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The Woman in the Bazaar

By Alice Perrin

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UP country in India spring is a period of conflicting impressions. The sharp—sometimes almost too sharp—bite of the cold season has yielded to a warm and languorous atmosphere, perfumed powerfully with mango blossom; dew still beads the grass at dawn; English flowers luxuriate, impelled to rarer bloom and fragrance. There comes a sense of ease and peace, and scented calm, that would be blissful but for the lurking knowledge that the sun is only just withholding the full fierceness of his power—giving ‘quarter’, as it were—till preparations are complete to resist the trials of the true hot weather. Fans and punkahs must be fixed and hung, mosquito curtains washed and mended, screens of sweet kus-kus root made ready for the doorways, supplies of captive quail and teal laid in to tempt the jaded palate, when all day long the hot west wind would scorch and shrivel everything outside the darkened houses, and the temperature might stand as high at midnight as at noon.

At Patalpur the winter gaieties were over, and the bustle of departure to the hills had just begun. A feeling of temporary leisure pervaded the English quarter of the station, and Trixie Coventry could enjoy the pleasant interval the more because the drawbacks of the coming months were yet unknown to her. India was perfect. How she loved the sun, the space, the colour, the friendliness, and the novelty of her surroundings! Since her arrival she had revelled in a whirl of popularity; no one’s party was complete without pretty Mrs Coventry; her beauty, her high spirits, and the fact of her youth, contrasted with her position as a colonel’s wife, made her exceptionally interesting. One or two ‘croakers’ prophesied that it would surely turn her head, but the majority could not pay her too much attention.

Colonel Coventry bore it all with a fairly tolerant spirit. His work had been heavy, his leisure filled with unavoidable engagements that he recognised were multiplied tenfold because of his wife’s perfections. He attended dinners, dances, at homes, but all the while he was covertly impatient for the lull to come, when he and Trixie might be more alone together, when she would settle down, of course, to months of domestic routine. With a certain relief he had observed that, so far, Trixie had given little time to the renewal of her boy-and-girl friendship with Guy Greaves, who seemed to have no special footing in her favour; and, indeed, Colonel Coventry found nothing to complain of in his wife’s attitude towards any of her numerous admirers. She was indiscriminately gracious to them all, riding with one and the other, dancing with each in turn, laughing, chaffing, accepting their notes and offerings and adoration with a gay indifference that was unquestionably beyond criticism or gossip.
But now that his duties were slackening, now that he had more leisure to devote to his young wife, Colonel Coventry began to notice that he seldom had first claim on her companionship. She was so frequently engaged for rides, and for sets of tennis that she declared had ‘been made up ages ago, and could not possibly be chucked.’ And gradually Guy Greaves seemed to be more often her partner, and to be under promise to escort her on so many riding expeditions. To Colonel Coventry the young man now appeared to haunt the veranda, to be always either calling for Mrs Coventry, or to have ‘just brought her back’ from something. Inevitably, dissatisfaction began to creep into the husband’s heart. He was not exactly jealous—that, he told himself, would be absurd. Trixie was so frank and open, and so clearly unconscious that she was doing anything to which anyone could take exception. Greaves was a mere boy, and, moreover, one of his own subalterns; and these facts deterred George Coventry from voicing his disapproval quite so soon as otherwise he might have done.

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