Lord Hawkston decided that he would speak to the Governor about his problem of finding a wife for his nephew, Gerald.
He was wondering what he would tell Sir Arthur about Emily Ludgrove, only to find the moment he opened the conversation that she had forestalled him.
Sir Arthur Gordon, a grandson of the Earl of Aberdeen, whom Lord Hawkston had known slightly before he left for England, was a man of austere dignity who inspired his subordinates with awe as well as respect.
When he had assumed charge in Ceylon in 1883, the island was still racked by the economic crisis of the coffee slump, but the tide was turning slowly and the plantations were exploring the possibilities not only of tea but also of cinchong.
Sir Arthur took a personal interest in these developments especially the establishment of the tea industry. He had sent inspectors to Loolecondera and Lord Hawkston’s plantation and had been extremely impressed by their reports. He was later to visit several tea plantations himself.
Both James Taylor and Lord Hawkston liked him and found it easy to convince him that tea would bring prosperity back to Ceylon.
What Lord Hawkston particularly liked about Sir Arthur was his determination to demonstrate his impartiality to all races.
In fact just before Lord Hawkston left for England the Governor had threatened to withdraw his patronage from a European Colombo club that tried to exclude certain Ceylonese from its membership.
What endeared him even further was that he protected the interests of the village Head men and the property rights of Buddhist Temples.
He was the most enlightened and progressive Governor that Ceylon had had for many years.
He carried out the restoration of many irrigation tanks and canals, completed the Colombo Oort’s breakwater, the foundation stone of which had been laid by the Prince of Wales in 1875, extended the railway and began to build an estimated two hundred and sixty miles of new roadways.
It would have been difficult for people in England, Lord Hawkston thought as he looked at him, to realise the power of a Governor of Ceylon. He not only reigned but ruled and was surrounded by all the trappings of Royalty.
He had residences in Colombo, Nuwara, Sliya, Kandy and Jaffma, he had a Ceylonese bodyguard more imposing than the Beefeaters in England and a troop of Sikh Cavalry to precede and follow him on visits of State.
A line Regiment furnished him with a guard and he had a special train for his travels.
All memoranda to the Queen passed through his hands. He had the last word and what his last word was none knew but himself.
It was impossible not to remember that Sir Arthur was an aristocrat and very conscious of his authority so that Lord Hawkston wondered how much it would be wise to tell him about Emily Ludgrove.
He decided that he would not mention her behaviour with Captain O’Neill, not because he was particularly concerned with protecting Emily’s reputation, but because he liked Patrick O’Neill and felt that in choosing such a wife he would certainly have enough problems on his hands.
However, when Lord Hawkston entered the Governor’s study, they were alone, the secretary having been dismissed and Sir Arthur then said with a smile,
“I know what you have come to tell me, Hawkston. Miss Ludgrove has already informed me that she wishes to marry Captain O’Neill.”
Lord Hawkston did not reply and Sir Arthur went on,
“I feel this will be annoying for you, considering that you brought her out especially to marry your nephew. From all I hear the young man needs the steadying influence of a wife.”
Lord Hawkston was not surprised that the Governor had so intimate knowledge of Gerald’s behaviour.
He was far more astute than people realised and, although in the grandeur and splendour of the Queen’s House, he seemed immune from the commonplaces of everyday life, there was little that went on not only in Colombo but also in other parts of the country that he was not aware of.
“I am afraid, Your Excellency, that my nephew has been making a fool of himself,” Lord Hawkston admitted.
“It happens to a great number of young men when they first come out here,” Sir Arthur answered, “and, as you and I well know, Hawkston, there are plenty of people who are only too willing to help a man sow his wild oats, especially if he has money to pay for them.”
“That is true,” Lord Hawkston agreed somewhat grudgingly.
He remembered certain wild nights he had experienced when he first arrived in Colombo, but he had been far too careful of his precious money to expend much of it on tawdry women and the dubious entertainments that were provided for greenhorns who had just arrived from England.
He had later, however, enjoyed a pleasant liaison with a very pretty Portuguese in Kandy whom he visited whenever he could spare the time from running his plantation. It had lasted for years, but he had been very discreet about it.
It hurt his pride now to realise that Gerald’s misdemeanours were known even to the Governor.
“I wish we could have taken better care of your nephew when he first came out,” Sir Arthur was saying thoughtfully. “He had several meals here, but, as you well know, hospitality in Government House is inevitably formal and must seem tedious to the young. I have learnt from my secretary that we invited him to a ball I gave at Christmas, but he did not reply to the invitation.”
Lord Hawkston’s lips tightened.
If there was one thing he disliked more than anything else, it was bad manners. He had thought in the short time that he had known Gerald when he was in England that he at least knew how to behave like a gentleman in public.
“Anyway the question now is,” the Governor went on, “what are you going to do about him?”
“I intend, Your Excellency, to provide him with a wife,” Lord Hawkston replied in a hard voice. “I came out here with the girl he had chosen for himself, but as those plans have gone awry, I must make good the deficiency by finding him someone else.”
Sir Arthur laughed.
“Is not that just like you, Hawkston? You have a reputation for being undefeatable and all I can say is that Gerald Warren is a lucky young man to have you as an uncle.”
“Naturally I shall need your help, Your Excellency.”
The Governor laughed again.
“I cannot believe that I can be of any real assistance. I can assure you that there is a scarcity of charming unattached young ladies in this establishment. Nevertheless it should not be difficult to find someone suitable amongst the many English families living in Colombo.”
He sat down at his desk and put his hand to his forehead.
“Let me think about it. I have not really taken very much notice of the military families, but I daresay that there are one or two daughters of Officers not yet snapped up by some eager Subaltern.”
“I should prefer a girl who has lived in Colombo for some time,” Lord Hawkston said. “I have grown so used myself to seeing all the admirable qualities of this country that I had forgotten that people new to the rather specialised existence here might find a few snags.”
“You are thinking of the loneliness of being isolated on a plantation for months on end,” Sir Arthur said with a serious note in his voice. “You will have to find a very exceptional girl who will stand that sort of life, Hawkston. If you will forgive my saying so, I thought from the moment that I set eyes on Miss Ludgrove that she was not the right type.”
“I see that now,” Lord Hawkston agreed, “but she was Gerald’s choice not mine.”
“And do you think he will be prepared to accept yours without having any say in the matter?”
“He will do as he is told, unless he wishes to be sent back to England,” Lord Hawkston declared. “In which case he can work his passage for I have no intention of paying it for him!”
He spoke in the ruthless determined manner that was familiar to those who worked with him.
The Governor gave him a speculative glance before he said quietly,
“Playing God where love and marriage are concerned is a tricky business, Hawkston. You may burn your fingers.”
“I am listening to Your Excellency’s warning,” Lord Hawkston answered, “but I still need your assistance.”
“I have just seen the list of the people who are dining here tonight,” the Governor said, “and none of them will be of any use in this respect. All I can say is that you had best take a glance at the congregation in Church tomorrow morning.”
He saw the expression on Lord Hawkston’s face and added with a smile,
“You know as well as I do that if you stay in the Queen’s House you are expected to accompany the Governor to Morning Prayers.”
“I am quite prepared to do my duty,” Lord Hawkston replied.
“It will not be as hard as you think,” Sir Arthur went on. “I have restricted the Vicar to a sermon not longer than fifteen minutes!”
The following morning in the grey stone Church of St. Peter’s, which was not far from the Queen’s House, Lord Hawkston, looking round the congregation, saw that the pews were filled with elegant figures that would have surprised those who thought that Ceylon was a backwater and out of touch with the world of fashion.
Gowns of taffeta, silk, satin, bombazine ornamented with lace, braid, buttons or ribbon were not only fashionable but luxurious.
So were the extremely fetching bonnets and hats trimmed with flowers and feathers that rested on the elegantly coiffured heads of the female...