Tale of Simla by
There was a dinner-party that night at the lieutenant-governor's,
and those of the governed who had followed him from his territory of
Lahore up to Simla were bidden to the feast. In one of the pretty
private sitting-rooms of the Bellevue Hotel three ladies were
discussing chiffons in connection with that function.
Elma doesn't care for dinner-parties, Mrs. Macdonald said
Elma was her daughter, and this was her first season in Simla.
Oh, mother, I like the parties well enough! said Elma. What I
hate is the horrid way you have of getting to parties.
What do you mean? the third lady asked.
Elma means that she doesn't like the jampans, Mrs. Macdonald
I am always frightened, said Elma in a low voice, and a little of
the delicate colour she had brought out from England with her faded
from her lovely face. It seems so dreadful to go rushing down those
steep, narrow lanes, on the edge of a precipice, in little rickety
two-wheeled chairs that would turn over in a minute if one of the men
were to stumble and fall; and then one would roll all down I don't know
how many feet, down those steep precipices: some of them have no
railings or protection of any kind, and in the evening the roads are
quite dark under the overhanging trees. And people have fallen over
them and been killedevery one knows that.
Elma cannot speak Hindustani, the mother further explained, and
the first time she went out she called 'Jeldi, jeldi!' to the
men, and of course they ran faster and faster. I was really rather
alarmed myself when they came tearing past me round a corner.
I thought jeldi meant 'slowly,' said Elma.
Well, at any rate you have learnt one word of the language, said
Mrs. Thompson, laughing.
I should not mind so much if mother was with me, said the girl;
but those horrid little jampans only hold one personand mother's
jampannis always run on so fast in front, and my men have to keep up
with them. I wish I wasn't going this evening.
She has the sweetest frock you ever saw, said Mrs. Macdonald,
turning to a pleasanter aspect of the subject. I must say my
sister-in-law took great pains with her outfit, and she certainly has
Didn't you ever feel nervous at first, Elma asked, when you went
out in a jampan on a dark night down a very steep road?
Mrs. Thompson laughed. I can't say I remember it, she said. I
never fancied myself going over the kuddthe 'precipice' as you
call it. I suppose I should have made my husband walk by the side of
the jampan if I had been afraid.
Then she got up to go, and Mrs. Macdonald went out with her and
stood talking for a minute in the long corridor outside her rooms.
She is a very lovely creature, said Mrs. Thompson pleasantly. I
should think she is quite the prettiest girl in Simla this year.
I think she is, the mother agreed; but I am afraid she will be
very difficult to manage. She is only just out of the schoolroom, you
know, and girls are so unpractical. She doesn't care to talk to any one
but the subalterns and boys of her own ageand it is so important she
should settle this year. You know we retire next year.
It is early days yet, said the other cheerfully.
She had come out to India herself as the bride of a very rising
young civilian, and she knew nothing of the campaign of the mothers at
Elma indeed looked a lovely creature when she came out of her room
an hour or two later to show herself to her mother before she stepped
into the hated jampan. Her dress was a delicate creation of white lace
and chiffon, with illusive shimmerings of silver in its folds that came
and went with every one of her graceful movements. She was a tall and
slender girl, with a beautiful long white throat, smooth and round,
that took on entrancing curves of pride and gentleness, of humility and
nobleness. She had splendid rippling hair of a deep bronze, that had
been red a few years earlier; and dark blue dreamy eyes under broad
dark eyebrows; a long sweep of cool fair cheek, and a rather wide mouth
with a little tender, pathetic droop at the corners.
That frock certainly becomes you to perfection, said the mother.
I hope you will enjoy yourself; and do try not to let the boys
monopolise you this evening. It is not like a dance, you know, and
really, it is not good form to snub all the older men who try to talk
Elma lifted her long lashes with a glance of unfeigned surprise.
Oh, mother, she said humbly, how could I snub any one? I am afraid
of the clever men. I like to talk to the boys because they are as silly
as I am myself, and they would not laugh at me for saying stupid
No one is going to laugh at you, goosey, said her mother.
I wish I was not going, said Elma.
The ayah came out of the bedroom, and wrapped the tall young figure
in a long white opera-cloak; and then they all went down together to
the front verandah, where the jampans waited with the brown,
bare-legged runners in their smart grey and blue liveries.
Mrs. Macdonald started first. Don't call out jeldi too
often, Elma, she called back, laughing: I don't want to be run over.
And the ayah, hearing the word jeldi, explained to the
jampannis that the Miss Sahib desired, above all things, fleetness, and
that she had no mind to sit behind a team of slugs.
Elma got in very gingerly, and the ayah settled her draperies with
affectionate care. The dark little woman loved her, because she was
gentle and fair and never scolded or hurried.
The night was very dark. The road was by narrow backways, rough,
heavily shadowed, and unprotected in many places. The jampannis started
off at a run down the steep path as soon as they had passed through the
gate, and Elma sat trembling and quaking behind them, gripping both
sides of the little narrow carriage as she was whirled along. Once or
twice it bumped heavily over large stones in the road; and when they
had gone some little distance a dispute seemed to arise between the
runners. They stopped the jampan and appealed to her, but she could not
understand a word they said. She could only shake her head and point
forward. Several minutes were lost in this discussion, and when at
length it was decided one way or the other, the men started again at a
greater speed than ever, to make up for the lost time.
They bumped and flew along the dark road, and whirled round a corner
too short. One of the men on the inner side of the road stumbled up the
bank, and, losing his balance, let go the pole, and the jampan heeled
over. Elma's startled scream unnerved the other runners, who swerved
and stumbled, and in a moment the jampan was overturned down the side
of the kudd. The white figure in it was shot out and went
rolling down the rough hillside among the scrub and thorny bushes and
broken stakes that covered it.
The jampannis ran away; and after that one scream of Elma's there
was silence on the dark road.
It seemed to her that she was years rolling and buffeting down that
steep hillside, which happily at that point was not precipitous. Then
something struck her sharply on the side and stopped her farther
progress. She did not faint, though the pain in her side gripped her
breath for a moment. For all her delicate ethereal appearance, she was
a strong girl, and, like many timid people, found courage when a
disaster had really happened. She could not move. She was pinned down
among the short, stiff branches of a thorny shrub; but she screamed
again as loud as she couldnot a scream of terror, but a call for
help. Then she lay and listened. All about her there was no sound but
the rustling murmur of the leaves and the tiny, mysterious noises of
the little creatures of the night whose realm she had invaded. Now and
again she tried to move and disentangle herself from the strong
branches that held her; but they pressed her down, the thorns pinned
her clothes, and her bruised side ached with every movementand she
was forced to lie still again and listen for some sound of the
jampannis, who must surely be looking for her.
Presently, on the road above, there sounded, very faint and far off,
the tramp of shod feet. She called again, and the tramp quickened to a
run, and a man's voice shouted in the distance: Hullo! Hullo!
As the steps came nearer above her, she cried again: Help! I am
heredown the kudd.
In the leafy stillness her shrill young voice rang far and clear.
Where are you? came the answering voice.
Down the kudd.
The steps stopped on the road above.
Are you there? the voice called. I see something white
I am here, she answered; then, as the bushes crackled above her,
she called a warning: It is very steep. Be careful.
Very slowly and cautiously the steps came down the steep side of the
kudd to an accompaniment of rolling stones and crashing and tearing
branches, and now and then a muttered exclamation. Then she was aware
of a white face glimmering out of the darkness.
Are you there? said the voice again, quite close to her.
Yes, I am here, but I cannot move; the branches hold me down.
Wait a moment. I will get a light.
She was lying on her back, and, turning her head a little, she could
see a match struck and the face it illuminateda strong, dark,
clean-shaven face; a close-cropped, dark, uncovered head. The match was
held over her for a moment, then it went out.
I see where you are, said the rescuer, we must try to get you
out. Are you hurt?
I have hurt my side, I think, she said.
Without more words he knelt down beside her and began to tear away
and loosen the short, sturdy branches; then he took her under the
shoulders, and drew her slowly along the ground. There was a great
rending and tearing in every direction of her delicate garments; but at
last she was free of the clinging thorns and branches.
I am afraid the thorns have scratched you a good deal, he said in
a very matter-of-fact voice. Will you try if you can stand up now?
Lean on me.
Elma scrambled to her feet, and stood leaning against hima
glimmering, ghostly figure, whose tattered garments were happily hidden
by the darkness.
Do you think you can manage to climb back to the road now? he
asked; there may be snakes about here, you know.
I will try, said Elma.
I will go first, he said. You had better hold on to my coat, I
think. That will leave my hands free to pull us up.
Very slowly and laboriously they clambered back again to the road
above; there was no sign of the jampannis, and the jampan itself had
gone over the kudd and was no more to be seen.
They sat down exhausted on the rising bank on the other side of the
How did you get here? he asked.
My jampan went over the side, down the precipice, said Elma, and
I am afraid those poor jampannis must have been killed.
The stranger laughed long and loud, and Elma, in the reaction of her
relief, laughed too.
I have not the slightest idea what you are laughing at, she said.
You have not been long in this country? he asked.
You do not know the jampanni. As soon as the jampan tilted they let
go, and directly they saw you had gone over they ran away. Killed!
Well, that is likely! I daresay they will come back here presently to
pick up the pieces, when they have got over their panic: they are not
really bad-hearted, you know. We will wait a little while and see.
There was silence between them for a few peaceful moments; then Elma
said gently, I thank you with all my heart.
Oh, not at all! said the stranger politely.
They both laughed again, young, heart-whole, clear laughter, that
echoed strangely on those world-old hills.
Words are very inadequate, said Elma presently.
Oh, one understands all right without words, said he; but where
is the rest of your party, I wonder? I suppose you were not alone?
Mother has gone to a dinner-party, she answered. Oh dear, what
ought I to do? She will be so frightened! She is waiting for me. I must
get some one to go and tell her I am all right. How could I sit here
and forget how frightened she will be when I don't come!
We had better wait a little longer, I think, he said. You cannot
walk just yet, can you?
My shoes are all cut to pieces, she owned ruefully. I suppose we
must wait. It was very lucky for me you were passing just then.
Yes, I had just cut the shop for an hour or two, and I came round
here to have a quiet smoke. Lost my way, as a matter of fact.
They must keep open very late at your shop, she remarked.
He hesitated a moment before he answered, Very late.
And I suppose you haven't dined? she went on. You must come back
with me, and dine at the hotel. I cannot go on to the party now, at any
rate; my clothes are in rags, and, besides, it must be quite late.
Do you know your way back to the hotel? he asked, as the time went
on and the jampannis remained, to all appearance, as dead as ever.
No, I have never walked down this way, and it is far too dark to
attempt it now, said Elma very decidedly.
The time passed pleasantly enough while they waited, and more than
once their light-hearted laughter rang out into the night.
At last they heard a pattering of bare feet coming down the road.
The stranger hailed in Hindustani, and the natives stopped and began an
excited jabbering all together, which the stranger answered in their
These are the jampannis who were killed, he announced to Elma. If
you wish it, I will send one of them with a message to your mother, and
the others can fetch a couple of jampans to take us to the hotel.
You seem to know Hindustani very well, she remarked, when the men
had been sent on their various errands.
Yes, I have been some little time in India, he answered, though I
have only been a few days at Simla. Will you allow me to introduce
myself? My name is Angus McIvor.
And I am Elma Macdonald. I hope we shall not meet any one at the
hotel before I can get to my room. Oh! and will you let me go on in
front, and get out before you come?I am so dreadfully tattered and
I promise not to look at you at all until you give me leave, he
answered gravely. And what about me? I have lost my hat, and as yet I
have no idea of the extent of the damage my garments have sustained.
Then I won't look at you either, said Elma, and they laughed
together again in the gayest camaraderie.
Dinner was over at the Bellevue when they got back there; but they
neither of them felt the want of other company. They had a very merry
little dinner-party all to themselves, and Angus was able to look at
the damsel errant he had rescued. Her beauty came upon him with a shock
of surprise. He had seen many beautiful women in his time, but never
anything so enchanting as the droop of her mouth, or the lovely curves
of her throat, or the transparent candour of her sweet blue eyes.
What Elma saw was a tall, well-knit young fellow, with a dark, plain
face, a hawk nose, and grey eyes. He was clean-shaven; no moustache or
beard concealed the masterful squareness of his jaw or the rather
satirical curve of his thin lips.
Directly dinner was over he left her, though she begged him to stay
till her mother came home.
Mother would like to thank you for what you did for me, she said.
I will come and be thanked to-morrow morning, then, he said,
laughing. I shall want to know how you are after your accident, you
knowthat is, if I can get away from the shop.
Mrs. Macdonald came home rather early, and not in the best of
tempers. She had been a good deal alarmed and upset when Elma failed to
arrive at Government House; and even after the jampanni had brought the
message that her daughter was safe at the hotel she was extremely
annoyed at Elma's absence from the party. There were several bachelor
guests whom she would have been glad to introduce to her; and when she
thought of the radiant figure in the shimmering white robe that she had
last seen on the hotel verandah, she was ready to cry with vexation and
She listened with ill-concealed impatience to Elma's account of her
accident. And pray who is this Mr. McIvor who roams about rescuing
distressed damsels? she asked. I never heard his name before.
He said he came out of a shop, said Elma simply.
A shop! cried Mrs. Macdonald. Really, Elma, you are no better
than an idiot! The idea of asking a man who comes out of a shop to dine
with you here! What will people say? You must be mad.
But he was very kind to me, mother, said Elma, and he missed his
own dinner by helping me. And, you know, I might have lain in that
horrible place all night if he had not helped me out. I don't see that
any one here can complain about his shop; they were not asked to meet
him: we dined quite by ourselves, he and I.
Mrs. Macdonald stamped her foot. You are hopeless, Elmaquite
hopeless! she cried. What was your aunt dreaming of to bring you up
to have no more sense than a child of three years old?
He is very gentlemanly, said Elma, still gently expostulating.
You will see for yourself: he is coming to call on you to-morrow, and
to ask how I am.
Elma, I forbid you to see him again! said the mother, now
tragically impressive. If he calls to-morrow, I shall see him alone.
You are not to come into the room.
I am afraid he will think it very unkind and rude, said Elma
regretfully; and I can never forget how kind he was and how glad I was
to see him when he came down the kudd after me.
But she made no further resistance to her mother's orders, having
privately decided in her own mind to find out what shop in Simla had
the advantage of his services, and to see him there herself and thank
Angus McIvor duly called next morning, and was received by Mrs.
Macdonald alone; but what passed between them at that interview remains
a secret between him and that lady.
After lunch Elma strolled out for her usual solitary walk while her
mother was enjoying her siesta. She wandered idly along under the trees
down the road along which the jampannis had whirled her the evening
before, and so to the broken edge of the kudd where she had
There, sitting on the bank, smoking serenely, was Angus McIvor. He
threw away his cigar, and got up as soon as she saw him.
Her lovely face flushed, her blue eyes darkened with pleasure, as
she held out her hand in greeting.
I thought you would be sure to come here, he said, smiling down
Oh, you expected me, then? she said, and her eyes fell before his.
Why weren't you there this morning when I came to be thanked? he
She turned her head away uneasily. Mother did not wish me to come
in, she said.
Well, never mind that now, he said. I will ask you again some
other time. Now let us go up towards the top of Jacko; there are some
pretty views I should like to show you.
And, nothing loth, Elma went with him.
Why did your mother not wish you to see me this morning?
I cannot tell, said Elma lamely.
Was it because of the shop? he persisted. Tell me. I promise you
I will not mind. Was it?
The fair head drooped a little, and the answer came in a whisper he
could hardly hear: Yes.
And do you mind about the shop?
She raised indignant blue eyes to his. Of course not! she said.
You ought to know that without asking me.
Then will you meet me again to-morrow outside here? he asked.
No, I cannot do that.
Then you are ashamed of the shop?
Indeed, I am not!
But I cannot meet you any other way, he urged. I cannot come to
see you, and you have not been to my shop yet since I came to Simla. So
where can I see you? Will you meet me again?
Indeed, I cannot!
Then it is the shop?
The blue eyes were full of distress, the tender mouth grew more
pathetic. I will come just once, she said, to show you I care
nothing about the shop. But you must not ask me again to do what I know
my mother would not like. I cannot deceive her.
And on the next day they met again and walked together.
He did not ask her to meet him again, but on the third day he joined
her at the gate.
This is quite accidental, you know, he said, laughing down into
her happy eyes.
And as they walked in the tender green shadows upon wooded Jacko,
his eyes said, I love you, and hers faltered and looked down.
And on the homeward way he took her hand. I will not ask you to
meet me again in secret, my sweetest, he said, because I love you. I
am ashamed that for one moment I doubted your innocent, unworldly
heart. I will woo and win you openly as you should be wooed.
And without waiting for an answer, he kissed her hand and left her.
That evening there was a great reception at Government House, and
the Viceroy's new aide-de-camp, Lord Angus McIvor Stuart, helped to
receive the guests.
This is my 'shop,' Mrs. Macdonald, he said. It was a silly and
slangy way to speak of it; but, upon my honour, I never meant to
deceive any one when I said it first.
Then was Elma Macdonald openly wooed and won by the man who loved