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The Sabbatarian tendency of the English mind at home and abroad is proverbial, and if they are well-behaved on Sunday in London they are models of virtue in Simla on the same day. Whether they labour and are well-fed and gouty in their island home, or suffer themselves to be boiled for gain in the tropical kettles of Ceylon and Singapore; whether they risk their lives in hunting for the north pole or the northwest passage, or endanger their safety in the pursuit of tigers in the Terai, they will have their Sunday, come rain, come shine. On the deck of the steamer in the Red Sea, in the cabin of the inbound Arctic explorer, in the crowded Swiss hotel, or the straggling Indian hill station, there is always a parson of some description, in a surplice of no description at all, who produces a Bible and a couple of well-thumbed sermons from the recesses of his trunk or his lunch basket, or his gun-case, and goes at the work of weekly redemption with a will. And, what is more, he is listened to, and for the time being--though on week days he is styled a bore by the old and a prig by the young--he becomes temporarily invested with a dignity not his own, with an authority he could not claim on any other day. It is the dignity of a people who with all their faults have the courage of their opinions, and it is the authority that they have been taught from their childhood to reverence, whenever their traditions give it the right to assert itself. Not otherwise. It is a fine trait of national character, though it is one which has brought upon the English much unmerited ridicule. One may differ from them in faith and in one's estimate of the real value of these services, which are often only saved from being irreverent in their performance by the perfect sincerity of parson and congregation. But no one who dispassionately judges them can deny that the custom inspires respect for English consistency and admiration for their supreme contempt of surroundings.
I presume that the periodical manifestations of religious belief to which I refer are intimately and indissolubly connected with the staid and funereal solemnity which marks an Englishman's dress, conversation, and conduct on Sunday. He is a different being for the nonce, and must sustain the entire character of his dual existence, or it will fall to the ground and forsake him altogether. He cannot take his religion in the morning and enjoy himself the rest of the day. He must abstain from everything that could remind him that he has a mind at all, besides a soul. No amusement will he tolerate, no reading of even the most harmless fiction can he suffer, while he is in the weekly devotional trance.
I cannot explain these things; they are race questions, problems for the ethnologist. Certain it is, however, that the partial decay of strict Sabbatarianism which seems to have set in during the last quarter of a century has not been attended by any notable development of power in English thought of that class. The first Republic tried the experiment of the decimal week, and it was a failure. The English who attempt to put off even a little of the quaint armour of righteousness, which they have been accustomed to buckle on every seventh day for so many generations, are not so successful in the attempt as to attract many to follow them. They are not graceful in their holiday gambols.
Meditating somewhat on this wise I lay in my long chair by the open door that Sunday morning in September. It was a little warmer again and the sun shone pleasantly across the lawn on the great branches and bright leaves of the rhododendron. The house was very quiet. All the inmates were gone to the church on the mall, and the servants were basking in the last few days of warmth they would enjoy before their masters returned to the plains. The Hindoo servant hates the cold. He fears it as he fears cobras, fever, and freemasons. His ideal life is nothing to do, nothing to wear, and plenty to eat, with the thermometer at 135 degrees in the verandah and 110 inside. Then he is happy. His body swells with much good rice and dal, and his heart with pride; he will wear as little as you will let him, and whether you will let him or not, he will do less work in a given time than any living description of servant. So they basked in rows in the sunshine, and did not even quarrel or tell yarns among themselves; it was quiet and warm and sleepy. I dozed lazily, dropped my book in my lap, struggled once, and then fairly fell asleep.
I was roused by Kiramat Ali pulling at my foot, as natives will when they are afraid of the consequences of waking their master. When I opened my eyes he presented a card on a salver, and explained that the gentleman wanted to see me. I looked, and was rather surprised to see it was Kildare's card. "Lord Steepleton Kildare, 33d Lancers "--there was no word in pencil, or any message. I told Kiramat to show the sahib in, wondering why he should call on me. By Indian etiquette, if there was to be any calling, it was my duty to make the first visit. Before I had time to think more I heard the clanking of spurs and sabre on the verandah, and the young man walked in, clad in the full uniform of his regiment. I rose to greet him, and was struck by his soldierly bearing and straight figure, as I had been at our first meeting. He took off his bearskin --for he was in the fullest of full dress--and sat down.
"I am so glad to find you at home," he said: "I feared you might have gone to church, like everybody else in this place."
"No. I went early this morning. I belong to a different persuasion. I suppose you are on your way to Peterhof?"
"Yes. There is some sort of official reception to somebody,--I forget who,--and we had notice to turn out. It is a detestable nuisance."
"I should think so."
"Mr. Griggs, I came to ask you about something. You heard of my proposal to get up a tiger-hunt? Mr. Ghyrkins was speaking of it."
"Yes. He wanted us to go,--Mr. Isaacs and me,--and suggested leaving his niece, Miss Westonhaugh, with Lady Smith-Tompkins."
"It would be so dull without a lady in the party. Nothing but tigers and shikarries and other native abominations to talk to. Do you not think so?"
"Why, yes. I told Mr. Ghyrkins that all the little Smith-Tompkins children had the measles, and the house was not safe. If they have not had them, they will, I have no doubt. Heaven is just, and will not leave you to the conversational mercies of the entertaining tiger and the engaging shikarry."
"By Jove, Mr. Griggs, that was a brilliant idea: and, as you say, they may all get the measles yet. The fact is, I have set my heart on this thing. Miss Westonhaugh said she had never seen a tiger, except in cages and that kind of thing, and so I made up my mind she should. Besides, it will be no end of a lark; just when nobody is thinking about tigers, you go off and kill a tremendous fellow, fifteen or sixteen feet long, and come back covered with glory and mosquito bites, and tell everybody that Miss Westonhaugh shot him herself with a pocket pistol. That will be glorious!"
"I should like it very much too; and I really see no reason why it should not be done. Mr. Ghyrkins seemed in a very cheerful humour about tigers last night, and I have no doubt a little persuasion from you will bring him to a proper view of his obligations to Miss Westonhaugh." He looked pleased and bright and hopeful, thoroughly enthusiastic, as became his Irish blood. He evidently intended to have quite as "good" a "time" as Isaacs proposed to enjoy. I thought the spectacle of those rivals for the beautiful girl's favour would be extremely interesting. Lord Steepleton was doubtless a good shot and a brave man, and would risk anything to secure Miss Westonhaugh's approval; Isaacs, on the other hand, was the sort of man who is very much the same in danger as anywhere else.
"That is what I came to ask you about. We shall all meet there at dinner this evening, and I wanted to secure as many allies as possible."
"You may count on me, Lord Steepleton, at all events. There is nothing I should enjoy better than such a fortnight's holiday, in such good company."
"All right," said Lord Steepleton, rising, "I must be off now to Peterhof. It is an organised movement on Mr. Ghyrkins this evening, then. Is it understood?" He took his bearskin from the table, and prepared to go, pulling his straps and belts into place, and dusting a particle of ash from his sleeve.
"Perfectly," I answered. "We will drag him forth into the arena before three days are past." We shook hands, and he went out.
I was glad he had come, though I had been waked from a pleasant nap to reeeive him. He was so perfectly gay, and natural, and healthy, that one could not help liking him. You felt at once that he was honest and would do the right thing in spite of any one, according to his light; that he would stand by a friend in danger, and face any odds in fight, with as much honest determination to play fair and win, as he would bring to a cricket match or a steeple-chase. His Irish blood gave him a somewhat less formal manner than belongs to the Englishman; more enthusiasm and less regard for "form," while his good heart and natural courtesy would lead him right in the long-run. He seemed all sunshine, with his bright blue eyes and great fair moustache and brown face; the closely fitting uniform showed off his erect figure and; elastic gait, and the whole impression was fresh and exhilarating in the extreme. I was sorry he had gone. I would have liked to talk with him about boating and fishing and shooting; about athletics and horses and tandem-driving, and many things I used, to like years ago at college, before I began my wandering life; I watched him as he swung himself: into the military saddle, and he threw up his hand in a parting salute as he rode away. Poor fellow! was he, too, going to be food for powder and Afghan knives in the avenging army on its way to Kabul? I went back to my books and remained reading until the afternoon sun slanted in through the open door, and falling across my book warned me it was time to keep my appointment with Isaacs.
As we passed the church the people were coming out from the evening service, and I saw Kildare, once more in the garb of a civilian, standing near the door, apparently watching for some one to appear. I knew that, with his strict observance of Catholic rules--often depending more on pride of family than on religious conviction, in the house of Kildare--he would not have entered the English Church at such a time, and I was sure he was lying in wait for Miss Westonhaugh, probably intending to surprise her and join her on her homeward ride. The road winds down below the Church, so that for some minutes after passing the building you may get a glimpse of the mall above and of the people upon it--or at least of their heads--if they are moving near the edge of the path. I was unaccountably curious this evening, and I dropped a little behind Isaacs, craning my neck and turning back in the saddle as I watched the stream of heads and shoulders, strongly foreshortened against the blue sky above, moving ceaselessly along the parapet over my head. Before long I was rewarded; Miss Westonhaugh's fair hair and broad hat entered the field of my vision, and a moment later Lord Steepleton, who must have pushed through the crowd from the other side, appeared struggling after her. She turned quickly, and I saw no more, but I did not think she had changed colour.
I began to be deeply interested in ascertaining whether she had any preference for one or the other of the two young men. Kildare's visit in the morning--though he had said very little--had given me a new impression of the man, and I felt that he was no contemptible rival. I saw from the little incident I had just witnessed that he neglected no opportunity of being with Miss Westonhaugh, and that he had the patience to wait and the boldness to find her in a crowd. I had seen very little of her myself; but I had been amply satisfied that Isaacs was capable of interesting her in a tÍte-ŗ-tÍte conversation. "The talker has the best chance, if he is bold enough," I said to myself; but I was not satisfied, and I resolved that if I could manage it Isaacs should have another chance that very evening after the dinner. Meanwhile I would involve Isaacs in a conversation on some one of those subjects that seemed to interest him most. He had not seen the couple on the mall, and was carelessly ambling along with his head in the air and one hand in the pocket of his short coat, the picture of unconcern.
I was trying to make up my mind whether I would open fire upon the immortality of the soul, matrimony, or the differential calculus, when, as we passed from the narrow street into the road leading sound Jako, Isaacs spoke.
"Look here, Griggs," said he, "there is something I want to impress upon your mind."
"Well, what is it?"
"It is all very well for Ram Lal to give advice about things he understands. I have a very sincere regard for him, but I do not believe he was ever in my position. I have set my heart on this tiger-hunt. Miss Westonhaugh said the other day that she had never seen a tiger, and I then and there made up my mind that she should."
I laughed. There seemed to be no essential difference of opinion between the Irishman and the Persian in regard to the pleasures of the chase. Miss Westonhaugh was evidently anxious to see tigers, and meant to do it, since she had expressed her wish to the two men most likely to procure her that innocent recreation. Lord Steepleton Kildare by his position, and Isaacs by his wealth, could, if they chose, get up such a tiger-hunt for her benefit as had never been seen. I thought she might have waited till the spring--but I had learned that she intended to return to England in April, and was to spend the early months of the year with her brother in Bombay.
"You want to see Miss Westonhaugh, and Miss Westonhaugh wants to see tigers! My dear fellow, go in and win; I will back you."
"Why do you laugh, Griggs?" asked Isaacs, who saw nothing particularly amusing in what he had said.
"Oh, I laughed because another young gentleman expressed the same opinions to me, in identically the same words, this morning."
"No. You know very well that Mr. Westonhaugh cares nothing about it, one way or the other. The little plan for 'amusing brother John' is a hoax. The thing cannot be done. You might as well try to amuse an undertaker as to make a man from Bombay laugh. The hollowness of life is ever upon them. No. It was Kildare; he called and said that Miss Westonhaugh had never seen a tiger, and he seemed anxious to impress upon me his determination that she should. Pshaw! what does Kildare care about brother John?"
"Brother John, as you call him, is a better fellow than he looks. I owe a great deal to brother John." Isaacs' olive skin flushed a little, and he emphasised the epithet by which I had designated Mr. John Westonhaugh as if he were offended by it.
"I mean nothing against Mr. Westonhaugh," said I half apologetically. "I remember when you met yesterday afternoon you said you had seen him in Bombay a long time ago."
"Do you remember the story I told you of myself the other night?"
"Westonhaugh was the young civil servant who paid my fine and gave me a rupee, when I was a ragged sailor from a Mocha craft, and could not speak a word of English. To that rupee I ultimately owe my entire fortune. I never forget a face, and I am sure it is he--do you understand me now? I owe to his kindness everything I possess in the world."
"The unpardonable sin is ingratitude," I answered, "of which you will certainly not be accused. That is a very curious coincidence."
"I think it is something more. A man has always at least one opportunity of repaying a debt, and, besm Illah! I will repay what I can of it. By the beard of the apostle, whose name is blessed, I am not ungrateful!" Isaacs was excited as he said this. He was no longer the calm Mr. Isaacs, he was Abdul Hafiz the Persian, fiery and enthusiastic.
"You say well, my friend," he continued earnestly, "that the unpardonable sin is ingratitude. Doubtless, had the blessed prophet of Allah lived in our day, he would have spoken of the doom that hangs over the ungrateful. It is the curse of this age; for he who forgets or refuses to remember the kindness done to him by others sets himself apart, and worships his miserable self, and he makes an idol of himself, saying, 'I am of more importance than my fellows in the world, and it is meet and right that they should give and that I should receive.' Ingratitude is selfishness, and selfishness is the worship of oneself, the setting of oneself higher than man and goodness and God. And when man perishes and the angel Al Sijil, the recorder, rolls up his scroll, what is written therein is written; and Israfil shall call men to judgment, and the scrolls shall be unfolded, and he that has taken of others and not given in return, but has ungratefully forgotten and put away the remembrance of the kindness received, shall be counted among the unbelievers and the extortioners and the unjust, and shall broil in raging flames. By the hairs of the prophet's beard, whose name is blessed."
I had not seen Isaacs so thoroughly roused before upon any subject. The flush had left his face and given place to a perfect paleness, and his eyes shone like coals of fire as he looked upward in pronouncing the last words. I said to myself that there was a strong element of religious exaltation in all Asiatics, and put his excitement down to this cause. His religion was a very beautiful and real thing to him, ever present in his life, and I mused on the future of the man, with his great endowments, his exquisite sensitiveness, and his high view of his obligations to his fellows. I am not a worshipper of heroes, but I felt that, for the first time in my life, I was intimate with a man who was ready to stand in the breach and to die for what he thought and believed to be right. After a pause of some minutes, during which we had ridden beyond the last straggling bungalows of the town, he spoke again, quietly, his temporary excitement having subsided.
"I feel very strongly about these things," he said, and then stopped short.
"I can see you do, and I honour you for it. I think you are the first grateful person I have ever met; a rare and unique bird in the earth."
"Do not say that."
"I do say it. There is very little of the philosophy of the nineteenth century about you, Isaacs. Your belief in the obligations of gratitude and in the general capacity of the human race for redemption, savours little of 'transcendental analysis.'"
"You have too much of it," he answered seriously. "I do not think you see how much your cynicism involves. You would very likely, if you are the man I take you for, be very much offended if I accused you of not believing any particular dogma of your religion. And yet, with all your faith, you do not believe in God."
"I cannot see how you get at that conclusion," I replied. "I must deny your hypothesis, at the risk of engaging you in an argument." I could not see what he was driving at.
"How can you believe in God, and yet condemn the noblest of His works as altogether bad? You are not consistent."
"What makes you think I am so cynical?" I inquired, harking back to gain time.
"A little cloud, a little sultriness in the air, is all that betrays the coming khemsin, that by and by shall overwhelm and destroy man and beast in its sandy darkness. You have made one or two remarks lately that show little faith in human nature, and if you do not believe in human nature what is there left for you to believe in? You said a moment ago that I was the first grateful person you had ever met. Then the rest of humanity are all selfish, and worshippers of themselves, and altogether vile, since you yourself say, as I do, that ingratitude is the unpardonable sin; and God has made a world full of unpardonable sinners, and unless you include yourself in the exception you graciously make in my favour, no one but I shall be saved. And yet you say also with me that God is good. Do you deny that you are utterly inconsistent?"
"I may make you some concession in a few minutes, but I am not going to yield to such logic. You have committed the fallacy of the undistributed middle term, if you care to know the proper name for it. I did not say that all men, saving you, were ungrateful. I said that, saving you, the persons I have met in my life have been ungrateful. You ought to distinguish."
"All I can say is, then, that you have had a very unfortunate experience of life," retorted Isaacs warmly.
"I have," said I, "but since you yield the technical point of logic, I will confess that I made the assertion hastily and overshot the mark. I do not remember, however, to have met any one who felt so strongly on the point as you do."
"Now you speak like a rational being," said Isaacs, quite pacified. "Extraordinary feelings are the result of unusual circumstances. I was in such distress as rarely falls to the lot of an innocent man of fine temperament and good abilities. I am now in a position of such wealth and prosperity as still more seldom are given to a man of my age and antecedents. I remember that I obtained the first step on my road to fortune through the kindness of John Westonhaugh, though I could never learn his name, and I met him at last, as you saw, by an accident. I call that accident a favour, and an opportunity bestowed on me by Allah, and the meeting has roused in me those feelings of thankfulness which, for want of an object upon which to show them, have been put away out of sight as a thing sacred for many years. I am willing you should say that, were my present fortune less, my gratitude would be proportionately less felt--it is very likely--though the original gift remain the same, one rupee and no more. You are entitled to think of any man as grateful in proportion to the gift, so long as you allow the gratitude at all." He made this speech in a perfectly natural and unconcerned way, as if he were contemplating the case of another person.
"Seriously, Isaacs, I would not do so for the world. I believe you were as grateful twelve years ago, when you were poor, as you are now that you are rich." Isaacs was silent, but a look of great gentleness crossed his face. There was at times something almost angelic in the perfect kindness of his eyes.
"To return," I said at last, "to the subject from which we started, the tigers. If we are really going, we must leave here the day after to-morrow morning--indeed, why not to-morrow?"
"No; to-morrow we are to play that game of polo, which I am looking forward to with pleasure. Besides, it will take the men three days to get the elephants together, and I only telegraphed this morning to the collector of the district to make the arrangements."
"So you have already taken steps? Does Kildare know you have sent orders?"
"Certainly. He came to me this morning at daybreak, and we determined to arrange everything and take uncle Ghyrkins for granted. You need not look astonished; Kildare and I are allies, and very good friends." What a true Oriental! How wise and far-sighted was the Persian, how bold and reckless the Irishman! It was odd, I thought, that Kildare had not mentioned the interview with Isaacs. Yet there was a certain rough delicacy--contradictory and impulsive--in his silence about this coalition with his rival. We rode along and discussed the plans for the expedition. All the men in the party, except Lord Steepleton, who had not been long in India, had killed tigers before. There would be enough of us, without asking any one else to join. The collector to whom Isaacs had telegraphed was an old acquaintance of his, and would probably go out for a few days with us. It all seemed easy enough and plain sailing. In the course of time we returned to our hotel, dressed, and made our way through the winding roads to Mr. Currie Ghyrkins' bungalow.
We were met on the verandah by the old commissioner, who welcomed us warmly and praised our punctuality, for the clock was striking seven in the drawing-room, as we divested ourselves of our light top-coats. In the vestibule, Miss Westonhaugh and her brother came forward to greet us.
"John," said the young lady, "you know I told you there was some one here whom you got out of trouble ever so many years ago in Bombay. Here he is. This is a new introduction. Mr. John Westonhaugh, Mr. Abdul Hafiz-ben-Is‚k, commonly known to his friends as Mr. Isaacs." Her face beamed with pleasure, and I thought with pride, as she led her brother to Isaacs, and her eyes rested long on the Persian with a look that, to me, argued something more than a mere interest. The two men clasped hands and stood for some seconds looking at each other in silence, but with very different expressions. Westonhaugh wore a look of utter amazement, though he certainly seemed pleased. The good heart that had prompted the good action twelve years before was still in the right place, above any petty considerations about nationality. His astonishment gradually changed to a smile of real greeting and pleasure, as he began to shake the hand he still held. I thought that even the faintest tinge of blood coloured his pale cheek.
"God bless my soul," said he, "I remember you perfectly well now. But it is so unexpected; my sister reminded me of the story, which I had not forgotten, and now I look at you I remember you perfectly. I am so glad."
As Isaacs answered, his voice trembled, and his face was very pale. There was a moisture in the brilliant eyes that told of genuine emotion.
"Mr. Westonhaugh, I consider that I owe to you everything I have in the world. This is a greater pleasure than I thought was in store for me. Indeed I thank you again."
His voice would not serve him. He stopped short and turned away to look for something in his coat.
"Indeed," said Westonhaugh, "it was a very little thing I did for you." And presently the two men went together into the drawing-room, Wostonhaugh asking all manner of questions, which Isaacs, who was himself again, began to answer. The rest of us remained in the vestibule to meet Lord Steepleton, who at that moment came up the steps. There were more greetings, and then the head khitmatgar appeared and informed the "Sahib log, protectors of the poor, that their meat was ready." So we filed into the dining-room.
Isaacs was placed at Miss Westonhaugh's right, and her brother sat on his other side. Ghyrkins was opposite his niece at the other end, and Kildare and I were together, facing Westonhaugh and Isaacs, a party of six. Of course Kildare sat beside the lady.
The dinner opened very pleasantly. I could see that Isaacs' undisguised gratitude and delight in having at last met the man who had helped him had strongly predisposed John Westonhaugh in his favour. Who is it that is not pleased at finding that some deed of kindness, done long ago with hardly a thought, has borne fruit and been remembered and treasured up by the receiver as the turning-point in his life? Is there any pleasure greater than that we enjoy through the happiness of others--in those rare cases where kindness is not misplaced? I had had time to reflect that Isaacs had most likely told a part of his story to Miss Westonhaugh on the previous afternoon as soon as he had recognised her brother. He might have told her before; I did not know how long he had known her, but it must have been some time. Presently she turned to him.
"Mr. Isaacs," said she, "some of us know something of your history. Why will you not tell us the rest now? My uncle has heard nothing of it, and I know Lord Steepleton is fond of novels."
Isaacs hesitated long, but as every one pressed him in turn, he yielded at last. And he told it well. It was exactly the narrative he had given me, in every detail of fact, but the whole effect was different. I saw how true a mastery he had of the English language, for he knew his audience thoroughly, and by a little colour here and an altered expression there he made it graphic and striking, not without humour, and altogether free of a certain mystical tinge he had imparted to it when we were alone. He talked easily, with no more constraint than on other occasions, and his narrative was a small social success. I had not seen him in evening dress before, and I could not help thinking how much more thoroughly he looked the polished man of the world than the other men. Kildare never appeared to greater advantage than in the uniform and trappings of his profession. In a black coat and a white tie he looked like any other handsome young Englishman, utterly without individuality. But Isaacs, with his pale complexion and delicate high-bred features, bore himself like a noble of the old school. Westonhaugh beside him looked washed-out and deathly, Kildare was too coarsely healthy, and Ghyrkins and I, representing different types of extreme plainness, served as foils to all three.
I watched Miss Westonhaugh while Isaacs was speaking. She had evidently heard the whole story, for her expression showed beforehand the emotion she expected to feel at each point. Her colour came and went softly, and her eyes brightened with a warm light beneath the dark brows that contrasted so strangely yet delightfully with the mass of flaxen-white hair. She wore something dark and soft, cut square at the neck, and a plain circlet of gold was her only ornament. She was a beautiful creature, certainly; one of those striking-looking women of whom something is always expected, until they drop quietly out of youth into middle age, and the world finds out that they are, after all, not heroines of romance, but merely plain, honest, good women; good wives and good mothers who love their homes and husbands well, though it has pleased nature in some strange freak to give them the form and feature of a Semiramis, a Cleopatra, or a Jeanne d'Arc.
"Dear me, how very interesting!" exclaimed Mr. Ghyrkins, looking up from his hill mutton as Isaacs finished, and a little murmur of sympathetic applause went round the table.
"I would give a great deal to have been through all that," said Lord Steepleton, slowly proceeding to sip a glass of claret.
"Just think!" ejaculated John Westonhaugh. "And I was entertaining such a Sinbad unawares!" and he took another green pepper from the dish his servant handed him.
"Upon my word, Isaacs," I said, "some one ought to make a novel of that story; it would sell like wildfire."
"Why don't you do it yourself, Griggs?" he asked. "You are a pressman, and I am sure you are welcome to the whole thing."
"I will," I answered.
"Oh do, Mr. Griggs," said the young lady, "and make it wind up with a tiger-hunt. You could lay the scene in Australia or the Barbadoes, or some of those places, and put us all in--and kill us all off, if you like, you know. It would be such fun." Poor Miss Westonhaugh!
"It is easy to see what you are thinking about most, Miss Westonhaugh," said Lord Steepleton: "the tigers are uppermost in your mind; and therefore in mine also," he added gallantly.
"Indeed, no--I was thinking about Mr. Isaacs." She blushed scarlet--the first time I had ever seen her really embarrassed. It was very natural that she should be thinking of Isaacs and the strange adventures he had just recounted; and if she had not cared about him she would not have changed colour. So I thought, at all events.
"My dear, drink some water immediately, this curry is very hot--deuced hot, in fact," said Mr. Ghyrkins, in perfectly good faith.
John Westonhaugh, who was busy breaking up biscuits and green peppers and "Bombay ducks" into his curry, looked up slowly at his sister and smiled.
"Why, you are quite a griffin, Katharine," said he, "how they will laugh at you in Bombay!" I was amused; of course the remarks of her uncle and brother did not make the blush subside--on the contrary. Kildare was drinking more claret, to conceal his annoyance. Isaacs had a curious expression. There was a short silence, and for one instant he turned his eyes to Miss Westonhaugh. It was only a look, but it betrayed to me--who knew what he felt--infinite surprise, joy, and sympathy. His quick understanding had comprehended that he had scored his first victory over his rival.
As her eyes met those of Isaacs, the colour left her cheeks as suddenly as it had come, leaving her face dead white. She drank a little water, and presently seemed at ease again. I was beginning to think she cared for him seriously.
"And pray, John," she asked, "what may a griffin be? It is not a very pretty name to call a young lady, is it?"
"Why, a griffin," put in Mr. Ghyrkins, "is the 'Mr. Verdant Green' of the Civil Service. A young civilian--or anybody else--who is just out from home is called a griffin. John calls you a griffin because you don't understand eating pepper. You don't find it as chilly as he does! Ha! ha! ha!" and the old fellow laughed heartily, till he was red in the face, at his bleared old pun. Of course every one was amused or professed to be, for it was a diversion welcomed by the three men of us who had seen the young girl's embarrassment.
"A griffin," said I, "is a thing of joy. Mr. Westonhaugh was a griffin when he gave Mr. Isaacs that historical rupee." I cast my little bombshell into the conversation, and placidly went on manipulating my rice.
Isaacs was in too gay a humour to be offended, and he only said, turning to Miss Westonhaugh--
"Mr. Griggs is a cynyic, you know. You must not believe anything he says."
"If doing kind things makes one a griffin, I hope I may be one always," said Miss Westonhaugh quickly, "and I trust my brother is as much a griffin as ever."
"I am, I assure you," said he. "But Mr. Griggs is quite right, and shows a profound knowledge of Indian life. No one but a griffin of the greenest ever gave anybody a rupee in Bombay--or ever will now, I should think."
"Oh, John, are you going to be cynical too?"
"No, Katharine, I am not cynical at all. I do not think you are quite sure what a 'cynic' is."
"Oh yes, I know quite well. Diogenes was a cynic, and Saint Jerome, and other people of that class."
"A man who lives in a tub, and abuses Alexander the Great, and that sort of thing," remarked Kildare, who had not spoken for some time.
"Mr. Griggs," said John Westonhaugh, "since you are the accused, pray define what you mean by a cynic, and then Mr. Isaacs, as the accuser, can have a chance too."
"Very well, I will. A man is a cynic if he will do no good to any one because he believes every one past improvement. Most men who do good actions are also cynics, because they well know that they are doing more harm than good by their charity. Mr. Westonhaugh has the discrimination to appreciate this, and therefore he is not a cynic."
"It is well you introduced the saving clause, Griggs," said Isaacs to me from across the table. "I am going to define you now; for I strongly suspect that you are the very ideal of a philosopher of that class. You are a man who believes in all that is good and beautiful in theory, but by too much indifference to good in small measures--for you want a thing perfect, or you want it not at all---you have abstracted yourself from perceiving it anywhere, except in the most brilliant examples of heroism that history affords. You set up in your imagination an ideal which you call the good man, and you are utterly dissatisfied with anything less perfect than perfection. The result is that, though you might do a good action from your philosophical longing to approach the ideal in your own person, you will not suffer yourself to believe that others are consciously or unconsciously striving to make themselves better also. And you do not believe that any one can be made a better man by any one else, by any exterior agency, by any good that you or others may do to him. What makes you what you are is the fact that you really cherish this beautiful ideal image of your worship and reverence, and love it; but for this, you would be the most insufferable man of my acquaintance, instead of being the most agreeable."
Isaacs was gifted with a marvellous frankness of speech. He always said what he meant, with a supreme indifference to consequences; but he said it with such perfect honesty and evident appreciation of what was good, even when he most vehemently condemned what he did not like, that it was impossible to be annoyed. Every one laughed at his attack on me, and having satisfied my desire to observe Miss Westonhaugh, which had prompted my first remark about griffins, I thought it was time to turn the conversation to the projected hunt.
"My dear fellow," I said, "I think that in spite of your Parthian shaft, your definition of a cynic is as complimentary to the school at large as to me in particular. Meanwhile, however," I added, turning to Mr. Ghyrkins, "I am inclined to believe with Lord Steepleton that the subject uppermost in the thoughts of most of us is the crusade against the tigers. What do you say? Shall we not all go as we are, a neat party of six?"
"Well, well, Mr. Griggs, we shall see, you know. Now, if we are going at all, when do you mean to start?"
"The sooner the better of course," broke in Kildare, and he launched into a host of reasons for going immediately, including the wildest statistics about the habits of tigers in winter. This was quite natural, however, as he was a thorough Irishman and had never seen a tiger in his life. Mr. Currie Ghyrkins vainly attempted to stem the torrent of his eloquence, but at last pinned him on some erratic statement about tigers moulting later in the year and their skins not being worth taking. Kildare would have asserted with equal equanimity that all tigers shed their teeth and their tails in December; he was evidently trying to rouse Mr. Ghyrkins into a discussion on the subject of tiger shooting in general, a purpose very easily accomplished. The old gentleman was soon goaded to madness by Kildare's wonderful opinions, and before long he vowed that the youngster had never seen a tiger,--not one in his whole life, sir,--and that it was high time he did, high time indeed, and he swore he should see one before he was a week older. Yes, sir, before he was a week older, "if I have to carry you among 'em like a baby in arms, sir, by gad, sir--I should think so!"
This was all we wanted, and in another ten minutes we were drinking a bumper to the health of the whole tiger-hunt and of Miss Westonhaugh in particular. Isaacs joined with the rest, and though he only drank some sherbet, as I watched his bright eyes and pale cheek, I thought that never knight drank truer toast to his lady. Miss Westonhaugh rose and went out, leaving us to smoke for a while. The conversation was general, and turned on the chase, of course. In a few minutes Isaacs dropped his cigarette and went quietly out. I determined to detain the rest as long as possible, and I seconded Mr. Ghyrkins in passing the claret briskly round, telling all manner of stories of all nations and peoples--ancient tales that would not amuse a schoolboy in America, but which were a revelation of profound wit and brilliant humour to the unsophisticated British mind. By immense efforts--and I hate to exert myself in conversation--I succeeded in prolonging the session through a cigar and a half, but at last I was forced to submit to a move; and with a somewhat ancient remark from Mr. Ghyrkins, to the effect that all good things must come to an end, we returned to the drawing-room.
Isaacs and Miss Westonhaugh were looking over some English photographs, and she was enthusiastically praising the beauties of Gothic architecture, while Isaacs was making the most of his opportunity, and taking a good look at her as she bent over the album. After we came in, she made a little music at the tuneless piano--there never was a piano in India yet that had any tune in it--playing and singing a little, very prettily. She sang something about a body in the rye, and then something else about drinking only with the eyes, to which her brother sang a sort of second very nicely. I do not understand much about music, but I thought the allusion to Isaacs' temperance in only drinking with his eyes was rather pointed. He said, however, that he liked it even better with a second than when she sang it alone, so I argued that it was not the first time he had heard it.
"Mr. Isaacs," said she, "you have often promised to sing something Persian for us. Will you not keep your word now?"
"When we are among the tigers, Miss Westonhaugh, next week. Then I will try and borrow a lute and sing you something."
It was late for an Indian dinner-party, so we took our departure soon afterwards, having agreed to meet the following afternoon at Annandale for the game of polo, in which Westonhaugh said he would also play. He and Isaacs made some appointment for the morning; they seemed to be very sympathetic to each other. Kildare mounted and rode homeward with us, though he had much farther to go than we. If he felt any annoyance at the small successes Isaacs had achieved during the evening, he was far too courteous a gentleman to show it; and so, as we groped our way through the trees by the starlight, chiefly occupied in keeping our horses on their legs, the snatches of conversation that were possible were pleasant, if not animated, and there was a cordial "Good-night" on both sides, as we left Kildare to pursue his way alone.
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