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The Pool in the Desert By Sara Jeannette Duncan Characters: 10380

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

'The fact is,' I said to Dora as we rode down to the gymkhana, 'his personality takes possession of one. I constantly go to that little hut of his with intentions, benevolent or otherwise, which I never carry out.'

'You mean,' she answered, 'that you completely forgot to reveal to him your hateful knowledge about Kauffer.'

'On the contrary, I didn't forget it for a moment. But the conversation took a turn that made it quite impossible to mention.'

'I can understand,' Miss Harris replied softly, 'how that might be. And it doesn't in the least matter,' she went on triumphantly, 'because I've told him myself.'

My nerves must have been a trifle strung up at the time, for this struck me as a matter for offense. 'You thought I would trample upon him,' I exclaimed.

'No, no really. I disliked his not knowing it was known-rien de plus,' she said lightly.

'What did he say?'

'Oh, not much. What should he say?'

'He might have expressed a decent regret on poor Kauffer's account,' I growled. Dora did not reply, and a glance showed her frowning.

'I believe he apologized!' I cried, pushing, as it were, my advantage.

'He explained.'


'Of course he hasn't relished the position, and of course he didn't realize it before he came. Shall we trot?'

I was compelled to negative the idea of trotting, since we were descending quite the steepest pitch of the road down to Annandale. We went on at a walk, and it occurred to me, as my contemplative gaze fell on my own pig-skins, that we were, even for Simla, an uncommonly well-turned-out pair. I had helped to pick Dora's hack, and I allowed myself to reflect that he did my judgment credit. She sat him perfectly in her wrath-she was plainly angry-not a hair out of place. Why is it that a lady out of temper with her escort always walks away from him? Is her horse sympathetic? Ronald, at all events, was leading by a couple of yards, when suddenly he shied, bounding well across the road.

The mare, whose manners I can always answer for, simply stopped and looked haughtily about for explanations. A path dropped into the road from the hillside; something came scrambling and stumbling down.

'Oh!' cried Dora, as it emerged and was Armour on his much enduring white pony, 'how you frightened us!'

'Why don't you stick to the road, man?' I exclaimed. 'It isn't usual to put ponies up and down these coolie tracks!'

He took no notice of this rather broad hint that I was annoyed, but fixed his eager, light, luminous eyes upon Dora.

'I'm sorry,' he said, and added, 'I did not expect to see you today!'

'Not till tomorrow,' she returned. 'You remember that we are sketching tomorrow?'

He looked at her and smiled slightly; and then I remember noticing that his full, arched upper lip seldom quite met its counterpart over his teeth. This gave an unpremeditated casual effect to everything he found to say, and made him look a dreamer at his busiest. His smile was at the folly of her reminder.

'I've just been looking for something that you would like,' he said, 'but it isn't much good hunting about alone. I see five times as much when we go together.'

He and his pony barred the way; he had an air of leisure and of felicity; one would think we had met at an afternoon party.

'We are on our way,' I explained, 'to the gymkhana. Miss Harris is in one of the events. You did enter for the needle-threading race, didn't you, with Lord Arthur? I think we must get on.'

A slow, dull red mounted to Armour's face and seemed to put out that curious light in his eyes.

'Is it far?' he asked, glancing down over the tree-tops. 'I've never been there.'

'Why,' cried Dora, suddenly, 'you've been down!'

'So you have,' I confirmed her. 'Your beast is damaged too.'

'Oh, it was only a stumble,' Armour replied; 'I stuck on all right.'

'Well,' I said, 'you had better get off now, as you didn't then, and look at your animal's near fore. The swelling's as big as a bun already.'

Again he made me no answer, but looked intently and questioningly at Dora.

'Get off, Mr. Armour,' she said, sharply, 'and lead your horse home. It is not fit to be ridden. Goodbye.'

I have no doubt he did it, but neither of us were inclined to look back to see. We pushed on under the deodars, and I was indulgent to a trot. At the end of it Dora remarked that Mr. Armour naturally could not be expected to know anything about riding, it was very plucky of him to get on a horse at all, among these precipices; and I of course agreed.

Lord Arthur was waiting when we arrived, on his chestnut polo pony, but Dora immediately scratched for the brilliant event in which they were paired. Ronald, she said, was simply cooked with the heat. Ronald had come every yard of the way on his toes and was fit for anything, but Lord Arthur did not insist. There were young ladies in Simla, I am glad to say, who appealed more vividly to his imagination than Dora Harris did, and one of them speedily replaced her, a fresh-coloured young Amazon who was staying at the Chief's. She wandered about restlessly over the dry turf for a few minutes, and then went and sat down in a corner of

the little wooden Grand Stand and sent me for a cup of tea.

'Won't you come to the tent?' I asked a little ruefully, eyeing the distance and the possible collisions between, but she shook her head.

'I simply couldn't bear it,' she said, and I went feeling somehow chastened myself by the cloud that was upon her spirit.

I found her on my return regarding the scene with a more than usually critical eye, and a more than usually turned down lip. Yet it was exactly the scene it always was, and always, probably, will be. I sat down beside her and regarded it also, but more charitably than usual. Perhaps it was rather trivial, just a lot of pretty dresses and excited young men in white riding-breeches doing foolish things on ponies in the shortest possible time, with one little crowd about the Club's refreshment tent and another about the Staff's, while the hills sat round in an indifferent circle; but it appealed to me with a kind of family feeling that afternoon, and inspired me with tolerance, even benevolence.

'After all,' I said, 'it's mainly youth and high spirits-two good things. And one knows them all.'

'And who are they to know?' complained Dora.

'Just decent young Englishmen and Englishwomen, out here on their country's business,' I replied cheerfully; 'with the marks of Oxford and Cambridge and Sandhurst and Woolwich on the men. Well-set-up youngsters, who know what to do and how to do it. Oh, I like the breed!'

'I wonder,' said she, in a tone of preposterous melancholy, 'if eventually I have to marry one of them.'

'Not necessarily,' I said. She looked at me with interest, as if I had contributed importantly to the matter in hand, and resumed tapping her boot with her riding-crop. We talked of indifferent things and had long lapses. At the close of one effort Dora threw herself back with a deep, tumultuous sigh. 'The poverty of this little wretched resort ties up one's tongue!' she cried. 'It is the bottom of the cup; here one gets the very dregs of Simla's commonplace. Let us climb out of it.'

I thought for a moment that Ronald had been too much for her nerves coming down, and offered to change saddles, but she would not. We took it out of the horses all along the first upward slopes, and as we pulled in to breathe them she turned to me paler than ever.

'I feel better now,' she said.

For myself I had got rid of Armour for the afternoon. I think my irritation with him about his pony rose and delivered me from the too insistent thought of him. With Dora it was otherwise; she had dismissed him; but he had never left her for a moment the whole long afternoon.

She flung a searching look at me. With a reckless turn of her head, she said, 'Why didn't we take him with us?'

'Did we want him?' I asked.

'I think I always want him.'

'Ah!' said I, and would have pondered this statement at some length in silence, but that she plainly did not wish me to do so.

'We might perfectly well have sent his pony home with one of our own servants-he would have been delighted to walk down.'

'He wasn't in proper kit,' I remonstrated.

'Oh, I wish you would speak to him about that. Make him get some tennis-flannels and riding-things.'

'Do you propose to get him asked to places?' I inquired.

She gave me a charmingly unguarded smile. 'I propose to induce you to do so. I have done what I could. He has dined with us several times, and met a few people who would, I thought, be kind to him.'

'Oh, well,' I said, 'I have had him at the Club too, with old Lamb and Colonel Hamilton. He made us all miserable with his shyness. Don't ask me to do it again, please.'

'I've sent him to call on certain people,' Dora continued, 'and I've shown his pictures to everybody, and praised him and talked about him, but I can't go on doing that indefinitely, can I?'

'No,' I said; 'people might misunderstand.'

'I don't think they would MISunderstand,' replied this astonishing girl, without flinching. She even sought my eyes to show me that hers were clear and full of purpose.

'Good God!' I said to myself, but the words that fell from me were, 'He is outside all that life.'

'What is the use of living a life that he is outside of?'

'Oh, if you put it that way,' I said, and set my teeth, 'I will do what I can.'

She held out her hand with an affectionate gesture, and I was reluctantly compelled to press it.

The horses broke into a trot, and we talked no more of Armour, or of anything, until Ted Harris joined us on the Mall.

I have rendered this conversation with Dora in detail because subsequent events depend so closely upon it. Some may not agree that it was basis enough for the action I thought well to take; I can only say that it was all I was ever able to obtain. Dora was always particularly civil and grateful about my efforts, but she gave me only one more glimpse, and that enigmatic, of any special reason why they should be made. Perhaps this was more than compensated for by the abounding views I had of the situation as it lay with Ingersoll Armour, but of that, other persons, approaching the subject without prejudice, will doubtless judge better than I.

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