"Take me," said Dick, to the doctor, "to Madame Binat's—if you know where that is."
"Whew!" said the doctor, "I do. There's not much to choose between 'em; but I suppose you're aware that that's one of the worst houses in the place. They'll rob you to begin with, and knife you later."
"Not they. Take me there, and I can look after myself."
So he was brought to Madame Binat's and filled his nostrils with the well- remembered smell of the East, that runs without a change from the Canal head to Hong-Kong, and his mouth with the villainous Lingua Franca of the Levant. The heat smote him between the shoulder-blades with the buffet of an old friend, his feet slipped on the sand, and his coat-sleeve was warm as new-baked bread when he lifted it to his nose.
Madame Binat smiled with the smile that knows no astonishment when Dick entered the drinking-shop which was one source of her gains. But for a little accident of complete darkness he could hardly realise that he had ever quitted the old life that hummed in his ears. Somebody opened a bottle of peculiarly strong Schiedam. The smell reminded Dick of Monsieur Binat, who, by the way, had spoken of art and degradation.
Binat was dead; Madame said as much when the doctor departed, scandalised, so far as a ship's doctor can be, at the warmth of Dick's reception. Dick was delighted at it. "They remember me here after a year. They have forgotten me across the water by this time. Madame, I want a long talk with you when you're at liberty. It is good to be back again."
In the evening she set an iron-topped caf-table out on the sands, and Dick and she sat by it, while the house behind them filled with riot, merriment, oaths, and threats. The stars came out and the lights of the shipping in the harbour twinkled by the head of the Canal.
"Yes. The war is good for trade, my friend; but what dost thou do here? We have not forgotten thee."
"I was over there in England and I went blind."
"But there was the glory first. We heard of it here, even here—I and Binat; and thou hast used the head of Yellow 'Tina—she is still alive—so often and so well that 'Tina laughed when the papers arrived by the mail-boats. It was always something that we here could recognise in the paintings. And then there was always the glory and the money for thee."
"I am not poor—I shall pay you well."
"Not to me. Thou hast paid for everything." Under her breath, "Mon Dieu, to be blind and so young! What horror!"
Dick could not see her face with the pity on it, or his own with the discoloured hair at the temples. He did not feel the need of pity; he was too anxious to get to the front once more, and explained his desire.
"And where? The Canal is full of the English ships. Sometimes they fire as they used to do when the war was here—ten years ago. Beyond Cairo there is fighting, but how canst thou go there without a correspondent's passport? And in the desert there is always fighting, but that is impossible also," said she.
"I must go to Suakin." He knew, thanks to Alf's readings, that Torpenhow was at work with the column that was protecting the construction of the Suakin-Berber line. P. and O. steamers do not touch at that port, and, besides, Madame Binat knew everybody whose help or advice was worth anything. They were not respectable folk, but they could cause things to be accomplished, which is much more important when there is work toward.
"But at Suakin they are always fighting. That desert breeds men always—and always more men. And they are so bold! Why to Suakin?"
"My friend is there.
"Thy friend! Chtt! Thy friend is death, then."
Madame Binat dropped a fat arm on the table-top, filled Dick's glass anew, and looked at him closely under the stars. There was no need that he should bow his head in assent and say—"No. He is a man, but—if it should arrive . . . blamest thou?"
"I blame?" she laughed shrilly. "Who am I that I should blame any one—except those who try to cheat me over their consommations. But it is very terrible."
"I must go to Suakin. Think for me. A great deal has changed within the year, and the men I knew are not here. The Egyptian lighthouse steamer goes down the Canal to Suakin—and the post-boats—But even then——"
"Do not think any longer. I know, and it is for me to think. Thou shalt go— thou shalt go and see thy friend. Be wise. Sit here until the house is a little quiet—I must attend to my guests—and afterwards go to bed. Thou shalt go, in truth, thou shalt go."
"As soon as may be." She was talking as though he were a child.
He sat at the table listening to the voices in the harbour and the streets, and wondering how soon the end would come, till Madame Binat carried him off to bed and ordered him to sleep. The house shouted and sang and danced and revelled, Madame Binat moving through it with one eye on the liquor payments and the girls and the other on Dick's interests. To this latter end she smiled upon scowling and furtive Turkish officers of fellaheen regiments, and was more than kind to camel agents of no nationality whatever.
In the early morning, being then appropriately dressed in a flaming red silk ball-dress, with a front of tarnished gold embroidery and a necklace of plate- glass diamonds, she made chocolate and carried it in to Dick.
"It is only I, and I am of discreet age, eh? Drink and eat the roll too. Thus in France mothers bring their sons, when those behave wisely, the morning chocolate." She sat down on the side of the bed whispering:—"It is all arranged. Thou wilt go by the lighthouse boat. That is a bribe of ten pounds English. The captain is never paid by the Government. The boat comes to Suakin in four days. There will go with thee George, a Greek muleteer. Another bribe of ten pounds. I will pay; they must not know of thy money. George will go with thee as far as he goes with his mules. Then he comes back to me, for his well- beloved is here, and if I do not receive a telegram from Suakin saying that thou art well, the girl answers for George."
"Thank you." He reached out sleepily for the cup. "You are much too kind, Madame."
"If there were anything that I might do I would say, stay here and be wise; but I do not think that would be best for thee." She looked at her liquor-stained dress with a sad smile. "Nay, thou shalt go, in truth, thou shalt go. It is best so. My boy, it is best so."
She stooped and kissed Dick between the eyes. "That is for good-morning," she said, going away. "When thou art dressed we will speak to George and make everything ready. But first we must open the little trunk. Give me the keys."
"The amount of kissing lately has been simply scandalous. I shall expect Torp to kiss me next. He is more likely to swear at me for getting in his way, though. Well, it won't last long.—Ohe, Madame, help me to my toilette of the guillotine! There will be no chance of dressing properly out yonder."
He was rummaging among his new campaign-kit, and rowelling his hands with the spurs. There are two ways of wearing well-oiled ankle-jacks, spotless blue bands, khaki coat and breeches, and a perfectly pipeclayed helmet. The right way is the way of the untired man, master of himself, setting out upon an expedition, well pleased.
"Everything must be very correct," Dick explained. "It will become dirty afterwards, but now it is good to feel well dressed. Is everything as it should be?"
He patted the revolver neatly hidden under the fulness of the blouse on the right hip and fingered his collar.
"I can do no more," Madame said, between laughing and crying. "Look at thyself- -but I forgot."
"I am very content." He stroked the creaseless spirals of his leggings.
"Now let us go and see the captain and George and the lighthouse boat. Be quick, Madame."
"But thou canst not be seen by the harbour walking with me in the daylight. Figure to yourself if some English ladies——"
"There are no English ladies; and if there are, I have forgotten them. Take me there."
In spite of this burning impatience it was nearly evening ere the lighthouse boat began to move. Madame had said a great deal both to George and the captain touching the arrangements that were to be made for Dick's benefit. Very few men who had the honour of her acquaintance cared to disregard Madame's advice. That sort of contempt might end in being knifed by a stranger in a gambling hell upon surprisingly short provocation.
For six days—two of them were wasted in the crowded Canal—the little steamer worked her way to Suakin, where she was to pick up the superintendent of the lighthouse; and Dick made it his business to propitiate George, who was distracted with fears for the safety of his light-of-love and half inclined to make Dick responsible for his own discomfort. When they arrived George took him under his wing, and together they entered the red-hot seaport, encumbered with the material and wastage of the Suakin-Berger line, from locomotives in disconsolate fragments to mounds of chairs and pot-sleepers.
"If you keep with me," said George, "nobody will ask for passports or what you do. They are all very busy."
"Yes; but I should like to hear some of the Englishmen talk. They might remember me. I was known here a long time ago—when I was some one indeed."
"A long time ago is a very long time ago here. The graveyards are full. Now listen. This new railway runs out so far as Tanai-el-Hassan—that is seven miles. Then there is a camp. They say that beyond Tanai-el-Hassan the English troops go forward, and everything that they require will be brought to them by this line."
"Ah! Base camp. I see. That's a better business than fighting Fuzzies in the open."
"For this reason even the mules go up in the iron-train."
"It is all covered with iron, because it is still being shot at."
"An armoured train. Better and better! Go on, faithful George."
"And I go up with my mules tonight. Only those who particularly require to go to the camp go out with the train. They begin to shoot not far from the city."
"The dears—they always used to!" Dick snuffed the smell of parched dust, heated iron, and flaking paint with delight. Certainly the old life was welcoming him back most generously.
"When I have got my mules together I go up tonight, but you must first send a telegram of Port Said, declaring that I have done you no harm."
"Madame has you well in hand. Would you stick a knife into me if you had the chance?"
"I have no chance," said the Greek. "She is there with that woman."
"I see. It's a bad thing to be divided between love of woman and the chance of loot. I sympathise with you, George."
They went to the telegraph-office unquestioned, for all the world was desperately busy and had scarcely time to turn its head, and Suakin was the last place under sky that would be chosen for holiday-ground. On their return the voice of an English subaltern asked Dick what he was doing. The blue goggles were over his eyes and he walked with his hand on George's elbow as he replied—"Egyptian Government—mules. My orders are to give them over to the A. C. G. at Tanai-el-Hassan. Any occasion to show my papers?"
"Oh, certainly not. I beg your pardon. I'd no right to ask, but not seeing your face before I——"
"I go out in the train tonight, I suppose," said Dick, boldly. "There will be no difficulty in loading up the mules, will there?"
"You can see the horse-platforms from here. You must have them loaded up early." The young man went away wondering what sort of broken-down waif this might be who talked like a gentleman and consorted with Greek muleteers. Dick felt unhappy. To outface an English officer is no small thing, but the bluff loses relish when one plays it from the utter dark, and stumbles up and down rough ways, thinking and eternally thinking of what might have been if things had fallen out otherwise, and all had been as it was not.
George shared his meal with Dick and went off to the mule-lines. His charge sat alone in a shed with his face in his hands. Before his tight-shut eyes danced the face of Maisie, laughing, with parted lips. There was a great bustle and clamour about him. He grew afraid and almost called for George.
"I say, have you got your mules ready?" It was the voice of the subaltern over his shoulder.
"My man's looking after them. The—the fact is I've a touch of ophthalmia and can't see very well.
"By Jove! that's bad. You ought to lie up in hospital for a while. I've had a turn of it myself. It's as bad as being blind."
"So I find it. When does this armoured train go?"
"At six o"clock. It takes an hour to cover the seven miles."
"Are the Fuzzies on the rampage—eh?"
"About three nights a week. Fact is I'm in acting command of the night-train. It generally runs back empty to Tanai for the night."
"Big camp at Tanai, I suppose?"
"Pretty big. It has to feed our desert-column somehow."
"Is that far off?"
"Between thirty and forty miles—in an infernal thirsty country."
"Is the country quiet between Tanai and our men?"
"More or less. I shouldn't care to cross it alone, or with a subaltern"s command for the matter of that, but the scouts get through it in some extraordinary fashion."
"They always did."
"Have you been here before, then?"
"I was through most of the trouble when it first broke out."
"In the service and cashiered," was the subaltern's first thought, so he refrained from putting any questions.
"There's your man coming up with the mules. It seems rather queer——"
"That I should be mule-leading?" said Dick.
"I didn't mean to say so, but it is. Forgive me—it's beastly impertinence I know, but you speak like a man who has been at a public school. There"s no mistaking the tone."
"I am a public school man."
"I thought so. I say, I don't want to hurt your feelings, but you're a little down on your luck, aren't you? I saw you sitting with your head in your hands, and that's why I spoke."
"Thanks. I am about as thoroughly and completely broke as a man need be."
"Suppose—I mean I'm a public school man myself. Couldn't I perhaps—take it as a loan y'know and——"
"You're much too good, but on my honour I've as much money as I want.
. . . I tell you what you could do for me, though, and put me under an everlasting obligation. Let me come into the bogie truck of the train.
There is a fore-truck, isn't there?"
"Yes. How d'you know?"
"I've been in an armoured train before. Only let me see—hear some of the fun I mean, and I'll be grateful. I go at my own risk as a non-combatant."
The young man thought for a minute. "All right," he said. "We're supposed to be an empty train, and there's no one to blow me up at the other end."
George and a horde of yelling amateur assistants had loaded up the mules, and the narrow-gauge armoured train, plated with three-eighths inch boiler-plate till it looked like one long coffin, stood ready to start.
Two bogie trucks running before the locomotive were completely covered in with plating, except that the leading one was pierced in front for the muzzle of a machine-gun, and the second at either side for lateral fire.
The trucks together made one long iron-vaulted chamber in which a score of artillerymen were rioting.
"Whitechapel—last train! Ah, I see yer kissin" in the first class there!" somebody shouted, just as Dick was clamouring into the forward truck.
"Lordy! 'Ere's a real live passenger for the Kew, Tanai, Acton, and Ealin' train. Echo, sir. Speshul edition! Star, sir."—"Shall I get you a foot- warmer?" said another.
"Thanks. I'll pay my footing," said Dick, and relations of the most amiable were established ere silence came with the arrival of the subaltern, and the train jolted out over the rough track.
"This is an immense improvement on shooting the unimpressionable Fuzzy in the open," said Dick, from his place in the corner.
"Oh, but he's still unimpressed. There he goes!" said the subaltern, as a bullet struck the outside of the truck. "We always have at least one demonstration against the night-train. Generally they attack the rear-truck, where my junior commands. He gets all the fun of the fair."
"Not tonight though! Listen!" said Dick. A flight of heavy-handed bullets was succeeded by yelling and shouts. The children of the desert valued their nightly amusement, and the train was an excellent mark.
"Is it worth giving them half a hopper full?" the subaltern asked of the engine, which was driven by a Lieutenant of Sappers.
"I should think so! This is my section of the line. They'll be playing old Harry with my permanent way if we don't stop "em."
"Hrrmph!" said the machine gun through all its five noses as the subaltern drew the lever home. The empty cartridges clashed on the floor and the smoke blew back through the truck. There was indiscriminate firing at the rear of the train, and return fire from the darkness without and unlimited howling. Dick stretched himself on the floor, wild with delight at the sounds and the smells.
"God is very good—I never thought I'd hear this again. Give 'em hell, men. Oh, give 'em hell!" he cried.
The train stopped for some obstruction on the line ahead and a party went out to reconnoitre, but came back, cursing, for spades. The children of the desert had piled sand and gravel on the rails, and twenty minutes were lost in clearing it away. Then the slow progress recommenced, to be varied with more shots, more shoutings, the steady clack and kick of the machine guns, and a final difficulty with a half-lifted rail ere the train came under the protection of the roaring camp at Tanai-el-Hassan.
"Now, you see why it takes an hour and a half to fetch her through," said the subaltern, unshipping the cartridge-hopper above his pet gun.
"It was a lark, though. I only wish it had lasted twice as long. How superb it must have looked from outside!" said Dick, sighing regretfully.
"It palls after the first few nights. By the way, when you've settled about your mules, come and see what we can find to eat in my tent. I"m Bennil of the Gunners—in the artillery lines—and mind you don't fall over my tent-ropes in the dark."
But it was all dark to Dick. He could only smell the camels, the hay-bales, the cooking, the smoky fires, and the tanned canvas of the tents as he stood, where he had dropped from the train, shouting for George. There was a sound of light- hearted kicking on the iron skin of the rear trucks, with squealing and grunting. George was unloading the mules.
The engine was blowing off steam nearly in Dick's ear; a cold wind of the desert danced between his legs; he was hungry, and felt tired and dirty—so dirty that he tried to brush his coat with his hands. That was a hopeless job; he thrust his hands into his pockets and began to count over the many times that he had waited in strange or remote places for trains or camels, mules or horses, to carry him to his business. In those days he could see—few men more clearly—and the spectacle of an armed camp at dinner under the stare was an ever fresh pleasure to the eye. There was colour, light, and motion, without which no man has much pleasure in living. This night there remained for him only one more journey through the darkness that never lifts to tell a man how far he has travelled. Then he would grip Torpenhow's hand again—Torpenhow, who was alive and strong, and lived in the midst of the action that had once made the reputation of a man called Dick Heldar: not in the least to be confused with the blind, bewildered vagabond who seemed to answer to the same name. Yes, he would find Torpenhow, and come as near to the old life as might be. Afterwards he would forget everything: Bessie, who had wrecked the Melancolia and so nearly wrecked his life; Beeton, who lived in a strange unreal city full of tin-tacks and gas-plugs and matters that no men needed; that irrational being who had offered him love and loyalty for nothing, but had not signed her name; and most of all Maisie, who, from her own point of view, was undeniably right in all she did, but oh, at this distance, so tantalisingly fair.
George's hand on his arm pulled him back to the situation.
"And what now?" said George.
"Oh yes of course. What now? Take me to the camel-men. Take me to where the scouts sit when they come in from the desert. They sit by their camels, and the camels eat grain out of a black blanket held up at the corners, and the men eat by their side just like camels. Take me there!"
The camp was rough and rutty, and Dick stumbled many times over the stumps of scrub. The scouts were sitting by their beasts, as Dick knew they would. The light of the dung-fires flickered on their bearded faces, and the camels bubbled and mumbled beside them at rest. It was no part of Dick's policy to go into the desert with a convoy of supplies. That would lead to impertinent questions, and since a blind non-combatant is not needed at the front, he would probably be forced to return to Suakin.
He must go up alone, and go immediately.
"Now for one last bluff—the biggest of all," he said. "Peace be with you, brethren!" The watchful George steered him to the circle of the nearest fire. The heads of the camel-sheiks bowed gravely, and the camels, scenting a European, looked sideways curiously like brooding hens, half ready to get to their feet.
"A beast and a driver to go to the fighting line tonight," said Dick.
"A Mulaid?" said a voice, scornfully naming the best baggage-breed that he knew.
"A Bisharin," returned Dick, with perfect gravity. "A Bisharin without saddle- galls. Therefore no charge of thine, shock-head."
Two or three minutes passed. Then—"We be knee-haltered for the night. There is no going out from the camp."
"Not for money?"
"H'm! Ah! English money?"
Another depressing interval of silence.
"Twenty-five pounds English paid into the hand of the driver at my journey's end, and as much more into the hand of the camel-sheik here, to be paid when the driver returns."
This was royal payment, and the sheik, who knew that he would get his commission on this deposit, stirred in Dick's behalf.
"For scarcely one night's journey—fifty pounds. Land and wells and good trees and wives to make a man content for the rest of his days. Who speaks?" said Dick.
"I," said a voice. "I will go—but there is no going from the camp."
"Fool! I know that a camel can break his knee-halter, and the sentries do not fire if one goes in chase. Twenty-five pounds and another twenty-five pounds. But the beast must be a good Bisharin; I will take no baggage-camel."
Then the bargaining began, and at the end of half an hour the first deposit was paid over to the sheik, who talked in low tones to the driver.
Dick heard the latter say: "A little way out only. Any baggage-beast will serve. Am I a fool to waste my cattle for a blind man?"
"And though I cannot see"—Dick lifted his voice a little—"yet I carry that which has six eyes, and the driver will sit before me. If we do not reach the English troops in the dawn he will be dead."
"But where, in God's name, are the troops?"
"Unless thou knowest let another man ride. Dost thou know? Remember it will be life or death to thee."
"I know," said the driver, sullenly. "Stand back from my beast. I am going to slip him."
"Not so swiftly. George, hold the camel's head a moment. I want to feel his cheek." The hands wandered over the hide till they found the branded half- circle that is the mark of the Biharin, the light-built riding-camel.
"That is well. Cut this one loose. Remember no blessing of God comes on those who try to cheat the blind."
The men chuckled by the fires at the camel-driver's discomfiture. He had intended to substitute a slow, saddle-galled baggage-colt.
"Stand back!" one shouted, lashing the Biharin under the belly with a quirt. Dick obeyed as soon as he felt the nose-string tighten in his hand,—and a cry went up, "Illaha! Aho! He is loose."
With a roar and a grunt the Biharin rose to his feet and plunged forward toward the desert, his driver following with shouts and lamentation.
George caught Dick's arm and hurried him stumbling and tripping past a disgusted sentry who was used to stampeding camels.
"What's the row now?" he cried.
"Every stitch of my kit on that blasted dromedary," Dick answered, after the manner of a common soldier.
"Go on, and take care your throat's not cut outside—you and your dromedary"s."
The outcries ceased when the camel had disappeared behind a hillock, and his driver had called him back and made him kneel down.
"Mount first," said Dick. Then climbing into the second seat and gently screwing the pistol muzzle into the small of his companion's back, "Go on in God's name, and swiftly. Goodbye, George. Remember me to Madame, and have a good time with your girl. Get forward, child of the Pit!"
A few minutes later he was shut up in a great silence, hardly broken by the creaking of the saddle and the soft pad of the tireless feet. Dick adjusted himself comfortably to the rock and pitch of the pace, girthed his belt tighter, and felt the darkness slide past. For an hour he was conscious only of the sense of rapid progress.
"A good camel," he said at last.
"He was never underfed. He is my own and clean bred," the driver replied.
His head dropped on his chest and he tried to think, but the tenor of his thoughts was broken because he was very sleepy. In the half doze in seemed that he was learning a punishment hymn at Mrs. Jennett's. He had committed some crime as bad as Sabbath-breaking, and she had locked him up in his bedroom. But he could never repeat more than the first two lines of the hymn—
When Israel of the Lord believed Out of the land of bondage came.
He said them over and over thousands of times. The driver turned in the saddle to see if there were any chance of capturing the revolver and ending the ride. Dick roused, struck him over the head with the butt, and stormed himself wide awake. Somebody hidden in a clump of camel-thorn shouted as the camel toiled up rising ground. A shot was fired, and the silence shut down again, bringing the desire to sleep. Dick could think no longer. He was too tired and stiff and cramped to do more than nod uneasily from time to time, waking with a start and punching the driver with the pistol.
"Is there a moon?" he asked drowsily.
"She is near her setting."
"I wish that I could see her. Halt the camel. At least let me hear the desert talk."
The man obeyed. Out of the utter stillness came one breath of wind. It rattled the dead leaves of a shrub some distance away and ceased. A handful of dry earth detached itself from the edge of a rail trench and crumbled softly to the bottom.
"Go on. The night is very cold."
Those who have watched till the morning know how the last hour before the light lengthens itself into many eternities. It seemed to Dick that he had never since the beginning of original darkness done anything at all save jolt through the air. Once in a thousand years he would finger the nailheads on the saddle- front and count them all carefully. Centuries later he would shift his revolver from his right hand to his left and allow the eased arm to drop down at his side. From the safe distance of London he was watching himself thus employed,— watching critically. Yet whenever he put out his hand to the canvas that he might paint the tawny yellow desert under the glare of the sinking moon, the black shadow of a camel and the two bowed figures atop, that hand held a revolver and the arm was numbed from wrist to collar-bone. Moreover, he was in the dark, and could see no canvas of any kind whatever.
The driver grunted, and Dick was conscious of a change in the air.
"I smell the dawn," he whispered.
"It is here, and yonder are the troops. Have I done well?"
The camel stretched out its neck and roared as there came down wind the pungent reek of camels in the square.
"Go on. We must get there swiftly. Go on."
"They are moving in their camp. There is so much dust that I cannot see what they do."
"Am I in better case? Go forward."
They could hear the hum of voices ahead, the howling and the bubbling of the beasts and the hoarse cries of the soldiers girthing up for the day.
Two or three shots were fired.
"Is that at us? Surely they can see that I am English," Dick spoke angrily.
"Nay, it is from the desert," the driver answered, cowering in his saddle.
"Go forward, my child! Well it is that the dawn did not uncover us an hour ago."
The camel headed straight for the column and the shots behind multiplied. The children of the desert had arranged that most uncomfortable of surprises, a dawn attack for the English troops, and were getting their distance by snap- shots at the only moving object without the square.
"What luck! What stupendous and imperial luck!" said Dick. "It's 'just before the battle, mother.' Oh, God has been most good to me! Only"—the agony of the thought made him screw up his eyes for an instant—"Maisie . . ."
"Allahu! We are in," said the man, as he drove into the rearguard and the camel knelt.
"Who the deuce are you? Despatches or what? What's the strength of the enemy behind that ridge? How did you get through?" asked a dozen voices. For all answer Dick took a long breath, unbuckled his belt, and shouted from the saddle at the top of a wearied and dusty voice, "Torpenhow! Ohe, Torp! Coo-ee, Tor- pen-how."
A bearded man raking in the ashes of a fire for a light to his pipe moved very swiftly towards that cry, as the rearguard, facing about, began to fire at the puffs of smoke from the hillocks around. Gradually the scattered white cloudlets drew out into the long lines of banked white that hung heavily in the stillness of the dawn before they turned over wave-like and glided into the valleys. The soldiers in the square were coughing and swearing as their own smoke obstructed their view, and they edged forward to get beyond it. A wounded camel leaped to its feet and roared aloud, the cry ending in a bubbling grunt. Some one had cut its throat to prevent confusion. Then came the thick sob of a man receiving his death-wound from a bullet; then a yell of agony and redoubled firing.
There was no time to ask any questions.
"Get down, man! Get down behind the camel!"
"No. Put me, I pray, in the forefront of the battle." Dick turned his face to Torpenhow and raised his hand to set his helmet straight, but, miscalculating the distance, knocked it off. Torpenhow saw that his hair was gray on the temples, and that his face was the face of an old man.
"Come down, you damned fool! Dickie, come off!"
And Dick came obediently, but as a tree falls, pitching sideways from the Bisharin's saddle at Torpenhow's feet. His luck had held to the last, even to the crowning mercy of a kindly bullet through his head.
Torpenhow knelt under the lee of the camel, with Dick's body in his arms.
Volume VII THE STORY OF THE GADSBYS
To THE ADDRESS OF
CAPTAIN J. MAFFLIN,
Duke of Derry's (Pink) Hussars.
DEAR MAFFLIN,—You will remember that I wrote this story as an Awful Warning. None the less you have seen fit to disregard it and have followed Gadsby's example—as I betted you would. I acknowledge that you paid the money at once, but you have prejudiced the mind of Mrs. Mafflin against myself, for though I am almost the only respectable friend of your bachelor days, she has been darwaza band to me throughout the season. Further, she caused you to invite me to dinner at the Club, where you called me "a wild ass of the desert," and went home at half-past ten, after discoursing for twenty minutes on the responsibilities of housekeeping. You now drive a mail-phaeton and sit under a Church of England clergyman. I am not angry, Jack. It is your kismet, as it was Gaddy's, and his kismet who can avoid? Do not think that I am moved by a spirit of revenge as I write, thus publicly, that you and you alone are responsible for this book. In other and more expansive days, when you could look at a magnum without flushing and at a cheroot without turning white, you supplied me with most of the material. Take it back again—would that I could have preserved your fetterless speech in the telling—take it back, and by your slippered hearth read it to the late Miss Deercourt. She will not be any the more willing to receive my cards, but she will admire you immensely, and you, I feel sure, will love me. You may even invite me to another very bad dinner—at the Club, which, as you and your wife know, is a safe neutral ground for the entertainment of wild asses. Then, my very dear hypocrite, we shall be quits.
P. S.—On second thoughts I should recommend you to keep the book away from Mrs. Mafflin.
POOR DEAR MAMMA
The wild hawk to the wind-swept sky, The deer to the wholesome wold, And the heart of a man to the heart of a maid, As it was in the days of old. —Gypsy Song.
SCENE. Interior of Miss MINNIE THREEGAN'S Bedroom at Simla. Miss THREEGAN, in window-seat, turning over a drawerful of things. Miss EMMA DEERCOURT, bosom— friend, who has come to spend the day, sitting on the bed, manipulating the bodice of a ballroom frock, and a bunch of artificial lilies of the valley. Time, 5:30 P. M. on a hot May afternoon.
Miss DEERCOURT. And he said: "I shall never forget this dance," and, of course, I said: "Oh, how can you be so silly!" Do you think he meant anything, dear?
Miss THREEGAN. (Extracting long lavender silk stocking from the rubbish.) You know him better than I do.
Miss D. Oh, do be sympathetic, Minnie! I'm sure he does. At least I would be sure if he wasn't always riding with that odious Mrs. Hagan.
Miss T. I suppose so. How does one manage to dance through one's heels first? Look at this—isn't it shameful? (Spreads stocking-heel on open hand for inspection.)
Miss D. Never mind that! You can't mend it. Help me with this hateful bodice. I've run the string so, and I've run the string so, and I can't make the fulness come right. Where would you put this? (Waves lilies of the valley.)
Miss T. As high up on the shoulder as possible.
Miss D. Am I quite tall enough? I know it makes May Older look lopsided.
Miss T. Yes, but May hasn't your shoulders. Hers are like a hock-bottle.
BEARER. (Rapping at door.) Captain Sahib aya.
Miss D. (Jumping up wildly, and hunting for bodice, which she has discarded owing to the heat of the day.) Captain Sahib! What Captain Sahib? Oh, good gracious, and I'm only half dressed! Well, I sha'n't bother.
Miss T. (Calmly.) You needn't. It isn't for us. That's Captain Gadsby. He is going for a ride with Mamma. He generally comes five days out of the seven.
AGONIZED VOICE. (Prom an inner apartment.) Minnie, run out and give Captain Gadsby some tea, and tell him I shall be ready in ten minutes; and, O Minnie, come to me an instant, there's a dear girl!
Miss T. Oh, bother! (Aloud.) Very well, Mamma.
Exit, and reappears, after five minutes, flushed, and rubbing her fingers.
Miss D. You look pink. What has happened?
Miss T. (In a stage whisper.) A twenty-four-inch waist, and she won't let it out. Where are my bangles? (Rummages on the toilet-table, and dabs at her hair with a brush in the interval.)
Miss D. Who is this Captain Gadsby? I don't think I've met him.
Miss T. You must have. He belongs to the Harrar set. I've danced with him, but I've never talked to him. He's a big yellow man, just like a newly-hatched chicken, with an enormous moustache. He walks like this (imitates Cavalry swagger), and he goes "Ha-Hmmm!" deep down in his throat when he can't think of anything to say. Mamma likes him. I don"t.
Miss D. (Abstractedly.) Does he wax that moustache?
Miss T. (Busy with Powder-puff.) Yes, I think so. Why?
Miss D. (Bending over the bodice and sewing furiously.) Oh, nothing—only—
Miss T. (Sternly.) Only what? Out with it, Emma.
Miss D. Well, May Olger—she's engaged to Mr. Charteris, you know—said— Promise you won't repeat this?
Miss T. Yes, I promise. What did she say?
Miss D. That—that being kissed (with a rush) with a man who didn't wax his moustache was—like eating an egg without salt.
Miss T. (At her full height, with crushing scorn.) May Olger is a horrid, nasty Thing, and you can tell her I said so. I'm glad she doesn't belong to my set—I must go and feed this man! Do I look presentable?
Miss D. Yes, perfectly. Be quick and hand him over to your Mother, and then we can talk. I shall listen at the door to hear what you say to him.
Miss T. 'Sure I don't care. I'm not afraid of Captain Gadsby.
In proof of this swings into the drawing-room with a mannish stride followed by two short steps, which produces the effect of a restive horse entering. Misses CAPTAIN GADSBY, who is sitting in the shadow of the window-curtain, and gazes round helplessly.
CAPTAIN GADSBY. (Aside.) The filly, by Jove! 'Must ha' picked up that action from the sire. (Aloud, rising.) Good evening, Miss Threegan.
Miss T. (Conscious that she is flushing.) Good evening, Captain Gadsby. Mamma told me to say that she will be ready in a few minutes. Won't you have some tea? (Aside.) I hope Mamma will be quick. What am I to say to the creature? (Aloud and abruptly.) Milk and sugar?
Capt. G. No sugar, tha-anks, and very little milk. Ha-Hmmm.
Miss T. (Aside.) If he's going to do that, I'm lost. I shall laugh. I know I shall!
Capt. G. (Pulling at his moustache and watching it sideways down his nose.) Ha- Hmmm. (Aside.) 'Wonder what the little beast can talk about. 'Must make a shot at it.
Miss T. (Aside.) Oh, this is agonizing. I must say something.
Both Together. Have you Been—
Capt. G. I beg your pardon. You were going to say—
Miss T. (Who has been watching the moustache with awed fascination.) Won't you have some eggs?
Capt. G. (Looking bewilderedly at the tea-table.) Eggs! (Aside.) O Hades! She must have a nursery-tea at this hour. S'pose they"ve wiped her mouth and sent her to me while the Mother is getting on her duds. (Aloud.) No, thanks.
Miss T. (Crimson with confusion.) Oh! I didn't mean that. I wasn't thinking of mou—eggs for an instant. I mean salt. Won't you have some sa—sweets? (Aside.) He'll think me a raving lunatic. I wish Mamma would come.
Capt. G. (Aside.) It was a nursery-tea and she's ashamed of it. By Jove! She doesn't look half bad when she colors up like that. (Aloud, helping himself from the dish.) Have you seen those new chocolates at Peliti's?
Miss T. No, I made these myself. What are they like?
Capt. G. These! De-licious. (Aside.) And that's a fact.
Miss T. (Aside.) Oh, bother! he'll think I'm fishing for compliments. (Aloud.) No, Peliti's of course.
Capt. G. (Enthusiastically.) Not to compare with these. How d'you make them? I can't get my khansamah to understand the simplest thing beyond mutton and fowl.
Miss T. Yes? I'm not a khansamah, you know. Perhaps you frighten him. You should never frighten a servant. He loses his head. It's very bad policy.
Capt. G. He's so awf'ly stupid.
Miss T. (Folding her hands in her lap.) You should call him quietly and say: 'O khansamah jee!'
Capt. G. (Getting interested.) Yes? (Aside.) Fancy that little featherweight saying, 'O khansamah jee' to my bloodthirsty Mir Khan!
Miss T Then you should explain the dinner, dish by dish.
Capt. G. But I can't speak the vernacular.
Miss T. (Patronizingly.) You should pass the Higher Standard and try.
Capt. G. I have, but I don't seem to be any the wiser. Are you?
Miss T. I never passed the Higher Standard. But the khansamah is very patient with me. He doesn't get angry when I talk about sheep's topees, or order maunds of grain when I mean seers.
Capt. G. (Aside with intense indignation.) I'd like to see Mir Khan being rude to that girl! Hullo! Steady the Buffs! (Aloud.) And do you understand about horses, too?
Miss T. A little—not very much. I can't doctor them, but I know what they ought to eat, and I am in charge of our stable.
Capt. G. Indeed! You might help me then. What ought a man to give his sais in the Hills? My ruffian says eight rupees, because everything is so dear.
Miss T. Six rupees a month, and one rupee Simla allowance—neither more nor less. And a grass-cut gets six rupees. That"s better than buying grass in the bazar.
Capt. G. (Admiringly.) How do you know?
Miss T. I have tried both ways.
Capt. G. Do you ride much, then? I've never seen you on the Mall.
Miss T. (Aside.) I haven't passed him more than fifty times. (Aloud.) Nearly every day. Capt. G. By Jove! I didn't know that. Ha-Hmmm (Pulls at his moustache and is silent for forty seconds.)
Miss T. (Desperately, and wondering what will happen next.) It looks beautiful. I shouldn't touch it if I were you. (Aside.) It's all Mamma's fault for not coming before. I will be rude!
Capt. G. (Bronzing under the tan and bringing down his hand very quickly.) Eh! Wha-at! Oh, yes! Ha! Ha! (Laughs uneasily.) (Aside.) Well, of all the dashed cheek! I never had a woman say that to me yet. She must be a cool hand or else- -Ah! that nursery-tea!
VOICE PROM THE UNKNOWN. Tchk! Tchk! Tchk!
Capt. G. Good gracious! What's that?
Miss T. The dog, I think. (Aside.) Emma has been listening, and I'll never forgive her!
Capt. G. (Aside.) They don't keep dogs here. (Aloud.) "Didn't sound like a dog, did it?
Miss T. Then it must have been the cat. Let's go into the veranda. What a lovely evening it is!
Steps into veranda and looks out across the hills into sunset. The CAPTAIN follows.
Capt. G. (Aside.) Superb eyes! I wonder that I never noticed them before! (Aloud.) There's going to be a dance at Viceregal Lodge on Wednesday. Can you spare me one?
Miss T. (Shortly.) No! I don't want any of your charity-dances. You only ask me because Mamma told you to. I hop and I bump. You know I do!
Capt. G. (Aside.) That's true, but little girls shouldn't understand these things. (Aloud.) No, on my word, I don't. You dance beautifully.
Miss T. Then why do you always stand out after half a dozen turns? I thought officers in the Army didn't tell fibs.
Capt. G. It wasn't a fib, believe me. I really do want the pleasure of a dance with you.
Miss T. (Wickedly.) Why? Won't Mamma dance with you any more?
Capt. G. (More earnestly than the necessity demands.) I wasn't thinking of your Mother. (Aside.) You little vixen!
Miss T. (Still looking out of the window.) Eh? Oh, I beg your pardon. I was thinking of something else.
Capt. G. (Aside.) Well! I wonder what she'll say next. I've never known a woman treat me like this before. I might b—Dash it, I might be an Infantry subaltern! (Aloud.) Oh, please don't trouble. I'm not worth thinking about. Isn't your Mother ready yet?
Miss T. I should think so; but promise me, Captain Gamsby, you won't take poor dear Mamma twice round Jakko any more. It tires her so.
Capt. G. She says that no exercise tires her.
Miss T. Yes, but she suffers afterward. You don't know what rheumatism is, and you oughtn't to keep her out so late, when it gets chill in the evenings.
Capt. G. (Aside.) Rheumatism. I thought she came off her horse rather in a bunch. Whew! One lives and learns. (Aloud.) I'm sorry to hear that. She hasn't mentioned it to me.
Miss T. (Flurried.) Of course not! Poor dear Mamma never would. And you mustn't say that I told you either. Promise me that you won't. Oh, Captain Gamsby, promise me you won't!
Capt. G. I am dumb, or—I shall be as soon as you've given me that dance, and another—if you can trouble yourself to think about me for a minute.
Miss T. But you won't like it one little bit. You'll be awfully sorry afterward.
Capt. G. I shall like it above all things, and I shall only be sorry that I didn't get more. (Aside.) Now what in the world am I saying?
Miss T. Very well. You will have only yourself to thank if your toes are trodden on. Shall we say Seven?
Capt. G. And Eleven. (Aside.) She can't be more than eight stone, but, even then, it's an absurdly small foot. (Looks at his own riding boots.)
Miss T. They're beautifully shiny. I can almost see my face in them.
Capt. G. I was thinking whether I should have to go on crutches for the rest of my life if you trod on my toes.
Miss T. Very likely. Why not change Eleven for a square?
Capt. G. No, please! I want them both waltzes. Won't you write them down?
Miss T. I don't get so many dances that I shall confuse them. You will be the offender.
Capt. G. Wait and see! (Aside.) She doesn't dance perfectly, perhaps, but—
Miss T. Your tea must have got cold by this time. Won't you have another cup?
Capt. G. No, thanks. Don't you think it's pleasanter out in the veranda? (Aside.) I never saw hair take that color in the sunshine before. (Aloud.) It's like one of Dicksee's pictures.
Miss T. Yes I It's a wonderful sunset, isn't it? (Bluntly.) But what do you know about Dicksee's pictures?
Capt. G. I go Home occasionally. And I used to know the Galleries. (Nervously.) You mustn't think me only a Philistine with a moustache.
Miss T. Don"t! Please don't. I'm so sorry for what I said then. I was horribly rude. It slipped out before j thought. Don't you know the temptation to say frightful and shocking things just for the mere sake of saying them? I'm afraid I gave way to it.
Capt. G. (Watching the girl as she flushes.) I think I know the feeling. It would be terrible if we all yielded to it, wouldn't it? For instance, I might say—
POOR DEAR MAMMA. (Entering, habited, hatted, and booted.) Ah, Captain Gamsby? 'Sorry to keep you waiting. 'Hope you haven't been bored. 'My little girl been talking to you?
Miss T. (Aside.) I'm not sorry I spoke about the rheumatism. I"m not! I'm NOT! I only wished I'd mentioned the corns too.
Capt. G. (Aside.) What a shame! I wonder how old she is. It never occurred to me before. (Aloud.) We've been discussing 'Shakespeare and the musical glasses' in the veranda.
Miss T. (Aside.) Nice man! He knows that quotation. He isn't a Philistine with a moustache. (Aloud.) Goodbye, Captain Gadsby. (Aside.) What a huge hand and what a squeeze! I don't suppose he meant it, but he has driven the rings into my fingers.
Poor Dear Mamma. Has Vermillion come round yet? Oh, yes! Captain Gadsby, don't you think that the saddle is too far forward? (They pass into the front veranda.)
Capt. G. (Aside.) How the dickens should I know what she prefers? She told me that she doted on horses. (Aloud.) I think it is.
Miss T. (Coming out into front veranda.) Oh! Bad Buldoo! I must speak to him for this. He has taken up the curb two links, and Vermillion bates that. (Passes out and to horse's head.)
Capt. G. Let me do it!
Miss. T. No, Vermillion understands me. Don't you, old man? (Loosens curb-chain skilfully, and pats horse on nose and throttle.) Poor Vermillion! Did they want to cut his chin off? There!
Captain Gadsby watches the interlude with undisguised admiration.
Poor Dear Mamma. (Tartly to Miss T.) You've forgotten your guest, I think, dear.
Miss T. Good gracious! So I have! Goodbye. (Retreats indoors hastily.)
Poor Dear Mamma. (Bunching reins in fingers hampered by too tight gauntlets.) CAPTAIN Gadsby!
CAPTAIN GADSBY stoops and makes the foot-rest. Poor Dear Mamma blunders, halts too long, and breaks through it.
Capt. G. (Aside.) Can't hold up seven stone forever. It's all your rheumatism. (Aloud.) Can't imagine why I was so clumsy. (Aside.) Now Little Featherweight would have gone up like a bird.
They ride out of the garden. The Captain falls back.
Capt. G. (Aside.) How that habit catches her under the arms! Ugh!
Poor Dear Mamma. (With the worn smile of sixteen seasons, the worse for exchange.) You're dull this afternoon, Captain Gadsby.
Capt. G. (Spurring up wearily.) Why did you keep me waiting so long?
Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
(AN INTERVAL OF THREE WEEKS.)
GILDED YOUTH. (Sitting on railings opposite Town Hall.) Hullo, Gadsby! 'Been trotting out the Gorgonzola! We all thought it was the Gorgon you're mashing.
Capt. G. (With withering emphasis.) You young cub! What the—does it matter to you?
Proceeds to read GILDED YOUTH a lecture on discretion and deportment, which crumbles latter like a Chinese Lantern. Departs fuming.
(FURTHER INTERVAL OF FIVE WEEKS.) SCENE. Exterior of New Simla Library on a foggy evening. Miss THREEGAN and Miss DEERCOURT meet among the 'rickshaws. Miss T. is carrying a bundle of books under her left arm.
Miss D. (Level intonation.) Well?
Miss T. (Ascending intonation.) Well?
Miss D. (Capturing her friend's left arm, taking away all the books, placing books in 'rickshaw, returning to arm, securing hand by third finger and investigating.) Well! You bad girl! And you never told me.
Miss T. (Demurely.) He—he—he only spoke yesterday afternoon.
Miss D. Bless you, dear! And I'm to be bridesmaid, aren't I? You know you promised ever so long ago.
Miss T. Of course. I'll tell you all about it tomorrow. (Gets into 'rickshaw.) O Emma!
Miss D. (With intense interest.) Yes, dear?
Miss T. (Piano.) It's quite true—about-the-egg.
Miss D. What egg?
Miss T. (Pianissimo prestissimo.) The egg without the salt. (Forte.) Chalo ghar ko jaldi, jhampani! (Go home, jhampani.)
THE WORLD WITHOUT
Certain people of importance.
SCENE. Smoking-room of the Degchi Club. Time, 10.30 P. M. of a stuffy night in the Rains. Four men dispersed in picturesque attitudes and easy-chairs. To these enter BLAYNE of the Irregular Moguls, in evening dress.
BLAYNE. Phew! The Judge ought to be hanged in his own store-godown. Hi, khitmatgar! Pour a whiskey-peg, to take the taste out of my mouth.
CURTISS. (Royal Artillery.) That's it, is it? What the deuce made you dine at the Judge's? You know his bandobust.
Blayne. 'Thought it couldn't be worse than the Club, but I'll swear he buys ullaged liquor and doctors it with gin and ink (looking round the room.) Is this all of you tonight?
DOONE. (P.W.D.) Anthony was called out at dinner. Mingle had a pain in his tummy.
Curtiss. Miggy dies of cholera once a week in the Rains, and gets drunk on chlorodyne in between. "Good little chap, though. Any one at the Judge"s, Blayne?
Blayne. Cockley and his memsahib looking awfully white and fagged. "F(".male girl—couldn'tcatch the name—on her way to the Hills, under the Cockleys" charge—the Judge, and Markyn fresh from Simla—disgustingly fit.
Curtiss. Good Lord, how truly magnificent! Was there enough ice? When I mangled garbage there I got one whole lump—nearly as big as a walnut. What had Markyn to say for himself?
Blayne. "Seems that every one is having a fairly good time up there in spite of the rain. By Jove, that reminds me! I know I hadn'tcome across just for the pleasure of your society. News! Great news! Markyn told me.
DOONE. Who's dead now?
Blayne. No one that I know of; but Gadsby's hooked at last!
DROPPING CHORUS. How much? The Devil! Markyn was pulling your leg. Not GADSBY!
Blayne. (Humming.) "Yea, verily, verily, verily! Verily, verily, I say unto thee." Theodore, the gift 'o God! Our Phillup! It's been given out up above.
MACKESY. (Barrister-at-Law.) Huh! Women will give out anything. What does accused say?
Blayne. Markyn told me that he congratulated him warily—one hand held out, t'other ready to guard. Gadsby turned pink and said it was so.
Curtiss. Poor old Caddy! They all do it. Who's she? Let's hear the details.
Blayne. She's a girl—daughter of a Colonel Somebody.
Doone. Simla's stiff with Colonels' daughters. Be more explicit.
Blayne. Wait a shake. What was her name? Thresomething. Three—
Curtiss. Stars, perhaps. Caddy knows that brand.
Blayne. Threegan—Minnie Threegan.
Mackesy. Threegan Isn't she a little bit of a girl with red hair?
Blayne. 'Bout that—from what from what Markyn said.
Mackesy. Then I've met her. She was at Lucknow last season. 'Owned a permanently juvenile Mamma, and danced damnably. I say, Jervoise, you knew the Threegans, didn't you?
JERVOISE. (Civilian of twenty-five years' service, waking up from his doze.) Eh? What's that? Knew who? How? I thought I was at Home, confound you!
Mackesy. The Threegan girl's engaged, so Blayne says.
Jervoise. (Slowly.) Engaged—en-gaged! Bless my soul! I'm getting an old man! Little Minnie Threegan engaged. It was only the other day I went home with them in the Surat—no, the Massilia—and she was crawling about on her hands and knees among the ayahs. 'Used to call me the "Tick Tack Sahib" because I showed her my watch. And that was in Sixty-Seven—no, Seventy. Good God, how time flies! I'm an old man. I remember when Threegan married Miss Derwent—daughter of old Hooky Derwent—but that was before your time. And so the little baby's engaged to have a little baby of her own! Who's the other fool?
Mackesy. Gadsby of the Pink Hussars.
Jervoise. 'Never met him. Threegan lived in debt, married in debt, and'll die in debt. 'Must be glad to get the girl off his hands.
Blayne. Caddy has money—lucky devil. Place at Home, too.
Doone. He comes of first-class stock. 'Can't quite understand his being caught by a Colonel's daughter, and (looking cautiously round room.) Black Infantry at that! No offence to you, Blayne.
Blayne. (Stiffly.) Not much, thaanks.
Curtiss. (Quoting motto of Irregular Moguls.) "We are what we are," eh, old man? But Gadsby was such a superior animal as a rule. Why didn't he go Home and pick his wife there?
Mackesy. They are all alike when they come to the turn into the straight. About thirty a man begins to get sick of living alone.
Curtiss. And of the eternal mutton—chop in the morning.
Doone. It's a dead goat as a rule, but go on, Mackesy.
Mackesy. If a man's once taken that way nothing will hold him, Do you remember Benoit of your service, Doone? They transferred him to Tharanda when his time came, and he married a platelayer's daughter, or something of that kind. She was the only female about the place.
Doone. Yes, poor brute. That smashed Benoit's chances of promotion altogether. Mrs. Benoit used to ask "Was you goin' to the dance this evenin'?"
Curtiss. Hang it all! Gadsby hasn't married beneath him. There's no tar-brush in the family, I suppose.
Jervoise. Tar-brush! Not an anna. You young fellows talk as though the man was doing the girl an honor in marrying her. You're all too conceited—nothing's good enough for you.
Blayne. Not even an empty Club, a dam' bad dinner at the Judge's, and a Station as sickly as a hospital. You're quite right. We're a set of Sybarites.
Doone. Luxurious dogs, wallowing in—
Curtiss. Prickly heat between the shoulders. I'm covered with it. Let's hope Beora will be cooler.
Blayne. Whew! Are you ordered into camp, too? I thought the Gunners had a clean sheet.
Curtiss. No, worse luck. Two cases yesterday—one died—and if we have a third, out we go. Is there any shooting at Beora, Doone?
Doone. The country's under water, except the patch by the Grand Trunk Road. I was there yesterday, looking at a bund, and came across four poor devils in their last stage. It's rather bad from here to Kuchara.
Curtiss. Then we're pretty certain to have a heavy go of it. Heigho! I shouldn't mind changing places with Gaddy for a while. 'Sport with Amaryllis in the shade of the Town Hall, and all that. Oh, why doesn't somebody come and marry me, instead of letting me go into cholera-camp?
Mackesy. Ask the Committee.
Curtiss. You ruffian! You'll stand me another peg for that. Blayne, what will you take? Mackesy is fine on moral grounds. Done, have you any preference?
Doone. Small glass Kummel, please. Excellent carminative, these days. Anthony told me so.
Mackesy. (Signing voucher for four drinks.) Most unfair punishment. I only thought of Curtiss as Actaeon being chivied round the billiard tables by the nymphs of Diana.
Blayne. Curtiss would have to import his nymphs by train. Mrs. Cockley's the only woman in the Station. She won't leave Cockley, and he's doing his best to get her to go.
Curtiss. Good, indeed! Here's Mrs. Cockley's health. To the only wife in the Station and a damned brave woman!
OMNES. (Drinking.) A damned brave woman
Blayne. I suppose Gadsby will bring his wife here at the end of the cold weather. They are going to be married almost immediately, I believe.
Curtiss. Gadsby may thank his luck that the Pink Hussars are all detachment and no headquarters this hot weather, or he'd be torn from the arms of his love as sure as death. Have you ever noticed the thorough-minded way British Cavalry take to cholera? It's because they are so expensive. If the Pinks had stood fast here, they would have been out in camp a month ago. Yes, I should decidedly like to be Gadsby.
Mackesy. He'll go Home after he's married, and send in his papers—see if he doesn't.
Blayne. Why shouldn't he? Hasn't he money? Would any one of us be here if we weren't paupers?
Doone. Poor old pauper! What has become of the six hundred you rooked from our table last month?
Blayne. It took unto itself wings. I think an enterprising tradesman got some of it, and a shroff gobbled the rest—or else I spent it.
Curtiss. Gadsby never had dealings with a shroff in his life.
Doone. Virtuous Gadsby! If I had three thousand a month, paid from England, I don't think I'd deal with a shroff either.
Mackesy. (Yawning.) Oh, it's a sweet life! I wonder whether matrimony would make it sweeter.
Curtiss. Ask Cockley—with his wife dying by inches!
Blayne. Go home and get a fool of a girl to come out to—what is it Thackeray says?—"the splendid palace of an Indian pro-consul."
Doone. Which reminds me. My quarters leak like a sieve. I had fever last night from sleeping in a swamp. And the worst of it is, one can't do anything to a roof till the Rains are over.
Curtiss. What's wrong with you? You haven't eighty rotting Tommies to take into a running stream.
Doone. No: but I'm mixed boils and bad language. I'm a regular Job all over my body. It's sheer poverty of blood, and I don't see any chance of getting richer—either way.
Blayne. Can't you take leave?
Doone. That's the pull you Army men have over us. Ten days are nothing in your sight. I'm so important that Government can't find a substitute if I go away. Ye-es, I'd like to be Gadsby, whoever his wife may be.
Curtiss. You've passed the turn of life that Mackesy was speaking of.
Doone. Indeed I have, but I never yet had the brutality to ask a woman to share my life out here.
Blayne. On my soul I believe you're right. I'm thinking of Mrs. Cockley. The woman's an absolute wreck.
Doone. Exactly. Because she stays down here. The only way to keep her fit would be to send her to the Hills for eight months—and the same with any woman. I fancy I see myself taking a wife on those terms.
Mackesy. With the rupee at one and sixpence. The little Doones would be little Debra Doones, with a fine Mussoorie @chi-chi anent to bring home for the holidays.
Curtiss. And a pair of be-ewtiful sambhur—horns for Doone to wear, free of expense, presented by—Doone. Yes, it's an enchanting prospect. By the way, the rupee hasn't done falling yet. The time will come when we shall think ourselves lucky if we only lose half our pay.
Curtiss. Surely a third's loss enough. Who gains by the arrangement? That's what I want to know.
Blayne. The Silver Question! I'm going to bed if you begin squabbling Thank Goodness, here's Anthony—looking like a ghost.
Enter ANTHONY, Indian Medical Staff, very white and tired.
Anthony. 'Evening, Blayne. It's raining in sheets. Whiskey peg lao, khitmatgar. The roads are something ghastly.
Curtiss. How's Mingle?
Anthony. Very bad, and more frightened. I handed him over to Fewton. Mingle might just as well have called him in the first place, instead of bothering me.
Blayne. He's a nervous little chap. What has he got, this time?
Anthony. 'Can't quite say. A very bad tummy and a blue funk so far. He asked me at once if it was cholera, and I told him not to be a fool. That soothed him.
Curtiss. Poor devil! The funk does half the business in a man of that build.
Anthony. (Lighting a cheroot.) I firmly believe the funk will kill him if he stays down. You know the amount of trouble he"s been giving Fewton for the last three weeks. He's doing his very best to frighten himself into the grave.
GENERAL CHORUS. Poor little devil! Why doesn't he get away?
Anthony. 'Can't. He has his leave all right, but he's so dipped he can't take it, and I don't think his name on paper would raise four annas. That's in confidence, though.
Mackesy. All the Station knows it.
Anthony. "I suppose I shall have to die here," he said, squirming all across the bed. He's quite made up his mind to Kingdom Come. And I know he has nothing more than a wet-weather tummy if he could only keep a hand on himself.
Blayne. That's bad. That's very bad. Poor little Miggy. Good little chap, too. I say—
Anthony. What do you say?
Blayne. Well, look here—anyhow. If it's like that—as you say—I say fifty.
Curtiss. I say fifty.
Mackesy. I go twenty better.
Doone. Bloated Croesus of the Bar! I say fifty. Jervoise, what do you say? Hi! Wake up!
Jervoise. Eh? What's that? What's that?
Curtiss. We want a hundred rupees from you. You're a bachelor drawing a gigantic income, and there's a man in a hole.
Jervoise. What man? Any one dead?
Blayne. No, but he'll die if you don't—give the hundred. Here! Here's a peg- voucher. You can see what we've signed for, and Anthony's man will come round tomorrow to collect it. So there will be no trouble.
Jervoise. (Signing.) One hundred, E. M. J. There you are (feebly). It isn't one of your jokes, is it?
Blayne. No, it really is wanted. Anthony, you were the biggest poker-winner last week, and you've defrauded the tax-collector too long. Sign!
Anthony. Let's see. Three fifties and a seventy-two twenty-three twenty—say four hundred and twenty. That'll give him a month clear at the Hills. Many thanks, you men. I'll send round the chaprassi tomorrow.
Curtiss. You must engineer his taking the stuff, and of course you mustn't—
Anthony. Of course. It would never do. He'd weep with gratitude over his evening drink.
Blayne. That's just what he would do, damn him. Oh! I say, Anthony, you pretend to know everything. Have you heard about Gadsby?
Anthony. No. Divorce Court at last?
Blayne. Worse. He's engaged!
Anthony. How much? He can't be!
Blayne. He is. He's going to be married in a few weeks. Markyn told me at the Judge's this evening. It's pukka.
Anthony. You don't say so? Holy Moses! There'll be a shine in the tents of Kedar.
Curtiss. 'Regiment cut up rough, think you?
Anthony. 'Don't know anything about the Regiment.
Mackesy. It is bigamy, then?
Anthony. Maybe. Do you mean to say that you men have forgotten, or is there more charity in the world than I thought?
Doone. You don't look pretty when you are trying to keep a secret. You bloat. Explain.
Anthony. Mrs. Herriott!
Blayne. (After a long pause, to the room generally.) It's my notion that we are a set of fools.
Mackesy. Nonsense. That business was knocked on the head last season. Why, young Mallard—
Anthony. Mallard was a candlestick, paraded as such. Think awhile. Recollect last season and the talk then. Mallard or no Mallard, did Gadsby ever talk to any other woman?
Curtiss. There's something in that. It was slightly noticeable now you come to mention it. But she's at Naini Tal and he's at Simla.
Anthony. He had to go to Simla to look after a globe-trotter relative of his—a person with a title. Uncle or aunt.
Blayne And there he got engaged. No law prevents a man growing tired of a woman.
Anthony. Except that he mustn't do it till the woman is tired of him. And the Herriott woman was not that.
Curtiss. She may be now. Two months of Naini Tal works wonders.
Doone. Curious thing how some women carry a Fate with them. There was a Mrs. Deegie in the Central Provinces whose men invariably fell away and got married. It became a regular proverb with us when I was down there. I remember three men desperately devoted to her, and they all, one after another, took wives.
Curtiss. That's odd. Now I should have thought that Mrs. Deegie's influence would have led them to take other men's wives. It ought to have made them afraid of the judgment of Providence.
Anthony. Mrs. Herriott will make Gadsby afraid of something more than the judgment of Providence, I fancy.
Blayne. Supposing things are as you say, he'll be a fool to face her. He'll sit tight at Simla.
Anthony. "Shouldn't be a bit surprised if he went off to Naini to explain. He's an unaccountable sort of man, and she's likely to be a more than unaccountable woman.
Doone. What makes you take her character away so confidently?
Anthony. Primum tempus. Caddy was her first and a woman doesn't allow her first man to drop away without expostulation. She justifies the first transfer of affection to herself by swearing that it is forever and ever. Consequently—
Blayne. Consequently, we are sitting here till past one o'clock, talking scandal like a set of Station cats. Anthony, it's all your fault. We were perfectly respectable till you came in. Go to bed. I'm off, Good night all.
Curtiss. Past one! It's past two by Jove, and here's the khit coming for the late charge. Just Heavens! One, two, three, four, five rupees to pay for the pleasure of saying that a poor little beast of a woman is no better than she should be. I'm ashamed of myself. Go to bed, you slanderous villains, and if I'm sent to Beora tomorrow, be prepared to hear I'm dead before paying my card account!
THE TENTS OF KEDAR
Only why should it be with pain at all? Why must I 'twixt the leaves of coronal Put any kiss of pardon on thy brow? Why should the other women know so much, And talk together—Such the look and such The smile he used to love with, then as now. —Any Wife to any Husband.
SCENE. A Naini Tal dinner for thirty-four. Plate, wines, crockery, and khitmatgars carefully calculated to scale of Rs. 6000 per mensem, less Exchange. Table split lengthways by bank of flowers.
MRS. HERRIOTT. (After conversation has risen to proper pitch.) Ah! 'Didn't see you in the crush in the drawing-room. (Sotto voce.) Where have you been all this while, Pip?
CAPTAIN GADSBY. (Turning from regularly ordained dinner partner and settling hock glasses.) Good evening. (Sotto voce.) Not quite so loud another time. You've no notion how your voice carries. (Aside.) So much for shirking the written explanation. It'll have to be a verbal one now. Sweet prospect! How on earth am I to tell her that I am a respectable, engaged member of society and it's all over between us?
MRS. H. I've a heavy score against you. Where were you at the Monday Pop? Where were you on Tuesday? Where were you at the Lamonts' tennis? I was looking everywhere.
Capt. G. For me! Oh, I was alive somewhere, I suppose. (Aside.) It's for Minnie's sake, but it's going to be dashed unpleasant.
Mrs. H. Have I done anything to offend you? I never meant it if I have. I couldn't help going for a ride with the Vaynor man. It was promised a week before you came up.
Capt. G. I didn't know—
Mrs. H. It really was.
Capt. G. Anything about it, I mean.
Mrs. H. What has upset you today? All these days? You haven't been near me for four whole days—nearly one hundred hours. Was it kind of you, Pip? And I've been looking forward so much to your coming.
Capt. G. Have you?
Mrs. H. You know I have! I've been as foolish as a schoolgirl about it. I made a little calendar and put it in my card-case, and every time the twelve o"clock gun went off I scratched out a square and said: "That brings me nearer to Pip. My Pip!"
Capt. G. (With an uneasy laugh). What will Mackler think if you neglect him so?
Mrs. H. And it hasn't brought you nearer. You seem farther away than ever. Are you sulking about something? I know your temper.
Capt. G. No.
Mrs. H. Have I grown old in the last few months, then? (Reaches forward to bank of flowers for menu-card.)
PARTNER ON LEFT. Allow me. (Hands menu-card. Mrs. H. keeps her arm at full stretch for three seconds.)
Mrs. H. (To partner.) Oh, thanks. I didn't see. (Turns right again.) Is anything in me changed at all?
Capt. G. For Goodness's sake go on with your dinner! You must eat something. Try one of those cutlet arrangements. (Aside.) And I fancied she had good shoulders, once upon a time! What an ass a man can make of himself!
Mrs. H. (Helping herself to a paper frill, seven peas, some stamped carrots and a spoonful of gravy.) That isn't an answer. Tell me whether I have done anything.
Capt. G. (Aside.) If it isn't ended here there will be a ghastly scene some- where else. If only I'd written to her and stood the racket at long range! (To Khitmatgar.) Han! Simpkin do. (Aloud.) I'll tell you later on.
Mrs. H. Tell me now. It must be some foolish misunderstanding, and you know that there was to be nothing of that sort between us. We) of all people in the world, can't afford it. Is it the Vaynor man, and don't you like to say so? On my honor—
Capt. G. I haven't given the Vaynor man a thought.
Mrs. H. But how d'you know that I haven't?
Capt. G. (Aside.) Here's my chance and may the Devil help me through with it. (Aloud and measuredly.) Believe me, I do not care how often or how tenderly you think of the Vaynor man.
Mrs. H. I wonder if you mean that! Oh, what is the good of squabbling and pretending to misunderstand when you are only up for so short a time? Pip, don't be a stupid!
Follows a pause, during which he crosses his left leg over his right and continues his dinner.
Capt. G. (In answer to the thunderstorm in her eyes.) Corns—my worst.
Mrs. H. Upon my word, you are the very rudest man in the world! I'll never do it again.
Capt. G. (Aside.) No, I don't think you will; but I wonder what you will do before it's all over. (To Khitmatgar.) Thorah ur Simpkin do.
Mrs. H. Well! Haven't you the grace to apologize, bad man?
Capt. G. (Aside.) I mustn't let it drift back now. Trust a woman for being as blind as a bat when she won't see.
Mrs. H. I'm waiting; or would you like me to dictate a form of apology?
Capt. G. (Desperately.) By all means dictate.
Mrs. H. (Lightly.) Very well. Rehearse your several Christian names after me and go on: "Profess my sincere repentance."
Capt. G. "Sincere repentance."
Mrs. H. "For having behaved"—
Capt. G. (Aside.) At last! I wish to Goodness she'd look away. "For having behaved"—as I have behaved, and declare that I am thoroughly and heartily sick of the whole business, and take this opportunity of making clear my intention of ending it, now, henceforward, and forever. (Aside.) If any one had told me I should be such a blackguard!—
Mrs. H. (Shaking a spoonful of potato chips into her plate.) That's not a pretty joke.
Capt. G. No. It's a reality. (Aside.) I wonder if smashes of this kind are always so raw.
Mrs. H. Really, Pip, you're getting more absurd every day.
Capt. G. I don't think you quite understand me. Shall I repeat it?
Mrs. H. No! For pity's sake don't do that. It's too terrible, even in fur.
Capt. G. I'll let her think it over for a while. But I ought to be horsewhipped.
Mrs. H. I want to know what you meant by what you said just now.
Capt. G. Exactly what I said. No less.
Mrs. H. But what have I done to deserve it? What have I done?
Capt. G. (Aside.) If she only wouldn't look at me. (Aloud and very slowly, his eyes on his plate.) D'you remember that evening in July, before the Rains broke, when you said that the end would have to come sooner or later—and you wondered for which of US it would come first?
Mrs. H. Yes! I was only joking. And you swore that, as long as there was breath in your body, it should never come. And I believed you.
Capt. G. (Fingering menu-card.) Well, it has. That's all.
A long pause, during which Mrs. H. bows her head and rolls the bread-twist into little pellets; G. stares at the oleanders.
Mrs. H. (Throwing back her head and laughing naturally.) They train us women well, don't they, Pip?
Capt. G. (Brutally, touching shirt-stud.) So far as the expression goes. (Aside.) It isn't in her nature to take things quietly. There'll be an explosion yet.
Mrs. H. (With a shudder.) Thank you. B-but even Red Indians allow people to wriggle when they're being tortured, I believe. (Slips fan from girdle and fans slowly: rim of fan level with chin.)
PARTNER ON LEFT. Very close tonight, isn't it? 'You find it too much for you?
Mrs. H. Oh, no, not in the least. But they really ought to have punkahs, even in your cool Naini Tal, oughtn't they? (Turns, dropping fan and raising eyebrows.)
Capt. G. It's all right. (Aside.) Here comes the storm!
Mrs. H. (Her eyes on the tablecloth: fan ready in right hand.) It was very cleverly managed, Pip, and I congratulate you. You swore—you never contented yourself with merely Saying a thing—you swore that, as far as lay in your power, you'd make my wretched life pleasant for me. And you've denied me the consolation of breaking down. I should have done it—indeed I should. A woman would hardly have thought of this refinement, my kind, considerate friend. (Fan-guard as before.) You have explained things so tenderly and truthfully, too! You haven't spoken or written a word of warning, and you have let me believe in you till the last minute. You haven't condescended to give me your reason yet. No! A woman could not have managed it half so well. Are there many men like you in the world?
Capt. G. I'm sure I don't know. (To Khitmatgar.) Ohe! Simpkin do.
Mrs. H. You call yourself a man of the world, don't you? Do men of the world behave like Devils when they do a woman the honor to get tired of her?
Capt. G. I'm sure I don't know. Don't speak so loud!
Mrs. H. Keep us respectable, O Lord, whatever happens. Don't be afraid of my compromising you. You've chosen your ground far too well, and I've been properly brought up. (Lowering fan.) Haven't you any pity, Pip, except for yourself?
Capt. G. Wouldn't it be rather impertinent of me to say that I'm sorry for you?
Mrs. H. I think you have said it once or twice before. You're growing very careful of my feelings. My God, Pip, I was a good woman once! You said I was. You've made me what I am. What are you going to do with me? What are you going to do with me? Won't you say that you are sorry? (Helps herself to iced asparagus.)
Capt. G. I am sorry for you, if you WANT the pity of such a brute as I am. I'm awf'ly sorry for you.
Mrs. H. Rather tame for a man of the world. Do you think that that admission clears you?
Capt. G. What can I do? I can only tell you what I think of myself. You can't think worse than that?
Mrs. H. Oh, yes, I can! And now, will you tell me the reason of all this? Remorse? Has Bayard been suddenly conscience- stricken?
Capt. G. (Angrily, his eyes still lowered.) No! The thing has come to an end on my side. That's all. Mafisch!
Mrs. H. "That's all. Mafisch!" As though I were a Cairene Dragoman. You used to make prettier speeches. D'you remember when you said?—
Capt. G. For Heaven's sake don't bring that back! Call me anything you like and I'll admit it—
Mrs. H. But you don't care to be reminded of old lies? If I could hope to hurt you one-tenth as much as you have hurt me tonight—No, I wouldn't—I couldn't do it—liar though you are.
Capt. G. I've spoken the truth.
Mrs. H. My dear Sir, you flatter yourself. You have lied over the reason. Pip, remember that I know you as you don't know yourself. You have been everything to me, though you are—(Fan-guard.) Oh, what a contemptible Thing it is! And so you are merely tired of me?
Capt. G. Since you insist upon my repeating it—Yes.
Mrs. H. Lie the first. I wish I knew a coarser word. Lie seems so ineffectual in your case. The fire has just died out and there is no fresh one? Think for a minute, Pip, if you care whether I despise you more than I do. Simply Mafisch, is it?
Capt. G. Yes. (Aside.) I think I deserve this.
Mrs. H. Lie number two. Before the next glass chokes you, tell me her name.
Capt. G. (Aside.) I'll make her pay for dragging Minnie into the business! (Aloud.) Is it likely?
Mrs. H. Very likely if you thought that it would flatter your vanity. You'd cry my name on the house-tops to make people turn round.
Capt. G. I wish I had. There would have been an end to this business.
Mrs. H. Oh, no, there would not—And so you were going to be virtuous and blase', were you? To come to me and say: "I've done with you. The incident is clo-osed." I ought to be proud of having kept such a man so long.
Capt. G. (Aside.) It only remains to pray for the end of the dinner. (Aloud.) You know what I think of myself.
Mrs. H. As it's the only person in he world you ever do think of, and as I know your mind thoroughly, I do. You want to get it all over and—Oh, I can't keep you back! And you're going—think of it, Pip—to throw me over for another woman. And you swore that all other women were—Pip, my Pip! She can't care for you as I do. Believe me, she can't. Is it any one that I know?
Capt. G. Thank Goodness it isn't. (Aside.) I expected a cyclone, but not an earthquake.
Mrs. H. She can't! Is there anything that I wouldn't do for you—or haven't done? And to think that I should take this trouble over you, knowing what you are! Do you despise me for it?
Capt. G. (Wiping his mouth to hide a smile.) Again? It's entirely a work of charity on your part.
Mrs. H. Ahhh! But I have no right to resent it.—Is she better-looking than I? Who was it said?—
Capt. G. No—not that!
Mrs. H. I'll be more merciful than you were. Don't you know that all women are alike?
Capt. G. (Aside.) Then this is the exception that proves the rule.
Mrs. H. All of them! I'll tell you anything you like. I will, upon my word! They only want the admiration—from anybody—no matter who—anybody! But there is always one man that they care for more than any one else in the world, and would sacrifice all the others to. Oh, do listen! I've kept the Vaynor man trotting after me like a poodle, and he believes that he is the only man I am interested in. I'll tell you what he said to me.
Capt. G. Spare him. (Aside.) I wonder what his version is.
Mrs. H. He's been waiting for me to look at him all through dinner. Shall I do it, and you can see what an idiot he looks?
Capt. G. "But what imports the nomination of this gentleman?"
Mrs. H. Watch! (Sends a glance to the Vaynor man, who tries vainly to combine a mouthful of ice pudding, a smirk of self-satisfaction, a glare of intense devotion, and the stolidity of a British dining countenance.)
Capt. G. (Critically.) He doesn't look pretty. Why didn't you wait till the spoon was out of his mouth?
Mrs. H. To amuse you. She'll make an exhibition of you as I've made of him; and people will laugh at you. Oh, Pip, can't you see that? It's as plain as the noonday Sun. You'll be trotted about and told lies, and made a fool of like the others. I never made a fool of you, did I?
Capt. G. (Aside.) What a clever little woman it is!
Mrs. H. Well, what have you to say?
Capt. G. I feel better.
Mrs. H. Yes, I suppose so, after I have come down to your level. I couldn't have done it if I hadn't cared for you so much. I have spoken the truth.
Capt. G. It doesn't alter the situation.
Mrs. H. (Passionately.) Then she has said that she cares for you! Don't believe her, Pip. It's a lie—as bad as yours to me!
Capt. G. Ssssteady! I've a notion that a friend of yours is looking at you.
Mrs. H. He! I hate him. He introduced you to me.
Capt. G. (Aside.) And some people would like women to assist in making the laws. Introduction to imply condonement. (Aloud.) Well, you see, if you can remember so far back as that, I couldn't, in common politeness, refuse the offer.
Mrs. H. In common politeness I—We have got beyond that!
Capt. G. (Aside.) Old ground means fresh trouble. (Aloud.) On my honor—
Mrs. H. Your what? Ha, ha!
Capt. G. Dishonor, then. She's not what you imagine. I meant to—
Mrs. H. Don't tell me anything about her! She won't care for you, and when you come back, after having made an exhibition of yourself, you'll find me occupied with—
Capt. G. (Insolently.) You couldn't while I am alive. (Aside.) If that doesn't bring her pride to her rescue, nothing will.
Mrs. H. (Drawing herself up.) Couldn't do it? I—(Softening.) You're right. I don't believe I could—though you are what you are—a coward and a liar in grain.
Capt. G. It doesn't hurt so much after your little lecture—with demonstrations.
Mrs. H. One mass of vanity! Will nothing ever touch you in this life? There must be a Hereafter if it's only for the benefit of—But you will have it all to yourself.
Capt. G. (Under his eyebrows.) Are you certain of that?
Mrs. H. I shall have had mine in this life; and it will serve me right,
Capt. G. But the admiration that you insisted on so strongly a moment ago? (Aside.) Oh, I am a brute!
Mrs. H. (Fiercely.) Will that console me for knowing that you will go to her with the same words, the same arguments, and the—the same pet names you used to me? And if she cares for you, you two will laugh over my story. Won't that be punishment heavy enough even for me—even for me?—And it's all useless. That's another punishment.
Capt. G. (Feebly.) Oh, come! I'm not so low as you think.
Mrs. H. Not now, perhaps, but you will be. Oh, Pip, if a woman flatters your vanity, there's nothing on earth that you would not tell her; and no meanness that you would not do. Have I known you so long without knowing that?
Capt. G. If you can trust me in nothing else—and I don't see why I should be trusted—you can count upon my holding my tongue.
Mrs. H. If you denied everything you've said this evening and declared it was all in fun (a long pause), I'd trust you. Not otherwise. All I ask is, don't tell her my name. Please don't. A man might forget: a woman never would. (Looks up table and sees hostess beginning to collect eyes.) So it's all ended, through no fault of mine—Haven't I behaved beautifully? I've accepted your dismissal, and you managed it as cruelly as you could, and I have made you respect my sex, haven't I? (Arranging gloves and fan.) I only pray that she'll know you some day as I know you now. I wouldn't be you then, for I think even your conceit will be hurt. I hope she'll pay you back the humiliation you've brought on me. I hope—No. I don't! I can't give you up! I must have something to look forward to or I shall go crazy. When it's all over, come back to me, come back to me, and you'll find that you're my Pip still!
Capt. G. (Very clearly.) False move, and you pay for it. It's a girl!
Mrs. H. (Rising.) Then it was true! They said—but I wouldn't insult you by asking. A girl! I was a girl not very long ago. Be good to her, Pip. I daresay she believes in you.
Goes out with an uncertain smile. He watches her through the door, and settles into a chair as the men redistribute themselves.
Capt. G. Now, if there is any Power who looks after this world, will He kindly tell me what I have done? (Reaching out for the claret, and half aloud.) What have I done?
WITH ANY AMAZEMENT
And are not afraid with any amazement. —Marriage Service.
SCENE. bachelor's bedroom-toilet-table arranged with unnatural neatness. CAPTAIN GADSBY asleep and snoring heavily. Time, 10:30 A. M.—a glorious autumn day at Simla. Enter delicately Captain MAFFLIN of GADSBY's regiment. Looks at sleeper, and shakes his head murmuring "Poor Gaddy." Performs violent fantasia with hair-brushes on chairback.
Capt. M. Wake up, my sleeping beauty! (Roars.) "Uprouse ye, then, my merry merry men! It is our opening day! It is our opening da-ay!" Gaddy, the little dicky-birds have been billing and cooing for ever so long; and I'm here!
Capt. G. (Sitting up and yawning.) "Mornin". This is awf'ly good of you, old fellow. Most awf'ly good of you. "Don't know what I should do without you. 'Pon my soul, I don't. 'Haven't slept a wink all night.
Capt. M. I didn't get in till half-past eleven. 'Had a look at you then, and you seemed to be sleeping as soundly as a condemned criminal.
Capt. G. Jack, if you want to make those disgustingly worn-out jokes, you'd better go away. (With portentous gravity.) It's the happiest day in my life.
Capt. M. (Chuckling grimly.) Not by a very long chalk, my son. You're going through some of the most refined torture you've ever known. But be calm. I am with you. 'Shun! Dress!
Capt. G. Eh! Wha-at?
Capt. M. Do you suppose that you are your own master for the next twelve hours? If you do, of course—(Makes for the door.)
Capt. G. No! For Goodness" sake, old man, don't do that! You'll see me through, won't you? I've been mugging up that beastly drill, and can't remember a line of it.
Capt. M. (Overturning G.'s uniform.) Go and tub. Don't bother me. I'll give you ten minutes to dress in.
INTERVAL, filled by the noise as of one splashing in the bath-room..
Capt. G. (Emerging from dressing-room.) What time is it?
Capt. M. Nearly eleven.
Capt. G. Five hours more. O Lord!
Capt. M. (Aside.) 'First sign of funk, that. 'Wonder if it's going to spread. (Aloud.) Come along to breakfast.
Capt. G. I can't eat anything. I don't want any breakfast.
Capt. M. (Aside.) So early! (Aloud) CAPTAIN Gadsby, I order you to eat breakfast, and a dashed good breakfast, too. None of your bridal airs and graces with me!
Leads G. downstairs and stands over him while he eats two chops.
Capt. G. (Who has looked at his watch thrice in the last five minutes.) What time is it?
Capt. M. Time to come for a walk. Light up.
Capt. G. I haven't smoked for ten days, and I won't now. (Takes cheroot which M. has cut for him, and blows smoke through his nose luxuriously.) We aren't going down the Mall, are we?
Capt. M. (Aside.) They're all alike in these stages. (Aloud.) No, my Vestal. We're going along the quietest road we can find.
Capt. G. Any chance of seeing Her?
Capt. M. Innocent! No! Come along, and, if you want me for the final obsequies, don't cut my eye out with your stick.
Capt. G. (Spinning round.) I say, isn't She the dearest creature that ever walked? What's the time? What comes after "wilt thou take this woman"?
Capt. M. You go for the ring. R'c'lect it'll be on the top of my right-hand little finger, and just be careful how you draw it off, because I shall have the Verger's fees somewhere in my glove.
Capt. G. (Walking forward hastily.) D—the Verger! Come along! It's past twelve and I haven't seen Her since yesterday evening. (Spinning round again.) She's an absolute angel, Jack, and She's a dashed deal too good for me. Look here, does She come up the aisle on my arm, or how?
Capt. M. If I thought that there was the least chance of your remembering anything for two consecutive minutes, I'd tell you. Stop passaging about like that!
Capt. G. (Halting in the middle of the road.) I say, Jack.
Capt. M. Keep quiet for another ten minutes if you can, you lunatic; and walk!
The two tramp at five miles an hour for fifteen minutes.
Capt. G. What's the time? How about the cursed wedding-cake and the slippers? They don't throw 'em about in church, do they?
Capt. M. Invariably. The Padre leads off with his boots.
Capt. G. Confound your silly soul! Don't make fun of me. I can't stand it, and I won't!
Capt. M. (Untroubled.) So-ooo, old horse You'll have to sleep for a couple of hours this afternoon.
Capt. G. (Spinning round.) I'm not going to be treated like a dashed child. understand that
Capt. M. (Aside.) Nerves gone to fiddle-strings. What a day we're having! (Tenderly putting his hand on G.'s shoulder.) My David, how long have you known this Jonathan? Would I come up here to make a fool of you—after all these years?
Capt. G. (Penitently.) I know, I know, Jack—but I'm as upset as I can be. Don't mind what I say. Just hear me run through the drill and see if I've got it all right:—"To have and to hold for better or worse, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, so help me God. Amen."
Capt. M. (Suffocating with suppressed laughter.) Yes. That's about the gist of it. I'll prompt if you get into a hat.
Capt. G. (Earnestly.) Yes, you'll stick by me, Jack, won't you? I"m awfully happy, but I don't mind telling you that I'm in a blue funk!
Capt. M. (Gravely.) Are you? I should never have noticed it. You don't look like it.
Capt. G. Don't I? That's all right. (Spinning round.) On my soul and honor, Jack, She's the sweetest little angel that ever came down from the sky. There isn't a woman on earth fit to speak to Her.
Capt. M. (Aside.) And this is old Gadsby! (Aloud.) Go on if it relieves you.
Capt. G. You can laugh! That's all you wild asses of bachelors are fit for.
Capt. M. (Drawling.) You never would wait for the troop to come up. You aren't quite married yet, y'know.
Capt. G. Ugh! That reminds me. I don't believe I shall be able to get into any boots Let's go home and try 'em on (Hurries forward.)
Capt. M. 'Wouldn't be in your shoes for anything that Asia has to offer.
Capt. G. (Spinning round.) That just shows your hideous blackness of soul—your dense stupidity—your brutal narrow-mindedness. There's only one fault about you. You're the best of good fellows, and I don't know what I should have done without you, but—you aren't married. (Wags his head gravely.) Take a wife, Jack.