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How It Happened (Alice MacDonald Fleming, 1886)
Short Story by Alice MacDonald Fleming ("Trix"; Beatrice Kipling)
(Published in Civil & Military Gazette, November 11, 1886)
Upon my sacred honour, as the man in Turn Him Out says, I never intended it at all. No more did she. She told me this afterwards, and I believed Her. I am in the habit of believing everything She says,—except when She tells me I am far too good for Her. But this has nothing to do with you.
Simla is awfully desolate at the end of the season. Every one who isn't going away is talking about doing so; and no one has any time to waste on anything but packing. I don't pack myself. My bearer does it and I look on. That was why I felt hustled, and in the way, and unhappy through the rush.
Early one morning I got up—it was bitterly cold—too cold to ride, and went for a walk round the station generally. All the shops were shut of course; and the only people on the Mall were the coolies taking luggage down to the Tonga Office.
Then I met Her. She had got up for an early walk too; and the chill had brought just the least little-pinky flush into the end of Her nose. But she looked radiant. She had on a sort of braided hussar-jacket thing, all wooly and fluffy, with big round buttons, and a blue serge skirt; and She put Her hands in Her jacket-pocket to keep them warm.
We went along Chota Simla way together, walking a good four miles an hour to keep ourselves warm. It was too cold to talk much, for the sun was not quite up, and the mist hadn't cleared out of the valley below.
The morning light just shone through the little red feather She wore in Her velvet hat, and it looked blood-red, like a ruby. Then the cold made Her eyes water, and She stopped to wipe them, and after that they twinkled like diamonds. I never saw Her look so well before—not even at a ball; and goodness knows I had danced with Her often enough.
Then we met a 'rickshaw and a horse, going slowly Church way; then another couple going even more slowly. The she laughed and I laughed too, for 'rickshaw and horse carried Miss Carteris was going down to Central India somewhere, and Ballard was seeing her off. He got engaged to her—I laughed at him, and it made him very angry—at the last garden-party. The next couple was Lorpe, a fellow from the Frontier, who really ought to have known better at his time of life, and Miss Revel. They had gone and got engaged, too, right at the fag-end of the season, and it was a surprise to everyone. About fifty yards further came Mrs. Carteris bundling along in her 'rickshaw and old Revel on a fat cob. They kept their distance, and they laughed when we passed them.
Then She said, "Let them go down to the Tonga Office and see them off!" I said I felt bashful, but if people insisted on tender leave-taking in so public a place as the Tonga Office, they must be prepared for the consequences. So we turned round and followed the old people as the sun got up and the valleys looked lovely. It was ridiculous, but I liked it—seeing those idiots off I mean. The last Simla season did bring many pukka engagements, but there were a lot of pending cases, waiting for sanction from home, bank-books and things of that sort. I don't quite know what the difference is; but there is one. You must not congratulate the poor creature in the interval.
The couple did not hurry themselves. I don't suppose they minded what time got into Kalka much; but She and I laughed to see old Revel fidgeting about on his horse and trying to close up the tail of the funeral. It wasn't any good though; and the sun was quite high when we got to the Tonga Office. They were running about eight tongas a day just then, and the place was crowded. We went down first to the up road just above the booking-places, and then adventured down boldly to where the tongas were stacked and the coolies were scuffling with the luggage. Lorpe and Ballard let any body who looked like pile in the luggage. It nearly broke Mrs. Carteria's old back; but they did not care. They stood with the two girls, their heads close together, talking nineteen to the dozen. Then Miss Revel saw my companion, and made a dash at Her with both hands and said She was a "dear sweet darling to come down so early," and took Her aside to deliver some last dying speeches. Then Lorpe came over to me; and before I knew where I was, he began lecturing me on what he was pleased to called my "reckless way of life." This from Lorpe, who was, when I was stationed with him on the frontier, absolutely and entirely, without reservation or qualification, one of the toughest, most reckless and extravagant, not to say dissipated men between Peshawar and Karachi! I was never so taken back in my life. Then he went on to say he had seen the error of his ways and meant settling down. I said it was about time; and he said I was a "wild ass of the desert," or something offensive, and began raving about Miss Revel and the beauties of "unbounded domesticity," and my chances of salvation. Which he said were small. I laughed and he went away, put out, back to Miss Revel, who had said something to Her that made Her blush as red as Her feather and look cross. She came over to me and said:—
"We are only in the way in this stupid place, let's go home. It's quite late." As it was nearly eight' o clock, I didn't see the force of her reasoning. Besides there were two tongas blocking up the road and we couldn't have got out if we had wanted to. I didn't feel quite comfortable myself seeing all those doves getting underway, and, besides, every one at the office was looking at us so queerly. Even Miss Carteris in the middle of her to Ballard stopped and laughed, and said something that I couldn't catch.
Then she got redder and more angry than ever, and said She wished I'd never thought of assisting at these odious ceremonies. I didn't remind Her who suggested the trip. I only said I was sorry, and it shouldn't occur again.
About this time the first tonga got off and Mrs. Carteris had no end of trouble in getting her daughter out of Ballard's clutches. He kissed her in public, just as if he had been a Sunday-Hammersmith-gingerade-and-bun excursionist. Then she got into the back seat, and he kissed her again and said, loud enough for every one to hear:—"When we're all in the same boat, these little things are allowable." Whether old Revel heard or not I don't know; but that abominable old tortoise (he has a division somewhere down Bombay way) puffed out from behind the tonga where he was strapping his office box into the roof, and began shaking my hand like a pump-handle, and grunting and coughing and winking as if he were going to have a fit. Then he took Her hand—at least he would have done, only She whipped it behind her back and went forward to say goodbye to Miss Revel. There were a lot of kisses flying about just then, and I began to wonder in the scurry whether Lorpe mightn't kiss Her by mistake. If he did I discovered suddenly that I would throw him over the khud and stamp on him afterwards. I got quite hot and angry over this imaginary insult, and my heart began to rattle and thump like curricle bar of old Revel's tonga as it trotted out. Then Lorpe blew a kiss down the road and went away in a hurry, and She and I were left alone in the distance and a lot of coolies fighting over the hire.
She sat down suddenly on one of the empty tonga poles, and Her shoulders began shaking. I didn't know for the minute whether She was laughing or crying, so I went up and put my hand on Her shoulder and saw that She was pretty much divided in her mind. Then She looked up into my face. She was flushed to the roots of Her hair and gasped:—"Isn't it too ridiculous." I didn't see where the fun came in, for I never felt more solemn in my life. I had made a big discovery about myself and Her.
Therefore I bent down and said:—"Very ridiculous, darling. But we must take the consequences I'm afraid." And then I kissed Her.
* * * *
Then we began a new walk right over from the very beginning—from where we first met the Revel and Carteris couple down again to the Tonga Office and She said I was to buy the tonga She had sat down upon and drive it in into the plains. I didn't do that, but I marked an ace of hearts on the splash-board, and told the booking babu to put it right back in the shed to reserve against the time She went down.
So if you see a tonga marked that way, anywhere between Simla and Kalka, you'll know all about it.