"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 behavior 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 Sphinxlike 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 skeptic—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 this 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,' as Toole says. Is that the idea?"
"More or less," said Mrs. Mallowe with an unfathomable smile. "But be sure he understands that there must be no flirtation."
II Dribble-dribble-trickle-trickle What a lot of raw dust! My dollie's had an accident And out came all the sawdust! —Nursery Rhyme.
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 Delane's burra-khana. I liked his eyes, and I talked to him. Next day he called. Next day we went for a ride together, and today he's tied to my 'rickshaw-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, a' la Gibbon—hand it to you and say, 'Adorable angel, choose your friend's appointment'?"
"Lucy, your long experiences of the Military Department have demoralized 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-finite 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 near and instant. The Secretariats know them only by name; they are not the picked men of the Districts with the 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 honor 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, for the sake of a little masculine society, into Simla. When his leave was over he would return to his swampy, sour-green, undermanned district, 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 weary-eyed 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-dowdies, too."
Then, for the first time, it occurred to Otis Yeere that his clothes were rather ancestral in appearance. It will be seen from the above 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 honor 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 monopolized the nicest woman in Simla. They'll tear you to pieces on the Mall, some day, Mr. Yeere."
Mrs. Mallowe rattled down-hill, 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 monopolized 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. Oh 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 apologized!" she said. "Oh, shame! I hate a man who apologizes. Never apologize 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 apologize next for being my attache?"
"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 u 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. "1 haven't such a good opinion of myself."
It was not strictly Platonic, hut 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 the 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 tonight's dance."
"No-o, not at a dance," said Mrs. Mallowe, cautiously. "Men are never themselves quite at dances. Better wait till tomorrow morning."
"Nonsense. If he's going to revert 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 spoiled 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 tomorrow—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 that 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 has 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 never can tell about a man! said Mrs. Hauksbee, with deep scorn. * * * * *
Reviewing the matter as an impartial outsider, it strikes me that I'm about the only person who has profited by the education of Otis Yeere. It comes to twenty-seven pages and bittock.
AT THE PIT'S MOUTH
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 down-hill 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 down-hill on horseback, but it was to meet the Man's Wife; and when he flew up-hill 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 deadly 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 tearing friendships. Certain attachments which have set and crystallized 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 recognized official status; while a chance-sprung acquaintance now 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 is said that, perhaps, she had no 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 India 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 blankets 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 up hill, being tired with standing so long, and managed to strain a back sinew.
"I shall have to take the mare tomorrow," 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 must 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 stem, and her nostrils cracked while she was trying to realize 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 hack 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 the 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.
A WAYSIDE COMEDY
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 bound on all sides by the rock-tipped 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 hills 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 grey-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. The 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 grey eyes, the color 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 spoiled 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 were settled down, they gave a tiny housewarming 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 toward 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, had 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 civilization 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?" be 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' dak 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 dak 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 life 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 veranda, and went out. The morning wore through, and at midday 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's 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 Honor! On my Soul and Honor, 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 an 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 he 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 foresworn 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 dishonorable.
"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 forever. 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 splash-board 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! Sais,gorahkojanedo."
"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 be 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 alive 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 honorable man—knows now that it is possible to hate a woman once loved, to the verge of wishing to silence her forever 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 de. dared 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."
THE HILL OF ILLUSION
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.
Ha. 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 humor 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?
Ha. What have I done? It means equal ruin to me, as the world reckons it— outcasting, the loss of my appointment, the breaking of 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?
Ha. 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, 0' your courtesy, As you go by the town, Sir, Pray you 0' 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.
Ha. You think so? What is the mood now?
SHE. I can't tell. How cold it is! Let us get on quickly.
Ha. 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 dare say he'll be willing to escort me.
Ha. Goose! Between us, too! Damn Captain Congleton. There!
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 apologize 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 bad 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?
Ha. 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 of honor, 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.
Hp. 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 honor 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 honor—yes, honor—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 he 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 tonight, 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 cardcase. Can you read?
HE. Yes. Well?
SHE. Well, that answers your question. You know the other 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 scandalized.
SHE. They'll be more scandalized 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 honor, my honorable 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 entiere Le regiment n'a pas r'paru. Au Ministere de la Guerre On le r'porta comme perdu.
On se r'noncait a r'trouver sa trace, Quand un matin subitement, On le vit r'paraitre 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 had!
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. A la Buzgago? No, thanks. That's the one point on which I have any notion of Honor. 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 tomorrow?
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, con. molt. exp.).
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 sound better.
HE. No, I've changed my mind about the drink. Good night, little lady. I shall see you tomorrow?
SHE. Y~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.
A SECOND-RATE WOMAN
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 her 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'm miserable today. 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 veranda 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."
"0—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 he killed."
"What happened then?"
"He posed as the horror of horrors—a misunderstood man. Heaven knows the femme incomprise is sad enough and had 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 Unutterabilities 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 neighbors 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 bath 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 band, 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 nickname 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 tomorrow, 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 practiced 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 Honor, she does not. Look! Oh look! Untidiness I can endure, but ignorance never! The woman's a fool."
"H'sh! 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 a11 a fiction. He married a girl bred in the country, I think, and, being an honorable, 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 humor."
"Cultivate it, then. It has been my mainstay for more years than I care to think about. A well-educated sense of Humor 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 humor?"
"Her dress betrays her. How can a Thing who wears her supple'ment 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."