Chapter VIII

The Heart of an English Girl

Mrs. Waring was not holding a reception this suffocating evening. She always found the hot season very trying to her nerves, and feeling unequal to the strain of entertaining her friends she had sent out cards cancelling the function. Looking more fragile than ever, she was lying on a couch within range of the current of air created by the punkah; but the relief afforded by the cumbrous apparatus did not suffice, and Ruth in a bamboo rocking-chair was fanning the lady’s sallow face.

“That’ll do, dear,” said she in a querulous tone. “The constant movement of your fan makes me quite giddy. I wish I could go to sleep, but with the punkah’s horrid creak, creak, it’s impossible.”

Ruth, without a word, closed the fan, and sat swaying herself gently. She was used to Mrs. Waring’s attacks of “vapours.” Fifteen years ago Mrs. Waring, then Miss Bosanquet, was the beauty of Allahabad, where at that time Colonel Waring was stationed. She had come out from England to marry, and she succeeded in capturing the Colonel. He was five-and-twenty years older than she, but disparity in age is no obstacle in India to marriage. Mrs. Waring’s beauty was not of the type which wears well, and there was now not much left of the good looks which made her the belle of the station.

“I’m half sorry I put off those people,” she went on after a pause. “Excitement always does me good. I feel horribly washed out. I want a change badly. I shall talk to the Colonel about going to the Hills. Being so near the Ganges makes Cawnpore frightfully enervating and unhealthy. Besides, the place is fearfully monotonous. I suppose the men don’t feel it as we do. They’ve plenty of occupation, what with their duties and their racing, pig-sticking, billiards, cards, and all that sort of thing. But even they must get tired of doing practically nothing, and I’m not surprised that some of them drink and gamble.”

“It’s a great pity,” said Ruth absently. She was not particularly interested in what Mrs. Waring was saying. She had heard the lady express much the same sentiments many times before. Besides, her thoughts were thousands of miles away​—​in England.

“By the way, talking of men who drink and gamble,” went on Mrs. Waring, with a little more animation, “have you heard that Captain Kendrick has made it up with his father?”

“Has he?” rejoined the girl in the same abstracted way.

“Yes. It’s said Kendrick’s turned over a new leaf. It’s very wise of him. Sir Oliver Kendrick’s a millionaire, and if he behaves himself, Howard will come into all his father’s money. The best thing he can do is to marry and settle down. Have you ever thought about him, Ruth?”

“In what way?”

“My dear,” exclaimed Mrs. Waring pettishly, “there’s only one way a woman in India ever thinks about a man​—​as a possible husband; that is if he’s free to marry?”

“I’m an exception to the rule, I suppose. It’s never occurred to me to think about men in that light.”

“Girls always talk like that, of course. What I should be glad to know from you, is what other prospects you have other than marrying?”

Ruth could make no reply to this vital question. She knew very well that the small sum left her by her father had been dipped into pretty freely by the expenses of her education in England. The remainder would last but a very few years. Colonel Waring was thinking of retiring and leaving India. She could hardly expect to burden herself upon him then.

Matchmaking was Mrs. Waring’s delight, and she really wanted to see Ruth marry well. She showed her interest in the subject by a little energy. She shifted her position, and, leaning on her elbow, she looked searchingly at the girl.

“I’ve reason to know that a very slight encouragement from you would bring a proposal from Captain Kendrick,” said she smilingly.

“If it depends upon me, he’ll never have that encouragement,” said Ruth hastily. “I don’t want to marry a drunkard and a gambler. Didn’t you yourself, not so very long ago, warn me against him?”

“Oh, that was when he had quarrelled with his father, and his prospects were worth nothing at all. It’s quite different now. He can’t be so bad, as some make out, because the instant he received a remittance from Sir Oliver​—​as a sort of sign, I suppose, that peace was proclaimed​—​he set about paying his debts. A reformed rake, you know, often makes the best husband.”

“And the task of reformation generally falls to the lot of the wife. No, thank you. I don’t care to undertake such a responsibility.”

“Really your notions, Ruth, are ridiculous,” retorted Mrs. Waring, a little angrily. “The love of a good wife alone has its effect.”

“I don’t deny it, but——”

Ruth finished the sentence with a shrug of her round shoulders. The impatient gesture had its meaning, which the experienced lady on the couch had no difficulty in interpreting correctly.

“I hope you’re not going to be silly. If you throw yourself away on some penniless young man, you’ll speedily repent it. To begin with, you’ll spoil his chances of promotion. Married men in the army without means are frightfully handicapped. I suppose your head’s full of Lieutenant Heron——”

“Oh, Mrs. Waring,” interrupted Ruth, her cheeks scarlet. “You’ve no right to say such a thing. Mr. Heron is nothing to me.”

“I’m very glad to hear it. He seems to be on the downward path, if all’s true that’s said about him. You remember what Captain Kendrick told us​—​that affair at the Nana’s, I mean.”

“Of course I remember, and I thought Captain Kendrick showed very bad taste in telling tales against a comrade,” cried Ruth indignantly. “I’ve no doubt Howard Kendrick was as bad as​—​as​—​Mr. Heron. Perhaps worse.”

“That’s nothing to do with it; besides, there’s a great difference between the two. Howard Kendrick’s the son of a wealthy man, and young Heron has little more than his pay. What is a trifle to one who’s rich is often very awkward and damaging to one who’s not. Captain Kendrick may have exaggerated, but it’s clear his story had some foundation. Lieutenant Heron’s illness looks very queer. It’s rumoured that he got into some disgraceful squabble, and brought the attack upon himself. But we needn’t waste time over young Heron. I want you to think seriously about your own position. It would be nice if something could be settled before I went away. You understand what I mean, don’t you?”

Ruth understood perfectly well. She had been painfully conscious for some time past that Mrs. Waring regarded her with unfavourable eyes, and for more than one reason. The principal perhaps was that her youth, beauty, and freshness made the Colonel’s wife look older and more faded. Naturally men were attracted by Ruth, and Mrs. Waring no longer held undisputed sway in her little court. Then there was the evident partiality the Colonel showed towards the daughter of his old comrade. It might be going too far to say that his wife was jealous of the girl, but she certainly did not like her husband spending so much money on Ruth’s dress and finery. It was also clear that when Colonel Waring retired on his pension, he would have to be economical, and the lady considered that any spare cash he had should be hers. Probably most married ladies would support these views.

Ruth would have been blind and deaf not to be perfectly aware of Mrs. Waring’s growing hostility towards her, for the lady did not often let slip an opportunity of making known her sentiments. Moreover, it was perfectly clear to the girl that her only chance of independence was in marriage. She had had two offers since she had been in Cawnpore from men holding good positions in the Civil Service, and had refused both. Half a dozen officers of various ranks were ready to fall in love with her, but she kept them at arm’s length. So far as the impecunious ones were concerned, Mrs. Waring had been exceedingly helpful. The lady knew how to deal with would-be suitors who were ineligible.

As Mrs. Waring said, it was all-important that the question of her future should be settled. Had she had friends in England, Ruth might have solved the difficulty by returning to the old country. But she knew very few people​—​Amy Heron perhaps was the one of all her English friends with whom she had most acquaintance. She certainly liked Amy best, but she had a reason for not seeking Amy’s assistance, and that reason was not wholly unconnected with her abstraction of mind a few minutes before.

When Ruth blushed at the mention of Dick Heron’s name, it was not on account of Dick, but of his brother Philip. Phil had, without knowing it, won her heart. She had woven many a web of girlish fancy about the handsome hussar, who was doubly interesting to her, by reason of his share in the famous Balaclava charge, and the wound he had received. Perhaps it was because she knew how futile were those fancies, that she thought the more about him. Her love belonged purely to her imagination, but it was none the less sweet and enduring on that account.

So it came about that when she met Dick Heron she was drawn towards him for his brother’s sake. She liked Dick immensely, but directly the impulsive lad showed symptoms of a feeling stronger than mere friendship, she unmercifully snubbed him. Of course the poor boy could not understand the girl’s waywardness​—​how should he?​—​and he fancied he had offended her in some way.

The turn the conversation with Mrs. Waring had taken and the lady’s unexpected championship of Howard Kendrick, had plunged Ruth into a perturbation of heart and mind, which for the moment made her silent. She wanted to have time to realise everything fairly, but she was not given the chance.

“Well, you don’t say anything,” broke in Mrs. Waring upon Ruth’s reverie impatiently. “You can’t accuse me of not having furthered your interests in every way. I might have persuaded you to look favourably on Howard Kendrick, but I didn’t do so when his reputation was not over good, and when apparently his father had cast him off, but things having changed, there’s no earthly reason why——”

A white-robed servant at this moment entered salaaming obsequiously. He held a card in his hand which he handed to his mistress.

“The very man we were talking about​—​Howard Kendrick,” cried Mrs. Waring excitedly. “How fortunate. Really, it seems as if it was to be. My dear Ruth, now’s your opportunity. I’m sure he’s come to see you, and not myself.”

The lady forgot her nerves, and hastily rose from the couch. Ruth would have quitted the room, but Mrs. Waring was between her and the door, and there was also the possibility of her encountering Howard Kendrick. Whatever chance she had of escape was speedily gone, for Kendrick had entered, Mrs. Waring had greeted him effusively, and he was expressing a hope that her indisposition would soon disappear.

“Oh, it’s only one of my nervous headaches​—​nothing very serious, but it makes me rather a dull companion. Ruth must make up for my shortcomings. My dear, do your best to entertain Captain Kendrick while I get Davis to bathe my forehead with eau-de-Cologne.”

And to Ruth’s dismay Mrs. Waring whisked out of the room with much rustling of her ample skirt, and the girl was left alone with the visitor.

“I may at least congratulate you, Miss Armitage, on standing this beastly climate so well,” said Kendrick, retaining the hand she had, out of mere politeness, held out to him.

“I suppose it is because I’m in my native air,” said she. “I was born in India.”

“Yes, so I’ve heard. I don’t know whether to envy you or offer my sympathy. For myself, I hate the place, and I shan’t rest till I persuade my father to let me sell my commission and get out of it.”

“You don’t like a military life, then,” said Ruth a little coldly.

“It’s so beastly dull and uninteresting. I suppose if there was some fighting to be done it wouldn’t be so bad, but as it is​—​well, the fellows one has to associate with don’t make the life more agreeable. Awfully good chaps, of course, and very well to meet at mess and all that kind of thing, but outside regimental matters they bore one to death. Most of ’em are men whose families hold no sort of position.”

“I’m sorry,” said Ruth ironically. “How came it you were so unlucky as to enter the army?”

“Pitchforked into it, my dear Miss Armitage. There’s always been one soldier of our family in the service of the Company for the last three generations, and my father insisted I should represent the fourth. Of course, I had to knuckle under, but it won’t be for long; I’m going to clear out, and that’s why I wanted to have a little confidential chat with you.”

“You honour me,” rejoined Ruth, with a sudden flutter of her heart. “But what have I to do with you leaving the army?”

“Everything. Can’t you guess?”

He advanced a pace towards her. She retreated instinctively.

“Don’t run away,” he went on. “I’ve really something most important to say, and you must hear it.”

Must?” she repeated in a tone of mingled surprise and anger.

“I beg your pardon, I did not mean to speak so imperatively, but there are times when one not master of one’s words. I’ll put what I wish to say in another form​—​as a confession, eh?”

Ruth had her eyes fixed apprehensively on his face. It was not a nice face at any time. The small shifty eyes and scanty brows, the foxy-coloured side whiskers, the weak, loosely lipped mouth always gave her an unpleasant impression, and just now his sickly false smile and his attempt to ingratiate himself were particularly repugnant.

“I’d rather not listen to you, Captain Kendrick. I hate confessions of any kind,” she exclaimed hastily.

“Hang it, you don’t help a fellow a bit. I came to tell you that I love you​—​that I want you to be my wife. I’ve never seen any girl half as nice as you. It isn’t as if I was a poor man, like most of the chaps stationed here. You know all about my father, don’t you? We had a bit of a shindy some time ago, but that’s all over. He’s a first-rate old boy, and I’ve only to take you to England, and present you to him, and he’ll do anything you like to ask him. He wishes me to marry and settle down. He’s said so over and over again in his letters. I can show them to you if you like.”

Howard Kendrick poured out his words rapidly, but quick as he was in saying them Ruth had time to regain her self-possession.

“I’d rather not, thank you. I don’t want to know your father’s wishes. They’re no concern of mine. If you’re anxious to marry because your father desires it I’m sure you’ll have no difficulty in finding a lady to oblige both him and you.”

Kendrick’s lips paled and twitched slightly. Ruth’s sarcasm stung him, but he tried not to betray himself.

“You misunderstand me​—​really you do. It’s not because of my father that I want to marry you​—​that would be absurd, childish. I only dragged him in to show you that with his approval you’d be as my wife a very rich woman. Do listen, please.”

Ruth had turned impatiently from him. She was asking herself why the man couldn’t see that his proposal was rejected, and his arguments offensive, without putting her to the embarrassment of telling him so?

“There’s every reason why you should say yes. We’ll be married very quietly​—​it can be done to-morrow if you like: I’ve already spoken to Strangeways our chaplain about it——”

“What?” cried Ruth, wheeling round and facing him indignantly. “You’ve had the impertinence to tell Mr. Strangeways you were going to marry me without having previously asked my consent?”

“No, no; nothing of the kind. Of course, I didn’t mention your name. I only told him I had hopes​—​and so I have, in spite of what you say​—​of being married, and that the marriage might come off quickly. I’ve already obtained leave of absence, and directly I reach England I shall sell my commission, retire, and we shall take our position in English society among the best people. Perhaps I shall go into Parliament. Look here——”

He came nearer, and casting his eyes round furtively, went on in a low voice:

“I’m going to tell you something. I’m in a position to know that there’s trouble ahead in India. It may come soon; it may come late; it may blow over, but I’m afraid it won’t. Anyhow, Ruth, I’m very anxious about you. I want to be sure that you’re out of danger, and to be on the safe side, you​—​that is we​—​ought to leave Cawnpore at once. If we delay, the country may become unsettled, and we may have some difficulty in reaching Calcutta. I wouldn’t have mentioned this for fear of alarming you, but you force me to it because you evidently think I’m not sincere. I love you, darling, so much that, sooner than a hair of your head should be injured, I’d——”

“I beg you to say no more,” interposed Ruth hotly. “Every word you utter puts you in a more odious light. I’m shocked to hear you talking of sneaking away directly there’s danger. If trouble’s coming it’s your duty to stay and face it.”

“Of course​—​of course,” he stammered confusedly, for the word “sneak” cut him like a lash. “I wasn’t speaking of myself, but of you.”

“Of me,” she cried with infinite scorn. “You seem to forget that my father was a soldier, and that he died facing the enemy. I don’t think we need prolong our talk, Captain Kendrick. I wish you good evening.”

Kendrick’s face was white with rage and mortification. He stood still, quite unable to make any reply. Then as she was passing him his mind quickened, and he strode hastily in front of her.

“One moment, Miss Armitage,” he cried. “I … don’t want you to go away with a false impression. I didn’t speak the truth in what I said just now about ‘trouble.’ I thought perhaps a​—​a sense of danger would induce you to say yes if only to​—​to get away from Cawnpore, you know. Of course I was wrong. I ought to have known you were too plucky. But I don’t think you’ll be very angry now that you know what was really in my mind.”

Kendrick’s explanation, Ruth considered, did not make the matter much better. At the same time, she was relieved to find that there was nothing to fear. Stories of the disturbances at Berhampore and Barrackpore had reached the residents in a modified form, and the majority were not much disturbed. They thought that the discontent was purely local, and that the military authorities were fully able to deal with any difficulty. But Howard Kendrick had used the words “trouble ahead” with such emphasis, that for the moment she felt quite uneasy. Uneasiness, however, had now given place to anger with the discovery that Kendrick had been trying to play upon her fears.

“You’ve done a mean thing,” she cried vehemently. “I don’t think any more of you, Captain Kendrick, because you’ve confessed to a falsehood.”

“Perhaps not,” said he, whiter than ever, and his voice trembling with passion. “Anyway, may I ask you to keep our conversation a secret between us, especially that part relating to what you call my​—​my falsehood?”

“Well, and wasn’t it one?”

Her glance was fixed fearlessly on his face. His eyes could not meet hers. They drooped, and he seemed overwhelmed with confusion. He did not answer, and his silence and disturbed manner raised strange suspicions in her mind. Her old uneasiness came back.

“How do I know that what you said in your attempt to frighten me isn’t really true?” she exclaimed. “Tell me have you really heard anything disquieting? You need not hesitate about speaking frankly. I’m not likely to scream or faint.”

“I know you won’t do either,” Kendrick forced himself to say. “I swear to you there’s not the least cause for alarm. That’s why I ask you to forget my foolishness. If it got about that I had said anything to you, why, it might come back to me, and I hardly know how I could explain, without bringing your name in.”

“You needn’t trouble. I’m not likely to talk about you behind your back.”

Ruth said this in the coldest and most distant manner, and swept out of the room, leaving Howard Kendrick gnawing his lower lip, and looking like a man who had been thoroughly chastised.

Kendrick was in no mood to meet Mrs. Waring. He would have to explain how he had been repulsed, and this repulse was too recent to be regarded calmly. He stalked out, climbed into his buggy, and drove back to his bungalow.

“I’ll follow Heron’s example,” he muttered savagely, “and be suddenly taken ill. I’ve already leave of absence, and illness will naturally hasten my departure.”

He was received by a string of servants, and contrary to his usual contemptuous indifference, he looked searchingly at them. As a rule, when he spoke to a native he accompanied his orders with highly ornamental epithets, sometimes in English, sometimes in Hindustani, and not infrequently with the addition of a kick or a cuff. His present scrutiny did not reveal anything different from the ordinary obsequious demeanour, and he entered the bungalow with an air of relief.

His first act was to send a note to head-quarters excusing himself from dinner, on account of indisposition. Then he went through the letters which had arrived while he was away. They were all of the same nature​—​pressing demands from creditors, who had heard that he was in funds, and had paid his debts of honour. They were, in consequence, eager to have their bills settled. Kendrick flung the tiresome letters away with an oath.

He went into the verandah, and gave his chokadars instructions not to admit any visitors, as the Sahib was unwell, and could see no one. After this he shut himself in his bedroom, mixed a brandy-and-soda, and threw himself on his bed to think out his plan of action.

“It would have been jolly pleasant to have had that little girl as a companion during the journey,” he muttered. “She was a fool not to say yes. I meant to act square. I’d sounded old Strangeways, and he was all right. He’d have married us in two twos, and my marriage would have suited the governor’s book to rights. It’s what he was always hammering at before we split.”

Kendrick tried to keep his disappointment on the surface of his mind, but deep down was a cankering thought which persisted in surging upwards. This thought had to do with his visit to the Bithoor Palace, when, taking Azimoolah’s hint, he had adroitly flattered the Nana and had depreciated his own country’s strength and resources. Of course the talk between the two sounded like the idlest gossip. True, the Nana spoke once or twice about his rights which the English Government refused to acknowledge, but he showed no resentment​—​indeed, he appeared to regard the matter as one which it would be hopeless to revive, and madness to attempt to assert by force.

Kendrick’s conscience pricked him, and he went over his conversation with the Maharajah point by point, and told himself he could find nothing which could be said to suggest definitely that the Nana contemplated any act of rebellion. But why the princely gift of which Kendrick found himself the recipient?

Argue as sophistically as he might, Kendrick could not forget the exceptionally oiliness of the Nana’s voice and manner, and his eager questions as to the present condition of England, after the strain of the Crimean war​—​an oiliness contrasting ominously with the unusual glitter in his dull eyes, when his visitor answered the questions in a way to justify the opinion held by hosts of the natives, that England was depopulated, and that nearly all that was left of her army was in India.

Again, why was Azimoolah so anxious for Kendrick to conciliate the Nana in so singular a fashion? Azimoolah had no particular love for Kendrick. His feelings as a rule were rather the reverse, as Kendrick knew well enough. Why should the ex-khitmutgar go out of his way to put money into Kendrick’s pocket, simply for an hour’s talk with, and flattery of the Nana?

Another matter for Kendrick to ponder over was the attitude of the Nana’s retinue, and of the crowds of hangers on. It was suspicious, to say the least, and Kendrick had not failed to take heed of it. Bithoor Palace swarmed with a lazy, disreputable hoard, who were paid four rupees a month, and had a suit given them once a year. These scoundrels were little better than the scum of the bazaars, and found excitement whenever they were so minded in plundering and blackmailing. The ruffians were, as a rule, cringing enough to their master’s English friends, but they were certainly not cringing to Kendrick on the occasion of his last visit. Many of them did not salaam, and others laughed and made jokes, evidently at the expense of the visitor.

All this seemed corroborative of the reports brought by Hurst from Benares as to the growing insolence of the native servants. There might be nothing in it, but Kendrick’s duty was to lay the matter before his superiors. But how could he without disclosing all the circumstances? He dared not let out that he had had a large sum placed at his disposal by the Nana, especially as he had allowed it to be understood that his recent accession of wealth had come from his father.

Howard Kendrick not only could not run straight, but was a cur at heart, and in these two miserable facts lay the groundwork of all his actions. He was hated by the sepoys under his command, and he was well aware of that hatred. If there should be any rising like that at Barrackpore, he would be one of the first against whom the men would turn. Apart from the talk with the Nana, the mutterings he had overheard among his company made him all the more inclined to believe that clouds were gathering. As Ruth had shrewdly surmised, he had spoken the truth, when he told her trouble was ahead, and secretly he had resolved to leave Cawnpore as soon as he could.

And never would he come back. He believed in his power to talk his father over. A marriage with Ruth would have helped him considerably, but as she refused, he would have to manage without her. For the next three days he kept indoors. Of course the regimental doctor came to see him, but it was easy to get on with Dr. Rogers, who was a different type of man from Stainton, and only cared for brandy pawnee.

In the meantime, having nothing to do but drink and smoke, Howard Kendrick found himself at the end of these three days ill in reality. To say the truth, he was on the verge of delirium tremens.

In the meantime there had been a little scene between Ruth and Mrs. Waring. The lady with “nerves” could easily fly into a passion, and she stormed at the girl for what she called her foolishness in refusing Howard Kendrick. She tried to bring her husband into the matter; and when she found the Colonel was inclined to side with Ruth, she turned her batteries of wrath upon one of the best natured of men. A little craft was beneath this display of anger. She anticipated opposition from her husband to her journey to the Hills, on account of the expense, and having contrived to work herself into a hysterical fit, with prostration to follow, the poor Colonel was only too glad to unloose his purse strings for the sake of peace and quietness.

It so happened that a family of some position in Cawnpore were in the same mind as Mrs. Waring, and it was arranged that the latter should travel with them. It was the 1st of May when the party set out, never dreaming when they bade their many friends farewell, that they would never see each other again.

In the beginning of May a deceptive calm rested upon the Central and North-Western provinces of India. There was no sign of discontent; the bazaars were as crowded as ever, and trade went merrily on, men going about their avocations with apparent unconcern. Yet all this time hundreds of Azimoolah’s emissaries​—​moolvies (travelling pilgrims), pedlars, goojurs or robbers, barbers, basket-makers, water-carriers, grass-cutters, mendicants, and nondescripts of every variety, were quietly spreading rebellion and promising golden rewards to all who rose against the yoke of John Company and the redcoats.

June 23, the centenary of Clive’s victory, which led to the conquest of India, was to be the day of a simultaneous rising. But events shaped themselves otherwise. The impatience of the conspirators at Meerut and Delhi precipitated the crisis. But for this, the story of the Indian Mutiny, terrible as it was, might have been very much worse.