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a mere morbid growth that had sprung up in my ab-
sence, a result partly of the awakened and ungratified
impulses of that love I had stirred, and would it not
be steadily pushed aside as the real love strengthened
and developed? But no, no, I could not enter into
such a horrible, disgraceful compact with her, whatever
its grounds might be and its possible results and
reward. I would not and could not desecrate this
feeling I had for her, which was something infinitely
K 14*



Anna Lombard

higher than a mere love through the senses, would not
and could not use it as the means to an end, however
worthy the end might seem. Where would my own self-
r.espect be? It must be sacrificed, and with it also
hers, and with the sense of honour lost between us, our
love, instead of being as it now was, something in-
finitely tender and holy, might insensibly degenerate
into the same mere love of pleasure and self-gratifica-
tion that bound her and Gaida together. No, I would
fight the battle and take my chances of victory from
the ground where I stood. The contest should be
won by the perpetual contrast of one love with the
other, and there should be no moral compulsion, no
coercion, not even that coercion of the sentiments
that intimacy produces and that Gaida was swaying
her with now. I would wait for that hour when she
would, of her own accord, turn to me as her protector
and deliverer, her asylum and her hope.

All that I could do by patience and the extreme of
fidelity and tenderness should be done, but I would
not buy influence over her senses by degrading my love
to the level of my rival's. I might have done it with
a woman I loved less than Anna, but, rightly or wrongly,
reasonably or otherwise, Anna had roused and held all
the very best and the most selfless emotions that I was
capable of. My eye could not light on that delicate,
beautifully-balanced form, or meet those soft, ardent
eyes, without a rush of tenderness and devotion filling
me different far from what most men understand by
love. And I had seen her, met her, been loved by
her in the first fresh, pure unfolding of her heart, and

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Anna Lombard

I had left her. And now I had returned and found her
enveloped in a horror and a darkness worse than death.

I saw her, as it were, standing smiling on a gulf of
hideous, unknown dangers, and I alone knew, and saw,
and could save her.

Could I desert her ? Married to a native ! One
needs to have lived in India to fully understand the
horror contained in those words. Aside from the
moral degradations of life shared with one who, accord-
ing to the British standpoint, has no moral sense, of
being allied with a race whose vices and lives are
beyond description, there is the daily, hourly physical
danger from a native's insensate jealousy, unreasoning
rage, and childish, yet fiendish, revenge.

A smile bestowed on another, one of those hundred
little social amenities or functions fulfilled by his wife
not understood in its right sense by the unlettered,
unthinking barbarian, and a naked corpse, with breasts
cut off, and mutilated beyond recognition, flung out
upon the meidan, are but likely cause and probable
result.

Why had I not taken her with me to Burmah ?
Oh, fool that I had been, with blinded eyes ! How
much better that disease and death that I had so
dreaded for her from the Lihuli swamps than this.

My servant entered and stopped amazed at the
door to see his sahib pacing wildly backwards and
forwards with clenched hands and the sweat pouring
unnoticed from his face. He made a profound salaam
as he caught my wandering eye. ' Will not the sahib
eat ? It is hours past the appointed time.'
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Anna Lombard

I waved him away with impatient anger. The
sight of a black face was hateful and abhorrent to
me at that moment.

'Go, go,' I said, 'and see that neither you nor
anyone disturbs me till the morning. Clear the table ,
I shall not eat to-night.'

Silent and wondering, the man withdrew, and I
heard him and other servants clearing away the set
out but untouched dinner in the adjoining room.
Then they returned to their quarters, and I was left
alone in the silence. I looked at my watch. It was
ten. I must dress and go to the dance, or I should
fail in my appointment with Anna. I went upstairs
and began my toilet with feverish haste.

I was fairly early at the Delanys', and Anna had
not yet arrived. For that matter, she generally did
come late. I met a girl that I had not seen for some
time, and who had now become a married woman.
By her I took my seat where I had the whole length
of the room before me and I could watch for Anna's
appearance. At a quarter to twelve she entered, and
I could distinguish her in a moment. What was
there that made her figure so charming? She was
tall, but not of that height which makes a woman
formidable instead of caressable. She was only tall
when you actually measured her. At other times the
only impression her figure gave was of extreme grace
and suppleness. Her waist was slim and low, her
shoulders broad and her hips slight. Perhaps there
was something in this proportion that gave the whole
its peculiar, insinuating charm.
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Anna Lombard

She wore this evening a gown of heavy white silk,
as usual, with a train of great length and weight,
and the whole dress had or was lent by its wearer an
incomparable distinction. As she came nearer we
could see that she was wearing at her bosom a cluster
of her favourite white roses, and a small spray was
intertwined with the beautiful double plait of fair
hair on her neck. I watched her with my usual
delight, and then as she came closer I sprang to my
feet with an almost uttered exclamation of dismay.
Her face was terrible to look at. For a minute I
could not believe that this was the rounded, smiling,
rose-like face I knew. It was colourless and in some
indescribable way seemed blighted. The eyes had a
strained look of intense suffering and exhaustion
and the pale lips had a terrible line round them I had
never seen.

We met and pressed each other's hands in a
conventional way, and then Anna said hurriedly,
'Let us go outside somewhere, where we can speak
for a few moments, and then I am going home; I
cannot stay here.'

We went in silence towards the verandah, which
led to the compound beyond and a wild jungle of
flowers and palms where a hundred couples might
walk unseen by each other, and yet where the music
of the ballroom would reach them all. As we passed
out I heard one woman say to another by whom she
was sitting, ' How dreadfully ill Miss Lombard looks
this evening.' And the other answered, 'Yes, this
season is really extremely trying.'
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Anna Lombard

Anna's lips curled in a faint smile, but we neither
of us spoke till we had got far away from the house,
down by the end of a tiny path that stopped by a
rustic seat and open summer-house, surrounded by a
perfect thicket of rhododendrons. Here Anna sat down
and I by her side, and the silence between us seemed
like some great, palpable curtain which we were both
afraid to lift. At last I said, very gently, for her
looks were enough to move the most indifferent to
pity, 'You look most unhappy, Anna. Speak to me
and let me comfort you.'

She turned her eyes upon me and said in a low
tone, ' I have suffered intensely all day since you
left me. I have fought with myself and been defeated.
I cannot give him up. I feel now that I must lose
one of you, and to lose either will kill me.'

Her face was such an unconscious confirmation of
her words that I could not look upon them as a mere
hysterical expression. Only once have I seen such
a look on a human face, and that was on the face of a
woman suffering from a terrible disease, just after she
had learned the truth and three weeks before her
death from it. That other horrible feminine face
with the seal of death set on it rose suddenly before
me as Anna looked at me, and my heart seemed literally
wrung with fear and pain, as if giant hands had
clutched it and twisted it to breaking point. 'If I
keep him,' she went on quietly, with an accent of
desolation that was pitiful, 'you will leave me, desert
me, and I shall lose you.'

That was all, and again there was a great silence.
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Anna Lombard

In it I thought and ratified my own decision. I am
prepared for all men to condemn me, to say I acted
wrongly and weakly. To say I should have risen and
left her there. To say that I had done all that I could,
and that since she had decided upon her course I had
nothing to do but to accept that decision and leave
her to follow the fate she had decided upon. Perhaps
I was weak. Perhaps, if we look closely, we should
see that all unselfishness is a form of weakness. Be
that as it may, I saw that she was suffering, I loved
her, and I could alleviate her suffering by speaking,
and I spoke.

'No, Anna, I will not desert you. If you cannot
break with this man now, I will wait. I foresee that
the day will come when you will long to break this
tie and will call upon me to help you. Till that day
comes I am your protector and your friend.'

I put my arms round her and her head fell upon
my breast with a long-suppressed, terrible sob of pain,
and we sat on, motionless and in silence. From the
gay, brilliant windows of the Delanys' bungalow the
music streamed out to us, and we heard occasionally
on the other side of the rhododendrons a laugh or a
whisper as steps went by, with the trailing swish of a
ball gown on the grass.

Light feet, light hearts, light love, light flirtations
were passing gaily on the other side of that crimson
hedge, and we sat there drenched in an agony too great
for words. Deep emotions, great passions are out of
place in this little world of ours. They are but for
the immortal gods who possess all eternity in which



Anna Lombard

to suffer and recover from them. Conventionality!
How calm, how comfortable, how suitable it is to
our little limited lives ! How it might be said of
that, rather than of Wisdom : ' Her ways are ways of
Pleasantness and all her paths are Peace.'

Time passed. Dance after dance was played and
finished, and at last Anna raised her head. 'Take
me home, Gerald. To-morrow, come and see Gaida;
it is justice to me that you should see him. I will
be in the drawing-room at two exactly. Come to me
there.'

We rose, and to avoid passing through the crowd
I led her to an open lawn that impinged upon the
road where all the carriages were drawn up, wait-
ing. I went amongst them and found hers, and then
brought her to it and put her in and gave her my
promise I would see her at the hour she wished the
next day. As I put my hand for a moment on the
door she drew it within the carriage and kissed it.
Then the carriage drove onward and I went to seek
my own. I could not face a return to the idle, callous,
light-hearted crowd within and hear comments on
Anna's illness and change of looks. I drove away
and reached thankfully the lonely darkness of my own
house.

The following morning, after a sleepless night, I rose
early and went early to my work that I might be free
by two, and at a few minutes before the hour I had
reached the bungalow and was in her drawing-room.

She met me at the entrance to the room and her-
self drew aside the chicks to admit me. She was

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deadly pale to her very lips. She seemed intensely
excited, and I did not feel surprised that she should
be so. Coming to receive two lovers, both of whom
t knew she loved, and to show one to the other !
As for me I felt in a dream. All seemed unreal to
me. Were we really two ordinary, flesh-and-blood
British mortals? Was this ordinary life, or were we
shades acting in some grotesque farce? She motioned
me to a chair, far removed from her and in the darkest
shade of the shaded room. I sank into it mechanically.
The chair seemed real and ordinary enough, and there
were other chairs and tables and ordinary things round
me in this ordinary room, where Anna was wont to
laugh and talk society chatter with her ordinary
English friends. But what a heart of strange emotions
beat under that calm, white breast ! What thoughts
passed and repassed behind that smooth, white brow,
while the lightest nonsense was slipping from her lips !
What self-possession and self-control she must have
had to meet this curious position and to live this
two-fold life ! What courage and nerves of steel to
give herself to a man whose very breath of life is
cruelty, whose jealousy means atrocity, whose anger
means death ! True, she was my Anna Lombard,
that I had thought of when I had first heard her
name, stepped out of the Middle Ages before me.
And I looked at her sitting not far from me, pale,
calm, composed as a statue, and my eyes seemed to
see, only through a mist of pain, a shade from those
times of blood and lust and passion and crime; times
when swift poisons were made by white fingers and



Anna Lombard

when women loved as men, as strongly, and often as
briefly. When they laughed at the idea of one lover,
yet were ready to die with, for, or by the hand of, any
one of the many ; times when the very air they breathed
seemed charged with treachery, cunning and danger
from these a shade had returned and confounded itself
with the clear white soul of an English girl in a body
beautiful and innocent to look upon as the sunlight
of a summer day.

She sounded a gong on a table near her and almost
simultaneously the swaying chick divided, and a figure
came into the room, a room so large and dark that I,
in my far corner, half concealed by a portttre, would
not be seen unless by one searching for me.

I sat motionless, hardly breathing, in my chair in the
shadow. All my senses seemed absorbed in that of
vision. This, then, was Gaida Khan. He moved
into the room like a king coming to audience. He
was of great height, and his form evidently, from its
motions, as perfect as the perfect face. I sat frozen,
rigid, while a great hopelessness settled on my heart
and seemed to kill it. A woman whose eyes had
been once opened so that she could see that beauty,
one whose senses were captured by it, would never
be free, entirely free, till death released her. This
was the thought that seemed festering round my
heart, chilling and crushing it to nothing. At first,
when I had heard from her lips that my rival was a
native, a feeling of contempt and scorn had given me
some comfort and security; his age, too, that of a
mere boy, and rank, that of the bazaar; everything
IS4



Anna Lombard

had seemed in my favour. But now that I saw all
arguments, all reasons, all considerations of this and
that were swept away when brought suddenly face to
face with him. Later, I learned that there were
thousands of such men in northern India serving in
the native regiments soldiers, weavers, grass plaiters,
men walking with bare feet in the dust of the highway,
to be seen and found in all sorts of occupations, to
be met every day in the streets of Peshawur, and that
Gaida was but a good and handsome specimen of his
extraordinarily gifted race. But I, though five years
in India, had never before met a Pathan, or, seeing
one, had had my eyes and thoughts elsewhere. And
now, with my eyes acutely sharpened by jealous pain
and wonder, I looked at this man and he seemed
almost superhuman. I had again for an instant that
feeling of unreality as I watched him advance with an
easy, stately grace and dignity. Anna made a slight
motion of her hand to the jilmil beside her, and Gaida
moved towards it and set it wide open, letting a flood
of the bright yellow light from the desert in upon his
face, doubtless, as she intended. It is difficult in the
slow, cold words that follow each other on paper to
convey any idea of the glory of beauty that the hand
of God has set upon this race. The face was of the
Greek type in the absolute oval of its contour, and
the perfectly straight features, the high nose chiselled
in one line with the forehead, the short curling upper
lip and the full, rounded chin; but curiously unlike
the Greek type, which shares with almost all statu-
esquely beautiful features a certain hard emptiness
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Anna Lombard

and fixity, this face was full of fire, animation and
brilliance. The skin was smooth and soft as velvet,
of the tint of burnished copper, but glowing and
transparent, and eyes full of intellect and pride looked
out from dark marked eyebrows that swept the smooth
brow in a wide arch above them. On his black hair,
which curled closely round the ears and nape of his
neck, he wore a high scarlet turban, the two ends of
which fell as low as his waist at the back, and seemed
to add still greater grace to the exquisite poise of the
head, that was supported by a neck like a massive
column of warmed and tinted marble. What a marvel
of humanity, what a chef-d'oeuvre of its creator ! That
beauty was like a sort of magic, as she had said. I
realised it with my whole soul in those few moments.
If that had been a woman I might have been as faith-
less to Anna as she was now to me for his sake.

As it was, I sat paralysed and gazing at him, feeling
crushed and without hope. I knew then what a woman
feels who finds herself in the blaze of another woman's
beauty which has scorched out light and love from her
own life.

'Thank you,' Anna said, speaking in Hindustani,
'and have you any new fans to show me to-day,
Gaida?'

The Pathan smiled, and it was as if a sword cut me.
The smile was irresistible, sweet as might be painted
on the lips of Botticelli's cherubs. A soft light played
all over the youthful face, and the delicately-carved
lips parted from the faultless lines of even, milky
teeth.

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Anna Lombard

'Look at this punkah,' he replied, taking from his
right hand to his left a fan of plaited grass, worked
so finely one could not imagine fingers had woven it
together.

' Lovely, indeed,' returned Anna, taking it from him.
' How long did it take you to do this ? '

'Oh, a day and a half, I think,' returned the Pathan,
lightly. 'The Mohurrum festival will be here soon;
do you like my dress for it?' He turned round
before her as he spoke, displaying the festival dress,
and with it the magnificence of his shapely form.
The dress was exceedingly rich, the attire of the
Mohammedan for a fte. The zouave jacket was of
turquoise silk embroidered in gold, over a fine white
tunic of muslin, thin as a spider's web. The trousers
were the full Turkish shape, and of fine white linen,
and gold embroidered sandals were on his feet.

'It is very pretty, perfect, I think, Gaida,' she
answered. 'I am glad you showed it to me. You
and all the servants, except my own bearer, can have a
holiday the entire day ; you can tell them.'

Gaida nodded and smiled again.

'I want you to be there to see us,' he said. 'Will
you come down to the sahib's office in the city and see
us pass by ? '

'I will try,' said Anna. 'And now I have things to
do I must see to them, Gaida.' She rose from her
chair, and then the two figures were standing close
together and made a perfect picture, such as one could
seldom see, in the warm radiance of light falling in
upon them from the open jilmil. Anna, tall and grace-
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Anna Lombard

ful, in her long, flowing white muslin, with her fair
English face, and her sunny hair crowning her upraised
head, and Gaida, taller still, magnificent in his Oriental
dress, with his regal head inclined a little as he looked
down on her. It seemed like a page torn from the
Arabian Nights, and put before me.

' Good-bye,' I heard Anna say gently, and then before
my straining, starting eyes, I saw the Pathan take her
right hand, very gently and reverently, as I myself
would have done, and draw her a little closer to him.
He bent his head down and kissed her on the lips.
Every movement of the proud neck and shoulders was
grace and dignity incarnate. Then they unclasped
hands, and he turned away and walked towards the
chick, erectly and easily as he had entered, passed
through it and was gone. My hands were clenched on
each chair arm till the bones almost started ; my brain
seemed bursting, my eyeballs seemed to strain beyond
their lids. What had passed before me had been an
idyl of purity and dignity and grace. No kiss could
have been given or received with more perfect chastity
of look, gesture and action. And every motion of his
frame, from the stretching out of his hand to the
bending of that kingly head till his lips touched hers,
would have been an ideal for a painter drawing a
monarch bestowing a kiss upon his betrothed. And
he was a barbarian who trod the streets of a bazaar
with naked, dusty feet. But, against myself, my
instincts, to a certain extent, justified Anna. What
wonder that, with her eye so sensitive to beauty, her
brain so saturated with poetry and romance of feeling
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Anna Lombard

she should be fascinated beyond power of resistance
by this presence that compelled even my admiration.
I, who had lost all through him. I, who hated and
loathed him. I, whose life was devastated by him.
Yes, even I, looking through her eyes, could see and
feel and realise the overpowering influence that rushed
through her and dominated her, and made her yield to
that kiss, even here, now, before my eyes.

What a strange and extraordinarily fascinating mixture
he was ! That extreme sweetness and most caressable
and appealing youthfulness when he smiled contrasted
how sharply with the cold, serene beauty of his profile
in repose, the hauteur of that curling lip, the proud
step and carriage, the calm authority of that last em-
brace.

After he had left I neither moved nor stirred. I
felt I could not. There was utter silence in the room
between us. Then Anna came over to me, knelt
beside my chair and laid her head down on my
knees.

Gerald'

Yes.'

'What do you think of him?'

1 1 understand, now.'

The words were just a hoarse whisper. I could not
articulate more. I stretched out my hand and laid it
gently on her soft hair.

'Yet I do not love him as I love you,' she declared

passionately, raising her head and looking at me with

clear, burning eyes. 'But, oh, the influence he has

upon me, when I see him enter the room, when I

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Anna Lombard

look at him, and when I think of losing him ! ' She
did not finish, but the shudder that went over her, and
the grey pallor that drove out the rose colour in her
face finished it for her. I passed my arm round her
and kept it there. I felt as if she had wounded me,
and I was bleeding to death ; yet, to caress her was still
a pleasure, and she knelt beside me willingly, inclin-
ing towards me, absorbed in me. It was strange. She
did love me, there was no doubt. What was this
horrible mystery of a double love?

There was a long silence, then I murmured, hardly
conscious that I was thinking aloud, ' It is impos-
sible, inconceivable, unprecedented ; no woman has ever
done it.'

'What?' asked Anna, with straining eyes wandering
over my face.

' Been in love,' I answered mechanically, ' really and
passionately in love with two men at the same time.'

'If you had stayed and been with me, and I had
met Gaida,' she answered in her peculiar trenchant
way, when her voice coming down with each word
seemed like a hammer falling true on its nail, 'I do
not think I should have cared or taken any notice of
him, any more than of the thousands of beautiful
faces round one out here. But you were not here,
and I had no idea you would ever return to me, and I
do love Gaida now, and you, too both of you. It may
be inconceivable, impossible, unprecedented, as you
say, but it is so. If I could kill my love for him I
would, for I want to be free from him. I love you so
much, I want to be with you, live with you, spend
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Anna Lombard

every minute of my life with you, but something, some
intangible fearful something, binds me to this man,
and I can't loose myself.'

She spoke the last words slowly, fearfully, and her
face grew pale and her eyes dilated. She gave one
fleeting, half - terrified glance round the room as if
seeking to see with physical vision this terrible com-
pelling force that was overmastering her.

' How can it possibly be kept a secret your marriage ? '
I asked dully, after a moment. 'It seems as if such
a thing must be known all over the station directly.'

'It may be,' she answered back in a half-inaudible
whisper, 'at any moment. There is so much chance
in these things. They may, or may not be found out
to-day, or to-morrow, or any time. There is no certainty.


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Online LibraryVictoria CrossAnna Lombard → online text (page 10 of 21)