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The Pool in the Desert by Sara Jeanette Duncan

Part 4 out of 4

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failed to suffer a quick fate under the guidance of his imagination.
But there was nothing for him to kill, and he turned upon himself.

The sun went down into the Punjab and left great blue-and-purple
hill worlds barring the passage behind him. The deodars sank waist
deep into filmy shadow, and the yellow afterlight lay silently among
the branches. A pink-haunched monkey lopading across the road with
a great show of prudence seemed to have strayed into an unfamiliar
country, and the rustling twigs behind him made an episode of sound.
The road in perpetual curve between its little stone parapet and the
broad flank of the hill rose and fell under the deodars; Innes took
its slopes and its steepnesses with even, unslackened stride, aware
of no difference, aware of little indeed except the physical
necessity of movement, spurred on by a futile instinct that the end
of his walk would be the end of his trouble--his amazing, black,
menacing trouble. A pony's trot behind him struck through the
silence like percussion-caps; all Jakko seemed to echo with it; and
it came nearer--insistent, purposeful--but he was hardly aware of it
until the creature pulled up beside him, and Madeline, slipping
quickly off, said--

'I'm coming too.'

He took off his hat and stared at her. She seemed to represent a

'I'm coming too,' she said. 'I'm tired of picking flies off the
Turk, and he's really unbearable about them tonight. Here, syce.'
She threw the reins to the man and turned to Innes with a smile of
relief. 'I would much rather do a walk. Why--you want me to come
too, don't you?'

His face was all one negative, and under the unexpectedness of it
and the amazement of it her questioning eyes slowly filled with
sudden, uncontrollable tears, so that she had to lower them, and
look steadily at the hoof-marks in the road while she waited for his

'You know how I feel about seeing you--how glad I always am,' he
stammered. 'But there are reasons--'

'Reasons?' she repeated, half audibly.

'I don't know how to tell you. I will write. But let me put you up

'I will not,' Madeline said, with a sob, 'I won't be sent home like
a child. I am going to walk, but--but I can quite well go alone.'
She started forward, and her foot caught in her habit so that she
made an awkward stumble and came down on her knee. In rising she
stumbled again, and his quick arm was necessary. Looking down at
her, he saw that she was crying bitterly. The tension had lasted
long, and the snap had come when she least expected it.

'Stop,' Innes said, firmly, hardly daring to turn his head and
ascertain the blessed fact that they were still alone. 'Stop
instantly. You shall not go by yourself.' He flicked the dust off
her habit with his pocket-handkerchief. 'Come, please; we will go
on together.' Her distress seemed to make things simple again. It
was as if the cloud that hung over them had melted as she wept, and
lifted, and drifted a little further on. For the moment, naturally,
nothing mattered except that she should be comforted. As she walked
by his side shaken with her effort at self-control, he had to resist
the impulse to touch her. His hand tingled to do its part in
soothing her, his arm ached to protect her, while he vaguely felt an
element of right, of justice, in her tears; they were in a manner
his own. What he did was to turn and ask the syce following if he
had loosened the Turk's saddle-girths.

'I shall be better--in a moment,' Madeline said, and he answered,
'Of course'; but they walked on and said nothing more until the road
ran out from under the last deodar and round the first bare boulder
that marked the beginning of the Ladies' Mile. It lay rolled out
before them, the Ladies' Mile, sinuous and grey and empty, along the
face of the cliff; they could see from one end of it to the other.
It was the bleak side of Jakko; even tonight there was a fresh
springing coldness in it blowing over from the hidden snows behind
the rims of the nearer hills. Madeline held up her face to it, and
gave herself a moment of its grateful discipline.

'I have been as foolish as possible,' she said, 'as foolish as
possible. I have distressed you. Well, I couldn't help it--that is
all there is to be said. Now if you will tell me--what is in your
mind--what you spoke of writing--I will mount again and go home. It
doesn't matter--I know you didn't mean to be unkind.' Her lip was
trembling again, and he knew it, and dared not look at it.

'How can you ask me to tell you--miserable things!' he exclaimed.
'How can I find the words? And I have only just been told--I can
hardly myself conceive it--'

'I am not a child in her teens that my ears should be guarded from
miserable things. I have come of age, I have entered into my
inheritance of the world's bitterness with the rest. I can listen,'
Madeline said. 'Why not?'

He looked to her with grave tenderness. 'You think yourself very
old, and very wise about the world,' he said; 'but you are a woman,
and you will be hurt. And when I think that a little ordinary
forethought on my part would have protected you, I feel like the
criminal I am.'

'Don't make too much of it,' she said, simply. 'I have a

'I'll tell you,' Innes said, slowly; 'I won't niggle about it. The
people of this place--idiots!--are unable to believe that a man and
a woman can be to each other what we are.'

'Yes?' said Madeline. She paused beside the parapet and looked down
at the indistinct little fields below, and the blurred masses of
white wild roses waving midway against the precipice.

'They can not understand that there can be any higher plane of
intercourse between us than the one they know. They won't see--they
can't see--that the satisfaction we find in being together is of a
different nature.'

'I see,' said Madeline. She had raised her eyes, and they sought
the solemn lines of the horizon. She looked as if she saw something
infinitely lifted above the pettiness he retailed to her.

'So they say--good God, why should I tell you what they say!' It
suddenly flashed upon him that the embodiment of it in words would
be at once, from him, sacrilegious and ludicrous. It flashed upon
him that her natural anger would bring him pain, and that if she
laughed--it was so hard to tell when she would laugh--it would be as
if she struck him. He cast about him dumb and helpless while she
kept her invincibly quiet gaze upon the farther hills. She was
thinking that this breath of gossip, now that it had blown, was a
very slight affair compared with Horace Innes's misery--which he did
not seem to understand. Then her soul rose up in her, brushing
everything aside, and forgetting, alas! the vow it had once made to

'I think I know,' she said. 'They are indeed foolish. They say
that we--love each other. Is not that what they say?'

He looked in amazement into her tender eyes and caught at the little
mocking smile about her lips. Suddenly the world grew light about
him, the shadows fled away. Somewhere down in the valley, he
remembered afterward, a hill-flute made music. When he spoke it was
almost in a whisper, lest he should disturb some newly perceived
lovely thing that had wings, and might leave him. 'Oh, Madeline,'
he said, 'is it true?' She only smiled on in gladness that took no
heed of any apprehension, any fear or scruple, and he himself
keeping his eyes upon her face, said, 'It is true.'

So they stood for a little time in silence while she resisted her
great opportunity. She resisted it to the end, and presently
beckoned to the syce, who came up leading the pony. Innes mounted
her mechanically and said, 'Is that all right?' as she put her foot
in the stirrup, without knowing that he had spoken.

'Goodbye,' she said; 'I am going away--immediately. It will be
better. And listen--I have known this for weeks--and I have gone on
seeing you. And I hope I am not any more wicked than I feel.

'Goodbye,' he said, taking his hand from the pony's neck, and she
rode buoyantly away. He, turning to breast the road again, saw
darkness gathering over the end of it, and drawing nearer.

At eleven o'clock next morning Brookes rose from her packing to take
a note addressed to her mistress from the hand of a messenger in the
Imperial red and gold. It ran:

'Dear Miss Anderson--I write to tell you that I have obtained three
weeks' leave, and I am going into the interior to shoot, starting
this afternoon. You spoke yesterday of leaving Simla almost
immediately. I trust you will not do this, as it would be extremely
risky to venture down to the Plains just now. In ten days the rains
will have broken, when it will be safe. Pray wait till then.

'Yours sincerely,

'Horace Innes.'

Involuntarily the letter found its way to Madeline's lips, and
remained there until she saw the maid observing her with

'Brookes,' she said, 'I am strongly advised not to start until the
rains break. I think, on the whole, that we won't.'

'Indeed, miss,' returned Brookes, 'Mrs. Sergeant Simmons told me
that it was courting cholera to go--and nothing short of it. I must
say I'm thankful.'

Chapter 3.X.

A week later Colonel Innes had got his leave, and had left Simla for
the snow-line by what is facetiously known as 'the carriage road to
Tibet.' Madeline had done as she was bidden, and was waiting for the
rains to break. Another day had come without them. To write and
tell Innes, to write to tell Violet, to go away and leave the
situation as she found it; she had lived and moved and slept and
awakened to these alternatives. At the moment she slept.

It was early, very early in the morning. The hills all about seemed
still unaware of it, standing in the greyness, compact, silent,
immutable, as if they slept with their eyes open. Nothing spoke of
the oncoming sun, nothing was yet surprised. The hill world lifted
itself unconscious in a pale solution of daylight, and only on the
sky-line, very far away, it rippled into a cloud. The flimsy town
clinging steeply roof above roof to the slope, mounting to the
saddle and slipping over on the other side, cut the dawn with
innumerable little lines and angles all in one tone like a pencil

There was no feeling in it, no expression. It had a temporary air
in that light, like trampled snow, and even the big Secretariat
buildings that raised themselves here and there out of the huddling
bazaar looked trivial, childish enterprises in the simple revelation
of the morning. A cold silence was abroad, which a crow now and
then vainly tried to disturb with a note of tentative enterprise,
forced, premature. It announced that the sun would probably rise,
but nothing more. In the little dark shops of the wood-carvers an
occasional indefinite figure moved, groping among last night's
tools, or an old woman in a red sari washed a brass dish over the
shallow open drain that ran past her door. At the tonga terminus,
below the Mall, a couple of coughing syces, muffled in their
blankets, pulled one of these vehicles out of the shed. They pushed
it about sleepily, with clumsy futility; nothing else stirred or
spoke at all in Simla. Nothing disturbed Miss Anderson asleep in
her hotel.

A brown figure in a loin-cloth, with a burden, appeared where the
road turned down from the Mall, and then another, and several
following. They were coolies, and they carried luggage.

The first to arrive beside the tonga bent and loosed the trunk he
brought, which slipped from his back to the ground. The syces
looked at him, saying nothing, and he straightened himself against
the wall of the hillside, also in silence. It was too early for
conversation. Thus did all the others.

When the last portmanteau had been deposited, a khaki-coloured heap
on the shed floor rose up as a broad-shouldered Punjabi driver, and
walked round the luggage, looking at it.

'And you, owls' brethren,' he said, with sarcasm, addressing the
first coolie, 'you have undertaken to carry these matter fifty-eight
kos to Kalka, have you?'

'Na,' replied the coolie, stolidly, and spat.

'How else, then, is it to be taken?' the driver cried, with anger in
his argument. 'Behold the memsahib has ordered but one tonga, and a
fool-thing of an ekka. Here is work for six tongas! What reason is
there in this?'

The coolie folded his naked arms, and dug in the dust with an
unconcerned toe.

'I, what can I do?' he said, 'It is the order of the memsahib.'

Ram Singh grunted and said no more. A rickshaw was coming down from
the Mall, and the memsahib was in it.

Ten minutes later the ponies stood in their traces under the iron
bar, and the lady sat in the tonga behind Ram Singh. Her runners,
in uniform, waited beside the empty rickshaw with a puzzled look, at
which she laughed, and threw a rupee to the head man.

The luggage was piled and corded on three ekkas behind, and their
cross-legged drivers, too, were ready.

'Chellao!' she cried, crisply, and Ram Singh imperturbably lifted
the reins. The little procession clanked and jingled along the
hillside, always tending down, and broke upon the early grey
melancholy with a forced and futile cheerfulness, too early, like
everything else. As it passed the last of Simla's little gardens,
spread like a pocket-handkerchief on the side of the hill, the lady
leaned forward and looked back as if she wished to impress the place
upon her memory. Her expression was that of a person going forth
without demur into the day's hazards, ready to cope with them, yet
there was some regret in the backward look.

'It's a place,' she said aloud, 'where EVERYBODY has a good time!'

Then the Amusement Club went out of sight behind a curve; and she
settled herself more comfortably among her cushions, and drew a wrap
round her to meet the chill wind of the valley. It was all behind
her. The lady looked out as the ponies galloped up to the first
changing-place, and, seeing a saddled horse held by a syce, cramped
herself a little into one corner to make room. The seat would just
hold two.

Ram Singh salaamed, getting down to harness the fresh pair, and a
man put his face in at the side of the tonga and took off his hat.

'Are you all right?' he said. His smile was as conscious as his
words were casual.

'Quite right. The ayah was silly about coming--didn't want to leave
her babies or something--so I had to leave her behind. Everything
else is either here or in the ekkas.'

'The brute! Never mind--they're not much use in a railway journey.
You can pick up another at Bombay. Then I suppose I'd better get

'I suppose you better had. Unless you think of walking,' she
laughed, and he took the place beside her.

Ram Singh again unquestioningly took up the reins.

'Nobody else going down?'

'Not another soul. We might just as well have started together.'

'Oh, well, we couldn't tell. Beastly awkward if there had been

'Yes,' she said, but thrust up her under lip indifferently.

Then, with the effect of turning to the business in hand, she bent
her eyes upon him understandingly and smiled in frank reference to
something that had not been mentioned. 'It's goodbye Simla, isn't
it?' she said. He smiled in response and put his hand upon her
firm, round arm, possessively, and they began to talk.

Ram Singh, all unaware, kept his horses at their steady clanking
downward gallop, and Simla, clinging to the hilltops, was brushed by
the first rays of the sun.

It came a gloriously clear morning; early riders round Jakko saw the
real India lying beyond the outer ranges, flat and blue and pictured
with forests and rivers like a map. The plains were pretty and
interesting in this aspect, but nobody found them attractive.
Sensitive people liked it better when the heat mist veiled them and
it was possible to look abroad without a sudden painful thought of
contrasting temperatures. We may suppose that the inhabitants of
Paradise sometimes grieve over their luck. Even Madeline Anderson,
whose heart knew no constriction at the remembrance of brother or
husband at some cruel point in the blue expanse, had come to turn
her head more willingly the other way, towards the hills rolling up
to the snows, being a woman who suffered by proxy, and by
observation, and by Rudyard Kipling.

On this particular morning, however, she had not elected to do
either. She slept late instead, and was glad to sleep. I might as
well say at once that on the night before she had made up her mind,
had brought herself to the point, and had written to Mrs. Innes, at
'Two Gables', all the facts, in so far as she was acquainted with
them, connected with Frederick Prendergast's death. She was very
much ashamed of herself, poor girl; she was aware that, through her
postponement, Horace Innes would now see his problem in all its
bitterness, make his choice with his eyes wide open. If it had only
happened before he knew--anything about her!

She charged herself with having deliberately waited, and then spent
an exhausting hour trying to believe that she had drifted
unconsciously to the point of their mutual confession. Whatever the
truth was, she did not hesitate to recognize a new voice in her
private counsels from that hour, urging her in one way or another to
bring matters to an end. It was a strong instinct; looking at the
facts, she saw it was the gambler's. When she tried to think of the
ethical considerations involved she saw only the chances. The air
seemed to throb with them all night; she had to count them finally
to get rid of them.

Brookes was up betimes, however, and sent off the letter. It went
duly, by Surnoo, to Mrs. Innes at 'Two Gables'. Madeline woke at
seven with a start, and asked if it had gone, then slept again
contentedly. So far as she was concerned the thing was finished.
The breakfast gong had sounded, and the English mail had arrived
before she opened her eyes again upon the day's issues; she gave it
her somewhat desultory attention while Brookes did her hair. There
was only one scrap of news. Adele mentioned in a postscript that
poor Mr. Prendergast's money was likely to go to a distant relative,
it having transpired that he died without leaving a will.

'She is sure, absolutely sure,' Madeline mused, 'to answer my letter
in person. She will be here within an hour. I shall have this to
tell her, too. How pleased she will be! She will come into it all,
I suppose--if she is allowed. Though she won't be allowed, that is
if--' But there speculation began, and Madeline had forbidden
herself speculation, if not once and for all, at least many times
and for fifteen minutes.

No reasonable purpose would be served by Mrs. Innes's visit,
Madeline reflected, as she sat waiting in the little room opening on
the veranda; but she would come, of course she would come. She
would require the satisfaction of the verbal assurance; she would
hope to extract more details; she would want the objectionable
gratification of talking if over.

In spite of any assurance, she would believe that Madeline had not
told her before in order to make her miserable a little longer than
she need be; but, after all, her impression about that did not
particularly matter. It couldn't possibly be a pleasant interview,
yet Madeline found herself impatient for it.

'Surnoo,' she said of her messenger, 'must be idling on his way back
in the bazaar. I must try to remember to fine him two pice. Surnoo
is incorrigible.'

She forgot, however, to fine Surnoo. The pad of his bare feet
sounded along the veranda almost immediately, and the look in his
Pahari eyes was that of expected reproach, and ability to defend
himself against it.

He held out two letters at arm's-length, for as he was expected to
bring only one there was a fault in this; and all his domestic
traditions told him that he might be chastened. One was addressed
to Madeline in Mrs. Innes's handwriting; the other, she saw with
astonishment, was her own communication to that lady, her own letter
returned. Surnoo explained volubly all the way along the veranda,
and in the flood of his unknown tongue Madeline caught a sentence or

'The memsahib was not,' said Surnoo. Clearly he could not deliver a
letter to a memsahib who was not. 'Therefore,' Surnoo continued, 'I
have brought back your honour's letter, and the other I had from the
hand of the memsahib's runner, the runner with one eye, who was on
the road to bring it here. More I do not know, but it appears that
the memsahib has gone to her father and mother in Belaat, being very
sorrowful because the Colonel-sahib has left her to shoot.'

'The letter will tell me,' said Madeline to herself, fingering it.
'Enough, Surnoo.'

The man went away, and Madeline closed and locked the door of her
sitting-room. The letter would tell her--what? She glanced about
her with dissatisfaction, and sought the greater privacy of her
bedroom, where also she locked the door and drew the muslin curtain
across the window. She laid the letter on the dressing-table and
kept her eyes upon it while she unfastened, with trembling hands,
the brooch at her neck and the belt at her waist. She did one or
two other meaningless things, as if she wanted to gain time, to
fortify her nerves even against an exhibition before herself.

Then she sat down with her back towards the light and opened the
letter. It had a pink look and a scented air. Even in her beating
suspense Madeline held it a little farther away from her, as she
unfolded it, and it ran:

'Dear Miss Anderson--What will you say, I wonder, and what will
Simla say, when you know that Captain Drake and I have determined to
DISREGARD CONVENTIONALITIES, and live henceforward only for one
another! I am all packed up, and long before this meets your eye we
shall have taken the step which society condemns, but which I have a
feeling that you, knowing my storm-tossed history, will be broad-
minded enough to sympathize with, at least to some extent. That is
the reason I am writing to you rather than to any of my own chums,
and also of course to have the satisfaction of telling you that I no
longer care what you do about letting out the secret of my marriage
to Frederick Prendergast. I am now ABOVE AND BEYOND IT. Any way
you look at it, I do not see that I am much to blame. As I never
have been Colonel Innes's wife there can be no harm in leaving him,
though if he had ever been sympathetic, or understood me the LEAST
LITTLE BIT, I might have felt bound to him. But he has never been
able to evoke the finer parts of my nature, and when this is the
case marriage is a mere miserable fleshly failure. You may say,
"Why try it a third time?"--but my union with Val will be different.
I have never been fond of the opposite sex--so far as that goes I
should have made a very good nun--but for a long time Valentine
Drake has been the only man I cared to have come within a mile of
me, and lately we have discovered that we are absolutely necessary
to each other's existence on the higher plane. I don't care much
what Simla thinks, but if you happen to be talking about it to dear
Lady Bloomfield, you might just mention this. Val has eight hundred
a year of his own, so it is perfectly practicable. Of course, he
will send in his papers. WHATEVER HAPPENS, Val and I will never
bind ourselves in any way. We both think it wrong and enslaving. I
have nothing more to add, except that I am depending on you to
explain to Simla that I never was Mrs. Innes.

'Yours sincerely,

'Violet Prendergast.

'P.S.--I have written to Horace, telling him everything about
everything, and sent my letter off to him in the wilds by a runner.
If you see him you might try and smooth him down. I don't want him
coming after Val with a revolver.'

Madeline read this communication through twice. Then quietly and
deliberately she lay down upon the bed, and drew herself out of the
control of her heart by the hard labour of thought. When she rose,
she had decided that there were only two things for her to do, and
she began at once to do them, continuing her refuge in action. She
threw her little rooms open again, and walked methodically round the
outer one, collecting the odds and ends of Indian fabrics with which
she had garnished it.

As the maid came in, she looked up from folding them.

'I have news, Brookes,' she said, 'that necessitates my going home
at once. No, it is not bad news, but--important. I will go now and
see about the tonga. We must start tomorrow morning.'

Brookes called Surnoo, and the rickshaw came round.

Madeline looked at her watch.

'The telegraph office,' she said; 'and as quickly as may be.'

As the runners panted over the Mall, up and down and on, Madeline
said to herself, 'She shall have her chance. She shall choose.'

The four reeking Paharis pulled up at the telegraph office, and
Madeline sped up the steps. There was a table, with forms printed
'Indian Telegraphs,' and the usual bottle of thickened ink and pair
of rusty pens. She sat down to her intention as if she dared not
let it cool; she wrote her message swiftly, she had worded it on the

'To Mrs. Innes, Dak Bungalow, Solon.

'From M. Anderson, Simla.

'Frederick Prendergast died on January 7th, at Sing Sing. Your
letter considered confidential if you return. Prendergast left no

'M. Anderson.'

'Send this "urgent," Babu,' she said to the clerk, 'and repeat it to
the railway station, Kalka. Shall I fill up another form? No?
Very well.'

At the door she turned and came back.

'It is now eleven o'clock,' she said. 'The person I am telegraphing
to is on her way down to get tonight's train at Kalka. I am hoping
to catch her half-way at Solon. Do you think I can?'

'I think so, madam. Oyess! It is the custom to stop at Solon for
tiffin. The telegram can arrive there. All urgent telegram going
very quick.'

'And in any case,' said Madeline, 'it can not fail to reach her at

'Not possible to fail, madam.'

'She will have her chance,' she said to herself, on her way to the
post office to order her tonga. And with a little nauseated shudder
at the thought of the letter in her pocket, she added, 'It is
amazing. I should have thought her too good a woman of business!'
After which she concentrated her whole attention upon the
necessities of departure. Her single immediate apprehension was
that Horace Innes might, by some magic of circumstances, be
transported back into Simla before she could get out of it. That
such a contingency was physically impossible made no difference to
her nerves, and to the last Brookes was the hurrying victim of
unnecessary promptings.

The little rambling hotel of Kalka, where the railway spreads out
over the plains, raises its white-washed shelter under the very
walls of the Himalayas. Madeline, just arrived, lay back in a long
wicker chair on the veranda, and looked up at them as they mounted
green and grey and silent under the beating of the first of the
rains. Everywhere was a luxury of silence, the place was steeped in
it, drowned in it. A feeding cow flicked an automatic tail under a
tree. Near the low mud wall that strolled irresolutely between the
house and the hills leaned a bush with a few single pink roses;
their petals were floating down under the battering drops. A
draggled bee tried to climb to a dry place on a pillar of the
veranda. Above all, the hills, immediate, towering, all grey and
green, solidly ideal, with phantasies of mist. Everything
drippingly soft and silent. Suddenly the venetian blind that hung
before the door of a bedroom farther on swayed out before a hand
variously ringed to emit a lady in a pink lawn dress with apt
embroideries. Madeline's half-closed eyes opened very wide, and for
an instant she and the lady, to whom I must once more refer as Mrs.
Innes, confronted each other. Then Mrs. Innes's countenance
expanded, and she took three or four light steps forward.

'Oh, you dear thing!' she exclaimed. 'I thought you were in Simla!
Imagine you being here! Do you know you have SAVED me!'

Madeline regarded her in silence, while a pallor spread over her
face and lips, and her features grew sharp with a presage of pain.

'Have I?' she stammered. She could not think.

'Indeed you have. I don't know how to be grateful enough to you.
Your telegram of yesterday reached me at Solon. We had just sat
down to tiffin. Nothing will ever shake my faith in providence
again! My dear, THINK of it--after all I've been through, my
darling Val--and one hundred thousand pounds!'


'Well--I stayed behind there last night, and Val came on here and
made the necessary arrangement, and--'


'And we were married this morning. Good heavens! What's the matter
with you! Here--oh, Brookes! Water, salts--anything!'

Brookes, I know, would think that I should dwell at greater length
upon Miss Anderson's attack of faintness in Kalka, and the various
measures which were resorted to for her succour, but perhaps the
feelings and expedients of any really capable lady's-maid under the
circumstances may be taken for granted. I feel more seriously
called upon to explain that Colonel Horace Innes, shortly after
these last events, took two years' furlough to England, during which
he made a very interesting tour in the United States with the lady
with now bears his name by inalienable right. Captain and Mrs.
Valentine Drake are getting the most that is to be had out of
Frederick Prendergast's fortune with courage in London and the
European capitals, where Mrs. Drake is sometimes mentioned as a lady
with a romantic past. They have not returned to Simla, where the
situation has never been properly understood. People always
supposed that Mrs. Drake ran away that June morning with her present
husband, who must have been tremendously fond of her to have married
her 'after the divorce.' She is also occasionally mentioned in
undertones as 'the first Mrs. Innes.' All of which we know to be
quite erroneous, like most scandal.

Mrs. Mickie and Mrs. Gammidge, in retirement, are superintending the
education of their children in Bedford, where it is cheap and
practical. They converse when they meet about the iniquitous prices
of dressmakers and the degeneracy of the kind of cook obtainable in
England at eighteen pounds a year. Mrs. Gammidge has grown rather
portly and very ritualistic. They seldom speak of Simla, and when
they do, if too reminiscent a spark appears in Mrs. Mickie's eye,
Mrs. Gammidge changes the subject. Kitty Vesey still fills her
dance cards at Viceregal functions, though people do not quote her
as they used to, and subalterns imagine themselves vastly witty
about her colour, which is unimpaired. People often commend her,
however, for her good nature to debutantes, and it is admitted that
she may still ride with credit in 'affinity stakes'--and
occasionally win them.

4. The Pool in the Desert.

I knew Anna Chichele and Judy Harbottle so well, and they figured so
vividly at one time against the rather empty landscape of life in a
frontier station, that my affection for one of them used to seem
little more, or less, than a variant upon my affection for the
other. That recollection, however, bears examination badly; Judy
was much the better sort, and it is Judy's part in it that draws me
into telling the story. Conveying Judy is what I tremble at: her
part was simple. Looking back--and not so very far--her part has
the relief of high comedy with the proximity of tears; but looking
closely, I find that it is mostly Judy, and what she did is entirely
second, in my untarnished picture, to what she was. Still I do not
think I can dissuade myself from putting it down.

They would, of course, inevitably have found each other sooner or
later, Mrs. Harbottle and Mrs. Chichele, but it was I who actually
introduced them; my palmy veranda in Rawul Pindi; where the teacups
used to assemble, was the scene of it. I presided behind my samovar
over the early formalities that were almost at once to drop from
their friendship, like the sheath of some bursting flower. I
deliberately brought them together, so the birth was not accidental,
and my interest in it quite legitimately maternal. We always had
tea in the veranda in Rawul Pindi, the drawing-room was painted
blue, blue for thirty feet up to the whitewashed cotton ceiling;
nothing of any value in the way of a human relation, I am sure,
could have originated there. The veranda was spacious and open,
their mutual observation had room and freedom; I watched it to and
fro. I had not long to wait for my reward; the beautiful candour I
expected between them was not ten minutes in coming. For the sake
of it I had taken some trouble, but when I perceived it revealing I
went and sat down beside Judy's husband, Robert Harbottle, and
talked about Pharaoh's split hoof. It was only fair; and when next
day I got their impressions of one another, I felt single-minded and

I knew it would be a satisfactory sort of thing to do, but perhaps
it was rather more for Judy's sake than for Anna's that I did it.
Mrs. Harbottle was only twenty-seven then and Robert a major, but he
had brought her to India out of an episode too colour-flushed to
tone with English hedges; their marriage had come, in short, of his
divorce, and as too natural a consequence. In India it is well
known that the eye becomes accustomed to primitive pigments and high
lights; the aesthetic consideration, if nothing else, demanded
Robert's exchange. He was lucky to get a Piffer regiment, and the
Twelfth were lucky to get him; we were all lucky, I thought, to get
Judy. It was an opinion, of course, a good deal challenged, even in
Rawul Pindi, where it was thought, especially in the beginning, that
acquiescence was the most the Harbottles could hope for. That is
not enough in India; cordiality is the common right. I could not
have Judy preserving her atmosphere at our tea-parties and
gymkhanas. Not that there were two minds among us about 'the case';
it was a preposterous case, sentimentally undignified, from some
points of view deplorable. I chose to reserve my point of view,
from which I saw it, on Judy's behalf, merely quixotic, preferring
on Robert's just to close my eyes. There is no doubt that his first
wife was odious to a degree which it is simply pleasanter not to
recount, but her malignity must almost have amounted to a sense of
humour. Her detestation of her cousin Judy Thynne dated much
further back than Robert's attachment. That began in Paris, where
Judy, a young widow, was developing a real vein at Julian's. I am
entirely convinced that there was nothing, as people say, 'in it,'
Judy had not a thought at that time that was not based on Chinese
white and permeated with good-fellowship; but there was a good deal
of it, and no doubt the turgid imagination of the first Mrs.
Harbottle dealt with it honestly enough. At all events, she saw her
opportunity, and the depths of her indifference to Robert bubbled up
venomously into the suit. That it was undefended was the senseless
mystery; decency ordained that he and Judy should have made a fight,
even in the hope that it would be a losing one. The reason it had
to be a losing one--the reason so immensely criticized--was that the
petitioning lady obstinately refused to bring her action against any
other set of circumstances than those to which, I have no doubt,
Judy contributed every indiscretion. It is hard to imagine Robert
Harbottle refusing her any sort of justification that the law
demands short of beating her, but her malice would accept nothing of
which the account did not go for final settlement to Judy Thynne.
If her husband wanted his liberty, he should have it, she declared,
at that price and no other. Major Harbottle did indeed deeply long
for his liberty, and his interesting friend, Mrs. Thynne, had, one
can only say, the most vivid commiseration for his bondage.
Whatever chance they had of winning, to win would be, for the end
they had at heart, to lose, so they simply abstained, as it were,
from comment upon the detestable procedure which terminated in the
rule absolute. I have often wondered whether the whole business
would not have been more defensible if there had been on Judy's part
any emotional spring for the leap they made. I offer my conviction
that there was none, that she was only extravagantly affected by the
ideals of the Quarter--it is a transporting atmosphere--and held a
view of comradeship which permitted the reversal of the modern
situation filled by a blameless correspondent. Robert, of course,
was tremendously in love with her; but my theory is that she married
him as the logical outcome of her sacrifice and by no means the
smallest part of it.

It was all quite unimaginable, as so many things are, but the upshot
of it brought Judy to Rawul Pindi, as I have said, where I for one
thought her mistake insignificant compared with her value. It would
have been great, her value, anywhere; in the middle of the Punjab it
was incalculable. To explain why would be to explain British India,
but I hope it will appear; and I am quite willing, remember, to take
the responsibility if it does not.

Somers Chichele, Anna's son, it is absurd to think, must have been
about fifteen then, reflecting at Winchester with the other 'men'
upon the comparative merits of tinned sardines and jam roll, and
whether a packet of real Egyptians was not worth the sacrifice of
either. His father was colonel of the Twelfth; his mother was still
charming. It was the year before Dick Forsyth came down from the
neighbourhood of Sheikhbudin with a brevet and a good deal of
personal damage. I mention him because he proved Anna's charm in
the only conclusive way before the eyes of us all; and the station,
I remember, was edified to observe that if Mrs. Chichele came out of
the matter 'straight'--one relapses so easily into the simple
definitions of those parts--which she undoubtedly did, she owed it
in no small degree to Judy Harbottle. This one feels to be hardly a
legitimate reference, but it is something tangible to lay hold upon
in trying to describe the web of volitions which began to weave
itself between the two that afternoon on my veranda and which
afterward became so strong a bond. I was delighted with the thing;
its simplicity and sincerity stood out among our conventional little
compromises at friendship like an ideal. She and Judy had the
assurance of one another; they made upon one another the finest and
often the most unconscionable demands. One met them walking at odd
hours in queer places, of which I imagine they were not much aware.
They would turn deliberately off the Maidan and away from the
bandstand to be rid of our irrelevant bows; they did their duty by
the rest of us, but the most egregious among us, the Deputy-
Commissioner for selection, could see that he hardly counted. I
thought I understood, but that may have been my fatuity; certainly
when their husbands inquired what on earth they had been talking of,
it usually transpired that they had found an infinite amount to say
about nothing. It was a little worrying to hear Colonel Chichele
and Major Harbottle describe their wives as 'pals,' but the fact
could not be denied, and after all we were in the Punjab. They were
pals too, but the terms were different.

People discussed it according to their lights, and girls said in
pretty wonderment that Mrs. Harbottle and Mrs. Chichele were like
men, they never kissed each other. I think Judy prescribed these
conditions. Anna was far more a person who did as the world told
her. But it was a poor negation to describe all that they never
did; there was no common little convention of attachment that did
not seem to be tacitly omitted between them. I hope one did not too
cynically observe that they offered these to their husbands instead;
the redeeming observation was their husbands' complete satisfaction.
This they maintained to the end. In the natural order of things
Robert Harbottle should have paid heavily for interfering as he did
in Paris between a woman and what she was entitled to live for. As
a matter of fact he never paid anything at all; I doubt whether he
ever knew himself a debtor. Judy kept her temperament under like a
current and swam with the tides of the surface, taking refreshing
dips only now and then which one traced in her eyes and her hair
when she and Robert came back from leave. That sort of thing is
lost in the sands of India, but it makes an oasis as it travels, and
it sometimes seemed to me a curious pity that she and Anna should
sit in the shade of it together, while Robert and Peter Chichele,
their titular companions, blundered on in the desert. But after
all, if you are born blind--and the men were both immensely liked,
and the shooting was good.

Ten years later Somers joined. The Twelfth were at Peshawur.
Robert Harbottle was Lieutenant-Colonel by that time and had the
regiment. Distinction had incrusted, in the Indian way, upon Peter
Chichele, its former colonel; he was General Commanding the District
and K.C.B. So we were all still together in Peshawur. It was great
luck for the Chicheles, Sir Peter's having the district, though his
father's old regiment would have made it pleasant enough for the boy
in any case. He came to us, I mean, of course, to two or three of
us, with the interest that hangs about a victim of circumstances; we
understood that he wasn't a 'born soldier.' Anna had told me on the
contrary that he was a sacrifice to family tradition made inevitable
by the General's unfortunate investments. Bellona's bridegroom was
not a role he fancied, though he would make a kind of compromise as
best man; he would agree, she said, to be a war correspondent and
write picturesque specials for the London halfpenny press. There
was the humour of the poor boy's despair in it, but she conveyed it,
I remember, in exactly the same tone with which she had said to me
years before that he wanted to drive a milk-cart. She carried quite
her half of the family tradition, though she could talk of sacrifice
and make her eyes wistful, contemplating for Somers the limitations
of the drill-book and the camp of exercise, proclaiming and
insisting upon what she would have done if she could only have
chosen for him. Anna Chichele saw things that way. With more than
a passable sense of all that was involved, if she could have made
her son an artist in life or a commander-in-chief, if she could have
given him the seeing eye or Order of the Star of India, she would
not have hesitated for an instant. Judy, with her single mind,
cried out, almost at sight of him, upon them both, I mean both Anna
and Sir Peter. Not that the boy carried his condemnation badly, or
even obviously; I venture that no one noticed it in the mess; but it
was naturally plain to those of us who were under the same. He had
put in his two years with a British regiment at Meerut--they nurse
subalterns that way for the Indian army--and his eyes no longer
played with the tinsel vision of India; they looked instead into the
arid stretch beyond. This preoccupation conveyed to the Surgeon-
Major's wife the suggestion that Mr. Chichele was the victim of a
hopeless attachment. Mrs. Harbottle made no such mistake; she saw
simply, I imagine, the beginnings of her own hunger and thirst in
him, looking back as she told us across a decade of dusty sunsets to
remember them. The decade was there, close to the memory of all of
us; we put, from Judy herself downward, an absurd amount of
confidence in it.

She looked so well the night she met him. It was English mail day;
she depended a great deal upon her letters, and I suppose somebody
had written her a word that brought her that happy, still excitement
that is the inner mystery of words. He went straight to her with
some speech about his mother having given him leave, and for twenty
minutes she patronized him on a sofa as his mother would not have
dreamed of doing.

Anna Chichele, from the other side of the room, smiled on the pair.

'I depend on you and Judy to be good to him while we are away,' she
said. She and Sir Peter were going on leave at the end of the week
to Scotland, as usual, for the shooting.

Following her glance I felt incapable of the proportion she assigned
me. 'I will see after his socks with pleasure,' I said. 'I think,
don't you, we may leave the rest to Judy?'

Her eyes remained upon the boy, and I saw the passion rise in them,
at which I turned mine elsewhere. Who can look unperturbed upon
such a privacy of nature as that?

'Poor old Judy!' she went on. 'She never would be bothered with him
in all his dear hobble-dehoy time; she resented his claims, the
unreasonable creature, used to limit me to three anecdotes a week;
and now she has him on her hands, if you like. See the pretty air
of deference in the way he listens to her! He has nice manners, the
villain, if he is a Chichele!'

'Oh, you have improved Sir Peter's,' I said kindly.

'I do hope Judy will think him worth while. I can't quite expect
that he will be up to her, bless him, she is so much cleverer, isn't
she, than any of us? But if she will just be herself with him it
will make such a difference.'

The other two crossed the room to us at that, and Judy gaily made
Somers over to his mother, trailing off to find Robert in the

'Well, what has Mrs. Harbottle been telling you?' Anna asked him.

The young man's eye followed Judy, his hand went musingly to his

'She was telling me,' he said, 'that people in India were sepulchers
of themselves, but that now and then one came who could roll away
another's stone.'

'It sounds promising,' said Lady Chichele to me.

'It sounds cryptic,' I laughed to Somers, but I saw that he had the

I can not say that I attended diligently to Mr. Chichele's socks,
but the part corresponding was freely assigned me. After his people
went I saw him often. He pretended to find qualities in my tea,
implied that he found them in my talk. As a matter of fact it was
my inquiring attitude that he loved, the knowledge that there was no
detail that he could give me about himself, his impressions and
experiences, that was unlikely to interest me. I would not for the
world imply that he was egotistical or complacent, absolutely the
reverse, but he possessed an articulate soul which found its
happiness in expression, and I liked to listen. I feel that these
are complicated words to explain a very simple relation, and I pause
to wonder what is left to me if I wished to describe his commerce
with Mrs. Harbottle. Luckily there is an alternative; one needn't
do it. I wish I had somewhere on paper Judy's own account of it at
this period, however. It is a thing she would have enjoyed writing
and more enjoyed communicating, at this period.

There was a grave reticence in his talk about her which amused me in
the beginning. Mrs. Harbottle had been for ten years important
enough to us all, but her serious significance, the light and the
beauty in her, had plainly been reserved for the discovery of this
sensitive and intelligent person not very long from Sandhurst and
exactly twenty-six. I was barely allowed a familiar reference, and
anything approaching a flippancy was met with penetrating silence.
I was almost rebuked for lightly suggesting that she must
occasionally find herself bored in Peshawur.

'I think not anywhere,' said Mr. Chichele; 'Mrs. Harbottle is one of
the few people who sound the privilege of living.'

This to me, who had counted Mrs. Harbottle's yawns on so many
occasions! It became presently necessary to be careful, tactful, in
one's implications about Mrs. Harbottle, and to recognize a certain
distinction in the fact that one was the only person with whom Mr.
Chichele discussed her at all.

The day came when we talked of Robert; it was bound to come in the
progress of any understanding and affectionate colloquy which had
his wife for inspiration. I was familiar, of course, with Somers's
opinion that the Colonel was an awfully good sort; that had been
among the preliminaries and become understood as the base of all
references. And I liked Robert Harbottle very well myself. When
his adjutant called him a born leader of men, however, I felt
compelled to look at the statement consideringly.

'In a tight place,' I said--dear me, what expressions had the
freedom of our little frontier drawing-rooms!--'I would as soon
depend on him as on anybody. But as for leadership--'

'He is such a good fellow that nobody here does justice to his
soldierly qualities,' said Mr. Chichele, 'except Mrs. Harbottle.'

'Has she been telling you about them?' I inquired.

'Well,' he hesitated, 'she told me about the Mulla Nulla affair.
She is rather proud of that. Any woman would be.'

'Poor dear Judy!' I mused.

Somers said nothing, but looked at me, removing his cigarette, as if
my words would be the better of explanation.

'She has taken refuge in them--in Bob Harbottle's soldierly
qualities--ever since she married him,' I continued.

'Taken refuge,' he repeated, coldly, but at my uncompromising glance
his eyes fell.

'Well?' I said.

'You mean--'

'Oh, I mean what I say,' I laughed. 'Your cigarette has gone out--
have another.'

'I think her devotion to him splendid.'

'Quite splendid. Have you seen the things he brought her from the
Simla Art Exhibition? He said they were nice bits of colour, and
she has hung them in the drawing-room, where she will have to look
at them every day. Let us admire her--dear Judy.'

'Oh,' he said, with a fine air of detachment, 'do you think they are
so necessary, those agreements?'

'Well,' I replied, 'we see that they are not indispensable. More
sugar? I have only given you one lump. And we know, at all
events,' I added, unguardedly, 'that she could never have had an
illusion about him.'

The young man looked up quickly. 'Is that story true?' he asked.

'There was a story, but most of us have forgotten it. Who told

'The doctor.'

'The Surgeon-Major,' I said, 'has an accurate memory and a sense of
proportion. As I suppose you were bound to get it from somebody, I
am glad you got it from him.'

I was not prepared to go on, and saw with some relief that Somers
was not either. His silence, as he smoked, seemed to me deliberate;
and I had oddly enough at this moment for the first time the
impression that he was a man and not a boy. Then the Harbottles
themselves joined us, very cheery after a gallop from the Wazir-
Bagh. We talked of old times, old friendships, good swords that
were broken, names that had carried far, and Somers effaced himself
in the perfect manner of the British subaltern. It was a long,
pleasant gossip, and I thought Judy seemed rather glad to let her
husband dictate its level, which, of course, he did. I noticed when
the three rode away together that the Colonel was beginning to sit
down rather solidly on his big New Zealander; and I watched the dusk
come over from the foothills for a long time thinking more kindly
than I had spoken of Robert Harbottle.

I have often wondered how far happiness is contributed to a
temperament like Judy Harbottle's, and how far it creates its own;
but I doubt whether, on either count, she found as much in any other
winter of her life except perhaps the remote ones by the Seine.
Those ardent hours of hers, when everything she said was touched
with the flame of her individuality, came oftener; she suddenly
cleaned up her palate and began to translate in one study after
another the language of the frontier country, that spoke only in
stones and in shadows under the stones and in sunlight over them.
There is nothing in the Academy of this year, at all events, that I
would exchange for the one she gave me. She lived her physical life
at a pace which carried us all along with her; she hunted and drove
and danced and dined with such sincere intention as convinced us all
that in hunting and driving and dancing and dining there were
satisfactions that had been somehow overlooked. The Surgeon-Major's
wife said it was delightful to meet Mrs. Harbottle, she seemed to
enjoy everything so thoroughly; the Surgeon-Major looked at her
critically and asked her if she were quite sure she hadn't a night
temperature. He was a Scotchman. One night Colonel Harbottle,
hearing her give away the last extra, charged her with renewing her

'No, Bob,' she said, 'only imitating it.'

Ah, that question of her youth. It was so near her--still, she told
me once, she heard the beat of its flying, and the pulse in her
veins answered the false signal. That was afterward, when she told
the truth. She was not so happy when she indulged herself
otherwise. As when she asked one to remember that she was a middle-
aged woman, with middle-aged thoughts and satisfactions.

'I am now really happiest,' she declared, 'when the Commissioner
takes me in to dinner, when the General Commanding leads me to the

She did her best to make it an honest conviction. I offered her a
recent success not crowned by the Academy, and she put it down on
the table. 'By and by,' she said. 'At present I am reading Pascal
and Bossuet.' Well, she was reading Pascal and Bossuet. She
grieved aloud that most of our activities in India were so
indomitably youthful, owing to the accident that most of us were
always so young. 'There is no dignified distraction in this
country,' she complained, 'for respectable ladies nearing forty.'
She seemed to like to make these declarations in the presence of
Somers Chichele, who would look at her with a little queer smile--a
bad translation, I imagine, of what he felt.

She gave herself so generously to her seniors that somebody said
Mrs. Harbottle's girdle was hung with brass hats. It seems flippant
to add that her complexion was as honest as the day, but the fact is
that the year before Judy had felt compelled, like the rest of us,
to repair just a little the ravages of the climate. If she had
never done it one would not have looked twice at the absurdity when
she said of the powder-puff in the dressing-room, 'I have raised
that thing to the level of an immorality,' and sailed in to dance
with an uncompromising expression and a face uncompromised. I have
not spoken of her beauty; for one thing it was not always there, and
there were people who would deny it altogether, or whose considered
comment was, 'I wouldn't call her plain.' They, of course, were
people in whom she declined to be interested, but even for those of
us who could evoke some demonstration of her vivid self her face
would not always light in correspondence. When it did there was
none that I liked better to look at; and I envied Somers Chichele
his way to make it the pale, shining thing that would hold him
lifted, in return, for hours together, with I know not what mystic
power of a moon upon the tide. And he? Oh, he was dark and
delicate, by nature simple, sincere, delightfully intelligent. His
common title to charm was the rather sweet seriousness that rested
on his upper lip, and a certain winning gratification in his
attention; but he had a subtler one in his eyes, which must be
always seeking and smiling over what they found; those eyes of
perpetual inquiry for the exquisite which ask so little help to
create it. A personality to button up in a uniform, good heavens!

As I begin to think of them together I remember how the maternal
note appeared in her talk about him.

'His youth is pathetic,' she told me, 'but there is nothing that he
does not understand.'

'Don't apologize, Judy,' I said. We were so brusque on the
frontier. Besides, the matter still suffered a jocular presentment.
Mrs. Harbottle and Mr. Chichele were still 'great friends'; we could
still put them next each other at our dinner-parties without the
feeling that it would be 'marked.' There was still nothing unusual
in the fact that when Mrs. Harbottle was there Mr. Chichele might be
taken for granted. We were so broad-minded also, on the frontier.

It grew more obvious, the maternal note. I began positively to
dread it, almost as much, I imagine, as Somers did. She took her
privileges all in Anna's name, she exercised her authority quite as
Lady Chichele's proxy. She went to the very limit. 'Anna
Chichele,' she said actually in his presence, 'is a fortunate woman.
She has all kinds of cleverness, and she has her tall son. I have
only one little talent, and I have no tall son.' Now it was not in
nature that she could have had a son as tall as Somers, nor was that
desire in her eyes. All civilization implies a good deal of farce,
but this was a poor refuge, a cheap device; I was glad when it fell
away from her sincerity, when the day came on which she looked into
my fire and said simply, 'An attachment like ours has no terms.'

'I wonder,' I said.

'For what comes and goes,' she went on dreamily, 'how could there be
a formula?'

'Look here, Judy,' I said, 'you know me very well. What if the
flesh leaps with the spirit?'

She looked at me, very white. 'Oh no,' she said, 'no.'

I waited, but there seemed nothing more that she could say; and in
the silence the futile negative seemed to wander round the room
repeating itself like an echo, 'Oh no, no.' I poked the fire
presently to drown the sound of it. Judy sat still, with her feet
crossed and her hands thrust into the pockets of her coat, staring
into the coals.

'Can you live independently, satisfied with your interests and
occupations?' she demanded at last. 'Yes, I know you can. I can't.
I must exist more than half in other people. It is what they think
and feel that matters to me, just as much as what I think and feel.
The best of life is in that communication.'

'It has always been a passion with you, Judy,' I replied. 'I can
imagine how much you must miss--'


'Anna Chichele,' I said softly.

She got up and walked about the room, fixing here and there an
intent regard upon things which she did not see. 'Oh, I do,' she
said at one point, with the effect of pulling herself together. She
took another turn or two, and then finding herself near the door she
went out. I felt as profoundly humiliated for her as if she had

The next night was one of those that stand out so vividly, for no
reason that one can identify, in one's memory. We were dining with
the Harbottles, a small party, for a tourist they had with them.
Judy and I and Somers and the traveller had drifted out into the
veranda, where the scent of Japanese lilies came and went on the
spring wind to trouble the souls of any taken unawares. There was a
brightness beyond the foothills where the moon was coming, and I
remember how one tall clump swayed out against it, and seemed in
passionate perfume to lay a burden on the breast. Judy moved away
from it and sat clasping her knees on the edge of the veranda.
Somers, when his eyes were not upon her, looked always at the lily.

Even the spirit of the globe-trotter was stirred, and he said, 'I
think you Anglo-Indians live in a kind of little paradise.'

There was an instant's silence, and then Judy turned her face into
the lamplight from the drawing-room. 'With everything but the
essentials,' she said.

We stayed late; Mr. Chichele and ourselves were the last to go.
Judy walked with us along the moonlit drive to the gate, which is so
unnecessary a luxury in India that the servants always leave it
open. She swung the stiff halves together.

'Now,' she said, 'it is shut.'

'And I,' said Somers Chichele, softly and quickly, 'am on the other

Even over that depth she could flash him a smile. 'It is the
business of my life,' she gave him in return, 'to keep this gate
shut.' I felt as if they had forgotten us. Somers mounted and rode
off without a word. We were walking in a different direction.
Looking back, I saw Judy leaning immovable on the gate, while Somers
turned in his saddle, apparently to repeat the form of lifting his
hat. And all about them stretched the stones of Kabul valley, vague
and formless in the tide of the moonlight. . .

Next day a note from Mrs. Harbottle informed me that she had gone to
Bombay for a fortnight. In a postscript she wrote, 'I shall wait
for the Chicheles there, and come back with them.' I remember
reflecting that if she could not induce herself to take a passage to
England in the ship that brought them, it seemed the right thing to

She did come back with them. I met the party at the station. I
knew Somers would meet them, and it seemed to me, so imminent did
disaster loom, that someone else should be there, someone to offer a
covering movement or a flank support wherever it might be most
needed. And among all our smiling faces disaster did come, or the
cold premonition of it. We were all perfect, but Somers's lip
trembled. Deprived for a fortnight he was eager for the draft, and
he was only twenty-six. His lip trembled, and there, under the
flickering station-lamps, suddenly stood that of which there never
could be again any denial, for those of us who saw.

Did we make, I wonder, even a pretense of disguising the
consternation that sprang up among us, like an armed thing, ready to
kill any further suggestion of the truth? I don't know. Anna
Chichele's unfinished sentence dropped as if someone had given her a
blow upon the mouth. Coolies were piling the luggage into a hired
carriage at the edge of the platform. She walked mechanically after
them, and would have stepped in with it but for the sight of her own
gleaming landau drawn up within a yard or two, and the General
waiting. We all got home somehow, taking it with us, and I gave
Lady Chichele twenty-four hours to come to me with her face all one
question and her heart all one fear. She came in twelve.

'Have you seen it--long?' Prepared as I was her directness was

'It isn't a mortal disease.'

'Oh, for Heaven's sake--'

'Well, not with certainty, for more than a month.'

She made a little spasmodic movement with her hands, then dropped
them pitifully. 'Couldn't you do ANYthing?'

I looked at her, and she said at once, 'No, of course you couldn't.'

For a moment or two I took my share of the heavy sense of it, my
trivial share, which yet was an experience sufficiently exciting.
'I am afraid it will have to be faced,' I said.

'What will happen?' Anna cried. 'Oh, what will happen?'

'Why not the usual thing?' Lady Chichele looked up quickly as if at
a reminder. 'The ambiguous attachment of the country,' I went on,
limping but courageous, 'half declared, half admitted, that leads
vaguely nowhere, and finally perishes as the man's life enriches
itself--the thing we have seen so often.'

'Whatever Judy is capable of it won't be the usual thing. You know

I had to confess in silence that I did.

'It flashed at me--the difference in her--in Bombay.' She pressed
her lips together and then went on unsteadily. 'In her eyes, her
voice. She was mannered, extravagant, elaborate. With me! All the
way up I wondered and worried. But I never thought--' She stopped;
her voice simply shook itself into silence. I called a servant.

'I am going to give you a good stiff peg,' I said. I apologize for
the 'peg,' but not for the whisky and soda. It is a beverage on the
frontier, of which the vulgarity is lost in the value. While it was
coming I tried to talk of other things, but she would only nod
absently in the pauses.

'Last night we dined with him, it was guest night at the mess, and
she was there. I watched her, and she knew it. I don't know
whether she tried, but anyway, she failed. The covenant between
them was written on her forehead whenever she looked at him, though
that was seldom. She dared not look at him. And the little
conversation that they had--you would have laughed--it was a comedy
of stutters. The facile Mrs. Harbottle!'

'You do well to be angry, naturally,' I said; 'but it would be fatal
to let yourself go, Anna.'

'Angry?' Oh, I am SICK. The misery of it! The terror of it! If
it were anybody but Judy! Can't you imagine the passion of a
temperament like that in a woman who has all these years been
feeding on herself? I tell you she will take him from my very arms.
And he will go--to I dare not imagine what catastrophe! Who can
prevent it? Who can prevent it?'

'There is you,' I said.

Lady Chichele laughed hysterically. 'I think you ought to say,
"There are you." I--what can I do? Do you realize that it's JUDY?
My friend--my other self? Do you think we can drag all that out of
it? Do you think a tie like that can be broken by an accident--by a
misfortune? With it all I ADORE Judy Harbottle. I love her, as I
have always loved her, and--it's damnable, but I don't know whether,
whatever happened, I wouldn't go on loving her.'

'Finish your peg,' I said. She was sobbing.

'Where I blame myself most,' she went on, 'is for not seeing in him
all that makes him mature to her--that makes her forget the absurd
difference between them, and take him simply and sincerely as I know
she does, as the contemporary of her soul if not of her body. I saw
none of that. Could I, as his mother? Would he show it to me? I
thought him just a charming boy, clever, too, of course, with nice
instincts and well plucked; we were always proud of that, with his
delicate physique. Just a boy! I haven't yet stopped thinking how
different he looks without his curls. And I thought she would be
just kind and gracious and delightful to him because he was my son.'

'There, of course,' I said, 'is the only chance.'


'He is your son.'

'Would you have me appeal to her? Do you know I don't think I

'Dear me, no. Your case must present itself. It must spring upon
her and grow before her out of your silence, and if you can manage
it, your confidence. There is a great deal, after all, remember, to
hold her in that. I can't somehow imagine her failing you.

Lady Chichele and I exchanged a glance of candid admission.

'Otherwise she would be capable of sacrificing everything--
everything. Of gathering her life into an hour. I know. And do
you know if the thing were less impossible, less grotesque, I should
not be so much afraid? I mean that the ABSOLUTE indefensibility of
it might bring her a recklessness and a momentum which might--'

'Send her over the verge,' I said. 'Well, go home and ask her to

There was a good deal more to say, of course, than I have thought
proper to put down here, but before Anna went I saw that she was
keyed up to the heroic part. This was none the less to her credit
because it was the only part, the dictation of a sense of expediency
that despaired while it dictated. The noble thing was her capacity
to take it, and, amid all that warred in her, to carry it out on the
brave high lines of her inspiration. It seemed a literal
inspiration, so perfectly calculated that it was hard not to think
sometimes, when one saw them together, that Anna had been lulled
into a simple resumption of the old relation. Then from the least
thing possible--the lift of an eyelid--it flashed upon one that
between these two every moment was dramatic, and one took up the
word with a curious sense of detachment and futility, but with one's
heart beating like a trip-hammer with the mad excitement of it. The
acute thing was the splendid sincerity of Judy Harbottle's response.
For days she was profoundly on her guard, then suddenly she seemed
to become practically, vividly aware of what I must go on calling
the great chance, and passionately to fling herself upon it. It was
the strangest cooperation without a word or a sign to show it
conscious--a playing together for stakes that could not be admitted,
a thing to hang upon breathless. It was there between them--the
tenable ground of what they were to each other: they occupied it
with almost an equal eye upon the tide that threatened, while I from
my mainland tower also made an anguished calculation of the chances.
I think in spite of the menace, they found real beatitudes; so
keenly did they set about the business that it brought them moments
finer than any they could count in the years that were behind them,
the flat and colourless years that were gone. Once or twice the
wild idea even visited me that it was, after all, the projection of
his mother in Somers that had so seized Judy Harbottle, and that the
original was all that was needed to help the happy process of
detachment. Somers himself at the time was a good deal away on
escort duty: they had a clear field.

I can not tell exactly when--between Mrs. Harbottle and myself--it
became a matter for reference more or less overt, I mean her defined
problem, the thing that went about between her and the sun. It will
be imagined that it did not come up like the weather; indeed, it was
hardly ever to be envisaged and never to be held; but it was always
there, and out of our joint consciousness it would sometimes leap
and pass, without shape or face. It might slip between two
sentences, or it might remain, a dogging shadow, for an hour. Or a
week would go by while, with a strong hand, she held it out of sight
altogether and talked of Anna--always of Anna. Her eyes shone with
the things she told me then: she seemed to keep herself under the
influence of them as if they had the power of narcotics. At the end
of a time like this she turned to me in the door as she was going
and stood silent, as if she could neither go nor stay. I had been
able to make nothing of her that afternoon: she had seemed
preoccupied with the pattern of the carpet which she traced
continually with her riding crop, and finally I, too, had relapsed.
She sat haggard, with the fight forever in her eyes, and the day
seemed to sombre about her in her corner. When she turned in the
door, I looked up with sudden prescience of a crisis.

'Don't jump,' she said, 'it was only to tell you that I have
persuaded Robert to apply for furlough. Eighteen months. From the
first of April. Don't touch me.' I suppose I made a movement
towards her. Certainly I wanted to throw my arms about her; with
the instinct, I suppose, to steady her in her great resolution.

'At the end of that time, as you know, he will be retired. I had
some trouble, he is so keen on the regiment, but I think--I have
succeeded. You might mention it to Anna.'

'Haven't you?' sprang past my lips.

'I can't. It would be like taking an oath to tell her, and--I can't
take an oath to go. But I mean to.'

'There is nothing to be said,' I brought out, feeling indeed that
there was not. 'But I congratulate you, Judy.'

'No, there is nothing to be said. And you congratulate me, no

She stood for a moment quivering in the isolation she made for
herself; and I felt a primitive angry revolt against the delicate
trafficking of souls that could end in such ravage and disaster.
The price was too heavy; I would have denuded her, at the moment, of
all that had led her into this, and turned her out a clod with fine
shoulders like fifty other women in Peshawur. Then, perhaps,
because I held myself silent and remote and she had no emotion of
fear from me, she did not immediately go.

'It will beat itself away, I suppose, like the rest of the
unreasonable pain of the world,' she said at last; and that, of
course, brought me to her side. 'Things will go back to their
proportions. This,' she touched an open rose, 'will claim its
beauty again. And life will become--perhaps--what it was before.'
Still I found nothing to say, I could only put my arm in hers and
walk with her to the edge of the veranda where the syce was holding
her horse. She stroked the animal's neck. 'Everything in me
answered him,' she informed me, with the grave intelligence of a
patient who relates a symptom past. As she took the reins she
turned to me again. 'His spirit came to mine like a homing bird,'
she said, and in her smile even the pale reflection of happiness was
sweet and stirring. It left me hanging in imagination over the
source and the stream, a little blessed in the mere understanding.

Too much blessed for confidence, or any safe feeling that the source
was bound. Rather I saw it leaping over every obstacle, flashing to
its destiny. As I drove to the Club next day I decided that I would
not tell Anna Chichele of Colonel Harbottle's projected furlough.
If to Judy telling her would be like taking an oath that they would
go, to me it would at least be like assuming sponsorship for their
intention. That would be heavy indeed. From the first of April--we
were then in March. Anna would hear it soon enough from the
General, would see it soon enough, almost, in the 'Gazette', when it
would have passed into irrecoverable fact. So I went by her with
locked lips, kept out of the way of those eyes of the mother that
asked and asked, and would have seen clear to any depth, any hiding-
place of knowledge like that. As I pulled up at the Club I saw
Colonel Harbottle talking concernedly to the wife of our Second-in-
Command, and was reminded that I had not heard for some days how
Major Watkins was going on. So I, too, approached Mrs. Watkins in
her victoria to ask. Robert Harbottle kindly forestalled her reply.
'Hard luck, isn't it? Watkins has been ordered home at once. Just
settled into their new house, too--last of the kit came up from
Calcutta yesterday, didn't it, Mrs. Watkins? But it's sound to go--
Peshawur is the worst hole in Asia to shake off dysentery in.'

We agreed upon this and discussed the sale-list of her new furniture
that Mrs. Watkins would have to send round the station, and
considered the chances of a trooper--to the Watkinses with two
children and not a penny but his pay it did make it easier not to
have to go by a liner--and Colonel Harbottle and I were halfway to
the reading-room before the significance of Major Watkins's sick-
leave flashed upon me.

'But this,' I cried, 'will make a difference to your plans. You

'Be able to ask for that furlough Judy wants. Rather not. I'm
afraid she's disappointed--she was tremendously set on going--but it
doesn't matter tuppence to me.'

I sought out Mrs. Harbottle, at the end of the room. She looked
radiant; she sat on the edge of the table and swung a light-hearted
heel. She was talking to people who in themselves were a witness to
high spirits, Captain the Hon. Freddy Gisborne, Mrs. Flamboys.

At sight of me her face clouded, fell suddenly into the old weary
lines. It made me feel somehow a little sick; I went back to my
cart and drove home.

For more than a week I did not see her except when I met her riding
with Somers Chichele along the peach-bordered road that leads to the
Wazir-Bagh. The trees were all in blossom and made a picture that
might well catch dreaming hearts into a beatitude that would
correspond. The air was full of spring and the scent of violets,
those wonderful Peshawur violets that grow in great clumps, tall and
double. Gracious clouds came and trailed across the frontier
barrier; blue as an idyll it rose about us; the city smiled in her

She had it all in her face, poor Judy, all the spring softness and
more, the morning she came, intensely controlled, to announce her
defeat. I was in the drawing-room doing the flowers; I put them
down to look at her. The wonderful telegram from Simla arrived--
that was the wonderful part--at the same time; I remembered how the
red, white, and blue turban of the telegraph peon bobbed up behind
her shoulder in the veranda. I signed and laid it on the table; I
suppose it seemed hardly likely that anything could be important
enough to interfere at the moment with my impression of what love,
unbound and victorious, could do with a face I thought I knew. Love
sat there careless of the issue, full of delight. Love proclaimed
that between him and Judith Harbottle it was all over--she had met
him, alas, in too narrow a place--and I marvelled at the paradox
with which he softened every curve and underlined every vivid note
of personality in token that it had just begun. He sat there in
great serenity, and though I knew that somewhere behind lurked a
vanquished woman, I saw her through such a radiance that I could not
be sure of seeing her at all. . .

She went back to the very first of it; she seemed herself intensely
interested in the facts; and there is no use in pretending that,
while she talked, the moral consideration was at all present with me
either; it wasn't. Her extremity was the thing that absorbed us;
she even, in tender thoughtfulness, diagnosed it from its definite
beautiful beginning.

'It was there, in my heart, when I woke one morning, exquisite and
strange, the assurance of a gift. How had it come there, while I
slept? I assure you when I closed my eyes it did not exist for me.
. .Yes, of course, I had seen him, but only somewhere at dinner. .
.As the day went on it changed--it turned into a clear pool, into a
flower. And I--think of my not understanding! I was pleased with
it! For a long time, for days, I never dreamed that it could be
anything but a little secret joy. Then, suddenly--oh, I had not
been perceiving enough!--it was in all my veins, a tide, an
efflorescence, a thing of my very life.

'Then--it was a little late--I understood, and since--

'I began by hating it--being furious, furious--and afraid, too.
Sometimes it was like a low cloud, hovering and travelling always
with me, sometimes like a beast of prey that went a little way off
and sat looking at me. . ..

'I have--done my best. But there is nothing to do, to kill, to
abolish. How can I say, "I will not let you in," when it is already
there? How can I assume indifference when this thing is imposed
upon every moment of my day? And it has grown so sweet--the
longing--that--isn't it strange?--I could more willingly give him up
than the desire of him. That seems as impossible to part with as
life itself.'

She sat reflective for a moment, and I saw her eyes slowly fill.

Don't--don't CRY, Judy,' I faltered, wanting to horribly, myself.

She smiled them dry.

'Not now. But I am giving myself, I suppose, to many tears.'

'God help you,' I said. What else was there to say?

'There is no such person,' she replied, gaily. 'There is only a
blessed devil.'

'Then you go all the way--to the logical conclusion?'

She hardly hesitated. 'To the logical conclusion. What poor

'May I ask--when?'

'I should like to tell you that quite definitely, and I think I can.
The English mail leaves tonight.'

'And you have arranged to take it?'

'We have arranged nothing. Do you know'--she smiled as if at the
fresh colours of an idyll--'we have not even come to the admission?
There has been between us no word, no vision. Ah, we have gone in
bonds, and dumb! Hours we have had, exquisite hours of the spirit,
but never a moment of the heart, a moment confessed. It was mine to
give--that moment, and he has waited--I know--wondering whether
perhaps it would ever come. And today--we are going for a ride
today, and I do not think we shall come back.'

'O Judy,' I cried, catching at her sleeve, 'he is only a boy!'

'There were times when I thought that conclusive. Now the misery of
it has gone to sleep; don't waken it. It pleases me to believe that
the years are a convention. I never had any dignity, you know, and
I seem to have missed the moral deliverance. I only want--oh, you
know what I want. Why don't you open your telegram?'

I had been folding and fingering the brown envelope as if it had
been a scrap of waste paper.

'It is probably from Mrs. Watkins about the victoria,' I said,
feeling its profound irrelevance. 'I wired an offer to her in
Bombay. However'--and I read the telegram, the little solving
telegram from Army Headquarters. I turned my back on her to read it
again, and then I replaced it very carefully and put it in my
pocket. It was a moment to take hold of with both hands, crying on
all one's gods for steadiness.

'How white you look!' said Mrs. Harbottle, with concern. 'Not bad

'On the contrary, excellent news. Judy, will you stay to lunch?'

She looked at me, hesitating. 'Won't it seem rather a compromise on
your part? When you ought to be rousing the city--'

'I don't intend to rouse the city,' I said.

'I have given you the chance.'

'Thank you,' I said, grimly, 'but the only real favour you can do me
is to stay to lunch.' It was then just on one.

'I'll stay,' she said, 'if you will promise not to make any sort of
effort. I shouldn't mind, but it would distress you.'

'I promise absolutely,' I said, and ironical joy rose up in me, and
the telegram burned in my pocket.

She would talk of it, though I found it hard to let her go on,
knowing and knowing and knowing as I did that for that day at least
it could not be. There was very little about herself that she
wanted to tell me; she was there confessed a woman whom joy had
overcome; it was understood that we both accepted that situation.
But in the details which she asked me to take charge of it was plain
that she also kept a watchful eye upon fate--matters of business.

We were in the drawing-room. The little round clock in its
Armritsar case marked half-past three. Judy put down her coffee cup
and rose to go. As she glanced at the clock the light deepened in
her eyes, and I, with her hand in mine, felt like an agent of the
Destroyer--for it was half-past three--consumed myself with fear
lest the blow had miscarried. Then as we stood, suddenly, the sound
of hoofs at a gallop on the drive, and my husband threw himself off
at the door and tore through the hall to his room; and in the
certainty that overwhelmed me even Judy, for an instant, stood dim
and remote.

'Major Jim seems to be in a hurry,' said Mrs. Harbottle, lightly.
'I have always liked your husband. I wonder whether he will say
tomorrow that he always liked me.'

'Dear Judy, I don't think he will be occupied with you tomorrow.'

'Oh, surely, just a little, if I go tonight.'

'You won't go tonight.'

She looked at me helplessly. I felt as if I were insisting upon her
abasement instead of her salvation. 'I wish--'

'You're not going--you're not! You can't! Look!'

I pulled it out of my pocket and thrust it at her--the telegram. It
came, against every regulation, from my good friend the Deputy
Adjutant-General, in Simla, and it read, 'Row Khurram 12th probably
ordered front three hours' time.'

Her face changed--how my heart leaped to see it change!--and that
took command there which will command trampling, even in the women
of the camp, at news like this.

'What luck that Bob couldn't take his furlough!' she exclaimed,
single-thoughted. 'But you have known this for hours'--there was
even something of the Colonel's wife, authority, incisiveness. 'Why
didn't you tell me? Ah--I see.'

I stood before her abashed, and that was ridiculous, while she
measured me as if I presented in myself the woman I took her to be.
'It wasn't like that,' she said. I had to defend myself. 'Judy,' I
said, 'if you weren't in honour bound to Anna, how could I know that
you would be in honour bound to the regiment? There was a train at

'I beg to assure you that you have overcalculated,' said Mrs.
Harbottle. Her eyes were hard and proud. 'And I am not sure'--a
deep red swept over her face, a man's blush--'in the light of this I
am not sure that I am not in honour bound to Anna.'

We had reached the veranda, and at her signal her coachman drove
quickly up. 'You have kept me here three hours when there was the
whole of Bob's kit to see to,' she said, as she flung herself in;
'you might have thought of that.'

It was a more than usually tedious campaign, and Colonel Robert
Harbottle was ambushed and shot in a place where one must believe
pure boredom induced him to take his men. The incident was
relieved, the newspapers said--and they are seldom so clever in
finding relief for such incidents--by the dash and courage shown by
Lieutenant Chichele, who, in one of those feats which it has lately
been the fashion to criticize, carried the mortally wounded body of
his Colonel out of range at conspicuous risk of depriving the Queen
of another officer. I helped Judy with her silent packing; she had
forgiven me long before that; and she settled almost at once into
the flat in Chelsea which has since been credited with so delightful
an atmosphere, went back straight into her own world. I have always
kept her first letters about it, always shall. For months after,
while the expedition still raged after snipers and rifle-thieves, I
discussed with Lady Chichele the probable outcome of it all. I have
sometimes felt ashamed of leaping as straight as I did with Anna to
what we thought the inevitable. I based no calculation on all Mrs.
Harbottle had gone back to, just as I had based no calculation on
her ten years' companionship in arms when I kept her from the three
o'clock train. This last was a retrospection in which Anna
naturally could not join me; she never knew, poor dear, how
fortunate as to its moment was the campaign she deplored, and
nothing to this day can have disturbed her conviction that the bond
she was at such magnificent pains to strengthen, held against the
strain, as long, happily, as the supreme need existed. 'How right
you were!' she often said. 'She did, after all, love me best, dear,
wonderful Judy!' Her distress about poor Robert Harbottle was
genuine enough, but one could not be surprised at a certain
ambiguity; one tear for Robert, so to speak, and two for her boy.
It could hardly be, for him, a marriage after his mother's heart.
And she laid down with some emphasis that Somers was brilliantly
entitled to all he was likely to get--which was natural, too. . .

I had been from the beginning so much 'in it' that Anna showed me, a
year later, though I don't believe she liked doing it, the letter in
part of which Mrs. Harbottle shall finally excuse herself.

'Somers will give you this,' I read, 'and with it take back your
son. You will not find, I know, anything grotesque in the charming
enthusiasm with which he has offered his life to me; you understand
too well, you are too kind. And if you wonder that I can so render
up a dear thing which I might keep and would once have taken, think
how sweet in the desert is the pool, and how barren was the prospect
from Balclutha.'

It was like her to abandon in pride a happiness that asked so much
less humiliation; I don't know why, but it was like her. And of
course, when one thought of it, she had consulted all sorts of high
expediencies. But I sat silent with remembrance, quieting a pang in
my heart, trying not to calculate how much it had cost Judy
Harbottle to take her second chance.

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