My answer might have made even a man wince. It cut the dying woman before me like the blow of a whip.
'Please forgive me, Jack; I didn't mean to make you angry; but it's true, it's true!'
And Mrs. Wessington broke down completely. I turned away and left her to finish her journey in peace,
feeling, but only for a moment or two, that I had been an unutterably mean hound. I looked back, and saw that
she had turned her 'rickshaw with the idea, I suppose, of overtaking me.
The scene and its surroundings were photographed on my memory. The rain-swept sky (we were at the end of
the wet weather), the sodden, dingy pines, the muddy road, and the black powder-riven cliffs formed a
gloomy background against which the black and white liveries of the jhampanies, the yellow-paneled
'rickshaw and Mrs. Wessington's down-bowed golden head stood out clearly. She was holding her
handkerchief in her left hand and was leaning back exhausted against the 'rickshaw cushions. I turned my
horse up a bypath near the Sanjowlie Reservoir and literally ran away. Once I fancied I heard a faint call of
'Jack!' This may have been imagination. I never stopped to verify it. Ten minutes later I came across Kitty on
horseback; and, in the delight of a long ride with her, forgot all about the interview.
A week later Mrs. Wessington died, and the inexpressible burden of her existence was removed from my life.
I went Plainsward perfectly happy. Before three months were over I had forgotten all about her, except that at
times the discovery of some of her old letters reminded me unpleasantly of our bygone relationship. By
January I had disinterred what was left of our correspondence from among my scattered belongings and had
burnt it. At the beginning of April of this year, 1885, I was at Simla--semi-deserted Simla--once more, and
was deep in lover's talks and walks with Kitty. It was decided that we should be married at the end of June.
You will understand, therefore, that, loving Kitty as I did, I am not saying too much when I pronounce myself
to have been, at the time, the happiest man in India.
Fourteen delightful days passed almost before I noticed their flight. Then, aroused to the sense of what was
proper among mortals circumstanced as we were, I pointed out to Kitty that an engagement-ring was the
outward and visible sign of her dignity as an engaged girl; and that she must forthwith come to Hamilton's to
be measured for one. Up to that moment, I give you my word, we had completely forgotten so trivial a matter.
To Hamilton's we accordingly went on the 15th of April, 1885. Remember that--whatever my doctor may say
to the contrary--I was then in perfect health, enjoying a well-balanced mind and an absolutely tranquil spirit.
Kitty and I entered Hamilton's shop together, and there, regardless of the order of affairs, I measured Kitty's
finger for the ring in the presence of the amused assistant. The ring was a sapphire with two diamonds. We
then rode out down the slope that leads to the Combermere Bridge and Peliti's shop.
While my Waler was cautiously feeling his way over the loose shale, and Kitty was laughing and chattering at
my side--while all Simla, that is to say as much of it as had then come from the Plains, was grouped round the
Reading-room and Peliti's veranda--I was aware that some one, apparently at a vast distance, was calling me
by my Christian name. It struck me that I had heard the voice before, but when and where I could not at once
determine. In the short space it took to cover the road between the path from Hamilton's shop and the first
plank of the Combermere Bridge I had thought over half-a-dozen people who might have committed such a
solecism, and had eventually decided that it must have been some singing in my ears. Immediately opposite
Peliti's shop my eye was arrested by the sight of four jhampanies in black and white livery, pulling a
yellow-paneled, cheap, bazar 'rickshaw. In a moment my mind flew back to the previous season and Mrs.
Wessington with a sense of irritation and disgust. Was it not enough that the woman was dead and done with,
without her black and white servitors re-appearing to spoil the day's happiness? Whoever employed them now
I thought I would call upon, and ask as a personal favor to change her jhampanies' livery. I would hire the
men myself, and, if necessary, buy their coats from off their backs. It is impossible to say here what a flood of
undesirable memories their presence evoked.
'Kitty,' I cried, 'there are poor Mrs. Wessington's jhampanies turned up again! I wonder who has them now?'
Kitty had known Mrs. Wessington slightly last season, and had always been interested in the sickly woman.
'What? Where?' she asked. 'I can't see them anywhere.'
Even as she spoke, her horse, swerving from a laden mule, threw himself directly in front of the advancing
'rickshaw. I had scarcely time to utter a word of warning when, to my unutterable horror, horse and rider
passed through men and carriage as if they had been thin air.
'What's the matter?' cried Kitty; 'what made you call out so foolishly, Jack? If I am engaged I don't want all
creation to know about it. There was lots of space between the mule and the veranda; and, if you think I can't