Soldiers Three, by Rudyard Kipling

The Tents of Kedar

Only why should it be with pain at all,

Why must I ‘twixt the leaves of coronal

Put any kiss of pardon on thy brow?

Why should the other women know so much,

And talk together:— Such the look and such

The smile he used to love with, then as now.

Any Wife to any Husband.

SCENE.-A Naini Tal dinner for thirty-four. Plate, wines, crockery, and khitmatgars carefully calculated to scale of Rs. 6000 per mensem, less Exchange. Table split lengthways by bank of flowers.

MRS. HERRIOTT. (After conversation has risen to proper pitch.) Ah! ‘Didn’t see you in the crush in the drawing-room. (Sotto voce.) Where have you been all this while, Pip?

CAPTAIN GADSBY. (Turning from regularly ordained dinner partner and settling hock glasses.) Good evening. (Sotto voce.) Not quite so loud another time. You’ve no notion how your voice carries. (Aside.) So much for shirking the written explanation. It’ll have to be a verbal one now. Sweet prospect! How on earth am I to tell her that I am a respectable, engaged member of society and it’s all over between us?

MRS. H. I’ve a heavy score against you. Where were you at the Monday Pop? Where were you on Tuesday? Where were you at the Lamonts’ tennis? I was looking everywhere.

CAPT. G. For me! Oh, I was alive somewhere, I suppose. (Aside.) It’s for Minnie’s sake, but it’s going to be dashed unpleasant.

MRS. H. Have I done anything to offend you? I never meant it if I have. I couldn’t help going for a ride with the Vaynor man. It was promised a week before you came up.

CAPT. G. I didn’t know —

MRS. H. It really was.

CAPT. G. Anything about it, I mean.

MRS. H. What has upset you today? All these days? You haven’t been near me for four whole days — nearly one hundred hours. Was it kind of you, Pip? And I’ve been looking forward so much to your coming.

CAPT. G. Have you?

MRS. H. You know I have! I’ve been as foolish as a schoolgirl about it. I made a little calendar and put it in my card-case, and every time the twelve o’clock gun went off I scratched out a square and said: ‘That brings me nearer to Pip. My Pip!’

CAPT. G. (With an uneasy laugh.) What will Mackler think if you neglect him so?

MRS. H. And it hasn’t brought you nearer. You seem farther away than ever. Are you sulking about something? I know your temper.

CAPT. G. No.

MRS. H. Have I grown old in the last few months, then? (Reaches forward to bank of flowers for menu-card.)

MRS. H. (To partner.) Oh, thanks. I didn’t see.

MRS. H. Keeps her arm at full stretch for three seconds.

PARTNER ON LEFT. Allow me. (Hands menu-card.) (Turns right again.) Is anything in me changed at all?

CAPT. G. For Goodness’ sake go on with your dinner! You must eat something. Try one of those cutlet arrangements. (Aside.) And I fancied she had good shoulders, once upon a time! What an ass a man can make of himself!

MRS. H. (Helping herself to a paper frill, seven peas, some stamped carrots and a spoonful of gravy.) That isn’t an answer. Tell me whether I have done anything.

CAPT. G. (Aside.) If it isn’t ended here there will be a ghastly scene somewhere else. If only I’d written to her and stood the racket — at long range! (To Khitmatgar.) Han! Simpkin do. (Aloud.) I’ll tell you later on.

MRS. H. Tell me now. It must be some foolish misunderstanding, and you know that there was to be nothing of that sort between us. We, of all people in the world, can’t afford it. Is it the Vaynor man, and don’t you like to say so? On my honour —

CAPT. G. I haven’t given the Vaynor man a thought.

MRS. H. But how d’you know that I haven’t?

CAPT. G. (Aside.) Here’s my chance and may the Devil help me through with it. (Aloud and measuredly.) Believe me, I do not care how often or how tenderly you think of the Vaynor man.

MRS. H. I wonder if you mean that. — Oh, what is the good of squabbling and pretending to misunderstand when you are only up for so short a time? Pip, don’t be a stupid!

Follows a pause, during which he crosses his left leg over his right and continues his dinner.

CAPT. G. (In answer to the thunderstorm in her eyes.) Corns — my worst.

MRS. H. Upon my word, you are the very rudest man in the world! I’ll never do it again.

CAPT. G. (Aside.) No, I don’t think you will; but I wonder what you will do before it’s all over. (To Khitmatgar.) Thorah ur Simpkin do.

MRS. H. Well! Haven’t you the grace to apologise, bad man?

CAPT. G. (Aside.) I mustn’t let it drift back now. Trust a woman for being as blind as a bat when she won’t see.

MRS. H. I’m waiting: or would you like me to dictate a form of apology?

CAPT. G. (Desperately.) By all means dictate.

MRS. H. (Lightly.) Very well. Rehearse your several Christian names after me and go on: ‘Profess my sincere repentance.’

CAPT. G. ‘Sincere repentance.’

MRS. H. ‘For having behaved —’

CAPT. G. (Aside.) At last! I wish to Goodness she’d look away. ‘For having behaved’— as I have behaved, and declare that I am thoroughly and heartily sick of the whole business, and take this opportunity of making clear my intention of ending it, now, henceforward, and for ever. (Aside.) If any one had told me I should be such a blackguard —!

MRS. H. (Shaking a spoonful of potato chips into her plate.) That’s not a pretty joke.

CAPT. G. No. It’s a reality. (Aside.) I wonder if smashes of this kind are always so raw.

MRS. H. Really, Pip, you’re getting more absurd every day.

CAPT. G. I don’t think you quite understand me. Shall I repeat it?

MRS. H. No! For pity’s sake don’t do that. It’s too terrible, even in fun.

CAPT. G. I’ll let her think it over for a while. But I ought to be horse-whipped.

MRS. H. I want to know what you meant by what you said just now.

CAPT. G. Exactly what I said. No less.

MRS. H. But what have I done to deserve it? What have I done?

CAPT. G. (Aside.) If she only wouldn’t look at me. (Aloud and very slowly, his eyes on his plate.) D’you remember that evening in July, before the Rains broke, when you said that the end would have to come sooner or later — and you wondered for which of us it would come first?

MRS. H. Yes! I was only joking. And you swore that, as long as there was breath in your body, it should never come. And I believed you.

CAPT. G. (Fingering menu-card) Well, it has. That’s all.

A long pause, during which MRS. H. bows her head and rolls the bread-twist into little pellets: G. stares at the oleanders.

MRS. H. (Throwing back her head and laughing naturally.) They train us women well, don’t they, Pip?

CAPT. G. (Brutally, touching shirt-stud.) So far as the expression goes. (Aside.) It isn’t in her nature to take things quietly. There’ll be an explosion yet.

MRS. H. (With a shudder.) Thank you. B-but even Red Indians allow people to wriggle when they’re being tortured, I believe. (Slips fan from girdle and fans slowly: rim of fan level with chin.)

PARTNER ON LEFT. Very close to-night, isn’t it? ‘You find it too much for you?

MRS. H. Oh, no, not in the least. But they really ought to have punkahs, even in your cool Naini Tal, oughtn’t they? (Turns, dropping fan and raising eyebrows.)

CAPT. G. It’s all right. (Aside.) Here comes the storm!

MRS. H. (Her eyes on the tablecloth: fan ready in right hand.) It was very cleverly managed, Pip, and I congratulate you. You swore — you never contented yourself with merely saying a thing — you swore that, as far as lay in your power, you’d make my wretched life pleasant for me. And you’ve denied me the consolation of breaking down. I should have done it — indeed I should. A woman would hardly have thought of this refinement, my kind, considerate friend. (Fan-guard as before.) You have explained things so tenderly and truthfully, too! You haven’t spoken or written a word of warning, and you have let me believe in you till the last minute. You haven’t condescended to give me your reason yet. No! A woman could not have managed it half so well. Are there many men like you in the world?

CAPT. G. I’m sure I don’t know. (To Khitmatgar.) Ohe! Simpkin do.

MRS. H. You call yourself a man of the world, don’t you? Do men of the world behave like Devils when they do a woman the honour to get tired of her?

CAPT. G. I’m sure I don’t know. Don’t speak so loud!

MRS. H. Keep us respectable, O Lord, whatever happens! Don’t be afraid of my compromising you. You’ve chosen your ground far too well, and I’ve been properly brought up. (Lowering fan.) Haven’t you any pity, Pip, except for yourself?

CAPT. G. Wouldn’t it be rather impertinent of me to say that I’m sorry for you?

MRS. H. I think you have said it once or twice before. You’re growing very careful of my feelings. My God, Pip, I was a good woman once! You said I was. You’ve made me what I am. What are you going to do with me? What are you going to do with me? Won’t you say that you are sorry? (Helps herself to iced asparagus.)

CAPT. G. I am sorry for you, if you want the pity of such a brute as I am. I’m awf’ly sorry for you.

MRS. H. Rather tame for a man of the world. Do you think that that admission clears you?

CAPT. G. What can I do? I can only tell you what I think of myself. You can’t think worse than that?

MRS. H. Oh, yes, I can! And now, will you tell me the reason of all this? Remorse? Has Bayard been suddenly conscience-stricken?

CAPT. G. (Angrily, his eyes still lowered.) No! The thing has come to an end on my side. That’s all. Mafisch!

MRS. H. ‘That’s all. Mafisch!’ As though I were a Cairene Dragoman. You used to make prettier speeches. D’you remember when you said ——?

CAPT. G. For Heaven’s sake don’t bring that back! Call me anything you like and I’ll admit it —

MRS. H. But you don’t care to be reminded of old lies? If I could hope to hurt you one-tenth as much as you have hurt me to-night — No, I wouldn’t — I couldn’t do it — liar though you are.

CAPT. G. I’ve spoken the truth.

MRS. H. My dear Sir, you flatter yourself. You have lied over the reason. Pip, remember that I know you as you don’t know yourself. You have been everything to me, though you are —(Fan-guard.) Oh, what a contemptible Thing it is! And so you are merely tired of me?

CAPT. G. Since you insist upon my repeating it — Yes.

MRS. H. Lie the first. I wish I knew a coarser word. Lie seems so ineffectual in your case. The fire has just died out and there is no fresh one? Think for a minute, Pip, if you care whether I despise you more than I do. Simply Mafisch, is it?

CAPT. G. Yes. (Aside.) I think I deserve this.

MRS. H. Lie number two. Before the next glass chokes you, tell me her name.

CAPT. G. (Aside.). I’ll make her pay for dragging Minnie into the business! (Aloud.) Is it likely?

MRS. H. Very likely if you thought that it would flatter your vanity. You’d cry my name on the house-tops to make people turn round.

CAPT. G. I wish I had. There would have been an end of this business.

MRS. H. Oh, no, there would not — And so you were going to be virtuous and blase, were you? To come to me and say: ‘I’ve done with you. The incident is clo-osed.’ I ought to be proud of having kept such a man so long.

CAPT. G. (Aside.) It only remains to pray for the end of the dinner. (Aloud.) You know what I think of myself.

MRS. H. As it’s the only person in the world you ever do think of, and as I know your mind thoroughly, I do. You want to get it all over and — Oh, I can’t keep you back! And you’re going — think of it, Pip — to throw me over for another woman. And you swore that all other women were — Pip, my Pip! She can’t care for you as I do. Believe me, she can’t! Is it any one that I know?

CAPT. G. Thank Goodness it isn’t. (Aside.) I expected a cyclone, but not an earthquake.

MRS. H. She can’t! Is there anything that I wouldn’t do for you — or haven’t done? And to think that I should take this trouble over you, knowing what you are! Do you despise me for it?

CAPT. G. (Wiping his mouth to hide a smile.) Again? It’s entirely a work of charity on your part.

MRS. H. Ahhh! But I have no right to resent it. — Is she better-looking than I? Who was it said —?

CAPT G. No — not that!

MRS. H. I’ll be more merciful than you were. Don’t you know that all women are alike?

CAPT. G. (Aside.) Then this is the exception that proves the rule.

MRS. H. All of them! I’ll tell you anything you like. I will, upon my word! They only want the admiration — from anybody — no matter who — anybody! But there is always one man that they care for more than any one else in the world, and would sacrifice all the others to. Oh, do listen! I’ve kept the Vaynor man trotting after me like a poodle, and he believes that he is the only man I am interested in. I’ll tell you what he said to me.

CAPT. G. Spare him. (Aside.) I wonder what his version is.

MRS. H. He’s been waiting for me to look at him all through dinner. Shall I do it, and you can see what an idiot he looks?

CAPT. G. ‘But what imports the nomination of this gentleman?’

MRS. H. Watch! (Sends a glance to the Vaynor man, who tries vainly to combine a mouthful of ice pudding, a smirk of self-satisfaction, a glare of intense devotion, and the stolidity of a British dining countenance.)

CAPT. G. (Critically.) He doesn’t look pretty. Why didn’t you wait till the spoon was out of his mouth?

MRS. H. To amuse you. She’ll make an exhibition of you as I’ve made of him; and people will laugh at you. Oh, Pip, can’t you see that? It’s as plain as the noonday sun. You’ll be trotted about and told lies, and made a fool of like the others. I never made a fool of you, did I?

CAPT. G. (Aside.) What a clever little woman it is!

MRS. H. Well, what have you to say?

CAPT. G. I feel better.

MRS. H. Yes, I suppose so, after I have come down to your level. I couldn’t have done it if I hadn’t cared for you so much. I have spoken the truth.

CAPT. G. It doesn’t alter the situation.

MRS. H. (Passionately.) Then she has said that she cares for you! Don’t believe her, Pip. It’s a lie — as bad as yours to me!

CAPT. G. Ssssteady! I’ve a notion that a friend of yours is looking at you.

MRS. H. He! I hate him. He introduced you to me.

CAPT. G. (Aside.) And some people would like women to assist in making the laws. Introduction to imply condonement. (Aloud.) Well, you see, if you can remember so far back as that, I couldn’t, in common politeness, refuse the offer.

MRS. H. In common politeness! We have got beyond that!

CAPT. G. (Aside.) Old ground means fresh trouble, (Aloud.) On my honour —

MRS. H. Your what? Ha, ha!

CAPT. G. Dishonour, then. She’s not what you imagine. I meant to —

MRS. H. Don’t tell me anything about her! She won’t care for you, and when you come back, after having made an exhibition of yourself, you’ll fine me occupied with —

CAPT. G. (Insolently.) You couldn’t while I am alive. (Aside.) If that doesn’t bring her pride to her rescue, nothing will.

MRS. H. (Drawing herself up). Couldn’t do it? I? (Softening.) You’re right. I don’t believe I could — though you are what you are — a coward and a liar in grain.

CAPT. G. It doesn’t hurt so much after your little lecture — with demonstrations.

MRS. H. One mass of vanity! Will nothing ever touch you in this life? There must be a Hereafter if it’s only for the benefit of —— But you will have it all to yourself.

CAPT. G. (Under his eyebrows.) Are you so certain of that?

MRS. H. I shall have had mine in this life; and it will serve me right.

CAPT. G. But the admiration that you insisted on so strongly a moment ago? (Aside.) Oh, I am a brute!

MRS. H. (Fiercely.) Will that console me for knowing that you will go to her with the same words, the same arguments, and the — the same pet names you used to me? And if she cares for you, you two will laugh over my story. Won’t that be punishment heavy enough even for me — even for me? — And it’s all useless. That’s another punishment.

CAPT. G. (Feebly.) Oh, come! I’m not so low as you think.

MRS. H. Not now, perhaps, but you will be. Oh, Pip, if a woman flatters your vanity, there’s nothing on earth that you would not tell her; and no meanness that you would not do. Have I known you so long without knowing that?

CAPT. G. If you can trust me in nothing else — and I don’t see why I should be trusted — you can count upon my holding my tongue.

MRS. H. If you denied everything you’ve said this evening and declared it was all in fun (a long pause), I’d trust you. Not otherwise. All I ask is, don’t tell her my name. Please don’t. A man might forget: a woman never would. (Looks up table and sees hostess beginning to collect eyes.) So it’s all ended, through no fault of mine — Haven’t I behaved beautifully? I’ve accepted your dismissal, and you managed it as cruelly as you could, and I have made you respect my sex, haven’t I? (Arranging gloves and fan.) I only pray that she’ll know you some day as I know you now. I wouldn’t be you then, for I think even your conceit will be hurt. I hope she’ll pay you back the humiliation you’ve brought on me. I hope — No. I don’t. I can’t give you up! I must have something to look forward to or I shall go crazy. When it’s all over, come back to me, come back to me, and you’ll find that you’re my Pip still!

CAPT. G. (Very clearly.) ‘False move, and you pay for it. It’s a girl!

MRS. H. (Rising.) Then it was true! They said — but I wouldn’t insult you by asking. A girl! I was a girl not very long ago. Be good to her, Pip. I daresay she believes in you.

Goes out with an uncertain smile. He watches her through the door, and settles into a chair as the men redistribute themselves.

CAPT. G. Now, if there is any Power who looks after this world, will He kindly tell me what I have done? (Reaching out for the claret, and half aloud.) What have I done?

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38