The Potter's Thumb, Vol. 3
by Flora Annie Webster Steel
AZIZAN was waiting for darkness, like many another woman in
India; waiting for the veil of night to destroy the veil of man's
contriving. Not so much because she dreaded to show her face in the
daylight, but because it suited her to keep up the mystery of her
appearance. Waiting, however, for the last time; since once her work
of warning was done there need be no more concealment, no more playing
like a cat over a mouse with the Palace folk. Once that was done, she
meant to forget caution and kill some of them; for she felt that her
own death was nigh, and revenge would sweeten the end of life. As she
sat, her back against the wall, her knees drawn up to her chin, Azizan
had no very distinct plans for that revenge. First of all the Ayôdhya
pot must be taken from its hiding-place in the stair of the old
tower. That, with its secret bribe of jewels, it would prove to the
sahib that there was truth in the tale she had gathered during her
nightly wanderings as a ghost about Hodinuggur. When that was done,
she would be free in some of those nightly wanderings to kill the
Diwan or his son, the man who killed her mother. Perhaps she might be
able to kill both, and yet have some strength left for
Chândni—Chândni who had told her so many lies. For there was a fire
now in Azizan's light eyes, which quite accounted for the
consideration which the courtesan had shown the girl when, more than
once, Chândni had awakened to find them looking at her. Of course, by
and by a stop must be put to this masquerading through the village,
but at present it would be unsafe, when so much depended on good luck,
and thus Azizan had hitherto been unmolested. Indeed, Chândni herself
had taken malicious pleasure in countenancing current tales of the
return of the potter's dead daughter; and once when Khush-hâl Beg,
during his son's absence, had deemed it well to single her out for
favour, she had sent the hoary old sinner back to his swinging cradle
like a quaking jelly from abject fear of what he might meet by the
way. Still it was only when she was on the roof with the old Diwan
that she ventured to speak in whispers of a time when this mad girl
should be taught her own impotence for good or evil.
So in the meantime, the freedom from interruption, and the dread
which the mere thought of her existence roused in the simple village
folk, conspired to increase Azizan's faith in her own supernatural
power, and as she sat in the growing dusk no doubt of her own success
assailed her; for the chota sahib had returned—during the night. At
least so said the old man, who, with all his craziness, was to be
trusted. Therefore, in less than an hour, he would know all, since the
day was dying down quickly; smothered in a hot haze-like smoke. There
was not a shadow anywhere; only a dull darkness growing momentarily as
the dull darkness had grown upon her mind day by day. For all that she
had the power; the potter might mould the clay, the palace folk might
plot and plan, but she, the woman with the evil eye, was stronger than
'Aziz! Oh! thou art there still, Heaven be praised!' The cry roused
her from a sort of dream to find the old man beside her, breathless as
from running, his mild face, seen dimly in the darkness, full of
piteous entreaty. 'Go not from me this night, oh Heart's-joy! Leave me
not again in the storm!'
'The storm! What storm, poor fool?' she asked indifferently.
He laid his trembling hand on her arm. 'Listen! Thou canst hear the
noise of many waters. They came before, so the fathers sang, and made a
new world. Down yonder at the palace, where thou goest, 'twill run
like the race of a river, and the stones of the old wall where thou
liest will be crumbling into it. Go not there to-night, oh, Light of
mine Eyes! It is safe here on the heights.'
'There is no water,' she answered, with a short laugh, 'there will
be none; save in the canal. The sahib will see to that now he hath
'How can he see when he is dead—'
'Dead,' she echoed. 'Bah! thou liest! He is not dead. There is no
water, and there is no death—'
She broke off suddenly, silenced by his look as he stood with one
hand raised as if listening. In the breathless air a strange
whispering reached her ear, and like an arrow from a bow, she flew to
the gap in the palisade, whence she could see the dip between the ruins
and the canal bank, and beyond that silver streak again to the
bungalow dotted down upon the level plain.
The Great Cry—the blind human cry of her race for justice burst
from her instinctively. The next moment found her bare-faced in the
open on her way to prove if the old man spoke truth in death also.
'Azizan! go not! Leave not the House of Safety! It is the Flood of
the Most High! Go not, oh! go not!'
His unavailing plea came back to him unanswered from the night which
had fallen suddenly, as the dust from below sprang electrically up to
meet the dust above and hide everything from sight. But through the
thick veil that rush of water rose louder and louder as the girl sped
on her way. It was true what the old man had said, and she had seen
it. There was a river by the old palace. Was the other thing true
also? Was the sahib dead? Had they killed him? The darkness lightened
a little as she ran over the bridge so that she could see a great
swirl of yellow water shooting past the piers not three inches below
the keystone of the arch. Lower down it had found the open
sluice-gates, hurled them from their foundations and carried them
with it as it burst through the embankment weakened by the new-made
cuttings of the villagers, and had raced in a mad river to fling
itself against the mound of Hodinuggur, tearing down yard after yard
of crumbling sand as it turned abruptly from the collision, to try
conclusions by a flank movement. Azizan saw none of this; nothing but
the dim white arches where she had waited once before.
No answer, and in her eagerness she crouched down at the closed
door, tapping softly.
There was only a quarter-inch planking between them, that was all,
for they had left him as he fell till some other white-face should
come to accept the responsibility of interference. Yet it did the work
as effectually as all the barriers of custom and culture which had
divided them in life.
Could it be true? It must be true that he was dead; otherwise he
would surely hear her cry!
As she crouched she might have put out her hand and taken his, but
for that trivial quarter-inch of wood between them; but he did not
hear. Because he was dead? Perhaps, yet even in life he had not heard,
he had not known. The light in the potter's yard, lit by her
passionate love and care, had only served to arouse his contempt.
Better darkness, he had thought, than such a light as that.
At last she rose and stumbled across to the servants' quarters,
seeking the certainty which she must gain somehow. A light glimmered
behind the grass palisades, sacred to her namesake's modesty, and from
within came the eager yet subdued tones of gossiping women. Azizan
crept close, and crouching in on herself held her breath to listen.
'Lo! I content myself with goodwill towards all men,' came the
widow's voice self-complacently. 'Yet, O Motiya! wife of Ganesha the
groom, I make bold to aver that this is no more or less than a
'What? Dost think it to be really the Flood of Destruction?' broke
in Motiya, whimpering.
'Ai pargul! Who cares for the water? It flows south, not
north; so we are safe. No! 'tis the sahib's death. Mayhap 'twill teach
other folks' relations not to be in such a hurry to thrust themselves
into other folks' service against the custom—'
'Ai teri! wouldest deny my right—the widow's right?
meri adme, thy sahib is dead, and there is none to see justice
done and employ thy relations! Ai! meri dil murgya! murgya!'
As the renewed sense of her wrongs rose in the familiar wail, the
women from within joined in it dutifully. Without, the girl, with her
hands clenched and her wild eyes straining into the shadows, seemed to
be caught and carried away by it also, and her shrill voice echoed
'Ai! meri sahib murgya. Ai! meri dil murgya! murgya!'
The women, scared to death at the unexpected aid, stopped suddenly,
and the young voice rose alone.
'Ai! meri dil murgya! murgya!'
The sound of her own wailing brought home to her the truth, rousing
her passion, her grief, her anger, to madness; and in one swift desire
for revenge she turned and ran.
'Meri sahib murgya!'
The wail echoed over the wild swirl of the flood-water as she
crossed the bridge once more. It was trembling now before its doom as
the water rose inch by inch. And could that be rain? that large warm
drop upon her hand, so large that it ran down between her fingers?
Another on her upturned face, blinding her. If those were raindrops,
and many of them came, it might, indeed, be the deluge of the Most
High. And if it were? Had not the end of all things come to her
already? Yet as she ran she looked curiously into the sky. Not a cloud
was visible; only an even haze of grey vapour, through which now and
again a great drop splashed down upon her, warm and soft.
'Ai! meri sahib! meri sahib!'
No more than a sob now; yet even that she hushed as the Mori gate
showed black before her. Should it be Chândni? No, not yet; but for
Dalel and the hopes of him, the woman would have cared nothing for
water or no water. So she passed on through the causeway. One or two
villagers, hurrying, like her, through the darkness, talking in scared
whispers of the strange flood, fell back from her path terrified. A
knot of men in the bazaar huddled aside as she slipped by like a
shadow; even in the courtyard of the palace the watchmen, gathered
round one pipe for the comfort of companionship in such uncanny times,
gave no more than an uneasy glance at the half-seen figure which they
did not care to challenge.
Should it be Khush-hâl Beg in his swinging cradle? He had betrayed
her mother, and the knife she carried was long enough to reach through
the fat to his heart, long enough to do the mischief, when held in
reckless hands, even if aid came to the unwieldy body. No! it should
not be Khush-hâl either. Let him wait a while since he had done little
to harm the sahib. The true quarry lay higher in the old man up yonder
in his nest like a bird of prey; seeing all things with his keen old
eyes, plotting and planning with his wise old brain. But for him, the
others had not been; but for him the sahib would have been alive, and
now he was dead. Each step of the stairs as she laboured up them
seemed to need that cry of 'dead! dead!' to help her on her way; and
they left her breathless on the first platform of the roof, where
those huge drops of rain were falling in audible thuds upon the hard
plaster. Faster and faster. This was no rain. Something must have
given way in the sky, and, as the old man had said, it was 'Tofhân
Ehlâi.' So much the better for her purpose. In the arcades on
either side faint figures glimmering white in the shadows showed where
some of the servants were sheltering. So much the better, also, since
she might find the old man alone; not that she cared for that either,
save in its greater assurance of success. He would not be in the
pavilions at this time, but in the room to the north end of the
tower, of which she had heard the women speak. The room with the big
jutting balcony whence you could see north, east, and west, everything
except Hodinuggur itself.
By this time the raindrops, falling faster and faster, had become a
sheet of water streaming down straight with such curious force that
she staggered under it. A little sun-baked fireplace against which she
stumbled dissolved to sheer mud ere she had recovered her balance, and
a loosened brick on the last step upwards rolled down, beaten from its
place ere her foot touched it. It was the 'Tofhân Elâhi'
indeed, though every moment the sky grew lighter and she could now see
her way clearly.
'Meri sahib murgya! murgya!'
She kept the wild fire glowing in heart and eyes by the murmur,
until through an open door she saw what she sought—an old man seated
at a chess-table, still as a statue. With a cry she darted forward,
snatching at the knife in her girdle, then paused abruptly. Where was
the hurry? he could not move. So with a half laugh of exultation she
turned back deliberately to bolt the door—a strong door, as befitted
one giving on the favourite sleeping-place of despotism. It would need
time to force an entry there; more time than she would need to do her
work. Meanwhile she must look at this arbiter of her fate ever since
she was born—this tyrant whom she had never seen. What! was that all?
that wreck of a man, with his head upon his breast? but as she came
nearer, the light, such as it was, from the wide-arched balcony, aided
by a cresset smoking in a niche, showed her something of the youth in
his eyes. Perhaps it showed him something of the age in hers, for the
Diwan paused in his first haughty challenge, then began again.
'Hast come to frighten me, as thou frightenest the villagers, oh!
Azizan, daughter of the potter's daughter?' he asked coldly. He was
defenceless, and he knew it, save for craft of the brain.
'Nay! I have come to kill thee, Zubr-ul-Zamân, Diwan of
Hodinuggur,' she replied; 'to kill thee as thou hast killed the
A sound which might have been a laugh reached her as she took a step
nearer, brand- ishing the knife; perhaps it was that which made her
pause again in her turn; for laughter was hardly what she expected.
'I did not kill the sahib, fool. He killed himself for love of the
mem sahib: the fair mem who took the Ayôdhya pot.'
The girl fell back the step she had taken, and the hand bearing the
knife went up to her forehead in a gesture matching her sharp cry of
pain. The truth struck home; yet she caught at denial desperately.
'Thou liest! She did not take it. I took it once—twice. I have the
pearls—the Hodinuggur pearls. I—I—not she.'
One of those curious spasms of life came to the wreck of a man, as
it turned to look at the girl more closely.
'So! Thou also hast brains. 'Tis the woman's
¹ now-a-days. My son, and my son's son, have none. Thou shouldst
have been my granddaughter, Azizan, had I but known. Thou mayest be
His granddaughter! Of course! she had suspected so all her life, had
known it to be so for months, yet she had never realised the
fact till now; and an odd, inexplicable sense of kindred rose up in
her against her will.
'I shall kill thee, no matter who thou art,' she cried quickly.
'Wherefore? What harm have I done to thee, Azizan? 'Twould have
suited me better had the sahib fancied thy face. Thou hadst thy
Something in her shrank back abashed before the naked truth of the
old man's words. She had had her chance, according to her world, and
she had failed. She had failed utterly; and yet— Something else in
her, strange, incomprehensible, clamoured against the verdict, and the
deadly weariness, the passionate apathy she had so often felt before
came over her. The knife dropped to her side, and half mechanically
she looked out through the arches of the balcony to where the
red-brick bungalow should stand. There was nothing to be seen but
sheets of water streaming from above, while from below came a rush and
a roar. Suddenly as she listened came another sound; a pit-pat
pat-pit on the floor in half a dozen places. The rain had conquered
the thick-domed roof.
'It is "Tofhân Elâhi," ' she said, and even as she spoke a
babel of voices rose at the closed door.
'Open! open! The river saps the foundation.
Ari bhai! is he
dead, that he hath no fear? Beat it down!—Oh, Diwan sahib!—Oh!
servant, who hath closed the door?—Open! open!—Nay! without a smith
'tis hopeless—And I tarry not!—Listen! there goes more of the
wall—Open, fools! open!'
Amid the roar and rush, the vain blows and shouting, the old man's
eyes were on Azizan's, not so much in appeal as in command. He could
not move and his faded voice would never reach through the clamour, so
his only safety lay in her obedience. But she shook her head, then
crouched down—as if to wait till they should once more be alone—in
her favourite attitude, her back against the wall, her knees drawn up
to her chin, the knife still clasped in her hand ready for use. A
louder roar came from without, a rattle as of bricks, mingled with
cries of caution and alarm. Then gradually the blows and voices
dwindled away from the ceaseless clamour of the rain and the
intermittent rumblings of falling masonry, as the smallest crack
widened beneath the pressure to a breach until, bit by bit, the solid
walls seemed to melt away.
'Why didst thou not open the door, fool?' The words in the greater
silence were just audible to the girl.
'Because I did not choose.'
Again the odd sound like a laugh came from that bent figure.
'The woman's reason. Why didst thou not choose, Azizan?'
There was no anger, scarcely a trace of anxiety even, in his tone.
He was no novice to the ways of women, and the girl's face told him
that his chance of life was almost gone. What must be must, and death
came to all; to the mad fool in her turn. The sombre fire of her eyes
met his sullenly; but she made no answer, save to lay the knife down
quietly on the sill of the arch against which she leant. The steel
rang clear upon the hard red sandstone.
The old Diwan's wrinkled hand hovered for a moment over the pieces
on the board, then fell back upon his knees. So they sat staring at
each other silently in the bow of the bal- cony. There was nothing
more to be said. She had chosen; why, she knew not. And as the clamour
of the rain and the rush of the river rose higher and higher,
Zubr-ul-Zamân's head sank upon his breast with the old formula—
'Queen's mate; the game is done.'
The woman's reason, or unreason, had conquered the Strength of the
World. But that was no new thing to the Diwan's wisdom.
But to the people outside in the open, huddling together under the
pitiless downpour for safety's sake, it was more or less of an
amusement to wonder how long the old tower would hold out against the
mad stream sapping at its foundations. Not long; for already the
ruined wall had gone, disclosing a portion of the secret stair, where
Zainub, the old duenna, lay parched up almost to a mummy. A hideous
sight, no doubt, had there been light enough to see it; but there was
not, and the refugees upon the higher ground could discern nothing but
the block of the old tower and the swirling water below. A faint light
came from the balcony of the room where the Diwan was known to be;
and, as they watched it, people speculated how the door came to be
fastened. Perhaps it had swung-to, perhaps— Well, he must be dead,
or would soon be dead since rescue was impossible; and, after all, he
had lived his time. Khush-hâl had been saved from his swinging
cradle, and then there was Dalel away up at Simla. Rulers enough for a
poor country-side, if God spared it from the 'Tofhân Elân;'
and if not, why then the old man was at least better off than they,
exposed as they were to the elements. Far better; both he and the
outcasts in their straw huts, which would hurt no one even if they
fell. So the first in the land was as the last, and the last first. '
As the rain slackened the night grew darker, until even the block of
the tower ceased to show against the sky, and the little company of
watchers could only hear the thunder of its fall.
'God rest him,' muttered a peasant, muffled into a formless bundle
in his blanket. 'He was a hard master, and the new one may be harder
still. There will be a good crop anyway.'
And down on the very edge of the boiling stream, when the rain
ceased, a light went twinkling up and down, up and down. It was the
potter looking for his dead daughter as the débris of the old
wall, beneath which she had been buried sixteen years before, crumbled
away bit by bit before the furious stream.
THE dawn broke upon a new world as far as Hodinuggur was
concerned. Where the desert had stretched thirsty and dry, lay a
shoreless sea. Where the streak of silver had split the round horizon
into halves, the double line of the canal banks looked like twin paths
leading to some world beyond the waste of waters. They steered
straight out of sight on either side, almost unbroken save for the
great gap where the sluice-gate had stood. There the stream still
swept sideways to circle round the island of Hodinuggur, which bore,
like an ark, its company of refugees from the surrounding levels; a
little company which straightway, taking advantage of the coming sun,
began to wring out its wet garments and spread them to dry, until a
general air of washing-day reduced the tragedy of tile past night to
the commonplace. And after all, what had happened? An old woman or two
had been drowned, the Diwan and his tower swept away. But the world
held too many old women and more than enough of nobles. For the rest,
it had not been the Flood of the Most High; and though Death came to
all in the end, and the loneliness of it must be dreary, still it was
somehow more terrifying to die in batches, wholesale.
So, clothed in their white, new-washed robes like the elect, they
went down after a time in companies to see the extent of damage done
to their belongings, and test how far it was possible to wade through
the water towards the village homestead or two which rose above the
flood. Canal-wards, of course, passage was barred, would be barred for
days until the stream ceased flowing or a boat was brought. So the
horseman whom they could see picking his way flounderingly along the
northern bank might be the only survivor of the big world beyond, and
they be none the wiser—for the time. It was Dan Fitzgerald who, after
an enforced shelter at the half-way village, was wondering who could
have taken the responsibility of anticipating the telegram he carried
in his pocket by opening the sluice-gates, and so, in all probability
saving the big Sunowlie embankment farther down. For the sluice had
been opened; that was evident to his experience at once, since without
the lead of the current to cut, the flood would have swept on to do
its worst elsewhere. Well! whoever had done it, be he watchman or
Diwan, deserved something at the hands of the Department, and be the
past record a bad one or not, this act should have its reward—its
just reward—if he could compass it.
Ten minutes after, he had driven the chattering servant from the
room, and grief-stricken, yet convinced into a sort of calm acceptance
of the inevitable, had lifted the poor lad's body tenderly to the bed.
He scarcely even thought of a reason for the tragedy; perhaps there
was none, for Dan in his rough and ready life had seen such a thing
before; had known the useless search for some adequate cause. And was
there not cause enough here for a sudden loss of balance? That race
down from Paradise to Purgatory!—the intolerable journey—the
horrible home-coming; and then the cursed bottle he had left. The
remembrance sent his whole mind into useless regrets. If he had only
ridden faster, if somehow he could have been there in time to prevent
the loneliness, the awful desolation of it all! for he had been
through such loneliness himself, and knew what it had meant to him.
Perhaps, taking his own excitability as a standard, he over-estimated
the effect on George's nature. At any rate, as he stooped mechanically
to pick up the revolver round which the boy's dead hand had still been
closed, he felt that, given the necessity for sudden return, the rest
might be inferred. And then, beside the revolver he saw the open
locket, with Gwen's smiling face staring up at him. Gwen! Great
God! what did it mean? His own locket, of course, and yet—he sat down
at the table white as death, looking first at the pretty face, then at
the still figure on the bed, now decently shrouded from the glaring
light of day. And by degrees the colour returned to his cheek. No! it
could not be so. She was not cruel, only careless; and ah! what a
grief this would be to her! Besides, George was not one to put a
life-long regret of that sort into a friend's life. So pondering, he
realised that among other incidents of the home-coming had been that
of learning who his sweetheart really was. That, then, did not happen
at Simla, so that could not have been the cause of the lad's sudden
Why, then, had he come? The new lock and keys lying on the table,
gave him a clew, and his quick wits suggested danger to the gates.
Then it came to him in a flash confusedly, almost irrationally, that
it had been done for his sake and hers, and he was on his knees by the
bed in a minute.
'Oh! George! George! why did you do it?'
So with the answering silence came a decision, impulsive, yet
immutable. Such blame as could be taken he would take. No one should
know or dream of failure. No one should ever say—'Ah, poor fellow, he
shot himself; must have been something wrong, you know.' Rapidly he
counted the costs, the possibility of silence. Hodinuggur, separated
from him by an impassable stream, could not be taken into account, so
he must accept the risk there. It would not be much, if the servants'
tale was true, that they had only discovered their master's death
when the storm began, and had done no more than send word to the
palace. No one, then, could have seen the body save those four or five
servants, who loved their master, and worshipped rupees, and, above
all, desired peace and quiet, and not the dangerous rakings up of the
past which always followed on the advent of the police. Then for the
Department itself. What he had said in his ignorance was true. Whether
George had opened the sluice when, as the servants said, he went out
in the middle of the day, or whether the palace folk had done it, the
Department, in either case, owed the opener a debt of gratitude. If
the latter, the Moghuls would be glad to keep silence; if the former,
even if they set up a claim for compensation for damage, they would
have been due so much had he, Dan, arrived in time to carry out his
orders; thus no injustice would be done.
So half an hour afterwards, one of the servants started along the
path to the outer world with a telegram to headquarters, and that
evening, when the flood had subsided a little, Dan chose out the
driest spot he could find in the sandy compound, and read the Church
service over his friend's body. No one, he told himself, should know
the truth; except some day perhaps, Gwen, when she came there as his
wife. Then he would tell her, the pity, the needlessness of it all;
and yet the needlessness had this virtue in it, that it made
concealment possible; for the flood had swept away the error, if error
there had been.
The telegram reached Colonel Tweedie next morning, among many more
telling of disaster and death along the line of the great canal. Yet
none was more pitiful than this one which ran thus—
'Opening of sluice-gate, as ordered, saved Sunowlie embankment, but
palace injured. George Keene died yesterday of cholera. Very prevalent
here. Details by post.'
'Dear! dear!' fussed the Colonel. 'How very sad! What a blow to
poor Mrs. Boynton. She is so tenderhearted, and really, she was almost
unnecessarily interested in that boy.'
They all thought of her; even Lewis Gordon, as, yielding to that odd
desire to see for oneself which besets us all when bad news comes by
telegram, he sat looking at the flimsy message of evil; yet his first
words were of Rose.
'Your daughter will feel it also, sir; feel it very much I'm
afraid.' Then he paused, to resume in more ordinary tones. 'I had, I
think, better start at once, sir. I can report all along the line, and
wire if your presence seems necessary. I hardly think it will be, and
it is useless inconveniencing yourself for nothing.'
Colonel Tweedie bridled. 'I am not accustomed to consider my own
convenience as against the public service'—he was beginning
pompously, when Lewis cut him short.
'I'm afraid I wasn't thinking so much of you, sir, as of Miss
Tweedie. This will be a great blow to her.' He thought so honestly,
and as he jolted down the hill in a tonga half an hour afterwards he
told himself he was glad to have escaped the necessity for seeing her
grief, even while he was conscious of a curiosity to know how she
would take the news. There was no such difficulty in imagining Gwen's
behaviour. He could almost see the pretty pathetic face keeping back
its tears, and hear the soft voice saying with a little thrill in it
that George was the nicest, dearest boy she had ever met, and that she
would never forget his kindness and goodness to her—never! never!
As he thought of this his expression was not pleasant, for Gwen had,
in his opinion, done her level best to turn the lad's head, and so
must surely know that she was talking bunkum. A man would know it;
though perhaps it was not fair to judge a woman by a man's standard of
truth, and Gwen, doubtless, was as genuine as she knew how to be; as
genuine, anyhow, as Rose Tweedie, with her pretensions of utter
indifference to all sentiment. Well, poor girl! she was face to face
with realities now, for she had certainly cared a good deal for
George, even to the extent of trying to keep him from Gwen's wiles.
Poor George! a fine young fellow, who, for one thing, had been saved a
He had intended passing on as quickly as possible to Hodinuggur, but
being delayed by the necessity for settling endless requisitions for
repairs, had barely reached Rajpore ere Dan Fitzgerald returned,
reporting that there was no reason for him to go out. Permanent repair
was impossible till the rains should be over, as every lesser flood
must run down the channel cut out for it by this deluge, and
everything to ensure the further safety of the palace had been done.
Barring the Diwan's tower, there had not after all been much damage,
as the jewels and treasure in the vaults below had been saved:
besides, the bumper crops which would follow on the inundations would
more than compensate for any loss. There was, however, a certain
anxiety in Dan's face as he said this.
'Well, even if they were to claim,' replied Lewis complacently,
'the saving of the Sunowlie bank would be dirt cheap at a few
thousands. It cost us over two lakhs, and I was in an awful funk about
it, thinking we must be too late. I tried to intercept poor George
with a wire, knowing he would take the order quicker as he was already
on the way.'
Dan's whole soul leaped towards the possibility. 'Then he got it
after all. I was wondering—' he paused, angry at his own imprudence.
'Wondering what?' asked Lewis impatiently. 'I was going to say I
missed him, and then I didn't see how you could possibly get there in
time. By the way, when did you get my wire?'
'About an hour after you sent it off,' said Dan uneasily. He did
not care for Lewis Gordon's sharp, practical eyes on these details.
'That is, say, ten o'clock on the morning of the 6th, I suppose.
Good riding, indeed! And that reminds me. The report from the Rajah's
people, which came through your office, says that the water first ran
through the cut about middle day on the 6th. Manifestly impossible.
You had hardly left Hodinuggur. It's a trifle, of course, but you had
better stamp on the inaccuracy and show you are on the watch, or they
will go on to cooking generally.'
'Yes—,' replied Dan slowly. This simple difficulty in concealing
the discrepancy of time had escaped him before; but he was fully alive
to it now. Most men in his place would have set the question aside, at
all costs, for further consideration, and risked the possible
consequences of the evasion. But Dan's mind was of finer temper; he
could trust it to thrust home at any moment. This is the true test of
power, and it is only the second thoughts of the commonplace which
are better than their first. So he took advantage of the occasion
calmly, knowing his man.
'But they are right. I did not open the gates. I believe George
did, but even of that I am not sure. However, you shall judge for
yourself. I don't ask for confidence, of course. I haven't the right;
but I expect you will give it all the same.' Then boldly, plainly, yet
with one reservation, he told the tale of what he knew and what he
surmised. George had shot himself—of that there was no doubt. The
sluice had been opened, in his opinion, by treachery, of which George,
at Simla, had received some hint, and which he had arrived too late to
prevent; though this also was mysterious, since the gates had not been
opened till long after George's arrival. The guard at the sluice had
been drowned or had disappeared, and the new Diwan, Khush-hâl,
professed pious ignorance. In fact, only this much was certain, that
the Sunowlie embankment had been saved, that George had taken the
responsibility on himself even to death, and that the flood had made
it possible to keep his memory from stain. For the sake of his
friends alone, was not this desirable? This hint, no more, he gave of
the inner tragedy connected with the locket. Yet as those two men sat
looking at each other across the office-table littered with papers,
their thoughts, all unknown to each other, flew to the one woman; but
the memory brought tears to Dan's dark eyes, and left Lewis's hard as
the nether millstone in the conviction that Gwen was at least morally
responsible for George Keene's death. It came to him as a certainty,
and yet a contemptuous tolerance came with it. She had not meant, of
course—women never did—to play fast and loose with the boy's head.
Yet she had done so. He had spent too much money, he had been
careless; honest, perhaps, though even that might not be so, no one
could tell. Why then should they try to find out now, when it was all
irrevocable, when no harm could come out of silence? And George had
been a good sort; too good for such an end; besides, even for Gwen's
sake silence was best. He felt very bitter against her, very sore; yet
such things must not be said about his future wife as might be said if
the truth were really known.
'I suppose it had better remain as it is,' he said at last,
moodily. 'Cholera has served its turn in such a case before—one of
the advantages of living in a land of sudden death. Poor George! I
daresay there was treachery.'
Dan, shading his eyes with his clasped hands, was silent a moment.
'If there was, he had no part in it. I wonder if you remember a
conversation in the balcony at Hodinuggur about what a man would
do—in such a case. "No, you wouldn't, not unless you wanted to be
thought guilty." Do you remember saying that, Gordon?'
Lewis nodded; it was not a pleasant memory.
'I can't tell you the whole. But I am convinced George shot himself
to save me. He knew,—what, perhaps, you don't—that I was engaged to
Gordon pulled some papers towards him impatiently, and took up a
pen, as if to end the subject.
'I suppose it is always "cherchez la femme"; yet it does not
seem to me an agreeable factor in existence.'
'Cherchez la femme!' echoed Dan. 'Why not? They are our
mothers and sisters, our sweethearts and wives, after all. And have
you ever thought, Gordon, what it must be like to look back over a
lifetime, and see next to nothing that you would rather have left
undone? Or, if you're pious, to take a sort of pride in pillorying
yourself for a cross word or a tarradiddle? There isn't a man in a
million with that record, but half the women one meets—ay! half the
women one patronizes—have it. Perhaps it is small blame to anything
but fate; still they have it.'
'Or think they have—which has the same effect! You remind me of a
countryman of yours, a doctor, I knew once. "The sex," he said, "can't
do wrong, and when it does it's hysteria." However, let us leave that
poor lad to rest in peace; in a way that is more worth than the
happiness of any woman who ever was born. And, look here, make the
tale of reports complete, send them to me, and I'll consign them,
dates and all, to a pigeon-hole. That is the beauty of official
mistakes; you can pigeon-hole them and no one is the wiser,
unless, indeed, some personal motive crops up. But that is not likely.
So far as I can see, it is to no one's interest to make a row—not
even if there is a woman at the bottom of it all.'
There was a concentrated bitterness in his tone, due to no cynicism,
but rather to an intensity of pain; for if Rose Tweedie belonged by
birth to that strange latter-day feminine development which
unconsciously sets passion aside both from mind and emotion, and will
none of it spiritually or physically, Lewis belonged to that still
larger class of men who have driven it from the mind: who say openly
that it is despicable; but that the world cannot get on without it;
who insist in a breath in its unworthiness and its necessity. Gwen, he
said to himself after Dan had gone, was very woman, capable of ruining
any man in a week if she chose, and then being sorrowfully surprised
at the result. Still it would be unkind to wound her needlessly by
telling her that result; the more so because she would certainly tell
other people, and Rose Tweedie might break her heart over it. Even if
the pigeon-holed mistake were found out, they might get up a fiction
about the telegram having reached George after all. The com-
pensation might have to be given; but even in that case he could see
no need for raking up the mud since the claim would be a just one.
Nevertheless a week after, when he and Dan were once more seated
opposite each other at the office table, he felt vaguely
uncomfortable. For a schedule of the dead lad's debts lay between them
ready for the Administrator-General, and that showed an item of six
thousand rupees borrowed on George's note of hand, backed by some
youngsters on the very day on which he had left Simla.
'It was a first holiday, you know,' said Dan regretfully. 'And
Hodinuggur is such a hole. There were the races, you know, and—and—'
'Cherchez la femme,' quoted Lewis; 'I don't blame him, not a
bit. But if there had been an inquiry, Fitzgerald?—'
Dan shook his head and sighed fiercely. 'Yes! I know. For all that,
he was straight—straight as a die! My only regret in keeping the
thing dark is that some one has to go scot-free.'
A SHIVERING woman in one pannier; in the other, such things as
a breathless fugitive can gather together in one hurried half hour.
Between them the hump of a camel, a camel which every instant seems as
if it must split into halves as its long splay legs slither and slide
in the mud that covers all things.
Such was the method of Chândni's flight from Hodinuggur. Not a
comfortable one, but under the circumstances necessary; nor was she
altogether unprepared for that necessity. People of her trade know
what to expect when they are attached to petty intriguing courts,
where one ruler's meat is invariably the next ruler's poison. Besides,
in this case she had to reckon on Khush-hâl Beg's anger at the
repulse she had given him on more than one occasion; given him, of
course, with a view to future possibilities with his son Dalel, but
that rather increased than diminished the offence. And now her patron,
old Zubr-ul-Zamân, was dead, Khush-hâl had supreme power, and what
was more, three pearls were amissing from the Hodinuggur necklace;
three pearls which could easily be traced home to her safe keeping, and no further, if needs be. So, at the first hint of inquiry,
Chândni had deemed it wiser to seek the protection of the only man who
knew something—if not all—about the intrigue which had ended so
strangely in Providence setting aside the necessity for any intrigue
at all. If Dalel chose to remain at Simla, where, no doubt, he was
amusing himself hugely, she would not interfere with his amusements;
that had never been her plan. She would only resume her empire over
his weak, worn-out wickedness. And yet the flight entailed horrible
discomfort. The splaying camel was to her what a bad passage across
the channel is to a fashionable lady, and as she clutched wildly at
the sides of the pannier, she decided that life was not long enough
for a repetition of such experience. If she returned to Hodinuggur at
all, it must be in a position which would ensure a different style of
locomotion. Even the night journey by rail, cooped up behind iron bars
in the wild-beast-cage-like compartment, labelled in three languages
for 'modest women,' was, in comparison, comfort itself. Huddled up
decently into a shapeless white bundle, she could at least think over
the odd turn affairs had taken, and make up her mind what had best be
done. The first thing, of course, was to bring Dalel to her heel. That
ought not to be difficult, for though—the water having been
procured—he might, like his father, find it convenient to underrate
her services in the matter, she had one or two good cards to play in
her adversary's strong suits which might with care save the trick. At
any rate they ought to prevent any reckless disregard of her claims.
First, they wanted the pearls back, and now the Diwan was dead, she
was the only person who could tell them the ins and outs of that
transaction. Next, they wanted payment of the heavy douceur
promised by the Rajah for good offices in making it possible for the
water to irrigate that basin of alluvial soil to the south. But now
the Diwan was dead, they would find difficulty in proving that
anything had been done—that the flood was not responsible for all,
unless she chose to help them with her evidence.
For the rest, give her Dalel and a bottle of champagne to herself
for one hour. If in that space he did not come back, as he had done a
dozen times before, to her empire of evil, she would have none of him.
He would be dead to all she had to offer in fullest perfection. He
would be beyond her influence, as it were, and so, useless for her
purpose. She was not going to marry a fool in order to wear a veil and
live with a lot of women.
By this time two coolies were carrying her up the hill from Solon,
in a thing like a bird-cage slung on poles; so small, so square, that
she had to sit in it cross-legged and bolt upright. But though she
could not sleep, even with the aid of opium, and though the hillsides,
after the first rush of the rains, were clothed with tinted blossoms,
and the winding valleys green as emeralds with young rice, Chândni
never parted the thick patchwork curtains shrouding her from the
public gaze, until the setting down of the dhooli warned her of an
oppor- tunity for a gossip and a pipe. Then her feet came over the
side with a challenging clash of their silver bells, and a quick stir
run round the sleepy, sun-sodden stage where travellers, and coolies,
and sweetmeat-sellers lay huddled together in the shade. Even the
cowboy driving his cattle from the bales of fodder on their way up for
the sahib-logue's ponies, paused to look at her with a grin, while
his beasts ate on. The bees were flitting from flower to flower, a
golden oriole flashed through the green transparency of the
walnut-trees, and below the branches the great emerald hearts of the
yam leaves outlined themselves against the sapphire distance of the
valley, which was divided from the sapphire distance of the sky by the
glittering pearly spikelets of the snowy range. Sapphires and pearls
echoed and re-echoed in ever-receding distance by the white clouds
dividing one sea of ether from another.
But in all this world there was nothing worth a look, apparently,
save Chândni, the courtesan, swinging her silver anklets over the edge
of a dhooli; to judge at any rate by those human eyes.
She did not go straight to her destination, but paused at a house
in the bazaar where such as she were all too welcome. There was never
any mincing of words or thoughts with Chândni. To one end she had been
born a Kanjari, and to this end she lived to the best of her
ability. So she paused to clothe herself in clean clear muslins, and
hang great garlands of tuberose and jasmine about the column of her
massive throat; to redden her lips, and give a deeper shadow to her
eyes; looking at herself the while in the thumb-mirror worn on her
left hand. No more, no less, intent upon appearing at her best than
many a person who has not been born to that end; many a decent,
respectable person, who would be dreadfully shocked at having her
innocent half hour before the cheval-glass evened to Chândni's most
reprehensible occupation. Perhaps the difference lies in the size of
the mirrors; at any rate it is not palpably apparent elsewhere.
Mirza Dalel Beg was living, she knew, in a European house, as the
upper ten of natives love to do. Why, is, in five cases out of six, a
mystery. The sixth, no doubt, has acquired exotic tastes; the
remaining five, no doubt, consider it good style to pretend them. So,
after paying roundly for the privilege of toilet-sets and
dinner-services, they prefer the water-carrier with his skin bag to a
lavatory, and a big platter on the floor to all the neatly-laid
dining-tables in creation.
A curious example of the fascination which useless comforts have for
some people came to light during one of the many Embassies from Cabul
which British diplomacy, or the want of it, has inveigled into India.
During its stay there, district-officers were instructed to provide
the whole horde of barbarians with house-room in European fashion so
as to avoid invidious distinctions. As a rule, the local Parsee was
invited to furnish a requisite number of empty houses with the
necessary repp curtains, French clocks, Britannia metal teapots, and
German prints, needed for the night's hospitality. Next day, so runs
the tale, there never was a soup-plate to be found. Occasionally the
guests packed up a French clock; once, it is affirmed, a sponge-bath
went amissing, but unless they ate them, that Embassy must have gone
back to Cabul with some hundreds of dozens of soup-plates stowed away
among the official presents of watches that won't go, and guns that
won't fire; and soup is not a national dish in Afghanistan.
So Dalel Khan had rented a house which he got cheap, because three
of its previous tenants had died of typhoid fever. It was a pretty
place enough, shut in somewhat by the ravines which furrow the lower
part of the ridge, but with an outlook beautiful beyond belief over
the plains. The single dahlias—refuse run wild from many a garden
above—found foothold in every cranny of the rocks, and great sheets
of morning glories climbed over the broken rails fencing the narrow
path from the steep khud, which seemed to leap at one bound to
the pale blue of the valley below. Chândni, stepping out of her
dhooli, looked at it all distastefully, reached forth a strong,
ring-bedecked hand, appropriated a yellow dahlia, which she stuck
behind her ear, and called. Then the bells clashed again as she walked
with a free step over to the verandah of the house, raised the chick,
and looked in, while the dhooli-bearers squatted down beside the
railings, and apparently resumed a conversation begun in the bazaar.
For the rest, sunshine and silence.
Chândni, dazzled by the glare outside, could at first see nothing
clearly; the room, though to her unaccustomed eyes crammed full of
useless things, seemed empty of what she sought. Then suddenly there
came a shrill, unformed voice—
'Go away! We don't want you. Mam-ma, send her away. Go, I tell you!
The Mirza is married now; I am his wife.'
The girl who came forward was not more than fifteen by the look of
her, with a frizz of hot-pressed light hair over her forehead, and a
skin which gave one the impression of being bleached, perhaps because
of the coal-black eyes set in the narrow sharp face; yet with a
certain attractiveness about the figure, dressed as it was in the
height of fashion, with sleeves to the ears, and a waist requiring the
surgical bandage of folded silk to prevent it from breaking in two.
His wife! Chândni, from her full height and magnificent
development, looked at her as distastefully as she had looked at the
view from the terrace. Neither were to her liking: they both appealed
too much to the imagination. This other woman who came in answer to
the call was better, though past her prime and pulpy; drowsy, too,
from the snooze she had been enjoying on the sofa. Still with a
torrent of capable, tell-tale abuse for the intruder.
'Ari!' laughed Chândni contemptuously, when the fat lady paused for
breath. 'So thou too hast been of the bazaar? But I want not thee, or
that half-fledged thing who calls herself a wife. I want Dalel—where
'Mamma!' cried the unformed voice in English, breaking down over
its own feeble passion. 'Send her away, I tell you! The Mirza will be
back soon, and she must not be here. Don't fool with words. Call the
servants. Ai! budzart! (base-born). I will throw you down the khud!'
Chândni laughed again—laughed louder as, in response to the girl's
cry, a face showed itself behind her.
bhai! (brother),' she said, nodding her head at
the new-comer. 'Ah! 'tis thou, Mohammed I look you, this image saith
she will fling me down the khud. If it came to force, my
pigeon, I know which would have the Mirza; but I will not fight for
him thus, he is not worth it. So, he fancies thee? God help him! Sure,
thy mother is the better woman.'
'Come, come, mother Chândni,' urged the servant in response to
shrill commands. 'This is no place for thee now. These are mem's. And
he hath married her,' he went on fast and low. 'Yea! 'tis true, the nikka hath been read, so abuse is vain. Come, thou canst see him
'Nay! I will see him here—here with his mem,' retorted Chândni
airily. Then she turned swiftly on the elder woman, who, going to the
door, was about to call for further assistance. 'What harm shall I do
thee, fool, who art as I am with a piebald skin, or as this one, who
would be as I am had God made her a woman. Lo! ask thy servants who
Chândni the courtesan is, and what she has been, ay! and will be—if
It was an odd scene. The room decorated into bastard civilisation;
the girl depending on a lack of pigment in her skin for all her claims
to mem-ship, that being the only trace of her unknown European father;
the mother without even this distinction. yet clinging to her taint
of Western blood, as to a patent of nobility; clinging to it
farcically, in fringe and furbelow, in fashion generally. Before them,
as it were, against them, stood Chândni, in her trailing white Delhi
draperies and massive garlands, a figure which might have served as
model for some of those strange solemn-eyed statues, half Greek, half
Indian, which are found buried in the sand-hills of the frontier.
There was a little crowd of dark expectant faces at the door now,
towards which she nodded familiarly.
'Go back! oh brothers! I do no harm. 'Tis not my way with women
folk. I wait the Mirza's return. Then, if I am not wanted, I will go.
Lo! Chândni the courtesan hath no need to keep a man in a leash; she
hath no need to have the nikka read, my little pigeon, as thou
hast. Ari! so the pictures in the papers Dalel used to bring me are
true, and 'tis a beauty to have no body and a big head.'
Beatrice Norma Elflida D'Eremao, presently her Highness Mrs. Dalel
Beg, gave a little scream of rage, and stamped her tiny high- heeled
shoes upon the floor. Mrs. Lily Violet D'Eremao, her mother, known in
her time by many a sobriquet until she settled down to sobriety
and the education of a fair daughter, screamed too, in voluble abuse;
but they were both quite helpless before the white-robed figure
standing between them and the sunlight with a laugh on its red lips,
which did not leave them when into the midst of the scene came Dalel
Beg, got up in his dandy riding gear; only the folded pugree remaining
to tell the tale of his birth. Perhaps because the ideas within the
head it covered needed some such excuse for their existence. His face
was hideous in its sheer malice, livid, not with passion or fear, but
from that hatred of opposition which belonged to his race. And
Chândni, recognising this, swept him a low salaam, graceful to the
uttermost curve of each finger, a salaam which would have made
Turveydrop die of envy, a salaam such as one sees once or twice in a
lifetime. A minute before she might have given it in derision; now she
yielded it to the lingering majesty in this pitiful representative of
a long line of tyrants.
'Long life attend my lord,' she said, in those liquid tones of set
ceremony, which her class pride themselves on acquiring. And even
among them Chândni had a silver tongue: none near her, so the report
Dalel Beg's eyes saw, his ears heard. They would not refuse their
wonted office, and yet as he took a step nearer, he raised the hunting
crop he held.
'Go!' he cried. 'Go! Mohammed! Fuggu—turn this scum of the bazaars
from the door.'
'Which scum of the bazaars?' she asked coolly. 'This—or that?'
It was not scorn exactly, it was an indifferent contempt which
seemed to leave no denial possible, and which held action arrested.
'Which is it to be, Mirza sahib?' she asked again, crossing swiftly
to where the girl stood as if to measure her height against that small
insignificant figure. 'There is not much to choose between us, except
in the outside—and thou hast eyes!'
'Fuggu! Mohammed! Dittu! Scoundrels, turn her out! call the Kotwâl!
Turn her out, I say!' shrieked the Mirza, fast loosing all dignity in
a sort of animal admiration for this woman, who, he knew, would come
back to him at a word. A word he dare not give,—which he did not wish
to give, as yet.
'Softly! softly! oh, my brothers,' came that liquid voice. 'There
is no need to touch Chândni the courtesan. The master hath his right,
and I will go. I only ask a word, and sure my words are better for the
ear than theirs.'
It was incontestably true, for mother and daughter were now at the
highest pitch of the Eurasian accent aggravated by hysterics, and the
men stood uncertain, siding, every one of them, with that which was
'The word is this,' she went on boldly, 'I have done my part. Is
there to be payment?'
Dalel's face lost its last trace of dignity and settled down into
'So! it is payment. Lo! mother-in-law, hold thy peace! 'Tis nothing
but a bad debt, a debt without a bond! Payment! Go, fool, and ask it
of the old man—the old devil who was drowned. Ask not here—here we
need all the money we can get.'
Then in his delight and content in this op- portunity for malice,
he forgot a suspicion of fear which had been with him hitherto, and
turned to the girl with a leer and a laugh: 'Aha! we want the oof
ourself, don't we, Tricks? Lo! I give you gold watch and chain
to-day. I give you gold bangle to-morrow, if you're good girl. But
He echoed the last words jeeringly in Hindustani, cutting with his
whip towards Chândni as one cuts at a dog to frighten it from the
room. Perhaps he was nearer than he thought; anyhow, the uttermost end
of lash touching the silver bells on her ankle set them jingling. A
slight thing to make two women cease their cries, and half a dozen men
or more hold their breath involuntarily; yet it did, commanding
silence for that clear voice.
'Lo! thou hast given me something, oh Mizra Dalel Beg! which no man
hath given before to Chândni the courtesan. It is enough. I go.'
So far dignity went with her. But at the door she turned to give the
women back in kind and with interest the abuse which they had given to
her. Even with a despicable cheat like the Mirza, there was a
reputation to keep up—he was at least the descendant of worthy men
who had done their best for such as she; but with those two women,
even as herself, but without her claims, why should she be silent?
Yet ere she was half-way back to the bazaar she had forgotten them
and their abuse; forgotten everything save that clash of the silver
bells. That was an end—an end for ever to Dalel. In a way she was
glad, for he was unendurable when sober, and not much better when he
was drunk. Now nothing remained save the necessity for compensation
and revenge. If the Moghuls would not pay, there were others who
would. The mem, for instance, who had taken the pearls. And those who
had spread it abroad that the chota sahib had died in his bed, they
would not care to have their truth impugned. They had bribed the
servants no doubt, the Diwan was dead, and they had held the water
sufficient inducement for the others. But she? She had had nothing,
and she meant to have something. And then when she had got her money's
worth for silence, she would go and sell that silence to the Rajah,
unless indeed by that time the Moghuls had bidden higher for her
speech. Without her evidence the question as to whether the bribe were
honestly due for favours done could not be settled. She would begin
with the mem; not by demanding money, but the pearls, since most
likely they had been disposed of and the difficulty of getting hold of
them again would, as it were, increase her power of screw. If at the
end of a month the sahib-logues defied her, she would offer her
silence or her speech to the highest bidder, and give her evidence for
either. After that, a merry life, even if it had to be a short one;
for the mere taste of comparative freedom she had had that morning in
the wooden house in the Simla bazaar, had aroused the old reckless
instincts, and before the evening was over the news that Chândni,
singer and dancer from Delhi, had come to the place, was on the tip of
every native's tongue.
MRS. BOYNTON had behaved very much as Lewis Gordon had
anticipated on hearing of George Keene's sudden death from cholera.
She had wept honest tears over the dear lad, even while she could not
help feeling happier than she had done for months; happier because of
the flood which had come and gone, sweeping away with it all her
difficulties, all her troubles. Yet it brought her one unavailing
regret that she should so unnecessarily have put the bitter pain of
hearing her confession into those last days, and that he should have
gone down to his death not thinking ill of her exactly—the dear lad
would never have done that—but hurt, disappointed, unhappy. She would
have liked him to have seen a certain letter which lay in a drawer of
her writing-table. A letter addressed, sealed, stamped, ready for
sending, which she had only kept back one day. Only one; yet, but for
that lucky chance it might have fallen into Dan's hands while George
was ill and brought needless pain into another kind heart; for there
was, thank heaven! no more need for humiliation and confession and
promises of restitution. She had torn open the letter in order to read
it again, and had been quite satisfied with its straightforward avowal
of responsibility and firm intention, should difficulties arise, of
taking the whole blame on herself. Then she had put it away again as a
perpetual witness to her repentance and amendment. And surely these
virtues had a right to forgiveness? One person, she knew, would do
more than forgive if he knew all, and this conviction joined to the
sense of loss which his prolonged absence from her environment always
produced in Gwen Boynton made her think very tenderly of Dan, who
wrote her such kind, sympathetic letters from Hodinuggur about the
dear lad. He was not jealous, and full of evil imaginings like Lewis,
whose temper had certainly not been improved by his visit to the
plains. Though she did not consciously feel the need of something
stronger than the cousinly affection she had for him, there is no
doubt that the shock of her own lapses from strict honesty, joined to
that of George Keene's sudden death, had made her disinclined for
final decision; so the fact that Dan would, from pressure of work, be
unable to get leave that year, and Lewis, from the same cause, was not
likely to be urgent in love-making, suited her capitally. She would
have time to recover her tone. To this end she proceeded, with a
curious strength of purpose, to dismiss the nightmare of the past from
her mind. It was over. What had been, had been. She would 'reach out
to the things which were before;' no! not reach out! She would not
again be premature; she would let fate and luck have their say to the
One small fact showed her state of mind exactly. She dismissed her
ayah, giving her as a parting present most of the articles which
Manohar Lal had forced her into buying from him. The woman sulked, yet
held her tongue, no doubt knowing through her patron, the jeweller,
that so far as he was concerned the mem was safe; besides, when all
was said and done, the bucksheesh was sufficient; under no
circumstances could more have been expected. So, on the whole, life
went quite smoothly in the pretty little drawing-room where poor young
George had sat with his head on the table dazed and stunned by his
Over the way, however, in Colonel Tweedie's house, things were
different. Lewis Gordon, up to the ears in endless calculations, yet
found time to notice that grief suited Rose very ill. And grief,
forsooth, for a boy who had not cared a pin for her, who had run into
debt, and gambled and lost his head completely over another woman;
who, if the truth were known, had shot himself because—to take the
most charitable view of the matter—he had not the pluck to bear
disappointment. Naturally a young fellow felt being fooled—more or
less—by a woman, because certain instincts were the strongest a man
had—as a man. But one expected something more—or less—in a
gentleman. And there was Miss Tweedie, who depended for attractiveness
on the beauté du diable, looking pale and worn, over a mere
sentimentalism; for she herself would be the first to deny that she
had been what he, Lewis, would call 'in love' with George. Finally,
though he, knowing to the full Gwen's responsibility for the boy's
suicide, had every right, if he chose, to be hard on his cousin, why
should this girl, who knew nothing, stand aloof and show her
disapproval so plainly?
'You don't understand girls,' said Gwen easily, in reply to some
hints of his to this effect. 'Dear Rose can't help huffing me at
present. I should feel the same, I'm sure, towards any one who had, to
my mind, stood between me and my dear dead.'
Lewis shifted irritably in his chair, and wished to goodness she
would talk sense.
'Sense! Why, you yourself are always blaming me in your heart
because that poor boy thought me the most perfect woman in the world!
You know you are! As if it was my fault. As if I ever encouraged such
an idea in any one, or set up for being perfection.'
It was true enough. She never posed as anything but a woman
et simple. That was one of her charms in his eyes, and the
injustice of cavilling at what he really liked made him say more
'I don't suppose you could help it, dear; and perhaps Miss Tweedie
can't either. I don't pretend to understand women—have enough to do
in trying to understand the atrocious English men put into their
reports. But I wish you could come over sometimes as you used to do.
The girl oughtn't to be allowed to eat nothing and grow so
Gwen gave an odd laugh. 'Well, I'll invite myself to luncheon
to-morrow. It is bad for the girl—and so useless, into the bargain.'
The common-sense of the last remark lingered in Lewis Gordon's mind
comfortably as he went home. In more ways than one it was quite
useless to dwell on George Keene's unfortunate death. No doubt Rose,
if she knew all, would judge Gwen very harshly, and not only Gwen, but
those who, knowing what they did, went on as if nothing had happened;
but Rose Tweedie, the fates be praised, was not his judge.
And yet when he passed the window of her room on his way to his own,
she was in sober truth sitting in judgment on the figure she saw for
a second between the draped curtains. He had been over as usual to
Mrs. Boynton's—to the woman who had been the last to see George
Keene, and who would say so little of that interview; the woman who no
doubt was to blame if, as her father said, George had run into debt,
and gambled, and lost his head. Lewis must know all this, perhaps
more, yet he went on approvingly. By and by he would marry this
woman—for they were engaged, of course, even now. Was not that enough
to make any one unhappy who cared for him as she cared? Rose leant
forward over the book her eyes were studying, and tried hard to bend
her mind also to its consideration.
Despite these thoughts she received Mrs. Boynton on the next day
without a sign of disapproval; for Rose, like most unmarried girls at
the head of a house, was intensely proud of her position. In society,
if she did not care to speak to Gwen, she would not speak; if she did
not care to have her in the house she would not ask her; but if she
came, as she did now, uninvited, she was nothing more nor less than a
guest to be treated as a guest should be treated. Perhaps Lewis
Gordon had an inkling as to the cause of her graciousness, but Colonel
Tweedie saw nothing but a renewal of those amenities the loss of which
he had helplessly deplored during the past fortnight. It had put him
out terribly, and left him completely puzzled as to its cause.
Certainly not to any change in his mind, for the coolness had checked
a steadily growing conviction that he would not only like, but that he
also ought, to ask Mrs. Boynton to marry him. Rose was too much alone;
she brooded, as the former had kindly pointed out, over life, and
fancied herself in love with subordinates. She was too sensible for
that sort of thing to be real, but the constant companionship of a
woman of the world was a necessity to a young girl. It is surprising
how many second marriages are inspired by sensible considerations;
still more surprising why such prudence should then be thought
virtuous, moral, blameless, yet be deemed anathema maranatha in
first marriages. There are some things which, as Dundreary said, 'no
fellah can find out,' and one is the curious ethical code which has
quite obscured the real issues of marriage, and made it possible for
quick-witted husbands and wives to quarrel desperately with each other
about things that have nothing to do with the tie between them.
Colonel Tweedie, however, treated his secondary reasons with the
greatest respect, and beamed pompously round the luncheon table as he
announced his infinite regret that the duties of his responsible
position made it necessary for him to leave such pleasant company
sooner than he would otherwise have done. Mrs. Boynton, however, would
readily understand that Councils of State were paramount to the public
servant. Whereupon Gwen, after her fashion, took the edge off his
anguish by saying that she also had to be at home early, seeing she
had promised to interview some dreadful Madrassee creature who had
been recommended to her as an ayah.
'Why did you send old Fuzli away?' asked Rose suddenly. They had
risen as they were speaking, and she had been standing by the window
listening with certain weariness in her face to her father's ornate
'The old reason, "I do not like thee, Dr. Fell,"' laughed
Gwen. 'I suppose it is very illogical—therefore, as Lewis would say,
very womanly,—but I can't help disliking my world by instinct.'
'That is monstrously unkind,' broke in the Colonel, eager as a boy
over the opportunity, 'when your world can't help doing the reverse.'
There is something very satisfactory apparently in a compliment to the
person who makes it, and the Colonel felt and looked quite
light-hearted over his.
'When you have got rid of us all, Miss Tweedie,' said Lewis Gordon
in a low tone which yet covered Gwen's little laugh, 'you should go
out and have a jolly ride. I'm not using Bronzewing—she frets at
waiting—so she is at your service, if you care—' he paused in quick
Such a very little thing upsets a woman's balance at times; and
Bronzewing had been the one subject over which she and Lewis had never
quarrelled since the day of his accident. It was foolish, but the look
on her face made him turn hastily from the window to his cousin, and
catch at the first thing likely to give the girl time to recover
'I believe your ayah's coming here, Gwen; at least I see one of
those little covered dhoolies descending from your house, and if there
are to be purda-nishin women about, sir, it is time we men
'Don't be ridiculous, Lewis. It is somebody going to pay a visit to
the khansaman's wife. The ayah wouldn't be purdah, and
she wouldn't dare to come here; and if she did, I am not going to make
a zenana out of Colonel Tweedie's drawing-room.'
'But you could go into Rose's sitting-room, of course,' protested
the Colonel; 'couldn't she, dear?'
'But indeed, good people,' began Gwen, laughing, 'it can't—'
Just then a servant, entering stolidly, announced a woman waiting to
see Mem Boynton sahib.
'I told you so,' cried Lewis joyfully, 'and, as a matter of fact,
we ought to be off, sir. It will take us a good twenty minutes to the
'Show the woman into the Miss Sahib's office,' cried the Colonel
fussily. 'Rose, my dear—'
But the girl had taken the opportunity of escaping through the open
'Please don't mind,' said Mrs. Boynton. 'I know my way about this
house—at any rate I ought to, seeing how hospitable and good you have
been always. Good-bye. I hope your interview will prove more pleasant
than mine is likely to be.'
Their ponies were waiting, and she stayed to see them start and give
a parting nod as they rounded the last visible turn of the path
leading to the Mall. Gwen always added these pleasant friendly touches
to the bareness and business of life. They came to her by instinct,
and she herself felt cold and cheerless without them.
Then, very well satisfied with herself, she crossed the long matted
passage which ran from end to end of the house, separating the portion
Colonel Tweedie reserved for his own use from that occupied by the
office. Here, beside her father's private room, was Rose's little
study, and beyond that again Lewis Gordon's quarters and the big
glazed verandah where the clerks sat designing. It was quite a small
room, and, as Mrs. Boynton entered it, seemed to her over full of
perfume, possibly from the vase full of wild turk's-cap lilies on the
table. The window was shut too, and Gwen as she made her way to the
most comfortable chair, with scarcely a glance at the white-robed
figure standing in the shadow of the curtains, gave a quick yet
languid order to set the glazed doors wide open.
'They are best shut if the Huzoor does not mind. I have that to say
which requires caution.'
Those round, suave tones, with almost the nightingale thrill in them
belonged to no ayah, surely! Gwen looked round hastily. That was no
ayah's figure either, tall, supple, unabashed. Instinctively the
Englishwoman stood up and confronted her visitor, more curious than
alarmed. Even to that ignorance of native life which is so typical of
the mem-sahib—an ignorance not altogether to be deprecated—the
woman's trade was unmistakable. That was writ large in the trimness
and cleanliness, the spotless white, the chaplets of flowers, the
scent of musk and ambergris filling the room; all the more reason for
surprise at her presence there. Yet, even so, curiosity outweighed
indignation and resentment in Gwen's cold questioning.
'Who are you? What do you want?'
The answer came quick, so quickly that it left the hearer with that
breathless sense of pained relief that the worst is over, which comes
with the clean sharp cut of a surgeon's knife.
'I am Chândni of Delhi. I want the Hodinuggur pearls which the
Huzoor took out of the Ayôdhya pot.'
There was no mincing of the matter here; none of that beating about
the bush which, as a rule, Gwen loved. Yet the directness did not
displease her; it seemed to rouse in her a novel combativeness, taking
form in similar effrontery and cool assertion.
'I don't know what you are talking about,' she said indifferently,
'and I don't want you. Go!'
Her Hindustani, though limited, was of the imperative order and
suited the occasion; yet it evoked one of Chândni's shrill mocking
'The mem sahiba mistakes. She is not as I am, a daughter of the
bazaars, and if it comes to words Chândni hath two to her one. So I
come quietly to ask reasonably for my rights; not to dispute after the
manner of my kind. There is no need to tell the mem sahiba the story.
She remembers it perfectly. She knows it all as well as I. But this
she does not know: The pearls are mine, and I will have them back, or
their price in revenge.'
'I think you are mad!' cried Gwen more hastily. 'Go! go instantly,
or I will call the servants.'
'That were not wise! Lo! I know all about the papers of safety,
which Manohar Lal gave in exchange for the chota sahib's rupees. But
the pearls went not once, but twice.'
'Twice!' The involuntary echo had a surprise in which angered the
'Yes, twice! The mem knows that as well as I do. The Ayôdhya pot—'
'Was stolen from me in the Palace,' put in Gwen; 'you stole it, I
Again Chândni laughed. 'If I did, what then? The mem got it again
and sent it back through the post for more pearls. But we did not send
it thus; we sent it by the chota sahib, who gave it to the mem, and
she sent the key in return. The papers are about the first pearls.
These are the second, and there is no safety paper about them.'
'It is not true!—it is a lie—he never took them—he never gave
them to me,' cried Gwen, her courage, oddly enough, failing before
what was to her an absolutely novel and unfounded accusation. 'I will
not listen! Go! or I will call.'
Chândni took a step nearer, lowering her voice. 'What! wouldst let
the truth be known; when thou canst conceal it—for ever! Give me the
pearls and no one shall know—no one shall cast dirt on the mem, and
on the chota sahib—no one shall know how he took the bribes for
you—no one shall know thou didst beguile him as men are beguiled.'
'I—I did not—it is a lie, I—' faltered Gwen, falling back till
Chândni's hand closed like a vice on her wrist.
'Wah! What use to deny it to me? Do I not know the trick? A
word, a look, no more. What! do men send bullets through their hearts
as Keene sahib did for no cause? Ari, sister! we know better.'
The jeering comradeship was too much for caution, even though the
story of poor George's death passed by her as a wanton lie. Gwen,
struggling madly, gave one scream after another for help, and,
breaking from her persecutor, turned to fly. At the same moment Rose,
who had been into her father's study for a book, burst through the
door and stood bewildered at the scene.
'Send her away! She tells lies—lies about me and George—lies
about everything. Oh! have her sent away, Rose. Please send her away.'
The girl, clasping the hands with which Gwen clung to her, turned on
the intruder angrily, and an indescribable hardness and contempt came
to her face, as she took in the meaning of the figure and its dress.
'How dare you come here? Go this instant! Put on your veil, hide
yourself, and go! Impertinent! Shameless!'
There was no answering laugh now. 'The Huzoor speaks truth,'
replied the courtesan quietly. 'I have no business here. I came but
to see the mem, bethinking me she might listen better in the house of
those who were friends to the chota sahib—'
But Gwen's immediate terror had passed, leaving her face to face
with future fears.
'Don't listen, Rose!' she interrupted in English. 'You should never
listen to what women of that sort say about any one. She frightened me
at first with her lies, but the wisest plan is to send her away. I'll
call a servant.'
Chândni, listening to the quick whisper, smiled.
'The mem sahiba wants silence,' she said, nodding her head; 'but
silence is ever unsafe unless tongues are tied. And mine will wag if
not here, elsewhere, unless I get the Ayôdhya pot.'
Rose gave a quick exclamation, but Gwen's hand was on her arm, her
voice full of passionate entreaty.
'Don't, Rose! don't speak to her. I can tell you all. It is all
lies; some rigmarole declaring that after the pot had been stolen at
Hodinuggur it was sent back to me here at Simla, and that I returned
it again. There isn't a word of truth in it; I never—'
But the girl set aside her detaining hand with an impatient gesture,
and crossed to where Chândni stood watching them.
'You have made a mistake,' came the clear unfaltering voice. 'The
Ayôdhya pot was not sent to the mem sahiba, it was sent to me; and it
was I who returned it. What then?'
The frank admission brought a curiously similar expression to those
two listening faces; it seemed to leave both, abashed, uncertain, so
that Rose had to repeat her clear question before it gained reply.
'What then?' echoed the courtesan at last, somewhat sulkily. 'How
can I tell if this be so; and if it be so, how can I tell what came?
Only this I do know: the pot went to Keene sahib the day he left. He
gave it to some one. Let that some one answer. I care not who 'tis, so
I have my pearls that were hidden in the pot.'
'Pearls! There were no pearls in it when it came to me,' cried Rose
quickly; then remembering the jagged edge of clay she had noticed
inside, she turned to Gwen: 'Did you notice anything like a false
bottom when you had it before?'
The face into which she looked paled. 'You don't understand!' said
Gwen, petulantly; 'the woman says that these pearls were put there
after it was stolen, so how could I notice anything when I tell you I
never saw, never heard of it again? I told the woman so just now. I
will tell her again before you! then I must, I will have her sent
away, she has no business here.'
But Chândni's recklessness had grown. 'I care not who has them.
See! there are three of us here in this room who have handled the pot.
Let her who hath it and its hoard speak truth, and save the chota
sahib. For he had it, sure enough; of that there is proof.'
'Three of us!' repeated Rose absently, as if struck by a thought.
Then obeying a sudden impulse, she went over to a portfolio standing
in one corner of the room. 'You mistake,' she continued, her eyes full
on the courtesan. 'There are not three, but four of us. Look! Keene
sahib painted that.'
Chândni fell back, averting her face from the portrait of Azizan,
which Rose placed against an easel on the table.
'The evil eye! the evil eye! God save us from the witch,' she
muttered, thrusting out her right hand in that two-fingered gesture,
which is used against a baleful glance in both East and West. But Gwen
pressing closer looked at the picture with a dawning light of relieved
comprehension in her face.
'Did he paint that—how pretty it is! And it explains—it
explains—a—a great deal. He gave her the pot, I suppose—Well! it is
a pity, but one ought not to be—'
'Ought not to be what?' interrupted Rose fiercely, with a fine
scorn in her face, scarcely less concealed than the contempt with
which she turned to the other woman.
'You both seem to know or understand this picture better than I
do,' she said superbly. 'Perhaps you can tell me whom it represents?'
'My dear Rose,' expostulated Gwen, aside; 'don't for pity's sake
ask that creature. What would your father say if he knew? You may mix
'Whose picture is it, I ask?' repeated Rose, unheeding. Then in the
silence of Chândni's smile, and Gwen's frown, she turned passionately
to the portrait itself. 'Why don't you speak and shame them? You look
as if you could tell the truth, and if he made you so, it was true!'
The very vehemence of her own fanciful appeal imposed on her, and she
paused as if waiting a reply. It came with a laugh from Chândni.
'She was another of the chota sahib's friends. The miss saith true.
There are three of them here. Which will give back the pearls and save
'Save him from what?' cried Rose, disregarding Gwen's appeals for
her to leave the mad woman to the servants. 'What has Keene sahib done
that you can dare to threaten?'
The girl's bitter contempt roused all Chândni's savageness. After
all she was the mistress, and this girl, despite her courage, in her
power too; and what is more, she should learn it.
'From what? from the shame which comes to the sahib-logue when
their pretence of honesty is found out—from the shame of having
friends—the shame of taking jewels for those friends—the shame of
being untrue to salt—Ask the mem how 'tis done, she knows—the shame
of sending the key of the sluice-gate so that the water—'
Her voice had risen with each sentence; now it ended in a gasp and a
'Open the door, please,' said Rose to Mrs. Boynton, who gasped
also in the intense surprise of the girl's swift action. 'Don't
struggle, fool!' she went on in the same hard tone, only the dead
whiteness of her face and a catch as she drew breath telling of the
wild passion surging in her veins. 'I won't choke you if you hold your
Once before Chândni had felt a girl's grip on her throat; a hot,
straining grip. This was neither. It was the grip of a strong healthy
hand made vigorous by constant use. Those fierce fights over bat and
ball with the dead lad had had their share in the sheer muscle of her
defence of him, before which Chândni's large softness gave way,
leaving her not even a slandering tongue.
'Put the veil over her face, please! I won't even have it known who
dared to come here!' continued the girl, forcing the woman backwards
step by step till they reached the door. Then she pushed her from it
magnificently. 'Now go! and tell what lies you like elsewhere.'
But her face changed as she turned when the door was closed and
bolted to Gwen Boynton.
'Is it true? For God's sake tell me if there is a word of truth in
it, and I will find the money.'
Gwen dissolved into helpless tears at once; tears at once of vague
remorse, and a very real sense of injustice. 'True! oh, Rose, how can
you ask? Of course it isn't true. I wouldn't have done it for the
world. Indeed and indeed I never saw the Ayôdhya pot again, and I
don't believe George did. He was the soul of honour, and so good—so
good to me. It is all wicked, wicked lies, unless, indeed, that
girl—but there, I daresay she was bad like that horrid creature.
Perhaps they stole the pot between them and are now trying to
'Stole the pot!' repeated Rose slowly, for the first time
remembering her dream on the night of the storm at Hodinuggur. 'Yes!
that is possible, and yet—' She looked at Azizan's picture, and then
back at Gwen, who was dabbing her eyes with a soft pocket
handkerchief. 'You are sure?' she began again.
'Of course I am quite sure,' retorted Gwen, whose remorse had
vanished in grievance at this impudent attempt to amend and enlarge
the text of a past incident. 'I never saw or heard of the pot again.
I may be weak, I may have done things for which I am sorry in the
past, but whatever you may think, my conscience is clear. And as for
the sluice? Dan opened it by order; besides, there was the flood. It
is all an attempt to blackmail me, and I won't be blackmailed. I have
done nothing they can take hold of, nothing—nothing.'
Rose gave a sigh, almost of dissatisfaction. If it really was a case
of blackmailing, payment would be but a temporary relief. Perhaps, as
she had also suggested, the girl in the picture was in league with
Chândni. She did not look that sort either. Nor did she look as if—
Rose glanced from the pure oval of the cheek and the fine long curves
of the mouth to Mrs. Boynton's tear-stained face and frowned.
'Some one has the pearls,' she said, 'and George's memory must be
The words were given in an impatient tone, for Lewis Gordon was
busy, and he hated being disturbed; especially when, as now, he had
taken his coat off, literally as well as figuratively, before a
The garment hung on the back of his chair, which, in obedience to a
fad of his, was the only one in the office; a second one, he declared,
being easily sent for if required, while its absence shortened many a
trivial interruption. Otherwise it was a comfortable enough room, with
a large French window set wide on a magnificent view of the serrated
snows resting on the wall of blue distance, and framed by the curved
tops of a forest of young deodars. The day was bright as a morning in
the rainy season can be; bright by very contrast between the brilliant
lights and shadows in earth and sky; bright as a rain-cloud itself
when the sun shines on it. A fresh breeze came in with Rose Tweedie
through the opening door and blew some papers off the table.
'I beg your pardon,' came in duet as Lewis fumbled blindly for his
coat: his eye-glass having deserted him in the surprise, after the
manner of eye-glasses. As he did so, he felt injured. Not that he was
such a crass idiot as to be outraged by a pair of shirt sleeves in
himself or others. But he knew quite well that no man can look
dignified, when struggling, even into a lounge-coat, and he liked to
be dignified, especially with Rose Tweedie. His irritation, however,
hid itself under a different cloak; that is to say, annoyance at a
most unusual intrusion. Perhaps she read the expression of it in his
face, for her first words were an excuse.
'I came here—to your office, I mean—because I want to ask you
something, and I didn't want you to feel hampered—not as a friend,
you know.' Her eyes met his in confidence of being understood so far,
at any rate, and he gave rather a stiff little bow.
'You are very welcome. Won't you take a chair—the chair, perhaps
I ought to say? I've been sitting all the morning, and shall be glad
of a change; unless you require some time. If so, I will send—'
'No, thanks, I prefer standing also,' she interrupted, with a quick
flush. 'I only wanted to ask you a question. It is about George
'Yes—' he replied coldly, unsympathetically; and yet he was noting
her anxious eyes and haggard face with a sort of angry wonder why she
should make herself so unhappy. Rose's fingers held nervously to the
edge of the table by which she stood.
'Have you any reason—I mean, is there officially any reason to
suppose that the Hodinuggur sluice was opened before the flood came
down, or before Mr. Fitzgerald—?' She paused with her eyes on
Lewis's face. She had lain awake almost all the night thinking of
Chândni's threats and hints, and with clear sight had seen that their
worth or unworth depended largely upon the official report of what had
actually happened at Hodinuggur. To her father she could not go
without danger from his want of judgment; there remained Lewis, who was
always just, always to be trusted in such matters.
His heart gave quite a throb of dismayed surprise at her question,
and forced him by contraries into still greater chilliness of manner.
'I'm afraid I can't quite see your right to ask me such a
question—as yet. Perhaps if you could give me a reason—'
'Oh yes! I can give you a reason,' she interrupted, with a ring of
scorn in her voice, 'though I think you might credit me with a good
one where George is concerned, surely? Only if I have to tell, you had
better send for the chair. I thought, perhaps, you would understand,
The bitterness of her tone did not escape him, and accentuated his
annoyance. As he handed her the chair and leant negligently against
the table, his hands behind him, he told himself that he was in for mauvais quart d'heure with this girl. Man-like she would expect
to know all, woman-like she would expect sentiment to outweigh
official integrity. These thoughts did not serve to soften his heart
towards the dead lad even at the beginning, and as her story unfolded
itself, his face grew sterner and sterner. Hers lightened. It was an
infinite relief to have his advice—his help, and she told him so
frankly, even while she appealed for it.
'You needn't even answer my question, Mr. Gordon,' she went on
earnestly. 'You will know so much better than I do what had best be
done. I thought of going to see the woman myself—'
'You didn't go, I hope?' put in Lewis hastily.
'No! I made up my mind to ask you first. You see, if there is no
truth in all this—no truth whatever—'
'That is unlikely, I warn you,' interrupted Lewis. 'These women—
Really, Miss Tweedie, if you follow my advice—much as it may pain you
at the time—you will leave this business alone, absolutely alone. It
is not one with which—excuse me for even alluding to the fact—a girl
such as you are should meddle. Unfortunately, we men have to face
these things, and they are not pleasant, even for us.'
'You speak as if you thought George was guilty,' said Rose hotly.
'What right have you to do that?'
'I may have more right than you suspect. Believe me Miss Tweedie, I
am heartily sorry—especially for you; and, so far as is compatible
with the facts, I will do my best to avoid official esclandre
should this matter really crop up. In the meantime, I am afraid I
must decline to interfere in what Mrs. Boynton, you tell me,
stigmatised as an impudent attempt at blackmailing. She has her
faults, no doubt, like everybody else; but she has, excuse me for
saying so, more knowledge of the world than you have. In fact, you
could scarcely do better than take her advice on this point.'
The girl, with a frown on her face, rose from her seat slowly.
'Then you refuse to find out the truth? You are content to let this
suspicion lie upon—upon me and upon your cousin?'
Lewis smiled. 'That is rather far-fetched, Miss Tweedie, surely.
The idea of suspicion with you is simply absurd; and as for Gwen!
Well, I know you are ready to admit she has her faults; but she has
called this claim impudent blackmailing, and you must excuse me if I
incline to believe her.'
'And for George Keene? Do you suspect him? Are you going to allow
his memory to be smirched?'
'I have told you I will do my best. For the rest, he must take the
consequence of his own acts, I'm afraid. Indeed, I am sorry, very
sorry,' he added hastily, impelled to it by the look on Rose
Tweedie's face. It had grown ashen pale, yet she stood steadily before
him, her eyes on his unflinchingly.
'Then there is truth in it? You had better tell me. It would be
kinder to tell me—if you can.'
Perhaps, after all, it would. Perhaps, if this scandal had to come
to light, it would be better she should be prepared. Even if it did
not, was it not wiser she should know the real truth about George
Keene, and so be able to judge him fairly? Not a bad boy, of course.
That talk of bribery was no doubt false, and he had done no more in
other ways than hundreds of boys in a like position. Even at Simla he
had only run wild a bit, and for that he was not the only one
responsible. Still, when all was said and done, he had shot himself,
and that alone made the task of whitewashing him an impossibility if
these women chose revenge.
'Yes! there is some truth in it,' he said gravely. 'If you will sit
down again, I will tell you everything I know, and then you can judge
for yourself. I should like you to understand, however, that in spite
of appearances, I don't believe George lent himself to anything more
than—what you would—not you, perhaps—but most of us would expect in
a young fellow of his age and his position. Life is—is rather
intoxicating to—to some of us.'
So, leaning against the table, he told her the truth, trying to do
his task calmly and kindly, yet beset by a certain impatience at the
still figure seated in his office chair, its elbows among his files,
the coils of its beautiful hair showing beyond the hands in which the
face was hidden. What business had it there? What business had the
thought of its pain to come so close to him? closer even than his own
reason, his own sense of justice?
'And you have known that he shot himself from the beginning?' she
asked, raising her head suddenly to look him full in the face. He
assented with a distinct self-complacency.
'Then what did you think made him do it? What did you think
then—before you knew anything about the debts or the opening of the
The self-complacency vanished. 'There are many reasons or want of
reasons, for that sort of thing, Miss Tweedie,' he said evasively. 'I
did not—I mean it was impossible to say absolutely, and that is why I
acquiesced in Fitzgerald's plan. It was more convenient to every one
'Much more convenient,' echoed Rose sharply. 'And you have known
this all the time, and not—' she broke off, as if incredulous of her
own half-uttered thought.
'Certainly, I have known it, and we would have kept the secret too,
Fitzgerald and I, but for this unfortunate business,' he retorted, and
his tone was not pleasant.
'Ah! he is different:
he did not know!
thought George had done it for his sake, to screen him. But you? What
did you believe?' The girl's very voice was a challenge.
'I must say, Miss Tweedie, that I scarcely see how my belief
affects the question; or, pardon me, what it matters to you,' he
replied, taking refuge once more in his indifference.
'Do you not? Then I do. Not that it matters now,' she added in
sudden passion, 'for I will have my own way in the future. If you
won't help me, I can't help that; but I will have the truth. I will
go down to this woman in the bazaar and make her tell me. Whether her
story is a lie or not, there shall be no more concealment. I will not
'And George Keene's memory?' he suggested, angered almost beyond
his self-control by her unmistakable defiance. 'My advice is
unwelcome, of course, but if you took it, and Mrs. Boynton's—only
that is unwelcome too—you might save all scandal. I cannot say for
certain that it would, but as I have told you, I would do my best.
Officially even, I would do my best. That seems to be an offence also,
for some reason, but I would do it as much for the sake of the
Department as for the boy's. You—I know—think only of him—
She turned upon him like lightning, carried out of herself by her
scorn, by her passion.
'Of him! I was not thinking of him at all! I was thinking of
you—of you only, as I always do. Why should you not know the truth?
You will not care a pin whether I think of you or not. And I? I care
for nothing—nothing so long as you do not blindfold yourself
wilfully—so long as you are just and honest. Ah! you may think I am
mad—perhaps if what you believe about men and women is true, I
am—but it means everything—everything in the world to me that you
should be so—just and honest; because what you are is more to me than
all the world beside. That is the truth.' The last words came slowly
as the fire of her passion died down; yet there was no uncertainty in
them. 'I suppose I oughtn't to have said this,' she went on, turning
from him to lean her elbows on the table, and rest her head on her
hands wearily. 'But you won't mind, and I don't care. It can't hurt
any man to know that he is loved—it can't.'
'Loved!' The word sent a thrill through the man such as he
had never felt before. 'Loved!' was that what she meant? The
thought broke through even his armour of surprise. He stood for an
instant looking down at her, then turned slowly and walked to the
window, to return, however, in a second, with quick clear steps
breaking the silence of the room.
'What do you mean?—I can't believe it. What do you mean?'
His impatience would not wait for a reply in words. Her face would
give it truly, that he knew, and he stooped over her, taking her by
the wrists, in order to draw her hands apart. She turned to him then
It was almost a cry, as, stooping lower still, he knelt before her,
his eyes on hers incredulous, yet soft. Then suddenly, still clasping
her slender wrists, he buried his face upon them on her lap,
'Oh, I am sorry!—I am sorry!'
Never since, as a child, he had said his prayers at his mother's
knee, had Lewis Gordon so knelt to man or woman. And something of the
child's unquestioning belief in an unselfish love came back to him,
joined to a perfect passion of the man's clear-sighted remorse and
regret for long years of past disbelief.
'Don't,' she said, gently bending over him; 'please don't. There
is nothing for you to be sorry about—indeed, there isn't.'
Nothing to be sorry about! Once more he echoed this girl's words to
himself with that strange thrill, as, recovering his self-command, he
stood straight and stiff beside her, conscious only of one vehement
desire to care for and to protect her.
'What is it you want me to do?' he said at last unsteadily. 'Tell
me, and I'll do it.'
Then, woman-like, she began to cry; it is a way the good ones have
when they succeed in imposing their own will on those they love.
'I don't think I want you to do anything—particular,' she
answered, trying to conceal her tears. 'I don't know; besides, I would
much rather you did it your own way.'
If the uttermost truth could be told about a man's emotion in such
scenes, as it can be regarding a woman's, it would have to be
confessed that Lewis Gordon came very near to crying also over this
foolish unconditional surrender on Rose Tweedie's part. For he
understood the irresolution of a generous nature before its own
success and what is more, the woman's desire to give the man she loves
the glory of justifying her belief in him. He felt quite a lump in his
throat, and had to seek escape from the tenderness of one sex in the
decision of the other; for in nine cases out of ten these are but
different methods of showing the same emotion.
'I will go down and see this woman to-day; and then—' He paused,
not in order to think over his next move—that undoubtedly would be to
see Gwen Boynton—but to overcome a dislike to mentioning her name at
all which suddenly assailed him. Why, he scarcely knew except that it
seemed mean, unmanly. Rose, however saved him from the necessity by
again repeating—this time almost abjectly—that she would rather not
know; that she would be quite content to leave the matter his hands.
'Thank you,' replied Lewis, in such a very low tone that it was
almost a whisper. It did not lead, however, as might have been
expected, to a silence, but to a louder, more aggressive gratitude.
'I have to thank you—for many things. I won't affect to ignore or
set aside what—what you did me the honour of telling me just now.
That would be sheer impertinence on my—'
Now, when he had got so far in a perfectly admirable sentiment,
calculated to soothe both her feelings and his, why he should suddenly
have found his hands in hers again, his heart full of an
unpremeditated assertion that he was glad she loved him, cannot be
explained logically; but so it was. Yet before the scared look in her
eyes his own fell, he loosened his clasp, and the appeal died from his
lips. There was no place for him or his questionings in her avowal.
That hedged itself about from intrusion with a dignity he recognised.
So what remained, save to pass on with as much of the same quality as
he could compass to the work assigned to him.
'I will come in and tell you what I have done this afternoon about
five o'clock,' he said quietly; 'that is, if it is convenient.'
'Quite, thank you.'
The baldest, most conventional of tones on both sides. The baldest,
most convenient holding open of the door for her to pass out—to pass
out from a scene that would linger in his memory; in nothing else. The
descent to normal diapason comes sooner or later, no matter how
highly strung the instrument may be to begin with, and melodrama fades
into padding. In real life it generally leaves some of the actors
dissatisfied with the way the scene has played. Lewis Gordon felt this
distinctly as he was left looking at his own chair, as if he still saw
a girl's figure seated there, her elbows resting on the litter of
official papers, and the great coils of her burnished hair showing
beyond the hands which hid her face.
'It can't hurt any man to know that he is loved.'
She had said so; but she was wrong. It did hurt confoundedly. So
that was what she meant by love, was it?—
If any of the trivial interruptions which Lewis Gordon so much
dreaded had come during the following five minutes, they would have
found the coveted chair vacant, though the owner's face was buried in
his hands among the files of memorandums and reports. Apparently he
gained little consolation from them, for when he resumed work he
looked about as upset and disordered as a tidy man can do when he is
cool and properly clothed. Nor did they gain much from him during the
next hour, which ticked away remorselessly from the chronometer by
which Lewis loved to map out his day. He thrust them aside at last
impatiently, and ordered his pony, thinking that may be when he had
been through that visit to the bazaar he might feel less of a duffer,
and not quite so much knocked out of time. And yet she had said there
was nothing to regret,—that he would not care,—that it would not
matter to him if she thought of him or not!
It was a queer world! He set his teeth over it as he rode
reluctantly between the shingled arcades of the big bazaar, and then
through a narrow paved alley, pitching, as it were, sheer down into
the blue mists of the valley below; and so on to the balconied house
where, from inquiries at the Kotwâli, he learned that Chândni was
lodging. The task before him was a disagreeable one, and he swore
inwardly as he thought that but for his abject capitulation Rose would
have attempted it herself. Rose! of all people. He began to understand
that the feminine world could not be divided into two classes, since
there was a third composed of one specimen. As he went on into the
house the very cleanliness and order, contrasting so sharply with the
dirt of surrounding respectability, struck him offensively on the
girl's behalf, the giggling in the lower storey gave him a vicarious
shock, and the obsequiousness of his introduction into the higher one,
where Chândni sat secluded, actually made his cheek burn.
'It can't hurt any man to know that he is loved.'
He set aside the haunting words angrily, and began his task so soon
as the patchwork drapery at the door fell behind him, leaving him face
to face with white-robed salaaming grace.
'See here, my sister, this is for the truth. 'Tis not often thy
sort are asked for it; but I ask nothing else. I will take nothing
Checked thus in her languid welcome to the unknown guest, Chândni
looked distastefully at the hundred-rupee note thrust into her hand,
then at the giver; though both were to her liking. The latter she
recognised instantly, having seen him among the party at Hodinuggur.
So her seed of slander had taken root already.
'My lord shall have that which he requires, surely. Wherefore else
are there such as I?'
The cynical truth of her answer showed him her wit at once, and he
acknowledged it frankly when, half an hour afterwards, he felt himself
baffled by the calm simplicity of her story. Most of it he had already
heard, and the rest showed still more unpleasant details to have raked
up should the worst come to the worst. Azizan, he was told, had been a
palace lady, with whom George had had clandestine meetings, over which
he had first become mixed up with the intrigues about the water. The
key of the sluice had been sent from Simla, whether by the Mem or the
Miss, or the sahib himself, Chândni did not know, could not say. Was
she not telling the Huzoor the bare truth she knew to be true, and
'And how much do you want to keep all this quiet?' he asked calmly,
when she had finished. It was as well to know her price, at any rate.
For an instant the immediate temptation to take the bird in the hand
made the courte- san hesitate. Then she struck boldly for higher
'The pearls, Huzoor! The pearls, or my revenge!' This man, with the
cool, refined face and the contempt which made her involuntarily
remember the Miss sahib's also, affected indifference now, and would
most likely offer her some paltry sum. She could afford to wait for
the change which was sure to come; for she was not in the least afraid
of anything Lewis could do, and, without being absolutely insolent,
took care to show him the fact as she lolled about at her ease,
chewing betel ostentatiously. She had nothing to gain here by
affecting delicacy, so he might see her at her coarsest and worst; it
contrasted better with his brains.
The result being that Lewis Gordon came into Gwen's Boynton's
drawing-room for his next interview looking depressed; partly because
he had been riding through a tepid shower-bath, for recurring rain had
washed away the bright promises of the morning and was falling
drearily over the rank, dank grasses and beating down the fringes of
delicate ferns growing upon the dripping branches of the oak trees,
until they lost shape and became nothing but a green outline against
the grey mist.
Within, however, by the light of a blazing pine-wood fire, Mrs.
Boynton looked bright yet soft, like a pastel painting, or a figure
seen in a looking-glass; for she soon recovered from her emotions, and
took pains to hide their effects even from herself. So the fact that
she had lain awake half the night wondering if by chance Chândni's
impudent lies had been prompted by any flaw in the chain-armour of
security which George and the flood had forged for her, did not show
in her face. For they were lies; even that tale of the dear lad's
death, which had given her such a shock at the time, was nothing but
the vile woman's wicked, cruel invention. Rose had evidently heard
nothing and still knew nothing of it; besides, Dan did not know, and
even if he had wished to keep the pain of such knowledge from
her, Lewis, with his jealous blame, would have been sure to point a
moral; a pointless moral at best, since George could have had no cause
for despair. Had not the flood come to end even his anxiety? unless,
indeed, there was any truth in the tale about the portrait. Yet why
should truth be supposed in one incident when causeless wicked lying
was evident in all the others? No; it was an impudent attempt at
extortion, and must be met by denial. Therein lay safety, both for her
and for poor George Keene's memory, since the conspirators would never
face the evidence of those papers which they knew she held. So, as her
cousin came in she greeted him with a smile changing to sweet concern
at his ill looks.
'I have a headache,' he replied curtly. 'No wonder; the smells and
general abominations of the bazaar are enough to kill one, and I had
to go down there. Besides, I'm damp, and I've had no lunch. Isn't that
a long enough catalogue of ills? No, thanks; don't order anything for
me. I'd rather have a cup of tea by-and-bye.'
It was the worst thing for him, he knew that. Nothing but a quiet
cigar and a man's drink would have restored his balance. But he told
himself captiously that he had been in a melodramatic atmosphere all
the morning, and might as well go through with it to the bitter end.
He felt demoralised, and so, almost out of contrariety, put himself
at a further disadvantage by rushing at his fence.
'Gwen,' he began abruptly, 'I've come to ask you for the truth.' He
did not hand her a bank-note as he had to the other woman; yet the
thought had crossed his mind bitterly that one of sufficient value
might be useful. He had set it aside, of course, as utterly unworthy
since, in common justice, he had no more right to prejudge Gwen's
implication than he had to prejudge Rose Tweedie's. There was, no
doubt, the fact of George Keene's suicide against the one; but that
was no new thing. She had been judged on that count before, and he had
decided to save her from the pain of knowing it; to that decision,
also, he meant to keep if it were possible.
Gwen's heart gave a great throb; she understood in an instant that
the crisis had come sooner than she expected. Yet she was prepared for
'I suppose Rose Tweedie'—she began coldly.
'Yes; Rose Tweedie asked my advice, and I've been down to that
woman in the bazaar. She sticks to her story. So now I have come to
'If you had come to me first, Lewis,' she interrupted with a
vibration of real anger in her voice, 'I would have warned you not to
waste your time in playing Don Quixote at Rose Tweedie's bidding. The
woman is an impostor, and should be treated as such. I would have sent
the police after her yesterday, had I thought it wise to take even so
much notice of her lies. And now you have been to see her! It is too
foolish—too annoying! And all because Rose went crying to you, I
suppose, about her lover. Her lover, indeed! You are very
soft-hearted, Lewis! Perhaps some day your desire to console will
lead you into taking his place.'
He stared at her; that sort of thing being so unlike Gwen's usual
sweetness; but his surprise did not equal his confusion, while his
common-sense showed him her possible wisdom.
'Miss Tweedie did not cry over her lover, I assure you,' he began,
feeling in very truth that the young lady in question had meted out
more blame than sympathy; 'and I did not choose to allow such tales
of you to pass unnoticed.'
'So you listened to them again?' retorted Gwen in rising anger,
which she wilfully exaggerated. 'Listened to what a common woman in
the bazaar had to say of me! Really, I am obliged to you, Lewis! And
she, I suppose, told you that I had stolen the pearls and the pot, and
then taken it and a fresh bribe from poor George? Well, since you have
come to me at last for the truth, I tell you, as I told Rose—who,
perhaps, did not repeat it—that I have never seen the thing since the
night of the storm at Hodinuggur. So I have less to do with it than
she, since she confesses it was sent to her, and that she sent it back
on the sly. Did she tell you that? and have you been asking her for
the truth also? Or am I the only one who has to be questioned like
that creature in the bazaar?'
Gwen had never looked better than she did at that moment, with the
unwonted fire of real indignation lighting up her face, and Lewis
Gordon felt vexed that it awoke no thrill in him. Was he really
allowing Rose Tweedie's open mistrust to bias him? The idea made his
reply more gentle than it might otherwise have been.
'Perhaps you are right to be angry with me,' he said quietly. 'I
beg your pardon, if I have hurt you; but indeed, it seemed best to me
at the time. Perhaps, as you say, it would have been better to wait a
while;—until, for instance, I can consult with Fitzgerald. I wired
him to-day to come up on three days' urgent private business. He knows
Gwen gave an odd sort of laugh, not unlike a sob, and her face
'I'm glad he is coming,' she cried passionately; 'very glad. He
always understands, and he knows.'
Yes! he knew and trusted her—he would stand by her even if he knew
that one fatal mistake. Whereas Lewis would treat her as a Magdalen,
as if she, Gwen Boynton, were a fit subject for a penitentiary!
'Yes,' she repeated slowly, 'I am glad he is coming. You did the
right thing there, Lewis, at any rate.'
So, with this small consolation, he had to make his way back to give
in his report to the girl who had told him that she loved him. Another
delicate task, and he felt himself detestably awkward over it, the
more so because Rose herself met him as if nothing unusual had
'Well,' she said eagerly, 'what news?'
He told her briefly that there was none. He had had three versions
of truth—her own, Chândni's, and Mrs. Boynton's—and there seemed
nothing to be done save wait for Dan's arrival. He might be able to
throw some light on the subject—he was the last person, at any rate,
who was likely to do so.
'You forget the girl—the girl of the portrait, I mean,' suggested
Rose quickly. Lewis frowned.
'She disappeared, they say, just before we reached Hodinuggur. I
should like, by the way, to see the picture, if you don't mind.'
He stood looking at it in silence for some time.
'And that, you say, was the face of your dream?' he asked at last.
'The face, the dress, the pot clasped so to her breast. I seem to
grow more sure of it every hour. And I am certain now it was she who
said, "I am Azizan."'
'That sort of certainty grows upon one unconsciously,' he replied,
after another pause. 'I confess it is odd; but you can hardly believe
it really was the potter's daughter! She has been dead these sixteen
years. You think it was her ghost, perhaps; but did George paint the
Rose stood silent, her hands clasped tightly.
'Who knows?' she said slowly. 'One knows so little. When I think of
it all—of that strange old man with his refrain, "We come and go—we
come and go," I seem to feel that odd, uncanny sense of helplessness
which one has during a storm at sea, when you realise that the waves
are not moving on at all, but rise and fall, rise and fall for ever in
the same place. It is the ship which drifts within their power, giving
them their wrecker's chance once more. And now—you will say that I am
superstitious; but I almost regret that you should bring Mr.
Fitzgerald into this business at all. You remember the potter's
measure? Think of it, and how poor George himself—'
She paused, her eyes full of tears.
Lewis, watching her, told himself he would never understand
women-folk. Here was a girl, overflowing with fanciful sentiment in
some ways, who yet apparently had none to spare for the one subject
round which sentiment was supposed to cling—love and marriage. In
addition, here were two women, both of whom he desired to help, and
yet they were at daggers-drawing about the best method of giving that
aid. If he pleased one, he displeased the other; and anyhow, he got no
comfort out of either.
'NAY! thou hast given me enough, oh Mizra sahib. More than a
free woman cares to have,' said Chândni, with a shrug of her massive
shoulders. 'Thou hadst thy chance to pay me fair.'
Dalel Beg, clad in his European clothes, and perched in all the
isolation of an esteemed visitor in the cane-bottomed chair of state,
felt he would like to be on a level with those jeering lips as he used
to be at Hodinuggur. Not for the sake of desire only, or for the sake
of revenge, but for a mixture of both. As usual, the very audacity of
her wickedness fascinated him, yet, now that wickedness was directed
against himself he could have strangled her for it.
'Pay thee! How can I pay thee,' he whimpered, 'when those low-caste
white swindlers with whom I betted will not pay what I have won? When
those white devils of women turn the place into a museum until every
Parsee in the bazaar threatens to summon me to court?'
It was not much more than a week since he had defied Chândni in the
presence of the said white devils; but the interval had not been
pleasant. Beatrice Elflida Norma's mamma knew all about Chândni's
long years of hold on the Mizra Sahib, and he was totally unaccustomed
to the nagging of wifely jealousy. Besides, something had happened
which had opened his eyes to the danger of allowing the courtesan to
have a free hand. A proposal had been made by the Canal Department to
allow water to run permanently along the sluice-cut; the Rajah who
owned the land to the south, having spent a whole season at Simla in
order to work the oracle, and the flood having come opportunely as a
warning to the experts that it might be wise to provide a more
satisfactory outlet for the surplus water. Now, in this case,
Hoddinuggur, which would benefit but little by the plan, might by
judicious application of the screw make the Rajah pay for its
consent, as a considerable portion of its best land would have to be
taken up for various works. This sort of secret intrigue, these almost
endless ramifications of rights and dues, underlie the simplest
transactions in India, and are recognised by its people as an integral
part of administration. Besides, Hodinuggur itself, in lieu of
compensation for damage done—which for various reasons it had not yet
claimed, one being a delay on the part of the Rajah in paying the
promised fee for the opening of the sluice—might manage by the same
judicious diplomacy to secure some trifling hold on the water-supply;
something, in short, which might be used as a screw for the extortion
of a perpetual, if small revenue. But for this, silence as to the past
was necessary. Such considerations, to European ears, may seem almost
too fine-drawn to be worth notice; but to Dalel Beg and Chândni they
were quite the reverse, for he came from a long line of courtiers born
and bred in such intrigues; men whose trade had passed with the
corrupt courts of other days, while the memory of it survived in their
title. Diwans of Hodinuggur; not Nawabs or Nizams, but Diwans, that
is, in other words, prime minister. And she? Every atom of her blood
came from the veins of those who for centuries had woven a still finer
net of women's wit around the intrigues of their protectors. It is
this extraordinary strength of heredity which, in India, makes the
cheap tinkering of Western folk, who are compounded of butchers,
bakers, and candlestick makers, so exasperating to those who have eyes
to see. If English philanthropists would spend their motley
benevolence on the poor, the diseased, and the drunken of their own
country, it would be better both for it and for India, where the
death-rate is no higher, drunkenness is practically unknown, and
poverty is neither unhappy nor discontented.
Thus Chândni and Dalel were well matched as she lolled back in her
cushions with a laugh.
'So she spends money! Lo! since thou hast married a "vilayeti
" wife thou canst advertise, as the sahibs do, in the papers, that
thou art not responsible for her debts. There is no sense in stopping
half way as thou hast done. Thou shouldst have gone to a "mission" and
been baptized instead of making that half-caste girl repeat the
"Kulma" on promise that thou wouldst not in future claim the right of
the faithful to other women. Yea! yea! I know the trick.'
'If I have,' muttered Dalel, vexed yet pleased at her boldness, her
shrewdness, 'such promises are easily broken. Divorce is easy.'
'If thou hast money to pay the dower to her people—not when thou
hast none! Lo! 'tis a mistake to try new ways of wickedness instead of
keeping to the old ones.'
So she dismissed him, feeling on the whole contemptuous over her
adversaries so far; the Miss Sahiba's arms had been strong, for sure,
but the men were worth nothing! nothing at all.
Dan Fitzgerald, dangling his long legs disconsolately from Lewis
Gordon's office-table two days after, said as much himself. 'The fact
is, I ought to have killed her; only I didn't feel up to it to-day,
after my journey. Oh, you may smile, Gordon!' he went on more eagerly,
his face losing some of its dejection in his love of the extravagant,
'but it's true. That sort of woman doesn't belong to our civilised
age; and we are absolutely at a dis- advantage before her. There was
I, as the mad old potter said, with a hero's measure round the chest,
driven to words and threats of a policeman. I couldn't, even at the
time, but think of that old sinner Zubr-ul-Zamân and what her chance
would have been with him—just an order, a cry, and then silence.
Sure, one feels helpless at times when one stands face to face with
that old world. What's the use of strength—what's even the use of
brains nowadays except to make money? There was I, with that woman, I
give you my word, at the end of her tether, but 'twas the hangman's
rope to me if I went a step closer, and so I didn't.'
'If you didn't,' remarked Lewis grimly, 'there isn't a
civilised man who will; so we had better try something else. Still,
unless that woman is silenced, we must face an inquiry, and then the
facts of poor Keene's death must come out. By the way, Miss Tweedie
knows them, but we have agreed to keep them, if possible, from my
cousin. There seemed no use—'
'I'm glad of that,' interrupted Dan, with a sudden quiver of his
mouth. 'I should be sorry to have that memory spoilt.'
He was pacing up and down the room now, his hands in his pockets,
the brightness of his face absorbed as it were by a frown.
'Gordon!' he said abruptly. 'I'd give everything I possess if I
could lay my hands on that cursed pot. Not that it would satisfy the
horse-leech's daughter unless the contained the pearls—which isn't
likely, for I believe the whole story to be a myth. But the thought
that it is somewhere visible, palpable to the meanest fool on God's
earth, is maddening. Or even if we could say to that she-devil, "do
your worst." Oh! why didn't you send that wire sooner, and save poor
George from his needless death?'
'Why didn't you tell the truth about it at first? you might as well
ask that. It would have been better, as it turns out, if you had; but
who can tell? As it is, I'm quite ready, as I told you before, to
burke everything I can, in conscience; but, so far as I can see, it
will do no good. If that woman breaks silence, the main facts must
come to light.'
'I wish I had killed her,' said Dan regretfully.
'And I wish she were dead,' replied Lewis cynically, 'that is the
difference between us. You are active, I'm passive, but we don't
either of us seem to be of much use.'
That was the honest truth, and they had to confess as much to Gwen
Boynton that afternoon. She looked a little haggard as she listened
even while she protested bravely that in her opinion the vile creature
would never dare to put her lies to the proof. So they sat and played
at cross purposes; for she could not tell them of the papers she held
in absolute disproof of what would be the first accusation, and they
wished if possible to save her from the knowledge of George Keene's
suicide. Perhaps if they had set their own feelings aside and told her
the truth, she might even then have confessed her lion's share in the
blame. But only perhaps; for she was a clever woman, capable of seeing
that her confession could do no good now, and that she had, as it
were, lost her right to save poor George from suspicion. Besides, she
had brought herself to believe in the duty of denial; for, like many
another woman, she required a really virtuous motive before she could
do a really wrong thing; in sober fact— even in her worst
aberrations from the truth—never losing hold of a fixed desire to be
amiable and estimable. To this self-deception, as was natural, Lewis
Gordon's half-hearted belief was gall and wormwood, while Dan's
wholesale confidence was balm indeed. She could not refrain from
telling him so when the former, pleading stress of work, left the
latter alone with her beside the cosy little tea-table glittering in
the firelight; for Gwen was one of those people who will never have
been more comfortable in body and soul than they are on their
'Now, don't spoil it all, dear, by wanting me to marry you
to-morrow,' she said half-laughing, half-crying. 'We are all too busy
for such talk, and too sad—at least I am. He was so good to me—you
don't know how good. I shall break my heart if this vile creature
succeeds in sullying his memory.'
'It will not be your fault, dear, if she does; that is one
A chance shot may hit the quarry truer than the best aim, and Gwen
turned quickly towards him with a little cry.
'Dan! you will prevent it, won't you? You are so clever, and,
really, it is for my sake as well as for his. For my sake you will,
'I do everything for your sake—you know that,' he answered simply.
Gwen stared at him as if she had seen a ghost. Perhaps she did; the
ghost of a dead boy who had said those very words to her in that very
room not a month ago.
'Gwen I what is it?' came Dan's voice sharply, anxiously. 'What is
the matter?—tell me.'
Yes! The past was repeating itself.
He had begged her to
tell him also, and in her selfishness, her fear, she had yielded, and
put a needless pain into his life at its close. She would not yield
again; in denial lay her duty.
'Nothing is the matter,' she echoed, 'save this—that you say we
can do nothing. I do not believe it. God will never let these lies
prevail—He will never let my poor lad's memory suffer—never, never!'
If her mind could have been taken to pieces and strictly analysed as
she gave utterance to this burst of real feeling, it would have
afforded fruitful study to a whole college of psychologists. Yet the
mental condition described as 'sitting in a clothes-basket and lifting
yourself up by the handles' is quite common to humanity of both sexes,
though women are as a rule the greater adepts in the art. Mrs. Boynton
was really a firm believer in a Providence which was bound by many
promises to help the virtuous, and George, therefore, had a claim to
its assistance. The fact that Providence might possibly have appointed
her as its instrument was a totally different affair, and did not
interfere with the confused good faith and good feeling which made her
voice thrill as she went on fervently, in answer to Dan's doubtful yet
'Oh, you mayn't think so—you perhaps don't believe as I do, Dan,
in "a Providence which shapes our ends, rough-hew them as we
'Don't I?' he asked, catching fire, as it were, more from his own
thoughts than her words. 'Oh, Gwen! my dear, it's little you know of
me, then, if you think that. Don't I see it?—who but the blind do
not—in everything? Isn't it that which makes me content to go on as
I'm doing? Gwen! it's because I know that it is bound to come—that
sooner or later you will take my hands in yours as I take yours just
now. Yes, Gwen! it's Fate—but when will it be, my dear? When will it
She was never proof against this mood in the man, this tone in his
'Oh, Dan!' she cried, in a petulance that was all feigned, 'didn't
I say you would be asking me to marry you to-morrow if I was so rash
as to tell you that you were a comfort to me? As if that had anything
to do with it.'
'Sure it has everything to do with it!' replied her lover fondly.
The future, in truth, gave him few fears: it was the present, with the
chance of annoyance if that venomous woman remain unscotched in the
bazaar, which caused him anxiety. On the other hand, it was the future
over which Lewis Gordon frowned, as he sat trying to make up his mind
about his own feelings, for though the present was was palpably
unpleasant, it seemed clear that the future would be worse, since they
must face the possibility of a scandal boldly in the hopes that
Chândni's story would break down; except perhaps as regarded George,
and he, poor lad, had brought it on himself. And then, when all this
was over, he—Lewis—was going to marry Mrs. Boynton. No doubt about
it; for it was too late now to judge her for that other fault—far too
late. He had condoned it with full knowledge of what he was doing, and
the fact that Rose Tweedie's subsequent scorn had awakened a tardy
blame did not alter the past. At the same time, he had an insane
desire that Rose should be brought to see this as clearly as he saw
it. In fact, the idea of talking over the matter with her, and perhaps
taking her advice upon it, had an attraction for him; and though he
heaped contumely on himself for the mere thought, it lingered
insistently. It was partly that which made him pause to knock at her
sitting-room door on his way to the drawing-room before dinner. She
would be glad to have the last news of the miserable affair, he told
himself, but in his heart he knew that was not the real reason—that
he himself scarcely knew what the reason was. Reason? there was none!
Only a foolish curiosity to understand better what this icicle of a
girl meant by love. It did not seem to hurt her, at any rate. But as
he entered to see her sitting by the fire, the reading-lamp on the
table lighting up her dress, but leaving her face in shadow, he seemed
to forget all these thoughts in the friendly confidence of her
'I'm so glad you have come. I was wondering if you would. What
He shook his head. 'None. We have all had our chance, and failed.'
'Not all,' she answered quickly, pointing to Azizan's portrait,
which showed dimly above the mantelpiece against which he leant. 'You
forget the girl—she has not said her say.'
The unreality, the strangeness of it all, struck him sharply, not
for the first time, as he replied after a pause—
'And never will. She is dead. Fitzgerald managed to get that out of
the woman to-day. She must have been hidden away—as a punishment,
most likely—in some dungeon of the old tower, for her dead body was
found among the ruins—by—by the old potter. Yes! I know what you are
thinking of; but that is impossible. He was always searching about,
you see, and so he was more likely than others to find anything that
was to be found. It is a coincidence, I admit; but the fact of the
death seems undoubted. The woman let it out in her anger—Fitzgerald
is not a nice cross-examiner, I expect—and tried to gloze it over
afterwards. Perhaps it is as well. That story may be best unknown.'
'I don't agree with you,' said Rose quickly. 'I have been counting
on her help—perhaps more than I realised—and now that her chance has
gone—' The girl's eyes filled with tears, and her voice failed for a
moment, 'it seems as if we could do nothing more to save him.'
'I'm afraid not. You see, once we begin to question outsiders we
show our hand. There is no alternative between the silence and defiance
which Gwen advocates so strongly, and a bold and open inquiry. In my
opinion it is time for the latter. You see, my cousin is not quite a
fair judge. She does not know that Fitzgerald and I have so far
concealed George Keene's suicide, and that from purely personal
motives we, or at least I, cannot have this scandal sprung by an
outsider. He would take the risk, he says; but I, in my position,
conceive that it is not my duty to do so. He, however, has suggested
that we four shall meet and talk it over finally before I take any
action, so I took the liberty of asking Gwen to come over to-morrow
morning. It is Fitzgerald's last day, and something must be done
before he goes down. I don't see the use of this meeting myself—we
have all, as I said, had our chance—but it can do no harm, and it may
satisfy Gwen—and you.'
'I am satisfied already,' she replied gently. 'You could have done
no more than you have done; I see that now.'
'I am glad,' he began, and then stopped, realising that he was not
in the least glad of the evident finality in her meaning. Was she
contented that things should end as they had begun? Had her passionate
interest in him died down with his obedience to her orders? A sorry
reward, surely! A most perplexing result of his repentance!
'I shall be glad,' he corrected himself, almost angrily,
'when we can get out of this muddle. Of course I have heard before of
such intrigues, but I never came in personal contact with that sort of
thing before. It is maddening. I scarcely seem to know whether we are
in the nineteenth century or the ninth. Ever since we went to
Hodinuggur we seem to have got mixed up in some antique dream; the
whole thing is absurd—scarcely credible.'
As he spoke the dinner-bell rang, and he held the door open for her
to pass from the consideration of these things to the well-appointed
table, worthy of a house in Belgravia, where the dark-skinned,
white-robed servants handed sherry with the soup, and vinegar with the
salmon quite as naturally as Jeames or John in their plush liveries.
But heredity was here also; Jeames or John's father may have been a
day labourer or a gentleman at large, but not one of these could not
have answered truthfully—'Huzoor, my father was servant to so-and-so
or so-and-so in the great mutiny time, and his father served such and
such a sahib in the Sutlej campaign, or in Cabul, or somewhere else.'
Faithfulness or unfaithfulness to salt being, of course, a different
question; though that also might possibly be one of heredity. Such
thoughts strike one sometimes after years of complacent blindness, and
on this evening they increased the sense of unreality which had
already taken possession of Lewis Gordon. Nor did a remark of Colonel
Tweedie's on his daughter's improved looks during the past few days
amend matters. He felt that he might be living in that twenty-ninth
century, when humanity may reasonably be supposed to have educated
itself out of some frailties as, in the necessary glance at the young
lady's face required by decorous assent, he met a perfectly
unconscious, happy smile, so full of friendly confidence, that a
positive gladness glowed at his heart that she should be content with
Nevertheless he made one more effort to get back finally to the
every-day world by riding over to the club after dinner and listening
to the gossip of the day. But there was nothing wrong with the world;
it was going on, he found, as usual. He played a game or two of pool,
talked gravely with Major Davenant over some new rules intended to
prevent such another fiasco as the last race-meeting, heard the
latest official canards, and listened more patiently than usual to
some boys—who had to go down from leave next day—bemoaning the
general beastliness of the country as a residence for an English
gentleman. It was only, so the verdict ran, fit for niggers.
Yet even this demonstration that life in the main was commonplace as
usual, did not restore Lewis Gordon's general indifference. And the
knowledge that this was so made him more than ever determined to carry
his point when next morning the four met in Rose Tweedie's room, to
settle the course of events.
The rain after a downpour during the night had ceased, or, perhaps,
had become too light to make its way through the thick white mist
which had settled down like cotton-wool upon everything, blotting out
the world. There was not a breath of air, not a sound save
occasionally a soft pit-pat, as the vapour condensing on the roof
dropped into the hearts of the rain lilies which fringed the verandah
with their upturned orange cups. Yet it was neither dark nor dull as
on a cloudy day. The whiteness of the mist was almost luminous, and
through the wide-set windows sent a faint glow, like that from
newly-fallen snow, on the faces of poor George Keene's four friends,
and showed still more clearly on the even surface of Azizan's portrait
as it stood upon the mantel-shelf. Rose stood beside it, looking
beyond everything in the room, beyond the row of orange lilies, into
the cotton-wool mist which seemed bent on suffocating the house and
its inhabitants. There was silence in the room—the silence which
comes to a discussion when the last objection has palpably fallen
through, and a conclusion absolutely satisfactory to no one seems
inevitable. Gwen, a flush of excitement on her cheek, lay back among
the cushions of her easy-chair, nervously turning and twisting the
rings upon her fingers. Dan Fitzgerald, who was seated close beside
her, had evidently been the last to speak, and was now leaning towards
her, his eyes fixed with kindly encouragement and sympathy on her
face. Lewis Gordon, apart from the others, his elbows resting on the
table, looked half regretful, half resentful,—the look of a man who
knows he must take the initiative in a singularly disagreeable duty.
At last through the silence came Rose Tweedie's voice reluctantly,
yet with a sort of challenge in it: 'I suppose that is settled, and
that we can none of us suggest any other reason why we should delay
'I have told you before,' broke in Mrs. Boynton, 'that I have every
reason to believe that no action will be taken by the woman; that she
will never court inquiry.'
'I did not mean that,' replied Rose, still with the same note in
her voice. 'I meant that if none of us have any further knowledge
beyond what we have already discussed, then Mr. Gordon's plan for a
private yet open inquiry with my father's knowledge seems best. I, for
one, have none. I know nothing, absolutely nothing, in favour of
delay. Nothing that would prevent the possible danger to George
Lewis Gordon followed fast on her words in swift, vexed
comprehension of her challenge.
'I fancy we are all able to say the same, Miss Tweedie. If we
agree, I may have to speak of something I should not otherwise
mention, but it is no reason for delay. On the contrary, it is a
reason why open inquiry will be the safest, even for George Keene's
memory. I know nothing better;—I wish I did.'
'Nor I,' said Dan Fitzgerald, then paused, and rising from his
chair crossed to the open door, whence he looked out, as Rose had done,
beyond the rain lilies to the mist. 'I know better than any of you
what poor George was; I know better than any of you what he did. If
this is settled, I, too, will have to tell something to his credit;
something that will make inquiry the better for him. Yet I'd give all
I possess to save the necessity for it. But I'm lost,—' he stretched
his hands out impulsively into the mist—'lost, as one might be out
yonder—lost, as the lad's own explanation is lost in the mystery of
death. It's hard to say so, George, but I can't help it.'
He spoke as if to some one out of sight, and Gwen Boynton sate up
suddenly, nervously, with a scared look in her eyes.
'I think you are all wrong,' she said querulously. 'The woman must
know that proof is against her story; but you will not believe it, and
so I cannot help it. I cannot, indeed.'
Her voice died away to a sort of sigh, and she sank back again,
clasping her hands tightly together. Rose let hers fall from its grip
on the mantel-shelf. Dan's tall figure leant more loosely against the
lintel, and Lewis Gordon mechanically turned the pages of a book lying
beside him on the table. The tension was over, and the relief of
decision, even of helpless decision, held them silent in the silence
for the moment. They had done their best. They had played their part
in the strange play.
Then suddenly out of the mist came a quavering, chanting voice—
'It was a woman seeking something
Through day and night—''Listen!' cried Dan, his face ablaze.
Rose's hand went up again to the picture hurriedly, and Lewis started
to his feet; only Gwen looked from one to the other bewildered:
'O'er hill and dale seeking for something.' The voice grew
clearer as if the singer was toiling up the unseen path below the
'Foul play! foul play!—look down and decide.''The mad potter!'
cried Dan, with wonder in his tone.
'Azizan! it is her turn at last,' cried Rose, with a hush in hers,
which sent a thrill through Lewis Gordon—though he only said
'I'll go and see who it is.'
But Dan had forestalled the thought, and, vaulting the railings, had
disappeared into the mist, whence they could hear him hallooing down
the path to the unseen singer as they stood waiting by the lilies.
Then came a quick greeting, a low reply, and so, clearer and
clearer—though they could see nothing—every syllable of eager
questioning and slow answer until, as if from behind a veil, the
strange couple stepped into sight—Dan, eager, excited, towering above
the bent, deprecating figure of the old potter.
They had heard so much, those three in the verandah, that Rose
without a pause could step forward and strike at the very root of the
matter with the question, 'What is it? What is it that you want of
The shifty, light eyes settled on her face with a look of relief
before the old man bent to touch her feet.
'Madr-mihrbân,' he said. 'Madr-mihrbân—that is well!'
He was still breathless from his swift climb beside Dan's long
stride, and, as he straightened himself again, his long supple
fingers, busied already about a knotted corner in the cotton shawl
folded round him, trembled visibly.
'Lo, I sent it before,' he went on in low excuse; 'but it returned,
as all things return at Hodinuggur. Then she was vexed and could not
rest. "Send it back! send it back," she cried all night long. Pity of
God! what a fever; but now she sleeps sound—' He paused, to fumble
closer at the knot.
'You mean Azizan, your daughter?' suggested Rose softly, while the
others stood silent, listening and looking, the whole world seeming to
hold nothing for them save this tall girl with her bright, eager face,
and that bent old man trying to undo a knot.
'Huzoor—Azizan!' came the quavering voice. 'I looked for her so
often till the Mâdr mihrbân came. Then I found her with the pot
clasped to her breast, but the bad dreams would not let her sleep. "It
is not mine; it is hers." It kept her awake always. So when I found
her again, lying asleep by the river with it still in her bosom, I
said to myself, "I will not set a writing on it, and put it in the box
with a slit as I did last time, trusting it to God knows who, after
the new fashion. I will take it myself in the old fashion and give it
to the Mâdr mihrbân's own hands, and pray her hold it fast so it
return not to wake the child; for she sleeps sound at last in the dust
of her father's."'
The knot was undone. The shaking fingers held the Ayôdhya pot for a
second, the white glare of the mist shining in a broad blaze of light
upon its intense glowing blue. The next it had slipped from the
potter's hand and lay in fragments on the ground!
Still fragments of sapphire colour—moving fragments of milky
white, rolling hither and thither like drops of dew on a leaf seeking
a resting-place for their round lustre.
Pearls!—the Hodinuggur pearls!
And Gwen's voice, with a triumphant ring in it, became articulate
above the old man's cry of distress and the low exclamations of the
'So Azizan stole them, after all!'
Rose turned on her sharply. 'Who knows? This much is certain, she
has brought them back, and saved George when we could not.'
'Yes! she has saved him,' assented Dan, 'we have that she-devil on
the hip now!'
Lewis Gordon stood silent a moment; be had grown very pale. 'You
are both right, I expect,' he said quietly. 'It settles—everything.'
Gwen drew a long breath of relief, but Rose seemed lost in thought.
'No! not everything,' she said absently, half to herself. 'It does
not tell us why George shot himself.'
She scarcely knew she spoke aloud; she had forgotten everything but
the dead boy.
'Shot himself!' The words came back to her in a sort of cry.
'Shot himself! What do you mean? What does she mean?'
Gwen stood as if petrified before those regretful faces. Then, as
the truth struck at her, beating down her shield of self-deception,
she turned at last, forgetful of all else. to the shelter of Dan's
kind arms. 'Dan! Dan! it isn't true—it can't be true! say it isn't
He drew her closer to him, looking down into her agonised face with
a perfect passion of tenderness and kissed it; forgetful, in his turn,
of everything save that she had come to him at last.
'It is true, my darling; he did it to save me and you. Gwen! Gwen!
it wasn't your fault—My God! she has fainted!'
'I'm sorry,' began Rose, feeling paralysed by surprise, but Dan's
kind smile was ready even in his distress.
'Don't worry. It's best over, for I must have told her. You see we
have been engaged for years, and George knew it. If I carry her to
your room, Miss Rose, she will be better there. 'Tis the shock, and
she was so fond of him, dear heart.'
Lewis Gordon, left alone in the verandah while another man before
his very eyes carried off the woman to whom he supposed himself to be
engaged, felt that the world had broken loose from its foundations
altogether. So that was the explanation! And then a low murmur of
moaning from the potter arrested his attention, which, as is so often
the case after a shock, had lost its airt and become vagrant.
The old man, still crouched beside the fragments of the Ayôdhya
pot, was rocking himself backwards and forwards, and muttering to
himself, 'She will be angry; the Mâdr mihrbân will be angry, and then
Azizan will not sleep.'
Lewis walked up to him and laid his hand reassuringly on the thin,
bent shoulders. 'I don't think the Mâdr mihrbân will be angry. I'm
almost sure she won't.' His own words made him smile, until, as he
looked at the old man's shifty, bright eyes raised to his doubtfully,
he remembered the young sad face which George had painted. 'And Azizan
is asleep,' he said gently; 'she will not wake again.'
As he stooped to gather up the jewels his eyes were dim with
unwonted tears—why, he scarcely knew.
When Rose came back ten minutes after, leaving Gwen to Dan's kind
consolations, she found Lewis leaning over the railings looking at the
rain lilies through his eyeglass as if it had been a microscope. He
turned to her with the air of a man who has made up his mind.
'You thought I was engaged to my cousin, Miss Tweedie,' he said.
'So did I. Apparently I was mistaken. So let us set that aside, once
and for all, and think over more important matters. There is no lack
of other surprises, thank Heaven.'
The semi-cynicism of his words did not sit ill on him, and Rose
recognised that he had certainly chosen the most dignified way out of
the difficulty. At the same time it left her free, unexpectedly free,
to consider the position as an outsider, and all involuntarily, yet
naturally enough, her first thought expressed itself in words:
'I wonder what father will say?'
This was too much both for temper and dignity, fortunately, also for
humour. He gave her one indignant look, then relaxed into a smile.
'Really, Miss Tweedie, in this Comedy of Errors I am only
responsible for my part; and that, believe me, is rather a sorry one.'
WHETHER Lewis Gordon spoke truth or not regarding the part he
had to play, there could be no doubt that Dan found his anything but
sorry. A subdued sort of radiance softened yet brightened the man as
he came out to ask Rose for the loan of her dandy, Mrs. Boynton
being anxious to get home as soon as possible. There seemed no need
for words; the situation explained itself, and even Lewis looking at
his rival's eager face, could not help acknowledging that Dan was more
likely to give Gwen the support she evidently needed than he was.
Besides, the sudden change for the future seemed lost sight of in
that, which the opportune arrival of the Ayôdhya pot had on the
present, and on Chândni's impudent claim. It was of course clear
evidence against the truth of the story so far as Gwen was concerned,
but whether it would prevent the woman raking up the true facts of
George Keene's death, out of sheer wanton malice, was another thing.
Lewis felt himself rather helpless before the phenomenon of such a
nature as hers, and confessed as much when Dan came racing back,
breathless and excited after seeing Mrs. Boynton safely home, for a
council of war. He brought a quick decision and intuition with him.
The sluice had been opened by treachery of course, and now that he was
free to speak of his engagement, Dan told the story of the open
locket, which to him seemed proof-positive that George had voluntarily
taken the blame on himself when thrown off his balance by the
discovery that the happiness of the man and the woman he loved best in
the world depended on Dan's getting his promotion. How the sluice had
been opened was another matter. Chândni had always said by means of a
key made after an impression sent from Simla; but this was manifestly
impossible unless some servant had done it. Indeed he had never paid
much attention to this assertion, for the woman in making it had
contradicted herself more than once, and evidently had no definite
story as to how the impression had been secured. In his own mind he
had decided that the key itself had been stolen from the boy while he
slept so heavily, and that the knowledge that this was so had had its
share in bringing about his rash act. So that even if the real facts
came out, nothing beyond carelessness could be laid to George's
charge, now that the potter was there to prove that Azizan had had the
Ayôdhya pot all the time, and that they were there to prove that the
pearls had remained in the pot. So much for Chândni and the only
possible cause of further action—a woman's wanton cruelty. For the
rest, the old Diwan was dead, Khush-hâl seemed to be out of it, and
Dalel had everything to lose and nothing to gain by a scandal.
Finally, these intrigues were always as a house of cards; remove one
support and the whole structure disappeared.
'Nevertheless,' said Dan, looking across the table with a grim
smile, 'I'm not going to take you down as a witness to my interview
with that she-devil this afternoon. You are too fine for the work, and
that's the fact.'
'Can I lend you anything peculiarly bar- baric in the way of a
knife?' asked Lewis. 'I've a Malay crease in my room which fills most
people with terror, though personally I should funk a woorâli dart
more than anything.'
'Ah! you may jeer; but 'tis true. Sure! our fineness is at the
bottom of half our mistakes in this country. Even in our kindness we
treat these people as we would like to be treated ourselves—a poor
philanthropy compared to treating them as they would like to be
treated. And when we come to mere justice! Why, we might as well give
a child who has disobeyed his mother the right to appeal against her
in court. What chance would the child have to begin with, and then
what good would it do? and what good is our complicated system of
procedure save to put power into the hands of the educated few who
naturally clamour for more? But there! This has nothing to do with
Chândni. She wouldn't care a tinker's damn for what you'd say to her,
because you would be regulating yourself by codes and sections instead
of by the way she is made. I won't. I don't mind stooping to her level
to get my will. So let me go with the old mad potter and his eyes, and
see if between us we can't make a settlement. And then, please God, we
will have done with the whole bad dream from beginning to end. So if
you have three thousand rupees you can spare on a loan, I'll just have
them handy in my pocket as a salve to her wounded feelings when I've
got my own way.'
What really happened at the interview Dan resolutely refused to say.
On his return from the bazaar he asked for a whisky and soda and a hot
bath to take the taste of it out of soul and body. Yet he returned
triumphantly with a written declaration signed by Chândni, stating
that she herself had stolen the key from George while he slept.
'It isn't true, of course,' said Dan with a rueful look at Lewis,
'but upon my soul, no one could tell if it is, or not. My mind seemed
a vast cobweb with lines going everyway into the outside world, but
all beginning in that woman, and the only way was to smash through it.
She has done worse things—that's one comfort. Maybe the pearls
should have gone back to Hodinuggur direct, but she will make her
bargain there, never fear, and by God they deserve—'
He broke out then with curses into the tale of Azizan's birth,
which it seemed had been his strong card—that and the potter's eyes.
He had played the one against the other till he wormed the story out
of his enemy, while the old man waited below, ready, if Dan failed to
be told the truth, to bring his evil glance to bear on the question.
That fear had really settled the matter; she had acknowledged the part
Azizan had played in bringing her plans to naught, and confessed the
wisdom of dancing to a different tune in the future.
'We parted on the best of terms. She offered me cinnamon tea and
fritters, and I took some as a sign of peace,' said Dan with a
shudder. 'And now I must be off and tell poor Gwen 'tis all settled
for ever.' He lingered a moment as he rose, to add with a half shy,
half happy smile, 'Were you very much surprised, old man?'
'Very,' replied Lewis with dignity. But Dan still lingered.
'I wonder what on earth the Colonel will say?' he remarked
apprehensively after a pause.
Then Lewis laughed; he could not help it. And actually the idea of
playing second fiddle to Colonel Tweedie's disappointment in the eyes
of the world, helped him materially in the interview which he had with
his cousin next morning. Even without this, however, he would have
felt it difficult to be severe, for he found her full of remorse and
self-abasement; rather vague, perhaps, but still real. She would never
forgive herself, she said, not so much for her indecision about Dan,
for she had always loved him, and Lewis was well quit of her selfish
regard. No! it was about poor George! She had sided with Simla in
turning the boy's head—she had made too much of him and behaved most
unwisely—really Lewis must let her say what she knew to be true—she
had been over friendly, over confidential, and had asked him to do too
much for her. All this and his foolish fancy about being the keeper of
Dan's conscience, of which the latter had told her, had been too much
for the dear, dear, lad's kind, sensitive heart. Then the terrible
home-coming after all the pleasure and spoiling! Was not that enough,
more than enough, to upset the balance? She was so insistent on this
point that Lewis had to confess his assent to it, and finally went
away feeling that she had more heart than he had given her credit for
in the past, and that he might even be in a measure responsible for
not having appealed to this better nature while he had the chance. Dan
seemed to have done it successfully, for she had evidently given up
all thoughts of a mercenary marriage. He understood her, she said
plaintively, he knew her faults and yet he loved her; while Lewis—he
must excuse her for saying so—had always treated her as if she had no
heart, no sentiment; had always committed the unpardonable mistake of
making her remember that she did not love him. Of course she had
behaved abominably to everybody—far worse than they would allow, for
they were all too good for her—but in the future she would have Dan,
who was a tower of strength to her.
In fact, like many another woman of her type—many a man also—Gwen
Boynton had taken refuge from the greater remorse in the lesser
one—if indeed there was a greater one?—if indeed the real limit of
her sinning had not been that over-confidence to which she had
confessed. Not in detail truly; still she had confessed it with tears
to Dan, and he had forgiven her en masse; as, no doubt, he
would forgive in detail if she had thought it right to tell him what
she had told George. But what right had she to put this pain into
another man's life, or speak of that vague fear which even Chândni's
confession of having stolen the key would not smother utterly? It
would be worse than foolish! it would be wicked; and this dreadful
doubt was her cross, her punishment, which she thoroughly deserved for
doing as she had done. And when she had got thus far, remorse was once
more in a clear open channel where it could spread itself out and lose
its chill under the sunshine of Dan's kind consolations.
Thus it really turned out that, after all, the person most upset by
the unexpected dénouement of affairs was Colonel Tweedie.
'Engaged for years,' he said angrily, in reply to his daughter's
information. 'Well! I am surprised. A most extraordinary proceeding
which er—er—complicates—the—er—If you had said "of late," I
might have seen some sense in it, for during the last week or so even
Gordon, who is generally to be relied upon, has been absent over his
work—er—not to say—er—somewhat negligent. And of course being his
Rose hastened to confess that the engagement had only as it were,
been a definite one during—here she hesitated a little—the last few
days. Which tribute to his perspicacity soothed the Colonel's dignity,
and encouraged him to further ventures in the seer's path by a
suggestion that no doubt his daughter's improved appetite and
appearance, which he had observed during the same period, was due to
the proverbial interest which women took in the matrimonial affairs of
their neighbours. Though for his part he must may that the friendly
admiration he had had for Mrs. Boynton had been very considerably
impaired by—er—the lack of judgment she had displayed in engaging
herself to an assistant engineer, a man whose promotion, he believed,
could not possibly come before the following July—if then. He went
off to consult the departmental lists with portentous gloom, leaving
his daughter defenceless before the truth. Certainly she had been much
happier since Lewis had known her feeling for him, and what is more,
Mrs. Boynton's decision in favour of Dan was a great relief in one
way, though in another it was disturbing—confusing; for despite her
theories Rose felt that the fact of his freedom to make other ties did
make a difference in her relations with Lewis Gordon. It ought not to
do so, of course; she was angry with herself for admitting the fact,
but she was totally unable to juggle with realities, or escape,
crab-like, from a difficulty sideways. No thought of marriage or what
she was pleased to call sentimental rubbish had marred the
self-forgetfulness of that unpremeditated appeal she had made to her
belief in him. No such thought existed even now, and that the fear of
it should creep in was intolerable, absurd. No! she must feign the
virtue of unconsciousness, even if she had it not, and by an increase
of friendly confidence, combined with a strict attention to prose,
prevent the awkwardness of the position from falling on innocent
Lewis, and show him clearly that the altered situation had made no
change in her, yet was not expected to make any change in him. Only by
these means could she show him, what was really the truth, that her
past avowal of interest was not mere sentiment.
Lewis, for his part, also tackled the position with a boldness which
he had denied to himself while he was still engaged to his cousin,
still smarting under the curiously mixed sensations which the
knowledge of the girl's real feelings had aroused. Then he had felt
bound to conventional modes of thought, and, to tell truth, had been
more or less afraid lest on inquiry a sentimental love for Rose might
pop up somewhere like a Jack-in-the-box. For her confession had
affected him in a perfectly incomprehensible way, and the only other
explanation of it he had been loth to admit, since it ran counter to
all his pet theories. What feeling could there be between a man and a
woman save the one feeling? This warmth at his heart when he thought
of her praise, this pain at the thought of her blame, could only be
the old, old story; and yet he had been in love before, and this was
not the same experience. Well, it might be milk-food suited to babes
and women, but it was not strong meat for strong men; withal it was
strangely satisfying, strangely final, so that when a return to
commonplace diet became possible, he found himself in two minds about
taking to it. She evidently had but one; she evidently had given him
all she intended to give, and the only return he could make was by
showing her that he did understand this, and that he did not think it
necessary to salve over her wounded modesty by making love to her.
Wounded modesty! The very thought seemed an insult. He could not agree
with her theories altogether, but he could at least respect them.
So for the next month, while Gwen was slowly recovering her shock,
and all Simla was divided into factions over the surprise of her
engagement to penniless Dan Fitzgerald, a very pretty little comedy
was being enacted in the big house where Rose, as hostess, treated
Lewis Gordon as a friend, and he returned the compliment in kind.
There was absolutely no humbug, no effort about it at all. They were
not in love with each other, they were not restless 'or moody' or
excited, but absolutely content and happy with things as they were. A
state of affairs accentuated by the relief from anxiety, the improving
weather, and the charming gaiety and verve of the society in
which they lived.
Thus it happened that Rose Tweedie had her chance of being wooed in
the only possible way in which girls of her type can be wooed. One
sees dozens of them now-a-days in society; one will see more and more
year by year, as the unnatural disproportion in the number of the
sexes tends to intensify the present seclusion of the nicest girls
from the men. It is not the fault of the latter. In a bevy of several
hundred young ladies, the fortunate possessor of the handkerchief
naturally throws it at some of those who press forward into
individuality, or at some fair face which even a crush cannot hide. So
the choice for a wife falls on beauty or brass. The latter may be too
hard a term, yet the girls who are likely to make the most faithful
wives, the most devoted mothers, are not those who are the readiest to
attract and assent. On the contrary they do not fall in love, and men
have no time to give them friendship. Friendship! They are
engaged—nay, married—before the mere thought of such a thing crops
So the younger generation of women is rapidly dividing itself into
the girls who dress and the girls who don't dress. In other words,
those willing to attract men by one certain if seamy side of their
natures, and those who are not willing. Who does not know the opposite
extremes of these two factions? The girl who forces you instinctively
to think of a looking-glass, and the girl who makes you wonder if
there be such a thing in her room. The girl with not a hair out of
place, and the girl with a hiatus between her soul and her body, as
the feminine phrase runs. Rose belonged outwardly to neither factions,
yet in her heart she strenuously resented the old-fashioned theory
that marriage was the larger half of a man's life and the whole of a
woman's. Truthfully, though she was three-and-twenty, she had never
felt the slightest desire to marry anybody, not even Lewis, and she
felt in consequence proportionally grateful to him for behaving, at
any rate, as if he believed the fact.
Yet, even so, they sometimes found each other out, as for instance
one day when he came back from his cousin's full of unexpected news.
Dan Fitzgerald had sent in his resignation to the Department, and
accepted an offer of employment from Australia.
'I'm as glad,' said Lewis heartily, 'as if I had had the chance
myself; partly because I couldn't make anything of it! Brown—that is
the man who has wired for him—was out here contracting one of the big
railway bridges. A bloated mechanic; began life as a riveter sort of
fellow, but with a knack of making money and a keen eye beyond belief.
I remembered his telling me that Dan was too good for us, and that if
ever he came across a job in which he wanted help, he would try and
steal him. This is some huge irrigation scheme—private—down South.
If Dan succeeds, and he will if any one can, there will be millions in
'I suppose your cousin is delighted?' said Rose.
'Gwen? Never saw a woman more relieved in my life. For, mind you,
though she is awfully fond of Dan—fonder than I personally should
have thought she could have been of any one—the idea of the poverty
was telling on her. You know it is absurd to think of her as
an assistant engineer's wife. It is really not an environment in which
she was likely to shine, and when all is said and done on the romantic
side people ought to consider sur- roundings in making a settlement
for life. Besides, I am sure she is relieved to get away from us all
and make a fresh start. She feels it more than I should have
'Mr. Gordon,' said Rose suddenly, 'I'm very sorry I judged her so
harshly that—that time. I've wanted to say so often; but then
it seemed foolish. As if it could have mattered what I said or
'I don't think it did really matter,' he replied frankly. 'Rather
the other way round, I expect. Yet I doubt if you did judge her as
harshly as she judges herself now; so it is far better she should
leave all these associations behind. If he and she had had to go
inspecting at Hodinuggur, or even if she had to meet Dalel Beg and his
wife—did I tell you I saw her at the vice-regal squash yesterday, a
perfect child in the most awful get-up?—why, then, it would revive
the old affair. And if, by chance'—he paused a moment. 'One never
knows what mayn't crop up, and Dan is a queer chap in some ways. He
works by instincts, as it were, and hitherto they have led him right.
If they didn't, and he found it out, I don't know what mightn't
happen. He is not what I call a very safe man unless he is successful.
So they are both lucky to get out of the uncongenial atmosphere which
Government service is to him and poverty is to her. They start in
smooth water, and I must buy my wedding-present, for they are to be
married next month.'
'He has to leave at once. The wedding is to be at Rajpore after we
all go down. No bridesmaids, and I'm best man. If you want to know the
wedding dress, ask Gwen; she is sure to have settled it long ago.
Women always do.'
'I haven't,' protested Rose hastily. 'I shall be married in my
She tried hard to be grave while Lewis roared with laughter, but in
the end she joined in the joke against herself. For they never
quarrelled now. What was there to quarrel about?
It was on another of these pleasant peaceful days, that he came to
lunch, with the news that Dalel Beg was even now detaining her father
by abject apologies for past old-style misdemeanours at Hodinuggur,
and profuse promises that in future it would be the abode of all the
civilised virtues. Khush-hâl Beg it appeared had died of apoplexy,
brought on no doubt by the unrestrained orgies with which the fat man
had celebrated his accession, and in consequence Dalel was king.
'I don't quite understand it all,' he said thoughtfully. 'He is a
fool, and yet he is playing his cards well. Do you know, I shouldn't
be at all surprised to hear that Chândni was back again as chief
adviser. She is a very clever woman. It seems that there is a scheme
on foot for establishing stud farms or grazing paddocks for Government
remounts. It is supposed to be cheaper and better in the end to buy
them as yearlings and let them run loose, instead of being tethered
heels, heads, and tails, in native fashion. And as the water supply is
to be constant at Hodinuggur now, Dalel proposes that Government
should utilise some of his waste land there, and put him in charge, or
partly in charge. Of course it would bring him in a steady income if
he gets his finger in the pie.'
'He ought to get nothing,' interrupted Rose hastily; 'I believe he
was at the bottom of all that intrigue. We shall never know what went
on exactly, but there was intrigue, and that sort of thing should be
'Undoubtedly; but as I said before, Dalel is a fool—except about a
horse. It was the old man and Chândni; they belonged to that age. This
man tries to break the Ten Commandments in two languages, and misses
the idiom in both. But he does know the points of a horse, and as
Government must keep up these old families and try to civilise them,
it is as well to get some work out of them.'
'Hodinuggur civilised! I can't imagine it,' echoed Rose. 'When I
think of the old potter, and that mirrored room on the roof—of Azizan
and the Ayôdhya pot—it seems like some old dream of life into which
we nineteenth century folk strayed by mistake.'
'With disastrous results,' put in Lewis thoughtfully. 'Well! with
half the dramatis personæ of the play dead, and the other half
married, it ought to have come to an end now like a decently behaved
melodrama. Not a very moral one, I'm afraid, Miss Tweedie, and virtue
must be its own reward.'
'What do you mean?' she asked.
'You and I have been left out of the prizes altogether; but then,
as the potter said, we didn't belong to his world.'
'I wish you had not reminded me of that scene,' she interrupted
hastily. 'I cannot help thinking of how Mr. Fitzgerald sat smiling at
me while the old man measured him; just as George did when he measured
himself, and he is dead.'
'What a woman you are when all is said and done!' he replied,
smiling at her. 'Still I do think that poetic justice has not been
meted out all round. Gwen, for instance, has everything she wants, and
I am out in the cold.'
'Do you feel out in the cold?' asked Rose aggressively.
He hastened to assure her that on the contrary he was quite warm and
comfortable, but in spite of this the conversation languished till
Colonel Tweedie came in, full of his intention of recommending Dalel
Beg's plan strongly to the authorities.
To say, however, that it was Dalel Beg's was, as Lewis Gordon had
suspected, to credit that gentleman with too much sense. It was
Chândni's. When Dan Fitzgerald had left her after partaking in
friendly fashion of cinnamon tea, she had put the pearls away in a
safe place, and set herself, as she had been doing ever since she came
to Simla, to amuse herself. She had looked after Dan as he rode away
without the least malice, saying that there was a man indeed; one of
the old sort like the Diwans. If he had had her in the old days, say
at Hodinuggur, there would just have been one order, and then silence.
She nodded her head and smiled over the thought. But now she had three
thousand rupees and the pearls. She could not sell them of course,
could not at present let any one know she had them. They were too well
known, these Hodinuggur pearls, for Chândni to traffic in them without
fear of being accused of theft. By and by, perhaps, she might trade
them off on Dalel; but nothing of that sort was safe as long as
Khush-hâl was alive. So long too, as they thought the mem had them
they would not dare to move in the matter, now that there was all this
talk of a permanent water-supply; for Chândni, in the
wooden-balconied house at Simla, heard all the latest talk, and had
quite a bevy of respectable native gentlemen who drank sherbets at her
expense. She heard also from a friend at court of this taking up of
waste land, and as she listened to all the stir of intrigue after this
thing and that thing, felt a pang of regret for that vanished dream of
some day being a motive-power in Hodinuggur. This court-life was as
the breath of her nostrils, and if she had been in the place of that
half-caste girl down in the house with the dahlias, she would not have
been half starved and beaten; for if bazaar rumour said sooth, Dalel
Beg had carried his occidental estimate of the marriage-tie to this
almost incredible length.
Then one day, after a rich Hindu contractor had roused her wrath by
claiming her more or less as his special property, by reason of the
money he had chosen to lavish on her, came the news of Khush-hâl
Beg's death in the odour of court sanctity. She could imagine it all
down in the ruined palace out in the desert—the old ways, the old
etiquette; poverty-stricken may be, yet still courtly. And why, in
these pushing days when fat pigs like that Hindu made money, should
they remain poverty-stricken? yet even so, it was better in a way to
be Chândni of Hodinuggur, than Chândni of a bazaar, especially as one
That same afternoon a patchwork-covered dhooli went jolting down
to the house with the dahlias, which was a miserable spot now;
deserted, forlorn. A miserable room also, whence the indignant Parsees
had reft the French clocks and the bric-à-brac. A most
miserable pair of women too, reduced to cooking their own food at the
drawing-room fire, lest their over-looking neighbours might see them
in the degradation of the cook-room—since the deepest degradation of
all in Eurasian eyes is to be servantless.
'Don't be a fool,' said Chândni to Mrs. D'Eremao's shrill abuse, as
the former walked in upon them unceremoniously, and, squatting down,
went on calmly chewing betel. 'You have nothing to do with the
business. But, if she is wise, she will listen.' Beatrice Elflida
Norma looked at her shrewdly and said, 'Be quiet, mamma, there is no
harm in hearing what she has to say.'
It was not much, but to the point. No doubt, if they appealed to
English justice, they could force the Diwan to support his wife. But
how? At Hodinuggur under lock and key. It would not be nice, and
Chândni had tales to tell which made Mrs. D'Eremao's hair stand on
her head even while she protested that she was a freeborn
British subject. Doubtless; but then they must give up all hopes of
the position for which the girl had married such an atrocity. (Here
Beatrice Elflida dissolved into tears.) Besides, that was not the way
to treat a Mohammedan gentleman, an off-shoot of the great Moghuls;
but she knew how to treat him, and for a consideration, was quite
willing to use her influence with Dalel to set things straight. She
did not want him, and had flouted his proposals of peace a dozen
times, but she was quite ready, for this consideration, to make
herself useful. Briefly, that consideration was a free hand if she
could get it, no cabals against her position, and an assignment, in
case of Dalel's death, of a good slice of that state pension, which,
in such case, would be given to the wife. If there were children, so
much the better, since the pension would be larger. In addition, they
had to remember that refusal would not amend the position, since Dalel
would no doubt bribe her back in some other way.
So a week after this, her Highness Beatrice Elflida Norma of
Hodinuggur's name appeared on the list of donors to a certain Fund,
opposite no less a sum than one thousand rupees, and she herself
appeared at the next vice-regal squash in full native costume, with
her hair quite straight, and many shades darker in colour. She sat and
talked affably to a stout English matron about her husband's great
desire to assimilate the lives of Indian women more closely to those
of their European sisters; so that, on her return home, the stout
English matron mentioned to her stout English husband, who happened to
be a Commissioner, that the Hodinuggur creature seemed to have ideas
and should be encouraged.
And that evening, Dalel said to Chândni, ere he left the little
balconied room where so many grave and reverend gossip-mongers sat
drinking sherbet, 'Thou wilt return to Hodinuggur as thou hast
'I will return; but not as before. I am free to come and go. And
see that thou pay me back that thousand rupees out of the first batch
of horses. Else Chândni goes, never to come again.'
IT was a hot October. The rains coming early had stopped early,
giving Lewis Gordon and Rose that charming sunshiny month on the
Hills, of which mention has been made. A whole month of almost idyllic
happiness and content.
And now, after the usual hiatus of a visit or two for Rose
route, and a hasty tour for her father round some outlying canals,
they had settled down for the cold-weather life at Rajpore. Perhaps it
was only the rather unusual heat which made it seem less pleasing than
usual to at least two of the party. And this was more evident to Lewis
Gordon than to the girl, since she had the occupation and distraction
of preparing for Gwen's approaching marriage. Naturally, it was to be
a great function, for, while her admirers were legion, Dan's friends
were many; besides, as every- body admitted, the bride and bridegroom
alone would be worth going to see, worth remembering as a pattern pair
of lovers. So the Tweedies were lending their house for the
breakfast—which was to be a real breakfast, since the marriage was to
take place so as to allow of a start by the cool morning mail; the
regiment was lending its band for the wedding-march, and, on this
tepid October afternoon, every garden in the place was sending white
oleanders and hibiscus to the odd octagon church which had once been a
Mohammedan tomb. Nay more! one devoted though disappointed lover far
down by some distant canal had sent, by special messenger, a great
basket of belated white lotus lilies, with a request that they might
be trodden on by the bride's happy feet.
Gwen, as she bent over this offering, sniffing at the faint almond
scent of the huge, jewelled flowers, was a gracious sight to look
upon. She had quite recovered herself, and in sober truth felt
absolutely content. 'How nice of the dear thing!' she murmured
And so it was; very nice. One might give it another epithet and say
it was almost heroic. But of this Gwen Boynton had no conception, and
never would have one. That side of human nature, its passion, its
tears, its temptations, its triumphs, had been left out of her
composition. She roused it in others, she played with it prettily, she
even spoke warily and discreetly about it; yet Rose Tweedie, despite
her girlish disdain, had more real sympathy with it than she had.
Dan, meanwhile, in Lewis Gordon's office, disregardful of the lack
of chairs, was kicking his heels as he sat on the table, declaring
loudly that he would of a certainty break down in replying to the
toast which was to be given at the club dinner in his honour that
night. What the dickens did the fellows mean by giving him a dinner?
What had he ever done for any of them? What had he ever been but a
reckless, insubordinate, unsteady, loafing brute, who ought to have
been kicked out of the service years ago?
'I expect they know their own minds,' replied Lewis rather wearily.
He had a headache; and he was telling himself it was liver when he
knew quite well it was not; a most unsatisfactory denial since there
is no phase of depression so unendurable as that when even a blue
pill fails to hold out cheering hopes. Yet he spoke kindly and
patiently also; for he must have been of base clay, indeed, who would
not have recognised that Dan, transfigured as it were on the summit of
his hopes, was a worthy sight in this work-a-day world, and that, in a
measure, it was well to be there on the hill-top with him. 'Besides,'
he added, 'I think I overheard Simpson saying something about a sick
'Oh! bad cess to the baby,' interrupted Dan hastily. 'Sure it's a
boy now, and one can't see a child die for the want of ice when your
pony has four legs. More, by token, it had but three for a month
after, poor beast. But what's that to do with it? It isn't so much
that I'm too bad. It's the world that's too good for me, and that's a
fact. When I think of all you fellows who have been so good and so
patient with me, my heart's broke about it entirely—and when I think
of George! sure, it's only Gwen's kind face that comforts me. Oh,
Gordon! what have I done that she should be going to marry me
So he ran on, as many another man has run on; as most men, good and
true, do run on when they are just about to marry the woman they love.
And Lewis Gordon sat listening to him with a headache and a pain in
his heart; for the most part thinking that if Rose could only see this
man, only hear him, she might not be quite so disdainful of it all;
might acknowledge that, be it bad or good in its essence, this feeling
did step into a man's life for the time and claim him body and soul,
to the detriment of neither.
'And by the by,' said Dan suddenly, 'I've been meaning to ask you
for a long time, but I wasn't sure if you'd like it. And now that I'm
going away for good and all, and you can't get out of being my best
man, I'll risk it. When are you going to marry Miss Tweedie?'
'Never,' replied Lewis firmly, roused into instant resistance.
'What put such a fancy into your head now?'
'Now?' Dan's face was a study in tender humour. 'It's been in my
head for the last year, and in yours too. I told Gwen so, I remember,
before we went to Hodinuggur that time, and I could see by her manner
she thought so also.'
Lewis looked at him with an odd expression. 'Then you were both
mistaken, that's all. And Fitzgerald, if you're quite done talking
about yourself—I've a lot of work to finish, old chap—'
Dan laughed. 'Well! I'll go; but it is true, Gordon, and what is
more, she likes you; any one can see that.'
True! absolutely true. Lewis knew it right well, none better, and
the remembrance of the affection she had given him unasked filled him
as ever with a glow of intense satisfaction. And yet he had to confess
that he was not happy. That idyllic month spent in each other's
company had been charming, but that fortnight of absence had been the
reverse. And what he felt now was something very different from that
calm, contented confidence in their mutual friendship which remained,
thank Heaven, untouched by this new passion. For it was that, and
nothing else. He had felt it before, for other women, this moody,
restless, selfish desire of appropriation, and if Rose would not marry
him he would probably feel it again for some one else. In a
half-hearted way he almost regretted that it should have obtruded
itself in this, the most perfect idyl of his life, and yet, call it
what hard names he would, there it was, a palpable factor in the
future. Rose was the best of friends; but she was also a very charming
girl into whose company he had been thrown, and he had fallen in love
with her; naturally enough—only it complicated matters.
He gave a queer little grimace and began to add up a column of
figures, telling himself that no doubt he would get over it as he had
got over similar attacks before; and that at any rate he would wait
and see. Anything seemed better than the risk of paining Rose by
letting her think that after all he had failed to understand the
absolute unconsciousness of her regard for him. And that she might
think so, seemed more than likely, since with all his experience, all
his knowledge, he was only just beginning to realise that this
passionate love was indeed a thing absolutely apart from his affection
for her. So much so, that it almost seemed to him that it would have
been easier to tell her of the former, if the latter had not hedged
her in with reverence and tenderness. It came to him, with a smile,
that indeed and in truth it would have been easier had he been able to
send the barber round with proposals to her father in native fashion;
after all, there was an immense deal to be said for that side of the
And then, in his careful methodical fashion, he began to add up the
column of figures again. This time the total was different; a trifle
to be easily set right, yet he was not used to such aberrations of
intellect, and it annoyed him. He did it again, this time allowing no
thoughts of Rose or anything else to obtrude themselves, and a new set
of figures rewarded his perseverance. He laid the pen aside and faced
himself resolutely. Yes! he had been doing atrocious work of late, he
had been thinking of Rose all day long, he had not been able to settle
steadily to anything, and, unless this could be stopped, the sooner he
took advantage of the many changes in the department—consequent on
Dan's going and the usual cold-weather returns from furlough—in order
to give up his present position, the better. There was nothing like
breaking loose from one's surroundings at once, and he was due some
promotion. But if he had to do this, Rose ought to know the reason.
Why should she live in a fool's paradise? Why should she not face the
facts of life as well as he? If she had been like other women he had
known, he would have made love to her and proposed as a matter of
course; but she was not like others; or rather what did he know of the
matter, save that never by word, or look, or sign had she shown her
knowledge even of the most elementary facts in life. How could you go
to a girl like that and ask her to marry you straight off? What could
you do save gloze over the question by phrases, by mixing it up with
other things, even with that perfect, angelic, absolutely unselfish
affection and regard which she had given him, and which he, apart from
all this, felt for her. Still, it had to be done; in common fairness
to her and to himself, he must tell her that he was a fool, and that
life was quite unendurable without her; he must tell her, if only
because there was no other earthly reason why he should give up the
Secretaryship. And if this had to be, if he had to tell her, then
there was no time like the present, when the necessity for action
seemed clear to him.
So ten minutes after, he walked into the room where Rose sat making
wedding favours as for dear life, surrounded by a perfect chevaux
de frise of white satin ribbons, bows, and blossoms. The windows
were set wide open on to the verandah where great baskets of white
flowers lay awaiting her final visit to the church. On the table stood
the lotus lily offering with a note from Gwen to say it was too good
to be trodden on, and would Rose see the pretty things were put on the
altar, where they would look quite sweet. The girl in her white dress
with her brisk hands flying about scissors, needle, and thimble, and
her mind busy with the coming marriage, seemed, like her surroundings,
in unsympathising connection with his purpose; and the perception made
him say discontentedly as he paused beside her to lean against the
'I thought you didn't approve of wedding favours?' It was an
opening of the siege at the very furthermost outworks of the position
which she frustrated by a laugh.
'Oh, it doesn't matter! other people seem to like them, and I've
made you such a beauty. There it is, beside you on the table—take
care! you're almost sitting on it. Smell it, it's real
There was apparently not a vacant chair in the room. They were all
occupied with white wreaths and true lovers' knots—but with a cross
here and there he was glad to see—so he continued to lean against the
table, smelling perfunctorily at his own favour, and thinking of the
utter inconsequence of the feminine mind, until a certain irritation
came to his aid.
'I wish you would put that work down for a minute, Rose,' he said
quietly. 'I have something I want to say to you.'
Her hands paused, arrested among the white ribbons, her mind on one
word; for he had never before called her by her Christian name. So she
sat looking at him doubtfully, with the light from the windows behind
her edging the great coils of her hair with bronze.
'I have come to tell you that I'm a fool,' he began almost
argumentatively. 'At least, I suppose it's foolish. I am quite ready
to admit, if you like, that it is so; but the fact remains. I can't go
on as we are—as we have been, I should say—any longer. Don't think
it is because I cannot understand. I do—at least I think I do. You
are my friend, Rose, and will be that always, I hope. I don't say the
best friend I ever had, or ever shall have, because that has nothing to
do with the question, and, besides, there aren't any degrees in
friendship—you have taught me that. So I think you may admit that I
understand you. The question is, if you will understand me.'
He paused, and Rose's kind shadowless eyes noted with a sudden
shrinking back from the sight, that his usual calm was broken by a
palpable effort to steady his voice. He felt, indeed, that he had not
the least clew to the girl's mind; that he was absolutely taking a
leap in the dark. And that what he had to say now was, in reality, so
foreign to every single word they had ever said to each other before,
that even if she consented to marry him he could not be sure if she
meant it—if she really understood the difference which he saw so
'Rose,' he went on, 'the fact is, that I've fallen in love
with—with you; and if you don't really want to marry me, I had better
go away. I would take an out-district for a time. I've had
enough—perhaps too much—secretary work.' He seemed to take refuge in
details from the main point.
'Why—why should you go away?' asked Rose in a low voice. 'We were
very happy, weren't we?'
Her eyes, which had sought her hands among the white satin bows,
came back to his face anxiously, almost fearfully.
'Why?' he echoed passionately, and as he went on his words, his
voice, his manner trembled in the fine balance between the humour of
the thing and its gravity. 'Ah, Rose, that is the question! Because
I'm a fool, say you; because I'm a man, say I. Because I love you,
Rose; because I think of you when I ought to be thinking of other
things. Because I'm an idiot, and have gone all to pieces. Because
it's torture to think you may go away and marry some one else. Because
I can't even add up a column of figures without wondering what you
will say now—now when I ask you to marry me? Because—yes! have it
so—because I am a fool!—'
He had held out his hands towards her, and hers were in them in an
'Oh, Lewis, what a wretch I've been!' she cried; 'but why didn't
you ask me before?'
'Why—didn't—you—ask me—before,' he repeated slowly. The favours
which had fallen from her lap lay round about their feet, and those on
the table were squashed remorselessly as he seated himself upon its
edge with the air of a man who requires some physical support, and
still holding her by the hands, drew her down beside him silently. 'I
shall never understand you, dear—thank God!' he said at last in an
undertone: then went on in a different voice—'It is a little
confusing, Rose, you must admit. All this time, ever since you told me
She interrupted him quickly, eagerly—'Ah, but that was a totally
different thing altogether!'
'Totally different,' he echoed meekly. 'Yes, of course!' And then
he paused again with his eyes on hers. 'I suppose you would rather I
didn't kiss you?' he began irrelatively, with a half smile of infinite
'Oh, I don't mind,' she put in hastily; 'it doesn't really
matter—if you wish—only don't talk nonsense, Lewis; please don't. I
do hate it so; it makes me feel inclined to put my head in a bag.'
'Then I won't; I can't afford to lose sight of your dear face just
'But if I don't say that sort of thing, what
are we to talk
about?' he asked, only half in jest. 'The weather—the news? Not very
interesting subjects either of them to a man when the girl he loves
has just promised to marry him—for you have promised, haven't you,
She took no notice of his question.
'Talk about,' she echoed, her kind eyes growing a little
absent—'surely there are heaps of things to talk about besides you
and me. There is the house we are going to have, Lewis; such a nice
house! The prettiest drawing-room you ever saw; I will have it so.
And a study for you, all to yourself, sir, where you can go when
you're tired of me. And then the dinners, Lewis! That's one blessing
of my having kept house for father. I know all about it. There won't
be any cold mutton, Lewis; but the nicest little dinners.' She paused
to nod her head wisely.
'Well,' said Lewis, 'please go on; this is really most
'And the garden. I'll make you gardener, Lewis. I don't believe you
know the difference between a carnation and a chrysanthemum now; but
I'll teach you, and you shall tie them up for me—I hate tying up
flowers. And I'll copy your reports for you, and keep the house quiet.
And then, and then, everybody will be so hungry, Lewis, and there will
be so many bills to pay; but it won't matter, for every one will be
happy, and the children will brag about their home to all the other
girls and boys—'
'Go on, dear, go on!' There was a little tremble in his voice now,
and as they sat ruining the wedding favours, his right arm drew her
closer to him; but she seemed not to notice it. A half smile was on her
lips, a certain sadness in her eyes.
'And then, dear? Who knows—who can tell? There are so many things,
and death comes—even to the little ones.' She paused, then went on
more lightly—'And I'll grow stout; yes, I'm afraid so, Lewis. I'm the
sort of girl, you know, who is apt to get stout. And you are sure to
grow bald. Then I'll be cross, and you'll be cross; only it won't so
much matter, for we will both be cross together—and no wonder, with
the boys wanting cricket-bats, and the girls clamouring for
music-lessons! So there will be more bills than ever. Then you and I
will begin to get old, Lewis; and the girls will want me to sit up
till three in the morning at balls, and I shall be so sleepy; but you
shall stay at home and smoke, dear. And then the boys will get into
scrapes—boys always do, don't they, Lewis—for they're not like
girls, you know. And when they come to me to get them out of their
trouble, I shall say: "No, dears, go to your father, he will
understand; for he—for he is the best man I ever knew."'
Her voice ended in a little sob; he could feel it, hear it, as if it
were his own, for her face was hidden on his breast.
'Rose! Rose! my dear, my dear!'
It was almost a cry. He would have liked to kneel before his love,
as he had done before the other, but with her there so close to his
heart, he could only hold her fast and tell himself passionately that,
in those long years to come, it should be even as she had said, and
that never, in word, thought, or deed, would he sully her pure ideal.
So they sat silent—for, to tell truth, other words seemed to him
sacrilege, and she had said her say—until with a half apologetic
smile she drew herself away.
'I'm sure you are sitting on your favour, Lewis, and I've such a
lot more to make; besides, I promised to go down to the church at
half-past five. It must be that now, and I've wasted all this time.'
'I've been here exactly seven minutes and a half,' he replied,
gloomily taking out his watch; 'for I looked just before I came in.'
She laughed. 'Well, that was very methodical of you; and I think,
on the whole, dear, that you managed very nicely. And now, as I hear
the carriage coming round, you might just help me to put in the
flowers. Aren't the lotus lovely?'
There was no help for it. She was hopelessly back in realities, and
Lewis had to accept the position. After all, as he watched her drive
off, like a bride herself in the midst of her white flowers, he told
himself that she had managed to compress a great deal into those seven
and a half minutes; a whole dream of life which must, which should
come true. It would be more difficult for him than for her, of course;
perhaps that was one reason why he was still thinking over it long
after she had forgotten everything else in the fervour of a free fight
with the parson, who objected on principle to lotus-blossoms in the
chancel. They were a heathen flower, sacred to unmentionable beliefs
and rites, and could not be admitted beyond the body of the church. It
was but an offshoot of an old quarrel between these two, which renewed
itself every Christmas and Easter-tide; but Rose, who by instinct
understood the story which these particular flowers had to tell,
opened up the whole question of symbolism hotly, finally marching off
with her lilies in a huff to the lectern, whence, she told herself,
their message of love and sacrifice might fittingly go forth. And
while she worked away under the echoing dome of the old tomb, the band
in the bit of public garden close by was clashing and bashing away at
'Rule Britannia' and 'Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay,' much to the delight of
ayahs leading sallow dark-eyed children by the hand, and a motley
crowd of servants and shopkeepers from the neighbouring bazaar.
Sometimes a palki gharry, like a green box on wheels, with four or
five specimens of Tommy Atkins and a black bottle inside, would come
rattling past, drawn by an anatomy of a horse, and leave a shower of
gibes and greetings behind it for those other green boxes on wheels
which were drawn up beside the road, while their gaily-dressed
occupants chewed betel or strolled about with clanking feet among the
long shadows thrown by the flowering shrubs. Light, and laughter, and
noise; a whole eternity of time and space between this life and the
girl under the dome, decorating the Bible with lotus-blossoms.
'There's going to be a big shâdi (wedding) in the girja ghur
(church) to-morrow morning,' said one of the occupants, dressed in
tight mauve silk trousers and a yellow veil, as she clambered back
into the green box where a figure in white lay listening lazily. 'They
are doing all sorts of pooja there to-day. It is that big, long sahib
in the canals and Boynton sahib's widow. Ai, the sorry tale! Making a
fuss of shâdi about a woman who has had the misfortune to kill one
Chândni sat up suddenly. 'Tobah! a sorry tale, indeed! So she is to
marry him! Lo, there is a man, indeed! but I wonder what he would say
if he knew what I know now?'
'Dost know aught? Dost know him?' began the other enviously.
'I have seen him. He was down at Hodinuggur a week ago putting up a
white marble stone to the young sahib who died there of the sickness
last rains. They were friends, see you, great friends. Lo, tell thy
driver to go on, Lâlu; this wearies me, the folk have no manners.'
They had not far to go; only to the Bedâmi bazaar, with its current
of life below and its latticed balconies above. The full moon rose
through the golden-dust haze to hang like a balloon above the
feathery crowns of the palm-trees; the clatter of horses' hoofs
bearing their owners home to dinner died from the Mall hard by; and
Rose stood at the door of the tomb looking back into the shadowy dome,
where the huge lilies showed like the ghosts of flowers. It would look
very nice, she thought, in the cool light of early morning; and she
would have it decorated in the same way when she and Lewis were
But Chândni, as she paused to think of the future, thought of the
'He fought me fairly,' she said to herself; 'and for his beauty's
sake, I could bear more than he gave. That is our way. But she! Lo,
she is even as I, and he shall know it. I will put that in the platter
as the wedding tribute, and it will help him to pay her back for me.
'Tis almost as well I had not learnt the tale from Dalel in those
days. It comes better now.'
So, as the night fell, she wrapped herself in the white domino of
respectability, sent for another green box on wheels, and drove in the
direction of the house where Dan was living. That was not difficult to
discover; all that was necessary being a word of inquiry from the
general merchant who sold everything heart could desire in the shop
below the balcony. And the night was warm. She would as lief sit in
the moonshine behind the hedge of white oleanders and talk to the
gardeners, as stay in the stuffy bazaar with its evening odours of
fried meats and pungent smoke.
'I WAS never so happy or so sorry in all my life before, and I
thank Heaven that I'm enough of an Irishman still to say so without
being afraid of being laughed at.'
He stood at one end of the table looking his best, as a gentleman
always does in his evening dress—a curious fact, since there is no
more cruel test for the least lack of good breeding. But this man
stood it triumphantly, and not one of those other men seated that
night round the long table but carries to his grave a remembrance of
Dan Fitzgerald's look when he was bidding good-bye to his friends. The
eager vitality of the man, always his strongest characteristic, seemed
to have reached its climax.
'I'm not going to say anything of her,' he went on, the rich, round
voice softening. 'There isn't any need, since you all know her.
Besides, though you have all come here to-night—why, I can't for the
life of me tell—to wish us good luck in the future, it isn't so much
of the future I'm thinking as of the past. It has been so happy,
thanks to you all. And it's over. That is the worst of it. I suppose
it isn't quite what a man is expected to say on these occasions; but
the ladies—God bless them!—would, I'm sure, agree, if they could
only be made to understand that marriage is the end of a man's youth.
It doesn't alter the case at all that it may be the end of the woman's
also, or that we get something that may be as good in exchange. What
has that to do with the past?—the merry, careless past, which I've
enjoyed so much, and to which I'm now saying good-bye. Well, Heaven
help those who say good-bye to it without a solid reason, or have a
sneaking intention of not really saying good-bye to it at all! for
their lines are in evil places. And that sounds like a sermon, and you
never heard Dan Fitzgerald preach before, and you never will again. It
isn't only that I'm off with the morning to the other end of the
world—to a new world, if it comes to that, worth this old one and
the past and all of you put together, if you'll excuse my saying
so—it is because even if I were stopping here I should be out of the
old life as surely as if I were dead and buried. To begin with, I
shall have to think of every penny I spend, so that I may have enough
to pay for paradise! The world is full of paradoxes for me to-night;
and I'm the greatest of them all myself; for I don't want to say
good-bye, and yet I wouldn't miss having to say it for the world.
Then it seems to me to-night as if I'd solved the puzzle; and there's
Doveton—the old bachelor—grinning as if he knew I was a fool, and
that I was making the biggest mistake of my life. I don't think so—I
don't think I ever shall think so; I hope not, anyhow. And so,
good-bye to you—good-bye! And may none of us, married or single, live
to know the pain of a "heart grown cold, a head grown grey—in vain!"'
Down the disordered table with its litter of glasses and flowers,
its atmosphere heavy with the odours of dinner and drink, a hush lay
for a second; not more. Then some one laughed, and with a roar of
applause the general tone— varying from concert pitch to normal
diapason, according to the taste of the owner—struck into the old
chorus; the refrain which, touching as it does the lowest and the
highest ideals of humanity, has provoked more mixed sentiment and
emotion than any other in the language:
'For he's a jolly good fel-low. For he's a jolly good fe-el-low.
Love, admiration, assent. But to what? That lies in the creed of the
And Dan, as the chorus went swaying and surging about in the
discords and harmonies, was left alone, silent—as it were on a
Lewis Gordon, feeling responsible for his man, and noting his
growing excitement, inveigled him out after a time for a quiet cigar
on the verandah, and then suggested he should go to bed; whereat Dan
laughed softly. Did not his best man see that the idea was palpably
absurd when life itself was a dream—a dream that only came once to a
fellow? When you hadn't a wish ungratified, save of course that some
others he wot of, might have as good luck as he.
'If you mean me,' replied Lewis stolidly, 'I'm all right. I'm going
to marry Rose Tweedie whenever she can spare five minutes from your
wedding to arrange mine.'
'You don't say so! By the powers, what a good match-maker I am! And
so it's settled. I say, Gordon, do you think there is any chance of
her being up still?' put in Dan all in one breath.
'Couldn't say; she had a lot of favours to make and re-make when I
last saw her, certainly,' replied Lewis, with an inward smile at the
remembrance; 'but you can't go and call on her now; it's half-past ten
'Can't I? There is nothing I couldn't do to-night, it seems to me.
And you are yawning. Oh, go to bed, old man! or you will spoil
the show to-morrow.'
'I'm off too, but not to bed! No, you needn't be afraid. I'll turn
up again in time.'
The glamour of the soft Indian night was on Lewis also; even on
those who one by one drifted from the laughter within to stand for
five minutes, arrested by the peace without, before going on their
way. And if this were so to men in the slack-water of life, what must
it have been to Dan on the flood-tide of his threescore years and ten!
To Dan with his vivid imagination, his soft heart, his excitable,
impulsive nature. As he rode along noiselessly at a foot's pace
through the sandy dust which looked hard as marble in the glare of the
moon, he and his shadow were the only moving things in that world of
light. No darkness anywhere! Not even in the distant arcades of trees.
Only a soft grey mist of moonlight blending all things into the
semblance of a mirage seen from afar. A fire-fly or two showed against
the flowering shrubs in intermittent glimpses of light. Here, and then
gone, as it were, upon the soft quiver of the insistent cicalas in the
Was not life worth living, indeed if only for such a night as this!
'On such a night did young Lorenzo!'
But Dan Fitzgerald had passed beyond that flood-mark on the shore.
Passion counted for much in the elation of mind and body which was the
apotheosis of both; but love counted for more. The memory of a thousand
griefs and pains with pity hidden in their hearts came to fill the
mystic cup of life which the Unseen, Unknown Hand held out to him from
Heaven —the Sangreal of Humanity—the sacraments of Birth and Death.
The child dying of the potter's thumb-mark in the dust—that other in
loving arms with the ice chilling even death's cold touch—George with
the bullet piercing the friendship in his heart—Rose with her pure
wisdom fearless and unashamed—these and many another remembrance
seemed to blend sorrow and joy into peace, even as the moon-mist
blent the world around him into vague beauty.
And there was Rose herself! He could see her, as with the easy
friendliness of India he paced his pony through the open gates of the
garden, and so passed the house. She was still at work among the white
flowers beside the door which was set wide upon the warm balmy night.
'Is that you, Mr. Fitzgerald?' she called, pausing at the faint
sound of his coming to look out into the flood of moonlight clear as
'It is I, Miss Tweedie.'
He had slipped from his pony and stood beside it welcoming her with
outstretched hands as she came forth, eager with some message for the
morrow which he might deliver.
'Lewis has told me, and I'm so glad,' he said, breaking in on her
words. 'It is the best wedding present I've had yet, and I came along
on the chance of seeing you. I've something to give you. I meant it
for to-morrow, as a parting gift—just a remembrance of your kindness
to us both. But I'd rather give it to you with our best wishes.'
He unfastened something from his own wrist and put it, soft and
warm, into her hand. It was a native amulet cunningly twisted of silk
thread and pearls, with a triangle of some blue stone strung in the
''Tis only a glorified ram-rukhri,' he went on half-jestingly, 'the
bracelet sisters give their brothers to bring them good luck. Only it
is the other way round with you.'
Rose looked at the blue of the triangle doubtfully, then at his
'Yes! it's a bit of the Ayôdhya pot—the only bit that wasn't in
pieces. And it has my name on the back, and—and George's.'
'And George's?' echoed Rose softly.
'Ay! He would have liked it, I know— for you were kind to
him—kind to us both, always,—Mâdr-mihrbân, as the old potter called
you. And we two, George and I, are one part of the story; I was
thinking of it as I came along just now—'
She put out her hand with a sudden gesture. 'Don't think of it, Mr.
Fitzgerald! Forget all about it. Go away and forget.'
He gave a happy laugh. 'Why should I? I don't want to forget
anything to-night—except my sins. The rest is all good. Let me put
that on for you—so—good-night! We'll say good-bye to-morrow.'
So out on the deserted roads with the same happy unrest in his
heart. He would go down and see the old familiar places in the garden
opposite once more—even the pond where the ducks and geese had
quacked and gabbled him into silence! Then through the hanging tassels
of the grey tamarisk trees, round the gleaming white road to the
blue-tiled minarets of the old watch-tower standing causelessly upon
the level plain where four ways met, and so back station-wards to the
stunted dome of the church. The throbbing of tom-toms proclaimed the
nearness of the bazaar, but the building itself stood unassailably
silent and deserted on its high white plinth, save for some one lying
on a string bed set in a shadow by the door. Dan slipped from his pony
again, and hitched the reins to a broken iron clamp in the stone-work
of the steps. The door, he knew, would be open to let in the cool
night-air, so he would look in—'go round the course' as a horsey
friend of his had said when discovered doing the same thing before his
marriage. The remembrance made him smile as he stepped into the dark
building and paused, arrested by the strangeness of what he saw. For
the dome was full of fire-flies brought hither in the flowers; full of
a causeless glimpsing of pale green fire showing every instant the
white heart of some blossom. And the air was burdened with scent;
distinct, through all, a faint, deadly smell of bitter almonds. That
must be from the lotus Gwen had mentioned, and there they were, in the
shaft of moonlight through the upper window, standing like sentinels
over the lectern.
'Om mâni padma hom.'What did it really mean, that invocation used
by so many millions? What was the mystic jewel in the lotus? Something
fair but far, no doubt, such as all religions promise. And then with a
rush came the thought that Gwen would stand beside them on the morrow,
fair and near!
The echo of his pony's galloping feet made that throbbing in the
bazaar pause an instant as if to listen. Pause and go on when he had
passed. The darkened houses of his friends rose up beside him and were
left behind; the club with its still twinkling arches, the garden
where Chândni sat gossiping and waiting her chance to kill his faith
wantonly. All these he passed. Awake or sleeping he must be near Gwen
for an instant—must bid her good-night before the day came.
The chiming, echoing gong from the secretarial office rang twelve,
clear; then the others began. Here and there from the various centres
of law and order, many-voiced from the massive pile of the distant
city. He was too late then, yet not too late; for there was a light
still in the little front room, despoiled of its prettiness now and
littered with boxes. She was awake, busy like Rose over the morrow.
'Gwen!' he called to her softly, for the chick was down, the door
'My dear Dan!' Her voice, as she opened it and came hurriedly into
the verandah, was full of amused horror and half-vexed kindness. 'Do
go away, there's a dear! I never heard of such a thing, never! And the
hotel is crammed full of people!'
'It's only to wish you many happy returns of the day, dear!' he
whispered fondly. 'When I've done that I'll go content. Who wouldn't
be content with you, Gwen? And yet I wouldn't spare an inch of it
all—I couldn't. Gwen! do you remember the day your bearer was
cleaning the lamps out here, and we were sitting on the sofa?—odd,
isn't it, how one remembers these things all in a jumble, the one with
the other—and I said to you—the very words come back to me, dear,
every one of them—"You might be bankrupt of everything, Gwen, of
everything save yourself, and I'll give you credit for it all the
same." Do you remember, dear? Well, I've come to take the promise
back. You've spoilt me, Gwen, I can't do it.'
'I—I don't understand,' she said faintly. 'I wish you would go,
Dan. We can talk of it to-morrow—afterwards.'
'To morrow? Sure it's to-day already, our wedding-day! And if I
can't keep the promise, am I not bound to take it back while I can?
Not that I'm afraid—that is why I've come, to tell you, selfish brute
that I am—that is why I want it all—every scrap of your beauty, your
goodness. I'll take nothing else, dear, now; for I know it's yours,
and what is yours is mine by right!'
She had grown very pale, and a sort of terror came into her eyes.
'Ah Dan! what is the use of talking? I give you all I can. My
best—I can't do more—it isn't kind—' she broke off almost
impatiently, and yet she did not move from his clasp.
'Not kind, when I know what the best means? And yet, Gwen, it just
comes upon me now that I couldn't stand it—if—if it were not
so—not after this midsummer night's dream—of madness, if you will!
Yes, dear, I'm going—I am indeed. But, Gwen—it's an idle fancy—and
yet if there was anything it would be better to tell me now. You're
not angry at the thought—it's only a thought. See, give me one
kiss—just one, to be an answer for always.'
What right, she asked herself fiercely, had she to hesitate? What
possible right, standing as she did on the threshold of a new life, where no one could possibly know—so she was back on the low
levels among the ordinary considerations of convenience and safety as
she kissed him. But the touch of her lips sent his blood surging
through his heart and brain; and without another word, another look,
he turned and left her—content, absolutely content. Love, pity,
friendship, passion, had all combined to raise him to the uttermost
limit of vitality. He might come near it perhaps in the future; he was
not likely ever to reach it again—not even without Chândni waiting to
tell him the truth on his return to the odd little house at the other
end of the station.
He neither knew nor cared where he was going; but his pony, tired of
these incomprehensible wanderings, set its galloping hoofs on the
shortest road home—that is to say, through the densely-wooded grounds
of the Residency. Along a grassy ride or two, across a short cut they
sped. Dan forgetting even his joy in the keen effort of steering a
runaway through the trees; a runaway unheld, free to go as fast—nay,
faster than it chose, yet obedient to that grip to right or left. It
was a mad ride, a mad rider—yet a masterful one, wrestling
imperiously with that other will, when the gloom grew as the trees
thickened, and darkness and danger came together in the hot night,
prisoned by the dense foliage above. Dan, looking down at the pony's
heaving flanks as it paused, wearied by its short, sharp, unavailing
struggle against his strong hands, felt flushed and hot. Not
wearied,—he could not be that on such a night,—but glowing,
palpitating, excited; drunk almost as if with wine. But yonder stood a
remedy in that long, low-thatched roof, supported on brick pillars,
and hung round with heavy bamboo screens. Dan laughed as he slid to
the ground, thinking of the twelve feet of clear cool water running
fresh and fresh into the big swimming-bath at the one end, and out at
the other to irrigate the green levels of the garden. Fresh and fresh
all through the scorching summer weather, when life held no greater
pleasure than to feel that cool water close in round the hot limbs.
Frequented then, morning and evening, though deserted and empty
through the colder months. Only the day before Dan's smooth dark head
had come up from its depths rejoicing, and now the thought of it was
luxury itself when the blood was beating in his temples, and racing at
fever heat through his veins. More than once coming home at night,
after careless, reckless enjoyment, he had stopped here, as he did
now, to try the water-cure—as he had tried it in the canal at
'Sure I need it to-night if ever I did,' he said half aloud. ''Tis
the wine of life has got into my head.'
It was dark—almost too dark inside; that was because the fools had
put down all the screens when they should be opened by night to let in
the fresh air. He told himself that he would speak to the Secretary of
the caretaker's neglect; yet how would that be since he would never
see him again?
Yes! it was the last time! and how many times had he not gone down
red-hot from the spring-board as he would do now, to come up out of
the dark water a new man, with all the evil tempers and the prickly
heat quenched out of him?—sure, as a regenerating element, fire
wasn't in it with water!
A leap in the dark indeed! But that was what life was, and he was
not afraid of it.
The little bars of moonlight shining through the chinks between the
bamboos came so far on the smooth white floor, then the soft depth of
darkness where the cool water should be, and above it Dan, poised for
'I come! Mother of all!'
The oft, old-repeated cry rang joyously up into the roof, followed
by a strange, dull thud, and silence—dead silence. The bath had been
emptied that morning for the cold weather, and Dan Fitzgerald was
lying face downward on the hard cement with a broken neck.
Dead! Dead, without a word, a sigh, or a regret! And Chândni,
growing tired of patience, went home to the bazaar, grumbling at her
ill-luck, telling herself she might still write, if it were worth
But Dan was beyond her spite, beyond other things which, even
without that spite, might have killed the best part of him.
Yet even in romance the sixth commandment outweighs all the others.
The novelist may maim and degrade, may bear false witness against his
own creations and filch from them the very characteristics which he
has given them, in order to make degradation happy, but has must not
kill; death in the verdict of the world being the only real tragedy.
So at any rate seemed the opinion of most people when in the early
morning the gardeners coming to their work found Dan's pony drowsing,
half asleep, still tethered to a hibiscus bush, whose great
blossoms—in topsy-turvy fashion—showed rosy-red in death and
snowy-white in life.
It was terribly sad, they said; an unredeemed tragedy, cruel,
needless; altogether a manifestation needing much true Christian
faith; one of the accidents of real life, so exasperating because so
causeless, so inartistic because so unnecessary. These and many other
comments the mourners made as, when the funeral was over, they
returned home; and so, it being Sunday morning, went to church, where
they sang 'Jerusalem the Golden' piously.
Only Rose lingered, her kind, soft hands laying the half-dead lotus
like sentinels on the grave; for Gwen's pure white cross of gardenia
had, at her request, been buried on the coffin.
'I can't somehow be so sorry,' she said to Lewis, between her sobs.
'He was so happy that last night. I seem to see his face still.'
But the man caught his breath in hard. There was a verse which would
ring in his ears, his heart; for he had helped to lift poor Dan, and
it had come to memory then—
'Broken in pieces like a potter's vessel.' Yet, after all, what
did it matter? but Rose must never know. In such things he would stand
between her and needless pain.
And Gwen? She, as the phrase goes, bore up wonderfully. Not that she
did not love the dead man dearly, but because she did love him. For
odd as it may seem—topsy-turvywise, perhaps, like the hibiscus
flowers—she had the same consolation as Rose Tweedie.
'I did not tell him,' she said to herself as she lay in her
darkened room. 'He was happy to the last. I did my best—I did my
So she cried softly; and so, once more, she escaped from her own
remorse, and was comforted.
BOTH for the reader's and writer's sake it is never fair to end
a story as you would end a play in a situation, for the former
tries—vainly it may be—to present life even in its trivialities,
the latter only in its more dramatic moments. So, though there is
little more to tell, save what might easily be filled in by the
reader's own imagination, it would give a false impression of the real
value of poor Dan Fitzgerald's tragic death, were the curtain to come
down upon the rest of the dramatis personæ in the first
bewilderment and sorrow which such unexpected and causeless accidents
must always arouse. As a matter of fact, there is no grief which
passes sooner from the daily life than that caused by death,
especially when a real and unselfish love has existed between the dead
and the living. The mind, after the first physical sense of loss has
spent itself, refuses to believe in the extinction of a feeling which,
in its own experience, has survived death, and so is comforted not by
forgetfulness but remembrance. Besides, it is false art to end any
history embracing the life of more than one person with the balance in
favour of pain. For were this so in reality, pain would cease to be
pain and become pleasure, because it would then be the normal
condition of life; since it is clearly to be demonstrated
physiologically and psychologically that it is in the disintegration
of reminiscent habit that the phenomena of pain arise. Indeed, in the
mind, pain is incredible, impossible, unless we have first formed the
habit of pleasure; since it consists essentially in privation.
Therefore the novelist who wishes to give a true picture of life
will always leave his puppets content. Nor does this limit the field
unduly, since it is clearly as much the duty and privilege of the
writer to present new sources of content to his readers, as it is for
him to present them with scenes, or situations, or characters of which
they have no previous knowledge. Because Jones thinks the soul of
bliss is incarnate in roast-beef and plum-pudding, is that any reason
why the more ethereal Brown should be denied his cup of nectar? or
that the philosophic Robinson, seeing that birth and death are alike
inscrutable phenomena, should refuse empirically to believe that the
one is joyful and the other sorrowful?
But the public seems to think differently; 'Oh don't kill him, or
her, or them,' it says cheerfully, 'let them enter into life halt, and
maimed, and blind. What does anything matter so long as they have the
average number of breakfasts, luncheons, and dinners allotted to
humanity, and can thus go down to their graves in the fulness of time
with the pleasing consciousness that their funeral cortège is
followed by a Noah's ark, consisting of the ghosts of the animals they
have devoured?' For the world sides with Esau, who bartered away his
birthright for a mess of pottage. And good pottage is, no doubt,
warming, comforting, consoling. Yet some people who have it not are
happy; for instance, the two hundred and odd millions of India—but
then to them Birth and Death are alike the pivot on which the wheel of
So thought the potter of Hodinuggur. So had thought his fathers who
lay buried in the dust beside him, and though the old man had no son
to step on to the treadles when his feet slipped from them, the wheel
span steadily, and the women of the village, as they rung the temper
of the water-jars before they bought them, nodded their heads
saying—'Fuzl is a good potter. Look you, it comes with a man's
birth. When he goes, we shall have to send for another. Meroo thinks
he can make them, because the Sirkar taught him when he was three
years in jail for cattle-thieving. But it takes more than three years
to make a potter.'
Still Fuzl Elahi showed no signs of going; on the contrary, he
seemed to have a firmer hold on life than ever, as if Time had stood
still for him. Rose Gordon remarked on the fact to her husband as they
sat side by side one day on the old log. They had been married nearly
a year, and he had brought her out for change of air on one of his
inspection tours—for he had given up the Secretaryship on his
marriage in favour of greater quiet and more freedom.
'It is so strange, Lewis,' she said, 'you and I coming back, so
changed. And so many things have changed! even the palace scarcely
looks itself with that dreadful sort of Swiss châlet Dalel has built
for Beatrice Norma tacked on to the ruins of the old tower. And George
and Dan are dead, and the water is running in the cut yonder as if
there had never been any tragedy about preventing it from running. Yet
the village, with the potter sitting in the topmost house, is just the
Lewis Gordon smiled. 'You never read Megasthenes' account of his
travel through India in the year B.C. 300 or you wouldn't be
surprised. It might have been written to-day; for these people do not
change except under pressure from without, and then they disintegrate
suddenly. But the old man seems to me more sane than he was—more at
rest. No doubt Azizan's death—'
The familiar name caught the potter's ear and he looked up from his
'Yea! she sleeps still, Huzoor. The breaking of the pot did not
disturb her at all. She was weary, see you, after sixteen years of
waking. So now when my fathers say, "Where is Azizan?" I can answer,
"Hush! she sleeps! she will waken when she is refreshed." Lo! it is
well the pot broke. It was accursed; bringing ill to all.'
'There you see, Lewis!' began Rose eagerly—
'It did not bring it to me, dear,' he replied, interrupting her,
'and a man can but judge from his own experiences. And then, as I have
often told you, we really know nothing for certain—'
'Except,' put in Rose obstinately, 'that poor George—'
'Don't you think we ought to be moving?' he asked quietly.
'Remember you promised Mrs. Dalel to have tea in the châlet and
inspect the son and heir, and you are tired enough as it is.'
'But you said you wanted to go and see some slope or another, and
I'm not in the least tired,' she insisted when they had left the yard
and reached the road. 'Lewis! you never used to fuss this way. I wish
'It is only another method of showing my real views on the mental
and physical calibre of women. You must have read, my dear, of the
wonderful recuperative power which the lower animals have of
reproducing another tail when—ahem—by the way, this is not a safe
spot! I remember saying something of the same sort on purpose to annoy
when we were here before—'
He paused, and looked down the narrow alley of the village to where
the palace was beginning to share the unreal beauty which the
dust-cloud from the feet of the homing cattle gave to the whole scene,
by hiding the dull plain in a golden mist that gave distance and
height to the low sand-hillocks behind which the sun was setting
cloudlessly. A glorious sight! the dignity and calm majesty of which
lingers long in the memory of those who have seen it in India, day
after day, month after month; lingers to claim a higher place in the
imagination than the more varied and complex sunsets of the West with
their stormy contrasts and passionate beauty.
'Leave me here,' she said suddenly. 'I should like it. I'll sit on
that pile of old potsherds, and wait till you come back. It will rest
It was peaceful enough of a certainty, and silent too. Only every
now and again the tinkle of a low-toned bell from some leader of the
herds below, chiming in on the musical moan of the potter's wheel
heard over the low wall.
'It was a woman seeking something.'The rhythm came back to her,
stirring the old sense of curious unrest. Stirring it in others of her
sex also, if one might judge by the eyes which, seeing the stranger
alone, began to peer from the neighbouring hovels. Eyes followed by
figures; deep-bosomed mothers most of them, with a slim girl or two
doing nursemaid to other folks' babies.
Nearer and nearer they came, attracted by the great feminine
quality, until in answer to Rose's nod of welcome and encouragement
they squatted near, yet far, gathered in as it were upon themselves,
apart even from that other woman; even from her, with the cares of
coming motherhood writ clear upon her, and causing her to look at
those other mothers with kindly, friendly eyes.
'Ari bahin!' said one with a nudge to her neighbour. ''Tis for sure
she who played bat and ball last year like a boy. Wah! that is over;
she knows her work now.'
'I trow not,' replied another shrilly. 'She hath been sitting with
the potter's eyes upon her this half hour past. She is bad, caring but
for her pleasure.'
'Mayhap she knows not,' said an older voice, 'and they have no
mothers, these ones, nor mothers-in-law. Yea! 'tis true. My man went
to dig for the sahibs the year there was no corn in the land, and he
hath told me. They marry of themselves and there is none to see to
them that they fall not into ignorant mischief. It is fool's work.'
'No mothers-in-law?' tittered a bold-faced lump. 'Ai teri! that is
no fool's work.'
But the elder woman had risen, to stand a few steps nearer Rose,
looking down at her with dignified wonder.
'May the Lord send a son,' she began, going to the very root of the
matter without preamble.
'I will take what He chooses to send me, mother,' replied Rose,
'Tsi-si-si!' The matron's pliant forefinger wagged
in that most impressive gesture of denial never seen out of India.
'Mention not such things, my daughter,' went on the grave voice,
'lest He take thee at the word. Then what wouldst say? And see! Go no
more to the potter's yard. It is not safe. Wouldst have the son come
to thee with his mark on the breast? I trow not.'
They had come forward one by one to cluster round the speaker, their
dark assenting eyes on Rose.
''Tis not to be helped, though,' put in another. 'Do I not know? I,
Jewun, whose son died of it this year; yet I remember the old ways and
my mother's counsel. Lo! it is Fate; naught else. And 'tis better to
crack and be done with it. Then folk know. Not like my new milk-jar
this day. Sound to sight and touch, yet six good quarts of milk
spilled on the ground, as it crumbled like sand ere a body could get a
hand to it. The old man shall give me another in its place. It is not
'Nay! Mai Jewun,' put in a third, 'a pot comes to pieces ever; if
not one, then another way, when it is tired of going to the well for
water. Thou hast naught to complain about. Ai sisters! hither returns
the sahib! He will be angry that we have spoken to his mem.'
'He will not be angry,' protested Rose; but the thought was beyond
them. They were off swiftly, yet sedately, only the elder woman
pausing to waggle her finger again, and say, 'Go not to the potter's.
It is not well. I, Junto, mother of seven, say so.'
There were tears in Rose's eyes when Lewis came up and in
consequence he did look angrily at the retreating figures. She was
pale and tired, he said, and must send an excuse to Mrs. Dalel. He
would not have her knocking herself up with other folks' infants. So
they went back quietly to the two white tents standing beyond the Mori
gate, where the pigeons, as of old, circled iridescent round the dark
niches. As of old, too, the clash of silver anklets came from the
shadows, since Chândni was back again in her old haunts; but with a
recognised position, for Her Highness Beatrice Elflida Norma was a
shrewd little person, and knew that she would need help to hold her
own amid the intrigues of that surely-coming long minority which lay
in the future. It is a recurring fraction; that long minority, in the
problem of our dealings with petty principalities and powers; for
civilisation does not conduce to longevity with the native noble-
man, and Dalel, with the income from the stud farm, was diligently
burning his feeble little constitution at both ends. On the sly,
however, for virtue, to all outward appearance, reigned at Hodinuggur.
Only that morning Rose had inspected a female school with rows of nice
little girls with very clean primers and brand-new slates. A brand-new
visitors' book, too, in which Rose had, with some misgivings,
inscribed her name at the end of a trite little remark on the
blessings of education; for she was only just beginning to make up her
bundle of opinions, and was not quite sure of them.
But that night, as he was carefully guiding her steps through the
maze of ropes and pegs to the door of the sleeping-tent, she paused
suddenly to say to her husband—
'Lewis! I'm glad we came here. I thought it would be so painful
seeing George's deserted grave and reviving the old memories; but it
has only seemed to make it all more natural, to make everything,
somehow, more simple.'
This, then, was what the years were bringing to Rose. She and Lewis
were very happy; though sometimes, especially when they were out in
camp together, alone, he would enter a feeble protest against her
lack of sentiment. When, after work and dinner were over, they sat
beside the roaring stove—the mingled lamplight and firelight making
the tent cosy beyond belief—and he, laying down the volume of
Thackeray from which he was reading aloud, would remark, for the
hundredth time, that Rose was like one of his favourite heroines.
'If you say those stupid things, Lewis,' she would reply, 'I will
make you read shilling shockers, and then you can't—or I hope you
'Oh! it is all very well to scoff,' he would continue in injured
tones, 'but I am the victim of an unrequited attachment. You are the
heroine of my romance always, and you never had a romance at all.'
'Well, dear! that is better than having one with some one else,
isn't it?' she would reply placidly, and Lewis's hand would reach out
to touch the one which was so busy with needles, and thimbles, and
threads—just to touch it for an instant, in a certain shamefast,
deprecatory acknowledgment of her wisdom. For he knew quite well that
he, like most men, had had several romances in his life, and that the
possibility of several more remained in him. Whether the climax of
Rose's dream of the future ever came about, and the boys got into
scrapes, cannot be told; for the simple reason that Lewis himself is
still within the torrid zone of life. But he does his best to prepare
for the crisis, and he follows his wife's lead in this; that he finds
life more simple and less sad as time goes on and he faces its facts
Gwen Boynton, however, found it quite the reverse. She married
Colonel Tweedie two years after Dan's death, having, she said, buried
all thoughts of personal happiness in the grave of the only man she
had ever loved. This, as usual with Gwen's remarks, was true in
itself, and yet left her free to marry for position without remorse;
or rather, accurately speaking, to utilise her regrets as a motive for
doing what she wanted to do without remorse. So she made Colonel
Tweedie an excellent wife, much to his delight and comfort, for as
Rose acknowledged, he sorely needed some one to keep him from fussing
when she had gone to perform the same kind office to Lewis.
Nevertheless, Gwen Boynton, when she came back to society after the
shock of Dan's death, had lost some of her charm, and, from being a
fascinating woman, had become elegant and interesting, as befitted one
with a history. Life, she said, was so mysterious; Humanity a mere
shuttlecock in the hand of Fate beaten backwards and forwards by
devastating passions! Altogether the world was a sad sojourning in
which a vague mysticism was the only anodyne for the sensitive.
She became a half-hearted disciple of Madame Blavatsky's, and
reached what may be called the climax of her kindly, absolutely
untrustworthy nature, when with tears in her eyes and much gentle
mournful resignation to the mysterious inevitable, she would tell the
story which she had heard from Rose, of how Dan Fitzgerald and George
Keene had been measured for heroes in the potter's yard, and of their
sad deaths within the year. Of course it was incredible; and yet—?
Thus, none of the actors in the little drama ever knew the whole
truth about it. Gwen had the best chance so far as facts went, but
she, being handicapped by her method of vision, failed to see her real
part in the tragedy; for she resolutely set aside the possibilities
of that hour during which her dandy waited outside the
Besides, she knew no more than the rest of the other key to the
position which lay in Azizan's love for George. And this was hidden
even from him, though every night, winter and summer, an odd little
light—like a lost star—twinkled on the summit of the shadowy Mound
of Hodinuggur. It was the oil-cresset which the old potter put nightly
on Azizan's grave to prevent her from having bad dreams. The branded
brick bungalow was empty and deserted now that the sluice-gate
required no guarding, so there was no one to see its feeble yet
persistent light; still it could be seen distinctly from the little
enclosure where, on a white marble slab, the legend ran—
'St. George Keene, aged 21,
Who died alone at his post.' And between the two graves the
gleaming streak of the big canal lay like a sword splitting the world
into East and West.
END OF VOLUME III.