Part 1 out of 4
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A TALE OF MODERN INDIA
BY F. MARION CRAWFORD
BY F. MARION CRAWFORD
In spite of Jean-Jacques and his school, men are not everywhere born
free, any more than they are everywhere in chains, unless these be of
their own individual making. Especially in countries where excessive
liberty or excessive tyranny favours the growth of that class most
usually designated as adventurers, it is true that man, by his own
dominant will, or by a still more potent servility, may rise to any
grade of elevation; as by the absence of these qualities he may fall to
any depth in the social scale.
Wherever freedom degenerates into license, the ruthless predatory
instinct of certain bold and unscrupulous persons may, and almost
certainly will, place at their disposal the goods, the honours, and the
preferment justly the due of others; and in those more numerous and
certainly more unhappy countries, where the rule of the tyrant is
substituted for the law of God, the unwearying flatterer, patient under
blows and abstemious under high-feeding, will assuredly make his way to
Without doubt the Eastern portion of the world, where an hereditary, or
at least traditional, despotism has never ceased since the earliest
social records, and where a mode of thought infinitely more degrading
than any feudalism has become ingrained in the blood and soul of the
chief races, presents far more favourable conditions to the growth and
development of the true adventurer than are offered in any free country.
For in a free country the majority can rise and overthrow the favourite
of fortune, whereas in a despotic country they cannot. Of Eastern
countries in this condition, Russia is the nearest to us; though perhaps
we understand the Chinese character better than the Russian. The Ottoman
empire and Persia are, and always have been, swayed by a clever band of
flatterers acting through their nominal master; while India, under the
kindly British rule, is a perfect instance of a ruthless military
despotism, where neither blood nor stratagem have been spared in
exacting the uttermost farthing from the miserable serfs--they are
nothing else--and in robbing and defrauding the rich of their just and
lawful possessions. All these countries teem with stories of adventurers
risen from the ranks to the command of armies, of itinerant merchants
wedded to princesses, of hardy sailors promoted to admiralties, of
half-educated younger sons of English peers dying in the undisputed
possession of ill-gotten millions. With the strong personal despotism of
the First Napoleon began a new era of adventurers in France; not of
elegant and accomplished adventurers like M. de St. Germain, Cagliostro,
or the Comtesse de la Motte, but regular rag-tag-and-bobtail cut-throat
moss-troopers, who carved and slashed themselves into notice by sheer
animal strength and brutality.
There is infinitely more grace and romance about the Eastern adventurer.
There is very little slashing and hewing to be done there, and what
there is, is managed as quietly as possible. When a Sultan must be rid
of the last superfluous wife, she is quietly done up in a parcel with a
few shot, and dropped into the Bosphorus without more ado. The good
old-fashioned Rajah of Mudpoor did his killing without scandal, and when
the kindly British wish to keep a secret, the man is hanged in a quiet
place where there are no reporters. As in the Greek tragedies, the
butchery is done behind the scenes, and there is no glory connected with
the business, only gain. The ghosts of the slain sometimes appear in the
columns of the recalcitrant Indian newspapers and gibber a feeble little
"Otototoi!" after the manner of the shade of Dareios, but there is very
little heed paid to such visitations by the kindly British. But though
the "raw head and bloody bones" type of adventurer is little in demand
in the East, there is plenty of scope for the intelligent and wary
flatterer, and some room for the honest man of superior gifts, who is
sufficiently free from Oriental prejudice to do energetically the thing
which comes in his way, distancing all competitors for the favours of
fortune by sheer industry and unerring foresight.
I once knew a man in the East who was neither a flatterer nor
freebooter, but who by his own masterly perseverance worked his way to
immense wealth, and to such power as wealth commands, though his high
view of the social aims of mankind deterred him from mixing in political
questions. _Bon chien chasse de race_ is a proverb which applies to
horses, cattle, and men, as well as to dogs; and in this man, who was a
noble type of the Aryan race, the qualities which have made that race
dominant were developed in the highest degree. The sequel, indeed, might
lead the ethnographer into a labyrinth of conjecture, but the story is
too tempting a one for me to forego telling it, although the said
ethnographer should lose his wits in striving to solve the puzzle.
In September, 1879, I was at Simla in the lower Himalayas,--at the time
of the murder of Sir Louis Cavagnari at Kabul,--being called there in
the interests of an Anglo-Indian newspaper, of which I was then editor.
In other countries, notably in Europe and in America, there are hundreds
of spots by the sea-shore, or on the mountain-side, where specific ills
may be cured by their corresponding antidotes of air or water, or both.
Following the aristocratic and holy example of the Bishops of Salzburg
for the last eight centuries, the sovereigns of the Continent are told
that the air and waters of Hofgastein are the only nenuphar for the
over-taxed brain in labour beneath a crown. The self-indulgent sybarite
is recommended to Ems, or Wiesbaden, or Aix-la-Chapelle, and the
quasi-incurable sensualist to Aix in Savoy, or to Karlsbad in Bohemia.
In our own magnificent land Bethesdas abound, in every state, from the
attractive waters of lotus-eating Saratoga to the magnetic springs of
Lansing, Michigan; from Virginia, the carcanct of sources, the heaving,
the warm, the hot sulphur springs, the white sulphur, the alum, to the
hot springs of Arkansas, the Ultima Thule of our migratory and
despairing humanity. But in India, whatever the ailing, low fever, high
fever, "brandy pawnee" fever, malaria caught in the chase of tigers in
the Terai, or dysentery imbibed on the banks of the Ganges, there is
only one cure, the "hills;" and chief of "hill-stations" is Simla.
On the hip rather than on the shoulder of the aspiring Himalayas,
Simla--or Shumla, as the natives call it--presents during the wet
monsoon period a concourse of pilgrims more varied even than the
Bagneres de Bigorre in the south of France, where the gay Frenchman asks
permission of the lady with whom he is conversing to leave her abruptly,
in order to part with his remaining lung, the loss of the first having
brought him there. "Pardon, madame," said he, "je m'en vais cracher mon
To Simla the whole supreme Government migrates for the summer--Viceroy,
council, clerks, printers, and hangers-on. Thither the high official
from the plains takes his wife, his daughters, and his liver. There the
journalists congregate to pick up the news that oozes through the
pent-house of Government secrecy, and failing such scant drops of
information, to manufacture as much as is necessary to fill the columns
of their dailies. On the slopes of "Jako"--the wooded eminence that
rises above the town--the enterprising German establishes his
concert-hall and his beer-garden; among the rhododendron trees Madame
Blavatzky, Colonel Olcott and Mr. Sinnett move mysteriously in the
performance of their wonders; and the wealthy tourist from America, the
botanist from Berlin, and the casual peer from Great Britain, are not
wanting to complete the motley crowd. There are no roads in Simla proper
where it is possible to drive, excepting one narrow way, reserved when I
was there, and probably still set apart, for the exclusive delectation
of the Viceroy. Every one rides--man, woman, and child; and every
variety of horseflesh may be seen in abundance, from Lord Steepleton
Kildare's thoroughbreds to the broad-sterned equestrian vessel of Mr.
Currie Ghyrkins, the Revenue Commissioner of Mudnugger in Bengal. But I
need not now dwell long on the description of this highly-favoured spot,
where Baron de Zach might have added force to his demonstration of the
attraction of mountains for the pendulum. Having achieved my orientation
and established my servants and luggage in one of the reputed hotels, I
began to look about me, and, like an intelligent American observer, as I
pride myself that I am, I found considerable pleasure in studying out
the character of such of the changing crowd on the verandah and on the
mall as caught my attention.
At last the dinner-hour came. With the rest I filed into the large
dining-room and took my seat. The place allotted to me was the last at
one side of the long table, and the chair opposite was vacant, though
two remarkably well-dressed servants, in turbans of white and gold,
stood with folded arms behind it, apparently awaiting their master. Nor
was he long in coming. I never remember to have been so much struck by
the personal appearance of any man in my life. He sat down opposite me,
and immediately one of his two servants, or _khitmatgars_, as they are
called, retired, and came back bearing a priceless goblet and flask of
the purest old Venetian mould. Filling the former, he ceremoniously
presented his master with a brimming beaker of cold water. A
water-drinker in India is always a phenomenon, but a water-drinker who
did the thing so artistically was such a manifestation as I had never
seen. I was interested beyond the possibility of holding my peace, and
as I watched the man's abstemious meal,--for he ate little,--I
contrasted him with our neighbours at the board, who seemed to be vying,
like the captives of Circe, to ascertain by trial who could swallow the
most beef and mountain mutton, and who could absorb the most
"pegs"--those vile concoctions of spirits, ice, and soda-water, which
have destroyed so many splendid constitutions under the tropical sun. As
I watched him an impression came over me that he must be an Italian. I
scanned his appearance narrowly, and watched for a word that should
betray his accent. He spoke to his servant in Hindustani, and I noticed
at once the peculiar sound of the dental consonants, never to be
acquired by a northern-born person.
Before I go farther, let me try and describe Mr. Isaacs; I certainly
could not have done so satisfactorily after my first meeting, but
subsequent acquaintance, and the events I am about to chronicle, threw
me so often in his society, and gave me such ample opportunities of
observation, that the minutest details of his form and feature, as well
as the smallest peculiarities of his character and manner, are indelibly
graven in my memory.
Isaacs was a man of more than medium stature, though he would never be
spoken of as tall. An easy grace marked his movements at all times,
whether deliberate or vehement,--and he often went to each extreme,--a
grace which no one acquainted with the science of the human frame would
be at a loss to explain for a moment. The perfect harmony of all the
parts, the even symmetry of every muscle, the equal distribution of a
strength, not colossal and overwhelming, but ever ready for action, the
natural courtesy of gesture--all told of a body in which true proportion
of every limb and sinew were at once the main feature and the pervading
characteristic. This infinitely supple and swiftly-moving figure was but
the pedestal, as it were, for the noble face and nobler brain to which
it owed its life and majestic bearing. A long oval face of a wondrous
transparent olive tint, and of a decidedly Oriental type. A prominent
brow and arched but delicate eyebrows fitly surmounted a nose smoothly
aquiline, but with the broad well-set nostrils that bespeak active
courage. His mouth, often smiling, never laughed, and the lips, though
closely meeting, were not thin and writhing and cunning, as one so often
sees in eastern faces, but rather inclined to a generous Greek fullness,
the curling lines ever ready to express a sympathy or a scorn which, the
commanding features above seemed to control and curb, as the stern,
square-elbowed Arab checks his rebellious horse, or gives him the rein,
But though Mr. Isaacs was endowed with exceptional gifts of beauty by a
bountiful nature, those I have enumerated were by no means what first
attracted the attention of the observer. I have spoken of his graceful
figure and perfect Iranian features, but I hardly noticed either at our
first meeting. I was enthralled and fascinated by his eyes. I once saw
in France a jewel composed of six precious stones, each a gem of great
value, so set that they appeared to form but one solid mass, yielding a
strange radiance that changed its hue at every movement, and multiplied
the sunlight a thousand-fold. Were I to seek a comparison for my
friend's eyes, I might find an imperfect one in this masterpiece of the
jeweler's art. They were dark and of remarkable size; when half closed
they were long and almond-shaped; when suddenly opened in anger or
surprise they had the roundness and bold keenness of the eagle's sight.
There was a depth of life and vital light in them that told of the
pent-up force of a hundred generations of Persian magii. They blazed
with the splendour of a god-like nature, needing neither meat nor strong
drink to feed its power.
My mind was made up. Between his eyes, his temperance, and his dental
consonants, he certainly might be an Italian. Being myself a native of
Italy, though an American by parentage, I addressed him in the language,
feeling comparatively sure of his answer. To my surprise, and somewhat
to my confusion, he answered in two words of modern Greek--"[Greek: _den
enoesa_]"--"I do not understand." He evidently supposed I was speaking a
Greek dialect, and answered in the one phrase of that tongue which he
knew, and not a good phrase at that.
"Pardon me," said I in English, "I believed you a countryman, and
ventured to address you in my native tongue. May I inquire whether you
I was not a little astonished when he answered me in pure English, and
with an evident command of the language. We fell into conversation, and
I found him pungent, ready, impressive, and most entertaining,
thoroughly acquainted with Anglo-Indian and English topics, and
apparently well read. An Indian dinner is a long affair, so that we had
ample time to break the ice, an easy matter always for people who are
not English, and when, after the fruit, he invited me to come down and
smoke with him in his rooms, I gladly availed myself of the opportunity.
We separated for a few moments, and I despatched my servant to the
manager of the hotel to ascertain the name of the strange gentleman who
looked like an Italian and spoke like a fellow of Balliol. Having
discovered that he was a "Mr. Isaacs," I wended my way through verandahs
and corridors, preceded by a _chuprassie_ and followed by my
pipe-bearer, till I came to his rooms.
The fashion of the hookah or narghyle in India has long disappeared from
the English portion of society. Its place has been assumed and usurped
by the cheroot from Burmah or Trichinopoli, by the cigarette from Egypt,
or the more expensive Manilla and Havana cigars. I, however, in an early
burst of Oriental enthusiasm, had ventured upon the obsolete fashion,
and so charmed was I by the indolent aromatic enjoyment I got from the
rather cumbrous machine, that I never gave it up while in the East. So
when Mr. Isaacs invited me to come and smoke in his rooms, or rather
before his rooms, for the September air was still warm in the hills, I
ordered my "bearer" to bring down the apparatus and to prepare it for
use. I myself passed through the glass door in accordance with my new
acquaintance's invitation, curious to see the kind of abode in which a
man who struck me as being so unlike his fellows spent his summer
months. For some minutes after I entered I did not speak, and indeed I
hardly breathed. It seemed to me that I was suddenly transported into
the subterranean chambers whither the wicked magician sent Aladdin in
quest of the lamp. A soft but strong light filled the room, though I did
not immediately comprehend whence it came, nor did I think to look, so
amazed was I by the extraordinary splendour of the objects that met my
eyes. In the first glance it appeared as if the walls and the ceiling
were lined with gold and precious stones; and in reality it was almost
literally the truth. The apartment, I soon saw, was small,--for India at
least,--and every available space, nook and cranny, were filled with
gold and jeweled ornaments, shining weapons, or uncouth but resplendent
idols. There were sabres in scabbards set from end to end with diamonds
and sapphires, with cross hilts of rubies in massive gold mounting, the
spoil of some worsted rajah or Nawab of the mutiny. There were narghyles
four feet high, crusted with gems and curiously wrought work from
Baghdad or Herat; water flasks of gold and drinking cups of jade;
yataghans from Bourn and idols from the far East. Gorgeous lamps of the
octagonal Oriental shape hung from the ceiling, and, fed by aromatic
oils, shed their soothing light on all around. The floor was covered
with a rich soft pile, and low divans were heaped with cushions of
deep-tinted silk and gold. On the floor, in a corner which seemed the
favourite resting-place of my host, lay open two or three superbly
illuminated Arabic manuscripts, and from a chafing dish of silver near
by a thin thread of snow-white smoke sent up its faint perfume through
the still air. To find myself transported from the conventionalities of
a stiff and starched Anglo-Indian hotel to such a scene was something
novel and delicious in the extreme. No wonder I stood speechless and
amazed. Mr. Isaacs remained near the door while I breathed in the
strange sights to which he had introduced me. At last I turned, and from
contemplating the magnificence of inanimate wealth I was riveted by the
majestic face and expression of the beautiful living creature who, by a
turn of his wand, or, to speak prosaically, by an invitation to smoke,
had lifted me out of humdrum into a land peopled with all the effulgent
phantasies and the priceless realities of the magic East. As I gazed, it
seemed as if the illumination from the lamps above were caught up and
flung back with the vitality of living fire by his dark eyes, in which
more than ever I saw and realised the inexplicable blending of the
precious stones with the burning spark of a divine soul breathing
within. For some moments we stood thus; he evidently amused at my
astonishment, and I fascinated and excited by the problem presented me
for solution in his person and possessions.
"Yes," said Isaacs, "you are naturally surprised at my little Eldorado,
so snugly hidden away in the lower story of a commonplace hotel. Perhaps
you are surprised at finding me here, too. But come out into the air,
your hookah is blazing, and so are the stars."
I followed him into the verandah, where the long cane chairs of the
country were placed, and taking the tube of the pipe from the solemn
Mussulman whose duty it was to prepare it, I stretched myself out in
that indolent lazy peace which is only to be enjoyed in tropical
countries. Silent and for the nonce perfectly happy, I slowly inhaled
the fragrant vapour of tobacco and aromatic herbs and honey with which
the hookah is filled. No sound save the monotonous bubbling and
chuckling of the smoke through the water, or the gentle rustle of the
leaves on the huge rhododendron-tree which reared its dusky branches to
the night in the middle of the lawn. There was no moon, though the stars
were bright and clear, the foaming path of the milky way stretching
overhead like the wake of some great heavenly ship; a soft mellow lustre
from the lamps in Isaacs' room threw a golden stain half across the
verandah, and the chafing dish within, as the light breeze fanned the
coals, sent out a little cloud of perfume which mingled pleasantly with
the odour of the _chillum_ in the pipe. The turbaned servant squatted on
the edge of the steps at a little distance, peering into the dusk, as
Indians will do for hours together. Isaacs lay quite still in his chair,
his hands above his head, the light through the open door just falling
on the jeweled mouthpiece of his narghyle. He sighed--a sigh only half
regretful, half contented, and seemed about to speak, but the spirit did
not move him, and the profound silence continued. For my part, I was so
much absorbed in my reflections on the things I had seen that I had
nothing to say, and the strange personality of the man made me wish to
let him begin upon his own subject, if perchance I might gain some
insight into his mind and mode of thought. There are times when silence
seems to be sacred, even unaccountably so. A feeling is in us that to
speak would be almost a sacrilege, though we are unable to account in
any way for the pause. At such moments every one seems instinctively to
feel the same influence, and the first person who breaks the spell
either experiences a sensation of awkwardness, and says something very
foolish, or, conscious of the odds against him, delivers himself of a
sentiment of ponderous severity and sententiousness. As I smoked,
watching the great flaming bowl of the water pipe, a little coal, forced
up by the expansion of the heat, toppled over the edge and fell tinkling
on the metal foot below. The quick ear of the servant on the steps
caught the sound, and he rose and came forward to trim the fire. Though
he did not speak, his act was a diversion. The spell was broken.
"The Germans," said Isaacs, "say that an angel is passing over the
house. I do not believe it."
I was surprised at the remark. It did not seem quite natural for Mr.
Isaacs to begin talking about the Germans, and from the tone of his
voice I could almost have fancied he thought the proverb was held as an
article of faith by the Teutonic races in general.
"I do not believe it," he repeated reflectively. "There is no such thing
as an angel 'passing'; it is a misuse of terms. If there are such things
as angels, their changes of place cannot be described as motion, seeing
that from the very nature of things such changes must be instantaneous,
not involving time as a necessary element. Have you ever thought much
about angels? By-the-bye, pardon my abruptness, but as there is no one
to introduce us, what is your name?"
"My name is Griggs--Paul Griggs. I am an American, but was born in
Italy. I know your name is Isaacs; but, frankly, I do not comprehend how
you came by the appellation, for I do not believe you are either,
English, American, or Jewish of origin."
"Quite right," he replied, "I am neither Yankee, Jew, nor beef-eater; in
fact, I am not a European at all. And since you probably would not guess
my nationality, I will tell you that I am a Persian, a pure Iranian, a
degenerate descendant of Zoroaster, as you call him, though by religion
I follow the prophet, whose name be blessed," he added, with an
expression of face I did not then understand. "I call myself Isaacs for
convenience in business. There is no concealment about it, as many know
my story; but it has an attractive Semitic twang that suite my
occupation, and is simpler and shorter for Englishmen to write than
Abdul Hafizben-Isak, which is my lawful name."
"Since you lay sufficient store by your business to have been willing to
change your name, may I inquire what your business is? It seems to be a
lucrative one, to judge by the accumulations of wealth you have allowed
me a glimpse of."
"Yes. Wealth is my occupation. I am a dealer in precious stones and
similar objects of value. Some day I will show you my diamonds; they are
It is no uncommon thing to meet in India men of all Asiatic
nationalities buying and selling stones of worth, and enriching
themselves in the business. I supposed he had come with a caravan by way
of Baghdad, and had settled. But again, his perfect command of English,
as pure as though he had been educated at Eton and Oxford, his extremely
careful, though quiet, English dress, and especially his polished
manners, argued a longer residence in the European civilisation of his
adopted home than agreed with his young looks, supposing him to have
come to India at sixteen or seventeen. A pardonable curiosity led me to
"You must have come here very young," I said. "A thoroughbred Persian
does not learn to speak English like a university man, and to quote
German proverbs, in a residence of a few years; unless, indeed, he
possess the secret by which the initiated absorb knowledge without
effort, and assimilate it without the laborious process of intellectual
"I am older than I look--considerably. I have been in India twelve
years, and with a natural talent for languages, stimulated by constant
intercourse with Englishmen who know their own speech well, I have
succeeded, as you say, in acquiring a certain fluency and mastery of
accent. I have had an adventurous life enough. I see no reason why I
should not tell you something of it, especially as you are not English,
and can therefore hear me with an unprejudiced ear. But, really, do you
care for a yarn?"
I begged him to proceed, and I beckoned the servant to arrange our
pipes, that we might not be disturbed. When this was done, Isaacs began.
"I am going to try and make a long story short. We Persians like to
listen to long stories, as we like to sit and look on at a wedding
nautch. But we are radically averse to dancing or telling long tales
ourselves, so I shall condense as much as possible. I was born in
Persia, of Persian parents, as I told you, but I will not burden your
memory with names you are not familiar with. My father was a merchant in
prosperous circumstances, and a man of no mean learning in Arabic and
Persian literature. I soon showed a strong taste for books, and every
opportunity was given me for pursuing my inclinations in this respect.
At the early age of twelve I was kidnapped by a party of slave-dealers,
and carried off into Roum--Turkey you call it. I will not dwell upon my
tears and indignation. We travelled rapidly, and my captors treated me
well, as they invariably do their prizes, well knowing how much of the
value of a slave depends on his plump and sleek condition when brought
to market. In Istamboul I was soon disposed of, my fair skin and
accomplishments as a writer and a singer of Persian songs fetching a
"It is no uncommon thing for boys to be stolen and sold in this way. A
rich pacha will pay almost anything. The fate of such slaves is not
generally a happy one." Isaacs paused a moment, and drew in two or three
long breaths of smoke. "Do you see that bright star in the south?" he
said, pointing with his long jewel-set mouthpiece.
"Yes. It must be Sirius."
"That is my star. Do you believe in the agency of the stars in human
affairs? Of course you do not; you are a European: how should you? But
to proceed. The stars, or the fates or Kali, or whatever you like to
term your kismet, your portion of good and evil, allotted me a somewhat
happier existence than generally falls to the share of young slaves in
Roum. I was bought by an old man of great wealth and of still greater
learning, who was so taken with my proficiency in Arabic and in writing
that he resolved to make of me a pupil instead of a servant to carry his
coffee and pipe, or a slave to bear the heavier burden of his vices.
Nothing better could have happened to me. I was installed in his house
and treated with exemplary kindness, though he kept me rigorously at
work with my books. I need not tell you that with such a master I made
fair progress, and that at the age of twenty-one I was, for a Turk, a
young man of remarkably good education. Then my master died suddenly,
and I was thrown into great distress. I was of course nothing but a
slave, and liable to be sold at any time. I escaped. Active and
enduring, though never possessing any vast muscular strength, I bore
with ease the hardships of a long journey on foot with little food and
scant lodging. Falling in with a band of pilgrims, I recognised the
wisdom of joining them on their march to Mecca. I was, of course, a
sound Mohammedan, as I am to this day, and my knowledge of the Koran
soon gained me some reputation in the caravan. I was considered a
creditable addition, and altogether an eligible pilgrim. My exceptional
physique protected me from the disease and exhaustion of which not a few
of our number died by the wayside, and the other pilgrims, in
consideration of my youth and piety, gave me willingly the few handfuls
of rice and dates that I needed to support life and strength.
"You have read about Mecca; and your _hadji_ barber, who of course has
been there, has doubtless related his experiences to you scores of times
in the plains, as he does everywhere. As you may imagine, I had no
intention of returning towards Roum with my companions. When I had
fulfilled all the observances required, I made my way to Yeddah and
shipped on board an Arabian craft, touching at Mocha, and bearing coffee
to Bombay. I had to work my passage, and as I had no experience of the
sea, save in the caiques of the Golden Horn, you will readily conceive
that the captain of the vessel had plenty of fault to find. But my
agility and quick comprehension stood me in good stead, and in a few
days I had learned enough to haul on a rope or to reef the great latteen
sails as well as any of them. The knowledge that I was just returning
from a pilgrimage to Mecca obtained for me also a certain respect among
the crew. It makes very little difference what the trade, business, or
branch of learning; in mechanical labour, or intellectual effort, the
educated man is always superior to the common labourer. One who is in
the habit of applying his powers in the right way will carry his system
into any occupation, and it will help him as much to handle a rope as to
write a poem.
"At last we landed in Bombay. I was in a wretched condition. What little
clothes I had had were in tatters; hard work and little food had made me
even thinner than my youthful age and slight frame tolerated. I had in
all about three pence money in small copper coins, carefully hoarded
against a rainy day. I could not speak a word of the Indian dialects,
still less of English, and I knew no one save the crew of the vessel I
had come in, as poor as I, but saved from starvation by the slender
pittance allowed them on land. I wandered about all day through the
bazaars, occasionally speaking to some solemn looking old shopkeeper or
long-bearded Mussulman, who, I hoped, might understand a little Arabic.
But not one did I find. At evening I bathed in the tank of a temple full
from the recent rains, and I lay down supperless to sleep on the steps
of the great mosque. As I lay on the hard stones I looked up to my star,
and took comfort, and slept. That night a dream came to me. I thought I
was still awake and lying on the steps, watching the wondrous ruler of
my fate. And as I looked he glided down from his starry throne with an
easy swinging motion, like a soap-bubble settling to the earth. And the
star came and poised among the branches of the palm-tree over the tank,
opalescent, unearthly, heart shaking. His face was as the face of the
prophet, whose name be blessed, and his limbs were as the limbs of the
Hameshaspenthas of old. Garments he had none, being of heavenly birth,
but he was clothed with light as with a garment, and the crest of his
silver hair was to him a crown of glory. And he spoke with the tongues
of a thousand lutes, sweet strong tones, that rose and fell on the night
air as the song of a lover beneath the lattice of his mistress, the song
of the mighty star wooing the beautiful sleeping earth. And then he
looked on me and said: 'Abdul Hafiz, be of good cheer. I am with thee
and will not forsake thee, even to the day when thou shalt pass over the
burning bridge of death. Thou shalt touch the diamond of the rivers and
the pearl of the sea, and they shall abide with thee, and great shall be
thy wealth. And the sunlight which is in the diamond shall warm thee and
comfort thy heart; and the moonlight which is in the pearl shall give
thee peace in the night-time, and thy children shall be to thee a
garland of roses in the land of the unbeliever.' And the star floated
down from the palm-branches and touched me with his hand, and breathed
upon my lips the cool breath of the outer firmament, and departed. Then
I awoke and saw him again in his place far down the horizon, and he was
alone, for the dawn was in the sky and the lesser lights were
extinguished. And I rose from the stony stairway that seemed like a bed
of flowers for the hopeful dream, and I turned westward, and praised
Allah, and went my way.
"The sun being up, all was life, and the life in me spoke of a most
capacious appetite. So I cast about for a shop where I might buy a
little food with my few coppers, and seeing a confectioner spreading out
his wares, I went near and took stock of the queer balls of flour and
sugar, and strange oily-looking sweetmeats. Having selected what I
thought would be within my modest means, I addressed the shopkeeper to
call his attention, though I knew he would not understand me, and I
touched with my hand the article I wanted, showing with the other some
of the small coins I had. As soon as I touched the sweetmeats the man
became very angry, and bounding from his seat called his neighbours
together, and they all shouted and screamed at me, and called a man I
thought to be a soldier, though he looked more like an ape in his long
loose trousers of dirty black, and his untidy red turban, under which
cumbrous garments his thin and stunted frame seemed even blacker and
more contemptible than nature had made them. I afterwards discovered him
to be one of the Bombay police. He seized me by the arm, and I, knowing
I had done no wrong, and curious to discover, if possible, what the
trouble was, accompanied him whither he led me. After waiting many hours
in a kind of little shed where there were more policemen, I was brought
before an Englishman. Of course all attempts at explanation were
useless. I could speak not a word of anything but Arabic and Persian,
and no one present understood either. At last, when I was in despair,
trying to muster a few words of Greek I had learned in Istamboul, and
failing signally therein, an old man with a long beard looked curiously
in at the door of the crowded court. Some instinct told me to appeal to
him, and I addressed him in Arabic. To my infinite relief he replied in
that tongue, and volunteered to be interpreter. In a few moments I
learned that my crime was that I had _touched_ the sweetmeats on the
"In India, as you who have lived here doubtless know, it is a criminal
offence, punishable by fine or imprisonment, for a non-Hindu person to
defile the food of even the lowest caste man. To touch one sweetmeat in
a trayful defiles the whole baking, rendering it all unfit for the use
of any Hindu, no matter how mean. Knowing nothing of caste and its
prejudices, it was with the greatest difficulty that the _moolah_, who
was trying to help me out of my trouble, could make me comprehend
wherein my wrong-doing lay, and that the English courts, being obliged
in their own interest to uphold and protect the caste practices of the
Hindus, at the risk of another mutiny, could not make any exception in
favour of a stranger unacquainted with Indian customs. So the Englishman
who presided said he would have to inflict a fine, but being a very
young man, not yet hardened to the despotic ways of Eastern life, he
generously paid the fine himself, and gave me a rupee as a present into
the bargain. It was only two shillings, but as I had not had so much
money for months I was as grateful as though it had been a hundred. If I
ever meet him I will requite him, for I owe him all I now possess.
"My case being dismissed, I left the court with the old _moolah_, who
took me to his house and inquired of my story, having first given me a
good meal of rice and sweetmeats, and that greatest of luxuries, a
little pot of fragrant Mocha coffee; he sat in silence while I ate,
ministering to my wants, and evidently pleased with the good he was
doing. Then he brought out a package of _birris_, those little
cigarettes rolled in leaves that they smoke in Bombay, and I told him
what had happened to me. I implored him to put me in the way of
obtaining some work by which I could at least support life, and he
promised to do so, begging me to stay with him until I should be
independent. The day following I was engaged to pull a punkah in the
house of an English lawyer connected with an immense lawsuit involving
one of the Mohammedan principalities. For this irksome work I was to
receive six rupees--twelve shillings--monthly, but before the month was
up I was transferred, by the kindness of the English lawyer and the good
offices of my co-religionist the _moolah_, to the retinue of the Nizam
of Haiderabad, then in Bombay. Since that time I have never known want.
"I soon mastered enough of the dialects to suit my needs, and applied
myself to the study of English, for which opportunities were not
lacking. At the end of two years I could speak the language enough to be
understood, and my accent from the first was a matter of surprise to
all; I had also saved out of my gratuities about one hundred rupees.
Having been conversant with the qualities of many kinds of precious
stones from my youth up, I determined to invest my economies in a
diamond or a pearl. Before long I struck a bargain with an old
_marwarri_ over a small stone, of which I thought he misjudged the
value, owing to the rough cutting. The fellow was cunning and hard in
his dealings, but my superior knowledge of diamonds gave me the
advantage. I paid him ninety-three rupees for the little gem, and sold
it again in a month for two hundred to a young English 'collector and
magistrate,' who wanted to make his wife a present. I bought a larger
stone, and again made nearly a hundred per cent on the money. Then I
bought two, and so on, until having accumulated sufficient capital, I
bade farewell to the Court of the Nizam, where my salary never exceeded
sixteen rupees a month as scribe and Arabic interpreter, and I went my
way with about two thousand rupees in cash and precious stones. I came
northwards, and finally settled in Delhi, where I set up as a dealer in
gems and objects of intrinsic value. It is now twelve years since I
landed in Bombay. I have never soiled my hands with usury, though I have
twice advanced large sums at legal interest for purposes I am not at
liberty to disclose; I have never cheated a customer or underrated a gem
I bought of a poor man, and my wealth, as you may judge from what you
have seen, is considerable. Moreover, though in constant intercourse
with Hindus and English, I have not forfeited my title to be called a
true believer and a follower of the prophet, whose name be blessed."
Isaacs ceased speaking, and presently the waning moon rose pathetically
over the crest of the mountains with that curiously doleful look she
wears after the full is past, as if weeping over the loss of her better
half. The wind rose and soughed drearily through the rhododendrons and
the pines; and Kiramat Ali, the pipe-bearer, shivered audibly as he drew
his long cloth uniform around him. We rose and entered my friend's
rooms, where the warmth of the lights, the soft rugs and downy cushions,
invited us temptingly to sit down and continue our conversation. But it
was late, for Isaacs, like a true Oriental, had not hurried himself over
his narrative, and it had been nine o'clock when we sat down to smoke.
So I bade him good-night, and, musing on all I had heard and seen,
retired to my own apartments, glancing at Sirius and at the
unhappy-looking moon before I turned in from the verandah.
* * * * *
In India--in the plains--people rise before dawn, and it is not till
after some weeks' residence in the cooler atmosphere of the mountains
that they return to the pernicious habit of allowing the sun to be
before them. The hours of early morning, when one either mopes about in
loose flannel clothes, or goes for a gallop on the green _maidan_, are
without exception the most delicious of the day. I shall have occasion
hereafter to describe the morning's proceedings in the plains. On the
day after the events recorded in the last chapter I awoke as usual at
five o'clock, and meandered out on to the verandah to have a look at the
hills, so novel and delicious a sight after the endless flats of the
northwest provinces. It was still nearly dark, but there was a faint
light in the east, which rapidly grew as I watched it, till, turning the
angle of the house, I distinguished a snow-peak over the tops of the
dark rhododendrons, and, while I gazed, the first tinge of distant
dawning caught the summit, and the beautiful hill blushed, as a fair
woman, at the kiss of the awakening sun. The old story, the heaven
wooing the earth with a wondrous shower of gold.
"Prati 'shya sunari jani"--the exquisite lines of the old Vedic hymn to
the dawn maiden, rose to my lips. I had never appreciated or felt their
truth down in the dusty plains, but here, on the free hills, the glad
welcoming of the morning light seemed to run through every fibre, as
thousands of years ago the same joyful thrill of returning life inspired
the pilgrim fathers of the Aryan race. Almost unconsciously, I softly
intoned the hymn, as I had heard my old Brahmin teacher in Allahabad
when he came and sat under the porch at daybreak, until I was ready for
The lissome heavenly maiden here,
Forth flashing from her sister's arms,
High heaven's daughter, now is come.
In rosy garments, shining like
A swift bay mare; the twin knights' friend,
Mother of all our herds of kine.
Yea, thou art she, the horseman's friend;
Of grazing cattle mother thou,
All wealth is thine, thou blushing dawn.
Thou who hast driven the foeman back,
With praise we call on thee to wake
In tender reverence, beauteous one.
The spreading beams of morning light
Are countless as our hosts of kine,
They fill the atmosphere of space.
Filling the sky, thou openedst wide
The gates of night, thou glorious dawn--
Rejoicing-run thy daily race!
The heaven above thy rays have filled,
The broad beloved room of air,
O splendid, brightest maid of morn!
I went indoors again to attend to my correspondence, and presently a
gorgeously liveried white-bearded _chuprassie_ appeared at the door, and
bending low as he touched his hand to his forehead, intimated that "if
the great lord of the earth, the protector of the poor, would turn his
ear to the humblest of his servants, he would hear of something to his
So saying, he presented a letter from the official with whom I had to
do, an answer to my note of the previous afternoon, requesting an
interview. In due course, therefore, the day wore on, and I transacted
my business, returned to "tiffin," and then went up to my rooms for a
little quiet. I might have been there an hour, smoking and dreaming over
a book, when the servant announced a sahib who wanted to see me, and
Isaacs walked in, redolent of the sunshine without, his luminous eyes
shining brightly in the darkened room. I was delighted, for I felt my
wits stagnating in the unwonted idleness of the autumn afternoon, and
the book I had taken up was not conducive to wakefulness or brilliancy.
It was a pleasant surprise too. It is not often that an hotel
acquaintance pushes an intimacy much, and besides I had feared my
silence during the previous evening might have produced the impression
of indifference, on which reflection I had resolved to make myself
agreeable at our next meeting.
Truly, had I asked myself the cause of a certain attraction I felt for
Mr. Isaacs, it would have been hard to find an answer. I am generally
extremely shy of persons who begin an acquaintance by making
confidences, and, in spite of Isaacs' charm of manner, I had certainly
speculated on his reasons for suddenly telling an entire stranger his
whole story. My southern birth had not modified the northern character
born in me, though it gave me the more urbane veneer of the Italian; and
the early study of Larochefoucauld and his school had not predisposed me
to an unlimited belief in the disinterestedness of mankind. Still there
was something about the man which seemed to sweep away unbelief and
cynicism and petty distrust, as the bright mountain freshet sweeps away
the wretched little mud puddles and the dust and impurities from the bed
of a half dry stream. It was a new sensation and a novel era in my
experience of humanity, and the desire to get behind that noble
forehead, and see its inmost workings, was strong beyond the strength of
puny doubts and preconceived prejudice. Therefore, when Isaacs appeared,
looking like the sun-god for all his quiet dress of gray and his
unobtrusive manner, I felt the "little thrill of pleasure" so aptly
compared by Swinburne to the soft touch of a hand stroking the outer
"What a glorious day after all that detestable rain!" were his first
words. "Three mortal months of water, mud, and Mackintoshes, not to
mention the agreeable sensation of being glued to a wet saddle with your
feet in water-buckets, and mountain torrents running up and down the
inside of your sleeves, in defiance of the laws of gravitation; such is
life in the monsoon. Pah!" And he threw himself down on a cane chair and
stretched out his dainty feet, so that the sunlight through the crack of
the half-closed door might fall comfortingly on his toes, and remind him
that it was fine outside.
"What have you been doing all day?" I asked, for lack of a better
question, not having yet recovered from the mental stagnation induced by
the last number of the serial story I had been reading.
"Oh--I don't know. Are you married?" he asked irrelevantly.
"God forbid!" I answered reverently, and with some show of feeling.
"Amen," was the answer. "As for me--I am, and my wives have been
"Your wives! Did I understand you to use the plural number?"
"Why, yes. I have three; that is the worst of it. If there were only
two, they might get on better. You know 'two are company and three are
none,' as your proverb has it." He said this reflectively, as if
meditating a reduction in the number.
The application of the proverb to such a case was quite new in my
recollection. As for the plurality of my friend's conjugal relations, I
remembered he was a Mohammedan, and my surprise vanished. Isaacs was
lost in meditation. Suddenly he rose to his feet, and took a cigarette
from the table.
"I wonder"--the match would not light, and he struggled a moment with
another. Then he blew a great cloud of smoke, and sat down in a
different chair--"I wonder whether a fourth would act as a fly-wheel,"
and he looked straight at me, as if asking my opinion.
I had never been in direct relations with a Mussulman of education and
position. To be asked point-blank whether I thought four wives better
than three on general principles, and quite independently of the
contemplated spouse, was a little embarrassing. He seemed perfectly
capable of marrying another before dinner for the sake of peace, and I
do not believe he would have considered it by any means a bad move.
"Diamond cut diamond," I said. "You too have proverbs, and one of them
is that a man is better sitting than standing; better lying than
sitting; better dead than lying down. Now I should apply that same
proverb to marriage. A man is, by a similar successive reasoning, better
with no wife at all than with three."
His subtle mind caught the flaw instantly. "To be without a wife at all
would be about as conducive to happiness as to be dead. Negative
happiness, very negative."
"Negative happiness is better than positive discomfort."
"Come, come," he answered, "we are bandying terms and words, as if empty
breath amounted to anything but inanity. Do you really doubt the value
of the institution of marriage?"
"No. Marriage is a very good thing when two people are so poor that they
depend on each other, mutually, for daily bread, or if they are rich
enough to live apart. For a man in my own position marriage would be the
height of folly; an act of rashness only second to deliberate suicide.
Now, you are rich, and if you had but one wife, she living in Delhi and
you in Simla, you would doubtless be very happy."
"There is something in that," said Isaacs. "She might mope and beat the
servants, but she could not quarrel if she were alone. Besides, it is so
much easier to look after one camel than three. I think I must try it."
There was a pause, during which he seemed settling the destiny of the
two who were to be shelved in favour of a monogamic experiment.
Presently he asked if I had brought any horses, and hearing I had not,
offered me a mount, and proposed we should ride round Jako, and perhaps,
if there were time, take a look at Annandale in the valley, where there
was polo, and a racing-ground. I gladly accepted, and Isaacs despatched
one of my servants, the faithful Kiramat Ali, to order the horses.
Meantime the conversation turned on the expedition to Kabul to avenge
the death of Cavagnari. I found Isaacs held the same view that I did in
regard to the whole business. He thought the sending of four Englishmen,
with a handful of native soldiers of the guide regiment to protect them,
a piece of unparalleled folly, on a par with the whole English policy in
regard to Afghanistan.
"You English--pardon me, I forgot you did not belong to them--the
English, then, have performed most of their great acts of valour as a
direct consequence of having wantonly exposed themselves in situations
where no sane man would have placed himself. Look at Balaclava; think of
the things they did in the mutiny, and in the first Afghan war; look at
the mutiny itself, the result of a hair-brained idea that a country like
India could be held for ever with no better defences than the
trustworthiness of native officers, and the gratitude of the people for
the 'kindly British rule.' Poor Cavagnari! when he was here last summer,
before leaving on his mission, he said several times he should never
came back. And yet no better man could have been chosen, whether for
politics or fighting; if only they had had the sense to protect him."
Having delivered himself of this eulogy, my friend dropped his exhausted
cigarette, lit another, and appeared again absorbed in the triangulation
of his matrimonial problem. I imagined him weighing the question whether
he should part with Zobeida and Zuleika and keep Anima, or send Zuleika
and Amina about their business, and keep Zobeida to be a light in his
household. At last Kiramat Ali, on the watch in the verandah, announced
the saices with the horses, and we descended.
I had expected that a man of Isaacs' tastes and habits would not be
stingy about his horseflesh, and so was prepared for the character of
the animals that awaited us. They were two superb Arab stallions, one of
them being a rare specimen of the weight-carrying kind, occasionally
seen in the far East. Small head, small feet, and feather-tailed, but
broad in the quarters and deep in the chest, able to carry a
twelve-stone man for hours at the stretching, even gallop, that never
trembles and never tires; surefooted as a mule, and tender-tempered as a
So we mounted the gentle creatures and rode away. The mountain on which
Simla is situated has a double summit, like a Swiss peak, the one higher
than the other. On the lower height and the neck between the two is
built the town, and the bungalows used as offices and residences for the
Government officials cover a very considerable, area. "Jako," the higher
eminence, is thickly covered with a forest of primeval rhododendrons and
pines, and though there are outlying bungalows and villas scattered
about among the trees near the town, they are so far back from the main
road, reserved as I have said for the use of the Viceroy, as far as
driving is concerned, that they are not seen in riding along the shady
way; and on the opposite side, where the trees are thin, the magnificent
view looks far out over the spurs of the mountains, the only human
habitation visible being a Catholic convent, which rears its little
Italian _campanile_ against the blue sky, and rather adds to the beauty
of the scene than otherwise. As we rode along we continued our talk
about the new Afghan war, though neither of us was very much in the
humour for animated conversation. The sweet scent of the pines, the
matchless motion of the Arab, and the joyous feeling that the worst part
of the tropical year was passed, were enough for me, and I drank in the
high, rarefied air, with the intense delight of a man who has been
smothered with dust and heat, and then steamed to a jelly by a spring
and summer in the plains of Hindustan.
The road abounds in sharp turns, and I, as the heavier mount, rode on
the inside as we went round the mountain. On reaching the open part on
the farther side, we drew rein for a moment to look down at the deep
valleys, now dark with the early shade, at the higher peaks red with the
westering sun, and at the black masses of foliage, through which some
giant trunk here and there caught a lingering ray of the departing
light. Then, as we felt the cool of the evening coming on, we wheeled
and scampered along the level stretch, stirrup to stirrup and knee to
knee. The sharp corner at the end pulled us up, but before we had quite
reined in our horses, as delighted as we to have a couple of minutes'
straight run, we swung past the angle and cannoned into a man ambling
peaceably along with his reins on one finger and his large gray felt hat
flapping at the back of his neck. There was a moment's confusion,
profuse apologies on our part, and some ill-concealed annoyance on the
part of the victim, who was, however, only a little jostled and taken by
"Really, sir," he began. "Oh! Mr. Isaacs. No harm done, I assure you,
that is, not much. Bad thing riding fast round corners. No harm, no
harm, not much. How are you?" all in a breath.
"How d'ye do! Mr. Ghyrkins; my friend Mr. Griggs."
"The real offender," I added in a conciliatory tone, for I had kept my
place on the inside.
"Mr. Griggs?" said Mr. Currie Ghyrkins. "Mr. Griggs of Allahabad? _Daily
Howler?_ Yes, yes, corresponded; glad to see you in the flesh."
I did not think he looked particularly glad. He was a Revenue
Commissioner residing in Mudnugger; a rank Conservative; a regular old
"John Company" man, with whom I had had more than one tiff in the
columns of the _Howler,_ leading to considerable correspondence.
"I trust that our collision in the flesh has had no worse results than
our tilts in print, Mr. Ghyrkins?"
"Not at all. Oh don't mention it. Bad enough, though, but no harm done,
none whatever," pulling up and looking at me as he pronounced the hist
two words with a peculiarly English slowness after a very quick
While he was speaking, I was aware of a pair of riders walking their
horses toward us, and apparently struggling to suppress their amusement
at the mishap to the old gentleman, which they must have witnessed. In
truth, Mr. Ghyrkins, who was stout and rode a broad-backed obese "tat,"
can have presented no very dignified appearance, for he was jerked half
out of the saddle by the concussion, and his near leg, returning to its
place, had driven his nether garment half way to his knee, while the
large felt hat was settling back on to his head at a rakish angle, and
his coat collar had gone well up the back of his neck.
"Dear uncle," said the lady as she rode up, "I hope you are not hurt?"
She was very handsome as she sat there trying not to laugh. A lithe
figure in a gray habit and a broad-brimmed hat, fair as a Swede, but
with dark eyes and heavy lashes. Just then she was showing her brilliant
teeth, ostensibly in delight at her dear uncle's escape, and her whole
expression was animated and amused. Her companion was a soldierly
looking young Englishman, with a heavy moustache and a large nose. A
certain devil-may-care look about his face was attractive as he sat
carelessly watching us. I noticed his long stirrups and the curb rein
hanging loose, while he held the snaffle, and concluded he was a cavalry
officer. Isaacs bowed low to the lady and wheeled his horse. She replied
by a nod, indifferent enough; but as he turned, her eyes instantly went
back to him, and a pleasant thoughtful look passed over her face, which
betrayed at least a trifling interest in the stranger, if stranger he
All this time Mr. Ghyrkins was talking and asking questions of me. When
had I come? what brought me here? how long would I stay? and so on,
showing that whether friendly or not he had an interest in my movements.
In answering his questions I found an opportunity of calling the Queen
the "Empress," of lauding Lord Beaconsfield's policy in India, and of
congratulating Mr. Ghyrkins upon the state of his district, with which
he had nothing to do, of course; but he swallowed the bait, all in a
breath, as he seemed to do everything. Then he introduced us.
"Katharine, you know Mr. Isaacs; Mr. Griggs, Miss Westonhaugh, Lord
Steepleton Kildare, Mr. Isaacs."
We bowed and rode back together over the straight piece we passed before
the encounter. Isaacs and the Englishman walked their horses on each
side of Miss Westonhaugh, and Ghyrkins and I brought up the rear. I
tried to turn the conversation to Isaacs, but with little result.
"Yes, yes, good fellow Isaacs, for a fire-worshipper, or whatever he is.
Good judge of a horse. Lots of rupees too. Queer fish. By-the-bye, Mr.
Griggs, this new expedition is going to cost us something handsome, eh?"
"Why, yes. I doubt whether you will get off under ten millions sterling.
And where is it to come from? You will have a nice time making your
assessments in Bengal, Mr. Ghyrkins, and we shall have an income-tax and
all sorts of agreeable things."
"Income-tax? Well, I think not. You see, Mr. Griggs, it would hit the
members of the council, so they won't do it, for their own sakes, and
the Viceroy too. Ha, ha, how do you think Lord Lytton would like an
income-tax, eh?" And the old fellow chuckled.
We reached the end of the straight, and Isaacs reined in and bid Miss
Westonhaugh and her companion good evening. I bowed from where I was,
and took Mr. Ghyrkins' outstretched hand. He was in a good humour again,
and called out to us to come and see him, as we rode away. I thought to
myself I certainly would; and we paced back, crossing the open stretch
for the third time.
It was almost dark under the trees as we re-entered the woods; I pulled
out a cheroot and lit it. Isaacs did the same, and we walked our horses
along in silence. I was thinking of the little picture I had just seen.
The splendid English girl on her thoroughbred beside the beautiful Arab
steed and his graceful rider. What a couple, I thought: what noble
specimens of great races. Why did not this fiery young Persian, with his
wealth, his beauty, and his talents, wed some such wife as that, some
high-bred Englishwoman, who should love him and give him home and
children--and, I was forced to add, commonplace happiness? How often
does it happen that some train of thought, unacknowledged almost to
ourselves, runs abruptly into a blind alley; especially when we try to
plan out the future life of some one else, or to sketch for him what we
should call happiness. The accidental confronting of two individuals
pleases the eye, we unite them in our imagination, carrying on the
picture before us, and suddenly we find ourselves in a quagmire of
absurd incongruities. Now what could be more laughable than to suppose
the untamed, and probably untameable young man at my side, with his
three wives, his notions about the stars and his Mussulman faith, bound
for life to a girl like Miss Westonhaugh? A wise man of the East trying
to live the life of an English country gentleman, hunting in pink and
making speeches on the local hustings! I smiled to myself in the dark
and puffed at my cigar.
Meanwhile Isaacs was palpably uneasy. First he kicked his feet free of
the stirrups, and put them back again. Then he hummed a few words of a
Persian song and let his cigar go out, after which he swore loudly in
Arabic at the eternal matches that never would light. Finally he put his
horse into a hand gallop, which could not last on such a road in the
dark, and at last he broke down completely in his efforts to do
impossible things, and began talking to me.
"You know Mr. Ghyrkins by correspondence, then?"
"Yes, and by controversy. And you, I see, know Miss Westonhaugh?"
"Yes; what do you think of her?"
"A charming creature of her type. Fair and English, she will be fat at
thirty-five, and will probably paint at forty, but at present she is
perfection--of her kind of course," I added, not wishing to engage my
friend in the defence of his three wives on the score of beauty.
"I see very little of Englishwomen," said Isaacs. "My position is
peculiar, and though the men, many of whom I know quite intimately,
often ask me to their houses, I fancy when I meet their women I can
detect a certain scorn of my nationality, a certain undefinable manner
toward me, by which I suppose they mean to convey to my obtuse
comprehension that I am but a step better than a 'native'--a 'nigger' in
fact, to use the term they love so well. So I simply avoid them, as a
rule, for my temper is hasty. Of course I understand it well enough;
they are brought up or trained by their fathers and husbands to regard
the native Indian as an inferior being, an opinion in which, on the
whole, I heartily concur. But they go a step farther and include all
Asiatics in the same category. I do not choose to be confounded with a
race I consider worn out and effete. As for the men, it is different.
They know I am rich and influential in many ways that are useful to them
now, and they hope that the fortunes of war or revolution may give them
a chance of robbing me hereafter, in which they are mistaken. Now there
is our stout friend, whom we nearly brought to grief a few minutes ago;
he is always extremely civil, and never meets me that he does not renew
his invitation to visit him."
"I should like to see something more of Mr. Currie Ghyrkins myself. I do
not believe he is half as bad as I thought. Do you ever go there?"
"Sometimes. Yes, on second thoughts I believe I call on Mr. Currie
Ghyrkins pretty often." Then after a pause he added, "I like her."
I pointed out the confusion of genders. Isaacs must have smiled to
himself in the gloom, but he answered quietly--
"I mean Miss Westonhaugh. I like her--yes, I am quite sure I do. She is
beautiful and sensible, though if she stays here much longer she will be
like all the rest. We will go and see them to-morrow. Here we are; just
in time for dinner. Come and smoke afterwards."
* * * * *
A loose robe of light material from Kashmir thrown around him, Isaacs
half sat, half lay, on the soft dark cushions in the corner of his outer
room. His feet were slipperless, Eastern fashion, and his head covered
with an embroidered cap of curious make. By the yellow light of the
hanging lamps he was reading an Arabic book, and his face wore a puzzled
look that sat strangely on the bold features. As I entered the book fell
back on the cushion, sinking deep into the down by its weight, and one
of the heavy gold clasps clanged sharply as it turned. He looked up, but
did not rise, and greeted me, smiling, with the Arabic salutation--
"Peace be with you!"
"And with you, peace," I answered in the same tongue. He smiled again at
my unfamiliar pronunciation. I established myself on the divan near him,
and inquired whether he had arrived at any satisfactory solution of his
"My father," he said, "upon whom be peace, had but one wife, my mother.
You know Mussulmans are allowed four lawful wives. Here is the passage
in the beginning of the fourth chapter, 'If ye fear that ye shall not
act with equity towards orphans of the female sex, take in marriage of
such other women as please you, two, or three, or four, and not more.
But, if ye fear that ye cannot act equitably towards so many, marry one
only, or the slaves which ye shall have acquired.'
"The first part of this passage," continued Isaacs, "is disputed; I mean
the words referring to orphans. But the latter portion is plain enough.
When the apostle warns those who fear they 'cannot act equitably towards
so many,' I am sure that in his wisdom he meant something more by
'equitable' treatment than the mere supplying of bodily wants. He meant
us to so order our households that there should be no jealousies, no
heart-burnings, no unnecessary troubling of the peace. Now woman is a
thing of the devil, jealous; and to manage a number of such creatures so
that they shall be even passably harmonious among themselves is a
fearful task, soul-wearying, heart-hardening, never-ending, leading to
"Just what I told you; a man is better with no wife at all than with
three. But why do you talk about such matters with me, an unbeliever, a
Christian, who, in the words of your prophet, 'shall swallow down
nothing but fire into my belly, and shall broil in raging flames' when I
die? Surely it is contrary to the custom of your co-religionists; and
how can you expect an infidel Frank to give you advice?"
"I don't," laconically replied my host.
"Besides, with your views of women in general, their vocation, their
aims, and their future state, is it at all likely that we should ever
arrive at even a fair discussion of marriage and marriage laws? With us,
women have souls, and, what is a great deal more, seem likely to have
votes. They certainly have the respectful and courteous service of a
large proportion of the male sex. You call a woman a thing of the devil;
we call her an angel from heaven; and though some eccentric persons like
myself refuse to ally themselves for life with any woman, I confess, as
far as I am concerned, that it is because I cannot contemplate the
constant society of an angel with the degree of appreciation such a
privilege justly deserves; and I suspect that most confirmed bachelors,
knowingly or unconsciously, think as I do. The Buddhists are not
singular in their theory that permanent happiness should be the object."
"They say," said Isaacs, quickly interrupting, "that the aim of the
ignorant is pleasure; the pursuit of the wise, happiness. Pray, under
which category would you class marriage? I suppose it comes under one or
"I cannot say I see the force of that. Look at your own case, since you
have introduced it."
"Never mind my own case. I mean with your ideas of one wife, and
heavenly woman, and voting, and domestic joy, and all the rest of it.
Take the ideal creature you rave about--"
"I never rave about anything."
"Take the fascinating female you describe, and for the sake of argument
imagine yourself very poor or very rich, since you would not enter
wedlock in your present circumstances. Suppose you married your object
of 'courteous service and respectful adoration;' which should you say
you would attain thereby, pleasure or happiness?"
"Pleasure is but the refreshment that cheers us in the pursuit of true
happiness," I answered, hoping to evade the direct question by a
"I will not let you off so easily. You shall answer my question," he
said. He looked full at me with a deep searching gaze that seemed hardly
warranted by the lightness of the argument. I hesitated, and he
impatiently leaned forward, uncrossing his legs and clasping his hands
over one knee to bring himself nearer to me.
"Pleasure or happiness?" he repeated, "which is it to be?"
A sudden light flashed over my obscured intellect.
"Both," I answered. "Could you see the ideal woman as I would fain paint
her to you, you would understand me better. The pleasure you enjoy in
the society of a noble and beautiful woman should be but the refreshment
by the wayside as you journey through life together. The day will come
when she will be beautiful no longer, only noble and good, and true to
you as to herself; and then, if pleasure has been to you what it should
be, you will find that in the happiness attained it is no longer
counted, or needed, or thought of. It will have served its end, as the
crib holds the ship in her place while she is building; and when your
white-winged vessel has smoothly glided off into the great ocean of
happiness, the crib and the stocks and the artificial supports will fall
to pieces and be forgotten for ever. Yet have they had a purpose, and
have borne a very important part in the life of your ship."
Having heard me attentively till I had finished, Isaacs relaxed his hold
on his knee and threw himself back on the cushions, as if to entrench
himself for a better fight. I had made an impression on him, but he was
not the man to own it easily. Presumably to gain time, he called for
hookahs and sherbet, and though the servants moved noiselessly in
preparing them, their presence was an interruption.
When we were settled again he had taken a nearly upright position on the
couch, and as he pulled at the long tube his face assumed that stolid
look of Oriental indifference which is the most discouraging shower-bath
to the persuasive powers. I had really no interest in converting him to
my own point of view about women. Honestly, was it my own point of view
at all? Would anything under heaven induce me, Paul Griggs, rich, or
poor, or comfortably off, to marry any one--Miss Westonhaugh, for
instance? Probably not. But then my preference for single blessedness
did not prevent me from believing that women have souls. That morning
the question of the marriage of the whole universe had been a matter of
the utmost indifference, and now I, a confirmed and hopelessly contented
bachelor, was trying to convince a man with three wives that matrimony
was a most excellent thing in its way, and that the pleasure of the
honeymoon was but the faint introduction to the bliss of the silver
wedding. It certainly must be Isaacs' own doing. He had launched on a
voyage of discovery and had taken me in tow. I had a strong suspicion
that he wanted to be convinced, and was playing indifference to soothe
"Well," said I at last, "have you any fault to find with my reasoning or
"With your simile--none. It is faultlessly perfect. You have not mixed
up your metaphors in the least. Crib, stocks, ocean, ship--all correct,
and very nautical. As for your reasoning, I do not believe there is
anything in it. I do not believe that pleasure leads to happiness; I do
not believe that a woman has a soul, and I deny the whole argument from
beginning to end. There," he added with a smile that belied the
brusqueness of his words, "that is my position. Talk me out of it if you
can; the night is long, and my patience as that of the ass."
"I do not think this is a case for rigid application of logic. When the
feelings are concerned--and where can they be more concerned than in our
intercourse with women?--the only way to arrive at any conclusion is by
a sort of trying-on process, imagining ourselves in the position
indicated, and striving to fancy how it would suit us. Let us begin in
that way. Suppose yourself unmarried, your three wives and their
"Allah in his mercy grant it!" ejaculated Isaacs with great fervour.
"--removed from the question altogether. Then imagine yourself thrown
into daily conversation with some beautiful woman who has read what you
have read, thought what you have thought, and dreamed the dreams of a
nobler destiny that have visited you in waking and sleeping hours. A
woman who, as she learned your strange story, should weep for the pains
you suffered and rejoice for the difficulties overcome, who should
understand your half spoken thoughts and proudly sympathise in your
unuttered aspirations; in whom you might see the twin nature to your
own, and detect the strong spirit and the brave soul, half revealed
through the feminine gentleness and modesty that clothe her as with a
garment. Imagine all this, and then suppose it lay in your power, was a
question of choice, for you to take her hand in yours and go through
life and death together, till death seem life for the joy of being
united for ever. Suppose you married her--not to lock her up in an
indolent atmosphere of rosewater, narghyles, and sweetmeats, to die of
inanition or to pester you to death with complaints and jealousies and
inopportune caresses; but to be with you and help your life when you
most need help, by word and thought and deed, to grow more and more a
part of you, an essential element of you in action or repose, to part
from which would be to destroy at a blow the whole fabric of your
existence. Would you not say that with such a woman the transitory
pleasure of early conversation and intercourse had been the
stepping-stone to the lasting happiness of such a friendship as you
could never hope for in your old age among your sex? Would not her
faithful love and abounding sympathy be dearer to you every day, though
the roses in her cheek should fade and the bright hair whiten with the
dust of life's journey? Would you not feel that when you died your
dearest wish must be to join her where there should be no parting--her
from whom there could be no parting here, short of death itself? Would
you not believe she had a soul?"
"There is no end of your 'supposing,' but it is quite pretty. I am half
inclined to 'suppose' too." He took a sip of sherbet from the tall
crystal goblet the servant had placed on a little three-legged stool
beside him, and as he drank the cool liquid slowly, looked over the
glass into my eyes, with a curious, half earnest, half smiling glance; I
could not tell whether my enthusiastic picture of conjugal bliss amused
him or attracted him, so I waited for him to speak again.
"Now that you have had your cruise in your ship of happiness on the
waters of your cerulean imagination, permit me, who am land-born and a
lover of the chase, to put my steed at a few fences in the difficult
country of unadorned facts over which I propose to hunt the wily fox,
matrimony. I have never hunted a fox, but I can quite well imagine what
it is like.
"In the first place, it is all very well to suppose that it had pleased
Allah in his goodness to relieve me of my three incumbrances--meanwhile,
there they are, and they are very real difficulties I assure you.
Nevertheless are there means provided us by the foresight of the
apostle, by which we may ease ourselves of domestic burdens when they
are too heavy for us to bear. It would be quite within the bounds of
possibility for me to divorce them all three, without making any special
scandal. But if I did this thing, do you not think that my experience of
married life has given me the most ineradicable prejudices against women
as daily companions? Am I not persuaded that they all bicker and chatter
and nibble sweetmeats alike--absolutely alike? Or if I looked abroad--"
"Stop," I said, "I am not reasoner enough to persuade you that all women
have souls. Very likely in Persia and India they have not. I only want
you to believe that there may be women so fortunate as to possess a
modicum of immortality. Well, pardon my interruption, 'if you looked
abroad,' as you were saying?--"
"If I looked abroad, I should probably discover little petty traits of
the same class, if not exactly identical. I know little of Englishmen,
and might be the more readily deceived. Supposing, if you will, that,
after freeing myself from all my present ties, in order to start afresh,
I were to find myself attracted by some English girl here"--there must
have been something wrong with the mouthpiece of his pipe, for he
examined it very attentively-- "attracted," he continued, "by some one,
for instance, by Miss Westonhaugh--" he stopped short.
So my inspiration was right. My little picture, framed as we rode
homeward, and indignantly scoffed at by my calmer reason, had visited
his brain too. He had looked on the fair northern woman and fancied
himself at her side, her lover, her husband. All this conversation and
argument had been only a set plan to give himself the pleasure of
contemplating and discussing such a union, without exciting surprise or
comment. I had been suspecting it for some time, and now his sudden
interest in his mouthpiece, to conceal a very real embarrassment, put
the matter beyond all doubt.
He was probably in love, my acquaintance of two days. He saw in me a
plain person, who could not possibly be a rival, having some knowledge
of the world, and he was in need of a confidant, like a school-girl. I
reflected that he was probably a victim for the first time. There is
very little romance in India, and he had, of course, married for
convenience and respectability rather than for any real affection. His
first passion! This man who had been tossed about like a bit of
driftwood, who had by his own determination and intelligence carved his
way to wealth and power in the teeth of every difficulty. Just now, in
his embarrassment, he looked very boyish. His troubles had left no
wrinkles on his smooth forehead, his bright black hair was untinged by a
single thread of gray, and as he looked up, after the pause that
followed when he mentioned the name of the woman he loved, there was a
very really youthful look of mingled passion and distress in his
"I think, Mr. Isaacs, that you have used a stronger argument against the
opinions you profess to hold than I could have found in my whole armoury
As he looked at me, the whole field of possibilities seemed opened. I
must have been mistaken in thinking this marriage impossible and
incongruous. What incongruity could there be in Isaacs marrying Miss
Westonhaugh? My conclusions were false. Why must he necessarily return
with her to England, and wear a red coat, and make himself ridiculous at
the borough elections? Why should not this ideal couple choose some
happy spot, as far from the corrosive influence of Anglo-Saxon prejudice
as from the wretched sensualism of prosperous life east of the
Mediterranean? I was carried away by the idea, returning with redoubled
strength as a sequel to what I had argued and to what I had guessed.
"Why not?" was the question I repeated to myself over and over again in
the half minute's pause after Isaacs finished speaking.
"You are right," he said slowly, his half-closed eyes fixed on his feet.
"Yes, you are right. Why not? Indeed, indeed, why not?"
It must have been pure guess-work, this reading of my thoughts. When he
was last speaking his manner was all indifference, scorn of my ideas,
and defiance of every western mode of reasoning. And now, apparently by
pure intuition, he gave a direct answer to the direct question I had
mentally asked, and, what is more, his answer came with a quiet,
far-away tone of conviction that had not a shade of unbelief in it. It
was delivered as monotonously and naturally as a Christian says "Credo
in unum Deum," as if it were not worth disputing; or as the devout
Mussulman says "La Illah illallah," not stooping to consider the
existence of any one bold enough to deny the dogma. No argument, not
hours of patient reasoning, or weeks of well directed persuasion, could
have wrought the change in the man's tone that came over it at the mere
mention of the woman he loved. I had no share in his conversion. My
arguments had been the excuse by which he had converted himself. Was he
converted? was it real?
"Yes--I think I am," he replied in the same mechanical monotonous
I shook myself, drank some sherbet, and kicked off one shoe impatiently.
Was I dreaming? or had I been speaking aloud, really putting the
questions he answered so quickly and appositively? Pshaw! a coincidence.
I called the servant and ordered my hookah to be refilled. Isaacs sat
still, immovable, lost in thought, looking at his toes; an expression,
almost stupid in its vacancy, was on his face, and the smoke curled
slowly up in lazy wreaths from his neglected narghyle.
"You are converted then at last?" I said aloud. No answer followed my
question; I watched him attentively.
"Mr. Isaacs!" still silence, was it possible that he had fallen asleep?
his eyes were open, but I thought he was very pale. His upright
position, however, belied any symptoms of unconsciousness.
"Isaacs! Abdul Hafiz! what is the matter!" He did not move. I rose to my
feet and knelt beside him where he sat rigid, immovable, like a statue.
Kiramat Ali, who had been watching, clapped his hands wildly and cried,
"Wah! wah! Sahib margya!"--"The lord is dead." I motioned him away with
a gesture and he held his peace, cowering in the corner, his eyes fixed
on us. Then I bent low as I knelt and looked under my friend's brows,
into his eyes. It was clear he did not see me, though he was looking
straight at his feet. I felt for his pulse. It was very low, almost
imperceptible, and certainly below forty beats to the minute. I took his
right arm and tried to put it on my shoulder. It was perfectly rigid.
There was no doubt about it--the man was in a cataleptic trance. I felt
for the pulse again; it was lost.
I was no stranger to this curious phenomenon, where the mind is
perfectly awake, but every bodily faculty is lulled to sleep beyond
possible excitation, unless the right means be employed. I went out and
breathed the cool night air, bidding the servants be quiet, as the sahib
was asleep. When sufficiently refreshed I re-entered the room, cast off
my slippers, and stood a moment by my friend, who was as rigid as ever.
Nature, in her bountiful wisdom, has compensated me for a singular
absence of beauty by endowing me with great strength, and with one of
those exceptional constitutions which seem constantly charged with
electricity. Without being what is called a mesmerist, I am possessed of
considerable magnetic power, which I have endeavoured to develop as far
as possible. In many a long conversation with old Manu Lal, my Brahmin
instructor in languages and philosophy while in the plains, we had
discussed the trance state in all its bearings. This old pundit was
himself a distinguished mesmerist, and though generally unwilling to
talk about what is termed occultism, on finding in me a man naturally
endowed with the physical characteristics necessary to those pursuits,
he had given me several valuable hints as to the application of my
powers. Here was a worthy opportunity.
I rubbed my feet on the soft carpet, and summoning all my strength,
began to make the prescribed passes over my friend's head and body. Very
gradually the look of life returned to his face, the generous blood
welled up under the clear olive skin, the lips parted, and he sighed
softly. Animation, as always happens in such cases, began at the precise
point at which it had been suspended, and his first movement was to
continue his examination of the mouthpiece in his hand. Then he looked
up suddenly, and seeing me standing over him, gave a little shake, half
turning his shoulders forward and back, and speaking once more in his
natural voice, said--
"I must have been asleep! Have I? What has happened? Why are you
standing there looking at me in that way?" Then, after a short
interrogatory silence, his face changed and a look of annoyance shaded
his features as he added in a low tone, "Oh! I see. It has happened to
me once before. Sit down. I am all right now." He sipped a little
sherbet and leaned back in his old position. I begged him to go to bed,
and prepared to withdraw, but he would not let me, and he seemed so
anxious that I should stay, that I resumed my place. The whole incident
had passed in ten minutes.
"Stay with me a little longer," he repeated. "I need your company,
perhaps your advice. I have had a vision, and you must hear about it."
"I thought as I sat here that my spirit left my body and passed out
through the night air and hovered over Simla. I could see into every
bungalow, and was conscious of what passed in each, but there was only
one where my gaze rested, for I saw upon a couch in a spacious chamber
the sleeping form of one I knew. The masses of fair hair were heaped as
they fell upon the pillow, as if she had lain down weary of bearing the
burden of such wealth of gold. The long dark lashes threw little shadows
on her cheeks, and the parted lips seemed to smile at the sweetness of
the gently heaving breath that fanned them as it came and went. And
while I looked, the breath of her body became condensed, as it were, and
took shape and form and colour, so that the image of herself floated up
between her body and my watching spirit. Nearer and nearer to me came
the exquisite vision of beauty, till we were face to face, my soul and
hers, high up in the night. And there came from her eyes, as the long
lids lifted, a look of perfect trust, and of love, and of infinite joy.
Then she turned her face southward and pointed to my life star burning
bright among his lesser fellows; and with a long sweet glance that bid
me follow where she led, her maiden soul floated away, half lingering at
first, as I watched her; then, with dizzy speed, vanishing in the
firmament as a falling star, and leaving no trace behind, save an
infinitely sad regret, and a longing to enter with her into that
boundless empire of peace. But I could not, for my spirit was called
back to this body. And I bless Allah that he has given me to see her
once so, and to know that she has a soul, even as I have, for I have
looked upon her spirit and I know it."
Isaacs rose slowly to his feet and moved towards the open door. I
followed him, and for a few moments we stood looking out at the scene
below us. It was near midnight, and the ever-decreasing moon was
dragging herself up, as if ashamed of her waning beauty and tearful
"Griggs," said my friend, dropping the formal prefix for the first time,
"all this is very strange. I believe I am in love!"
"I have not a doubt of it," I replied. "Peace be with you!"
"And with you peace."
So we parted.
* * * * *
In Simla people make morning calls in the morning instead of after dark,
as in more civilised countries. Soon after dawn I received a note from
Isaacs, saying that he had business with the Maharajah of Baithopoor
about some precious stones, but that he would be ready to go with me to
call on Mr. Currie Ghyrkins at ten o'clock, or soon after. I had been
thinking a great deal about the events of the previous evening, and I
was looking forward to my next meeting with Isaacs with intense
interest. After what had passed, nothing could be such a test of his
true feelings as the visit to Miss Westonhaugh, which we proposed to
make together, and I promised myself to lose no gesture, no word, no
expression, which might throw light on the question that interested
me--whether such a union were practical, possible, and wise.
At the appointed time, therefore, I was ready, and we mounted and
sallied forth into the bright autumn day. All visits are made on
horseback in Simla, as the distances are often considerable. You ride
quietly along, and the saice follows you, walking or keeping pace with
your gentle trot, as the case may be. We rode along the bustling mall,
crowded with men and women on horseback, with numbers of gorgeously
arrayed native servants and _chuprassies_ of the Government offices
hurrying on their respective errands, or dawdling for a chat with some
shabby-looking acquaintance in private life; we passed by the crowded
little shops on the hill below the church, and glanced at the
conglomeration of grain-sellers, jewellers, confectioners, and dealers
in metal or earthen vessels, every man sitting knee-deep in his wares,
smoking the eternal "hubble-bubble;" we noted the keen eyes of the
buyers and the hawk's glance of the sellers, the long snake-like fingers
eagerly grasping the passing coin, and seemingly convulsed into
serpentine contortion when they relinquished their clutch on a single
"pi;" we marked this busy scene, set down, like a Punch and Judy show,
in the midst of the trackless waste of the Himalayas, as if for the
delectation and pastime of some merry _genius loci_ weary of the solemn
silence in his awful mountains, and we chatted carelessly of the sights
animate and inanimate before us, laughing at the asseverations of the
salesmen, and at the hardened scepticism of the customer, at the
portentous dignity of the superb old messenger, white-bearded and clad
in scarlet and gold, as he bombastically described to the knot of poor
relations and admirers that elbowed him the splendours of the last
entertainment at "Peterhof," where Lord Lytton still reigned. I smiled,
and Isaacs frowned at the ancient and hairy ascetic believer, who
suddenly rose from his lair in a corner, and bustled through the crowd
of Hindoos, shouting at the top of his voice the confession of his
faith--"Beside God there is no God, and Muhammad is his apostle!" The
universality of the Oriental spirit is something amazing. Customs,
dress, thought, and language, are wonderfully alike among all Asiatics
west of Thibet and south of Turkistan. The greatest difference is in
language, and yet no one unacquainted with the dialects could
distinguish by the ear between Hindustani, Persian, Arabic, and Turkish.
So we moved along, and presently found ourselves on the road we had
traversed the previous evening, leading round Jako. On the slope of the
hill, hidden by a dense growth of rhododendrons, lay the bungalow of Mr.
Currie Ghyrkins, and a board at the entrance of the ride--drive there
was none--informed us that the estate bore the high-sounding title of
"Carisbrooke Castle," in accordance with the Simla custom of calling
little things by big names.
Having reached the lawn near the house, we left our horses in charge of
the saice and strolled up the short walk to the verandah. A charming
picture it was, prepared as if on purpose for our especial delectation.
The bungalow was a large one for Simla, and the verandah was deep and
shady; many chairs of all sorts and conditions stood about in natural
positions, as if they had just been sat in, instead of being ranged in
stiff rows against the wall, and across one angle hung a capacious
hammock. Therein, swinging her feet to the ground, and holding on by the
edge rope, sat the beautiful Miss Westonhaugh, clad in one of those
close-fitting unadorned costumes of plain dark-blue serge, which only
suit one woman in ten thousand, though, when they clothe a really
beautiful young figure, I know of no garment better calculated to
display grace of form and motion. She was kicking a ball of worsted with
her dainty toes, for the amusement and instruction of a small tame
jackal--the only one I ever saw thoroughly domesticated. A charming
little beast it was, with long gray fur and bright twinkling eyes,
mischievous and merry as a gnome's. From a broad blue ribbon round its
neck was suspended a small silver bell that tinkled spasmodically, as
the lively little thing sprang from side to side in pursuit of the ball,
alighting with apparent indifference on its head or its heels.
So busy was the girl with her live plaything that she had not seen us
dismount and approach her, and it was not till our feet sounded on the
boards of the verandah that she looked up with a little start, and tried
to rise to her feet. Now any one who has sat sideways in a netted
hammock, with feet swinging to the ground, and all the weight in the
middle of the thing, knows how difficult it is to get out with grace, or
indeed in any way short of rolling out and running for luck. You may
break all your bones in the feat, and you both look and feel as if you
were going to. Though we both sprang forward to her assistance, Miss
Westonhaugh had recognised the inexpediency of moving after the first
essay, and, with a smile of greeting, and the faintest tinge of
embarrassment on her fair cheek, abandoned the attempt; the quaint
little jackal sat up, backing against the side of the house, and, eyeing
us critically, growled a little.
"I'm so glad to see you, Mr. Isaacs. How do you do, Mr.----"
"Griggs," murmured Isaacs, as he straightened a rope of the hammock by
"Mr. Griggs?" she continued. "We met last night, briefly, but to the
point, or at least you and my uncle did. I am alone; my uncle is gone
down towards Kalka to meet my brother, who is coming up for a fortnight
at the end of the season to get rid of the Bombay mould. Bring up some
of those chairs and sit down. I cannot tell what has become of the
'bearer' and the 'boy,' and the rest of the servants, and I could not
make them understand me if they were here. So you must wait on
I was the first to lay hands on a chair, and as I turned to bring it I
noticed she was following Isaacs with the same expression I had seen on
her face the previous evening; but I could see it better now. A pleasant
friendly look, not tender so much as kind, while the slightest possible
contraction of the eyes showed a feeling of curiosity. She was evidently
going to speak to him as soon as he turned his face.
"You see I have been giving him lessons," she said, as he brought back
the seat he had chosen.
Isaacs looked at the queer small beast sitting up against the boards
under the window, his brush tail curled round him, and his head turned
inquiringly on one side.
"He seems to be learning manners, at all events," said my friend.
"Yes; I think I may say now, with safety, that his bark is worse than
"I am sure you could not have said so the last time I came. Do you
remember what fearful havoc he made among my nether garments? And yet he
is my god-child, so to speak, for I gave him into your care, and named
him into the bargain."
"Don't suppose I am ungrateful for the gift," answered Miss Westonhaugh.
"Snap! Snap! here! come here, darling, to your mistress, and be petted!"
In spite of this eloquent appeal Snap, the baby jackal, only growled
pleasantly and whisked his brush right and left. "You see," she went on,
"your sponsorship has had no very good results. He will not obey any
more than you yourself." Her glance, turning towards Isaacs, did not
reach him, and, in fact, she could not have seen anything beyond the
side of his chair. Isaacs, on the contrary, seemed to be counting her
eyelashes, and taking a mental photograph of her brows.
"Snap!" said he. The jackal instantly rose and trotted to him, fawning
on his outstretched hand.
"You malign me, Miss Westonhaugh. Snap is no less obedient than I."
"Then why did you insist on playing tennis left-handed the other day,
though you know very well how it puzzles me?"
"My dear Miss Westonhaugh," he answered, "I am not a tennis-player at
all, to begin with, and as I do not understand the _finesse_ of the
game, to use a word I do not understand either, you must pardon my
clumsiness in employing the hand most convenient and ready."
"Some people," I began, "are what is called ambidexter, and can use
either hand with equal ease. Now the ancient Persians, who invented the
game of polo----"
"I do not quarrel so much with you, Mr. Isaacs--" as she said this, she
looked at me, though entirely disregarding and interrupting my
instructive sentence--"I don't quarrel with you so much for using your
left hand at tennis as for employing left-handed weapons when you speak
of other things, or beings, for you are never so left-handed and so
adroit as when you are indulging in some elaborate abuse of our sex."
"How can you say that?" protested Isaacs. "You know with what respectful
and almost devotional reverence I look upon all women, and," his eyes
brightening perceptibly, "upon you in particular."
English women, especially in their youth, are not used to pretty
speeches. They are so much accustomed to the men of their own
nationality that they regard the least approach to a compliment as the
inevitable introduction to the worst kind of insult. Miss Westonhaugh
was no exception to this rule, and she drew herself up proudly.
There was a moment's pause, during which Isaacs seemed penitent, and she
appeared to be revolving the bearings of the affront conveyed in his
last words. She looked along the floor, slowly, till she might have seen
his toes; then her eyes opened a moment and met his, falling again
instantly with a change of colour.
"And pray, Mr. Isaacs, would you mind giving us a list of the ladies you
look upon with 'respectful and devotional reverence?'" One of the horses
held by the saice at the corner of the lawn neighed lowly, and gave
Isaacs an opportunity of looking away.
"Miss Westonhaugh," he said quietly, "you know I am a Mussulman, and
that I am married. It may be that I have borrowed a phrase from your
language which expresses more than I would convey, though it would ill
become me to withdraw my last words, since they are true."
It was my turn to be curious now. I wondered where his boldness would
carry him. Among his other accomplishments, this man was capable of
speaking the truth even to a woman, not as a luxury and a _bonne
bouche_, but as a matter of habit. As I looked, the hot blood mantled up
to his brows. She was watching him, and womanlike, seeing he was in
earnest and embarrassed, she regained her perfect natural composure.
"Oh, I had forgotten!" she said. "I forgot about your wife in Delhi."
She half turned in the hammock, and after some searching, during which
we were silent, succeeded in finding a truant piece of worsted work
behind her. The wool was pulled out of the needle, and she held the
steel instrument up against the light, as she doubled the worsted round
the eye and pushed it back through the little slit. I observed that
Isaacs was apparently in a line with the light, and that the threading
took some time.
"Mr. Griggs," she said slowly, and by the very slowness of the address I
knew she was going to talk to me, and at my friend, as women will; "Mr.
Griggs, do you know anything about Mohammedans?"
"That is a very broad question," I answered; "almost as broad as the
Mussulman creed." She began making stitches in the work she held, and
with a little side shake settled herself to listen, anticipating a
discourse. The little jackal sidled up and fawned on her feet. I had no
intention, however, of delivering a lecture on the faith of the prophet.
I saw my friend was embarrassed in the conversation, and I resolved, if
possible, to interest her.
"Among primitive people and very young persons," I continued, "marriage
is an article of faith, a moral precept, and a social law."
"I suppose you are married, Mr. Griggs," she said, with an air of
"Pardon me, Miss Westonhaugh, I neither condescend to call myself
primitive, nor aspire to call myself young."
She laughed. I had put a wedge into my end of the conversation.
"I thought," said she, "from the way in which you spoke of 'primitive
and young persons' that you considered their opinion in regard to--to
this question, as being the natural and proper opinion of the original
and civilised young man."
"I repeat that I do not claim to be very civilised, or very
young--certainly not to be very original, and my renunciation of all
these qualifications is my excuse for the confirmed bachelorhood to
which I adhere. Many Mohammedans are young and original; some of them
are civilised, as you see, and all of them are married. 'There, is no
God but God, Muhammad is his prophet, and if you refuse to marry you are
not respectable,' is their full creed."
Isaacs frowned at my profanity, but I continued--"I do not mean to say
anything disrespectful to a creed so noble and social. I think you have
small chance of converting Mr. Isaacs."
"I would not attempt it," she said, laying down her work in her lap, and
looking at me for a moment. "But since you speak of creeds, to what
confession do you yourself belong, if I may ask?"
"I am a Roman Catholic," I answered; adding presently--"Really, though,
I do not see how my belief in the papal infallibility affects my opinion
of Mohammedan marriages."
"And what _do_ you think of them?" she inquired, resuming her work and
applying herself thereto with great attention.
"I think that, though justified in principle by the ordinary
circumstances of Eastern life, there are cases in which the system acts
very badly. I think that young men are often led by sheer force of
example into marrying several wives before they have sufficiently
reflected on the importance of what they are doing. I think that both
marriage and divorce are too easily managed in consideration of their
importance to a man's life, and I am convinced that no civilised man of
Western education, if he were to adopt Islam, would take advantage of
his change of faith to marry four wives. It is a case of theory _versus_
practice, which I will not attempt to explain. It may often be good in
logic, but it seems to me it is very often bad in real life."
"Yes," said Isaacs; "there are cases----" He stopped, and Miss
Westonhaugh, who had been very busy over her work, looked quietly up,
only to find that he was profoundly interested in the horses cropping
the short grass, as far as the saice would let them stretch their necks,
on the other side of the lawn.
"I confess," said Miss Westonhaugh, "that my ideas about Mohammedans are
chiefly the result of reading the Arabian Nights, ever so long ago. It
seems to me that they treat women as if they had no souls and no minds,
and were incapable of doing anything rational if left to themselves. It
is a man's religion. My uncle says so too, and he ought to know."
The conversation was meandering in a kind of vicious circle. Both Isaacs
and I were far too deeply interested in the question to care for such
idle discussion. How could this beautiful but not very intellectual
English girl, with her prejudices and her clumsiness at repartee or
argument, ever comprehend or handle delicately so difficult a subject? I
was disappointed in her. Perhaps this was natural enough, considering
that with two such men as we she must be entirely out of her element.
She was of the type of brilliant, healthy, northern girls, who depend
more on their animal spirits and enjoyment of living for their happiness
than upon any natural or acquired mental powers. With a horse, or a
tennis court, or even a ball to amuse her, she would appear at her very
best; would be at ease and do the right thing. But when called upon to
sustain a conversation, such as that into which her curiosity about
Isaacs had plunged her, she did not know what to do. She was
constrained, and even some of her native grace of manner forsook her.
Why did she avoid his eyes and resort to such a petty little trick as
threading a needle in order to get a look at him? An American girl, or a
French woman, would have seen that her strength lay in perfect
frankness; that Isaacs' straightforward nature would make him tell her
unhesitatingly anything she wanted to know about himself, and that her
position was strong enough for her to look him in the face and ask him
what she pleased. But she allowed herself to be embarrassed, and though
she had been really glad to see him, and liked him and thought him
handsome, she was beginning to wish he would go, merely because she did
not know what to talk about, and would not give him a chance to choose
his own subject. As neither of us were inclined to carry the analysis of
matrimony any farther, nor to dispute the opinions of Mr. Currie
Ghyrkins as quoted by his niece, there was a pause. I struck in and
boldly changed the subject.
"Are you going to see the polo this afternoon, Miss Westonhaugh? I heard
at the hotel that there was to be a match to-day of some interest."
"Oh yes, of course. I would not miss it for anything. Lord Steepleton is
coming to tiffin, and we shall ride down together to Annandale. Of
course you are going too; it will be a splendid thing. Do you play polo,
Mr. Griggs? Mr. Isaacs is a great player, when he can be induced to take
the trouble. He knows more about it than he does about tennis."
"I am very fond of the game," I answered, "but I have no horses here,
and with my weight it is not easy to get a mount for such rough work."
"Do not disturb yourself on that score," said Isaacs; "you know my
stable is always at your disposal, and I have a couple of ponies that
would carry you well enough. Let us have a game one of those days,
whenever we can get the ground. We will play on opposite sides and match
the far west against the far east."
"What fun!" cried Miss Westonhaugh, her face brightening at the idea,
"and I will hold the stakes and bestow the crown on the victor."
"What is to be the prize?" asked Isaacs, with a smile of pleasure. He
was very literal and boyish sometimes.
"That depends on which is the winner," she answered.
There was a noise among the trees of horses' hoofs on the hard path, and
presently we heard a voice calling loudly for a saice who seemed to be
lagging far behind. It was a clear strong voice, and the speaker abused
the groom's female relations to the fourth and fifth generations with
considerable command of the Hindustani language. Miss Westonhaugh, who
had not been in the country long, did not understand a word of the very
free swearing that was going on in the woods, but Isaacs looked annoyed,
and I registered a black mark against the name of the new-comer, whoever
he might be.
"Oh! it is Lord Steepleton," said the young girl. "He seems to be always
having a row with his servants. Don't go," she went on as I took up my
hat; "he is such a good fellow, you ought to know him."
Lord Steepleton Kildare now appeared at the corner of the lawn, hotly
pursued by his breathless groom, who had been loitering on the way, and
had thus roused his master's indignation. He was, as I have said, a fine
specimen of a young Englishman, though being Irish by descent he would
have indignantly denied any such nationality. I saw when he had
dismounted that he was tall and straight, though not a very heavily
built man. He carried his head high, and looked every inch a soldier as
he strode across the grass, carefully avoiding the pegs of the tennis
net. He wore a large gray felt hat, like every one else, and he shook
hands all round before he took it off, and settled himself in an easy
chair as near as he could get to Miss Westonhaugh's hammock.
"How are ye? Ah--yes, Mr. Isaacs, Mr. Griggs of Allahabad. Jolly day,
isn't it?" and he looked vaguely at the grass. "Really, Miss
Westonhaugh, I got in such a rage with my rascal of a saice that I did
not remember I was so near the house. I am really very sorry I talked
like that. I hope you did not think I was murdering him?"
Isaacs looked annoyed.
"Yes," said he, "we thought Mahmoud was going to have a bad time of it.
I believe Miss Westonhaugh does not understand Hindustani."
A look of genuine distress came into the Englishman's face.
"Really," said he, very simply. "You don't know how sorry I am that any
one should have heard me. I am so hasty. But let me apologise to you all
most sincerely for disturbing you with my brutal temper."
His misdeed had not been, a very serious crime after all, and there was
something so frank and honest about his awkward little apology that I
was charmed. The man was a gentleman. Isaacs bowed in silence, and Miss
Westonhaugh had evidently never thought much about it.
"We were talking about polo when you came, Lord Steepleton; Mr. Isaacs
and Mr. Griggs are going to play a match, and I am to hold the stakes.
Do you not want to make one in the game?"
"May I?" said the young man, grateful to her for having helped him out.
"May I? I should like it awfully. I so rarely get a chance of playing
with any except the regular set here." And he looked inquiringly at us.
"We should be delighted, of course," said Isaacs. "By the way, can you
help us to make up the number? And when shall it be?" He seemed suddenly
very much interested in this projected contest.
"Oh yes," said Kildare, "I will manage to fill up the game, and we can
play next Monday. I know the ground is free then."
"Very good; on Monday. We are at Laurie's on the hill."
"I am staying with Jack Tygerbeigh, near Peterhof. Come and see us. I
will let you know before Monday. Oh, Mr. Griggs, I saw such a nice thing
about me in the _Howler_ the other day--so many thanks. No, really,
greatly obliged, you know; people say horrid things about me sometimes.
Good-bye, good-bye, delighted to have seen you."
"Good morning, Miss Westonhaugh."
"Good morning; so good of you to take pity on my solitude." She smiled
kindly at Isaacs and civilly at me. And we went our way. As we looked
back after mounting to lift our hats once more, I saw that Miss
Westonhaugh had succeeded in getting out of the hammock and was tying on
a pith hat, while Lord Steepleton had armed himself with balls and
rackets from a box on the verandah. As we bowed they came down the
steps, looking the very incarnation of animal life and spirits in the
anticipation of the game they loved best. The bright autumn sun threw
their figures into bold relief against the dark shadow of the verandah,
and I thought to myself they made a very pretty picture. I seemed to be
always seeing pictures, and my imagination was roused in a new
We rode away under the trees. My impression of the whole visit was
unsatisfactory. I had thought Mr. Currie Ghyrkins would be there, and
that I would be able to engage him in a political discussion. We could
have talked income-tax, and cotton duties, and Kabul by the hour, and
Miss Westonhaugh and Isaacs would have had a pleasant _tete-a-tete._
Instead of this I had been decidedly the unlucky third who destroys the
balance of so much pleasure in life, for I felt that Isaacs was not a
man to be embarrassed if left alone with a woman, or to embarrass her.
He was too full of tact, and his sensibilities were so fine that, with
his easy command of language, he must be agreeable _quand meme_; and
such an opportunity would have given him an easy lead away from the
athletic Kildare, whom I suspected strongly of being a rival for Miss
Westonhaugh's favour. There is an easy air of familiar proprietorship
about an Englishman in love that is not to be mistaken. It is a subtle
thing, and expresses itself neither in word nor deed in its earlier
stages of development; but it is there all the same, and the combination
of this possessive mood, with a certain shyness which often goes with
it, is amusing.
"Griggs," said Isaacs, "have you ever seen the Rajah of Baithopoor?"
"No; you had some business with him this morning, had you not?"
"Yes--some--business--if you call it so. If you would like to see him I
can take you there, and I think you would be interested in the--the
business. It is not often such gems are bought and sold in such a way,
and besides, he is very amusing. He is at least two thousand years old,
and will go to Saturn when he dies. His fingers are long and crooked,
and that which he putteth into his pockets, verily he shall not take it
"A pleasing picture; a good contrast to the one we have left behind us.
I like contrasts, and I should like to see him."
"You shall." And we lit our cheroots.
* * * * *
"We will go there at four," said Isaacs, coming into my rooms after
tiffin, a meal of which I found he rarely partook. "I said three, this
morning, but it is not a bad plan to keep natives waiting. It makes them
impatient, and then they commit themselves."
"You are Machiavellian. It is pretty clear which of you is asking the
"Yes, it is pretty clear." He sat down and took up the last number of
the _Howler_ which lay on the table. Presently he looked up. "Griggs,
why do you not come to Delhi? We might start a newspaper there, you
know, in the Conservative interest."
"In the interest of Mr. Algernon Currie Ghyrkins?" I inquired.