|SCENE.—Smoking-room of the Degchi Club. Time, 10.30 p.m. of a stuffy night in the Rains. Four men dispersed in picturesque attitudes and easy-chairs. To these enter BLAYNE of the Irregular Moguls, in evening dress.|
BLAYNE. Phew! The Judge ought to be hanged in his own store-godown. Hi, khitmatgar! Poora whiskey-peg, to take the taste out of my mouth.
CURTISS.(Royal Artillery.) That’s it, is it? What the deuce made you dine at the Judge’s? You know his bundobust.
BLAYNE. ’Thought it couldn’t be worse than the Club, but I’ll swear he buys ullaged liquor and doctors it with gin and ink (looking round the room.) Is this all of you to-night?
DOONE. (P.W.D.) Anthony was called out at dinner. Mingle had a pain in his tummy.
CURTISS. Miggy dies of cholera once a week in the Rains, and gets drunk on chlorodyne in between. ’Good little chap, though. Any one at the Judge’s, Blayne?
BLAYNE. Cockley and his memsahib looking awfully white and fagged. Female girl—couldn’t catch the name—on her way to the Hills, under the Cockleys’ charge—the Judge, and Markyn fresh from Simla—disgustingly fit.
CURTISS. Good Lord, how truly magnificent! Was there enough ice? When I mangled garbage there I got one whole lump—nearly as big as a walnut. What had Markyn to say for himself?
BLAYNE. Seems that every one is having a fairly good time up there in spite of the rain. By Jove, that reminds me! I know I hadn’t come across just for the pleasure of your society. News! Great news! Markyn told me.
DOONE. Who’s dead now?
BLAYNE. No one that I know of; but Gaddy’s hooked at last!
DROPPING CHORUS. How much? The Devil! Markyn was pulling your leg. Not GADDY!
BLAYNE. (Humming.) “Yea, verily, verily, verily! Verily, verily, I say unto thee.” Theodore, the gift o’ God! Our Phillup! It’s been given out up above.
MACKESY. (Barrister-at-Law.) Huh! Women will give out anything. What does accused say?
BLAYNE. Markyn told me that he congratulated him warily—one hand held out, t’other ready to guard. Gaddy turned pink and said it was so.
CURTISS. Poor old Gaddy! They all do it. Who’s she? Let’s hear the details.
BLAYNE. She’s a girl—daughter of a Colonel Somebody.
DOONE. Simla’s stiff with Colonels’ daughters. Be more explicit.
BLAYNE. Wait a shake. What was her name? Three”something. Three—”
CURTISS. Stars, perhaps. Gaddy knows that brand.
BLAYNE. Threegan—Minnie Threegan.
MACKESY. Threegan. Isn’t she a little bit of a girl with red hair?
BLAYNE. ’Bout that—from what from what Markyn said.
MACKESY. Then I’ve met her. She was at Lucknow last season. Owned a permanently juvenile Mamma, and danced damnably. I say, Jervoise, you knew the Threegans, didn’t you?
JERVOISE. (Civilian of twenty-five years’ service, waking up from his doze.) Eh? What’s that? Knew who? How? I thought I was at Home, confound you!
MACKESY. The Threegan girl’s engaged, so Blayne says.
JERVOISE. (Slowly.) Engaged—engaged! Bless my soul! I’m getting an old man! Little Minnie Threegan engaged. It was only the other day I went home with them in the Surat—no, the Massilia— and she was crawling about on her hands and knees among the ayahs. ’Used to call me the “Tick Tack Sakib” because I showed her my watch. And that was in Sixty-Seven—no, Seventy. Good God, how time flies! I’m an old man. I remember when Threegan married Miss Derwent—daughter of old Hooky Derwent—but that was before your time. And so the little baby’s engaged to have a little baby of her own! Who’s the other fool?
MACKESY. Gadsby of the Pink Hussars.
JERVOISE. Never met him. Threegan lived in debt, married in debt, and ’ll die in debt. Must be glad to get the girl off his hands.
BLAYNE. Gaddy has money—lucky devil. Place at Home, too.
DOONE. He comes of first-class stock. Can’t quite understand his being caught by a Colonel’s daughter, and (looking cautiously round room.) Black Infantry at that! No offence to you, Blayne.
BLAYNE. (Stiffly.) Not much, tha-anks.
CURTISS. (Quoting motto of Irregular Moguls.) “We are what we are,” eh, old man? But Gaddy was such a superior animal as a rule. Why didn’t he go Home and pick his wife there?
MACKESY. They are all alike when they come to the turn into the straight. About thirty a man begins to get sick of living alone——
CURTISS. And of the eternal muttony-chop in the morning.
DOONE. It’s a dead goat as a rule, but go on, Mackesy.
MACKESY. If a man’s once taken that way nothing will hold him, Do you remember Benoit of your service, Doone? They transferred him to Tharanda when his time came, and he married a platelayer’s daughter, or something of that kind. She was the only female about the place.
DOONE. Yes, poor brute. That smashed Benoit’s chances of promotion altogether. Mrs. Benoit used to ask “Was you goin’ to the dance this evenin’?”
CURTISS. Hang it all! Gaddy hasn’t married beneath him. There’s no tarbrush in the family, I suppose.
JERVOISE. Tar-brush! Not an anna. You young fellows talk as though the man was doing the girl an honor in marrying her. You’re all too conceited—nothing’s good enough for you.
BLAYNE. Not even an empty Club, a dam’ bad dinner at the Judge’s, and a Station as sickly as a hospital. You’re quite right. We’re a set of Sybarites.
DOONE. Luxurious dogs, wallowing in——
CURTISS. Prickly heat between the shoulders. I’m covered with it. Let’s hope Beora will be cooler.
BLAYNE. Whew! Are you ordered into camp, too? I thought the Gunners had a clean sheet.
CURTISS. No, worse luck. Two cases yesterday—one died—and if we have a third, out we go. Is there any shooting at Beora, Doone?
DOONE. The country’s under water, except the patch by the Grand Trunk Road. I was there yesterday, looking at a bund, and came across four poor devils in their last stage. It’s rather bad from here to Kuchara.
CURTISS. Then we’re pretty certain to have a heavy go of it. Heigho! I shouldn’t mind changing places with Gaddy for a while. ’Sport with Amaryllis in the shade of the Town Hall, and all that. Oh, why doesn’t somebody come and marry me, instead of letting me go into cholera-camp?
MACKESY. Ask the Committee.
CURTISS. You ruffian! You’ll stand me another peg for that. Blayne, what will you take? Mackesy is fine on moral grounds. Done, have you any preference?
DOONE. Small glass Kümmel, please. Excellent carminative, these days. Anthony told me so.
MACKESY. (Signing voucher for four drinks.) Most unfair punishment. I only thought of Curtiss as Actaeon being chivied round the billiard tables by the nymphs of Diana.
BLAYNE. Curtiss would have to import his nymphs by train. Mrs. Cockley’s the only woman in the Station. She won’t leave Cockley, and he’s doing his best to get her to go.
CURTISS. Good, indeed! Here’s Mrs. Cockley’s health. To the only wife in the Station and a damned brave woman!
OMNES. (Drinking.) A damned brave woman
BLAYNE. I suppose Gaddy will bring his wife here at the end of the cold weather. They are going to be married almost immediately, I believe.
CURTISS. Gaddy may thank his luck that the Pink Hussars are all detachment and no headquarters this hot weather, or he’d be torn from the arms of his love as sure as death. Have you ever noticed the thorough-minded way British Cavalry take to cholera? It’s because they are so expensive. If the Pinks had stood fast here, they would have been out in camp a month ago. Yes, I should decidedly like to be Gaddy.
MACKESY. He’ll go Home after he’s married, and send in his papers—see if he doesn’t.
BLAYNE. Why shouldn’t he? Hasn’t he money? Would any one of us be here if we weren’t paupers?
DOONE. Poor old pauper! What has become of the six hundred you rooked from our table last month?
BLAYNE. It took unto itself wings. I think an enterprising tradesman got some of it, and a shroff gobbled the rest—or else I spent it.
CURTISS. Gaddy never had dealings with a shroff in his life.
DOONE. Virtuous Gaddy! If I had three thousand a month, paid from England, I don’t think I’d deal with a shroff either.
MACKESY. (Yawning.) Oh, it’s a sweet life! I wonder whether matrimony would make it sweeter.
CURTISS. Ask Cockley—with his wife dying by inches!
BLAYNE. Go home and get a fool of a girl to come out to—what is it Thackeray says?—“the splendid palace of an Indian pro-consul.”
DOONE. Which reminds me. My quarters leak like a sieve. I had fever last night from sleeping in a swamp. And the worst of it is, one can’t do anything to a roof till the Rains are over.
CURTISS. What’s wrong with you? You haven’t eighty rotting Tommies to take into a running stream.
DOONE. No: but I’m mixed boils and bad language. I’m a regular Job all over my body. It’s sheer poverty of blood, and I don’t see any chance of getting richer—either way.
BLAYNE. Can’t you take leave?
DOONE. That’s the pull you Army men have over us. Ten days are nothing in your sight. I’m so important that Government can’t find a substitute if I go away. Ye-es, I’d like to be Gaddy, whoever his wife may be.
CURTISS. You’ve passed the turn of life that Mackesy was speaking of.
DOONE. Indeed I have, but I never yet had the brutality to ask a woman to share my life out here.
BLAYNE. On my soul I believe you’re right. I’m thinking of Mrs. Cockley. The woman’s an absolute wreck.
DOONE. Exactly. Because she stays down here. The only way to keep her fit would be to send her to the Hills for eight months—and the same with any woman. I fancy I see myself taking a wife on those terms.
MACKESY. With the rupee at one and sixpence. The little Doones would be little Dehra Doones, with a fine Mussoorie chi-chi accent to bring home for the holidays.
CURTISS. And a pair of be-ewtiful sambhur-horns for Doone to wear, free of expense, presented by——
DOONE. Yes, it’s an enchanting prospect. By the way, the rupee hasn’t done falling yet. The time will come when we shall think ourselves lucky if we only lose half our pay.
CURTISS. Surely a third’s loss enough. Who gains by the arrangement? That’s what I want to know.
BLAYNE. The Silver Question! I’m going to bed if you begin squabbling Thank Goodness, here’s Anthony—looking like a ghost.
|Enter ANTHONY, Indian Medical Staff, very white and tired.|
ANTHONY. ’Evening, Blayne. It’s raining in sheets. Whiskey peg lao, khitmatgar. The roads are something ghastly.
CURTISS. How’s Mingle?
ANTHONY. Very bad, and more frightened. I handed him over to Fewton. Mingle might just as well have called him in the first place, instead of bothering me.
BLAYNE. He’s a nervous little chap. What has he got, this time?
ANTHONY. Can’t quite say. A very bad tummy and a blue funk so far. He asked me at once if it was cholera, and I told him not to be a fool. That soothed him.
CURTIS. Poor devil! The funk does half the business in a man of that build.
ANTHONY. (Lighting a cheroot.) I firmly believe the funk will kill him if he stays down. You know the amount of trouble he’s been giving Fewton for the last three weeks. He’s doing his very best to frighten himself into the grave.
GENERAL CHORUS. Poor little devil! Why doesn’t he get away?
ANTHONY. Can’t. He has his leave all right, but he’s so dipped he can’t take it, and I don’t think his name on paper would raise four annas. That’s in confidence, though.
MACKESY. All the Station knows it.
ANTHONY. “I suppose I shall have to die here,” he said, squirming all across the bed. He’s quite made up his mind to Kingdom Come. And I know he has nothing more than a wet-weather tummy if he could only keep a hand on himself.
BLAYNE. That’s bad. That’s very bad. Poor little Miggy. Good little chap, too. I say——
ANTHONY. What do you say?
BLAYNE. Well, look here—anyhow. If it’s like that—as you say—I say fifty.
CURTISS. I say fifty.
MACKESY. I go twenty better.
DOONE. Bloated Croesus of the Bar! I say fifty. Jervoise, what do you say? Hi! Wake up!
JERVOISE. Eh? What’s that? What’s that?
CURTISS. We want a hundred rupees from you. You’re a bachelor drawing a gigantic income, and there’s a man in a hole.
JERVOISE. What man? Any one dead?
BLAYNE. No, but he’ll die if you don’t give the hundred. Here! Here’s a peg-voucher. You can see what we’ve signed for, and Anthony’s man will come round to-morrow to collect it. So there will be no trouble.
JERVOISE. (Signing.) One hundred, E.M.J. There you are (feebly). It isn’t one of your jokes, is it?
BLAYNE. No, it really is wanted. Anthony, you were the biggest poker-winner last week, and you’ve defrauded the tax-collector too long. Sign!
ANTHONY. Let’s see. Three fifties and a seventy-two twenty-three twenty—say four hundred and twenty. That’ll give him a month clear at the Hills. Many thanks, you men. I’ll send round the chaprassi to-morrow.
CURTISS. You must engineer him taking the stuff, and of course you mustn’t——
ANTHONY. Of course. It would never do. He’d weep with gratitude over his evening drink.
BLAYNE. That’s just what he would do, damn him. Oh! I say, Anthony, you pretend to know everything. Have you heard about Gaddy?
ANTHONY. No. Divorce Court at last?
BLAYNE. Worse. He’s engaged!
ANTHONY. How much? He can’t be!
BLAYNE. He is. He’s going to be married in a few weeks. Markyn told me at the Judge’s this evening. It’s pukka.
ANTHONY. You don’t say so? Holy Moses! There’ll be a shine in the tents of Kedar.
CURTISS. Regiment cut up rough, think you?
ANTHONY. Don’t know anything about the Regiment.
MACKESY. It is bigamy, then?
ANTHONY. Maybe. Do you mean to say that you men have forgotten, or is there more charity in the world than I thought?
DOONE. You don’t look pretty when you are trying to keep a secret. You bloat. Explain.
ANTHONY. Mrs. Herriott!
BLAYNE. (After a long pause, to the room generally.) It’s my notion that we are a set of fools.
MACKESY. Nonsense. That business was knocked on the head last season. Why, young Mallard——
ANTHONY. Mallard was a candlestick, paraded as such. Think awhile. Recollect last season and the talk then. Mallard or no Mallard, did Gaddy ever talk to any other woman?
CURTISS. There’s something in that. It was slightly noticeable now you come to mention it. But she’s at Naini Tat and he’s at Simla.
ANTHONY. He had to go to Simla to look after a globe-trotter relative of his—a person with a title. Uncle or aunt.
BLAYNE. And there he got engaged. No law prevents a man growing tired of a woman.
ANTHONY. Except that he mustn’t do it till the woman is tired of him. And the Herriott woman was not that.
CURTISS. She may be now. Two months of Naini Tal works wonders.
DOONE. Curious thing how some women carry a Fate with them. There was a Mrs. Deegie in the Central Provinces whose men invariably fell away and got married. It became a regular proverb with us when I was down there. I remember three men desperately devoted to her, and they all, one after another, took wives.
CURTISS. That’s odd. Now I should have thought that Mrs. Deegie’s influence would have led them to take other men’s wives. It ought to have made them afraid of the judgment of Providence.
ANTHONY. Mrs. Herriott will make Gaddy afraid of something more than the judgment of Providence, I fancy.
BLAYNE. Supposing things are as you say, he’ll be a fool to face her. He’ll sit tight at Simla.
ANTHONY. ’Shouldn’t be a bit surprised if he went off to Naini to explain. He’s an unaccountable sort of man, and she’s likely to be a more than unaccountable woman.
DOONE. What makes you take her character away so confidently?
ANTHONY. Primum tempus. Gaddy was her first and a woman doesn’t allow her first man to drop away without expostulation. She justifies the first transfer of affection to herself by swearing that it is forever and ever. Consequently——
BLAYNE. Consequently, we are sitting here till past one o’clock, talking scandal like a set of Station cats. Anthony, it’s all your fault. We were perfectly respectable till you came in. Go to bed. I’m off, Good-night all.
CURTISS. Past one! It’s past two by Jove, and here’s the khit coming for the late charge. Just Heavens! One, two, three, four, five rupees to pay for the pleasure of saying that a poor little beast of a woman is no better than she should be. I’m ashamed of myself. Go to bed, you slanderous villains, and if I’m sent to Beora to-morrow, be prepared to hear I’m dead before paying my card account!