The Potter's Thumb, Vol. 2
by Flora Annie Webster Steel
THE dîners à la russe on the roof had not passed
unnoticed by the world below. How could they? Over such strange doings
curious tongues must need wag, setting other curious eyes to peep and
peer; especially in the women's apartments, where life was so empty of
novelty and where a crowded squabbling glimpse, from some lattice, of
arrival or departure was all the inmates could hope for, beyond, of
course, the ceremonial visit which the English ladies paid to a circle
of selected wives.
But there, in company dresses and company manners, the chief women
of three generations had found it impossible to ask enough questions
to throw any light on the one absorbing phenomenon of utter
shamelessness in their visitors; and after Colonel Tweedie's departure
disputes began to run high in that rabbit-warren of dark rooms and
darker passages, centred round a bit of roof walled in to the
semblance of a tank, which lay to the right of the Diwan's tower.
The elder women, led by the old man's last remaining wife, a still
personable woman of forty, upheld the theory which has had so much to
do with British supremacy in the past; namely, that the sahib-logue,
being barely human, must not be judged by ordinary human standards. As
likely as not, their women were not women at all. The younger party,
however, consisting largely of Dalel Beg's many matrimonial ventures
in the forlorn hope of a son, declared that the true explanation lay
the other way; namely, in the excess of frail humanity. Both positions
being argued with that absolute want of reserve which is the natural
result of herding women together away from the necessity for modest
reticence which the presence of even their stranger sisters brings
with it. That lack of reserve in the mind by which nature compensates
herself for the seclusion of the body, and which makes those who have
real experience of the working of the Zenana system put their finger
on it as the plague-spot of India; a plague-spot which all the women
doctors sent to bolster up the system by exotic and mistaken
benevolence will never cure.
And to the war of words, Azizan listened listlessly as she crouched
for hours beside that slit in the prison wall, whence on tip-toe she
could see the flag-stone before the mosque on which she had sat when
he was painting her picture. She had ceased to cry, ceased to do
anything save mope about in the dark with dull resentful eyes taking
in the emptiness and hopelessness of all things; even her desires
going no further than a vague wish that she could have seen the
flagstone where the sahib had sat, instead of that dull,
uninteresting, unconsecrated one. But in that house of languid,
listless, useless women her dejection might have passed unnoticed save
for the fact that old Zainub, the duenna, began to be troubled with an
old enemy—the rheumatism.
Up-stairs on the roof, the connection between Azizan's tears and
Zainub's sciatica would have seemed far-fetched, obscure; down-stairs,
however, it was self-evident, clear as daylight. Briefly, Aziz had the
evil eye, like her grand- father the potter, and she was using it, as
her mother had used it. Sixteen years before, after nursing that
mother in the damp dungeon, where useless cries could be deadened,
Zainub had nearly died of rheumatic fever. Not from the damp, of
course; simply from the evil eye. Nothing, in fact, had saved her life
then, save a promise to protect the baby. And now for the sake of
money, she had brought grief on the child, and unless that grief could
be assuaged, the result was certain; she would die. The pains were
already upon her, and a dozen times a day she cursed her own folly in
helping Chândni; Chândni who, when the ruse failed, had thrown her
over with a paltry fee. Yet old Zainub, even while she blamed herself,
confessed that no duenna could have foreseen such a coil about
nothing; but then the world was full of strange new wickedness. In the
old time no girl in her senses would have met the suggestion of
carrying on the intrigue on her own account as Azizan had done, with
vehement denial and glowering, unhappy eyes. The thought of them sent
additional twinges through poor old Zainub s bones. George Keene, who
had taken up his quarters in the state-rooms of the palace, so as to
be near Lewis Gordon at night, never dreamt how narrowly he escaped
the invasion of an old beldame beseeching him to remove a curse from
her. He had for the time almost forgotten the Azizan episode; even the
surprise which the potter's mention of his daughter's name had
aroused he set aside for the present. There would be time enough for
inquiry when he was alone once more; when the absorbing interest of
the present had gone out of his life.
So the tragedy down-stairs was completely hidden from those
up-stairs. It is so often in India. Occasionally we gain a glimpse
behind the veil; for instance, when the periodical scare as to the
number of human brains required to keep up British prestige seizes on
some cantonment. A scare which it may interest the 'Peace with
Dishonour' party to know is apt to follow on any lowering of the
Lion's tail. Then there are two simple syllables, known doubtless to
many readers of this veracious story as they are to the writer of it,
which if uttered casually—say in dinner- table conversation—will of
a certainty lead to your servants leaving your service without delay.
These things sound unreal, farcical, no doubt; so would George, as he
handed their bread and butter to the ladies up-stairs, have deemed the
fear which prompted old Zainub's wheedling words as she crouched by
Azizan's bed plying her with greasy sweetmeats.
'Eat some, my pigeon—a morsel, beloved! Why wilt not be comforted,
child? Say what is in thy heart, and if Zainub's old hands can compass
it, 'tis thine.'
'I want nothing. Let me be,' muttered Azizan.
Zainub rocked herself to and fro, partly in despair, partly to allay
a sharper twinge of the enemy, and looked round dismally as if for
some inspiration of comfort. There was not much to suggest it in those
bare walls, inexpressibly squalid, dirty beyond belief; save the
cemented floor, which underwent a daily sprinkling from a skin
water-bag, and a daily lashing with a reed broom. There was a mark of
the passage of that skin bag up the narrow stairs in a cleaner streak
along the grimy walls, and a mark of that reed broom in the
spatter-work dado of slush round the room. The smoke of rushlights
blackened the arched niches, their oily dribblings seamed the once
whitewashed walls below, and centuries of cobwebs hung on the rough
rafters. There was no furniture of any sort or kind, excepting the low
stool on which Zainub crouched, and the string cot whereon the girl
had flung herself recklessly. Not even resting fairly, but half on,
half off, each listless curve showing her indifferent despair; her
flimsy veil crushed into a pillow, her unkempt yet braided hair
showing she had not thought of it for days. No uncommon sight in the
zenana, when so and so's 'constitution is disturbed,' as the phrase
'Would it soothe thee to talk of it?' whined the old lady.
'No! no!' Aziz sat up in sudden anger. 'I hate him. I hate
everybody.' Then, her own confused emotion being strange and new to
her, she sought refuge with a whimper in her old sullenness.
'Ari! pretty one,' replied Zainub, relieved at something tangible.
'Thou art right to hate him. Yet grieve not, since he hath gained
naught of thee. Thou hast passed him by scornfully.'
On the face turned to the dirty wall something like a smile
'He hath the pot—the Ayôdhya pot,' murmured Aziz half to herself.
'He kept that—he liked that.' The duenna beat her shrivelled hands
together and laughed shrilly.
'Wâh illâh! he hath kept it, sure enough, but he will rue it. Look
you! I know not the ins and outs; yet will the pot bring him evil.
Yea! even though he hath given it to the mem up-stairs.'
Azizan was on her feet ere the words were finished, her eyes aflame,
her whole figure trembling with excitement.
'He hath given it away! Mai Zainub, is it truth? He hath given it
to the mems! Ah! how I hate them. It is mine! I will have it back. I
She flung herself once more on the bed, almost choking with her
passionate cries, wild in her uncontrolled jealousy, while Zainub,
mystified and half impatient, deprecated the foolish, impossible
desire. Did she not want revenge? Well, the pot was to bring it about.
It would bring money to the treasury also, and before that
consideration what mere personal whim could stand? Finally, it was not
hers, but the Diwan's, who had a right to let the pot go as he chose.
Azizan's ultimatum came swiftly with a savage gleam in her light
'Then I will die; and others shall die, too.' The girl was no fool;
she could see through the secret of Zainub's docility by the light of
many a covert allusion of her companions to her strange eyes. Well, if
the power was hers she would use it, so give her back the Ayôdhya pot
or take the chance. Zainub crept away disconsolate; even with her
life-long experience of the vagaries in which hysterical girls
indulged she demanded shrilly of High Heaven if there had ever been
contrariety equal to Azizan's. To set aside the possibility of
revenge! Still she must do her best, and if the mem had the Ayôdhya
pot in the palace there was always a chance of being able to steal it.
As a beginning she spent some of Chândni's rupees on sweetmeats, and,
hiding the tray under her domino, set off to pay her respects to Mrs.
'The burka is certainly a most mysterious garment,'
remarked Gwen, as she lent over the balcony just as Zainub shuffled
through the courtyard on her errand. 'Did I ever mention the fright I
had one morning? I woke thinking that a pair of those latticed goggles
were glaring at me; but it was only Fuzli looking in to see if I was
awake. Still it alarmed me.'
'Women have a hard time of it,' said Lewis languidly from the
arm-chair at her side, where he was playing the part of interesting
invalid after four days of unwelcome fever. 'How I should hate to have
'We are not a whole army of martyrs, however,' objected Rose
swiftly. 'I, for one, decline to be credited with them.'
As she sat pouring out the tea with George Keene's help her face
rather belied her words. She looked fine-drawn and eager, her eyes
bright, yet tired. Gwen smiled confidentially at her companion.
'People in good times never have nerves, so you and Mr. Keene have
no excuse for them at present. By the way, you must have been
successful with the partridges to-day, for I assure you, Lewis, they
were not in to breakfast till past twelve.'
Not much in the words—much in the manner. It made Rose bring her
cup of tea to the balcony and stand looking with a satirical smile at
the pair seated there before she turned to George.
'We think Mr. Gordon is in a good time also; don't we, Mr. Keene?
You should break something too; Mrs. Boynton would be quite equal to
The crudeness, not to say rudeness, of her own words startled her
into adding hastily, 'For she is a good nurse; isn't she, Mr.
'First-class for one,' he replied coolly; 'but I doubt her managing
three. Therefore, if Keene is going to break something, as you
suggest, it would be as well if, for a change, you took some care of
yourself. At present you look miserably ill.'
Rose flushed into health at once.
'I? Rubbish! If you have quite finished tea, Mr. Keene, let us go
on with that match at tennis.'
'There they go, supremely happy,' commented Gwen from her post of
vantage after a pause. 'I'm a shockingly bad chaperon, but that is
your fault, Lewis, for getting fever. Do you think monsieur le père
will be very angry?'
He shifted irritably. 'My dear Gwen, don't overdo it, for goodness
sake. I'm grateful; you know that quite well. But if you want me to
believe that Keene is in love with Miss Tweedie, I must decline to
agree. The lad is palpably in love with you; as we all are. As for
Miss Tweedie, I decline to have any opinion at all. Girls of her type
are beyond me. She looks ill, of course, but no woman can stand
half-a-dozen hours in the saddle before breakfast and half-a-dozen
singles before dinner, with, I suppose, half-a-dozen problems before
lunch and half-a-dozen books before bed. The thing's absurd, and as
you don't seem able to stop it, it is as well we are leaving
Hodinuggur so soon.'
His distinct loss of temper made Gwen change the subject outwardly,
but retain it inwardly as a justification of her tactics. They had
been very simple. A word to George of gratitude for his care of Rose,
a playful remark to the latter on her marked anxiety for the
patient's comfort had left the elder woman mistress of the situation.
She was in no hurry, however, to bring it to a crisis. Time enough for
that when they should have returned to civilisation, and she had that
letter from the jewellers which might even now be waiting for a
certain Mrs. Arbuthnot at the post-office at Rajpore.
Perhaps she might not have found Rose so ready to acquiesce in plans
through which the young girl saw perfectly if they had not fallen in
with the latter's convenience. It was easier that Lewis Gordon should
believe her occupied with George, and better for the boy than dangling
after Gwen all day; he was too good for that sort of thing.
She told herself this savagely, many times a day; even when, with a
worldly wisdom beyond her years, she was playing the part of elder
sister and confidant to the lad's ardent admiration. As for him, he
was supremely happy between the occupations of worshipping the most
perfect woman in the world and being companion to the jolliest girl he
had ever known.
The day had been hot and sultry, unusually so for the time of year,
and as the four stood saying good-night to each other for the last
time on the roof the sheet lightning was shimmering in a faint haze
low down on the eastern horizon.
'Rain,' said Lewis Gordon in a low voice to Rose. 'Lucky for that
dusty dhoolie journey to-morrow evening. In the meantime, I hope it
may cure your headache.'
'I have no headache,' she replied coldly.
'I'm glad you did not say no head; that perjury could have been
He turned to his cousin and let his hand linger in hers
'Don't be alarmed if the storm is a bad one.'
'Of course I shall be alarmed,' she answered gaily. 'Then you and
Mr. Keene will have no peace; for you don't suppose I intend to stay
on the roof in order to be struck by lightning. I shall turn you out
down-stairs at a moment's notice.'
George with adoring eyes on his divinity suggested eagerly that if
he returned to the bungalow the ladies could move down at once. Gordon
no longer required any one at night, and it would be more
'Nonsense,' cried Rose impatiently. 'I don't believe it will rain.
Anyhow, I shall stay where I am, storm or no storm.'
'Nerves or no nerves,' parodied Lewis, 'Keene shall come into my
room, Gwen, and I will order his to be got ready for emergencies.
Then, if nature does convulse, you can seek shelter without disturbing
us. Even Miss Tweedie will allow the wisdom of that arrangement from a
masculine, and, therefore, selfish point of view.'
She did allow it, inwardly. The worst of Lewis Gordon was his knack
of being right in a way which forced her into disagreement. This
consciousness accentuated her obstinacy, and even when Mrs. Boynton,
pathetic and plaintive in a trailing white dressing-gown, sat on the
edge of the girl's bed beseeching her to let discretion be the better
part of valour, she would not yield. She was not going to give colour
to Mr. Gordon's caricature of womanhood. Besides, it was close
down-stairs. She had a headache, and liked the air. Finally, she was
not afraid of being left alone; Gwen could go down if she wished.
As she watched the little procession bearing pillows and blankets
file down the stairs, with the ayah in the rear, protesting that 'big
storm come kill missy baba for laugh old Fuzli,' she felt glad to be
left alone. Her head did ache; what is more, her pulses were bounding
with a touch of sun-fever. It would be gone by morning; yet Lewis,
perhaps, had been right also in saying that she had been exposing
herself too much. The inclination to rest her hot head on the cool
marble balustrade and sit there under the restful sky was strong, but
with an instinct of fight she set it aside almost fiercely, and after
looping back the curtains of the corner room so as to let in what air
there was, lay down decorously. But not to sleep. A dreary disturbing
round of thought kept her awake, sending her back and back again to
the same point—the assertion that she had certainly been overdoing
it. That was the cause of her depression. Until suddenly, causelessly,
her native truth rebelled against the self-deception, and she sat up
in the dark pressing the palms of her hot hands together. What was the
use of lying to herself? Was it not better to confess frankly that
with all his faults Lewis Gordon interested her more than any one else
in the world? Perhaps it was love—yes! she cared for him as she cared
for no one else in the world, and was it not detestable to blush and
deny the fact instead of being straightforward? At any time this
indictment of her honesty would have been intolerable; now, with fever
running riot in her veins it forced her to exaggerated action. She had
been behaving like a romantic school-girl in a novel. In future there
should be no possibility of her denying the fact that she had
wilfully, and without due cause, fallen in love with a man who did not
love her. Yes, fallen in love! Her cheeks were flushed, her eyes
shining when the light of the candle she lit fell on them. As she
passed quickly into the mirror-room the thousand facets gave back her
eagerness, her determination, as she deliberately chose out Lewis
Gordon's photograph from a folding frame standing below the Ayôdhya
pot. She stood for a moment looking at it, struggling with her pride,
then she passed back into her room again and thrust it under her
pillow. That was an end of all lies at any rate. After that she would
never be able to deny the truth. She gave an odd, almost happy little
laugh as she crept into her bed again, where, after a time, she fell
asleep with one hand guarding something under the pillow: just as Gwen
had guarded something in her corner-room a few nights before.
No doubt it was the growing coolness of the night which soothed the
girl; on the other hand, it may have been the testimony of a good
conscience not ashamed to confess facts. The lightning shimmered over
her sleeping face, and, as it shimmered, showed a black arch of cloud
looming from the east. By-and-bye the wind rose, bringing with it the
fresh earthy smell of distant rain.
It was now between second and third jackal cry, that is to say, the
deadest hour in the Indian night, when even natives and dogs sleep.
Yet there were two figures stealing round the base of the Diwan's
tower to the piled ruins of the old wall which had fallen on the
potter's house long years before; fallen suddenly in the night, after
just such a storm as that now sweeping up with the wind.
'Ari, heart's core!' pleaded a cracked voice, 'sure the rain begins
even now, and God knows what the old stairs be like. 'Tis sixteen
years gone since they were used. Holy Fâtma, what a flash! 'Tis no
night for women-folk to be out; be wise and leave it. To-morrow,
perchance, when they pack up the things, I may lay hands on it.'
'Be still, mai! What good to talk when 'tis settled! What didst
say? Straight up to the hole in the wall, three steps down to the
ledge, along that to the window slit in the Diwan's stair, so by them
to the gate; thou hast the key. No, 'tis open, thou sayest. Is not
that right? Lo, mai, 'tis easy.'
'In the old days; but the lattice parapet is gone, they say, and a
false step—O Aziz, be wise! Would God I had not told thee of it.'
A faint laugh echoed into the pitchy darkness. 'Thy aches and pains
would never have reached the pot otherwise, O mother!'
The hint was not lost on old Zainub. She stumbled on hastily until a
shimmer of lightning showed an opening half hidden by débris
in the base of the tower into which she crept.
'See, here are the matches,' she whimpered, 'and witness, O Aziz! I
have done all, even to letting thee wear the old dress, since it
pleaseth thee, though wherefore, God knows—'
''Tis light and strong,' interrupted the girl hastily. 'Stay you
here, mother; I will be back ere long.'
A box of Swedish
tändstickors made for the British market
with a portrait of Mr. Pickwick on the cover, was an incongruous item
in the scene, yet one of them looked tragic enough as it sent a glow
through Azizan's brown fingers and showed a broken flight of steps.
'I will be back ere long,' she repeated at the first turn. Then the
light went with her into the very heart of the wall.
Zainub sat crouching in the dark, shivering and groaning. 'Ai! my
sins,' she muttered, hiding her face from a sudden flash of
lightning, 'the pains of Jehannum are on me already. I perish of
fear; the breath leaves my body.' She rocked herself backwards and
forwards ceaselessly, moaning and muttering; a weird figure guarding
the stair up which Azizan was toiling by the light of other tändstickors. Beyond the possibility of a half torpid snake, or a
shower of loosened bricks from above, there was as yet no danger, even
to one so unused to effort as the zenana girl. Thus she had time to
think of what she was to do when she reached the roof. For one thing,
she had to steal the Ayôdhya pot; for the rest, she was not sure, but
something ready for impulse lay tucked away in the waist-folds of the
old woollen dress. A glimmering slit showing its arched top against a
lighter darkness of sky brought her back to the present. This must be
the hole in the wall; and beyond it lay a chasm of night. She lit
another match and held it over the gulf. The flame burned steadily,
for the stair, in winding through the wall of the tower, had brought
her to leeward of the storm. Nothing was to be seen save the blackness
of clouds above, the blackness of God knows what below. Then as she
stood peering out into the darkness a shiver of silent lightning
revealed a silver plain far down beneath her feet, and above, to the
right, silver balconies and cupolas. That must be the roof whither she
The expenditure of more matches disclosed the three steps downwards,
and at right angles a ledge along the wall ending in a buttress some
thirty feet off. That must be the support of the Diwan's stair. Both
steps and ledge had once been protected by a latticed parapet; now
they were edged by the blackness of the gulf. The ledge however,
seemed perfect as ever, and the rest was, after all, mere fancy;
especially at night when you could not see. Should she risk it? The
match she held left indecision or her face as it flickered out. The
storm, close at hand, took breath as it were for the onslaught in a
long pause of intense silent darkness. Then a sudden shimmer shot over
the old tower, spreading a silver mantle upon the slender figure of
girl clinging to the wall. Darkness again; and then once more the same
sight. A girl with her face against the wall moving step by step
slowly, deliberately. Nearer and nearer each time to the buttress.
Then a little cry, too inarticulate for comprehension, rose on the
still air, and when the next shaft of light came it found nothing but
the bare wall. The figure was gone.
So much might have been seen by any watcher on the roof, but there
was none. It lay still, deserted. The very wind, stirring the folds of
the curtain Rose had looped aside, made no noise, and the light and
the dark played their game of hide and seek in silence. An odd game
in the mirror-room, and the arches on arches of shadow leading to it.
Each separate scrap of looking-glass would blaze out like a star,
sending a beam on the blue bowl of the Ayôdhya pot, then dive into the
dark again, carrying a reflection of the scene with it in triumph.
Miles of shadowy arches, millions of blue bowls glowing amid countless
stars; thousands of looped curtains showing a girl asleep on a white
After a while the stars carried a new sight; a girl in a strange
dress crouching by the bed. The lightning shimmered keenly over this
group several times, bringing into glittering relief something held by
the crouching figure, and something held close to a flushed cheek by
the sleeping girl. The one was a knife, the other a photograph of a
young man in an immaculate coat and an irreproachable tie. Different
things, indeed, yet the girls who held them differed little. They were
both in dreamland; for Azizan, as she crouched beside Rose, felt that
she was in a new world. The whiteness, the stillness, the solitude,
guarding the pure sleep of girlhood—the refinement, the peace, made
her think involuntarily of the dead laid out for their last rest. She
gave a quick little sigh; her hand relaxed its grasp, then tightened
again, as a flash showed the photograph clearly. It a picture of some
one. If it was his picture, why then—
She struck a match softly and peered closer. No! She paused, taking
advantage of the light to look at the sleeper. Rose stirred.
'Who is it?' she murmured, in the low quick tones of those who talk
in their sleep.
The watcher's hand closed silently round the match extinguishing
'I am Azizan, Huzoor.'
The immediate answer had its effect. Rose nestled her head to the
pillow once more, and from the ensuing darkness her breathing came
soft and regular. Suddenly, with a crash the thunder rolled right
overhead, the wind hushed, the heavy drops of rain fell, each in a
distinct plash for a second, then merged into a hissing downpour on
the hard roof.
Rose started up in bed, just as the quivering shaft of lightning
blazed through the mirror room upon a girl in an odd dress, holding
the Ayôdhya pot close to her breast. A girl with odd light eyes.
'I am Azizan, Huzoor.' The words seemed still in her ears,
recalling a confused memory of the potter and her own promise.
'Your father wants you, Azizan,' she said half in a dream, and the
sound of her own voice woke her thoroughly to darkness. Had she been
dreaming? The wind rising, now the storm had broken, swept rain-laden
through the open door, extinguishing the matches she struck hastily,
so that the first glimmering of her own candle was echoed by the
ayah's lantern as the latter came paddling over the streaming roof
with petticoats held high over her trousered knees, and shrill
denunciations of the missy-baba's obstinacy high above the storm.
Rose Tweedie's thoughts flew to Lewis Gordon's warning, and his wisdom
reminded her of her own foolishness. That was not a dream; and she
blushed violently over it as she thrust the photograph out of sight
before her attendant rolled the bedding into a bundle and staggered
with it down-stairs. As the girl followed ignominiously in the
mackintosh and umbrella supplied by that injured official, she told
herself she must indeed have had fever, to commit such a ridiculous
piece of folly. Her ears tingled over the very recollection of what
had perhaps saved her life.
Meanwhile, the girl with the Ayôdhya pot, whom Rose, in her
absorbing shame, had decided must have been a dream, was stumbling
down the broken stairs once more, her courage gone, her chaos of
emotion reduced to one heart-whole desire to reach Zainub in safety.
How she had crossed the ledge again she scarcely knew; she had dropped
the tändstickors on the way, and, as she felt her way step by
step in the dark, she was sobbing like a frightened child. Half-way
down a displaced brick in the outside masonry allowed the lightning to
glimmer over a sort of landing, where she paused for breath. God and
his Prophet! What was that huddled up on the next step? She had to
await another flash ere she could decide; and in the interval her
heart beat with sickening, fearful curiosity.
'Mai Zainub! Mai Zainub!' Her cry of relief and content came swift
as the flash. There was no answer save renewed darkness, bringing
downright terror with it. Still that was a human form warm under her
'Mai Zainub! Mai Zainub!'
There was no flutter beneath the hand seeking the heart. Could
she?— Then came a blaze of light, and the familiar face all
unfamiliar; the fixed eyes wide open, the jaw fallen.
The next instant she was dashing down the stairs recklessly; down
and down, out into the open, over the débris; anywhere, so as
to leave that horror behind. The wind caught her, the rain blinded
her, the thunder crashed overhead, as she ran on blindly, till with a
cry she slipped on a loose brick and fell, stunned, against a mass of
broken masonry. So she lay, looking almost as dead as the poor old
duenna huddled up on that landing in the secret stair, where, with one
final twinge at her heart, the rheumatism had left her for ever.
An hour after, when the storm had passed, and a faint greyness told
that the dawn was at hand, a feeble light began to flicker about the
ruins: up and down, up and down, as if it sought for something. It
was Fuzl Elâhi, the potter of Hodinuggur, looking for his dead
daughter. He had looked for her after every storm for sixteen years;
and this time, with the Miss sahib's promise to send her back
lingering in his memory, he sought in hope.
When the sun rose, three things were amissing from the palace at
Hodinuggur: the Ayôdhya pot, Azizan, and the old duenna.
Up-stairs, while George, and Gwen, and Rose, all for private
reasons of their own, acquiesced, Lewis Gordon declared that some
servant must have broken the former in dusting the room, and, as
usual, made away with the pieces.
Down-stairs the same unanimity prevailed. Aziz and Zainub had their
reasons for running away. They would be found ere long, since no one
near at hand dare shelter them, and the old woman could not go far.
If the folk up-stairs had known of the disappearance down-stairs,
they might have connected the two losses, but they did not. So none of
these three things were traced, and no one cared very much: especially
Gwen Boynton. The pot might have reminded her of Hodinuggur, and now
she was leaving it there were some things she intended to forget.
Besides, no one now could ever say she had taken the jewels.
'I NEVER was so tired of any place in my life,' remarked Mrs.
Boynton. 'It was not so bad at first; but nothing would ever induce me
to attempt the wilderness again.'
She was back in the big hall at Rajpore once more, the centre of a
circle assembled to bid her welcome; for Gwen was not the sort of
person to come or go unnoticed. She looked charming in a new dress
which she had ordered on the morning after the fire to be ready
against her return. The band was playing, the dim lights were
twinkling above the polished floor, people were coming and going
through the swing-doors, and Dan, devoted as ever, was waiting for his
promised first waltz. A sheer bit of vanity was this promise on Gwen's
part; she liked to re-enter her familiar world looking perfection, and
Dan was the best dancer in the room. Yet she lingered with her hand on
his arm to glance at Lewis Gordon, who, still wearing a sling, stood
on the outside of the circle trying not to look bored.
'And I don't think civilised people ought to go to those wild
places and live in uncivilised ways,' she continued, clinching the
argument against Hodinuggur. 'It is demoralising living on the roof
without doors and windows. Look at my cousin. I don't believe he will
ever settle down to work again.'
'"No locks had they," etc.' quoted Lewis. 'I shouldn't have thought
you were likely to disapprove of Arcadia anyhow, or Hodinuggur either.
I assure you, Graham, Mrs. Boynton played the "Light of the Harem" to
She met the general chorus of belief with a little shudder, not all
'I hope not. If I thought that, I would have elected to stay in my
room till I could appear like a Christian. But it only bears out my
contention. Civilised people should eschew barbaric environments. They
are not safe.'
'A bad look-out for me,' laughed George, who had been given three
days' leave in order to escort the party to headquarters. Gwen turned
to him in kindly familiarity.
'You! Oh, I'll except you as beyond temptation, if you like. Shall
you be here on my return? the next is ours, remember.'
She knew quite well that the boy had remembered little else since
she had given the promise half an hour before; but she knew also how
sweet the reminder would be with all those older aspirants standing
by. And she was always anxious to please when she could. Lewis Gordon,
however, lifted his eyebrows and walked over rather aggressively to
'Why aren't you dancing?' he asked. 'I am unfortunately a cripple;
but Keene, I am sure, would be horrified if he saw you sitting down.
May I tell him?'
'No, thanks. I don't feel up to dancing to-night. I fancy I have
been overdoing myself a little over tennis and riding at Hodinuggur.'
There was no challenge in her manner, but Lewis chose to suppose
'Your wisdom, Miss Tweedie, is of that truly feminine type which
begins when the cake is finished. But it is refreshing to find you
have these womanly weaknesses; without them you would be
'If the carriage is here,' remarked Rose quietly, 'I think I shall
go home. If you see my father, Mr. Gordon, tell him I have done so.'
His manner changed in an instant.
'I will tell him now, and join you, if I may, for a lift back to
the Club. I am out of it also: my brute of a bearer has bandaged me
all wrong, and I must get it altered.'
Rose, with an ambulance certificate, would have liked to offer help,
but had to be silent. Even on such a charitable errand Mrs. Grundy
would have been horrified at a visit to a bachelor's quarters. And
while she acknowledged the limitation, Rose felt irritated by it as
she stood waiting by the door for Lewis Gordon's return, and watching
Mrs. Boynton skim by like a swallow under Dan's guidance. Why should
the married women have all the chances?
'She waltzes beautifully, doesn't she?' asked Lewis, finding her so
'She does everything beautifully,' replied Rose coldly.
Not a good beginning for their drive together; but it was always so,
and as she watched the carriage taking her companion on to his
quarters after it had set her down, she told herself disconsolately
that they seemed to have a bad effect on each other, and to show to
the very worst advantage in each other's company. She, at any rate,
was never so painfully uncompromising in her condemnation of other
people's foibles; perhaps because she did not care whether they
existed or not. But she did care dreadfully when Lewis was in
question; that was the worst of it.
Mrs. Boynton was not long either in leaving the hall; in fact,
George Keene's promised waltz was but half through when she exclaimed
at the lateness of the hour, and after salving over his disappointment
with an invitation to tea on the morrow, bade her coachman drive home.
An order, however, which she changed at the gates of the garden, so
that the carriage instead of turning westward towards the civil
station, chose the eastward road towards the native town. Towards the
post-office also, which lay close to the Dukhani Gate of the city. For
a letter, addressed to a certain Mrs. Arbuthnot, should be waiting 'to
be called for'; and at that hour, a few minutes before closing-time,
all but subordinates would have left the office. So a veiled lady
asking for a letter would run no risk of being recognised. Yet as Gwen
Boynton drove home again along the dark Mall, with the expected letter
still unread in her pocket, she told herself there was really no need
for such precautions; only it was as well to prevent those gossiping
native jewellers from advertising the fact that mem Boynton sahiba was
so hard put to it that she had to sell her trinkets. That was all; yet
each passing carriage, as it flashed its lamp rays on her face, seemed
desirous of proclaiming the fact that she had been citywards to the
eyes of its unseen occupants. She felt a feverish desire to know who
those occupants might be, and a distinct dislike to and distrust of
the whole business rose up in her, making her glad to find time had
run so short that she must dress at once for the dinner-party given to
welcome her back to Rajpore. With a feeling of relief from immediate
certainty, she threw the letter, still unopened, on the sitting-room
table as she passed it. But half an hour after, when she returned in
her trailing white garments, the sight of it changed her mood. It
would be better to know. After all, the jewels might be paste—worth
nothing. It would almost be a relief if it were so.
She sat down by the table and turned the envelope over and over in
her delicate hands. It might mean so much; it might mean so little.
And what in either case did she intend to do? She had literally no
idea, as with reluctant fingers she tore slowly at the envelope.
It seemed to her as if ages had passed before she realised that she
was staring down at those few words telling her briefly, that the
jewels sent were worth six thousand rupees, and asking her if she
would have the money in notes or by bill of exchange.
How simple it was! No question of taking or leaving. Only whether it
should be in notes or by bill of exchange. And six thousand would not
only pay Dan—if indeed she decided on that—it would leave something
over for the coming season at Simla. A welcome something indeed! when
all one's wardrobe had been burnt; and people were so particular how
she was dressed. Then, if one came to think of it, did she not deserve
some compensation for that loss of her dresses? Trivial thought! going
further towards decision than any of the others. In the midst of her
meditations a white-robed servant appeared at the door saying
'Gordon sahib salaam deta.'
Another triviality; yet she rose quickly, thrusting the letter into
her pocket. So he had come already! She had known well enough that he
would miss her, that he would come to seek her, but this was soon
indeed. She gave the permission to show him in calmly, and yet the
woman's triumph at her own power came uppermost, as, awaiting his
entry, she turned to finish the fastening of a bunch of white
gardenias. Her back was towards him, but he could see, and she knew
that he could see her framed by the long mirror, like a picture. Her
hair a golden setting to the diamond stars, her white arms whiter than
her white dress, whiter than the furred cloak hanging loosely from her
white shoulders, or the huge ostrich-feather fan dangling from her
slender waist. Lewis thought instantly of Fedora in the ballroom
scene; then, that on the stage or off it he had never seen a more
utterly desirable woman to present as your wife for the world's
approval. That is a feeling which decides many marriages.
'It seems a shame to trouble you,' he began, 'but the bearer
such a fool. The sling is always too high or too low, and I want to
go to the club. I thought you wouldn't mind seeing to it, and I saw by
the light in this room that you were still here.'
Every word of this speech, though the speaker was unconscious of it,
showed Gwen that her cousin had been thinking the very thoughts she
wished him to think. Translated by her feminine finesse it stood
'You are too lovely to be bothered, but then, you do everything so
well. It is too deadly dull without you, so, knowing I could rely on
your sympathy, I kept a look-out for some sign of your presence.'
Now, when a woman hears everything she desires in the words of a man,
her reply is generally a return in kind. In this case, words were of
less importance than those pretty, soft, white hands so solicitous
over his comfort.
'Is that better?' she asked. Her concern was absolutely honest, for
she was a woman every inch of her, loving to cosset and care for her
men-folk. Those hands were so close to his cheek that their softness
seemed to thrill through him. After all, was it not a wife's part to
flatter and cajole? to make life soft and sweet? Who could do that
better than she?
'Dear little hands,' he said, laying his suddenly on one and
pressing it tight to his breast. Then a quick passion blazed in his
eyes. 'Gwen,' he cried, 'oh, Gwen! how sweet you are!' The ring in
his own voice satisfied him. Yes! this was happiness, and he stooped
to kiss the face so close to his own. And then? She was beautiful as
ever; he was cool as ever. The glamour had gone, the world was as it
had been before his fate was settled. For he had settled it
definitely, though he scarcely knew if he were glad or sorry for the
'Am I to beg your pardon, dear?' he said gently, looking into her
gracious eyes; 'or will you believe that you have so spoilt me that I
cannot get on without the spoiler? Will you forgive me, and try and
put up with me, Gwen?'
'Of course I will forgive you, Lewis,' she began plaintively; and
then the lack of emotion in her own voice, her own heart, struck her
disagreeably. Yet what else could she expect when her first thought
had been one of gratitude for that offer of six thousand rupees in her
pocket? For all that, she felt aggrieved, thinking illogically how
different it was with Dan. Unwonted tears rose to her eyes and made
her face tender as she went on.
'And why should I not spoil you, Lewis? You know I am always glad
to help—anybody. And, after all, we are cousins. After all, there is
always that between us.'
She did not know why she offered him this excuse, this loophole of
escape. Not from calculation or finesse, certainly, yet it touched him
as nothing else would have done; for he, too, had felt the flatness of
it all; he, too, had thought vaguely that the sacrifice of his freedom
deserved more solid satisfaction in return.
'Yes, dear,' he replied, half playfully, 'there is that. But there
is something more, is there not, Gwen? At least I hope so—for you
have spoilt me—I cannot do without you.'
It was her hand, however, that he kissed this time. And then the
carriage being announced, he escorted her to it most decorously,
taking care, with all the attentive calm of a husband, that her dress
should not suffer from the wheel. The fact struck him ruefully as he
went off to the club, feeling that his fate was definitely settled;
though, of course, the matter need not be made public at once. Gwen
would be sure to prefer that her season at Simla should be
untrammelled by open engagements, and he was in no hurry. Leave was
inconvenient till the cold weather, so during the rains when people
wanted amusement they could afford them the excitement of the news.
Gwen's feelings as she drove to her dinner party were of the same
nature. It was settled, definitely settled of course, but no one need
know of it; no one must guess at it until she had given Dan his congé. It was the first time she had ever really put that thought
into words, and the very suggestion made her heart sink. There would
be no lack of emotion about that interview at any rate. Even the
preliminary of paying back the debt seemed beset with difficulties. He
was so quick to understand, so hard to turn aside once he had the
least clew to her feelings. Finally, after much cogitation she decided
on waiting until she had actually received the money from Delhi. It
would be more difficult for him to refuse the notes down on the table;
besides, George Keene's leave would be over, he would have returned to
Hodinuggur, and the possibility of confidences given under the
influence of strong excitement would be over. For Gwen had not failed
to notice the strong friendship growing between the two; in a way, she
was vexed at what seemed to her a childish, almost absurd, deference
to the lad's opinion on Dan's part. Dan, who was his superior in every
possible way; that is to say if he chose to be reasonable. Last of
all, the delay meant a closer proximity to that annual flight to the
Hills which would provide her with a safe retreat. So she set the idea
aside for a time and became cheerful over the respite.
George, having tea with her next day, thought her if possible gayer,
brighter, more charming than ever; especially when his talk turned on
his hero, Dan Fitzgerald. Now, no one had ever heard Mrs. Boynton say
an unkind word of her neighbours; indeed, the peculiar cachet
this gave to her personality made her remembered in after years by
all admirers, not so much as a beautiful, as a perfectly gracious
woman. To George, accustomed chiefly to the high-spirited freedom of
sisters, this virtue seemed divine, the more so, because the world
generally disapproved of Dan—of his recklessness and want of
reverence. Gwen Boynton, on the contrary, found nothing to regret,
save that Mr. Fitzgerald was not the finest man out of the
service, instead of in it; since, as Mr. Gordon said, he was
too good to slave among men years his junior. Whereupon George, his
young face full of importance, informed her as a dead secret, that the
reason Dan stuck to his colours was that a girl had promised to marry
him whenever he got his promotion. That would be in the next spring at
the latest, since, as he, George Keene, was in charge of the sluice no
prejudicial contretemps could possibly occur. And Gwen with an
actual smile at the mystification—which so many women dearly
love—reminded him that even when folk did their best, slips came
between cups and lips.
The lad laughed joyously.
'Oh! I don't venture to stand sponsor for the young woman, of
course; I only meant that Dan would get his promotion if it depends on
that gate being kept shut. I carry the key about with me like Hare did
in the "Pair of Spectacles." It's "peculiarly inconvenient," of
course, but as they say on the Surrey side, "the villain who would
reach it must pass over my dead body."'
Gwen, who had a fine taste, admired the determination underlying the
jest. Mr. Fitzgerald, she said, was lucky in such a friend.
Nevertheless it might be a doubtful kindness, since the loss of
promotion might induce him to seek fairer fortune elsewhere.
She insisted on this argument even with herself, yet her heart beat
uncomfortably fast, when, delay having been extended to the limit of
possibility she sat awaiting Dan's arrival in the pretty room which
was so like herself in its softness and its solid attention to comfort
beneath all the delicate tasteful ornamentations. The three thousand
rupees in notes were ready for use in her pocket, and a long letter
from Hodinuggur in George's fine bold handwriting lay on the
writing-table beside the bouquet of flowers which Lewis had sent her
from his garden that morning. From the next room came the sound of the
ayah dusting out boxes against the immediate packing up. All Gwen's
excuses for delay had vanished; yet she found it hard as ever to face
one man's confidence—the confidence which showed in his glad
greeting. It forced her into beginning remotely, half affectionately,
regrets over his want of tact at the Delhi conference. It had not been
an unqualified success so far as Dan's department popularity went. How
could it, when he had deliberately but savagely attacked the wisdom of
his elders? True, the under-secretary had sniggered in describing the
scene, and even Mr. Gordon had laughed amid his vexation, saying that
none knew better than he, what a confounded ass Colonel Tweedie could
be when confronted in public with new ideas; at the same time it had
been needless, almost brutal on Fitzgerald's part, seeing he had right
on his side; that alone should have made him temperate. Of course,
once his method had been suggested, no other was open to any one out
of a lunatic asylum; all the more reason for mercy in bringing the
fact home. So Gwen in her soft voice attempted to convey her blame to
the sinner, who, with his hands in his coat-pockets stood before her
trying to look penitent and only succeeding in looking provokingly debonnair.
'But sure it's the blatant stupidity of the world that is its
greatest crime,' he protested. 'Don't I remember my mother saying to
us, "Oh, children! I don't mind your being naughty—I can whack you
for that; but I will not have ye stupid."'
Gwen laughed. Who could help it, over that picture of home training
so utterly unfit for one recipient, at least? Indeed, she was
conscious of a wish that her companion were more dull; less full of
eager vitality. It made that inevitable task so hard!
'Dan,' she began desperately in sudden resolve, 'I want to talk
about business. The fact is, I've had a windfall of money lately. And
so—I—I intend to pay you back that loan of yours. It isn't fair—'
He was on his knees beside her, to get a closer look at her face ere
she had finished. 'What is it, Gwen?' he asked rapidly. 'You owe me
nothing. What do you mean? There is no question of money between us,'
he went on in answer to her silence. 'There never was but once. There
never shall be again. Is it anything else, Gwen?—anything in which I
can help; or are you only feeling afraid of the future? Tell me
Where was the good, she thought petulantly, of delays and
preparations when he met her first hint in this direct fashion; yet
against the grain, for she hated scenes, she took her courage in her
hand and spoke up—
'Yes, I am afraid; afraid of the future for you as well as for
myself—O Dan! I really wish you would sit down like a Christian and
listen properly. Kissing my hand is no answer. And I am serious. This
idle foolish promise of thinking about it all seriously next year when
you get your promotion is not fair on you—don't laugh, Dan, it
isn't. It ties you down, and prevents your doing yourself justice. And
then it isn't fair on me.'
He interrupted her quickly. 'How is it not fair on you, Gwen? I
don't see it. You do not like any one else as much as you like me; you
know you don't. And if this half promise to me holds you back from
marrying some one you do not like as you like me, why, then,' his
voice lowered to tender gravity, 'I thank God for it as I should thank
Him for any good He sent into your life.'
'You do not understand,' she retorted querulously. 'Surely I am the
best judge of myself, and there is no reason why I should want to
marry some one else because I don't think it would be right to marry
you. I should make a bad wife, Dan, to any poor man; and I should not
be happy. Surely, surely, I ought to know best! It isn't as if I were
the inexperienced girl I was before. I have been married for years,
and I think, yes I am sure, that I am happier as I am.' Her last words
degenerated into something between a laugh and a sob. It really was
too ridiculous, too grievous, that she, Gwen Boynton, with all her
knowledge of the world, should not be considered fit to judge for
'Married!' he echoed thoughtfully, and something in his voice
arrested her. 'No, Gwen, my dear, you have never been married. You
don't even understand what it means to be married; for your knowledge
of it is all evil. That's the worst of it. Don't be angry, dear, I'm
not going to lecture like Mrs. Grundy on the sin of a loveless
marriage, or the degradation of one, like the sentimentalists. Surely,
surely a man or a woman may marry from pity, from honour, from
self-devotion, and yet touch the perfection of the tie. But you,'—he
paused a while, 'you did not only lose the love of it, Gwen; the thing
itself was never yours. The facing of life, hand in hand; two of you
where there was but one before. See! there is my hand, Gwen, and there
is yours. A difference, isn't there? But how close they fit, each to
each! How close and warm,'—he paused again to smile at her. 'What is
it the song says, Gwen, about giving your hand where your heart can
never be? Fudge! It should be, "How can I give my heart where my hand
can never be?" Yes! there they are, close, and I am there too, my
darling. Ready, always ready. Never again, Gwen, without the touch of
a hand, like "children frightened in the night, like children crying
for the light." Never again, Gwen, never again.'
They were sitting together side by side on the sofa, her hand held
in his so lightly that she could have withdrawn it without an effort.
But it lay there in his clasp as she sat listening to the soft voice.
Listening on, even when it ceased, as if its spell lingered. They were
not even looking at each other. Beyond the silent room, through the
open door, the sunshine showed Gwen's bearer cleaning the lamps with a
dirty duster. Not a romantic sight; but it is to be doubted if either
saw it, for their eyes were blinded by the great darkness in which
they found themselves, trustfully, hand in hand.
At last, with a little shiver, she tried to move, but his fingers
closed on hers more firmly.
'Too late, Gwen! Too late. You should have taken it away when you
had the chance,' he said joyously. 'Oh, Gwen, my darling, if we were
married you would forget to be afraid, as you did just now; didn't
'I believe you mesmerise me,' she replied, trying to jest, 'and
forgetting bills doesn't help to pay them; does it, Dan?'
'So you are back at the money again. Well, I don't care. Money or
no money; promotion or no promotion—'
'No! no!' she interrupted, yielding, as she always did, to his
decision, 'that really is not fair—the bargain was promotion—it was
'Promotion be it,' he assented with a contented laugh, 'though I
can't for the life of me see what it has got to do with the matter.'
'You would at least have more pay,' she put in, wondering faintly
the while how it came about that they should be discussing such
questions when she had meant to be so firm. 'I could not marry a
pauper; could I?'
'Indeed, and indeed, it might be the best thing for you; then
nobody would give you credit, dear, but me. And I—Oh, Gwen, my dear,
my dear,—you might be bereft of everything—of all, save your own
self, and sure I would give you credit for the all, still. Credit!' he
echoed to his own words, 'isn't it absurd to be talking of it, as if
either of us could be debtor or creditor to the other.'
That was all she gained from the interview. That, and the unwelcome
remembrance of full five minutes when the touch of her lover's hand
and the sound of his voice had made her forget the world, the flesh,
and the devil.
But not for long. As she sat after Dan had gone, trying to comfort
herself by the fact that one never knew what might happen, that they
might all be dead and buried before the necessity for action
arose—which, by the way, was her favourite consolation—she looked up
to see the servant standing at the door, doubtfully expectant.
'What is it?' she asked languidly.
'The vakeel of the Diwans of Hodinuggur, Huzoor. He hath brought an
offering, and desires an audience.'
'The Diwans of Hodinuggur!' repeated Gwen, startled.
'The agent, Huzoor. Shall I tell him the mem sahiba is going to eat
the air in her carriage? It is but to say something about a pot, he
bade me mention. A pot that the Huzoor fancied.'
Gwen stood up, holding to the table.
'Now!' she said after a pause, 'show him in now.'
Mrs. Boynton's neat victoria waited for its mistress long after the
smiling and obsequious visitor had given his shoe-money to the
servant and departed. Waited patiently till, as it grew dark, the
ayah came out and removed the cushions and parasols. Mem sahiba was
not well, and would not go to the gardens; she would not go out to
dinner either, so the horses could be put up. Then, the bearer coming
into the verandah with the lighted lamps, a shrill altercation began
over the shoe-money; the ayah asserting that when the visit was to a
lady, her female attendant had a right to half, and even the grooms
putting in a claim on the ground that they had been present. Their
mistress, lying on the sofa where but a short time before she had sat
hand in hand with Dan Fitzgerald, heard the dispute and had not the
courage to rebuke their greed.
And yet the vakeel of the Diwans had simply brought a message, that
if the mem sahiba would like another Ayôdhya pot, similar in all
respects to the last, one could doubtless be found and forwarded
without delay. She had refused the offer promptly, decisively; but the
fact of its having been made filled her with regrets and alarms.
If—oh! how lonely she felt, without a soul to stand between her and
trouble. Then Dan's words recurred to her! bankrupt of everything yet
credited with all! They brought no comfort, however; only a vague
irritation against the speaker. But for him she would not have been
tempted; but for him she would never have kept the discovery of the
jewels secret—if indeed it was a discovery. Could it be a bribe? For
what? Had they found out her entanglement with Dan Fitzgerald? Her
vexation blazed up at the bare suspicion, and though every fresh proof
of the attraction he had for her unstable nature invariably resulted
in a recoil of the pendulum, she was conscious this time that it had
never before swung back so far. He was to blame; yes! he was
undoubtedly to blame for the whole miserable business.
She felt herself too much upset for Lewis Gordon's sharp eyes to be
a safe ordeal, so, as he was to be one of the dinner-party, she sent
an excuse, and spent the long evening in nursing her wrath; a very
necessary process if Gwen Boynton was to bear malice, since her temper
was of the sweetest. Even with this encouragement the next morning
found her ready with excuses for everybody, herself included. After
all, matters were not so serious. Three days would see her safe in
Simla, where six thousand rupees would be better than three,
infinitely better than none; and it would be quite easy to keep her
understanding with Lewis dark for some time to come. Then what proof
could any one have that she had kept, or even found the jewels? Who
was to say that the pot had not been stolen, jewels and all? As for
the jewellers who had bought them, they neither knew her real name nor
address. The only possible danger lay in weakly yielding to conscience
in the way of attempted restitution. Besides, if the pearls were
really meant as a bribe, surely those who offered it deserved to lose
them and gain nothing; for, of course, the idea of gaining anything
from her was preposterous.
She went to the hall that evening, cheerful as ever, and exclaimed
airily at the changes one short twenty-four hours had wrought in the
shifting society of mid-April. The Grahams had left, the Taylors were
to start that evening if there was room in the train laden with women
and babies flying before the punkahs. Laden, too, with melancholy
husbands conveying their families to the foot of the hills, whence
they would return to stew in solitude. Lewis Gordon divided these
unfortunates, cynically, into two classes—those who would be sent
home in charge of the khânsâmah, with a menu of the first
month's dinners, and an almost tearful injunction not to let the
master, when he went out to dine, eat things which were likely to
disagree with him; and those given over to the 'bottlewasher' who 'can
cook a little, you know.' And there was truth in his cynicism. Mankind
is not like an Amoeba, all stomach, yet nothing can be closer to tears
than two sights often to be seen during an Indian hot weather: the
one, a meal sent away untouched in favour of a clean whisky and soda;
the other, an elderly Mohammedan at a big dinner-party waving the
lobster salad away behind his master's back, and presenting him with
cheese and biscuits instead. There is full-blown tragedy in both.
Tragedy also in Lewis Gordon's cheerful remark to his companion—
'And, by the by, Robinson has been ordered home next mail. They
were afraid of abscess. So that jolly little house at Simla is going
a-begging. He asked me if I knew of a tenant, but it is rather late
in the day, I fear, even though he only asks half-rent.'
'I'll take it,' said Gwen calmly. 'Don't stare so. The fact is, I
have had a little windfall of money lately, and I hate hotels. This
will be almost as cheap, and much more comfortable.'
'Infinitely so,' assented Lewis. The house was fully a mile nearer
his quarters at Colonel Tweedie's and that was a great convenience,
especially during the rains.
'SEND it back! It is hers; it is not mine! He gave it her! I
stole it. Don't tell. Oh! send it back! send it back!'
Over and over again, through the long hot days and nights, the
murmur, in its monotonous hurry, blent with the hum of the potter's
wheel. The old man had removed the latter to the farther courtyard,
where he sat working feverishly, yet without avail, so far as the
village people could see through the door, beyond which they were
forbidden to go. The simple folk were agog at the potter's strange
looks and strange ways. He never seemed to cease working, for even
when the familiar sound of the wheel was hushed something like an echo
of it rose from within. Those were the times when he stood wistfully
in the dark airless hut beside a restless head turning itself from
side to side on the hard pillow, and keeping time to the monotonous
rhythm of the murmur, 'Send it back, send it back.'
'Yea! dear heart, I will send it.' Then there would be silence for
a while; but only for a while, since the fever strengthened day by
day. Small wonder, when all Nature seemed in the grip of heat. The
thermometer, we are told, is accurately divided into degrees. If so,
the fallacy of such classification is self-evident, since every one
with experience knows that the difference between eighty-four degrees
and eighty-six degrees of Fahrenheit's instrument embraces the
difference between comfort and discomfort. Between these two points
that engine of torture, the punkah, trembles ere it begins the steady
swing which is only one degree less awful than the unsteady swing
necessitating the occultation of boots and other light articles of
furniture with a human head. Doubtless to the uninitiated it seems a
trivial affair to loop a parti-coloured rope through hooks in the
rafters, and to attach to it a whitewashed board with a newly starched
frill tacked to its lowest edge, thereinafter making mysterious
dispositions of a leathern thong, the neck of an old whisky bottle
thrust through the mud wall, and a circumambient flask of
evil-smelling oil. But those who know what it is, on returning from a
morning ride, to find the punkah in possession of your home, feel a
chill at the very thought, such as the thing itself will never produce
by legitimate means. The hot weather is upon one, and God only knows
if fever, cholera, home-sickness, sheer deadly ennui, will
allow you to pass through it unscathed as an honest gentleman.
George Keene, however, over in the branded bungalow, knew nothing of
the horrors of a hot weather in the jungles, and, while poor little
Aziz lay moaning out her impotent repentance, was actually
superintending the swinging of his punkahs; which is equivalent to a
man personally conducting his own hanging. He even, after the manner
of engineers, took pride in a device which was to secure a perfect
silence in the infernal machine. All unwitting of a time when, in the
scorched darkness, it might be preferable to curse a monotonous scroop
giving tangible excuse for wakefulness, than to lie visualising the
unseen swoop, as of some vampire eager to suck your heart's-blood.
Those two degrees of heat bring a thousand other changes. Even at
Hodinuggur, arid as it always was, they intensified the drought till a
drop of water seemed as visionary a consolation to the parched horizon
as it must have been to poor Dives in the fires of hell. The very
canal denied its nature as it slipped past yellow and thick with silt
from the clayey defiles of the lower hills, each little swirl and eddy
looking as if streaked and pitted in mud. Yet the chill of its snowy
birth came with the flood, so that in the red-hot evenings George's
factotum used to call through the yellow-dust haze to the groom who
sat on the edge of the canal, apparently moored to his place by a
soda-water bottle tied to a string, and then Ganesha would haul in the
strange buoy and scramble up the bank with it rapidly, so as to give
the master's dinner-drink a chance of being cool.
All this amused George Keene hugely at first. He drew caricatures of
it for the rectory, and sent a very impressionist sketch of his world
to Mrs. Boynton. It consisted of a dust-storm, a caper bush, and a
rat-hole. She put it on the mantelpiece of the pretty drawing-room in
the little house among scented pine-woods, where she was just
beginning to appreciate the soothing effect of having a decent balance
at your banker's. Her lady-visitors laughed and said it was very
clever, but some of the men looked queer and muttered 'poor devil'
under their breath. Not that George looked on himself in that light.
On the contrary, Hodinuggur amused him. Its dreary antiquity was all
new to him, and as he went through the cool, dark passages of the old
palace on his way to play chess with the Diwan, he learnt to admire
some things about it; notably the thickness of its walls, through
which the sun never filtered, though it soaked piteously into his
red-brick bungalow. Upon the roof Zubr-ul-Zamân shrivelled under the
heat almost as much as a certain figure which still lay huddled up on
the landing of the secret stair in the thickness of the tower beneath
him as he sat at chess. Below that again Khush-hâl Beg lay stark
naked, like a huge baby, in a swinging cradle, which was pulled to and
fro by a drowsy coolie, while a bheestic supplied the fat carcass
alternately outside and inside with tepid water from his skin bag,
and as the mushk shrank, Khush-hâl swelled visibly—horribly.
Yet further, in the bazaar by the Mori gate, Dalel Beg, abandoning
Europe-fashion under the stress of climate, slept all day and waked
all night, doing both more viciously than before, like a snake
rendered lively and dangerous by the heat. But Chândni, from her cool
arches, smiled calmly, even when 'Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay' rose from the
opposite balcony, which was now occupied by some one who could dance
as well as sing. To tell truth, she was glad to be quit of Dalel's
amusement for a time. Such deviations from her control never lasted
long, and this time she knew that the Diwan himself was on her side.
So she lounged about in the shadows, watching the pigeons in the
niches, and rubbing her soft palms together. Sometimes a pellet of
opium lay between them; sometimes nothing at all, for it was a trick
of hers. Sometimes, on the other hand, it was a great deal; neither
more nor less than one of the Hodinuggur pearls, which were as well
known to all the jewellers of that part of the country as the
Koh-i-nur diamond is to the keeper of the regalia. That was why
Chândni on her return from Delhi, whither she had gone ostensibly to
learn new music-hall songs for Dalel's benefit, had laughed so
triumphantly at her own cleverness as she sat at the Diwan's feet
telling him what she had done.
'It was easy, with my cousin a jeweller; and we of the bazaar know
a trick or two with goldsmiths. Manohar Lal hath the pearls, sure
enough. All thou hast to do is to offer him a rupee more than he gave
the mem (which will not be half their value). The Hindu pig will take
it, seeing it is better than having the yellow-trousered ones set on
him as a receiver of stolen goods.'
Zubr-ul-Zamân looked at her approvingly from under his bushy
eyebrows. She was a clever woman, but he would improve on her plan. He
would put the screw tighter on the Hindu pig, and get the pearls back
in exchange for a promise to pay. So far, however, Chândni's plot had
been unexpectedly successful. Both George Keene, by giving the Ayôdhya
pot to the mem, and Dan Fitzgerald, by taking the jewels himself to
Manohar Lal, as Chândni's spies said he had done, were mixed up in the
affair. There was sufficient foundation for an esclandre, of
course, but how would that help them? They did not merely want
revenge, as is so often the case, they wanted the key of the
sluice-gate. The courtesan standing with wide-spread arms to fold her
veil around her decently ere she left the Diwan's presence, laughed
shrilly at his difficulties.
'How? sayest thou. Who can tell? Save this. The mem will send for
more if she get the chance. That is our way. One rupee claims another.
Bid the vakeel at Rajpore go to her and suggest a marrow to the pot.
All things go in pairs, and we could send it through Keene sahib. For
the rest we must wait. There is a time yet, and if we are to work by
fear of exposure, that comes ever at the last moment. I play for a
high stake, as I have told thee, O my father! and I mean to win.'
Then it was that the old man, with regretful thoughts of his past
youth, had promised her one of the pearls in pledge for a future,
when, if she succeeded, she could wear the whole necklace as Dalel's
wife. That was how she came to be rolling the pearl against her palm
lazily one moonlit night, when George, who began to find the long
empty evenings coming at the end of a long empty day rather wearisome,
strolled over for the first time since his return from Rajpore to see
the potter, and while away half an hour in hearing some of his tales.
Rather to his surprise, since he knew nothing of the novel freak for
solitude, he found the outer palisade barred by thorn bushes, and going
a little farther along to where it joined the mud wall, vaulted over
the latter lightly into the inner courtyard. It was empty, and the
door of the hovel closed. Supposing the old man to be absent, he
turned to go, when a low cough from within made him pause and knock.
The next instant the potter burst out on him with eyes ablaze.
'Devils! wilt not leave me in peace?' he began before recognising his
visitor. Then his manner changed; he drew the door to behind him,
saying hurriedly, 'This slave mistook; the children tease. But if the
Huzoor wants songs he must come to the outer court. The wheel is there
now. Will not the Huzoor come?'
He moved away like a plover luring an intruder from its nest, but
George paused again to listen to a repetition of the quick, low cough.
'Who is that ill?' he asked unwarily. The potter echoed the sound
'It is I who cough, Huzoor,' he went on, still moving away. 'Pity
of God, how I cough! And I have fever, too; mercy of the Most High!
fever always with mutterings hard to understand. But 'tis no matter.
The potters of Hodinuggur do not die; we go and come, we come and go.'
He had reached the wheel and set it a-spinning. But it seemed
pivoted askew in its new place and whirled in fitful ovals. Then he
looked up with a foolish laugh.
'My thumb will slip often now, Huzoor. Maybe 'twere better Fuzl
turned no more pots.'
The thought made him slacken the wheel to silence. He sat staring at
it vacantly, while George looked at him, wondering at the change in
the old man. His face had the weary, over-strained expression of those
who have wilfully forsaken sleep; the look which comes to those who
are on the rack day and night beside a sick-bed, and George,
remembering the cough, jumped to the conclusion that the potter had an
invalid in the hut. Most likely some female relation; whence his
desire for secrecy. To be sure, the old man had often said he lived
alone, but in India one never could be sure how far modesty interfered
with truth. So being accustomed to such vicarious prescribings, the
young man suggested he should send some medicine for the cough.
His companion brightened up immediately, 'It is not all a cough,
Huzoor,' he replied hurriedly. 'It is fever. God! what fever. It is
only a little cough, with a rattle, as of dead wheat-straw under my
bosom as I draw breath; quick, quick, with curving nostrils like a
horse galloping fast.'
The vivid accuracy of the word-picture made George realise an idea
which had of late haunted his fancy. The idea of a hand-to-hand fight
with death alone, unaided, as the beasts of the field meet the
destroyer. Here was some one doing it; dying, perhaps, of pneumonia,
when others were being nursed through a finger-ache. The pity, the
injustice of it struck him fairly. Then the potter's voice going on
softly gave inconsequent answer to the vague doubt surging against the
boy's youthful content.
'Not that it matters, as I tell myself in the night season when I
am worst. We of Hodinuggur do not die. We go and come, we come again
Something in his own words, perhaps, seemed to arrest the old man's
attention, and he paused.
'Huzoor!' he cried suddenly, 'I have something which belongs to the
mâdr mihrbân. If the Huzoor would write an address.'
'Belonging to Miss Tweedie,' echoed George in surprise.
'Do not thanks belong to those who earn them!' replied the potter
evasively. 'If the Huzoor could write. I have pen and ink. Lo! it is
naught but potter's work, and the miss was kind.'
He fumbled in the niche beside his seat, and drew out a parcel done
up in waxcloth. Evidently a pot of some sort, thought George,
beginning to print boldly, as one of his profession should, with the
slant-cut native pen. The moonlight shone full on the potter seated
at his wheel, and the young Englishman pencilling Rose Tweedie's name.
What was that rising on the stillness of the night? A murmur from the
hut? George could not say for certain, as the old man set his wheel
a-humming instantly, but once more the feeling of injustice, the flash
of pity came to disturb his self-complacency. The feeling lasted
longer this time, and as he walked home his thoughts were full of that
uncertainty which is so hateful to the young. The Mori gate showed
black and white in the moonshine; a clash of silver bells rose from
the shadows as he passed; a pomegranate blossom fell at his feet. He
took a step aside to crush it fiercely, passionately; it lay between
that and picking it up he felt uneasily. Life here, at Hodinuggur, was
so simple, so confusing in its simplicity. To live and to die. Was
He spent the remainder of the evening in writing to Mrs. Boynton,
putting his heart into reserved, half-jesting hints at his own
puzzles. And as he wrote, the potter, standing at the door of his hut,
was listening to a murmur coming from the darkness within.
'It is sent, dear heart! She has it. No one shall know,' he
answered softly. Then there was silence for a while. But only for a
while. The murmur came again and again through the hot night, to be
stilled by the same reply.
The post in due time brought Mrs. Boynton her letter. She read it
with great interest, and then promptly put it into the fire; her
favourite maxim being, that the keeping of letters was, at any rate,
one reason for the slow progress of humanity; since improvement was
dangerous when you were tied down in black and white to past opinions.
And the postman, after leaving the snug little house in the
pine-woods, came on to Colonel Tweedie's with a packet for Rose.
Half-an-hour afterwards the girl was sitting with the contents of the
parcel on the table in front of her, puzzling her brains why any one
should have sent her back the Ayôdhya pot, or one exactly like it.
There could be no doubt about it, however. She took up the wrapper
more than once; but the clear print, if unmistakable, was also
unrecognisable. She felt carefully inside, hoping for a scrap of
paper, a hint of any kind; but there was nothing save a few bits of
crumbling clay, leaving a rough rim near the bottom of the pot. And
all the time her first impression remained unaltered. There was a
mistake; it had been meant for Mrs. Boynton. Undoubtedly it was meant
for her. Under ordinary circumstances Rose would most likely have
taken the Ayôdhya pot over to the little house without more ado, but,
though she did not acknowledge it to herself, she could not treat its
occupant in an ordinary way. Besides, there was an element of mystery
in the whole affair, and Rose hated mystery. The memory of her dream
on the night of the storm at Hodinuggur annoyed her. She had slurred
it over at the time, merely mentioning it as part of a feverish
attack; but now she wondered if the Diwan, or some one else, could
really have arranged a theft. And gradually there grew up in her one
distinct dislike to the whole business. She would have nothing to do
with it. She would say nothing, but simply send the thing back whence
it came. She would not even suppose that George had sent it; she would
return it straight. After all, it might be another pot, and if she
made a mistake in thinking this, they would know the truth at
Hodinuggur. A knock at the door roused her, and she slipped the vase
behind another on the mantelpiece ere she said 'come in.'
'Only to say, Miss Tweedie,' came in Lewis Gordon's voice from the
threshold, 'that I shall not be in to lunch. Your father has given me
a half-holiday, and, like a good little boy, I am going to spend it
with my relations. You will be at the Graham's tennis, I suppose? We
'No. I shall utilise my half-holiday with my relations also,' she
replied. 'Father and I will go for a ride. I don't often get him to
'Then au revoir till dinner. How comfortable your little
snuggery is! It and Gwen's drawing-room are the two prettiest rooms in
Simla.' There was a hard, almost angry look on Rose's face as she
repacked the parcel. Gwen's pretty room should at least be none the
prettier for the Ayôdhya pot.
The result being that three days after this Chândni sat at the
Diwan's feet once more, holding it in her hands.
'So I am right, O father!' she cried, with that shrill laugh of
hers; 'the mem hath sent for more. Lo! I shall wear the pearls ere
'If they are sent again, thou mayest lose them this time,' retorted
the old man, but there was no warmth in his warning. He had begun to
believe in her luck, and the two sat in the purgatorial heat on the
roof, imagining evil as unconcernedly as if the universe could hold no
fiercer fire for the wicked. The pearls must be sent again, of course,
and the parcel given to be addressed by Keene sahib. So much was
clear. And Manohar Lâl might be told to offer a less sum this time.
'Thy father was the devil!' remarked Zubr-ul-Zamân again—this time
more suavely, 'and pearls or no pearls thou shalt have Dalel. For look
you, Khush-hâl is a waterbutt, a grease jar, and Dalel hath forgotten
how to deal fair, even by himself; but thou hast brains. So bring
thine ear within reach of a whisper. There is much to tell of
Hodinuggur ways ere I forget with age.'
She bent her head back till it almost rested on the old man's
breast and brought her flower-decked ear close to his mouth. One
elbow touched his knee, the hand giving light support to her chin:
the attitude of one all ears to hear. The Diwan, still as a statue,
nothing but a voice. A queer couple up there on the roof overlooking
the red-hot, red brick house, where George Keene was being introduced
to what is familiarly called a go of fever.
Even that was to begin with somewhat of an amusement, for a certain
feeling of self-complacency comes with the first intermission. After
the tortures and fires of the damned for some hours, the sudden and
complete escape from them seems to rebound to the credit of your
constitution, and you are confirmed in the impression that you are a
fine fellow. But it is not long before the fever fiend can knock that
sort of conceit out of a man if it chooses. In George's case it did
choose, and, having got him well in its grip, refused, after a day or
two, to let him go again.
The factotum lingered round with something he called beef-tea, and
another thing he called barley-water. Which was which, the patient,
with his mouth full of Dead Sea apples and quinine, could not say; nor
after a time did he very much care. He cared for nothing; unless
indeed it was to get rid of that vision of the schoolroom in the
rectory—a schoolroom with a cheery-cheeked boy roasting blackbirds
at the fire. If you didn't twist the bit of brown worsted stolen from
your sister's work-basket, then the birds slackened—slackened like
the potter's wheel. Oh! it was a lifetime of twisting, or there you
were plumb, burning with a horrid smell. When the factotum sat in the
room the blackbirds didn't; but then he breathed. Wasn't it rough that
a man could not stop breathing for half-an-hour just to oblige a
friend? Yet if the breathing beast sat outside, a 'whittering'
beast came in its place. 'Whitter! Whitter!' under the bed;
behind the boxes. That was the worst of a musk-rat; no one could
possibly tell where it would 'whitter' next. It wasn't its
fault, of course; it meant no harm. Poor little beggar! what a rummy
sight it must be, if the yarn was true, taking its kids out for a
walk, tail by tail, in a string! And then to George's infinite
surprise and discomfiture, the feeble laugh ended in a flood of tears;
tears like a woman's, drenching the dry, hot pillow. That was one
comfort. As good as a water-cart! So they came again between the
laughs; for George, seventy miles away from a white face, was down
with the worst type of jungle fever.
Sometimes when he felt a little better the factotum brought out the
medicine-chest and between them they made wonderful compounds, which
the latter administered when his master had gone back to the
It is a common enough experience, and George, not being a whit
behind many another young Englishman, fought his way through it
pluckily, while Ganesha, the groom, fished for soda-water bottles all
day long, and the water carrier circled round the house, cooling the
dust with sprinklings, and keeping an eye on the punkah coolie during
the factotum's absence over more barley-water or beef-tea.
Scorching nights, blistering days, devils in sparrow shape, the
fringe of the towel pinned to the punkah, flicking your nose, yet
sparing the mosquito battening on your cheek. All this George knew,
till discomfort itself grew dim, and he ceased to care for anything in
this world or the next.
Then after a time there was something dead cold—cold as
ice—trickling down his nose, and that surely was Dan's face. At any
rate it was Dan's voice.
'It's all right, dear boy. Sure the Doctor's ridden out too, and
you'll be round in a jiffy.'
It is an Eastern record of life which tells us of a love passing the
love of women, and, even in these latter days one sees it more often
East than West; perhaps, paradoxically, because men have so often to
play a woman's part towards each other in India. Dan Fitzgerald in
particular was as gentle as any sister of mercy, and stronger than
most. To be sure he sat on the bed smoking, and after a day or two his
language over the barley-water was simply disgraceful. But by this
time George had come back from No-man's-land and could remember a
little booklet called 'Home Comforts Abroad,' which had been given him
by his grandmother. So Dan ferreted it out from the bottom of a box
full of canal records, and ordered the charcoal brazier into the
verandah. Then he stirred diligently while George, propped up by
pillows, read out the directions weakly. The result being that the
factotum bore away a deadly mixture in triumph, because even with this
surpassing love in his heart for the compounder, the boy could not
Nevertheless, wearied out by feeble laughter, he slept the first
real sleep of recovery and woke to extol the factotum's beef-tea.
That functionary being thus appeased, the little red brick furnace out
in the wilderness became a home indeed; that is to say, an abode of
love, and peace, and a great contentment.
It was on the very day of promotion to an arm-chair and a cigarette
that George received a letter from Colonel Tweedie, enclosed in one
from Rose. His eyes grew moist as he read it; he had to pause ere he
could turn to where his companion sat busy over his share of the post,
and even then his voice faltered.
The words were uncomplimentary; the tone was a caress. His hearer
did not affect to misunderstand.
'Well, it will be jolly for you at Simla. The gayest fortnight of
all just before the rains, and there is nothing like a whiff of hill
air for killing the microbes. Besides, the Tweedies' house is awfully
jolly to stay in.'
'But you?—you will be here,' said George remorsefully, despite the
eager pleasure in his eyes.
'It isn't the first time I've been in a jungle station. Are you
thinking of the whisky bottle again? Sure I'll take a temperance
ticket for the fortnight, if it would make my keeper easier.'
'Don't be a fool, Dan.'
He came round to lean over the back of George's arm-chair.
'Is that the thanks I get for warming a viper in my bosom? But I
must get back to the office for a day or two first. Then I'll start
you off with my blessing and all the boiled shirts you have in the
world. And more, by token, that picture of the girl with the Ayôdhya
pot that's lying underneath them. Why didn't you show it me before?
It's the best thing you ever did, and must go to the exhibition.
Always put your best foot foremost up at Simla among the big-wigs.
That is my advice.'
'Which you don't follow yourself.'
'But I do!—only my foot's a beetle-crusher, and the worms don't
like it. So that is settled, and we will tell the washerman about the
white ties. And look here, George, I'll bring the duplicate of that
key back with me. Then you can take yours, and I shall know—'
George's hand went up to the back of his chair as if to find
another to clasp; then he changed the venue with an odd little
'Give me a light, old man. I—I can't keep this cigarette going,
As Dan stooped over him their eyes met, and that enough.
THE angel Azrael had turned aside from other doors in
Hodinuggur besides that of the red-hot bungalow across the canal.
Fuzl Elahi, the potter, sat once more at his work, with the old calm
on his face. The wheel was back in the inner yard again, where the
westering sun sent a creeping shadow of the high wall almost to the
edge of the spinning circle. It spun so slowly that the eye could see
the blue outline of a pot upon the moulding pirn.
'It was a woman seeking something,
Over hill and dale, through night and day she sought for something.
"Foul play! foul play! look down and decide."
"Not I—"'The chant stopped in a start. There was a grip on one
shoulder, a thin brown hand over the other pointing accusingly at the
'Why didst lie to me?' panted a breathless voice, low yet hard.
'Why didst say thou hadst sent it to her? Why? why?'
'I lied not, heart's delight.'
The slackening wheel, as his hands fell away from it, showed the
Ayôdhya pot, as if in denial of his words; yet he repeated them
gently, looking back the while at the girl who had crept from the open
door of the hut behind him. 'I sent it; but it hath come back, as all
things do in Hodinuggur; as even thou didst, Azizan. Be not angry with
thy father. Lo, it is fate!'
She set his deprecating hand aside roughly.
'Let be, father—if father thou art. I tell thee 'tis the pot. Give
it me here. Yea; 'tis so, and thou hast put a false bottom of new clay
to it. Wherefore?'
The old man's forehead wrinkled in perplexity.
'I do it always. Let me finish the task, Aziz. Chândni, the
courtesan, will give money for it, as always; then thou shalt have
violet sherbet to allay the cough. Pity of me! how thin thou art!'
In truth the girl was emaciated to skin and bone: her small face
seemed all eyes; yet, though she swayed as she stood from sheer
weakness, there was energy and to spare in her grip on the Ayôdhya
'Chândni!' she echoed; then suddenly the fire died down, the
tension of her hold slackened. 'Lo, wherefore should I care if it be
lies or truth,' she muttered to herself; 'the old man is crazy, and
'tis the Diwan's when all is said and done—not hers. Here, take it,
poor soul. I care not now, so I be left alone in peace.'
'Art not angry with thy father, Aziz?' he asked humbly; but there
was no answer. He watched her languid retreat to the hut almost
fearfully. 'Lo, she forgets the things I have remembered, and I
forget those she remembers,' he murmured, before he broke once more
into his chant with a quavering voice.
This forgetfulness of the girl's, showing itself so often, was a
perpetual wonder to the old man, who never for an instant doubted that
his dead daughter had indeed returned to him. 'Nay, but thou knowest
beloved!' he would remonstrate against her ignorance. 'Hast not
played in the Mori gate, and bought sweetmeats of old Bishno, perched
on my shoulder like any tame squirrel?'
'Mayhap, mayhap!' she would answer impatiently. 'I care not. There
was a Hindu girl, I remember, who did not weep as the others used to
do. Life was a dream she said. We would forget it soon in another.
Mayhap 'tis true and I have forgotten.'
It suited her to deceive the old man. When she had first realised
the position, she had been too weak to do more than wonder at it.
Then, by degrees, while she still lay helpless, the potter's talk, her
own recollections of old Zainub's hints, joined to the extraordinary
similarity in those extraordinary eyes, had given her a shrewd guess
as the truth. And with it came a fierce savage delight in her
inheritance of witchcraft. It meant revenge; revenge and safety. The
potter deemed her a ghost from another world; the village folk should
think the same. So she hid herself away in the dark hovel, spending
the long hot days in dreaming of a time when she could creep out on
some moonlit night and frighten the wits out of the world which had
wronged her; for her whole nature was jangled and out of tune. She
hated everything and everybody, herself included; at least so she told
herself as she sat idle, listless, brooding over revenge. It was not
difficult for her to avoid observation. To begin with, the village
folk were afraid of the potter's eyes at the best of times, and of
late strange tales had been told. Finally, Mai Jewun's longed-for son
had been born with a distinct thumb-mark, and had died. The only
person, in fact, who could have allayed these fears lay shrivelling
into a mummy with the heat on the old secret stairs; so Azizan might
have wandered through the village had she chosen without fear of
anything save sending all the women into hysterics, and making the men
give themselves up as doomed to die. She did not care to wander,
however; she cared for nothing save to sit crunched up at the lintel
of the hovel door and stare into vacancy until the dawn sent her back
to the darkness within.
The potter found her so when he returned from taking the pot back to
the Mori gate late in the evening. The fading daylight struggled still
with the rising moon, making confused havoc among the shadows, and
giving an odd iridescence to the dust-laden air. From without came a
barking of dogs, an occasional cry, every now and again a group of
bleatings from the goat-pens. All the every-day common-place sounds of
village life; and in the courtyard the same lack of outward novelty.
Only an old man with his pugree off eating his supper of bajra cakes
and water beside a sick girl.
'Ari, beloved, cough not so!' came his tender voice. 'Lo! I will go
but now for the sherbet. Dittu was away when I passed his shop. And
see, I will seek out the sahib ere he leaves to-morrow and ask for
more medicine. It did thee good.'
The girl's breath came faster.
'He hath been ill, dear heart, so Chândni says. He goes to the mem
sahiba in the hills.'
Azizan's hand clutched the old man's arm. 'And the pot! what of the
He shook his head. 'Maybe it was for her. I know not. Cough not so,
beloved. See, I will fetch the sherbet.' He bent over her, as he rose,
in gentle pleading. 'Go not from me when I am away, Aziz. Lo! I will
be back ere long.'
She gave a short laugh, and sank back, still breathless from her fit
'Go! whither should I go? God knows!' The old man sighed as he
turned away, to look back more than once at the listless, dejected
figure. So it remained for an instant after his had disappeared
through the outer yard; then, as if galvanised, it rose suddenly, and
the thin arms were flung out passionately.
'She shall not have it. Chândni shall not give it to her. She shall
not, she shall not.'
Five minutes after, trembling half with weakness, half from sheer
hurry, Azizan was on her way through the village wrapped in a white
sheet snatched from the hut. What she was going to do she scarcely
knew, just as she scarcely knew whither she was going. Though within a
stone's-throw of her birthplace, the path down which she stumbled was
as unfamiliar to her feet as the tempest of emotion was to her mind. A
fever of excitement, anger, mistrust of everything and everybody
surged through her veins. The road was silent, deserted; but even had
it been thronged, the girl would not have hesitated. Amid all the
confusion, but one thing was certain: Chândni must tell the truth; she
must be found and made to tell the truth. But where? Yonder was the
Mori gate; she had seen that before through the lattice, and that, at
any rate, was a landmark. She would go there first and see. As she
came within ear-shot of the tunnelled causeway, a woman's voice rang
out in shrill laughter from the dark recesses to the right. Her first
instinct was to pause; then second-thought made her keep straight on
her way as if to pass through, till at the farther end of the causeway
she turned suddenly to the left and sank down behind a plinth. It was
as if a shadow had disappeared. A minute to regain her breath, and
then she crept farther into the darkness, where, unless some belated
gossipers should choose that side of the arch, she was secure. From
over the way a clash of anklets and a low full voice, contrasting
strangely with those high trills of laughter assured her that she had
come straight upon her quarry. The rest was patience, till, sooner or
later, the woman would be left alone. Sooner or later the laugh must
cease; sooner or later even wickedness must tire and turn to sleep. So
the girl sat crouched into herself in the curiously impassive attitude
of her race, her thin arms round the thin knees whereon her small
chin rested. Not a very startling sight outwardly; though, to describe
what lay within is wellnigh an impossible task with an audience of
Western ears; for Azizan's knowledge would be to such ears
incompatible with her ignorance, her jealousy and passion with her
patience. Such an audience must remember an upbringing foreign to all
their experience, and imagine her, still as a statue, though the blood
raced like liquid fire in her limbs and throbbed like sledge-hammers
in her temples. The moon, sinking slowly, sent a slanting yellow light
through the dust-haze, visible beyond the arched causeway; the village
dogs ceased one by one the nightly challenge to their fellows; yet,
still the laugh went on. Would wickedness never tire? The wonder, and
her own heart-beats lulled the girl to a drowsier patience. She woke
to silence, and, standing up, strained eyes and ears into the shadows.
Not a sound. She stole softly across the causeway, slipped into the
recesses at the right, and listened again. A low breathing from one
corner made her feel a way towards it, and her touch, light as a
breeze, hovered over a figure on the ground wrapped from head to foot
in a sheet like a corpse; yet she knew it could scarcely be Chândni,
for she would not choose so airless a spot. But there must be rooms
above, and a roof above that, and they were worth a trial before going
on to the bazaar. Slowly, for she knew nothing of where she was,
Azizan groped her way to some winding stairs, thence to a suite of low
chambers, empty of all save the pigeons rustling and cooing at her
step in the dark. Upwards again till, at a turn, an archway gave on a
terraced roof not six feet square; and there, lying on a string cot,
which, from its narrow resting-place, seemed suspended in mid-air,
she saw the soft curves of a woman's figure outlined against the
moon-lit dust-haze beyond. It was not a place for a sleep-walker's
slumbers; not a place even for a restless one; but Chândni slept the
sleep of the unjust, which, nine times out of ten, is sounder than
that of the just. Her conscience never troubled her; and in addition
she belonged to a race apart from the customs and creeds of the
people. A race born to the profession of pandars and prostitutes,
So, not being afraid, like other women-folk, of sleeping in the
moonlight with face uncovered, she lay carelessly as she had thrown
herself down, her tinsel-set veil turned aside by one arm thrust under
her head, the other stretched almost straight into the gulf of dusty
air, which glittered faintly like the ghost of a sunbeam. Beneath its
filmy net covering the bold sweep of her bosom rose and fell softly,
with its faded burden of the past day's jasmine chaplets. They gave
out a last breath of perfume as Azizan's thin brown fingers closed
round the sleeper's throat.
'If thou stirrest,' whispered the girl to the startled eyes as they
opened, 'I kill. Feel!'
Only a prick above the heart, but joined to that scorching, stifling
grip, it was sufficient to send the coming shriek back from Chândni's
lips. She lay terror-stricken, staring up at the wild light eyes
which, catching the moon rays as they dipped to the horizon, seemed to
glow with a pale fire. This was no ghost! it was something worse than
that; something that meant more than mere fright.
'Why didst send the Ayôdhya pot to her? Why? Give it me back!'
Chândni slackened all over in sudden relief. If she could have
laughed with that hand on her throat the shrill sound would no doubt
have risen on the hot air. So that was all! Nothing but jealousy! Of
all things in the world the easiest to rouse—or to allay—by lies,
and she had plenty of those at her command. So many, that poor Azizan,
after a time, wondered sullenly how she came to be sitting amicably on
the string cot beside the woman whom she had meant to coerce.
'Poor little chicken,' said the courtesan in contemptuous
consolation. 'So thou wouldst have killed me, thy best friend? One
who seeks to destroy the mem! 'Twill be the ruin of her, look you, and
then he will have none of her. That is their way. She will not get
him; so pine no more, child. Lo! I will teach thee how to have lovers
and to spare.'
'I want no lovers,' muttered the girl angrily. 'If 'tis to harm
her, and thou hast sworn to that, I care not. And thou hast sworn to
let me be also. That is enough.'
As she rose, folding her white veil round her, Chândni felt sorely
tempted to give the little push which must have overset the weak
balance, and sent Azizan to certain death below. But the thought
that, if looks said the truth, fate would do the work for her ere long
without scandal, stayed her hand. Besides, the knowledge that the girl
was alive and intent on revenge might be of use in dealing with the
palace-folk, if they showed themselves traitorous to her claims. So,
when she had watched Azizan go stumbling down the stairs, Chândni
rolled over lazily to meet the midnight wind which was springing up,
and shortly afterwards fell like a child, into dreamless slumber, long
before Aziz, who had sunk down on a step of the silent causeway,
hoping to regain strength for the homeward journey, felt equal to the
task. A deadly despondency had replaced her excitement; yet beneath
this again lay a dull resentment against fate. If she had understood,
if she had known, as Chândni seemed to know, the ways and thoughts of
these white people, she might have done better. She had meant no
harm—no harm in her world at least—for she was not bad. He might,
as Chândni said, turn away from the mem for being wicked, but he would
never have had cause to turn from her, if she had only known. She
never would have done anything to displease him—never have done, or
said or looked— The sting of shameful memory drove her from her
resting-place to stumble on recklessly in the direction of a
twinkling light upon the mound. That must be the potter's house and he
must be watching for her; there she would at least find shelter. But
it was not the house; it was the potter himself seeking for her among
the ruins. His face, by the light of the cresset he carried, showed
haggard, and its anxiety soothed her, even while it sent a new pain to
her heart. He was unhappy at losing her, and she? O God! how her own
heart ached! Must it always be so when those you loved were lost? Then
would he feel so if he had to turn away from the mem? Would it
send that pain into his heart?
The question was insistent, imperative, as, scarcely listening to
the old man's deprecating delight she followed him back to the
darkness of the hut. Even there it haunted her. Through the hot night,
through the long hot day as she lay huddled up out of sight. 'Would he
care? And if he did care, would she be glad or sorry for his pain?'
The moon and the setting sun were disputing possession of the world
again, when George lay on a lounge chair in the verandah of the
red-hot bungalow. The air was fresher, if not cooler there, and the
factotum within was disturbing the foundations of the round world in
attempting to pack his master's things; among them Azizan's picture,
and a parcel which had been sent from the palace addressed to Mrs.
Boynton. Something, it was said, she had asked the vakeel at Râjpore
to get for her. The lad, though still weak, was joyous to the heart's
core in the knowledge that another hour would see him on his way to
spend his holiday in the society of the most perfect woman he had ever
seen. That was how he viewed his world. Gwen was in full focus; the
rest of humanity out of it; even poor Dan, who was at that moment
riding his hardest across the desert in order to take over charge of
the sub-division at its outermost limit, and so give the boy every
possible second of his leave. Not a very just estimate of relative
values, but a very usual one when Narcissus is absorbed with the
reflection of himself.
'Salaam Aliakoom,' came a breathless voice behind him. He turned
to see Azizan, who had sunk as if exhausted on the verandah steps. He
stared at her silent with surprise, in which a certain shamefaced
annoyance was mingled. He had no desire to be reminded of her
existence at present, and even if, as he had felt inclined to suspect,
there was some mystery about her, he could do no good by inquiring
now, on the very eve of his departure.
'I have come for the pot, Huzoor,' she began without preamble.
'They took it from me. Lo! I was poor, and the poor have no voice.
'Took it from you?' echoed George, his annoyance increasing at this
plunge into the past. 'Do you mean by force?' She nodded. 'But,' he
went on, 'you sold it. I gave the money to your mother when she came
here—on the night the tents were burnt.'
'My mother died before that, Huzoor. It was not my mother who came,
but a bad one from the palace. It is true that I never sold it, never
got the money; and now I want the pot back again. It brings luck. I
will not sell it.'
'But why didn't you come at once and tell me?' asked George
angrily. 'Then I might have done something; now—'
She interrupted him eagerly.
'Your slave has been ill; as the Huzoor may perchance notice.' Her
wistful tone made George look at her more closely.
'Very ill I should say,' he assented shortly. 'You are not fit to
come so far. Why did you? Why didn't you send some one else?'
'I thought the Huzoor would not believe unless he saw me,' she
answered after a pause. 'I heard the Huzoor was going away to-day, and
I wanted the pot. Surely he will give it back! The protector of the
poor has so many things; his slave has but this one thing.'
Her face was outlined against the white pillar beside which she sat,
and with all the languor of sickness on it still showed strong in its
entreaty. Something in it struck George with regret, even amid the
pressing desire to kick somebody which her words had roused in him.
'Give it back,' he echoed savagely. 'Of course I would, if I could;
but I can't. It was stolen—'
'It has been found again, Huzoor.'
'Perhaps; but I haven't found it. I'm very sorry, my good girl, but
I haven't got it.'
'The Huzoor mistakes. He has it. It is in the parcel that came from
the palace. They took it from me again to send it back to the mem.'
George stared at her, unable to believe his ears.
'Took it again—then you were the thief—is that it?'
There was a slight pause ere she replied. 'The Huzoor always speaks
the truth. I stole it—but it was mine.'
George gave a low whistle; then a sudden grimness came to his face.
'And you say it is in that parcel they sent addressed—. By Jove, if
it is,' he added in English as he rose hastily. A minute after, when
he returned from within, his face was still more grim.
'Here! take it,' he said, thrusting the blue curves of the Ayôdhya
pot at her, as if in haste to be rid of it—and her. 'When I get back
I'll inquire, and if what you say is true—' He paused, reduced in his
anger to thinking incoherently of Dalel Beg and horsewhips. How dare
he send it to her, mixing her up, as it were, in such a discreditable
affair? 'Well,' he continued, looking impatiently at the girl,
'that's all, I suppose. You don't want anything more, do you?' The
attitude in which she was sitting reminded him perforce of the
sunshine glowing on the blue-tiled mosque and of the sidling
pigeons—of a past, in short, of which he did not care to be reminded,
and a hardness crept over his face.
'That is all,' she replied, rising to go. 'But the Huzoor should
not be angry. The pot belonged to this slave.'
'Angry?' he echoed, with a sort of lofty consideration. 'Why should
I be angry with you? Every one has a right to their own surely. Now
you have got it, go home and get stronger, my child. Salaam, Azizan!'
'Salaam Alaikoom, Huzoor.'
He took up his cigar again, relieved to find it alight; for he felt
that he needed soothing. On his return. Dalel must be brought to book
and smashed; meanwhile he was not sorry that the cursed pot had
finally passed into the hands of its rightful owner, for it had a
knack of appearing and disappearing in a way which annoyed his
common-sense. Now, he need never see it or its owner again. One
palpable reason for the latter probability made him give a
compassionate glance after the thin, small face where consumption had
set its mark indubitably, and which he had seen for the last time.
No! not the last. She too was pausing to look back from the gateless
gateway, guiltless of a fence on either side, which served no purpose
save arbitrarily, uselessly, to divide one portion of a dusty road
from another. So he saw her outlined against the shadows which
softened the havoc sickness had wrought in her young face; a graceful
figure, seen as he had painted her against the purple mound of
Hodinuggur, with the pot clasped to her breast.
Yes! when Mrs. Boynton saw the picture she would be pleased; that is
to say, if he showed it to her at all. The thought absorbed him, and
when he looked up the shadows were empty.
TEN days had passed since George, after many hours deadly
discomfort, found himself admitting that the world was not such an
intolerable place, even in India; that, when all was said and done,
there were some things in it worth looking at.
Those who have experience of these convalescent journeyings will
know at once that this must have been just about that turn of the
upward-trending road where a bridge slants the dhooli across the dry
torrent-bed, so that the traveller can see a stream of pink oleander
blossoms filling the narrow ravine. The morning sunshine lies yellow
on the red, parched hillocks, the red rocks crumble from thirst, but
the heat-hidden water proclaims its presence beneath them by that
glory of flowers. Nothing else, far or near, suggesting moisture;
save, perhaps, the candlestick-euphorbia, re- minding one vaguely of
the Ark of the Covenant. Not a very welcome reminder, in this land of
drought, where even a deluge of rain would be a blessing; so, at
least, thought George, all unwitting of the times now close at hand,
when a racing, roaring demon would fill the narrow valley, the
oleander flowers would seem adrift, and the arch of the bridge would
echo to the metallic churnings of the boulders below, until, maybe, it
would take a fancy to join them, and leave travellers staring at each
other across an impassable torrent.
Another slanting turn or two, and the candlestick-bush is left
behind. The red-flowered indigo hides the dry, red soil, and from it
rise strange shrubs with sparse foliage and abundant blossom—yellows
and whites and lilacs—with here and there a burnished pomegranate,
vivid green and crimson. A sweet scent fills the air from grey
aromatic herbs, among which the wild bees keep up a perpetual hum. It
is the land of honey and honey bees. Butterflies also. There goes a
purple emperor, and, by Jove! yonder is one of those swallowed-tailed
whoppers you have seen somewhere in a glass case. The head sinks back
on the pillow again, tiredly content, to watch the scarlet flash of a
sun-bird. Was that a fern hidden in the crevice of the yellowing
rocks? Yes! parched, dwarfed, but still a fern. So on and up, until
the coolies set the dhooli down on a bit of real green grass beside
the tiny trickle of the spring whence they slake their thirst, and
some one from a shingled hut hung with flowering, fruiting gourds,
brings the sahib a red-brown earthen pot. A land of milk
this—somewhat smoky, no doubt, yet still milk. Over the tops of the
fragrant pine-trees something blue climbs up and up into the sky. Can
it be a hill?—the hills 'from whence cometh your help!' The
memory of some early morning service in the odd little station church
comes over you, with the punkahs swinging overhead, the
Deputy-Commissioner reading the psalms, and the involuntary stir
northwards of the small knot of worshippers as the words sink straight
into their hearts, bringing thoughts of dear faces looking down on the
heat-sodden plains. Yes! those are the hills; for, as the coolies
slither through the slippery pine needles, the faint blue mist
blending into the clouds rises, and the headman, pausing, points to a
cluster of white dots. Those are the sahib-logues' houses.
The path steepens; George pulls up the neglected shawl as shelter
from the growing cool; and as he is hurried along the curving road to
find old familiar friends in every flower and leaf his renewed
vitality expresses itself, oddly enough, in the inward conviction that
here at last is a place in which one could die comfortably. Not
that George, or any other convalescent in his position, contemplates
the possibility of death; why should one when life has suddenly become
attractive?—when one can breathe instead of merely drawing
breath?—above all, when it is safe to go out into the garden without
a hat, and pick a carnation for your button-hole before strolling over
to have tea with the most perfect woman in the world.
Those ten days, therefore, passed like wild-fire. George knew no
more how he had spent them than how he had spent all his money.
Chiefly, it may be said, on sweets at Peliti's, kid gloves, and new
ties. It was the first time the young fellow had ever been let loose
on equal terms in the very best of society— a society, moreover,
bent on amusing itself. That he should follow its example was a
foregone conclusion; and it must be owned that he certainly got his
money's worth in solid enjoyment. There is always one particular
period in the life of every man and woman when the sun seems to stand
still in the heavens on purpose to make pleasure perpetual. This had
set in for George, and it had its usual effect in giving a
fine-drawn, eager expression to his face. Small wonder, perhaps,
seeing that, as a rule, he never went to bed till three in the
morning, and that the days passed in one ceaseless round of amusement.
It seemed incredible, even to himself, that, not a fortnight past, he
had been agonising at Hodinuggur on beef-tea and barley-water. But
then Hodinuggur itself was incredible; almost as much so as the fact
that he had proposed to wear his old white shirts, washed by a
desert-washerman at Simla! They were thrust aside in a bottom drawer
now, and their place filled by brand-new ones from a Europe shop; for
how could one dance with the most perfect woman in the world in a shirt
that had no deportment? How, in fact, could you do anything without
reference to the certainty that your unworthy self would form a part
of perfection's environment? That is what it comes to, when a steady,
honest young fellow like George falls down on his knees to worship a
pretty face and a gracious smile. No doubt it was not a very admirable
occupation, but it seemed so to him, as it seems to that majority of
mankind which does not ask itself questions; simply because he had
been taught, as we have all been taught, to look on sentimental love
between the sexes as something almost divine. Thus, the real issues
being hopelessly confused, this new feeling of passionate worship had
all the effect of a new religion upon him. So other things besides old
shirts were thrust out of sight. Among them Azizan's picture. The idol
should not see it till the depths of deceit regarding the Ayôdhya pot
had been fathomed, lest in any way perfection's ears should be sullied
by a queer story. By-and-bye, when, on returning to Hodinuggur he had
time to unravel the mystery, he might send the portrait to her as the
best piece of work he had ever turned out; but now? Why now, as
usual, it was time to ride over on the hired pony—of whose mane and
tail you were inwardly ashamed—to the pretty little house among the
pine-woods, and there, in Paradise, try to forget that but three days'
more leave lay between you and purgatory. Certainly not an admirable
occupation; but the novelty, the excitement, the supreme pleasure had
gone, like wine, to the boy's head, producing that exalted condition
of mind and body, which has been described as leaving one in doubts
whether to have another whisky and water, or to say one's prayers and
go to bed.
Lewis Gordon, standing in the back verandah, watched the young
fellow ride off with a frown.
'It's too bad of Gwen,' he murmured to himself, as he went back to
finish dressing. 'I can't think what the fun can be. But the boy is
having a good time; that's one thing. And I suppose we all have to go
through it some time or another.'
When he had done putting himself into an extremely dandified racing
kit, he passed through into the office again and began work steadily
on some files. He was not on leave, and if he had to ride a
steeplechase at half-past four, that was no reason why he should waste
an hour in dawdling down to Annandale beside Gwen's dandy.
There was no reason, either, for his doing duty with Colonel Tweedie
and his daughter, who had ordered their horses at three. Time enough
if he galloped down at four, when the road would be pretty clear,
instead of being clogged by a perfect procession of women and coolies
masquerading in ridiculous costumes; whence it may be inferred that
Lewis Gordon was in a bad temper. As a matter of fact, he had been
more or less so ever since he arrived at Simla, despite the welcome he
received from Gwen's constant smiles, exquisite dresses, and admirable
lunches. Perhaps he was conscious that some one would have to pay for
all these amenities, and the prospect of responsibility in the future
weighed on him; not in a pecuniary point of view, but in reference to
the fact that the debtor would be his wife. For, like most men of his genre, he was fastidious over the duties of women who were in any
way connected with him. Anyhow, he was distinctly dissatisfied with
his world, as he sat, buried shortsightedly up to his nose, in piles
of paper; his racing-colours, white with a crimson hoop, looking
ridiculously out of keeping with his occupation.
A clatter of hoofs told him that the Colonel and Rose were off. He
could see them from his window passing a turn of the road below the
house, their figures outlined for a moment against the dim blue of the
valley. She sat straight, certainly, and as he watched her, a smile
came to his face as he remembered the partridge-hunt; but it was
replaced immediately by a frown. For the memory of Hodinuggur conjured
up that of Dalel Beg, who had come up to Simla for these races, and
had, in Lewis' opinions been making himself most objectionable.
There was no reason on earth, of course, why Dalel should not come;
no reason on earth why the Governor-General should not shake hands
with him, or any one else—that was part of the duty for which
Governor-Generals were paid; but that Gwen Boynton should shake hands
with him and allow him to speak to her familiarly, was different. That
was a matter of feeling, not a matter of reason. Apart from the
question of colour, Dalel was an objectionable brute—could scarcely
be otherwise, considering his up-bringings. That much of this was
sheer insular prejudice on Lewis Gordon's part may be true. If put to
it, he would have frankly confessed to many another objectionable
brute with a white face; but that the dark-skin should enter into the
question is at present inevitable in India, where it is typical of
those theories and practices which make real social intercourse
between the upper classes of the two races an impossibility—at
And, to say sooth, Dalel was not nice, outwardly or inwardly. Even
the best tailor in Simla could not make him look aught but intolerable
in his elaborate riding-gear as he paused on his way to the
race-course before a small shop in the bazaar. A dark hole of a
place, squalidly bare of all save a sign where, in crooked lettering,
it was announced that 'MUNAHRLALLOFDELHIJEWLERGOLDWORKS' was ready
'No news of the pearls yet?' asked Dalel in an undertone of the man
in dirty white dhoti and low turban, who came out hastily to cringe at
'Huzoor, no! The ayah saith they have not come. Perhaps the chota
A measured shuffle of footsteps and a gay laugh arrest the
deprecating voice. It was Mrs. Boynton, carried by four men arrayed in
white; she herself being a vision of angelic spotlessness. Beside her,
his hand on the shafts of her dandy, his young face intent on
hers, came George Keene. It needs great ignorance or great experience
to walk in this fashion, without appearing either ridiculous or
unseemly. George looked neither; only supremely happy.
'Who was that?' he asked, as his companion bowed. Her little gloved
hand resting so close to his tightened nervously.
'Dalel Beg. He bowed to me.'
George gave a quick glance backwards. 'By Jove, so it is! What
He thought so, honestly, as they passed on between the irregular
rows of shingled huts, leaving the group before the jeweller's shop,
looking after them curiously. Past the bazaar, down many a turn, till
a bare zigzag showed on the hillside beneath them, and below that
again a green oval of valley set in trees. The eye following each
angle of the descent, could see, as it were in terraces, an almost
continuous stream of dandies, rickshaws, and ponies, all
bent towards that grassy oasis where a tent or two gleamed white, and
a crowd of humanity already swarmed like bees.
There is no gayer crowd in the universe than this of Simla out for a
holiday; though, even as it passed downward, a man with a sober face
and a telegram in his pocket passed upwards on a sorry errand. Ten
minutes before that telegram handed in to the Club tent had hushed the
laughter into silence for a while. 'Cholera, of course,' said some one
after that while. 'I heard yesterday from Galbraith it was getting
rather stiffish in those parts. Poor old Jackson! After all these
years, too.' And then the recipient had ridden off in hot haste,
because the poor widow—the widow of his best friend—was coming down
at four with his wife to see the steeplechase, and it would be best to
prevent that, if possible. A sorry errand indeed, past those
holiday-makers, to whom he had to give back greeting, irrespective of
that death-message in his pocket lest the news might travel too fast.
Even to the pallid, pretty-faced young wife raising herself eagerly
from her cushions as he passed to ask if Mrs. Jackson had heard from her husband that morning. She had had no letter; but of course Mr.
Jackson would have mentioned it if there had been anything wrong with
Charlie? Doubtless, Mr. Jackson would have done so, came in answer to
the wistful eyes, ere the messenger rode on full of that wrathful,
surprised grief which such scenes bring to the average Englishman. And
it must not be forgotten that it is in such scenes as these that the
foundation of all that best in our Indian empire is laid. Going to the
hills! Whose fault is it that the phrase conjures up to the English ear
a vision of grass-widows, flirtations, scandals, frivolities! Surely
it is the fault of those who, telling the tale of a hill-station,
leave out the tragedy of separation which makes our rule in India such
a marvel of self-sacrifice both to the woman and the man.
Yet below, in the Club tent, and round the shady ring the laughter
went on after its brief check. Mrs. O'Dowb, whose husband had held
hill appointments ever since he married a big-wig's daughter,
improving the occasion against her bitterest foe, Mrs. Larkins, by
declaring that some women had no sense of duty, and seemed to forget
that they had sworn at the altar to cherish their husbands. To which
her little enemy, using the sharp tongue which captivated mankind in
general, assented smilingly; she herself knew women who could not be
brought to understand that their absence must be a far greater comfort
than their presence. Whereat there was war.
A gay crowd indeed! with here and there a surge, accompanied by
murmurs of 'Your Excellency,' and a steady circle round some
recognised leader holding her little court. Not much interest on the
whole, however, over the races, save among a knot of men near the
betting-tent, when Dalel Beg, hand in glove with a shady lot of men
from a newly-opened hotel, went swaggering about with his jockey's
colours pinned on to his coat.
'I'm not on duty to-day,' replied a handsome man to Gwen Boynton's
inquiry why he was not as usual in the tent. 'A contingent of bad lots
brought their ponies up and rushed the meeting. They do it sometimes,
and then it isn't good enough for old stagers. All we stewards can do
is to keep 'em as straight as we can, and that isn't easy. Weight for
weight, inches for inches, Mrs. Boynton, I'll back an Indian gymkhana,
where nobody has any money to pay, and all the subalterns think they
know something about a horse—especially their own—to lick creation
in sheer crookedness. And when the profession come down like a wolf on
the fold, as they have done to-day, it is crookeder still. And all
about a pari mutuel for the most part.' The look of disgust on
the speaker's face was almost comical.
'Poor Major Davenant!' smiled Gwen sympathetically. 'But the chase
will be good. Mr. Gordon is in it.'
'I wish he wasn't.'
A wish which was echoed by Rose Tweedie, who stood within earshot.
For the last half hour she had been trying to keep her eyes away from
the zigzag—now almost deserted—on the opposite hill-side. An
ineffectual attempt; ineffectual as her wish, for there, coming down
at a rattling pace, was an unmistakable figure. She clasped her hands
tighter on her riding-whip, impatient at her own nervousness, and went
on talking to George Keene.
'No! you are not a creditable patient. You don't look a bit better
than you did a week ago; I am not sure you don't look worse. And you
have only three more days; you should ask father for an extension.'
Mrs. Boynton turned round quickly. 'What a splendid idea! Do, Mr.
Keene! Rose will back you up, and so will I. You mustn't go before the
The young fellow flushed, but shook his head, with a laugh. 'And
poor old Dan down in the wilderness? Not I. It is only excess of
amusement, Miss Tweedie. I shall soon get over that at Hodinuggur.'
His face sobered at the very thought.
'Poor fellow,' murmured Gwen in an undertone, and he brightened up
'How many gloves was it to be on Bronzewing, Miss Tweedie? You
promised to back her against the field, you remember,' came a voice,
making Rose start. How nice he looked with his covert coat just
showing the white and crimson! She hated herself for thinking such
things, and yet she thought them all the same; it seemed to her,
sometimes, as if she were always thinking of him; but she had given
up hating herself for that—that had to be faced, and kept secret,
like this strange feeling of dread. She had seen dozens of men ride
steeplechases before without a flutter at her heart: but now—
'You bet? Then I lay you three to one against. You need not pay,
lady-fashion,' interrupted another voice ere she had time to reply.
It was Dalel Beg, swaggering along fresh from a Vice-Regal hand-shake
to assert his rights in society; notably with Mrs. Boynton, much to
her tall companion's horror, for he had done his best on two occasions
to get the offender kicked off a racecourse. The Mirza's flabby hand
was now thrust out at Rose, but the riding-whip seemed a fixture in
both of hers, as it would have been had the hand offered been fair
instead of dark, for there was a certain class of men with whom the
girl never shook hands. Lewis Gordon, watching her with curious
impatience, as he often did in society, had often been forced to
confess unwillingly that her instincts in this respect were generally
right. This time her refusal gave him distinct pleasure.
'I don't bet lady's-fashion,' she replied coolly; then turning to
Lewis, went on in the same tone: 'I believe I did promise, Mr. Gordon;
so perhaps Major Davenant wouldn't mind half-a-dozen pairs to one on
'Double the odds wrong way up,' smiled the Major, crossing over to
her side. 'You wouldn't make your fortune as a bookmaker, I'm afraid.
However, I'll take it, if you let me hedge for you.'
'You don't know Bronzewing. I do.'
'You don't know the field. I do. In fact, Gordon, if I had had any
idea we were to be inundated with down-country ruck, I should have
advised you to scratch. They don't want outsiders.'
'They will have to thole them, as we say north of the Tweed,'
replied Lewis. As a rule he was shy of admitting his Scotch birth, and
the pronoun sounded sweet in Rose's ears.
'What an arrant pirate you are, Gwen,' he said in a low tone as he
took the place beside her dandy vacated by Dalel Beg, who,
after returning to her for consolation, had gone on to the tent. 'You
have been betting against me, haven't you, dear?'
'Against Bronzewing, you mean. What chance can she have with the
Confederation's Waler? If you were riding it—and I am so badly
off for gloves.' As she looked at her lavender-cased fingers
plaintively, she was as pretty and well-dressed a picture of gracious
womanhood as the imagination could paint. The fact was mollifying and
brought admiration to his eyes.
'Don't see it. Seems to me you want nothing. What a jolly shawl
that is! too good, surely, to be crumbled up that way.'
He was right. A white cashmere with a broad bordering in faint greys
and lavenders is hardly the thing for a dust-cloth. Perhaps she was
aware of the fact; anyhow, she coloured up.
'Not at all. I bought it for a mere song. Isn't it time you were
weighing-in or something of that sort? they have been ringing a bell.'
'Directly. You see, I'm dressed and ready.'
'Yes, I see. You look so nice.'
Rose might have made the remark with far more fervour than Gwen
could conjure into it, and yet the latter scored the points, for Lewis
strolled off feeling less dissatisfied with life than before. Men are
trivial creatures when they have to do with that trivial creature,
To a large proportion of men, a horse-race is a most uninteresting
affair; to the majority of women, it is a mere accessory to a misused
wedding-breakfast or a somewhat spoilt fête champêtre. This one
was no exception to the rule, and the interest of the resident racers
being reduced to a minimum, there was little excitement beyond the
immediate circle by the tents.
'Game little beast that of Gordon's,' remarked Major Davenant after
Lewis had cantered past. 'Pity she hasn't a chance, but I'm afraid she
is out-classed. By George, they are off, and she—no! That's a pity.'
A short man standing close by laughed.
'For Gordon. I know that dun beast; seen him down country;
warranted to wear out the temper of any but his stable companions. Is
Bronzewing keen, Miss Tweedie?'
'I thought so. There—back again. Gordon looks pleasant, doesn't
His face certainly showed irritation, his hand did not; and as he
turned the mare to face the starter again, he leant forward to pat the
fine bronze neck.
There was greater interest this time as the pace slackened to a
'Splendid line,' commended the Major—'now then, starter! Oh! dash
the mare! No—by Jove, that was well done.'
'For the dun,' echoed the short man. 'Smart; very. Wonder how he
managed it?' For as the flag fell, Bronzewing had reared straight on
end, only to shoot forward with a bound which more than compensated
for the delay on which the others had counted.
'Didn't you hear?' cried Rose, clasping her hands. 'It was the
partridge's note did it. He—Mr. Gordon gave it. You heard, didn't
you, Mr. Keene?'
'Yes! I heard.' He was as excited as she was. 'By Jove, what a sell
for that dun brute! Look, there they are. He is in—right in to the
posts; trust Gordon for that.'
Now to be in to the posts means something when you have to go twice
round a course which follows the narrow oval of a valley. Except at
the ends of the ellipse when a less clever-footed beast than
Bronzewing might find trouble in the sharp curve.
'Oh! how badly that man rides,' cried Rose. 'He can't hold his
horse. Ah!' She felt a wild inclination to cover her eyes—to get
away—not to see; for, as the horses rose to a stone wall, a sudden
swerve of his left-hand neighbour carried Lewis Gordon's foot clear
out of the stirrup.
'All right, Miss Tweedie, over like a bird. But you are right.
Green rides—badly.' And the short man looked at the Major
'Jimmy,' called the latter quickly, when the horses showed again at
the end curve as they came round on the winning post for their first
turn, Bronzewing fourth and ousted from her inner place by
Blue-and-white, who was making the pace over the straightest bit in
the course; 'get me all you can from them on the mare—in Simians.
Gad! I should like to let those fellows in.'
'But she is behind, ever so far behind,' interrupted Rose, divided
between regret and relief that she would not have to watch a reckless
tussle at the end, with its thousand possibilities of mishap.
'There isn't a beast near her at the jumps, and if Gordon—he's
saving her now, Miss Tweedie—gets the inner lap again top and bottom;
it is as near a moral as racing ought to be. Lord! how she took that
water! Well done, little 'un, well done!'
He was almost as excited as George, who was craning forward to catch
a last glimpse of the trail of bright colours skimming round the
farthest turn behind some trees.
'By Jove! he is in again, and how Green is riding him! Stick to it,
man, stick to it! Game little lady! not an inch to spare, and waltzed
over it as if she had the floor to herself. They mean Blue-and-white
to win; that's clear. Ah! now it's on the straight! Now Green will
shoot! H'm—not much to spare in that cross. Green's in—that's an
end. Blue-and-white wins, unless he makes a mistake.' Major Davenant
put down his field-glasses with a sigh.
On they came; the Red-hoop and the Green almost neck and neck,
close in to the posts. Keeping pace half a length behind in the
clear, Blue-and-white saving breath for his awkward beast at the last
hedge; behind them, a trail of colours like a pennant streaming
backwards. Now they are at the sharpest corner, and a murmur rises as
Bronzewing shoots ahead, making the Green give way.
'Hullo, what's that?' cries the Major; 'a foul? Did any one see
There was no time for an answer as yet. Green, seeing his work over,
slacks to pace, and there is nothing but an easy hedge and a couple of
hundred yards galloping between the Crimson-hoop, Blue-and-white and
the winning post. Inch by inch Bronzewing gives way before the
swinging stride of the Waler, but she presses him hard, too hard for
the last fence, easy as it is. They rise almost at the same second. It
is the mare's last chance against those longer, clumsier legs, and she
gains it. Blue-and-white sways in his saddle as his beast, touching
the rail staggers, jumps short, and rolls over easily. Green, half a
length behind, is alongside in a second, but a second too late; for
Lewis Gordon wins by that second, and no more.
Rose, who for the last minute has been completely blinded by the
beating of her own heart, was left alone amid feminine
congratulations, the men having gone to offer theirs in person to the
'Oh, Jimmy, my boy! I wish I'd said thousands,' mourned Major
Davenant as he passed his pal in the outer tent.
Jimmy whistled softly. 'Just as well you didn't; they claim a foul
for Green, and it looks bad. I wish you had been on. Williams and Gray
are such duffers, and Van Souter'—a shrug of the shoulders completed
his meaning effectually.
'A foul! Well, I must own it looked like one to me. What does
'Looks black as thunder. Go inside and see. Most of the field swear
to it; but it isn't like Gordon.'
There was not much judicial serenity about the inquiry which was
being made in the steward's tent; nor much of the pomp and
circumstance of justice either. Nothing but a bare tent, a
cane-bottomed chair or two, and the weighing machine, where Lewis
still sat listening to Dalel Beg, who was volunteering information. An
Englishman in like position would have been told to hold his tongue;
but what are vaguely termed political considerations affect the
question in regard to the native nobility, especially at headquarters.
'I beg your pardon, I'm sure,' interrupted one of the judges
diffidently; 'but if you will allow me—since the claim is
made—perhaps Mr. Crosbie—that is, I think, your name, sir?—will
kindly tell us what occurred.'
The man in green silk bowed. He was a gentlemanly-looking man, with
a suspicion of past military training in his carriage.
'I regret it excessively, and I am sure it was quite unintentional
on Mr. Gordon's part, but there can be no question about the foul. As
most of those present can bear me out in saying, I had taken and kept
the inner place fairly. Mr. Gordon was riding for it also. At the
corner post his mount was too eager, and the foul occurred. So
violently that, as you see, two buttons have been almost wrenched off
my breeches. I quite admit that I recovered an outside place without
much delay; but I beg to remind the judges that the race was lost by a
'And I beg to remind the judges,' added the Blue-and-white jacket,
'that I was on a level with Mr. Crosbie and Mr. Gordon, a little
farther out, and saw the whole affair. It was not Mr. Gordon's fault;
but the foul was indubitable.'
'And what have you to say about it, Mr. Gordon?'
'I?' He rose quietly and went over to Green. 'I should advise Mr.
Crosbie to try benzine collas. It's the best thing I know for taking
paint off breeches—doesn't stain at all. By the way, Davenant, I've
often told you that is a most awkward post. It's just on the angle,
and if you haven't perfect control over your beast, it is almost sure
to go the wrong side, as Mr. Crosbie's did, and then, if the thing is
newly painted as it is to-day you—you spoil your clothes.'
He turned on his heel as he drawled out the last words and walked
'I utterly deny, I—I—it is impossible—' stuttered Green and Blue
He looked back from the door. 'Exactly so; I leave you, gentlemen,
to settle how Mr. Crosbie got that red paint on his left knee, when,
according to you, he was hugging the post with his right. It is an
interesting question, and I shall be glad to hear the judges'
decision, when they have arrived at it.'
He was in a towering temper despite his cool words; and Mrs. Boynton
felt quite a pang of alarm as he apologised curtly for not being able
to wait for her, saying he was in a hurry to get home to some
important work. That, however—as she noticed keenly—did not prevent
him from spending five minutes beside Rose Tweedie in eager
conversation. Of course, Lewis Gordon was not such a fatuous idiot as
to allow the mere gain or loss of half a dozen pairs of kid gloves to
affect his arrangements for the future; but it certainly affected him
in the present, and Gwen was quite aware of the fact, and felt glad
that the proceedings of the pari mutuel were strictly
confidential. As she went home, listening gracefully to George Keene's
adoring small-talk, her mind was full of care. Now at these periods of
life when the sun stands still in the heavens, and a man acquires the
art of talking about the most trivial details in a tone which is a
caress, he is apt to pall, unless the caress means as much to the
woman. So Gwen sent George home from the turn up to her house, and
went alone through the scented pine-woods, where the long shadows lay
across the path. Her face, now there was no necessity for a smile,
looked haggard and anxious; utterly out of keeping with the luxury of
her surroundings, and the comfort of the flower-decked verandah, where
the ayah stood waiting to receive her mistress. Some one else was
waiting too, in highly starched muslin and a low-wound white pugree
showing a triangle of pale-pink folds above the forehead. A smirk was
on his face, a wooden pen-box under his arm, and an attendant was
squatting beside more boxes done up in a Manchester handkerchief.
'Mem sahiba see my thing? Gold-work, Delhi-work, Cashmir-work—all
He thrust a card into her hand—
'MANOHAR LAL, FROM DELHI.'
She turned away quickly. 'I don't want anything. Ayah! how often
have I told you never to let these people come?'
'Manohar Lal say he know Mem sahiba,' murmured the ayah sulkily,
moving off with the wraps.
'No need to buy, Huzoor,' said the crafty lips. 'I have good
things to look. Or I buy. Anything. Gold-work, silver-work, pearls. I
buy three big pearls of lady in Rajpore last months. Shall I open
'Yes; you can open them,' said Gwen quickly.
DEODARS and soft green stretches of turf, surrounded by a map
of Asia in high relief; silver streaks of rivers at the bottom of the
map; snowy peaks and passes at the top of the map, just as if they
were set there to show comparative lengths and heights. Such was the
scene from the ridge chosen out for what is called a Rajah's picnic.
What Rajah or Maharajah, what Nizam or Nawab, matters not. Some one of
the many feudatories who crowd to prefer their claims to something at
Simla had asserted his dignity by giving a picnic to society, and
society had consented to come and eat pâté de foie gras and
drink champagne on a hill-side, at the expense of a man to whom one or
other of these two things was an abomination. That is the case in a
nutshell; and so long as the pâté was not bought cheap from a
box-wallah, and the champagne was drinkable, nobody cared whether the
host was or was not performing the whole duty of man in tempting his
fellows to do those things which he himself considered worthy of
purgatorial pains. But then, to nine-tenths of the guests the host was
a mere lay figure imported into society on certain occasions, in order
to give it local colour by the display of gold tissue and diamonds.
Barring the shock it gives to first principles in some minds, a
Rajah's entertainment is generally pleasant enough; never more so than
when it takes the form of a picnic—which, by the way, the natives
translate adroitly into pâgul khâna, or 'fool's dinner.' This one was
no exception to the rule. Two huge flat-roofed tents, open on all
sides save for a deep valance of gay appliqué-work, and supported by
fern and flower-wreathed poles, served as marquées, where a most
elaborate lunch was laid out in a style worthy of the great Simla
caterer. What the cost was to be per head to the unfortunate noble
playing the part of host is a trivial detail. So, to him, was the
lunch itself, seeing that in this particular case, the host was a
Hindu of the strictest caste; too pure, too proud even to sit down at
a table spread with such abhorred viands. His part consisted,
therefore, in receiving the company in a Cashmir shawl tent with
silver poles, yawning between the handshakes, and thereinafter, when
the outcasts were safely started on the champagne and the pâté,
jolting back joyfully in a jhan-pan to Simla in order to
purify himself in unmentionable ways before eating his own dinner. The
next day or the day after he would pay the bills, some official would
be told off to congratulate him on the success of the entertainment;
perhaps, if he was a great swell, to say that H— E—y had enjoyed it
immensely. And then the only thing remaining to be done would be to
enter the cost in the State accounts. Under what heading outsiders
cannot presume to say; possibly civilisation.
But none of the guests troubled themselves about these details. The
sky was blue as blue could be, the grey bloom on the spreading deodar
branches glinted white in the strong light, the shadows beneath them
showed black. Across the valley, contours of terraced crops round a
cluster of apricot-trees marked the village sites. Blue air lay
between you and them, blue air between them and the snows, blue air
gave a thousand iridescent tints to the plains rolling up into the
southern sky beyond the dotted ridge of Simla. And below you, drifting
up the valleys like grazing sheep, were little fleecy mist-clouds,
inconsequent, hopelessly astray.
'Poor things! How lost they look!' said Gwen gaily, pointing at
them with her white lace parasol.
'A fellow-feeling makes us wondrous kind,' quoted one of her
circle. 'Mrs. Boynton knows what it is for a heavenly being to be
condemned to earth.'
'That sounds prettier than it is. An angel astray! Lewis! defend me
from my friends!'
She turned to him with the prettiest air of appeal, the sweetest
confidence in a regard, which to the outside world was cousinly, to
these two something more. Such a bait seldom fails to rouse a man's
vanity, even if it leaves his heart untouched.
'My dear Gwen,' he replied readily, 'there is no need for defence.
The angel is not astray since you are here with us, and we are in
George Keene applauded with both hands as he sat at her feet looking
out over the plains. Once more it seemed incredible that there should
be such a place on God's earth as Hodinuggur.
'Well, some of us will be sitting at the gate thereof disconsolate
ere long,' remarked a man leaning against a rock, with a cup of black
coffee and a cigarette. 'By the way, Keene, we might share a tonga
the day after to-morrow.'
'Mr. Keene is not going,' interrupted Mrs. Boynton quickly. 'No one
wants him down there, and we need dancing men dreadfully. Miss Tweedie
had spoken to her father about it?'
The question, which came almost in a whisper, was answered by a
smile only; but it brought a sort of mist to George Keene's young eyes
as he looked out over the plains again. The spiritual exaltation of it
all was almost too much at times for the hard-headed young fellow who
had clothed his own honest uprightness with a woman's softness and
sweetness, in order to worship it.
Now, as a matter of fact, Mrs. Boynton had said nothing to Colonel
Tweedie about the lad's leave; still, as she fully intended doing so
in the course of the afternoon, her smile was perhaps excusable. What
is more, she kept to her intention. Half an hour afterwards any one
rash enough to do so might have interrupted a tête-à-tête she
was conceding to the Colonel in the shade of a huge deodar tree to one
side of a level stretch where two mud tennis-courts had been laid
out. But no one did. A certain officialdom prevails in Simla society,
and the heads of departments have recognised rights and privileges.
The Colonel, however, would scarcely have admitted that he owed his
good fortune to his seniority, for he felt juvenile in a new lounge
suit with very baggy trousers—quite the thing for lolling about in on
the grass while a pretty woman leant over the shafts of the dandy
she was using as a seat, and asked for your opinion on a number of
trivial personal questions. Yet Gwen Boynton was in earnest about it
all—to judge from her eyes—as she let the conversation drift further
'He is such a nice boy—one of those boys who make a woman think
how delightful it would be to have a son in her old age. But he looks
as if he would be the better of another week in the hills; and I
suppose even you cannot manage that.'
He smiled condescendingly.
'The Lieutenant-Governor might object, of course.'
'Then you can! Ah! Colonel Tweedie, if you would! He really isn't
fit to go down, and Mr. Fitzgerald, who is as strong as a horse, could
easily stop at Hodinuggur. He wouldn't like it, of course, but it
won't hurt him. Only—' She paused, looked at her companion, and shook
her head gravely.
'Only?' echoed her elderly admirer, his heart, which had melted
like wax at her cavalier mention of Dan, stiffening again at what
might be consideration for that most ill-advised person.
'Only George won't consent to that, I'm afraid. He has such a
ridiculous attachment to Mr. Fitzgerald. And I suppose it would be
quite impossible to leave the place even for a few days without a
really first-class man in charge. What a comfort it must be for you to
have officers on whom you can rely, like Mr. Fitzgerald.'
Colonel Tweedie gave his little preparatory cough. 'No doubt, no
doubt. At the same time, I am not aware that Mr. Fitzgerald's
presence—er—is so—er—indispensable. The fact is, my dear Mrs.
Boynton, that, owing—er—to previous occurrences, we were anxious to
keep him out—er—out of the responsibility as much as possible. In
fact but for his own request I should not—er—have arranged for him
to take Mr. Keene's work at all. To refuse, however, would
have—er—given rise to—er—unfounded comment, and so—'
She interrupted his halting mixture of dignity and desire to be at
once considerate and captious with a sigh.
'Poor Mr. Fitzgerald, he has been unlucky. And I suppose if
anything were to go wrong when he was there you would have to take
notice of it. How dreadful for him! Perhaps, after all, it would be
better for George to go back. One would need to be omnipotent to carry
out all one's kindly impulses, wouldn't one, Colonel Tweedie? And we
women are so helpless.'
He leant forward and laid his hand close to hers as it rested on the
framework of the dandy. 'Unless you have a stronger arm at
your disposal, as you have now—my dear lady—if only for your
kindness to my daughter, and, as you say, young Keene is not quite the
thing. Besides,—I—I mean you—I mean there are privileges which—'
What those privileges were remained unexplained, though Gwen, no
doubt, had a shrewd guess at them, for, just at that moment Dalel Beg,
having no fear of Departments before his eyes, came swaggering up in a
bright-green velvet coat.
'Aha, you here! Hi, you
kitmutghar, bring me champagne cup.
Jolly, Tweedie, ain't it?' The Colonel's face belied the proposition,
but the new-comer was not one of those who look for support to
surroundings; he was a law unto himself only. 'You see I wear swagger
clothes like you, Mrs. Boynton. Rajah Sahib old-style man, so I come
as native of India to please him. He is neighbour, Mrs. Boynton, by
Hodinuggur, down waste-water canal cut. You give him water, sir, he
give you lakhs on lakhs.'
This time the Colonel's expression was a study, but Gwen, despite
her usually keen sense of the ludicrous, did not add a smile to the
Mirza sahib's crackling laugh.
'I regret,' began the head of the Department loftily, but Dalel's
mind was full of one thing only, and that was himself; his immense
superiority over the Rajah-Sahib, his equality with the sahib-logues.
Ai, soor ke butcha kyon nahin szunté ho?
(Ah, son of a pig, why don't you listen?) Ek glass curaçoa. Cup
what you call hog-wash, eh, Tweedie? Rajah, poor chap, know nothing
about cup. Khansamah do him in the eye, hee, hee! Poor old
chappie. Gone home to do poojah and have baths. What rot!'
'Will you take me to get a cup of coffee?' said Gwen hastily to
Colonel Tweedie. 'I won't trouble you to bring it here; it spills so
in the saucer and then it drops over one's best frock.'
The courteous excuse for escape, which came quite naturally to
Gwen's lips, pleased neither of her companions. The gracious instinct
prompting it, which to Colonel Tweedie seemed uncalled for, was
totally lost on the Mirza. He scowled after her, and muttering
something as he tossed off the curaçoa, went off to bestow his favours
A minute or two afterwards, George Keene ran up to the empty
dandy and pushed something under the cushion.
'She won't mind,' he said half aloud, 'and it's safer there than in
the tent. Wouldn't do to lose it here, of all places in the world. All
right, Markham, I'm coming! Spin for court. Rough? Rough it is. If I'd
only known they were going to put me up in the doubles, I'd have come
With coat and waistcoat off, however, his white shirt-sleeves
rolled up, showing young, white round arms, and his Cooper's Hill
scarf doing duty as a belt, George looked workman-like enough to play
in the impromtu match of civil against military; and being of
wholesome mind and person straightway forgot the round world in the
effort to keep one ball a-rolling.
The sun hung in the west above a frilled edging of lilac-tinted
hills, the snows began to glisten, the valleys on either side grew
fathomless as the mist rose from the streams dashing through them. On
the ridge itself the deodars sent long shadows eastward, though the
yellow sunshine still seemed to crisp the tufted parsley-fern among
which civilisation grouped itself in cliques and sets for afternoon
tea, and in which the servants, decked in gorgeous liveries for the
occasion, flitted about like gay butterflies. A great content was on
all; perhaps the memory of an excellent lunch lingered with the men,
the gratifying consciousness of being well-dressed with the women, but
the most of them felt that it was good to be there, transfigured, as
it were, on a hill-top, forgetful even of Simla, whose shingled roofs
showed on a jagged outline to the south. Yet Gwen Boynton, who, as a
rule, would have shown at her best in such a scene, a situation, a
society, pleaded a headache as an excuse for getting away early; so
that when George came back to where he expected to find her dandy
, she was already on her way back to Simla.
'What is it, Mr. Keene?' asked Rose, who was mounting her pony
'Oh, nothing; only I put my watch and keys under the cushion of
Mrs. Boynton's dandy, and now she has gone off. If you see her
on the road, you might tell her. I have to play a return match—bad
luck to it!'
'You don't look very unhappy,' laughed the girl, as he finished the
task of putting her up by professional little tugs at her habit to
make it sit wrinkle-less. 'And oh! by the way, it's all right about
your leave. Father has arranged it; he told me so just now.'
'How good you are! If I could only leave my interests in your
hands, always, the future would have no terrors for me, as they say in
the melodramas. Good-bye, Miss Tweedie, till dinner-time, and—you
won't forget about the watch, will you? I don't want Mrs. Boynton—'
'I'll take care she doesn't make off with it,' interrupted Rose,
wilfully unsympathetic, as she moved away at a walk. A hundred yards
or so along the broad ride—which had been cut for the occasion in the
hill-side from the high road to the picnic place—a zigzag bridle-path
led down into the valley. Rose had never ridden that way, but she knew
that, once at the stream below her, a recognised short cut would take
her direct to her destination. At the worst, she might have to
dismount and lead her horse for a while, and there was something
decidedly fascinating in a downward path at all times, more especially
when every step showed something new stealing into vision out of a
blue mist. In addition, she would avoid the rush of people, and of
late Rose Tweedie had found a large proportion of her fellow-creatures
very tiresome; perhaps because humanity is only gifted with a certain
capacity for liking, and she expended too much of hers on one person.
The first mile or so fully justified her choice; the path, if steep,
was safe, and, after passing over a small bridge, she was about to
follow a track, apparently leading down the right side of the ravine
to the road below, when she heard a faint shout behind her to the
left. With her experience of the Himalayas, she stopped instantly,
knowing she must be on the wrong track, and retraced her steps,
expecting, after a few turns, to come on the shepherd or coolie, who,
having seen her from above, had raised the warning cry. Instead of
this she came on Lewis Gordon, riding at what was really a breakneck
pace for the style of the path. He pulled up suddenly.
'Miss Tweedie! you don't mean to say it was you I saw on the other
bank? I had half a mind not to shout, for a man with a clever pony
could do it easily. What a piece of luck for you I did!'
She flushed up at once. 'I'm afraid I don't see it in that light.
I've no doubt I could have done it as easily as a man, and it is
annoying to be brought back half a mile out of your road for nothing.'
'Unless that road happens to be a mile longer to begin with, as it
is in this case,' replied Lewis coolly. 'But you really ought not to
have tried the short cut alone. Your father, of course, had arranged
to meet the Lieut.-Governor, and Keene couldn't get away; but if you
had asked me, I should have been delighted to do my duty—I suppose
you won't let me say pleasure; that is reserved for my juniors.' There
was a certain snappishness in the conclusion of his speech which
somehow appeased Rose's wrath.
The futility of many proverbs has scarcely a better example than
that one which sets the orthodox number for anger at two, when almost
universally it is either one or three. For the spectacle of another
man losing his temper is almost sure to soothe the first offender,
unless dispassionate humanity reappears in the shape of a spectator.
So Rose said sweetly that he was always very kind, and she certainly
would have asked him to pioneer her, had she anticipated any
difficulty; since no one could give a better lead over than Bronzewing
and her rider. And then, having reached the valley and a broader path,
they dawdled along it at a walk beside the very edge of a stream
splashing and dashing over its pebbly bed, and curving round tiny
meadows just large enough to serve as a stand for some huge walnut
tree. The soft mist they had seen from above, now they were in it,
only intensified the blueness of the shadows or the gold of the
sunlight following the contours of the hills. Down in the hollows the
maidenhair-fern grew like a forest, out in the open great turk's-cap
lilies rose higher than the blue and white columbines, and in every
cranny the potentilla hung out its bunches of scarlet, tasteless,
Side by side they strolled for a mile or more, along a level grassy
path, as if there were no such thing as effort in the world, as if
civilisation and comfort, dinner and bed, all the necessaries of life
in fact, did not lie two thousand feet or so over their heads.
'This way, I'm afraid,' said Lewis at last, turning his pony into a
road joining the path at right angles; an engineered road with drains
and retaining walls, scientific, uninteresting, guiltless of ups and
downs, facing the ascent evenly.
'Oh dear!' cried Rose in tones of regret. And then they both
laughed. But the peace of the valley went with them, so that their gay
chatter echoed up the zigzagging road to where glimpses of a dandy
toiling on ahead showed through the trees. Its occupant looking
downwards could see them far below, the girl in front, the man behind,
their voices becoming clearer and clearer, until just at the last turn
where the zigzag merged into the high road, each careless word was
distinctly audible as they came scrambling up below the retaining
wall, which at this point carried the branch to its junction with the
main road. Gwen Boynton's hand closed tight on the shaft of her dandy, partly in sympathy with her thoughts, partly because the
coolies swung round the last corner sharply. The wall, which was not
two feet high at the first turn sloped rapidly up to some fifteen feet
before ending in the one which supported the big road. As is usually
the case, it was built in steps or terraces giving the required slant
of support. Just as the dandy was at the turn of the road a
horseman, followed by two mounted orderlies, came clattering along it;
perhaps this frightened Rose's pony; perhaps the sudden swerve of the dandy to get out of the new-comer's way just as the girl was
about to pass it, actually forced her mount into shying and backing.
Anyhow, it did. There was a struggle, a rattle of stones over the
edge, a slip, then a jerk back as the beast found a momentary foothold
for its hind legs on the narrow step some two feet down. A cry of
dismay broke from the spectators—for with the next movement a fall
backwards seemed inevitable—but it ended in one of relief, as Rose
wheeled the pony clear round with swift decision, and giving it a cut
with her whip leapt into the road below. It was a bold stroke for life
instead of death, and as the pony came on its knees with the shock, it
seemed for an instant as if both it and its rider must go rolling over
and over down the side of the hill. The next they had both struggled
to their feet, and stood quivering all over; but safe and absolutely
unhurt. Lewis, who had pulled up at the corner aghast with impotent
horror, was back beside them, almost incoherent in his relief and
'And—and—I only had a snaffle,' said Rose with a tremulous laugh
not far removed from tears. She felt it imperative, if those were to
be controlled, that they should descend to commonplace at once, being
aided in this by Dalel Beg, who having reined in at the sight of a
disaster for which he was partly responsible, was now standing by
Gwen's dandy oblivious of apology.
'Shâhbâsh. Well done indeed. Pretty! pretty. You are rippin' rider,
Miss Tweedie. If you race, you win like Gordon. Aha! Gordon. I
congratulate you for lucky accident of paint. That Crosbie take me in
also. He swore it was foul, Mrs. Boynton, and I thought I saw
foul—you believe that, eh, Gordon?'
Lewis, to whom the temporising decision of the judges, that foul or
no foul, Mr. Crosbie was out of it by having been at the wrong side of
some post at some part of the course, had been irritating, scowled up
at the group above.
'I am sure you saw foul,' he replied. 'Now, Miss Tweedie, if you
please. The beast is all right and the sooner you get home for a quiet
rest the better.'
He was so occupied with the shock to her that he scarcely seemed to
realise that it must have been one to his cousin also, though Rose as
she passed paused to say that she was absolutely unhurt and that it
was nobody's fault but her own for riding an unsteady pony on the
hills. They had gone on nearly half a mile before she recollected
George Keene's message.
'I don't see the necessity for going back at all,' said Lewis
crossly, 'but since you are so determined to obey orders, I'll go. If
you ride on at a reasonable pace I'll catch you up again in no time—
What was it he left in her dandy?'
'His watch,' called Rose after him.
As he galloped back his temper was none of the best. He objected to
a great many things. To George's familiarity with Gwen, to Rose's
familiarity with George, and as he came on the dandy, to Dalel
Beg's familiarity with it; for the Mirza had dismounted and was
walking along with his hand on the shaft—just like an Englishman. The
sight enlarged the focus of Lewis's displeasure, making it include
'It was only a message from Keene,' he said curtly in reply to her
welcoming smile. 'He asked Miss Tweedie to tell you, but she forgot;
so I came back. He put his watch in your dandy to keep it safe.'
'His watch!' echoed Gwen, feeling at the same time among the
cushions. 'Yes! here it is. Lewis! what am I to do with it? Won't you
take it?' For, without drawing rein he had turned his pony and was
riding off. He looked back carelessly.
'Keep it, I suppose, till Keene comes to claim it. That won't be
As he rounded the next curve in the road, Mrs. Boynton and Dalel Beg
were left face to face with George Keene's watch between them. It had
a Chubb's key attached to the chain, and Dalel Beg's eyes, as he stood
beside the dandy, clothed in a green velvet coat and European
rowdyism, were attached to the key. Gwen's were on Lewis's retreating
figure, and there was real jealousy and anger at her heart.
An hour and a half later, George, galloping the hired pony along the
Mall after the manner of very young men on hired ponies, pulled up at
the side of Mrs. Boynton's dandy in pleased surprise.
'I'm so glad!' she exclaimed before he could say a word; 'there is
As she handed it over to him their eyes met, and his took an
expression of concern.
'I'm afraid your headache is very bad. You should have been at home
'On the contrary, it is better,' she replied quickly. 'I came by
the low road and dawdled. Besides, I had to call at the dressmaker's,
and she kept me waiting for ages. By the way, Colonel Tweedie says you
are to have another week's leave—'
'So his daughter told me. How good you both are to me! Only,
Hodinuggur will be worse than ever—afterwards.'
He would have liked to say 'after Paradise,' but he refrained. She
gave a nervous little laugh.
'Don't think of it yet. I hate thinking. It does no good, for one
never knows what mayn't happen. You are safe for a week, anyhow.'
As she lay awake that night in defiance of her own wisdom, thinking
over the matter in all its bearings, she told herself that he was safe
for more than a week. Every one was safe. At the worst, Dan might lose
his promotion, but even that would be no unmixed evil if it forced him
into independence. Indeed, if he knew of her worries, of the snare
laid for her, of the covert hints about an esclandre involving
both him and George Keene which were wearing her to death, he would
gladly sacrifice something for the sake of safety. If by any chance
the sluice were to be opened during that week of absence, how it would
simplify the whole business! And, after all, what had she done?
nothing. Surely a woman might go and see her dress- maker sometimes
and leave her dandy outside? Was it her fault if the dressmaker
lived in a house close to the bazaar in full view of Manohar Lal's
shop? Was it her fault if the coolies slipped away to smoke their
hookahs? Was it her fault that the key of the sluice was behind the
cushions of the dandy, and that Dalel Beg knew it was there?
What had she done? What had she said? Nothing. Had she not set aside
the Mirza's suggestion that she should look in on Manohar Lal's new
jewellery on her way home, by saying that she had no time, that she
must go to the dressmaker's? Had she not hitherto refused to listen to
hints or threats? Had she not even defied Manohar Lal? And now, would
it really be her fault if any one had taken advantage of her absence?
Gwen turned her face into the pillow and moaned helplessly, telling
herself that never was woman before so beset by misfortune. She had
meant no harm, yet George had given her the pot, and Dan had taken the
jewels to Manohar Lal's. There was no proof, of course, but the esclandre would kill her, and that must be averted at all costs.
MRS. BOYNTON was physically incapable of being constant to
anything disagreeable, even to her own thoughts. The love of ease
which came uppermost in her made it impossible; so, as she sat waiting
for George Keene on the following evening, she had forgotten the vague
remorses and regrets which had assailed her the night before. All she
chose to remember was the fact that both George and Dan would be away
from Hodinuggur if anything happened. What more could any one
ask from one in her position? She made a pretty picture in the pretty
room. A wood fire blazed on the hearth, a scent of English flowers
filled the air. Everything, from the books on the table to the
graceful figure in white satin and pearls on the wicker chair, told a
tale of delicacy and refinement, of what it is the fashion now-a-days
to call culture. On the mantel-piece, among a Noah's Ark of china
beasts, and supported by a placid brass Buddha, George Keene's sketch
of the dust-storm, the kikar-tree, and the rat-hole, struck a
dissonant note in the general harmony; but Gwen's ears were too much
attuned to content for her to notice it. Briefly, she was full of
solid relief; not only because escape from a tight corner seemed
assured, but that such relief had come in the nick of time. For Lewis
Gordon had been over to tea, saying things which made it imperative
that something definite should be settled about Dan's promotion and
prospects. Saying, for instance, that he was growing sick of doing
orderly duty at the Tweedies' house, and wanted one of his own. That
she needed a firm hand to prevent her wasting her pension on pari
mutuels, and beneath these jesting complaints she had seen real
discontent and a determination for change in the future. And was he
not right? Her whole mind gave its assent to his wisdom. What an
unspeakable relief it would be to find herself back in a straight
path; not only for her own sake, but for the sake of others—of those
two especially whom she had implicated all unwittingly. But for them
she would have defied the plotters; but for them she would never have
stooped to flatter Dalel Beg, and take shawls and ornaments at nominal
prices from Manohar Lal; to do any of those things, in short, with
which their covert hints had forced her to rivet the chain which bound
her to deceit. At least so she told herself, but then she was a
proficient in the art of playing the thimble trick on her own mind,
and, as often as not, was really incapable of saying where the motive
power of her own actions lay. So, as she sat in the wicker chair
waiting for George Keene, she felt quite virtuous over the sacrifice
of her own honourable instincts on the shrine of friendship. Even if anything did happen, all real blame would lie with Colonel
Tweedie for allowing both George and Dan to be absent; but what was
blame to the head of a Department? It slipped from him like water from
a duck's back. And then, in regard to the water itself? Even Lewis
allowed that the poor people might just as well have it as not—
salaam deta,' said the servant, interrupting
her soliloquy of smooth things. She rose with outstretched hand and
'Punctual as ever. We shall be in time for number two—' then she
paused abruptly in careless surprise. George, who had been told off as
escort during the three-mile dandy ride to the Town Hall, was
still in his light morning suit. Smart enough in his new shirts and
ties, and with a carnation in his buttonhole, but still scarcely in
the costume for a bachelors' ball. 'What is the matter? Aren't you
coming?' she asked quickly as he stood silent yet disturbed, for the
sight of her always had the nature of an electric shock upon him.
'To see you so far, of course. To the ball? I'm afraid not. You see
I have to start to-night.'
'For Hodinuggur; where else?' He spoke lightly, but his face
contradicted his tone. When is it a light matter to leave Paradise?
'Nonsense!' broke in Gwen sharply, startled out of a save negation.
'You must not go.'
'Must, I'm afraid,' he echoed, and his voice was a trifle unsteady.
'You see,' he went on more confidently, 'I ought never to have taken
that offer of extra leave. I knew it at the time, but I thought Dan
would stop, and the temptation— However, I'm off now.'
'Now?' she echoed in her turn, still lost in her surprise.
'To-night I mean. Of course I have no chance of a tonga, so I must
go by dhooli. It is a bore, but it can't be helped.'
The phrase seemed to bolster up his manliness, and he smiled at her.
Such a pleasant-faced boy! so clean, so wholesome, so full of promise
for the future. A pang shot through Gwen's heart at the sight of him
and roused quick opposition to unlucky chance.
'But why? It isn't as if you were keeping him—I mean Mr.
Fitzgerald. We settled all that; he goes back to Rajpore all the
'So Gordon told me this afternoon. That is why I must return—the
place can't be left alone, of course.' As he stood leaning against the
mantelpiece his eye caught his own sketch, and he took it up half
mechanically. 'To think I shall be back in that hole the day after
to-morrow,' he said with a short laugh. He felt very sore, yet
determined to face his pain in dignified fashion. 'Meanwhile,' he
added, 'you must not be late. Is that your cloak?'
The futility of being tactful, even for your most familiar friends,
was being borne in upon Gwen Boynton with the remembrance of her own
certainty that Dan Fitzgerald's return to Rajpore must be necessary to
the lad's acceptance of the leave. And here he was declaring it to be
the stumbling-block! The thought sapped the very foundation of her
general security, and made the results which this change in his plans
might produce in hers strike her confusedly. She set aside the wrap he
held out, with quite a tremulous hand.
'You are very foolish. Nobody wants you to go. Even Dan—'
'Perhaps,' he interrupted, feeling set up, as it were, by her
evident regret. 'But, if anything were to go wrong, you know, I should
never forgive myself.'
The words were to a certain extent quite meaningless to him; he did
not even seriously contemplate the possibility they suggested and yet
they roused her fears, her regrets.
'But if anything were to go wrong,' she answered, forgetting
caution in her eagerness, 'it would be better you should be away.
Surely you must see that it would be better for you both to be
away—if—if anything should happen.'
He smiled indulgently. 'But nothing can happen if I am there. And
it means such a lot to Dan. I think I told you that he is engaged to a
'Yes! yes! I know; I know. But, as I said, if I were the girl—'
She broke off hurriedly, then began again. 'George, what has that to
do with the question? Nothing will happen, of course, and then you
will have lost your pleasure for nothing. Don't go! It is foolish. It
is unkind—when we all want you to stay—when I want you—I do
indeed—you will stay, won't you, George?—just to please me.'
To do her justice, she seldom stooped to use her own personal charm
as she did then, wilfully; but the case was urgent—the boy must not
go. George stared at her incredu- lously for a moment. 'Don't,' he
said in a low voice; 'please don't.'
'But it is true, George,' she went on, laying her hand on his arm.
'I do want you to stay; I do indeed.'
His hand met hers suddenly, almost unconsciously, to fall away from
it again in a gesture of quick renunciation.
'No! no!' he began in the same low tones, 'it isn't true—how can
it be true?' Then his whole nature seemed to cast reserve aside, and
his voice rose passionately. 'Why should you care? I have never
thought you could—never—I swear to you never! How could I? Do you
not see it is only what you are to me, not what I am to you? What does
that matter? But for the other—for what you have been, and are, and
will be all my life?—Ah! that is different—Yet you know that! well
enough—you must know—for I can't tell it—not even to you.'
And there, English boy as he was, she saw him on his knee stooping
to kiss the hem of her garment. It was cut in the latest fashion, full
round the edge, and bordered by pearls of great size. They might have
been of great price also—the Hodinuggur pearls, for instance—and
George been none the wiser. He saw nothing but a blaze of light
through the open gates of heaven showing him a woman, transfigured,
glorified? And she? There was nothing before her eyes save a boy at
her feet—a very ordinary boy, whose every-day admiration she had
accepted carelessly; yet it was she who, covering her face with her
hands, shrank back as if blinded.
'Don't,' she cried in sharp accents of pain. 'You don't know—I—I
don't like it.'
He was on his feet again in an instant, blushing, confused. 'I—I
beg your pardon,' he stammered. 'I don't know what induced me to—to
behave like—like a fool.'
In sober truth he did not, being all unused to self-analysis, and
far too young to understand his own instinctive recoil from the cheap
cajolery which had caused his outburst. But she was older; she
understood. He would not let her stoop, and yet—ah, God! how low she
had stooped already! So the emotion she had wantonly provoked in him
caught her and swept her from her feet.
'Oh, George!' she cried, coming a step nearer and thrusting her
hands into his as if to hold him fast and make him listen. 'It was a
mistake! I meant no harm—no harm to any one—least of all to you.'
'No harm!' he echoed blankly. 'What harm have you done?'
She looked at him, realising her own imprudence, yet for all that
not sufficiently mistress of herself for caution. A worse woman than
she might have kept silence; but she could not. The shame, the dread
of betraying the lad who trusted her so utterly forced her on.
'Don't ask, George!' she pleaded. 'I can't tell you—indeed there
is nothing to tell. Only you must not go down to Hodinuggur now.
Believe me, it is better you should not. I can give you no reason, but
it is so. Don't go, George, for my sake.'
'For your sake,' he echoed, still more blankly. 'Why? I don't
understand—Mrs. Boynton, I—' He paused; his hand went up in a fierce
gesture, and came down in still fiercer clasp on the mantelpiece. His
eyes left her face, shifting their startled, incredulous gaze to his
own grim jest leaning against the brass Buddha. 'Unless—unless—'
There was a dead silence.
'If there is anything to tell,' he said at last, 'tell it me for
God's sake; it would be better—than this. Why am I to stay?—for your
Tell! How could she tell the horrible truth; and yet if he knew all
he might be able to help. Then the need of support, the craving for
sympathy, which at all times make it hard for a woman in trouble to
keep her own counsel, fought against the evasion suggested by caution.
'Oh, George! I meant no harm—I did not, indeed.' The weak appeal
for mercy, which presages so many a miserable confession, struck cold
to the lad's heart. He walked over to the table and flung himself into
a chair, hiding his face in his clasped hands.
'You had better tell me everything,' he said in a muffled voice.
'Then I shall know what to do—don't be afraid—it—it won't make any
Once more his words roused her self-scorn and made her forget
herself for a time. 'But it must make a difference, I want it to make
a difference,' she cried hotly, crossing to the table in her turn,
and seating herself opposite him. 'Yes! I will tell you. It is the
only thing to be done now.'
She was never a woman given to sobs and tears, and even through the
shame of it all, there was a relief in telling the tale.
'Yes! yes!' he said once, interrupting that ever recurring plea of
her own innocence of evil intent, 'of course you meant no harm. So you
took the jewels and sold them to Manohar Lal for six thousand rupees.'
The fact, recounted in his hard, hurt voice, seemed to strike her in
its true light for the first time, and she looked up wildly from the
resting-place her head had found upon her bare crossed arms.
'Did I?' she asked, pushing the curls from her forehead. 'Yes, I
suppose I did. It seems incredible now. Oh, George, what shall I do?
what shall I do?'
It did seem incredible, and yet his fears as to what she might yet
have to tell him, proved his credence of what he had already heard.
'You had better go on,' he answered dully. 'I can't say what is to
be done till I have heard all.'
The sound of his own voice shocked him. Was it possible that he was
sitting calmly listening to such a story from her lips and asking her
to go on? The curse of the commonplace seemed to settle upon him,
depriving him even of his right to passionate emotion.
'Is that all?' he asked wearily, when she had told him of
everything save the empty dandy waiting outside the
dressmaker's shop. His question came more from the desire to help her
along should there be more to tell than from curiosity or fear. Since,
from the very beginning, he had been vexedly conscious of his own
relief in remembering that she had returned his watch and chain before
she had even reached home.
The query, however, roused in her a sudden fierce resentment against
her own humiliation. Every syllable of that story, now that it was
told, seemed an outrage on that love of smooth things which was her
chief characteristic, and a sort of vague wonder at her own confidence
made her answer swiftly.
'That is all I know. Is it not enough?' After all, it was true;
what more was there to tell save the barest possibilities?
Her reply left George face to face with action, yet he sat on
silent, unable even to speak. At last he rose, and crossing to where
she leant face downwards over the table, stood beside her with
quivering lips. 'I am sorry,' he began, then stopped before the
fatuity of his own words.
'Do you think I am not sorry too?' she broke in recklessly, raising
herself to look him full in the eyes. 'I wish I were dead—if that
would help; but it won't. Something must be done; and done at once.
George! Why should you go down? To stay is so simple, and it will hurt
no one—believe me, it is best—best for us all.'
She was back to the position she had taken up before her appeal to
his passion had recoiled upon herself, but he could not follow her so
far, and he gave a bitter laugh.
'For you and for me, no doubt. But for Dan? Remember what the
possible loss of promotion means to him. Besides, I have promised. No!
I must go down, that much is certain.'
For the life of him he could not tell. He seemed unable to think of
any course of action save the palpably proper one of going straight
to the Chief and telling him of the plot laid against the sluice-gate.
His instinct for this remaining clear and well defined amid all the
confusion. As he stood silent, almost sullen, she laid her hand
quickly on his arm. 'You will not be rash, George—for my sake you
'Whatever I do will be for your sake,' he said unsteadily.
'And you must not be angry with me. Indeed and indeed, I meant no
harm at first, and afterwards I was so frightened; so afraid for you
all. Oh, don't be angry with me, George.'
He set her hand aside with a hopeless gesture, and turned away to
hide the tears in his eyes. She did not understand, and a great
dumbness was upon him. He could say nothing. After all, what was there
to say? She had done this thing, meaning no harm, and he must save
her, and himself, and Dan from the consequences, somehow. He took out
his watch mechanically and looked at the time. Barely ten o'clock! So
it was possible to destroy heaven and earth in half an hour!
'It is time you were going,' he said, in quite a common-place
tone. 'I can see you so far. You had better go. Gordon—and the
It was the first time he had ever hinted at the supposition that
some definite tie existed between her and her cousin; this, and his
cynical acceptance of the fact that in the tragedy of life action must
be swayed by the desire of the spectators as much as by the emotions
of the actors themselves, brought home to Gwen her crime against the
boy's youth, and for the first time she broke into a sob.
'Oh, George! why did I do it? why did I do it?'
Why, indeed? A pitiable thing, surely, to stand silent without an
answer. Pitiable also for the woman, forced by considerations into
self-control. Into bathing her face, possibly powdering it, certainly
re-arranging the pretty artful curls, and so setting off through the
dark night to the Town Hall, as if nothing had happened. For what loss
of liberty is comparable to that entailed on the possessor of a fringe
which will come out of curl, even with the damp of tears?
The first clouds of the coming monsoon were drawn over the heads of
the hills like an executioner's cap, and George, riding the hired pony
behind the dandy, felt as if he were following the funeral of
a faith condemned to death. A dreary little procession this, despite
its goal, as it wound its way between the dark chasm of the valleys on
the one side and the dark shadow of the hills on the other. And then,
like some enchanted palace set between earth and sky, that pile upon
the ridge sending long beams of light and fitful snatches of
dance-music across the ravines came into view; so familiar, yet so
strange. So were the twinkling lamps, the crowd of rickshaws
and dandies blocking up the angles and arches, the red carpet
in the porch, the red streak of baize climbing up the white stairs.
He kept that pearl-edged hem of her garment from the dust till she
'Have you settled what you are going to do?' she asked in a low
voice, as he held out his hand to say good-bye. He shook his head.
'I'll settle it somehow, you needn't be afraid.'
'I am not afraid. But, if the worst comes to the worst, I will not
let others suffer for my fault. So be careful—for my sake.'
'Whatever I do will be for your sake—you know that.'
He stood watching her go up the stairs; up and up, until the last
trail of that hem disappeared amid the coloured lamps and flowers.
That was the end of it all!—of all save Hodinuggur and the desire to
kill somebody. First of all, however, there must be safety for her;
and that might be secured by money. During that three miles' ride his
thoughts had been busy over possibilities, and one of them made him
turn the hired pony's nose towards Manohar Lal's shop instead of
homewards. There was no power in India like the power of rupees, he
thought; and they—with the club still open and half a dozen young
fellows as reckless as oneself ready to back the chance of one living
to pay just debts—were not difficult to borrow for a month or two.
Especially when there was something—not much—but still a few hundred
pounds or so to come when the dear old governor— George choked down a
sob in a curse at the hired pony for stumbling over the ill-paved
The dawn had broken when the patient beast pulled up for the last
time by the verandah of Colonel Tweedie's house. A drowsy servant
dozed against the long coffin-like dhooli, the bearers crouched
outside, nodding in a circle round a solitary hookah.
'The Huzoor having lost chance of the mail, may perhaps delay till
eve,' suggested the half-roused torch-bearer, mechanically corking up
his useless bottle of oil at the sight of the growing glow in the
George, his face flushed yet haggard, stood for an instant looking
over the pine woods to where, had the light been stronger, he might
have seen the angle of a little house among the trees. After all, why
should he not stop now, if only to see her gratitude? Twelve hours'
delay was not much, especially when she was safe. Why need that be his
last sight of her going up the stairs with the pearls—pearls!—
An hour afterwards, when the sun tipped over the lower hills to make
the morning glories, festooned from rock to rock, open their eyes,
they opened them upon the coffin-like dhooli going rapidly down hill
to the accompaniment of shuffles and grunts, and recurring
protestations that the sahib was 'do mun puccka.' If the
heaviness of heart could have been measured, George might have weighed
Even at the best of times the
descensus avernus from the
cool hills to the hot plains is never easy, and in this case paradise
lay behind, purgatory in front.
'I am so sorry Mr. Keene has gone,' said Rose Tweedie at breakfast.
'I shall miss him dreadfully.' Lewis Gordon's eyebrows went up
'No doubt; but he was right to go, in more ways than one.'
Colonel Tweedie, busy over a virtuous plate of porridge and milk
which in some mysterious way he regarded as a sign of youth, gave his
'I scarcely agree with you, Gordon. In my opinion there is—er—a
savour—of—of insubordination; or, not to speak so strongly—a—a
want of respect, in this sudden departure. Of course, the zeal and
the—the desire to do his duty—are pleasing, very pleasing in so
young a man. At the same time, a little more confidence in—er—the
Mr. Gordon wasn't thinking of that, father,' interrupted the girl,
with her grey eyes showing some scorn for both her companions; 'he
meant to imply that George—Mr. Keene—was better away from Simla.'
'Your perspicacity does you credit, Miss Tweedie; I did mean it. He
has been going rather fast, and will be none the worse of saving up
some more rupees at Hodinuggur.'
'If he had the money to spend, I don't see why he shouldn't spend
it in having a good time,' she retorted quickly. 'He won't ask you to
pay the bills, will he?'
'Hope not, I'm sure; but the bearer brought quite a little pile of
them to me this morning by mistake.'
Rose bit her lip. 'Perhaps you will be kind enough to tell your man
to put them back into Mr. Keene's room. I'll forward them when I
write. Are you coming with me to the Grahams' this afternoon, father?'
But Colonel Tweedie was not to be diverted from the
Head-of-the-Department frown he had been preparing.
'I am sorry to hear it. To say the least, it is bad taste to—to—'
'Leave I.O.U's instead of P.P.C's,' remarked Lewis flippantly. 'But
really, sir, I don't see how he could help it, after all. He had to go
in such a hurry.'
'I deny the necessity,' continued the Colonel pompously. 'I fail to
see any just cause for setting his opinion against that of—of his
elders and superiors.'
'Unless he had private reasons of his own,' suggested his daughter.
'My dear Rose, a public servant can have no private reasons.'
There was an epigrammatic flavour about the remark which, to the
Colonel's ears, completely covered its absolute want of sense. He felt
vaguely that he had said something clever, and that it might be as
well to let it close the subject, which he did by answering the
previous question as to whether he would go to the Grahams'.
Certainly, if it did not rain; but the barometer was falling fast, and
a telegram had come to the office that morn- ing to say the monsoon
had broken with unusual violence at Abu. It might be expected north at
any moment. On which the two men fell to talking about dams and
escapes, inundations, cuts, and such like things, while Rose sat
silent, indignant with Lewis, yet disturbed at the confirmation his
hints gave of her own fears. George had been reckless, there could be
no doubt of that. Had not one of her partners last night told her that
he had left George playing poker at the Club but half an hour before?
George who had declared he had not time to put in an appearance at the
When breakfast was over she went into the lad's empty room for the
bills, and took the opportunity of giving a housewifely glance round
to see if nothing had been left behind or taken away in the hurry. The
former, certainly, for there was the bottom drawer quite full;—old
shirts and ties, a rather battered pot-hat, and beneath the whole a
She stood looking at it blankly. What a very odd coincidence! The
girl of her dream! The girl with the quaint dress and the Ayôdhya pot
clasped to her breast. Why had George brought it up to Simla and never
showed it to any one? Why, when the pot was stolen, had he said
nothing about the girl? though, on the other hand, she herself had
kept silence about her dream. She puzzled over it for some time; at
last, finding certainty on but one point—namely, that for some reason
or another George had wished to keep the picture secret—she took it
away to her own room. For she was of those who regard unspoken wishes
on the part of a friend to be quite as binding as any they may
Just about the same time Gwen Boynton, still in her bed, was looking
at something else George had left behind him, but this had only been
an envelope carefully addressed to her. It contained two pieces of
paper signed by Manohar Lal. One was a receipt for a diamond necklace,
on which Rs. 6000 had been lent. The other, of later date, giving a
quittance in full for the same sum plus interest.
How simple! Why had she never thought of such plan before? But where
could she have raised the money necessary to buy freedom? Besides—she
buried her face among the pillows in vain desire to shut out the
conviction which rushed in on her, as she recognised that if the
plotters had gained what they wanted from the empty dandy
outside the dressmaker's house, they would naturally be quite ready
to deal with George and take money for a security they were already
pledged to give. Which, in fact, they would have given, since the
canons regulating bribery in India are strict in regard to value
returned for value received. Every penny, therefore, of the money
George must have paid for these papers, was so much clear unexpected
gain to Manohar Lal if the little plotters had already attained
Still she was safe, and even if anything happened nobody could blame
George. Now she had had time to consider the whole bearings of the
matter she told herself such blame was impossible; while as for Dan—!
If he would only leave Government service and make money, she was
ready to marry him to-morrow! She had woven a conscience-proof garment
for herself out of the old hair-splitting arguments long before
George's dhooli had reached the level plain. When it did, the clouds
had banked themselves against the higher hills, shutting out the boy's
farewell glance. As he climbed into the country gig in which forty
miles of dusty road had to be covered, the barometer was falling fast,
and the driver remarked cheerfully, that when the rain came, the
cholera would increase. It had been bad at the third stage that day,
and one of the coolies belonging to the Government bullock train had
died on the road about five miles farther on. The sahib might perhaps
still see the body lying there.
THE last twelve hours before the advancing rains break over
your particular portion of the fiery furnace!—who can describe them?
Who, having once endured them, can need description as an aid to
memory? The world one incarnate expectation, blistering, parched, like
the tongue of Dives. The heavenly drop of water for which you long,
squandered on the hot air, moist with a vanguard of vapour, so that
the breath you draw is even as the breath you exhale. If indeed you
breathe at all; if indeed by sensation of touch or temperature you can
differentiate yourself from the sodden heat of all things, or get rid
of the conviction that, like the devils in a still hotter place, you
are an integral part of the show!
And Hodinuggur on this sodden July day had small hope of future
improvement to lighten the burden of the present, for it stood on the
edge of the rainless tract, in the debatable land of meteorological
reporters. Not more than a shower or two from that South-westerly
column of cloud was due to bring up its scanty average of rainfall,
which came, for the most part, from electrical dust-storms and such
like turbulent, undisciplined outbreaks. So the heat lay over it
hopelessly, and even the peasant patiently awaiting the return of the
smith to mend his ploughshare, did so more from habit than from any
expectation of needing the tool in any immediate future. After all,
waiting was his chief occupation in life. Waiting for something to
grow, or for something to be reaped; waiting for some one to be born
or for some one to die. So, the smith being absent over some work for
the palace, why should he not be waited for even though the sun was
setting red behind the heat-haze? For one thing, it would be cooler to
tramp home with the ploughshare over your shoulder. A tall, grave,
bearded man was the peasant, sitting with his back against the wall,
his hands hanging listlessly between his knees. The painted girl on
the balcony above looked down and told him the news, calling him
father, respectfully. No question of her trade here, with this dweller
in the fields; only a pious 'God keep us all,' ere she became voluble
over Shumshere the zither-player's seizure by cholera that morning as
he lay fighting quails in the street. Doubtless he was dying, now the
sun was setting; any moment the wail might arise from that seventh
arch down the colonnade where he lodged. Whereat the long beard below
wagged slowly over the fact that the Great Sickness had visited the
hamlet also, bidding a crony or two wait no longer for anything; not
even for ploughshares or rain. And then to solace themselves both
courtesan and peasant quenched their thirst on huge chunks of
water-melon, bought for a cowrie from the heap of green and red fruit
which had just been shot off a donkey's back into the dust at one
corner of the Mori gate; the donkey meanwhile browsing unrebuked at
the edges of the pile.
'Ari! father! There it is. Did I not say so?' remarked the painted
one, pausing, as a low moan rising to a banshee skirl broke the sodden
stillness of the air.
'Râm! Râm!' ejaculated the peasant piously. 'It is bad year for
sure, rain or no rain.'
So, having finished his water-melon, he broke a morsel of opium
from the lump he carried in a fold of his turban, rolled it under his
tongue and dozed off, still propped up against the wall. And the
sunset faded leaving the world hotter than ever, though in the crypt
beneath the staircase of the Mori gate the air was cooler than
outside, despite the fire which flickered fitfully over the blackened
arches. It flickered also on the silver bracelets circling Chândni's
round brown arm as she lay curved across a string bed, her jingling
feet swaying softly in tune with the tinsel fan she waved above the
bold outlines of throat and bosom. And the fan, in its turn, kept time
with the flicker of the fire, and the wheezing breath of a smith's
bellows rousing the charcoal embers into dancing flame, or letting
them die down to a dull red glow.
'Thou art long, oh lohar-ji!' she said, looking backwards at the
bare bronze figure crouching before a low anvil. 'All these hours to
make a key—when thou hast a mould before thine eyes, too!'
'True, oh mother! but the key is not as our father's keys, and the
hand lacks cunning in new patterns. Lo! I had made one for the
treasure-chest of kings in half the time. But there! 'tis done. See
how it fits its bed like the seed of a pomegranate! God send it may do
its work fairly and well!'
'God send it may, for thy sake, smith-ji,' she replied carelessly.
'Here, take the rupees, and have a care no key is forged to unlock thy
tongue regarding this matter. The Diwan is old, but there are others
behind him, and behind him again, and Chândni behind them all.'
The reckless triumph of her words rang through the low arches, as
she brought her feet to the ground with a clash.
Five minutes afterwards she was looking down on a slender key lying
in Zubr-ul-Zamân's nerveless hands.
'I have won the prize,' she said; 'the pearls are mine.'
The hands quivered, and the keen old eyes seemed to seek her out
from head to foot, revelling in her beauty and her boldness. Then the
light died out of them, the head sank again. 'The game is played,' he
muttered. 'The game is played.'
'Yea! it is played indeed.'
The woman's contemptuous laugh echoed out into the dark night,
through which George Keene, on a hired camel, was making his way
across the desert. Not by the usual road, since that meant delay and
Dan's questioning eyes at Rajpore, but by a side route, branching from
the railway, farther to the south. A hot night, an intolerable smell
of camel, dust in the eyes and nose and mouth, dust and ashes in the
heart; in the endless darkness of all things even the twinkling lights
of the palace seemed home-like and welcome to poor George, for though
the consciousness of doing your duty soothes the mind, it is powerless
before bodily discomfort; and George was wretchedly uncomfortable. To
begin with, a high-paced camel driven at full speed is not an easy
method of conveyance, nor does the necessity for having its unwashed
attendant bumping in the after-saddle add to its charm, even though
that saddle be to leeward of you—for which Heaven be thanked! And
then the lad had had nothing to eat since a hastily-swallowed
breakfast at a rest-house, save some smoked milk and a tough
dough-cake brought him at the village where he changed camels. So, as
he bumped through the silent night on the bubbling, breathing,
silent-footed beast, with that silent breathing brute behind him,
more than half George's slender hold on the joys of life lay in the
prospect of supper, even though it must be one of the factotum's
Barmecidal feasts. Such things defy the mind, especially when that
mind is lodged in a young and healthy body. Thus while he could set
his teeth over the remembrance of that half hour during which his
world came to pieces in the hand, he could not prevent himself coming
to pieces on the camel.
It was a dark night indeed; so dark that the red-brick bungalow
showed only by the white arches of its verandah; rising like a ghostly
colonnade out of the shadow. The servants' houses too, were dark as
the night itself, and silent as the grave. George, stepping stiffly
into ankle-deep of yielding sand, called once, twice; then, giving in
with irritation to his experience of native slumber, walked over in
the direction of the cook-room. It was too sandy for snakes; besides,
booted as he was, they could hardly reach him. Necessary thoughts
these now that he was back in purgatory, with death for aught he knew
coiled in the path and they came back to him naturally as part of the
uncomfortable environment of life. He gave another call without the
screen of tall grass sacred to the modesty of the compounder of egg-
sarse, and then impatiently set aside a mat at its entry.
'They might as well be dead,' he muttered angrily, going up to a
string bed in the centre of the little yard, whereon he could just
distinguish a figure long enough to be a man.
'Get up, you lazy brute!' cried George, shaking it by the shoulder.
There was no answer, and he drew back hastily, shouting for some one,
any one. A twinkling light showed from the stables, a drowsy
exclamation rose from within the hut. So, out of the surrounding dark,
came timorous steps, a hand bearing a cresset, a doubtful face or two
peering at the intruder and yielding to surprised salaams; then
suddenly breaking into garrulous clamour—'Ohi! ohi! 'Tis the Huzoor
returned. And the Huzoor's faithful servant hath been sum- moned by
the Lord. Lo! if the Huzoor had but come three hours ago there would
still have been a kitmutghar (lit. worker) in his honour's
house. But it was the Great Sickness, Huzoor, which waits not; all day
long ill in the Huzoor's cook-room, with great patience, and—Ohi!
ohi! the sahib must be hungry, and lo! where is he who gave the Huzoor
meats fit for his rank? Oh my sister! Oh, bereaved one! Oh, widow! put
thy grief from thee and prepare food for the master; in duty sorrow
'Is—is he dead?' asked George, standing dazed, looking
incredulously at the sheeted figure, dimly visible by the flickering
rushlight. He had seen the man sleep thus dozens of times. At the
question another sheeted figure, which had crept from the hut into the
circle of light, broke into a gurgling cry: 'Ohi, meri admi
mur-gya—meri dil mur-gya—mur-gya,' and one or two later arrivals,
in like disguise, crouched beside the voice, joining in the strange
low whimper of the conventional wail. George fell back a step or two,
repelled to his heart's core, shocked out of speech.
'Weep not, oh widow!' snivelled the water-carrier, who, being the
only Mohammedan male present, felt impelled to the duty of consoler.
'Didst not give him beef-tea? Ay! and barley-water likewise? even as
the Huzoor when he was stricken. And did not the master arise to
health thereby? Wherefore, is it not the will of God, plainly, that
thy man should find freedom? Therefore place thy heart on comfort— He
will be buried at sunrise, Huzoor, so that the sahib will have no more
annoyance; and by the fortune of the Most High, there is even now to
be had without delay a servant who can cook—the one that is dead is
as nothing to him—faithful to salt, having many certificates, mine
own wife's cousin, a—'
George, who by this time was half-way back to the dark house,
cursed him and his wife's relations utterly; then bade him bring a
light somehow. Meanwhile, scarcely conscious of what he was doing, the
lad groped his way into the room where he had first seen her,
and, stumbling against a chair, sat down mechanically, resting his
head upon the back, over his crossed arms. Would the light never come?
and when it came, what would it reveal? more dead men waiting to be
roused? Oh, horrible—most horrible that remembrance of the limp—No!
no! he would not think of it. He would think of that other face asleep
on the red cushions of the easy chair—but that was dead too—the face
of a dead ideal. Ah! the light at last, thank God! and he could be
Whatever it showed George, he showed it a mask terrible in its
needless pain, ghastly in the hunted, shrinking look in the young eyes
which used to be so bold. Even the water-carrier, dense as he was, saw
it and understood vaguely.
'This is a bad word that the Huzoor should return thus. It is not
fitting his honour. If he had only waited till Fitzgerald sahib comes
'Comes back,' echoed George dully. 'Why should he come back?' Yet
he knew quite well in his own mind that Dan also had judged it wrong
to leave the fort unguarded as it were, and his mind wandered to the
love he bore this man, while the water-carrier went on volubly about
the sahib having gone in a hurry that morning and being very angry
about something he had lost; something that the sahib's base-born
personal attendant had said must have been stolen—as if—
George, looking at all things with uncomprehending eyes, suddenly
lost patience, cursed the speaker, quite quietly this time, and bade
him go about his business.
'Your honour's kitmutghar's widow can cook food if the Huzoor—'
George did it a third time solemnly. When he was left alone, he
glanced round quickly, as if uncertain of what the room might contain.
The easy-chair with its red cushions; a bare bed—brought in,
doubtless, for the sake of the larger room and cooler air—a dirty
tablecloth on the table, littered with the crumbs and plates of Dan's
last meal and left in slovenly native fashion to await deferred
cleansing. A half-empty whisky-bottle and a water-surahi; that, at
any rate, was something, and his hand went out to them instinctively.
Even in his general confusion, however, the precepts of modern hygiene
remaining clear, he deferred a drink till they brought him some tepid
soda-water. Such precaution was neces- sary with cholera in the
compound. Whatever else it may do, civilisation certainly intensifies
the dread of death. The peasant and the courtesan had munched melons
in the very shadow, but George's cultured nerves had no such courage.
He was no coward, but he had received a shock which was bound to make
its mark on the highly sensitised mind and body; bound to weaken them
for the time.
Ah! that was better! The room did not seem quite so dreary after the
whisky and soda! Then he took another, and after that the outlook
itself seemed less dreary, and he told himself that Dan had been right
in saying that he, George, did not know the temptation of stimulants.
Temptation?—if they brought you up to your bearings with a round turn
in this fashion—Why! he felt twice the man he had been five minutes
ago. Now he could think; now he could reason; now he could see clearly
and decide what ought to be done. To begin with, she was safe.
Those papers, joined to little Azizan's confession of having stolen
the Ayôdhya pot, made it quite impossible to prove she had ever
known about the jewels. As for himself, that did not matter; though,
as a fact, he was quite as safe as Dan. That is to say, the palace
devils might raise a scandal, but the breakdown of their case in
regard to her would show it was no more than revenge for their
failure; for they would fail, of course. So far, nothing had happened.
There was no water in the overflow cut; he had made sure of that as he
rode along. And now that he was on the spot he could do quite as much,
off his own bat, to prevent treachery as any one—the Colonel and all
the Department to boot—could have done had he reported the whole
affair. To-morrow the guard would be changed, and doubled to provide
against any violent attempt; an unlikely event, as such an assault
would take time, and he meant to pitch his tent down at the sluice so
as to be on the spot at night, and during the day he could watch from
the bungalow. Against other and more stealthy treachery he was also
provided absolutely—so absolutely that he gave a short laugh as he
drew a couple of Chubb's keys and a lock from his wallet. That would
puzzle them if they came thinking they had hit on the old fastening.
But that also was for to-morrow; there remained only to-night. No! not
to-night; since already it was past one o'clock. What wonder that he
was tired—did any one in the wide world know or care how tired? He
stood up sharply, every vein tingling now; his whole mind aglow
despite his weariness. He must have something to eat first, of
course—his very determination insisted on that; but not from those
plague-stricken purlieus out yonder—cautious civilisation insisted
on that. There must be biscuits or something of that sort in the
cupboard, and as he crossed over to it the memory of his raid while she slept among the red cushions returned to make him laugh again.
'And when she went there
The cupboard was bare.'The childish doggerel fitted the occasion
and left him smiling at some ship's biscuit—the last resource by sea
or land—left at the bottom of a tin. Dan certainly was a bad
housekeeper. The comedy of his disappointment struck him; the tragedy,
needing the sequel to develop it, remained invisible like a photograph
It was dry work, eating ship's biscuit in a fiery furnace, with a
ten-pound thirst upon you and whisky and soda within reach. When he
stood up again the weariness seemed to have crept upwards, leaving
nothing alert save his brain. Had he ever been so tired in all his
life? As tired as she must have been when she fell asleep in
the chair he was just passing. His hand lingered on the back of it for
an instant, almost caressingly.
By Jove! what a furnace it was outside! Lighter than it had been,
however, because of the suggestion of a moon low down in the
heat-haze. And there was the potter's lamp twinkling like a star
above the domed shadow of the Hodinuggur mound. Queer old chap—queer
start the whole thing—if one came to think of it. A crazy,
irresponsible creator! as Dan had called him. Why not he as well as
another? Who knew? who cared?—
He stood so for a space, looking out with sensitive, seeing eyes to
the broad shadows, formless save for the pin-point flicker of the
potter's light. Face to face at last, he and Hodinuggur; between them
the sliding water, mother of all things. Then came a memory.
'HATH NOT THE POTTER POWER OVER THE CLAY?'
Ah! if that was all the light amid the shadows of life, better far
were darkness! If that—he turned quickly, beset by uncontrolled,
passionate contempt, uncontrolled, passionate desire for action, and
beneath his shaking hand the lamp on the table flared out, smokily. A
poor protest; yet the dark was better. Darkness and rest—if rest
could come to one so tired as he was, as it had come to her. Not that
it mattered if he were tired or not—
Five minutes after, the twinkling light, could it have reached so
far, would have found him asleep, peaceful as a child, among the red
cushions where she had slept. But even Azizan's eyes, set keen
as they were by devotion, could not pierce the darkness. For the light
George had seen was in her hand, as she stood looking out from the
yard towards the other bank of the canal.
'It hath gone out again,' she murmured; 'a servant likely, on no
good errand; and the old man tells me the truth, I think. Another week
ere he returns. I would it had been sooner, so that I might warn him.
But there! 'tis the same! The task is mine in the end.'
As she crossed back to the hut, she paused an instant to look, by
the light of the cresset she shaded with her thin fingers, on the
figure of old Fuzl Elâhi asleep in the open beside his wheel.
'Poor fool,' she said softly, as if to the sleeper. And after that
even the potter's light disappeared, leaving both sides of the sliding
water to darkness.
The dawn came and went; the sun climbing into the sky turned it to
brass—a brazen dome in which the sun itself seemed merged and lost.
Yet still George slept on, undisturbed even by the water-carrier's
cautious peepings through the chick.
'Lo! the Huzoor is young, and he was broken into pieces by thy bad
animal,' he said to the camel man who was impatiently awaiting
payment. 'Sleep is even as food and drink to him, and besides, ere he
wakes, my wife's cousin, whom I have sent for, will be present to cook
my lord's breakfast. There is great virtue in being majood
(created), and the man who cooks one meal hath himself to blame if
he cook not many. If thou art hurried, go. Who wants thee and thy
So George slept on, and when he woke at last it was to the confused,
unreasoning consciousness of those who have been drugged. He stared
round him incredulously, until out of the mist, as it were, the empty
whisky bottle on the table grew clear, accusingly clear, and he sprang
to his feet, becoming aware, as he did so, of a racking headache.
Undoubtedly he had been drinking; not perhaps without excuse, he
added, as memory began to return. The next instant he was at the door.
Yellow haze and yellow heat, and through it a silver streak steering
for the south!—
That was all be saw, but that little changed the whole world for him
in the twinkling of an eye. The sluice-gate was open. The devils had
won—they had won!—they had won!
What use is there in saying that he felt this, that he felt that?
What use in pointing out whether anger or regret came uppermost in the
conglomerate of passion? As a matter of fact, George felt nothing
consciously; not even when, after an hour or more, he came back
wearily to the red-hot bungalow, out of the red-hot air.
He sat down then on the table, now cleared of last night's crumbs,
and relaid by the wife's cousin with that superfluity which marks new
zeal in India, and tried to think of what he had thought, or said, or
done since he first caught sight of that silver streak steering
southward where no streak should be. But, after a time, he found
himself deeply interested in reconstructing the pyramid of five forks
intertwined, with which the new hand had adorned the centre of the
table. What a fool! what an arrant fool he was, to be sure. Even if
there had been any one upon whom to use the revolver, he would most
likely have lost his opportunity or missed the beggar! But there had
been nobody, and he might as well have left it at home, lying on the
table ready, as it was now. The sluice-gate, not ten minutes before he
woke, had been opened by a key—a key which had broken in the lock,
making it impossible to close it again till it was repaired. Of course
there were the other keys and the new lock; but what need was there
for hurry now? No power in earth or heaven could hide the fact that
the sluice-gate had been open. For months to come, miles on miles of
crop ripening to harvest would proclaim the failure, the treachery.
'As ye have sown so shall ye reap.' Concealment was impossible; that
much was certain—and the certainty brought with it an odd sort of
content. Since it was all his fault from beginning to end, it was as
well he should suffer. Yes! it had been opened quietly while the guard
was eating his dinner; opened quietly while he, George, was asleep;
why not say drunk at once—that was nearer the truth.
And the Diwan! George's listless hands tightened as he thought of
that brief interview with the old man on the roof. His own torrent of
reckless abuse, the courteous regrets and replies ignoring his very
accusations. But those palace devils could afford to eat abuse!
Zubr-ul-Zamân had played, and the game was done indeed. But how? Half
mechanically George drew out the key attached to his watch-chain and
looked at it; carelessly at first, then carefully. And what he saw
there clinging to the inner surface of a ward, changed heaven for him
in the twinkling of an eye, even as the silver streak of water had
changed the world.
It was a very simple thing; only a piece of wax. How long he sat
there staring at it he did not realise. The yellow haze outside grew
ruddier with the sinking of the sun, the water-carrier, shadowed by a
white-robed aspirant to the dead factotum's duties, hovered about the
'What do you want, you fool?' bawled George, looking up, surprised
at his own anger, surprised that anything should touch him save the
thought that she had known—must have known—that she
had done it, must have done it.
The man edged in through the screen, signing to the white-robed one
to follow his example.
'Only to bring the Huzoor this,' he began noisily. 'Only to bring
this proof of honesty to the feet of justice. Lo! it was found even
now by this man with a foresight and quickness to be commended. In the
sahib's own room, Huzoor, beneath the matting, thus causing the face
of the big sahib's ill-begotten servant to be blackened by reason of
his base insinuation of theft! Theft! How can there be theft in a
house where the water-carrier is as I am, and the kit will be as this
one—mine own wife's brother, Huzoor—'
George broke out suddenly into dull laughter, 'Oh! go to blazes
with your wife's brother—put the thing down there on the table, I
tell you, and go—go—do you hear?'
Anger, and something more than anger was back in his tone ere he
ended, and the water-carrier, knowing his master's voice, fled. The
white-robed one with the courage of ignorance risked all by a salaam.
'At what hour will the Huzoor please to dine?'
The young man looked at him curiously, feeling that the world was
past his comprehension.
'The usual time, I suppose.'
As well this fool as another—as well to-morrow as to-day.
Everything was trivial of course, and yet the trivial commonplace
interruption had somehow brought home the reality of what had happened
to the lad, and his head sank on his crossed arms once more in utter
dejection. She might have told him, warned him. Surely when he
had promised she might have done so much for his sake, and
Dan's—by the way, what was it that Dan had lost and that chattering
idiot had brought in with him? George's right hand trembled a little
as it reached over the table to take a plain gold locket on a slender
gold chain. It was familiar enough to him. Dan wore it day and night,
and many a time had George chaffed him about the young woman, so it
was no wonder the dear old man had been vexed at the thought of losing
it. Losing it? or losing her? In the keen thrust of this thought, the
locket slipped through George's fingers, and falling, opened. So it
lay, face upwards, while the boy sat staring out into the room
blindly, intent on the remembrance that after all it was not a case of
whether a man or a woman should suffer; it was one woman or another.
The woman he loved or the woman Dan loved. A hundred
thoughts beset him, but, analysed, they all resolved themselves to
this: his love or Dan's. To save her from even a breath of
scandal he was willing to bear the blame; but how could this be
without also imperilling Dan's future? No! if the worst came; if he
could find no way—yet surely, surely, there must be some way, some
simple way of taking all the responsibility on his shoulders; then she must be brave;
she must tell the truth and save this
woman whom Dan loved—whose face lay there in the locket. His eyes
sought it mechanically—
The sound, barely a whisper, scarcely stirred the sodden air. After
a while he pushed back his chair slowly and crossed to stand once more
looking out over Hodinuggur. It seemed to have a fascination for him;
yet his mind held but one thought—a desire to get away—to find some
place where there was neither truth nor lies, where he need say
nothing—need think nothing. That surely would settle it.
'No, you wouldn't, old chap, not unless you wanted them to
believe you guilty.' Lewis Gordon's idle words as they had stood
laughing and jesting on the balcony yonder but a few months ago came
back to him; the only real, living memory in the chaos of his present
pain. The scene reproduced itself before his haggard young eyes. Yes!
that would settle it; and after all he was guilty. Why had he not told
the Colonel? why had he slept? why—
The sound was louder this time; yet not loud enough to disturb the
servants' chattering across in the cook-room over the chances of
perquisites under the new régime. Loud enough, for all that, to deafen
the lad's ears for ever to questionings of truth or untruth.
He lay on his back, face upwards, and a faint stream of blood oozing
from the blue bruise just over his heart traced a fine girdle round
his breast; perhaps to show that the potter's thumb had slipped, and
the pot had cracked in the firing.
Maybe a fiery furnace and a red-hot bungalow are over-trying even
to the best of clay when it is fresh from the moulder's hand; but that
is neither here nor there.
The fact remains that George had run away; from truth and untruth,
from himself and his fellow-men, but most of all from Hodinuggur and
the crazy irresponsible creator; yet could he have realised the fact,
no one in the wide, wide world would have been more incredulous of
his own action. And as he lay dead, with a bullet through his heart,
the barometer upon the mantelpiece was falling faster and faster,
while Dan, with a telegram in his pocket, was riding all he knew
across the desert to open the sluice-gate against the biggest flood
within the memory of man. To open it so far and no farther, and so to
prevent any weakening of the channel for a while. Too late! For
already the peasants were knee-deep in their fields breaking through
every obstacle which might stem the rising water. And still the
barometer fell faster and faster; but the only one who could have
understood the silent warning had deserted his post.
END OF VOLUME II.