The Potter's Thumb, Vol. 1
by Flora Annie Webster Steel
The Potter's Thumb, Volume 1, Volume 2,
''TIS only the potter's thumb, Huzoor.'
As she raised the parti-coloured rag covering the child's body, the
noonday sun streamed down upon a pitiful sight. Yet her eyes, despite
the motherhood which lay in them, accepted it, as the sun did, calmly.
Emotion, such as it was, being reserved for the couple of Englishmen
who stood by: and even there curiosity and repulsion froze the surface
of pity, especially in the younger of the two faces.
In good sooth, not a pleasant sight for mankind, to whom sickness
does not as a rule bring that quick interest born of a desire to aid
which it does to most women. The brown skin was fair with the pallor
of disease, and the fine, sparse, black hair showed the contour of the
skull. The unnatural hollows of the temples emphasised the unnatural
prominence of the closed eyelids, round whose ragged margin of clogged
lashes the flies settled in clusters. Below this death's-head was an
over-large body, where, despite its full curves, each rib stood
sharply defined, and whence the thin limbs angled themselves in
'The potter's thumb?' echoed Dan Fitzgerald interrogatively. He was
a tall man, broad in the shoulders, lean in the flank, and
extraordinarily handsome; yet the most noticeable quality in the face
looking down at the very ordinary woman squatting upon a very ordinary
dust-heap, was not its beauty, but its vitality. 'Is that a disease?'
he added, almost sharply.
She gave the native cluck of emphatic denial. 'No! Huzoor. The
child dies because it does not drink milk properly; yet is it the
potter's thumb in the beginning. Lo! many are born so in this place.
The doctor-sahib who put the tikka on the arms for smallpox
said Hodinuggur was too old for birth—that it was a graveyard. I know
not. Only this is true; many are born with this; many die of it.'
'Die of the potter's thumb—what potter?'
Her broad face broadened still more into a smile. 'The Huzoor doth
not understand! Lo! when the potter works on the clay, his hand slips
sometimes in the moulding. It leaves a furrow, so,'—her brown
finger, set with tarnished silver rings, traced a girdle round the
baby's naked breast—'then in the firing the pot cracks. Cracks like
these,'—here the finger pointed to the sherds among which she
sate,—'so when children are born as this one, we say 'tis the
potter's thumb. Sometimes there is a mark,'—again the finger softly
followed the line it had traced before—'this one had it clear when he
came; sometimes none can see it, but 'tis there all the same, all the
same. The potter's thumb has slipped; the pot will crack in the
Her voice took a cadence as if accustomed to the words.
'What is she saying?' interrupted George Keene impatiently.
He was a middle-sized lad of twenty or thereabouts, powerfully made,
with grey eyes and white teeth gleaming in an aquiline, sunburnt face.
'Something ghastly,' replied Dan. 'It always is so, you'll find, my
dear boy, when you dip below the indifferent calm of these people.
It's like deciphering a tombstone. But come on. We are due already at
the World, the Flesh, and the Devil's.' Then he paused, gave a short
laugh, and flung out his hands in an impulsive gesture. 'By the
Powers!' he went on, his face seeming to kindle with the fuel of his
own fancy, 'it's gruesome entirely. This heap of dust they call
Hodinuggur, as they call thousands of such human ant-hills all over
India; for wherever when you dig, the bricks grow bigger and bigger
till, hocus pocus! they vanish in the dust from which God made
man—that is Hodinuggur; the old city, it means. What city? who
knows! Then in the corner of this particular one a survival'—his
eager hand pointed to the pile of buildings before them—'not of those
old days, for no Moghul in India dates beyond Timoor, and these people
are Moghuls; but of that Mohammedan civilisation which overwhelmed
the older one, just as we in our turn are overwhelming the Moghul—who
in the meantime bullies the people by virtue of an Englishman's
signature on a piece of parchment—'
'But I suppose we found the Diwan in possession when we annexed—'
began George stolidly.
Dan scorned the interruption and the common-sense. 'Oh, 'tis queer,
looked at any way. A mound of sherds and dust higher than the gateway
of the palace. I'll go bail that reed hut yonder on the top is higher
than old Zubr-ul-Zamân's tower. He lives up there winter and summer,
does the old Diwan, looking out over his world and the strength of
it—that's what his name means, you know. His son, Khush-hâl Beg,
lives in the next storey. A Jack Falstaff of a man—that s why I call
him the Flesh. Then Dalel, the Devil, roams about seeking whom he may
'A charming trio; and what part have I to play in the drama?' asked
George with a laugh.
'St. George, of course.'
The lad laughed louder. 'So I am in baptism. George for short. Born
on the saint's day—father a parson—fire away, old chap—don't let me
'Sure! my dear boy, and aren't you sent to fight them all? Sent
into this wilderness of a place to be tempted—'
'Oh, don't talk rot, Fitzgerald! I suppose you mean about the
sluice-gate; but it's sheer folly.'
'Is it? My two last subordinates didn't find it so. Perhaps the
potter's thumb had slipped over their honesty. So the authorities gave
me you—a real white man—and said it was my last chance. Think of
that now, my boy, and be careful.'
George Keene frowned perceptibly.
'That's a fine old gateway,' he said, to change the subject. As
they approached it a flock of iridescent pigeons rocketed from the
dark niches to circle and flash against the sky. It was a great square
block of a building cut through by one high arch of shadow, and
showing the length of the tunnel in the smallness of the sunlit arch
beyond. On the worn brick causeway, as they entered, half in the
sunshine, half in shade, lay the scattered petals of a pomegranate
blossom which some passer-by had flung aside.
'By Jove, what a colour!' said Fitzgerald; 'like drops of blood.'
George Keene frowned again. 'If I had your diseased imagination I'd
engage lodgings in Bedlam. Seriously, I mean it. Fellows like you are
get rid of it in words—all froth and fuss; but if that sort of thing
ever got a real grip on me—Hullo! what's that?' He flushed through
his tan in sheer vexation at his own start. From the deep recesses,
which on either side of the causeway lost themselves in shadow, came a
clash as of silver bells, and something through the arches showed
white yet shadowy; something of exceeding grace, salaaming to the sahib-logue; something sending the scent of jasmine flowers into
the hot air.
'That is Chândni,' said Dan, passing on regardless of the
salutation, 'she generally sits here.'
George, imitating his companion, felt the thrill still in his veins.
'Chândni!' he echoed, 'that means silvery, doesn't it?'
'Moonshine also. They call her Chândni-rât or Moonlit-night as a
rule. If tales be true, there is a good deal of the night about her.
She and Dalel—but here he comes, innocently, from a side door. The
Devil loves moonshiny nights.'
The figure approaching them was not outwardly of diabolic mould,
being altogether too insignificant. The oval face was barely shadowed
by a thin beard curling in an oiled tuft on either side of the
retreating chin, and the only Mephistophelian feature was the narrow
line of moustache waxed upwards towards the eyes. The dress was
nondescript to absurdity. A biretta-shaped Moghul cap, heavy with
church embroidery, sate jauntily on the long greasy hair; a blue
velvet shooting-coat, cut in Western fashion, was worn over baggy,
white cotton drawers, and these again were tucked away into
sportsmanlike leather gaiters, ending in striped socks and patent
leather highlows. Such was Mirza Dalel Beg, the Diwan's grandson.
Behind him came lesser bloods of the same type: one with a falcon on
his wrist; all with curious eyes for George Keene, the new-comer.
'Hullo, Dalel sahib!' cried Dan in English. 'Keene, let me
introduce you in form to his Highness.'
The Mirza thrust out a small, cold, clammy hand; but thereinafter
relapsed into such absolute inaction, that George found no little
difficulty in finishing the ceremony.
'Aha, I see!' said his Highness jerkily, in a voice many tones too
low for his chest measurement. 'Glad to see you, Keene. You shoot, I
lend you gun or rifle. You hawk, we go hawk together. You hunt, you
use my crocks. Come, see my stable.'
Dan's eyebrows went up expressively. 'Don't tempt him to-day, Mirza
sahib,' he interrupted gravely. 'We are already due at the State
audience with your grandfather. Aren't you to be there as
Dalel crackled with a high-toned laugh which did not match his
voice. 'Bosh! My gov'nor is there in swagger dress. He likes. I am
different. Good-bye, Keene. You must come often, and we will go shoot,
hunt, polo, billiard, and be jolly. Ta, ta! I go to stables.'
The two Englishmen walked on in silence for a while. Then George
Keene looked at his companion with a queer smile.
'So, that's the Devil?—that—that heterogeneous bounder—'
'Heterogeneous bounder is good—parlous good,' replied
Dan, still gravely; 'but here is our reception party, so, for
heaven's sake, look dignified, and don't shake hands, mind, unless
they offer to do so. They know their own rank, you see; you don't know
The lad, as he obeyed orders, felt that he knew very little of
anything in India; the fact being evident in the surprise with which
he noted the squalid appearance of all things, save the ruinous
masonry; even of the state-room where, on a cane-bottomed chair, set
on a filthy striped carpet, a mountain of flesh awaited them. It did
not need his companion's whisper to make him understand that this must
be the heir-apparent Khush-hâl Beg, for the fat man, coming forward
to the appointed stripe—thus far and no further—held out his hand.
'The Huzoor is young,' he wheezed in a stately dignified voice.
'But youth is a great gift. With it even the desert need not be dull.
'Tis only as we grow older—' He paused and crossed his hands over his
fat stomach with a sigh, as if to him the only consolation for age lay
there. Dan shot one of his almost articulate looks at his companion
as they passed on to a narrow stone stair where there was barely room
for single-file order up the steep steps. Up and up it went seemingly
in the thickness of the wall, with little loopholes sending a faint
light at the turns; up and up, breathlessly, till the party emerged on
the roof of the Diwan's tower, where, in a pavilion set round with
arched arcades, they found the old man himself, backed by a
semi-circle of shabby retainers, whose gay clothes showed tawdry in
the pitiless sunlight.
Yet Dan's whisper of 'the World' provoked no smile in his
companion, for there was nothing to smile at in Zubr-ul-Zamân, old and
shrunken as he was. So old that those steep stairs cut him off from
his kind; so old that his chin lay upon his breast, his palms upon his
knees, as though both head and hands were weary of the world. What his
heart thought of his ninety and odd years of life none knew. None
could even guess, for the simple reason that Zubr-ul-Zamân had never
showed that he possessed a heart. Of brains and skill he had no lack
even now; but of pity, love, tenderness, only this was certain, that
he had never sought them even in others. Yet the English boy had eyes
only for that wrinkled, indifferent face, while Dan Fitzgerald, seated
on one of the two cane-bottomed chairs set opposite the Diwan's red
velvet one, explained in set terms why George came to be seated in the
other. Not a pleasant tale altogether, told as it was with official
boldness of expression. Briefly, the sluice-gate of the canal had been
opened too often, and Government did not intend it to occur again.
When he ceased, the Diwan raised his head slowly, and George felt an
odd thrill at his first sight at those luminous dark eyes; a thrill
which continued as, at a sign from the old man, the court rhetorician
standing surcharged with eloquence at the Diwan's right hand, burst
into a stream of polished Persian periods which, hitting the keynote
of the empty pavilion, roused a murmurous echo in its arcades. It
reminded George of the general confession in his father's church on a
week-day when the choir was absent; one certain note followed by faint
efforts after repentance. The fancy, indeed, clung closer to facts
than his ignorance of the language allowed him to perceive, as the
speech dealt chiefly in regrets for the untoward events in the past
which had made it incumbent on 'Gee Uff Keene sahib bahâdur' to
languish in the wilderness of Hodinuggur, though doubtless the
presence of the said 'Gee Uff Keene sahib bahâdur' would cause
that desert to blossom like a rose, despite the want of water. These
reiterations of his own name made George feel a sense of unknown
responsibility, as of a baby at its own christening. He looked
anxiously at Dan, his sponsor, but the latter was now conversing with
the Diwan in the usual explosive sentences followed by the decorous
silences due to dignity, while the attendants brought forward divers
round brass trays covered with Manchester pocket-handkerchiefs and
laid them at the visitors' feet. George's share consisted of three,
one containing dried fruits and sugar, one of various rich cloths
topped by a coarse white muslin pugree, the third conglomerate.
A French clock, with Venus Anadyomene in alabaster, some pantomime
jewelry, a green glass tumbler, a tin of preserved beetroot, a
lacquered tray with the motto 'for a good boy,' and various other odds
and ends. Among them a small blue earthenware pot. Was it blue after
all, or did a gold shimmer suggest a pattern beneath the glaze? A
queer, quaint shape, dumpy, yet graceful. That broad, straight ring
around it should have marred its curves but failed to do so; strange!
how these people had the knack of running counter to recognised rules,
and yet— Here George was recalled to the present by Dan whispering—
'Take it, man! Take it!'
Looking round he saw the latter removing something from a tray, and
his own head being full of the blue pot, his hand naturally went out
'No! no!' continued Dan, in the same voice, 'the
'But I've got one already!'
The instinctive greed of the reply made his companion smile as he
explained that the pugree was put there on purpose. But, as he
spoke, the Diwan signed to an attendant who stepping forward,
transferred the blue pot to the tray of dried fruits.
'It is nothing,' came the courteous voice, setting aside all
disclaimers; 'our potter makes them.'
'I did not know they could put such a good glaze on nowadays,'
remarked Fitzgerald, yielding the point. 'A first-rate piece of work
indeed; does the man live here?'
Khush-hâl Beg turned to the speaker breathlessly. 'He is crazy,
Huzoor. The Lord destroyed his reason by an accident. The old wall
fell on his house one night and killed his daughter. Since then he
lives away, where nought can fall, like the crazy one he is.'
The stress and hurry of the speech were evident, even though the fat
man was still suffering from the stairs.
'Thank the Lord! that's over,' said Dan piously, when the last
diminishing tail of escort left them with but one orderly to carry the
spoil. 'I ought to have warned you about the pugree—but there!
you might have done worse—the French clock, for instance. Come! let's
strike home across the mound. I want to show you a dodge of mine on
the canal cut.'
He plunged headlong, after his wont, into professional matters till
even George, fresh from college technicalities, could scarcely follow
him, and found himself wondering why a man of such vast capacity
should have succeeded so indifferently; for Dan Fitzgerald was not a persona grâta at headquarters. To be that, a subordinate often has
to conceal his own talents, and this man could not even conceal his
faults. Some folk are so self-contained that a burden of blame finds
no balance on their shoulders; others are so hospitable that they
serve as hold-alls both for friends and foes; and there was plenty of
room both for praise and blame in Dan Fitzgerald's excitable Celtic
'What's that?' cried George suddenly. With the best intentions his
attention had wandered, for everything in that circle of dun-coloured
horizon domed with blue was new to him. Dan paused, listening. An odd
rhythmic hum came from the highest hut, which was separated from the
others by palisades of plaited tiger-grass shining in the afternoon
light like a diaper of gold.
'The potter's wheel!' he cried, his face changing indescribably in
an instant. 'Come on, Keene, and let us see the man who made your
He gave no time for reply, but turning at right angles through a
gap threaded his way past piles of pots and sherds until he ran the
sound to earth. Literally to earth—a circle of the solid earth
spinning dizzily in front of a man buried to his waist. At least so it
seemed at first to George Keene's ignorance of potters and their
wheels. A circle, dazzling at its outer edge, clearer at the centre
where something beneath a steady curved hand shot up, and bulged;
then, as the whirr slackened, sank into a bomb of clay.
'Salaam alaikoom!' came a pleasant voice as the worker sat back in
his seat-hole so as to ease his feet. He was a mild-faced old
gentleman with nothing remarkable about him save a pair of shifty
eyes—the light hazel eyes seen so rarely in a native's face.
'Salaam alaikoom,' returned Dan. 'The little sahib has never seen a
wheel worked. Will you show him?'
'Wherefore not, Huzoor? The sahib could come to none better, seeing
we of Hodinuggur have spun the wheel of life for years—for ages and
ages and ages.'
The words blent with the rising cadence of the wheel as he leant
forward to the task again. Faster and faster upon the wheel with a
swaying motion. Only the potter's hand poised motionless above the
whirring clay which showed—as children say—like a top asleep. Then
suddenly came the turn of the potter's thumb, bringing a strange weird
life with it. One protean curve after another swelling, sinking,
shifting, falling. The eye could scarcely follow their swift birth and
death, until the potter, sitting back once more, the slackening wheel
disclosed the hollows and bosses.
'The clay is good,' he said, as if deprecating his own skill, 'and
it fires well.'
'When the thumb does not slip,' put in Dan quietly. The potter
turned to him in sudden interest.
'The Huzoor knows the sayings of the people, that is well; it is
not often so. Yea! it slips—thus.' The wheel still span slowly, he
shifted his hand almost imperceptibly and a deep furrow scored itself
upon the biggest boss. 'So little does it,' he went on, 'a grit
clinging to the skin—a wandering thought. It is Fate. Fuzl Elahi, the
potter, cannot help it.'
'Fuzl Elahi? Then you are a Mohammedan?'
He shook his head. 'I am as my fathers were. The Moghuls call me
so, the Hindus otherwise; but it means the same. By the grace of God,
potter of Hodinuggur since time began. Lo! my fathers and my children
are in the clay. I dug a grave in the dust for the boy; the girl dug
hers for herself. It was deep, Huzoor. I search for it always; in
vain, in vain.' The wheel set up its rhythmic hum once more, but the
hands lay idle.
'Poor old chap,' said Dan aside, 'I suppose he is thinking of the
accident; but by the powers, Keene, it is a situation. Seated
here on a pinnacle—a crazy irresponsible creator—'
'Ask him if he made the pot, please,' interrupted George brutally.
'If I could get a pair, I'd send them to the mater. Those
things are always in pairs, you know.'
'Pairs! you intolerable Philistine! A potter's vessel trying to be
matched before it's broken in pieces. Think of the tragedy—the humour
'Will you ask, or shall I?'
Fitzgerald grinned maliciously. 'You. I like to hear you
George smiled, rose, and taking the blue pot from the attendant's
tray laid it on the potter's wheel.
'Did you make that?' he asked, in English. His meaning was
'If you did not, who did?' he continued, his triumph mixed with
anxiety for the future; but the old man's thoughts did duty for an
'Without doubt my fathers made it; since it is an Ayôdhya pot.'
'Ayôdhya,' broke in Dan, 'that means old, Keene; you'll have to
send it back. I half suspected it was valuable, from that old fox's
look. But he said it was made here, the sinner! Can you make pots like
that, oh! Fuzl Elahi?'
The old man smiled. 'None can give the glaze, Huzoor, there is a
pattern in it, but none can catch the design. Even I know it not; that
is the secret of Ayôdhya.'
'What is he saying? What is Ayôdhya?' asked George irritably.
'Same as Hodi—old; it means here the half-forgotten heroic age.
Well, as you can't get a pair, we had best be moving. Salaam!
potter-ji, and don't let your thumb slip too often in the future.'
'God send it hath not slipped too often in the past,' he replied,
half to himself.
An hour afterwards the two Englishmen sat on the low parapet of the
canal bridge looking out over a world-circle of dusty plain,
treeless, featureless, save for the shadowy mound of Hodinuggur on one
side, and on the other a red brick house dotted causelessly upon the
sand. A world-circle split into halves by the great canal, which
eastwards towards the invisible hills showed like a bar of silver;
westwards towards the invisible sea like a flash of gold, at whose end
the last beams of the setting sun hung like the star on a magician's
'Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink,' murmured
Dan Fitzgerald discontentedly. 'Upon my soul, it must be rough on them
watching it all day long, and knowing that if they could only get you to open the sluice
they would get rupees on rupees
from the Rajah. That's how it stands, you see. It isn't so much for
their own bit of land, but for the bribe. I sometimes wish the overflow
cut had been higher up, or lower down, but we had to protect the big
embankment against abnormal floods. Confound the thing! what business
has it to put hydraulic pressure on us all?'
'Don't feel it much as yet,' said George cheerfully, with his eyes
on the palace, which was gaining an unreal beauty from the dust of
ages. For the village cattle were homing to the thorn-set folds, and
the cloud from their leisurely feet lay in a golden mist between the
shadowed plain and the shadowed mound rising against the golden sky. A
lingering shaft of light showed the white fretwork of the Diwan's
tower clear against the pale purple of the potter's thatch beyond.
'Perhaps not. You will, though. The wilderness plays the dickens
with civilisation sometimes.'
'Does it? I don't believe it will with mine. Not that sort. I
haven't your imagination, your sensitiveness, your poetical—'
'Pull up,' said Dan, laughing. 'You'll come to my vices soon, and
as I've pet names for most of them, I object to have them
scientifically classified. But I wish I hadn't to leave you there.' He
pointed distastefully to the red parallelogram of a house with the
initials of the Public Works Department stamped on each brick like the
broad arrow on a convict. 'It isn't fit for a youngster like you. But
as it can't be helped, there's the key. For my sake don't let the
World, the Flesh, or the Devil wheedle it out of you.'
'All right,' replied the boy, pocketing the Chubb. 'If you are
engaged to be married, go and do it right off. Promotion in due course
Dan Fitzgerald, looking down at the sliding water, was silent for a
minute. 'You've hit the right nail on the head,' he said at last.
'That's why I'm anxious; but by the powers! your work is cut out for
you if you are to keep me from getting into hot water.'
'It isn't the water that does it,' muttered George, as they
strolled off to dinner, 'it's the spirits.'
That was the truth in more senses than one. George had been living
with his superior officer for two months at headquarters, and his
cool, clear head had noted the fascination which stimulants of all
kinds had for Dan's excitable nature. But he had said nothing, after
the manner of men. Therefore it came as a surprise even to himself
when that evening something made him say hurriedly—
'Better not, Fitzgerald; you've a long ride before you.'
Dan, his hand on the whisky bottle, paused, surprised in his turn;
but George seemed to feel that key in his pocket outline itself
against the thumping of his heart.
'Are you afraid I won't leave you any?' asked the elder quickly.
'I'll send you a bottle by post, if that's it. Come! hands off,
youngster; don't be a fool! That's enough.'
The angry red was not on his cheek only. It had spread to the
boy's, as he stood back in a sudden flare of utterly unexpected
'Quite enough, Mr. Fitzgerald. I've been your guest for two months,
I know; but you are mine now. This is my house, and that's my bottle.
I'll trouble you to put it down.'
For an instant it seemed on its way to the speaker's head; then it
was pushed aside scornfully; the next Dan held out his hand.
'Thanks. No one has taken that trouble for years. What made you do
But the English boy's shame at his own impulsiveness was on George
now, and he laughed uneasily. 'I—I believe it was that confounded
key,' he began. Dan's smile was transfiguring.
'God bless the boy!' he cried, with the ring of tears and laughter
in his rich brogue. 'So you're the Keeper of the Key of the King's
conscience, are you? The saints protect you; for see! your sort don't
know mine. We leave off the effort after virtue where you begin, and I
spend more solid holiness in refusing a glass of sherry than you do in
keeping all the Ten Commandments. Sure the sun's got into my head, and
I must be off to the water cure.'
He was out of the room, out of the house, standing on the bridge
abutment and stripping as for dear life before George caught him up
breathlessly and asked if he were quite mad.
'Not yet!' came the joyous voice. 'I'm going to swim up stream till
I'm beat, and come down with the current—an epitome of my life!'
The rapid Indian twilight had fallen into night, but the moon had
risen, and the air was warm with the first touch of spring which in
Northern India treads close on the heels of the new year. Fitzgerald
pausing for a second showed like a white statue on the buttress; then
his curved body shot into the shadow with the cry—
'I come, Mother of All!'
Tristram's cry when he sprang to 'the sea's breast as to a mother's
where his head night rest,' thought George, watching with the vague
anxiety inseparable from the disappearance of life beneath the water.
Ah! there he was—safe; turning his head to call out 'Don't wait,
please! Tell the syce to have the mare ready for me in half an hour.'
Yet George did wait, watching the arrowy ripple cleaving the
steel-grey path which led straight up to the steel-grey sky where the
stars hung sparkling. If he thought they were reflected in the still
water ahead as they were in the still water below the bridge, Dan must
feel as if he was swimming in the ether!
Decidedly, imagination was catching. George Keene was reminded of
the fact again as he stood looking over to the mound of Hodinuggur,
and listening to the last echo of the horse's hoofs bearing Dan away
from the wilderness. There was a light in the Diwan's tower, another
in the potter's hut. He wondered vaguely which was really the highest;
then, to check such idle thoughts, began on the first duty of youth in
a foreign land—home letters.
'Dear father,' he wrote fluently, 'I arrived at Hodinuggur, my
headquarters, to-day. It is—'
Half an hour afterwards he tore up the sheet angrily and went to
IT was band-night in the public gardens; mail night also; a
combination of dancing and picture papers, ensuring a large attendance
in the big hall, which had been built, gravely, as a memorial to some
departed statesman. But now English girls hurried through its dim
corridors to the ladies' dressing-room, intent on changing tennis
shoes for dancing slippers. English women took possession of the
comfortable nooks between the pillars where there was room for two.
English boys lounged about the vestibule, finishing their cigars and
waiting for the band to strike up. English men drifted to billiards
and whist, or to their own special corner in the reading-room.
A weird-looking place even at noon was the big hall set round with
paste and paper mementoes of the semi-historic festivals held beneath
its high arched roof; with shields from the Prince of Wales' ball,
flags from the Imperial installation, trophies from the welcome given
to our soldiers after an arduous campaign. But seen now by the few
lamps lit at one end it looked positively ghostly, as if it must be
haunted by a thousand memories of dead men, and women, and children
who had flitted across the kaleidoscope of Rajpore society. Up in the
gallery the native band, after playing 'God save the Queen' to the
Aryan brother outside, was tuning up for dance music. And by-and-bye a
couple would come waltzing out of the shadows into the bright
reflections of the polished floor, and waltz back again. Then three or
four couples, perhaps ten or a dozen; not more. Viewed from the other
end, where the non-dancers sat in darkness, the scene looked like a
dim reflection of something going on in another world.
And outside, under the rising moon, the builders of the hall trooped
home to the packed highways and byways of the native city, full, no
doubt, of that silent, evergreen wonder at the strange customs of the
ruling race which is an integral part of native life; that ruling race
which, with all its eccentricities, rules better than even the fabled
In the far corner of the inner reading-room a girl of about twenty
stood looking at the new number of the Scientific American,
keeping a stern watch the while on the present possessor of the Saturday Review. A tennis bat lay on the table beside her, and her
workmanlike flannels and tan shoes showed what her occupation had
been. For the rest, a well-made, well-balanced girl, looking as if she
walked well, rode well, danced well, and took an honest pride in doing
so. Her face was chiefly remarkable for a pair of beautifully arched
eyebrows, and her best point was undoubtedly the poise of her head
with its closely plaited coif of hair.
A sort of snore followed by a thud, told that people were passing in
and out through the swing-doors of the outer room. Here, however, as
befitted the abode of more serious literature, all was peaceful;
almost empty in fact and its only other female occupant was a medical
lady deep in the Lancet.
'Oh Gordon!' called a voice from the outer room, 'have you seen my
'Miss Tweedie is here, sir,' replied the young man addressed. 'She
has been for the last five minutes trying to make up her mind whether
to go and dance, or brain Dr. Greenfell for keeping the Saturday
'Really, Mr. Gordon!' cried Rose Tweedie aghast 'No indeed not—Dr.
Greenfell! I didn't really—I mean I was of course, but I don't now!
Oh, it's awfully good of you.' Then as the apologetic little doctor
moved away, pausing to say a few words to a tall gray-haired man who
was entering, she turned aggressively to the offender: 'Why did you
say that, Mr. Gordon?'
'Why, Miss Tweedie? Because you insisted yesterday that women
preferred the truth, even when it was rude. And it was true. I
suppose, as your father wants you, I have no hope of this dance; and
I'm engaged for all the others.'
Rose Tweedie's eyebrows went up. 'How lucky for you! I mean, of
course, how unlucky for me.' Then she added in more conciliatory
tones, 'I'm not dancing to-night; these shoes won't do.' She thrust
out her shapely foot with the careless freedom of a child.
'I can see no fault,' he replied artificially, putting up his
eye-glass, 'they appear to me quite perfect.'
'Your knowledge of women doesn't apparently extend to their
understandings,' she retorted quickly, her voice, as usual when she
was irritated, showing a trace of Scotch accent. 'Oh father! if you
want me to come home, I'm ready.'
Colonel Tweedie hesitated. A single glance at him suggested that the
late Mrs. Tweedie must have been a women of strong individuality, or
else that Rose had reverted to some ancestral type.
'Not, not exactly, my dear. I only—wanted to—er—speak to you.'
'Good-bye, Miss Tweedie,' said Lewis Gordon, taking the hint. 'Oh!
by the way, sir, if your daughter will remember I'm a personal
assistant, and excuse shop for an instant—Fitzgerald came back to-day
Rose Tweedie's face lit up. 'Did he say how Mr. Keene liked it?'
she asked eagerly.
'I'm afraid not; but he can scarcely be expected to like the desert
after—Rajpore. I shouldn't—under the circumstances. That is all,
sir; except that he reports everything satisfactory, so far.'
The Colonel gave a little cough; it was his way of starting the
official machine inside the social one. 'I hope—for Mr. Fitzgerald's
sake it—it—er—may remain so. The past scandals have been a
disgrace—er—to the Department.
'Not to him, though,' broke in Rose hotly. 'I think he is quite one
of the nicest people I ever met.'
'And what is more, the ablest man we have in our service,' added
Lewis Gordon heartily. The girl's face softened at his tone. If he
would only speak like that always, instead of simpering and scraping!
'Well, father, what is it?' she asked when he had gone. The other
readers had drifted away, and the medical lady looked as if even the
last trump would not rouse her from the post-mortem she was perusing,
so to all intents and purposes they were alone. Colonel Tweedie gave
another little cough; it was an unusual occurrence in private matters,
and she repeated her question with quickened interest.
'I want you, my dear, to go and speak to—to Mrs. Boynton.
I've—I've asked her to come into camp with us this time.'
Pages full of words would fail to give a better idea of Rose
Tweedie's mental outlook than this simple interrogation. Briefly, she
must have a reason, good, bad, or indifferent, for everything. Her
father, being her father and knowing this, had several ready.
'Dacre's wife isn't strong enough to face the sand, and you must
have a chaperon—I mean another lady—you never need a chaperon of
course, my dear—but if anything happened;—besides, we shall be very
busy, and it will be lonely. I thought it better than leaving you at
home. It isn't as if she were quite an outsider. She is Gordon's
cousin, and he is my personal—'
'The widow of a cousin, you mean,' she interrupted with emphasis.
'A cousin he scarcely knew; and he never even saw her till he
returned from furlough last year.'
'Didn't he, my dear?' said the Colonel feebly. 'Still, they are
relations. Call each other by their Christian names, and—'
This time a laugh interrupted him; rather a hard laugh for a girl.
'What a number of cousins the Rajpore ladies must have!' she began.
'Not Mrs. Boynton, Rose; not Mrs. Boynton,' protested the Colonel
'No, I admit it. She is perfectly lady-like. I don't really dislike
her a bit.'
'Dislike! my dear Rose! who could dislike so—so—'
'I admit it again, father. She is charming. I catch myself watching
her, just as if I were in love with her like all the nice men are.'
'Really, my dear Rose—'
'Well, dear, why not? She is perfectly sweet. Then she has such
tact. Do you know she never allows an ungentlemanly man to fall in
love with her? I often wonder how she manages it. It's awfully clever
of her.' Rose, standing by the fire, shifted a log with her foot and
the sparks flew upwards. 'Of course I would rather have had a girl;
but I suppose it wouldn't have done. There! don't worry, dear! Go off
to your whist. I'll settle it all.'
'My dear girl—'
She told him calmly that there was no need for gratitude, and
Colonel James Tweedie, R.E., head of a great Department, slunk away
abashed to the card-room. Rose was very fond of her father, though she
understood him perfectly—after the manner of modern children;
accepting him reasonably, with all his weaknesses, as the parent
Providence had assigned to her. And why, if she would have him, should
he not marry Mrs. Boynton? The mother, who had died when Rose was
born, had been well remembered; the Colonel was still middle-aged, and
when his daughter married might have long years of solitude before
him. Would it be fair for her to object? It was another of Rose
Tweedie's characteristics that this question came uppermost in her
dealings with both friends and foes. No! it would not be fair; there
was no reason against it. None.
So she walked off calmly to the big hall, waiting to see Gwen
Boynton's graceful figure, paired with some worthy partner, of course,
come swaying out into the ring of light. But she was disappointed; for
the very simple reason that the lady she sought was sitting with
Lewis Gordon in the most comfortable corner in the whole building.
'Miss Tweedie!' said an eager voice behind her, as she stood
instinctively marking the rhythm of the dance with one foot. 'Have
you seen Mrs. Boynton? I can't find her anywhere.'
She turned gladly. It was Dan Fitzgerald, representing, as he always
did, humanity at its handsomest. 'So you're back! No, Mr. Fitzgerald.
She is not dancing, anyhow; but as those are the last bars, that is
cold comfort. What a pity! when you came down to the hall on purpose.'
He flushed up like a girl; and she pointed to the gardenia in his
'You don't go in for decoration except on state occasions,' she
continued, 'and then you weren't at tennis. I always keep a look-out
for you there; that back-handed return of yours from the line beats
me. I've been trying it with the chuprassie bowling at me, but
it didn't come off somehow. You must teach me when we are in camp.'
'Of course I will,' replied Dan cheerfully. Lewis Gordon would have
simpered and said, 'Delighted, I'm sure.' The remembrance vexed Rose
by its very appearance; as if it mattered what Gwen Boynton's cousin
said or did. And the vexation accounted for the phrasing of her next
'Mr. Keene sent me a message, didn't he? No! How stupid of him! It
was about his Nature. I was to have it, and he was to let me
know what he wanted me to do with it.'
Dan's face, which had showed perplexity, cleared. 'Ah, it's the
magazine you're meaning. Sure you puzzled me entirely, for it is not
nature you want, Miss Tweedie, though, 'tis true, one can't have too
much of a good thing.'
It was a distinct compliment or meant to be one, but Rose listened
to it gaily, and five minutes after, despite her shoes, was whirling
in and out of the shadows, full of the keen enjoyment which dancing
brings to some people.
Lewis Gordon, lounging lazily in his dark corner, noticed her with a
certain irritated surprise. It was a more inconsequent, therefore a
more womanly action than he expected in a girl who annoyed him by
refusing to take either of the two places he assigned to women folk in
his Kosmos. There were those of whom wives and mothers could be made
discreetly, safely; and those who would be utterly spoilt by the
commonplace process. He turned to his cousin feeling no such
difficulty in regard to her classification. Yet in the dim light
nothing could be seen save the outline of a small head, a huge fur
boa, and long curves ending in a bronzed slipper catching the light
beyond the shadow in which they sat.
'Shall we not dance?' he asked. 'It is the best waltz of the three.
Then I could bring you some coffee and we could rest—on our laurels.'
'No, thanks. I was engaged to Mr. Fitzgerald for the last, and I
must give him time to cool down.' The voice was sweet, refined,
'I believe you are afraid of Fitzgerald.'
There was a touch of hauteur in the sweetness now.
'It is the second time this evening you have hinted at that, Lewis.
I suppose—being a sort of relation—you know something of that boy
and girl entanglement before I married your cousin. Is it so?'
Her unexpected and unusual frankness took him aback into faint
'There is nothing to apologise about, I assure you,' she went on,
regaining her carelessness. 'You may as well know, the facts. I was
engaged to Mr. Fitzgerald. We were both babies, and my people
disapproved. Then your cousin proposed, and good sense came to us; for
we were not suited to each other. Du reste, Mr. Fitzgerald and
I are still friends, and he is the best dancer in Rajpore.'
There was a pause, before he said quietly, 'Why not be quite frank,
Gwen, and say he is in love with you still? Surely that is palpable.'
'Perhaps. But I prefer to leave such questions alone, even with my
cousin. Especially since that cousin has done me the honour of telling
me many times that he is devoted to me himself.'
He smiled at her deft evasion.
'What is the use of any one being devoted to you, Gwen, if you are
going to marry Colonel Tweedie?' he replied half jestingly.
'I did not know I was going to marry him; but I am certainly going
to look after Miss Rose Tweedie in camp—if she will have me. Do you
think I shall want a new riding-habit, Mr. Gordon?'
'I really cannot help you on that question, Mrs. Boynton.' She
leant towards him, so that he could see the laugh pass from her pretty
eyes. ' Don't be foolish, Lewis. You have been too good and kind to
me for that. You, who know my affairs as well as I know them myself,
must see that I have scarcely any choice between marrying again, and
going home to live with my mother-in-law, or starving in some horrid
poky lodging. How I should hate either! I can't live without money,
Lewis. I don't spend much—but it goes somehow. Then my pension as a
civilian's widow is but genteel poverty. Clothes are so expensive to
begin with; yet even your best friends don't care for you unless you
are well dressed.'
The real regret in her tone made him quote a trite saying about
'Rubbish!' she interrupted, sinking into her cushions again.
'Beauty is like the blue teapot; you must live up to it. I must marry
some one who can afford a well-dressed wife. I must indeed, in common
honesty to my future creditors. Personally I should prefer it to the
mother-in-law. Besides, if I went home I should never see you again,
Lewis. I should not like that—would you?'
If the words in themselves were a direct challenge, they came from
the shadow where she sat, so daintily, so airily, that half a dozen
replies were possible without trenching on sober affirmation or
denial. Yet her hearer hesitated. There must always be a time when a
man settles whether or no he shall ask a certain woman to be his wife,
and this was not the first time the idea of marrying his cousin had
occurred to Lewis Gordon. He was not the head of a Department, but he
was in a fair way to become one in the future. He had money of his
own, and she liked him in a way. As for her? she was perfection as a
companion. As a wife?—
'My dear Gwen! I should hate it,' he said fervently, being certain
of so much. But when he had said the words, they sounded too little,
or too much, so he took refuge in jest again. 'Faute de mieux I
should prefer the family party; that is to say, if you could induce
your future step-daughter, Miss Rose, to bear with my presence.'
The light on the bronze slipper shifted, showing an impatient
movement of the pretty foot.
'Impossible, I should say,' came the voice, airy as ever; 'but as
you seem to be imitating the barber's fifth brother to-night, why not
settle that she should marry? Girls do, sometimes, especially in
As she spoke a couple swooped out into the almost empty circle of
polished floor. The waltz, nearing its end, gave them a swinging
measure, and those two were dancers indeed. One could not choose but
look, until, as the last chord crashed, they stopped as if petrified,
to smile at each other, before hurrying away. Lewis Gordon watched
them, his hands on his knees, a cynical smile on his face.
'By all means!' he said languidly. 'Suppose we say Dan Fitzgerald,
and so get rid of our two bêtes-noir at once.'
Mrs. Boynton started from her cushions and gathered her boa
'What nonsense we are talking! Stupid nonsense into the
bargain—which is intolerable. I am ashamed of myself. Come! let us
have some coffee and forget our folly.'
Her companion rose to accompany her with a shrug of his shoulders.
'I beg your pardon, even though I fail to see the enormity of my
offence. Fitzgerald, if he were once settled—'
She interrupted him with a gay laugh. 'So you aspire to the
barber's office in other ways; would like to ranger your
friends. When I am duly installed as chaperon I must consult you on
matrimonial questions; but not till then, if you please, Lewis. Ah!
there is Mrs. Dacre, I haven't seen her for an age; not since I went
He took his dismissal placidly, as men do in a society where they
cannot claim the undivided attention of at least one woman. Besides,
Gwen Boynton's chief charm lay in the impossibility of forgetting
that—provided she did not wish to do something else—she would be
quite as gracious to the person who cut into your place as she had been
to you. Furthermore that he was sure to hold as good a hand, and know
the game as well as you did; for Mrs. Boynton, as Rose Tweedie had
remarked, admitted no inferior players to her table. Seen now in the
full light of the coffee-room she showed slight and graceful in the
soft grey draperies which she wore as half mourning for the late Mr.
Boynton—a perfectly unexceptional man who, on the verge of
retirement, had lost all the savings of a long bachelorhood in one
unfortunate venture, and had died of the disappointment. Beyond a
perfectly lovely mouth and the faultless curves of chin and throat,
there was nothing remarkable in her face; nothing at least to account
for her remarkable charm. That, however, was indubitable; even Lewis
Gordon, sipping his coffee outside the circle which gathered round her
quickly, kept his eyes upon her. So he noticed hers turn more than
once to Dan Fitzgerald, who stood at the table waiting to replace Rose
Tweedie's tumbler of lemonade. 'She is afraid of him,' he thought. 'I
wonder why? Perhaps she hasn't got over her fancy either; that is the
only thing I can think of likely to create a difficulty.' Then he went
off to button-hole another Secretary about business, and forgot even
Yet, if half an hour afterwards he had by chance wandered into that
portion of the gardens devoted to zoology he would have seen something
to confirm his suggestion. For the two figures leaning over the iron
rail surrounding the ornamental water were those of Mrs. Boynton and
Dan Fitzgerald. The moon shone on the water; the clumps of bamboo and
plantains on the central island showed softly dark; masses of feathery
tamarisk trees and the sweeping curves of a sandhill or two beyond the
garden shut out the world. Otherwise it was not a suitable spot for
sentimental interviews, by reason of the ducks and geese, whose sleepy
gabblings and quackings were apt to come in unsympathetic chorus to
lovers' talk, while the adjutants, standing in pairs side by side,
their heads under their wings, were over-suggestive of Darby and Joan.
The conversation between these two, however, was sufficiently
sensible to stand the test of their surroundings.
'It is really absurd,' she said in (for her) quite a querulous
voice. 'I accept a pleasant invitation to make himself useful to the
Tweedies, who have always been most kind to me,—and my cousin. And
why every one should jump to the conclusion that I am going to marry a
man who is almost old enough to be my father I cannot imagine. Really
the world is too idiotic.'
'You don't lump me in as the world, do you, Gwen?' he answered in a
lower tone. 'Surely you make a difference—surely there is some excuse
for me, dear? I haven't seen you for six weeks, Gwen; you've been
away, remember. And I hurried so for that promised dance, which you
forgot. Yes; we'll say you forgot it. Then every one is talking of
your going into camp with the Tweedies, wondering at your giving up
the pleasures, the society, hinting at some reason—'
'If you can't trust me, Dan, that is an end of everything,' she
interrupted sharply. 'No, don't!—please, don't! One never knows who
mayn't come this way. Do let us be reasonable, Dan. We are not boy and
girl now, to squabble and make it up again. You tell me always that I
love you—have always loved you—will never love any one else; and
perhaps you are right. Isn't that confidence enough for you?' She
tried her utmost to keep an even tone, but something made the
unwilling, smile on her lips tremulous.
'It is, dear, and it isn't,' he said, his face showing soft and
kindly in the moonlight. 'If I were only as sure of the rest of you as
I am that you love me! But it was so, Gwen, in the old days; yet you
threw me over. I knew it then, and it made me go to the devil—more or
less. For if I had had the pluck to say, "You sha'n't," you would have
been happier. I spoilt your life as well as my own by my cowardice.
And I'm as bad as ever now, Gwen,—afraid to make you poor. Why don't
I speak up, Gwen, instead of giving in to the worst part of
you?—instead of waiting for promotion and making you more extravagant
by paying the bills?'
'You needn't have reminded me of that!' she cried hotly; 'I'm not
likely to forget it.'
He stared at her for an instant in sheer downright incredulity. Then
he laid his hand on hers sharply, and with the touch something that
was neither dislike nor fear, yet which seemed to alarm her, came to
'Don't say that, Gwen! you don't—you can't mean it. For you know
it is all yours—that I'd starve to give you a pleasure. Ah, Gwen! if
you would only marry me to-morrow you'd never regret it. Why shouldn't
you, dear? There's no fear; look how I've got on since you gave me the
hope two years ago when I came to you in your trouble. If I had only
had the pluck then to marry you straight away—'
'But it was impossible,' she broke in quickly, as if to lure him
from the point. 'What would people have said? It was so soon.'
'What do I care? But now there is no reason—no reason at all. I'll
get my promotion all right. Keene is there at Hodinuggur, so nothing
can go wrong again. Gwen, why shouldn't you marry me to-morrow?'
'To-morrow!' she echoed faintly; yet for the life of her unable to
repress that tremulous smile.
'Yes. Ah! my darling, you don't know what the uncertainty means to
a man like I am. You don't know—you don't understand. If I only had
you to myself, I would not fear anything. And you wouldn't, either, if
I had the chance of teaching you what it means to a woman to have some
one between her and the world—some one to hold her fast—some one—'
She shrank now from his increasing emotion.
'Don't! oh, don't! you frighten me. And don't be hurt or angry,
dear. I've promised to marry you sometime—I have indeed. Oh, Dan, how
foolish you are!'
She laid her delicately gloved hand on his arm, as he leant over the
railings, trying to hide the bitter pain her look had given him; but
he only shook his head.
'You can't make me different from what I am,' she went on almost
pettishly; 'you can't, indeed.'
'I could, if I had the chance. That is all I ask.'
'And you will have it some day, Dan. Perhaps you are right, and I
should be happy. Only, what is the use of talking about it just now?
We have settled so many times that nothing can be done until your
promotion comes. That will be next year, won't it? if nothing goes
wrong at Hodinuggur. Oh, Dan, do cheer up. I have to go out to dinner,
and it is getting late; but I'll drop you at the Club, if you like. I
didn't mean to hurt your feelings; you know that; but you are so
impetuous. Dan, do come! the geese are making such a noise, I can
scarcely hear myself speak.'
It was true. Something had disturbed the peace of the pond, for a
confused gabbling and quacking filled the air. Dan tried to fight
against it for a minute, then with an inward curse gave up the
struggle. As they walked back to the carriage Gwen felt grateful to
the birds. They had saved the Capitol, for a very little more of Dan's
hurt feelings might have made her promise anything. It was her way
when brought face to face with pain. To make up for what he had
suffered she was very gracious to him as they strolled along the
winding walks set with English flowers, and the barred cages where big
yellow tiger's eyes gleamed out of the shadows; gleamed quite
harmlessly of course. But when she returned that evening to the rooms
in the hotel which she occupied during the winter months her mood had
changed; for Lewis Gordon had been at the dinner. She went over to her
writing-table, took out a bundle of receipted bills and looked at it
with a distaste seldom displayed towards such a possession. How
foolish, how wrong, how unfair to poor Dan it had been to let him pay;
and what a dreadful tie to her, for of course if he did not get his
promotion she could not possibly marry him and then the obligation
would be unbearable. Gwen, brooding over the situation by the fire,
felt aggrieved. She was one of those women who, paradoxical as it may
seem, gain the power of exciting passion by their own absolute lack of
comprehension as to its first principles. To say she had no heart
would have been an unkind calumny. She was really very fond of Dan;
more fond of him when he was absent perhaps than when he was present,
but she had not the remotest conception of what his love meant to him.
So as she sat thinking of him in her seamless dress—Gwen's evening
dresses always had a seamless look, and the lace about her fair
shoulders always seemed pinned on with cunning little diamond brooches
glittering and sparkling—she told herself that it all depended on
promotion, and that, in its turn, depended largely on a boy whom she
had never seen, who had gone to live in the desert with the sole
purpose of forcing her to keep her promise. A queer tie indeed between
that branded bungalow set in the sand, and her refined little
And at that moment George, pondering over a cigar in the verandah
before turning in, was meditating, not upon the mysterious mound of
Hodinuggur, with the light in the Diwan's Tower challenging the feeble
flicker in the potter's house, but on something far more mysterious
than either—his dinner. That dinner of six courses, compounded out of
the desert fowl in various stages of existence, to which his factotum,
a man whose imaginative faculty outran his creative power, had given
such topsy-turvy yet familiar names. Wherefore? Why was it deemed
necessary to feed a sahib on salt-fish concocted out of chicken and
anchovy sauce, and then to give dignified support to the fraud by
handing round the conventional egg-sauce? George gave up the puzzle
and went to bed depressed by the consideration that if Hodinuggur was
strange and unkenned to him, he was quite as strange and unkenned to
CHÂNDNI was standing in her cool recesses of shadow at the
farther end of the gateway which adjoined the little strip of bazaar
leading past the palace. A bazaar but a few yards long, yet retaining
in that small space a specimen of all the vices which in past times
had made the Moghuls of Hodinuggur infamous. A couple of young men
with uncovered heads were dicing on a string bed thrust under a
patched, dyed awning stretched from balcony to balcony. A group of
half-a-dozen more were quarrelling vilely over a quail fight beside
the liquor-seller's booth, gay in its coloured bottles. Two or three
of various ages, heavy with drugs, were sprawling and nodding in the
gutters. Just across the street a sutara-player was twanging away,
and above him a girl, powdered and painted, bent over the wooden
balcony flinging snatches of hideous song on the passers-by, and
shrieking with coarse laughter at a naked monstrosity who, as he
begged, made capital of his misfortunes. On this girl, with her
grease-smirched hair and Brummagem jewelry, Chândni, from her shadows,
cast glances of scorn, which she transferred after a time to Dalel
Beg, who sat crouched up against a plinth smoking a rank hookah and
sipping a 'rajah's peg' of brandy and champagne. He had discarded
European dress entirely, and the few clothes he wore smelt horribly of
Against the darkness of the arch behind her the woman's tall figure
showed like a white shadow. Not a scrap of colour anywhere save in her
stained lips and the pomegranate sprig she twirled idly in her hand.
Keeping time with it to the thrum of the sutara; keeping time also
with a clash of the silver anklets hidden by the long gauze draperies
of her Delhi dress.
'Yea! Dalel!' she said mockingly, and the creamy column of her
throat vibrated visibly with her smooth round voice. ''Tis over true
what the little sahib said of thy coarse attempts. The pack of us are
fools. The sahib- logue's drink yonder steals what brains God gave
thee; then Meean Khush-hâl was never aught but a big belly, and the
Diwan—Heaven keep him for the best of the lot—sits too high. There
remains but Chândni the courtesan, and she—'
'Hath failed,' broke in Dalel with a forced explosion of malicious
laughter. 'Lo! thou hast not had a civil tongue for others since he
flouted thee. Sure the plant must be trampled in the dust ere it
blossoms. Have patience, heart's delight.'
He was too weary even in his malice to seek the amusement of
watching the rage grow to her face as she stood behind him.
'Whose fault,' she began hotly; then with a louder clash of the
anklets ended in a laugh. 'Lo! 'tis past. And what care I? 'Tis naught
to me, but if the treasure-chest of Hodinuggur be empty, 'tis good-bye
to Chândni. She goes back to Delhi.'
'Nay! nay!' whimpered Dalel with a maudlin shake of the head, as he
sought comfort in finishing the tumbler. 'We will succeed yet; but the
boy hath no youth in his veins. I know not how to take him as the
others. Yet have we done our best—'
'Best,' echoed the woman scornfully. 'Stale old tricks. A gold
mohur under his plate at dinner forsooth! That was soon over in a
beating for the servant who should have seen it put there. A dish of
oranges stuffed with rupees which the same servant, wise man, kept for
himself. A gun he would not take! a dinner he would not eat! a horse
he would not ride! Even a woman he would not look at. What care I?
there be others who will. Stale old tricks indeed! insipid as uncooled
water on a summer's day, or that thing yonder'—she pointed to the
opposite balcony—'compared to me. Think not I did not see thee ere I
came out, oh! Dalel. Not that I care. There be others, and Delhi is
but a day's journey.'
'Mayhap the tricks are old,' he muttered in sullen discomfiture.
'Hast new to advise?'
She laughed. 'Not to thee; thou hast not the wit for it. And there
is naught new. The crazy potter is right when he saith the world is in
the dust. Sure every ploughman knows, that no matter what the surface
be, the sand lies under all. Thou hast but to dig deep enough.'
She had moved forward to lean against the plinth. In the action her
thin draperies clung to the long curve of her limbs from hip to ankle.
Her right hand supported her head, which was thrown back against it,
so that the arm framed her face. It was the attitude of the Medea in
Pompeian frescoes; the face of a Medea also till the downward glance
of her eyes met an upward one from the sutara-player. Then with a
flash and a laugh the pomegranate blossom flew out into the sunlight
and fell at the young man's feet. Dalel clutched at her savagely amid
a volley of coarse English oaths.
'Let me go, beloved!' she giggled. 'Did I not say the sand lay
under all? What! art jealous? jealous of Chândni the courtesan?
Wouldst have me Dalelah since thou art Dalel? If that be so, I will
put thee in good temper again.'
She snatched at an old banjo hanging on a nail, sank down amid her
draperies like a cobra on its coil, and began recklessly to sing
'Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay,' while Dalel waggled his head, but half
'Thou canst not dance it though,' he maundered sleepily. 'Not as
'twas pictured in the pictures at the Jubilee Institute. Thou art no
good at all. I will change thee for a half-caste girl. Yet if there be
no money in the treasury? Lo! Fate is hard, and I have done my best.'
And still the song of civilisation went on, full of incongruous
barbaric intervals. The girl in the balcony retreated in a huff before
an accomplishment unknown to her: the quail-fighters laughed at the
noise. Only George Keene, wandering about one of the inner courts of
the palace, seeking a good spot whence to sketch a certain blue-tiled
mosque, found himself unconsciously whistling a refrain, and paused to
listen in sickening suspense. Yes, it was! Fitzgerald was right when
he said the country was being ruined by culture! What an
inconceivable, unthinkable contrast to that great ruined courtyard,
its blue tiles decorated in endless writing with the Attributes of
God. At least how inconceivable it would have been six weeks ago, when
he had first seen the mosque with Dan as his companion. For George
Keene was becoming accustomed to being, as it were, depolarised. It
would have made him very angry had any one told him that Hodinuggur
had already altered his outlook on life, though it could scarcely have
failed to do so. To begin with Dalel Beg's occidental follies, grafted
on to a sound stock of ancestral vices, made him, as he leered over a
billiard cue and tried to induce George to bet, quite a startling
study. Not so disturbing, however, as the sober, gentle, inoffensive
villagers with the confession, 'It is God's will,' on their patient
lips. Content to toil and die, smiling over the fact. Surely,
something ailed the terminology of religion if these were Heathen, and
certain Western folk in his father's suburban parish were Christians?
Then there was the mad potter in whose walled yard George listened to
the oddest old-world tales, and the Diwan with whom the lad played
chess. To tell truth, he never climbed up for that purpose to the
tower without a breathlessness not altogether to be accounted for by
the steepness of the stairs. Face to face with the old man, sitting
still as a statue before the pieces, George felt himself face to face
with something he could not set aside with a sneer. Yet he might have
been playing with an automaton for all the interest Zubr-ul-Zamân
displayed, while he, on his part, was agonising in anxiety. But once
his hand had left the piece, the old man's would rise from his knee,
hover over the board for a second, then swoop down unerringly with the
murmur, 'My play is played.' And the move generally disposed of all
George's deep-laid plans, for the Diwan was a passed master in chess.
Yet the lad returned again and again for a beating, being dogged in
his turn. He was, in fact, on his way from one when Chândni and the
banjo started his thoughts along a familiar channel. Certainly they
were an odd people, and somehow it was difficult to write home letters
which should at once reflect the truth and give satisfaction to the
Meanwhile Chândni, desisting with Dalel's first reliable snore,
threw the banjo aside and reviewed the position. There was no mist of
reserve between her and her profession. She had been born to it, as her
forebears had been. Her success in it was rather a matter for pride
than shame; her only anxiety being the future. Should she linger on as
she had been doing in hopes that out of sheer conservatism Dalel Beg
would attach her to him permanently by some of the many possible
marriages? Or should she risk the life of a go-between in her old age,
return to Delhi and amuse herself? The reappearance of the painted
girl in the balcony decided her; she would not give way to such
creatures as that until the emptiness of the Treasury was indubitable.
Yet as she sat rolling the little pellets of opium for her mid-day
dose between her sore palms she looked at her lover distastefully. He
was no good, and if the sluice-gates were to be open that year she
must bestir herself—she and the Diwan. So much was settled before she
swallowed the dreamgiver and threw herself full length on the bare
string bed set deep in the shadows. Then the silence of noon fell on
that sinful slip of bazaar. Even the quails ceased to challenge from
their hooded cages, and the sutara-player with the pomegranate blossom
stuck in behind his ear had forgotten the giver in sleep. But out in
the fields the peasants were at work on their scanty crops, and George
Keene as he entered the red brick bungalow paused to listen to a cry
which never failed to impress him. The cry of praise to the giver with
which the villagers drew water from the wells which stood between them
and death. Truly in that wilderness of sand, water was the mother of
all things. What wonder if it became the motive power in life? What
wonder that, like the silver sword of the big canal, it cut the world
into halves—the people who wanted, and the people who did not want
the sluice-gates opened. With a laugh at his own fancy he went in to
lunch, wondering this time what form the desert fowl would take: it
certainly was the mother of all food! Hodinuggur might have its
serious aspects, but on the whole it was farcical as well as tragical,
and 'Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay' counterbalanced that cry of thanksgiving.
And that same evening, while he was reading the last number of the
Nineteenth Century in the verandah, Chândni had an interview with
the old Diwan on his tower, which, had George been aware of it, would
have seemed to him farcical beyond belief, though it was deadly
earnest to the actors. She sat at the old man's feet so as to be
within earshot of a whisper, since walls, especially in an Indian
palace, have ears. That was why the Diwan's chair was set out in the
open under the star-gemmed dome of the sky which paled to its circled
setting of plain that, seen from the height, seemed in its turn to
curve, cup-like, to meet the sky. The decent domino she had worn on
her way was cast aside out of sheer coquetry, so that her supple
figure, unadorned save for the heavy chaplets of jasmine flowers
shrouding the filmy muslin, might stand outlined above the low parapet
among the stars. For Chândni was shrewd. The ordinary jewels of her
class might have aroused memories in the old man, and she wished to
impress him with her individuality.
'Nay, daughter,' he said approvingly, 'I well believe failure was
not thy fault. As for thy plan—speak.'
She drew her lips closer to his ear, and laid one hand on his knee,
as if to hold his attention.
'Father! all men care for something. He cares not for what he has
been given. Let us try others. If they fail, well and good. Now there
is one thing such as he favour—God knows why?—but I have seen them
myself in the bazaar at Delhi—sahibs who have come over the black
water to buy ragged rugs and battered brass pots. Why? Because,
forsooth, they are old! The crazy potter would say it was because they
remember them. I know not. But this boy pokes about the old
things—questions of the old tales.'
Zubr-ul-Zamân nodded approval. 'True, he favoured the Ayôdhya pot;
but he returned it.'
Chândni's eyes sparkled, then fell. 'So! that is one thing to begin
with. Then he is of those who watch flowers grow and birds build their
nests; who paint colour on paper for the love of it. Again, when the
fowler fails in all else he baits the snare with pity, and sets a
decoy-bird a-fluttering within the net. This boy gives quinine to the
old wives, and fish-oil to the babes born with the Potter's
thumb-mark.' Her laughter crackled joylessly.
'Words—words,' muttered the old man impatiently. 'What wouldest
She drew closer, and the movement sent a wave of perfume from the
jasmine chaplets into the air.
'Lend me Azizan for a week, and thou shalt see.'
Scent, so people say, is the most powerful stimulant to bygone
memories; perhaps that was the reason why her words brought such a
pulse of fierce life to the old face. 'Aziz! Nay! she is of the
'Why not say of the race, father?' retorted Chândni coolly. 'Nay!
in such talk as ours truth is best. Thinkest thou I am a fool when I
go to dance and sing in the women's quarter? Is it not sixteen years
since the potter's daughter disappeared on the night of the great
storm,—hath not this fifteen-year-old the potter's eyes—Heaven
shield us from them!' Her hand went out in the two-fingered gesture
used to avert the evil eye in West as well as East.
Zubr-ul-Zamân scowled at her.
'There be other girls and plenty; take them,' he began. 'Besides,
she is betrothed. I will not lose the dower.'
'Wherefore shouldest lose it? I said a week, and Zainub, the
duenna, will see to safety. He will but paint her picture.'
The Diwan spat piously. 'And what good will such accursed
idol-making do?' he asked more calmly.
''Twill bring the quarry within reach; he lives too far away now.
Give me the girl, my lord, else will I know that the Diwan
Zubr-ul-Zamân Julâl-i-dowla Mustukkul-i-jung is afraid of the
'As thou art, daughter of the bazaars,' he retorted fiercely.
'Shall I set them on thee and thine?'
Chândni essayed an uneasy laugh. 'I will do her no harm,' she
muttered sullenly. ' I will not even speak to her if thou wilt. Zainub
shall do all.'
Half-an-hour afterwards Chândni, wrapped in her white domino,
paused on her way home at the door leading to the women's quarters and
knocked. After a while an old woman appeared at the latticed shutter.
The courtesan whispered a word or two, the door opened, and the two
disappeared down a dark passage. ''Tis Chândni come to dance.' The
whisper ran through the airless, squalid rooms, causing a flutter
among the caged inhabitants. Out of their beds they came, yawning and
stretching, to sit squatted in a circle on the bare floor, and watch
Chândni give a spirited imitation of the way the memsahibs waltzed
with the sahib-logue. It was not an edifying spectacle, but it
afforded infinite satisfaction to the audience. An audience which has
to take its world at second-hand, and in the process has grown
careless as to abstract truth. The young women tittered, the old ones
called Heaven to witness their horror, and then they all sat without
winking an eye while the courtesan sang the songs of her profession.
But little Azizan's light eyes saw nothing at which to smile or to
cry in either performance. She was young for her years, and very
sleepy; besides, she was betrothed to an old man whom she had never
seen, because, as all the other girls took care to tell her, she
really was too ugly to be kept in the family. And that sort of thing
takes the zest from life.
When the entertainment was over, Chândni sat and talked with
Zainub, the duenna, until dawn, with that careless disregard of
bed-time, which makes it quite impossible to foretell at what hour of
the day or night a native of India will be asleep or awake.
But George Keene, over the way in the branded bungalow, was safely
tucked up in sheets and blankets, whence nothing short of an
earthquake would have roused him.
An earthquake, or else a prescience of the hideous caricature
Chândni had been making of the trois temps over in the Palace.
GEORGE KEENE was trying to translate the cloth-of-gold sunlight
into cadmium yellow, with the result that the blue of the tiles in his
sketch grew green, and the opal on the pigeons' breasts as they sidled
along the cornice, was dimmed to dust colour.
The courtyard with its blind arcades of Saracenic arches surrounding
the mosque, lay bare and empty, as it always did save at the hours of
prayer. He looked across it with a dissatisfied expression, noting the
intense colour of certain tiles which were mixed up with those more
modern ones bearing the Arabic letterings. The former reminded him of
the Ayôdhya pot, and set him a-wondering if he should ever have an
honest chance of procuring one like his first bribe. The old potter,
his authority in such matters, had told him they were still to be
found, more or less broken, in the digging of graves, or the sinking
of wells. Hitherto, however, he had failed to hear of one. Yet, the
possibility remained, since those tiles, which must be centuries older
than the café chantant sort of proscenium on which they were
inlaid, had survived. The latter he saw clearly, now he came to draw
it, had been added on to an older building behind; probably a Hindu
temple. So, when all was said and done, that figure of a grave and
reverend Mohammedan moulvie, which he had intended to put in the
foreground, might not have so much right to be there as a priest of
Baal. It was a confusing country!
When he looked up again from his work, he gave a start; for a
totally unexpected model was squatting on the flags of his foreground.
A mere slip of a village girl; and yet was she of the village? More
likely a stranger—perhaps one of the southern tribes of whom the
potter told tales—since her dress was odd.
It consisted of a reddish purple drapery, more like wool than cotton
in texture, with a stitched border in browns and creams such as the
desert folk embroider on their camel trap- pings. It was an admirable
piece of colouring against that blue background, and he began upon it
at once, reckless of the averted face; for he was accustomed to be
thus watched furtively from afar, and knew that the least notice would
end in instant flight, as of a wild animal. Besides, the faces were
apt to be disappointing. This one, however, was not, and his first
glimpse of it gave him quite a shock. Without being beautiful, it was
most peculiar; a golden brown face, with a long straight nose, and a
wide, curved mouth. Golden brown hair under the reddish purple of the
veil; golden brown eyes, and a golden brown arm circled with big
bronze bracelets stretched out so that the hand rested on—
He gave an irrepressible exclamation and half rose from his seat.
Down fell his box and brushes, and over went the dirty water streaming
across his hard-won sunshine. He mopped at it hastily with his
handkerchief—as hastily as he dared; but when he looked up the girl
had gone. He sat down and eyed the spot where she had been
suspiciously; not because of her disappearance—there had been time
for that—but because he was doubtful of his own eyes in thinking
that her hand had rested on an Ayôdhya pot. If so, what a rare chance
he had lost; if not, he must be going to have fever, and had better go
home and take some quinine. Go home, however, viâ the potter's
house, and ask that inveterate gossip if he knew anything of an
odd-looking child with light eyes—here George gave a low whistle,
paused in his packing up of paint-boxes, and looked round again to
where the girl had squatted, feeling that it was foolish of him not to
have noticed the resemblance before. Doubtless the girl was a relation
of some sort, though the old man had always strenuously asserted that
he had none living. Perhaps he had meant no male ones; yet, strangely
enough, Fuzl Elahi did not seem to share that contempt for girls which
all the other natives of George Keene's acquaintance professed. He
often talked about his dead daughter, and whenever he talked he became
excited and restless; indeed, the fear of thus arousing him made
George somewhat reticent in his description of the girl he had seen,
which he confined as far as possible to the dress.
'She is not of Hodinuggur, Huzoor,' declared the old man
confidently. 'They who wear wool live far to the south. They never
leave the hearthstone where their fathers lie buried. 'Tis the old
way, Huzoor, and we of this place did it also long ago.' Suddenly his
eyes lit up, he let the wheel slacken and clasped his hands closely
over the dome of clay in its centre. It shot up under the pressure
like a fountain. 'Perhaps the Huzoor hath seen one of the old folk;
they come and go, they go and come. I see them often; my fathers and
their fathers, but never my daughter. She will not come, she will not
come.' As his voice died away the cadence of the wheel recommenced,
only to stop with a jar. 'Huzoor! Have you seen her? A slip of a
girl with a fawn face tinted like a young gazelle's? Not black like
these people—but sun colour and brown—all sun colour and brown with
little curls on her forehead—'
For the life of him George could not help acknowledging the thrill
that ran through him. The man was mad, of course, hopelessly mad; yet
if he had seen the girl he could scarcely have given a better
description. Perhaps he had seen her, knew all about her, and only
pretended ignorance, to serve his own ends; that overweening desire,
for instance, to pose as one apart from commonplace humanity, at which
George alternately laughed and frowned.
'Your daughter is dead, potter-ji, how can I have seen her?' he
said rather brutally; yet what else was there to say with that glaring
daylight shining down remorselessly on the squalid reality of the
scene? It was an ordinary potter's yard, no more, no less; the kneaded
clay on one side of the wheel, the unbaked pots lying on the other. In
the outer yard a couple of children were playing in the dust, while
their mother sought a satisfactory ring in one of the pile of
water-chatties before bringing it with her to haggle and bargain over
the price. Overhead a kite or two wheeled in circles, and down the
slope, of course, lay the Palace and its inhabitants; very ordinary
examples of impoverished native nobility in its worst aspect. So
George Keene meant to be brutal, his common-sense demanded it of him.
But that evening, as he sat smoking as usual in the verandah, he saw a
light flickering about the ruins. So, despite his reticence, the
potter was in one of his restless moods, when he would seek for his
daughter all night long, returning at dawn with a handful of dust,
which he would knead to clay and mould upon his wheel into odd little
nine-pins. Sometimes he would bury these in pairs upon the
mound—George had seen him doing it—more often he would give them to
the village children as toys. George had seen them, too, with sticks
for arms and bits of charcoal for eyes, doing duty as dolls. He had
laughed at the oddity of it all; but now in the soft darkness the
thought sent that thrill through his veins once more. This would never
do! He had been too long mooning about Hodinuggur sketching and
playing chess. It was time to ride down the canal, bully the workman
at the brick-kilns, and have a day or two at the bustard in the
desert; so then and there he called to the factotum and gave his
orders for breakfast to be ready twenty miles off the next morning.
That would settle his nerves.
When he returned, after four days' absence, he set to work
rationally to finish his sketch. The cloth-of-gold sunshine was
brilliant as ever, the blue tiles glowed, the prismatic pigeons sidled
along the cornices. He told himself that Hodinuggur was not such a bad
place if you refused to allow imagination—
'The Huzoor gives medicine to the poor,' came a voice behind him.
'Mother is ill; I want quinine.'
It was the girl with the Ayôdhya pot in her hand. George Keene
laughed out loud in the satisfaction of his heart at his own wisdom.
'What is the matter with your mother?' he asked judiciously.
'She is sick, I am to get quinine,' repeated the girl. 'I came once
before, but the Huzoor jumped up; so I became frightened and ran away.
Since then I have come often, but the Huzoor was not here.'
George felt vaguely that he too had run away before something
ridiculously commonplace and simple, and in the effort to bolster up
his dignity, his tone became pompous and condescending.
'You are not frightened now, I hope?'
The queerest demure look came to her downcast eyes.
'Wherefore should I be afraid? The Huzoor is my father and mother.'
George had heard the saying a hundred times. Even now, incongruous
as it was, it pleased him by its flattering recognition of the fact
that his benevolence and superiority were undeniable.
'But, unfortunately, I don't carry quinine with me,' he began.
'If the Huzoor were to bring it to-morrow when he comes to put
paints on paper, his slave could return and fetch it,' she interrupted
readily. He looked at her more sharply, wondering what her age might
be. 'Shall I come, Huzoor?' she continued, with a certain anxiety in
her grave face.
'What else?' he answered quickly. It would suit him admirably,
since he could come armed with rupees wherewith to bribe the Ayôdhya
pot from her, and with canvas and oil-colour more suitable to the
portrait which, as he looked at her golden brown face and reddish
purple draperies, he resolved to have. He would paint her against the
dark mound of the ruins rising formless and void upon a sunset sky, and
he would call it—
'You had better tell me your name,' he said suddenly, 'then I shall
know to whom I have to send the quinine in case you can't come.'
Her white teeth flashed between the long curves of her mouth.
'I am Azizan, Huzoor. I am quite sure to come, and I will bring the
pot for the medicine.'
It was almost as if she had divined his intention, he thought, as he
watched her pass out through the gateway behind him. It was a queer
chance altogether, all the greater because the name Azizan was
familiarly commonplace. Briefly, it happened to be that of his
factotum's wife. He had, of course, never seen that estimable female,
but he had often heard her addressed in tones of objurgation when
delay occurred between the courses, thus—'Azizan! egg sarse.
Azizan! salt fish is not without egg sarse.' From which George
inferred that she was responsible for the kitchen-maid's portion of
the Barmecidal feast. The remembrance made him smile as he packed up
his colours, resolving to do no more till he could begin in earnest on
that most interesting study. He would have thought it still more
interesting if he could have seen it slipping into the white domino
which old Zainub, the duenna, held ready at the gate, where she had
been warding off possible intrusion by the bare truth, that one of her
palace ladies was within. For the custom of seclusion renders intrigue
absolutely safe, since none dare put the identity of a white-robed
figure to the test, or pry into the privacy of a place claimed by a
'Now mind,' scolded Zainub, as they shuffled back to the women's
apartments, 'if thou sayest a word of this to the girls thou goest not
again; but the old bridegroom comes instead.'
'I will go again,' said the girl gravely, 'I liked it. But the sun
made my eyes ache without the veil. Yes! I will go again, amma-jan'
To tell the truth, she had small choice. We have all heard of an
empire whereon the sun never sets, and where slavery does not exist.
Even those who shake their heads over the former statement, applaud
the latter. But slavery, unfortunately, is as elusive as liberty, and
when not a soul, save those interested in making you obey, is even
aware of your existence, individual freedom is apt to be a fraud. This
was Azizan's case. Born of an unknown wrong, she might have died of
one also, and none been the wiser. The zenana walls which shut her in,
shut out the penal code of the alien. If she had chosen to be prudish,
the alternative would have been put before her brutally; but she did
not choose; for naturally enough, as she said, she liked the
masquerade, even if the sun did make her head ache. So she sat all
that afternoon under the lattice-window, whence, if you stood on
tiptoe, you could see the flags in front of the mosque, and thought of
the morrow; naturally, also, since it was a great event to one who had
never before set foot beyond the walls of the women's quarter.
Yet George had to wait a long time the next day ere she appeared and
squatted down before him confidently. 'It was the black man who came
with the Huzoor's things,' she explained quite openly. 'Mother would
not let me come while he was here. The Huzoors are quite different;
they are our fathers and mothers.'
The repetition of the phrase amused George, and tickled his sense of
superiority. It scarcely needed stimulus, for, like most of his race,
he was inclined to consider the natives as automata, until personal
experience in each case made him admit reluctantly that they were not.
So he wondered vain-gloriously what certain politicians at home would
say to this candid distrust of the black man, produced the quinine,
and then offered Azizan five whole rupees if she would let him draw a
picture of her, as he had of the mosque.
'Is that the mosque?' she asked dubiously.
George's reply was full of condescension, which it would not have
been had he looked on Azizan in the light of a girl capable, as girls
always are, of mischief; for the sketch was accurate to a degree. It
ended in an offer of ten rupees for a finished picture of that odd,
attractive, yellow-brown face. It was now resting its pointed chin on
the tucked-up knees, round which the thin brown arms were clasped; and
the smile which lengthened the already long curves of the mouth George
set down to sheer greedy delight at an over large bribe, which, to
tell truth, he regretted. Half would have been sufficient.
'Then the Huzoor must really think me pretty.'
The words might have been bombs, the sigh of satisfaction
accompanying them a thunderclap, from the start they gave to his
superiority. So she was nothing more nor less than a girl; rather a
pretty girl, too, when she smiled, though not so picturesque as when
she was grave.
'I think you will make a pretty picture,' he replied with dignity.
'Come! ten rupees is a lot, you know.'
'I'll sit if the Huzoor thinks me pretty,' persisted Azizan, now
quite grave. And her gravity, as she sat with the reddish purple
drapery veiling all save the straight column of her throat and the
thin brown hands clasping the Ayôdhya pot, appealed so strongly to
George Keene's artistic sense, that he would have perjured himself to
say she was beautiful as a houri twenty times over if thereby he could
have made her sit to him.
She proved an excellent model; perhaps because she had done little
else all her life but sit still, with that grave tired look on her
face. So still, so lifeless, that he felt aggrieved when, without a
word of warning, she rose and salaamed.
'I must go home now, Huzoor,' she said in answer to his impatient
assertion that he had but just begun. 'I will come to-morrow if the
Huzoor wishes it.'
'Of course you must come,' he replied angrily, 'if you are to get
the ten rupees. Why can't you stay now?'
Azizan might have said with truth that a hand from the gateway
behind the sketcher's back had beckoned to her, but she only smiled
George, left behind in the sunny courtyard, looked at the charcoal
smudges on his canvas with mixed feelings. He had the pose; but should
he ever succeed in painting the picture which rose before his mind's
eye? To most amateurs of real talent, such as he was, there comes some
special time when the conviction that here is an opportunity, here an
occasion for the best possible work, brings all latent power into
action, and makes the effort absorbing. Something of this feeling had
already taken possession of George; he began to project a finished
picture, and various methods of inducing his sitter to give him more
time. Perhaps she had found it dull. Native women, he believed,
chattered all day long. So when she came next morning, he asked her if
she liked stories, and when she nodded, he began straightway on his
recollections of Hans Andersen; choosing out all the melancholy and
aggressively sentimental subjects, so as to prevent her from smiling.
He succeeded very well so far; Azizan sat gravely in the sunshine
listening, but every day she rose to go with just the same sudden
alacrity. Then he told her the tale of Cinderella, and the necessity
for her leaving the prince's ball before twelve o'clock; but even
this did not make Azizan laugh. On the contrary, she looked rather
frightened, and asked what the prince said when he found out.
'He told her that he thought her the most beautiful girl in the
world, so they lived happy ever after,' replied George carelessly.
It was two nights after this incident that old Zainub the duenna
paid a visit to Chândni in her shadowy recesses.
'What is to come of this foolishness?' she asked crossly. ''Twas a
week at first; now 'tis ten days. She used to give no trouble, and now
she sits by the lattice in a fever for the next day. That is the
plague of girls; give them but a glimpse outside and they fret to
death. So I warned Meean Khush-hâl sixteen years agone, when the
mother took refuge with us during her father's absence on the night of
the storm; but he listened not when he had the excuse of the wall.
Yea, that is the truth, O Chândni! 'tis well thou shouldst know the
whole, since thou hast guessed half. Mayhap thou wilt think twice when
thou hast heard. Ai! my daughter! I seem to hear her now; I would not
pass such another year with this one for all the money thou couldst
give. Nor is it safe for me, or for thee, Chândni, with those eyes in
the child's head. Let be—'tis no good. Would I had never consented to
begin the work! I will do no more.'
'True!' yawned Chândni, lounging on her bed. 'Thou art getting old
for the place—it needs a younger woman. I will tell the Diwan so.'
Zainub whimpered. 'If aught were to come of it, 'twould be
different; but thou thyself hast but the hope of beguiling him to some
unknown snare within the walls.'
'An unknown snare is the deadliest,' laughed the other shrilly.
'What care I for the girl? 'tis something to have him meet a screened
inmate of the palace day after day; many things may come of that. If
Azizan pines, tell her the wedding is delayed; tell her anything—'
'Tell her!' broke in the old duenna between the whiffs of the
hookah whence she sought to draw comfort. 'Sobhân ullah! There is too
much telling as it is. He tells her—God knows what!—not
sensible reasonable things, like the tales of a parrot, about real men
and women; but upside-down rigmaroles about beggar-maidens and kings
and sighs without kisses. Lo! she hath them pat! But now, because I
bid her hold her tongue from teasing me with them when I wished to
sleep, she flung out her hands so, quite free like, saying if she
might not speak them she would think them, since they were true words.
He had told her, and the sahib-logue ever spake the truth.'
Chândni burst into high pitched laughter. 'So! the little Moghulâni
learns fast! 'Tis not strange, seeing the blood which runs in her
veins. The cross breed hath but given it strength. Lo! if this be as
thou sayest, she would not thank thee for stopping her ears with the
cotton of decency. Thus, for the eyes' sake, Zainub, thou hadst best
let well alone, and give the girl the rein—while thou canst.'
In good sooth the old dame felt the truth of Chândni's words, and
knew herself to be between two stools. Either by interference, or
non-interference, she ran the risk of Azizan's anger; more, perhaps,
by the latter than the former. So the girl in her odd dress continued
to steal out in the fresh mornings—for March had come with its hot
glaring noons—to sit between George and the mosque, and to steal back
again, obedient to that beckoning hand from the gate; Zainub's
authority remaining sufficient for that, backed as it was by an
ill-defined fear on the girl's part, lest the fate of Cinderella
should befall her before the proper time. There was little
conversation between the odd couple; chiefly because Azizan had none,
and seemed to know nothing of her neighbours and the village. Her
mother? Oh yes! she was better for the quinine. She was a purdah
woman, more or less, and lived yonder—this with a wave of the hand
palacewards. Yes! she had heard there was a potter, but she had never
seen him. Oh, no! they were not related. Her dress? It was very old
because they were very poor. Her mother had had it by her; it was very
ugly. She would rather have 'Manchester'; but they—that is to say,
her mother—would not give it her. The Ayôdhya pot? That was old also.
She had asked her mother, and she was willing to sell it. When the
Huzoor had finished the picture her mother would come, if she were
well enough, and settle the price. If not, the Huzoor might go
'yonder' and speak to her mother. The Huzoors were their fathers and
mothers. It was not like a black man. This much, no more, George
gleaned during the morning hours which passed so swiftly for them
both. He in a novel absorption and pride in the success of his own
work. She? It is hard to say. She sat listening, while the pigeons
sidled and coo'd, the blue tiles glowed, and the blind arcades shut
out all the world save George and his stories. They were of the
simplest, most uncompromising nature; partly because his sense of
superiority made him stoop, perhaps unnecessarily, to Azizan's level;
partly because his knowledge of the language, though long past the
stuttering stage, did not extend to niceties of emotion. But loving
was loving, hating was hating, when all was said and done. Sometimes
the crudity of his own words made the lad smile, as, by the aid of his
own complexity, he recognised how entirely they dealt in first
principles; and then Azizan would smile too, not from comprehension,
but from first principles also. The woman's smile born of the man's.
It was different, however, when he laid down his brush with an
elated laugh. 'There! that's done! and you have sat like—like
anything. Earned your ten rupees and—Azizan! my dear little
girl—what is the matter?'
First principles with a vengeance, and the sunlight turning tears to
diamonds as they rolled down those sun-coloured cheeks! He rose,
divided between pity and impatience, and stood looking at her almost
incredulously. 'Come, don't cry—there's nothing to cry about. Look!
how pretty you are in the picture; but it wouldn't have been half so
pretty if you hadn't sat so still. I owe you more than the ten rupees,
Azizan, and that's a fact. What shall it be—money or jewels? What
would you like best?'
She did not answer, and with the same careless superiority he
stooped and turned her downcast face to his; he was used to turning it
this way or that at his pleasure. But this somehow was different; so
was the sun-colour and brown he saw. Sun-colour indeed! He was only
one-and-twenty, and the brightness and the glamour which seemed to
fall in a moment on everything, as he saw the heart-whole surrender of
her eyes, dazed him utterly; only one-and-twenty, and he had never
before seen such a look as this that came to him from the sun-coloured
face; but it was brown also! Truth is truth. It was not a sense of
duty, it was a sense of colour which prevented him from kissing it
then and there. So much may be said for him and his morality, that the
difference between a brown and a white skin was the outward sign of
the vast inward gulf between sentiment and sheer passion. The
transition was too abrupt; for the time it shocked his culture, and
brought a look to his face before which poor little Azizan gave a cry,
and fled, just as she had fled on that first day when George had
spilled the dirty water over the sunshine. He had spilled it now with a
vengeance, and—over the sunshine of her face, sent shame—needless
shame. 'Azizan!' he called after her, his pulses bounding and beating,
Then he paused, since she would not; and told himself that there was
no need for pursuit. She would come back, for there, as she had left
it, lay the Ayôdhya pot. Yes! she must come back. He could scarcely
think of her without it clasped in her thin hands; so silent—yet all
the time—? He gave a little laugh, tender, half regretful. Dear
little Aziz! What a brute, what a fool he had been to bring that look
to her face! His brain was in a whirl; he could think of nothing save
her shy, confident eyes, and ask himself if, when all was said and
done, that world beyond the desert held anything better despite its
palaver and pretension? Did it not come back in the end to the old
ways, to the first principles? He laughed recklessly at his own
thoughts more than once as, scarcely seeing the ground beneath his
feet, he made his way homewards to the branded red brick bungalow.
The factotum was standing in the verandah.
'The mem-sahib is waiting for the Huzoor,' he said calmly.
'The mem! what mem?'
'This slave knows not. She came half an hour gone, and said she
would await the Huzoor's return.'
The man pointed to the sitting-room. 'In there, Huzoor. She has
since fallen asleep in the sahib's arm-chair.'
George stared helplessly at the bamboo-screen which, hanging before
the open door, prevented him from seeing inside. Who could it be? Rose
Tweedie? The mere thought sent the first blush of the morning to his
cheek, by bringing him back with a round turn to civilisation.
'Here! take these things,' he said, thrusting the picture and the
pot hastily into the servant's hand; 'and see!—wipe my boots—they
are not fit to be seen.'
And as the factotum carefully brushed the dust of Hodinuggur from
George's feet, the latter had forgotten everything in wonder as to who
the 'mem' could possibly be.
A LADY, whom he had never seen before, fast asleep in his
arm-chair; the arm-chair of bachelor's quarters, which, having
served as a deck lounge on the way out, brings a solitary luxury
afterwards to the bare sitting-room.
Its present occupant appeared to find it comfortable, for she did
not stir. It must be confessed, however, that there was not much to
disturb even a light sleeper, for George's entrance was shy, and his
surprise sufficient to petrify him for a time. She was dressed in a
riding-habit, and a pair of neatly-booted feet rested on the only
other chair in the room. Evidently she had made herself quite at home,
for a helmet and veil lay with her gloves familiarly beside the cup
and saucer set out on the table for the young man's breakfast.
Altogether there was an air of easy proprietorship about the figure
which lay with throat and cheek sharply outlined against the Turkey
red cushions; one hand tucked behind the fair, rumpled hair, the other
resting slackly on the knee. It increased George Keene's shyness by
making him feel an intruder even in his own room, and without a word
he turned, instinctively, to leave it. As he did so a glitter on the
floor at his feet made him stoop to find a diamond pin. He stepped
aside to lay it out of harm's way on the mantelpiece, and in so doing
caught a closer view of the half-averted face.
When he slipped out again into the verandah, he stood with his hands
in his pockets and whistled softly; it was a habit of his when taken
aback. A most surprising adventure indeed! An Englishwoman—a
perfectly beautiful one into the bargain—at Hodinuggur alone! How on
earth had she come there? From Rajpore, seventy odd miles of sheer
desert to the north, or from the south? The Chief's camp had arranged
to cross the sandy strip in that direction, perhaps on its return to
look in on Hodinuggur, but that did not account for her being alone.
The factotum having disappeared into the cook-room, George, in
order to avoid calling, strolled thither, intent on further
information. In so doing he became aware of his groom at work on a
strange horse. The Huzoor was right, said the man with a grin, it was
the mem's, and was it to have three or four pounds of grain? George,
noticing the little Arab's hanging head, suggested a bran mash, and
went on feeling as if he had tumbled into another person's dream. Yet
no more was to be discovered. The mem had come, sent her horse round,
and gone to sleep in the sahib's arm-chair. Furthermore, what did the
Huzoor mean to do about his breakfast?
George, who, to tell truth, was beginning to feel the pangs of
hunger, hesitated between awaking his guest and taking his bath. He
chose the latter alternative, moved thereto by the remembrance that he
would be none the worse for a clean collar and what he termed 'all
that sort of thing'; but half an hour afterwards, when he returned to
the verandah with the refreshingly clean look of a newly-tubbed young
Englishman, the situation had not improved. It had become worse, for,
while the lady still slept, George felt ravenous; nor could he turn
to his pipe as a palliative lest she should wake suddenly to find him
reeking of tobacco—for he had always been a bit of a dandy, and
fastidious over such things. This did not prevent him from feeling
injured. No woman, be she ever so beautiful, had a right to take
possession of a fellow's breakfast as she had done; and yet it was not
so much her fault as the detestable Indian lack of pantries and
larders, which led to every plate and knife, every eatable, save the
desert-fowl in the cook-room, being, as it were, under the immediate
guardianship of the Sleeping Beauty. Even if the store-closet had been
in the bedroom, he might have 'vittled free' off sardines and
captain's biscuit. And still she slept. At last, in sheer desperation,
he determined to wake her; and, raising the screen, was beginning a
preparatory cough, when the sight of the breakfast-table suggested the
possibility of a raid. The next instant his shoes were off and the
boyhood in him uppermost, as he stole in, his eyes on the sleeper. 'A
good conscience, and no mistake,' he thought, as he annexed the loaf
and a tin of sardines. 'One of the seven sleepers, surely!' This as he
passed more leisurely to a pat of butter and a knife and fork; these
he piled on the loaf, with a spoonful or two of marmalade. Apparently
she had no intention of awakening for days! This thought led to a cup
and some tea from the canister, finally to a milk jug; the latter
proving fatal, for in retiring backward with his spoil through the
screen, its contents dribbled on to his best suit, and the effort to
prevent this, over-balanced the spoon of marmalade, which fell with a
Some people wake to the full enjoyment of their faculties, and with
the first glance of those grey-blue eyes, George saw that
concealment—with half the breakfast-table clasped to his bosom—was
impossible. He blushed furiously, and began to apologise; which was
foolish, since excuses, if due at all, were clearly owed by the
sleeper. She did not, however, make any.
'How kind of you not to disturb me before, Mr. Keene,' she
interrupted in a charming voice. 'Have you been in long?'
Her coolness increased his apologies, making him assert on the
contrary, he had but just returned. Only being rather in a hurry for
'Apparently,' she interrupted again. 'Dear me, what a very
miscellaneous meal it would have been! But, as I am awake, hadn't you
better put it all down before the marmalade runs into the sardines?
Then, as I am quite as hungry as you can possibly be, you might tell
the man to bring breakfast.'
George, if a trifle taken aback by her nonchalance, felt grateful
for the opportunity, given with such easy grace, of getting at his
shoes again before beginning explanations. On his return he noticed
that she, also, had made use of the time to tidy her hair and restore
a general daintiness of appearance. As he entered she was stooping to
look under the table as if to seek something she had lost.
'It is a little diamond pin,' she said; 'I left it here with my
'No,' he answered quickly, off his guard. 'It was on the floor—I
mean—I—I think it is on the mantelpiece.'
'Thanks, so much!' She took it gravely ere going back to the
arm-chair. Then she looked up at him archly.
'Was I snoring dreadfully when you came in first, Mr. Keene?'
For the third time since he had become aware of her presence he
'Snoring?—oh dear no,' he began angrily.
'That is a relief. I was afraid I must have been, to make you
perjure yourself so. As if any sane woman could believe that you went
about Hodinuggur in that costume! I believe you have been in for hours
and hours, and I'm so sorry, Mr. Keene; but you will forgive me when
you hear my tale of woe.'
George, with an odd little rapture at the thought, told himself he
could forgive her anything because she was so beautiful.
'I'm Mrs. Boynton,' she went on; 'you will have heard of me, I
expect, from Rose?'
He told her that he had heard of her from most people at Rajpore,
which was the truth; but he did not say, which was also the truth,
that their praises of her looks seemed to him miserably inadequate. No
doubt, however, she saw this in his eyes, though she had too large an
acquaintance with the expression to take any interest in it. Nice boys
always admired her immensely, and this one looked very nice, with the
beauty of cleanliness on him from head to foot, so she detailed her
adventures with that confidence in sympathy and help which is such a
charm to very young men. To say sooth George deserved it, for he was
one of those who are born to stand between their women-folk and that
necessity for taking the initiative which—pace the
strong-minded sisters—most women cordially detest, and which is the
cause of half the nervous exhaustion of the present age. So after a
very short time he took possession of her future even more decidedly
than she had taken possession of his bungalow. Briefly, the case lay
thus. Colonel Tweedie's camp, owing to the increasing heat, had
changed its route slightly, and was due, as the incoming post would
doubtless let George know, at Hodinuggur next morning. To do this it
had doubled up two marches across the desert into one, so as to
include some inspection work before turning at right angles along the
canal. Owing to this and some good sport on the way, every one had
started by daybreak through the Bâr; that is to say, hard waste land
dotted with tufts of grey caper-bushes, and stunted trees, just high
enough and thick enough to prevent one seeing more than twenty or
thirty yards in any direction, since beyond that the clumps became a
continuous hedge shutting out the world. Colonel Tweedie and his
immediate staff having ridden on in haste, the shooting party,
beguiled by the prospect of bustards, had spread themselves through
the jungle on one side of the track, followed by their horses and
grooms. Mrs. Boynton, however, preferring such road as there was, had
been walking her horse along it in the expectation of being rejoined,
when the sudden firing of an unseen gun made her Arab bolt. First
along the track, then missing it at a bend, the beast had swerved into
some bushes, where a thorny branch had caught in his long tail, making
him perfectly unmanageable. After a mile or more, he had apparently
broken into the track again, and sobered down to a walk, much to her
delight. Then a solitary native traveller had passed, and assured her,
as she imagined, that she was right for the sahib-logue's camp; so she
had trotted on, until, fearing she might lose the track once more, she
had been foolish enough to walk her horse back on its traces, thus
completely losing all her bearings. Finally, at a fork in the almost
invisible path, she had been forced to confess that she had not the
least idea in which direction her destination lay, north or south,
east or west; the sun, therefore, being of little use to her as a
guide. (Here her pretty smile growing a trifle tremulous, made George
profusely indignant with the desert.) Then, regaining her head, she
remembered to have heard Mr. Fitzgerald—who, as Mr. Keene would know,
had of course joined the camp on its entrance into the division—say
that the more open country lay eastward, and so she had ridden as
straight as she could into the shadows, that being her best chance of
steering aright. (Here George grew clamorous over her courage.)
Nevertheless, it had almost failed, she said, when on a sudden the
great silver streak of the canal had appeared from among the bushes,
and she had ridden along its banks till she came to a treeless waste
with a big mound looming in the far distance.
'I knew it must be Hodinuggur,' she finished with a sort of caress
to her own comfort among the pillows, 'by Mr. Fitzgerald's
description, and I knew you from Rose Tweedie's, so I felt it was all
right. And now, Mr. Keene! don't you wonder I didn't snore,
considering I had been in the saddle for eight hours?'
George protested it was virtue itself for her to wake at all; but
that she would have the whole day to rest, as it was manifestly
impossible for her to return to the camp; absurd also, since the
latter was to come on to Hodinuggur next day. So he would send to the
Diwan and borrow a camel sowar, who would ride over with a note
telling of her safety in the bungalow, and asking for anything she
might require. For the rest, all he had was at her service.
'But I shall be turning you out of house and home, shan't I?' she
The young fellow's eyes softened. 'I don't think I ever thought of
it as a home before,' he said with an embarrassed laugh at his own
words; 'but won't you come to breakfast? It's awfully nasty, I'm
'Then we can fall back on the sardines and the marmalade,' she
interrupted gravely. This gravity was with her a perfect art, and gave
a great charm to her gentle raillery.
Perhaps the food was nasty; if so, George, for one, did not mind
except for her sake. He thought of nothing but her comfort; of how he
could welcome her to take possession of everything, himself included.
Was she not the most beautiful, the most fascinating, the most perfect
woman he had ever seen? Did she not deserve the best he could give
her? So, while she was writing the note for the camel sowar, George
slipped away to give instructions to the factotum. The bedroom must be
swept and garnished, and the things pitched away anywhere. The drawers
must be re-papered, a towel put on the dressing-table, and—What a
beastly hole it was, he thought ruefully as he left the man to his own
devices; but half an hour afterwards his face cleared; for the
factotum, having been in good services, had risen to the occasion. Not
only was there a towel on the dressing-table, but two empty
beer-bottles had been modestly draped into candlesticks, with the
gilt ends of the pugree he had received from the Diwan, while the
remainder of the muslin was festooned about the looking-glass.
Azizan's portrait stood on the mantel-shelf with the Ayôdhya pot in
front, and two dinner plates on either side, the arrangement being
completed by two of his best ties knotted in bows about his hunting
crop, and the kitchen fan. A tinsel veil, borrowed from the compounder
of egg-sarse, did duty as a bed-spread, supported by his
Cooper's Hill tennis muffler as an antimacassar. In the middle of the
room the factotum still lingered, benign and superior, one hand
holding a hammer and tacks, the other a pair of striped silk socks,
with the decorative effect of which he was evidently enamoured. In
addition, a figure swathed in white sa modestly behind the
'It is my house,' said the man, with a large smile. 'Since it is
not to be tolerated that the abode of princes should lack a female
slave, the woman, at my command, takes the part of ayah. The Huzoor
may rest satisfied. Azizan's knowledge of the mems equals this slave's
of the sahibs.'
Azizan! The smile left George's lips at the name; and before
leaving the room he thrust the portrait into a cupboard, replacing it
by an illuminated text which was lying neglected under a pile of wire
'The Huzoor is right,' declared the fac- totum cheerfully. 'The
mems have them ever in their rooms. Lo! nothing is amiss.'
George, as he turned at the door for a last look, felt that the
advice, 'Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together' emblazoned
in Gothic characters, holly, and mistletoe, which a maiden aunt had
sent him as a Christmas present, did indeed put the finishing touch to
the solitude of the wilderness.
'But where are you going?' asked Gwen.
'I? Oh! they'll give me quarters in the palace, I expect. Perhaps
I'd better go over now and see about it. Then I've inspection work,
and—and a heap of other things. So perhaps I'd better say good-bye.
I've told the servants about lunch and all that sort of thing. And
your traps will be here before dark.'
A very nice boy, indeed, thought Mrs. Boynton, and showed her
thought. So George went over to the palace feeling quite intoxicated
because he had been instructed without fail to dine in his own house;
and after he had settled about his quarters with Dalel, and had ridden
off on his fictitious tour of inspection, he dug the spurs into his
pony out of sheer lightness of heart, and went sailing away over the
desert, careless even of the direction in which he went.
Dalel meanwhile had repaired to the shadowy arches in a state of
boastful superiority. His friend Keene was coming over to stop in the
palace. They would play cards, and be jolly, and drink. And the lad
always carried the key of the sluice-gate on his watch-chain.
'It is a chance indeed,' said Chândni, with a queer look. Then
after a time broke in on Dalel's vapourings by snatching the banjo
from the wall and breaking into a respectable and plaintive love-song.
'Lo! thou hast thy way, and I have mine,' she laughed recklessly.
'Let us see who succeeds best.' So slipping on the decent white
domino, she set off for the palace, and turned down the dark passage
leading to the women's apartments. Doubtless it was a chance which
must not be neglected.
Between his desire not to disturb Mrs. Boynton's kindness too
early, and his dislike to becoming a prey to Dalel at the palace,
George in the end had to gallop his pony the last four miles, and then
found him- self with but ten minutes in which to dress. But he dashed
up the narrow stair leading to the odd little arcaded room placed at
his disposal by the Diwan, feeling confident in the factotum's
forethought; and, sure enough, on the silk coverlet of the high
lacquered bed lay his dress-clothes and white tie complete. Nothing
else, except his sleeping-suit; so, choice being denied him, he flung
himself into ceremonious black, discovering as he did so that two or
three jasmine blossoms and a sprig of maidenhair fern had been pinned
into the button-hole of his coat. The factotum was evidently
determined he should play the right game. As he ran down the stairs
again he wondered whence the man could possibly have procured the
fern, and then remembered having seen a few fronds clinging, far down
on the masonry of his well, into which the canal water filtered. The
seed of this hill-born plant must have filtered with it; just as these
strange items of knowledge—the shibboleth of dress-clothes and
button-holes—filtered into the brains of these odd people. Life in
Hodinuggur was really very amusing, and full of delightful surprises.
Yesterday he had been waiting— without a collar!—for a Barmecidal
feast, to-day in swallow-tail and a button-hole he was going to dine
with the most beautiful woman in the world! and there, like a fairy
tale, was the branded bungalow illuminated out of all recognition. And
inside were more wonders in a table set out with flowers, and Mrs.
Boynton coming forward to greet him with a bouquet of jasmine and
maidenhair amid the soft ruffles of her white dress—humiliating yet
still amusing, having to confess it came, not from his courtesy, but
the factotum's sense of duty. Then the very sight of the man himself,
in spotless raiment, lording it over Mrs. Boynton's kitmutgâr was pure
comedy. In fact when, dinner being over, George was left face to face
with three napkin-swathed black bottles hung with foolscap tickets of
port, sherry, claret, engrossed in the village schoolmaster's best
hand, he gave one look at Mrs. Boynton before exploding into laughter,
while she vowed to keep the ménu to her dying day, if only to
show the folly of allowing facts to interfere with fancy.
Then by-and-bye, when coffee came in—the factotum diffident over
the breakfast cups but triumphant over the under-footman with hot milk
and sugar on a dinner-plate—they laughed again; yet the laughter
brought a moisture to George Keene's merry grey eyes. In a vague way
the boy knew what had happened, knew that the most beautiful woman in
the world had not only taken possession of house and home, but of body
and soul; and he was glad of it, despite the moisture in his
eyes—glad to the heart's core as he chattered away confidentially,
while she listened graciously, thinking what a charming boy he was,
and what an excellent husband he would make by-and-bye for any girl.
What an admirable son-in-law, in short, he would have made if she had
had a daughter and he had had money; for women of her sort view
mankind chiefly from the matrimonial point of view, and seek to give
variety to the question by importing into it all their female friends.
'That reminds me,' she said, as she listened to the hope that she
was fairly comfortable which George tacked on to his good-night. 'You
have the most fascinating blue pot on your mantelpiece. Where did you
'Do you really like it?' he asked eagerly; 'if so, you can have it.'
'My dear boy!' she laughed, 'I don't mean to appropriate
everything you possess.'
He looked at her with shining happy eyes. 'But it isn't mine as
yet; it belongs to some one, though, who wants to sell it, and if you
would give it to me, now, I'd finish the bargain to-morrow morning
and you shall have it back by breakfast-time if it is to be had for
love or money.' Love or money! The old formula came carelessly to his
Azizan meanwhile, crouching behind one of the palace arcades, and
wondering when she would hear his foot on the stairs, was echoing the
thought in another language. She was trembling all over from
excitement, and fear, and hope; of what, she scarcely knew, she did
not understand. They had dressed her in her best beneath the flimsy
white veil which pretended to conceal the finery it really enhanced,
and surely, she thought, if he had deemed her pretty when in that
dreadful old shroud, he would be still kinder now. They had bidden her
ask for the Ayôdhya pot, and take him to settle the price with her
mother. But of doing this she was not sure; she was sure of nothing
save that she must see him again—must see him to make certain that
he was not vexed. And then she would tell him that traps were being
laid for him—at least she might tell him—but come what might she
must see him; ay, and he must see her as she ought to be seen.
Not a very safe interruption for George to have found awaiting him
in the long moonlit shadows of the arcades had he been in the same
mood as the girl; not even though all the plotting and scheming would
have seemed incredibly absurd to him at any time, and in any mood.
Indeed, even by the dim light of the cook-room, where the factotum was
putting away a copy of the ménu among his certificates as
proof positive of his acquaintance with the appetites of the ruling
race, Chândni's snare would have met with the derision it deserved;
but in the dark intricacies of palace politics it seemed simple
enough, especially to one of her vile experiences.
But George never went near the palace. He sat on the canal bridge
till dawn, smoking one pipe after another, and looking aimlessly,
dreamily at the dark windows of the bungalow. No one could have
foreseen this, not even the lad himself. He had no intention of out-
watching the stars when the balmy air and a feeling of measureless
content first tempted him to pause and set aside the forgetfulness of
sleep for a time—or would it have been sleep when she was in
the desert alone with God knows what ruffians about? A rage grew up in
him at the thought of Dalel and his kind, until the palace itself
became distasteful. So, almost before he realised that he was on the
watch, the gurglings of many camels and the thud of a mallet told him
that the advanced guard of the big camp had arrived, and sent him
across to the camping ground to warn the tent pitchers to be as quiet
as possible. 'May the angels of the Lord pitch their tents around us
this night' used to be the favourite bidding prayer of a certain
Scotch divine when he ministered to a volunteer congregation, until
one day a veteran happening to be there said audibly, 'Then I'm
hopin' they'll no mak muckle noise wi' the tent-pegs.' A tale which
shows the danger of imperfect local colouring; a fact which was to be
brought home that night both to Dalel and Chândni, for even then
George did not return to the champagne and the snares. That
incomprehensible love of the picturesque on which the latter had
counted, kept him engrossed in the novel sight of a canvas city rising
like magic from the bare sand. First came an autocrat with measuring
tape and pegs mapping the ground into squares; then, one by one, in
its appointed place, a great ghost of a thing flapping white wings
against the purple sky, to rise stiff and square above a fringe of
even silvery ropes.
It was not until a saffron-coloured glint in the east startled him
into the thought that he was a confounded ass, that George, out of
sheer lightheartedness, ran all the way back to the palace, stumbled
up the steep stairs, and threw himself into the high lacquered bed to
fall asleep before the saffron had faded into daylight. Perhaps it was
as well, since even the Hodinuggur sun, which had been at work since
the beginning of all things, might have stared to see a masher in
dress clothes knocking into a Moghul palace with the milk. It stared
instead at a more familiar sight; at a girl, face down on a bare
string bed in the women's quarters, sobbing as if her heart would
NATURALLY enough George overslept himself. Naturally also he
woke to feel himself hustled and bustled, for he was due to meet the
incoming camp at the borders of his district at a certain hour; a
feeling he proceeded to vent on the factotum for being late with the
early tea which that worthy had had carried over from the bungalow in
an odd little procession, tailing off to some of the large-eyed
village lads and lasses learning betimes the customs of their rulers.
Then George had promised an answer about the Ayôdhya pot, and now,
even by hurrying, which he loathed, he could scarcely find time to
seek Azizan in the old place. Still he did hurry, and leaving the
camel which he was to ride gurgling in the courtyard, wasted five
minutes in tramping up and down the flags in front of the mosque;
finally, in vexation, returning by the short cut through the bazaar.
In these early hours it had a deserted, yet still dissipated air, the
few loungers looking as if they had been up all night. Only the quails
challenged cheerfully from their shrouded cages. In the arched
causeway, however, he came on Dalel Beg, most offensively European in
costume and manner; for he too was bound on reception-duty.
'Aha! Keene, old chappie,' he began with a leer, 'you sleep well
after burra-khana (big dinner) with the mem. By Jove, you keep it up
George could scarcely refrain from kicking him then and there. But
the thought that these people had possibly put their own construction
on his absence from the palace made him feel hot and cold with rage
and regret. To avoid the subject—the only course open to him—he
hastily held out the Ayôdhya pot which he was carrying, and asked the
Mirza if he had any idea to whom it belonged.
Now the Mirza's oblique eyes had been on it from the first; but at
the question they narrowed to mere slits of compressed cunning.
'Ah, so! very good. I know. Yes, yes! it belong to you, Keene, of
course. Bah! it is worth nothing. I hate old trumpery matters. You
are very welcome.'
'You mistake, sahib,' retorted George haughtily, 'this does not,
did not belong to your grandfather; it belongs to an old woman who
lives near the palace. She promised to sell it to me, and now I'm
rather in a hurry to complete the bargain. Mem Boynton sahiba wants
it, and they leave to-morrow or next day.'
Dalel Beg, who had been turning the pot over and over in his hand,
'So you say it is another—'
'Certainly it is another,' interrupted George, annoyed beyond
measure by his manner; 'it belongs, as I said, to an old woman. She
has a daughter called Azizan—' he paused, doubtful of putting Dalel
on any woman's track.
'Azizan!'—the Mirza signed his attendants to fall back with
unwonted decision before he went on,—'Azizan! tell me, Keene, a young
girl? with eyes of light like potter's?'
Evidently he knew something of, and was interested in the girl, and
George, now that it was too late, regretted having mentioned her name.
'Can't wait any longer now, I'm afraid,' he replied, glad of the
excuse; 'just send one of your fellows up to my quarters with the pot,
will you? Thanks, I've no time to lose.'
Left thus cavalierly, Dalel Beg scowled after the young Englishman;
then with a compendious oath turned back to the side door whence he
had emerged, and, stumbling in his anger up the dark stairs, appeared
again in Chândni's presence. He almost flung the pot beside her as she
lay curled up on her bed, and then, driven to words by her arrogant
silence began a volley of furious questions.
What mischief had the woman been up to? How came it that the English
cub had seen Azizan? Azizan, who after all was his half-sister, one of
the race, though they did keep her out of his sight. And that oaf,
that infidel—. His wrath was real, for beneath the veneer of modern
thought the fierce jealousy of the Moghul lay strong as ever.
Chândni gave a jeering laugh, 'Thou art too handsome for the
maidens, oh Dalel; too wicked also even for the race. Thou needest one
like me to keep thee straight. Lo! there is nothing to know, nothing
to tell. Hadst asked last night, the answer might have been other. I
set a snare and it failed; for thou wert right—the boy is no boy, but
a milksop. May fate send him death and us a black man in his place,
else I stop not here!'
Her jingling feet struck the ground with a clash and she yawned
again. In truth she was tired of Hodinuggur, and longed for the Chowk
at Delhi. Dalel, with a sneer adulterating his frown, looked at her
vengefully, 'Wâh! thou art a poor creature, putting the blame on
others, after woman's way. Thy wiles are useless, forsooth, because
the boy is a milksop. Then a strange mem comes and he sits drinking
wine—my wine, look you, for his servant required it of me—until the
dawn; then comes home tipsy after losing himself among the
This was Dalel's version of the incident. It interested his hearer
into provoking details by denial.
'It is a lie,' she said calmly.
'Daughter of the bazaars, 'tis true! did I not wait till nigh three
with champagne and devil-bone, yet he came not? Did not his servant
tell me but now I had stinted them in wine? Did not the tent pitchers
say he wandered as a madman among the pegs? Was he not at me, even
now, to get this pot for this mem, this woman?' So far his anger had
swept him past its first cause; now he remembered and harked back to
it. 'How came he by the pot, I say? how hath he seen a woman of our
'Ask the Diwan,' she replied coolly; 'for me that measure is over,
I will dance to another tune.' And as she spoke, though her feet
scarcely shifted, a new rhythm came to these jingling bells. ''Tis
odd,' she murmured in a singing tone, as she lifted the pot and held
it out at arm's-length, 'we come back to this old thing at every turn,
and now his mem wants it. Leave it with me a space, O Mirza Dalel Beg.
I will set it yonder in the niche where I take the seed of dreams; it
may bring wisdom to them.'
Dalel gave a contemptuous grunt.
'Thou art no better than an old spay-wife with thy dreams and omens
and fine talk. Sure the Hindu pig, from whom I took thee, hath
infected thee with his idolatrous notions—'
'See, I go not back to them and him,' she interrupted quickly,
'leave it, I say, if thou art wise. If the sahib seek it of thee, say
one of thy women knows the owner and makes arrangement. 'Tis true, and
thou lovest the truth, O Dalel.'
As usual, her recklessness cowed him, and when he had gone and she
sat rolling the opium pellets in her palms, the Ayôdhya pot lay in the
niche. Something had declared in its favour, and wisdom lay in
humouring the mysterious will which nine times out of ten insisted on
playing the game of life in its own fashion. Then she lay back half
asleep, half awake, her hands clasped behind her smooth head, her eyes
fixed on the shifting pattern beneath the glaze. The sun climbing up
sent a bar of shine through a chink in the balcony roof. It slanted
into the recesses, undulated over her curved body and reaching the
niche made the Ayôdhya pot glow like a sapphire. But by this time
Chândni was dreaming so she did not hear the merry laughter of a
cavalcade passing through the Mori gate on its way to the canvas city
in the camping ground. A cavalcade of aliens, with Rose Tweedie on a
camel, her English side-saddle, perched on the top of a native pad,
giving her such height that she was forced to stoop.
'Another inch, Miss Tweedie,' cried George gaily, 'and you would
have had to dismount; you will have to cultivate humility before
'Sure Miss Rose is an angel already,' put in Dan Fitzgerald.
But Lewis Gordon rode gloomily behind; partly because he himself was
in a shockingly bad temper, partly because the camel he rode was a
misanthropist. And these two causes arose the one from the other,
since it was not his usual mount. That, when Rose Tweedie had taken
advantage of Mrs. Boynton's absence to desert the dhoolies which were
the only alternative conveyance across this peculiarly sandy march,
had been impounded for the young lady on account of its easy paces. He
remembered those paces ruefully, as, with low-pitched indignation he
wondered why she could not have stuck to the more ladylike dhooli. Yet
she looked well on the beast and rode it better than most men would
have done on a first trial; than he would, at any rate. But these were
aggravations, not palliations, of her offence; still, when, on
dismounting, she came straight up to him, her natty top-boots in full
evidence, the huge sola topee, borrowed from her father, making her
slim upright figure show straighter and slenderer than ever, he was
forced to confess that if she did do these horrible things she did
them with infinite verve and good taste.
'I'm so sorry, Mr. Gordon!' she exclaimed eagerly, 'indeed I didn't
know of the exchange father made till we had started, or I'd have
stuck to the dhooli—indeed I would. What an awful brute it was! I saw
it giving you a dreadful time. Do let me send you over some Elliman?'
'I'm not such a duffer as all that, Miss Tweedie,' he began.
'I didn't mean that, you know I didn't; but if you won't have the
Elliman, take a hot bath, it's the next best thing I know for
stiffness. You can tell your bearer to take the water from our
bath-fire. And thanks so much, I enjoyed the ride immensely. Mr.
Fitzgerald raced me at the finish, and I beat by a good head.'
'A particularly good head, I should say,' he replied, out of sheer
love of teasing, for he knew how intensely she disliked his artificial
manner with women. The fact annoyed him in his turn. It was another of
her unwarrantable assumptions of superiority; nevertheless he followed
her advice about the bath.
Indeed Hodinuggur for the rest of the day claimed suppleness of
joint, in the mind at least. We all know the modern mansion where,
entering a Pompeian hall you pass up a Jacobean staircase, along Early
English corridors, and Japanese landings to Queen Anne drawing-rooms;
mansions of culture, where present common-sense is relegated to the
servants' attics. Hodinuggur was as disturbing to a thoughtful person
unused to gymnastics; perhaps more so because a certain glibness of
tongue in slurring over chasms and ignoring abysses, became necessary
when, as fell to Lewis Gordon's lot, most of the day passed in
interviews. Solemn interviews of State, then personal interviews with
an ulterior object, finally begging interviews pur et simple.
The other members of the camp, however, had an easy time of it, their
attendance not being required. Dan Fitzgerald passed most of his day
in vain hopes of a tête-à-tête with Mrs. Boynton, for he was on
tenter-hooks to explain the feeling with which, on returning late to
the camp, he had found it in commotion over her loss; but Gwen, who
always dreaded Dan when he had reasonable cause for emotion, avoided
him dexterously, chiefly by encouraging George, who was nothing loth
to spend his day in camp. At first the lad felt no little vexed to
find himself shy and constrained among so large a party; but this
feeling wore off quickly, and when he came, ready dressed for tennis,
into the drawing-room tent at tea-time it seemed quite natural to be
once more amid easy-chairs and knick-knacks, to see the pianette at
which Rose sang her Scotch songs with such spirit littered with music,
and to find her busy at a table set with all manner of delightful
things to eat. He was boy enough to try many of them, that Dan had to
apologise for his subordinate's greed before they trooped out laughing
to the very different world which lay beyond the treble plies of the
tent—that mystical veil of white, and blue, and red, which, during
the camping months, hangs between India and its rulers, giving rise to
so much misunderstanding on both sides. It is the fashion now-a-days
to accentuate the faults of the latter, but much of the bad name given
by superficial observers to Anglo-Indian society, is the result of
that curious light-heartedness which springs from the necessity for
relaxation, consequent on the gloveless hold India exacts on the
realities and responsibilities of life. The saying, 'Let us eat and
drink and be merry, for to-morrow we die,' is hurled unfairly at
pleasure-seekers all the world over, simply because merriment has
become associated with a low type of amusement. If we change the
verbs, the blame vanishes; since to live happily is the end and aim of
all morality. Then in India the pursuit of pleasure must needs be
personal, for there are no licensed purveyors of amusement. You cannot
go to a box-office, buy seats, spend the day seriously, dine at a
restaurant, and take a hansom to the play. As a rule you have to begin
by building the theatre. So it is in all things, and surely after a
hard day's work in bringing sweetness and light (and law) within reach
of the heathen, even a judge with a bald head may unbend to youthful
pastimes, without breaking the Ten Commandments!
But Colonel Tweedie was not bald, and he played tennis vigorously
in what Rose called the duffers' game, with Mrs. Boynton, the
under-secretary, and Lewis Gordon who pleaded shortsightedness as an
excuse for not joining the Seniors against the Juniors, where Rose and
George challenged all comers. Yet he owned it was pretty enough to see
the former sending back Dan's vicious cuts with a setting of her teeth
ending in a smile either at success or failure. Pleasant to see the
alertness, confidence, confidentialness between the boy and girl; to
hear his quick 'Look out,' evoke the breathless 'I've—got it,' as
the ball whizzed to some unguarded spot. It was a fierce struggle and
the wide-eyed villagers who had trooped out to see the strange doings
on their ancestral threshing-floor, gathered instinctively round the
'Ari, sister!' murmured a deep-bosomed mother of many to her
gossip, as they squatted on one of the heaps of chaff which had been
swept aside from the hard beaten floor. 'That one in the short skirt
is a budmârsh.
¹ Her man will need his hands.' Yet an
unrestrained chuckle ran round the female portion of the audience as
Dan, over-running himself in a hopeless attempt after the impossible,
scattered a group of turbaned pantaloons, who, retreating with shaking
heads to re-form further off, muttered in wondering rebuke, 'Hai!
Hai! does not shame come to her.' But a third section, ranged in rows,
gave an exotic 'hooray!' a ridiculous, feeble little cheer, started by
a young man in a black alpaca coat, and accompanied by still feebler
clapping. This was the village school arid its master, claiming its
right to be a judge of 'crickets.'
'You have the better half of creation on your side, Miss Tweedie,'
remarked Lewis, when, the games being over, the men were resuming
their coats. 'What is more, the rising generation of the worser half
also. The boys were unanimous for the "Miss"; we miserable men being
left to the support of past ages. India is doomed. Another decade will
see woman's rights rampant.'
She turned on him readily, as she always did. 'The boys applauded
because the rising generation, thank heaven, is being taught to love
fair play—even towards women.'
'At it again!' interrupted Mrs. Boynton plaintively, 'really I
must get you two bound over to keep the peace.'
'Then I shall have to hire another camel for my luggage,' said
Lewis gravely, 'for Miss Tweedie knocks me and my arguments to bits.'
Gwen turned aside impatiently, saying in a lower voice, 'How
foolish you are, Lewis! One would have thought you would have tired of
it by this time.'
'On the contrary,' he replied in his ordinary tone: 'the bloom is
perennial. I wither beneath the ice of Miss Tweedie's snubs, and
revive beneath the sun of her smiles like—like a bachelor's button.'
And Rose did smile. Her contempt always seemed to pass by the man
himself, and rest on his opinions. Even there, much as she loathed
them, she was forced to confess that they did not seem to affect his
actions; that it was impossible to conceive of his behaving to any
woman, save as a gentleman should behave. Yet this thought aggravated
the offence of his manner by enhancing its malice aforethought, and
made her frown again.
'Come! there is light enough for a single yet, Mr. Keene,' she
said imperiously, and George, with one regretful glance at Mrs.
Boynton, obeyed. Lewis Gordon looked after them, shrugged his
shoulders, and strolled off to the messroom-tent.
'It really is shameful of Lewis to tease Miss Tweedie as he does,'
began Gwen, who, finding herself unavoidably paired with Dan,
instantly started what she thought a safe topic of conversation. He
looked at her with absent eyes.
'A shame, is it? but when a man likes a girl he is very apt—'
She broke in with a petulant laugh. 'Are you asleep, Dan? What
could induce you to think that?'
'What? Why, love of course! Set a thief to catch a thief. A man
can't be in love himself without—'
He certainly was not asleep! but she managed to double back to safer
ground. Yet his words recurred to her that evening during the half
hour tête-à-tête which she accorded with the utmost regularity
to Colonel Tweedie in his capacity of host; Rose meanwhile singing
songs to the younger men who gathered round the piano, leaving those
two decorously to the sofa.
'There is a little song I want Mrs. Boynton to hear,' called the
Colonel during a pause. 'I forget its name—you haven't sung it for a
long time, and I used to be so fond of it. A little Jacobite
song—really a charming air, Mrs. Boynton.' Rose flushed visibly—at
least to the feminine eyes in the party—and shook her head.
'But you must remember it, my dear,' persisted her father; 'do
'Oh yes! please do try! I should so like to hear it,' echoed Gwen
curiously, her eyes full on the blush. Rose, conscious of it, felt
herself a fool, and looked still mere uncomfortable.
'Talking of Jacobite songs,' remarked an indifferent voice beside
her, 'I wonder, Miss Tweedie, if you know a great favourite of mine,
called "Lewie Gordon"—don't laugh, you boys, it's rude. If so, please
sing it. I haven't heard it for years; people are always afraid of
making me vain.'
She gave him a quick, grateful look, as, with a nod, she broke into
'O send Lewie Gordon hame,
And the lad I daurna name,
Tho' his back be to the wa',
Here's to him that's far awa'.' She sang with greater spirit than
before, a sort of glad recognition of his kindly tact leading up to
the decision of the climax:
'That's the lad that I'll gang wi'.' Yet after all, amid the
chorus of thanks, she heard him say in his worst manner,—
'The lad I daurna name!' 'How like a woman!' And he added to the
offence; for, when the little under-secretary remarked diffidently
that he had always understood that the song referred to Charles
Edward, though whether to the old or the young Pretender he could not
say, Lewis, as he dawdled away to his nightly task of breaking up the tête-à-tête, murmured that at any rate it referred to a
But Rose had caught Gwen's appealing look from the sofa also, and
rising, closed the piano with a bang and suggested a round game. If
her intention was to punish the offender, who hated that form of
amusement, she failed ignominiously; for he sat on the 'Stool of
Repentance' with perfect nonchalance, and, when it came to her turn,
paid her such double-edged, charmingly caustic little compliments,
that she had to join in the laugh they raised. It was, in fact, past
midnight ere the Colonel, with many allusions to the delight of such
company, said they really must go to bed, and they trooped in a body
out of the big tent to seek their several quarters.
'I'm glad not to make a casual of you to-night,' said Mrs. Boynton
softly to George.
'Almost wish you were,' he replied, giving a rueful look towards
the red brick prison on the farther side of the canal. 'This is home;
that is exile.'
Dan nodded his head sympathetically. 'I know that feeling. It comes
from jungle stations. And the bungalow does look cheerless in
comparison. Odd; for one naturally associates a camp with wars and
tumults, battles, murders, and sudden death; all the evils of a
transitory world, in fact. But you must have noticed, Mrs. Boynton,
the extra-ordinary air of peace, security, almost of permanence which
tents have in the moonlight. Look! might they not be solid blocks of
marble fastened by silver cords?'
'I noticed it last night when I was watching them being put up,'
began George unguardedly. Mrs. Boynton looked up quickly. Rose, who
was leaning against a rope by the door of her tent which stood next the
mess, glanced along the line of the camp.
'Silver cords and marble blocks,' she echoed. 'Yes! but it sounds
like the new Jerusalem.'
'I always thought,' remarked Lewis Gordon argumentatively, 'that it
was the tents of Midian. I'm sure some one told me so when I learnt
hymns. Or was it hosts of Midian and tents of Ishmael? Anyhow, they
had nothing to do with Paradise, and I for one have been prowling
round long enough. So good-night, Gwen; don't grow wings in the night,
please; it would be so disconcerting. Good-night, Miss Tweedie.'
Being close beside her he held out his hand.
'Good-night; I hope you are not very stiff.'
'I almost wish I were, for then you would sympathise with
misfortune—like a woman,' he replied in a low voice, and as he
passed to his own tent next hers, she heard him quote the lines—
'Tho' his back be to the wa',
Here's to him that's far awa'.' She looked after him, her face
showing soft in the moonlight then, with a good-night to the others,
disappeared in her turn.
George lingered, giving still more rueful glances at the bungalow.
'I suppose I must be off too. Oh! by the way! it's all right about
the Ayôdhya pot. Dalel Beg tells me his women know the owner, so you
will have it to-morrow. Good-night, Fitzgerald.'
Dan, thus left alone to walk two tents-length with Gwen, felt that
fate was on his side at last; more probably she was, since her
fine tact told her it was never wise to ignore his passion entirely.
Besides, something in her shrank from treating him always as a mere
'I've been longing for this chance all day,' he began at once in a
tone that was in itself a caress.
'Do you think I am quite blind?' she interrupted, a trifle
petulantly; 'the only wonder is that every one in the camp didn't see
it also. You are so reckless, Dan! Of course you wanted to tell me how
you felt when I was lost, and all that; as if I couldn't imagine it!'
she gave in to a smile that was almost tender as she spoke—'Why, Dan!
I can see you! with a face yards long, and the whole camp, Chief and
all, under orders in half a minute. Fire-escapes, life-preservers,
first aid to the wounded, everything mortal man could devise to avert
disaster, ready before the rest had time to think! Do you suppose I
don't know what you are, Dan?' The odd, composite ring in her voice
sank as she added, in a lower tone, 'sometimes I almost wish I
They had reached the place where their ways separated; hers to the
last tent forward, his to the second row, and she held out her hand
with a smile to say good-night. His heart beat hard at her
half-reluctant admission of praise; besides, Gwen Boynton was not the
sort of woman who could smile thus, and yet expect to end the
interview then and there; perhaps, again, she did not wish it so to
end. In her relations with this man, she often found it difficult to
know what she did, or did not, desire.
'Gwen,' he said eagerly, standing close, with his warm nervous
hands clasping hers, 'did you think of me—then?—when you knew you
were lost, I mean—did you, Gwen?—I don't often ask anything of you,
my darling—you might tell me—It isn't much to ask—Did you, Gwen?'
She gave something between a laugh and a sob. 'Did I? Oh! Dan, you
know I did. There, that is enough—you said that was all you wanted.
He went over to his quarters happy as a king. As for Gwen, the
personal influence his immediate presence had over her passed away
quickly, and that which his real absence from her life invariably
produced did not come to soften the curious dread with which she
recognised that in her trouble of the day before, her first thought
had indeed been for him. How foolish she had been in letting him
re-enter her life at all; but he had come back in her first loneliness
when the future had seemed very black. Now it was different, now it
was once more that choice between poverty and comfort which she had
made in her girlhood. With what pain, none—save Dan, who, alas!
always understood—would believe. And if the choice was necessary
then, what was it now with her acquired habits, her knowledge of the
world? They would both be miserable if they married without money.
Then the thought of the bills came, as it always did to remind her of
the tie they imposed. Even if Lewis, whom she liked and respected,
were to make up his mind to marry, she could not accept him without
dismissing Dan. Yet how could she dismiss him, even for his good,
until that money was repaid? Poor Dan! he loved her dearly, and in a
way she cared for him as she had never cared for any of her other
lovers. Yet the decision which had turned out so comfortably ten years
before was still the right decision. And many of those lovers had been
as devoted to her; and yet they had recovered from their rejection.
Then the remembrance of George Keene's admission that he had been out
watching the stars made her smile. He was a nice boy, who already
deemed her an angel; but Lewis objected to wings, and of the two that
was the most convenient view for the woman.
While she was coming to this conclusion George had been looking
after her interests, for on his return to the bungalow he had been
startled by the sudden uprisal of a veiled female from a shadowy
corner of his verandah.
'I am Azizan's mother,' said a muffled voice. 'The Mirza sent me. I
have been waiting the Huzoor's return. There is the pot if the Huzoor
will give ten rupees for it. It is much, yet the pot brings luck.'
'Ten!' echoed George in delight, taking it from her. 'Yes! you
shall have that; then I owe Azizan also. Shall I pay you?'
'My daughter is as myself,' replied the voice. 'It is ten for the
picture, and ten for the pot.'
George fetched the money and counted it carefully into the shrouded
'That is all, I think?' he asked.
'Huzoor, that is all. May the blessing of the widow and the
fatherless go with the merciful Protector of the Poor.'
But while he was thinking, as he undressed, how pleased Mrs. Boynton
would be, the veiled figure was pausing in the moonlight to speak to
'You have seen nothing, you are to say nothing. And the Diwan
sends these to the servant-people.' Then came twenty careful chinks,
this time into a clutching hand, and Chândni, hurrying back to the
city, laughed silently to herself. The idea of bribing the chota
sahib's servants with his own rupees would please Dalel, and put him
into a good temper again; so if this plan matured, her future would
ripen with it. As she passed the sleeping camp she paused, wondering
in which tent lay the mem who had succeeded so easily where she had
failed. The lights were out in all save two, and the double row of
glistening white roofs struck even her insensibility with a savage
recognition of undeserved peace and security. They were no better than
she; no better than those shadowy crouching figures of the village
bad-characters set out here and there to keep watch and ward, on the
principle of setting a thief to catch a thief; a plan which at least
secures a deserving criminal should thefts occur. For it was in the
East that the strange hybrid between altruism and egotism which we
call a scape-goat was invented by mankind.
ONE of the lights Chândni saw came from Lewis Gordon's tent. He
was hard at work, not altogether from sheer industry. Sleep with
him—oddly enough in one claiming such serenity of temperament—had to
be approached discreetly, and for many days past a disturbing current
of thought had required the dam of good solid official business before
he could trust himself safely to the waters of Lethe. He had not been
constantly in his cousin's company for six weeks without learning to
appreciate her infinite charm. She was emphatically a woman to ensure
a husband's success as well as her own. A man would never have to
consider enemies with her at his side, whereas with many others—Rose
Tweedie for instance—it might be necessary to fight your wife's
battles as well as your own. This comparison of the two arose from no
conceit on his part in imagining that any choice lay with him. Simply,
he could not avoid comparing the only two women in his daily
surroundings. At the same time he was fully aware that Gwen would
marry him if he asked her, and the question which had at first
assailed him in the hall at Rajpore, recurred again and again,
disturbing him seriously by alternate attraction and repulsion. He had
seen too much of fascinating wifehood to care for possessing a specimen
himself, yet Gwen would marry him because she considered it would
further their mutual interests; and that, surely, was a more reliable
foundation for a permanent contract than a girlish affection. Quite as
pleasant, too, as the hail-fellow-well-met liking, which seemed to be
Rose Tweedie's notion of love. George Keene and she were like a couple
of boys together. The remembrance jarred, though he went on working
with a smile at the thought of her eager readiness to take up the
glove on all occasions.
Rose, meanwhile, lay awake next door frowning over the same
readiness, and then frowning at her own frowns; since what was it to
her if Lewis Gordon were nice or nasty? He himself did not care what
she thought, and would end by marrying his cousin, though in his heart
Rose sat up in bed angrily. What did she know or care of Lewis
Gordon's heart? Dieu merci! Gwen Boynton was welcome to it,
but she should not drag George Keene captive as she seemed welcome to
do. George was too good to hang round a pretty woman, like Lewis—
This was intolerable. To escape the tyranny of thought she rose,
slipped on her white dressing-gown, lit the lamp she had extinguished,
and sat down to read a stiff book till she felt sleepy. The process
was not a long one, for she was really fatigued, and ten minutes saw
her turning down the lamp once more.
What happened next she scarcely knew; only this—a glare of
light—a feeble crash. Then fire in her eyes, her face, her
hands—fire at her feet, licking along the thin carpet, soaking up the
folds of her filmy dress. The bed lay close at hand; she was on it in
a second, wrapping the blankets round her, and beating out the runnels
of flame, with eyes, brain, and body absorbed in the immediate
personal danger. When that was over, and she looked up, she sprang to
her feet on the bed with a cry. The fire was everywhere, creeping up
the sides of the tent, filling it with suffocating smoke. She wound
her trailing skirts round her and made a dive for the first
outlet—for her only chance of escape! The thick wadded curtain
swinging aside let in a wind, making the smouldering cotton flame; but
the next instant she was outside, constrained to pause, wondering if by
chance it was nothing but a bad dream. For the camp lay serene and
peaceful in the moonlight; not a sound, not a sign, even from her own
tent. She stood positively irresolute, staring back at what she had
left. Was it a dream? Then, suddenly a faint drift of smoke rose
through a crevice in the cloth.
'Mr. Gordon!—Mr. Gordon!' She burst through the thick, guided by
the light in his tent to the nearest help. 'Your knife—quick! my tent
is on fire! Quick, or the whole camp will catch!'
The blood was flowing from a cut over her forehead, one arm showed
bare through scorched muslin, the draperies caught round her were
singed and blackened, the stamp and smell of fire was on her from head
to foot. Lewis, starting to his feet, stared at her.
'Oh, quick! please, quick! Your pen-knife—anything! Cut down the
tents—Mr. Fitzgerald said it was the only—'
He had grasped the position ere she could finish, snatched up a
hunting-knife and was out; she, with a pen-knife, close at his heels.
'Good God! how the wind has risen,' he muttered, as they ran. 'No,
not mine!—The mess-tent first; the wind is that way.'
As they flew past her tent, the scene seemed peaceful as ever; but
ere the guy-ropes of the next were reached, a swirl of smoke and
flame, prisoned until then by the outer fly of canvas, swept straight
up into the sky in the first force of its escape; then bent silently
to the breeze. So silently!—not a roar, not a crackle—just a pyramid
of fire splitting the taut canvas into long shreds, which the wind
flung in pennants of flame on the mess-tent as those two hacked
silently at the ropes. There was no time for words; no time for
thought. A quiver came to the solid-looking pile, a shimmer in the
moonlight. Another rope—another—then a sudden sway, a crash of glass
and china from within. Down! but with a creeping trail of fire within
There was no lack of helpers by this time. Knives, hatchets were at
work right and left upon the ropes lest the message of fire should
find the tents taut. Colonel Tweedie was shouting confused orders in
front. Dan Fitzgerald, after a quick inquiry if all were safely out,
was back in the rear row, where the danger grew with delay. The din
was deafening, yet the flames made no noise; it was the dark humanity
yelling, as it capered over the big tent, treading out the curling
snakes of fire. Seen against the glare of a burning pyramid behind,
the figures showed like the demons in a mediæval Judgment beating the
lost souls down to the worm which dieth not.
Rose, standing to rest, now that abler arms were at work, felt a
hurried touch on her shoulder, and turned to see Lewis Gordon holding
out an ulster which he had fetched from his tent.
'Put it on,' he said unceremoniously, 'or you'll catch cold.'
She flushed with surprise, then, as she complied, realising for the
first time the havoc fire had made in her dress, continued to blush
with an odd feeling of resentment.
'Where is Mrs. Boynton?' she asked quickly, to cover her confusion.
' I suppose you—I mean, she is safe, of course?'
'Of course. I haven't seen her though; but I heard your father
calling to her. She must be with him. I'll see.'
'Mrs. Boynton? God bless my soul, isn't she with Rose?' cried
Colonel Tweedie, who was still shouting excited orders to the crowd of
coolies. 'She answered me and her tent is down. She must be out.'
'Mrs. Boynton! Has any one seen Mrs. Boynton?' Gordon's cry ran
down the line without response.
'Gwen!—Gwen! the fools must have cut the thing down on top of
her!' He had dashed up to the mass of ropes and canvas lying without
beginning or end, in hopeless chaos. 'Gwen! Gwen!—are you there?'
A muffled cry was audible now in the hush of the workers.
'Not stunned, that's one thing,' he muttered to himself before
shouting encouragement. Rose was at his elbow and caught his whisper.
'The sparks, for God's sake, Miss Tweedie! I trust you. If the tent
smoulders she may suffocate before we— Coming, Gwen, coming
But no obstacle against eager help was ever more successful than
that tortuous heap of heavy canvas, full of blind folds and entangled
ropes, stayed fore and aft, and still fastened beyond possibility of
removal to the bamboo-strengthened sides and the yet uncut guys. The
seekers dived into the folds again and again to find themselves
meshed; while Rose, with a sickening fear at her heart lest she should
miss one, watched the sparks and shreds drifting by in clouds settling
here, there, everywhere, and needing swift command to the little band
'Quick, quick!—yonder by the corner. Another there! Stamp it
out—quick! Well done!'
'What is it? what is it?' A new voice rose above the turmoil as Dan
Fitzgerald came running from the rear grasping the truth as he ran.
'No, no!' he panted. 'No use, Gordon —too long. Get to the guys, for
God's sake—the thickest—half a dozen men. Colonel, the right corner,
please, sir; Gordon, the left; Smith, round to the back. They are not
cut there, and see that the pegs hold—they must hold. Miss
Tweedie, put a man to each stay as the front rises. I want the
doorway—the door must show. Brothers,' he continued in
Hindustani to the men who were fast falling into place, 'we have to
raise the tent again. Remember, the tent rises at the word!
Gordon, are you ready? All ready?—'
He paused, gave a rapid glance at the sparks, and lowered his voice.
'It has to be done sharp, Colonel, or—' Again he hesitated between
fear of letting the prisoner know her imminent danger, and fear of not
enforcing the necessity for speed. Rose understood, and racked by
anxiety as she was, felt a thrill of recognition at Dan's quick
thought which, even in such a moment, enabled him to remember that, as
Mrs. Boynton knew but little Hindustani, he could continue in that
language. 'The tent is certain to catch fire, but it may be
smouldering now; so we must risk it. Remember that I must get
in and out before the canvas yields, or— So be sharp. Gordon! you
give the word!'
There was an instant's silence, broken by a voice. Then a shout, a
heave, and Rose straining at a rope as she never strained before,
felt, rather than saw, something rise, pause, sink; rise again
'Higher! higher!' shouted Dan, standing close in, ready for a dive
at the door. 'All together, Gordon. Shâh-bâash, brothers! My God! it's
A blot of shadow near her showed the coming doorway, and, half clear
as it was, she saw Dan dash into it with the cry, which was echoed
from outside as a little runnel of fire quivered up the half-stretched
'Stand fast! stand fast!' shouted Gordon at the guy. 'Run in, half
of you, to the bamboos; they may hold longer than the stays.'
Rose was at one in a moment and clung to it, seeing nothing,
thinking of nothing, but that irregular square of shadow. When would
he come through it again? The tangles within! how would he thread
them? For the pole having slipped from its supporting pegs had slid
along the ground and would not rise more than half-way; so the inner
fly-sides must be hanging in a maze—a maze of smouldering canvas.
Horrible! a burning pall! Ah! would he never come?
Suddenly came another cry, as a great sheet of fire ran up the right
ridge and the men at the rope fell backwards under the slackened
strain of the parting canvas; yet still the corners held. But for how
long! Oh! would he never come out?
'Mr. Fitzgerald! Mr. Fitzgerald! be quick, oh, please be quick.'
It was a foolish, aimless little cry, yet somehow it raised a new
idea in her mind. What if he had lost his way in that hideous tangle?
She was at the blot of shadow in an instant calling again and again.
Too late! surely too late, for the bamboo lintel to which she clung
frantically swayed. Not down yet—yes! down, and she with it, half
kneeling still. She heard a cry from Lewis bidding the others run in
on the fire and stamp it out; but as she staggered to her feet still
holding on to the lintel something else staggered beside her.
'All right,' gasped Dan, before the great shout of relief rose up
drowning his voice. When it had passed and they crowded about him, he
had set Gwen's feet on the ground and drawn the folds of blanket from
her face, though his arm was still round her as she clung to him,
scarcely believing in her safety.
'Only frightened—half suffocated,' he went on, struggling to get
back his breath. 'Couldn't some one bring her a glass of water—don't
move yet—they will bring it to you here. It is all over—except the
Rose standing aside, giddy with sudden relief, could hardly believe
it could be over. Yet the coolies were rubbing themselves and laughing
over their sprawl in the dust when the tent collapsed, and the tent
itself was blazing away unheeded on the ground. Yes! it was over, and
so quickly that George Keene, roused by the crash of the mess-room
tent, came too late for anything save sympathy. He gave that to the
full; not unnecessarily, for in truth the condition of the camp was
pitiable. Lewis Gordon's tent, being the only one to windward of the
original outbreak, was left standing; the rest were either smouldering
in ashes or severely damaged beyond the possibility of re-pitching
without repair, while the extent of other injuries must remain unknown
till dawn brought light, and time allowed the fires to die out
undisturbed; for any letting in of air while the wind remained so high
might cause a fresh blaze.
Colonel Tweedie, looking a perfect wreck in his striped flannel
suit, fussed about uncertain and querulous, while George and Dalel
Beg, who had arrived from the palace, competed for the honour of
putting up the ladies during the remainder of the night; Dalel, minus
the least vestige of European attire, being re-inforced after a time
by Khush-hâl Beg, breathless but dignified, bearing the Diwan's
urgent prayer to be allowed the honour of helping a beneficent
Government in its hour of need.
Dan with an impatient frown on his face waited for decision till his
patience failed. Then he buttoned-holed Lewis, who amid all the wild
costumes looked almost ridiculously prim in his dress suit, and
expounded his views vehemently, the result being that the Chief
concluded in favour of the palace. If, as was possible, they might be
forced into halting for several days, the old pile would hold them
all, and a regiment besides. So, after a time, odd little square
dhoolies, smelling strongly of attar, came for the two ladies, and in
them, duly veiled from public gaze, they were hurried along, much to
their amusement. The gentlemen after a raid on Lewis Gordon's
wardrobe, following suit, all except the under-secretary, who, coming
last, found nothing available save a white waistcoat and a pair of
jack boots, in which additions to a pyjama sleeping suit he looked so
absurd that the others sat and roared at him, as men will do at
trifles when still under the influence of relief and excitement, until
George carried him off to his bungalow, promising to return him next
morning clothed and in his right mind. Thus the night ended in comedy
for all save Mrs. Boynton. To her, clothes were anything but a
triviality, and as she lay among silk quilts and hard roly-poly
bolsters in the little strip of a room to which she and Rose were
taken, pending the preparation of a state suite upstairs, she mourned
sincerely over the probable fate of her wardrobe. Had it remained in
the leather trunks escape might have been possible, but, knowing they
were to halt for a day at least, she made the ayah hang up all the
dresses round the tent. Poor Gwen seemed to see them, like Bluebeard's
wives in a row, getting rid of their creases, and the thought of
under-garments which might be uninjured gave her no consolation.
Rose was more calm, remembering that her riding habit had, as usual,
been removed in order to be brushed, and would most likely be produced
next morning. Besides, she was worn out by the excitement, and forgot
even the smart of a large scorch on her arm in the memory of that five
minutes during which she had waited for Dan to come out of the fiery
maze. Despite her boasted nerves, the stress and strain of it all came
back again and again, making her set her teeth and clench her hands.
Yet Gwen, who had so narrowly escaped a dreadful death, was grumbling
over the loss of her dresses. Rose, lying in the dark listening to the
plaintive regrets, felt scornfully superior, not knowing that her
companion was deliberately trying to forget, to ignore, a like
memory—the memory of her own feelings when Dan fought his way to her
at last. If that sort of thing went on he would end by marrying her
in spite of her wiser self; and then they would both be miserable. She
was not a romantic fool, and yet—a very real resentment rose up
against him as she remembered her own confidence, her own content. She
felt vaguely as if he had taken advantage of her fear, and that
something must be done to prevent a recurrence of this weakness on her
part. If she could only pay back the money he had paid for her,
matters would be easier to manage. As it was, even Lewis, with his
easy-going estimate of women, would not stand the knowledge of her
indebtedness to another man, so something must be done, something must
be changed. That, oddly enough, was the underlying grievance which
found expression in petulant assertions that Fate was doubly hard in
making her fair; had she been dark like Rose, the part of Eastern
Princess she would have to play until another consignment of civilised
dresses arrived from Rajpore would have been fun. As it was, she would
look a perfect fright.
She did not, however. Had she not been aware of this fact ere she
made her appearance next morning in the long flowing robes and veil
of a Delhi lady, she must have gathered it from the looks of her
companions. But she had appraised herself in one of the big mirrors in
the suite of state apartments halfway up the stairs, and decided that
she would wear a similar costume at the very next fancy ball.
This in itself was sufficient to chase any save immediate care from
a mind like hers. In addition, even a stronger character would have
found it difficult to avoid falling in with the reckless merriment
which had seized on all the other actors in the past night's incident;
partly from relief at its comic ending, partly because the charm of
absolute novelty, the zest of the unexpected, enhanced the pleasure of
extremely comfortable quarters—for Lewis in his capacity of personal aide had decided against the dark state suite of apartments on
the second storey in favour of the roof above, with its slender
balconies, long arcades, and cool central summer-house open on all
sides to the air. Here, high above the sand swirls, safe from the sun,
they would be far better off than in tents during the growing heat of
the days. Gwen, leaning against a clustered marble pillar, looking
down an the red-brown slant of windowless wall spreading like a fort
to the paved courtyard below, said it was like living on a slice of
wedding-cake. A solid chunk below, above a sugar filigree; whereat
George, delighted, assured her that the whole palace itself viewed
from afar had always reminded him of the same thing. Filigree or no
filigree, she said it was charming, and the central hall of the
twelve-doored summer-house was a marvel of decoration; fast falling
to decay no doubt, yet losing no beauty in the process, since the
floriated white tracery overlaying the background of splintered
looking-glass was so intricate that the eye could scarcely follow the
pattern sufficiently to appreciate a flaw. Seated there in coolest
shadow you could see through the inner arches to the long slips of
vaulted rooms on all four sides; through them again to the blue sky
set in its rim of level plain, save to the north where the view was
blocked by the Diwan's tower rising a dozen feet or more from the
terraced roof, with which it was connected by a flight of steps barred
by a locked iron grille. Thus the roof lay secure from all
intrusion except from the court-yard, whence an outside stair,
clinging to the bare wall, gave access to the state rooms below, and
thence, still slanting upwards, to the lowest terrace of roof. Rose,
leaning over a balcony looking sheer down to where the servants, like
ants, were running to and fro over the preparations for breakfast,
declared she would use one of the four little corner-rooms of the
summer-house as her bedroom. All it needed was a curtain at the inner
arch, when it would be infinitely preferable to those dreadful rooms
downstairs all hung with glass chandeliers and silvered balls, which
made her inclined to hang herself in sympathy. In the hopes rather,
suggested Lewis, of improving the style of the decoration; a remark
which brought the usual frown to the girl's face. In truth, Rose
Tweedie in her trim riding habit did not suit her surroundings half so
well as Gwen Boynton in her trailing tinsel-decked robes. On the other
hand, Colonel Tweedie would have done better in not yielding to the
temptation of playing 'Sultan' to Mrs. Boynton's 'Light of the
Harem'; for native costume does not suit an elderly Englishman. But
the opportunity had been too strong for him.
'My dear father,' said Rose helplessly, when she first caught
sight of her parent in a khim-khâb coat and baggy trousers. She might
have said more, had not Mrs. Boynton's grave compliment on his
appearance sent the girl away impatiently to lean over the balcony
once more, and wonder if they were ever going to bring breakfast.
To her, when he appeared, went Dan Fitzgerald, without even a look
at the others.
'Thanks, Miss Tweedie,' he said in a low tone. 'I hadn't time to
say it last night. I had lost myself, and your voice—However,
it can be only "thank you," and you have that.'
Rose, with a smile, let his hand linger in hers for a second as
their eyes met. Honest, friendly eyes.
And George Keene also passed straight to her.
'Better! That is all right. By Jove, you were bad, when I found you
outside the fuss when it was all over. You would have fainted, if it
hadn't been for the whisky and water—which, by the way, I stole from
'You didn't tell him?' interrupted Rose quickly.
'Not I! I knew you wanted it kept dark about the scorch. It's
better, I hope? Why, you have curled your hair over the cut on your
forehead. What a dodge!'
His young face was overflowing with a sort of pride in her pluck,
when Mrs. Boynton came up. She was in a mood which craved attention,
and some of her slaves had passed her by to give Rose the first word.
'What are you two discussing so eagerly?' she began. 'Good morning,
Mr. Keene. How delightfully commonplace you look in exactly the proper
breakfast costume for a young Englishman!'
George blushed. He would have given worlds to say that she looked
anything but commonplace, but was too young to venture on it. But he
looked the sentiment, and Gwen smiled bewilderingly back at him. She
was made that way, and could not help it.
'Isn't it quaint up here?' she went on, leaning over the balustrade
and looking, as Rose had been doing, at the servants filing up the
steps with silver dishes of sausages and bacon, and all the
accessories of an orthodox English breakfast, regardless of the
feelings of their pig-loathing hosts. 'I declare, I have fallen in
love with everything.'
'Yourself included, I hope,' added Lewis, joining the group; 'or,
to put it politely, you have fallen in love with everything, and
everything has fallen in love with you. And no wonder. The fact is,
Gwen, that you do suit your present environment to perfection. I
should not have believed the thing possible—but so it is.'
As he sat on the coping with his back to the landscape, he bent
forward looking at her critically—'No!' he went on; 'I should not
have thought it possible, but you look the part.'
'It must be awful, though, to be a native,' remarked George
fervently. His eyes were on Colonel Tweedie as he spoke. That
conspicuous failure was, however, only partly responsible for his
opinion. In a more or less crude form the childish hymn of gratitude
for having been born in order to go to a public school survives
wholesomely amongst young Englishmen.
'I don't know,' dissented Gordon languidly. 'A civilised conscience
is a frightful inter- ference with the liberty of the subject.
Personally, I object to the native views of comfort, pleasure, and all
that. But I can imagine some very good fellows preferring them. They
are not nearly such a strain on the nervous system. For instance,
Gwen, were you really the Shah-zâdi you look, there would have been no
necessity for sending back those brocades over which I found you
weeping half an hour ago. You would have appropriated them without
demur. Wouldn't she, sir?'
The Colonel gave his little preparatory cough, and looked grave.
'It wasn't a brocade, Colonel Tweedie,' protested Gwen. 'It was
simply the most lovely piece of old-gold satin in the world. It stood
up of itself, and yet was absolutely invertebrate in its folds.
Perfect! The same on both sides too. I had half a mind to be
double-faced myself, and take it when Mr. Gordon's back was turned.'
'Why didn't you?' retorted the latter cynically. 'You are the only
one of us who would not be criminally responsible for the action.
Isn't that so, sir?' He was mischiev- ously amused by his chief's
evident dislike to the subject.
'Should I be responsible?' asked Rose, surprised.
'Your father would be, for your action. Wouldn't you, sir?'
This was too much even for reticent dignity.
'I—er—don't—I mean, doubtless; but—er—it is not—er—a subject
which comes within the range of practical politics.'
'I should hope not,' cried Rose. 'My dear dad! fancy your being
responsible for my actions. It isn't fair!' Her face of aggrieved
decision made the others laugh.
'Perhaps it isn't, Miss Tweedie,' remarked Lewis gravely; 'but I
can assure you that we officials are all responsible for our female
relations in the first degree. A merciful Government has, however,
drawn the line at cousins. So Mrs. Boynton could only lose her own
pension, if she were found out.'
Gwen made a
moue of derision.
'That is not much to risk. I wish I had known this before. Lewis!
do you think you could prevail on them to give me another chance with
'What on earth is delaying the breakfast?' fussed Colonel Tweedie,
moving off. He hated persiflage, especially between his guest
and his secretary.
'Coming, sir, coming,' said George, leaning over to look; 'there is
a regular procession of silver dishes filing up Jacob's ladder.'
'Oh dem silver dishes,' hummed Rose gaily, leaning over to look,
too. 'How funny it is, isn't it?'
'Funny!' echoed Dan, 'it is simply appalling.'
Perhaps the sudden sense of the utter incongruousness of it all
accounted for the silence which followed, as they stood on the
balcony, which clung like a swallow's nest to the bare walls. Below
them, beyond the courtyard, lay the shadowy arcades of the bazaar and
the great pile of the Mori gate. Beyond that again the bricks and
sandheaps of Hodinuggur, with the village creeping up to be crowned by
the grass palisades where the potter sat at work.
'Talking of bribes,' said Dan absently, after the pause, 'I've
often wondered how a fellow feels when he has been informed that her
gracious Majesty has no further need of his services. They seldom go
beyond that now-a-days, but that must be bad enough.'
'Very much so, if the bribe has been insufficient,' assented Lewis.
'Mr. Gordon! how can you?' began Rose, pausing, however, at the
sight of his satisfied smile.
'You should adopt the sun with the motto "Emergo" as your crest,
Miss Tweedie. It would suit both you thoughts and deeds,' he replied
'Don't mind him,' put in Dan; 'he always was weak in his grammar,
and doesn't know that rise must be the correct present tense of Rose.'
'But, really,' persisted Lewis, when the laugh ended; 'if a man
had taken a bribe, the first thought to one of his
would naturally be if the game was worth the candle. If he hadn't
—why, dismissal from the public service is not always misfortune.
There is the disgrace, of course, but personally, I have never been
able to understand the sentiment of the thing; it appears to me
strained. Half your world, as a rule, dislikes you; it believes you
capable of murdering your grandmother at any moment. Yet the fact
doesn't distress you. It is inevitable that some people should think
ill of you. So why should you care when they invent a definite crime
for you to commit? It doesn't affect your friends.'
'Well, I don't know,' said George Keene sturdily. 'That's all very
philosophical, but I believe I should shoot myself.'
'No! you wouldn't, old chap; unless you wished people to consider
'This conversation is becoming gruesome,' put in Mrs. Boynton; 'let
us change it; though Lewis is right, for Government service seems to
me a doubtful blessing—'
'But an assured income,' interrupted Dan, with a laugh.
Lewis Gordon turned on him quite hotly. 'I like your saying that,
Fitzgerald—you of all people in the world. Why, man alive! if I had
your power I would chuck to-morrow, and die contractor, engineer,
K.C.I.E, and the richest man in India!'
Gwen Boynton looked up in quick interest. 'Really! do you mean that
'I won't swear to the K.C.S.I., or the superlative, but Fitzgerald
knows perfectly that I always say he has mistaken his line of life. We
want hacks. People to obey orders, not to give them.' As he spoke he
glanced meaningly at Colonel Tweedie walking about fussily, and then
at his friend's face.
Dan swung himself from the balustrade where he had been perched.
'Some one must give orders, and I mean to stick on for my promotion.
It must come next year. So that is settled. Are you not coming to
breakfast, Mrs. Boynton?' She met his smile without response as she
'Dear me! the others have gone in already, and I was so hungry. But
one doesn't often get the chance, Mr. Fitzgerald, of considering an
old friend in a new character. It was quite absorbing—for the time.'
So the balcony was left to the sunlight, and some one, who had been
watching it from an archway in the bazaar, withdrew to the shadow
where she rolled the little pellets of opium in her soft palms and
prepared for her mid-day sleep. The burning of the tents had been a
real piece of luck, the mem—that was she no doubt in the native
dress—would be in the palace for two or three days, and women were
women whether fair or dark. This one, too, looked of the right sort.
Chândni's dreams that day were of a time when she would have the upper
hand in Hodinuggur and become virtuous, for it paid to be virtuous
under the present Government. Dalel should start a women's hospital.
Then the Sirkar would give him the water every year, and the necessity
for scheming would disappear. In the meantime they must not be
niggardly. That did not pay with women, since, if they were of the
sort to take bribes, they were of the sort not easily satisfied.
'COME and see our mad potter before you go home, Miss Tweedie,'
pleaded George Keene, 'he really is one of the shows, isn't he,
They had been doing the sights of Hodinuggur as an afternoon's
amusement; tennis in a riding-habit having no attractions for Rose.
Mrs. Boynton, however, on the plea of being a Zenana lady, had elected
to remain on the roof, Colonel Tweedie keeping her company until the
time came for his return visit of state to the Diwan on his tower.
Lewis might have made the same choice had he been given it; but he was
not. So he had preferred loafing round the ruins to toiling after
problematical black buck with the sporting party, and made a pleasant
companion, as even Rose admitted; being ready with information on most
points, and between the references talking affably with Dan regarding
the respective merit of Schultze versus brown powder; thus
leaving the younger couple to themselves. So his change of manner
stood out with unusual distinctness as Rose turned to him for consent
to George Keene's invitation.
'As you please, Miss Tweedie; we are your slaves. A mad potter
sounds cheerful; he is the man, I suppose, who made that jolly little
pot Keene sacrificed to my cousin's greed this morning. When you are
as old as I am, my dear fellow, you will really keep the pretty things
out of the sight of ladies. I always do, now-a-days. There was a
little woman at Peshawur, I remember—she had blue eyes—who
'Mrs. Boynton was most welcome to the Ayôdhya pot,' blurted out
'Cela va sans dire! It is just because we love to give the
pretty things to the pretty creatures that it becomes unwise to let
the pretty creatures see the pretty things.'
'Then it is your fault, to begin with,' interrupted Rose hotly.
'Exactly so. I'm sure, Miss Tweedie, you have heard me say a dozen
times that we men are to blame for all weaknesses of women. They are
simply the outcome our likes and dislikes; and they will remain so
until there is a perpetual leap-year.
'For heaven's sake, Keene,' said Dan, laughing, 'lead the way to
the potter's or there will be murder done on the king's highway! Don't
mind him, Miss Rose! He "only says it to annoy because he knows it
teases." He doesn't really believe anything of the kind.'
Lewis, his eye-glass more aggressive than ever, murmured something
under his breath about the inevitable courses of nature, as Rose, with
her head held very high, followed George Keene into the potter's yard.
It was a scene strangely at variance with the party entering it.
Indeed, old Fuzl Elahi, who had never before set eyes on an
Englishwoman, would have started from his work had not George detained
him with reassuring words:
'He tells his yarns best when he is at the wheel,' he explained as
he dragged forward a low string stool for Rose. 'And I want you to
hear an awfully queer one called "The Wrestlers." You know enough of
the language to understand him at any rate.'
'Miss Tweedie is a better scholar than most of us,' remarked Lewis
Gordon curtly from the seat he had found beside Dan on a great log of
wood; one of those logs so often to be seen in such courtyards-relics,
perhaps, of some ineffectual intention of repair long since forgotten.
This one might, to all appearance, have fallen where it lay, in those
bygone days of which the potter told tales, when the now treeless
desert had been a swampy jungle on the borders of an inland sea.
The afternoon sun, slanting over the grass palisades, played havoc
with the humanity it found gathered round the wheel by sending their
shadows distorted to long lengths across the yard, and tilting them at
odd angles against the irregular wall of the mud hut beyond.
Altogether a conglomerate pyramid of shadows, with the potter's high
turban dominating it as he sat silent, spinning his wheel. And as the
clay curved and hollowed beneath his moulding hand a puzzled look came
to the light eyes, which, usually so shifty, were now fixed with a
sort of fascination upon that strange figure in the riding habit.
'It is not there,' he muttered uneasily, 'I cannot find a clew.'
George gave Rose the triumphant glance of a child displaying a
mechanical toy when it behaves as it ought to behave. The potter was
evidently in a mad mood, and might be trusted for a good performance.
'Now, Fuzl Elahi, we want "The Wrestlers," please. The Miss sahiba
has never heard it.'
'How could she?' broke in the old man sharply. 'She does not belong
to that old time. She is new. I cannot even tell the old tale if she
sits there in the listener's place. I shall forget, the old will be
lost in the new; as it is ever.'
'Change places with me, Miss Tweedie,' put in Lewis with a bored
look. 'I am not regenerate out of the old Adam, am I, potter-ji?'
But as he rose the pliant hand went out in a gesture of denial.
'There is room on the log for both, and crows most with crows,
pigeons with pigeons. The big Huzoor can sit on the stool if he likes.
I know him. I have seen him many and many a time.'
'Only once, potter-ji,' protested Dan, as he and Rose changed
places and the wheel began to hum.
'The post is going from Logborough junction to St. Potter's burgh,'
murmured Lewis discontentedly. 'If we are going to play round games I
shall go home.'
'Do be quiet, Gordon!' put in George eagerly; 'he is just
beginning, and it really is worth hearing.'
But Lewis was incorrigible. 'Proxime accessit,' he went on,
to Rose, 'what crime in your past incarnation is responsible for your
being bracketed with me in this?'
'Oh, do listen,' protested George again.
'Listen! Who could help listening to that infernal noise?—I beg
your pardon, Miss Tweedie, but it is infernal.'
It was startling, certainly. A shrill moan coming from the racing,
rocking, galloping wheel as the worker's body swayed to and fro like a
pendulum. It seemed to rouse a vague sense of unrest in the hearers, a
dim discomfort like the remembrance of past pain. Then suddenly the
story began in a high-pitched persistent voice, round which that
racing, galloping rush of the wheel seemed to circle, hurrying it,
pushing at it, every now and again sweeping it along recklessly.
'It was a woman seeking something,
Over hill and dale, through night and day, she sought for
The wrestlers who own the world wrestled for her,
On the palm of her right hand wrestling for her,
"She is mine, she is mine," said one and the other,
While over hill and dale, through night and day, she sought
"O flies! you tickle the palm of my hand,
Be off and wrestle down in your world."
So they brought flowers and grass as a carpet,
Wrestling on as she sought for something—
Over hill and dale, through night and day, seeking for
"Your carpet is hot, be off, you flies."
So they brought her trees and water for cooling,
Wrestling on as she sought for something—
Over hill and dale, through night and day, seeking for
"The grass grows long with the water," she cried,
"Be off, O flies, and tickle your world."
So they brought her flocks to devour the grass,
Wrestling on as she sought for something—
Over hill and dale, through day and night, seeking for
"They have trodden my palm as hard as a cake."
So they caught up a plough and ploughed her hand,
Wrestling on while she sought for something—
Over hill and dale, through day and night, seeking for
"You have furrowed my palm; it tickles and smarts."
So they brought a weaver and wove her lint,
Wrestling on while she sought for something—
Over hill and dale, through night and day, seeking for
"Foul play! Foul play! Look down and decide,"
"Not I, poor flies, I must search for something."
So they caught up a town to watch the game.
"He is right! He is wrong!" cried old and young.
"He is wrong! He is right!" And so war began.
While they wrestled away and she sought for something,
Over hill and dale, through night and day, seeking for
"What a noise you make; I am tired of flies."
So she swept them into a melon rind.
"Be quiet, flies! lie still in the dark."
She clapped her palm to the hole in the rind.
"I'm tired of it all, I will go to sleep;
When morning comes I will seek for something—
Over hill and dale, through night and day, I must seek for
She rested her head on her palm, and slept,
Down in the valley close to the river;
Slept to the tune of the buzzing flies,
Wrestling and fighting about fair play.
And while she slept the big Flood came,
And the melon pillow floated away.
And all within swarmed out to the sun—
Grass, and herds, and ploughs, and looms.
People fighting for none knows what.
"I have made a new world," she said, with a laugh.
"A brand-new world; and the flies have gone.
But the palm of my right hand tickles still,
May be it will cool when I find what I seek."
So she left her new world down by the river,
Left it alone and sought for something—
Over hill and dale, through night and day, seeking for
something.'The galloping wheel, which had responded always to the
mad hurry of the recurring refrain, slackened slowly. Rose gave a sigh
of relief, and glanced at Lewis Gordon to see if he too had been
oppressed by that shrinking recognition of a stress, a strain, a
desire, such as she had never felt before; but he was leaning forward,
his chin on his curved hand, intent on listening, so she could not see
'By the powers,' came Dan Fitzgerald's voice above the softening
hum, 'the old chap has made an Ayôdhya pot—the same shape, I mean.'
'He always does when he tells this story,' broke in George quite
pleased with the success of his entertainment. 'I don't think he quite
knows why he does it, however. Sometimes he says the woman was looking
for one; sometimes that she always carries one in her left hand to
balance the world in her right. But he always takes the unbaked pot to
the ruins and buries it with two of those odd little ninepins, he
calls men and women, inside it. He is as mad as a hatter, you know.'
'Several hatters,' assented Gordon fervently, 'but it is an
interesting theory of creation.'
'Now don't,' protested Dan, sitting with his long leg crunched up
on the low stool close to the potter. 'It is too human for dissection
by the Folklore Society. But I'm surprised at one thing. The
wrestlers—they are persistent figures in Indian tales, Miss
Tweedie—are generally represented as giants. They are pigmies here.'
'The Huzoor is right and wrong,' replied the potter in answer to an
inquiry; 'the pâilwans were neither pigmies nor giants. They were as
the Huzoor—two and a half hâths round the chest—neither more nor
'That's a good shot,' remarked Dan in English, 'forty five inches
according to my tailor. You have an accurate eye potter-ji,' he added
in Hindustani, 'only half an inch out.'
'Not a hair's-breadth, Huzoor,' replied the old man mildly. 'The
measures of the pâilwans is the measure of the Huzoor. I have it here;
my fathers used it, and I use it.'
He sought a moment in the little niche, hollowed, close to his right
hand, out of the hard soil forming the side of his sunken seat, and
drew from it a fine twisted cord of brown, red, and cream coloured
wool. It was divided into measures by small shells strung on the twist
and knotted into their places.
'Hullo!' cried Gordon eagerly, 'that must be hundreds of years old.
Those are sea-shells, and very rare. Simpson at the museum showed me
one in fossil the other day. I wonder how the dickens the old man got
hold of them?'
'Two and a half haths,' repeated Fuzl Elahi absently, 'the potter's
full measure for a man in the beginning and the end.' He leaned
forward rapidly as he spoke, passed the cord round Dan Fitzgerald's
chest, and drew the ends together. The curled spirals of the two
shells lay half an inch apart. 'So much for the garments,' he
muttered. 'Yea! I knew it. The measure of a true pâilwan to a hair's
'And what am I, potter-ji?' asked George, laughing.
The puzzled look came back to the old man's face. 'The Huzoor may
be a pâilwan too. Times have changed.'
'Rough on a fellow, rather!' exclaimed the boy, still laughing.
'Here, Fitz! chuck me over the thing. Is that fair, Miss Tweedie?'
She laughed back into his bright face, as he pulled his hardest to
make the two second shells meet, then shook her head.
'Not on yourself, Mr. Keene. You are more of a hero than that, I
The potter's eyes were on her, then back on George. 'Everything is
changed,' he muttered again, 'even the measure of the pots.'
'Then you measure them, do you?' asked Gordon, to whom George had
handed the cord, and who was now examining it minutely.
'Surely, Huzoor. The first one of each batch. Then the hand learns
'Try what make you are, Gordon?' suggested Dan.
'Not I. Here, potter-ji, catch. Miss Tweedie and I, according to
the best authority, are abnormal; we are not ordinary pots, so I, for
one, decline to be measured by their standard. And now, if some of us
are to be in time for such trivialities as dinner we ought to be
The potter rose also and stepped out of his hole. Seen thus at full
length, he showed insignificant, his hairy, bandy, almost beast-like
legs, contrasting strangely with the mild high-featured face, with
its expression of puzzled anxiety, as he laid a deprecating hand on
George Keene's sleeve.
'Wants bucksheesh, I suppose,' murmured Lewis. 'I have some rupees
somewhere, if you want them, Keene.' But it was not money; it was only
leave to speak to the 'mâdr mihrbân.'
'That's a nice name for you, Miss Rose,' said Dan softly—'Mother
of mercy—a name to be glad of.'
She blushed as she went forward a step, asking, 'What is it? what
can I do for you?'
He stooped to touch her feet with his supple hands ere replying.
'Huzoor! it is a little thing. Fuzl Elahi, potter of Hodinuggur, has
a daughter somewhere. Perhaps she has gone to the Huzoor's world; it
is new, I do not know it. If the "mâdr mihrbân" were to see her, she
might tell her to come back— just once—only once. I would not keep
her. But now I have no answer when my father says: 'Where is thy
'Azizan!' echoed George quickly. But the old man seemed almost to
have forgotten his own request. He stood looking past the strangers,
past the village, past even the ruins, into the sunset sky.
'I will send her—if I see her,' said Rose gently, with tears in
her eyes; for George had told her the story of the lost daughter, and
the sudden, diffident appeal touched her. Yet the vast gulf between her
and the old man touched and oppressed her still more, as she left him
standing alone beside his wheel.
'Well!' said Lewis Gordon, when in silence they had reached the
road again. 'You may call that amusement, Keene, if you like; I don't.
When I get home, I shall have a sherry and bitters.'
'He is rather a gruesome old chap,' admitted George cheerfully. 'I
felt a bit creepy myself the first time I heard that song—by the way,
Miss Tweedie, talking of creepiness, did I tell you about the Potter's
Thumb? I didn't! Oh,—that is really a grand tale.' He told it,
happily, as an excellent sequel to the show, while Dan, in one of his
best moods, piled on the imaginative agony about Hodinuggur generally,
until Lewis announced his intention of returning to the palace by the
longer way. He would be late, of course, but that was preferable to
having no appetite for dinner!
'By Jove! seven o'clock,' cried Dan, looking at his watch. 'And
you and I, George, have to get over to the bungalow. We must run for
Rose watched them racing down the path, laughing and talking as they
ran, with a troubled look.
'Fine specimens, Miss Tweedie,' remarked Lewis after a pause. 'I
don't think you need fear their cracking in the fire.'
'I—I—' faltered Rose, taken aback by his comprehension.
'Am Scotch! That's sufficient excuse. I notice we seldom get rid of
our native superstition. Besides, it was uncanny—the
yard-measure and the Potter's Thumb, and that horse-leech of a woman,
who was never satisfied. I felt it myself.'
She knew he was speaking down to her as a nervous woman; yet she
did not resent it, because it was a distinct relief not to be taken
'I wish they had not been measured, for all that,' she persisted.
'You will own it was odd, won't you?'
'Not so odd as Dan himself! He has been cracked ever since I knew
him. And Keene is one of the sterling sort, certain of success;
besides, he measured himself! Now, before you go upstairs to dress, if
your Scotch blood is still curdling, as mine is, have a half of sherry
and bitters with me. Crows roost with crows, you remember.'
His friendliness beguiled her into playfulness.
'Crows indeed! then I've a better opinion of you than you have of
me. I thought we were meant for the pigeons.'
'To bill and coo?'
If she could have boxed his ears, it would have relieved her
feelings. As it was, she raced upstairs, in a fury, without
vouchsafing one word of resentment, and paced up and down her tiny
room with flaming cheeks. Could a girl be expected, for ever and aye,
to be on the outlook for such openings? Of course Gwen Boynton would
have laughed easily—would not have minded, perhaps; but then Gwen was
charming—everything apparently that a woman ought to be!
Rose looked at herself in her dusty habit. She would have to go down
to dinner in it, and challenge comparisons with Gwen in her silks and
tinsel. Why should she? No one would care, no one would have a right
to care if she did stay in her room with a headache. The next instant
she was ashamed of the impulse. What did it matter?—they were welcome
to their opinion. As for her, she would adopt no feminine excuse; she
would leave those little devices to men's women. So she brushed her
habit, and went out, with a heightened colour, to join the others.
ROSE TWEEDIE'S sneer against men's women lacked point, since it
so happened that Mrs. Boynton, in the opposite corner-room of the
pavilion, was, at the very moment, setting aside the temptation of
pleading a headache as an excuse for not appearing at dinner. And she
had more reason to seek quiet than the girl, though a new dress lay
ready on the bed; for Gwen loved to dazzle her world, and had spent
some of her leisure in instructing a native tailor how to run up a web
of coarse native muslin bought in the bazaar into a very decent
semblance of a fashionable garment. But the pleasure of the trick had
gone out of it. Something had happened. Something incredible, yet,
given the surroundings, natural enough. Something about which she must
make up her mind. It seemed scarcely a minute ago since she had passed
in swiftly to the solitude of her room in order to think. She, Gwen
Boynton, in native dress, with a white scared face and something in
her hand. Now she had to pass out of that room again as an English
woman, and the transition left her oddly undecided. Indeed, as she
paused for a moment ere taking the plunge, with one hand on the
embroidered draperies doing duty as a door, it seemed almost as if she
were awaiting some command, some voice which would relieve her of
responsibility. Then she smiled and passed on to meet the surprised
admiration of her little world; for she had never looked better in her
life, and she knew it. The creamy muslin suited her in its careless
folds, her excitement showed itself becomingly in flushed cheeks and
bright eyes, and the chorus of wonder at her cleverness made her
gracious beyond compare. They had been away so long, she said, airily,
that she had had to amuse herself somehow, and were there not miles of
muslin to be bought in every bazaar, and many men to put stitches into
it? Any one could have done it. Rose, listening with a certain
contempt in her look, told herself that Gwen said truth; any one
could have done it who thought it worth while to take so much trouble
for the sake of personal effect; yet a regret rankled somewhere,
mingling with the resentment which came as Gwen called attention,
somewhat garishly, to more of her good works. Did they not admire the
room? When Colonel Tweedie had gone off to the Diwan she had consoled
herself by pulling about the furniture; and did not the Ayôdhya pot
look sweet on the corner-stand she had improvised out of three
bamboos, a brass platter, and a yellow silk scarf?
'You should have packed it away in your box at once,' remarked
Lewis coolly. 'Keene may repent his good-nature, or some of us may
steal it. The colour is admirable.' As he spoke he walked over to the
stand as if for closer examination.
'Don't touch it, please,' cried Mrs. Boynton hastily. 'You—you
will spoil my draperies.'
'A thousand pities, when they are so artistic,' put in Colonel
Tweedie, glad of the opportunity. 'That is dinner, Mrs. Boynton. I've
had it laid in the small pavilion so as to keep this as your
'Thanks! but everything is delightful; simply fascinating! In
spite of what Mr. Keene said this morning, I begin to wish I were a
'For the sake of the satin?' asked Lewis, who was following close
behind with Rose. Gwen flashed back a brilliant look at him.
'No! not the satin. That game would not be worth the candle.'
Apart from the question of satin, Mrs. Boynton had excuse for
admiring the mise en scène. The violet sky, spangled with
stars, seemed made apparently but for one end—to hap and hold that
terraced roof which was clearly outlined against it by the light
streaming from the pavilions on to the fretted white marble
balustrades. At the corners were shadowy cupolas, and there in the
arched summer-house at the farther end, close upon the velvet
darkness, was a table set with silver and glass, fruits and flowers.
At one side, so as to divide the ladies equally, Rose, in her habit,
doing the duty of hostess with a little air of gravity and
pre-occupation; at the other, Gwen, in her soft clouds of muslin,
keeping the men in a state of admiring gratification through their
eyes and their ears. They gathered round her too, when, dinner being
over, they adjourned to the balconies for coffee and cigars. It was
deliciously cool; a faint breeze stirred Rose's hair as she sat a
little apart from the others watching the twinkling lights go up and
down the stair which formed the only tie between that world on the
roof and that world in the courtyard below.
'We ought to go to bed early,' said Lewis, coming to stand before
her. 'You are half-asleep—no wonder, after last night!—and Gwen is
what superstitious Scotch folk call "fey." Then, if we have to join
that detestable hawking-party to-morrow morning, we shall have to get
up at five.'
'You needn't go unless you like,' she replied curtly. 'Mrs. Boynton
has cried off.'
'I am not Mrs. Boynton's personal assistant, Miss Tweedie; I happen
to be your father's—so duty calls.' As he spoke he seated himself on
the balustrade and leant forward, his elbows on his knees, to watch
the group or the other side of the arcade.
'If I didn't know that Gwen despises that sort of thing,' he went
on in dissatisfied tones, 'I should say she had rouged this evening.
Her way of showing fatigue, I presume; though, of course, neither of
you have the common-sense to confess you are tired. Women are all
ascetics at heart; at least they believe in the virtue of martyrdom.
They have different ways of showing it, that's all. Gwen spends her
fatigue in dress-making and conversation to please, and you, I'll go
bail, haven't even a proper bandage on that scorched arm—'
'Yes! I saw you imagined I was blind—suppose we say like to
imagine it; but I really had my eye-glass, Miss Tweedie. Besides, it
doesn't require microscopic sight to see some things.'
'What a profound remark!' interrupted Rose, to hide her pleased
surprise at his unusual consideration. At the same moment Gwen's gay
laugh rang out, soft yet clear. Either the sound or the speech annoyed
the hearer on the balustrade, for he frowned as he slipped his
dangling feet to the floor.
'As profound as I can make it this evening, for I'm not ashamed to
confess myself dog- tired. Couldn't tell a crow from a pigeon; so I
shall be off. Good-night, Miss Tweedie, I wish you would persuade Gwen
to go to bed. It is easier to give good advice than to take it.'
Rose remained looking at the twinkling lights, and wondering if
Lewis were really jealous of his cousin, till seeing the others go
back to the central summer-house she followed suit.
'Tired!' echoed Gwen sharply, in reply to her information that
Lewis Gordon had stolen away. 'Are we not all tired? I feel as if I
had been up since the beginning of time seeking for something I could
not find. My bed, perhaps. Good-night, Rose.'
They were an odd couple, as they bent to kiss each other in that
mirrored room, where the oddness was reflected again and again in the
myriad scraps of looking-glass on the walls. Each curved fragment
giving and taking an eternity of Gwen's and Rose's bending to kiss
'I am tired of it all, I will go to sleep;
When morning comes I will seek for something,
Over hill and dale, through night and day, I must seek for
something.' The remembrance evoked by Gwen's chance words sent a
little shiver through the girl; and with it came a sudden pulse of
sympathy for the woman who, now that she saw her close, did indeed
look haggard and worn.
'No wonder you are tired,' she said gently. 'Even I feel as if I
could sleep for days.'
'But you are coming to hawk surely,' broke in George. 'Do, please!
it won't be any fun without you.'
'Not a bit,' assented Dan. 'Gordon ordered your horse, I know, and
told them to take you your tea at five punctually.'
'You must go, Rose,' put in Gwen with a shrug of her white
shoulders. 'Diana Chasseresse mustn't disappoint her votaries.
I'm glad my habit was burnt.'
She did not look it, and Rose, as she went off to her corner room
wondered if Gwen could be jealous of her. The idea was absurd, but
pleasing; and she fell asleep placidly over variations of the
But just over the way with that dark mirrored room between them,
Gwen lay awake, with one hand thrust under the pillow where she could
feel a tiny paper parcel. Should she keep it, or should she not?
Should she say anything of the scene burnt in on her memory, or should
she not? She seemed to see it as a spectator, not as the only actor in
it. To see a woman in native dress in that room set round with eyes;
the Ayôdhya pot in her hand, and in her tinsel-edged veil the jewels
which had fallen from its false bottom. Jewels which if sold would buy
her freedom, perhaps save her, and Dan too, from a great mistake. It
was a chance. A chance most likely unknown to any one in the wide
world save herself, for who would have knowingly sold a pot containing
three huge pearls and an emerald for ten rupees? Nor was she bound to
give more to the seller. Land was bought so, but if the mines were
found afterwards, that was the buyer's good luck. Facts like these,
accepted apparently by the honest and honourable, go far to give such
as Gwen immoral support. No one could possibly know; she herself would
not have known save for that chance slip, and the eyes made keen and
eager through fear of some slight injury to the treasure.
It was a chance of escape, and the danger had come home to her
sharply in the past twenty-four hours. The danger of yielding to her
own weakness about Dan made clear by his actions; the new danger,
suggested by his words, of her losing her hold on Lewis. Could he
really be attracted by Rose? The events of the evening gave colour to
the possibility. If so, there was no time to be lost. She must be free;
free to do as she chose. No one would know. Nobody would dream of
bribing one so powerless as she. And if the jewels had been put there
knowingly, it was only her risk. No one else was responsible. Lewis
had said so—
So she argued, coming round always to the same thought, till the
first glint of dawn brought sleep, as it so often does to weary eyes.
Perhaps in the thought that the sun will rise, the world go on, no
matter what we do, or think, or say.
She slept so soundly that all the bustle of the hawking party failed
to disturb her; and when that was over the long stretch of terraced
roof lay empty of all sound or sign of life, save for the green
parrots shrieking and swooping about the carven work. A pair of them
had built in a loophole, whence the young ones kept up a simmering,
bubbling noise, like a boiling tea-kettle; a comfortable homely sound
out of keeping with the bare beauty of stone, and sunlight, and hard
Down in the courtyard below, two badge wearers in scarlet and gold
lounged on the stairs, barring the roof from intrusion, chatting to
the passers-by, and discussing the news which had just been brought in
by the camel which was crouching beside a pile of fodder in the centre
of the yard, while its owner stretched his limbs, cramped with riding
all night across the desert, in front of the cook-room. Halfway up the
stairs on the landing leading to the state-rooms, Mrs. Boynton's ayah
squatted, combining business with pleasure, by being within reach of a
call and her forbidden hookah, at one and the same time. A bundle of
letters lay beside her, intended as a peace-offering against the
possible smell of smoke.
The sun climbed up silently, shifting the shadows on the silent
roof. That was the only movement, until suddenly a figure in a white
domino peered through the grille which barred the flight of
steps leading to the Diwan's tower. Then came the grate of a rusty key
in a lock, and the figure flitted, silently as the shadows, to the
summer-house, and paused in the mirror-room. Perhaps the
transformation which Western taste and Mrs. Boynton's clever fingers
had wrought in its adornment, was pleasing, perhaps the reverse. The burka, however, is of all disguises the most complete, since it
blots out form, colour, expression, even movement. The figure showed
indeed like a white extinguisher in the centre of the room, until,
with a swaying of ample folds it glided over to the corner stand where
the Ayôdhya pot stood out from Gwen's artistic drapery. Then something
slid out, still shrouded in white folds, from the extinguisher, raised
the vase, shook it slightly, replaced it, and slid back again in a
horrible invertebrate protoplasmic sort of movement, calculated to
send a shiver through a spectator. But there was none. The thing had
the whole roof to itself save for that fair-haired sleeper in the
corner room who lay with one hand clasping a little packet hidden
under her pillow. Her face was turned to the doorway in full view of
those latticed eye-holes belonging to the burka, which after a
time came to look in on her from the half-raised curtain, and let in
with a shaft of sunshine, a vista of blue skies and marble balustrades
with two red and green parrots pecking at each other. It may have been
the light, more probably the disturbing effect the dim consciousness
of other eyes fixed on our own has upon most people, which roused Gwen
Boynton. But she opened hers suddenly and started up in bed, her heart
throbbing violently, though the curtain had fallen and not a sound was
to be heard.
'Comin', mem sahiba, comin',' came in immediate answer to her
imperative call as the ayah, thrusting her hookah aside, snatched at
the letters, and shook what smoke she could from her voluminous
garments. A trifling delay, but enough to allow the thing up-stairs
to flit round the summer-house again; even to pause a second at the grille.
'It makes too much noise. I will leave it open,' it muttered as it
disappeared up the steps with the rusty key held in its formless
'Where were you?' asked Gwen, her heart still throbbing. 'And who
was that who looked in on me from the door? There was some one: I'm
sure there was some one.'
'Me, mem sahiba,' grinned the woman readily. 'Me, ayah. Look in
several time. Mem always neendi par; sota! sota! like baba. Ayah
waitin' close to bring dâk. Many letters for mem sahiba.'
Mrs. Boynton looked at her doubtfully. It was not the ayah whom she
had seen; of that she felt certain. On the other hand, if the woman
really had been sitting outside was more than probable the whole thing
was a dream. No harm had come of it, anyhow; so five minutes after she
was dividing her attention between early tea and a long epistle from
an absent admirer. Gwen's victims were always excellent
correspondents, perhaps because of that gracious indifference in which
lay her great charm, since a letter had quite as good a chance as a
man of whiling away her kindly, sympathetic leisure.
But when the ayah was brushing at the pretty hair Gwen's mind
reverted to the question which had kept her awake. As so often
happens—the learned say by unconscious cerebration—it appeared to
have settled itself. Independently of Dan, or any secondary matter of
that sort, money would be useful. Most useful, seeing she had just
lost the best part of her wardrobe and had a season at Simla in
immediate prospect. Now she came to think of it, Hodinuggur owed her
some reparation for the loss it had inflicted upon her. Besides, it
would be wiser to wait and see if the presence of jewels in the pot
were suspected by any one or not. If the latter, it would clearly be
flying in the face of a good Providence to mention her discovery. So,
by the time she was ready to face her world, that world seemed quite
simple and easy to face.
Chândni thought the same thing as she sat at the Diwan's feet in
the big balconied room of the tower overlooking the canal, telling him
in whispers of the success of her plan so far. The jewels were no
longer in the pot. The mem must have them, for, as she had found out
through a khitmutgar, the mem had been alone during many hours, and
had been making a mess in the room with trumpery platters and pots.
'She may send it back yet,' said the Diwan cautiously. 'Lo! I am
old, and this I have learnt through long years: Trust not a woman not
to change her mind till she be dead.'
The courtesan laughed. ''Tis as well for some men she is born so,
father. But a night's thought is as death to a woman. Life is too
short to give more to such things. And that night is over without a
sign. Give her yet one more, an thou wilt; after that, say that
Chândni hath dug the channel 'Twill be thy task to turn the water into
AMONG those things which come by Nature and are not to be
taught, may be reckoned a pretty seat on horseback. One may be a good
rider without it, a poor one with it; but when grace and skill are
combined a man certainly shows at his best on horseback. It was so
with Lewis Gordon. He sat his lean little country-bred as if it
belonged to him; not as the usual phrase runs, as if he were part of
his horse. For that is a description which ignores the essence of the
thing to be described; which is, surely, the mastery a man has over
something which is not himself. Part of his horse! The very
words conjure up a man paralysed to the waist and jelly above,
agonising over a cavalry seat.
If Lewis Gordon were grateful to Providence for anything, it was for
making and keeping him a light weight, and thus rendering him
independent of Australian or Arab mounts. The fourteen-hand pony
which he had picked up—a mere bag of bones—at a native fair, had to
be hard held when trotting alongside of Colonel Tweedie's big Waler,
yet she had only cost him a tenth of the price. As she forged along,
quivering with impatience, Bronzewing was a pretty sight, the sunlight
shining red through her wide nostrils, and shifting in golden curves
over the bronze muscles which were almost black in shadow. Rose
Tweedie always admired it immensely, and, illogically enough, felt
inclined to be more lenient on the rider. She told herself it was
because he wore spectacles on horseback, and they were less offensive
than the eyeglass, which permitted variations of method in his
outlook. She did not even fall foul of his indifference when he
dawdled about, a picture of aimless dejection, at the hawking party;
in fact, she had sneaking sympathy with his feelings. It was
dreary work watching unfortunate grey partridges beaten up from one
bush by coolies, only to be pounced on by a hawk ere it could reach
the shelter of the next cover. She also shared his disgust at Dalel
Beg, who, in top-boots, red coat, and doeskins, took a keen interest
in the gorging of young hawks on the entrails of the still struggling
victims, and gave shrill 'yoicks' and 'gone aways' at each fresh
flutter. Khush-hâl Beg watching the sport from a bullock-cart on which
he reclined among cushions was purely comical; his son purely
'I think,' remarked Lewis slowly, 'he is the worst specimen of
civilisation I ever met; and I think this is the deadliest
entertainment I ever was at. And both those facts mean something.'
Rose laughed, and suggested that it would have been different had
they come across bustard. They, she had heard, were worth hawking. Her
companion shook his head.
'I've seen it on the frontier at its best. You lose the essence of
sport; that, I take it, lies in pitting your strength, or skill, or
endurance against the quarry. In hawking you ride behind the skill; and
as the country is easy, the whole thing resolves itself into the pace
of your horse; in other words, what you paid for the beast.'
'Not always! I'd back Bronzewing against the field any day,' cried
He looked up with quite a flush of pleasure. 'Well! she should do
her best to win the gloves for you, Miss Tweedie.'
The reply came as naturally as the remark which provoked it, but it
made the girl feel suddenly shy and say hastily—
'She looks as if she wanted to be off now; how that partridge
'Not a bit of it. She is only longing, as I am, for a hunt.'
'Yes! a partridge-hunt. Have you never seen one?' He gave a rapid
glance round. 'There are too many bushes here, but Keene may know of
some fairly-open country, with perhaps a thorn-hedge or two for you to
jump—that is to say, if you have had enough of this festive scene.'
Five minutes after, George Keene, Dan Fitzgerald, Lewis Gordon, and
she were sweeping along in line across low sand-hills in order to dip
down into a harder plain among stretches of level, dotted sparsely
with low caper-bushes, with here and there a patch of cultivation
showing vividly green against its whitey-brown frame of desert, and
here and there a bit of plough ready for the summer crop.
There is nothing more invigorating in the world than riding in line
at a hand-gallop across such country in the freshness of early
morning, especially when the party has gay hearts and light heads.
Rose felt that it was worth all her purely feminine amusements put
together, and, with a flush of enjoyment on her face, besieged Lewis
Gordon with high-pitched questions as to what they were going to do;
he calling back his answers, so that their voices rose above the
rhythmical beating of the horses' hoofs.
'We are going without dog or coolie, gun or any lethal weapon
whatever—as the code says—to ride down and capture the grey
partridge or Ammoperdix bonhami! Have you seen it done,
'Heard of it only. The pace must be good.'
'Racing speed; no less. Therein lies the fun.' He gave a quick
glance at Rose's tackle, and frowned. 'You should have a stronger
bit,' he began when she interrupted him.
'It is the same as yours.'
'Perhaps. But a lady can't ride like a man, especially in this sort
of work. If I had noticed it before, I—'
'Nonsense! I always ride with a snaffle, and Shâhzâd is as steady
as a house.'
'That is no argument. In my opinion a lady should—'
The rest of the wrangle was spared to the company, for at that
moment a partridge buzzed out of a bush at their feet, Bronzewing's
equanimity gave way, and with a snort of eagerness she burst after it,
Shâhzâd following suit; both beasts heading straight as a die after
the quarry, heedless of their riders or their discussions.
'Give him his head, Miss Tweedie,' shouted Lewis, as he shot past.
'He has done it before and knows the game! Off we are!'
Off indeed, helter-skelter, behind the grey-brown buzz of wings
showing against a blue sky.
'Ride it! Ride it! Keep an eye on it! I'll do back,' came Lewis
Gordon's voice, boyishly excited, as, with hands down, he veered the
mare a point or two by main force, until, as she caught sight of a
heavier clump of bushes comprehension came to the game little beast,
and she headed straight for it.
'Where? Oh! Where?' cried Rose dis- tractedly to Dan Fitzgerald,
who was now racing beside her.
'Right ahead—there—don't you see?'
Just a brown speck against the blue sky still, skimming faster and
faster to meet the brown horizon. There still, no—yes—
Rose gave a cry, which was echoed by an exclamation from Dan, as
instinctively they reined up, feeling the chase was over. George,
hurrying up from behind, where his pony had been playing the fool,
found them staring disconsolately at the bushes.
'Lost it, I suppose,' said Lewis, as he rejoined them. 'It is
always difficult to keep it in sight on the horizon. However, you have
had a good burst, Miss Tweedie. See! we started there—a good mile
back. Have you any idea how you got here?'
'None! I suppose I rode; but I saw nothing but a sort of big
bumble-bee buzzing in front of me. Shâhzâd did the rest.'
'As I said, not for the first time, which confirms me in saying he
is only a Gulf Arab, for partridge-hunting is a Persian sport. Only
don't tell your father, please; he would never forgive me.'
As he turned in his saddle, resting one hand on the mare's quarters
in order to speak to Rose, voice and face full of almost boyish
enjoyment, the girl felt that this was a new development of his
character, and that she liked it better than the ones she knew.
'Now, as we go along, I'll explain. That bird took us by surprise,'
he went on eagerly. 'Four is an ideal number, though I've had rare fun
riding partridge single-handed. Number one ought to make the pace,
keeping both eyes on the bird. Number two keeps his on the going, so
as to save Number one from coming to grief over rough country. Number
three rides cautious, land-marks the flight, and is ready to turn if
the bird breaks back—you can't when you are going full speed, unless
the bird towers. Number four rides cunning, cuts off curves, and heads
for likely covers. The whole aim being to press the partridge so hard
that it has no time to settle in shelter, but, after skimming down to
a bush, runs through it, and takes to wing again on the other side.'
'And gets away, I suppose,' muttered George Keene, still out of
temper. 'Don't see the fun of it.'
'Wait a bit,' retorted Lewis gaily. 'Now you must remember that the
rôle you have to play depends on how the bird breaks. There is no
time to settle. The nearest in must ride it, the rest choose their
parts as best—steady, mare, steady!'
It was only a faint 'te-tetar—te-tetar,' in the far distance, but
Bronzewing started, and even George's pony cocked its ears; while
humanity went on breathlessly in line, the horses' feet at a walk
giving out a hollow sound on the hard soil, the yellow sunshine
casting hard shadows.
'Look out!' cautioned Lewis, in a whisper. 'There's a partridge
running on ahead; by you, I think, Fitzgerald.'
'Don't see it!'
'Farther to the left. The mare sees it. We must trot a bit, or it
won't rise fair. Steady, lass, steady!'
'I see it,' came in excited tones from George, 'by the big bush,
'That's another,' cautioned Lewis again. 'Take care and don't—'
Whirr, buzz! Whirr, buzz!
'Ride it! Ride it!'
The cry came from two quarters; but Shâhzâd was already extended,
and Rose forgetful of everything save those brown wings low down
against the horizon. She was closer on them this time, for she could
see their skimming swoop as they neared a heavy clump of cover. Yet
she felt she must lose them, as she had done before when to her relief
she saw Lewis shoot ahead.
'All right,' he shouted, 'I'm on. Look out for yourself.'
There was a cut of his thong against thorns as he rose Bronzewing to
a hedge which Rose had not seen. But she had scarcely steadied herself
in the saddle from the half-considered leap in his wake before the
partridge was down and up again at right-angles to its first flight;
Lewis meanwhile bringing the mare round all he knew, and shouting,
'Ride it, Miss Tweedie! ride it.'
Shâhzâd, still steadied by the jump, was in hand and on the track
in a second, snorting in mad hurry and excitement, and the bird was
not quite so fast this time, or Rose was riding straighter, for she
saw the last skim of the wings change to running feet as it touched
the grey brown earth which tinted so perfectly with its plumage.
'Not there! not there!' came that warning voice from behind. 'It's
run on. The next bush—put Shâhzâd over it.'
A leap, a scurry, a flutter, and the quarry was up again, heading in
its hurry for an impossible open, backed by bare plough. Bronzewing
being now alongside, Rose found leisure to glance round for the
'Gone after the second partridge,' said Lewis. 'I was afraid of it.
There's a hedge twenty yards ahead, Miss Tweedie, I'll mark.'
They were over it, almost in the stride, and now the bird was below
the horizon, a mere shadow of darker brown against the plough.
'I've lost it! I've lost it again!' The despairing cry came from
Rose's very heart as she tugged vainly at Shâhzâd. When she succeeded
in bringing him up, she saw that Lewis was slipping from the mare.
'All right!' he cried cheerfully, dropping his white handkerchief
on the ground, 'it's somewhere about! That's the place I marked; now
for sharp eyes.'
Up and down the bare furrows he searched, followed by Bronzewing,
her reins dangling. Up and down, with such patience, that Rose,
gaining confidence, began to search also. Only, however, to lose hope,
as minute after minute brought no result.
'I don't believe it's here,' she remarked at last; and with the
words saw Lewis Gordon stoop to pick up something she had passed by,
thinking it was a clod of earth.
'Your first partridge!' he said with a kindly laugh, as he placed
the bird upon her lap. There it lay unhurt, wide-eyed and motionless
as it had lain among the furrows.
'Why doesn't it fly away?' asked Rose, with a little catch in her
breath, as she gently stroked the mottled back.
'It will, soon. At present it's winded. Give it five minutes, and
we could ride it again; but we won't. It flew game, and I needn't ask
if you enjoyed it.'
No need, certainly. The very horses panting, nose down in each
other's faces, seemed discussing past pleasure.
'It is safe from kites now,' said Lewis. 'Throw it up, Miss
The next instant a skimming flight had ended in a covert of thorns
and Lewis was on his mare ready to start.
'It wouldn't head for the open again, I bet,' he said, 'they get as
'cute as an old fox after a time. To your left, please, that rise
yonder is Hodinuggur.'
'But we might ride again, surely? It would give the others time to
come up,' began Rose, fiercely bitten with the game.
'Best not. The ground here is bad going; all littered with bricks.
And you could barely hold Shâhzâd that last time. A snaffle is hard
work—for a lady.'
Rose refrained from open retort. Lewis had given her a morning's
amusement, and she owed him something; for all that, she made a mental
determination to ride partridge as often as she chose with a snaffle.
His objection was only part of that wholesale depreciation—here a
partridge buzzed out of a bush, and partly from impulse, partly from
sheer opposition, she gave Shâhzâd the rein. A bit of bravado in
which she reckoned without the excited horse. Ere she had gone fifty
yards, she realised it had the bit between its teeth. What was worse,
she saw that Lewis realised it also.
'Look out for bricks,' he called, spurring Bronzewing alongside for
a moment, 'and don't try to follow when the bird breaks back, as it is
sure to do, for cover.'
The words were still on his lips, when the partridge towered and
turned. Shâhzâd, no novice at such tricks, pulled up short, nearly
throwing Rose over his ears. Then, with a bound, he dashed off
sideways, catching Bronzewing on the flank as she swerved, and
throwing her rider's foot from the stirrup. The mare staggered, pulled
herself together smartly, set her hoof on a loose brick, and came down
heavily; while Rose, tugging vainly at her beast, went sailing away to
the horizon, with the memory of that crashing fall seeming to paralyse
her strength. When she did manage to turn, Bronzewing was on her feet;
but her rider lay where he had fallen. The girl's heart stood still an
instant in that utmost fear which will come first—was he dead?
Yet, as she galloped back she told herself, fiercely, that it was
impossible; people fell so often, and did not hurt themselves. But
not, surely, to lie as he lay, with eyes wide open and one arm under
him as if he had pitched head-foremost. Rose had never seen an
accident before, and at first all her helpfulness seemed lost in a
senseless desire to gather him up in her arms and hold him safe. Then
the thought of her own foolishness came to her aid. He had been right!
Women were no good! A man would have known what to do, and as she
thought these things, she searched, comically enough, in his pockets
for a flask, as if unconsciously reverting to the first resource of
the male animal; but she could find none, and there was no water. What
was to be done, save to chafe his hands and call to him vainly, while
a perfect agony of negation clamoured against her growing fear. He
could not be dead! He was such a good rider. He must have fallen
before and not been killed. Why should he be killed this time? He
could not be killed on such a bright sunny morning—when they had been
so happy—when he had been so kind. Ridiculous, trivial little
thoughts, such as make up the sum of such scenes.
Finally she rose, resolved by her very despair. Water and help she
must have. If no nearer than the palace, then to the palace she must
go. Shâhzâd had taken advantage of liberty to seek a wheat field, but
Bronzewing would carry her with the stirrup over. The mare, however,
distrusting strangers, sidled off, still circling faithfully round her
master. Then the girl's hopes and fears centred themselves on the
immediate necessity for success. She coaxed, wheedled, cajoled,
forgetting all else, till all of a sudden Bronzewing paused to whinny,
and Rose, looking round instinctively, recognised the magnitude of her
past despair in the light of her great relief as she saw Lewis Gordon,
raised on one elbow, looking at her in a dazed sort of way. She was on
her knees beside him in a minute, confessing the past fear she had so
strenuously denied while it existed.
'I thought you were dead!' she cried. 'I thought you were dead.'
She was trembling and shaking all over, quite visibly, and he gave an
'Thumped the back of my head; that's all. No!' a spasm of pain
passed over his face as he sat up. 'My collarbone's gone. Well! it
might have been worse. The ground is uncommonly hard.'
Worse indeed! Rose could not speak for a lump in her throat; but
the loquacity of escape was upon him.
'Must have pitched on my shoulder, luckily. I don't in the least
remember how it happened. We were partridging I suppose; but my mind
is an absolute blank. No wonder my head is just splitting; but I can
walk home all right.'
And when she proposed riding Bronzewing for help, he negatived it
firmly on the ground that the mare wasn't broken in for a lady; a man
never having such a strong hold on his individual quips and cranks as
when he realises that he has been within an ace of losing them
altogether; whence comes the proverbial captiousness of convalescents.
So she had to be content with giving him a hand up and walking
beside him, feeling a sad trembling in the knees joined to a general
sensation of having gone to pieces. He, on the contrary, talking and
laughing in magnificent, manly fashion.
'You had better tell me how it happened,' he said, as they neared
the palace. 'People make such a fuss, that it is as well to be
prepared. Did you see me come to grief?'
Rose hesitated for a moment to own up; then she did it wholesale.
'You told me not to ride because of the snaffle, but I did. I lost
control of Shâhzâd; he charged Bronzewing. She put her foot on a
loose brick, and—and I'm very, very sorry.'
'Stupid little beast,' he said, looking round at the mare, who was
following them like a dog. 'I expect she wants re-shoeing.'
The evasion was kindly meant; but she regretted it. It seemed
somehow to set her aside. But this was her portion in all things, for
with Lewis in his room, scientifically bandaged by Dan and nursed by
his cousin, Rose's part resolved itself into doing audience for her
father's fussing. He had a capacity for it at all times, but Fate had
provided him with special reasons for it now. Another delay! and when
it was absolutely necessary that he should hold a Canal Committee at
Delhi early in the week, how was he to manage without his personal
assistant? Then there were private reason for annoyance which he did
not confide to Rose, but which that clear-sighted young lady fully
understood. If Lewis had to remain a few days longer at Hodinuggur,
his cousin would remain also; in which case Dan Fitzgerald would stay
to look after them. Now Dan, ever since the fire, had been in the
Colonel's black books. He had, as it were, thrust himself forward and
made himself conspicuous. Finally, any woman must feel gratitude to a
man who had saved her life. It was all of a piece—all the result of
disobedience to his superior wisdom. Why had Rose set fire to the
camp? Had he not warned her a hundred times against sitting up to
read? Why had she charged Lewis? Had he not begged her fifty times to
ride in a more reserved and ladylike fashion?
Rose could only fall back on George for comfort, and he, for reasons
of his own, was utterly unsympathetic. A broken collar-bone, he said,
was nothing—except an awful nuisance to every one else. To tell
truth, the only person in that up-stairs world who was satisfied at
the new turn affairs had taken was Gwen Boynton. It suited her
admirably in more ways than one. So she sat after lunch and talked
with Colonel Tweedie in the balcony until his ill-humour vanished in
a bland flood of conviction that this eminently charming woman really
was full of sympathy for his difficulties, and thoroughly impressed
with his responsible position. In fact, when she had apologised for
returning to duty and her patient, he came and let loose his
satisfaction upon his daughter. Nothing was more useful to a man
having authority than the companionship of a really sensible woman of
the world. It enabled you to do justice to yourself, to adopt the
course you considered best without undue hesitation. Therefore he
would start for Rajpore, as he had always intended to do, on the
following day, taking Mr. Fitzgerald with him to supply Gordon's
place. He knew something of the current work, and it would be a
kindness, serving to show—er—that—er—there was really nothing
against him at headquarters.
'That was very considerate of Mrs. Boynton,' interrupted Rose
quickly. She saw the meaning of this manoeuvre so far that it roused
her resentment, even though, after all, it would be better for Dan
than dangling about with a sore heart while Gwen nursed the sick man.
Better for George also, since the partie carrée could not well
consist of three and a dummy. George should talk to her, and so be
kept from dangling also.
Thus Dan himself was the only one to look blank at the proposal, and
even he admitted its reasonableness when Mrs. Boynton pointed out the
many advantages it would have. This was during the tête-à-tête
, in a bell-shaped cupola, which she allowed him over their tea. To
tell truth, Gwen always behaved with the strictest and most impartial
justice to all who had claims upon her, and she would have felt
herself unkind had she allowed poor dear Dan to go away feeling
aggrieved. She was very sorry he had to go, or rather, to be strictly
accurate, she was sorry that common-sense dictated that he should go.
Had all things been consenting, there was no one in the wide world she
would so gladly have had for a husband. Now, when a woman of Mrs.
Boynton's type, which is at all times kindly disposed to lovers, has
an idea of this sort firmly fixed in her mind, she can be very kind
indeed, even in her dismissals. So Dan was perfectly happy after he
had sat beside her, and given her a second cup of tea, and handed her
the bread and butter, though he made wry faces over her lecture on
the necessity for subordinating his opinions to Colonel Tweedie's.
'And, Dan,' she said, when the
tête-à-tête, had lasted long
enough, 'as you are going to Delhi, you might take a parcel for me to
Manohar Lal, the jeweller's. It is quite small, but you might just
send it round—the shop is in the Chowk—by the bearer. I wouldn't
trouble you, but it is a chance, as you are going that way. It won't
bother you, will it?'
'Bother,' echoed Dan in the tones which men in his condition use on
'Then, I'll give it you now. I was going to send it by post, so it
is addressed, and all the instructions are inside; but it would be
safer if you took it—as you happen to be going.'
She repeated the phrase as if to convince herself of its truth. Yet
when, on returning with her commission, Dan seized the opportunity of
taking the parcel to kiss the fingers which held it, she felt
something of a traitor. Even though, in sending the jewels she had
found to be appraised, she told herself she had no other intention
beyond, if possible, getting enough money to repay the loan she had so
unwisely taken. That was all; and this chance of sending to Delhi by a
safe hand had decided her so far—no more.
'Good-bye, dear Dan,' she said; 'I always miss you so much when you
That night Chândni reported progress to the Diwan. The mem's ayah
had let out that the big Huzoor, Fitzgerald sahib, was the greatest
friend the mem had. She must be a regular bad one, if all tales were
true. And the big sahib was going to Delhi, the most likely place in
which jewels would be sold. She would write to her craft, who were
good clients of the goldsmiths, and bid them keep a sharp look-out. It
would at least do no harm.
'Thy father must have been the devil,' said Zubr-ul-Zamân
admiringly; 'yet will I reward thee, as thou hast asked, if all goes
'Does not all go well?' laughed the woman. 'The fire and the fall?'
'And the girl?'
'Oh, naught of the girl!—the lance-player hits not the peg first
time. That part is done, that tune played, for good or evil. The
bridegroom, they say, comes next week. 'Tis well; we want no evil eye
to change the luck.'