Part 2 out of 4
the same. She got up, and went close to the girl, with a face of
"They are all mine! I should like to drag them off you! Do you
understand that an Englishman's money belongs to his wife, and _I_
am his wife? You! What are you? He belongs to me, and, whatever you
may think, I can take him from you. By our laws he must come back
Saidie rose and faced the angry woman unmoved.
"No law on earth can make a man stay with a woman he does not
love," she said calmly, "nor take him from one he does. You must
know little, or you would know that love is stronger than all law.
I give you leave to withdraw. Salaam."
And she herself moved slowly backwards towards the hanging chick,
passed through it, and was gone, leaving the Englishwoman alone in
* * * * *
Three hours later Hamilton, sitting in his own private office,
surrounded with papers, started suddenly as he heard a well-known
and hated voice say, outside the door.
"Thanks, I'll go in myself."
The next minute the door had opened and his wife stood before him.
He sat in silence, regarding her.
"Well, Frank, I suppose you were expecting me? You saw the boat
came in, doubtless. You don't look particularly pleased to see me!"
There was only one chair in the room, and Hamilton remained seated.
His wife stood in front of him.
"I do not know of any reason why I should be pleased, do you?" he
said calmly, gazing at her with eyes full of concentrated
"No, considering you've got that black woman up at your house, I
don't suppose you do want your wife back very badly; but I've come
to stay, my dear fellow, some time, so you've got to make the best
"You will not stay with me," returned Hamilton quietly. His face
was very white, his eyes had become black as they looked at her.
One hand played idly with a paper-knife on his table.
"And a nice scandal there'll be when I go to stay at the hotel
here, and it's known I'm your wife, and you are living out in the
desert with a woman from the bazaar!"
"The fear of scandal has long since ceased to regulate my life,"
answered Hamilton calmly. "Be good enough to make your interview
short; I have a great deal of work to-day."
"You are a devil!" replied the woman, white, too, now with impotent
rage, "to desert your own wife for that filthy native woman. I--"
But Hamilton had sprung to his feet; his face was blazing; he
seized his wife's wrists in both hands.
"Be quiet," he said, in a low tone of such fury that she cowered
beneath it. "One word more and I shall _kill_ you; do you
Then he raised one hand and brought it down on his gong. Instantly
two stalwart, bronze giants, his chuprassis, entered the room and
stood by the door.
"Take this woman out, and keep her out," he said to them. "Never
let her in again. She annoys me."
The chuprassis put their hands to their foreheads, and then
impassively approached the Englishwoman. She looked at her husband
wildly as they took her arms.
"Frank! you will not surely--" she expostulated. "Your own wife!"
and she struggled to release her arms.
Hamilton waved his hand, and the natives forced her to the door.
For a moment she seemed inclined to scream and struggle. Then her
face changed. A look of intense malevolence came over it. She
walked between the men quietly to the door. As she passed through
it, she looked back.
"You and she shall regret this," she said. Then the door shut, and
Hamilton was alone.
He sat down, collapsed in his chair. Oh, how could he free himself
from this millstone at his neck? What relief could he gain
anywhere? To what power appeal? He could keep her out of his house,
out of his office, but not out of his life. She had come here with
the deliberate intention of wrecking that, and she would succeed
probably, for she would have the blind, hideous force of
conventional morality on her side. She would destroy his life--that
life till lately so valueless to him; that dreary stretch made
barren so many years by her hateful influence, but which, in spite
of it, at Saidie's touch, had now bloomed into a garden of flowers.
The thought of Saidie strengthened him. It was true that his wife
would probably succeed in breaking up his life here from the
conventional and social point of view, and he would be obliged most
likely to give up his appointment; but he had a small independent
income, and on that he and Saidie could still live together. They
would go to Ceylon or to Malabar. Perhaps also he could make money
otherwise than officially. Wherever he went his wife would probably
pursue him, intent on making his life a misery. Still, Fortune
might favour him; he and Saidie might in time reach some corner of
the world where their remorseless tracker would lose trace of them.
Perhaps to go to England at once and obtain a legal separation
would be the best plan, but then it was winter in England now, and
he could not with advantage take Saidie to England in winter, for
fear his exotic Eastern flower would fade in the northern winds.
His thoughts wandered from point to point, and the minutes passed
unheeded. His papers lay untouched, scattered on the floor. The
chuprassi brought in from time to time a note, laid it on the table
and withdrew. Hamilton noticed nothing; he sat still, thinking.
Meanwhile Mrs. Hamilton had been driven to the hotel, where she
engaged very modest quarters and ordered luncheon. While waiting
for this she went out into the balcony before her windows, and
looked with gloomy eyes into the sunny, laughing splendour of the
Eastern afternoon. At the side of the hotel was a luxuriant garden,
and the palms and sycamores growing there threw a light shade into
the sunny street just below her window; the sky overhead stretched
its eternal Eastern blue, and the pigeons wheeled joyfully in and
out the eaves in the clear sparkling air, or descended to the pools
in the garden to bathe, with incessant cooing. Up and down the
road passed the white bullocks with their laden carts, and the
gaily-dressed Turkish sweet-meat sellers went by crooning out songs
descriptive of their wares, pausing under the shade of the garden
to look up at the English Mem-Sahib in the balcony. She leant her
arms on the rail, and looked out on the gay scene with unseeing
eyes. "Beast!" she muttered at intervals, and her hard-lined face
crimsoned and paled by turns.
When her luncheon came in she returned to the room, took off her
hat and looked in the glass. The narrow, selfish, petty emotions of
twenty years were written all over her face in deep, hideous lines.
The mass of yellow hair, newly-dyed, looked glaringly youthful and
incongruous above it.
Burning with a sense of malevolent discontent and misery, she
turned from the glass and hurried through her luncheon, then
ordered it to be cleared away and writing materials to be brought
in, and set herself with grim feverishness to the concoction of a
long letter to the Commissioner. In it Hamilton's twenty years of
patient fidelity, through which time he had regularly transmitted
to her half his pay year by year were naturally not mentioned; her
own refusal to live with him, her incessant demands for more money,
her extravagance, her long, whining letters to him, her debts, her
own life in town were, of course, also suppressed. In the letter
she figured as the ardent, tender, anxious wife, arriving to find
her abandoned husband wasting his substance on a black mistress.
The visit to the cruel tyrant in his office was long dwelt on, and
the whole closed with a pathetic appeal to the Commissioner to use
his influence to restore her dearest boy to her arms. It was not a
bad letter from the artist's and the liar's standpoint, and she
read it through with a glow of satisfaction, sealed it up with a
baleful smile of triumph, and then sounded the gong.
"Take this at once to the Commissioner Sahib," she said, handing
the note to the servant, "and let me have some tea; also you can
order me a carriage. I shall want to drive afterwards."
When the tea came, she thoroughly enjoyed it after her virtuous
labours, and in the cool of the evening drove out to see the city.
* * * * *
That evening at dinner, seated at their table, laden with flowers,
with the light from the heavy Burmese silver lamps falling on her
lovely glowing face, and round bangle-laden arms, Saidie told
Hamilton of the visit of the white Mem-Sahib. His face darkened and
his lips set.
"So she came here, did she? Did she frighten you? attempt to hurt
"Oh, no," returned Saidie; "not at all. Naturally she is very hurt,
very sorry; no wonder she longs after the Sahib, and wishes to be
taken back to his harem. I was very sorry for her. It is quite
natural she should be jealous, of course," and Saidie rested one
soft, silken skinned elbow on the table and leaned across the
flowers, and her half-filled wine-glass, looking with tender liquid
eyes earnestly at the face of her lord.
"The Sahib is so wonderful, so beautiful, so far above other men,"
she murmured, gazing upon him. "It is no wonder she is unhappy."
Hamilton smiled a little, looking back at her. He had indeed a
singularly handsome face, with its straight, noble features and
warm colour, and as he smiled the breast of the Eastern girl
heaved; her heart seemed to rush out to him.
"Ah, Saidie! you do not understand English wives," he said gently,
with a curious melancholy in his voice. "Love and worship such as
you give me they think shameful and shocking. To love a man for
himself, for his face, for his body is degrading. They are so pure,
they love him only for his purse. They tell him to take his passion
to dancing-girls like you. They hate to bear him children. They
like to live in his house, be clothed at his expense, ride in his
carriage, but they care little to sleep in his arms."
Saidie regarded him steadfastly, with eyes ever growing wider as
"I do not understand ..." she murmured at last, clasping both soft,
supple hands across her breast, as if trying to mould herself into
this new belief; "it is so hard to comprehend.... Surely it must
be right to love one's lord, to bear him sons, to please him, to
make him happy every hour, every minute of the day and night."
"Right?" returned Hamilton passionately, getting up from his seat
and coming over to her. "Of course it is right! love such as yours
is a divine gift to man, straight from the hands of God." He leaned
his burning hands heavily on the delicately-moulded shoulders,
looking down into her upturned face. How exquisite it was! its fine
straight nose, its marvellously-carved mouth and short upper lip,
its round, full chin, and midnight eyes beneath their great
arching, sweeping brows!
"That woman is a fiend, one of the unnatural creatures our wretched
European civilisation has made only to destroy the lives of men.
Don't let us speak of her! never let us think of her! She is
nothing to me. You are my world, my all. If she drives us away from
here, there are other parts of the world for us. Separate us she
never shall. Come! why should we waste our time even mentioning her
name. Come with me into our garden. Darling! darling!"
He stooped over her, and on her lips pressed those kisses so long
refused, uncared for by one woman, so priceless to this one, and
almost lifted Saidie from the chair. She laughed the sweet low
laughter of the Oriental woman, and went with him eagerly towards
the verandah, and out into the compound where the roses slept in
the warm silver light.
* * * * *
For two days nothing happened. Hamilton went as usual to his office
for the day. At four he left, and, mounting his camel, went into
the desert to the oasis in the palms.
On the third day he received a summons from the Commissioner, and
went up to his house in the afternoon. His heart seethed with rage
within him, but except for an unusual pallor in the clear warm
skin, his face showed nothing as he entered the large, imposing
The Commissioner was a short, pompous little man, rather
overshadowed by his grim raw-boned wife, and had under her strict
guidance and training developed a stern admiration for conventional
virtue, particularly in regard to conjugal relations. He rose and
bowed as Hamilton entered, but did not offer to shake hands.
Hamilton waited, erect, silent.
"Sit down, Mr. Hamilton." Hamilton sat down. "Er--I--ah--have
received what I may term a painful--yes, a very painful
communication, and er--I may say at once it refers to you and your
concerns in a most distressing manner--most distressing."
The Commissioner coughed and waited. Hamilton remained silent. The
Commissioner fidgeted, crossed his knees, uncrossed them again,
then turned on him suddenly. The Indian climate is trying to the
temper; it means many pegs, and small control of the passions.
"Damn you, sir!" he broke out fiercely. "What the devil do you mean
by keeping a black woman in your house, and sending your wife to
the hotel here?"
He was purple and furious; in his hand he crushed Mrs. Hamilton's
"She tells me you called in natives to throw her out of your
office: it's disgraceful! Upon my word it is; it's scandalous! And
you sent her to the hotel! I never heard of such a thing!"
"Mrs. Hamilton came out uninvited, in defiance of my express
wishes, and on her arrival I told her she could not stay with me,"
returned Hamilton quietly. "Whether she went to the hotel or not, I
"But your wife, damn it all, your wife, has a right to stay with
you if she chooses; naturally she would come to you, and you can't
turn her out in this way."
"She has long ago forfeited all rights as my wife," replied
Hamilton calmly, in a low tone, with so much weight in it that the
Commissioner looked at him keenly.
"Why don't you get a divorce or a separation then?" he asked
abruptly. "Do the thing decently--not have her out like this, and
make a scandal all over the station."
"I know of no grounds for a divorce," returned Hamilton. "There are
many ways of breaking the marriage vows other than infidelity. I
married Mrs. Hamilton twenty years ago, and for those twenty years
she has practically refused to live with me. For twenty years I
have remitted half my income to her every year. During that time I
have many times asked her to join me here, sought a reconciliation
always to be refused. Recently I found another interest; the moment
my wife discovered this, she came out with the sole purpose of
annoying me. I have come to the conclusion that twenty years'
fidelity to a woman without reward is enough. I shall not alter my
life now to suit Mrs. Hamilton."
The Commissioner was silent. He was quite sure Hamilton was
speaking the truth, and in reality, in the absence of Mrs.
Commissioner, he felt all his sympathies go with him. But his
wife's careful training and his official position put other words
than his mind dictated into his mouth.
"Well, well," he said at last, "we can't go into all that. You and
your wife must arrange your matters somehow between you. But there
can't be a scandal like this going on. You, a married man, living
with a native woman, and your wife out here at the hotel! Something
must be done to make things look all right--must be done," and he
knitted his brows, looking crossly at Hamilton from under them.
Hamilton shrugged his shoulders.
"You'd better give up this native woman," snapped the
Hamilton smiled. His was such an expressive face, it told more
clearly the feelings than most impassive English faces, and there
was that in the smile that held the Commissioner's gaze; and the
two men sat staring at each other in silence.
After some moments the Commissioner spoke again but his tone was
"Hamilton, you know we all have to make sacrifices to our official
position, to public opinion, to social usage. Ah! what a Moloch
that is that we've created, it devours our best. Yes ... a Moloch!"
he muttered half to himself, gazing on the floor.
"Still, it's there, and we all suffer equally in turn. I know what
it is myself. I have been through it all." He stopped, gazing
fixedly at the beautiful crimson roses in the pattern of his Wilton
carpet. What visions swept before him of gleaming eyes and sweeping
brows, ruthlessly blotted out by a large, raw-boned figure and face
of aggressive chastity. "I am sorry for you, but there it is;
whatever the rights of the case, you can't make a scandal like
"I am ready to resign my post if necessary," returned Hamilton; "I
have enough to live on without my pay."
The Commissioner started, and looked at him.
"Is she so handsome as that?" he asked in a low tone, leaning a
little forward. Mrs. Commissioner was not there, and he was
Hamilton hesitated a moment. Then he drew from his pocket a
photograph, taken by himself, of Saidie standing amongst her
The beautiful Eastern face, the lovely, youthful, sinuous figure,
veiled in its slight, transparent drapery, taken by an artist and a
lover in the clear, actinic Indian light, made an exquisite work of
art. It lay in the hand of the Commissioner, and he gazed on it,
remembering his long-past youth.
After a long time Hamilton broke the silence.
"Now, you know," he said at last, "why I am ready to resign my post
rather than resign _that_; and it is not only her beauty that
charms me, it is her devotion, her love.... Do you know, white or
black, superior or inferior, these two women are not to be
mentioned in one breath. The one you see there is a woman, the
other is a fiend."
The Commissioner tried to look shocked, but failed; the smooth card
still lay in his hand, the lovely image impressed on it smiled up
"I don't know but what you are right," he muttered savagely as he
handed it back to Hamilton. "These wives, damn 'em, seem to have no
other mission but to make a man uncomfortable."
He got up and began to pace the room. He seemed to have forgotten
Hamilton and the official _role_ he himself had started to play. He
seemed absorbed in his own thoughts--perhaps memories. Hamilton sat
still, gazing at the card.
Half-an-hour later the interview came to an end. Hamilton went away
to his office with a light heart, and a smile on his lips. The
Commissioner had given him some of his own reminiscences, and
Hamilton had sympathised. The two men had drifted insensibly onto
common ground, and the Commissioner finally had promised to help
Hamilton as far as he could. Hamilton was pleased. That he had
merely been twisting a piece of straw, that would be bent into
quite another shape when Mrs. Commissioner took it in hand, did not
for the moment occur to him. That night Saidie danced for him in
the moonlight, and afterwards ran from him swiftly, playing at
hide-and-seek amongst the roses laughing, inviting his pursuit. In
and out behind the great clumps of boughain-villia gleamed the
lovely form, with hair unbound falling like a mantle to the waist.
Through the pomegranate bushes the laughing face looked out at him,
then swiftly vanished as he approached, and next a laugh and a
flash of warm skin drew him to the bed of lilies where he overtook
her, and they fell laughing on the mossy bank together. Wearied
with dancing and running and laughter, she sank into his arms
gladly, as Eve in the garden of Eden.
"Let us sleep here," she murmured, looking up to the palm branches
over them defined against the lustrous sky.
"See how the lilies sleep round us!"
And that night they slept out in the moonlight.
A month had gone by, and during that month, except for the time he
was with Saidie in the bungalow, Hamilton, had he been less of a
philosopher, would have been extremely uncomfortable.
The Commissioner's wife had completely and entirely espoused the
cause of Mrs. Hamilton, and had insisted on her leaving the hotel
and coming to stay with her. Everywhere that the Commissioner's
wife went, riding or driving, Mrs. Hamilton accompanied her; and
whenever he met the two women, his wife threw him a mild,
reproachful glance of martyred virtue, while the Commissioner's
wife glared upon him in stony wrath.
Hamilton took no notice of either glance, but passed them as if
neither existed. The Commissioner looked miserably guilty whenever
he encountered Hamilton's amused, penetrating eyes, and avoided
him as much as possible. The Commissioner's house was completely
shut to him; he never approached it now except on official
business, and nearly every house in the station followed its
example. The story of Mrs. Hamilton's woes and wrongs had spread
all over the community, and proved a theme of delightful and
never-ending interest to all the ladies of the station. They were
unanimous in supporting her. Not one voice was raised in favour of
Hamilton. He was a monster, a heartless libertine, given over to
all sorts of terrible vices. Tales of the fearful doings in the
desert bungalow, where Hamilton and Saidie lived the gay, bright,
joyous life of two human beings, happily mated, as Nature intended
all things to be, spread over the station, and the stony stare of
the women upon Hamilton, when they met him, mingled insensibly with
a shrinking horror that greatly amused him.
Nobody spoke to him except in his business capacity. Every one
avoided him. He was practically ostracised. Mrs. Hamilton, on the
other hand, went everywhere, and thoroughly enjoyed herself in the
_role_ of gentle forgiving martyr that she played to perfection.
Being plain and unattractive to men, she was thoroughly popular
with the women, and they were never tired of condoling with her on
having such a brute of a husband. What more natural, poor dear!
than that she should refuse to live with him in India, if the
climate did not suit her? So unreasonable of him to expect it! The
question of a family, too! why, what woman was there now who did
not hate to have her figure spoiled, and object to be always in the
sick-room and nursery? So natural that she did not wish those
disagreeable passionate relationships: a man could not expect that
sort of thing from his wife! And then the money, too! she had never
had more than half his income all these twenty years! It seemed to
them that she had been wonderfully good and resigned.
Such was the talk at the afternoon teas, and the married men at the
club, coached by their wives, and being in the position of the fox
who had lost his brush, and wished no other fox to retain his,
condemned Hamilton quite as freely.
"It was beastly rough on his wife," they agreed, "to set up a
black dancing-girl under her eyes."
Hamilton cared not at all for the social life of the station, and
was greatly relieved by not having invitations to give or to
answer. All that he regretted was the ultimate resignation of his
post, which, he foresaw, would be the result of all this scandal
sooner or later.
Saidie, with Oriental quickness, had soon grasped the whole
situation, and had flung herself at his feet in a passion of tears,
begging him to send her away or to kill her rather than let her
presence make him unhappy. Hamilton had some difficulty in turning
her mind from the resolve to kill herself by way of serving him;
and it was only his solemn oath to her that she was the one single
joy and happiness of his life, that with her in his arms he cared
about nothing else, that if he lost her his life was at an end,
which pacified and at last convinced her.
Another month went by, and Mrs. Hamilton began to tire of her
position. She felt she was not making Hamilton half unhappy enough.
She had had but one idea, and that was to separate him from Saidie,
and in this she had failed. He had not even been turned out of his
post. He had been expelled from the social life of the station; but
she knew he would not feel that, that he would only welcome the
greater leisure he had to spend in his Eden with _her_. To play the
martyr for a time had been interesting, but its pleasure was
beginning to wane; moreover, she could not stay permanently with
the Commissioner's wife. She grew restless: she must carry out her
plan somehow. When Hamilton's life was completely wrecked, she
would be ready to return to England--not till then; and she lay
awake at nights grinding her long, narrow, wolf-like teeth together
as she thought of Hamilton in the desert bungalow.
One morning, after a nearly sleepless night, she got up and looked
critically at her face in the glass. Old and haggard as usual it
looked; but to-day, in addition to age and care, a specially evil
determination sat upon it.
"Life is practically done with," she thought, looking at it. "I
have only this one thing to care about now, and I'll do it somehow
before I go. If I can't enjoy my life, he shan't enjoy his."
She turned from the glass, and commenced dressing. The evil look
deepened on her face from minute to minute, and the word "Beast!"
came at intervals through her teeth.
Outside the window of her charming room all was waking in the
joyous dawn of the East. Long shadows lay across the velvet green
slopes of the Commissioner's lawn as the sun rose behind the
majestic palms that shaded it; floods of golden light were rippling
softly over roses and stephanotis, opening bud after bud to the
azure above them; the gay call of the birds rang through the clear
morning air; the perroquets swung in ecstasy on the bamboo
branches, crying out shrill comments on each other's toilet. The
scent of a thousand blossoms rose up like some magic influence,
stealing through the sparkling sunlight into the room, and played
round the thin face of the woman within, but it could make no
message clear to her. Every sense of hers had long been sealed to
all joy by hate.
At breakfast she announced her intention of leaving India by the
following mail, and not all the kind pressure brought to bear upon
her by the Commissioner's wife could induce her to postpone her
departure. She was gentle, calm, and resigned in manner, as usual,
excessively grateful for all they had done for her, and the
kindness shown her. She spoke very sweetly of her husband, told
them how she had hoped by coming out to induce him to leave the
evil life he was leading; but she saw now that these things lay in
higher hands than hers, and she felt all she could do was to pray
and hope for him in silence.
"Why don't you divorce him?" broke in the Commissioner abruptly and
quickly, anxious to get it out before his wife could stop him. He
tugged violently at his moustache, waiting for her answer. If she
would do that, he was thinking, what a relief for that poor devil
"Divorce him?" returned Mrs. Hamilton resignedly. "Never! It is a
wife's duty to submit to whatever cross Providence lays upon her,
but divorce seems to me only the resource of abandoned women."
The Commissioner's wife nodded her head in majestic approval. The
Commissioner got up abruptly, breakfast being concluded. He said
nothing, but his mental ejaculation was, "Old hag! knows she
couldn't get any one else, nor half such a handsome allowance!"
The day for Mrs. Hamilton's departure came, and on its morning
Hamilton found a note from her on his office desk. He took it up
and opened it with a feeling of repulsion.
"DEAR FRANK,--I am leaving by the noon boat for England. They
seem to have altered their time of sailing to twelve instead
of seven P.M.
"I am sorry my visit here has caused you trouble. Do not be
too hard on me. I am leaving now, and do not intend to worry
you again. You must lead your own life until, perhaps, some
day you wish to return to me. You will find me ready to
welcome you. Good-bye, and forgive any pain I have caused
you.--Your affectionate wife,
Hamilton read this note with amazement, and a sense of its falsity
swept over him, as if a wind had risen from the paper and struck
his face. But as men too often do, he tried to thrust away his
first true instincts, and replace their warning with a lumbering
reason. He sat deep in thought, gazing at the table before him. If
it were true, if she were really going, if she really meant
good-bye, what a relief! But it was impossible, unless, indeed, she
had accomplished her plan, and had heard that he had been, or was
about to be dismissed from his post.
This seemed to throw a light upon the matter, and with the idea of
finding confirmation of this in some of the other letters awaiting
him, he started to go through them. It was a heavy post-bag, and
gave him much to attend to. He went through the letters, but found
nothing relative to himself in them, and settled down to his work.
Twelve, one, and two passed, and he looked up at the clock,
wondering if she were really gone. He seemed to have no inclination
for lunch, so he worked on without leaving the office, and only
rose to clear his desk when it was time to leave for the day.
To-morrow he would learn definitely what passengers the out-going
boat had carried. He would not stay this evening to find out. He
felt ill, listless; he only wanted to be back with Saidie in the
restful shade of the palms.
As he rode across the desert that evening an indefinable depression
hung over him. Never since he had found Saidie had that melancholy,
once so natural, come back to him. Her spirit, whether she were
absent or present, seemed always with him--a gay, bright, beautiful
vision ever before his eyes, giving him the feeling that he was
looking always into sunlight. But to-night there seemed emptiness,
gloom about him.
"It's the weather," he muttered, and looked upward to the curious
sky. It was gold, gleaming gold; but close to the horizon lay two
bright purple bars, like lines of writing in the West: the prophecy
of a storm, and the heat seemed to hang in the air that not a
faintest breath moved.
Swiftly and evenly the great camel bore him, its well-beloved
master, over the rippling sand towards the palms in the golden
west, but the approaching night travelled faster than they, and it
was quite dark, with a sullen heavy darkness, before they reached
the bungalow. It seemed very quiet, with an indefinable sense of
stillness in the garden and wide hall. Neither Saidie nor any
servant came to meet him, and it was quite dark: no lamp had been
lighted. With a sudden throb of terror in his heart, Hamilton
paused and called "Saidie."
There was no response, no sound. Striking a match, Hamilton
deliberately lit a lamp. Some great evil was upon him, and with a
curious calmness he went forward to meet it. He went upstairs and
pushed open the door of their bedroom, shielding the light with his
hand and seeking first with his eyes the bed. Saidie lay there: the
exquisite form, in its transparent purple gauze, lay composed upon
the bed, a little to one side. The glorious hair, unbound, rippled
in a dark river to the floor; the head rested sideways as in sleep,
upon the pillow. In silence Hamilton approached; near the bed his
foot slid suddenly; he looked down; there was a tiny lake of
scarlet blood, blackening at its edges, blood on the wooden
bedstead side, blood on the purple muslin over the perfect breasts.
Hamilton, his body growing rigid, put out his hand to her forehead;
it was cold. He set down the lamp and turned her face towards it,
putting his arm under her head. Her lips were stone colour, the
lids were closed over the eyes; the face was the face of death.
In those moments Hamilton realized that his own life was over.
Saidie was dead--murdered. The world then was simply no more for
him. All was finished: he himself was a dead man. Only one thing
remained, one duty for him. To avenge her! Then utter rest and
blackness. He looked round thinking. The room was quite empty,
undisturbed. The great pearls on Saidie's neck were untouched. They
gleamed gently in the pale light from his lamp. No robber, no
outsider had been here. Then, in the darkened room, leapt up before
him the truth: a white, blonde face seemed looking at him from the
walls--the thick pale lips, the half-closed sinister eyes, the lean
long figure of his wife rose before him.
"But she was to leave by the morning's boat," he muttered. Then
... a thought struck him. He withdrew his arm gently from the
passive head, lighted another lamp, putting it on a bracket in the
wall, and left the room, descending to the vacant hall. He went to
the verandah and called to his servants. They came, a trembling
crowd, with upraised hands, and fell flat before him, weeping and
striking their heads on the ground.
"It is not our fault, Light of Heaven, Father of the Poor, the
Mem-Sahib came--the white Mem-Sahib. We are poor men; we have no
fault at all."
Hamilton listened for a moment to the storm of words and protesting
cries. Then he raised his hand and there was silence, but for a
sound of rising wind without and the sobbing of the natives.
"Pir Bakhs," he said to the head of them all, the butler, "tell me
all you know. Your mistress is dead. Who is responsible?"
The butler came forward and fell at his master's feet with clasped
"Lord of the Earth, I know nothing but this. At five all was quiet
in the house, and our mistress sat in the garden singing. Then
came to the door two runners with a palanquin. They asked to see
our mistress. I said wait. I went to the garden. I said the white
Mem-Sahib has come in a palanquin. My mistress said, 'I will see
her.' She went to the drawing-room, and the white Mem-Sahib came
in, and they drank tea together. Your servant is a poor man, and he
saw no more till the runners went away with the palanquin. So we
said, 'The white Mem-Sahib has gone,' and my mistress said to me
she felt drowsy and must sleep, and went upstairs to the Light of
Heaven's room and shut the door. And your servant was laying the
table in your honour's dining-room a little later, and he went to
close the jillmills, for the wind was rising, and your servant
saw through the jillmill the white Mem-Sahib again getting into her
palanquin that had appeared once more at the back, and the runners
ran with it very fast into the desert; then your servant ran out to
ask the other servants why the white Mem-Sahib had come back, and
the ayah met him at the door and said she had found our mistress
killed in her room; and your honour's servant is a poor man, and
has wept ever since."
[Footnote 1: Wooden shutters.]
Hamilton listened in perfect silence. The man's face was lined with
grief, the tears rolled in streams down his livid cheeks. A wail
went up from the other servants at his words. Hamilton and his
mistress were their idols, and his grief was very real to
Hamilton stretched out his hand to the trembling man with a benign
"Pir Bakhs, I believe you. You have served me many years, and never
lied to me. This is another's work, not yours. Be at peace. You
have no fault."
The butler wept louder, and the others wailed with him, calling
upon Heaven to bless their master and avenge their mistress.
Hamilton turned from them to the dark dining-room, which he crossed
to the hall; through this he walked in the darkness as a blind man
walks, to the entrance.
He tore the wood-work door open, wrenching it from its hinges, and
looked out into the night. A dust-storm was raging in the desert
beyond the compound, and its stinging blasts of wind, laden with
sand, drove heavily over the exquisite masses of bloom, the
glorious and delicate scented blossoms of the garden. It tore off
the flowers remorselessly, and even for the moment he stood there,
a rain of thin, white, shredded petals was flung into his face. The
branches of the trees groaned and whined in the thick darkness, the
swish of broken and bent bamboo came from all sides, the roar of
the dust driven through the foliage filled his ears. The garden,
the beautiful, sheltered garden, scene of their delights, was being
ruthlessly destroyed, even as his life had been; it was expiring in
agony, even as he would shortly expire: to-morrow it would be
desolate, a shattered wreck under the dust, even as he, in a little
while--But something should be done first.
Leaving the doorway open, letting the dust-laden wind tear
shrieking through the silent house, he plunged into the roaring
darkness. He took the centre path that led straight to the compound
gate. The unhappy bushes and tortured branches of the trees, bent
and twisted by the onrushing wind, lashed his face and body as he
went down the path. He did not feel their stinging blows. On, on to
the desert he went blindly but steadily in the thick darkness.
When he got beyond the compound gate, out of the shelter of the
garden, the weight of the wind almost bore him down; but as he
faced its blast, his eyes saw, not so very far, out on the plain,
dull in the whirling mist, the dancing uncertain light of a carried
lantern. As the tiger darts forward on its prey, as the snake
springs to the attack, Hamilton leapt forward into the wall of wind
that faced him and ran at the dancing light.
Choked with sand, blinded, suffocated and breathless, but full of
power to kill, he was on it at last, and flung himself with sinewy
hands on the swaying, covered sedan chair, between the two bearers,
who, bewildered and helpless in the sudden storm, were groping
slowly across the plain. With a shriek they dropped the handles, as
Hamilton flung himself suddenly on the chair; the lantern fell into
the sand and went out. The natives, thinking the devil, the actual
spirit of the storm, had overtaken them, fled howling into the
blackness, their cries swallowed up like whispers in the roar of
the wind. As the chair struck the sand, the woman within thrust her
head with a cry through the open side. Hamilton seized it by the
neck. Out! out of the sedan chair, through the burst-open door, he
pulled the wretched creature by her head, and then flung her with
all his force upon the sand.
The raging wind swept past them in sheets of dust, bellowing as it
went. He knelt on her body; his hands ground into her neck. Through
the darkness he saw beneath him the thin, white oval of the face,
with its eyes bulging, starting out of the head, its lips writhing
in agony; two white hands beat helplessly in the black air beside
him. He looked hard into her eyes, bending down to her close, very
near, as his hands sank deeper into her neck, his fingers locked
more tightly round it. In a few seconds the light of the eyes went
out, the hands ceased to beat the air. Saidie was avenged. With a
laugh that rang out into the noise of the storm, the man got up
from the limp body and stood by it, in the echoing darkness. Then
he kicked it, so that it rolled over, and the sand came up in
waves eager to bury it.
In an hour woman, sedan chair, lantern would all be beneath a level
plain of sand.
He turned back towards the bungalow. "Saidie," he murmured, and the
storm-wind seemed to rave "Saidie!" "Saidie!" round him, to whirl
the name upwards to the dim stars, glimmering one here and there,
far off and veiled in the heavens. He went back; the wind helped
him. On its wings he seemed borne back to his house, through the
tortured garden, through the gaping doorway, over the shattered
door he passed, and then up the stairs to their room.
After the inferno of the desert the inside of the house seemed
quiet, and in their room the lamps burned steadily, but low. Their
oil was used up, their life, like his, was nearly done. The bed
stood there and on its calm white stillness lay Saidie, waiting for
him, for him alone, as always.
He went up to her and stood there.
"Saidie?" but she did not answer. He lay down beside her gently, so
as not to break her slumber, and then drew her to his breast. Ah
his treasure! his world! Surely now all was well since she was
safe in his arms! He did not feel the deathly coldness. There was a
whizzing in his brain where Nature had laid her finger on a vein,
and broken it that he might be released from sorrow and die.
"Saidie?" he murmured again as her breast pressed his, and put his
lips to hers.
As his life had first dawned in her kiss, so it went back now to
the lips that had given it, and in that kiss he died.
There was complete silence in the large room, filled with long,
wavering shadows that the flickering firelight chased over the
walls and amongst the gilt-edged tables.
Beyond the windows the dusk was gathering quickly in the wind-swept
street, beneath the leaden sky. From the pane nearest the fire a
side-light fell across a man's figure leaning against the corner of
the mantel-shelf. A ruddy glow from the hearth struck upon the silk
skirt of a girl leaning back in the easy-chair beneath the other
Her face is lost in the shadow.
He is a good-looking fellow, very. The high white collar that shows
up in the dusk is fastened round a long, well-set neck; the figure
in the blue serge suit is straight and pleasing, and the shoulders
erect and slim.
The girl's eyes, looking out of the shadow, take in these points,
and the pleasure they give her seems inextricably confused with
dull pain. Her gaze passes on to his face, and rests eagerly,
almost thirstily, upon it.
There is light enough still to show her its well-cut oval, spoiled
now by the haggard falling in of the cheeks, the lines in the
forehead, and the swellings beneath the eyes.
He shifts his position a little and glances through the window. His
eyes are full of irritation, and the girl knows it, though they are
turned from her. She gives a suppressed, inaudible sigh; his
attitude now brings out the impatient discontent on his mouth and
the rigid determination of the chin.
"I suppose you mean two people can live upon nothing?" His voice is
cold, even hostile, and he speaks apparently to the panes, but the
tones are well-bred and pleasing; and again the girl wonders dimly
which is the predominating sensation in her--pleasure or pain.
"No," she says, in rather a suffocated voice. "But I say, if either
person has enough, or the two together, it does not matter which
has it, or which has the most."
Silence, which her hesitating, timid voice breaks at last.
"Yes, I think it does," he answered shortly. "The man must have
enough to support both, or he has no right to marry at all."
The girl's hands lock themselves together convulsively, unseen
behind her slight waist, laced so skilfully into the fashionable
There is a hard decision in the incisive tones that does not belong
to the mere expression of a general theory--a cold authority and a
weight of personal conviction that turns the words into a statement
of rigid principle.
The girl feels almost dizzy, and she closes her hot eyelids
suddenly to shut out the line of that hard, obstinate chin.
"People's ideas on what is enough to support both vary so much,"
she says quietly, with well-bred indifference in her tone, while
her heart beats wildly as she waits for his next remark.
"Well, what would you consider enough yourself?" he says coldly,
after a slight pause, turning a little more towards her.
The red light glows steadily on her skirts, and he can see the
graceful outline of her knees under them, and one small foot upon
the hearthrug; the rest of the form is veiled in the shadow, except
one rounded line of a shoulder and the glint of light hair above.
He looks down at her, and there seems a sudden, nervous expansion
in his frame; outwardly there is not the faintest impatient
movement. He waits quietly for her reply.
The girl hesitates as she looks at him. To her, in her absorbing
love for the man before her, the question is an absurd mockery.
To reduce to a certain number of pounds this "enough," when for her
anything or nothing would be enough!
"I would rather starve to death in your arms than live another day
without you," is the current running under all her thoughts, and it
confuses them and makes it difficult for her to speak.
What shall she answer? To name a sum too small in his eyes will
be as great an error as to name one too large. He would only
think her a silly, sentimental girl, who knows nothing of what
she is talking about, and who has no knowledge and appreciation
of the responsibilities of life.
Besides, to name a very small income will be to conjure up before
his eyes the picture of a mean, pitiful, sordid existence, from
which she feels, with painful distinctness, he would turn with
Poor? Yes, he has told her that he is poor, and she believes it;
but somehow--by contracting debt, probably--she thinks, as her
keen, observant eyes sweep over him, he manages at present to live
and dress as a gentleman.
Those well-cut suits, those patent shoes and expensive cigarettes;
these things, she feels instinctively, must be preserved for him,
or any form of life would lose its charm.
At the same time, she must mention something that is not hopelessly
beyond him. She recalls her own two hundred; surely, at the least,
he must be making one.
"I can hardly say," she murmured at last, "because personally I
think one can live on so very little; but I suppose most people
would say--well, about three hundred pounds a year."
"Oh! three hundred a year," he says, stretching out his hand for
the tea-cup on a low table beside him. The tea has grown cold in
the discussion of abstract questions. He takes the cup and sits
down deliberately in the corner of the couch opposite her, and
stirs the tea slowly.
"How much is that a week? Five pounds fifteen, isn't it? Well, now,
go on, see what you can make of it. Your house--the smallest--and
"House and servants!" interrupts the girl, "but why have a house
and servants at all?"
"I don't know," he rejoins curtly, "because the girl generally
expects those things when she marries."
"Not all girls," she says, and one seems to hear the smile with
which she says it in her voice.
"You mean rooms?" he says quickly, with a gleam of pleasure
breaking for a moment across his face.
"Well--say rooms--you would want three--thirty shillings, I
suppose, at the least, and then another thirty for board. That
leaves two fifteen for everything else."
"Surely that's a good deal."
"Oh, I don't know; think of one's clothes," and Stephen stares
moodily into the fire, with a pricking recollection of a tailor's
bill for twenty odd in his drawer at home now.
Then, to remove the impression of selfish extravagance he feels he
may have given, he adds:
"And a man wants to give his wife some amusement, and three hundred
a year leaves nothing for that."
"Amusement!" the girl repeats, starting up and standing upright,
with one elbow just touching the mantelpiece, and the firelight
flooding her figure from the slim waist downwards. "What amusement
does a woman want if she is in love with the man she is living
with? The man himself is her amusement! To watch him when he is
occupied, to wait for him when he is away, to nurse him when he is
ill--that is her amusement: she does not want any other!"
Stephen stares at the flexible form, and listens to the words that
he would admire, only the cynical suspicion is in his mind that she
is talking for effect. His general habit was to consider all women
mercenary and untrustworthy. Deep in his heart--for he had a heart,
though contracted from want of use--lay a hungry desire to be
loved, really loved for himself; and the very keenness of the
longing, and the anxiety not to be deceived, lessened his powers of
penetration, and blinded him to the girl's character.
He laughs slightly. "You are taking a theatrical view of the whole
"How do you mean?"
"Oh, well, that the wife really loves her husband and sticks to him
through everything, and they pass through unheard-of difficulties
together, and so on"; but he adds, with a faint yawn: "I've always
noticed that when the money goes the love disappears too. There's
no love where there's abject poverty."
"But three hundred a year is not abject poverty," answers the girl
in a quiet tone, not denying his theory for fear of being called
"No," he admits. "Oh, it might do very well as long as there were
only two; but then, when there are children, it means a nurse, and
all sorts of expenses."
He says the words with a simplicity and directness that makes the
girl almost catch her breath. For these two were not on intimate
terms with each other, not even terms of intimate speaking.
Nothing had passed between them yet but the merest society phrases,
and before a certain quiet dinner one month back neither knew of
the other's existence. Since then some chance meetings on the
beach, the parade, the pier, a few long afternoon rows, between
then and now: these are the only nourishment the flame in either
breast has received--a flame kindled in a few long glances across
But this afternoon he has laid aside the customary phrases and
deliberately commenced the present conversation.
True, it is purely an abstract one--all theory and hypotheses. No
one could say otherwise if it were repeated. Not a personal word
has been uttered on either side; but the girl feels in the
determined tone of his voice, in the studied way he started it, in
the cold precision with which he follows it, that it is practically
a test conversation of herself, and that she is virtually passing
through an examination.
He has come this afternoon with a set of certain questions that he
means to put, to all of which her answers are received without
comment, and mentally noted down.
He neither repeats himself, nor presses a point, nor leaves out
anything on his mental list, nor allows any remark to lead away
He has also certain things he means to say, which he will say, as
he asks his questions, deliberately, one after the other; and then,
when he has heard and said all he intends, he will terminate the
conversation as decisively as he began it and go. The girl feels
all this, for her brain is as clear and keen as the glance of her
She knows that he is testing her: that she stands upon trial before
She has nothing to hide: only, that too great love and devotion,
that seems to swell and swell irrepressibly within her, and would
pour itself out in words to him, but that his tone, his manner,
his look keep it back absolutely, as a firm hand holds down the
rising cork upon the exuberant wine. And now, at this sentence
of his, her words fail her. They are strangers practically, that
is conventionally--quite strangers, she remembers confusedly--but
for this secret bond of passion, knit up between them, which both
can feel but both ignore.
The natural male in him, and the natural female in her, are
already, as it were, familiar, but the fashionable man and girl are
Then, now, how is she to say what she wishes to him? How can she
talk with this mere acquaintance upon this subject? The very word
"children" seems to scorch her lips. At the same time, familiarity
with him seems natural and unnatural; terrible, and yet simple.
Then, too, what are his views?
Will her next words shock him inexpressibly?
In her passionate, excitable brain, inflamed with love for the man,
the idea of maternity can merely present itself like an unwelcome,
grey-clad Quaker at a banquet.
She hesitates, choosing her words. She knows so little of the man
in front of her. His clothes, she sees, are of the newest cut, but
his notions may not be.
At last her soft, weak, timid voice breaks the pause.
"Do you think it necessary to have very large families?"
"No, I don't," he answers instantly with the energy and alacrity of
one who is glad to express his opinion. "No, I don't, not at all."
The girl's suspended breath is drawn again. Unlike himself in his
queries she presses her point home.
"Don't you think those marriages are the happiest where there are
"Yes," he says decidedly, getting up and thrusting his hands into
his coat pockets. "Yes, I do--much the happiest."
There is silence. It is too dark for either to see the other's
expression. He stands irresolutely for a minute or two, and then
says with a disagreeable laugh:
"I should hate my own children! Fancy coming home and finding a lot
of children crying and screaming in the place."
To this the girl says nothing, and Stephen, after a minute's
reflection, softens his words.
"Besides, your wife's love, when she has children, is all given to
"Yes," murmurs her well-bred voice. "Oh, yes, one is happier
Neither speak. They are agreed so far; there is a deep relief and
pleasure in the breast of each.
"Well," he says at last, rousing himself, "I must go. I shall be
late for dinner."
The girl leans down and stirs the fire into a leaping, yellow
blaze. It fills the room with light, and reveals them fully now to
She makes no effort to detain him, and they look at each other,
about to part.
The self-control of each is marvellous, and admirable for its mere
thoroughness and completeness.
He has large eyes, and they stare down at her haggardly, as he
stands facing her in the light. The hungry, hopeless look in those
eyes and the drawn lines in his face go to the girl's heart, and to
herself it seems literally melting into one warm flood of sympathy.
Ill! he looks ill and wretched, and she longs with a longing that
presses upon her, till it is like a physical agony, to give some
way to her feelings.
"Dearest, my dearest!" she is thinking, "if I might only tell
you--even a little--"
And Stephen stares at the soft face and warm lips, half-paralyzed
with desire to bend down and kiss them. How would a kiss be? how
would they--And so there is a momentary, barely perceptible pause,
filled with a painful intensity of feeling, to which neither gives
way one hair's breadth. Then he gives a curt laugh.
"We have discussed rather a difficult problem and not settled it,"
he says in a conventional tone.
"It seems to me quite simple," murmurs the girl, with a throat so
dry that the words are hardly audible.
He hears, but makes no reply beyond another slight laugh, as he
holds out his hand. The girl puts hers into it. There is a moderate
pressure only on either side, and then he goes out and shuts the
door, leaving the girl standing motionless--all the warm springs
in her heart frozen by his last cynical laugh.
Brookes finds his way down the stairs, through the unlighted hall,
and lets himself out in the chill October air.
He goes down the street feeling a confused sense of having
inflicted pain and left distress behind him, but his own sensation
of irritation, his own vexation and angry resentment against his
lot in life, all but obliterate it.
For some seconds he walks on with all his thoughts merged together
in a mere desperate and painful confusion. "Only a hundred a year!"
is his plainest, most bitter reflection. "Five-and-twenty, and only
earning a hundred a year!"
Brookes is not of a calm temperament. His nervous system is tensely
strung, and generally, owing to various incidental matters,
slightly out of tune, or at anyrate, feels so.
His circulation is rapid, every pulse beats strongly, and the blood
flows hotly in his veins.
His mental nature is of much the same order--passionate, excitable,
and impatient; but there is such a heavy curb-rein of control
perpetually upon it, that its three leading qualities jar inwardly
upon himself more than they show to outsiders.
Even now the confused, excited disorder in his brain is soon
regulated and calmed by his will, and as he walks on he lapses into
trying to recollect whether he has said all he meant to.
He concludes that he has, and a certain satisfaction comes over
"Well, I have told her my views now," he reflects. "She sees what I
think, and what my principles are. She won't wonder that I say
nothing. I shall try for another post and a rise of salary, and
Stephen's character was a fine one in its way. The capacity for
self-command and self-denial was tremendous, his sense of honour
keen, his adherence to that which he conceived the right
inflexible, his will immutable; but of the subtler sweetness of
the human heart he had none.
Of sympathy, the divine [Greek: sym, pathos], _the suffering with_,
he had not the vaguest conception: of its faint and poor
reflections, pity and mercy, he had but a dim idea.
He stuck as well as he could to what he thought was the right
path, and as to the feelings of others, he could not be blamed for
not considering them, for he had never practically realized that
they had any.
In the present circumstances he had a few, fine, adamantine rules
for conduct, which he was going to steadfastly apply, and he
thought no more of the girl's feelings under them than one thinks
of the inanimate parcel one is cording with what one knows is good,
In his eyes it was distinctly dishonourable for a man to engage a
girl to himself without a reasonably near prospect of marriage.
It was also decidedly ungentlemanly to propose to a girl if she had
money and you had none. Moreover, it was extremely selfish to
remove a girl from a comfortable position to a poorer one, though
she might positively swear she preferred it; and lastly, it was
unwise for various reasons, to be too amiable to the girl, or to
give any but the dimmest clue to your own feelings.
There was no telling--your feelings might change even--when you
have to wait so long--and then it was much better, _for the girl_,
that she should not be tied to you.
To visit the girl frequently, to hang about her to the amusement of
onlookers, to keep alive her passion by look and hint and innuendo,
to excite her by advances when he was in the humour, and studiously
repulse her when she made any, to act almost as if he were her
_fiance_, and curtly resent it if she ever assumed he was more than
an ordinary friend--this line of action he saw no fault in. The
above were his views, and they were excellent, and if the girl
didn't understand them she might do the other thing.
Some weeks passed, and the man and the girl saw each other
constantly--three or four times in the week, perhaps more; and the
inward irritation grew intense, while their outward relations
There was a certain brutality that crept into the man's tones
occasionally when he addressed her, a certain savage irritability
in manner, that told the girl's keen intelligence something; some
involuntary sighs of hers as she sat near him, and an increasing
look of exhaustion on her face, that told him something. But that
There were no tender passages between them; none of the
conventional English flirting--matters were too serious, and the
nature of each too violent to permit of that. A little bitter,
more or less hostile, conversation passed between them on the
most trifling subjects in his long afternoon calls. A little
music would be attempted--that is, he would sing song after song,
while she accompanied him, but a song was rarely completed.
Generally, before or at the middle, he would seize the music in a
gust of irrepressible and barely-veiled irritability, and fling
it on the piano--yet they attempted the music with unwavering
persistence, and both rose to go to the instrument with mutual
There they were close to each other--so close that the warmth and
breath of their beings were interchanged. There in the pursuit of a
fallen sheet of music, his head bent down and touched hers. Once,
apparently to regain the leaf, his hand and arm leaned hard upon
her lap. One second, perhaps, no more; but the girl's whole
strained system seemed breaking up at the touch--her control
shattered, like machinery violently reversed.
The music leaf was replaced, but her hands had fallen nerveless
from the keys.
"It is hot. I can't go on playing. Put the window open, will you,
Stephen walked to the window, raised it, and smiled into the dark.
That night it seemed to Stephen he could never force himself to
leave the girl. He prolonged the playing past all reasonable
limits, until May's sister laughingly reminded him that they were
only staying in seaside lodgings, and other occupants of the house
must be considered. Stephen reluctantly relinquished the friendly
piano, and then stood, with May's sweet figure beside him, and her
upraised face clear to the side vision of his eye, talking to her
At last, when every trifle is exhausted of which he can make
conversation, there comes a pause, a silence; he can think of
nothing more. He nerves himself, holds out his hand, and says,
May, influenced equally by the same indomitable aversion to be
separated from him, follows him outside the drawing-room, and
another pause is made on the stair. By this time a fresh stock of
chaff and light wit is ready in Stephen's brain, and he makes use
of anything and everything to procure him another moment at her
side; but of all the passion within him, of the ardent, impetuous
impulse towards her, nothing, not the faintest trace, shows.
A mere "Good-night!" ends their conversation at length, and the
girl did not re-enter the drawing-room, but passed straight up the
stairs to her own room.
"Does he care? Does he care or not?" she asked herself, walking
ceaselessly backwards and forwards. "If I only knew that he did!
This is killing me; and suppose, after all, he does not care!"
She almost reels in her walk, and then stretches her arms out on
her mantelpiece, and leans her head heavily upon them.
"So this is being in love!" she thinks, with a faint satirical
smile. "All this anxiety and pain and feeling of illness! Why, it
is as if poison had been poured through me."
Through the next day May lay pallid and silent on the couch,
without pretence of occupation, feeling too exhausted even to
respond to her sister's chaff and raillery.
It was only at dinner, when her brother-in-law informed his wife he
was sick of the place, and that nothing would induce him to stay
more than another week, that a stain of scarlet colour appeared in
May's cheeks and a terrified dilation in her eyes.
Her lids were lowered directly, and the blood receded again. She
made no remark, but at the close of dinner she excused herself, and
went upstairs alone.
Once in her room, she stripped off her dinner-dress and shoes, and
re-dressed in morning things. Her hands trembled so violently that
she could hardly fasten her bodice over the wildly-expanding bosom.
But her resolve was fixed. They were going in a week. To-morrow,
she knew, Stephen was leaving the place for a fortnight. She must
see him to-night.
When she is completely dressed, she pauses for a moment to choke
down the terrible physical excitement that seems to rob her of
breath and muscular power.
Then she passes downstairs quietly and goes out.
The night is still, cold, and dark.
May walks rapidly through the few streets that divide his house and
The few men she meets turn involuntarily to glance after the
splendid form that goes by them, and in her decisive walk, in the
eyes blind to them, they feel instinctively she is already owned,
mentally or actually, by some one other.
When she reaches Stephen's house, she learns he is in, and with a
great fear of him suddenly rushing over her, she sends word up to
him by the servant: Will he see her?
While she waits in the hall, her message is taken upstairs. May
leans against the wall, a terrible sick faintness, born of
excitement and hysteria, coming suddenly upon her.
There is a hall-chair, but her eyes are too darkened to see it; she
simply clings to the handle of the door, and lets her head sink
against the side of the passage.
Brookes is upstairs with his brother and two friends; they have
been playing cards, but a game is just over, and the men have got
up to stretch themselves.
Stephen himself is leaning back against the mantelpiece, as his
habit is, and yawning slightly. He has just been beaten, and he is
a man who can't play a losing game.
"No," his brother remarks. "I didn't know what the deuce 'Ladas'
meant till I looked it up; did you, Steve?"
"Oh, I should think every schoolboy would know that," is the curt
response, and at that moment the servant's knock comes at the door.
"Please, sir, there's a lady as wants to see you," the girl says
with a perceptible grin. "She said she wouldn't come up, and she's
waiting in the hall, sir."
There is a blank silence in the room. Brookes pales suddenly, and
his eyebrows, that habitually have a supercilious elevation, rise
still higher with annoyance.
He hesitates a single second, then, without a word in reply, he
crosses the room towards the door, and the servant retreats
The men glance furtively at each other, but Stephen's devil of a
temper being well known, they forbear to laugh or even smile till
he is well out of the room. Brookes goes down the stairs with one
sentence only in his mind: Coming to my rooms, and making a fool
He is annoyed, intensely annoyed, and that is his sole feeling.
May is standing upright now in the centre of the hall under the
swinging lamp, and she watches him run lightly down the long flight
of stairs towards her with swimming eyes.
What is there in that figure of his that has so much influence on
her senses? More, perhaps, even than his face, do the lines of his
neck and shoulders and their carriage please her. All the pleasure
she can ever realise in life seems contained for her in that slim,
well-made frame, in its blue serge suit.
She makes one impetuous step forward, her whole form dominated,
impelled by the surge of ardent feelings within her, and holds out
one trembling, burning hand. Stephen, with a confused sense of its
being awfully bad form that she should be standing in his hall,
takes it in his right hand, feeling hastily for the lucifers with
"Er--come into the dining-room, won't you?" he says, with the
familiar, supercilious accent that with him is the expression of
suppressed annoyance and slight embarrassment.
He knows the rooms are unlet, and with gratitude for this
providential circumstance in his thoughts, and his heart beating
violently with sudden excitement now he is actually in her
presence, he turns the handle of the door and sets it wide open.
He strikes a match and holds it up, leaning back against the door,
for her to pass in before him.
As she does so, their two figures for one second almost touch each
other, and a sudden glow lights up in his veins. He feels it, and
it warns him instantly to summon his self-control. That before
The next moment he follows her into the room, lights the gas,
returns to the door, closes it, and then comes back towards the rug
where she is standing.
By this time his command is his own. His face is as calm as a mask.
His large eyes, somewhat bloodshot now from hours of smoking and a
sleepless night, rest upon her with cold enquiry.
She has seen them once, met them once, fixed, liquid, with
passionate longing upon hers; desperately she seeks in them now for
one gleam of the same light, but there is none. They and his face
are cloaked in a cold reserve. Sick, and with her heart beating to
suffocation, she says, as he waits for her to explain her presence:
"We are--going away."
Stephen's heart seems to contract at the words he had so often
dreaded to hear, heard at last.
His thoughts take a greyer hopelessness.
"Oh, really!" he says merely, the shock he feels only slightly
intensifying his habitual drawl. "Not immediately, I hope?"
Nothing to the nervous, excited, over-strained girl before him
could be more galling, more humiliating, more crushing than the
cold, conventional politeness of his tones and words.
This frightful fence of Society manner that he will put between
them--a slight, delicate defence, is as effectual as if he caused a
precipice by magic to yawn between them.
"No--not--not--quite immediately, but soon," she falters. "And it
seems as if I could not exist if--I--never see you."
There is a strained pause while they stand facing each other. He
is motionless; one hand rests in his pocket, the other hangs
nerveless at his side.
They look at each other. Each is thinking of the supreme
delight--even if momentary--the other's embrace could give if--but
the conditions in the respective minds are different--in his: "If I
thought it wise;" in hers: "If he only would."
"Well, we can write to each other," he says at last.
"Oh, but what are letters?" the girl says passionately; and then,
urged on hard by her love for him, her intuition of his love for
her, and her common-sense instinct not to throw away her life's
happiness for a misunderstanding or petty feeling of pride, she
adds: "You know--don't you?--that I care for you more than anything
else in the world."
Her tones are sharp with the intensity of feeling, and she
stretches both hands imploringly a little way towards him.
He sees them quiver and her face whiten, and the frightened appeal
increase in her pained eyes searching his face, and it is a
marvel--later, he marvels at it himself--how, with his own passion
keen and alive in him, he maintains his ground. But there is
something in the whole scene that jars upon him--something
theatrical that makes the thought flash upon him: Is it a got-up
This puts him on the defensive directly; besides, he resents her
coming to him in this way, and endeavouring to surprise from him
words he has already explained to her he is unwilling to say.
She is trying to rush him, he puts it to himself; and the thought
rouses all his own obstinacy and self-will.
When he chooses he will speak, and not before.
"It is very good of you to say so," he answers quietly, in a cold
formal tone, and the girl quivers as if he had struck her.
Now, in his lonely, sleepless nights, the misery on the white face
comes back and back to him in the darkness of his room, but then he
is blind to it.
In an annoyed mood to begin with, irritated beyond bearing by his
own helpless, ignominious position, as he fancies, he has no
perception left for his own danger of losing her.
And the man, who had lived till five-and-twenty, desiring real
love, and not knowing it, deliberately trampled upon it without
recognising what he did.
His words cut the girl terribly.
It seems impossible for the second that she can force herself to
speak again to him, but the terrible, irrepressible longing within
her nerves her for one more effort.
"Is that all you can tell me? Do you not care for me at all?"
He looks at her and hesitates. So modest, so appealing, so timid,
and yet so passionate! Surely this is genuine love for him. Why
thrust it back? But the thought recurs. No. She is rushing him; and
he declines to be rushed. Also a sort of half-embarrassment comes
over him, a nervous instinct to put off, ward off a scene in which
he will be called upon to demonstrate feelings he may not satisfy.
He laughs slightly, and says:
"Of course I do! I like you very much!"
The tones are slighting and contemptuous, enough so to convey
the polite warning: Don't go any further, and force me to be
positively rude to you.
Swayed by his strong physical passion, and blinded by the dogged
determination he has to remain master of it, he is absolutely
insensible of another's suffering.
Had the girl had greater experience with men, more hardihood and
less modesty; if she could have approached him, and taken his hands
and pressed them to her bosom; if she had had the courage to force
upon him the mysterious influence of physical contact, Stephen's
control would have melted in the kindled fire.
Words stir the brain, and through the brain, the senses; but with
some people it's a long way round.
Touch stirs the nerves, and its flame runs through the body like a
Stephen's physical nerves were far more sensitive than his brain,
and had the girl been a woman of the half-world, or even of the
world, she could have succeeded. But she was a girl; and her
modesty and innocence, the chastity of all her mental and physical
being, hung like dead weights upon her in the encounter.
His words, his tones, his glance simply paralyze her--not
figuratively, but positively. Her physical power to move towards
him, to make a further appeal to him, is gone. Speech is dried upon
her lips, wiped from them as a handkerchief passed over them might
take their moisture.
She looks at him, dumb, frenzied with the intense longing to throw
herself actually at his feet, but yet held back by some
irresistible power she cannot comprehend, any more than one can
comprehend the stifling, overpowering force in a nightmare.
It is the simple result of her life, her breeding, her virtue, her
character, her habits of control and reserve. She is the
fashionable, well-brought-up girl, with all her sensitive instincts
in revolt against forcing herself upon a man indifferent to her,
and full of an overwhelming instinctive timidity that her desire is
wild to break down and cannot.
She stares at him, lost in a sense of bitter pain. All her vigorous
life seems wrung with pain, and in that torture, in which every
nerve seems bruised and quivering, a faint smile twists at last the
pale, trembling lips. "You would have made a good vivisector!" she
says. Then, before he has time to answer, she turns the handle of
the door behind her, opens it and goes out.
A second after the street door closes, and Stephen stands on the
dining-room mat, looking down the empty hall. Thoroughly disturbed
and excited, with all his own passion surging heavily through his
blood, and her last sentence--that he does not understand any more
than he understands his own cruelty--ringing in his ears, he
hesitates a minute, and then re-enters the dining-room, shuts to
the door, and walks savagely up and down.
"Extraordinary girl!" he mutters. "What does she want? What can I
do? She knows I can say nothing at present, when I'm going into the
work-house myself! But what a splendid creature she is! Lots of
'go' in her. Well, I don't care. I'll have her one day; but there's
no use making a lot of talk about it now."
May walked away from his doorstep, no longer a sane human being,
responsible for its actions. The whole physical, nervous system,
weakened by months of self-control, and night following night of
sleeplessness, was hopelessly dislocated now.
The whole weight of her excited passion, flung back upon the
sensitive brain, turned it from its balance. It had been a
brilliant brain, and that very excitability that had lent its
brilliance was fatal to it now.
The hopeless passion ran like a corroding poison through the
She had put the matter to the test, and found that truth of which
the mere possibility had been torture. He had absolutely rejected
her. "He could not care for me," she kept repeating, as the silent
air round her seemed full of his cold, short laughs.
His passion for her was dead. It had existed, surely--those looks
of his, the sudden violence of his touch when there was any excuse
for the slightest contact with her--or had it all been some curious
She could not tell now, but whether it had been or not, it was no
longer. To her that seemed the only explanation of his words and
tones. To the tender female nature the depth of brutality in the
passion of the male--that is, in fact, the very sign of it--remains
always an enigma.
After the scene just passed, it seemed to the girl impossible,
ludicrous, to suppose that Stephen loved her.
She had already made great allowance for him. She had a large share
of the gift of her sex--intuition; and she had understood more than
many women would have done, but to-night he had gone beyond the
limits of her imagination.
"No man would be so intensely unkind to a woman he cared for," she
argued. "For nothing, when there is no need."
She was not an unreasonable, nor selfish, nor silly girl. Had
Stephen told her he loved her, but that they must suppress their
passion, that she must wait, she would have obeyed him, and waited
months, years, gone down to her grave waiting, in patient fidelity
to him. Her qualities of control were as fine as his, and her
devotion to a man who loved her would have been limitless, but,
acting according to his views, Stephen had taken some trouble to
convince her he was not the man, and she was convinced.
And being convinced, the vision of her life without him seemed just
then a dismal waste, impossible to face.
In most of the actions of the human being, the physical state of
the person at the time is the principal factor, and May's whole
physical frame, violently over-strained, craved for rest--rest that
the excited brain could not give. Rest was the urgent demand
pressed by the breaking nervous system, and from these two
thoughts--rest, oblivion--grew the dangerous thought of Death.
"Sleep and forget! but I can't," she thought, "and if I do, there
is the horrible awakening;" and again her fatigue suggested all the
past sleepless nights, and the craving of the body urged the brain
to find better means of satisfying it, in the same way as the
appetite for food forces the brain to devise methods for procuring
She walked on in a straight line from Stephen's house, and the road
happened to pass a post-office. May stopped and looked absently
through its lighted, notice-covered panes.
"Send him a few lines," she thought; "because I am so stupid, I
could not tell him enough, and then--"
She did not finish the sentence, but all beyond was blank peace.
She went in, bought a letter-card, and wrote:--
"I could have loved you devotedly, intensely, had you wished
it, but you have made it clear to-night that you do not want
love--at any rate, not mine. I have discovered that I have
courage enough to die, but not to live without you. I am going
to the sea now, and in an hour we shall be separated for ever.
I shall know nothing and you will care nothing, so it seems a
good arrangement. My last thought will be of you, my last
desire for you, my last breath your name."
She fastened it with an untrembling hand, passed out of the office,
posted it, and went straight down a side street to the parade.
The night was still, bound in a frosty silence. The temperature
sank momentarily, and the icy grip intensified in the air.
Overhead the sky was black, and glittered coldly with the winter
stars. Beside and behind her and before her not a living
creature's footstep broke the silence. The sea lay smooth, black,
and motionless on her left, like some huge sleeping monster.
She walked on rapidly: a glorious, vigorous, living, youthful
figure, full of that tremendous activity of brain and pulse and
blood, so valuable when there is a use for it, so dangerous when
thrown back upon itself.
"How I could have loved him, worshipped him, lived for him, had he
but wanted me!" is the one instinctive cry of her whole nature.
At the first easy descent to the beach she turns from the parade,
and goes down, passing without hesitation from the light down to
the moist darkness of the beach. To get away into oblivion, to
escape from this maddening sense of pain, to lose it, let it go
from her like a garment in the black water, is her only impelling
She sees the glimmer of the water before her without a shudder. How
much dearer and more inviting it seems to her tired eyes than her
bed at home, where so many, many sleepless, anguished nights have
been spent! Here--rest and sleep, with no awakening to a grey and
barren to-morrow. The thought of Death is lost. Desire for the
cessation of pain is keener at its height than even the desire for
She stumbles on the wet, black beach at the water's edge, and then
finds where it is slipping like oil over the sand.
She walks forward, and the chill of the water rises round her
ankles, then her knees, then her waist, and then she throws herself
face forwards on it, as she once thought to fling herself on his
In a half-drunken satisfaction she stretches her arms out in it and
commences to swim towards the horizon. "Like his arms!" she thinks,
as the water encircles her. "Like his lips!" she thinks, as it
presses on her throat. "And as cold as his nature."
* * * * *
The following morning is calm and still--a perfect specimen of
wintry beauty. A light frost covers the ground and sparkles on the
There is a faint chill in the clear air, a tranquil calm on the
gently rising and falling sea and in the lucid sky.
The sunlight falling on Stephen's bed and across his sleeping face
shows a smile there, and his arm, lying on the coverlet--an arm
thinned by constant fever and night-sweats--rests, in his thoughts,
round her neck; that white neck so sweetly familiar in his dreams.
After a time he wakes and yawns, and turns his head heavily towards
the window; and farther as the happy unconsciousness of sleep
recedes from his face, and recollection and intelligence come back
to it, more clearly show the haggard lines, traced all over it, of
self-repression, seaming and marking it at five-and-twenty.
"Another day to be got through," he thinks merely, as Nature's most
precious gift--the light--pours glowing through the panes.
When half-an-hour later he opens his door to take in his boots, he
finds two letters with them, and at the sight of one his heart
The other is in the girl's handwriting, and he lays it on his
toilet-table, with the thought, "Asking me to go and see her, I
suppose," and turns to the other with a mad impatience.
This is evidently the official letter with reference to his
post--the post that means to him but this one thing: her
He bursts it open, and in less than two seconds his eye takes in
its news: he has the appointment.
The blood leaps over his face, and an exultant fire runs through
his frame and along his veins.
He replaces the letter quietly in its cover with but the slightest
tremor of his fingers.
Then he gets up from the bedside and stands in the middle of the
room, looking through the sparkling panes.
"I have her!" he is thinking. "Yes, by God! at last I have her!"
The day is glorified; life is transfigured.
Through his whole body mounts that boundless exhilaration of desire
on the point of satisfaction. Not momentary desire, easily and
recently awakened, but the long desire that has been goaded and
baited to fury through weeks and months of repression, and tempered
to a terrible acuteness in pain and suffering, like steel by flame.
And now triumph, and a delight beyond expression, bounds like an
electrified pulse throughout all his strong, vigorous frame.
The lines seem to fade from his face, the mouth relaxes, and then
he laughs, as he makes a step towards the window, flings it open,
and leans out into the keen air.
"At last I can speak out decently. No one could think I cared for
her money, or any of that rot now. How unexpected!--this morning!
Now I can tell her I'm free, independent! I am glad I waited--it
was much better. Far better, as I said, to be patient. Last night I
almost--and now I'm very glad I didn't."
He draws his head back, and turns to the glass to shave with a
As he does so, he sees her letter again, and picks it up. "You
darling!" he thinks, "I'll make you understand all now."
Some miles westward of the pier, some fathoms deep, out of reach of
the quiet sunlight lying on the surface, tosses the girl's body,
senseless and pulseless, with all the million possibilities of
pleasure that filled those keen nerves and supple limbs gone out of
them for ever, and Stephen draws out her despairing letter of
eternal farewell, with a smile lighting up his handsome, pleasing
"Yes, it was much better to wait," he murmurs, "I don't approve of
It was morning on the Blue Nile. The turbulent blue river rolled
joyously between its banks, for it was high Nile, and a swift,
light breeze was blowing--the companion of the Dawn. The vault of
the sky seemed arched at a great height above the earth, springing
clearly, without any object to break the line from the horizon of
gold sand, and full of those white, filmy, light-filled gleaming
clouds that are one of the wonders and glories of Upper Egypt and
the Soudan. It was a morning and a scene to make a man's heart rise
high in his breast, and cry out, as his eyes turned from the
level-sanded desert floor, through sunlit space, to the vaulted
roof, "After all, the world is a good house to live in."
Slowly the strong yellow sunlight poured over the plain, the bank
and the river, gilding every ripple; and, as the light grew,
hundreds of delicate shapes--the forms of the ibis and flamingo
and crane, and other river-fowl--became visible, crowding down the
dark banks, with flapping of white and crimson wings, and
stretching of legs, and opening of beaks, rustling down, shaking
their feathers, to bathe and drink of the Blue River.
Wonderful light, and miraculous, gleaming, cloud-filled sky, and
wonderful birds preening their plumage and calling to each other,
and wonderful breeze-swept water, bluer than the bluest depths of
the Indian Ocean.
It was still so early that, in the whole stretch of rollicking,
tumbling, buoyant waters between bank and bank, only one piece of
river-craft could be seen. This pushed onward, cleaving through the
little billows in the teeth of the morning breeze. It was a tiny
naphtha launch--a horrid, fussy, smoking little thing, cutting
through breeze and water, and diffusing a scent of oil and greased
iron in the pure and radiant air. A white bird on the bank looked
at it, and rose with a startled note of alarm, and a flight of
lovely-salmon-coloured colleagues followed. The others merely
looked up and paused, with their wings wide stretched, and then
went on calmly with their toilets--they had seen it before.
In the launch, of which the whole centre was taken by the
naphtha-stove--the engine by courtesy--sat a young Englishman,
whose face had that frank, attractive look of one whose thoughts
are kindly, well disposed to all the world; and at stem and stern
stood, erect and silent, the white-clothed figure of a boy from
the Soudan. Lithe, graceful forms supported long necks and
straight-featured faces, black as if carved out of smooth ebony,
and contrasting strangely with the white turbans of stiff linen
twisted deftly into a high crest above the brows. Swiftly the
little boat ran on for a mile or two against wind, with its three
silent and motionless occupants; then one boy turned, and
pronounced solemnly the two words, "Mister, Omdurman!"
This was accompanied with a gracious wave of his hand towards the
bank, as he leant forward to stop the engine, and his companion
turned the boat to land.
Omdurman, as seen from the river level, looks like nothing but a
long streak of duller yellow on the real gold of the African sand.
Its tiny, square, flat-roofed mud-houses are not, with few
exceptions, higher than six feet, and there is nothing else save
them and their dreary, yellow-brown, muddy monotony in the whole
village: not a palm, not a flower, not one blade of grass, simply a
collection of low mud-houses, with trampled mud-paths between, and
here and there an open, brown, dusty square.
The stillness and heat of the day were settling down now: the first
wild, cool youth of the morning was past, and the Englishman felt
the heat of the desert rise from the ground and strike his face,
like the blow of a flail, as he stepped on land. He expected the
Soudanese boys to follow, as they generally did on similar
excursions--one to secure the boat and sit and wait beside it, and
the other to accompany himself, carry his tripod and camera, and
act as guide and general escort. To-day the boy stood in the boat,
and addressed him earnestly:
"Boat wanted by other misters: let us go back: take them. We make
much money; come again evening, take you home."
"But, you young ruffians, what am I to do out here alone? I don't
know the way, and I want you to carry my things," expostulated the
Englishman, vainly trying to adjust a pair of blue goggles over his
eyes, smarting already in the intolerable glare from the sand,
while striving not to let drop his camera, fiercely cuddled under
one arm, and its tripod of steel legs and an overcoat balanced on
The black remained for a moment impassive, statuesque, wrapped in
reflection. Then he brightened:
"Me know," he said, suddenly springing from the boat. "Me take you
my house. Sister show you the way: sister carry mister's things."
The Englishman stared for a moment into the eager, intelligent
face, strangely handsome, though in ebony. After all, do we not
think a well-carved table beautiful, although sometimes, even
because, it is in ebony? Then _he_ brightened:
"Very good; take me to your house, and let me see your sister," he
said good-humouredly; adding inwardly, "If she's anything like you,
she'll be the very thing for the camera."
They turned from the cool, rolling, billowy water inwards towards
the desert and the huts of Omdurman, and the heat rose up and
struck their cheeks each step they took.
* * * * *
Merla stood that morning at her hut doorway looking out--out
towards the river she could not see, for the banks rise and the
desert falls slightly behind them. She stood on the threshold, and
the sun beat on her Eastern face, and showed it was very good. She
was sixteen, and, like her brothers who ran the naphtha launch for
the English, she was straight and erect, tall and lithe and supple,
with a wonderful stateliness and majesty of carriage, though she
had never been taught deportment nor attended physical culture
classes. Merla was beautiful, with the perfect beauty of line that
belongs to her race, and possessed the straight, high forehead, the
broad, calm brow that tells of its intelligence and nobility. She
knew, however, nothing of her own beauty. She never cared for
staring into the little squares of glass that the girls of the
village would buy in the market-place, nor coveted the long strings
of blue glass beads that the Bishareens brought in such numbers to
sell in Omdurman; nor did it specially please her to lay the beads
against her neck, and see them slide up and down on her smooth skin
as she breathed, though her companions would thus sit for hours
cross-legged before their little mirrors, breathing deep to note
how their beads rose and fell and glistened in the light.
Merla loved much better to steal out of the hut at night, when the
oil-lamp smoked against the mud wall and the air was heavy, into
the pure calm darkness of the desert, and gaze up at the stars, and
listen to the far-off tom-toms beating fitfully against the
stillness. And if ever any little coins came into her possession,
it seemed unkind to spend them on glass or beads when there was
always milk and oil needed in the house. And if, when these were
bought, there was any coin left, then her real luxury was to buy
food for the poor thin camel that lay at night in the mud-yard
behind their hut, and to go and feed it secretly in the starlight.
And she would press her hands into the soft fur of its neck as it
leant towards her, feeling that delight that springs from being
kind and loving, and being loved. The law of her life was love, a
law springing naturally in her mind, as the beauty and health in
her body. Her father, her mother, her brothers were all loved by
her; and, beyond these, the unfortunate camels and the donkeys
whose sides bled where the girths cut them as the careless
Englishmen rode them in and out of the village to and from the
Mahdi's tomb, and the lean, barking curs in the mud street that
seldom barked as she passed by. All these she loved and sympathised
with, though she had not been taught sympathy any more than she had
been taught grace.
This morning she was radiant and happy as she looked through the
quivering, yellow light that danced above the sand towards the
river. Last night she had fed the camel and caressed it, and she
had listened, half awe-struck, to the tom-toms in the distance. The
music had seemed to come to her ears with a new sound. The breeze
had blown from the river with a new kiss to her face. She was
growing into a woman, and the sap of life was rising fast and
vigorous within her, lifting her up with the boundless joy of life.
And as she looked, two white spots, a crested turban and a solar
topee, appeared over the edge of the bank, moving towards her.
"My sister!" said the Soudanese boy, with a regal air, when they
stood at the mudhouse door. And some instinct, as he was young and
foolish, made the Englishman drag off both goggles and solar topee
for a moment, and so Merla looked up and saw him with the sun
bright on his light Saxon hair and friendly blue eyes.
"Merla," went on the boy rapidly to his sister in his own tongue,
"this English mister from Khartoum must have a guide to Kerreree. I
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