Sunia and Other Stories


Sunia: A Himalayan Idyll


“O very woman—god at once and child!”

The pearly glimmer of dawn was over the mountains; the far-off snows looked indescribably pale and pure against the dove-like tones of the sky. Away, across the valley, Kálatope ridge, serrated and majestic, made an incident of massive shadow amid the tenderer tints around.

A Himalayan dawn is brief as it is beautiful; and now, sudden and swift as magic, the full splendour of morning flashed along the sky. Rapier-like shafts of light pierced the purple lengths of shadow which lay along the deeper ravines and engulfed the still slumbering valley. They threaded their golden way through the sombre, level pine-boughs of Kálatope forest, and stretched out their radiant length along the narrow veranda of a low wooden bungalow that stood alone in the heart of this silent, smiling mountain world.

In that veranda a solitary Englishman sat, peeling plantains and drinking tea, in full view of the valley and the brightening east. From time to time his eyes rested on the magnificent scene before him with the quiet satisfaction of one who looks on the familiar face of a friend; for, under the high-sounding title of Deputy Conservator of Government Forests, Phil Brodie reigned sole monarch of this his paradise—a peaceful and eminently satisfactory form of kingship.

Having eaten his last banana, he rose and sauntered to the low wooden railing, hat in hand. He was a long, lean man of sportsmanlike build, though the face—sallow, serious, and self-contained, with a suspicion of cynicism about the mouth—suggested possibilities of cultured thought and feeling.

Anon, as he stood thus, his keen eyes brightened curiously—and not without good reason.

From out the black mass of pine and deodar to his right the figure of a young girl emerged, and neared the hut with swift, elastic step. Dress, face, and carriage proclaimed her a child of the Himalayas—a child-woman, such as the East alone can beget.

When a Hill girl is beautiful, you will scarce find her match in the five continents; and Sunia was beautiful past question. For eighteen months, morning after morning, Brodie had watched her approach him thus, bearing on her head his daily tribute of fruit and flowers; yet did her beauty still take him by surprise and demand a reiterated recognition of its quality. There were evil moments, of course, when he realised with a pang that in five years’ time she would be coarse and commonplace, and in ten a wrinkled hag. But at the present moment she was incomparable—and she did not know it! Therein lay the miracle.

The face was a pure oval, with flower-like curves of cheek and chin, and eyes of that rare pale brown which is only found among true Hill folk, and that none too frequently. A flower-like silver ornament in one of her delicate nostrils seemed set there with coquettish intent to accentuate its exquisitely tender curves. The soft fulness of her lips suggested passionate possibilities, and the scarlet of betel-nut upon them made an enchanting incident of colour amid the dusky tints of her face and dress. This last was of woollen homespun, a few shades darker than her skin. The graceless, close-fitting “pyjamas” were atoned for and partially concealed by a rough brown tunic, bound about the waist with smooth black coils of twisted goat’s hair and fastened loosely across her breast with a silver pin. Around her brown throat she wore a narrow necklet of goat’s hair strung with quaintly fashioned lumps of raw turquoise, onyx, and amber; and from the midst of these hung a grotesquely patterned plaque of hammered silver. Her small ears drooped with tinkling silver trinkets, and bangles and anklets of glass and silver clinked musically as she walked.

A round, flat basket, piled conically with garden produce, rested without support upon her close-fitting cap of yellow cotton, from beneath which her hair fell in one long braid, almost to her knees. The Eternal Feminine is one and the same the wide world over; and it is humiliating to reflect that two-thirds of this same braid—its wearer’s dearest bit of vanity—had been borrowed from the back of a mountain goat.

With a gracious sweep of her arms, Sunia uncrowned herself and laid her dáli at Brodie’s feet, then lowered her forehead thrice to the ground.

“Live for ever, Lord of my Life!” she murmured. The conventional greeting was uttered with passionate fervour.

Brodie stooped and lightly touched the quaint assortment of almonds, walnuts, and early vegetables, around which were set, with scrupulous symmetry, alternate clumps of blood-red rhododendron blossoms and the first wild white roses of the year. One of these last he chose, and put into his coat with quiet deliberation.

“Roses, Sunia?” he said, speaking the soft Hill dialect as musically as the girl herself. “Thou hast been far afoot to procure so fine a sheaf of blossoms?”

She stood before him now slim and upright as the young pines all about her, and a sudden flush showed dimly beneath her olive skin.

“What matter how far, so my lord be well pleased?” she made answer with veiled eyes. “Away there, down in the valley, they were scattered abroad like stars of silver; and I said within my heart, their shining will make beautiful the Hazfir’s house; and what should this slave live for save to give pleasure to my lord? Were it not well that I should bear them now to Dhunnu, that they faint not for lack of water?”

Brodie gave silent assent. Then, with eyes averted, and a smile half quizzical, half tender, he noted how she hastily plucked two roses from the same bunch as his own and set them, Hill-fashion just above her small pink ear. That done, she abased herself once more, took up her burden, and departed with much delicate jingling of anklet and armlet.

Brodie watched her reflectively till she passed out of sight. “She’s a queer child,” he mused. “Shows her gratitude, though, in the prettiest fashion.”

He raised the lapel of his coat and glanced down at the wild white blossom, whose fragrance filled his nostrils, with a curious softening of his eyes.

“She must have tramped for miles to get all those,” was the thought in his mind. “And for eighteen months she has slaved for me, of her own free will, without payment of any sort. The puzzle is—what does it all mean? One can call it gratitude, of course. It is more seemly; and saves analysis. But sometimes—I begin to be afraid—Bah! I’m a conceited ass, making a mountain of tragedy out of a very prosaic molehill!”

Nevertheless, a vision of Sunia selecting the two blossoms nearest his own, and of the tell-tale blush which had accompanied the act, forced itself again and yet again on Brodie’s mind that morning and set him puzzling anew. For, without being unduly hampered by the shackles of conventional morality, Brodie favoured “fair play,” even when the other factor in the game had the misfortune to be a woman. It irked him to think that, by some inadvertent overflow of kindliness on his part, he might have sown in Sunia’s passionate Oriental heart the seedling of a hope that could bear only bitter fruit.

*  *  *

Briefly, this somewhat perplexing relationship between Pure Passion and Cultured Cynicism had come to pass in this wise.

Eighteen months previously, Brodie, whilst “shikarring” bear among the lower Chamba hills, had been flung into the arms, as it were, of a pitiful little domestic tragedy wherein he had found himself cast for the part of the warrior-prince who arrives in the nick of time.

The scene was vividly imprinted upon his memory; still more vividly, perhaps, on hers. A small, tawny figure at the roadside, crouching beneath a beetling granite boulder; and, not fifty yards off, the huge shaggy form of a bear, which came on with shuffling, swaying gait, and a low snarling sound, gruesome to hear. Brodie had deliberately covered the brute’s heart and fired . . . with fatal effect. Then, whilst his men made haste to secure the prize, he had found himself brought to a standstill by two brown arms, that clung about his boots, whilst a voice from the earth blessed him fervently and fulsomely after the fashion of the East. Stooping, he had raised the girl to her feet, with reassuring words, and, in so doing, had looked upon Sunia’s face for the first time—a sensation no man would ever be likely to forget.

From that day forward the girl had attached herself to his establishment; steadily refusing to give any information as to the whereabouts of her native village; working vigorously and zealously, as only a Hill woman can work; and scoffing at the notion of payment in any form.

In course of time it transpired that her mother had been out with her cutting wood at the time; but, in her abject terror at sight of the bear, had lost her foothold on the narrow path and been hurled to instantaneous death in the boulder-strewn gorge below. Further personal history Sunia had none to relate; or, rather, none that she chose to relate. With a captivating mixture of dignity and obstinacy she merely reiterated her intention of remaining with her “Heaven-born,” the “Preserver of her life,” and of serving him so long as her fingers could bind a fagot or wield an axe. And he had not been man could he have said her nay.

Dhunnu, máli, a one-eyed, ape-like old gentleman of irreproachable lineage, had been induced, by the prospect of a monthly backshish, to receive the newcomer under his own roof, as one of his household. A small patch of garden-ground had been handed over to her care, and its tillage had become for her almost a religious rite. Every flower and vegetable reared thereon had been laid in her dáli—a self-imposed tribute of gratitude—at Brodie’s feet. The man had not failed to note these dumb expressions of devotion; at first with a tolerant amusement, which had gradually given place to a lurking tenderness, duly tempered by cynicism, and a characteristic reluctance to take his own, or any one else’s emotions too seriously. But when an Englishman chances to encounter Oriental passion, in all its pristine simplicity and strength, he is fairly compelled to take it seriously, whether he will or no. Brodie was just beginning to be aware of this fact, and the discovery made him feel not a little anxious and uncomfortable.

There were others also who were growing daily more anxious on Sunia’s account. These were the one-eyed máli, and Mai Râdha, his gaunt and grizzled wife; for they had knowledge of which Brodie dreamed not.

They knew of a treasured box of withered flowers to which one or two were added daily. The box had once held a hundred Havannahs, and had lived on Brodie’s office-table. They knew of long night-watches spent in stringing scented wreaths of golden marigolds, and white, waxen “champa” blossoms; of secret flittings, in the first pale glimmer of morning, to the tiny hamlet that clung to the steep hillside some two hundred feet below. They knew, moreover, that Sunia’s wreaths—yea, and even fruit and flowers from her own cherished garden—were destined for the “Mundar,” or shrine of Kála Dévi, the dread goddess of whom every pious Hindoo stands in holy awe; and Mai Râdha’s soul waxed wrathful within her at the knowledge.

“Truly it is fool’s talk and shameful,” said she to her less aggressive spouse, “that a maid, young and good to look upon, should do this thing. Are there not men without number of our own ját, who would give rupees in plenty for so fair a chattel? A true Rajpoot, with a face radiant as the morning! And we are old, thou and I, and I had looked that from this girl’s dower we should purchase rest in our old age. Lo, this two years have I been to her as a mother, and the ingrate rewards me thus! Were it not meet thou shouldst speak to the Sahib of this foolishness?”

But Dhunnu was a chicken-hearted little man, and at this startling proposition he turned his two hands about in expressive native fashion.

Ná, Ná, valiant one, I love not to thrust my head betwixt a lion’s teeth. Speak thou, if thou art minded to.”

And Mai Râdha did speak, fluently and to the point; not to Brodie, for even she dared scarce go such a length, but to the delinquent herself.

She reaped small reward for her labour. Sunia—her wonderful eyes ablaze, her small hands clenched so that the knuckles stood out sharp and white—gave her back eloquence for eloquence, good measure, well pressed down.

“What sayest thou of the shame that a maid should live unwed? Nay, I tell thee it is thou, grey-headed though thou be, that talkest shameful talk, and I will not hear it, for I am none of thine!”

”Ai tobah!1 but these be brave words, insolent, from one who hath eaten of my salt these many months,” the elder woman retorted in shrill wrath.

“Nay, not one grain of thine have I eaten, O Mai Râdha! Thou has forgotten surely whence came the rupees. What! And should I take to myself a man? I, who own but one lord of my life, and my body, and my heart! I, who would even now be dust as is my mother, but for the strength of his arm! And yet thou canst prate to me of men-folk! Betrothed was I, long since, to a son of mine own people; but now am I my lord’s slave, and none other’s till I die—till I die!”

Her soft lips quivered a little over the last words, and two gleaming tear-drops hung upon her thick lashes.

But Mai Râdha had eyes for none of these things. She was a woman, and old, and this girl stood between her and the money her lean fingers itched to hold. Wherefore she spoke harshly, as before.

“O fool, and blind! This my lord whom thou worshippest hath no thought of thee in his mind. It is ever so with these English. They are stonehearts all. For, as the wind blows, and the water flows, so kind calls to kind, and he will assuredly take to wife some bold white ‘Miss,’ with hair like the sunshine and eyes like the noonday sky, and what will be thy portion then, O thriftless one?”

A dull grey pallor creeping slowly over the girl’s clear skin told how the thrust had gone home. But her lips were steady now, and the eyes dry and bright.

“There is always—Death,” she made answer slowly. “Mai Káli must needs accept my life at my hands, if none other offering availeth.”

Phil Brodie, seated within at his office-table, his mind deep in the intricacies of an official report, had no knowledge either of Mai Râdha’s vicious prophecies, or of Sunia’s secret prayers. Only at his side, in a wine-glass of water, bloomed the wild white rose of the morning, fresh and fragrant still. He could scarcely tell what had prompted his desire to preserve it; nor did he trouble himself to search out the reason for so unwonted a freak of sentiment.

Sunia, on the other hand, had no knowledge of the rose on Brodie’s table; so that she went heavily for many days, a haunting fear at her heart, a ceaseless prayer upon her lips. Also she redoubled her offerings at the “Mundar” of Kála Dévi, who, being herself a woman, must surely understand, and hear.


“Love, that keeps all the choir of lives in chime;
Love, that is blood within the veins of time!”

But prayers and votive offerings failed to avert the decree of Fate. Mai Káli was deaf, or hard of heart in those days; or, maybe, she was busy with the affairs of wealthier folk. For lo, as June was drawing to a close, and the patient pines were sighing for the summer rain, there came to the hut on the hilltop the “white Miss” of Mai Râdha’s prophecy, “with hair like the sunshine and eyes like the noonday sky.” And Sunia’s heart within her dried up like an autumn leaf; for she knew that her hour had come.

In prosaic Western terms the fateful event may be set down as follows:

Edith Lindon, escorted by her brother and by a certain Colonel Polden of Brodie’s acquaintance, had been riding Dalhousie-ward one sultry afternoon, on their return from the yearly race-meeting at Kajiar. They were hot and thirsty; for they had ridden eight miles, and the air, even at that height, was heavy with the coming monsoon. Colonel Polden suggested a raid on Brodie’s hut, with a view to obtaining rest and refreshment—a proposition to which his companions assented cheerfully. On the road thither the Colonel, by way of entertaining Miss Lindon, indulged in a rhapsodical word-picture, half quizzical, half sincere, of Brodie’s “bewitching little Hill Beauty.”

“Saved her from the embraces of an amorous bear, winter before last,” he wound up. “And she’s served him for love ever since. A very pretty little woodland romance, isn’t it?”

“Charming! But you must be sure and persuade your friend to let us see the girl. Perhaps he might let me make a sketch of her. I should like that above all things. I’m making a collection of Indian figure sketches to take home, and the Hill costume is so very picturesque.” If Sunia could but have heard her!

She saw her, however, which was more than enough in the way of anguish. Crouching in the warm odorous shade of a group of deodars, she saw Brodie lift the fair girl from her saddle; saw her yellow hair flash in the level stream of sunlight; saw the blue eyes, clear and shadowless—the magic pink and white of the soft round face. Then she glanced down at her own brown, shapely hands, and shuddered. “Mai Râdha spoke true talk,” she whispered. “I have been a fool, and blind—blind!”

But, though the sight hurt her straining eyes, though the tinkling laughter from the veranda made her wince and shiver, she stirred neither hand nor foot, but continued to look and listen with feverish eagerness.

Tea was served in the veranda. A typical Khansamah’s tea. Rockingham teapot with damaged spout; plush tea-cosy; hideous slabs of cake, and a plate of meta biscoot, which signifies “mixed biscuits”! The “bold white Miss” presided over the teapot with as much ease and freedom as though she were mistress of the house; which, indeed, she already was, in Sunia’s excited fancy. The Sahib had sent money, doubtless, to his own land far over seas, and the grey-head, her father, had brought him this his bride.

Such was her Oriental rendering of a chance tea-drinking between comparative strangers.

But a more potent factor than chance seemed to be at work on Kálatope ridge that June day.

A grey cloud swept suddenly across the face of the sun, and the parched pine-boughs over Sunia’s head stirred and whispered mysteriously. She knew the sound and its meaning well. Two minutes later a snaky streak of lightning flashed past her, and a sound as of the rattle of musketry rent the sky. Then, one after one, like liquid bullets, fell the first rain-drops of the Great Monsoon.

In less than five minutes’ time the clouds were emptying themselves, in a solid sheet of water, upon the thirsty hills, whilst the south-west wind battled lustily with creaking boughs. Sunia fled, dripping, to her smoke-grimed hovel; and endured, in silence, Mai Râdha’s drastic comments upon the new turn of affairs.

*  *  *

In Brodie’s hut a council of war was in progress.

“No question of your going in to-night,” he said to young Lindon, as they looked out upon the drenched landscape. “It’ll be a little awkward for your sister, I’m afraid. But if she doesn’t mind using my room, she is more than welcome to it, such as it is; and I think my little grass-cut girl could manage to act as ayah for once in a way. You two fellows can have the second room; and I shall sleep like a top on the lounge in here. I only hope your sister won’t be abominably uncomfortable. “

“Oh, rather not. Awfully good of you to give up your room. She’ll be as right as a trivet, thanks,” responded the other, with brotherly unconcern. “She’s not a faddy sort at all.”

And it appeared that he spoke truth.

“It will be quite a lark!” the fair Edith declared with a naive frankness which did not ill become her, but which jarred a little on Brodie’s unaccustomed ear. “And I shall see the little Himalayan beauty after all! Will she really consent to do ayah for me?” This, with a pretty laugh, and an arch look at Brodie, which missed its mark altogether.

“She will obey my orders,” he returned with grave politeness.

But his assurance on this point proved a trifle premature. For once in her life, Sunia was disposed to be rebellious. When the order reached her that she should cleanse herself to the best of her ability, and carry hot water and a lamp to the Miss-sahib’s room, she sent answer flatly: “Tell the Sahib that I cannot do this thing.” But the courage of despair is too often the effervescence of conscious weakness; and, even as she spoke, Sunia knew that love and long habit would, in the end, compel her to eat her own brave words.

At the first sound of Brodie’s voice calling her from the back veranda, she dashed headlong across the rain-lashed “compound,” and flung herself, dripping, at his feet.

“Oh, my lord, forgive thy slave that she spoke unseemly words in the bitterness of her heart. Let the Sahib command what he will. It shall be done.”

Then she rose and faced him, in the fulness of her wonderful beauty; her hands clasped, her small frame a-quiver with emotion held bravely in check.

Brodie was not a little mystified by her evident reluctance to wait on Miss Lindon. But her words and manner stirred him strangely, and he would willingly have annulled his order, were it not that he shrank from encountering Edith Lindon’s arch comments and Colonel Polden’s quizzical asides. As it was he spoke soothingly.

“I make no command, Sunia. I ask only that thou shouldst do this thing because that it would be shameful talk that a Miss-sahib should be alone in my house having no woman to wait on her—and that thou knowest. “

“It is enough, Sahib. I go. What pleasure hath this slave in life, save to do the Hazúr’s will?”

And she departed, fulfilled with righteous resolve, but very sore at heart.

*  *  *

Edith Lindon was not more light-minded than others of her sex and age; but she was young, and attractive; and—perhaps not without reason—very well satisfied with herself and with the world at large. She was just now engaged, pleasantly enough, in “doing” India; because it is the correct thing to “do” India in these days—to roll Bombay, Delhi, a native state or two, and scraps of the Himalayas, into one great dust-coated pill, and swallow it whole, to be reproduced—with harmless necessary embellishments—at Western dinner-tables, for the benefit of the Great Uninitiated.

She regarded her present predicament chiefly in the light of an excellent anecdote, for addition to a well-stocked list. To complete it there was but one thing needful—a sketch of Sunia herself. But on that point Brodie had proved politely obdurate; and Edith was fain to content herself with taking a mental photograph of the girl’s appearance, to be committed to paper as soon as opportunity should offer. The process entailed a good deal of frank British staring on Miss Lindon’s part, when at length Sunia presented herself with the necessary hot water and towels. It did not, however, occur to the Western girl that the “wild little Hill creature” could possibly resent being inspected. Wherefore she inspected her carefully, and not without evident admiration.

But—for all her barbaric dress, and her peculiar prejudices in the matter of cleanliness—Sunia was human. A dull, hot flush burnt through her brown skin, making her look more enchanting than ever; but she preserved her Sphinx-like gravity of expression.

The goat’s hair necklace, with its rough gems and silver pendant, caught Miss Lindon’s fancy. It would look charming on her “curio” table at home. Happy thought! Perhaps the girl would sell it.

With the frank assurance of a spoilt child, she stepped up to Sunia, and laid a light, irreverent finger upon a mottled blue lump of turquoise.

Burra accha chēse. Hum mangta,”2 she remarked smilingly. Her Hindustani, though limited, was terse and to the point. “Kitna dām? Punch rupee?”3

Sunia recoiled from her touch as though she had been struck, and a fierce light leaped into her clear eyes. “These be mine own jewels, Miss-sahib. I am not of the Bunnia-lôg, that I should bargain with white folk for rupees.”

For a moment Miss Lindon was taken aback. But, being gifted with more business capacity than sentiment, she concluded that her offer had not been large enough.

”Dus rupeea déga. Bus—aur nahin.”4 And she held out an expectant hand.

Sunia, with one glance of speechless scorn, turned and fled through the blustering night.

This, then, was the bride-elect of her Sahib, her hero, her demi-god among men—this smiling, insolent, pink-faced Miss! The strong rush and roar of the storm through the forest mercifully drowned the passionate sobs which racked her body half through the night.

The sun rose on a green, babbling world next morning. Prismatic hues flashed from swaying boughs; birds, brooks, and cicadas waxed garrulous exceedingly, and, from out moist fissures of rock, the little brown krait (viper), with others of his slimy kindred, slid stealthily, only to vanish at once amid the moist verdure of the flower-beds. Away over the plains, a white, billowy mass of cloud gave promise of the triple tyranny of mist, mildew, and mackintoshes.

Brodie and his guests were early astir, and the latter were in their saddles by eight o’dock.

As her host lifted Edith Lindon to her Arab she reminded him laughingly of some English violets he had promised her overnight.

“Please don’t trouble about them now, though,” she added sweetly; “I’ll forgive you for forgetting them!”

But Brodie was already in the veranda.

“Won’t take me two minutes to pick them,” he called back as he went.

He had made a hobby of his little garden; and there were certain flowers kept sacred even from Dhunnu’s zealous fingers. Now, therefore, Brodie knelt down bareheaded in the sunlight, and plunged his hands among the dripping violet leaves. The violet beds being at the back of the house, and the horses in front, he was alone—or apparently so. At all events, he was unconscious of eager eyes that devoured his face from within the sheltering shadow of two deodar trunks.

But those eyes, in spite of their absorption and of the tears that were in them, saw what his did not—a slimy, living streak of brown, within half a foot of his left hand. In a flash Sunia was at his side, and her hand was laid on his—not one second too soon.

Brodie sprang to his feet with a startled cry, and made a futile lunge at the vanishing snakeling, whose name is Death.

Then he turned to Sunia.

“How didst see the reptile? Great God!—look at thy hand! Did he bite thee, child?”

“Aye, Hazúr, he bit me—and—I die. But what matters it, so that the Sahib lives—to make marriage with the—the white Miss? And I—I pay my debt. “

She swayed where she stood, and a little quiver convulsed her frame. Quick as thought Brodie’s arm went round her, and a sharp little sob escaped her as she leaned all her light weight upon its strength.

Kohi hai! Nizam Din!” he shouted. “Take these flowers to the Miss-sahib, and tell the Sahibs to go forward. I cannot come. I will send a letter. And see, bring me at once coffee of the blackest, and the flask of brandy from my dressing case. Run!”

Then with voice and face all tenderness, he turned to the dying girl.

“Walk, child, walk—for the love of God! The brandy may be here in time.”

But she resisted his effort to hurry her forward.

“Nay, Sahib, I have chosen, and—I die. When my lord taketh to him a Memsahib, and goeth hence, then what shall come to this slave? Death is easy, and I—I pay my debt.”

A sudden suspicion flashed into Brodie’s mind. Sunia’s whole loving soul was in her eyes, and he read it like an open book.

“There stands no debt betwixt us, Sunia; and what meaneth this talk of Memsahibs? I take no Miss-sahib to wife.”

“But the white ‘Miss’ who came—who spoke——”

Her voice broke, and she shuddered again.

“Poor child, poor child,” Brodie muttered under his breath. Then aloud: “But, Sunia child, the white ‘Miss’ was naught to me—naught. Lo, she is gone, and I shall not see her more. See, here is the brandy. Drink. Thy Sahib commands thee—drink!”

He forced the glass between her lips. She took one sip; then shook her head wearily. “It is Kismet, Sahib. I take no brandy. Let—him go—I die.”

Further argument was useless. The poison was working swiftly; for the krait knows no half measures.

With a stern, ”Kohi mut aou,”5 Brodie waved Nizam Din away, and drew the girl’s lagging feet toward the veranda.

He laid her tenderly in his own long chair, and bent close down to her as he spoke. A strange new light illumined all his face.

“Sunia, thou art dying, speak truth. What right hadst thou to do this thing?”

The glazing eyes lightened for an instant, and the lips parted in a radiant smile.

“The only right that belongs to women-folk, Hazúr. I—loved.”

“And I? What thinkest thou?”

In the emotion of the moment he did not stay to weigh his words.

“I think naught, Sahib. I love—it is enough.”

Her voice was a mere whisper now. But her wide eyes clung desperately to his face. Impelled by an irresistible impulse, Brodie stooped and kissed her fervently upon the lips and brow.

“Live for ever, Lord of my Life,” came the familiar greeting. But he saw the words rather than heard them.

*  *  *

Then Mai Râdha came, and smote the hillsides with vociferous grief; for she claimed her right to mourn as foster-mother to the child.

Brodie retreated to his office, and sat there for two full hours, staring blankly at a half-written letter, and considering the strange thing that had come to pass.

He was a lonely man—sisterless, motherless—but until this moment he had not been aware of the fact. Slowly it dawned on him that he was not, and would never be again, quite as he had been; for a hitherto unacknowledged element had been added to his conception of life. He had seen with his own eyes the love that is strong as death; and to see that once in a lifetime is a wholesome thing for a man.

When, at length, he rose, and shook himself back into his official shell, he realised that he had narrowly escaped committing an act of sentimental folly, which would probably have ruined his career. For which mercy he was scarcely as, grateful as he ought to have been.

But the best of us are three-parts human after all.


A Brahman’s Honour

“We be the Gods of the East,
Older than all;
Masters of mourning and feast,
How should we fall?”

A breathless, shadeless day, a day of monotonous brilliance, was slowly nearing its close. The sun, a rayless ball of flame, hung low over a rock-studded horizon, whose uncompromising outline, broken at intervals by ragged clumps of date-palms, was carven, crisp and clear, along the lower edges of a turquoise sky.

Neither shredded cloudlet nor haze of evening lent their softening influences to the scene. No play of light and shade relieved the stretches of yellow-grey sand, jagged with volcanic rocks, and studded with the dusty scrub that abounds in the desert country of Rajputana. Nature, in these desolate regions, is definite, plain-spoken, chary of adornment, yet not wholly without charm. North and south, east and west, the gaunt, profitless desert rose and fell in billowing waves, and the sun-rays streamed unhindered over its tawny surface. A few moments more, and these vanished abruptly, leaving a crimson-purple stain upon the blue. Again a few moments, and that same blue was a-glimmer with the first palpitating stars, that are neither silver nor gold.

With a soft strong rush of wings, the grey crane and the wild duck flocked toward their reedy resting-places. The night-jar and the fox-headed bat shook off the drowsiness of daylight, and darted through the shimmering twilight in search of food, whilst here and there a trailing cloud of dust showed where some local herdsman drove his flocks and cattle byre-wards for the night.

Then, one after one, like dropped stars, a group of home-lights revealed the whereabouts of a village, hitherto almost indistinguishable from its surroundings, which it matched in shade so closely as to suggest the protective colouring common to lesser inhabitants of the desert. A mere duster of mud-walled, sun-baked huts it was, huddled together on a bare billow of sand as if from an actual sense of the vast loneliness around. Yet within its narrow bounds men and women loved, and toiled, and suffered, even as in the mightier cities of earth; and toward its fitful lights trailing dust-clouds converged from every point of the compass—for pasture is scarce in this unfruitful land, and men must fare far in search of green food for their cattle. At the billow’s base seven bedraggled date-palms clustered about a well; and beside the well a diminutive Hindu shrine was hewn out of a boulder of red laterite.

Here, as the light of stars waxed clearer, might be dimly discerned the figure of a man, tall, spare, muscular, and as motionless as the slumbering desert itself.

For two hours he had sat thus, wrapt in the profound meditation of a mind and soul unharassed by the restless energy of modern civilisation. Desert-born and desert-bred, the silence and lifelessness of his surroundings oppressed him not one whit; so absorbed was he in the strange secret communings of his own soul with the great unknown Soul of Things, to one of whose countless manifestations the grotesque red shrine by the well was dedicated. For Rám Singh was a Brahman and Rajpoot of caste and lineage unimpeachable, and—his evening service ended—it was his habit to devote the first hours of darkness to meditation and prayer.

The man’s face was of the kind that catches and arrests attention, remarkable chiefly for lips well cut and set firmly together, and for a keen alertness of glance, which suggested fighting blood in his veins. Yet, taken as a whole, the face was that of a thinker rather than a warrior—a thinker possessed of unshaken faith in the gods of his forefathers, and of a true Hindu’s veneration for the traditions and customs handed down by them, from generation to generation, even unto his own.

A loud and cheerful voice, from the heart of an approaching dust-cloud, snapped the thread of his musings.

“Oh-ho, Ráma-ji, thou abidest late by the holy well. Hast any special favour to ask of Mai Lakshmi that thou flatterest her with such long devotions?”

“Not so, Durga Das,” replied the Brahman gravely. “But I am beset by many thoughts. Hast not heard how that Munda Rám, banker, having failed by other means to procure his moneys from Narain Das, thy kinsman, hath sworn to obtain them by dharna? And I—I am the herald who set my dagger to his bond.”

The wreathed smiles vanished instantly from the listener’s face, and he pursed up his thick lips with an air of tragic solemnity that sat strangely upon his comedy countenance.

“Hai—hai! Thou hast need then, brother, for thought and prayer. Who knows but that thy life may be the payment of that same bond; then will there be much trouble with the police-log, whose eyes search out every hole and corner. For myself, I hold by the laws of the British Raj; and, if I mistake not, Narain Das is also of my way of thinking.”

“Ay, that is he, cowardly son of a jackal!” spoke the Brahman, a flicker of mirth in his deep eyes. “And it will be seen whether his faith in these new-fangled powers shall avail in his dealings with me and mine. If the money be not paid, and that speedily, my death will be upon his head. There are but these two ways to end the matter; and he will be loath to choose the last, for all his faith in the white men and their laws.”

Durga Das shrugged his shoulders.

“Who knows? It will appear. His cowries are dear to him as his own heart’s blood; but yet, a Brahman’s death”—he shook his bullet head slowly—“I would not be in his dhoti this day for all his hoarded treasure. Of a truth, thine house will be sore grieved to hear thy tidings. Wilt along?”

“Nay, friend, not yet. Wherefore should my feet make haste to bear ill news?”

The question needed no answer; and, with a sympathetic grunt, Durga Das went on his way, attended, as always, by trailing clouds of dust.

Rám Singh, left alone again with the darkening desert, and the silence, and the stars, faced unflinchingly the situation forced upon him by caste, custom, tradition—the all-powerful trinity of the East. This dharna whereof he had spoken to Durga Das was an ancient Hindu method, the most singular and extravagant ever conceived by man, of enforcing the payment of a debt. The practice has, for seventy years and more, been punishable under the British penal code; but since it takes time to convince the desert-bred Hindu that the penal code is a living power, a power that snaps irreverent fingers at all customs and traditions other than its own, dharna survived and flourished long after it was nominally supposed to have become extinct.

The fashion of it was on this wise. The injured suitor having vainly demanded payment of his moneys, proceeded to take up his abode upon the offender’s doorstep. Here he squatted day and night—patient, and inexorable as the grim god he served—abstaining from all food and from all religious ordinances. His victim, if still obdurate, was compelled to follow his example; and if the mutual fast were prolonged until the suitor succumbed to starvation, the debtor was held responsible for his death. Moreover, since this strange tragedy was rendered far more effectual if the applicant were a Brahman of birth and blood, there grew up among them a special caste of heralds—known as charan—who made themselves responsible for the due fulfilment of public engagements, bonds, or important family contracts. The sign manual of their office was a dagger, which, in event of failing to obtain the money, they were bound to plunge into their own hearts. Nor did this suffice to satisfy the Hindu’s innate love of the horrible and the grim; for, should a herald have reason to fear that—despite the lasting odium attaching to a man who had been the immediate cause of a Brahman’s death—his own suicide would not suffice to overawe the wrong-doer, he was constrained to take instead the life of some female member of his family—wife, mother, or child.

To be a herald, then, was to live under a suspended sword, in intimate fellowship with the idea of a sudden and violent end; and thus had Rám Singh, and a long line of ancestors before him, lived from their youth up. Nevertheless, when the critical moment flashed upon the peaceful monotony of his life, it found him—resolute indeed, but not unmoved. A vision of his young wife, and of two lusty babes, men-children both, made his strong heart contract with fear of that which might shortly be in store for him and them.

And as he sat thus, his mind hovering between prayer and foreboding, the moonless night fell round him on all sides, like a curtain hiding him from view.


What have women to do with thinking? They love and they suffer.

“Hai, hai. My lord tarrieth late; and these goodly chupattis will be quite unfit for his eating.”

Thus did the young Brahman’s wife, crouching low before a brick oven, lament her husband’s unpunctuality. A small, slim being in pale-coloured draperies, laden with bangles and anklets of silver and glass, she looked scarce capable of “mothering” the rollicking yearlings who fought, and scrambled, and shouted with excess of life, a few paces from her side.

“And if he tarry, he hath surely a good reason,” spoke a voice from a corner of the dimly-lighted room. “Of what use are those weakling hands of thine if they cannot achieve the making anew of a meal for him who is thine husband?”

The voice was the voice of Mai Chandebi, mother of the absentee. It was full, and strong, and sorted well with the tall, deep-chested figure which now emerged into the area of flickering light given out by three cotton wicks afloat in earthenware saucers half-filled with oil. “Lo, he cometh,” she spoke again. “Make ready with haste, Golabi. He will be an hungered.”

Golabi, nothing loath, obeyed. Obedience was the first and last law of her young life; and being but a simple Eastern woman, untroubled by yearnings after higher aims, she fulfilled it with a glad heart.

Upon the entrance of her lord all things were ready, and the women, as was meet, withdrew into a darkened corner. Golabi, a bare brown son on either hip, flashed a smile of triumph at the man, their father, as she went; but his eyes were fixed upon his mother, and it was to her he spoke for a moment, in carefully lowered tones.

“I would have speech with thee, mother, afterwards, alone, on a matter of importance.”

Golabi’s quick ears caught the words; and if a pin-prick of jealousy stabbed her heart, she had pride and wisdom enough to receive the hurt in silence: only her arms tightened around her twofold treasure, for in them, she well knew, lay all her power.

Whilst the mother and wife sat together in the darkness, and whispered their women’s talk of life’s insistent trivialities, Rám Singh, in the silence imposed upon him during the solemn rite whereon he was engaged, squatted upon the bare, baked earth, clad in nothing more substantial than a loin-cloth and the mystic Brahminical cord. And even as he ate, and eating blessed his wife’s domestic skill, the inexorable steel was at his heart, and in his mind a foretaste of the bitterness of death.

When the meal was ended his mother came forward, whilst Golabi, with one yearning backward glance, betook herself to an inner room, and rained tears of jealousy upon the heads of her babbling babes.

At his mother’s approach Rám Singh arose, and the two faced one another squarely—spirits of equal strength. Erect and silent their eyes met upon one plane, eyes steady, searching, and alight with the fire of a great love.

The woman spoke first.

“And hath it come so soon, my son? Yea; but I might have known. Never falleth the sword upon the neck of the willing victim.”

“Thou knowest, then?”

“How should I not know?”

“And by what means, oh mother?”

“I have seen the sword’s shadow in other eyes than thine, my son.”

Then silence fell between them, for their lips were not skilled in the use of soft words. Again it was the woman who spoke first.

“To whom goest thou for the money?”

“To Narain Das, landholder.”

A shadow clouded her eyes.

“It will go hard with thee, Ráma-ji,” she said.

“Ay; but it shall go hard with him also. I hate all of his mongrel breed; and we shall see now whether his faith in the white man’s laws shall avail him when the honour of a Brahman is at stake.”

“Thou hast not yet seen him?”

“I am come even now from his very door.”

“And of what like was his countenance?” Her tone was steady, but all the life had gone out of it.

“Even as I had known it would be. He laughed me to scorn, and bade me carry word to Munda Rám that he had best make application for his dues through the law courts of the English.”

“Hai—hai. And thou?”

The words were a mere whisper.

“I answered him that the white man’s law was naught to me, but the honour of my caste was all, and that on the morrow, as soon as might be after dawning, I should return and take up my post at his door. I said, moreover, that if my blood upon his head did not avail to shake his scorn, I would anoint his threshold with the blood of her—even of Golabi—my wife.”

A swift convulsion of pain contorted the man’s face, and he turned it from the scrutiny of Chandebi’s searching eyes. It is not an easy or a pleasant thing for a man to be called upon to kill his own wife deliberately, in the open light of day; but the Great Ones take no count of such trifling inconveniences.

A long moment of silence followed. Neither was capable of instant speech. The inevitable lay like lead upon their hearts.

At length, with head uplifted, and fixity of purpose in every line of her powerful face, the old woman laid her hand upon the Brahman’s arm.

“My son, thinkest thou that this thing shall come to pass while breath is in my nostrils and blood in my veins? Is it for naught that I am thy mother, and the widow of thy father? . . . If there be any talk of death in this matter, it shall be mine only; . . . hearest thou, my son?”

The fire of youth—dominant, masterful youth—flashed from her keen eyes: for in Rajputana the very women are soldiers at heart. But the man’s strength of will matched hers. Was it not of her own bestowing?

“Nay, mother,” he made answer, between set teeth. “That is shameful talk. Thy life——”

“Is it more to thee than hers, Ráma-ji?”

There was smothered eagerness in the question. Even so dire an extremity could not quench all the woman in her.

The agonised man caught her wrinkled hands in both his own.

“Mother, I entreat thee, speak not of this thing,” he cried. “Is not thy life sacred to me above all other lives? Think only what thou askest of me. It cannot—it shall not be!”

Her momentary excitement had subsided. She was erect again, eyes and mouth unflinching.

“And I say that it shall be, my son. Since when hast thou learnt to set thy will against mine? Let there be no further speech on the matter. To-morrow I go with thee to the house of this man. She is young, Ráma-ji. She hath borne thee men-children, and shall bear thee more in the years to come. But I—I am old, and a widow, and my life is a little thing—a very little thing to give for thine honour, son of my heart.”

Rám Singh could only clench his hands and groan; and, going over to him, she comforted him, tenderly, as though he had been a suffering child; but no mention of the morrow’s hideous necessity passed between them.

Alone in the darkened inner chamber Golabi wept, silently and unceasingly, bitter, angry tears; and thus her husband found her when, at a late hour, he came in to her. Very gently he asked her of their cause; but she could only answer him brokenly with another question.

“Hast thou nought to tell me also, oh my husband? In what manner have I sinned against my lord that he should show his trouble to others and hide it from me, . . . his wife? I am no weakling . . . I that bare thee two sons in one day. Wherefore then hast thou locked up thine heart against me?”

The man laid a strong, cool hand upon her head, stilling its restless motion.

“Hush thee, light of my life; speak not so. Truly it is for love of thee that I have kept silence. On the morrow thou shalt know all things; but the night is for rest, and an anxious heart is a sorry bedfellow. I would have thee sleep, my pearl—sleep.”

When an Eastern woman loves, her love engenders a passion of submission; and, thus commanded, Golabi could not choose but obey, and that gladly.


“Still Brahm dreams,. . . and till he wakes the gods die not.”

The first flash of dawn found the doomed household astir and busied with such practical preparations as must needs go forward whether hearts be at breaking-point or no.

The two women worked in silence, each at her appointed task—Golabi with moist lashes, despite her heroic maternal achievement, and Chandebi with stern lips and dry, bright eyes. The two plump babes, with the magnificent egotism of childhood, fought and rollicked and laughed up into the faces of the silent women, whose fingers moved mechanically over the making of rice-balls, flower-balls, and sweetmeats, to be offered, during the inevitable sraddhá6 ceremonies, for the nourishment of Chandebi’s ghost, when it should have discarded its mortal body, and for the formation of a new body as its vehicle in the regions of the blest. A grim occupation, truly; but to your zealous Hindu custom renders all things possible, and most things endurable.

The ceremony, like others of its kind, was long, and dreary, and solemn to the verge of stupefaction, involving much sprinkling of water, droning of prayers, and propitiating of priests. Rám Singh, as eldest male member of the family, performed the principal rites, clad, as of custom, in spotless loin-cloth and white Brahminical thread; whilst his younger brethren were permitted to sprinkle the flower-balls with water, and to offer sweetmeats to the ever-hungry priests. Custom decreed, moreover, that the ceremony should be carried through fasting, and to the mournful accompaniment of wailing chants, and it was so; whilst the ghost that soon should be, awaited its close with a stoicism bred of life-long resignation to the decrees of caste and of the gods.

The sun rode high in the blinding heavens when three tall figures, in dazzling white, drew up before the threshold of Narain Das, defaulter.

The worthy landholder, a man of much flesh, and of a cheerful, time-serving humour, inexorable only where his cherished horde of silver was concerned, came forth to greet his guests with a shining morning face wreathed in benevolent smiles. He wore the short jacket and dhoti of his class, and in a gap between the two garments a roll of brown flesh showed, like a girdle round his ample form.

“Ohé, Ráma-ji, thou art a welcome guest at all times,” he began, in accents a trifle too suave for sincerity. But at sight of Chandebi’s draped figure, and of the bared blade in her son’s hand, his flow of words forsook him, and uneasiness crept into his furtive eyes.

Despite his reverence for the “Sahib” and all his works, and a consuming fear of breaking one jot or tittle of the Great Queen’s commands, Narain Das was a Hindu of caste, which signifies that even the Great Queen herself was an inconsiderable personage in his eyes when compared with the man who now stood before him, unflinching purpose writ in every line of his stern, spare face.

At no time was this full-bodied landholder overburdened with valour, nor was its quality proof against the flash of a naked sword in the sunlight. In truth, the prospect of seeing an innocent woman’s blood spilt upon the ground in open daylight might have overawed a braver man than he. Moreover, behind the mere horror of the whole thing lurked the heart-shaking conviction that the blood thus spilt would be upon his own head from now until the day of his death. A clammy dew broke out upon his forehead, and the suavity of his smiles increased tenfold.

“Yea verily, I had forgot; ’tis to settle that little matter of the loan that thou art come, and in a happy hour, my friend. For I was but now minded to send thee word that at the month’s end I may at length be enabled to make good my debt to my honoured creditor, Munda Rám; then will all be well betwixt us, as is meet between brother and brother.”

His fat brown hands moved tremblingly one over the other, as he lifted cunning, conciliatory eyes to the Rajput’s face.

For answer, Rám Singh turned and looked upon his mother and she, without a quiver of hand or lip, kneeled down before him, and bared her grey head.

“Thine honoured creditor asks a plain answer to a plain question. Wilt thou make payment at once, or no?”

The Rajput’s tone was quiet, business-like, decisive; but an ominous movement of his right arm sent a snake-like shiver down the defaulter’s sleek back.

“Yea, I will make payment by all means, my friend—by all means,” he rejoined with a quavering assumption of cheerfulness; and the kneeling woman lifted her head. “But, alas, to procure so many rupees at one moment’s notice is not within the power of this slave.” Whereat Chandebi bowed her head as before. “At the in-gathering of the harvest much moneys will accrue to me; and then, by the gods of my fathers, I will repay every cowry I have borrowed from the great and worthy Munda Rám . . . for I am a poor man . . . a very poor man, and that thou knowest.”

His restless hands were clenched now to hide the tremor that shook them; and he dared not look again into the Brahman’s face. But a blinding flash that smote him full in the eyes told that the sword had been swung aloft above the motionless grey head.

“Have done with thy goat’s bleating, thou son of a jackal, and make answer . . . yea, or nay . . . once and for all.”

Rám Singh’s voice rang out now, loud and clear; and the gaping crowd that had gathered to look on at this unwonted tamasha held its breath, knowing that the end was near.

With lips visibly trembling, Narain Das spoke: “Stay thine hand, oh Ráma-ji, and by all that is holy I will pay a portion at least before the crops are in. A month . . . a little month . .

But his quavering assurances were unceremoniously cut short by a cry of horror that rang shudderingly out upon the still air. The curved sword had swept downward with mighty force, and Chandebi’s grey head lay in a pool of blood at the landholder’s feet, to the lasting damage of his patent leather shoes.

With a howl of terror he turned and fled into the house, closely followed by the two brothers, who had yet to enforce upon him the customary mingling of his blood with that of the victim.

The awe-stricken crowd broke up into groups, which—so soon as the first gasp of horror had spent itself—waxed garrulous exceedingly, till the sleepy village buzzed with talk of the morning’s tragedy; and, since the ear of the law is swift to hear, and its arm no less swift to smite, in a very few hours a second deputation was drawn up before the house-front of Narain Das.

This deputation consisted of a company of yellow-turbaned native police, backed by an English civilian, pale and perspiring, and demanding, in terms more peremptory than polite, the person of Rám Singh, Brahman and Rajput.

The man gave himself up with the habitual air of dignity that was his. He acknowledged his act, also, without a word of explanation or defence; and Golabi and her two lusty sons saw his face no more.

The law, being wholly without understanding in regard to so nice a point of family honour, and being mainly concerned with the protection of life and limb, condemned Chandebi’s high-minded son to transportation for life; and he accepted its decree, as he had accepted most of life’s ugly inevitables, stoically and in silence.

Not so Narain Das. His wailing was loud and long, and sleep forsook his eyes. A vision of that grey head, steeped in its own warm blood, was with him night and day; till at length, goaded by the twofold agony of terror and remorse, this spurner of Brahm’s decrees voluntarily starved himself until he died.


How His Highness the Maharajah Took a Wife

A Sketch

The sleepy little Himalayan town of Chamba was, for the nonce, very much awake. Its steep streets and open shop-fronts were a-buzz with one all-absorbing topic—the approaching marriage of its sixteen-year-old Maharajah. The boy being still a minor, the affairs of his small State were administered, nominally, by a British Resident, actually by those two invincible gods of the East—“dastur” (custom) and the Holy Brahmin. The Maharajah was of the bluest Rajput blood, a Hindu of the Hindus, a Surj-bunsi, or lineal descendant from the Sun. Superstition and priestcraft were as the breath of his nostrils, and the will of the Brahmin was law throughout the State; an iron will, against which force, persuasion, argument, dash themselves in vain.

Now therefore was the voice of the Court-Astrologer uplifted in solemn command. Was he not the mouthpiece of the stars?

The month being October, it was decreed that the Maharajah should marry in the following March or April, these being auspicious exceedingly; and the stars having spoken, it was obviously useless for so unenlightened a being as a British Resident to offer any opinion on the matter.

The first marriage of a Rajput Prince (he is permitted to repeat the ceremony not oftener than once a year) is perhaps the most solemn and important event of his life; yet he is allowed no voice in the elaborate arrangements such an event involves, least of all in the choice of his senior Ranee that is to be. The whole affair is purely a matter of business between State and State; a question of the best bargain and the largest dower, provided only that the lady be the Prince’s equal in birth and blood. The Rajput chiefs are thus placed in a somewhat delicate position with regard to their wives; the more so since no one connected with the bridegroom is allowed to see the girl, whose charms must be accepted on hearsay evidence only. The husband himself may not set eyes on her till the wedding-rites are three parts over; and should she then prove uncomely in his eyes the loss will be hers—for her supremacy will be of short duration.

In the present instance the Maharajah had been betrothed, three years previously, to the granddaughter of the Ruler of Kashmir on condition that she should be the first wife, and thus have permanent precedence in the Palace household: a very necessary stipulation. But it so chanced that the favoured bride was eight years old, and therefore scarcely fitted, as yet, to assume the responsibilities of wifehood. This difficulty was duly put forward by the Resident, and a council called to discuss the delicate question; but a bearded senator, full of years and authority, waved it aside with a dignified sweep of his hand.

“The Sahib doth not consider,” quoth he, in a tone of mild reproof, “that a Rajput doth not marry once only. Let the present marriage take place in Phagun [the last month but one of the year] and the Maharajah can then take to wife a lady of riper age in Bisakh [the first month of the new year], the younger bride abiding with her parents till they shall see fit to send her to us. Are not these words of wisdom, oh my brothers?”

A deep-chested murmuring signified unanimous assent, and the resolution was carried without further debate.

Preparations for the coming event now began in earnest. The modest resources of the State treasury were taxed to their utmost to meet the demands of the occasion; for the castle of the first bride’s father lay in a valley on the outer slopes of the Himalayas, some seventy-five miles from the town of Chamba: and it was estimated that upwards of two thousand people would accompany the procession.

The Hindu year begins on April 12th, and early in January a council was held to fix the date of the ceremony, and of the Prince’s journey—a matter so all-important to the pious Hindu that astrologers were sent over by the bride’s family to be present at the deliberations. The Resident suggested March 12th as a fitting day for the wedding rather with a view to setting the debate in train than with any hope that his suggestion would be accepted; for he was a man well versed in the ways of the East. Scarcely had he spoken when a wrinkled greybeard up-rose and, solemnly stroking his close-dipped chin, gave voice to the wisdom of the heavens.

“Listen, oh my brothers, and take heed. A man may fall into the fire and escape burning; he may be bitten of the cobra, and escape death; he may fling himself from the housetop, and rise up unhurt; but if he marry on the twelfth day of March, he hath not a year of life to live. This is truth. The stars have spoken!”

It was enough. Argument was heresy: and in this matter, as in most others, the stars remained the masters of the situation. The 13th of March was declared auspicious, and in the meanwhile preparations for the great journey were vigorously set on foot.

For many days before his departure the Maharajah was so grievously girded about with restrictions, and ceremonies, and much praying that he dared scarcely call his soul his own. He was forbidden to approach either the river, the bridge, or the steep hillsides of the little town. He was rarely permitted even to look out of the window, lest some evil befall him; and on one occasion he was constrained to sit for four hours with the soles of his feet upraised, while they, and the palms of his hands, were stained with henna. On the last day of all he was arrayed by his spiritual pastors and masters in an ancient and very unclean suit of clothes, and sent thus into the women’s apartments. Thence he shortly emerged, bare-headed and in spotless raiment, only to fall anew into the tyrannous hands of dastur; and being set upon a low chair, his friends and relations, each in turn, anointed his head with feathers dipped in sweet oil.

On that same evening the courtyard of the temple without the Palace was thronged with the Maharajah’s loyal subjects in gala array. Picture a square enclosure blocked with a bewildering mass of light, colour, and sound—restless yellow torches, flashes of brilliant raiment, of gold and tinsel and jewels—and through all, and over all, the wailing shriek of conches, and the ceaseless throbbing of innumerable drums. The guests, who numbered a thousand, fared sumptuously on unlimited rice, stewed goat’s flesh, and spices; and dispersed at a late hour, full-fed and frolicsome, blessing their Raj.

Next morning the procession set out in state from the little town, a winding, many-tinted file of men and horses; the bridegroom’s scarlet-domed litter blazing like a ripe pomegranate in their midst. Under the scarlet dome the Prince sat, cross-legged, clad in a long high-waisted robe of crimson and gold, surmounted by a jewelled turban. From turban to waist fell his wondrous veil, wrought in alternating lines of tinsel and fine seed-pearls. Twenty led horses, richly caparisoned, went before him; and before these again a hundred of the State troops, in flamboyant uniforms, cheered on their way by the discordant blare of the State band and the royal pipers, in full Gaelic garb, even to pink-stockinged knees and plaid hose, scantily filled out by the fleshless calf of the Hindu Highlander.

On the hither side of the bridge below the little town the procession came to a halt; for here a goat must be sacrificed, to ensure the King’s safe transit across the water. But before the doomed animal could be beheaded, it must be induced, by some manner of means, to tremble or shake itself, else would the sacrifice be of no avail. The prescribed trickle of water into the victim’s right ear was endured on this occasion with such stoical calm that the holy man, in desperation at the untoward delay, emptied his full vessel over the obdurate one’s head.

The result was as vigorous a shaking as heart of Rajput could desire. A cry went up as from one throat: “The sacrifice is accepted—is accepted! Strike!” One sabre-sweep laid the goat’s head in the dust; and the Brahmin, triumphant at last, flung it far out into the river. The body, leaving a crimson trail in its wake, was dragged across the suspension bridge immediately in front of the Rajah’s litter.

Two more marches brought the wedding cohort again to a river that skirted the territory of the bride’s father. Here was no bridge, and the crossing was accomplished in relays; some squatting on flat-bottomed barges, some on string-beds supported by inflated buffalo-skins, till all were safely landed on the farther shore.

From the moment of entering the Bassoli State, the Rajah and his suite were the guests of that State, and the burden of keeping this small army supplied with the necessaries of life fell heavily on peasants and landholders whose homes lay along the line of march. Not until the morning of the sixth day did the procession reach its final halting-place—a wide green overlooked by the ancient castle of Rámkot, within whose walls the bride awaited the coming of her unknown lord. The great plain was as thickly sprinkled with tents as a hay meadow with daisies; for here the Rajah and his two thousand followers were to encamp during the coming festivities. At the entrance to the main street of this veritable city of canvas behold line upon line of round flat baskets, covered with squares of rainbow-tinted silk, which, being lifted, revealed a quaint medley of things eatable—vegetables, sweetmeats, rice (white and saffron-tinted), roast fowl and pigeon, bread-cake—in short, a small presentation breakfast to the bridegroom on his arrival.

Throughout that day he remained a close prisoner in his tent, while those without made all necessary arrangements for the event of the morrow. Not without many words, and much wrangling betwixt the priests of both parties, was an auspicious hour fixed for the Rajah’s entry into the castle of his bride: and from the first glimmer of dawn the steep, narrow streets of the little town were aflame with colour, murmurous with ceaseless sound. Every house-front was swept, and plastered with fresh mud; every doorway and quaintly-carved balcony garlanded with marigold-heads and jasmin-buds; every available roof and window thronged with eager brown faces, peering from beneath turbans of every conceivable tint and shade.

The procession below vied even with the housetops in brilliance and variety of hue; for here the sunbeams flashed light from gold and silver trappings, from tinsel and jewels and instruments of brass. Behind twenty caparisoned horses, two bands, and a company of infantry, the State elephant towered majestic, in trappings of scarlet and gold, surmounted by a howdah of solid silver, where the Resident sat enthroned—the only white man amid all that vast throng.

In the wake of the great elephant swung the scarlet-domed litter of the bridegroom; before it went twelve nautch-girls in brilliant tinselled raiment, moving rhythmically to the tinkle of bells and bangles, and the clash of heavy silver anklets; and a medley of the Rajah’s friends and relations, mounted on steeds of every conceivable breed, shape, and colour, brought up the rear. On all sides handfuls of silver and copper coins were showered into the streets and on to the housetops, where yelling, jostling crowds scrambled for them at the imminent risk of their lives.

Within the courtyard of the castle, the bride’s parents, relatives, and their retainers were gathered together for the coming of the King. In strange contrast to the mass of moving colour without, these were clad in the unrelieved white of Rajput mourning; for a daughter of the Blood, once married, is as irrevocably banished as though she were dead indeed. Neither father, mother, nor any near relative may ever set foot in the bride’s new home; only five or six favoured girl-companions go forth with her into the unknown country and the unknown life. Such is the meaning of marriage for her—a lottery in very deed!

But the bridegroom is now at the castle-gate. He enters with the Resident and a small following, the bulk of the eager, curious crowd being left without. Formal greetings having passed between the Englishman and his majestic host, the young Prince was conveyed, with all due ceremony, into the women’s apartments, not to be presented to his bride, but to endure further tyranny at the hands of Custom.

The Resident and his attendants were left to await his return in a stately hall, furnished sumptuously with mirrors, rugs, and chandeliers; with antlers of the ibex and the bara singh, the magnificent twelve-horned stag of Kashmir.

The ceremonies within the castle endured for two hours and a half; and that evening the invading army of guests was bidden to a great feast, laid out upon the grass along the wide main street of the royal camp. The total lack of china, glass, or plate simplified the serving of that stupendous meal. Boiled rice and stewed meat, ladled from out huge cauldrons on to plates extemporised from great round leaves of the elephant-creepers, were disposed of simply and speedily after nature’s method. The second course was of rice also, saffron-tinted, with spices and lumps of thick molasses. When all had eaten and were filled came the flash and flare of fireworks, the intoxication of singing, dancing, and promiscuous shouting, till the snow-peaks above and around them took colour from the rising sun.

So dawned the last day of ceremonial preparation; and not until all was at an end did the bridegroom behold his bride. The manner of their meeting was curious and characteristic.

In two flat baskets placed near together were he and his little wife solemnly set down, and over each was flung a great white sheet.

At a sign from the priests the sheets were uplifted, and the King looked upon his Queen. She, not being permitted to look into his face, beheld its reflection in a small round mirror; and the introduction was complete.

Whatever each may have thought or felt in that sudden moment of revelation remained hid in either heart; while man and wife completed this strange union by stepping four times, hand in hand, round a brazier of live coals, and by the cutting of a knot tied on the first day round the right wrists of bridegroom and bride.

Thereafter, the programme of the previous evening was repeated da capo fortissimo; and next morning the newly-wedded husband turned his face homeward, leaving his eight-year-old Queen to await his second coming at the appointed time.

Some two months later, with less of ceremony and display, he took unto himself a second wife of the ripe age of fifteen years. Her he brought with him, that she might reign in his Palace until the true Ranee should come forth from the hills, and bring to an end her brief hour of honour and glory. But with the simple wisdom of her kind, she accepted thankfully her present good; only in secret did she beseech the gods that unto her might be vouchsafed the supreme triumph of giving to the Maharajah his first-born son.


At The Well’s Mouth


“When a man and a woman are agreed, what can the Kaazi do?”
Native Proverb

Darkness brooded over Luliana—darkness, and the cold glimmer of paling stars. Yet in the tortuous street and mud-walled courtyards of the lone brown village, life was already astir, for the children of India rise with the sun, and, despite the darkness and the stars, they knew that his coming was near at hand. Even now a herald brightness was creeping up the eastern sky. The pale stars quivered and went suddenly out. With incredible swiftness the curtain of night was rolled backward till it vanished in the west—and lo, the whole earth was golden with the unfiltered sunshine of a Punjab April morning.

The irregular clumps of mud huts, with here and there a more pretentious building, fashioned partly of brick, stood in the midst of smiling grainfields, ripe for the sickle: and away to the north, beyond the vast sweep of fertile cornland, the snow line of the Himalayas gleamed ghostly and ethereal on a background of tenderest blue.

An invisible track through the grainfields led to the largest well of the village, whither, at dawn and sunset, women and children flocked, with vessels of earthenware and brass, with jangle of jewellery, and clamour of high-pitched voices, to draw water for their frugal needs.

But it was full early; and the first beams of day revealed one figure only in the wide expanse of earth and sky—the figure of a woman swathed from head to foot in a formless cotton garment, which, hanging over her face, obscured it from the scrutiny of prying eyes. Her well-poised head was crowned with a gleaming brass lotah supported on a cloth pad. She walked with an inimitable grace and freedom, a swift elastic tread. One slim olive-tinted hand rested lightly on her hip, and with the other she held her coarse chuddah demurely across the lower half of her face. Her shapely arms were innocent of adornment. No clink of anklets accompanied her as she walked. For she was a Hindu widow, held responsible for her husband’s untimely death; doomed to a barren life, without hope of change or release, save the blessed release of death. And she had just completed her eighteenth year.

Arrived at the well, she set her vessel on its low parapet, and sank down beside it: for she had walked fast. Her young figure fell into listless lines, that suggested utter weariness of spirit rather than mere bodily fatigue; but her time was brief, and she could not afford to waste it thus. The jangling, chattering line of water-seekers would soon be threading their way through the nodding corn, and she shrank from their coarse jests and light-hearted mockery, as a wounded wild thing shrinks from the company of its unscathed fellows.

It was her habit to rise thus betimes, and, having filled her water pot, glide swiftly back to her father-in-law’s house by a devious route that skirted the field.

Eighteen months only of honoured and honourable wifehood had been vouchsafed to her—the fairest and proudest of the daughters of Luliana. Then her kindly young husband, the household god, on whose life hung all her hope of happiness, had fallen into a mysterious decline and died, leaving her, a childless widow, in the house of an irate and injured mother-in-law, who accused her openly of having bewitched her son. On the strength of this baseless accusation, the desolate girl had been subjected to a life of ceaseless degradation and drudgery; her three sisters-in-law, uncomely, full-blown damsels, being no whit less resourceful than their mother in making life burdensome for “the shameless one,” in the devising of petty tyrannies and envenomed jibes.

Thus on this golden April morning her young heart was dried up, and her power of endurance seemed very nearly at an end. She rose at length, and mechanically dropping the bucket into the darkness, heard it kiss the water with a musical splash. It came up dripping and brimming, and she hoisted it on to the parapet with a slow sigh. The water was crystal clear, and as she bent above it a dim reflection of her beautiful, woebegone face arrested her attention. On a sudden impulse, she flung back her chuddah, and bending lower looked down at herself with a frank satisfaction that had in it no touch of vanity.

Hai, hai,” she murmured. “If men could but see thy face, poor Anunda—then, perchance——”

Tears of self-pity welled up into her eyes. With quivering hands she dashed the water into her vessel, and stooped to pick up her cotton pad, which had fallen to the ground. But she did not set it on her head.

There were days when it seemed beyond her power to face the return journey, yet the inexorable sun had no intention of standing still to suit the convenience of one suffering atom of humanity. The dread path must be trodden, and that speedily, unless——

Her eyes sought the well’s wide mouth, and lingered there with fearful fascination. She leaned a tapering hand on the stone curb, and peered into the chill darkness below. There lay the only other path, the only way of escape—swift, simple, certain—from her life of tyranny and torment. One moment of superlative courage, one sharp pang—and thereafter oblivion, nothingness, peace.

The girl knew well that this particular form of suicide was all too commonly resorted to by desperate young widows of her caste and creed; and this was not the first time that she had been tempted to follow their example. But always, at the last, she had yielded to the incurably hopeful voice of youth in her heart, which urged her to wait a little longer—a very little longer. And she had waited even until now—for naught save a completer certainty that life had but one good gift for the giving, and that gift—death.

Lower and lower she leaned over into the merciful blackness. The breath of the hidden water struck a chill through her frame, and she shuddered. But her will held firm.

She straightened her slender figure, flung out her arms, with the hands set palm to palm, cast a quick glance over the fields of wheat and sugarcane, to make sure that she was alone;—and lo, her eyes, that had willed to look on death only, looked full into a pair of admiring, eager, human eyes—the eyes of a man.

With a low cry, half glad, half fearful, she let fall her outstretched arms. Her first impulse was to muffle her face in the discarded chuddah; her second, which she unhesitatingly obeyed, was to lower her lids demurely and remain unveiled. For although a girl in years, she was very woman to the core; and an unerring instinct whispered that in the full revelation of her remarkable beauty lay yet another remote possibility of escape. No one was by to witness her lack of modesty, and with throbbing pulses she awaited its results.

There was a rustle among the corn-stalks, and an instant later she was conscious of a presence at her side, of a strong hand laid upon her arm.

The blood rushed to her temples at the unwonted touch, and a flush showed faintly through her olive skin. For a long moment the man’s eyes scanned her sweet face and drooping figure, then, his hand still lightly resting on her arm, he spoke:

“Maiden, thou art comelier than dawn upon the mountain tops. Why wilt thou hasten to go down into the grave, where is neither sight nor hearing? Were it not better to live, and rule the hearts of men?”

Such words to her, whose meat and drink for three endless years had been the curses and coarse jests of spiteful women! With a pathetically eloquent gesture, she touched her bare arms and close-cropped head.

“What have such as I to do with the hearts of men? Thou seest—I am a widow, and no woman. Dead already, though seemingly I live. Wherefore, then, dost hinder me? Nay, but thou shalt not—for I will die. The gods themselves cannot rob me of death!”

Her voice quivered with emotion, long pent up. She turned her eyes from his gaze, and would again have mounted the well-curb, but that his hand closed firmly on her arm.

Her beauty, her youth, and that pitiful quiver in her voice set his inflammable heart on fire. For he also was young, and cherished strong secret leaning towards enlightened ideas. He had never come into direct contact with one of these doomed, yet most sacred, women of his race, and he did not pause to reflect on after courses. One only idea possessed him—to save this comely and desirable girl, at all hazards, from the horror of self-destruction.

“Nay, fair one; I will set my body between death and thee, and thou shalt hear me. Beauty such as thine is not for the grave, and for worms, and I will give thee hope of life. I am not as these village pig-heads. I have read in strange books. I have seen men and cities, and in mine eyes thou art not accurst——”

He broke off abruptly with an uplifted hand. Faint yet clear across the rustling cornfields came the shrill tinkle of a woman’s laughter.

“Go—go—” cried Anunda, with wild, startled eyes. “They come, the favoured ones, with their jest and their jewellery. Oh, begone!”

And she hastily gathered up her fallen chuddah.

“Not till thou hast sworn to forego death. For I must see thee yet again.”

“I swear it.”

“Thou comest hither daily?”

“Daily. Oh, begone!”

Two swift bounds carried him back among the corn-stalks, and Anunda stood alone in the hot sunshine, with her gleaming water pot, like one newly awakened from an incredible dream.

But the chattering throng drew steadily nearer, the long line of lotah-crowned figures, gay with many-tinted muslins and armlets of silver and glass, moved leisurely down the pathway that cleft the standing corn, and at sight of them Anunda’s mind leaped back to reality. She cast one lingering look toward the field, and setting her lotah upon its cotton pad, sped homeward as one that trod on air.


Through the long hot hours of daylight Anunda went about her accustomed tasks of sweeping and cooking and sewing, with an uplifted heart. To-day, for the first time, spitefulness and insult had lost their power to sting. The astounding words spoken at the well’s mouth rang ceaselessly in her ears: “In mine eyes thou art not accurst—I must see thee yet again.” What did he mean? What could he possibly mean? For such as she there could be no remotest hope of marriage. But love—ah, that were another matter! Her mind was too bewildered, too full of a nameless tumult of hope and wonderment to admit of sober speculation; only, as she set the fine silver stitches in Moti’s blue muslin chuddah, one thought, one longing, gradually obliterated every other. “The morrow—the morrow. Would it were dawn!”

The house of Anunda’s father-in-law, Gumpat Rám, banker, grain-dealer, and a power in the isolated village, was a more pretentious affair than those of the zemindars that huddled closely around it. For it boasted a second storey, and its mud walls were strengthened by an admixture of brick, a luxury almost unknown in Luliana. It boasted also a carved balcony, overlooking the narrow street, with its open shop fronts, its aimless flow of noisy life, and its mingled odours of musk, spices, drains, and humanity.

Here Anunda worked and hoped and wondered throughout that interminable April day; and at sunset, during a blessed half-hour of freedom, she crept across to an adjoining housetop, to chew betel-nut with a kind little neighbour, young as herself, and whisper into her sympathetic ears the incredible story of the morning. Intrigue is the breath of life to the Oriental woman, the sole possibility of excitement in the monotonous round of her life; and although Toru counselled discretion with her lips, her eyes and the soft pressure of her companion’s trembling fingers counselled otherwise, to the great uplifting of Anunda’s heart.

The first ray of sunlight, shooting, like a sword-blade, across the level land, found her back at the well’s mouth. Again her hand was laid on the stone curb, again she peered down into the black depths that tempted her so sorely twenty-four hours ago. But this time she smiled and shook her head; and let fall the bucket slowly, dreamily, her eyes resting the while on the scene around.

No rustle, no movement, no sign of life.

But it was early yet. The sun still rested on the utmost tree tops. In the same leisurely fashion she drew up the bucket and filled her lotah, then, resting one hand lightly on her hip, and one on the polished rim of her vessel, she stood and waited, with eyes turned resolutely away from the field—waited, whilst the sun crept slowly and stealthily up the bare blue sky.

Not a breath was stirring, and in the vast expanse of cornland sounds were few. A noisy company of crows passed over her head, winging their way from the plantation to the village. From afar came the wailing cry of a kite, and the mournful sound struck a chill into her heart. A broken sob of despair escaped her. She turned to lift up her accustomed burden; and behold—the man himself stood before her.

With an eager cry of welcome, he sprang to her side, but a sudden fear of her own boldness overwhelmed her, and veiling her face, she turned away her eyes from the open admiration of his gaze.

But he had no intention of being baulked thus. Their intercourse was, in itself, a proceeding so entirely outside the pale of orthodox custom that conventional modesty seemed to him quite beside the mark.

“Nay, cruel one,” he protested. “Dost reward me thus, when mine eyes have hungered these many hours for a sight of thy beauty? It is not thus that thou and I must speak together, my Bird; but thus—face looking towards face, as mine eyes beheld thee first.” And with a quiet masterfulness, not to be gainsaid, he removed the coarse chuddah from her shapely, close-cropped head. “Lo, now can mine eyes satisfy themselves with looking, for of a truth thou art peerless among the daughters of men.”

The passionate sincerity of his tone, the strong pressure of his hand on her arm, awakened all the crushed, stunted woman in her. A rush of gladness filled her heart to overflowing, and she yielded herself to the good the gods had sent her, without further questioning or misgiving.

This was but the first of many meetings by the well-curb at dawn. The bliss of that one hour sufficed to support Anunda through the misery of the other twenty-three, and she desired no better fortune at the hands of Fate than to be allowed to live her strange new double life in uninterrupted peace. She was no longer accursed, but beloved. She had renewed her youth. It was enough.

But Gopalu her lover, being a man, was less easily satisfied.

“We cannot continue thus for ever, my Pearl,” he declared one morning. “All the day long mine eyes are weary for a sight of thee, mine arms ache to enfold thee, and at night I can scarce sleep for thinking of the dawn. If I am in very deed thy lord, and thou, Anundabai, Joy of My Heart, then must we join our lives in one, that thou mayest be altogether mine.”

His arms were round her as he spoke, but she shrank from their passionate pressure, and looked up at him in wild-eyed bewilderment.

“Gopalu, what meanest thou? How can I come to thee, widowed as I am? There is no marriage for such as I. Oh, would that I had never seen thee—that I had never risen, as it were, from the dead!”

And hiding her face on his shoulder, she sobbed with the shuddering unrestrained vehemence of a child. He soothed her with tender caresses, till the first violence of her grief was past.

“Hush thee, my heart, and consider,” he said at length. “Should I have bid thee come to me, had thy coming been a thing impossible? I have thought how this matter may be accomplished. Listen, and thou shalt hear. True it is that, amongst us of the Khatri caste, there is no lawful form of marriage for such as thou. But thus much at least may be done. We can avail ourselves of the custom admitted by the Sikhs, the casting of a saffron-dipped chuddah over the woman’s head. But to render all complete, we have need of a witness. Hast any friend, Anundabai, whom thou canst trust to do this thing for thee, and to keep a still tongue in her head thereafter?”

“Yea, I know of such an one,” came Anunda’s tremulous answer. “But, Gopalu, what of thyself? Hast no other women-folk, whose right is before mine?”

“Nay, I have neither wife nor mother. Both are dead these two years: and a man cannot live alone.”

“Yet, dear lord, hast considered also that thou wilt surely lose caste among the neighbours? None will dare have dealings with thee. They will go in fear of my father-in-law, whose anger will be as a flaming fire. He will seek me out, he will kill me. Oh, we cannot—we cannot!”

“Nay, Anundabai, that is a word for cowards. Let us say rather, we will, and naught shall hinder us—not the gods themselves. Caste? What care I for caste, so I have thee? We will fly north, to Rewana, where none will know thy history, and after a while, it may be, we will return. But hark, they are already afield—the women-folk. Come hither before dawn to-morrow, and I will tell thee all.”


Two o’clock of the morning, a full moon riding high in the heavens, and all Luliana sleeping unconcernedly beneath a windless sky. On the flat mud roofs, in the narrow streets, and open courtyards, the shrouded figures lay about in groups and rows, some on low string charpoys, some on the sun-baked earth itself—a veritable city of the dead.

Suddenly, in the courtyard of Gumpat Rám, a white figure moved stealthily from the sheltering shadow of the house, into the full glare of the moon. The fateful decision had been made, the entire scheme carefully planned, and Anunda, atremble at her own daring, stood at last outside her prison house, fully equipped for flight. The sum of her worldly possessions—a resai,7 a cotton sheet, and her cherished pan-dan, well stocked with pan leaves and betel-nut—was tucked away in a neat tight roll under her left arm, and now, with eyes strained anxiously to catch the least sign of movement on the adjoining housetop, she awaited the coming of Toru, who, tender-hearted always, and fired with zeal for an adventure so daringly off the beaten track, had consented to witness the curious Sikh ceremony, the nearest approach to lawful marriage that Gopalu could offer his bride.

Anunda’s escape had been the simpler because she was not allowed to sleep on the roof, with the other women of the family, but was condemned, through the suffocating nights of a Punjab summer, to find what rest she might in a bare, windowless room on the ground floor. This fact had enabled her to make her modest preparations for departure without fear of disturbing the household; and it now only remained for Toru to slip away, undetected, from her husband’s side.

Anunda held her breath in an agony of suspense, as the precious minutes sped past, and no welcome figure appeared against the skyline. Her neck ached with the strain of looking up. Her temples throbbed. Her eyeballs pricked and burned. What if the gods should prove inexorable, after all?

A light touch on her arm so startled her that she barely repressed a scream.

“Toru—thou? How didst leave the roof? I saw thee not.”

“How shouldst thou, foolish one? ’Twas my chiefest desire not to be seen, lest there should be wakeful eyes in Luliana other than thine. Come, favoured of the gods. Thy lover waits thee; come.”

“But, oh Toru-jee, I fear.”

Chut! Chicken-heart, the time for fear is past. Give me thine hand now, so.”

Through the slumbering streets they sped silently as spirits, now lost in shadow, now emerging into dangerous patches of moonlight, picking their way, with breathless caution, among the shrouded sleepers, lest they stumble over, and arouse a possible enemy. Once Anunda’s flying foot disturbed the dreams of a half-starved pariah, who arose, shook himself and “woofed” apprehensively. But they only fled the faster, nor stayed to look behind.

Outside the village they breathed more freely, but for all that they did not slacken their pace. Through the wide shadowless cornland, past the familiar well, on which Anunda’s eyes lingered, they flitted, still in silence, hand fast-locked in hand. Even in her wildest dreams, Ananda had never pictured anything half so strange as this

“Look, Toru-jee, look! It is the ekka! He is already there,” she whispered at last, for they had now come within sight of a thatched shelter, adjoining the field.

Outside the shelter, the skeleton form of an ekka showed ghostly in the moonlight, and a gaunt white horse, tethered to a neighbouring tree, refreshed himself diligently while opportunity offered. Within, Gopalu awaited them, armed with the mysterious chuddah, its four corners dipped in saffron, as befitted the occasion.

There was neither time nor need for more than the briefest words of greeting. The strange bridal veil, with its yellow corners, was flung over Anunda’s bowed head. Then, with a low cry of triumph, Gopalu lifted his wife bodily in his arms, and set her aloft in the ekka.

“Rest thou there, Light of Mine Eyes,” he whispered. “We shall be at Rewana by dawn.”

As the gaunt horse bounded forward, Anunda lifted a corner of her veil, and called softly down to her friend:

“Keep silence, Toru-jee, keep silence; and may the gods send thee sons without number!”

Then the ekka rattled cheerily forward down the wide white road, and one dark figure sped back alone to the unsuspecting village.

At sunrise there was consternation and wrath in the household of Gumpat Rám, for the ground-floor room was found to be empty, and Mai Soontu perforce bore her own lotah to the well’s mouth. Conjecture and gossip flowed freely. But Torn was loyal and let fall no hint of the truth.


On the housetop of Nunda Rám, Zemindar of Rewana, four women squatted in a circle, and four shrill voices discussed the latest item of village news, to the liquid bubbling of the inevitable evening hookah. The August sun had set an hour since, leaving heat enough behind him in the cramped streets and windowless houses to last until his return, lest men, by reason of the blessed darkness, should forget the power of his might.

“It is true talk, I tell thee, mother,” asserted a moon-faced bride of sixteen with uplifted finger. “I had it from Jamuna, who herself had it from Gunga Din. Anunda is no true wife, they say, but an ill-omened widow. Think of it—shameless one! And these four months we have received her as one of ourselves. Listen, sisters; thus it befell. There was one in Gunga Din’s store last night, newly arrived from Luliana, who related how the man Gopalu had fled from his village in company with a widow, and none could discover whither they had gone. A pretty tale, is it not, sisters?” and the girl applied her full red lips vigorously to the mouthpiece of her hookah.

Hai, hai,” commented Mai Radha, a lean matron of a philosophising turn of mind. “They be fools, these men folk, fools all! Are there not virgins enough and to spare, in these days when daughters are multiplied, by reason of the white man’s laws, that a man must needs defile himself, soul and body, by mating with a widow? Lo, now will he pay dearly for his folly. He will be pronounced ‘Hookahpanibund8 by all good Khatris, when this news spreads through the village. His trade will fail, for none will dare have dealings with a man put out of caste. Ari, then will it be seen whether a passion for a comely face can console a man for loss of caste, and loss of good rupees. Nay rather, being but a man, he will curse her in his heart, as the cause of his ill-fortune.”

*  *  *

If Mai Radha’s words did not hit the exact truth, they came unpleasantly near it.

The village tradesmen rose as one man, and solemnly put Gopalu out of caste, condemned him, with the pitiless complacence of a narrow creed, to social, religious, and commercial isolation; and, as the burning August days dragged by, the horror and hopelessness of his position was revealed to him with crushing completeness.

Being a man of some spirit, he accepted his fate, at the outset, with a brave countenance, striving to hide from Anunda’s eyes the despair at his heart. But in a very few weeks he found himself confronted by the fact that unless he removed from Rewana he would shortly be a ruined man. Whither, then, should he go? Where, in all the world, could a man hide himself from the anger of the gods? For, despite his brave veneer of enlightenment, Gopalu had by no means rid himself of his inborn terror of the gods, and their mysterious machinations. Anunda’s devotion was unwearied, undiminished. But a man cannot live on the fruits of love, as women can; and there were stifling sleepless hours in the heart of the night, when Gopalu came very near to cursing the hour in which he had first beheld his wife’s beautiful face.

It was evening, and a burning, breathless twilight brooded over the land, when Gopalu at last acknowledged himself beaten in the battle against Fate.

He stood alone in the open courtyard behind the house, his eyes fixed thoughtfully on a small twist of pink paper that lay in the palm of his hand.

“A man need but swallow that,” he mused, “and he cannot choose but sleep. Nay, if he so will—he need never wake again.”

Through four nights he had lain, wide-eyed and weary, praying vainly for the respite of sleep, and with the approach of the fifth night, his courage had failed him. He had gone forth, in secret, to the booth of a friendly Mohammedan merchant, determined to purchase sleep at any price, and there, in his hand, lay the precious twist of opium—the blessed dream-compeller!

It was a strong dose. He had bought enough to last him several nights, but he intended to take it all, in a few hours’ time. And if he should chance to sleep so soundly that no human skill could waken him? Well, what of that? Such accidents happened from time to time, and at all events he would be at peace. Here on earth was no peace for such as he—for he had sinned—and of a surety the gods would set no blessing on his marriage, but would leave him to die sonless, a man doubly accursed and disgraced. Wherefore, then, should he await their pitiless pleasure? Why not die at once, since he left no son, on whom his wilful death would bring dishonour?

There would be none to mourn for him, save her, his wife. At thought of her his heart contracted. But before he had time for further reflection she was at his side.

With guilty haste he closed his hand over the morsel of twisted paper. But the eyes of love are terribly keen. She had seen it, and his quick movement puzzled her.

“What is it, my dear lord?” she asked with the swift premonition of evil that belongs to a great love. “Thou lookest strangely. Art ill? And hast bought some medicine from the good Ayub Khan?”

He laughed, a hollow uneasy laugh.

“Yea, truly, wise one, some medicine. Have no fear; to-morrow I shall be rid of all mine ills.”

That laugh was sufficient for Anunda. She was puzzled no longer. She knew, knew as certainly as though her very eyes had beheld it, that which lay within her husband’s clenched hand. Her heart stood still, and her limbs trembled under her. But time was too precious to be wasted in mere woman’s weakness, and with a supreme effort she retained her self-control. This thing, this impending horror, simply must not happen. She it was who had brought him to this pass, and she alone had the right to save him, even as he had saved her at the well’s mouth. She alone? Nay, but she was no longer alone. A new power was astir within her, a power strong to compel. And child though she was in years, her woman’s instinct told her that she had but to wield it aright, and her victory was assured.

With a swift forward movement, she captured the offending hand in both her own, and looked up searchingly into Gopalu’s troubled eyes.

“My lord hath hidden the truth from her whom it pleaseth him to call his Queen. It is in the sleep of death that thou seekest a cure for thine ills. Is it not so? Answer me, beloved—answer me, as though soul stood naked to soul.”

Her remarkable beauty, the passionate pleading of her look and tone, unmanned him.

“I cannot lie to thee, Peerless One,” he answered, his free hand caressing her dark head. “Pardon me, if thou canst. Thou hast guessed aright.”

With a broken cry she slid to the ground, and bowed down her forehead till it touched the earth at his feet.

“I pardon thee, my King?” she protested through her tears. “I, who have brought this evil on thee? I who have caused thee so to suffer that death seemeth fairer to thee than life?”

She knelt upright now, her slim fingers interlocked, her emotion held resolutely under control.

“Beloved,” she said, and her low voice was infinitely tender. “For mine own sake alone, and because of the love I bear thee, I would not dare ask thee to forego this thing, to brave the anger and scorn of gods and men. But I have a word yet to speak that may, perchance, ease thee of thy strong desire for death. Lord of my heart, we be no longer two, thou and I—but three. And in the name of—of him whose lips shall one day call thee father, I bid thee live—live, and not die!”

Her dark eyes glowed with a passion of love as she raised them to his, but there was command in them rather than entreaty, and her soft lips were set in resolute lines. She unclasped her hands and held them towards him, the two pink palms upturned.

Without a word the man opened his clenched fingers, and let fall the fateful scrap of paper. She caught it, and imprisoned it promptly in a corner of her yellow chuddah.

“Thou wilt do my bidding, then, for—for his sake?” she murmured, a sudden moisture brimming her eyes.

At that Gopalu stooped and lifted her to her feet.

“For his sake—ay, and for thine also, Light of Mine Eyes. Thy brave words have given me back my strength, and surely it must be that the gods have forgiven us, seeing that they have blessed us after this fashion. We will be diligent in the matter of offerings and prayers, that our child may be a son indeed. We will go south also, to Lahore, which is a great city, and a wide, and thither will Luliana mud-heads never track us out. How sayest thou? Art afraid to venture so far from thine own land?”

She was crying softly now, from excess of happiness. At this question, she lifted her eyes to his face, and love triumphant gleamed in their dark depths.

“So far?” she queried. “There is neither near nor far for me, so thine arms be around me. I would go to the world’s end with thee, my King.”

So to the world’s end they went, and in the swarming city of Lahore they rested at last from the tender mercies of the just. It seemed indeed that the high gods themselves had forgiven them, or forgotten them—which is perhaps more likely.


A Moment’s Madness

“Ah! why to those who need them not
Should Love’s best gifts be given?
How much is wasted, wrecked, forgot,
On this side Heaven!”


It was a moonlight night. The white moon of the tropics lit up a narrow red lane in the suburbs of Colombo. Down the lane a bullock-cart was jogging at an easy amble. Within the cart sat a female figure; and a few yards behind it, a slim young fellow, on a restive horse, was making desperate efforts to prevent the animal from breaking into a canter.

He could just see the profile outline of the face in the cart. It was a good one, and he enjoyed having a long look at it without embarrassing its possessor. But his horse, not being a connoisseur in ladies’ profiles, was amazed and wrathful at his master’s unwonted behaviour.

By persistent disregard of the pressure on the curb-bit, he had just succeeded in getting alongside of the cart, when, with a sudden ting and whirr, a bicycle flashed past. The terrified animal made an effort to spring forward, but the hands on his reins forbade him. Whereat he swerved violently, and threw out his heels.

There was a crash, a scuffle, a shriek—and the next moment the horse, lightened of his tiresome load, was careering down the lane, while his master stood making confused apologies to the profile in the cart.

One of the wheels had slipped into a narrow ditch at the roadside; the horse’s kick had smashed a shaft; and the bullock, though unhurt, was evidently very much frightened. The girl herself was inclined to be a little resentful in a dignified manner; but the golden glint of her assailant’s moustache, and the evident sincerity in his frank English voice, worked wonders in his favour.

“It was most infernally idiotic of me,” he said, “to try to hold the beast in. I ought to have let him have his head, I know; but——” he was just young enough to blush at the recollection of his reason for keeping the animal back. “I’m really awfully sorry; and I hope you’ll let me help you a bit.”

“Indeed, you are veree kind. I do not think anee great harm is done. But we will soon see.”

Her voice took sudden unexpected cadences, rising where one expected it to fall; and her consonants were singularly sharp and crisp. But these peculiarities conveyed nothing to the young man, who was new to the East as yet.

Together they examined the broken shaft, and soothed the nervous bullock; he casting furtive glances at her face whenever he fancied he could do so undetected. But women have an occult power of feeling a man’s glances, be they never so cautiously bestowed; and this girl knew that her companion admired her. She felt suddenly glad that the shrouded light modified the dusky tint of her skin; and she was in no haste to bring their mutual occupation to an end.

“You must let me get it repaired for you, indeed you must, Miss——?” He hesitated, and looked at her with questioning eyes.

“De Somerez,” she answered, with a smile. “Really we cannot let you do anee such thing.”

“Well, the least I can do is to see you safely home; and then you can send some one back to help the man bring the cart to your house.”

The girl’s heart pulsed excitedly.

“Thank you,” she replied. “You are veree good.”

His horse, having by this time returned to its senses, was grazing contentedly at the roadside. He slung the bridle over his arm, detached one of the lanterns from the disabled cart, and set out at her side.

From occasional rapid glances under her lids, as she walked, the girl took in every detail of his slim, upright figure, and kindly young face. Their talk was fitful, inconsequent, and besprinkled with pauses. Each was conscious of a growing interest in the other, and both were occupied in assiduous efforts to conceal the fact.

By a painted gate in a low wall they came to a standstill.

“This is my house,” said the girl. “Goodnight; and thank you veree much.”

“What!—for smashing your bullock-cart, and obliging you to walk home?”

She looked up and laughed. A very pretty laugh he thought it.

“Ah! But you have made so much atonement. It was for that I thanked you. Good-bye.”

She held out her hand. He took it readily.

Au revoir, I hope.”

She was silent, but her heart echoed the hope.

“I shall come and ask after the cart, you know,” he said, with a laugh. “Good-night.”


Miss De Somerez was the belle of the neighbourhood. None of her girl friends attempted to dispute her claim to that honour; and she herself accepted the fact with the unruffled calm of conscious superiority.

The neighbourhood in which she shone was the fashionable Eurasian quarter, in the suburbs of Colombo; and her sense of superiority was due to the fact that her brown complexion was a few shades less brown than those of her black-haired, dark-eyed companions. She was spoken of as the fair Miss De Somerez by simple and unenvious souls. And she was undeniably handsome withal. A full, ripe beauty, such as girls rarely attain to in more northerly latitudes.

“And she can dress—oo my, she can dress!” little Miss Lobentz exclaimed to her bosom friend, in a paroxysm of envy. “The English ladees in their carriages doan’t look one-half so grand.”

Being a dark jewel, it pleased her to set herself in a brilliant casket. Her ribbons were always more varied, her flounces more elaborately “got up,” and her hats more daring in shape and colour, than those of her limply dressed and hopelessly envious companions.

She lived with two sisters and a widowed mother, in a trim white house, with a sloping red-tiled roof, and doors and window-shutters of a harsh uncompromising blue. The veranda pillars were ornamented with broad stripes of the same distressing tint. The little path leading to the road was of red laterite, with squares of vivid grass on either side; and along the low wall which bounded the garden a row of clipped “lettuce” trees added their brilliant yellow green to the already startling combination of colours. A staring tropical sun only served to accentuate the strange contrasts of the picture.

Such was Bella De Somerez’ home. “And a veree prettee home too!” she declared with pardonable pride.

Her mother and sisters were ciphers in the household. The beauty’s evident superiority threw all lesser luminaries into the shade. The De Somerez family called themselves pure Dutch. As a matter of fact, they belonged to that mixed race known to Eastern Europeans as “half-castes.” They had money enough to make a brave outward show, which was all that they desired; and their life behind the scenes was of the scrambling, slatternly kind dear to the Eurasian soul.

Obviously Bella De Somerez had every reason to be content with herself and her surroundings.

And so she would have been, but that she lacked one thing—a lover.

True she might have chosen half a dozen from among the lank, loosely-built young men, with brown complexions and jauntily ill-fitting clothes, who composed the marriageable youth of the neighbourhood. But she instinctively felt, and that not of pure arrogance perhaps, that she was worthy of better things.

So this proud beauty had gone on her way, scoring a succession of little triumphs, yet weary and discontented in the deep of her heart.

But now it seemed that her ambition was to be gratified, the desire of her life fulfilled. A golden moustache and a kindly voice hovered persistently through her dreams that night.


“Oo my! It is reallee too astonishing to think of. We all may hold our heads higher after this. Onlee to think!”

“But what for are you talking in these riddles, Miss Lobentz? I am wanting something more than ‘onlee to think.’”

Miss Lobentz’s sharp features waxed sharper than usual; and an acrid look of jealousy overspread them. Her companion was a fat, comfortable-looking girl, with a waist under her armpits and eyes like restless beads.

“And what is this great news, pray?” she persisted. “It doan’t seem to please you veree much.”

Me! What should I care? It is onlee that that haughtee Miss De Somerez has caught a lover with a white face at last. And now perhaps thee men will turn sensible, and look at other girls. Oo, she is a wonderful beautee certainlee; but there are others. No doubt this English lover will make her throw up her nose more than ever.”

The cushion-figured girl heaved a portentous sigh of envy and resignation; and the other went on: “Old Mrs. De Somerez can talk only of thee wedding and nothing else. Oll the rupees she keeps in thee box under her bed will be thrown in thee air for the young ladee’s bride-clothes. Oo my I you should hear her! ‘My dotter must have things becoming for the wife of an officer who wears thee uniform of white-and-gold.’”

“A—ah?” sighed her listener, as she drank in, open-mouthed, these entrancing details; “they have got it all settled mightee quicklee.”

“Quicklee? Yes, you may say so, my dear. That Miss Bella has more than two eyes in her head; she has thee ring alreadee. Ah! but there may be a slip yet! Who knows? Nort that I should wish it; oo dear me, no! But it may be, for all that. I wonder if thee other officers know about these doings!”

Her sharp face assumed a meditative look, and when she next spoke it was on another subject.

*  *  *

In the small garden behind the blue-and-white house, two other people were discussing the same matter from a somewhat different standpoint. The dim young Englishman of the moonlight night sat on an iron seat under a tree. The girl, whose profile outline had so much to answer for, knelt at his side, her arms resting on his knee. The finely-cut features showed clear and distinct against a far-off background of green; and he was privileged to gaze at them as often as he chose.

He was looking at them now; but the look was changed. The feelings of that night had died too soon,—and yet not soon enough. He was a man of impulse. He had acted on that impulse; and here was the result.

For nearly three weeks he had been secretly engaged to Bella De Somerez; and he was dimly conscious that before very long he would probably find himself married to her.

“You will have to go in ten minutes, dearest?” she said, looking up at him suddenly. “Ah, I wish you never had to leave me. You seem to drag thee heart out of my bodee, and carree it away with you. But some day you will make me all yours, and you will never leave me then, will you?”

Her dark eyes brimmed with a passionate devotion which startled her lover, and filled him with a painful sense of responsibility. He had called up this great love from the deep of her nature; and lo! he had only a little lukewarm scrap of sentiment to give her in return.

“Yes, dear, some day soon I’ll marry you; and then you will be happy?”

“Happy? A—a—ah!” It was supreme content made audible; and the poor fellow felt guiltier than ever. “You will take me in the great ship, “ she went on, “and show me that wonderful England I so wornt to see? And you will stay with me, and love me olways. You will love me olways, won’t you, Eric? Sometimes I feel as if you were slipping away from me; as if I must hold you—hold you, and never let you go.”

She laid her two hands on his, and looked up at him with embarrassingly affectionate eyes.

His own shone with a pitying tenderness as he said, “My dear girl, you really mustn’t let such foolish fancies take hold of you. Haven’t I shown you that I love you? Can I give you better proof of it than by telling you I am ready to marry you as soon as ever you like?”

“Ah, but your heart is not in the words. If it was, you would make me feel that you felt. Oo, I can’t explain things; but my heart is heavee.”

If Miss Lobentz could have seen her now!

The haughty nature of the girl, who had never acknowledged a superior in her narrow circle of life, was completely abased by the strength of this, her first sense of passionate admiration. The petty triumph she had yearned for showed like tawdry tinsel against the strong new emotion which now possessed her.

With the terrible alertness of sense which belongs to a deep love, she had noted the barely perceptible change in her lover’s tone, in the glance of his eyes; and her former self-satisfied pride only served to intensify the depth of her new humility.

It was this phase in her love which perplexed the young man most. Unskilled in mere lip service, he was still genuinely anxious not to distress her. He rose to leave her, with a reiterated assurance of affection about as satisfying as a thimbleful of water to a man dying of thirst.

Once out of sight of her searching eyes he breathed more freely. Yet he was neither selfish nor cold-hearted. He was merely young; and he believed that he had wrecked his life for the gratification of a passing desire.

*  *  *

The girl returned to the iron seat, and sank down where her lover had been sitting. Her attitude expressed despondency. No one, seeing her thus, would have fancied her a bride-elect; nor did she feel very much like one.

This, the desire of her life, the triumph she had dreamed of, the utmost fulfilment of her girlish ambition was accomplished at last—and to what end? The golden apple, which had shone so temptingly from afar, had turned to ashes in her hands. She, who had held her head so high, had come to this: to love unloved—a woman’s cruellest curse. And she loved this man with the unrestrained force of a passionate nature which wakes for the first time.

But her pride was not dead yet. It was strong still; though love was strong also. And the two stood up, in that hour, to measure their strength one against the other.

“He loves you a little still; only keep him, and he may grow to love you more.” So spake the flattering god, and his speech was as pleasant music to her heart.

“He does not love you. If you have any strength of mind, you will give him up.” So answered pride; and the girl shuddered at the piercing truth of his words.

The sun fell low, and lower. His rays cut through the “lettuce” bushes like glittering sword blades, and played upon the girl’s face and figure as she sat motionless, with hands fast clenched and lips compressed, listening to the warring voices within her.

At last, very slowly, she rose and went into the house.


When Eric Horsford entered the mess anteroom that evening, the tail-end of a smile flickered on every face present.

“What’s the joke, old fellow?” he asked, seating himself by one of the senior subalterns.

“Why, don’t you know? Haven’t you heard? Capital, upon my soul—ha, ha, ha!”

“No, I haven’t heard. Don’t keep all the fun to yourself. What’s up?”

“Why, you’re the joke, old chap. What do you say to that?”

Horsford flushed all over his fair skin; which form of response only caused the senior subaltern to laugh a good deal louder.

“You’ve got your head into a pretty tight place, from all I hear,” the young man went on, when his mirth had partially subsided. “The C.O’s in a terrible wax. You’ll smell sulphur, I can tell you.”

“But what for? What’s the row?” asked Eric, making a futile effort to look innocent.

“What for? That’s a good one! There you sit blushing like a maid, and have the face to ask what for. You’re safe for six months on detachment round the coast. Perhaps that piece of news’ll enlighten your mind a bit.”

“Damnation! But how did it get out?”

“How could it help getting out?”

Eric looked suddenly thoughtful; then he leaned towards his companion.

“Look here, Martin,” he said in an undertone, “I am in rather a fix, to tell the truth. Come into the veranda like a good chap, and let me tell you about it. There’s a quarter of an hour to dinner-time yet.”

The two went out; and the smile on the remaining faces deepened to a grin of unconcealed amusement. For these men such incidents held no hint of tragic possibilities. They used them merely as whetstones whereon to sharpen the dulled edges of their wit.

Once outside, Eric Horsford gave his brother officer a brief outline of his story.

“God knows what possessed me to speak to the girl, and let myself in, in such a hurry. But she is not so—so—dark as the others; and she is awfully handsome—she is, really.”

“Oh, no doubt she’s that. But, my good fellow, you can’t let yourself in with every handsome woman you meet. And of course you can’t possibly carry the thing through.”

Eric turned and looked at his friend with honest, startled eyes.

“Why, I must, old chap. I can’t act dishonourably by the girl after all my promises—that’s what I can’t do.”

The older man, though still young, had already suffered the keen edge of his sense of right to become more than a trifle blunted; and he smiled a smile, half pitiful, half envious, at his comrade’s single-mindedness. Yet he was determined to dissuade him from his folly; and, since the boy had brought his honour into the question, it was necessary to try another line of argument.

“What about your home people, Horsford?” The thrust told.

“Don’t torment a fellow, Martin. I feel bad enough as it is. I haven’t written to them since the affair was settled.”

“But you’ll have to one of these days—if you persist in your folly.”

Eric was silent a moment; then he cried aloud in his perplexity, “Good God, what a fool I have been!”

“Glad you admit that much. Better take steps to get out of your difficulty at once.”

“What steps?”

He hated himself for the eagerness his words betrayed; but his adviser noted it as a favourable symptom.

“Well, you’ll be sent off to Trinco with the company that is leaving in a few days. Keep dear of the girl till then; and just before starting you can drop her a diplomatic little note—I’ll help you—and the thing is done.”

“It sounds brutal,” murmured the distracted boy. “I hate crooked ways, and above all I hate behaving like a brute to a woman.”

“Lay this affair to heart, then, my dear chap; and don’t let impulse lead you by the nose in future. Impulse is like fire, a good servant but a bad master. That’s sound wisdom, though it’s I who speak it.”

At that moment the notes of the dinner bugle reached their ears, and both men turned. Martin looked quizzically at his companion.

“Have I convinced you, old fellow?”

“I don’t know.”

“Remember, it just comes to this: whether you care more for the feelings of your own mother and sisters or for those of this young lady whom you have known about a month.”

“Ah!” The ejaculation expressed pain. “If you put it that way there’s only one answer.”

“You’ll chuck up this affair?”

“I must.”

“Well, cheer up a bit, then. You look as guilty as if you had committed murder!”

“I feel it.”

That night, when Horsford returned to his quarters, he found a letter lying on his table; and the handwriting made him hot all over.

“It’s to name the day, I suppose,” thought he. “I shall never write that letter—when it comes to the point.”

The envelope was heavy when he picked it up—heavy with something which fell into one of the corners as he prepared to open it.

“The ring she promised me, of course. Worse and worse. I am done for; and, by heaven, I deserve it.”

He turned the envelope over, and shook it before extracting the note. The ring, with the perversity of its kind, alighted on its side, and rolled off into some distant corner.

“Curse the thing!” exclaimed the boy, anxiety and perplexity making him irritable beyond his wont.

He tossed the note unopened on to the table, placed the lamp on the floor, and proceeded to crawl round the room, moving his hands carefully over the dusty matting. He made both them and his knees horribly dirty during this performance, besides working himself into a fever of moist heat. But the ring was not to be found.

“Under the chest of drawers—by all that’s fiendish!” cried the distracted young man, as he knelt upright at last, mopping his damp face and brow.

Down he went again—flat on his chest this time—his outspread hand journeying cautiously to and fro in the dark.

“Ha!” he had found it this time. He drew it out and took it to the light. Then he started, and turned a shade paler. It was not a man’s ring. It was her own ring—returned.

If Horsford had felt guilty before, he felt trebly guilty now. He had calmly meditated an act of heartless cruelty towards this girl who trusted him, and she——

Well, he would read the note.

He replaced the lamp on the table, and, unfolding the paper, read:

“Dear Eric:

“You could not keep your secret, though you tried to very hard. I love you too much to make you unhappy. Here is your ring. Please don’t answer this, or try to see me again.


Eric Horsford bent his head, and sat motionless, with the open letter in his hand, far on into the night.



“Love that hath us in the net,
Can he pass, and we forget?
Love the gift is Love the debt;—
Even so.”


There is a curious sameness about Sunday afternoon, the wide world over. Wherever civilisation has laid its lightest fingertip, there will be found the weekly tendency to emulate the fashion of the Flood; and Kolupitiya—most fashionable among Colombo’s cluster of suburbs—is by no means behindhand in honouring this ancient custom.

In the comparative cool of early evening, when the sun dips behind the palm-fronds, some half a dozen churches release their moist worshippers; and these, with one accord, surrender themselves to the natural impulse of the hour. Lover and mistress, Darby and Joan—their complexions ranging from pale tan to dull chocolate—move leisurely along the serpentine red roads that skirt the lake, or saunter seawards for a few stray whiffs of Colombo’s warm, blustering wind. But on late March evenings the very sea-front is parched, windless, unspeakably dreary.

On such a breathless March evening, Bella De Somerez walked by the winding margin of the lake—alone.

A low, fierce sun streaked the pale palm-stems with orange light and set the water itself on fire. Earth and sky palpitated with colour. The red dust of the roads, and the broad, bright splashes of deeper red among the trees—where the “flamboyant” bloomed with unnecessary luxuriance—seemed almost to exhale a heat of their own. But Bella took no conscious note of these things. Her dusky skin and opaque brown eyes proclaimed her a tropical product, even in the face of her light silk dress, made after the latest fashion-plate design, and her obviously “Europe” hat, with its cluster of rich red roses.

It was Sunday, and her little world moved all about her in groups and couples. No other girl of her own age, or near it, walked unattended, and none among them could vie with her in excellence of form and feature. Bella knew this, knew also that her ineffectual rivals were aware of her knowledge, and took a bitter pleasure in the thought.

Her lack of escort excited none of those backward glances and whispered comments which might reasonably be expected from such a community; for it was full four years since Bella De Somerez had been seen otherwise than alone on Sunday evenings, and the brief wonderment of former days had died a natural death.

Prying minds had speedily discovered that she walked alone from choice, not from necessity. They had discovered that one Andrew De Silva, assistant railway-traffic superintendent—a local Dives, whose shirt buttons were of blue moonstones, and his watch-chain of gilded silver—walked alone also, with a rueful countenance and a sore heart.

It was whispered at tennis gatherings and tea-drinkings that the proud beauty had been jilted by an English officer—a distinction which amply accounted for her aloofness from less favoured mortals! Be that as it might, Bella moved among her chattering neighbours, a being apart; silent, and outwardly impassive, living over again and again those ardent, tremulous days before love’s glory had left her soul. She was but four-and-twenty now, and her cup of life held only dregs.

A shrill, familiar voice behind her, rudely dispersed her radiant dreams.

“Oo yess, she was a rare beauty then, in her own eyes, at all events. But she could nort keep her officer with thee golden moustache, for oil that. She thott herself better than others, and now she is left in thee lurch. It is olways so with those who are so proud. He! he! he!”

It was Lolee Lobentz, regaling her latest admirer—a clerk from Kandy—with a staccato ripple of acrid comment upon her neighbours. Bella had long been a thorn in her flesh, and she did not lower her voice in speaking. It is possible, also, that the “Europe” hat had a good deal to answer for.

“Old Mrs. De Somerez was readee to cut her throat with vexation,” the penetrating voice went on. “Though she wornted us oll to believe that thee break-off was Miss Bella’s own doing. A likelee storee!”

At this juncture Lolee tripped past her foe—a small, pert figure, in a crackling pink print, with cuffs, collar, and “front” of magenta velvet.

“Good evening, Miss De Somerez,” said she. “This is fine news I hear, that your little sister will so soon bee married. But you ott not to let her outstrip you in this fashion; and a double wedding would be veree prettee!”

With which amiable suggestion she passed on, leaving the thrust to rankle, as it could scarce fail to do, in the breast of a girl whose veins held three parts native blood.

But almost before the dull flush had left her cheek, Bella was accosted again. This time it was Andrew De Silva, lean, lank, and lugubrious in a cotton tweed that hung limply about his figure.

“Is it nort anee use, Miss Bella, to ask if I may turn and walk with you a little—onlee this once?”

His lustreless eyes, as they hung upon her face, bore a humiliating resemblance to the eyes of a hungry dog. She avoided them in self-defence.

“No, it is no use, Mr. De Silva,” she said; and her tone, though quiet, was very firm.

“Will it never bee anee use?” he persisted.

Lolee’s taunt sounded mockingly in her ears; but she thrust it resolutely aside.

“Never, I am afraid.”

A certain weariness in her tone emboldened the man to further pleading. But at the parting of his lips Bella made a quick forward movement.

“I must be going on now, Mr. De Silva,” she said, with polite decision. “It is useless to talk of what cannot bee changed. It gives pain to us both, and makes me appear unkind, when I am reallee onlee most unhappee. Good-night.”

He watched her comely figure, as she went, with a new wonder in his eyes. Never before had she made open mention of her heartache; and he, devout lover though he was, had hitherto expended all his concern upon himself.

Bella, meanwhile, pursued her homeward way with a steady step, despite the unsteadiness of vision which overwhelmed her.

De Silva’s eyes haunted her; reflecting as they did the self-same hunger which gnawed at her own heart. In fancy, now, she was back again with Eric Horsford, among the yellow lettuce trees behind the blue and white bungalow; sunning herself in the light of his frank, English blue eyes; drawing in draughts of happiness with every breath.

But these tender memories stung like a whiplash; and hard on their heels came bitter thoughts. Why had she sent him away when her heart told her that he had discovered his fatal mistake, but was too honourable to avow it? Why had she, with her own hand, dashed from her lips the cup of sweetness mixed for her by kindly fate? Why does a woman ever love a man better than her own soul?

By what right, she asked herself fiercely, with wearisome iteration, had this debonair young Englishman possessed himself of her heart, and crippled her life?

For Bella was no feminist, to glorify spinsterhood, and take pride in independence. The blood of a nation of wives and mothers ran in her veins. Despite her brave veneer of European culture and European clothes, wifehood and motherhood were, for her, the be-all and the end-all of woman’s earthly life. Yet—so strangely do East and West commingle—she could not, would not, accept a husband as a mere cloak for her own self-respect. Thus much, at least, had her small modicum of culture taught her; that love alone can hallow marriage. And love she had none to give.

In that black moment she tasted unalloyed the bitterness of hate. But with it there came also a great wave of pity for the man whose pain was so closely bound up with her own; the patient lover, who gave so much and asked so little. If happiness were not for her, at least she still had it in her power to bestow a small portion upon this one man. Ay, and she would do it too, after all! She would tear those cold northern blue eyes out of her heart—bright, dispassionate eyes, that came always between her and the fulness of life. She would see them no more. . . .

A quavering cry checked this valiant enumeration of futile resolves. Something snapped under her foot; and on looking downward, Bella met the reproachful gaze of two liquid blue eyes, so strangely like those she had just banished from her memory, that her heart stood still and the blood left her cheek.

The owner of the eyes was a pink and white baby, something less than two years old, whose tin treasure had been crushed under her heedless foot.

In an instant she was on her knees in the dust, regardless of its ravages upon her spotless flounces, soothing the injured baby as only a woman knows how to soothe a child; and all the while her eyes devoured the sweet seductive curves of nose, and cheek, and chin. For the baby features revealed a shadowy something that set her pulses leaping, half in terror, half in ecstatic hope.

“Whose child this? What master’s name?” she asked of the plump Cingalese ayah in charge.

“Master’s name Mr. Hossford: Engliss regiment.”

“Latelee come back from England?”

“Yiss, miss. Onlee been back in Colombo two months.”

“Baby little boy, or little girl?”

“Little boy,” replied the ayah, evidently resenting the possibility of the doubt.

Whereat, to her extreme astonishment, this very strange “Miss” imprinted a passionate kiss upon the baby’s smiling mouth; and withdrew without further speech.


Throughout the ensuing week Bella evinced an unusual taste for morning and evening walks. Never, in all her life, had she taken so much steady exercise in so short a space of time; for the Eurasian does not count walking among the joys of life.

Twice only was she rewarded by a sight of the blue-eyed boy, radiant in baby finery of embroidery and lawn. On each occasion she spoke a few words to the ayah; and kissed the child, at parting, with the same unaccountable fervour.

Plump Anne Smith was puzzled; turned the matter over in her shrewd, feminine mind; and finally spoke of it to her mistress. The third time, therefore, that Bella chanced upon the child, and stooped as usual for a parting kiss, Anne Smith interposed.

“Ladee not liking strange miss to kiss her sonnee boy,” she said, with suave politeness. Whereat Bella withdrew crushed and tingling.

Then the blank emptiness of life fell chill upon her soul once more. For a full week she scarcely left the house; and her mother buzzed about her with tactless questionings, and shrill remonstrances in vain.

At length—goaded by heart-hunger unspeakable—she ventured forth, one early morning, to the lake’s edge; cherishing a nameless hope that consolation, in some sort, might there be vouchsafed to her—as indeed it was, after a wholly unexpected fashion.

The sun’s full power was not yet established in the heavens; and the red roads were still mottled with welcome patches of shade. In the east a host of graceful palm-fronds showed black against a saffron sky. Ayahs, with their charges, sauntered chattering along the shadowed side of the way; and an occasional early rider cantered past.

Something of the placid peacefulness of the hour stole into Bella’s troubled heart, and eased its ache. It was not long, either, before she espied the small figure that she sought trotting along a shady strip of road, apparently unattended. But a nearer view revealed Anne Smith, who—all unmindful of the child—was enjoying her morning flirtation over a neighbouring wall.

Bella’s eyes clung to the restless white figure as it darted to and fro, now pursuing a bright celluloid ball, now giving chase to sparrows and squirrels, with spasmodic shrieks of glee. Pride forbade her to draw nearer, yet love chained her feet to the spot;—and as she stood thus, gazing her fill, she fell to dreaming sweet, vague, impossible dreams.

The rattle of wheels, and the thud of flying hoofs startled her rudely back to actuality—a grim actuality, demanding instant action.

Down the red road a rickety open gharri dashed towards her at a hand gallop. Its occupants were four sailors, evidently fresh from shipboard, and well laden with bazaar liquor. A fifth, seated on the box, beside the terrified gharriwallah, brandished the stump of his driving whip, and shouted encouragement to the lank horse. Anne Smith—absorbed in her handsome appu9—had, as yet, perceived nothing; and there, alone, in the track of certain death, tottered the unconscious child.

There was but one thing to be done; and that Bella did. In a flash of impulse, too swift for thought, she flew to the baby with arms outstretched; and even as Anne Smith turned, with a shriek of abject terror, her small charge came rolling to her feet—a tearful bundle, smothered in red dust, but uninjured. And out there in the road lay the strange “ Miss,” pale and motionless, an ugly stain, that was not dust, spreading slowly over her fair white skirt.

The gharri had come to a standstill; and a couple of sailors, sobered by the catastrophe, made clumsy attempts to staunch the slow stream of blood. Whereat Bella opened her eyes; and, with a low moan, besought them to let her be.

“Pretty bad job, this, mate,” remarked the Jehu, with a countenance full of rueful self-pity.

“What’n the name o’ goodness be we to do for ’er? Lord be praised! ’Ere comes a gent. P’r’aps ’e’ll give us the tip.”

As he spoke, an Englishman trotted briskly up to them: an Englishman who, at sight of Anne Smith, called out angrily: “Hullo, ayah! What are you up to here? You’ve no business to be hanging about this beastly lake road. Your mistress . . . Great heaven! . . . What’s up? An accident?”

But before either sailor had decided how to account for the situation, Anne Smith thrust in her ever-ready oar.

“Yiss, master, please, master, I going quicklee jus’ now to seaside; Baba running down thee road after ball; and this gharree coming much too quicklee round corner. No time to think; but this ladee ran right across, save little master, and getting killed.”

“Killed? . . . Are you sure she is killed, men? Here, hold my horse one of you, and let me see for myself.”

With that Horsford dismounted hastily, and turned his eyes full upon Bella for the first time. At sight of her he started, and set his teeth hard. A grey pallor overspread his face.

“My God!” he muttered between clenched teeth. “This is too horrible!”

Then, with an effort, he turned briskly to the stupefied group at his back.

“Don’t stand staring there, you men. Take yourselves off. There will be a big fuss about this presently. But stay, run into that house there, one of you—Colonel Field’s—and ask for water, brandy, and something to carry this lady home on. Look sharp!”

Then, as the men rolled off in one direction, and the gharri vanished in another, Eric Horsford slung his bridle over his arm, and kneeling down took Bella’s limp brown hand in his.

Her lips parted at his touch; and a gasping cry—half anguish, half ecstasy—escaped her.

Eric! Is it reallee you?” she panted. “Is he . . . safe?”

A spasm of pain contorted her face, and he caught her quivering hand in both his own.

“He is quite safe, Bella. Did you know he was . . . mine?”

“Yes . . . I knew.”

“God bless you . . . God bless you, dear, for this!”

But almost before the words were out, her eyelids had fallen together again; and he could only wait, in an agony of impatience, for help from the house.


At a late hour, that evening, Horsford stood once again upon the familiar veranda steps of the blue and white bungalow, the scene of his brief, impetuous courting of four years ago. He was little altered; only that whereas he had then been a boy, he was now a man—a man with a dead weight of shame and remorse lying heavy on his heart.

Mrs. De Somerez, tearful, voluble, and incoherent, had just made known to him the doctor’s verdict on Bella’s condition. Her spine, it seemed, had been seriously injured; and she suffered terrible pain. It was possible that she might linger thus for a week or ten days. But the end was inevitable—paralysis and death. Eric Horsford rode very slowly back to the fort. The mental vision of his wife and child jarred his nerves unaccountably at that moment; and he was in no haste to face them in the flesh.

Being by nature both honest and impetuous, he was doomed to waste a large proportion of his life in repentance as fruitless as it was sincere; and, in the present instance, he believed himself to be indirectly answerable for the fate of this brave girl, who had not hesitated to give her own life for a life he prized.

How he and his wife were ever to render her adequate thanks was a question which sorely puzzled him. Even the most superficial expression of gratitude would be a delicate matter; so wide was the social and racial gulf that yawned between the two women. For Madge Horsford was British to the bone; neat, orderly, and spotless without and within; a woman of sound common-sense, strong prejudices, and narrow sympathies. At the present time, moreover, her knowledge of the East and its mysteries was as limited as her prejudice was unbounded; and of all Oriental products for the annoyance of rational mortals, the half-caste appeared to her the most intolerable. But she was before all things a mother, in the first flush of rapturous possession; and the story of Bella’s heroism stirred the most responsive chord in her small well-ordered soul, rousing it to a brief fervour of admiration not unmixed with wonderment.

In due time, therefore, a dripping rickshaw-coolie deposited Mrs. Horsford, laden with sickroom dainties, at Bella’s garden gate.

From betwixt the chinks of her vivid blue window shutters, Mrs. De Somerez watched her visitor’s approach with mingled awe and satisfaction; the latter engendered by a cheerful anticipation of the contents of her numerous parcels; the former by the little lady’s speckless gown of white drill, and by her air of intimate acquaintance with soap and water—two articles in regard to which Mrs. De Somerez practised a rigid economy.

She rose, and greeted her guest with fulsome politeness, relieving her eagerly of those coveted parcels the while; and Madge—her fervour already chilled by this rude contact with reality—uttered the correct commonplaces of her social world, with a sudden distressing under-sense of their hopeless inadequacy to the occasion. For this large chocolate-coloured woman, with her oil-laden hair, and her exuberant figure, innocent of artificial support, was human after all; and in very sore trouble. The brown eyelids were swollen with weeping; and the high voice quavered as she spoke her daughter’s name.

“If you will kindlee step this way, I will introduce you to my dotter,” she said, a shadow of the old pride in her tone; and Madge followed across the untidy living room, her mind divided between genuine pity and an equally genuine desire to escape.

The sick-room was long and narrow, and oppressively hot. Its dreary white halls were relieved here and there by Christmas number supplements in gilt frames; and by dismal, damp-flecked photographs enshrined in varying shades of plush. On the dressing-table, amidst a chaotic medley of toilet accessories, medicine bottles, and unwashed spoons and tumblers, stood a handsome frame of carved wood, with folding doors that hid the photograph therein from view.

Could Madge Horsford have lifted one of those doors, she would have received a very unpleasant shock. As it was, her eyes turned at once toward the girl on the bed, and rested there in evident surprise and admiration. For Bella, in a frilled pink jacket, her hair drawn loosely back from her low forehead, her dark skin aglow with fever and suppressed excitement, was a vision of beauty and dignity for which this condescending little Englishwoman was in no wise prepared. Her neatly constructed speech of gratitude died on her lips.

“Mrs. Hossford . . . my dotter,” quoth Mrs. De Somerez, proudly punctilious; and Madge held out her hand.

“It is quite—quite impossible for us to thank you for what you have done, Miss De Somerez,” she said simply.

Bella did not answer at once. Her feverish eyes were eagerly scanning the fair, fresh-coloured face of Eric’s wife. Then, with a start, she seemed to recollect herself; and a deeper wave of colour crimsoned her cheeks and brow.

“Oh, it is nothing—nothing,” she remonstrated, in a low hurried tone. “Doan’t try to thank me, please. I am onlee too happy that I saved the child—onlee too happy.” A look of dreamy exaltation clouded her dark eyes, and she lay silent awhile, as if forgetful of her visitor’s presence.

Mrs. De Somerez, stationed at the bed’s foot sniffed audibly once or twice, and finally retired behind a dun-coloured pocket-handkerchief. Madge, sitting severely upright on her wooden chair, with gloved hands folded, and eyes fixed absently on a limp yellow jelly at her side, sought vainly for some suitable comment wherewith to relieve the strain of the situation.

The heat, and the heavy odours of the sickroom, oppressed her painfully; as did also the consciousness of the shattered, tortured body lying so strangely still under the bedclothes. She was not an imaginative woman; yet she felt, at that moment, curiously far away from her familiar surface world of golf, gossip, and Galle Face, and it was perhaps the novelty of the sensation which robbed her of her wonted self-possession.

After all, Bella was the first to break the silence. She stirred uneasily, and a suppressed moan broke from her. In an instant Mrs. De Somerez was at her side, and Madge rose hastily.

“I think I had better go now,” said she, concern and relief mingling strangely in her tone. “Your daughter seems in pain. There is some really good jelly in the next room. She might fancy it later on. Keep it on ice.” Then, with a last look at Bella’s handsome face and closed eyes: “It is very, very sad,” she murmured.

And thus she made good her escape.

For a full week Bella lay in her narrow, stifling bedroom, racked and tortured in body, yet strangely elated in mind. Her rapidly nearing death troubled her not one whit. There were even moments when her soul seemed to be already freed from her body; to be living, as it were, its own glorified life apart. For this, the last act of her life, had given her the keynote of all that went before, revealing meaning and purpose where chaotic misery had reigned erewhile. What though the joys of wifehood and motherhood had been denied her—the glory of giving a man-child to the world—yet a blessedness scarce less honourable had been hers—the blessedness of saving life, and that the life of Eric’s son. It was enough --more than enough. At least she had not lived in vain.

To some extent, doubtless, these ever-present thoughts were tinged with the exaltation of semi-delirium; but their power to strengthen and comfort Bella’s brave soul was real. Upborne by their influence, she made light of her own physical agony; for was it not the price paid—and paid willingly—for the safety of Eric’s child? Thoughts of his wife rarely troubled her now. She had the detached mind of the dying, and lived in a blissful, shadowy Paradise of three.

It scarcely surprised her, therefore, when her sometime lover appeared one evening, in the flesh, at her bedside, and kneeling down, bowed his fair head over her hand.

The end was very near then, though she did not know it. The merciful numbness of paralysis was stealing her life from her inch by inch; and her mind, hampered no longer by the body’s anguish, was all too painfully clear.

“I couldn’t keep away, Bella, . . . I couldn’t,” the man murmured hoarsely, his face still hidden from view. “I tell you, I feel nothing less than a murderer when I see you lying there.”

Her dry hot hand closed vehemently on his, and a great sob broke in her throat. For at his touch a sudden rush of vivid life flowed through her veins, and she felt that it was a bitter thing to die.

“Oh, Eric . . . Eric, doan’t speak so!” she pleaded. “I am onlee proud . . . so proud . . . that I was able to do this thing. What is a woman’s life worth after oll, but to give it . .. in some way, for . . . thee man’s? And I . . . I have given mine for . . . your son! What could I ask for more?”

He raised his head, and there was a strange mingling of awe, admiration, and incredulity in his blue eyes as they met hers.

“Oh, Bella, . . . if only more women felt like that, how different we might be!”

She smiled, and shook her head.

“We don’t wornt you different. We love you as you are. And your boy—he will be a man, too, one day—so like you . . . so veree like you!—where is he now?”

“Up-country with . . . my wife.”

He looked away from her in speaking, and a swift shadow crossed her face.

“Go to him, Eric,” she said, a new weariness in her tone. “Go to . . . them, and bee happee in their love. You ott not to be here.”

“But you are not angry with me for coming?”

“Angree? How can you ask? But you must go now . . . please.”

He leaned towards her with brimming eyes.

“Only let me kiss you then, Bella. Just for the last ‘good-bye.’”

The world and its warning voices were very far from her, and death was very near. With closed eyes, and lips half-parted, she awaited her brief moment of bliss. But at the touch of his lips on hers she fainted.

*  *  *

Mrs. De Somerez insisted on an elaborate funeral, followed by a gathering of the orthodox Eurasian type, throughout which she wept and wailed dolefully, only checking her woe—at intervals—to assure her guests that the wreaths and crosses had been more in number than they had known how to use.

But amongst them all was none to compare with a magnificent cross of “temple flowers,” to which was attached a card, bearing the initials E. H. Nor did the grief-stricken mother fail to note the presence, in the churchyard, of a single Englishman, who, throughout the burial service, stood apart with bowed head, and thereafter rode back to Colombo at a foot-pace.


Jeff Bathurst: Mammon Worshipper


“Bathurst, Bathurst, where the dickens are you? Hurry up, old chap, the light’s going fast.”

Thus adjured, Bathurst strolled coolly out of the ladies’ pavilion and shouted to his sais to bring up his polo pony and sticks. He was a lean man, loosely built, and supple of figure. The chief defect of his whole structure was a noticeable want of breadth, an air of insufficient physical substance. His face, like his figure, was narrow, with neat, unobtrusive features and a scraggy chestnut moustache, of which he was inordinately fond. Face, figure, and carriage all proclaimed him an ardent sportsman, with little capacity and less taste for any other form of work or play.

Gathering up his reins, he vaulted on to his quivering Arab and cantered into the field. On horseback the man was perfect, and he knew it. As a polo player he had few equals in India. For the rest he was but one of the many men whose professed aim it is to squeeze the maximum of pleasure out of life with the minimum of personal discomfort.

At the present time he was working out his theory with considerable success in the capacity of tutor and companion to the young Rajah of Khandwar, a Himalayan state of little political importance. A green cup-shaped valley held all that there was of the tiny town—its Court, its English Resident, and its standing army. This last consisted of some 200 native soldiers, five officers, and an obsolete three-pounder gun, whose existence was yearly imperilled by a loyal attempt to accomplish the Queen’s full birthday salute.

Life flowed lazily and monotonously at Khandwar. Beyond eating and sleeping sport was the sole available form of amusement; but, since sport was the salt of life to Jeff Bathurst, this lack of variety affected him no whit. For one week in all the year Khandwar bestirred itself and was gay. That week was now drawing to an end, and the polo match on the green was its grand finale.

In the tent from which Bathurst had emerged, tea and conversation flowed intermittently, and a flirtation or two flourished under cover of the waning light. In the fond imaginations of the polo players these people had come together to look on at their match and admire their horsemanship. As a matter of fact, not half a dozen of them knew how many goals had been scored, and several ladies were openly sitting with their backs to the game.

But this general apathy did not affect Vera Bellingham. She had come out to watch the game, whoever else had not; and she watched it; or, to put it more accurately, she followed the movements of one figure in particular with steady, unconcealed interest.

She was not, strictly speaking, a beautiful girl; yet those who looked at her once usually looked again, more especially if they chanced to be men. The general effect was strikingly attractive. Height, grace of movement, an instinctive knack of putting on the right thing in the right way, and a look of lazy, conscious power in her hazel eyes, combined to make Vera Bellingham noticeable even among women who could boast of far more obvious pretensions to beauty. Men raved about her, pretty women voted her “passable,” plain women who “went in” for beauty, and failed, frankly detested her. But neither the admiration of one sex nor the feline amenities of the other affected her very deeply. Perhaps because she was incapable of very keen feeling; perhaps because the deeper waters of her soul had not yet been stirred. At the present moment, for all her apparent absorption in the polo match, her thoughts were working busily in her brain; and they were not sentimental thoughts, though frankly concentrated on a man. Sentiment was not, as she herself would have expressed it, “in her line.” She needed a more solid foundation-stone whereon to build her palace of contentment. And yet—and yet—why need the wrong man be so invariably the most attractive?

At this point a voice close beside her broke in upon her meditations.

“What a magnificent stroke. Doesn’t he play just splendidly, Miss Bellingham?”


Vera’s tone was a triumph of blandly innocent query.

Netty Barrett giggled meaningly. She had seen Vera and Bathurst earlier in the afternoon; and, noting the girl’s preoccupation, had hoped to catch her unawares. She was a scraggy little being, with ferret-like features, and a mind full of all uncharitableness; but as she had been dragged through six fruitless Simla seasons, let her be leniently judged.

Vera’s gaze of polite inquiry was decidedly discomposing, and Miss Barrett giggled to gain time.

“Of course I mean Mr. Bathurst,” she returned. “I thought you were watching him—I was. He looks divine on horseback, doesn’t he?”

“I ‘ll tell him you said so. It’ll please him immensely. He has a splendid appetite for compliments.”

Vera’s tone was sedate, but the corners of her long mouth twitched wickedly. She disliked Netty Barrett, and she could be cruel when she chose.

“Oh, Miss Bellingham, please don’t do any such thing. You won’t—will you?”

As a matter of fact, she was dying to have her remark repeated; and Vera knew it.

“I won’t promise one way or the other,” she said, smilingly. “Perhaps you would like me to introduce him, and then you could make your pretty speech for yourself? I will introduce him, really, if you’d care about it. He’s not a lady’s man, you know. Doesn’t dance or play tennis. But he knows very few girls; and he’s dying to get married. He isn’t much of a catch, though, I’m afraid; and I fancy he would always put his polo ponies before his wife.”

“You don’t draw a very flattering picture of him! I thought he was rather—a friend of yours.”

A world of significance lurked in the emphasised word; and Vera’s rebellious mouth twitched again.

“So he is,” she made answer, with admirable readiness, “a great friend. I have known him for two years. That’s why I’m so anxious to help him to a good wife. A nice, meek little person, don’t you know, who’ll doctor his horses and feed his dogs, and sit contentedly watching him while he plays cricket and polo. Oh yes, she must always have a pair of slippers, and a nicely-warmed smile—no, no, I mean a smile, and a nicely-warmed pair of slippers—ready for him when he comes in from shooting. You see, he knows exactly what he wants, doesn’t he? The only problem is—how to get it. I am afraid he has arrived in the world just fifty years too late. We have more important things to do nowadays than to smile and warm our husband’s slippers, haven’t we?”

She herself smiled so winningly that Netty Barrett became more nervous than ever, and again sought refuge in that irrepressible giggle which had nipped so many attachments in the bud. Fortunately for her the thunder of hoofs in full gallop, and a yell of applause from the natives, who stood fifteen and twenty deep outside the flags, turned Vera’s attention back to the neglected game.

Bathurst, the only English player in the Khandwar team, had with one dexterous blow sent the ball flying across three fourths of the ground. It was checked just short of the goal, and came spinning back to him as he followed it up. There was a short scrimmage at close quarters; a bewildering jumble of horses and men, and mercifully incoherent profanity; then the sharp, clean crack of the polo stick on the ball. This time it flew unchecked between the goal posts, and the natives yelled afresh, for the match was won. To the Maharaj be glory!

The players, having refreshed themselves at considerable length, returned to the ladies’ pavilion, and Bathurst, with the characteristic directness of his type, made straight for Vera Bellingham. He knew he had played brilliantly; and he longed to hear her tell him so.

Vera saw him coming, and a light that was almost a smile flashed into her eyes. She turned to Netty Barrett. “Here he is; do let me introduce you,” she remarked, sweetly.

But Netty, with a hasty “No—no thank you,” turned and fled, which was precisely what Vera had intended her to do.

Even when she felt the man’s presence at her side she did not lift her head.

“Tired?” she asked, briefly, her eyes fixed inquiringly on his coat buttons.

“Rather not. I feel splendid. I could do another ‘chucker’ without turning a hair.”

She smiled, but said nothing. She knew to a nicety the value of silence—and of smiles. He grew impatient.

“Come, V., you might have the decency to tell me that I played thundering well. I did, didn’t I?”

“Since you are so well aware of it, you don’t stand in dire need of being patted on the back by others. You only came to me because you wanted to hear me sing your praises. Better go and try elsewhere!”

“Oh, I say, Vera; how you do snub a poor devil!”

The reproach in his tone was half real, half simulated. They were rarely serious with each other, these two. It pleased them to live on the surface of things; to make believe that life was a shallow puddle, wherein they could dabble at pleasure without any risk of drowning. But the woman saw a little deeper into the puddle than the man. She was six years younger, and the mists of selfishness were not so thick about her soul.

“Very well, you played magnificently, then—since you are dying to be told so. What’s more, some one remarked to me just now that you looked ‘divine’ on horseback. Doesn’t that satisfy your vanity a little?”

“It might—if you had said it.”

Again the emphasis was half playful, half sincere; but there was unfeigned admiration in the rather round blue eyes.

Each was wondering at that moment how much real feeling underlay the other’s bantering tone. And it was this very ignorance on both sides that lent such a piquant flavour to their intercourse.

“I’m afraid, Jeff, divine isn’t precisely the adjective I should apply to you, “ Vera remarked, with quiet frankness. “There’s not much of the flesh about you, certainly; but the world and—the other thing are fairly well represented, I think.”

She raised her eyes to his for half a second, and there was that in them that atoned for the directness of her speech.

“Crushed again!” he grimaced woefully. “Half an hour of your society wipes all the conceit clean out of me.”

“Then my society must be exceedingly good for you, Jeff.”

“It is good for me, “ he declared, with sudden conviction. “It’s the best thing in the world.”

She laughed and rose to her feet.

The brief Indian twilight had gone suddenly out, and a general move was made towards the Residency.

“No, no, Jeff,” she said, with a slow shake of her head. “Don’t perjure your soul, what there is of it, for the sake of saying a pretty thing. Not to mention your dear polo ponies, you would most certainly prefer the society of the girl who thinks you divine. She would put you on such a nice little pedestal and sit at your feet in a worshipful attitude from morning to night. Only think how enchanting it would be! I’ll introduce her this evening. Au revoir.”

“I take you in to dinner, remember.”

“Unless some one more interesting asks me—yes.”

And with that she left him.


Jeff Bathurst dressed for dinner that night in a preoccupied frame of mind. He was not apt to concern himself greatly about the clothes he put on; yet this was the one form of vanity which Vera Bellingham would most readily have forgiven him. She was a faddist about details of dress, and Bathurst’s black evening ties and “turn-over” collars, more remarkable for ease than elegance, were serious stumbling-blocks in the way of her quasi love for him. But he was, above all things, a creature of habit and of comfort, wherefore he clung to his black ties and ugly collars, even at the risk of falling in Vera’s esteem. And he was beginning slowly to realise that Vera’s esteem might well become one of the essentials of life for him.

Hitherto he had dimly contemplated the idea of marriage in the abstract, as a more or less necessary evil from which there was small chance of escape; for he felt, with Stevenson, that if marriage were terrifying, a forlorn old age was more so. But his requirements—and they were many—were not to be easily met in these days of accentuated feminine individuality; and Vera Bellingham—critical, self-willed, self-poised—could not, he feared, be induced to screw her rather remarkable personality into the exact little niche he had mentally prepared for the wife of his choice.

Moreover she had no money, neither had he; so he could not, in reason, think seriously of the matter. But hearts—even the well-drilled hearts of such men as Bathurst—will not always submit tamely to the dictates of reason. Vera’s charms of person and manner drew him, in spite of himself. They had been gaining on him slowly, and the more surely, through a steady everyday intimacy of two years and more. His feeling for her was no blind passion, born in a ballroom and reared on the tennis-court. It was the outcome of pleasant, uneventful propinquity, coupled with a common distaste for the serious side of life.

And to-morrow her time at Khandwar would be over. The thought disturbed him more than he would have cared to own; and he set it resolutely aside, promising himself at least one last tantalising tête-à-tête with her, be the issue what it might. With this resolve uppermost in his mind he stepped out into the starry darkness and made his way towards the palace. “I wonder what on earth she would say if I did ask her,” he mused as he went. “And if by any chance it was ‘Yes,’ I wonder what I should do.”

The outer and inner aspects of the Khandwar Palace presented a curious contrast to the eyes of those who cared to note such things. Without, all was plain, unimposing, severely rectangular—a flat roof, whitewashed walls, and a double row of windows identical in shape and size. Within, the trail of semi-civilisation lay over all things. To begin with, looking-glasses everywhere—for the cultivated native dearly loves his own image—looking-glasses in terrible gilt frames; chairs of gilded wood, upholstered in crude green velvet; musical toys under glass cases, cheap photograph frames and albums filled alternately with grim presentations of Royalty and of music-hall celebrities in questionable costumes.

In just such a reception room, under clusters of many-tinted chandeliers, did the Rajah’s guests assemble after an elaborate dinner, in which their host had taken no part; and, to judge from the weary politeness with which he endured the cheerful patronage of the Resident’s wife, he would fain have relinquished his share in the later proceedings also.

The social instinct is dormant in the high caste Oriental. Our dinners, our dances, and other frivolous junketings are mysteries he will never fathom; though, for reasons of his own, he chooses to take part in them in these latter days. Khandwar was not an advanced potentate, nor did he desire to become one. These restless English folk, who talked incessantly, who, even when they had nothing to say for themselves, said it at great length, bewildered and annoyed him. He only suffered their influx into his peaceful valley because he was powerless to prevent it; and he was waiting, with the silent, tireless patience of his race, for the good day when he should say unto them: “Go; I have no further need of you”; when he should forswear the ways of the West and devote his days to the accumulation of flesh, as it behoves a right-minded Rajah to do.

In the meanwhile there was nothing for it but to smile when occasion demanded, and speak as seldom as might be—the which he conscientiously did.

In the midst of the easy, superficial flow of after-dinner chatter Vera Bellingham also held her peace—whether from laziness or lack of matter who shall say? Her whole attention was seemingly riveted upon a native conjuror, hired for the evening, who had modestly established himself in a corner of the long room. Yet she knew precisely where Bathurst was standing; and her graceful pose was scarcely as spontaneous as she desired it to appear. She had bestowed much thought on her toilet this evening; and her dress—a sheeny, ivory-tinted affair, with cunning touches of green about it—was of the unobtrusively perfect order so dear to the masculine mind. It accentuated its wearer’s charms, yet vaunted not its own; which is the true and only mission of a woman’s dress.

Bathurst was no connoisseur in matters of fashion, nor was his artistic perception of a very high order. Of ivory satin and green velvet he knew and saw nothing. He only knew that Vera had never looked so triumphantly irresistible as she did to-night, and that in the battle within him passion was steadily elbowing prudence out of the field.

It was not long before he found his way to her side. She neither turned nor spoke, but waited for him to make the opening remark.

“Vera,” he said, after a brief silence; “we simply must have a talk together to-night somehow. It’s the last chance, remember.”

“Well, here we are! Let’s start at once, and lose no time.”

“Don’t snub me to-night, V. You know what I mean. Come for a turn outside—do.”

“It’s chilly outside,” she objected; “and we can talk just as well in here.”

She did not feel quite sure of herself, still less did she feel sure of him; and starlit darkness is a dangerous accessory to a farewell between a man and woman who do not feel sure of themselves. But for once Bathurst was rashly inclined.

“I’ll fetch your cape, “ he urged. “Do come.”

At this moment Netty Barrett, who was seated at the piano, launched into a lugubriously sentimental song.

“That is the girl who thinks you ‘divine,’” Vera announced, abruptly. “And, by the way, I promised to introduce you, didn’t I? She has a little money, and not too many ‘ideas.’ You really might go farther and fare worse.”

“Don’t talk rot, V. Come along.”

With an effort she held to her fictitious lightness of mood.

“I’m certainly not going to stir till I’ve heard this song to the bitter end; and, by the way, the ends of this sort of songs always are bitter. Listen to that.”

Netty Barrett was just in the act of informing an invisible lover that she “loved him so well that she only could leave him,” and Bathurst’s eyes deliberately sought Vera’s face.

“Cruelly hard on him,” she murmured with lifted brows, and a doleful shake of her fair head. Then—as the last uneven chord died into silence—“Don’t you feel inclined to come and try your luck with her? She’s not a bad girl—really.”

“Oh, shut up, V., for heaven’s sake,” he pleaded. “I can’t rise to that sort of nonsense to-night.”

“Ah, that’s a pity. It’s so much safer than sense in the long run,” Vera remarked to the carpet.

“Well,” he persisted, obstinately ignoring her small shaft, “will you come, or not?”

For all answer, she moved slowly away, and he followed her out into the night.

The palace courtyard was a paved quadrangle with a fountain in the midst. On three sides it was enclosed by walls and windows, on the fourth it was open to the hills. The sky was a shimmering mass of stars, brilliant as only the stars of the East can be; for the rest—darkness everywhere.

Two coloured lanterns flung faint paths of light across the square. In one of these a black and white figure moved slowly and in silence.

For all their desire to cling to the surface of things, neither the man nor the girl was unaware of those deeper places of the soul, whose existence it pleased them to ignore. Vera’s placid heart was throbbing uncomfortably fast. But her will was firm, and she resolutely crushed a certain impractical little desire that arose within her. She had intended to talk lightly, to keep severely clear of dangerous topics. But light words do not come easily when a man and woman are alone with the magnificent silence of the mountains and the stars.

At length Bathurst spoke.

“Vera, do you really believe that to-morrow will be the end of it all; that we shall just drift apart and—forget?”

“I do, most certainly.”

“You judge me very wrongly, then.”

“I don’t think so, Jeff.”

“But I tell you, you do, and I must know best. I know you think I’m a miserable sordid sort of a beast, with my heart tied up in my purse-strings. But I can’t let you go without telling you that—that there is one woman, at any rate, whom I could love better than money, better than the world, if—if she would let me.”

“What? Netty Barrett?

“Oh—for pity’s sake drop that nonsense! I’m in desperate earnest.”

“I wish you wouldn’t be, then. People who are in earnest bore me horribly.”

“I know they do; but there’s a limit, even to talking nonsense. Don’t you—don’t you honestly think we might manage it?”

“Manage what?”

“Why marriage, of course.”

“N—no, Jeff. I’m afraid—I don’t.”

Vera spoke very slowly, and her eyes looked steadfastly out into the darkness.

“For the obvious reason that you don’t care a rap about me?” Bathurst demanded, in an injured tone.

“No—not that.”

Why, then, in heaven’s name?”

“Well—since you drive me to put it so baldly—simply because we should not have money enough between us to live in decent comfort—as we understand comfort.”

“Heaps of couples marry on less.”

“And regret it.”

“How can you be sure?”

“I am not sure. But, on the whole, I’d rather not chance it. Nor—I think—would you.”

She looked so cold, so fair, so immovable in the dim light that Bathurst’s ardour—never a very hardy plant—was chilled.

“You are awfully unkind, Vera. Why won’t you believe that I love you well enough to give up a little for your sake?”

“I quite believe you do—to-night. But what about the avenging army of to-morrows? Ask yourself that question in the morning, and you’ll see what I mean. Also, you will commend my wisdom. It might seem easy enough at first, but later on—No: we can’t do it, Jeff; and we’d better face the fact bravely. I know you, and I know myself. In less than a year we should be lamenting in sackcloth and ashes. Don’t contradict me: I am convinced we should. You couldn’t live without unlimited polo and sport. I couldn’t live without unlimited frocks and ‘fun.’ That being the case, we must obviously contrive to live without each other. Do you see?”

He saw only too plainly. Her words were wise with the wisdom he best understood; and her tone was so passionless that he began to catch something of her reasonable mood. Prudence elbowed herself to the front again; and passion fell back defeated.

“I suppose you’re right, V.,” he assented reluctantly. “You generally are. But it’s beastly hard lines all the same. How in the world shall I pull along when you’ve gone?” And emboldened by the darkness he took her hand.

She suffered him to hold it, though his ready acceptance of her worldly wisdom filled her with unreasoning annoyance.

“Organise a ‘shoot,’” she suggested, frigidly. “You will find it a sovereign cure for the heartache.”

He ignored the cruel little thrust; and drew her nearer to him.

“Do you care at all, V.? Just the least little bit?”

She drew in a long, slow breath; and the hand he held stirred uneasily. “Yes, Jeff; I do—care.”

“But not enough?”

“Not quite enough—I am afraid it would be too risky.”

“Then there’s nothing for it but to say ‘goodbye,’ and—be friends?”

“Yes—I suppose we can—be that.”

The words came slowly, reluctantly. A woman instinctively values that which she is about to lose. Vera felt as though a door had shut suddenly down upon her heart; and for one instant her hand gripped Bathurst’s with involuntary force.

“There is nothing else for us, unless——”

“Well? Unless?”

The light curiosity of the man’s tone chilled the rising glow within her.

“No, there is no ‘unless’ for us, Jeff,” she said, with grave decision. “If we were not—well—just what we are, things might have been different. We might—perhaps—have waited.”

A small tentative pause followed the words. Bathurst made no movement. Prudence stood her ground.

“But since we are we,” she concluded, a trifle wearily, “there is nothing left for us but—goodbye.”

“You are sure?”

“Quite sure.”

Her eyes met his steadily for one moment, and his clasp on her hand tightened.

“Well, then, good-bye, V.; I am afraid I sha’n’t see you to-morrow before you leave. I wish—don’t be angry, please—but I can’t help wishing, dear, that I had the right to—to—kiss you—just once.”

She drew in her breath sharply. The witchery of the hour had done its work, and she was tempted.

He perceived her hesitation, and half regretted his request; for the man was a celibate at heart. His relations with women had, till now, been of the most distant character; and he had been wont to take considerable pride in the fact. A kiss bestowed upon a girl whom he had not the remotest hope of marrying would smirch the whiteness of his record; and, despite the alluring face before him, he hoped for a refusal.

But his hope was vain.

With a swift, graceful movement Vera leaned towards him, her sleepy eyes alight with sudden warmth.

“You may kiss me, Jeff—without the right,” she said, with that mysterious rapture of giving that a man may never know.

It was an embarrassing moment for Bathurst. He leaned forward, as if to take advantage of the permission given him; but at the last drew resolutely back.

“Forgive me, Vera; but—I can’t,” he said, a trifle lamely. “It would not be right. We might both regret it some day.”

She drew her hand hastily away from him.

“So we might,” she said; and walked swiftly on before him into the palace.

*  *  *

Vera, the placid—Vera, the stately—cried herself to sleep that night.

“Oh, how thankful I am that I refused him!” she sobbed brokenly, through her tears.

“After all it’s just as well she didn’t accept me,” Bathurst mused, as he turned out his lamp. “Love is all very pleasant—while it lasts. But a little dose of screwing and pinching would soon send it to the rightabout, as she said, and then there’d be the devil to pay.”

With which sage reflection he closed his eyes, and slept the sleep of the self-sufficient.


The Royal Academy, on a sultry June day, is a doubtfully pleasant house of entertainment. The lavish display of British art—and marvellous poor art some of it is—hardly atones for the exhausted atmosphere, the dull pain in the nape of one’s neck, and the uncomfortable proximity of one’s fellow-beings, whom one loves dearly, of course, at a reasonable distance.

Yet, despite these and other minor discomforts, the galleries were filled to overflowing—filled, for the most part, with cheerful Philistines, who could scarce distinguish a Tadema from an Orchardson.

Of such, at all events, were two elderly men and a woman, who stood busily discussing their own affairs before a popular battle-piece, towards which the stream of humanity was resolutely elbowing its way. The woman was tall and pale with the peculiar yellowish pallor which tells of many hot-weathers nobly endured. One of the men was rotund of person and bland of countenance. A pair of large round spectacles lent an odd, owl-like expression to his ingenuous face. This was none other than Mr. Ladbroke, C.S., ex-Resident of Khandwar.

“Odd, isn’t it, the way one knocks up against old Indians in town?” he was saying, as he mopped his spacious forehead. “And the last time we met was Khandwar? So it was. Not a bad little hole that; but we weren’t sorry to leave after five years of it; and his Highness was mighty pleased to be rid of us, too. He kept Bathurst on another eighteen months, though. You remember Bathurst?”

Yes, they remembered Bathurst.

“He’s at home just now. Been home several months, and I hear he’s to be married some time this year. A plain girl, but lots of money. So I suppose one may call him lucky, as things go.”

“I suppose one may. But I am not so sure about her,” the lady made answer, with a severe note in her voice. “I did not like Mr. Bathurst.”

At this juncture “Art” began to grow impatient, and jostled these harmless Philistines so mercilessly that they were forced apart, and Colonel and Mrs. Bradley went on their leisurely way unaccompanied by their pink and perspiring friend.

In the next gallery they came upon Bathurst himself, wandering aimlessly through the dense mass of humanity and making a vain effort to look intelligently interested.

Without more ado Mrs. Bradley pounced upon him, and overwhelmed him with congratulations, questionings, and maternal solicitude for his future happiness.

“But, of course, you are bound to be happy,” she concluded, emphatically, “seeing that you have secured the one thing you were in search of. And so few of us are lucky enough to do that in this topsy-turvy world.” With which parting shot she moved forward into the surging crowd before he had time to frame an answer.

Bathurst remained standing where she had left him, his gaze riveted absently on a crude presentation of two scantily clad damsels emerging from an impossible blue mist; a picture calculated to shock his Philistine soul had he been aware of its existence—which he was not.

Between it and him hovered insistently the vision of a face, transfigured by the glory within. He did not find it pleasant to meet the eyes that looked so frankly into his own, still less so, when the girl’s whole heart rose into them, as it had done at their parting three hours ago.

Now, despite Mrs. Bradley’s cheerful assurances, his own face expressed weariness, annoyance, and indecision.

“Bound to be happy, am I?” he muttered, in tones of smothered irritation. “Wish to heaven I could feel as cocksure about it as she does. But luck seems dead against me with women somehow.”

That the fault might possibly lie in himself rather than in his “luck” was a solution of the problem that had never yet dawned upon his mind.

Two years ago he had let slip the love that came without money; and now it appeared that money without love was like to prove fully as unacceptable. If that were indeed the case, then marriage was not for him, and he was doomed to remain in the ranks of the Great Unblest; a fate he by no means desired. The warmed slippers were good things in their way; good to turn to when the eye had lost its keenness and the hand its cunning. But if they were only to be procured at the price of binding himself to an unloved wife, he feared he might be doomed to forego them after all. That little black worm, called self-love, which gnaws, all unsuspected, at the roots of men’s hearts, seemed disposed to make sad havoc of Jeff Bathurst’s mild matrimonial ambitions.

He began to move on again in the same aimless fashion as before. He had not come to the exhibition to look at pictures. He had come to think, to deliberate. He drew an envelope from his breast-pocket as he walked, and read the address mechanically, half a dozen times over. The hand-writing was his own, the address that of his fiancée. It had taken him a full hour to write that brief letter, and, though it was already stamped and sealed, he had passed several pillar-posts on his way hither without finding it in his heart to part with it.

He was beginning to wonder wearily whether it would ever reach its destination; for it hurt him considerably to recall the parting look of love and trust so undeservedly bestowed on him that morning.

Suddenly a face—a familiar face—broke the thread of Bathurst’s melancholy musings; a full soft face, with a nose delicately tip-tilted, and unforgettable hazel eyes.

For an instant he deemed it a mere vision, a trick of the brain. But even as he looked the lips parted in a smile; and a gleam of pleasure flashed into the sleepy eyes.

It was Vera Bellingham.

She had seen him—she was making towards him; and a great glow of emotion swept unbidden over all his placid, lukewarm being.

That moment of genuine emotion was a revelation to Bathurst. He knew now—he had never fully known till now—that he loved the woman before him; the woman whose proffered lips he had set aside two years ago.

He elbowed his way impatiently through the stolid, unyielding throng. For once in his life the divine breath of impulse stirred his sluggish soul; and, but for the restraining influence of the crowd around him, he was capable, at that moment, of taking the stately Vera in his arms by way of greeting.

Fortunately, perhaps, for them both the crowd was there; and Bathurst’s impulse went to swell the sum of unfulfilled desires. Sincerely did he wish now that he had rid himself of the troublesome letter which still lay snugly in his pocket. He would certainly despatch it on the first opportunity; and in the meanwhile he prayed that Vera might not have heard of his engagement. Three seconds later her gloved hand lay in his.

“Well, V., this is a jolly surprise!”

But the man’s eyes were more eloquent than his halting tongue.

“Yes, it is a surprise, certainly,” came the answer, in Vera’s measured tones. “I didn’t even know you were in England.”

“You might have said a pleasant surprise, V.,” he objected. “You’ve not changed in one respect, I see. I’d have written, of course, long ago, only you said I was not to, you remember, when you left—Khandwar.”

He halted a moment before that name of many memories, and his eyes avoided hers.

The thoughts of both had flown back instinctively to the scene of their last tête-à-tête—the dark quadrangle with its two pale paths of light, the silent hills, the glittering sky—and to questions asked and answered that had changed the currents of two insignificant human lives.

Vera was the first to shake off the haunting shadow, though her lightness of tone was not altogether spontaneous.

“I remember, yes. But, dear me, what ages ago it all seems!” she said, with an airy little laugh. “With London bustle and London civilisation round one, it is hard to believe that such a place as Khandwar exists; and one wonders how we ever managed to pass the time there.”

You found it pass pretty pleasantly, I think,” he remarked, and there was injury in his tone. “At any rate, you seemed to find it pleasant enough, then.”

“Yes—then. But now, tell me, what are you doing here all by yourself? Pictures were never very much in your line.”

“Nor are they now. I came here chiefly to think. I felt down, and wanted to get away from—from people for a bit.”

“So you plunged into a crowd? Wise man! But what made you feel ‘down’? The old complaint?”

“Vera, you are hopeless!” And the sigh that accompanied the words was genuine. “If you only intend to make fun of me, I shall take myself off at once.”

She turned and glanced at him curiously. His evident earnestness puzzled her.

“No, don’t do that. Come into one of the water-colour galleries. There will be fewer people there and we can have a talk. And now, tell me, if money—or rather the lack of it—isn’t your complaint, what is? A man in your blissful condition has no business whatever to feel ‘down.’”

“How do you mean? What condition?” he asked, apprehensively.

“Why, I heard from some friends yesterday that you had at last made up your mind to get married. But they said nothing about your being at home just now. I hear she is nice, and—has plenty of money, the only indispensable attribute for a wife in your eyes.” Bathurst did not answer at once. The subject needed delicate handling.

“Well, yes. I certainly thought so—once,” he said at length.

“And now?”

“I think differently.”

“Why, Jeff, this is a revelation! Then you are honestly in love with her?”

“N—no—unhappily I am not.”

“But, my dear boy, where’s your reason for marrying her, then? You have a reason, I suppose?”

“I am not going to—to marry her at all. I—I tried—honestly I did; but—it wouldn’t do.”

“You have thrown her over, then?”

“It sounds beastly mean, but I suppose that’s about what it comes to. I wrote her as nice a letter as the circumstances would allow.”

A rather awkward silence followed Bathurst’s very unheroic confession.

They were now in one of the water-colour galleries, and by a rare chance they were alone. Vera turned and looked at her sometime lover, and there was a cool criticism in her eyes that would have dismayed Bathurst had he seen it. But some instinct made him avoid her face.

“Do you know, Jeff,” she said at length, with purposeful deliberation, “I should have admired you a good deal more, on the whole, if you had stuck to that girl in spite of all.”

“What? Even when I found out my mistake?”

“Yes. Even then.”

“But—but why?”

“Because it was you who made the mistake. And the one who makes the mistake should be the one to suffer for it.”

“Can’t say I ever looked at the matter in that light,” he confessed, blankly.

“No—you wouldn’t.”

He turned abruptly round upon her, and his indifference fell away from him.

“It’s not fair of you to speak so cruelly, V., when you know quite well who really stands in the way of my marrying Miss Blakemore.”

“Indeed I don’t. Who is it?”

There was not a glimmer of curiosity in her tone.

You, of course. Who else could it be?”

He paused. But she made no movement. And he went on: “The biggest mistake I ever made was in that courtyard at Khandwar. Won’t you forgive me, Vera? Won’t you let me have now what I was fool enough not to take then?”

A shadowy smile played round Vera’s lips. There was a suspicion of triumph about that smile.

“It is my turn now, Jeff, to say—it would not be right.”

She looked him full in the eyes, for they were of one height; and Bathurst flinched under her gaze.

“But—don’t you understand, V.?—I want to make it right. I’ve done my best to forget you in these two years, and—I haven’t succeeded. You said you cared a little—then. Don’t you care a little—still?”

Even now she did not speak; but the suspicion of triumph left her face.

Slowly, deliberately, she unbuttoned her left glove, and drew it off with tender care.

Bathurst watched her in bewildered silence; but when, at length, her fingers came into view he started and drew in a sharp breath. The third finger was heavy with rings; and one amongst them was a plain gold band.

“Vera—are you—married?”

His voice scarcely rose above a whisper; and her eyes softened when they beheld his face.

“Yes, Jeff. I am sorry. But you have been rather a long while discovering your mistake, haven’t you? And the world hasn’t stood still—for either of us.”

Bathurst was a plucky man, if not a heroic one. Whatever he may have felt, he kept resolutely to himself.

“Money?” he asked, with a short, hard laugh, his eyes on the array of gems.

“No, Jeff, not money. You’ll think me a turncoat, I suppose; but the truth is that when the—the real thing came, nothing else seemed of any account—not even money! My husband is somewhere about the building. Come and be introduced.”

It was a cruel little speech; but the least reminder of that scene on the starlit quadrangle still set her nerves on edge.

And Bathurst—dazed, bewildered, but resolutely brave—followed her in silence.

*  *  *

He despatched his letter that evening, and called on Vera before the week was out.

He is on the wrong side of fifty by this time, and he still adorns the ranks of the Great Unblest. It is to be feared that the nicely warmed slippers and the acquiescent smile will never now be his.




Harry Lorrimer rose from the card-table and pushed back his chair. There were rigid lines about his mouth, and his blue eyes gleamed cold and hard. The face was young in the groundwork, old in the finish. A clear-cut boyish face; marred only by the ruthless pencillings of anxiety and bitterness of spirit.

His partner looked up quickly. At sight of Lorrimer’s face he lifted his brows, but when he spoke it was in his usual bantering tone.

“Not going to chuck already, old man? Give the luck another chance. It’s poor policy to follow her all the way up the long lane and gib just before the turning.”

Lorrimer’s attempt at a smile was not a conspicuous success.

“I’m getting a bit sceptical about that turning,” he made answer in a tone of studied indifference. “Anyhow, I’ve had about enough for to-night. Besides—I’m thirsty.”

He walked slowly out of the room, and Jim Gordon looked after him with lips screwed into a soundless whistle. Then he, too, rose abruptly.

“I’ll find another fellow to make up the four,” he said. But the thought in his mind was: “He takes these little things hard. Denvil ’ud know how to tackle him. Wonder where the deuce he is.”

A valse was faintly audible in the quiet of the card-room, and Denvil being a confirmed dancer, Jim Gordon sought him first in the great ballroom where one third of the English inhabitants of the Punjab were gathered together for the Lahore “Xmas week,” the supreme social event of the cold weather.

To discover one particular unit in that shifting maze of colour seemed to Gordon about as hopeful a task as finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. But as he reached the wide arched entrance to the Lawrence Hall the last notes of music died into silence; the many-coloured crowd dispersed, and Gordon made good his opportunity. In a few moments he was scudding swiftly but warily across the slippery floor in the wake of Ralph Denvil and his partner.

“Forgive me, old chap,” he panted, as he reached them, “but I wish you’d go and look up Lorrimer, at once if you can—” then in a lower tone: “He’s been in the card-room instead of dancing. The luck’s been dead against him—and you know how he takes things to heart. I’ll see after your partner if you’ll introduce me.”

Denvil’s only answer was a tightening of the lips and a quick nod of the head. Then he turned abruptly to his partner—a small, slim girl with steady eyes. In the fewest possible words he asked forgiveness for his flight, introduced his friend, and strode rapidly off in search of that “cursed fool of a boy,” whose hold upon his heart could be gauged by his quite unusual access of irritation. For Denvil was a philosopher, unhampered by superfluous scruples and sensibilities: one that took men and things as he found them, and on the whole found them good. Now, as he slid across the hall, inspiration came to him—and he whistled softly. He found Lorrimer outside the cloak-room, shuffling hastily into his coat.

“None of that nonsense, Harry,” he cried cheerfully from afar off. “The evening’s not half over yet.”

“I’ve had enough of it, thanks,” the other answered, repeating his formula of the card-room and fastening his top button.

“Have you, though?” Denvil quietly secured his arm. “Wait till you hear my prescription for your chronic malady: a specific so rare in this country that I’d take it as the hand of Providence—if I was given that way.”

Lorrimer frowned and tried to release his arm.

“I swear I’m not ragging. Come and see for yourself.”

The friendly pressure that lurked beneath his casual tone took effect. Lorrimer shrugged his shoulders and leisurely slipped off his coat.

Without further argument or speech they returned to the wide arch; and there, on the far side of the hall, stood Denvil’s late partner, slowly opening and closing her fan, as she listened with a half-smile on her lips to the infinite deal of nothing that Gordon took some pride in being able to turn out by the yard. The girl wore a straight-cut dress of sheeny blue stuff. Her hair—neither golden nor brown—was simply parted in the middle and brushed back, hiding the tips of her ears. One diamond star flashed and twinkled with the rhythmical rise and fall of her breast. Neither tall, nor beautiful, she was yet one of those rarer women whom to look at once is to look at again and yet again.

“There you are, Harry. That’s my specific!” Denvil remarked with a significant jerk of his head.

“What—where?” asked Lorrimer without undue curiosity. He was wondering when that half-smile would light up the whole expressive face of Gordon’s partner.

“Why, man, you’re staring at her! The girl with the fine eyes right opposite. The girl I deserted to go in search of you.”

At that Lorrimer swung round impatiently, a spark of anger in his eyes.

“Damn it all, Denvil, I’m not in the mood for joking. I am desperately down on my luck; and all you can do is to talk rot about specifics and a charming girl! If that’s all I’m off——”

But as he turned, Denvil again secured his arm.

“Don’t be a fool, Harry! I’m not joking. you’re in a pretty deep hole—aren’t you now? And that charming girl represents a simpler, surer way out of it than racing or cards. Her father, old Madison, is worth a good few millions—and there are no sons. They’ve emerged from some god-forsaken corner of New England, to ‘look around’ the Universe generally. India’s the first trifling item in the programme and they talk of stopping a year. Now do you begin to see daylight? The girl seems a rare good sort; nothing of the conventional dollar-princess about her. And she knows hardly any one. They came with the Haldanes: but the divine Dolly’s far too well occupied with her own Mian Mir Crèche to bother her head about introductions. So you’ve a pretty free field; and if only you play your cards decently with the little New England heiress you may find yourself a made man. There now! You can thank your stars marrying’s not my line; or you wouldn’t have been allowed a look in. As it is—come along and be introduced.”

Lorrimer shook himself free. “Well, of all the confounded—--!”

But Denvil had made a prompt forward movement and Miss Madison had looked round with a smile of recognition. Retreat was out of the question. Despite increasing disgust at Denvil’s cool-headed scheming, Lorrimer could only shrug his shoulders and follow his mentor across the wide, empty floor of the finest ballroom in the Punjab.

He had not as yet thought seriously about marriage. His regimental work, coupled with entirely unavailing efforts to make his pay keep pace with his expenses, had hitherto proved sufficiently engrossing. Marriage had figured in his mind only as a vague and distant possibility—a rather beautiful possibility, for Lorrimer was something of an idealist. At all events, so prosaic and cold-blooded an approach to the crowning act of his life was inherently distasteful to him; but in his present mood he felt incapable of definite resistance. It was simpler to drift with the stream, to acquiesce in Denvil’s kindly manoeuvre on his behalf, without undue speculation as to the result.

For the moment, half-dazed by the astonishing turn of events, he mechanically did what was required of him. He heard his name coupled with Miss Madison’s; heard himself request the pleasure of the next dance.

It struck up on the instant; the room filled rapidly. Without speaking he slipped an arm round her; then, in a flash, hot shame consumed him and brought him near to flight.

But Delight Madison—aware of a slight check—looked up. Her eyes smiled confidently into his.

“Anything wrong?” she asked in a voice of singular sweetness.

“No indeed!” he answered with sudden conviction—and swept her into the crowd.

*  *  *

It was not his habit to talk while dancing; and, in any case, the strange revulsion of feeling—from black despair to the sheer, unreasoning joy of holding and guiding this unknown slip of a girl—must have stricken him silent.

Five minutes earlier he had been unaware of her existence, and now—now, as he looked down at the brown head so close to his shoulder, passionate, impossible words crowded into his brain, clamouring for utterance; words such as no right-minded man could dream of speaking—yet; words such as he, of all others, had no right to speak at all.

Was this the vaguely anticipated thing called “falling in love”—this swift, warm uprush of emotion, steadied and strengthened by the lover’s unquestioning conviction that to this end alone were all things made from the beginning of time?

He had not attained the great age of six-and-twenty without experiencing a score of lesser thrills: but this——!

The valse had crashed to its conclusion, and Lorrimer dropped abruptly from heaven to earth, from ecstatic flights of fancy to a reality sufficiently distracting.

But not all at once could he bring himself to break the spell by a collapse into commonplace talk—the only kind permissible between strangers.

It sufficed that her hand rested on his arm, that for five priceless minutes they would be alone in some twilight corner—away from the lights and the noise of the crowd.

He chose his corner carefully: and her sigh of unfeigned satisfaction, as they sat down, put formalities to flight.

“You can’t have enjoyed it half as much as I did,” he declared boldly, and looked deep into her smiling eyes.

She shook her head. “I don’t know about that!” said she. “I’ve not danced a great deal. We don’t in our part; but once I began it seemed to come as naturally as breathing. From the minute the music starts to the minute it stops, I’m just bewitched. I feel I’d never tire if it went on for eternity. Sometimes I think I oughtn’t to go to dances, it seems hardly right—does it?—to get carried away by a thing like that?”

“Not right? How do you mean?”

She laughed a little low laugh at his puzzled tone. “When you know me better,” she said, “you’ll understand. I suppose that’s what Mrs. Haldane would call one of my ‘aggressively New England’ remarks. I’m trying hard to break myself of the habit, but you can’t guess how queer it feels to live among people who seem to make a real serious business out of just amusing themselves from morning to night.”

Do we though?” Lorrimer demurred thoughtfully. “We’ve got a pretty fair reputation that way, we Anglo-Indians. But you mustn’t judge us all by Dolly Haldane and her set, or by Christmas week in Lahore.” Then, with quickened interest: “You come from New England, do you?”

“Yes. It’s my home.”

“No wonder you find Lahore a rather queer contrast. I’d like awfully to hear something about the life out there.”

Even in the dimness he could discern the light that leapt into her eyes.

“Do you mean that—honestly? It wouldn’t bore you? So few people seem to take any interest—to care——”

“I do though—very much indeed,” he declared with perhaps a degree more fervour than the occasion warranted.

And forthwith, in her low even voice she began to speak of the far-away American State that had set its seal so unmistakably on her heart and brain; of its strong-spirited women, and its simple-hearted men; of her own father, a shrewd, stern old Puritan, who, despite his millions, refused to march with the times in the matter of luxury and complexity of needs.

His three daughters, it transpired, had been brought up on lines of the severest simplicity, and had been early schooled to look upon wealth rather as an added responsibility than as a means of limitless self-gratification. Delight, the eldest, had, at her mother’s urgent request, been allowed a season in New York, which had resulted in her present tour, a step Mr. Madison had regarded with very doubtful approval.

It was a simple record of simple things: but it charmed Lorrimer as he had never been charmed before. He was scarcely aware of the flitting to and fro of many couples; or of the regular alternations of music and silence which marked the passing of time, till the rollicking strains of “Old England’s Roast Beef” roused him with a start.

“Supper!” he cried, rising hastily. “Why, it was No. 6 we danced together, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, I believe so!” There was a twinkle of mischief in the eyes she raised to his. “Is it very shocking? If it is, Mrs. Haldane will tell me I’m coming on!”

When they reached the ball-room the card in the music gallery numbered No. 11, and again a smile of pure amusement passed between them.

“After supper, I suppose I must introduce you to some other fellows,” he said. “But I may have a few more later on, I hope? Let me see—16? Are you free for that?”


“Then may I write my name against it and—and bracket the three that follow?”

He was amazed at his own boldness, but never in his life had he wanted anything half so keenly as he wanted those four dances. Even while he spoke Denvil’s remark about playing his cards decently stabbed his memory like a knife-thrust—but Delight was handing him her programme and the momentary pang subsided.

When they shook hands at parting, after No. 19, both felt an under-sense of nearness, of familiarity, which was at once puzzling and pleasant.

Delight, with her wonted directness, put the feeling into words. “How long have we known each other? I wonder,” she asked, and her eyes were pensive though her lips smiled. “Three hours—is it—or three years? I can’t tell——!”

Lorrimer, the re-created, shook his head.

“No more can I! And what matter, after all? We do know each other—that’s good enough for me. I shall see you here to-morrow at the afternoon dancing? I’m out at Mian Mir—the military station, you know. But I come into Lahore most days: at least, I certainly shall—now.”

And so they parted.


Harry Lorrimer sat at the untidy writing-table that he shared with Denvil in their joint bungalow near the Gunner lines.

Both elbows were firmly planted on the green baize covering, both fists pressed hard against his temples. The brass lamp beside him gave out a sickly light; for it was close upon the third hour of the morning, and, except for intervals of pacing to and fro, the boy had sat there since his return from mess at eleven o’clock.

He had flung aside his mess jacket, but had made no further attempt at undressing. Denvil was dancing indefatigably at the assembly rooms and would certainly not be back till cockcrow. The entire night was his own; and he had not been disposed to waste it in sleep. A great need was upon him to be alone; to commune with his own heart and to silence, once for all, its insistent pleadings.

For if Delight Madison had awakened this eager, passionate heart of his, she had very effectually awakened his conscience also; and during the past three weeks the struggle between these two master-forces of his nature had been fierce and incessant. It was not in him to do anything by halves, and already this new-born passion of love had thrust strong roots into the depths of his being.

India is proverbially a land of swift intimacies, and Christmas week in Lahore presents unique facilities in this respect. Harry Lorrimer had availed himself to the utmost of these kindly arrangements for his benefit. For three weeks he had lived in a fool’s paradise, resolutely refusing to look beyond the blessedness of the day and hour. But there came the inevitable moment when the native honesty that was his by heritage and training forced him to face the fact that self-respect, honour—in short, all that was best and manliest in his nature—counselled immediate retreat: and thereupon the struggle had begun in earnest.

It was over now. A letter that lay before him, sealed, stamped, and addressed, was its tangible result. Conscience had gained the day. But victory brought no satisfaction; nor was his heart in the least degree sobered or convinced. A rush of bitterness and rebellion strained self-control to breaking-point, and he brought his fist down upon the offending letter with a thud that made the rickety lamp-glass rattle perilously in its socket.

“Damn it all!” he said aloud, “I can’t give her up. And I won’t. I’ve got to get square and keep square somehow—other fellows have done it. And then—then—” He sprang to his feet with head flung back, as though the victorious moment had already arrived—when lo, the heavy curtain over the doorway was pushed aside—and Ralph Denvil stood before him.

“Why, man alive!” he exclaimed, “what the deuce have you been up to? Cramming for promotion—?” Then his eye fell on the envelope and he gave a low whistle. “A love-letter, by Jove! And it’s taken you all night to compose it? Not much doubt about the answer, I should say. I did you a rattling good turn there, Harry. Glad you had the sense to follow it up so promptly.”

A murmur of protestation broke from Lorrimer. He sat down again by the table and began aimlessly sorting and shifting the chaotic jumble of papers.

Denvil laid a hand on his shoulder. “What’s up, old man? Things aren’t going wrong between you, surely?”

There was genuine concern in his tone.

“N—no, not in the way you mean,” Harry made answer with evident reluctance. “I’ve—oh, it ‘s no use trying to explain. You’d never understand.”

The corners of Denvil’s mouth twitched and his eyes twinkled. He was a man of fairly wide experience; and, withal, eight years older than Lorrimer. “I’d do my best to anyway,” he replied with admirable gravity.

There was a pause of several minutes; then Harry lifted his head and looked squarely at his friend.

“Do you mean to say you really thought I should have the consummate cheek to offer myself, plus a fine crop of debts, to an heiress—let alone one of—of Miss Madison’s sort?”

Denvil lifted his eyebrows. Harry had spoken truth. He could not understand.

“You raised no objection when I introduced you,” he said, “and you’ve appeared to be making hay pretty vigorously ever since.”

“That’s true! I was far too down on my luck that night to object to anything. And since—oh well! I’ve been a fool, I suppose; but I’m not made of stone.”

“You care for her then?”

“Care for her? My God!” He spoke very low. “If it wasn’t for her damned money I’d——”

He could not trust himself to say more; and Denvil was conscious of a sudden glow of admiration, which he nipped severely in the bud. He was shrewd enough to know that argument would be worse than futile; but it hurt him to see Lorrimer suffer.

“Harry, I beg of you don’t be such a fool,” he pleaded. “Why smash up your life by straining at a gnat, when most of us would swallow a good-sized camel on the chance of getting such a wife with such a fortune at her back? Think the matter over in all its bearings before you decide.”

Lorrimer’s attempt at a smile was not a pleasant thing to see.

“I’ve done very little else for the last week, and it’s nearly driven me crazy. But—right’s right; wrong’s wrong. At least, I was reared to believe so.”

Denvil sighed. He was not capable of arguing on that head at four in the morning. He reverted to the more practical side of the question. “Surely you might ask your father for a helping hand.”

“I did that once—a year ago; and—well, I did get a little help pro tem. But if you’d seen my father’s letter you’d understand why I don’t intend asking for any more. He’s a splendid sort, my father. But he’s a bit hard. He kept as straight as a die over money matters all through his service—and he expects the same from me.”

“But, my dear chap, he’s an R.E. And to the R.E.’s all things are possible—as you know!”

Harry smiled. “Yes, I do know. But I’ve a small allowance, you see, and he had none. No—I’ve got to do it off my own bat, and I mean to do it too. If only I can get clear and keep clear for a bit—then I might——”

“You might . . . ? Yes, of course you might,” put in Denvil a little hotly. “But in the meantime She also might . . . marry some one less squeamish about her dollars.”

Harry winced. “Confound you! Shut up!” he retorted fiercely. “D’you suppose I haven’t thought of that? I must take the risk.”

Denvil raised his eyebrows. “And how do you propose to square yourself?” he asked. “you’re not over extravagant. You’ve always been pretty moderate, except for horseflesh.”

“I’ve got to be a bit more than moderate in future—that’s all. I can sell my trap and my polo ponies—all but the grey. I can chuck cards and wine, and I can stick down here instead of taking leave this hot weather. I might manage ten days in April, just to set me up. I fancy those few items’ll make a little difference in the hang of things—don’t you?”

He spoke quite coolly and steadily. He had done some very practical thinking during the last four hours.

Again Denvil was conscious of that unbidden glow of admiration which he had no business whatever to feel: but he did not suffer it to invade his tone.

“You’ll find it a tough programme to carry out: and the fellows’ll give you a pretty rough time of it.”

Harry shrugged his shoulders. “That won’t last when they see it’s no go. Besides, I’m not an infant now.”

“And little Miss Madison is worth—all that?” Denvil asked in slow incredulous tones.

As he spoke their eyes met. Denvil held out his hand.

“I’m not anywhere near convinced, Harry. But if that’s so, well .. . I’ll stand by you and see you through. Though, as you say, we must take the risk of her being snapped up in the meanwhile.”


Dalhousie—Queen of Beauty among Punjab hill stations—was rousing herself slowly, almost reluctantly, from her winter spell of solitude and silence. Gradually the snowdrifts dwindled and vanished. Leopards and bears retreated to their summer fastnesses. The blood-red rhododendron clusters faded and fell; in sheltered corners the lesser wild-flowers opened their eyes.

Everywhere music and fragrance announced that Spring—the immortal, the unconquerable—had come to her own again. And there was neither solitude nor silence any more, for the yearly invasion from the Plains had begun. In place of leopards and bears came mules, camels, and khaki-clad British soldiers, from Mian Mir cantonments and lesser stations round about. In the space of a few hours a mushroom standing camp had appeared on the plateau below Terah. The hotels were filling rapidly with bachelors, idle and otherwise, and every day brought fresh occupations to bungalows scattered at random over the three wooded heights that are Dalhousie.

Among the latest arrivals were Mr. and Miss Madison from Lahore; no longer under the wing of Dolly Haldane. That good-natured little woman’s household, with its atmosphere of gossip and chaffing and attendant swains, had proved increasingly uncongenial to these simple folk of Puritan stock; and their choice of a hill station had sealed the final parting of their ways. Dolly’s beauty demanded Simla as its natural setting; and she had taken for granted the acquiescence of her American friends. A rather slow couple, she voted them; though the girl had an odd charm of her own and the old man’s generosity made him useful from a practical point of view, which was Dolly’s, first and last.

But Delight had pleaded for Dalhousie. Simla afterwards, perhaps, or Kashmir. Let her only see the panorama described to her by Lorrimer and she would go wherever her father might wish. To a plan that provided so reasonable an excuse for parting company with the Haldanes, Madison had assented readily enough; nor did his practical brain bestir itself to seek any other reason than that given for his daughter’s choice.

So the matter had been amicably arranged: and as April drew to an end the father and daughter had set forth unhampered; Delight cherishing in her heart a shy hope that the man who had flashed in and out of her life like a meteor might prove to be among the officers sent to the hill depot from Mian Mir. In the days before he vanished he had spoken of such a possibility, and had waxed fervent over the beauty of Dalhousie with guileful intent. And thither she had arrived in the glow and glory of a late April evening, uplifted in spirit, yet puzzled and troubled in the still depth of her heart. For, within a week, an important decision would be required of her; a decision she was far from ready to face.

It was more than four months now since she had received Harry Lorrimer’s pathetic little note of explanation, which had practically explained nothing at all. It had left her a little sad, a little bewildered, and very uncertain whether she would ever see him again. And she wanted to see him again: of that there was no shadow of doubt. But, in the meanwhile, other men were very present with her. One aspiring suitor had already been nipped in the bud: a second, and a fine fellow to boot, was obviously impending. He had announced his intention of following her to Dalhousie; and Delight was the more troubled because she divined that—but for her three weeks’ dream at Christmas time—she could have found it in her heart to give this manly straightforward lover something more than mere liking and respect.

How long was she to wait on the bare chance of Lorrimer’s return into her life? To that question her heart could only find one answer: “A little longer. Just a little longer.” Let her but meet him once more face to face and she would know—most surely she would know—whether that other must be decisively dismissed, or whether she might bid him wait, if he chose, upon future developments.

But for the moment—for a few days at least—she resolved to brush aside that hovering shadow of decision. The Himalayas were a new wonder to her; the stir of incipient festivity was in the air; and on this radiant first of May, Dalhousie had elected to celebrate the opening Gymkhana of the season.

Early in the afternoon files of ponies and dandy-bearers had stumbled and zigzagged down to the modest little racecourse at Banikhet.

Now, men and women, gathered from various Punjab stations, were packed into the small pavilion tent—gossiping, chaffing, and generally doing their best to outvie the cheerful resonance of the depôt band. Bets, frivolous and serious, were being freely exchanged on the outcome of the next race—a steeplechase for the Bachelor’s Purse, and the supreme event of the day.

Delight Madison—a demure grey figure with violets at her belt—sat in a corner of the tent well to the front, watching and listening, still with something of the puzzled amusement of earlier days. Suddenly her attention was arrested by the sound of a name: a name not heard for months, yet intimately familiar to her heart.

It came from a group of half a dozen officers near by.

“Lorrimer’s the man for my money,” said one with decision; “I saw him at it here a few days ago. That ripping little mare of his is in first-rate form. Took her jumps like a bird.”

“Right you are! It’s ten to one on Lorrimer,” agreed another. “He’s in dead earnest too. Badly broke, I believe, and stands to right himself if he wins the purse.”

Still talking they moved off towards the totalizator, and for a moment Delight’s heart stood still, then it began to beat in slow throbbing strokes somewhere in the middle of her chest. But the first uprush of joy was checked by vague anxiety as to the exact meaning of that ominous phrase “badly broke!” She supposed it referred to money, since he stood to right himself if he won the race. Well, whatever the trouble, he should win, he must win!

She was roused by friendly shouts from behind. “Play up, Lorrimer! Ten to one on Grizel.”

She looked up quickly. A rider was trotting towards the tent. She knew his racing colours—half azure, half white. It was he—unmistakably he: and the ripping little mare was his favourite Griselda, the companion of their occasional rides. On nearing the tent, he turned in the saddle to acknowledge the encouragement of his friends—and found himself looking straight into the honest eyes he had fled from four months ago.

So startling, so unnerving was the shock that, in spite of himself, the blood surged up to his temples. Then with a desperate effort he recovered himself—just three seconds too late. He smiled, saluted, urged Griselda to a canter—and was gone.

But those three seconds had sufficed. In that brief space Delight had read the open secret of his heart. Whatever the nature of the mysterious barrier might be, and whether or no it was connected with being “badly broke,” mattered nothing at all. She knew now that indifference had no part in it.

Some day she would know more. For the present that was enough—that, and the certainty that he was going to win his race.


“For God’s sake pull yourself together, Harry! you’re shaking like a leaf. This is no moment for an attack of nerves. What’s up?”

Denvil grasped the mare’s bridle, and searchingly scanned the face of his friend.

Lorrimer frowned and averted his eyes. “Don’t badger a fellow; I’ll be all right in a minute,” he said.

But his tone lacked conviction and Denvil glanced up again. Then the truth flashed on him. He leaned closer and spoke under his breath; for other riders were about them, awaiting the signal to start. “Harry, you’ve never seen the Madisons?”

Lorrimer nodded. There was a pause, then he asked sharply: “Did you know they were up? Why the deuce didn’t you tell me?”

“Well, I only knew it yesterday, and I was afraid it might throw you off your balance at the last moment. I didn’t reckon on such cursed luck as this. But pull yourself together, man. The money’s on you’all round. Only keep a cool head and you’re safe to win. Then you can go and propose right off.”

An eager light leapt into Harry’s eyes.

“What the dickens are they waiting for?” was all he said. But his heart, after four months of stringent subjection, was clamouring in his breast. Keep cool! Denvil might as well give that advice to the sun at noon. Had he not looked deep into her eyes? Had he not seen surprise, pleasure—yes, and Something Else?

The last four months were not cheering to look back on. But they were passed, that was the best that could be said of them. Nor had they been altogether barren of result. There had been difficulties, of course, with “the fellows”: but Denvil, half amused, half cynical, had stood by him like a brick. The formidable tale of liabilities, instead of increasing as aforetime, had steadily diminished. But there remained many lean months ahead—unless——

“Now then, Harry. Look alive!”

Denvil’s voice roused him and he gathered up his reins. The futile injunction “Keep cool” followed him, as he trotted off to range himself in line with the other riders, twelve in all. The starter’s pistol-shot rang out. They were off—full tilt; a flying rainbow streak of vivid colours, purple and orange, green, cherry and azure. The intoxicating music of forty-eight galloping hoofs thrummed in Lorrimer’s ears and brain. To the born rider there is no music like it on earth.

Griselda started third; but soon came abreast of green and cherry; distanced him at the first hurdle, and crept up steadily towards purple and orange. They took the second hurdle almost neck and neck. For a few tumultuous seconds they pressed on thus, Griselda gaining at every stride, till at length she was leading, unmistakably leading, and a great shout went up from her backers all over the field.

They were nearing the pavilion now, and right before it was set the most formidable obstacle of the whole course—a five-barred gate and a wet ditch beyond.

In spite of himself, Lorrimer’s eyes sought the corner where he had seen Delight. He was rewarded by the merest glimpse of a slim grey figure standing up: then—he never quite knew what happened, except that, all in a moment, he lost his nerve. The blood drummed furiously in his temples; the oncoming hoofs sounded nearer; the five white bars gleamed threateningly ahead. Once cleared, the race was his own—the race, and all that hung upon it. But his shaken confidence unsteadied his hand on the rein, and mysteriously communicated itself to the sensitive creature under him. She slackened speed by a fraction; but, in response to the spur, jerked forward, rose as before—yet not quite as before. . . .

There was something wrong. That much Lorrimer had time to realise, then—crash! One instant he had a vision of flying splinters, the next he had pitched clean over Griselda’s head.

It was as if the earth rose up and dealt him a jarring blow on the shoulder. There was an awful crescendo of racing hoofs that seemed to beat upon his brain; and almost before he could collect his scattered senses he found himself on his feet, Denvil’s arm supporting him, Denvil’s voice thanking God there were no bones broken. The voice seemed to reach him through a thick curtain and he had the nightmare sense of trying to frame words that would not come.

Griselda?” He forced it out at last—and was ruthlessly hurried forward.

Denvil’s voice, though still blurred, sounded nearer. “Better let her be, Harry. The poor little mare’s done for. She’ll never run again.”

At that something rose in his throat, something sharp and hard. The rest was merciful darkness.

How much later it was he could not tell: but after a spell of vague voices, of hands that deliberately aggravated the pain in his shoulder, of warmth in his throat that miraculously cleared his brain, he found himself sitting in the refreshment tent, a peg tumbler in his hand, watching with strange detachment the approach of Mr. and Miss Madison, piloted by Denvil.

The two men were talking while Delight listened, her brows lifted in a pained frown. Lorrimer emptied his tumbler; and the cool stinging liquid restored him to his normal self. They were coming; she was coming—she whom he had so sedulously avoided, whom by rights he ought still to avoid; since it was impossible to meet her eyes and touch her hand and still conceal the truth. Yet inclination—plausible always—urged that the encounter had been none of his seeking. Only a fool would fly from so obvious a gift of the gods.

She was speaking now: and as the clear tones of her voice reached him, his heart leapt up in a swift revulsion of feeling: an unconquerable reassertion of youth and passion after months of self-restraint, culminating in cruel disappointment and yet more cruel loss.

Two minutes later he was on his feet, in spite of murmured remonstrances: he had taken her hand and held it, close and long. He had looked into her eyes; and again, as on that first night of meeting, there flashed that mutual ray of recognition, as it were, between their invisible selves. Yet their visible selves exchanged platitudes with creditable composure—for a time.

The band struck up; a fresh relay of riders formed into line; the starter’s pistol cracked.

Lorrimer changed colour and set his lips. Then—acting purely on impulse—he leaned towards Delight.

“Look here—I can’t stand any more of this—do come for a stroll. Will you?”

The request, low and urgently spoken, brooked no denial. She gravely inclined her head, and they left the tent together without a word of explanation. At first Lorrimer walked quickly, as if merely wishing to escape the sound of hoofs: and the slim grey figure kept pace with him. It did not seem to strike either of them that there was any need for speech.

Came a turning, at length, that promised seclusion from the crowd. “This way,” said Lorrimer quietly, and quickened his pace. Soon a jutting spur hid them from the race-course—and they were alone. Still silence; till suddenly Delight took courage and looked up at the set face of the clean-limbed man who strode beside her—purposeful, yet inarticulate.

“You really aren’t hurt?” she asked; and it was impossible to banish tenderness from her tone.

He, manlike, cloaked emotion with a touch of gruffness. “Lord, no. I’m not hurt. At least—not in the shoulder.”

She was swift to catch the drift of his thought.

“You mean—Griselda? Oh—it was horrible! And—she was your favourite?”

He nodded. “More than that—now. She was all the horseflesh I had left.”

Delight wrinkled her brows and sudden comprehension dawned in her eyes. “But where are the others—Black Beauty—Rajah—the Dormouse? You haven’t been going in for wholesale slaughter, have you?”

“No. I—sold ’em all not long after Christmas.”

He brought the words out with a slow significance that set her pulses fluttering. But she did not speak. She merely stood still, and, turning, looked straight into his eloquent eyes.

In the glow of that mutual revelation scruples and resolves melted like dew in sunlight. Lorrimer caught her hands in his.

“Delight—you knew? You understood?”

“N—no, I didn’t understand. But I do now. And oh . . . Harry, I’m so glad—so proud—” Her pride and gladness went too deep for words, and he drew her impulsively towards him. But a sudden thought checked him before their lips met.

“Not yet,” he said, “I’m not cleared yet. But I’ll manage it somehow—soon. We’ll wait till then.”

“Yes—we’ll wait till then.” And there was a world of contentment in the quiet of her tone. “In the meantime you shall keep Brown Bess for me. No—don’t argue or refuse. I’m used to having my own way; so you may as well learn to humour me first as last!”

There is a common saying among the officers of the regiment that “little Miss Madison was the making of Harry Lorrimer,” and—as in the case of “babes and sucklings”—they speak more truly than they know.


The Heart of a Maid

Phase The First — Dreaming


“A maiden fair to see.”

The sun, a disk of deepening orange, hung low on the horizon. Black trees, and black rocks, stood out in crisp silhouette against a background of living fire; and the lake below them shone as a sheet of beaten gold. Here and there, in the foreground, amid angular rocks and massive curves of foliage, a cocoanut palm reared slim trunk and feathery head.

Dulhari Lake, on such a night, is a vision that lingers long in the memory.

A wide white road, traversing the near side of the lake, connects the military cantonment—clean, rectangular, and ugly—with the picturesque unsavoury mazes of the native city. Ignorance, dirt, and mystery on the one hand; on the other, enlightenment, discipline, and pipeclay; and between them the great golden expanse of lake and sky.

The road was empty save for one solitary figure standing before an artist’s easel, whereon was set a small but masterly presentation of the vivid scene—a vigorous bit of workmanship scarcely in keeping with the fragile face of the girl who, in defiance of waning light, was adding the last deft touches to her picture.

The sun dipped to a blazing semicircle; faint pink blushes crept over the higher clouds; and still she worked on, with young disregard for her eyesight.

Suddenly she started, and stepped backward. Two brown faces were peering at her from behind the easel, and in her hasty movement she went near to treading on ten bare, brown toes. She was hemmed in on all sides. Eyes and faces everywhere; and all of one hue. Men, women, and children—the former draped in dun-coloured rags, the latter clad chiefly in the garment God had given them—pressed close, and closer, with eager eyes and busy tongues, of whose babble she understood not one word. She was new to the East, and to the unvarnished manners of its children; and this strange onset of admiring critics filled her with vague alarm.

She raised herself on tiptoe, and scanned the interminable road in the hope of spying her father’s native orderly, who should now be coming to carry home her painting gear. No figure of any sort was visible; and a sudden sense of helplessness overpowered her. A rush of tears filled her eyes, but before they had time to fall, the welcome sound of an English voice behind her made her clench her small teeth on the rising sob.

“Hullo, there! Hut jao, you silly staring fools. Hut jao,jeldi!”10

The brown beings grinned no longer. They scurried away like startled rabbits, and the girl found herself face to face with a remarkably nice-looking Englishman, who smiled down upon her from the box-seat of a smart blue and yellow dogcart, and lifted his hat as he spoke.

“They didn’t startle you much, I hope?”

“Oh, no—not much,” she replied, with a little laugh of relief. “I’m glad they’re gone, though. I suppose they only wanted to look at my picture; but I—I’m not accustomed to natives yet.”

She began putting her belongings together; and he sat watching her with quiet appraisement in his eyes. He was a man of many small weaknesses; and a pretty woman was not the least among them. There was a mingling of simplicity and dignity about this slim, fair stranger which pleased his fastidious taste, and he was in no hurry to take leave of her.

“You don’t intend to carry those things home yourself?” he asked.

“No; I am expecting father’s orderly. He is very late.”

Major Dare smiled.

“You have still to learn that time is of no account in India! But I and my cart are entirely at your service, if you will tell me who ‘father’ is.”

He leaned forward, and held out his hand for the easel and canvas. She hesitated, and flung a momentary glance over her shoulder.

A figure on that dim white road might have averted many things. But it lay behind her pallid and lifeless as ever; and she surrendered her belongings with a simple “Thank you.”

“Father is Colonel Selwyn of the 51st M.I.,” she added. “I dare say you know the house.”

He smiled and nodded; and they drove off together through the rosy dusk.

Their talk was formal and fragmentary. The girl, unused to vicissitudes of the kind, seemed shy and a trifle constrained. Not so Maurice Dare. The little incident pleased him; as did also the proximity of so dainty a bit of femininity.

As a mere picture she appealed keenly to his aesthetic sense. Her face, for all its delicacy of outline, was singularly suggestive of strength—passive rather than active—but still, strength. That small firm chin stood sentinel, as it were, over the more yielding eyes and lips. Such tender lips; and so temptingly within reach!

But at this point Dare checked himself. Speech, however commonplace, would at least be safe. Moreover, it would be pleasant to hear her voice again; to see those grave eyes lighten—those soft lips lose their distracting steadiness of outline.

“So you are the Miss Selwyn, who came out two mails ago?” he said, by way of opening remark. “Is India the least like what you imagined it?”

“Not the least bit in the world. But it’s very interesting so far.”

Dare smiled at the adjective; only the newest of newcomers speak thus of the grim step-mother of their kind.

“May you long continue to find it so!” said he. “Precious few of us do. Have you started calling yet?”

“Yes; I’ve been out once. But there seem so many people to see, and so many entertainments going on, that one’s time must get hopelessly frittered away.”

While she talked his eyes lingered reflectively upon her profile; and now a shadowy wish invaded his mind that he had not lighted on this girl, or that, having lighted on her, he could make himself other than he was.

“Why, of course,” he made answer readily. “But that sort of thing is the main business of life in India. It is the necessary antidote to hot weather, sudden death, and the depreciated rupee. Don’t condemn our frivolity till you know what those mean! But, with all its faults, the country is perfect on canvas, as you have found out already. You must let me have a look at the picture. Will you?”

“Perhaps. . . by-and-by.”

Her tone seemed intended to check the easy familiarity of his; but if so it entirely failed of its effect.

“You’ll find this place an artist’s paradise,” he continued, conversationally. “What with the lake, and the palm-trees, and the rocks, and the charmingly grubby corners of the city! You must be careful, though, about going out by yourself; especially near the city, as you were to-night.”

“Must I? But I have to go out alone; and I can’t keep father’s orderly hanging round all the afternoon.”

“You’ll soon discover more congenial companions than father’s orderly! I, for one, could show you some beautiful ‘bits,’ and I shouldn’t in the least object to ‘hanging round all the after-noon’!”

She attempted no rebuke this time, and he smiled inwardly. He was playing a game whose every move he knew by heart.

“Wouldn’t you, really? How good of you!”

The grey eyes were turned upon him in frank gratitude; but he avoided meeting them. The girl’s transparent simplicity, for all its charm, was a trifle embarrassing to this man of surface emotions and ready insincerity of speech.

Having discovered the subject which had power to dispel her shyness, he held it for the rest of the drive, skilfully concealing his own limited knowledge of art by a judicious interlarding of sympathetic comment.

When, at length, the cart drew up under a deep veranda porch, Colonel Selwyn—a short, spare man, in ill-fitting flannels and shabby slippers—came out to meet them. A shy recluse, with a scientific hobby, was this same Colonel; and Dulhari rarely saw him except on the parade ground, where he was chiefly remarkable for a long-tailed, pink-nosed charger, well stricken in years, and the worst-cut uniform in the regiment. Yet he was a man of intellect and sterling worth—a fact which Maurice Dare, for all his worldly wisdom, had failed to recognise.

A few minutes later Dare found himself in Colonel Selwyn’s drawing-room, a cup of tea in one hand, and a hot buttered scone in the other—an indulgence of which he repented him bitterly two hours afterwards.

For the moment, however, this homely tea-drinking pleased him unaccountably. It was not exactly “in his line,” as he would have expressed it; but novelty was the breath of his nostrils, and as such this graceful, grave-eyed girl—who exhaled her individuality like a subtle perfume—seemed very well worth cultivating. At the end of half an hour he found himself still reluctant to be gone. But he remembered that he was dining out—a chronic state of things with Dare; and to be late for dinner was a crime with which he had never yet blackened his soul. Promising, therefore, to call in a day or two, he drove off.

“Thank goodness he’s gone at last!” exclaimed the Colonel, almost before his guest was out of earshot. “Now, Maidie, you can come and look at my new specimen.”

And Maidie went.


“One foot on sea, and one on shore.”

“What time does the train go?”


“We had better start in ten minutes, then. It would be rather a jar if you missed the mail.”

“Would it?”

“Wouldn’t it?”

Major Dare smiled as he spoke, and knocked the ash off his cigarette.

Mrs. Dishart stifled a sigh.

“I’m not sure that it would,” she remarked, her eyes on the toe-cap of a neat brown travelling shoe. “I am fond of India; and it—it isn’t exactly nice saying ‘good-bye.’”

“Of course not. But then—so many things aren’t exactly nice; and six months will pass in no time, after all.”

Mrs. Dishart laughed uneasily.

“You are philosophical! I don’t believe you really care—much about anything or—or any one.”

Dare leaned forward and laid his hand lightly on hers, stilling its restless motion.

“That is unkind, Elsie,” he said, in his most convincing tone. “And you know very well it’s untrue. But you are not quite yourself this evening—so I will forgive you.”

At that she pulled herself together; though a suspicious brightness lurked in her blue eyes.

“No . . . I am not quite myself this evening,” she admitted. “I was foolish enough to feel rather upset at leaving. But you have put me to shame . . . it’s time I got my things on now. Light another cigarette. I shall be back directly.”

Dare’s eyes followed her till she vanished between two heavy curtains at the end of the room.

“She’s a jolly little woman,” he mused, “and I’m sorry she’s going. But it’s a confounded bore having to turn out at this time of night and see her off.”

Then he shrugged his shoulders, tenderly readjusted his button-hole, and leaned back in his luxuriously cushioned chair: while the “jolly little woman” in the next room was bathing her eyes, powdering her nose, and generally removing the traces of very unphilosophical sensations.

She was a trim, full-figured little person—brisk, companionable, faultlessly dressed: and her age might be five and thirty. She owned a wiry, industrious husband “in the railway,” who spent the greater number of his days “running up and down the line,” a nomadic form of existence which his wife—for all her good-nature—hardly felt called upon to share. Wherefore she remained at home alone, and amused herself as best she might.

Her amusement not infrequently took the form of a tête-à-tête dinner with Dare, as it had done to-night. For she was a past-mistress in the art of ministering to Anglo-Indian palates; and she knew Dare’s tastes to a nicety.

And now six long months must pass before she could hope to enjoy another such evening as the present. The thought nearly brought the powder-puff into requisition again. But Dare’s philosophy came timely to her aid. She set her lips, gave a last determined tweak to the back of her veil; and returned to her semi-somnolent guest.

Throughout the drive she talked incessantly; and only once before the train started did she voice the thought that haunted her.

“I wonder who . . . the next will be!” she remarked with admirable lightness, as she leaned from the carriage window.

“Why should there be a next?”

But Madeline Selwyn’s face was before his eyes.

“Because man is only man; and you are . . . you. I know how you hate mess dinners. You will have to spend your evenings somewhere.”

“There is always Mrs. Wallace,” he replied evasively.

Mrs. Wallace was his Colonel’s wife; and a mild, perennial flirtation flourished between her and Dare.

“Mrs. Wallace doesn’t count.”

“It is lucky she’s not by to hear you say so!”

Mrs. Dishart did not answer this remark. Her fingers were converting the window-strap into a neat brown roll.

A bell rang somewhere down the platform. The guard’s whistle shrieked.

Mrs. Dishart leaned suddenly forward, one ungloved hand outstretched.

“You’ll write, at any rate, won’t you? And if there is a next, don’t mind telling me! Goodbye . . . and . . . thank you very much for coming.”

“My dear lady, the pleasure far exceeded the trouble, “ he rejoined, with gallant untruthfulness, as he took her proffered hand.

The engine snorted, impatient to be off; and Mrs. Dishart, waving her handkerchief as she went, was whirled away into the dark.

Thus do men and women flit mysteriously in and out of one another’s lives. A glance; a touch of hands; a glimpse into an inner sanctuary; then parting and a slow forgetting; or a rapid one, as the case may be.

*  *  *

The next afternoon Dare set out, righteously resolved to pay no more than a ten minutes’ call on Miss Selwyn. That pitiful little phrase, “I wonder who the next will be,” stuck unpleasantly in his memory, and threw an unbecoming light on the harmless pastime he had promised himself during her absence. It was a thousand pities, of course. But the girl was too good for such as he; and he decided to look elsewhere for amusement.

But between resolve and fulfilment there is a great gulf fixed. The ten minutes’ call stretched to two hours; and from that day forward the intimacy between Dare and Madeline progressed smoothly and swiftly, as is the way of intimacies in India. The ball-room, the race-course, the tennis-court, each in turn lent a helping hand in bringing them together. And Madeline was borne along on this bright new stream of life whether she would or no. Her friendship with Dare drew her at once into Dulhari’s liveliest “set.” Wherever he went she was invited as a matter of course. And he went everywhere. He was one of those pleasant, ubiquitous people who know every one, and find time for everything. A man of many acquaintances and few friends. Beloved of women, distrusted of men; yet disliked by none—because he possessed that supremest of social virtues—tact.

He made himself at home in the blue bungalow with a skill and rapidity born of long practice; secured for Madeline the most irreproachable chaperons; supplied her with ball-room bouquets; and was even privileged to accompany her out sketching or riding.

For Colonel Selwyn was not a man of half-measures. Whom he trusted at all he trusted absolutely. He knew his child; and he fancied he knew Dare. For him that was enough. In the deep of the father’s heart there lurked a little gnawing regret that he seemed doomed, so soon, to lose the child whose coming had revived a glimmer of youth in his lonely heart. But the idea of thwarting her in this matter, or, indeed, in any other, never so much as entered his simple head.

And Maidie? Day by day the inexpressible grew and strengthened within her. Of Dare she spoke little. But her silence revealed more than her lips could have expressed. She began to know something of the mystery and the complexity of life; of its hopes, its visions, its swift alternations of light and shade. Until now she could scarcely be said to have “lived” at all.

A small house in a small country town; small joys, small sorrows, small scope for individual development; and through it all the art she loved, and the thought of the far-off father gleaming like a thread of gold—thus much had Maidie Selwyn known of life. Of man, in the abstract, she had dreamed—as maidens will—demure dainty little dreams, undimmed by the merest shadow of an ungainly fact. Of man as a concrete human being, she had hitherto known less than nothing.

And now the gates of a strange new world were flung wide before her unaccustomed eyes. The warmth and brightness of India’s lavish sunshine wakened an answering glow within her, and set her young blood tingling in her veins. Never before had she felt so keenly, so deliciously alive. At night she closed her eyes reluctantly. Sleep seemed mere waste of life. And with the first faint ray of morning she was up—riding, painting, or sitting in her own little upper balcony, drinking in the dean, cool, scented air of the new day; dreaming, shyly, yet with throbbing pulses, of a man’s bronzed face and eloquent eyes.

*  *  *

Phase the Second — Awakening


“And all her May-day blood, as from a swoon.
Flush’d; and May rose up in her and was June.”

The night of March 20th was brilliant and breathless. Massive rocks and feathery palm-fronds were patterned in black fantastic outline against a shimmering sky; and the languor of mid-day still hung in the air.

An intoxicating night: a night created for whispers, sighs, and kisses. But the time for these was not yet: and in the meanwhile delights more material were not lacking; the prosaic clatter of knives and forks, the chatter of lively, irreverent tongues profaned the majestic quiet of earth and sky.

In three months Madeline Selwyn had learned much that was new and strange; but this picnic by moonlight, the first of the season, was a revelation at once bewildering and enchanting. Six months ago she would have believed herself incapable of taking part in so frivolous an absurdity. But the light-heartedness of India is astonishingly infectious; and Maidie was far less conscious of the absurdity than of the fascinating novelty of it all, when she found herself seated on the ground in the moonlight, her plate on her knees, eating iced meringues to the strains of an invisible band. Taken altogether, the whole affair was so dreamlike that nothing seemed to Maidie too strange or too delightful to be true.

Dare, reclining at her side, his impassive soul stirred beyond its wont by her fragile beauty, realised—with the lightning instinct that was his—something of the mood that was upon her; and told himself, for the hundredth time in his career, that champagne picnics by moonlight were too dangerous to be indulged in.

The remainder of Mrs. Wallace’s guests were by no means so emotionally affected as these two. The explosion of corks occurred at briefer and briefer intervals, and the tide of hilarity rose steadily. Dare noted this fact with growing uneasiness and vexation. A certain degree of informality and irresponsibility was to be looked for at all Mrs. Wallace’s parties; but these little lapses had never jarred on him as they jarred to-night. It is one thing to take part in the folly of fools, and quite another to look on at it from a pedestal of conscious superiority.

Dare was annoyed with himself for having come; for having induced Maidie, in her innocence, to come also. To make matters worse, there were one or two men present whose discretion under convivial influences he could by no means vouch for. A restless desire to get his partner away from it all took possession of him; and, while he strove to invent some not too transparent excuse for moving, his opportunity came unsought.

A fair, florid man, on the farther side of the long table-cloth, leaned forward, his arm upraised.

“I say, Mrs. Wallace,” he shouted. “Let’s practise up for the ladies’ cricket match. Here you are. . . catch!”

But his aim was erratic, and his hand far from steady. The over-ripe orange, which he had carefully chosen from a neighbouring dish, caught Maidie full on her arm; and fell, a pulpy, juicy mass, upon the whiteness of her muslin skirt.

It needed only this to rouse Dare completely. With a muttered exclamation of disgust, he flung the offending morsel out into the darkness.

“Come away, Miss Selwyn . . . you’ve had enough of this,” he whispered hurriedly, as he rose to his feet.

Under pretence of attending to her injured skirt, Maidie rose also; and they moved away together, ignoring the incoherent apologies of the now crestfallen cricketer.

Dare, hot with resentment, broke into speech at once.

“I am more sorry than I can say, Miss Selwyn. Rogers is an ill-mannered ass, not fit to dine with ladies. Let’s climb up on to that great rock. We shall get a sight of the lake from the top.”

In silence they clambered on to the rough black boulder; in silence sat down upon a patch of dry grass, in which the fire of noon still lingered.

Maidie, her hands clasped about her knees, dared scarcely allow her eyes to stray from the star-strewn waters below them. Not even the colossal calm of lake and sky had power to quell the uprising of an emotion so imperious that speech seemed a thing impossible.

Dare lay full stretch beside her; his chin resting on the palm of his hand, his eyes on her half-averted face. He noted with irrepressible satisfaction the promise of surrender on her lips, the unmistakable glow in her deep eyes; and wondered, a trifle wearily, what the end would be like when it came.

So used was he to this form of pastime as an end in itself, that the idea of marriage never entered his head. Yet this soft, silent girl had come to be a very necessary element in his life; and now, as his gaze lingered like a caress upon her moonlit face and figure, an unwelcome vision of her predecessors—and they were many—rose tauntingly before his mind’s eye. How swiftly that sensitive mouth would harden, did she so much as dream of their existence. Some day she would know, he supposed; and then . . .

The thought evoked an involuntary sigh; and the sound put an end to Maidie’s musings.

“How exquisite it all is!” she said, giving voice impulsively to her own pent-up emotion. “Why is it, I wonder, that night loveliness always makes one feel sad?”

“Perhaps because the stars have a trick of emphasising one’s infinite littleness. I’m afraid, though, that my own rare excursions into sadness generally result from very prosaic causes. At the present moment, all the stars in heaven could not disturb my exquisite content.”

And unobserved by her he stroked the white frill of her skirt.

The dreamy aloofness of her smile was more provocative than speech. The warm night air itself seemed heavy with the ardours of passion unexpressed.

“This has been a memorable cold weather for me,” Dare added at length; and if the statement was prosaic, the tone was not. “Far too short, that’s the worst of it. People are drifting up to the hills already. You’ll soon be gone, too, I suppose?”

“I don’t know. Father says I must, but I can’t bear to leave him.”

“Lucky man!”

One irresistible hand was resting on the grass now. He laid his own upon it, with the quiet assurance of the expert, and leaned a little closer.

“You will have to leave him one day, you know. Some one else will want you far more urgently than ‘Father’ does. What will you say then?”

A certain lightness in his tone chilled the glow that had fired her at his touch.

“It will be time enough to think about that, when . . . I am asked . . . in earnest,” she replied, a new constraint in her voice; and she made an honest effort to free her hand. But he would not give it up.

“Maidie, don’t be unkind,” he pleaded, her sudden coolness drawing him on. “I never meant to offend you. I wouldn’t do that for worlds.”

But though her name on his lips thrilled and startled her, his words failed to reassure her; and that mysterious form of instinct, which in some women amounts to genius, warned her to hold aloof.

“I am not offended, and I didn’t mean to be unkind,” she rejoined, ignoring his tender protestation. “But . . . please let go my hand; or I might be both.”

He obeyed in sheer astonishment. Her quiet air of assurance at once piqued and charmed him. He had no notion of retreating till the citadel was won. But he knew the value of apparent surrender.

She rose reluctantly. Her lashes were wet; and as she brought them together two tears trickled over her cheeks. Then a restless gleam in the bushes below them caught her eye. She turned swiftly, glad of any excuse to relieve the awkwardness of the moment.

“Major Dare . . . what is it? . . . Fire?”

As she spoke, the dry twigs at the rock’s base crackled and snapped like toy pistols; and orange tongues darted up its black face.

Dare swore under his breath.

“Another of Rogers’ little jokes, confound him! A dangerous one, too, in this bone-dry weather. He saw us up here, no doubt. We must hurry down before it spreads all round us. Come.”

But Maidie was leaning over the sheer drop watching the fantastic effect, heedless of the outburst of more pistol-shots behind.

“Look! look!” she cried. “There are other fires, there—and there—and there! Do they often do this sort of thing?”

“Only when their spirits run away with their senses. Do come along, child; you can see it all just as well from below.”

But even as she turned, a chance flame, leaping beyond the rest, caught the crisp frill of her skirt, and darted like lightning up her side.

Quick as thought, Dare flung off his coat, whipped it round her, and caught her in his arms.

“Darling . . . did it touch you? . . . Are you hurt?”

“No . . . no, thank you. I’m all right. You’ve put it out.”

In the first start of surprise, she instinctively resisted his enclosing arms; then the delicious sense of nearness overpowered all doubts and scruples. With a sigh that was half a sob she let her cheek rest lightly against his shirt-sleeves; and he knew that he had conquered.

From that instant his ardour began to cool.

But it was not cool yet, by any means: and he drew her closer still.

“You are sure it did not touch your arm?” he whispered caressingly.

“Quite sure. But oughtn’t we to get away while there’s time?”

“Of course we ought, Miss Wisdom! But I’d far rather stay where I am. Wouldn’t you?”


The word was scarcely more than a breath.

“That’s all right. Good-night, sweetheart.”

And before she could guess his intent, he had kissed her lightly on the lips.


“What should such fellows as I do, crawling between heaven and earth?”

Dare refused to face thought that night. With the exultation of conquest fresh upon him he slept long and soundly.

The following afternoon found him in the familiar drawing-room of the blue bungalow, talking botany with Colonel Selwyn, while Maidie, in a crisp pink cotton, daintily be-frilled, dispensed tea and cake with a demure dignity. Only a luminous softness in her eyes betrayed the newborn happiness within. And Dare avoided those eyes. For once in his life he was a victim to the paralysing influence of indecision; and he wondered how matters would shape themselves when he and Maidie were left alone.

In due time the critical moment came, and, despite his perplexity, Dare was the first to speak.

“You are none the worse for your accident last night. . . Maidie?”

At the sound of her name a wave of delicious rose-colour suffused the girl’s clear skin.

“No . . . not a bit . . . thanks to you,” she answered shyly, with veiled eyes.

Dare’s mind in regard to the future being still more or less a blank, he was minded to refrain from further caresses. But that rose-pink cheek, those tender lips, tempted him past endurance. He patted the vacant sofa invitingly.

“Come,” he said.

And she came. But instead of taking the place indicated, she knelt beside him, and lifted eyes radiant with single-hearted love to his.

It was a cruel moment for Dare. Madeline Selwyn was one of those rare women who compel sincerity; and it was this very power of hers that had forced an unwonted element of earnestness into his pretty little comedy; that made him now so unpleasantly aware of his own baseness. Increasing love and reverence for the sweet spirit that lived behind those grave grey eyes withheld the man even now from offering her the insult of further temporary caresses. But at the moment no other course seemed open to him. He was caught in a web of his own weaving. True, he had spoken no word of marriage. But she had taken his good faith for granted; and in the face of her love-breathing lips and eyes, lame explanations and worldly scruples melted as ice before fire. He passed his hand over the dull gold of her hair, with a slow caressing movement that set her sensitive frame a-quiver.

“Maidie—you are an angel!” he declared, with more fervour than originality. “Women like you are far too good for any man—let alone one of my stamp.”

“Hush—oh, hush—please!” A cool white hand was laid pleadingly upon his lips; and he kissed the finger-tips before they were withdrawn.

“Before God, it’s true,” he muttered, with conviction.

“No, no—don’t say that. I want always to feel that you are ever so much better and wiser than I am.”

“Then you must never know more of me than you do now, child.”


The sombre earnestness of his tone startled her; and the name wherewith she named him in her thoughts slipped from her lips unawares.

That one word swept away the few straggling scruples that had restrained him. In another instant he had her in his arms; and she nestled close to him, with an ecstatic sob of joy.

*  *  *

That night sleep was impossible for Dare. Distracting questions buzzed like hornets about his brain; questions which must be answered before the dawn of another day.

It was not the first time, by any means, that his favourite pastime had cost him a night’s rest. But the realisation that he held a good woman’s happiness in the hollow of his hand had never in any former instance troubled him as it did now.

He left mess a little before midnight, and, laying aside his stiff white mess-jacket, sought out a favourite lounge in his own veranda. The oppression of the long glaring day still hung heavily about the house; and the very moonlight in its fierce, unclouded, brilliance was unpleasantly suggestive of heat. Neither scene nor atmosphere was calculated to brace an ease-loving man for a moral effort; and the box of gold-tipped cigarettes on the arm-rest beside him was, in itself, a silent plea for the unfettered joys of bachelorhood.

But Maidie’s eyes, the cool, clinging clasp of her hand, the satin softness of the cheek that had lain for a moment against his, haunted his senses, eloquently pleading her cause. That he loved her—with the strong, sensuous passion of which, alone, his nature was capable—he did not attempt to deny. That she loved him he had already received proof conclusive.

Ought he therefore to marry her? Dared he marry her, knowing himself as he did? Curiously enough, he was no disciple of the common doctrine that a man’s past is of no consequence to his wife; for he had wit enough to perceive that the future is founded on the past—in his own case a sufficiently unstable foundation. Moreover, to descend to considerations more material, but, in Dare’s eyes, none the less vital, Maidie lacked that most enduring of all charms—money; and marriage, plus economy, was more than he felt disposed to face; even with such a wife to smooth the stony places.

This being the case, discretion counselled a graceful and honourable retreat; for, in the opinion of this promiscuous lovemaker, a few kisses given and received did not, of necessity, guarantee a finale of orange blossoms and rice. He preferred to regard them as the accidental outcome of moonlight propinquity, aided by Captain Rogers’ untimely joke.

Yet the mere remembrance of those kisses stifled the cold counsels of judgment.

He leaned forward on his elbows, flung away his cigarette, and sighed—a sigh which ended in a very unromantic yawn.

Then he rose, stretched himself, and stood for a moment looking out upon the chequered “compound.”

The silence was intense. In such dry, dead heat not even a cicada found it in his heart to chirp, and the mosquito’s persistent thrumming was hushed.

Suddenly a harsh, monotonous clang smote the air.

It was repeated three times. The sentry, at the police chokhi down the road, was announcing the hour.

Dare started; and yawned again—cavernously.

“By Gad, I’m sleepy,” he muttered, “and my throat’s as dry as a limekiln. I’ll get myself a whisky and soda, and turn in. Things may look clearer by daylight.”

Phase the Third — Reality


“The frauds of men were ever so.
Since summer first was leafy.”

Unlimited dust; unlimited sunshine; and unlimited mosquitoes. Of such is the glorious city of Bombay! Only during the great monsoon do the dust and sunshine give place to showers and steam; but the mosquitoes men have always with them.

In April, dust and sunshine reign triumphant; and hotels are filled to overflowing with Anglo-Indians fleeing from the wrath to come. Outgoing steamers are besieged. Incoming steamers count their passengers by units.

On the bare deck of the giant steamship Caledonia, in a blaze of April sunshine, Mrs. Dishart—fresh, clean, and to all appearance cool—standing alone at the taffrail, let her eyes wander lovingly over the brilliant, familiar scene. Shadowless sky and sea; both intensely, dazzlingly blue; the lower blue alive with the picturesque, ever-moving life of the Queen of Eastern harbours; and, on either side, the horizon fringed with the tender rise and fall of palm-decked hills.

To the woman with the deceptive eyes and the tell-tale lips, who stood thus on the deserted deck, the varied scene expressed one word—and one only—India.

After five months of grey skies, fogs, express trains, influenza, and a prevailing odour of eucalyptus, this warm, smiling, easy-going world seemed a very Elysium. Her bright nature demanded bright surroundings—as the very tones of her skirt and sunshade bore testimony—and an English winter was nothing less to her than a protracted nightmare. But it was one of Alf Dishart’s fads—and he was a man of many fads—to take winter, in preference to summer, leave; and she suffered it with what cheerfulness she might, for she was a dutiful, if not a devoted, wife. Two genuine pleasures, only, had been hers throughout those five dreary months, spent, for the most part, in a remote, dour-looking Scotch townlet. These were the Christmas holidays—bringing with them her twelve-year-old daughter, bright-eyed, bright-haired, and bright-natured like her mother—and a thin blue fortnightly envelope, always in one handwriting, containing two closely written sheets of news from the land she loved.

Dare had a talent for correspondence. Never did he disguise himself so neatly and completely as in a letter; and he had found, or invented, much to relate of himself and his doings, of social gossip interlarded with titbits of scandal. But of Maidie Selwyn he had found little to chronicle, save the arrival of a new “spin.,” pretty and simple, and very raw to the ways of the country. So that Mrs. Dishart was in no way prepared for the awkward reality awaiting her at Dulhari.

Through the open saloon skylight her husband’s voice, raised in a sharp altercation with the table steward, came clearly to her ears. Dishart had a passion for small economies; a praiseworthy trait which had earned him more discomfort and dislike than all his minor vices put together. His wife was a true economist, and a thrifty manager, or she would have been none of his; but to see good service ill-repaid vexed her past endurance, and she frequently made secret reparation for her husband’s parsimony.

She frowned now as the high-pitched voice smote upon her nerves; then, sinking wearily into a deserted deck-chair, she drew from her pocket a thin, blue envelope, and the jaded irritability left her face.

“Look alive, Elsie! The boat’s waiting.”

Her husband’s voice brought her unwillingly back to the duty of the moment. When she joined him he waxed eloquent on the subject of the ungrateful steward; and at the landing-stage a fresh altercation of a like nature took place. Travelling with Alfred Dishart involved a constant succession of such cheerful interludes, and at times his wife had much ado to conceal her contempt.

The upper veranda of the Esplanade Hotel was thronged with passengers for Saturday’s homeward mail, idling away the morning hours, to the tinkle of iced “pegs,” and the swish of indispensable palm-leaf fans. The sight revived Elsie Dishart’s drooping spirits; for she was a gregarious soul. Even as she alighted, one or two voices called her name; their owners waved friendly fans at her by way of greeting, and she responded joyously with her pink parasol.

“Oh, how good it is to be back again!” she murmured, with brimming eyes, as she ran lightly up the shallow steps, and returned the “salaams” accorded to her on all sides.

For it is her innate spirit of friendliness that is India’s most abiding charm. Here, the bonds of exile and of like experience have transformed brotherly kindness from a mere phrase to a living actuality; and despite the changes wrought by steam this gracious characteristic is not dead yet by any means.

Leaving her husband to enjoy at leisure his wonted battle with the “gharri-wallah,” Mrs. Dishart hurried into the high, cool hall, entered their names in the hotel book, and fell to glancing through the others inscribed therein.

While thus occupied she started, and her teeth came sharply down upon her lower lip.

“Major Dare, Royal Monmouth Rifles.”

Her eye had lighted suddenly on the name, written in the neat, well-known hand. The date against it was March 23d. Almost a month ago. What could it mean? Had he gone “home,” or to Simla? In his last letter, written five weeks ago, he had made no mention of taking leave, but had written of the pleasant prospect of her return, and of meeting her at Dulhari station. Now he was gone. Where? And wherefore? With a suppressed sigh she turned wearily away.

*  *  *

Through many breathless, mosquito-haunted hours that night she lay, wide-eyed and weary, puzzling over the meaning of that unexpected name in the hotel book; whilst her husband (who had taken unto himself a sheet and pillow, and extemporised an al fresco couch in the balcony) slept sonorously under the winking stars.

They left Bombay the following evening, and, after twenty-four hours of dust, and heat, and thirst unspeakable, found themselves on the platform of Dulhari station.

A Government chuprassi, resplendent in scarlet and gold, handed Dishart a note.

“From the Chief,” he informed his wife as he read. “Hopes we’ll go straight to them. They’ll give us tubs, dinner, and a bed. His doing, not hers, I’ll be bound.”

Colonel Aldous, R.E., Manager of the railway on which Dishart worked, was a man of much flesh and much goodness of heart. His wife—as such men’s wives often are—was angular in body and mind, and of a Spartan temperament. She disapproved of Mrs. Dishart, as much, perhaps, on account of her cheery plumpness and general air of well-being, as on account of her too pronounced intimacy with Dare; and Colonel Aldous’s invitation had been despatched under protest.

Nevertheless, his wife did her duty by her guests in the way of tea, unlimited bath-water, and a six-course dinner. She was a woman who made a point of doing her duty, rigorously and severely, however distasteful it might be to herself—or others; consequently, while the two men lingered over “pegs” and cigars, her sense of duty impelled her to entertain Mrs. Dishart with scraps of “station news,” one item of which she related—let us not say with relish—but with remarkable minuteness of detail.

Mrs. Dishart, pleading fatigue and headache, retired early, and her kindly hostess watched her go with thin lips pursed, and ominous head-shakings.

Hastily dismissing the ayah, she flung herself—white, travel-sick, and dazed—into a welcome cane lounge; and made a brave effort to face composedly the piece of news she had just heard. But the strength of her own emotion startled her. The most secret corner of her heart lay suddenly unveiled; and she shrank from facing what she knew to be there.

Her married life, from first to last, had been of a comfortable, humdrum order. She had discharged her wifely duties faithfully and cheerfully, her maternal duties with passionate zeal and joy; and had counted herself happy—as women go. Then, the wrench of parting with her only child had come to her, and had cut her life in two. Alfred Dishart’s work was—as has been said—of a nomadic order, and it absorbed him to the exclusion of every other interest in life. He was only one among many of his sex who are of opinion that a man, having honoured a woman so far as to present her with his name and a restricted portion of his income, may be considered to have fulfilled every duty towards her that can reasonably be expected of him. And it is, in a large measure, the wives of such men who are responsible for the pathetic roll of Anglo-Indian tragedies.

At this critical moment, then, of Elsie Dishart’s life, Dare—friendly, smooth-tongued, and sympathetic—had appeared upon the scene. Given the propensity of the man, and the woman’s temperament and circumstances, what followed was more or less a foregone conclusion. And now she found herself face to face with the doubly disagreeable fact that, not only had he been amusing himself excellently in her absence, but had taken elaborate pains to conceal the fact.

Kindly, generous-hearted woman though she was, she frankly hated this unknown girl who had come between her and Dare. Did he intend to marry her? she wondered. Surely not; or he would scarcely have disappeared in this sudden fashion. He wished, doubtless, to keep clear of marriage. She was glad of that; though it hardly proved that he was not in love with the girl.

In truth, she knew not what to think. Her temples throbbed; her glare-tortured eyeballs pricked; and, almost before she was aware of sleepiness, the merciful black curtain fell between her and thought.

On that selfsame night, Dare—returning from a pleasant little dinner-party to his rooms at the Simla Club—had a woman’s face very much on his mind. But it was not the face of Madeline Selwyn or of Elsie Dishart.


“And all the sweet blood of her life was changed,
And all her soul from all her past estranged.”

“Mrs. Dishart—Miss Selwyn.”

Mrs. Aldous was the speaker, and her gaze lingered on Elsie Dishart’s face with an intentness which, in one less stringently virtuous, might almost have been mistaken for curiosity.

But at sight of the graceful girl, with the blue shadows of sleeplessness under her eyes, a wave of passionate mother-feeling surged over Elsie Dishart’s generous heart. For the first time it occurred to her that Miss Selwyn, too, might have suffered; and if Mrs. Aldous looked for any exhibition of petty jealousy she was destined to disappointment.

In place of the frigid bow, with which she had intended to greet this superfluous, unnecessary girl, Mrs. Dishart held out her hand with one of her frankest smiles.

“You’re a new arrival since I left,” she said. “Come and sit here, and tell me honestly what you think of us all, and of our dear, frivolous country!”

Without releasing Maidie’s hand, this most impulsive of women drew her to a distant corner of the veranda, while Mrs. Aldous returned to entertain her remaining guests with a judiciously spiced discussion of the situation. For she had organised a little dinner this night, and in casual Indian fashion had asked a few friends to “drop in” afterwards, Colonel and Miss Selwyn among the number.

So soon as- the men could find it in their hearts to leave Colonel Aldous’s unexceptionable port and madeira, the whole party betook themselves to the club gardens, where the massed bands of the station were making the night melodious with a torrent of sweet sound.

Mrs. Dishart and Maidie still kept a little apart from the rest; and for a while there was silence between them. The moonlight and the music conjured up for them ghosts of departed days; and the image of one face was in the minds of both. Each was occupied with a fan, and wielded it characteristically. Maidie’s swayed with a slow, rhythmical motion; Mrs. Dishart’s jerked hurriedly to and fro.

“We are simply wasting our energy,” she remarked at length. “It seems to get hotter every minute. I wonder you are still here, Miss Selwyn. When do you go?”

“Not at all, I hope.”

“Brave girl! You don’t look fit for such heroism. It will knock you up.”

“No—I am a good deal stronger than I look. Besides, I don’t want to leave my father.”

Maidie spoke with unfeigned weariness that went straight to Elsie Dishart’s heart. The subject roused too vivid a memory of another moonlight night—was it weeks or months ago?—when she had answered a like question in a like fashion.

“Delightful for your father, but he ought to insist!” Mrs. Dishart answered smiling. “You will put us poor wives to the blush altogether if you go on in this way. I mean to have at least six cool weeks at Kaloor, though I am only just back; and I thought—perhaps—you might be kind, and. . . come up with me.”

The invitation, given on the spur of the moment, was characteristic of the woman; and Maidie’s tired face glowed.

“It is most good of you to want me; but I think . . . I am afraid, I must stay here, for the present. Ah, there’s father looking for me. He can’t stand late hours.”

Maidie dreamed all night of the cheery little woman with the soft voice and the vivid blue eyes; and in the morning awoke a trifle less reluctantly than she had done for three weary weeks and more—weeks of yearning and heart-loneliness unspeakable. A skilfully-worded letter from Simla had rent her veil of enchantment—shattered her idol, and desecrated her Eden. She had neither answered it, nor spoken of it to her father; and so quietly had she picked up the broken threads of her life that even Colonel Selwyn’s anxious eyes caught no glimpse of the truth. He believed that he had mistaken mere comradeship for a deeper feeling between the two, and in his heart he rejoiced that it was so. Only the old ayah, who found Maidie’s pillow damp, morning after morning, made a shrewd guess at the truth, and proffered her mute sympathy with such tact and tenderness as made the lonely girl long to have done with dignity and reserve and fling her arms round the good lady’s fat brown neck.

But sleepless nights and secret tears produced physical effects not to be concealed. These Colonel Selwyn had set down to the heat, and had besought Maidie to give up her idea of remaining in Dulhari—without avail; and her intractability on this head filled him alternately with delight and despair.

And, while Maidie dreamed, the subject of her dreaming was awake and busy. Elsie Dishart’s mind was too full of thought for sleep. Her husband had dozed off while she sat brushing out her crisp, fair hair; and, that done, she flung herself—attired as she was in a long blue wrapper—on to a cane lounge by the wide-flung double door through which the moon’s rays streamed in, white and vivid.

Maidie’s face, her purple-shadowed eyes, her listless voice, haunted this kindly-natured woman. She seemed to know, as though her eyes had beheld it, all that had passed between the girl and Dare. She knew the man so well—his charm of manner, his surface sympathy, the impenetrable strata of self-love underlying both. She pictured the whole course of events to herself, even to the last stage of all—the man’s ignominious flight.

Then she started to find hot tears raining down her cheeks, and her hands went up to her eyes.

“Oh, I am a weak, wicked woman!” she murmured brokenly.

But bitterer far than the realisation of her own weakness, was the haunting fear—nay, the certainty—that Dare had realised it also. Hence the ingenious medley of fact and fiction with which he had regaled her once a fortnight.

Her cheeks flamed as the humiliating truth came home to her. She rose and paced the room softly, her thoughts marching to the music of her husband’s snores.

“I will write to him,” she decided at length. “Write, and let him know that I know, and that I. . . don’t care.”

She took pen and paper, and the first few lines ran smoothly and swiftly enough. Then her pen went between her teeth; and her eyebrows drew together. It was not an easy task that she had set herself; but she had no intention of closing her eyes till it was accomplished. A few more sentences briskly penned. Then again a pause. But this time her face was bright and eager. An inspiration had flashed into her mind.

How could she give more positive proof of mere friendliness than by pleading Maidie’s cause—by begging the man to think better of his cowardly retreat, and come back to the girl he had left so cavalierly? The notion sorted well with her present mood. It possessed the double virtue of benefiting Maidie, and of placing an effectual barrier between her and Dare.

And now her ready pen ran on apace.

Do come back to her, if you love her even a little,” she wrote, in vigorous, impulsive fashion. “She is far, far too good for you, as I expect you know without any telling. But she loves you—I have seen it in her eyes—and we women are so made that it is better for us to marry a man we love, whatever his faults may be, than a man we don’t love, even if he is a paragon of virtue.”

And so forth—through two long, closely-written sheets—till her brain lost command of her fingers, and her aching lids could hold apart no longer.

Then she closed the blotter, returned to the lounge, and at moonset fell into a heavy, unrefreshing sleep.


“Some there be that shadows kiss,
Such have but a shadow’s bliss.”

“Maidie. . . I have come back.”

The girl, standing at her easel in a corner of the rambling compound, dropped her palette with a crash, shattering it into a dozen pieces. Then she knelt down without a word; and Dare made haste to help her. Among the broken fragments their hands met; and he lifted her to her feet.

“You knew I was coming? You got my letter?”


“And you are glad? Darling, tell me you are glad.”

The tone, rather than the words, re-awakened a chilling doubt which had haunted her throughout the reading of the letter, and had tortured her ever since. Now her pulses were throbbing, her whole frame aching for the pressure of his arms; yet she drew back a step, and tried—vainly—to release her hand.

“Why did you go . . . at all?” she murmured, her eyes riveted on the matchless polish of his boots.

Dare bit his lip. It was an awkward question, for which he was unprepared.

“I thought I made all that fairly clear in my letter,” he replied uneasily. “But if I talked till Doomsday, child, you would not understand any better than you do now. Isn’t it enough that I found myself mistaken; that I love you, and want you for my wife? Isn’t it enough—you sweet, proud little girl?”

His arms were round her now; his lips within a few inches of her flaming cheek; and there was more of assurance than of entreaty in his tone.

Her first sensation was of rest unspeakable; her second a blind impulse to escape before emotion smothered judgment. And on this last she acted.

“No . . . it is not enough,” she murmured, with gentle decision.

In sheer astonishment, he released her then and there.

“Maidie . . . do you mean what you say?”


“But surely . . . I thought . . . before I left. . .”

“Before you left? Things were different altogether before you left.”

Then the pity of it all overwhelmed her, and tears sprang to her eyes. “Oh, Maurice, why . . . why did you go? It was all so wonderful . . . so beautiful . . . and now . . . !”

She broke off and sobbed unrestrainedly, her face hidden in her hands.

Dare stood and watched her, feeling helpless and uncomfortable, as such men are wont to feel in the presence of deep emotion. A vague sense that he was, in some measure, responsible for this tragic interlude in his neatly devised comedy only served to intensify his discomfiture.

The red gold of sunset, falling slantwise through the trees, flung chequered shadows over the graceful figure and bowed head.

Dare contemplated the picture with very mingled feelings. This simple-seeming girl had become suddenly enigmatic; and he had no taste for feminine enigmas. He had returned to her readily—more readily than he knew; but the readiness had been in some measure upheld by a pleasing sense of his own virtue, and a comforting assurance of Maidie’s full appreciation thereof. It may be imagined then that her not very flattering reception of his generosity was calculated to damp his somewhat factitious ardour.

When her sobs grew less passionate and more weary he drew near to her again. But this time he proffered no caress; and who shall say for how much the omission was accountable?

“You speak as though you had loved me, Maidie. Am I to understand that you have not the same feeling for me now?”

She answered his question by a faint inclination of her head; and an increasing sense of guilt made him the more ready to adopt an attitude of reproach, when so excellent an opportunity offered.

“I would never have believed that you were one to change and forget so lightly,” he said; and there was bitterness in his tone.

She clasped her hands in pathetic fashion.

“Oh, you don’t understand . . . you don’t understand . . .” she reiterated wearily. “It is not I who have changed. It is you . . . you, who are different from what I thought. The man I loved would never have . . . gone away . . . as you did. I suppose you think me foolish and fanciful. Perhaps I am. But everything . . . everything seems to have changed and become upset in this one miserable month.”

For a moment Dare hardly knew how to answer this pitiful confession. He saw, clearly enough, that the girl had not really lost her love for him, that it would be an easy task—or so he supposed—to overrule her poor little scruples. On the other hand, her attitude made retreat possible, and selfishness whispered that liberty was dearer than love after all.

“You are a queer little woman, Maidie,” he said, with tolerant kindliness of tone. “And a disappointing one, I must say. I thought I was going to make you—to make us both—so happy; and instead I find nothing but tears and misunderstandings.” Then her sweet face touched him, and his voice took a tenderer tone. “Are you quite certain, dear, that you have no kinder answer for me?”

“Quite certain.”

Her eyes were downcast; and there was a hopeless finality in her tone. Every moment of his presence strengthened her conviction that the man she loved had no existence outside her own imagination.

“You think I would not make you happy, child? I would do my level best, I vow.”

She shook her head.

“It is no use now . . . it is too late.”

He sighed heavily. Unrelieved tragedy oppressed him to the verge of annoyance.

“Well, then—I can only go, if you are so certain that—you don’t want me to stay. I can catch the night mail, and no one need know that I have been here at all.”

“No—no one need know.”

She spoke in a mechanical tone, without raising her eyes. His careful shielding of himself from social comment did not escape her notice.

He held out his hand.

“Good-bye, then, Maidie. Won’t you give me one kiss, just to show that we part friends?”

With sudden passion she flung her arms round his neck and kissed him once—no more.

“Good-bye, Maurice,” she whispered. “ Goodbye.”

And before he had time to return her kiss she left him hurriedly—left him alone in the flood of golden light—bewildered, a little sad; yet, if the truth be told, not a little relieved, after all.

*  *  *

He dined with Elsie Dishart that evening; her husband was away, “up the line.” And the night mail bore his soundly slumbering form toward the slopes of Simla, and a fair face that looked eagerly for his coming.


Feet of Clay

“The light of the days that are not,
The dark of the days that are.”
R. K.

A dinner party in Mooltan, with the thermometer at 93° in the dining-room, is a form of entertainment which must be experienced to be realised.

The swish of the punkah, the self-opinionated “clack” of the thermantidote, the clink of ice against long tumblers, clamorously assert that we are in the land of ameliorations. Aspics, jellies, and tinned asparagus on ice form the main features of a repast which only a hostess of unlimited energy and experience dare attempt at this fiery season of the year; and Mrs. Muirburn’s energy, having survived fifteen hot weathers, may safely be termed unlimited. She was a sallow, large-featured heroine, well on the wrong side of forty; and Nell Amherst, metaphorically sitting at her feet, aspired to emulate her heroism.

Mrs. Amherst was a recent addition to the Loyal Monmouths, whose officers and men formed the nucleus of Mooltan’s British population. Leonard—or Beauty Amherst, to give him his regimental name—had married her while on leave in England, where he had spent six months in reckless, ineffectual attempts to cancel the heavy losses and lengthening chain of debt which threatened to put a premature end to his military career. As a matter of course Mooltan knew as much, if not more, about his tangled affairs than he did himself; for in India a very practical interest is taken in your neighbours. Amherst’s losses on the turf were notorious, and it was surmised, in undertones, that he had taken leave previous to sending in his papers.

But at the end of six months he returned, handsome and imperturbable, as of old—bringing with him a wife, to whose notable bank account was incidentally added a passionately loving heart. Both had been bestowed on her husband, with that splendid lack of economy in giving which marks the best type of love; and Amherst had accepted his good fortune with the smiling equanimity that was his.

Mrs. Amherst was present now, at Mrs. Muirburn’s dinner-table, brisk, fresh, daintily clad—an evident novice in the dreary treadmill of hot-weather life. And to the credit of the maligned Anglo-Indian wife be it recorded that four others were present also, in varying stages of limpness and pallor.

When the thermometer registers 93° indoors thoughts dry up in the brain; and the few that survive are rarely remarkable for originality. Mrs. Amherst’s partner, a hungry, overworked civilian, grew increasingly monosyllabic as the meal progressed; till for sheer pity she left him to undisturbed enjoyment of the good things set before him.

The man on her right was a brother officer of Amherst’s, just returned from five years on the Staff. He had arrived as the party was entering the dining-room, and they had not been introduced. Moreover, he was very much occupied with a loquacious subaltern who sat next to him, since there were not ladies enough to “go round.” Nell caught scraps of their talk at intervals, but it did not penetrate her brain; till suddenly, with an unpleasant start, she realised that the man was speaking of her husband, in a penetrating undertone.

“Looks as cool and immaculate as ever. Couldn’t believe it when they told me Beauty was married: he isn’t the sort. But when I heard there was money in the case I began to see daylight. Rough luck on a woman, though, making a convenience of her like that——”

An agonised whisper from his neighbour put an abrupt end to Captain Limmond’s unguarded remarks, and Nell Amherst, her cheeks on fire, turned mercilessly on her hungry civilian and talked for dear life.

The rest of the evening was, for her, a nightmare of surface chatter rippling over an undercurrent of distracting thought. She kept the weariest and sleepiest awake and amused. And all the while one question hammered at her brain. “If there is truth in it—what am I going to do?” For Nell was nothing if not practical, and a proud, vigorous spirit dominated her small frame.

Was it possible, she kept asking herself, as she chattered to Mrs. Muirburn’s guests, that Leonard had deceived her from the outset, had besought her love while merely coveting her money, had accepted marriage as an irksome appendage to her possessions? True, Nell had always realised the possibility of such a humiliating contingency. But this handsome suitor, with his simple directness of speech, had taken her heart by storm, and lulled the vigilance of her brain. For he had wooed her tenderly, zealously: and how should she guess that the trammels of debt, and the fear of open shame, had been the fuel which fed the flame of his desire?

The mere suspicion stung her pride to the quick and fired all the impetuous French blood in her veins. No rest was possible till she knew the truth, and with lightning instinct she hit on a means of discovering it without putting the question baldly to her husband.

*  *  *

As he tossed her lightly into the dog-cart her hand rested for a moment in his. The brief contact thrilled through her, and went near to upsetting her lightness.

“Why, Nell, your hand’s a live coal,” he remarked. “What’s up? Not fever, I hope?”

The unconscious solicitude of his tone reproached her. She was wicked, disloyal, to doubt his love or to think of putting it to the test.

“Fever—no. Only too much talking. I shall be cooler to-morrow.”

“What the dickens possessed you to rattle like that, as if you were paid to turn it out by the yard?”

“Pure perversity, I suppose. No one else seemed to have a word to throw at a dog, and you would all have dropped off to sleep if I hadn’t come to the rescue. Phew! this temperature makes me feel as if we were playing at Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego! When I looked at Mrs. Muirburn and realised that she had gone cheerfully through fifteen such fiery furnaces, I decided that some one ought to organise a form of V.C. for the heroines of India, who are regarded as myths at Home.”

“Should you be keen to try for one?” he asked, with a short uneasy laugh.

“Well—wouldn’t you wish me to?”

Her voice was lower and less confident now. The poison of Captain Limmond’s remarks was working in her brain.

“N—no. I doubt if I should. Look at her skin. It’s like dried parchment. Can’t say I’d care to see you like that, Nell. You’re losing colour as it is.”

“And a woman’s paramount duty is her duty to her complexion, n’est-ce pas?” Her tone would have been sarcastic had it been a shade less weary. But he answered her in all seriousness.

“Speaking generally, yes—out here above all.” She transformed a sigh into a diminutive yawn; and he, all unconscious of the effect of his words, pursued the train of thought uppermost in his mind.

“It’s a beastly life, this, for a woman. Shrivels her up, body and mind. If I had my own way I’d like to see every Plains station cleared of women by the end of May. It’s gross selfishness letting them stop down year after year, and kill themselves by inches.”

Amherst felt a distinct glow of self-approval—if one can be said to feel a glow in such a temperature—as he vented these exemplary sentiments. His wife did not answer him at once—perhaps because her lips were too unsteady for speech. She was clear-sighted enough to know that unselfishness was not one of her husband’s strong points.

I never imagined you held such decided views about it, Len,” she said at last. “You raised no objections when—I said I wanted to stay.”

“Well—to tell you the truth, I never thought you’d hold out for more than a few weeks.—But here we are at home. Come on down, little woman. A lime squash is the thing you want. There’s the police gong. Twelve o’clock! Jove! we are going it!”

She lay back listlessly in an uncushioned cane chair. It was hot to the touch.

Leonard busied himself with lime squeezes and sugar; while the drowsy kitmutgar—his puggaree stuck jauntily on one side, his kummerbund trailing behind him—fumbled in the depths of the ice-box for soda-water.

Nell’s eyes took in every detail of the commonplace, familiar scene; and she caught herself wondering bitterly how soon her present phase of life would have dwindled to a mere afterglow on a bleak horizon. Then, with a sudden resolve, she set her teeth, and, leaning forward, faced her husband, peg-tumbler in hand.

“Look her, Len,” she said. “I think I’ll go to the Hills at once—as soon as I can get my things together. After what you said to-night, I couldn’t feel any satisfaction in staying on. I fancied I—might make you more comfortable than you would be alone. But I see my mistake, and I’m quite ready to go now, if you wish it.”

Her studied neutrality of tone cloaked the passionate heart within, and Amherst felt momentarily disconcerted.

“You put things a bit badly, Nell,” he remonstrated with that slow precision of utterance so maddening to excitable temperaments. “I never said I wished you to go. How could I? Still—for your own sake, I think you’ve stayed quite long enough. It’s awfully good and plucky of you to have stood it so long.”

She detected the note of relief beneath his easygoing meed of praise, and flung up her head with an impatient gesture.

“We won’t talk any nonsense about goodness and pluck, I think. It doesn’t need either simply to please one’s self. And you know perfectly well that I would rather be here with you than anywhere else in the world. You know that—don’t you, Len?”

She leaned nearer, every line of her clear-cut face softened to a passion of tenderness, and laid one appealing hand on his.

It was these moods in her that he dreaded beyond all others. Her eyes, looking directly into his, made him feel uncomfortably transparent, as though a light were flashed into his heart, revealing the miserable compromises writ therein; and his serenely self-centred soul shrank from the unswerving strength and honesty of hers.

“Of course I know it, Nell,” he said. “And I know I’m an uncommonly lucky fellow into the bargain. All the more reason that I should take good care of you, and look after your health—don’t you think so?”

She rose to her feet with an odd laugh which puzzled him.

“All the more reason, certainly, dear boy. And since I am to go, I think it shall be Simla. The Elysium Hotel is the place to write to, isn’t it? How Arcadian it sounds! A fitting contrast to our dusty Hades. We can settle all the details to-morrow.”

And imprinting a diminutive kiss on his hair she withdrew.

*  *  *

An hour later sleep and silence reigned throughout the stifling house. Only the eternal duet between punkah and thermantidote suggested a drowsy wakefulness somewhere.

But Nell Amherst, pacing up and down her bedroom, her bare feet falling like snowflakes on the warm matting, was vividly, painfully awake. The woman’s whole soul was up in arms, and now that her eyes had been opened she stood amazed at her own blindness. Grief and rebellion, warring within her, found vent in short, dry sobs, unsoftened by the soothing moisture of tears.

After a while she came deliberately to the bedside, and stood watching her husband where he lay, handsome, passionless, unconscious; and as she watched, a softer mood stole over her. She knew every little line of his face by heart: the sloping forehead, with its faint, irregular dents between the brows, the finely-cut nose, the curve of the fair moustache, and the deep indentation above the chin. All these she loved, with a passionate intensity which is a tragedy in itself; and it seemed as if her eyes could never sate themselves with looking.

Suddenly the pity of it all overwhelmed her; and, sinking on her knees beside him, she buried her face in her hands.

But the worst wrench was over, and her will held firm. Morning amply confirmed her conviction of the night, and before two weeks were out her husband had become for her a memory, a photograph, and an occasional hastily-written letter—no more.


“Blue, blue are the hills that are far from us.”

The breathless hush of noon brooded on Mooltan. Fierce sky and parched earth glared at one another hour after hour, as the shadows crept stealthily eastward. The very trees had taken on the prevailing dun-colour of the world around them; and crows, with beaks agape, hopped languidly from one burning patch of shade to another. With the silent stoicism that is hers, Nature endured her baptism of fire.

Over the greater part of India the flood-gates of heaven were open. But scorched humanity in Mooltan was denied even the faint amelioration of the monsoon. Their earth was iron, their sky bare as a man’s hand; and the majority, having small taste for martyrdom, sought refuge in two never-failing nostrums—iced “pegs” and profanity.

Within the squat, grey bungalow a strange transformation had been wrought. No flowers, no books, no pleasant womanly litter graced Nell Amherst’s cherished drawing-room. In their stead, behold three cane lounges, a card-table, and sundry smaller ones, whereon reigned a chronic chaos of pipes, long tumblers, and paper-bound novels. The thermometer had risen steadily, and now registered 97°, day in, day out, with soul-sickening persistence.

At noon, then, on August the 30th, three figures lay full length on the cane lounges; and three spirals rose at regular intervals towards the far-off whiteness of the ceiling. For Amherst disliked his own society, and two willing bachelors had stepped into Nell’s vacated place.

“Look alive, Beauty,” spoke Denvers, an irrepressible subaltern of less than two years’ standing; “it’s deuced slow work lying out here like a row of corpses waiting for the undertaker. Let’s have a turn at poker to shake us up a bit, if the Major will take a hand.”

An unpromising sound issued from the third chair. Major Anson suffered from liver complications in the heat.

“Damn poker!” he added, by way of a more definite refusal. Denvers chuckled, and shrugged his shoulders.

“Well, Beauty, how about picquet, as the Major won’t rise to the occasion?—Not up to it? Wonder how you’d feel if you’d taken the Fort guard before reveille this morning. Jove! it was a lark, though, riding through cantonments to see the whole station lying round promiscuous on their roofs and in their ‘compounds.’ But you might have a fling at the cards, old chap—just to save me from suicide! You can’t plead liver, or the base rupee, like the Major over there.”

“Shut up, you young ass,” was the irritable rejoinder. “My head’s aching horribly. Shouldn’t be surprised if I was in for a bad ‘go’ of fever. Kohi hai? Peg lao—ek dum.”11

“Poor old chap. Sorry you’re feeling queer. Bad luck your wife isn’t here to see after you—sprinkle you with eau-de-cologne, and that sort of thing.”

Amherst grunted inarticulately. The same thought, with a difference, was lurking in his own mind, for which reason he the more resented the audacity of his subaltern. But there comes a stage in the hot weather when a man has not even the energy to lose his temper; and to waste wrath on Denvers at any time was about as effectual as firing into a bale of cotton-wool.

“A month’s leave is the style of physic you want, Amherst,” spoke Anson suddenly from the farthest lounge. “Why not apply? The C. O. would give it you like a shot.”

“I was thinking the same myself, Major. I’ll put in for it to-morrow.”

Amherst had hardly acknowledged that he missed his wife. He was aware only of a nameless discomfort, a sense of something lacking. Was it possible that those light fetters—woven of loving solicitude—from which he had freed himself so willingly, might prove necessary to his well-being, after all? He had stood alone and unshackled aforetime; and despite duns and losses, the green paths of bachelorhood had been very pleasant to his feet. Yet now, returning to them, he found the spell broken, the enchantment gone; and he began to perceive that the former things would never again be to him as they had been before marriage laid its strangely compelling hand on his life.

For more than a month now he had been free to spend his days and nights after the fashion of his kind. He had sated himself with vicissitudes of the card-table; and, plunging more recklessly than ever, had deserted Bridge for games of hazard, thereby enriching a goodly number of his brother officers.

It may have been these material losses, or it may have been the awakening germ of some deeper feeling, which bred in him a growing distaste for his present mode of life. Be that as it might, the prospect of a month with Nell in Simla pleased him unaccountably. He so far recovered his spirits as to devote two thirds of the night to Limited Loo—which mild diversion cost him the best part of five hundred rupees; and he awoke the next morning with the same pleasant sense of anticipation hovering about his brain.

On his table a Simla envelope lay awaiting him. He opened it with unwonted eagerness; but, as he read, eagerness gave place to blank bewilderment. Every line of his face seemed to droop suddenly. Nell’s letter ran thus:

“Dearest Len:

“I am afraid my news this morning will surprise you. But at least I know it will not distress you or upset your plans. I had a wire from home on Monday, with bad news of mother, and I must go at once and help Lil with the nursing. I had to arrange everything on the spur of the moment, and I shall have left Simla by the time this reaches you. I am glad to be going. Simla doesn’t suit me. Perhaps because I take things too seriously, as you were always telling me!

“And now, Len, I have something else to say. I found out before I left (no matter how) that I had married you under a false impression: that it was money you wanted, not a wife. It was a hard discovery for a proud woman who loved you, and believed in your love. That is why I left you, and that is why I shall not come out again. Mother’s address will always find me. But don’t write to me. Where would be the use? All my money will be at your disposal, except the little I draw out for myself. For I want you to be perfectly happy and comfortable, free from all worry.

“You will never know what it has cost me to write this to you. But I could not speak of it; nor could I come back and live with you as if it had not happened. I am afraid it is all or nothing with me. But I am still, and always,

“Your loving and regretful wife,

“Nell Amherst.”

Despite the sad finality of the letter, no tear-mark blurred its pages. Nell’s courage was no flimsy cloak worn for the world’s eyes. It was an integral part of her great, loving soul. Amherst recognised this, not without a pang of self-reproach, as he leaned back in his chair. The unexpected turn of events fairly stunned him; left him helpless, tied hand and foot. He could scarcely pretend to be either distressed or aggrieved at his wife’s view of the case. He could not write and tell her that he wanted her to cheer him up, that he had been looking forward to seeing her. Such lukewarm sentiments would be a mere heaping of insult on injury. Moreover, she was already gone, past recall; and nothing was now left to him but to wait on her good pleasure with the best possible grace. If ever man was successfully hoist with his own petard, Leonard Amherst was so at that unpleasant moment of his life.

And on that same morning Nell, jolting Bombay-wards through a world of dust and fire, was already half regretting her decisive letter. But what availed regret? The die was cast. Henceforth, for good or ill, she must abide by her written word.


The lilacs are in bloom,
All is, that ever was;
Season of light perfume
Hide all beneath thy grass.
Dead hopes new shapes assume.
For over every tomb
The lilacs are in bloom.

An English country garden in June. Stretches of shadow-mottled turf, of restless translucent green, gemmed with mosaics of scarlet gold and blue, and over all a tender, dappled sky, whose clouds seem to rest on the tree-tops, so much nearer to earth do they appear than the vast blue vault of the East. So vigorously astir is Nature at this teeming time that beneath her show of stillness one feels the rush of life, the throb of her thousand pulses. Her very silences are full of murmurous sound.

In just such a garden, on one of June’s most exquisitely capricious days, did Leonard Amherst find himself some ten months after his wife’s departure.

He was still alone, and had almost grown used again to the sensation. Only an occasional twinge, when he chanced to watch a newly-married couple together, seemed to indicate that his marriage had not been such a purely business transaction as Nell had been led to believe. Nevertheless,she had acted decisively on that belief, and had shown no sign of repenting of her decision. It was many months now since he had heard of her, and at the present moment he did not even know her whereabouts.

As a chance acquaintance of the owner of the house he had been invited to “run down and spend a long day in the country.” The day had proved abnormally long, and he was already rating himself, in forcible terms, for having been fool enough to accept Mrs. Bloundell’s well-meaning hospitality. For that kindly lady, whose zeal was not tempered with tact, had so plagued him with inconsequent questionings that he had fled the house on a pretext of the flimsiest, thereby securing one peaceful half-hour with his pipe in the moist green recesses of the garden.

A tennis party was in progress, and Amherst mentally consigned all tennis parties, and the givers thereof, to perdition. From his coign of vantage he could see, through fragrant lilac bushes, how guests in muslins and flannels streamed across the lawn to where, under majestic oak-boughs, his simple-hearted hostess smiled and chattered assiduously.

Amherst dared not indulge in solitude and tobacco any longer. He had no wish to be sought for and ignominiously run to earth. Reluctantly, therefore, he made his way towards the crowd: a kindly path enabling him to slip in among them from the rear. But he was unfortunately tall, and Mrs. Bloundell, spying him instantly, rustled up, her round face pink and shining from the exertion of talking vigorously about nothing in particular.

“Ah, there you are at last! Come and have some tennis. No excuses. I insist! Bertie says you’re splendid. Anglo-Indians always are. You shall have his racquet, and we are never rigid about shoes. Now, let me introduce you to a really good partner. Another Anglo-Indian. Such a nice little woman! A grass widow—that’s the proper word, isn’t it? And, funnily enough, her name is the same as yours. Perhaps you’ll find you’re relations. The world’s so much smaller than it seems. I’m always saying so!”

But Amherst had no answer for her kindly chatter. His eyes were on the “nice little woman” who stood beside Bertie Bloundell and swung her racquet restlessly while she talked.

An instant later she was facing him, with admirable coolness, an odd light in her eyes, a small polite smile on her lips.

“Yes, we shall probably discover some sort of relationship,” she was saying, in reply to Mrs. Bloundell’s lively interjections. “A cousinship in the fourth degree, perhaps! But we mustn’t keep the others waiting. Come.”

For the merest second her eyes were lifted to his. Then she marshalled him briskly to the tennis court. After a brief embarrassing silence their eyes met again, and Amherst spoke.

Nell! . . . How on earth do you come to be here?”

She smiled. “Don’t ask stupid questions! How can I explain things now? Please remember, for the present, that we are just partners at tennis, who have never met before.”

Her coolness amazed him. Did it mean that she cared nothing for him now? The doubt made him anxious, and anxiety reduced him to silence.

In a couple of swift glances she read his thoughts.

“He wants me. He is glad to see me!” she whispered to her exultant heart. Then, reining in her impatience, she held her mind severely on the game. Only at moments the humorous aspect of the situation thrust itself on her, and her lips took an upward curve. Amherst did not fail to notice this, and his bewilderment increased. He played erratically, and received her lively remonstrance with absent-minded smiles. His own emotion at sight of her puzzled him fully as much as her apparent unconcern.

At last the wearisome game was ended, and their opponents betook themselves to the region of strawberries and cream.

“Come this way,” Amherst said under his breath, without looking at his wife, and she obeyed in silence, walking beside him in a tumult of doubt and exultation.

He led her down a path which seemed to promise comparative seclusion. The silence was difficult to break.

“Nell—this is amazing!” he declared at length, thankful for the relief of words, however inadequate.

“It is rather odd. You are home on leave, I suppose?”

“Yes. Ran down for the day. Met Bloundell in India. But you—are you living here?”

“For a time—yes.”


“N—no—not quite—alone.”

She spoke almost in a whisper, and he glanced at her keenly.

“What do you mean by that?”

A wave of colour flooded her face.

“I mean that—we have a son, Len—you and I.” A son! The words struck a new chord of his manhood, stirred in him an emotion so strange that there was no answering her for a moment.

“How old—how long—when did it happen?” he asked lamely.

“More than two months ago.”

“And you never even sent me a line! I may be beneath contempt, in your opinion; but, by the Lord, I think I had the right to know that.”

Nell had never seen her imperturbable husband thus roused, and the pain in his voice brought tears of self-reproach to her eyes.

“Of course you had—every right. Only—I wanted to tell you the news myself. I was slow in picking up strength, though, and then—each mail I tried to write, but it was—difficult. It meant so much to me, and I was afraid it might mean—very little to you.”

“Great heavens, Nell. D’you suppose I’m made of stone?—Oh, confound it all, here comes Mrs. Bloundell. Insufferable woman!”

Which was an ungrateful remark, all things considered.

Regardless of appearances, Amherst took his wife lightly by the arm, and hurried her down a narrow pathway, flanked by old-world hedges of yew, which opened out suddenly on a rose garden, a miracle of colour and fragrance.

Here he came to a standstill, and released her arm. His touch, and the haste of their going, had set all her pulses fluttering; but when their eyes met, the ludicrous aspect of their flight overcame them and they burst out laughing. There is nothing like mutual laughter for demolishing barriers; and the trifling incident brought to both a strangely pleasant sense of union. But the woman needed something deeper before she could face the possibility of surrender.

Amherst stood silent a moment, watching her. He was wondering whether he dared draw her into his arms and kiss her. The genuine desire bred a shyness hitherto unknown to him; and he feared lest any attempt at a caress should stir distasteful memories; lest she should even doubt his sincerity in offering it. And while his assurance slipped from him, hers returned. Instinctively she felt herself mistress of the situation.

“Nell,” he said abruptly. “I must see—the boy. Can’t you take me there straight?”

Her smile of amusement ended in a sigh.

“My dear Len, what a question! You have compromised me seriously as it is! Mrs. Bloundell is propriety incarnate. She only introduced us half an hour ago, and—my husband is supposed to be in India. Have mercy on the reputation of the luckless Anglo-Indian woman!”

“Mrs. Bloundell be hanged! You might go home early, and I could follow if you gave me directions.”

“That sounds more reasonable. What time is your train back to London?”

“I’m not going back to London.”

“But, surely—have they asked you to stay the night here?”

She knew she was punishing him; but on the whole she felt that he deserved it.

“Lord, no! Don’t be distracting, Nell. Can’t you understand that—I want you back again, you and—the little chap over there?”

She looked straight at him now, with eyes that had grown suddenly keen and searching. He saw that she doubted his sincerity, and cursed the easy fluency of former days.

“You don’t believe me, of course. I suppose you never will.”

“Never is a long time, Len. Only you will understand that I must be very sure of what you really do feel, before I can think of—of coming back to you. I sometimes wonder whether you realise how cruelly you insulted me by asking for my love and—winning it by unfair means when all that you really wanted was—my money.”

Amherst was constitutionally incapable of viewing the subject from her standpoint. But at the moment he saw only the single instance, with its deplorable results, and he began to be dimly ashamed of himself—a precious if painful moment for the human soul.

“It was playing rather low down,” he admitted ruefully. “But you don’t know what a hole I was in. And, anyway, insult is rather a strong word, isn’t it?”

She flashed a fierce little glance at him.

“If I knew of a stronger I would use it. Not an insult to accept a woman’s heart and life—which are as precious to her as yours to you—and repay her with a handful of mock caresses? To cut her off deliberately from the blessedness of mutual love, just to save yourself from the effects of your own lack of principle—is that no insult to a woman?”

In her righteous wrath she looked almost beautiful, and he drew a step nearer.

“It is, Nell. I own it, straight. But—am I never going to be forgiven?”

“Forgiven? Who am I that I should refuse to forgive you? Only—that can never alter the main fact.”

“What main fact?”

“That you don’t—care.”

“I do now, dearest—I swear I do.”

He held out his hands, but she moved swiftly out of reach.

“You think you do, perhaps. But it is—the child you really want now.” She spoke very low, and passed one hand across her brow with a pathetic gesture of weariness.

He could not be sure how much truth there was in her words; but he denied them flatly. Habit is hard to kill.

“No, Nell. It is you—yourself.”

“I would give the world to believe you.”

“Would it help you if you knew that I haven’t touched a penny of your money since you left me? “

A great cry broke from her.

“Len—darling—is that true?”

“As true as I stand here. What’s more, I kept clear of the turf into the bargain. Will you trust me now, Nell? Will you believe that it is—my wife I want, more than anything else in the world?”

For all answer she came to him straightway, with hands outstretched and shining eyes.


Fool or Angel

“He that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.”


An Indian railway station in mid-April is always a more or less disagreeable place. It is less so for those who happen to be on the inner side of the carriage door, with “bag and baggage, scrip and scrippage,” eagerly awaiting the moment of departure. It is very much more so for those against whom the door has been shut, who stand on the platform with six melting months between them and reunion with their dear ones in October.

On a hot April evening, in a certain Punjab railway station, a man and woman—whom it was easy to recognise as man and wife—were enduring these comparative forms of discomfort.

The woman—a fair young creature with a soft smiling mouth and effective violet eyes—was safely ensconced in a first-class carriage, with dainty travelling paraphernalia strewn around her. The man—dark and thin, with the stamp of intellect and refinement on every feature—stood outside with resolutely smiling lips, and eyes grave almost to mournfulness. He appeared at least ten years older than the woman.

“Well, now you’re all right till you get to Umballa,” said he in quiet businesslike tones. “Guise will meet you there and see you safely through your ‘tonga’ journey. And you’ll let me have a wire from Simla on arrival, won’t you, darling?”

“Yes, of course. You’ve arranged everything beautifully, Clifford. You’re a jewel; and it’s a horrid shame that you can’t come with me.”

Not that the fair creature felt inclined to quarrel with her lot for so slight a drawback; but her words were genuine, and her husband heard them with evident pleasure.

“Never mind, dear. I shall get on all right here.”

“It won’t be very, very bad, will it, Clifford?”

“Oh, no. It’s quite bearable. I’m accustomed to the heat, you know.”

“Will it get much worse than this?”

“A trifle worse,” he answered with a peculiar smile. “But you mustn’t trouble your pretty head about me, dear. I want you to have a real good time, you know.”

“And I mean to have it, “ she made answer with a low laugh of pleasure. “When are we going off? Ah, there’s the bell!”

A spasm of pain crossed his face, but the next instant he was smiling quietly as they joined hands through the window. “You’re sure you’ve got everything you want?” he asked.

“Yes, thanks, everything. No—by the way—I’ve got nothing to read to-morrow. Just get me something from the bookstall, there’s a dear. It doesn’t much matter what, so long as it’s fairly decent.”

Several precious moments were lost in fulfilling this request, and he only returned in time to fling the book in at the window and shout a hasty goodbye. Then, as the train moved off, a mask seemed to fall from his face, revealing the pain which had lain beneath.

“Well, after all, so long as she’s well and happy, nothing else matters very much,” he said to himself as he left the station.


June in the Himalayas!

A glorious, tender-tinted world of crumpled undulations, kissed by the broadly smiling sun, and crowned with the vivid ultramarine of a rainless sky.

June was already far advanced, and Nature had waxed a trifle languid owing to the unaccountable delay of the yearly rainfall. She was very beautiful even in her languor, and her breath was sweet and balmy as the breath of a sleeping infant. But humanity upon the Himalayan hilltops—more especially on the hilltops of Simla—does not concern itself greatly with the face of Nature, being absorbed in other matters of infinitely greater importance. And the matter which eclipsed all else on this identical June afternoon was, to minds capable of appreciating its true significance, very sufficiently absorbing.

The Viceroy was “At Home” to the whole of Simla; and towards Viceregal Lodge “everybody who was anybody” had been borne as swiftly as sturdy hill-runners and country-bred ponies could bear them. On arrival they were treated to the mild diversion of strolling to and fro in the vain hope of securing a seat, of swallowing tempting confections, from which wisdom and experience alike urged them to refrain, while an indefatigable band gave forth vigorous brazen melodies to which no one listened.

In a shaded nook a man and woman, more fortunate than the majority of their companions, sat at their ease and talked. They were neither of them young, though the woman probably looked older than she actually was. Her face was large-featured and sallow, with the peculiar sallowness born of summers spent in the plains. But it was a pleasing and an intellectual face none the less, with eager sympathetic eyes—which attracted men and women alike.

During a pause in the quiet flow of commonplaces which passes for conversation at most social gatherings, a very noticeable couple passed in front of Mrs. Innes and her companion. The man was tall and fair, irreproachably “turned out,” and there was a suspicion of affected gallantry about his bearing. The woman was the tender-lipped, violet-eyed matron of the first-class railway carriage.

“How ripping Mrs. Mayhew looks to-day!” remarked Mrs. Innes’s companion. “She’s such good style too, for all her little airs and graces. Such an out-and-out lady; and those great innocent eyes of hers are enough to turn the soberest fellow’s head.”

“She is charmingly pretty and innocent-looking. And one finds oneself hoping somehow that the innocence is as real as it seems.”

The words were spoken sadly without a touch of malice, and her companion looked at her curiously.

“Now I should have called that a spiteful speech, if any one but you had made it,” he said. “Surely you don’t think there’s anything bad about the little woman?”

“Oh, no, nothing bad. She’s merely young and thoughtless, and pretty—three attributes which often make a woman’s life a little difficult up here—especially the last. And for an eighteen-months’ wife she seems to enjoy her position as grass widow a trifle too thoroughly.”

“I think you’re hard on her, I do really. You wouldn’t have her go about with a long face and red eyelids, would you? And I know for certain that Mayhew wouldn’t hear of her stopping down.”

“I am quite sure of that,” replied Mrs. Innes, with a quiet smile. “I am also quite sure she never asked to remain with him.”

“I dare say she didn’t; but still——”

“But still, I can’t help feeling he made a mistake in marrying a woman of her type. She will only take advantage of his unselfishness, without really appreciating it.”

“Isn’t that the case with most of us who happen to drop in for unselfish wives or husbands? Unselfishness doesn’t pay in this world, Mrs. Innes. A man only gets called a fool for his pains.”

“Do men call Clifford Mayhew a fool, Major Carr?” A suspicion of something very like anger lurked beneath the surface indifference of her tone; and again the man looked curiously at her.

“Well, a good many do, and I don’t think they’re far out either. Look at the way he dresses her! They’ve very little between them besides his pay—and you know how far a captain’s pay goes in a British regiment when it comes to a divided establishment.”

“I do; and I have wondered at times how they manage it.”

“Debts and shroffs,12 of course. That’s what it generally comes to when a man’s fool enough to marry a pretty face.” The Major himself had certainly not erred in that direction.

A dull flush had struggled into his companion’s cheek as he spoke.

“I am quite certain,” said she, in a tone of restrained vehemence, “that not the prettiest woman on earth would induce Clifford Mayhew to run up debts which he saw no chance of paying. He has very strong ideas on that subject.”

“You evidently know him better than most of us do, Mrs. Innes?”

“Yes; I knew him many years ago.”

“And you really think he’s not acting like a fool towards his wife. Do you happen to know that he might have taken two months himself if she had been content to go to a smaller, cheaper station? But no—she had set her heart on a Simla season; so he’s chucked his two months—though he isn’t a strong chap, and goes down like a ninepin in the heat. If the man isn’t a fool, he’s an angel—and precious few of us are that.”

“He must be one of the few, then,” replied Mrs. Innes quietly, with lowered eyes.

There was a silky rustling as of approaching femininity, and the next moment Mrs. Mayhew’s clear young voice sounded in her ears.

“How do you do, Major Carr; how-de-do, Mrs. Innes? You evidently know how to do things comfortably; I haven’t been able to sit down once since I came.”

At which gentle suggestion Carr rose hastily, and she took his seat with a satisfied sigh.

“Oh, it’s lovely!” she cried, with youthful fervour. “How I shall hate the straight dusty plains after this! I wish this sunshine would go on always, and that those abominable ‘rains’ would keep away altogether.”

“I don’t fancy they are wishing that down there,” remarked Major Carr, indicating the misty blueness of the plains with his walking-stick. “It has been a record year for heat. Doesn’t your husband say that they’re all praying for rain?”

“He hasn’t written just lately; and he never mentions the weather much in his letters. He said in his last that it was rather muggy but quite bearable.”

Carr pursed his lips, raised his eyebrows, and involuntarily glanced at Mrs. Innes; but she appeared quite unconscious of his gaze, and Viola Mayhew’s cheery little voice ran on.

“I think Clifford must flourish in the heat like a salamander. The other men who had to stay down grumbled like anything, and he seemed to think them very foolish for making such a fuss about it. But I suppose it is pretty bad, isn’t it?”

“Stings one up a bit certainly,” responded Carr, with a peculiar smile. “You should try it yourself one year, Mrs. Mayhew.”

But the pretty Viola held up her small gloved hands in horror at so barbarous a suggestion.

“Oh, no, no!” cried she, with a laughing shake of her daintily-bonneted head. “I couldn’t really. The monotony alone would be enough to kill me. Have you ever done it, Mrs. Innes?”

“Yes, often, as my complexion bears testimony.”

“And isn’t it too truly awful?”

“It’s not a pleasant experience. But of course one can’t run away from it every year.”

“Can’t one?” demanded Viola, with round eyes and lifted brows. “But how if one is ordered to—always?”

“Ah, well, that would alter the case, I suppose!”

A few moments later Mrs. Innes rose and left the two together.

When she found herself rolling rapidly Simla-wards under the still shadows of the pines she gave vent to a long, slow sigh. Then, removing her gloves and veil, she pressed her two hands for a moment over her eyes, in each of which there lurked a salt tear-drop that had no business to be there.

Like many truly good and even happy wives, Clara Innes had not married precisely the man of her choice. Not least among the tragedies of womanhood stands the fact that a hundred and one purely minor considerations, buzzing about the portals of matrimony, make it too often a hard matter for the voice of her heart to rise clear above them.

The idol of Clara Innes’s girlhood had never been anything nearer to her than a bright particular star, to be worshipped afar off and in silence. There is great danger in this distant, silent form of worship. The being subjected to it is gradually raised to almost superhuman altitudes, and the etherealised passion thus engendered (shielded as it is from the jarring contact of rude reality) is, perhaps, of all human affections, save mother’s love, the hardest to kill.

The actual communications between Clifford Mayhew and Clara Innes had been commonplace in character, and of apparently slight import. But she, having perceived him to be a man who lived on the higher levels of life, had impulsively enthroned him in her heart; and, despite the truly human love with which she loved her husband, the hero of her girlhood had remained more or less sacred unto this day.

*  *  *

On that same evening, at a “White Ball” given by an enterprising body of bachelors, Viola Mayhew did fairly surpass herself in beauty of face and charm of manner, and her dress was the envy of all feminine beholders. Its shimmering unrelieved whiteness enhanced the delicate flesh tints of her neck and arms, and her powdered head was a marvel of skilful hairdressing. Established beauties of former seasons eyed her furtively from the tails of their eyes, and salved the wounds she inflicted on their vanity with the balsam of spiteful comment. The eyes of the less prejudiced sex, on the other hand, followed her movements with open admiration.

She was young, beautiful, courted. What wonder that she should be happy—deliriously, even thoughtlessly happy? That she was so her partners of the evening could have borne unanimous testimony.

Night wore on to morning, and still the indefatigable feet spun round about and in and out with unwearying persistence. Clara Innes had long since retired to well-earned rest; but Viola Mayhew, and a score or so of insatiable pleasure-lovers, still valsed on.

During one of the brief pauses between whirl and whirl she lay back in a deep-seated chair, round which had been clustered groups of living plants, and regarded her partner with large smiling eyes.

The man—who was none other than her dandified companion of the afternoon—leaned towards her, and toyed with the dangling ribbon of her fan. Their voices were murmurous; and their talk partook of the atmosphere of the place.

With a sudden quick movement Captain Guise raised his hand and lightly touched her bare shoulder close to her throat. She started aside, and her delicate skin flushed a deep rose tint.

“What did you do that for?” she queried, looking full at him with innocent startled eyes.

“I—I—beg your pardon, “ he stammered, feeling unaccountably ashamed of himself. “But you look very beautiful when you blush. There was a spider there. Didn’t you feel it?”

“A spider?” She sprang up in genuine alarm. “Ah, look, it is on my dress now! Kill it, please kill it, Captain Guise, quickly! I hate spiders, they’re so unlucky.”

“Unlucky! you’re not superstitious, are you?”

“Oh, but I am—very,” and there was no affectation about the little shudder that accompanied the words. “‘Araignée au matin, grand chagrin’—don’t you know the lines? And it is morning now. I’m sure to hear bad news tomorrow—to-day I mean. And I’ve been so happy to-night, and sad things frighten me so. Come—I don’t want to dance any more. Take me home at once, please.”

And so, having made their adieux, the two went forth together into the sickly grey pallor of dawn.


At midnight, on that same evening, several hundred miles away, a very different scene was being enacted.

Midnight upon the scorched yellow plains of the Punjab is burning and breathless as midday; the only perceptible difference being the difference between darkness and light. It is bad to lie awake through the slowly crumbling hours of such a night; and Clifford Mayhew was at least spared that pain. He lay on his bed motionless with closed eyes—eyes whose light had been quenched that evening once for all.

Two men sat at the bedside with grim white faces, which they mopped mechanically at intervals.

“Poor fellow, poor dear old fellow. I can’t believe he’s gone.”

The speaker was the doctor—a round, red-faced man with singularly expressive eyes.

“The best chap in the regiment by a long shot,” chimed in his companion, a small spare Major, whose countenance though shrewd was kindly. “And such sharp work too. I thought enteric was rare after thirty, doctor.”

“So it is, so it is. But when a man chucks stimulants in this weather, and takes to lime squashes and milk and soda”—in spite of the doctor’s grief he could not repress a certain scorn at the mere mention of such beverages—“there’s no knowing what disease mayn’t lay hold of him. I wish to God he’d never married that woman.”

“Yes—it was a pity. Hardly fair to blame her though, because Mayhew acted like a fool about her.”

The doctor looked up sharply.

“Yes, yes, I know what you would say,—‘De mortuis,’ etc.,—and I respect your feeling. Mayhew was a capital fellow, and a first-rate soldier; but you must admit, Onslow, that he was a fool where his wife was concerned.”

“I’m damned if I’ll admit anything of the sort!” returned the other, dabbing his face with renewed vigour. “A great nature isn’t bound to lop and chop itself to fit the size of the small ones all round it.”

“Perhaps not. But when it refuses to, this sort of tragedy is more or less inevitable.” And the Major sighed as he looked upon the still white face.

“True enough. But I do not blame a fine fellow for that. I blame the woman, the world that made her what she is. I blame the self-satisfied littleness of men, ourselves included, who try to drag everything and every one down to their own mean level, and, failing, spoil the lives of the few really great souls that ever come among them.” The doctor paused, set his teeth hard, and mopped his moist forehead. He was deeply moved. “I’m not ultra-religious myself,” he continued after a pause, as if with a dogged determination to get through his defence by hook or by crook. “I’m as selfish as most men, and my belief in what I can’t see and handle is decidedly shaky. But if there is anything divine in this very unclean and sordid world, it is the soul of a man like this.” He laid his hand upon the hand of the dead with tender reverence. “I tell you, Barlow, selfish, worldly-wise animals like you and me, ’cute as we may fancy ourselves, can’t gauge with our poor plumb-lines the depth of this man’s unselfishness. So we must needs call him a fool, because he was ready to chuck up everything sooner than give that feather-brained woman a minute’s discomfort. You don’t know perhaps that I had persuaded him, the week before last, to take ten days’ leave. He had scraped the money together somehow, and was counting every minute till he could get off—when some cursed letter from Simla came, and he threw up the whole idea. A bill—a dressmaker’s bill—I swear it; though he tried to make me believe it was some old-standing debt of his own. It took all his savings to pay it off, and there was an end of his trip. More fool he, I suppose you’d say, not to let the dressmaker wait. Well, perhaps he might have, if he’d known what was coming. But he couldn’t know that, and he did know that he mightn’t have such a sum handy again in a hurry. So he paid her. You and I would have let her wait, of course. But I say again that moral pigmies like ourselves can’t presume to sit in judgment on such a man as Mayhew.”

His voice was unsteady as he spoke the dead man’s name, and his lips twitched suspiciously.

“Well, well, you’re right, I suppose,” the other made answer gravely. “Did his wife know he was ill?”

“No. He said she wouldn’t be anxious if she didn’t hear for four or five days; and wouldn’t let me send a line till I could write a bit hopefully. Hopefully! I never saw such a sharp case in my life. It’s only a week since he went to bed.”

“Shall I send her a wire for you?”

“Do, there’s a good chap.”

And Major Barlow, awed, puzzled, yet only half convinced, left the room.

Viola Mayhew looked more bewitching than ever in her widow’s weeds, and the mournful self-pity in her great eyes filled all who beheld her with compassion for the young life so early blighted.

But the woman whose heart had, in truth, gone down into the grave with Clifford Mayhew went on her way with quiet cheerfulness as of old, though the stifled aching within was at times very hard to bear.

When, twelve months later, she heard that the pretty Viola had again changed her name she felt an unaccountable sense of relief at her heart. It seemed to her as though in some mysterious way her girlhood’s idol had been wholly restored to her, since no woman living now bore his name.


When Beauty Fades


“Whether in Naishapur or Babylon,
Whether the cup with sweet or bitter run,
The wine of life keeps oozing drop by drop,
The leaves of life keep falling one by one.”

The tall candles on either side of Mrs. Willis’s cheval glass were adorned with elaborate pink shades, as were also the two silver lamps on the dressing-table behind her. By this simple means harsh lights and sharp shadows were obliterated. The prevailing roseate flush endued even dead white walls and stretched canvas ceiling with passing warmth and colour; nay, more, it lent an indefinite tenderness of tone and outline to Myra Willis’s small, pretty face—an aftermath of the youth and beauty that were no longer hers.

She was a short, plump woman, with softly rounded cheeks and a smooth white brow. Her neat, unobtrusive features were devoid of a single sharp outline; only about the mouth, with its firm dominant lower lip, there lurked a suspicion of rigidity which told its own tale. In plain terms, Myra Willis had entered her five-and-fortieth year, and her chief aim in life was to beguile herself—and others—into the belief that she was still ten years short of that unromantic age.

At the present moment—despite a small relentless line or two where no line should be—she looked triumphantly, surprisingly young; and her vivid blue eyes lightened as she recognised the fact. Her gown of palest steel-blue brocade, touched here and there with gleaming threads of silver, and the swift flash of diamond trinkets, fitted the soft curves of her figure as a rind fits its fruit. The kindly pink light of cunningly devised lamp-shades concealed the pitiful fact that her auburn hair was a trifle too pronounced in tint, and the hue of her cheeks a shade too vivid in the face of Nature’s indelible pencillings about her mouth and eyes. But the detection of these trifling incongruities needed the unprejudiced glance of an unaccustomed eye; and the eyes of Myra Willis were dulled by long practice in the useful art of seeing only such things as were desirable.

In sheer complacency she caught herself smiling at her own image. The teeth thus displayed were short, broad, even, and dazzling white.

“Yes, I really think I shall do,” she murmured half aloud; “I don’t know when I’ve looked better this season. What a blessing my blue eyes are, to be sure.”

With that she turned about to survey herself from a fresh point of view, but the lifting of the door-latch put an abrupt end to her pleasant meditations.

“It is a quarter to nine, Myra, and the ‘dandies’ are ready. It won’t be fair on Miss Cole to arrive too late.”

It was her husband who spoke, and his voice had a curiously apathetic ring. Mrs. Willis failed to note this fact; perhaps because her ears had been as carefully drilled as her eyes. She looked up into his large serious face with a flashing smile, which, for sheer youthfulness, would have done credit to five-and-twenty, and held out two diminutive gloved hands.

“I am ready to the last button, George. All but my cloak. Put it on for me, will you? Parbutti has gone down with my cushions and rugs.”

With grave politeness he did as she bade him; and as he laid the sheeny grey garment around her shoulders his large hands trembled strangely.

“You are feverish again, dear,” she remarked, in brisk kindly tones. “Take ten grains of quinine, and go to bed early, or you will be laid up with ague, which would be a bore, wouldn’t it?”

He shrugged his shoulders and frowned. “I suppose so—for you; but, unfortunately, I have arrears of office work to get through, which will keep me up pretty well half the night.”

His tone and manner were brusque, almost ungracious; but they affected hers not one whit.

“Poor old fellow! Don’t forget the quinine anyway. I am very glad I wasn’t born a man. . . . Do you like my frock? Not too juvenile, eh? Doesn’t make me look a hag?”

She spoke lightly; but her eyes were sharp on his face. For once she wanted no compliments, but the bare truth. “It is a magnificent gown, and you know it,” he made answer, without a shade of enthusiasm in his slow, even tones. “It makes you look younger than ever. No one would ever guess that there are only seven years between us.”

The last words were spoken with sudden bitter emphasis. But she drew breath swiftly, in a short glad sound that was half laugh, half sob.

“Another advantage of my sex,” she said, as she moved towards the stairs. “We are only as old as we look, you know; so that there really is more than seven years between us, you dear old fogey.” And she laughed softly at her own ingenious reasoning.

He followed her down the stairway with slow heavy footsteps; for he was sick in body as well as at heart.

“Yes, there really is more than seven years between us,” he repeated wearily, rather to himself than her. “An infinite deal more—worse luck.”

Miss Cole, a sallow damsel of some twenty-five summers, clad in a limp gown of surah silk, received the apologies of her brilliant little hostess with ill-concealed impatience. She took her balls seriously, almost tragically; and was already haunted by visions of that darkest valley of maiden humiliation known among ball-goers as “sitting-out.”

Five minutes later the little procession set forth, single file, a-down one of those narrow, zigzag paths in which the Himalayas abound. The ladies in their “dandies”—long canvas lounges swung on poles and borne by four stout hill-men—led the way; and three officers on ponies brought up the rear.

George Willis stood alone in the dark narrow veranda, and watched the five jigging lanterns as they came and went among the trees till they dwindled to mere sparks, like fallen stars. Then with a slow heave of his heavy shoulders, and a prolonged shiver not only due to incipient ague, he turned back into the silent house.

It was a stifling June night; the sky was heavy with clouds that seemed powerless to dissolve in moisture upon the parched, patient hills.

In George Willis’s low office room, lit by two powerful reading lamps, the heat was at its worst. With a sigh that was almost a groan the lonely man sat down to his task, and plied his pen with grim determination. His eyeballs burned, his head was full of mercilessly busy hammers; but he wrote steadily on. A slow icy chill crept up his spine till it played about the roots of his hair; whereat he set his teeth and only wrote the faster. But the ruthless hand of ague was upon him; and at length his tremulous fingers could no longer form legible words. Then he flung down the pen and rose heavily to his feet.

After dosing himself liberally with phenacetin, he struggled with clumsy quivering hands into his overcoat; and sinking into a low arm-chair lay back and let the fever fiend work its will.

Whilst he lay thus, girding at his own helplessness, a vision of his wife as he had seen her standing before her mirror that evening came suddenly back upon his memory, like a flash of light in a dark room. His mind’s eye lingered caressingly upon the picture; and a slow smile illumined his weary, impassive face.

George Willis had been married twenty-five years, yet was he as truly and honestly in love with his wife as any passion-breathing bridegroom of six weeks’ standing. Not even marriage can cure certain natures of this trick of constancy to their earliest ideal. The man’s large frame contained a nature correspondingly large. He took life seriously; and marriage had always seemed to him the crown of life. He had loved Myra Winfield rather for what he believed her to be than for what she actually was; and of all fatal foundations for the House of Marriage there is, perhaps, none so fatal as this.

During the first five years his mind had been slowly and reluctantly forced to accept the fact that the pretty, cheerful woman he had taken unto himself as a helpmeet, to be loved and honoured to his dying day, set little store by the goodly heritage that was hers for the mere asking; that life for her was no more than a gay burlesque to be played out as bravely as might be with ready smiles and jingling feet; that his great love, in short, was a superfluous unwieldy element in their union, a force to be held severely in the background so long as he valued his wife’s esteem.

George Willis had faced the truth with a certain dogged courage that was his. His love was too deep a thing, too much a part of himself, thus easily to suffer change; but henceforth he resolutely checked its outward expression. He shut to the door of his heart, and waited. He was waiting still.


“Poor rose, thy term is reached.
Thy leaf hangs loose and bleached;
Bees pass it unimpeached.”

At half-past eleven the assembly-rooms ball was at its merriest, and the long rafter-ceilinged ballroom palpitated with light and colour. Beyond the brilliance of the ball-room lay the long twilit expanse of creeper-hung veranda; and beyond that again the breathless night, with its low sullen clouds.

In a dim corner of the empty veranda Myra Willis stood alone, her small hands fast clenched, her white teeth set hard upon her lower lip, whilst one blue satin-shod foot tapped the wooden boards with a vehemence suggestive of suppressed annoyance. The rhythmical swell of the music, now brisk, now tender, smote her ear with distracting clearness. Her feet ached to be moving in response to its measured cadences. But their sweetness swept past her into the apathetic darkness without; and still Myra stood her ground. Her eyeballs tingled, and a fierce red glow of wrath and humiliation burnt through the soft persistent pink of her cheeks; for the man who should, at this moment, have been her partner, was dancing with another and a younger woman. Throughout a long and triumphant social career Myra Willis had never before experienced a disaster of the kind; and even now she could scarcely grasp the fact that any man had dared so to slight her. But the music flowed on, and still she did not move; only her attitude was listless now; every line in her figure seemed to droop.

The music ceased; and there arose a confused murmur of voices and moving feet.

In a moment she was tense, alert; and, as couple after couple flitted past, she drew back farther into the merciful shadow. But the silence was almost more unbearable than the music had been; and she was about to seek temporary refuge with the two sleepy ayahs in the cloakroom when a voice, low and clear, almost at her elbow, made her start and bite her lip once more. The voice was a woman’s; and it came from the outer side of the creeper-covered trellis-work in whose shadow Mrs. Willis was standing.

“Oh, Captain Seabrook, what a mean shame! I wouldn’t have given you the dance if I’d known!”

At the sound of the man’s name Mrs. Willis drew her neatly-pencilled eyebrows sharply together. It was the name of her recusant partner.

“Come now, Mrs. Vernon, don’t be so down on me as all that,” he pleaded. “It was a mean thing to do, I own. But it was my only chance of a dance with you; and I’d had two with her already. Dined there beforehand, you know, with two other chaps; so, of course, I was bound to do the polite.”

“And very prettily you did it, too,” rejoined the woman, with her maddening little laugh. “I hope you are not frequently given that way.”

“Never done it before, never, upon my life, Mrs. Vernon. Shouldn’t have done it to-night if your card hadn’t been so awfully blocked up. I don’t know how I shall ever make my excuses. She’s a bit touchy, I fancy.”

“We are all that when we reach a certain age, Captain Seabrook,” rejoined Mrs. Vernon, with delicate emphasis. “Playing at being young must be rather a gruesome game. . . . Mrs. Willis can’t be less than five-and-forty, if she’s a day; and, since she isn’t blessed with marriageable daughters, her proper place, at this time of night, is at home in an arm-chair, or, better still, in the arms of Morpheus. That’s my opinion, and other people’s too.” So lightly does five-and-twenty sit in judgment on five-and-forty.

Myra Willis drooped no longer. She stood erect, her small defiant head flung back in a desperate effort to quell the rising anguish within her. The tense muscles of her throat ached as though a strong hand held them; the ducts to her eyes were painfully full. But she dared not let fall one drop of moisture. Her pretty cheeks had not been prepared with a view to so untoward an accident as tears; and she would have given worlds at the moment for a clean skin, were it never so pallid. Truly, the ballroom has its martyrs as well as the battlefield! Youth, beauty, admiration—these had been her gods. Now they were hers no longer; and she stood alone in the dark, and dared not shed one tear to relieve her aching eyes.

The voices outside the trellis-work murmured on, but Mrs. Willis shut her ears to them. She had heard more than enough already.

After an interminable pause the music began again, and again the long files of couples flitted past. Myra Willis watched them with wide, straining eyes. It all seemed more like some grim nightmare than actual life. Her one desire was to escape as soon as might be from the glare and the laughter and the empty badinage which had grown suddenly gruesome to her. But the wailing music held her in spite of herself, and the sweet familiar glow of excitement stirred again within her at the sound. She glanced down at her card and hesitated. The low lilting air was redolent of bygone joys, of the keen sweet thrill of the heart’s springtide, which she would never know again. It was as the voice of her lost youth calling—calling in her ears; and she yielded to that voice—for the last time.

“After all,” she reasoned bitterly within herself, “why should one hurry to meet the inevitable? Ten minutes later will do equally well.”

*  *  *

Ten minutes later it was upon her in grim earnest. She was alone at last; and the full significance of all that had occurred swept over her poor shallow little soul with appalling vividness. Her lightly-dipped nature shrank, with unreasoning terror, from all thought of the sterner realities of life. By persistently refusing to see them she had grown to believe them non-existent; and now they reared ugly heads, and jeered and mocked at her in her lonely misery.

“Yes, playing at being young is a gruesome game, a gruesome game,” she murmured aloud. “But it’s over now—quite over.” And she gazed round about her at the stern, quiet hills, the black trees and lowering sky, with wild, despairing eyes, that seemed to plead for a little pity, a little grace, a little retarding of the inexorable clockwork of the universe.

The four silent “dandy” bearers, jogging rhythmically on, paid as scant heed to her pitiful words as the great night itself. She set her teeth, clenched her hands, and shuddered, though her lips were parched and burning.

This moment was, for her, little less than a foretaste of death—of the end of that vivid, familiar life she had so passionately loved and cherished. Her anguish vented itself in low, fierce whispers.

“No, no; it’s not over yet—not just yet! Oh, God! I can’t grow old; I can’t—I won’t!”

It is a cry that goes up from hundreds of hearts such as hers—a futile, despairing cry.

But, even as she spoke, physical weakness mastered her. She could hold out no longer. Her hands went up to her face, and sharp, scalding tears rained through her fingers. She was alone with the hills and the sky, and they had no eyes for the havoc she wrought in her cherished complexion as she wept.


“So, the year’s done with
(Love me for ever);
May wreaths that bound me
June needs must sever.
Now snows fall round me,
Quenching June’s fever
(Love me for ever).”

The thud of her dandy upon the veranda boards recalled Myra Willis to the prosaic necessities of the moment—those impertinent necessities which know no respect of circumstance. With a sigh she gathered her dainty accessories together and passed into the house. It seemed incredible to her that she was the selfsame woman who had passed out of it, radiant with the threefold assurance of good clothes, good looks, and good spirits, scarce three hours since.

It was not yet midnight, and a thin line of light showed beneath her husband’s office door. She wondered much, as she passed it, whether he were too deeply absorbed in the intricacies of Oriental litigation to note the trifling fact that she had returned unusually early. Her footfall sounded clearly on the steep little wooden staircase she was too weary to tread lightly; but she hoped he might not hear it. The thought of turning to him for comfort in her sore humiliation never so much as flitted across her brain. Such dual loneliness is not quite so rare in marriage as one would wish to believe.

The ayah sat at her mistress’s door—a brown, somnolent bundle, her nose tucked well between her knees—and only by means of much shaking was she at length roused to partial consciousness.

“Unlace me quick, ayah, and go,” said her mistress, in peremptory tones. And Parbutti arose, and unlaced her “mem,” and thereafter stumbled sleepily forth to her allotted hut on the hillside, and Myra Willis was left alone.

Her first act was to snatch off the treacherous pink lamp-shades, that she might see and know her very self, once and for all. Then she sat wearily down at her silver-laden dressing-table, and resting her chin upon her upturned palms, faced her own reflection and shuddered.

It was an unpromising picture that met her eyes. The unshadowed glare on either side of the mirror revealed every line of her face with pitiless distinctness. Her recent tears had made disastrous inroads upon the surface pink of her cheeks. Her eyes and mouth were hard and old, with unlovely little creases about them. The Anglo-Indian woman ages earlier than her English sisters; and at this moment Myra Willis was fain to confess that she looked older than her years.

Until now she had “played at being young” with such untiring zeal and vigour that she had succeeded in deceiving even herself, for in very truth she had scarcely been conscious of acting a part, so instinctive had been her craving for the lighter atmosphere of life. But nature is inexorable, and not to be cheated beyond a certain point. At that point Myra Willis had now arrived, and the first sharp anguish of realisation over, she set her mind steadily to grasp the grim prospect before her—asked herself blankly was there aught left worth living for? Children she had none, and the old ache of disappointment, long since stilled, stirred again within her, adding poignancy to the thronging thoughts that pierced her soul like needles. There are a few women who can play out the farce of youthfulness, even after they have been made aware that they deceive none by their folly. But Myra Willis was not of these. She had a touch of pride in her nature, and a fair share of that inestimable quality men call “pluck.” One phase of her life was over and done with; and as she sat thus, in full view of her disfigured face, she was wondering wearily how she should manage to live out the rest of it.

If her thoughts turned momentarily to the silent, overworked man below-stairs, it was only to dread the meeting and necessary revelations on the morrow. She could not, in reason, hope for pity from him. She had but reaped as she had sown. How should he understand . . . or care? And yet . . . long ago . . . in a strange golden past that seemed scarcely her own he had cared, or seemed to care, exceedingly. But that also was over, and done with. Would it not be well if life itself were brought to an end . . . now . . . before the inevitable turn of the tide?

Involuntarily, her eyes sought out a small bottle marked “chloral”—for she suffered from nervous sleeplessness, like many of her kind—and rested there for one long, critical moment. Then she shook her head decisively, as if in answer to some mental question. She was at once too courageous and too cowardly to rid herself of her misery by such means. Moreover, she had long since passed the age when the dramatic aspect of suicide appeals most keenly to the distraught soul.

“No, I must live it out somehow,” she said aloud. “I shall have to take up native women . . . Hindu widows . . . or hospitals, I suppose.” And she laughed grimly at the prospect. But in the midst of the laugh she caught sight afresh of her poor marred face; and the sound ended in a sob. “Oh, it is ghastly,” she moaned, and her head went down upon her bare arms.

The latch of the clumsy door was lifted suddenly, and she sprang to her feet with a startled cry.

Her husband in his shirt-sleeves and broad red “cummerbund” stood before her, and there was more than mere concern in his eyes. He knew the ways of the social world he avoided. He knew, to a nicety, the amount of mercy a faded beauty might expect at its hands; and the beauty before him was faded past question. He had stood aside and waited for this moment with a silent patience that was his, and he saw now that it had come.

“What is wrong, Myra?” he asked quietly. “Did you feel unwell that you came home so early?”

“No—oh, no, I’m all right, thanks. Only a little done up, that’s all.”

She looked away from him in speaking, and her voice was hoarse and hard. She was agonisingly conscious of the ludicrous aspect her face presented in the relentless glare of two unshaded lamps. How should she know that the grave, unimaginative man before her saw only the face of twenty years ago?—the face he had loved, in his simple, sturdy fashion—that he loved even now.

“No—that is not all,” he said, and took a step towards her.

She sank into her chair with a gesture of weary impatience.

“I tell you it is!” she retorted sharply. “And you must believe me. I don’t feel up to arguing at this time of night. I wish you’d leave me alone—I ‘m tired.”

Her drawn, haggard aspect smote his heart like a dagger thrust. He drew a step nearer; and laid his hand on her shoulder.

“I don’t think you quite mean what you say, Myra,” he said slowly. “If I leave you also what will remain to you? I may not be worth much, but at least I might be serviceable as a prop . . . a shield?”

“What! . . . What on earth do you mean?” And she tried to laugh scornfully, but the attempt was a failure.

“You have had a shock to-night, haven’t you?” he asked. His tone, and the tender strength of his hand upon her, filled her with a new sense of humiliation that had in it not one jot of bitterness.

“Yes, I have,” she owned with a sudden frankness. “A very nasty one.” She could not bring herself to say more.

He drew in his breath sharply. The long-looked-for moment was at hand, and like most long-looked-for moments found him unprepared. Time after time he had mentally rehearsed the words he so yearned to speak, but twenty years of self-restraint had set a seal upon his lips which was not lightly to be broken.

His silence set Myra’s nerves on edge. She wholly misread its meaning, and moved uneasily beneath the pressure of his hand. An indefinable sense of disappointment weighed her down, and when she spoke again her voice was restrained and hard.

“You expected this, of course. So did I . . . in time. It has come a little soon, that’s all . . . and you naturally can’t feel much pity for me, so please don’t try to invent any kind little speeches for my consolation. You have heard what you came to hear, and there is no more to be said.”

Her words and tone cut George Willis to the quick.

“For God’s sake, don’t talk like that, Myra,” he broke out with sudden vehemence. “There is much, very much more to be said, only it is so cruelly hard to say it, to make you realise that I care exceedingly whether you are happy or not. I have stood on one side all these many years because—well, because I saw you had no need of me. Now that I may perhaps be of use to you I can keep silence no longer; and that is why I came up to you to-night.”

Hot heavy tears hung on her lashes, so that she dared not lift her eyes to his.

“What makes you so good to me, George?” she asked; and her voice was low and unsteady. “I have treated you abominably. I have only thought about myself and my own pleasures, and—and I have got my deserts. Why should you care so much if I am miserable?”

“Because you are my wife—because I love you.” And the words sounded strangely on the lips of this sober, middle-aged man in his cummerbund and shirt-sleeves.

She held out both her hands to him. He took them and stroked them as though they had been the hands of a child.

“I am ashamed of myself,” she said, slowly. The words were not easy to bring out. “I have been a fool and worse, and I don’t deserve your love. I have no right to it—now; and yet—oh, George, you must give me time to take it all in. I’m so bewildered, and so—so dead tired. And it seems like some weird dream that you and I should be talking together in this sort of way.”

She smiled up at him now—a wan, wavering smile. The ghost of her dead youth looked out upon him from her moist eyes, and he saw it, and was glad.

“You shall have time, little woman, as much time as you please,” he made answer, a new alertness in his tone. “We must just wipe out old scores, and start afresh. It’s not too late for that yet, thank God.”


A Touch of Colour


“Well, Captain Gore, so you really have come back to us at last! It’s quite like old days to see you here again. I hope you had a jolly time at home. Two years is a dreadfully long while for a soldier to spend in loafing. I’m ashamed of you!” And Mrs. Willard laughed the affable, mirthless laugh of a small mind.

“I feel duly crushed,” the delinquent made answer with a complacent smile, “though I can’t say much for your sense of justice—I was on sick leave, remember.”

“So you were, of course—I had forgotten. But you look fit enough for anything now, so I won’t waste any pity on you. Besides, the long absence enhances the joy of getting back to dear, cheery, frivolous India again. Don’t you think so?”

“No, I can’t honestly say I do. Stayed away too long, I suppose, and got out of touch with this country. Certainly Mooltan seems a bit insipid after Town.”

A small shadow flitted across Mrs. Willard’s face, and her laugh rang falser than usual.

“Oh, if you are of that mind, you can find some one else to talk to. We should be dead cuts in half an hour, which would be a pity. I love India. I love its frivolities, its scandals, its casual informality; and, if I remember rightly, so did you—once upon a time.”

This last in a lower tone, with a certain inflection in it that made Gore wince and look suddenly round at his companion. His mind had wandered, while she talked, to a certain noticeable dark face on the far side of the lawn, but the change in her tone recalled him with an unpleasant jerk.

Mrs. Willard was drawing figures on the gravel with her parasol, and her neat profile showed to excellent advantage.

He had admired this woman once, and had spent more of his time and money on her than was altogether wise. But in two years a man’s tastes may alter surprisingly, and now she jarred his nerves like a false chord. Moreover, her last remark annoyed him. He thought it in bad taste.

“Did I?” he asked, with a polite smile. “Well, time hasn’t stood still with either of us, and I’ve knocked around a bit since then; got out of the old eternal groove, and changed my mind on one or two important subjects. But tell me . . . who is the pretty woman over there, with the great dark eyes?”

“You’ve not changed in one respect, at any rate,” she replied, and her voice took an acid tone. “Do you call her pretty?”

“Most decidedly. Who is she?”

“Mrs. Treherne, wife of an Indian Army Captain. If I commanded a native regiment I should make a rule forbidding my officers to marry half-castes. It’s not fair to the other officers’ wives.”

Gore smiled again. He knew precisely what had caused that little outburst of spleen.

“Isn’t that rather a cruel speech, Mrs. Willard?” he said. “One could hardly call that woman a half-caste.”

“Couldn’t one?” Again she laughed her shallow little laugh. “People here do, though. They say her grandfather was a ‘Bunnia,’ or some such aristocratic personage; and one must draw the line somewhere, even out here. So Mrs. Treherne has rather a poor time of it on the whole.”

“Thanks to her charitable fellow-sisters! Will you introduce me?”

The situation was becoming strained, and he was anxious to escape.

“If you’ll excuse me—no. I dare say one of the men would do you that kind office. It’s time I gave a little attention to my other guests, I think. I shall see you again later on, of course.”


And with that he left her.

Mrs. Willard—wife of Colonel Willard, of the Royal Monmouths—was acting as regimental hostess at a garden-party, to which the entire “station” had been asked, without prejudice or distinction—a painful necessity not to be escaped; but happily of rare occurrence. It was a small station, dominated by a “set,” which was, in its turn, dominated by Mrs. Willard. That lady now made haste to the tea-table, where she issued brisk orders for the handing of refreshments, and while she stood there, a hapless attendant, hastening to obey, overturned a cup of tea upon her dainty white skirt.

Gore, watching from afar, saw the catastrophe, but did not fly to the rescue as he would once have done.

He saw, too, that the woman on the rustic seat rose quickly, and, kneeling down by the Colonel’s wife, did her utmost to remove the disfiguring stains, while the angry lady vented not a little of her pent-up annoyance with Gore upon the trembling, salaaming culprit.

Turning suddenly, with effusive thanks upon her lips, Mrs. Willard recognised Mrs. Treherne, and her face froze on the instant. Her unreasoning dislike of this woman had increased fourfold within the last half-hour.

“Please don’t trouble yourself, Mrs. Treherne,” she said, removing her dress with ungracious haste from the slim brown hands that held it, “it isn’t of the slightest consequence.” And without waiting for an answer she turned away from the table.

Gore, still watching, saw the hunted look in Mrs. Treherne’s eyes, the faint tremor of her lips as she stood drinking her tea in lonely misery.

“By Gad, it’s downright brutal,” he said under his breath; “I’ll go up and speak to her myself.”

But before he could carry out his chivalrous resolve she had moved away towards a bench, whereon three lively ladies sat, retailing whispered jokes to one another. At Mrs. Treherne’s approach the confidential chatter subsided into formal platitudes; and it was not long before the three kindred souls found some excuse for unanimous adjournment to the tea-table.

Wrathful and disgusted, Gore appealed to the soothing influence of a cigarette. As he was lighting it one of the Monmouths strolled up to him.

“Hope you’re getting on all right, old chap. Beastly slow sort of show, this, isn’t it?”

“Well, I don’t know many Mooltanites—now. But I have been looking on. What’s wrong with Mrs. Treherne that the women treat her as they do?”

“Wrong? Nothing at all that I know of. They’re only playing up to Mrs. Willard’s lead. Every one here does, these days, you know. She’s got hold of some story about Mrs. Treherne’s grandfather having been a ‘Bunnia,’ or some such rot, and says the girl was sent home to be whitewashed. I call it playing very low down to start that sort of lies, though Mrs. Willard is the C.O.’s wife. Of course, any one can see there’s a touch of colour in Mrs. Treherne; but she’s not half a bad little woman. Deuced pretty, too.”

“How long has she been here?”

“Six months. Treherne had furlough due when he married.”

“Well, I call it d——d unfair to treat her as they do,” declared Gore hotly. A pretty woman never lacks masculine champions.

Later in the afternoon he found Mrs. Treherne’s dog-cart for her and helped her and her two-year-old boy into their seats. Her husband was playing Bridge, she said, and would follow later.

“It is a guest-night,” she added, and there was a crispness about her consonants that told its own tale. “He is dining with the Monmouths. I suppose you will be going too?”

“Yes. Hope I’ll meet him there, and make his acquaintance. Good-night, Mrs. Treherne.”


A lofty whitewashed room strewn untidily with childish garments and other evidences of a baby’s evening toilet.

In a curtained crib the owner of the garments slept the sound, sweet sleep of babyhood; and before the looking-glass a woman sat—pale-faced and red-eyed—choking back the rebellious sobs lest they disturb her child. Long repression demanded a vent, and reaction had set in.

Now and again her sobs gave place to low disjointed sentences. “If they only knew how it hurts. . . and . . . I am sure Arthur is beginning to find it out.”

This was the unkindest cut of all, and the dark head went down again upon the folded arms.

A step in the veranda, and a man’s voice shouting for one of the servants. Mrs. Treherne sprang up, and flew to the wash-hand stand.

“I must speak to him, “ she thought hurriedly. “I can’t bear it alone any longer. If we could only talk it out together it might seem less terrible.”

Ay, if. . . .

But Captain Treherne was in a hurry, and was much engrossed in some minor detail of his toilet when his wife entered his dressing-room.

“Hullo, Flossie,” he said, without turning his head; “the little chap safe in bed? I shall be infernally late for mess; that ass of a bearer . . . why, good heavens, child, what’s wrong? Those beasts of women been snubbing you again?”

“Yes . . . it’s very hard to bear at times, Arthur.” Her voice shook.

“It’s an infernal shame,” declared Arthur, drawing on his Wellington boots with careful precision, and looking with fond admiration at their polished surface.

“Their politeness cuts me like a knife,” she went on, making a desperate effort to speak calmly. “And they don’t even trouble to be polite sometimes. I felt to-night as if I . . . I couldn’t go on any longer. . . . Oh, Arthur . . . can’t we do anything to make it better?”

The tears had welled up and overflowed in spite of herself. But Arthur was critically examining the set of his tie, and did not see them.

“I’m afraid not, my dear, unless you’d like me to chuck the service,” he answered a trifle brusquely.

“Oh, how can you say that?” she cried. “It was stupid of me to ask such a question. Of course, there’s nothing to be done. And I wouldn’t have spoken, only I’m so afraid that all this sort of thing may make you feel sorry we ever married. Arthur, has it ever . . . ? Has it?” Even while speaking she knew she had asked another foolish question; but the sore heart is not apt to weigh its words. She looked up at him now, her whole soul hungering for a denial.

“My dear girl, don’t talk rubbish,” replied her husband, in brisk, cheerful tones. “We’ve done it, and we must make the best of it. I really must be off. Good-night, little woman. Don’t fret. We’ll talk it all over to-morrow, if that’ll please you. I shall be late to-night, so don’t wait up.”

She remained standing in the dark veranda long after the sound of wheels had died away. Then she began pacing up and down with feverish rapidity.

“I knew it . . . I knew it,” she murmured half-aloud. “He was too kind to own it; but I shall always be a millstone round his neck. I told him, but he would not listen then. And now. . . . Oh, my God, why was I ever born?”

And still she kept up her rapid walk; her hands clenched, her teeth set hard together. She was weak and excitable, this distracted woman; and the darkness seemed suddenly full of eyes and voices that jeered at her in her lonely misery.

The kitmutgar announced dinner, and departed wondering at the memsahib’s unwonted activity. With folded arms he placed himself behind her solitary chair, and waited for her coming.

She checked her feverish walk at length, and came to a standstill, despair in her eyes, decision on her lips. Then she turned and went quickly into the house. But the soup grew cold, and the patient kitmutgar waited, and still the solitary chair remained unoccupied.

As Captain Treherne drove towards the mess, he, too, revolved the matter in his mind; and felt dimly that things were reaching a crisis.

He loved his wife in the undemonstrative, unemotional fashion common to men of his type, though her fanciful, excitable temperament puzzled him hopelessly at times. But if tears annoyed him, her grief genuinely distressed him; and certainly the idea of regretting his marriage had never once entered his practical head.

His remark about “chucking the service” had been made in a moment of irritation, and without serious intention. But now it recurred to him as a feasible, if not necessary, way out of his present difficulty.

“We must talk it over to-morrow,” he said to himself. “The poor little woman can’t stand this sort of thing all her life; and I’ve interest enough to get a home billet of sorts. It’s a capital plan. Will fix it up to-morrow.”

And having solved the problem to his entire satisfaction he drove into the mess porch, whistling cheerily.


Mrs. Willard was giving what she was pleased to call a “Hen Party” that night. And when needs must she could manage such an entertainment excellently well.

The guests were all members of her “set,” and the talk during dinner was brisk, if not particularly edifying. The trivial round of a small Indian station does not supply material for brilliant conversation. Besides, it is easier to talk nonsense, and Anglo-Indians are proverbially prone to follow the line of least resistance.

Dinner over, the ladies sipped their coffee in the pink twilight of the drawing-room; but not a single pair of lips was disfigured by the now ubiquitous cigarette. The talk waxed fitful, and languid, and each guest secretly wished herself at home, with a novel, a long chair, and a foot-rest. Mrs. Willard, being an experienced hostess, had foreseen this moment, and was by no means dismayed.

Rousing herself from a becoming “nest” of cushions, she announced that half a dozen officers had promised to walk over after mess and help to enliven them all. The announcement was received with the enthusiasm it deserved, and conversation revived at the cheering prospect.

“Why, here they come,” cried Mrs. Willard suddenly. “I didn’t think they would be over so early. Captain Gore is with them. I asked him specially, in order that you might sit upon him, Mrs. Burnley. Two years of adoration at home have made him rather lofty, and he has taken to running India down. He seems quite smitten, too, with that vulgar little Mrs. Treherne. Mind you chaff him well about her.”

Captain Gore and Colonel Willard entered as she finished speaking; there was that in their faces which would have checked a less thoughtless woman than Edith Willard. But she was not quick of observation.

“Hullo! Only two of you?” she exclaimed without rising. “And I never invited you, Charlie.”

“I am going back directly. I had to come across for a moment. Some other men will be round later.”

“That’s all right. Now, Captain Gore, here is Mrs. Burnley waiting to re-convert you to India-worship. I have been holding you up for admiration as the champion of the Eurasian—our own local specimen in particular.”

But at that moment her husband interrupted her sharply.

“You had better let me speak, Edith, before your tongue quite runs away with you. We have this minute heard that poor Mrs. Treherne shot herself this evening, after her husband left for mess.”

Dead silence greeted this announcement, and Colonel Willard could not refrain from adding: “It is my firm belief that you and your friends have a great deal to answer for.”

Thus in her own pitiful fashion Mrs. Treherne solved the problem for her husband. But he ended in quitting the service, after all.

Note of Acknowledgment

My acknowledgments are due to the editors of Longmans, Pall Mall, Macmillans, Temple Bar, Cassells, Argosy, Woman at Home, Ladies’ Field, and the Graphic on account of the respective stories that have already appeared in their magazines.

M. Diver

  1. Shame. 

  2. “Very good thing. I want it.” 

  3. “What price? Five rupees?” 

  4. “I will give ten rupees. That is all—no more.” 

  5. “Let no one come.” 

  6. A ceremony of propitiatory prayers and offerings to the spirits of departed ancestors, performed yearly, and also before any solemn undertaking. 

  7. Quilt. 

  8. Literally ostracised. 

  9. Butler. 

  10. “Get away, quickly.” 

  11. “Whoever is there? Bring a peg—at once.” 

  12. Shroffs = Money-lenders.