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

A Pinchbeck Goddess, chapter 9 (Alice Kipling Fleming, 1897)


"One mere day, we thought ; the measure
Of such days the year fulfils.
Now, how dearly would we treasure
Something from its fields, its rills,
And its memorable hills?"
A. C. Thompson.

          "Do you remember Major Gilmour, Nancy? You used to dance with him last year," said Mrs. Ivey.
          "A tall man, mother, with a very nice face? Yes, I recollect him; an R.A., isn't he?"
          "No; R.E. I see he has come up again; his card was in our box three days ago. I think we will ask him to dinner for the tenth."
          "Is that the night you mean to ask Mrs. Edwards?"
          "I'm not quite sure. She seems pleasant, but you have seen a great deal of her lately: do you think your father would like you to make friends with a rather fast woman?"
          "Mother dear, she isn't fast, and I don't believe she paints really; at least, if she does, she does it so nicely that it's different, somehow. Write the note now, mammy, do." in
          "I am a dutiful and obedient mother," said Mrs. Ivey.
          "You are a darling, and you shall have your old friend, Mr. Cornwall, to take you in on the tenth. Do you know, I'm so thankful that I'm not one little scrap like you, mammy, for if I was, I'm sure Mr. Cornwall would insist on marrying me."
          “Give me the address-book, Nancy, instead of talking nonsense. Who are Mr. Sidmon and Mr. Roseway?—from the Rockcliff? I see you have written their names down."
          “They called the other day when you were out. They are subalterns, and one is the short, fair sort, and the other is the thin, dark kind. I don't know which is which, though, for they came together."
          “We had better ask them to dinner, I suppose. Your father likes us to acknowledge a call, and as we are going on to the dance at Snowdon, there will be no trouble about amusing them afterwards."
          “But I shall have to dance with them."
          “Don't be too sure. I dare say they won't be polite enough to ask you, but we need not have them both at once. Shall I ask Captain Curtis to come?"
          “Why, the dance is at Snowdon, and he'll be wanted. Besides," went on Nancy quickly, “if I had my way, I should never invite an A.D.C. to dinner; they are so conceited about their crowds of engagements."
          “I think Captain Curtis is a particularly nice young fellow," said her mother; “but, then, I am easier to please than you are. I am sorry that he will be engaged, for he seems to be one of Mrs. Edwards' great admirers."
          “Everyone admires her, and I don't wonder they do," said Nancy enthusiastically. But the smile left her face.
Alan Gilmour had come up to Simla in July on a piece of special duty connected with military works, which was calculated to keep him in the summer capital until the end of the season. He was not elated at the prospect, though he acknowledged that Simla was, on the whole, not a bad place to be in. He considered also that, since he had elected to spend a certain amount of his service in India, it was well to be known at headquarters. In pursuance of this belief, he had taken a month's leave to Simla the year before, and, having acquainted himself with the extent of its pleasures, was prepared to accept them during a longer period with resigned equanimity. In his own secret imaginings he was a subtle thinker, and a creature of unrealized ideals; to the world at large he appeared a good fellow, who did not seem to know that he was handsome, though perhaps a little conceited about less obvious attributes. He nourished a not altogether healthy contempt for the land of his temporary adoption, and though it gave him an assured income for present and future, while employing and developing his faculties to their fullest extent, he found a certain pleasure in regretting his choice of a career. The life of an English man in India was that of a toad in a hole—a red-hot hole frequently—and for an Englishwoman in India he was divided between pity and scorn—pity if her duty as wife or daughter led her to eat the bread of exile, scorn if she was one of the many light-hearted sisters, cousins, or friends who came out “to see the country." Apart from the vexed question of morals, he was of opinion that feminine complexions and manners underwent a well-nigh instantaneous deterioration in the East, and he looked with scornful wonder at the numerous marriages that took place there. For his own part, having outgrown a few trifling heartaches, when he considered the possibility of sharing his future, he offered it, at some distant date, to an unknown girl who dwelt among untrodden ways somewhere in England. She would be very simple and gentle and quiet, with pretty hair drawn smoothly away from a low forehead, and the rest was vague. It had dispassionately struck him the year before that to those who could tolerate the thought of marrying in India Nancy Ivey's flower face and sweet voice might be very attractive; but there was no personal bent in this reflection.
          “Have you been to call on the Pinchbeck Goddess yet?" said Yeatt to him on July 9.
          “No; who is that?"
          “Little Mrs. Edwards; the best-lookin' woman up here this year, and with lots to say for herself. Knows how to dance too—stage dancin'; knows she's got pretty ankles, and ain't afraid of showin' 'em."
          “Who's her husband?"
          “Can't say. He conveniently went to heaven some time ago. She's out here globe-trottin' and lookin' out for No. 2; must have a good bit of money too. You go an' call on her; she's quite good fun, and it's a chance for you; I'm not a marryin' man myself."
Thus it happened that, when Gilmour found himself sitting next to Winnie at dinner the following evening, he was forearmed with prejudice against her. She wore a black dress, with no ornaments on white throat or shining head, but the front of her bodice was encrusted with diamond brooches, and her arms jangled with bracelets—slender gold bangles, for the most part, gemmed with turquoise, moonstone and chrysoprase, ruby hearts and diamond initials; trinkets that looked as though they had histories, he disapprovingly thought. He noticed her tinted cheek, too, and how little her gleaming copper hair accorded with her black brows and dark gray eyes.
          “The woman is like a jeweller's shop, and the powder simply stands on her nose," he thought, as he made his first remark to her, a few words about the weather.
          Winnie deliberately stroked her nose with a handkerchief, which consisted of a small oasis of lawn set in a desert of lace, and turned a smiling face to him.
          “Is that better?" she said. “As for my poor bangles, I own I am absurdly fond of trinkets; but that is a taste that is allowed to savages and women all the world over."
          “I beg your pardon?" stammered Gilmour, aghast.
          "Ah, you confess it! Don't be afraid; you did not say anything, but I am a thought-reader."
          “Why did you imagine that I----"
          “I am not like Sherlock Holmes," she interrupted; “I never explain my methods. I have not seen you at one of the gymkhanas, Mr. Myles; you work much too hard."
          “My office goes on just the same in Simla, and I very much dislike getting into arrears," said Lilian's husband, who was her right-hand neighbour.
          “It seems an anachronism to work in Simla; the place as I see it is a veritable Land of Cockayne."
          “My point of view is a very different one."
          "Yes, indeed; and I have noticed that there is one rule all over India—men must work and women must play.”
          “You have only been in large towns in the pleasant time of year, I suppose," he said. “If you knew a little of life in the mofussel, you would not talk like that; the women there have not much play."
          “It can't be much worse than a little English village," said Winnie lightly.
          “Well, in the English village you don't as a rule have a stifling climate, constant danger of fever and malaria, and difficulty in getting good food and drinkable water," he said, wrinkling his heavy brows; “that's what life in the mofussil means for more than half the year."
          “I hope you have not been in places of that sort."
          “Not since my marriage, luckily; we have been very fortunate; but I am afraid my wife is not very fond of Simla; she rather shuts herself up."
          “His expression was very pleasant as he glanced across the table, where Lilian's pretty head showed above a silver bowl full of red roses. Winnie remembered a confidence of five weeks before, and wondered whether he was a hypocrite or Lilian a hysterical self-deceiver.
          “I think Mrs. Myles is rather lazy," she said; “I have been trying to persuade her to sing a duet with me at one of the Monday Pops, but all in vain."
          “Yes, she has practically given up her music; girls generally drop their accomplishments after marriage, I have noticed. I suppose the net has caught the fish."
          “What a delightfully old-fashioned remark! Now, I have noticed that women who give up accomplishments generally do so because their husbands don't appreciate their efforts."
          “That is not my experience."
          “Then, we remain unconvinced," said Winnie, with her disarming smile. “Tell me, do the rains really last till the middle of September? How tired we shall be of living in a perpetual wet blanket! I shall never want a home in Cloudland again."
          “Do you mean to stay long in India? " asked Gilmour, feeling that it was necessary to say something to this dreadful woman.
          “Until the end of next cold weather, I think; and then I really must make up my mind to face England again."
          “Do you dislike England?"
          “Oh, there are associations," she said, with a sigh and pathetic eyes. Gilmour was silent for a moment; then he looked at the diamonds displayed by the bereaved one, and steeled his heart.
          “You seem to like Simla," he said.
          “Yes, I love mountains; I am never so happy as when I am among them; and this is one of the few places out here where one sees children—real children, not tiny babies. I do so wish I had brought out my little girl. Do you think it would have been a great risk?"
          “It depends very much upon her age."
          “She is only six; her birthday was two days before I left home. Poor pet! It was so sad to see her cry at the thought of my going; she had never cried on her birthday before. Do you know Mrs. Wilton's little girl? "
          Gilmour said he had not that pleasure.
          “She is just my Daisy's age, and has a look of Daisy; but she is a plump little thing, and my child is a tall, slender creature: she does not take after her father's family in the least."
          “She is fortunate if she resembles her mother," he said, speaking as one who hears his cue.
          “Oh, how nice of you! Daisy is rather like me, though she has dark hair, but her eyes are the same. I will show you her portrait when you call."
          Gilmour doubted if that occasion would ever arrive; but the painted lady was certainly pretty.
          “Can you tell me the name of that lady in blue with smooth hair?" he asked, to change the subject.
          “Miss Rosslyn, a great friend of mine, who was good enough to come to India with me.”
Janet looked up as she spoke, and smiled at her—a smile of love and good fellowship that puzzled Gilmour. Her honest, downright face differed strikingly from the texture and tint of Mrs. Edwards' cheeks and the suggestion of her whole appearance.
          “Does Simla amuse you?" she asked suddenly.
          “It's not a bad sort of place." “For want of a better, you mean. What do you do to be superior over? do you go in for anything?“
          She threw back her head as she looked at him, and he found the note of patronage in her voice keenly irritating.
          “I suppose I do as much as most men," he said quickly. “I am in office the greater part of the day, of course; but equally of course I dance, and so on. I am rather fond of acting."
          “And do you sing? and if so, has Major Morice secured you for the comic opera yet?"
          “He was talking to me about it yesterday."
          "Ah, that's right; tenor voices have been a great difficulty, and you have a tenor profile.”
          "Oh, thank you, my voice happens to be baritone!"
          “Really; well, that's nice, too. They can't make up their minds between a Gilbert and Sullivan and the evergreen  ‘Cloches.' Fancy singing 'Ding-dong ' at this advanced stage of the century! Gracious! it's far past nine already; I hope you men don't intend to sit birling the wine long, or we shall all be late for Snowdon. You are coming, aren't you?" she added to Mrs. Myles, as they passed into the drawing-room.
          “I think not; Gilbert doesn't care for dances."
          “Yes he does; at any rate, he was lamenting that you were so lacking in energy. You have been nowhere lately, to my knowledge; don't be a hermit-crab. Mrs. Ivey, convince her; isn't it very bad for one never to go out?"
          "Yes; but it is an easy habit to fall into, I know; I used to be very lazy before Nancy grew up."
          “You are lazy now, mother; you hardly ever allow me more than two balls a week," remarked Nancy.
          “Two a week is one too many, my child." Lilian only smiled, but a little later she said to her husband:
          “I don't care about the dance; don't you think it would be nicer to go home?"
          “Do as you like, dances are never any pleasure to me; but I am perfectly willing to go."
          “No, we won't," said Lilian.
          “Well, please yourself."
          “It means to keep fine, after all," she said, when they had parted from the others. She stood for a moment in the veranda of their cottage, watching the rickshaw lamps flashing along the Mall. “It's, to be a big dance, I think," she added, with a little sigh.
          “Yes, it's a pity you changed your mind; it's a mistake never to go out, but you are such a perverse woman, one cart never tell what you mean to do. I was fully prepared to go to this dance."
          “Well, I shan't feel tired to-morrow," she said brightly. “I suppose the next thing that people will say will be that I keep you shut up, and never let you go anywhere," said her husband gruffly.
          “Oh no, Gilbert; no one could say anything so silly."
Gilmour left his pony at the beginning of the narrow path that leads to Snowdon, and found himself walking by Mrs. Edwards' rickshaw. Her profile flashed upon his sight every few steps in the flare of the cotton-seeds that burnt in saucers of oil along the railings, and he was conscious of the heavy scent of the lilies in her bouquet.
          “I hope you mean to let me have a dance," he said; and it was not in the least what he had intended to say.
          “Very much too late; you should have asked me last week. My whole programme is written out in ink."
          "That's hard lines on a new-comer: one of the extras, perhaps, if they have any?"
          “They also are written out in ink!"
          He was distinctly annoyed; he did not like the woman, but, still, he wanted to dance with her. He danced very little that evening, and as he stood about in the blue ballroom, which bears a strong resemblance to a swimming-bath, his eyes persistently followed the slender, bright-haired figure in the black gown. She seemed to spend half her time with old Strath-Ingram; and how ugly he was, with his chuckling red face! Gilmour wondered that anyone could think him good-looking or young for his age.
Towards the end of the evening Winnie and this maligned gentleman found two chairs in a sheltered corner, and Winnie gently unfastened a bracelet on her right wrist.
           “Won't you let me fan you?" he asked, with more feeling than the occasion demanded. “Can't you even trust me to do that little thing for you?"
          "I have already trusted you to the extent of three of my pet fans; they have gone home to be mended now. You don't know how strong your hand is.”
          Strath-Ingram doubled a square fist, and looked at it complacently.
          "It's a man's hand,”  he said. “It's had to make its own way in the world. Yes, it's strong enough to knock down a man and protect a woman, eh?"
          “Yes, indeed," she said, with serious sweet ness.
          "It's a man's hand," he said again—it was to be noticed that in the evening Strath-Ingram had a tendency to repetition—”and it's a strong hand, but it's a lonely hand; there's no one to hold it."
          He displayed it, palm uppermost, and broad fingers spread. The glove had torn at the thumb, and his flesh showed redly through the rent. They were alone in the corner, and he drew his chair nearer.
          “I'm a very lonely man," he said.
          And his suffused eyes were perhaps due to self-pity, but she winced as his breath passed her face.
          “Oh no; you are so popular. You have so many friends," she said quickly.
          “Friends! Men I play billiards with, and bet with. I've got no true friends, and I don't want any friends. What's the good of friendship, Winnie? You don't mind my calling you Winnie, do you? What's the good of friendship, when what I want is love?"
He caught her left hand. She could feel through his glove and her own how hot his hand was. His face was horribly near. A bracelet fell from her right wrist, and rolled on the floor. She sprang up with a little cry.
          “Oh, my bracelet! It is the one with a diamond heart—the last thing my husband gave me. I wouldn't lose it for the world. Oh, Captain Luttrell, do help me to find my bracelet. I think it went over there. Have you got it? Thank you so much. And it isn't even broken. How glad I am! Yes, this is your dance, if it's No. 14. Good-night, Colonel Strath-Ingram."
          He was astonished and vexed for a moment; then his views became rosy and glorious.
          “She knows how to draw one on, the little devil does," he mused tenderly. “Trust a widow."
          “Janet! Janet! " said Winnie, as they climbed their steep stairs together; “I must write to Will next mail, and tell him to scold you. How often did you dance with Mr. Roseway? And you only met him for the first time this evening?"
          “He has been in Australia, and quite near the place where Will is now, so I really enjoyed talking to him," said Janet placidly.
          “Who was the good-looking man that sat next to you at dinner?"
          “A Major Gilmour. And he has no business to look so nice and be such a stodge. I behaved disgracefully, but it was all his fault. I saw at a glance that he considered me a got-up and bedizened wretch, so I apologized."
          “What did you say?"
          “I wiped some of the powder off my nose—I really must speak to Nugent about overdoing it; I don't want a snowy range down my face—and asked him if that looked better. I said something silly about my trinkets, too, and then I talked 'Daisy.' I don't care; he may think me a fool if he likes. He is 'heavy, heavy—damned heavy!'"
          “Oh, Winnie! " cried Janet aghast.
          "Dearest goose! must I always hold up my fingers as quotation marks? That's only what Jingle said about his luggage. Didn't Nancy look a dear to-night in her little blue frock? I strongly suspect that she danced five times with the Curtis boy; I hope her mother isn't scolding her now. I shall put this bouquet in my bath, and then perhaps some of the sweet things will keep fresh till to-morrow. Lilies from Struthgrum! How appropriate! He was rather terrible this evening."
          “I don't know how you can endure him at any time."
           “When revenge is sweet, 'tis folly to be wise; but he was absurd to-night. He sat lamenting himself that there was no one to hold his hand. I can't wonder at the lack of applicants, for if there ever was a pound of Oxford sausages imperfectly disguised as----"
          “I am very tired, and it is getting so late," said Janet, yawning.
          “Yes, and I am a wretch to keep you up. Take your blue eyes to bed. Good-night, dear."
          Left alone, Winnie looked at herself in the glass, first smilingly, then with grave lips and sad eyes.
          “You have got what you wanted," she said aloud—"your little twopenny-halfpenny triumph; and if it tastes bitter after all, and seems hopelessly trivial, you have only yourself to thank for it; besides, you are tired now. You will enjoy it all again to-morrow, and so good-night to you. Cripps "—she went to the basket where the pampered watch-dog lay hunting in dreams—”when you wouff in your sleep, it's a sign that you have nightmare, and you deserve put-put, succat putput, hard whipping, Cripps."

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