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1888

BITTERS NEAT

by Rudyard Kipling

BITTERS NEAT -

THE oldest trouble in the world comes from want of understanding. And it isentirely the fault of the woman. Somehowshe is built incapable of speaking thetrutheven to herself. She only finds it out about four months laterwhen theman is deador has been transferred. Then she says she never was so happy inher lifeand marries some one elsewho again touched some woman's heartelsewhereand did not know itbut was mixed up with another man's wifewhoonly used him to pique a third man. And so round again- all criss-cross.

Out herewhere life goes quicker than at Homethings are more obviouslytangledand therefore more pitiful to look at. Men speak the truth as theyunderstand itand women as they think men would like to understand it; and thenthey all act lies which would deceive Solomonand the result is a heartrendingmuddle that half a dozen open words would put straight.

This particular muddle did not differ from any other muddle you may seeifyou are not busy playing cross-purposes yourselfgoing on in a big Station anycold season. Its only merit was that it did not come all right in the end; asmuddles are made to do in the third volume.

I've forgotten what the man was- he was an ordinary sort of man- 'man youmeet any day at the A-.D.-C.'s end of the tableand go away and forget about.His name was Surrey; but whether he was in the Army or the P. W. D.on theCommissariator the Policeor a factoryI don't remember. He wasn't aCivilian. He was just an ordinary manof the light-coloured varietywith afair moustache and with the average amount of pay that comes betweentwenty-seven and thirty-two- from six to nine hundred a month.

He didn't danceand he did what little riding he wanted to do by himselfand was busy in office all dayand never bothered his head about women. No manever dreamed he would. He was of the type that doesn't marryjust because itdoesn't think about marriage. He was one of the plain cardswhose only use isto make up the packand furnish background to put the Court cards against.

Then there was a girl- ordinary girl- the dark-coloured variety- daughter ofa man in the Armywho played a littlesang a littletalked a littleandfurnished the backgroundexactly as Surrey did. She had been sent out here toget married if she couldbecause there were many sisters at homeand Colonels'allowances aren't elastic. She lived with an aunt. She was a Miss Tallaghtandmen spelt her name 'Tart' on the programmes when they couldn't catch what theintroducer said.

Surrey and she were thrown together in the same Station one cold weather; andthe particular Devil who looks after muddles prompted Miss Tallaght to fall inlove with Surrey. He had spoken to her perhaps twenty times- certainly not more-but she fell as unreasoningly in love with him as if she had been Elaine and heLancelot.

Sheof coursekept her own counsel; andequally of courseher manner toSurreywho never noticed manner or style or dress any more than he noticed asunsetwas icynot to say repellent. The deadly dullness of Surrey struck heras a reserve of forceand she grew to believe he was wonderfully clever in somesecret and mysterious sort of line. She did not know what line; but she believedand that was enough. No one suspected anything of any kindfor the simplereason that no one took any deep interest in Miss Tallaght except her Aunt; whowanted to get the girl off her hands.

This went on for some monthstill a man suddenly woke up to the fact thatMiss Tallaght was the one woman in the world for himand told her so. Shejawabed * him- without rhyme or reason; and that night there followed one ofthose awful bedroom conferences that men know nothing about. Miss Tallaght'sAuntquerulousindignantand mercilesswith her mouth full of hair-pinsandher hands full of false hair-plaitsset herself to find out bycross-examination what in the name of everything wiseprudentreligiousanddutifulMiss Tallaght meant by jawabing her suitor. The conference lasted foran hour and a halfwith question on questioninsult and reminders of poverty-appeals to Providencethen a fresh mouthful of hair-pins- then all thequestions over againbeginning with:- 'But what do you see to dislike in Mr.__?' thena vicious tug at what was left of the mane; then impressive warningsand more appeals to Heaven; and then the collapse of poor Miss Tallaghtarumpledcrumpledtear-stained arrangement in white on the couch at the foot ofthe bedandbetween sobs and gaspsthe whole absurd little story of her lovefor Surrey. -

* In DOS versions italicized text is enclosed in chevrons . -

Nowin all the forty-five years' experience of Miss Tallaght's Auntshe hadnever heard of a girl throwing over a real genuine lover with an appointmentfor a problematicalhypothetical lover to whom she had spoken merely in thecourse of the ordinary social visiting rounds. So Miss Tallaght's Aunt wasstruck dumbandmerely praying that Heaven might direct Miss Tallaght into abetter frame of minddismissed the ayahand went to bed; leaving MissTallaght to sob and moan herself to sleep.

Understand clearlyI don't for a moment defend Miss Tallaght. She was wrong-absurdly wrong- but attachments like hers must sprout by the law of averagesjust to remind people that Love is as nakedly unreasoning as when Venus firstgave him his kit and told him to run away and play.

Surrey must be held innocent- innocent as his own pony. Could he guess thatwhen Miss Tallaght was as curt and as unpleasing as she knew howshe would haverisen up and followed him from Colombo to Dadar at a word? He didn't knowanythingor care anything about Miss Tallaght. He had his work to do.

Miss Tallaght's Aunt might have respected her niece's secret. But she didn't.What we call 'talking rank scandal' she called 'seeking advice'; and she soughtadviceon the case of Miss Tallaghtfrom the Judge's wife 'in strictconfidencemy dear' who told the

Commissioner's wife'of course you won't repeat itmy dear' who toldthe Deputy Commissioner's wife'you understand it is to go no furthermy dear'who told the newest bridewho was so delighted at being in possession of asecret concerning real grown-up men and womenthat she told any one and everyone who called on her. So the tale went all over the Stationand from being noone in particularMiss Tallaght came to take precedence of the last interestingsquabble between the Judge's wife and the Civil Engineer's wife. Then began areally interesting system of persecution worked by women- soft and sympatheticand intangiblebut calculated to drive a girl off her head. They were all sosorry for Miss Tallaghtand they cooed together and were exaggeratedly kind andsweet in their manner to heras those who said:- 'You may confide in usmystricken deer!'

Miss Tallaght was a womanand sensitive. It took her less than one eveningat the Band Stand to find that her poor littleprecious little secretthat hadbeen wrenched from her on the rackwas known as widely as if it had beenwritten on her hat. I don't know what she went through. Women don't speak ofthese thingsand men ought not to guess; but it must have been some speciallyrefined torturefor she told her Aunt she would go Home and die as a Governesssooner than stay in this hateful- hateful- place. Her Aunt said she was arebellious girland sent her Home to her people after a couple of months; andsaid no one knew what the pains of a chaperone's life were.

Poor Miss Tallaght had one pleasure just at the last. Halfway down the lineshe caught a glimpse of Surreywho had gone down on dutyand was then in theup-train. And he took off his hat to her. She went Homeand if she is not deadby this time must be living still. -

* * * * * * * -

Months afterwardsthere was a lively dinner at the Club for the Races.Surrey was mooning about as usualand there was a good deal of idle talk flyingevery way. Finallyone manwho had taken more than was good for himsaidapropos of something about Surrey's reserved ways- 'Ahyou old fraud. It's allvery well for you to pretend. I know a girl who was awf'ly mashed on you- once.Dead nuts she was on old Surrey. What had you been doingeh?'

Surrey expected some sort of selland said with a laugh?:-

'Who was she?'

Before any one could kick the manhe plumped out with the name; and theHonorary Secretary tactfully upset the half of a big brew of shandy-gaff allover the table. After the mopping upthe men went out to the Lotteries.

But Surrey sat onandafter ten minutessaid very humbly to the only otherman in the deserted dining-room:- 'On your honourwas there a word of truth inwhat the drunken fool said?'

Then the man who is writing this storywho had known of the thing from thebeginningand now felt all the hopelessness and tangle of it- the waste andthe muddle- saida good deal more energetically than he meant:-

'Truth! O manmancouldn't you see it?'

Surrey said nothingbut sat stillsmoking and smoking and thinkingwhilethe Lottery tent babbled outsideand the khitmutgars turned down the lamps.

To the best of my knowledge and belief that was the first thing Surrey everknew about love. But his awakening did not seem to delight him. It must havebeen rather unpleasantto judge by the look on his face. He looked like a manwho had missed a train and had been half stunned at the same time.

When the men came in from the LotteriesSurrey went out. He wasn't in themood for bones and 'horse' talk. He went to his tentand the last thing he saidquite aloud to himselfwas:- 'I didn't see. I didn't see. If I had only known!'

Even if he had known I don't believe...

But these things are kismetand we only find out all about them just whenany knowledge is too late. - -

THE END