”Arundel” is the name of the country house where most of the events take place. Elizabeth, like every good girl heroine of Benson, is completely devoted to her father... but not as much as it may seem. Many heroes are filled with negative characteristics. They are mean and cunning. Although this is a novel, but there are echoes of comedy.
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CHAPTER I. THE CALL FROM WITHOUT
CHAPTER II. THE RIDDLE GROWS
CHAPTER III. COMFORTABLE MRS. HANCOCK
CHAPTER IV. COMFORTABLE PLANS
CHAPTER V. COMFORTABLE SETTLEMENTS
CHAPTER VI. ELIZABETH ENTERS
CHAPTER VII. THE INTERMEZZO
CHAPTER VIII. THE MOUNTAIN-TOP
CHAPTER IX. EDWARD'S ABSENCE
CHAPTER X. EDWARD'S RETURN
CHAPTER XI. THE TELEGRAM
CHAPTER XII. APRIL EVENING
CHAPTER XIII. THE GRISLY KITTENS
CHAPTER XIV. HEART'S DESIRE
THE CALL FROM WITHOUT
Colonel Fanshawe was riding slowly back to his bungalow about an hour before the sunset of a hot and brilliant day in the middle of March. He had spent a long day in the saddle, for the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Forces was at Peshawar on a visit of inspection, and he had reviewed and inspected and inspected and reviewed and given medals and colours and compliments and criticism till the whole garrison, who had been under arms on the parade ground since an early hour that morning, was ready to drop with a well-earned fatigue. That evening there was to be a great dinner-party followed by a dance at the house of the Resident. To-morrow the Commander-in-Chief was to go up the Khyber pass, returning just in time to catch the night train to Lahore, arriving there at daybreak, and prepared to spend another day similar to this. And yet, so reflected Colonel Fanshawe, he was made, to all appearance, of flesh and blood, exactly like anybody else: indeed, he was endowed with flesh to a somewhat phenomenal extent; for, though not of unusual height, he swung a full eighteen stone into his saddle, ate and drank in perfectly amazing quantities, and, without doubt, would to-night prance genially and colossally from beginning to end of every dance with a succession of the prettiest girls in Peshawar. It was equally certain that at the conclusion he would go in person to the bandmaster and beg as a personal favour for an extra or two... And Colonel Fanshawe, lean and slight and in excellent condition, felt himself a pigmy and an invalid in contrast with this indefatigable elephant who all day had seemed only to wax in energy and boisterousness and monumental briskness. It was as if some huge Government building had burst into active life: John Bull himself, as in the pages of some patriotic print, had become incarnate, commanding and guffawing and perspiring.
But the day, though fatiguing to everybody else except the Commander-in-Chief, had been highly satisfactory. Twice had he complimented Colonel Fanshawe on the smartness of his Pathan regiment, and since the regiment was one of the two institutions for which the Colonel lived and loved, it followed that in retrospect his habitual content, which at all times was of a very sterling quality, had been lifted to the levels of the sublime. And anticipation was up to the level of retrospect, for the second of these institutions which engaged all his energies and affection was the home towards which he was now ambling along the dusty roads. In the imperturbable fashion of a man who was not gifted with much imagination, he enjoyed what he had to the almost complete exclusion of desiring that which he had not; and though, if a genuine wishing-cap had been put ready to his hand, he would certainly have had a request or two to make, he never, in the absence of that apocryphal piece of headgear, let his mind dwell on what it might have brought him. His wife, the second of that name, and Elizabeth, the daughter of the first, almost completely exiled from his mind all desires connected with his home, and were sufficient to satisfy the emotional needs of a love which was not the less luminous because it lacked the iridescence of romance. It burned with a steady and unwinking flame, without rockets and multi-coloured stars, and was eminently suited to light a man’s way, so that he should go without stumbling through the dusk of a hazardous world. For the sake of his wife or of Elizabeth he would have given his life unquestioningly and with cheerfulness, regretting the necessity should such arise, but he would have done so without any of the ecstasy of self-sacrifice that inspired the hymns and the beatitudes on the lips of martyrs. In this sunny afternoon of middle age which had come to him there were none of the surprising flames that glorify the hour of dawn.
The road from the parade ground through cantonments lay level and dusty; carob-trees, dense and varnished of foliage, with the long scimitar-shaped seed-pods of last year still clinging to them, met and mingled their branches together overhead, giving a vault of shadow from a midday sun, but now, as the day drew near to its close, the level rays poured dazzling between the tree-trunks, turning the dust-ridden air into a mist of dusky gold. In front, seen through the arching trees, the huddled native town rose dim and amorphous through the haze, and the acres of flowering fruit-trees were a flush of pink and white petals. Southwards, level and infinite as the sea, the Indian plain stretched to the farthest horizons, to the north rose the hills shoulder over shoulder till they culminated in fleecy clouds, among which, scarcely distinguishable, there glistened the immemorial whiteness of the eternal snows. Here, down in the plain, the very existence of those frozen cliffs seemed incredible, for, though there were still a dozen days of March to run, it seemed as if the powers of the air, in whose control is the great oven of India, had drawn the damper, so to speak, out of that cosmetic furnace during the last week, to see if the heating apparatus was all in order for the approaching hot season, and Colonel Fanshawe’s decision, against which there had been the growlings of domestic mutiny, that Elizabeth should start for England the next week, crystallized itself into the inexorable. He had gone so far in the freshness of the morning hours to-day as to promise her to reconsider his decision, but he determined now to telegraph for her passage as soon as he got home.
He quickened his pace a little as he approached his gate, at the lure of the refreshing hours that he had promised himself in his garden before it was necessary to dress for the dinner and the ball. The hot weather had already scorched to a cinder the herbs and grasses of unwatered places, but no such tragedy had yet overtaken this acre of green coolness, with its ditches and channels of unlimited irrigation, where the unusual heat had but caused the expansion, in a burst of premature luxuriance, of all the flowers that should have decorated April. So brilliant was this galaxy, that Colonel Fanshawe could hardly regret it, though it meant that even now the days of the garden were numbered, and that through April it would sleep unblossoming, till the rains of May stirred it into that brief and delirious frenzy of flowering again that lasts but for a day or two, in some sultry intermission of the streaming skies that so soon open their flood-gates again, and cover the steaming earth with disjected petals. But at present, though April would pay the price in barrenness and withered leaf, summer and spring were in flower together, and tulips and petunias, marigolds and flame-flower, morning-glory and bougainvillæa made a jubilance of many-coloured carpet, while, more precious than all to the Colonel’s soul, his rose hedges of crimson ramblers, Gloire de Dijon, and the briars of Peshawar flared with innumerable fragrance. A few days before, reluctantly, and with some inkling of the sentiments of a murderer who plans a crime, he had abandoned, marooned, so to speak, his tennis-court to die of drought, but the motive of his deed really gave a verdict of nothing more bloodthirsty than justifiable grassicide, for the well had given unmistakable signs that it was not capable of keeping the whole garden alive. Besides–and here for a moment his content was clouded again–Elizabeth was starting for England next week, and the tennis-court became an investment that paid no dividends in pleasure. His wife never played; she would as soon have thought of coming downstairs to breakfast, and certainly she never did that. She preferred dancing all night.
He gave his horse into the charge of his orderly at the gate, and, a little stiff and bow-legged from so many hours in the saddle, walked up the short drive that lay between the abandoned tennis-court and the rose-garden which was in full effervescence of flower and fragrance. Between him and his garden there was a relation as intimate almost and as comprehending as that between two personalities, and had some one with the gift of vivid yet easily intelligible eloquence presented his feeling towards it, as towards some beautiful dumb creature with a living identity of its own, the Colonel, though it had never struck him in that light before, would have acknowledged the truth of the imagery. Just now this silent sweet-smelling creature had begun to make a stir again after the hot windlessness of the day, for the breeze of sunset, invigorating as wine, had just sprung up, and wafted the evidence of its fragrant life in sheets and webs of perfume through the sibilant air, while as evidence of Elizabeth there came through the open windows of the drawing-room as complicated a mêlée of sound from the grand piano. Devoted and affectionate as father and daughter were to each other, Colonel Fanshawe felt slightly shy of Elizabeth when she was at the piano, for Elizabeth playing was Elizabeth transformed. A sort of fury of passion and intentness possessed her; she evoked from the strings a personality as real to herself as was his garden to the Colonel, and all this intensity, as her bewildered father occasionally said to himself, was born from the compositions of “some German Johnny.” In that rapt adoration of melody Elizabeth’s mother lived again, just as she seemed to glow again from within Elizabeth’s flushed face and sparkling eyes as she played. So, refraining from interrupting his daughter in her ecstatic communings with the particular German Johnny who engaged her attention at the moment, the Colonel stepped softly round the corner, and ordered himself a cup of tea in his bedroom, with which he refreshed himself as he adopted a garden-garb for his hot and close-fitting uniform. His wife, as he well knew, would be resting in her sitting-room in anticipation of the fatigue of the dinner and dance which were to close the day. Had there been no dance or dinner in prospect, she would be doing the same thing in repair of previous fatigue. She was one of those women who are capable of exertion as long as that over which they exert themselves furnishes them with amusement; an hour’s uncongenial occupation tired her completely out. But she was able to do anything she wanted to, and such a performance under such circumstances seemed but to invigorate her. Her husband rejoiced in her strength, and sympathized with her weakness with equal sincerity.
He was no lily-handed gardener, no finger-tip lover, who, with an ivory-handled sécateur, snips off minute dead twigs, and selects a rosebud for his buttonhole, but went about his business with the tender ruthlessness that true gardening demands. Up one of the pillars of the veranda there climbed together a great ramping mass of blue convolvulus and an Ard’s pillar; and the constricting plant was quietly intent on strangling the rose. Now, the convolvulus was an interloping adventuress, invading territories that were not her own, and regretfully but inexorably Colonel Fanshawe committed murder, snipping off the sappy stem at its root, and gently disentangling its voluted tendrils. As he stripped it down the new bull-pup came with sentimental sighs out of the house, and then, becoming aware, no doubt by some subtle brain-wave, that the murdered morning-glory was an enemy, flung himself on the bestrewn tendrils, and got tightly involved therein, and rolled away in a state of wild-eyed and bewildered entanglement, barking hoarsely. Upon which an observant pigeon on the roof remarked quite clearly, “Look at the fool! Look at the fool!” Simultaneously, with a loud false chord, the wild torrents of notes within ceased. There came a sound quite exactly as if somebody had banged down the lid of a piano, and Elizabeth came out on to the veranda. She was very tall, as tall almost as her father, and the long lines of her figure showed slim and boylike through the thin blouse and blue linen skirt against which the evening breeze pressed, moulding them to the limbs within. Her hair lay thick and low above her small face, and her mouth, in spite of the heightened colour of her cheeks and the vividness of her eyes, drooped a little as if fatigued. She had clasped her long-fingered hands behind her head, and she stood there a moment without seeing her father, with amusement gathering in her eyes as she observed the comedy of the constricted puppy. Then, turning her head, she saw him.
“Oh, daddy!” she cried. “Are you back? And, if so, why didn’t you tell me? The fact is that you love your garden better than your only daughter.”
Colonel Fanshawe had two nails and a piece of bass string in his mouth destined for the support of the disentangled rose, and could give no assurance beyond an incoherent mumbling.
“It is true,” said Elizabeth. “And what makes me feel it more keenly is that I haven’t had any tea. Daddy, do leave your silly plants and talk to me. I haven’t spoken to a soul all day. Mamma had lunch in her room. She is saving up for this evening, and I haven’t seen anybody. In fact, it has all been rather dismal. I’ve been playing the piano, and I have come to the conclusion that I shall never be able to play at all. So I banged down the lid, and I shall never open it again. Do get down from that silly ladder and talk to me.”
Colonel Fanshawe was methodical. He put the two nails in a box and looped up the spray of the rose in a manner which, though temporary, would last till he could get to work again.
“That sounds rather a dismal little chronicle, Lizzy,” he said. “So if you feel that we can’t talk while I go on gardening–”
“It has nothing to do with my feelings,” remarked Elizabeth; “it is a mere question of external impossibilities. Have you had tea?”
“Then come and see me have mine. I shall eat quantities and quantities of tea, and not have any dinner, I think. One can’t dine alone, and you and mamma are dining out at the Residency and going to the dance. Daddy, I do think mamma might have let me go to the ball; I’m eighteen, and if one isn’t old enough to go to a dance at eighteen, I don’t know when one is.”
Elizabeth paused a moment, and put her nose in the air.
“I don’t believe mamma will want me to come out till it is time for me to go in again,” she remarked.
Colonel Fanshawe had an admirable gift of silence. When he concluded that there was no advantage to be gained by speech he could refrain from it, instead of, like the most part of mankind, making a series of injudicious observations. At the bottom of Elizabeth’s remark, as he well knew, there lay stewing a herb of rather bitter infusion, which he had no desire to stir up. But Elizabeth, so it seemed, felt disposed to do the stirring herself.
“Mamma will have the next eight months all to herself,” she said, “and she can dance all the time. I wish to state quite explicitly that I think she might have let me go to this dance. I have told her so, and so for fear she should tell you, I do it myself.”
Elizabeth’s eye wandered on to the path, and she broke off suddenly.
“Oh, my beloved Shah Jehan,” she said, “you will certainly strangle yourself.”
This appeared highly probable, for Shah Jehan, the young and imperial bull-pup, had managed to entangle himself so strictly in the yards of strong convolvulus which the Colonel had cut down that his eyes were starting out of his head, and only the most remote sort of growl could escape from his enveloped throat. With the cake-knife, which she snatched up from the tea-table, Elizabeth ran to his rescue.
“It’s such a blessing, daddy,” she said as she returned to him, “that you and I are so very much one person, because we can say anything we like to each other, and it is certain that the other one–how tiresome language is–the one I mean, who listens only really listens to his own thoughts.”
“Ah, my dear Elizabeth!” said he suddenly, laying his hand on her arm. If Elizabeth’s mother lived again when Elizabeth played, masked behind her daughter’s face, she appeared with no guard of flesh in between when Elizabeth said that.
She drew his hand through her arm and strolled with him up the path.
“It is so, daddy,” she repeated; “and when I grumble to you it is only as if I grumbled to myself. Mamma might have let me go to this one dance, and she doesn’t, because she wants all the dancing she can get herself, and naturally doesn’t want to sit in a row instead. But she’ll have to let me come out next autumn. Oh, by the way, I had forgotten the most important thing of all. Have you settled when I am to go to England?”
“Yes, dear; next week. I have telegraphed for your passage.”
“What a loathsome and disgusting daddy,” remarked Elizabeth.
“Possibly! But the loathsome daddy isn’t going to have a tired and white-faced daughter, if he can avoid it. I shall miss you more than you can possibly guess, Lizzie.”
Elizabeth gave a great sigh.
“I’m so glad!” she said. “I hope you will be thoroughly unhappy. I shan’t like it, either. But mamma won’t mind; that’s a comfort.”
“Elizabeth, I wish–”
“Yes, I know, dear; so do I. You needn’t explain. I wish to begin to eat my enormous tea also, so let us sit down. I don’t want to go to England; and, besides, staying with Aunt Julia is exactly like lying on a feather-bed, with all the luxuries of the season on a table close to you, and the windows tightly shut. And Edith is like the clean lace-border to the pillow. I shall be so comfortable.”
“Well, that’s something, Lizzie.”
“It isn’t; it’s nothing and worse than nothing. I don’t want to be comfortable. Nothing that is really alive is ever comfortable. Aunt Julia and Edith and all Heathmoor generally are dead and buried. I am not sure they do not stink–”
“As it says in the Bible,” said Elizabeth, “nobody there is ever hungry or thirsty, nobody is unhappy or happy, nobody wants. They are all like fishes in an aquarium; you can’t get at them because there is a sheet of strong glass in between. And there aren’t any tigers or burning ghats or cobras or cholera.”
“I shouldn’t be particularly sorry if there were fewer of those blessings here,” remarked her father.
“Perhaps; but they help to make things real. It is so easy to lose all sense of being alive if you are too comfortable.”
Elizabeth pointed to the molten west.
“There,” she said, “that’s a sunset. But in England for the most part they wrap it up in nice soft thick clouds, so that it isn’t a real sunset. And dear Aunt Julia wraps up her own life and the life of every one about her in the same way. She mops up every one’s vitality as with a sponge by thinking exclusively about not getting wet or tired. Oh, how I love this naked, tired, wicked, mysterious land, with all its deadliness and its dust and its sunsets and its secrets, which I shall never fathom any more than I can fathom Schumann! I’m a savage, you know. I love wild, unhappy things–”
Elizabeth broke off suddenly.
“I don’t believe even you understand what I mean, daddy,” she said.
“Yes, my dear, I do,” said he. “I could tell you exactly what you mean. But have your say first; you have not nearly done yet. I will tell you what you mean when you have finished.”
“That will be a good thing,” she said, “because, though I know that I mean something, I often have not the least idea what it is. Daddy, I wish I was a boy so terribly sometimes, and I know you do too. If I was a boy I would get up now and kiss you, and walk straight off into the direction of where the moon is just going to rise. I would have adventures–oh, such adventures!”
“My dear, you would get malaria, and come home next morning with a violent headache and ask me for some quinine.”
She shook her head.
“You are wrong,” she said. “I wouldn’t come back even to you for years, not until I had learned what it all means. I would be afraid of nothing; I would shrink from nothing. Perhaps I should see Malaria herself in the jungle down there by the Indus–a tall, white-faced woman, with golden irises to her eyes, and I would talk to her and learn about her. I would go into the temple of the Brahmins at Benares and listen to them preaching sedition. I would sit by the corpse as it burned by the river bank, watching it, oh, so quietly, and loving it. I would go into the opium dens and learn how to dream... Learn how to dream! I wonder if that is what I want to do? I think it must be that. Sometimes when I am playing I begin to dream, and just as I am getting deep I strike a false chord and wake myself up, or mamma comes in and says it is time for me to go driving with her.”
Elizabeth had forgotten about the enormous tea she had intended to eat, and still sat upright on the edge of her chair, looking out over the gathering night. Already in the swiftly darkening dusk the colours were withdrawn from the flower-beds, and only the heavy odours gave token of their blossoming. A streak of dwindling orange lingered in the west; above, in the fathomless blue, stars that five minutes before had been but minute pinpricks of luminance were grown to yellow lamps and globes of light. Somewhere in the lines a bugle suddenly blared out its message to the stillness and was silent again. A little farther off a tom-tom beat with endless iteration.
Then she spoke again, more rapidly.
“It is only by dreaming that you can get close to the world,” she said, “and hope to get at its meaning. People who are completely awake spend all their time in doing things that don’t matter. You, for instance, daddy–you and your inspections and reviews. What does it all come to? Would this world be one whit the worse if you didn’t do any of it? Yet perhaps I am wronging you, for, anyhow, you can go mooning about your garden for hours together. Let me see–where had I got to?”
Colonel Fanshawe was watching Elizabeth a little uneasily. This strange mood of hers was not new to him. Half a dozen times before he had known her go off into these dim rhapsodies, and they somewhat disconcerted him. He made an effort to bring her back into realms less shadowy.
“Where had you got to?” he asked. “Upon my word, my dear, I don’t think you had got anywhere particular. Wouldn’t it be well to begin that enormous tea of which you spoke?”
But the girl was fathoms deep in this queer reverie of speculation. She shook her head at him.
“No; you don’t understand yet,” she said. “One has to dream first before one can do any good while one is awake. Unless you call baking bread and milking cows doing good. You have to penetrate, penetrate. It is a kingdom with high walls round it, and I expect there are many gates. Perhaps we all have our own gates; perhaps mine is a gate made of music and yours is a garden-gate. Don’t misunderstand me, daddy, or think I am talking nonsense, or think, again, that what I mean is religion, though I dare say there is a religion-gate as well. All I know is that you have to pass dreaming through one of the gates in order to get inside the kingdom. And when you do get inside you find that it isn’t so much that you have got inside the kingdom as that the kingdom has got inside you. I know it must be so. Each of us, I expect, has to find himself, and when he has found himself... Oh, God knows!”
She broke off, and instantly poured herself out a cup of tea.
“I am so hungry,” she said, “and I had quite forgotten. While I eat and drink, daddy, you shall keep your promise and tell me what I mean. You said you knew. Or have I been talking the most dreadful rubbish? But, if so, I am rubbish myself, for what I have said is Me.”
Colonel Fanshawe lit a cigarette.
“No, my dear, you haven’t been talking rubbish,” he said. “But if I had said exactly the same it would have been rubbish.” He meditated a moment or two, for, though he felt what he wanted to say, it was rather difficult for him to find the words for it. At the same time also there was that in what Elizabeth had said which strangely moved him; it recalled to him in this sunny afternoon of life something of what he had felt when he brought home, worshipping and loving, Elizabeth’s mother.
“You have talked admirable sense, dear,” he said, “for the very simple reason that you are eighteen. But it would be rubbish in my mouth at forty-eight. You feel that you are surrounded by delicious mysteries, into the heart of which you mean to penetrate. You can do it too, and I so earnestly hope you will. While you are yet young you can fall in love.”
Elizabeth looked at him in disappointed amazement.
“Is that all?” she asked.
“I assure you it is enough. You will not believe it now–”
“But fall in love?” said the girl again. “With a man? Just with a common man?”
“Yes, just with a common man,” said he. “At least, it is quite certain that the immense majority of mankind will call him a common man. You will find that he makes everything beautiful.”
“But I know how beautiful it all is already,” said she.
“Yes, and it all puzzles you. You don’t know what it means. Well, it means what I have told you–love.”
“Oh, daddy, is that all?” said the girl again.
“In a way, it is. I mean that you can’t go beyond that. But–”
Again he paused, feeling a sudden shyness, even with his own daughter, in speaking of anything that concerned him so intimately.
“But though you can’t go beyond love,” he said, “you can go into it–penetrate, penetrate, as you said just now, yourself. And the more you penetrate into it the more you will see that there is no end to it, and no beginning either. And then you will call it by another name.”
He paused for a moment, and got up as he heard himself somewhat shrilly summoned from within the house.
“It seems to you all rather dull, I am afraid, my dear,” he said, “but it isn’t.”
Elizabeth rose also.
“But why would it be nonsense for you to speak of it as I did?” she asked. “And why is it excellent sense for me to do so?”
“Because when you are forty-eight, my dear, you will have had to learn a certain sort of patience and indulgence, which is quite out of place when you are eighteen. You will have seen that the people who bake bread and milk cows and review troops, as I do, may conceivably be doing–well, doing quite nicely. But you are quite right to think them useless old fogies at present!”
Elizabeth gave him a quick little kiss.
“You are a darling!” she said. “And now I am going to vanish swiftly round the corner of the veranda. Mamma has called you three times and you haven’t answered. You will get into trouble, and so I desert you.”
Elizabeth’s amiable scheme was executed a little too late. She had barely got half-way down the veranda when her stepmother rustled out of the drawing-room, already dressed for her party. Her light, slight figure was still like a girl’s–like a girl’s, too, was her evening dress, with its simple, straight cut. Nor did her face–smooth, delicate, and soft–belie the impression; but her forehead and the outer corners of her eyes were a little lined, as if a sleepless night had momentarily devitalized her youth. And her voice, when she spoke, was old–old and querulous.
“Bob, I have been calling and calling you!” she said. “And are you not dressed yet? What have you been doing? Elizabeth, why did you not send your father to dress? We shall be late, as usual, and if husband and wife are late every one always thinks it is the wife’s fault. Do go and dress, my dear; and Elizabeth, my darling, will you come and talk to me while I wait for him? I am so dreadfully tired! I am sure I do not know how I shall get through the evening. What a pity you are not a year older, and then you could go instead of me and let me pass a quiet evening at home! Or why are not you and I going to have a dear little evening alone together?”
Elizabeth retraced her steps.
“I am quite willing to go instead of you, mamma!” she said.
“Dearest, I know how unselfish you are. But you must keep your sweet girlish freshness another year, and not tire yourself with sitting up and dancing all night. I know you think I ought to have let you go to-night, but you must allow me to judge of that. Indeed, my dear, I feel sure you do.”
This little speech was admirably characteristic of Mrs. Fanshawe. At one moment she would be finding fault with everybody, at the next she would shower tenderness on them. It mattered nothing to her that only a few hours ago she and Elizabeth had exchanged peculiarly clear-cut and opposed views on the subject of this dance; she was quite capable, a few hours later, of assuming that they were quite in accord about it. She never had the smallest qualms on the subject of her own sincerity, as is the habit of thoroughly insincere people. She was merely quite determined to get her own way over any point in which she had a preference, and, having got it, always proceeded to make herself charming in a rather helpless and clinging kind of manner. Whether her husband had ever gone so far as to admit even to himself the fact of her insincerity is doubtful. Where his affection was engaged he lost all power of criticism; where he loved he swallowed whole.
Mrs. Fanshawe gave a delicate little sigh–a very perfect and appealing little sigh. It might have been supposed, so finished was it, so perfectly phrased, that she had practised it for years in private. Such was not the case; it was quite natural to her artificial self, and came to her lips as spontaneously as song to a thrush.
“We must see a great deal of each other these next days, Elizabeth,” she said, “before you go off to all the gaiety and delights of England. How I long to come with you, for I am sure the hot weather will utterly knock me up; but of course my duty is with your father. I should not dream of leaving him while I went home to enjoy myself.”
“But you will go up to the hills next month, mamma, will you not?” said the girl. “And stop there till the autumn? And you will like that, won’t you?”
Mrs. Fanshawe gave the famous little sigh again.
“Like it? My dear, it is the emptiest, emptiest life,” she said; “nothing but gossip and parties all day and dancing in the evening. I would far sooner stop down here with your father, and only go away with him when he can get off. But of course he would not hear of that, for he knows very well that to spend the summer here would kill me. I should not dream of distressing him by suggesting it.”
Occasionally Elizabeth’s patience gave way before the accumulation of such insincerities. In general she put up with them unrebelliously, adapting herself to the experience of daily life. But now and then she rose in flagrant and unsuspected mutiny. She did so on this occasion, as her father appeared again dressed for this evening’s functions.
“Daddy,” she said, “mamma has been telling me how much she would like to stop here with you instead of going up to the hills. Wouldn’t that be nice for you? It sounds a charming plan, mamma.”
Mrs. Fanshawe did not suffer a moment’s discomposure. She took Elizabeth’s chin daintily in her fingers and gave her a little butterfly kiss, which could not disarrange anybody’s complexion.
“Darling, what an idea!” she said. “What can I have been saying to make you think I meant that! Good-night, my little sweet one. Go to bed early, and I shall come to my room like a mouse, so as not to disturb you. And, in turn, dear, would you mind not beginning to practise till, shall we say, eleven to-morrow morning. Begin then and wake me up with some delicious thing like what you were playing so very early this morning. Good-night, sweet Cinderella!”
Elizabeth’s rebellion vanished in a sense of amusement. She knew that she might as well expect to cause a blush of embarrassment on the face of the serene moon, by repeating to a mere mortal some unconsidered remark of hers, as to cause her stepmother a moment’s loss of self-composure, and she smiled at the butterfly lips. Even when Mrs. Fanshawe caused her the greatest irritation she could not banish altogether the instinct of protection and tenderness towards that remarkably well-equipped little lady. She was really about as capable of taking care of herself as an iron-clad battleship anchored in a calm sea, with guns agape and torpedo-nets spread, but she conveyed so subtle an impression of dependence and timidity that even the victims of her most trying insincerities relented towards her as towards a pretty child eager for enjoyment. It was so easy to strike the smile off her face.
“Good-night, little mamma!” said Elizabeth. “Have a nice time and dance every dance. And I shan’t disturb you to-morrow by my practising, as I am going with daddy up the Khyber.”
“My darling, won’t that be rather a long day for you? I hoped, perhaps, we should spend to-morrow quietly together, you and I.”
“Oh no, not a bit long!” said Elizabeth, again with a little spark of irritation. “I shan’t have spent all night dancing like you. Good-night, dear daddy! I shall be ready to start at eight.”
Elizabeth made a renewed but absent-minded attack on her tea when the others had gone, countermanded dinner, and, in spite of her lately registered vow never to touch a piano again, went back into the drawing-room and opened it. A modern musician, a modern and ordinary concert-frequenter, indeed, would have pitied the rusticity of her old-fashioned taste, for not only were the works but even the names of later authors unknown to her, and at the present moment she was finding Schumann’s Noveletten a source of rapture and mystery to her. But, however old-fashioned in taste, she had the root of the matter in her profound love of melody and her secret, unswerving sense that in music was contained the riddle and the answer of the world. She, even as all others who have felt the incommunicable spell that lies in beauty of sound, knew that to put her feeling into words, or even into the cramping outlines of definite thought, was to distort and parody it, for the essence of the whole matter was that its spell was wordless. Images, of course, thronged in spate through her mind as she played or listened to music; sometimes it was a figure with veiled face that sang; sometimes it was a band of militant spirits who marched; sometimes through many-coloured mists, that grew thinner and more opalescent as a climax approached, there shone an ineffable light. But whatever image there came to her, she felt its inadequacy; it was at the most what a photograph is compared to the landscape which it records. Music was music; to those who understood, that would be a more satisfactory statement than any array of images which it suggested.
To-night as she played she found running, like a strong undertow beneath sunlit and placid surfaces, certain words of her father. Was it, indeed, love that inspired this beauty? If so, how was it that she who so ceaselessly worshipped its manifestation had never a glimpse of the spirit that inspired it?... He had said more than that. He had said–here the ripple of the triplets enthralled and enchained her for a moment–he had said that for her the love of a common man would interpret things for her.
Elizabeth was playing with divided mind. Her fingers, that is to say, already schooled to the notes, rendered bar after bar to her inner, her contemplative self, while her thoughts, that swarm of active honey-bees that bring the crude treasure to the hive, were busy on their quests. Love, he had said, would teach her. Had love taught Schumann this moon-melody, this star-sown heaven of song?... Had the thought of Madame Schumann made vocal to him the magic spell?... This was a thing to smile at. Daddy did not understand, of course, what music was. He did not know how far it transcended in reality all else that can be felt or thought.
But, to do him justice, that was not the sum, the conclusion of his words. The love of a man, he had said, would teach her love, and the dwelling in that would teach her that love had neither end nor beginning, and she would call it by another name.
Instantly and ludicrously an image presented itself, the image of the regimental church, with its pitch-pine pews, its crude windows, its encaustic tiles, its braying harmonium. Yet all these unlovely objects somehow symbolized to her father all and more than all that music symbolized to her. And he was not imaginative; he was not poetical; he was not artistic. But to him, here was the one eternally satisfying answer to all questions that could ever be asked.
Elizabeth’s fingers had come to the end of the first Novelette, but her unconscious mind, even as her thinking mind, heeded them no longer. The whole of her mind, conscious and unconscious alike, peered eagerly into this, asking itself what it saw there. And it saw nothing except the coloured glass and the pitch-pine; heard nothing but the wheeze of the harmonium, and the somewhat bucolic merriment of a chant in C major.
She rose from the piano and strolled out into the yellow, honey-coloured moonlight–a moonlight not pale and cold, but partaking of the ardour and the weariness of the Indian day. She recalled all that religion, direct religious worship, that is to say, and adoration of a personal and inner principle, had meant to her life, and, fully honest with herself, she saw how intensely little, how infinitesimally small that had been. There were her childish prayers, first of all, sentences which she could never remember having learned, for they came out of her earliest mists of childhood, and she could no more recollect being taught either them or their meaning than she could recollect being taught to wash her face. They were both on exactly the same plane; they belonged to the ritual of getting up and going to bed. There was washing to be done; there were buttons to be negotiated; there were prayers to be said. She had taken it on trust that these performances had to be gone through; the reason for them had never interested her. Then a further piece of observance had been introduced into the routine of life, and with her best frock and hat she had stood and sat and knelt, sometimes with tedium, sometimes in absorbed attention to interesting members of the congregation, while words were recited, and hymns sung. It was rather pleasant to recognize among the formulas of public worship her own bedside ejaculations, just as it is pleasant to recognize familiar faces in a crowd. It was pleasant also to be encouraged to join her small voice in the more cheerful intervals of singing. Church, in fact, was a not unattractive way of spending an hour on Sunday morning, and was part of Sunday in precisely the same degree and with exactly the same meaninglessness as her prayers were part of the ritual of dressing and undressing. Much of what was recited there was connected with the Jews who had astounding adventures in Egypt and in the wilderness.
She had heard, she had listened, she had been taught, prepared for confirmation, and taken to communion. She supposed that she believed that she was a Christian, but she believed, for that matter, in Australia, and, for that matter, she knew she was English. But neither her belief in Australia nor in the truth of Christianity was coloured with emotion or directed her actions. She would not, as far as she was aware, behave any differently if Australia was suddenly swallowed up in the ocean, or if the historical facts on which Christianity was based were proved to be fallacious. In no way did either fact enter into her life. She was not, for instance, kind and honest and truthful because she was a Christian.
But she knew that in beauty she sought a meaning that she had never yet found, that at times she agonized to discover, and catch hold of, something on which to rest, from which to derive...
She had wandered down the length of the dusky garden alleys between the roses and yellow mimosas until she had come to the low stone wall at the bottom of her father’s garden. Here the cantonments ended, and half a mile of dry dusty land lay between her and the native city, which rose a black blot against the blue of the night sky. A few low huts of cattle-tenders were scattered about, and the feather-like plumes of tamarisk, and clear-cut aloes broke the level monotony. One such aloe close at hand flowered a few days before, and now the great stalk, fifteen feet high, with its cluster of blossoms at the end of the horizontal twigs, stood like a telegraph pole across the face of the moon, and Elizabeth wondered at this prodigious force that from the empty air and barren soil raised in so few days this triumphant engine and distributor of life. For years this plant had silently and slowly grown, a barren growth in a barren land; then suddenly it had been caught in the whirlpool of production, of fruition, and with a stupendous output, which should cause its own exhausted death, had erected that beacon flame with that torch of transmitted life. Had it felt a death-bed revelation, as it were? Was it satisfied to bear witness to life and to die? What did it mean? What did it all mean?
A small trodden track lay just below the three-foot wall on which she leaned, and at the moment she heard something stir there close to her. Looking over, she saw that an old man was squatting there. He had a long white beard that fell nearly to his waist; he was naked but for the loin-cloth about his middle, and by his side lay a tall crutch and an empty begging-bowl of wood. But round his shoulders, which glistened in the moonlight, she saw that there was bound the three-fold cord that marks a Brahmin.
Apparently he heard her movement as she leaned over, and turned his head towards her. Deadly weakness and exhaustion were printed there, but more clearly than that there shone from it a quiet indwelling joy, an expression of rapture, of ecstasy.
Elizabeth spoke to him in the vernacular.
“You want food?” she said.
“I want nothing, lady,” said he.
Elizabeth suddenly felt that there was something here for her; that this aged, quiet face, so full of joy, so shadowed by weakness, had a message. The feeling was instinctive and unaccountable.
“I will get you food in a moment,” she said.
“I do not want food,” said he.
Elizabeth put her hand on the top of the low wall and easily vaulted over.
“But you are tired and hungry,” she said, “and you must have travelled far from your native place to come up here. Where are you from?”
“From Benares. I have searched all my life, but to-day my search is over.”
A sudden wave of uncontrollable emotion seized the girl.
“Oh, tell me what you have searched for?” she said. “What is it?”
“It is the Life itself,” he said. “And I have found.”
He fell back, and lay quite still, with open eyes and smiling mouth. Even as he said he had found.
THE RIDDLE GROWS
In these days of the diffusion of the products of trade and the benefits doubtful and otherwise of civilization, when the Amir of Afghanistan has a piano, and the Grand Llama of Thibet a bicycle, it must not shock the reader to know that Elizabeth travelled up the Khyber Pass in the company of her father and the Commander-in-Chief in a motor-car. That military hero who had danced three-quarters of the night with the young ladies of Peshawar, not singling out any one for his favours, but cutting up his heart into a large number of small pieces, and giving one to each, was delighted to find there was yet another charming maiden whom he had not yet seen, and, rolling his jolly sides with laughter, supposed that there had been a conspiracy among the beauties of Peshawar to keep the fairest of them all out of the ballroom. Gallantry and excessive animal spirits are apt to be rather disgusting in elderly and obese persons, but the vitality of this amiable old warrior was so genuine in its boyishness that the primmest of the sex that he so indiscriminately adored were disarmed by his monstrous flatteries. But when our party had passed the fort of Jamrud that guards the Indian end of the historic road, and entered on the defile which from immemorial days has been the coveted key that has locked and unlocked the treasure of India, each yard of which has been bought and paid for in blood, Sir Henry’s gallant loquacity was abated, and the magic of the most historic highway in the world cast its spell on him.
Elizabeth had hardly slept last night, but that which had kept her still and wakeful during the dark hours had been so strong a stimulus to her mind, that morning saw no haggard cheeks and drooping eyelids, but an alert and fresh-coloured face. That strange sudden death of the white-haired traveller had not in the least shocked or terrified her, for her whole soul was full of the discovery of how wonderful and beautiful a thing is death to one who has lived, and who, like this aged Brahmin, had looked upon it not as a cold hand that locks the gates of the sepulchre, but as a friend who opens a door into a fuller life, an ampler perception. Hitherto she had never looked on death, and in so far as she thought of it at all, viewed it as a remote and cruel contingency, horrible to contemplate and best forgotten. She had no idea that it could be like that, that calm moment of healing that had not distorted the peace and the joy on the old man’s face, but had merely wiped off, as if it had been some travel-stain, some superficial blur, the weariness and the age that had a moment before overlaid it. She found, too, that she had no horror at the touch of the lifeless shell, and had helped the servants to move the body. But before she had called for assistance she had sat a minute or two alone with the body, the face of which was calmer and more serene than the flooding moonlight that illuminated it, and had kissed, in a sort of inexplicable reverence and tenderness, the lined forehead.
And all night long that face had remained with her. If she shut her eyes it hovered before her in the darkness of her closed lids, answering the question she did not know how to frame. Triumph, conviction, certainty, attainment was the response. She could not doubt that this death by the wayside of but one of the teeming millions, and that one so aged, so stricken, was a royal entry from an ante-chamber into a throne-room. She had seen a soul attain; the dead smiling face no less than the last words which the triumphant lips had spoken assured her of it. All his life he had sought, knowing what he sought; as yet she but felt the conviction that there was something to seek.
For a while, however, all this sank out of sight in her mind, as if she had dropped treasure into a well. It was there safe, and when she dredged for it she would find it again, but for the present, as they wound upwards on the narrow road, the magic of the way enchained her. Barer and more precipitous rose the barren hill-sides of neutral native territory, between which wound the narrow riband of the English road. All the way along it, within communicable distance from each other, the sentries of the Khyber Rifles guarded the pass, to give safe conduct to the caravan that came with carpets and dried fruits and incense from the unknown country beyond, and to that which, with the products of civilization, oil and sheet iron and calico, passed from the plain into the mountains of Afghanistan. They overtook and passed the caravan that had rested last night at the entrance to the pass, going westwards; six hundred camels, bearded and with soft, padding steps, carried the amorphous mass of merchandise. Some were gentle beasts, mild-eyed and depressed, others were muzzled with rope and foamed at the mouth. Myriad were the types of those who drove them; there were pale-faced boys with flaxen hair; there were hawk-nosed eager Pathans of the type so familiar to Elizabeth in the parades of her father’s regiment, snub-nosed Mongolians, Thibetans, with their high cheek-bones and wide-lipped mouths, and of them all there was not one in whose face this morning Elizabeth did not see signs of some secret quest, some unconjecturable search. One perhaps desired money, one an end to this mounting road; one was hungry, another thirsty, but behind all these superficial needs she read into each face a desire, a quest. Often, as if in answer to her eager glance, she received a questioning stare, as if the gazer sought from her some signal that he was waiting for. All nature that morning had a question on its lips for Elizabeth, and an answer if she could but interpret it. The grey climbing hill-sides already aquiver in the hot sun seemed ready to tell her why they stood there broad-flanked and menacing. The brook that came cool and bubbling from below a rock by the wayside, fringing its course with cresses and feathery grass, had learned in the darkness of the earth, in the sub-terrestrial caves from which it sprang, the reason of its going. Scattered by the roadside here and there were Afghan villages, and at the mouths of excavated dwellings in the hill-side stood the wild-eyed native folk who were born and lived and loved and fought and murdered, maybe, all in obedience to some law of being that caused the aloe to shoot up in erect strong stem and blossom, and that lit the fires of victory in the eyes of the dying Brahmin. All seemed ready to tell her the answer could she but frame her question.
Like an obsession this sense of revelation ready to show itself to her, could she but put herself on the plane of thought where it lay, besieged her all day, and as they returned to the caravanserai at the foot of the pass as the sun, declining behind the western hills, turned them for a moment into glowing amber, it seemed to elude her but by a hair’s-breadth. There all was ready for the reception of the caravan that had marched through the pass into India that day; the sellers of bread were pulling out of their circular ovens excavated in the ground the flat cakes of unleavened bread, the brass samovars hissed at the booths of the tea-sellers, and cauldrons of hot soup boiled and bubbled. Already the van of the wayfarers was entering the guarded gates that were pierced in the mud walls, and the camels, weary with the long stage, bent their unwieldy joints and lay down for their drivers to strip off their load. Some were too tired to eat, and, resting their queer prehistoric heads on their bended forelegs, closed their long-lashed eyes and slept. Others, hungry and restless, foamed and lathered and snapped greedily at the mounds of dried fodder that their drivers placed before them. Tired men got their bowls of soup or tea from the stalls, and, leaning against the sides of their beasts, ate their supper, and wrapping their heads in their dusty gay-coloured shawls, slept by their sleeping animals. Others, inclined for a chat, collected round the shops of the provision-sellers against the wall of the serai, and smoked and talked when their supper was done; others, three or four clubbing together, lit fires of the brushwood they had gathered during the day, and cooked their own food at cheaper rate than obtained in the stores. Ponies nickered and twitched at their heel-ropes, the sharp, pungent smell of the wood fires and the wreaths of aromatic smoke drifted slowly along the sluggish currents of the almost windless air, and gradually the empty space of the serai became a mosaic of sleeping men and beasts. The hills that the sunset had turned into molten tawny gold grew dark again with the gathering night, and in the depth of the velvet vault above the wheeling stars grew large.
And behind all the various forms of life, behind the molten hills, behind the sky, behind the limbs of the bearded camels, behind the chatter and smoke of the provision booths, there lurked, so it seemed to Elizabeth, one impulse, one energy common to all. In her head lay some remembered melody of Schumann, that seemed to beat to the same indwelling rhythms to which the stars pulsated.
Her father was standing alone beside her; a little way off the genial Commander-in-Chief was tasting the soup that bubbled in the tin-plated cauldrons, pronouncing it excellent, and bidding his aide-de-camp, a slim young, weary Englishman, translate his verdict of it to the gratified booth-keeper. Some word of the identity of this great boisterous hedonist had been passed about the serai, but the tired drovers of the caravan paid little heed. And yet, here incarnate, was the figure-head of the English power that guaranteed their safe journey through the turbulent lands of the frontier, and that would avenge with wicked little spitting guns and a troop of khaki-clad soldiers any raid that the ungoverned tribe might make. But Sir Henry, in spite of this, roused but little attention; the tired drovers slept; those who were more alert were but employed with jokes and snatches of song round the samovars and soup-cauldrons. The hills and the stars attended as little; everything and everybody was intent on his own inward calls, just as last night the Brahmin who lay by the wayside had no need of food, and but thought of the finding of that for which all his years had searched.
And then Elizabeth’s questing soul suddenly gave up the pursuit of a hidden cause, and felt content with the obvious explanation. She took her father’s arm.
“Oh, daddy, I’ve had such a lovely day!” she said. “What heaps of different things there are in the world, and what heaps of different businesses. And it all makes such a jumbled incoherent whole! In half an hour we shall be back home again, and it will be time to dress, and mamma will tell us all she has done to-day. After dinner I will play the piano to you till you snore, and as soon as you snore I shall wake you up again and make you write to Aunt Julia to say when I shall arrive at Heathmoor.”
He pressed her hand as it lay in the crook of his arm.
“It is a less tragic view than that of last night,” he said.
“I know. At this moment I don’t mind the least about going to England. I’m–I’m going to take things as they come.”
Elizabeth paused a moment, as with the vividness of ocular hallucination the Brahmin’s face once more swam before her eyes.
“But that doesn’t mean I am not going to be serious,” she said. “I want ‘richly to enjoy.’ Doesn’t that come in the Bible somewhere? I expect there are many routes that arrive at the same place.”
To anybody unacquainted with the sum of Elizabeth’s musings that day, this was necessarily a cryptic speech. It grew more cryptic yet.
“Perhaps drink leads the drunkard there,” she said, “and music the musician. Doesn’t one develop, daddy, through one’s passions, and not through one’s renunciations? I can’t see how starving your desires can possibly help one.”
“My dear, there are desires and desires,” he said.
“And where do they all come from? Surely from the search.”
He was silent a moment, and at that moment anything short of enthusiastic acceptance of her illumination was a coldness, a hand of ice to Elizabeth.
“Daddy, you don’t understand,” she said. “As long as we want, it doesn’t much matter what we want. Isn’t it half the battle to be eager?”
He shook his head.
“Again I should talk nonsense if I agreed with you,” he said. “Eagerness is a sword, my dear; but it is not armour.”
“I don’t want armour,” she said quickly. “I am not afraid of being hurt.”
“Ah, don’t get hurt, my darling!” he said.
“Not I. And if I do get hurt, daddy, I shall come crying to you, and you will have to comfort me. Oh, oh–look at all those tired men, with no beds to lie on, and no pillows and no tooth powder or sponges! Don’t you envy them? They will wake up in the morning, and find themselves
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