Benjamin Wade turned his pony from the narrow jungle track on to the dusty, unmetalled road that led to his estate. Behind him, in the Indian morning sunshine, lay stretches of coarse grass and tangled bushes, intersected with the stony beds of shallow watercourses; then miles of luxuriant, undulating jungle and dense forest that rose gently to the base of the mighty Himalayas, and washed in dark, irregular waves high up the rugged spurs of the lower mountain chain.
Before him were flat, cultivated acres, bright with green and yellow crops, and a few tea-fields in dull contrast; groves of enormous trees, airy towers of bamboo, nests of grass huts beneath broad plantain leaves; now and then the solid white gleam of a bungalow, and everywhere wild roses in abundance.
They climbed the trees, the hedges were pink with blooms, the air sweet with their scent; and the Englishman, as he rode along, inhaled the fragrance with a pleasure that had never grown less keen, though nearly every spring for the past thirteen years had he breathed the perfumed atmosphere.
Now he was enjoying it almost unconsciously, for his thoughts were given over to the events of the previous evening. Early yesterday morning old Lalla, the tracker, had sent him news of a tiger from a village some twenty miles distant; promptly Wade had despatched a small tent into the jungle, and that afternoon he had ridden out to the little camp awaiting him at the edge of the forest. The old ‘shikari’ had guided his master to a spot where the half-eaten carcase of a village buffalo had been dragged under a bush and left by the tiger the night before, and stealthily they had climbed into the branches of a tree which held the rough seat of grass and sticks already prepared by Lalla.
The pair had sat motionless, waiting and watching in the warm stillness of the spring evening — a stillness marred only by the insects that beat against their faces, and the odour of the mangled flesh that lay unpleasantly near to their hiding-place. Wade always loved the silence of the jungle, and the little, cautious noises that disturb it. The sensation of excitement that ‘sitting over a kill’ awoke sharply in his being was as poignant now as when, years ago, he had watched for his first tiger. It was a delight to which he could imagine no equal — an intoxicating sense of fierce pleasure; and this morning, as he remembered it, while his pony shuffled through the dust eager to reach the grain-bucket, the man’s sun-stained cheeks flushed darker, and his quiet, grey eyes shone rapt.
The scene slid through his mind distinct in every detail of sight and sound, from the humming of the insects and the timid rustle of small creatures in the undergrowth, to the first sound of a wary tread and the glimpse of a long yellow form slinking through the bushes. What an intense moment it had been when the beautiful, bright-coated beast had crept out in the red light of the sunset that glowed on the barks of the tall trees, to continue, with low snarls and the snapping and crunching of bones, the meal begun the previous night. What a sight when the tiger tore up the soil with its claws, and, purring, nosed and rolled on the carrion. Then two shots had rung out in sharp succession, and, mingled with the echo, came a roar so terrific that it shook the very ground — a mighty protest of astonished rage and agony, that prolonged itself into short, quick gasps, and ended with a gurgling sigh. In the quivering calm that followed, Wade and his shikari had descended from the tree to measure the dead body of a fine male tiger, 9 feet 10 inches from the tip of the nose to the end of the tail.
The long ride homewards next morning in the freshness of the Eastern dawn was invigorating after the disturbed night in the little hill tent, for his mosquito curtains had been forgotten, and the villagers had kept up a ceaseless clamour of rejoicing, with songs and tom-toms, over the destruction of the enemy that for months past had been robbing them of their cattle. A crowd of natives in a noisy procession was now escorting the corpse that made stately progress in a bullock-cart, under Lalla’s charge, towards the sahib’s bungalow.
Wade’s mind had just turned to the agreeable prospect of a bath and early breakfast as he reached the boundary of his own land, when the rapid beat of hoofs, and a cloud of dust ahead, made him draw close to the hedge with an exclamation of impatience. A white, half-bred Arab pony came galloping wildly down the uneven road, ridden by a girl in a habit skirt of some khaki-hued material and a red cotton blouse. Her streaming black hair and vivid colouring, the animal’s flowing white mane and tail, wide-open pink nostrils, and speckless coat, all shone through the softening haze of dust like an impressionist study in contrasts as the pair shot past Wade and pulled up suddenly. The white pony reared and bucked in indignation at the abruptness of the check, but his rider sat him easily, hands well down, right shoulder back, her slender, childish figure swaying with the violent movements. She soon controlled and turned him, and trotted up to Wade, bumping lightly in her saddle.
‘Hullo, Ben!’ she called, in a high treble, with the staccato clipping of the syllables that betrayed her connection with the country; ‘did you bag the tiger? And may I have the luck-bones?’
He regarded her with a smile of amused criticism.
‘H’n?’ she added, impatient for the promise of the curious little pair of bones, bent like a bow, that are found buried in the muscle of a tiger’s shoulders.
‘H’n?’ she said again, and looked eagerly into his face with eyes that were strangely, startlingly blue, almost the colour of a jay’s wing, and rendered still more remarkable by the thick black lashes and eyebrows.
‘Myra,’ said the man, ‘your hair looks like a fakir’s, and is just as dusty. Your hat is quite crooked, and your face is as red as a tomato.’
‘Well, I have been galloping, galloping, to meet you, and Moti was fresh. And, besides, what does it matter?’ she retorted, as they rode slowly on together; ‘there is nobody to see me in this place. If it was England, now, that would be different. But don’t mind how I look. Did you bag the tiger? I went to your place this morning and they told me you had gone out to the jungle yesterday after a message from Lana. So I knew what that meant.’
‘Yes, I got the tiger. Got him easy, just behind the shoulder. He’s a beauty, and Lalla is bringing him along behind in a cart.’
‘Oh, my! that’s fine. And may I have the luck-bones? Old Buggoo-ayah says they bring what you want. And it’s my birthday, too, to-day; I am sixteen.’
She glanced at him furtively, as though doubtful whether the announcement would impress or amuse him.
‘Your birthday?’ he said in kind surprise. ‘I had forgotten the date. Why, it seems only the other day that you were a little thing of four years old! Of course you shall have the luck-bones. I’ll send them down to Calcutta to be made into a brooch for you, and the skin shall be yours as well. But you must take care that the whiskers and claws aren’t stolen.’
‘Oh, thank you so much, dear old Ben. Yes, I know the natives will always steal the claws and whiskers if they get the chance, because those are lucky, too. I will guard the skin well; but I am afraid the claws and whiskers and luck-bones will never bring me my big wish — you know what that is — to go to England! But I have another wish, not so difficult, which perhaps now I shall get.’
She sighed, and Wade looked at her reflectively, wondering, as he had often wondered, what the future would bring to the child.
With the exception of a few terms at a girls’ school in the hill station, that could be seen perched, like a flock of white birds, on a distant mountain-side, all Palmyra Chandler’s sixteen years had been lived in the Siwâla Valley — a spot that Wade loved for its peace, its freedom, its climate, its beauty, its sport; and from which the girl had pined to get away ever since she had been able to think or reason for herself. She had inherited her restless, ambitious temperament, as well as the small, well-shaped head, handsome features, and singular blue eyes from her English ancestor, one Roy Chandler, who had been a military free lance in India during the days that preceded British supremacy — when Warren Hastings and John Company were themselves struggling through times of difficulty and danger.
Old Roy Chandler’s history was not an uncommon one for the period in which he had lived. Like many other young men of birth and education he had left England, for some unrevealed reason, to seek fortune and adventure in the East, and had pushed his way up country in the face of extra-ordinary dangers and hardships. Then for years he had drilled and disciplined the turbulent troops of a powerful native prince — an army composed of ruffians and fanatics, until the efforts of Chandler had transformed it into a comparatively well-trained force. He had won his men’s faith and affection, he had led them to victory, and saved them in defeat; had fought, marched, besieged, and attacked with much the same dauntless, untiring zeal that had made famous his contemporary and friend, George Thomas. But, unlike that daring, impulsive Irish spirit, Roy Chandler had concluded his military career in successful prosperity, and, purchasing a large area of rich country at the foot of the Himalayas, had settled down to end his days and enjoy, after his own fashion, the wealth he had so dearly gained. If he ever regretted England, or his home and people, he concealed his feelings, for he built himself a huge, rambling mansion on his property in the Siwâla Valley, and, like many another of his kind, married a native lady of high rank and unusual beauty.
Palmyra, their descendant, presented a curious example of heredity, or ‘throw back,’ in her likeness, both physical and mental, to her brave old forebear, considering that now, in the fourth generation, a good deal more native than English blood flowed in the Chandler veins. As such she had interested Wade considerably from the time when he had first known her as a passionate, Hindustani-speaking little savage of four years old.
‘You are always harping on the subject of going to England,’ he said at last. ‘What would you do if you got there?’
‘Do? I should find out the Chandler people to begin with, and I should put myself in their hands. I should say, “I am descendant, and bhai-bun,” I mean’ — correcting herself hastily — ‘“relation, and I want to be one of you — not half a native out on the Chandlerpore Zemindari in the Siwâla Valley.” I should beg to be taught how to behave and converse, and speak languages, and dance like the English dance, and sing, and all that. Of course there are many things I can already do. I can ride well and shoot straight. You know I can do both, can’t I? and I can tame animals and tell tales, but they are all native tales,’ she added sadly, ‘like my songs, which are all in Hindustani. Would they care to hear Hindustani songs in England, do you think, Ben?’
‘They might be a welcome novelty! But if it comes to that I don’t know much more about what would go down in England now than you do, Myra; I haven’t been there to stay for so long. I can hardly count passing through London on my way to Iceland to fish three years ago, though even those few days were too long for me! I hated the bustle and noise and fuss, and the lack of space and time and liberty. It reminded me too much of those awful years I spent there mewed up in an office. Of course there is also the country, but I am not rich enough to live my kind of life in the country in England.’
‘All the same,’ said the girl with slow incredulity, ‘I cannot understand why for you stick on here! I know the natives have a saying that once you have lived in Siwâla Valley you can never be happy anywhere else — but that is not true.’
He laughed. ‘I am not so sure,’ he said; and his gaze moved dreamily over the fair outlook before him, then upwards to the perpetual hills that soared into the beautiful blank blue of the sky.
Instinctively he drew a deep breath of the fine, pure air, and was silent. He could not convey to this elemental child how he revelled in the freedom of his life, how the beauty of the scenery, the unlimited stretches of forest and jungle, and the everlasting mountains appealed to something in his nature for which he had no name. How the glamour of this corner of India, the sunshine, the solitude, the independence, had bitten into his spirit and held him captive. Also he had a passion for sport, and here was he free to wander where he would over the bright carpet of the fields shooting small game; to penetrate the jungle after tiger, leopard, deer, even wild elephant if he willed; to take his light camp far up into the hills to the verge of the eternal snows in pursuit of musk-deer, mountain goat, and wild sheep. Supreme, almost arrogant content with his life was his.
‘You might sell Gulâban to the Rajah — he covets it — and go away all over the world,’ continued Myra with envy.
‘No doubt,’ he said. But there are some men to whom a place and a mode of life may become everything — may fill the position of family, relatives, friends, and all that is called the world. Perhaps it is partly because I was so thankful to come to Gulâban that I never want to leave it altogether. Imagine the change from imprisonment in a dreary, stuffy room adding up figures from morning till night with only a fortnight’s holiday in the year and no money to spend on it, to life at Gulâban in Siwâla Valley with sufficient for one’s needs and pleasures, and absolute freedom! Is it any wonder that I love the place?’
‘You mightn’t have gone on liking it so much perhaps if Miss Clifford had married you!’ remarked Myra significantly.
He glanced at her with amusement. ‘Why, that’s a very old story. How did you hear about Miss Clifford?’
‘Buggoo-ayah told me,’ said the girl; ‘she told me how, eight years ago, you wanted to marry the daughter of Colonel Clifford commanding at Siwâla station; but she went away up to Simla for the hot weather and married somebody else, some big General-sahib. You were only just zemindar. What is the word in English?’
‘Farmer — land-holder — agriculturist —’
‘Yes, only a farmer living at your place Gulâban, left you by your old uncle, and no Government pay, or position, or pension; so you were not good enough match!’ She grinned at him mischievously.
‘Yes, it’s all correct,’ he admitted, ‘though I don’t know how Buggoo-ayah got hold of it.’
‘Oh, native servants know all about everybody. Buggoo tells me lots of interesting things when I am lying down in the afternoons, only she says I am not to tell them again, and generally I don’t. You see, I have never said anything to you about Miss Clifford before this time, have I? I hear things about the mission people, and the Rajah’s wives, and the officers and their ladies in Siwâla station, although it is seven miles away; and all about the people who have settled down there to live. You know Yusuf, the Afghan — Tiddoo’s friend? Buggoo says he is a Russian spy, and all the bazaar knows it, but the Government will not believe. Buggoo knows, too, that Mrs. Wilkes, the magistrate’s wife, has a grandmother who is a hill-woman. But Mrs. Wilkes is very proud, and will never own her; she is too proud even to speak to Palmyra Chandler, who she little thinks knows all about the old hill-woman!’
She paused a moment, then went on rather irrelevantly: ‘I hate the English ladies when I see them at the band, or watching the polo, or playing tennis in the club compound. I see them when I drive with mamma round the station, and I hate them because they have got all I long to have — English lives and education, and English skins, and England to go back to after India. That is why I hate them. It is envy and jealousy. If they came to visit us, and asked me to go to their houses, perhaps I might learn from them, but mamma will not call on them; she says she has no strength to pay visits, and none ever come out to Chandlerpore any more than they come to see the Rajah’s wives, and I have no companion.’
‘But I know you have some school friends in Siwâla,’ said Wade. ‘Don’t they— ‘
‘Yes,’ she interrupted with disdain, ‘Flossie Fernandez and the Minas girls! They have been in Siwâla all their lives, and they know no more than I do, though they think they are very fashionable and clever, and go to the Volunteer ball, and the Masonic ball, too! But it does not matter,’ she concluded vindictively; ‘they will see. Someday I will teach them!’
‘Here’s my gate,’ said Wade, with cheerful indifference to the future discomfiture of Flossie Fernandez and the Minas girls. ‘I must say good-bye.’
‘Oh, Ben, let me come in and have breakfast with you. Please do! I was just going to tell you my wish, something so particular, and it will take a long time to say, and it is my birthday!’
She spoke with excited pleading, her red lips parted, her hair falling in a dark tangle over her forehead from beneath the grey felt hat she wore, with a gold gauze puggaree twisted about the crown.
Wade wondered carelessly what important communication she could be going to make to him — something about Buggoo-ayah very probably. In any case it would keep; he had no time to waste that morning.
‘I am sorry, Myra,’ he said firmly, ‘but I must get to work as soon as possible. The wheat and barley is being reaped, and we’re in the middle of the rice sowing, as you know. I shan’t be many minutes over my breakfast when I’ve bathed and changed. Go home, there’s a good child, and put yourself tidy. I’ll try and come over this evening after dinner, and you can tell me anything you like then.’
Her mouth drooped, but she accepted his decision submissively. With Mathew Chandler, her gloomy old father, with her foolish, indulgent half-caste mother, with Gordon her brother — nick-named ‘Tiddoo’ (the spider) — even with Buggoo-ayah, she would fly into diabolical native rages when thwarted; but with Wade she was nearly always reasonable and obedient, perhaps instinctively respecting in him the authority of the ruling race, though on rare occasions she had also treated him to unseemly displays of temper. This morning she meekly allowed her wishes to be set aside, but not until Ben had given her his solemn word of honour that he would come to Chandlerpore that evening.
‘I’ll meet you at our compound gate,’ she said, when he had promised. ‘I will be there at nine o’clock. It will be moonlight, and then I will tell you all my plan before we go up to the house. If you come straight to the house first, Tiddoo will be sure to sit in the room all the time. He always knows, like an animal, when he is not wanted. I hate Tiddoo! He is a beast!’
Wade raised his pith hat in farewell without speaking, but mentally he agreed with her last statement. Tiddoo was certainly odious, with his cunning yellow face, full, heavy black eyes, and monkey-like proportions; not to speak of his dissipated habits, which had already aged him in mind and appearance, though he was yet barely nineteen. His sole redeeming quality was his horsemanship, for Tiddoo could ride like a jockey. He passed most of his time in Siwâla station, seven miles away, with Yusuf the Afghan, hanging about the training stables, or galloping his own or his friend’s horses on the racecourse. He was uneducated, beyond being able with some difficulty to read and write, and had never known discipline or correction. Benjamin Wade he detested with venom, because once or twice the owner of Gulâban had spoken to him plainly, feeling a certain cold compassion for the misguided, objectionable youth, whose tendencies and upbringing had formed such fatal hindrances to any right development.
Palmyra cantered off towards the great white bungalow that stood a mile away amid a cluster of trees, and Wade rode into his well-kept compound. Here were flat green lawns spreading to the wild-rose hedges that divided the compound from the crops; beds of English flowers, heliotrope, mignonette, pansies, petunias, encouraged to tropical luxuriance and warmer perfume by the gracious, temperate climate; masses of cultivated roses, crimson, yellow, white, orange, — blooms that in London would have commanded the highest prices.
He looked about him with critical approval as he dismounted in front of the deep, thatched veranda. Then four dogs rushed down the steps barking a noisy welcome. Jim, the black spaniel, with the all-discerning nose, so invaluable for small game-shooting in the plains and for birds on the hillsides; Begorrah, the Irishman, plucky, quarrelsome, generous; Tess, the fox-terrier, of nervous temperament and exacting friendship; and Tummy the — well, it was hard to define the family to which Tummy belonged. He was a yellow person, with a faint resemblance to a bull-dog, and a figure and appetite that had earned him his vulgar title even as a puppy, when he and his master had both been sold through a plausible advertisement.
Wade acknowledged the clamorous greeting of his little pack; then spoke with politeness to a captious brown monkey that grinned and danced and chattered from the top of the veranda railings to which he was chained; and replied becomingly to the combined shrieks of a green parrot and a hill myna that swung excitedly in cages above his head. The dogs — leaping, yelping, worrying — escorted him into the big centre room of the bungalow. It was drawing- and dining-room in one, and had doors opening into the bedrooms on either side. The floor was covered with a close, clean matting strewn with the mounted skins of animals — tiger, leopard, bear, deer. The walls were hung with a few good sporting prints, and some curious, old-fashioned oil-paintings of Englishmen pig-sticking in top hats and tight white trousers. Above the pictures were ranged a multitude of horns, including antelope, bison, wild buffalo, gooral, ibex — for Wade had shot in all parts of India. Two enormous python skins hung from ceiling to floor, and a fine pair of elephant tusks, with a couple of rhinoceros horns, decorated the wall above the mantelpiece. Broad bookcases filled the spaces on either side of the fireplace; they contained works on travel and sport, religions, philosophy, folk-lore, novels old and new, and volumes of various poets. Spare tables, and even some of the chairs, were piled high with periodicals: Wade subscribed to weeklies, monthlies, quarterlies, in extravagant numbers, and of these his English mail principally consisted, for he seldom received a letter.
Practically he was without relations. His parents had married with impulsive improvidence, thereby enraging to the point of alienation their respective families, and these had hastened to signify their disapproval by ignoring the young couple, who, if recognised, were never likely to be anything but a pecuniary tax. Therefore Benjamin’s childhood had been passed entirely in the little west country parish of which his father was vicar; and the boy had grown up healthy, strong, and simple; naturally clean in mind and body, seeking his amusements in the open air, hunting on foot with the hounds, ratting and rabbiting with the farmers, playing in every local football or cricket match.
He was educated at home by his father, a man of refinement and ability, an innate lover of music, art, and literature; but whose tastes were starved and smothered by the ceaseless, weary struggle to keep his delicate wife alive, and the little household free from debt, on £90 a year. Still, he contrived to give his son much sound teaching, to cultivate in him a spirit of tranquillity, and a certain artistic sense of the true and the beautiful, so reviving, as the boy grew old enough to share them, many of the intellectual pleasures of his lost youth. Mrs. Wade died when Benjamin was fourteen, and two years later he was also fatherless, without profession or particular qualifications, without influential or charitably disposed connections, and with no money at all.
An opening in a London business house was offered to the boy by an old friend of his father’s, and for four weary years, from morning till evening, Benjamin sat on a stool in front of a ledger earning wages that just enabled him to live, and no more. He found it intolerable; but as prospects of future advancement were good, he struggled bravely to endure it, craving the while for the open air, for healthy exercise, for the smell of the trees and fields, for liberty, mental and physical. During his brief holidays he tramped feverishly over hills and valleys, through woods and commons, avoiding high roads and towns, and sleeping in remote villages or farms.
It was a wonderful day in the young man’s life when a much redirected letter came addressed to ‘Mrs. Wade,’ which proved to be from an uncle of his mother’s in India. Of this relative Benjamin had only heard vaguely; indeed, the family had never been certain whether the old man still lived. But now Mr. Adam Boyce, ignorant of his niece’s death, wrote to make a proposal; and Benjamin gathered from the letter that his great-uncle owned a Government grant of land at the foot of the Himalayas, that he farmed it himself, and grew wheat, barley, rice, sugar-cane, spices, and other country produce for the market. This was all explained laboriously in thin, pointed handwriting, with a stilted mode of expression, and led up to the statement that the writer was ‘in years,’ and could not hope to manage his estate actively for very much longer; he himself was childless, but he believed his niece had a son, doubtless by now she had many, and therefore, should she desire a provision for one of them he, Adam Boyce, was ready to take the lad, teach him his work, install him as manager, and, if he proved satisfactory, bequeath him the property.
‘I am not a rich man,’ wrote Benjamin’s great-uncle, ‘and the pension I draw as a retired officer of the Honourable East India Company of course dies with me. There is no fortune for the Englishman in Indian farming, even in the temperate climate of Siwâla Valley, and private European enterprise is nowadays rather looked down upon out here; but the Gulâban Grant affords a pleasant, if unambitious, existence. My beloved and lamented wife and I spent many happy years here, for she belonged to India, and neither of us ever experienced any inclination to leave the country.’ . . .
Benjamin accepted the offer for himself with joyful gratitude and relief, and went to join his old kinsman at Gulâban in the Siwâla Valley, passage and outfit being paid for by Mr. Boyce. He found a curious establishment. A large, untidy, old-fashioned bungalow, with a deep thatched roof and broad verandas, surrounded by acres of unfamiliar-looking crops that flourished up to the very steps, and lines of servants’ quarters close to the walls, filled with a rabble of native retainers and their noisy, quarrelsome families. There were dilapidated stables with a few old horses in them, and an elephant used for sporting purposes and for traversing the rough portions of the estate; and behind the buildings weird, rusty implements and pieces of machinery stuck up out of the long grass — mournful evidences of unsuccessful farming experiments. Within the bungalow large, heavy furniture was crowded together, and dust predominated. The accumulation of rubbish was appalling; nothing, not even an old newspaper, was ever thrown away, and when a drugget wore out it was not removed, but another was placed upon it, with the result that the floor of the dwelling-room felt like a thick mattress beneath the feet.
Mr. Boyce himself was a tall old man with a determined face, twinkling blue eyes, and a long ragged white beard. He ruled autocratically over his tenants and labourers, and was engaged in perpetual broils with Government over surveys and land assessments. The greater part of a handsome pension he spent in hopeless law-suits, and in all probability he would have ruined himself with litigation, for he was growing more obstinate and irritable with old age, had not his great-nephew arrived to distract his attention, and keep him otherwise occupied in teaching the youth his work. The old man was glad of company, and relieved to have many of the tedious details of management lifted from his shoulders. The boy was adaptable, enthusiastic, and good-tempered, and took to his new life eagerly, worked hard at the language, and quickly mastered the intricacies of crops and seasons, rents and mortgages. Also he learned from his uncle the craft of the jungle — for Mr. Boyce had been a mighty sportsman — as well as much of the lore of the people, their religions, customs, and deep-rooted superstitions. He grew attached to his queer old relative, who had almost forgotten England and English ways; who smoked a hookah and dined at four o’clock, drank beer in alarming quantities, occasionally took opium, and ate curries at every meal, with strange accessories and mountains of rice, while, to his nephew’s astonished relief, his digestive organs and mental powers appeared to remain unimpaired.
The curries, the beer, and the opium did not kill him, but three years after Benjamin arrived at Gulâban Mr. Boyce died from the effects of a fall, and his great-nephew found himself in possession of the house and property, having a sound grasp of the business, and a moderate income from the land sufficient for his requirements within and without the bungalow—an income that with a free hand and judicious management could be substantially increased. His business training was now of good service to him, and in time he was in a position to renovate and repair the house and its contents, to move the servants’ quarters further back, build better stables, and replace the crops in the compound with preparations for the beautiful garden that became his pride and pleasure. Later on he gradually extended the practice of hiring out land to natives on the half-profit system, farming only a certain portion himself, and thus he obtained more leisure and a better return, which enabled him now and then to go on expensive shooting trips, to buy and read the books he fancied, and permit himself a few reasonable luxuries.
He was entirely satisfied with his life. He loved Gulâban, his home, with its solid comfort, its tranquillity and order; he loved the wide valley, with its jungles and forests guarded by the mighty mountains. The place had grown into his mind and heart and being, and always he blessed the sufficiency of his untrammelled days, remote from the clash and struggle, as well as the pettinesses, of the world.
But that he was not uninterested in the events and questions of the times was evident from the class of periodical to which he subscribed. This morning he looked longingly at a newly-arrived, unopened batch of numbers, but resisted the inclination to glance into them, and hurried to his bath; for his native overseer was already waiting patiently in the veranda.
Wade left the bungalow directly he had swallowed some tea and toast, for the ‘big breakfast’ hour was yet afar off; and all day he was busy in fields, and sheds, and office, only ceasing his vigilance when the sun softened with restful reminder that the time for work was over, and the coolies, men and women, in a brown, perspiring mass, were paid and dismissed to their lines and villages. Afterwards he and the dogs turned towards a clearing behind the servants’ houses, where Akbar, the elephant, was lazily rocking his great head and lashing his sides with long wisps of dry grass, and where Lalla, the shikari, squatted over the skin of the tiger just removed from the carcase. A short distance away the fat of the animal bubbled in a pot over a charcoal fire, to be sold later by Lalla as an infallible native cure for rheumatism. With an air of conscious virtue he handed his master the newly-scraped ‘luck-bones,’ which he could have sold for double his month’s wages. Wade, remembering Myra, put them in his pocket, gave a few directions concerning the skin, conversed with Akbar’s attendant on the subject of the elephant’s diet, and then paid a visit to the stables, where a stud-bred mare and the well-shaped little country-bred pony he had ridden that morning neighed and whinnied their welcome.
Now came a rest in the veranda. He threw his sun-hat aside, stretched his long limbs on a cane deck-chair, and called for a whisky and soda. The larger dogs settled themselves beneath the chair, Tess cuddled into it with him, her head reposing fondly on his chest. Wade drank his peg slowly, smoked, and read his papers without danger of disturbance, and now and then he sighed contentedly. It was a blissful hour. The scent of flowers was wafted towards him by the tenderest breath of warm breeze, birds called with cheerful clamour from the garden, the monkey chattered softly to himself, doves cooed in the thatch of the roof; otherwise, the quiet was absolute — a sweet, companionable, satisfying quiet, with nothing in it of loneliness or dreary silence.
That evening, when he had finished his dinner, Wade drove in his bamboo cart to Chandlerpore, as Myra’s home was called by native and European alike. After his short night and long day he felt little inclination to walk, or indeed to go at all, but there was his promise to Myra to be remembered.
The full moon lit up every step of the rough, village cart-road leading from Gulâban to the entrance of the vast compound that harboured wild pig, pea-fowl, partridge, and even little hog-deer in its unkempt acres. Wade sat in his cart at the gateless entrance that was guarded by two mud pillars thickly coated with whitewash, and waited for Myra. He was early, but he knew she possessed all the native disregard for the value of time, and might equally be over-punctual or half an hour late. Just beyond the pillars, close to a magnificent seesum-tree, he could distinguish a low erection that, with its four corners and domed roof, resembled a mosque in miniature. This was the tomb of Roy Chandler, the famous adventurer who had ended his career in glory and opulence, and now, in accordance with his own desire, slept beneath this monument in the compound.
Presently an old native dressed in a pink loin-cloth, a skimpy white jacket, and a small twisted turban, approached the tomb from the direction of the house, and on seeing the sahib made a low salaam. Wade got out of the trap, and told the syce to lead the mare up to the stables. It occurred to him that a little conversation with old Rattan, the Chandlers’ factotum and the real ruler of the compound, would pass the time till Myra should appear; and he strolled to Roy Chandler’s resting-place, to find Rattan carefully trimming a tiny lamp — no more than a coarse cotton wick floating in an earthenware saucer filled with mustard oil — that rested on a solid block of stone within the mausoleum. He knew it had been the dying command of the old warrior that a light should be kept burning on his grave as long as a Chandler lived at Chandlerpore, and that since his death, more than a hundred years ago, the family had respected this last wish of their ancestor with superstitious reverence. Generally small offerings of grain or flowers were to be found alongside the lamp, for, to the natives, the monument had long since become the shrine of a saint. Both Hindus and Mahomedans would pay their respects devoutly to the spirit of the one who lay beneath, and travellers would frequently turn in from the road to do ‘pooja’ and leave a humble sacrifice.
Old Rattan, squatting within the tomb intent on his task, his high-caste Brahmin features illuminated by the flickering light, made a picture to be remembered; and Wade watched him with interest, thinking regretfully of the deterioration of the Chandler family since the lamp had first been lighted over the body of their soldier-forebear.
‘For how many years have you tended the lamp, Rattan?’ he asked, as the native crawled out of the monument and stood beside him in the moon-light.
‘Your Highness, I am an old man, and I have kept no count of the number of mine years. But while I was yet a youth did my father die of the black cholera, and with his last breath did he bid me, his son, cherish the lamp till the day of my death, even as he had done before me. And I obey. Since then has it never gone out, for from my father’s lips had I learned to love the memory of the General-sahib. As a boy had my father seen him, and my father’s father had fought beside him in battle, and followed him through victory and failure. And when the great General-sahib ceased to make war, and came here to end his days, did my grand-father come with him to be chief servant over his household.’
‘Was he married to the Begum before he settled here?’ inquired Wade. He had only heard rambling, disconnected accounts of Roy Chandler’s domestic affairs, and the mistakes of those that came after him.
‘No, sahib; he married the Begum — some say in an evil day — after the house was built. He built it for her. She was young, and he was old; and when their only son was but fourteen the General-sahib died, white headed and bent with wounds and rheumatism, but having the eye of the eagle, the hearing of the wild goat, and the wisdom of the gods, even to the end.’
‘And his son?’
‘Aree, sahib! It is a saying among our people that a son favours the maternal uncle. Be that as it may, the offspring of Roy Chandler had naught in him of his father’s greatness of spirit. Left with the women of the household, and having no one of his father’s blood to guide him, did he play upon the harp of pleasure without let or hindrance. Money was spent like water, jewels and gold and silver were as dirt, there was neither understanding nor forbearance. He wedded a wife of Portuguese blood, but again in their turn did his children follow in his footsteps. Marriage portions drained the land, there was gambling, drunkenness, rioting, waste, and wickedness, with the worst of the English and the native ways and manner of living intermingled. But “God is an enemy to excess,” and of the ten children born to the son of Roy Chandler, only the sahib, who was the youngest of them all, has lived to bear the name. For many years was it feared that when the sahib died the lamp must be let go out, for he was ever silent and alone, and mated not until middle-age was well upon him, and then did he take to wife a childless widow whose youth was over. Nevertheless, as thine honour knows, she bore him two children, and it is said that now the desire of the sahib’s heart is to restore for his son the splendour of the days of the General-sahib. But what has come and gone is gone away, and it would take more years than the sahib has left to him to put matters right. It is said —’
The old man broke off suddenly, for Myra was seen flitting down the drive, dressed in a limp, washed-out cotton dress that clung to her outline like the garment of a Hindu woman. Rattan disappeared among the trees, and Wade went forward to meet her. He turned by her side, and together they sat down in the moonlight on the narrow platform that surrounded Roy Chandler’s tomb.
Wade lit a cheroot. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘now what is this wonderful secret?’
He took off his cap, and laid it down by his side as he turned to the girl. She looked up at him with confidence. Wade was clean shaven, his nose, mouth, and chin were large and firm, his eyes grey and steady. Not at all a romantic type, but one that conveyed a sense of security and friendship, and a hint of strong emotions never liberated. Myra was so accustomed to her friend that she had hardly considered his appearance — his disposition she had always trusted and admired with an intensity little short of hero-worship — but now, looking at him in the brightness of the Eastern moonlight, she suddenly became conscious of the excellent outline of his head and shoulders, and the manliness of his quiet face. She felt a rush of wondering gratitude for the friendly understanding and consideration he had always given her, and for the moment it held her silent.
‘Go on,’ he said smiling, ‘I’m here to listen, you know.’
She roused herself, and shifted her position.
‘Well,’ she began slowly, ‘you know how I have always wanted and wanted to be sent to school in England, and how pappa would never consent? He thinks I have had enough education in the hills, where I learned nothing! They do not know how to make you learn at that school. And you know how mamma says that Flossie Fernandez and my cousins, the Minas girls, and others like them, have had no more chances than me, and yet are so stylish, and knowing, and quite finished, and why can I not be the same? And when I tell her I do not want to be like them, she only says, “You are quite happy, my Myra, why wish to go away where all would be different, and you would marry somebody who would not allow you to return to your home and people. No, you shall have pretty clothes, if we sell the young bullocks, and presents, and perhaps a ring, but not go away.” Pappa does not care what I am like so long as I do not cost. He is saving up every pice so that when he is dead Tiddoo may live here in style, like old Roy Chandler, who had everything like a Rajah. That is pappa’s mania — that Tiddoo should one day live like his ancestor. He adores Tiddoo because he is a boy, and he thinks I do not matter because I am a girl. Now, for a long time I have said nothing about going to England, but I have thought of another plan, and I have told mamma. She says she would not mind, but that she thinks pappa would never say yes.’
‘What is the plan?’ asked Wade, a shade impatiently.
‘I should like to have English companion — some one to live at Chandlerpore, and show me how to do things.’
‘Good gracious!’ said Wade with a laugh, astonished at the suggestion.
The thoughtless exclamation immediately dispersed Myra’s feelings of tenderness towards him, and she flew into a rage. She had little self-control, and responded instantly to her impulses, and now she sprang to her feet, her vivid blue eyes afire.
‘You do not care one damn what happens to me! There is nobody who cares. All my life I am to stay and rot at Chandlerpore. My father and my mother, they will not let me go to England out of selfishness. They think of nothing but themselves, and Tiddoo thinks of nothing but himself. Tiddoo does all he wants, and I shall never know anything, and nothing will ever happen to me, unless I fight for myself. And now that perhaps I have got a good plan and you might help me — when I want to improve (you are always saying I am tom-boy) you laugh at me — you turn against me! I hate you, you are —’
There followed a string of unsavoury epithets in Hindustani, and then Myra threw herself against the wall of the mausoleum and began to cry.
Wade stood up and put his hand on her shoulder.
‘My dear little girl,’ he soothed in remorse, ‘you know perfectly well that I understand and am sorry for you. I was only surprised for the moment. Your plan was so unexpected. I quite realize what your feelings are. Come, Myra, do believe me. Sit down again and let us discuss the idea.’
At first she shook his hand away, and continued to sob. Then gradually she grew quieter, and finally she turned a resentful, tear-stained face towards him and consented to be pacified. Her mind was so full of her project, and she so yearned to talk it out with him, that she could not afford to reject his apologies. With offended sniffs, and a show of reluctance, she resumed her seat on the platform, and he settled himself again at her side.
‘Now tell me,’ he encouraged, ‘you think you would like a companion? Well, it sounds a good idea. I wonder we never thought of it before.’
‘Yes,’ she said, with lingering suspicion. ‘I thought if we could get somebody English who would show me the things I want to know, and read books with me. I cannot read books alone, even when you lend them to me and tell me about them first. I get tired of them, and there is nobody at hand to say, “Go on, go on.” Would it be hard to get somebody like that?’
‘I don’t think it would be difficult. I suppose you ought to advertise in the Pioneer.’
She threw out her hands, palms upwards; Wade noted the thoroughly native gesture.
‘Oh, but I need her from England! She must know nothing about India, or perhaps she would despise us and our place.’
‘If she were a lady she wouldn’t, and she would have to be somebody who really was a lady.’
‘Of course,’ she agreed eagerly, ‘but she must not dominate, domineer — what is the word? She must not be zubberdust (tyrannical), you know. I shall only learn what I wish, and she must let me copy all she says, and does, and wears, but not make me do anything I do not like. I do not want governess. I am too old for that; I want companion; and she must come from England, if she comes at all,’ she added doggedly.
‘I pity her,’ rose to Wade’s lips, but he stifled the words in time, and nodded with grave comprehension. ‘I see. She must be a person of tact and discretion. But how do you propose to capture such a treasure? and how about your father, what will he say?’
Again the quick brown hands shot out. ‘Ah!’ she cried, ‘that is just where I want you to help me! You might persuade him that it would be the best thing. If you will only come up to the house with me to-night, and talk, and say how you met me out riding this morning all wild, and like a tomato, and how I am now sixteen and have no manners or learning, and you think I should have English companion —’ she paused to take breath.
‘Steady, steady!’ laughed Wade. ‘Why can’t your mother ask him, or why don’t you do it yourself?’
She shook her head. ‘He would only say no, just like about my going to England. Mamma says the best chance is for you to say it to him. Nobody could persuade him to send me to England, but he might listen to you about somebody to teach me at Chandlerpore, and then mamma would back you up. He will object, of course, at first — doesn’t he always object to any change, even over quite little things? But if you were to talk, and talk, and persuade, and persuade, he might think there was some reason and sense, and he might say yes at last. Then at once, before he could say no, you would have to write to England and get her for me. If you said you would make all arrangement pappa would be more likely to agree. He would not go to any trouble himself writing letters or advertisement or any sort like that, and mamma would not know how. But if you took all trouble he might not mind.’
She was serenely confident that neither would Wade mind taking all trouble. He regarded her with some dismay.
‘You must know somebody in England you could write to,’ she went on rapidly, before he could speak; somebody who would see about it, h’n? Oh, Ben, do try and get it all fixed! It is the wish of my heart, and if you will not help me, how can I do?’
She rose in her excitement and stood before him, slender and graceful, her hands clasped, her body swaying lightly, her lips parted, and her strange blue eyes looking white beneath their black brows in the brilliant light of the moon. She wore no hat, and her dark hair stood out round her forehead like a halo. He realized that she was growing into a beautiful woman, and a vague wonder slipped through the man’s mind that the sight of her dark radiance should leave him so unmoved.
But if his senses were untouched, his compassion was aroused, and he began seriously to consider how he could best help her to obtain ‘the wish of her heart.’ It was a very harmless wish, and it might be as well that she should have someone to guide and advise her — some sensible, middle-aged, English gentlewoman who would encourage the girl’s best instincts, and help her to fight her native failings; who would develop her talents, and teach her the value of intellectual pleasures. Her mother, whose first husband had been a half-caste shopkeeper in Siwâla, was ailing in body, limited and inert in mind; her father was rapidly becoming possessed to the point of derangement with one idea, that of hoarding money during his lifetime in order that when Tiddoo succeeded him the palmy days of Roy Chandler might be restored. Tiddoo himself was no companion for the girl; neither had she anything in common with her aunt, Miss Josephine Pathana, a younger sister of Mrs. Chandler, who had taken up her abode at Chandlerpore without welcome or invitation.
Wade remembered that there were other inmates of the house, but these, he knew, were more unsatisfactory still, as far as Myra was concerned, being a shadowy crowd of more or less native female connections, retainers, and pensioners, who occupied their own quarter of the building, and could none of them speak English. Eurasians possess the strong patriarchal instinct of the country, an instinct that accounts for the absence of the workhouse in India, and is answerable for much kindness and generosity, though it is true that the charity, as in this case, is more often obligatory than spontaneous. To have denied Miss Pathana or these other women a home would have shamed Mathew Chandler in his own eyes, as well as in the sight of relatives, servants, tenants, and acquaintances alike. They cost little, for provisions of a native character were plentiful — grain, vegetables, fowls, rice, milk, and spices, were all produced in abundance on the estate.
Myra’s surroundings were certainly not conducive to her mental or moral advancement. But, then, pondered Wade, looking ahead, given that the right person could be found to influence her, that she could be improved, refined, partially educated, to what would it all lead? What future was open to her that would give her happiness? Once having tasted something better, how would she endure her existence fettered by her circumstances? What Englishman would care to marry her, handicapped as she was by her native blood, her hopeless relations, her savage, passionate nature that could be subdued, but never really conquered? It might be kinder to refuse to help her, to let the wish of her heart ‘wear itself out, to let her live on in her present groping ignorance (which was bliss compared with what she might be called upon to suffer under other conditions), and marry some dusky connection, who would make her the mother of many dusky children, and provide her with the same description of home from which he took her.
‘Oh, Ben!’ wailed Myra, you sit, and sit, and are chup, and you will not promise to help me. If only once you have promised, then I know it will be all right.’
‘But I assure you it is not so easy as it sounds,’ he said with reluctance; ‘who could I write to? It isn’t everybody one could ask to undertake such a business.’
‘You have had plenty of friends in Siwâla who have gone home,’ she argued.
‘I dare say. But I have lost sight of them, as nearly always happens with Indian and board-ship acquaintances. I don’t know anybody I could write to.’ But even as he spoke a possible scheme presented itself to his mind. ‘And I am not at all sure, even if it could be arranged, how the thing would turn out. I expect it might be a dangerous experiment.’
Myra wrung her little hands. ‘Oh, Ben, if you could only know how I have thought, and wished, and longed, and how much I want it, you would not be so unkind!’ She caught her breath with a choking sob, and the supplication and entreaty in her voice and eyes proved too much for Wade’s good nature.
‘I shall have to think it over,’ he said irresolutely. ‘It’s not a thing that can be rushed.’
The girl sat down close to him, quick to take advantage of the concession. With her elbows on her knees, and her chin in her hands, she spoke rapidly, her eyes fixed on his face. ‘What good will it do to “think it over”? If you do not say yes now you will never do it, and then I shall be so unhappy I shall not care what happens to me. I will marry young Pathana, or perhaps the Rajah’s son, who wants one of his wives to be English speaking! You would only have to talk a little, and write a few letters. That is not much trouble. Time goes quickly; if it is not done soon it will be too late. And if you come up to the house now, while pappa has got his hookah and his rum and water, he would listen. He would listen more on my birthday, too. Oh, Ben, say that you will do it! Say yes and I will kiss you!’
Wade rose with haste, and turned from her to throw the stump of his cheroot into the aloe hedge. She seized his hand, and tried to pull him in the direction of the bungalow, and, reluctantly, he yielded, impatient with himself for weakly permitting this responsibility to be thrust upon him.
They went up the ill-kept drive together towards the big white house that looked palatial, gleaming between the dark trees, its neglect and dilapidation left tenderly unnoticed by the moonlight. But by daylight the once fair building presented an appearance of patient, forlorn decay. The plaster was peeling off the walls, the balustrade around the flat roof was broken into gaps, tattered bamboo blinds hung crooked in the doorways, and a native string bedstead was generally to be seen standing beneath the portico. Fowls and goats were permitted to wander unchecked in the garden, and the litter of the servants’ quarters reached as far as the front door.
Wade and Myra found old Rattan sitting motionless on the steps. He rose and salaamed low to them, but Myra waved him back, saying she would conduct the sahib into the house herself without further announcement, and the pair passed on into the broad, echoing veranda. From this they entered a vast bare hall, and the dim light of a single oil-lamp showed an enormous chandelier, covered with dust, hanging from the centre of the ceiling, and beneath it a Persian carpet, handsome still, though worn and faded. A large round table, rickety and worm-eaten, stood on one side, and a few old-fashioned what-nots and chiffoniers, in various stages of decay, completed the furniture with a row of ugly, cane-bottomed chairs. A bolster and some pillows in their original undress of striped ticking were piled at one end of the room, and a hookah stood on a little mat beside them. The place smelt of bats, and great cobwebs, heavy with spiders and dead insects, hung in the corners. Wade knew the room well, and a familiar shuffling noise told him that the master of the house was at hand. Myra disappeared as her father entered the room.
Mathew Chandler looked ten years older than his sixty-seven years. His face was a mass of wrinkles, his mouth almost toothless, and he was thin, bent, and feeble; his baggy garments, composed of some check cotton material, looked like a night-suit made of dusters, and he wore red leather native slippers on his sockless brown feet.
‘Hul-loh!’ he said, with a strong accent, and held out a shaking hand. Apparently it did not strike him as an unusual hour for callers. He was not easily surprised, and took little account of time.
Wade followed him through one of the numerous doors into the stuffy apartment where Mr. Chandler smoked, and dozed, and dreamed of the days of his grandfather. It was an interesting room in spite of its close smell of native tobacco and kerosene oil, and general air of slovenliness. The big armchair which the old man used had belonged to Roy Chandler himself, though little beyond part of the framework now remained of the original piece of furniture. A fine mahogany table and a chest, both black with neglect, were also its contemporaries, and some soiled Persian rugs that lay on the drugget covering the cemented floor had been the gift of a grateful ruler to his victorious Commander-in-Chief. Over the mantelpiece hung the adventurer’s sword, and above it his portrait, crudely painted by a native artist who had yet contrived to portray the bold carriage, the keen blue eyes, the wide forehead below the powdered hair, the thin high nose and clean-shaven, firm-lipped mouth of his sitter. Beside this picture hung another — that of a native lady with wheaten-coloured complexion, long, almond-shaped eyes with a gleam of cunning in their depths, and full, regular features — Roy Chandler’s wife. She wore a fine gold and white wrapper over her head, a ring studded with jewels in her nose, heavy gold and silver ornaments about her neck and arms, and clusters of clumsy rings on her tiny fingers and thumbs.
Wade kept his eyes fixed on the beautiful, sensual face that seemed to leer down at him with malignant amusement as he manceuvred to open the subject he had come to discuss, knowing that Mathew Chandler was native enough to be rendered hopelessly obstinate by direct methods. It was as though the portrait could foresee the disturbing changes that Wade was to bring about in his own even, pleasant existence by this interference with the Chandler family affairs, and was spitefully enjoying the prospect.
He accepted a strong cheroot and lit it leisurely. Mr. Chandler was not smoking, but he surreptitiously slipped a little piece of betel-nut into his mouth and began to chew it till the corners of his lips were red.
‘So Myra is sixteen to-day,’ observed Wade, examining his cheroot reflectively.
The crops, and the season, and the prospect of the rains had been discussed, or rather the visitor had made comments with which the host had agreed flaccidly, and the moment had arrived for Wade either to take his leave or do the behest of Palmyra.
‘Six-teen,’ repeated Mr. Chandler.
There was a pause, during which the old man gazed at his companion from beneath shaggy white eyebrows, and chewed the betel-nut with contentment.
‘I must say,’ went on Wade with some hesitation, when I met her this morning on my way home from the jungle I thought she looked more like a child of twelve.’
‘How for?’ inquired Mr. Chandler, and for the moment ceased to chew; she does not look weak, h’n?’
‘No, no; she’s a very fine girl; but what I mean is that she isn’t growing up quite in the way she should do. It’s not right, Chandler, that your daughter should race about the country like a hoyden, her hair flying, and not even a syce with her! Tell me, what does she do with herself all day? Does she read? Can she play the piano, or paint, or do needlework, or anything like a young lady?’
Wade’s ideas, it may be noticed, were old-fashioned.
‘She does well enough,’ answered the father with suspicion. ‘She can play “The Blue Bells of Scotland” — what else? She has been talking to you! But I tell you she shall not go to England, no matter how she talks. There are not enough rupees. It is not possible, and she knows.’
‘Then,’ said Wade slowly, ‘you ought to get somebody to look after her.’
‘A husband, eh?’ — Mr. Chandler brightened in voice and appearance.
‘I did not mean that,’ answered the other, suddenly perceiving that Mr. Chandler hoped he was about to make an offer for the hand of his daughter, ‘but something quite different.’
The old man’s expression changed to one of visible disappointment.
‘Of course,’ went on Wade persuasively, ‘I can understand that you and Mrs. Chandler don’t want Myra to go to England for many good reasons, but you know her mother isn’t strong enough to look after her much, and she’s a clever girl, and going to be a beauty. What will happen to her if she’s allowed to grow to womanhood out in this place with no resources or accomplishments to occupy her? She’ll make a mess of her life as sure as fate. It isn’t fair.’
‘What is it you want? I tell you she shall not go to England. So that is all.’ The old man did not seem to think of questioning Wade’s right to interest himself in the matter.
‘If you will allow me I should suggest that you engage some educated and refined woman to be a companion to Myra, and teach her something of what she ought to know.’
‘But that, how should we get?’
‘I think I might be able to manage it for you if you cared to entrust the undertaking to me?’
‘Somebody that you know?’ asked Mr. Chandler, with native suspicion of a bargain.
Wade laughed. ‘There would be no question of advantage to me in the matter, I assure you. Quite the reverse. I should probably have a good deal of trouble, and certainly no recompense for it, except that I should feel we had done our best for Myra. I have no one particular in my mind for the post, but I think I might manage to get a suitable person selected and sent out at the beginning of the cold weather.’
‘“Sent out?” Do you mean from England? Oh my! that would be ruin — and then you would marry her?’ cried Mr. Chandler in shrill alarm.
Wade felt a growing impatience with the situation. What had possessed him to undertake this task of inducing Mr. Chandler to consent to an innovation that might not only be a complete failure, but cause endless difficulties and complications? The peace-loving side of his nature rebelled against the whole business — and the old man was so exasperatingly childish, and yet so obstinate. But he had gone too far now to draw back. Myra’s entreaties in the moonlight had stirred his masculine sympathies and tenderness of heart, and he was paying the price of his susceptibility. He only trusted that the price might not become inconveniently heavy in the future.
‘Nonsense!’ he said rather crossly. ‘I shall never marry now. Gulâban takes the place with me of wife and family, and always will do. As to the question of expense, the woman could come second class P. and O., and you needn’t give much salary. There are plenty of well-born, well-educated females in England, if one can believe the papers, who are only too anxious to earn a living, and you don’t want a blue-stocking with a degree. You could run to it all right if you liked, Chandler, and this is going to be a bumper season!’
‘But Myra will marry — perhaps soon.’
‘Who is there for her to marry? — young Pathana?’
‘No, no. Not that extravagant!’
‘Perhaps, then, the Rajah’s son,
‘Oh my, how can you say such a thing! Marry a native — my daughter marry a native?’
‘What Englishman would marry a girl who had been brought up more like a native than a European?’
This was a bold move, and might mean success or utter failure. It reduced Mr. Chandler to tears.
‘Are you talking insult?’ he whimpered. ‘My ancestor married Indian princess, and it is not every Englishman can say he is of royal blood!’ He seemed to have forgotten his objection to the Rajah’s son.
Wade saw his chance. ‘Certainly not,’ he soothed, ‘and I meant no insinuations against your descent. But wouldn’t it be better, seeing that Myra has — has royal blood in her veins, that she should be allowed some advantages suitable to her birth?’
This was more effectual. Mr. Chandler grasped the arms of his chair and leaned towards his visitor.
‘Yes, yes, you may be right. Myra should not be like a coolie girl. She should learn up to her position. She is Miss Chandler of Chandlerpore, come down from Indian princess and great English officer!’
He looked up at the portraits, and gravely salaamed to them.
Wade rose from his seat. The hunting instinct was awake within him; he felt he must pursue his object, and secure it now in the face of all obstacles, the while he was angrily annoyed with his own sensations. Standing beneath the pictures, he talked for some minutes, surprising himself with his enthusiastic arguments.
‘But, of course,’ he concluded at last, ‘I don’t want to persuade you into any course of action against your own judgment. I am only giving you my opinion, and I think I have known you long enough to be able to do that without fear of offending you.’ He had carefully refrained from disclosing the fact that the whole scheme had originated with Myra herself. To do so might ruin all hope of success.
‘Well, then, how would you do?’ wavered Mr. Chandler.
Wade reflected. ‘I hardly know at this moment; but I think, perhaps, I might write to Lady Belvigne.’
‘Yes, she was Colonel Clifford’s daughter. He commanded at Siwâla, you may remember, eight or nine years ago. Miss Clifford married a General with strings of letters after his name, up at Simla, and went home with him directly afterwards. She’s the only person I can think of now who might be able to help. She has been out here and knows the place. I was rather a friend of hers when she was was a girl,’ he added with slow reminiscence.
‘Well, it is true there will be the young bullocks, and the wheat crop is very good,’ admitted Mr. Chandler rather helplessly; but I cannot say yes at once.’
At that moment a plaintive voice cried ‘Matyew! Matyew!’ and a puffy brown hand pulled aside a curtain that hung before one of the many doorways.
‘I will ask Mrs. Chandler’s ad-wice,’ said ‘Matyew,’ catching at a loophole of escape.
‘By all means,’ said Wade politely, knowing that Mrs. Chandler had already heard of the scheme from Myra, and that she regarded it without prejudice.
Mrs. Chandler, née Pathana, and widow of Mr. Josephs, late ‘Europe’ shopkeeper in Simla, waddled into the room, clad in a scarlet dressing-gown, her hair in curling-rags, and her feet, without stockings, thrust into a pair of her husband’s slippers. A stout, unwholesome-looking little person with the distressed expression in the eyes that denotes bad health, an open, panting mouth, and no figure at all — merely a short, thick column of human flesh.
‘Oh!’ she exclaimed, seeing the visitor. You are here? I heard chat-ter, chat-ter, and I wondered who it could be.’
We want your advice, Mrs. Chandler,’ said Wade when he had shaken hands, and the lady had balanced herself on the edge of a high chair. It seemed to make no change in her appearance whether she sat or stood.
‘Oh my! why for my advice?’ she complained.
‘Wade, here, thinks Palmyra too much tomboy,’ wheezed Mr. Chandler.
‘Now, now, what has the poor child been doing?’
‘She has not been doing anything,’ replied Wade, who was growing tired of his role of intercessor. ‘But I have just told your husband I think you ought to get somebody out from home to look after Myra and give her a little polish. I know,’ he concluded with tact, ‘that you are not strong enough to do much in that line yourself.’
‘That is true,’ agreed Mrs. Chandler with limp pathos, at the same time winking confidentially at Mr. Wade. ‘I can hardly see to the fowls, and the goats, and the cows’ milking as it is, let alone Myra, who is so restless and headstrong, and yet such a lazy she will not help me. What is it dat you tink?’
Wade patiently repeated the substance of his conversation with her husband, and she was loud in her praise of the suggestion.
‘She would help me to measure out the grain for the goats and fowls perhaps,’ she added hopefully.
‘We would tell her beforehand that it would be one of her duties.’
‘Well,’ said Mr. Chandler, ‘we will tink it all over, and if we come to decide yes, then you shall write and make arrangement, my dear friend.’ (Just as though Wade had been fighting for some favour for himself!)
Further progress was not likely to be made that evening, but the idea had been firmly implanted in the parental minds, and there was ample time yet to argue the matter again and again before it need be finally clinched, seeing that it was now too late for the prospective companion to travel to India before the autumn.
‘Well, then, do think it over,’ said Wade, and held out his hand, and remember that if you decide to act on my suggestion I am quite ready to do all I can to save you trouble in the matter.’
Just then Tiddoo came into the room. The youth was in riding clothes — Wade had never seen him in anything else — and he wore an orange-coloured velvet jockey cap, with an exaggerated peak. This he made no attempt to remove from his head.
‘What is all this talk about?’ he interrupted rudely.
Wade paid no attention. He never spoke to Tiddoo if he could avoid it; but Mr. Chandler mumbled out an incoherent explanation, adding that nothing had been decided, and he was going to ‘tink it well over.’
Tiddoo sniggered. If she is pretty, then she can teach me too. Oh, yess, let her come; but not unless she is a beautee. That should be in the engagement. Do you hear what is going to happen, Myra?’ He turned to his sister, who had just followed him into the room, and told her that a schoolmistress was coming out from England to whip her and put her into the corner.
Myra had changed her gown for a brilliant pink silk of a fashion that could only have been invented by the native tailor who had made it, holding the material in his toes, in the back veranda. She had drawn her hair up to the top of her head, and tied it with a scarlet bow that contrasted wickedly with the colour of her dress; and yet the barbaric effect suited her bold colouring and flashed fire into her vivid eyes. A bright green parrot sat consequentially upon her wrist, and altogether she reminded Wade of some picture of a Spanish dancer as she stood behind her brother, glowing with colour and a bright anxiety in her glance.
At Tiddoo’s words she clapped her hands and rushed to her father, forgetting the unlucky parrot, and the bird flew with protesting shrieks on to Mrs. Chandler’s shoulder, who soothed it with Hindustani endearments.
‘Oh, is it true what he says?’ she cried, gazing eagerly into her father’s face.
‘Oh, do not be a tease!’ said Mr. Chandler irritably. ‘See, here is your Auntie Josephine come to know what all this kafuffle is about.’ He was glad of any distraction that might avert a premature decision being wrung from him, though usually his sister-in-law annoyed and disturbed him as far as his slothful nature could be disturbed.
Miss Pathana minced into the room. Her naturally dark hair was bleached to an extraordinary shade of rusty red by constant washing with some concoction dispensed by Buggoo-ayah. She was taller than her sister, gave herself the airs of a beauty, and compressed her figure into the shape of an hour-glass when paying visits or receiving company; at other times she permitted it to spread at will beneath a blue tea-gown — blue being ‘her colour.’ This garment she was wearing at present, for she had no suspicion that Mr. Wade was in the bungalow. When she beheld him she shrieked and turned to flee, so colliding with Tiddoo, and for two or three moments the pair screamed abuse at one another in Hindustani.
‘Oh, my, my!’ said Mrs. Chandler, rising wearily, and placed the parrot on the mantelpiece, while she went to make peace between her indignant sister and the insolent Tiddoo.
Wade, taking the opportunity, nodded to his host, and escaped into the veranda to call for his trap. Myra followed him.
‘Well?’ she said breathlessly.
‘I have done my best,’ he answered; ‘and I don’t think it’s altogether hopeless, though it may be some time before we get a decided answer.’
She flung her arms about his neck and kissed him.
It was the impulsive embrace of a child; yet, again, as he returned it gently, he felt a passing wonder at his own coldness. The touch of her warm young lips on his own, the pressure of her round, soft arms, thrilled him no more than if she had been a veritable infant. He asked himself vaguely: Had all his passions died with his old dead love for Claire Clifford?
Greatly to Myra’s discontent, Wade went off for a fortnight’s tiger shooting after the spring harvests were over and before the rains began. He was joined by a sporting acquaintance from Siwâla, a bachelor civilian who existed for ‘shikar,’ who thought and read and talked of little else, whether he was in India on duty, or in Europe on leave; and he had often before been Wade’s companion in the jungle.
The increasing heat and the fierceness of the sun might have been trying to individuals less keen, as day after day their elephants beat slowly through miles of hilly jungle far removed from the flat, cultivated districts, and skirted treacherous swamps, disturbing herds of cheetal and sambur, sounders of wild pig, pea -fowl, black partridge, and quail innumerable. But the two seasoned sportsmen were completely happy, though Benjamin Wade was a never-failing puzzle to his friend Mr. Growse. The latter could not understand a fellow bringing books out into the jungle instead of cards for the evening’s amusement; nor, being fond of talking himself, did he approve the other’s dreamy silences when they halted beside a stream, or rested in forest glades where the sun glinted through the tree-tops, and the only sounds were the voices of the birds and the soft rustle of foliage. And why, privately queried Mr. Growse, should anyone like to stare at water or dew with the moon shining on it? And what particular pleasure could there be in seeing the flash of a golden auriole’s wing in the sunlight, or watching the flight of a paradise fly-catcher, with its long, floating tail? The birds were pretty enough, no doubt, but they were not game birds, and one couldn’t shoot them for sport, though one might do so for a collection. No, beyond appreciating the excellent fact that it sheltered wild animals for him to kill, Mr. Growse could perceive none of those joys and delights’ of the jungle that Wade had once spoken of in a burst of confidence when they first became acquainted. He supposed it must be these mysterious delights that rendered so fine a shot as Wade unruffled by the ill-luck of a blank day.
Fortunately for Mr. Growse’s temper the days, on this occasion, were not all blank. Three tigers did they kill between them, besides various other game, and they also came in for a brush with a rogue elephant. This animal had lately made himself the terror of a district through which ran a much-used pathway from one jungle village to another, and he had lately killed two people without the slightest provocation — seemingly from sheer, savage caprice. A deputation of natives had waited on the sahibs one morning to implore them to destroy the murderous brute. They asserted that they knew where he was hiding at that moment, and with cautious guidance they led the Englishmen to within fifty yards of where a huge old male elephant, with torn ears and a single yellow tusk, stood half-concealed in a tangled thicket, apparently asleep. The first shot missed him, and with a vicious scream he charged, knocking down trees and trampling all in his way, his trunk curled up, his small eyes gleaming red with rage. A second shot turned him just as he was upon his tormentors, and away he went at a furious pace, with loud, resonant trumpetings as he crashed through the forest, into which it was impossible to follow him. Nothing was heard of him for the next two days, and no traces of him could be found; so the search was unwillingly abandoned, though Wade determined that he would seek the monster out in the near future and account for him if possible.
Despite the heat of the sun, and the discomfort they endured in their small hill tents the two were regretful when the shoot was over, and they returned to their bungalows and civilization, with blistered hands and faces, triumphant and elated, just before the first burst of the monsoon. The rains were reasonable that year, sufficient for the crops, not too heavy to be otherwise than welcome after the dry heat. Flaming creepers reared themselves in Wade’s compound, and the air became heavy with the perfume of tropical blossoms that had replaced the delicate English flowers. Young bamboos grew and throve with succulent greenery, the forest closed in with luxuriant tangles of foliage, climbing weeds and monstrous splashes of colour. A scent of wet earth rose thinly in the moist atmosphere, and Wade found a punkah exceedingly pleasant during the daytime, though at night it was hardly necessary. Often it was steamy and stuffy, and hotter than he could have wished, but he liked the sense of rapid growth in the air, and enjoyed reading in his veranda while the rain fell heavily, and, between the downpours, watching the birds and squirrels, the frogs, lizards, and insects that stole out to snatch at food and revel in the balmy warmth.
During long wet afternoons Myra would sometimes keep him company, and together they would tie flies for the autumn fishing, or attend to the guns and rifles that had to be kept well vaselined at this season; or he would let her read to him, enduring her shrill accent, and correcting her stumbling pronunciation. She would talk for hours on the subject of her ‘companion,’ for Mathew Chandler was still undecided, in spite of repeated assaults from his daughter and Benjamin Wade; and Myra’s mind was now so completely dominated by the question that Wade almost feared for the girl’s health should Mathew Chandler delay his consent much longer.
Myra was growing very fast, and the accustomed starchy, spiced food of the family was not of the nature to nourish her sufficiently. Her life was very monotonous; when her mother was sleeping, or engaged with her household affairs, the girl passed long hours alone, and apparently even Buggoo-ayah’s conversation had now lost much of its interest. There were slow, sleepy drives in the landau that had been in the Chandlerpore coach-house for the past forty years, round and round the Siwâla parade ground, or drawn up behind a crowd of natives listening to the band that played there twice a week.
Sometimes Flossie Fernandez or the Minas girls came up to Chandlerpore to spend the day with their school-friend, and they would sit and chatter and giggle in the great musty drawing-room that was only used for visitors. But the day usually ended in a quarrel, for Myra was irritable, intolerant, and suspicious of the least ridicule; while the Minas girls and Flossie Fernandez were very easily offended. Myra bragged and boasted of the accomplished English lady who was certainly ‘coming to stay with her’ in the autumn, and this caused her friends to suffer acute jealousy which they relieved by chaffing her cruelly on the subject. Tiddoo also kept his sister in a constant fever of mortification by never ceasing to inquire, with a sneer, when ‘the beautee’ was expected to arrive.
Therefore Myra’s relief and pleasure had rendered her almost delirious when she dashed over one evening to Gulâban to tell Wade that all suspense was at an end, and that at last her father had sent a message by her to say that he might write the promised letter to England as soon as he liked.
‘So write now — write now!’ she cried, rushing to his writing-table and thumping the blotting-blook; and she burst into a storm of hysterical tears when he tried to check her excitement, and reminded her that there was no necessity for such immediate hurry.
The mail doesn’t go out for three days,’ he explained, as she stood sobbing and crestfallen before him, ‘and I must think the letter over. I can’t scribble it off at a moment’s notice, you silly child. Another thing, Myra, you must be prepared for delays and perhaps disappointments. Lady Belvigne may not care to bother herself over the matter, and in that case we should have to advertise and take our chance — we should be obliged to take up references and make inquiries, I suppose.’
‘But why should not Lady Belvigne do what you want?’ she asked fretfully, as if no one could possibly oppose his wishes. Isn’t she nice, Ben?Why, you wanted to marry her once.’
Wade flushed a little, and looked out across the garden that was a blaze of blossoms. The rain had ceased for a while, and the sun shone hotly during this last hour before setting-time. Green parrots flashed and shrieked to and fro between the trees and the sweet-scented, flowering shrubs; hoopoes pecked busily on the lawn, their pretty crests spread out like feather fans. Grey squirrels whisked over the gravel paths with impudent jerks of their fluffy tails, defying Tess, who sat on the veranda steps determined to ignore them; she had never yet caught a squirrel, though again and again she fell a victim to their sly trick of pretending they were ignorant of her presence. They deceived her, tantalized her, led her on, and then mocked her; therefore, the subject of squirrels was a tender one with Tess . Her master looked out at the peaceful brilliance before him, and remembered so well how he had stood with Claire Clifford in the garden when all the roses were in bloom, and asked her to marry him. He remembered the shining of her red curls, as though fine threads of gold tinsel had been woven among them, the little freckles on her short white nose, and the rich chestnut brown of her eyes. The scene returned to him very clearly — how she had hesitated, murmured of difficulties, her father’s wishes, her own doubts, and then allowed him to kiss her. He had urged, protested, made wild love; but she had given him no definite answer, and then —
‘Ben, what is the matter with you — are you going to sleep?’ Myra’s aggrieved, high-pitched tones broke into his recollections. What are you thinking about — Lady Belvigne? Do tell me.’
‘Yes,’ said Wade. I was thinking how pretty she looked the last time I saw her.’
‘Have you got her likeness?’
‘Not a photograph. But I came across a picture of her in an illustrated paper the other day. I’ve got it somewhere.’
He rose and searched in a drawer. It was just as well, he thought, to keep Myra off the actual subject of the companion whenever possible; she would probably talk and dream of nothing else for the next three months. He returned to her side with the reproduction in his hand of a fashionable photograph — a slender, lovely lady in a soft lace evening dress, seated in a carved, high- backed chair; her hair picturesquely arranged, jewels round her neck and arms and at her breast; her head turned to show the graceful curve of the throat, and the eyes thoughtfully downcast.
‘A beautiful picture,’ he said, and held it out at arm’s length. ‘But I’m not sure that I should have known who it was if I hadn’t seen the name underneath. Of course, she was very young when I knew her — only a girl of eighteen just out from home.’
‘And she hadn’t a mother, had she?’ inquired Myra, deeply interested.
She had always burned to ask Ben for details of his old love affair, ever since Buggoo had told her about it; but he had once said that it was bad manners to ask questions with no object but that of gratifying curiosity, and this had most inconveniently restrained her inquiries. Ben was not a man who spoke much of himself or of his own business, though, as Myra reflected, he always made her feel that she wanted to tell him all her secrets. But it seemed now as if he really meant to talk about Miss Clifford, and Myra had no intention of losing such an opportunity.
‘No; her mother died when she was a little child,’ he said, putting the paper into her eager hand, ‘and she came out to her father at Siwâla when she was eighteen, because the aunt died who had brought her up. She hadn’t seen the Colonel for years.’
‘And was she clever as well as pretty and all?’
‘I don’t know about her being particularly clever, but she was very lively. I remember somebody said that she seemed to have come out from home “ready made,” which meant that she could act, and dance, and ride, and play tennis, instead of having to learn how to do all those things, like many girls, during her first year in the country.’
Wade lit a cigarette and leaned back in his chair. He was rather enjoying his reminiscences, and Myra’s intent face opposite to him, with the picture of Claire on her knee, encouraged him to continue.
‘Her father was delighted with her, and all the young men in Siwâla were in love with her, including myself. I used to rush into Siwâla for every dance and gymkana and tennis party she was going to be at. I believe it was considered frightful presumption on my part to pay attention to the Colonel’s daughter, considering that I only made my living by farming native produce, and was of no account in a country where the official list takes the place of the peerage.’
‘Oh, my!’ gasped Myra; ‘and she?’
‘She? Oh, well, she laughed and danced and flirted through the cold weather, and refused every fellow who proposed to her. I was not one of the proposers then, and perhaps that was why she seemed to like me a bit. Anyway, she gave me a lot of encouragement.’
‘But you did propose?’
‘Not till much later — not till the spring. Her father was going to take her up to Simla for the season. He used to chaff, and say she must have a chance of hooking a husband with big pay and a tip-top position, but he meant it seriously all the same.’
‘But what did she say when she refused you? Did she tell you no reason? Didn’t she love you at all?’ cried the emboldened Myra.
Wade laughed. ‘I don’t know whether she loved me or whether she didn’t. She gave me no definite answer; she said I must wait till she came back, and not even write, because her father would be angry. Then after a bit she wrote to me from Simla to say she was engaged to Sir George Belvigne. He was a G.C.B. and a D.S.O. and lord knows what besides. He was just going to retire, and he took her home with him.’
‘What sort of a letter did she write you?’
‘An exceedingly kind letter. She wanted to please her father — she didn’t think she could have made me happy — she hoped I would forgive her, etc., etc. I answered it quite nicely, and there was no ill-feeling; in fact we kept up an intermittent correspondence till about two years ago, when somehow or other we dropped it. She wasn’t in London when I passed through on my way to and from Iceland that time, or I would have looked her up.’
‘And have you quite got over it, Ben?’ asked Myra solemnly.
‘Quite,’ he answered with amusement. ‘I was pretty miserable for a time, and then happily I recovered. I don’t think she ever really wanted to marry me, though she may have thought for a little while that she did, and I am sure it was very lucky for her that she changed her mind. She has got a rich and distinguished, if elderly, husband, and a house in London and presumably all she wants. What would an exquisite creature like that,’ pointing to the picture on Myra’s knee, ‘have done out here with only me, and the dogs, and Gulâban, though to my mind Gulâban would make up for anything!’ His eyes rested fondly on the hot brightness outside, framed by the open doorways and the pillars of the veranda.
‘She would have made you leave Gulâban, I expect,’ said Myra thoughtfully.
‘No she would not,’ he replied with conviction. He remembered how much, even then, he had loved the place and his mode of life. It had softened the blow as nothing else could have done. Work, sport, books, the garden, the mysterious spell of the valley, and a particularly successful shoot later on, had revived his spirits to an extent that had surprised and relieved him. Now, looking back on it all, he often wondered if he had ever really been in love.
‘Then,’ continued Myra, ‘she would have been dull and you would have quarrelled. Yes, I think she was wise to marry General Belvigne, though he could not have been so nice as you, Ben. Now she has got all that I should love to have. Perhaps some day’ — her blue eyes gleamed — ‘I shall get it!’
‘Time will show,’ said Ben tritely, stifling a yawn. He got up and walked to the long open window. Outside a rosy light was falling over the wide lawn and glistening shrubs. Birds’ voices sounded clear and joyous. The dogs were moving about restlessly; it was time for the evening stroll. Myra came to his side and laid his hand on his arm.
‘You really will write to her this mail, Ben?’ she said with anxiety. ‘Are you sure you know her address?’
‘Yes, I know her address; and if I didn’t it’s mentioned in the paragraph about her in that paper with the picture.’
‘What shall you say?’
‘I shall tell some fibs to account for not having written for so long, and attempt to conceal the fact that I am only writing now because I want something.’
‘Oh, please do not torment!’ cried Myra, again on the verge of tears.
‘You needn’t worry, Myra,’ he said kindly. ‘I don’t quite know what I shall say till I tackle the letter, but it shall go this mail, never fear. Of course, I must see your father before I write, and get him to say exactly what he would run to in the way of salary, and settle with him about sending the passage-money if Lady Belvigne plays up.’
‘Yes, come over now.’
Myra wished for no delays, and he agreed, for the evening was pleasant, and the dogs were impatient for their stroll.
Dusk stole into a long, narrow sitting-room at the back of a London house in a comparatively fashionable situation between Knightsbridge and South Kensington. French windows opened on to gardens where brown grass, languid trees, and parched flowers wearily endured the airless heat and dust of mid-July. But evening was here with its reviving touch, and the cool, grey twilight had crept softly over the lawn and into the quiet houses.
Within this particular room it blurred the outlines of massive furniture and tall bookcases, settled into darkness behind a Spanish leather screen, and dimmed the white gown of a girl who sat at an open, mahogany bureau. Her elbows were on the flap of the table, her chin in the palms of her hands, and she gazed out absently at the darkening shrubs and flower-beds, and the lights that shone from the back windows of other dwellings.
Katherine Rolland, niece to Sir George Belvigne, had come into this cool, silent room to think. Upstairs her aunt by marriage, and contemporary in years, was decking herself delightedly for a dance. In his little smoking-room Lady Belvigne’s husband was enduring pain as he had endured it now for months — silently, bravely, unselfishly.
His niece knew well how it was with him, and to-night, at dinner, the suppressed suffering betrayed on the worn, kindly face had been almost more than she could bear to look upon. Afterwards she had come into this room by herself, miserable and furious — furious with fate and with Claire Belvigne, who, blind and deaf to all but her own pleasures, had not yet recognised the fact that her husband was slowly dying; and he would not permit her to be told.
Suddenly the door was thrown open, and two or three of the electric lights in the room were switched on. There was a rustle of silk, a waft of perfume, the flash of jewels. In the doorway stood the slender figure of a woman radiating colour. Her dress was of a bright, scintillating green; her small head was set with a gay, almost arrogant, confidence on the white neck; the hair that gleamed high on the crown was frankly, brilliantly red, and sparkled with diamond stars. This red of the shining curls was repeated in the eyes — rich, tawny eyes, that looked as though gold dust had been scattered in their depths; and the complexion was without flaw, save for a few freckles on the bridge of the short, straight nose. An insistent, arresting vision, yet so glittering as to appear artificial, like the fairy figure in a pantomime that rises suddenly on to the stage through a trap-door.
‘Oh, here you are!’ cried Lady Belvigne. ‘What are you doing in the dark? Have you been sitting here ever since dinner? I couldn’t find you, and I wanted to give you these letters. Will you look them over for me, like a treasure, if you have time?’
‘Aren’t you starting very early?’ Katherine rose, took the letters from her, and laid them on the bureau.
Claire Belvigne hesitated, almost imperceptibly. ‘I promised to call for the Saxons,’ she said, drawing on her long white gloves; ‘it’s nicer than going all alone.’ She glanced swiftly at the girl. ‘How do you think I look in this new gown?’ she added with a gay smile.
‘Do you mean to be a pig, darling?’ She put her head on one side. ‘Because, if so, I’m afraid you couldn’t have said anything to please me better! I love to startle! I looked into the smoking-room just now to show George my dress, but he was asleep.’
‘Yes; I know.’
‘Do sit with him when he wakes’ — she assumed an air of concern — ‘and keep him amused. I thought he seemed more rheumaticy than usual to-night, didn’t you? Cheer him up, and don’t tell him I am going to the Larks’ dance with the Saxons. He hates them for some mysterious reason.’ She held out her wrist for Katherine to fasten a bracelet.
‘Then why do you have anything to do with them?’ asked the other almost savagely as she snapped the clasp.
‘Oh, “get thee to a nunnery,” laughed Lady Belvigne. ‘You’re so good, Katherine, that if you don’t take care you’ll go to heaven.’ She moved towards the door and looked back over her shoulder, making a beautiful picture framed in the entrance.
‘Don’t bother about those letters to-night, unless you like. I don’t think there’s anything of much importance. Put the begging ones into the waste-paper basket, and keep the one from the man in India. I suppose we must talk that over, and see to it some time. What a plague the creature is — I thought he was dead. Good-night, old dear!’ she called, and went on into the hall. There was a little bustle and the sound of voices, then a door shut smartly and a carriage rolled away.
The girl sighed, and sat down in a deep chair beneath a rose-shaded lamp, the letters in her hand. As she bent over the papers the warm light fell with striking effect upon the crisp dark hair that rippled elastically from either side of the narrow white parting, and foreshortened the classic forehead, the free sweep of downcast eyelid and finely-carved features. She examined invitations, answers to invitations, trivial notes, circulars, appeals for subscriptions, notices of bazaars and concerts. Where was the letter from ‘the man in India’? And which man in India was it from, she wondered, for there were several who wrote to Claire from that country. Surely it was not this last, English-looking letter with a London postmark and no foreign stamp? She drew out the sheet of notepaper and began to read. Then she turned it over, glanced at the signature, and, with a little shiver of anger, allowed it to drop into her lap. Claire Belvigne had given her the wrong letter. Claire had kept back the one from India instead of this one — by mistake.
Katherine sat gazing straight before her with trouble in her honest eyes, and when the door opened slowly and an elderly man limped into the room, she instinctively crumpled up the letter in her hand, and rose clutching it tightly.
General Sir George Belvigne had always been a fine-looking man, and his big aquiline nose, sun-reddened skin, blue eyes, and thick white hair, made him picturesque and handsome still; but long years of hard work and active service, hot climates and malaria, had aged him before his time, sciatica had almost crippled him, and, for the past two years, a fatal complaint had been rapidly sapping his strength.
Now he looked ill and feeble, and very weary.
‘Claire gone, I suppose?’ making for a chair. ‘I think she peeped into the smoking-room, but I was dozing, and didn’t rouse up in time to catch her. Was the new frock successful? Did you see her dressed, Kate?’
‘Yes, dear; she looked radiant. She came in here for a moment before she started to give me these letters to read.’
‘What a comfort you are to us, child. I wonder what on earth we should do without you!’
She smiled, and held out her arm, and by it he steadied himself as he sank painfully into an easy-chair and stretched one foot forward with a stifled groan.
Katherine fetched a footstool. Rest it on this,’ she said; ‘there, isn’t that more comfortable?’
‘Much,’ he answered gratefully.
But she knew that he would have declared he was more comfortable in any case after she had troubled to get the stool for him. Sir George was always courteously polite, always punctiliously considerate of the feelings of others.
‘I feel a good deal worse than usual to-night. I don’t mind admitting as much to you, Kate. But don’t mention it to Claire; she shall never become a nurse to her old man if he can help it.’
Katherine settled herself on a low seat by his side. Her heart was beating quickly.
‘Uncle George,’ she said, with diffidence, ‘you mustn’t mind what I am going to say, please. I have wanted to say it for a long time. It is this — I think you are wrong to consider Claire in that respect. She ought to know how ill you are. And,’ she added breathlessly, knowing this was high treason, ‘It would be very good for her to have to think of someone besides herself’
Her candid eyes, of a greenish brown, set wide apart, looked into his with gentle challenge. For a moment he was silent. Then he patted her shoulder.
‘No, no, Katie. Leave her alone. At least, let me feel I am making what reparation I can for the wrong I did her.’
‘Uncle George! What do you mean?’ She was shocked and startled by his tone, by the ring in it of sadness and self-reproach. It was the first time she had heard him speak like this.
‘I mean, my dear, since we are speaking plainly, that I ought never to have married her, considering the difference in our ages. I ought to have looked into the future. She was so young — barely nineteen — with all her life to come. And mine was over. Think of the cruelty of it!’
The tears rose to Katherine’s eyes. Hitherto she had never realized that self-blame was also a part of his sufferings. It accounted for much that had sometimes rendered her almost indignant with him over his attitude towards Claire’s failings. She believed now that even if she were to show him the letter crumpled in her hand he would do no more than excuse and forgive.
‘But,’ she said helplessly, ‘she married you of her own free will. She — she cared for you?’
‘Did she? I don’t know; I don’t think she knew herself. Her father was pleased; perhaps she, too, was attracted by the title and position. But if I had been a man and held my tongue she would have married some excellent fellow with youth and health and the world before him, instead’ — with a little bitter laugh — ‘of now being the childless wife of a doddering old invalid.’
‘You forget you were not an invalid when you married her,’ protested Katherine. She desired so intensely to comfort him, to convince him that there was no real ground for his remorse.
‘No; that was just the mischief of it. I never thought ahead, as I should have done. When I first met Claire, up at Simla, I was energetic and active enough, and I suppose I fancied I should remain so. I could ride, and dance, and play tennis with the best of them, and so I could for the first few years after we got home. Even when I began to discover I wasn’t in my first youth I could still go to balls, and dinners, and races, and the lot of it with Claire without being much the worse — you remember, don’t you? No; it’s the last two years that have broken me up so completely. I suppose I’m paying for a hard life, and hard work, and bad climates; and the doctors don’t seem able to say quite how long it’s going to last. As you know, it may come to an end at any moment without warning, and for my part I don’t think it will be very long. Anyway, here I am now, a useless old log, and Claire not much more than a girl.’
‘She ought to be very proud of you,’ said Kate hotly.
She thought of his medals and orders, his distinguished service, his kind and chivalrous nature. She remembered how he had joined, without protest or complaint, in gaieties, visits, entertainments, and the rush of London life for Claire’s sake long after he was unfit to do anything but rest. Rage flamed in her heart as she crumpled the letter more tightly in her hand.
‘Oh, she is always charming to me,’ he said gallantly; ‘and she knows I like her to be happy in her own way, though I can no longer go about with her. She loves her pretty clothes, and her pleasures, and her smart friends, and I don’t grudge ‘em to her.’
‘But she is almost too fond of amusement, Uncle George,’ said Katherine, in desperation; ‘and she is so good-looking and attractive: she — she must have temptations —’
He gave her a quick glance. ‘I don’t think she’ll ever forget she’s a married woman,’ he said a little stiffly.
‘Oh, that letter, that letter!’ thought Katherine, in angry distress. What evil fate had brought it into her hands? why had she ever seen it?
Sir George took out a cheroot and lit it, puffing meditatively. Presently he said, as though with an effort: ‘Of course, Kate, if you should fancy that Claire’s going a bit too quick just drop her a hint. She’d listen to you. So she would to me, for that matter, but I should not like her to think me a jealous old brute. I don’t for one moment imagine she’d mean any harm, but, as you say, she’s so deuced handsome, and there’s a lot of swine about in the world, worse luck. Poor little Claire!’ He sighed. ‘The fact of the matter is I ought to have married a woman like you, Kate, if I wanted a young wife at all.’ He smiled at her with affection. ‘Someone who likes staying at home, and doesn’t want to be out dancing every night, eh? Was Claire going alone this evening to the Larks’ or with people? Did she tell you?’
Katherine caught her breath, and said: ‘I don’t know.’
He must be spared unnecessary annoyance, and it was true, as Claire had said, that he disliked and disapproved of the Saxons, almost the only friends of his wife’s to whom he had ever actively objected.
And then the General began to talk of old days when *Katherine’s mother, his sister, had been alive. ‘You look very like her to-night Kitty,’ he said, remembrance dimming his eyes, ‘just as she looked when she came out to me in India to keep house for her bachelor brother, and then got engaged to Bob Rolland of the Bengal Cavalry before she’d been a month in the country! Lord, how angry I was with ‘em both — though there never was a better fellow than poor Bob. But they got married in spite of me, and then when you were five years old he died of cholera at Lucknow, poor chap, and your mother took you home. I don’t believe she ever got over his death, and in the old days she used to be as light-hearted as a child, and the life and soul of every place she went to! You’ve never regretted following her wishes and making your home with me, I hope, eh, Kate?’
He regarded her tenderly, and for the second time that evening, and within a few minutes, Katherine told him a lie.
‘Never!’ she replied with decision.
How could she say that sometimes she longed to get away? That it was only respect for her dead mother’s memory and her love for the old soldier that had held her from going out into the world — even though she should have to work for her freedom and independence. But Mrs. Rolland’s last wish had been that Katherine should live with her uncle; he was comfortably off, for his savings were considerable, and his investments had been lucky, so she knew that the girl would be no financial burden.
Also, Sir George was anxious to have her, his young wife welcomed, and grew attached to her, and was rejoiced to have a companion so capable, who voluntarily did the house-keeping, wrote the letters, and looked after the servants (all the duties Claire abominated) — who was always ready to amuse and talk to George.
During the past two years, since the General’s health had failed so sadly, Katherine’s presence had become a necessity to them both. The girl recognised this, and it filled her life far more than had done the round of gaieties, the shopping, calling, and social obligations in which she had been expected to join until Sir George became the invalid. Now he looked to her for company in his difficult little morning stroll; to sit with him in the park, while Claire paid calls, and went to At Homes; to go abroad with him for baths and ‘cures,’ while Claire paid visits at country houses. Lately, Katherine had seen a rapid and distinct change for the worse in her uncle’s condition: he was stiffer, he suffered more, he was less inclined to exert himself — to-night he looked more failing than she had seen him yet. Never, so long as he needed her, could she bring herself to leave him.
‘If I hadn’t been retiring just at the time your poor mother died,’ he went on dreamily, ‘you might have come out to India. You’d have liked that, Kate! India’s a wonderful country when you needn’t leave your bones there.’
‘Yes, and I have always longed to go back. I believe I can remember a little about it, though I can’t be sure whether it’s actually remembrance, or dreams, or what mother used to tell me. When I shut my eyes, and think about India, I can see myself sitting on a striped drugget under big trees, and there is a white road with the sun on it, and little naked brown children flying kites. There are words, too, that have always stayed in my mind; “compound” and “tomasha” and “babba.”’ She broke off, half laughing.
‘Ah, yes,’ he said with a sigh. ‘India will never allow herself to be forgotten. I have noticed that her impress will remain bright in a child’s mind long after other much later recollections have faded. And cruel as she can be to some of us who have given the best of our years to her, we all carry away the curious spell of her memory in our hearts. Even now, sometimes, I can hardly believe that I shall never again camp on the wide, flat plain with the mango groves looking like blots of blue ink on the horizon — or march along the dusty, grand trunk road, in the cold weather mornings, with the mist rising from the rice fields on either side. But I suppose, after all, it’s the good times that remain fresh in one’s mind, while the bad times grow dim — one of Nature’s few kindnesses to us wretched mortals!’
He leaned his head back wearily against the chair. He was very tired; and presently Katherine persuaded him to go to bed.
‘It has been so hot all day; it has tried your strength,’ she reminded him gently. I am going to bed myself when I have seen to these letters.’
You are simply an unpaid secretary,’ he said, as he rose painfully with her help. ‘We put upon you, Kate, my dear; that’s what we do, we put upon you. Why don’t you strike?’
‘I will if you don’t go to bed this moment,’ she answered, and kissed him. Then slowly and with several halts, they went up to the first floor, where, behind the drawing-room, was the bedroom he had occupied since many stairs became a difficulty to him; and when he was safely seated in a chair, she rang for his man-servant, and left him.
Katherine did not go to bed herself when she had answered or destroyed those of the letters with which she was directly able to deal. She meant to see Claire again before she slept, and after the butler had closed the shutters for the night she waited with patience throughout the long hours, writing more letters, trying to read, to work, to do anything but think, and hearing the church clock at the back of the gardens strike eleven, twelve, one — until, just before two o’clock, Claire came back and Katherine waylaid her in the hall.
A spangled yellow scarf was thrown over Claire’s shoulders — the night was too hot for a cloak — and the tint of this, the green of her dress, and the red of her hair made an admirable combination. Her face was flushed like a blush rose, and her eyes shone warmly.
‘What on earth’s the matter?’ she cried, startled to see Katherine. ‘Why aren’t you in bed and asleep? Is George ill?’
‘I waited up because I wanted to speak to you about something. Come into the library.’ Katherine’s voice was cold and hard.
‘Oh, heavens! that’s what the servants always say when something awful has happened — can they “speak to me!” I hope you are not going to give notice, Kate, because I really couldn’t live here without you. What is it?’
She followed Katherine along the hall, and meekly obeyed the short command to ‘come in and shut the door.’ Then she threw her scarf, gloves, and fan on to a chair, walked up to the mirror over the mantelpiece, and looked at herself with a smile of approval. She put her head on one side, a little characteristic trick she had, and, still smiling at her reflection, said: ‘Well, darling?’
‘Claire, you gave me the wrong letter this evening. Instead of a letter from a man in India you gave me one from Major Saxon.’
The rosy face in the glass paled. ‘Where is the letter?’ she asked without moving.
‘It is here.’
Lady Belvigne turned round. ‘Give it to me!’ she demanded, and held out her hand.
Katherine placed it in the tender pink palm, and for a moment the two women gazed at each other — the one slight, dainty, fragile, with exquisite finish of skin and feature, and in her eyes the gleam of defiance; the other tall and calm, with statuesque profile and firm mouth curled in scorn.
‘I knew you played the fool to a certain extent, Claire, but I wasn’t prepared for the distance you have gone!’
‘Don’t make mountains out of mole-hills!’ said Claire furiously, and tore the letter into tiny fragments; ‘I am not in love with Major Saxon, if that’s what you imagine, though I dare say he is with me, or thinks he is, which comes to the same thing, and as long as I can keep him in order it’s nobody’s business but my own.’ She threw the handful of paper scraps into the waste-paper basket with violence.
‘Do you call it keeping him in order to let him write you letters like that? Where does Uncle George come in?’
‘George does not come in at all. Major Saxon’s affections need not concern him so long as I don’t return them.’ She laughed, and changed her tone to one of careless indifference. ‘There’s nothing like a good rousing flirtation as a tonic for keeping a woman young and beautiful — but I have no intention of eloping with Major Saxon, if that is what you are afraid of!’
‘He wouldn’t give you the chance,’ retorted Katherine. ‘Directly he feels sure you mean nothing more than a flirtation, however rousing, he will take off his hat and wish you good-bye. He would compromise you to the fullest extent, but he wouldn’t run away with you, my dear! The money is all his wife’s, remember!’
Through Katherine’s mind there passed swiftly the memory of Arthur Saxon’s attempt to make love to herself — the vision of his insolent blue eyes, his curiously attractive personality that, with his birth and breeding, his knowledge of life and his unscrupulous nature, made him the easy conqueror of a certain type of woman. Katherine had routed him vigorously, the while she had been acutely conscious of his influence on her senses. What chance had Claire with such a man?
Katherine watched the other gather up her belongings and felt desperate. ‘Claire,’ she cried, ‘you don’t realize what you are doing. How dare he write you such a letter — what terms you must be on!’
Lady Belvigne turned round. She looked like a polished precious stone, all sparkle and beauty, but hard and unyielding to the core.
‘You had much better mind your own business, Kate,’ she said pleasantly. Her gloves, scarf, and fan were in her hands, but she stood there as though inviting the other to continue the contest — as though enjoying it.
‘I shall,’ said Katherine, unwisely losing her temper; ‘I am not going to stay here any longer. I can’t stand by and see you behaving like this — risking Uncle George’s confidence, and your own happiness, and everything that a decent woman values. I shall go.’
Katherine heard herself saying the words as though someone else were uttering them. Did she mean it?
Could she really desert Uncle George when he needed her so badly? and how could she ever explain her departure to him? She knew she had placed herself in a difficult position; it would have been the wiser course had she kept the letter and used it to terrorize Claire into better behaviour.
‘Where shall you go?’ inquired Claire, in a voice expressive of the kindliest interest; and Katherine knew she had not believed in the threat for one moment. ‘Perhaps you would like to take advantage of the letter from India that by mistake I did not give you? The man wrote to ask me if I could find a sort of half-governess, half-companion, for some Eurasian girl he takes an interest in. I would give you an excellent recommendation, and once out there you might marry him, Benjamin Wade — what a name! That is, if he isn’t going to marry the blackie girl when her education is complete. He’s the man I threw over for George; such an excellent person, and quite good-looking, or he used to be, though he may have grown fat and bald by this time. I believe he would suit you exactly.’ She laughed; then yawned. ‘Oh, dear!’ she added, ‘how sleepy I am. Good-night, Kate. I suppose nothing would induce you to kiss such an unrepentant sinner? But really, I do assure you, you are making a mountain out of a mole-hill.’
As she moved forward Katherine caught the round white arm.
‘Claire — wait!’ she cried passionately. ‘Can’t I do or say anything to make you ashamed of yourself? What a bitter blow it would be to Uncle George if he knew what you are doing! It is he I am thinking of far more than yourself — he who is so honourable and large-minded and unsuspicious. If you had heard him speaking of you to-night you must have been touched. Oh, Claire, you are fond of him really; he has always been so good to you!Don’t run these awful risks; don’t be disloyal to him. Some day you will be so desperately sorry! If you only knew’ — the girl’s face was white with feeling, her voice and hands trembled — ‘you shall know!’ she burst out; ‘I will disobey him and tell you. Listen — he is dying. At any moment he may die! He suffers agonies, and he will not have you told for fear of spoiling your pleasure and making you sad. And all the time you — you neglect him and let other men make love to you —’
She ceased abruptly, for Claire was staring at her, frightened and bewildered, like a child that has been roughly awakened from sleep.
‘Don’t, Katherine,’ came a sobbing whisper, as though the other were doing her a physical hurt.
‘It is true. You can ask the doctor. But mind this’ — her voice was harsh — ‘you must never betray that you know, because it would vex and worry him so dreadfully. If you are really sorry, you can be with him more; he loves to have you with him. You can make him happier for the time he is here, you can be faithful to him in thought as well as in deed. Do you know that he blames himself bitterly for having married you when there was such a difference in your ages? He says he ought to have looked ahead, and never spoken; he says —’
But Claire had thrown herself into Katherine’s reluctant arms, and was crying bitterly.
And as she wept and accused herself, and gave promises for the future, the loud, sharp tremolo of an electric bell cut through the quiet of the house. The women started apart, and for a moment looked with frightened apprehension into each other’s eyes. It came again. This time a long, insistent ring; and then a muffled noise, like the thudding drop of something heavy, sounded faintly from above.
Sir George Belvigne was dead. He died a few hours after they found him — a huddled, motionless heap on the floor of his room — never to regain consciousness. The strong, simple soul slipped from the worn-out body without effort or struggle, without recognition or farewell.
All her life afterwards Katherine Rolland vividly remembered that early morning: how the sun streamed in through the open window, and with it the busy twitter of birds, and the soft rustling of leaves; how, outside, all had been life and movement, the rattle of traffic just begun afresh, the scouring of doorsteps, the voices of people astir at their work. Inside, within the plain, uncrowded room, so severely tidy with its unpretentious furniture, narrow brass bedstead, and regular row of boots, how quiet! The calm, lifeless face on the pillow, the dark figure of the doctor bent to catch perhaps yet one more deep-drawn breath, and Claire, sitting white and silent at the foot of the bed, still in her jewels and gay green gown, her eyes strained wide with awe and fear. When the end came she clung to Katherine, trembling and sobbing; and terrible hours had followed — hours of lamentation, with tears so violent as to cause physical prostration.
Claire’s emotions were always concentrated. She enjoyed intensely; she mourned with equal poignance. But she knew nothing of the deeper happiness, nor of the long-drawn pain, of stronger natures. Katherine was well aware that the widow suffered genuinely and acutely, and she pitied the poor little broken creature; but she also knew that the suffering was as that of a flesh wound easily healed, not the dull ceaseless ache of a mortal injury.
For days and nights did Claire pour out her remorse and repentance, blaming herself for her blindness and indifference, yet vowing still that she had meant no harm — that throughout the old, careless days she had always, in her heart, appreciated George, and that never again could she laugh or be happy and light hearted. Katherine listened, and soothed, and comforted. Of her own grief she said little, which called forth a declaration from Claire that Kate must have a heart of stone; and this belief she reiterated till Katherine could have shaken her, though for the sake of the dear old man whom she missed and regretted with all her being, the girl controlled her impatience. It was a relief to her when business matters had to be faced, for Claire, ignorant, incapable Claire, had been left sole executrix of her husband’s will, and, save Katherine, there was now no member of her own or Sir George’s family to help her. Colonel Clifford had died in India; General Belvigne’s other near relatives were scattered over the world; therefore his niece interviewed lawyers, examined papers, wrote letters innumerable.
But all the time she was silently contemplating her own future. She anticipated that sooner or later Claire would begin to desire a freedom unhindered by any guardian presence; the duties and responsibilities of which Katherine had relieved her were gone, and friendship and affection would count for little with Lady Belvigne against the claims of her own inclinations.
Katherine knew that Uncle George would have wished her to stay with his widow, and for the sake of the dead man’s memory she was prepared to do so, unless Claire desired otherwise. In preparation for the latter case she had formed in her mind a vague plan that held many attractions, but it was not until six weeks after the funeral that the subject of the future was definitely discussed between them.
Breakfast was over — a very late breakfast — and the table had been cleared; on it Katherine had now spread some papers for the inspection of Claire, who declined flatly to look at them. In her cool, clinging mourning, that had nothing about it of harshness or gloom, she threw herself into the leather armchair by the window, and fanned herself with the Morning Post.
‘I can’t attend to anything; it is too hot,’ she complained. How awful London is in August.’
‘Not worse than July,’ argued Katherine from the table; ‘so many people have cleared out by August that at any rate there is some air for those left behind.’
‘I wish a little of it would come my way then. I couldn’t sleep a wink last night for the heat and stuffiness. When shall we have done with lawyers and papers and be able to go away?’
‘Not just yet, I’m afraid. And you ought to see about getting rid of this house as soon as possible.’
‘Isn’t it terrible to think I can’t afford to live on here? I never realized before what a difference George’s pension made.’
Claire began to scrutinize her pink finger-tips, and glanced furtively at Katherine from under her eyelids.
Had the other caught the look she would have recognised at once that an opening move had been made in a little course of stratagem. But Claire always imagined that Katherine could be hoodwinked; indirect natures possess enormous faith in their own powers of diplomacy, and seldom credit others with any keen perception.
‘Flats are very comfortable, and much less trouble than a house,’ said Katherine, intent on a type-written document she had just unfolded.
‘I hate flats! I should feel like a cave-dweller, having everything hauled up to me by ropes. If you are high up you are burnt to death in a fire, and if you are low down you are smothered for want of air and light. It will take me a long time to decide what I shall do.’
The entirely personal note in Claire’s voice arrested Katherine’s attention; and the girl’s heart gave a quick throb, half of mortification, half of relief — relief because it seemed that her way was to be made easy for her — Claire did not want her! — mortification that the other should regard her as an incubus, an impediment to her enjoyment, and be anxious to sever so quickly the connection between them. She waited, determined that the proposal, if it was in Claire’s mind, should come from Claire herself.
‘It might be better, perhaps, for the present, that I should not tie myself down after I have got rid of the house,’ went on the soft plaintive voice, into which there came a hint of nervousness, ‘though I should feel dreadfully lost without a settled home. But what really worries me is about you, dearest. I have hardly thought of anything else lately. That was what kept me awake last night much more than the heat; I don’t suppose you will want to go on living with me any longer — it was George you cared for, I know.’
Katherine in her heart was fond of Claire, unwillingly fond of her, as one may love a naughty child with all its faults and foolishness, and the last words hurt her sharply. Nevertheless, she met the purposely innocent gaze of the red-brown eyes with calmness. Why should the little hypocrite be allowed to accomplish her end by artifice? She should be made to speak the truth.
‘What do you wish yourself?’
‘I really don’t care what happens to me,’ said Claire forlornly — and she looked so pretty, and pathetic, and disconsolate, that Katherine was unable to be severe.
‘Look here, Claire. Do let us be absolutely frank with each other. I will confess to you that I have always rather wanted my independence, though you know I am not ungrateful for the home you and Uncle George gave me. If you prefer to live alone you can say so without fear of hurting my feelings, but, at the same time, if you want me I will stay with you.’
There was no danger that Claire might waive her own wishes in consideration of Katherine’s desire for freedom. If Claire really wanted her there would be a clamorous outcry against the other’s cruelty and selfishness in dreaming of desertion.
` Well?’ said Katherine, ‘speak up.’
‘I — well, to tell you the truth, darling,’ she put her head on one side, ‘I do think it is a mistake for unattached women to live together. They always fight. Look at the Miss Goslings — none of their servants will obey either of them, because they never know who is mistress. And Miss Davidson and her sister-in-law, what miserable lives they lead! They have become so melancholy that now nobody ever asks them to anything but a funeral.’ She gave a short, self-conscious laugh.
‘You have quoted two awful examples,’ agreed Katherine gravely, ‘and perhaps we ought to take warning by them.’
‘You wouldn’t be dreadfully hard up if we didn’t live together, would you, Katherine? George left you two thousand pounds, and you have your little pension as an officer’s daughter, and, of course, I would give you something.’
‘Not at all necessary, thank you,’ interrupted Katherine with quiet good humour, ‘you will want all you have got yourself, and I should not think of being idle. It costs such a lot to do nothing. I have an idea already of something I could do.’
Claire’s trepidation vanished. She became all animation, interest, and relief.
‘Tell me!’ she cried.
‘I want you to rout out that letter from the man in India, and recommend me for the post of companion to the half-caste girl.’
Claire paled and shivered for a moment. The mention of that letter recalled to her the fierce scene with Katherine in the library — the revelations, the accusations, and the sudden, dreadful ringing of the bell. Katherine had expected this; she would have spared the touch on the tender spot had it been possible.
‘But Kate, you can’t go to India!’
‘Why not? I have always wanted to go back.’
‘But as a companion to a half-caste girl? I wouldn’t do it for a hundred thousand pounds! I was only in India barely a year, so I don’t know much about such people, but I should think you would have a most awful time.’
‘The experience would interest me, and I want to get into quite new surroundings if I go away at all. If I didn’t like the girl or her family, I suppose I could cancel the engagement by repaying them my passage money. It isn’t as if I should be entirely dependent on a salary.’
‘Do you really mean it? But you wouldn’t go and leave me till all the business is over, and the house is off my hands, would you?’ said Claire anxiously.
‘No, of course I would stay and see you through. I couldn’t sail till October in any case. I do mean it, and I wish you would go and look for that letter. If you will tell me where it is I will fetch it myself.’
‘No, no,’ rising reluctantly, ‘you would never find it.’ She moved towards the door. ‘Perhaps if you are determined to go to India,’ she said, looking back, ‘it might be the best thing you could do to take this place, because then Benjamin Wade would see to it that his black friends didn’t bully you.’
Left to herself, Katherine’s face grew thoughtful. What kind of life would Claire lead with no outward safeguard of home or husband? Of course, eventually, she would marry again; and a regiment of Lady Belvigne’s bachelor admirers paraded themselves through Katherine’s mind. Probably she would entangle herself in semi-engagements with them all; it was only to be trusted that she would not become involved in some foolish scandal. The girl’s thoughts reverted involuntarily to Major Saxon, though with impatience she tried to repulse him from them. He and Mrs. Saxon had sent a wreath and condolences, and so far no more had been heard of them. The man was married, thank goodness; she could not wish anyone a worse fate than to be his wife, and she pitied poor, broken-spirited little Mrs. Saxon with all her heart. Now that Claire was a widow, he might have the discretion, if he had not the good feeling, to keep away from her; and later on, when she began to go out again, he would doubtless have attached himself to someone else.
She returned presently with Wade’s letter, and together they read its pages. Claire, excited and impetuous, began at once to concoct an answer.
‘I will make a rough draft,’ she said, her pen poised above a sheet of black-edged paper. ‘First of all, of course, I must tell him what has happened. I wonder —’ She checked herself with a little cough, but Katherine knew quite well that she had been about to wonder whether Benjamin Wade still cared for her! ‘Then I will say you are my niece, though he will never believe it when he sees you; he will think I must have meant that you are my aunt. I can’t say you are respectable; I mean, of course, dear, I can say you’re respectable, but it would sound like recommending a servant, wouldn’t it? That was what I said about Bessie, the kitchenmaid, when that old lady came about her character; I said she was respectable, but I’m sure she wasn’t, all the same. I’ll say —Yes — I’ll say you have sound common-sense and sterling qualities! That’s exactly like you, Kate. “Sound common-sense and sterling qualities!” she wrote, laughing; “not too young.” I won’t say we are the same age, “and calculated to exert the best influence over the mind of a young girl.” Oh, what a prig! But then you know, Katherine, you are rather a prig.’
‘I dare say,’ said Katherine calmly, ‘but I object to you putting it on paper. Why can’t you write naturally and just say you know all about me, and that, owing to my uncle’s death, I want to earn my own living. Say I am willing to take the salary they offer, twenty-five rupees a month, and that you believe I should suit the — what is their name?’ — taking up Wade’s letter — ‘the Chandlers.’
She looked at the handwriting and turned over the pages again with interest. Her imagination told her that the writer was different from most men; she liked the direct manner in which he expressed himself, and wondered, with curiosity, why he was interested in this Eurasian girl — he certainly did not mention her, or her people, as though he contemplated making her his wife at some future date.
‘She belongs,’ he had written, ‘to that extra-ordinary family settled in the Siwâla valley, not far from my own place. You were interested once in seeing the old English ancestor’s tomb as you rode past the compound, if you remember. The girl is sixteen, a handsome, spirited creature, and mad to go to England; but her parents will not part with her, so the only other alternative is to get someone out from home who will endeavour to mould the child after the fashion of an English young lady. Then if the time should ever come for her to leave this country, she need not be such a savage as she certainly would be considered at present. Her parents have consented to this plan, so if you know of any sensible, intelligent person who is anxious to earn her own living and is not easily astonished, here is her opportunity. At the same time it might be as well to warn her that, unless she has already visited India, the Chandlers are like nothing she has ever seen or heard of, though in their own way they are well-meaning, and would treat her with consideration. I write to you because we are old friends, and also because I really do not know anyone else to whom I could apply. I have mixed myself up in the business rather against my will and judgment; but having done so I must see it through. The Chandlers are perfectly incompetent to manage the matter themselves, and I do it only for the sake of the child. . . .’ The letter concluded with business details concerning passage-money and salary, combined with polite apologies for troubling Lady Belvigne.
‘You see,’ said Claire, as Katherine put down the letter, ‘he particularly asks for a sensible person, and, if you let me write as I please, he will form the highest opinion of my powers of selection, and the Chandlers will be so impressed! Those sort of people love high falutin’ language.’ She scribbled for a few moments, then leaned back in her chair and brandished her pen. ‘I wonder what Benjamin Wade is like now,’ she speculated; ‘when I was nearly engaged to him he was not at all bad looking, and had a very fine figure. We had gone out to his place, a party of us, to tea when he proposed to me, and I remember I found it very difficult to refuse him,’ she laughed, and her eyes grew soft, ‘in fact, I didn’t at the time! I waited, and wrote when I was engaged to George. No doubt he is fat and bald now. I wonder if he wants to get the Chandler girl educated in order to marry her. You had much better marry him yourself, Kate!’
Katherine smiled. I don’t particularly want to marry,’ she said, ‘or I could have done so before now — strange though it may seem.’
‘Oh yes, Canon Williamson, and that cross old judge, and Colonel Crabbe. You always have such stuffy lovers, Kate. Never mind, if it isn’t Benjamin Wade you may meet somebody else in India who will make your sensible heart beat faster perhaps. Well, now’ — settling herself to write again — ‘what else shall I say? I’ve put that you would be satisfied with the salary and could start in October.’
Say that if they want me they must telegraph, or I may not be able to get a passage.’
‘Very well. If I were you I should go first-class by one of the less important lines instead of second-class P. & O. You’d feel nicer.’
‘The other is probably quicker, and I don’t mind going second-class. By the way, I think we ought to cable out that you are writing. He might fill up the place out there if he gets no answer from you for six weeks.’
Lady Belvigne agreed that the telegram should be sent, and before mail-day came round she had accomplished a letter to Benjamin Wade that satisfied Katherine sufficiently, although it certainly seemed to convey the impression that she was elderly, plain, and pedantic. A cabled reply, engaging Miss Rolland, arrived from India in the name of Chandler, despatched and paid for, of course, by Mr. Wade; and the following weeks passed swiftly for Claire and Katherine. The house was suddenly purchased by an individual who made early possession a condition, so that furniture had to be sold and stored, servants discharged, and many details arranged.
The pair betook themselves to quiet rooms in the neighbourhood, and from here all business was finally concluded, and Katherine’s Indian outfit purchased, a matter to which Claire gave zealous and valuable attention. The second-class passage P. & O. had already been taken, and Katherine was thankful she had decided to travel by no other line when, with the letter from India containing the passage-money, arrived also the welcome information that the wife of the Civil Surgeon at Siwâla, a Mrs. Hart, would be coming out by the same mail, and would no doubt allow Miss Rolland to travel with her up-country. The Civil Surgeon had kindly written to his wife to look out for Miss Rolland on board ship.
Her last week in London, a desperately busy week, was passed chiefly in shops; but all the time Katherine observed that Claire was suspiciously silent regarding her own future.
‘I shall pay some quiet country visits after you are gone,’ she would say vaguely, and then I shall see.’
No more could be extracted from her, and in the bustle of packing and preparation Katherine had almost ceased to concern herself with the question, when something happened that aroused all her old anxiety and apprehension, and caused her intense disquietude.
One afternoon Claire complained of a headache, and retired to lie down, and Katherine, who was to sail in three days, went out alone to attend to some final shopping. By one of those apparently simple chances, which most of us have cause to anathematize or bless, she returned earlier than she had expected to do, and on the doorstep came face to face with Major Saxon. He was well dressed, unembarrassed, and good-looking as ever, and she met the smiling gaze of the reprobate blue eyes unyieldingly, without bow or hand-shake.
‘Are you going in or coming out?’ she inquired; and by her tone she might have been addressing an importunate cab-runner.
He raised his hat and regarded her with palpable amusement. ‘Coming away,’ he answered easily. ‘I am sorry to hear that Lady Belvigne has a headache. My wife and I only got back —’
But Katherine let herself into the house with her latchkey, and shut the door on his remarks without further delay, or any gesture of farewell.
He had plainly wished to give her the impression that he had not seen Claire, and that his visit had been unplanned. She felt sceptical on both points, and went up to her bedroom, her mind in a tumult. Distractedly she asked herself, Ought she to go to India? Ought she to leave Claire to the mercy of this man, who would consider neither the reputation nor the happiness of any woman he fancied? She could refuse to go away, and tell Claire why. She could find work in London, so as to be at hand with warning and protection. But then, again, now that Claire was free, would she allow anyone to help or influence her against her will? Katherine knew very well she would not. Also, she herself was under contract to these people in India, had spent their money on her passage, wasted their time if she did not go. It would be most difficult to draw back now, and to draw back for what? To be flouted and defied by Claire, to stand by powerless, unable to turn her from any path she chose to take.
Katherine paced the narrow little room, that was choked with half-packed boxes, in anxious agitation then she took up her uncle’s picture, the ‘portrait photograph,’ that gave the lined face and kind eyes so faithfully. As she gazed at it she could almost hear the familiar voice.
‘What ought I to do, dear?’ she murmured in doubt and distress. ‘She will not have me with her, and yet how can I dare leave her alone —’
She put the picture, in its heavy silver frame, down on the dressing-table, and on an impulse went to Claire’s room.
She found a dainty vision, fully dressed in filmy black, standing before the looking-glass, with glorious hair ruffled enchantingly. Claire had never put on a widow’s cap. ‘I should look such a show. George would have hated it!’ she had wailed when it came with her first mourning, and Katherine had used no persuasion. Claire was unimaginable in a cap, and, besides, what did it matter?
‘Oh, I thought you were going to be out till quite late,’ she said, flushing, for she had expected her maid to appear in answer to her ‘Come in.’
‘And I thought you were lying down with a headache,’ replied Katherine, and saw the cat-like gleam of defiance she knew so well shoot into the wonderful eyes.
‘Yes, but now my headache is better.’
Katherine’s heart began to fail her. How useless it would be to expostulate or plead. She stood for a moment silent and hesitating.
‘What is the matter?’ asked Claire, and powdered her nose.
‘I met Major Saxon on the doorstep as I came in. He pretended he had not seen you.’
‘Why should you think he pretended, when I was upstairs with a headache?’ was the provoking answer. ‘Besides, if I had seen him, what then? Everybody is coming back to London now, and I can’t shut myself up altogether.’
‘Of course not. But now that you are alone, and will have nobody living with you, Claire, you will have to be doubly careful. And that man’s friendship, you know well enough, would go against any woman.’
‘Yes, perhaps he is rather a devil,’ admitted Claire; and Katherine was amazed at her placidity.
‘But, then, you know — or perhaps you don’t know — that they are always the most irresistible.’
‘Don’t be a fool, Claire! Consider how people will talk and gossip if you go about with him, or let him come and see you whenever he likes; and he will never be content with a formal call now and then. He is a man who will have all or nothing.’
‘I know. He says himself he is like Dr. Johnson: he can abstain, but he cannot be moderate.’
‘But what do you mean to do about him?’
Katherine’s anger was drowning in despair. ‘The man is married, and you may only get into some horrible scrape and be cut by everybody. I can’t bear to think of it! I am sure I ought to stay near you. It is what Uncle George would have wished.’
‘Rubbish! I’m not going to get into any scrapes or be cut. What would be the object of such foolishness? You are like an old hen with one precious chicken over me, Katherine. It’s too silly! Of course, I know what you are always thinking of — that letter I showed you by mistake. But if you had had my experience of men, it would not have alarmed you at all. He didn’t mean half he said, of course, and it was nothing to fuss about. I’ll be very careful, I promise you, if that will send you off to India any happier, old dear.’
‘Oh, Claire!’ said Katherine earnestly, ‘you are so pretty and irresponsible. I can’t help being desperately afraid for you. Won’t you promise me, now — promise to give up this beast of a man altogether? I know there will be terrible mischief if you don’t.’ The tears gathered in her eyes.
Claire put her arms round Katherine’s neck and kissed her fondly. ‘Don’t cry, Kitty. You are quite right. I am a little fiend, and Arthur Saxon appeals to the very worst side of me. When I am with the man he fascinates me, and when I am away from him I never want to see him again. I have kept him in hand hitherto, truly I have, though I couldn’t prevent his writing a lot of nonsense. I confess that sometimes he has frightened me, and I will drop him. I will take your advice. I can write and say I am going away, which is quite true, and tell the people here not to let him in again. It will be best, I know. His miserable little wife always glares at me with the sort of fury you see in a mouse caught in a trap, and I’ve no doubt she goes about saying absolutely awful things of me.’
‘I’m very sorry for her,’ said Katherine.
‘I’m not. She ought to make her husband more comfortable, and be a cheerful companion, and give him more money. She’s as stingy as a miser to him. Then, perhaps, he wouldn’t fall in love with other people.’ She kissed Katherine again. ‘There!’ she added penitently, ‘I promise and vow to drop Major Saxon, and give him no chance whatever of getting me into scrapes. Does that satisfy you, darling?’
‘I suppose it must,’ said Katherine with a sigh.
And so she started three days later, after a tempestuous parting with Claire, and took the first step into her unknown future, with a mind that was far from easy, though, happily, she remained ignorant that on the Sunday following her departure Major Saxon called on Lady Belvigne, was admitted, and stayed the whole afternoon.
Katherine enjoyed the voyage, and among her fellow second-class passengers she made many pleasant acquaintances.
The subalterns amused her, returning penniless and low-spirited after ‘a glorious fling’ at home, yet having sufficient vitality remaining to enable them to organize daily sweepstakes on the run, concerts, gymkanas, and cricket matches, which ‘the first-class’ would languidly attend, professing astounded admiration at so much energy.
She was intensely sorry for the anxious sets of parents who had ‘left the children at home,’ and she watched, with understanding pity, the poor bereft mothers writing voluminous letters in the saloon to post them with yearning eyes at every port. They showed her the last photographs of their Bobbies, and Ediths, and Babies, and read her extracts in proud, trembling voices from blotted, laborious little letters that had raced across the continent in time to overtake the vessel at Port Said.
The missionaries also interested her — the novices so confident, superior, enthusiastic, so ready to be attentive and unselfish to their fellow-voyagers, yet so grieved at the indifference these displayed towards the subject of native conversion, and the spiritual darkness of the lascars and punkah-boys on board. The veterans of the arduous, devoted calling — men and women with tired, kindly faces, and the tolerance of toilsome years and hard experience — held themselves slightly aloof, willing to acknowledge and appreciate, yet never courting friendly recognition from their worldly compatriots.
Then there was a smart and exclusive contingent of maids, nurses, and valets belonging to the more opulent first-class passengers — globe-trotters, rich Australians, high Calcutta officials, and merchants. But with the instinctive fellowship of servants these kept to themselves, and made up their own table for meals, which they enjoyed hilariously when they were not sea-sick.
The nondescript collation — neither tea nor dinner — which was served at six o’clock was usually a cheerful function, in spite of the much-abused fare of sardines, ham, and Bologna sausage, jams, pickles, buns, and cake; and it was agreed that most of the ‘nice’ people on board were travelling second-class, and that really the squash, and scramble, and the double meals, and the dressing up, and the cliqueiness of the first-class must be far from enviable. Mrs. Hart, the wife of the Civil Surgeon of Siwâla, was one of the ‘nice’ people, although she was ‘a bloated first-classer,’ to use the words of a junior civilian who sat next to Katherine at table. She constantly came over to visit Miss Rolland, and from the sensible, good-humoured woman Katherine learnt much concerning the country to which she was going, and something of the life that awaited her there.
Mrs. Hart was ready to give all the information at her command about Chandlerpore, and, when the two became a little more intimate, she frankly avowed that she was ‘eaten up with curiosity’ as to how the experiment would prosper, and listened with intense interest to all the details of the engagement.
‘I can’t tell you how astonished I was when my husband wrote me Mr. Wade’s message,’ she said.
Katherine was having tea with Mrs. Hart on the first-class deck. ‘I couldn’t imagine that wild little Chandler girl with an English companion, and it seemed so odd for Mr. Wade to be arranging it all. I don’t know him well, for he seems to avoid society, and never comes into the station, though he sometimes has men out to shoot with him; but I should say it was very unlike him to fuss himself about other people’s affairs. At the same time my husband has certainly told me of one or two very kind things he has known him do. So I suppose he must have some good motive, though I should say myself it would be time and trouble, as well as money, wasted. To me the experiment will be most interesting. For you, I am afraid, the interest will be qualified by the strangeness and discomfort.’
‘I am really anxious for the experience,’ Katherine assured her, and plied the kindly lady with questions concerning Siwâla and its inhabitants, and extracted from her all she could recall of Chandlerpore itself and its occupants.
‘I have only been out there once,’ said Mrs. Hart reminiscently, ‘when my husband was sent for to see one of the relations. She was an old native great-aunt, or something of the kind, who lived entirely in one room, like a purdah-nashin woman — screened off, you know, and never seeing a male who wasn’t a close relation. They had nearly killed the poor old thing with bazaar remedies for some complaint she had got, and Andrew was too late to save her. She was unconscious when he arrived, or I dare say she would have declined to let him see her at all. I went with Andrew out of unadulterated curiosity, and I shall never forget the house — the dirt and dilapidation, and yet the remains of a certain splendour and dignity.’
‘And the girl herself, Palmyra — I never heard such a name — what about her?’
‘She is a handsome, gipsy-looking creature. I see her galloping madly about sometimes on a white pony, or driving with her mother in an old Noah’s ark of a carriage; but I know very little else about her. They live a long way out, and have their own friends in Siwâla — people like themselves, of which there are a good many in and around the station.’
‘Yes, there is an enormous colony; but one doesn’t see much of them except on Christmas Day, when they all come to church, or at public balls and functions. Most of the women go out early in the morning or late in the evening (they hate the sun), and the men are in Government offices all day, or shops, or businesses of some kind. You must remember that Eurasians are seldom of our class. People in England think it is only because they are dark that we do not mix with them; but why should we make friends in India with those we should not call on or ask to dinner in England? I believe the reason why they are so unsatisfactory in character as a whole is because they are chiefly the result of unions, in the first place, between low types of both countries. But when Eurasians are gentlefolk by birth or position, which is not very often, they are received like anyone else. I know some very nice Eurasians who come up to Surima every year for the season, and they are most popular, though a rude subaltern did christen the five girls “The Snowy Range” when they came to parties and sat in a row.’
‘But the Chandlers are descended from an English General, aren’t they?’
‘Yes, a sort of General, and certainly a gentleman. I believe he and his princess used to keep open house, and were hand in glove with every European far and near; but their descendants have degenerated and made impossible marriages till now hardly anyone knows them socially.’
‘It’s an extraordinary feeling to be quite ignorant of the kind of life one is going to lead; it’s such a leap into the dark.’
‘And so dark!’ murmured Mrs. Hart. ‘I often think when I see those Chandlers driving about the station how much better it would be if they would only allow themselves to become frankly natives, when their three drops of English blood would give them a certain superiority, instead of striving to be English hampered in every direction by their native tendencies. They might make most excellent natives, whereas now they are simply caricatures of English people.’
‘And this Mr. Wade — he is quite English, I suppose?’
‘Oh yes; but he has made his home out on this place of his, which I believe belonged to an uncle. In the old days it was not at all an uncommon thing to do, but now it is considered peculiar to live in India for choice, and, as a rule, people rather lose caste by doing so, though I never can quite see why. Siwâla boasts more voluntary English settlers than any other part of the country on account of the climate, but these are nearly all old retired officials living on their pensions in the station itself. Mr. Wade is an anomaly — a young man, not much over thirty, I should say, living out there by himself on what he can make from the land, and only going away to fish or shoot. It does seem rather eccentric.’
Thus Katherine managed to learn from Mrs. Hart much on which her quick imagination laid ready hold. And when the long up-country journey was over, and they arrived at Siwâla, after a tedious night’s drive in the posting vehicle of the country, she almost felt that she knew the place — knew its broad roads shaded with magnificent trees that had strange foliage and unpronounceable names; its creeper-covered bungalows, standing in grassy compounds gay with plants and flowering shrubs; its tall clumps of bamboo; its hedges of roses; its air of peace and somnolence.
They reached the Civil Surgeon’s bungalow early in the morning, and a messenger was sent out to Chandlerpore with the news of Miss Rolland’s arrival. After this Katherine could do nothing but wait with the hospitable Harts till a conveyance should arrive to take her to her destination. But the hours were full of fresh experiences and novel sights to the girl from England, and she wished she could have accepted the invitation to stay for a week in this spacious, comfortable bungalow, that combined order and cleanliness with the luxury of Anglo-Indian customs.
The mid-day breakfast was over, and she had rested in a cool, lofty room on a bed that stood in the centre of the matting-covered floor before the summons came. Mrs. Hart was pouring out tea in the drawing-room when a dusty, dilapidated old landau, drawn by a pair of gaunt Australian horses, clattered up to the door.
The coachman and groom on the box were in dirty white clothing and untidy turbans with long tails to them, and at the back of the carriage hung a half-naked scarecrow of a creature, whose duty it was to scream warnings to other drivers to make way for the Chandlerpore chariot.
‘That’s for you,’ said Mrs. Hart.
Katherine looked out of the long, open windows.
‘Oh, such a shandridan!’ she exclaimed; ‘and a girl inside it. Heavens!’ She turned back to Mrs. Hart with a face of amused dismay.
Myra had come in person to fetch Miss Rolland.
She was in a condition of extreme nervous excitement, and this caused her to appear as though giving herself the most outrageous airs. She sat haughtily in the carriage, her eyes downcast, a grotesque spectacle clad in a scarlet merino dress trimmed with cheap coffee-coloured lace; on her head was a hat made of blue satin, and her hands were encased in yellow cotton gloves. When a servant conveyed to her Mrs. Hart’s invitation to come into the house she declined to stir, merely returning a curt message that ‘the miss-sahib awaited the miss-sahib.’
‘You had better go, my dear,’ said Mrs. Hart; and Katherine ruefully gathered her things together and pinned on her hat. ‘Probably the girl is far too shy to come in, and her shyness has taken the form of apparent rudeness. It often does with these people. You must make allowances.’
‘I am prepared to,’ answered Katherine; ‘but how can I make allowances for a crimson gown and a blue satin hat? Why doesn’t her Oriental instinct tell her something about colour?’
‘It’s just her Oriental instinct that makes her dress like that. The colours, though, of course, not the clothes, would look most picturesque on a native. Now, are you ready? I’ll come with you to the carriage and introduce you.’
They went out into the veranda and down the steps of the bungalow, after Katherine had thanked her hostess for all her kindness and kissed her farewell.
‘How d’ye do, Miss Chandler, said Mrs. Hart pleasantly. ‘You see I have brought Miss Rolland out for you quite safely.’
Myra took no notice, but limply shook the hand that Miss Rolland held out to her, and became almost helpless with awe and shyness. She felt terribly afraid of her companion, this calm, elegant English lady. Then came the consoling reflection that, after all, Miss Rolland was merely a paid servant, who could be given six months’ wages and sent away at once, and this should be done if she was at all inclined to be proud or stuck up! Thus fortified, Myra nodded to Mrs. Hart, and ventured to invite Katherine to take the seat beside her.
When the smaller luggage had been put into the carriage, she said grandly, ‘A cart will come for boxes. It is following, just now, behind.’ She waved her hand in its yellow glove to Mrs. Hart with a superb gesture, and commanded the coachman to drive on.
‘But shall I get my things to-night?’ inquired Katherine, a little bewildered by this swiftness of action.
‘Oh yes! The cart will bring them in two-three hours. It is only seven miles. There is the cart,’ she added, as they rattled through the gateway, and passed a long, low, two-wheeled vehicle drawn by a pair of white bullocks.
‘It seems rather a large cart for my small amount of luggage,’ said Katherine, wishing to make conversation, and put her agonized companion at her ease. ‘I’ve only got two boxes besides my cabin trunk.’
‘Oh!’ — in a disappointed tone — ‘I thought you would bring heaps and heaps for me to copy!’
‘You are quite welcome to copy anything I have got, but I’m afraid I have brought nothing very smart, and I am in mourning, too, for my uncle.’
‘But even then your things will be English,’ said Myra, losing her feeling of awkwardness in hopeful anticipation. ‘And hats?’
‘Yes, I’ve brought some hats, but all very plain. By the way, you must help me to get a sun-hat, a sola — what is it called?’
‘A sola-topee. But you need not buy,’ she continued generously. ‘There are always plenty of sun-hats lying about the house, and we always pick up and wear — my father, and my mother, and my brother, and my aunt and all — when we want. Now there will be you as well.’
She stole a glance at her companion. It was a pathetic little look that held a yearning for confidence and friendship. Katherine interpreted it aright, and smiled in response, with the result that Myra fixed her eyes boldly upon the other’s person, scrutinizing every detail of her dress, and every line of her face and figure. The victim felt inclined to point out that such a searching gaze was hardly consistent with good manners, but she decided that it might be wiser to postpone any necessary faultfinding to a later stage of their acquaintanceship.
By this time they had driven down the broad, white mall, past the ugly English church, that looked like a German brick puzzle, past rows of compounds with white houses nestling among trees, past the club, severe and bare, which Myra pointed out to her with pride, though none of the Chandler family were members.
‘It has a billiard-table,’ she said, ‘and sometimes Tiddoo, my brother, goes and plays there with other men.’
Now they came to a broad expanse of grass intersected with narrow white roads. At one end of this, beneath a row of trees, was a round bandstand, on which a native band was playing vigorously to an audience of natives, Eurasians, and a few English people in carriages, on horseback, or on foot. Myra shouted shrill directions to the coachman in Hindustani, and, to Katharine’s discomfiture, the landau drew up in front of the assemblage. They sat in this conspicuous position for fully twenty minutes. A few Englishmen — officers, evidently — walked past the carriage once or twice with assumed carelessness, asking each other afterwards who on earth could the new-comer be, and how had she got there? The ladies stared freely, and noted the palpably English luggage, with the coloured voyage labels, that lay on the front seat and beneath the coachman’s feet; while the half-castes and natives, even including the band, never took their eyes off the stranger. They all knew the Chandler carriage and Myra Chandler, who sat self-consciously within it; but who was this English lady with the high-bred face and quiet demeanour in company with the Eurasian girl?
Curiosity at last became disagreeably apparent, and Katherine writhed beneath it, though it was impossible to help being amused at the attitude of Myra, who smiled and gazed about her with supreme satisfaction. It was with the utmost difficulty that Katherine persuaded her to give the word to continue on their journey.
‘I should like to get to the house,’ she said apologetically more than once; ‘I am rather tired.’
‘I just wanted them all to see you,’ confessed Myra, when at last they started again. ‘Now, perhaps, they will believe that we have English visitor. But how I do wish that Flossie Fernandez had been there, and my cousins, the Minas girls! They always go to the band, and, of course, just to-day, when I wished them to be there, they have not come. Oh, oh!’ she screamed excitedly, ‘there they are, and they have friends with them, too!’
She stood up in the carriage and waved to a waggonette-load of gaily-dressed females, pointing at the same time to Katherine, who caught a vision of a cluster of eager, dark faces, with white teeth and eyeballs, in the midst of a mass of feathers and lace, artificial flowers, and gaily-coloured dresses.
‘Come to tea to-morrow!’ yelled Myra, and the waggonette-load nodded, and laughed, and shrieked an acceptance.
Myra sank back on her seat when this was over, and gave a sigh of contentment. ‘Now, they will know you have really come, and how they will talk, and talk, and envy! And they will all come in their best clothes to-morrow, you will see. Flossie Fernandez will be so jealous. She lives alone with her father, who is a widower; and she keeps house, and is very proud.’
Katherine made no reply. After a glimpse of such guests, the prospect of the tea-party was not very attractive.
They rumbled on down shady roads to the outskirts of the station, where a few small bungalows were scattered about, half veiled with creepers, and showing dusky groups seated in the verandas or strolling lazily round the compounds. Then began the country. The rose-hedges were wild and untrimmed, the road grew rutty and less well tended, and led through patches of forest and tiny villages. It all seemed beautiful to Katherine; she revelled in the scented air, the strange sights and sounds, and enjoyed every moment of the drive, as far as Myra’s scrutiny, which never abated, would allow.
Just before they turned off on to the rough road that led direct to Chandlerpore, Myra pointed over the right-hand hedge.
‘That is Ben Wade’s compound,’ she said.
Katherine leaned forward with quick interest, and looked into the luxuriant garden that surrounded the thatched bungalow. She could hardly realize that this was actually where he lived. The thought of him had always attracted her strangely, and she had many times tried to imagine what he was like, for Claire’s description of him had given her no mental picture. She recalled Claire’s love affair with this man, who, doubtless, had been far too good for her, and could well imagine how she had led him on, giving him every encouragement without having the smallest intention of marrying him. Perhaps now that Lady Belvigne was a widow he would go home to discover if he had any further chance of winning her. The idea was unwelcome to Katherine. She put it from her, and inquired of Myra what Mr. Wade was like.
The girl looked puzzled. ‘I do not quite know how to say,’ she replied. ‘He is a tall man, and there is nobody who is kinder than Ben when he likes. All his tenants love him, and the coolies, too, though he smacks their heads when he is angry. But he will always listen and help, even when he does not wish to be bothered. Ben loves to be alone, so that he can read and do his work, and shoot just as he likes, and look after his garden. I do not know how he keeps it so tidy. Ours is always in a mess, as you will see; but I do not mind that very much, except just after I have been seeing Ben’s.’
‘Is Mr. Wade at home now?’ She asked the question with a little tremor of anticipation that surprised herself.
‘I am not sure. He went away shooting in the hills, but I think he was to be home about now. He is a great shikari. Last year he brought back two beautiful head, and a bear. Can you shoot, Miss Rolland?’
‘No, but perhaps you will teach me.’
‘English ladies — do they shoot?’
‘Some of them.’ And Katherine was then closely catechized as to the varieties of English game, and patiently gave what information she was possessed of on the subject. But all the time her mind was full of Mr. Wade, and she was wondering if, when they met, he would extend his reputed benevolence to her; for she had a foreboding that the mental loneliness at Chandlerpore would at times be difficult to endure, and that she should come to be thankful for a word now and then with one of her own class.
‘Oh!’ cried Myra suddenly, ‘there he is — there’s Ben — so he is back!’ She stood up and waved.
‘Where is he?’ asked Katherine, feeling curiously excited.
Myra pointed over the hedge. An elephant was swinging majestically across the open fields, carefully skirting the crops. The body of the great beast made a black blotch against the crimson of the evening sky, and sideways on the pad a big Englishman sat carelessly, his legs dangling, his head bare, in clothes that were old and worn and rough, and flannel-shirt unfastened at the neck. As they drew nearer, Katherine saw above the strong, red throat a sun-burned face with clear, far-seeing eyes — eyes in which something of the serenity of the wide, free landscape seemed to be reflected, and she thought that never before had she noted an expression so unclouded, so exempt from earthly weariness.
Myra was about to stop the carriage, but Katherine checked her: ‘No, no,’ she implored hastily, ‘do let us get on.’ She was averse to an introduction at that moment, though she could not clearly have told why. Dimly she felt that she would like to preserve in her memory the picture of this man just as he was, natural and unconstrained, before the impression should be marred by conventional looks and utterances.
On Wade’s part there also seemed no desire to pause. He waved his hat to Myra, and pointed in the direction of his bungalow, as though to indicate that he was in a hurry to get home.
‘Ben doesn’t want to stop,’ said Myra dejectedly. ‘I suppose he is busy, as he has just come back, or thinks he is too untidy. But I will send over and say he must come to tea to-morrow.’
The coachman whipped up his horses, and turned in through the white pillars past Roy Chandler’s tomb, which Myra indicated and explained. Katherine recalled Mr. Wade’s reference to it in his first letter to Lady Belvigne, and was interested in the little lamp and the romantic history. She admired the avenue of tall trees, and thought it a pity that the grounds on either side of the drive should be allowed to resemble a wilderness. The sun was setting as they drew up under the portico, avoiding the string-bedstead from which old Rattan rose up and salaamed a profound welcome to the new Miss-sahib; then, with raucous cries, he summoned some tatterdemalion servants to carry in her luggage.
Katherine felt chilled and depressed as she entered the gloomy house. It was almost dark inside, and the vast hall, with its ponderous furniture and dusty chandelier, looked as though it had been shut up and forgotten for years. The silence on all sides was discouraging. Myra raised her voice, and called piercingly for her parents; turkeys gobbled in the compound, and starlings shrieked through the ventilators in the ceiling — otherwise there was silence.
‘Where have they all gone?’ exclaimed Myra with impatience. ‘Never mind, come in here to your room. All the best rooms lead off this hall.’
She lifted a curtain, and ushered Katherine into an enormous chamber that would have made a good-sized ballroom. The bed looked like a dot in the middle of it, and the drugget, though a large one, covered but little of the floor, which was paved in squares of black and white marble. A close row of long door-windows led into the veranda, and wadded curtains, like gigantic quilts, striped blue and yellow, concealed open doors at intervals on every other side. The furniture was plain and shabby, but there was enough of it — a dressing-table that was really a wash-hand stand (for it had a hole in the middle for a basin, as Katherine subsequently discovered), a chest of drawers which had once been camel-trunks, a deal wardrobe, the door of which would not keep shut without a wad of paper, and a rickety bamboo table beside the bed.
The lofty walls, where they were uninterrupted by doors, were washed a crude blue, and lizards, spiders, and small black insects dotted them freely. The air was chilly, for winter begins early at the foot of the hills; but there was no fireplace. Katherine also observed that the narrow wooden bedstead laced with webbing bands was devoid of mattress or bedding. She supposed that the preparation of her room was not yet completed, though, considering that for the last two months the Chandlers had known she was coming, there surely had been ample time to make the bed!
The luggage that had come in the carriage was brought into the room, and then, staring at Katherine as she removed her hat before the glass, Myra screamed: ‘Buggoo-oo-oo! Oh, Buggoo-ayah!’ again and again. A cracked response was heard after a few moments, and an old native woman appeared, with a face like a mummified monkey, nose and chin almost meeting, and only one eye. She was dressed in a red cloth coat and petticoat, and a camel-hair shawl was thrown over her head. Her shoes she had left outside in the veranda, and coarse woollen socks, several sizes too large, covered her feet.
‘This is my old nurse,’ explained Myra, evidently much pleased with the phrase, and she was nurse to my mamma, too. Bring some tea, Buggoo,’ she added, in glib Hindustani.
The tea was brought on a clothless tray, the cups and saucers a mixture of odd crockery and chipped enamelled iron, but the spoons, though battered, were silver, of a fine old pattern, and bore the crest of the Chandlers — a lighted torch. Instead of sugar, there was a coarse yellow powder that looked like sand, and Katherine, who was very thirsty, found, to her disgust, that it imparted the taste of treacle to her tea.
‘What is it?’ she asked, looking at it in doubt.
‘That’s chini,’ said Myra, helping herself to it liberally. ‘Is there no chini in England? We buy it by the maund — that is eighty-two pounds, and it is cheap. My mamma weighs it out every day with the goats’ grain and the fowls’ food, and she wants you to help her. I do not like doing it.’
‘I shall be very glad if I can help your mother,’ said Katherine, wondering when ‘my mamma’ was going to appear.
Meantime she and Myra drank their ‘chinied’ tea, and ate some curious twirly biscuits that had a rancid taste, and thick slabs of toast spread with snow-white butter made from buffaloes’ milk. This had a smoky flavour, and Katherine felt rather dismayed by her first experience of the Chandlerpore commissariat. Throughout the meal the old ayah squatted on her heels in front of the pair, watching their every movement with her one eye. She turned her head presently, to Katherine’s intense relief, and fixed her gaze upon one of the curtained doorways. The wadded screen became agitated, and then a yellow face, with dull protruding black eyes and a loose wet mouth, crowned by an orange-coloured jockey-cap, was thrust into the room.
Katherine rose with haste. ‘Oh! who is it?’ she said nervously.
The old ayah got up with creaking joints and grunts of effort. ‘Tiddoo-sahib,’ she croaked.
Myra turned round, munching her biscuits. ‘Here is Miss Rolland,’ she announced proudly to the apparition by the curtain. ‘You see’ — with a triumphant laugh — ‘she is a beautee!’
Tiddoo advanced with mincing steps, his elbows squared, and his back well curved. He grinned with what was intended to be a captivating expression as he held out a damp brown hand. The jockey-cap remained on his head. Then somebody rolled up and fastened the curtain, and Mrs. Chandler appeared, breathless, in a tight red costume, evidently part of the same material from which her daughter’s dress had been cut.
‘Oh, my, my, Miss Rolland!’ she cried apologetically, and pushed Tiddoo on one side, to his furious indignation, thereby ruining his most elegant attitude. ‘How bad manners you will say we have got! Nobody in the veranda to welcome! But we were all dressing, and we are very pleased to see you just the same.’ She shook Miss Rolland by the hand with anxious politeness.
Then Tiddoo again advanced, having recovered his expression and readjusted his pose; but as he was on the point of grasping ‘the beautee’s’ fingers, which he intended to carry to his lips, he was once more frustrated, this time by Miss Josephine Pathana, who burst into the room and thrust herself between the youth and the lady. This was more than Tiddoo could endure. He seized his aunt by the arm and pulled her to one side, whereupon she screamed and tried to slap his face, and Mrs. Chandler said: ‘Now, now, dears, do not be rude and angry,’ and smiled with helpless pathos at Miss Rolland.
While Josephine and Tiddoo still wrangled Mr. Chandler came into the room, and behind him in the dusk Katherine discerned a crowd of female figures, some with native wrappers over their heads, and all with dark skins and yellow eyeballs, who pushed and jostled and whispered in an unprogressive attempt to behold the new arrival. The latter felt surprised and amused that her bedroom should have been selected as the place of meeting between herself and the family, but she responded to greetings and replied to pointless and inquisitive questions as though it was all the most natural arrangement in the world.
Presently Mrs. Chandler shivered. ‘Oh, it is too chillee,’ she said, and held out her hand to Miss Rolland. ‘Come into another room, my dear girl, where there is a nice fire. You did not expect to find fires in India, h’n?’
They all moved in a body towards the rolled-up curtain. The shadowy little crowd of whispering women melted away, and Katherine was escorted across the hall to Mr. Chandler’s sitting-room, where a bright log fire burned on the open hearth, for grate there was none.
‘We do not use the drawing-room — only for visitors,’ explained Mrs. Chandler. ‘That room you shall see to-morrow. It is very fine and handsome.’
Then Katherine was introduced to the portraits of Roy Chandler and his Begum, and listened, as attentively as the united chorus of the family would permit, to the history of the celebrated ancestor. Subsequently an extraordinary meal followed, served in a bare, barn-like dining-room, and called by courtesy dinner. It consisted of strange dishes of kid and fowl, and curries with rice and spices and boiled pulse, which puzzled the English girl, and were not at all to her taste. She recognised, however, that she must accustom herself to the Chandlerpore mode of living, and gulped down the food on her plate with the assistance of draughts of lime-juice and water, the only other beverages offered being rum or whisky.
The servants were dirty, the china was in odd pieces, none of which matched, and the table-cloth looked like a coarse cotton sheet; but the food was served in massive silver entrée dishes, and some fine bits of plate were displayed that Katherine longed to see properly cleaned and polished. A large brass lamp stood in the middle of the table, a stain of oil spreading over the cloth from its base, and the odour of paraffin was sickening.
Tiddoo had contrived to seat himself next to ‘the beautee,’ and insisted on helping her to all the choicest morsels he could discover, when the dishes were handed to him, regardless of the fact that she had either refused them or helped herself already.
Now and then she came perilously near to laughter, and the next moment tears of discouragement stood in her eyes as she remembered that this, her first evening at Chandlerpore, was a specimen of what all the others must be if she stayed. How dreadful these people were! And yet she felt sorry for them as she glanced round the table — glanced at old Mr. Chandler’s gloomy, querulous face; at his wife, breathing with difficulty in her red dress, that had only been kept on out of deference to the stranger’s presence; at poor Myra, also in her crimson toilette with the ugly lace, loudly anxious that everything should be to Miss Rolland’s taste; at Miss Josephine Pathana, alert and quarrelsome; and Tiddoo — horrible Tiddoo — who reminded her of a reptile, smiling at her in his orange-coloured jockey-cap, which he had not removed even for dinner. At one time Miss Pathana’s arguments and contradictions drew forth a growl from her brother-in-law that it was time she was chup (silent), at which she rose from the table and called upon her sister to defend her, who only said: ‘Now, now, Josephine, sit down again, dear, and eat your food; it is all no mat-ter.’
‘You are silly in your head,’ remarked Tiddoo to his aunt. And then, paying no heed to her shrill indignation, he turned to Katherine, and began to brag of his riding, the races he had won, the knowledge he possessed of horse-flesh, and the way in which he had been able to set them all to rights only that afternoon at the training-stables.
‘And at the race-meeting they will be glad they have listened to me,’ he added darkly.
‘Is there to be a race-meeting?’ Katherine asked, simulating interest.
‘Yes, always just after Christmas. And I shall ride for Yusuf Khan. We shall win very many rupees, and I will buy all you ladies presents. You will see me go past the winning-post on The Amir long ways ahead, and I will turn round and kiss my hand to you.’ He leered into Katherine’s face, who privately determined that nothing should persuade her to attend the race-meeting.
Mrs. Chandler listened to her son’s words with fatuous smiles of admiration, but her husband looked troubled.
‘Take care that you do not lose instead of win,’ he said. ‘There is no money to pay bets. Do not forget that.’
The boy glanced swiftly at his father with a curiously cunning expression, as much as to say that he could contradict this statement if he chose, but he merely observed with patronizing contempt:
‘Do not be foolish. If The Amir did not win, of course there would be Satan to be settled; but I tell you, there are not many horses and jockeys that can beat The Amir with Gordon Chandler up!’
‘Rattan says The Amir will turn savage and kill somebody before the race,’ said Myra. ‘He is a very wicked horse, though a good racer, and he has already killed two syces. He is a man-eater.’
‘A man-eater?’ asked Katherine incredulously.
‘Yes; a wicked horse we call a man-eater, because he will knock a man down and tear him to pieces, if he gets the chance,’ explained Tiddoo. ‘I know the Amir is vicious well enough — oh, yes; but not much more than many racers, and I can manage him all right. No doubt about that! If he kills at all, he will not kill me — no fear!’
He continued to monopolize the conversation until the meal had concluded with hill-apricots, tasteless and dry, and round boxes of detached grapes from Kabul, packed in cotton-wool, the first layer being flawless as a rule, and the lower ones black, mouldy, and uneatable. They were a present, Tiddoo informed her, from Yusuf the Afghan. Then Mr. Chandler’s hookah was carried in with much ceremony by old Rattan, and Tiddoo smoked a large rank cheroot, which he held in the middle of his mouth. Mrs. Chandler and her sister disappeared the moment dinner was over, no doubt to divest themselves of their uncomfortably tight garments, and Myra dragged her new friend off to her own bedroom, the most habitable portion of the bungalow that Katherine had yet seen. Here were a few basket-chairs and a couch, besides other furniture, in tolerably good condition; framed illustrations from coloured annuals hung on the walls; and little ornaments, though of the commonest description, gave the room a pleasant appearance. Myra turned up the wall-lamp — the whole place seemed to be kept in semi-darkness — and proceeded to show her ‘jewleree,’ as she called it — necklaces of carnelian or turquoise strung on gold thread, gaudy little pendants of crystals and coloured tinsel, silver filigree trinkets that jingled, and one or two really handsome pieces of native jewelry that had belonged to her great grandmother.
‘And see, here are my luck-bones,’ she said, taking from the carved box what appeared to Katherine to be a very ugly little brooch. ‘They are from a tiger that Ben shot, and he gave them to me on my last birthday. They brought me my wish — they brought me you.’
She waved the object before the other’s puzzled eyes, and then told of her baffled longing to go to England, of the plan she had substituted which Ben had helped her to carry out, of the weary time of uncertainty she had endured, and now, how she was so happy and pleased and proud because at last Miss Rolland had come to teach her the things she wanted to know. Katherine was touched, and sympathized readily with these confidences; and then a wonderful wardrobe was displayed for her amused inspection — dresses of every hue and combination of colours, fearfully and astoundingly put together, and hats that made her quiver with suppressed laughter.
‘Now, you see what I have,’ said Myra, ‘and will you please help me to make all my things look English? They are good material, but somehow, now I see you, they do not seem quite like your things, and I must be all ready in time for Christmas and the race-meeting. Flossie Fernandez and the Minas girls will be so annoyed if I cut them out.’
‘We will do our best together, and begin tomorrow, for it is getting late, I think, and really I am so sleepy that I must go to bed now.’
‘Very well,’ permitted Myra graciously. ‘Good-night, Miss Rolland.’
But no effort was made to show Miss Rolland to her room, though clearly the breach of manners was due to ignorance and not intention. She left Myra, and wandered off, bewildered by the countless doors that seemed to be everywhere. By good luck she chanced on one of her own entrances, and the first thing she did was to wrestle with some of the many openings, most of which proved warped, stiff, and unyielding. However, she managed to close the veranda doors, and then, her struggles with bolts and hinges having dispelled her sleepiness, she began to unpack her boxes, which had arrived by the cart. She felt excited and restless as she took out her possessions and put them away, and time passed unnoticed in welcoming old friends she had not seen since she started, examining new ones, setting out her photographs and books. It was not until nearly midnight that she discovered her bed to be still bare of covering; her wraps and hold-all had been lying upon it, which had prevented her from noticing the omission sooner. Doubtful and angry, she stood and wondered who was to blame — Buggoo-ayah most probably, hateful old creature! All Katherine possessed in the way of bedding was her pillow and a rug. The discomfort, not to speak of the cold, would be great had she nothing more for the night, and she decided to go to Myra and ask for some blankets and a mattress — sheets she could dispense with if, to obtain them, meant disturbing the household.
Cautiously she lifted the curtain hanging in front of a door that had obstinately refused to be closed; but all was darkness and silence, and suddenly she realized that she had forgotten the way to Myra’s bedroom. With nervous trepidation she moved her feet gingerly as she crept onwards. Did snakes crawl about Indian houses at night? A light was glimmering through a half-shut door opposite, and she neared it noiselessly. A short curtain prevented her from seeing into the room, but a voice was murmuring indistinctly, and she smelt the pungent odour that had emanated after dinner from Mr. Chandler’s native pipe. Perhaps she was at the door of his sitting-room; if so, and he was still up, she would appeal to him in her predicament instead of groping any further. Katherine gently drew aside the curtain, but the scene within caused her to stand motionless with astonishment.
Mathew Chandler’s sanctum was dimly lighted with a couple of smoking wall-lamps, the wood-fire had died down, and in the middle of the room, with a hurricane lantern at his elbow, knelt the master of the house. He was bending over a hole in the floor; the drugget had been folded back, and a loose brick lay at the edge of a narrow cavity into which the old man was plunging trembling fingers while he muttered to himself. What could he be doing?
Katherine heard the rustle of crisp paper and a sound like the heavy rattle of coins in a tin box; but she could see no more than the bent figure with the white head that shook and nodded, and the hasty movements of the lean old hands as they shot in and out of the hole. She guessed that he was engaged in some secret task — that an interruption, especially from a stranger, would be unwelcome to him. She was about to move away as quietly as she had come when, in a big, dusty mirror at the opposite end of the room, she caught a dim reflection that made her turn cold. Surely she saw the yellow, evil face of Tiddoo peering round a curtain, just as she was doing herself, and he seemed to be gazing intently at the figure of his father! She dropped the curtain quickly and stood, hesitating, in the dark, musty hall. The picture seemed to stand before her in the gloom — the trembling, eager old man crouching intent over his secret, all his melancholy inertness gone, and, beyond, the wicked, shadowy, yellow face in the glass. A sick feeling of apprehension stole into her heart, and her courage ran low; she was weary mentally and physically, and the prospect of the future suddenly frightened her. Why had she been so foolish as to come to this country, where she was friendless, to live among people such as she had never imagined could exist? A desperate desire for company seized her; it was beyond her will to return alone to her huge, bare bedroom, even if she could find it, and she made a rush for the further end of the hall, and knocked with determination at the first door to which she came.
It was opened by old Buggoo, and beyond the figure of the ayah stood Myra in a flowing wrapper of pink cotton, her hair about her shoulders in a thick dark mass, her vivid blue eyes, full of inquiry, looking out from the cloudy background. Katherine could almost have cried with relief.
‘What?’ said Myra, ‘you did not bring your bedding — no rezai, quilt, — to lie on? All bring their own bedding in India; in England — no? Buggoo will see what can be found. We have been talking about you and not going to bed. Sit down and wait here, Miss Rolland. Why, you are not even undressed.’
‘No.’ Katherine sank gladly into a low wicker-chair. ‘I began unpacking, and the time slipped away, and then I discovered there were no bed-clothes. I did not know one was expected to carry bedding about.’
Buggoo departed sulkily to make some arrangement for the miss-sahib’s comfort, and Myra began to chatter volubly. With her, as with the native, night did not necessarily mean sleep. Sometimes she would sit up till nearly dawn, and rest during the day at whatever time she felt drowsy. Now she seemed particularly wide awake. She talked of the tea-party she had arranged for the following day.
‘Directly I knew you were in Siwâla,’ she said, ‘I sent notes to Mr. Haynes, the tea-planter, and to Padre Borrodale, the missionary, and his wife. Then you heard me ask Flossie Fernandez and her cousins and her friends, and to-morrow I will write to Ben. Then they can all see you and talk to you.’
She informed Katherine complacently that she had ‘a very powerful voice’ that only needed training
‘We have got a piano; mamma bought it when I was in school uphill at Surima, so that I could play all holidays. But it is very old and jingly. You will show me how to sing properly, h’n?’ she asked anxiously.
‘Certainly, as far I am able,’ agreed Katherine, who had been thoroughly well taught herself, though her voice was not remarkable.
‘You see,’ went on Myra confidently, for she had now quite lost her awe of Miss Rolland, ‘I can only sing the songs Buggoo taught me when I was little. Buggoo was a great singer when she was young. She was a Nautch girl at Delhi, only one of her lovers put out her eye in jealousy, and then no one needed her at their tomashas, so she married an old man who was grandpappa Pathana’s sweeper, and she was ayah to my mamma. Buggoo used to wear spangles and jewels and wreaths of jessamine, and she blacked her eyelids, and stained her lips and her nails red, and the palms of her hands. And she used to dance and sing like this.’
She shook back the hair from her forehead and began to twirl round, hardly moving her feet, but swaying her body from the hips with supple movements, waving her delicate brown hands, and singing in a curious, high-pitched minor key that was faintly reminiscent of Hungarian music. Katherine was surprised at the quality and richness of the girl’s voice. Untaught though she was, it had yet a volume and compass that was unusual; and the Englishwoman sat and listened, fascinated by the weird, beating monotony of the refrain, and the slender swaying figure with the strange eyes and floating hair.
The words of the song were in Hindustani, and therefore unintelligible to Katherine. She suspected that this was as well, though, translated with circumspection, they might have been given in this way:
‘Dance to the music, quiver and sway,\ Flutter the petticoat gaudy and gay.\ Lips like the pomegranate, eyes like the night,\ Dance to the melody, slender and light.
‘Sing, to the music, of passionate hours,\ Songs of the sweetness of jessamine bowers,\ The gleam of the moon, and the hush of the trees,\ Cooing of turtle-doves, humming of bees.
‘Whisper of Love and its rapturous flame,\ Kisses, caresses, and tenderest name.\ Luring and beckoning, breathing delight,\ Dance for thy livelihood — dance through the night.’
The voice, the gestures, the fantastic charm of the little scene, remained with Katherine long after Buggoo had supplied her reluctantly with bed-clothes. And instead of lying awake troubled with fears for the future, and the remembrance of Tiddoo’s reflection in the glass, and old Mr. Chandler grovelling over the hole in the floor, she fell asleep and dreamed of Myra singing and swaying in her pink dressing-gown by the dull light of the wall lamp.
Wade had returned from his shooting expedition to the hills with the resinous scent of the pines in his nostrils, and the elation of the mountain air in his blood. He had climbed massive, forest-covered heights, and dived into dim, deep gorges; had gazed over hills and valleys to where vivid greens softened into the distance-blue of loftier ranges that towered again into glittering peaks of snow. And oh, the everlasting snows! how wonderful, how terrible they were, rising higher and yet higher, piercing with glittering pinnacles into the blue of the sky, sublime and magnificent, ‘the home of the greater gods.’ Whenever he gazed on the stern beauty of the Himalayas the old Hindu words came into his mind: There are the regions of Paradise, the seats of the righteous, where the wicked do not arrive even after a thousand births. There is no sorrow, nor weariness, nor anxiety, nor apprehension. In those regions there is no succession of ages, and Time is no more. . . .’ And again: In a hundred ages of the gods I could not tell thee of the glories of Himachal. As the dew is dried up by the morning sun, so are the sins of mankind by the sight of Himachal.’
The splendid solitude was pure delight to him, and the clear crystal silence that was seldom broken save by voices of birds or far-away human sounds that came from tiny villages nestled into the hill-sides. From these hamlets strings of brown coolies would sometimes emerge to travel along the narrow zigzag paths, their burdens supported on their backs by a band passed round the forehead. Or a party of Thibetans might file by, chattering and whistling, bound for the nearest trading depot with flocks of goats and sheep laden with bags of salt and borax. The echo of their voices, and the tinkle of bells on the necks of the animals, would ring faintly through the valleys long after the little cloud of dust that marked their progress had disappeared. Wade shot hill-partridges, and pheasants, and gamey jungle-fowl for his larder; two fine head of gurul fell to his rifle and one musk deer; and he lost a bear that gave him a busy morning. Then, reluctantly, he had at last made his way back to the lower hills, viewing, as he descended, the plains stretched out before him streaked with narrow streams and water-courses, and the broad bands of two great rivers on either side of Siwâla Valley.
With considerate though, it must be admitted, unwilling forethought, he had timed his return with Miss Rolland’s expected arrival. In a measure he felt himself responsible for the lady’s well-being, but the glimpse he had caught of her from the back of his elephant had filled him with a vague dismay.
Lady Belvigne’s letter had led him to expect a nice person, certainly, but not a young woman who looked like the proverbial duchess. He had imagined a neutral-coloured individual, with spectacles, perhaps, and thin pale hair, and a figure that would attract no attention; and now he was convinced that he should feel eternally apologetic towards this dignified, refined-looking creature for having been the means of planting her amid such incongruous surroundings. How would she ever accommodate herself to the ways of the Chandlerpore house-hold?
All that evening he recalled with concern the customs of the dirty, untidy establishment, the nondescript meals, the food that would be so strange and distasteful to anyone fresh from England. He thought of Myra’s irresponsible manners, of Mrs. Chandler’s weary eagerness for assistance with the weighing out of grain, of Tiddoo’s objectionable ways, and the timid though persistent presence of the numerous dark satellites. He recognised with some impatience, as well as with self-reproach, that while the pale-haired, insignificant image of Myra’s companion had held her place in his mind, he had given these drawbacks scant attention; and now for the first time since the disturbing period of his love affair with Claire Clifford he spent a mentally unquiet night, which culminated in a resentful decision that it was his duty to visit Chandlerpore with as little delay as possible, to ascertain how the newcomer was faring. An excuse for the visit presented itself the following morning — a formal invitation from Myra to tea the same afternoon. It ran thus:
‘Miss Chandler requests the pleasure of Mr. Benjamin Wade, Esquire, to tea to-day at four o’clock to see Miss Katherine Rolland.
He laughed aloud as he read it, and concluded that either Miss Rolland had been ignorant of its despatch, or else that persuasions from her had failed to convince Myra of its imperfections. Still smiling, he wrote a hasty acceptance, and hurried off to his fields of rhea-grass and sugar-cane that he might complete the day’s inspection in comfortable time for the engagement.
The Chandler family and several guests were collected in a fairly tidy patch of garden on the shady side of the house when he arrived. A badminton net had been erected, and tea-things were laid under a tree on a large table covered with a printed cloth that recalled a bed-spread. Wade, as he greeted Mrs. Chandler, perceived the usual refreshments — twirly biscuits, snow-white butter on mouse-coloured bread, cakes ornamented with coloured sugar, and plates of native-made sweet-meats, cocoanut balls, toffee pink and white, ‘jellabies’ (past description), and a species of pop-corn. He saw Miss Rolland standing against a flaming background of scarlet poinsettias — a slim, well-poised figure in black, with a quiet grace of presence and a sincere, sweet face that was Clyte-like in outline, smiling gravely at Myra’s chatter.
He noted, too, that the child looked different — she wore a clean white dress that had been lengthened and altered to a reasonable style, her masses of hair were tied back with a large bow of blue ribbon that matched her eyes, and a simple, shady hat replaced the gaudy compositions he was accustomed to see on her head. Evidently Miss Rolland’s work had begun, and so far she appeared to have met with success.
He approached the pair, and the sight of him gave Katherine a sense of relief and satisfaction. The firm, cool hand-clasp when Myra proudly introduced him was comforting to her, as also the comradeship she recognised in his face and voice as he made inquiries concerning the voyage and her arrival. ‘He is a dear!’ she said to herself, and felt thankful he was such a close neighbour to Chandlerpore, for instinctively she knew she might turn to him without hesitation in any difficulty.
What a fool Claire Belvigne had been to refuse him! and yet how miserable she would have made such a man had she married him. He had had an escape, if he only knew it!
‘Why, Myra, you’ve got a garden party,’ he said. ‘I hoped I was going to be the one and only honoured guest.’
‘Yes, I have asked as many as I could to come and look at Miss Rolland?’ She gazed from her old to her new friend in pleased excitement. ‘Oh, Ben, aren’t you glad she has come? Only for you and the luck-bones she would not have been here at all. My! there is the old Padre and Mrs. Borrodale.’
She rushed off to receive these guests, and Wade and Katherine sat down on a couple of camp-chairs that were at hand, and surveyed the company. ‘Mamma’ Chandler was talking under the tree to the new arrivals; ‘Pappa’ had not appeared — he did not like parties. In the background, close to the aloe hedge, a cluster of female figures huddled together, some in purely native dress, others in semi-English garments, watching events with intense and silent interest. The Minas girls and Flossie Fernandez were screaming in company with Tiddoo over the badminton net. They had not brought their friends with them. ‘I know why — because they were too jealous!’ the offended Myra had whispered to Katherine.
Miss Josephine Pathana was chatting self-consciously with young Mr. Haynes, the tea-planter, who thought nothing of a ride of ten miles each way over rough country for the sake of a few hours’ companionship with English-speaking folk. Unlike Wade, he abominated solitude, and ever bewailed the loneliness of his lot out on the remote plantation where his multitude of coolies picked, and pruned, and weeded, and hoed in his tea-field, and, in the factory, dried, and rolled, and packed the leaf under his able direction. Mr. Haynes had sped over to-day in response to Myra’s summons, eager to behold and converse with such a goddess as a young lady straight out from England. Nevertheless, he had not yet succeeded in getting a word with her, and he chafed under Miss Pathana’s flatteries, and glared with envy at ‘that brute Wade,’ who had now actually got rid of Palmyra Chandler, and was ‘stuffing himself down by Miss Rolland as though he intended to sit in her pocket for the rest of the afternoon!’
‘This must be an extraordinary change to you,’ Wade was saying. He wanted to discover what were Miss Rolland’s feelings towards her new conditions. ‘I hope you won’t be frightfully uncomfortable.’
‘It’s all very odd, I must allow,’ she answered, ‘but of course I didn’t expect it to be like an English home. Your letter to my uncle’s wife prepared me to a certain extent. I can’t call Claire Belvigne my aunt, you know. It sounds so ridiculous!’
She found herself watching him with interest as she mentioned Claire’s name, and was surprised at her own gladness when he neither changed colour nor turned away his eyes.
‘Poor Lady Belvigne!’ he said, with conventional concern. ‘How sad for her to be left a widow so young.’
‘It is,’ replied Katherine with equal formality.
Then she continued: ‘I don’t mind the Chandlers themselves — except Tiddoo; they all mean to be kind. But I feel as if I could never get accustomed to their ways.’
‘Which are not attractive, certainly,’ said Wade, ‘though I believe a strong character in the house might bring about a good many desirable reforms, provided that no extra trouble or expense devolved on the family. Why don’t you try? You seem to have begun very well with Myra. I never saw the child look so nice.’
‘She has great possibilities, and is young and intelligent. I think I might do much with her. But I don’t see how I could interfere in the house-hold arrangements — it would seem so officious! And they might resent it.’
He laughed. ‘You have yet to realize the Eurasian temperament! They are a good-natured, amenable people, but utterly lacking in backbone or initiative. I think I may safely assure you that if you told Mrs. Chandler you intended to regulate the establishment and have the whole place thoroughly cleaned she would raise no objection, but merely admire your energy and say: “Oh, my, how you will be fatigued!” also she might go so far as to appreciate the improvement, and maintain it with your help and supervision. But I’m afraid the moment you left Chandlerpore things would revert to their old conditions. That is one of their native characteristics — they don’t resent progress when the trouble is taken for them, but they infinitely prefer to be allowed to stand still. My old uncle, who knew the country so well, used to declare that if India were left to herself for a hundred years, or less, there wouldn’t be a trace of Western influence or progress remaining in the country.’
‘I feel rather inclined to attempt reformation at Chandlerpore, if only for the sake of my own comfort,’ said Katherine. And, sitting there in the still, clear atmosphere, looking into the golden sunshine with this strong, encouraging presence beside her, she felt equal to harder tasks than the improvement of the Chandlerpore ménage and the polishing of Myra.
‘It would be an experiment,’ said he lazily, tilting his straw hat over his eyes. Do you feel inclined to tackle the Minas lot and Flossie Fernandez as well?’
He looked towards the Badminton net where the gay group with up-turned faces, shrill screams, and much brandishing of bats, strove, mostly without success, to send the shuttlecock backwards and forwards.
‘Good heavens, no!’’ — with a little shudder. ‘Tell me about the other people, the old couple that arrived a few minutes ago. I am likely to hear more than enough about those dreadful girl-friends of Myra’s.’
‘The old couple are a missionary — Padre Borrodale — and his wife. The Borrodales live a long way out in the valley, among a group of villages, in a thatched bungalow next to a little white church with a tin roof. I make a pilgrimage out there to church sometimes. My uncle, who left me Gulâban, is buried in the little cemetery, and he was a great friend of dear old Borrodale’s. Every Sunday there are services — in Hindustani, of course. And you should see the native congregations! A fashionable West-End parson in London couldn’t wish a fuller church. Some come because they really are converts, others out of curiosity, or because they are in trouble, or want to be doctored; but they all love the old man. His reputation for holiness, and his judicious charity and knowledge of medicine, attract heathen and Christian alike. Remedies from his benevolent hand are considered to have extra healing powers, and he runs a regular dispensary — free, too! He isn’t very particular why the people come to church as long as they do come. He understands them, and their weaknesses and superstitions, and, though I believe his methods of conversion aren’t always quite orthodox, he can, at any rate, show more Christians among his flock than many missionaries in larger and more populous districts.’
He broke off suddenly, for Mrs. Chandler was emitting shrill calls for Miss Rolland, and proclaiming on the same discordant note that tea was ready and waiting.
The pair rose with reluctance. ‘You must have a chat with the Padre,’ said Wade, as they moved towards the group under the tree, ‘and get him to tell you about his mission work.’
Katherine at once felt drawn towards the simple, kindly old couple; but during tea-time she was appropriated by Mr. Haynes, who talked about London, and theatres, and restaurants with yearning reminiscence, until Miss Pathana interrupted the conversation by calling him ‘a nasty flirt,’ and, while he was yet helpless with indignation, she bore him away to the badminton court to be her partner in the next game. Then the old missionary talked to Miss Rolland.
‘It is many, many years since I was in England,’ he told her. ‘Things must be very different now. I should feel like Rip Van Winkle if I ever went back again!’ He stroked his white beard, and a wistful expression came into his gentle eyes. The sight of this girl, who, only three weeks ago, had been in England, stirred the old man’s memory.
‘It is far better to be out here with your wonderful work, in this beautiful part of the world, I am sure,’ she said gently.
‘You are right. But sometimes I have a craving to see once more the little Yorkshire village where I was born and brought up, and where my parents are buried. It would all look very small and tame, no doubt, after this grand scenery, and I dare say I should hardly know the place again. But I should like to go back there to die. I think all Englishmen have the same aversion to the idea of leaving their bones in a foreign land, except, perhaps, our friend Mr. Wade, who always says he should ask nothing better than to sleep for ever in the shadow of the Himalayas. At any rate,’ he added more cheerfully, ‘I have the privilege of remembrance. I can look back on the scenes of my youth; and my wife and I love our work and our people, and the beauty and peace of our home in the valley.’
Just then a splendid bay Arab horse came ambling up the drive, with native-taught action, ridden by a handsome, middle-aged man whose skin was as fair as that of many a European. He was dressed in English tweeds, and wore on his head a white puggaree smartly arranged, with a long, gold-bordered end hanging down his back. The large Jewish nose, keen grey eyes, and short, well-trimmed beard made up a picturesque personality.
‘That is Yusuf the Afghan,’ explained Padre Borrodale, in answer to Katherine’s question, and nobody seems quite to know why he came to Siwâla, or anything about him. He arrived there some years ago with a valuable stable, took a house, and has lived there very comfortably ever since. He speaks English perfectly, and I understand that he is very lucky with his racing ventures.’
Tiddoo dropped his badminton bat and rushed to meet his friend. This broke up the game, and conversation under the tamarind tree became general.
Yusuf Khan dismounted from his horse, which was led away by a fierce-looking groom of the same nationality as his master, and, after a little confidential conversation apart with Tiddoo, the Afghan joined the party. ‘Mr. Yusuf Khan’ was introduced to Miss Rolland, and Katherine shook an awkward hand to which that mode of greeting was evidently unnatural. She met the gaze of eyes that caused her to shrink involuntarily, so cruelly cold, yet so sensual, was their expression. When Tiddoo looked at her there was something of the same combination in his eyes, but this was infinitely worse: it was the gross, calculating criticism of animal senses hardened with years of indulgence and experience, untempered by the spontaneity of youth.
Frank Haynes was standing at her elbow when the introduction took place. She observed that the young man was scowling and biting his lips, and that he only nodded to Yusuf Khan, a salutation that the native acknowledged with an inscrutable smile. His hand drew her away from the hearing of the little crowd collected about the table, on which had now been set out cheroots and cigarettes, whisky, and home-made liqueurs in black bottles.
‘What is the matter?’ she inquired, amazed at the tea-planter’s behaviour.
‘I couldn’t stick it,’ answered the young man in a low voice that trembled with anger. ‘I hated you to stand there and be looked at like that by a brute of a nigger!’
‘But Mr. Yusuf Khan isn’t a nigger!’ argued Katherine with indignation, her feminine sensibility swept aside by British aversion to injustice. ‘The brown man —’
‘Oh, yes! I know all that clap-trap — old civilization, high order of intelligence, equality of race, Aryan brother. I don’t care whether the chap’s black, brown, or magenta, I only know he’s an Asiatic, and that I want to kick him when he looks at an Englishwoman. It made me squirm to see him touch your hand!’
‘But why? I don’t understand. Surely we are not so immeasurably superior as a race that we should feel demeaned by shaking hands with the people of India!’
Haynes groaned. ‘Oh! I can’t explain properly,’ he said, with a gesture of hopelessness. ‘It isn’t a question of race, but of the way in which women are regarded. A native can’t appreciate friendship from women, because he believes they are altogether inferior to men, whatever their colour. He can’t think of an Englishwoman otherwise than he thinks of his own females. They’re necessary to the world and his pleasure, but they are beneath him. Yusuf Khan has got four lawful wives, but one can’t ask after them, because wives are an indelicate subject to a native. It makes me wild to see English ladies, who don’t realize this, gushing over a native. My word! if they could only look into his mind!’
Katherine felt shocked and incredulous. Surely this youth must be a glaring example of the British intolerance and unsympathy in India, of which she had often vaguely heard; and yet the remembrance of the Afghan’s eyes, and the force with which Mr. Haynes had spoken, gave her a wondering sense of doubt.
‘Of course, I know little or nothing about India or natives,’ she said rather distantly; ‘but, as I have practically to live among them here, please don’t try to prejudice me more than you can help.’
‘I only want to put you on your guard. In this country —’ But here Myra dashed up and thrust badminton bats into their hands, and presently they were all three engaged in a desperate encounter against Mr. Wade and two of the Minas girls.
They beat ‘the bird,’ as Mr. Haynes called the shuttlecock, backwards and forwards over and into the net, and into each other’s faces, until the sudden Indian dusk obliged them to bring the game to an end, and Myra’s young friends made clamorous preparations for departure. Mr. and Mrs. Borrodale had already driven away in an antiquated conveyance, something like a gipsy’s van in miniature, drawn by a flea-bitten grey horse of fabulous age.
While the rest of the company were finally refreshing themselves at the table, Katherine loitered with Wade along a path that led eventually to the tomb of Roy Chandler. Old Rattan passed them silently, bearing a bottle of oil and some matches, and salaamed low.
‘What a queer old man that is,’ she said, as the white coat passed among the trees. ‘But I like him much better than that dreadful Buggoo-ayah. He has such beautiful manners, such dignity and politeness.’
‘Buggoo and Rattan are totally different types of natives.’ Wade stopped for a moment to light a cheroot. ‘Rattan is an aristocrat, that very high-class gentleman a Brahmin. A Brahmin may be prince or peasant, but he never loses his position. Buggoo-ayah is only a specimen of the low caste native woman. You wouldn’t see the better sort unless you penetrated into native households.’
‘You like natives?’ she interrogated with eagerness. ‘You don’t hate them as Mr. Haynes seems to do?’
‘Why, what has Haynes been saying against them?’
‘He said he hated to see an Englishwoman treating a native as she would treat a European; it was apropos of Mr. Yusuf Khan.’ She repeated the substance of the tea-planter’s remarks.
Wade smiled. ‘Haynes makes the mistake so many Englishman make. He expects the native to look upon life with English eyes, and is furious with him because he can’t. Everyone with Eastern experience knows that the white man and the Oriental regard the female sex from different standpoints, and it is wiser to recognise the fact without sentiment. Polygamy is immoral according to Western notions, but it is a perfectly natural state of affairs to the Eastern mind. Personally, I have I a theory that the sex question is the real cause of the gulf between Eastern and Western ideas; and, if so, it’s a gulf that will take many centuries yet to bridge over.’
‘Then how am I to behave to Yusuf Khan? He is sure to be here often. He is a great friend of Tiddoo’s, I believe.’
‘I should advise your being distantly polite without going out of your way, as many ladies do who are ignorant of the country, to show him that his being a native makes no difference to your friendly sentiments! He would only misinterpret such kind, though, after all, rather insulting intentions.’
‘Oh, dear!’ sighed Katherine, ‘things seem to be very topsy-turvy in India.’
‘And it’s no use trying to balance them from a social point of view. Try to remember that, according to native ideas, we are the maddest, uncleanest, and most incomprehensible race on the earth.’ He laughed again at her face of dismay.
‘I cannot go back and shake hands with Yusuf Khan,’ she said helplessly.
‘Why should you? He won’t know you kept away on purpose. A little tact and discretion in your dealings with him, and there need never be any awkwardness. Come down as far as the tomb, and by the time we get back he will be gone. I hope,’ he added earnestly, as they strolled along the path, ‘that if ever you are in any difficulty, or — or unhappy or uncomfortable it Chandlerpore, you will tell me. You know’ — ‘in a lighter tone — ‘if it hadn’t been for me and the luck-bones you would never have been here.’
‘Thank you,’ she said, with quiet gratitude. ‘I will remember.’ And then, as they walked, she led him to speak of his life — how he loved his solitary freedom, and looked back with horror on the days of his slavery in London. He told her of his shooting expeditions, and his mountain wanderings, and his work, which he said was perhaps more interesting than profitable; and she listened with sympathy and questioned with understanding, and saw that the man’s existence held all that was necessary to his happiness.
‘Then I suppose you are glad,’ she said rather shyly, ‘that you have never married.’
‘Frankly and ungallantly, I am afraid I am,’ he returned; ‘though probably you know that once I was very fond of Lady Belvigne, your aunt, when she was Claire Clifford.’
She nodded without speaking. They had come now to the monument, and old Rattan passed them again on his return journey with a silent salaam. It was growing dark, and the little light within the tomb burned bravely. Wade rested his hand on the stone coping.
‘Yes,’ he said abstractedly, ‘what could be better than the liberty, and peace, and beauty of Siwâla? “Divine pleasures are found in a free solitude.”’
The flicker of the flame played over his features, and caught the latent strength and tenacity of their lines. Katherine thought of the quiet of smooth waters over a deep current, and wondered, if ever a woman should come again into his life, which would win — Love or Siwâla?
It was a relief to Benjamin Wade that Miss Rolland appeared to settle down with equanimity, if not with enjoyment, to her new life at Chandlerpore, and the weeks passed smoothly till Christmas-time was near at hand.
He had spoken but the truth in stating that attempts on her part to bring about reforms in the household would meet with no opposition, (always provided that the head of the family was not called upon to spend extra money), and he watched her ventures in this direction with amused interest.
She began by annexing an empty room that had its own veranda, was not honeycombed with doorways, and had a ceiling that was reasonable in height.
This she converted into a sitting-room for herself and Myra — a plan that was hailed by the latter with keen enthusiasm, even to the donation of the basket-chairs from her own bedroom. Old Rattan also betrayed a dignified interest in these novel proceedings, and produced from some place of concealment a large tin of white enamel, with which he industriously painted the chairs in accordance with the new Miss-sahib’s desire. Then Mrs. Chandler confessed to a secret store of printed curtains, and was persuaded to part with several pairs that they might hang with cool, clean effect in the long door-windows.
Myra ransacked mysterious, windowless lumber-rooms called ‘godowns,’ and unearthed carved tables and stools, broken, certainly, yet mendable, besides beautiful trays, and vessels of brass and copper chased and inlaid — relics of the sumptuous days of the Princess. Rattan boiled them, and restored their original brightness with some preparation known only to himself, the secret of which he refused to divulge. Rich hangings, embroideries, and carpets were dragged from worm-eaten boxes, and though faded and decayed could be cut up into couch and cushion-covers, and rugs for the matting-covered floor. It may be mentioned that Katherine had paid for the matting, as she had paid also for the tuning of the exhausted old piano, and nobody had protested save Myra, who vainly declared it was a shame, but that ‘there never seemed to be a pice to spare to make a place nice, and all the time money wasted on Tiddoo, and other things that did not matter.’
Wade sympathized with the evolution of the sitting-room, and made offerings of mounted deer-skins and horns. When it was all finished he would sometimes come and listen to Myra’s singing-lessons, agreeing aside with Miss Rolland how regrettable it was that the child could not have been sent home for professional training; her voice was glorious, and her teacher took an active pleasure in developing it with what instruction she could give, though this was necessarily limited. He followed the general progress of Myra with approval, noted that in less than two months her manners and speech had markedly improved, that she dressed with taste (Miss Rolland’s taste), and no longer slouched or wriggled when she walked. Various changes were also noticeable in the Chandlerpore housekeeping; the dinner-table now presented a different appearance with clean, though darned, table-cloths instead of grimy sheets; the plate shone, there were vases of flowers, and the china and glass were bright, though nothing could conceal the chips and cracks.
Myra informed Ben that Miss Rolland had taken charge of the linen cupboard, and, in consequence, had insisted that she should learn to patch and darn, ‘but I only do it,’ added the victim, because she says all English girls can mend,’ which pious fiction of Miss Rolland’s he duly respected.
Myra told him a great deal, but he did not hear how the wardrobes of the Chandler ladies had been brought collectively to Miss Rolland’s room for her inspection and criticism — such garments! — such heaps of rubbish, and rags, and odds and ends, from which they entreated her to contrive fashionable hats and costumes. Nor did he know how the furtive little crowd of relations had gained confidence, and penetrated one afternoon into the presence of the English Miss-sahib, while Myra was out driving with her mother. They had kept close together, tittering, pushing, peeping, headed by a pretty little woman — dressed fantastically in an old skirt of Mrs. Chandler’s, and a short native jacket which left a belt of brown skin visible — who voiced the general request, i.e. that they might behold the lady’s beautiful clothing and ornaments and jewels. Katherine had controlled her amusement, and displayed to them the contents of her dressing-case, the knick-knacks on her table, and some of her prettiest garments; and they had afterwards shuffled away full of wondering pleasure and excitement.
As for Mrs. Chandler herself, she still continued to weigh the sugar and grain in a back veranda day after day, till she was pale with fatigue, invariably requesting Miss Rolland’s assistance beforehand, and steadily refusing her aid when the time came, though occasionally she would trust her to watch the animals being fed, or the cows and goats milked.
‘Poor thing! all her energies are wasted on trifles,’ said Katherine. She was seated at the piano one afternoon waiting for Myra, and Wade, who had strolled across from Guliban, stood opposite to her leaning his arm on the instrument.
It was almost the first time they had really been alone together since the day after Katherine’s arrival, though they had met fairly often. Once he had driven her out to see the Borrodales, another time he had taken her through the jungle on the elephant, and again she had had tea in his bungalow, but Myra had always been there, monopolising the conversation, listening to every remark, inclined to be jealous of the attention of the two people she admired most in the world.
‘Poor thing!’ repeated Katherine, for their talk was of the Chandler family. ‘She ignores the most important things — such as seeing that the servants do their work and wear decent clothes, and that the kitchen and cooking things are kept clean; but I believe she is secretly relieved that I try to attend to them, though I can’t get on without Myra’s help, for I haven’t picked up much of the language yet. Only yesterday she said I was telling Rattan that the place was covered with kidneys, when of course I meant dust.’
He laughed. ‘And I suppose Rattan never moved a muscle?’
‘Oh dear, no! he salaamed, and said it was as I pleased. It is so funny,’ she went on, touching the notes idly, ‘that all the family seem quite proud of any little change for the better that I may have made, in fact, their faith in me is quite touching and pathetic when it is not exasperating or ridiculous, but it never seems to strike them that they could just as easily have done it all themselves. It’s quite true, as you said, that initiative is foreign to their nature.’
‘And Tiddoo — how do you get on with Tiddoo?’ he asked carelessly; but the next moment he spoke with wrath, for she had coloured swiftly. ‘What has the little beast been doing?’ he demanded.
‘Oh, don’t look so furious!’ she protested, half laughing, yet with a thrill of pleasure at his anger, ‘it’s only that he is a little beast, and I find him rather a trial. He isn’t much at home, thank goodness, and if I snub him severely he is all right.’
Wade left the piano, and with his hands thrust into his pockets began to pace the room.
‘That’s the worst of it,’ he muttered. ‘You know,’ turning and facing her again, ‘you are altogether in a wrong position here, Miss Rolland. I felt it from the first. You ought not to stay.’
Her heart sank a little that he should wish her gone, even though she knew he wished it entirely for her own sake.
‘Oh! it’s not so bad as all that,’ she said lightly, ‘I can take care of myself, and really, in spite of Tiddoo, I am very happy. I suppose it is always pleasant to feel that one is wanted, and I am conceited enough to think that I should be very much missed now at Chandlerpore. Even the old man brings me his dirty account-books and beseeches me to tell him if he has “counted up right way “! Besides, I really believe Myra would break her heart if I deserted her, and I couldn’t bring myself to do it unless I found it was really necessary. Tiddoo is objectionable, certainly, but he is also very entertaining’ — she hesitated for a moment, then broke into a laugh. ‘Yes, I must show it to you before I destroy it, it’s so awfully funny.’ She drew a piece of paper from her pocket and handed it to Wade. ‘That is what I found inside the piano, on the keys, when I opened it just now.’
He unfolded the grimy half sheet and saw written on it in Tiddoo’s illiterate, childish scrawl:
‘Oh, cum to me, lovely one, cum;
I love you from heart’s bottum.
I love you since last autumm;
Oh, cum to me, lovely one, cum.’
Wade burst into a roar of laughter, then angrily tore Tiddoo’s production into fragments. ‘Little worm!’ he said; ‘let him know that next time he dares to be so insolent you’ll tell me, and I shall kick his brains out!’
‘Very well, I will,’ she soothed; but she had no intention of using the threat. She could manage Tiddoo well enough. It was his friend, Yusuf Khan, the Afghan, whom she feared and hated, who was always appearing when she least expected him, who was so difficult to avoid.
She said nothing of this to Mr. Wade; something made her shrink from doing so; and besides, she asked herself, what was there to say? Only that the Afghan’s presence made her shiver, that she knew instinctively why he came so much to Chandlerpore, that he watched her intently, kept near her with silent persistence. There was no tangible annoyance to complain of; she must not, as Claire would have said, make mountains out of mole-hills. How Claire would have laughed at her feelings!
She spoke of Claire now to draw Wade’s attention from her difficulties with Tiddoo. ‘I heard from her last mail,’ she added, ‘but she doesn’t write very often.’
‘Where has she settled?’ he inquired, without much interest.
‘Nowhere, at present. She is in rooms still.’
‘How awfully dreary for her! I wonder she doesn’t go abroad.’
‘Perhaps she will later on,’ replied Katherine vaguely. As to Claire’s ‘dreariness’ she wondered what Mr. Wade would think could he see the letter that had come last mail, with its airy allusions to ‘tiny bridge parties,’ and ‘really small dinners,’ and other ‘quite quiet’ amusements; ‘because you know Kate darling, I should die of boredom if I didn’t go about just a little, though of course I am frightfully careful not to be caught in public just yet. For instance, I haven’t been near Prince’s, and though I confess I did go to the theatre last night, I sat well back in the box and nobody saw me. Besides, I went with the Boads, who don’t know enough people to tell — they over-persuaded me; don’t you remember them? Very rich and rather dreadful, and we never took much notice of them. But they have been awfully kind and good-natured, and have lent me an electric brougham — at least, I got one for myself, and hadn’t enough cash to pay for it, so they bought it, and let me use it. You see, it’s only people of that sort who have time for newly-made widows, and I suppose they think it’s worth while, because when I go out again they hope I shall introduce them to all my friends. However, nous verrons.’ Then Claire was thinking of moving to Claridge’s after Christmas, the Boads had a suite there, and it might be rather convenient for many reasons to be near them. Rooms were so deadly depressing, etc.
‘Lady Belvigne must miss you very much,’ remarked Wade, and Katherine was glad that Myra came into the room before she could answer, for either she must have replied, ‘On the contrary, she was delighted to get rid of me,’ or else say what certainly was not true.
Myra was evidently in a bad humour. Her cheeks were flushed, her lips compressed, and her eyes looked sullen. She greeted her beloved Ben with no pleasure, and pointed with disgust to the piano.
‘I will not sing any more to that old tin kettle!’ she cried with petulance, as Katherine arranged the music sheets. ‘Tiddoo is to have a new racing saddle, and boots, and breeches, and another silk jacket, and I am not allowed a piano. You cannot call that old thing a piano; it did not cost fifty rupees; and even the tuning was paid for by Miss Rolland! Pappa is a stingy beast, and I have just been telling him!’
‘Did you pay for the tuning?’ said Wade, turning to Katherine.
‘Oh, never mind that!’ she answered quickly.
‘Come along Myra, don’t be silly and discontented; we are lucky to have a piano at all.’
‘But why should Tiddoo get all he asks for —’ began the girl rebelliously.
‘But Tiddoo will win rupees at the races,’ interrupted an anxious voice at the door, and Mrs. Chandler came into the room and sank wearily into one of the basket-chairs.
She had been present at the distressing scene between father and daughter, and looked ill and unhappy. Katherine was sorry for her. Mrs. Chandler was a woman who would have given everybody about her all they asked for had it been in her power, and could she have done so without exertion mental or bodily.
‘And how if he does not win!’ cried Myra. ‘Bug-goo-ayah says The Amir racehorse is too bobbery, and getting worse, and perhaps will turn wicked on the course — and her cousin’s wife’s uncle is in Yusuf Khan’s service, and knows all!’
Mrs. Chandler waved her hands above her head with a despairing gesture. ‘Oh, do not talk words so unluckee!’ she wailed.
Katherine considered that it was time to interfere. Myra was behaving badly, however great the provocation, and the poor mother was on the verge of hysterics. She laid her hand on the girl’s arm with a firm yet gentle pressure, checking the furious words, and so a storm was averted. But by this time neither pupil nor teacher felt like a singing-lesson, and both accepted with readiness Mr. Wade’s proposal that it should be abandoned for this afternoon.
‘You had much better walk back to tea with me at Gulâban,’ he said, ‘and then I’ll take my gun and see you home across country, and try and pick up a few birds or a hare at the same time.’
‘I will go, if you wish,’ said Myra magnanimously to Miss Rolland; ‘but you know I hate to walk, though both of you say it is more English. I think it looks more native to be going on foot through the dust like a coolie, and I am sure the servants think it so queer when they see me!’
Nevertheless, she came willingly enough, looking very attractive in simple white. Katherine had almost prevailed on her to dress in nothing else, and, considering how easy and inexpensive were the Indian laundry arrangements, there was no reason, save her own passionate love of colours, why she should not do so. All traces of the recent rebellion had vanished; she was gay and good-tempered again, and the Englishwoman felt proud of her charge as they turned out of the compound in the direction of Gulâban.
The afternoon was beautiful, clear and still, with a sparkling freshness in the air that came from the mountains shining blue and colossal in the near distance. As Katherine gazed over the yellow of the mustard-fields, the vivid green of the rising crops, and the purple of the tree-groves against the brilliance of the sky, she understood something of the fascination that held a man like Wade to the Siwâla Valley. Myra had told her, with contempt, of the bewitchment that was said to fall upon all who had once breathed its rose-scented air so that they felt happy nowhere else, and at the time she had laughed at the fantastic notion; but now it seemed to her possible — perhaps the spell had already laid a hold upon herself! Then the beauty of the garden at Gulâban gave her pleasure — the colour, the perfume, the artistic orderliness, and, after the squalor of Chandlerpore, the sight of the neat, thatched bungalow was a positive relief with its deep, comfortable veranda and rows of pots bright with flowers, the big table covered with books and papers, the inviting chairs; the glimpse beyond of the sitting-room with pictures, and horns, and heads on the walls.
Out rushed the dogs, well cared for, well brushed, and barked a deafening welcome; and then they all went up the veranda steps, the dogs pushing rudely ahead. The monkey turned mournful, amber-coloured eyes on the visitors with the abstracted expression that is so misleading, and must surely have been bestowed on the monkey tribe that they might conceal their evil inclinations. He appeared to be lost in reverie, reflecting with sorrow on his past, and Katherine, entirely unsuspicious, passed near enough to the railings to be within his reach. Instantly he leapt upon her shoulder, digging his little wiry fingers into her flesh.
‘Don’t move!’ said Wade.
She obeyed him, standing motionless, while the monkey grinned and jumped and chattered on her shoulder, the very incarnation of a demon; but when he sprang by invitation on to his master’s arm her relief was evident enough, though she had shown no fear.
‘How plucky of you not to scream or pull the chain,’ said Wade. ‘Bravery brings its own reward, for if you hadn’t kept quiet he might have bitten you. They generally bite if frightened or hustled.’
He admired her coolness, and she was pleased because she recognised that he admired it. The monkey was restored to the railings, and they went into the bungalow.
‘What did you shoot last time you were out, Ben?’ inquired Myra.
‘Nothing particular. I went after the rogue elephant, and didn’t get him, or you certainly would have heard of it!’
‘Oh, the rogue elephant — yes, I remember about him. Had he been killing more people, then?’
‘Yes, he’s on the war-path again; I saw him once, but never got nearer than a hundred and fifty yards. But I shall have him all right in time, if someone else isn’t before me.’
‘Oh, Ben, it is dangerous!’ said Myra with anxiety; much better leave him alone.’
He laughed. ‘Why on earth should I, when it gives me the most intense pleasure to go after the brute? And if he should turn the tables and do for me, nobody else would be much the worse. Isn’t that one of the advantages,’ he added lightly, of being a bachelor without encumbrances?’
He looked at Katherine interrogatively, and to her own extreme annoyance she blushed — a thing, she told herself impatiently, she had not done since she was seventeen — and why she should have done it now, just because this man was telling her, in so many words, how good it was to be unhindered by matrimony, the gods alone knew. She fancied she saw a shade of surprise cross his face, and to conceal her vexed confusion she rose and looked out of the window.
‘I am in much the same happy position myself,’ she said, feeling that the remark came all too late. ‘I can also do as I please without its mattering to anybody.’
He followed her to the window, and called Myra from her investigations at his writing-table.
‘Lalla has got a hornbill,’ he said, pointing to the squatting figure of the old shikari down by the servants’ quarters.
Myra rushed through the veranda and across the compound, eager for a sight of the curious bird with the clumsy head and horny beak that had been shot by the old man in the depths of the Siwâla jungles.
‘I sent her off on purpose,’ said Wade calmly. ‘I wanted to ask about that matting and the tuning of the piano. It’s a bad custom to have started in that household; I don’t like to hear of your paying for things.’
‘It’s better than doing without them,’ she returned smiling; and as I’m not entirely dependent on my salary I may allow myself some indulgences.’
‘I see. But don’t allow yourself to be imposed upon. Do you get your salary regularly?’
‘I have so far,’ she said, answering him in the same business-like tone he was using himself. ‘Tell me, are the Chandlers really so very poor? It’s odd to hear grumblings over trifles of expense when there are so many unnecessary people living in the house, and horses, and servants, and all Tiddoo’s amusements.’
‘They wouldn’t be poor at all if they were better managers, and where the money goes to nobody seems to know, except, perhaps, old Chandler himself. He is supposed to be hoarding it for Tiddoo’s benefit.’
Katherine suddenly thought of her adventure on the night of her arrival. It had faded in her mind almost to the vagueness of a dream, but now she described to Wade the curious little episode as well as she could recall it. ‘And I believe he buries his money under the floor in the sitting-room!’ she concluded.
‘It is very probable. Natives all do that kind of thing. But if Tiddoo has found out where it is I wouldn’t answer for its safety. Anyway, I hope there will never be any difficulty about payment where your services are concerned.’
‘Well, if there is, I shall complain to you,’ she said with a sense of satisfaction.
Then tea was brought in, and Myra was summoned from the fascinations of Lalla and the hornbill. They all enjoyed fresh scones, and yellow butter made from cows’ milk, and the light sponge-cakes for which the Gulâban butler was celebrated. And the dogs sat and watched them hopefully as they ate, Tummy even going so far as to whine with servile supplication.
Afterwards they walked home over the fields, through little woods, and across narrow tracts of jungle. The dogs ran ahead, and occasionally there came the whir-r-r of wings, the report of the gun, and the thud of plump bird-bodies, quail or partridge, on the hard ground. But more talking was done than shooting. Wade told Katherine and Myra of the ruined cities he had seen in the jungle, the remains of aqueducts and bridges, traces of a former great civilization. He thrilled them with stories of the lower range of hills at the end of the valley, where huge fossil remains of prehistoric beasts were sometimes found, believed by the natives to be the skeletons of giants defeated in their wars with the gods; and he said how Lalla declared that to this day there lurked terrifying, unknown creatures on the forest heights and in the fissures of the mountain sides. Then, as the sun began to sink and the dogs were called to heel, Myra fluttered in front of her companions, making them laugh with Buggoo-ayah’s anecdotes, and singing snatches of native songs.
Katherine remembered that walk all her life afterwards, remembered it so well because it was on that afternoon she knew — looking back — that she had fallen in love, irrevocably in love, with Benjamin Wade.
Christmas Day at Chandlerpore opened with a clamour in the compound. A crowd of natives squatted close up to the bungalow, each man with a basket or tray in front of him filled with flowers bound up in tight little bundles, bazaar sweetmeats in sticky masses, fruit and vegetables, cones of sugar, and mounds of rice and pulse. The tenants and villagers of the Chandlerpore estate had arrived to salaam and make offerings to their landlord on his ‘Big Day,’ and when Mathew Chandler in his pyjamas and a great coat, and his wife in her red dressing-gown appeared in the veranda, a simultaneous rush was made by the waiting crowd to lay these gifts at their feet. Mrs. Chandler locked up the groceries then and there, and counted the fruit and vegetables. Mr. Chandler’s dull eyes sparkled for a moment when one or two of the richer tenants handed in a small bag of rupees, or some tawdry article of jewellery. Buggoo and the rest of the servants, with the exception of Rattan who remained aloof, hung round greedily awaiting their share of the spoils which their mistress would be forced by custom to allow them.
‘I give them all that is too ripe or not nice,’ she explained to Katherine. ‘Help me to pick it over, dear. They have brought a nice lot this year; it is a good season.’
When the veranda had been cleared, Katherine produced her own offerings. With the aid of a Calcutta price-list she had selected various small gifts which caused their recipients intense, almost childish, pleasure. Even Buggoo had been delighted with the present of a string of beads, which she fastened about her withered neck with something of the coquetry of old days, and, watching her, it was easy to believe, in spite of her wrinkled skin and sightless eye, that she had been a beauty in the time of her triumph.
‘And has the miss-sahib, then, received no baksheesh?’ The old woman followed Katherine into the new sitting-room after the excitement of giving and receiving had subsided.
The miss-sahib explained, in her halting Hindustani, that one or two parcels had arrived the previous mail from England. She displayed the pretty gold bangle that had been Claire Belvigne’s remembrance, and indicated the cushion cover upon which Myra had cobbled what was intended to represent a bunch of daisies; she also pointed to a hill myna piping shrilly in a cage by the window, Tiddoo’s gift. A handsome satsuma jar on the mantelpiece, discovered in some forgotten corner, had been presented by Mr. and Mrs. Chandler.
‘And no more?’ inquired Buggoo slyly.
Katherine shook her head, being without suspicion.
‘Has, then, the sahib from Gulâban sent naught?’
Buggoo leered with her one eye, and saw the other’s cheeks grow red.
‘You can go,’ said the miss-sahib coldly; and Buggoo went, with apparent humiliation, and a knowing smile on her lips. Later on in the morning, when a splendid bear-skin arrived for Miss Rolland, of course Buggoo was loitering in the veranda and heard where it had come from and who had sent it.
A book for Myra accompanied the bear-skin — an illustrated copy of ‘Jane Eyre’ — and at the back of Katherine’s mind there came a tiny prick of disappointment that the more personal present had not been for her. Then, remembering Buggoo’s impertinent insinuations, she made a quick endeavour to erase the little mental disturbance, feeling acutely annoyed with herself for having acknowledged it.
‘I hope Ben will not forget that he has promised to come and dine to-night,’ said Mrs. Chandler when she saw the bear-skin. ‘I have never known him stay for Christmas yet. He has always been shooting in the jungle.’
She did not guess that Wade had unselfishly accepted her invitation for the sake of Miss Rolland.
It seemed to him a little drear that the girl’s first Christmas in India should be spent among Eurasians, kindly though their intentions, without one really white face to bear her company. Mr. Haynes, he knew, had been summoned unexpectedly to England on a family matter, and the Borrodales never dined out.
‘How you are quiet, Miss Rolland, dear,’ went on Mrs. Chandler. ‘Cheer up! Do not think of England. All should be merry on Christmas. Never mind, we will have a gay time to-night. How we shall sit such a party I cannot say. The Minas people want to bring a lot of their friends who have come to stay with them, and I said yes, though I do not know why I was so indulgent. But no mat-ter. One must not have bad feelings at this time. And there is Yusuf Khan, too. I did not mean to invite him, but he has sent some champagne as a present, and when it came just now I thought, “Oh my! now have to,” and so I wrote a note.’
Katherine felt dismayed, but she consoled herself with the reflection that at any rate Mr. Wade would also be of the party. She put the Afghan from her mind, for a busy hour was before her helping Myra, Miss Pathana, and Mrs. Chandler to prepare for church.
They all assembled at last in the veranda to await the landau. Mr. Chandler was in limp check coat and trousers, bright yellow boots, and a pith helmet much too large for him. His wife wore a black and white gown which Katherine had metamorphosed and, with some difficulty, prevailed on her to wear; but she had clung obstinately to a red velvet toque, arguing that she had worn it every Christmas Day for the past eight years, — it was almost as though she feared to incur its displeasure by discarding it now. Myra stood on the steps in spotless white, her mass of hair well tended and simply arranged. And Tiddoo was strutting about in a very loud coat and waistcoat and a small bowler hat that looked like half a cannon-ball balanced upon his head; though, at least, this was an improvement on the orange-coloured jockey-cap. Katherine could hardly look at him without laughing, but she felt no amusement when Miss Pathana appeared and she recognised one of her own hats crowning the rusty-coloured hair.
‘I hope you will not be wexed,’ said Josephine cheerfully: ‘but my best hat did not somehow seem to go so well with this green dress after all. So I went to your room to ask you to lend me one of yours, and as you were not there and it was getting late I took this out of your cupboard. It suits me very well,’ she added, with satisfaction, and made no further bid for permission.
Katherine knew that objection would only lead to a scene, so she preserved the silence of disapproval, which affected Miss Pathana’s complacency not at all. Then up lumbered the landau, and they climbed into it — Mr. and Mrs. Chandler and Katherine in a row facing the horses, Tiddoo, Myra, and Miss Pathana opposite; and the carriage rumbled and swayed down the drive and out on to the Siwâla road in a cloud of dust.
When they reached the station other vehicles filled with English people overtook them on the Mall, and sometimes they passed a slow pony-carriage or victoria containing an old couple — not a common sight in India, but these were retired officials, civil or military, who had settled down in Siwâla tempted by the climate, the cheapness of living, and the easy access during the summer months to Surima, the bracing hill station. The church was decorated with holly and evergreens from the mountains, and Katherine thought sadly of the many homesick hearts all over India that this day’s service must set aching for England and a glimpse of beloved faces.
Mrs. Chandler led her party as far up the aisle as possible; and Katherine found them to be distracting church companions, for they stared and fidgeted and whispered, and Tiddoo went out before the sermon with a great deal of unnecessary and intentional clatter. He was swaggering in the porch when they came out, smoking a cheroot and talking to another youth, who was, if possible, blacker, yellower, and more repulsive than himself.
‘Miss Rolland said a voice, as they descended the steps; and Katherine turned with pleasure to see the broad, kindly face and outstretched hand of Mrs. Hart.
‘I have hardly been in Siwâla since you went to Chandlerpore,’ she explained, ‘or, of course, I should have come out there to look you up. Called away to a sick sister-in-law in the Central Provinces, and had a terrible time. It turned out to be typhoid, so there I was for six mortal weeks. How are you getting on?’ she added anxiously, in a lower voice.
Katherine smiled a cheerful reassurance; confidential conversation was impossible, since the Chandlers stood in a patient circle about her till she should be free for introduction to friends of their own. There followed much talking, and explaining, and Christmas greetings; and the Eurasian party blocked the church front till the landau came up and bore the Chandlers away, waving and calling to their friends till the turning out of the gate hid them from sight.
* * *
The dinner party that night was one to be remembered. When all the guests had arrived Katherine thought involuntarily of the parrot-house at the Zoo, so gay were the colours, so piercing the voices.
Yusuf Khan looked undeniably handsome and picturesque dressed in a correctly-cut English dress-suit, a big diamond flashing in his shirt-front, a silken turban woven with gold threads above his hawk’s eyes. His glance rested on Wade, who was talking to Katherine, with a gleam of angry jealousy, but the expression was instantly extinguished, as though a curtain had been dropped over the pupils, when the Englishman turned towards him with a friendly greeting. The next moment the company moved along in a noisy, unceremonious procession to the dining-room, and to Katherine’s disgust she found herself seated at the table between Tiddoo and Yusuf Khan. She made no effort to converse with either, but listened absently to the babel of voices that grew louder under the exciting influence of Yusuf Khan’s champagne. Tiddoo began to talk of the coming race week that was to begin the day after to-morrow.
‘I do not do so much the first day, you know,’ he told her; it is the second day that I ride the big race. The Amir is in fine form, and when that race is over Yusuf Khan and Gordon Chandler will have won plenty rupees in bets as well as all in stakes.’
He had said this so often during the past weeks that Katherine had ceased to comment on it, or to speculate as to what the result would be should the Amir fail to win.
‘Are you coming to the races?’ said Yusuf Khan’s smooth voice at her side.
‘I think not,’ she answered, ‘I take no interest in racing.’
‘But you take an interest in Tiddoo riding, eh?’
‘Only so far that I think it is a great pity a boy of his age should be allowed to go in for racing at all.’
‘But what harm?’
‘Supposing he loses — how is he going to pay his debts? He has said over and over again that he has backed the horse heavily.’
‘Oh, he will win,’ said the Afghan with a slow smile, showing his beautiful white teeth; ‘there is nothing entered that can touch my horse, and none of the riders are equal to Tiddoo as a jockey. But suppose by some evil fate he should not win — then, perhaps, I, Yusuf Khan, would pay the boy’s debts if you were to ask me!’
His eyes sickened her, and his last words made her heart beat fast with dread. The man had now begun to put the meaning of his looks and manner into words. She turned in desperation to Tiddoo, and encouraged that youth to brag and boast and tell stories (in both senses) to his own glorification, that she might escape further conversation with her other neighbour. Very soon, now, the end of dinner would set her free.
Presently there came a low, seductive murmur in her ear. She braced her nerves and was conscious of a reactionary relief to find that Yusuf Khan was merely drawing her attention to the table decorations — her own handiwork. A handsome candelabra glittered in the place of the leaking oil-lamp, and bowls of pink roses made patches of soft colour around its base. The voice continued, plausible, mellifluent; the supple brown hands pointed and waved towards the artistic arrangement, leading those of the company who might be looking at him to suppose that he was admiring and discussing the effect. But the words that were uttered, after the first few sentences, had nothing to do with plate or flowers, and Katherine suddenly recognised that the man was making fierce love to her.
‘Listen to me, you shall listen to me,’ and the whisper vibrated with passion, ‘for so long have I sought to speak with you alone, for so long has my throat ached to utter my love, but always have you fled from me as the hind from the hunter, and my heart is racked with the sight of your beauty, with the whiteness of your neck, with the jewels in your eyes, with the roses of your lips. To possess you would not a man give his whole fortune, his life; yes, even his very soul.’
The girl sat petrified, while the voice purred on, and presently a hot, shaking hand brushed her arm, then rested with a heavy pressure on her knee. She almost cried aloud, but with a severe effort prevented herself from making a sound. Without turning her head she took up a steel knife that lay by her plate.
‘If you do not move your hand I will run this knife into it,’ she said between half-closed lips, staring straight before her.
She heard a quick gasp of rage, but she was obeyed, and soon, to her intense relief, there was a general rising round the table, and she walked from the room with the other women, feeling dazed and giddy. Wade was standing by the door; he looked at her with concerned attention; but she made no sign, and passed on into the mouldy drawing-room with a set face. Once there she left the chattering, laughing group and escaped into the veranda. Faint and quivering she threw herself into a long chair, hearing the buzz of voices behind her as though very far away. She tried to think, but her pulses beat wildly with anger, and her mind was in a tumult. The soft purring voice seemed with her yet, the insolent pressure on her knee.
Myra threw open the door, liberating a stream of light that shot across the veranda. ‘Oh, why are you out here, Miss Rolland? Do come back into the drawing-room. The gentlemen have just come in and we are going to play games. We all want you, and Flossie Fernandez has been making such jokes. She said: “Tell her to come and get the ring from Mr. Wade!” Wasn’t it funny Ben getting the ring out of the plum-pudding? It means that he will be married first!’
‘My head aches and I don’t want to come,’ said Katherine with cross decision. ‘I shall stay quietly where I am. And listen, Myra, such jokes are in very bad taste. Let me advise you not to join in them.’
Myra wondered what there could be in the harmless and amusing speech she had reported to shock Miss Rolland. However, her dear friend was English, and must, of course, know best, and she retreated, snubbed and mystified, to join again in the shrieks and laughter — evidence positive of the triumphant success of the Christmas party.
Then it occurred to Katherine that Myra would certainly proclaim her whereabouts, and deplore the headache that kept Miss Rolland from playing games and enjoying herself. Suppose Yusuf Khan should seek her in the veranda? The bare idea made her spring to her feet. Her anger dissolved in fear; already she fancied she could hear him creeping towards her in the semi-darkness. Something creaked close to her chair; she fell into a panic and ran down the steps into the compound that lay misty, and chill, and quiet beneath the pale light of the rising moon. She did not feel the cold, her nervous tension was too acute; every moment she expected to feel a hand upon her shoulder, to hear a hot whisper in her ear, and gathering up her skirts she sped on into the shelter of the trees — then stood and listened, trying to control the trembling of her breath and body, denouncing her own foolishness in not having kept to the house.
The pungent, smoky smell, so peculiar to an Indian cold weather night, hung in the atmosphere; the air was still, with the sharp keenness that magnifies every noise a thousand-fold. The distant bark of a fox, the sudden yell of a jackal far away seemed almost at her elbow. Now there was another sound.
She strained her ears. Footsteps, — footsteps coming quietly from the house in her direction! She realized that her white dress must be visible among the trees and ran on further, never doubting in her over-wrought condition but that Yusuf Khan was following her. Blindly she ran, and heard the footsteps gaining rapidly. She was fleeing, as Yusuf Khan himself had said, ‘as the hind from the hunter.’
Suddenly, Roy Chandler’s tomb blocked her way, and all at once her courage revived. She turned, and, with the monument behind her, stood at bay.
And after all, when the author of the footsteps reached her, she saw that it was only Wade,
Benjamin Wade — thank heaven! She laughed hysterically, clutching the stone work to prevent herself from slipping in a feeble heap to the ground.
Ben was panting, concerned, puzzled. ‘What on earth —’ he began.
‘You must think I am mad,’ she interrupted in a shaking voice. ‘I’m not mad, only I was frightened, and I couldn’t help it.’
‘Why — what frightened you?’ in an anxious protective tone. ‘I saw there was something wrong when you left the dining-room, and then Myra said you were in the veranda, so I went to find out what was the matter. But you were running off down the compound as though the devil were at your heels! — what happened?’
‘Yusuf Khan,’ she said desperately.
‘What? Good God — the brute!’ he moved sharply with the impulse to return to the house and deal with the Afghan.
‘Don’t,’ she said, divining his intention, and for a moment laid a restraining hand on his arm. ‘It would make it worse if there was any fuss. I don’t want any fuss. I shall just leave Chandlerpore quietly. If I stayed here now I should always be — afraid.’ She shivered at the recollection of the eyes and voice of the Afghan.
‘Did he dare to make love to you?’ demanded Wade with fury. ‘Were you running away because you thought he was following you?’
‘Yes, it happened at dinner, and then in the veranda I got frightened. I thought he would come out there and begin again — I thought he was there, and my nerve went completely and I ran into the compound. For a long time I have been afraid of him,’ she added apologetically, as though to excuse her cowardice, ‘but he never said anything till to-night.’
‘I will settle him,’ said Wade with quiet menace; ‘why should you be driven away from Chandlerpore?’ And yet he felt that she was right; that she had better go.
‘I should always be nervous now. Even if you “settled” him he would revenge himself somehow on you or me. Do leave it all alone, Mr. Wade. I shall have to go.’ Her voice broke in a little sob.
‘Look here, sit down, Miss Rolland,’ he said kindly, ‘you are altogether unstrung, and no wonder.’
He dusted a portion of the platform with his handkerchief, and wistfully she watched his smooth, fair head bent over the task. Her indignation with Yusuf Khan rose up again fiercely, and in her anger, the passion that renders all of us natural and unashamed, the fact lay bare before her that she did not want to go away. Siwâla had cast its spell upon her — nowhere else could she be happy now, because nowhere else would she find Benjamin Wade.
‘There,’ he said, looking up with a friendly smile, now come and sit down, and we can talk undisturbed — unless by the ghost of Roy Chandler. Are you cold?’ he felt her hands.
‘No, I am not cold. You see,’ with a forced little laugh, ‘I ran so fast!’
As she seated herself beside him he thought of the night when he and Myra had talked here in the moonlight, when he had agreed to help the child to obtain the wish of her heart. How little he had realized what he was doing! It was all through him that this handsome, charming girl was stranded in this uncongenial household to be persecuted with the insulting attentions of the Afghan; indirectly it was his fault that alone, and almost friendless, she would now have to find other quarters in India, or go back to England — in either case the poorer by her passage money and six months’ salary. He remembered grimly how he himself had inserted this protective clause in the agreement. Where was she to go? Who was she to go to?
‘I shall go to Mrs. Hart,’ said Katherine, startling him with an unconscious answer to his thought, and that will give me time to look about and make my arrangements. She said she would put me up if it were ever necessary.’
There was a silence. She glanced at his profile in surprise. He was staring thoughtfully before him; did he then take no real interest in her plans and future? She had begun to feel aggrieved, when suddenly he turned to her; his face was tense, his voice earnest.
‘Miss Rolland,’ he said, ‘will you come to me instead of to Mrs. Hart? Will you give me the right as your husband to protect you against Yusuf Khan and the whole world besides? Could you — do you think you could be happy with me at Gulâban?’
She drew in her breath sharply. Often she had heard that a drowning man’s whole life will pass in panorama before him in a few seconds; and, again, that in the moment before we wake we may dream the events of years. This had always seemed to her incredible, but now she understood it. For the tiny space during which she sat silent, while Wade looked steadily into her eyes, she grasped as by lightning flash the whole situation that, normally, she must have taken hours to think out. She had surrendered her heart to this man; she could make him a good wife — the only kind of wife that would ever suit him if he was to marry at all. She saw this clearly, and without prejudice. She saw too that he also recognised the fact, though he was ignorant that she loved him. His heart, she knew, was neither hers nor any woman’s, for Gulâban was his bride, his mistress, and his human senses were dormant, contentment had dulled them; he was only asking her to marry him because, owing to his original intervention, she was in a disagreeable and difficult position, and he liked and admired her sufficiently not to be repelled by the notion.
Then the future took its turn. He would be a kind, considerate, reasonable husband; they would be genuine comrades, she would understand him, and love Gulâban as much as he did, never trying to oust her from his heart. Surely he would be the happier for the change, his life would be fuller, less lonely — ah! she had forgotten! his ‘free solitude’ would be gone for ever, the treasure of his life that he valued and cherished, the prize that so rarely falls to the lot of those who are able to appreciate it. This she would be taking from him. She loved him; therefore she could not do it. But she loved him the more for offering her this sacrifice out of the chivalry and tenderness of his heart. She would make her sacrifice to him instead of accepting his; and he should never know that she had made it.
‘I am very sorry,’ she said, her voice a little strangled, ‘but — but I can’t — indeed,’ she put out her hand to him and he grasped it, ‘I am grateful, and I wish I could say yes,’ (how much she wished it he could not know!) ‘but it is impossible. I must leave Chandlerpore; for that I am sorry too, and I dread telling them all. There is no reason why I should not go home again if I cannot find anything I like to do out here, so you must not be anxious or worried about me, and I hope — I hope you will not forget me!’
The words came fast and feverishly, the firm white hand that lay in his was trembling like that of any frightened girl refusing her first proposal. Wade held it closely in both his own. He had made his offer deliberately, painfully conscious the while that if it was accepted his beloved freedom would be over; yet he had been prepared to stifle all regrets and be happy himself in making her happy. But, after all, it was plain that she did not care to marry him, he had been firmly refused; no doubt there was another memory in her life — she could hardly have arrived at her age without some serious love affair. Women of her type were very faithful; probably she had loved once, and that, with her, would mean for always. He was filled with reverence for her as personifying the best in her sex.
‘Forget you, Katherine?’ he said gently; and her heart throbbed at the sound of her name on his lips.
‘I am your faithful friend, now and always. It is I who beg you to remember me.’
She smiled ruefully. Remember him? Could she ever forget him now — ever forget his dear, kind face, his simple, manly nature? He had no need of her, it was for his happiness that her life should be separate from his; but what if the day came when he should be miserable, ill, or in trouble? Who would comfort him then, who look after him? The tears rose to her eyes at the thought.
‘You are cold,’ he said gently. ‘I’m afraid I have distressed and disturbed you. It was stupid of me to speak after the fright you had. Let me take you back to the house. We can go through the hall; they won’t hear us, and you will be able to get to your room. I will stay and see Mr. Yusuf Khan off the premises.’
‘You won’t do anything — you won’t show that I have told you?’ she pleaded, with nervous visions of hideous retaliation on the part of the Afghan — a stab in the dark, untraceable poison, a bullet from behind one of the rose-hedges; and her courage sank. Oh, do promise me!’
‘Very well,’ he said with reluctance, ‘I will do and say nothing for the present. And you had better take a day or two to think over your plans before you mention the subject to the Chandlers. Yusuf will be safe enough at the races in the daytime, and at the lotteries in the evening. By the way, do you intend going to the races?’
‘Oh no! I shall get out of it somehow. It will give me a free time to think.’
‘I shall not go either. It’s a rotten little meeting. If you like, I’ll come over on one or other of the afternoons and discuss your plans with you.’
‘Do,’ she said simply; I should be very grateful.’
‘There is sure to be a terrific row about your leaving Chandlerpore.’
‘I know. I shall take your advice and say nothing for a day or two yet; but go I feel I must, though I shall be really sorry to part with poor little Myra.’
‘Yes,’ he answered, as they started back towards the house, I suppose it is wisest that you should go. I cannot honestly advise you to stay.’
She was silent for a few moments. They passed on through the moonlit compound. Then she shivered. Who would believe it could be so cold in India she said drearily.
As she spoke the roll of wheels and the sharp ring of hoofs on the hard ground cut through the cold stillness. Wade drew his companion into the shadow of a tree, and presently a light, well-balanced buggy swung past them, drawn by a long, lean horse, trotting fast and free. The driver sat upright and motionless, as though carved from stone, and the moonlight touched the gold threads in his turban, the whites of his deep-set eyes, and the glimpse of shirt-front, with the sparkling diamond, where his loose astrachan coat had fallen open.
Yusuf Khan looked neither to the right nor to the left, but drove on rapidly, and disappeared into the mist.
The day came on which the great race was to be won by the Amir, ‘with Gordon Chandler up.’
Tiddoo was already in Siwâla as the guest of the Afghan for the period of the meeting, and Katherine watched the rest of the family depart in the landau, all much excited in their several ways, and inclined to be annoyed with Miss Rolland for again refusing to accompany them.
‘I know why she would not come with us yesterday,’ remarked Miss Pathana, as she was about to step into the carriage, and she spoke with some venom, despite the fact that she again wore Katherine’s hat, this time as a gift, and not as a loan. ‘It was because she was expecting Ben Wade. He sat with her all afternoon. Buggoo told me. I suppose he is coming again to-day.’
‘Make haste! make haste! we are late already!
‘The race will be over when we get there!’ cried Mrs. Chandler; and the carriage started before Katherine could defend herself against Josephine’s parting shot.
It was true enough that Mr. Wade had spent part of the previous afternoon at Chandlerpore; no secret had been made of it, only the circumstance had not, as it happened, been mentioned in Miss Pathana’s hearing. Besides, they had all returned from the races in the evening so full of their own doings that there had been little attention to spare for those of Miss Rolland. Mrs. Chandler had spent a delightful time with old friends, Josephine had won silk gloves and white-rose scent, and somebody had introduced an officer to Myra. Mr. Chandler, too, had been gratified by Tiddoo winning a race, though an unimportant one, the boy’s triumph being reserved for to-day.
Katherine suppressed the vexation caused her by Josephine’s words, and turned back into the house, relieved to have secured another day to herself. The demands on her time had been steadily increasing of late, and she sometimes wondered how the establishment had ever continued without her. She was consulted now on every point — from the selling of a cow to the reprimanding of the cook when the curry was spoiled; the women never changed their dresses without appealing to her as to what would be likely to suit them best; and she had even been called upon to decide the pattern Mr. Chandler should select when it became necessary for the durzey to make him a new ‘duster-pyjama suit,’ as Katherine secretly called his usual costume. Her departure, she foresaw, must inevitably be a difficult and painful matter. There would be grief, consternation, clamorous reproaches, and her own feelings also would suffer — not entirely on account of the Chandlers, though to part with Myra would cause her genuine regret. Nevertheless, her determination remained unaltered, cemented as it was by Wade’s advice. He considered it to be her wisest course, therefore she held to it with all her will, though not with her heart.
This morning she tried to write some necessary letters with reference to her plans — to Claire Belvigne, to her bankers in England, to Mrs. Hart; but her mind refused to work, she felt listless and low spirited, and presently put aside what she had written, arguing that the mail letters could wait another week, and Mrs. Hart had better be approached when matters were further advanced.
Then she cleaned the myna’s cage, and gave him fresh seed and water. During her ministrations he talked without ceasing in sepulchral Hindustani, laughed exactly like Miss Pathana, and tried to reproduce some of Myra’s highest notes. Katherine hoped they would take care of him when she was gone; she had grown fond of the rude little bird for his own sake, not for that of the giver. It was time for the horses’ mid-day meal — the grain had already been weighed out by Mrs. Chandler — and after she had seen them fed she strolled round the neglected garden, idly gathering roses for the vases in her sitting-room.
Afterwards, when she had brought in the flowers and arranged them, she looked about her with a sigh. According to Mr. Wade’s prophecy, everything would be allowed to revert to the old condition of squalor and slovenliness, once her back was turned on Chandlerpore. What a pity to think of the fine old silver again black and greasy, of the servants ragged and dirty, of the dinner-table comfortless and untempting. She passed on into the hall, that now at least was free from dust and cobwebs, wondering for how long the Chandlers would miss her and regret her absence, and, to her amazement, as she gazed through the open doorway opposite, she saw them descending from the landau under the portico.
What could have happened? One thought only went with her as she hurried to meet them — Tiddoo must have lost the race, the Amir had been beaten!
They all looked white and frightened; Myra was crying, Josephine Pathana seemed to feel faint, and Mr. and Mrs. Chandler were oddly silent. Myra threw herself, shuddering, into Katherine’s arms.
‘Oh!’ she sobbed, ‘we saw it happen! It was all close to the carriage! Oh, I shall never get it out of my sight! . . .’
‘It makes me sick at stomach to think of it!’ declared Miss Pathana in a weak voice.
‘And all the money, too!’ Mr. Chandler groaned, and passed into his room wringing his hands.
‘Oh, my, my, Miss Rolland, dear, we have had a terrible scare!’ gasped his wife, ‘and we turned and came straight home, with no more heart for racing.’
‘But what has happened?’ inquired Katherine, bewildered, glancing from one horrified face to the other.
‘Yusuf Khan!’ they whispered in a breath, ‘the Amir has killed him!’
‘Yes,’ continued Josephine, and her voice rose gradually, while she covered her eyes with one hand and waved the other in the air as though to dispel some dreadful vision, ‘the poor man was knocked down all in a minute and torn to tatters under our very eyes! We had only just arrived, and the race was going to begin. Tiddoo had mounted, and Yusuf was leading the horse out. Oh, it became more like a mad dog than a horse! It knelt on him, and screamed, and bit, and shook, and savaged. We were so close, and nobody could do anything; and the blood — and the noise — ah-h- h —’
Katherine herself turned squeamish, but she led the trembling trio into her own room, and sent for brandy, and took off their smart hats, and soothed them as far as she was able. Myra sat pale and quiet, her head between her hands, her elbows on her knees, but her mother and aunt seemed powerless to cease talking of the awful sight they had witnessed. Over and over again they related the sickening details: how the Amir had seemed to be coming along like a lamb with Yusuf Khan leading him, and Tiddoo on his back ‘looking lovelee,’ wailed Mrs. Chandler; how suddenly the horse had ‘tossed’ Tiddoo without a second’s warning, and had got Yusuf Khan down on the ground and almost torn him to pieces; and how men had brought sticks and whips, and there was shouting, and running, and at last there had come a pistol shot when it was too late, and the horse had fallen dead on Yusuf Khan’s remains, and they, the Chandlers, had driven home, and now it all seemed like a bad dream. . . .
Katherine was wondering the whole time what would happen about Tiddoo’s debts; she knew very little about racing matters, but had a hazy notion that bets made previous to the day of a race held good, even if the horse never started. And now Yusuf Khan was dead, and would be able to pay nothing for Tiddoo even if she herself had been ever so willing to ask him! Then she suddenly realized that her own future was affected by the death of the Afghan; it was no longer necessary that she should leave Chandlerpore; she might stay — she might stay — Slowly she moved to her writing-table, and tore up the letters she had begun, only dimly conscious that Mrs. Chandler and Miss Pathana had ceased speaking, and were waiting expectantly for her comments.
‘And Tiddoo,’ she said, for the sake of saying something; ‘where is Tiddoo?’
Myra raised her head. In her eyes burned a sullen anger. ‘He ran away,’ she said, between her teeth, ‘when the Amir tossed him he got up and ran away frightened through the crowd. I saw him. I saw his face. He is fine descendant of Roy Chandler, indeed! I hope he will never come back.’
She dropped her head into her hands once more, and Mrs. Chandler began to cry. ‘He was, of course, running to get help!’ she said feebly, and went into screaming hysterics.
It was late that night before the household was at rest. Tiddoo had not returned, and it was with difficulty that Mrs. Chandler persuaded her husband not to sit up for him. The boy is all right,’ she urged; why such worry? He is staying to be useful at the house of Yusuf Khan, and he will come in the morning, you will see.’
Eventually the old man gave way and went to bed, his shrivelled face drawn with an inarticulate anxiety, but whether on account of Tiddoo’s probable losses, or Tiddoo himself, he gave no clue. Myra entreated that she might be allowed to sleep with Miss Rolland, and Josephine Pathana also declared it was impossible for her to remain alone; consequently their two light-framed Indian bedsteads were carried into Katherine’s room, and soon the silence of the dwelling was unbroken save by the snores of Buggoo, who lay rolled up in a blanket on the threshold of one of the doors.
* * *
The sun had just risen over Siwâla Valley next morning when Benjamin Wade was roused from his sleep. Even after he had opened his eyes his bearer continued to pull his master’s great toe, and shout ‘Sahib, sahib!’ with the mechanical obduracy of an alarum clock, by which the sahib understood that he was not being called in the ordinary course — that something unusual had happened, and various calamities, such as fire, thieves, murder, cholera, swiftly presented themselves to his mind.
He sprang from his bed. ‘What is it?’ he cried.
His bearer waved a lean brown hand towards the doorway, where stood old Rattan, dishevelled, breathless, evidently the fleet bearer of urgent tidings from Chandlerpore, but even in his agitation he salaamed with exceeding politeness.
‘In the house of my master is sore trouble, Huzoor. The miss-sahib from England bade me tell thee to come quickly — very quickly. And as thy slave passed by thine honour’s stables did he take it upon himself to order the sahib’s horse and cart that even now wait ready at the door.’
Late the previous evening a rumour had reached Wade through Lalla, who was an incorrigible gossip, that something terrible had befallen Yusuf Khan on the racecourse; he now felt instinctively that the present summons was connected with this report. As he threw on his clothes he put hurried questions to Rattan, but the old man was completely ignorant as to the nature of the trouble at the bungalow. Yes, it was true, he said, that Yusuf the Afghan had been killed yesterday by his own horse — the animal was well known to have had an evil nature — and the Chandler family had come back from the racecourse in great distress. No, late last night Tiddoo-sahib had not returned. He could not say if this had aught to do with the disturbance; he knew no more than that suddenly, while he slept, the English misssahib had roused him in haste, and had bidden him run without delay for Wade-sahib. He had obeyed her; that was all.
In a few minutes Wade was driving swiftly through the yellow light of the early morning towards Chandlerpore, with Rattan seated uncomfortably beside him in the cart. They swung round the corner into the compound, past the tomb with the little lamp burning steadily inside, and on up to the bungalow that seemed strangely awake with moving figures and the murmur of voices. Agape under the portico stood a group of loafing natives, whose curiosity had impelled them to leave the warmth of their blankets in the servants’ quarters. The dogcart scattered them, and Wade sprang up the steps and was within the great hall before his groom had reached the head of the heaving, sweating mare.
The curtain in the doorway of Mr. Chandler’s sitting-room was pushed back, and, beyond, he saw a crowd of people. He strode into their midst. Confusion seemed everywhere; a chair had been upset, and the drugget was dragged aside in huge wrinkling folds, disclosing a hole that gaped in the floor; a group of native and semi-native women were huddled together, and servants ran aimlessly to and fro. Miss Pathana was supporting her fainting sister; both were in dressing gowns, and Myra and Miss Rolland, who had dressed evidently in haste, stood with troubled faces beside Roy Chandler’s big chair. In it crouched the limp, helpless figure of Mathew, Roy’s grandson, now a creature that mouthed and muttered and pointed, and turned vacant, unreasoning eyes upon Wade as he approached.
‘Oh, Ben!’ Myra flew to him, clasping his arm.
‘What does it all mean? Look at that hole in the floor; how did it come there? Look at the dhurry all pulled away. We do not know what has happened, and he cannot speak, and does not see us,’ she indicated her father; ‘he is altogether without sense!’ She translated literally the Hindustan word ‘behosh.” He got up at daylight, and came in here, and presently mamma heard him cry out, and she ran in after him. She found the room all like this, and pappa lying by the hole in a faint, and he has been without sense ever since!’
Katherine came forward. I have sent for Dr. Hart,’ she said quietly; he ought to be here before very long.’
They looked into each other’s eyes, sharing the same thought. Had Tiddoo returned in the night and stolen his father’s hoard? But, after all, who could say what had actually occurred? whether money had ever been there to steal, — since Mathew Chandler sat beneath his ancestor’s portrait a mindless, babbling lunatic?
Will you stay here,’ she went on, while I get poor Mrs. Chandler to bed? She is quite prostrated.’
He nodded with comprehension, and when the exhausted, unnerved woman had been led away, he proceeded to clear the room of the miscellaneous crowd of relatives and servants, retaining only Rattan, and together he and the old Brahmin waited with the stricken creature in the chair, listening to the meaningless words and painful sounds till, when the sun had come blazing through the dingy windows, Dr. Hart drove up to the door.
The little, spare man with the keen grey eyes and quick manner heard Wade’s explanations, and examined the patient.
‘There is not much to be done,’ he said afterwards, glancing attentively about the room; ‘the poor fellow has had a mental shock. No personal violence; but it looks as though he had been robbed, eh? Was there treasure in that hole, or what?’
‘I should think it probable,’ returned Wade; ‘but no one can say for certain. His own family don’t know. Anyway, there’s nothing in the hole now!’
‘Well, that part of the affair is not my business. The old man must be kept as quiet as possible, and allowed no stimulant — whether his senses will return remains to be seen. I should say not, and that he’ll probably live on like this, perhaps a little better, perhaps worse, for some years.’
‘You had better send for Miss Rolland,’ said Wade, and he told Rattan to call her; ‘I expect she’ll want you to see Mrs. Chandler — the poor thing seemed completely bowled over.’
Mrs. Chandler was in the most danger for the moment, pronounced Dr. Hart when he had seen her. Always delicate, with the lack of stamina and the feeble heart of many women of her type, she was now in a state of collapse, and would need close care for many days.
‘Keep her up,’ he said to Katherine as they parted on the veranda steps an hour later, ‘and don’t let anyone worry her. I’ll come out again to-morrow.’
He got into his cart and drove away, and she turned to find Wade standing behind her.
‘Rattan is with the old man,’ he said; ‘I came out to have a word alone with you. I’m afraid you are in for a few bad days. I have sent to Gulâban for some things, and I’ll stay over here and see you through. Don’t!’ He held up his hand to avert her gratitude. ‘How could you possibly look after all these sick and helpless people by yourself? — though I know Rattan will be a God-send; a decent native is always splendid with idiots and children. You would only break down, and then everything would be worse than it is already.’ He glanced over his shoulder, and lowered his voice. ‘You think, as I do, that Tiddoo has helped himself to his father’s savings, and that when the old man went in this morning and found the hole empty the shock sent him out of his mind?’
‘Remembering what I saw the night I arrived here — I told you about it — what else can I think?’ she answered in distress, ‘though mercifully we can’t be absolutely certain. We don’t know that money was hidden in the hole, and if it was we don’t know that Tiddoo took it.’
‘I don’t fancy there is much doubt on either point. Tiddoo owed a pretty good lot, and all bets made before the day of the race would have to be settled whether the horse started or not. We shall hear soon enough if he hasn’t paid up.’ He paused, then added reflectively: ‘If money was there it must have been mostly in notes. There wasn’t room in the hole for a large box of rupees, and Tiddoo couldn’t have carried them, either.’
‘What will he do?’ she asked anxiously. Do you think he will come back and brazen it out, or has he run away?’
Wade shrugged his shoulders. Who could say what Tiddoo might do? Katherine herself felt inclined to echo Myra’s wish that he would never return.
‘They will want me here more than ever now,’ she said tentatively, avoiding his eyes and looking out into the sunlight, ‘and Yusuf Khan being dead there is no reason why I should not stay with them, is there?’
The thought came to him that she was asking him, indirectly, not to make it difficult for her to remain at Chandlerpore by hoping that he might eventually persuade her to marry him. If a man proposes to a woman naturally she must conclude that he is in love with her. He hesitated; he did not know how to tell her that she need have no such apprehension, that all he wanted was her sweet and durable friendship. Well, he must leave her to find it out for herself.
‘There is certainly no reason why you should not stay,’ he said with some awkwardness, ‘unless you wish to go?’
‘I don’t wish to go,’ she answered simply.
Nearly ten months had passed since Benjamin Wade had hastened to Chandlerpore that early, coldweather’s morning to find the master of the house stricken and helpless; and still Tiddoo had not come back. The affair remained a mystery, for the youth’s debts were unpaid; he had long since been declared a defaulter, and no one, as far as could be ascertained, had seen him from the moment when he had pushed his way through the crowd on the race-course to escape from the frenzied horse and the awful spectacle of Yusuf Khan’s death. Tiddoo seemed to have disappeared as completely as though he had been spirited away, and only Wade and Katherine, and perhaps the poor unhappy mother, felt convinced in their hearts that he had returned that night to his home. But, even so, where had he gone? what had he done with the money? The question was yet unanswered, and day after day old Mr. Chandler sat in the big chair beneath the portraits of his grand-parents, silent and helpless, as though waiting and watching for the son who never came back.
The opening still gaped in the floor, for if anyone attempted to close it up, or fold the drugget across it, the old man cried piteously; and sometimes he would grow restless, and with feeble, tottering movements drag himself to the empty hole and grope and whimper till he became exhausted. Then he would crawl back to his chair and relapse again into inertness. Otherwise he was little trouble, eating his food when offered to him if he felt hungry, and turning away his head like an animal in mute refusal if he did not. Rattan sat with him untiringly, replenishing the hookah from time to time, talking to his charge as though the latter were a baby, guiding the uncertain footsteps out into the sunny veranda, humouring him with patience when he asked for Tiddoo, which occurred occasionally without the least warning.
‘Yes, Huzoor, assuredly will the young sahib be here at once; he is coming but now,’ the native would repeat; and Mathew Chandler would nod contentedly or stare with no understanding, just as he might chance to be better or worse at the moment.
Mrs. Chandler proved a far more difficult patient. She had fallen into definite ill-health, and was querulous and despondent to the verge of melancholia. Most of the day she lay in bed, only rising in weary protest now and then to see the grain weighed when attacked with periodical paroxysms of suspicion that Katherine and Myra were not ‘doing it right.’ She cried for no reason, her appetite was miserable; she slept badly, and it really seemed likely that the poor woman might precede her afflicted husband to the grave.
As to the business of the estate, Myra and Katherine took over the management as well as they were able with much practical help from Rattan, and technical advice from Mr. Wade; and rents were collected, crops sown and harvested, and animals sold just as in the days when Mathew Chandler and his wife saw to it all themselves — but with the difference that matters were now conducted with a good deal more sense and method, and far less waste. Katherine was surprised at the amount of money that was realized from various sources, and she could well understand that Mathew Chandler’s dream of restoring for his son the grandeur of the old days need not have been so impossible if, as seemed evident, the surplus income had been hoarded for years.
Soon there was a growing balance at the bank instead of the usual over-draft. The place began to look less neglected; new green cane-blinds hung in the door-ways, the balustrade around the roof was mended; flowers, fruit, and vegetables flourished in the garden, and the string bedstead disappeared from under the portico, though not without protest from Rattan, whose property it was. Order now reigned in the servants’ quarters instead of tumult and chaos; but the little herd of women and children, Chandler relatives and pensioners, remained in undisturbed confusion in the back premises, for even the energetic Englishwoman felt unequal to the task of regulating their curious, inconsequent existences.
The landau still stood in the stables, though Mrs. Chandler could not now be induced to use it; she said it reminded her too much of the day of the races, and that she meant never to leave the compound again. Katherine and Myra drove in it often during the long hot weather evenings, and when the rainy season made it a relief to move through the air. Sometimes, when they could elude Miss Pathana or conceal from her their destination, the two would journey over to see the Borrodales, or into Siwâla to spend a day with Mrs. Hart, for Myra’s manners and appearance were now in no way extraordinary, and she and the doctor’s homely wife had become firm friends.
So the time passed peacefully, if sadly, at Chandlerpore, and Katherine had plenty of occupation for mind and body. Mr. Chandler needed constant attention; there were accounts to be checked, wages to be paid, an army of servants to control — all with ready help from Myra, who was no longer ‘a lazy.’ Indeed, she had grown very companionable, and together they spent contented hours over piano, books, work, and talk, though the girl still yearned to go to England, and would occasionally bewail the fate that tied her to India.
Then, often, when he was not out in the jungle, or climbing the heights of the Himalayas, Katherine saw Benjamin Wade. For her part she was well aware that he was not in love with her; on his side remained the conviction that she had no love to offer him; but against this the pair were mutually conscious that their friendship was a thing most precious to them both. During those few days, nearly a year ago, when he had stayed to help her over the worst of the crisis at Chandlerpore, they had grown intimate with one another’s natures; there had sprung up between them a most true and undqpbting comradeship, and Katherine was satisfied. She could live on content to see him, to talk to him, to have his confidence.
Wade himself was sensible of a subtle difference in his life. Had Katherine gone away now he would have missed her, he knew, more than he cared to contemplate. Sometimes, while out at his work, he caught himself wondering how he should like to see her sitting in the veranda when he returned; and he would picture the fine dark head bent over a book or some sewing — the clear eyes raised to greet him with smiles and interested questions. But again, when he was out in the forest, tracking a tiger, wandering far from civilization, alone, unhindered, free, he thought of her but seldom, and visions of her as mistress of Gulâban did not enter his mind.
He sat in his veranda this bright morning in late October over his early cup of tea, reviewing the plans that he and Mr. Growse had made together for a week’s quiet shooting. They were to start in three days from now, and all details had been finally arranged. Therefore he felt some surprise, on looking up, to see his sporting friend riding slowly through the compound on his stout hill pony. Wade immediately apprehended that a hitch had arisen about the shoot.
Mr. Growse’s square red face wore an anxious expression as he dismounted in front of the veranda steps, and there was guilty apology in his manner as he walked up them, for he had come to ask Wade a favour, the greatness of which could only be gauged by the true sportsman. In fact, it needed a whisky and soda after his ride to give him strength to put his request into words. When he was settled with peg and cheroot, and had abused the roads, and the dust, and the sun, he drew an envelope from his pocket.
‘I’ve come to see you about this letter — it’s the devil, my dear fellow. Got it only last night. No animals in the world are so inconsiderate as globe-trotters — they think we have nothing to do in India but sit and wait for them to come and stay with us. Here are these people writing to ask me to take rooms for ‘em at the hotel nearest my house. What hotel? There ain’t a hotel in Siwâla. Of course, I shall have to put them up. I can’t do less, considering how I shot their birds, and hooked their salmon, and stalked their deer when I was at home on furlough last time, can I, eh?’
‘It sounds the least you can do, certainly. Who are the people, and what do they want?’
Mr. Growse turned the letter about and pulled at his moustache. ‘They’re people who made pots of money over some patent pill, or ointment, or something of the sort. Boad is the name. Mr. and Mrs. Lionel Boad. They’ve got some of the best fishing, and one of the finest moors in Scotland. They go in for shoots as a bait to catch acquaintances, and — well, hang it all, Wade, you know I can’t resist that kind of thing when it’s thrown at my head. There’s no denying they did me proud, but who in their seven senses would ever have imagined they would turn up in this country!’
The situation lay exposed. Mr. Growse’s enthusiasm for sport was apt to lead him into any company that would gratify this passion of his life; hence, no doubt, his acquaintanceship with the Boads. And now retribution for his cupidity had fallen upon his head in the shape of the Boads themselves, the last people he had ever expected to see in India.
‘If I’d only known a week ago that they were coming I’d have bolted into the jungle — there isn’t time now, they’ll be here the day after to-morrow,’ he groaned.
‘You must have come back to them, even if you had bolted,’ argued Wade. ‘It’s a pity you can’t come out with me, but we will go together later on. We might have a Christmas shoot.’
The other cleared his throat nervously. The moment was here. ‘Boad’s a keen little chap, though he’s a rank shot, and, unfortunately, I bucked a bit about the Valley, and the shooting I’d done in it — I wish to heaven I’d never mentioned the place — and he wants me to show him some sport.’
‘Bring him along, then, if he’d like to come out with us. I don’t mind,’ and Wade wondered at Growse’s evident discomfiture.
‘Yes, that would be right enough; but, you see, the worst of it is, Mrs. Boad wants to come too. And not only that, they’ve got a friend with them — female!’
Oh, women!’ Frankly, the exclamation was one of disgust.
Yes, I knew you’d feel like that,’ went on Mr. Growse ruefully; I feel like it myself, but what can I do? I must arrange a little shoot for them, I can’t get out of it, and I know it’s unforgivable to foist a pack of old women on to you; but if you would let them all come out with us for a couple of days, of course I’d stand the whole ruin willingly, and, upon my soul, I’d remember you in my prayers and my will.’
Having voiced his request, Mr. Growse’s appeals for help and advice now became so clamorous that Wade was forced to make the only suggestion that seemed to him at all feasible short of refusing his aid altogether.
‘Look here,’ he said good-naturedly, ‘it would be a deuce of a business taking out tents and provisions and making arrangements for a party of that kind in the jungle. Bring the lot of them out to my bungalow, and we can show them a couple of days’ sport from here. There’s plenty of room, if you’ll contribute extra bedding and furniture and some servants. It’ll only delay our trip for about a week, and we need not take them over the beat we had arranged for ourselves — there is quite enough game in the opposite direction. How would that work?’
Mr. Growse slapped his leg, and glowed with gratitude. ‘By George, Wade, you’re a white man all through! I hope you don’t count on my refusing that offer? You’ve taken a load off my mind, and I can’t thank you enough. Of course, I’ll bring anything that is wanted, and stand all the drinks, and the lunches, and anything else. The Boads really aren’t bad sorts, you know, taking them all round. Little Boad — Lion his wife calls him — is quite a decent little fellow, and she means well enough, though there’s no denying that she’s a bit of an ass — the Lion and the Ass — sounds like AEsop’s fables — eh? Here, read her letter, and you’ll see what I mean — p-ff, it stinks like a musk-rat — catch!’
Wade caught the perfumed, violet-tinted letter signed, in gigantic handwriting, ‘Alicia Boad.’ The paper was thick and glossy, and a coat of arms of many colours occupied the first half of the front sheet, but below this decoration he made out from the somewhat rambling, incoherent composition that the writer and Mr. Boad felt it was ‘too bad’ of them to give such short notice of their coming, though, indeed, their whole journey to India had been quite unpremeditated, decided on suddenly at the suggestion of a friend who was travelling with them. The friend had been out to the country before, and after all it was nothing of a trip to those who could afford to do it comfortably, and luckily, as Mr. Growse of course would remember, she and Mr. Boad were in a position to please themselves over most things. What they really wanted to see more than anything else was a day’s sport in the real jungle. They could never go home and say they had not seen the jungle. She was sure Mr. Growse was the very person to show it to them.
Could it be managed? She hoped it was not the wrong time of the year. As a matter of fact, they had intended doing Siwâla much later, but their friend, Lady Belvigne, had just persuaded them to alter their plans, and they would be arriving at Siwâla a couple of days after this letter. Would Mr. Growse engage rooms for them at the hotel nearest his own house.
Wade put down the letter. ‘Lady Belvigne!’ he said in amazement.
‘Heaven knows who she is!’ said Mr. Growse; ‘some old toad of a Lieutenant-Governor’s widow the Boads have picked up, I suppose. They love titles.’ He was lighting another cheroot, and did not observe his companion’s interest in the name, therefore he continued to talk and grumble while Wade sat with deaf ears, wondering if it could be Claire, and, if so, why had she come out to India like this? And why had she not told Miss Rolland she was coming? Only the other day Miss Rolland was complaining that Lady Belvigne had not written for quite two months.
At this point Mr. Growse rose from his chair, relieved and refreshed. ‘Well, I must be going,’ he said cheerfully. ‘I’ll send a wire to the station to say I’m expecting them at my bungalow. Time enough when they arrive for them to hear they are to “see the jungle.” I suppose they imagine it’s a sort of Zoological Gardens. By Jove! this will mean a good time for me on my next leave, and if you want the best of free shoots when you’re at home, my boy, you may depend on getting it.’
When Wade had watched Mr. Growse and his fat mount disappear through the compound gate he returned to his neglected tea-tray, greatly to the relief of Tummy, who now reminded his master that, unlike Jim and Tess and Begorrah, who had gone out to hunt squirrels, he had remained faithfully in the veranda throughout the interruption.
‘Oh, you’re never far off when there’s food about, old chap, are you?’ said Wade with ruthless discrimination, and he gave the yellow hypocrite the treat the greedy little being adored — tea in the slop-basin, with milk and a lump of sugar.
As he listened to Tummy’s ecstatic lappings he thought of the inconvenience that these visitors of Growse’s would cause him, and decided irritably that for the last year and a half he ‘had hardly been able to call his soul his own.’ Then he queried again whether the Lady Belvigne mentioned in Mrs. Boad’s letter could possibly be ‘Claire Clifford,’ as she had always remained to him in his mind.
If so, it would be a curious experience to find her in the house as his guest, remembering what had passed between them in the old days. That his former feeling for her might be reawakened by her propinquity never occurred to him, and had it been suggested to him that he might possibly grow fond of her again he would have laughed at the notion, and barely troubled to refute it. But his interest was sharply aroused, he had a strong curiosity to know if Mr. Boad’s friend could possibly be Claire or no, and an unwonted restlessness attacked him. Instead of riding out that morning to the fields where the autumn crops were being harvested, he turned his pony’s head towards Chandlerpore.
Miss Rolland he found superintending the weighing of grain in a back veranda. She had been so engaged for over an hour when he arrived, enveloped in a long blue apron that enhanced the clear whiteness of her complexion, her hair and lashes frosted with grain dust, her eyes a little weary; for Mrs. Chandler was in one of her most captious and exacting moods, and watched the proceedings from a long cane-chair, finding fault, scolding, and complaining, till the servants were on the verge of mutiny, and Miss Rolland herself secretly inclined to join them. Myra had long since deserted the scene, and was singing at her piano. The sounds floated through the house, and mingled with the rattle of scales and murmur of voices in the veranda. Wade found himself sharing the general feeling of irritation. He wanted to see Miss Rolland alone, and apparently this infernal weighing business was never going to end. But he waited, talking with his usual kind patience to the fretful invalid stretched on the long chair, till the last grain had been emptied from one receptacle into another, and Katherine walked into the house untying her apron.
He followed her. ‘Is there no place where I can talk to you alone?’ he demanded. ‘I want to tell you something.’
‘Come in here, then,’ she said, laughing at his almost tragic impatience; and she drew back a curtain that hung in one of the drawing-room doorways.
What a dismal chamber it was, with its faded satin upholstery, its misty mirrors, its yellow marble tables, slumbering away the years in a dusty torpid silence. They stood in the middle of it, seeing themselves reflected on all sides, like dim ghosts, in the mildewed looking-glasses.
‘I wanted to tell you,’ he began quickly, ‘that Mr. Growse has got some globe-trotter friends coming to Siwâla, and they have a Lady Belvigne travelling with them.’
‘What — Claire?’ cried Katherine, astounded.
‘That’s exactly what I am wondering.’
‘Who are these friends of Mr. Growse’s — what is their name?’
‘Boad — the Lionel Boads.’
‘Then it is Claire — it must be; she knows the Boads well;’ and a little chill gathered round her heart, and settled down there, cold and heavy.
‘But why,’ questioned Wade, ‘has she come out to India in this sudden, mysterious manner? Mrs. Boad said in her letter to Mr. Growse that they had only just made up their minds to take Siwâla now instead of later. Why didn’t Lady Belvigne let you know she was coming?’
Katherine raised her eyebrows. She felt instinctively that some serious reason must have brought Claire out to India like this without hint or warning.
‘I can’t tell you,’ she answered, ‘unless it was to surprise me;’ and there came to her the vision of Claire, standing all glitter and gaiety in the correct English library, smiling and looking at herself in the glass with her head on one side. ‘She loves to startle,’ added Katherine half aloud.
‘What?’ said Benjamin.
‘She — she likes to surprise people;’ and Katherine roused herself mentally. ‘When are they coming? Tell me all the particulars.’
He told her of Mr. Growse’s predicament, of his own soft-hearted offer and its acceptance, of the arrangements he had already planned for his ‘house-party,’ as he called it with rueful amusement.
‘I am not sure which evening Growse will bring them out, but I will let you know; and I hope you and Myra will come over to dinner that night. Of course you will want to see Lady Belvigne, and she you, as soon as possible. We will take the wind out of her sails by giving her the first surprise instead of receiving it ourselves. She probably little imagined that Growse is about the only person in Siwâla that I ever speak to.’
He laughed, and Katherine laughed too, though she did not know why; she had hardly heard or understood what he said for the clamouring of the dread that assailed her. Claire was coming to Gulâban — Claire with her charms and her wiles, her love of mischief, her brilliant, insistent beauty.
Once she had been loved by Benjamin Wade; would she rest content to find that he loved her no longer?
Must not his love reawaken when they met again, even without the provocation it would certainly receive? Katherine told herself, with a sick resignation, that the happy peaceful days were over. She heard Wade say that he must go, and he repeated the invitation to dinner. She answered him mechanically, and then he went away and left her standing in the drear, depressing drawing-room, seeing her own face reflected in the dusty mirrors on every side, and eyes that looked back at her with dire presentiment in their depths.
Three nights later, when Katherine entered the long dwelling-room at Gulâban, with Myra keeping close to her side, she saw Claire Belvigne standing by the fireplace.
Behind her ruddy little head the pair of elephant tusks curved upwards. The slender feet in gilded slippers were half buried in the tawny fur of a tiger skin; the bright wood-fire flames threw a rosy glow over the creamy lace tea-gown. Claire had gone out of mourning, and Katherine also realized, with a sudden shock, that she was strangely altered. She was thinner, there was less colour in her cheeks, the reckless gaiety had left her eyes; her arms, glistening through the filigree lace-work of the long sleeves, hung listlessly at her sides. But as she raised her head and saw Katherine, her face lit up in a moment with pleasure and relief, as a flower that has been beaten by the rain revives at the first gleam of sunshine.
With a little glad sound Claire held out both her hands and ran forward. There followed the usual confusion of a meeting after any space of time — the half sentences, the questions that wait for no answer, the comments, the inarticulateness caused by ‘so much to say.’ The Boads, too, had to be introduced; he a little spare man, with side-whiskers, a bald head, and a timid apologetic manner; she one of the most massive women Katherine had ever beheld, with hair that looked as if it had just been dipped in ink and was still wet, and a large flat face that had been carefully whitened with some chalky substance. She wore a great many chains and beads, and was gowned in a vivid purple garment embroidered with gold sequins. Tummy had seated himself on the tail of her skirt, and was gazing at her with sympathetic admiration. Already she had shared with him some delicious, sugary biscuits from a tin in her bedroom, and he felt that at last he had met with a thoroughly kindred spirit.
It was all rather bewildering to everybody. The Boads were still a little aggrieved that their admired Lady Belvigne should have hustled them on to Siwâla so much sooner than they had intended, though they had meekly submitted to her mandate. Wade was puzzled as to the little lady’s behaviour; Katherine disturbed and apprehensive — still more so since she had seen the change in her aunt’s appearance. Claire alone could have explained the situation, and she was palpably nervous and ill at ease. She talked fast and unceasingly to Katherine, sitting close beside her on the sofa almost as though for refuge.
‘Mr. Wade and I have been telling each other how little we thought we should ever meet again in India; and I have explained that I wanted to surprise you, Katherine, and how disgusted I am to find that you both knew I was coming. It was so odd that Fate, in the shape of Mr. Growse, should have arranged to bring me straight out to Gulâban like this; I can’t tell you how amazed I was! but then such extraordinary things always do happen to me. don’t they?’ She rattled on, hardly pausing for breath. ‘You know I haven’t been well, Katherine; don’t I look a scarecrow? and the doctor said I must have a change — a sea voyage if possible — I thought I should like to go back to India, and it would have been worth the journey alone to see your face if you hadn’t known already that I was coming. But I seem to have a talent for being found out —’ She checked herself as though the words had suggested some unpleasant reminiscence, then glanced swiftly about the room, noted that the rest of the company were engaged with each other, and said quickly in Katherine’s ear: ‘Don’t ask me questions, Kate, whatever you do. I’ll tell you everything when I get the chance. How and when can I see you alone?’
‘To-morrow,’ said Katherine quietly, ‘if you are not going out into the jungle.’
‘Oh, I shan’t go! I should hate it. I’m afraid of elephants, and tigers, and guns going off — I will stay quiet and rest all the morning. I haven’t had a second to myself since we started from England. Alicia Boad was in my cabin, Alicia was in the train, Alicia was everywhere. They will be out all day, won’t they? Come over here before luncheon, or whatever the meal is in the middle of the day, and for heaven’s sake don’t bring that awful girl! She looks like a leopard.’
There was jealousy in Claire’s voice as she spoke of Myra, jealousy of the youth, the freshness, the beauty which she grudged to the girl as she would have grudged these advantages to any woman. Besides, Claire hated young girls: ‘They are always so selfish and inconsiderate,’ she would say.
Urgent questions rose to Katherine’s lips. What had made Claire ill? Why had she chosen to come to India for a change — the worst of places for anyone in bad health? Why had she not written for so long? What had really happened? All of which she repressed in reservation for to-morrow, and listened now in obedient silence to the other’s nervous loquacity, noting with concern the restlessness of the little hands, the unfamiliar droop of the red mouth, the look of anxious suspense in the beautiful eyes.
Wade took Lady Belvigne in to dinner, which was laid at the further end of the long room, and Katherine heard her speaking to him pathetically of her loneliness, her delicacy, her lack of any object in life. He listened and was touched; the childish, appealing manner stirred his heart, for it is helplessness, apparent or real, that moves a man of Wade’s temperament — a man in whom the masculine and something of the primitive predominates, who, though he will kill for the love of sport as his savage ancestors killed for food, yet is ever without the lust of cruelty; to whom the female in nature, as the weaker sex, is sacred. To shoot a doe, to fire at a sitting bird, to slay the immature, is looked on as little short of crime by such as Wade. And now Claire, with her baby ways, and dainty feminine atmosphere, Claire, so confiding, so innocent, who had been so cruelly served by Fate; sweet, fragile creature with her radiance dimmed, her exquisite beauty saddened, seemed to him the apotheosis of all things feminine as she gazed into his eyes and repeated her sorrowful little confidences; and a protective, compassionate tenderness for her filled his breast.
Mr. Boad had taken Miss Rolland in to dinner. He spoke timidly and with deprecation, and hastened to agree with every word she said — so unlike the typical millionaire, she thought, with some amusement. But his wife played his part for him vigorously, talking with loud self-assertion, announcing how much they paid for their shooting, their wine, their motor cars. She explained with emphasis that she had not brought her maid out with her because she understood that maids were more bother than they were worth in this country, and always got married at once, however old or ugly; but she made haste to add that she had engaged the most expensive ayah that Bombay could produce. Wade she stormed with the most leading questions. What did he do with himself all day? How much money had he got? How many servants did he keep? etc., etc. With almost the same breath she hoped they might have the pleasure of seeing him on their moor in Scotland when he was next at home; also for partridge and pheasant shooting at their country house in England; and when he was tired of that he must come and stay with them in town and they would do all the theatres. Between whiles she fed Tummy with scraps from her plate, for he had followed her into the dining-room and glued himself to her dress. ‘A nice, fat little dog,’ she called him, ‘he knows what is good.’ And she patted him so hard that Tummy felt a little doubtful as to whether he were not being smacked, until she relieved his mind by giving him a succulent piece of duck skin.
Mr. Growse sat silent and embarrassed, gazing into his own plates, drinking a good deal of his own champagne out of his own glass, for Wade’s table appointments were somewhat scanty, and Growse-sahib’s khansamah had brought over a goodly contribution of glass and crockery with much arrogance, thereby humbling and enraging Wade’s head man, who soothed his ruffled feelings by sending in such a dinner as might have satisfied even Gouffé himself. The cooking was praised and appreciated by Mrs. Boad; she ate steadily through each course — excellent giblet soup, filleted mahseer (the salmon of India), quail wrapped in vine leaves and served in a jar, saddle of gram-fed mutton with putwa jelly, a creamy trifle, and rich cheese savoury. Private or even general conversation was impossible with Mrs. Boad in the room. After dinner she harangued the company on the subject of travelling, and related anecdotes illustrative of the iniquities of their fellow passengers during the recent voyage out from England, and Lady Belvigne obviously encouraged her. It was as though Claire had no wish for any further talk that night with either Katherine or her host.
The evening was over, the Chandlerpore carriage waited at the door, and so far Mr. Wade and Miss Rolland had barely spoken to one another. As he wrapped her cloak about her shoulders in the veranda, she told him that, with his permission, she was coming over the following morning to Gulâban to see Lady Belvigne.
‘She does not want to go out with the shooting-party,’ she added; and involuntarily she glanced at his face by the light of the lamp that swung from a beam in the thatch. Did he look disappointed, or was it only her imagination?
‘I dare say she is right,’ he answered evenly.
‘She will be glad to have you over here; of course, come when you like, you know you can, and she will be here such a short time.’
Surely regret was in his voice? She felt it — she knew it.
‘Poor little Lady Belvigne I’ he went on. ‘Life hasn’t been over kind to her, has it? And I remember her as a girl so full of careless happiness, and life, and spirits.’
Katherine had no reply for this. She bade him goodnight, and drove away in the lumbering landau with Myra, on whom Mrs. Boad seemed to have made an extraordinary impression, and the girl talked of little else all the way home.
‘Oh, Miss Rolland, how delightful to be as rich as Mrs. Boad, and travel everywhere and do just as one likes. Do you know she wants to hear me sing! Ben told her about my voice, and she said she wished she had a daughter like me, did you hear her? Her own daughter died as a baby and would have been just my age if she had lived! What a wonderful dress she had on! Why, Lady Belvigne looked quite dowdy beside her in that raggy old lace thing. I must say I am very disappointed with her, though she has pretty hair. What could Ben have seen in her to make him want to marry her, if she was no better looking than that when they first met? Do you think he will fall in love with her again, Miss Rolland? I do hope he won’t; but he seemed very pleased to see her, and paid her a lot of attention at dinner, didn’t he? I am sure she is a little cat, and I like Mrs. Boad ever so much better.’
Katherine refused to discuss Lady Belvigne, Mrs. Boad, or anyone else. She said she was too tired to talk, and leaned back in the landau with closed eyes. Her heart was heavy with unpleasant anticipation as to what she was to hear from Claire on the morrow, and she was harassed with an unreasonable vexation that Benjamin Wade should have been guileless enough to believe all that Lady Belvigne had told him. She tried to remember that she was being unfair to him — for how could he know that Claire was not lonely, not delicate, and that she had a most emphatic object to live for — i.e., herself.
With foreboding Katherine walked over to Gulâban the following mid-day. Mrs. Chandler had fallen asleep after a wakeful, weary night, her husband was safely with old Rattan, and Myra was practising the songs she intended to sing to Mrs. Boad should that lady be persuaded to visit Chandlerpore before she left the Valley.
The air was deliciously fresh and pure — cold, even, in the shade — and she was not sorry to leave the gloom of the great trees in the compound, and find herself in the full sunlight on the rough, dusty road that would lead her to Benjamin Wade’s bungalow. Claire was not in the veranda when she got there, but the dogs emerged from beneath tables and chairs, aggrieved at having been deserted by their master, and the monkey uttered treacherous, mournful cries for sympathy. With the callousness of experience Katherine avoided him carefully as she mounted the steps, and made known her presence by the usual Indian summons, ‘Quai hai?’
Wade’s bearer appeared from the lamp cupboard, and said he had received orders to show the miss-sahib to the Lady-sahib’s room, and he led her into the bungalow and indicated the door. The sahib, he explained, had given up his own bedroom to her.
Claire’s favourite perfume met Katherine on the threshold, and she entered a large chamber furnished with masculine severity in which the silver toilet trifles, costly dressing wrap, and dainty, scattered garments of the present occupant looked curiously out of place. Claire was still in bed — in the narrow camp-bed — covered with her own eiderdown, propped up with the green silk pillows she had brought out with her from England, the colour that she was keenly conscious made such an arresting background for her shining hair. The shade of these pillows reminded Katherine of something; after a puzzled moment, she recollected that it was the dress Claire had worn on the night of the General’s death. No doubt the cushions had been covered with the remnants of that very gown! The face that lay against them now looked wan and troubled, but was lifted for a kiss with an unaffected expression of welcome.
‘I have been listening for you for hours, Katherine,’ she said plaintively. ‘I don’t know what the time is; my watch has stopped, just because I left my travelling clock with the rest of my luggage at Mr. Growse’s bungalow in Siwâla. Wasn’t it extraordinary that he should bring us all out here? But it suited me very well, for I simply had to see you; I couldn’t wait any longer. That was why I made the Boads change their plans, poor, common, old dears! I really meant to write and tell you I was coming out, but I put it off; it was so difficult to explain in a letter, and then I thought there would be no harm in waiting till we landed, because we had settled to do a horrid tour and finish up with Siwâla, so that the Boads could give Mr. Growse plenty of notice. But it seemed more and more difficult and impossible every time I tried to write, and I got so miserable I couldn’t face the tour with the Boads. So I bullied them into coming to Siwâla first; I thought, perhaps, I might arrange to stay there, or here, somehow, with you, Katherine.’
It was very evident Claire had run away from trouble in England. Katherine drew a chair up to the bedside, and listened quietly till the high-pitched, nervous explanation had ceased, and Claire gazed into her face beseechingly.
‘Claire, do try and tell me everything,’ she urged. ‘What has happened?’
‘You won’t be angry? I couldn’t bear anybody to be angry with me now, and I was always rather afraid of you, Katherine. I think you understand me too well, and now I have got hold of you I don’t know how to tell you; but the truth is I am in an awful fix.’
She hid her face in the pillow, groped for Katherine’s hand, which she clutched convulsively, and began to cry.
‘Oh, I am so unhappy, Kate, and you are the only person I could come to, and I hadn’t enough money to manage it, so I made the Boads think they wanted to see India. They always pay for everything. I hustled them off at once. I couldn’t stop in London.’
‘But why, Claire — why?’
Claire continued to sob for some moments, and Katherine could only wait patiently. Then it came out baldly, and with no attempt at vindication.
‘Mrs. Saxon drove me out of England.’ Claire looked up with a wet, desperate face, and eyes strained with trouble.
‘Because of her husband?’ asked Katherine in a low voice.
The other nodded dumbly.
‘Oh, Claire l’ — Katherine felt half choked — ‘I can’t ask questions.’
Claire dragged a gossamer handkerchief from under the pillows, and dabbed her swollen eyelids. As she pushed back the shining waves of hair from her forehead, the skin showed wet with perspiration. Her distress of mind was genuine. ‘He did treat her very badly, I know,’ she went on in a strangled voice, ‘and at last the worm turned. She is a worm, Kate, just like a nasty blind worm with spectacles and pink eyes, and if he did hit her I can hardly blame him. I hate her, I hate her, I hate her! Arthur Saxon and I had done no real harm. I swear it!’ And Katherine believed her, for she knew well enough when Claire was speaking the truth, and when she was not. ‘She knows we haven’t, too, and she did it to punish him and spite me. I went on the river with him one day just at the end of the season, and we stayed and dined. Oh yes, I dare say it was foolish, and wrong, too, if you like; but all the same we did it, and we had often done it before. But this time we missed the last train back, and there wasn’t a motor to be had in the place, and we were obliged to stop at the hotel. Mrs. Saxon was away from home, and we never thought she could know anything about it, but it seems she was having him watched, though he never suspected it. She waited till I came back to town early in the autumn, and then she pounced. It was awful. She came and made a terrible scene, and frightened me out of my wits, and said her husband would be all right if it wasn’t for my influence — such a lie! — and that unless I cleared out of the country at once she would divorce him. She dedared she could do it without the least difficulty, and that the whole case should be as public as possible, and that I should never be able to hold up my head again. She meant it, I saw plainly, and the only thing I could do was to bolt. I did it at once. I made the Boads come out to India, and I haven’t had a word from Arthur Saxon since I started. I suppose he is afraid to write. What shall I do? If I go back she will ruin me; I should be cut by everybody. Even the Boads wouldn’t know me if it became public. Think of it. Oh, Kate, my life is spoilt! I shall never be able to enjoy myself again, and I am so young and pretty; it seems so hard.’
She wept freely, audibly, like a child. Katherine’s heart ached; there was so little to be said that could be of any solace. She thought of Uncle George. This might just as easily have happened while he lived. Thank God he had died in time!
‘But why didn’t you consult some good lawyer, Claire, and put yourself in his hands? It was the worst thing you could do to run away like that.’
‘I was too terrified to think of anything but getting away. I couldn’t have stayed. I am sure it was already being talked about. The worm would make no secret of it; and then think of her threats! How could I have cleared myself? Appearances were so against me. And Arthur Saxon advised me to go; he said she really meant business this time. I shall have to stay away till it has all blown over. What do you think, Katherine? I feel sure I shall die of worry and shame. Oh, do be sorry for me, be kind to me!’ She threw herself into the arms of Katherine, who strained her close in silent pity. Of what avail to comment or expostulate? ‘If only you had stayed with me instead of coming out here!’ sobbed Claire.
‘I wish I had,’ said Katherine. But even had she done so could she have controlled Claire? It was not likely; but, at least, she would have done her best.
‘But you wanted to go; you said you did.’ This was so entirely characteristic of Claire that Katherine nearly laughed. ‘Oh, do say you think everything will come right People forget so easily; surely it must be all right for me some day?’
‘My dear, I hope so most sincerely,’ was all that Katherine could say; and with the bright head resting on her shoulder she gazed out of the window at Benjamin Wade’s brilliant flower-beds, her eyes full of concern. If Claire went back and Mrs. Saxon carried out her threat how could things ever ‘come right’ for Claire?
‘Whatever happens you must break with Major Saxon entirely,’ she said firmly.
‘Yes, of course,’ Claire murmured, but there was uneasiness in her manner. ‘When I’m away from him I never want to see him again, but when I’m with him he fascinates me. You remember how blue his eyes are.’ She raised herself, and sat on the edge of the bed, dangling her pretty pink feet, and heaved a heavy sigh. ‘You look so horribly glum and depressing, Kate. Why can’t you try and cheer me up, and say I’m a fool to worry, and that if I go back in a few months’ time nothing will happen? Why can’t you comfort me and try to make me less miserable?’ Claire wept afresh. I don’t believe you are really pleased to see me again after my coming all this way. What is the matter with you? Are you in love with Benjamin Wade?’
‘No, I am not,’ replied Katherine, exasperated; nor he with me.’
‘Why are you so cross? You might do worse,’ whimpered Claire. ‘It’s a very nice bungalow. He has done no end to it since I was here before. Really, if I had known of all the nasty things that were going to happen to me, I believe I would have stayed here as Mrs. Benjamin Wade.’ Again she pushed the hair wearily from her forehead. Oh, how my head aches! And I suppose I ought to get up. What time are all those people coming back?’
‘Not till sunset. Get up and come over to Chandlerpore with me for the afternoon.’
‘No; I feel too limp. I shall order a fire in the sitting-room and stay here. Don’t leave me, Katherine; I must settle my plans, and I want you to help me. I don’t think I can go on with the Boads; I feel too wretched. It’s awful bottling up one’s troubles, and going about talking and laughing, and yet feeling so miserable all the time. If I had nothing on my mind I should enjoy myself, because they do everything I tell them, and we travel in royal style; but, then, if I had nothing on my mind I shouldn’t be out in India. While I’m worried like this I can’t take pleasure in anything. I can’t even eat. Did you notice how little dinner I ate last night? Mr. Wade noticed; he was awfully unhappy about it. And when I wake up in the morning I wonder what’s the matter with me, and I feel all the time as if I were going to be hanged. It would kill me to go on travelling with the Boads. I feel dreadfully ill as it is.’
‘But you can’t desert them now you have brought them out here; and I suppose they have practically paid all your expenses.’
‘Oh, that doesn’t matter; they can afford it. They never mind what they spend; and I don’t care what they think. I could say that for private reasons I wanted to stay somewhere near you for the present. Couldn’t I stay in Siwâla? Or do you think they would put me up at Chandlerpore?’
Katherine’s heart sank. ‘They would, I dare say, if I were to ask them; but you would hate it.’
‘Anyway, I should be happier than going about with the Boads. I wouldn’t be any trouble. Do let me come, Katherine. I’d pay for my keep, and I expect that would be cheaper in the end than travelling with the Boads, though they do pay for so much. I am awfully hard up. One’s money melts; and I never could “manage,” and I’ve got no end of debts.’ She rose to her feet, a fascinating vision of cambric, and blue ribbons, and tumbled hair. Where is that expensive ayah of Alicia’s? She is never here when I want her.’
‘I will fetch her,’ said Katherine, and passed out through the sitting-room into the back veranda.
Just as she was about to call the ayah, who was sitting in the sun combing her sleek black hair, she heard the shuffle of an elephant’s heavy tread, and saw Akbar, with Wade in the howdah, come rapidly round the corner of the bungalow. The animal knelt, and as Wade descended to the ground he called for his syce and ordered the mare to be saddled at once.
Then he approached Katherine with a rueful face.
‘Mrs. Boad has hurt her foot,’ he said, ‘and I must ride in to Siwâla for Dr. Hart. She is being brought along in a village cart, and I’m afraid it’s rather serious.’
‘How did it happen?’ inquired Katherine, sharing his vexation.
‘She would come in my howdah this morning, and when we stopped for luncheon Akbar didn’t wait long enough to let her get down the ladder. He hasn’t been trained to wait while old ladies climb on and off his back. He got up with a jerk when she was half-way down, and, of course, the ladder fell away, and Mrs. Boad was left hanging in mid air, clinging to the ropes of the howdah. She kicked so desperately that none of us could get near her at first, and the noise she made was enough to rouse the whole jungle. Then she dropped before we could catch her, and fainted. But we poured whisky down her throat and bathed her face with soda-water and brought her round. She couldn’t stand, and we had to get a cart from the nearest village. She says every bone in her body is broken, but I don’t think it’s more than a badly-sprained ankle myself.’
‘Poor thing! What a nuisance for her and for you too. I suppose she will be laid up at Gulâban?’
‘I suppose so,’ he returned gloomily, and then mounted the pony that had been led to meet him, and rode away.
Katherine went back into the house and carried the news to Claire, who turned round, brush in hand, to listen.
‘Hurrah!’ she cried. ‘Now I shall be able to stay here, at any rate for the present.’
Poor Katherine said nothing. It seemed to her as though Fate had conspired with Circumstance to injure Mrs. Boad for the express purpose of keeping Claire Belvigne in Benjamin Wade’s bungalow.
Naturally there was no shooting next day. Mrs. Boad was in bed with a dislocated ankle, bad bruises, and a high temperature, and Dr. Hart could speak with no certainty as to the length of time she might be obliged to remain at Gulâban — at the least three weeks, even four or five, possibly more. The unfortunate lady’s fall had been violent, and her weight had increased the severity of the accident. The doctor had stayed till late the previous evening, and the distracted ‘Lion,’ Lady Belvigne, and the Bombay ayah had nursed the patient by turns for the rest of the night. Now, in the early morning, Mr. Growse was preparing to return to Siwâla in a condition of extreme gloom.
‘Boad says I’d better send the rest of their luggage out here,’ he told Wade, standing moodily on the veranda steps. ‘The poor little chap’s awfully concerned, as you could see last night, at having to put you to all this bother and upset; but he can’t be more sick about it than I am. It’s all my fault, I know. Just my usual cursed luck, and you are the victim. Who would ever have expected the old Judy to tumble about like that? Women have no business out shooting. I’m more sorry for you than I can say, my dear feller, and if I can do anything to help, you may be sure I will. You’d better stick to my pots and pans and any of my servants that may be useful. I’ll come over again soon and see how things are going, but I can’t do any good now. I’m more use out of the way.’
He rode off grumbling to himself, uncheered by the polite reassurances of Wade, who now set out in a resigned spirit to superintend some tree-felling on the estate, after learning that Mrs. Boad was at last comfortably asleep. The air was sharp and misty when he started, and he was obliged to gallop a couple of miles to warm himself; but two hours later, when he turned in again at his compound gates, the sunshine was bright, clear, and triumphant, and the atmosphere asparkle with lively scents and sounds. The garden looked glorious — fresh, dew-washed, flushed with colour; and over the vivid turf came Claire in a white serge dress to meet him, an umbrella with a green lining framing her bare head, and a loose bunch of deep yellow roses fastened at her breast. (She knew better than to place pink or crimson blooms in any proximity to her hair.) She looked like a tawny rose herself with the cream of her skin, the copper lustre of her curls, and the leaf-green background of the sunshade; and as she came lightly over the grass she perfected the beauty of the scene like the finishing touch to a picture. Her eyes danced, a soft colour warmed her cheeks; perhaps a few extra freckles had been scattered by the morning sun over the bridge of her delicate little nose.
Not since the ‘pouncing’ of Mrs. Saxon had Claire felt in such good spirits. Her confession to Katherine seemed to have eased the heaviness of her heart; it was as though she had passed on the burden to another, and she was already convinced that it was the other’s duty to accept it. Katherine ought never to have left her alone to get into such a scrape — she had even owned as much herself yesterday — and now Katherine must decide how to get her out of it. But for the present, at least, she would be safe and comfortable, if rather dull, at Gulâban, and she intended to forget while she could that Mrs. Saxon existed.
‘Good-morning!’ shouted Wade cheerily, and dismounted. ‘Why, how much better you look! I hope it is the air at Gulâban?’ He gazed at her beauty with marvelling admiration. She was even more lovely as a woman than she had been as a girl. What an exquisite skin she had! It made one long to touch it.
‘And really I feel better,’ she answered, turning to walk by his side. ‘Do you know, I am such a brute, I am quite glad Mrs. Boad can’t be moved. It is so delicious here, and — and I feel happier somehow.’
She glanced up at him invitingly, and the annoyance he felt that his time, his house, and his privacy should, so to speak, be wrenched from him began to subside. He had no right, he told himself, to grumble and be selfish if this poor dear little woman, who had seen such trouble, should be made the brighter for a brief stay at Guinan.
‘I will be equally brutal, and own that I am glad, too,’ he said, though he did not mean it entirely.
‘But it is such a dreadful bore for you to have us all quartered on you in this way.’
‘Is it?’ said Wade evasively, and smiled his denial.
‘Mrs. Boad is exceedingly lucky to be in such comfortable quarters. Dr. Hart came this morning while you were away. He says she is going on quite as well as he could expect, but she won’t be out of pain for some days. He asked if he should send a nurse from Siwâla, but I said no. Mr. Boad, who is abjectly devoted, and the ayah and I can manage all right between us, and we can get Katherine Rolland over if we want help. She is a splendid nurse.’
‘She has her own show to run at Chandlerpore,’ said Wade, unwilling that Katherine should be harassed with extra responsibilities.
‘I wonder how she really likes being with those people,’ went on Claire confidentially, and with a pretty concern. ‘I never wanted her to go out to India at all, but she would; she is so independent. She wrote me very amusing, interesting letters about the Chandlers; but she never said much about herself, or told me the things I most wanted to know. She hardly ever mentioned you, for instance.’
‘Didn’t she?’ Wade felt unconsciously offended.
He little imagined what had made Katherine so reticent over his name. ‘I can’t say I think she is very happy or comfortable at Chandlerpore,’ he continued, with some hesitation; ‘but she has made herself so necessary to those people they couldn’t do without her now, and she has a quixotic idea that she can’t desert them.’
‘That is Kate all over. Really, I believe it’s positively dangerous to be as good as she is. I suppose people of that sort don’t know what it is like to feel wicked.’
They had reached the stables, and a syce came forward and took the pony. Wade turned and faced his companion. ‘Do you know what it is like to feel wicked, then?’ he asked with amusement.
She looked up at him. Her eyes, her cheeks, her lips glowed deeper as she met his gaze, and his face changed. What Claire saw in it she recognised with a thrill of excitement. Her spirits rose higher. There was no fear now of being dull at Gulâban!
He turned from her abruptly, and moved towards the loose box where a brown nose snuffed over the bars. Smiling to herself, she followed him, and asked artless questions concerning the horses — their ages, their names, their characters. Then she wanted to speak to the elephant, and Wade watched the rose-leaf fingers timidly pat Akbar’s rough dark trunk, and came to the rescue when the animal calmly removed the flowers from the front of her dress and tossed them on one side. She fed the great beast with a chupatti provided by the mahout, who stood proudly by, and old Lalla drew near also to witness the scene with a pleased grin on his wrinkled face. Akbar left wet stains on the little hands, for he had lately been engaged in blowing dust over his back, and she held them out, palms upwards, the slender fingers curled back.
‘Do dry them!’ she. said fastidiously. And Wade cleaned them with his own handkerchief, noting the pretty nails like tinted mother-of-pearl, the satin skin, the slim turn of the wrist; and, when he had finished, he held them for a moment in his strong grasp, and remembered how once he had kissed them fervently, despairingly.
She smiled at him, and drew her hands away slowly, and then they wandered about the garden. He gathered more roses for her, and told her all about the various improvements he wished to make.
‘But it is so beautiful already,’ she said, ‘and I can remember how charming it was when I saw it last eight — nine years ago. Oh, how old that makes me feel I and what a lot has happened to me since then! And to you?’
‘To me? Nothing. I am very contented — now. But perhaps it has made me selfish and morally lazy to have no responsibilities, to have no one to consider but myself.’
They stood silent. The memory of that day, years back, when they had stood together almost on this very spot in the garden, hovered in their minds. Each wondered how much the other was recalling.
With a sharp pang at her heart Katherine saw them standing there as she drove up to the house in the landau with Myra and Josephine Pathana. She had intended to walk over quietly by herself to inquire for Mrs. Boad and have a talk with Claire; but Myra, sulkily jealous of Lady Belvigne’s claims on Miss Rolland, had insisted on accompanying her, and Miss Pathana refused to be left behind. Josephine wished to see Lady Belvigne, and hoped, with luck, to obtain a glimpse of Mrs. Boad as well. Also, the opportunity of a chat with Mr. Wade was not to be missed, for she considered that he would make a most suitable husband for herself.
‘Why, Lady Belvigne’s hair is exactly the same colour as my own,’ she remarked with satisfaction as they got out of the carriage.
Claire moved forward slightly in advance of her companion to greet the visitors. She had the air of a hostess, and certainly the couple made a pleasing domestic picture among the flowers with the dogs about their feet — the man in his comfortable riding clothes, tall, well moulded, with a calm, strong face; the woman radiant, bare-headed, fully at her ease, turning to him intimately for corroboration of her account of Mrs. Boad’s progress. They might have been a bride and bridegroom, thought Katherine, striving not to feel bitter.
Claire nodded with indifference to Myra (who scowled furiously), and submitted to be introduced to Miss Pathana, but cut short poor Josephine’s eager remarks by passing her arm through Katherine’s and drawing the latter to one side. Myra would have followed, but was waved away by Claire with a gesture of dismissal. The girl moved off morosely by herself, and when Katherine would have recalled her in compunction, Claire laid a hand on her mouth and dragged her down a secluded pathway lined with oleander-bushes. Wade was left to parade the lawn with Miss Pathana. Like Myra, she was filled with hatred for the arrogant lady who treated her with such indifference.
‘I’m delighted to see you, Kate,’ began Claire; but I prefer you without that awful girl hanging on to your heels. Why did you let the creatures come with you? The old maid with the dyed hair is like an Aunt Sally.’ She drew a deep breath and gazed about her. ‘Isn’t this delightful? I feel almost happy again to-day. I believe I could appreciate “the simple life” in a place like this. It makes me hate the idea of London. Think of them all tearing about to bridge, and parties, and theatres, and balls, and dinners, chattering, and eating, and calling, and spending money, and saying spiteful things, and struggling to cut each other out. I am sure I could be really good here, Katherine. . . . Why don’t you answer? I suppose you think I couldn’t be good anywhere.’
‘You are so changeable, Claire. Yesterday you were crying because you thought you could never go back to your old life.’
‘Well, I don’t feel like that to-day. I can’t help my feelings, can I? I wonder why I never realized before what a nice, good-looking dear Benjamin Wade was, or what a delightful place he lived in. I suppose I was too young and foolish in those days to appreciate either him or Gulâban.’
‘You could never really appreciate Mr. Wade, Claire,’ burst out Katherine involuntarily. ‘For goodness’ sake don’t try to make him fall in love with you again; it would only mean misery for you both.’
Claire turned offended eyes upon her. ‘My dear girl, I never “try to make” men fall in love with me; they do it of their own accord. And why, pray, should Benjamin and I make each other miserable? I thought you were only too anxious that I should forget Arthur Saxon.’
Katherine bit her lips and steadied her voice. ‘I meant that I hoped you wouldn’t play fast and loose with Mr. Wade — lead him on as you did before, and then disappoint him. He is too good a man to be treated badly.’
‘I suppose he can take care of himself,’ said Claire argumentatively. ‘Perhaps he won’t get fond of me again, but if he does I believe I would marry him. I do long so for peace and rest and safety, and someone to look after me, and it would be the easiest way out of all my difficulties. Heaps of men have proposed to me since poor George died, but I didn’t like any of them; and then Arthur Saxon was always about, and when I was with him I couldn’t think of anybody else. I hid his photograph at the very bottom of my box this morning. I want to forget all about him, and turn over a new leaf, and be peaceful and happy, and have no more worries about men, or money, or people, or anything else. I am sick of the world.’
She threw out her hands with a gesture of renunciation, and for the moment looked saint-like.
‘What do you suppose Mr. Wade would think of you if he knew about Arthur Saxon?’ said Katherine with deliberation.
‘Claire clutched her arm. ‘Good gracious! you don’t mean to tell him, do you, Katherine? You couldn’t be so mean.’ Then she laughed. ‘How premature we are! Benjamin probably hasn’t the smallest intention of marrying anybody, or else I am sure he would have married you long ago. I don’t think you will find it necessary to warn him about my past. Poor fellow! how cross his back looks! You can see him through that gap in the bushes still wandering disconsolately with the tow-headed woman. I wonder what has become of the girl. I hope she has gone home in a temper.’
They joined Wade, who was enduring Miss Pathana’s arch conversation, and presently Mr. Boad came diffidently towards them from the bungalow, and said that his wife had awoke refreshed and somewhat easier. She had heard that Miss Chandler was at Gulâban, and would like to see her before she left. The attraction between Alicia Boad and Myra Chandler seemed to have been mutual. The girl was found, after some little search, loitering sullenly behind the stables, and for the next half hour, while she sat with the invalid, an uncomfortable quartette walked about the compound — Miss Pathana keeping tenaciously to her host’s side, Lady Belvigne frankly bored by her presence, Katherine silent and unhappy, Wade himself something of a martyr in the company of three women, and longing to bathe and change without hurry before the mid-day breakfast hour.
When Myra joined them, looking brighter and less murderous, Wade took out his watch.
‘You will all stay and have breakfast with us, won’t you?’ he urged politely, looking at Katherine.
But no, the Chandler party must get back. Mrs. Chandler might be upset if they stayed away too long. They were late already, and there was much to be done to-day. So Katherine drove away in the landau, bearing in her mind the picture of Claire Belvigne and Benjamin Wade standing together in the garden waving their farewells, and before the carriage turned out of the gate she saw Claire lay her hand for a moment on the man’s coat-sleeve and look up into his eyes as he bent his head to answer her.
* * *
Late that night Katherine still sat by the wood fire in the sitting-room, leaning back in an easy chair, gazing absently at the bright flames. The day had been difficult — first the disturbing unsatisfactory visit to Gulâban; then Mrs. Chandler had talked of, and wept for, Tiddoo the whole afternoon, until she was at last reduced to a state of complete exhaustion; and Myra had been odious, shutting herself into her bedroom, refusing to help with her mother, glaring with the old look of savage temper that lately she had kept so well under control — hardly had there been a hint of it for months until to-day.
Katherine was sadly regretting its revival, when a figure passed through one of the doors and quietly approached the fireplace. It was Myra in her pink dressing-gown, her hair floating over her shoulders, and she looked as she had done that night, a year ago, when she had danced and sung after the manner of Buggoo-ayah, only that now her face had gained in character and expression, and the supple figure had developed in grace and proportion. Katherine recognised that the angry fire still smouldered in the curious blue eyes. Often she had fought and conquered it at the beginning of her time at Chandlerpore, but to-night she felt unequal to any contest. She was weary and depressed, in need of support and consolation herself.
‘What is it, Myra?’ she asked dully. ‘Have you come to fetch a book?’
‘No.’ The girl knelt down and spread her long, lithe fingers to the warmth of the blaze, and the little half-moon at the base of the nails showed dark — the signal of her native blood. ‘Who is Arthur Saxon?’ she asked suddenly.
‘Why?’ temporized Katherine, astonished.
‘I heard Lady Belvigne talking of him to you this morning. I was behind the oleander bushes.’
‘Myra! Do you mean to say you were listening?’
‘Yes, I was listening. That snake of a woman took you from me. She sent me away. Well, do you suppose I was going to obey her? I saw her put her hand on your mouth and drag you down the pathway, and I followed. She will take you away from me altogether. She will take Ben away from me, too. She knew you before I did. Ben was in love with her when I was a little girl, and you will both of you think of her, and consider her, and do what she wants before you think of me. I shall have nothing left in my life but Chandlerpore, and my mother, who is dying slowly, and my father, who is mad.’ Katherine tried to speak, but Myra put up her hands and held her silent. ‘When I saw that woman in Ben Wade’s house I knew there was an end to everything. Remember, I am nearly a native. I can feel the future just as easily as I know the past. Directly she came she altered all our lives. Nothing can ever be the same again. It is Fate. There is no fighting against it. But I tell you I mean to fight for myself. That woman with the red hair and devil’s eyes, she shall not drive Myra Chandler to the wall. She may come between you and me, between me and my dear old Ben, but she shall not spoil my life. I will take what I can get for myself, so I tell you.’ She had lapsed badly into the ‘chi-chi’ accent of which Katherine’s untiring efforts had so nearly broken her.
‘Myra,’ Katherine said helplessly, exhausted by the girl’s vehemence, ‘what do you mean? Don’t be so violent. Neither I nor Ben’ (she spoke of him now as Ben in her agitation; she invariably thought of him by his Christian name) ‘will ever feel differently towards you.’
Myra rose from her knees and stood looking down at Katherine’s bent head. She had never before seen Miss Rolland on the verge of tears, and her own lip trembled, but the fierce blue eyes still glittered harshly.
‘I tell you I know bet-tah’ — and she gesticulated with her hands, the palms turned outwards. ‘She will change everything, you will see.’ Katherine was silent. Had not Claire already changed everything for her? ‘If she does not marry Ben she will take you back with her to England. I will not stay here and see her Mrs. Wade at Gulâban. I could not stay here without you. I am going to make my own plans.’
‘Myra, you must tell me what you mean by all these wild words. You frighten me.’
‘No, I will not tell you — at least, I will not tell you yet.’
Katherine broke down. She felt so isolated, so powerless. Here was this girl with definite intentions, whatever they might be, for her own future, determined, with the hard-heartedness of youth, to burst the fetters of affection and friendship, determined not to suffer. She would fight, she would hold fast, doubtless she would obtain what she desired, while Katherine, with the hopelessness of maturity and experience, bound by her love for a man who had no love to give her in return, knew that she must stand by and see all that would have made life so sweet to her carelessly appropriated by Claire Belvigne.
‘She has made you unhappy, too,’ said Myra, with vicious resentment. ‘You do not want her to marry Ben. Well, then, tell him about this Arthur Saxon before it is too late.’ She threw herself down by Katherine, her arms about her dear Miss Rolland’s shoulders.
‘I cannot do that, Myra. You do not understand. I could never interfere.’
‘Ah!’ — Myra kissed her passionately — ‘all at once I see it. You care for Ben yourself, and he does not know. Oh, how he is blind, and idiot, and stupid. He shall know. I will tell him myself.’
Katherine drew herself from the girl’s caress. ‘Myra, if you ever say one word to him of that sort I will never forgive you. It is not true. I do not care for him in the way you imagine. You will make mischief that can never be remedied if you say anything. Promise me — promise me you will not do it.’
She spoke in an agony of apprehension.
‘Very well,’ said Myra slowly, ‘to please you I will say nothing. But it is not truth when you tell me you do not care for Ben. The reason that you will not interfere between him and that red-haired sooer-ke-butcha (child of a pig) is because you love him yourself.’
Katherine was silent. She had not the spirit left in her to contradict what was the truth.
In three weeks Mrs. Boad was better, though yet unable to be moved with safety. Fever had weakened her, the swollen ankle was subsiding with reluctance, and Dr. Hart urged that she should remain quietly at Gulâban for the present, if Mr. Wade should be able to keep her.
What could Mr. Wade do but agree, and ease the mind of the apologetic and distressed husband by vowing that it would cause him not the smallest inconvenience to keep them all three, that he would hear no word of Mrs. Boad’s removal until she was entirely fit to travel.
There were certain individuals who rejoiced unfeignedly over Mrs. Boad’s compulsory stay at Gulâban. Wade’s butler was one of them. He proceeded to re-stock the kitchen, pantry, linen and store cupboards, and made many important journeys into Siwâla for the purpose. Triumphantly he ejected Growse-sahib’s unbearable khansamah, together with what borrowed articles had escaped destruction during the period of their loan. He made jellies and soups and custards for the invalid, and worked with a fervour that infected the whole compound. The gardener brought daily bouquets for ‘the ill memsahib,’ and produced superior fruit and vegetables that Wade did not remember to have seen growing in his own compound; but he discreetly asked no questions, being aware that the man was related to half the gardeners in Siwâla station.
Lalla, the old tracker, brought gifts of skins and feathers, strange jungle plants, and lucky charms to aid recovery. Akbar’s mahout paraded the elephant past Mrs. Boad’s window every morning, and incited him to trumpet a respectful greeting. And the stablemen, in a spirit of rivalry, followed with the freshly-groomed horses, and salaamed profoundly at the saluting point.
Was it all disinterested concern for the sick lady, or had the expensive Bombay ayah imparted the valuable information that her mistress was wealthy, generous, and susceptible to polite attentions?
Tummy remained enthusiastically faithful to his infatuation for Mrs. Boad. He established himself in her bedroom, and shared her meals, receiving many an extra tit-bit between whiles; and he snarled and growled overbearingly at Jim and Tess and Begorrah if they ventured across the threshold. Entirely disgusted with such abominable behaviour, the trio attached themselves more closely than ever to the heels of their beloved master.
But though Tummy could play Tom Tiddler successfully enough with his three companions, he found a serious rival in Myra Chandler, who also passed much of her time with Mrs. Boad, and frequently dissuaded that indulgent lady from over-feeding the little gourmand. Myra had arbitrarily removed the piano from Chandlerpore to Gulâban for the benefit of the patient, and would sing and play untiringly, and sometimes dance à la Buggoo-ayah to amuse her. The latter was fond of gay tunes and up-to-date ditties, and ordered a selection of both from a Calcutta music shop, so that the newest and most popular barrel-organ dances and ballads now rang through the bungalow. When not at the piano the girl would sit beside Mrs. Boad’s couch and ask questions concerning England, listening with awe and envy to highly-coloured descriptions of ‘the season in London,’ the receptions and entertainments which Mrs. Boad attended, the gay afternoons and dinners at Hurlingham and Ranelagh, the evenings at the play and the opera, the marvellous meals at fashionable restaurants. It seemed to the unsophisticated Myra that Mrs. Boad must be a very great lady indeed in London Society. She appeared to know such a multitude of people — all lords or sirs, members of Parliament, ladies of title.
If Claire came into the room these engrossing conversations ceased abruptly. Myra would sit and glower with dark hatred at the intruder, and Mrs. Boad was too prudent to boast of her social successes in the presence of Lady Belvigne.
‘The way that girl toadies Alicia is simply sickening,’ said Claire to Katherine. ‘I wonder what her game can be.’
‘She really likes Mrs. Boad, who is very kind to her, and has given the child a lot of nice things,’ was Katherine’s listless reply; for Claire had been at Chandlerpore all the afternoon talking of nothing but Benjamin — Benjamin — Benjamin.
‘Like her? Nonsense! If Alicia Boad was not a very rich woman do you suppose anybody would like her? No; Myra Chandler means to get something out of her, and what it is no doubt we shall hear sooner or later — when she has got it.’
- - -
To Wade the past three weeks had been strange and bewildering. The comfortable calm of Gulâban had been galvanized by a subtle sense of excitement, and he was unwillingly conscious that the old attraction of years ago was returning in strength — that the presence of Claire Belvigne held for him an intoxication that warred with his love of quiet and freedom and the magic of the Valley and the mountains.
When he first understood that the sight of her beauty disturbed and uneased him, that the touch of her hand, the passing contact of her dress, the fragrance of her delicately perfumed little person, sent the blood stinging through his veins, he tried to avoid her company whenever feasible, he fought against the thraldom of passion with all his powers of reasoning.
Claire’s quick sex-instinct told her in what manner she affected him. She took a keen pleasure in fanning the flame she had lighted, and nursed it with care and cunning. When it seemed to grow faint she added fuel judiciously, and sunned herself in its glow when it blazed in answer to special encouragement.
The evenings were her particular opportunity, when, after dinner, Mr. Boad went to play patience with his wife till she settled down for the night. Then Claire would pose effectively on the tiger-skin before the sitting-room fire, while Wade sat and smoked, and listened, and watched. She would talk personalities, and coo, and purr, and laugh softly, and sigh, till more than once Wade had left the room abruptly to save himself from catching her in his arms.
The man was entirely unsuspicious that she played deliberately on his senses. To him she was a creature beguiling by nature, one who could no more help her subtle fascinations than she was to be blamed for her youth or the glorious shade of her hair. But he desired desperately to shield himself from trouble while yet he had the strength; she was, however unconsciously, threatening his peace of mind, and he looked into the future almost with terror. Unless he could hold to his mental balance now, he must presently find himself alone at Gulâban with all his pleasures tainted and spoiled with the remembrance of her and the longing for her presence — his whole world disturbed, his existence altered.
He imagined that Claire’s happiness had been cruelly wrested from her; and he was glad, for her sake, when she could laugh and chatter and take pleasure in trifles. He pitied her tenderly when she appeared sorrowful or depressed. In time, he supposed, she would forget her bitter loss, and marry some man of her own world, so gaining a peaceful consolation but that she might be willing to share his solitude at Gulâban was a possibility that had never shaped itself in his mind. Indeed, he hardly desired that she should be willing. All his purpose and judgment were concentrated in one strong struggle to preserve his whole-hearted liberty, and so escape unnecessary pain.
When Dr. Hart advised that Mrs. Boad should remain on at Gulâban for the present, Wade felt his pulses quiver with mingled dread and pleasure; and throughout the whole of one wakeful, restless night he pondered, and argued, and reasoned, longing to be away in the free jungle spaces, yet shackled by Claire’s insistent attraction. Finally, he determined that he would go into camp, at any rate for a few days; and perhaps the unrestraint, the wide seclusion, the sport, might set his mind in order; help him to view the situation dispassionately; and restore to him his old, quiet control over his emotions.
The following evening he remained out on his land until it was nearly dark — he always endeavoured to be well abreast of his work before starting on a shooting expedition. Lalla had already departed with the tents, and guns, and cartridges for a particularly promising locality where a family of tigers was said to be lurking; but, so far, Wade had said nothing of his intentions to his guests. Neither did he speak of his plan that night at dinner, for Mrs. Boad was carried in to the meal for the first time, and Myra dined with them to celebrate the occasion; and he shrank from questions, remarks, and expostulations. But afterwards, when Mrs. Boad had been borne back to her bedroom, and Mr. Boad and Myra were safely engaged in amusing her, he told Claire, with outwardly calm deliberation and a fierce agitation rioting in his breast, that he meant to go out into the jungle the following day, and might be away for a week.
‘Everything will go on just the same as if I were here, of course,’ he said, rather breathlessly. ‘Perhaps, politely speaking, I ought not to go; but could any true shikari resist certain news of three tigers — all full grown?’ He smiled with purpose.
Her face clouded like that of a child balked of a treat. ‘Oh, must you go?’ she asked blankly.
She was kneeling before the fireplace, the fingers of both hands resting on the ledge of the mantelpiece so that the loose sleeves fell away from her white arms. Her head was turned towards him over her left shoulder; the light of the flames burnished her hair and glowed on her smooth throat; a glimpse of white teeth, like a little streak of snow, showed between her parted lips.
Wade took his cigar from his mouth and leaned forward, racked with her beauty. She knelt motionless, and met his burning eyes with limpid, innocent gaze.
‘Why should you go?’ she complained.
He almost told her. The words gushed to his lips, but he checked them mercilessly with quick visions of her surprise and regret — probably her anger — and the discomfort for her of such a situation when, for the next ten days at least, she was to be under his roof. For a moment he pressed his hand across his eyes to shut out the sight of her; then he rose unsteadily, and walked to the window, pulling back the curtain and flinging open the long door-casement. He had an instinct that if he could breathe the air that came, fresh and cold, from the perpetual hills it might give him help.
‘Yes,’ he said slowly, ‘I must go. Cold weather tiger-skins are prizes not to be lost — and there’s a rogue-elephant, too, that I’m dead keen on bagging. I hear he’s on the war-path again — just in the direction where I’m going! So far I’ve only shot one elephant — his tusks are over the mantelpiece — and going after an elephant is the supremest sport — he’s such a grand beast! Anyway the tigers are a certainty. I’ll bring you back the skins, and all the luck-bones as well.’
It mattered nothing that probably Claire had never heard of ‘luck-bones.’ He remembered the spring morning when Myra had begged for these tiger-charms, and across his mind drifted a fantastic wonder as to whether he had not parted with his own luck when he gave them to her. Standing rigid at the open window, he braced his senses and stared out into the foggy, cold weather moonlight that shone with an opal glimmer. Faintly through the luminous veil he could see the outline of the mountains — a huge, irregular mass, solemn, lofty, yet looking curiously unsubstantial. He would get away to the foot of the hills, and escape from this subtle danger that might scar and cripple the best of his remaining years. In that sublime solitude passion must surely shrink to insignificance! The old words began to sing in his mind: ’There are the regions of Paradise . . . there is no sorrow, nor weariness, nor apprehension. . . . In a thousand ages of the gods I could not tell thee of the glories of Himachal. As the dew is dried up by the morning sun, so are the cares of mankind by the sight of Himachal.’ . . .
Suddenly, down at the far end of the compound, Akbar trumpeted shrill and long. It seemed a clarion call to the jungle, and all the man’s love for the wild forest-freedom was stirred violently within him by the sound. He could have shouted back in answer, ‘I am coming! I am coming!’
Then, drawn as by a powerful magnet, he turned and looked at the woman by the fireplace.
She held out an imploring hand: ‘What should I do with skins and bones when I want you?’ she said, half laughing. And she added softly: ‘Don’t go, Ben. I want you to stay — to stay with me.’
Again Akbar trumpeted, — a mighty blast — and the echo went rolling through the Valley to reach, perhaps, the rogue-elephant, watchful and cunning in his thicket, but not this time to compel an answer in the sportsman’s being; for now Wade was frenzied, insensate, with the sight of Claire.
He stumbled forward. The next moment his hands closed about her slender wrists, and slid up the soft flesh to her elbows.
‘Can’t you understand — can’t you understand?’ he stammered. ‘If I stayed I should never be able to bear it —’
With a little inarticulate murmur she laid her cheek on his sleeve, and he pulled her to her feet. gathering her almost with roughness into his arms— she was so slight, so crushable. Unresisting she gave herself up, sweet and silent, to his caresses.
For the time he was near to losing his senses with the force of passions that for years had lain dormant — that had traced on his features that hint of unindulged emotions. She nestled to him with a sensuous pleasure in his madness. No man, she felt, had ever been so exquisitely in love with her before.
‘Claire, long ago you nearly promised to be my wife. Do you remember that day in the garden? Now, after all that has happened, have you come back to me? Claire, will you stay with me?’
Flushed and exultant, she looked up into his face.
‘Delight and laughter shone in her eyes. ‘Now do you want to go into the jungle? Must you go? Must you get those cold weather tiger-skins?’
He kissed her insatiably — and neither of them was conscious that Myra had come into the room until she stood before them livid with angry astonishment. The girl’s lips were parted to speak, but no words came; she looked like a fierce, snarling animal. Claire clung, frightened, to her lover’s arm, and for a second or two there was tense silence. Then, before Wade could utter, a nervous cough in the doorway brought relief. All three figures turned, with a simultaneous start, towards the sound, and Mr. Boad sidled into the room. He invariably moved about the bungalow as though fearful that he was doing something wrong.
`Alicia is very wakeful to-night,’ he said humbly, ignoring, if he noticed, the unusual demeanour of the little group. ‘She would be so glad if you could spare time for a chat with her, Lady Belvigne, before you go to bed. There is something she wishes to tell you, I think.’
Claire gathered up her soft skirts. ‘Of course,’ she said pleasantly, with a glance at Wade from under her lashes. ‘I will come at once.’
In passing she brushed her fingers against Wade’s hand, and heard him catch his breath sharply as, smiling, she left the room.
He waited till all sound of her had ceased. Then he turned to speak to Myra, and found that the girl was gone.
That same evening Katherine sat by Mrs. Chandler’s wide, lacquered bedstead in the great room that, long ago, had been Roy Chandler’s sleeping chamber, with the apartments of the Begum and her women leading from it. A couple of wall-lamps lit the room dimly, and a brazier of glowing charcoal gave an unhealthy warmth to the atmosphere.
The sallow face of the mistress of the house, no longer plump and round, but drawn and lined, moved fretfully from side to side on the dingy pillow. Buggoo-ayah crouched at the foot of the bed, massaging her lady’s ankles with all the ancient Eastern knowledge of the science. Through the open, curtain-hung doors they could hear the monotonous murmur of Mr. Chandler’s voice asking of Rattan the same question over and over again: ‘Tiddoo-sahib — when will he come?’ and the answer was given mechanically and without variation each time: ‘But now is he coming, Huzoor.’
Mrs. Chandler held Katherine’s hand between her own two damp palms, and bewailed her daughter’s heartless conduct in spending so much of her time with Mrs. Boad at Gulâban. At present she was particularly disturbed because Myra had not come back to dinner, and Katherine hearkened to the reiterated grievance with pitying patience.
‘Myra is no dotter to me,’ wailed the unhappy mother. ‘She has always liked other people better than me, her mamma. First there was Ben Wade, from the time she was quite a little. Then there was you. And now there is this Mrs. Bohd. You are much more like my own girl. Who have I to help me now but you? Matyew is silly in his head, poor man; and Myra talking and thinking always of England, not caring to stay with her own mamma, who is sick, too, as well as Mrs. Bohd. And Tiddoo — where is my Tiddoo? And Josephine always away in Siwâla, playing at the badminton game.’
Katherine marvelled privately that this last item should be regarded as a misfortune, for, since Miss Pathana had joined the new badminton club, started by Flossie Fernandez and her friends, Chandlerpore had been a much more peaceful habitation. Josephine now passed her mornings in the preparation of wondrous toilettes instead of quarrelling with her sister and niece, and insulting Katherine and the servants; and, though she took entire possession of the landau, neither Myra nor Miss Rolland objected, for it meant that she drove into Siwâla early every afternoon, and was seen no more till dinner-time. At this meal she would reappear in excellent mood to recount her conquests, and make poisonous remarks on the characters, appearance, and manners of the ladies she had encountered.
I had a dream about Tiddoo last night,’ went on Mrs. Chandler tearfully. ‘I saw him looking so unhappee, and in pain, trying to climb up the sides of a pit, his hands all torn and bleeding. What does that mean? Buggoo, here, says it is a sign that he is dead; but how can she tell? I do not believe it. Do you know about dreams, Miss Rolland, dear? I say Tiddoo will come back, and then all will be sorry they have said such bad tings about him!’
Katherine was unable to interpret the dream, and Mrs. Chandler maundered on.
‘But until Tiddoo comes back, who is there to care for me but you, and old Buggoo here? And Buggoo could not pay the servants, or weigh the grain, or see after tings. She would cheat, like all natives. They are so untrustworthy, these black people.’ She began to cry feebly.
‘The visitors at Gulâban won’t be there very much longer,’ soothed Katherine. Myra likes to go and talk to them, and it makes a nice change for her. When they are gone she will be with you more.’
The curtain in front of one of the doors was suddenly dashed aside, and Myra herself almost leaped into the room.
‘No, I shall not!’ she cried. I heard what you said. I shall not be at Chandlerpore at all!’
The girl stood excited and defiant, and poor Mrs. Chandler gazed dumbly at her daughter, eyes and mouth wide open. Buggoo ceased to massage, and sat with one lean brown hand poised in the air, the other clutching her mistress’s foot. Katherine rose and waited breathlessly for the coming scene. A spell seemed to have fallen upon them, holding them all silent. The wall lamps flickered mistily — shone in Myra’s stormy eyes, on Mrs. Chandler’s oily hair, touched the gold ornament in Buggoo’s nostril.
‘Myra, are you mad? said Katherine at last, with an effort.
‘Mad? Perhaps I am. If so, I am mad with joy as well as with rage.’ She stepped forward, her hands outheld, her gaze directed entirely at Katherine.
‘Listen to my news: Mrs. Boad has asked me to go with her to England! Do you understand what it is I am telling you? To go with her to England, and she will pay all!’ A wail rose from the bed, but Myra took no heed. ‘And I tell you one another ting, too,’ she went on, her voice growing louder and her accent more pronounced with every word. ‘Ben Wade, he is going to marry that devil woman! I heard him say! I saw him kiss! She will be Mrs. Wade at Gulâban. Do you hear that? She will be his wife!’
Katherine felt her heart-strings tighten. That Myra’s news concerning Claire and Ben Wade was inevitable she had realized for some time past, but the actuality was hard to meet. She swayed for a moment, then steadied herself by pressing her knees against the wooden framework of the bed, and forced her attention back to Myra’s first announcement.
This, then, had been the child’s ‘game,’ to use Claire’s expression, in making friends with Mrs. Boad! She regarded her pupil with a curious, detached interest. What tenacity of purpose must lie behind those wild blue eyes! No doubt it was with just such an indomitable spirit, unhindered by feeling or friendship, that Roy Chandler had won his battles and achieved his ends.
Katherine knew that Myra had a true affection for her, that she had filled the girl’s life, and lulled her ambitions as long as no other future seemed possible; but now that the great dream of Myra’s existence lay within her reach — having probably schemed and manceuvred for it — she intended to seize it, regardless of all else.
And Katherine sighed. It seemed to be her fate that everyone should fail her. First Claire had, so to speak, thrust her aside, and then had only returned to her because there was no other alternative. Then Benjamin Wade, who, she felt with a certain grim humour, might at least have fallen in love with herself, if he was to fall in love at all! And now Myra, for whom she had worked and — But the lamentations from the bed could no longer be ignored.
‘You are saying nonsense, girl!’ cried Mrs. Chandler, with thick, nasal-sounding sobs. ‘How can you go away to England with this Mrs. Bohd, and leave your home and your mamma, and all? What would Tiddoo, your own dear brother, say when he comes back? I tell you such a plan cannot be done!’
Myra moved nearer the bedside, and looked down upon the miserable yellow face that was wet with unchecked tears.
‘Do not go against me, mamma,’ she said in a gentler tone, yet more as a command than a request. ‘It is no good. Better be glad that I am to go to England with all paid and everything that I want. It would be only wicked not to take this chance. You cannot be so selfish as to want to keep me. You will have Miss Rolland here: she is much more use than me; and I will write long letters, and one day come back and see you.’
Mrs. Chandler waved despairing hands above her own head. ‘You will never come back. You will never see Chandlerpore or your own dear mamma again! Ai! Ai!’ she wailed, native fashion.
‘Why should you assume that I shall stay here when you are gone?’ Katherine asked, looking at Myra coldly. She was repelled by the girl’s selfishness.
Myra’s face changed. The hard triumph in her eyes faded to a desperate anxiety as she met Katherine’s gaze across the bed. Her hands closed together involuntarily, like a native making a petition.
‘Oh, you will not go away and leave her?’ she gasped. ‘Oh, Miss Rolland, you have done so much for me, do just this more! Stay here — stay at Chandlerpore and look after them all, or else how can I go to England? Think how I am placed. I have this one chance in my life: let me, oh, let me take it!’
Katherine was silent. She had no wish to leave Chandlerpore at present. Here, at least, she was of use, she was really needed; and also she had a bitter desire to witness the course of Wade’s passion for Claire Belvigne. Mrs. Chandler wailed and moaned, and clung to ‘her Miss Rolland’s’ hand, directing at Myra incoherent reproaches and recriminations, which the latter ignored, and only continued her torrent of persuasions and self-excuse.
‘I know I am unfeeling, selfish, wilful. I know I ought to refuse and stay with mamma, and look after Chandlerpore, and never think of anything more. Yes, I know it all. But my wish is too strong; it has killed all else. I must go, Katherine Rolland; I must go. Do not try to stop me. I cannot refuse — I cannot! I cannot! I cannot!’
Her voice rose almost to a scream, then ceased abruptly. Mrs. Chandler’s lamentations also sank to a faint, sobbing murmur, and during the lull Katherine spoke.
‘I think it will be best for you to go, Myra,’ she said measuredly.
Mrs. Chandler broke out weeping afresh, and accused Katherine, with bitterness, of being her enemy; and Myra, unbalanced by her emotion and the reaction caused by Katherine’s words, which meant so much to her, began to sob drily.
‘I would not have rushed in like I did and told it all so suddenly,’ she said in a broken voice, ‘only that I saw Ben kissing that devil-woman — kissing her as though he could never stop, and it made me mad! Ever since she came to Gulâban with her eyes, and her hair, and her witch-ways, I have had to stay in the background. You have thought of her more than you have thought of me, and now she has taken Ben away from us both. I saw my chance with Mrs. Boad, and then my hope grew and grew till now there is nothing else but going to England in my heart. I cannot help it! I love you, I love Ben, I love poor mamma here, and in a way I love Chandlerpore; but that is all nothing, nothing to how I feel about going to England! Perhaps it is the spirit of old Roy Chandler guiding me. I see him in my dreams. He beckons to me. “Come, Myra,” he says, “do not stay, as I did, in Siwâla Valley hearing all the time the call of my own country.” What is it?’ Her voice sank to a whisper. ‘What is it in my blood that makes me long to get away from India? Is it that my soul is English, though my body may be nearly native?’
Now she wept passionately, and more than ever Katherine realized the cruelty of mixed race — the mental conflict caused by two antithetical nationalities imprisoned in the one nature. She made no attempt to coerce or dissuade the child, but resolved that she would stay at Chandlerpore to console and reconcile the mother, in order that the daughter might be free.
‘You had better go to bed now, Myra,’ she said with quiet sadness. ‘I think myself that you ought to accept Mrs. Boad’s offer, and I will try to convince your mother that it is best to let you go. If it will make you feel any happier, I promise to stay with her as long as she wants me at Chandlerpore. Now go, dear’ — she held up a warning hand as Myra started forward — ‘you will only upset her more by staying. I will look after her.’
Mrs. Chandler had closed her eyes and was moaning feebly. She did not appear conscious of Myra’s swift kiss or that the girl had left the room, and Katherine hoped that she had fallen asleep.
But soon she stirred, and began to cry and talk once more, and for hours Katherine sat by her side and listened to complainings, and answered them with arguments in favour of Myra’s plans, till at last, by the time the dawn had come to disconcert the sullen light of the wall lamps, Mrs. Chandler was partially persuaded that her daughter would be losing the opportunity of a life-time in refusing Mrs. Boad’s proposal.
‘Well, yes; I suppose she must go,’ she said wearily, ‘and I must not be selfish. She will make some grand match, my Myra, with her beautee, and her voice, and her cleverness, h’n?’
‘I should think it more than probable,’ agreed Catherine, relieved that the poor creature’s thoughts had turned in this direction. ‘Anyway, she will have a very good chance.’
‘And how sweet she would look with diamonds in her hair and round her neck and dressed in welwet — h’n? Well, I must tink it over. If only I could ask Matyew! but he is silly in his head, poor man! Or Tiddoo, but he has not come back yet. Still, you are very wise, Miss Rolland, dear, and if you say it is right then I will try to believe it. Now I feel as if I could sleep a little, and you must go to bed, too, for you are looking quite tired, and so white, with black marks under your eyes — or is it from the morning light mixed with the lamps?’
* * * *
On a gloomy, sunless afternoon a fortnight later Myra left her home. Clouds were spreading over the sky in preparation for the short winter rains, snow had fallen on the hills, and a wind blew keen and cold through the lofty rooms at Chandlerpore, and caused the light on old Roy’s grave to dance and flicker.
She was to drive to Gulâban in the landau, and from thence, with the Boads, to Mr. Growse’s bungalow in Siwâla. Next day they were to post the fifty miles to the nearest railway station, and take the train for Bombay. The tour through India had been abandoned, and the Boads intended to take their newly-adopted daughter straight to England.
Under the portico the landau waited, surrounded by natives. Every servant in the compound had collected there to witness the miss-babba’s departure, and Katherine and Miss Pathana stood on the veranda steps while Myra said farewell to her parents. She spent but a few moments in her father’s room. The old man was alone, babbling quietly in his chair, and she could do no more than kiss the vacant, wrinkled face and say good-bye to ears that had no understanding of her words. But she stayed longer with her mother than Katherine had expected, though she came from the room white and silent, with a hard gleam in her eyes that told of determined smothering of regrets — of a mastery over feeling that was not altogether to be confounded with heartlessness. The feeling was there, but purpose, desire, and will were stronger.
Aunt and niece parted with indifference. Miss Pathana was pleased, if anything, that Myra was going away. Myra cared nothing if she never saw Josephine again. But the girl’s good-bye to Katherine was abrupt, swift, and charged with emotion resolutely repressed — a sudden fierce kiss, a few breathless words, a hot stain of tears left on her friend’s cheek. Then, seated alone in the dilapidated old carriage, Myra progressed slowly through the crowd of salaaming native figures, with Buggoo clinging to the door-handle noisily lamenting. When Myra leaned over and spoke gently in her ear the old woman loosed her hold with sad reluctance, and the gaunt horses clattered on down the drive, between the tall trees, till Roy Chandler’s tomb was reached. Katherine, watching from the veranda, saw Rattan come forward from the monument and salaam three times; and Myra stood up with her face turned towards the grave of her ancestor while the carriage passed through the white pillars and disappeared into the road.
At Gulâban all was stir and preparation. Boxes were being carried from the bungalow under the vociferous supervision of the Bombay ayah; servants hung about in groups, their pleased countenances testifying to the generosity of the departing visitors. Jim, Tess, and Begorrah barked continually at nothing, and Tummy sat shivering on the steps oppressed with a sense of calamity; he wore Mrs. Boad’s farewell gift — a silver collar made in the Siwâla bazaar, though probably he would much have preferred a tin of the sugary biscuits he had grown to associate with the presence of his benefactress. Down by the stables stood the dog-cart with the mare ready harnessed. When the travellers had started Wade was to drive Claire to Chandlerpore, where it had been arranged she should stay until their marriage took place after Christmas.
Wade and Mr. Boad were superintending the loading of the cart that was to carry the luggage to Siwâla, and Myra sat quietly in the veranda and listened to Mrs. Boad’s last words with Lady Belvigne.
‘Well, I must say again, as I’ve repeated many times already, though I dare say you think it’s no business of mine — I can’t see why you should stop on in India like this. Why couldn’t you have got married at once, since you are so set on the man, and then we might all have gone home together. London won’t seem the same place without you at all. But perhaps you’ll come soon. I suppose you intend to keep your title when you’re remarried? It would be such a pity to drop it — for your friends’ sakes, as well as your own. I, for one, should feel it very much having to say “My friend, Mrs. Wade,” instead of “Lady Belvigne “; and you’d hate being called “ma’am” after “my lady.” You haven’t settled yet when the wedding is to be?’
‘No, I haven’t made up my mind,’ said Claire indifferently, and noted with satisfaction the resentment in Myra’s eyes.
She felt angrily jealous of this girl who was going home, with youth and good looks, to luxury, pleasure, and excitement; while she, Claire, was condemned to remain out in the Indian jungle forgotten by all her old set, without amusement or society, or anything that, to her, made life pleasant. She wondered, as Mrs. Boad talked on, whether it would be safe to induce Ben to give up Gulâban when they were married and take her to live in London? Surely Mrs. Saxon would seek no further vengeance if her rival came home safely and respectably married again, and avoided Arthur Saxon entirely? On the other hand, the woman might take a fiendish joy in relating her grievances to Ben, if she did nothing worse, and Claire shrank vaguely from the idea of forfeiting the honour in which she knew he held her.
This partly because his simple, straightforward faith and love had awoke within her a new and gratifying sense of self-respect, and partly because she was aware that a woman who loses her husband’s trust can no longer dominate his existence, though she may retain his affection.
‘Well, I hope you won’t forget us, anyway,’ Mrs. Boad was saying. ‘I’ll send you a wedding present from the Goldsmiths’ Company that will remind you of me every time you look at it. You know when I give presents they are always handsome ones and worth having, so it’s lucky Lion is in a position to pay for them. When you do come home you and Mr. Wade must make your headquarters with us, mind!’
‘Yes,’ said Claire absently, ‘we will.’
She was watching Myra’s face, for the cart was now loaded, the smaller packages had been stowed away in the landau, and nothing remained to be done but to pack the travellers in with them. Wade came slowly into the veranda and was immediately enveloped in Mrs. Boad’s parting gratitude; thanks, invitations, and appreciations were, so to speak, poured over him. He helped her into the carriage and then returned for Myra. Standing before her he held out both hands in farewell, and the kindness and regret in his eyes was more than she could bear. With a stifled cry of affection and grief she threw her arms about his neck and kissed him fervently.
‘Oh, Ben, how can I go? I did not mean to mind, but now I do — I do!’
She burst into a flood of tears, but checked her emotion instantly on hearing a low laugh from Lady Belvigne. Claire had laughed with genuine amusement at the sight of Ben in the embrace of the Eurasian girl, but also with the object of annoying Myra, who turned on her with a savage look and spat out a few hoarse words in Hindustani.
‘Hush! hush!’ said Wade, and hurried her to the landau.
When the old carriage had rumbled with its burden through the gate, Claire turned to her lover. ‘What a little demon that girl is!’ she said. ‘And how she hates me! I am really thankful, now I am going to stay at Chandlerpore, that the Boads have taken her away.’
She gazed wistfully at the little puffs of dust that rose above the hedge as the vehicle passed slowly along the road, and sighed.
‘Fancy that chit having such luck!’ she said, with unmistakable envy in her voice.
Wade looked down at her in anxious doubt. He felt instinctively that her thoughts and inclinations had followed the homeward bound carriage load and the prick of fear that had never healed in his heart lest after all Claire should fail to find happiness and contentment at Gulâban suddenly became a smarting wound. Also the truth faced him that, as yet, he knew practically nothing of this woman’s mind and temperament. Hitherto he had taken heed of little but her beauty and allurements, and though honesty had sometimes whispered that his love had naught in it of the spirit, or of the intellect, he had repulsed the hint with a shrinking sense of shame.
Since the evening when he had held her in his arms, and spoken out his passion, he had looked forward to his marriage with a feverish expectancy that blurred all reasoning — that allowed of no calm consideration. The days had whirled by as in a dream; his work he had been doing badly and with haste that he might the sooner return to Claire; his papers and books lay neglected and unopened. What she talked or thought of he cared nothing; all he desired was to have her near him.
As for Claire, she tiad found a new pleasure in Ben’s infatuation. She felt herself on a fine moral height which was pleasing to her, if only for the novelty of the experience. Ben thought her an angel of simplicity, and she almost deluded herself into the belief that he was right. What there was of good in her nature responded involuntarily to the singleness and sincerity of his heart and character; and so far she had been happy wandering with him in the garden, picnicing with him out on the estate, driving behind the fast trotting mare to visit the Borrodales, or along the Siwâla road; watching the gorgeous sunsets, or the moonlight on the hills — appreciating in a faint degree the luxury of peaceful leisure.
But this evening, as she stood on the veranda steps at Gulâban beneath the clouded sky that seemed so unnatural, so depressing in a sun-soaked country, the longing for her old, irresponsible, intoxicating life rose uproariously within her; she could have run after the landau and climbed into it, could have clung desperately to Mrs. Boad’s skirts till she found herself once more in the turmoil of London traffic, in the rush of artificial pleasure, in the old atmosphere of callous ostentation and self-indulgence. At this moment Ben and his devotion seemed nothing to her, and Gulâban, with its beauty of colour, its tranquillity, and remoteness from the world, was utterly odious.
She turned to him with sullen indifference, and remarked that she supposed they ought to be starting for Chandlerpore. He put his hand through her arm, interlacing his fingers with hers. ‘Yes; but I shan’t let you stay there long,’ he said with meaning.
His ardour pleased her. She felt a certain consolation in the knowledge that she had power to intensify it with the slightest word or look, and she glanced up at him with a little smile.
‘Ben,’ she said softly,’ where are we going for our honeymoon?’ and then watched his eyes grow rapt.
‘There is a forest bungalow,’ he said, with a slight tremor in his voice, ‘that I can get leave to use. It is at the end of the valley, just under the hills on the banks of a stream — a perfect spot. I thought we might go there if you liked the idea. We could take Akbar, and wander about the jungle, and shoot, or fish, or do nothing, just as it pleased us.’
She did not answer. Again she was looking out in the direction taken by the carriage; her thoughts flew to London, to her old set — card playing, lunching, dining, dancing, supping. Oh, how deadly it would be at Gulâban!
‘I wonder how you would like to go home instead! she said tentatively.
‘For our honeymoon? If you wished it very much, I could leave Gulâban for a few months — I have done it before.’ But the thought of crowds and streets, and limitation of space and time, chilled and oppressed him.
Claire did not continue the subject, and he gladly refrained from its discussion; but the drive to Chandlerpore was not a pleasant one. Both man and woman felt disheartened from different causes, and the dull cold in the air, the wind, and the sombre sky did not encourage cheerfulness.
The old white house looked as if it missed the presence of Myra as they drove up to it. Rattan had taken advantage of the general depression to reinstate the string bedstead under the portico, and he now sat upon it, unchecked by the English miss-sahib, rolled up in a wadded cotton wrapper.
Mathew Chandler was safely sleeping in his big chair, and his snores resounded through the echoing bungalow. Katherine was with Mrs. Chandler, and Buggoo was huddled in a corner of the hall shaking with ague, rendered, like all natives, ill in body by distress of mind.
Wade took Claire to Katherine’s sitting-room; but here ashes smouldered in the fireplace. Myra’s discarded belongings lay about the floor and over the furniture; the myna was imitating Mrs. Chandler’s wail; and the bare space that awaited the return of the piano from Gulâban conveyed a sense of emptiness and discomfort. He was vexed that Claire should encounter such a cheerless atmosphere when already she was inclined to low spirits, and he felt some resentment towards Katherine Rolland for having made no preparations for her reception.
‘I’m so cold,’ complained Claire, shivering; and added crossly, as she looked about the room: ‘This is awful! It was all very well coming over for an afternoon sometimes, but I don’t believe I shall ever be able to stay here.’
You need not,’ he said with eagerness; you know you can come to Gulâban altogether as soon as you like. We could be married at once.’
‘Oh, don’t talk nonsense!’ said Claire.
And she sat frowning and petulant in an easy-chair, while he threw logs on the ashes and coaxed them into a blaze, sent for lamps, and drew the curtains; for the sudden Indian darkness was gathering swiftly.
‘Where is Katherine?’ Claire demanded. Do go and find her.’
Obediently he went, and as he crossed the hall Katherine came out of Mrs. Chandler’s room.
Directly he saw the white weariness of her face he regretted his recent vexation with her, realizing the difficult time she must have endured since Myra’s acceptance of Mrs. Boad’s offer, culminating to-day in the girl’s departure.
‘I’m so sorry I couldn’t come sooner,’ she said. ‘I heard you arrive, but Mrs. Chandler would not let me leave her. Poor thing she is terribly upset by this parting from Myra. Where is Claire?’
Together they turned into the sitting-room. Claire had taken off her shoes and was warming her little feet, in their open-work stockings, before the flames.
‘Oh, Kate, how cold this place is! I wonder you are not dead!’ was her greeting.
‘You will soon be warm with that fire, and we will have our dinner in here. Miss Pathana has gone to bed with toothache, so we shall be alone. You will stay and dine with us?’ she added to Wade.
‘No,’ put in Claire, like a fractious child, ‘you are not to stay, Ben. I want to be alone with Kate.’
‘Very well, then, I will make myself scarce,’ he said good-humouredly.
But Katherine knew that his laugh was forced, and she felt a sensitive sympathy with him when he bent to kiss Claire good-bye, and she turned away pettishly, almost pushing him from her. How she longed to follow him, as he left the room, and tell him the truth — to say frankly and freely that Claire could never make him happy; that Claire was vain, shallow, false; that she would ruin his peace, spoil his life, make Gulâban impossible as a home, shatter his faith and trust.
Katherine did follow him out to the porch, but she said nothing; she knew well that it would have made no difference. Sadly she watched him drive away through the cold misty dusk, and suffered now for what she felt sure he must suffer in the future.
‘Has he gone?’ said Claire, when she returned.
‘I suppose I was beastly to him; but seeing that horrible Chandler girl go off with the Boads has completely upset me. Just think of the time she will have, and how it will all be wasted on her; and here am I shut out of everything, with nothing to look forward to but old age at Gulâban. How shall I ever be able to endure such a life?’ she almost wept with self pity.
‘And yet you profess to be in love with Benjamin Wade,’ said Katherine dispassionately.
‘Oh, that’s just like you, Kate! You can never understand me. Of course I’m in love with Ben, or I shouldn’t have promised to marry him; but I know quite well that I love him with only one part of myself, and the other part cries out for life, and amusement, and admiration, and all I have been accustomed to. If only we could live at home after we are married, I should be perfectly happy; but there is always that disgusting Mrs. Saxon in the way, and I don’t think I dare risk it — at any rate, not for a long time.’
‘You don’t seem to consider that London life would make Ben completely miserable. I rather doubt if he would consent to live it — even for you.’
Claire laughed wickedly. ‘My dear,’ she said, throwing another log of wood on the fire, ‘I don’t mind betting you the largest sum you like to mention that I could make him do anything in the world for me.’
Wade drove home rapidly through the dusk. The wind had dropped, and the air was sharp and still. The clouds had parted, as though drawing back in preparation for a final, swift assault upon the mountains, and a damp mist was rising. He felt chilled mentally and physically, and the plain, placid comfort of his room was soothing, with the lights and the fire, and the shining glass and silver on the dining-table. He changed, and had his dinner, with Tummy — miserable Tummy! — shivering beneath his chair, sent to Coventry by the other dogs, who now were revengefully triumphant.
It was strange to Wade to be alone, to have no Claire to claim his gaze, to listen to no humble, deprecating remarks from Lion Boad, or boastful speeches from his wife, who for the last week of her stay had been able to move unaided about the bungalow. And after dinner — that time out of the whole day when Claire had always seemed more bewitching and irresistible than at any other — it felt quite odd to be opening books again and tearing wrappers from neglected papers. He had always been ready enough to ignore them when Claire was their substitute, yet to-night he was half-conscious of a sense of relief that he could read on undisturbed, and enjoy his cheroot, and his peg, and his literature in the old peaceful manner.
An hour, two hours went by. It was all so still, so untroubled; not a sound but the crackling of the firewood, and the gentle snoring of the dogs. Then Wade looked up for a moment as he turned a page, and saw the reflection of the flames flickering over the polished elephant tusks, and straightway he began to think of the rogue-elephant and the jungle, and long days and nights in the forest, and the rush and clamour of wild fowl winging through the air. A nostalgia for sport and tent-life awoke and ached within him. Restlessly he rose and moved about the room, and presently he decided that he would have LaIla in to-morrow morning and arrange for a few days’ camping. The old man had never ceased to regard his master with sad reproach since his recall from the vicinity of the three tigers he had so carefully tracked.
Wade got out his guns and fingered them with affection. He turned up his game-book and pored over its pages; and as the night crept on the longing to be out in the valley grew stronger and more clamorous, till it possessed his heart and brain. He forgot Claire, forgot the future with her, forgot the past delirious weeks, and crossed the room with hasty steps to send for his shikari now and plan the shoot. The old man would not be asleep; it was his custom to sit late into the night gossiping and smoking over a fire with the mahout.
But before Wade could reach the door, a white object beneath one of the chairs caught his notice. He stooped and picked it up, and instantly the fragrance that arose from the delicate little handkerchief brought the vision of Claire to him. Her presence was there. He shut his eyes, drew a long breath, and remembered — remembered that he must not go away into the jungle yet; that he must stay to be at her command; and afterwards, when they were married, they could go together. But would it be the same thing? could it ever be the same thing again with a woman at his side to guard and consider, when his own life would have to be thought of and preserved for her sake?
He stood with the scrap of lace-edged cambric in his hand, and held his thoughts resolutely to the future with Claire. Intensely he loved her and desired to keep her with him. No, he did not wish that things were different. It was only that he could have wished that she had never come back to wake his passions, to madden him with her beauty, to wrest from him, through his senses, his ‘free solitude.’
Then, with a rush of remorse, he told himself how wonderful a thing it was that she could care for him, consent to be his wife, consent to live with him in comparative seclusion at Gulâban. And he raised the little handkerchief to his lips with a lover’s reverence.
‘By God!’ he whispered, ‘she shall never regret it.’
Katherine Rolland’s second Christmas day at Chandlerpore was very unlike her first. No making of special toilettes, no expedition to Siwâla Church in the landau, no noisy party in the evening. It was all quite different. Myra and Tiddoo were gone; Mathew Chandler might also have been absent, for all the difference his poor, mindless presence made to the house; his wife now lived in her bedroom, growing daily more querulous, less able to exert either mind or body; and, most unexpected happening of all, Claire Belvigne was a visitor in the house.
Upon Katherine, this time, devolved the duty of receiving the tenants and subordinates when they arrived to salaam and make offerings, since Mrs. Chandler could not be induced to show herself, and Miss Pathana was enjoying a gay week in Siwâla as the guest of the Minas family, an arrangement that afforded infinite relief to Katherine. From the hour of Myra’s departure Josephine had aspired to the position of daughter of the house, though certainly without the smallest encouragement from her sister. Still, she contrived to cause endless trouble and vexation with her contradictory orders to the servants, her jealous interference, and her bad temper. Moreover, she and Lady Belvigne were enemies declared, and both derived a certain malicious pleasure from their efforts to annoy and provoke one another. Active warfare was only averted by the tact and diplomacy of Katherine; but had Mrs. Chandler not been amiably inclined towards the visitor, Claire must have left the house.
As it was, the poor, joyless hostess found a dreary satisfaction in the knowledge that she was actually entertaining ‘such a grand,’ and she rejected, with fretful indignation, the proposal that Lady Belvigne should remain as a paying guest. Was she not the friend and relative of dear Miss Rolland? and so welcome to free quarters at Chandlerpore for as long as she pleased to stay.
When Claire could be persuaded to enter the big bedroom, Mrs. Chandler would gaze with mournful admiration and curiosity at the pretty face and figure of her guest. She would furtively finger the dainty clothes, and sometimes, with diffidence, ask to examine her rings and bracelets. Miss Pathana’s complaints and grievances concerning Lady Belvigne were unheeded by her sister, who invariably received them with the same answer: ‘Well, then, why not goh — if you do not care to stay?’
This Christmas day, after the crowd of salaaming natives had dispersed and the offerings had been dealt with conscientiously by Miss Rolland according to Mrs. Chandler’s wishes, there remained nothing in prospect to enliven the monotony of the hours save Benjamin Wade’s daily visit, and perhaps the arrival of the English mail. The post was always irregular at Chandlerpore. Unless something was required from Siwâla, or anyone happened to be going in to the station, what letters there might be remained at the post-office, excepting on mail days, when Katherine herself paid for a coolie to bring them out. For her there were always papers, and often books, and she looked forward to her week’s supply of literature.
‘It’s sure to be very late, if we get it at all to-day,’ she said, and gazed down the sunlit compound, hoping to sight a skinny brown figure in a dirty turban and loin-cloth, with a small canvas bag slung across the shoulder.
The mid-day breakfast was over, and she and Claire had wandered out into the side garden that allowed a full view of the winding drive. Katherine was cutting roses, and Claire loitered idly at her side, trailing her white skirts over the short rough grass, and appropriating any blooms that pleased her before they could drop into Katherine’s basket.
She wore a belt of tiger claws set in gold — Wade’s Christmas gift. Now and then she threw a few crimson petals into the air, and watched them flutter lightly to the ground.
‘I wonder why Ben doesn’t come,’ she said disconsolately, and yawned. ‘I’m bored to death. I wish something would happen. If I go on like this much longer I shall get fat. How you can stand the life beats me altogether. The old man frightens me with his grimaces and his gibberish, and Mrs. Chandler makes me feel inclined to cut my throat, and as for that impossible Pathana woman, I could cut hers with pleasure. I shall tell Ben to-day that I’ll marry him as soon as he likes; it will amuse me turning the house at Gulâban upside down, and you must ask your friend, Mrs. Hart, to call on me, and to get the Siwâla people to call also. In the hot weather and rains I can go to a hotel up at Surima. It will all be very second-rate, but better than this. Beggars can’t be choosers, and I daren’t go home yet, with or without Ben.’
Katherine paused in her work among the roses. ‘Claire,’ she said bluntly, ‘have you ever considered that you ought to tell Ben about Major Saxon before you marry him?’
‘Why? Why ought I to tell him?’
‘Because it’s so unfair to deceive a man like Ben. He trusts you, and believes in you, and he never tells lies himself, or does anything mean or selfish.’
Claire turned to her in eager explanation. ‘But that’s just it. That’s just the kind of man you can’t tell things to. If I told Ben, he would no longer believe in me or trust me, though he would still be in love with me, and then half the attraction he has for me would be gone. It’s because he thinks me such an angel of light that I care for him, and couldn’t help accepting him — that, and also, of course, because I didn’t know what else to do.’
Katherine listened with a sore and angry heart.
‘You don’t in the least realize what harm you are doing,’ she said hopelessly, ‘or what you are taking away from Ben by marrying him. You will never be able to make him happy.’
‘Good heavens! then why should he want to marry me at all unless he thinks he will be happy? A far more important question is, can he make me happy? I’m sure if anyone is to be pitied it’s poor, darling little Claire. Here am I, driven out of London, the only place in the world I care to live in, through a sheer accident, and though I know Ben is quite the best and dearest man that ever was born, I can’t pretend that I look forward with pleasure to spending the rest of my days at Gulâban.’
The tears were not far from her eyes, and she tore a rose to pieces with vicious fingers.
‘You never seem to consider my point of view,’ she went on with resentment. ‘You don’t want me to marry Ben because you think I am not good enough for him, yet if I were to throw him over now, you’d turn round and say I had behaved badly. I know you would. But I’m not going to throw him over, because he’s so nice, and he adores me. And as I can’t go home, and I wouldn’t go on living here, even if I could, I must put up with Gulâban. I believe the season at Surima isn’t so bad, lots of soldiers go up there on leave, and I can get to know the Siwâla people to amuse me in the cold weather. But oh, Kate, when I think of that little wretch Myra Chandler having such a time at home with the Boads’ money (which would all have been spent on me if I hadn’t got into such a stupid mess), I could tear my hair out in handfuls!’
Katherine said nothing. No words could change Claire’s nature. It would be useless, also, to warn Ben of the trouble that lay before him. She could only stand aside and watch disaster creeping ever nearer to the man she loved. As she looked across the compound in distress and doubt she saw, ambling up the drive, a native figure wrapped in a coarse brown blanket that left the copper-coloured legs and arms bare. Over the coolie’s shoulder was slung a canvas bag — the English mail. Claire, welcoming the diversion, ran to meet him, and presently returned, quickly sorting a few letters and papers. The latter she thrust into Katherine’s band, ‘Nothing for you but those,’ she said; ‘I’ve got some letters, and, of course, some bills.’
She danced over the lawn towards the house, no longer petulant, bored, weary. Letters had come for her — communication with her own beloved world, a breath of the life she loved. And Katherine stood in the garden looking over her own budget, but with her thoughts far removed from papers, magazines, and reviews.
When Wade drove up, a few minutes later, he joined her on the lawn, sending his pony and cart on to the stable with the syce. They exchanged commonplace Christmas politenesses. She thanked him for the tiger-claw brooch he had sent her, of the same workmanship as his gift to Claire, assured him that the latter was delighted with her belt, and added admiring comments as to the setting and design. They compared this Christmas with last, and then came a silence, while each was observing that the other looked disturbed.
‘There is something bothering you,’ said Katherine suddenly. ‘What is the matter?’
She could not help speaking, though she dreaded to be told that he was unhappy about Claire, to be asked whether he was to be considered selfish in permitting her to throw herself away on him. More than once, when they had been alone together for a few minutes, Katherine had seen these questions in his eyes, had felt that they were on his lips. Now she looked into his face and recognised with pain that he was different. In her mind arose the vision of him riding home in the crimson sunset, seated sideways on his elephant, with bare head and open collar, and the look of divine freedom in his eyes. Now that was gone.
Through her recollections she heard him speaking, and then realized, with a sudden, curious mixture of concern and relief, that he was telling her of a very material and tangible worry in connection with his work, which accounted for his late arrival and anxious looks this Christmas Day.
‘Yes, I am awfully bothered,’ he said, and took a rose from her basket, fingering it absently, ‘and I’m glad to have a chance of speaking to you about it before I see Claire.’ A thorn pricked his hand, and he tossed the flower back with a little exclamation of impatience. ‘The fact is,’ he went on anxiously, ‘there’s small-pox in my coolie lines. I only found it out this morning, and I strongly suspect there’s a case in my own compound as well — one of the syce’s children. It’s going to be a bad outbreak, I’m afraid, but I’ve sent in to Siwâla for a Government vaccinator, and, of course, I shall do all in my power to get the disease under.’
She expressed her sympathetic concern, well understanding the gravity of the news. Labour, she knew, was always something of a difficulty in the valley, which was not thickly populated. Only a limited number of workers could be obtained locally, the rest came from distant districts — a nondescript company of low-caste Hindus with a proportion of Afghans, hill-men, and members of curious jungle tribes; and all were strongly imbued with that mysterious inclination to abscond suddenly without any apparent reason, which makes the coolie such an exasperating and difficult being to rule. Now these ignorant, frightened creatures, who regarded this hideous disease as the manifestation of a cruel deity, would have to be prevented from fleeing in a panic to spread calamity over the country. And even when kept on the estate, their superstitious aversion to hygienic measures, coupled with their appalling remedies and acts of religious propitiation, must add considerably to the death roll. All work would be at a standstill for weeks, perhaps for months, and to Ben the loss of his people meant loss of his crops. Katherine knew that before him there probably lay a time of disaster as well as of danger and anxiety. Here he would have to stay to aid his people, to give them courage and confidence, to help them to live. Her heart grew heavy for his trouble, and yet throbbed with an almost unrecognised sense of gladness that this must delay his marriage, might even in some way bring about salvation for him.
t’s just possible we may manage to stamp it out,’ he said, though without hope in his tone; ‘but, in any case, I must start a hospital of some kind for the wretched beggars. They are hard enough to manage when they are all right, but when they are ill they are almost hopeless. Unless watched very carefully they’ll go about with the disease actually on them.’ He paused, and Katherine felt sure he was considering other consequences of the misfortune.
‘What am I to do about Claire?’ he said, in a few moments, rather helplessly. ‘I can’t ask her to marry me and come to Gulâban till all this is over, and goodness knows how long it will last. Neither can I leave the place and take her away. If she stays here she may be nervous. Of course she’ll understand that under the circumstances our marriage must be put off, worse luck. But what is she to do in the meantime?’
‘Perhaps Mrs. Hart would take her,’ suggested Katherine. It was impossible to give him any definite reassurance as to how Claire would regard the change of circumstances. ‘You had better go in and talk to her about it.’
‘Yes,’ he said dejectedly. ‘It’s a nice piece of news for her on Christmas Day, isn’t it? Where shall I find her?’
‘I expect in my sitting-room. Our English mail came in a few minutes before you arrived’ — she pointed to the little heap of papers she had placed on the ground— ‘and she went in to read her letters.’
As he turned towards the house, Claire came down the veranda steps. Her face was radiant, her eyes cloudless, her lips were parted in a happy smile as she ran to meet her lover. Evidently his coming gave her a real pleasure, and thankfulness comforted Katherine’s heart, for it seemed that Claire had spoken the truth — that she did love Benjamin Wade; and even though it might be, as she had said, with only one side of her nature, at least that was the better side. Amidst her envy Katherine could find relief that Claire had not altogether deceived this man who was as far above her in mind and character as the ice-blue sky over their heads. She watched the meeting, and heard Claire’s gay words and light laughter.
‘Don’t wish me a merry Christmas, Ben. How can anyone be merry at Christmas? It’s an odious season all the world over. If you are at home you have to pay bills and buy presents, and if you are abroad you are supposed to feel sentimental about the Old Country, and exile, and all that. And I ask you, could anybody feel merry at any time in this dismal old place?’ She pointed contemptuously to the house.
‘You manage to look gay enough, at any rate, sweetheart,’ he said, and held her hands against his heart as he gazed at the exquisite face upturned to his.
Katherine saw them go hand in hand towards the house, and she herself then wandered down to old Roy Chandler’s tomb, and stood beside the silent monument, while her thoughts made desultory, unguided excursions. She wondered for how much longer the little light would burn within the mausoleum. It was to remain, she knew, only while a Chandler lived at Chandlerpore, and neither Tiddoo nor Myra were ever likely to come back. How feeble looked the little flame in the strong, clear sunshine; as feeble and frail as the lives of the two deserted old parents dragging out their days in what had once been almost a palace, and now was no more than a dilapidated, half-empty dwelling, haunted by the memories of bygone splendour.
She sat down on the narrow platform that supported the tomb, and watched the squirrels racing to and fro, and the streams of black ants that were busily excavating a crack in the masonry. For the next hour or so she might feel free to idle, for, after breakfast, Mrs. Chandler had been inclined to sleep, and, in any case, Buggoo was with her. And so Katherine sat and dreamed over the past and thought sadly of the future, and wondered what was passing between Claire and Benjamin in the bungalow.
Could she have looked into her sitting-room she would have seen Benjamin standing by the fireplace, his eyes grave, and fixed anxiously on Claire’s face.
‘Small-pox?’ she was saying. She shivered, and her eyes dilated. ‘How horrible! What do you expect of me, Ben, when you say you know I won’t fail you? Surely you don’t want me to come and help nurse your coolies and catch small-pox?’
He half laughed at the absurdity of her apprehension. ‘No, darling, of course not. I only meant I was sure you would understand how it is that our marriage must be put off for the present.’
He took her hand, but she pulled it away from him. ‘I think you ought to consider me first before you think of a lot of wretched coolies, and marry me at once and take me away out of danger.’
He was silent. For the first time the smallness of her nature stood between him and her beauty, and it seemed for the moment as though he had always known that it was there. Then, as he gazed at the slim outline of her beautiful little form, the clearness of his vision again grew blurred, and a dread arose and tore at his senses lest his untimely dilemma should cost him the possession of her. What did her nature matter against the tangible, tormenting witchery of her person? A mad impulse assailed him to leave his people to their fate, to play the renegade and so have her safe within his keeping for always. But resolutely he beat it down, for, apart from the ethics or humanity of the question, he knew that to desert his post at this crisis would mean serious financial loss to him in the future — the loss of more than he could afford to let go both for Claire’s sake and his own.
‘Dear, I can’t run away like that. I must stay and look after everything myself, I must really. You know very well that I am not considering the coolies before you; but there are times when a man can’t give way to a woman’s wishes, however much he loves her — and God knows how I love you — without losing his honour and shirking his duty. Supposing I were a soldier, Claire, you wouldn’t have me leave my regiment in times of danger for your sake, would you?’ He felt as though he were arguing with a child.
She shook her head impatiently. ‘Unfortunately you are not a soldier, and it isn’t the same thing at all, and I was going to ask you to-day — Christmas Day, too — to let us be married as soon as you liked.’
He felt in despair. ‘But I can’t take you to Gulâban now,’ he said helplessly.
‘No; but I tell you what you could do’ — she drew nearer to him, looking up into his eyes — ’you could take me home, Ben!’
‘Darling, I couldn’t!’ he answered in keen distress. ‘I have told you — I have tried so hard to explain —’
She looked away from him, and spoke slowly with a forlorn expression on her face. ‘Well, then, I suppose I shall have to go by myself; I couldn’t stay here with small-pox raging all round me. I should get it from sheer fright.’
‘Couldn’t you go and stay in Siwâla,’ he argued. ‘Katherine thought Mrs. Hart might take you in.’
She appeared to hesitate before she turned to him with a suppliant air.
‘I would so much rather go home, Ben; I should hate staying in Siwâla with Mrs. Hart. We shouldn’t have such a very long separation, should we? How long does small-pox last? You could follow me home directly you were able to get away, and I would have got my clothes and we could be married the minute you landed. We might go to Paris for our honeymoon. Wouldn’t that be lovely? Better than a forest bungalow out in the jungle!’ She twirled round, and one of her little shoes came off and flew to the other side of the room. He fetched it and held it while she put it on again, steadying herself by his shoulder. ‘You won’t make difficulties, will you, Ben? And don’t let Katherine either. I want to go home.’
He had not answered yet; his lips were compressed and his eyebrows drawn together. She rattled on, stamping her foot into the slipper:
‘I could catch the mail steamer next week. You could telegraph for my passage, couldn’t you, Ben? I feel I really must go, quite as much as you feel you must stay. I dare say I am a coward, but I am so afraid of small-pox, and I don’t want to go to Mrs. Hart, who, I am sure, would hate it as much as I should. It’s much the most sensible plan for me to go home till you can join me. Let us call Katherine and hear what she says.’
Claire moved towards the window, but he checked her as she passed him.
‘Look at me, Claire,’ he said in desperation: ‘look at me and tell me the truth; are you going away only to write and throw me over as you did before? If so, how can I let you go?’
His doubt seemed to arouse in her no indignation.
‘And how could you prevent me going, dear old Benjamin the Ruler?’ she laughed, and stood on tiptoe to kiss his chin.
He caught her to him, but she slipped from his arms and ran out into the veranda. Katherine was coming slowly up the steps and Claire hurried her into the sitting-room without explanation; then ranged herself alongside Wade, her hands clasped behind her back.
‘We want your advice, Kate,’ she said solemnly. ‘To begin with, I asked Ben to marry me at once and take me home till this small-pox scare is over.’
Katherine looked at her in quick surprise.
‘But he says he won’t do it,’ went on Claire, ‘and I think it’s exceedingly unkind and disagreeable of him!’
‘How can I do it? You know it’s impossible?’ he appealed to Katherine.
‘Of course it’s impossible as things are now,’ she said with decision, ‘and you have no right to ask it of him, Claire!’
‘So I am going home alone,’ continued Claire imperturbably, ‘and he will follow me directly he can get away, and we are going to Paris for our honeymoon. Now, don’t you think —’
‘But —’ interrupted Katherine, bewildered, and checked herself only in time.
Claire’s face was inscrutable. ‘It’s much the most reasonable arrangement, I am sure,’ she said with pleasant satisfaction.
The other two stood silent, the man with instinctive doubt, the woman with puzzled suspicion and distrust.
‘Well, we need not argue or fuss,’ said Claire cheerfully. ‘As Ben can’t come with me he can’t, and is there anything so very terrible in my wanting to go home ahead of him? Don’t look so cross, both of you — this dreary old house, and the smallpox, and the upset of our plans, is all quite depressing enough without making it worse.’ She gave herself a little shake. ‘Take me for a drive, Ben a long drive in the sunshine all through Siwâla bazaar and along the Mall, and let us see what life there is to be seen.’
‘I’m very sorry I can’t, Claire,’ he said ruefully; ‘I must go back and see what the native doctor is doing, and what arrangements I shall have to make —’
‘There you are!’ she sighed, with ostentatious martyrdom. ‘Coolies count before Claire! Somehow that sounds rather neat, doesn’t it?’ She put her head on one side and smiled, first at Wade and then at Katherine, and the latter felt inclined to beat her.
‘I might come back and take you later,’ said Wade patiently, ‘but I’ve got a busy afternoon getting all my people vaccinated.’
‘Straight from all those small-pox people? No, thank you. I should catch it and be disfigured for life!’
Involuntarily Wade and Katherine exchanged a despairing glance. Evidently Claire was not going to make the situation easy for her future husband. He took up his hat with an air of finality.
‘Well, I must go and be vaccinated myself to start with,’ he said lightly; ‘the fellow will be waiting for me, and unless I set the example the natives won’t submit to it. You’d better be on the safe side and ask Hart to come out and operate on this establishment.’
‘Write to him at once, Kate!’ ordered Claire.
‘Good-bye, then, for the present. I’ll come back for a bit after dinner.’ He turned to Claire. ‘You needn’t be nervous, darling. Surely you can trust me to take every precaution before I come near you’ — for a moment he paused — ‘and we must get your plans fixed up this evening if you want to start off home at once.’
‘Oh yes!’ she agreed cheerfully, and held up her face to him. Good-bye, Ben.’
He strained her close, then let her go abruptly, and left the room.
Katherine stood at the window till the beat of his horse’s hoofs had ceased, and all the time Claire remained silent. She had thrown herself into a chair, and when Katherine confronted her was re-reading one of her English letters. From it she looked up with mischievous amusement in her eyes.
‘I was wondering how much longer you would be able to hold out,’ she said, before Katherine could speak. You must be simply aching with curiosity.’
‘I can’t understand you at all,’ the other spoke with suppressed impatience; ‘only this morning it was impossible for you to go home with or without Ben, and now —’
‘Now I am going home by the first mail steamer I can catch, because this letter’ — she waved the sheet in the air — ‘contains a piece of news that makes all the difference. Mrs. Saxon is dead, and nothing could possibly have been more opportune than this small-pox of Ben’s! It gives me such a reasonable excuse for getting away. Ben will follow me, and once I have got him home I shall make him sell Gulâban. The Rajah would give him a fancy price for the property; Ben told me so himself one day when he was explaining all he had done to improve the place and increase its value. With that money and my income we could get along all right at home. Some of my rich friends would get him on to companies, and we could dine out every night of our lives — people who really mean business in London need never dine at home. I shan’t let him come back to India. I am sure any doctor would say I ought not to live out here.’
‘You heartless little fiend!’ burst out Katherine, in helpless anger.
‘Why? Because I am glad Mrs. Saxon is dead? How can I help being glad when it means that I can go home now without any danger? I wonder what she died of?’ Claire looked again at the letter.
‘Mrs. Larks gives no particulars: but, then, she did not know the Saxons very well. I wonder how much she has left Arthur — I wonder if he will write to me himself now —’
‘Be quiet, Claire!’ said Katherine sharply, ‘and listen to me for a few moments. You say when you have got Ben home you will make him sell Gulâban. I want you to try, at least, to understand what a cruel thing you would be doing. Ben is a man who must have freedom, and space, and a life close to nature. London — your kind of existence there — would be prison to him, he would be utterly miserable. I believe it would kill him. His happiness lies in your hands; if you really love him, Claire, you will not take it from him. Until you came back to him he was absolutely happy and contented. You deliberately set yourself to make him fall in love with you; I watched you do it, and I knew nothing I could say would stop you. I don’t ask you to give him up now, because he loves you and he wants to marry you, and it would be awful to him to lose you but when he goes home to you, don’t, don’t make him stay there — I can’t bear to think of it — I — she put her hands before her face.
Claire lay back in her chair with Mrs. Larks’ letter in her lap. ‘And what about me?’ she inquired. I love life and gaiety and people, and I hate loneliness, and nature, and Gulâban, and the jungle, and the long hours. What about me?’
‘You?’ cried Katherine fiercely, losing her self-control. ‘What do your miserable little tastes matter as long as he can keep a shred of his old happy life? Don’t you care for him enough to make any sacrifice for his sake? But how can you understand him with your selfishness, and your silly vanity, and your hard little heart?’
‘Ah!’ Claire leaned forward, and looked up into Katherine’s face, her eyes alight with tenacity and triumph, and a cunning comprehension. I see!’ she said slowly and distinctly, but remember he is mine — not yours — and whatever happens I am going to keep him!’
Claire’s passage was secured by telegram, and she took advantage of a slightly inflamed arm to leave all her packing, and mending, and voyage preparations to Katherine, whose vaccination, to her own great relief, did not trouble her at all. Mrs. Chandler obstinately refused the precaution, and could not be persuaded to insist upon it for the servants and other inmates of the house. ‘If they are going to have the sickness, they will have it,’ was all she would say.
Wade himself took Claire to the distant railway-station, sparing a valuable twenty-four hours to do so. His visits to Chandlerpore were of necessity few and hurried during Claire’s last days, but this had no depressing effect upon her. She behaved like an excited child anticipating a birthday treat, and incessantly she talked to Katherine of what she should do when she arrived in London; discussed shops, dressmakers, and details of her prospective trousseau; planned surprise visits to her friends with the great news of her approaching second marriage; looked forward to all that was denied her in Siwâla Valley — theatres, dinner-parties, suppers, and days of irresponsible pleasure, also electric light and coal fires, English servants, and bathrooms with hot and cold water taps. But she seldom touched on the further future, and never again referred to the sale of Gulâban, or to what had passed between herself and Katherine on the subject in the sitting-room on Christmas Day. Indeed, from her manner she might have forgotten the episode completely, though Katherine knew very well that she was merely avoiding it with a good deal of skill, for Claire preferred to be on good terms with those about her, not so much from a desire to please as for the sake of her own comfort.
She left Chandlerpore in the most sparkling of spirits, and wished Katherine good-bye as though they were to meet again next week, then drove off with Ben in the dog-cart to Siwâla, waving and kissing her hand, and calling nonsense over her shoulder till distance muffled the words. To Mrs.Chandler she had bidden a sweet and gracious farewell, and brought the poor lady a gleam of pleasure by the gift of a torquoise ring that was too large for her own finger. With Miss Pathana, who returned from Siwâla the evening before, she had parted on terms almost of friendship, bestowing upon her late antagonist various odds and ends of millinery which which were accepted greedily and without pride.
Miss Pathana was privately much gratified by Claire’s gifts, as well as by her pleasant words. She repeated the latter to Katherine next morning while they watched the horses eating their grain out of buckets brought to the foot of the veranda steps.
‘So you see,’ concluded Josephine with satisfaction, ‘she got to know how I was not such a silly as she thought. People with all same coloured hair have characters alike, and should not be enemies. I nearly told her something because she was so friendly and familiar, but I thought, “No, I will not quite forgive her nasty ways and looks.” So I was quiet about it. But if you want to hear what it is, I will tell you.’
Miss Pathana’s manner held a genuine importance, and Katherine regarded her with some surprise, and accepted the offer of the news in an interested spirit.
‘Well, then, I am engaged to be married! Oh, you need not look as if you wanted to say, “What, at last?”’
Poor Katherine was unconscious that she had conveyed such an impression, but it was futile to say so. She uttered congratulations, and waited for further information.
‘It is all my own fault that I have never been married before, long ago, and you know that. There were plenty of lovers before you came here, and since then how about Frank Haynes, who wrote me notes before he was called away to live in England? I have kept them all. And Mr. Growse, who I have two-three times humiliated? And,’ lowering her voice, ‘though, perhaps, now it is not fair to tell, Benjamin Wade.’
She stared defensively at Katherine, so making it impossible for the other to yield to the fit of laughter that beset her.
‘Is it Frank Haynes, then, or Mr. Growse?’ she inquired in a voice that she strove to keep steady. I conclude it must be one or the other since Mr. Wade has already consoled himself.’
‘It is neither,’ cried Miss Pathana in triumph. ‘It is Mr. Fernandez.’
Mr. Fernandez!’ echoed Katherine. She had only met the elderly widower once, at the Christmas dinner party, and could recollect nothing but a black moustache, obviously dyed, that curved and drooped like that of a Chinaman.
‘Yes, a man of sensible age. Flossie is not pleased, but that is no matter. She can get married and go away. The poor man has always admired me, but I only said yes the other day just before I was leaving Siwâla.’
Katherine repeated her congratulations. ‘Have you told Mrs. Chandler yet?’ she asked.
‘No, but I am going to do it just now, so you must keep out of the way, and I shall urge and advise her to come and live with me when I am married, and leave this place where all is so dull. She would get well among her own people in Siwâla with a little fun and frolic.’
‘Would she consent to leave Chandlerpore as long as she believes Tiddoo to be alive? And even if she wished to go, how could she leave Mr. Chandler alone?’
‘He would come too,’ said Josephine easily; there will be enough room for him.’ Then she added with quick significance, But not for more.’
Katherine understood, and as the horses were led away, leaving circles of spilt grain where the buckets had rested, she watched Miss Pathana disappear into the house bound for Mrs. Chandler’s bedroom, and then betook herself slowly down the drive. By the white pillars she paused, thoughtful and abstracted, speculating as to what the future would hold for her should the second Mrs. Fernandez succeed in persuading Mrs. Chandler to move into Siwâla. As she stood and deliberated on this new possibility, the curious, ark-like vehicle belonging to Padre Borrodale came rumbling down the dusty road. The old man was seated inside it, and when he saw Katherine he bade the driver stop the horse, and proceeded to clamber down the two high steps to speak with her.
He raised his battered sun hat. ‘Good-morning, Miss Rolland. How are you all at Chandlerpore?’
They shook hands. ‘Mr. and Mrs. Chandler are much the same, and our guest left us yesterday.’
As Katherine spoke she noted how worn and thin looked the kindly, spiritual old face, and that the deep-set blue eyes were very weary.
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I know Lady Belvigne has gone. Wade wrote to me that he was taking her to the railway-station himself; and I have been over at Gulâban since yesterday afternoon looking to things for him. It would not have been wise to leave the place without a European on the spot. Natives lose confidence so quickly. It’s a sad business this outbreak of such a deadly disease. I have only known one as bad during all the years I have lived in the Valley. My little hospital is full, and patients are lying outside round the walls under temporary shelters of thatch, and all day long they come crowding to the dispensary, poor souls!’
‘And Mrs. Borrodale?’ asked Katherine in anxious sympathy.
‘She keeps well, thank God, but the work is trying her, for all she is so brave and enduring. I must hurry back now that she may get a rest. It is a busy life for an elderly woman, Miss Rolland, even at ordinary times. She helps me with the school and the converts, and those in trouble and need and sickness, as well as with our garden. And she does so much herself in our little household, for our means are small, and there is not much left after we have spared what we can for our flock. I often wish,’ he added with a wistful sigh, ‘that we had someone young and energetic and strong to help us. But there are so few mission workers in India compared with all that is waiting to be done.’
He turned with a gentle salutation, and got into his quaint conveyance again, and, as it disappeared in a haze of dust, there came to Katherine the idea of a future for herself that might be full of usefulness and peace. If Mrs. Chandler were to move from Chandlerpore, why should not she offer her free services to this zealous overworked couple? They were gentlefolk, they were kind, they were neither narrow-minded nor intolerant, and they needed assistance very sorely in their strenuous, earnest old age. It would be an existence of interest and useful service — a life, too, of inward tranquillity and satisfaction. The prospect of England in the future she could not contemplate; she craved to stay in the sun, in the rose-scented Valley — the Valley that had cast its spell upon her, where she had met, and loved, Benjamin Wade.
With the thought of Ben her heart again grew despondent, and her mind turned with sad misgiving to the days when he should be disillusioned as to Claire’s true self; when, having sold Gulâban and left the Valley for his wife’s sake, he should find himself in mental desolation, leading a life that was unsuited to his nature, in an atmosphere and surroundings that he loathed. But there was nothing she could do, because Ben was in love with Claire, who could cajole him into promising her anything that did not affect his sense of duty. His desire was to make her happy, and his own inclinations would count for nothing with him against her wishes.
‘I am powerless; I cannot help him,’ she murmured, and pressed her hands together as the tears burned her eyes. And following on the words came a desperate longing to see him, to hear him speak, to be sure that he was again in the Valley — at least for the present.
She looked at her watch. Wade’s intention, she knew, had been to travel back by night, after seeing Claire into the train, and to drive straight out from Siwâla after an early breakfast with Mr. Growse. If she walked down the road as far as Gulâban she might see him before he turned in at his own gate. The exercise calmed her as she passed rapidly along the uneven track, and when she reached the entrance to Wade’s compound she went on, for in the dust were yet no fresh wheel-marks from the direction of Siwâla.
A few minutes later she saw him, weary and haggard-looking, coming towards her in his dog-cart. He pulled up, surprised.
‘I thought I might meet you if I came this way,’ she explained simply. ‘How did Claire go off?’
He fastened the reins into the clip on the splashboard, and in a moment was at her side. The syce led the pony on towards the bungalow.
‘Oh, why did you get down?’ she expostulated. ‘You must be so tired and want to get home badly. I can see you later, to-morrow, any time.’
‘I should like to stretch my legs,’ he answered, and they moved on together down the rough road in the crystal, clear sunshine. ‘Claire went off all right, but I did hate letting her go alone. She cried like a child; I could hardly bear it. Well, I hope it won’t be very long before I can go and fetch her; but I’m afraid I’ve got a bad time before me first. The sickness has spread to the villages round about, and, of course, labour isn’t to be had at any price. Half my own people are down, and the rest won’t stir out of their quarters. It hasn’t got into the Chandlerpore compound yet, has it?’
‘Not that I know of. I try to take every precaution, but you know what native servants are. Their callousness to danger of that kind is extraordinary. They don’t seem to realize that one can guard against infection, and Mrs. Chandler and Miss Pathana are just as bad.’
‘You see, to natives it’s a visitation of the smallpox goddess Sitala, “she that loves the cool.” They call her that, I suppose, because the poor wretches afflicted by her are so burned up with fever. The propitiation and exorcising that goes on in my coolie lines is almost beyond belief; and they’ll throw cold water over a patient if they get half a chance. I shan’t be surprised to find any number of fresh deaths, unless dear old Padre Borrodale was able to come over and look after things for me; but I expect he was far too busy himself.’
‘He did come over yesterday afternoon, and only returned this morning. I met him on the road a little while ago. He said he had left Mrs. Borrodale in charge of the mission-house, and was hurrying back to relieve her.’
‘Bless them! They are saints on earth!’
‘They are indeed, and I only wish they had somebody to help them with their work and make it a little lighter for them.’ She paused, and glanced at him with a certain natural diffidence. ‘Do you think I could be of any use to them some day?’ she asked on an impulse.
He turned and met her eyes. ‘You! Why? Are you going to leave Chandlerpore?’
She told him of Josephine Pathana’s approaching marriage with Mr. Fernandez, and of the declared intention of persuading Mrs. Chandler to live with them at Siwâla. And I believe it would really be a good thing,’ continued Katherine. It could make no difference to the poor old man, who is growing more imbecile every day; only I can’t believe myself that Mrs. Chandler will move as long as she thinks there is the faintest chance of Tiddoo’s return.’
He pondered. ‘Well, I had hoped, if a change ever came, that you might like to live with Claire and me at Gulâban.’
She winced, then controlled herself bravely. ‘You are very kind, and I do appreciate it, but I couldn’t do that. I can’t live idle, and I don’t want to work at home. I — I have a great wish to stay in the Valley.’
‘Ah!’ he smiled. ‘The Valley has bewitched you too, has she? Then you can understand how I love her. How I should hate to be away for long out of sight of the mountains!’
‘Yes,’ she said softly, ‘I think I do understand.’
And all the time she knew, but could not tell him, that when he left Siwâla Valley ‘to fetch Claire’ he would probably have looked his last on the Himalayas.
To Katherine the weeks that followed resembled a long, dull dream, that echoed with never-ending plans and consultations regarding Miss Pathana’s wedding, and was haunted by the ponderous form of Mr. Fernandez. The betrothed pair chose to conduct their courtship at Chandlerpore, probably because there they were free from the espionage of the resentful Flossie, and they calmly appropriated Miss Rolland’s sitting-room for the purpose.
Mrs. Chandler revived wonderfully with the excitement of her sister’s engagement, and actually rose from her bed to sit in a sunny veranda and examine piles of patterns, give foolish advice, and write out recipes for the wedding cake.
Katherine received repeated instructions as to the careful weighment of the ingredients, for the cake was to be Mrs. Chandler’s contribution to the festivities, though the wedding was to take place from the house of the Minas family, who were proudly ‘doing all.’ The date was fixed for the end of February, and the honeymoon was to be spent at Cawnpore, where Mr. Fernandez had so many friends and relations.
Myra’s letters proved an additional tonic to Mrs. Chandler, who read them repeatedly, and was never tired of talking them over. They also interested Katherine from a psychological as well as an affectionate standpoint. The early ones were full of new impressions — the first sight of a train, then the sea, and the steamer, and the rush across the Continent from Marseilles; the bewilderment of London, the crowds, the shops, the size of the horses, the extra-ordinary contrast, at every turn, with Indian life.
Now this note of wonder was ceasing. Myra’s last letter was concerned with people, with descriptions of clothes, and entertainments. She had sung at a party given by Mrs. Boad, and had made a great success; she was to be presented at Court this season; already she had invitations for weeks ahead.
Mrs. Boad was kinder to her than she could ever describe, and she was so happy she could hardly believe she was alive. There was no hint of home-sickness, no mention of even a remote return to Chandlerpore; and Katherine felt sure that it would be a long time before Myra set foot in India again, if she ever came back at all.
To Wade the days went by in a ceaseless strain of war with disease and death, and hard endeavour to save himself from greater financial loss than was inevitable. His temporary hospital was always full, and stricken creatures, men, women, and children, masses of confluent small-pox, continued to crawl in from distant as well as from neighbouring villages for remedies and care — generally too late for either to be of any value. The Borrodales were just as severely occupied. Throughout the day and night their little dispensary was thronged, and they worked hard for their helpless jungle folk, as did Wade for his own tenants and labourers, (and for those, too, who had no real claim on him), destroying with fire the heaps of dirt and rags that festered the deadly germs, disinfecting, isolating where possible, burying and burning the dead, feeding the convalescent, sustaining the courage and confidence of those who had yet escaped the sickness.
Occasionally Wade saw Katherine Rolland, and her quiet cheerfulness was a relief to him. She made him laugh over the doings and sayings of Miss Pathana and Mr. Fernandez, talked to him of books and reviews, and listened to the details of his difficulties with sympathetic comprehension, till, in some subtle manner, they seemed to lighten in her presence. Sometimes he read her Claire’s letters — short, gay notes filled with busy doings, generally enclosing something intended to compensate for their brevity — a pressed flower, cuttings from a newspaper, a programme, a menu; but the letters always concluded with the same question: ‘When are you coming home?’
‘You see,’ he said one evening, as he put Claire’s latest letter back into his breast-pocket, ‘she does seem to want me rather, doesn’t she?’ and he smiled, half deprecatingly, at Katherine, who threw a cordial inflection into her answer: ‘Indeed she does!’
It was within a few days of the Pathana-Fernandez wedding, and, as usual, the happy pair were ‘holding up’ Katherine’s sitting-room, so that she and Wade had betaken themselves to the front veranda.
The dogs had walked over to Chandlerpore with their master, and Jim and Tess and Begorrah were already quivering to be off again across country, while Tummy sat and blinked in serene contentment on the edge of Katherine’s skirt. He did not feel so energetic as the other three after their run; Mrs. Boad’s collar had begun even now to feel a little tight for him.
Sunset was near, but the sharp breath of winter was gone, and the air was balmy with the coming of spring. The cold weather rains had been sufficient, though light, and the Valley was entering on her season of supremest beauty. Soon she would be pink and white with blossom, and fragrant with new-born scents. Already the faint, clean smell of wild flowers was everywhere, and the sky had deepened its glorious blue. Colour streaked the garden, pots of primroses and violets bordered the veranda, and tender green verdure was creeping over the compound.
‘But when I shall be able to get away heaven only knows,’ said Wade. The epidemic is lessening certainly — another fortnight or three weeks ought to see it well under — but then how am I going to manage about the spring crops? In an ordinary year it would be difficult enough for me to get away at this season. Do you think Claire will understand? Will you write to her and explain how I am placed, and assure her I am coming the very first moment I can get away?’ He was clearly uneasy as to how Claire would accept his excuses.
‘Certainly I will,’ promised Katherine, as she noted, with solicitude, the look of perplexity on his face.
He rose presently with reluctance. ‘If I don’t go now I shan’t be able to see my way home,’ he said; and the dogs are such a nuisance in the dusk, rushing after jackals and getting lost in the jungle. Will you come with me as far as the gate?’
They strolled down the drive, and stood talking idly at the entrance before they parted, and, as Katherine returned to the house alone, the sun went down, and the soft pink light began to fade rapidly.
She passed under the portico, and saw Rattan standing on the steps waiting for her.
The sahib is very restless,’ he told her with concern; he will not sleep or be still, and he is making much trouble again about the hole in the floor.’
Of late Mr. Chandler had apparently forgotten the hole, and allowed it to be covered up without protest; but now, when Katherine entered his room, she found him on his knees beside it, his face flushed a dull red, his sunken eyes wild. He was groping, muttering, trembling. Rattan looked anxiously to the miss-sahib for instructions, but Katherine held up her hand; she thought it wiser for the moment not to disturb the old man. The lamps had just been lit, and she waited and watched in silence, feeling horribly reminded of her first night at Chandlerpore when she had peered round the curtain at exactly the same scene. Hardly did she dare to raise her eyes to the dusty mirror opposite for fear she should see reflected in it a yellow face with dull, prominent black eyes, and loose, purple lips. Involuntarily she started in alarm as the word ‘Tiddoo’ rang through the room.
Old Mr. Chandler had risen to his feet, and was shambling to the great armchair that stood beneath Roy Chandler’s sword and portrait. Slowly and with difficulty he seated himself, and, looking up at the pictures of his grandfather and grandmother, salaamed to them with reverence. Then he motioned to Rattan to stand behind his chair, and, with his palms on his knees and his head held high, said in English, clearly, and with careful pronunciation,
‘Tiddoo-sahib is coming,’ and paused as though he waited for the entry of a visitor.
There was a weird silence. Katherine almost expected to hear footsteps in the veranda, to see the door open and Tiddoo himself standing on the threshold. She held her breath, but a moment later the old man’s chin had dropped upon his chest, the dull look of imbecility had returned to the sunken eyes, the claw-like fingers plucked at the shabby dressing. gown, and a foolish, quavering voice mumbled the familiar question: ‘Tiddoo -sahib — when will he come?’
‘But now is he coming, Huzoor!’ said Rattan tenderly; and he placed a pillow at the old man’s back, and a footstool beneath his feet, and gently laid him back to sleep. There he lay below his famous ancestor’s picture with half-closed eyes and tremulous, open mouth; and Katherine, oppressed with a great pity, turned from the painful sight and went out into the veranda to feel the cool air of evening on her face and hands after the close, unwholesome atmosphere of Mr. Chandler’s room.
She came out there again after dinner that night, while Miss Pathana and Mr. Fernandez were bidding each other a lengthy farewell in the sitting-room, and sat in the soft darkness scarcely thinking, unconscious of how the time went by till she was roused by the sound of wheels and saw lights coming up the drive. At first she concluded that it was the carriage for Mr. Fernandez, but then remembered that he had sent his conveyance to the Chandlerpore stables till he should want it. The disturbing possibility sprang up in her mind that perhaps it was, indeed, Tiddoo come back! — that poor old Mr. Chandler’s crazy brain might have perceived his approach with the same supernatural instinct with which the dying are said sometimes to look into the future; and she stood, nervous and expectant, on the steps, controlling the quickened beat of her pulses.
A dog-cart drew up before the veranda, and in the halo of light cast by the lamps she saw Benjamin Wade descend to the ground with something held under his arm.
‘He saw her at once. Are you alone?’ he asked quickly in a low voice.
‘Yes — is anything the matter? Why have you come back?’
Silently he led the way into the gloomy hall that, like the rest of the house, was so ill-lighted, then looked around with caution.
‘Can Mrs. Chandler hear?’ he whispered.
‘No. Her room is at the further end, and she is asleep.’
Just then Mr. Chandler’s querulous voice sounded beyond the curtained doorway on their left. He was crying peevishly.
‘Tiddoo-sahib,’ he whimpered; when will he come, when will he come back?’
Wade placed something down on the table. In a sense, he said slowly, ‘Tiddoo has come back.’
‘Oh!’ gasped Katherine; for before her on the round, rickety table lay a rusty cash-box, and a limp ragged object that she knew had once been Tiddoo’s orange-coloured jockey-cap.
Before Wade could give any explanation Mr. Fernandez and Miss Pathana appeared in the hall.
‘Hullo! what is this?’ they inquired, looking from Wade to Katherine, and then at the things that lay on the table. Miss Pathana picked up the jockey cap.
‘Oh my!’ she screamed in alarmed wonder; ‘this is Tiddoo’s!’
‘Hush! hush!’ implored Katherine, and ran softly to Mrs. Chandler’s door, where she listened for a moment; but inside all was quiet, and she returned to the group by the table with relief on her face.
Wade had taken the cap from Josephine’s fastidious fingers, and laid it by the cash-box. ‘Yes,’ he said quietly; it is Tiddoo’s. When I got back to Gulâban this evening I found I had lost Tummy, one of the dogs.’ The absurdity of the name struck him uncomfortably in connection with the miserable circumstances. As it was nearly dark I went back with a lantern and some men to look for him. For a long time we heard him crying, but couldn’t make out where the sound came from, and at last we discovered he had fallen down a dry well and broken his leg. In getting him out we found — those.’ He pointed to the cash-box and cap.
‘Is there anything inside the box?’ inquired Mr. Fernandez, with interested importance.
‘Yes, but it is locked.’
‘Oh, my!’ — Josephine endeavoured to subdue her voice —’then there was money in that hole, and Tiddoo did take it! and he fell down the well running away, and could not get out — h’n?’
‘That is what must have happened, I am afraid,’ said Wade gravely.
‘Oh!’ — Miss Pathana put both hands to her ears — ‘he must have been days and days, and calling and climbing, and nobody heard. Oh, unluckee Tiddoo!’
She fell weeping upon the breast of Mr. Fernandez, who stroked her hair, and addressed Wade over her head in a thick, jerky voice.
‘Was there nothing else found besides thee dog, and thee box, and thee cap?’
‘I think,’ said Wade, with a quick glance at the two women, ‘it would be as well if I could speak to you alone.’
‘Now, my dear,’ said Mr. Fernandez to his Josephine, ‘you are so overcome. Bettah go with Miss Rolland and leave me with Mr. Wade to hear all. Remember, now I am one of the familee as you’re engaged, and I must take all arrangement on my head, as there is no man of Chandler.’
He escorted his betrothed tenderly to the curtain that hid the sitting-room door, and Katherine followed her.
‘Well, now the ladies are away, so we can speak,’ said Mr. Fernandez, when he and Wade were alone together.
‘There is not much more to tell, only the details are rather gruesome. There is no doubt that Tiddoo robbed his father. Of course you have heard what happened after the races last year?’
Mr. Fernandez rolled his eyes and grunted assent.
‘And in bolting with the money he fell into one of those blind wells. He must have meant to reach Siwâla by a short cut across country, poor wretch! It makes me shiver to think of his end. We found a few bones, and some rags of clothing and bits of leather — all that the rats had left of him. There seems to be some cash in the box, but the bulk of the money must be in paper. I think you will agree with me that what is left of poor Tiddoo had better remain where it is, and we can tell his mother that nothing was found but the cap and the scraps of clothing?’
The other considered for a moment, and they could hear Mr. Chandler sobbing in his room: ‘Tiddoo-sahib! when will he come?’
‘Yess,’ said Mr. Fernandez presently with thoughtful deliberation, ‘yess, that will be best, and I will undertake to break the sad news to Mrs. Chandler. I foresee there will be much for me to do. As sole male representative it will be my duty to arrange matters here. Miss Rolland she is hushiar — I mean,’ correcting himself, ‘she is clever, capable, you know. But, after all, she is a woman, not a man. H’n?’
Wade nodded acquiescence. ‘I will leave it all to you, and I am sure you will do what is most advisable,’ he said; then shook hands with the portly and well-meaning gentleman, and hurried back to his waiting dog-cart feeling that Mr. Fernandez was really a god-send to Chandlerpore. If Mrs. Chandler could now be induced to leave the place, her brother-in-law would cheerfully, with patriarchal Asiatic instinct, give a home to her and the afflicted old man.
He would settle up the estate, perhaps let or sell the property, provide from the proceeds for the numerous offshoots of the family, and set Katherine free to order her life as she pleased.
He imagined Katherine helping the Borrodales.
Lately, he knew, she had touched on the subject to the old couple, and the possibility had been received by them with grateful pleasure. The vision pleased him — of Katherine, calm and content, teaching hope and faith to the idol-ridden jungle-folk, expanding the primitive minds of the little children, aiding and consoling the simple, helpless peasants in their troubles. And then she had told him how she loved the Valley. Bless her for that, and for all the sweet charity of her nature!
Yes, Mr. Fernandez might be officious, consequential, and unpleasant to look upon, but at this crisis of the Chandler affairs he proved himself a veritable providence. The wedding was postponed for a week, and he assumed the position of head of the family. He took possession of the cash-box, and performed the unpleasant duty of acquainting Mrs. Chandler with the tragic solution of Tiddoo’s disappearance — which he did with extraordinary words and seven-leagued sentences. At the same time he firmly decreed that the discovery of the money should be altogether withheld from her.
‘She will tink that he fell in the well on his way home from Yusuf Khan’s house,’ he explained, and nobody opposed his decision.
Then gradually he accustomed her to the idea of a move to Siwâla when he and his bride should have returned from their honeymoon, and promptly set about making preliminary arrangements for the change.
Mrs. Chandler bore the news better than anyone had anticipated. Indeed, in a way, it seemed to bring her a curious relief; and Katherine understood intuitively that she was thinking of the empty hole in the floor of ‘Matyew’s’ room, and had found a vast comfort in the feeling that Tiddoo’s memory would now be stainless. But she said little until Josephine and Mr. Fernandez had finally departed for Siwâla the day before their wedding, and that night she suddenly sat upright in her bed and called for Katherine.
‘Now that all is quiet, and they have done talking and gone away to be married, I will tell you what is in my mind, Miss Rolland dear,’ she said, and put out her hand for her friend to take. ‘I knew my dream was true,’ she went on in a singsong voice, ‘when I saw Tiddoo climbing, climbing up the side of the pit, and I knew Buggoo was right, and I should not have hoped or believed any longer; and yet, can I say that I really did hope? I do not know. I was afraid — so afraid — about that hole in the floor.’ She lowered her voice to a whisper. ‘But you know, you understand, Miss Rolland dear, that now my Tiddoo has been found and no money — nothing to cause blame — I feel I can get strong and well again. Only not here — not here! Everything would remind me, and there is poor Matyew always asking, “Tiddoo-sahib! when will he come?” Harree Fernandez he says, “Live in Siwâla,” and I feel it would be best ting. Let this old place fall down! Let it go to rack and ruin! It has always been unluckee! It has always been a scene of trouble since old Roy Chandler died. I will go away from it and take Matyew, and Buggoo, and Rattan. Myra will never come back. Look at her let-ters! It is no use pretending; and, if she did come back, she would not want to stay at Chandlerpore. She would wish the gaiety of Siwâla and to show her pretty clothes. Harree Fernandez, he is a great help. He is kind good man. He will take me in, and Matyew, and all, and will ar-range for all the crowd that live in the house and compound. They will be quite pleased in Siwâla bazaar. There will be no trouble for me. But what about you, Miss Rolland dear, and how can I part with you?’
She squeezed Katherine’s hand, and gazed with affectionate solicitude into her face.
‘I think you could not do better than leave Chandlerpore and go to live in Siwâla,’ Katherine reassured her, ‘and I am sure you would be very comfortable and happy with Mr. and Mrs. Fernandez. You need have no anxiety about me, dear Mrs. Chandler. I am sure it would never do for me to come with you, under the circumstances, and so I have made up my mind to join the Borrodales in their mission work. I should love the life, and I know they want someone younger to take a part of the work off their shoulders.’
‘Oh my l’ cried Mrs. Chandler, stay out here? Not England?’
Katherine shook her head with a smile. ‘No, not England — Siwâla Valley.’
‘Then I should see you sometimes,’ said Mrs. Chandler, ‘though all will be so changed. When is Ben going home to fetch his pretty lady, Miss Rolland dear? She will never like to live at Gulâban! Ben must be a silly to expect that she will be happee there! Think of her face, and her clothes, and her gay ways — she would be like a caged bird, and Ben would only wonder what was the mat-ter! Do you get letters from her often? Did you get one this week?’
‘Sometimes I hear from her,’ said Katherine with evasion; for it would have been impossible to read Mrs. Chandler the letter she had received from Claire only that evening — that, ever since, had burdened her thoughts.
‘Dear Wisest and Oldest,’ it ran, you are the only person in the world to whom I can say exactly what I like, and so I am writing to you, late at night after a supper-party at the Savoy, when I ought to be in bed I am so tired, to ask you once and for all what Ben is doing and why he does not come home? I have written and written and scolded and coaxed, till I am tired, and now you must tell him that if he doesn’t come home at once he will be treating me very badly. He does not take me seriously, Kate; but he will believe you if you tell him that I do not mean to be set aside any longer for coolies, or smallpox, or crops, or anything else. He must come. I really believe I would go out and fetch him, only that India is such a loathsome country. How anybody can live there who is not obliged to I can never understand. There is no real comfort in India, though people talk about the quantities of servants and doing nothing for yourself. Why, I had to do everything for myself the whole time I was out there! I want Ben to come home and marry me at once, and you must make him come. That odious Myra Chandler is carrying everything before her in London, and heaps of big people have taken up the Boads on account of her. They rave about her singing and her beauty, though I could never see anything to admire in her myself; and it is said that she is going to be the rage of the season. I could kill her and bury her in Hyde Park without a qualm, if I thought I should not be found out. People say she could marry anyone she liked, but I doubt it. And who do you think is always about with her, though you’ll hardly believe it? Arthur Saxon! He’s delighted at being a widower, though his wife left him hardly anything, and he must be pretty hard up. He’s looking out for an heiress, and of course he knows that the Boads mean to leave all they have to Myra Chandler. They make no secret of it; and if Mrs. Saxon hadn’t been such a beast and driven me out of the country, and if I hadn’t taken the Boads to India where they met Myra, it would have been me. I am sure Arthur would really much rather it had been me than Myra Chandler; but now he hardly speaks to me, and when I meet them together Myra looks at me with a sort of devilish triumph, till I could fly at her and strangle her, but, of course, I have to bow and smile, and pretend I don’t care. If only Ben were with me I should feel all right, and then it would be Myra’s turn to be furious, for I shouldn’t let him go near her. One blessing is that if she is fool enough to marry Arthur Saxon she will keep him in fine order. They say she has a fearful temper, and I remember seeing signs of it at Gulâban. And the Boads will tie up the money safe enough, though they encourage him because he is so well connected and knows everybody. Now, you see how it all is, Kate darling, and if you will only hustle Ben home I will send you my single-row pearl necklace with the sapphire clasp. I have written very strongly to him as well, and told him that I have done the same to you, so you can burn this letter, and just say you are sure it is his duty to come home without delay. If you say that, he will come at once. Surely the small-pox must be over by now —’
Wade, of course, had received his letter at the same time, and Katherine wondered if he would present himself at Chandlerpore the following day to talk it over with her. Probably he would ask her advice, perhaps expect her to urge his speedy departure, oblige her to face him with outward quietude and an aching heart, the while he discussed his plans and considered Claire’s wishes. She sat by Mrs. Chandler’s bedside pretending to listen to vague, disjointed projects for the future, and all the time she pondered over Claire’s letter and determined to avoid the interview with Ben for as long as possible.
Therefore, the next afternoon, towards the time when Wade was usually at liberty, she asked for the landau, and started out to visit the Borrodales. She meant to convert the understanding that existed between herself and the old missionaries into a definite arrangement.
Half way down the drive the carriage stopped. Katherine leaned forward in the expectation of seeing Ben, and was equally disappointed and relieved when, instead, a salaaming messenger from Gulâban handed her a letter. Behind the man stood a grinning, self-conscious dog- boy,. with Tummy, looking like a martyr, clutched uncomfortably in his arms.
The letter told her that Wade had gone into camp that morning for three or four days — that when he returned he meant to start for England as soon as his affairs at Gulâban could be settled at all satisfactorily. It was time he listened to Claire, and a long letter from her by yesterday’s mail had finally decided him. The sickness had practically died out now, and he hoped he saw his way to making a fairly safe arrangement about the spring crops, though it would have been better, of course, could he have stayed over the rice-sowing. Anyway, he had written last night for his passage, and now he felt he must have a few days in the jungle and a mild shoot after all these busy weeks, and before he tackled all the last work. He would come over to Chandlerpore and tell her about his plans directly he got back from camp, and in the meantime would she mind keeping Tummy, who was still very lame from his fall down the well, and on such bad terms with the other dogs; perpetual fights were not good for the injured leg, and none of them were being taken into camp this time, as their master wanted to march as light as possible. While he was in England Mr. Growse would look after them all.
Katherine folded up the letter with a sense of helpless capitulation. So the end had come; Claire’s letter had done its work; Claire had triumphed. But, at least, Katherine felt glad that, for a little time, Ben was going to be happy in his own way — that he might say farewell to the Valley and the mountains in an untroubled spirit. She invited Tummy to enter the landau, and he struggled from the grasp of the dog-boy with yelps of thanksgiving. Having chosen the vacant place by Katherine’s side he sat up, gratified and superior, sniffing the air, holding himself in readiness to cast insults at every humble pedestrian, whether dog or human being, whom they might chance to encounter. Katherine rested one hand on his fat, yellow back, the other held Benjamin Wade’s letter; and they drove on, past the tomb, and between the mud pillars, and out on to the sunny road that led to where Padre Borrodale’s little white church and mission-house lay in the far, blue distance.
Benjamin Wade turned his pony on to the narrow jungle track that would lead him to the distant forest of mighty trees and giant creepers.
It was some hours after sunrise, but dew still hung to the tufts of tall grass, glittered on the broad fronds of the wild plantain, rested in sparkling showers on the feathery foliage of the bamboo, on rich-coloured opening blossoms, and the tender green of budding leaves. Small, silvery squirrels darted across his path, brown monkeys chattered and crashed in the branches; a little hog-deer sprang up, almost beneath his pony’s feet, and doubled back in a frenzy of alarm; now and then a furtive jackal slunk into the undergrowth. Once a big grey boar rustled away rapidly with a vicious grunt; and, again, a few spotted deer leapt from a cluster of bushes, and made off with swift, exquisite bounds. The four-note call of the black partridge, the crowing of jungle cock, the wild shriek of pea-fowl, rose shrill and buoyant upon the crisp, exhilarating air, and mingled with the sweet cooing of green pigeons, and the varied notes of hoopoes, mynas, cuckoos, and other birds; whiffs of roses and wild flowers, and strong scents of the Indian spring floated to and fro on the pure breath that came from the mountains.
Wade’s face was turned towards his beloved Himalayas. How near they seemed in the wonderful light, veined with colour, piled in blue and purple masses far up into the unclouded sky. Over a distant gorge his keen eyes sighted an eagle soaring in space with wide, motionless pinions; and an immeasurable sense of divine freedom permeated his being. His spirits were uplifted almost to an ecstasy. He whistled, he sang, he shouted, he urged his pony to a tearing gallop. He felt transported with the rapture that is of the gods — that considers neither the future nor the past.
It was nearly mid-day when he reached his little camp. Lalla had pitched it in a grassy clearing, close to a shallow stream that hummed over a white, pebbly bed. At the back of the tents rose the forest, dark and mysterious; in the near distance the smoke of a tiny jungle hamlet curled into the clear atmosphere. Wade’s breakfast was being prepared in an open-air kitchen, on a range composed of some loose stones and a hole in the ground, and very good, he knew, would be the meal when ready. Near to the baggage-cart the bullocks were still resting after their journey. They had travelled since daybreak from Gulâban, for it is not safe to move through the jungle at night-time. Under a tree Akbar gurgled with satisfaction, and swung one great forefoot off the ground as his devoted mahout fed him with sugar-cane, and conversed with him in intimate elephant language.
Lalla squatted in front of the tent, overhauling the guns; but the moment he heard the thud of approaching hoofs he scrambled to his feet. On his wrinkled face was an expression of triumphant delight as he went quickly forward to meet his master. Evidently he had some excellent news to tell.
‘Sahib,’ he cried, and salaamed as he ran, ‘the solitary elephant is hereabouts!’
Wade’s eyes gleamed. At once the hunter was paramount within him.
‘Good luck!’ he said in English; and, as he dismounted, he added in Hindustani: ‘Then has he left the other side of the Valley? Are you sure it is the same?’ For they were far from the spot where the rogue-elephant had last been heard of.
‘Huzoor, for a certainty it is the same! On the place where he had lain himself down to sleep did I see the mark of his tusks in the ground — one whole, one broken. For many days hath he wrought great evil to the villagers here. The plots of cultivation are well-nigh destroyed. Even but last night did he come among the remaining crops, and, though was he driven off again and again by the watchers, with fireworks and noise, did he return, till now the fields are useless as a bare plain. And one old woman hath he killed also, though of what account is that compared with the loss of the crops?’
‘We will go and look for him when I have eaten,’ said Wade. ‘Do you know where he is now?’
‘Surely, within a mile or so. Did I not track him this morning through the jungle as he fed? And at the hour — maybe ten o’clock — when a solitary elephant will cease to eat, did I not hear the flap of his ear on his neck, which, as every true shikari knows, is a sign that the hathi has lain down on his side to rest? There, without a doubt, will he stay until the next grazing hour, maybe two, maybe three o’clock.’
Immensely pleased with himself, Lalla withdrew to make necessary preparations, and Wade ate some breakfast, his pulses beating rapidly with a supreme excitement. He meant to bag the ‘rogue’ before he returned to Gulâban.
Later on they started, passing first through the miserable little village, from which a few wild, shock-headed forest folk accompanied them for a time, imploring the sahib to slay their persecutor without delay, and invoking the blessing of their jungle gods upon the enterprise. For some little distance the pair followed the stream until a deep pool was reached, evidently the drinking-place of countless wild animals, for tracks of deer, pig, leopard, hyena, and many more were confused together around the edge, and, a hundred yards further on, where a smaller pool had formed, Lalla pointed in silence to the square pug-marks of a very large tiger.
Then they plunged into the true jungle, listening, pausing, following up the tunnel made by the tusker in his leisurely progress as he broke the bamboos, trampled the undergrowth, and snapped the young trees. For more than a mile they went slowly and with caution. They stepped with care, halted, listened, for the elephant might be awake and wandering again, perhaps quite close by. . . . Suddenly Lalla stopped and held up his hand. A soft coo-coo echoed overhead; a bird tapped with a hard beak on the bark of a tree; some large insect boomed past their heads and fell with a thud into the undergrowth. Then to Wade’s ears came a slight sound that Lalla, with his acute aboriginal hearing, had caught fully a minute before. It was a faint crackling a long way off — the elephant feeding.
The hunters advanced in the direction of the noise, which grew more definite as the distance lessened, and presently the crunching, and breaking, and snapping became loud, and the thicket before them shook violently as the rogue moved slowly on his ponderous way. They crept toward the unseen bulk with patience, till at last a huge, dark outline showed indistinctly through the foliage — the great black head, with ragged ears, deeply sunken temples, and knobby forehead of an old elephant.
Wade felt uncertain whether the beast had not caught sight of him and Lalla, though the wind was in their favour, and, keeping his eye on the elephant, he moved noiselessly to one side that he might take surer aim at the most vital spot — in the centre of the forehead. At that moment his foot caught in one of the snake-like tendrils that hung from the trees on every side, and he saved himself from a heavy fall only by an immense effort and an inevitable fatal rustling.
The elephant swung round. Wade could only aim now for the temple shot, and he fired, then darted round the trunk of a tree as the great beast charged furiously in his direction, and came thundering by with tail cocked, and trunk curled, screaming shrilly.
As he passed the tree Wade, in desperate disappointment, fired again, behind the ear, but failed to stop him; and the enraged creature tore on without a falter, crashing and trumpeting, and leaving in his wake a broad, blood-stained track, along which Lalla and his master raced in keen pursuit. Once the old native fell full length, tripped up by a dead tree-trunk, but he was on his feet again immediately; and the chase continued through thicket and glade, across bare stretches of ground, and a dry torrent-bed, over a ravine where it seemed incredible that such a heavy animal could possibly have scrambled, and back again into the gloom of the forest.
Twice the course was completely changed, and at times they came so close to their quarry that the recoiling stems and saplings crushed by the huge feet whipped the men’s faces. But never did they actually sight the elephant; and suddenly, as a sharp turn brought them out from the shadow of the trees into the sunlight, they realized that all sound of his flight had ceased. Neither crash nor trumpet was to be heard, and there seemed no apparent evidence of the direction he had taken.
For a few seconds Wade and the old tracker stood half-dazed in the sunshine. Then they discovered that they were again on the banks of the stream within a few hundred yards of where they had started. Through the scattered trees they could see the small hill tent and the servants’ shelter, looking like a little gipsy encampment, with the rising smoke from the kitchen, and the litter that lay about. The pace had been severe, and the two men were breathing heavily. For the moment they were exhausted, and the sweat rolled down their faces.
Lalla was the first to recover his wind. He stepped to the edge of the stream and carefully examined the ground, then turned back with a shake of his head, and began to look about in other directions with all the professional tracker’s extraordinary observation of trifles.
On a sudden he turned to his master and pointed in silence to a thick clump of thorn bushes on a piece of rising ground, not more than twenty yards from where they stood. Instinctively, though he could see nothing, Wade raised his rifle, and at the same moment, with a high, vicious scream, the rogue elephant charged madly down upon them.
* * * *
Very late that night Katherine Rolland sat at one of the long open windows of her bedroom gazing out into the warm, scented darkness. She listened dreamily to the chirrup of crickets, the faint howling of jackals far away towards the jungle, the murmur of native voices from the stables, and the countless little sounds that seem to accentuate the vast quiet of an Indian night. It was nearly midnight, the air was heavy with perfume from the garden, the garden that, a few months hence, would probably be a tangle of coarse weeds and long grass, untended and forgotten. A shooting star streaked the sky with brief, rapid flame, and someone began to sing a plaintive little native song in the servants’ quarters. With pang of remembrance Katherine recognised it as the one Myra had sung to her the first night of her arrival at Chandlerpore; and as again she heard it, she thought of Myra, wild, undisciplined, beautiful, swaying to and fro in the pink dressing-gown, waving her supple brown hands, chanting the weird, minor melody that Buggoo-ayah had taught her — the song of the Nautch-girl.
Katherine wondered now, as she had so often wondered before, what the child’s future would be. That Myra intended to marry Major Saxon seemed too improbable. Of course, she was only accepting his attentions to annoy Claire Belvigne, and —
All at once a long cry broke the stillness outside and scattered her reflections— a native cry of urgency and demand. Is anyone there? Is anyone there?’ Some wandering mendicant must have strayed into the compound attracted by the light on Roy Chandler’s tomb, and then missed his way in the darkness. This had happened more than once. The cry rose again, and continued with persistence. Now it was coming round the side of the bungalow. Katherine left her chair and went to the edge of the veranda, feeling a little nervous. Rattan, she knew, was having his food, and evidently the watchman was sound asleep. The high, piercing voice shouted not far from her side: ‘Is anyone there? is anyone there?’
She bent forward, peering into the darkness, and a lean, brown figure, with a shrivelled countenance and a red turban, shot into the shaft of light that streamed from the open bedroom door across the veranda and out on to the path below.
‘Why, Lalla!’ cried Katherine, and a heavy foreboding clutched at her heart. ‘What do you want?’
The old man hastily mounted the steps. His face was drawn with grief and anxiety. He was almost beside himself with distress.
‘Aree, Miss-sahib!’ he gabbled, ‘come — come at once to Gulâban. Come to the sahib or he will die. Ai! it was the elephant, the solitary one, and this miserable slave hath brought the sahib back from the jungle — but he will die — he will die. Huzoor — I beseech thee — come quickly.’
Without asking further questions Katherine sped to the servants’ quarters and found Rattan.
‘Something bad has happened at Gulâban,’ she panted. ‘Lalla has come to fetch me. He says the sahib is dying. How can I get over there? Has the landau come back from Siwâla? Quick — tell me.’
But the landau had gone into Siwâla for Josephine Pathana’s wedding, and had not yet returned. Doubtless, surmised Rattan, the pig of a coachman had got drunk in the bazaar, and was at present incapable of driving it home. Katherine knew that she must walk, and the sense of delay was torture. She ran back to the house to put on her boots, and then, with Lalla and Rattan each bearing a lantern to guide her footsteps, she hastened out into the night.
As they went, now slowly, now more quickly, now stumbling over a clod of hard soil or a tuft of grass, Lalla never ceased to talk in a high, tremulous voice charged with nervous, horrified excitement. Again and again he repeated the story of the elephant hunt — how he had tracked ‘the solitary one’ for the sahib, how he and the sahib had found tht beast in the jungle, how the sahib had tripped just as he was about to fire, how the hathi had only been wounded, and had run and run as though possessed; how the sahib ‘and this miserable slave’ had followed swiftly through the jungle, and over open spaces, and across the dry bed of a torrent, and over a ravine and again through the forest, in a wide circle, till they had come out once more within sight of the camp.
‘And then, Miss-sahib, as we searched for the tracks, as we turned this way and that looking for the solitary one, was he all the time watching us — like unto a demon! I it was who spied him, and in silence did I point for the sahib to know, lest my voice should cause the beast to charge. But the Evil One rushed forth like a great fire-devil, black, and full of rage and madness; and the sahib stood cool and brave, and fired at the right spot — the spot in the middle of the forehead just above the trunk, and, Huzoor, he did not miss! But ai! ai! it was all too near, and the hathi did not fall at once, but came on with great force, and though the sahib stepped aside quickly he was too late; and then, Miss-sahib, I cannot tell for certain what happened, but as the Evil One rolled down the bank, dead, into the stream, did I see my sahib lying on the grass, and he hath neither moved nor spoken since. Aree! this slave brought him back in the cart to Gulâban with all speed, and with haste did he send the dog-cart to Siwâla for the doctor-sahib, and a syce riding quickly on the pony for the padre-sahib. And this humble one came himself for thine honour, for he knows her to be wise, and the sahib’s friend.’
Hurriedly and with many breathless pauses did the old man reiterate the story. Only when they reached the Gulâban compound did he cease to speak, and the trio passed swiftly up the dark pathway in apprehensive silence. Outside the house a crowd of coolies and servants had collected in a whispering, huddled group. Inside, the bungalow was very quiet. It was too soon by far for Dr. Hart to have arrived, and Padre Borrodale had a still greater distance to cover. Ben’s reading lamp was burning low on one of the tables in the sitting-room, and as Katherine passed it to reach the door beyond, she remembered how Claire’s favourite scent had met her on the threshold the last time she had opened it; remembered, too, how incongruous had seemed the delicate clothes, the costly trifles, the silk cushions and luxurious eiderdown, the ultra-feminine atmosphere in the man’s severely simple room.
Now, as she pushed open the door very gently, she saw the narrow camp-bed standing in the middle of the striped floorcloth, and on it Benjamin Wade lying in his rough shooting-suit, just as Lalla had brought him back from the jungle. The white-clothed figure of his bearer glided forward and salaamed. His brown face was wet with tears. She went up to the bedside and laid her hand on the injured man’s forehead. It felt cold and damp, and the eyelids were closed.
‘Ben,’ she said softly.
He opened his eyes. In them she saw no pain or distress, but also no recognition.
‘The brute must be dead,’ he said indistinctly. ‘I know I got him — but he was too close — he knocked me over. What did the whole tusk weigh?’
He paused, as though listening for an answer, and then continued in the same unnatural voice, like a man talking in his sleep:
‘It was a stiff run — all through that jungle — I thought we should never see him again. But Lalla spotted him, and only just in time too, — a moment later and I couldn’t have shot him. He’s a first-rate shikari — old Lalla — he knows every track, and every path, and every salt-lick for miles around. Perhaps he’ll be satisfied now I’ve shot the rogue, and forgive me for letting those tigers go. Why did I let those tigers go? Why didn’t I go out after them? Never mind, I’ve got four days yet in the jungle. By Jove! what a thirst that run has given me!’
Katherine sent the bearer for water and a bottle of brandy, and as she waited for the man’s return, she noticed how motionless, inanimate, lay the figure on the bed — that the eyes were all that moved. She craved for the sound of wheels. In an hour, perhaps, if he came very quickly, Dr. Hart might be here. It could not be sooner. Ben was dying. She knew he was dying. She felt so helpless. She only prayed that he might not die alone with her before the doctor arrived.
She found a warm rug and covered him with it, and when the brandy came she raised his head on her arm and gave him a little mixed with water.
He drank thirstily, then closed his eyes, and lay for a long time breathing audibly, but otherwise without movement. Katherine hoped he was asleep.
An hour stole by, and still she sat, her hand on his, giving him sips of brandy and water at intervals from a spoon. Now and then he murmured disjointed sentences concerning sport and the jungle, but she noted with some surprise that he never mentioned Claire. The time crept on. Dr. Hart was now long overdue, and Katherine kept straining her ears for the sound of wheels, but heard nothing save the night noises that floated in through the open window, the mutterings that fell intermittently from Ben’s stiff lips, and the suppressed sobs of old Lalla, who had come in and was crouched at the foot of his master’s bed. Something must have happened — Dr. Hart must be away, or the dog-cart had met with an accident on the road to Siwâla. She rose and went to the window. A few birds were twittering softly in the creepers outside. There was a fresh smell in the air that hinted of the dawn.
A sound from the bed made her turn back quickly into the room. Wade was speaking with greater clearness, his voice was stronger, and he seemed to be trying to repeat something from memory.
‘How does it go?’ he was saying, with the first sign of distress she had noticed. ‘I can’t remember how it goes. “As the dew is dried up — as the dew is dried up — “Oh, why can’t I remember? The words are there — in my mind. I know them so well. How could I ever have forgotten?’ He looked at Katherine with piteous entreaty. ‘I wrote them down somewhere. If I could find the book —’
The words trailed off into meaningless sounds, and Katherine felt despairing. How could she find the note-book in which he had written down the words he now wanted to remember? It was such a little request, perhaps his last, and she could not grant it.
She gave him more stimulant, and he began to speak distinctly again.
‘Do you hear the bells on the necks of the goats and sheep? How they echo through the valleys, and the men’s voices as they sing. The sound carries far in this glorious air. Look at the snows — aren’t they grand? Isn’t the sight of them astonishing? If I go down to the bottom of that dark blue valley and up the other side I shall get quite close to them — the Holy Himalayas. I can feel the air against my face. Ah!’ — he waited expectantly for a moment — ‘ah! now I remember. Listen! listen! Isn’t it fine? “There are the regions of Paradise, the seats of the righteous, where the wicked do not arrive even after a thousand births. There is no sorrow nor weariness nor anxiety nor apprehension; in those regions is no succession of ages, and Time is no more.”’ There was a pause, and he drew a deep breath. Then again the words rose clear and strong. ‘“In a thousand ages of the gods I could not tell thee of the glories of Himachal. As the dew is dried up by the morning sun, so are the sins of mankind by the sight of Himachal.”’
There came a sudden, significant silence; his eyes closed, a smile of ineffable contentment passed over his features.
A touch on Katherine’s shoulder made her look up. Padre Borrodale was standing by her side, his benign old face full of anxious concern.
* * * *
Afterwards, when Katherine and the padre went out together into the veranda, the hills were goldened with the sunrise. She had told the padre Lalla’s story, she had told him of her walk over from Chandlerpore, of her night’s vigil here. Now she raised her eyes to ‘Himachal’ with a long look of trust and hope.
‘Padre,’ she said quietly, ‘I know what nobody else knows. If Ben had lived, his happiness would have been taken from him. Now he has got “his free solitude,” as he used to call it. It is his for always. You will let him lie in your little cemetery, won’t you? He loved it, and it is near the jungle and in the shadow of the hills. Don’t you remember telling me that he always said he should ask nothing better than to sleep for ever in the shadow of the Himalayas? — and — and then I shall be near him. Oh, padre’ — she laid her head down in her hands that rested on the table — ‘I loved him so dearly — I loved him well enough to be glad that he is safe for ever.’
A FEW weeks later the sun had just gone down behind the white walls of Chandlerpore, and warm, languid dusk had dropped over the garden and compound. There was a curious stillness everywhere, the kind of stillness that seems to come after unusual noise or disturbance, and the only definite sound in the empty house was the rustling made by a pair of grey squirrels among some paper and straw on the floor of what had been Mathew Chandler’s sitting-room. Now the walls were bare. Old Roy’s sword, his portrait, and that of his princess were gone, leaving patches of cobwebs and fish insects on the whitewash. The furniture, the drugget, and the rugs had been taken away, and the hole in the middle of the floor was closed loosely with a brick.
A soft sunset breeze arose and stirred the creepers outside, wandered through the empty rooms and deserted verandas, and explored the rambling back premises, where it only found litter and silence; for the band of relatives and pensioners were now enjoying the noise and crush and company of Siwâla bazaar far more than they had ever appreciated the space and quiet of their quarters at Chandlerpore.
Some days ago they had migrated in carts and ekkas and gharrys, chattering, jostling, arguing, apparently without sentiment or regret, only determined to carry away as much as possible, and to secure individually the best seats in the vehicles provided for them by Mr. Fernandez. The clamour of their departure had resembled the noise of hundreds of small birds quarrelling in a tree. Some had started and returned again for forgotten treasures, and had then run screaming after the laden conveyances.
One or two had come to slaps and scratchings over disputed possessions. All were in a wild state of excitement, and when the last load had finally disappeared the silence in the compound had seemed almost deathlike by comparison. Yesterday Mr. Chandler, with his wife, and Rattan, and Buggoo-ayah, had left the home built by his English ancestor; and Katherine Rolland had driven away in the Borrodales’ queer old carriage to the mission house at the edge of the jungle, where Benjamin Wade lay sleeping in the shadow of the mountains.
This morning Rattan had returned to superintend the removal of what furniture was still left, and only just before sundown had he seen the last cart leave the compound.
Now the old man lingered on the veranda steps. He had obeyed orders, he had attended faithfully to every detail, he had done his best without protest, and there remained but one more duty for him to accomplish before he left the place for ever. The fine old face was sad, the high-caste features set with melancholy. He might have been a bronze statue draped in Eastern garments as he stood gazing out into the deepening dusk.
It grew darker. The ekka that was to take him back to Siwâla awaited him at the entrance to the compound. He must delay no longer. Presently, with an effort, he moved, and passed slowly through the trees, a white, dignified figure, leaving the old house behind him to emptiness and memories. When he came to Roy Chandler’s grave he salaamed three times, and stood for some moments before the tomb in silent meditation.
Then he stooped, and blew out the little light.