The Kiplings and India: A Collection of Writings from British India, 1870-1900

A Pinchbeck Goddess, Chapter 3


“A lady richly left . . . her sunny locks
Hang on her temples like a golden fleece;
 . . . And many Jasons come in quest of her."

          Janet sat in the upper veranda writing a letter. Cripps lay near her feet, growling softly at frequent intervals. His instincts were not hospitable, and the knowledge that his mistress was receiving visitors downstairs without his protection was very terrible to him.
           “Never mind, Cripps,” said Janet, smoothing his anxious ears; "it will soon be two o'clock."
          She was writing to her lover in Australia, and she wrote slowly, not because it was three years since they had met, but because she was in the habit of telling him everything, and a great deal had now to be left out of her letters.
          “My very dear Will," was her opening phrase; she objected to the superlative “dearest," which implied to her mind two other Wills, and the word “darling " was only used in her most secret thoughts; it was too tender for speech or writing.
          “Simla is really very beautiful," she wrote, “and I am growing accustomed to walking up hill; at first I found it very trying. I cannot tell you how much stronger I feel since I left England, and it is certainly the most delightful change from my life as a governess. Yesterday---- “
          She looked up with a sudden feeling that someone was watching her. There was a plaintive little cry; a small hand parted the branches, and an anxious face peered at her from half-way up a pine-tree.
          “Nugent," she called, “come quickly; the monkeys are here." Janet had no fondness for monkeys; she considered them uncanny and unclean, but she knew that to Nugent they represented the poetry of the Orient. They had come in their usual troop —a dozen or fifteen—headed by a red-faced demon chief, with muscular arms and legs and a terrible temper. Half-grown monkeys skirmished round him at a safe distance, and careful mothers, carrying on their backs tiny imps whose eyes expressed the sorrow of all the ages, and whose hair was neatly parted down the middle, fled if he even glanced in their direction.
Nugent enticed away the unsuspecting Cripps with a biscuit, and shut the door behind him.
          “He agitates them so, 'm," she explained, returning. “Listen to that little one mewing. Isn't it pretty?"
          A baby monkey had been left to keep house by itself on a swaying bough, and bewailed its fate in a voice like a forlorn kitten's, while its mother, lost to all sense of dignity, was joining in a well-ordered game of “Swing-till-you-are-pulled-off " on the lower branches.
          “It's a strange country, 'm," said Nugent thoughtfully, “where one sees monkeys in the trees instead of birds."
          “But there are a great many birds, too. Look at those big black crows."
          “There's something very animal-like about them, 'm, with their hoarse voices. Now, these monkeys are so civilized, even without the little red jackets that they'd be wearing at home. Oh, look, 'm—do look! That big one has just given a little one such a smack. They're quite human.”
          A sudden panic seized the monkey tribe. The frivolous mother whisked up the tree, and flung her babe over her shoulder. It slid down her back, and crouched there, firmly clutching her tail. The demon chief bounded heavily down the slope; the smaller monkeys were nimbly gone in different directions, and in an instant neither sight nor sound told of their passing.
“Mrs. Edwards is having a great many visitors this morning, 'm," said Nugent, returning sadly to ordinary life; “I'm thankful she put on a white dress. She inclined to black herself, and that's a pity for a popular lady.”
Janet murmured something inaudible; she was divided between fear that Nugent might grow too familiar if encouraged to talk, and honest pleasure that the woman should take a friendly interest in her surroundings.
          "Perhaps some of the gentlemen will be staying to lunch; wouldn't you like me to do up your hair, 'm? “said Nugent persuasively. " I know a most becoming style, quite different from Mrs. Edwards'—smooth coils that----"
 “No, thank you, Nugent," said Janet firmly; “I should not feel like myself with my hair differently arranged."
Janet wore her abundant brown hair in a flat mass of many little plaits fastened closely to her head. It was a fashion of years ago, belonging to the days when she had first met Will Norris, and tenderly persisted in by her as a memory of the happiest time of her life. Nugent regarded the unfashionable outline as a reflection upon herself; being justly proud of her talent for hairdressing, it pained her to live in the house with a lady who was so obstinately out of date.
          “There was a sweet style in last week's Lady's Pictorial, 'm," she began tentatively.
          "Janet, tiffin!" called Winnie from below. “Good girl to come so quickly; I am starving. ' Bring me meat and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither.' Nineteen callers this morning; we are getting on, though Mrs. Bertie Vernon told me yesterday that she had twenty-seven last Sunday. I asked very innocently, ' What, all at once? ' and when she said, ' No, from twelve to two,' I looked as if I did not think much of it, and that made her love me."
           "What did you talk to them all about? I should never know what to say."
          “It's only like playing the game of ' Twenty Questions,' mixed up with ' How, when, and where do you like it?' it being either Simla or India. They don't stay long, and, if you have a frugal mind, the same questions and answers will do for the whole nineteen, so it isn't very difficult.”
          Winnie had a little pack of cards in her hand, which she dealt out as she talked. “Look, Janet, these are all for you; you are not to write to Will next Sunday; I want you with me. You would have seen five aides-de camp to-day, think of that! Three of the Viceroy's crème de la crème, my dear, and one of them, Captain Luttrell, is rather good-looking; and the second, Lord Trerowan, has a title, which is much more important; and the third, Captain Yeatt, has such bad manners, and drops his g’s so carefully that it gives him a style of his own. Then there was Captain Curtis, one of the Chief's aides, and Captain Sheppard from Barnes Court, and a lot of men from the Club; I had no idea the holiday-makers came up so soon. And, oh Janet, here is the best card of all!“
          “Colonel Strath-Ingram, the 21st, the King's Royal Loyal Dragoons,” read Janet.
          “It's pronounced Struthgrum, dear; I'll tell you all about him. He is a bachelor; a handsome stripling, too, in his own estimation, and once upon a time he took Madeline in to dinner.”
          Winnie paused, and broke through the white shell of a meringue with much deliberation.
          “Well, that wasn't very terrible."
          “Wait a little; it is a memory that requires cream and sugar, and the cook makes  these things charmingly. Listen: she did not want to be taken in to dinner by him; it was an honour that she could not bear, and she was looking very plain that evening, and feeling as dull as you please. But granting all this, the dictates of Christian charity should have impelled him to talk to her just a little, and he didn't."
          “Perhaps the poor man was feeling ill."
          “Prithee, peace. He ate very largely, and when she hazarded remarks, he answered as nearly in grunts and grumphs as is possible for an officer and a gentleman. Madeline was very unhappy; it's ridiculous the way that little thing affected her, and after dinner he was talking to a lady of the Mrs. Bertie Vernon school of painting, and he said, ' I did think that in this house I was safe not to be paired off with a dowdy frump of that sort.' Madeline was sitting behind him under a palm-tree like Enoch Arden, and of course she heard. When she was alone that night, she cried and cried; it was so dreadful to be 'a dowdy frump of that sort.' Give me another meringue, khitmatgar, to sweeten my recollection."
          “Poor Winnie! " said Janet.
          “Poor Madeline! " said Winnie; “though, if you come to think of it, it was what she had worked for, and she ought to have been delighted, but inconsistency's name was frequently Madeline. Well, Colonel Strath-Ingram will be here for three months. He has seen me riding, and vows that 'Two and Two is the prettiest lady's hack in Simla; give you my word, Mrs. Edwards, and in every sense of the words, too—ho, ho! ' His animals are on their way up still, but when they arrive he hopes, he trusts—in fact, he'll be delighted to show me all the pretty rides about here. Isn't it kind of him? "
          “I think he's very forward."
          “’We call it lemonade in Ballyhooley '—I mean affability in Struthgrum. And I forgot: we are to go to the lunch the Viceroy's staff give at Sipi Fair next week. Our cards will come to-morrow, and I have faithfully promised three separate promises that we will go."
          “Do let me stay at home."
          “You must come, dear. If you never go out with me, people will say that I beat you and bully you, and lock you up in the go-down, and make you wear my old clothes."
          “I only wish I could get into them," laughed plump Janet.
          “But, seriously, consider your duty to dumb animals; think of Cripps. Poor Cripps! I mean to ride out, and he would refuse to run all the way, and he has not learnt the art of riding behind me, even supposing that Two and Two would permit it. What is he to do without own rickshaw and own Aunt Janet? Dear, it will be a charming sight, and I have set my heart on your coming."
          “Very well, then, I'll go."
          “And I settled something else this morning," went on Winnie cheerfully; “Major Morice, who is nothing if not musical, hopes to get up an operetta almost at once. I am to be the prima donna, and I have promised that you will play at one of the Monday pops."
          “I will play accompaniments gladly."
           “Yes, dear, and solos—you must."
          “But, Winnie, about your singing; surely I remember that you told me you----"
          “Call people by their proper names," said Winnie.
          “Well," said Janet, laughing a little nervously, “I thought that Madeline used to sing in Simla."
          “She did—oh yes, she did! She sang ' Gates of the West ' and the ' Lost Chord ' like this:

          " ' Seated one day at the organ,
          I was weary and ill at ease.'

She generally was, poor thing! Now, Mrs. Edwards sings:

""' Wot cher ? “all the neighbours cried ;
"Oo're yer goin' to meet, Bill ?
'Ave yer bought the street, Bill ?
“Laugh ? I thought I should ha' died,
When we knocked 'em i' the Old Kent Road !

“Chorus, Janet! Quiet, Cripps; no one asked you to join in! "

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