- CHAPTER XX EXPECTATION AND CONFLAGRATION
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EXPECTATION AND CONFLAGRATION
HERE is the letter to her brother in which Milly Trafford announced her approaching visit:--
'DEAR OLD PHIL,--Pull yourself together, and prepare for two pieces of extra special news. Firstly, "a marriage has been arranged "--no, not mine. The mater is about to become Lady Wakefield. Sir Lucas, a dear old thing, has long been waiting for her consent, and now she has accorded it--better late than never! It is to be a quiet wedding, and they will spend the honeymoon at Cannes. News number two, I am going out to stay with you. You remember how you always talked of this plan, and the great times we would have together. You have not said so much about it lately--I dare say you are afraid that I am a smart society damsel, who cannot live without a maid, and a motor, and a couple of little dogs, but that is not me at all. I am as silly and simple as ever! and anyway, I'm coming, and my passage is taken in the Moldavia, 1st December, so I'll be in nice time for Christmas. Oh, dear old boy, I get up and jig about the room, when I think of seeing you after nearly four years. I hope you haven't grown a beard? anyway, if you have, don't let me see it. This scheme was only arranged to-day, after the mater had broken the news of her engagement: and as this house is tiny for two, much less three, she suggested a visit to you, and naturally I | | 201 jumped at the proposal The wedding is to be on the 30th November. I've insisted on staying to see the mater married--she who was so keen to see me married! She will look splendid in brown velvet and sables. I am so glad she is marrying Sir Lucas. I was afraid of old General Morland, a man I could not endure, and always felt inclined to throw things at. He was so cynical and sneering. Well, mother and I are going to do no end of shopping, and will be immensely busy. Please let me hear by return what I may, and may not take out--of course, my saddle and my Court dress--it's simply ripping--in case I go up to a drawing-room in Calcutta. Send me the size of Henry's neck, for a nice collar from his auntie. You know I shall soon have three hundred a year now; so I won't be a burden on your finances, but will make you over £200 for the common purse. Yes, I shall!'
['Silly little fool, as if I'd take it!' he ejaculated.]
'Ta, ta, dearest old Phil, I hope you are not changed, and love the same things as I do, buttered toast, tennis, and raspberry tarts. Je t'embrasse de toute mon coeur. Your wildly, wildly happy sister,
'MILLICENT VERNON TRAFFORD'
The autograph was inscribed in enormous letters.
The news of Miss Trafford's impending visit spread through the little station within an hour. It was first announced in the Club reading-room by Maguire, who had it from Scruby, who had it from head-quarters. The young lady was expected before Christmas--in less than a month's time!
'What was she like? Had any one seen her portrait?' inquired Chapman.
'No, there was one on Trafford's table--a flapper with her hair down--not bad-looking.'
'Not bad-looking? Oh, well, we are fairly well off | | 202 for good looks here--though we are a jungly station!' and Gresham nodded at Lily Castellas, who was turning over a newly arrived picture paper. She drew in her chin, giggled delightedly and exclaimed--
'Oh my! Captain Gresham, you are a funny man!'
As has already been mentioned, a piece of intelligence by letter eclipsed in interest the world's news brought by that day's Dâk; an earthquake, a political crisis, the death of a great man, the birth of an heir to a throne--what were these little trivial matters in comparison to the great fact, that Miss Trafford was coming to Chandi!
'But why?' questioned Mrs. Heron, speaking in an undertone to Mrs. Baxter, 'such a little dull out-of-the-way jungly place! No life, no society, nothing; if I were a girl, I'd rather go anywhere, and once Tom has made his little pile, Chandi will never, never see or hear of me again. There are no eligibles here. What can be her inducement?'
'Why, her brother, of course! I believe there are only two of them, and they are greatly attached. Mr. Trafford always gives me the idea of a young man who would have nice, well-brought-up sisters--'
'Because he goes to service on Sundays, when he is not shooting, and gives you money for your orphans.'
'I also think,' continued Mrs. Baxter, ignoring the suggestion, 'that the girl may like to see the real Indian life; instead of a rackety cantonment, or a big hill station with four posts a day, and dances every night. Here, she will have the beautiful forests, the primitive people at home in the fields and villages, the wild jungle flowers, the sense I enjoy myself--of happy retirement and holy peace.'
'Ah ' said Mrs. Heron, with a flash of her dark eyes, suddenly leaning forward in her chair, 'you have given me the clue, you good simple woman! Miss Trafford is descending on her brother at a week | | 203 or two's notice. He is as much flabbergasted as any one! She is coming to bury herself in the jungle--because--ahem--she has got into some shocking scrape at home!'
'Oh, my dear Mrs. Heron,' protested Mrs. Baxter with a pink face, 'now, now, now, you know we should think no evil.'
'Yes, but how on earth can we help it! When the evil is planted down before us? What else could be the common-sense reason for this extraordinary visit! Why should a girl who has, I believe, been admired last season in London, come and suddenly precipitate herself into the most out of the way district in India? As to her brother, it's all humbug--a blind. Why, I've a brother in Barcelona; I've not seen him for twenty years and don't want to! I would not recognize him if we did meet--and I tell you this, between ourselves, I shall not be in any hurry to receive Miss Trafford until I have made inquiries,' and before Mrs. Baxter could recover her breath, she rose and went over to the other side of the reading-table, and entrenched herself in an arm-chair, behind the new Queen.
It was gratifying to notice the little preparations that were set on foot in order to make a favourable impression on the stranger. A new set of tennis balls were ordered, a new brown club teapot, as well as red caps for the tennis boys.
It was now the beginning of the cold weather; occasional tourists arrived at the Dâk bungalow in powerful roomy motors, remained for a few days, shot a couple of black buck, strolled through the bazaar, inspected the temple of Mahadeo, and afterwards talked with weighty authority of Indian jungle life. At this season the district looked to Chandi to bestir itself, give entertainments, tennis, and billiard and bridge tournaments, yea, and dances! The Brights, a family of four, were subscribers, and naturally expected to get something for their money; | | 204 there were the two girls Bellina and Evelina, known as 'good' Miss Bright, and 'pretty' Miss Bright, and two dark brothers; Sam, who was nicknamed 'Sawmy,' and 'Booby,' who chaperoned their relatives, and were both passionately fond of dancing and society. Mr. Bright was engaged in the coal mines, and mamma was reported to be too stout to fit into any bullock tonga in the Central Provinces! in fact, she was dubbed the Black Mountain by ill-natured Chapman--who had a flair for nicknames. Besides the Brights, there were the Frasers and their girls, two clever sandy-haired sisters, and several other outlying families. People came from quite a flattering distance for the Chandi week; there were sports, and a dance; the Rajah and P.W.D. provided tents, and every one lent all they could spare, down to their very last sheet and teaspoon. And now a wicked little whisper circulated in the place. Fortunately, it did not reach Scruby, the Doctor or Maguire--but it said 'that there must be some screw loose about Trafford's sister! otherwise a smart London society girl would never come and bury herself in the jungle!'
Another interesting matter of purely local interest was freely and openly canvassed. Pahari was no more! Chapman, riding by, was thunderstruck to find that the well-known, desolate landmark had been totally obliterated! Nothing remained but an immense black blot; the bungalow had been totally destroyed by fire, and not even a board or rafter was left--only among the rank green grass, a sable patch of burnt ground, and one or two heaps of grey ashes.
Naturally it was concluded that this was the work of an incendiary--a pleasant little way of paying back the forest Conservator, for the harrying and hustling to which the poor shikari folk, and horn-hunters, had been submitted; but on search and inquiry--personally conducted by the forest officer, | | 205 and prosecuted with remarkable zeal-evidence declared that the burning had taken place on a certain hopelessly wet night, when any ordinary fire must have assuredly been extinguished; also, that no flames were visible, although such a conflagration of rotten timber would have illuminated the country for twenty miles!
Trafford was hopelessly puzzled. On the other hand, the native guards were for once unanimous, and confidently declared that 'the destruction and burning was doubtless the work of devils.'
The stables and cook-houses subsequently disappeared--were carried off piecemeal, with miraculous rapidity. Villagers who required material for their cattle sheds and enclosures came in hordes (in the daytime); the door fastenings, the well lid, and the very curry stone, were eagerly appropriated.
Presently, with the incredible speed of tropical vegetation, Pahari was overgrown; a great matted tangle of the snaky tendrils of a giant creeper sprang from its ashes, and covered its site as with a mantle. Before long, passers-by would point indifferently and say--
'There was once a forest bungalow somewhere hereabouts,' but soon the very name of Pahari, its history and its tragedies, will be submerged in the jungle and oblivion.
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