My doctor tells me that I need rest and change of air. It is not improbable that I shall get both ere long--rest
that neither the red-coated orderly nor the mid-day gun can break, and change of air far beyond that which any
homeward-bound steamer can give me. In the meantime I am resolved to stay where I am; and, in flat
defiance of my doctor's orders, to take all the world into my confidence. You shall learn for yourselves the
precise nature of my malady; and shall, too, judge for yourselves whether any man born of woman on this
weary earth was ever so tormented as I.
Speaking now as a condemned criminal might speak ere the drop-bolts are drawn, my story, wild and
hideously improbable as it may appear, demands at least attention. That it will ever receive credence I utterly
disbelieve. Two months ago I should have scouted as mad or drunk the man who had dared tell me the like.
Two months ago I was the happiest man in India. To-day, from Peshawar to the sea, there is no one more
wretched. My doctor and I are the only two who know this. His explanation is that my brain, digestion and
eyesight are all slightly affected; giving rise to my frequent and persistent 'delusions.' Delusions, indeed! I
call him a fool; but he attends me still with the same unwearied smile, the same bland professional manner,
the same neatly-trimmed red whiskers, till I begin to suspect that I am an ungrateful, evil-tempered invalid.
But you shall judge for yourselves.
Three years ago it was my fortune--my great misfortune--to sail from Gravesend to Bombay, on return from
long leave, with one Agnes Keith-Wessington, wife of an officer on the Bombay side. It does not in the least
concern you to know what manner of woman she was. Be content with the knowledge that, ere the voyage had
ended, both she and I were desperately and unreasoningly in love with one another. Heaven knows that I can
make the admission now without one particle of vanity. In matters of this sort there is always one who gives
and another who accepts. From the first day of our ill-omened attachment, I was conscious that Agnes's
passion was a stronger, a more dominant, and--if I may use the expression--a purer sentiment than mine.
Whether she recognized the fact then, I do not know. Afterwards it was bitterly plain to both of us.
Arrived at Bombay in the spring of the year, we went our respective ways, to meet no more for the next three
or four months, when my leave and her love took us both to Simla. There we spent the season together; and
there my fire of straw burnt itself out to a pitiful end with the closing year. I attempt no excuse. I make no
apology. Mrs. Wessington had given up much for my sake, and was prepared to give up all. From my own
lips, in August, 1882, she learnt that I was sick of her presence, tired of her company, and weary of the sound
of her voice. Ninety-nine women out of a hundred would have wearied of me as I wearied of them;
seventy-five of that number would have promptly avenged themselves by active and obtrusive flirtation with
other men. Mrs. Wessington was the hundredth. On her neither my openly-expressed aversion, nor the cutting
brutalities with which I garnished our interviews had the least effect.
'Jack, darling!' was her one eternal cuckoo-cry, 'I'm sure it's all a mistake--a hideous mistake; and we'll be
good friends again some day. Please forgive me, Jack, dear.'
I was the offender, and I knew it. That knowledge transformed my pity into passive endurance, and,
eventually, into blind hate--the same instinct, I suppose, which prompts a man to savagely stamp on the spider
he has but half killed. And with this hate in my bosom the season of 1882 came to an end.
Next year we met again at Simla--she with her monotonous face and timid attempts at reconciliation, and I
with loathing of her in every fiber of my frame. Several times I could not avoid meeting her alone; and on
each occasion her words were identically the same. Still the unreasoning wail that it was all a 'mistake'; and
still the hope of eventually 'making friends.' I might have seen, had I cared to look, that that hope only was
keeping her alive. She grew more wan and thin month by month. You will agree with me, at least, that such
conduct would have driven any one to despair. It was uncalled for, childish, unwomanly. I maintain that she
was much to blame. And again, sometimes, in the black, fever-stricken night watches, I have begun to think
that I might have been a little kinder to her. But that really is a 'delusion.' I could not have continued
pretending to love her when I didn't; could I? It would have been unfair to us both.
Last year we met again--on the same terms as before. The same weary appeals, and the same curt answers
from my lips. At least I would make her see how wholly wrong and hopeless were her attempts at resuming
the old relationship. As the season wore on, we fell apart--that is to say, she found it difficult to meet me, for I
had other and more absorbing interests to attend to. When I think it over quietly in my sick-room, the season
of 1884 seems a confused nightmare wherein light and shade were fantastically intermingled--my courtship of
little Kitty Mannering; my hopes, doubts and fears; our long rides together; my trembling avowal of
attachment; her reply; and now and again a vision of a white face flitting by in the 'rickshaw with the black
and white liveries I once watched for so earnestly; the wave of Mrs. Wessington's gloved hand; and, when she
met me alone, which was but seldom, the irksome monotony of her appeal. I loved Kitty Mannering, honestly,
heartily loved her, and with my love for her grew my hatred for Agnes. In August Kitty and I were engaged.
The next day I met those accursed 'magpie' jhampanies at the back of Jakko, and, moved by some passing
sentiment of pity, stopped to tell Mrs. Wessington everything. She knew it already.
'So I hear you're engaged, Jack dear.' Then, without a moment's pause: 'I'm sure it's all a mistake--a hideous
mistake. We shall be as good friends some day, Jack, as we ever were.'