Beck Center English Dept. University Libraries Emory University
Emory Women Writers Resource Project Collections:
Women's Genre Fiction Project

Babes in the Wood, an electronic edition

by B. M. Croker [Croker, B.M. (Bithia Mary), d.1920]

date: 1914
source publisher: Methuen & Co., Ltd.
collection: Genre Fiction

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AFTER a certain episode which the lady hated to recall, Mrs. Heron's attitude towards 'Traffy' underwent a gradual, subtle, but unmistakable change. There was something sharp and | | 156 even bitter among the grains of her chaff; occasionally a little barbed word indicated how the wind blew, and there was no question about its quarter--it was from the east! Her invitations were no longer so imperious, insistent, or frequent; nevertheless, in general company Philip Trafford, or 'Traff,' was still warmly praised, and invariably spoken of as 'such a dear, good boy--but takes a lot of knowing.'

One afternoon Mrs. Heron invited herself to tea, and descended on his bungalow in a perfectly cut white linen costume, and a smart flowery hat. She, was astonished at the neatness, the little conveniences for books and pipes, the pretty matting, and the comfortable chairs, that furnished this bachelor abode. Naturally the photograph of Mrs. Trafford arrested her attention. This haughty beauty looked quite the last sort of woman to be the parent of a son who was expatriated in the depths of a jungle. She had an air of wealth too--hence, no doubt, Traff's unusual luxuries. His sister's photograph represented a thin, eager-looking girl at the pigtail stage, and was not specially remarkable; but it was otherwise with the mother. Hers was a strong and grasping personality, a ruler who took her own line and kept it. Those beautifully cut lips wore an expression of hard and triumphant domination.

'It is easy to see that Mr. Trafford is a mother's boy,' remarked Mrs. Baxter, who had dropped in (in answer to a hurried chit). 'See!' and she indicated a few bits of brass and pottery picked up in the bazaar, the silver-framed photographs, and an elaborate tea-cloth, a mass of lace and silk embroidery (the spoil of a bazaar in another clime).

'Do you really think so?' murmured Mrs. Heron, languidly stirring her tea; then, flashing a sudden glance at Trafford, who stood before her, a cake-plate in either hand, 'Now I am not so sure. He gives me the impression of being more of a grandmamma's | | 157 boy--and has a little bit of her apron-string clinging to him still.'

Mrs. Baxter laughed her own good-natured fat laugh.

'Don't you,' appealing to Trafford, 'still learn your Catechism every Sunday? Don't you think it perfectly devilish to say "Damn!" or to kiss a pretty woman?'

Trafford, taken aback by this bold attack, was momentarily tongue-tied with amazement. At last he said--

'I only wish I were the Galahad you imagine me to be. However, I confess that I was my grandmother's. She was most awfully good to me, and if I only a bit of her apron-string, I would preserve it among my treasures.'

Astonished at this rally on the part of the once blustering and confused 'Traff,' Mrs. Heron exclaimed in a scoffing voice--

'Your treasures! Now I wonder what they can possibly be? I'm certain they are quaint.'

(They were merely two or three trivial notes from Miss Hampton, and the string of a small tennis-shoe.)

'Come, Mrs. Baxter,' he said, turning to her, 'you positively must, and shall, eat some of these rock cakes,--my cook's spécialité! He will be awfully mortified if they are neglected. Won't you change your mind?' looking at Mrs. Heron.

'My good young man, I am sure by this time you must know that I never change my mind--and never touch anything at tea,' she answered sharply; and in the depths of her matchless black eyes it seemed to him that he saw a faint reflection of the same malevolent influence which had so nearly overwhelmed him at Pahari.

'Why yes, my dear, of course,' said homely Mrs. Baxter, in her kindly, soothing voice, 'you have your figure to consider. Now mine ran away from me in the early twenties.'

Mrs. Heron cast a scornful glance over the lady's | | 158 spacious form, and mentally decided that even then she must have been a shapeless sack.

'You see, my dear,' continued the missionary's wife in an apologetic key, 'I had a family, and you had none. Then in the hot weather and the rains one is so desperately thirsty, and I drink such jugs of water and cold tea--which is so fattening--and in the heat one takes no exercise, and the atmosphere makes one sleepy and idle.'

'I am sure you are never idle, dear old Mother Baxter,' said Mrs. Heron, as she handed her teacup to be put down. 'And I cannot think how you are always so busy and energetic, taking such trouble with those wretched little native orphans, teaching them the Bible, and sewing, and Bajums. How can you?'

'Well, dear, I believe it to be God's work--and I love them.'

'What I those horrible Gonds and Santhalis, who would eat you as soon as look at you!'

'Now, my dear, you are mistaken, or joking. You know--why, you've been here nearly nine years--there are no cannibals in India, and the Santhalis are a race that have a very pure faith of their own. They eat no flesh, touch no liquor, and believe in one great God. Their religion --'

'Oh, my good Christian woman, please don't let us discuss religion at this hour of the day,' cried Mrs. Heron, laying her hand heavily on the speaker's arm and rising to her feet. 'Religion bores me to death!'

'My dear, I know you are not in earnest,' protested the missionary lady. 'I always see you in church--'

'Oh yes, I do go there, I admit--but merely to do my thinking. Now,' with a short, excited laugh, 'I've shocked you! Mr. Trafford, isn't it about time we started for the Club badminton?'

. . . . . . .

Mrs. Heron repaired to cool Pachmari for the hot | | 159 weather and the rains; here she wore lovely toilettes, dispensed smiles and civilities, took a prominent part in picnics, dances, and all the gaieties of the season. 'Tom,' when he could tear himself from his business, ran up now and then for a week or two, and brought the Queen of Chandi the latest intelligence from her dominions. The heat, he declared, on one of these occasions, was really awful; the whole country was parched to a white powder, cattle and herds were dying in thousands--it was the worst hot weather for thirty years.

'Oh, that is what they say every season!' remarked the lady, with languid indifference; 'but, Tom, have you no news?'

'Maguire has taken two months' leave, and I hear that the Rajahhas been very seedy. Gresham is away, as you know--I think at Simla, or some hill station.'

'Yes, there was a man up here who told me that he lost a lot of money at Lucknow races, and gambled frightfully the whole week. I should not be surprised if he comes to grief.'

'Oh, Gresham is all right; he understands the art of making other people pay for his diversions; but I'll tell you who really are in a bad way--the Castellas'

'And you call that news!' she exclaimed sarcastically.

'Yes, this time it's serious--it means the end. I believe the house-man will turn them out, and they will all have to go and live at Dhona, in that native hut, beside the scent-works, and pig together like coolies.'

'And serve them jolly well right!'

'The old woman was born silly. I must say I have no patience with her and her paint and her pack of fortune-telling cards. As to that lazy Lily, and her big rolling eyes--oh, well, she's bound to go to the bad; but I'm sorry for poor old Castellas and Miss Hampton.'

| | 160

'I can't imagine why she sticks to them. I'd have cleared out two years ago were I in her shoes,' and on this occasion Mrs. Heron spoke the pure, unadulterated truth.

'I believe there is a sort of vague impression that Trafford helps the Castellas. They say that she has cashed his cheque in the bazaar, and I hear he is there a good deal.'

'Yes, I dare say, having nowhere else to go,' sneered the lady; 'as to his lending money, he is foolish enough in some ways--but not quite an idiot.'

Here Mrs. Heron's unusually clear perception was at fault, for it was a painful fact that Trafford had privately come to the assistance of Mrs. Castellas, and on more than one occasion.

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