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Star of India

By Alice Perrin

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Stella felt she had been publicly flouted by Sher Singh, and though for the moment she was helpless, she resolved to tell Robert, when the party should be over, that for the future she expected Sher Singh to obey her.

But when the guests had all departed, with many gratifying assurances of their enjoyment, her courage dwindled. Since the night of her arrival at Rassih she had dreaded Robert’s anger; the unpleasant memory remained with her so vividly—the uproar, the helpless alarm of the servants, her own fear and dismay. Never before in the whole course of her sheltered existence had she seen anyone so angry. And now, were she to protest against Sher Singh’s behaviour, what if he should rage at her in the same manner? As he passed into his dressing-room she recognised, with a sinking at her heart, that she was afraid of her husband, abjectly afraid, ten thousand times more afraid of him then she had ever been of grandmamma. She dared not risk a scene, dared not stand up for herself. She would let the matter rest for the present, wait till Sher Singh disobeyed her again. After all, perhaps the man had not heard, or had not understood her this afternoon.

She tried to dismiss the incident from her mind, turned her thoughts to some advice Mrs Beard had given her as to studying Hindustani. At least she might dare to attack Robert on that point. It was like being a deaf person not to understand the words spoken around one. And once she had obtained some command of the language she would be in a position to give her own orders to the other servants without Sher Singh’s intervention.
She waited until they were in the drawing-room, and Robert had flung himself into an easy chair to examine some official document. He worked very hard, and seemed to think of little else.

‘Robert,’ she began softly. He did not hear her. She repeated his name and he looked up abstractedly. Then he lowered the sheets of foolscap and removed his pince-nez.

‘What is it now?’ he inquired with indulgent resignation.

‘Can I have lessons in Hindustani?’

‘Why? What good would that do you?’

‘I want to learn, and I have nothing particular to do while you are at work all day.’

‘You’ve got the piano, and you can order what books you want from Bombay. Haven’t you any fancy work?’

She laughed. ‘Fancy work! I want to use my brains.’

‘Don’t talk nonsense. What good will Hindustani do your brains? Keep up your French and music. Natives respect Englishwomen far more if they can’t speak the language.’

‘Oh, Robert, what a thing to say! I’m sure that can’t be true.’

‘You know nothing about it, you silly child. Come here!’

She had risen and was moving restlessly about the room. As she passed he put out his arm and pulled her down on to his knees. With a strong effort she controlled her reluctance, realising, suddenly aghast, that her distaste for Robert’s demonstrations of affection was on the increase, that it threatened to develop into actual aversion. As he pressed her face against his shoulder, kissing her hair, a sort of desperation seized her. She did not love Robert, had never loved him, and at this moment she almost hated him. The question rose in her mind: Was it because they had known she was not in love with Robert that grandmamma and the aunts had shown so little sympathy with her marriage, had behaved as if she were doing something reprehensible? If so, why had they not warned her? Yet, supposing they had gone so far as to put probable consequences before her, would she have heeded, believed them? No, she knew well enough that in her headstrong simplicity nothing would then have turned her from her purpose. If anyone was to blame in the matter it was Robert, who had married her to please himself only, regardless of her ignorance of life and love, even partly, perhaps, because of it. She recalled a sentence in the letter Maud Verrall had written announcing her engagement: ‘I am very happy and awfully in love.’ If only she was in love with Robert! But she was not, she never could be. Did he know it?

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