BY CHRISTINE WESTON
“I was born in a small civil station called Unao, in the United Provinces of India,” writes Christine Weston. “My father was of French extraction, my mother English. Both families had been in India for several generations— my father’s family as indigo planters, my mother’s in the Army. My father was for almost thirty years an officer in the Imperial Police; later he retired from service, went to England, and came back to practice as a barrister until he died in 1921.
“We were a large family and grew up in a happy state of anarchy spoiled by occasional bouts of schooling in England and the Indian Hills. I do not now remember the things that I may have learned in school, but I have forgotten few other details of my life in India and during brief visits to England. We enjoyed an extraordinary degree of freedom, went everywhere, road anything. At the age of eight my passion for literature was impartially divided between Shakespeare, on the one hand, and my father’s collection of Famous English Trials, on the other.
“Our winters were spent on the Plains, our summers in the Hills. It was a prolonged and inexhaustible adventure, one which I would not have exchanged for any other nor would my brothers. We got along well with Indians of all castes and creeds because my father’s profession as well as his sympathies brought us all into unusually close communion. But we lived very simply riding, hunting, walking in the most beautiful country imaginable, the lower Himalayas. We absorbed sights and sounds, thoughts and ideas, through our pores, but the most important thing was om love for a land which we regarded as home, and for the natives of that land.
“In 1923 I married Robert Weston, an American from Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1924 we came to the United States, and since then have lived in Maine. “ Indigo is my first novel about India, and it is written out of great love and great hope.”
by CHRISTINE WESTON
IT WAS afternoon and they were watering the garden; the smell of water among the flowers reached Jacques de St. Remy where he stood at his bedroom door, lazily allowing himself to be dressed. The smell of water feeding the February roses was a familiar smell; it never failed to move Jacques, to rouse in him something like memory-something, perhaps, even older than memory. He was fourteen years old, and for fourteen years this fragrance had come up from the garden into his body, stirring a precious disquiet.
“Lift thy foot,” said Hanif sharply. He knelt before Jacques, tieing the laces of the boy’s white buckskin shoes. “The other one — place it here, on my knee.”
Jacques laid his hand on Hanif’s head for support, but he did not take his gaze from the garden. It lay in a haze of sunlight and dust, among twittering leaves, in odors of flowers and moisture. Beyond a boundary of cactus and lantana bushes rose the dark mass of the mango grove, and beyond that stretched the bare fields which in two months would grow to indigo. The vats and huts and boiler rooms of his mother’s factory lay out of sight beyond the mango trees, but as Jacques listened he could hear, above the nearer creak of a well-wheel and the voice of the gardeners, a distant hum and stir, an ionization of sound.
Jacques’s dreaming gaze drifted slowly to the young man who knelt at his feet. Hanif was twenty, slender, and in his way beautiful. A velvet cap embroidered in silver set off his curled, oiled, jetblack hair; he wore a velvet, waistcoat over a snowy kurtha, and his long legs were hidden in immaculate white pantaloons. Hanif was a dandy who spent all his wages on clothes, when he did not expend them on luxuries less innocent.
“This cap,” murmured Jacques. “ Makes seven at least. There is the red one and the purple one and the pearl-gray one, and — ”
Hanif gently replaced the box’s foot on the ground and rose, settling the velvet cap at an angle above his black velvet exes. “It was bought in honor of your birthday. Am I to proceed about my duties looking no better than a chamar, or am I to appear decently clad in your mother’s sight?”
Jacques countered obliquely: ” Where is the butterfly you promised me?”
Hanif removed the cap and from its perfumed interior plucked forth a battered white object which he laid on the dressing table.
“That!” exclaimed Jacques, scornfully.
“I chased it a mile. I was exhausted. I ran and I ran.”
“ You ran! The only time I saw you run was when the buck goat chased you.”
Hanif retorted with an unquotable jest on the character of buck goats; then gravity descended on him once more. “Your hair, my child!
Jacques regarded himself in the mirror. His own face always interested him, for it appeared always as the face of a stranger. All that one sees of oneself is the body, never anything else of oneself-never one’s mind, never one’s heart, never one’s soul. He had in the past discussed this with his friend Hardyal, but they had never arrived at any satisfactory explanation.
“My father,” said Hardyal, “is an unusual man. He is not orthodox. Nor does he believe in the soul as Father Sebastien believes, or as Madame de St. Remy believes.” At this point he had looked inquiringly at Jacques, who replied at once: ‘ Or as I believe.”
“My father has made his disbelief quite clear to me,” said Hardyal. “He is happy that I should share it.”
This disbelief did not trouble Jacques very much. Nothing about Hardyal troubled him except an occasional swiftly discarded fear that some day, somehow, they might lose sight of each other.
“Stand still,” said Hanif. “You cannot appear thus before the photographer.”
“Hanif, must I be photographed every year?”
The house was filled with delicate comings and goings of bare feet on China matting, and with the music of innumerable bead curtains. Jacques heard the familiar sound of Father Sebastien’s arrival and saw the priest’s fat pony led away to the stables. He knew that all yesterday Junab Ali, the cook, had been busily concocting Father Sebastien’s favorite potted meat. In a few hours, thought Jacques, this day will have ended like all the days I can remember. When the light fades, flying foxes will flap across the garden to roost in the tamarinds behind the servants’ quarters; and from all over the plain, dust from homeward moving feet will rise into the air.
In an hour the guests would arrive: Mr. Wall the Civil Engineer, Dr. and Mrs. Brown, Hardyal, and the Railway Inspector’s two dull little girls. Perhaps they would all bring presents, reflected Jacques, brightening. But except for Hardyal he didn’t care whether they came or not. His elders — with one exception — displeased him. They questioned, they pried, they were indefatigably stupid. Remembrance of the exception brought a thrill of excitement, and pain; he wandered across the room to his collection of butterflies. In their cork-lined case under heavy glass they looked like a jeweler’s window, and for several minutes he stared at the great Cat’s Eye moth Mrs. Lyttleton had given him.
Hardyal, Mrs. Lyttleton! Why — why, since he loved them equally, had he not been allowed to invite Mrs. Lyttleton this afternoon? Jacques understood that his mother did not like Mrs. Lyttleton, but his understanding stopped there. It confused him to know that he was not to be friends with Mrs. Lyttleton — outwardly, frankly friends. It was impossible for him to question other people, for he guessed that understanding is not attained by the answers people give us — nor, always, by the answers which we give ourselves.
Wheels ground up the long avenues of shisham and he saw an ekka jerk to a stop, its starved and sorrowful pony hanging its head to the ground. A shrill duet started up between the driver and his passenger, and Jacques began to laugh. Hanif joined him and they watched in delight as Mr. Boodrie, his mother’s foreman who was an amateur photographer, dismounted from the ekka. In his anxiety to unload his camera and its apparatus safely he had managed to entangle himself in the black cloth; blind and frustrated, he groped about under it while the wallah sat callously grinning.
Jacques said hopefully: “I hope it all goes to smithereens!”
Mockingly, Hanif laid his hand on the boy’s neck. “No running off. No climbing trees. Come.”
In a corner of the verandah overlooking her rose garden Madame de St. Remy sat talking with her old friend and confessor, Father Sebastien Fleury. Ten years before, Father Sebastien had acquired Auguste de St. Remy’s taste for Trichinopoly cigars, and Madame obtained them for him regularly, a hundred at a time, long after her husband’s death. Father Sebastien smoked one of these now while he listened to her clear, quick voice.
“I think Ganpat Rai is mistaken to put so much faith in Mr. Wall.”
“The English have a quality of maggots. They possess. They devour. I do not mean to be uncharitable, but it is the truth.
The priest, who liked Mr. Wall, smiled deprecatingly. “Your judgment is rather harsh, my child.”
She shrugged. “I know them so well! It is Wall who persuaded Ganpat Rai to send Hardyal to England.”
In her swift, unrepenting judgments Madame could not afford to be wrong; mere mistakes and shortcomings were reserved for God, via the accommodating ears of Father Sebastien. But God and His vicar knew her to be chaste and honorable, a devoted mother, loyal to her traditions and bedded in her faith.
When Auguste de St. Remy died suddenly of a cancer in his throat, leaving her two children and his indigo, Madame’s genius for management and enterprise emerged to astonish her confessor and all her friends. The indigo industry was beginning to waver under the threat of German coal-tar inventions. But to Madame it seemed inconceivable that anything so ancient and well-established as indigo should lose its market.
But Madame learned from the misfortunes of her fellow planters, many of whom were Indians. The flexibility of the European, decided Madame, is what makes for his success against the native. She observed that, by accident or design, dye was frequently adulterated during the drying process. She observed, also, the waste and tedium of old methods, and two years after Auguste’s death she imported machinery from England and built a new factory, with a steam plant for the tanks, and power for stirring and pumping.
She bought up the pulse and millet fields of her neighbors and put them to indigo, and she remembered the old cry of the peasants: If you sign an indigo contract you won’t be free for seven generations! It was an echo from the days when men inherited their fathers’ and their grandfathers’ debts. Madame wrote a new contract, by which she bought, not their product, but their labor. Under her genius the factory prospered, and five years after Auguste’s death she was rich enough to build a little church for Father Sebastien, and a year later a school for his Indian converts. Ah! If Auguste could have lived!
In France, mislaid among her own kind, Madame might not have stood a fair chance, but in India it was different. Indians were impressed by greatness, nurtured on arrogance; India was a vast theater for the struggle of the Church — and of Madame— against the usurping Bloomsbury British. And when she spoke of the British, Madame used the word sinistre, and the word formidable-French sibilance and ominous vowels!
Father Sebastien gathered his long black rosary and the white cords of his cassock into his lap. “ True, Jacques is fond of Hardyal. Perhaps, then, it is just as well Hardyal is going away.”
“Jacques is too much inclined to these attachments. His innocence betrays him.”
The priest raised his brows.
“Jacques, Father, is innocent in the sense that he never seems to learn where his best interests lie. He even likes Mr. Wall!”
“Wall seems harmless enough.”
“ I had hoped that we might, ourselves, have exerted some influence on Hardyal. I had hoped that through his friendship with Jacques—
She left the sentence unfinished, and Father Sebastien took bis cigar from his mouth and regarded the perfect ash with admiring attention. He murmured: “Hardyal’s father is a recreant Brahmin. It is hardly likely—”
“They are determined, between them, to send him to England and turn him into one of themselves a sahib!" She laughed her delicate, stabbing laughter, and Father Sebastien frowned.
After a brief pause he said gently: “We must not forget that there is a ruling power in this country. It is part of our own power. It is our protection, too. We must not forget that.”
She hesitated. “I have no intention of forgetting it. Nothing would please me better than that Jacques might grow up to become lieutenant governor of the Province.”
The priest laughed. “Ah, Madame!”
Madame stared into her garden, where the most fragile of her roses had shed their petals under the day’s heat. She said, “To return to Mr. Wall: you understand that I am not inspired by rancor. But I mistrust his intentions. You know as well as I that the most insignificant Englishman never loses sight of his object, which is the extension and preservation of the Empire. They never submerge their identity. Our genius, in that regard, is far superior to theirs. But the English will not even learn to speak another language properly. They actually pride themselves on their incapacities! Have you ever heard Mr. Wall trying to speak French?”
“Yet he has taught Hardyal to speak excellent English,”remarked the priest, mischievously.
“Yes—and boxing, and cricket!”
“ This question of race, Madame — how then do you account for a woman like Mrs. Lyttleton?”
Madame de St. Remy’s hands moved nervously in her lap. “When I say that the English are sinister, I am thinking specifically of Mrs. Lyttleton.”
“I am not obliged to invite her into my house.”
“But who has suggested that you should?”
Madame’s reply was a minor psychic explosion: “Jacques! ”
He turned slowly to look at her. “Jacques?”
Madame’s voice surrendered something of its control to her long pent-up agitation. “Yesterday there was a scene. I asked Jacques whom, besides Hardyal, he would like to invite here for tea. I realize that Amritpore has little to offer in the way of companionship. And you know-for his age— how serious he is, how discriminating. It is not natural in a child-this quality, this capacity, for love, for friendship.”
Madame continued: “What was I to think when my son looked into my exes and said, ’Mrs. Lyttleton ‘ ?”
Madame went on. “You know that I have remonstrated with him about running over there as he does behind my back. I have warned Hanif to see to it, but Hanif is lazy, he forgets — and I have an idea that because of his devotion to Jacques he might even connive.”
“Then you should dismiss Hanif.”
“It would accomplish nothing. Jacques can turn any servant round his little finger.”
Father Sebastien chewed heavily on his cigar. “You believe that he cares so much for her?”
She forced herself to say it: “Yes.”
He said with sudden decision, “ We can cope with her, but Jacques is a child. It would be fatal for him to come under her influence.”
“As his father did,” murmured Madame de St. Remy with stinging bitterness.
A tremor passed over her body —a small earthquake which left her, for a moment, quite spent. Presently she said in a calmer voice: “In a little while Hardyal will have gone and Jacques will feel himself deserted. Though he does not confide in me, though he tries to exclude me from his thoughts, I can read them. But what is one to do? Until he is older and stronger I must keep him with me. But when Hardyal has gone—”
The priest tossed his dead cigar into the garden. “Perhaps it would be better, then, if we were to do what I once suggested. Send him to Douai for his education.”
She made a protesting gesture. “Not yet, Father. When he is older, or when I have taught myself to bear the thought of parting with him!”
Father Sebastien started to say something, but he was interrupted by the appearance of the infuriated Eurasian foreman-photographer.
“Madame de St. Remy! Will you please come to assist me in taking Jacques’s photo! I have tried and tried. He will not stand still. He will not do one single thing which I ask. He falls down. He crosses his eyes. He laughs. Hanif laughs. Junab Ali comes all the way from the cookhouse to laugh. They all laugh. Madame! Father!
Madame rose, and together she and Father Sebastien followed Mr. Boodrie into the house.
The guests assembled on a verandah which faced the great pipal tree in the center of the lawn. They sat in cane chairs and sipped tea and nibbled sandwiches and almond paste and plum cake and petits fours. Madame had taught her Mohammedan cook something the art of trench pastry, but how he did it in an unventilated kitchen, over a reeking charcoal stove, in a black hole of an oven, remained a mystery bordering on the miraculous.
Everyone talked in English, but the voices of the do St. Remys were distinguished by a quirk of accent which lent their English and even their Hindustani a separate character. Father Sebastien sat at Madame’s right and was waited upon meticulously by Hanif, who plied him with tea and his favorite potted meat. Mr. Wall, the Civil Engineer, sprawled in his chair-always at ease; always, like most Englishmen, taking up as much room as he possibly could.
Dr. Brown and his wife were a kind and prosaic pair washed out after five summers on the Plains. Their children wore at school in England, and something wistful and sweet crept in and out of Mrs. Brown’s eyes when she heard Jacques break into sudden laughter. At other times her gaze rested wonderingly on Madame de St. Remy. A remarkable woman, reflected Mrs. Brown, without envy.
Indigo was planted in March and harvested in June when the heat was at its worse. She had seen Madame, under an enormous mushroom of a hat, supervising the carting of the green crop by bullock cart to factory; she knew that Madame spent hours in the blanching heat, that she left very little to the discretion of her foreman and her workers. When the drying and pressing of the dye were finished, Madame rushed to the Hills for a brief respite, but in August she was back for the second crop. How did she manage it, without breaking down? Dr. Brown thought he had the answer. “Ambition, my dear — ambition !”
The Railway Inspector’s two little girls had arrived escorted by a tyrannical servant, and they now sat huddled together, all dressed up in impossible bows and furbelows, and munched silently. Jacques attended to them with a stiff, drilled politeness, but he was sick at heart. Hardyal had not come. What could have happened? Perhaps it was just that Hardyal had misunderstood the timeperhaps even the date. But that was not like Hardyal, who never misunderstood and never forgot anything in his life. At any rate he ought to have sent word, declared Madame de St. Remy, and to this everyone agreed.
“Perhaps the little devil ran off to the bazaar, suggested Wall.
“Hardyal’s father,” said Madame, “does not permit him to frequent bazaars. The family is exceedingly superior.”
Hanif, demure in his finery, handed round plates of pastry and pink toffee. In passing through Madame’s dressing room on his way to the verandah he had paused long enough to anoint himself with her Eau de Cologne.
One of the Railway Inspector’s little girls suddenly shrilled: “There was a accident today at the Junction. My father said.”
“ What sort of accident?" asked Jacques, reviving momentarily.
“A awful accident. A woman threw herself under the train and it cut her up into mince. My father said. ”
“Potted meat, don’t you know,” said Wall. Everyone except the Browns laughed heartily, and the little girl, overcome by success, retreated into another trance.
Hanif passed the toffee and the sandwiches and the petits fours and the Napoleons. He passed cigars to the gentlemen. Evening sank towards the garden, sifting the glare of the sky. To take his mind off Hardyal, Jacques began to think about his presents. They had been, on the whole, disappointing. Father Sebastien had given him a scapular; his mother’s gift was a prayer book and a new suit. It was left to Wall’s irrelevant genius to provide the freshest note of all — a beautiful little riding crop topped with silver. Even while Madame de St. Remy thanked him she was annoyed that she had not thought of this herself, for it was impossible to ignore Jacques’s sudden dazzling smile.
Jacques saw a phaeton drawn by a bay horse come down the drive, with Hardyal’s green-coated coachman riding high, and relief and joy surged over him. The phaeton stopped under the distant trees and they saw Hardyal alight. He was perhaps six months older than Jacques, but stronger and not much taller. Like the others, he had assumed especial finery in honor of the occasion, and now he came towards them in his while dhoti and goldbordered shirt, an embroidered cap on his shaven head and crimson slippers on his feet. Behind him walked a servant carrying a flat basket filled with fruit and flowers, globes of sugar spun on a thread, little boxes of white Persian grapes nestling in cotton wool, and a dish filled with Jacques’s favorite sweets—the rich, melting, sugar-powdered gulab jamuns of which he sometimes dreamed.
All whiteness and brownness and lightness and brightness, Hardyal approached, and Jacques ran down the steps to meet him. Then they walked side by side to the tea party, and Hardyal paused long enough to discard his shoes before the lowest step. He was bcautifully poised as he salaamed the company with both hands, and Madame de St. Remy thought, with regret : What a pity he is not a Christian! And Mr. Wall reflected complacently: How well the English training stands out!
Next day a light shower drifted across the plain, darkening its glare and laying the dust for an hour. Mr. Wall, riding home from an inspection of the new government canal, turned in through the gateless pillars of Mrs. Lyttleton’s compound and trotted up a grass-grown drive between flower beds turned to jungle. In Amritpore allusions to Mrs. Lyttleton usually centered on one of three adjectives: Extraordinary, Eccentric, or Impossible.
These might with equal validity have applied to her house, a magnificent sandstone affair acquired for a song and a touch of blackmail from its original owner, Maharaj Chanda Lal, a noble cutthroat deposed by the English more than forty years ago. General Lyttleton had supplemented its exquisite proportions with bathrooms, gunrooms, pantries, and an aviary. When he died his wife buried him near the loquat trees in the northwest corner of the garden, beside his infant daughter and his three favorite dogs.
As Wall dismounted under the porte-cochere a slovenly servant appeared and led away his horse. He went up the sandstone steps into an enormous verandah crammed with furniture in varying stages of dilapidation. From the walls an assortment of stuffed heads stared down at him; oakum and cotton wool oozed from their rotting seams, here and there a glass eye drooped in its socket.
As Wall came up the steps an Indian in European clothes rose from a settee. “Oh hello, Wall!”
“Ganpat Rai, how are you ? ”
As Wall sat down and stared round him at the transmogrified menagerie, a resigned and timehonored moan escaped him: “Lord!”
Ganpat Rai, the barrister, smiled, “Cheer up! Yesterday the water buffalo’s head fell down — and burst.”
Mrs. Lyttleton emerged from the house and greeted her visitors. “How kind of you to come! Has that lazy swine offered you anything to drink?” Without waiting for an answer she lifted her voice in a piercing cry: “Jalal!”
The men had risen, and waited until she was seated. She smiled at the barrister. “Well?”
There was an expression of restrained triumph on his dark, intelligent face. “In the case of Naiko versus Empress, judgment was delivered in favor of my client.”
“Ah! Congratulations. And you?” She turned to Wall. “What have you been doing?”
‘Sweating, said Wall. He stretched his legs. “Sweating, and dreaming of the long, cold, delectable brandy peg which awaited me here.”
“Jalal! ' yelled Mrs. Lyttleton again. “Jalal!”
He appeared, running. “Brandy,” said Mrs. Lyttleton, glaring at him. “In the cut-glass decanter on the sideboard. The square decanter, you unspeakable oaf, not the round one. And water. And the cigarettes which are beside my bed. And hasten lest death overtake you suddenly.” She sat back with a sigh. “Opium,” she murmured. “I’m sure of it. You can see it in his eyes. But what can I do?”
“ Kick him out,” suggested Wall.
“ His grandfather served my father. How could I kick him out ? ”
Mrs. Lyttleton had lived in India most of her life. Now, at seventy, she was shrunken and brittle; the blood had thinned in her veins, but it had never soured. Because she had never fought India, India had preserved her from much of the bitterness of exile and the contradictions of the usurper.
In her old age she felt more comfortable in native dress, and kept better health by eating native food, and was happier because she could speak their language as well as she spoke her own. No wonder that there were in Amritpore people who considered her eccentric and-by their standards-impossible. She had been altogether too high-spirited to escape slander, but she was fond of remarking that, whereas in her youth she had resented the stories which were told about her, now she rather enjoyed them.
Mrs. Lyttleton would have been the last to deny that she had always liked men and that she preferred warriors to all others. If beauty had vanished, her high spirits died hard. And she missed people. She missed the excitement and heroism of days when Amritpore had been a garrison and the sentry boxes at the Fort housed soldiers instead of bats.
Ganpat Rai had known her and loved her for twenty years; she was the only white woman with whom he felt at ease, although there were occasions, even now, when her directness disconcerted him. He cherished a sincere admiration for the English and wanted his son to grow up as nearly like an Englishman as it was possible, but he had yet to realize that the English are a race of contradictory elements, profoundly, even tragically, paradoxical. Ganpat Rai found it difficult to believe that Mrs. Lyttleton and Mr. Wall belonged to the same race
But age and climate had tired her bodily; she cared very little now for her garden or for her magnificent rooms, through whose lonely reaches she wandered by herself, shriveled in her voluminous petticoats and flowered kurthas, tinkling and twinkling in her priceless jewels at all hours of the day and night, attended by a retinue of dogs and cats and tame squirrels and the canaries which flew loose through the house. In addition to her pension Mrs. Lyttleton enjoyed the revenue from several villages which bordered the estates of Madame de St. Remy, and which Madame would like to own if Mrs. Lyttleton were not so perversely obdurate about selling. Mrs. Lyttleton’s villagers trespassed on the indigo fields of Madame; they stole her mangoes and threw their dead grandmothers into her wells to save funeral expenses. Mrs. Lyttleton, bored and lonely, derived a certain zest from this situation.
Jalal appeared with a tray, and Wall drew a deep breath of pleasure.
“This is better-much better-than yesterday.”
“Yesterday?” She refused the brandy but selected one of her Egyptian cigarettes.
“I went to a birthday party,” explained Wall. “Jacques de St. Remy is fourteen years old.”
“Charming,” murmured Ganpat Rai. He, too, refused the brandy but accepted a cigarette. “Charming, that Jacques.”
“Poor little Jacques,” said Mrs. Lyttleton.
Her face had a gentle, bemused look. " I find that if I don’t see him every few days, I miss him. The thought of him haunts me. It haunts this house, which goodness knows is haunted enough already!”
Ganpat Rai nodded. “ That is how Hardyal feels. They will miss each other.”
“Perhaps I shall gain by Hardyal’s going. Perhaps then Jacques will come to see me more often.”
Wall laughed. ” Do you know, I believe you are in love with him!”
“ Why not?”
“But what about Madame de St. Remy?”
Mrs. Lyttleton studied the great diamonds on her hands. “It is a case of history repeating itself, isn’t it? Madame never has abandoned the suspicion that I might at one time or another have tried to seduce her husband.”
“ Well, and did you?”
“Auguste de St. Remy was twenty years younger than I! ”
“And like the rest of us, he loved to come here and talk and listen-in the long afternoons during the rains.”The barrister smiled at her. “For you are always gay, always kind, always understanding. With you, we are free to speak our hearts. It is natural that women should be jealous of you.”
Wall was a little put out by this fervor, and by the flush which it brought to Mrs. Lyttleton s unregenerate cheek.
“Well, perhaps Madame is a bit of a stick.” “She’s a fool,” said Mrs. Lyttleton, abruptly. Ganpat Rai observed with an air of detachment: “It is odd, is it not, that Madame employs servants who are not Christian?”
Mrs. Lyttleton’s annoyance dissolved in sudden laughter. “ I hear that she once engaged a Christian butler, but he disappeared with all the teaspoons! She turned to Wall. “I wish that you could use your influence to have Jacques sent to England with Hardyal.”
” My dear lady, I have no influence with Madame de St. Remy!”
“With Father Sobastien, perhaps?”
“Hardly! He wants to send Jacques to some big French college—Douai, I believe.
She made a gesture of despair. “Yes, yes! They’ll send him away to be educated among all those twittering priests, I know! She brooded a moment. “I believe in a secular education. After all,”she glanced at Ganpat Rai, “what is possible for a Brahmin should be possible for a Catholic.”
The barrister leaned forward eagerly. “ You must remember that I am not orthodox, and that Catholicism is not an exclusive educational system as Brahminism is.”
She brushed this aside with a wave of her diamonds. “What has all that mumbo jumbo to do with governing India?”
“Perhaps everything,” said Ganpat Rai, softly. It was during these conversations that pride in his own achievement rose to comfort him. Enlightened though he was, modern, a skeptic, he had his dark hours of doubt—even of terror. Enlightenment! A lasting civilization must come from the West, and the East must go to meet it. Religion was the great stumblingblock, as it had always been. Three hundred years ago Akbar put his finger on the same problem and tried to solve it by forging Hinduism, Mohammedanism, and Christianity into one. In despair he concocted a new faith —and died its only convert.
“Perhaps — ” said Ganpat Rai, smiling, “perhaps Jacques and Hardyal will provide a solution.”
Mrs. Lyttleton stirred restlessly. “They are not fighters. They are too gentle. And in the meantime they must go away.” She looked at Wall. “And you, too, will go away. India is a place of goodbyes.”
He shrugged. “Of course, one goes home.”
There was a brief silence, then Mrs. Lyttleton threw off her gloom and turned gayly to the barrister. “Now tell us,” said she, “tell us all about the case of Naiko versus Empress!”
Jacques awoke in the cocoon-pallor of his mosquito net and saw the stars framed in the upper half of the Dutch doors. It was still night, and a mosquito had awakened him, but he guessed from the color of the sky that it would soon be morning. He could hear jackals crying on the plains, and smiled when he remembered Hanif’s interpretation of their refrain: —
Ya-hahn, ya-hahn, ya-hahn!
Here, here, here!
Jacques pictured the gaunt shapes skulking outside sleeping villages or nosing among the pyres beside the river. Mr. Wall and Dr. Brown had promised to take him on a jackal hunt; this meant riding them down with hog spears and a pack of dogs. Perhaps Hardyal would come, though he disliked killing things.
Jacques thought of Hardyal; then, more fully awake, he thought of Father Sebastien, who had talked to him for a long time after arithmetic yesterday. Queer that all he should be able to remember now was the exact sound of Father Sebastien’s voice, and nothing else. Jacques clasped his hands behind his head and stared into the gloom of the mosquito net; he liked sleeping in a net, which made him feel mysterious, like a little spider. It brought him the same sense of inscrutability which he had attained by accident a year ago when he discovered that he was never, actually, obliged to answer a question.
That had been a thrilling and incommunicable experience, one which even now he didn’t, quite understand. His mother had taxed him with some minor wrongdoing: confused, he engaged in a private summing up of fact and circumstance, but Madame misinterpreted his silence; she expostulated, then broke into recriminations. Jacques’s silence held, it took root, it grew; he found himself contemplating it with a sort of impersonal wonder.
The same thing happened yesterday with Father Sebastien. Jacques could not remember the question which brought on his own sudden refusal — for that was what it amounted to: a conscious, deliberate refusal to commit himself. The question was not important—it was just one of those small prying remarks to which Father Sebastien was sometimes given. He had repeated it in the form of a query; then, arrested by a new quality in Jacques, he had made the question direct and unequivocal. Jacques stood there, silent, listening to an inward paean: Even if they were to light fires on my stomach, I wouldn’t answer!
“This,” said Father Sebastien, slowly, “is insolence, my son.”
The question and its possible answer hung in the distance like a fading mirage; to Jacques, whatever was important, whatever was immediate, centered on what was taking place inside him.
“We will come back to this,” said Father Sebastien, “ another time.”
Jacques knew that they would come back to it; not his weakness but his strength would set his fate in motion, forcing those who controlled it to take steps. In the meantime Father Sebastien’s voice continued in the distance; it went on and on like the hum of a mosquito, and Jacques’s eyes closed. When he opened them again he knew that it was time for him to get up.
The dawn was just emerging and a ribbon of color rested on the garden as Jacques hurried across the compound to the servants’ quarters and the stables, He led his horse into the open; it whickered and laid back its ears as he slid the bridle over its head and eased the bit between its soft lips. Hardyal appeared, cantering along the turf which edged the drive. He had exchanged his gold and muslin, his heelless crimson slippers, for English boots and breeches and a cork helmet.
The Fort, their favorite objective, lay five miles away in a bend of the Gogra River. The earth flew behind them, and with a sudden tremendous clatter three peafowl rose and clambered into the air, the cock’s tail streaming like fire.
They went thrumming across the plain, then allowed their quieted beasts to settle into a more decorous gait. In half an hour they were walking knee to knee and the first ray of light made the world familiar; it struck their faces and glittered on the chains and buckles of their harness, and brought forth, unaccountably, from nowhere, shivering halfclad figures of myth and testament. White bullocks swished their tails beside a well, a child salaamed: “ Maharaj ! ”
Women who wore repairing the little canals which fed the plain rested their glass-bangled arms and smiled, younger ones instinctively drawing headcloths over their eyes. Others stood motionless to watch the glittering riders, as their predecessors had stood for a thousand years. “Maharaj, salaam!”
The boys waved and rode on.
The Fort was built of unbaked brick, crumbling everywhere but still impressively crenelated and massive above its shallow moat. The boys rode across a hollow-sounding bridge and under the portcullis, to an inner quadrangle broken into doorless rooms and quarters. The sun had risen, and under it the Fort lay deserted and silent. Here, at the time of the battle of Plassey, nearly a century and a half before, Mahrattas under their French officers had lost to the English.
They hitched their horses to a thorn tree and wandered across the courtyard to a ruined stair which led to a favorite sentry box. It faced southwest towards the river glittering a quarter of a mile away. Below them, unbelievably green and formal under the stunted acacia trees, lay the moat where a child was grazing his flock of goats; their bleatings mingled with a murmur of doves.
The boys sat on a crumbling balustrade beside the sentry box. The sun was not yet too hot for them to remove their hats; Jacques’s hair stuck to his temples, then a breeze came and dried it and it moved in brown tendrils on his head. “Next year we shall come here for my birthday. You and I and Mr. Wall and Mrs. Lyttleton, your father, Maman —”
Hardyal’s eyes had a heavy look. “First, a whole year must pass.” He was in an odd mood, and added irrelevantly: “Do you remember the day we saw a cobra shikaring a dove down there in the moat ? ”
“I remember. Hanif threw stones at it.”
“And last year when Father took us to see the Magh Mela at Allahabad?”
“Yes,” said Jacques, looking at him. Hardyal’s shaven head glistened in the sunlight, and his straight dark brows were drawn in a frown.
“I remember how you wanted to bathe in the Jumna with all the others, but Hanif would not let you. I remember—” He broke off, the frown melting into his flesh, becoming lost in it. “I remember a day when you brought me a beautiful soap-box fora present. When I opened it a thousand enormous grasshoppers flew out and went jumping all over the room.”
Jacques threw back his head and laughed. “I remember how your father chased them with his shoe!”
Hardyal went on: “And in the evening we went to Mrs. Lyttleton’s and she told us about the Mutiny, and about how, on certain days in broad sunlight, guns are heard here in the Fort. I remember so much. I remember everything.”
Something stirred in Jacques and suddenly he did not want to look at Hardyal. Instead he bent to examine a small funnel-shaped contrivance in the dust beside him. It was the circumference of a man’s thumb, and of finest sand. At its steeply sloping end something minute and alive and deadly lay hidden. He captured an ant and rolled it down into the funnel; at once there followed a microscopic upheaval as a pair of tiny fangs appeared, and the lion ant seized the bait and snuggled with it out of sight.
“I must tell you,” Hardyal said. “Father said I should not, because he promised Madame—”
Jacques sat motionless, seeing nothing. Hardyal went on in a thick voice: “I am to go to England, very soon. Perhaps in a week. They made me promise not to tell you because Madame feared you would be upset. I shall spend the summer with Mr. Wall’s people in Sussex, then I shall go to school, and after that to Oxford.”
Jacques fed another victim to the lion ant.
Suddenly Hardyal broke down. “ Hum nahi jana mungtha! I do not want to go.”
I shall remember this, thought Jacques. I shall forget nothing, nothing, least of all that cry: I do not want to go! And suddenly everything that was familiar to him rushed away and stood at a distance, and he saw that a corner of his life was completed. Hardyal was his earliest friend; he had even been permitted to sleep in Hardyal’s house, and waking in the morning Hardyal had brought him a dish of ripe figs, cool and shining with dew. That, too, he would remember. And the gallops across country to the Fort, and the games of tennis and cricket on Mr. Wall’s lawn, and the forbidden visits to Mrs. Lyttleton, and wild ekka rides through the bazaar with Hanif driving at a crazy speed and Hardyal and himself hysterical with laughter.
He would remember all this, and the summer when they had not gone to the Hills and the loo had blown red and scorching across the plains, while they played chess in the drawing room and took turns yelling at the punkah coolie to pull harder, harder, on the great frilled fan over their heads. He would remember that summer when it break came in the rains and millions of tiny red velvet spiders appeared from nowhere, and all the frogs in creation chanted together: Port, port, port! White wine, white wine, white wine! Sherry, sherry, sherry!
Something positive would end with Hardyal’s going, and characteristically Jacques’s imagination forged ahead, and he saw himself deserted, everything he knew made poignant by this absence. Loneliness would be his window into death.
They rose at last and Hardyal whispered: “Do not mention that I wept.”
“No,” said Jacques. “No, never.”
Madame de St. Remy drove briskly over the short dusty distance to the factory, which stood in a large mud-leeped compound bordered by trees. On cool days Madame transacted much of her business in their shade, on an elevated structure called a chabutra. The process of hiring, of dismissing, paying off, and making cash advances to her laborers sometimes consumed several days and invariably left her with a splitting headache.
She might have spared herself by delegating authority to her foreman, but it was against her principles to trust a subordinate any further than she could help. She had learned through experience the character of all subordinates — a character derived from the nature of the country itself, from its core, which is inexhaustible poverty.
Madame was aware that when her workmen were paid Mr. Boodrie exacted his commission - a percentage which bought or preserved his good-will. And after Boodrie loomed the figure of Ramdatta, the Marwari moneylender without whom no one could hope to survive, since there never was a wage which, of itself, did more than keep breath in one’s body. Madame knew the Marwari well, and rather liked him. He was not really a villain-he was part of India, its fifth limb. Not for nothing do her gods and goddesses boast a plethora of arms and legs: to endure, one must, sprout desperate tentacles.
Ramdatta was a big, suave man of some sophistication. He reminded Madame of Frenchmen she had known at home, for he was, in fact, thoroughly bourgeois. So was his history. Orphaned at fourteen, penniless, Ramdatta left his village and disappeared in the general direction of Bombay and its cotton mills. There among the gins and shuttles he worked as a sweetmeat vendor and somehow managed to save money. Naturally, inevitably, he slipped into the role of usurer.
Gradually Ramdatta acquired his neighbors’ fields and their flocks, even their homes. He was industrious. He loomed. A fine gloss appeared on his skin, and dimples of benevolence at the corners of his full, childish lips. He cherished a great admiration for Madame tie St. Remy. He longed to lend her money, to install himself in her good graces; for like all upstarts when a certain opulence is reached, he now craved prestige.
This morning a big table was set on the factory chabutra under the trees. Madame seated herself, and one of the factory servants held her parasol over her head. Beside Madame stood Mr. Boodrie, the foreman and spare-time photographer, arranging and rearranging ledgers and dispatch cases and big braided sacks filled with rupees. Near-by, relaxed but watchful, lounged two big Sikhs, the factory policemen, wearing Madame’s livery.
Mr. Boodrie spilled the coins from their braided sacks and arranged them in symmetrical lowers the length of the table. The towers varied in height, and behind the first row stood another, of smaller structure—the lesser coin of annas and pies. Everybody’s glance — except Madainc’s-flickered like bees over this metal architecture. Brooding, speculative, wistful, their glances computed the number of rupees, annas, and pies in each lower, but the total remained a cloudy dream which had little relation to individual lives — wealth beyond computation, beyond imagination.
They gathered — men, women, and children barefooted, raising a ritualistic dust to the sound of glass and silver ornaments, their clothing splashed with the olive and orange and the final beautiful blue stain of indigo. They arranged themselves in a vast semicircle before Madame’s table, and there they squatted, coughing in a subdued way, murmuring, exchanging glances and small signals of expectancy, complacence, or despair. Some of the women had brought their babies, and in this array of white and blue the spleeny stomachs of these little creatures stood out like overripe fruit; their great eyes opened like wet, black flowers, but they were easily hushed.
Madame de St. Remy took her spectacles from their red velvet case and drew a ledger towards her. Mr. Boodrie tilted his helmet back from his forehead, revealing a greasy curl or two, and the people massed in the dust before him swayed as though an identical wind had moved them; the faint sound of the movement rose to meet a whisper of leaves and a murmur of green pigeons high up among the branches.
Mr. Boodrie consulted his roster. “Mirban!”
A tall, gray-haired man rose and advanced to the chabutra. Mr. Boodrie frowned over his roster once more, then deftly sliced the top off one of the pyramids of rupees and counted them into Mirban’s outstretched hand. Mirban, too, counted them — counted them with aching attention, as though he might by sheer excess of hope multiply their number into a sum adequate to his limitless burden. Of the ten silver coins which Boodrie handed him, one would go back to Boodrie, who had engineered the advance; five would go to Ramdatta, a fleabite on the mortgage which the moneylender held on his millet field, and the remaining four rupees must buy food for himself, his wife, his mother, his two sons — and his bullocks. And when the advance was used up Mirban must work for a month for nothing, unless Mr. Boodrie could be persuaded to procure a further advance — for a commission, this time, of rupees two.
A gentle scuffle ensued, followed by a woman’s reassuring voice.
“Adira Bhai!" cried Mr. Boodrie again, impatiently. A little boy crept from the protective mass, and one of the Sikh policemen volunteered in his deep voice: “Adira is ill. This is her son.”
Madame de St. Remy’s glance, brown and kindly, rested on the child. “Can you be trusted to take your mother’s money?”
“Hold up your head — the Mem-sahib doesn’t eat children!” said the policeman encouragingly.
Boodrie frowned. “He is young and very ignorant. Perhaps—”
“Not too young or too ignorant to find his way home to his own mother,”interrupted the policeman, sardonic in his black beard.
“What is your name, little one?" inquired Madame. He reminded her distantly of Jacques, and as her son’s face rose before her Madame de St. Remy picked up Adira Bhai’s little slice of rupees and held them out to the child.
He raised his head and gave her a single desperate glance, then took the money and bolted back to the safety of the crowd. Madame smiled and an answering smile, a single effulgence, lighted the semicircle of dark attentive faces.
Suddenly a red-eyed, pockmarked Mohammedan wearing a cast-off English jacket and a dirty turban rose and thrust himself towards the chabutra. He began to talk in a high, agitated voice, when Boodrie cut him short.
“Hakim Ali, you are dismissed. It is of no use for you to keep coming back. Now go!”
“My wages!” shouted Hakim Ali. “I am owed seven rupees and eight annas in arrears.”
“You are not owed a single damnable cowrie! Go. Depart.”
Sudden murder stood out in Hakim Ali’s face, but before he could move, a lathi blow caught him behind the shoulders, and he staggered. The Sikhs closed in on him, and he was shoved and hoisted across the compound and flung through the gates into the road. The crowd watched passively. Two or three laughed.
Mr. Boodrie pushed his hat forward, obscuring the curls.
It would go on all morning, and through the afternoon; it would go on through the next day. Small lines would grave themselves on Madame’s features and her attention would seem to wander. Then from a reservoir which remained a mystery to the people who knew her would spring a sort of determination, a sort of strength — and the business would go forward unflagging, relentless, expert.
When Jacques was eighteen she would make him her assistant manager, and when he was twenty she could at last sit back and let him take the reins. It would be sweet to watch him grow and increase, to train him and, in the end, lean on him.
Perhaps if he showed signs of missing Hardyal too much she would send Jacques to the Hills a little earlier this year. She might go with him for a week. When Madame thought of Jacques’s future she saw the circumstances and surroundings as remaining unchanged, remaining steady, herself still young and in full possession, while round his head flowed all the blessings and all the banners.
“ Behari Lal! You are fined fourteen annas and six pies for permitting water to drip on a seed sack. Behari Lal!”
Mrs. Lyttleton listened to the drums. The procession had just passed and she watched it from her gate—the gilt and paper tazias carried high on men’s shoulders, long columns of boys and men beating their breasts and shouting the martyred names in perfect, passionate rhythm: “Hasan! Hosain! Hasan! Hosain!” The festival of Mohurrum always moved her strangely, stirring as it did the very air to violence. She knew that all over Amritpore the police wore anxiously watching the Hindu population. Just let the procession approach too close to a Hindu temple or let a Hindu pipe break out in shrill competition with the Muslim drums, and you had the makings of a battle royal.
Well, thought Mrs. Lyttleton impatiently, let them have their fight and be done with it. Then she smiled at her own reasoning: as though men were ever done with lighting! Of the twenty-six wars fought in India by the English she could remember seven, in four of which her husband had participated. However, she was convinced that an occasional brisk little war was far healthier than the dry scab of bureaucracy imposed on the raw stuff of passion.
In the end, these people know more about selfdiscipline than we can ever hope to teach them. Let any white man attempt the Fast of Ramadan! Let him win — for a day to the contemplative ecstasy of the humblest saddhu! Mrs. Lyttleton brooded contemptuously on the frightened precautions of the local police led by a single harassed Englishman. If we’re going to be conquerors, then let us be conquerors, thought Mrs. Lyttleton, hearing the drums throbbing in her heart.
She settled hersell in her accustomed chair with last week’s newspaper and a greyhound puppy in her lap. The front page carried a report of a case argued by Ganpat Rai before the High Court at Allahabad, and presently she put the paper down and fell to thinking of the gentle, intelligent barrister and of his family. She had gone yesterday to call on Ganpat Rai’s mother, and the old lady had entertained her with garrulous accounts of the family history, of pilgrimages and sacrifices, and with new, elaborate plans for the betrothal of Hardyal.
Mrs. Lyttleton had protested. “ But he is a child! He is not yet fourteen!”
Vijay a Bhai, squatting cross-legged on her redenameled bedstead surrounded by sisters and nieces and poor relations, shook all her silver earrings in a turmoil of negation. ”I was betrothed when I was five, and my son when he was ten!”
Later when Ganpat Rai walked with her across the garden to her carriage, he said, “My mother is preparing endless puja for the purification of Hardyal when he returns. To please her I have gone twice to the temple to offer prayers. I have given a thousand rupees to our family priest, for sacrifice and gifts to the poor.”
Mrs. Lyttleton laughed, remembering his reputation as a hardheaded and brilliant lawyer.
“You think it is fantastic, and so it is. She is determined that Hardyal must marry as soon as he returns from England.”
“It sounds almost as silly as if one were to insist on a marriage for Jacques de St. Remy.”
He nodded. “I tried to explain to my mother. I tried — oh, not once, but many, many times — but naturally, such reasoning is beyond her.”
Ganpat Rai clasped and unclasped his mild brown hands. “It is very difficult, as you can see. I feel alone in the midst, of my family, for they are all against me. Even my brothers disapprove, though they must see, as I do, that our world will not be the same twenty years from now! I want to free Hardyal from the shackles of the past - to free him as utterly as lies in my power - in order to prepare him for the future. For his future.”
He looked at her with deep, kind eyes. “You have always been our friend and you love Hardyal. In my position, what would you do?”
She hesitated, remembering the women back there in the house — those doting, ambitious women with their frantic clinging to the past. Then she nodded decisively. “I would let Hardyal remain in England, Ganpat Rai. For two years at least.”
The sound of the drums receded and Mrs. Lyttleton was on the point of dropping off to sleep when she heard, in the road beyond the gate, a musical double-note of a carriage bell. She opened her eyes in time to see Madame de St. Remy’s phaeton wheel between the gateposts and come bowling up the weedy driveway.
Mrs. Lyttleton rose, instinctively smoothing her gown and shaking clown her numerous bangles and bracelets. Her mind became a riot of conjecture: communication between herself and Madame de St. Remy had been conducted by channels as devious as Mrs. Lyttleton, with a perverse sense of mischief, could possibly devise. For twenty years she and Madame had neither spoken nor set foot in each other’s house. What, now, could be the purpose of this extraordinary visit?
The phaeton drew up under the porte-cochere and Mrs. Lyttleton heard Madame tell the coachman to wait. Then Madame alighted, elegantly gowned in black, her white sun-hat draped in the finest crepe. “Concierge!” thought Mrs. Lyttleton, grimly conscious of her own bizarre petticoats and bare feet thrust into down-at-heel native slippers.
There was a flush on the cheeks of both women when they confronted each other across the crumbling chairs and settees.
“Madame de St. Remy, this is a great surprise — a great honor!”
Madame bowed, then stood with her gloved hands clasping the gold knob of her parasol. Twenty years of hostility divided them: only a triviality could bridge that abyss, and Mrs. Lyttleton supplied it. “Won’t you sit down? I’d offer you tea, but my servants have all gone off to the Mohurrum.”
Madame selected the least ramshackle chair and slowly removed her tight kidskin gloves. Her brown eyes missed no detail of her surroundings, as she thought with mingled disgust and relief: Just as shoddy as I expected it would be! And to think that this dreadful old wretch —
Mrs. Lyttleton settled herself in her chair and primly arranged her skirts. “You just missed the procession. Do you suppose we shall have the usual row ?”
“If we do, it will probably be the fault of the police. They are always looking for trouble, Mohurrum or no Mohurrum.”
“Ah yes, divide et impera! But tell me, is that chair really comfortable?”
Madame brought her gaze to rest on her old rival. “You must wonder why I am here. Perhaps it would be as well if I came straight to the point.”
Mrs. Lyttleton shook her head energetically. “I’m delighted that you are here. I love visitors, and I’ve hardly set eyes on another woman since Mrs. Brown went back to England.”
There was a slight pause. Mrs. Lyttleton was thinking: She’s lost all her looks; she used to be very pretty in her sharp little French way. Now, I wonder what in the devil she’s after?
Madame was reflecting: She’s as dry and yellow as an old tarantula. What can Jacques find in her? What did Auguste find?
“Will you have a cigarette?” asked Mrs. Lyttleton, opening the box of Egyptians on a table beside her. Madame declined with a stony glance, and Mrs. Lyttleton selected a cigarette for herself, her rings giving off a minor conflagration. No doubt, thought Madame bitterly, all her lovers kept her in jewels.
“I came,” she began presently, “to ask whether you would consider selling the doab lands alongside the river. Perhaps I should have written to you about this, but I was given to understand that you never answer letters!”
“On the contrary, I carry on a voluminous correspondence. For instance, I had - just before you came — just finished writing a long letter to Hardyal. Did you know that his father wants him to go into the Indian Civil Service? My own feeling is that the army is the place for young men. But then I’m prejudiced, naturally.”
“Naturally,” agreed Madame. She took a deep breath. “But to return to the matter of the doab.”
“You intend to put more land to indigo?”
“To what else?" Madame’s voice was crisp. “Last year was most successful. This year should be even better, in which case I hope very much that I shall be able to send Jacques home next year.”
“ Home, Madame?”
“To France. He should have a few years of travel before he comes into the factory with me.”
Their thoughts moved between them, subtle, inimical. Mrs. Lyttleton continued: “It’s funny that you should ask me about the doab. I had a call a few days ago from that rascal Ramdatta. He wanted it himself, to buy or lease. I have my suspicions of him, however.”
“Suspicions?” echoed Madame.
“He has more land than he knows what to do with. I think he is acting as go-between for one of his shady friends. He has many! Perhaps it is one of those big landowners from Lucknow, and they can easily afford to pay more than they offer.”
Madame stared at her hands. It was at her instigation that Ramdatta had approached Mrs. Lyttleton, on the understanding that the land would be resold or subleased to Madame herself. Mrs. Lyttleton continued lightheartedly. “He’s clever, Ramdatta. Nevertheless I told him to go to Jehannum! ”
“Then,” said Madame coldly, “we come back to my question: Will you sell to me?”
Mrs. Lyttleton’s eyes, as hard and blue as prisms, met hers. “Yes, Madame. At a price.”
Madame de St. Remy named it without hesitation, aware that Ramdatta had offered less.
“ I was not thinking of money, Madame.”
“I was thinking of Jacques.”
The name exploded between them like a rocket. “Jacques?” Madame had flushed deeply. “What has Jacques to do with this?”
“Much. Shall we be clear with one another, Madame-just for once?”
“Mrs. Lyttleton, I have come to discuss the sale of land — a purely business transaction.”
“We shall leave it on that basis, but first let us discuss something which lies near both our hearts.”
Madame sat motionless, and Mrs. Lyttleton continued: “I am old and lonely, Madame, with not much to lose, now. You know something of my history, and I know something of yours. Whatever I once had and loved lies buried — over there.” She nodded towards the garden, but Madame did not turn her head, nor did her eyes waver.
Mrs. Lyttleton continued in a more controlled voice: “I know you have always disliked me, even hated me, and I can guess why. Slanderous absurdities are bound to accumulate round a woman as unconventional as I, and women as conventional as you are bound to believe them. I don’t care. I never have cared, much. As I just said, I am old and feel that I have little to lose. However, that little matters to me considerably.”
The greyhound puppy returned, and clambered into her lap.
“Madame, I love Jacques. I love him as old, doting, lonely women love—” she laughed faintly — “as they love the promise of eternal life.”
Her voice had taken on a new strength, but Madame de St. Remy sat like a stone.
“Can I make you see what I mean? I know what you’re thinking — that I’m incorrigible, that I’ve had lovers, and that the taste for love hasn’t died in me as it should have died years ago. Well, you’re right—it hasn’t died. It will die when my body dies, not before.
“Jacques some day will be a man, and I love that promise in him. Have you ever asked yourself what that child can see in a desiccated old woman like me? Ah, you have — you’re asking it this moment! Well, he sees in me the equivalent of what I see in him: qualities which men and women desire in each other — forgiveness, variety, passion, and humor. Ah Madame, those were lessons you never troubled to learn. Please don’t go, yet. I’ve been dying to say these things to you — hoping for an opportunity which I never dreamed you would give me!”
Madame, who had half risen, sank back in her chair. “You are very eloquent,” she said drily. “But I still fail to see what Jacques has to do with the business that brought me here.”
“Then I’ll tell you. If you will give Jacques permission to visit my house whenever he likes, without hindrance and without stealth, I will sell you that doab at your own price.”
Madame looked at her with detestation. “May I now speak my mind? I, too, am glad of the opportunity. You and I have misunderstood each other too long. Years ago, Mrs. Lyttleton, when I came to Amritpore as a bride, young and innocent and in love with my husband, you lost no time in trying to deprive me of his love. No, please do not interrupt. I was in a strange land, among strange people. I felt desperately alone. Auguste was all I had in the world, all I cared for. Please let me finish!
” You won Auguste away from his work, from his home, from me. You taught him to come to you with all his difficulties and his disappointments. What could you give him that I could not? Shall I tell you? It is very simple — every courtesan in every land understands the formula. You provided Auguste with opportunities for vice — and vice, naturally, is not an asset which even libertines knowingly relish in their own wives! But 1 could forgive him, and you, had it not been for something far greater, far more terrible.” Her eyes burned upon Mrs. Lyttleton. “There is something neither God nor I will ever forgive. You destroyed Auguste’s faith, his belief. Your influence was so strong that even when he was dying he refused the sacraments.”
Her voice seemed to splinter, to fall everywhere in shrill fragments. Mrs. Lyttleton sat in astounded silence.
Then Madame de St. Remy rose, collecting her parasol and gloves. As swiftly as she had lost her self-control she now regained it.
“And you have the insolence to demand my son’s friendship!”
Mrs. Lyttleton lifted herself rather stiffly to her feet. She was divided between mirth and fury, but before she could find words to conclude the interview Madame turned and faced her once more.
“I know very well that Jacques has come to see you, often, during these winter holidays. But he will not come again. He returns to the Hills in a few weeks.”
The corrugated tin on the station roof cracked from accumulated heat, and a variety of smells and sounds rose from the population on the platform. Hardyal stood beside his father; his heart was beating with such violence that he feared it must burst, but all that appeared on the surface was a fixed smile and great tears which kept rising and subsiding. Ganpat Rai would accompany him to Calcutta and there he would he placed in the care of friends taking the same steamer to England.
“You will like Colombo,” Mr. Wall had told him encouragingly. “The Galle Face, where a brown sea rolls up the beach. And when you pass the island of Socotra think of the Arab pirates who still prey on coastal shipping. You’ll go up the Red Sea into Suez, you’ll look at the Mediterranean and the Straits of Messina with the land olive-green in the morning, and Naples—”
The train was gorging and disgorging passengers and freight in an intense, panic-stricken activity directed by a fat white station master and his thin black assistant. Water carriers and food vendors sloped through the crowd, their voices rising in the peculiar cries of another species. Hardyal remembered with a flash of agony the farewell to his grandmother, who, now that the inevitable had arrived, had no tears left. She caressed his face with her dry jeweled hands and stared at him with unbelieving eyes. “I am old. I shall not see thee again.” He fell that she was dying in his arms, this old familiar woman who had nurtured him and raised him all the years of his life. One by one the servants came and fell at his feet. How mysterious was the departure of this son of the house!
Now a great inhalation passed through the train and it gave an epileptic jerk, inciting a frenzy among the passengers not yet aboard. Howls and struggles ensued, but calmed again under a renewed snore from the slumbering locomotive.
Hardyal stared past the end of the train to a tossing gray-green of trees. Beyond them lies Amritpore and everything I know, he thought.
The crowd near him parted and he saw Mrs. Lyttleton and Mr. Wall and his father’s friend, Abdul Salim, coming towards him, wearing determined smiles and waving gayly. He felt his father’s instant, responsive pleasure: How good of these friends, how thoughtful, what an honor!
But where was Jacques?
Mrs. Lyttleton put her arm around Hardyal. “Don’t dare to cry, for if you do I shall, and that would disgrace me in the eyes of the world!”
He looked at her with the irrepressible interest she always excited. “Why should it disgrace you?”
“ Because for your sake I put rouge on my cheeks, and tears would make it run.”
Mr. Wall thrust a package under Hardyal’s arm. “Something for the journey. You must write me news of my family. Make them take you to see Arundel Castle when the daffodils are out. Just think, I shall see them all myself in two years!”
Abdul Salim was smiling at Hardyal. “You are fortunate.”
Where, where was Jacques?
Mrs. Lyttleton tightened her grasp on his shoulders. “He will come. He would never let you go without saying good-bye.”
Ganpat Rai interposed. “Madame de St. Remy sent me a chit this morning, saying that perhaps it would be better if Jacques did not come, since the farewell might upset him and Hardyal. Hardyal knows this. It is silly for him to expect. —”
“Madame de St. Remy is wrong,” said Mrs. Lyttleton in sudden rage. She looked down at Hardyal. “ I know how Jacques will feel about this. Can I give him a message, Hardyal?”
He tried to think of something to say, but his head and his heart were in confusion. Ganpat Rai and Abdul Salim were talking in hurried undertones about some case; Mr. Wall, dreading a scene, lighted a cigarette. Only Mrs. Lyttleton, then, really cared.
A great shudder ran through the train, a flexing of all its iron muscles, and with a despairing howl the crowd surged towards it.
“Tell him —” whispered Hardyal. Suddenly he clung to Mrs. Lyttleton.
“Come,”said Ganpat Rai. Their luggage and their servant were already installed in a carriage which they would share with a venerable Hindu gentleman on his way through Amritpore to Calcutta. For the past few minutes this pundit had leaned on his window watching the little scene. He was touched to observe the happy mingling of English and Indians, though he was far too much of a philosopher and skeptic to put much faith in its significance.
“Good-bye, old chap!”
“ Salaam aliekum! ”
“ Aliekum, salaam!”
The sound of a whistle tore the moment into shreds as the train began to move. Those who were not going fell back and watched the great thing crawl over the rails and steady into its meshed and intricate flight. A cry rose from it, flung from its harsh throat upward into the teeming Indian air, into the sun and the sky, a strange, a perpetually disturbing and incomprehensible message.
The thread which tied their awareness to Hardyal, and his to them, stretched, thinned, and snapped in the final glitter of the vanished train.
(To be continued)
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