In the pleasant orchard-closes
“God bless all our gains,” say we;
But “May God bless all our losses,”
Better suits with our degree.
—The Lost Bower
This is the history of a failure; but the woman who failed said that it might be an instructive tale to put into print for the benefit of the younger generation. The younger generation does not want instruction, being perfectly willing to instruct if any one will listen to it. None the less, here begins the story where every right-minded story should begin, that is to say at Simla, where all things begin and many come to an evil end.
The mistake was due to a very clever woman making a blunder and not retrieving it. Men are licensed to stumble, but a clever woman’s mistake is outside the regular course of Nature and Providence; since all good people know that a woman is the only infallible thing in this world, except Government Paper of the ’79 issue, bearing interest at four and a half per cent. Yet, we have to remember that six consecutive days of rehearsing the leading part of “The Fallen Angel” at the New Gaiety Theatre where the plaster is not yet properly dry, might have brought about an unhingement of spirits which, again, might have led to eccentricities.
Mrs. Hauksbee came to “The Foundry” to tiffin with Mrs. Mallowe, her one bosom friend, for she was in no sense “a woman’s woman.” And it was a woman’s tiffin, the door shut to all the world; and they both talked chiffons, which is French for Mysteries.
“I’ve enjoyed an interval of sanity,” Mrs. Hauksbee announced, after tiffin was over and the two were comfortably settled in the little writing-room that opened out of Mrs. Mallowe’s bedroom.
“My dear girl, what has he done?” said Mrs. Mallowe sweetly. It is noticeable that ladies of a certain age call each other “dear girl,” just as commissioners of twenty-eight years’ standing address their equals in the Civil List as “my boy.”
“There’s no he in the case. Who am I that an imaginary man should be always credited to me? Am I an Apache?”
“No, dear, but somebody’s scalp is generally drying at your wigwam-door. Soaking rather.”
This was an allusion to the Hawley Boy, who was in the habit of riding all across Simla in the Rains, to call on Mrs. Hauksbee. That lady laughed.
“For my sins, the Aide at Tyrconnel last night told me off to The Mussuck. Hsh! Don’t laugh. One of my most devoted admirers. When the duff came—some one really ought to teach them to make puddings at Tyrconnel—The Mussuck was at liberty to attend to me.”
“Sweet soul! I know his appetite,” said Mrs. Mallowe. “Did he, oh did he, begin his wooing?”
“By a special mercy of Providence, no. He explained his importance as a Pillar of the Empire. I didn’t laugh.”
“Lucy, I don’t believe you.”
“Ask Captain Sangar; he was on the other side. Well, as I was saying, The Mussuck dilated.”
“I think I can see him doing it,” said Mrs. Mallowe pensively, scratching her fox-terrier’s ears.
“I was properly impressed. Most properly. I yawned openly. ‘Strict supervision, and play them off one against the other,’ said The Mussuck, shovelling down his ice by tureenfuls, I assure you. ‘That, Mrs. Hauksbee, is the secret of our Government.’”
Mrs. Mallowe laughed long and merrily. “And what did you say?”
“Did you ever know me at loss for an answer yet? I said: “So I have observed in my dealings with you.” The Mussuck swelled with pride. He is coming to call on me to-morrow. The Hawley Boy is coming too.”
“‘Strict supervision and play them off one against the other. That, Mrs. Hauksbee, is the secret of our Government.’ And I daresay if we could get to The Mussuck’s heart, we should find that he considers himself a man of the world.”
“As he is of the other two things. I like The Mussuck, and I won’t have you call him names. He amuses me.”
“He has reformed you, too, by what appears. Explain the interval of sanity, and hit Tim on the nose with the paper-cutter, please. That dog is too fond of sugar. Do you take milk in yours?”
“No, thanks. Polly, I’m wearied of this life. It’s hollow.”
“Turn religious, then. I always said that Rome would be your fate.”
“Only exchanging half-a-dozen attachés in red for one in black, and if I fasted, the wrinkles would come, and never, never go. Has it ever struck you, dear, that I’m getting old?”
“Thanks for your courtesy. I’ll return it. Ye-es, we are both not exactly—how shall I put it?”
“What we have been. ‘I feel it in my bones,’ as Mrs. Crossley says. Polly, I’ve wasted my life.”
“Never mind how. I feel it. I want to be a Power before I die.”
“Be a Power then. You’ve wits enough for anything—and beauty!”
Mrs. Hauksbee pointed a teaspoon straight at her hostess. “Polly, if you heap compliments on me like this, I shall cease to believe that you’re a woman. Tell me how I am to be a Power.”
“Inform The Mussuck that he is the most fascinating and slimmest man in Asia, and he’ll tell you anything and everything you please.”
“Bother The Mussuck! I mean an intellectual Power—not a gas-power. Polly, I’m going to start a salon.”
Mrs. Mallowe turned lazily on the sofa and rested her head on her hand. “Hear the words of the Preacher, the son of Baruch,” she said.
“Will you talk sensibly?”
“I will, dear, for I see that you are going to make a mistake.”
“I never made a mistake in my life—at least, never one that I couldn’t explain away afterwards.”
“Going to make a mistake,” went on Mrs. Mallowe composedly. “It is impossible to start a salon in Simla. A bar would be much more to the point.”
“Perhaps, but why? It seems so easy.”
“Just what makes it so difficult. How many clever women are there in Simla?”
“Myself and yourself,” said Mrs. Hauksbee, without a moment’s hesitation.
“Modest woman! Mrs. Feardon would thank you for that. And how many clever men?”
“Oh—er—hundreds,” said Mrs. Hauksbee vaguely.
“What a fatal blunder! Not one. They are all bespoke by the Government. Take my husband, for instance. Jack was a clever man, though I say so who shouldn’t. Government has eaten him up. All his ideas and powers of conversation—he really used to be a good talker, even to his wife in the old days—are taken from him by this this—kitchen-sink of a Government. That’s the case with every man up here who is at work. I don’t suppose a Russian convict under the knout is able to amuse the rest of his gang; and all our men-folk here are gilded convicts.”
“But there are scores——”
“I know what you’re going to say. Scores of idle men up on leave. I admit it, but they are all of two objectionable sets. The Civilian who’d be delightful if he had the military man’s knowledge of the world and style, and the military man who’d be adorable if he had the Civilian’s culture.”
“Detestable word! Have Civilians culchaw? I never studied the breed deeply.”
“Don’t make fun of Jack’s Service. Yes. They’re like the teapoys in the Lakka Bazar—good material but not polished. They can’t help themselves, poor dears. A Civilian only begins to be tolerable after he has knocked about the world for fifteen years.”
“And a military man?”
“When he has had the same amount of service. The young of both species are horrible. You would have scores of them in your salon.”
“I would not!” said Mrs. Hauksbee fiercely. “I would tell the bearer to darwaza band them. I’d put their own colonels and commissioners at the door to turn them away. I’d give them to the Topsham Girl to play with.”
“The Topsham Girl would be grateful for the gift. But to go back to the salon. Allowing that you had gathered all your men and women together, what would you do with them? Make them talk? They would all with one accord begin to flirt. Your salon would become a glorified Peliti’s—a ‘Scandal Point’ by lamplight.”
“There’s a certain amount of wisdom in that view.”
“There’s all the wisdom in the world in it. Surely, twelve Simla seasons ought to have taught you that you can’t focus anything in India; and a salon, to be any good at all, must be permanent. In two seasons your roomful would be scattered all over Asia. We are only little bits of dirt on the hillsides here one day and blown down the khud the next. We have lost the art of talking—at least our men have. We have no cohesion——”
“George Eliot in the flesh,” interpolated Mrs. Hauksbee wickedly.
“And collectively, my dear scoffer, we, men and women alike, have no influence. Come into the verandah and look at the Mall!”
The two looked down on the now rapidly filling road, for all Simla was abroad to steal a stroll between a shower and a fog.
“How do you propose to fix that river? Look! There’s The Mussuck—head of goodness knows what. He is a power in the land, though he does eat like a costermonger. There’s Colonel Blone, and General Grucher, and Sir Dugald Delane, and Sir Henry Haughton, and Mr. Jellalatty. All Heads of Departments, and all powerful.”
“And all my fervent admirers,” said Mrs. Hauksbee piously. “Sir Henry Haughton raves about me. But go on.”
“One by one, these men are worth something. Collectively, they’re just a mob of Anglo-Indians. Who cares for what Anglo-Indians say? Your salon won’t weld the Departments together and make you mistress of India, dear. And these creatures won’t talk administrative ‘shop’ in a crowd—your salon—because they are so afraid of the men in the lower ranks overhearing it. They have forgotten what of Literature and Art they ever knew, and the women——”
“Can’t talk about anything except the last Gymkhana, or the sins of their last nurse. I was calling on Mrs. Derwills this morning.”
“You admit that? They can talk to the subalterns though, and the subalterns can talk to them. Your salon would suit their views admirably, if you respected the religious prejudices of the country and provided plenty of kala juggahs.”
“Plenty of kala juggahs. Oh my poor little idea! Kala juggahs in a salon! But who made you so awfully clever?”
“Perhaps I’ve tried myself; or perhaps I know a woman who has. I have preached and expounded the whole matter and the conclusion thereof——”
“You needn’t go on. ‘Is Vanity.’ Polly, I thank you. These vermin”—Mrs. Hauksbee waved her hand from the verandah to two men in the crowd below who had raised their hats to her—“these vermin shall not rejoice in a new Scandal Point or an extra Peliti’s. I will abandon the notion of a salon. It did seem so tempting, though. But what shall I do? I must do something.”
“Why? Are not Abana and Pharpar——”
“Jack has made you nearly as bad as himself! I want to, of course. I’m tired of everything and everybody, from a moonlight picnic at Seepee to the blandishments of The Mussuck.”
“Yes—that comes, too, sooner or later. Have you nerve enough to make your bow yet?”
Mrs. Hauksbee’s mouth shut grimly. Then she laughed. “I think I see myself doing it. Big pink placards on the Mall: ‘Mrs. Hauksbee! Positively her last appearance on any stage! This is to give notice!’ No more dances; no more rides; no more luncheons; no more theatricals with supper to follow; no more sparring with one’s dearest, dearest friend; no more fencing with an inconvenient man who hasn’t wit enough to clothe what he’s pleased to call his sentiments in passable speech; no more parading of The Mussuck while Mrs. Tarkass calls all round Simla, spreading horrible stories about me! No more of anything that is thoroughly wearying, abominable, and detestable, but, all the same, makes life worth the having. Yes! I see it all! Don’t interrupt, Polly, I’m inspired. A mauve and white striped ‘cloud’ round my excellent shoulders, a seat in the fifth row of the Gaiety, and both horses sold. Delightful vision! A comfortable arm-chair, situated in three different draughts, at every ball-room; and nice, large, sensible shoes for all the couples to stumble over as they go into the verandah! Then at supper. Can’t you imagine the scene? The greedy mob gone away. Reluctant subaltern, pink all over like a newly-powdered baby, they really ought to tan subalterns before they are exported, Polly,—sent back by the hostess to do his duty. Slouches up to me across the room, tugging at a glove two sizes too large for him,—I hate a man who wears gloves like overcoats,—and trying to look as if he’d thought of it from the first. ‘May I ah-have the pleasure ’f takin’ you ’nt’ supper?’ Then I get up with a hungry smile. Just like this.”
“Lucy, how can you be so absurd?”
“And sweep out on his arm. So! After supper I shall go away early, you know, because I shall be afraid of catching cold. No one will look for my ’rickshaw. Mine, so please you! I shall stand, always with that mauve and white ‘cloud’ over my head, while the wet soaks into my dear, old, venerable feet, and Tom swears and shouts for the mem-sahib’s gharri. Then home to bed at half-past eleven! Truly excellent life helped out by the visits of the Padri, just fresh from burying somebody down below there.” She pointed through the pines toward the Cemetery, and continued with vigorous dramatic gesture,
“Listen! I see it all down, down even to the stays! Such stays! Six-eight a pair, Polly, with red flannel or list, is it? that they put into the tops of those fearful things. I can draw you a picture of them.”
“Lucy, for Heaven’s sake, don’t go waving your arms about in that idiotic manner! Recollect every one can see you from the Mall.”
“Let them see! They’ll think I am rehearsing for ‘The Fallen Angel’. Look! There’s The Mussuck. How badly he rides. There!”
She blew a kiss to the venerable Indian administrator with infinite grace.
“Now,” she continued, “he’ll be chaffed about that at the Club in the delicate manner those brutes of men affect, and the Hawley Boy will tell me all about it softening the details for fear of shocking me. That boy is too good to live, Polly. I’ve serious thoughts of recommending him to throw up his commission and go into the Church. In his present frame of mind he would obey me. Happy, happy child!”
“Never again,” said Mrs. Mallowe, with an affectation of indignation, “shall you tiffin here! ‘Lucindy your behaviour is scand’lus.’”
“All your fault,” retorted Mrs. Hauksbee, “for suggesting such a thing as my abdication. No! Jamais-nevaire! I will act, dance, ride, frivol, talk scandal, dine out, and appropriate the legitimate captives of any woman I choose, until I d-r-r-rop, or a better woman than I puts me to shame before all Simla, and it’s dust and ashes in my mouth while I’m doing it!”
She swept into the drawing-room. Mrs. Mallowe followed and put an arm round her waist.
“I’m not!” said Mrs. Hauksbee defiantly, rummaging for her handkerchief. “I’ve been dining out the last ten nights, and rehearsing in the afternoon. You’d be tired yourself. It’s only because I’m tired.”
Mrs. Mallowe did not offer Mrs. Hauksbee any pity or ask her to lie down, but gave her another cup of tea, and went on with the talk.
“I’ve been through that too, dear,” she said.
“I remember,” said Mrs. Hauksbee, a gleam of fun on her face. “In ’84, wasn’t it? You went out a great deal less next season.”
Mrs. Mallowe smiled in a superior and Sphinx-like fashion.
“I became an Influence,” said she.
“Good gracious, child, you didn’t join the Theosophists and kiss Buddha’s big toe, did you? I tried to get into their set once, but they cast me out for a sceptic without a chance of improving my poor little mind, too.”
“No, I didn’t Theosophilander. Jack says—”
“Never mind Jack. What a husband says is known before. What did you do?”
“I made a lasting impression.”
“So have I—for four months. But that didn’t console me in the least. I hated the man. Will you stop smiling in that inscrutable way and tell me what you mean?”
Mrs. Mallowe told.
“And—you—mean—to—say that it is absolutely Platonic on both sides?”
“Absolutely, or I should never have taken it up.”
“And his last promotion was due to you?”
Mrs. Mallowe nodded.
“And you warned him against the Topsham Girl?”
“And told him of Sir Dugald Delane’s private memo about him?”
A third nod.
“What a question to ask a woman! Because it amused me at first. I am proud of my property now. If I live, he shall continue to be successful. Yes, I will put him upon the straight road to Knighthood, and everything else that a man values. The rest depends upon himself.”
“Polly, you are a most extraordinary woman.”
“Not in the least. I’m concentrated, that’s all. You diffuse yourself, dear; and though all Simla knows your skill in managing a team.”
“Can’t you choose a prettier word?”
“Team, of half-a-dozen, from The Mussuck to the Hawley Boy, you gain nothing by it. Not even amusement.”
“Try my recipe. Take a man, not a boy, mind, but an almost mature, unattached man, and be his guide, philosopher, and friend. You’ll find it the most interesting occupation that you ever embarked on. It can be done—you needn’t look like that—because I’ve done it.”
“There’s an element of risk about it that makes the notion attractive. I’ll get such a man and say to him, “Now, understand that there must be no flirtation. Do exactly what I tell you, profit by my instruction and counsels, and all will yet be well.” Is that the idea?”
“More or less,” said Mrs. Mallowe, with an unfathomable smile. “But be sure he understands.”
What a lot of raw dust!
My dollie’s had an accident
And out came all the sawdust!
So Mrs. Hauksbee, in “The Foundry” which overlooks Simla Mall, sat at the feet of Mrs. Mallowe and gathered wisdom. The end of the Conference was the Great Idea upon which Mrs. Hauksbee so plumed herself.
“I warn you,” said Mrs. Mallowe, beginning to repent of her suggestion, “that the matter is not half so easy as it looks. Any woman—even the Topsham Girl—can catch a man, but very, very few know how to manage him when caught.”
“My child,” was the answer, “I’ve been a female St. Simon Stylites looking down upon men for these these years past. Ask The Mussuck whether I can manage them.”
Mrs. Hauksbee departed humming, “I’ll go to him and say to him in manner most ironical.” Mrs. Mallowe laughed to herself. Then she grew suddenly sober. “I wonder whether I’ve done well in advising that amusement? Lucy’s a clever woman, but a thought too careless.”
A week later the two met at a Monday Pop. “Well?” said Mrs. Mallowe.
“I’ve caught him!” said Mrs. Hauksbee: her eyes were dancing with merriment.
“Who is it, mad woman? I’m sorry I ever spoke to you about it.”
“Look between the pillars. In the third row; fourth from the end. You can see his face now. Look!”
“Otis Yeere! Of all the improbable and impossible people! I don’t believe you.”
“Hsh! Wait till Mrs. Tarkass begins murdering Milton Wellings; and I’ll tell you all about it. S-s-ss! That woman’s voice always reminds me of an Underground train coming into Earl’s Court with the brakes on. Now listen. It is really Otis Yeere.”
“So I see, but does it follow that he is your property!”
“He is! By right of trove. I found him, lonely and unbefriended, the very next night after our talk, at the Dugald Delanes’ burra-khana. I liked his eyes, and I talked to him. Next day he called. Next day we went for a ride together, and to-day he’s tied to my ’richshaw-wheels hand and foot. You’ll see when the concert’s over. He doesn’t know I’m here yet.”
“Thank goodness you haven’t chosen a boy. What are you going to do with him, assuming that you’ve got him?”
“Assuming, indeed! Does a woman—do I—ever make a mistake in that sort of thing? First”—Mrs. Hauksbee ticked off the items ostentatiously on her little gloved fingers—“First, my dear, I shall dress him properly. At present his raiment is a disgrace, and he wears a dress-shirt like a crumpled sheet of the ‘Pioneer’. Secondly, after I have made him presentable, I shall form his manners—his morals are above reproach.”
“You seem to have discovered a great deal about him considering the shortness of your acquaintance.”
“Surely you ought to know that the first proof a man gives of his interest in a woman is by talking to her about his own sweet self. If the woman listens without yawning, he begins to like her. If she flatters the animal’s vanity, he ends by adoring her.”
“In some cases.”
“Never mind the exceptions. I know which one you are thinking of. Thirdly, and lastly, after he is polished and made pretty, I shall, as you said, be his guide, philosopher, and friend, and he shall become a success—as great a success as your friend. I always wondered how that man got on. Did The Mussuck come to you with the Civil List and, dropping on one knee no, two knees, à la Gibbon hand it to you and say, ‘Adorable angel, choose your friend’s appointment’?”
“Lucy, your long experiences of the Military Department have demoralised you. One doesn’t do that sort of thing on the Civil Side.”
“No disrespect meant to Jack’s Service, my dear. I only asked for information. Give me three months, and see what changes I shall work in my prey.”
“Go your own way since you must. But I’m sorry that I was weak enough to suggest the amusement.”
“‘I am all discretion, and may be trusted to an in-fin-ite extent,’” quoted Mrs. Hauksbee from “The Fallen Angel”; and the conversation ceased with Mrs. Tarkass’s last, long-drawn war-whoop.
Her bitterest enemies—and she had many—could hardly accuse Mrs. Hauksbee of wasting her time. Otis Yeere was one of those wandering “dumb” characters, foredoomed through life to be nobody’s property. Ten years in Her Majesty’s Bengal Civil Service, spent, for the most part, in undesirable Districts, had given him little to be proud of, and nothing to bring confidence. Old enough to have lost the first fine careless rapture that showers on the immature ’Stunt imaginary Commissionerships and Stars, and sends him into the collar with coltish earnestness and abandon; too young to be yet able to look back upon the progress he had made, and thank Providence that under the conditions of the day he had come even so far, he stood upon the dead-centre of his career. And when a man stands still he feels the slightest impulse from without. Fortune had ruled that Otis Yeere should be, for the first part of his service, one of the rank and file who are ground up in the wheels of the Administration; losing heart and soul, and mind and strength, in the process. Until steam replaces manual power in the working of the Empire, there must always be this percentage—must always be the men who are used up, expended, in the mere mechanical routine. For these promotion is far off and the mill-grind of every day very instant. The Secretariats know them only by name; they are not the picked men of the Districts with Divisions and Collectorates awaiting them. They are simply the rank and file—the food for fever—sharing with the ryot and the plough-bullock the honour of being the plinth on which the State rests. The older ones have lost their aspirations; the younger are putting theirs aside with a sigh. Both learn to endure patiently until the end of the day. Twelve years in the rank and file, men say, will sap the hearts of the bravest and dull the wits of the most keen.
Out of this life Otis Yeere had fled for a few months; drifting, in the hope of a little masculine society, into Simla. When his leave was over he would return to his swampy, sour-green, under-manned Bengal district; to the native Assistant, the native Doctor, the native Magistrate, the steaming, sweltering Station, the ill-kempt City, and the undisguised insolence of the Municipality that babbled away the lives of men. Life was cheap, however. The soil spawned humanity, as it bred frogs in the Rains, and the gap of the sickness of one season was filled to overflowing by the fecundity of the next. Otis was unfeignedly thankful to lay down his work for a little while and escape from the seething, whining, weakly hive, impotent to help itself, but strong in its power to cripple, thwart, and annoy the sunkeneyed man who, by official irony, was said to be “in charge” of it.
“I knew there were women-dowdies in Bengal. They come up here sometimes. But I didn’t know that there were men-dowds, too.”
Then, for the first time, it occurred to Otis Yeere that his clothes wore rather the mark of the ages. It will be seen that his friendship with Mrs. Hauksbee had made great strides.
As that lady truthfully says, a man is never so happy as when he is talking about himself. From Otis Yeere’s lips Mrs. Hauksbee, before long, learned everything that she wished to know about the subject of her experiment: learned what manner of life he had led in what she vaguely called “those awful cholera districts”; learned, too, but this knowledge came later, what manner of life he had purposed to lead and what dreams he had dreamed in the year of grace ’77, before the reality had knocked the heart out of him. Very pleasant are the shady bridle-paths round Prospect Hill for the telling of such confidences.
“Not yet,” said Mrs. Hauksbee to Mrs. Mallowe. “Not yet. I must wait until the man is properly dressed, at least. Great heavens, is it possible that he doesn’t know what an honour it is to be taken up by Me!”
Mrs. Hauksbee did not reckon false modesty as one of her failings.
“Always with Mrs. Hauksbee!” murmured Mrs. Mallowe, with her sweetest smile, to Otis. “Oh you men, you men! Here are our Punjabis growling because you’ve monopolised the nicest woman in Simla. They’ll tear you to pieces on the Mall, some day, Mr. Yeere.”
Mrs. Mallowe rattled downhill, having satisfied herself, by a glance through the fringe of her sunshade, of the effect of her words.
The shot went home. Of a surety Otis Yeere was somebody in this bewildering whirl of Simla—had monopolised the nicest woman in it, and the Punjabis were growling. The notion justified a mild glow of vanity. He had never looked upon his acquaintance with Mrs. Hauksbee as a matter for general interest.
The knowledge of envy was a pleasant feeling to the man of no account. It was intensified later in the day when a luncher at the Club said spitefully, “Well, for a debilitated Ditcher, Yeere, you are going it. Hasn’t any kind friend told you that she’s the most dangerous woman in Simla?”
Yeere chuckled and passed out. When, oh, when would his new clothes be ready? He descended into the Mall to inquire; and Mrs. Hauksbee, coming over the Church Ridge in her ’rickshaw, looked down upon him approvingly. “He’s learning to carry himself as if he were a man, instead of a piece of furniture,—and,” she screwed up her eyes to see the better through the sunlight—“he is a man when he holds himself like that. O blessed Conceit, what should we be without you.”
With the new clothes came a new stock of self-confidence. Otis Yeere discovered that he could enter a room without breaking into a gentle perspiration—could cross one, even to talk to Mrs. Hauksbee, as though rooms were meant to be crossed. He was for the first time in nine years proud of himself, and contented with his life, satisfied with his new clothes, and rejoicing in the friendship of Mrs. Hauksbee.
“Conceit is what the poor fellow wants,” she said in confidence to Mrs. Mallowe. “I believe they must use Civilians to plough the fields with in Lower Bengal. You see I have to begin from the very beginning—haven’t I? But you’ll admit, won’t you, dear, that he is immensely improved since I took him in hand. Only give me a little more time and he won’t know himself.”
Indeed, Yeere was rapidly beginning to forget what he had been. One of his own rank and file put the matter brutally when he asked Yeere, in reference to nothing, “And who has been making you a Member of Council, lately? You carry the side of half-a-dozen of ’em.”
“I—I’m awf’ly sorry. I didn’t mean it, you know,” said Yeere apologetically.
“There’ll be no holding you,” continued the old stager grimly. “Climb down, Otis—climb down, and get all that beastly affectation knocked out of you with fever! Three thousand a month wouldn’t support it.”
Yeere repeated the incident to Mrs. Hauksbee. He had come to look upon her as his Mother Confessor.
“And you apologised!” she said. “Oh, shame! I hate a man who apologises. Never apologise for what your friend called ‘side.’ Never! It’s a man’s business to be insolent and overbearing until he meets with a stronger. Now, you bad boy, listen to me.”
Simply and straightforwardly, as the ’rickshaw loitered round Jakko, Mrs. Hauksbee preached to Otis Yeere the Great Gospel of Conceit, illustrating it with living pictures encountered during their Sunday afternoon stroll.
“Good gracious!” she ended with the personal argument, “you’ll apologise next for being my attaché?”
“Never!” said Otis Yeere. “That’s another thing altogether. I shall always be—”
“What’s coming?” thought Mrs. Hauksbee.
“Proud of that,” said Otis.
“Safe for the present,” she said to herself.
“But I’m afraid I have grown conceited. Like Jeshurun, you know. When he waxed fat, then he kicked. It’s the having no worry on one’s mind and the Hill air, I suppose.”
“Hill air, indeed!” said Mrs. Hauksbee to herself. “He’d have been hiding in the Club till the last day of his leave, if I hadn’t discovered him.” And aloud,
“Why shouldn’t you be? You have every right to.”
“Oh, hundreds of things. I’m not going to waste this lovely afternoon by explaining; but I know you have. What was that heap of manuscript you showed me about the grammar of the aboriginal—what’s their names?”
“Gullals. A piece of nonsense. I’ve far too much work to do to bother over Gullals now. You should see my District. Come down with your husband some day and I’ll show you round. Such a lovely place in the Rains! A sheet of water with the railway-embankment and the snakes sticking out, and, in the summer, green flies and green squash. The people would die of fear if you shook a dogwhip at ’em. But they know you’re forbidden to do that, so they conspire to make your life a burden to you. My District’s worked by some man at Darjiling, on the strength of a native pleader’s false reports. Oh, it’s a heavenly place!”
Otis Yeere laughed bitterly.
“There’s not the least necessity that you should stay in it. Why do you?”
“Because I must. How’m I to get out of it?”
“How! In a hundred and fifty ways. If there weren’t so many people on the road I’d like to box your ears. Ask, my dear boy, ask! Look! There is young Hexarly with six years’ service and half your talents. He asked for what he wanted, and he got it. See, down by the Convent! There’s McArthurson, who has come to his present position by asking—sheer, downright asking—after he had pushed himself out of the rank and file. One man is as good as another in your service—believe me. I’ve seen Simla for more seasons than I care to think about. Do you suppose men are chosen for appointments because of their special fitness beforehand? You have all passed a high test—what do you call it?—in the beginning, and, except for the few who have gone altogether to the bad, you can all work hard. Asking does the rest. Call it cheek, call it insolence, call it anything you like, but ask! Men argue—yes, I know what men say—that a man, by the mere audacity of his request, must have some good in him. A weak man doesn’t say: “Give me this and that.” He whines: “Why haven’t I been given this and that?” If you were in the Army, I should say learn to spin plates or play a tambourine with your toes. As it is—ask! You belong to a Service that ought to be able to command the Channel Fleet, or set a leg at twenty minutes’ notice, and yet you hesitate over asking to escape from a squashy green district where you admit you are not master. Drop the Bengal Government altogether. Even Darjiling is a little out-of-the-way hole. I was there once, and the rents were extortionate. Assert yourself. Get the Government of India to take you over. Try to get on the Frontier, where every man has a grand chance if he can trust himself. Go somewhere! Do something! You have twice the wits and three times the presence of the men up here, and, and”—Mrs. Hauksbee paused for breath; then continued—“and in any way you look at it, you ought to. You who could go so far!’
“I don’t know,” said Yeere, rather taken aback by the unexpected eloquence. “I haven’t such a good opinion of myself.”
It was not strictly Platonic, but it was Policy. Mrs. Hauksbee laid her hand lightly upon the ungloved paw that rested on the turned-back ’rickshaw hood, and, looking the man full in the face, said tenderly, almost too tenderly, “I believe in you, if you mistrust yourself. Is that enough, my friend?”
“It is enough,” answered Otis very solemnly.
He was silent for a long time, redreaming the dreams that he had dreamed eight years ago, but through them all ran, as sheet-lightning through golden cloud, the light of Mrs. Hauksbee’s violet eyes.
Curious and impenetrable are the mazes of Simla life—the only existence in this desolate land worth the living. Gradually it went abroad among men and women, in the pauses between dance, play, and Gymkhana, that Otis Yeere, the man with the newly-lit light of self-confidence in his eyes, had “done something decent” in the wilds whence he came. He had brought an erring Municipality to reason, appropriated the funds on his own responsibility, and saved the lives of hundreds. He knew more about the Gullals than any living man. Had a vast knowledge of the aboriginal tribes; was, in spite of his juniority, the greatest authority on the aboriginal Gullals. No one quite knew who or what the Gullals were till The Mussuck, who had been calling on Mrs. Hauksbee, and prided himself upon picking people’s brains, explained they were a tribe of ferocious hillmen, somewhere near Sikkim, whose friendship even the Great Indian Empire would find it worth her while to secure. Now we know that Otis Yeere had showed Mrs. Hauksbee his MS. notes of six years’ standing on these same Gullals. He had told her, too, how, sick and shaken with the fever their negligence had bred, crippled by the loss of his pet clerk, and savagely angry at the desolation in his charge, he had once damned the collective eyes of his “intelligent local board” for a set of haramzadas. Which act of “brutal and tyrannous oppression” won him a Reprimand Royal from the Bengal Government; but in the anecdote as amended for Northern consumption we find no record of this. Hence we are forced to conclude that Mrs. Hauksbee edited his reminiscences before sowing them in idle ears, ready, as she well knew, to exaggerate good or evil. And Otis Yeere bore himself as befitted the hero of many tales.
“You can talk to me when you don’t fall into a brown study. Talk now, and talk your brightest and best,” said Mrs. Hauksbee.
Otis needed no spur. Look to a man who has the counsel of a woman of or above the world to back him. So long as he keeps his head, he can meet both sexes on equal ground—an advantage never intended by Providence, who fashioned Man on one day and Woman on another, in sign that neither should know more than a very little of the other’s life. Such a man goes far, or, the counsel being withdrawn, collapses suddenly while his world seeks the reason.
Generalled by Mrs. Hauksbee, who, again, had all Mrs. Mallowe’s wisdom at her disposal, proud of himself and, in the end, believing in himself because he was believed in, Otis Yeere stood ready for any fortune that might befall, certain that it would be good. He would fight for his own hand, and intended that this second struggle should lead to better issue than the first helpless surrender of the bewildered ’Stunt.
What might have happened it is impossible to say. This lamentable thing befell, bred directly by a statement of Mrs. Hauksbee that she would spend the next season in Darjiling.
“Are you certain of that?” said Otis Yeere.
“Quite. We’re writing about a house now.”
Otis Yeere “stopped dead,” as Mrs. Hauksbee put it in discussing the relapse with Mrs. Mallowe.
“He has behaved,” she said angrily, “just like Captain Kerrington’s pony—only Otis is a donkey—at the last Gymkhana. Planted his forefeet and refused to go on another step. Polly, my man’s going to disappoint me. What shall I do?”
As a rule, Mrs. Mallowe does not approve of staring, but on this occasion she opened her eyes to the utmost.
“You have managed cleverly so far,” she said. “Speak to him, and ask him what he means.”
“I will—at to-night’s dance.”
“No—o, not at a dance,” said Mrs. Mallowe cautiously. “Men are never themselves quite at dances. Better wait till to-morrow morning.”
“Nonsense. If he’s going to ’vert in this insane way there isn’t a day to lose. Are you going? No? Then sit up for me, there’s a dear. I shan’t stay longer than supper under any circumstances.”
Mrs. Mallowe waited through the evening, looking long and earnestly into the fire, and sometimes smiling to herself.
“Oh! oh! oh! The man’s an idiot! A raving, positive idiot! I’m sorry I ever saw him!”
Mrs. Hauksbee burst into Mrs. Mallowe’s house, at midnight, almost in tears.
“What in the world has happened?” said Mrs. Mallowe, but her eyes showed that she had guessed an answer.
“Happened! Everything has happened! He was there. I went to him and said, ‘Now, what does this nonsense mean?’ Don’t laugh, dear, I can’t bear it. But you know what I mean I said. Then it was a square, and I sat it out with him and wanted an explanation, and he said—Oh! I haven’t patience with such idiots! You know what I said about going to Darjiling next year? It doesn’t matter to me where I go. I’d have changed the Station and lost the rent to have saved this. He said, in so many words, that he wasn’t going to try to work up any more, because—because he would be shifted into a province away from Darjiling, and his own District, where these creatures are, is within a day’s journey——”
“Ah—hh!” said Mrs. Mallowe, in a tone of one who has successfully tracked an obscure word through a large dictionary.
“Did you ever hear of anything so mad so absurd? And he had the ball at his feet. He had only to kick it! I would have made him anything! Anything in the wide world. He could have gone to the world’s end. I would have helped him. I made him, didn’t I, Polly? Didn’t I create that man? Doesn’t he owe everything to me? And to reward me, just when everything was nicely arranged, by this lunacy that spoilt everything!”
“Very few men understand your devotion thoroughly.”
“Oh, Polly, don’t laugh at me! I give men up from this hour. I could have killed him then and there. What right had this man—this Thing I had picked out of his filthy paddy—fields to make love to me?”
“He did that, did he?”
“He did. I don’t remember half he said, I was so angry. Oh, but such a funny thing happened! I can’t help laughing at it now, though I felt nearly ready to cry with rage. He raved and I stormed—I’m afraid we must have made an awful noise in our kala juggah. Protect my character, dear, if it’s all over Simla by to-morrow—and then he bobbed forward in the middle of this insanity—I firmly believe the man’s demented and kissed me.”
“Morals above reproach,” purred Mrs. Mallowe.
“So they were—so they are! It was the most absurd kiss. I don’t believe he’d ever kissed a woman in his life before. I threw my head back, and it was a sort of slidy, pecking dab, just on the end of the chin here.” Mrs. Hauksbee tapped her masculine little chin with her fan. “Then, of course, I was furiously angry, and told him that he was no gentleman, and I was sorry I’d ever met him, and so on. He was crushed so easily then I couldn’t be very angry. Then I came away straight to you.”
“Was this before or after supper?”
“Oh! before—oceans before. Isn’t it perfectly disgusting?”
“Let me think. I withhold judgment till tomorrow. Morning brings counsel.”
But morning brought only a servant with a dainty bouquet of Annandale roses for Mrs. Hauksbee to wear at the dance at Viceregal Lodge that night.
“He doesn’t seem to be very penitent,” said Mrs. Mallowe. “What’s the billet-doux in the centre?”
Mrs. Hauksbee opened the neatly-folded note,—another accomplishment that she had taught Otis,—read it, and groaned tragically.
“Last wreck of a feeble intellect! Poetry! Is it his own, do you think? Oh, that I ever built my hopes on such a maudlin idiot!”
“No. It’s a quotation from Mrs. Browning, and in view of the facts of the case, as Jack says, uncommonly well chosen. Listen——
Sweet, thou hast trod on a heart,
Pass! There’s a world full of men;
And women as fair as thou art
Must do such things now and then.
Thou only hast stepped unaware
Malice not one can impute;
And why should a heart have been there,
In the way of a fair woman’s foot?
“I didn’t—I didn’t—I didn’t!” said Mrs. Hauksbee angrily, her eyes filling with tears; “there was no malice at all. Oh, it’s too vexatious!”
“You’ve misunderstood the compliment,” said Mrs. Mallowe. “He clears you completely and—ahem—I should think by this, that he has cleared completely too. My experience of men is that when they begin to quote poetry they are going to flit. Like swans singing before they die, you know.”
“Polly, you take my sorrows in a most unfeeling way.”
“Do I? Is it so terrible? If he’s hurt your vanity, I should say that you’ve done a certain amount of damage to his heart.”
“Oh, you can never tell about a man!” said Mrs. Hauksbee.
Est fuga, volvitur rota,
On we drift: where looms the dim port?
One Two Three Four Five contribute their quota:
Something is gained if one caught but the import,
Show it us, Hugues of Saxe-Gotha.
—Master Hugues of Saxe-Gotha
“Dressed! Don’t tell me that woman ever dressed in her life. She stood in the middle of the room while her ayah—no, her husband—it must have been a man threw her clothes at her. She then did her hair with her fingers, and rubbed her bonnet in the flue under the bed. I know she did, as well as if I had assisted at the orgy. Who is she?” said Mrs. Hauksbee.
“Don’t!’ said Mrs. Mallowe feebly. “You make my head ache. I am miserable to-day. Stay me with fondants, comfort me with chocolates, for I am -- Did you bring anything from Peliti’s?”
“Questions to begin with. You shall have the sweets when you have answered them. Who and what is the creature? There were at least half-a-dozen men round her, and she appeared to be going to sleep in their midst.”
“Delville,” said Mrs. Mallowe, “‘Shady’ Delville, to distinguish her from Mrs. Jim of that ilk. She dances as untidily as she dresses, I believe, and her husband is somewhere in Madras. Go and call, if you are so interested.”
“What have I to do with Shigramitish women? She merely caught my attention for a minute, and I wondered at the attraction that a dowd has for a certain type of man. I expected to see her walk out of her clothes until I looked at her eyes.”
“Hooks and eyes, surely,” drawled Mrs. Mallowe.
“Don’t be clever, Polly. You make my head ache. And round this hayrick stood a crowd of men—a positive crowd!”
“Perhaps they also expected——”
“Polly, don’t be Rabelaisian!”
Mrs. Mallowe curled herself up comfortably on the sofa, and turned her attention to the sweets. She and Mrs. Hauksbee shared the same house at Simla; and these things befell two seasons after the matter of Otis Yeere, which has been already recorded.
Mrs. Hauksbee stepped into the verandah and looked down upon the Mall, her forehead puckered with thought.
“Hah!” said Mrs. Hauksbee shortly. “Indeed!”
“What is it?” said Mrs. Mallowe sleepily.
“That dowd and The Dancing Master—to whom I object.”
“Why to The Dancing Master? He is a middle-aged gentleman, of reprobate and romantic tendencies, and tries to be a friend of mine.”
“Then make up your mind to lose him. Dowds cling by nature, and I should imagine that this animal—how terrible her bonnet looks from above!—is specially clingsome.”
“She is welcome to The Dancing Master so far as I am concerned. I never could take an interest in a monotonous liar. The frustrated aim of his life is to persuade people that he is a bachelor.”
“O-oh! I think I’ve met that sort of man before. And isn’t he?”
“No. He confided that to me a few days ago. Ugh! Some men ought to be killed.”
“What happened then?”
“He posed as the horror of horrors—a misunderstood man. Heaven knows the femme incomprise is sad enough and bad enough—but the other thing!”
“And so fat too! I should have laughed in his face. Men seldom confide in me. How is it they come to you?”
“For the sake of impressing me with their careers in the past. Protect me from men with confidences!”
“And yet you encourage them?”
“What can I do? They talk, I listen, and they vow that I am sympathetic. I know I always profess astonishment even when the plot is—of the most old possible.”
“Yes. Men are so unblushingly explicit if they are once allowed to talk, whereas women’s confidences are full of reservations and fibs, except——”
“When they go mad and babble of the Unutter-abilities after a week’s acquaintance. Really, if you come to consider, we know a great deal more of men than of our own sex.”
“And the extraordinary thing is that men will never believe it. They say we are trying to hide something.”
“They are generally doing that on their own account. Alas! These chocolates pall upon me, and I haven’t eaten more than a dozen. I think I shall go to sleep.”
“Then you’ll get fat, dear. If you took more exercise and a more intelligent interest in your neighbours you would——”
“Be as much loved as Mrs. Hauksbee. You’re a darling in many ways, and I like you—you are not a woman’s woman—but why do you trouble yourself about mere human beings?”
“Because in the absence of angels, who I am sure would be horribly dull, men and women are the most fascinating things in the whole wide world, lazy one. I am interested in The Dowd—I am interested in The Dancing Master—I am interested in the Hawley Boy—and I am interested in you.”
“Why couple me with the Hawley Boy? He is your property.”
“Yes, and in his own guileless speech, I’m making a good thing out of him. When he is slightly more reformed, and has passed his Higher Standard, or whatever the authorities think fit to exact from him, I shall select a pretty little girl, the Holt girl, I think, and”—here she waved her hands airily—“‘whom Mrs. Hauksbee hath joined together let no man put asunder.’ That’s all.”
“And when you have yoked May Holt with the most notorious detrimental in Simla, and earned the undying hatred of Mamma Holt, what will you do with me, Dispenser of the Destinies of the Universe?”
Mrs. Hauksbee dropped into a low chair in front of the fire, and, chin in hand, gazed long and steadfastly at Mrs. Mallowe.
“I do not know,” she said, shaking her head, “what I shall do with you, dear. It’s obviously impossible to marry you to some one else—your husband would object and the experiment might not be successful after all. I think I shall begin by preventing you from—what is it? ‘sleeping on ale-house benches and snoring in the sun.’”
“Don’t! I don’t like your quotations. They are so rude. Go to the Library and bring me new books.”
“While you sleep? No! If you don’t come with me I shall spread your newest frock on my ’rickshaw-bow, and when any one asks me what I am doing, I shall say that I am going to Phelps’s to get it let out. I shall take care that Mrs. MacNamara sees me. Put your things on, there’s a good girl.”
Mrs. Mallowe groaned and obeyed, and the two went off to the Library, where they found Mrs. Delville and the man who went by the nick-name of The Dancing Master. By that time Mrs. Mallowe was awake and eloquent.
“That is the Creature!” said Mrs. Hauksbee, with the air of one pointing out a slug in the road.
“No,” said Mrs. Mallowe. “The man is the Creature. Ugh! Good-evening, Mr. Bent. I thought you were coming to tea this evening.”
“Surely it was for to-morrow, was it not?” answered The Dancing Master. “I understood . . . I fancied . . . I’m so sorry . . . How very unfortunate!”
But Mrs. Mallowe had passed on.
“For the practised equivocator you said he was,” murmured Mrs. Hauksbee, “he strikes me as a failure. Now wherefore should he have preferred a walk with The Dowd to tea with us? Elective affinities, I suppose—both grubby. Polly, I’d never forgive that woman as long as the world rolls.”
“I forgive every woman everything,” said Mrs. Mallowe. “He will be a sufficient punishment for her. What a common voice she has!’
Mrs. Delville’s voice was not pretty, her carriage was even less lovely, and her raiment was strikingly neglected. All these things Mrs. Mallowe noticed over the top of a magazine.
“Now what is there in her?” said Mrs. Hauksbee. “Do you see what I meant about the clothes falling off? If I were a man I would perish sooner than be seen with that rag-bag. And yet, she has good eyes, but—Oh!”
“What is it?”
“She doesn’t know how to use them! On my honour, she does not. Look! Oh look! Untidiness I can endure, but ignorance never! The woman’s a fool.”
“Hsh! She’ll hear you.”
“All the women in Simla are fools. She’ll think I mean some one else. Now she’s going out. What a thoroughly objectionable couple she and The Dancing Master make! Which reminds me. Do you suppose they’ll ever dance together?”
“Wait and see. I don’t envy her the conversation of The Dancing Master—loathly man! His wife ought to be up here before long.”
“Do you know anything about him?”
“Only what he told me. It may be all a fiction. He married a girl bred in the country, I think, and, being an honourable, chivalrous soul, told me that he repented his bargain and sent her to her mother as often as possible—a person who has lived in the Doon since the memory of man and goes to Mussoorie when other people go Home. The wife is with her at present. So he says.”
“One only, but he talks of his wife in a revolting way. I hated him for it. He thought he was being epigrammatic and brilliant.”
“That is a vice peculiar to men. I dislike him because he is generally in the wake of some girl, disappointing the Eligibles. He will persecute May Holt no more, unless I am much mistaken.”
“No. I think Mrs. Delville may occupy his attention for a while.”
“Do you suppose she knows that he is the head of a family?”
“Not from his lips. He swore me to eternal secrecy. Wherefore I tell you. Don’t you know that type of man?”
“Not intimately, thank goodness! As a general rule, when a man begins to abuse his wife to me, I find that the Lord gives me wherewith to answer him according to his folly; and we part with a coolness between us. I laugh.”
“I’m different. I’ve no sense of humour.”
“Cultivate it, then. It has been my mainstay for more years than I care to think about. A well-educated sense of humour will save a woman when Religion, Training, and Home influences fail; and we may all need salvation sometimes.”
“Do you suppose that the Delville woman has humour?”
“Her dress betrays her. How can a Thing who wears her supplément under her left arm have any notion of the fitness of things—much less their folly? If she discards The Dancing Master after having once seen him dance, I may respect her. Otherwise——”
“But are we not both assuming a great deal too much, dear? You saw the woman at Peliti’s half an hour later you saw her walking with The Dancing Master an hour later you met her here at the Library.”
“Still with The Dancing Master, remember.”
“Still with The Dancing Master, I admit, but why on the strength of that should you imagine——”
“I imagine nothing. I have no imagination. I am only convinced that The Dancing Master is attracted to The Dowd because he is objectionable in every way and she in every other. If I know the man as you have described him, he holds his wife in slavery at present.”
“She is twenty years younger than he.”
“Poor wretch! And, in the end, after he has posed and swaggered and lied—he has a mouth under that ragged moustache simply made for lies—he will be rewarded according to his merits.”
“I wonder what those really are,” said Mrs. Mallowe.
But Mrs. Hauksbee, her face close to the shelf of the new books, was humming softly: “What shall he have who killed the Deer?” She was a lady of unfettered speech.
One month later she announced her intention of calling upon Mrs. Delville. Both Mrs. Hauksbee and Mrs. Mallowe were in morning wrappers, and there was a great peace in the land.
“I should go as I was,” said Mrs. Mallowe. “It would be a delicate compliment to her style.”
Mrs. Hauksbee studied herself in the glass.
“Assuming for a moment that she ever darkened these doors, I should put on this robe, after all the others, to show her what a morning-wrapper ought to be. It might enliven her. As it is, I shall go in the dove-coloured—sweet emblem of youth and innocence—and shall put on my new gloves.”
“If you really are going, dirty tan would be too good; and you know that dove-colour spots with the rain.”
“I care not. I may make her envious. At least I shall try, though one cannot expect very much from a woman who puts a lace tucker into her habit.”
“Just Heavens! When did she do that?”
“Yesterday—riding with The Dancing Master. I met them at the back of Jakko, and the rain had made the lace lie down. To complete the effect, she was wearing an unclean terai with the elastic under her chin. I felt almost too well content to take the trouble to despise her.”
“The Hawley Boy was riding with you. What did he think?”
“Does a boy ever notice these things? Should I like him if he did? He stared in the rudest way, and just when I thought he had seen the elastic, he said, ‘There’s something very taking about that face.’ I rebuked him on the spot. I don’t approve of boys being taken by faces.”
“Other than your own. I shouldn’t be in the least surprised if the Hawley Boy immediately went to call.”
“I forbade him. Let her be satisfied with The Dancing Master, and his wife when she comes up. I’m rather curious to see Mrs. Bent and the Delville woman together.”
Mrs. Hauksbee departed and, at the end of an hour, returned slightly flushed.
“There is no limit to the treachery of youth! I ordered the Hawley Boy, as he valued my patronage, not to call. The first person I stumble over—literally stumble over—in her poky, dark little drawing-room is, of course, the Hawley Boy. She kept us waiting ten minutes, and then emerged as though she had been tipped out of the dirtyclothes-basket. You know my way, dear, when I am at all put out. I was Superior, crrrrushingly Superior! ’Lifted my eyes to Heaven, and had heard of nothing—’dropped my eyes on the carpet and ‘really didn’t know’—’played with my cardcase and ‘supposed so.’ The Hawley Boy giggled like a girl, and I had to freeze him with scowls between the sentences.”
“She sat in a heap on the edge of a couch, and managed to convey the impression that she was suffering from stomach-ache, at the very least. It was all I could do not to ask after her symptoms. When I rose, she grunted just like a buffalo in the water—too lazy to move.”
“Are you certain——?”
“Am I blind, Polly? Laziness, sheer laziness, nothing else—or her garments were only constructed for sitting down in. I stayed for a quarter of an hour trying to penetrate the gloom, to guess what her surroundings were like, while she stuck out her tongue.”
“Well—I’ll withdraw the tongue, though I’m sure if she didn’t do it when I was in the room, she did the minute I was outside. At any rate, she lay in a lump and grunted. Ask the Hawley Boy, dear. I believe the grunts were meant for sentences, but she spoke so indistinctly that I can’t swear to it.”
“You are incorrigible, simply.”
“I am not! Treat me civilly, give me peace with honour, don’t put the only available seat facing the window, and a child may eat jam in my lap before Church. But I resent being grunted at. Wouldn’t you? Do you suppose that she communicates her views on life and love to The Dancing Master in a set of modulated ‘Grmphs’?”
“You attach too much importance to The Dancing Master.”
“He came as we went, and The Dowd grew almost cordial at the sight of him. He smiled greasily, and moved about that darkened dog-kennel in a suspiciously familiar way.”
“Don’t be uncharitable. Any sin but that I’ll forgive.”
“Listen to the voice of History. I am only describing what I saw. He entered, the heap on the sofa revived slightly, and the Hawley Boy and I came away together. He is disillusioned, but I felt it my duty to lecture him severely for going there. And that’s all.”
“Now for Pity’s sake leave the wretched creature and The Dancing Master alone. They never did you any harm.”
“No harm? To dress as an example and a stumbling-block for half Simla, and then to find this Person who is dressed by the hand of God—not that I wish to disparage Him for a moment, but you know the tikka dhurzie way He attires those lilies of the field—this Person draws the eyes of men—and some of them nice men? It’s almost enough to make one discard clothing. I told the Hawley Boy so.”
“And what did that sweet youth do?”
“Turned shell-pink and looked across the far blue hills like a distressed cherub. Am I talking wildly, Polly? Let me say my say, and I shall be calm. Otherwise I may go abroad and disturb Simla with a few original reflections. Excepting always your own sweet self, there isn’t a single woman in the land who understands me when I am—what’s the word?”
“Tête-fêlé,” suggested Mrs. Mallowe.
“Exactly! And now let us have tiffin. The demands of Society are exhausting, and as Mrs. Delville says—” Here Mrs. Hauksbee, to the horror of the khitmatgars, lapsed into a series of grunts, while Mrs. Mallowe stared in lazy surprise.
“‘God gie us a guid conceit of oorselves,’” said Mrs. Hauksbee piously, returning to her natural speech. “Now, in any other woman that would have been vulgar. I am consumed with curiosity to see Mrs. Bent. I expect complications.”
“Woman of one idea,” said Mrs. Mallowe shortly; “all complications are as old as the hills! I have lived through or near all—all—all!”
“And yet do not understand that men and women never behave twice alike. I am old who was young—if ever I put my head in your lap, you dear, big sceptic, you will learn that my parting is gauze—but never, no never, have I lost my interest in men and women. Polly, I shall see this business out to the bitter end.”
“I am going to sleep,” said Mrs. Mallowe calmly. “I never interfere with men or women unless I am compelled,” and she retired with dignity to her own room.
Mrs. Hauksbee’s curiosity was not long left ungratified, for Mrs. Bent came up to Simla a few days after the conversation faithfully reported above, and pervaded the Mall by her husband’s side.
“Behold!” said Mrs. Hauksbee, thoughtfully rubbing her nose. “That is the last link of the chain, if we omit the husband of the Delville, whoever he may be. Let me consider. The Bents and the Delvilles inhabit the same hotel; and the Delville is detested by the Waddy—do you know the Waddy?—who is almost as big a dowd. The Waddy also abominates the male Bent, for which, if her other sins do not weigh too heavily, she will eventually go to Heaven.”
“Don’t be irreverent,” said Mrs. Mallowe, “I like Mrs. Bent’s face.”
“I am discussing the Waddy,” returned Mrs. Hauksbee loftily. “The Waddy will take the female Bent apart, after having borrowed—yes!—everything that she can, from hairpins to babies’ bottles. Such, my dear, is life in a hotel. The Waddy will tell the female Bent facts and fictions about The Dancing Master and The Dowd.”
“Lucy, I should like you better if you were not always looking into people’s back-bedrooms.”
“Anybody can look into their front drawing-rooms; and remember whatever I do, and whatever I look, I never talk—as the Waddy will. Let us hope that The Dancing Master’s greasy smile and manner of the pedagogue will soften the heart of that cow, his wife. If mouths speak truth, I should think that little Mrs. Bent could get very angry on occasion.”
“But what reason has she for being angry?”
“What reason! The Dancing Master in himself is a reason. How does it go? ‘If in his life some trivial errors fall, Look in his face and you’ll believe them all.’ I am prepared to credit any evil of The Dancing Master, because I hate him so. And The Dowd is so disgustingly badly dressed——”
“That she, too, is capable of every iniquity? I always prefer to believe the best of everybody. It saves so much trouble.”
“Very good. I prefer to believe the worst. It saves useless expenditure of sympathy. And you may be quite certain that the Waddy believes with me.”
Mrs. Mallowe sighed and made no answer.
The conversation was holden after dinner while Mrs. Hauksbee was dressing for a dance.
“I am too tired to go,” pleaded Mrs. Mallowe, and Mrs. Hauksbee left her in peace till two in the morning, when she was aware of emphatic knocking at her door.
“Don’t be very angry, dear,” said Mrs. Hauksbee. “My idiot of an ayah has gone home, and, as I hope to sleep to-night, there isn’t a soul in the place to unlace me.”
“Oh, this is too bad!’ said Mrs. Mallowe sulkily.
“Cant help it. I’m a lone, lorn grass-widow, dear, but I will not sleep in my stays. And such news too! Oh, do unlace me, there’s a darling! The Dowd—The Dancing Master—I and the Hawley Boy—You know the North verandah?”
“How can I do anything if you spin round like this?” protested Mrs. Mallowe, fumbling with the knot of the laces.
“Oh, I forget. I must tell my tale without the aid of your eyes. Do you know you’ve lovely eyes, dear? Well, to begin with, I took the Hawley Boy to a kala juggah.”
“Did he want much taking?”
“Lots! There was an arrangement of loose-boxes in kanats, and she was in the next one talking to him.”
“Which? How? Explain.”
“You know what I mean--The Dowd and The Dancing Master. We could hear every word, and we listened shamelessly—’specially the Hawley Boy. Polly, I quite love that woman!”
“This is interesting. There! Now turn round. What happened?”
“One moment. Ah—h! Blessed relief. I’ve been looking forward to taking them off for the last half-hour—which is ominous at my time of life. But, as I was saying, we listened and heard The Dowd drawl worse than ever. She drops her final g’s like a barmaid or a blue-blooded Aide-de-Camp. ‘Look he-ere, you’re gettin’ too fond o’ me,” she said, and The Dancing Master owned it was so in language that nearly made me ill. The Dowd reflected for a while. Then we heard her say, ‘Look he-ere, Mister Bent, why are you such an aw-ful liar?’ I nearly exploded while The Dancing Master denied the charge. It seems that he never told her he was a married man.”
“I said he wouldn’t.”
“And she had taken this to heart, on personal grounds, I suppose. She drawled along for five minutes, reproaching him with his perfidy, and grew quite motherly. ‘Now you’ve got a nice little wife of your own—you have,’ she said. ‘She’s ten times too good for a fat old man like you, and, look he-ere, you never told me a word about her, and I’ve been thinkin’ about it a good deal, and I think you’re a liar.’ Wasn’t that delicious? The Dancing Master maundered and raved till the Hawley Boy suggested that he should burst in and beat him. His voice runs up into an impassioned squeak when he is afraid. The Dowd must be an extraordinary woman. She explained that had he been a bachelor she might not have objected to his devotion; but since he was a married man and the father of a very nice baby, she considered him a hypocrite, and this she repeated twice. She wound up her drawl with: ‘An’ I’m tellin’ you this because your wife is angry with me, an’ I hate quarrellin’ with any other woman, an’ I like your wife. You know how you have behaved for the last six weeks. You shouldn’t have done it, indeed you shouldn’t. You’re too old an’ too fat.’ Can’t you imagine how The Dancing Master would wince at that! ‘Now go away,’ she said. ‘I don’t want to tell you what I think of you, because I think you are not nice. I’ll stay he-ere till the next dance begins.’ Did you think that the creature had so much in her?”
“I never studied her as closely as you did. It sounds unnatural. What happened?”
“The Dancing Master attempted blandishment, reproof, jocularity, and the style of the Lord High Warden, and I had almost to pinch the Hawley Boy to make him keep quiet. She grunted at the end of each sentence and, in the end, he went away swearing to himself, quite like a man in a novel. He looked more objectionable than ever. I laughed. I love that woman—in spite of her clothes. And now I’m going to bed. What do you think of it?”
“I shan’t begin to think till the morning,” said Mrs. Mallowe, yawning. “Perhaps she spoke the truth. They do fly into it by accident sometimes.”
Mrs. Hauksbee’s account of her eavesdropping was an ornate one, but truthful in the main. For reasons best known to herself, Mrs. “Shady” Delville had turned upon Mr. Bent and rent him limb from limb, casting him away limp and disconcerted ere she withdrew the light of her eyes from him permanently. Being a man of resource, and anything but pleased in that he had been called both old and fat, he gave Mrs. Bent to understand that he had, during her absence in the Doon, been the victim of unceasing persecution at the hands of Mrs. Delville, and he told the tale so often and with such eloquence that he ended in believing it, while his wife marvelled at the manners and customs of “some women.” When the situation showed signs of languishing, Mrs. Waddy was always on hand to wake the smouldering fires of suspicion in Mrs. Bent’s bosom and to contribute generally to the peace and comfort of the hotel. Mr. Bent’s life was not a happy one, for if Mrs. Waddy’s story were true, he was, argued his wife, untrustworthy to the last degree. If his own statement was true, his charms of manner and conversation were so great that he needed constant surveillance. And he received it, till he repented genuinely of his marriage and neglected his personal appearance. Mrs. Delville alone in the hotel was unchanged. She removed her chair some six paces towards the head of the table, and occasionally in the twilight ventured on timid overtures of friendship to Mrs. Bent, which were repulsed.
“She does it for my sake,” hinted the virtuous Bent.
“A dangerous and designing woman,” purred Mrs. Waddy.
Worst of all, every other hotel in Simla was full!
“Polly, are you afraid of diphtheria?”
“Of nothing in the world except small-pox, Diphtheria kills, but it doesn’t disfigure. Why do you ask?”
“Because the Bent baby has got it, and the whole hotel is upside down in consequence. The Waddy has ‘set her five young on the rail’ and fled. The Dancing Master fears for his precious throat, and that miserable little woman, his wife, has no notion of what ought to be done. She wanted to put it into a mustard bath—for croup!’
“Where did you learn all this?”
“Just now, on the Mall. Dr. Howlen told me. The manager of the hotel is abusing the Bents, and the Bents are abusing the manager. They are a feckless couple.”
“Well. What’s on your mind?”
“This; and I know it’s a grave thing to ask.
Would you seriously object to my bringing the child over here, with its mother?”
“On the most strict understanding that we see nothing of the Dancing Master.”
“He will be only too glad to stay away. Polly, you’re an angel. The woman really is at her wits’ end.”
“And you know nothing about her, careless, and would hold her up to public scorn if it gave you a minute’s amusement. Therefore you risk your life for the sake of her brat. No, Loo, I’m not the angel. I shall keep to my rooms and avoid her. But do as you please—only tell me why you do it.”
Mrs. Hauksbee’s eyes softened; she looked out of the window and back into Mrs. Mallowe’s face.
“I don’t know,” said Mrs. Hauksbee simply.
“Polly! and for aught you knew you might have taken my fringe off. Never do that again without warning. Now we’ll get the rooms ready. I don’t suppose I shall be allowed to circulate in society for a month.”
“And I also. Thank goodness I shall at last get all the sleep I want.”
Much to Mrs. Bent’s surprise she and the baby were brought over to the house almost before she knew where she was. Bent was devoutly and undisguisedly thankful, for he was afraid of the infection, and also hoped that a few weeks in the hotel alone with Mrs. Delville might lead to explanations. Mrs. Bent had thrown her jealousy to the winds in her fear for her child’s life.
“We can give you good milk,” said Mrs. Hauksbee to her, “and our house is much nearer to the Doctor’s than the hotel, and you won’t feel as though you were living in a hostile camp. Where is the dear Mrs. Waddy? She seemed to be a particular friend of yours.”
“They’ve all left me,” said Mrs. Bent bitterly. “Mrs. Waddy went first. She said I ought to be ashamed of myself for introducing diseases there, and I am sure it wasn’t my fault that little Dora——”
“How nice!’ cooed Mrs. Hauksbee. “The Waddy is an infectious disease herself—‘more quickly caught than the plague and the taker runs presently mad.’ I lived next door to her at the Elysium, three years ago. Now see, you won’t give us the least trouble, and I’ve ornamented all the house with sheets soaked in carbolic. It smells comforting, doesn’t it? Remember I’m always in call, and my ayah’s at your service when yours goes to her meals, and—and—if you cry I’ll never forgive you.”
Dora Bent occupied her mother’s unprofitable attention through the day and the night. The Doctor called thrice in the twenty-four hours, and the house reeked with the smell of the Condy’s Fluid, chlorine-water, and carbolic acid washes. Mrs. Mallowe kept to her own rooms—she considered that she had made sufficient concessions in the cause of humanity—and Mrs. Hauksbee was more esteemed by the Doctor as a help in the sick-room than the half-distraught mother.
“I know nothing of illness,” said Mrs. Hauksbee to the Doctor. “Only tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.”
“Keep that crazy woman from kissing the child, and let her have as little to do with the nursing as you possibly can,” said the Doctor; “I’d turn her out of the sick-room, but that I honestly believe she’d die of anxiety. She is less than no good, and I depend on you and the ayahs, remember.”
Mrs. Hauksbee accepted the responsibility, though it painted olive hollows under her eyes and forced her to her oldest dresses. Mrs. Bent clung to her with more than childlike faith.
“I know you’ll make Dora well, won’t you?” she said at least twenty times a day; and twenty times a day Mrs. Hauksbee answered valiantly, “Of course I will.”
But Dora did not improve, and the Doctor seemed to be always in the house.
“There’s some danger of the thing taking a bad turn,” he said; “I’ll come over between three and four in the morning to-morrow.”
“Good gracious!” said Mrs. Hauksbee. “He never told me what the turn would be! My education has been horribly neglected; and I have only this foolish mother-woman to fall back upon.”
The night wore through slowly, and Mrs. Hauksbee dozed in a chair by the fire. There was a dance at the Viceregal Lodge, and she dreamed of it till she was aware of Mrs. Bent’s anxious eyes staring into her own.
“Wake up! Wake up! Do something!” cried Mrs. Bent piteously. “Dora’s choking to death! Do you mean to let her die?”
Mrs. Hauksbee jumped to her feet and bent over the bed. The child was fighting for breath, while the mother wrung her hands despairingly.
“Oh, what can I do? What can you do? She won’t stay still! I can’t hold her. Why didn’t the Doctor say this was coming?” screamed Mrs. Bent. “Won’t you help me? She’s dying!’
“I—I’ve never seen a child die before!’ stammered Mrs. Hauksbee feebly, and then—let none blame her weakness after the strain of long watching—she broke down, and covered her face with her hands. The ayahs on the threshold snored peacefully.
There was a rattle of ’rickshaw wheels below, the clash of an opening door, a heavy step on the stairs, and Mrs. Delville entered to find Mrs. Bent screaming for the Doctor as she ran round the room. Mrs. Hauksbee, her hands to her ears, and her face buried in the chintz of a chair, was quivering with pain at each cry from the bed, and murmuring, “Thank God, I never bore a child! Oh! thank God, I never bore a child!”
Mrs. Delville looked at the bed for an instant, took Mrs. Bent by the shoulders, and said quietly, “Get me some caustic. Be quick.”
The mother obeyed mechanically. Mrs. Delville had thrown herself down by the side of the child and was opening its mouth.
“Oh, you’re killing her!” cried Mrs. Bent. “Where’s the Doctor? Leave her alone!”
Mrs. Delville made no reply for a minute, but busied herself with the child.
“Now the caustic, and hold a lamp behind my shoulder. Will you do as you are told? The acid-bottle, if you don’t know what I mean,” she said.
A second time Mrs. Delville bent over the child. Mrs. Hauksbee, her face still hidden, sobbed and shivered. One of the ayahs staggered sleepily into the room, yawning: “Doctor Sahib come.”
Mrs. Delville turned her head.
“You’re only just in time,” she said. “It was chokin’ her when I came, an’ I’ve burnt it.”
“There was no sign of the membrane getting to the air-passages after the last steaming. It was the general weakness I feared,” said the Doctor half to himself, and he whispered as he looked, “You’ve done what I should have been afraid to do without consultation.”
“She was dyin’,” said Mrs. Delville, under her breath. “Can you do anythin’? What a mercy it was I went to the dance!”
Mrs. Hauksbee raised her head.
“Is it all over?” she gasped. “I’m useless—I’m worse than useless! What are you doing here?”
She stared at Mrs. Delville, and Mrs. Bent, realising for the first time who was the Goddess from the Machine, stared also.
Then Mrs. Delville made explanation, putting on a dirty long glove and smoothing a crumpled and ill-fitting ball-dress.
“I was at the dance, an’ the Doctor was tellin’ me about your baby bein’ so ill. So I came away early, an’ your door was open, an’ I—I—lost my boy this way six months ago, an’ I’ve been tryin’ to forget it ever since, an’ I—I—I am very sorry for intrudin’ an’ anythin’ that has happened.”
Mrs. Bent was putting out the Doctor’s eye with a lamp as he stooped over Dora.
“Take it away,” said the Doctor. “I think the child will do, thanks to you, Mrs. Delville. I should have come too late, but, I assure you”—he was addressing himself to Mrs. Delville—“I had not the faintest reason to expect this. The membrane must have grown like a mushroom. Will one of you help me, please?”
He had reason for the last sentence. Mrs. Hauksbee had thrown herself into Mrs. Delville’s arms, where she was weeping bitterly, and Mrs. Bent was unpicturesquely mixed up with both, while from the tangle came the sound of many sobs and much promiscuous kissing.
“Good gracious! I’ve spoilt all your beautiful roses!” said Mrs. Hauksbee, lifting her head from the lump of crushed gum and calico atrocities on Mrs. Delville’s shoulder and hurrying to the Doctor.
Mrs. Delville picked up her shawl, and slouched out of the room, mopping her eyes with the glove that she had not put on.
“I always said she was more than a woman,” sobbed Mrs. Hauksbee hysterically, “and that proves it!”
Six weeks later Mrs. Bent and Dora had returned to the hotel. Mrs. Hauksbee had come out of the Valley of Humiliation, had ceased to reproach herself for her collapse in an hour of need, and was even beginning to direct the affairs of the world as before.
“So nobody died, and everything went off as it should, and I kissed The Dowd, Polly. I feel so old. Does it show in my face?”
“Kisses don’t as a rule, do they? Of course you know what the result of The Dowd’s providential arrival has been.”
“They ought to build her a statue—only no sculptor dare copy those skirts.”
“Ah!’ said Mrs. Mallowe quietly. “She has found another reward. The Dancing Master has been smirking through Simla, giving every one to understand that she came because of her undying love for him—for him—to save his child, and all Simla naturally believes this.”
“But Mrs. Bent——”
“Mrs. Bent believes it more than any one else. She won’t speak to The Dowd now. Isn’t The Dancing Master an angel?”
Mrs. Hauksbee lifted up her voice and raged till bed-time. The doors of the two rooms stood open.
“Polly,” said a voice from the darkness, “what did that American-heiress-globe-trotter girl say last season when she was tipped out of her ’rickshaw turning a corner? Some absurd adjective that made the man who picked her up explode.”
“‘Paltry,’” said Mrs. Mallowe. “Through her nose—like this—“Ha-ow pahltry!’”
“Exactly,” said the voice. “Ha-ow pahltry it all is!”
“Everything. Babies, Diphtheria, Mrs. Bent and The Dancing Master, I whooping in a chair, and The Dowd dropping in from the clouds. I wonder what the motive was—all the motives.”
“What do you think?”
“Don’t ask me. Go to sleep.”
Scene—The imperial city of Simla, on a pine-clad mountain seven thousand feet above the level of the sea. Gray roofs of houses peering through green; white clouds going to bed in the valley below, purple clouds of sunset sitting on the peaks above. Smell of wood-smoke and pine-cones. A curtained verandah-room in Mrs. Hauksbee’s house, overlooking Simla, shows Mrs. Hauksbee, in black cachemire tea-gown opening over cream front, seated in a red-cushioned chair, her foot on a Khokand rug, Russian china tea things on red lacquered table beneath red-shaded lamps. On a cushion at her feet, Miss Holt—gray riding-habit, soft gray felt terai hat, blue and gold puggree, buff gauntlets in lap, and glimpse of spurred riding-boot. They have been talking as the twilight gathers. Mrs. Hauksbee crosses over to the piano in a natural pause of the conversation and begins to play.
May. ( Without changing her position. ) Yes. That’s nice. Play something.
Mrs. H. What?
May. Oh! Anything. Only I don’t want to hear about sighing over tombs, and saying Nevermore.
Mrs. H. Have you ever known me do that? May, you’re in one of your little tempers this afternoon.
May. So would a Saint be. I’ve told you why. Horrid old thing!—isn’t she?
Mrs. H. ( Without prelude )—
Fair Eve knelt close to the guarded gate in the hush of an Eastern spring,
She saw the flash of the Angel’s sword, the gleam of the Angel’s wing—
May. ( Impetuously. ) And now you’re laughing at me!
Mrs. H. ( Shaking her head, continues the song for a verse; then crescendo )—
And because she was so beautiful, and because she could not see
How fair were the pure white cyclamens crushed dying at her knee.
( That’s the society of your aunt, my dear. )
He plucked a Rose from the Eden Tree where the four great rivers meet.
May. Yes. I know you’re laughing at me. Now somebody’s going to die, of course. They always do.
Mrs. H. No. Wait and see what is going to happen. ( The puckers pass out of May’s face as she listens )—
And though for many a Cycle past that Rose in the dust hath lain
With her who bore it upon her breast when she passed from grief to pain,
( Retard ) —
There was never a daughter of Eve but once, ere the tale of years be done,
Shall know the scent of the Eden Rose, but once beneath the sun!
Though the years may bring her joy or pain, fame, sorrow, or sacrifice,
The hour that brought her the scent of the Rose she lived it in Paradise!
( Concludes with arpeggio chords. )
May. ( Shuddering. ) Ah! don’t. How good that is! What is it?
Mrs. H. Something called “The Eden Rose”. An old song to a new setting.
May. Play it again!
Mrs. H. ( I thought it would tell. ) No, dear. ( Returning to her place by the tea-things. ) And so that amiable aunt of yours won’t let you go to the dance?
May. She says dancing’s wicked and sinful; and it’s only a Volunteer ball, after all.
Mrs. H. Then why are you so anxious to go?
May. Because she says I mustn’t! Isn’t that sufficient reason? And because——
Mrs. H. Ah, it’s that “because” I want to hear about, dear.
May. Because I choose. Mrs. Hauksbee—dear Mrs. Hauksbee—you will help me, won’t you?
Mrs. H. ( Slowly. ) Ye-es. Because I choose. Well?
May. In the first place, you’ll take me under your wing, won’t you? And, in the second, you’ll keep me there, won’t you?
Mrs. H. That will depend a great deal on the Hawley Boy’s pleasure, won’t it?
May. ( Flushing. ) Char— Mr. Hawley has nothing whatever to do with it.
Mrs. H. Of course not. But what will your aunt say?
May. She will be angry with me, but not with you. She is pious—oh! so pious!—and she would give anything to be put on that lady’s committee for—what is it?—giving pretty dresses to half-caste girls. Lady Bieldar is the secretary, and she won’t speak to Aunt on the Mall. You’re Lady Bieldar’s friend. Aunt daren’t quarrel with you, and, besides, if I come here after dinner tonight, how are you to know that everything isn’t correct?
Mrs. H. On your own pretty head be the talking to! I’m willing to chaperon to an unlimited extent.
May. Bless you! and I’ll love you always for it!
Mrs. H. There, again, the Hawley Boy might have something to say. You’ve been a well-conducted little maiden so far, May. Whence this sudden passion for Volunteer balls? ( Turning down lamp and lowering voice as she takes the girl’s hand. ) Won’t you tell me? I’m not very young, but I’m not a grim griffin, and I think I’d understand, dear.
May. ( After a pause, and swiftly. ) His leave is nearly ended. He goes down to the plains to his regiment the day after tomorrow, and——
Mrs. H. Has he said anything?
May. I don’t know. I don’t think so. Don’t laugh at me, please! But I believe me it would nearly break my heart if he didn’t.
Mrs. H. ( Smiling to herself. ) Poor child! And how long has this been going on?
May. Ever so long! Since the beginning of the world—or the beginning of the season. I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want to help it. And last time we met I was just as rude as I could be—and—and he thought I meant it.
Mrs. H. How strange! Seeing that he is a man too—( half aloud )—and probably with experiences of his own!
May. ( Dropping Mrs. H.’s hand. ) I don’t believe that, and—I won’t. He couldn’t!
Mrs. H. No, dear. Of course he hasn’t had experiences. Why should he? I was only teasing! But when do I pick you up tonight, and how?
May. Aunt’s dining out somewhere—with goody-goody people. I dine alone with Uncle John—and he sleeps after dinner. I shall dress then. I simply daren’t order my ’rickshaw. The trampling of four coolies in the verandah would wake the dead. I shall have Dandy brought round quietly, and slip away.
Mrs. H. But won’t riding crumple your frock horribly?
May. ( Rising. ) Not in the least, if you know how. I’ve ridden ten miles to a dance, and come in as fresh as though I had just left my brougham. A plain head hunting-saddle—swing up carefully—throw a waterproof over the skirt and an old shawl over the body, and there you are! Nobody notices in the dark, and Dandy knows when he feels a high heel that he must behave.
Mrs. H. And what are you wearing?
May. My very, very bestest—slate body, smoke-coloured tulle skirt, and the loveliest steel-worked little shoes that ever were. Mother sent them. She doesn’t know Aunt’s views. That, and awfully pretty yellow roses—teeny-weeny ones. And you’ll wait for me here, won’t you—you Angel!—at half-past nine? ( Shortens habit and whirls Mrs. H. down the verandah. Winds up with a kiss. ) There!
Mrs. H. ( Holding her at arm’s length and looking into her eyes. ) And the next one will be given to——
May. ( Blushing furiously. ) Uncle John—when I get home.
Mrs. H. Hypocrite! Go along, and be happy! ( As May mounts her horse in the garden. ) At half-past nine, then? And can you curl your own wig? But I shall be here to put the last touches to you.
Mrs. H. ( In the verandah alone, as the stars come out. ) Poor child! Dear child! And Charley Hawley too! God gie us a guid conceit of oorselves! But I think they are made for each other! I wonder whether that Eurasian dress-reform committee is susceptible of improvements. I wonder whether—O youth, youth!
Enter Peroo, the butler, with a note on a tray.
Mrs. H. ( Reading. ) “Help! Help! Help! The decorations are vile—the Volunteers are fighting over them. The roses are just beginning to come in. Mrs. Mallowe has a headache. I am on a step- ladder and the verge of tears! Come and restore order, if you have any regard for me! Bring things and dress; and dine with us.—Constance.” How vexatious! But I must go, I suppose. I hate dressing in other people’s rooms—and Lady Bieldar takes all the chairs. But I’ll tell Assunta to wait for May. ( Passes into house, gives orders, and departs. The clock-hands in the dining-room mark half-past seven. )
Enter Assunta, the lady’s-maid, to Peroo, squatting on the hearth-run.
Assunta. Peroo, there is an order that I am to remain on hand till the arrival of a young lady. ( Squats at his side. )
Assunta. I do not desire to wait so long. I wish to go to my house.
Assunta. My house is in the bazar. There is an urgency that I should go there.
Peroo. To meet a lover?
Assunta. No—black beast! To tend my children, who be honest born. Canst thou say that of thine?
Peroo. ( Without emotion. ) That is a lie, and thou art a woman of notoriously immoral carriage.
Assunta. For this, my husband, who is a man, shall break thy lizard’s back with a bamboo.
Peroo. For that, I, who am much honoured and trusted in this house, can, by a single word, secure his dismissal, and, owing to my influence among the servants of this town, can raise the bad name against ye both. Then ye will starve for lack of employ.
Assunta. ( Fawning. ) That is true. Thy honour is as great as thy influence, and thou art an esteemed man. Moreover, thou art beautiful; especially as to thy moustachios.
Peroo. So other women, and of higher caste than thou, sweeper’s wife, have told me.
Assunta. The moustachios of a fighting-man—of a very swashbuckler! Ahi! Peroo, how many hearts hast thou broken with thy fine face and those so huge moustachios?
Peroo. ( Twirling moustache. ) One or two—two or three. It is a matter of common talk in the bazars. I speak not of the matter myself. ( Hands her betel-nut and lime wrapped in the leaf. They chew in silence. )
Assunta. I greatly desire to go away, and not to wait.
Peroo. Go, then!
Assunta. But what wilt thou say to the mistress?
Peroo. That thou hast gone.
Assunta. Nay, but thou must say that one came crying with news that my littlest babe was smitten with fever, and that I fled weeping. Else it were not wise to go.
Peroo. Be it so! But I shall need a little tobacco to solace me while I wait for the return of the mistress alone.
Assunta. It shall come; and it shall be of the best. ( A snake is a snake, and a bearer is a thieving ape till he dies! ) I go. It was the fever of the child—the littlest babe of all—remember. ( And now, if my lover finds I am late, he will beat me, judging that I have been unfaithful. ) ( Exit. )
At half-past nine enter tumultuously May, a heavy shawl over her shoulders, a skirt of smoke-coloured tulle showing beneath.
May. Mrs. Hauksbee! Oh! She isn’t here. And I dared not get Aunt’s ayah to help. She would have told Uncle John—and I can’t lace it myself. ( Peroo hands note. May reads. ) “So sorry. Dragged off to put the last touches to the draperies. Assunta will look after you.” Sorry! You may well be sorry, wicked woman! Draperies, indeed! You never thought of mine, and—all up the back, too. ( To Peroo ) Where’s Assunta?
Peroo. ( Bowing to the earth. ) By your honoured favour, there came a man but a short time ago crying that the ayah’s baby was smitten with fever, and she fled, weeping, to tend it. Her house is a mile hence. Is there any order?
May. How desperately annoying! ( Looking into fire, her eyes softening. ) Her baby! ( With a little shiver, passing right hand before eyes. ) Poor woman! ( A pause. ) But what am I to do? I can’t even creep into the cloak-room as I am, and trust to someone to put me to rights; and the shawl’s a horrid old plaid! Who invented dresses to lace up the back? It must have been a man! I’d like to put him into one! What am I to do? Perhaps the Colley-Haughton girls haven’t left yet. They’re sure to be dining at home. I might run up to their rooms and wait till they came. Eva wouldn’t tell, I know. ( Remounts Dandy, and rides up the hill to house immediately above, enters glazed hall cautiously, and calls up staircase in an agonised whisper, huddling her shawl about her. ) Jenny! Eva! Eva! Jenny! They’re out too, and, of course, their ayah’s gone!
Sir Henry Colley-Haughton. ( Opening door of dining-room, where he has been finishing an after-dinner cigar, and stepping into hall. ) I thought I heard a—Miss Holt! I didn’t know you were going with my girls. They’ve just left.
May. ( Confusedly. ) I wasn’t. I didn’t—that is, it was partly my fault. ( With desperate earnestness. ) Is Lady Haughton in?
Sir Henry. She’s with the girls. Is there anything that I can do? I’m going to the dance in a minute. Perhaps I might ride with you!
May. Not for worlds! Not for anything! It was a mistake. I hope the girls are quite well.
Sir Henry. ( With bland wonder. ) Perfectly, thanks. ( Moves through hall towards horse. )
May. ( Mounting in haste. ) No; Please don’t hold my stirrup! I can manage perfectly, thanks! ( Canters out of the garden to side road shadowed by pines. Sees beneath her the lights of Simla town in orderly constellations, and on a bare ridge the illuminated bulk of the Simla Town-hall, shining like a cut-paper transparency. The main road is firefly-lighted with the moving ’rickshaw lamps all climbing towards the Town-hall. The wind brings up a few bars of a waltz. A monkey in the darkness of the wood wakes and croons dolefully. ) And now, where in the world am I to go? May, you bad girl! This all comes of disobeying aunts and wearing dresses that lace up the back, and—trusting Mrs. Hauksbee. Everybody is going. I must wait a little till that crowd has thinned. Perhaps—perhaps Mrs. Lefevre might help me. It’s a horrid road to her poky little house, but she’s very kind, even if she is pious. ( Thrusts Dandy along an almost inaccessible path; halts in the shadow of a clump of rhododendron, and watches the lighted windows of Mrs. Lefevre’s small cottage. ) Oh! horror! so that’s where Aunt is dining! Back, Dandy, back! Dandy, dearest, step softly! ( Regains road, panting. ) I’ll never forgive Mrs. Hauksbee!—never. And there’s the band beginning “God save the Queen”, and that means the Viceroy has come; and Charley will think I’ve disappointed him on purpose, because I was so rude last time. And I’m all but ready. Oh! it’s cruel, cruel! I’ll go home, and I’ll go straight to bed, and Charley may dance with any other horrid girl he likes! ( The last of the ’rickshaw lights pass her as she reaches the main road. Clatter of stones overhead and squeak of a saddle as a big horse picks his way down a steep path above, and a robust baritone chants )—
Our King went forth to Normandie
With power of might and chivalry;
The Lord for him wrought wondrously,
Therefore now may England cry,
Swings into main road, and the young moon shows a glimpse of the cream and silver of the Deccan Irregular Horse uniform under rider’s opened cloak.
May. ( Leaning forward and taking reins short. ) That’s Charley! What a splendid voice! Just like a big, strong angel’s! I wonder what he is so happy about? How he sits his horse! And he hasn’t anything round his neck, and he’ll catch his death of cold! If he sees me riding in this direction, he may stop and ask me why, and I can’t explain. Fate’s against me tonight. I’ll canter past quickly. Bless you, Charley! the( Canters up the main road, under the shadow of the pines, as Hawley canters down. Dandy’s hoofs keep the tune “There was never a daughter of Eve” etc. All Earth wakes, and tells the Stars. The Occupants of the Little Simla Cemetery stir in their sleep. )
Pines of the Cemetery ( to the Occupants )
Lie still, lie still! O earth to earth returning!
Brothers beneath, what wakes you to your pain?
The Occupants ( underground )
Earth’s call to earth—the old unstifled yearning,
To clutch our lives again.
By summer shrivelled and by winter frozen,
Ye cannot thrust us wholly from the light,
Do we not know, who were of old his chosen,
Love rides abroad tonight?
By all that was our own of joy or sorrow,
By Pain foredone, Desire snatched away!
By hopeless weight of that unsought Tomorrow,
Which is our lot today,
By vigil in our chambers ringing hollow,
With Love’s foot overhead to mock our dearth,
We who have come would speak for those who follow—
Be pitiful, O Earth!
The Devil of Chance, in the similitude of a gray ape, runs out on the branch of an overhanging tree, singing—
On a road that is pied as a panther’s hide
The shadows flicker and dance.
And the leaves that make them, my hand shall shake them—
The hand of the Devil of Chance.
Echo from the Snows on the Thibet road—
The little blind Devil of Chance.
The Devil ( swinging the branch furiously )—
Yea, chance and confusion and error
The chain of their destiny wove;
And the horse shall be smitten with terror,
And the maiden made sure of her love!
Dandy shies at the waving shadows, and cannons into Hawley’s horse, off shoulder to off shoulder. Hawley catches the reins.
The Devil, above ( letting the branch swing back )—
On a road that is pied as a panther’s hide
The souls of the twain shall dance!
And the passions that shake them, my hand shall wake them—
The hand of the Devil of Chance.
The little blind Devil of Chance.
Hawley. ( Recovering himself. ) Confou—er—hm! Oh, Miss Holt! And to what am I indebted for this honour?
May. Dandy shied. I hope you aren’t hurt?
All Earth, The Flowers, The Trees, and The Moonlight ( together to Hawley ). Speak now, or for ever hold your peace!
Hawley ( Drawing reins tighter, keeping his horse’s off shoulder to Dandy’s side. ) My fault entirely. ( It comes easily now. ) Not much hurt, are you ( leaning off side, and putting his arm round her ), my May? It’s awfully mean, I know, but I meant to speak weeks ago, only you never gave a fellow the chance—’specially last time. ( Moistens his lips. ) I’m not fit—I’m utterly— ( in a gruff whisper )—I’m utterly unworthy, and—and you aren’t angry, May, are you? I thought you might have cared a little bit. Do you care, darl——?
May. ( Her head falling on his right shoulder. The arm tightens. ) Oh! don’t—don’t!
Hawley. ( Nearly tumbling off his horse. ) Only one, darling. We can talk at the dance!
May. But I can’t go to the dance.
Hawley. ( Taking another promptly as head is raised. ) Nonsense! You must, dear, now. Remember I go down to my Regiment the day after to-morrow, and I shan’t see you again. ( Catches glimpse of steel-gray slipper in stirrup. ) Why, you’re dressed for it!
May. Yes, but I can’t go! I’ve—torn my dress.
Hawley. Run along and put on a new one; only be quick. Shall I wait here?
May. No! Go away! Go at once!
Hawley. You’ll find me opposite the cloakroom.
May. Yes, yes! Anything! Good-night!
Hawley canters up the road, and the song breaks out again fortissimo.
May. ( Absently, picking up reins. ) Yes, indeed. My king went forth to Normandie; and—I shall never get there. Let me think, though! Let me think! It’s all over now—all over! I wonder what I ought to have said! I wonder what I did say! Hold up, Dandy; you need some one to order you about. It’s nice to have some one nice to order you about. ( Flicks horse, who capers. ) Oh, don’t jiggit, Dandy! I feel so trembly and faint. But I shan’t see him for ever so long . . . But we understand now. ( Dandy turns down path to Mrs. Scriffshaw’s house. ) And I wanted to go to the dance so much before, and now I want to go worse than ever! ( Dismounts, runs into house, and weeps with her head on the drawing-room table. )
Enter Scriffshaw, grizzled Lieutenant-Colonel.
Scriffshaw. May! Bless my soul, what’s all this? What’s all this? ( Shawl slips. ) And, bless my soul, what’s all this?
May. N—nothing. Only I’m miserable and wretched.
Scriffshaw. But where have you been? I thought you were in your own room.
May. ( With icy desperation. ) I was, till you had fallen asleep. Then I dressed myself for a dance—this dance that Aunt has forbidden me to go to. Then I took Dandy out, and then—( collapsing and wriggling her shoulders )—doesn’t it show enough?
Scriffshaw. ( Critically. ) It does, dear, I thought those things—er—laced up the front.
May. This one doesn’t. That’s all. ( Weeps afresh. )
Scriffshaw. Then what are you going to do? Bless my soul, May don’t cry!
May. I will cry, and I’ll sit here till Aunt comes home, and then she’ll see what I’ve been trying to do, and I’ll tell her that I hate her, and ask her to send me back to Calcutta!
Scriffshaw. But—but if she finds you in this dress she’ll be furiously angry with me!
May. For allowing me to put it on? So much the better. Then you’ll know what it is to be scolded by Aunt.
Scriffshaw. I knew that before you were born. ( Standing by May’s bowed head. ) ( She’s my sister’s child, and I don’t think Alice has the very gentlest way with girls. I’m sure her mother wouldn’t object if we took her to twenty dances. She can’t find us amusing company—and Alice will be simply beside herself under any circumstances. I know her tempers after those “refreshing evenings” at the Lefevres’. ) May, dear, don’t cry like that!
May. I will! I will! I will! You—you don’t know why!
Scriffshaw. ( Revolving many matters. ) We may just as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb.
May. ( Raising head swiftly. ) Uncle John!
Scriffshaw. You see, my dear, your aunt can’t be a scrap more angry than she will be if you don’t take off that frock. She looks at the intention of things.
May. Yes; disobedience, of course. ( And I’ll only obey one person in the wide living world. ) Well?
Scriffshaw. Your aunt may be back at any moment. I can’t face her.
Scriffshaw. Let’s go to the dance. I’ll jump into my uniform, and then see if I can’t put those things straight. We may just as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb. ( And there’s the chance of a rubber. ) Give me five minutes, and we’ll fly. ( Dives into his room, leaving May astounded. )
Scriffshaw. ( From the room. ) Tell them to bring round Dolly Bobs. We can get away quicker on horseback.
May. But really, Uncle, hadn’t you better go in a ’rickshaw? Aunt says——
Scriffshaw. We’re in open mutiny now. We’ll ride. ( Emerges in full uniform. ) There!
May. Oh, Uncle John! you look perfectly delightful—and so martial, too!
Scriffshaw. I was martial once. Suppose your aunt came in? Let me see if I can lace those things of yours. That’s too tight—eh?
May. No! Much, much tighter. You must bring the edges together. Indeed you must. And lace it quick! Oh! what if Aunt should come? Tie it in a knot! Any sort of knot.
Scriffshaw. ( Lacing bodice after a fashion of his own devising. ) Yes—yes! I see! Confound! That’s all right! ( They pass into the garden and mount their horses. ) Let go her head! By Jove, May, how well you ride!
May. ( As they race through the shadows neck and neck. ) ( Small blame to me. I’m riding to my love. ) Go along, Dandy Boy! Wasn’t that Aunt’s ’rickshaw that passed just now? She’ll come to the dance and fetch us back.
Scriffshaw. ( After the gallop. ) Who cares?
Scene—Main ball-room of the Simla Town-hall; dancing-floor grooved and tongued teak, vaulted roof, and gallery round the walls. Four hundred people dispersed in couples. Banners, bayonet-stars on walls ; red and gold, blue and gold, chocolate, buff, rifle-green, black and other uniforms under glare of a few hundred lamps. Cloak and supper-rooms at the sides, with alleys leading to Chinese-lanterned verandahs. Hawley, at entrance, receives May as she drops from her horse and passes towards cloak-rooms.
Hawley. ( As he pretends to rearrange shawl. ) Oh, my love, my love, my love!
May. ( Her eyes on the ground. ) Let me go and get these things off. I’m trying to control my eyes, but it is written on my face. ( Dashes into cloak-room. )
Newly Married Wife of Captain of Engineers to Husband. No need to ask what has happened there, Dick.
Husband. No, bless ’em both, whoever they are!
Hawley. ( Under his breath. ) Damn his impertinence!
May comes from cloak-room, having completely forgotten to do more than look at her face and hair in the glass.
Hawley. Here’s the programme, dear!
May. ( Returning it with pretty gesture of surrender. ) Here’s the programme—dear!
Hawley draws line from top to bottom, initials, and returns card.
May. You can’t! It’s perfectly awful! But—I should have been angry if you hadn’t. ( Taking his arm. ) Is it wrong to say that?
Hawley. It sounds delicious. We can sit out all the squares and dance all the round dances. There are heaps of square dances at Volunteer balls. Come along!
May. One minute! I want to tell my chaperon something.
Hawley. Come along! You belong to me now.
May. ( Her eyes seeking Mrs. Hauksbee, who is seated on an easy-chair by an alcove. ) But it was so awfully sudden!
Hawley. My dear infant! When a girl throws herself literally into a man’s arms——
May. I didn’t! Dandy shied.
Hawley. Don’t shy to conclusions. That man is never going to let her go. Come!
May catches Mrs. H.’s eye. Telegraphs a volume, and receives by return two. Turns to go with Hawley.
Mrs. H. ( As she catches sight of back of May’s dress. ) Oh, horror! Assunta shall die tomorrow! ( Sees Scriffshaw fluctuating uneasily among the chaperons, and following his niece’s departure with the eye of an artist. )
Mrs. H. ( Furiously. ) Colonel Scriffshaw, you—you did that?
Scriffshaw. ( Imbecilely. ) The lacing? Yes. I think it will hold.
Mrs. H. You monster! Go and tell her. No don’t! ( Falling back in chair. ) I have lived to see every proverb I believed in a lie. The maid has forgotten her attire! ( What a handsome couple they make! Anyhow, he doesn’t care, and she doesn’t know. ) How did you come here, Colonel Scriffshaw?
Scriffshaw. Strictly against orders. ( Uneasily. ) I’m afraid I shall have my wife looking for me.
Mrs. H. I fancy you will. ( Sees reflection of herself in the mirrors—black-lace dinner dress, blood-red poinsettia at shoulder and girdle to secure single brace of black lace. Silver shoes, silver-handled black fan. ) ( You’re looking pretty tonight, dear. I wish your husband were here. ) ( Aloud, to drift of expectant men. ) No, no, no! For the hundredth time, Mrs. Hauksbee is not dancing this evening. ( Her hands are full, or she is in error. Now, the chances are that I shan’t see May again till it is time to go, and I may see Mrs. Scriffshaw at any moment. ) Colonel, will you take me to the supper-room? The hall’s chilly without perpetual soups. ( Goes out on Colonel’s arm. Passing the cloak-room, sees portion of Mrs. Scriffshaw’s figure. ) ( Before me the Deluge! ) If I were you, Colonel Scriffshaw, I’d go to the whist-room, and—stay there. ( S. follows the line of her eye, and blanches as he flies. ) She has come—to—take them home, and she is quite capable of it. What shall I do? ( Looks across the supper-tables. Sees Major Decker, a big black-haired Irishman, and attacks him among the meringues. ) Major Decker! Dear Major Decker! If ever I was a friend of yours, help me now!
Major D. I will indeed. What is it?
Mrs. H. ( Walking him back deftly in the direction of the cloak-room door. ) I want you to be very kind to a very dear friend of mine—a Mrs. Scriffshaw. She doesn’t come to dances much, and, being very sensitive, she feels neglected if no one asks her to dance. She really waltzes divinely, though you might not think it. There she is, walking out of the cloak-room now, in the high dress. Please come and be introduced. ( Under her eyelashes. ) You’re an Irishman, Major, and you’ve got a way with you. ( Planting herself in front of Mrs. S. ) Mrs. Scriffshaw, may I wah-wah-wah Decker?—wah-wah-wah Decker? Mrs. Scuffles. ( Flies hastily. ) Saved for a moment! And now, if I can enlist the Viceroy on my side, I may do something.
Major D. ( To Mrs. S. ) The pleasure of a dance with you, Mrs. Scruffun?
Mrs. Scriffshaw. ( Backing, and filling in the doorway. ) Sirr!
Major D. ( Smiling persuasively. ) You’ve forgotten me, I see! I had the pleasure o’ meeting you—( there’s missionary in every line o’ that head )—at—at—the last Presbyterian Conference.
Mrs. S. ( Strict Wesleyan Methodist. ) I was never there.
Major D. ( Retiring en échelon towards two easy-chairs. ) Were ye not, now? That’s queer. Let’s sit down here and talk over it, and perhaps we will strike a chord of mutual reminiscence. ( Sits down exhaustedly. ) And if it was not at the Conference, where was it?
Mrs. S. ( Icily, looking for her husband. ) I apprehend that our paths in the world are widely different.
Major D. ( My faith! they are! ) Not the least in the world. ( Mrs. S. shudders. ) Are you sitting in a draught? Shall we try a turn at the waltz now?
Mrs. S. ( Rising to the expression of her abhorrence. ) My husband is Colonel Scriffshaw. I should be much obliged if you would find him for me.
Major D. ( Throwing up his chin. ) Scriffshaw, begad! I saw him just now at the other end of the room. ( I’ll get a dance out of the old woman, or I’ll die for it. ) We’ll just waltz up there an’ inquire. ( Hurls Mrs. S. into the waltz. Revolves ponderously. ) ( Mrs. Hauksbee has perjured herself—but not on my behalf. She’s ruining my instep. ) No, he’s not at this end. ( Circling slowly. ) We’ll just go back to our chairs again. If he won’t dance with so magnificent a dancer as his wife, he doesn’t deserve to be here, or anywhere else. That’s my one sound knee-cap she’s kicking now. ) ( Halts at point of departure. ) And now we’ll watch for him here.
Mrs. S. ( Panting. ) Abominable! Infamous!
Major D. Oh no! He’s not so bad as that! Prob’bly playin’ whist in the kyard-rooms. Will I look for him? ( Departs, leaving Mrs. S. purple in the face among the chaperons, and passes Mrs. H. in close conversation with a partner. )
Major D. ( To Mrs. H., not noticing her partner. ) She’s kicked me to pieces. She can dance no more than a Windsor chair, an’ now she’s sent me to look for her husband. You owe me something for this. . . . ( The Viceroy, by Jove! )
Mrs. H. ( Turning to her partner and concluding story. ) A base betrayal of confidence, of course; but the woman’s absolutely without tact, and capable of making a scene at a minute’s notice, besides doing her best to wreck the happiness of two lives, after her treatment at Major Decker’s hands. But on the Dress Reform Committee, and under proper supervision, she would be most valuable.
His Excellency the Viceroy and Governor-General of India. ( Diplomatic uniform, stars, etc. ) But surely the work of keeping order among the waltzers is entrusted to abler hands. I cannot, cannot fight! I—I only direct armies.
Mrs. H. No. But your Excellency has not quite grasped the situation. ( Explains it with desperate speed, one eye on Mrs. S. panting on her chair. ) So you see! Husband fled to the whist-room for refuge; girl with lover, who goes down the day after tomorrow; and she is loose. She will be neither to hold nor to bind after the Major’s onslaught, save by you. And on a committee—she really would—
His Excellency. I see. I am penetrated with an interest in Eurasian dress reform. I never felt so alive to the importance of committees before.( Screwing up his eyes to see across the room. ) But pardon me—my sight is not so good as it has been—which of that line of Mothers in Israel do I attack! The wearied one who is protesting with a fan against this scene of riot and dissipation?
Mrs. H. Can you doubt for a moment? I’m afraid your task is a heavy one, but the happiness of two——
His Excellency. ( Wearily. ) Hundred and fifty million souls? Ah, yes! And yet they say a Viceroy is overpaid. Let us advance, It will not talk to me about its husband’s unrecognised merits, will it? You have no idea how inevitably the conversation drifts in that direction when I am left alone with a lady. They tell me of Poor Tom, or Dear Dick, or Persecuted Paul, before I have time to explain that these things are really regulated by my Secretaries. On my honour, I sometimes think that the ladies of India are polyandrous!
Mrs. H. Would it be so difficult to credit that they love their husbands?
His Excellency. That also is possible. One of your many claims to my regard is that you have never mentioned your husband.
Mrs. H. ( Sweetly. ) No; and as long as he is where he is, I have not the least intention of doing so.
His Excellency. ( As they approach the row of eminently self-conscious chaperons. ) And, by the way, where is he?
Mrs. H. lays her fan lightly over her heart, bows her head, and moves on.
His Excellency. ( As the chaperons become more self-conscious, drifting to vacant chair at Mrs. S.’s side. ) That also is possible. I do not recall having seen him elsewhere, at any rate. ( Watching Mrs. S. ) How very like twenty thousand people that I could remember if I had time! ( Glides into vacant chair. Mrs. S. colours to the temples; chaperons exchange glances. In a voice of strained honey. ) May I be pardoned for attacking you so brusquely on matters of public importance, Mrs. Scriffshaw? But my times are not my own, and I have heard so much about the good work you carry on so successfully. ( When she has quite recovered I may learn what that work was. )
Mrs. S., in tones meant for the benefit of all the chaperons, discourses volubly, with little gasps, of her charitable mission work.
His Excellency. How interesting! Of course, quite natural! What we want most on our dress reform committee is a firm hand and enormous local knowledge. Men are so tactless. You have been too proud, Mrs. Scriffshaw, to offer us your help in that direction. So, you see, I come to ask it as a favour. ( Gives Mrs. S. to understand that the Eurasian dress reform committee cannot live another hour without her help and comfort. )
First Aide. ( By doorway within eye-reach of His Excellency. ) What in the world is His Excellency tackling now?
Second Aide. ( In attitude of fascination. ) Looks as if it had been a woman once. Anyhow, it isn’t amusing him. I know that smile when he is in acute torment.
Mrs. H. ( Coming up behind him. ) “Now the Serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field!”
Second Aide. ( Turning. ) Ah! Your programme full, of course, Mrs. Hauksbee?
Mrs. H. I’m not dancing, and you should have asked me before. You Aides have no manners.
First Aide. You must excuse him. Hugh’s a blighted being. He’s watching somebody dance with somebody else, and somebody’s wanting to dance with him.
Mrs. H. ( Keenly, under her eyebrows. ) You’re too young for that rubbish.
Second Aide. It’s his imagination. He’s all right, but Government House duty is killing me. My heart’s in the plains with a dear little, fat little, lively little nine-foot tiger. I want to sit out over that kill instead of watching over His Excellency.
Mrs. H. Don’t they let the Aides out to play, then?
Second Aide. Not me. I’ve got to do most of Duggy’s work while he runs after——
Mrs. H. Never mind! A discontented Aide is a perpetual beast. One of you boys will take me to a chair, and then leave me. No, I don’t want the delights of your conversation.
Second Aide. ( As first goes off. ) When Mrs. Hauksbee is attired in holy simplicity it generally means—larks!
His Excellency. ( To Mrs. Scriffshaw. ) . . . And so we all wanted to see more of you. I felt I was taking no liberty when I dashed into affairs of State at so short a notice. It was with the greatest difficulty I could find you. Indeed, I hardly believed my eyes when I saw you waltzing so divinely just now. ( She will first protest, and next perjure herself. )
Mrs. S. ( Weakly. ) But I assure you——
His Excellency. My eyes are not so old that they cannot recognise a good dancer when they see one.
Mrs. S. ( With a simper. ) But only once in a way, Your Excellency.
His Excellency. ( Of course. ) That is too seldom—much too seldom. You should set our younger folk an example. These slow swirling waltzes are tiring. I prefer—as I see you do—swifter measures.
Major D. ( Entering main door in strict charge of Scriffshaw, who fears the judgement. ) Yes! she sent me to look for you, after giving me the dance of the evening. I’ll never forget it!
Scriffshaw. ( His jaw dropping. ) My—wife—danced—with—you! I mean—anybody!
Major D. Anybody! Aren’t I somebody enough? ( Looking across room. ) Faith! you’re right, though! There she is in a corner flirting with the Viceroy! I was not good enough for her. Well, it’s no use to interrupt ’em.
Scriffshaw. Certainly not! We’ll—we’ll get a drink and go back to the whist-rooms. ( Alice must be mad! At any rate, I’m safe, I suppose. )
His Excellency rises and fades away from Mrs. Scriffshaw’s side after a long and particular pressure of the hand. Mrs. S. throws herself back in her chair with the air of one surfeited with similar attentions, and the chaperons begin to talk.
His Excellency. ( Leaning over Mrs. H.’s chair with an absolutely expressionless countenance. ) She is a truly estimable lady—one that I shall count it an honour to number among my friends. No! she will not move from her place, because I have expressed a hope that, a little later on in the dance, we may renew our very interesting conversation. And now, if I could only get my boys together, I think I would go home. Have you seen any Aide who looked as though a Viceroy belonged to him?
Mrs. H. The feet of the young men are at the door without. You leave early.
His Excellency. Have I not done enough?
Mrs. H. ( Half rising from her chair. ) Too much, alas! Too much! Look!
His Excellency. ( Regarding Mrs. Scriffshaw, who has risen and is moving towards a side door. ) How interesting! By every law known to me she should have waited in that chair—such a comfortable chair—for my too tardy return. But now she is loose! How has this happened?
Mrs. H. ( Half to herself, shutting and opening fan. ) She is looking for May! I know it! Oh! why wasn’t she isolated? One of those women has taken revenge on Mrs. Scriffshaw’s new glory—you—by telling her that May has been sitting out too much with Mr. Hawley.
His Excellency. Blame me! Always blame a Viceroy! ( Mrs. H. moves away. ) What are you meditating?
Mrs. H. Following—watching—administering—anything! I fly! I know where they are!
His Excellency. The plot thickens! May I come to administer?
Mrs. H. ( Over her shoulder. ) If you can!
Mrs. H. flies down a darkened corridor speckled with occasional Chinese lanterns, and establishes herself behind a pillar as Mrs. S. sweeps by to the darkest end, where May and Hawley are sitting very close together. His Excellency follows Mrs. H. )
Mrs. S. ( To both the invisibles. ) Well!
His Excellency. ( To Mrs. H. in a whisper. ) Now, I should be afraid. I should run away.
Mrs. S. ( In a high pitched voice of the matron. ) May, go to the cloak-room at once, and wait till I come. I wonder you expect any one to speak to you after this! ( May hurries down corridor very considerably agitated. )
His Excellency. ( As May passes, slightly raising his voice, and with all the deference due to half a dozen Duchesses. ) May an old man be permitted to offer you his arm, my dear? ( To Mrs. H. ) I entreat—I command you to delay the catastrophe till I return!
Mrs. H. ( Plunging into the darkness, and halting before a dead wall. ) Oh! I thought there was a way round! ( Pretends to discover the two. ) Mrs. Scriffshaw and Mr. Hawley! ( With exaggerated emphasis. ) Mrs. Scriffshaw—Oh! Mrs. Scriffshaw!—how truly shocking! What will that dear, good husband of yours say? ( Smothered chuckle from Hawley, who otherwise preserves silence. Snorts of indignation from Mrs. S. )
Mrs. H. ( Hidden by pillar of observation. ) Now, in any other woman that would have been possibly weak—certainly vulgar. But I think it has answered the purpose.
His Excellency. ( Returning, and taking up his post at her side. ) Poor little girl! She was shaking all over. What an enormous amount of facile emotion exists in the young! What is about to——
Mrs. S. ( In a rattling whisper to Hawley. ) Take me to some quieter place.
Hawley. On my word, you seem to be accustomed to very quiet places. I’m sorry I don’t know any more secluded nook; but if you have anything to say——
Mrs. S. Say, indeed! I wish you to understand that I consider your conduct abominable, sir!
Hawley. ( In level, expressionless voice. ) Yes? Explain yourself.
Mrs. S. In the first place, you meet my niece at an entertainment of which I utterly disapprove——
Hawley. To the extent of dancing with Major Decker, the most notorious loose fish in the whole room? Yes.
Mrs. S. ( Hotly. ) That was not my fault. It was entirely against my inclination.
Hawley. It takes two to make a waltz. Presumably, you are capable of expressing your wishes—are you not?
Mrs. S. I did. It was—only—and I couldn’t——
Hawley. ( Relentlessly. ) Well, it’s a most serious business. I’ve been talking it over with May.
Mrs. S. May!
Hawley. Yes, May; and she has assured me that you do not do—er—this sort of thing often. She assured me of that.
Mrs. S. But by what right——
Hawley. You see, May has promised to marry me, and one can’t be too careful about one’s connections.
His Excellency. ( To Mrs. H. ) That young man will go far! This is invention indeed.
Mrs. H. He seems to have marched some paces already. ( Blessed be the chance that led me to the Major! I can always say that I meant it.
Mrs. S. May has promised . . . this is worse than ever! And I was not consulted!
Hawley. If I had known the precise hour, you know, I might possibly have chosen to take you into my confidence.
Mrs. S. May should have told me.
Hawley. You mustn’t worry May about it. Is that perfectly clear to you?
His Excellency. ( To Mrs. H. ) What a singularly flat, hopeless tone he has chosen to talk in—as if he were speaking to a coolie from a distance.
Mrs. H. Yes. It’s the one note that will rasp through her over-strained nerves.
His Excellency. You know him well?
Mrs. H. I trained him.
His Excellency. Then she collapses.
Mrs. H. If she does not, all my little faith in man is gone for ever.
Mrs. S. ( To Hawley. ) This is perfectly monstrous! It’s conduct utterly unworthy of a man, much less a gentleman. What do I know of you, or your connections, or your means?
Hawley. Nothing. How could you?
Mrs. S. How could I? . . . Because—because I insist on knowing!
Hawley. Then am I to understand that you are anxious to marry me? Suppose we talk to the Colonel about that?
His Excellency. ( To Mrs. H. ) Very far, indeed, will that young man go.
Mrs. S. ( Almost weeping with anger. ) Will you let me pass? I——I want to go away. I’ve no language at my command that could convey to you——
Hawley. Then surely it would be better to wait here till the inspiration comes?
Mrs. S. But this is insolence!
Hawley. You must remember that you drove May, who, by the way, is a woman, out of this place like a hen. That was insolence, Mrs.Scriffshaw—to her.
Mrs. S. To her? She’s my husband’s sister’s child.
Hawley. And she is going to do me the honour of carrying my name. I am accountable to your husband’s sister in Calcutta. Sit down, please.
His Excellency. She will positively assault him in a minute. I can hear her preparing for a spring.
Mrs. H. He will be able to deal with that too, if it happens. ( I trained him. Bear witness, heaven and earth, I trained him, that his tongue should guard his head with my sex. )
Mrs. S. ( Feebly. ) What shall I do? What can I do? ( Through her teeth. ) I hate you!
His Excellency. ( Critically. ) Weak. The end approaches.
Mrs. S. You’re not the sort of man I should have chosen for anybody’s husband.
Hawley. I can’t say your choice seems particularly select—Major Decker, for instance. And believe me, you are not required to choose husbands for anybody.
Mrs. Scriffshaw looses all the double-thonged lightnings of her tongue, condemns Hawley as no gentleman, an imposter, possibly a bigamist, a defaulter, and every other unpleasant character she has ever read of; announces her unalterable intention of refusing to recognise the engagement, and of harrying May tooth and talon; and renews her request to be allowed to pass. No answer.
His Excellency. What a merciful escape! She might have attacked me on the chairs in this fashion. What will he do now?
Mrs. H. I have faith—illimitable faith.
Mrs. S. ( At the end of her resources. ) Well, what have you to say?
Hawley. ( In a placid and most insinuating drawl. ) Aunt Alice—give—me—a—kiss.
His Excellency. Beautiful! Oh! thrice beautiful! And my Secretaries never told me there were men like this in the Empire.
Mrs. S. ( Bewilderedly, beginning to sob. ) Why—why should I?
Hawley. Because you will make—you really will—a delightful aunt-in-law, and it will save such a lot of trouble when May and I are married, and you have to accept me as a relation.
Mrs. S. ( Weeping gently. ) But—but you’re taking the management of affairs into your own hands.
Hawley. Quite so. They are my own affairs. And do you think that my aunt is competent to manage other people’s affairs when she doesn’t know whether she means to dance or sit out, and when she chooses the very worst——
Mrs. S. ( Appealingly. ) Oh, don’t—don’t! Please, don’t! ( Bursts into tears. )
His Excellency. ( To Mrs. H. ) Unnecessarily brutal, surely? She’s crying.
Mrs. H. No! It’s nothing. We all cry—even the worst of us.
Mrs. S. ( Sniffling, with a rustle. ) There!
Hawley. No, no, no! I said give it to me! ( It is given. )
His Excellency. ( Carried away. ) And I? What am I doing here, pretending to govern India, while that man languishes in a lieutenant’s uniform?
Mrs. H. ( Speaking very swiftly and distinctly. ) It rests with Your Excellency to raise him to honour. He should go down the day after tomorrow. A month at Simla, now, would mean Paradise to him, and one of your Aides is dying for a little tiger-shooting.
His Excellency. But would such an Archangel of Insolence condescend to run errands for me?
Mrs. H. You can but try.
His Excellency. I shall be afraid of him; but we’ll see if we can get the Commander-in-Chief to lend him to me.
Hawley. ( To Mrs. S. ) There, there, there! It’s nothing to make a fuss about, is it? Come along, Aunt Alice, and I’ll tuck you into your ’rickshaw, and you shall go home quite comfy, and the Colonel and I will bring May home later. I go down to my regiment the day after tomorrow, worse luck! So you won’t have me long to trouble you. But we quite understand each other, don’t we? ( Emerges from the darkness, very tenderly escorting the very much shaken Mrs. Scriffshaw. )
His Excellency. ( To Mrs. H. as the captive passes. ) I feel as if I ought to salute that young man; but I must go to the ball-room. Send him to me as soon as you can. ( Drifts in direction of music. Hawley returns to Mrs. H. )
Hawley. ( Mopping his forehead. ) Phew! I have had easier duties.
Mrs. H. How could you? How dared you? I builded better than I knew. It was cruel, but it was superb.
Hawley. Who taught me? Where’s May?
Mrs. H. In the cloak-room—being put to rights—I fervently trust.
Hawley. ( Guiltily. ) They wear their fringes so low on their foreheads that one can’t——
Mrs. H. ( Laughing. ) Oh, you goose! That wasn’t it. His Excellency wants to speak to you! ( Hawley turns to ball-room as Mrs. H. flings herself down in a chair. )
Mrs. H. ( Alone. ) For two seasons, at intervals, I formed the infant mind. Heavens, how raw he was in the beginning! And never once throughout his schooling did he disappoint you, dear. Never once, by word or look or sign, did he have the unspeakable audacity to fall in love with you. No, he chose his maiden, then he stopped his confidences, and conducted his own wooing, and in open fight slew his aunt-in-law. But he never, being a wholesome, dear, delightful boy, fell in love with you, Mrs. Hauksbee; and I wonder whether you liked it or whether you didn’t. Which? . . . You certainly never gave him a chance . . . but that was the very reason why . . . ( Half aloud. ) Mrs. Hauksbee, you are an idiot!
Enters main ball-room just in time to see His Excellency conferring with Hawley, Aides in background.
His Excellency. Have you any very pressing employments in the plains, Mr. Hawley?
Hawley. Regimental duty. Native Cavalry, sir.
His Excellency. And, of course, you are anxious to return at once?
Hawley. Not in the least, sir.
His Excellency. Do you think you could relieve one of my boys here for a month?
Hawley. Most certainly, sir.
Second Aide. ( Behind Viceroy’s shoulders, shouting in dumb show. ) My tiger! My tiger! My tigerling!
His Excellency. ( Lowering his voice and regarding Hawley between his eyes. ) But could we trust you—ahem!—not to insist on ordering kisses at inopportune moments from—people?
Hawley. ( Dropping eyes. ) Not when I’m on duty, sir.
His Excellency. ( Turning. ) Then I’ll speak to the Commander-in-Chief about it.
Mrs. H. ( As she sees gratified expression of the Viceroy’s and Hawley’s lowered eyes. ) I am sometimes sorry that I am a woman, but I’m very glad that I’m not a man, and—I shouldn’t care to be an angel. ( Mrs. Scriffshaw and May pass—the latter properly laced, the former regarding the lacing. ) So that’s settled at last. ( To Mrs. S. ) Your husband, Mrs. Scriffshaw? Yes, I know. But don’t be too hard on him. Perhaps he never did it, after all.
Mrs. S. ( With a grunt of infinite contempt. ) Mrs. Hauksbee, that man has tried to lace me!
Mrs. H. ( Then he’s bolder than I thought. She will avenge all her outrages on the Colonel. ) May, come and talk to me a moment, dear.
First Aide. ( To Hawley, as the Viceroy drifts away. ) Knighted on the field of battle, by Jove! What the deuce have you been doing to His Excellency?
Second Aide. I’ll bet on it that Mrs. Hauksbee is at the bottom of this, somehow. I told her what I wanted, and——
Hawley. Never look a gift tiger in the mouth. It’s apt to bite. ( Departs in search of May. )
His Excellency. ( To Mrs. H. as he passes her sitting out with May. ) No, I am not so afraid of your young friend. Have I done well?
Mrs. H. Exceedingly. ( In a whisper, including May. ) She is a pretty girl, isn’t she?
His Excellency. ( Regarding mournfully, his chin on his breast. ) O youth, youth, youth! Si la jeunesse savait—si la vieillesse pouvait.
Mrs. H. ( Incautiously. ) Yes, but in this case we have seen that youth did know quite as much as was good for it, and—— ( Stops. )
His Excellency. And age had power, and used it. Sufficient reward, perhaps; but I hardly expected the reminder from you.
Mrs. H. No. I won’t try to excuse it. Perhaps the slip is as well, for it reminds me that I am but mortal, and in watching you controlling the destinies of the universe I thought I was as the gods!
His Excellency. Thank you! I go to be taken away. But it has been an interesting evening.
Scriffshaw. ( Very much disturbed after the Viceroy has passed on, to Mrs. H. ) Now, what in the world was wrong with my lacing? My wife didn’t appear angry about my bringing May here. I’m informed she danced several dances herself. But she—she gave it me awfully in the supper-room for my—ahem!—lady’s-maid’s work. Fearfully she gave it me! What was wrong? It held, didn’t it?
May. ( From her chair. ) It was beautiful, Uncle John. It was the best thing in the world you could have done. Never mind. I forgive you. ( To Hawley, behind her. ) No, Charley. No more dances for just a little while. Ask Mrs. Hauksbee now.
Alarums and Excursions. The ball-room is rent in twain as the Viceroy, Aides, etc., file out between Lines of Volunteers and Uniforms. )
Band in the Gallery—
God save our gracious Queen,
Heaven bless our noble Queen,
God save the Queen!
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us,
God save the Queen!
Hawley. ( Behind Mrs. H.’s chair. ) Amen, your Imperial Majesty!
Mrs. H. ( Looking up, head thrown back on left shoulder. ) Thank you! Yes, you can have the next if you want it. Mrs. Hauksbee isn’t sitting out any more.
Because to every purpose there is time and judgment, therefore the misery of man is great upon him.
- Eccles. viii. 6.
Fate and the Government of India have turned the Station of Kashima into a prison; and, because there is no help for the poor souls who are now lying there in torment, I write this story, praying that the Government of India may be moved to scatter the European population to the four winds.
Kashima is bounded on all sides by the rocktipped circle of the Dosehri hills. In Spring, it is ablaze with roses; in Summer, the roses die and the hot winds blow from the hills; in Autumn, the white mists from the jhils cover the place as with water, and in Winter the frosts nip everything young and tender to earth-level. There is but one view in Kashima a stretch of perfectly flat pasture and plough-land, running up to the gray-blue scrub of the Dosehri hills.
There are no amusements, except snipe and tiger shooting; but the tigers have been long since hunted from their lairs in the rock-caves, and the snipe only come once a year. Narkarra one hundred and forty-three miles by road is the nearest station to Kashima. But Kashima never goes to Narkarra, where there are at least twelve English people. It stays within the circle of the Dosehri hills.
All Kashima acquits Mrs. Vansuythen of any intention to do harm; but all Kashima knows that she, and she alone, brought about their pain.
Boulte, the Engineer, Mrs. Boulte, and Captain Kurrell know this. They are the English population of Kashima, if we except Major Vansuythen, who is of no importance whatever, and Mrs. Vansuythen, who is the most important of all.
You must remember, though you will not understand, that all laws weaken in a small and hidden community where there is no public opinion. When a man is absolutely alone in a Station he runs a certain risk of falling into evil ways. This risk is multiplied by every addition to the population up to twelve the Jury-number. After that, fear and consequent restraint begin, and human action becomes less grotesquely jerky.
There was deep peace in Kashima till Mrs. Vansuythen arrived. She was a charming woman, every one said so everywhere; and she charmed every one. In spite of this, or, perhaps, because of this, since Fate is so perverse, she cared only for one man, and he was Major Vansuythen. Had she been plain or stupid, this matter would have been intelligible to Kashima. But she was a fair woman, with very still gray eyes, the colour of a lake just before the light of the sun touches it. No man who had seen those eyes could, later on, explain what fashion of woman she was to look upon. The eyes dazzled him. Her own sex said that she was “not bad-looking, but spoilt by pretending to be so grave.” And yet her gravity was natural. It was not her habit to smile. She merely went through life, looking at those who passed; and the women objected while the men fell down and worshipped.
She knows and is deeply sorry for the evil she has done to Kashima; but Major Vansuythen cannot understand why Mrs. Boulte does not drop in to afternoon tea at least three times a week. “When there are only two women in one Station, they ought to see a great deal of each other,” says Major Vansuythen.
Long and long before ever Mrs. Vansuythen came out of those far-away places where there is society and amusement, Kurrell had discovered that Mrs. Boulte was the one woman in the world for him and you dare not blame them. Kashima was as out of the world as Heaven or the Other Place, and the Dosehri hills kept their secret well. Boulte had no concern in the matter. He was in camp for a fortnight at a time. He was a hard, heavy man, and neither Mrs. Boulte nor Kurrell pitied him. They had all Kashima and each other for their very, very own; and Kashima was the Garden of Eden in those days. When Boulte returned from his wanderings he would slap Kurrell between the shoulders and call him “old fellow,” and the three would dine together. Kashima was happy then when the judgment of God seemed almost as distant as Narkarra or the railway that ran down to the sea. But the Government sent Major Vansuythen to Kashima, and with him came his wife.
The etiquette of Kashima is much the same as that of a desert island. When a stranger is cast away there, all hands go down to the shore to make him welcome. Kashima assembled at the masonry platform close to the Narkarra Road, and spread tea for the Vansuythens. That ceremony was reckoned a formal call, and made them free of the Station, its rights and privileges. When the Vansuythens settled down they gave a tiny house-warming to all Kashima; and that made Kashima free of their house, according to the immemorial usage of the Station.
Then the Rains came, when no one could go into camp, and the Narkarra Road was washed away by the Kasun River, and in the cup-like pastures of Kashima the cattle waded knee-deep. The clouds dropped down from the Dosehri hills and covered everything.
At the end of the Rains Boulte’s manner towards his wife changed and became demonstratively affectionate. They had been married twelve years, and the change startled Mrs. Boulte, who hated her husband with the hate of a woman who has met with nothing but kindness from her mate, and, in the teeth of this kindness, has done him a great wrong. Moreover, she had her own trouble to fight with—her watch to keep over her own property, Kurrell. For two months the Rains had hidden the Dosehri hills and many other things besides; but, when they lifted, they showed Mrs. Boulte that her man among men, her Ted—for she called him Ted in the old days when Boulte was out of earshot—was slipping the links of the allegiance.
“The Vansuythen Woman has taken him,” Mrs. Boulte said to herself; and when Boulte was away, wept over her belief, in the face of the over-vehement blandishments of Ted. Sorrow in Kashima is as fortunate as Love because there is nothing to weaken it save the flight of Time. Mrs. Boulte had never breathed her suspicion to Kurrell because she was not certain; and her nature led her to be very certain before she took steps in any direction. That is why she behaved as she did.
Boulte came into the house one evening, and leaned against the door-posts of the drawing-room, chewing his moustache. Mrs. Boulte was putting some flowers into a vase. There is a pretence of civilisation even in Kashima.
“Little woman,” said Boulte quietly, “do you care for me?”
“Immensely,” said she, with a laugh. “Can you ask it?”
“But I’m serious,” said Boulte. “Do you care for me?”
Mrs. Boulte dropped the flowers, and turned round quickly. “Do you want an honest answer?”
“Ye-es, I’ve asked for it.”
Mrs. Boulte spoke in a low, even voice for five minutes, very distinctly, that there might be no misunderstanding her meaning. When Samson broke the pillars of Gaza, he did a little thing, and one not to be compared to the deliberate pulling down of a woman’s homestead about her own ears. There was no wise female friend to advise Mrs. Boulte, the singularly cautious wife, to hold her hand. She struck at Boulte’s heart, because her own was sick with suspicion of Kurrell, and worn out with the long strain of watching alone through the Rains. There was no plan or purpose in her speaking. The sentences made themselves; and Boulte listened, leaning against the door-post with his hands in his pockets. When all was over, and Mrs. Boulte began to breathe through her nose before breaking out into tears, he laughed and stared straight in front of him at the Dosehri hills.
“Is that all?” he said. “Thanks, I only wanted to know, you know.”
“What are you going to do?” said the woman, between her sobs.
“Do! Nothing. What should I do? Kill Kurrell, or send you Home, or apply for leave to get a divorce? It’s two days’ treck into Narkarra.” He laughed again and went on: “I’ll tell you what you can do. You can ask Kurrell to dinner tomorrow—no, on Thursday, that will allow you time to pack—and you can bolt with him. I give you my word I won’t follow.”
He took up his helmet and went out of the room, and Mrs. Boulte sat till the moonlight streaked the floor, thinking and thinking and thinking. She had done her best upon the spur of the moment to pull the house down; but it would not fall. Moreover, she could not understand her husband, and she was afraid. Then the folly of her useless truthfulness struck her, and she was ashamed to write to Kurrell, saying, “I have gone mad and told everything. My husband says that I am free to elope with you. Get a dâk for Thursday, and we will fly after dinner.” There was a cold-bloodedness about that procedure which did not appeal to her. So she sat still in her own house and thought.
At dinner-time Boulte came back from his walk, white and worn and haggard, and the woman was touched at his distress. As the evening wore on she muttered some expression of sorrow, something approaching to contrition. Boulte came out of a brown study and said, “Oh, that! I wasn’t thinking about that. By the way, what does Kurrell say to the elopement?”
“I haven’t seen him,” said Mrs. Boulte. “Good God, is that all?”
But Boulte was not listening and her sentence ended in a gulp.
The next day brought no comfort to Mrs. Boulte, for Kurrell did not appear, and the new lift that she, in the five minutes’ madness of the previous evening, had hoped to build out of the ruins of the old, seemed to be no nearer.
Boulte ate his breakfast, advised her to see her Arab pony fed in the verandah, and went out. The morning wore through, and at mid-day the tension became unendurable. Mrs. Boulte could not cry. She had finished her crying in the night, and now she did not want to be left alone. Perhaps the Vansuythen Woman would talk to her; and, since talking opens the heart, perhaps there might be some comfort to be found in her company. She was the only other woman in the Station.
In Kashima there are no regular calling-hours. Every one can drop in upon every one else at pleasure. Mrs. Boulte put on a big terai hat, and walked across to the Vansuythens’ house to borrow last week’s “Queen”. The two compounds touched, and instead of going up the drive, she crossed through the gap in the cactus-hedge, entering the house from the back. As she passed through the dining-room, she heard, behind the purdah that cloaked the drawing-room door, her husband’s voice, saying—
“But on my Honour! On my Soul and Honour, I tell you she doesn’t care for me. She told me so last night. I would have told you then if Vansuythen hadn’t been with you. If it is for her sake that you’ll have nothing to say to me, you can make your mind easy. It’s Kurrell——”
“What?” said Mrs. Vansuythen, with a hysterical little laugh. “Kurrell! Oh, it can’t be! You two must have made some horrible mistake. Perhaps you you lost your temper, or misunderstood, or something. Things can’t be as wrong as you say.”
Mrs. Vansuythen had shifted her defence to avoid the man’s pleading, and was desperately trying to keep him to a side-issue.
“There must be some mistake,” she insisted, “and it can be all put right again.”
Boulte laughed grimly.
“It can’t be Captain Kurrell! He told me that he had never taken the least—the least interest in your wife, Mr. Boulte. Oh, do listen! He said he had not. He swore he had not,” said Mrs. Vansuythen.
The purdah rustled, and the speech was cut short by the entry of a little thin woman, with big rings round her eyes. Mrs. Vansuythen stood up with a gasp.
“What was that you said?” asked Mrs. Boulte. “Never mind that man. What did Ted say to you? What did he say to you? What did he say to you?”
Mrs. Vansuythen sat down helplessly on the sofa, overborne by the trouble of her questioner.
“He said—I can’t remember exactly what he said—but I understood him to say—that is—But, really, Mrs. Boulte, isn’t it rather a strange question?”
“Will you tell me what he said?” repeated Mrs. Boulte. Even a tiger will fly before a bear robbed of her whelps, and Mrs. Vansuythen was only an ordinarily good woman. She began in a sort of desperation: “Well, he said that the never cared for you at all, and, of course, there was not the least reason why he should have, and—and—that was all.”
“You said he swore he had not cared for me. Was that true?”
“Yes,” said Mrs. Vansuythen very softly.
Mrs. Boulte wavered for an instant where she stood, and then fell forward fainting.
“What did I tell you?” said Boulte, as though the conversation had been unbroken. “You can see for yourself. She cares for him.” The light began to break into his dull mind, and he went on— “And he—what was he saying to you?”
But Mrs. Vansuythen, with no heart for explanations or impassioned protestations, was kneeling over Mrs. Boulte.
“Oh, you brute!” she cried. “Are all men like this? Help me to get her into my room—and her face is cut against the table. Oh, will you be quiet, and help me to carry her? I hate you, and I hate Captain Kurrell. Lift her up carefully, and now—go! Go away!”
Boulte carried his wife into Mrs. Vansuythen’s bedroom, and departed before the storm of that lady’s wrath and disgust, impenitent and burning with jealousy. Kurrell had been making love to Mrs. Vansuythen—would do Vansuythen as great a wrong as he had done Boulte, who caught himself considering whether Mrs. Vansuythen would faint if she discovered that the man she loved had forsworn her.
In the middle of these meditations, Kurrell came cantering along the road and pulled up with a cheery “Good-mornin’. “Been mashing Mrs. Vansuythen as usual, eh? Bad thing for a sober, married man, that. What will Mrs. Boulte say?”
Boulte raised his head and said slowly, “Oh, you liar!” Kurrell’s face changed. “What’s that?” he asked quickly.
“Nothing much,” said Boulte. “Has my wife told you that you two are free to go off whenever you please? She has been good enough to explain the situation to me. You’ve been a true friend to me, Kurrell old man haven’t you?”
Kurrell groaned, and tried to frame some sort of idiotic sentence about being willing to give “satisfaction.” But his interest in the woman was dead, had died out in the Rains, and, mentally, he was abusing her for her amazing indiscretion. It would have been so easy to have broken off the thing gently and by degrees, and now he was saddled with— Boulte’s voice recalled him.
“I don’t think I should get any satisfaction from killing you, and I’m pretty sure you’d get none from killing me.”
Then in a querulous tone, ludicrously disproportioned to his wrongs, Boulte added—
“Seems rather a pity that you haven’t the decency to keep to the woman, now you’ve got her. You’ve been a true friend to her too, haven’t you?”
Kurrell stared long and gravely. The situation was getting beyond him.
“What do you mean?” he said.
Boulte answered, more to himself than the questioner: “My wife came over to Mrs. Vansuythen’s just now; and it seems you’d been telling Mrs. Vansuythen that you’d never cared for Emma. I suppose you lied, as usual. What had Mrs. Vansuythen to do with you, or you with her? Try to speak the truth for once in a way.”
Kurrell took the double insult without wincing, and replied by another question: “Go on. What happened?”
“Emma fainted,” said Boulte simply. “But, look here, what had you been saying to Mrs. Vansuythen?”
Kurrell laughed. Mrs. Boulte had, with unbridled tongue, made havoc of his plans; and he could at least retaliate by hurting the man in whose eyes he was humiliated and shown dishonourable.
“Said to her? What does a man tell a lie like that for? I suppose I said pretty much what you’ve said, unless I’m a good deal mistaken.”
“I spoke the truth,” said Boulte, again more to himself than Kurrell. “Emma told me she hated me. She has no right in me.”
“No! I suppose not. You’re only her husband, y’know. And what did Mrs. Vansuythen say after you had laid your disengaged heart at her feet?”
Kurrell felt almost virtuous as he put the question.
“I don’t think that matters,” Boulte replied; “and it doesn’t concern you.”
“But it does! I tell you it does—” began Kurrell shamelessly.
The sentence was cut by a roar of laughter from Boulte’s lips. Kurrell was silent for an instant, and then he, too, laughed—laughed long and loudly, rocking in his saddle. It was an unpleasant sound—the mirthless mirth of these men on the long white line of the Narkarra Road. There were no strangers in Kashima, or they might have thought that captivity within the Dosehri hills had driven half the European population mad. The laughter ended abruptly, and Kurrell was the first to speak.
“Well, what are you going to do?”
Boulte looked up the road, and at the hills. “Nothing,” said he quietly; “what’s the use? It’s too ghastly for anything. We must let the old life go on. I can only call you a hound and a liar, and I can’t go on calling you names for ever. Besides which, I don’t feel that I’m much better. We can’t get out of this place. What is there to do?”
Kurrell looked round the rat-pit of Kashima and made no reply. The injured husband took up the wondrous tale.
“Ride on, and speak to Emma if you want to. God knows I don’t care what you do.”
He walked forward, and left Kurrell gazing blankly after him. Kurrell did not ride on either to see Mrs. Boulte or Mrs. Vansuythen. He sat in his saddle and thought, while his pony grazed by the roadside.
The whir of approaching wheels roused him. Mrs. Vansuythen was driving home Mrs. Boulte, white and wan, with a cut on her forehead.
“Stop, please,” said Mrs. Boulte, “I want to speak to Ted.”
Mrs. Vansuythen obeyed, but as Mrs. Boulte leaned forward, putting her hand upon the splashboard of the dog-cart, Kurrell spoke.
“I’ve seen your husband, Mrs. Boulte.”
There was no necessity for any further explanation. The man’s eyes were fixed, not upon Mrs. Boulte, but her companion. Mrs. Boulte saw the look.
“Speak to him!” she pleaded, turning to the woman at her side. “Oh, speak to him! Tell him what you told me just now. Tell him you hate him. Tell him you hate him!”
She bent forward and wept bitterly, while the sais, impassive, went forward to hold the horse. Mrs. Vansuythen turned scarlet and dropped the reins. She wished to be no party to such unholy explanations.
“I’ve nothing to do with it,” she began coldly; but Mrs. Boulte’s sobs overcame her, and she addressed herself to the man. “I don’t know what I am to say, Captain Kurrell. I don’t know what I can call you. I think you’ve you’ve behaved abominably, and she has cut her forehead terribly against the table.”
“It doesn’t hurt. It isn’t anything,” said Mrs. Boulte feebly. “That doesn’t matter. Tell him what you told me. Say you don’t care for him. Oh, Ted, won’t you believe her?”
“Mrs. Boulte has made me understand that you were—that you were fond of her once upon a time,” went on Mrs. Vansuythen.
“Well!” said Kurrell brutally. “It seems to me that Mrs. Boulte had better be fond of her own husband first.”
“Stop!” said Mrs. Vansuythen. “Hear me first. I don’t care—I don’t want to know anything about you and Mrs. Boulte; but I want you to know that I hate you, that I think you are a cur, and that I’ll never, never speak to you again. Oh, I don’t dare to say what I think of you, you——man!”
“I want to speak to Ted,” moaned Mrs. Boulte, but the dog-cart rattled on, and Kurrell was left on the road, shamed, and boiling with wrath against Mrs. Boulte.
He waited till Mrs. Vansuythen was driving back to her own house, and, she being freed from the embarrassment of Mrs. Boulte’s presence, learned for the second time her opinion of himself and his actions.
In the evenings it was the wont of all Kashima to meet at the platform on the Narkarra Road, to drink tea and discuss the trivialities of the day. Major Vansuythen and his wife found themselves alone at the gathering-place for almost the first time in their remembrance; and the cheery Major, in the teeth of his wife’s remarkably reasonable suggestion that the rest of the Station might be sick, insisted upon driving round to the two bungalows and unearthing the population.
“Sitting in the twilight!” said he, with great indignation, to the Boultes. “That’ll never do! Hang it all, we’re one family here! You must come out, and so must Kurrell. I’ll make him bring his banjo.”
So great is the power of honest simplicity and a good digestion over guilty consciences that all Kashima did turn out, even down to the banjo; and the Major embraced the company in one expansive grin. As he grinned, Mrs. Vansuythen raised her eyes for an instant and looked at all Kashima. Her meaning was clear. Major Vansuythen would never know anything. He was to be the outsider in that happy family whose cage was the Dosehri hills.
“You’re singing villainously out of tune, Kurrell,” said the Major truthfully. “Pass me that banjo.”
And he sang in excruciating-wise till the stars came out and all Kashima went to dinner.
That was the beginning of the New Life of Kashima—the life that Mrs. Boulte made when her tongue was loosened in the twilight.
Mrs. Vansuythen has never told the Major; and since he insists upon keeping up a burdensome geniality, she has been compelled to break her vow of not speaking to Kurrell. This speech, which must of necessity preserve the semblance of politeness and interest, serves admirably to keep alight the flame of jealousy and dull hatred in Boulte’s bosom, as it awakens the same passions in his wife’s heart. Mrs. Boulte hates Mrs. Vansuythen because she has taken Ted from her, and, in some curious fashion, hates her because Mrs. Vansuythen—and here the wife’s eyes see far more clearly than the husband’s—detests Ted. And Ted—that gallant captain and honourable man—knows now that it is possible to hate a woman once loved, to the verge of wishing to silence her for ever with blows. Above all, is he shocked that Mrs. Boulte cannot see the error of her ways.
Boulte and he go out tiger-shooting together in all friendship. Boulte has put their relationship on a most satisfactory footing.
“You’re a blackguard,” he says to Kurrell, “and I’ve lost any self-respect I may ever have had; but when you’re with me, I can feel certain that you are not with Mrs. Vansuythen, or making Emma miserable.”
Kurrell endures anything that Boulte may say to him. Sometimes they are away for three days together, and then the Major insists upon his wife going over to sit with Mrs. Boulte; although Mrs. Vansuythen has repeatedly declared that she prefers her husband’s company to any in the world. From the way in which she clings to him, she would certainly seem to be speaking the truth.
But of course, as the Major says, “in a little Station we must all be friendly.”
Men say it was a stolen tide
The Lord that sent it He knows all,
But in mine ear will aye abide
The message that the bells let fall—
And awesome bells they were to me,
That in the dark rang, “Enderby.”
— Jean Ingelow
Once upon a time there was a Man and his Wife and a Tertium Quid.
All three were unwise, but the Wife was the unwisest. The Man should have looked after his Wife, who should have avoided the Tertium Quid, who, again, should have married a wife of his own, after clean and open flirtations, to which nobody can possibly object, round Jakko or Observatory Hill. When you see a young man with his pony in a white lather and his hat on the back of his head, flying downhill at fifteen miles an hour to meet a girl who will be properly surprised to meet him, you naturally approve of that young man, and wish him Staff appointments, and take an interest in his welfare, and, as the proper time comes, give them sugar-tongs or side-saddles according to your means and generosity.
The Tertium Quid flew downhill on horseback, but it was to meet the Man’s Wife; and when he flew uphill it was for the same end. The Man was in the Plains, earning money for his Wife to spend on dresses and four-hundred-rupee bracelets, and inexpensive luxuries of that kind. He worked very hard, and sent her a letter or a post-card daily. She also wrote to him daily, and said that she was longing for him to come up to Simla. The Tertium Quid used to lean over her shoulder and laugh as she wrote the notes. Then the two would ride to the Post-office together.
Now, Simla is a strange place and its customs are peculiar; nor is any man who has not spent at least ten seasons there qualified to pass judgment on circumstantial evidence, which is the most untrustworthy in the Courts. For these reasons, and for others which need not appear, I decline to state positively whether there was anything irretrievably wrong in the relations between the Man’s Wife and the Tertium Quid. If there was, and hereon you must form your own opinion, it was the Man’s Wife’s fault. She was kittenish in her manners, wearing generally an air of soft and fluffy innocence. But she was deadlily learned and evil-instructed; and, now and again, when the mask dropped, men saw this, shuddered and—almost drew back. Men are occasionally particular, and the least particular men are always the most exacting.
Simla is eccentric in its fashion of treating friendships. Certain attachments which have set and crystallised through half-a-dozen seasons acquire almost the sanctity of the marriage bond, and are revered as such. Again, certain attachments equally old, and, to all appearance, equally venerable, never seem to win any recognised official status; while a chance-sprung acquaintance, not two months born, steps into the place which by right belongs to the senior. There is no law reducible to print which regulates these affairs.
Some people have a gift which secures them infinite toleration, and others have not. The Man’s Wife had not. If she looked over the garden wall, for instance, women taxed her with stealing their husbands. She complained pathetically that she was not allowed to choose her own friends. When she put up her big white muff to her lips, and gazed over it and under her eyebrows at you as she said this thing, you felt that she had been infamously misjudged, and that all the other women’s instincts were all wrong; which was absurd. She was not allowed to own the Tertium Quid in peace; and was so strangely constructed that she would not have enjoyed peace had she been so permitted. She preferred some semblance of intrigue to cloak even her most commonplace actions.
After two months of riding, first round Jakko, then Elysium, then Summer Hill, then Observatory Hill, then under Jutogh, and lastly up and down the Cart Road as far as the Tara Devi gap in the dusk, she said to the Tertium Quid, “Frank, people say we are too much together, and people are so horrid.”
The Tertium Quid pulled his moustache, and replied that horrid people were unworthy of the consideration of nice people.
“But they have done more than talk—they have written—written to my hubby—I’m sure of it,” said the Man’s Wife, and she pulled a letter from her husband out of her saddle-pocket and gave it to the Tertium Quid.
It was an honest letter, written by an honest man, then stewing in the Plains on two hundred rupees a month (for he allowed his wife eight hundred and fifty), and in a silk banian and cotton trousers. It said that, perhaps, she had not thought of the unwisdom of allowing her name to be so generally coupled with the Tertium Quid’s; that she was too much of a child to understand the dangers of that sort of thing; that he, her husband, was the last man in the world to interfere jealously with her little amusements and interests, but that it would be better were she to drop the Tertium Quid quietly and for her husband’s sake. The letter was sweetened with many pretty little pet names, and it amused the Tertium Quid considerably. He and She laughed over it, so that you, fifty yards away, could see their shoulders shaking while the horses slouched along side by side.
Their conversation was not worth reporting. The upshot of it was that, next day, no one saw the Man’s Wife and the Tertium Quid together. They had both gone down to the Cemetery, which, as a rule, is only visited officially by the inhabitants of Simla.
A Simla funeral with the clergyman riding, the mourners riding, and the coffin creaking as it swings between the bearers, is one of the most depressing things on this earth, particularly when the procession passes under the wet, dank dip beneath the Rockcliffe Hotel, where the sun is shut out, and all the hill streams are wailing and weeping together as they go down the valleys.
Occasionally folk tend the graves, but we in India shift and are transferred so often that, at the end of the second year, the Dead have no friends—only acquaintances who are far too busy amusing themselves up the hill to attend to old partners. The idea of using a Cemetery as a rendezvous is distinctly a feminine one. A man would have said simply, “Let people talk. We’ll go down the Mall.” A woman is made differently, especially if she be such a woman as the Man’s Wife. She and the Tertium Quid enjoyed each other’s society among the graves of men and women whom they had known and danced with aforetime.
They used to take a big horse-blanket and sit on the grass a little to the left of the lower end, where there is a dip in the ground, and where the occupied graves stop short and the ready-made ones are not ready. Each well-regulated Indian Cemetery keeps half-a-dozen graves permanently open for contingencies and incidental wear and tear. In the Hills these are more usually baby’s size, because children who come up weakened and sick from the Plains often succumb to the effects of the Rains in the Hills or get pneumonia from their ayahs taking them through damp pine-woods after the sun has set. In Cantonments, of course, the man’s size is more in request; these arrangements varying with the climate and population.
One day when the Man’s Wife and the Tertium Quid had just arrived in the Cemetery, they saw some coolies breaking ground. They had marked out a full-size grave, and the Tertium Quid asked them whether any Sahib was sick. They said that they did not know; but it was an order that they should dig a Sahib’s grave.
“Work away,” said the Tertium Quid, “and let’s see how it’s done.”
The coolies worked away, and the Man’s Wife and the Tertium Quid watched and talked for a couple of hours while the grave was being deepened. Then a coolie, taking the earth in baskets as it was thrown up, jumped over the grave.
“That’s queer,” said the Tertium Quid. “Where’s my ulster?”
“What’s queer?” said the Man’s Wife.
“I have got a chill down my back—just as if a goose had walked over my grave.”
“Why do you look at the thing, then?” said the Man’s Wife. “Let us go.”
The Tertium Quid stood at the head of the grave, and stared without answering for a space. Then he said, dropping a pebble down, “It is nasty—and cold: horribly cold. I don’t think I shall come to the Cemetery any more. I don’t think grave-digging is cheerful.”
The two talked and agreed that the Cemetery was depressing. They also arranged for a ride next day out from the Cemetery through the Mashobra Tunnel up to Fagoo and back, because all the world was going to a garden-party at Viceregal Lodge, and all the people of Mashobra would go too.
Coming up the Cemetery road, the Tertium Quid’s horse tried to bolt uphill, being tired with standing so long, and managed to strain a back sinew.
“I shall have to take the mare to-morrow,” said the Tertium Quid, “and she will stand nothing heavier than a snaffle.”
They made their arrangements to meet in the Cemetery, after allowing all the Mashobra people time to pass into Simla. That night it rained heavily, and, next day, when the Tertium Quid came to the trysting-place, he saw that the new grave had a foot of water in it, the ground being a tough and sour clay.
“Jove! That looks beastly,” said the Tertium Quid. “Fancy being boarded up and dropped into that well!’
They then started off to Fagoo, the mare playing with the snaffle and picking her way as though she were shod with satin, and the sun shining divinely. The road below Mashobra to Fagoo is officially styled the Himalayan-Thibet road; but in spite of its name it is not much more than six feet wide in most places, and the drop into the valley below may be anything between one and two thousand feet.
“Now we’re going to Thibet,” said the Man’s Wife merrily, as the horses drew near to Fagoo. She was riding on the cliff-side.
“Into Thibet,” said the Tertium Quid, “ever so far from people who say horrid things, and hubbies who write stupid letters. With you—to the end of the world!’
A coolie carrying a log of wood came round a corner, and the mare went wide to avoid him—forefeet in and haunches out, as a sensible mare should go.
“To the world’s end,” said the Man’s Wife, and looked unspeakable things over her near shoulder at the Tertium Quid.
He was smiling, but, while she looked, the smile froze stiff as it were on his face, and changed to a nervous grin—the sort of grin men wear when they are not quite easy in their saddles. The mare seemed to be sinking by the stern, and her nostrils cracked while she was trying to realise what was happening. The rain of the night before had rotted the drop-side of the Himalayan-Thibet Road, and it was giving way under her. “What are you doing?” said the Man’s Wife. The Tertium Quid gave no answer. He grinned nervously and set his spurs into the mare, who rapped with her forefeet on the road, and the struggle began. The Man’s Wife screamed, “Oh, Frank, get off!’
But the Tertium Quid was glued to the saddle—his face blue and white—and he looked into the Man’s Wife’s eyes. Then the Man’s Wife clutched at the mare’s head and caught her by the nose instead of the bridle. The brute threw up her head and went down with a scream, the Tertium Quid upon her, and the nervous grin still set on his face.
The Man’s Wife heard the tinkle-tinkle of little stones and loose earth falling off the roadway, and the sliding roar of the man and horse going down. Then everything was quiet, and she called on Frank to leave his mare and walk up. But Frank did not answer. He was underneath the mare, nine hundred feet below, spoiling a patch of Indian corn.
As the revellers came back from Viceregal Lodge in the mists of the evening, they met a temporarily insane woman, on a temporarily mad horse, swinging round the corners, with her eyes and her mouth open, and her head like the head of a Medusa. She was stopped by a man at the risk of his life, and taken out of the saddle, a limp heap, and put on the bank to explain herself. This wasted twenty minutes, and then she was sent home in a lady’s ’rickshaw, still with her mouth open and her hands picking at her riding-gloves.
She was in bed through the following three days, which were rainy; so she missed attending the funeral of the Tertium Quid, who was lowered into eighteen inches of water, instead of the twelve to which he had first objected.
What rendered vain their deep desire?
A God, a God their severance ruled,
And bade between their shores to be
The unplumbed, salt, estranging sea.
— Matthew Arnold
He. Tell your jhampanis not to hurry so, dear. They forget I’m fresh from the Plains.
She. Sure proof that I have not been going out with any one. Yes, they are an untrained crew. Where do we go?
He. As usual—to the world’s end. No, Jakko.
She. Have your pony led after you, then. It’s a long round.
He. And for the last time, thank Heaven!
She. Do you mean that still? I didn’t dare to write to you about it all these months.
He. Mean it! I’ve been shaping my affairs to that end since Autumn. What makes you speak as though it had occurred to you for the first time?
She. I? Oh! I don’t know. I’ve had long enough to think, too.
He. And you’ve changed your mind?
She. No. You ought to know that I am a miracle of constancy. What are your—arrangements?
He. Ours, Sweetheart, please.
She. Ours, be it then. My poor boy, how the prickly heat has marked your forehead! Have you ever tried sulphate of copper in water?
He. It’ll go away in a day or two up here. The arrangements are simple enough. Tonga in the early morning—reach Kalka at twelve—Umballa at seven—down, straight by night train, to Bombay, and then the steamer of the 21st for Rome. That’s my idea. The Continent and Sweden—a ten-week honeymoon.
She. Ssh! Don’t talk of it in that way. It makes me afraid. Guy, how long have we two been insane?
He. Seven months and fourteen days, I forget the odd hours exactly, but I’ll think.
She. I only wanted to see if you remembered. Who are those two on the Blessington Road?
He. Eabrey and the Penner Woman. What do they matter to us? Tell me everything that you’ve been doing and saying and thinking.
She. Doing little, saying less, and thinking a great deal. I’ve hardly been out at all.
He. That was wrong of you. You haven’t been moping?
She. Not very much. Can you wonder that I’m disinclined for amusement?
He. Frankly, I do. Where was the difficulty?
She. In this only. The more people I know and the more I’m known here, the wider spread will be the news of the crash when it comes. I don’t like that.
He. Nonsense. We shall be out of it.
She. You think so?
He. I’m sure of it, if there is any power in steam or horse-flesh to carry us away. Ha! ha!
She. And the fun of the situation comes in where, my Lancelot?
He. Nowhere, Guinevere. I was only thinking of something.
She. They say men have a keener sense of humour than women. Now I was thinking of the scandal.
He. Don’t think of anything so ugly. We shall be beyond it.
She. It will be there all the same—in the mouths of Simla—telegraphed over India, and talked of at the dinners—and when He goes out they will stare at Him to see how he takes it. And we shall be dead, Guy dear—dead and cast into the outer darkness where there is——
He. Love at least. Isn’t that enough?
She. I have said so.
He. And you think so still?
She. What do you think?
He. What have I done? It means equal ruin to me, as the world reckons it—outcasting, the loss of my appointment, the breaking off my life’s work. I pay my price.
She. And are you so much above the world that you can afford to pay it. Am I?
He. My Divinity—what else?
She. A very ordinary woman, I’m afraid, but so far, respectable. How d’you do, Mrs. Middleditch? Your husband? I think he’s riding down to Annandale with Colonel Statters. Yes, isn’t it divine after the rain? Guy, how long am I to be allowed to bow to Mrs. Middleditch? Till the 17th?
He. Frowsy Scotchwoman! What is the use of bringing her into the discussion? You were saying?
She. Nothing. Have you ever seen a man hanged?
He. Yes. Once.
She. What was it for?
He. Murder, of course.
She. Murder. Is that so great a sin after all? I wonder how he felt before the drop fell.
He. I don’t think he felt much. What a gruesome little woman it is this evening! You’re shivering. Put on your cape, dear.
She. I think I will. Oh! Look at the mist coming over Sanjaoli; and I thought we should have sunshine on the Ladies’ Mile! Let’s turn back.
He. What’s the good? There’s a cloud on Elysium Hill, and that means it’s foggy all down the Mall. We’ll go on. It’ll blow away before we get to the Convent, perhaps. ’Jove! It is chilly.
She. You feel it, fresh from below. Put on your ulster. What do you think of my cape?
He. Never ask a man his opinion of a woman’s dress when he is desperately and abjectly in love with the wearer. Let me look. Like everything else of yours it’s perfect. Where did you get it from?
She. He gave it me, on Wednesday—our wedding-day, you know.
He. The Deuce He did! He’s growing generous in his old age. D’you like all that frilly, bunchy stuff at the throat? I don’t.
She. Don’t you?
Kind Sir, o’ your courtesy,
As you go by the town, Sir,
’Pray you o’ your love for me,
Buy me a russet gown, Sir.
He. I won’t say: “Keek into the draw-well, Janet, Janet.” Only wait a little, darling, and you shall be stocked with russet gowns and everything else.
She. And when the frocks wear out you’ll get me new ones—and everything else?
She. I wonder!
He. Look here, Sweetheart, I didn’t spend two days and two nights in the train to hear you wonder. I thought we’d settled all that at Shaifazehat.
She. ( dreamily ). At Shaifazehat? Does the Station go on still? That was ages and ages ago. It must be crumbling to pieces. All except the Amirtollah kutcha road. I don’t believe that could crumble till the Day of Judgment.
He. You think so? What is the mood now?
She. I can’t tell. How cold it is! Let us get on quickly.
He. ’Better walk a little. Stop your jhampanis and get out. What’s the matter with you this evening, dear?
She. Nothing. You must grow accustomed to my ways. If I’m boring you I can go home. Here’s Captain Congleton coming, I daresay he’ll be willing to escort me.
He. Goose! Between us, too! Damn Captain Congleton.
She. Chivalrous Knight. Is it your habit to swear much in talking? It jars a little, and you might swear at me.
He. My angel! I didn’t know what I was saying; and you changed so quickly that I couldn’t follow. I’ll apologise in dust and ashes.
She. There’ll be enough of those later on— Good-night, Captain Congleton. Going to the singing-quadrilles already? What dances am I giving you next week? No! You must have written them down wrong. Five and Seven, I said. If you’ve made a mistake, I certainly don’t intend to suffer for it. You must alter your programme.
He. I thought you told me that you had not been going out much this season?
She. Quite true, but when I do I dance with Captain Congleton. He dances very nicely.
He. And sit out with him, I suppose?
She. Yes. Have you any objection? Shall I stand under the chandelier in future?
He. What does he talk to you about?
She. What do men talk about when they sit out?
He. Ugh! Don’t! Well, now I’m up, you must dispense with the fascinating Congleton for a while. I don’t like him.
She. ( after a pause ). Do you know what you have said?
He. ’Can’t say that I do exactly. I’m not in the best of tempers.
She. So I see,—and feel. My true and faithful lover, where is your “eternal constancy,” “unalterable trust,” and “reverent devotion”? I remember those phrases; you seem to have forgotten them. I mention a man’s name——
He. A good deal more than that.
She. Well, speak to him about a dance—perhaps the last dance that I shall ever dance in my life before I—before I go away; and you at once distrust and insult me.
He. I never said a word.
She. How much did you imply? Guy, is this amount of confidence to be our stock to start the new life on?
He. No, of course not. I didn’t mean that. On my word and honour, I didn’t. Let it pass, dear. Please let it pass.
She. This once—yes—and a second time, and again and again, all through the years when I shall be unable to resent it. You want too much, my Lancelot, and—you know too much.
He. How do you mean?
She. That is a part of the punishment. There cannot be perfect trust between us.
He. In Heaven’s name, why not?
She. Hush! The Other Place is quite enough. Ask yourself.
He. I don’t follow.
She. You trust me so implicitly that when I look at another man— Never mind. Guy, have you ever made love to a girl—a good girl?
He. Something of the sort. Centuries ago—in the Dark Ages, before I ever met you, dear.
She. Tell me what you said to her.
He. What does a man say to a girl? I’ve forgotten.
She. I remember. He tells her that he trusts her and worships the ground she walks on, and that he’ll love and honour and protect her till her dying day; and so she marries in that belief. At least, I speak of one girl who was not protected.
He. Well, and then?
She. And then, Guy, and then, that girl needs ten times the love and trust and honour—yes, honour—that was enough when she was only a mere wife if—if—the other life she chooses to lead is to be made even bearable. Do you understand?
He. Even bearable! It’ll be Paradise.
She. Ah! Can you give me all I’ve asked for—not now, nor a few months later, but when you begin to think of what you might have done if you had kept your own appointment and your caste here—when you begin to look upon me as a drag and a burden? I shall want it most then, Guy, for there will be no one in the wide world but you.
He. You’re a little over-tired to-night, Sweetheart, and you’re taking a stage view of the situation. After the necessary business in the Courts, the road is clear to——
She. “The holy state of matrimony!” Ha! ha! ha!
He. Ssh! Don’t laugh in that horrible way!
She. I—I c-c-c-can’t help it! Isn’t it too absurd! Ah! Ha! ha! ha! Guy, stop me quick or I shall—l-l-laugh till we get to the Church.
He. For goodness sake, stop! Don’t make an exhibition of yourself. What is the matter with you?
She. N-nothing. I’m better now.
He. That’s all right. One moment, dear. There’s a little wisp of hair got loose from behind your right ear and it’s straggling over your cheek. So!
She. Thank’oo. I’m ’fraid my hat’s on one side, too.
He. What do you wear these huge dagger bonnet-skewers for? They’re big enough to kill a man with.
She. Oh! don’t kill me, though. You’re sticking it into my head! Let me do it. You men are so clumsy.
He. Have you had many opportunities of comparing us—in this sort of work?
She. Guy, what is my name?
He. Eh! I don’t follow.
She. Here’s my card-case. Can you read?
He. Yes. Well?
She. Well, that answers your question. You know the other’s man’s name. Am I sufficiently humbled, or would you like to ask me if there is any one else?
He. I see now. My darling, I never meant that for an instant. I was only joking. There! Lucky there’s no one on the road. They’d be scandalised.
She. They’ll be more scandalised before the end.
He. Do-on’t! I don’t like you to talk in that way.
She. Unreasonable man! Who asked me to face the situation and accept it?—Tell me, do I look like Mrs. Penner? Do I look like a naughty woman! Swear I don’t! Give me your word of honour, my honourable friend, that I’m not like Mrs. Buzgago. That’s the way she stands, with her hands clasped at the back of her head. D’you like that?
He. Don’t be affected.
She. I’m not. I’m Mrs. Buzgago. Listen!
Pendant une anne’ toute entière
Le régiment n’a pas r’paru.
Au Ministère de la Guerre
On le r’porta comme perdu.
On se r’nonçait—r’trouver sa trace,
Quand un matin subitement,
On le vit r’paraître sur la place,
L’Colonel toujours en avant.
That’s the way she rolls her r’s. Am I like her?
He. No, but I object when you go on like an actress and sing stuff of that kind. Where in the world did you pick up the “Chanson du Colonel?” It isn’t a drawing-room song. It isn’t proper.
She. Mrs. Buzgago taught it me. She is both drawing-room and proper, and in another month she’ll shut her drawing-room to me, and thank God she isn’t as improper as I am. Oh, Guy, Guy! I wish I was like some women and had no scruples about—What is it Keene says?—“Wearing a corpse’s hair and being false to the bread they eat.”
He. I am only a man of limited intelligence, and, just now, very bewildered. When you have quite finished flashing through all your moods tell me, and I’ll try to understand the last one.
She. Moods, Guy! I haven’t any. I’m sixteen years old and you’re just twenty, and you’ve been waiting for two hours outside the school in the cold. And now I’ve met you, and now we’re walking home together. Does that suit you, My Imperial Majesty?
He. No. We aren’t children. Why can’t you be rational?
She. He asks me that when I’m going to commit suicide for his sake, and, and—I don’t want to be French and rave about my mother, but have I ever told you that I have a mother, and a brother who was my pet before I married? He’s married now. Can’t you imagine the pleasure that the news of the elopement will give him? Have you any people at Home, Guy, to be pleased with your performances?
He. One or two. One can’t make omelets without breaking eggs.
She. ( slowly ). I don’t see the necessity——
He. Hah! What do you mean?
She. Shall I speak the truth?
He. Under the circumstances, perhaps it would be as well.
She. Guy, I’m afraid.
He. I thought we’d settled all that. What of?
She. Of you.
He. Oh, damn it all! The old business! This is too bad!
She. Of you.
He. And what now?
She. What do you think of me?
He. Beside the question altogether. What do you intend to do?
She. I daren’t risk it. I’m afraid. If I could only cheat——
He. À la Buzgago? No, thanks. That’s the one point on which I have any notion of Honour. I won’t eat his salt and steal too. I’ll loot openly or not at all.
She. I never meant anything else.
He. Then, why in the world do you pretend not to be willing to come?
She. It’s not pretence, Guy. I am afraid.
He. Please explain.
She. It can’t last, Guy. It can’t last. You’ll get angry, and then you’ll swear, and then you’ll get jealous, and then you’ll mistrust me—you do now—and you yourself will be the best reason for doubting. And I—what shall I do? I shall be no better than Mrs. Buzgago found out—no better than any one. And you’ll know that. Oh, Guy, can’t you see?
He. I see that you are desperately unreasonable, little woman.
She. There! The moment I begin to object, you get angry. What will you do when I am only your property—stolen property? It can’t be, Guy. It can’t be! I thought it could, but it can’t. You’ll get tired of me.
He. I tell you I shall not. Won’t anything make you understand that?
She. There, can’t you see? If you speak to me like that now, you’ll call me horrible names later, if I don’t do everything as you like. And if you were cruel to me, Guy, where should I go?—where should I go? I can’t trust you. Oh! I can’t trust you!
He. I suppose I ought to say that I can trust you. I’ve ample reason.
She. Please don’t, dear. It hurts as much as if you hit me.
He. It isn’t exactly pleasant for me.
She. I can’t help it. I wish I were dead! I can’t trust you, and I don’t trust myself. Oh, Guy, let it die away and be forgotten!
He. Too late now. I don’t understand you—I won’t—and I can’t trust myself to talk this evening. May I call to-morrow?
She. Yes. No! Oh, give me time! The day after. I get into my ’rickshaw here and meet Him at Peliti’s. You ride.
He. I’ll go on to Peliti’s too. I think I want a drink. My world’s knocked about my ears and the stars are falling. Who are those brutes howling in the Old Library?
She. They’re rehearsing the singing-quadrilles for the Fancy Ball. Can’t you hear Mrs. Buzgago’s voice? She has a solo. It’s quite a new idea. Listen!
Mrs. Buzgago ( in the Old Library, ).
See-saw! Margery Daw!
Sold her bed to lie upon straw.
Wasn’t she a silly slut
To sell her bed and lie upon dirt?
Captain Congleton, I’m going to alter that to “flirt.” It sounds better.
He. No, I’ve changed my mind about the drink. Good-night, little lady. I shall see you to-morrow?
She. Ye—es. Good-night, Guy. Don’t be angry with me.
He. Angry! You know I trust you absolutely. Good-night and—God bless you!
( Three seconds later. Alone. ) Hmm! I’d give something to discover whether there’s another man at the back of all this.