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

A Pinchbeck Goddess, Chapter 10 (Alice MacDonald Fleming)

[Editor's note: Needs additional proofreading/correcting from OCR scan] 



" Perhaps 'tis pretty to force together 
Thoughts so unlike each other ; 
To mutter and mock a broken charm. 
To dally with wrong that does no harm. 
Perhaps 'tis tender, too, and pretty 
At each wild word to feel within 
A sweet recoil of love and pity." Coleridge. 

There were tears in Lilian's eyes as she stood at the window watching her husband on his way to office. He knew she was standing there, but he did not look back. His wife had displeased him, and as it was necessary to punish her, he made himself disagreeable in all honesty and sin cerity of purpose. It was his duty to discipline her. He bore the sword of heaven, and did not doubt that he was as holy as he was severe. She was a good girl at heart, but she needed correc tion. She must learn to control her temper, to guard her speech. It was perhaps unfortunate that his course of teaching included uncontrolled temper and unguarded speech on his own part. On this particular occasion Lilian was abso lutely in the wrong. The day before she had spoken sharply and angrily on very slight provo  cation, and though her repentance followed swiftly, after her offence, there had been no place for it. No wife ought to speak to her husband in that unseemly manner; she needed a lesson, and he intended to give her one. He had not spoken to her since the moment of her misde meanour—four o'clock on the afternoon of the previous day. He wished to allow her time for penitential reflection. The culprit turned wearily from the window, with the sense of a familiar nightmare overpower ing her. She was not indifferent to the punish ments Gilbert inflicted, but she was terribly tired of them. She counted the stages and phases through which she must expect to pass before a peaceful life could be hoped for again, and her very heart grew sick. The weariness of spirit brought a feeling of physical oppression; she found herself breathing in long sighs. Her thoughts went round in one dreary beaten track. She was certainly to blame for speaking sharply, but the punishment would outweigh the crime, and she had a bitter sense of injus tice.Half an hour's silence and a few words of re proof would have made her tenderly penitent, but this ominous lull, with a storm to follow, only angered her. It was unjust—unjust. Oh, the dreary beaten track! How was she to preserve even a decent self-respect amidst such constant blame? Fault-finding that included unborn to morrow and dead yesterday, misjudging her motives in the past, and foretelling reproof for her future actions! Her husband would have been honestly sur prised by the bitterness of her thoughts, for he forgot half that he said to her in angry moments, and -considered her vindictive for remembering it; but it was her misfortune to remember. She attached too much importance to the spoken word, and failed to understand the peculiar re serve of a nature which gave the freest expres sion to anger or disapproval, but only showed tenderness by infrequent phrases. Her eyes were holden so that she could not see the true value of the gracious actions he cloaked in ungracious speech—a gauntlet with a gift in it. Lilian sometimes thought that she resem bled a puzzled dog, not knowing whether it was intended to jump up or to lie still with its nose between its paws. She generally adopted the latter attitude, to save herself from rebuffs, while her husband often wondered, in pained silence, if it was his fault or only his misfortune that she had become so indifferent and so cold. She was growing accustomed to her image as he showed it to her in the distorting mirror of his mind, and it troubled her less than the un dreamed-of depths she discovered in her own na ture. He had taught her that, his anger once roused, neither tears nor prayers for pardon had the least effect upon him, and she found herself resorting to silent petty defiance—a species of whistling to keep her courage up. Once, indeed, she made a grimace at her husband's sulky back, and was deeply ashamed of herself the moment after. Was she to grow vulgar as well as em bittered? Round and round circled the dreary thoughts; something must be done to escape from- them. She had no desire as yet to seek sympathy, and the recollection of her one confidence to Mrs. Edwards pricked and stung her. It was a breach of faith which seemed to justify her husband's misprision, and it should never be repeated. It had only happened because she was at the end of her forces. She was strong now, ready to accept whatever might come, but she hoped, with a hope that was as fervent as a prayer, that he would not punish her by very long silence.

She could not write letters; she did not feel able to read. She dusted her piano in a series of discordant crashes, and shut it with a clang. It was always dumb when Gilbert was; any music that she made at such a time would be marred to her by a miserable association. A little pile of clothes caught her eyes as she wandered aimlessly into her own room; the dhobi had brought them the day before, and she had not yet mended them. She acknowledged herself to be a careless and forgetful woman; no wonder that Gilbert was so often angry with her, and yet what did it matter? If he were not vexed with her for one thing, he would be for another. The socks and the shirts became emblems of a loveless yoke, of a heavy burden. It was mechanical, miserable work. At home the house maid would do it. Here her ayah could not set a stitch, and her husband objected to her hiring a dhirzie to do sewing by the day. He had said, " What's the good of having a wife if she can't darn socks and sew on buttons? " That was the view he took of her duties and her responsibilities. She might sit mending his clothes all day, and looking forward to his com ing sulkily home at five o'clock. She had been a girl of ideals and aspirations; marriage to her had meant the renunciation of certain vaguely lofty ambitions. The needle pricked her finger, the worsted knotted itself into a snarl, and her eyes filled with tears. There! the socks were finished at last, and tossed aside. Now for the buttons. Her needle was too large. The little pearl button cracked in half, and she stamped her foot as she looked for another. Then the scis sors were lost; they were not in her basket, not on the table, not among the shirts, not on her lap. She got up and shook herself; still no sign of them. She was obliged to find another pair. A thin vest had been machine-sewn, and ripped at a touch; she had better bind it all anew, and what a long seam it looked! Did other women feel like this? Did they, too, sit at home doing little services for their husbands while they half hated them? That was wicked, but it was the truth; Gilbert was hateful. Surely some men were more lenient ; she thought of two incidents in her girlhood, and  wondered how their heroes would have treated her in the battle of married life.

Who could tell what tyrannical potentialities had lurked behind their soft seeming, since the dearest lover of them all had become her taskmaster? She looked at the forefinger of her left hand; it was slightly needle-pricked, and a sudden memory made her kiss it: it was not she who had kissed it once long ago. He had said then that he hated to see it marked; he never noticed it now. Her thoughts escaping from the beaten track flew back to the past like homing doves, from the husband of to-day to the lover of four years ago, until the gallant image of what had been effaced the memory of the sullen looks across that morning's breakfast-table. Little far-away memories appeared before her as clearly as visions: the expression in Gilbert's eyes when he had said, " I have not courage enough to face my life without you " ; Gilbert climbing a hedge-bank to gather wild-roses for her—a strong, erect figure and a laughing face; Gilbert kneeling with uncovered head to fasten her shoe-string; a thou sand tender trifles. She could do very little for him: he it was who bore the burden and heat of the day while she sat safe and sheltered, and grudged him the speed of her needle. Oh, false and thankless! If every stitch were set in her heart, she should still be proud and glad; it was her privilege to tend him. The vest was finished, backstitched with dainty neatness, and she looked for more work to do.When Gilbert came home, she was embroid ering initials on one of his silk handkerchiefs: he opened his lips to tell her that this devotion was very charming and effective, and closed them again, remembering that they were not on speak ing terms. " Have you had a very busy day? " she asked. No answer. " Shall I tell them to bring tea, Gilbert? " No answer. " Have you any plans for this evening? " No answer. Then she understood that he was still re solved not to speak to her, and kept silence for half an hour, smiling gently now and again to show that she was not sulking. Her hus band drank three cups of tea and read a news paper.

" I am going to take some books to the libra ry," she said at last, " and then I shall walk a little." Her voice was as appealing as she dared to allow it to be, but he did not look up. Janet Rosslyn was the first person she met on the Mall.

" How nice you look! " said Janet, in friendly recognition of the pretty gown that disguised Lilian's sadness; "are you going anywhere?"

" Only to the library; do come with me." A bright face smiled at them from a rickshaw; it was Nancy Ivey, sweet as boughs of may, has tening to a tennis-party. 

" I wonder if that girl has a trouble in the world," said Lilian a little wistfully.

" I believe we all have the same amount to bear sooner or later," said Janet placidly; " it only seems to be unequally divided."

" Your share seems to weigh lightly now, for you look radiant."

" I have had some good news: Mr. Norris is almost certain that he will be able to go to England next year."

" I am so glad; and shall you be married then? "

" Yes, some time in the summer, I believe; I have not seen Will for three years; it seems too good to be true." There was so much enforced concealment in Janet's life for the moment that she found an honest pleasure in telling her little tale frankly to a friendly woman. It was often a matter of reproach to her tender conscience that she could permit herself to be happy in what she termed " a life of deceit," but the very strong power of habit held her enthralled. Her devotion to her friend dated from the days when they had worn pinafores, and Winnie had written French exer cises for her while she did Winnie's sums. The girl of twelve had given blind faith and absolute allegiance to the child of nine, whose quick clev erness annulled the difference between their ages, and faith and fealty had strengthened during more than twenty years of friendship. In some ways Winnie was more truly the romance of Janet's life than broad-shouldered Will Norris, far away on the Darling Downs, and she was cer tainly a more present and powerful influence. From the time when Winnie had run laughingly along the crumbling edge of the cliffs, or courted a ducking at the brink of the rising tide, Janet had followed her with faithful heavy feet, and the tradition bade fair to be a lifelong one. " I wonder how Mrs. Edwards will do with out you? " said Lilian. " Dear Winnie! she is already planning won derful clothes for me, though I am sure I shall only want very simple things." " Have you lived with her ever since her hus band's death? " asked Lilian idly. Janet flushed crimson, and stooped to fasten her shoe-lace. " No, not quite. Winnie asked me to come to India with her; it was a great pleasure for me —I had never travelled before. Do you think it will rain to-night? " As they were in the midst of the rains, this was exceedingly likely, and Lilian was a little surprised at the evident desire for a change of subject. " Look at the plains," she said good-humouredly, " how wonderfully the clouds have grouped themselves; it's like a stormy sea." They looked down across swelling ranges to the deep blue plains, where in clear weather the silver links of the Sutlej River could be traced; now they were heaped with white clouds rolled and tossed like great breakers in a beautiful mim icry of a raging sea. The tonga road, showing first as a white ribbon, then as a mere thread winding among the hills till it vanished through a gap, seemed a very little pathway to lead to the great world. " It makes me feel lonely to look over there," said Janet. " Think of all the way one's letters have to go and come: one sees the distance so clearly." " Yes, it's a far cry to Australia." " Winnie says I ought to have what she calls - a ' posy ' engraved in my ring: " ' Heart to heart Though far apart.' But you know it has Mizpah on it already, and that means the same, only better." "Does it? I don't know what Mizpah means." " It's in the Bible; it means, ' The Lord watch between me and thee when we are absent one from another.' " The married woman was silent; she was thinking that the most suitable posy for her own wedding-ring would be, " Though near Not dear," and shut her lips on the bitter little thought. " Hi! stop!" cried a strong voice, and Mrs. Tykes' rickshaw drew up beside them; " you are just the very people I wanted to see. Will you take a ticket in my raffle, Mrs. Myles? Only two rupees. This is the first prize." She unwrapped a newspaper parcel, and flourished a large doll, clad entirely in pink cro chet from its big yellow head to its small, stiff feet. " If you'll promise that I shan't win it, I'll take two tickets," said Lilian. " Now, that's a disagreeable thing to say; you can always give it away." "Very well, then; I'll give it to you." " Do, and I'll raffle it again. The second prize is well worth having, too—a baby's woollen jacket and two pairs of lovely little boots." " That would be very useful for me! " " Well, you could keep them by you; one never " " Who is the raffle for? " asked Janet. " A very good, deserving woman, with a drunken brute of a husband, a native Christian." "The husband?" " No, the wife, poor thing! We want to get up a little sum of money to send her away from him; he treats her disgracefully. That reminds me: if either of you ever have any nice little thing you don't want, you might send it over to her. I will give you her address." " What sort of thing? " " Any little dainty; she is glad to eat exactly what we do, you know, and the poor soul is not in the least proud—a box of sardines, a bottle of port wine, half a cake, anything of that sort."  " I see," said Lilian. " Mind you ask Mrs. Edwards how many tickets she'll take, Janet. You are getting much too fashionable for me; I shall expect to see you riding with A.D.C.'s next. You are looking very pale, Mrs. Myles; what's the matter with you? Well, good-night." The rain began soon after sunset, and by nine o'clock it was pouring steadily, a strong, persist ent ' downfall, which sent the monkeys deep among the dripping pine-branches for shelter, and made them cough dolefully. Lilian's little drawing-room was very bright and pleasant, but her husband still sustained the part of skeleton on the hearth. " Good-night, Gilbert," she said at half-past ten, more from a habit of politeness than with any expectation of being answered. But he rose and addressed her: " Listen to me, Lilian: I have made up my mind not to go on with this silence any longer—it's wearing to me; but though I forgive you, I want you to distinctly under stand " " It was very wrong of me to speak as I did; I know I have a very hasty temper." " You have indeed, and you seem unable to brook the smallest opposition. However, my will is a little stronger than yours, and " " Oh, Gilbert," she cried, feeling as though the shades of the prison-house were visibly clos ing about her, " don't talk of a combat of wills as if we were two beasts fighting. I don't want to thwart you; I only " " You only want your own way in everything, and that I have not the slightest intention of giving you. One of us two has to be broken, and —I don't know, of course, but I don't fancy it will be me." She turned away, for the tears were coming through her eyes in spite of herself, and he would be vexed if he saw them. " I spoke very crossly, I know, and I was dreadfully sorry for it five minutes after," she said. " You always are, on your own showing, but I fail to see that it does any good." She was silent. Her heart seemed full of burning words—appeals, explanations, eager prayers for a better state of things, were crowd ing to her lips; but she knew that she was powerless to change his point of view, and she dreaded to provoke a discussion. She was si lent. " It's all very well to confess to a quick tem per," he went on, " but you should try and con trol it." " I do try," she said softly. She was afraid of sobbing if she ventured on a longer sentence. " You'd better try a little harder, then. Now, it's no good standing there looking cross. I'll forgive you this time, though you are a most pro voking woman."  " I'm very sorry," she said; and the tears as serted themselves. "There you go!" said her husband despair ingly; " one can't say one word to you without your flying into a passion." " I'm not cross now, Gilbert ; I'm sorry." " It looks very like temper. Now, don't be silly; leave off crying, and give me a kiss." He kissed her quickly, and a little roughly. She involuntarily drew away from his arm. It seemed a very dreary mockery of a caress while their hearts were separated by deserts of mis understandings, and had lost the way to each other. " Oh, very well, if you want to sulk, do," he said quickly; "but I thought I had taught you it was a dangerous game to play." The prospect of a number of black, silent days shook her like physical terror; she threw her arms round his neck. " Oh no, dear! please, truly, I never thought of sulking. Gilbert, do speak to me; it is so lonely. I have nobody here but you." He looked at her and laughed. " There is nothing to be so theatrical about," he said; "we are not on the stage. Go to bed, and don't be a goose." 


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