“To isolate a man or an epoch, to throw the high light on idiosyncrasies and to conceal the common herd of ordinary men and usual motives, to generalize from the bizarre, to weigh heavily the sex motif, here are the makings of easy reading. But not of things as they happened. Men act in groups, they are brought up in the ways of their fathers, they work for a piece of soil, for a son, a woman, a loyalty, or for gain.”
— Keith Feiling
Lord Brierley is not the governor of New Zealand to-day and thereby hangs a tale.
Sir Reginald Hailstone, a Resident in Rajputana and therefore accustomed to principalities and powers, dined in St. James’ Square with distinguished and wealthy people, who always spoke of the great sacrifice made by such of their friends and relations as became viceroys, or governors; and he returned to Onslow Square, where he was staying with equally distinguished and slightly less wealthy people who were quite eager to make that sacrifice. Hailstone was appreciative of success and prosperity. They made people more agreeable. He was selfish, good-tempered and not a bore. It would have been easy for him to be a bore for he knew a great deal about India which everyone admits is a boring subject. Hailstone’s popularity gratified him because, as he confessed to his relations, he had all the wrong labels. He was not educated at a public school, and at Oxford he did not belong to a famous college. His parents, excellent and well-bred people, perversely lived in Pevensey. “I was provincial, now I am an Indian Civil Servant. Quite ghastly, of course,” he said to himself, amused. Labels were not descriptive but they indicate environment. Neither riches nor poverty embarrassed him at close quarters. Endowed with a good deal of curiosity he took an interest in people, and he took his ease. Failure, scandal, friction, futility rendered him uneasy and he was strenuous to avoid such things in his own life. To-night they were far from him and he went through the blue shadows of St. James’s Street enjoying the whisper of early autumn in the air.
Able to spend a fiver with the best grace in the world Reginald Hailstone always kept on intimate terms with sixpence and never threw money away. The Tube was handy and he turned into Dover Street station and stood behind a woman of sixty with the legs of a kitten, who was buying her ticket. He had a glimpse of a young clerk’s excitable and tired face through the opening, took up his change and went on. The jolly man who punched his ticket seemed in the highest spirits and whistled a tune under his breath. The lift filled with plain people and the doors slammed. It really was a sordid cage, Hailstone thought. Then, after they had been lowered very smoothly, they were released and went scurrying like rats through pallid passages. The platform gave no patience to the silent travellers who stood on its brim as though intent to leave it. A squat train came in with a wild rattle and Hailstone took his seat at the far end of a very long carriage. Its persistent brightness was a tonic when the train moved off into a black tunnel. Advertisements and passengers were equally silent. There were a few family parties returning from theatres. Not one pretty woman. All the middle-aged men were stout and uninteresting. Two workmen seemed emphatically real and for a moment Hailstone thought he preferred them to the cleaner nondescripts. It was an ugly process certainly; ugly as food being shuffled into a gaping mouth by a common spoon. Hailstone was somewhat contemptuous of educated people who blunted themselves to this method of travelling. Slap-bang, they were sent to the right about! These were sleepy passengers, homeward bound, but somehow the Tube kept them alert. At every station rose the cry, “Hurry off, please. Hurry off, please.” All were herded here and there very smartly. A wary lot. No one smoked in a non-smoker. Crowded together, but reserved. In his mind’s eye Hailstone saw a caravan trailing over the stony way in the Khyber pass, and pilgrims passing into Hardwar; picturesque, living close to nature. Yet these people in the Tube, so accustomed to being like slots in machines, would take to organized flying as stolidly, only grumbling a little if the pace were too slow, or the elbow room insufficient.
At Knightsbridge the two seats opposite Hailstone were vacated by the workmen, and their places were taken by a young man in evening dress and a girl. A transformation scene! The young man shook out the pages of the Evening Standard with an expert jerk and leaning forward with his arms on his knees proceeded to read the paper. Before he gave it his attention he paused to feel in a pocket for his cigarette case which he offered to his companion. It was then that he perceived that she was crying.
“Tableau!” said Hailstone to himself, quite moved.
For here was a pretty girl—a lady—well dressed, with a grace that was startling, having a good cry in a corner seat in the Piccadilly Tube. Unfortunate young man!
Not a bit of it. Hailstone’s sense of the fitness of things was contradicted flat. The young man did not mind. He just looked long enough at that surrendered face, down which the tears were pouring, to observe that his proffered cigarette case enraged it, and then restored the case to his pocket and gave his attention to the paper.
The girl was the fairest creature, golden and white. “That can’t last,” Hailstone thought, as though he were watching a wraith of smoke or a sunbeam. The colouring of youth is the swiftest beauty to vanish. But the face was interesting and tender. The girl must be odd to permit herself this surrender to emotion in public!
Everyone was staring. Some in sympathy, some in consternation, a few amused. One elderly woman looked panic-stricken, as though some dreadful accident were taking place under her eyes.
“Married?” A woman consulted her husband.
“Must be,” he answered.
“He looks horrid,” said the woman, deeply prejudiced. Because that woman so frankly stared her antagonism everyone stared. The young man, rendered slightly self-conscious, gave the newspaper an impatient jerk. The girl’s head lay back against the carriage wall and her eyes remained shut. Once or twice she wiped away tears with her handkerchief. Her mouth trembled but her expression was that of a woman yielding to tears without a struggle, touched till she wept by some invisible and intimate power.
With great reluctance Sir Reginald Hailstone tore himself away from the imperturbable man and the unhappy lady and was whirled aloft into the hideousness of South Kensington station. He left it and the web of streets that surrounded it and reached the quiet spaces of Onslow Square where the dry trees rustled beneath many stars. The Brierleys’ big house looked self-satisfied and the butler who opened the door was pompous. But Hailstone felt the right man in the right place here, and he went into Lord Brierley’s smoking-room expecting a welcome, and got it.
Brierley was well placed among leather, and good mahogany, books and a writing table that was lavishly equipped for work. Hailstone had never seen his host at a disadvantage. That ambitious, charming man made prosaic demands on life, and scored. He was forty-five and keenly desired to be a governor somewhere. There was a general idea that he was an able man and would go far. He was chairman of a famous hospital and had been popular on the London County Council. Brierley was very much at home in London and very much out of his depth in any backwater. Critics said he loved the limelight. Women defended him. They knew that he liked their society, and he had the gift of making them shine, so they did not begrudge him any illumination he desired. Thin, with a flat straight figure and broad shoulders, his hands and knees and ankles were bony. There seemed to be a lot of wire about him and his deep murmuring voice was a surprise. A well-featured, clean-shaven, brown face introduced him pleasantly. He made a favourable impression always, his wife said.
Helen Brierley was the same age as her husband and in her way remarkably good-looking. She was a passionate, sweet, reserved and irritable woman and her friends took an exceptional interest in her. “Helen has no neutral tints,” one of them said, by way of explaining her preoccupation with a woman none described as brilliant or fascinating.
“We have had a tremendous evening—tremendous!” began Brierley, who was brimming over with it. “The whole Commission. The whole lot, I tell you. Simply marvellous.” His eyebrows made great fun of it.
“Tell me all about them,” said Hailstone, instantly abandoning his intention of telling them about the girl in the Tube. Brierley was going out to India as the Chairman of a Commission on Health, Hygiene, and Welfare. He and his wife had been dining with a member of the India Council in Whitehall Mansions.
“Not a bad dinner,” said Brierley, caressing his pipe. “And the whole crowd were there. You describe them, Helen.”
“I liked the doctor woman,” said Lady Brierley.
“Dr. Neale. You know the type? Very upright. Handsomely dressed—wasn’t she, Helen? A pleasant sort of a woman to talk to.”
“About my age.”
“Well?” Hailstone enjoyed Brierley’s gusto. The fellow got such a lot out of it!
“Then there were the Reverend Harold Topley and Mrs. Topley. He’s all right, and has spent a lot of time in Africa. A sound man. Broadminded, too.”
Helen Brierley groaned.
“Why a groan?”
“I am sick of clergymen being broadminded.”
“She is narrow enough for anything, I should say. Short, lots of hair in a plait arrangement round her ears. Odd sort of dress. Quite young and very meek.”
“Excellent,” said Hailstone.
“I think she depressed Cox-Cox considerably. Sir Thomas Cox-Cox! And it takes a good deal to depress him. The Labour fellow I loved. Penwarden, his name is. Simply full of stuff. He could not get over Sir Thomas’s name at all. ‘Wot? Cox-Cox?’ he said. ‘Twice for luck, or three times for marriage! Like that, is it? Cox-Cox!’ Very good of Sir Thomas to go on a show like this, you know. He must be making a fortune in Harley Street.”
“He rather puts Dr. Neale in the shade. But he was very nice to her,” said Helen.
“Yes. I tell Helen, here, she ought to come. She wobbled till she had inspected Dr. Neale and Mrs. Topley, I believe. Now there is not the smallest chance of her coming.”
Lady Brierley hated her husband leaving her. She hated it at white heat. But her little schoolgirl daughter was not in good health and she felt that she must remain with her.
“Violet will be all right,” said Brierley to his wife and, knowing her decision was made, he observed without a pause and very lightly to Hailstone:
“Obstinate and unkind woman, you see!”
Hailstone was just about to embark on his tale of the Tube when Lady Brierley said: “You have not met my cousin, Walter Lay, have you? He is staying with us, you know, but he only arrived in time to change for dinner. Frank and I don’t seem very popular with our guests to-night. I suppose Walter will be back soon. He is a journalist, a free lance at the moment, and he is going to India, too, this winter. Just to smell it, he says. He does not approve of the East.”
“Better not smell it,” remarked Hailstone in dry tones. “Not till Brierley and Co. have cleaned it up a bit and set everyone to wash and gargle and disinfect. Nothing to smell then. All the good smells are in the garden at home.”
“Of course they are,” agreed Brierley in that charming way of his, as though Hailstone had said the most original and entertaining thing. “Nothing to beat the cabbage rose. But Lay’s a long-nosed chap, he has to poke it about a bit. Goes further and fares worse.”
“You don’t like him,” said Helen.
“Your kith and kin and my guest—I love him! Naturally.” Brierley replied. And Helen looked at him very deeply, trying to find him in some dream of her own as a perfect lover.
“I came home by Tube and a girl got in with a young man—the right sort of people—and she sat there crying like anything and the man took no notice,” announced Hailstone, able to tell the tale at last. He had a success. Brierley gave the story a delighted welcome.
“But what could a man do?” he questioned. “In public, I mean—with everyone thinking him a brute. Poor devil! I can imagine his feelings. Longing to murder her.”
“No,” said Hailstone. “Not at all. Longing to console her in the most tender way. She was exceedingly attractive.”
“The puss! Still—you are not married, Hailstone. I don’t ever feel quite sure of my ground if Helen cries. Do! Helen? I may be in the wrong, or it may be just temper. Difficult to know. Very.”
Helen gave a low laugh, and Brierley looked as though he were saying to himself, “That’s all right.” It was often touch and go with Helen.
“It was not grief in the Tube. Out of place. Grief would be under an anaesthetic in the Tube. Tantrums, I bet you.”
“But she was a lady.”
“Tantrums! Women are excitable creatures. I hope our Dr. Neale keeps calm.”
“It was a scene.”
“Of all unpardonable things! Explanations required and every explanation unacceptable. Appoint a committee of enquiry as to what he did and she did, and what they said, and why they said it, and they are damned forever though we all do and say the things they did and said.”
The subject was dismissed, Brierley having got all it was worth out of it in Hailstone’s opinion. The man had a touch that made heavy things light, and he dropped a jest or a criticism at the right moment. Like all cultured bachelors Hailstone was exacting as to conversation and loathed tedious talkers. Brierley had the enchanting gift of imparting value to a commonplace hour. No one grudged wasting time with Brierley. He took nothing too seriously, yet never missed the point through levity. On the whole, middle-aged Hailstone considered levity quite the most wearisome stupidity in the world. “I’m enjoying this evening,” thought Hailstone. And at the height of his simple content in walked Walter Lay.
“That’s the fellow who was with the girl in the Tube,” Hailstone told himself. “I’d know his sallow face anywhere. Looks like a Jew.”
“My cousin, Mr. Lay—Sir Reginald Hailstone,” said Helen. “What have you done with Anne, Walter?”
“I took her on to Gloucester Road station and left her at the door of her flat. I thought you wouldn’t like me to go in and tuck her up,” said Mr. Lay.
Helen showed a startling irritability. “Don’t be silly, Walter.”
But Walter Lay did not care tuppence about urbanity. Nettles and mustard were his next-of-kin. “Now, Helen, why be enraged because I pay due deference to your taboos?”
“No!” objected Helen. “You won’t drag me into any imbecile dispute about that sort of thing.”
She looked so fierce that Brierley intervened in sleepy tones, purposely soothing. “If you begin about the young people of the present day, we shall never get to bed.”
Hailstone desired to hear more about Anne, but Helen rose and dashed some soda water into an old glass goblet. She might have been hurling thunderbolts by the ardent temper in her movements. “I should like to hear you offer to intrude on Anne—intrude yourself on Anne! I know exactly what happened. You said good-night to her like a civilized person.”
“You are right. I am only showing off,” Lay admitted imperturbably.
A brave man, Hailstone thought. He would not like his hostess to fly at him like that. It would make him feel uncomfortable.
“You are just as dull as we are,” Helen renewed her attack. “Just as dull, but not as dignified.”
“We have no dignity whatever. What is the good of it?”
“I shouldn’t call you dull, Helen,” Brierley interposed. It was perfectly done—the appreciation, and yet the hint that she was overdoing this a little.
She gave the sweetest laugh. Putting down her goblet she opened the door and Hailstone got out of his armchair to make her his farewell salutation. Lay rose, too. Brierley with a hint of a smile went towards her. She flung out her hand and took his, their fingers loosely interlaced.
“Good-night, you two,” said Helen and withdrew followed by Brierley.
“A good exit,” remarked young Lay with an appreciative air.
“They are a good pair,” Hailstone growled. Stimulated by the evening he had spent he hazarded an enquiry about this Anne.
“I sat opposite you in the Tube,” he said.
“Yes. I recognized you. She went on crying like that all the time. Rather awkward really. I was afraid some idiot would speak to her—ask her what was amiss. Some crank might have done so, you know. Not that it would have mattered. It might have been quite amusing.”
Hailstone really did not like this Walter Lay. People should be shyer than that, more easily embarrassed by an untimely publicity, in a word, more sensitive. “The lady did not appear to be amused,” he remarked dryly.
“We had been to the first night of The Man Who Heard Petitions. A friend of ours wrote it. A thinking person. Anne Knightley felt the play intensely; she saw its beauty. But it fell as flat as a pancake. I don’t suppose it will run a week, which is a tragedy, of course. It upset her.”
This picture of a play and a playgoer so intimately related, of a thing seen and felt and carried into the outer world veiled in tears, was interesting to Hailstone. And it irked him to find that he disapproved. Perhaps he was too stiffly starched, too cut and dried? For he knew that he had a code which decreed that tears must dry in the stalls and the dramatic inspiration be shrivelled up into its proper place, subordinate to all the business of everyday life, tubes, taxis, and lifts. That lovely Anne had been possessed by a vision, and had gone bewitched and weeping into the night as though it held nothing but stars! Something grumpy seized upon Hailstone’s fifty years and he thought—’Yet that’s the generation which is too damned superior to wear black at funerals!’
“You belong to India, don’t you?” inquired Lay, dismissing Anne.
“Yes,” said Sir Reginald Hailstone, not apologetically.
“What do you think of this Commission business? Can they do any good?”
“Seems sheer blasted nonsense to me,” said young Lay.
“O, we are used to Commissions.”
“But isn’t this an unusually impertinent enquiry? I was in hospital once, at the very end of the war. I was twenty then and I had never been on my own. First school, then the army. But for sheer insufferable tyranny give me a hospital! Doctors, nurses, medical boards—all alike. As kind as possible no doubt, but without the smallest conception of what liberty means. And not in the very least abashed, mind you, by the fact that with all their red tape and operating theatres and horrible regulations they could not cure you. They could dope you, which was something if you happened to be in infernal pain, but what you gained on the swings you lost on the merry-go-rounds because the knife they were so expert with put you through your worst time, and the anaesthetic made you sick. Yet in the face of all that futility and superstition and organized ceremonial we blow our own trumpet and send out a Commission of five very ordinary people to tell three million Orientals how to be bright and well.”
“Quite so,” said Hailstone, and went to bed.
A busy man himself, Reginald Hailstone kept at a respectful distance from Lord Brierley’s writing room. But as he lingered over his coffee and The Times by the breakfast table next morning he heard a woman’s voice talking into the telephone receiver. It came to him clearly through open doors.
“Lord Brierley’s secretary speaking. Good morning, Sir Thomas. No, I am afraid not. No, I do not think he has any free time to-day. . . . Will you hold on, please, and I will tell him.” It was a youthful voice.
Anne looked round the door. Self-possessed, swift, courteous, an Anne in armour. As she turned out to be Brierley’s secretary it was perhaps lucky that he had not given her away to the Brierleys last night.
“Lord Brierley! O, he has gone. Good morning. You are Sir Reginald Hailstone, aren’t you?” She vanished.
He listened again for her voice, and it struck him then that one might listen like that for the pipes of Pan. A special quality was in it, and carelessly, unconsciously used. The girl tossed her voice down a telephone and through a door as though magic were as cheap as electric bells and gramophones. She found Brierley and told him that Sir Thomas Cox-Cox wanted to talk to him. “I would not do instead.”
The conversation continued for some time and Hailstone was critical of it. With a cocked ear he became convinced that Brierley was making no special personal concession to that girl Anne. She might have been anybody. Privileges were always in the danger zone of sentiment, and if Anne what’s-her-name was without privileges Brierley must know how to use his staff. With hot and dusty recollections of babus, who intruded into the day’s work an element of alarmed surprise that beings so industrious, subtle, and clever should yet lower the whole standard of the business of administration to the standard of a drone, Hailstone felt envious of the high aristocratic charm Anne lent to every transaction.
During the course of the day he had a reaction and became anti-Anne. She was so socially cool. Without any affectation or superficiality she was quite briskly cool. He had never met anyone so adequate to deal with a chief, and a hostess, and a guest as was this Miss Anne Knightley. Helen seemed devoted to her, and Brierley took her contentedly for granted. Hailstone did not. She shook him to pieces. First her quiet gravity seemed to him remarkable. He made up his mind that she was a very serious young woman, and he said, “Still waters run deep” to himself an inane number of times. Then her indifference to exceedingly entertaining gossip related by Helen Brierley made him a little averse to so much discretion; it was too professional. With surprise he discovered that she was merely absent-minded. She had not listened. He came to the conclusion that someone far more commonplace would have suited him better as a secretary.
“Is not Anne Knightley beautiful?” Helen said when Anne was absent.
“Beautiful?” A caution with regard to praising one woman to another prompted his tone, while in the back of his mind a small worldly self-consciousness told him that this attitude was as hopelessly old-fashioned as archness.
“Of course! That is what makes it such a joy to have her in the house.” Helen seemed to find him dense.
“Is she going to India with Brierley?”
“Yes. I don’t think she is very keen about it though.”
Sir Reginald unreasonably resented this. “Why not? Do her good to see something of the world.”
“O, but she and Walter Lay don’t feel like that. They have not the traveller’s feeling of adventure at all. They regard that sort of experience rather in the way I used to look upon visiting museums. Anne would tell you that she did not require to book tickets anywhere in order to reach great horizons.”
“How is she going to reach them then?”
“In our own great civilization, according to Walter Lay!”
A silly young lady was how he summed her up after that. But there was something quick and clear about her that made it impossible to suspect her wits of being clogged with sentimentality. Before two days were over Hailstone began to give all the credit to her education. Wonderful, what education had done for women, he thought.
He never succeeded in having a conversation with Anne Knightley, nor did he interrupt once between her and Walter Lay by intruding into the drawing-room about six o’clock one evening.
Anne looked up and said: “There you are, Sir Reginald,” in a welcoming sort of way that made him think her quite delightful and then she went on talking to Lay, who was sitting in a painfully uncomfortable attitude on the edge of a sofa, like a bird suffering from cramp.
“I am meeting them all this evening at dinner, Walter. I do wish you were going to be there.”
“But I should hate it, Anne. I loathe that kind of dinner party. What on earth should I say to Dr. Neale, or Mrs. Topley?”
She sighed. “Why need you say anything?”
“Because I have not your heavenly gift of silence. I want to talk. But I want to talk to thinking people and not to a crowd of that sort.”
“Who are coming?” asked Hailstone, determined to approve of them since Lay did not.
“The Commission,” answered Lay. Then he laughed. “Goodness knows why I hate them so. I simply hate them, Anne, dear.”
“Yes, I know.” She said it wistfully, tenderly, as though someone she loved had scorned a song she sang.
“Perfectly harmless people, aren’t they?” Sir Reginald was almost aggressive.
“I don’t know much about that,” Lay poked his nose at the ceiling in his darkly impertinent way. “Witch doctors. Prigs. Faddists. Sir Thomas Cox-Cox! A man who calls himself that ought to be shot. I have only met the Commission’s secretary, Knocklong; a deferential cove. Thank God I’m not deferential.”
“I wish you were,” said Anne, amazingly.
Hailstone felt he could not have said it better himself.
Lay evidently had a weakness for Anne. His ugly face softened into a queerly sensitive smile. “Now why, my dear?”
“It would make you much more attractive.”
“The first thing you’ll do when you get to heaven is to introduce manners and deportment,” he groaned.
“Good manners are likeable. I am fully persuaded of it.”
Walter Lay sat bolt upright. “And who in God’s name wants to be liked?”
“I do,” sighed Anne.
Her guilt was pondered by Lay in an appalled silence. “You’ll get over that,” he uttered the words hopefully. “Oh, Anne, the people who sat in inglenooks and said of music, ‘I know what I like!’ There’s nothing more worthless than mere liking. Fear, horror, hate, rapture, love are the only things that matter tuppence. Do you suppose that I like you?”
Hailstone thought, ‘I’m quite out of it. I’m a back number. Could never have talked to a girl like that to save my life. In front of a third person, too. Bad form. Tosh!’ But he was intimidated in spite of himself and anxious to appear unspotted by the inferior world which had prattled of taste in inglenooks.
“You often like me,” murmured Anne.
“Well, then—I would often give you away with a pound of tea. Honestly! There’s absolutely no value in it. I ‘like’ a good dinner. It is only when I love you that you matter to me.”
Anne lifted up a delicate old card-case made of mother-o’-pearl. She tapped the shell with her rosy fingernail and then rubbed her cheek against it. She seemed to be off on an enterprise of her own now, experiencing an acute realization of the texture and beauty of a shell; quite indifferent to the two men in the room. Hailstone had never seen a girl so unsophisticated, so without affectation.
Suddenly Walter Lay ejaculated in dreamy tones:
“Anne, put that thing down and listen to me. When you hold a talisman in your hands I can’t get near you. Anne, do you realize there is a thing called art needlework!”
“Well—I’ll tear it to shreds in an article. The blasted thing.”
“Oh, but—women doing tapestry! And men, too; old aristocratic bachelors in France. And embroidered banners, and altar cloths, and vestments. And trousseaux. It is so human! Don’t be highbrow.”
“Gosh! You are sentimental,” he retorted. “I’ve got a good hate on now. It will sweat that article out of me in half a jiff. I’m off. There’s money in it, my sweet.” And as awkwardly as possible he left the room.
Anne jumped up briskly and looked at the clock. “I am going to be most unsuitably dressed for a secretary in Mrs. Topley’s eyes. She dresses at Woolworths, I should think,” she announced. “I adore clothes.”
“Good,” said Sir Reginald, greatly relieved. “You know your wonderful generation is merely better advertised than mine was, but human nature is just the same. It is like a snake that changes its skin: a different skin, same snake.”
She accepted that sweetly and not at all intensely.
“A snake! That conjures up a whole realm of dark myths, and vitality, and lost wings, doesn’t it?”
But, for all her appreciation, when she closed the door behind her she left a middle-aged man disconcerted by his own stubborn inability to share her childishness, its inspiration and its quick thrust into life. It was tiresome to be fifty and unmarried, conscious too that a bride should be young. That talkative journalist had exploded his sense of the value of passion too close to Sir Reginald, it had shell-shocked him. All these girl secretaries darting in and out of offices and houses—very disturbing! As a bachelor he could not take Anne Knightley out to India as his secretary. If he had a business in the city he might have engaged her. Nothing was hard and fast nowadays. There was Helen Brierley, who treated Anne like a daughter, and highly approved of her going with Brierley as his private secretary! “Why not?” That was her attitude. Airy. Well, he was fifty and he did not take young pretty secretaries for granted. But the middle-aged were made to feel fools if they spoke of risks. He suspected Lay of ignoring all conventions that did not suit him. And probably Anne wished to ignore them. How, then, could she be a perfectly suitable secretary for Frank Brierley? It annoyed Hailstone intensely to be asking questions which mothers and aunts used to settle so firmly, thus allowing men to escape from the side of the angels when in the mood for lighter society—a complete holiday. One thing or the other! He went down to dinner resentful of Anne, who let herself in with the latchkey as he reached the hall.
“It’s an important party. I do adore an important party!” cried Anne, patting her hair in front of a mirror. “You see it is essential that none should feel a bloodthirsty hate. It will be quite awful if the Commission does not pull well together.”
“Such catastrophes have to be kept dark,” Sir Reginald suggested.
That evening everybody paid attention to Hailstone and spoke with becoming modesty of the task which lay before them. Pride would come later. He had never known a Commission remain modest. Nor did Commissions solve difficulties. They invented new ones.
Hailstone, on the whole, liked the look of this Commission. He was especially attracted by Sir Thomas Cox-Cox, who struck him as being one of the most lively men he had ever seen in his life. Sir Thomas was fair, pale, stout, with great broad shoulders and a laughing face. He had a voice which moved smoothly from vowel to vowel. This man enjoyed talking and had the most ungrudging sociability. A helpful man. He was not there to cavil, discourage, hinder, to lay stress on difficulties and to raise objections. Hailstone thought of Walter Lay’s sallow, spiteful, determined face and his original queer ways, and hoped—he was not sure—that Sir Thomas was twice the man. Everybody felt at home with him. They’d like him in Delhi. He was all right. Hailstone’s verdict on Mr. Penwarden was suspended longer, but in the end it was favourable. Rightly handled, thought Hailstone, he would be quite all right too. For some time Penwarden was silent, even though Lady Brierley laid herself out to be pleasant to him. A broad, sturdy man, red-faced, spectacled, with excellent teeth and a way of laying down his knife and fork and jerking up his chin in proclaimed astonishment. There was something very taking about the fellow, something sincere. Good chaps, these Labour men, thought Hailstone, and approved of the way Dr. Neale and Mrs. Topley played up to Penwarden. So did Miss Alison Garland, about whom Hailstone remained rather at sea for some time. Finally he discovered that this matronly-looking and self-possessed woman was unmarried and a magistrate and county councillor. Hailstone adjusted himself to this with a rather conscious ease. England had shaken off a thousand prejudices; her conventions were mere conveniences now, thin and transparent and brittle as glass. People handled them with just enough care to preserve them as receptacles for social stimulants and sedatives.
It was a very pleasant evening and Hailstone could have sworn that he did not talk much. As a matter of fact he was continually contributing a stream of information in reply to questions. These people wanted to know a lot; the degree of heat likely to prevail in Bombay, the advisability of having fur wraps handy for the ladies in the Punjab. The men, especially cold and polished young Mr. Knocklong, the secretary to the Commission, wanted to know about facilities: works of reference, press communiques, train services. Nobody worried about language difficulties: they would speak and write in English, come what may. These were serious, but light-hearted people. Hailstone who had had his own experience of plague, pestilence, and famine in India found himself wondering late in the evening what help or healing they could bring to so much unbelief. To women who propitiated Mata, the dread goddess of small-pox, for instance? The Reverend Harold Topley, with his dignified priestly face and his somewhat self-righteous enthusiasm for cricket, could not afford to disregard what such women represented. The Commission’s task was to investigate conditions and present a report, together with recommendations for whatever reforms commended themselves to their combined intelligence. A wiseacre’s game: no harm in it probably. But India was sensitive, touchy in fact, with regard to its social ethics and practices, and would resent any disclosures of women’s ills. The purdah and caste had preserved India hitherto from the only criticism which matters, the criticism that rouses public opinion. Purdah had kept everything dark; caste had stigmatized social reform as defilement. Times had certainly changed now that Bluebeard’s cupboard was frankly opened to investigation, and untouchability met the surgeon’s knife.
Obviously these capable men and women were not fanatics or faddists; to send clever cranks to sensitive millions would be a crime, the sort of caddish thing England did not do. For reasons that did not jump to the eye each member of the Commission inspired a certain amount—not a very great deal perhaps of public confidence: they carried some weight. And Hailstone, accepting this fact, was pleased to find them tolerant, and good-tempered. Brierley was by far the most attractive, but Hailstone was interested by Cox-Cox and drawn to Penwarden. He had a less definite impression of Topley, and kept on thinking of him only as a clergyman.
Finally they all took their departure. Sir Thomas left after having told them all a lot they did not know about themselves; the functions of their glands and so on. He was pleased with himself and delighted with the prospect of this work in India; he was a tiger for work. To meet all sorts and conditions of men, women, and children would be the best of entertainments. He would see hundreds of hospitals, and talk to those I.M.S. men, British and Indian. Splendid, most amusing! Full of zest he went off with a joke and a chuckle, and left Brierley laughing, and delighted with him. Not an intellectual prig, thank heaven.
Robert Penwarden had ejaculated his surprise at the caste system, and the prides and prejudices of the Indians, as related by Sir Reginald Hailstone at intervals. That sort of thing was not going to knock out the member for Fourthtown. He was not in a position to disprove Sir Reginald’s statements and he was far from disbelieving them, so he shrugged at them. And while he got into his coat and looked for his hat his mind was entirely filled by the difficulty of making a good enough jest to do justice to the name of Sir Thomas Cox-Cox. Anything he had thought of so far had just missed being good enough.
The Topleys went off in a taxi and Harold Topley was depressed and appalled by his own tendency to become too much of a layman. The world and the kingdoms thereof fascinated his imagination and he thought how strangely priests and physicians moved through all lands. Phyllis Topley stole her fingers into his and squeezed them: she realized his tormenting ambitions.
Dr. Neale and Miss Garland sought the underground together and it would have amazed the wives of governors, generals, and the like, to discover that neither Dr. Neale nor Miss Garland considered them respectable authorities on India. No doubt Dr. Neale would not force this point of view into prominence at dinner parties in Delhi or Lahore. But she did not want their opinions; she wanted facts at first hand. The names she and Miss Garland bandied about were the names of professional women. Censoriousness was taboo to Doris Neale, for science neither approved nor disapproved.
“The last Census report states that India is at a point where her population is controlled by disease and disease alone,” she told Miss Garland as they stood on the refuge waiting for the 49 bus to pass.
“The practice of letting girl babies die having been more or less abandoned, and birth control not yet adopted? Yes, I see,” responded Miss Garland, with ardour in her breath because the fate of women was the destiny she challenged with a great passion.
So the members of the Commission all went their way drifting through London, and before they slept the picture passing before their eyelids was, in every case without exception, the picture made by Anne Knightley in her silences, in her little efficient contributions to the business of the evening, in her bird-like feasting, in her sudden amusement. She inspired in each one of them an isolated and uncontroversial interest, as though men and women seated at windows far far apart had seen loveliness go by.
The Commission was not dazzlingly popular on board ship. Passengers discussed its members a good deal, and on arrival in Bombay carried their diverse opinions far and wide through India, leaving various impressions in many provincial capitals and cantonments. Madras Club heard from a planter that everybody hated the whole lot like poison. Secunderabad took a field officer’s word for it that Brierley seemed a sound fellow, but the best of the bunch was a Labour man. An eminent merchant in Calcutta spread it abroad through the members of the Turf Club that a more ignorant lot he had never come across, but that a fair chap, Cox-Cox, was most amusing and he had invited him to stay during Christmas week. The missions on the Frontier heard from one of their missionaries that the Commission might do great good and that both Dr. Neale and Mr. Topley held the right point of view. Rawalpindi was told by a civil servant that there was no conceited nonsense about them, but that for all the good they were qualified to do they might as well have stayed at home. A judge’s wife in Peshawar said over and over again that she did not care about them socially. In Poona a cavalry officer sang a hymn of hate inspired by a man called Lay, who if he was not a member of the Commission had “something to do with it,” and was a poisonous ass. The reaction of Lay against heat, flies, curry, coolies, bullock carts, his bathroom, and the railway carriage in which he travelled from Bombay to Delhi, was more comprehensively intolerant and bitter than any criticism the Commission inspired.
“We must be careful how we create public opinion,” said Brierley to Penwarden, Cox-Cox, Topley, and Dr. Neale, at a little informal committee meeting which he held in the railway carriage before the train rushed whistling into Agra station. The secretaries, Knocklong and Anne, were in silent attendance.
“Pretty good notices in the Bombay papers,” remarked Penwarden, who was pleased by a voluminous pile of press cuttings. The Labour party having but a small press at their command he regarded the pile with a friendly eye as a substantial harvest.
“People in Bombay are critical of our rushing through to Delhi,” observed Topley.
“Yes, but I gave the leading newspaper an interview and put that right,” Brierley told him.
Topley nodded. Church papers and the lay press sustained his point of view. Pulpits and platforms were at the disposal of the clergy and missionary societies. Publicity, discreet, uncritical, and biased, was no stranger to Topley. Doris Neale, however, was excited by press notices and somewhat intimidated, for publicity attacked as often as it praised. Women received less publicity than men because many critics disliked attacking a woman in the press. Cox-Cox, who, professionally, might not advertise and therefore regarded the press as unreliable, smiled in his bland way and asked what was the tone of vernacular newspapers about them.
“We don’t know. We can’t read them,” said Brierley.
“Good,” chuckled Cox-Cox. “ What a sell for the vernacular press!”
Brierley said that they would be able to ascertain what the vernacular papers said. Meanwhile Knocklong had made a précis of the articles in the Indian owned press published in English and there were a good many references in it to recent controversies as to Hindu ethics and practices. “They are sensitive, evidently,” Brierley pointed out. He said that there was a tendency to regard the Commission as hostile and prejudiced busybodies, and some articles spoke extravagantly of social evils in England. “We shall have to walk warily. But there is a good deal of emphasis laid on the awakened desire in India for an improvement in public health and hygiene. The note of social reform is stressed. And I suspect that much of that energy is a reaction to public opinion in England and the United States.”
None of the Commission felt inclined to prolong this discussion with the chairman. It was seemly and inevitable that a chairman should state the obvious. But as it was exhausting to bawl at the top of one’s voice it was pleasanter to let Brierley do the bawling. He did it gallantly for another quarter of an hour and imposed upon each member an oppressive sense of the need for discretion. Tact, said Brierley, was most necessary. Drains, water supply, public health, were things men could get very touchy about. Governments resented being asked to create services and amenities for which the people could not pay. And they must remember that health was a ‘transferred subject,’ and the British could not deal with it as autocrats. Caste disputed the public use of wells. Religion regulated the disposal of the dead. It laid its taboo on the slaughter of certain animals, vermin and reptiles and often looked askance at inoculations. The custom of the country had not bred integrity as regards bribes. The seclusion of women and the old insecurities of daily life had instituted an enclosure system by which walled villages became slums and purdah women prisoners. Pilgrimages spread disease. However irrelevant such criticism might be to the work of the Commission its activities and investigations would certainly be the occasion for much scrutiny of the morals and methods of the British race. “We have got to be as personally discreet as the mistresses in a girls’ school,” declared debonair Brierley.
“Hear, hear,” agreed Penwarden, who positively adored making a virtue of necessity. “Hear, hear.”
On either side of the train a brown India, wide and wild as eagle’s wings, glided by. Doris Neale sighed and nobody heard her. In a shrill scream she wailed: “We can’t speak the languages, we shall live in hotels and European bungalows, in selected areas. All this is so big and unget-at-able. I wonder if we shall see and question the real India.”
“True,” said Topley, discouraged.
“We shall deal with the organized India that presents its considered case. When I turn on my bath water tap I consider the plumber and the water rate if I don’t get due satisfaction and efficiency. I don’t attempt to consider the mystery and the statistics of the rainfall,” Brierley suggested very pleasantly. He then cleared his throat to show he had felt the strain and they forbore to call upon him for further illuminating remarks.
Meanwhile Mrs. Topley and Lay sat in banishment in an ordinary first class carriage and Mrs. Topley felt extremely uneasy, for she was terrified of Walter Lay. He had rather a liking for her on that account and was perfectly willing to suffer her presence while he gazed with aversion out of the window.
“It isn’t a pretty view,” Phyllis Topley said very carefully.
Probably she ought to have called it hideous, but she shrank from such definite words. “I don’t like the glare,” she suggested in her timid way.
“I abominate the whole silly country,” said Lay. He shook a lot of books and papers out of his despatch box as viciously as though they were crumbs in his bed and turned his shoulder on the window at his side of the carriage. “But it is the brightest jewel in the British crown,” he told Mrs. Topley so very disagreeably as to suggest to her a revolutionary and violent attitude towards crown jewels.
“I suppose so,” said Mrs. Topley, suffering from an inferiority complex. Her Harold had told her not to let Lay sit on her. But Harold Topley was a brave, dignified, proud creature, who ruled himself with a rod of iron, subduing his highly-strung desire to have a row with Lay. Mrs. Topley knew that her husband found his position on this Commission as difficult as that of a cardinal at a court. All the acute worldliness in the man rushed into his brain and inflamed him, while a wholly sincere desire for truth and humility wrestled with his personal ambitions. In the smoking room he occasionally became hearty, talked cricket, and sent grey clouds sprawling out of his foul pipe and was addressed as padré. In his reaction from this commonplace fellowship he would turn to Mrs. Topley to be comforted while he groaned:
“These men are only in the confessional when they love, or when they criticize their own work. They are the most friendly and most remote of men. When they admit I’m not narrow-minded they mean I have not said or done anything a respectable layman might not say or do.”
Phyllis Topley was very successful in comforting him, for she was a gentle soul.
“Don’t you like India, Mr. Lay?” Her embarrassment drove her to make conversation most rashly.
He turned to her and a smile that was wholly mischievous went over his thin brown face in a movement of great activity. “I loathe it. Always have. Plain tales, India Office, black hole, salaams, my Indian brothers, Knights of the Star of India, and brass trays.”
“But you’ve never been here before!”
“No. Have you?”
(He knows I have not, objected a bewildered Mrs. Topley.)
“Do you like it?”
“I haven’t seen enough of it yet——”
“I have seen too much. A deputy commissioner who breakfasted at my table to-day, a man they call a coolie, and a babu, and one of the intelligentsia who travelled in this carriage with me all last night. He spat in the wash-basin. Those form the troupe, don’t they? With a few supers that’s the lot which makes up the Great Indian Drama, isn’t it? Well, it’s deadly dull.”
“In a way——” agreed Mrs. Topley, quite enfeebled.
Lay opened his book and began to read. He went on reading till with a jerk and a bang the train stopped at a station. Painted wooden animals were hawked about on trays. Mrs. Topley thought them very quaint. So did Harold Topley, who hopped out of his carriage and bought one. His wife hoped Walter Lay would never know. His eye had marked the transaction, but he had also caught sight of Phyllis’s sensitive little face, so soft and timid, and he forbore to badger her. Just as the train was about to start Anne came flying along through the dust and drab of the station, her hair bright as a dandelion. She climbed breathlessly into their carriage and the train lurched forward.
Lay greeted her with an expression as flagrantly gay as bunting. “You darling!” he said.
“I’d sell my soul for an ice cream,” said Anne.
“Gosh!” cried Lay.
He hugged one slim ankle and gazed ardently upon this girl. “How do you like India now?” he inquired.
“I simply love it.”
“It ought to be inhabited by death-watch beetles only,” he declared. “I hope the Commission will have the guts to say so.”
They passed Agra like excursionists, their heads craned at windows to catch a glimpse of the Taj.
“Don’t say a word, Walter. Promise!” urged Anne.
“I’ll burst into tears,” Lay vowed.
Mrs. Topley found it impossible to fire off suitable ejaculations when she saw the Taj in the presence of this pair, who pressed against each other with what was “either sangfroid—or not.” Little Mrs. Topley, much attracted by Anne, could not decide.
They left Agra behind and presently the Commission summoned them to luncheon. Meals were not very satisfactory to Cox-Cox who was fond of his food. He spread his table napkin and felt it was time to take up a position at once professional and free from self-denial. Raising his voice he addressed his fellow travellers.
“Don’t touch tinned foods, uncooked vegetables, unboiled milk or water. Don’t dream of eating oysters. Avoid over-ripe fruit. Never eat anything that has been exposed to dust or flies. Beware of food cooked in dirty vessels or served by unclean hands. Now then, I shall go nap! It is probably that or starvation.”
“I need a good example, Cox,” said Brierley with a broad grin.
“Ah! Professional advice is what laymen pay for and that’s what they’ll get,” Cox retorted.
In the drowsy afternoon the train bore the Commission into an isolated station at a funereal pace. That station was the only conspicuous feature in a world of brown and green and blue. Against the horizon a little dusty city drew a dim design of flat roofs and domes. The Commission were now familiar with that sort of view, but the condition of the station impressed them. A hurtling mass of stalwart men surged in expectation towards the train. Banners pressed forward, and deputations herded together in prominent positions. All classes were present and shared a lively anticipation. Outside the station eccas, bullock carts, ponies, and camels were parked; also a motor omnibus.
“They are expecting us!” cried Doris Neale.
“Looks like it,” agreed Penwarden.
Knocklong expostulated:—“I know nothing about this,” and Brierley, as chairman, prepared to meet an emergency and hunted wildly for his sola topi. Anne gave it to him and Brierley, after a swift glance at her, felt that cameras could have no terrors for the Anne Knightleys of 1929. There were cameras in plenty turning their dark dead faces to the train. A boys’ school was wriggling to the edge of the platform under the arms and legs of an egotistical crowd. When the Commission’s compartment came to a standstill faces confronted its windows and stared blankly.
After sixty seconds the gratified Commission became self-conscious, and Lay voiced the general misgiving.
“They don’t like the look of us.”
They did not. There were confused shouts. All turned away from the Commission and, presenting their profiles, surged towards the other end of the train.
One determined soul, a schoolmaster, opened the door of the Commission’s compartment, whereupon every member more or less sprang to attention.
“Sir,” began the schoolmaster in a high-pitched voice, “There has been a mistake.”
“We are the Health, Hygiene and Welfare Commission,” Lord Brierley informed him.
The schoolmaster said sadly: “Some foolish person telegraphed to the city authorities that a demonstration train was to pass through. So we have come. The station master said there was a mistake. All people are annoyed. Naturally.”
The Commission, baffled, smiled at this slight and bearded person, who wore a tightly buttoned coat, green knitted scarf, bright brown leather shoes, and a ring on his tapering brown finger.
“This is the ordinary mail train,” Brierley confessed.
“So I see. I am verree sorry.”
“What is a demonstration train?” Penwarden inquired, as if with a personal grievance.
“Sir, it is a government train which demonstrates health and hygiene and arts and crafts, also I think agricultural methods, to people who are ignorant. There has been some mistake.”
“We demonstrate nothing,” Penwarden confessed. “Nothing.”
Here loud cries to bai and jee to leave the miserable train were addressed to the schoolmaster, who on the other hand appeared loth to part from the Commission.
“Sir, it is most necessary to teach by demonstration where the illiterate are numerous. But the wrong train has come. I have walked several miles since morning. And now what to do?”
A whistle blew, the train started, and the schoolmaster in a great fluster jumped out.
“What was the name of that place?” Brierley demanded.
“It does not matter,” said Lay crisply.
Brierley, after a moment’s consideration, agreed:
“Not a bit!”
But Brierley thought that schoolmasters and crowds mattered a good deal. A whole world of absurdities and hope, of pomposities and ardour, might be contained in the village which had appeared on the horizon, emptied itself into the station, and been snatched again into the unknown. During the winter Brierley would be confronted by groups of people, queer combinations. He must accept them as important. To keep himself aloof in manner, or sympathy, would be to miss the human experience. And he liked the leading part in such intercourse. None but a fool could fail to discern the fine-spun film of light that extended over modern India, bright and tenuous as hoar-frost in the sun. This enlightenment was often a mere recognition of old, dingy customs as things to be disparaged in public speeches, but sometimes it was strong reform. It would be easy enough to extinguish the light! His purpose was to increase its power. In order to be successful he must stand well with the big men, the small local fry, the public, and the press. That ‘standing well’ was to him an inspiring thought; it called for a certain high recognition of the right thing to do. He was prepared to be indifferent on occasion, but when exercising influence he was never bored. Helen, on the contrary, would have given way to boredom the moment she had to meet socially people who did not interest her. Anne was very easy in that way. Brierley was rather taken aback by the impression Anne had made on him when she turned to look at that crowd in the station. So remarkably pretty! Helen was an odd proud woman, he thought. She had said quite calmly that Anne’s conspicuous beauty made it advisable for her to be secretary to “a man like you, Frank.” Anne could not be “just anybody’s secretary.” And Helen expressed her opinion with great decision about this trip to India.
“Of course Anne must go! It is a chance in a thousand for her.” She rather hoped Anne would “meet the right man” in India. Helen did not altogether approve of Lay’s influence on Anne. “He puts ideas into her head.” It was Brierley’s conviction that Lay had no charm and that Anne would not look at him. He also cherished a good opinion of himself in relation to Anne. After all he was still a young man at forty-five, but he behaved to Anne like an uncle. He flattered himself that he knew how to manage her.
Delhi’s centuries were not engraven on the face of her modern railway station, yet there was a thrill in arriving at Delhi. Had the commissioners been described as the aristocrat, the physicians, the scribes, and the priest, Delhi would have recognized them as among those whom generation after generation she had received, deceived, destroyed. She was wise in cynicism, very old in guile. She might have detected less quickly the nymph and the imp as Anne and Lay slipped through her sad shadows to their destinations.
The Chief Commissioner of Delhi, Sir Percy Pryce, was a victim to his position and thereby constrained to put up Lord Brierley.
“And his private secretary?” enquired Lady Pryce.
When it turned out that the secretary was a woman, Lady Pryce was pleased by this emancipation of her sex from chaperones and ghoulish prejudice. She pictured Anne as a pleasant and unexacting guest to whom she might well address information likely to influence the chairman. Lady Pryce asked “Who is she?” and nobody knew. In arranging the dinner party which Sir Percy said must be given the day the Commission arrived—because no other free date would occur during their brief sojourn in the capital—Lady Pryce took it for granted that Miss Knightley was of a suitable age to be placed between the secretary to the Indian Soldiers’ Board who would take her in, and the head of the Indian Medical Services who would sit on the other side of her as partner of a more exalted lady. But when Lord Brierley and Miss Knightley arrived at the Chief Commissioner’s bungalow, Lady Pryce received a shock. These strangers were of the world worldly by the look of them. With a mental agility to which the physical agility of a flea is mere languor Lady Pryce changed her tune. She was no longer the earnest well-informed woman, full of maternal instincts with regard to infant welfare, yearning for her sons at Harrow, an exile, a hostess anxious to impress and patronise through very efficient Indian servants, punctual hot water, large dinner parties. She would have been all that for two pins, but she became the brilliant and detached Lady Pryce, lightly flouting this life in India as not quite good enough; a woman slightly bored with all this local official nonsense. Anyhow just every whit as bored as Lord Brierley was entitled to be!
Anne did not care for her much because, while Lady Pryce rattled on about the inferiorities of everything in Delhi to those vague ‘things’ which filled one’s life in England, there came every now and then a keen inquiry, as direct and self-engrossed as a hen’s peck. Lady Pryce quite definitely meant to pick up information about the Commission.
“Lovely!” thought Anne, and gave her information, as entertained as a child throwing crumbs to greedy birds.
“Let me see, who was Lady Brierley?”
“Helen Hawkhurst, daughter of the big publisher, you know.”
“Yes, of course! One forgets. Young, isn’t she?”
“Not so very. She was at school with my mother. She is the same age as Lord Brierley.”
“He is forty-five, my husband says. I thought she was younger.” Never having seen Lady Brierley, this was presumably just a kind thought. With equal kindness Lady Pryce was on the very verge of giving Anne information about the Brierleys, or seeming to do so. “She looks every day of it. He is an awfully clever man, of course. And people say he may become a governor somewhere.”
“Do they?” murmured wicked Anne, who then answered questions about herself briefly. She was the only child of Major Knightley who was killed in the war. That information was quite inadequate, for Lady Pryce felt there was nothing to show whether he was a regular or ‘only in the army for the war.’ She found herself impelled to ask.
“A regular,” answered Anne. “In the Rifle Brigade.”
“Your mother must miss you!”
“She died three years ago. While I was doing my training.”
“So sad! I suppose Lady Brierley, being your mother’s friend, mothered you?”
“Oh no. We are just great friends.”
“Mrs. Knightley’s maiden name—I’ve forgotten! I have such a Punjab head.”
“Smith. She married again, Sir Roger Battle.”
“And,” said Anne deliberately, “as you probably know better than I do, he is no saint.”
“Ah, well!” Lady Pryce, as Anne guessed, had never heard of Sir Roger Battle.
“You girls are so brave, I think.” This was perilously near the matronly note, so she glittered into the remark: “But luckily you know how to amuse yourselves and how to take care of yourselves. That’s what middle-aged men like Sir Roger cannot grasp!”
“He isn’t middle-aged. Only twelve years older than I am, and I am twenty-three.”
“Always such a mistake!” and the tone was very fashionable though the meaning was vague. Lady Pryce then left Anne alone and telephoned hastily to invite one of the Viceroy’s aides-de-camp to take Anne in to dinner the following night. “Captain Crossley! Haidee Pryce speaking. I want you to dine with us to-morrow night? You can come? Splendid! You don’t mind being asked at the last moment, do you? A man has fallen through. I said—fallen through. I want you to meet Miss Knightley—you know, Lord Brierley’s secretary. She is a step-daughter of that horrid Sir Roger Battle. The mother, who was just plain Smith, married again; a man much younger than herself. He and the girl don’t hit it off! I thought I’d just warn you. Her father was in the Rifle Brigade. Do you remember? And killed in the war. It’s just as well to know. I always tell people. You know what most people are, here,—quite out of touch! Lady Battle and Lady Brierley were the greatest friends. That’s why she’s here,—I mean the girl. So pretty! Good-bye.”
The metallic voice penetrated to Anne’s room, for Lady Pryce’s social technique was never perfect. And her words set Anne dreaming. In her reverie events and emotions presented themselves as things observed, touching her lightly as thistledown. She looked into herself and found the knowledge there, authentic. Facts moved in her mind, stirred into life by Lady Pryce’s queer recitation of untruth. Her mother was very definitely held within her consciousness, for during Anne’s childhood, while her experience was essentially the record of her emotions, Gwendoline Knightley was in tense touch with her only child. Gwendoline Knightley felt acutely: she was not stupid but she lacked energy to cultivate and train her mind. She accepted her world, its creed, its code of honour, its social ethics and its politics. Without difficulty she made a romance out of this material, and her patriotism was sheer romance. But she was a passionate woman, she lived by loving. Her adoration of Andrew Knightley was without criticism. Fiercely as wings beat the air she fanned the ardour of faith, chivalry, prestige—a romance! During the war her deepest heart was simple as hearts at Agincourt. Intellectual misgivings never assaulted her. She desired but to give her strength to war work that Andrew might consume it and be reinforced. When he was killed she too passed through a death. People said she lacked balance, a sense of proportion. She swayed only to the rhythm of what she felt. Little Anne grew up in the knowledge that it was terribly important that her mother should feel happy. When that dark-haired, blue-eyed woman, with a face so small and intent, was not happy, it was quite awful. She sent Anne away to school because her despair as a widow darkened the child’s life. At Eastbourne Anne was amazed to discover that school expected you to be jolly and was quite exacting about it. She breathed freely for the first time in her brief life. Unable to share her mother’s personal raptures, she had lived under the tyranny of her pain. Gwendoline’s outcry against anything which assaulted her romantic conceptions had pierced Anne’s happy-go-lucky acceptation of grown-ups’ odd behaviour; so that small Anne recoiled from agnostics, dissenters, socialists, and conscientious objectors as from enmity. In her home widowed love had to be accorded a daily ceremonial very different from Victorian observances, but enacted with as acute a sense of tragedy as though a bride were being buried. Then, four years later, Gwendoline Knightley became Gwendoline Battle. With a direct and irresistible passion she wedded a man eight years younger than herself. There was no use talking to her, Helen Brierley said. Gwen was like that; mad. A new ritual of pain began. Youth was, so to speak, photographed and reproduced with skill. Gwendoline Battle carefully looked young, but she became forty-two. Her pride soon shuddered: for she loved Roger Battle without infatuation. Finding his standards low and his charm supreme, she called him an adorable villain, and presently repudiated the foolish words. No villainy is adorable, she said. Once more she made the effort of a troubadour and cried that he was a fascinating scallywag. But in the clubs they called him a cad. That terrified her, for she believed in the standard of the people she knew as though it were a revelation. Anne at seventeen was sent abroad for a year and her mother broke down when she talked to Helen Brierley.
“I love Roger. I only get at life through him. But I can’t fight for my life with him if a young girl like Anne is there.”
Helen Brierley said she would take Anne out during her first season. So Anne stayed with the Brierleys and went to balls, and saw that Roger Battle ran after a married woman of twenty-one with the air of being as happy as the day is long in her society, while Gwendoline Battle sometimes accompanied him and acted the part of the tolerant woman of the world, or of the indifferent wife, pathetically badly but with utter intentness. Had she been asked to play either part on her wedding day it would have been no more beyond her powers than it was when she had been married to Roger Battle for five years. She died of the effort. And it was Walter Lay who helped young Anne during the painful months while Battle enjoyed himself and Gwendoline broke her furious heart.
Lay came down from Oxford after the war with unruly hair and a critical brain. His temperament made him poke the world as a poker prods the fire, for the purpose of making flames leap. He had a clear, clean, whistling mind that rejected rhetoric, second-hand sentiments, and commonplace values. As he had very little money, and no useful connections, he was obliged to whistle exceedingly loud and shrilly, like an engine arriving at a station. Lay made great fun of his own strident methods, but he got on. His pen carried no slipshod handicaps, his work was good and quickly recognized as important. But he never ceased complaining of the dilatory methods and manners of the British, and lauding the enterprise and speed of the United States. Helen was a clannish woman and let him come and go as he pleased in Onslow Square, so that during her first season Anne saw a great deal of him. He revolutionized her outlook. Lay scoffed at her social values. His demand was that a man or woman should be original, personable, ‘civilized.’ To be a fashionable type, to be ungainly or unsightly, to be unintelligent, prejudiced, and ignorant, was, he assured Anne, to be quite insignificant. He questioned her about the parties she went to. A show should be done well, of course! The company, the service, food, lights, the dancing, the music and the scheme of decoration—didn’t she see that these things proved taste, or the lack of it? To be merely smart was to be damned. Labels were jerked out of Anne’s hand; she was told that professional eminence and rank and fame and wealth were not magics, and that to accept them as wonderful was to be practised upon by the wizardry of other people’s imagination. All she was allowed to do in self-respect was to recognize these blatant things, Lay said. Matters worthy of her interest were the qualities she could discover in individuals, the power they had to make her laugh or cry, to make her state of mind desirable, to invigorate her will, to impart delight to her. “If they can transmute your values into higher values accept them whoever they are. If they bore you, or detract from your powers, avoid them like so much dirt,” Lay urged. It was all very exciting to Anne especially as Lay so earnestly and steadfastly worshipped beauty and told her she was beautiful.
“It really would not matter if you were a fool, Anne,” he declared. But she did not think that a pleasant thing to hear.
So, while Gwendoline Battle flinched wounded before the rather scornful pity of her world, her daughter, though terribly unable to go to her rescue, drew into her own life through Lay a spirit that braced her and enabled her to defy the social doom gathering round her and her mother. When Gwendoline died her name had become a byword for the sort of folly and despair that provokes disaster. She had treated her wild love for Andrew Knightley as if it had indeed been made in heaven while other marriages were made on earth, and for her widowhood she had made great claims as though it were a religion. But a convert to a creed could not have more definitely proclaimed a new heaven and a new earth than Gwendoline when, aged thirty-seven, with a daughter twenty years younger, she had married a man of twenty-nine. “I love him,” was for her a passport authoritatively issued, and she demanded that it should entitle her beloved to all the privileges she sought for him in people’s hearts. None knew him better than she did, who loved him! She never abdicated that claim and to the last, while her friends saw that he publicly neglected her, she insisted that they should like Roger Battle. This bred a hundred quarrels between her and her friends. The unreasonable, wayward, passionate lover would to the very end defend the infallibility of the love within her. “Poor Gwen, what can she see in him!” shrugged the world. She lavished all her own fortune on Battle, and when she died her daughter received only the five thousand pounds which Andrew Knightley as a younger son had been able to leave his child.
Anne had been waiting, breathless, for her mother to regain happiness or relinquish the frantic struggle for it, before she swept with the tide of her own generation into some work. Helen Brierley had always encouraged that ambition, but she thought Anne handicapped without a university education, and when she discussed Anne’s future with Gwendoline she was met by the protest,—“Not yet! Anne is too lovely. Think of the risks! And there is no need for her to do anything.”
The Brierleys gave their approval when an independent and orphaned Anne stated her intention of going through a secretarial course. She qualified quickly and obtained the post of secretary to a pleasant, clever woman who was Lord Mayor of Manchester. She spent a year there and became rather a grave little Anne. Helen regarded Manchester as a detrimental place in which to waste youth and beauty, and as Brierley required a secretary Helen summoned Anne and found a suitable little flat for her in Gloucester Road.
Anne habitually kept a tight hold of herself. She was very much afraid of what love could ‘do’ to her. Brierley attracted her, but she fought that weakness and conquered it. Lay fascinated her. She hardly dared ‘let herself go in matters of sentiment because Lay so often proved to her how silly and befogged she was. Hers was not a long story, and she distrusted the middle-aged. Yet here she was, embarked upon a tremendous expedition with the middle-aged! It was somewhat intimidating. Though Knocklong was young he was no help to her, being a dull creature, she thought, and dishearteningly efficient. Lay was of her generation but, alas, he might at any time turn round and bite the Commission! It was her duty to defend, comfort, and serve the Commission. She was the chairman’s secretary. All that Lady Pryce said of her by telephone was said of the secretary of the Chairman of the Health, Hygiene and Welfare Commission. Though professionally a scribe, she was essentially romantic like her mother before her. She would have been alarmed if anyone had told her so.
A scribe must keep eyes fastened upon the written word, and Anne did her duty. But her mind’s eye had already gathered impressions: a longer sweep to the horizon than it was familiar with in England; a more constant colour scheme of brown earth, dull dusty green, and blue sky; sharp lines of flat roofs, and white domes that seemed to float upwards. Anne had accumulated many pictures of wheat-coloured people walking on bare feet, or sitting on the ground. The secrecy of houses and the intimacy of streets turned existence inside out in the most extraordinary way. Colour and light were utterly different from colour and light in the west. Movement was different also. Only the English, motors, dogs and horses moved in a way to which Anne was accustomed. All the vehicles, eccas drawn by ponies, and carts drawn by camels and bullocks, jerked or plodded after a fashion strange to her eyes. But, though inwardly excited by her visualisation of queer scenes, Anne might not run after them and her sedate pen went dip, dip, dip into the ink.
Every member of the Commission worked hard the day after they arrived in Delhi. Sir Thomas Cox-Cox stayed with the sessions judge, who threw the director-general of Indian Medical Services at his head at once: hurled him at Cox-Cox, and followed the blow by the fruit specialist to the Punjab Government and the senior officer of the Indian Army Veterinary Corps. Cox-Cox had as much as he could cope with. Miss Neale was suitably placed in the Lady Hardinge Medical College and was swallowed up. The Topleys were the guests of the archdeacon and his wife. The Delhi Mission annexed Topley, and Phyllis met all the women interested in Young Women’s Christian Association, Girl Guides and Infant Welfare, and none of the gay, reckless, idle and fast women whom she had so greatly looked forward to meeting. The director of public information, Mr. Smoker, took charge of Mr. Penwarden and assembled around him the second cane-breeding officer in the imperial department of agriculture, the vice-marshal of the Royal Air Force, the director of Posts and Telegraphs, the Finance Member, the Commerce Member, the secretary to the Trades Union Congress, and the Chief Inspector of mines. The two last were birds of passage in Delhi and it was hoped they could knock Mr. Penwarden down with a feather if he showed any uppishness as a labour M.P. Mr. Knocklong stayed with Reuter’s agent in a chummery. These arrangements were made with a view to influencing the Commission, but not with the design of misleading them. When the Commission met next day members talked each other down madly in a good honest effort to pool the information they had received from the people they now knew. Brierley was immensely stimulated by what Sir Percy Pryce told him and showed him, but he found it difficult to endure the secondhand stuff that the others poured over him.
“O, I do so want to hurl myself round Delhi with Walter!” groaned an industrious Anne. “O, curse these letters and Frank’s speeches!” Before she became Lord Brierley’s secretary she called him Frank and he was Frank to her still except on formal occasions: wonderful, authoritative, and all-important Frank.
Hardly a babu in Delhi cherished a desire to go sight-seeing in this wide world. They drove their quills, thousands of them, with grave patience.
At four o’clock Lady Pryce shot Anne forth alone in a large grey car to see Delhi. She looked about her, adoring the golden, dry air, the tranquil absence of wind, the effective pattern of shadows.
The Sikh chauffeur drove her at once to Government House. It was her privilege and duty to behold it. Then he carried her off to New Delhi since all the sahiblog desired to see that place. Anne felt in touch only with the great plain itself; it was earth and knowable. She was unable to identify anything else. Landmarks refused to yield up their history to her and she carried into the bright vastness little items such as are pigeon-holed in the mind of a secretary: the existence of departments and their staffs, of institutions and their organization, of castes and creeds and their dividing lines which she could nowhere discern. All that she saw was so much greater and calmer than all that she had catalogued.
The plain was terrific. It would be quite useless to attempt to tame it. If dead camels or fallen aeroplanes lay on it there would be no sign of disturbance or interruption in its long reverie. It knew that man was proud, impatient, and came to nought. When, above its dead level the white splendour of the Secretariat rose up against the sky, Anne beheld it with wonder and joy. Surely civilization dreamed great dreams when busy masons raised such buildings to house authority and law!
“Look!” said the Sikh in his own language. “The Sarkar has built that, spending much money.” Then he whisked Anne out of the desert. She passed between the Jumna Masjid and the Fort; wise, cunning and ancient buildings. The huge mosque where thousands of Mahomedans stood to pray gave a foothold in an empire: not a Hindu could doubt it. Lights were twinkling when Anne got back. She was very excited. The declaration of all that was built, and of all that was being built, was as dramatic as the scenery in a theatre. Would this Commission succeed in creating a spirit of citizenship worthy of towns and hamlets, and refashion population and cities nearer to the heart’s desire? What a wild thrill it was to be the woman who was handmaid to their high enterprise.
When she returned to the bungalow Brierley saw her in the light of someone to whom he could confide his amused discovery that Lady Pryce was a snob.
“She’s fearfully grand!” said Anne.
“Fearfully. There’s a dinner party to-night. A great bore. Shall you enjoy it?”
“Of course,” said Anne.
“Good. I give you my share.”
Lady Pryce was full of pomps and vanities about that dinner party. Fourteen people were to gather round her cut glass, polished table, and pale roses with weak Indian stems. The table servants were tense and of uncertain nerve. Haidee Pryce did not care what they felt; there were four of them dressed in spotless white linen with scarlet belts, and she would fine any who made a hash of things to-night. Lord Brierley, who was difficult to impress, was to be impressed. Two mishaps occurred. Captain Crossley fell ill with fever and was replaced by Captain Petworth, A.D.C. to the Governor of the United Provinces, Sir Theodore Tremayne. His Excellency was spending a few days with the Viceroy at Government House. It was more serious when at the last moment Hugh Knocklong sprang a cold upon the indignant Lady Pryce and, replacing the receiver, went to bed. Every member of the Commission was booked for dinner.
“Isn’t there a Mr. Lay?” demanded Lady Pryce.
“Yes. He is staying at Maiden’s Hotel. You see he is an independent journalist and has nothing to do with the Commission,” Anne explained.
“He’ll do. We can’t be thirteen.”
Anne thought possibly thirteen would have been luckier. She had never seen Lay at an orthodox dinner party. On the voyage he had travelled second saloon, where he spent his time gambling with a jockey who was bound for Australia. He had held aloof from the Commission. Anne was very pleased with her dress of mauve and rose chiffon and entered the drawing room when all the guests were assembled because that was the way to show the dress off. She always played at ‘parties’ in a whole-hearted fashion.
What very large people! Her first impression that they were ugly wore off. Middle-aged but of splendid appearance, she decided. She liked the way they treated her when she was introduced, as though her arrival was an event. One man, young Petworth, was so handsome that Anne hoped he might give her a nice thrilled dizzy feeling. He was less than thirty and therefore the odds were that he’d never been under fire. Those who had been under fire were not of her star. He was perfectly turned out from head to foot and yet was no dandy, she thought. Probably he brushed his hair as seriously as cricket clubs tend cricket pitches. Lay stood beside him looking all shabby ears and elbows.
“What an entrance! Cheek!” was his greeting to Anne.
How could Anne guess that the handsome soldier thought that greeting remarkable? His shyness was so intense that it kept his tongue in hospital, suffering from the casualty of speech.
“I like that dress. You do us credit, Anne. You remind me of clover,” Lay said.
“Hurrah!” cried Anne. “O Walter, we must have a lovely talk after dinner!”
“What! Here?” jibed Lay.
Talk at dinner was unflagging. Anne felt that to make conversation she must do or die, and she was not accustomed to the strain. She was used to rambling talks alone with Lay, while they smoked, and she sat curled up among cushions on the sofa and they felt confidential and wise. But the man who took Anne in knew how to make conversation, so Anne, who did not, left it to him. She became alarmed when Lay took control of the occasion. He really was not fit to do so, Anne considered. For his fellow guests had ideas and loyalties and knowledge in common, and Lay would condemn them because they refused ‘to give the show away.’ Their reticence was like the reticence of a family. She could feel it and respect it. Lay was talking rapidly to a stout Mrs. Dibley, the wife of a general. He had antagonized her evidently, and during a lull in the conversation she said with hostile intent:
“What do you read, Mr. Lay?” Her fat voice was like soap upon the waters, a domestic supremacy.
“Almost nothing,” Lay replied. Evidently Mrs. Dibley had been urging Lay to read some novel about India, for he went on to expostulate with her in a tone of anguish: “I can’t see what such a novel could present to one’s mind that is not essentially commonplace, if its characters are the English in India. For you people cannot be odd, or revolutionary! You cannot even be unconventional here. Now can you?”
“We could if we liked,” Mrs. Dibley said.
“No, no,” expostulated Lay. “You’d have togs.”
“Who wants to be odd?” Petworth anxiously inquired of Anne.
“Oh, well,” said Anne in a low voice, “most writers nowadays like to express life through the individual. Oddity is essentially individual.” She wondered if Petworth’s unresponsive manner indicated his professional dislike of men who were out of step.
“Idiosyncrasy is not a great theme, to my mind,” Anne consolingly informed him, and he cheered up and said he hated freaks.
Everybody was amused to find that Lay disliked India at sight. They were accustomed to journalists who ran them down, but not to writers who were loud in India’s disparagement.
“India is a cat that has been given a dog’s chance and can’t use it!” he declared. “The Legislative Assembly is where the cat has got out of the bag.”
Anne looked across at him and gave him the tiniest little wink of pleasure at his bad behaviour. He certainly showed off! He asserted that social life must be narrow in India among the British. Contrast and variety and revolt were eliminated. “It’s like a concert where nothing is played but God save the King!”
Lay frowned down at his plate while Mrs. Dibley expostulated. Anne thought his face was arresting like a word, not unobtrusive like a wallpaper design: it was never in the background. When the women withdrew Anne wondered why she had spoken so little to Captain Petworth. She knew his face by heart already.
He and Lay came into the drawing-room together. It seemed to Anne very strange that Petworth should have quite definitely effaced some of the impression made on her by years of intercourse with Lay. Lay went straight to Anne. So did Petworth. She was greatly pleased and made room for them on either side of her on a big chintz-covered sofa. Petworth she knew would continue to be silent and Lay would tilt at everything and everybody. She made the best of it. After all, people were seldom surprising unless they were startled. Petworth’s presence affected her. It was as though a trumpet sounded and something in you charged.
Lay cried: “Mrs. Dibley comes from my hotel. Golly!”
“I hear she’s a perfect treasure,” said Anne.
“A lump sum down, by the look of her. (You gave me that one, my dear.) Anyhow the General married her for her money, but when the chill wore off he became quite fond of her. I’d go through worse than this dinner party for you, Anne. I promise you I would!”
“What’s so bad about it?”
Lay waved his lean brown hand. “They’re like horsehair furniture. They are, I swear.”
Anne’s silence obliterated this simile. She was, Lay thought again, admirably like clover in sunshine.
“I love them,” Anne declared after a long pause.
“They are not a trampling lot.”
“Thank you for that good word,” said Captain Petworth.
“This young woman’s easily pleased,” Lay informed Petworth quickly. “She writes the worst poetry you ever read! Probably she’ll keep a journal on this tour and expect it to be published sooner or later.”
Petworth gave Anne a long dark passionate look. He seemed to pour night over her, extinguishing limelight.
Anne defended herself from Lay while daring the danger of Petworth’s look. If she did scribble, she was unostentatious about it, and she did not write for effect; she really and truly did not. Lay told her with an affectionate smile that she could not. Without any sign of collapse Anne went murmuring on that at least she never wrote worshipfully of Shelley and Keats to acquire merit. Neither did she mention with rapture every flower she saw. Partly, she explained, because they struck her dumb with love, and partly because she had been so irritated by writers who swooned over violets, lilies, roses and daffodils. They made her long to pelt them with words such as ‘bulbs’, that were like clods, or grimace at them by yelling ‘bamboo!’ She protested that literary people posed about birds, and if by chance they did what the average person did and opened a window and let a bird out, they made a gesture of it as though they had led captivity captive.
“No good, my dear. You can’t write,” said Lay, and Anne laughed.
Silent Petworth recognized his fate. Attraction so strong as to be passion had seized upon him. Life was full of powers which struck from afar, arrived at their bourne, and compelled fate. Light, wandering stars, clouds, winds. And now a woman. Too soon! He recognized that, for him, this vital thing was untimely. To force the social organization that gripped him to yield to his necessity and enable him to clothe and feed and house this girl in a manner to do her honour, seemed beyond human skill. Every sign in the room warned him how expensive it was to be man enough to marry. But he must; he simply must. And he had to carry Anne Knightley away from a world that really frightened him to death. He could govern nothing within it, its values turned him head over heels. If Anne was really spellbound in that inky world, it would be very difficult to get her to come home with him.
The dinner party was over. People stood up, and then lingered. Lady Pryce counted her blessings. The dinner had been good. And she had displayed to Lord Brierley the good looks, good breeding, and good manners of society in Delhi. Successful and honourable people! She had invited none who would meet him during the next few days on matters connected with the Commission’s investigations. This dinner gave the general atmosphere. She disengaged herself for a moment from the conversation of her departing guests, who because they were intimate with one another and met frequently, had a great deal to say. She caught Lord Brierley’s eye and said to him in an aside, speaking like a show-woman: “All these soldiers keep their kingdom fit, don’t they? A Public Health Commission need not worry about them!”
“Quite, quite,” he agreed.
Brierley looked with some pleasure at the company. Unlike Anne he had instantly admired them. She required faces to be youthful, to harmonise with the quest for sex attraction that is instinctive. The marks of middle age on face and form would have appallingly disfigured youth. To the eye of a contemporary attraction was still there. As a public man Brierley liked any scene which banished distress. He liked the comedy of society, which recognized problems and passions and gave to them the humane English twist. Elsewhere the need to wrestle and fight, to go to extremes, was thrust upon unwilling Englishmen. Here it would simply be bad form. Here you laughed things off.
Anne came towards him. He applauded a state of society which enabled a girl like Anne to be his secretary. Helen appreciated that, too. “That’s all right nowadays, Frank,” she had announced in triumph. He thought Anne had been a success to-night. Everybody liked her. She had something of her mother in her. And her mother, poor fool, had been irresistible.
Anne crossed over to Brierley who was balancing himself first on his toes and then on his heels in front of the fire.
“A nice party,” she said.
“You got hold of a good-looking young man. Jolly of Lady P. to invite him. She is not a bad sort.”
“I am motoring with him to a camp beyond the Khutab to-morrow after tea. Walter is coming, too. He invited himself!”
“Not fair!” Brierley was very genial to Anne about her young men. He told her he had started badly at dinner by assuming that he and Anne were the only newcomers to India. The description he gave to the woman on his right of the weather in England last summer was accurate, if uninteresting. But as she had left London only one week later than Brierley, she was not impressed. Brierley shrugged, laughed at his confusion, and said good night.
Of all the little manoeuvres to influence members of the Commission—manoeuvres by ministers, municipalities, welfare centres, missions, faddists, reformers—society’s manoeuvres alone gave him pleasure. Therefore they created a sympathetic response. It would be difficult, Brierley thought, to be much with the British in India and not see their point of view. One would be prone to adopt it. As a stranger he could already contrast the indigenous society, with its purdah and caste taboos, with the alien liberal society of the British. If there was to be release and reform in Indian social life, the British must set the standard. Nothing fast or loose would do. Nor must any conspicuous person, such as himself, smash a pane of the glass-house in which the Commission dwelt like specimens in an aquarium.
During this winter of his life it would be enough, he thought, to play well the part of a citizen who examines and reports on the civic life of many millions. His relations with eminent men and with the public must suffice him: he was now simply a public man.
Helen was on edge in the background, waiting for him to return with laurels that should qualify him to become the governor of New Zealand where she would shine. It was a plan he liked immensely. Its formality did not bore him to-night. He had come to the time of life when a man wishes to make sure of his future, desires to be certain of power and success. But he had not forgotten his years of unrest, nor was his temperament that of a figure-head. So his last thoughts were of Anne. A girl could not see India as he saw it: a complicated problem, a picturesque journey, a task. Though she moved sedately among senior officials, they were not her world. Anne was susceptible to the most revolutionary element: passion. He must make her believe that the Commission’s work was all-important. No great employer of labour ever felt less capable of avoiding labour troubles than did Brierley as he contemplated the terrible upset it would be if Anne were ‘got at’ by some exciting young man. A young man, such as Petworth. A harassingly important youth, that! He looked vigilant. What was he on the look-out for? Beauty, desire! “It must be so,” a wakeful Brierley admitted. “A man who is life-size is not aloof at that age. He is for the rush-hour of his blood.”
While Brierley tried to twist life to his advantage, knowing the world’s fashions and phases, passions and fads, as a man knows his mistress, Anne did not even know herself. An emotional tenseness beset now her imagination, now her heart, when she was with quite ordinary people. Some hours were like nursery and schoolroom days, quickened still only by wishes and achievements. Such hours were mild as milk to the senses. At other moments she was held as in a vice, because somebody’s attractiveness put her under arrest, freedom from anxiety denied her, and the liberty to be spontaneous gone. Then the stress was exhausting and Anne was hurled into a race against time, for she sought to make permanent an exquisite sensitiveness to another’s being. This tantalizing promise of bliss in a personal relationship was forever the forerunner of disappointment. People went away, right out of her life, before her head and heart knew certainty.
Anne was afraid to surrender to the excitement of realizing that she shook Gerald Petworth as earthquakes shake cities. Nevertheless she felt pleasure swirl upward, through and through her, when she stood in the flooding sunshine, and smelt the weird scent of warm dust on palms, and saw Petworth drive a wonderful white car up to the door. That car was sheer magnificence, and she responded to it as an admiral to a fleet. What ruthless wrong Petworth had committed in order to deprive the Governor of it for the afternoon she did not guess. She liked the look of Petworth exceedingly.
He proposed at once that they should not call for Lay. “It is late, and he won’t mind.” That was not convincing and Anne never abandoned a plan so unscrupulously. It would be fatal to have friction with Lay or with any member of the Commission, she said. Things “like that” upset people. She was ardent, devoted, fanatical in her pursuit of duty as the chairman’s secretary. So, prim as the staff of the Salvation Army, they drove together to Maiden’s Hotel. Anne understood why Petworth was speechless. She struck him dumb. He was rejecting every word as pointless. All remarks were as unsuitable to his emotion as though he took them at random from the Dead Letter Office. Into the empty silence poured his beauty and her beauty and their mutual recognition. An ancient city, an imperial capital, gay light, a multitude which presented a spectacle, and beside her a man who was intoxicated by her—could Anne have been more stimulated to receive the impressions rushing to her from near and far? She thought not.
Lay was on the look-out for Anne: a remarkable tribute. And he was wearing, carefully, a new tie. He wished to please. Anne’s heart felt a pang. When Walter was humble, propitiating, painfully wistful, her surrender had the completeness of a collapse. She kissed her hand in greeting and he hopped into the car and banged the door, utterly detached from its official splendour. He enquired from the back seat as to the welfare of the Commission and Anne replied over her shoulder that they were nosing about all over the place. Lay shouted: “You are as useful as a good poster to their show, Anne. I rubbed that in to Cox this morning. Everybody is talking about you. Have you received a lot of invitations for the next few days?”
“I bet you have! I daresay you’ll get married in India, Anne. It would not surprise me a bit.”
She laughed. Sheer terror struck Petworth. He asked her if she liked motoring fast. She said she did and he put on pace. But though he drove to the danger of the public, he could only take her further with him, he could not keep her longer by his side.
Lay, uncomfortably bounced about by highly-sprung cushions, was in a condition of intellectual excitement. Articles for the press in Great Britain and the United States were forming themselves in his mind. He had been hobnobbing with the representatives of the leading newspapers published in India, and he was fretted. The subject-matter would not quiet down in his seething brain. Nor could he obliterate his vision of the public in England skipping his contribution of twelve hundred words in length. Twelve hundred devils! How could he reduce to such brevity his exposition of the relations of political reform to social reform? A thousand castes, a hundred languages, dragged explanations from his pen until every statement was as overloaded with them as his baggage with labels. Two of a series of articles lay in his dispatch case and he groaned over them. They generalized, and he despised the oft-told tale. He wished to avoid the type of book and article which ‘recognized’ established controversies, prominent men, conspicuous groups, and made safe and sapient comments upon them. In the hotel all men told him to stick to facts. Facts were startling, perplexing and arbitrary. After ten days in India he had discovered no new interpretation, and what welcome would an editor extend to a repetition of matter already familiar to the man in the street? A full stop there!
The stale bread of commonplace choked Walter Lay. He must, he simply must, whirl the dust and ashes, the slumber and the splendour, the melancholy and the hope of India in clear compelling language across the seas. All hung upon a word. The thing observed and felt was his only material. No one knew how intensely he felt this Indian atmosphere of dryness and light. The shadows cast by strange trees were his continual sightseeing, but the names of those trees would not create silhouette, colour, character in the mind of a reader in England. Lay envied the man who invoked a thing seen when he named oak, elm, willow, or poplar tree. There were paragraphs Lay had crossed out again and again; leading parts cancelled for sal, teak, and deodar. When such paragraphs were cut India became invisible. The temptation to deal with her forests as in a treatise had compelled Lay to request the expert-in-charge of the Timber Seasoning section of the Research Institute at Dehra Dun to speak no more to him of the Tiemann process, the use of creosote, and the proper treatment for railway sleepers. India’s animals invited the comic touch! A goose’s shiver went down Lay’s back. The shepherd and the nightingale in the proper literary tradition would glare like a printer’s error here. Yet he was profoundly conscious that here if anywhere all men, bureaucrats and aristocrats, lawyers, judges, doctors, soldiers, priests, and scribes, knew the life of fields and forests, of birds and beasts, with an amazing intimacy. The townee was not of this world. Lay had vowed to avoid the picturesque—“the blasted picturesque”—and was in danger of keeping nothing out of the waste-paper basket.
Sorely tried, he turned to Anne as to balm. Destructive criticism was not her cherished asp. But there she sat smiling up at a damned soldier and not caring to know the desperate straits Lay’s pen was in! He hated Anne.
She cried to him presently: “O, isn’t it heavenly!” The untrammelled creature could fling so ill-chosen an epithet into the air and make it ring there deliciously.
Lay leant forward and retorted: “Not in the very least. The place is decrepit. Delhi should advertise for unwanted false teeth instead of self-government!” Anne’s laughter rewarded this sally and Lay added: “That’s the second time I have made that apt comment. The first time was to Mrs. Dibley and the monster said: ‘O but Indians have got much better teeth than we have!’”
Petworth was amused. His laughter made him ruddy, sociable, tolerant. For one awful moment Lay recognized him as an endearing fellow, and relapsed into silence, frightened and cross.
Walter Lay knew very well what he wanted during the next six months. His ambition was to write so brilliantly about India as to illuminate obscurities and destroy sentimental illusions. And he wished his achievement to be recognized in England and the United States. In order to do his best work he must be pacified by Anne. He analysed his need of her, as he analysed all else. She was without introspection, she had great simplicity. Worldly methods of diplomacy, if employed by Anne, would have entangled him in definite responsibility for the demands he made upon her. The nineteenth century might have asked him his intentions. In the twentieth century he thanked heaven that he had none. At present his position was that he ‘could not afford to lose her.’ Neither could he afford to marry her. His sway over her, his hold on her, must be the influence and grip of genius. If he was not a genius Anne would slip through his fingers. Without giving himself that terrific title he watched jealously for every sign that Anne recognized it as his due. When she gave the right sign he praised the infallible intuition of women.
Petworth showed Anne to Lay in a new light. He saw her for the first time in a community where men greatly outnumbered women. And the men were young. In London Anne met very few bachelors. Lay hardly remembered seeing her when not surrounded by women. His intercourse with her was built up of that, and of long hours alone with her. Her whole attention was given to him, and to the ideas he expressed. An event took place, a tendency developed, a misconception was disclosed; but what Lay saw was Anne’s intent little face watching him as he delivered himself of his views, and sketched the way in which he intended to handle the subject. Petworth intruded upon Anne and Lay. He captured her attention. In an eastern world which was resolved that all women must marry, and in order the better to carry out this goodwill towards human life deprived individuals of the caprice and bewitchment of courtship, the English followed their haphazard custom of marrying or remaining single as best pleased them. They exercised self-mastery. They ignored much; were secret, silent, and imaginative about the emotions which beset them. While India, her fears plain-spoken, secluded many million women, the English did not hide one! Lay violently regretted that Anne was not invisible to Petworth. There was nothing peculiar or feeble about Petworth. Yet that thing which is regarded as somewhat far-fetched, too enthusiastic, a trifle eccentric, was in the spirit of Petworth, for he fell in love with Anne at first sight. Lest this should claim for Petworth any special psychic power, Lay perforce regarded Anne now as ‘a woman with whom men fall in love at first sight.’ A sufficiently disquieting description of one in a party of three sightseers.
After they had inspected the Khutab with raised eyes and chins, venerated it and left it behind them, they approached a great military camp pitched on the plain. From the distance it had the same mild and lovable appearance as a flock of sheep folded into stillness under a blue sky. It looked so white and so serene, that it bespoke a population with charm. The institution of houses seemed an inferior invention; mere packing cases for a work-a-day world of drab persons. Tents, symmetrical and austere, rejected, as though with the gesture of wings, permanent slavery to a system of gardens, pavements, drainage and lamp-posts. And from this camp broke out marching men all clad alike in white. Their swing together was a thing of beauty. Petworth told Anne that Sikh soldiers were celebrating some holy day. The scene was appropriate to manly festival. Many horses were picketed in long lines, and many mules. A young bugler was practising and blew his piercing notes across the plain. Petworth hung intent above his wheel. This manoeuvre camp was an oasis to him. He drove the car round it slowly, with great attention bestowed upon parties of soldiers—some Gurkhas, more burly Punjabis. He took care not to smother any with dust.
Petworth as one of the initiated, a brother-in-arms, told Anne about the regiments, who with their arms and transport, inhabited this canvas city. He made a long song about it in Lay’s opinion.
When at last the great car turned again towards Delhi, Lay had arrived at a definite conception of danger—risk, anyhow. Petworth had looked upon Anne and loved her, and Petworth was a man of action and will. When he took Anne sightseeing he showed her the pageant of an India in which he would before long beg her to dwell. It was hers for the taking. Concisely, for whatever other men might do Lay thought in definitions, he summed up the situation. The British were the most romantic race in the world: not logical like the French, passionate like the Italians, mystical like the Russians, sentimental like the Scandinavians, egotistically imaginative like the Celts. Romance required a tale to be unfolded, it needed association with characters and places. A British officer was denied a romantic role by every critical writer, by the modern mind, by the constructive policy of the pacifist. But not by the people of India. Not by those dignified, dark sepoys. That was the devil of it! Here Petworth, the officer, could charm Anne by a hundred signs and wonders: a brotherhood, an athletic supremacy, a mastery of horsemanship and transport. Sepoys were the men of the mountain, men of woods and forests, men of flocks and herds and the loved acre, the fertile field! Idle to deny it, when Petworth of the Indian Army was making no bones about the interest he felt in districts whence came recruits to his battalion. And Anne, Lay knew it all too well, gave a direct response that was of the very essence of her heart to the plain story of wonderful lives.
It became quite maddening to Lay that Petworth, because of his profession, should be able to make a splash—with brigades, camps, frontiers, tribes, hamlets and military legends—while the attractions of the mind which Lay could exert were too subtle to splash at all. Petworth could do nothing in his profession save keep healthy and earn promotion, unless he came to blows. Whereas Lay could affect the thoughts and minds of thousands. If Anne romantically required contact with life at many points, and had insatiable zest in seeking that contact, surely he, Lay, could put her in touch in a way that was far above Petworth’s head?
Neither Petworth, nor Lay, took Anne’s profession as scribe into consideration. And this though Delhi through all vicissitudes of history had depended for record and regularity upon scratching quills! Petworth showed her, as a little lad might display the treasured secrets in his pockets, the ordered ceremonial of his life. It was as though he whispered to her that his soul was his own but he was this manner of man. And Lay driven to direct action presently poked him in the back and asked “What’s your age?”
It might well have been a lucky number, but Lay said with dry satisfaction: “You missed the war all right, then.”
Let Anne consider the fact that it was Lay, not Petworth, who was the bloodstained warrior and entitled to the honours of war!
Homeward bound, with the sunset raising a colour bar against the night, the motor passed a group of British soldiers, men of a line regiment. They were young, and seemed concerned with the vivacity of two white and black fox terriers who were quarrelling. The men smoked and moved easily along as though emancipated from care. Lay read their regimental badges and gave a rash exclamation: “I was with that lot for a while near Bethune!”
“O Walter! Don’t you want to speak to them?” Anne cried, and betrayed how far she had yielded to the romantic spell. Lay snatched himself away from it as, with a neck stiffened not to look round and watch those Wessex men, he drily replied:
“What for? They are all new since my time.”
They drove past the Mutiny church and through the Kashmir gate. Nicholson’s statue, looking toward the city wall, sword in hand, rallied ghosts. It was a remarkably sentimental journey and Petworth was a fine guide. Lay plotted to erase him from Anne’s mind. When Maiden’s Hotel was reached it seemed a chattering place, and palms on verandahs had become as tiresome to Lay as antimacassars.
“Come in, Anne. I’ll take you back later. I have written something that I want to read to you.”
“I can’t! Work is waiting for me. I nearly always work from now till dinner time.”
She asserted herself as a secretary and Lay lost her. It enraged him. There were a dozen enchanting states of mind into which he could invite her, if he got her all to himself, his manuscript in his hand. But she disappeared with Petworth, demonstrating nothing of farewell except a back light. Would Petworth bore her? Lay held Petworth’s conversation to be extremely dull.
But the air was soft and still, the evening star signalled the unknown. If Petworth, no longer carrying Lay as a watchful passenger, made love, would Anne shut her eyes and count sheep going through a gate, thus seeking oblivion as relief from a tedious discourse? Lay thought it unlikely. There was nothing bitterly cold in Anne’s nature. He was seriously alarmed, and reckoned the hours to the Commission’s departure from Delhi.
The Commission, enraged by reiteration of the warning that what they saw in civil lines, cantonment, and city municipality was not the real India, went in search of that elusive reality. Lay accompanied them, though he dreaded the weight of rural life upon his pen. After the fright Petworth gave him he did not like to let Anne out of his sight.
A restless Punjab crowd stood and squatted on the platform of Dadan Pind. Even the sunshine was cold. This was no weather in which to wash the body. White cotton shirts and turbans were washed, mouths and hands were rinsed: that sufficed. Lusty, dirty passengers, waiting for their train, watched unfortunate men who, because they were about to extend an official welcome to members of the Commission, had made careful toilets; a freezing politeness. The tehsildar, chief Indian magistrate of the tehsil, wore perfectly splendid breeches and leather gaiters, and his dark blue turban held enough swagger for any cock o’ the north. Debi Ram, of the municipal board, was fussing about with garlands of jasmine blossom and tinsel, like an uncle in Cheltenham constrained to play the part of guardian angel to sceptical nephews. Debi Ram’s son, a barrister, was in the background minding his manners, but by his contempt he cast a slur upon his elders and betters: a spoil-sport. Chuni Lal, secretary of the local uplift movement, was looking complacent and embraced all his enemies in the most irritating way. Hoshiar Singh, a dispenser, showed no signs of nervousness, and indeed why should he? This was a window-dressing display and he had few equals in the art. By the mercy of Providence the sahibs wished to see dirt and backwardness in villages. They could easily be gratified. For a few hours Dadan Pind would shock them by the startling organizations of modern science, and then dirt and backwardness would soothe them by making them feel superior. Several illaquedars, tall manly figures in fine clothes, were present as notable persons. The whole assembly was animated by the acute social sense of Indian men. Castes, sub-castes, clans and tribes, rank, profession, and calling were its dogmatic expression. It was a lively and irritable nervous system, and its members liked each other about as well as dogs in a dog show. As they were unable to call upon their secluded women to display their wealth, exclusiveness, discrimination, and importance while they attended to business, they awkwardly attempted to make a gay, refined, and discreet thing of a collection of males who sadly resembled an assortment of weapons in a military dump.
The crowd gossiped, full of curiosity. The commission had come from London. This was pleasant, because it would presently return there leaving nobody much the worse.
“Perhaps there will be vaccination,” suggested a Jat carter, who had been vaccinated once and had bitterly resented a disgusting arm and high fever.
“They are doctors, undoubtedly,” asserted a greybeard. “My sister’s son is in hospital in the city. Being quite cured, he is yet detained in the hospital in order that the sahibs may inspect him and be satisfied.”
“Are these doctors generals and colonels?” enquired a youthful sepoy.
“I have heard that they are civilians,” answered a moneylender.
“Then assuredly they can only inspect mission hospitals and hospitals in the city,” declared the soldier. “In cantonments they can inspect nothing.”
“Perhaps,” the moneylender conceded.
“Nay, sir, it is well known to me that only military doctors can inspect military hospitals. When I was ill in hospital in Dera Ismail Khan a general doctor sahib came on tour. Very greatly was he feared. He had a desire to behold gardens in hospital compounds, but in Dera Ismail Khan that was an impossibility, for no well watered the compound. Therefore it was known that the general doctor sahib would certainly become enraged and would blame the major doctor sahib. We people who were sick heard this talk, but could render no service to our major doctor sahib in the matter of the garden. But the sahib had a memsahib; a wise one, She sent her gardener the day before the inspection and he with his trowel made in the earth the appearance of flower-beds awaiting the season for flowers, and the doctor sahib with his pen wrote the names of flowers on paper and stuck them in cleft sticks into the places prepared by his gardener. He greatly laughed and the hospital compound by his orders resembled the compound of the colonel sahib of my regiment. The general doctor sahib was completely deceived and said that flowers pleased him and should cheer the sick. But there were no seeds and later there were no flowers.”
Much satisfaction was given by this simple tale. “The sahibs are skilful in deception,” the moneylender remarked and spat loudly.
“Very skilful,” said the soldier. “They will take much trouble and conceal nothing save from the one to be deceived. And all, hearing of the matter, applaud. None goes to seek favour with the deceived by relating to him the truth of the matter. It is not their custom. But they will not tolerate deception about money, even if it be one anna. Nor in the reply to a question concerning the action of a man accused of wrongdoing. It is an affair of honour with them. Concerning excuses they will appear to be deceived, but on the second occasion they lay bare the truth with harsh words.”
“If the Commission doctor sahibs give ease to us sick folk our hearts will rejoice,” piped up a labourer wrenched by rheumatism.
“Those who inspect the sick cure none,” the sepoy asserted firmly.
“Of what use then is their work?” demanded greybeard. “The doctor-babu in the city has cured my sister’s son.”
“Without inspections who would trouble himself to work well?” argued the sepoy.
“Much is known to the people of the army,” said a labourer with a wistful admiration. “They travel far and behold the ways of men of learning and great possessions.”
“There are soldiers in my village who are very great fools, understanding nothing with their wits,” snorted the moneylender, and roused an appreciative murmur. “Of one such I enquired, when he returned from France, whether the rate of interest on money lent exceeded the rate in Chakwal, and he replied that he had borrowed nothing, neither made enquiry in this matter.”
“That was a reasonable reply,” the greybeard protested. “If my grandson answered thus I should be content, but he would assert that the whole truth was contained in his school-books and would invent information without value or sense. Thus children forget their manners and fail to acquire knowledge.”
“True, too true,” agreed a farmer. “If these Commission sahibs inspected schools, but heard the truth from the grandfathers, there would be much trouble for schoolmasters. One case I know where a widow’s sons——” The story was lost in the
thunder of the train leaping into the station.
The eye has a special and innocent spirit for what is strange. It observes it acutely, grown blind to all that is familiar. The group which moved forward to welcome the members of the Commission consisted of men who had long possessed a mental picture of sahibs. Their firm white shaven faces, their light clothes, their hard headgear, had ceased years ago to astonish or repel. Memsahibs, on the other hand, remained peculiar and surprising. At one time they had large heads, long dresses, tightly compressed waists, and huge sleeves, while spotted black net covered their disconcertingly visible faces. Now they had small cropped heads, straight bodies, and legs that were brightly displayed. Old Debi Ram had been prepared to stand any shock, but was pleased to discover that the two ladies who got out of the train were no worse than the last one he saw. All the citizens of Dadan Find were glad that the Deputy commissioner, Mr. Eason, accompanied the Commission, because they knew they could trust him to keep to the beaten track and explain customs which would inevitably provoke absurd questions from these new sahibs. Mr. Eason was not particularly popular but they were used to him and he was a reliable factor in their environment. He now proceeded to do the proper thing and introduce them by name, rank, and title all correct—to the Commission. With the utmost acuteness they grasped a sound very like the name of the person to whom they were introduced, and what he stood for. So that they knew the thin, important, handsome one was Braarly Lord-sahib, and that Coxus-Coxus sahib was the senior doctor, and Topelee sahib was a padré, and Penwahudeen sahib was a political man. They set Leh sahib and Knockloon sahib down as chota sahibs. And they accepted the ladies as doctor Miss sahibs, one old, one young, registered their names as Neel and Nightlee, and for the rest of their lives they remembered having met them and every detail about them.
The members of the Commission, on the other hand, were unable to concentrate. They had to take in all Dadan Pind station at a gulp. The biscuit-like quality of everything earthy, brick, road, field and distant hill, all pale and crumbly, dry and featureless, estranged them. The snatching quality of the sun which filched energy and mental alertness from body and mind, and the shrill temperature of the shade refusing comfort to the idle, gave them the impression of hardship. Their eyes sought and found men dressed in sheepskin, men with caste marks between their eyes, a fakir naked save for a loincloth and smeared with ashes, two women wrapped in burkhas with eyeholes in the white linen through which to peep. They were used by this time to the ceremony which greeted their arrival. Brierley shook hands with everyone who was introduced and, having been garlanded, let off his stock question as to whether any of them had been in France during the war. Whereupon Mr. Eason explained that the sahib had fought in the great war, and Brierley said simply and firmly: “I enlisted as a private but I rose to be a captain before I was knocked out by a wound.”
This was duly interpreted, but in Dadan Pind it was too much of a good thing. Nearly everybody had had a brother or son in the war, and two Indian officers, a risaldar and a subadar, had a great deal to say in competition with each other. Brierley felt obliged to enlarge upon the topic and did it well, saying, “When I was a private I discovered that a sergeant is a very big man.”
“Undoubtedly! A havildar has to be a very capable man,” said the subadar approvingly.
“As a subaltern I was older than my company commander, but being a subaltern I felt like a boy again,” Brierley declared.
“All the world desires that a lieutenant sahib should be without care and give much time to play; therefore your heart became young again as a lieutenant,” the raucous-voiced risaldar was benevolent enough to declare.
Sir Thomas felt that no one delivered patter of the right sort better than Brierley. And he beamed during this conversation. His eye was investigating the crowd, seeing men as well or ill developed. Lay, on the other hand, became irritable when Brierley made himself agreeable. Lay wore his garland with a perfunctory air as one who refuses to be taken in. He saw the crowd as ignorant or educated, noted how the European shoes and coats thrust through the picturesque background like peremptory signals. He preferred the Hindu portly type which looked intelligent, and capable of assuming every characteristic of professional man. Lay could picture those faces bent over ledgers, over briefs, over phials. The hawk-faced Mahomedans he rejected as tribal, as men who could be regimented into combined action of a violent nature: he could not discern a student’s face among them. Harold Topley tried to divide Hindu from Mahomedan by all the signs he had committed to memory, but which now deftly eluded him. He annexed one of the schoolmasters, a Sikh, and questioned him as to the proportion of Hindus to Mahomedans in the neighbourhood. Such questions seemed to the schoolmaster the inquiries of a blind and dense person, for did not each name or title proclaim the facts, and was not the evidence plainly visible? Mahomedans’ coats were buttoned to the right and Hindus’ and Sikhs’ to the left, and all over the platform among the bundles of the people were the striped earthen vessels of the Hindus and their brass pots, or the unstriped vessels and copper pots of the Mahomedans.
“There are more Mahomedans here certainly, and in the whole Punjab they are in a majority, but in India the Hindus have very large majority,” he informed Topley, who had heard that a thousand times.
They all moved out of the station and Lay once more beheld with aversion camels and camel drivers, bullock carts, little thin ponies, a string of mild grey donkeys, some disgusting white curs, and a squat water buffalo. Lay was sick to death of the picturesque. Noisy human beings crowded round two motor cars which awaited the Commission. There was a pause and the men hung aside to let Dr. Neale and Anne Knightley get into the cars. This threatened to become an emotional affair, for obstinate lovely Anne refused the first motor as though it were a tumbril jolting off to the block, and insisted on knowing her official place which undoubtedly was a back seat. As she was swift as a hedge-sparrow, she caused little delay, but Dr. Neale had a large impulse to stick to Anne, and it took a little time to propel her into the first and better motor with Lord Brierley, Sir Thomas, and Mr. Penwarden. To the latter’s silent regret Mr. Eason squeezed in too. Mr. Eason represented hanky-panky to Penwarden. He failed to discover just how and where the hanky-panky prevailed but he simply did not believe that Dadan Pind behaved quite naturally in the presence of an English official.
The big car started off violently, having two speeds, second and full stop. To the untold amusement of Penwarden three large citizens of Dadan Pind hurled themselves upon the steps of the car and, standing there, were driven off to the city conversing in their own tongue to each other across the distinguished visitors. That Eason understood what they were saying certainly gave him an advantage which Penwarden begrudged him.
Lay and Topley found themselves pressed against each other in the second car, and disliked each other. Lay, intent on the article he must write, glanced at the outline and details of Dadan Pind city, pale straw colour against a turquoise blue. Its buildings resembled little warehouses, having flat walls and roofs and small severe windows black with sharp shadows. Doors were carved and gave the impression of dry rot and a fatigued conventionality. Here and there wooden windows, latticed, with frail balconies, clung against the walls of the houses like dark wasps’ nests.
“There is nothing here that you could not see in any town east of Athens,” he grumbled. “Can you get anything out of all this for your Y.M.C.A. lectures with magic lantern slides, Topley?” He affected to believe Topley’s vocation to be limited to such harmless enterprises.
“It is thoroughly oriental,” replied Topley in the hard, polite voice he could not help using to Lay because that young journalist had the gift of making him self-conscious and inspired him only to utter what was dull.
Lay looked over his shoulder and swore sharply. “Take those things off, Anne!”
“Nonsense,” said Anne’s sweet voice. “The glare makes my eyes ache.” Two large dark blue discs now lay between her eyes and the world.
“Anne’s ghastly goggles in Dadan Pind,” was the only sentence Lay composed that morning.
It was an exhausting morning. Dadan Pind was decorated with bunting and garlands of pink paper in a most depressing way; several bodies presented addresses, and a poem composed in honour of the occasion was recited. It had proved impossible to ascertain the inner meaning of the Commission’s inquisition into its affairs, so Dadan Pind had perforce contented itself with the guess that the Commission desired it to be healthy, wealthy, and wise, and proceeded to display itself as such. There were newly raised Boy Scouts with a Scout-master whose legs were like the thinnest bamboo and not suited to khaki shorts; these Scouts scouted with the Commission all the morning till Lord Brierley was sick of the sight of them. There were hospitals to see, and here the sheep and the goats were divided, the doctors remaining in the hospitals out of the glare and the dust, and the lay busybodies continuing to parade the city. They inspected a child welfare centre, opened the previous week, and gazed with suspicion upon a weighing machine, a card index outfit, a trained Indian health visitor from a mission north of Amritsar who had a voice like a peacock in the rain, and three mothers who squatted on the floor with their children and were of the earth earthy. Somehow the Commission felt this was a put up job and their silence depressed the health visitor, a widow, whose difficulties were not those of her patients’ making. A chorus of city fathers uttered correct platitudes with regard to the health of mothers and children, and Lord Brierley replaced his topi and backed out of the door so suddenly that the others had to shuffle a hasty retreat behind his heels. They were next taken to two schools for boys and a girls’ school, to the meat market, and to the local veterinary establishment. Anne remained outside with her handkerchief to her nose, and beggars collected round her, a terrible crew who were presently driven away by the scorching tongue of a big policeman from Attock. The system of latrines and the city conservancy work were displayed, partially. A great deal was said about the local water supply and much time was spent conducting them through flies and smells to where a new well was being sunk. This Lord Brierley was requested to name and a long speech was made by a local contractor who was presenting the well to the city.
It was quite plain to Robert Penwarden that Dadan Pind’s citizens supposed them to require expressions of loyalty, hence the decorations, the dedications, the addresses and the poem. The political flourish of slogans which referred to self-government, communal representation, and a fifty per cent. Indianization of all services and professions and articles of commerce, was added by way of stimulating the grant of any concessions that might be picked up for the asking. On the whole the occasion was utilized for the advertisement of the city’s most pushing sons. But what use to push aside all this bunkum? a despairing Mr. Penwarden growled to himself. Behind it was something a hundred per cent. Punjabi. Without state aid Mr. Penwarden was out of his depth, for the benevolent had it all their own way.
He heard Eason say to Brierley: “The people are playing up. Educated men, and men of wealth or position, are getting busy. What does it matter whether they improve local conditions to catch the eye of the British Raj, or to advertise their particular brand of politics? The new political atmosphere has given a push to social energies, it has made reforms start here and there with a spurt. The difficulty is to keep them going.”
Seemingly any popular tune would stimulate. So long as the band played and the lights were on, there would be social activity of an acceptable kind. Mr. Penwarden was hot, thirsty, dusty, impatient and bored. But he had begun to respect Mr. Eason.
“Luncheon,” said Knocklong at last. “We are to be the guests of the tehsildar.”
Every member of the Commission rejoiced. The glaring dust had applied itself to their skin and eyes like emery paper and they were heartily sick of good works. But when they saw their fate they could hardly believe it. Though fair play was not as conspicuous in Dadan Pind as at the Oval, the deputy commissioner was a stickler for it, and he realized that the tehsildar was a man who inevitably led a harassed life. The coming of the Commission had laid heavy work upon an already burdened man and some compensation was his due. He sought it oddly enough by spending money on entertaining the Commission to luncheon in the District Board Bungalow. His prestige was thereby exalted and his labours rewarded. Mr. Eason did not think this unduly hard upon the hungry Commission. After all they must take the rough with the smooth.
A long deal table covered with cotton sheets held many china plates laden with boiled eggs, cucumber, rock cakes, Marie biscuits, jam, apples and bananas, sugar bowls, tins of milk, tins of butter, and teapots. The tehsildar was endearingly shy and hospitable and bade them all sit down. Three anxious and unskilled servants came in salaaming, and offered dishes of hot curry. Stunned, the Commission took their seats on benches.
Brierley rose to the height of his form. “Where are you going to sit, tehsildar sahib?” he inquired cordially, and squeezed up against Sir Thomas to make room.
Eason and the tehsildar had a long and polite conversation. “He has had his food,” said Eason. “He’ll just keep an eye on us.”
“I’d rather he didn’t,” said Brierley drily.
“I’m a good deal disappointed, a good deal disappointed. Eastern splendour and all that was my dream, you know. Pass me the Marie biscuits, please,” said Sir Thomas, while his happiest smile met the tehsildar’s anxious gaze.
“This is a good local effort,” observed the deputy commissioner, unmoved.
Lay, who had a digestion that was nervous, excitable and wild, thought ‘Blast Eason, the fellow calmly let us in for this.’ He addressed Mr. Topley: “Said grace, padré?”
“Funeral service, later, for you,” retorted Topley, and scored.
“There’s coffee in this teapot,” announced Dr. Neale.
“Jam, please,” said Anne.
“That’s right,” cried Penwarden and passed her the jam eagerly.
“What do we do about those eggs, Eason? We are making no impression on them. It looks bad, I’m afraid,” Brierley remarked.
“Have an egg, Anne,” snarled Lay.
“Yes, please,” said Anne.
“Great Scott! Don’t overdo it,” Brierley warned her.
“I’m hungry,” said Anne.
“I prefer jam after eggs,” Sir Thomas murmured. “But it won’t harm you.”
“It’s bohut achcha (very good),” said Anne, nodding to the tehsildar.
“What’d she say?” cried Brierley. “Gift of tongues!”
The tehsildar responded to Miss Knightley with a long, fluent and deep-voiced speech that had the dignified impressiveness of one of the more ill-tempered psalms. The curry was brought and offered to Anne.
“You’ve brought it on yourself,” said the astounded Sir Thomas.
Anne took some.
“She is young and strong,” Brierley groaned.
Lay attacked Dr. Neale. “Have you seen any purdah women?”
“Two. The wife and mother of a Mahomedan. He took me miles and miles round to his home, and I thought I was going to see a lot of women there, but I only met his own relations.”
“Were they ill?” he persisted.
“One wanted me to pull a tooth out.”
“Then I can’t see what good you did. Really! Can you?”
“I suppose they liked it,” Dr. Neale placidly replied.
“He has got his eye on you, Anne. You can’t chuck it yet,” urged Brierley. “I can’t and won’t eat jam just now.”
“I’ll have an apple,” said Anne.
Penwarden gave an explosive chuckle. “You play up for the good of the British Empire better than any of us, Miss Knightley.”
“On the contrary. She likes apples,” Lay said bitterly.
At the end Brierley rose and shook the tehsildar’s hand very heartily and said how much they had appreciated his kindness and hospitality and excellent fare. The tehsildar replied that all that he had was theirs, but that in such a place as Dadan Find there was nothing fit to eat and he had been ashamed to offer them such unpalatable dishes in such poor surroundings. Eason translated, and everybody felt relieved to hear Brierley put the case so well and touched to hear the tehsildar state facts so frankly, but when Eason added, “He is coming the rest of the way with us,” a sense of anti-climax damped them all. “You shall embrace him next time, Cox,” said the imperturbable Brierley.
They left Dadan Pind in motors and drove towards low black hills. Lay attempted to translate what he saw into words. Nothing would come except the everlasting catalogue of the picturesque. Men on camels. Turbans. Bare feet. Oxen. Useless to think of harvest: he did not know when harvest was due. There were no orchards. Nor meadows. The desert and the sown lay side by side, in miserable patches. He could not by description isolate this tehsil from the rest of the world. Yet it was a harsher, more ogreish place than any he had seen. Cactus, with saw-like spikes, set the landscape’s teeth on edge. Colourless dust peppered the world. No inn, booth, tavern or jolly pub welcomed man. Man looked like a nail knocked into a bare board. And the unsightly goggles of Anne Knightley continued to exasperate wretched Walter Lay, now empty of all descriptive words. On and on they drove towards more eggs, and rock cakes, teapots and Marie biscuits.
This repast was spread on a striped blue cotton carpet which white ants were busy exploring. A few yards away horses with their heads in clouds of flies awaited the Commission. A burly Janjua Rajput subadar major whirled a duster and ordered the flies to depart from the neighbourhood of the tea table, and was disregarded.
“Doctor sahibs forbid flies,” he explained.
“Where there is food for flies, flies will be present,” an illaquadar from Wahula asserted.
“Of course,” said the stately Janjua Rajput.
“‘It is easier to exterminate lions than flies,’” a cavalry soldier quoted, having picked up the Turkish proverb in Palestine.
Suddenly the Janjua Rajput let forth a fearful yell. “Go hence!” he shouted to a man who came towards them driving a laden donkey who limped and was covered with sores. “Be far! If the sahibs see the sufferings of that donkey they will be angered. Such a sight is unsuitable for sahibs.”
The donkey’s owner turned the little beast aside with heavy blows.
“Good, very good,” applauded the subadar major.
“Sahibs are merciful to animals,” remarked the illaquadar, knowing that praise of the sahibs was acceptable to the old officer.
“That is no hard matter,” a trooper declared. “In their land all bad animals have been slain by them. The inspection of horses and donkeys is very strict; the police being everywhere observant. They have a madness regarding dogs and pay taxes for the privilege of owning them, and make them altogether English by refusing admittance to dogs from foreign lands. There are no camels nor water buffaloes, nor plough oxen, such as enrage the heart of the poor here. The animals they fear or dislike they poison and trap without scruple. All this I enquired into when sent with the victory contingent to Hampton Court, the sister of a major sahib of my regiment having earnestly desired me to become a prevention of cruelty to animals. That, I have not become. There is no need. But she is a prevention of cruelty to animals in London. God knows why.”
The motor cars came into sight. “When I behold sahibs my heart is made glad,” said the subadar major.
“It is thus with the people of the army,” the trooper agreed with brightening eyes.
Introductions took place. Brierley noted the medals and talked again of the Great War. Torn between the dangers of tea and of horsemanship Penwarden drank tea and waggled his teaspoon at the flies.
“I have never ridden before. Which is the quietest horse?” he asked. “Eason, translate like a good fellow.”
“All these horses are exceedingly meek,” replied the trooper. “The sahib has never ridden before? Doubtless the sahib owns moto-kars.”
“Hear that, Miss Neale? You and I are the brave ones. These others have done their falling off years ago in private.”
“Well, we shall not have to jump anything,” said Dr. Neale placidly. “Anne, we’d better get into the cars and change our things, dear.”
After a few moments of nimble exertion in the car Anne and Doris Neale emerged without their skirts and wearing riding coats made of holland. “Very fetching,” said Mr. Penwarden, “and workmanlike. Now up you go, Miss Neale. Better have a chair and an expert. Here, Brierley, you’re wanted to superintend this. You’re the hunting man of the party!”
Brierley came towards Miss Neale’s solid form with a remarkably grave courtesy. He recognized a spirit in Penwarden that was riotous as the glee with which a little urchin, Bob Penwarden, had disported himself on a donkey on Margate sands. “Clowning here won’t do,” thought Brierley. “I know that fellow will soon play the clown if he gets the smallest encouragement.”
He received none. Miss Neale was helped quickly into the saddle and sat there a little flushed, and had the reins placed between her fingers correctly by Brierley.
“That’s all right, thank you,” she said in her quiet way, and Cox took charge of her. Meanwhile Penwarden with four Salt Range stalwarts to assist him mounted with many loud “Whoa theres!” and “Whoops!” His horse immediately began to eat the grass in a cart.
“’Ere, Cox-Cox,” shouted the delighted Penwarden, “wot do I do now? This horse and its rations are too much for me. He’s a free-fooder.”
“Interest him,” said Sir Thomas.
“Don’t excite him too much whatever you do!” shouted Penwarden as the whole cavalcade started off at a trot. “My share of this saddle is no gilt-edged security. Horrible motion I call this.”
They swept on and up the stony hills. The English rode ahead, with Eason abreast of Brierley and Topley. The tehsildar never passed the chairman’s knee and bent forward over his horse’s neck to answer his questions. Anne and Sir Thomas kept on either side of Doris Neale, who bumped valiantly, and Knocklong, Lay and Penwarden rode just ahead of the escort of local notables.
The road ran below a rocky crest upon which a village was perched. A mad sort of path zigzagged to the top and, riding single file, the Commission and its escort ascended. The village had the bleakness of slates, of windswept rubbish heaps, and the men who lived there presented a curious appearance in their careful gallant toilets. They were ceremonious, friendly, and rough-voiced, and they addressed themselves to the deputy commissioner, wasting no words on the sahibs who did not understand their speech.
“You’ll want to see the place. It’s typical,” said Eason. “Come on, will you?”
They all went two and two, or single file, through the squeezed alleys. Each house was featureless as a shed, with blank walls, flat roof, windows that were little mean loopholes. It was strange that so much dignity and finery should express the local school of manners.
“Would residence in a garden city improve these swashbucklers?” Lay asked in an argumentative way when within earshot of Eason.
“Yes,” said Eason curtly.
The head man of the village led them to an open space. It was featureless and cramped between walls. A view of the bold countryside suggested monotony. No woman was visible. A small crowd of sick men and boys huddled in a corner. The headman urged something on their behalf upon the deputy commissioner. Eason explained that the Commission was not concerned to cure sick persons but to observe conditions and recommend reform of ills. Blank dissatisfaction rewarded his remarks. These men of the Salt Range knew their own poverty and adversity, their health and sickness; they were at home with the local aspect of such things. What seemed to them affrontingly strange was that sahibs from afar should come to peer into their existence and criticize and pass on without give and take. This was an aspect of social superiority they did not like.
Sir Thomas took in the situation and said to Brierley: “This beats me. I shall have to have a go, you know!”
He turned to Eason: “I don’t want to interfere, of course. There’s a civil surgeon somewhere within fifty miles, no doubt? Not likely to be here often. Impossible! If I have a look at these fellows will it do any earthly good—what do you think?”
“I have explained to them,” said Eason.
“They don’t believe you?”
“It is not their notion of a doctor, somehow. They don’t get the idea quite.”
“I don’t blame ’em.” Sir Thomas turned to Doris Neale with a beaming smile. “Here goes! I can’t do the slightest good, but I can’t do any harm and I’m dashed if I can stand this.”
“You will see the sick?” Eason asked quickly.
“Are any women ill, Mr. Eason?” enquired Doris Neale.
“Sure to be.” He asked some questions and then said: “The women are assembled in the pir’s house.”
The tribesmen were Awans, Janjua Rajputs, and Ghakkars, and the pir was the parish priest of this Mahomedan village. All had anticipated the immediate ease and alleviation which doctors bring to the afflicted. Healing: the village asked for a healing. When the pir led Doris Neale away and Eason escorted Cox-Cox towards the sick, illaquadars and officers followed the deputy commissioner, leaving the tehsildar and a rough group of local worthies to watch over the lay members.
“Had I known medicine would be given, I should have petitioned the sahibs to come to my village,” grumbled a wistful pensioner.
“They have no medicine,” complained an Awan.
“I think they are political.”
“Nay,” said a Ghakkar. “They are government.”
“The doctor Miss sahib returns!” exclaimed the tehsildar, rising from his chair.
Doris Neale was very red. “I never saw anything like it! I must have someone to interpret!”
Her demand swept them all into contact with many shortcomings. The commission could not speak Urdu, the women of the village could speak nothing else. None but a woman might approach the women. It was not a liberal or sociable situation.
“Is it very bad?” cried Anne.
A grass farm inspector, from Chakwal, many miles away, rose to the occasion.
“I can speak English. But I do not know if I can be allowed to be present. They are very backward here.”
He questioned the tehsildar, and the tehsildar questioned the men of the village who looked very reserved.
“The custom of the purdah is strict here,” the grass farm inspector said in apologetic tones.
“Is there no one?” Doris Neale cried out very urgently.
It needed that emotional urgency to bring forward a postmaster as candidate. By the consent of a mysterious public opinion he was permitted to join the ladies.
“In the presence of a lady sahib, what harm?” challenged the tehsildar.
“No harm. No harm,” agreed a male chorus.
Brierley, very handsome, highly entertained, and aware that feminine influence was in control of the Commission and village, asked the rejected inspector if the purdah was strict in the Salt Range?
“Among Janjua Rajputs it is very strict, among the Awans it is not so strict,” the man replied, and twirled his moustaches. He soon departed, deeply embarrassed and mortified.
Shadows extended across valleys. Even the tehsildar began to look bored. The Commission was at a standstill, with a bedside manner. In the dusk the men of Wahula looked men of iron.
“Very awkward for a layman to find himself swooped upon by a female foreigner and forced to interpret the symptoms of the harem to her. Peeping Tom would blush. I’d sooner die, wouldn’t you, Knocklong?” Lay said in his low penetrating voice.
“He is helping,” argued Anne. “What a gadfly you are, Walter.”
“I’m only putting myself into the poor devil’s shoes. I haven’t got the maternal instinct, my dear, and very likely he hasn’t either.”
Brierley lip a cigarette and stamped on the match he threw away. “We are poor performers in the eyes of these people, I’m afraid. Notice it, Penwarden?”
“Yes. They don’t see our game.”
“I confess I envy the doctors,” said Topley.
“Wahula does not realize how much good they’ll derive from your visit eventually.” When Lay addressed Brierley his manner was devoid of offence.
“I should like to do ’em good,” Brierley announced very simply.
“Same here,” said Penwarden.
Brierley looked quickly at him. “Like them? So do I. Best people we’ve come across in India so far.”
“Got guts,” Penwarden grunted. He added with dire suspicion: “Don’t suppose those Delhi fellows come often to these parts.”
“Not as fashionable as Lossiemouth—what?” jeered Lay.
To which Penwarden retorted: “I suppose you can write a well-informed article on Wahula all right after just basking here in the sun, can’t you, my lad?” And the irritation which Lay caused found voice in the rapturous applause with which Brierley and Topley greeted this sally.
Wahula, self-conscious, wondered what mirth was invoked by its name and asked the tehsildar, who replied tersely: “God knows.”
Sir Thomas left the sick at last and the men of the Salt Range made a crowd around him, fierce and picturesque.
“Could not do a blessed thing for them, really! They require treatment and it is not available,” he said, addressing Brierley. “Very bad eye cases here.”
“That hits them hard, because a lot of the young men have been rejected for the army on that account lately. Wahula had made up its mind to consult a doctor to-day,” Eason explained drily.
“By jove, it had,” agreed Sir Thomas, chuckling.
“Here’s Doris!” cried Anne, and they all rose with alacrity, feeling that release from Wahula had come.
Doris Neale hurried to Sir Thomas and Eason, ignoring the rest of the world. “I hope I haven’t upset things here,” she said. “You’ve no idea what it was like. They were all pressed up against me. It was terribly stuffy! I got the babu to tell them to divide up into groups. Ones with coughs and colds to the right, ones with fevers to the left, those suffering pain to the front row, and maternity cases at the back. They understood after a bit and did as I told them. Then the babu went outside and I called a question to him and he called it back to the women. He could not identify them, or see them, that way. We went on like that. I’m afraid I’ve kept you all waiting.”
“My God, what a game!” said Sir Thomas.
She turned to Eason, who was very intent upon her. “I have a list here I can give you of women who require treatment terribly.”
“Don’t give it to me now,” he said. All the men were watching. “If you do they will count on action being taken.”
“Unless they get to a hospital somewhere they will suffer great misery.”
“No funds—nothing! I’ll see what can be done.”
“It was difficult to get at their names. I’m sure I have spelt them wrong, but the babu helped. Look here, Mr. Eason—I tell you those women desire help! They were frantically keen. Towards the end they called out to the babu themselves. They are fine women and it was most upsetting to see their disappointment that I could not speak their language and had no medicine. Dreadful! My writing things down seemed to reassure them. If nothing comes of it I fear a very bad impression will be made.”
In that stubborn, stony place a woman’s momentary predominance and the irrelevancy of women’s tragedy to the day’s official programme took them all aback. It was as though the Commission had lost its breath and become a corpse.
“We ought to have had a woman interpreter with us,” Doris Neale declared, like thunder.
“I had no idea you would attend the sick, or wanted to question the purdah women,” the deputy commissioner rejoined a trifle stiffly.
Brierley revived and asserted himself: “Quite, quite. It isn’t, of course, the Commission’s proper job. Only here it seemed more tactful to have a chat with the sick and cheer ’em up. I’m sure you did that, Miss Neale. And Eason will do what he can later with your list.” He smoothed it over, carried it off.
For a moment the deep-hearted woman held her ground. “I believe the women are the crux of the whole thing! It seems superficial here in the open by comparison. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ merely banishes the problem: it solves nothing.”
“I know, I know,” Sir Thomas Cox-Cox murmured soothingly.
But Brierley had got a determined move on and in the splendour of the sunset the sahibs left Wahula’s rocky crest. “They have gone,” called Wahula over the hills to Dhulmial.
They rode into the deputy commissioner’s camp and were loud in their praise of it. Its comfort was welcome, and its simplicity soothed their vanity by implying that they were hardy wayfarers. Brierley and Eason took a courteous farewell of all who had accompanied them, and the horsemen jingled home.
“What was their idea in sticking to us all day?” Penwarden asked suspiciously.
“Service. India is the country of service to a superior. The Brahmans taught it, and conquerors emphasized it. Ordinary social service is avoided here. But they make a point of service to a superior,” Eason answered.
“Is it good for a man to be so damned superior?”
“I don’t know,” said the deputy commissioner, getting rather short with him and his infernal questions.
They dined in a big tent and dined well. It was cold and they wore thick coats. The tingling air braced them. They felt full of energy and adventure. It was indeed brisk and jolly to come so far—and ride a cock horse as good old Penwarden said—and observe a strange order of things and be deemed mysteriously competent to deal with it. They looked at each other and were puzzled, as though this happy conspiracy was almost too good to be true. But here they were, on the spot, investigating. And presently magic sentences would flow and flow from them into a Report.
Then for a moment everyone felt in the dark, plunged into it by Eason, who at the end of dinner lit a cigar and held forth while his sallow face was almost as rich in promise of satisfaction as the cigar; a thinking, compact face. Clear in the minds of the members of the Commission stood out the names of Dadan Pind and Wahula, the size and smell and outline of those places, their progress and their inertia, their trade and barrenness, their social coherence. Faces of their citizens and tribesmen incarnated the spirit of the Salt Range. A glaring light, striking from stones across thorns and cactus, displayed a grim intensity of poverty and space. But Eason denied accuracy and completeness to this tightly-held mental picture. He obscured it now by talk of Janjua lineage, its possible connection with the original Jadubansi Rajputs who fled to the Salt Range “after the death of Krishna”, its reputed descent from Rathor Rajputs of Jodhpur. Of the small group of the Dhanial tribe lingering near Chakwal and claiming Mahomed’s son-in-law Ali as ancestor. Of the Ghakkars, more lordly even than the Janjuas, who tell the tale of having reigned in Ispahan, conquered Kashmir and Thibet, and settled condescendingly in the Punjab about the time that Richborough was the chief fortress in Kent, rendering it secure from Saxon attack with Roman aid. Impoverished by the Sikhs, Ghakkars never lost their pride nor ceased to seclude their women, Eason said. His boastful history of the Awans made them out to be descendants of Bactrian Greeks, and hard luck through centuries had kept them below the proud place of Janjuas, but they found outlet for their courage and swagger in the army.
When he ceased speaking Brierley twiddled the menu in his hand and thought to himself that his own brief acquaintance with the Salt Range might leave him with a mere sophisticated bill of fare for the Report, it would all boil down to so little!
“I am tired,” sighed Anne, and put her elbows on the camp table.
Attention was instantly fixed on Anne. Brierley reminded her that she had done nothing all day. “Between meals,” he added gratefully. “You came out very strong at luncheon.”
Walter Lay said: “I’m not so sure our Anne has been idle. She is always shaking the tree of knowledge.” And he rolled an apple to her, a rich and ripe one. “Here you are, Eve!”
She sat there playing with it, unembarrassed.
“And she never learns the name of a tree,” Lay went on, teasing her in a very gentle voice. “She simply won’t tax her memory. She knows nothing about trees.”
“I have no formal knowledge, but I have an intimacy with what attracts me in trees,” flashed Anne positively.
“Quite right,” beamed Sir Thomas. “Why should you charge your mind with lists of greenheart for fishing rods, and padauk for pews, Indian laurel wood, Australian silky oak, and pyankadu and jarrah from heaven knows where. Merchants’ jargon!”
“Or journalist’s jargon,” put in Lay, bitter once more.
They all continued to look at Anne, finding delight in so doing. A great partiality for Anne, amounting to favouritism, blind and ridiculous, was born at that moment after a long day when no wonted sentiment had been at ease until Anne inspired a sentiment and satisfied it.
After dinner they dispersed. Dr. Neale went promptly to bed and under her eiderdown saw once more the handsome face and form of Begum-bi when the Mahomedan woman spoke ardently to her, and then—courteous and formidable—expressed her baffled plight in a swift speech and discomfited laugh. Begum-bi was barren, and to be barren in a land were all women are wed and in a tribe where all women are secluded and in a family that fives by its acres, is to give no breadwinner to the family, is to be bouche inutile, domestic famine. What young Begum-bi said was: “How unfortunate am I to find a doctor once in my life and to find one without understanding of my speech! The Raj that mocks me thus is utterly without compassion for such as I.” It was fortunate that Doris Neale, remembering the pressure of the women’s voices, breasts and hands, the intolerable pressure of their appeal, could not remember that reproach.
Anne sat at the door of her tent, looking out at stones which seemed white with rage in the moonlight. The anger of the stones was quite clear to Anne. She heard Sir Thomas’s voice talking about diseases of the eye, and she saw Lay coming towards her in that impatient way of his as though he were brushing people aside.
“I can’t write a word,” he complained. Then: “Let me see what you have written?”
Anne handed him a sheet of paper on which she had scribbled some verses. She watched him read them without anxiety.
He gave a short, indulgent laugh, that was wrenched from him, and he tapped her head with the paper. “It is all lullaby and sweet sighing. Why on earth do you do it, Anne?”
“I love doing it. I don’t publish it. It does not do anyone any harm.”
“Good lord, what a woman! There you are, with a sort of bewitching sanity about you! Then you think and write, and it’s quite awful. It’s sweetly pretty. How dare you, Anne? You know better than that.”
“Who is to judge?” sighed Anne.
Walter Lay frowned at her. “O, rot! Can’t I judge? You know I can.”
“All the same,” said Anne, “I shall write what I like. It does no harm.”
He flung away from her then, and suggested in tones of severe politeness that she should let the infallible Commission admire her poem.
The Commission bade farewell to Eason and the tehsildar. Knightly men of the Salt Range slipped forever out of sight and the Commission settled comfortably into a special carriage. They appreciated comfort and importance and the sense that they were getting on with their task. Topley, a man of prodigious correspondence, began to write letters. Brierley shut his eyes to invite forty winks. His fine face, all unguarded, commended itself to Anne. She was fond of Brierley. Penwarden opened a roll of Evening Standards and with intense satisfaction sat down to an orgy of crossword puzzles. Lay, while affecting to despise this pastime, took a restless pleasure in it.
“Notice of an intention in five letters!” growled Penwarden.
“Plan!” responded Anne.
“I said five letters. One must be an N.”
“Warning!” said Anne.
“Isn’t that marvellous!” exclaimed Sir Thomas from the far end of the compartment. “Penwarden wants five letters. Miss Knightley offers him four and then seven. Thinks it is near enough. No man does a thing like that. Marvellous!”
“Any clue?” asked Lay, grudgingly.
“Blank, blank, N, blank, blank “
“Banns!” cried Anne at once.
“It might be banns,” Penwarden admitted with the ingratitude of a man whose cherished puzzle is solved for him, and wrote it down without hesitation.
Lay slid along the seat and sat very close to Anne.
“What put banns into your head?”
Brierley woke up and became aware of Lay’s proximity to Anne. All became aware of it and were disturbed. Enterprising Lay approached the girl with an air of monopoly that annoyed them. Anne’s kindness to him was so gay, so simple, that it called for something good, kind, and happy in response. Lay was a cross-grained young man. Oh dear, thought the Commission.
“Wouldn’t you hate to be married?” Lay whispered to Anne.
“It depends who to,” replied Anne, without grammatical nicety.
“The solemnization of marriage—think of it!” Lay grumbled. “To render passion ‘serious, grave and reverential.’ Grim idea.”
“I’d get fun out of it!” boasted Anne, and completely floored him.
Brierley interrupted the conversation.
“Fun out of what, Anne?”
“You wait,” Brierley admonished her. “You wait till we get home. Duty first. And not this Walter Lay, please. He would not amuse you!”
“She won’t get the chance!” Lay retorted, and everybody laughed.
“I’m in no hurry,” said Anne.
“Good!” cried Sir Thomas. “For I have a sort of feeling that you are our mascot.”
The notion was popular. It enabled them all to be demonstrative to Anne with the ritual of a superstition. If Anne found this growing mannerism of the Commission tiresome she did not betray her impatience. Yet to one so free from artificiality, the repetition of this fancy was very dull.
In the late afternoon the train drew up at a junction and Anne, with her head out of the window, was struck dumb. For in a picture composed of platform and wilderness was Gerald Petworth, all complete with dog and bearer and bedding. The friendliness of this sight silenced Anne, who had no desire to share it with the Commission by proclaiming it. But Doris Neale looked out of the window, too, and told everybody. Petworth was hailed, and bidden to enter the carriage. His shyness fought against the invitation, but in he had to get, and his bearer added to his embarrassment by bringing in all his luggage and making a great parade of difficulty in finding room for it. As Petworth hated to spread himself except in solitude, he said: “That’s enough,” and, “Go!” to the bearer, who liked to be imposing, so disregarded his orders.
Petworth had been on ten days’ leave, shooting with a brother officer, he said. He asked if it were true that the Commission intended to stay with Sir Reginald Hailstone at Rajghar for Christmas.
“Yes,” said Brierley. “Shall you be there?”
“Perhaps,” answered Petworth, fixing his eyes on Anne.
Men have watched searchlights wheeling across sea and sky, revealing clouds and aeroplanes and ships, brushing away stars. They recognize something definite in the swooping and climbing stare of searchlights, a purpose greater than curiosity. Petworth’s regard, when concentrated on Anne, declared the quest of his senses to a startled Commission. So this young man was in love with her! The discovery quite moved Brierley.
“No money. Not a penny,” he said to himself. “It won’t do.” But here, undoubtedly, was the fun Anne had so confidently declared to be hers if she ceased to be an unmarried secretary. Brierley loved the look of Petworth. An affair with him must be a delicious peril. Personally he was prepared to allow Petworth and Anne a good deal of rope.
Petworth listened while Sir Thomas gave a brief but creditable account of the investigations of the Commission in the Salt Range. To this account they all paid keen attention, for they desired a rehearsal of their public attitude. They must, as ever, be modest, avoiding a claim to superior understanding of problems with which public men in India were far more familiar. A superior understanding they would claim for themselves in England where the audience was less well informed than the Commission. Doubtless pensioned governors of Provinces would contradict them in the press, but they could secure the last word. There was a theory that villages were hygienic without being sanitary; the crowded hamlets they had visited did not illustrate that idyll. Women in England were agog to pounce on them and flout their report if it failed to reveal the conditions in which women forfeited vigour and gave birth to puny infants. So Sir Thomas gave a reassuring prominence to the fact that Dr. Doris Neale had seen the women in their own village, women whom the deputy commissioner, be he English or Indian, might not visit. This placed her testimony beyond dispute, though she listened with a very doubtful expression. Nothing was said of a somewhat dejected Commission seated on benches, at the end of their conversational resources, while the two doctors strayed from the fold to examine patients. That was a lapse, and the least said soonest mended.
Petworth was astonished that any man could talk as much as Sir Thomas without shame. His fair gay face and intelligent voice, his unfailing gusto, pleased Petworth, and because he seemed to wonder at each event he made the event wonderful. Petworth asked from time to time if they had met old risaldar this, and jemedar that. Cox-Cox waved these names aside.
“My dear fellow, we met every kind of wolf and hawk. Never saw such men! They wore sheets and tablecloths and sails of white linen as turbans and shirts and trousers, and swaggering coats, and boots fit for pirates in a cinema. They came pouring out of rubbish heaps, and a world like an ash-pit, dressed to kill. Gorgeous and magnificent. Great big men, too, as you know. But for God’s sake don’t ask me to remember any of their names.” Intimacy was not the role of the Commission.
Petworth sat at his ease. His athletic body had the charm of a child’s, or a wild animal’s, in that it seemed always at ease. In odd contrast his speech, though direct, never seemed at ease. His mind was made up, but his words were the words of a shy man.
“I saw a queer show, where I was shooting,” he told them. “A sort of health stunt. To teach hygiene and all that.”
“By Gad, it’s badly needed,” said Sir Thomas earnestly. And the Commission tried to look—with self-consciousness but much success—like a badly-needed Commission.
“Who conducted it?” asked Topley, ardent to hear of missionary enterprise.
“When I ran into it the police were leading the procession.”
“Rather! The streets were decorated and there was a military band. It was going through the chief city of the tehsil, a tiny place. But all the bigwigs were marching in it and the school children. There were purdah tents with shows for women. At Faujkot the deputy commissioner was present and made speeches, my servant told me; but we didn’t go to Faujkot.”
“But what were they demonstrating about?” demanded Brierley. As Chairman of the Commission he felt as though unreported seditious activities were being revealed within his sphere.
“Chiefly against flies and mosquitoes.”
Lay gave a hollow laugh.
“Were there any missionaries?” persisted Topley.
“None. They acted dramas on the subject of health. I did not go to see them.”
Spellbound they pictured Petworth—every inch of him hard and fit—deciding against attendance at this form of entertainment.
“I can’t think what sort of play——” hesitated Anne.
Petworth waited a long time for Anne to finish her sentence and then said: “Whenever the procession halted singing parties sang about health.”
“What sort of songs?” asked Doris Neale, faintly.
“I couldn’t catch the words. But all the local bards are writing poems about health, my servant says. A good many popular songs are rather coarse, you know, to suit the popular taste; these are all right.”
Lay made a wild fierce sound.
It was impossible to intimidate Petworth by any display of intellectual scorn. “There were lectures with magic lantern slides showing bugs. And what a newborn baby should look like if it and the mother are properly cared for. The lectures were crowded. Prizes were given for the best plays, and babies.”
Though stunned, Brierley rallied sufficiently to enquire what sort of prizes.
Remotely, slowly travelling from his hidden mind, the jolliest grin spread over Petworth’s firm face: “Mosquito nets, tooth powder, and tooth brushes. More sensible than silver cups.”
Penwarden slapped his leg and broke into a roar of laughter: “Tooth powder! That’s a reward for you! Brierley, they have us beat! We made a very poor show in the Salt Range, that’s certain! Here’s this literary bloke, Lay, never burst into song once, and we never thought of having a band. Wot’s the good of a secretary like you, Knocklong, without any imagination? The only treat they had was me on horseback.”
The incorrigible man, delighting in the absurd, described his horsemanship at length, but could not equal the circus knock-about of procession, and raree show. Brierley, with a whimsical expression, lit his pipe and looked out of the window, thinking of those men of good birth, the local gentry, who had lent their grave presence to the Faujkot celebrations. Well, every man to his humour!
Lay was terribly depressed. Here was this soldier turning up and adoring Anne! Worse still he had at the tip of his confounded tongue the true and simple tale which appealed to Anne like a ballad. Her own lamentable verses bubbled out of just such quaintness, plain and unvarnished. He saw Anne Knightley and Gerald Petworth quite vividly as children in a nursery with a rocking horse, dolls’ house, and tin soldiers. They were happy, and the little boy was sturdily polite to the little girl who was affectionate and earnest. That spiritual make-believe was theirs still! If Lay was not able to fascinate Anne with the spell of grown-ups she would put her hand into Petworth’s and be led away. Lost! Lay nudged Anne.
“This is pretty deadly! I want to write something with a spark of intellectual imagination in it. Any drowsy mind can be fanciful, eh? This kind of kindergarten howl makes thinking quite impossible.”
“Hush!” Anne cautioned him severely.
Lay lost the consolation of Anne’s shoulder rubbing against his. She slipped across the carriage and sat down by Petworth. Everybody felt this was an event.
“I’d like to have been with you in Faujkot,” Anne said to Petworth, pitching her voice too low for any ear save his. “And I wish you had been with us in Wahula. We missed the real life of Wahula I am sure.”
This suggestion of their being together knit his hopes into his passion. Plans, such as her voice suggested to his blood, were more exciting than wars.
“This is how I see your Faujkot,” explained Anne, and he looked at it with her, eye to eye. “I see it as a place where a man might be sickly and very filthy, with no one in the whole world outside Faujkot loving him enough to preach to him.”
“Yes. O yes. Rather!” agreed Petworth.
“And then, all of a sudden,” said Anne with glee, “music, and drama and song are brought to his door, and the sort of men he has always looked up to invoke health and happiness to come to him.”
Petworth nodded. “Rather a surprise!”
“If I saw a procession like that one, I should have a lump in my throat,” Anne told him. “For it is just old and young, high and low, trying to conjure up beauty and strength. If they can endow a village with beauty and strength it is a miracle.”
Petworth gave her an ardent look. He was blazing because his tale had caught Anne, called her to his side, made her pour out words which changed Faujkot—grim and dusty, but vigorous and aspiring Faujkot—into a kingdom which was peculiarly his and Anne’s.
His voice went down into a quicksand of shyness and he said: “The deputy commissioner there is a good man; very keen.”
Good men, keen men, were forces Petworth reckoned with. But he could not reckon with Anne, who when she sat beside him, and whispered, made the train a quivering, rocking clash of heaven and hell.
Brierley was amused to see Petworth get such a good innings. Lay had settled himself into one of his funny awkward attitudes and was writing. His concentration was as intense, his withdrawal from the rest of the world as complete, and his emotions as sensitive as Petworth’s. The lover and the artist—what single-minded zealots they were in pursuit of their desires and dreams! Brierley envied them their saturation in sense and spirit. He felt dry as sawdust by comparison, and full of ignoble effort to take care of himself, place himself well, gain esteem, obtain power. Not that he thought Lay an altruist. But Lay had not entangled himself by allegiance to a woman, a cause, a church, a party. He was a free lance. It was odd that so many people were devoid of Lay’s irreverence towards mere tradition and custom. Their readiness to be awed gave him by contrast a spurious originality.
He was not really so very original, Brierley thought. But he was entertaining when compared with men who accepted labels and found in efficient routine an alternative to life’s outbreaks, as though good circulation were the whole rhythm of existence.
“Lay’s no bungler,” Brierley thought. He did not miss posts, break engagements, press into the great organization of Fleet Street with maladroit contributions, ill-timed and of ungainly length. Lay had a greed for success and Brierley had a fellow feeling. He wondered what Anne thought of Lay. She probably did not understand him but was a little dazzled by him. For he was not the type of wiseacre women neglected; some awkward, deep, brainy man, not quite spry enough to get to the front. Lay was a genuine acid and he enjoyed attacking men and their ideas. Discipline in a profession would have kicked his shins for him and as a business man his opinion would have been worth his profits and no more. But pen in hand he was quite formidable. He could refuse to take off his hat to ceremony, and he prophesied without touching wood. Did Anne find that exciting? Brierley thought that the creative type of mind, like every other creative force, must attract.
The train journey grew monotonous. From time to time boredom descended upon each person in the noisy carriage save only Petworth, Anne and Lay. They were immune. It became irritating to the others that they were so wonderfully immune.
“You are past praying for!” exclaimed Topley, and Lay did not fail to point out that he didn’t think that remark came well from a padré. Cheap jokes were not rejected by Lay.
They returned after many hours to Delhi and faced the confusion of its crowded platform. They were about to drive off to the hotel when Anne discovered that she had left her kodak somewhere. The hue and cry that ensued was but an ebullition of the Commission’s whim to make much of Anne. Each member exaggerated his effort and his concern. And when Penwarden found the wretched shabby little thing he came full of boisterous demonstration to the waiting motors. Acquaintances were standing in a group close at hand and to these travellers Penwarden shouted above the coolies’ din:
“I have found her kodak! We all have to look after Miss Knightley like so many nursemaids.” Then joyously there dawned upon him a happy catchword. “We’re Anne’s nannies. Do you hear that, Miss Knightley, we are all your nannies? Brierley, we’re Anne’s nannies!”
Fatal, thought Brierley. And it was. The Commission was concerned with hygienic principles which affect humanity from the cradle to the grave. Delhi, suffering from a certain sense of official irritation mingled with an increasing personal affection, knew the Commission henceforth as Anne’s Nannies.
It was a very tired Anne who in her hotel bedroom relaxed unto the inertia of sheer nervous exhaustion. It was easy to sap Anne, a defenceless creature when it came to the give and take of the spirit. Petworth wanted her love, Lay wanted her worship, the Commission demanded her attention. Let them inspire those difficult states of mind! thought Anne, almost in a tantrum. She had capacity for love and adoration and fine mental response, but who were they to take tickets in Anne as though she were a lottery? How dare they invest in Anne, and plan to increase their investments by her bounty! It was not fair, thought she. Or, rather, lying there, young and beautiful, she felt it was not fair. She felt she was in danger! Lay had said a dreadful thing to her before she went to her room. He lit a cigarette and spoke while he shook the match’s flame to death.
“Don’t let Petworth get you. He is only a good-looking barbarian. Marriage with him would be a booby trap.”
Anne did not emerge easily from the years when Lay’s influence over her was paramount. He frightened her now when he described Petworth thus. For what did Anne know of Petworth? Nothing save his appearance and his firm contact with his world. When the train carried him on to Lucknow Anne felt that something magnetic and powerful thrust through the darkness, going south. But the Commission did not appear to miss him. Brierley made no mention of him. Anne should have found it easy to forget him! Lay had the power to stimulate all her mental perceptions and henceforth she was doubtful about Petworth.
Anne resumed her routine work with relief. She never ceased to regard Lord Brierley as all-important, and Lay did not seek to disturb this notion. He had a lively curiosity about Brierley. Anne as Brierley’s secretary was an ally Lay valued: she kept him in touch with the Commission. Work soothed Anne, it exempted her from the battle royal of passions. So she thought; and went her way confidently, as though she possessed the key to some austere and dramatic workshop. Her ideal of serving a group of people, of doing her duty by Frank Brierley, was to employ all her gifts, impersonally, for their benefit. She was tactful, exact, concentrated. She was reliable and prompt. For her high purpose she must have a high standard, said she to herself, all aglow.
And it was all spilt milk, for Penwarden had taken her name in vain. From Meerut to Madras, from Rawalpindi to Poona the nickname of “Anne’s Nannies” suggested a queer character sketch of Anne.
Sir Reginald Hailstone had never lost his conception of her as an emotional firebrand. He greatly looked forward to seeing her again. She and Lord Brierley, the Topleys, Penwarden and Knocklong accepted his invitation to spend Christmas with him in Rajghar. The Maharajah was away and Hailstone did not intend to show his guests anything in Rajghar, for it was none of their business. Sir Thomas Cox-Cox said that he was obliged to go to Calcutta, and Miss Neale wished to see a niece in Quetta. Lay wrote a letter in which he referred to the long-promised visit to Rajghar. Hailstone was amused and sent him an invitation. The Commission was not uppermost in Hailstone’s mind when he went to Lucknow to stay with Sir Theodore Tremayne, the Governor of the United Provinces, but Sir Theodore was full of them.
“That fellow Lay,” he said, “that fellow Lay has written the Commission up in the London News, and in the best weeklies, till the public at Home must think their precious Report will kill or cure millions. The Indian-owned press out here does not like it.”
“I am not sure I like Lay,” said Hailstone.
“I enjoyed his damned impudence. And no political party gets much change out of his articles so far. For all political parties secure supporters by exaggeration, and Lay has a staggering power of despoiling exaggeration of its rich accretions. My wife has been sending me his articles regularly from home. If he goes on as well as he has begun, he will count for something more than catchwords.”
Hailstone, cherishing his personal prejudice against Lay, was loth to accept this view of his importance. Be hanged to Lay!
The Governor’s hatchet countenance looked suddenly as though he had swallowed a lemon.
“Brierley must be an ass to let the Commission get a name like ‘Anne’s Nannies’. On top of books called Mrs., Miss, and Master India, and all our Baby Weeks, that name damns them. The Commission may be garlanded, but India is wreathed in smiles.”
“That’s old Penwarden’s fault. He thinks prestige is all moonshine.”
Hailstone’s eye was in for the manners of stately men and all the ritual which exalts tradition; it was out for bowler hats, plus fours, and motor bicycles. But he found Petworth, so emphatically unpicturesque and English, worth looking at. Neither formality nor slapdash found an exponent in Tremayne’s A.D.C. Hailstone bestowed the title of The Observer upon him. Aeroplanes and artillery were blind if without just such vigilance as his. In Government House Petworth kept a look-out for what was needed, wanted, for what was up, with a personal detachment that put his services at your disposal, but not his will. A resolute youngster, in Hailstone’s opinion. He had never seen anything better than the way he moved. If he had no independence of spirit Hailstone was at a loss to pick out the man who had! His shyness beset him and defied him, but failed to belittle him. The French would have acknowledged his form, his style, as supremely good.
Hailstone was decidedly flattered when Petworth approached him on a delicate matter. They were alone in a formal reception room, sitting opposite each other, and Petworth said:
“I want to ask you something, sir.”
“Anne Knightley is spending Christmas with you. Will you ask me to stay, too?” His face suddenly flushed up.
The life of youth is incomparable! thought Hailstone with a pang. These plans to meet someone who fired their spirit, these exploits of their imagination which made a woman a fount of rapture—there was nothing to equal them in after years. He heard his own voice, artificially hearty, saying:
“I emphatically insist upon your coming to stay with me. Of course you must come!”
Then Petworth gave what he thought was amazing news.
“I am in love with her.”
“I thought you might be.”
“She does not know it.”
“Impossible to guess what women know. They know a lot more than we want them to guess.”
“I daren’t wait,” said Petworth. “She is bound to marry soon.”
Petworth stared blankly at a question which only a blind man could have asked without imbecility.
“She is so attractive!”
“I agree with you. She is very attractive. Well, good luck to you.” Hailstone was thinking, “the boy has no money.”
“Funny business, trying one’s luck. I can’t picture what being unlucky in this would do to one.” Petworth might have been handling high explosives by the speculative awe he expressed.
“Don’t blow your brains out on my back verandah if she turns you down. That might cast a gloom on my house party.” Why did one talk to a lover as though he were a child, or a ridiculous person?
“I’d rather blow Lay’s brains out. I hate him.”
That was childish. But how intensely he meant it! Without spite or cruelty, a violent straightforward dislike.
“You’ll have a lively week,” said Hailstone, in congratulation. “Love and hate—what more do you want? I am fifty per cent. bored and I am fifty years old.”
Petworth said he wanted a good deal more. Pressed by Hailstone he jerked it out: “More money. More brains. I am keen to get on.”
In spite of his kingly appearance the lad’s lot was humble enough. He wished no doubt to exalt, enrich, and cherish against an expensive world his adorable lady.
Hailstone was sorry for him, yet envious.
“You know your own mind; that’s something.”
There was a silence. Petworth was going to make love to Anne. Hailstone was not. Therefore when Petworth got up and left the room Hailstone felt he had taken with him something elemental, something sacred in its purity from dilution, a passion of love and hate.
The Commission, diminished in numbers but fully conscious of its increasing importance in the public eye, arrived at Rajghar and was impressed. The grim grey fortress on a rock, the quiet lake, the modern palace and the city where men were whiskered like tigers, drove motors, wore swords, worked sewing machines, and rode camels, was a stimulating spectacle to them. As the Maharajah was in England they felt as though an odd game of musical chairs were being played, and while his highness made himself at home in Claridge’s Hotel they stood on his ground though not in his shoes. Golden slippers were not reserved for golden stairs in Rajghar; they flashed their toes in the sunshine by the edge of tanks and on the threshold of quiet temples. The Commission was a little annoyed when Reginald Hailstone said that this was the real India. Whenever they met one of the three thousand British officials they were told that the real India lay just outside their experience. As for the army in India, its hospitals, child welfare, mothers’ unions, chaplains, schools, libraries, and cantonments merely invited the admiration of the Commission, and were none of its business. The Commission was defenceless, and could not go to Razmak or a dozen other fastnesses without the protection of the army. The proud Air Force rose into the clouds above dangerous mountains and insanitary cities. And here in Rajputana the Commission had no say: none at all. There were sad limits to its sphere of influence, but it loomed large in the press. So in the Residency and its garden the Commissioners took their holiday, and went into the city and traversed brown valleys between bare hills as simple excursionists. This was an interlude in which they wearied of work and high-minded theories, and became susceptible to idle spells. They slipped back into their personal conventions, and very soon Hailstone’s house-party broke into three circles. In one moved Anne, Petworth, and Lay, with passions, hopes and joys unshared by the others. Lay was concentrated upon his purpose of frustrating Petworth’s courtship of Anne. That was the essential and immediate action for Lay. He discussed Indian social reform, and the work of the Commission, with Hailstone when forced to do so, but his acuteness and zeal were reserved for the overthrow of Petworth. Petworth ignored Lay. His civility to him was the civility of a decent man in a crowd to all who surrounded him. He utterly refused to show interest in Lay. And his absorption in Anne was terrible to witness. A lover looking upon his dead, a father seeing his firstborn, a bridegroom beholding his bride, were not more absorbed than Petworth when Anne spoke or moved. Anne was pushed out of proportion in the lives of Lay and Petworth, so that what she said and did was not observed and heard by them critically, with a measure of detachment, but was felt fantastically, watched and spied upon, analysed, distorted, resented or adored. Anne strove to be free within herself, unembarrassed, able to give and take on equal terms. She failed in that. And she never ceased to cultivate her beauty, never tried to break the charm by which Lay and Petworth were made enemies to each other and by turn slaves and tyrants to her. Mild in conduct, but fiercely an agitator—that was Anne!
The Topleys formed another circle. Their domestic life appeared to create for them beloved limitations. Nothing more seemed necessary to them. Marriage declared itself supreme in their relationship to each other and society. Churchmanship governed them. The moral tradition of England expressed itself in their lives, and no insincerity destroyed their influence. It was obvious to all that Topley, in spite of his keen intellect, his worldly acumen, his fine sensitiveness, was wholly dedicated to cherishing sweet silly little Phyllis Topley, who bored most people to distraction and had no flame in her funny round person which always looked like an untidy parcel.
Hailstone, Brierley and Penwarden did not share the Topleys’ world. The Church of England received Hailstone and Brierley’s formal respect. Penwarden was a Wesleyan. Each had his own mental reservations as regards organized religion and none was prepared to kick up a fuss about it. Penwarden’s moral code was strict, and he was stubborn in his censure of what was not puritanical. Hailstone was tolerant towards the escapades of men and women he happened to like, but he was conservative by temperament. He wanted marriage to give people a home through thick and thin. That he could not expect a woman in her twenties or thirties to share his pre-war ethics made marriage at fifty a dangerous experiment for him, and he resented this. Brierley was at once more tender-hearted and more self-centred than his two contemporaries. Let people be happy in their own way, poor devils, said Brierley. But scandal was anathema to him. He had imagination for all those things which mortify or disconcert a public man. He drew a very definite line between private and public persons. The young were seldom in the public eye, and that made them attractively naive. Brierley was very happy when observing birds and animals. They had no consciousness of reputation! They had weakness or strength, fear or security, and sometimes the terrible heartbreak of defeat and isolation. Young men and women, however sophisticated, were more the children of nature than men like himself. Occasionally he envied their freedom, but he knew that their spontaneity had ceased to be his. He was a middle-aged competitive public man and he observed the rules of the competition. Anything that disqualified him would not merely deprive him of a prize, it would starve his self-esteem to death.
Knocklong held aloof. He did not care a hang for a single member of the Commission. But he was rather interested in Lay and he liked Petworth. Knocklong was so businesslike, so firm, so correct that he kept the official aspect of India before the Commission in the most intimidating way.
Only Lord Brierley and Anne were much attracted by the Residency, but from the first moment it meant something pleasant to them. A big white bungalow with wide verandahs looked out on smooth grass. A giant peepul tree stood like a warning from ferocious jungles, and groups of slender palms, delicate as the rigging of a ship, broke the skyline. Hailstone was proud of his formal garden with its paved paths. There cineraria blazed, sapphire, ruby and purple, and sweet peas shone like jewels, while marigolds, mignonette and sweet-smelling stocks made gay and scented borders. The rooms in the Residency were few and enormous, and on its west side stood a guest-house that held two bedrooms with their dressing-rooms and bathrooms. Opposite the guest-house four great tents were pitched. At the back of the Residency were a garage, many stables, and a score of low one-roomed houses for servants. There was something stately about the place, yet it welcomed intimacy. Doors and windows in the main building and guest-house opened to an immediate foothold on the earth. There were no shut-off enclosed passages, tunnelling between the rooms. No upper storey and staircase destroyed the illusion of simplicity. One step and you were out under the sky and into the sunshine! A certainty of being able to count on the weather imparted a feeling of close and abiding contact with the flowers and the trees. No rain or cold threatened to jostle you away, wrapped up and wedded to an umbrella.
The Topleys enjoyed their big rooms in the Residency as though they were children who were having a treat. Penwarden, Lay, Petworth and Knocklong lived in the luxurious tents. Anne and Brierley were lodged in the guest-house.
Anne looked about her room, which was comfortable but uninteresting. It said nothing to her; not a word of warning. Above her head an electric fan gave her a hint that summer in Rajghar might be a drastic experience. Hailstone had told her that the super-control switches of her fan and electric lamps were in Brierley’s room. It was typical of India, she thought. Everything was on a great scale, but the details were often absurd. She looked out at the tents. There was nothing wonderful about them, but she had never before been one of a house-party so casually and widely scattered. The stillness and quietude of the place delighted her. From the first hour Lay and Petworth made her uneasy, stole peace from her till, like the Painted Lady butterflies when they emigrate from North Africa, she desired to fly into the wind! She wanted something decisive to happen. The work of the Commission ceased to be her supreme interest. What was public life to her? Nothing and less than nothing. All the tensity of existence was confined to Lay’s and Petworth’s pursuit of her.
In Anne’s opinion they were unsatisfactory. Petworth could not express his feelings so would not speak of them. Her intercourse with him became ludicrously stilted. He compelled her to be a conventional companion during his slow assault upon her emotions, he kept her in suspense, and yet thrust his dumb devotion heavily upon her. Lay hovered about her, deriding the Commission, and everybody in India. He poked fun at Anne. He spoke slightingly of himself, too. Lay discussed marriage as though people like Anne and himself would not dream of taking a romantic or old-fashioned view of it. He forced the pace of her emotions, sweeping aside safeguards and hesitations. Fidelity and honour received no homage from Lay in this mood. But he intensified Anne’s perception of all that was lovely or strange in nature, and he made her hanker after keen mental excitement.
They had hours of utter quiet under the still trees, all of them together, with books and papers lying about and a general air of good-fellowship prevailing. The colour and scent of flowers, the stir of birds, the majesty of trees, wove spells. Later in the day they played tennis and Lay beat Petworth. After dinner they turned on the gramophone and danced till midnight. Brierley thought them a restless lot of youngsters, but he rather liked Lay in this new gay mood. There was something touching in a sensitive, cranky man’s effort to be happy.
Hailstone observed it all as an outsider and hated being an outsider. He said to Brierley:
“When I was under thirty I’d have married anybody. Not a monster. But, well—anybody! I could not afford to marry at all. Now that I can afford a wife I am too old for a young bride, and companionship with a woman of a suitable age is a humdrum alternative. But when I look on at those lads, Petworth and Lay, with Anne Knightley, they astonish me. They can’t afford to marry any more than I could.”
“Not if they want to have a good time,” said Brierley. “It is very pleasant for ’em though. They think they are miserable, but they aren’t. They are getting any amount of delight out of being with Anne. You’ve only got to watch them to see that.”
Hailstone pictured Helen Brierley, good-looking, of high mettle, a true lover. Brierley was a satisfied man. So he looked on at Petworth and Lay and Anne as he might have looked on at pheasants in full plumage—a sporting event, they’d enjoy being shot!
“I wonder they don’t lose their heads,” Hailstone said. “Society has forgotten its prudence.”
“Convention always lost its hold on the spirit in the presence of beauty.”
“Ah! Is that true? I wonder.” Hailstone considered it.
“Quite true.” Brierley was positive. “Men don’t think conventionally when beautiful music or beautiful literature grips them. And none feels conventionally when the beauty of a young woman astonishes his senses.”
“What about these young men and Anne Knightley then? They see each other as rather beautifully athletic at all hours of the day and night. Nature is beautiful here. The scene is set for something greater than the conventions, isn’t it?”
“Oh well,” said Brierley in his easy way, as though he were a chairman of the emotions and dealt expertly with a long agenda. “Men may feel rebellious without using dynamite. They won’t necessarily play the fool because they are in love. Lay won’t, anyway. He has got his head screwed on uncommonly tight.”
Hailstone looked all his years as he growled: “The appropriate thing—that’s the game! You chuck away your pot hat and put on a wig, a busby, a gas mask, or a coronet when it’s appropriate, without feeling a fool. As chairman of this Commission and all the rest of it, you can’t play the fool. But Petworth might, or Lay might, and get away with it. A certain divine and reckless folly is appropriate to youth.”
Brierley woke up at once and said that Helen thought Anne reckless.
Reckless? It quite upset Hailstone. An actionable quality! Reckless driving to the danger of the public and all that. Anne to blame. Too bad!
“She is impulsive and quite uncalculating,” Brierley admitted. Then he became confidential and revealed difficulties he had endured, but never mentioned. “I have to drive her on a silken thread.”
Hailstone made a deep noise of understanding and remonstrance: “Gad! When you and I were her age nobody looked for silken threads for us.”
“No,” agreed Brierley. “No. But it was great fun being a young fellow.”
“I did not enjoy it much. Not half enough,” confessed Hailstone.
More fool he, thought Brierley. Rather a stickler for the safe thing, old Hailstone!
The Commission was vexed when Hailstone announced at breakfast that a Mrs. Boxall was coming to stay. His story was long, involved, and uninteresting. She was, he said, the guest of the Assistant Resident at Rajghar and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Clements. Clements had been taken ill while all three were away in camp, shooting, and they were hurrying him back to his bungalow and had telegraphed for a nurse. Judith Boxall, fearing to be a burden on a sick household, claimed an old friend’s hospitality from Sir Reginald. Anne offered to give up her room to the new guest.
“Why?” demanded Lay before Hailstone could speak.
“Ye gods! What a reason!”
Brierley said Anne was not to move. He would turn out.
“No,” said Hailstone. “Mrs. Boxall stipulates that she is to be in a tent and not in a stuffy room. A room is a deathtrap after camping. A tent will be ready for her in plenty of time.”
“You are so wonderful!” exclaimed Mrs. Topley.
“You’ll like her,” Hailstone told Mrs. Topley. “Her husband is a political officer at Gilgit, three weeks’ march beyond Srinagar in Kashmir. She is in India for a change.”
“So wonderful!” Mrs. Topley murmured.
“Ever read her novels?”
Nobody had read her novels. Very unfortunate, Hailstone said.
“Never heard of her,” said Lay.
“Extinction!” cried Anne, with a gesture.
“Take that!” Lay ejaculated, and, grabbing the tea-cosy, he pressed it down over Anne’s head and face with two lean fierce hands. “Extinguish you in half a jiff.”
“Oh, you’ll hurt her!” cried Mrs. Topley. “Oh you are far too rough! Oh dear—what a shame!”
“There!” said Lay through his teeth, and removed the tea-cosy so that all Anne’s hair stood on end, vilely dishevelled.
“A nice fright you’ve made me look,” said Anne, quite serene.
“He couldn’t,” declared Penwarden. “It really suits you.”
“Like a halo,” said Topley.
Lay proudly walked to the side table and carved himself some ham. Petworth picked up toast which Lay had buttered, took a terrific amount of mustard and spread it thickly on the dry side of the toast, which he replaced on Lay’s plate. This was done with such silent savage determination that all eyes were riveted on Petworth and each mind held clear reflections about him.
“Dangerous man to offend,” thought Hailstone. Brierley’s thought was—“Handsome devil. He’d stand no nonsense from anyone.” Topley’s came to the point—“He is really angry.” Penwarden’s was—“Mustard! That’s a bit thick. Serve Lay right though.” Phyllis Topley just thought: “What fun we are having!” And Anne thought: “Men are so queer.”
The animation of their digestions was suspended while Lay, coolly discoursing on the feeble imbecility of Anglo-Indian novels in general (“All Simla gossip, and valiant warriors, and raids, and proposals at picnics”), returned to his place and ate his ham, neglecting his toast. Only Petworth forbore to watch for the moment when Lay would eat his toast. It came at last. His fingers did not encounter the mustard, nor did his nose warn him. He was too intent on his own tirade: “They make me sick. Artificiality can go no farther. They deal with the commonplace adventures of the most bureaucratic people on God’s earth, who——”
The mustard went home—and with an oath of little social standing Lay went like a thunderbolt on to the verandah, there to spit and choke.
“There’s a miss sahib in here. She has just tried to kill me. That’s what comes of having women out of purdah!” Lay was heard to say to the chapprassee, who, knowing no English, replied: “I understand, Protector of the Poor. The Presence has eaten too hot a chilli.”
With a wry grin Lay returned to face the mirth of the company. “The sort of thing a silly girl would do, Anne,” he remarked.
“Not at all. I braced you with that mustard. You and your tea-cosy war!” Petworth informed him, speaking for the first time that day, except for his punctilious “Good morning” to each in turn.
“That doesn’t alter my opinion of the prank,” retorted Lay in acid tones. “Though it may be a very fair specimen of what is called, in childish places like messes, ‘ragging,’ I believe.” His contempt for military life was blatant.
To everyone’s surprise Anne, with her arms folded on the table, leant across it towards Lay, her mouth very straight, her eyes very angry. “Walter, don’t be so superior,” she said.
This was no joke! Lay raised his eyebrows, embarrassed for once. “Dear, dear. Tut, tut.”
“I mean it. Don’t be so superior!” She read him a lesson by her manner, and she made everyone feel extremely uncomfortable.
“That won’t do,” thought Brierley. “A girl must not make people uncomfortable. She is getting spoilt!”
Judith Boxall brought new blood to the house-party, which was in need of it. She was a woman in her thirties, brown-haired, robust, dreamy-eyed, and she took stock of the Commission. They rather felt that she had won the toss and left them to the second innings. The centre of the universe to her at that moment was Gilgit: terrific mountains, wild tribesmen, and a small group of English officials and two Englishwomen. To Gilgit she would send her impressions of the Commission. Walking about in her excellent tailor-made, with her low tender voice deploring the illness of Mr. Clements, she made Lord Brierley conscious that he was not at home in Rajghar after all, not intimately at home, as this woman with her gipsy face was. He liked the look of her immensely.
Lay deserted Anne for Judith Boxall. That woman was so happy, so fulfilled, so active in mind and body, that Lay could not endure to be near her unless he subjugated her.
But she never yielded an inch to him. After her first astonished mirth at his hostility, she simply dreamed apart from him. She did not wish to be bothered arguing. Away and away beyond the passes there was a man she adored: a great comrade. Now she was strolling about the world with her hands in her pockets keeping herself to herself, as cool as a cucumber. In Gilgit everything her Jack said, or did, mattered to her vitally. That was life. That made her blood turn round! This thin, sallow, eager writer was nothing to her.
She contradicted him flat. “No,” she said. “That’s your theory. That’s not India!”
And again: “You expound your prejudice! The men I know out here are not a bit like that.”
“But I have talked to them,” Lay expostulated.
“Oh, talked? Yes!” she answered, lazily remote.
Antagonism kept him at her side till she escaped and sought her host and learned that the Topleys were good souls, old Penwarden trustworthy, Brierley an ambitious man. She did not care! Not she. But she would pop it into her letter. What about the beautiful girl? Mr. Lay and Captain Petworth in love with her! That was really interesting.
Anne had not resented Lay’s desertion, but she wanted him to tell her what Judith Boxall was like.
“Not my sort,” said Lay. “Let’s saunter up and down. I want to talk to you.”
“All right,” said Anne agreeably. “But you’ve talked enough for one day, goodness knows.”
Brierley sat in silence by Mrs. Boxall, suddenly conscious of ease, success, the tremendous ascendancy of wealth and pleasure and power. He did not know whence this acute consciousness came, but it pressed in upon him. A string of ponies passed up the drive and round the house to the stables, and he thought of Hurlingham and Ranelagh when they were very crowded and gay before the war. He caught a glimpse of a scarlet-clad chapprassee; state in the cut of a coat, with a turban wrapping up the secret of the East in a napkin. Brierley and his companions were the powerful strangers, the travellers! It was all in the tradition of his race. He would go on from here as governor to a colony and solve questions of population and policy, stimulate trade, make his personal contribution to the affairs of England’s extraordinary empire. The fertile earth everywhere attracted him, and he liked to play the squire to vast territory: the squire and the magistrate. It was in his blood.
The light faded. Lay and Anne, as they passed and re-passed the group seated on the lawn, seemed suddenly to be flaunting youth’s impulse to make some great leap in the dark. Their queer passionate interest in each other was startling. They became without a word of comment being spoken, a preoccupation to all, or a challenge. And none could be challenged save Petworth. Everybody resolved not to look at him. His face, as he turned it to Lay and Anne, never taking his eyes off them, was the face of a man in whom a storm has long brewed, and may scarcely be delayed or denied its outburst. Hailstone called to Anne abruptly and marshalled everyone in to tea and bridge.
The lights were lit when they all came scattering out of the Residency to change for dinner. The cold was intense after sundown and the world very dark. Lay overtook Anne as she groped her way towards the step on to the verandah in front of her door.
“Anne! I do adore you!” he cried, lightly, and kissed her.
“Do you, Walter? What fun!” Anne said, a little wistfully, and slipped away.
Was it fun? she asked herself as she dressed to the quick leap of her wood fire. Its flames danced into the wild energy of the cold air like a mad passion. Fun, or not, it turned her for a moment, she thought, into the kind of girl who frequents beauty specialists, fortune-tellers, and night clubs. Busy with her honey-coloured satin dress, her scents, and her powders, she made this ceremony of decoration a sensuous affair. And all the time she kept saying to herself: “What fun! What do these tricks do? This is not really I.” But she moved in an enchanted sophistication, posed to herself, lost for a moment her essential simplicity.
The cold darkness struck like a savage, when she left her room. Out of the throb of the black earth came Petworth’s heavy tread. Ploughmen, pilgrims, all the marching men seemed to put down their feet with him. There was the freakish, blighted, blazing way of the cultured sensationalists, and ‘the wayfaring men though fools shall not err therein,’ that footstep seemed to say. “O,” thought Anne, “I really can’t go on like this much longer. Am I the sort of woman Walter wants, or the sort of woman Gerald wants?”
She turned and saw Petworth behind her. As he passed through lights and shadows he was a blot in the translucent darkness, or a fine outline—something beautifully designed. A deep, wholesome, vital excitement beset Anne. This was no brilliant trick of the emotions, such as Lay’s calculation of an ardent kiss inspired.
“Isn’t it bitter?” said Anne.
“It is colder on the frontier,” said the soldier.
Anne’s spirit went straight to the frontier. A great passion might well be kindled in that danger zone.
Mr. Penwarden enjoyed the dinner on Christmas Eve more than anybody. He was the only man present who felt really at home in a paper cap. And he was supremely happy finding mottoes to hand to Petworth and Lay. His geniality almost overcame the rough gloom of an unexpected guest, a railway official called Greenham. This bleak man had turned up in Rajghar on what he called a spot of work, and while waiting for a train to Allahabad in the early hours of Christmas day, ate his dinner at the Residency. He had no use for Christmas, he said. Towards the Commission he was contemptuous. He had no use for them either. When Penwarden toasted “Anne’s Nannies” his expression was frightful to behold. Lay, conscious of the Commission’s importance to him as subject-matter for his pen, was disconcerted by the indifference of Judith Boxall, and the contempt of Greenham, an ill-bred man but a forcible one.
Lord Brierley was disconcerted in his turn by Mrs. Topley. For Mrs. Topley fainted. She fainted directly after dinner and there was quite a fuss. Hailstone offered to send for the civil surgeon who was by the bedside of poor Clements, but Mrs. Boxall and Topley said there was no need to do that. No need at all! Mrs. Topley went to bed and Topley watched over her. Brierley and Penwarden, married men, guessed the truth at once. And Brierley resented the exalted look on Topley’s face. The Topleys had been married five years and had longed in vain for children. Longed in vain till now. “Well, really,” thought Brierley, “Well, really!” This was altogether too domestic a demonstration for the Commission in his opinion.
Judith broke up the gathering soon after the dramatic retirement of Mrs. Topley. Anne saw the lights go out in her tent a few minutes after they separated. Little Anne cuddled comfortably into her bed and hoped that everybody would know their own minds to-morrow! If Walter really wanted to marry her, he must say so, and he must touch the strange wildness within her that Gerald Petworth’s presence stirred. And if Gerald wanted her to follow a simple impulse and surrender to him, he must find words to convince her imagination that life with him would not be the death of her spirit. She thought she would have done better as a lover than either of them had she been a young man! She soon slept.
Penwarden went to his tent and to bed. Then he heard Petworth’s dog greet Petworth with a delighted yap of welcome and growl at Knocklong. Knocklong began an interminable conversation with Petworth. Penwarden under his eiderdown wished those two chaps would shut up and let him go to sleep. He snored before Brierley and Lay tore themselves with reluctance from the society of Greenham, who after his last whisky and soda became marvellously good company and revealed an India of intrigue, bribery, and crime. They left him at last, but he was still holding forth to Hailstone who had rashly begun to argue with him. Brierley always retained a memory of his body, like a sack, hanging over the arm of a chair; and a big hand gesticulating with a big cheroot. He little thought Greenham would ever put a disastrous spoke in his wheel.
Anne did not hear the footsteps passing her doors. The ash fell from the dead embers of her fire and her even breathing lifted the bedclothes in a soundless rhythm. Then, abruptly, there was a creak and a whirl overhead and her golden hair rushed about the pillow and a bitter blast beat upon her head, neck and shoulders. Brierley, she instantly realized, had turned on her electric fan. She groped her way to the switch—it was useless! Neither fan nor light was under her control now. She knocked on the wall between their bedrooms and called Brierley’s name. No answer. The idiot was asleep! thought Anne. “I’m not going to be frozen for anybody!” Absurdity, hardship, illness lay that way. No thank you, scoffed Anne, all crumpled and sleepy, dragging on her dressing-gown.
She stood shivering on the verandah upon which the doors of their bedrooms and dressing rooms opened, all four in a row. These doors were double, opening with a latch, and were made of glass as they served the purpose of windows. Over her head a few bats hung among the rafters of the verandah, and behind her were wide arches and a silver moon riding high above a fleecy cloud. A watchman coughed beyond the tents. Anne peered through Brierley’s door and could see nothing except a pool of light on the floor coming through an open door from his dressing-room where the light was burning. Entirely concerned with her impatience to stop that chilly outrage over her blessed bed, she slipped into his empty room and went to the switchboard. In the dark she stumbled against a light bamboo table and books crashed to the ground.
Brierley hurried in from his dressing-room. “What’s that? Who’s there?”
“Anne,” answered Anne, crossly. “You turned on the electric fan over me. I never felt anything like it.”
“Did I? What—on that switchboard? I am so sorry. Why didn’t you shout?”
“I did shout.”
“I never heard. You are up very late.”
“I’m not. I’m in bed really,” explained a sleepy Anne, and switched on the light.
“You must be frozen!”
She was unexpected in his bedroom in the middle of the night. Entirely unexpected and nowise welcome. But she was determined and practical. She stood her ground by his bed and manipulated the switches.
“That is the one you are not to touch, see? Look!”
He obediently approached.
“These two control mine. For goodness sake don’t touch them.”
“All right. Well, off you go.”
“Off I go to get warm! How would you like it? Sit on the bed and I’ll show you.”
He sat on the bed and asked her if she had hung up her stocking.
But Anne was minding her own business. She sent the fan flying over his head, without rejoinder.
“There! Isn’t it unbearable?”
“Yes, by Jove. Unbearable! Turn it off.”
She switched everything off, satisfied that she had proved to him that she was not making a fuss about nothing.
“What time is it?” she asked. “You’ve not been working, have you?”
“No. I only came back here half an hour ago. That man, Greenham, became entertaining and we stayed late. Then I began to hunt for the letter I received yesterday about the hospital ward for women. The one there is the bother about. I could not find it. It does not matter.”
Those were the uppermost thoughts in their minds: the search for a letter, the turning off of an untimely electric fan.
“I put it in your red despatch case,” said Anne.
“I looked there. It doesn’t matter. Hailstone queried a point I quoted, that was all.”
“I’ll find it.”
“It doesn’t matter. Don’t bother.”
But she went pattering across the floor to his dressing-room—the protesting secretary! She rummaged in despatch cases. Thick curtains were drawn over the dressing-room windows. She didn’t heed Brierley’s expostulations. Finally she reappeared in triumph. As the room was dark she came slowly saying: “It was there, but you must have flicked it out of the case and it had fallen under the table.”
Brierley said nothing. He was drawing the curtains across his French windows very quietly. The atmosphere of the room had changed. Anne put the letter down on the bed.
“Thanks. Now for goodness’ sake be off.” Brierley’s voice sounded irritable.
From a perfectly unselfconscious intruder his tone transformed Anne into a girl flamingly conscious of the scene and the hour and Brierley’s disquiet.
“I’m dying to be off,” said Anne huffily. “I was sound asleep when you woke me.”
She drew back the curtains and he did not turn on the light but wished her happy dreams and a pleasant Christmas.
“And don’t you pay any more visits to-night, young lady. You’re not Santa Claus, remember!”
Anne said nothing, but felt furious. The night! Why make a bogey of the night? Time of darkness, time of enclosure and exclusion! Flash went the light in her room, then out again, as though she flashed her angry eyes. The comfort of her bed pacified her. But she was no sooner in it than she heard steps which went with a rush across the drive and trampled the verandah. Then movements round the tents. Voices by Brierley’s door. Brierley’s voice, low and angry. Petworth answering him! And Petworth louder and clearer, as though all the things he had not said for days and days were delivering themselves now in a judgment.
Anne sat up and listened. The sanctions of her social and official world, the innocence of her reasonable excursion, were being attacked, and by Petworth, the man of professional obedience!
“What the hell do you mean?” fiercely, from Brierley.
Muffled words from Petworth which Anne could not snatch from the other sounds of footsteps approaching. Two voices remonstrated, but did not drown Brierley’s voice which was the carrying voice of a public speaker.
“Oh go to blazes! “ said Brierley.
Then a scuffling of feet, very active. A growling word. A thud! And a final scurry of feet on to the verandah. A silence. Then low voices without anger, but tense, concerned, and doubtful.
Judith Boxall called from the door of her tent: “Is anything wrong?”
Knocklong answered with reluctance: “Lord Brierley has had a fall and cut his face.”
A quarrel, an injury! All the scandals of the world seemed to be trooping out of the trees and tents, and concentrating round the guest-house. Anne left her bed for the second time and thrust her white quilted satin and swansdown wrapper between Penwarden’s khaki dressing-gown and Lay’s great coat, as they stood opposite Brierley and bent towards him, staring.
Brierley sat on the matting of the verandah holding his hands to his face.
“I am bleeding like a pig,” he declared, dazed but indignant. “Leave me alone. Or bring a sponge.”
“How did you hurt yourself, Frank?” cried Anne.
Petworth, who was still in his evening clothes and stood on the drive with his hands in his pockets, said: “It’s my fault, I’m afraid.”
“Damned fool!” Brierley ejaculated very clearly.
Judith Boxall swept them all aside, and knelt down by Brierley and told him to let her look. Instantly the watchman, holding his lantern up, came to the fore and Brierley’s servant slipped into the circle of light and crouched on his heels and said:
“It is a bad injury. The doctor sahib must be called hither in haste.” Judith translated his unwelcome words.
“No!” said Lay. “Certainly not.”
This was the first word to indicate that there was something to hush up. It wrought upon Penwarden.
“My God!” he ejaculated emotionally.
Judith Boxall said over her shoulder: “This matting is full of microbes and it is a dirty deep cut near his eye. Fetch the doctor at once, please.”
“I’ll tell Hailstone,” said Penwarden and rushed off.
Petworth and Knocklong whispered together, and then followed him.
The disgusted Chairman of the Commission was led into his bedroom and washed by Judith Boxall. She filled him with confidence, sustained him while he went in fear of ruin to his eyesight, and she asked no questions and invited no explanations. Moreover she sent Anne away to her own room to get warm, and Brierley was glad to be rid of Anne. He had had more than enough of her. His blood was up and he would have renewed any quarrel with Petworth.
“I’ve never been more annoyed,” he protested to Judith as she blindfolded him.
Lay followed Anne into her room. She sat down, much shaken, on her bed and a servant pushed his way in through the billowing curtains over the door with his arms full of logs and began to rekindle the fire.
“What happened, for goodness’ sake?” demanded Anne.
“I had just got into bed when I heard the sounds of a smothered fuss. I looked out of my tent and saw that fool Petworth cursing Brierley over here. Brierley told him to go to the devil and started to shove him off the verandah. When Petworth turned on him he lunged out, slipped up, and went crack on his head. I don’t know what the row was about. Do you?”
“I can guess,” said Anne. “Good-night, Walter.”
“One can’t go to bed till after the doctor comes, I suppose,” said Lay without budging. He seemed full of a gleeful malice.
“I don’t want to talk,” Anne said, lifting her weary face to him.
He went off then like a flash. Not much comfort to be found in Walter, thought Anne. He pursued whatever entertained him, regardless of people’s feelings.
A car went down the drive and Hailstone ran into Lay.
“I can’t ring up the Clements’ bungalow. Evidently Mrs. Clements has removed the receiver so as to keep Clements quiet. Greenham has gone to fetch the doctor,” Hailstone said, with all the detail that spurts from a much irritated man.
“Brierley is laid pretty low,” Lay said. “A funny business!”
Hailstone shrugged his shoulders. “Greenham and I were sitting up talking, when in rushes Penwarden with his hair standing on end and blurts out that Anne Knightley had been in Brierley’s room and Petworth had half murdered Brierley! Pretty good for the Chairman of this precious Commission, isn’t it?”
Lay was very superior. “What if she was in his room? We are civilized people. I have just been in her room myself.”
But the bad character borne by the hour of the night, the stern taboos of custom, the spluttering row out there under the moon, were so many scandalmongers, and Hailstone was not going to be accused by Lay of any finicky disapproval. If he took this affair seriously a serious affair it had got to be!
“Petworth tells me he is prepared to take the blame.”
“What good will that do?” asked Lay.
“None—to him. I suppose he had some idea of keeping Anne’s name out of it.” Hailstone stood a moment in majestic wrath and then called: “Petworth!”
Gerald Petworth came from the end of the verandah looking very glum.
“Come along in here,” said Hailstone testily and led the way into the big drawing-room where cigarette ends and empty tumblers and a dying fire looked rakish and dull. The three sat down and Hailstone said to Petworth:
“I have heard Penwarden’s story. What’s yours?”
“Knocklong and I were in my tent talking. As I had only one table lamp burning at the far end of the tent, we could see through the chics. The watchman was moving about outside. Suddenly the light went up in Brierley’s room. He and Anne were there.”
“Why not?” said Lay, all tumbled and tousled in his great-coat and sitting slackly in his chair.
Petworth, out of the subsiding rage of a perplexed jealousy, gave him a furious look.
“Well? Was she dressed?” asked Hailstone.
“No. Brierley was. Then the light was switched off.”
“She turned it off.”
“When did she go back to her room?”
“Not for a quarter of an hour, Knocklong says.”
“You and Knocklong discussed it, I suppose? While you watched, I mean.”
“A certain amount. I asked him to shut up.”
“It wasn’t your business, nor his, was it?” put in Lay.
“Nor the watchman’s,” said Petworth, bitterly. “He saw all right.”
Hailstone looked at the shut passionate face that confronted him. This observant young man had undoubtedly seen at once too much and too little. He must have been in two minds as to what he should believe! Hailstone enquired what he had said to Brierley.
“I asked him why the devil he expected Miss Knightley to work for him in the middle of the night.”
This amazing avoidance of the real issues, this quite unjustifiable interference with other people’s occupations, flabbergasted Sir Reginald Hailstone.
“I said: ‘Can’t you see you expose her to all sorts of damnable misunderstandings?’ I asked him what he supposed the watchman thought of it. He started to shove me off the verandah and I started to shove him into his room. He tried to land me one, and slipped up and hurt himself.”
“I can’t see why you should mind why, where, or when Anne Knightley works for Lord Brierley,” Lay remarked.
“Can’t you?” growled Petworth. “I can. I think Brierley ought to be kicked from here to London.”
The two young men glared at each other.
“Cool down,” said Hailstone. “It does not matter what either of you think. What we want to do is to keep this fuss from starting a scandal. It must not get out.”
He spoke with authority and Petworth nodded. He was for keeping quiet, too. But Lay was amused. This was really rather infra dig. for Master Brierley!
The doctor came up the drive in his motor and Hailstone went out to meet him.
“Nice guests you’ve got!” said the doctor. “Greenham came in on tiptoe and said Lord Brierley and his secretary were spending the night in Brierley’s room, and another man, who is in love with her, found out and has half killed Brierley.”
Hailstone exclaimed sharply: “Greenham told you that? Where’s Greenham?”
“Gone to the station to catch his train.”
“He must have been drunk if he told you that tale.”
“He was perfectly sober as far as I could see,” remarked the doctor cheerfully.
Hailstone detained the doctor halfway to the guest-house, and said: “The sooner that yarn of Greenham’s is contradicted the better. Miss Knightley went to Lord Brierley’s room very late about some work. Nowadays everyone goes to everyone’s room. But young Petworth knows what Indian servants think, and he, like an ass, remonstrated with Brierley. That’s absolutely all that happened. Brierley took a toss and hurt his eye. That’s the whole story!”
“You ought to hear Greenham tell it, then,” chuckled the doctor, and went cordially to his patient.
In the morning Brierley’s bandaged head moved restlessly on his pillow. He had had a scrap with a subaltern the night before! A scrap. It was simply unthinkable. Yet at the moment nothing could have seemed more natural. No sooner had he got rid of Anne, than Petworth had rushed across the lawn and the drive and been grossly impertinent. He had lost his temper with Petworth in the most exhilarating way. Petworth was clearly in the wrong. But it was his, Brierley’s, eye that was damaged.
A dark waterman began filling baths in all the tents. Steam rose in the crystal air.
“Trouble!” reflected Brierley. “Folly! Nobody much to blame, but nobody quite in the right. Not quite. People are suspicious of peers, secretaries, bedrooms, and midnight. Explanations are a great bore, and ineffectual. The Commission is in hot water over this!”
All the zinc baths rang out in response like strident town criers—“Hot water!”
Christmas Day in Rajghar was flooded with joyous light. All things glittered as though a film of glass caught and intensified the sun’s rays. The daydream into which India falls at noon had not soothed as yet the startled splendour of the morning. Topley held a service at eight o’clock in the Residency’s drawing room. By nine the room was empty and the doctor’s car was again outside Brierley’s door as a warning of other solemnities.
To that sight Penwarden reacted at once. Depressed, but excited, he regarded Brierley as found out. And all his suspicions of slim gallivanting ladies were confirmed. Between lathering his solid chin and shaving that lather off, his mind was invaded by prejudices which were stubborn and by emotions which were, on the whole, larky: decidedly larky. He thought of himself when young ‘coming a cropper.’ But Brierley was not a youngster, and a man should come along better than that. With his poor wife at home, trusting him! Or perhaps she did not trust him? She probably knew him too well. It was stimulating that a man of his own age should have a romance. “Quite a romance!” Penwarden called it as he put away his safety razor. But if there was a divorce it would be extremely ill-timed as regards the publication of the Commission’s Report which dealt with immature parenthood, and welfare centres, and other domestic matters. Unsuitable, most unsuitable! thought Robert Penwarden. He disliked everything to do with divorce, and so did Mrs. Penwarden. “It is not in my line,” declared Mr. Penwarden quite fiercely. He now felt remote from the gaudy display of luxurious tents, free and easy verandahs, and French windows. Give him walls, doors, locks and keys, a homely stuffiness. It was all very risky here. “And what comes of it?” mused Mr. Penwarden. Awkwardness. He really would not know where to look when he met Anne, and it had given him great pleasure hitherto to look at her. Poor girl! Luckily Mrs. Topley had not seen Lord Brierley, streaming with blood. The peril of touring the Indian Empire with Englishwomen astounded Mr. Penwarden. His admiration for the violent conduct of young Petworth was sincere. “Ah, how he loves that girl!” But the fight, as far as Mr. Penwarden could gather, had not been a proper fight at all. And he entertained a dire suspicion that all these people would apologise and be pleasant and pretend nothing had happened! They would carry the thing off. The airs they gave themselves were so light, so breezy, so ineffable, that honest Robert felt inclined to tell them to their faces what he thought of them. And the suppression of all his jokes simply suffocated him. He had so enjoyed indulging in “a little bit of chaff.”
Judith Boxall in her tent wondered what Gilgit would think of this episode when in its remoteness she told the tale. In Gilgit, where mails took three weeks to come over the high passes from Srinagar, news of any change in social outlook, social ‘form,’ was received as news is received by telegram: as a definite statement. It was open to the little isolated community to say: “We don’t believe it.” How would Gilgit interpret Anne’s action in going into Lord Brierley’s bedroom? Judith believed in the innocence of Anne and Brierley. She had no doubts on that subject. But Petworth’s action threw grave doubt. It was so unusual for Englishmen to make a fuss, make a row, within the intimate boundaries of hospitality, that remote, disciplined, masculine Gilgit would attribute weight to his impulsive fury. If there was nothing nowadays in bedrooms, if they were as sociable as drawing rooms, why should Petworth make a scene? Primitive jealousy, said Judith. And she acknowledged that her Jack was capable of just such a searching, challenging jealousy. It was not a suspicious thing, but combative. Judith would presently travel from Srinagar to Gilgit escorted by a man who admired her enthusiastically. They would be three weeks together, all alone save for tribesmen and servants. And Jack, trusting them, was happy in their honourable friendship which made the hard journey easier. Judith regarded the stability of friendships in Gilgit as terribly important. Nothing could be a more poisonous fungus than that tiny group of people, if their relationships were not healthy. And since it is in the nature of man and woman not only to like, admire, respect, but to hate, despise, and adore, every danger known to the human heart and mind was present in Gilgit. It was all very fine for Jack, thought Judith: “he has me!” She remembered many queer unacknowledged moments of dangers among friends. Fright and resistance haunted such scenes for her. Not fear for herself, but alarm for the peace and dignity of their fragment of civilization far away in wild mountains. “But I would not be without the power to attract for all the world!” she thought. “I am always aware that there is something infinitely precious creating the very episode that I must avoid. One is obliged, in fair play, to do just that—avoid the crisis, control the situation.” Embrace every experience? That led to the delusion of a feverish weakness. She, for one, would prefer to guard the flame for its most intense and highest experience. If Sir Reginald Hailstone’s house-party were the British population of Gilgit, and Lord Brierley its official big-wig, the top dog, how the place would have blazed up after the happenings of last night! They could not have pulled together after that. Their weaknesses would have proved too great for the test of Gilgit. Gilgit was a frontier post—it could not permit women, young and fair as Anne, to ignore night and environment. Yet, how easy for an Anne to feel immunity at any hour, in any environment! Even a man’s passion could, in dramatic circumstances, make an actress rather than a woman of her. An easy role, a mere performance. Rectitude and a little high spirit, would nine times out of ten safeguard Anne. Leaving men such as Petworth confused, distraught! Judith felt that chivalrous sympathy for hot blood which makes it a point of honour not to stir its rashness. What happened last night, thought Judith, was an absurd travesty of scandal. “It simply proves that bedrooms are bedrooms, and one does want some hole to oneself in this world.” She added: “What’s good enough for the Lido is not good enough for Gilgit!”
Judith left her tent, very wide-awake to the malice of rigorous conventions, and the spite of broken trifles, and of the championship that Anne might need.
Mrs. Topley, Judith Boxall, and Anne met at the breakfast table. Anne was saying, “This is the hot milk,” to Mrs. Topley. All the men, eyeing the car outside Brierley’s room, hung about, for news they said, until they saw Mrs. Topley and Judith join Anne. Then together, for safety and ease, they entered the dining-room as an army.
Anne wheeled from the coffee pot and the laden side-table. “How’s Frank this morning?” she enquired at large.
“The doctor is with him,” replied Hailstone.
“He has been with him for ages and ages,” Anne observed. “Has nobody seen him?”
“I have,” said Knocklong.
Everyone looked at Knocklong.
“He was asleep, so I let him alone. His servant was there and I told him to call me if anything was wanted. I expect the doctor woke him up.”
“What is the doctor’s name?” Anne persisted.
“Colonel Toogood,” Judith and Hailstone answered together. Indeed there was a disconcerting alacrity in everyone’s response to Anne. She had only to move an inch and everyone’s eyes moved too. There was a positive rush to anticipate any awkwardness.
Only Petworth did not appear to observe her. He turned his face towards her when she spoke, but he looked blinded. He was not watching action this morning.
Lay was in great spirits. “You’re very blithe, aren’t you?” Sir Reginald remarked, when Lay whistled a tune and said, “Got it at last. That tune was plaguing me all last night.”
Penwarden thought. “Heartless chap, Lay,” and with a great effort offered Anne an apple.
“If you’ll peel it. I simply can’t peel an apple,” said Anne.
“Early Victorian, aren’t you?” Lay said, affectionately.
“Not so very,” said Anne.
Penwarden peeled the apple with care and wondered where this business was going to land them all. He felt a wan yearning for Queen Victoria.
Colonel Toogood appeared in the doorway on to the verandah. “Well?” asked Sir Reginald and all demanded an infallible doctor.
“Brierley wants his breakfast,” said Toogood in a very sharp voice. “He won’t be able to see to eat it because he must be kept in a dark room with both his eyes bandaged and no peeping. I am not quite happy about his eye. Otherwise he is flourishing.”
“But his eye!” cried out Anne, and greatly feared calamity.
“Can’t tell yet.” The doctor did not soften to her. A stiff man.
Everybody thought “specialist!” and none dared utter the thought. It seemed tactless in the presence of that competent figure by the doorway. But Anne broke through their sensitiveness with a cry: “How soon can a specialist get here? You can’t run any risk with eyes.”
“You shouldn’t, of course,” Toogood remarked dryly. “But risks were taken last night and we’ve got to wait and see what comes of it.”
Very awkward, thought Penwarden, staring at Anne who persisted.
“If he is not better to-morrow, would you want a specialist? If so, how soon could he get here?”
Toogood merely addressed himself to the room at large. “What about Sir Thomas Cox-Cox?” He had a keen desire to meet the eminent Cox-Cox.
“He’s the man!” cried Penwarden, who felt that to him the blond Cox-Cox would be as welcome as the bright laburnum in his tiny suburban garden.
Nobody gainsaid him. And Sir Reginald asked: “What shall I do? Wire him? He’s in Calcutta.”
“Two heads, you know,” said Toogood, slightly softened. “Write, or wire. I may not be here more than another four days if Clements continues to improve. Though I’ll stay, of course, if Brierley isn’t all right.”
Days of this sort of thing, with the Commission on his hands! Sir Reginald was exasperated. But he looked his usual polite self as he followed the doctor out on to the verandah. They stood there for a moment in silence, the intense light rushing towards them, everything very still, the earth one immense potency.
“Which was the fellow who biffed him in the eye?” Toogood asked.
“The one at the far end of the table. He didn’t biff him in the eye. Brierley fell.”
“Yes. I know. But he started scrapping. So that’s the sportsman! And the girl who asked questions is the secretary?”
They looked at each other, twinkling. Then Toogood said casually: “Nasty eye this morning. The matting is full of filthy microbes. He sprawled his hand out against a pillar as he went down—whitewash and cobwebs and dust—and then drew his hand across his eye to wipe the blood away.” Toogood’s gesture to illustrate this was better than an actor’s, more exact, and his clever hands would have known better than to carry danger to his eyes, but his words were not critical. “That’s the sort of thing people do,” his tone implied. “Well—I’ll be off. Clements is improving. He has been very bad.”
Hailstone returned to the dining-room and found everyone’s attention riveted upon the candidates for the privilege of giving Brierley his breakfast, while the khitmutgar hovered with a laden tray.
“Of course I am going to feed him!” This from Anne with the first note of a faintly distressed defiance that Hailstone had heard her utter.
“No, dear. I will. I’m quite ready,” Mrs. Topley was tense.
“As a V.A.D. in the war I believe I have professional claims!” put in Judith with a very light touch. She was anxious to avoid anything absurd.
“Now look here,” said Hailstone waggishly, but nervous. “You ladies must not spoil Brierley. As a matter of fact he wants Knocklong. He said so.” This adroit lie removed Knocklong and the khitmutgar from the room.
No one had quite realized what an infant Anne was. The young, newly emancipated from repression, love a scene, provided they have a sufficiently emotional and flattering role in one. Anne could not have contemplated a scene in cold blood. But now with a stern little face and the coolest manner she folded her arms on the table and said:
“You are all very mysterious this morning. There is one thing I want to know now. What happened last night?”
It cannot be denied that Lay and Judith were immensely stimulated by the spectacle of the social havoc wrought by this question. Penwarden was heard to mutter a distraught ejaculation invoking the deity. Mrs. Topley hurried frantically into an extreme and imbecile expression of a pious hope.
“Nothing. Nothing happened. Except Lord Brierley’s eye.”
This remark rolled about like a marble, unable to sink in. Sharply rattled by contact with it Hailstone said, with the good-natured courtesy of manner that was humbug in Penwarden’s opinion, “I don’t quite know what your question means? You know what happened to Brierley.”
“No, I don’t,” declared Anne. “Not after I left him.”
“Well,” interposed Topley, very gently. “Is there any reason why you should know?”
That’s all Topley got for his pains! His pains were concerned with Petworth, suffering so intimately and stiffly.
Anne directly addressed Petworth. “You and I are the two who know. I’ll tell you my half.”
They were locked into it now, those two, alone. She had done it! Slipped in and got to close quarters with him and his passion for her, his suspicions, his absurdities, his speechless discomfiture.
“That’s what discipline does,” Judith told herself, when Petworth retained, undishevelled, his simplicity and directness, though he was far from any solution of the rowdy problems that howled at him. Out of an emotional chaos it was marvellous to project so direct an action as Petworth’s reply.
“My half is the rotten one. I had a row with Brierley. My fault entirely.”
“I don’t care what you thought, or felt, or what your motives were,” Anne told him, waving one small white hand through the smoke that came lazily from Knocklong’s discarded cigarette end. This was no white flag in the smoke of battle, it was a signal of contempt for such obscurities. “I want to know what you said and did. And I’ll tell you first what I said and did. Just exactly this:” Here she paused long enough to sweep a glance at them all and get an impression of people, not bored, but deeply and resentfully embarrassed. “I went to bed and woke up to find the fan whirling over my head and an icy blast giving me pneumonia. I knew Frank must have done something stupid to the controls which are in his room. I called, and he did not hear for the simple reason that he was in his other room hunting for some papers. I have just as much objection to getting pneumonia at midnight as at noon, so I went to his room to tell him to stop that horrible fan.”
Silence. Then, “Yes, I see,” from Petworth.
He is supremely dignified and respectful, thought Judith. And yet, what a fierce creature!
“Yes—you saw!” Anne left it at that for some wicked seconds, and then added: “Didn’t you?”
“Well, you saw me pop in but you didn’t see me pop out at once. Did you?”
“Now what should you suppose we were doing?” said this appalling Anne.
“I did not know.”
That resourcefully guarded remark was foreseen by none. “He got out of that well,” thought Hailstone, spellbound, interested, and full of objections to the whole conversation.
“And why should you know? Why should you ever know what I am doing?”
She was determined to tell him all. “I first showed Frank the controls. Any harm in that? He then told me he hadn’t been able to find a paper, and I went into his other room and looked for it. Any harm in that?”
“Was it necessary?” This from Topley, with the purpose of diverting her from her pressure upon Petworth and to indicate, kindly, her indiscretions.
Anne turned on him, looked at him as though he were a cross-word puzzle; impersonal, perplexing and difficult. Not human!
“How many things one does are necessary? I wanted to find it. I was impatient to find it. And I did find it. So that was that! I then said goodnight and went to my room. What did you do, Gerald?”
Here Hailstone wondered if he should put a stop to all this. Then he decided that they had better have it out. He looked at his watch as a gentle hint. Anne saw that and was enraged. Time, please! Routine. Boredom. O these middle-aged people! Unbearable, and formidable.
Petworth answered her with a certain detachment from his own performance. “I had a row with Lord Brierley,” he said as a thunderbolt might state “I fell.”
Anne fluttered her hands in exasperation. “Poor Frank! What on earth had he done? He could not prevent me from walking into his room, could he? All he did wrong was to turn on my electric fan by mistake. A frightful crime.”
There was a thick silence till Topley said in a good-natured way: “You forget that in our heart of hearts we are all a little conventional. There’s a convention about bedrooms in the middle of the night. Quite a practical sort of convention.”
“And how does it deal with an icy electric fan over one’s bed in the middle of the night?” Anne enquired briskly.
Topley shook his head. “Very feebly,” he admitted.
“And how was I to deal with it?”
“You could,” Topley told her, “have called for a servant.”
“Yes—I could!” Anne said, much struck by the idea. “I could. But I never even thought of it.”
Mrs. Topley murmured to the afflicted Mr. Penwarden that it was always so difficult to think of things at the right moment.
“It’s a sad story of crime. It ought to be called The Lady’s Electric Fan. Wicked peer turns it on. Unprotected innocent young girl goes to him at dead of night to implore him to turn it off.” Anne suddenly lost her head—so Judith thought—and blazed at Petworth. “And young man with his eye to the open door suspects the worst, attacks elderly peer, and shrieks scandal!”
Anne was white now as when Hailstone had first seen her in the Tube. She had surrendered herself to the emotion evoked by a scene, as she had surrendered herself to the emotion evoked by a play. He had thought her insensitive, laying the table with embarrassing remarks as though they were knives, forks and spoons; and all the time something had been quivering within her pleading, asserting, denying as though her soul was faced by a tribunal. He looked from her to Petworth, who was confronted by this dire caricature of himself as Paul Pry, busybody, scandalmonger. Petworth sat more motionless than a man at ease can sit. And his face was more still than the face of a man who is free to disclose his mind. In the position in which he found himself he must submit, it seemed, to anything Anne chose to say. He made now a very brief statement.
“I’m sorry. I saw red.” Then he got up and left the room.
Hailstone felt a queer pang for the lad: admiration, envy. Long after this episode became the entertainment of a memory Petworth would still retain those qualities of personality which moved Reginald Hailstone to envy. He remarked: “When a man like Petworth sees red there is bound to be trouble.”
“Really? Merely a display of fireworks I should have thought,” Lay snapped.
That dispersed them all, each an isolated tenseness. Lay caught Anne by the elbow and marched her down the verandah with him. “Don’t you go near your precious warrior now, Anne. If you do he’ll propose to you.”
“To make amends. To do the right thing. I tell you the fellow is an ass.”
“Dear Walter,” mocked Anne, “you’ve never been quite such an ass as to propose, have you?”
Somewhat taken aback Lay retorted: “Not to you, Anne. I’ve been refused by lots of hateful rich ladies.”
Anne sat down forlornly on a wicker chair. “For goodness sake don’t be witty and spiteful. I am unhappy.”
Instantly Lay became tender. “Anne darling!”
“I am all ruffled up. Can’t you see how Frank must hate this? And it is such a bore for Sir Reginald. And a woman secretary should never, never, never have this kind of fuss! Never.”
“Brierley is the luckiest man in the whole world to have you for his secretary. Every time he looks at you he ought to thank his stars. Each time you speak he ought to congratulate himself that you have that voice of yours. Don’t be silly, you silly thing. I adore you, and the moment I can afford a secretary I’ll engage you, Anne. Later, when I’m disgustingly prosperous, I’ll promote you to be my wife.” He laughed.
“I’m miserable,” said Anne huffily. Tears rushed into her eyes.
In the dining-room Mrs. Topley and Mr. Penwarden lingered alone. Topley, with an air of being an isolated man, disappeared. His wife turned to Penwarden and presented to him the fact that most impressed her.
“I’m afraid my husband is very much upset.” That was the important thing, she seemed to say.
“Naturally.” Penwarden gave Topley his due.
Phyllis Topley continued with earnestness: “He hoped so much that this Commission would do good. Well—if this sort of thing happens, how can it?”
“This hardly affects the work the Commission has to do,” remonstrated Penwarden.
“But surely it must.” She was a gentle little thing. “There is so much in example, always. And how do you get figs off thistles?”
Penwarden did not know and looked obstinate.
“I am very fond of Anne. But I do think the modern girl is unwise. She goes too far.” Mrs. Topley folded up her table-napkin very neatly and intimated to the dazed Penwarden that the last word had been said.
Repudiation had to come from that stalwart man. But he knew he must not agitate Mrs. Topley. “I have no use for this sort of smart set business myself,” he declared with emphasis.
Judith Boxall joined Hailstone in the garden and they met with the intimacy of old friends who have shared a surprising experience.
“Well, here’s a mess!” said Hailstone. “What do you think about it? It is excellent material for your new novel, isn’t it?”
“No, but it is rather amusing,” Judith remarked. “I am sorry it happened.”
Hailstone shrugged and said he could not quite grasp what happened. That difficulty beset them all! Petworth, looking on, had been astounded, shocked, and for a moment, under Knocklong’s influence, suspicious. Rage, born of mental confusion, had impelled him to attack Brierley. But even while he crossed the drive he reinstated Anne as worthy of all honour in his heart. Brierley had exposed Anne to suspicion, therefore Brierley must be shattered by his wrath! Petworth’s passion could not, would not, be quiescent, inactive. And Brierley’s vanity and dignity, thus outraged, inflamed him to meet violence with violence. He did not keep cool. Hence publicity under the stars in the middle of the night! And the accident to his eye, serious in every respect, added that element of ill-luck which disclosed the incident to a man like Greenham who would make the most of it. Judith and Hailstone intermittently regarded Anne’s actions in the night as perfectly natural and seemly. Why should the poor girl catch cold? And what harm had Lord Brierley done? None whatever! Petworth was to blame for all the unpleasantness. Yet, Petworth——
“I understand Gerald Petworth’s feelings, perfectly!” said Judith.
“Perfectly,” agreed Hailstone.
After a moment’s reflection Hailstone added:
“But he made a fool of himself.”
“So did Lord Brierley,” declared Judith. “He should have given the boy a simple explanation. A man of the world ought not to lose control of that sort of situation.”
“He lost his temper,” remarked Hailstone. “Silly ass!”
Judith smiled. Hailstone’s eyes twinkled. Judith laughed. Hailstone shook with amusement.
“Old Penwarden’s face!” he chuckled.
A chapprassee advanced across the lawn. Judith and Hailstone ceased to laugh.
“All these people are discussing just what we are discussing,” he said to Judith.
The chapprassee told Sir Reginald that a Rajput noble had called. Hailstone turned to follow the chappressee to the house and receive this visitor.
“I bet you old Raja Singh has heard the story already,” he said to Judith.
Judith flared up: “And he will put his own interpretation on it. O it makes me furious with Lord Brierley and Anne Knightley!”
“It is beyond a joke,” said Sir Reginald, gravely.
Four days after Christmas Penwarden welcomed Sir Thomas Cox-Cox with rapture. There was something in the way that fair big smiling man got out of the car, greeted the Residency with appreciation, and sat down heartily to his breakfast that reassured Penwarden.
“You and I must have a talk,” he said.
“Yes, yes. My dear fellow, I’ll talk your head off. Calcutta—you never saw such a place. Marvellous! Brains, energy, efficiency, splendour—all there. Perfect. And every kind of difficulty. People extravagantly dying all the time. Babies with no kick in ’em. Racing, there, the best fun in the world. Any amount of hospitals. I worked like a slave really. That book did not exaggerate. Not a bit. You won’t believe it, I know. Splendid fellow!”
Hailstone wanted a talk, too, and got it, as host, before Penwarden. Cox-Cox rose from the table and said in the highest spirits: “Now let’s have a look at poor old Brierley. Toogood met me at the station and will be here presently. He gave an excellent account of Brierley’s eye.”
“He is no worse,” agreed Hailstone. “I don’t think he’ll be out of a dark room for a week, though.”
On the 2nd January the Commission was due at Lucknow, and Cox-Cox gave the sound of an official in distress while making for the door.
“One minute with you in here, first,” said Hailstone and, escaping from Penwarden, withdrew Cox into his own bedroom. “Sit down,” he said. “I just want to say a word.”
They sat down, two big men in a big room, and a flood of light was stayed at the arches of the verandah as though at the mouth of a vault.
“There’s been rather a mix-up here,” Hailstone began.
Cox was no listener, he burst into speech. “My dear man, I heard all about it in Calcutta. Never got such a surprise in my life. Our name is mud. What the dickens are we doing trying to solve the problems of India’s health and welfare when here’s our chairman having a scandal with his secretary and getting half murdered by a young officer? That’s the tale. That’s the story. I heard it the day I left Calcutta.”
His lifted voice, eyes, and hands, his energetic and good-natured lamentation, were typical of the amazing buoyancy of the man. He displayed, as his chattering wares, all the tittle-tattle, rumour, comment, exaggeration, and hints of Calcutta. His personality expressed the business of a copious press, the credulity of clubs, dinner parties, and bazaars. “That’s what they believe and say!” he announced, and the clamour could almost be heard.
“How did they hear of the thing?” Hailstone’s tones were judicial. He wanted facts.
“Somebody talked at the railway station restaurant at Allahabad. Told three men. Two came on to Calcutta, full of it. Three men—and there you are!” Up went three fingers and Cox made a gesture which included a multitude.
“That’s Greenham! He dined here, and got hold of the wrong end of the stick. He went to Allahabad.”
“There you are! It’s quite good enough. That’s the very way things start. Allahabad and Calcutta have the story now. The third man was going to Cawnpore. What Calcutta clubs whisper the Bengali hears. The Indian-owned press will have a go at this! Of course it will.” He seemed to be shouting ‘special!’ in all the streets. A tribe of newspaper vendors could not have made the news more vividly certain and real. Hailstone felt quite deafened.
“What did happen?” enquired Cox, beaming.
Hailstone replied: “I don’t quite know.”
“There’s a lot of detail about it,” Hailstone said very wearily. “Where the controls are for lights and electric fans, is a point. In fact, the chief point. And it was a cold night, and she was afraid of a chill. Then there was a question I asked about a tehsil welfare centre; sometime towards midnight I asked that. A good bit later Brierley looked for a letter bearing on that question and could not find it. Then, later still, Anne Knightley looked for it and found it under a table. All those facts come into the explanation of why, about one in the morning, she went into Brierley’s rooms, in her dressing-gown. Petworth saw her go in and come out, and he went over and spoke rudely to Brierley about it. Brierley shoved him off the verandah, he shoved back, Brierley decided to smite him and tripped up.”
The two looked at each other in silence.
“Wonderful!” exclaimed Cox. “Marvellous! No one in this world is going to forsake their own idea of a pretty secretary in a wicked baron’s room on account of electric switches and official letters. It is not to be expected. It’s against human nature and the films. Isn’t there a better story than that?”
“No,” said Hailstone patiently. “There is not. And it is a very good story really. Besides, it is true. The electric fan, the controls, and the letter are all there.”
Cox chuckled. “Quite. Of course it’s true. But it is too complicated to be popular. What’s Petworth’s tale?”
“Petworth is a man in love,” Hailstone was very serious about that. “He did not know what to think when he saw her go into Brierley’s room and stay there. His impulse was to attack Brierley and he lost no time. What he feared—suspected, if you like—is quite clear. But he seems simply to have demanded what Brierley meant by having Miss Knightley in his rooms at that hour. He asked him what he supposed the chaukidar1 thought. It is a lame yarn and he doesn’t invent a better. Just variations of his strictures on a secretary being employed, without consideration or discretion, at that time of night.”
Cox nodded. “I see. He was jealous. He went for his man straight, before he had time to think. Off goes the whole thing with a bang! It does not matter a row of pins what he says now.”
“Not a row of pins.” Then Hailstone told Cox the story of the evening’s doings in detail.
“Well,” said Cox, “it is very unfortunate, but we shall survive it.” He heaved his stout frame out of the chair, his face like the rising sun.
They went together, the large middle-aged men, Hailstone, Cox-Cox, Penwarden and Toogood, towards Brierley’s room and their four heads turned all together to watch Anne Knightley as she walked with her hair on fire from the sun, across the lawn.
“Put on your hat!” they called to her as one man. Sunstroke was worse than scandal.
For answer she opened a pink parasol and twirled it at them. They saw that she was approaching Petworth who sat among fox terriers and picture papers, extremely self-conscious.
“Youth falls in love; that’s nothing!” declared Cox-Cox. “But an eye is a very serious matter. Poor old Brierley. Mind your eye, old Penwarden.”
“What do you mean?”
“I thought you were looking at the lady,” said Cox-Cox, and the doctors went into Brierley’s darkened room.
When Anne approached Petworth she increased the distance between herself and those safe, preoccupied and elderly men who regarded falling in love with a sentimental sympathy. It had nothing to do with their important interests. In Petworth was the thing that Anne might share, receive, and inspire: supreme emotion. It was her immediate friend or foe. She was not in the least concerned with public affairs, or with anybody’s paid job.
Justice is attended by ceremonial, so Petworth, who had been judge, prosecutor, and advocate, in one ghastly muddle, was ceremonious in manner to his adored victim. But Anne was intimate, impatient, and quite without rigid pride. Her clearest recollections of Christmas Eve were physical sensations of waking, clogged with deep sleep, to the discomfort of cold and persistent air flung down upon her by a fan, a chilly patter in and out of the verandah, and the familiar presence of Brierley: the white china knob of the switch, and the explanations about it; her spontaneous and impetuous assumption of secretarial duties, and the dry gritty texture of the carpet under Brierley’s laden writing-table when at last she knelt down to peer beneath it, and saw the missing letter. Her sensations had been most acute where they reacted to cold air, the coming and going of light, the contact with dusty things her hands touched when hunting for that bit of paper. There had only been one moment of sharp consciousness of Brierley. Yet from the texture of dark night and human secrecies the people who surrounded her—practical, humdrum, steadfast people—had conjured a situation which assumed a reality more potent than the truth. Anne, profoundly astonished by this, did not seek Petworth for consolation, but for action.
“It is absurd for you and me to continue to avoid each other. I was indignant with you at first, but that won’t settle anything. We really must make a plan to stop this bother.”
Petworth’s skin seemed to contain with difficulty the startled fury of his blood. That tide raced to his face and confronted her there. The sound of it was in his voice when he said:
“I suppose you would not marry me, Anne?” Immediately Anne’s hope of deliverance vanished.
Her delicate perceptions were waiting for bliss, and received a stunning blow in his inadequate words. Though his physical presence moved her, she resisted the constraint of that attraction. She must have more assurance of happiness than mere sensation.
“You suppose quite right,” said Anne tartly.
“I knew it was no good asking you,” he said.
She was half captured by him, and had been since the first time she met him. But she believed her resistance to him, and her conflict with herself, to be a triumph of higher susceptibilities. It was quite distracting that he should make an unseemly fuss about nothing in the middle of the night, and protest so little in a declaration of love.
“The less you say about caring for me the better, after what has happened,” Anne cried. She meant the exact opposite.
Provoked to extremes by his stricken silence, she expressed her astonishment that anyone could have harboured such low suspicions, could have attributed such weight to appearances! Petworth, confronted by reproaches familiar to the ears of middle-aged aunts, replied with some spirit:
“It is no use your telling me that I have a nasty mind. My mind is not nasty. I felt something you have never felt, that’s all.”
This destroyed Anne’s swagger. She looked at him softly and reproachfully and spoke of the reputation of secretaries as something delicate, precious, and infinitely difficult to protect from slander.
“The more need to be careful, Anne,” broke out Petworth with the joyful grin of one who thinks he scores.
“One can’t take precautions against the mad,” retorted Anne. “You went mad.”
“At times everybody goes mad—if you like to call it that,” said the young man.
Anne darted an inquisitive glance at the handsome madman, and gave an impatient exclamation, for Sir Reginald Hailstone was bearing down upon them. He looked uninterestingly sane.
Hailstone sat down between them and said in friendly tones:
“The doctors say that Brierley may go to Lucknow on Monday, provided he keeps his bad eye bandaged and does not use it. Now, frankly, can you three stay together at Government House?”
“Why not?” cried Anne, to whom the society of Brierley and Petworth was immensely attractive.
“Does Lord Brierley object?” asked Petworth.
“Probably,” said Hailstone.
Petworth, unmoved by being considered objectionable, asked what Lord Brierley was going to do about it.
“That’s not the question. The question is how am I to reply to a letter which I have received from Sir Theodore Tremayne. He wants to know exactly what happened here. The story in various forms has a great circulation in Lucknow.”
Petworth and Anne exclaimed their idiotic astonishment.
“A great and increasing circulation. The Indian-owned press has what might be called a society paragraph about it.”
Rather grimly amused to have awed the young, Hailstone took the Governor’s letter out of his pocket and read: “‘Will you let me know what Petworth was up to in all this fuss, before I decide what action to take, if any, where he is concerned.’”
Anne burst into speech. “Why not tell Sir Theodore exactly what happened?”
“It’s such a long and complicated story,” Hailstone complained. “Besides, what good would it do? The Governor wants to know how he is to put the Chairman of the Commission right with the public and at the same time deal justly with one of his staff who is mixed up in a row. And Tremayne, as host, wants to avoid unpleasantness.”
“Could Gerald go on leave while we are there?” suggested Anne, who felt that once officials and the public got to work on an awkward social situation, any one of them might be sacrificed and executed.
Hailstone shook his head and said that would look bad and would not convey a denial of serious scandal.
Petworth’s face gave the impression that he saw what he must do, and did not like it. Anne could not guess what his action would be, but was impelled to rush to his rescue.
“I shall resign from my job!” cried Anne. “If I do that, everybody will know that only I am to blame. I don’t care who knows that I will not stay in my own room and get pneumonia just because it is after midnight.”
“By resigning your post as Lord Brierley’s secretary you would convince the public that he had seriously insulted you and that Petworth went to your rescue,” Hailstone told her.
The blameless conduct of Frank Brierley was a fact to which Anne in decent loyalty must continue to testify. She could not resign!
“Very well,” she groaned. “Then Frank, Gerald and I must go hand in hand to Lucknow and show people it was just a little tiff.”
“A little tiff!” repeated Petworth in terrible tones.
Anne rose and wiped the dust from off her feet. “Well then, a murderous outbreak! Have it your own way. Revel in rows! I think people are perfectly disgusting and mad.” She walked rapidly away.
Petworth gave a youthful and unhappy confidence to Hailstone forthwith: “I proposed to Anne Knightley, but she turned me down.”
“Bad luck!” said a sympathetic Hailstone.
“As to Sir Theodore, I have decided that there is no use telling him the truth.”
This shattering remark was encouraged by Hailstone with a very friendly nod.
“The truth does not dismiss Anne from the story. So I shall say that after dinner, having dined well, I indulged in a row with Lord Brierley and it ended in a scrap. I’ll add that there was no justification for kicking up a row. Being drunk is a good enough motive, and anyone will believe it. It is better to have a sound lie and stick to it.” Petworth was as sure of the convincingness of his story as is the author of a masterpiece of fiction.
Hailstone sat looking down between his knees at his right heel, engaged in extinguishing a cigarette end. “You are a romantic lad,” he remarked. Then he asked: “Have you apologized to the noble lord?”
“No. I shall if the Colonel orders me to. I don’t suppose he will.”
“You expect to go back to your regiment?”
“I must, after this. I shall offer to do so in my letter.”
Hailstone growled: “You throw away a good card in your career and all for the love of a lady. You know, Petworth, you’re a desperate fellow!”
Petworth’s face suddenly took on a hard look: “I am afraid Lay will score. He has Anne’s ear. He makes out to her that I am an awful fool. I can’t turn the tables because it is all talk, talk, talk. What’s the sense of that?”
It seemed quite probable to Hailstone, too, that Lay would score. Petworth had cried “Wolf!” A ridiculous shout, which started the chatter of a thousand trivial voices. In the face of such a vulgar comedy the sombre dignity of his passion for a woman was hidden.
Anne found Lay persistently inquisitive as to Petworth. He inquired whether Petworth had proposed to her and when she remonstrated with him on his deplorable behaviour in asking her such a question, and repeating it at intervals, Lay assured her that curiosity was highly meritorious in any journalist, from a reporter upwards. Anne’s condemnation of girls who could not hold their tongues when they had received and refused proposals, was met by howls of derision. That was just one of Anne’s crude little bits of priggishness, Lay said, and he regretted the limitation it imposed on her. “Nothing could be more conventional!”
She sighed, “But I don’t find being unconventional a gorgeous success. In fact, I see that a secretary must be conventional.”
Lay agreed that professional conduct was governed by rules which required to be strictly observed. Unprofessional conduct tended to become as ridiculous as a man who was too big for his boots. “But you are not my secretary, darling, and I really do want to know whether that brave warrior asked you to share fifty pounds a month?”
“I believe Gerald would share anything.”
“Brierley would not agree with you. Petworth is a jealous hero.” Then, seeing Anne look dangerous, Lay hastened to describe the proposal he thought Petworth had made. It cannot be denied that Anne listened intently and Lay came uncannily near the truth. He hazarded a guess that Petworth went blindly to the point.
“That is just what he would do, I bet! He is the kind of man who wants a book or a picture to be a signpost, and music to be ‘about something,’ the king, or a funeral, or somebody’s eyes. He’d not let a bugle blow unless it announced dinner or the resurrection. Loving you must mean marrying you. Not just loving you! He would repudiate the idea of loving you passionately without honourable intentions.”
“Thank goodness,” Anne murmured.
Not obviously disheartened, Lay pointed out that Petworth expected to have the same success from good intentions as from artistic performance.
“Let him try that theory with a work of art and he’d have such a fool notion properly shattered. The conceit of it! ‘I sing this song—not as an artist, but as a brave, hearty, and sincere lad. Listen and respond!’ You’d murder him, and quite right too.”
Anne was in deadly earnest: “I see two things, Walter. One is that an appeal to one’s emotions might be a wonderful and overpowering thing.”
“Bless you!” cried Lay, touched.
“And the other thing is that a person might be so beautiful—of course I don’t mean only physical beauty—that one would be irresistibly attracted whether any appeal was made to one or not. I mean that a performance would be unnecessary.”
Lay was startled. Did Anne, then, find Petworth’s character fine? He flashed out: “I see. No courtship required. Merely a permit to view. To worship and adore!”
She let that pass in silence, and Topley loomed into sight.
“The priests have trained you women well,” was Lay’s comment. “Let your gods be insensible, dull, and silent, you will hymn their praises, and repeat the ritual, just the same!”
Anne declined argument. “I am a very ordinary woman,” she said.
Lay unflatteringly admitted that she spoke the truth. “The trouble is that you are lovely!”
Topley did not break into their conversation. Anne’s aloofness was distressing to him, however. He watched her day by day as the centre of a fragile but tenacious web in which every member of the house-party was entangled. The young men did not turn to him for help in the difficult situation which had arisen. Petworth’s conscience sought no guidance from Topley. And Knocklong avoided giving him any confidence. Scornful Lay and casual Petworth were interested in Knocklong because he had a love affair with a married woman who was tied to a drunken husband. By his utter absorption he had succeeded in making this real and important to them. They were, in fact, very much impressed by the magnificent way in which he assigned to his passion the supreme role in his existence. Topley knew the story and resented being treated as though he were professionally disqualified from understanding it. He was a man who in the face of many temperamental difficulties had made a happy union of his marriage. As husband and expectant father he had gone further than these young men on a beaten track which carried the most perilous traffic in the world. They disregarded his experience.
Penwarden was anxious to tackle Topley about scandal. He obstinately cherished the notion that Topley should have some kill or cure treatment for scandal up his sleeve. And he now joined Topley and paced with him up and down the drive.
“What do you think about this business, padré?” demanded Penwarden.
“I take Brierley’s and Anne’s word for it that it was a perfectly innocent matter.”
“You do?” exclaimed Penwarden. “I can’t say I agree with you. It is the letter that upsets me. She might well object to the fan freezing her to death, but there was nothing urgent about that letter. Nothing!”
Topley said in an off-hand way that to look for a letter was as innocent at midnight as it was at noon.
He believed Anne looked for the letter. It was indiscreet of her, no doubt.
Penwarden shook his head dolefully. Did Topley uphold Hailstone’s declared view of the matter, which was that modern girls ran in and out of every room in the house at any hour of the day or night and “no harm came of it?” That, in Penwarden’s eyes, was the end of morality and the downfall of society! Not, retorted Topley, if no harm came of it. Penwarden spoke feelingly of modesty, decent manners, and good old customs.
“It is either right or wrong!” almost shouted Robert Penwarden.
“It is bad form,” Topley said. He spoke hotly now and he looked arrogant. “I would not allow it in my own house for an instant. If a rule against it can be maintained, all the better for society in the long run. But that rule may be broken in innocence.”
“Who is to know—about the precious innocence!” snorted Penwarden.
“People’s good example, the light set upon the hill, is of course invaluable to society. Anne acted in a way which laid herself open to suspicion. But I consider her character above suspicion. I believe in her innocence.”
Penwarden shook his head sadly. “Then, as a religious man, you see no harm in what happened the other night? You rather ’orrify me.” The letter h was swept away by the rising tide of his temper.
“Of course as a man of the world I see harm in it! It was not a harmless folly. Harm has been done. Any serious mistake does harm. But religion finds nothing whatever to censure in innocent conduct.” Topley now laid down the law, but not the rule Penwarden wanted. The soul, said Topley, was not vitally concerned with up-to-date manners or current morality, mere puzzled restrictions and permissions. The soul had come a very long way and had a far journey to accomplish, and its essential life was not loosened or bound by error. Its effort was to attain virtue, not reputation.
“Well,” said Mr. Penwarden. “I call that dangerous.”
Up came Judith Boxall and asked them what they were discussing, but Penwarden said: “Nothing, absolutely nothing!” and hurried away.
“I want to discuss Walter Lay with you,” Judith told Topley. “Neither of us likes him, I think? That makes such a bond!”
Topley felt he would enjoy this conversation, and enjoy it he did. Judith frankly confessed that she was jealous of Walter Lay, of his boldness and originality. She shared to some extent the free lance spirit of those who wield the pen, and she recognized the tendency of an official community to consolidate rather than to reform its world. But she was moved to protest against Lay’s happy malice. His gift of invective levelled down that which was exalted, till society was laid waste. To what good end? Judith admired his quick detective sense of fraud in a label, but was estranged by the intellectual pride with which he tore up labels, a task she treated as sportingly as a paper chase.
“He makes me feel mentally impotent!” she cried.
“He makes me feel that, too,” said Topley. “You see, he despises my orders. He put it to me that as a clerk in holy orders I had very easy routine work, that of reading aloud from authorized books. He said the ceremonial of public worship would not prove too difficult for a well-trained boy scout or girl guide. He said he was amused by the idea of a man making a professional job of a good example. When I tried to speak of mysteries he denounced sacerdotalism. He made me pretty angry.”
“He is very difficult to disregard. No wonder he is a successful journalist!” Judith exclaimed. Her sympathy went out to Topley because he was so sensitive. As he travelled up and down India he found politics the remedy men sought, and religion the bone of contention. Greatly though Judith appreciated all that was original in creative minds, she disliked the ordinary man or woman who broke with tradition. It gave to them something of an upstart’s cheapness. As exponents of old and grave decisions, of ways long adapted to human difficulties, of loyalties to which generations had proved true, they gained in dignity. Seen thus, they seemed more trustworthy. She was interested in the great tradition of the English clergy, and she sought to give comfort to some smarting mortification that Topley felt.
“Upon you is laid the obligation to call men to be saints. Mr. Lay calls men to attention. I suppose in Gilgit my Jack just calls them to order. But you—O dear, you have to meet so many arguments!”
Topley became life-size, as Petworth did when he looked at Anne, as Penwarden did when he addressed a crowd of working men, as Cox-Cox did when he met his peers in consultation over a critical case.
“Yes,” he responded eagerly. “All the arguments! And in organized, disorganized, and unorganized nations we are required to find the appropriate method for the interpretation of Christianity and the enlightenment of souls.”
Then he lost his happy vigour. “But Penwarden expects me to solve all the problems of social experiment, to banish danger from sex, and pronounce an infallible judgment where there is little evidence! A scandal is a scandal. It is no less a scandal because I regard Brierley and Anne as having done nothing you or I might not do.”
On the whole, Judith thought, she would take quite a lot of material back to Gilgit, where men saw each other day after day and no stranger came to their doors. At the word ‘narrow’ they all trembled. To become narrow was their great dread. She knew that Lay would fling that stone if, expanding his experience, he travelled the hard road across the terrible hills, and stood, sure of his own breath, upon the thresholds of Gilgit.
In due course Sir Theodore Tremayne’s letter arrived, accepting in a few curt words Petworth’s resignation. He ordered his bearer to pack. The prospect before him filled him with gloom. He must return to Government House and collect his kit and depart with it and his ponies to his regiment in Peshawar. He was deprived of Anne’s favour, and the favour of the Governor, and of his commanding officer. This lamentable downfall gave the subaltern a feeling of extreme but combative reserve towards the world. He would go quietly about his business, but woe to the man who asked for trouble from him. He was in the mood to give that man all the trouble he wanted.
Petworth’s departure was timed to take place after dinner as his train left about ten o’clock. He said no word till the ladies had left the table and the wine was passing round. Then he addressed his host.
“I have to leave to-night, sir. Sir Theodore is not clinging to me. I shall just about have time to clear out of Government House before the Commission arrives in Lucknow.”
All the men looked at him, and saw that he was neither shy nor sorry for himself. A philosophical young beggar! The legend that a subaltern is a wild and merry lad disposed the civilians to be rather amused at his predicament. They could not take him seriously. He was in love, too, which made Penwarden itch to chaff him. But Penwarden could not chaff him in the dire circumstances.
Hailstone said very courteously: “I am sorry you are going away to-night. Too bad! I have written a line to Tremayne. It ought to make him kiss you good-bye.”
“Sudden death!” said Petworth with horror.
They all laughed. They took his plight very easily. Lay looked at his watch and with no intention of making himself disagreeable remarked that it was time Petworth started.
Petworth turned and glared at him, his eyes suddenly dark. There was no mistaking his enmity.
“Thinking of coming globe-trotting to Peshawar, Lay?” he enquired in level tones.
“No,” said Lay, with his usual pose of considering the frontier a bore.
“Good!” said Petworth. He let that word express his feelings for a tense moment. He stood up and the elderly men gazed with admiration upon his face and figure. (“Perfect!” thought Cox-Cox). Then he just saved himself from boorishness: “So I’ll say good-bye now.”
“Oh, good-bye!” Lay was curt too, and uncomfortable.
Petworth, passing behind Lay’s chair, bade farewell to the rest of the company with a manner that attracted them. His host went with him to the drawing-room, leaving the rest round the table, drinking wine, cracking nuts. Neither hate nor adoration was in their hearts. Only Petworth carried those furies with him into the nice ritual of a commonplace departure.
“Good-bye, Mrs. Boxall. Good-bye, Mrs. Topley.” Then, in another world of anguish and desire—“Good-bye, Anne.”
(“Does she mind?” asked Hailstone, Judith, and Mrs. Topley.)
Anne jumped up from a sofa, shocked.
“I did not know you were leaving to-night!”
“I’ll write,” said Petworth.
She felt reprieved.
He was gone from the drawing-room and Anne could hardly believe her eyes when she saw her doom, which was to sit there quietly, listening to the conversation of Mrs. Boxall and Mrs. Topley. Mrs. Topley told Mrs. Boxall that she often felt she could write a book if she had time. “I never have time,” said Mrs. Topley, like one safeguarded from danger. She went on to say that she enjoyed a good book when she had time to read it. But she thought it a great pity that so many books were about unpleasant subjects.
“There is enough unpleasantness in life without inventing more!” cried Mrs. Topley. She was very careful what she read “at present,” and she told them so with the happy fervour of one devoted to a supremely important achievement.
Anne noted Judith’s tendency to pet Phyllis Topley, and to find something sacred in her condition. Judith responded kindly to Mrs. Topley’s deplorable remarks. The desire for intellectual brilliance burned low in Anne, torn by severance from Petworth, and much impressed by Phyllis Topley’s sense of triumphant adventure.
When Brierley was allowed to emerge from his room with a bandaged eye, Robert Penwarden threw up the sponge. He had said his say to Hailstone and to Topley. That was enough! He could not spring to his feet and denounce the morals of the chairman and his secretary when everybody else practically cheered the pair as they entered the dining-room together. Mr. Penwarden had omitted to pay Lord Brierley any visit during his confinement in a dark room, and he felt that Lord Brierley could not fail to understand the criticism such absence expressed. It seemed unjust in Mr. Penwarden’s eyes that Lord Brierley should appear to feel at his ease. But presently Mr. Penwarden began to hope that his own conduct would not lead to any unpleasantness. Sad to say, he was immensely relieved when Lord Brierley addressed him without constraint, and he responded with great cordiality.
Brierley was a resolute man, well seasoned to the hardships of public life, and he kept his countenance when Cox and Topley revealed to him the situation that had arisen in Lucknow and Calcutta.
“So I am the villain of the piece? That’s quite amusing,” said Brierley. “But I do not like the reflection it throws upon Anne.”
This respectable sentiment united the three men.
“We must do our best to contradict the extraordinary rumours which Greenham has spread,” declared Cox.
“Contradict them flat!” agreed Topley.
Brierley was very terse. He gave the impression of being impatient and cynical. “What can you contradict? She came to my room. She stayed there. Petworth saw her come and go. Petworth and I had a row. Look at my damned eye! People will interpret all that as they choose.”
“The question is how far does the scandal reach?” Topley said. “The Indian-owned press and the vernacular press suddenly increase their hostility to the Commission, but are we sure that is due to this story?”
“I put it to you like this,” said Brierley. “It is the old game of the pot calling the kettle black. Our Report may draw the world’s attention to some fact unflattering to India’s sensitive vanity. It must be rather fun to discredit us in advance. I think that is the line they mean to take. It looks like it, anyway. I deplore it.”
Cox-Cox nodded emphatically, and suggested that Lay might be useful. He might talk to Indian journalists. Brierley agreed, and said he would speak to Lay about it. But Brierley was a greatly vexed man and when Anne announced her intention of explaining to Sir Theodore that Petworth was blameless, he spoke sharply.
“You will be good enough to say nothing. Anything you say will make matters worse. As for Petworth, I have never known grosser impertinence than his. He undertook to put the worst possible construction on everything he saw, and he has done the wrong thing in the wrong way.”
Anne gave in, for she could not act at cross purposes with Brierley while she was his secretary. It was a crestfallen Commission that bade Judith Boxall good-bye when she departed to Gilgit a few hours before they left Rajghar. She kissed Mrs. Topley and Anne. She shook hands warmly with Lord Brierley. Mr. Penwarden watched her and decided that morals in Gilgit were lax. “No principles,” thought Mr. Penwarden. But when Judith had parted from them all and turned to enter her motor, her face wore a smile of deepest amusement. She had a good story to tell Gilgit!
Cox-Cox had seen that smile, and rather liked it. He shared her sense of humour, her detachment. This affair at Rajghar would be one of his best stories in the years to come! Later he went off to the delicate business of tipping Hailstone’s servants in a jovial mood. He overheard Knocklong saying to Lay: “I wrote her forty-three pages last mail.” If young men were capable of such acts, insanity was pretty general, thought Cox. So why worry about public opinion? Better to laugh! He found Penwarden standing at the door of his tent with one hand deep in his pocket while his doubtful glance met the obstinate gaze of the forbidding watchman.
“What shall you give this fellow, Cox?” he enquired.
Cox took Penwarden by the shoulder and pointed at the watchman, who immediately salaamed.
“Petworth was passionately anxious about that very man’s opinion of us. I tell you he is the man in the street. I shall give him all that I have left, and that’s exactly one rupee!”
The watchman was gratified.
“See that, Penwarden? Believe me, he is a muddle-headed mixture of morals and prejudice like the rest of us. You don’t half appreciate the social comedy!”
Lucknow had only one sentence on its lips: “What will Lady Tremayne do?” The Governor’s wife had returned on Christmas Eve from a visit to her parents in the north of Ireland, and people in the capital of the United Provinces realized that the view she took of the Rajghar fuss would be socially decisive. That lady’s words and deeds always created a liveliness. It was as much as your life was worth to disagree with her. She was thirty-eight, very plain, and very beautifully dressed. Her sincerity, her correctness, and her power to make herself agreeable when she chose were not in dispute. In Lucknow a number of high-spirited, impecunious young women were frankly kind-hearted, merrily uncensorious, but Laura Tremayne strove to impose her guidance upon them as coldly as a train service controls the comings and goings of excursionists on mere pleasure bent. Conduct must be without accidents. Gentle and sympathetic souls felt that there had been some sort of accident at Rajghar, and pitied those about to be patched up at Government House. Lady Tremayne was not fireproof hardware, not insensitive. She had to steel herself. Her first husband had died as a prisoner of war, and she had loved him. “As if that were not enough”—to quote her protest—her favourite brother was murdered in Dublin during 1920. She had seen half Ireland in revolution. When she married Tremayne she went into Government House as into a fortress, and having watched so much break and give way under stress—hearts, loyalties, moralities, powers—she was urgent to keep her new life in repair. The very varnish of appearances must not show a scratch, for the next deterioration might display damaged goods, till nothing strong and unimpaired was left. No dust and ashes for her! No sackcloth. She was valiant. People called her hard and domineering, but she had been caught and entangled in unbearable destruction and she had become the enemy of any culprit who inflicted injury upon society. Though she was not foolish enough to suppose herself an autocrat, concession was not in her blood.
“Why is Captain Petworth leaving?” she asked her husband.
Sir Theodore told her, and saw her compose herself into a mood of vigilant hostility to Frank Brierley and Anne Knightley.
“Must we have the girl here?”
“Of course. We have nothing to do with all this gossip.”
She accepted that, as he knew she would, without dispute.. But she pressed him quietly for his opinion. He handed her Petworth’s letter, with the words: “You see what he says!”
Laura Tremayne laid the letter down on his desk with the remark: “Captain Petworth does not drink.”
“I can’t help that,” retorted the Governor.
“You know what everybody is saying? That there is ‘something’ odd between Lord Brierley and the girl, and that ‘something’ odd happened at Rajghar. I dislike countenancing indiscretions. I dislike playing hostess to scandals.”
“I am very sorry,” her husband replied. “But I did not ask Brierley to be chairman of this Commission, and I did not choose his secretary for him. I don’t propose to show my approval or disapproval of those appointments. They have been invited to stay here in their official and professional capacity. You are not committed to friendship with either of them.”
“I hope you will be nice to them, my dear.” He thought that she would try to be the perfect official hostess, but he had seen her nerves betray her again and again into implacability.
It was a relief to the irritated Governor to be able to vent a little of his annoyance on Petworth, to whom the great man was decidedly curt. Petworth expected nothing else, and became respectfully inconspicuous during his brief appearance in the house. The cantonment a few miles away contained subalterns and captains whose sympathy was entirely with Petworth. They liked him immensely and he was in hot water. Their temperatures rose in response and they felt warmly towards him. His blood froze when he was summoned to Lady Tremayne’s presence to say good-bye.
Like everything about this woman, save only her face, her room was handsome. The flowers gathered about the chesterfield where she sat, perfectly turned out from head to foot, were very lovely. Petworth thought her a good sort and he rather liked her. He was, as always, fathoms deep in embarrassment, but he could carry out this ceremony by routine. The present unpleasantness was official and a matter between himself and the Governor; a man’s affair. So he advanced, without loss of face, upon Lady Tremayne and, taking the seat she indicated, prepared to complete his programme of five minutes’ suitable conversation and then a polite farewell.
“There are five hundred acceptances for your garden party,” he said. “I have sent you the list. It ought to be a great show. Rather tiring for you, I’m afraid—standing about for so long and then giving a dinner party the same night.”
“Yes.” Then she shot him, sitting. “You have had a quarrel with Lord Brierley, I hear. Do you think I shall dislike him?”
“There is no accounting for tastes.” Petworth spoke reassuringly. But his tone did not invite her to meddle with him.
“I don’t think I shall like Miss Knightley.”
She felt his displeasure, and it made his courtesy and discretion glow like the glass of a fire screen.
“I can’t imagine anyone disliking her,” he said, on his guard.
“Oh. Well—I may be mistaken. There has been a great deal of talk.”
Petworth stood up, and Laura Tremayne was touched to perceive that he meant to remonstrate with her when he could find the right words. They did not come readily. Finally he declared: “Only an out-and-out rotter would dislike her.”
The Governor’s wife had observed Petworth closely during the previous cold weather, and she was prepared to admit that in his dealings with guests, chapprassees, chauffeurs and the household, in his management of horses, dogs, and motors, she had found him just. He seemed to know what to stand and what to withstand. She answered him now with respect: “But an out-and-out rotter might like her too well! And she might respond?”
“She would not!”
Laura Tremayne’s face became vivid with amusement. Then she said: “I think I can guess why you quarrelled with Lord Brierley!”
Petworth resented her interference, and wondered whether it would be better to make a clean breast of the matter to her, or leave her to draw her own conclusions. He said cautiously: “I made a fool of myself.”
“I doubt it.”
“That’s nice of you. But you were not there.” He looked at the clock. “I must be off. Good-bye, Lady Tremayne, and thanks very much.”
But she detained him, saying quite accurately that he had nearly an hour to spare before the evening mail went. Unwillingly he resumed his seat. She would undoubtedly hit below the belt.
“I saw the letter you wrote to my husband,” Laura Tremayne told him, and looked down at her pale hands. Her nails shone as though frost sparkled on each finger-tip. “And I have heard the gossip! It is everywhere. No two people tell the same story. But they say that you are in love with Miss Knightley and had a terrible row with Lord Brierley because you discovered she was in his room. In his room at night!”
“That is a lie,” said Petworth brazenly.
“Then I may say that she was not in his room?”
“Yes. Please.” He abandoned accuracy. The truth was incredible.
“And that you are not in love with her?” She put this apologetically.
“You can say that, if you like.”
“Then why did you assault Lord Brierley?”
“It was after dinner, unfortunately.”
“Nonsense! You don’t go and stay with people and get drunk and knock their guests down.”
“Not as a rule,” admitted Petworth.
“You see the position I am in?”
“I am made to look either a fool or a hypocrite in my own house!” She was a changed woman, fanatically tense. Then she held forth to him for a fully charged half-hour. Did he not realize, she cried, what Government House stood for, as her home? Surely it stood for example and precept in the morals and ethics which inspired English society. Was he perfectly indifferent to the influence exerted on India through the presence of English women? That influence, she explained, had a history it would take hours to relate, but he must, surely, have some conception of how the influence worked? First of all, long ago, their paucity of numbers made their leaven potent in only a small proportion of the lump. “Before the Battle of Assaye there were hardly three hundred of us among over a hundred million Indian women!” The seclusion of Indian women, and caste orthodoxy, had been very deep, and imperturbable.
“We are here as a rallying point for their emancipation! Our social life must be above reproach if it is to safeguard their good name too.”
She spoke of communal tension, of the universality of marriage, of the lack of Indian women personnel to staff schools and hospitals and welfare work for women. It was obvious that Laura Tremayne rejoiced in the movements of social reform which this century brought. Each had a passionate and secret struggle. But of late a public opinion had become active and vocal on such matters as widow marriage, purdah customs, untouchability, and immature parenthood. Would reform or reaction win? she cried.
“It is the deepest, strangest battle in the world!” she said, sombre now. “The paramount power, be it British, Hindu or Mahomedan, has a terrible responsibility. Our spiritual home is out of India: it is in England. Hindus and Mahomedans can’t lay a finger on our morals and ethics there. But, here, in India, we give the lead in matters of reform. We give it chiefly by organization and example. Missionary societies supply funds, ideals, service. Politically, health and education are transferred subjects and in Indian hands. We cannot impose laws repudiated by the religious conscience of the masses. We are still the supreme authority, but in much we are without power.”
Petworth saw that the clock now gave countenance to his departure, but he lingered. He had lived warily in the same house as Lady Tremayne, avoiding trouble, but he was interested by the sudden disclosure of her feelings. He had never guessed she felt like this! She came and stood by the fire and laid her two hands on the mantelpiece and looked down between her arms at the flames.
“What do I care for the politicians? Nothing. Not anything at all. I care for the intimate lives of the women, when they are married as children, or widowed—and when murder’s done.”
He wondered at her. What thoughts she had!
“Look at me!” she cried. “I am that which the illiterate mass of Indian women most superstitiously avoid. Childless, and a widow who has married. I am that! And I am Irish. I know intrigue and rebellion. I am of Ulster. I know religious feuds. But in this house I am the English Governor’s wife, which cancels all the rest. The position is as strong as that!”
“Yes,” Petworth agreed, perceiving that nothing of past pain was obliterated from her consciousness.
“I have influence,” she told him. “There are forty-eight million people in this Province, and Lucknow is highly organized. Civilization is tense here. The creeds and the schools meet. Sometimes you can feel the quiver of the city’s nerves under the assault of agitators. Knowledge, faith—how they stir humanity! Could any standard be set too high here? The greatest need of all is—a high standard of personal conduct. And yet there comes a conspicuous man as a guest, and I have to appear to honour him, while a scandal about him makes his honour a very doubtful thing.”
“It’s bad luck.”
She spoke softly, screwing up her small dark eyes as they sought his grave face. “You are like me. You object strongly and go to great lengths, and yet you recognize the disastrous results of breaking out at things! Discipline restrains one’s actions. I suppose I shall receive those two as though nothing had happened, and all the time I shall long to denounce them for betraying our weakness to our critics and traducers.”
“As a matter of fact,” he told her, stolidly, “you are having one of the most innocent people in the world to stay with you.”
She turned from him in nervous irritation: “Then she must be the most foolishly indiscreet!”
“I am the indiscreet fool. If I had not had a row with Brierley no one would have had a word to say.”
Laura Tremayne cried: “Oh, I know! The innocence of the indiscreet, and the sincerity of the agitator, and the patriotism of the rebel, are always rammed down my throat. I am sick of it. You are the scapegoat! I suppose you will admit that the moral integrity of Englishwomen in this country matters to more than their immediate friends?”
He admitted it, and she rapped out: “Then it should be an unquestionable integrity! And what do you suppose Mr. Anderson will think of this story?”
“Who is he?”
Laura explained crossly that he was an American. “His father owns a group of publications. This is the only son. He is travelling in the east—Japan, China, now India—in order to study its reactions to western influence. Knowing very little beyond the headlines, I should say! But if he does not find our reputation on the skyline—‘right up there’—we shall be written down in the U.S.A. press. He is coming here to-morrow. We thought it especially appropriate to ask him to meet the Chairman of this precious Commission. He is probably mad on ‘uplift.’ Jolly, isn’t it?”
“I would not take too black a view of foreign affairs.” But at the thought of Lord Brierley’s black eye Petworth realized the difference between a word and a blow in such diplomatic circles.
An impatient hand opened the door, and the Governor entered and looked at the erring Petworth. “He wants to boot me out,” thought Petworth and instantly made his escape, well pleased that Lady Tremayne saw fit to part from him so cordially under the very nose of her spouse.
Petworth meditated on two women as the motor carried him out of Government House. To be mauled by a tiger would be soothing compared to finding oneself in Lady Tremayne’s hands if she disliked one. His poor Anne! He ruefully admired Laura Tremayne, acknowledging her gift of seeing more than met the eye. Imagination made her dangerous, she fought at long range and was intimately moved by things from afar. Sweeping up generations of proud, sensitive, and hostile people in her survey, she confronted her heart with them. To rescue invisible women in city and village from sorrow and wrong, she summoned society, and her drastic standard for membership was that all should be perfect saints. Few being up to that mark, she subdued her spirit to enlist the harmless. Those who were not beyond reproach exasperated her. “She must be a bit hard for the average woman to get on with,” Petworth mused. But he considered himself deficient in imagination and he admired the range and fire of hers. He was as vigilant as a shepherd: a watchful man, not visionary. He supposed that fellow Lay, and this new importation, Anderson, were imaginative since they dealt largely with the written word. They and Laura Tremayne were schemers. Brierley, too, with his tact and his drawing up of adroit reports! But not Anne. She was simplicity itself and would bring her emotions to Government House unadapted to peace or war, east or west. They would be naively her own. And she would do her duty as a secretary, for there she took herself seriously. Petworth’s face was heavy with his heartache when he pictured her in Lucknow and himself sent away. He took his last look at the flag flying above the ruined Residency, the only one to fly beneath the moon, since tradition forbade the lowering of that indomitable flag. He had hoped to show it to her. O there were things in his house that Anne would love! If he could only get her to come with him! She had refused. Queer that, now, after a cold rejection, he should picture for the first time things quite adorable but utterly dependent on Anne’s coming home: a sturdy, laughing little boy, a golden little girl. Unless she changed her mind, such humanity must exist only in his inadequate imagination.
The Tremaynes did not miss Petworth. Another A.D.C., Captain Church, relieved them of inconvenience. Their days were too thickly inhabited by strangers and acquaintances for them to give more than a superficial attention to men and women. The game was the thing. A certain amount of popularity was required by the principal players, and personal goodwill gave the best team spirit; therefore the Tremaynes entertained society in Lucknow, and promoted social activity in others. Visitors were timed to arrive and to depart with the least possible disturbance of the Tremaynes’ programme, and a few minutes before Mr. Edward P. Anderson was due Sir Theodore and his wife were warned of his approach. She drifted into the drawing-room, and stood for an instant before a long mirror. Yes, the dress was a triumph. Her outline could not be better! Self-confident, she scrutinized the tea table’s appointments. Nothing amiss. Sinking into a chair, she would have looked insignificant had she been bored, but her vital little ugly face was the most arresting thing in the room. Sir Theodore joined her and asked in neutral tones:
“Anderson comes from New York, doesn’t he?”
“His name is Anderson, isn’t it?”
They were very limp and tired. But when Edward Anderson entered the room he noticed how alertly and graciously this pair welcomed him. Everything was on the grand scale, the big scale, even his reception. You’d never suspect that these people came from a small island and possibly a poky little house. They knew how to spread themselves!
“You’ve discovered what dust is?” said the Governor.
“I have! It’s fierce.”
“But you look spic and span,” murmured Lady Tremayne.
“Well, my boy looks after me vurry well. He is remarkable. But the dust I have swallowed he can’t do anything about. When I drink this tea, Lady Tremayne, I expect to become one big mud pie!”
It was a sign that the Governor thought well of this guest when he invited him into his writing room. Lady Tremayne felt no gratitude when he was taken off her hands, for she knew that Sir Theodore would not have relieved her had he feared to be bored. He reported to her before they went down to dinner that Anderson was an intelligent young man.
“Has he been favourably impressed?” she asked.
“By me? I should doubt it, shouldn’t you?”
Laura smiled: “Oh, you know how to make a good impression. No—by India?”
“I did not ask him. We talked about American prosperity. He’s a nice-looking chap. Pots of money.”
That left her indifferent. “I wonder what he has heard about Lord Brierley!”
“I suppose Brierley turns up to-morrow? We must find out where Lay is staying. He ought to meet Anderson. They’d suit each other.”
Laura Tremayne turned to her diary. “I have it all here,” she said wearily, and told him that the Topleys were to stay with Sir Tirath and Lady Ram Chand, Miss Neale with the civil surgeon and his wife, Sir Thomas Cox-Cox with the sessions judge, Penwarden with the secretary to the United Provinces Arts and Crafts emporium, Lay in an hotel.
“Get hold of Lay,” said Sir Theodore.
The Commission arrived and drove with bearers and baggage through beautiful Lucknow. No crowds assembled, no banners bade them welcome or requested their instant departure. They were not so important as all that! But they had a definitely bad Press. And the vernacular and Indian-owned newspapers with a remarkable unanimity devoted space to articles which denounced the morals and manners of Europeans. It was not an agreeable atmosphere in which to be landed, largely labelled a scandal, on hospitable verandahs. Cox-Cox alone suffered no depression of spirit. His host and he would ignore all that, he very well knew. Such topics, appropriate to the Commission’s task, as could not be avoided altogether, he must polish off at moments when sunshine, comfort, and good fare made any conversation endurable. It was not difficult to him to throw out remarks about the Technological Laboratory of the Indian Central Cotton Committee, and refer to ‘Liverpool empire and miscellaneous futures,” or to ‘Strict Low Middling American.’ Such matter was not relevant to the Commission’s task, but by now he had grown accustomed to being made the victim of administrators’ lust to pack superfluous information about India into him, so that he might unpack it in England for the edification of the miserably ignorant. He had picked up that bit about cotton from a man in the train, and it ought to be a knockout to any legal dignitary who sought to instruct him about the amount of work thrown on the police owing to the inter-communal feeling. Cox-Cox liked well enough to hear about the police. He only asked for an opportunity to tell his host that England had her tales of the police too. He thought Penwarden would have a stiff job with the Arts and Crafts fellow. Handicraft had little charm for Cox, and technical schemes for organizing the village shoemaker, the potter, and the weaver, left him unmoved. But the Department of Industries had an irresistible attraction for suspicious Penwarden, who would listen entranced to the percentage of handwoven cotton cloth to the total consumption of cotton cloth, when he might have been swopping good stories, and should have been investigating the large question of the condition of municipalities in the province. On pleasure bent, and in duty bound, members of the Commission settled down like flies upon their hosts, and Lord Brierley braced himself to carry off his black eye in Government House.
It did not take him long to discover that the combination of his bandage, and Anne’s loveliness, was disastrous. Appearances were too strongly against them. A drunk and disorderly conviction had banished Petworth, but Brierley and Anne bore the stigma of having knocked about this world together. Damage had been done! Sir Theodore Tremayne was cordiality itself. But who, save the governed, cared about the Governor’s smoothness? It was his wife who mattered in a case like this. That exquisitely turned out firebrand of a woman, with her intelligence and her fine manners, was truly formidable. That she made no mention whatever of her guest’s disablement said all that was to be said. She could not have expressed more plainly her unsympathetic sense of its defamation of character.
As soon as might be Brierley went to the sitting-room which had been placed at his disposal for his work. Despatch boxes were conspicuous on a table in the centre of the room, and Knocklong was seated there writing one of his remarkable love letters. He had escaped from the civilities of the Military Secretary, and from Captain Church, on the plea of pressing work.
“Well, here we are!” said Brierley.
Knocklong, the martyr, pocketed his letter. “It seems all right here. I’m in touch by telephone with all the necessary contacts.”
Brierley walked over to the window and asked Knocklong to send Miss Knightley to him. “And look here, let that infernal joke about ‘Anne’s Nannies’ drop.” He was a vexed man and spoke sharply.
Knocklong, who had neither invented nor used the nickname, went away the picture of injured innocence.
“O, come from that window! Don’t stand staring into the light,” cried Anne, entering the room and taking possession of Brierley for his good. “What a foolish thing to do.”
“All right, all right.” He returned to the writing table. “What’s your impression of this part of the programme, Anne? How will Lucknow go off?”
“It will be interesting. This great building has so much character, it fascinates me.”
“I have character too,” Brierley laughed lightly. “I have a very good opinion of my character on the whole. On the whole, you know. I don’t think I shall stand being snubbed, very well. I rather suspect my hostess wants to snub me.”
“Why should she?”
“She does not approve of my eye.” He said it grimly and his secretary flushed.
“Well, we shan’t be here for ever!” was the consolation she offered him.
“While we are here I think you had better lie low. Be the very professional secretary—see?” Then lest her feelings should be hurt, his affection for Anne being profound, he added: “Don’t let the lady guess how you tyrannise over us all!”
“I’ll be an angel,” Anne told him sweetly. She was, he thought, the sweetest thing. And the way she sat down at once and ran over the immediate programme to him was disarming. You could not see her so detached and efficient and observe the wayward grace of her attitude, and watch her suddenly rub her little nose like a dreamy child, and not wonder when all this secretarial business would end and Anne walk the world as some man’s wife. She was an amateur at this existence, whatever she might suppose to the contrary!
There was a dinner party, of course. It might have been given in honour of Brierley’s eye, it was so definitely the feature of the evening. Mr. Anderson was much struck by it and the silence observed about Anne at dinner was placed just nowhere, beside the pink-and-white boy, Captain Church, who was so terrified of Laura Tremayne that he was wondering how he could get back to his regiment. Brierley, oppressed by the dangerous hostility of his hostess, braced himself to court her favour. He was charming to Anderson, whom he recognized as an important person. For a time the woman on his left held his attention. When he was free to join in Laura Tremayne’s conversation he heard Anderson say:
“In my country we certainly appreciate intelligent women, but a good-looking one weakens our wills like influenza. The best intentions can’t stare at her and carry on.”
“Are you a married man?” Brierley asked.
“Not yet,” said Anderson. “But I hope she’ll be beautiful. That would be just right.”
Brierley was amused when Anderson leant across the table towards him and said:
“There’s a face here that has me fixed. It is your secretary’s face, I believe?”
“Yes. That is Miss Knightley.”
“I could not do any business if she were my secretary,” remarked Edward Anderson.
Turning to Laura Tremayne, whose silence was striking to the marrow of his bones, Brierley told her that Anne Knightley’s face was dazzling to young men.
“She is pretty. Very pretty. But it always puzzles me what it is they see that drives them mad. Your husband’s late A.D.C., for instance. He lost his head completely!”
“He must have!” Laura Tremayne’s manner was dry. Brierley felt uncomfortable. The whole thing was annoying.
It proved so on the morrow. The Commission met with their spirits damped by the hostility of the press, and the amusement of society. Doris Neale, much pained, questioned Mrs. Topley. She received careful details as to electric switches, and the time by the clock. The whereabouts of tents and doors and rooms was made clear by pencils and matchboxes assembled on a table.
“A better girl than Anne never lived!” cried Doris Neale. “Something must be done.”
The artless Mrs. Topley sought Lady Tremayne and told her that something ought to be done. “After all, Anne is a mere child,” she vaguely urged.
Laura, darkly attentive, told her that Captain Petworth had drunk too much.
“Oh, no! Indeed he had not. I was there myself,” declared Mrs. Topley. “He was very much in love with Anne, but not intoxicated.”
“He denies being in love with her.”
Outraged, Mrs. Topley said his quick recovery was remarkable if true.
“And he told me that Miss Knightley did not enter Lord Brierley’s room.”
“O, but she did. Just to turn off the electric fan. It was a very cold night! There was absolutely no harm in it. My husband says it is pure scandal without the smallest foundation.”
Mrs. Topley’s cheeks were very red and Lady Tremayne was most non-committal. “The scandal does harm to us all,” she said coldly.
Wearied by the sensitiveness of their guests, the civil surgeon, the sessions judge, and the secretary to the Arts and Crafts emporium spoke with one accord of a storm in a teacup. The vernacular press did better than that; it provided entertainment for the cantonment. An ambitious sub-editor commented on a few words spoken by Lord Brierley with reference to infant mortality. The comment was unfavourable, but slightly idiotic. Its charm lay in the final exclamation, in English: “And this from you, Don Juan!” Joy spread from office to club and from club to mess. “And this from you, Don Juan!” was the slogan of those who received rebukes from their seniors or bills from their tailors. It made, the Governor said, for the greatest happiness of the greatest number.
Brierley told Knocklong to get hold of Lay at once. Lay, it appeared, was with Anderson and he did not hurry to the rescue of the chairman, Anderson, in Lay’s eyes, was a godsend. Through him Lay might be able to establish touch with the Anderson Press. He went tardily to Brierley, and looked pleased with life but distressingly unkempt.
“How’s your eye?”
“Discreditable to all concerned.”
Lay grinned. “Been reading the papers?”
“I can’t read yet, and don’t want to. Penwarden keeps me posted up in the worst news. Can you do anything to stop all this filthy nonsense?”
“No. But Anderson might. I’ll talk to him. Indian journalists have come from afar to interview him. And I don’t blame them. I’m after the same thing myself. Anderson is not his father’s son for kisses only. There’s money in it. The Anderson papers have immense influence and pay like billy-o.”
Alert as a terrier, he suggested writing something scathing about the pettiness of the press attacks on the Commission in his contributions to a London weekly.
“Not a word!” cried Brierley. “Lay, you are a young ass. I’m disappointed in you. Don’t you know Helen has set her heart on my going to New Zealand as Governor? The last thing I want is a rumour to reach London that the Commission has behaved indiscreetly.”
“It is being reported by every mail,” Lay declared. “Every woman in Lucknow has told her mother in South Kensington or Budleigh Salterton.”
“I suppose so! Well, there we are. I’m a martyr really. What are you grinning at?”
Brierley was cheery but Brierley was perturbed. He could not see his way out of this trouble.
“I’m sorry for Anne,” he said, and looked keenly at Lay.
“Does a girl no good to be talked about.”
“It does not matter a row of pins. You are thinking of your own generation.”
“I wish she’d get married,” grumbled Brierley.
“There’s nothing I should hate more than to see Anne marry,” Lay told him, wrinkling up his sallow face till he looked like a cross baby.
“Want to marry her yourself?”
“I’m not a marrying man. Too hard up. Too selfish.”
Brierley thought this so true that he merely shrugged his shoulders. Well, Lay had better speak to Anderson, but it was a funny thing that an American should possess such influence in Lucknow. Lay went off in great spirits. These public men were very jealous of foreign influence! At no time would the chastening of that successful peer have been wholly unwelcome to Lay.
Lay found Anderson on a great buttress to which the French windows of a reception room led. The city and palaces of Lucknow had a morbid beauty. They appeared to stage frivolity callous to the point of heartbreak, and poverty cynical to the verge of laughter. Lay thought that Anderson’s figure standing out against the delirious sunshine had something of a puritan’s austerity.
To Lay’s surprise Anderson had not heard of the objectionable articles in the Indian press. He listened now, sitting on the balustrade, and his comment was stern. “Well, that certainly is ugly!”
“You know, don’t you, whom they are getting at?”
“European women. The white man who wouldn’t take offence at that must be a pale chap!”
Lay had not regarded the ladies as being the target, but he did not say so explicitly. “It is political, really. The agitator’s game begins with insulting the European with impunity.”
Anderson regarded him calmly: “I don’t quite figure out the impunity gag?”
“Free press! No repression! But this is a rather odd affair. There’s spite in it. They want to discredit the Commission. You know the talk, I suppose?”
“I do not,” said Mr. Anderson.
Lay told the Christmas story of Rajghar. He was the only person who told that story well. Brierley emerged from it a conventional character of extreme rectitude. Petworth assumed the role of a noisy ass of slightly vulgar mind and sentimental intentions.
“It is hard on Anne Knightley,” Lay declared. “And every girl shorthand-typist, every secretary in Europe, is in this thing. When the sun sets, and the British matron goes to bed, a girl’s life is full of malignant taboos. In recognition of woman’s profoundly simple emotion, and the beauty of it, these God-forsaken formalities about bedrooms should be laughed out of court.” Lay stopped abruptly, for Anderson had ceased to listen. He was breathing hard and he appeared impatient.
“If you’ll tell me what I can do, I’ll do it. I’d be vurry glad to do it with my boot!”
Lay was shattered by the romantic sentiments of Mr. Edward P. Anderson. There was nothing that the American would not do to protect Miss Knightley! He took the thing as a mission. He revelled in it. There was no longer any charming modesty about Anderson, and he spoke of the United States and the influence of the newspaper syndicate controlled by his father as though they, here and now, assumed responsibility for the decent behaviour of Lucknow. What the British in India failed to do should be done right away. He took out his pocket-book and made a note of it. And in spite of his conscious assumption of the task of uplift, and the chivalry of a knight-errant, this young man failed to be ridiculous.
Lay, in the presence of so much resourceful power in the newspaper world, was most unwillingly impressed. For to that world he gave his allegiance. In that world, or nowhere, he counted. Yet this quick, intelligent, puritanical American counted for far more. Never had Walter Lay been so excited to impulsiveness and envy.
Suddenly Anderson made a sign to Lay to discontinue the conversation. Immediately, it seemed, the topic must be dropped! There was a hush, as of awe. The very toes of their shoes sent out searchlights, so strong was the sun, and their shadows were black, and their silence that of conspirators. Lay saw something in Anderson’s face. It was the essential thing in man, come again in all its strength to one more man. Lay leant forward to look into the reception room as Anderson was looking. But he knew whom he should see there. Anne. It could be no other! She was hesitating by the door, adrift.
“It is the same story over again,” Lay told himself in a queer cold terror. “I have always said she is a woman men fall in love with at first sight. I suppose Anderson has worshipped her for the last forty-eight hours.”
He got up and passed quickly into the room and said, rumpling up his hair, “Anne, just tell me I’m a genius, won’t you? I’m rather afraid I’m not.”
“O you’re all right, Walter,” said Anne.
For an hour or so the grounds round Government House were silent and deserted save by birds. Then an army of gardeners swept over the paths and lawns, and defied nature to have a leaf or twig out of place. Later the household staff took possession, and smokes, alcohol, tea, coffee and cakes were set forth to suffer from the lack of walls and doors and windows. They had nothing in common with flower beds. Tents and carpets draped themselves inappropriately in central positions, and the men who pulled and hauled at them presently departed as not fit to be seen. A military band from cantonments arrived with blazing brass instruments and were in tune with the infinite boredom of the occasion. By half past four countless motors stood in a long queue and guests swarmed everywhere. The civil lines, the cantonment, and the city, met. All the bigwigs were present and the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief Eastern Command was instantly engaged in affable conversation by the Indian Minister for Education. Indian officers with the Viceroy’s commission wore uniform and hung together. European clothes were popular with men of the intelligentsia. Accompanied by their wives in Indian dress, they chattered away in staccato English. Lawyers, doctors, politicians, officials and nobles rubbed shoulders, and the Governor was the centre of attraction. Where he went the Indian crowd swayed after him. On a social occasion few were indifferent to social success.
Laura Tremayne moved among her guests with tremendous zest. Bread was being cast upon the waters. Though there were separate refreshments for orthodox Hindus and Mahomedans, many Indians broke bread with the British in the central tents. Thus a modern spirit was nourished! Laura knew this crowd as no other person knew it. She could pick out the inconspicuous leader of Boy Scouts, the Y.M.C.A. secretary, the Infant Welfare worker, the missionary’s bride, the Indian lady doctor, the University professor, and concentrate her charm of manner on each in turn. Nor did she neglect the nobles of Oudh. She gave due regard to their rank. And she was very friendly with all emancipated Indian women. There was no patronage in her graciousness, she was in deadly earnest. Feeling was sometimes a little critical as between the civil and military elements, and Laura realized that in the Indian Army junior officers’ wives were hard up, and perhaps somewhat overlooked except by their contemporaries: she exerted herself to single out one or two. But all her peremptoriness was conspicuous when she encountered the discontent of the wife of the commanding officer of a British cavalry regiment. The lady disliked India, and despised the society and interests it afforded her. Lady Tremayne came down on that, hard: but the colonel’s wife was merely amused: “Tastes differ, I suppose. You like it, I know. I simply hate it!”
Some of the younger people had not turned up. They could not stand official functions. The Governor’s wife thought badly of shirkers. They could play tennis any day: it was their duty to mingle with all these sensitive, secretive, Indian guests. She would have compelled them to come in had she possessed the power to do so. Schools, universities, churches, reception rooms, existed to be filled.
If Laura Tremayne, breathing as ardently as one who blew trumpets to destroy the walls of Jericho, had not so determinedly neglected and avoided Anne Knightley, she might have understood why only the more senior people surrendered themselves to an official function. They were resigned to formality! And the Indians saw themselves score: they demonstrated their importance. Whereas Anne felt numbed by tedium. She stood about for an hour or more, said how-do-you-do scores of times, and rebelled against the silliness of such behaviour. Three things only had meaning for her in that crowd. The appalling absence of Petworth. No one filled his place. He did not write. He had gone, vanished. The discomfiture of Brierley, who had received that day a cable from his wife. It said: “Violet better. Shall I join you?” He had written Helen his account of the incident at Rajghar. Written it lightly and, as he thought, amusingly, and here she was seriously offering to come to his rescue! If he wired “Yes,” a laugh would go up from every soul who had heard the ridiculous story. Brierley had positively thumped the cable under Anne’s nose, and growled: “Look at that, young lady! Here’s Helen on the warpath!” Anne wondered what answer he would send to Helen. All her grown-up years were interwoven with Helen’s emotions and opinions; so intimately interwoven that Anne could not feel indifference to any mood of Helen Brierley. The third thing charged with meaning for her was the lamentable appearance of Lay and his pathetic consternation about it. None likes to look ugly. The poor know that horror. A shabby coat, a worn-out shoe, a dress of a discarded fashion, were things the Governor’s guests shunned for themselves. To some the escape was a narrow one. Women with ‘nothing to wear’ had stayed away, depressed. But Lay’s wardrobe was the wardrobe of a neglectful rather than an impecunious man. He had the money and spent it on other things. His pose had been the pose of a man who jeered at the smart. The garden party caught him at a disadvantage. He drooped under this misfortune and looked like an ailing and shabby bird in the moulting season. It quite racked Anne’s heart for him.
The crowd suddenly threw Anderson out of one of its eddies. He caught sight of Anne and went to her. She saw him coming and in an instant discovered, for the first time, that she had a special meaning for him. She regarded him gravely. He might be very dangerous to her, as silent Petworth was, as critical Lay was.
“If you have had enough of this, shall we escape in my car?” Anderson asked eagerly. He had about him a great air of handsome success.
They went away together and Anderson realized that he had escaped from public into private life. As he crossed this frontier he said to himself, “Out of the frying-pan into the fire! So be it.”
Public life had held his attention for years. He now flicked it aside. He had no joyous opinion of it. Three months of mechanized warfare during 1918 had disclosed its brutality. His father’s newspapers advertised the machinery of modern inventions in terms of prosperity, and he knew that jargon by heart. Electric elevators, or uplift—it was all a question of organization. He came to India expecting to find a slackness. He found many of the objects catalogued as scientific and modern. He found political machinery imported from Europe. But he discovered that passions of creed and caste made queer use of the paraphernalia of an alien civilization.
It was as though a nerve-driven hand manipulated controls with spasmodic violence. The life seemed to go out of western organizations mighty quick! Harvest did not vanish more swiftly from field and orchard. It was very interesting. But it abated his awe of modern inventions and methods. It increased, uneasily his awe of human nature. As he guided his car like a free lance through a strange traffic in which camel cart and motor lorry, bicycle and buffaloes, mingled dangerously, he strove to break his recognition of existence into two separate conceptions. The infinite sphere of imagination and its manifestations, ideal and concrete—and the simple, limited acceptation of two adorable experiences; bread, woman.
“Now this is where the cave man loses my vote,” Edward Anderson said to himself. “This is the woman I am to marry, and there should be an artist in me that’ll speak now or else for ever hold his peace. I’d rather shoot myself than foam at the mouth when I propose. But I don’t make up my mind to propose: my mind’s gone. I’m in this, but I’m not in the secret of my being. I could not create this feeling in myself. I must create it in her! If I can’t I’d better be dead.”
He turned to Anne and became nervous. She looked remarkably self-possessed. There was a time-table, official and heartless, which would put an end to this drive together, force them to spend the evening in the presence of others, and three days later hustle Anne northward to Lahore. She certainly did not know that New York was her destination. His beloved New York if she became Mrs. Edward P. Anderson, but simply Hell to him if she refused. A map was no guide to the truth, that was certain. No two men would ever put Hell in the same place.
“In a matter of life and death I think one should speak out pretty quick, don’t you?”
It was thus Anderson called Anne’s attention to himself.
“Well, why not?” said Anne.
“If it wasn’t as serious as all that, one might be expected to think first and speak afterwards, perhaps?”
“I know I am being abrupt. But—I love you.” Anne tried to do justice to his words. She thought of saying “That’s very nice of you,” and rejected the sentence as unfeeling. To question his sincerity by asking him point blank: “Do you mean that?” seemed ungracious. So she laughed.
“You must not laugh it off,” Anderson said. “If you don’t marry me I can’t think how I am going to endure the misery of it.”
She turned on him very quickly then. “I can’t marry you if I don’t know you.”
“I’m marriageable,” he put it lightly. “You’d like my people, and my friends, and they’d like you. America is great, and New York could give you a fine life. There are gardens in my country that you would love. You’d have one! if you are interested in politics, if you care for literature, the newspapers and the magazines my father owns would give you an outlet, make a family affair of your influence! I’d hate to boast, and I’m feeling pretty small this minute because Lucknow takes no stock in the Anderson family, but I’d not ask you to marry me if the Anderson family were a bad dream. If you can love me there’s nothing to stop you from marrying me.”
Anne’s enjoyment of this situation was intense. O she enjoyed being made love to, did Anne Knightley! While the thing worked like a charm she was well content. It was only when she had to refuse, or accept, the consequences that she realized that this love urgency was not youth’s frolic. She responded to it now in a way that enchanted the man. She was gay, pleased, and full of interest, looking up at him under her long lashes.
“Do you like me at all?” he asked.
“Quite a lot!” cried Anne.
“Edward, that’s your best and brightest in thirty-four years!” he exclaimed.
Her liking gave him confidence. His behaviour, appearance, his personality—all likeable! He began to think well of himself. He liked his clothes, his shoes, even his topi. Great self-confidence now sustained him.
“I am rattled!” He announced this while driving with immense accuracy and nerve. “I am so afraid I shan’t do myself justice, that I can’t do myself justice! You see, I feel I am the man you’ve got to marry. I’d like to tell you that so that you’d believe it. I’d like to have it in all the papers so as you couldn’t miss the news. I know it, but you don’t seem to me to know it. You’re doubtful that I am to be your husband. And while you’re doubtful I am in such a panic that I want to send for a clergyman and have a religious service to prove that we are married. See?”
Anne was flattered, exceedingly stimulated. For a few minutes she felt herself to be irresistible. She saw the life Anderson offered her with a swiftness achieved only by the mind. New York tossed up white slender buildings—two, three, a limited vista! It passed. Straight streets with dark shining traffic came and went with a definite sense of noise. O, those noisy exciting streets! A big room and handsome people—men and women, who gave the impression of power and luxury. His people—and they vanished. Her dreadful sweet verses in his papers—invited there like distinguished guests to a party! Just as she recognized the photographs of lovely, rich, jewelled women in illustrated papers, so she recognized her mental picture of herself as Mrs. Edward Anderson, a leader of society in two continents. She saw Helen Brierley relieved, gratified and triumphant, Mrs. Topley and Doris Neale sympathetically rejoicing, Haidee Pryce excited, Judith Boxall interested, Lady Tremayne crushed. Good! She entertained, showed off to advantage, stimulated and swayed, Brierley, Hailstone, Cox-Cox, Penwarden, Topley, and even Knocklong. She opened the arms of the Anderson papers to Lay! She tyrannized over his career. He followed her, impressed. He never again had those painful periods in which he thought her unimportant. She became for him the most important woman in the world. And Gerald Petworth—No! She could find no place for Gerald Petworth. He obstinately remained with his regiment in remote corners of India. Mrs. Edward Anderson had nothing to offer him. She recognized that, and left America.
“Could you just say again that you like me?” Anderson begged her. “The effect has worn off quick, and if I hear you say it once more, that’s twice in one day and there’s more to it.”
All her pictures had faded. Instead she heard and saw Anderson. Tall, well-featured, very vital. But her whole edifice crashed. She was not Mrs. Edward Anderson. She had now to satisfy her emotions instead of her imagination. Did she watch this man with amazement, loving every gesture? Was there anything in him that roused her aching, dizzying pity? Would she feel anguish if he were mortified, embarrassed, in debt? Had she supreme confidence that her immeasurable tenderness stood as a rampart between him and sorrow? Could jealousy shoot her through and through should some other woman become Mrs. Edward Anderson, and enter into an intimacy with him that was unabashed, delicate, secret, passionate? No. O no! She could critically scrutinize him, appreciating his security, his enviable state. She liked him. She might like his wife.
“I like you!” she repeated.
“Well now I’m vurry disappointed. You aren’t going on being so kind and polite as all that, are you?”
He took his left hand off the wheel and groped for her hand. She let it rest in his. It simply did not mean anything to her.
“Talk about yourself!” He urged it. “Do tell me all about yourself.”
Anne talked then for a little while, growing sad. She told him about her father, her impulsive unwise mother, some uncles and aunts and cousins “who did not count much.” She made him see very clearly that people had always been important to her and that she had met them in an exciting way because of her beauty, and in a difficult way because of her poverty and uncomfortable lack of background. Neither Helen Brierley’s house, nor Sir Roger Battle’s house, was her home. She was “in the telephone book.” Just that! But to be a secretary gave her a place, made her less nebulous, less a girl who might, or might not, be asked to a party because she was admired, or because she was pitied. She could always be left out of a party so easily! In Manchester, and in her little flat talking to Lay, she had been on the threshold of other worlds. They attracted her. She felt less lonely as a stranger, than as somebody apt to be overlooked on familiar ground. For companionship she had turned more and more to Lay, but as a definite relationship she valued her post as secretary to Lord Brierley. And that had sustained her when she arrived in India, knowing no one. It was her raison d’être. She had cared immensely to make a success of it. Nowadays secretaries were not negligible. Anne ran through the names of prominent persons whose secretaries had a discreet but tangible, influence. She was a secretary, as some people were journalists, politicians, land agents, librarians. It was her calling. It did not bury her alive. She met hundreds of people with whom she had no connection save as Lord Brierley’s secretary. And she loved meeting them. “Other women of my age have parents or brothers or sisters! I have none. So I can’t love that way. I am awfully fond of one girl cousin. Awfully. But I see her once in a thousand years! I love some of my friends as friends. It is not the same as sharing family fortunes. It may be more congenial, but it is not the same. So I put my heart into my job. And as you know—you must have heard—I have made a nice hash of it!”
Having told herself as well as Anderson this sad tale, she felt ready to weep.
He was immensely cheered. Anne Knightley to console! What knight-errant from America could ask more? He told her, permitting himself every sign of male ferocity, that her enemies were his enemies and her detractors were people over whom he would cast out his shoe. “Talk! Let them all talk!” He indicated (and he was really relieved) that New York was out of earshot. What did the tittle-tattle of Lucknow matter? She added Calcutta, Madras, Quetta, Allahabad, Cawnpore, Delhi, Peshawar and Lahore to the black list. He said, inaccurately, that they had nothing to do but talk. “And what does talk amount to, anyway?”
Anne rejected this sophistry. “Goodness me,” she said. “As if one didn’t know what was implied of damage when people said—‘She is talked about,’ or recorded ‘a lot of talk’.”
“Nobody could know you and believe a word against you!”
She replied a little wearily that it remained a fact that a series of trivial, complicated, and harmless actions had led to a scandal. The Commission was embarrassed, Lord Brierley was mortified, Gerald Petworth was censured. “And for days and days I have longed to scream!”
“There’s a very old-fashioned remedy for a scandal, and that’s marriage,” Anderson told her firmly.
Anne considered this. She would escape from humiliation. Her personal prestige would be restored. The satisfaction of that was overwhelming. It was the satisfaction of one who gets the best of a quarrel, gets out of a scrape: of one who quite brilliantly scores. But afterwards?
Anderson, not Anne, was living life. She was only planning plans. Everybody in the Commission had as important an influence on those plans as Anderson. He urged “Come!” but Anne had no instinctive flight towards Anderson. He did not stir her, carry her away. She could look up trains in Bradshaw that would take her bag and baggage to Anderson, and she could appreciate their speed, convenience, and reliability. It would be a good move. Only, if she went so far as to marry Anderson, she must undergo a transmigration of her very soul. For the self she knew, with its wild favouritisms, delicious excitements, mysterious transports, simply did not travel by any route leading to Anderson. In fact, urged and disturbed by his emotion, she experienced a rapid movement of her desires away from him and towards another man.
“Let us go back now,” said Anne.
The pair, silent, intent, agonizingly conscious of each other, drove all unknowing through the country where some seventy years before Sir Henry Lawrence had marched troops to meet a stronger enemy at Chinhat. Men had perished here, lay wounded under a June sun, with failure making a bitter death. The sad Gumti and the brown landscape told no tale. But when the broken outline of the Residency stood out against the sky, Anne suggested that they might stop and explore the place.
No one could have been more sympathetically minded in this matter than Edward P. Anderson. They left the car and entered the quiet grounds. He piloted Anne to a room in which stood a model of the Residency as it was in 1857. There, with a ready finger, he indicated the Tykhana where Lady Inglis and many women had sought refuge, the Sikh square where faithful Sikh cavalry was picketed, the Cawnpore Battery, the Redan Battery held by British soldiers, the Hospital and Gorman’s Posts held by sepoys. He showed her where Lawrence received his death wound on the second day of the siege. They wandered about together, and he identified accurately the sites of Martinière and Sago’s posts, and Gubbins and Innes’ posts. Anne was silent, but Anderson became fluent. Well-informed, too, for he knew the mysterious spy Ungud who took information from Inglis to Havelock. He described the attacks on the Bailey Guard, the blowing up of the Machi Bawn Fort. After conscientious hesitation the whereabouts of the Fureed Buksh palace was settled.
“Outram and Havelock were vurry remarkable men. And this certainly is a well-distributed ruin. It’s picturesque. I’m glad to have come here with you. It makes a bond.”
Anderson talked at some length about the bond it made. He offered to take Anne into the room where Jessie had prophesied the coming of the Highlanders, and cried out that she heard the pipes, and so died. Anne said: “No. Don’t let’s go there.”
“Well—if you don’t care for sight-seeing! Do you want to visit Lawrence’s tomb in the cemetery? It’s right here.”
“No,” said Anne. “No, thank you.”
“You English aren’t sentimental, are you? Well now, I confess the associations of this place appeal to me.”
He did not know, did not guess, that for Anne the whole place was alive, terrific to her feet, to her eyes, real with the reality of passion. The Highlanders’ kilts swinging through Hindustan. Havelock and Outram at the head of Highlanders and Sikhs, fighting their way up to the very gates. The gesture of Outram’s unsheathed sword and the decision—“In God’s name then, let us go on!” Men and women listening twenty-four hours before to a royal salute fired by the relieving force to bid them hold out. Men and women living through the deepest hopes and fears. The death and birth of besieged children; an ebb and flow which ignored controversy, mysteriously aloof, terribly intimate only with nature’s life-force. The words which tallied all nobility: “Here lies Henry Lawrence, who tried to do his duty.” The knowledge that when Highland regiments are in India they send their pipers to play a lament for Jessie in the room where she died. These things so shook Anne, so dwelt with her, that no man or woman in Lucknow was as real to her as the dead men and women who here held their ground.
“It’s a ro-mance!” declared Anderson.
Anne’s dress brushed against Anderson, but the man she summoned to her was Gerald Petworth. The heir of these traditions was the man with whom she could stand in Jessie’s little cellar and beside Lawrence’s grave!
“Don’t you call it romantic? Or do you hate everything Victorian?” Anderson wanted to feel whatever she felt. He wanted to share everything.
She knew he could not do so. And she was defenceless against his assault upon her reserve.
“I just accept it,” said Anne.
“It’s too deep for words!” Anderson agreed, and talked a lot about it.
The rhythm of the pipes was in the silence for her, and the serene sky vibrated with the echo of those calling guns. Fighting men, marching men, dying men! The awful simplicity of their fate resisted all jaded criticisms. Imagination lost its egotistical art and achieved sympathy.
“Of course the casualties would have been thought a mere nothing in France.” Anderson eagerly reminded her that he had been in a Bigger Show.
“My grandmother lost her brother here, and I lost my father in France. That brings it home.”
The English had a grasp of history that was positively close-fisted! If Anderson had known what a trysting-place, ghostly, subtle, this spot offered to Anne’s heart and Gerald Petworth, he would have cursed the ruined Residency. As it was he felt impelled to talk to Anne of the beautiful future of the United States all the way back to Government House. He had ambitions, he said, to represent his country in diplomacy. He would like, some day, to be ambassador in London. No wonder Anne listened attentively to that! For months she had been among men who dealt only with men in authority. Her sense of values was losing touch with simplicity.
Meanwhile the garden party at Government House came to a bad end. As the tide of guests ebbed away it left dilapidations, a disarray of chairs and cups and glasses, downtrodden lawns. Behind the tents servants gave crockery dismal baths. The band went away silently. The Topleys were among the last to leave. They lived in a perpetual state of fearing to hurt the mysterious feelings of Sir Tirath Ram and his wife, and accompanied them home. In vain Mrs. Topley looked for Anne in order to kiss her good-night, in public. She had planned this demonstration, and was disappointed. Dr. Neale left after being introduced to so many people by Lady Tremayne that she completely forgot Anne. Finally Lord Brierley, Sir Thomas Cox-Cox and Mr. Penwarden joined each other and said impertinent things of the garden party which had been given in their honour.
Brierley took out of his pocket his wife’s cable and told the others its contents. His unbandaged eye looked at them very searchingly as he did so.
Penwarden’s face assumed the expression of a sharp and respectable detective. “Ah,” he said. “That’s good news!”
“Yes. I’m relieved my daughter is so much better. But I don’t think I shall let my wife join me.”
“Hardly worth it, hardly worth it. Less than three months now,” Cox-Cox applauded.
“It would mean inconveniencing all my hosts to a certain extent. It would mean more idiotic talk!” Brierley came out with the confession handsomely.
Penwarden lit his pipe. Human flesh and blood could forgo one no longer. He thrust his hands deep into his pockets and said sturdily; “It would be a very good answer to very unpleasant insinuations.”
“The best answer to them is to laugh at ’em!” Brierley assured him.
“It’s the only answer!” Sir Thomas laid down the law.
“I hope everybody will notice us laughing!” retorted Penwarden.
“I refuse to take the thing seriously,” said Brierley, becoming debonair. His attention was suddenly directed to Lay, approaching from the house. “I say, that fellow is a deplorable-looking object!”
Lay encountered Lady Tremayne, who had just said good-bye to the last guest, and he walked with her across the lawn to join the three men.
“Sit down!” Laura cried. “You must all be half dead!” She sat down and they drew up chairs around her. A remarkable woman, they thought.
“For the last hour,” said Laura Tremayne, “I have been looking for Mr. Anderson. Has anybody seen him?”
The members of the Commission described when and where they had last seen him.
“I must say I do not admire his manners. He comes to India for certain ends of his own, and we ask him to stay—a perfect stranger! We give a garden party in order that he, as well as you, should meet the interesting and important people, and when I try to find him to make the necessary introductions, he has simply vanished.”
The three sycophants unhesitatingly condemned him. Lay grinned.
“I have been looking for our Anne,” he said significantly.
Lady Tremayne ignored the name of Anne.
“I don’t blame Anderson,” Lay continued. “It is the usual thing. He finds Anne irresistible. They have gone off together somewhere.”
Brierley instantly took advantage of this to prove his own indifference to Anne, except as his secretary. “She is a good excuse for him, Lady Tremayne! She was very nearly a good enough excuse for your young Petworth’s behaviour. But not quite.”
Lady Tremayne’s silence petrified them. She broke it at last to address Lay, who looked impish. “Mr. Anderson was in touch yesterday with the editor of our worst Indian newspaper. Lots of funny people come and go out of our back doors! I read that paper’s leading article this morning. It said that while deploring the social evils in Europe to which it had drawn attention, India might well admire and imitate the fearless dignity and virtuous self-restraint, etcetera, etcetera, of western women. Putting two and two together, I suppose we must thank Mr. Anderson for that?”
“And your humble servant! I told him off for the job. He warned the editor he’d antagonize American public opinion.”
“That’s the way things are done!” Penwarden exclaimed bitterly.
“Good!” Cox-Cox declared. “That’s got the Press! Good, good, good.”
Brierley began a Little dissertation upon the fellow-feeling that exists between “the better sort” of American and the Englishman. Lay cut him short.
“You’ve Anne to thank. Anderson doesn’t give a cent for the Commission! He got wild because of Anne.”
This remark caused Lady Tremayne to frown. Once more she expressed her displeasure at the casual disappearance of her guest.
“After all,” remonstrated Lay, “what’s the thing called ‘society’ for? What’s the good of it?”
“Just so,” put in Penwarden, alert with class-consciousness.
Laura looked around her superbly. Let them cavil at society! It could cow any one of the four, even Mr. Lay. She, herself, made it formidable.
“Society is not a mere institution like the press or trade unionism,” she answered. “It is the natural enlargement of fellowship beyond the unit of the family. The family cannot survive in the midst of social chaos. Without a pretty strong society a man’s professional skill would obtain preposterous privileges for him! If society is dull, or stupid, it is the fault of people who are indifferent to its claims. If you break up family responsibility, and society’s loyalty to the family system, how are you going to maintain innocence, fidelity, obedience, without state oppression? Destroy custom and tradition, and you obtain a little temporary adulation of the artist as a creator of a new heaven and a new earth! Would that suit you, Mr. Lay?”
“I am not in society,” Lay gravely protested. “I think a garden party is a very splendid affair. But a man who could make love at one could write sonnets under laughing gas. So Anderson went mad and fled.”
“If you ask me what society can do, I tell you it can make people conscious of disgrace,” Laura proclaimed.
This remark hung suspended like a sentence over the abashed members of a Commission that had got itself into trouble. She was a dangerous woman.
“The pleasures of society!” An ungallant Lay would have the last word.
“Society is my job. I try to make it productive of goodwill here. I try to make it liberal-minded!” A drop in Laura’s voice appealed to Cox-Cox. Poor dear!
Brierley, with his will intent upon that colonial governorship, recognized that he too in the future might have to plead just such good intentions, and resist those who would frustrate him. His eligibility for the position of governor depended partly upon his public performance and partly upon his social qualifications. This unfortunate business about his private secretary was detrimental, very.
“I’m a sociable animal,” declared Cox-Cox. “I like society.”
Lay made a sound of horror.
“Like it.” The doctor was obstinate. “In all its civilized forms. Clubs. Ladies’ rooms in clubs. I like a gathering. Illness means isolation. So does old age. I abominate illness and old age. The gregarious instinct is sound. Let us eat, drink and be merry.”
Cox really sympathized with the loss of influence which women such as Laura Tremayne experienced and resented. He remembered the time when women of her age passed from the care of many children to the care of grown-up daughters, and when hostesses wielded an undisputed power over the social career of a girl. A routine, suitable to such women who could not earn a penny, filled their days. They paid calls, assembled in the Park, progressed slowly in victorias, chaperoned the eligible at parties. The young, their wings clipped, accepted this régime: outside it they met nobody. But to-day girls slipped away from their mothers into professional life, where the mothers’ experience and power to influence affairs were negligible. Or, if they remained at home without paid occupation, they found that by joining social forces with the fully emancipated they could claim immense independence. Look at Anne Knightley!
He had no sooner thought of that fair creature than she approached, round the edge of the great house, with Anderson behind her.
When a woman is arbitrary, exacting, passionately sincere, peace is far from her. But she provides entertainment. The three members of the Commission sat tight and waited to see whether Lady Tremayne would “go” for the truants.
She ignored Anne. Anne took the comfortable chair Cox-Cox vacated for her and ignored her hostess. Wise Anne! Lady Tremayne waited till Cox-Cox had seated himself on a Roorkee chair and Anderson had found another. Everybody said, “There’s a chair for you!” “Have that chair!” “This will do for me,” in one uneasy chorus.
“I asked a great many people to meet you, Mr. Anderson,” said Laura Tremayne. “And you calmly left me in the lurch!”
“Why, Lady Tremayne, I’d never do that!”
“I looked for you everywhere.”
“I was here a vurry long time. And it was a most brilliant party. I could not stay to the end because I had to think out an article before the mail goes.”
“I see.” She was very cold.
Nothing flustered Edward P. Anderson. He looked politely cool and grave too.
Lay suddenly hated him. Hated his thick springy well-brushed hair, his immaculate grey clothes, his big nose and delicate hands, his power, wealth, and importance.
“Anderson and I are newspaper men,” he said in his queerly arresting voice. “Anderson knows that a disappearance has real publicity value!”
“That’s so,” said Anderson pleasantly. “I’m terribly flattered Lady Tremayne missed me.”
Lay got out of his chair in his usual ungainly fashion and seemed about to approach his hostess to say good-night. Cox-Cox and Penwarden prepared to follow him. Lay paused behind Anne and gave a tweak to her hair.
“As for you, Miss, you made yourself conspicuous by your absence.”
She seemed aloof from them all. Let active wills and wits grind axes! She followed the path of an arrow.
“Nonsense, Walter. Nobody noticed whether I was here or not,” she said.
Lay pulled her out of her chair and drew her arm through his. “You come along and tell me what you’ve been up to!”
He said good-bye to Lady Tremayne and carried Anne off. They heard her laugh.
“I should not mind being young again,” said Penwarden suddenly.
Anderson, racked and torn by emotions he believed the elderly never knew, thought the old man a fool to say so.
When they had all gone Lord Brierley sat alone and pictured Helen worrying herself to fiddle-strings. It would never do to let her join him. Helen would ignore nothing! She would insist on explanations, justifications, apologies. It would be simply preposterous. She would make him scenes, telling him that his dignity and her dignity were at stake, crying out that she was deeply hurt, insisting that she believed in him and at the same time questioning everything he had said and done. Helen would refer to what had happened as a mistake, a misunderstanding, and an imprudence. She would never impute disloyalty to him or Anne. But she would so work herself up about injustice to him and injustice to Anne, that his private intercourse with Helen would be painful, and his position as chairman complicated. Helen must stay at home. He had been made to look a fool and that was no sight for a wife.
Brierley saw the Governor, near the house, hanging about. A fellow feeling made him smile. “That’s right, take it easy!” he thought. Women never took things easy. His Excellency was keeping out of the way till Lady Tremayne’s nerves quieted down. Life was not a bed of roses for Tremayne.
Somebody leant from an upper window, looking out. It was Laura. She was brooding over Lucknow. Terrible Lucknow flashed its lights into the dry cold darkness. Laura Tremayne braced herself against criticism, unpopularity. Lonely dark woman! She accused society of drifting, slack, unobservant. People called her fanatically strenuous, an alarmist. Let them saunter, aimless, till insignificance overtook them and all their works! She only asked them to be strong. They must choose; hold a height or fall from it. As her proud glance swept about she saw Brierley. A trivial man, she thought; content to be an ornament. Laura, daughter of Ulster, had no use for him. Much thanks she got for entertaining all these people!
Everyone who knew Anne knew that she was slow. She took her time. Though her emotional reaction to events was swift, no change was wrought in her state of mind save by a slow accumulation of experience. Lay had grown to count on Anne to give him plenty of time to decide what his relationship to her was to be. She would never set the pace. And now here she was, simply flying away with an idea!
She flew with it from the chair drawn up to the window of Brierley’s sitting-room across continents, across oceans. She was to all intents and purposes at that moment Mrs. Edward P. Anderson.
“Shall I, or shan’t I?” she asked.
Lay looked a Little fellow, wan and hurt. The sofa creaked with his unhappy fidgets.
“You can’t,” he said. “The thing’s absurd.” But Anne had her own idea about that. She was undaunted.
“It is nothing of the sort. I have only to say the word and in two twos I become a rich American.”
Nothing in life had every struck Lay as more unnatural. She was Anne Knightley, an impecunious secretary, and no family circle surrounded her. None was more intimate with her than himself. He dropped into her little flat in Gloucester Road whenever he pleased. He knew all her hats, the state of her bank balance, and her exciting, absurd and tearful tiffs with Helen Brierley. He read her pretty and commonplace love songs. He discussed with her his most stinging attacks, his highly polished literary articles. Half the queer attractive anxiety of his tour at the heels of the Commission was due to the presence of emotion-sweet Anne. She was utterly English. She was not entitled to be superior to England’s failures and muddles. When he pointed them out, it humbled and impressed her in the most satisfactory manner. The government, the city, the drama, the cinema, newspaper proprietors, publishers and editors, the public—Anne had very properly considered all these institutions in relation to Lay: to his income tax and his political articles, to his little unprofitable flutter, to his rejected play, to his complaints of the uninspired state of British films, to his derision of the provincial press and anxiety to write for it, to his knowledge—which was, alas, not power—of the damnable intrigues of Fleet Street—to his subtlety of insight as to what the public “really wanted,” and the obstinacy of syndicates on that subject. From none of these heartrending and thrilling affairs had Anne been detached. At need Lay could, and did, cast her satisfactorily for the part of a representative of any section of the public, and convince her of his wisdom. She was by turn, “you society women,” “you young emancipated women,” “you intelligent women,” “you emotional women,” “you thoughtless, sheltered women,” even flatteringly, “you, who have known well men as different from each other as Brierley the potentate and I the writer!” But she had never been an Anne set apart from him by wealth and power. An Anne whom he might only approach without ceremony if he made himself welcome to the man of the house! An insufferable task. It was he, Lay, who had command of other countries, who “might see” if Germany would take his work. Who dealt in colonial rights. Who, this winter, was establishing himself as an authority on—not in, thank heaven—the Indian Empire. Who, in moments when he desired to become rich and famous immediately, planned to go to the United States! He was flabbergasted by the magic, the luck, and the privilege of little Anne. He was dumbfounded. He was, to his own surprise, shaking; with a damp forehead and cold hands and a heart that knocked against his ribs.
“Do you want to be a rich American?”
“Yes. Don’t you?”
“No!” He repudiated it with what sounded like contempt, but was really panic.
He got up and walked about the room. “You’ll come backwards and forwards, I suppose, and have your photograph in the picture papers and give interviews to reporters saying America and England must never go to war; that American and English women won’t allow war? You’ll deplore the cocktail habit in London. Bright, profound, original stuff like that! Anne, you’re joking?”
If Anne was joking it was a cruel jest. Therefore it was useless to hope this was a mere joke, for Anne could not be cruel. She propped her serious face with one hand, while her elbow rested on her knee.
“No. I’d have a wonderful life, Walter. Edward Anderson has all those newspapers and magazines to give me just the interests you and I adore!”
“You would have precious little say in all that——”
“More than I could have any other way. You told me yesterday that he has enormous power. I should influence him. He says he might become ambassador in London, if I liked! He says so. You would come and stay with us in New York and write for his papers. Perhaps he would finance that play you wrote which no one will look at in London!”
There was a long pause. Anne suddenly realized that this castle in the air which her imagination was giving her for startling fun, for sumptuous revelry, must not be built for two. It must not offer foothold to Lay’s ambitions and hopes, when her tenure of it was no more secure than her tenure of the fabulous kingdoms which she had created in secret day-dreams all her life. She could have bitten her tongue off when the words were said. Behind them formed slowly a promise of success—of wonderful bargains, contracts, royalties, commissions—for the young man so close to her, so dearly and perilously intimate.
From that moment Edward P. Anderson dominated Walter Lay. As Anne’s husband he was intolerable, as Lay’s tool he was desirable. To have such an advantage within one’s grasp was enough to stir all the grasping energy within one. Lay was silent, trying to adjust his desires.
“Are you serious?” Lay’s voice was husky.
“I am, and I am not!”
“Is Anderson serious?”
Lay continued to pace up and down the room. His temperament was intolerant of suspense. His egotism hated to depend upon the decision of another, too exclusively concerned with consideration of matters not related to Lay’s need. He pictured himself in New York alone with Anne as he was in this room, closely in touch with plans for their mutual advantage as he was now, and powerfully allied—as he had never been—to the Anderson newspapers, which were his envy, his goal, and his despair.
“I suppose you want me to make up your mind for you, as usual?”
Anne folded her hands behind her head and rocked about on her chair. Something in her manner increased Lay’s uneasiness.
“You have made up my mind quite a lot, haven’t you?” she conceded.
“About everything on earth except clothes!” he declared, elated.
“You know less about clothes than my bed knows of bedclothes,” Anne said. Beautiful clothes had been dazzling her mind’s eye ever since Anderson proposed to her.
“Do you know what you want?” Lay demanded as though he sought to make all clear to her. As though he had no furtive thoughts himself.
“I know that I don’t want anything I can get in Gloucester Road!”
She swept that street aside. He had been at home there! Her modest home was broken up by a snap of her fingers and from her deserted London doorstep he turned eagerly to the splendid rendezvous she offered in New York. Lay did not wish to meet Anderson, but it would be difficult to dodge past him to Anne and substantial success. Anderson was certainly a grave drawback to Anne’s plans.
“I want to shop regardless of expense,” murmured Anne, and sighed.
Lay was enchanted by her absurd and irrelevant sense of pleasure in shops. She did not spend his money, and her little luxuries were the fruit of a self-denial he did not share. But he wasted no time in picturing her whisking in and out of lovely shops. That was not business.
“You’d soon get tired of dressing up. You’re no fool. Tell me, Anne, do you see yourself all aflame with interest in New York—do you? You possess some notion of what life ought to be—direct, tense, as exciting as a poem. We’ve talked of it a thousand times—how to be intimate with life! We agree that fun and courage are to be found wherever the approach to life is sincere. Are you being perfectly sincere when you say, ‘Come with me to America, and develop all your ideas there through the Anderson Press?’ Is that your simple choice for yourself?”
Lay passed both hands through his hair, fretted about on his toes, was careless where his cigarette ash fell. He knew that a married Anne could deprive him of a great deal—could she compensate him for that loss?
“I have not decided anything,” said Anne.
Were women ever considerate? She tantalized him terribly. He had been a thwarted, frustrated man too long. He began to feel passionately sorry for himself. And he asked her abruptly if she was in love with the fellow.
Lay was taken aback when Anne quite briskly retorted that her answer depended on that. To see Anne in love with Anderson would be heart-breaking! But Lay was halfway to the United States already, his anticipation of success and security had become immense. If Anne, preoccupied with her emotions, rejected Anderson, Lay still had his freedom to go to New York and succeed there by his own merits. Utter discouragement and weariness overwhelmed him at the thought of the struggle. He preferred to have his merits rewarded without further trouble by the magic intervention of Anne. He wanted favouritism, interest, and wire-pulling to do for him at once what it did every day for other men in an unjust world.
“If I were a girl, I’d marry a rich man,” Lay said. He spoke as though inspired by candid sympathy, and by knowledge of what petty economies and meagre purchases meant to Anne.
She lost her excitability then and said in a wistful little voice: “Would you, Walter?”
“I should not be sentimental about it. I’d be quite honest with myself.”
“What good would that do?”
“It’s a question of self-respect, my dear. You say to yourself: ‘I am not in love with this man. But I prefer the life I shall lead as his wife to any other.’ That’s honest.”
“Walter, will you be honest with me?”
It was most intimidating to find that Anne intended to confront him with a request to make a choice, a decision. He very reluctantly promised to be honest.
“Are you in love with me?”
Did she mean to choose between him and Anderson? Lay became exceedingly embarrassed. Never in his life had he been so conscious of a woman’s scrutiny. Anne was not only listening to his words, she was observing his expression, his manner. She meant to know him through and through.
“I could easily be in love with you!”
His voice stirred her as of old. His personality always fascinated her. When he surrendered anything of himself to her she was immensely flattered. His egotism was of that supreme kind which imposes upon others an acceptance of its own scale of values. Now she peered through the gathering darkness, all eyes for his vivid ugly face.
“I know that,” said Anne, “I wondered if you did really love me, that’s all.” She turned her eyes away.
In acting the part of a rich American to Lay she had spoken her lines very much as he had suggested them to her in a hundred talks. He had confessed many a time to a desire to pull strings in America, and his ambition “to get in with” the American press had been a trial to Anne. Lay threatened to go to New York, knowing she was sedately tied to Gloucester Road and Onslow Square! What to make of that? Her perplexity had never been without hope that he formed audaciously ambitious plans in order to attain a position in which he could afford to marry. She did not deny that had he proposed, precarious as was his income, she would have accepted him. He was so much more interesting, dear, and significant than any other man she knew in London. Anne had attributed many meritorious motives to Lay’s conduct when he did not seek to become engaged to her. Now, however, evidence was accumulating, and Anne weighed it. She had given him his chance. And he had carefully considered his own advantage. Not without pain! But he would pay a staggering price for his success that he would not pay for love. He chose the thing he wanted most.
This set them apart. She felt the breaking up of the ties between them, the advance towards a complete separation. It seemed to her very sad that all the graciousness of her welcome to Lay in South Kensington should have been but a temporary relationship, valid only for a little while. Anne looked at Lay again. He was rather huddled up against the mantelpiece with a restless hand jingling keys in his pocket. She distrusted him. He had always treated her as a child, and scrupulously. She had no doubts of his integrity towards her now. But if she married Edward Anderson, what then? If as a married woman she offered him friendship in New York, would he take it with all its advantages and never plot to win more? She had clung for dear life in a thousand discussions to the belief that right and wrong are spiritually discerned, while Walter Lay had frankly declared that honour and morals were conceptions without authority unless they were acceptable to a sincere intelligence. There was a strange twist in him, never brutal or oppressive, which made him a very dark horse to her. But—she faced it with her travelling thoughts—she could conceive a situation in New York when he would say that certain things were “all right, my dear, provided you want to live your life without certain hard and fast rules.” Her instinct warned her. If she protested to Walter of the honour of Edward Anderson which she, as his wife, must protect, he would be utterly impatient: “Protection? Absurd! He is not a child.” She could hear him say it. Therefore, here in the dusk of Lucknow there walked the ghosts, not to be laid, of Walter Lay’s spirit as expressed a hundred times over in London, and Anne ceased to project a picture of Lay into a fantasy of New York. That picture had existed dangerously for two hours, creating wealth, wonders, and her triumphant ascendancy over Lay. Now she was left with only Anderson for imaginative company. A dull business!
“It is time to dress for dinner,” said Anne.
Lay, released from tension, was all good humour. “I suppose you mean to dazzle Anderson. Poor devil! He’ll have to be as good as gold. You are a fastidious infant.”
He went off into a burst of laughter, surprising to Anne. Then he cried: “I’m glad you are doing something striking. The whole blessed Commission will give a sigh of relief. If you had thrown yourself away on Petworth, I should never have forgiven you.”
At the very mention of Petworth she became excitable. All her world was against him! And suddenly she recalled him, heard his voice, saw his face. It shook her. She could not discuss him with Lay, who, cock-a-hoop and reckless, said: “Look here, Anne, Brierley is an ass! He sees nothing and is conceited. Yesterday he said to me that he wished you’d marry. Anything to get his lordship out of hot water!”
“I don’t believe you!” cried Anne.
Lay banged the door on a furious Anne. She felt loneliness close in around her. Her nature vehemently protested. Anything but that! She could not, she would not, be lonely.
In the corridors, where a chapprassee made a great splash of scarlet and gold, Lay ran into Anderson. There was all the difference in the world between placing Anderson conveniently in a plan and confronting him in the flesh. Nothing about that fine presence and big nose suggested a lack of self-assertion. Lay was instantly impelled to test his strength with Anderson.
“Hi!” he called, and Anderson turned on the threshold of his room and waited with a pleasant manner but a preoccupied eye for the Englishman.
“I want a talk with you some time,” Lay cordially announced.
“Why certainly!” Anderson agreed, without enthusiasm.
“I daresay you are bored with all these officials, but you and I can get down to the real thing together.”
Lay had come close and was nervously conscious that he was buttonholing Anderson. He was all the more anxious to make an impression that would survive his importunity.
“I am vurry interested and vurry far from being bored. But I’d like to compare impressions with you,” said Anderson.
“All right.” Lay appeared to grant the interview he had sought. He was so provoked by Anderson’s immaculate appearance, that he became rashly condescending. “I am frightfully rushed, but I can see you some time to-morrow. I have gone pretty far behind the scenes here, you understand. If you like, I can let you have an article for your people that no one else could write to-day, I believe.”
“I’d be interested to see it, of course. But America is not keen about India. I’m giving them all they can stand myself. No doubt you know more about it—it’s right up your street—but, you see, they know my name.” Anderson was disobligingly polite and as he spoke he opened his bedroom door. “Sorry! But I’ve only just time to have a bath—and I don’t want to make Lady Tremayne mad with me for being late.” He disappeared, having bestowed upon Lay a really friendly grin the moment the question of that article was dismissed.
Lay went down the great stairs and through the hall hating the place. It permitted him to leave and go to the hotel with utter indifference. Nobody in it considered him essential. Lay recognized Tremayne and Brierley as prominent men and Laura Tremayne as a conspicuous woman, and they had made him feel obscure. And Anderson saw him banished to obscurity and so failed to discern his importance. When Lay reached his hotel he became restless with vexation. It was so like the Brierleys of this world to make use of other people! Lay was to influence the vernacular press, Lay was to take Anne off the chairman’s hands—but did Brierley point out to Anderson what a valuable man Lay was, did he say to him, “Lay is one of our most brilliant journalists”? Not he!
Lay dined alone at his tiny table in the hotel with a three weeks old Times propped up in front of him. He did not know which he loathed more, the menu or the venerable newspaper. After dinner he went off to his bedroom and turned on the one electric globe which hung in the middle of the room as though its purpose was to illuminate a thoroughfare. He drew a small bentwood chair under it and lifted a bamboo table, which was so light that it seemed to fly in his face when he raised it. His typewriter shook the fragile table as if performing a dance on stilts. But to these discomforts Lay was impervious. He had not the slightest idea how to be comfortable in his personal surroundings. Dusty luggage lay about the floor and his typewriter needed cleaning and oiling. The concentration in his keen face was for the article he intended to show Anderson. It was not finished and about eight hundred words covered a few sheets neatly pinned together. A thousand words were all an editor would take, Lay thought. He added the two hundred, working rapidly. Then he read the article. He was still so close to the act of creation that he was pleased with it. Reaction would come later. He knew that by experience, sickeningly. Therefore the comfort of having work commissioned, or instantly accepted, was immense. Lay carefully put the article into a despatch case and lit a cigarette and flung himself down on his bed. A sense of isolation depressed him. He supposed Topley was quite happy this evening in the companionship of Mrs. Topley. Anyhow he was making himself agreeable to Sir Tirath Ram Chand and his friends, no doubt. It was an extraordinary thing that a man could so discipline himself as to become amenable to countless claims of that sort, tender fidelity to a wife, amiable duty to tedious people! But to-night Lay was inclined to think it paid. He was baffled by his own unpopularity. Penwarden was dining at Government House; the sturdy man was being courted as a Labour Member of Parliament, while Lay was here, neglected. And Penwarden was ‘matey.’ Very suspicious, yet credulous, not unsentimental, decidedly prejudiced, but profoundly sociable. Not willing to make himself personally unpleasant, and glad to be associated with gregarious men. Rough when he was hostile, but never malicious. Lay liked Penwarden and his shrewd common sense. Penwarden did not like him. To-night Lay would have been glad to feel that Penwarden liked him. Lay found Sir Thomas Cox-Cox agreeable company. The great doctor was never out to annoy you! The complaints of man or woman were understood by Cox in a very human way. His instinct was to alleviate trouble. Lay had never met anybody who accorded a quicker, more good-humoured, response to peevishness. Nothing came amiss to Cox: when Lay railed against tinned butter, or an Indian postman, Cox applauded his protest. Why should Lay be tolerant? “Go it, old man, have some marmalade instead. Good thing the postman can’t hear you, but I like to hear you.” That was Cox’s way with the fractious. It was not Lay’s way. He could not endure disagreeable people, being a disagreeable man himself. It would be soothing to spend this evening with Cox, who had great energy in companionship, but Cox was hobnobbing with all the medical grandees of the United Provinces to-night. Dr. Neale was there, too. Lay shied off Dr. Neale, who appeared to regard him as a mere impertinence. He doubted whether that woman ever opened a book for pleasure. Towards evening she was wont to enquire, “Is there any news in the paper to-day?” and a reply in the negative gave her complete satisfaction. Of Brierley, Lay exclaimed again: “He’s useless to me!” They were all useless to Lay. And he could not count on one of them for warm personal affection. He had drawn a blank.
It did not occur to Lay that he was in company with others in the same predicament. Brierley looked for a bigger reputation from the chairmanship of the Commission and was likely to lose rather than gain, owing to a ridiculous story. Petworth, loving Anne, had drawn blank. Anderson, courting Anne, might draw blank. And Anne had looked for something beautiful in her service to Brierley, in her friendship with the members of the Commission, in her relations with Petworth, Anderson, and Lay, and had failed to find it. Lay’s thoughts turned restlessly to Brierley and Anderson and Anne. He discounted Petworth. His desires became vehement. He wished to control Anne, dominate Anderson, and quarrel with Brierley.
An hour passed and left him intolerably tormented. Lay told himself that loneliness was accountable for his state of nervous tension. Had he been able to find vent in conversation with some kindred spirit, he would not grow each minute less and less able to acquiesce, to wait, to endure uncertainties. In London when such a miserable, rash mood beset him, he had always sought Anne and she had dealt gently with him. There was balm in Anne. Lay became frightened. He was losing Anne! Suppose he married her? His tenderness for her was real. He was at times passionately attracted by her. Jealousy of Anderson wrought upon him till he was consumed by rancour. But he dared not marry her! He was not confident of his success as a journalist to-night. Nor did he believe in himself as a family man. Whoever married that girl must be very good to her. He was too selfish! His imagination showed him the bliss and the torment of being married to Anne in a small, impecunious ménage. In the long run he would not prove himself considerate, that was certain. Anne could be pathetically timid over sin and bills. Her conscience and prudence would confront him. No, it would never do!
At about ten o’clock Lay became too irritable to exercise restraint. He went to the hotel telephone and rang up Knocklong at Government House. The chapprassee who answered the telephone could not speak English and Lay had to summon the hotel babu to his aid. He would have murdered chapprassee and babu with infinite pleasure. At last the babu handed him the receiver: the mouthpiece was warm from his breath and Lay was disgusted. He craved to experience pleasure after hours of dismay as the threadbare crave for prosperity.
“Hullo, Knocklong! I rang you up for a chat about affairs!”
Knocklong replied that he was playing bridge as Lady Tremayne’s partner and could only stay for a moment.
Lay inwardly cursed. Everybody was preoccupied! He bade Knocklong be off, but Knocklong said he was dummy and asked Lay what he wanted.
“I wanted a chat,” said Lay in despair. “However—look here! Is the Commission pleased with the way I worked Anderson to cork the vernacular press?”
“Did you speak to Anderson about it? I did not know. Thanks very much. Yes, I expect they are pleased. The Punjab papers are not too complimentary to-day.”
“Well, I wish you’d find out if Brierley has spoken to Anderson about me? I can be pretty useful with regard to America’s opinion of our work in India.” Knocklong said he did not catch that. Lay repeated it, much exasperated.
“I’ll ask him,” said Knocklong. “But Anderson is doing that himself, isn’t he? Lady Tremayne said he was.”
“There’s room for two. I think it is important, Knocklong,” said Lay, controlling himself with an effort.
“I see. Well—you want me to ask Brierley whether he has spoken to Anderson about articles on India which you want to write for American papers? Is that all?”
“Yes. No!—If Brierley has not spoken to Anderson yet, get him to do so, will you?”
“If I can.”
Lay ground his teeth. A little faith in Lay would remove mountains from his path! He frowned as Knocklong went on to suggest that Lay should tackle Anderson himself. “He is going to the Raj Hotel in Lahore on Wednesday. You will be there too, won’t you?”
“Oh, I thought—Sorry, I must go!” He went.
Lay returned to his bedroom in a frenzy of vexation. He shirked, with every sensitive nerve and all his startled vanity, the prospect of being in the society of Anderson in Lahore and trying to make a conquest of the Anderson press. Somebody must do that for him. Lay was proud of his work, and eagerly hopeful of public recognition, but he doubted his personal success with Anderson. He thought of their encounter in Government House with misgivings.
Anger bred from inflamed imagination now animated Lay. He took his stylo pen and crossed out the sentences which ended his article to a London newspaper. Then he wrote:
“Official hospitality has endeavoured to disguise the fact that society in India is doubtful of the tact of the Chairman of the Commission. This doubt has been reflected in the Indian owned and vernacular press, in which articles have appeared attacking the morals and ethics of western society in a manner discreditable to the newspapers concerned.”
Lay’s chuckle applauded this stroke of the pen. Let Brierley learn that it is wise to be pro-British occasionally! Lay was sick of the way public men ignored Englishmen like himself and played up to Americans like Anderson.
He was appeased by this immediate exercise of power over Brierley’s fate. But until midnight he sought peace of mind in vain while he wrestled with the problem of his relations to Anne and Anderson. Finally he sought the relief his mood demanded.
He wrote a short note to Anne. Lay’s gift of brevity was brilliant. He told her that he hated the idea of a week in Lahore, but would follow the Commission to Madras next month. He hoped that by then she would know her own mind. Meanwhile she might care to test her power to improve the understanding between England and the United States, so he enclosed an article. “Make Anderson take it. Send me a telegram if you succeed. You are a darling! My address will be Northern Hotel, Rawalpindi.”
Anderson might plead the independence of editors and the indifference of the American public, but Anne, steeped in the difficulties which beset writers, and knowing to the full what he, Lay, suffered when his manuscripts were rejected, would work upon Anderson’s feelings, would triumph because she was an adorable woman, All depended on Anne!
Lord Brierley welcomed the approaching departure of the Commission from Lucknow. His luggage was packed ready for the night mail and his bearer, who spoke English, had not troubled the lord sahib by one question. “I knowing. I getting everything ready!” he had said, as one equal to the occasion. Brierley, who loved ease and detested fuss, was well content. Knocklong undertook the drudgery of the Commission’s affairs, and Anne fitted Brierley into its programme and itinerary as a nursemaid packs an infant into a perambulator. The chairman’s work was interesting, conspicuous, and congenial. Brierley loved to deal with men and their institutions. The spectacle of Indian cities and villages, crowds, and benevolent or bitter groups of public men, afforded him infinite entertainment. Unfortunately the whole thing had taken the wrong twist. He was sensitive to the personal disparagement which elusive gossip bestowed upon his name. He was wrathful at the attacks in the Indian-owned and the vernacular press. The attitude of his hostess positively alarmed him, and he was thankful to leave her house. Yet it vexed him to have failed to win over so formidable a critic. Lady Tremayne’s strong personality impressed him; she could be charming when she liked and she was amazingly efficient. It was impossible in her presence to be cynical. Her passion for human welfare as her mind conceived it, swept aside his sly detachment and stirred him to enthusiasm for the work which the Report of the Commission might accomplish. But he was ruefully conscious that she regarded him as the wrong man in the wrong place. He had left her luncheon table feeling mortified. That was absurd, he thought.
The spacious comfort of his sitting-room soothed him. It told him that he was an important person. There was work waiting for him on his writing table, but he delayed to tackle it and took his leisure in an armchair, smoking. It was a mistake to exaggerate a vexation, Brierley told himself. He deliberately invited a more serene state of mind. Toughness was necessary; a resistance to the rub which left nerves a little raw. He mocked at flattery, but sought appreciation. If Helen had rushed in at the door and declared her deep, ardent and unswerving love for him, while at the same time withholding appreciation of the way in which he filled the post of chairman to this Commission, he would have wished her at Jericho. Nothing, not even twenty years of married life with him, could make Helen understand that! Consequently, though he was full of warm and tender affection for his wife—the dearest of women—Cox-Cox, who entered at that very moment, was really more welcome. Cox had a knack of giving appreciation when a man needed it.
“You? That’s splendid!” cried Brierley. “What’s up?”
“Nothing’s up.” Cox beamed. “I came away from a perfectly good luncheon given in my honour, pleading work, and tiptoed here, because I wanted a word with you.”
“Come on then.”
Cox sat down and drew up his chair. He looked exceedingly happy. “Now we must, we absolutely must decide to tell the same story about Christmas Eve. We don’t, you know.”
Brierley at once expressed himself in language which drew from Cox loud exclamations of suitable admiration.
“My dear fellow, you swear far better than I do. And you are far better than any of us on this job. I mean it! As the chairman of the Commission you’re perfect. Perfect. Only this story about you and Anne Knightley is most unsuitable. I’ve been faced with it fifty times. Nobody is shocked. That’s an absurd idea of our good Dr. Neale. I tell her nobody is shocked. But people are inquisitive. You’re inquisitive, I’m inquisitive, when it comes to scandal about a public man.”
Brierley, highly tried, denied it.
Cox appeared delighted. “Good! Very well then, you’re unique. The Commission comes and goes like a circus. To-day Lahore knows everybody in Lahore by sight. Sick of the sight of each other, I daresay! But to-morrow or next day we arrive there, in the limelight. We are at all their bean-feasts. They are obliged to talk about us for ten days. They can’t help themselves. In a sense this story is a godsend to them. But some become critical, and aren’t grateful. Naturally, when there is no authorized version of the tale, everybody is in favour of the worst one going. It is only human.”
Urged by Cox’s cheery voice to take a bright view of this phenomenon, Brierley gave an unwilling grin. “Well, I can tell you this, I never say one word about the damned thing. Nobody speaks to me about it.”
“Exactly! They just think you’re cut out for the part. That’s all! My dear fellow, it’s useless to deny it. These ladies, they merely give one second’s thought to the matter. It’s quite enough.”
Putting on a resigned air of half amused patience, Brierley informed Cox that he was making too much of the whole business.
“Not a bit. Not a bit. You don’t imagine anybody minds their own business while these tales fly about? Anne Knightley says nothing.” He checked her off on the outstretched fingers of his left hand. “But she looks your romance, or my romance, or any man’s romance. She can’t help that. And she wouldn’t if she could. Don’t tell me! A face like hers could account for any blessed thing. Young Petworth lies like a hero. He denies that she was in your room. He denies that he is in love with her, thinking his denial takes her out of the picture. He says he had a scrap with you because he was drunk.”
Brierley considered this. “That might have been quite a useful lie.”
“It might. Only Mrs. Topley, speaking the pure truth, tells people that Petworth is in love with dear Anne, and dear Anne did go into your room, and that Petworth was perfectly sober.”
“Doesn’t that foolish woman explain that I turned on the electric fan by mistake and Anne merely——”
“She does, she does!” roared Cox-Cox. “But after people have listened, bored, to details of electric controls and all that kind of explanation, which they don’t enjoy, they leap gladly to the question: ‘Then why did Captain Petworth half murder Lord Brierley?’”
Reduced to a glum silence Brierley shrugged his shoulders.
“I have explained that he did not half murder you, but they always exclaim; ‘O, it is true, then, that Lord Brierley went for him!’ Now, let us invent a real good yarn for Lahore and I’ll coach the others in it.”
But Brierley had turned sulky. He replied that Cox-Cox might invent any tale he pleased. “I intend to ignore the whole thing. Petworth has lost his job. Anne Knightley is Lady Tremayne’s guest. What other refutation of scandal can the veriest fool want?”
Cox relapsed into silence. No words would have been as eloquent as the expression of friendly enjoyment on his smooth shaven face. That expression gave Brierley complete freedom to be an obstinate man without offending Cox-Cox. But all the same the doctor was thinking that Brierley was not the age to enjoy an adverse social verdict.
Brierley, for the first time, showed signs of working himself up.
“My wife was devoted to Anne Knightley’s mother. She looks upon Anne as a younger sister. I’m a family man and I regard Anne as a member of my family. She is my secretary into the bargain. Am I the sort of man——?” He made a gesture of contempt.
“Incredible. Absolutely incredible to anyone who knows you.”
They then discussed the work of the Commission and Cox left. Brierley, his mood stiffly depressed, sat down by his files and found himself looking at a half sheet of paper which made a brief statement of a not impressive budget. He read:
“Income after income tax is paid £410 a year if the investments pay and I go on with my job. Rent £100. Service £60. Out of £250 must pay for clothes, heating, lighting, food, stamps and petty cash. Owe dressmaker £47 still. No other bill. On deposit £76, current account overdrawn £3. That’s all right.”
This document impressed itself upon Brierley’s mind before he realized that Anne’s financial position, jotted down by her in a moment’s terrific calculation, was disclosed to him. He crushed the sheet of paper in his hand and threw it into the waste-paper basket. A very kindly smile came into his eyes. So that was Anne’s budget! Having paid her taxes and worked hard, she had a roof over her head and the necessities of fife. She had saved, too! And overdrawn her current account. She knew where she stood. Probably she had enough rupee notes stowed away in her suitcase to carry her over into February when she would receive his monthly cheque. And in this restricted position, moving among people with substantial incomes, she superbly wrote: “That’s all right.”
An hour later, his work finished, Brierley lit his pipe and thought of that gay declaration again. Helen would not have summed up in favour of such meagre resources. Nor would Anne’s mother. Brierley had never been without ample means. Anne had pluck. Poor little thing. Many girls were worse off, and she knew it! At that moment she entered the room and he considered her pretty grey frock a touching token of her delicious weakness. What business had she to owe her dressmaker a bill so out of proportion to her income? Why did she not pay the bill instead of clinging to a deposit of seventy-six pounds? Exactly like a woman to cherish a nest-egg, adorn herself, and have a ridiculous tiny overdraft! On what grounds was she so triumphantly satisfied with her high finance?
Anne was quiet in her movements. Her voice was always quiet. Brierley could not imagine any man having a row with Anne. But it was borne in upon him that she was ruffled. There was something challenging in her way of standing opposite to him and facing him across the table.
“I want to change some plans. I am not going with you to Government House, Lahore, to-morrow.”
“Why not?” He said to himself, perturbed, “Now what’s up!”
“Because I don’t choose to be trampled on. I don’t like it.”
Brierley thought “This will never do. A secretary is a secretary. I spoil her.” He assumed a serious expression and said: “That sounds great nonsense to me. The Governor of the Punjab and his wife aren’t going to trample on us, are they?”
“Not you. Me.”
Brierley asserted himself: “I’ll guarantee that my secretary is not trampled upon. But where I go, she goes. Naturally. Why do I have a secretary?”
Anne spoke in the most motherly manner, as though she instructed a spoilt boy of tender years. “You could get on all right without me, I’m sure, if only you did not hate writing letters and doing your private accounts. But that is not the point. The point is that Lady Tremayne has treated me in a way I resent, and I won’t lay myself open to the same sort of thing in Lahore.”
The chairman of the Commission felt much aggrieved. He showed it, and pointed out untruthfully to Anne that Lady Tremayne was a kind woman, rather casual, but certainly not intentionally rude.
“I might have taken offence myself, but I have not. One makes oneself ridiculous by taking offence. And I fail to see what the manners of Lady Tremayne in Lucknow have to do with your visit to Lady Thingy-me-gundy in Lahore. Walpole! That’s the name. Walpole. You and I will get along with Lady Walpole like a house on fire!”
Anne indulged in disconcerting mirth. It amused her, she said, to see him pretend that he did not know what she was talking about.
“In plain language, then, Lady Tremayne disapproves of me on account of the gossip about what happened on Christmas Eve. I can’t defend myself because I am not free to assure her that Captain Petworth was not to blame——”
“He was very much to blame!”
“He only lost his temper.”
“Who was to blame, then? I? You?”
“Nobody was to blame.”
Brierley put his foot down. “Let the matter drop. You and I, like two sensible people, will continue to ignore a silly tale and a sillier fuss. Of course you will stick to the programme! Lady Walpole is expecting you. That’s settled.”
“It isn’t,” said an obstinate Anne.
Very coldly Lord Brierley enquired what she proposed to do.
“Swop with Mr. Knocklong,” said Anne inelegantly. “He can go to Government House with you, and Doris Neale and I will stay at the Raj Hotel. Mr. Knocklong has booked a room there. I can go to you every day for work just the same.”
It was not such a bad plan after all! Brierley began to like it. When Anne receded into the background he could more easily ignore the situation that gossip had created.
“I’ll pay the hotel bill,” Anne cried defiantly.
The girl was mad. The pride of a feminine creature once roused becomes fanatical! He had seen that in Helen again and again. Hotel bills were a mere trifle to this enraged creature, with her nest-egg and overdraft, compared to a snub.
“You’ll do no such thing,” said Brierley. “That is part of the business arrangement.”
“No! You prefer that I should go to Government House. I don’t want to have my own way at your expense.”
He was touched, vexed, amused. Of course he would pay, but she must have her high sentiments honoured! She would not compromise there. He appeared to give way, and basely deceived her for her good. Being far above a knowledge of the routine work of the Commission’s existence, he asked her to enlighten his ignorance as to the whereabouts of the other members during their visit to Lahore. She gave him the information, pat. And with a peculiar inflection in her voice said, “The Topleys will be at The Raj too, and Mr. Anderson.”
“Anderson?” He put the lightest emphasis on the name. Obviously the American admired Anne.
But the pent-up anger Anne had felt since Lay told her that Brierley wished she would marry and so disembarrass him of his secretary, exploded at once. “Yes. Mr. Anderson! He wants me to marry him. He keeps on proposing to me every two minutes.”
“Phew! So that’s why you want to go to the Raj——”
She knew he would never believe it. And she was crushed by the miserable impossibility of making her position clear.
There was no doubt that Brierley was impressed. He was exceedingly impressed. Anne’s deplorable budget and Anderson’s millions presented a startling contrast. The girl would be a fool to refuse Anderson! But in spite of that conclusion, to which he jumped without hesitation, there was no crude congratulation in his manner when he spoke to Anne.
“I don’t know much about Anderson, my dear. I know all about his father’s position, of course. And I am inclined to like the young man. I shall try to become better acquainted with him now, for we can’t have you throwing yourself away.”
This was Frank Brierley at his best, charming, considerate. He promoted Anne instantly to a position of importance. In the past he had always been a little sorry for lovely Anne. Genuinely, and carelessly, he respected wealth and position. Anne would have both. The fact that she was not jubilant pleased him; a well-bred girl. He hoped she had no hankerings after Lay, and he was prepared to exert himself to the uttermost to eliminate a sentiment so detrimental to Anne’s future.
Anne, very candid, told Brierley that she was not in love with Anderson.
“It is a long time since I was in love,” Brierley confessed with regret. He spoke flatteringly, as though to an equal in experience, and intimately as to a prized friend. “The deuce of a long time, Anne. Don’t let being in love, or not being in love, cramp your style too much! Love’s intense influence wears off in time, you know. Ask yourself whether you can be happy with Anderson—glad to have him with you, proud of him, pleased by him, able to take an interest in him. Those things last as a rule. He has nice manners. He won’t get on your nerves. And he is not a fool.”
“I’d like to be in love,” Anne said, wistfully.
“Then Anderson must give you that pleasure!” Brierley told her. He seemed to make the whole thing very easy and human and wise. She felt reassured. Brierley showed her the security that lay in being friendly towards a declared lover, friendly towards good fortune. His attitude convinced Anne, disdainful though she was of such discriminations, that the world would be more interested in her as the wife of an American millionaire than as Lord Brierley’s secretary.
She turned to go, and Brierley said quietly that in her shoes he would not hanker after Lay. “A cranky chap! No notion of how to make a woman happy.”
“I know,” said Anne, very soberly.
She sought Anderson, carrying a bulging envelope from Lay in her hand. Anne was hurt that Lay should care so little to adore her and be so brisk to make use of her. She had neither need nor wish to test her influence with Anderson! But Anne could not suffer the knowledge of the disappointment Lay would feel if she did not speed his manuscript to a successful goal. She knew by heart the pain in his eyes and the off-hand manner he would assume; the aching dismay which his mind would analyse and distort, now exaggerating it into a rejection of all his own claims as an author, now discovering in it merely the doom of his temperament. She could not condemn him to such an experience, through which she had many times sustained him.
Anderson’s existence was concentrated now into an anticipation of Anne’s coming into a room. His restlessness during her absence tormented him. His long pale face became deeply serious. Sir Theodore lost interest in him. Anderson had the manner of a man attending a committee meeting; barely human. Nothing crisp, lively, or original fell from his lips. And all the while sheer passionate emotion obsessed Anderson, and he lived only to turn a deaf ear to the world and listen for the sound of Anne’s voice. When she came upon him on the threshold of the staff’s smoking room where Knocklong and Church were comparing the foibles of Brierley and Tremayne, Anderson felt released from unutterable suspense.
“Is Mr. Knocklong there?” asked Anne.
“He is. But I hope you don’t want him.”
“I want you more. Will you do something for me?”
“There’s just nothing I would not do.”
Anne handed him Lay’s envelope. His face fell.
“Lay told me about this article,” Anderson said, after he had pulled out the manuscript and glanced at it. “I’ll write to him about it.”
He pocketed the document and asked Anne if that was all.
“Certainly not! I want you to promise to take it.”
“Well, I’m not an editor,” said cautious Edward Anderson.
Anne threw away all scruples. She thought the article would do good, she said. Walter Lay was a great friend of hers and a brilliant journalist. She repeated a sentence neither clear nor beautiful—“He ought to get on!” a hundred times. If Anderson bothered the editor enough, he would take it! Wouldn’t he? Anderson admitted that possibly he would. Anne implored him to send the article to America and write letters to put Lay in touch with several editors. “Do it now!” she cried.
Anderson stipulated that she should sit beside him. She granted this request.
“Sit where I can see you.”
She sat where he could see her, in the big hall, by an imposing writing table, and Anderson wrote four letters. He showed her the first and she sighed.
“I know about editors, you see,” Anne explained. “And I don’t think it would be really difficult for an editor to write you a civil answer to your letter, and do nothing.”
“You’re perfectly right,” Anderson admitted. He had ceased to be a man of business, of discretion, and of savoir faire. He was Anne’s slave.
The second letter was rewarded by her praise.
“Is it better?” he inquired.
“It is lovely,” said Anne.
He wrote two more and she sat beside him all aglow with the bliss of making Lay’s path smooth. She could enter into a man’s life, see it as something terribly susceptible to joy and woe, and exercise a tremendous energy in an effort to refresh its springs of happiness. At such moments she lived more intensely than at any other time. They were, for her, creative moments.
“Why are you so keen about this?” Anderson asked her anxiously when the pile of letters lay at his elbow, finished.
“I don’t know,” said Anne truthfully.
Anderson threw himself back in his chair and groaned. “If you are in love with Lay I would rather murder him than do him a good turn.”
“I am his friend,” Anne said.
Anderson became eloquent. “For a friend of yours I would do anything in my power. But I don’t want you to regard me as a friend. No, I do not. That’s the wrong side of the door for me. I’m just crazy about you, but I’m not mob mad. It’s no kind of pleasure to me to stand round in a crowd of your friends and cheer you. I want to be your husband, and the rest nowhere.”
Anne leant confidentially towards him. “You are a most satisfactory sort of man. I know exactly what you feel about me, and what you want. You don’t present me with conundrums as to whether we can afford to get married, and you don’t bottle up all your feelings so that I wonder whether you would talk to me about nothing but polo and Indians and soldiering for the rest of my life!” She then sprang to her feet and walked hastily away, leaving Anderson considerably puzzled, but elated.
Lady Tremayne watched her departing guests and noted several surprising developments. The increasing dulness of Anderson for one; his long silences followed by inspired and noble utterances of an exceedingly sentimental nature. The cordiality of Brierley towards him became very marked. And during tea Brierley permitted himself to display an affectionate and admiring manner to Anne that was, Laura suspected, a manifestation of his infatuation for this girl, hitherto artfully concealed. “He knew I would not stand it,” she thought, proud of her repressive strength. Blanche Walpole would stand anything! The superiority of Lucknow to Lahore was clear, therefore, to Laura. She knew that plans were made and remade during the day to the despair of harmless Mr. Knocklong, and she overheard his final instructions to Captain Church that Miss Knightley’s letters were to be forwarded to the Raj Hotel and not to Government House. Instantly Lady Tremayne resented having been forced to entertain Lord Brierley’s pretty secretary. Sir John Walpole was not so detached from scandal as Theodore, evidently! She had known she was right. Why had she given in to Theodore?
Brierley felt quite nervous when Anne slipped forward to bid her hostess farewell. Anderson’s thanks had been effusive and Knocklong’s correct. Lady Tremayne was pleased to be gracious. Brierley, appreciative of the extraordinary efficiency with which the social side of the Commission’s existence in Lucknow had been stage-managed, spoke up very honestly:
“We owe you a debt of gratitude, Lady Tremayne. You have made things easier by a thousand touches. I have learned a very great deal from you about the women’s welfare, and so has Dr. Neale. You have been quite wonderful!”
Her dark face flushed. The tribute to her zeal and influence moved her, brought to her spirit a reinforcement it craved. She gave her hand to this man, whom she disliked, and her frankness made her charming when she said: “Lucknow is a great city! Help our people towards health and happiness and I’ll bless you and the Commission for ever.”
Whereupon Brierley hustled Anne forward with his hand on her shoulder—best get it over quickly and be off. “Hurry up, Anne!”
“Gad! Lady Tremayne is a terror!” he thought as he drove away in the Governor’s big official car with Tremayne’s hearty farewell ringing in his ears. The frozen hostility that came into her face as she turned to Anne was unpardonable. What fantastic nerve-storms women had! He applauded the dignity of Anne. Without a word of thanks she had shaken hands and run down the steps. The Governor made a fuss over her by way of amends. Not the slightest use! Laura Tremayne’s manner scored an ineffaceable criticism.
Sir Theodore stood for a few seconds watching the motors flash down the drive. Nothing had escaped him of the little scene. He would not remonstrate with his wife. A man whose daily life was beset by the highly-strung pride, difficult vanity, secretive temper, fine courtesy, and unscrupulous controversy of the United Provinces, must seek peace in his own home. Laura would go to the stake for an opinion! He could not change her. So he turned towards her now with a smile that dismissed the Commission for ever.’
“Well, that’s over!”
He left it at that.
The Commission, once more on its travels, drew together in its rattling compartments. And Anne was restored to her position of the Commission’s favourite. Brierley led this revival, and Cox-Cox, highly entertained, seconded him. Penwarden held aloof, but Topley made much of Anne. He was flattered that she had decided to come under his wing in the Raj Hotel. His contempt for gossip-mongers who condemned her was profound. When he met those who enjoyed the story against her, he dealt faithfully with them. No member of the Commission won as much respect in Lucknow as Topley. And Mrs. Topley was now, it seemed, an authority on Indian home life. She had stayed with Indians and nobody else in the Commission could match her unique experience. During the morning, before they reached Lahore, she proclaimed her pride and glory. By this time the Commissioners thought nothing of carrying on a conversation in the train at the very top of their voices.
“It was so interesting. It gives one such insight into their real lives!” shouted Mrs. Topley.
Everybody asked questions. “Well,” replied Mrs. Topley, “you see for one thing you really might have been staying with English people, except that they prayed so much. Several times a day Lady Tirath Ram Chand went away to her prayers.” And she took Mrs. Topley into the city by such twisty streets to see a grandson. A funny little dark baby: a darling. Indian women were devoted to children. Sit Tirath Ram Chand was very nice to his wife. He was so polite to her! She was the mother of four children. “The three daughters are married, and it is not true that Indians do not care for daughters. Sir Tirath Ram Chand and his wife are fond of theirs. Photographs of the Viceroy and his wife adorn the drawing-room. They are very loyal. Though Brahmans, they are quite broad-minded. Of course they could only marry Brahmans. They disapprove of the purdah and said caste was breaking down. And Lady Tirath Ram Chand constantly said the Government was too timid about legislating over the age for marriage.” Here Topley interrupted gently to remind his wife that Sir Tirath Ram Chand when pressed by Topley admitted that it would be practically impossible to enforce a drastic law, or obtain evidence of its evasion. Mrs. Topley bowed her head in assent and murmured that Sir Tirath was very fair. Lady Tirath always said that Indians wanted sympathy. And education. Yes, indeed, it had been very interesting!
Doris Neale nodded encouragingly to Mrs. Topley and all the rest listened with attention, though each one had heard the sentiments expressed by the Tirath Ram Chand family proclaimed from the housetops not once but a thousand times.
“What struck you most?” enquired Cox-Cox.
“Her thoughtfulness for us! She was just like an English hostess. The porridge was just like porridge at home. Wasn’t it, Harold?”
Harold said it was.
“You can’t know them unless you stay with them!” Mrs. Topley declared.
The Commission, burdened by much information and no longer eager as excursionists, arrived in Lahore and dispersed to their respective destinations. Called upon to compare Lahore with Lucknow, they paid reckless compliments. Lucknow with its palaces was incomparably more beautiful, but Lahore possessed great dignity. Though it enshrined nothing so sacred to heroism as the ruined Residency in Lucknow, its reputation stood high among the cities of the plain. The Punjabi was a man. At present he was wrapped up to the eyes against the northern cold. Fires burned in every bungalow, stars glittered like ice in the night sky, hounds hunted in the cold mornings, dogs wore little coats after sundown. Anne in the Raj Hotel looked out on wide thoroughfares and saw the work-a-day world that has no intimacy with Government House. She was happier, being by nature a creature who loved the freedom of the highway. She was no longer part of an official routine, and no list of dinners and receptions lay upon her table. Lahore did not know where Miss Knightley was and its hostesses forbore to search for her. For a time Dr. Neale was mistaken for Lord Brierley’s secretary. A certain number of people had known that Lady Walpole expected Miss Knightley in Government House, so when they saw Dr. Neale they identified her with Anne and asserted that she was Anne. Two stories jostled each other in the capital of the Punjab, one relating how respectable and suitable Lord Brierley’s secretary was, and another commenting with an air of suspicion on the sudden disappearance of Miss Knightley! Mr. Penwarden was billeted on the Commissioner of Lahore, Mr. Sidebottam, and found in Mrs. Sidebottam a lady who was horrified by the reputation of the Chairman of the Commission. She dubbed him “one of those middle-aged men who run after girls,” and when she heard that Anne was at an hotel, she burst into her husband’s dressing-room and told him that “the girl is here, quietly in the hotel! I suppose Lord Brierley thinks nobody knows? I call it disgraceful.”
She unburdened herself to the civil surgeon’s wife, who talked aggressively to Cox-Cox, who repeated the conversation to Penwarden. That good soul thought Mrs. Sidebottam the nicest woman in India. She never mentioned Lord Brierley, or Anne Knightley, to him, and she was stout, twinkling and happy. She laughed at all his jokes. It grieved him greatly that she believed the scandal, and that she believed it inspired him to say deep things to himself about smoke being evidence of a fire. But Anne was withdrawn from society. She was out of earshot and no longer conspicuous. And she approached through her imagination a far greater manifestation of society than any mere capital can display. The English people pressed upon Anne’s consciousness and spoke to her through all the ways of life she knew, through memory, association, tradition, and in the immediate voices pronouncing English commonplaces in the Raj Hotel. In this dear company Anne Knightley was begged again and again by Anderson to become an American.
She found it extremely easy to refuse the bribe of America. She had endorsed her statements of accounts with the certificate that her financial position was all right, and she accepted the British Empire as all right for Anne Knightley. She would not dream of exchanging it for the United States of America. It seemed to her preposterous that she could not avoid becoming an American citizen if she married Edward Anderson. She liked him for being so proud of his great country, but she was reluctant to marry an American. She told him so and he became terribly worked up about it. He practically went over the whole of the history of the severance of the United States from England, he expounded the constitution of the United States, he described the scenery round his home, the climate of California, the polo club to which he belonged, and his mother’s drawing-room in New York. At the end he was staggered to find Anne still quite English. He told her about the Joshua Reynolds his uncle had bought, ably criticised President Wilson, mentioned a few of his experiences in the war, referred affectionately to the League of Nations, praised as bonds blood ties, repayment of debts, language, literature, presentations at Court, and flights across the Atlantic. Yet Anne was very English, even insular, when quite out of breath he paused.
“Well, I’m not an Englishman, and that’s a fact!” he exclaimed in despair. “But if you begin to love me, Anne, it won’t matter a cent.”
Anderson no longer demonstrated interest in India. A man who talked to him in the hotel lounge about the rural illiterate population of the Punjab drew from him the drawl, “I’d just about hate to spend my life among that hayseed!” and thought Anderson a poor specimen of a Yankee townsman. Anderson lived only in one long exhausting desire to break down Anne’s indifference to him. It was tragic to see him present himself at breakfast, dressed with exquisite care, but haggard, despairing.
Anne knew that the moment had come for a final decision one day when she returned from her work at Government House and found him looking years older than when she had left him that morning.
“I must see you, now, at once!” he said. “Come somewhere that we can talk.”
His need was imperative and Anne agreed gently. There was no suggestion of tea, or a cocktail, and Anderson did not go off to fetch his car. These things were no more to him or to her than to any peasant. He walked straight out of the hotel into the dust and the angry evening light, she following. Without discussion Anderson headed for the Lawrence Gardens where great shadows hastened over the grass and dark students loitered, book in hand. They cast no friendly glances at the pair who walked quickly. Anne felt the hour tarnished by those catlike glances. And the emotional tensity of a Punjab sunset made her nerves quiver. She entered into everything she saw. The shining water in a little channel which skirted a lawn. The sweep of a hundred drooping palm-leaves, bowing from a line of pots. An aeroplane flying home. She was scarcely more responsive to Edward Anderson than to the wonderful things she saw, and could see every day since they were not strange or odd things. But Edward Anderson was demanding, with extreme urgency, a response from her which would transcend any she made to an indifferent, beautiful world.
“Anne!” he was saying. “Anne! Will you be my wife?”
Walter Lay made himself at home in one room in Rawalpindi. He saw little of the great cantonment, did not enter the city, and never walked as far as the civil lines. Four whitewashed walls, a compact room, a fire which his bearer tended by squatting in front of it and blowing hard, the little courtyards of the Northern Hotel: that sufficed him. He was like a snail in its shell. Lay consumed cigarettes recklessly, lounged about, went for solitary walks up and down the Mall which ran past the hotel dining-room and office. He spent wonderful hours writing. His creative mood was upon him and he lived in his work. Scribes in the city, the staff of the Northern Command, babus in the Military Accounts office, clerks in the banks, knew nothing of the joyous activity of Lay’s pen. It gave him contact with the outside world he so blindly avoided, and subdued to his manipulating touch the powers and glories of governments, armed forces, clans, provinces. It was wild fun. His visualization of men and land was constant. He saw at his desire, and interest never failed him. With the direct pursuit of a hunter he tracked his way through thronging irrelevancies, seductive inconsistencies, to the point he sought. A point which might be a weakness disclosed, or a policy interpreted, a tendency ridiculed or an ideal exalted, but never failed to be for him at the moment of writing the most important thing in the world. He was immune from the necessity of giving news, and free from the burden of imparting information. The desire of the British Empire to receive news or information about the District of Rawalpindi with a population as large as that of Ireland, was non-existent. Lay never so much as mentioned the paltry place. He was monarch of much more than he surveyed.
Anne’s telegram had stimulated him to this rapturous activity. It said: “Anderson has taken tour article. Writing.” No more than that was required to set Lay to work. His was a virile performance, the result of much training. Without hero-worship, religious bias, and political passion, he conjured forth from his quick mind a stark attack, or a suggestive exaltation of an idea. Lay had the gift of inspiring his work with his whole personality, and that was not just the brilliant egotist, not merely the untidy, wayward, affectionate, spiteful Walter his friends knew, but an artist, and a man with knowledge and a reverence for intellect. While the pressure of his hour was upon him he went all the way to the horizon where his own limitations arrested him. Lay struggled, happy as a wrestler, till his unyielding limitations imposed exhaustion. He woke one morning without the smallest desire to write. There was no magic for him in the words at his command. The world he did not behold with his deep troubled eyes had become vague. He had no mind of his own.
It was then that he ceased to be at home in the Northern Hotel, which became to him on the instant an unfamiliar and obtrusive place, designed to weary him. He hated the sight of his luggage and wondered if he had a clean shirt to put on. During the preceding days his bearer had introduced at intervals a washerman who offered him a pile of letters to read. These interruptions had goaded Lay to rage. He shouted ferociously and at last threw the packet of letters into the waste-paper basket from which the bearer collected them, saying that it was unjust to treat the chits of excellent washermen thus. The washerman slowly counted his certificates and departed. Well, it was all very annoying. Lay conceived a prejudice against Rawalpindi. The only library was in the Club on the opposite side of the Mall, and he was not a member. No English newspaper was published nearer than Lahore. Rawalpindi, like Walter Lay, had its limitations! But it had become the only entertainment available. Lay went to breakfast and began to notice the people at other tables: officers and their wives. They were good-humoured, friendly, and resigned, and this made him peevish. Some called out to each other from table to table, or read the Civil and Military Gazette. Married couples kept up a continuous murmur to each other. Many of the men wore uniform. Aware that somebody might bid him good-morning with the best of intentions, Lay fled. On the verandah the cold air seemed to invite high spirits, the sunshine sparkled. An ayah walked by, holding a fair child’s little hand. Nobody in the world walks quite like an ayah. Several officers started off on motor bicycles, making an intolerable explosion of noise. A man mounted a pony and rode away with fox terriers yapping at the pony’s heels. Lay asked whether there were any letters for him. None, replied the spectacled babu. Why did not Anne write to him?
Suddenly Anne’s influence descended upon him. He wanted her. If she were with him he would not be bored. He would read to her all that he had written. Nobody else in the whole universe wished to hear Lay read aloud his own articles. Until they found their way into print they were utterly ignored. Even when published thousands of eyes would skip them, drawn to the advertisement of spring fashions for slim figures. Lay went for a walk in order to escape from Anne. The Army in India blew its bugles to him. As in Delhi, Lucknow, and Lahore so here, three communities dwelt side by side: Indian citizens, the army, and the local administration. The military organization was conspicuous and complete: in its barracks and messes, schools, hospitals, prisons, parade grounds, and playgrounds, it went its own way. Lay met its transport on every road, heard its voice coming sharp from the rifle range. It possessed a life held in common by many races, and by men of all classes between the ages of seventeen and fifty-five. They took a pride in it. Lay stood outside its comradeship and marvelled at its fascination for the chosen few. A soldier was the last man on earth with whom he would change places. And yet before he returned to the hotel he had lost his aloofness from soldiers. Their movements were well worth watching. Their faces, their well-set-up bodies, made an impression. Whether they marched, rode or drove, they appeared to be without anxiety or indifference. He had never seen men less scarred by worry. What sustained them? Friendship, discipline, sentiment? They brought back to him the shattering horror of the war, and then, quietly as men carry the harvest home, seemed to bear its burden away on their young shoulders. Some, it seemed, loved the army, loved their regiments! He had never felt the strength of that attachment; never. Did it develop in cantonments such as this, through endless routine, and the care of rifle and gun and horse and mule? Patient men became lovers of familiar things. It was of such stuff that family life was made. Lay’s temperament would never endure the recruit, the nursery! He would go mad in a mess. He must have intellectual excitement.
Later the snows of the Himalayas hung faint in the sky and Lay sat smoking in his little room. Polo and football and hockey ceased when twilight fell. Aeroplanes left the sky and presently birds folded their wings. Lights blazed out on the Mall and hundreds of motors were parked outside the club. A military band struck up a two-step and people began to dance there. Lay was by himself and it was poor fun. As though in revenge for his disregard of the spell of athletics, and the rhythm of a dance, and the regulated emotions of companionship, a dark passion sprang up in him and racked him.
When he went to dinner the morning’s placid company was all about him again. None who saw him bending with round shoulders to read the menu could have guessed how beset he had been in body and mind. Restless, unsatisfied! He thought the food uneatable, ate sparingly, and ordered some wine. All the colour and light in the room mocked his senses. There was no pleasure for him in Rawalpindi. He was a young man and athirst for pleasure to-night. With every nerve aflame he sat apart, his eyes fixed without intention upon an empty table opposite his own. The Goanese head waiter, all smiles, went over to the table and moved about the knives and forks as if he were preparing a feast for the gods, and up walked Gerald Petworth and sat down to his dinner.
Gerald Petworth presented on that occasion a remarkable appearance. His splendid shoulders held his black dinner jacket against the white pillar behind him at an angle which attracted any discriminating eye. His head moved about with a free swing good to watch. He was quick in returning salutations that greeted him from every corner of the room. Then he unfolded his table napkin and looked for a smaller spoon than that placed beside his soup plate. The head waiter with an exclamation sprang to supply his need. Only a very small spoon could enter the mouth of Gerald Petworth, for the right side of his face was swollen to a degree that stretched the face of every beholder into the broadest of grins. Yet the shy subaltern was not embarrassed by the mirth he excited.
“Pretty good show, isn’t it?” he observed with some complacency to a friend who addressed a personal remark to him from a neighbouring table. “It nearly killed the subadar major when he saw it yesterday, and the colonel was quite overcome too. It’s worth ten days’ leave. I arrived from Peshawar this morning and took it to the dentist and he says he can’t do anything till it’s shrunk a bit. Best face I’ve ever had.”
Lay’s mood changed again owing to the presence of Petworth. He was no longer tormented, for in Petworth he could find appropriate distraction. He tried to catch his eye and at last succeeded. Lay was so eager for that encounter that it took him aback when Petworth seemed less than thunderstruck. Not that Petworth’s face was capable of any human expression. Lay then became nervous lest some woman should extend an invitation to Petworth. All the married people had sitting-rooms and were hospitable. This ghoulish thought so beset Lay that he got up and went over to Petworth’s table. Impossible to know whether Petworth welcomed this move. There was no reason why he should, of course! It gratified Lay to think that people would realize now that he was not a nonentity in their silly little world.
“I have something to tell you,” said Lay. “Come over to my room when you’ve finished.”
“Right,” said Petworth.
“I’m number forty-seven,” Lay told him, and he went out into the pattern of light and darkness in the compound, where every door that opened, and curtain that was drawn, pushed objects back into invisibility or betrayed them to the moon.
Lay stood with his back to the fire waiting for Petworth. He meant to tell him about Anderson. If he had not promised to tell him something, Petworth would have made an excuse and stayed away. Alone, Lay would have been a prey to the furies he wished to exorcise. Suspense hunted him from extreme relief to extreme dread, till he heard Petworth turn the handle of his door and ask: “Your room, Lay?”
Lay welcomed him and gave him the one armchair and offered him smokes and drinks. Petworth wanted nothing but his pipe. Lay sat on the bed and asked him with compunction, if he was in pain. To pain Lay was very pitiful.
“Not now, thanks. Well, what’s the news?”
Lay temporized. “As regards the Commission? They did not have a pleasant time in Lucknow. Your Lady Tremayne put the fear of hell into them for one thing.”
“I bet she did!” Petworth said in appreciative tones.
“And the story about your row with Brierley blackened their characters to any extent.”
Petworth growled something about being sorry to hear that. He seemed regretful and asked a few questions. But he was philosophical and remarked without resentment that he had not put his own stock up either. “Not with the Colonel.”
Even when the grotesqueness of his face cancelled the impression his sheer handsomeness was wont to make, there was something uncommonly decent about Petworth, Lay admitted. He began to see why Anne was drawn to him. But Petworth must not be allowed to deflect Anne from the course good fortune indicated. Anne was bound for New York, whither Lay would follow her to a tangible success.
“Did you know that an American, called Anderson was going to stay with the Tremaynes?”
“Son of a millionaire! His father owns the Anderson newspapers. Tall chap with a long nose. He fell for Anne at once.”
Lay saw that Petworth braced himself to receive this news. Because of his gross disfigurement his face was without dignity. But his voice, his body, his hands were unhumbled. A browbeaten clown and a soldier in love were one and the same man in that armchair when Lay, half malicious, half sorry, told him that Anne Knightley was going to marry Anderson.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. It is not settled, mind you. But he has proposed and she as good as told me she meant to accept him.”
“But she is not engaged to him to-day?”
“I don’t know. She was not engaged last week when I left Lucknow. She has not written since. But of course she’ll take him! She’d be a fool not to.”
Lay was uncertain that Petworth agreed with him. Not that Lay was disposed to place much value on Petworth’s opinion. Yet he felt increasingly uneasy in the presence of this man who was so at home in conditions Lay resented as foreign to his own habit of mind. It struck Lay now that Petworth was made for a simple life, that he was steeped in its humours. So he began to describe Anne’s needs in terms that burst through simplicity as though it were a pod. He painted gay luxury in extravagant terms. As a youth he had gone through a phase of finding pleasure in places where feminine charms are paraded, he had sought elusive fun in London when on leave from France, and had been glad that precarious life should glitter. His picture of Anne as a rich woman was not intrinsically different from these gaudy memories.
“I thought you were in love with her, too,” said Petworth at last.
“So I am!”
Lay jerked it out. From what other source had he fed the flame of his creative impulse? His manuscripts in the despatch box, his wretched restlessness, his fantastic hankerings after the bizarre night life of London, his dread that Petworth would go thundering out of the room and leave him to his own devices, empty and burnt out and beset—all Anne!
“You don’t know much about her,” Petworth told him, cancelling Lay’s descriptions.
“I know her a good deal better than you do, my lad!” Lay asserted emphatically.
Petworth drew in his long legs as though he meant to depart and Lay hastily conciliated him.
“Don’t go yet, hang it! We might as well stay and console each other. I’m as hard hit as you are.”
Relaxing into the attitude which suggested that he had been felled or stunned, Petworth gave a mirthless chuckle. “All right. I’ll stay. But talk of something else.”
It was impossible to Lay to talk of anything else. His jaw dropped with horror. What repression Petworth demanded as a matter of course!
Sprawling on his bed Lay exclaimed:
“I suppose no two men on earth have less in common than you and I. We are together here because of Anne Knightley.”
He went on to talk of women and women only. He did not speak crudely, and while he talked he had Anne on his nerves. Petworth gave himself up to the conversation in hopes of distraction. He was occasionally amused and once or twice surprised.
“Really?” he would say. “Did that actually happen?”
It was borne in on Lay that Petworth had character. The poor devil set himself to resist dismay with patient resolution. There was no acquiescence in him, and Lay felt himself opposed, without dispute, in the essential matter of Anne’s marriage, Anne’s personality, while Petworth listened to his talk of other things.
When Petworth said at last that he must turn in, Lay did not again seek to detain him. “I’ve had enough of him,” he thought.
Petworth knocked out the ashes of his pipe into the grate. “I can’t get over the American’s luck,” he muttered. “Imagine having Anne in love with one!”
This was too much for Lay’s vanity. His face softened into a whimsical, swift smile. “She’s not in love with him. As a matter of fact, if Anne cares for anybody, she cares for me.”
All the sharp outlines of the future softened for Lay at that boast. Nothing was finally relinquished!
“Really? That’s funny news,” was Petworth’s disconcerting comment.
He bade Lay good-night with a sturdy civility and shut the door behind him too quietly to rouse any sleeper. A few minutes later Lay crashed his bathroom door with a bang that was followed by the wail of a child. He could not control his irritability, and made no effort to do so.
A letter from Anne was handed to Lay next morning. Nothing could have alarmed him more. He had spent nights and days adjusting himself to a future in which Anne was Anderson’s wife, yet it was in Anne’s power to create a situation for which he was quite unprepared. The injustice of this disgusted him. He saw nothing in the whole world but Anne’s terrifying letter. Everything of interest to him was concentrated into the words which that tormenting creature had written. They were amazing words. She had refused Anderson!
Lay felt that Anne had done this because possessively, selfishly, and thoughtlessly she would have him instead of Anderson. She was cruel and adorable! Well, she’d done it now—left them both stranded, sickened by sentiment and folly, and weakened by straitened means. She had fairly done it! And in her letter she deplored the rashness of desperate Anderson, who had booked a passage by air to Cairo. Ridiculous nonsense. Lay turned the startling page with a sense of repudiating all her romantic nonsense.
His severity softened under Anne’s next touch with her nimble pen. She told him of Anderson’s introductions to powerful editors. His letters were safely posted, and on their way to New York. The news lifted Lay’s manuscripts out of waste-paper baskets and landed them on editors’ writing tables, supremely blessed. Anne assured Lay that Anderson had promised to help him in future. This changed everything!
Lay bolted out of the hotel with Anne’s amazing letter in his pocket where it worked wonders like radium. He was observant of nothing around him. Once or twice some vivid point of colour took him out of himself. Only beauty did that. Nearly all the time he was shut in with himself, and summoned Anderson and Anne to serve his purpose. Thank heaven, thought Lay, Anne was not a sophisticated little vamp! Nor did she challenge him from behind the frontier line of some learned profession. It was useless to struggle any more. She was his fate. He could not go through the wrack and ruin of yesterday again! He had no desire or impulse to squander anything he possessed—money, leisure, force—upon women. But he dreaded the loneliness of growing old without a woman beside him. Anne was generous, tender, bountiful. And the thought of her beauty shook him. Lay was accustomed to his own inconstancy of mood, his irresolute will; he wasted no time in trying to reconcile his present determination to marry Anne with his previous decision not to do so. He had changed his mind: so be it! And this change of mind filled him with exhilaration. The uncongenial, vexing crowd of men and women ceased to trouble him. Every barrier between himself and Anne vanished, and he planned the immediate future with delight.
He would go straight to Lahore. Thence, engaged to Anne, he would hurry across the Pacific Ocean to the United States. The expense of taking a wife with him was prohibitive. Their marriage would take place later in London. A man could count on the steadfastness of Anne. Lay’s admiration for her was immense, for she had used her ascendancy over Anderson to perfection. How many women would have flung card after card away, sheer bungling! Anne had worked slowly and wisely for him. She had established and consolidated his position with the Anderson press by the grace of her personal genius.
Lay wasted no gratitude on Anderson, who did not like him. The American wanted to retain Anne’s friendship, that was all! And Lay began to count on Anderson’s sentimentality. Anne would continue to be useful to him with the Anderson press, since obviously she could make Edward Anderson do anything she pleased.
Once Lay’s fears were allayed, his vanity gave him a happy security. His self-confidence shouted with glee. Even Anderson’s millions had proved powerless to efface the impression made on Anne by Lay! Brierley’s smug position had been undermined, broken up, and damaged by the most superficial relations with Anne. Petworth had lost his head and his heart, and all for nought. Whereas he, Lay, had scored all along the line. His sense of personal victory was tremendous and complete.
Some calculations and adjustments had to be made. He was quick and adroit in such matters. On no account would he tell Petworth what had happened to Anderson. He did not want Petworth to interfere and divert Anne into the meandering path of incomprehensible kindnesses and delicate compassions. Lay must have a monopoly of Anne during the four remaining days that the Commission would spend in Lahore. It was a good thing that his reference to Brierley’s indiscretion could not be published in the Weekly Critic until after Lay had departed from India in peace. Though the article was unsigned, he flattered himself that his style was pretty unmistakable. It alarmed him to think what Anne would feel about that article. But he repudiated any idea of being obliged to submit to her censorship. When he thought of her as his wife, he desired her intellectual companionship less than he wanted her youth, her loveliness, and her kindness. With immense energy he planned the articles on India that he would write while voyaging to America, and he composed several vague letters which would create in his critical acquaintances in Fleet Street an impression that New York was waiting impatiently for Walter Lay.
Lay, lover and writer, now saw himself as happy. He had seldom experienced happiness. Irritability, egotism, and a greed for prizes had made him very miserable. Since he would not exercise self-mastery, nor discipline himself into consideration for others, he relied for peace upon the sympathetic, the self-controlled, and the generous. He demanded the best of everything. In a selfish and slipshod world he suffered many intolerable wrongs! But to-day he felt gentle and content. His imagination knew delight, and he was sustained by a sense of productiveness. Lay was confident now as to his output; nothing therefore was lacking to him. Yet he looked a dusty, insignificant little man when he turned in at the hotel gate and confronted once more the whole commonplace picture: biscuit-coloured drive, low whitewashed buildings, green wooden tubs holding palms, all shining and shimmering under a turquoise sky. He loathed the place which contrived to house and feed a number of people to whom sport, games, and the army were all-important.
Lay tried to avoid Petworth whom he saw engaged in helping a man to mend a motor cycle. Two energetic backs were bent over the motor and Petworth lifted his arm to wipe the sweat from his forehead. Bedlam was as congenial to Lay as the inside of a motor. He thought Petworth a good-natured creature, childishly employed. Petworth caught sight of Lay after he had passed, and hailed him with a shout. Lay pretended not to hear and scuttled off to his room, but Petworth came striding after him.
Cornered, Lay watched Petworth approach. He was very conscious of Anne’s letter, lying snug in his pocket. “I want you,” said Petworth.
Lay permitted himself a broad smile which had direct reference to Petworth’s face. An answering grin distorted Petworth’s countenance into sheer comedy. The dejection which had so exhausted his big frame had left him. A light-hearted young chap, thought jaded Lay.
“I have had a letter from Knocklong,” said Petworth. “And he says Anderson has left for Karachi. Anne has turned him down.”
Knocklong! That prolific letter-writer! Lay felt he might have known that some infernal busybody such as Knocklong would convey the news to Petworth, a friendly man.
“I know,” said Lay slowly, watching him. “I heard from Anne.”
If this took Petworth aback he did not show it.
“Great! Isn’t it? You were nearly the death of me with that tale of yours yesterday.”
Lay did not like this turn of events. While he walked along the level brown roads he had created certainties, and here was Petworth taking it upon himself to interpret events after a fashion of his own. Lay was rather relieved that Petworth could not guess that he had intended to be silent about Anne’s letter.
“Sorry,” said Lay. “I feel pretty lucky myself, about this.”
“Yes, well—I am going to Lahore by the evening train, Lay. I thought I’d just let you know.”
Straight as a die! Lay unwillingly admitted it.
He said gently and very charmingly:
“I don’t think you’ll do any good by that, old man.”
“Probably not, but I’ll satisfy myself.”
Lay turned away. “Right-o. Good luck!”
After they had parted anger began to rack Lay. He knew that Petworth did not like him. In Lahore he would have Petworth against him, openly and strenuously, in an avowed rivalry. And since imagination illuminates, but does not convince, the mind Lay’s self-created security, his pictured supremacy over Anne’s emotions, now appeared to him as simply not true. His only hopes were, therefore, false hopes, and he walked up and down his little room disillusioned, anxious, horribly depressed. Gradually he was roused to a great energy of attack. Nothing in life was now so urgent as the need to reach Anne and convince her that she must marry him, not Petworth. If she married Petworth she would be utterly lost to Lay—an unprofitable servant.
He repeated those words like an incantation over and over again—“unprofitable servant, unprofitable servant!” Infidelity and disloyalty were implied, and surely Anne would not so fail him? She had made herself necessary to him! He tried to picture life with nothing to sustain him but Anderson’s letters to a pack of editors, while Anne robbed him of every self-indulgent dream, and stole all the honey in life to give to Petworth.
Lay sent for his bearer and bade him pack. There was a long, dire complication over the washerman who now had half Lay’s wardrobe in some remote hovel. The bearer left Lay’s suitcases in disarray in the middle of the room and departed to deal with the washerman. Lay paid his hotel bill and tipped grudgingly. He had a grudge against the world. Tips! None did Lay a gratuitous favour.
After tea, to Lay’s disgust, Petworth asked if he might come in. Lay kicked the suitcases under the bed and bade him enter. He did so, followed by a huge Punjabi dressed in tweed, well made by a European tailor. His enormous dark blue and gold turban had a gallant twist to it, and so had his black moustache.
“May I bring in Subadar Sultan Khan?” asked Petworth. “I think you can help him over something he is very keen about.”
In the most matter-of-fact way the two officers took possession of Lay and his room. Insufferable! Help the fellow? There was nothing of the Young Men’s Christian Association about Lay, and yet what was he to do? They were there, over twelve feet of them, so he gave them chairs, sat on the bed, and wondered how Petworth would account for a sponge-bag, one bedroom slipper, and a cheque-book lying in the middle of the room. It was a long time before the subadar, who spoke English, could be persuaded to allow Lay to sit on the bed instead of a chair. The niceties of etiquette disposed of, the Punjabi spent hours praising the kindness of Petworth sahib in helping him when the sahib’s face was so out of order. Lay, self-centred now to the point when enforced contact with the interests of other men was a hair-shirt to him, thought Petworth quite mad to mend motors and take subadars to pay calls. He asked, not too civilly, what the Indian wanted.
The giant was sensitive, and Lay’s tone destroyed his ease. He turned his brown eyes to Petworth in appeal.
“Subadar Sultan Khan wants to write a book,” Petworth announced.
Lay showed an amused surprise, not encouraging. “Then why doesn’t he write it?”
“Well, he probably will, only he does not know how to get it published.”
“He’s not the only author in that predicament.”
Petworth explained that the subadar’s brother was in his regiment, therefore the subadar, who was employed in the Grass Farm department, had come to him for advice. This seemed a natural claim, bound to be duly honoured. But as Petworth knew nothing of literary matters, he had promptly brought Sultan Khan to Lay.
“What a pair!” thought Lay. A pair inconceivably remote from Salisbury Square and Fetter Lane and Shoe Lane and Bouverie Street!
“I am an educated man, sahib,” said Sultan Khan in a deep bellow. “And I wish to write a history of my village in the great war.”
“It would be very interesting. He comes from the Salt Range,” said Petworth.
Sultan Khan towered up and handed Lay a manuscript written on thin paper with ruled lines. Lay with a wry expression glanced through this rough draft. It contained about forty-five thousand words, which he told them was an impossible length. Sultan Khan’s face fell. Lay thought it the most hopeless production he had ever seen. Its language was that of a notebook, conscientiously precise. There were many statistics and dates, rolls of honour, honour lists. Laudatory mention was made of various district officials. The history of the clan was given and each page reiterated loyal sentiments in conventional terms.
“I would dedicate it with your permission to you and to Petworth sahib,” said the eager subadar.
“I don’t know anybody who would take it,” said Lay quite definitely, and handed the precious manuscript back to Subadar Sultan Khan with an unmistakable air of refusal.
“It is not all right, sahib?”
“It won’t find an English editor, or publisher. I may be wrong. But that’s my opinion.”
The subadar took the blow with dignity. Heaven knows what proud hopes were dashed, what castle in the air fell, but his brown tapering hand replaced the manuscript in his breast pocket and he rose and saluted.
“I do not wish to trouble you, sahib.”
Petworth rose too, reluctantly. Sultan Khan shot a wistful look at him.
“Can you give him any advice, Lay?”
“Nothing he could take, I’m afraid,” said Lay rather impatiently. “Why doesn’t he try a vernacular newspaper?”
It was plain this sahib understood nothing about his India! In fatherly tones, benevolent in spite of his gaunt brow-beating look, the subadar explained that he belonged to the army and had written what he had written for the honour of his village.
Petworth slapped him on the shoulder and said:
“Come on, subadar sahib! We are not intelligentsia, you and I. You have done good work in writing that record of your own people.”
He put heart into the trustful subadar and he apologized for having bothered Lay.
“Good-bye,” said Lay.
“O—good-bye,” said Petworth.
It struck Lay there there was an article to be written about the subadar’s literary ambition.
The platform of Rawalpindi station was crowded, but there was no sign of any other European traveller. Lay was particularly anxious to avoid meeting Petworth. It would be awkward to have to explain to him why he had not mentioned his own intention to travel to Lahore at once. In an affair of this kind Lay was prepared to take infinite trouble. He ascertained that there were two first-class compartments, and he had his luggage weighed and labelled. Then he retreated to the waiting room and, peeping out, kept watch for the arrival of Petworth. He had no conception how harassing all his strange little manoeuvres were to his perplexed servant. Petworth arrived and stood by the station-master, exchanging a few words. The train roared in. Petworth was greeted by some man who put his head out of the first compartment. It amazed Lay to see Petworth join him at once. The idea of travelling all night with any human being was most disagreeable. Lay, in a great fuss, began dodging about and giving orders to his servant. Finally he decided he did not mind if Petworth caught sight of him now. Petworth could not make him feel awkward in the isolation of the next compartment. After seeing his suitcases into it Lay tipped an official to keep the compartment for him and dashed off to buy an illustrated paper. Later a whistle blew and Lay hastily returned as the train began to move. A dozen loud and confusing voices shouted a warning. Disregarding them he pushed open the door and sprang in.
Two Indian ladies, an old servant, five children, a cage containing a tame partridge and innumerable packages filled the compartment from end to end! And it was too late to retreat. The train roared out of Rawalpindi station into the night.
“Allah!” cried the elder lady.
The younger was too overwhelmed to say a word. Both women were wearing burkhas which were rolled up leaving their comely northern features exposed to Lay’s agitated eyes. They instantly smothered themselves in their burkhas so that Lay was confronted by two formless tents of white cotton with eye-holes and no more expression than bedspreads.
“Allah! Allah! Allah!” raucously prayed the lady.
The servant gabbled. The unrevealing bundles talked hard and swayed about. One little girl, with a waxen lovely face and a drizzling cold, screamed without pause. An infant in arms, concealed beneath the voluminous folds of his young mother’s burkha set up a feeble wail and moved convulsively.
“I’m very sorry,” said Lay, much enfeebled and breaking into a gentle sweat. “I am exceedingly sorry, but there has been some mistake. This is my compartment.”
The elder lady ejaculated in Urdu, “Alas! alas! my God! He speaks nothing but English. What to do?”
“This is hell,” said Lay to himself. “Simply hell.”
For all he knew he might be hours in the swaying rattling littered compartment with this overwhelming harem!
He dived down to rummage for his suitcases, intending to prove by their presence his prior claims and the innocence of his intrusion, but the ferocity of his expression persuaded the woman with the baby that he was intent on robbery with violence and she fled to the lavatory door. Her blind movements upset the bird-cage and a basket containing milk and soda-water bottles. All the frightened children howled in chorus.
“This man is a very bad character. May evil befall him!” cried the old servant, and cursed Lay very thoroughly.
Lay sat down on the seat opposite the agitated matron, whose concealment behind eye-holes had a most malignant air. Soiled streams of milk and soda wound about the dirty floor of the carriage and approached Lay’s feet. He withdrew them daintily and tucked them up on the seat. This unpleasant family’s shoes were strewn in every direction. A small cross boy with khol-stained eyes, and dressed in a gold embroidered blue velvet coat, flung himself bravely upon Lay and bit his leg.
“Hi!” shouted Lay. “Don’t do that!”
The old servant flew up like a distracted hen from the floor where she squatted, and seized the boy, and bore him out of harm’s way to the end of the compartment.
“Do not anger this man, Abdur Rahman!” cried his mother. “He will cut all our throats. Never did I see so evil a man. He is undoubtedly from Russia.”
“He won’t cut my throat,” shrilled small Abdur Rahman. “But he has sat on my sweatmeat and I shall kill him!”
Lay tried a wan and propitiating smile. The effect was disastrous.
“He shows no respect!” The words came like a moan from the matron, and she swept to her daughter-in-law and pushed her into the lavatory. She then stood on guard; an exceedingly active and dignified figure.
“If I move now it will be perfectly fatal,” thought Lay, who had not misinterpreted these manoeuvres.
The next moment he not only moved but did so violently. The train stopped with a jerk and every coupling banged, one after the other. The tent-like erection staggered, but leaped nimbly towards the door which opened on to a dim platform. Lay, his character and comfort at stake, jostled her without scruple and won to safety beneath the lights of Mandra junction. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the puckered face of his anxious servant as he swung down from the servants’ compartment. An Indian gentleman, leaping out of Petworth’s carriage, collided with Lay and tore on to the open door where his mother stood. She summoned him with extreme urgency.
Lay, breathless and more self-conscious than he had ever been in his life, was deposited by the train, which abruptly started, upon the edge of the seat where Petworth sat up in his comfortably arranged bedding and sobbed. Another man grinned from the opposite seat.
“Lay! O lord, you’ll be the death of me, Lay!” Petworth cried, mopping his eyes. “I always thought you a funny chap, but this beats anything.”
“Very funny,” snapped Lay with bitter gravity. “Very funny indeed.”
“I saw you,” Petworth gasped. “I saw you, I tell you, dodging about like a rabbit. As if I did not know you were sneaking off to Lahore! You and your sponge-bag. You tipped the wrong man but he did his best, till the station-master whipped on a Ladies Carriage label. I asked him to. No reason why you should be allowed to be unsociable, and there’s a third berth here when you let it down. I was arguing with him—Petworth indicated the other man, who was silent, and intensely appreciative—“about that, when an Indian from the city turned up with his family, and in they got. I shall never forget it.”
“No more shall I,” said Lay with fury. “Those children ought to be murdered. They have less training in decency than weasels!”
Petworth chanted aloud like a man sticking to a narrative worthy of his dying breath: “Your servant did his damndest for you. He can’t do much hereabouts, being low caste and from down country, but he did his best. I heard him praying for you. I reassured the lady’s husband, a good fellow! But when the hubbub began I thought I’d die. He’ll stay with the women now. I advised him to. We knew it was a short run to Mandra.” He gave a final gurgle and said faintly: “Lay, there’s half a pound of sweetmeats sticking to the seat of your trousers!”
Lay clapped his hand to the remains of Abdur Rahman’s sweets and swore.
“You’re a humorous and observant man, aren’t you, Petworth?” he snarled.
“I am,” said Petworth. “You’re crafty.”
“I imagined——” began Lay.
“All hot air!”
Thus Petworth summed up Lay’s plans, opinions and explanations. Then he turned his back and went to sleep.
Lay and Petworth drove in separate tongas through the serene beauty of an early morning in Lahore. Mists vanished when the hard-hitting sun rolled up above the rim of the dark earth. Men unwrapped their noses and mouths to sniff the fragrant air. Nothing complicated met the eye. The fort, temples, mosques were straightforward, simple landmarks; no threat of change beset them. Spacious and splendid, Lahore roused itself very tranquilly from sleep. It was in no hurry. But it would have understood the urgency with which the rival lovers rattled along its broad roads, rejecting the peace that is inspired by contemplation of quiet things. The two sahibs sought something for themselves; the desire and the tumult were within them. So the fig trees’ shade that spread so slowly, and the distending petals of the budding almond blossom, were not for their eyes to-day. They were perturbed by plans, though intrigue was not their waywardness.
That a man should arrange his own marriage was to search for passion with anxiety, and seek adventure where the wise look for security; it was to choose that which artfully disarms criticism, and strike a legal bargain from the fires of the blood. But such was the matchless folly of the English, whose bent it was to exercise their will in all things!
Lay and Petworth arrived almost at the same second at the Raj Hotel, where the intricacies of organization contrasted sharply with the calm matins of all the leafy gardens. They were instantly informed that a polo tournament had filled Lahore to overflowing and there was no room disengaged.
“You will have to share rooms with other gentlemen. There is no help for it to-day. I do everything possible, but there is nothing to do!” the Eurasian clerk said brightly.
“India is the most God-forsaken hole in the universe,” Lay declared. “I won’t share a room with anyone. I’ll see the manager.”
Petworth told the booking clerk to send his things to a Captain Jenner’s room. “He knows me, so that’s all right.” Then Petworth disappeared without a glance or word to Lay.
Petworth’s silence was tantamount to a declaration of war. Lay must look out for himself now! Petworth hated him and had treated him without prejudice. Nothing could be clearer. Once more Lay envied men who had trained themselves to put up with their fellows. “I can’t even put up with myself!” Lay admitted miserably.
When he found that he must either share a room with an unknown major, or hunt in other hotels for non-existing accommodation, he felt keen resentment against the members of the Commission who knew no hardships. Pampered nonentities! Lay moped, and waited, hesitating, for the manager, who, when he appeared, displayed callous indifference to Lay’s plight. Everyone was doubling up, he said.
“It is utterly uncivilized!” Lay grumbled.
He hoped Anne would realize what he was going through for her sake. And he entered the breakfast room in search of her, his emotions at a very low ebb. Instead of Anne he found Mrs. Topley, eating her breakfast alone. She greeted him with a mixture of surprise and trepidation, and he joined her at the table and listened to her erratic conversation while finding some consolation in excellent coffee. Mrs. Topley said she was dreadfully sorry for poor Mr. Anderson. Wasn’t Mr. Lay dreadfully sorry for poor Mr. Anderson? Of course Anne was quite right to refuse to marry him if she did not love him. But Harold had had a dreadful time.
“You see,” she said, “poor Mr. Anderson confided in Harold. Day and night he wanted Harold. Naturally Harold helped him! Harold was the very greatest help to him. He admitted that.”
“But Topley could not help Anderson to Anne,” said Lay.
Mrs. Topley always listened in suspense as words dropped from Lay’s lips; a little later she responded to them, when, so to speak, the danger was over.
“Harold couldn’t hold out false hopes. He would not think it right. And now Mr. Anderson has gone away. By air, you know. I don’t think he cared in the least if he crashed. He was always so nice to me. But Anne did not love him. And of course money does not really matter. I think it is dreadful of people to say such unkind things. Lord Brierley is furious and so am I.”
Lay insisted upon hearing why Brierley was furious.
“Well, Lady Walpole is very nice. He likes her. And she has been so nice to Harold. About widow-marriage, especially. It isn’t Lady Walpole.”
Putting down his knife and fork Lay said with bitterness, “I cannot make head or tail of anything you say. It’s hopeless!”
Much flustered, Mrs. Topley explained that Lord Brierley was infuriated by people saying that Anne had refused Anderson because she was infatuated with Lord Brierley. But Lady Walpole did not believe Lord Brierley was to blame. “I must admit,” said Mrs. Topley, “that Mr. Anderson did talk rather too much to people about the Commission, and how, in spite of everything, he wanted Anne to marry him.”
“In spite of what?”
“Then,” said Lay with a grin of delight, “the Commission is still in hot water?”
“Yes,” sighed Mrs. Topley. “And there is nothing one can do. Mr. Penwarden and I have almost quarrelled about it, but Doris Neale took Mr. Penwarden’s part and said I must not forget that people can’t disregard public opinion. Sir Thomas chaffs Dr. Neale more than she likes. We’re all at sixes and sevens, and Harold says Mr. Penwarden was quite rude to Lord Brierley over Anne being at this hotel. What has it to do with Mr. Penwarden? Anne was so indignant when I told her.”
Here Mrs. Topley caught sight of Petworth who entered the room after a toilet which Lay saw must have been a tremendous affair. Petworth’s face was less swollen, but Mrs. Topley commiserated him and invited him to her table.
“I suppose I must go and have a wash,” said Lay, rising hastily.
“A cold bath will make you feel a different man,” Petworth suggested sarcastically.
“Your poor face! Oh dear!” cried Mrs. Topley.
“It’s better,” said Petworth. “And it’s first class as a ticket of leave. A dentist funked it in Rawalpindi, but I’ve fixed up with the man here to haul out my tooth at ten o’clock.”
“You mustn’t, please, eat a heavy breakfast before you take gas,” Mrs. Topley pleaded.
Petworth stared at her in gentle astonishment: “Do you call this a heavy breakfast? I have hardly begun. And I shan’t let him gas me, you know. He’d charge like anything for the poison.”
Lay left them hobnobbing happily over the breakfast table. He felt shy, cross, and fussy when he found himself in a room with a slim, smart major who gave him half the available space with careless and reserved good manners. Lay could not take liberties with this man, and he saw that quickly with half an eye. The major was considerate and took it for granted that Lay would be so too. When he was not, the major removed Lay’s topi, pipe, and collar from his bed and deposited them on Lay’s mighty quick. Lay at that moment did not care two straws how India was governed, but he had a burning desire that its hotels should be subjected to drastic reform or go bankrupt. He left his room hastily and sat in a disconsolate heap in the lounge watching the numerous doors for Anne. His nerves quieted down. Life was full of stress and exasperation for him, and he frequently had to take refuge from its affronts in a contemplation of the work he intended to do. Between Lahore and New York he would be caught in a hundred traps of muddles, bores, discomforts—things overwhelmingly uncongenial—but his career was moving through difficulties to success, and to-day his suspense and irresolutions would cease. “Once I have made certain of Anne, I shall be able to turn my mind to other things,” he told himself eagerly.
In Government House the members of the Commission met that morning in a businesslike mood. Accumulated information had changed them from spectators into experts. They had now a specialized point of view, and the exclusive experience of experts, and like experts they differed. It fell to Brierley as chairman to avoid the calamity of a majority and a minority report. He strove for unanimity with much tact, and if his mind had been frankly declared, the epithets he applied to his esteemed colleagues would have astonished them. Pig-headed was his mildest mental label for Penwarden, while Doris Neale was dense, Topley unpractical, Cox-Cox slippery, and all as long-winded as the devil. It was extremely annoying that Dr. Neale saw fit to urge upon them the adoption of a paragraph pointing out the handicap imposed upon welfare services by social conditions which rendered it well-nigh impossible for an unmarried Indian woman to be employed by a man, or to live by herself, without scandal. This, Dr. Neale said, was true in all but the most enlightened Indian circles, where welfare workers were superfluous. It was, of course, premature to adopt the paragraph for the final Report, but from time to time the Commission drafted certain conclusions and criticisms, subject to revision, and Dr. Neale thought they were all agreed about this point.
They were, but they trod on Brierley’s toes. He, an Englishman, had not got off scot free himself with the fair Anne as his secretary! He suspected the pugnacious expression in worthy Penwarden’s eyes to mean, “Does the chairman dissociate himself from this statement and these comments?” Nettled, Brierley inwardly cursed Penwarden, who assured Dr. Neale that before the Report reached its final stage he would propose something very much stronger than the words agreed upon to-day.
“Considerably stronger!” cried Mr. Penwarden.
“Well, that’s all for this morning,” said Brierley. He was urbane, but he wasted no time in gossiping with the others when they rose, and Knocklong began gathering up papers. Brierley knew a lot of amusing gossip and he was hanged if he would impart it. Lady Walpole, a merry and charming creature, had let him behind the scenes in official circles. He could have made old Cox roar with laughter. He would not! And Anne’s utter folly in rejecting Edward Anderson was, if you please, known to Penwarden, Dr. Neale, Cox and Topley, and yet they were ominously silent to Brierley about it, as though he had exercised some baleful influence over Anne; fascinated her, monopolized her, prevented her from marrying Anderson! When the injured peer led the way out of the room, who should arrive but Anne, about to take up her secretarial duties. She had left the Raj Hotel without meeting Lay. Whatever conception of Anne’s secret life the members of the Commission held, not one of them failed to respond to the picture their eyes now received. They were all, confound them, effusive in their greetings.
“How’s your cold, dear?” asked Dr. Neale.
“You mustn’t catch cold!” said Cox-Cox.
“It seems better,” observed Topley.
“Take quinine.” This from the suspicious Penwarden.
“I have a bit of a cold,” Brierley told them.
Nobody took the slightest notice. And Anne said she was quite well again. She disappeared, and no doubt began to deal with Brierley’s correspondence. Knocklong joined the Commission and they all straggled down the corridor together, carrying little thin fitful visions in their minds—broken and dreamlike as reflections in water—of tehsil hospitals, and lack of sanitation in villages, and the training of midwives, while their senses apprehended only their wholesome, solid, well-preserved selves, the stateliness of Government House, and the imminence of comfort, order, well-being—the normal world which they, as middle-aged and successful people, found so desirable—the true reality!
Lord Brierley suddenly saw, at the end of the corridor, behind a chapprassee, Gerald Petworth. This instantly created for him a blot upon the whole scheme of the universe. As the author of afflictions which beset Lord Brierley, and through him his wife and the Commission, there was no one whom he less desired to see than young Petworth. He wished him to be forever banished and reduced to insignificance. That was the fate his violence and interference merited. Yet here he was, let loose upon Lahore by the slipshod good nature of some incompetent Power in Peshawar. Here he was, and in the character of a lover! He was undoubtedly advancing upon Anne as quick as those handsome movements of his could take him. By every worldly-wise standard he was a most undesirable husband, yet who could bar his way? Each member of the Commission was, for cogent reasons, debarred from making love to Anne, whereas Petworth was free and by nature’s grace possessed the essential aptitudes. A lover’s credentials, derived from qualities no man despises, must be respected. Petworth’s advent dissolved the congealed complacencies in the minds of distinguished and elderly persons. All felt the superiority of youth and passion. The Commission clotted together, obscured and darkened in its perception of its own bright importance. For grave Petworth simply walked past, with civil and meaningless words, to the conquest of Anne. Where now, was the sense of the paramount interest of the Commission’s work, and Lord Brierley’s correspondence, in the breast of Anne Knightley? Simply nowhere!
Out of their sight Anne rested her head in her hands and idled. Phyllis Topley had popped her head through Anne’s bedroom door and said, “ I warn you, dear, that Mr. Lay and Captain Petworth are here!” Anne’s reply had been unhesitating: “I shall sneak away.” She successfully sneaked away. And now her one longing was to sweep aside the morning’s work and fly back to the hotel and the presence of Petworth. Mrs. Topley had added that Captain Petworth was going to the dentist. Anne realized the tragic possibility of the dentist being the reason for his visit to Lahore. How senseless of poets to exalt the magnetic mystery of love and beauty when a dentist and his electric drill more often drove men to undesired journeys and directed hesitating feet. “It is probably the dentist!” cried Anne in despair.
When Petworth entered the room he met, tore through, and discarded his threatened self-consciousness. He talked to Anne at once of his overwhelming love. He could not live without her, but with her as his wife he had a most confident outlook upon the world. There was no doubt or misgiving in him. The joyousness of mutual love transcended every other conception of happiness in his simple heart. Anne, whose emotion, like some lovely moth, sought a welcome, gazed upon Petworth as the source of her agitation. Together they would be divinely agitated, well comforted, truly inspired, all their days.
“It will be wonderful, darling,” he promised her.
“Wonderful!” cried Anne, who found it wondrous now.
Anyone who has waited in the midst of an hotel lounge, trying to keep a distraught eye on traffic through five doors, knows how the swinging of the doors becomes the pendulum of hope and dread. That mental disturbance beset Lay. Anne did not return to the hotel for luncheon. He resumed his watch for her during the afternoon, had a little nap, and woke about four o’clock to see Anne slip into the hotel gaily, as though her coming at long last cancelled all the distracting tedium of her absence. Lay could not so spontaneously forgive her and he stood up with a wry grimace and an exclamation:
“At last; I thought you were never coming. Well, aren’t you surprised to see me?”
“No,” said Anne. “Gerald told me you were here.”
“Oh, Petworth told you? So you’ve seen him!” Petworth had gone to Government House to see her, Anne told Lay, who wondered why he had not thought of doing that. Anne had, however, returned to him, so it did not matter. Lay ordered tea for her and they sat one on either side of a little wicker table and green tea-tray, and Anne threw her hat aside and rumpled up her hair. She was expectant, evidently. Lay had so deeply laid her under pledge to him in his own mind, and had in imagination so taken her for granted, that he was content to meet her here in a crowd and settle things.
He was happy, warm, friendly, and at peace.
“Anne,” he said. “Your hair wants cutting!” She did not seem to listen and wondered a little anxiously where they could have a private talk.
“We don’t need privacy,” he said, amused. “I can say all I want to say to you here.”
“I can’t,” said Anne.
That delighted him. This adorable little Anne expected a conventional proposal. But he was Walter Lay! And there would be moments, hours, in their lives together when the seal of privacy must hide his wildness. He knew life, and her initiation was his affair. To make a sentimental hour of a proposal was not in his line. In the end she would be defrauded of nothing. Beauty such as hers was not likely to be cheated by indifference.
“Pig!” said Anne very distinctly and abruptly. She disapproved, he gathered, of his hands, which certainly might have been better prepared for tea.
“Another cold snap,” rejoined Lay disarmingly, and leaning back in his creaking chair, he watched her face yield, give a smile, and then gather into a still and tense gravity.
“Anne, you and I are going to be married. Don’t argue about it! Be good and you’ll be happy. Lots of people will warn you that I’m no use—but I am. When we are married you’ll see what I’m like at my best. Not always, but often!” Do what he would he could not keep a certain frightened flippancy out of his tone. He spoke, unwillingly, for effect.
Her answer was enough to make his blood run cold.
“No, Walter. It’s no use.”
“No use? What do you mean?”
Lay spoke so loud and sharply that people looked at them and Anne hushed him. He resented their attention and Anne’s check, as though something banged against him when he was in a great hurry. To avoid further obstructiveness he lowered his voice and bent towards Anne so as to enforce his right to her private ear.
“All right! All right! Only, my dear girl, do be serious. Do you mean to say you won’t marry me?”
“I shall marry Gerald Petworth.”
It seemed to Lay perfectly inconceivable that he should be forced to go through the shock of hearing such words, and the drudgery of making Anne eat them. He sat perfectly motionless for a moment, mastering his rage. Nothing that he had sometimes pictured of the difficulties and exasperations of being married to Anne had been so bad as this. Lay’s face grew haggard, and when Anne addressed him he knew that the sweet, hot strength of her sympathy was exactly what he needed when the world grudged him success. But it was no cure for an injury she herself inflicted.
“Don’t be unhappy, Walter! You did not mind the idea of my marrying Edward Anderson. Why should you resent my marrying Gerald Petworth?”
It was the kind of challenge he dreaded having to meet. Impossible to explain, even to Anne, the many considerations, and the various moods, through which he had shifted his ground since he and she parted in Lucknow! He must admit inconsistency unless he disclosed his unfailing purpose, familiar only to himself, of getting as much from Anne as possible. It would be to his present disadvantage to give any explanation which revealed the fact that Walter Lay came first with Walter Lay. The confession might even defeat his own ends. He rebelled against the unfairness of an obligation to conceal the truth from Anne. Why did she require, instead, a cock-and-bull story, dripping with sentiment? Some romantic notion of what was due to her! Was it not sufficient that after his own fashion, sharply, realistically, and painfully, he loved her? No doubt she cherished the fantastic tradition that a lover puts himself last.
Lay recognized the immediate necessity of keeping his wits about him. He must present his case to Anne in the way that would appeal to her. He felt that the concession cheapened him. All this coaxing, arguing, flattering business would bring their critical hour down to the level of propaganda in journalism, rhetoric in public speaking, and stereotyped love tales in magazines. He wanted from his Anne, here and now, the quick eager acceptation of himself—himself, good bad and indifferent—which would acknowledge him to be, for her, her good genius. Did she think he was cold? He could so soon undeceive her! But her reluctance did not stir his emotions, it merely roused his will.
Leaning back in his chair he exerted his charming voice, with its heart-searching quality, to recall Anne from the cool remoteness of argument.
“I am awfully bucked, you know, that you would not marry Anderson. It seemed to me only decent to clear out and let you become a millionaire.”
“Thank you very much indeed!”
“Well, I made a rotten mistake, didn’t I? You do not really care two straws for money.”
She contradicted that flat and told him that she would enjoy wealth extremely.
“I spent hours and hours thinking how heavenly it would be to possess a Moth aeroplane and fly just where the spirit moved me.”
Lay had an uncomfortable recollection of Petworth telling him that he did not know much about Anne. So she would have broken away towards the clouds and the stars!
“I can’t give you a moth, Anne. But you are going to marry me for all that. Of course you are! Nothing else could possibly happen.”
She looked at him with pity, and softly repeated her statement that she meant to marry Gerald Petworth.
“You may say so!” Lay kept his head now by a great effort. “But I don’t give your engagement to him more than a month. A month. A month at the longest. You’ll find me waiting.”
He appeared to offer her her fling and his supremacy.
His smile indicated a wise toleration of her emotional experiment.
“There’s nothing to wait for,” Anne said. “We shall be married early in March.”
“Good heavens!” He was terrified now. All his warped anger broke, but quietly, in little electric flashes, as though nerves were telephone wires and conveyed their sensitive state in the form of chosen words. “I could stand this if it were anyone but Petworth. But to see you throw yourself away on him is quite horrible.”
“He would have said the same if I had married you!” Anne rejoined, as though Lay’s criticism was thereby met and cancelled.
“Perhaps. Nevertheless if you married me I’d give you a life for which you are fitted. Granted that we both love you, granted that he is a great big good-looking sportsman and I am not—even so, Anne, you must be out of your mind if you choose Petworth. What does he know? What can he do? Has he two ideas beyond soldiering, sport and games? He’ll require you to respect every second-hand regulation of second-rate minds. He’ll never read a book, or create a movement in thought. You will be bored dead, or bored frantic.”
To which Anne, terribly remote, enquired, “Have you never been in love, Walter?”
“Passionately.” His intonation indicated unknown depths. “Passionately.”
“I am in love.” And she conveyed the impression that she had found a simplification of life, and would not waste time splitting straws about it.
It meant, then, that he must urge sanity and good judgment upon a mad woman who considered herself greatly blessed.
“It’s lately come to you.”
“Yes. Oh, I fought against it. I don’t think it is very nice to be poor, you know. I—I was not sure I should be interested! I had to overcome a lot of my prejudices. Really I was all dusty and musty with notions. Such ridiculous rubbish.”
“The ideas I have put into your head?” He was bitterly affronted.
Anne said, with great gentleness: “You gave me ideas. But I have to do my own loving.”
He asked her if it meant nothing to her that he loved her. And she answered that it meant something which she considered, looked at from the outside, and regretted.
“You don’t care?”
“That you suffer? Of course I care! Dreadfully. But that you love me—no. It does not create love in me.”
They had the habit of discussion with each other and he had trained her to be deadly frank with him. But now he craved for illusion, for anything that would make her turn aside from the truth, the authentic truth of her own experience. He spoke in calculated terms of intimacy:
“Anne dear, don’t be offended at what I am going to say. You are a child in some ways. I have loved it in you. It’s awfully attractive to a man. Listen; I know you and I know Petworth. I know dozens of Petworths. I happen to think you are unique. But I suppose you aren’t, and so for the moment you are responding in the most natural way in the world to being what you are—a young woman, physically—I mean it—physically attracted by an extraordinarily good-looking man.”
“Yes.” Anne said it breathlessly, but she closed her lips firmly afterwards on something not disclosed.
“I knew it!” He gave a sigh of relief.
“And if I am, what then? I was not attracted in that way by Edward Anderson. You don’t attract me in that way.”
She was as elusive as the right word. He could not capture her! And her candour inflicted upon him intolerable pain.
“Well, run away and play!” he scoffed. “I’ll wait. When you have seen as much of life as I have, Anne, you’ll know that mere physical attraction does not last for ever.”
Her silence was heavy with some still, firm, pregnant emotion of her own. It provoked Lay to rashness.
“Better get that sort of thing over and done with, I suppose. It’s calf love, and you’re a baby.”
“Sacred? Rot. Just rot, my dear. But dangerous to you, evidently, because you take it so seriously. Think of Petworth at fifty, a middle-aged colonel, knowing very little more than he knows now and never having had so much as a glimpse of those things which have a real meaning for you!”
She shot an angry glance at him. “What things?”
Lay meant chiefly perhaps—himself, his career, his interpretation of life, his eager curiosity. But he reminded her of London, its drama, art, music, literature; and their vivid interest in every aspect of life presented to critical minds.
Anne responded frankly, as though he had invoked her loyalty. She spoke very low so that none should overhear. Lay had to strain to catch what she said and it infuriated him that, since he hated what he heard, he could not force her to speak louder and endure an audience. She assured him that she was not the dreamy fool about life he thought her. Muddled though she was by criticism of life, she always fumbled after the things she could make her own through experience. She was conscious of a need to receive and communicate intense feeling. She had always accepted from others, gladly and openly, when they had affection to give, or illumination. Nevertheless she had grown accustomed to the notions of a sophisticated world, Lord Brierley’s world. She had taken for granted that there was great advantage in being wealthy, or successful. Also, the revelry of life fascinated her. It was a lesser thing than beauty, but it inspired certain moods in her. If there were much-talked-about balls, parties, and a scale of half fantastic, half sentimental social values—such as rank and decorations—she surrendered to their popular influence, and let a fanciful side of existence sway her inclinations. She would have liked to be a duchess! As Lord Brierley’s secretary she had felt the strong impulse of public life. The tragedies of human institutions and traditions, the clash of political and religious conflicts, had excited her very much. Such was, Anne said, the only account she could give of her development while an onlooker in Gloucester Road, on tiptoe to catch the fine-spun web of thought and emotion afloat around her, thrilled if Lay was with her and putting her into actual personal contact with a creative mind, abashed if Helen thought her too blatantly enterprising, gratified if Frank Brierley commended her discreet efficiency. She could never go back contentedly to that existence. Never!
Lay grew impatient. He did not want to understand Anne, he wanted to possess her.
“I don’t know,” he said, “why you are telling me all this.”
“Because we are friends,” said Anne.
The give-and-take of their old friendship made it obligatory to render an account of herself. Though she denied him his desire, she did not suggest a separation from him. To Lay, however, an inevitable separation was clear. He must frighten her with that!
“Even our friendship won’t last,” he warned her. “It can’t. You’ll become, my dear, the reflection of Petworth and his kind.”
She confronted him in revenge with something admirable, but lacking in him.
“Character is attractive, Walter. You can’t deny it. If a son of mine reflected Gerald’s character, I’d be triumphant and thankful.”
The little dark greedy man realized with intolerable jealousy that Petworth’s character had won. The solidarity and harmony in him had overpowered Anne.
“Oh, I’ll give him good conduct marks!” Lay was very scornful.
Whereupon Anne suddenly threw out a jibe as she might have bundled dust out of a window.
“As though I did not know that if my love for Gerald Petworth were illicit love, you’d be frightfully impressed and kow-tow to it like anything!”
Lay was so downcast and despondent, so lonely and dismayed, that he could have groaned to find this fair woman indifferent to the high or low disputes of men. He grumbled:
“I daresay! I don’t wish to argue any more. This complete change in you is a hellish mystery to me. When I need you most you become perfectly impossible.”
Then from under her long lashes she shot him a look of perfect comprehension.
“You’ll excuse me if I take a little interest in myself?” said she. And she made a succinct statement of her own urgent necessity. “I must have romance!”
This was a demand too exasperating to be borne.
Lay left Anne. He repudiated her and her commonplace folly. One of the swing doors continued to totter to and fro a long time, so violent was his onslaught upon it. People raised their eyebrows. To that extent his exit disturbed society.
A long clumsy train stood in Lahore station bound for Calcutta. Lay was off to New York. He had the sensations of a man whose accounts, correspondence, and little intimate personal possessions, have been snatched and scattered by a passionate whirlwind. He had not the patience or fortitude to reassemble his hopes and emotions. Anne’s breath had blown them beyond the farthest star. The only desire he could gratify was his desire to cut himself off instantly from Anne, the Commission, and India. He hastened in search of a new excitement which would concentrate his mind upon literary achievement with the old wild intensity. His egotism was acute and terribly assertive. The train was his train, the night his hour of black misfortune, America his goal. He hung out of the window of his compartment and stared with blind dreariness at the paraphernalia of an Eurasian clerk and his family who were flopping in and out of a second class carriage. Every now and then he saw Anne more clearly than he saw the electric lights on the platform. Her beauty! Why had he not practised the kindness that would have made her his to enjoy? Regret choked him. But he rebelled once more, and hated all who tried to force him to go against the grain.
Trains! He had had about enough of trains. They plastered the sky with smoke, screamed to the birds, and rattled his bones. And this misery lay ahead of him while he longed to be steeped in peace. The station held demons for him. His pen had again and again made men of one mind, and yet no friendly face flattered his departure. Then he received a surprise. Little Mrs. Topley, different as could be from blue-clad coolies and therefore conspicuous though so small and timid, was hurrying down the bleak iron stairs from the bridge which spanned the station. She rushed about, looking for someone. What a mouse! thought Lay. She caught sight of him and her search was ended. It gave him the oddest feeling that this charity of Mrs. Topley should be offered to him.
“I came to see you off!” she cried. “I just thought I would come.”
It was better than nothing—it really was! He was queerly touched.
“That’s awfully good of you.”
She had said and done the right thing! Well, she was very glad. She never knew how Mr. Lay would take anything, but she felt convinced that no one was so inhuman as to desire to avoid a fond farewell.
“I do hope you won’t be seasick!” she cried, and hardly expected a reply. She received none.
The train tore him away from Mrs. Topley.
“Good-bye, Mr. Lay!”
He kept his head out of the window and his smile softened his drawn face. “The kind little woman to see me off,” he thought. “That useless fellow Knocklong couldn’t be bothered, of course! Nor Cox-Cox.”
He actually waved to her.
Electric fans, which had played so mischievous a part in the history of the Commission, cooled its brow in Calcutta. The feeling among two million citizens of Calcutta was bitter against the Commission. That is to say, one hundred citizens were bitter and the remainder were described as bitter. Police precautions were taken, and the Commission survived. Society was critical, but it was too large and busy to devote much attention to the Commission, and what had, or had not, happened in Rajghar. Its interests were varied, and many of its leaders were making money. Men with great fortunes were liberal supporters of good works, and had no time to worry about gossip. They enjoyed gossip, however, in their leisure moments. Nowhere in India had members of the Commission been confronted by such an independent and powerful European community, such an intellectual Indian world, and such a small military element. The municipality, the university, the hospitals were on a great scale. Here of all places Brierley would have wished to make his mark, but was conscious that he was conspicuous without being impressive. He sometimes bit off people’s heads in revenge.
To-day, however, there was a truce to controversy and friction. To-day the Commission stood forth before all Calcutta, united and respectable. For Anne Knightley was to be married to Gerald Petworth and the wedding, first planned as a quiet affair, had yielded to pressure and now took possession of all concerned, which included the most important people in Bengal. Stately Belvedere had been lent for the occasion.
Penwarden was hot and bothered in his bedroom, where he studied appearances. When he stood under the fan his hair rose from his head, and when he moved away from it sweat ran down his nose. He thought chiefly of Lord Brierley. What did Brierley feel to-day? To give Anne away in the circumstances was a very striking gesture. Yet at four o’clock in the cathedral Brierley was to give Anne to Petworth. It was ridiculous to suppose that he liked giving anything to Petworth, and this was not exactly tit for tat. By marrying Anne, Petworth removed any slur his midnight protest had seemed to cast upon the girl. And Anne’s acceptance of Petworth was very flattering to his conduct on that occasion, whatever Sir Theodore Tremayne or Lord Brierley might say to censure it. In fact, Anne and young Petworth made it clear to-day that they had nothing against each other. What then, asked Penwarden, had that scuffle in the night signified? It was the flare up of a young man in love who warned Lord Brierley, “None of that!” A warning which should not have been necessary. It taught Brierley a lesson that the chairman of the Commission ought not to have required. And the whole Commission had paid for it. Altogether Mr. Penwarden felt that this wedding was a little awkward. They must put a good face on it. Emerging from his room, Penwarden was met by the head gardener dressed in white muslin. He eagerly proffered Penwarden a buttonhole. The Indian servants had demonstrated a surprising interest in the occasion.
Brierley shaved with extreme care for the second time that day. He was in a thick rage. The mail from England lay upon his dressing-table. If young Petworth could read the letter which a wife like Helen had written, would he be in such a hurry to get married? Dire mortification inspired every line of it and she had marked a passage in The Weekly Critic and sent it to Brierley as though it served him right. She told him that the Courtrights—who were in the running for New Zealand—were playing their cards well. He felt very like replying that Lord Courtright was not cursed with a wife’s cousin of the name of Lay. Brierley knew as he tied his tie to perfection that he would not be the next Governor of New Zealand. All this difficult work in India would (he hoped) benefit India but, alas, not the chairman of the Commission. Holding his cuffs with his long neat fingers, he extended his arms stiffly and his bearer helped him on with his coat. His bearer indicated in every possible way that this was a happy and glorious hour. Was it, indeed! Brierley would have given a thousand pounds to get out of it.
Helen had telegraphed a most unnecessary question: “How can Anne live on nothing?” Brierley had confronted Anne with the problem.
“How do you propose to manage on nothing?”
“Oh we shall just manage!” replied Anne.
As though nothing could be adjusted to a nicety! Well, he supposed they’d scrape along. Anne had tuppence of her own. Helen had sent her a diamond pendant. Attached was a card upon which she had written in her clear, fastidious hand, “With love from her old friends Helen and Frank.” To Brierley she gave desperate injunctions: “Put that card somewhere conspicuous. It may do good.” Artful, optimistic, and devoted woman!
He looked at his watch. It was time to go and fetch Anne. As he walked along the corridor he caught sight of Cox-Cox and Penwarden, in wedding garments, hurrying downstairs. Every servant salaamed to them. Congratulations were in the air. There was some strange universality about this submissiveness to the inconvenience, expense, and fuss of the marriage ceremonial. Brierley was politely resigned and quite detached till a bedroom door opened and Mrs. Topley came out in all her finery and a high twitter.
“Oh she is quite beautiful!” whispered Mrs. Topley. And from Mrs. Topley was communicated to Lord Brierley a feeling of expectancy, a delicate and hushed tenderness.
Just inside the bedroom he saw Doris Neale. That substantial unmarried woman was holding a drifting while veil against her dark blue satin.
“Darling! God bless you,” murmured Miss Neale. She came out and swept Mrs. Topley off with her, almost ignoring Lord Brierley, whose sentiments towards two nice women were exceedingly kind. He had caught them at it! At their peculiar, elaborate, yet subtle business of magnifying love whenever they got the chance. He advanced into the room and said:
“Well, Anne, let’s have a look at you?”
She was young and slender, veiled and all in white. It was quite a conventional performance, but he had had no foreknowledge that she would be so moved herself and that she would move him so. There was that about her to-day, when she stood prepared for a religious ceremony, which suggested that woman was intrinsically beautiful. She seemed a being of innocence and secret rapture. How her dress, and the light shining upon her through the veil, and the way she bore herself as a thing apart from routine, combined to exalt the bride!
“You’re sweet!” Brierley told her.
“I’m ready,” said Anne.
She went to the hall door like a flash with the household bowing down before her. Brierley was as proud as Punch of her. In the closed motor she said nothing. Only once she leant towards the window and looked out upon flashing tanks of still water and lush green spaces. India was forever associated in her mind with her love for Gerald Petworth; amidst such scenes she went to him, the light was this vivid light, the trees these and no other, and around was a magnificent eastern city. She was not a bride in England, but here in Asia. No casual visit this, but the falling of seed deep into the earth.
“It is all perfect,” she cried, blessing it.
Choristers were waiting for her at the porch with the cathedral clergy and Topley. Bells rang out, then ceased, and the organ called to her. “Just like England!” cried Mrs. Topley to Cox-Cox as Brierley led Anne up the aisle. “Doesn’t it remind you of England?”
Before Brierley knew where he was he had given her to Petworth. The fashionable congregation marked that. While Topley was pronouncing Anne and Petworth man and wife everybody who was anybody enjoyed the scene immensely because they could in one glance take in the rivalry between Brierley and Petworth. They found Brierley’s surrender of Anne the best give away imaginable!
And Lord Brierley knew it. He was performing a thankless task. He was a martyr to a ridiculous fate. But skies should fall before he would flinch. He resented Petworth’s very existence, but he understood his triumph. The soldier was a man of quality. The Petworths were simple souls and would escape half the dusty traps which catch clever people who pick their steps. They would have plenty to try their mettle. What were they all singing? “Grant them the peace . . . “ Well, the bride might have to endure the bridegroom fighting, and falling. How happy he looked!
“Why not?” thought Brierley.
Brierley returned to Belvedere with Hailstone who had come to Calcutta for the wedding. All the way back to Belvedere they discussed Lay’s article and forgot that they were part of a bridal party. It touched them, and then forebore to beckon to them. It was a filament from the tissue of their ancient social customs. Brierley was far more immediately concerned that his world had got hold of the wrong end of the stick about him.
Guests flowed up to the steps of Belvedere and moved over smooth lawns. The members of the Commission, reversing their usual role, became hosts. The entertainment they offered, however, had little to do with wedding cake and champagne. It consisted in the story against the chairman.
The bride and bridegroom drove up and were in the crowd, but not of it. Their state of mind was that of lovers; feast and festival were appropriate to society’s state of mind which was jovial. Presently the guests divided and made room for Anne the bride to disappear. She would never walk again through a crowd over the bright grass, with a white veil floating like a cloud around her, and Petworth dedicated to her glorification. She disappeared.
Petworth changed, and waited for her, and behind him stood an Indian officer in full uniform. He had come nearly a thousand miles to attend Petworth’s wedding, and his father had served under Petworth’s father. A wedding was in his opinion a case for congratulation and he did not cavil at detail. Murderous passions rose in his breast when Hindus played music in front of mosques, but to-day no creed or ritual of the sahibs had diverted him from a happy sympathy with the bridegroom.
Anne came radiantly to Petworth, saying to herself: “This is my husband though I cannot believe it.”
“Anne, let me introduce Subadar Sher Khan.”
The subadar saluted, shook hands, and presented the hilt of his sword for her to touch. She laid her fingers on it, grasping at a tangible loyalty and strength, an intangible beauty. Let the Commission assess error and reform! She assumed the existence of loves and wonders casting out devils. Devils existed. For a moment at the top of the stairs she paused, bending over the banisters to watch the men and women so gaily celebrating her nuptials. They prized laughter and youth and the spring; they all knew love, transient or steadfast. They were quite casual in their presence here. “But they know love is a big thing, I expect,” thought Anne.
The Petworths dived down into the throng. Gerald Petworth regarded the crowd as superfluous. Sir Reginald Hailstone smote him on the back:
“Good for you!” he said.
Petworth gave him a broad smile and a quick wink. Hailstone envied the lad. As for Anne, she had not let anyone invent a love story for her! Out she came with her “I, Anne Isobel, take thee, Gerald John,” pretty quick, and shut them up about her role in Rajghar.
Sir Thomas stopped Mrs. Petworth and kissed her. That action swept Mr. Penwarden off his feet. He let this exceedingly sentimental occasion carry him away. His pockets were full of rice and he pranced joyously.
“Now then, not twice for Cox-Cox! One all round, please.” He lifted his hat and waved it, standing on the top step while the guests craned over each other’s shoulders to watch him.
“Hurrah!” cried Penwarden. “Come on all you Anne’s Nannies! I’ve got the rice. Take some! That’s right. Here you are, Topley. Here you are, Dr. Neale. Now, all together Anne’s Nannies! That’s the stuff to give them!”
Under a shower of rice with Mr. Penwarden in full cry and the rest of the Commission jostling him, Anne ran down the steps to where Lord Brierley waited, bareheaded, to put her into the car.
“Look!” said Calcutta inaudibly.
Anne turned her head and caught the bulging eyes of the Commission. She played her little comedy with zest, and putting her arm round Brierley’s neck, kissed him on both cheeks.
“There! That’s to repair the damage,” said Anne.
“We’d better take to flight,” said Petworth.
“So that’s how you get out of hot water, is it?” growled Lord Brierley, not resigned to his fate by any means. But they left him to it.