Jan and Her Job - L. Allen Harker - ebook
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SHE was something of a puzzle to the other passengers. They couldn't quite place her. She came on board the P. and O. at Marseilles. Being Christmas week the boat was not crowded, and she had a cabin to herself on the spar deck, so there was no "stable-companion" to find out anything about her. The sharp-eyed Australian lady, who sat opposite her at the Purser's table, decided that she was not married, or even engaged, as she wore no rings of any kind. Besides, her name, "Miss Janet Ross," figured in the dinner-list and was plainly painted on her deck-chair. At meals she sat beside the Purser, and seemed more or less under his wing. People at her table decided that she couldn't be going out as a governess or she would hardly be travelling first class, and yet she did not look of the sort who globe-trot all by themselves.

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L. Allen Harker

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Table of contents

CHAPTER I JAN

CHAPTER II JAN'S MAIL

CHAPTER III BOMBAY

CHAPTER IV THE BEGINNING OF THE JOB

CHAPTER V THE CHILDREN

CHAPTER VI THE SHADOW BEFORE

CHAPTER VII THE HUMAN TOUCH

CHAPTER VIII THE END OF THE DREAM

CHAPTER IX MEG

CHAPTER X PLANS

CHAPTER XI THE STATE OF PETER

CHAPTER XII "THE BEST-LAID SCHEMES"

CHAPTER XIII THE WHEELS OF CHANCE

CHAPTER XIV PERPLEXITIES

CHAPTER XV WREN'S END

CHAPTER XVI "THE BLUDGEONINGS OF CHANCE"

CHAPTER XVII "THOUGH AN HOST SHOULD ENCAMP AGAINST ME"

CHAPTER XVIII MEG AND CAPTAIN MIDDLETON

CHAPTER XIX THE YOUNG IDEA

CHAPTER XX "ONE WAY OF LOVE"

CHAPTER XXI ANOTHER WAY OF LOVE

CHAPTER XXII THE ENCAMPMENT

CHAPTER XXIII TACTICS

CHAPTER XXIV "THE WAY OF A MAN WITH A MAID"

CHAPTER XXV A DEMONSTRATION IN FORCE

CHAPTER XXVI IN WHICH SEVERAL PEOPLE SPEAK THEIR MINDS

CHAPTER XXVII AUGUST, 1914

CHAPTER I JAN

SHE was something of a puzzle to the other passengers. They couldn't quite place her. She came on board the P. and O. at Marseilles. Being Christmas week the boat was not crowded, and she had a cabin to herself on the spar deck, so there was no "stable-companion" to find out anything about her.The sharp-eyed Australian lady, who sat opposite her at the Purser's table, decided that she was not married, or even engaged, as she wore no rings of any kind. Besides, her name, "Miss Janet Ross," figured in the dinner-list and was plainly painted on her deck-chair. At meals she sat beside the Purser, and seemed more or less under his wing. People at her table decided that she couldn't be going out as a governess or she would hardly be travelling first class, and yet she did not look of the sort who globe-trot all by themselves.Rather tall, slender without being thin, she moved well. Her ringless hands were smooth and prettily shaped, so were her slim feet, and always singularly well-shod.Perhaps her chief outward characteristic was that she looked delightfully fresh and clean. Her fair skin helped to this effect, and the trim suitability of her clothes accentuated it. And yet there was nothing challenging or particularly noticeable in her personality.Her face, fresh-coloured and unlined, was rather round. Her eyes well-opened and blue-grey, long-sighted and extremely honest. Her hair, thick and naturally wavy, had been what hairdressers call "mid-brown," but was now frankly grey, especially round the temples; and the grey hair puzzled people, so that opinions differed widely regarding her age.The five box-wallahs (gentlemen engaged in commercial pursuits are so named in the East to distinguish them from the Heaven-Born in the various services that govern India), who, with the Australian lady, sat opposite to her at table, decided that she was really young and prematurely grey. Between the courses they diligently took stock of her. The Australian lady disagreed with them. She declared Miss Ross to be middle-aged, to look younger than she was. In this the Australian lady was quite sincere. She could not conceive of any young woman neglecting the many legitimate means that existed of combating this most distressing semblance—if semblance it was—of age.The Australian lady set her down as a well-preserved forty at least.Mr. Frewellen, the oldest and crossest and greediest of the five box-wallahs, declared that he would lay fifteen rupees to five annas that she was under thirty; that her eyes were sad, and it was probably trouble that had turned her hair. At his time of life, he could tell a young woman when he saw one. No painted old harridan could deceive him. After all, if Miss Ross had grey hair, she had plenty of it, and it was her own. But Mr. Frewellen, who sat directly opposite her, was prejudiced in her favour, for she always let him take her roll if it was browner than his own. He also took her knife if it happened to be sharper than the one he had, and he insisted on her listening to his incessant grumbling as to the food, the service, the temperature, and the general imbecility and baseness of his fellow-creatures.Like the Ancient Mariner, he held her with his glittering spectacles. Miss Ross trembled before his diatribes. He spoke in a loud and rumbling voice, and made derogatory remarks about the other passengers as they passed to their respective tables. She would thankfully have changed hers, but that it might have seemed ungrateful to the Purser, into whose charge she had been given by friends; and the Purser had been most kind and attentive.The Australian lady was sure that the Purser knew more about Miss Ross than he would acknowledge—which he did. But when tackled by one passenger about another, he was discreet or otherwise in direct ratio to what he considered was the discretion of the questioner. And he was a pretty shrewd judge of character. He had infinite opportunities of so judging. A sea-voyage lays bare many secrets and shows up human nature at its starkest.Janet Ross did not seek to make friends, but kindly people who spoke to her found her pleasant and not in the least disposed to be mysterious when questioned, though she never volunteered any information about herself. She was a good listener, and about the middle of any voyage that is a quality supplying a felt want. Mankind in general finds his own doings very interesting, and takes great pleasure in recounting the same. Even the most energetic young passenger cannot play deck-quoits all day, and mixed cricket matches are too heating to last long once Aden is left behind. A great many people found it pleasant to drop into a chair beside the quiet lady, who was always politely interested in their remarks. She looked so cool and restful in her white frock and shady hat. She did not buy a solar topee at Port Said, for though this was her first voyage she had not, it seemed, started quite unwarned.In the middle of the Indian Ocean she suddenly found favour in the eyes of Sir Langham Sykes, and when that was the case Sir Langham proclaimed his preference to the whole ship. No one who attracted his notice could remain in obscurity. When he was not eating he was talking, generally about himself, though he was also fond of asking questions.A short, stout man with a red face, little fierce blue eyes, a booming voice, noisy laugh and a truculent, domineering manner, Sir Langham made his presence felt wherever he was.It was "her shape," as he called it, that first attracted his attention to Miss Ross, as he watched her walking briskly round and round the hurricane-deck for her morning constitutional."That woman moves well," he remarked to his neighbour; "wonder if she's goin' out to be married. Nice-looking woman and pleasant, no frills about her—sort that would be kind in illness."And Sir Langham sighed. He couldn't take any exercise just then, for his last attack of gout had been very severe, and his left foot was still swathed and slippered.There was a dance that night on the hurricane-deck, and Sir Langham, while watching the dancers, talked at the top of his voice with the more important lady passengers. On such occasions he claimed close intimacy with the Reigning House, and at all times of day one heard such sentences as, "And I said to the Princess Henrietta," with a full account of what he did say. And the things he declared he said, and the stories he told, certainly suggested a doubt as to whether the ladies of our Royal Family are quite as strait-laced as the ordinary public is led to believe. But then one had only Sir Langham's word for it. There was no possibility of questioning the Princess.Presently Sir Langham got tired of trying to drown the band—it was such a noisy band—and he hobbled down the companion on to the almost deserted deck. Right up in the stern he spied Miss Ross, quite alone, sitting under an electric light absorbed in a book. Beside her was an empty chair with a comfortable leg-rest. Sir Langham never made any bones about interrupting people. It would not, to him, have seemed possible that a woman could prefer any form of literature to the charm of his conversation. So with a series of grunts he lowered himself into it, arranged his foot upon the rest, and, without asking permission, lit a cigar."Don't you care for dancin'?" he asked.She closed her book. "Oh, yes," she said, "but I don't know many men on board, and there are such a lot of young people who do know one another. It's pretty to watch them; but the night is pretty, too, don't you think? The stars all seem so near compared to what they do at home.""I've seen too many Eastern nights to take much stock in 'em now," he said in a disparaging voice. "I take it this is all new to you—first voyage, eh?""Yes, I've never been a long voyage before.""Goin' to India, I suppose. You'd have started sooner if you'd been goin' for the winter to Australia. Now what are you goin' to India for?""To stay with my sister.""Married sister?""Yes.""Older than you, then, of course.""No, younger.""Much younger?""Three years.""Is she like you?""Not in the least. She is a beautiful person.""Been married long?""Between five and six years. I'm to take her home at the end of the cold weather.""Any kids?""Two.""And you haven't been out before?""No; this is my first visit.""She's been home, I suppose?""Yes, once.""Is her husband in the Army?""No."Had Sir Langham been an observant person he would have noted that her very brief replies did not exactly encourage further questions. But his idea of conversation was either a monologue or a means of obtaining information, so he instantly demanded, "What does her husband do?"The impulse of the moment urged her to reply, "What possible business is it of yours what he does?" But well-bred people do not yield to these impulses, so she answered quietly, "He's in the P.W.D.""Not a bad service, not a bad service, though not equal to the I.C.S. They've had rather a scandal in it lately. Didn't you see about it in the papers just before we left?"At that moment Sir Langham was very carefully flicking the ash from the end of his cigar, otherwise he might have observed that as he spoke his companion flushed. A wave of warm colour surged over her face and bare neck and receded again, leaving her very pale. Her hands closed over the book lying in her lap, as if glad to hold on to something, and their knuckles were white against the tan."Didn't you see it?" he repeated. "Some chap been found to have taken bribes over contracts in a native state. Regular rumpus there's been. Quite right, too; we sahibs must have clean hands. No dealing with brown people if you haven't clean hands—can't have rupees sticking to 'em in any Government transactions. Expect you'll hear all about it when you get out there—makes a great sensation in any service does that sort of thing. I don't remember the name of the chap—perhaps they didn't give it—do you?""I didn't see anything about it," she said quietly. "I was very busy just before I left, and hardly looked at a paper.""Where is your sister?""In Bombay.""Oh, got a billet there, has he? Expect you'll like Bombay; cheery place, in the cold weather, but not a patch on Calcutta, to my mind. I hear the Governor and his wife do the thing in style—hospitable, you know; got private means, as people in that position always ought to have.""I don't suppose I shall go out at all," she said. "My sister is ill, and I've got to look after her. Directly she is strong enough to travel I shall bring her home.""Oh, you must see something of the social life of the place while you're there. D'you know what I thought? I thought you were goin' out to get married, and"—he continued gallantly—"I thought he was a deuced lucky chap."She smiled and shook her head. She was not looking at Sir Langham, but at the long, white, moonlit pathway of foam left in the wake of the ship."I say," he went on confidentially, "what's your Christian name? I'm certain they don't call you Janet. Is it Nettie, now? I bet it's Nettie!""My family," said Miss Ross somewhat coldly, "call me Jan.""Nice little name," he exclaimed, "but more like a boy's. Now, I never got a pet name. I started Langham, and Langham I've stopped, and I flatter myself I've made the name known and respected."He wanted her to look at him, and leaned towards her: "Look here, Miss Ross, I'm goin' to ask you a funny question, and it's not one you can ask most women—but you're a puzzle. You've got a face like a child, and yet you're as grey as a badger. What is your age?""I shall be twenty-eight in March."She looked at him then, and her grey eyes were so full of amusement that, incredulous as he usually was as to other people's statements, he knew that she was speaking the truth."Then why the devil don't you do something to it?" he demanded.She laughed. "I couldn't be bothered. And it might turn green, or something. I don't mind it. It began when I was twenty-three.""I don't mind it either," Sir Langham declared magnanimously; "but it's misleading.""I'm sorry," she said demurely. "I wouldn't mislead anyone for the world.""Now, what age should you think I am? But I suppose you know—that's the worst of being a public character; when one gets nearly a column in Who's Who, everybody knows all about one. That's the penalty of celebrity.""Do you mind people knowing your age?""Not I! Nor anything else about me. I've never done anything to be ashamed of. Quite the other way, I can assure you.""How pleasant that must be," she said quietly.Sir Langham turned and looked suspiciously at her; but her face was guileless and calm, with no trace of raillery, her eyes still fixed on the long bright track of foam."I suppose you, now," he muttered hoarsely, "always sleep well, go off directly you turn in—eh?"Her quiet eyes met his; little and fierce and truculent, but behind their rather bloodshot boldness there lurked something else, and with a sudden pang of pity she knew that it was fear, and that Sir Langham dreaded the night."As a rule I do," she said gently; "but of course I've known what it is to be sleepless, and it's horrid.""It's hell," said Sir Langham, "and I'm in it every night this voyage, for I've knocked off morphia and opiates—they were playing the deuce with my constitution, and I've strength of mind for anything when I fairly take hold. But it's awful. When d'you suppose natural sleep will come back?"She knew that he did not lack physical courage, that he had fearlessly faced great dangers in many outposts of the world; but the demon of insomnia had got a hold of Sir Langham, and he dreaded the night unspeakably. At that moment there was something pathetic about the little, boastful, filibustering man."I think you will sleep to-night," she said confidently, "especially if you go to bed early."She half rose as she spoke, but he put his hand on her arm and pressed her down in her chair again."Don't go yet," he cried. "Keep on tellin' me I'll sleep, and then perhaps I shall. You look as if you could will people to do things. You're that quiet sort. Will me, there's a good girl. Tell me again I'll sleep to-night."It was getting late; the music had stopped and the dancers had disappeared. Miss Ross did not feel over comfortable alone with Sir Langham so far away from everybody else. Especially as she saw he was excited and nervous. Had he been drinking? she wondered. But she remembered that he had proclaimed far and wide that, because of his gout, he'd made a vow to touch no form of "alcoholic liquor" on the voyage, except on Christmas and New Year's Day. It was six days since Christmas, and already Aden was left behind. No, it was just sheer nervous excitement, and if she could do him any good...."I feel sure you will sleep to-night," she said soothingly, "if you will do as I tell you.""I'll do any mortal thing. I've got a deck-cabin to myself. Will you keep willin' me when you turn in?""Go to bed now," she said firmly. "Undress quickly, and then think about nothing ... and I'll do the rest.""You will, you promise?""Yes, but you must keep your mind a perfect blank, or I can't do anything."She stood up tall and straight. The moonlight caught her grey hair and burnished it to an aureole of silver.With many grunts Sir Langham pulled himself out of his chair. "No smokin'-room, eh?""Good night," Miss Ross said firmly, and left him."Don't forget to ask your sister's husband about that chap in the P.W.D.," he called after her. "He's sure to know all about it. What's his name?—your brother-in-law, I mean."But Miss Ross had disappeared."Now how the devil," he muttered, "am I to make my mind, my mind, a perfect blank?"Two hours later Sir Langham's snores grievously disturbed the occupants of adjacent cabins.In hers, Miss Ross sat by the open porthole reading and re-reading the mail that had reached her at Aden.

CHAPTER II JAN'S MAIL

Bombay, December 13th.MY DEAR JAN,It was a great relief to get your cable saying definitely that you were sailing by the Carnduff. Misfortunes seem to have come upon us in such numbers of late that I dreaded lest your departure might be unavoidably delayed or prevented. I will not now enter into the painful question of my shameful treatment by Government, but you can well understand that I shall leave no stone unturned to reverse their most unfair and unjust decision, and to bring my traducers to book. Important business having reference to these matters calls me away at once, as I feel it is most essential not to lose a moment, my reputation and my whole future being at stake. I shall therefore, to my great regret, be unable to meet you on your arrival in Bombay, and, as my movements for the next few months will be rather uncertain, I may find it difficult to let you have regular news of me. I would therefore advise you to take Fay and the children home as soon as all is safely over and she is able to travel, and I will join you in England if and when I find I can get away. I know, dear Jan, that you will not mind financing Fay to this extent at present; as, owing to these wholly unexpected departmental complications, I am uncommonly hard up. I will, of course, repay you at the earliest possible opportunity.Poor Fay is not at all well; all these worries have been very bad for her, and I have been distracted by anxiety on her behalf, as well as about my own most distressing position, and a severe attack of fever has left me weak and ailing. I thought it better to bring Fay down to Bombay, where she can get the best medical advice, and her being there will save you the long, tiresome journey to Dariawarpur. It is also most convenient for going home. She is installed in a most comfortable flat, and we brought our own servants, so I hope you will feel that I have done my best for her.Fay will explain the whole miserable business to you, and although appearances may be against me, I trust that you will realise how misleading these may be. I cannot thank you enough for responding so promptly to our ardently expressed desire for your presence at this difficult time. It will make all the difference in the world to Fay; and, on her account, to me also.Believe me, always yours affectionately,Hugo Tancred.Bombay, Friday.Jan my dear, my dear, are you really on your way? And shall I see your face and hear your kind voice, and be able to cry against your shoulder?I can't meet you, my precious, because I don't go out. I'm afraid. Afraid lest I should see anyone who knew us at Dariawarpur. India is so large and so small, and people from everywhere are always in Bombay, and I couldn't bear it.Do you know, Jan, that when the very worst has happened, you get kind of numbed. You can't suffer any more. You can't be sorry or angry or shocked or indignant, or anything but just broken, and that's what I am.After all, I've one good friend here who knew us at Dariawarpur. He's got a job at the secretariat, and he tries to help me all he can. I don't mind him somehow. He understands. He will meet you and bring you to the bungalow, so look out for him when the boat gets in. He's tall and thin and clean-shaven and yellow, with a grave, stern face and beautiful kind eyes. Peter is an angel, so be nice to him, Jan dear. It has been awful; it will go on being awful; but it will be a little more bearable when you come—for me, I mean—for you it will be horrid. All of us on your hands, and no money, and me such a crock, and presently a new baby. The children are well. It's so queer to think you haven't seen "little Fay." Come soon, Jan, come soon, to your miserable Fay.Jan sat on her bunk under the open porthole. One after the other she held the letters open in her hand and stared at them, but she did not read. The sentences were burnt into her brain already.Hugo Tancred's letter was dated. Fay's was not, and neither letter bore any address in Bombay. Now, Jan knew that Bombay is a large town; and that people like the Tancreds, who, if not actually in hiding, certainly did not seek to draw attention to their movements, would be hard to find. Fay had wholly omitted to mention the surname of the tall, thin, yellow man with the "grave, stern face and beautiful kind eyes." Even in the midst of her poignant anxiety Jan found herself smiling at this. It was so like Fay—so like her to give no address. And should the tall, thin gentleman fail to appear, what was Jan to do? She could hardly go about the ship asking if one "Peter" had come to fetch her.How would she find Fay?Would they allow her to wait at the landing-place till someone came, or were there stringent regulations compelling passengers to leave the docks with the utmost speed, as most of them would assuredly desire to do?She knitted her brows and worried a good deal about this; then suddenly put the question from her as too trivial when there were such infinitely greater problems to solve.Only one thing was clear. One central fact shone out, a beacon amidst the gloom of the "departmental complications" enshrouding the conduct of Hugo Tancred, the certainty that he had, for the present anyway, shifted the responsibility of his family from his own shoulders to hers. As she sat square and upright under the porthole, with the cool air from an inserted "wind-sail" ruffling her hair, she looked as though she braced herself to the burden.She wished she knew exactly what had happened, what Hugo Tancred had actually done. For some years she had known that he was by no means scrupulous in money matters, and that very evening Sir Langham had made it clear to her that this crookedness had not stopped short at his official work. There had been a scandal, so far-reaching a scandal that it had got into the home papers.This struck Jan as rather extraordinary, for Hugo Tancred was by no means a stupid man.It is one thing to be pleasantly oblivious of private debts, to omit cheques in repayment of various necessaries got at the Stores by an obliging sister-in-law. One thing to muddle away in wild-cat speculations a wife's money that, but for the procrastination of an easy-going father, would have been tightly tied up—quite another to bring himself so nearly within the clutches of the law as to make it possible for the Government of India to dismiss him.And what was he to do? What did the future hold for him?Who would give employment to however able a man with such a career behind him?Jan's imagination refused to take such flights. Resolutely she put the subject from her and began to consider what her own best course would be with Fay, her nephew and niece, and, very shortly, a new baby on her hands.Jan was not a young woman to let things drift. She had kept house for a whimsical, happy-go-lucky father since she was fourteen; mothered her beautiful young sister; and, at her father's death, two years before, had with quiet decision arranged her own life, wholly avoiding the discussion and the friction which generally are the lot of an unmarried woman of five-and-twenty left without natural guardians and with a large circle of friends and relations.It was nearly two o'clock when she undressed and went to bed, and before that she had drafted two cablegrams—one to a house-agent, the other to her bankers.

CHAPTER III BOMBAY

FOR Jan the next two days passed as in a more or less disagreeable dream. She could never afterwards recall very clearly what happened, except that Sir Langham Sykes seemed absolutely omnipresent, and made her, she felt, ridiculous before the whole ship, by proclaiming far and wide that she had bestowed upon him the healing gift of sleep.He was so effusive, so palpably grateful, that she simply could not undeceive him by telling him that after they parted the night before she had never given him another thought.When he was not doing this he was pursuing, with fulminations against the whole tribe of missionaries, two kindly, quiet members of the Society of Friends.In an evil moment they had gratified his insatiable curiosity as to the object of their voyage to India, which was to visit and report upon the missionary work of their community. Once he discovered this he never let them alone, and the deck resounded with his denunciations of all Protestant missionaries as "self-seeking, oily humbugs."They bore it with well-mannered resignation, and a common dislike for Sir Langham formed quite a bond of union between them and Jan.There was the usual dance on New Year's Eve, the usual singing of "Auld Lang Syne" in two huge circles; and Jan would have enjoyed it all but for the heavy foreboding in her heart; for she was a simple person who responded easily to the emotions of others. Before she could slip away to bed Sir Langham cornered her again, conjuring her to "will" him to sleep and "to go on doin' it" after they parted in Bombay. He became rather maudlin, and she seized the opportunity of telling him that her best efforts would be wholly unavailing if he at all relaxed the temperate habits, so necessary for the cure of his gout, that he had acquired during the voyage. She was stern with Sir Langham, and her admonitions had considerable effect. He sought his cabin chastened and thoughtful.The boat was due early in the morning. Jan finished most of her packing before she undressed; then, tired and excited, she could not sleep. A large cockroach scuttling about her cabin did not tend to calm her nerves. She plentifully besprinkled the floor with powdered borax, kept the electric light turned on and the fan whirring, and lay down wide-awake to wait for the dawn.The ship was unusually noisy, but just about four o'clock came a new sound right outside her porthole—the rush alongside of the boat bearing the pilot and strange loud voices calling directions in an unknown tongue. She turned out her light (first peering fearfully under her berth to make sure no borax-braving cockroach was in ambush) and knelt on her bed to look out and watch the boat with its turbaned occupants: big brown men, who shouted to one another in a liquid language full of mystery.For a brief space the little boat was towed alongside the great liner, then cast off, and presently—far away on the horizon—Jan saw a streak of pearly pinkish light, as though the soft blue curtain of the night had been lifted just a little; and against that luminous streak were hills.In spite of her anxiety, in spite of her fears as to the future, Jan's heart beat fast with pleasurable excitement. She was young and strong and eager, and here at last was the real East. A little soft wind caressed her tired forehead and she drank in the blessed coolness of the early morning.Both day and night come quickly in the East. Jan got up, had her bath, dressed, and by half-past six she was on deck. The dark-blue curtain was rolled up, and the scene set was the harbour of Bombay.Such a gracious haven of strange multi-coloured craft, with its double coast-line of misty hills on one side, and clear-cut, high-piled buildings, domes and trees upon the other.A gay white-and-gold launch, with its attendants in scarlet and white, came for certain passengers, who were guests of the Governor. The police launch, trim and business-like with its cheerful yellow-hatted sepoys, came for others. Jan watched these favoured persons depart in stately comfort, and went downstairs to get some breakfast. Then came the rush of departure by the tender. So many had friends to meet them, and all seemed full of pleasure in arrival. Jan was just beginning to feel rather forlorn and anxious when the Purser, fussed and over-driven as he always is at such times, came towards her, followed by a tall man wearing a pith helmet and an overcoat."Mr. Ledgard has come to meet you, Miss Ross, so you'll be all right."It was amazing how easy everything became. Mr. Ledgard's servants collected Jan's cabin baggage and took it with them in the tender and, on arrival, in a tikka-gharri—the little pony-carriage which is the gondola of Bombay—and almost before she quite realised that the voyage was over she found herself seated beside Peter in a comfortable motor-car, with a cheerful little Hindu chauffeur at the steering-wheel, sliding through wide, well-watered streets, still comparatively empty because it was so early.By mutual consent they turned to look at one another, and Jan noted that Peter Ledgard was thin and extremely yellow. That his eyes (hollow and tired-looking as are the eyes of so many officials in the East) were kind, and she thought she had never before beheld a firmer mouth or more masterful jaw.What Peter saw evidently satisfied him as to her common sense, for he plunged in medias res at once: "How much do you know of this unfortunate affair?" he asked."Very little," she answered, "and that little extremely vague. Will you tell me has Hugo come to total grief or not?""Officially, yes. He is finished, done for—may thank his lucky stars he's not in gaol. It's well you should know this at the very beginning, for of course he won't allow it, and poor Fay—Mrs. Tancred (I'm afraid we're rather free-and-easy about Christian names in India)—doesn't know the whole facts by a very long way. From what she tells me, I fear he has made away with most of her money, too. Was any of it tied up?"Jan shook her head. "We both got what money there was absolutely on my father's death.""Then," said Peter, "I fear you've got the whole of them on your hands, Miss Ross.""That's what I've come for," Jan said simply, "to take care of Fay and the children."Peter Ledgard looked straight in front of him."It's a lot to put on you," he said slowly, "and I'm afraid you'll find it a bit more complicated than you expect. Will you remember that I'd like to help you all I can?"Jan looked at the stern profile beside her and felt vaguely comforted. "I shall be most grateful for your advice," she said humbly. "I know I shall need it."The motor stopped, and as she stepped from it in front of the tall block of buildings, Jan knew that the old easy, straightforward life was over. Unconsciously she stiffened her back and squared her shoulders, and looked very tall and straight as she stood beside Peter Ledgard in the entrance. The pretty colour he had admired when he met her had faded from her cheeks, and the face under the shady hat looked grave and older.Peter said something to the smiling lift-man in an extremely dirty dhoti who stood salaaming in the entrance."I won't come up now," he said to Jan. "Please tell Mrs. Tancred I'll look in about tea-time."As Jan entered the lift and vanished from his sight, Peter reflected, "So that's the much-talked-of Jan! Well, I'm not surprised Fay wanted her."The lift stopped. An elderly white-clad butler stood salaaming at an open door, and Jan followed him.A few steps through a rather narrow passage and she was in a large light room opening on to a verandah, and in the centre stood her sister Fay, with outstretched arms.A pathetic, inarticulate, worn and faded Fay: her pretty freshness dimmed. A Fay with dark circles round her hollow eyes and all the living light gone from her abundant fair hair. It was as though her face was covered by an impalpable grey mask.There was no doubt about it. Fay looked desperately ill. Ill in a way not to be accounted for by her condition.Clinging together they sat down on an immense sofa, exchanging trivial question and answer as to the matters ordinary happy folk discuss when they first meet after a long absence. Jan asked for the children, who had not yet returned from their early morning walk with the ayah. Fay asked about the voyage and friends at home, and told Jan she had got dreadfully grey; then kissed her and leant against her just as she used to do when they were both children and she needed comfort.Jan said nothing to Fay about her looks, and neither of them so much as mentioned Hugo Tancred. But Jan felt a wild desire to get away by herself and cry and cry over this sad wraith of the young sister whose serene and happy beauty had been the family pride.And yet she was so essentially the same Fay, tender and loving and inconsequent, and full of pretty cares for Jan's comfort.The dining-room was behind the sitting-room, with only a curtain between, and as they sat at breakfast Fay was so eager Jan should eat—she ate nothing herself—so anxious lest she should not like the Indian food, that poor Jan, with a lump in her throat that choked her at every morsel, forced down the carefully thought-out breakfast and meekly accepted everything presented by the grey-haired turbaned butler who bent over her paternally and offered every dish much as one would tempt a shy child with some amusing toy.Presently Fay took her to see her room, large, bare and airy, with little furniture save the bed with its clean white mosquito curtains placed under the electric fan in the centre of the ceiling. Outside the window was a narrow balcony, and Jan went there at once to look out; and though her heart was so heavy she was fain to exclaim joyfully at the beauty of the view.Right opposite, across Back Bay, lay the wooded villa-crowned slopes of Malabar Hill, flung like a garland on the bosom of a sea deeply blue and smiling, smooth as a lake, while below her lay the pageant of the street, with its ever-changing panorama of vivid life. The whole so brilliant, so various, so wholly unlike any beautiful place she had ever seen before that, artist's daughter she was, she cried eagerly to Fay, "Oh, come and look! Did you ever see anything so lovely? How Dad would have rejoiced in this!"Fay followed slowly: "I thought you'd like it," she said, evidently pleased by Jan's enthusiasm, "that's why I gave you this room. Look, Jan! There are the children coming, those two over by the band-stand. They see us. Do wave to them."The children were still a long way off. Jan could only see an ayah in her white draperies pushing a little go-cart with a child in it, and a small boy trotting by her side, but she waved as she was bidden.The room had evidently at one time been used as a nursery, for inside the stone balustrade was a high trellis of wood. Jan and Fay were both tall women, but even on them the guarding trellis came right up to their shoulders. Neither of them could really lean over, though Fay tried, in her eagerness to attract the attention of the little group. Jan watched her sister's face and again felt that cruel constriction of the throat that holds back tears. Fay's tired eyes were so sad, so out of keeping with the cheerful movement of her hand, so shadowed by some knowledge she could not share."You mustn't stand here without a hat," she said, turning to go in. "The sun is getting hot. You must get a topee this afternoon. Peter will take you and help to choose it.""Couldn't you come, if we took a little carriage? Does driving tire you when it's cool?" Jan asked as she followed her sister back into the room."I never go out," Fay said decidedly. "I never shall again ... I mean," she added, "till it's all over. I couldn't bear it just now—I might meet someone I know.""But, Fay, it's very bad for you to be always indoors. Surely, in the early morning or the evening—you'll come out then?"Fay shook her head. "Peter has taken me out in the motor once or twice at night—but I don't really like it. It makes me so dreadfully tired. Don't worry me about that, Jan. I get plenty of air in the verandah. It's just as pretty there as in your balcony, and we can have comfortable chairs. Let's go there now. You shall go out as much as you like. I'll send Lalkhan with you, or Ayah and the children; and Peter will take you about all he can—he promised he would. Don't think I want to be selfish and keep you here with me all the time."The flat, weak voice, so nervous, so terrified lest her stronger sister should force her to some course of action she dreaded, went to Jan's heart."My dear," she said gently, "I haven't come here to rush about. I've come to be with you. We'll do exactly what you like best."Fay clung to her again and whispered, "Later on you'll understand better—I'll be able to tell you things, and perhaps you'll understand ... though I'm not sure—you're not weak like me, you'd never go under ... you'd always fight...."There was a pattering of small feet in the passage. Little high voices called for "Mummy," and the children came in.Tony, a grave-eyed, pale-faced child of five, came forward instantly, with his hand held out far in front of him. Jan, who loved little children, knew in a minute that he was afraid she would kiss him; so she shook hands with gentlemanly stiffness. Little Fay, on the contrary, ran forward, held up her arms "to be taken" and her adorably pretty little face to be kissed. She was startlingly like her mother at the same age, with bobbing curls of feathery gold, beseeching blue eyes and a complexion delicately coloured as the pearly pink lining of certain shells. She was, moreover, chubby, sturdy and robust—quite unlike Tony, who looked nervous, bleached and delicate.Tony went and leant against his mother, regarding Jan and his small sister with dubious, questioning eyes.Presently he remarked, "I wish she hadn't come.""Oh, Tony," Fay exclaimed reproachfully, "you must both love Auntie Jan very dearly. She has come such a long way to be good to us all.""I wish she hadn't," Tony persisted."I sall love Auntie Dzan," Fay remarked, virtuously.It was pleasant to be cuddled by this friendly baby, and Jan laid her cheek against the fluffy golden head; but all the time she was watching Tony. He reminded her of someone, and she couldn't think who. He maintained his aloof and unfriendly attitude till Ayah came to take the children to their second breakfast. Little Fay, however, refused to budge, and when the meekly salaaming ayah attempted to take her, made her strong little body stiff, and screamed vigorously, clinging so firmly to her aunt that Jan had herself to carry the obstreperous baby to the nursery, where she left her lying on the floor, still yelling with all the strength of her evidently healthy lungs.When Jan returned, rather dishevelled—for her niece had seized a handful of her hair in the final struggle not to be put down—Fay said almost complacently, "You see, the dear little soul took a fancy to you at once. Tony is much more reserved and not nearly so friendly. He's very Scotch, is Tony.""He does what he's told, anyway.""Oh, not always," Fay said reassuringly, "only when he doesn't mind doing it. They've both got very strong wills.""So have I," said Jan.Fay sighed. "It was time you came to keep them in order. I can't."This was evident, for Fay had not attempted to interfere with her daughter beyond saying, "I expect she's hungry, that's why she's so fretty, poor dear."That afternoon Peter went to the flat and was shown as usual into the sitting-room.Jan and the children were in the verandah, all with their backs to the room, and did not notice his entrance as Jan was singing nursery-rhymes. Fay sat on her knee, cuddled close as though there were no such thing as tempers in the world. Tony sat on a little chair at her side, not very near, but still near enough to manifest a more friendly spirit than in the morning. Peter waited in the background while the song went on.I saw a ship a-sailing, a-sailing on the sea,And it was full of pretty things for Tony, Fay and me.There was sugar in the cabin and kisses in the hold——"Whose kisses?" Tony asked suspiciously."Mummy's kisses, of course," said Jan."Why doesn't it say so, then?" Tony demanded."Mummy's kisses in the hold," Jan sang obediently—The sails were made of silk and the masts were made of gold.Gold, gold, the masts were made of gold."What nelse?" Fay asked before Jan could start the second verse.There were four-and-twenty sailors a-skipping on the deck,And they were little white mice with rings about their neck.The captain was a duck, with a jacket on his back,And when the ship began to sail, the captain cried, "Quack! Quack!Quack! Quack!" The captain cried, "Quack! Quack!""What nelse?" Fay asked again."There isn't any nelse, that's all.""Adain," said Fay."Praps," Tony said thoughtfully, "there was some auntie's kisses in that hold ... just a few....""I'm sure there were," said a new voice, and Peter appeared on the verandah.The children greeted him with effusion, and when he sat down Tony sat on his knee. He was never assailed by fears lest Peter should want to kiss him. Peter was not that sort."Sing nunner song," little Fay commanded."Not now," Jan said; "we've got a visitor and must talk to him.""Sing nunner song," little Fay repeated firmly, just as though she had not heard."Not now; some other time," Jan said with equal firmness."Mack!" said the baby, and suited the action to the word by dealing her aunt a good hard smack on the arm."You mustn't do that," said Jan; "it's not kind.""Mack, mack, mack," in crescendo with accompanying blows.Jan caught the little hand, while Peter and Tony, interested spectators, said nothing. She held it firmly. "Listen, little Fay," she said, very gently. "If you do that again I shall take you to Ayah in the nursery. Just once again, and you go."Jan loosed the little hand, and instantly it dealt her a resounding slap on the cheek.It is of no avail to kick and scream and wriggle in the arms of a strong, decided young aunt. For the second time that day, a vociferously struggling baby was borne back to the nursery.As the yells died away in the distance, Tony turned right round on Peter's knee and faced him: "She does what she says," he remarked in an awestruck whisper."And a jolly good thing too," answered Peter.When Jan came back she brought her sister with her. Lalkhan brought tea, and Tony went with him quite meekly to the nursery. They heard him chattering to Lalkhan in Hindustani as they went along the passage.Fay looked a thought less haggard than in the morning. She had slept after tiffin; the fact that her sister was actually in the bungalow had a calming effect upon her. She was quite cheerful and full of plans for Jan's amusement; plans in which, of course, she proposed to take no part herself. Jan listened in considerable dismay to arrangements which appeared to her to make enormous inroads into Peter Ledgard's leisure hours. He and his motor seemed to be quite at Fay's disposal, and Jan found the situation both bewildering and embarrassing."What a nuisance for him," she reflected, "to have a young woman thrust upon him in this fashion. It won't do to upset Fay, but I must tell him at the first opportunity that none of these projects hold good."Directly tea was over Fay almost hustled them out to go and buy a topee for Jan, and suggested that, having accomplished this, they should look in at the Yacht Club for an hour, "because it was band-night," and Jan would like the Yacht Club lawn, with the sea and the boats and all the cheerful people.As the car slid into the crowded traffic of the Esplanade Road, Peter pointed to a large building on the left, saying, "There's the Army and Navy Stores, quite close to you, you see. You can always get anything you want there. I'll give you my number ... not that it matters.""I've belonged for years to the one at home," said Jan, "and I understand the same number will do."She felt she really could not be beholden to this strange young man for everything, even a Stores number; and that she had better make the situation clear at once that she had come to take care of Fay and not to be an additional anxiety to him. At that moment she felt almost jealous of Peter. Fay seemed to turn to him for everything.When they reached the shop where topees were to be got, she heard a familiar, booming voice. Had she been alone she would certainly have turned and fled, deferring her purchase till Sir Langham Sykes had concluded his, but she could hardly explain her rather complicated reasons to Peter, who told the Eurasian assistant to bring topees for her inspection.Jan tried vainly to efface herself behind a tailor's dummy, but her back was reflected in the very mirror which also reproduced Sir Langham in the act of trying on a khaki-coloured topee. He saw her and at once hurried in her direction, exclaiming:"Ah, Miss Ross, run to earth! You slipped off this morning without bidding me good-bye, and I've been wonderin' all day where we should meet. Now let me advise you about your topee. I'll choose it for you, then you can't go wrong. Get a large one, mind, or the back of your nice little neck will be burnt the colour of the toast they gave us on the Carnduff—shockin' toast, wasn't it? No, not that shape, idiot ... unless you're goin' to ride, are you? If so, you must have one of each—a large one, I said—what the devil's the use of that? You must wear it well on your head, mind; you can't show much of that pretty grey hair that puzzled us all so—eh, w'at?"Jan had been white enough as she entered the shop, for she was beginning to feel quite amazingly tired; but now the face under the overshadowing topee was crimson and she was hopelessly confused and helpless in the overpowering of Sir Langham, who, when he could for a moment detach his mind from Jan, looked with considerable curiosity at Peter.Peter stood there silent, aloof, detached; and he appeared quite cool. Jan felt the atmosphere to be almost insufferably close, and heaved a sigh of gratitude when he suddenly turned on an electric fan above her head."I think this will do," she said, in a faint voice to the assistant, though the crinkly green lining round the crown seemed searing her very brain.Peter intervened, asking: "Is it comfortable? No ..." as she took it off. "I can see it isn't. It has marked your forehead already. Don't be in a hurry. They'll probably need to alter the lining. Some women have it taken out altogether. Pins keep it on all right."Thus encouraged, she tried on others, and all the time Sir Langham held forth at the top of his voice, interrupting his announcement that he was dining at Government House that very night to swear at the assistant when he brought topees that did not fit, and giving his opinion of her appearance with the utmost frankness, till Jan found one that seemed rather less uncomfortable than the rest. Then in desperation she introduced Sir Langham to Peter."Your sister-in-law looks a bit tucked up," he remarked affably. "We'd better take her to the Yacht Club and give her a peg—she seems to feel the heat."Jan cast one despairing, imploring glance at Peter, who rose to the occasion nobly."You're quite right," he said. "This place is infernally stuffy. Come on. They know where to send it. Good afternoon sir," and before she realised what had happened Peter seized her by the arm and swept her out of the shop and into the front seat of the car, stepped over her and himself took the steering-wheel.While Sir Langham's voice bayed forth a mixture of expostulation and assignation at the Yacht Club later on."Now where shall we go?" asked Peter.