Part 1 out of 4
This etext was prepared by Sue Asscher
THE POOL IN THE DESERT
By Sara Jeanette Duncan
1. A Mother in India.
2. An Impossible Ideal.
3. The Hesitation of Miss Anderson.
4. The Pool in the Desert.
1. A Mother in India
There were times when we had to go without puddings to pay John's
uniform bills, and always I did the facings myself with a cloth-ball
to save getting new ones. I would have polished his sword, too, if
I had been allowed; I adored his sword. And once, I remember, we
painted and varnished our own dog-cart, and very smart it looked, to
save fifty rupees. We had nothing but our pay--John had his company
when we were married, but what is that?--and life was made up of
small knowing economies, much more amusing in recollection than in
practise. We were sodden poor, and that is a fact, poor and
conscientious, which was worse. A big fat spider of a money-lender
came one day into the veranda and tempted us--we lived in a hut, but
it had a veranda--and John threatened to report him to the police.
Poor when everybody else had enough to live in the open-handed
Indian fashion, that was what made it so hard; we were alone in our
sordid little ways. When the expectation of Cecily came to us we
made out to be delighted, knowing that the whole station pitied us,
and when Cecily came herself, with a swamping burst of expense, we
kept up the pretense splendidly. She was peevish, poor little
thing, and she threatened convulsions from the beginning, but we
both knew that it was abnormal not to love her a great deal, more
than life, immediately and increasingly; and we applied ourselves
honestly to do it, with the thermometer at a hundred and two, and
the nurse leaving at the end of a fortnight because she discovered
that I had only six of everything for the table. To find out a
husband's virtues, you must marry a poor man. The regiment was
under-officered as usual, and John had to take parade at daylight
quite three times a week; but he walked up and down the veranda with
Cecily constantly till two in the morning, when a little coolness
came. I usually lay awake the rest of the night in fear that a
scorpion would drop from the ceiling on her. Nevertheless, we were
of excellent mind towards Cecily; we were in such terror, not so
much of failing in our duty towards her as towards the ideal
standard of mankind. We were very anxious indeed not to come short.
To be found too small for one's place in nature would have been
odious. We would talk about her for an hour at a time, even when
John's charger was threatening glanders and I could see his mind
perpetually wandering to the stable. I would say to John that she
had brought a new element into our lives--she had indeed!--and John
would reply, 'I know what you mean,' and go on to prophesy that she
would 'bind us together.' We didn't need binding together; we were
more to each other, there in the desolation of that arid frontier
outpost, than most husbands and wives; but it seemed a proper and
hopeful thing to believe, so we believed it. Of course, the real
experience would have come, we weren't monsters; but fate curtailed
the opportunity. She was just five weeks old when the doctor told
us that we must either pack her home immediately or lose her, and
the very next day John went down with enteric. So Cecily was sent
to England with a sergeant's wife who had lost her twins, and I
settled down under the direction of a native doctor, to fight for my
husband's life, without ice or proper food, or sickroom comforts of
any sort. Ah! Fort Samila, with the sun glaring up from the sand!--
however, it is a long time ago now. I trusted the baby willingly to
Mrs. Berry and to Providence, and did not fret; my capacity for
worry, I suppose, was completely absorbed. Mrs. Berry's letter,
describing the child's improvement on the voyage and safe arrival
came, I remember, the day on which John was allowed his first solid
mouthful; it had been a long siege. 'Poor little wretch!' he said
when I read it aloud; and after that Cecily became an episode.
She had gone to my husband's people; it was the best arrangement.
We were lucky that it was possible; so many children had to be sent
to strangers and hirelings. Since an unfortunate infant must be
brought into the world and set adrift, the haven of its grandmother
and its Aunt Emma and its Aunt Alice certainly seemed providential.
I had absolutely no cause for anxiety, as I often told people,
wondering that I did not feel a little all the same. Nothing, I
knew, could exceed the conscientious devotion of all three Farnham
ladies to the child. She would appear upon their somewhat barren
horizon as a new and interesting duty, and the small additional
income she also represented would be almost nominal compensation for
the care she would receive. They were excellent persons of the kind
that talk about matins and vespers, and attend both. They helped
little charities and gave little teas, and wrote little notes, and
made deprecating allowance for the eccentricities of their titled or
moneyed acquaintances. They were the subdued, smiling,
unimaginatively dressed women on a small definite income that you
meet at every rectory garden-party in the country, a little
snobbish, a little priggish, wholly conventional, but apart from
these weaknesses, sound and simple and dignified, managing their two
small servants with a display of the most exact traditions, and
keeping a somewhat vague and belated but constant eye upon the
doings of their country as chronicled in a bi-weekly paper. They
were all immensely interested in royalty, and would read paragraphs
aloud to each other about how the Princess Beatrice or the Princess
Maud had opened a fancy bazaar, looking remarkably well in plain
grey poplin trimmed with Irish lace--an industry which, as is well
known, the Royal Family has set its heart on rehabilitating. Upon
which Mrs. Farnham's comment invariably would be, 'How thoughtful of
them, dear!' and Alice would usually say, 'Well, if I were a
princess, I should like something nicer than plain grey poplin.'
Alice, being the youngest, was not always expected to think before
she spoke. Alice painted in water-colours, but Emma was supposed to
have the most common sense.
They took turns in writing to us with the greatest regularity about
Cecily; only once, I think, did they miss the weekly mail, and that
was when she threatened diphtheria and they thought we had better be
kept in ignorance. The kind and affectionate terms of these letters
never altered except with the facts they described--teething,
creeping, measles, cheeks growing round and rosy, all were conveyed
in the same smooth, pat, and proper phrases, so absolutely empty of
any glimpse of the child's personality that after the first few
months it was like reading about a somewhat uninteresting infant in
a book. I was sure Cecily was not uninteresting, but her
chroniclers were. We used to wade through the long, thin sheets and
saw how much more satisfactory it would be when Cecily could write
to us herself. Meanwhile we noted her weekly progress with much the
feeling one would have about a far-away little bit of property that
was giving no trouble and coming on exceedingly well. We would take
possession of Cecily at our convenience; till then, it was
gratifying to hear of our unearned increment in dear little dimples
and sweet little curls.
She was nearly four when I saw her again. We were home on three
months' leave; John had just got his first brevet for doing
something which he does not allow me to talk about in the Black
Mountain country; and we were fearfully pleased with ourselves. I
remember that excitement lasted well up to Port Said. As far as the
Canal, Cecily was only one of the pleasures and interests we were
going home to: John's majority was the thing that really gave
savour to life. But the first faint line of Europe brought my child
to my horizon; and all the rest of the way she kept her place,
holding out her little arms to me, beckoning me on. Her four
motherless years brought compunction to my heart and tears to my
eyes; she should have all the compensation that could be. I
suddenly realized how ready I was--how ready!--to have her back. I
rebelled fiercely against John's decision that we must not take her
with us on our return to the frontier; privately, I resolved to
dispute it, and, if necessary, I saw myself abducting the child--my
own child. My days and nights as the ship crept on were full of a
long ache to possess her; the defrauded tenderness of the last four
years rose up in me and sometimes caught at my throat. I could
think and talk and dream of nothing else. John indulged me as much
as was reasonable, and only once betrayed by a yawn that the subject
was not for him endlessly absorbing. Then I cried and he
apologized. 'You know,' he said, 'it isn't exactly the same thing.
I'm not her mother.' At which I dried my tears and expanded, proud
and pacified. I was her mother!
Then the rainy little station and Alice, all-embracing in a damp
waterproof, and the drive in the fly, and John's mother at the gate
and a necessary pause while I kissed John's mother. Dear thing, she
wanted to hold our hands and look into our faces and tell us how
little we had changed for all our hardships; and on the way to the
house she actually stopped to point out some alterations in the
flower-borders. At last the drawing-room door and the smiling
housemaid turning the handle and the unforgettable picture of a
little girl, a little girl unlike anything we had imagined, starting
bravely to trot across the room with the little speech that had been
taught her. Half-way she came; I suppose our regards were too
fixed, too absorbed, for there she stopped with a wail of terror at
the strange faces, and ran straight back to the outstretched arms of
her Aunt Emma. The most natural thing in the world, no doubt. I
walked over to a chair opposite with my hand-bag and umbrella and
sat down--a spectator, aloof and silent. Aunt Emma fondled and
quieted the child, apologizing for her to me, coaxing her to look
up, but the little figure still shook with sobs, hiding its face in
the bosom that it knew. I smiled politely, like any other stranger,
at Emma's deprecations, and sat impassive, looking at my alleged
baby breaking her heart at the sight of her mother. It is not
amusing even now to remember the anger that I felt. I did not touch
her or speak to her; I simply sat observing my alien possession, in
the frock I had not made and the sash I had not chosen, being coaxed
and kissed and protected and petted by its Aunt Emma. Presently I
asked to be taken to my room, and there I locked myself in for two
atrocious hours. Just once my heart beat high, when a tiny knock
came and a timid, docile little voice said that tea was ready. But
I heard the rustle of a skirt, and guessed the directing angel in
Aunt Emma, and responded, 'Thank you, dear, run away and say that I
am coming,' with a pleasant visitor's inflection which I was able to
sustain for the rest of afternoon.
'She goes to bed at seven,' said Emma.
'Oh, does she?' said I. 'A very good hour, I should think.'
'She sleeps in my room,' said Mrs. Farnham.
'We give her mutton broth very often, but seldom stock soup,' said
Aunt Emma. 'Mamma thinks it is too stimulating.'
'Indeed?' said I, to all of it.
They took me up to see her in her crib, and pointed out, as she lay
asleep, that though she had 'a general look' of me, her features
were distinctively Farnham.
'Won't you kiss her?' asked Alice. 'You haven't kissed her yet, and
she is used to so much affection.'
'I don't think I could take such an advantage of her,' I said.
They looked at each other, and Mrs. Farnham said that I was plainly
worn out. I mustn't sit up to prayers.
If I had been given anything like reasonable time I might have made
a fight for it, but four weeks--it took a month each way in those
days--was too absurdly little; I could do nothing. But I would not
stay at mamma's. It was more than I would ask of myself, that daily
disappointment under the mask of gratified discovery, for long.
I spent an approving, unnatural week, in my farcical character,
bridling my resentment and hiding my mortification with pretty
phrases; and then I went up to town and drowned my sorrows in the
summer sales. I took John with me. I may have been Cecily's mother
in theory, but I was John's wife in fact.
We went back to the frontier, and the regiment saw a lot of service.
That meant medals and fun for my husband, but economy and anxiety
for me, though I managed to be allowed as close to the firing line
as any woman.
Once the Colonel's wife and I, sitting in Fort Samila, actually
heard the rifles of a punitive expedition cracking on the other side
of the river--that was a bad moment. My man came in after fifteen
hours' fighting, and went sound asleep, sitting before his food with
his knife and fork in his hands. But service makes heavy demands
besides those on your wife's nerves. We had saved two thousand
rupees, I remember, against another run home, and it all went like
powder, in the Mirzai expedition; and the run home diminished to a
month in a boarding-house in the hills.
Meanwhile, however, we had begun to correspond with our daughter, in
large round words of one syllable, behind which, of course, was
plain the patient guiding hand of Aunt Emma. One could hear Aunt
Emma suggesting what would be nice to say, trying to instil a little
pale affection for the far-off papa and mamma. There was so little
Cecily and so much Emma--of course, it could not be otherwise--that
I used to take, I fear, but a perfunctory joy in these letters.
When we went home again I stipulated absolutely that she was to
write to us without any sort of supervision--the child was ten.
'But the spelling!' cried Aunt Emma, with lifted eyebrows.
'Her letters aren't exercises,' I was obliged to retort; 'she will
do the best she can.'
We found her a docile little girl, with nice manners, a thoroughly
unobjectionable child. I saw quite clearly that I could not have
brought her up so well; indeed, there were moments when I fancied
that Cecily, contrasting me with her aunts, wondered a little what
my bringing up could have been like. With this reserve of criticism
on Cecily's part, however, we got on very tolerably, largely because
I found it impossible to assume any responsibility towards her, and
in moments of doubt or discipline referred her to her aunts. We
spent a pleasant summer with a little girl in the house whose
interest in us was amusing, and whose outings it was gratifying to
arrange; but when we went back, I had no desire to take her with us.
I thought her very much better where she was.
Then came the period which is filled, in a subordinate degree, with
Cecily's letters. I do not wish to claim more than I ought; they
were not my only or even my principal interest in life. It was a
long period; it lasted till she was twenty-one. John had had
promotion in the meantime, and there was rather more money, but he
had earned his second brevet with a bullet through one lung, and the
doctors ordered our leave to be spent in South Africa. We had
photographs, we knew she had grown tall and athletic and comely, and
the letters were always very creditable. I had the unusual and
qualified privilege of watching my daughter's development from ten
to twenty-one, at a distance of four thousand miles, by means of the
written word. I wrote myself as provocatively as possible; I sought
for every string, but the vibration that came back across the seas
to me was always other than the one I looked for, and sometimes
there was none. Nevertheless, Mrs. Farnham wrote me that Cecily
very much valued my communications. Once when I had described an
unusual excursion in a native state, I learned that she had read my
letter aloud to the sewing circle. After that I abandoned
description, and confined myself to such intimate personal details
as no sewing circle could find amusing. The child's own letters
were simply a mirror of the ideas of the Farnham ladies; that must
have been so, it was not altogether my jaundiced eye. Alice and
Emma and grandmamma paraded the pages in turn. I very early gave up
hope of discoveries in my daughter, though as much of the original
as I could detect was satisfactorily simple and sturdy. I found
little things to criticize, of course, tendencies to correct; and by
return post I criticized and corrected, but the distance and the
deliberation seemed to touch my maxims with a kind of arid
frivolity, and sometimes I tore them up. One quick, warm-blooded
scolding would have been worth a sheaf of them. My studied little
phrases could only inoculate her with a dislike for me without
protecting her from anything under the sun.
However, I found she didn't dislike me, when John and I went home at
last to bring her out. She received me with just a hint of
kindness, perhaps, but on the whole very well.
John was recalled, of course, before the end of our furlough, which
knocked various things on the head; but that is the sort of thing
one learned to take with philosophy in any lengthened term of Her
Majesty's service. Besides, there is usually sugar for the pill;
and in this case it was a Staff command bigger than anything we
expected for at least five years to come. The excitement of it when
it was explained to her gave Cecily a charming colour. She took a
good deal of interest in the General, her papa; I think she had an
idea that his distinction would alleviate the situation in India,
however it might present itself. She accepted that prospective
situation calmly; it had been placed before her all her life. There
would always be a time when she should go and live with papa and
mamma in India, and so long as she was of an age to receive the idea
with rebel tears she was assured that papa and mamma would give her
a pony. The pony was no longer added to the prospect; it was
absorbed no doubt in the general list of attractions calculated to
reconcile a young lady to a parental roof with which she had no
practical acquaintance. At all events, when I feared the
embarrassment and dismay of a pathetic parting with darling
grandmamma and the aunties, and the sweet cat and the dear vicar and
all the other objects of affection, I found an agreeable unexpected
I may add that while I anticipated such broken-hearted farewells I
was quite prepared to take them easily. Time, I imagined, had
brought philosophy to me also, equally agreeable and equally
It was a Bombay ship, full of returning Anglo-Indians. I looked up
and down the long saloon tables with a sense of relief and of
solace; I was again among my own people. They belonged to Bengal
and to Burma, to Madras and to the Punjab, but they were all my
people. I could pick out a score that I knew in fact, and there
were none that in imagination I didn't know. The look of wider seas
and skies, the casual experienced glance, the touch of irony and of
tolerance, how well I knew it and how well I liked it! Dear old
England, sitting in our wake, seemed to hold by comparison a great
many soft, unsophisticated people, immensely occupied about very
particular trifles. How difficult it had been, all the summer, to
be interested! These of my long acquaintance belonged to my
country's Executive, acute, alert, with the marks of travail on
them. Gladly I went in and out of the women's cabins and listened
to the argot of the men; my own ruling, administering, soldiering
Cecily looked at them askance. To her the atmosphere was alien, and
I perceived that gently and privately she registered objections.
She cast a disapproving eye upon the wife of a Conservator of
Forests, who scanned with interest a distant funnel and laid a small
wager that it belonged to the Messageries Maritimes. She looked
with a straightened lip at the crisply stepping women who walked the
deck in short and rather shabby skirts with their hands in their
jacket-pockets talking transfers and promotions; and having got up
at six to make a water-colour sketch of the sunrise, she came to me
in profound indignation to say that she had met a man in his
pyjamas; no doubt; poor wretch, on his way to be shaved. I was
unable to convince her he was not expected to visit the barber in
all his clothes.
At the end of the third day she told me that she wished these people
wouldn't talk to her; she didn't like them. I had turned in the
hour we left the Channel and had not left my berth since, so
possibly I was not in the most amiable mood to receive a douche of
cold water. 'I must try to remember, dear,' I said, ' that you have
been brought up altogether in the society of pussies and vicars and
elderly ladies, and of course you miss them. But you must have a
little patience. I shall be up tomorrow, if this beastly sea
continues to go down; and then we will try to find somebody suitable
to introduce to you.'
'Thank you, mamma,' said my daughter, without a ray of suspicion.
Then she added consideringly, 'Aunt Emma and Aunt Alice do seem
quite elderly ladies beside you, and yet you are older than either
of them aren't you? I wonder how that is.'
It was so innocent, so admirable, that I laughed at my own expense;
while Cecily, doing her hair, considered me gravely. 'I wish you
would tell me why you laugh, mamma,' quoth she; 'you laugh so
We had not to wait after all for my good offices of the next
morning. Cecily came down at ten o'clock that night quite happy and
excited; she had been talking to a bishop, such a dear bishop. The
bishop had been showing her his collection of photographs, and she
had promised to play the harmonium for him at the eleven-o'clock
service in the morning. 'Bless me!' said I, 'is it Sunday?' It
seemed she had got on very well indeed with the bishop, who knew the
married sister, at Tunbridge, of her very greatest friend. Cecily
herself did not know the married sister, but that didn't matter--it
was a link. The bishop was charming. 'Well, my love,' said I--I
was teaching myself to use these forms of address for fear she would
feel an unkind lack of them, but it was difficult--'I am glad that
somebody from my part of the world has impressed you favourably at
last. I wish we had more bishops.'
'Oh, but my bishop doesn't belong to your part of the world,'
responded my daughter sleepily. 'He is travelling for his health.'
It was the most unexpected and delightful thing to be packed into
one's chair next morning by Dacres Tottenham. As I emerged from the
music saloon after breakfast--Cecily had stayed below to look over
her hymns and consider with her bishop the possibility of an anthem-
-Dacres's face was the first I saw; it simply illuminated, for me,
that portion of the deck. I noticed with pleasure the quick toss of
the cigar overboard as he recognized and bore down upon me. We were
immense friends; John liked him too. He was one of those people who
make a tremendous difference; in all our three hundred passengers
there could be no one like him, certainly no one whom I could be
more glad to see. We plunged at once into immediate personal
affairs, we would get at the heart of them later. He gave his vivid
word to everything he had seen and done; we laughed and exclaimed
and were silent in a concert of admirable understanding. We were
still unravelling, still demanding and explaining when the ship's
bell began to ring for church, and almost simultaneously Cecily
advanced towards us. She had a proper Sunday hat on, with flowers
under the brim, and a church-going frock; she wore gloves and
clasped a prayer-book. Most of the women who filed past to the
summons of the bell were going down as they were, in cotton blouses
and serge skirts, in tweed caps or anything, as to a kind of family
prayers. I knew exactly how they would lean against the pillars of
the saloon during the psalms. This young lady would be little less
than a rebuke to them. I surveyed her approach; she positively
walked as if it were Sunday.
'My dear,' I said, 'how endimanchee you look! The bishop will be
very pleased with you. This gentleman is Mr. Tottenham, who
administers Her Majesty's pleasure in parts of India about
Allahabad. My daughter, Dacres.' She was certainly looking very
fresh, and her calm grey eyes had the repose in them that has never
known itself to be disturbed about anything. I wondered whether she
bowed so distantly also because it was Sunday, and then I remembered
that Dacres was a young man, and that the Farnham ladies had
probably taught her that it was right to be very distant with young
'It is almost eleven, mamma.'
'Yes, dear. I see you are going to church.'
'Are you not coming, mamma?'
I was well wrapped up in an extremely comfortable corner. I had 'La
Duchesse Bleue' uncut in my lap, and an agreeable person to talk to.
I fear that in any case I should not been inclined to attend the
service, but there was something in my daughter's intonation that
made me distinctly hostile to the idea. I am putting things down as
they were, extenuating nothing.
'I think not, dear.'
'I've turned up two such nice seats.'
'Stay, Miss Farnham, and keep us in countenance,' said Dacres, with
his charming smile. The smile displaced a look of discreet and
amused observation. Dacres had an eye always for a situation, and
this one was even newer to him than to me.
'No, no. She must run away and not bully her mamma,' I said. 'When
she comes back we will see how much she remembers of the sermon;'
and as the flat tinkle from the companion began to show signs of
diminishing, Cecily, with one grieved glance, hastened down.
'You amazing lady!' said Dacres. 'A daughter--and such a tall
daughter! I somehow never--'
'You knew we had one?'
'There was theory of that kind, I remember, about ten years ago.
Since then--excuse me--I don't think you've mentioned her.'
'You talk as if she were a skeleton in the closet!'
'You DIDN'T talk--as if she were.'
'I think she was, in a way, poor child. But the resurrection day
hasn't confounded me as I deserved. She's a very good girl.'
'If you had asked me to pick out your daughter--'
'She would have been the last you would indicate! Quite so,' I
said. 'She is like her father's people. I can't help that.'
'I shouldn't think you would if you could,' Dacres remarked
absently; but the sea air, perhaps, enabled me to digest his
thoughtlessness with a smile.
'No,' I said, 'I am just as well pleased. I think a resemblance to
me would confuse me, often.'
There was a trace of scrutiny in Dacres's glance. 'Don't you find
yourself in sympathy with her?' he asked.
'My dear boy, I have seen her just twice in twenty-one years! You
see, I've always stuck to John.'
'But between mother and daughter--I may be old-fashioned, but I had
an idea that there was an instinct that might be depended on.'
'I am depending on it,' I said, and let my eyes follow the little
blue waves that chased past the hand-rail. 'We are making very good
speed, aren't we? Thirty-five knots since last night at ten. Are
you in the sweep?'
'I never bet on the way out--can't afford it. Am I old-fashioned?'
'Probably. Men are very slow in changing their philosophy about
women. I fancy their idea of the maternal relation is firmest fixed
'We see it a beatitude!' he cried.
'I know,' I said wearily, 'and you never modify the view.'
Dacres contemplated the portion of the deck that lay between us.
His eyes were discreetly lowered, but I saw embarrassment and
speculation and a hint of criticism in them.
'Tell me more about it,' said he.
'Oh, for heaven's sake don't be sympathetic!' I exclaimed. 'Lend me
a little philosophy instead. There is nothing to tell. There she
is and there I am, in the most intimate relation in the world,
constituted when she is twenty-one and I am forty.' Dacres started
slightly at the ominous word; so little do men realize that the
women they like can ever pass out of the constated years of
attraction. 'I find the young lady very tolerable, very creditable,
very nice. I find the relation atrocious. There you have it. I
would like to break the relation into pieces,' I went on recklessly,
'and throw it into the sea. Such things should be tempered to one.
I should feel it much less if she occupied another cabin, and would
consent to call me Elizabeth or Jane. It is not as if I had been
her mother always. One grows fastidious at forty--new intimacies
are only possible then on a basis of temperament--'
I paused; it seemed to me that I was making excuses, and I had not
the least desire in the world to do that.
'How awfully rough on the girl!' said Dacres Tottenham.
'That consideration has also occurred to me,' I said candidly,
'though I have perhaps been even more struck by its converse.'
'You had no earthly business to be her mother,' said my friend, with
I shrugged my shoulders--what would you have done?--and opened 'La
Mrs. Morgan, wife of a judge of the High Court of Bombay, and I sat
amidships on the cool side in the Suez Canal. She was outlining
'Soiled Linen' in chain-stitch on a green canvas bag; I was admiring
the Egyptian sands. 'How charming,' said I, 'is this solitary
desert in the endless oasis we are compelled to cross!'
'Oasis in the desert, you mean,' said Mrs. Morgan; 'I haven't
noticed any, but I happened to look up this morning as I was putting
on my stockings, and I saw through my port-hole the most lovely
I had been at school with Mrs. Morgan more than twenty years agone,
but she had come to the special enjoyment of the dignities of life
while I still liked doing things. Mrs. Morgan was the kind of
person to make one realize how distressing a medium is middle age.
Contemplating her precipitous lap, to which conventional attitudes
were certainly more becoming, I crossed my own knees with energy,
and once more resolved to be young until I was old.
'How perfectly delightful for you to be taking Cecily out!' said
Mrs. Morgan placidly.
'Isn't it?' I responded, watching the gliding sands.
'But she was born in sixty-nine--that makes her twenty-one. Quite
time, I should say.'
'Oh, we couldn't put it off any longer. I mean--her father has such
a horror of early debuts. He simply would not hear of her coming
'Doesn't want her to marry in India, I dare say--the only one,'
purred Mrs. Morgan.
'Oh, I don't know. It isn't such a bad place. I was brought out
there to marry, and I married. I've found it very satisfactory.'
'You always did say exactly what you thought, Helena,' said Mrs.
'I haven't much patience with people who bring their daughters out
to give them the chance they never would have in England, and then
go about devoutly hoping they won't marry in India,' I said. 'I
shall be very pleased if Cecily does as well as your girls have
'Mary in the Indian Civil and Jessie in the Imperial Service
Troops,' sighed Mrs. Morgan complacently. 'And both, my dear,
within a year. It WAS a blow.'
'Oh, it must have been!' I said civilly.
There was no use in bandying words with Emily Morgan.
'There is nothing in the world like the satisfaction and pleasure
one takes in one's daughters,' Mrs. Morgan went on limpidly. 'And
one can be in such CLOSE sympathy with one's girls. I have never
regretted having no sons.'
'Dear me, yes. To watch oneself growing up again--call back the
lovely April of one's prime, etcetera--to read every thought and
anticipate every wish--there is no more golden privilege in life,
dear Emily. Such a direct and natural avenue for affection, such a
wide field for interest!'
I paused, lost in the volume of my admirable sentiments.
'How beautifully you talk, Helena! I wish I had the gift.'
'It doesn't mean very much,' I said truthfully.
'Oh, I think it's everything! And how companionable a girl is! I
quite envy you, this season, having Cecily constantly with you and
taking her about everywhere. Something quite new for you, isn't
'Absolutely,' said I; 'I am looking forward to it immensely. But it
is likely she will make her own friends, don't you think?' I added
'Hardly the first season. My girls didn't. I was practically their
only intimate for months. Don't be afraid; you won't be obliged to
go shares in Cecily with anybody for a good long while,' added Mrs.
Morgan kindly. 'I know just how you feel about THAT.'
The muddy water of the Ditch chafed up from under us against its
banks with a smell that enabled me to hide the emotions Mrs. Morgan
evoked behind my handkerchief. The pale desert was pictorial with
the drifting, deepening purple shadows of clouds, and in the midst a
blue glimmer of the Bitter Lakes, with a white sail on them. A
little frantic Arab boy ran alongside keeping pace with the ship.
Except for the smell, it was like a dream, we moved so quietly; on,
gently on and on between the ridgy clay banks and the rows of piles.
Peace was on the ship; you could hear what the Fourth in his white
ducks said to the quartermaster in his blue denims; you could count
the strokes of the electric bell in the wheel-house; peace was on
the ship as she pushed on, an ever-venturing, double-funneled
impertinence, through the sands of the ages. My eyes wandered along
a plank-line in the deck till they were arrested by a petticoat I
knew, when they returned of their own accord. I seemed to be always
seeing that petticoat.
'I think,' resumed Mrs. Morgan, whose glance had wandered in the
same direction, 'that Cecily is a very fine type of our English
girls. With those dark grey eyes, a LITTLE prominent possibly, and
that good colour--it's rather high now perhaps, but she will lose
quite enough of it in India--and those regular features, she would
make a splendid Britannia. Do you know, I fancy she must have a
great deal of character. Has she?'
'Any amount. And all of it good,' I responded, with private
'No faults at all?' chaffed Mrs. Morgan.
I shook my head. 'Nothing,' I said sadly, 'that I can put my finger
on. But I hope to discover a few later. The sun may bring them
'Like freckles. Well, you are a lucky woman. Mine had plenty, I
assure you. Untidiness was no name for Jessie, and Mary--I'm SORRY
to say that Mary sometimes fibbed.'
'How lovable of her! Cecily's neatness is a painful example to me,
and I don't believe she would tell a fib to save my life.'
'Tell me,' said Mrs. Morgan, as the lunch-bell rang and she gathered
her occupation into her work-basket, 'who is that talking to her?'
'Oh, an old friend,' I replied easily; 'Dacres Tottenham, a dear
fellow, and most benevolent. He is trying on my behalf to reconcile
her to the life she'll have to lead in India.'
'She won't need much reconciling, if she's like most girls,'
observed Mrs. Morgan, 'but he seems to be trying very hard.'
That was quite the way I took it--on my behalf--for several days.
When people have understood you very adequately for ten years you do
not expect them to boggle at any problem you may present at the end
of the decade. I thought Dacres was moved by a fine sense of
compassion. I thought that with his admirable perception he had put
a finger on the little comedy of fruitfulness in my life that
laughed so bitterly at the tragedy of the barren woman, and was
attempting, by delicate manipulation, to make it easier. I really
thought so. Then I observed that myself had preposterously deceived
me, that it wasn't like that at all. When Mr. Tottenham joined us,
Cecily and me, I saw that he listened more than he talked, with an
ear specially cocked to register any small irony which might appear
in my remarks to my daughter. Naturally he registered more than
there were, to make up perhaps for dear Cecily's obviously not
registering any. I could see, too, that he was suspicious of any
flavour of kindness; finally, to avoid the strictures of his upper
lip, which really, dear fellow, began to bore me, I talked
exclusively about the distant sails and the Red Sea littoral. When
he no longer joined us as we sat or walked together, I perceived
that his hostility was fixed and his parti pris. He was brimful of
compassion, but it was all for Cecily, none for the situation or for
me. (She would have marvelled, placidly, why he pitied her. I am
glad I can say that.) The primitive man in him rose up as Pope of
nature and excommunicated me as a creature recusant to her
functions. Then deliberately Dacres undertook an office of
consolation; and I fell to wondering, while Mrs. Morgan spoke her
convictions plainly out, how far an impulse of reparation for a
misfortune with which he had nothing to do might carry a man.
I began to watch the affair with an interest which even to me seemed
queer. It was not detached, but it was semi-detached, and, of
course, on the side for which I seem, in this history, to be
perpetually apologizing. With certain limitations it didn't matter
an atom whom Cecily married. So that he was sound and decent, with
reasonable prospects, her simple requirements and ours for her would
be quite met. There was the ghost of a consolation in that; one
needn't be anxious or exacting.
I could predict with a certain amount of confidence that in her
first season she would probably receive three or four proposals, any
one of which she might accept with as much propriety and
satisfaction as any other one. For Cecily it was so simple;
prearranged by nature like her digestion, one could not see any
logical basis for difficulties. A nice upstanding sapper, a dashing
Bengal Lancer--oh, I could think of half a dozen types that would
answer excellently. She was the kind of young person, and that was
the summing up of it, to marry a type and be typically happy. I
hoped and expected that she would. But Dacres!
Dacres should exercise the greatest possible discretion. He was not
a person who could throw the dice indifferently with fate. He could
respond to so much, and he would inevitably, sooner or later, demand
so much response! He was governed by a preposterously exacting
temperament, and he wore his nerves outside. And what vision he
had! How he explored the world he lived in and drew out of it all
there was, all there was! I could see him in the years to come
ranging alone the fields that were sweet and the horizons that
lifted for him, and ever returning to pace the common dusty mortal
road by the side of a purblind wife. On general principles, as a
case to point at, it would be a conspicuous pity. Nor would it lack
the aspect of a particular, a personal misfortune. Dacres was
occupied in quite the natural normal degree with his charming self;
he would pass his misery on, and who would deserve to escape it less
than his mother-in-law?
I listened to Emily Morgan, who gleaned in the ship more information
about Dacres Tottenham's people, pay, and prospects than I had ever
acquired, and I kept an eye upon the pair which was, I flattered
myself, quite maternal. I watched them without acute anxiety,
deploring the threatening destiny, but hardly nearer to it than one
is in the stalls to the stage. My moments of real concern for
Dacres were mingled more with anger than with sorrow--it seemed
inexcusable that he, with his infallible divining-rod for
temperament, should be on the point of making such an ass of
himself. Though I talk of the stage there was nothing at all
dramatic to reward my attention, mine and Emily Morgan's. To my
imagination, excited by its idea of what Dacres Tottenham's
courtship ought to be, the attentions he paid to Cecily were most
humdrum. He threw rings into buckets with her--she was good at
that--and quoits upon the 'bull' board; he found her chair after the
decks were swabbed in the morning and established her in it; he
paced the deck with her at convenient times and seasons. They were
humdrum, but they were constant and cumulative. Cecily took them
with an even breath that perfectly matched. There was hardly
anything, on her part, to note--a little discreet observation of his
comings and goings, eyes scarcely lifted from her book, and later
just a hint of proprietorship, as the evening she came up to me on
deck, our first night in the Indian Ocean. I was lying in my long
chair looking at the thick, low stars and thinking it was a long
time since I had seen John.
'Dearest mamma, out here and nothing over your shoulders! You ARE
imprudent. Where is your wrap? Mr. Tottenham, will you please
fetch mamma's wrap for her?'
'If mamma so instructs me,' he said audaciously.
'Do as Cecily tells you,' I laughed, and he went and did it, while I
by the light of a quartermaster's lantern distinctly saw my daughter
Another time, when Cecily came down to undress, she bent over me as
I lay in the lower berth with unusual solicitude. I had been
dozing, and I jumped.
'What is it, child?' I said. 'Is the ship on fire?'
'No, mamma, the ship is not on fire. There is nothing wrong. I'm
so sorry I startled you. But Mr. Tottenham has been telling me all
about what you did for the soldiers the time plague broke out in the
lines at Mian-Mir. I think it was splendid, mamma, and so does he.'
'Oh, Lord!' I groaned. 'Good night.'
It remained in my mind, that little thing that Dacres had taken the
trouble to tell my daughter; I thought about it a good deal. It
seemed to me the most serious and convincing circumstances that had
yet offered itself to my consideration. Dacres was no longer
content to bring solace and support to the more appealing figure of
the situation; he must set to work, bless him! to improve the
situation itself. He must try to induce Miss Farnham, by telling
her everything he could remember to my credit, to think as well of
her mother as possible, in spite of the strange and secret blows
which that mother might be supposed to sit up at night to deliver to
her. Cecily thought very well of me already; indeed, with private
reservations as to my manners and--no, NOT my morals, I believe I
exceeded her expectations of what a perfectly new and untrained
mother would be likely to prove. It was my theory that she found me
all she could understand me to be. The maternal virtues of the
outside were certainly mine; I put them on with care every morning
and wore them with patience all day. Dacres, I assured myself, must
have allowed his preconception to lead him absurdly by the nose not
to see that the girl was satisfied, that my impatience, my
impotence, did not at all make her miserable. Evidently, however,
he had created our relations differently; evidently he had set
himself to their amelioration. There was portent in it; things
seemed to be closing in. I bit off a quarter of an inch of wooden
pen-handle in considering whether or not I should mention it in my
letter to John, and decided that it would be better just perhaps to
drop a hint. Though I could not expect John to receive it with any
sort of perturbation. Men are different; he would probably think
Tottenham well enough able to look after himself.
I had embarked on my letter, there at the end of a corner-table of
the saloon, when I saw Dacres saunter through. He wore a very
conscious and elaborately purposeless air; and it jumped with my
mood that he had nothing less than the crisis of his life in his
pocket, and was looking for me. As he advanced towards me between
the long tables doubt left me and alarm assailed me. 'I'm glad to
find you in a quiet corner,' said he, seating himself, and confirmed
my worst anticipations.
'I'm writing to John,' I said, and again applied myself to my pen-
handle. It is a trick Cecily has since done her best in vain to
cure me of.
'I am going to interrupt you,' he said. 'I have not had an
opportunity of talking to you for some time.'
'I like that!' I exclaimed derisively.
'And I want to tell you that I am very much charmed with Cecily.'
'Well,' I said, 'I am not going to gratify you by saying anything
'You don't deserve her, you know.'
'I won't dispute that. But, if you don't mind--I'm not sure that
I'll stand being abused, dear boy.'
'I quite see it isn't any use. Though one spoke with the tongues of
men and of angels--'
'And had not charity,' I continued for him. 'Precisely. I won't go
on, but your quotation is very apt.'
'I so bow down before her simplicity. It makes a wide and beautiful
margin for the rest of her character. She is a girl Ruskin would
'I wonder,' said I. 'He did seem fond of the simple type, didn't
'Her mind is so clear, so transparent. The motive spring of
everything she says and does is so direct. Don't you find you can
most completely depend upon her?'
'Oh yes,' I said; 'certainly. I nearly always know what she is
going to say before she says it, and under given circumstances I can
tell precisely what she will do.'
'I fancy her sense of duty is very beautifully developed.'
'It is,' I said. 'There is hardly a day when I do not come in
contact with it.'
'Well, that is surely a good thing. And I find that calm poise of
hers very restful.'
'I would not have believed that so many virtues could reside in one
young lady,' I said, taking refuge in flippancy, 'and to think that
she should be my daughter!'
'As I believe you know, that seems to me rather a cruel stroke of
destiny, Mrs. Farnham.'
'Oh yes, I know! You have a constructive imagination, Dacres. You
don't seem to see that the girl is protected by her limitations,
like a tortoise. She lives within them quite secure and happy and
content. How determined you are to be sorry for her!'
Mr. Tottenham looked at the end of this lively exchange as though he
sought for a polite way of conveying to me that I rather was the
limited person. He looked as if he wished he could say things. The
first of them would be, I saw, that he had quite a different
conception of Cecily, that it was illuminated by many trifles,
nuances of feeling and expression, which he had noticed in his talks
with her whenever they had skirted the subject of her adoption by
her mother. He knew her, he was longing to say, better than I did;
when it would have been natural to reply that one could not hope to
compete in such a direction with an intelligent young man, and we
should at once have been upon delicate and difficult ground. So it
was as well perhaps that he kept silence until he said, as he had
come prepared to say, 'Well, I want to put that beyond a doubt--her
happiness--if I'm good enough. I want her, please, and I only hope
that she will be half as willing to come as you are likely to be to
let her go.'
It was a shock when it came, plump, like that; and I was horrified
to feel how completely every other consideration was lost for the
instant in the immense relief that it prefigured. To be my whole
complete self again, without the feeling that a fraction of me was
masquerading about in Cecily! To be freed at once, or almost, from
an exacting condition and an impossible ideal! 'Oh!' I exclaimed,
and my eyes positively filled. 'You ARE good, Dacres, but I
couldn't let you do that.'
His undisguised stare brought me back to a sense of the proportion
of things. I saw that in the combination of influences that had
brought Mr. Tottenham to the point of proposing to marry my daughter
consideration for me, if it had a place, would be fantastic.
Inwardly I laughed at the egotism of raw nerves that had conjured it
up, even for an instant, as a reason for gratitude. The situation
was not so peculiar, not so interesting, as that. But I answered
his stare with a smile; what I had said might very well stand.
'Do you imagine,' he said, seeing that I did not mean to amplify it,
'that I want to marry her out of any sort of GOODness?'
'Benevolence is your weakness, Dacres.'
'I see. You think one's motive is to withdraw her from a relation
which ought to be the most natural in the world, but which is, in
her particular and painful case, the most equivocal.'
'Well, come,' I remonstrated. 'You have dropped one or two things,
you know, in the heat of your indignation, not badly calculated to
give one that idea. The eloquent statement you have just made, for
instance--it carries all the patness of old conviction. How often
have you rehearsed it?'
I am a fairly long-suffering person, but I began to feel a little
annoyed with my would-be son-in-law. If the relation were achieved
it would give him no prescriptive right to bully me; and we were
still in very early anticipation of that.
'Ah!' he said disarmingly. 'Don't let us quarrel. I'm sorry you
think that; because it isn't likely to bring your favour to my
project, and I want you friendly and helpful. Oh, confound it!' he
exclaimed, with sudden temper. 'You ought to be. I don't
understand this aloofness. I half suspect it's pose. You
undervalue Cecily--well, you have no business to undervalue me. You
know me better than anybody in the world. Now are you going to help
me to marry your daughter?'
'I don't think so,' I said slowly, after a moment's silence, which
he sat through like a mutinous schoolboy. 'I might tell you that I
don't care a button whom you marry, but that would not be true. I
do care more or less. As you say, I know you pretty well. I'd a
little rather you didn't make a mess of it; and if you must I should
distinctly prefer not to have the spectacle under my nose for the
rest of my life. I can't hinder you, but I won't help you.'
'And what possesses you to imagine that in marrying Cecily I should
make a mess of it? Shouldn't your first consideration be whether
'Perhaps it should, but, you see, it isn't. Cecily would be happy
with anybody who made her comfortable. You would ask a good deal
more than that, you know.'
Dacres, at this, took me up promptly. Life, he said, the heart of
life, had particularly little to say to temperament. By the heart
of life I suppose he meant married love. He explained that its
roots asked other sustenance, and that it throve best of all on
simple elemental goodness. So long as a man sought in women mere
casual companionship, perhaps the most exquisite thing to be
experienced was the stimulus of some spiritual feminine counterpart;
but when he desired of one woman that she should be always and
intimately with him, the background of his life, the mother of his
children, he was better advised to avoid nerves and sensibilities,
and try for the repose of the common--the uncommon--domestic
virtues. Ah, he said, they were sweet, like lavender. (Already, I
told him, he smelled the housekeeper's linen-chest.) But I did not
interrupt him much; I couldn't, he was too absorbed. To
temperamental pairing, he declared, the century owed its breed of
decadents. I asked him if he had ever really recognized one; and he
retorted that if he hadn't he didn't wish to make a beginning in his
own family. In a quarter of an hour he repudiated the theories of a
lifetime, a gratifying triumph for simple elemental goodness.
Having denied the value of the subtler pretensions to charm in woman
as you marry her, he went artlessly on to endow Cecily with as many
of them as could possibly be desirable. He actually persuaded
himself to say that it was lovely to see the reflections of life in
her tranquil spirit; and when I looked at him incredulously he grew
angry, and hinted that Cecily's sensitiveness to reflections and
other things might be a trifle beyond her mother's ken. 'She
responds instantly, intimately, to the beautiful everywhere,' he
'Aren't the opportunities of life on board ship rather limited to
demonstrate that?' I inquired. 'I know--you mean sunsets. Cecily
is very fond of sunsets. She is always asking me to come and look
'I was thinking of last night's sunset,' he confessed. 'We looked
at it together.'
'What did she say?' I asked idly.
'Nothing very much. That's just the point. Another girl would have
raved and gushed.'
'Oh, well, Cecily never does that,' I responded. 'Nevertheless she
is a very ordinary human instrument. I hope I shall have no
temptation ten years hence to remind you that I warned you of her
'I wish, not in the least for my own profit, for I am well convinced
already, but simply to win your cordiality and your approval--never
did an unexceptional wooer receive such niggard encouragement!--I
wish there were some sort of test for her quality. I would be proud
to stand by it, and you would be convinced. I can't find words to
describe my objection to your state of mind.'
The thing seemed to me to be a foregone conclusion. I saw it
accomplished, with all its possibilities of disastrous commonplace.
I saw all that I have here taken the trouble to foreshadow. So far
as I was concerned, Dacres's burden would add itself to my
philosophies, voila tout. I should always be a little uncomfortable
about it, because it had been taken from my back; but it would not
be a matter for the wringing of hands. And yet--the hatefulness of
the mistake! Dacres's bold talk of a test made no suggestion.
Should my invention be more fertile? I thought of something.
'You have said nothing to her yet?' I asked.
'Nothing. I don't think she suspects for a moment. She treats me
as if no such fell design were possible. I'm none too confident,
you know,' he added, with longer face.
'We go straight to Agra. Could you come to Agra?'
'Ideal!' he cried. 'The memory of Mumtaz! The garden of the Taj!
I've always wanted to love under the same moon as Shah Jehan. How
thoughtful of you!'
'You must spend a few days with us in Agra,' I continued. 'And as
you say, it is the very place to shrine your happiness, if it comes
to pass there.'
'Well, I am glad to have extracted a word of kindness from you at
last,' said Dacres, as the stewards came to lay the table. 'But I
wish,' he added regretfully, 'you could have thought of a test.'
Four days later we were in Agra. A time there was when the name
would have been the key of dreams to me; now it stood for John's
headquarters. I was rejoiced to think I would look again upon the
Taj; and the prospect of living with it was a real enchantment; but
I pondered most the kind of house that would be provided for the
General Commanding the District, how many the dining-room would
seat, and whether it would have a roof of thatch or of corrugated
iron--I prayed against corrugated iron. I confess these my
preoccupations. I was forty, and at forty the practical
considerations of life hold their own even against domes of marble,
world-renowned, and set about with gardens where the bulbul sings to
the rose. I smiled across the years at the raptures of my first
vision of the place at twenty-one, just Cecily's age. Would I now
sit under Arjamand's cypresses till two o'clock in the morning to
see the wonder of her tomb at a particular angle of the moon? Would
I climb one of her tall white ministering minarets to see anything
whatever? I very greatly feared that I would not. Alas for the
aging of sentiment, of interest! Keep your touch with life and your
seat in the saddle as long as you will, the world is no new toy at
forty. But Cecily was twenty-one, Cecily who sat stolidly finishing
her lunch while Dacres Tottenham talked about Akbar and his
philosophy. 'The sort of man,' he said, 'that Carlyle might have
smoked a pipe with.'
'But surely,' said Cecily reflectively, 'tobacco was not discovered
in England then. Akbar came to the throne in 1526.'
'Nor Carlyle either for that matter,' I hastened to observe.
'Nevertheless, I think Mr. Tottenham's proposition must stand.'
'Thanks, Mrs. Farnham,' said Dacres. 'But imagine Miss Farnham's
remembering Akbar's date! I'm sure you didn't!'
'Let us hope she doesn't know too much about him,' I cried gaily,
'or there will be nothing to tell!'
'Oh, really and truly very little!' said Cecily, 'but as soon as we
heard papa would be stationed here Aunt Emma made me read up about
those old Moguls and people. I think I remember the dynasty.
Baber, wasn't he the first? And then Humayon, and after him Akbar,
and then Jehangir, and then Shah Jehan. But I've forgotten every
date but Akbar's.'
She smiled her smile of brilliant health and even spirits as she
made the damaging admission, and she was so good to look at, sitting
there simple and wholesome and fresh, peeling her banana with her
well-shaped fingers, that we swallowed the dynasty as it were whole,
and smiled back upon her. John, I may say, was extremely pleased
with Cecily; he said she was a very satisfactory human
accomplishment. One would have thought, positively, the way he
plumed himself over his handsome daughter, that he alone was
responsible for her. But John, having received his family,
straightway set off with his Staff on a tour of inspection, and
thereby takes himself out of this history. I sometimes think that
if he had stayed--but there has never been the lightest
recrimination between us about it, and I am not going to hint one
'Did you read,' asked Dacres, 'what he and the Court poet wrote over
the entrance gate to the big mosque at Fattehpur-Sikri? It's rather
nice. "The world is a looking-glass, wherein the image has come and
is gone--take as thine own nothing more than what thou lookest
My daughter's thoughtful gaze was, of course, fixed upon the
speaker, and in his own glance I saw a sudden ray of consciousness;
but Cecily transferred her eyes to the opposite wall, deeply
considering, and while Dacres and I smiled across the table, I saw
that she had perceived no reason for blushing. It was a singularly
'No,' she said, 'I didn't; what a curious proverb for an emperor to
make! He couldn't possibly have been able to see all his
possessions at once.'
'If you have finished,' Dacres addressed her, 'do let me show you
what your plain and immediate duty is to the garden. The garden
waits for you--all the roses expectant--'
'Why, there isn't one!' cried Cecily, pinning on her hat. It was
pleasing, and just a trifle pathetic, the way he hurried her out of
the scope of any little dart; he would not have her even within
range of amused observation. Would he continue, I wondered vaguely,
as, with my elbows on the table, I tore into strips the lemon-leaf
that floated in my finger-bowl--would he continue, through life, to
shelter her from his other clever friends as now he attempted to
shelter her from her mother? In that case he would have to domicile
her, poor dear, behind the curtain, like the native ladies--a good
price to pay for a protection of which, bless her heart! she would
be all unaware. I had quite stopped bemoaning the affair; perhaps
the comments of my husband, who treated it with broad approval and
satisfaction, did something to soothe my sensibilities. At all
events, I had gradually come to occupy a high fatalistic ground
towards the pair. If it was written upon their foreheads that they
should marry, the inscription was none of mine; and, of course, it
was true, as John had indignantly stated, that Dacres might do very
much worse. One's interest in Dacres Tottenham's problematical
future had in no way diminished; but the young man was so positive,
so full of intention, so disinclined to discussion--he had not
reopened the subject since that morning in the saloon of the
Caledonia--that one's feeling about it rather took the attenuated
form of a shrug. I am afraid, too, that the pleasurable excitement
of such an impending event had a little supervened; even at forty
there is no disallowing the natural interests of one's sex. As I
sat there pulling my lemon-leaf to pieces, I should not have been
surprised or in the least put about if the two had returned radiant
from the lawn to demand my blessing. As to the test of quality that
I had obligingly invented for Dacres on the spur of the moment
without his knowledge or connivance, it had some time ago faded into
what he apprehended it to be--a mere idyllic opportunity, a charming
background, a frame for his project, of prettier sentiment than the
funnels and the hand-rails of a ship.
Mr. Tottenham had ten days to spend with us. He knew the place
well; it belonged to the province to whose service he was dedicated,
and he claimed with impressive authority the privilege of showing it
to Cecily by degrees--the Hall of Audience today, the Jessamine
Tower tomorrow, the tomb of Akbar another, and the Deserted City yet
another day. We arranged the expeditions in conference, Dacres
insisting only upon the order of them, which I saw was to be
cumulative, with the Taj at the very end, on the night precisely of
the full of the moon, with a better chance of roses. I had no
special views, but Cecily contributed some; that we should do the
Hall of Audience in the morning, so as not to interfere with the
club tennis in the afternoon, that we should bicycle to Akbar's tomb
and take a cold luncheon--if we were sure there would be no snakes--
to the Deserted City, to all of which Dacres gave loyal assent. I
endorsed everything; I was the encouraging chorus, only stipulating
that my number should be swelled from day to day by the addition of
such persons as I should approve. Cecily, for instance, wanted to
invite the Bakewells because we had come out in the same ship with
them; but I could not endure the Bakewells, and it seemed to me that
our having made the voyage with them was the best possible reason
for declining to lay eyes on them for the rest of our natural lives.
'Mamma has such strong prejudices,' Cecily remarked, as she
reluctantly gave up the idea; and I waited to see whether the
graceless Tottenham would unmurmuringly take down the Bakewells.
How strong must be the sentiment that turns a man into a boa-
constrictor without a pang of transmigration! But no, this time he
was faithful to the principles of his pre-Cecilian existence. 'They
are rather Boojums,' he declared. 'You would think so, too, if you
knew them better. It is that kind of excellent person that makes
the real burden of India.' I could have patted him on the back.
Thanks to the rest of the chorus, which proved abundantly available,
I was no immediate witness to Cecily's introduction to the glorious
fragments which sustain in Agra the memory of the moguls. I may as
well say that I arranged with care that if anybody must be standing
by when Dacres disclosed them, it should not be I. If Cecily had
squinted, I should have been sorry, but I would have found in it no
personal humiliation. There were other imperfections of vision,
however, for which I felt responsible and ashamed; and with Dacres,
though the situation, Heaven knows, was none of my seeking, I had a
little the feeling of a dealer who offers a defective bibelot to a
connoisseur. My charming daughter--I was fifty times congratulated
upon her appearance and her manners--had many excellent qualities
and capacities which she never inherited from me; but she could see
no more than the bulk, no further than the perspective; she could
register exactly as much as a camera.
This was a curious thing, perhaps, to displease my maternal vanity,
but it did; I had really rather she squinted; and when there was
anything to look at I kept out of the way. I can not tell
precisely, therefore, what the incidents were that contributed to
make Mr. Tottenham, on our return from these expeditions, so
thoughtful, with a thoughtfulness which increased, towards the end
of them, to a positive gravity. This would disappear during dinner
under the influence of food and drink. He would talk nightly with
new enthusiasm and fresh hope--or did I imagine it?--of the
loveliness he had arranged to reveal on the following day. If again
my imagination did not lead me astray, I fancied this occurred later
and later in the course of the meal as the week went on; as if his
state required more stimulus as time progressed. One evening, when
I expected it to flag altogether, I had a whim to order champagne
and observe the effect; but I am glad to say that I reproved myself,
Cecily, meanwhile, was conducting herself in a manner which left
nothing to be desired. If, as I sometimes thought, she took Dacres
very much for granted, she took him calmly for granted; she seemed a
prey to none of those fluttering uncertainties, those suspended
judgments and elaborate indifferences which translate themselves so
plainly in a young lady receiving addresses. She turned herself out
very freshly and very well; she was always ready for everything, and
I am sure that no glance of Dacres Tottenham's found aught but
direct and decorous response. His society on these occasions gave
her solid pleasure; so did the drive and the lunch; the
satisfactions were apparently upon the same plane. She was aware of
the plum, if I may be permitted a brusque but irresistible simile;
and with her mouth open, her eyes modestly closed, and her head in a
convenient position, she waited, placidly, until it should fall in.
The Farnham ladies would have been delighted with the result of
their labours in the sweet reason and eminent propriety of this
attitude. Thinking of my idiotic sufferings when John began to fix
himself upon my horizon, I pondered profoundly the power of nature
One evening, the last, I think, but one, I had occasion to go to my
daughter's room, and found her writing in her commonplace-book. She
had a commonplace-book, as well as a Where Is It? an engagement-
book, an account-book, a diary, a Daily Sunshine, and others with
purposes too various to remember. 'Dearest mamma,' she said, as I
was departing, 'there is only one "p" in "opulence", isn't there?'
'Yes,' I replied, with my hand on the door-handle, and added
curiously, for it was an odd word in Cecily's mouth, 'Why?'
She hardly hesitated. 'Oh,' she said, 'I am just writing down one
or two things Mr. Tottenham said about Agra before I forget them.
They seemed so true.'
'He has a descriptive touch,' I remarked.
'I think he describes beautifully. Would you like to hear what he
'I would,' I replied, sincerely.
'"Agra,"' read this astonishing young lady, '"is India's one pure
idyll. Elsewhere she offers other things, foolish opulence, tawdry
pageant, treachery of eunuchs and jealousies of harems, thefts of
kings' jewels and barbaric retributions; but they are all actual,
visualized, or part of a past that shows to the backward glance
hardly more relief and vitality than a Persian painting"--I should
like to see a Persian painting--"but here the immortal tombs and
pleasure-houses rise out of colour delicate and subtle; the vision
holds across three hundred years; the print of the court is still in
the dust of the city."'
'Did you really let him go on like that?' I exclaimed. 'It has the
license of a lecture!'
'I encouraged him to. Of course he didn't say it straight off. He
said it naturally; he stopped now and then to cough. I didn't
understand it all; but I think I have remembered every word.'
'You have a remarkable memory. I'm glad he stopped to cough. Is
there any more?'
'One little bit. "Here the moguls wrought their passions into
marble, and held them up with great refrains from their religion,
and set them about with gardens; and here they stand in the twilight
of the glory of those kings and the noonday splendour of their
'How clever of you!' I exclaimed. 'How wonderfully clever of you to
'I had to ask him to repeat one or two sentences. He didn't like
that. But this is nothing. I used to learn pages letter-perfect
for Aunt Emma. She was very particular. I think it is worth
preserving, don't you?'
'Dear Cecily,' I responded, 'you have a frugal mind.'
There was nothing else to respond. I could not tell her just how
practical I thought her, or how pathetic her little book.
We drove together, after dinner, to the Taj. The moonlight lay in
an empty splendour over the broad sandy road, with the acacias
pricking up on each side of it and the gardens of the station
bungalows stretching back into clusters of crisp shadows. It was an
exquisite February night, very still. Nothing seemed abroad but two
or three pariah dogs, upon vague and errant business, and the
Executive Engineer going swiftly home from the club on his bicycle.
Even the little shops of the bazaar were dark and empty; only here
and there a light showed barred behind the carved balconies of the
upper rooms, and there was hardly any tom-tomming. The last long
slope of the road showed us the river curving to the left, through a
silent white waste that stretched indefinitely into the moonlight on
one side, and was crowned by Akbar's fort on the other. His long
high line of turrets and battlements still guarded a hint of their
evening rose, and dim and exquisite above them hovered the three
dome-bubbles of the Pearl Mosque. It was a night of perfect
illusion, and the illusion was mysterious, delicate, and faint. I
sat silent as we rolled along, twenty years nearer to the original
joy of things when John and I drove through the same old dream.
Dacres, too, seemed preoccupied; only Cecily was, as they say,
herself. Cecily was really more than herself, she exhibited an
unusual flow of spirits. She talked continually, she pointed out
this and that, she asked who lived here and who lived there. At
regular intervals of about four minutes she demanded if it wasn't
simply too lovely. She sat straight up with her vigorous profile
and her smart hat; and the silhouette of her personality sharply
refused to mingle with the dust of any dynasty. She was a contrast,
a protest; positively she was an indignity. 'Do lean back, dear
child,' I exclaimed at last. 'You interfere with the landscape.'
She leaned back, but she went on interfering with it in terms of
When we stopped at the great archway of entrance I begged to be left
in the carriage. What else could one do, when the golden moment had
come, but sit in the carriage and measure it? They climbed the
broad stone steps together and passed under the lofty gravures into
the garden, and I waited. I waited and remembered. I am not, as
perhaps by this time is evident, a person of overwhelming sentiment,
but I think the smile upon my lips was gentle. So plainly I could
see, beyond the massive archway and across a score of years, all
that they saw at that moment--Arjamand's garden, and the long
straight tank of marble cleaving it full of sleeping water and the
shadows of the marshaling cypresses; her wide dark garden of roses
and of pomegranates, and at the end the Vision, marvellous, aerial,
the soul of something--is it beauty? is it sorrow?--that great white
pride of love in mourning such as only here in all the round of our
little world lifts itself to the stars, the unpaintable,
indescribable Taj Mahal. A gentle breath stole out with a scent of
jessamine and such a memory! I closed my eyes and felt the warm
luxury of a tear.
Thinking of the two in the garden, my mood was very kind, very
conniving. How foolish after all were my cherry-stone theories of
taste and temperament before that uncalculating thing which sways a
world and builds a Taj Mahal! Was it probable that Arjamand and her
Emperor had loved fastidiously, and yet how they had loved! I
wandered away into consideration of the blind forces which move the
world, in which comely young persons like my daughter Cecily had
such a place; I speculated vaguely upon the value of the subtler
gifts of sympathy and insight which seemed indeed, at that
enveloping moment, to be mere flowers strewn upon the tide of deeper
emotions. The garden sent me a fragrance of roses; the moon sailed
higher and picked out the little kiosks set along the wall. It was
a charming, charming thing to wait, there at the portal of the
silvered, scented garden, for an idyll to come forth.
When they reappeared, Dacres and my daughter, they came with casual
steps and cheerful voices. They might have been a couple of
tourists. The moonlight fell full upon them on the platform under
the arch. It showed Dacres measuring with his stick the length of
the Sanskrit letters which declared the stately texts, and Cecily's
expression of polite, perfunctory interest. They looked up at the
height above them; they looked back at the vision behind. Then they
sauntered towards the carriage, he offering a formal hand to help
her down the uncertain steps, she gracefully accepting it.
'You--you have not been long,' said I. 'I hope you didn't hurry on
'Miss Farnham found the marble a little cold under foot,' replied
Dacres, putting Miss Farnham in.
'You see,' explained Cecily, 'I stupidly forgot to change into
thicker soles. I have only my slippers. But, mamma, how lovely it
is! Do let us come again in the daytime. I am dying to make a
sketch of it.'
Mr. Tottenham was to leave us on the following day. In the morning,
after 'little breakfast,' as we say in India, he sought me in the
room I had set aside to be particularly my own.
Again I was writing to John, but this time I waited for precisely
his interruption. I had got no further than 'My dearest husband,'
and my pen-handle was a fringe.
'Another fine day,' I said, as if the old, old Indian joke could
give him ease, poor man!
'Yes,' said he, 'we are having lovely weather.'
He had forgotten that it was a joke. Then he lapsed into silence
while I renewed my attentions to my pen.
'I say,' he said at last, with so strained a look about his mouth
that it was almost a contortion, 'I haven't done it, you know.'
'No,' I responded, cheerfully, 'and you're not going to. Is that
'Frankly--' said he.
'Dear me, yes! Anything else between you and me would be
grotesque,' I interrupted, 'after all these years.'
'I don't think it would be a success,' he said, looking at me
resolutely with his clear blue eyes, in which still lay, alas! the
possibility of many delusions.
'No,' I said, 'I never did, you know. But the prospect had begun to
impose upon me.'
'To say how right you were would seem, under the circumstances, the
most hateful form of flattery.'
'Yes,' I said, 'I think I can dispense with your verbal
endorsement.' I felt a little bitter. It was, of course, better
that the connoisseur should have discovered the flaw before
concluding the transaction; but although I had pointed it out myself
I was not entirely pleased to have the article returned.
'I am infinitely ashamed that it should have taken me all these
days--day after day and each contributory--to discover what you saw
so easily and so completely.'
'You forget that I am her mother,' I could not resist the temptation
'Oh, for God's sake don't jeer! Please be absolutely direct, and
tell me if you have reason to believe that to the extent of a
thought, of a breath--to any extent at all--she cares.'
He was, I could see, very deeply moved; he had not arrived at this
point without trouble and disorder not lightly to be put on or off.
Yet I did not hurry to his relief, I was still possessed by a vague
feeling of offense. I reflected that any mother would be, and I
quite plumed myself upon my annoyance. It was so satisfactory, when
one had a daughter, to know the sensations of even any mother. Nor
was it soothing to remember that the young man's whole attitude
towards Cecily had been based upon criticism of me, even though he
sat before me whipped with his own lash. His temerity had been
stupid and obstinate; I could not regret his punishment.
I kept him waiting long enough to think all this, and then I
replied, 'I have not the least means of knowing.'
I can not say what he expected, but he squared his shoulders as if
he had received a blow and might receive another. Then he looked at
me with a flash of the old indignation. 'You are not near enough to
her for that!' he exclaimed.
'I am not near enough to her for that.'
Silence fell between us. A crow perched upon an opened venetian and
cawed lustily. For years afterward I never heard a crow caw without
a sense of vain, distressing experiment. Dacres got up and began to
walk about the room. I very soon put a stop to that. 'I can't talk
to a pendulum,' I said, but I could not persuade him to sit down
'Candidly,' he said at length, 'do you think she would have me?'
'I regret to say that I think she would. But you would not dream of
'Why not? She is a dear girl,' he responded inconsequently.
'You could not possibly stand it.'
Then Mr. Tottenham delivered himself of this remarkable phrase: 'I
could stand it,' he said, 'as well as you can.'
There was far from being any joy in the irony with which I regarded
him and under which I saw him gather up his resolution to go;
nevertheless I did nothing to make it easy for him. I refrained
from imparting my private conviction that Cecily would accept the
first presentable substitute that appeared, although it was strong.
I made no reference to my daughter's large fund of philosophy and
small balance of sentiment. I did not even--though this was
reprehensible--confess the test, the test of quality in these ten
days with the marble archives of the Moguls, which I had almost
wantonly suggested, which he had so unconsciously accepted, so
disastrously applied. I gave him quite fifteen minutes of his bad
quarter of an hour, and when it was over I wrote truthfully but
furiously to John. . ..
That was ten years ago. We have since attained the shades of
retirement, and our daughter is still with us when she is not with
Aunt Emma and Aunt Alice--grandmamma has passed away. Mr.
Tottenham's dumb departure that day in February--it was the year
John got his C.B.--was followed, I am thankful to say, by none of
the symptoms of unrequited affection on Cecily's part. Not for ten
minutes, so far as I was aware, was she the maid forlorn. I think
her self-respect was of too robust a character, thanks to the Misses
Farnham. Still less, of course, had she any reproaches to serve
upon her mother, although for a long time I thought I detected--or
was it my guilty conscience?--a spark of shrewdness in the glance
she bent upon me when the talk was of Mr. Tottenham and the
probabilities of his return to Agra. So well did she sustain her
experience, or so little did she feel it, that I believe the
impression went abroad that Dacres had been sent disconsolate away.
One astonishing conversation I had with her some six months later,
which turned upon the point of a particularly desirable offer. She
told me something then, without any sort of embarrassment, but quite
lucidly and directly, that edified me much to hear. She said that
while she was quite sure that Mr. Tottenham thought of her only as a
friend--she had never had the least reason for any other impression-
-he had done her a service for which she could not thank him enough-
-in showing her what a husband might be. He had given her a
standard; it might be high, but it was unalterable. She didn't know
whether she could describe it, but Mr. Tottenham was different from
the kind of man you seemed to meet in India. He had his own ways of
looking at things, and he talked so well. He had given her an
ideal, and she intended to profit by it. To know that men like Mr.
Tottenham existed, and to marry any other kind would be an act of
folly which she did not intend to commit. No, Major the Hon. Hugh
Taverel did not come near it--very far short, indeed! He had talked
to her during the whole of dinner the night before about jackal-
hunting with a bobbery pack--not at all an elevated mind. Yes, he
might be a very good fellow, but as a companion for life she was
sure he would not be at all suitable. She would wait.
And she has waited. I never thought she would, but she has. From
time to time men have wished to take her from us, but the standard
has been inexorable, and none of them have reached it. When Dacres
married the charming American whom he caught like a butterfly upon
her Eastern tour, Cecily sent them as a wedding present an alabaster
model of the Taj, and I let her do it--the gift was so exquisitely
appropriate. I suppose he never looks at it without being reminded
that he didn't marry Miss Farnham, and I hope that he remembers that
he owes it to Miss Farnham's mother. So much I think I might claim;
it is really very little considering what it stands for. Cecily is
permanently with us--I believe she considers herself an intimate. I
am very reasonable about lending her to her aunts, but she takes no
sort of advantage of my liberality; she says she knows her duty is
at home. She is growing into a firm and solid English maiden lady,
with a good colour and great decision of character. That she always
I point out to John, when she takes our crumpets away from us, that
she gets it from him. I could never take away anybody's crumpets,
merely because they were indigestible, least of all my own parents'.
She has acquired a distinct affection for us, by some means best
known to herself; but I should have no objection to that if she
would not rearrange my bonnet-strings. That is a fond liberty to
which I take exception; but it is one thing to take exception and
another to express it.
Our daughter is with us, permanently with us. She declares that she
intends to be the prop of our declining years; she makes the
statement often, and always as if it were humorous. Nevertheless I
sometimes notice a spirit of inquiry, a note of investigation in her
encounters with the opposite sex that suggests an expectation not
yet extinct that another and perhaps a more appreciative Dacres
Tottenham may flash across her field of vision--alas, how
improbable! Myself I can not imagine why she should wish it; I have
grown in my old age into a perfect horror of cultivated young men;
but if such a person should by a miracle at any time appear, I think
it is extremely improbable that I will interfere on his behalf.
2. An Impossible Ideal.
To understand how we prized him, Dora Harris and I, it is necessary
to know Simla. I suppose people think of that place, if they ever
do think of it, as an agreeable retreat in the wilds of the
Himalayas where deodars and scandals grow, and where the Viceroy if
he likes may take off his decorations and go about in flannels. I
know how useless it would be to try to give a more faithful
impression, and I will hold back from the attempt as far as I can.
Besides, my little story is itself an explanation of Simla.
Ingersoll Armour might have appeared almost anywhere else without
making social history. He came and bloomed among us in the
wilderness, and such and such things happened. It sounds too rude a
generalization to say that Simla is a wilderness; I hasten to add
that it is a waste as highly cultivated as you like, producing many
things more admirable than Ingersoll Armour. Still he bloomed there
conspicuously alone. Perhaps there would have been nothing to tell
if we had not tried to gather him. That was wrong; Nature in Simla
expects you to be content with cocked hats.
There are artists almost everywhere and people who paint even in the
Himalayas, though Miss Harris and I in our superior way went yearly
to the Simla Fine Arts Exhibition chiefly to amuse ourselves by
scoffing. It was easy to say clever things about the poor little
exhibits; and one was grateful to the show on this account, for
nothing is more depressing east of Suez than the absence of
provocation to say clever things. There one afternoon in May as we
marched about enjoying ourselves, we came upon Ingersoll Armour, not
in the flesh, but in half a dozen studies hanging in the least
conspicuous corner and quite the worst light in the room.
'Eh, what?' said I, and Dora exclaimed:
'Sent out from home,' I said, ever the oracle.
'Not at all,' replied Dora. 'Look, they are Indian subjects. SIMLA
subjects,' she went on, with excitement.
I turned up the catalogue. 'Ninety-seven, "Kasumti Bazaar"; ninety-
eight, "Clouds on the Chor"; ninety-nine, "The House of a Friend"--
Lord, what apricot blossoms! Yes, they're all Simla.'
'For goodness' sake,' said Dora, 'who painted them? You've got the
'"I. Armour,"' I read.
'"I. Armour,"' she repeated, and we looked at each other, saying in
plain silence that to the small world of Simla I. Armour was
'Not on Government House list, I venture to believe,' said Dora.
That in itself may show to what depths we sink. Yet it was a
trenchant and a reasonable speculation.
'It may be a newcomer,' I suggested, but she shook her head. 'All
newcomers call upon us,' she said. 'There in the middle of the Mall
we escape none of them. He isn't a calling person.'
'Why do you say "he"? You are very confident with your pronouns.
There's a delicacy of feeling--'
'Which exactly does not suggest a women. We are undermined by
delicacy of feeling; we're not strong enough to express it with
brushes. A man can make it a quality, a decorative characteristic,
and so we see it. With a woman it's everything--all over the place-
-and of no effect. Oh, I assure you, I. Armour is a man.'
'Who shall stand against you! Let him be a man. He has taste.'
'Taste!' exclaimed Miss Harris, violently, and from the corners of
her mouth I gathered that I had said one of those things which she
would store up and produce to prove that I was not, for all my
pretensions, a person of the truest feeling. 'He sees things.'
'There's an intensity,' I ventured.
'That's better. Yes, an intensity. A perfect passion of colour.
Look at that.' She indicated a patch of hillsides perhaps six
inches by four, in which the light seemed to come and go as it does
in a sapphire.
We stood and gazed. It was a tremendous thing; only half a dozen
studies with feeling and knowledge in them, but there in that remote
fastness thrice barred against the arts a tremendous thing, a
banquet for our famished eyes. What they would have said to us in
London is a different matter, and how good they really were I do not
find the courage to pronounce, but they had merit enough to prick
our sense of beauty delightfully where we found them--oh, they were
'Heaven send it isn't a Tommy,' said Dora, with a falling
countenance. 'There is something absolutely inaccessible about a
'How could it be?' I asked.
'Oh, there are some inspired ones. But it isn't--that's French
technique. It's an Englishman or an American who has worked in
Paris. What in the name of fortune is he doing here?'
'Oh,' I said, 'we have had them, you know. Val Prinsep came out at
the time of the Prince of Wales's visit.'
'Do you remember that?'
'It's a matter of history,' I said, evasively, 'and Edwin Weeks
travelled through India not so many years ago. I saw his studio in
Paris afterward. Between his own canvases and Ahmedabad balconies
and Delhi embroideries and Burmese Buddhas and other things he
seemed to have carried off the whole place.'
'But they don't come up here ever. They come in the cold weather,
and as they can get plenty of snow and ice at home, they stay down
in the plains with the palm-trees.'
'Precisely; they do,' I said.
'And besides,' Dora went on, with increasing excitement, 'this isn't
a master. You see, he doesn't send a single picture--only these
tiny things. And there's a certain tentativeness'--Miss Harris, her
parasol handle pressed against her lips, looked at me with an
eagerness that was a pleasure to look at in itself.
'A certain weakness, almost a lack of confidence, in the drawing,' I
'What does that signify?'
'Why, immaturity, of course--not enough discipline.'
'He's a student. Not that it amounts to a defect, you know'--she
was as jealous already as if she possessed the things--'only a sign
to read by. I should be grateful for more signs. Why should a
student come to Simla?'
'To teach, perhaps,' I suggested. Naturally one sought only among
reasons of utility.
'It's the Kensington person who teaches. When they have worked in
the ateliers and learned as much as this they never do. They paint
fans and menu cards, and starve, but they don't teach.'
Sir William Lamb, Member of Council for the Department of Finance,
was borne by the stream to our sides. The simile will hardly stand
conscientious examination, for the stream was a thin one and did no
more than trickle past, while Sir William weighed fifteen stone, and
was so eminent that it could never inconvenience him at its deepest.
Dora detached her gaze from the pictures and turned her back upon
them; I saw the measure of precaution. It was unavailing, however.
'What have we here?' said Sir William. Dora removed her person from
his line of vision, and he saw what we had there.
'The work of a friend of yours?' Sir William was spoken of as a
'cautious' man. He had risen to his present distinction on
stepping-stones of mistakes he conspicuously had not made.
'No,' said Dora, 'we were wondering who the artist could be.'
Sir William looked at the studies, and had a happy thought. 'If you
ask me, I should say a child of ten,' he said. He was also known as
a man of humour.
'Miss Harris had just remarked a certain immaturity,' I ventured.
'Oh, well,' said Sir William, 'this isn't the Royal Academy, is it?
I always say it's very good of people to send their things here at
all. And some of them are not half bad--I should call this year's
average very high indeed.'
'Are you pleased with the picture that has taken your prize, Sir
William?' asked Dora.
'I have bought it.' Sir William's chest underwent before our eyes
an expansion of conscious virtue. Living is so expensive in Simla;
the purchase of a merely decorative object takes almost the
proportion of an act of religion, even by a Member of Council
drawing four hundred pounds a month.
'First-rate it is, first-rate. Have you seen it? "Our Camp in
Tirah." Natives cooking in the foreground, fellows standing about
smoking, and a whole pile of tinned stores dumped down in one
corner, exactly as they would be, don't you know! Oh, I think the
Committee made a very good choice indeed, a very good choice.'
Sir William moved on, and Dora was free to send me an expressive
glance. 'Isn't that just LIKE this place?' she demanded. 'Let me
see, the Viceroy's medal, the Society's silver medal, five prizes
from Members of Council. Highly Commended's as thick as
blackberries, and these perfectly fresh, original, admirable things
completely ignored. What an absurd, impossible corner of the earth
'You look very cross, you two,' said Mrs. Sinclair, trailing past.
'Come and see the crazy china exhibit, all made of little bits, you
know. They say the photograph frames are simply lovely.'
Mrs. Sinclair's invitation was not sincere. Miss Harris was able to
answer it with a laugh and a wave. We remained beside the serious
fact of exhibits 97-103.
'Who are the judges this year?' I asked, not that I did not know
precisely who they were likely to be. There is a custom in these
matters, and I had been part of Simla for eleven years.
Dora took the catalogue from my hand and turned its pages over.
'Mr. Cathcart, of course; the Private Secretary to the Viceroy would
be on the Committee almost ex officio, wouldn't he? Impossible to
conceive a Private Secretary to the Viceroy whose opinion would not
be valuable upon any head. The member for Public Works--I suppose
he can build bridges, or could once, therefore he can draw, or could
once; besides, look at his precedence and his pay! General Haycock-
-isn't he head of the Ordnance Department? I can't think of any
other reason for putting him on. Oh yes--he's a K.C.B., and he is
inventing a way of taking coloured photographs. Mr. Tilley, the old
gentleman that teaches elementary drawing to the little girls in the
diocesan school, that's all right. And Mr. Jay, of course, because
Mr. Jay's water-colours are the mainstay of the exhibition, and he
must be given a chance of expressing his opinion of them.' She
handed me back the catalogue. 'I have never been really angry with
them before,' she said.
'Are you really angry now?' I asked.
'Furious,' Dora replied, and indeed her face expressed indignation.
Its lines were quite tense, and a spark shone oddly in the middle of
the eyes. One could not credit her with beauty, but as her lady
friends were fond of saying, there was something 'more' in her face.
I saw a good deal more at this moment, and it gave me pleasure, as
all her feelings did when they came out like that. I hasten to add
that she was not unpleasing; her features had a symmetry and a
mobility, and her eyes could take any transient charm they chose to
endow themselves with; though there were moments when she compared
very badly with the other young ladies of Simla with their high
spirits and their pretty complexions, very badly indeed. Those were
occasions when the gay monotony of the place pressed, I imagine, a
little heavily upon her, and the dullness she felt translated itself
in her expression. But she was by no means unpleasing.
'I must go and see Lady Pilkey's picture,' I said.
'What is the use?' said Dora. 'It's a landscape in oils--a view of
the Himalayas, near Narkanda. There are the snows in the
background, very thin and visionary through a gap in the trees, and
two hills, one hill on each side. Dark green trees, pine-trees,
with a dead one in the left foreground covered with a brilliant red
creeper. Right foreground occupied by a mountain path and a
solitary native figure with its back turned. Society's silver
'When did you see it?' I asked.
'I haven't seen it--this year. But I saw the one she sent last, and
the one the year before that. You can trust my memory, really.'
'No,' I said, 'I can't. I'm dining there tonight. I must have an
'Congratulate her on the warm blaze of colour in the foreground.
It's perfectly safe,' urged Miss Harris, but I felt compelled to go
myself to see lady Pilkey's landscape. When I returned I found her
still sitting in grave absorption before the studies that had taken
us so by surprise. Her face was full of a soft new light; I had
never before seen the spring touched in her that could flood it like
'You were very nearly right,' I announced; 'but the blaze of colour
was in the middle distance, and there was a torrent in the
foreground that quite put it out. And the picture does take the
Society's silver medal.'
'I can not decide,' she replied without looking at me, 'between the
Kattiawar fair thing and those hills in the rain. I can only have
one--father won't hear of more than one.'
'You can have two,' I said bluntly, so deeply interested I was in
the effect the things had on her. 'And I will have a third for
myself. I can't withstand those apricot-trees.'
I thought there was moisture in the eyes she turned upon me, an
unusual thing--a most unusual thing--in Dora Harris; but she winked
it back, if it was there, too quickly for any certainty.
'You are a dear,' she said. Once or twice before she had called me
a dear. It reminded me, as nothing else ever did, that I was a
contemporary of her father's. It is a feeble confession, but I have
known myself refrain from doing occasional agreeable things
apprehending that she might call me a dear.
Dora had been out three seasons when these things happened. I
remember sharing Edward Harris's anxiety in no slight degree as to
how the situation would resolve itself when she came, the situation
consisting so considerably in his eyes of the second Mrs. Harris,
who had complicated it further with three little red-cheeked boys,
all of the age to be led about the station on very small ponies, and
not under any circumstances to be allowed in the drawing-room when
one went to tea with their mother. No one, except perhaps poor Ted
himself, was more interested than I to observe how the situation did
resolve itself, in the decision of Mrs. Harris that the boys, the
two eldest at least, must positively begin the race for the
competitive examinations of the future without further delay, and
that she must as positively be domiciled in England 'to be near'
them, at all events until they had well made the start. I should
have been glad to see them ride their ponies up and down the Mall a
bit longer, poor little chaps; they were still very cherubic to be
invited to take a view of competitive examinations, however distant;
but Mrs. Harris's conviction was not to be overcome. So they went
home to begin, and she went with them, leaving Dora in possession of
her father, her father's house, his pay, his precedence, and all
that was his. Not that I would suggest any friction; I am convinced
that there was nothing like that--at least, nothing that met the
eye, or the ear. Dora adored the three little boys and was
extremely kind to their mother. She regarded this lady, I have
reason to believe, with the greatest indulgence, and behaved towards
her with the greatest consideration; I mean she had unerring
intuitions as to just when, on afternoons when Mrs. Harris was at
home from dusk till dinner, she should be dying for a walk. One
could imagine her looking with her grey eyes at dear mamma's horizon
and deciding that papa was certainly not enough to fill it by
himself, deciding at the same time that he was never likely to be
ousted there, only accompanied, in a less important and entirely
innocent degree. It may be surprising that any one should fly from
so broad-minded a step-daughter; but the happy family party lasted a
bare three months. I think Mrs. Harris had a perception--she was
the kind of woman who arrived obscurely at very correct conclusions-
-that she was contributing to her step-daughter's amusement in a
manner which her most benevolent intentions had not contemplated,
and she was not by any means the little person to go on doing that
indefinitely, perhaps increasingly. Besides, it was in the natural
order of things that Dora should marry, and Mrs. Harris doubtless
foresaw a comfortable return for herself in the course of a year or
two, when the usual promising junior in 'the Department' should gild
his own prospects and promote the general well-being by acquiring
its head for a father-in-law. Things always worked out if you gave
them time. How much time you ought to give them was doubtless by
now a pretty constant query with the little lady in her foggy exile;
for two years had already passed and Dora had found no connection
with any young man of the Department more permanent than those
prescribed at dinners and at dances. It is doubtful, indeed, if she
had had the opportunity. There was no absolute means of knowing;
but if offers were made they never transpired, and Mrs. Harris, far
away in England, nourished a certainty that they never were made.
Speaking with her intimate knowledge of the sex she declared that
Dora frightened the men, that her cleverness was of a kind to
paralyze any sentiment of the sort that might be expected. It
depended upon Mrs. Harris's humour whether this was Dora's
misfortune or her crime. She, Dora, never frightened me, and by the
time her cleverness dawned upon me, my sentiment about her had
become too robust to be paralyzed. On the contrary, the agreeable
stimulus it gave me was one of the things I counted most valuable in
my life out there. It hardly mattered, however, that I should
confess this; I was not a young man in Harris's department. I had a
department of my own; and Dora, though she frisked with me
gloriously and bullied continually, must ever have been aware of the
formidable fact that I joined the Service two years before Edward