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 to-day? 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?


facebook share button twitter share button reddit share button share on pinterest pinterest

Add The Tents Of Kedar to your library.

Return to the Rudyard Kipling library , or . . . Read the next short story; The Three Musketeers

© 2022