by Rudyard Kipling
And the years went on as the years must do;
But our great Diana was always new--
Fresh, and blooming, and blonde, and fair,
With azure eyes and with aureate hair;
And all the folk, as they came or went,
Offered her praise to her heart's content.
Diana of Ephesus.
She had nothing to do with Number Eighteen in the Braccio Nuovo of
the Vatican, between Visconti's Ceres and the God of the Nile. She
was purely an Indian deity--an Anglo-Indian deity, that is to say--
and we called her THE Venus Annodomini, to distinguish her from other
Annodominis of the same everlasting order. There was a legend among
the Hills that she had once been young; but no living man was prepared
to come forward and say boldly that the legend was true. Men rode up
to Simla, and stayed, and went away and made their name and did their
life's work, and returned again to find the Venus Annodomini exactly
as they had left her. She was as immutable as the Hills. But not
quite so green. All that a girl of eighteen could do in the way of
riding, walking, dancing, picnicking and over-exertion generally, the
Venus Annodomini did, and showed no sign of fatigue or trace of
weariness. Besides perpetual youth, she had discovered, men said, the
secret of perpetual health; and her fame spread about the land. From
a mere woman, she grew to be an Institution, insomuch that no young
man could be said to be properly formed, who had not, at some time or
another, worshipped at the shrine of the Venus Annodomini. There was
no one like her, though there were many imitations. Six years in her
eyes were no more than six months to ordinary women; and ten made less
visible impression on her than does a week's fever on an ordinary
woman. Every one adored her, and in return she was pleasant and
courteous to nearly every one. Youth had been a habit of hers for so
long, that she could not part with it--never realized, in fact, the
necessity of parting with it--and took for her more chosen associates
Among the worshippers of the Venus Annodomini was young Gayerson.
"Very Young" Gayerson, he was called to distinguish him from his
father "Young" Gayerson, a Bengal Civilian, who affected the
customs--as he had the heart--of youth. "Very Young" Gayerson was
not content to worship placidly and for form's sake, as the other
young men did, or to accept a ride or a dance, or a talk from the
Venus Annodomini in a properly humble and thankful spirit. He was
exacting, and, therefore, the Venus Annodomini repressed him. He
worried himself nearly sick in a futile sort of way over her; and his
devotion and earnestness made him appear either shy or boisterous or
rude, as his mood might vary, by the side of the older men who, with
him, bowed before the Venus Annodomini. She was sorry for him. He
reminded her of a lad who, three-and-twenty years ago, had professed a
boundless devotion for her, and for whom in return she had felt
something more than a week's weakness. But that lad had fallen away
and married another woman less than a year after he had worshipped
her; and the Venus Annodomini had almost--not quite-- forgotten his
name. "Very Young" Gayerson had the same big blue eyes and the same
way of pouting his underlip when he was excited or troubled. But the
Venus Annodomini checked him sternly none the less. Too much zeal was
a thing that she did not approve of; preferring instead, a tempered
and sober tenderness.
"Very Young" Gayerson was miserable, and took no trouble to conceal
his wretchedness. He was in the Army--a Line regiment I think, but
am not certain--and, since his face was a looking-glass and his
forehead an open book, by reason of his innocence, his brothers in
arms made his life a burden to him and embittered his naturally sweet
disposition. No one except "Very Young" Gayerson, and he never told
his views, knew how old "Very Young" Gayerson believed the Venus
Annodomini to be. Perhaps he thought her five and twenty, or perhaps
she told him that she was this age. "Very Young" Gayerson would have
forded the Gugger in flood to carry her lightest word, and had
implicit faith in her. Every one liked him, and every one was sorry
when they saw him so bound a slave of the Venus Annodomini. Every
one, too, admitted that it was not her fault; for the Venus Annodomini
differed from Mrs. Hauksbee and Mrs. Reiver in this particular--she
never moved a finger to attract any one; but, like Ninon de l'Enclos,
all men were attracted to her. One could admire and respect Mrs.
Hauksbee, despise and avoid Mrs. Reiver, but one was forced to adore
the Venus Annodomini.
"Very Young" Gayerson's papa held a Division or a Collectorate or
something administrative in a particularly unpleasant part of
Bengal--full of Babus who edited newspapers proving that "Young"
Gayerson was a "Nero" and a "Scylla" and a "Charybdis"; and, in
addition to the Babus, there was a good deal of dysentery and cholera
abroad for nine months of the year. "Young" Gayerson--he was about
five and forty--rather liked Babus, they amused him, but he objects to
dysentery, and when he could get away, went to Darjilling for the most
part. This particular season he fancied that he would come up to
Simla, and see his boy. The boy was not altogether pleased. He told
the Venus Annodomini that his father was coming up, and she flushed a
little and said that she should be delighted to make his acquaintance.
Then she looked long and thoughtfully at "Very Young" Gayerson;
because she was very, very sorry for him, and he was a very, very big
"My daughter is coming out in a fortnight, Mr. Gayerson," she said.
"Your WHAT?" said he.
"Daughter," said the Venus Annodomini. "She's been out for a year
at Home already, and I want her to see a little of India. She is
nineteen and a very sensible, nice girl I believe."
"Very Young" Gayerson, who was a short twenty-two years old, nearly
fell out of his chair with astonishment; for he had persisted in
believing, against all belief, in the youth of the Venus Annodomini.
She, with her back to the curtained window, watched the effect of her
sentences and smiled.
"Very Young" Gayerson's papa came up twelve days later, and had not
been in Simla four and twenty hours, before two men, old
acquaintances of his, had told him how "Very Young" Gayerson had been
"Young" Gayerson laughed a good deal, and inquired who the Venus
Annodomini might be. Which proves that he had been living in Bengal
where nobody knows anything except the rate of Exchange. Then he
said "boys will be boys," and spoke to his son about the matter.
"Very Young" Gayerson said that he felt wretched and unhappy; and
"Young" Gayerson said that he repented of having helped to bring a
fool into the world. He suggested that his son had better cut his
leave short and go down to his duties. This led to an unfilial
answer, and relations were strained, until "Young" Gayerson denmanded
that they should call on the Venus Annodomini. "Very Young" Gayerson
went with his papa, feeling, somehow, uncomfortable and small.
The Venus Annodomini received them graciously and "Young" Gayerson
said:--"By Jove! It's Kitty!" "Very Young" Gayerson would have
listened for an explanation, if his time had not been taken up with
trying to talk to a large, handsome, quiet, well-dressed girl--
introduced to him by the Venus Annodomini as her daughter. She was
far older in manners, style and repose than "Very Young" Gayerson;
and, as he realized this thing, he felt sick.
Presently, he heard the Venus Annodomini saying:--"Do you know that
your son is one of my most devoted admirers?"
"I don't wonder," said "Young" Gayerson. Here he raised his
voice:-- "He follows his father's footsteps. Didn't I worship the
ground you trod on, ever so long ago, Kitty--and you haven't changed
since then. How strange it all seems!"
"Very Young" Gayerson said nothing. His conversation with the
daughter of the Venus Annodomini was, through the rest of the call,
fragmentary and disjointed.
. . . . . . . . .
"At five, to-morrow then," said the Venus Annodomini. "And mind
you are punctual."
"At five punctual," said "Young" Gayerson. "You can lend your old
father a horse I dare say, youngster, can't you? I'm going for a
ride tomorrow afternoon."
"Certainly," said "Very Young" Gayerson. "I am going down
to-morrow morning. My ponies are at your service, Sir."
The Venus Annodomini looked at him across the half-light of the
room, and her big gray eyes filled with moisture. She rose and shook
hands with him.
"Good-bye, Tom," whispered the Venus Annodomini.