nothing. Missus laughing too much.

At last we were off, driving rapidly to the station behind Candace, our best pony. Dear, irritable, speedy Candace! how proud I had been the day she first came home!

It was not yet eight o’clock, and we met numbers of our neighbours driving homewards—Mrs. Gimlette, in her waggonette, who screamed out something about “out to dinner,” as we passed; and Ada and her husband, who stopped us and said:

“Shall you be in this evening? Ada and I will come over for a game of whist.”

“No, old fellow, not this evening,” and he touched Candace smartly, and she sprang away.

All these people we met were driving merrily back to their homes, they little guessed that I had just been turned out of mine.

Pallia and I had a large carriage to ourselves—full ladies’ compartment—but I never spoke to her once, the treacherous wretch! and she soon rolled herself comfortably up in her blanket, and went fast asleep on the floor.

I never even pretended to lie down, and sat staring out of the window, or walking restlessly about the carriage, till dawn came flickering in the east – darkness gradually withdrew her mantle from the low-lying plains, and the early birds sat dressing themselves on the telegraph wires. I was giddy, sick, and bewildered, my head felt so strange, as if I had had a blow on it—had I been another girl, clever and sharp, and able to argue, perhaps I could have pleaded my cause with Hugh—but that was now hopeless; I could never clear myself, unless I committed a great sin and broke my solemn oath. Oh, why did I ever take it—why did I ever take it? Easy to say this now. Did I not then believe that I had to deal with a mad woman, and was I not ready to promise her everything? All through the fresh early morning we travelled, and over the great Bhor Ghaut, along the sides of mountains, across narrow bridges, over gaps of abysmal depth, past rushing mountain torrents, and through splendid, stately scenery. Then we came in sight of the plains once more—the palms, the toddy trees, and the wide stretches of glittering water—betokening that we were approaching Bombay, and the sea. I loved India—the land of my birth; and if my heart was capable of feeling one additional pang, it would be this—that I knew that I was now looking at it for the last time, and was about to bid adieu to it for ever. Before we reached the end of our journey, Pallia roused herself; deliberately arranged her saree, twisted up her coarse black chignon, and then proceeded to lecture me with her usual air of contemptuous reproach:

“Missy never eating, never sleeping, all night. Missy sorry now. Honour lost for a pice—will not return for thousands. Mrs. Vavasour is a bad lady—she is not to be trusted. Missy Vavasour is like a snake—with a head at both ends.”

“Be silent, Pallia!” I said at last, in desperation. “I am utterly disgusted with you—and my head is aching. Do not speak to me again.”

“Ah, missy would never listen to me, but as the deaf listen to a song. What would master say—I mean poor old master?”

Ay, indeed, what would he say?

“Leave me alone, Pallia,” I said distractedly. “Why will you torture me? Can I be more miserable than I am?”

“True, Miss Ranee. There is no cold to those that are completely wet. I am only a poor, ignorant, native woman, but God has been good, and given me one gift. All the world knows that Pallia is as sharp as a sickle. I saw that Colonel Hassard was as sly as a snake in a box; that Missy Vavasour, for all her kisses and her ‘dear darling,’ rocked the cradle, and pinched the child. What days those were long ago, Maharanee!—days before you knew her. You were Queen of all the plains, and when you came flying on your white horse, with money, and kind words, the people fell down and made salaams to the earth, for they thought you were the goddess of goodness! What are you now? Oh—yea—yo! You are like a water-lily in the mud!”

“Pallia!” I exclaimed, seizing her arm excitedly.

“Missy—I will say no more!—I have done! Why draw water, when the well is dry?”

“You had better say no more,” I replied fiercely, now pushing her aside, and laying my hand on the carriage-door. “Say one word—move your lips once—and I swear to you most solemnly that I shall jump out of the train, and kill myself!”

As I spoke, I leant over the open window, and pointed to the appalling depths below us, with a steady hand. I think something in my manner and expression must have terrified Pallia, for she instantly shuffled down into a corner, and maintained an awe-struck silence, until we arrived at our destination—at about four o’clock that afternoon. We drove to the best hotel in Bombay, and climbed up to the third storey, at my request, for I wanted air, and Pallia struggled up behind me carrying bags and wraps. Our suite consisted of three rooms, and overlooked the harbour. Standing at the window, you saw the Esplanade, with its hired victorias, and weedy little Arabs, big evening carriages, and tramways, dashing equipages—containing wealthy, shiny capped Parsees; then there was the beautiful blue bay, and the shipping, comprising old hulks, Bunder boats, coasting vessels, colliers, mail steamers, cargo steamers, and one huge white Indian trooper, lying off the Apollo Bund. I sat down and tried to drink some tea, a woman’s invariable pick-me-up, and refreshment—but I could not manage to swallow a drop, it seemed to choke me. When twilight had fallen, and the parade, and shipping, were becoming dim and indistinct, Hugh came in, and said:

“Still sitting there! I have been to the Adjutant-General’s office, and got three months’ leave, and I have taken our passages for to morrow, in the mail. I’ve sent a telegram to Mayne, and you had better write her a line. Say, that a great family trouble has suddenly called you home. You will dine up here, of course.”

And without waiting for any reply, he left me—left me, to thoughts, which surely touched the bounds of madness! Would it not be well, if I flung myself out of the window—a mere delightful falling through the air, a crash—and then death? Better to end life at once—than to drag out long years of unspeakable dreariness—But fortunately I turned a deaf ear to the insinuating little imp, who was perched on my shoulder; and when Hugh came in, at ten o’clock, I still sat alone at the window, in the darkness. I could not endure light, or noise—at the opening of the door, I felt inclined to scream.

Hugh was surprised, as he made out my figure in the dusk. He lit a candle—two candles, and then went over to a table, and got out pens, and paper, and placing a chair, said: “You had better write that note now, for the steam launch takes us off at seven to-morrow morning. Come—you may as well send her a line—for your own sake.”

I rose, and went over at once—sat down, pen in hand, and wrote away furiously, over two sides of a sheet of paper.

“There!” I exclaimed, hastily pushing it towards him, “I can’t do any more.”

He took it up, glanced at it, and then stared very hard at me. I had given him a letter all covered with scribbling—just such as would be produced by a child of two.

He moved a candle close to my face, and I stared back at him—with blazing eyes, and scarlet cheeks, and laughed, and said:

“Who is it to? Is it for Mrs. Vavasour? Will it do?”

It would not do at all! For it was plain to be seen, that I was either going raving mad, or was in for a most terrible attack of brain-fever!

Chapter XLVII

At Death’s Door

“Triumphant Death his dart
Shook, but delay’d to strike.”
Paradise Lost

It was brain-fever.

Mrs. Vavasour was perfectly right when she declared that I had a “tough” constitution. For weeks and weeks I lay in the upper storey of the hotel; and all the stairs and passages were lightly trod, on account of the young lady who was said to be dying. For twenty-one days the fever ran its course, licking up my life, and scorching my brain. I raved, laughed, sang, and danced. Poor Mrs. Raitt’s kind efforts to keep me in bed were useless; and it took Hugh’s utmost strength—and he was a very strong man—to keep me down, and prevent me from “going to church,” or “to a ball,” or “to see Mrs. Vavasour!” according to whatever crazy notion possessed me at the time. I chattered ceaselessly—of diamonds and Coopoodoo; of Herr Schammel, Rukoo, my mother, and the Evil Eye! Such wild, mad topics, had never been heard outside Bedlam. I would jump out of bed and dance; or I would throw myself on my knees, and weep, and wring my hands most piteously. Also—I had a rather sweet, uncultivated voice, of which I was excessively shy, and rarely lifted it, save when alone. I now sang uninterruptedly for hours, and played the violin on a pillow in my arms!

I believe poor Hugh—who rarely dared to leave me—and never took off his clothes for nights, had a dreadful time. All this I heard long afterwards. Occasionally I seemed to see faces, in a mist, and Hugh’s was always among them. The frenzy of fever, which had seemed to burn my very bones, was only equalled by the reaction, which set in when it left me, a miserable wreck, more, dead than alive—all my faculties were numb, and I lay in a kind of torpor, powerless to move a limb, or utter a word. When at the end of several weeks I came to my senses, I discovered Peggy sitting beside me. She had come to release kind Mrs. Raitt, who had nursed me through the worst. Peggy was unchanged; she wore the same queer caps, and, aprons, and was as imperious as ever. I must not speak, I must not move, I must not do this, that, or the other. I was mending at last, thank God. Yes, I was getting better; very slowly I crept back to life, in that airy upper room, lying with a deadened brain, gazing from sunrise to sunset at the sky and sea, listening lazily to the tingling bells of the tram horses in the street below, and the musical chimes of the great clock. By-and-by Peggy allowed me to talk a little, and to listen a good deal.

“It all came of my being away,” was her modest remark. “And well I know who is at the bottom of your troubles. God pardon her for all her sins.”

I turned my head, and looked at Peggy fixedly.

“Who else would you give over money for, and bind yourself to secrecy—who else but her?”

“You always told me that she was dead.”

“I did; and Heaven forgive me for it,” making the sign of the cross as she spoke, “and many a penance it cost me.” (Pallia had often declared that Peggy would tell lies by the thousand, and build a temple.) “But it was best—and there are some people did ought to be dead, and sure, who would ever think you would come across her? The world is wide.”

“Then, Peggy, since you know, I may tell you.” And then, in a feeble voice, and with many stops and gaspings for breath, I poured out all my story. “I knew my own girl, that I reared, could never be so desperately changed. I knew it well,” she said, wiping her eyes in her apron; “but what could I do, when the Captain took me aside into the sitting-room, and told me just the most terrible tale I ever heard in my life—ay, and proved it too. All I could say was: ‘Sir, if Miss Ranee done what you say, the poor child is out of her mind, and ought to be put in some private asylum.’ That’s just what I said, Miss Ranee, and I tell it back to your own face.”

“And what did he say?” I asked tremulously

“He said you were as sane as I was; but that, if he had to live with you any longer, he would be in Hanwell—which I take to be a madhouse.”

“And he has nearly reduced me to idiotcy,” I exclaimed. “Peggy, I must speak, or my heart will burst. You don’t know him when he is angry; he is another man. Bad-tempered people you don’t mind—you get accustomed to them and their outbursts; but when—a man—whom you have never seen put out in his life—when he is in a rage—you never forget it.”

“But, still, Miss Ranee, you did wrong to keep things from him—and you did things, dearie, that looked very black—even to me. That Mrs. Lawless was a bad example for you! Her very breath would bring ill-luck.”

“The secret has ruined me, Peggy. Mrs. Lawless had nothing to do with it. I have not seen her since I was in Gurrumpore. It was all the secret.”

“Why did you ever offer to keep it?” she asked testily.

“It is all so easy to ask that now—the secret has been my bane—it and my diamonds.”

“And what in the name of goodness have they to say to it, my darling girl?”

“They discovered me to her, and sold me into bondage; they discovered me to Hugh, and sold me into bondage to him. If she had never seen them, she would never have wanted me to sell them. I hate them now!”

“Ay! and you were so set on them at first! I mind you well, figuring with them at the glass, and as proud as the prince of peacocks. I believe myself, that the Devil was in that Evil Eye. Bad luck to it!”

“Nonsense, Peggy.”

“Well, any way, you have had a power of disasters since you got it; but you would not have had one, if I had been at your elbow. And first and foremost, your husband bid to be told. I’d tell him meself—but I’m as bad as you; the master laid his commands on me, never to name her, so you must just write off and say you can keep the secret no longer. Surely to goodness, she does not want to ruin her own daughter for life?”

“How can I write? I do not know where she is, and Australia is a large place. She knows Hugh is a gentleman, and a man of honour. Why does she refuse to let me tell him?”

“Oh, good morrow to you for a simple, innocent child! And do you not know that?” said Peggy excitedly. “Do you think if he knew, he would let her run her arm down elbow deep into your pocket, and pick out four thousand pounds? Now I just ask ye that?”

“But now—when she has got all—”

“All? Why, sure, and aren’t you coming into your fortune in a few months —?”

“If I live,” I interrupted.

“I know she was giddy and thoughtless, and had a heart no bigger than a pea; but I never believed she would turn out like this! She never pretended to care for children, and just had you in to show off at a party in your pretty frock and ribbons—that was all she ever axed to see of you. Why, even an animal has some love for its own; and there does be birds, that plucks the down and the best of the feathers off themselves, and make nests for their young. With her—more shame for her!—it’s the other way. She plucks you bare to feather her own nest, and leaves you without home, or husband, or character, and goes off to the end of the world as if it was a grand joke. She broke your father’s heart, though he did not die of it. You must be brave, and determined, and fight for yourself, or she’ll break yours.”

“It is broken,” I sobbed. “I have nothing left to fight for—now.” And as I covered my face, with my skeleton hands, tears trickled down between them.

“Oh, for mercy sake, don’t cry, my heart! And haven’t you your husband?”

“No. He is unjust—he never gave me one chance. What is his love—when—it can be burnt up in one hour with jealousy—and—when he won’t believe one word I say?”

“Well, you know you did tell him a good deal that was not true, Miss Ranee. I’m afraid he found you a terrible handful altogether. Ye did deceive him, for I have your own word for it.”

“I did, I did,” I sobbed. “I know I never deserve to be believed again. I feel as if I had been another girl, a mean, false, shuffling creature, whom I hate; but it was myself all the time.”

“Miss Ranee,” said Peggy impressively, “if the doctor saw you, roaring and crying, like this, he’d be as wild as Barney O’Toole’s pig. Don’t talk any more, honey—I see your heart is sore, and indeed they have been hard on you among them, and as to the Colonel, that let on he was your cousin, he was just a melted rogue.”

“Where is Hugh?” I asked, endeavouring to stifle my sobs.

“Gone back to his duties, now you are on the mend; he was here at first night and day; and Mrs. Raitt is one of God’s own people, though she may not be, so to say, a lady all out; and that young creature, Mrs. Mayne, was better nor a sister to you—I could just lay me two hands under her feet; she was wore entirely out, and her husband came and fetched her away; and there was poor Mr. Hare—he came down once all the way, and seemed tee-totally beside himself; and indeed, Miss Ranee, if having people very unhappy, and down, is any relief to you—you ought to be a proud girl!”

“And how did you come out?” I answered feebly.

“By the telegraph,” was her startling reply. “I was up at home, in the Dublin mountains, in a very out-of-the-way part; only one shop, and no dispensary. Faix, when people is took badly there, they have to die without the help of a doctor. Well, I was just after taking me tay—there’s nothing that nourishes the heart in one, like a fine strong cup of tay, that the spoon could stand in—and it was just as well I was fortified—when me brother Pat brought me in a telegram—for I got a terrible turn, for I never received one of them things before. Me brother spelled it out, and it said:

“‘Captain Fitzroy, Bombay
“‘Come out steamer Chusan.
Apply King and Co., London.’

“Well, this was the seventeenth; short work; but I was soon ready. John drove me to the station, and took me to Kingstown, and saw me aboard the boat. I was in London in good time, and I travelled out overland and first class in great style. But I need not tell you, Miss Ranee, I knew me place, and took me meals alone; and now I’m here, I am never going to let you out of my sight as long as ever I live.”

“Or as long as I live, and that may not be long.”

“Nonsense, she returned angrily. Don’t be talking nonsense.”

“Oh, Peggy, I would give anything if I could only see the Bungalow once before I die! How little I knew, how little I guessed, what was in store for me, when I used to sit by the river, and gaze at the stars, and long to see the great world, and take my part in life. I have had my wish, and played my part, you see; and it has been a dead failure. Peggy, as you love me, take me home. I feel as if the only chance I have of being happy again—no, happy is too strong a word—less miserable—is to see once more the brown river, and the big eddies, and the great, quiet Jungle stretching round me. And if I die, you will bury me beside father, under the palm-tree; and—if you put a stone over my head—you may write on it:

DIANA ALSO SLEEPS HERE.
‘ALL IS VANITY.’

“Vanity!” screamed Peggy, “I should just think so! I never in this mortal world, heard such mad, outrageous talk! Some of these days, you will be thankful, that it was only old Peggy Magee, was listening to you!”

After a while, I was moved to a sofa near the window, and Mrs. Raitt would keep me company for hours. She told me, that every one had been so anxious, and so sorry for Hugh—and that in her opinion, I owed my illness to Sindi—it lay so low—especially our side, and she hoped that I would be a warning to people living in those lines. I begged her to let me see myself in a glass, but she always said:

“Well, lovey, not yet; you see we don’t mind, we are used to you—just wait till you get a little flesh on your bones. But you will pick up; the only thing is your hair.” Yes, my poor hair! it had been all cut off. “Peggy,” she asked one day, “what have you done with Miss Barrington’s hair?” (I was always Miss Barrington with her.)

“Kep it, av coorse,” returned Peggy—“to show to her children some day, as an example of what hair should be—but I’m not going to show it to her.”

“Indeed you are!” I protested indignantly.

“I declare it’s a judgment on the two of us, Miss Ranee, for being so proud of it.”

At last, when I pressed her greatly, and begged very hard, she reluctantly brought out a white silk handkerchief, and then unrolled from it my long, soft, beautiful hair—it measured a yard and two inches, and had been shorn off close to my head.

“We cut it the second day,” explained Mrs. Raitt. “I came by the early train, and stood out for an hour—but when the doctors—there were three—said it was your hair, or your life, I thought it best to let the hair go—for it might grow again, and the life wouldn’t.”

Mrs. Raitt used to sit and knit, and talk to me, and tell me little bits of news from Gurrumpore, and strange anecdotes about her own career, that aroused and interested me, and kept my thoughts from brooding on other things. I liked to watch her, and to listen to her. She was so plump, so good-humoured, so kind, and so content. By the time she went away, I had been promoted to a chair in the window; and then Father Paul arrived, but I did not see him the first day he came. Peggy told me that he and Hugh had done “a terrible lot of talking, all about me, that the doctors were against my going to England at the time of year, and that I was to be sent to the nearest hill station.”

“I saw his Reverence preaching and expounding to him,” she said, “all the same as if he was in the pulpit, and he won’t believe no harm of you; and the long and the short of it is, Miss Ranee, that I think the Captain will take you back and give you another chance.”

“And if I won’t go back?” I asked resentfully.

“Well, anyhow, you will have to be up in the hills for a good four or five months, and that will give you time to consider things over.”

“When am I to go?”

“As soon as ever you can be moved. The Captain has to go back on the mail to-morrow, but he will return in time to take you away; and Father Paul and I will stop here and mind you.”

“You are all too good to me,” I could not help saying. “Even Hugh—now.”

“The Captain is to see you this evening; the doctors say it will do you no harm. He has not laid eyes on you since you came out of the fever; and then he was head nurse. I must try and make you a bit smart.”

“Yes, if you can,” I answered, with a dreary smile. “Mind you stay in the room, Peggy; don’t leave us alone. Promise me you won’t leave us alone.”

“No fear. Sure, Beelzebub himself would not say a word to you now,” she answered reassuringly.

At half-past four, I was dressed in a white cambric wrapper, my locks were neatly brushed, and I was placed in my arm-chair by the window, and for once I was allowed to have a hand glass. I looked into it eagerly. But who was this, with immense eyes, pinched features, and short hair? Not I? I did not recognise myself, and surely no one else would know me. What a strange thing had happened! Diana Fitzroy, as she once appeared, was gone—was dead—and had left such a miserable substitute in her place—a sort of living skeleton, with hollow cheeks and sunken eyes. I put away the glass hastily; I could not bear to look at that spectre of myself. I gazed at my hands; they were like old Rukoo’s, but very white and transparent. I could see the light through them easily. They would never be able to hold a pulling horse or handle a rifle again; if they poured out tea, it was as much as could be expected of them. Presently Hugh came up, treading softly—but I knew his step. Peggy opened the door, and he entered, and walked half across the room. He looked thin, and ill, and careworn too. He stopped abruptly when he caught sight of me, with an expression of incredulous horror on his face; but he mastered himself by a wonderful effort, and came on, and said, as he took a chair opposite mine:

“Well, Ranee!” (the national British greeting).

“Well, Hugh!” I echoed, in a low voice.

“I hope you are better?” he asked unsteadily.

“Yes.”

“I am sorry to see you so much pulled down.”

As he said this, he did not look at me, but on the floor, and Peggy coughed significantly, and said:

“Yes, but a change to the hills will set her up again, please God!”

“I am going back to-night,” he continued. “Is there anything you would like from Sindi?”

“No,” I answered shortly.

“No message for any one?”

“No.”

“Not even Ada?” he inquired, with a sort of haggard smile.

“Yes—my love.”

Here Peggy coughed again, and he said:

“Well, then, I must be going. I hope to return, and take you to the hills in about ten days. Would you like to have the cart up there, and Candace?”

“No,” I repeated, with numb apathy.

“Good-bye!” he said, as he took my skeleton hand in his for a second, and then he went away, and Peggy with him. She looked unusually cheerful when she returned, but her eyes were red.

“What is the matter, Peggy?” I asked at once.

“Nothing at all, at all, me darlin’.”

“What is it? You are keeping something from me—and you must tell me,” I urged, with the peevishness of a pampered invalid.

“Don’t I tell you it is nothing?”

“And don’t I tell you that it is something?” I persisted.

“Oh, I see you are as bad as ever. Signs on it, you are getting better!”

“Yes. Tell me, what makes your eyes so red?”

“Well, then, God knows I could not help it! It’s enough to melt the heart of a brazen image, to see a man crying.”

“Do you mean Hugh? He thinks me very ill, does he? He thinks I am going to die. Why should he pretend to be sorry? He ought to be very glad!”

“Pretend!” echoed Peggy. “See now, Miss Ranee—hold your tongue! Many is the thing you’ve said, as was best left alone—but that’s just the very wickedest word you ever spoke, since you were born.”

Chapter XLVIII

“Shall I Tell You?”

“He was ever precise, in promise keeping.”
Measure for Measure

After Hugh went away, Father Paul remained, and was permitted to see me: he put no restraint on his feelings, and I saw tears twinkling in his old brown eyes, as he held my hand in his. It soothed me to see him, it was like a breath of cool, strong air, in a sultry place. He did me good, and he knelt down beside me, Protestant as I was, and thanked God for having spared my young life; to which prayer Peggy said “Amen” most heartily. When later she had descended in search of her indispensable cup of tea, he and I sat side by side, at the open window, and gazed over the wide bay, and watched the native craft, passing between the shore, and the ships at anchor.

“Diana, you are not to speak,” he said; “but I may talk to you, and now you have been given a new lease of life, I hope you will turn it to a better account.”

“Do you believe ill of me too?” I asked reproachfully.

“No—no—I do not think you are wicked. I know your mind too well—possibly you have been weak, foolish, and vain; and, I am afraid, that you practised deceit. You are changed,” he exclaimed, with a sigh.

“Yes, since I am married—I feel—oh, so old now.”

“And have you been a good wife, Diana? Your husband may be hasty and hot-tempered, but surely he has been good to you? He has given you his name, his money, his love. And—he has suffered. What has become of his spirits, and his merry laugh? He is graver and more serious now, than I am. You must not think hardly of one another! I have talked to him, and earnestly pointed out how rash a thing it is, to uproot one’s home; how cruel to throw you among strangers, a girl like you, who has no relations, and that the stigma of being separated from her husband, is one which a woman’s reputation never recovers. I have recalled to him your strange bringing up—your wild, unconventional ideas—your innocence. I told him that you were easily influenced, and timid morally, and credulous, and therefore a tempting tool, in the hands of an unscrupulous person.”

“And what did he say?” I inquired, in a faint voice.

“Not much. And now that his mother is dead, he is not so anxious to send you home.”

“Is she dead? I never knew it!”

“Yes—she died when you were very ill.”

(It may seem a very heartless thing to say, but the death of old Mrs. Fitzroy could not have taken place more opportunely; for to her demise was attributed our hurried departure for England, postponed, of course, in consequence of my illness.)

I desired Peggy to get me a black dress which she did with alacrity, having, like all the lower order of Irish, a great respect and admiration, for a good show of the deepest crêpe and mourning. My mourning made me look more ghastly than ever, as I drove about of an evening in a large open carriage, attended by Peggy and the Padre; we were undoubtedly a good deal stared at; I, with my weird-looking face propped up among pillows, Father Paul, with his tanned skin and long white beard, and Peggy in her obsolete attire. We enjoyed these airings extremely, as we drove along by Malabar Hill, in search of the evening breezes, talking over what we called “old times”—present times, alas! were not a comfortable topic. I was soon sufficiently strong to be moved up to the hills—those wonderful Indian hills, with their unrivalled dawns and sunsets, their valleys of mist, majestic heights, and vague views of low-lying plains. When I had been some months at “Callian,” my baby was born. The most audacious flatterer could not have called him a “fine child,” much less a beautiful infant; but he was perfect in his mother’s eyes, and I named him John Barrington. Peggy, instead of being delighted, was not merely disappointed, but actually angry, and contemptuous, because he was so inferior to a certain wonderful child in the same hotel.

“You were a lovely infant yourself, Miss Ranee,” she would say reproachfully, “and it was proud I was to carry you, and show you off; but when people says to me now, ‘Oh, is that Mrs. Fitzroy’s baby? Do let me see it,’ I give ye me word, the knees shake under me, and I feel inclined to turn, and run! Sure, he is no bigger than my hand, and doesn’t he look as if he had all the cares of the world on his poor little shoulders?—I hope the Captain won’t see him before he fills out!”

The Captain never saw him, and he never filled out. He only lived six weeks, and then he was taken from me; and if I could be more broken-hearted than I had been for the last six months, I was heart-broken now. Those mothers, who had suffered similar losses, came and tried to comfort me; but I repulsed them almost fiercely, and turned a deaf eat to all consolations. This child was to have been everything to me, and I would have been everything to it. Now it was gone, and I had nothing left.

“It is not right to grieve in this way, dear Mrs. Fitzroy,” said one kind visitor. “You will ruin your eyesight with crying, you will injure your health. You are not like poor Mrs. Rothwell, you have much to be thankful for—you have your husband.”

What was the use of telling this warm-hearted Samaritan, that I had lost him long ago? I made no answer; I only went on crying more bitterly and hopelessly than ever; and my well meaning adviser, finding that her efforts were thrown away, abandoned me to Peggy, and my own devices.

Peggy did me more good than any one. She rated me soundly, for what she termed my “wickedness;” told me plainly, that the child never could have lived, and it was a wonder it struggled on so long; its heart was affected, and I had no one to thank for that, but my fretting, and myself.

Time waits for no one, Time heals most wounds; Time brought me health. I was able to join the table d’hôte, to walk almost unsupported, and to sit out of doors for hours. Hugh’s busy season was over, and he paid me flying visits—very flying, indeed; and once Peter accompanied him, and remained for three days. We were so delighted to meet one another again, that it was not easy to dispel the idea, that he was Captain Fitzroy, and not the silent, dark gentleman, who left us so much to ourselves. As a high mark of affection—or, perhaps, with some frantic notion of consoling me for my loss, Peter triumphantly produced Billy, from a basket, and placed him in my arms. This kind experiment was a disastrous failure. Billy, to quote Peggy, “fought rings round” with the hotel cat; and, after a sharp struggle, dismissed him with an immense loss of prestige and fur.

After this, he had a desperate duel with a fox terrier, and again distinguished himself, scratching the dog so unmercifully that it ran yelping to its mistress; he then devoured a live canary, and a cold roast chicken, and concluded a short, but not inglorious career, by disappearing up the hotel chimney, from whence he was dislodged and kept in durance until the following day—when he was repacked in his basket, and despatched to Sindi. I made several acquaintances at the hotel; among others I came to know Mr. Kirke, Carrie’s former admirer. I was determined to be friends with him. I made bold advances, I threw myself in his way—for he was most determinedly shy—and I am certain that he thought me an excessively forward young woman—either that, or a particularly tiresome, exacting invalid. I compelled him to carry my wraps and books, to wind my worsted, to read aloud to me, and to sit next me at meals—but I did it all for Carrie! Letty Lawless had arranged the truth, I was resolved to rearrange it. Why should not Carrie be happy? She had no unlucky secrets in her life, and Mr. Kirke was different to Hugh. I had now a new interest in life, I was bent on winning back Carrie’s lover; and, after all, it was not a task that went against the grain. I liked Mr. Kirke immensely, although he had a ridiculous habit of holding his head on one side—like a crow peeping down a marrow-bone – and he was awkward, shy, and plain.

On the other hand, he was clever and well read—in an unobtrusive style, that did not pain other people, and make them feel like fools. He was fond of dogs and children, and they were devoted to him; and was most unselfish, thoughtful, and good-natured. How at hotels you can see with half an eye, and at once, who are the really unselfish people! Place after place he took at table, and was turned out of it, until I made a resolute stand, and indignantly refused to allow him to be parted from me! He lent his books, his pony, and his newspapers— he fought as champion of the oppressed, and battled—poor man—over the bills of single ladies, and grass widows, who were staying at the hotel, like myself. He rode with the ugly girl at picnics, took the stupidest old dowager to supper, mended the children’s toys, prescribed for sick dogs, repaired broken china, and, in short, was both popular and useful.

The first time I ventured to allude to “my friend Miss Raitt,” he was startled—red, and nervous—but I soon learnt to tread, with a freer foot, over this delicate ground, and he, on his side, seemed to find my society quite amazingly attractive. We talked “Carrie,” over five o’clock tea, in my little sitting-room, and in secluded flowery nooks, on the tennis-ground,—and the Mrs. Grundy of the hotel, our own special mischief-maker, hinted to various people that “Mrs. Fitzroy, for all her frail looks, and invalid airs, was not a bit too delicate to flirt!”

When I had thus artfully smoothed the way, I wrote and invited Carrie to come up and keep me company and pay me a long visit—and then I left the rest to Fate—that is to say, to Fate, assisted by a certain amount of judicious gooseberry pickling—and, at the end of ten days’ time, a little picnic (a moonlight picnic) settled the affair, and Carrie was once more engaged to Mr. Kirke. And we were all very happy. Just at this point Hugh came upon the scene, and, being endowed with considerable penetration, took in the situation at a glance. Indeed, he was promptly pressed into service, as assistant gooseberry picker. The evening after he arrived, we all strolled out together in the moonlight—Hugh and I walking behind the others, discreetly blind and deaf; I could not help feeling a pang of envy, as I watched them—they were both older than we were—considerably older than we were—and yet all the best part of their lives lay before them—and ours was past—my happiness, youth, and future, were dead—and yet—would I change places with Carrie? No.

“I understand that this—is chiefly your arrangement!” said Hugh, nodding at the happy couple in front of us.

“Yes,” I rejoined, with some complacency.

“I hope Carrie and Kirke will be properly grateful, in years to come. But I should have thought—” and he stopped abruptly, and walked on in silence.

“You would have thought, that my own affair, having turned out so unfortunately, I would be the last to inveigle any one into matrimony—is not that what you were going to say?”

“Well, since you will have it, something of the sort—did occur to me. However, she is an amiable, commonplace girl. She lacks the energy, and imagination, to do anything—startling—or that will ever give Kirke a moment’s uneasiness. He is an honest, plodding, and most excellent fellow—he will be led by the nose. May he be happy!”

“I am not at all sure that he will be led by the nose,” I said, seating myself on a bench, that was placed on a point overlooking the plains. It was called “The Lovers’ Seat,” though it was rather too prominently situated to deserve that title. Our lovers had disappeared, and I was too tired to pursue them any further.

“Well, that is my impression; and—now, Diana, I am going to speak to you about something most seriously. I wonder if it will do you any harm?”

“If you are going to speak to me, as you did once before, you will kill me—that is all,” I answered, with convincing prompitude. “You need not be alarmed; but there is something that I must say to you. I will say it as quickly as I can, and, for goodness’ sake, don’t excite yourself.”

“Go on, then,” I said, “get it over.”

“It is merely this: Of course you and I can – never be as—we were before; but as Father Paul has pointed out to me, I am alone. You—are alone; you have no relatives; you are an orphan.” (Was I?) “It is a serious thing for a woman to be outwardly separated from her husband. There has been some talk already in Sindi—though, goodness knows, I have done my best to keep up appearances—and—and so, if you like to come back—you can.”

This was not a very pressing invitation! I did not change my attitude; I did not look at Hugh; but I shook my averted head, and said:

“No—thank you,” with a sort of catching of my breath.

“And what will you do?” he asked, collectedly, after a moment’s silence. “Go home; back to the old Bungalow. Yes; I think I shall have the best chance of happiness, where nothing but the memory of happiness lingers.”

“And do you mean to say that you are willing to bury yourself there, for the remainder of your life?” he demanded.

“Yes, why not? I have seen life.”

“At twenty?” he echoed incredulously.

“At twenty. I am an old woman. I have been a station belle—I have been a wife—an heiress, a social success—a subject for scandal—and—a domestic outcast. What have I to learn?—All is vanity. Life, as I once pictured, is but a mirage, a Dead Sea apple.”

“Are you serious, Diana, or is this just your old way of talking at random?”

“I am perfectly serious – never more so, and I long to return to my Jungle home, ten times more eagerly than I once longed to quit it. I shall take Peggy, and—Pallia, and Cassim, and reign once more as Princess of the Jungle, and among my own people.”

“You are sorry you ever quitted them?”

I evaded this question by another, and said:

“Are you not sorry now, that you ever tossed that rupee in Saloor Dâk Bungalow—which sent you to Ram Tek—to find me?”

“No,” he answered, to my great surprise, “I am not sorry—it was ‘Kismet,’ as they say out here. You were the wife that Fate held in store for me. I had a vague feeling as to who you were, when I found you asleep on the old temple steps by the lake. I would have been miserable, if I had not married you. I am miserable, now that I am married to you! I agree with a fellow in one of Charles Reade’s novels. Everything is nothing—nothing is every thing. It will be all the same a hundred years hence.”

And he folded his arms, and looked away across the plains, with a fixed, rigid expression on his face

“Hugh,” I said sharply, rising as I spoke, and feeling impelled towards him, by some strange feeling of pity for him, and pity for myself, “listen to me. If I were to break a most solemn oath, sworn on the Bible, I could clear myself in your eyes now, this moment—and I never was so strongly tempted in all my life. Why should one word—a breath of air, as it were—stand between us and blacken our lives? Hugh, shall I speak?” I asked excitedly. “Shall I tell you—it is for you to say.”

Then there was a silence for several moments. Hugh turned and looked at me steadfastly—it was as if our two souls were gazing at each other. He seemed to be battling with some fierce inward emotion—his face looked white and haggard. For my part, I was so desperately agitated, that I could no longer stand At length he made a quick gesture of repudiation, and said—in a cold, condemnatory tone:

“No – never—your word is sacred. True daughter of Eve! would you tempt me, to bid you break it? I must have sunk very low in your opinion, if you suppose, that I would consent to such a deed—even although, as you say—one word, a mere breath—would release our lives from the pit of darkness.”

There was no more to be said! I knew that Hugh’s ideas of honour were far loftier than mine. I had been mad, to ask him such a question—and, after my excited outburst of supplication, I collapsed like a stricken creature, and covered my face with both my thin little hands, to hide my shame—ay, and my tears.

Chapter XLIX

Two Engagements

“At every word a reputation dies.”
— Pope

No, I would not return to Sindi; and even after Carrie had been recalled home, I remained on at the hotel with Peggy, leading a very uneventful life—reading, working, and walking. I made clothes for Ada Mayne’s baby; and, if anything would have tempted me down to the plains, it would have been to see my little god daughter. The hill station, where I was staying, was central, and what Peggy called “convenient” to many places; and people were constantly coming, and going, and running up for a few days. Among others, Colonel Hassard appeared upon the scene, to my intense disgust. He came in the train of a very pretty woman—whose cousin he was said to be. Apparently his supply of cousins was unlimited. He sat directly opposite to me at the table d’hôte, and did not recognise me, and, indeed, no wonder. Some one on his left hand—an old habitué of the hotel was evidently retailing the histories of all present, and possibly mentioned me, and my famous diamonds—for their reputation seemed to have preceded me everywhere—and then he glanced across, and our eyes met. A smile of recognition was hovering round his lips; if he thought that I would ever speak to him again, the delusion could not be too thoroughly, or too promptly, dispelled. I looked him full in the face with a stony, neutral stare, and cut him dead. He only remained at the hotel for a few days, and for those few days I had my meals in my private sitting-room.

I could not remain altogether indoors, and once or twice I came across Julian Hassard and his latest admiration. He was bending over her, talking to her in the same delightful, confidential manner in which he used to talk to me. How blind I had been in those days And did she, his pretty cousin, know whither she was drifting? And did she know what would be the climax of his soft and subtle civilities?

Soon after Colonel Hassard had departed, I found another familiar face confronting me at the dinner-table. This was that of no less a person than Mrs. Little! She had a shrivelled, discontented look, but she pretended to be enchanted to meet me once more, and brought her coffee cup over after dinner, and sat beside me. She had just arrived from Sindi; and was full of curiosity about me, about my illness, about my plans, and put many disconcerting questions.

After a sweeping condemnation of Sindi society, and figuratively casting her shoe over that place, she exclaimed:

“Well, I would never have known you again, my dear Mrs. Fitzroy, for, although I had been prepared, I did not expect to see you so shockingly altered, such a complete wreck!”

As I had no vanity left, I did not wince; indeed, I believe I smiled in her face.

“And so poor Carrie Raitt is actually going to be married at last! Wonders will never cease!”

“Why poor?’ And why at last?” I asked sharply.

“Because the dear girl has been out so long, and is all but an old maid! Then she is frightfully handicapped by her dreadful old mother. She really ought to be shut up.”

“I must remind you, Mrs. Little, that the Raitts are particular friends of mine,” I said stiffly. “Ah!—well, you need not be so fierce; but of course I know that a long illness does make people irritable. Mr. Kirke, at any rate, is not a particular friend. He is a hideous, dull, little man—and, worse than all, there is madness in his family.”

“There is not, Mrs. Little,” I answered indignantly, “no more than there is in yours or mine. At least, I can answer for mine. I know all about his relatives.” (Had he not talked them over for hours with me—had I not read all their kind letters to Carrie?)

“If you will take my advice,” I continued courageously, “you will not repeat that remark to any one else, or you will certainly get into trouble.”

Spiteful Mrs. Little could hardly believe her ears—nor that a “chit” of my age should dare to rebuke a woman of her years (“five-and twenty,” she said). Her cruel little gray eyes gleamed, and glared fixedly into mine!

The day was now passed for the prancings of the tourney, and I saw that we were going to have a battle à outrance, and my heart, strange to say, did not quail; but then I could always fight so much better for other people, than for myself, and meant to stand up for the Raitt family through thick and thin. However, as it turned out, she was going to carry the war into my own camp—for she said, with a malicious giggle:

“Get into trouble! According to what I hear, you have been getting into terrible trouble.”

“According to Sindi gossip, that is to say. I wonder you believe gossip, Mrs. Little, when you know so well how cheaply it is manufactured.” This was, what Hugh would have called, “One for her.”

“And then it’s not true that you and Captain Fitzroy don’t get on—and are ‘separated?’”

“I do not know by what right, you ask such a strange question. However, it is very good of you to be so interested in our private affairs, and I am sure you will be delighted to hear, that I believe I have the best, the bravest, most honourable, and the most loyal man in India, for my husband.”

“Loyal!” she echoed, in her shrillest key. “Oh then, my poor, dear Mrs. Fitzroy, you evidently have not heard of Mrs. Horne.”

“Of whom?” I inquired, rather tartly.

“Of Mrs. Horne. She is making herself the talk of the place.”

“It is so easy to do that,” I retorted contemptuously.

“Ah—yes. However, a word from me, you know, is kindly meant, and I do think it is a great mistake for a woman to leave her husband too long alone. You have been away from Sindi for nearly a year, have you not? Well, my dearest Mrs. Fitzroy, it is quite time you went back.”

(It was plain that she was deliberately bent on exciting uneasiness.)

“What do you mean?” I asked frigidly.

“I mean that Captain Fitzroy has this cousin down there—Mrs. Horne—a little, lively, dark woman. You know, he always admired small women—for instance, you remember Mrs. Lawless? Well, she plays most beautifully, and I never went to her house that I did not find your husband there—with a violin—a violin is occasionally most convenient,” and she smiled expressively.

“Hugh would go anywhere—I believe he would go out to a cholera camp—to get some one to play his accompaniments.”

“Ahem!—yes. But he drives her out, and rides with her, when no fiddling is possible. Of course, there may be nothing in it.”

“You may make your mind perfectly at ease—on that score,” I answered impressively. “I have the most implicit faith in my hus band.”

“Ah—well, indeed! it’s very good of you. I always said, you were more sinned against than sinning. Still, you know, they say that Mrs. Horne was an old flame of his, when he was in a regiment at home—he was desperately in love with her—but, of course, he could not marry her, as she had no money.”

Now I just pause here, to ask any young married lady, with a good-looking husband, how she would have liked all this information?

Hugh was handsome, he rode and danced well, and played the violin admirably; he had no mauvaise honte, and the pleasantest voice I ever heard in a man. In short, he was the very beau ideal of a nice, “cavalier servente” for marauding matrons of attractive manners. Nevertheless, I showed a bold front to my fierce, little assailant, and laughed at all her hints, smiled incredulously when she gave me affectionate advice—and routed her completely—so much so, that she presently retreated with an unusually sour expression, into the privacy of her own quarters, leaving me, so to speak, the victor, and in possession of the field.

But alone, in my own room, and no longer carrying my head so high, or wearing a masked battery of smiles, I asked myself, was I the victor? Where had I found the joints of her invulnerable armour—and had she not given me a deadly wound! Yes!

I was weak still, mentally and physically, and I laid my head down upon my arms (after I had got rid of Peggy), and wept as bitter tears as I ever shed in all my life. Was this jealousy? It looked remarkably like it. Could I be jealous? Evidently so, wildly and furiously jealous! In my mind’s eye, I saw Hugh and this creature, riding, and practising, and playing tennis together, and my whole soul was roused to arms in a manner that amazed me. The upshot of the matter was, that after telling myself one moment that “I did not believe a word of it;” at another, “that Hugh was the last man in Sindi to get up a flirtation with any one;” and at another, “that perhaps she was an old love”—and I now remembered that a Mrs. Horne had sent him a remarkably handsome wedding present—before the end of a week, I despatched the following telegram:

“To Captain Fitzroy, Sindi.
“From Mrs. Fitzroy, Callian

“This place no longer suits me—come and fetch me.”

Chapter L

“They Said That You Were Never Coming Back”

“And there’s a lust in man no charm can tame
Of loudly publishing our neighbour’s shame;
On eagle’s wings immortal scandals fly,
While virtuous actions are but born and die.”
— Harvey

Hugh arrived promptly, in answer to my telegram, and escorted me back to Sindi. I found the Bungalow in beautiful order—much the same as I had left it, and tastefully decorated with fresh flowers—possibly in honour of my return? Billy had grown into a huge black monster, with pellucid green eyes, and supercilious manners, and had acquired an ineradicable habit of occupying my chair at meals. The puppy, alas for our hopes! had developed into a large, awkward, yellow pie, good-humouredly submitting to be severely sat upon, and cuffed by his former little playmate, who led him a bonâ fide dog’s life!

I was glad to be back. Yes, I felt happier, and more contented, than I had done for a long time, as I sat in the drawing-room, the morning after my arrival, surrounded with all my beloved household gods (they had been taken great care of, that was evident). As I sat thus, mentally reckoning up a certain set of much-prized cups and saucers, I saw a dark lady, on a gray pony, come trotting into the compound, and, stopping under the porch, she called out, in a shrill falsetto:

“Hugh!”

This was very nice indeed! and it was quite time that I came home. Mrs. Little had been right for once.

I rose, and walked slowly into the verandah. On seeing me, she seemed rather surprised, and pleased, and said: “Oh, so you did come last evening! My dear, what a child you look!”

This was more than she did. She was forty if an hour—and very dark and sallow. (Well, there was some comfort in that!)

“Are you quite well now?”

“Quite well, thank you”—very frigidly.

“I am Hugh’s cousin, as perhaps you have guessed—Sophy Horne.”

“Yes—I have heard of you,” I answered stiffly, and after this, ensued an uncomfortable pause.

“Do you ride?” she asked, stroking the pony’s mane.

“Yes, I am very fond of it.”

“Oh, are you? Then, now that you have arrived, I suppose Dobbin and I must part?”

“Why? What have I to say to your pony?” I asked, with raised brows.

“He is not mine—he belongs to Hugh; but I ride him every day.”

“Oh, as far as I am concerned, you are welcome to him,” I said, with a smile. “He is much too small, and too serious in his manners, to suit me.”

“Indeed!” colouring. “Then I suppose you are a great horsewoman.”

“I have never considered the matter, but I can ride—a horse,” and I glanced at the pony with the utmost scorn.

“Oh! Well, I only came in to tell Hugh, that I have drawn him as my partner, in the big tennis tournament to-morrow. He and I play together in the ladies and gentlemen’s doubles—and I am so glad!”

(Of course she was. No need to tell me this.)

“It will be rather a good match. You must come down and look on.”

“Thank you,” ironically.

“Oh, Hugh, there you are,” she cried, as she saw him advancing behind me. “You see, I have made your wife’s acquaintance; she says I may keep Dobbin, as she does not care for ponies; and I looked in to tell you, that I have drawn you for the match to-morrow!”

“I don’t think I can play. I am on duty, and I don’t see how I can get off.”

“Oh, nonsense! Now don’t be disobliging, just because your wife has come to look after you. She won’t mind.”

She said this in a way (so it seemed to my prejudiced mind) as if we might take it for a joke, or not—just as we pleased! And with a nod to me, and a wave of her hand to Hugh, she cantered away.

“Odious woman!” I exclaimed. “And she rides like a sack of potatoes l”

“I see that you are not likely to be bosom friends,” returned Hugh, with a short laugh. “And, indeed, Diana, I am sorry to find that you regard civility, as some do truth—too precious an article to be wasted.”

“I have heard of Mrs. Horne from Mrs. Little,” I answered, rather sharply.

“And I am sure that Mrs. Little had nothing but good to say of her,” he retorted sarcastically.

“She did not say much—she only told me that, once upon a time, you were frantically in love with one another, when you were at home, and she was a girl. That must have been many years ago!”

“Yes, when I was in socks, and short white frocks. And what else, did Mrs. Little say? After we were frantically in love with one another, was she good enough to mention, why we did not marry?”

“Yes, she told me that also—a most touching story! She said that you were too poor; poverty parted you, and that you could not marry any one but a girl with money.”

“Such as yourself?” he asked, with stern bitterness.

“Yes,” I answered, without a blush.

After a long silence, he said:

“Diana, it is not possible that you could be jealous of Sophy Horne?”

I laughed, a wild, hysterical laugh.

“Perhaps it was owing to Mrs. Little’s good natured representations, that you changed your mind about Sindi?” he asked, in a curious tone.

“Perhaps,” I echoed derisively.

“Mrs. Little’s name ought to be—never mind—it would be too ridiculous, and too childish, if you were to be jealous of me.”

“Yes, you are jealous enough for both of us.” I retorted quickly.

“When did you learn, to use your tongue with such satirical effect? There,” suddenly putting his hand on my shoulder, he said, “don’t let us begin our new experiment with rows. I hate them! Sophy is ten years older than I am. I have known her since I was an infant. She likes riding, and tennis, and going about; she has no ties at home. She has been very good to me—she knows nothing; and she wishes to be very good to you. But you met the unfortunate woman on the door-step, like a heroine, defending your domestic hearth! Poor Sophy: how you did snub her. And, do you know, I believe she was here all day yesterday, putting the house to rights, and arranged every one of the flowers herself, and fixed up your room.”

“Did she ”’ I exclaimed, much softened, appeased, and ashamed. “I am very sorry—I was very rude to her—and, I am afraid, she will think I am a horrible, cross, disagreeable girl.”

“There, there, for mercy’s sake, don’t. You can easily make it all right with Sophy. Here are Colonel and Mrs. Gimlette, and Peter; and, whatever you do, don’t let them find you in tears.”

Ada, of course, also came to see me, and brought her baby, and wept over me. “Oh, dear! oh, dear! you are so changed!” she sobbed. “You are worse than I expected.”

“Oh, I am far better than I used to be, now that my hair has taken to curling,” I assured her consolingly.

“Diana, I am so glad you have come home, not only for my own sake, and for Captain Fitzroy’s, but for other reasons.” She added mysteriously: “People were hinting such things, and saying that you and Hugh, had quarrelled, and that you were never coming back! Wasn’t it wicked of them? Of course, I always denied it, and said that I was your greatest friend, and that I ought to know, and that you and he had never had a word of difference in your lives.”

(Should I tell her, or should I not? No.)

“We saw a good deal of him, of course. He often came, and had tea with me. Poor fellow! He missed his home, and you, most dreadfully!”

(Dear, little, unsuspicious Ada!)

“Then, when baby was born, he shunned the house, as if we had the black plague; and when I showed baby to him, and asked if he was not the image of Dick, he roared, and said he would be sorry to pay Dick such a compliment. Wasn’t he rude? Then, I said, I was surprised that a soldier like him, who had fought, and been commended in despatches, would run away from an infant. So he pretty well divided his spare time—his play time—between the Hornes and us. She is nice, Di—you will like her. She may be a little too fussy, and young in her ways; but, poor woman, she has no children,” added Ada compassionately. “And she plays divinely. Even Mrs. Little allowed that.”

Thus Ada chattered on, and I listened, in unusual silence. She little guessed, how nearly the announcement, that “I was never coming back,” had been fulfilled.

Chapter LI

Marche Funèbre

“A death-bed’s a detector of the heart.”
—Young

Although I had returned home, and resumed the keys of office, I was still to a certain extent an invalid: I could not play tennis, I could not ride, and was obliged to content myself with merely looking at Cassim, and seeing him exercised by Hugh. I pottered about, among my plants, and poultry, followed by the pup and Billy—the latter evincing an affectionate interest in promising clutches—which interest, he subsequently justified, by devouring quite a holocaust of young chickens. I was no longer quite such a gaunt and ghastly object, as I had been of late—my short locks developed a tendency to curl—my cheek-bones were not so painfully prominent, nor my dresses such grotesque misfits—still I was so altered in appearance, by my illness, that many former acquaintances failed to recognise me, and passed me with a vacant stare.

Ada’s prediction was fulfilled, and I liked my newly discovered cousin, Sophy Horne—liked her very much. Her husband was frequently “on tour,” mine was but little at home, and we spent a great deal of our time in each other’s company—to our mutual satisfaction. Our ages might have easily been reversed—surely I was forty, and she was twenty!—so staid and grave was I—so gay, loquacious, and energetic was she. Sophy declared that I wanted rousing, and she set herself to the task of arousing me, with her usual vigorous spirits. She taught me fancy work, told me amusing stories, hustled me, if I may use the expression, and, above all, played to me—she played magnificently, not only with the highest proficiency, but the most sympathetic expression, and her music, like David’s harp, seemed to exorcise the spirits of melancholy, and apathy, that had taken up their abode with me. My hardest task at this period, was to endeavour to conceal from all the world, the wide, impassable gulf lay between Hugh and me. Hugh was very kind, thoughtful, and almost too polite; no one could have suspected anything from him. No one would have suspected our dismal meals—our forced conversation—our tacit avoidance of the past—our long séances of sad, suggestive silence. No one, perhaps, but Sophy! I often wondered if Sophy had not some glimmering of the truth? Sophy was a sort of person that seemed to have eyes all round her head.

Since old Mrs. Fitzroy’s death, our income had been agreeably increased, and in a moderate way, “expense was no object!” Consequently, Hugh presented me with a very smart victoria, and a pair of stepping cobs—as he said that “the cart was not suitable for an invalid;” but this I looked upon as a shallow excuse, and merely a civil way of getting out of driving me—for, of course, I was now obliged to have the usual dashing, and emblazoned coachman. Sophy or Ada, were generally my companions of an afternoon—when Hugh went to polo, or racquets. One evening, about a month after my return, I was seated alone in my carriage at the band, for Sophy had descended at my request, to take a turn with Peter. A sudden veer of fashion’s weathercock had elevated the Temple Gardens into an eagerly-sought, gay resort. There, peeping above the orange-trees, was the little white Pagoda, where I had held that stolen, and, to me, disastrous interview. As my thoughts still dwelt on that moonlight night, almost a year ago, my heart gave a feeble little leap, for at that moment Mrs. Vavasour herself went by, driving a pair of superb chestnut horses. She glanced at me carelessly, then looked again; presently she turned and passed me at a walk, finally she drew up and said:

“Surely, Diana, it is not you?”

“Yes,” I replied tremulously.

Without another word she beckoned to her syces, and got out, and came hastily towards me. She looked very pale and agitated, and said, as she gazed up into my face:

“Tell me what has happened, my poor child!”

“I have been very ill,” I murmured.

“I never heard of it! But we only returned last week. And,” laying her hand on my black dress, “are you in morning still for your mother in-law?”

“No,” I replied, striving to speak with composure. “For my—baby.”

“Good gracious, Diana! your baby?” Then, after a pause, she added: “How old was it?”

“Six weeks and two days.”

“Oh”—another pause—“well, I really think people in the army are far better without children. Fancy my being a grandmother—what a hideous idea!” and she gave a little shudder. “I cannot pretend to be sorry for it, Diana, but I am really very sorry for you—I am indeed. They say that I have no heart, dear,” laying her hand in mine, and gazing at me steadfastly. as she spoke. “But I must have a bit of one, for I feel such a queer tightness in my throat, when I look at your thin, white face, and sunken eyes. The ties of blood are real after all. What caused your illness?”

“It was brain-fever—I got it—after the—the letter—you wrote,” I answered, in a choked voice

“Letter! what letter? Ah, I recollect—now! I have a miserable memory. You are so excitable. You take things too much to heart. There was a fuss about the necklace—yes.”

“Fuss!” I echoed hysterically. “A fuss that nearly, killed me; a fuss that has alienated my husband for ever. I wish the diamonds had been at the bottom of the sea! I wish I had never been born! I wish—”

“Come, come, Diana! You should not say that to me,” she interrupted sharply. “I’m afraid Julian Hassard muddled that business of the necklace! However, I shall release you from keeping my secret very shortly. I promise—honour bright.”

“How soon? When?” I asked breathlessly.

“Perhaps in another year—or two.”

Year—year or two! It must be days,” I cried, with sudden passion. “Now you are within reach, mother, I shall give you no peace till you give me back my peace.”

“Hush! hush! Here are some people coming, and I must go. I’ll write to you. I will, indeed.”

“Oh, mother! If you knew what your secret has cost me; if you knew how miserable I am, you would have pity on me,” holding her hand very tight, and speaking with intense excitement.

“Diana” (struggling), “let me go—I must really go—I’ll think of it,” and, snatching her fingers from my detaining clasp, she walked away; and in another moment, Peter and Sophy Horne came up, with beaming faces.

“There goes Mrs. Vavasour, out-and-out the prettiest woman in Sindi,” said Peter, as she dashed past. Yes, she looked as young and as pretty as ever—and a grandmother—impossible!

“Those are her new horses,” he continued—“a spanking pair; but she is not much of a whip—nearly as bad as you are,” turning his little twinkling eyes on me.

I held my handkerchief before my lips, and made a great struggle for composure, but Sophy answered:

“What gratuitous impertinence! That is no way to speak to your Captain’s wife. He is dining with you this evening, Diana—give him bread-and-water.”

“Anything,” he returned promptly—“even haggis—as long as I dine with you.”

“Don’t be late,” I said, with an effort; “and tell Hugh—you will see him at the Club—we dine at eight to-night.

“There is a big billiard tournament on this evening.” said Peter, “so do not wait for me. If the worst comes to the worst, I’ll come in appropriately with the sweets. But I’ll give your message to Hugh—Mrs. Fitz – and send him home in good time.” And mounting his pony, and lifting his cap, Peter—the irrepressible—cantered away.

After his departure, Sophy and I went for what is called a “little turn,” and on our way homeward, I noticed a crowd of people running down a by-road; but we were going so fast ourselves, it was not worth while to pull up, and satisfy our curiosity. Sophy was dining with us, and she and I waited a long, long time for dinner, with more, or less patience. At last, when it was nearly nine o’clock, Peggy came in with wrath in her eye.

“Miss Diana, why don’t you go to your dinner? Are not ye starved with the hunger? What’s the good of me being so earnest about feeding you up—with broth and nourishment—when ye sit and fast, an hour after your males, with a face on you, as long as a happorth of bacon!”

“We are waiting for Captain Fitzroy and Mr. Hare,” explained Sophy. “They are looking on at a billiard-match.”

“Oh—and sure, don’t ye know them, when they get together? Divil a toe, they’ll put inside the place this hour,” she muttered to herself. Then, in a louder key: “Never mind waiting on the likes of them; but go in and take your soup, it is getting stone cold.”

Thus commanded, Sophy and I obediently followed her advice – and had scarcely seated ourselves at table—when Peter walked in, rather breathlessly. “Don’t be frightened,” he said, “but Hugh has had a fall—and hurt himself a little; his arm is tied up—but it’s nothing much—he made me come in first—

“Oh, Peter!” I exclaimed, jumping up, “where is he?”

“He’s all right,” he replied, following me into the drawing-room; and there I saw Hugh, getting out of the cart, and felt greatly relieved.

“Are you hurt?” I asked, running out. “No—a slight sprain, and a few cuts,” he replied, with rather chilling unconcern.

But why was Peter frowning at Sophy? And why did Hugh stand in the verandah, as if reluctant to come in? When he did enter, I saw that one hand was done up in bandages, his arm was in a sling, and his face looked curiously white, and when he turned, I noticed a large piece of lint, and plaster, on the back of his head.

“Come,” he said cheerfully; “you are a nice soldier’s wife, to turn pale at a bit of sticking plaster;” and then he sat down, rather suddenly, and said: “Peter, fetch me a whisky and soda.”

Peter and Sophy went out into the dining room, and I saw them with their heads together, whispering at the sideboard.

“I know you are badly hurt,” I said, looking anxiously at Hugh. “I am sure of it.”

“I am not. Do you think I could drive home if I were?” he answered, rather sharply.

“Were you thrown out of the cart? How did it happen?”

“I fell over the bridge, near the racquet court.”

“Over that!” I echoed. “What an awful place! I wonder you were not killed. How did you fall over it?”

“I—I—” (Hugh was not good at pre varicating.) “Well, I could not well help myself. I went over the parapet—it’s not as bad as it looks. Ah! here is the whisky and soda. Now, Peter,” he said, when he had swallowed it, “take me away and dress me for dinner.” So Peter and he went off accordingly, and in a very short time, we were all seated at table. Every one talked a good deal during dinner. Peter and Sophy were especially vivacious, but I noticed that Hugh avoided all allusion to his accident, save to “pooh, pooh” it, and that he scarcely touched a morsel, and now and then it seemed to me, that all three looked unusually grave. What were they keeping from me? I felt that something was impending, and had been in unaccountably low spirits, ever since the band at the Temple Gardens had concluded its programme, with Chopin’s weird, and melancholy, “Marche Funèbre.”

When dinner was concluded, we returned to the drawing-room en masse. Peter reclined beside me on the sofa, and dressed up Billy in my best chair-back. Hugh went out, and sat in the verandah—he frequently did this when we were alone—but why to-night? Sophy naturally gravitated to the piano, where her fingers wandered dreamily up and down the keys, and then apparently recalling the evening’s programme, she struck up the funeral march, interpreting it superbly, with its tramp of many feet—as the procession moves solemnly on—then the one voice, that seems to take up the tale of sorrow, and speak of passionate, undying remembrance—of a love, that will live beyond the grave, of a hope of a future meeting in that far off, undiscovered country. As the last notes died away in a kind of sob, I saw a brougham drive under the porch, which I recognised at once as Mrs. Vavasour’s, for I knew the coachman’s face. He handed a note to Hugh—yes, to Hugh—and he tore it open, and read it by the lamp which hung in the verandah. When he came into the room, with this note in his hand, his face was graver than ever, and he looked at no one, but me.

“Diana,” he said huskily, “Mrs. Vavasour”—(we had not uttered her name for many months)—“has sent for you—and me. She met with a carriage accident this evening.”

I rose from my seat as he spoke.

“Her horses took fright at the steam-roller, and bolted across the parade ground. I ran and tried to head them at the bridge, but they had too much pace on, and went clean over the low parapet.”

“Is—is—she much hurt?” I asked, in a voice that sounded a long way off. “Yes—I believe she is.”

“Is she going to die?” I gasped out.

“I am afraid so,” he returned very gravely. I uttered a stifled cry, but I did not speak, I only stood looking at Hugh, and trembling excessively. “She has sent for you,” he continued; “she wishes to see you and me. But, Diana, you are not fit to go—I shall go in your place.”

“In my place no. Oh, Hugh, I—I must go—Hugh,” I reiterated, with sudden passion. “I must go—must go, if it were to cost me my life. Do not lose the priceless moments—let us go now,” and I rushed out into the verandah, just as I was, in my evening dress, and got into the brougham before any one could interfere. Hugh followed me almost immediately, then Sophy tossed a wrap in through the window, and Peter shouted to the coach man, “Go on, drive fast, shove ’em along.” In a wonderfully short time, we were at our destination. The great white house was all lit up as usual, but so silent; voices and steps were alike hushed, and already it seemed to be the abode of death. In the lofty entrance hall, two doctors were standing and conversing together in whispers, they appeared to be surprised to see me; and then Coxon came down to look for us, and she explained to me, as we went upstairs, side by side, that her poor mistress could not hold those horses at the best of times, and that at the sight of the engine of the steam-roller, they made off like mad things.

“It was a most shocking runaway; it was a wonder that Captain Fitzroy was not killed, ma’am. He did all he could to stop the horses; but what was one man—and them going so fast? He fell over the bridge, too, and was taken up bleeding and insensible. At first we thought he was the worst. They took him off to the hospital close by, and when he came round he would go home, in spite of every one. I see he is better”—glancing back at Hugh, who had stopped for a moment to speak to the doctors.

“Yes,” I said; “but I am sure he is more hurt than he will allow. And Mrs. Vavasour?”

“Ah, my poor lady! the carriage fell across her back. She is in no pain to speak of, but she has only a few hours to live. Her spine is fractured.”

At this moment a door in the corridor opened, and Mr. Vavasour looked out anxiously. I saw by his face that he was expecting me, and knew, why I had been summoned. However, he did not address me, but Hugh, who had now joined us, and said:

“Fitzroy, I am thankful to see that you have escaped so well. I shall never forget what you did to-day. I am a man of few words—but—but—of this another time. She wishes your old Irish nurse to be with her—and—she would like you to stay with me—till—till—” and he almost broke down altogether.

While he spoke to Hugh, he had more than once looked very hard at me—looked at me with an odd, half-incredulous expression. Poor man! no doubt he saw the likeness now.

“You and your wife are to see her alone,” he continued, opening the door. “Don’t stay long. Don’t stay more than five minutes,” he whispered eagerly.

I advanced into the room, with a beating heart, but no tragic sight awaited me. She lay on a sofa, wrapped in a white dressing-gown, with a shawl thrown over her. Her face looked pale and worn, but her eyes were brighter than ever. “So you have come at last!” she said, in a weak voice. “Don’t cry, Diana—you have shed enough tears for me. Until to-day I little guessed how sorely the secret pressed on you. If I had known —I would have told him. Have you heard that, a few hours ago, he risked his life to save mine? If he had been killed—if it had been him instead of me, Diana?” and she gazed at me curiously.

“God is just!” I answered passionately. “He could not take my husband until I had been cleared.”

She turned her head slowly, and looked at Hugh, and said: “Captain Fitzroy, can you not guess our secret?” taking my hand in hers, as she spoke.

But Hugh was dumb. How could he guess the truth? He merely stood looking down at her with his searching, dark-blue eyes, and shook his head in hopeless ignorance.

“She—is my daughter,” she whispered, in a voice that was scarcely audible. After this amazing announcement, there was a dead, expressive silence, and I distinctly remember listening—as it were against my will—to the busy ticking of a little clock.

“I was Mrs. Barrington twenty years ago,” she went on—“Diana will tell you all. Her father took her far away from the wicked world, and far away from me. I recognised her, last year, by the diamond necklace, and, being in desperate straits, I told her who I was, and made her swear to keep the secret. The money she received for her diamonds, went to me—she pawned the necklace for my dire necessities. Julian Hassard is my cousin—he alone recognised me, and knew our secret; and he was the only person, whom I could trust to raise the money.”

Then she paused for a second—and then went on with increased rapidity:

“I have been spoiled all my life. I have been, God knows, a miserable, selfish, heartless woman; I have been accustomed to see people make sacrifices for me, and that Diana should pledge her diamonds to pay my debts did not strike me as any very wonderful, out-of-the-way deed. From my cradle, others have yielded to me, because of my pretty face; I came to look upon it quite as a matter of course. It seems only the other day, when they took away Annie’s new hat and gave it to me—because I looked so, sweet in it; that was the beginning of my life and here is the end.”

She paused exhausted, and signed to Hugh to give her a glass containing some restorative.

“Why did you never answer her letter?” he asked, as he received the empty glass.

“Because I could not read half of it, for one thing; and for another, it struck me as being the mere excited, exaggerated note of a girl who had had a little quarrel with her husband. She has suffered much – I have been very cruel to her, and I am sorry. I can never repair my fault—I wish I could. Be doubly good to her, for my sake.”

And she raised her hand with an effort.

Hugh took it in his, and said: “I will be doubly good to her, for her own.”

“Diana,” she said, looking at me, “no need to warn you, against my faults. You married for love, and are of a nature that abhors a change—your father was the same!—they call it constancy. Take this ring off my finger, and wear it sometimes—think of me as kindly as you can—and now stoop down and kiss me.” I did as she desired, my hot tears falling on her cold and death-like face. “Now”—and she glanced significantly at Hugh—“take her away—take her home, and remember your promise.”

“Mother”—I said, throwing myself on my knees beside her—“do not send me away—from you, as if I were a stranger; let me stay with you, and pray with you—who is so fit to be with you, as your only child?”

“No, no,” she returned impatiently, and again she looked at Hugh. “Go, now, Diana—you shall come to-morrow morning—a sick room, is no place for you—go—I wish you to go.”

I had no alternative, I dared not urge her further, so I rose, and kissed her, and went blinded by my tears. As I reached the door, she said in a faint voice:

“Turn back, Diana—that I may look once more on my youth—and you! There—that will do,” waving her hand feebly. “Good-bye—good bye.”

“Good-bye, mother,” I sobbed—making a vain effort to remain—but Hugh was inflexible, and led me quickly out of the room, and closed the door behind us. There we stood on the landing, for an instant, and gazed at one another, in dead silence. Twice Hugh tried to speak, but emotion choked his utterance. His face was deathly pale—whiter now, than hers whom we had just left—the beads of moisture stood upon his forehead.

“And that was the secret,” he said at last, in a husky voice.

“Yes,” I answered tremulously. “And, oh, Hugh, pardon me now!”

“God knows it is for you to pardon me,” he answered, with emotion. “I might have doubted my own senses—before I doubted you. Can you ever forgive me, Diana?” He came nearer, as he spoke, and laid his bandaged hand timidly on mine. “Can you?” he repeated.

The corridor seemed suddenly to expand, and contract, Mr. Vavasour and Coxon, appeared to go whirling round; I staggered forward, and fell into his arms, in a dead faint. I remember nothing more till I found myself in the brougham—en route home. Even when I recovered consciousness, I was still in a dazed condition. A lamp we flashed past showed Hugh’s anxious face bent over mine. His arm was round my waist, my head leant on his shoulder. What had happened? What did it all mean? And then he stooped and kissed me, and I remembered—everything. The black cloud, that had fallen on our lives, had been lifted at last.

We found Sophy, Peter, and Peggy anxiously awaiting us; and I was handed over at once to Sophy, whilst Peggy took my place in the carriage; and she and Hugh went back to Mrs. Vavasour’s, without a moment’s delay. Sophy put me to bed, with many soothing promises that I should be allowed to go and see Mrs. Vavasour “first thing in the morning;” and she gave me something, in some mulled claret, that made me sleep soundly—of this I am certain. I am also certain that Hugh had whispered to her—a word of the truth.

It was quite late the next morning, when I awoke. I threw on a dressing-gown, and looked into the dining-room. Peggy was seated at the table, covered with flowers. She was making a great, white wreath.

No need to tell me, that it was for the dead. Peggy looked up, and said:

“Yes, my darling girl—she is gone. May God rest her soul. She passed away as if she were going to sleep. I closed his eyes, and I closed hers.”

“And—where is Hugh?”

“He is just wore out—he is asleep, I hope; he was there all night—and Mr. Vavasour quite broken down—and leaning on him, as if he was a son. I always thought Mr. Vavasour was a hard man, with no great feeling—and he is just heart-broken—although he knows everything. ’Tis a way she had with them all. Well, I hope she’s at peace now. She made a great stir in her life-time!”

“Peggy,” I sobbed, “how—how can you talk in this unfeeling way!”

“Now, now—don’t take on. Every cripple has his own way of walking! I don’t mean all I say, no more than you do, me darlin’; and don’t you fret—and lay yourself up. Faix, I expect you will find some nursing to do on the Captain—his shoulder was put out, and one of his fingers is broke, and there’s a terrible cut on the back of his head, forby bruises, and scratches—but he faces us all down, that there’s not a hate ails him—for fear you might be unaisy. Oh, murder! When I think of the place he went over—I wonder he wasn’t—killed dead.”

Inhabitants of Sindi, were like the Chinese– not easily surprised—but I think they were faintly astonished, to see Hugh walking beside Mr. Vavasour at the funeral, which took place that evening. Only a few people ever knew the real reason of this proceeding—Peter, Sophy, and the Maynes. I told the whole story to Ada, from first to last, and she has not got over her amazement yet. One of the most conspicuous objects, in the cemetery at Sindi, is a sculptured monument of white Italian marble, on which reposes a beautiful recumbent figure. Beneath this angelic form is inscribed in unusually large letters:

“Erected by her bereaved husband, to the beloved memory of Marion Vavasour, who was killed by a carriage accident, November the third, Eighteen hundred and eighty-three. “God be merciful to me a sinner.”

N.B.—Mrs. Vavasour’s friends, are still lost in conjecture!

Chapter LII

Sunshine

“So we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales.”
King Lear

About four months after Mrs. Vavasour’s death, Hugh and I, went up to Gurrumpore, to be present at Carrie’s wedding. We were not the only guests from Sindi—Peter Hare, Colonel and Mrs. Gimlette, were also bidden to the marriage feast. As for our Colonel’s lady, that prompt and clever woman had seized the opportunity, when Mr. Kirke was spending a week with us, to work upon his feelings—upon his newly-awakened sense of domestic requirements—and before I could come to his rescue, she had sold him a piano, eight table cloths, and a silver teapot: To our old friend Mrs. Raitt she forwarded, per rail, carriage paid, what she considered “absolute necessities,” in the shape of two nearly new portmanteaux, some white and silver ornaments, for the cake, three dozen wedding favours (scarcely worn), and a case of dubious and unbranded champagne. How came Mrs. Gimlette, to have such an inexhaustible supply of articles on sale? This was a question, that puzzled all but her most intimate associates. She was constantly “going home”—and selling off – never departing after all—and, owing to some unforeseen occurrence (and then she had her delightful excitement of once more “setting up”). Moreover, she was frequently moving from house to house, and revelled in the disposal of “fixtures.” She was continually buying wonderful bargains; lovely Japanese and Indian curiosities from hawkers; bartering jewellery, and plate, and even clothes, for lacquer, bronze, and egg-shell china; getting tired of them in a month’s time, and selling them again, in her turn, to the most timid and weak-minded of her neighbours. Moreover, she was ever ready—nay, eager—to oblige her friends, and dispose of a trousseau, a layette, or widow’s weeds, at a moment’s notice. The happiest hours of her life were undoubtedly spent at sales and bazaars; and as to her own, not infrequent auctions, they were the white stones of her existence! What preparatory polishing, painting, recovering of chairs, and repairing of china; what triumphant realisations; what doubling of outlay; what loud boasting to those unfortunates, who had figuratively “given their things away!”

But to return to Gurrumpore, after this long digression. Dear, hot, little Gurrumpore welcomed us all most heartily, as old and popular residents, and was almost unchanged, since the day I had descended upon it—now more than two years previously. Loo Lawless had also arrived on the scene, and had imported her husband to the wedding festivities, from the miseries of Sodabee. He was a depressed-looking man, with a small head, singularly large ears, and a stoop—who rarely spoke, and never offered an opinion—even on the weather; but his wife appealed to him incessantly, and generally made an ostentatious parade of her affection for her “darling Freddy,” though occasionally she forgot her part, and snubbed him severely. Privately, I am convinced that the poor man was mercilessly bullied, and suffered many things of his pretty little wife. Once, and only once, I had an involuntary peep behind the scenes. One morning, I entered the drawing-room unexpectedly—an Indian drawing-room rarely boasts of closed doors, and discreetly rattled handles are unknown precautions.

Loo was standing with her back to me, with an open letter in her hand. She was speaking very angrily to her husband, and I distinctly heard her say, “You brute!” Yes—quite distinctly.

Something in his expression, possibly, warned her that they were not alone, for she instantly changed her key, and said, in her most dulcet tones:

“Now, Freddy darling, don’t be tiresome! You know it must be done. I am giving my husband a lecture on extravagance,” she explained to me, with her usual sang-froid. “He lavishes his money, as if we were Rothschilds, and he knows, we are paupers.”

“But, indeed, Loo, after all the kindness you have received from the Raitts, you should give Carrie a handsome present. I sent you three hundred rupees, and you would not spend it, so I was obliged to get something myself; and I do not think, it is at all too much.”

I believe my presence, gave the miserable man courage, for he spoke with unusual boldness: “What do you think of a pair of plated dishes?” he asked, appealing to me!

She knows nothing of our private affairs, Freddy, or of what we can afford,” broke in Loo sharply. “And I say, that a pair of handsome silver dishes, would be ridiculous. Mr. Kirke could buy and sell you—the other thing, is quite as much show; so make your mind easy, and go away, now, before post, and counter-order the dishes, like a good, sensible boy.”

Thus rebuked, and exhorted, this unfortunate, down-trodden worm departed obediently, without venturing on any further remonstrance.

“That’s the way to manage a husband,” said “unlimited Loo,” triumphantly. “You make a great mistake in allowing your husband to see that you care for him! it’s a fatal error, as you will discover by-and-by. Ah, you may laugh, but he won’t always be as devoted to you as he is now—unless you take a leaf out of my book. Look at Fred,” she continued with calm complacency, “he is always so grateful for a word, or a smile, and when I let him take me out, he is so proud—he goes up to every one and says: ‘I’m going to drive my wife this evening.’ Believe me, that’s the way to manage them!”

“I don’t think a woman ought to manage her husband, as you call it,” I returned very coldly.

“No? It’s the other way about in your case, dearest.” And she smiled expressively. “Fred—silly fellow!—is always raving about you and Hugh—such a good-looking couple—such a happy pair – such a delightful acquisition! If there is one thing that I loathe, more than another, it is listening to the praises of other people!”

That I can easily understand,” I briskly replied.

“Fred little knows how you kicked over the traces last year at Sindi—and I have been too good-natured to spoil his illusions,” she continued in a sharper key. “Oh, pray don’t look so virtuously indignant! Why, I saw you myself—at your Regimental Ball! Colonel Hassard’s speciality was always tall, fair-haired, young women, and he plays the sympathetic and confidential rôle to perfection, and generally succeeds in making his victim believe that she is an unappreciated, domestic angel. However, you have had a lesson; and I fancy that Hugh Fitzroy, for all his merry eyes, has a strong hand on the reins.”

Loo talked on so rapidly, and so incessantly, that she never gave me time, to get in one word, as I stood gazing at her in a dignified manner; but for all my dignity my heart was hot within me, and I do not know how our interview would have terminated, had we not been interrupted and put to flight by the entrance of Carrie and her betrothed. Mr. Kirke was palpably alarmed, and unhinged, at the prospect of being one of the principals at a large and fashionable wedding, and any stranger would have supposed from his manner, and his abject misery, that he was awaiting capital punishment! Of course, in Carrie’s exclusive company, he bore up and was tolerably cheerful; but in general society, and under the influence of congratulations—presents, and chaff—and surrounded with busy preparations for the eventful day, his melancholy countenance and dejected demeanour caused Peter and Hugh the most exquisite delight. I almost think, that but for Hugh, he would have run away! At least, so Hugh had the audacity to hint to Carrie, and it was actually from the gloomy sketches of his own sad experience, that my husband drew consolation for Mr. Kirke!

“No matter what happens, you never can have such an awful affair as ours,” I heard him remark over a confidential cigar, one even ing before the wedding:

“We were married in Bombay, you know—a very quiet wedding—Colonel Raitt gave Ranee away, Peter did the same kind office for me. My wife was in deep mourning, and cried uninterruptedly from ‘dearly beloved ’ to ‘amazement’; her responses were taken for granted. After this cheerful ceremony, we went straight on board the steamer—no breakfast no cake, no champagne. She descended to her cabin, and I never saw her again till we were in the canal.”

“Meanwhile I believe you consoled yourself, by flirting with a pretty little, golden-haired, grass widow,” I supplemented impressively.

“Only because she reminded me of you,” retorted Hugh. “Shall I tell Kirke a few of your escapades? How you disgraced me by signing your name as Miss Barrington to all your ‘chits!’ How you dropped your wedding ring behind a wash-stand, and it was never seen again, and you had to borrow Peggy’s. How—”

“No—no—let bygones be bygones. You were ten times better off than I was—indeed, I believe you enjoyed yourself most heartily, whilst I was sea-sick.”

All the morning of the wedding day I was extremely busy, decorating the breakfast-table, and cake, and laying out the presents—my own included. (Hugh’s could not be paraded, as it was a very handsome horse.) Mrs. Raitt was inclined to melt into tears, on the slightest encouragement, so I was obliged to treat her with stony indifference; and poor Carrie, was unexpectedly nervous and frightened. I dressed myself quickly, then dressed her, as her mother was incapable of doing anything, and Loo Lawless’s whole energies were, of course, concentrated on the adornment of her own little person. Exceedingly well she looked, a vision of cream brocade, and old rose point, as she joined us, shortly before setting out for church—and exceedingly surprising was her solemn admonition to the pale and agitated bride.

“Carrie, dearest, I am making a great sacrifice for you. I never go to church to witness a wedding, for it makes me feel quite faint, to hear girls taking the most awful vows on themselves, in a careless and flippant manner—vows, that in ten cases out of twenty, they cast to the four winds. Dear Carrie! I need not ask you to seriously reflect on your position to-day, and to consider the sacred ceremony, and the important step you are about to take. It is a blessed thing, as I know, to devote a life, to one man’s happiness.” And here, Loo went through the ridiculous farce of wiping her eyes, with a tiny gossamer handkerchief.

This extraordinary harangue, was possibly got up for the benefit of those of the assembled family, who believed implicitly in the pretty little impostor! Peter relieved his feelings by rushing out into the verandah, throwing himself on a sofa, and stuffing his handkerchief into his mouth; and Hugh muttered to me in an undertone:

“The Devil quoting Scripture is nothing to Loo Lawless, preaching the duties of a wife! Look at that unfortunate beggar, Freddy; if I were in his place I’d go out and hang myself, on the nearest tree.”

“But as you are not in his place,” I retorted, “you may as well be starting us all for church; and you had better look after Mr. Kirke, and take care that he is there!”

Fortunately, my fears proved to be entirely groundless. Mr. Kirke—with the air of a martyr at the stake—was patiently awaiting his bride. The church was crowded with a large and fashionable congregation—vide The Gurrumpore Gazette—and after the ceremony we adjourned to a déjeuner, where cake, champagne (not Mrs. Gimlette’s), and speeches, were the order of the day.

Mr. Kirke returned thanks for his wife, in a few manly, and well-chosen words. I again quote from The Gurrumpore Gazette. These “few manly, and well-chosen words” were dictated by Hugh, and traced upon his shirt-cuff, by the trembling bridegroom. Colonel Raitt made a long, maundering oration, in which there was a great deal about elephant, bison, and tiger, and a mere passing allusion to the bride, his daughter. Hugh, in lieu of Peter—who declared, with unexpected modesty, that he could neither speak in public, or in private—got up, precisely as if he were a bachelor, and proposed the health of the bridesmaids, in a capital speech, which was received with up roarious enthusiasm, and shouts of laughter; and soon after this, the happy couple—and they really did look very happy—took their departure amid the usual shower of rice, rose-leaves, and slippers.

The remainder of the afternoon fell flat, the inevitable consequence of a wedding. However, we had a grand ball at the Club, where I nearly danced the soles off my shoes, and “held the floor,” as Peggy would have called it, until the “crow’s dawn.”

After a short stay at Gurrumpore, Hugh and I started on a pilgrimage to the old Bungalow at Paldi; it was still kept up, for the benefit of the Padre on tour—for ancient retainers, and pensioned animals, and also as a kind of depôt, from which father’s charities were punctually disbursed. I was delighted to be back, in the Jungle, once more; to be surrounded by faces familiar from childhood – whether Brahmin, Gond, or Pathan—to see the herds of black buck and gazelle—and the tamer droves of little white bullocks trotting merrily along, to the sound of their bells. I liked to hear the notes of the birds, the chirrup of squirrels, and even the screech of the green parrots in the banyan-trees, and to listen to the soothing sound of rippling waters, as they flowed over the rocky bed, of the now abated, and shallow, Karrhan.

My Jungle friends welcomed me warmly, and gave me an overwhelming ovation. The day after our arrival, my neck was almost bent beneath wreaths of white blossoms—our verandah was impassable with offerings of fruit and flowers; dozens of gilded limes (gilded limes are the highest compliment) were presented to us, and the Malgoozars of neighbouring villages combined to erect huge bonfires on the banks of the river, and the Karthan itself, was brilliantly illuminated, with a fleet of hundreds of floating lamps.

Hugh soon won golden opinions, by stalking and shooting a notorious panther that was carrying grief and terror into the hearts of the populace. It lived in a stony hill, between two large villages, and preyed exclusively on children.

Naturally the neighbourhood was very anxious that we should remain altogether at Paldi, and that Hugh should assume father’s mantle, and title of “the Tiger Lord”—but this arrangement was out of the question. After a month’s delightful holiday, spent in boating, fishing, riding, and shooting, we were obliged to turn our faces once more towards Sindi, military duty, and station society. We left Paldi with regret—indeed, I quitted it with bitter tears—and returned to our little circle, loaded with the skins, and horns, of wild animals, and the good wishes of numbers of old friends.

The diamonds were never redeemed! Hugh arranged the affair this time, and I accepted seven thousand pounds, and let them go. Coopoodoo was highly pleased with the transaction—so was I. He broke up the necklace, as he had predicted, and the stones are scattered far and wide. It is said, that that ill-omened gem—the “Evil Eye.”—is now the chief ornament in a Royal crown. May it bring the wearer nothing but good fortune!

The End