We had been married safely—for this at least I felt deeply thankful—after a long and somewhat stormy engagement: for Katherine was one of a nervous and irritable temperament, and I myself no particular angel. Simla Church was crowded, and for forty-five whole minutes, we two—Katherine and I—were the centre of attraction. I was dazed, confused, a little conscious of looking like a fool, and very nervous about what my best-man profanely called “my part” in the marriage service. Katherine, of course, looked her best. After the bustle,—I walked after it out of the Church—I felt that all the world, as it were, was receding from me as if I had been a malefactor, or a smallpox patient. Tens—scores—hundreds—of people shook hands with me, wished me happiness, and retired into the infinite. The universe was narrowed down to Katherine, her ‘rickshaw, myself, my horse, and the narrow limits of the Church ridge. Every one had gone, and we were alone in rolling mist, for the day had turned out a damp and drizzling one.
We had to go “into the interior” for our honeymoon. I say had advisedly, because neither Katherine nor myself felt any particular longing for the trip, but were constrained thereto by the ordinance of custom. We set off mournfully in the driving cloud after I had wrapped Katherine into her ‘rickshaw. She was shivering with the chilly damp.
Once or twice between the Church and Sanjaoli we met people we knew, but they smiled and passed us hastily and refused to enter into conversation, for which neither Katherine nor I were exactly graceful. We felt utterly forlorn and alone in the world, what a word or two from an outsider would have been a comfort just then. But we were being treated like lepers.
Just before the Sanjaoli Tunnel it began to pour with rain; and my delight at finding that an intelligent servitor had packed on my saddle-bow a light blue cloth, instead of a water-proof, found expression in a bad word, which echoed sepulchrally in the mouth of a Tunnel.
“Tom,” said Katherine icily from the ‘rickshaw (the rain had taken all the curl out of her dear little fringe). “Is it your custom to swear much in the presence of your wife?” We had not been married two hours and yet here was the beginning of a very pretty quarrel. But I was good.
“I beg your pardon dear,” I replied humbly, as I tugged at the sodden straps of the coat, “but I was getting drenched to the skin.” Katherine vouchsafed no reply; and we came out at the end of the Tunnel one degree more uncomfortable than we had gone in.
Just heavens how it rained that day! From the tunnel to the Toll-bar, from the Toll-bar to the Mahasan Ridge, and from the Ridge to the Mahasan dak bungalow, it fell by buckets and pails. For some reason, best known to themselves, the jhampanis refused to stir out of the slowest of trots; whereas it was all I could do to keep my horse from bolting. Conversation there was none. We plodded along under the wet dripping pines above the rotten, evil-smelling leaves like Portsmouth convicts at shot-drill. Once Katherine drew her wraps round her, and shuddering said:—”Isn’t it horrid?” To which I answered fervently:—”Beastly.” Perhaps the grimness and immutabiulity of the rugged, rain-swathed hills added to the general sense of malaise. The idea of two tiny little people, whose span of life at the utmost was one third of any of the thousand deodars around, crawling forth to go a honey-mooning and be happy for ever and ever, as they had just vowed in Church, seemed preposterous and ludicrous to a disproportionate degree.
Arrived at Mahassu, we made three cheerful and notable discoveries—First, that the house was damp, evil-smelling, unclean and devoid of a clear-draft chimney; secondly, that the Khansamah, presumably on the strength of our arrival, was most royally drunk; and thirdly, my best man, into whose hands I had confided all the arrangements for luggage, etc. had utterly and completely forgotten the greater half of my instructions, and Katherine’s ayah was either at Fagoo or the Gables--the drunken Khansamah was to be absolutely truthful, however, I must admit that above and beyond the sense of present felicity, lay that of loneliness—utter, abject, and profound—among the unsympathetic hills. I had been used to the society of my kind all my life, and that of Kitty and nothing but Kitty, dear, sweet and most loveable girl though she was, began in some undefined sort of way to pall on me.
At Narkunda, it rained again. Only those who have spent a day cooped up in that comfortless, wind-swept bungalow facing the snows, will have any idea of the discomfort. This means that Katherine and I talked and talked and talked and talked, from breakfast, which was at ten, to tiffin which was at two. Then we ceased as by common consent; for four hours conversation with the wife of one’s bosom leaves very little untouched upon. Kitty went into her room to write letters, and I sat down moodily before the fire, wondering when the rain would stop; and feeling, if the truth must be told, just the little bit in the world bored with the best girl in the world. On my honour I don’t think it was my fault. You see there was nothing to scale Katherine against except the sloppy immensity of the Himalayas.
My hand dropped into my coat-pocket, and there closed mechanically on a dirty old briarwood pipe--a tried friend, neglected for the past ten days. By his side lay a pouch and matches. I forgot Kitty and a certain oath, sworn in overconfident ignorance some weeks before. I only knew I was suffering for a smoke. In half one blissful hour the room was thick with blue haze, and—oh injured Cupid!—Katherine stood coughing in the doorway. I had no excuse; being caught flagrante delecto. She paused, and merely saying:—”So soon too, oh Tom!” I shut the door. I was far gone in crime; lit my second pipe and prepared for the lecture that I received at dinner. It ended in tears, apologies and my abject abasement; but I—did not throw away the pipe.
Next morning it rained worse than ever, and further progress was impossible. Katherine was cold, not to say unpleasant in her manner. After breakfast I put on my mackintosh, and went for a dismal stroll with my pipe. The hugeness and eternity of the hills impressed me more than ever with vague discomfort. I was thoroughly vexed and out of sorts with myself. “If matrimony to be such a chain and a shackle within a week, what, oh what will it be, Tom Duncan, in twenty years?” From which it will be seen that I spoke in dense ignorance.
My rueful meditations were interrupted by two wet and mournful pedestrians coming round a bend of the road. They were newly married Lancelots. It was strange how glad—nay enthusiastically delivered—I felt to see them. But I remembered what my wife had said at Mahassu, and advanced with an apology:—”I’m awfully sorry old man, but you see we couldn’t move on through the rain. Else you could have had the place to yourselves.”
An expression of relief seemed to flit across the faces of both, and Lancelot broke in hastily with:—“Not at
all—not at all, old man. Uncommonly good to meet you. We’ll all come on together, and have a jolly little dinner tonight.”
Then I saw that Lancelot was even in my case; and by virtue of the mysterious freemasonry that exists among men, he saw what I saw, and we shook hands and set off to the Narkunda bungalow. Katherine was standing in the verandah, and as we came up I had an opportunity of contrasting her light and perfectly-poised figure with the somewhat pudgy contours of Mrs. Lancelot, late Miss Betterton. I felt proud of my acquisition. Katherine did not know the second bride, but received her with enthusiasm. Lancelot introduced her. Katherine, perfectly, illogically bent down and kissed her; and saying simply “Come in dear and warm yourself,” brought her into the bungalow. The two girls chattered like daws, while Lancelot and I, in front of the dining-room fire, smoked, strong in the sense of unity, the pipe of peace. There was no protest from either wife, beyond the general and sweeping one that “men will be men.”
We were a merry little party that evening, despite the rain outside; and I never saw Katherine look so well. She is infinitely prettier than Mrs. Lancelot you know, and with ten times as much style.
Next morning we four moved slowly on to Kotgarh, and the real honeymoon—a perfect one—began and lasted without a break, though it rained heavily more than once—for fifteen heavenly days.
Coming in to Simla, Katherine whispered to me:—“Hasn’t it been a perfect time, Tom.”
To this I agreed; but what both Kitty and I say is, that it is positively cruel to hound a couple of young people, along and unsupported, into the wilderness like the scape-goat, there to spend so many days on a honeymoon. If they are not absolute angels in temper, as were Katherine and I, or Lancelot and his wife, they quarrel direfully and become tired of each other, and very, very unhappy.
Lancelot and Miss Betterton that was, say the same thing; and they know as much about it as we do.
(Sd.) Tom Duncan