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Title: From the Five Rivers
Author: Steel, Flora Annie Webster, 1847-1929
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "From the Five Rivers" ***

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   1. Page scan source:
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   2. The diphthong oe is represented by [oe].



                   _By the same Author, 6s. each_.

       The Hosts of the Lord
       Voices in the Night
       On the Face of the Waters
       The Potter's Thumb
       In the Permanent Way
       Red Rowans
       The Flower of Forgiveness
       Miss Stuart's Legacy


                      London: William Heinemann



                         From the Five Rivers



                                  By

                          Flora Annie Steel



                                London

                          William Heinemann

                                 1901



                        _First Published_ 1893

                     _Reprinted_ 1893; 1897; 1901



_All rights reserved_



                    TO MANY FRIENDS AND ONE FRIEND

                        SINCE WITHOUT THE MANY

              THESE STORIES COULD NOT HAVE BEEN WRITTEN

                           WITHOUT THE ONE

             THEY CERTAINLY WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN PUBLISHED



                              CONTENTS.


       Gunesh Chund.

       The Blue Monkey.

       Shah Sujah's Mouse.

       Suttu.

       At a Girls' School.

       In a Citron Garden.

       Nur Jehan.

       Shurfu the Zaildar.

       Songs of the People:

           Plough Song.

           Sowing Song.

           Harvest Song.

           Cotton-picking Song.



                        FROM THE FIVE RIVERS.



                            GUNESH CHUND.



                                  I.

Outside the village a man stood alone in the moonless night. Yet it
was not dark; for in the unending depths of violet blue the stars hung
many-hued and many-sized--each in their order, so clear, so bright,
that the simile "as one star differeth from another in glory" stood
out in all its vivid truth, undimmed by the mists of a Western
atmosphere.

The man, however, neither looked nor thought of the stars. He had seen
them shine thus after the winter rains ever since he had been able to
see, and his eyes were full of the shadowy stretch of level fields
which seemed to rise towards the pale horizon. There was a fresh, damp
smell in the air, and close to his feet some lighter shadows
surrounded by darker ones showed that the recent rains had been heavy
enough to leave fresh pools of water in the hollows whence the village
had been dug--hollows like the skeleton at the feast, serving to
remind the inhabitants that their origin was dust, their end the
grave.

Toil and moil flung their refuse into these as if in derision; the
pitiless eastern rain washed the mud from wall and roof back to its
birthplace; but year after year the antlike builders piled more mud
over the ruins of the old, until the village, girt by its grave, grew
dignified by age, and, gaining renewal from its own mortality, rose
higher and higher above the surrounding plain.

Such a treeless, formless plain, circled round by that fillet of paler
sky where the stars shone dimly, like distant fire-flies. Not a
landmark anywhere, save, behind the man, his own village. By day an
ant-hill of low huts; in the soft darkness piled like a fort,
lightless, soundless. He turned towards it, his eyes seeking a central
block standing higher than the rest. It was his house; the house where
he and his forebears for many a generation had been born; where he had
stood by his father's death-bed and taken the reins of office from the
dying hands; where he, too, hoped to die and pass the headship of the
village to some stalwart son. And it was childless as yet. A curious
thrill seemed to join heart and hand and brain in a trinity of skill
and strength and love, for yonder in that dim house a woman was
bringing a child into the world with pains beyond the primal curse;
and he, the father, driven by a restlessness new to him, had wandered
out into the night to seek patience in action. It could not be over
yet; his mother had said it would be long, and the jackals had not yet
given their second cry. He turned again to the fields.

"The land is good," he murmured to himself, "the crop is good, and the
rain is good. If only this be a son--"

He drew a long breath that was half a sigh. A stir in the thorn
enclosures where the cattle were folded for the night caught his
practised ear, and he walked towards them, listening. A feeble bleat
followed by a patter of feet made him push aside the rude hurdle
barring the entrance. Among the crowding sheep and goats the first
lamb of the season lay beside its mother, and his eyes lit up as he
forced his way through the circle of uncertain elders to reach it. He
was in luck to be there, else the first-fruits would have been dead by
morning. He lifted the lamb gently, thinking the while that he must
divide the flock ere another night, and so run no more risks. As he
made his way back to the village with swinging strides the mother
trotted after him, bleating, and the village dogs snuffed at his heels
silently; they knew better than to bark at Gunesh Chund the head-man,
tall and strong; looking all the taller by reason of his white
turban and the lank folds of white drapery falling from his high
shoulders--so tall, that he had to stoop in order to enter the door
leading to the outer court of his house. Within were lights and a
cackle of women's voices; but here, in the wide expanse of beaten mud
floor, darkness and silence, save for the cud-chewing of the milch
kine ranged in one corner, and the rasping rub of a weighted halter
through its ring, as the head-man's pony turned at its master's
entrance.

Gunesh stood still and called, "Mother! mother!"

An old woman with an oil cresset held above her head came to the inner
doorway and peered into the darkness through the flowers and branches
garlanding the entrance. Then she set aside the swinging sickle hung
to bar all passage to evil spirits, and, stepping out, shook her head
at the mute inquiry in her son's eyes.

"Not yet, O Gunesh. But all goes well. 'Twill come with the dawn, like
many another. And fear not, O my child. 'Tis a son. The stars and the
omens are agreed."

A faint bleat made her set the cresset nearer. "What hast thou there,
O Gunesh?"

"The firstling, mother. 'Twas in the fold. I have brought it hither
for safety."

The old woman's face shone with delight.

"A ewe lamb! 'Tis another omen; and there is luck in the house
to-night; for as the ewe lamb to the fold so is the male child to the
hearth. Have no fear, O Gunesh! Have no fear!"

She laid one wrinkled hand on her son's arm, and, with the lamp held
high in the other, gazed fondly on his face, curiously like her
own--the same refined, aquiline features and narrow forehead; but the
man's was less alert than the woman's, and softer, especially now as
he stood hesitating.

"And--and--Veru?" he asked, somewhat sheepishly.

His mother shrugged her shoulders. "Oh, Veru! She is well enough. She
suffers, but that is the woman's part. 'Twould have been better for
her years ago. But she will forget. All women do, and the omens are
good--"

A querulous complaint from within, followed by women's voices, made
her pause.

"I must return. Folk are so ignorant nowadays, I wonder aught comes
right. But thou needst not fear, my son; the old mother knows it all.
So! the lamps are lit, the flowers strewn, the spices burned, the
chants raised duly. The Great Ones must needs be pleased; and look
you, Guneshwa! the sun comes back with the dawn."

"Yea, mother," he answered, meekly, "and sure the firstling shows
luck."

When she left him he threw some straw in one corner for the ewe, and
guided the tottering lamb towards it, smiling to himself over the
frail, ridiculous attempts at escape made by the little creature. The
bleats subsided into contented silence, and he groped a stumbling way
up the narrow steps leading to the flat, square roof of his house.
There he sat down, his back against the parapet wall which gave
seclusion to the women's court below, whence a glimmer of light and a
murmur of voices reached eyes and ears. The rest was darkness and
silence.

"With the dawn," he muttered--"it will come with the dawn."

He took a nugget of opium from an inner pocket, broke off a bit, and
having swallowed it set himself deliberately towards patience. Most
men of his race would have found the situation simple, and their
minds, if on the rack of expectation, would have been free from doubt.
Gunesh Chund's heart, however, was softer than most men's--softer than
his mother, for instance, deemed a true man's should be. It was
occupied with one thought. Supposing it was a girl, after all? What
should he do? He could not feel orthodox disgust or anger at the idea.
Yet he longed for a son, if only because it would settle so many vexed
questions and make life so much easier. Even now with his mother and
Veru peace was not always to be had; but how would it be if the second
wife with whom the former threatened him came to make a third in the
quarrel? Sooner or later he would have to make a fourth, of course;
that was always the end, and he had all a kindly man's hatred of tears
and fuss.

Yet a son he must have, and that quickly, for, as his mother said,
truly the cousin's young wife was becoming unbearably pretentious over
those big boys of hers. What wonder? Were they not what all boys
should be? Gunesh Chund felt himself mean and spiritless as he
recognized his own admiration for those whom his mother regarded as
mere pretenders to the hereditary office of head-man. Did not Kishnu,
their black-browed, sonsy mother, openly declare that, even if Gunesh
had a son, hers might yet be preferred as being older, should autumn
chills and summer pestilence carry the present incumbent off before
his time? At least so the old mother said. And one thing was certain:
Devi Ditta and Pooram Lal, the village elders, were no friends of his
since that dispute about the common lands. They might side with the
other branch. Without doubt a son must be had to carry on work in this
world and give life to the next.

And if this was a girl? A bleat from the lamb below made him suddenly
smile at the very idea of baby fingers playing with his beard and baby
kisses on his face. Were girls' kisses less sweet, girls' fingers less
soft?

He shifted uneasily, conscious that his thoughts were heresy in his
mother's eyes. Doubtless she was right. He would have to marry again,
since Veru would plainly be accursed, unable, even after all the
pilgrimages and vows, to perform her first duty. As he sat trying to
harden his heart, wild, skirling chants rose every now and again from
the women's court, and at each outburst he shifted again uneasily; for
through the noise he seemed to hear the cry it was meant to deaden,
lest a complaint might anger the Dread Givers of Pain and Pleasure.
And Veru had been good to him. He sat on till the dream-compeller made
even his hazy thought more hazy, and patience came with sleep.

When he awoke the dawn was past, and as he stretched his long length
skyward in the first enjoyment of past sleep, the whole circle of
earth and heaven round him was ablaze with the sun rising gloriously
over the cloudless world. He stood so, for a moment, the centre of his
universe, contented, serene, ere memory returned to him. Then he made
his way down to the yard with fear at his heart. All was still as the
grave, even in the women's court, and it was a relief when he peered
past the swinging sickle to see his mother wrapped in her quilt dozing
by the open fire-place in one corner.

He went over to her and touched her on the arm.

"Mother!" he called.

She was alert in an instant, and looking in his face answered his mute
question fiercely.

"It is a girl--a useless girl! What need to wake thee for such bitter
news? The woman is accursed."

The quick assent rising to his lips was stilled by a little cry from
within the quilt. Something--he knew not what it was--thrilled him and
kept him silent.

"Is--is it pretty, mother?" he asked, sheepishly, after a while.

The old lady eyed him with suspicious scorn.

"See for thyself, ninny," she replied, shortly.

Gunesh Chund felt a distinct disappointment as he looked down at his
first-born. He had forgotten what new-born babies were like since the
days when, as a boy, he was admitted to such sights. This one struck
him as ugly, or at least as less pleasing than a lamb or a calf.

"God send it be not ill-looking, mother!" he blurted out in a tone of
alarm.

She laughed, still in the same short and scornful fashion.

"Lo! there never was a plain woman among us. The child is well enough,
and favours thee. Is it not enough that it should be a girl?"

He did not hear the latter sentence. Accustomed in all things to
accept his mother's fiat, he was lost in trying to trace the likeness
to himself, and, to aid his efforts, drew a reflective forefinger over
the featureless face, feeling, as he did so, that strange thrill at
his heart again. Suddenly, as he neared the mouth, the lips trembled
and a little red tongue shot swiftly on his finger-tip. He burst into
a great roar of delighted laughter.

"Ho! ho! Look, mother, look!"

"Didst never see a child suck before, O Gunesh Chund, _lumberdar?_"[1]
retorted the old woman, crossly, as she tucked the baby away again. He
felt abashed, but the laughter had left him at peace with all mankind.


---------------------

[Footnote 1: Head-man.]

---------------------


"And Veru? How is she?"

This was too much. The stern old lady rose to her full height and
faced him. Her grey hair, disordered by the night's watching, escaped
from the close folds of her veil, and the quilt slipping from her
showed her tall, erect as a girl. She threw out her right hand in
declamation:

"Thou art no better than a woman thyself, O Gunesh! To ask after Veru,
the wife of disgrace! Thou shouldst not have thought of her. Were it
not better she were dead? Ungrateful! wicked! For she must be wicked
to frustrate my prayers and alms. Lo, have I not fulfilled her every
wish these nine months past? And now 'tis 'How is Veru?' forsooth, and
no thought of the mother who has slaved in vain. But this is an end.
She is accursed, and thou must bring a new wife to the hearth if thou
wouldst not lose thine own soul, and the soul of those who begat thee.
Leave Veru her girl, and be kind to her, if thou art a ninny. There
are other women in the world who can bear sons."

As Gunesh crept out of the house feeling small, despite his great
height, he told himself it was only what he had expected. For all
that, his mother might have waited a day or two ere speaking of the
new wife, within Veru's hearing also. God send she had been asleep
after her long suffering!

He was so dispirited that he did not care to face the _dharmsala_ with
its congregation of elders ready to condole, and its younger men
inclined to sneer. So he gave up his morning pipe, and carried the
firstling to take possession of the lambing fold. As he walked along
in the sunshine, as he had walked in the shadow, with it in his arms,
he felt its little tongue sucking at his hand, and it seemed to hurt
him, body and soul.



                                 II.

The forty days of seclusion being over, Veru, in her finest clothes,
sat cross-legged on a string bed ready to receive company. The
court-yard had been freshly swept, the brass cooking-vessels scoured
and set in a row against the mud wall, where the sun smote them
into retaliating rays. A few flat baskets of sweets, covered with
penny-halfpenny Manchester pocket-handkerchiefs printed in the
semblance of a pack of cards, stood ready for the expected guests, and
Gunesh Chund's mother had been busy all the morning making a sort of
furmenty in honour of the occasion; for, though she considered her
labour thrown away on the birth of a girl, she would not for the world
have omitted a single ceremony, and so have given colour to outside
condolence. Veru herself was a delicate-looking, pretty woman of about
six-and-twenty, with a broad forehead, and a thin-lipped, sensitive
mouth--both of which characteristics were more blemishes than beauties
in the opinion of her neighbours. Her chief defect, however, in the
eyes of the stalwart, open-hearted, shrill-voiced, village women lay
in a certain refined reserve, which they set down to conceit born of
her pretensions to scholarship--though how any woman could be so
wrong-minded as to usurp man's estate by learning to read and write
passed their simple understanding. But Veru, who had lived with a rich
uncle during her girlhood, had shared her cousin's desultory visits to
a mission school for a year or two, and returned to her parents and
marriage with a book in which she could read glibly, and a reputation
for writing. She could also knit many-hued comforters in _brioche_
stitch, and darn strips of net in divers patterns--appalling and
almost incredible culture, viewed with disfavour by all save Gunesh,
who was simple enough to admire it; probably because _she_ was woman
enough to admire him immensely.

The infant, to whom the name of Nihâli had been given, lay in her
arms, bedizened into the semblance of a performing monkey; tight
little silk trousers on the bandy legs, a tinsel-decorated muslin
bodice, and a flowing veil, the size of a pocket-handkerchief,
disposed over the round skull-cap where a black fringe of wool
simulated hair. On this outfit Veru had spent much time and trouble,
while her mother-in-law grumbled under her breath at the expense, or
openly said that in her day a decent woman would have thought it shame
to make such a fuss over a girl, after keeping her master waiting ten
long years for a child.

There was bitter war between these two women outwardly: yet, however
fiercely Veru combated the elder woman's views, in her heart of hearts
she could not overcome the inherited conviction that the meanest thing
on God's earth, was a sonless wife. Cultured retorts as to what she
had heard and read in school of Western opinions, and of the sex of
the Queen-Empress, did very well as lethal weapons, but as inward balm
were most unsatisfactory. Often and often, after a passage of arms in
which her more dexterous point had reduced her adversary to the usual
appeal for patience, she would creep away into one of the dark,
windowless rooms opening off the central court-yard, on pretence that
the light prevented her baby from sleeping. There, safe from
observation, she would weep salt tears over its unconscious face.
After all her prayers and alms, why had not Fate given her a son? How
much easier it would have been for everybody, Fate included; for now
high Heaven would have to be wearied once more!

She had seen but little of her husband during her days of seclusion,
so the task of shutting her white teeth over a retort when he
was by had not been a very difficult one. But now the every-day
life was beginning again, and it would be harder to keep up the
forbearance--though she was clever enough to see that it earned his
gratitude.

He came in before going to his afternoon's work in the fields to
inspect the preparations. The sight of the bedizened baby awoke his
broad laugh.

"Ho! ho! ho! Grandmother, see what a figure Veru hath made of the
child! For sure it is like the puppets Dya Ram brought round at Diwâli
Fair, that danced on a string!"

"I'm glad thy wits give thee sense to see the folly of dressing the
child so," grumbled the old woman. "In my day there were none of those
fal-lals on farmers' children. We left them to the silly town's-folk."

"In your day, mother, farmers' wives did not know how to make them;
but I cut and sewed them all," retorted Veru, with studious courtesy.

"Aye, aye, that's true," remarked her husband, relieved. "Thou hast
clever fingers despite they are so small.--Hath she not, mother?"

"Clever, mayhap; but in my time wives found better work than snipping
and sewing. They made stalwart sons for the hearth, and left clothes
to the tailor. 'Tis the other way on now, I suppose. Thou wilt send to
the tailor for a son soon, I suppose. It is time."

"Nay, but the mother is right," interrupted Gunesh Chund, hastily,
seeing Veru's eyes begin to flash; "the little one is like a puppet,
as I said, Veru, and 'tis happier with its arms and legs free. I love
to watch it struggling on its back like a young duck with the megrims.
'Tis comical. But feed it well, wife; if 'twere a calf I would hold it
over-thin. Young things need fat. Do as the mother bids thee, and 'tis
sure to thrive. Had she not daughters of her own in her time?" His
voice had a ring of appeal in it.

"Aye, and some of them in man's guise," muttered the old lady as she
watched him bending over the baby. Nevertheless, she spoke more softly
as she bade him get to his fields, the proper place for a man.

"True, mother, true," he assented happily, as he went to the door
with her. "And there is no place I like so well. 'Tis good to stand
knee-deep in young corn when it grows blue-green, as this year. Thou
shouldst see it in the dip by the sandy bottom. And see the dappled
sky like a partridge breast, auguring more rain. A good harvest,
mother! A good harvest and new dresses--"

She checked him. "Nay, Gunesh, there is the new wife to think of
first. Good harvest days are good wedding days."

They were beyond ear-shot, and yet the man gave a quick glance at the
woman within.

"Hush, mother, hush!" he said, almost in a whisper. "Should a man take
the name of another woman in his mouth, with the cry of a month-old
babe in his ear? There is time yet."

"Time!" she echoed. "Time, indeed! 'Tis not time, but will, is
wanting. Get thee gone to thy fields--thank Heaven thou art not a
ninny there--for see, yonder comes Kishnu to the reception, bringing
all her three. The jade! 'Tis only to crow over our girl!"

Gunesh tried to frown as he stood irresolute, but his mild face
refused the task.

"May be, mother," he replied simply, "yet were the boys mine I would
take them wherever I went, crow or no crow. They are so sweet."

His mother stamped her foot. "Aye, aye! Sweet for sure. And will not
the eldest make a fine _lumberdar?_ Folk might almost deem him thy
son."

"I could wish none better."

Foiled by his gentleness, she watched his tall figure go down the
alley for a minute, and then began the attack in a more promising
quarter.

"Here comes Kishnu, Veru. Did I not say she would be the first? The
crowing cock loves early hours. She hath her three with her, and
Gunesh, poor soul, must needs stop and fondle them. He loves those
boys; and who can blame him? Sure, a man's heart cannot live in his
breast always!"

"That is true; but when a man gives it to a wife she can keep it from
straying," retorted Veru. She was never without words, but they were
empty diet, and she could not help looking at Kishnu's boys with
hungry eyes.

"I scarce liked to bring Shivu here to-day," quoth the latter,
settling herself with a flounce among the voluminous skirts that hung
half-way down her trousered legs. "You see, he grows so big--almost
too much of a man for these women's doings."

She tittered, twisted her huge nose-ring to one side, disposed her
youngest at her capacious bosom, and, thus prepared for conversation,
began afresh in a shrill, strident voice:

"So that's your girl, Veru! Sure you have dressed it for the wedding
already! Early days; but with a daughter one has to think betimes.--Is
it not so, grandmother?"

"Our women have no difficulty in finding husbands," replied Veru's
mother-in-law, who, whatever she might say herself, was not inclined
to stand impertinence from outsiders. "But perhaps in thy family 'tis
a different story."

Now Kishnu was no beauty, despite her fruitfulness. Neither was she
ready of tongue. So she sniffed, comforting herself with the knowledge
that words, after all, were but poor weapons against facts. As an
immediate revenge, however, she dragged the most disagreeable topic
she could think of into the conversation.

"Guneshwa looked but ill at ease, it struck me. No doubt the new
settlement in the village gives him trouble."

"What new settlement?" asked Veru, sharply.

Settlement time meant war time, since in the compiling of new records
lay ample opportunity for spite; and her husband as head-man had
enemies.

Kishnu tittered again. This was better than she had expected.

"So! I have broken the seal of a secret. Mayhap Gunesh said nothing
lest it should worry thee during the time of recovery. But 'tis so. My
man heard it awhile ago through his friends at court; for certain,
yesterday. Sure, Veru, 'tis a thousand pities this is a girl. Gunesh
could have written a son's name as his heir in the new papers; and
that would have ended dispute forever."

The _lumberdar's_ women folk looked at each other, for once in accord.
Gunesh had hidden this thing from them, and they were too proud to
show how it had moved them. They preferred letting the shaft rankle,
perhaps needlessly, rather than inquire further of Kishnu.

"'Tis no pity at all," retorted Veru, tossing her head. "There can be
no dispute that I know of. And I prefer girls."

This went too far for her mother-in-law. At the risk of Kishnu's
delectation, she lost patience.

"There 'tis! Heard one ever the like? '_I prefer girls_.' So! thus
thou mockest the great ones, and by idle words turn my prayers to
naught. 'Tis too vexatious--"

"Girls are every whit as good as boys. The great Queen--"

"Pshaw! I am sick of the great Queen! Why did she come to breed
dissension, and teach young women to mock at the old? Though, for
sure, she herself knows better, seeing she hath proved her worth by a
good family of sons."

"So may Nihâli in her time."

"What! That sickly thing! Thou wilt scarce rear her to the first year,
and mayhap 'tis better so. 'Dead girls,' thou knowest, 'bring live
boys.'"

Veru's face of fear sent a pang of remorse to a heart which beat true
after its fashion, and the old lady went on, hastily:

"Nay, daughter-in-law! Perchance I am wrong. The child dwindles a bit,
no more. I will make seven spices for it. 'Twill thrive if only thou
wilt be reasonable, and save thyself from tantrums and tears. 'Tis the
calf has the pain, mind you, if the cow steals green wheat."

"And with a girl the mind is at rest," continued Kishnu, in malicious
consolation. "Now, with me, if the charcoal rubs from their foreheads
I'm agog with fear of the evil eye, and the rest of my day is wasted
in prayers and offerings. As thou sayst, Veru, girls are better."

Veru had no answer ready; and even when the stream of visitors set in,
full of chattering congratulations and condolences, she did not find
her tongue. The noise, she said, made her head ache and disturbed the
baby. She stripped the finery from its little limbs, and, wrapping it
warmly in her veil, held it tight to her breast, refusing to uncover
it in order to gratify the curious.

Gunesh, coming in from the darkening fields, with their calm in his
face, found her crying in the inner room.

"She wants to bring another wife home even now. She will not have
patience and wait awhile." That was the burden of her complaint, while
Gunesh sat comforting her uneasily.

"Surely, Veru, I have waited," he said, after a time. "Few would have
been so patient; but thou art a good wife and duteous even with the
mother."

"And thou! Oh, thou art good, Gunesh--so good to me! See, thy patience
hath brought Nihâli. Wait a year, only a year longer, husband, and it
will bring thee a son."

He looked at the mother and child with kindling eyes.

"A year! Surely, surely! That is but fair. So dry thine eyes, wife,
for I am hungry."

That night, when Veru had retired to her bed with the baby, and he sat
smoking with his mother in the outer yard, he asked her wistfully if
she really thought the child was dwindling.

She turned on him fiercely, perhaps from a feeling of pity.

"And if it does, canst not trust me to physic it? Or wouldst thou have
a man doctor to thy women's rooms? They tell me the travelling one
sent on his rounds by the _Sirkar_[2] is in the next village but now.
Shall I bid him come, since thou seemst to hold by new-fangled ways?"


---------------------

[Footnote 2: Government.]

---------------------


Gunesh Chund filled his pipe again with poppy-leaves and tobacco, and
watched his mother carding cotton viciously. What would she say if she
knew of the promise he had made to Veru? The narcotic did not soothe
him; and when sleep failed, he strolled out to where the village
elders sat discussing the possible effects of this new settlement on
the total of revenue due from the community. The familiar company was
a relief, though it brought a doubt of his own wisdom in waiting a
year. Still it was only a year. After that, if Veru failed to bear him
a son, his duty to himself, to his ancestors, and to the _Sirkar_
demanded another wife.



                                 III.

Whether Gunesh Chund's mother, when she prophesied evil to little
Nihâli, did so from conviction or temper, it was not long before her
words came true. Despite the marvellous seven spices, and many another
time-honoured remedy, the baby dwindled and pined unaccountably. Then
came a day when Veru, half distraught and absolutely helpless, sat
with it in her arms, sullen and silent. The old women of the village
dropped in one after the other, more from curiosity than sympathy,
each laying down the law as to some infallible nostrum, whose efficacy
they defended against other views in high-pitched cackle. At last
Veru, whose smattering of knowledge only brought incredulity without
lending aid, declaring she would not have the child tormented further,
laid it to her breast, and turned her back upon hoarded wisdom. Only
when Gunesh Chund came wandering in restlessly from the fieldwork,
which for the first time in his life failed to bring him peace, she
unclasped her straining arms to show him the still face lying against
the full breast that roused no sign of life or desire.

A piteous sight. The big tears ran down his cheeks and fell on the
soft, closed hand. He took a corner of his cotton shawl and wiped them
away clumsily but with infinite tenderness.

"Sure, thou dost love her, though she is a girl," said Veru, with the
calm of despair.

The man broke into a sob and turned away.

"Mother, canst thou do nothing?" he asked, in all the wistful
confidence of a child, laying his great hand on the old woman's head
as she bent over her task of kneading the dough for his supper.

"Do! What is to be done with a woman who cries out if the child is
touched? I tell thee, O Guneshwa, the little one is bewitched--though
God only knows why any one should trouble to cast an eye on a girl.
Ask Munlya. Ask Premi, or Chuni, or any wise woman. But Veru heeds us
not, saying the books deny it. So be it! The child will die!"

Gunesh Chund lingered, hesitating.

"I--I--perhaps, mother, 'twould be better to fetch the doctor. He is
here still, they say."

His mother sprang to her feet, all the vigour and fire of her past
youth in eyes and gesture.

"That I should have lived to hear such words in the house where I came
a modest bride, where never man set foot save thy father and mine!
Wilt thou cast thy honour and mine in the dust for a baby girl? Be it
so, Gunesh! Choose now between her and me; or choose, rather, between
Veru's barren kisses and my curse, for the child will die if the evil
eye be not averted by charms. Choose, I say; for, by my father's soul,
if this bastard half-a-man enters the house, I leave it!"

"Nay, mother! I did but suggest. Veru--"

"O Veru! Veru! I am sick of the name. 'Tis she who hath bewitched
thee; 'tis her evil eye--"

He interrupted her fiercely, seizing her by the wrist.

"Peace, I say, mother! Peace! I will not hear such words."

"They are true for all that. She _hath_ bewitched thee!"

They stood for a moment face to face, so like each other in their
anger and dread. Then the strong man quailed, and fled before her
words and his own thoughts. He was no wiser than his fellows, for all
the soft heart that betrayed him into progress; perhaps less so, since
the superstitions of his fathers enslaved his mind without controlling
his affections. He wandered into the fields once more, where the rows
of blossoming mustard sown among the wheat showed like a yellow sea
against the horizon, but close at hand broke the green gloom of the
earing corn in long, curling waves crested with gold--a sight dear to
husbandmen's eyes! Yet it brought no comfort to the dull ache in
Gunesh's heart, which drove him to finish work with the first excuse
of waning light.

The child was at least no worse. Perhaps the warmth had soothed its
pain; perhaps the feeble life was sinking silently; but the ignorant,
loving eyes that watched it knew not whether the stillness made for
sleep or death.

Save for Gunesh Chund and his wife the house was empty, for his mother
had sought the relief of words with a neighbouring crony.

"Veru," said Gunesh in a whisper, as if the darkening walls had ears,
"dost think the doctor might do her good? The mother will not have him
here--mayhap she is right--but I could take the child to him."

"O husband!" Brought face to face with decision, the woman shrank from
action. "I know not, and the mother would be so angry."

But the slower mind and warmer heart had been at work on the problem,
and ciphered it out once and for all.

"She need never know. Sit within, silent, as if thou hadst it still,
should she return. I shall not be long; so give the child to me."

Half fearful, half pleased at his decision, the mother shifted her
burden to his awkward arms. How small, how light it seemed, hidden
away in the folds of his flowing plaid-like shawl, as he passed
through the twilight alleys on his way to the camping-ground where, in
the mud caravanserai, the travelling vaccinator was to be found!
Neighbours, resting after the day's labour, called to him in various
greeting, and he paused to reply with dull patience, conscious always
of the unseen burden near his heart. So had he carried the firstling
lamb on the night when Nihâli was born. How it had struggled to
escape, and sucked at his restraining hand in fierce desire for life!
A fear lest the child's quiet was death made him turn aside more than
once into a darker corner to look and listen.

Still with the same dull patience he sat down before the vacant room
in the serai to await the vaccinator's return; for patience and
doggedness are the peasant farmer's unfailing inheritance, not to be
reft from him by tyrants or strangers. Some camel-drivers, newly
arrived, were cooking their food at a blazing wood-fire in the open,
whence the flames threw long shadows, distorted out of all human
semblance, into the far corners of the court-yard, where a circle of
kneeling camels browsed upon a pile of green branches. Familiar sights
and sounds to Gunesh's eyes and ears, yet to-night, with that strange
burden near his heart, seeming out of place and unexpected.

Meanwhile Veru, with empty arms and nervous fingers twisting and
turning themselves on each other restlessly, was straining her eyes
into the darkness, and wondering with greater and greater insistence
what kept her husband. Her mother-in-law had not returned. She almost
wished she had, for the solitude and silence seemed unending. At last,
unable to endure the suspense any longer, she drew her veil tightly,
to avoid recognition, and stole like a shadow along the darkest side
of the street to meet Gunesh. But he, also weary of waiting, returned
from an unsuccessful pursuit of the doctor by another route. Thus no
reply came to his whispered call to Veru, as he stepped over the
threshold. What had happened? He repeated the call louder.

"Veru!--Mother! Is there no one in the house?"

His mother's voice answered him from behind, and he turned to her,
relieved; for all its lightness, the little burden at his heart grew
heavy in responsibility. Even in his mother's arms it seemed safer.

Two old women who had accompanied her, with the intention of making a
last appeal to common sense, looked at the child critically.

"Truly, O mother of Gunesha," said one, "'tis the evil eye; but there
is time yet to cast the devil out by fumigations."

"Without doubt," echoed the other. "I have seen children nearer death
than this, snatched from the grave by wisdom such as thine."

Gunesh Chund's mother looked at him, her triumph dimmed and softened
by appeal.

"Wilt kill the little thing by over-kindness?" she whispered. "See,
chance hath given her to us. Veru, poor fool, is away.--Let us work
the charm, Guneshwa. I worked it on thee when thou wast a sickly babe,
and see how strong and tall thou art."

He looked from one to the other doubtfully. What was he, an ignorant
man, to set his wishes against these wise mothers, when they assured
him of success? He gave a sign of assent, and set himself towards
authority should Veru come back ere the business was well over.

The old women turned to their task joyfully. The time was past, they
cackled, for any but robust measures, and life in Nihâli's frail form
must be made unendurable to the devil without delay. For this purpose,
what more effectual than red pepper and turmeric? Swiftly, with
muttered charms, and many a deft passing through of this thing seven
times, and that seven times seven, the child was laid on a low,
strong-seated stool, in full blaze of the fire-light, while the
grandmother, bringing the drugs from her stores within, mixed them in
approved manner. An earthenware saucer filled with smouldering
charcoal served for brazier. Then, all being ready and placed beneath
the stool, a discordant chant was raised, and the powder flung on the
embers.

From the dense yellow smoke enveloping poor little Nihâli came a
feeble, gasping cry.

"Mother!" pleaded the man, hiding his face.

"'Tis the devil cries," replied the stern old woman, flinging fresh
drugs on the coals.

A fainter cry came, echoed in a shriek from the door, where Veru
stood, paralyzed for an instant by rage and terror. The next, dashing
the witches aside with furious blows, coughing and suffocating in the
fumes, her empty, craving arms sought the child and found it--too
late! A sigh, a struggle, and the demon, or angel of life, had fled
forever.

Smarting and half blind with the foul smoke, Veru's eyes failed to see
the tall figure half hidden in the corner; but her voice seemed to
pierce him through and through.

"I gave her to Guneshwa! Where is he?"

Then, as the full extent of the result came home to her, shriek after
shriek rent the air, and she fell into one of the violent hysterical
fits so common among Indian women of all classes.

"The devil hath entered into _her_," said her mother-in-law, bitterly;
so the turmeric and red pepper came in handy.

Gunesh Chund, torn by a vague remorse, and uncertain what to think,
found his refuge in the dream-compeller. But while he dreamed under
the stars, on the roof that rose like a watch-tower above the village,
and Veru lay in the unconsciousness of exhaustion below, a strange,
ghastly scene was enacted in the outer court-yard, where the old women
flitted about with tiny oil lamps in their hands. Little Nihâli,
dressed in her fine clothes, with bandy legs straightened and
struggling arms at rest, lay stiff on the string stool, with each tiny
palm clenched over a ball of raw sugar, and miniature cards of
cotton-wool, such as women prepare for their spinning, between each
finger. So armed with all female attractions, the sugar symbolizing
sweetness to a lover, the cotton diligence as a wife, Nihâli was
ready, like a true woman, to sacrifice herself unconditionally in
order to bring sons to the hearth.

"Veru, of course, would not hear of this," said the stern grandmother
to her cronies, "and Guneshwa is fairly bewitched by her obstinacy.
Nevertheless, the opportunity shall not slip; for if the omens are
bad, I must give him another wife without delay."

So, in the darkest of the night, before the jackal's last cry heralded
the dawn, the three women slipped through the deserted streets. No
fear was on their faces, no huddling together or whispering; straight
in solemn order, as to a sacred duty, went the little procession,
headed by the tall, gaunt grandmother, bearing the dead baby in her
arms.

Past the still, shining pools of water girdling the village; beyond
the thorn enclosures; through the fields of wheat, till the village
common-land, a stretch of bare mud and low, sparse bushes, lay dim and
desolate around them.

"'Tis the nick of time," said one of the cronies, pointing to a grey
shadow slinking away from their steps; "now may the Great One send a
good omen!"

In an open spot surrounded by bushes Gunesh Chund's mother paused and
looked around.

"Here," she whispered, and the others nodded.

She stooped to lay the dead child on the ground, carefully placing it
so that the feet were from the village; then raising herself to her
full height, she stretched her right hand towards the horizon, as if
pointing out a road, repeating in a wild chant echoed by those behind
her:


             "Thus we drive you forth, O daughter!
              Come not back, but send a brother."


Swift and silent as they had come, they made their way back to the
village, leaving the dead baby alone, unwatched. For a while the night
was still; then soft pattering feet crept round Nihâli, and fierce
eyes glared on her from the bushes; but Death held her in his arms
secure, and fear was over forever.

"Hist!" cried the retreating women, as the sobbing wail of the jackal,
beginning with a faint whine, rose louder and louder, till each bush
and brake seemed to give a voice to swell the horrid chorus.

They waited listening.

"Now may the omen be good!" said one.

"The dawn will show," replied the grandmother, calmly. "I will wait
here; go you home to bed."

But when the rising sun brought sufficient light to see withal, her
eager eyes could find no certain indication on which to build either
hope or fear. Marks there were, and plenty, showing where the beasts
had fought, but no broad track of dragging, either away from or
towards the village, conveying Nihâli's last message to her friends.

Had she gone over the edge of the world seeking for the long-sought
son? Or had she come back to haunt the hearth with her unwelcome
presence? Who could tell?

"Everything goes wrong nowadays," muttered the discontented old woman.
"Even the omens fail! 'Tis all the fault of the great Queen and her
new-fangled notions."



                                 IV.

The next three months brought Gunesh Chund many an uneasy hour. Even
when, driven to bay by his mother's entreaties to allow her to look
for a new wife, he confessed his promise to wait a year, he gained no
respite from her reproaches, but rather enhanced their venom by her
contempt for his weakness. What was he, to set himself above the
wisdom of his fathers? What was the reading-writing woman, that she
should run counter to the traditions which held the first duty of a
Hindu wife was to be that of bringing a son to the hearth? He had no
answer save a dull consciousness that somehow he was not quite as his
fathers. They, for instance, had calmly acquiesced in such customs as
the exposure of the dead child to the jackals; while, despite his
familiarity with the idea, its practice had filled him with aversion.
Honest as he was by nature, he never regretted the deceit which sent
Veru, after she recovered from the illness following on the shock of
Nihâli's death, to cool a little grave[3] by the burning-ground with
her tears and offerings.


---------------------

[Footnote 3: Female children are not worth the expense of burning.]

---------------------


"'Twill only make her ill again to know what thou hast done," he had
said to his mother, with a decision new to him. "Silence will be the
wisest for thee also, since in this I am on her side."

As for the casting out of the demon which had hurried on the
inevitable end, Veru always maintained to her mother-in-law that it
partook of the nature of murder; but with her usual shrewdness she
exonerated Gunesh Chund from blame. For this he was grateful, though
his mind was by no means made up as to the rights and wrongs of the
question.

From this and many another problem he took refuge in the fields. The
fierce dry winds of summer blew with scorching heat, bringing with
them the necessity for a ceaseless watering of the crops. Many and
many a silent, peaceful hour he spent in the forked seat behind the
oxen, half asleep, half awake; while the well-wheel circled round he
circled round the wheel, and the great world circled round beyond him.
Whether it span swift or slow he knew not and he cared not.

Many an hour, too, he spent resting, smoking and talking, under the
shade of the one big mulberry-tree, while the greybeards wheezed out
their mouldy proverbs, and the lads listened with their mouths full of
the overripe dead-sweet fruit. A kindly, honest crew; mayhap not far
above the circling bullocks in mind or ambitions, but for the most
part without an ungenerous thought or unfriendly wish.

Or he would take his pipe down to the village _dharmsala_, where
strangers found a lodging and the inhabitants a debating club; but
here the goad of Fate hit keenly at times when the talk fell on the
coming settlement, and Kishnu's people would condole with him in
covert sneers. For Gunesh Chund had been accustomed, ever since his
father died, to have the first and last word in that assembly of
elders, and even his gentle self-depreciation could not fail to feel a
certain loss of authority. One night, after Kishnu's husband, his own
cousin, backed by some friends, had openly derided his opinion, and
talked big about changes in the future, Gunesh sat on longer than was
his wont among the elder men. They had been his father's friends, and
he turned to them instinctively for support. Yet as they sat, solemnly
crouched up on the high wooden bench which filled the rudely carved
veranda from end to end, no voice came from the darkness where they
showed grey and shadowy in their white drapery; almost formless, save
when every now and again a more vigorous pull at a pipe fanned the
embers in it to a glow, which lit up the lean, high-featured faces and
wrinkled hands.

And Gunesh, too, remained silent and perturbed, knowing well what was
in their thoughts. It was a relief when the hubble-bubble of the pipes
dropped into insignificance before a speech summoned up by neighbourly
nods and nudges. It came from the patriarch, whose palsied hand shook
as he stretched it forward.

"Listen, O Guneshwa, the _lumberdar_. Thy grandfather and I played
together as boys in the house of my father and his. But his father was
the _lumberdar_, and mine but an elder. If the seed of strife springs
in the village, whose task is it to root it out? Answer me, ye who
hear me!"

A murmur of approbation ran round the assembly, whereat the patriarch
went on in a louder key.

"If there be young, untutored cattle in the herd, whose duty is it to
see they do not gore the old? Answer ye who hear me!"

But Gunesh Chund, knowing of old the length to which this system of
exhortation could be extended, broke in quickly:

"Granted that 'tis my task, wouldst thou have me root out mine own
family?"

"Nay!" retorted the elder, laughing in proud anticipation of his own
joke, "I would have thee plant some more of the same stock.--Is it not
so, my brothers?"

This time a wheezy chuckle of assent came from the darkness, followed
by a fresh voice:

"A man without a son hath one life; a man rejoicing in a son hath
two."

Then another took up the parable.

"Aye! and four hands to boot, wherewith to root out weeds."

"The hundredfold wheat hath more stems than one," quoth a third.

"And a toddling child can drive bullocks," put in a fourth.

So in solemn adage ran the talk, with many a weighty pause, and many a
self-complacent wag of the head when the ball of ancient wit had been
successfully passed to the next neighbour.

Accustomed as he was to this style of reasoning, each remark was a
fresh tap driving the nail of conviction into Gunesh Chund's slow
brain. As he stood on the roof that night, whence he could see the
horizon strike the sky in one unbroken circle, a keen desire to live
as his fathers had lived excluded all other thoughts. Here was his
world; here lay his duty.

"Thou canst choose a wife for me if thou wiliest," he said sheepishly
to his mother, when, in the early dawn, he found her already at work,
while Veru lay abed with some ache or pain.

"O my son! O Guneshwa!" cried the old woman, flinging her arms
around his neck with unwonted tenderness, and with tears of joy in her
bright old eyes. "I will find thee a pearl and paragon. With a skin
wheat-coloured, and--"

"Nay, mother," interrupted the big man, still more sheepishly, "an'
she please thee, and have a soft tongue, that is all I care for. And,
mother, say no word to Veru yet. There is time; and mayhap thou wilt
not find a wife soon."

His mother laughed scornfully.

"Not find one to marry the _lumberdar!_ such a fine, straight man as
thou art, Guneshwa. Why, they will come in crowds! Nay, be not so
modest; that is the girl's part, not the man's. Nevertheless, as thou
sayst, 'tis time enough to tell Veru when all things are settled.
There is but one woman needed in a marriage."

If some rankling doubt as to the honesty of his silence lingered in
Gunesh Chund's mind, it vanished quickly before the personal peace
which his decision brought to the household.

Perhaps Veru might have wondered at the lull which thereinafter fell
over the combat, but that she herself was absorbed in a new hope of
victory, and thought it possible that her keen-eyed mother-in-law
might, in like manner, be preparing for defeat.

So the time of truce passed on; until one day, almost before Gunesh
had realized his own capitulation, his mother informed him that a
bride had been found.

"So soon!" he exclaimed, dismally. "O mother, take care! Sure the
choice of a plough-bullock would take me longer."

"Then 'tis time to tell Veru," was his only remark, when the beauties,
virtues, and charms of the young lady were dinned into his ears.
Whereupon his mother, with much inward contempt at his scruples, told
him curtly that she had purposely chosen a bride from a far country,
so that he need say nothing, since nothing would be known by others,
until the festivities began.

"I will tell her before then," he said, relieved; but somehow the days
passed by, leaving behind them the silence that they found.

Meanwhile Veru wearied Heaven with prayers and penances till she grew
thin and pale--given to fits of hysteria and tears, yet with a
triumphant look in her eyes as she listened to her mother-in-law's
constant allusions to her ill-health, with which the old lady
bolstered up Gunesh Chund's failing resolution. All three were too
much occupied with their own thoughts and secrets to notice anything
unusual in the bearing of the others; or if they did notice it,
naturally put the change down to vague suspicions, and so held their
own counsel more firmly.

The crops were fast turning russet and gold under the glare of
sunlight succeeding to the monsoon rains, when Gunesh Chund said
good-bye to his household for ten days, and rode by winding village
ways to the broad white road that carried Western civilization, in the
shape of a post-bag, through the district. Veru, clothed in madder and
indigo, stood on the roof to watch him out of sight; loath to lose
him, and regretting that she had not risked her secret ere he left.
How much more would she have regretted it had she known that her
husband's destination lay far beyond his usual bourne, the Central
Revenue Office, and that his bundle contained all things necessary
for the interchange of presents with a new bride! Meanwhile her
mother-in-law, stolidly at work below, wondered how any woman could be
so immodest as to show grief at a husband's departure. And Gunesh
Chund, riding between serried ranks of feather-topped maize and
swelling bosses of millet, thought of the coming harvest. In a way,
each and all were looking forward with eager desire to reaping what
they had sown; as if life held any other fate for humanity!

That same afternoon, Veru, unwilling to relax any of her efforts
because of her hopes, set off to worship a snake which frequented an
old ant-hill at the farther end of the village common. The day had
been one of extreme heat, and a yellow dust-haze hung over everything.
Dust above, below, around her; only the ant-hill, furrowed by
long-past rains into rugged pinnacles, rising clear and distinct. She
was a timid woman, unused to roaming so far, and she looked fearfully
around, dreading lest from one of the dark holes piercing the mound a
hooded head might rear itself and speak to her. Such things had been,
she knew; for beneath the veneer of unbelief the old superstitions
held her in thrall.

Hastily, yet carefully, lest evil should befall from any lack of
ceremony, she ranged her sugar-cakes, hung up her chaplet of flowers,
and sprinkled the milk she had brought in a little brass pot with a
lavish hand; it left dark, ominous-looking stains on the white dust.

Glad to escape from such weird surroundings, yet feeling the need of
rest, she drew aside among the wild caper-bushes, and sat down, wiping
the beads of perspiration from her forehead with the corner of her
veil. It felt quite hot against the damp skin, cooled by the fierce,
dry wind that even in this sheltered spot drove the dust along in
swirls. She drew her veil over her head and sat still as a statue, in
the curiously drooping attitude which to Western eyes suggests
absorbing grief; but Veru's mind was full of a great joy, which gained
no little sweetness from the thought of revenge. Yet as she dreamed
far away into the years, a spreading fold of her veil, caught in a
caper-thorn, seemed pointing to something that glistened among the
roots behind her. Veru, rising to go, stooped to disengage herself,
and saw--a baby's bracelet! The next instant, with a shrill,
high-pitched shriek of rage, she set off running towards the village.
Her mind, slow enough to take in novel ideas, needed no prompting
here. It was little Nihâli's bracelet, and the explanation of this
fact followed as a matter of course. The dead child had been exposed
as an augury; _but what had the verdict been?_ Strange as it may seem,
that thought came uppermost. Doubtless, had the truth been told her in
the first freshness of bereavement, when the soft touch of the little
hands and the clinging of the lips were more than a memory,
indignation and horror at the outrage on her child might have overcome
her curiosity. At any rate, the desire to pose as an advanced woman
would have induced her to conceal it. But months had passed, bringing
a new hope, to ensure which her inherited instincts would gladly have
sacrificed more than a _dead_ girl. Indeed, the wish for some such
augury had more than once invaded her, and lo! the sign had been
given, and she knew nothing of it. That it had been favourable she
assumed, believing that otherwise her mother-in-law would have
hastened to make it known. Unheard-of spite and cruelty!--but if it
were the climax, it should also be an end to tyranny. Trembling with
excitement and the uneducated woman's desire for words, she ran
forward panting and breathless, with little cries of anger and grief,
until she sank down exhausted with the unwonted exertion and her own
emotions. When she arose again, it was with greater calmness but more
resentment.

Her mother-in-law was toasting the new-made dough-cakes by the fire,
when, after many pauses, Veru reached home. Wearied out, she leaned
against the door-jamb for support ere commencing the fray, and looked
at the elder woman with sombre, menacing eyes. The latter paid no
attention, but went on tossing aside the heat-blistered cakes, and
placing others upright in the embers till they blew out like bladders.

Suddenly Veru raised her hand; something gleaming flew through the
air, and the dead baby's bracelet fell at her enemy's feet and rolled
among the ashes.

"The jackals have sent thee a present, grandmother."

The old woman looked at it, startled; then sprang up and faced her
adversary in fiercest indignation.

"What hast thou done, fool? Bringing the curse of girls back to the
earth! The wild beasts were more merciful than thou art, for they gave
no sign; and see, where the bread is baking thou hast thrown the
augury. O Guneshwa! O my son! would that thou wert here to see this
witch casting her spells to bring barrenness to the bride thou art
wooing! But no matter; the old mother will avert them; so bring home
thy bride, Guneshwa! bring home the virtuous Kirpa Devi, daughter of
Kirpo Ram of Badrewallah!"

Veru, struck dumb by the possible consequences of her own act, as
revealed to her in her mother-in-law's unforeseen reproach, felt the
whole world turn round as the old woman, roused out of caution, let
loose her secret and her tongue without reserve.

"It is not true! it is not true! Guneshwa would never deceive me so!"
was all the poor creature found to say against the torrent of words
and facts.

"Not true!" echoed the other, remorselessly. "Come hither, and see if
it be not true that a wedding is nigh."

Seizing Veru by the wrist, she dragged her across the court-yard,
flung open the store-room door, which was kept jealously locked
against all intrusion, and pointed to a row of handkerchief-covered
basket-trays, ranged in order on the ground.

"Behold!" she cried, jeeringly, as she lifted the covering from one,
displaying a pile of cheap tinsel-decked garments, such as are made to
fill up the measure of more solid wedding presents. "Guneshwa's mother
is not so careless as his wife. Here is everything needful, and yonder
is the pile of dates whence he took the offering that went with him
to-day. Stay--thou canst read! Put thy scholarship to some use for
once, and see if it be not true."

But Veru did not take the letters thrust at her; the shock was too
great, following on her excitement and utter weariness. She swayed as
she stood, and with a cry of "O Guneshwa, bring the dates back! bring
them back!" she fell in a heap among the baskets.

In the dawn of the next day, her mother-in-law, as she lay down to
snatch a little sleep while one of her cronies watched by Veru's bed,
told herself that the house was cursed indeed! Who would have dreamed
of the gods bringing such hopes to Veru? Who would have thought of her
concealing them even for a day? And what a heritage of evil she would
leave behind her if she died now! Nihâli's augury was bad enough, but
what chance would there be for the new wife if the ghost of an
expectant mother haunted the house?

Veru must not die--should not die; so the old woman nursed her
tenderly, and strove in her rough way to bring comfort to the mind
stricken by mad jealousy and resentment.

"I _will_ die," was the only response; "I will die and become a
ghost![4] I will! I will!"


---------------------

[Footnote 4: A woman dying with her unborn child has infinite power
for ill.]

---------------------


"Hearken, O Veru," replied her mother-in-law at last, "thy dying will
not harm any one, for if thou diest ere Guneshwa returns, I swear he
shall never know a word, neither of thy hopes nor of thy fears! It
shall be silence, silence forever, and who fears a ghost he knows not
of? Answer me that!"

And Veru, gripped in the stern old woman's greater strength, could
only turn her face to the wall sullenly.

"Hast thou no message for Guneshwa?" asked the watcher at the last, as
Veru lay sinking.

"None--that--thou--wouldst--give," came the reply, with a strange
smile that remained on the lips even after death.

"Now, thank God, neither Guneshwa nor his bride need know aught of
this!" thought the old lady, as they streaked the corpse with many a
weird ceremony and precaution.



                                  V.

The moon shone brightly as Gunesh Chund rode through the village
common on his homeward way. There was scarcely a track to be seen on
the hard, white ground, where the sparse bushes close at hand lay like
shadows here and there, but in the distance blended themselves into a
grey line against the lighter sky. No visible track, yet the
_lumberdar's_ pony picked its way unerringly, true as the needle,
towards the manger awaiting it; instinct or habit supplying the place
of reason. Its rider could boast of no such contented certainty.
Something--what, he would have been puzzled to say--had made the path
of custom seem doubtful, without supplying him with a new or clearer
road. And, overlying the dull sense of discomfort, was a distinct
remorse for the deceit to which his honest if sluggish soul was quite
a stranger. The memory of his promise troubled him, although he quite
acknowledged that a _pudmuni_, or ideal Hindu wife, would never have
claimed its fulfilment.

Suddenly his pony started and swerved, throwing him forward in his
shovel stirrups.

In his efforts to keep in his seat the cause seemed to be the sudden
appearance of a veiled woman, beckoning with outstretched hands; but
when he could give a calmer look, the difference in position caused by
his pony's advance showed him that it was but the dead trunk of a
tree. With a sign of relief he gave the animal a dig in the sides.

"'Tis thinking so much of women-folk does it," he said to himself. "I
weary for the ploughing and peace."

A sense of well-being came over him at the familiar sights and sounds,
as he neared the village. Even the dogs barking in chorus at the
pony's echoing steps seemed to him a welcome, and the house, quiet
and dark though it was, a haven of rest after the hustle and bustle of
his rapid excursion into an unknown world. The door of the inner court
was closed, for he was not expected till dawn, and he stood for an
instant beside it, listening. All was still as death, and with another
sigh of relief he stumbled up the steep stairs to his favourite
sleeping-place.

How calm it was there under the stars; how clear the path, now that he
was at home once more among familiar landmarks! Why, if difficulties
arose, had they not arisen over and over again in the lives of those
who had gone before him? What more easy than to adopt the ancient
remedy, and, by building a new court for the new wife, separate the
jealous women! His mother would, of course, side with her own choice;
so Veru, far from having any ground of complaint, would find greater
peace than heretofore. In his quiet, limited way, he loved her more
than he would have cared to avow, and so, thinking of her ease, he
fell asleep full of content.

The night passed, the dawn lightened into sunshine; yet still he
slept, wearied out by his ten days' exile from the village. And so it
came to pass that his mother, apprised of his return by finding the
pony in its accustomed place, had to rouse him by sad words.

"Awake, O Gunesh Chund, son of Anant Ram, and make thy heart strong,
for Veru thy wife is dead."

A sad amaze, an almost pitiful resignation, followed the first
incredulity; and then, as he sat below, patiently waiting for many a
rite and conventional lamentation, the memory of his last waking
thought returned to him.

"I thought of building her a new house for peace' sake," he said,
wistfully, to his mother; "and lo! the Great Ones have given her a
grave and peace forever."

"Perhaps 'tis as well, Guneshwa!" replied the old woman, softened by
his gentle grief. "Her health was poor, and if Death drew nigh, it was
better he should come before the bride."

Perhaps 'twas as well! That was all her tongue found to say, but her
heart rejoiced exceedingly that eternal silence had fallen over the
dead wife's reproaches. If Premi and Chuni only held their tongues, as
they always did if it was made worth their while, neither Gunesh Chund
nor his bride need know the curse that had come upon them. Above all,
the soft-hearted bridegroom would be saved the daily terror of seeing
the fatal ghost.

Even as it were, the autumn chills were upon him, making him shiver
and shake, and bringing the haggard, ague-stricken look so common at
that time of year to his sad face. He took little interest in the
preparations which his mother pressed on with feverish haste, but
passed days and nights out of doors among his fields, going the round
of the crops with the village accountant, and seeing to the payment of
revenue dues.

"Thou takest no rest, Gunesh Chund," exclaimed his mother,
indignantly, when he pleaded business as an excuse for not going to
the silversmith's to hurry him up with the remodelling of poor Veru's
ornaments. "A _lumberdar_ was a _lumberdar_ long before the _sahibs_
came to the land. What is it to thee if they want this written one
way, and that another? There were no such piles of papers in thy
father's day, and he was a better _lumberdar_ than thou wilt ever be."

"Mayhap, mother; but somehow 'tis ill work nowadays doing things as
they used to be done. It suits no one, not even thee."

"Not suit me--I'd like to know--"

"Nay! are not the old trinkets being altered even now. For my part, I
liked them best as they were."

"Guneshwa thou art a ninny! But thou wilt sing another song when the
bride comes to thee adorned. That new silversmith hath done well.
There is a fashion of necklet--French pattern he called it--like
needlework for fineness. And I have not forgotten the old ways, for
the talisman Veru wore is made into a _saukinmhora_, to keep her ghost
away."

The _lumberdar's_ face assumed a startled, alarmed look.

"The ghost, mother! Wherefore the ghost? Veru was a good wife, loving
me, and I was a good husband to her. There was no ill-will betwixt us,
surely."

His mother could have bitten her tongue out for her inadvertence.

"'Twas but a thoughtless word, O my son, and I am over-anxious. Surely
the woman took too many blessings from thee in life to give thee
curses in death. And see," she added, hastily, in the hope of
diverting his eager anxiety, "I have found what thou wert asking
for--the certificates of thy fathers to many and many a generation.
Thou hadst given them into Veru's keeping, but they are too precious
for a woman's holding. Who knows but she has lost some? Squandering
thy son's heritage out of spite! Who canst give back the praises of
the dead?"

So she went on in purposeful grumbling, while Gunesha, opening the
handkerchief in which the precious documents were folded, counted the
frayed papers laboriously.

"Nay! they are here, and more; let me count again. Surely, there are
thirty-and-two, and when the canal _sahib_ gave me his last year there
were but thirty-and-one. Thirty-and-one, no more."

He sat down on the door-step, shifting the papers through his awkward
hands, with the uncertain eyes of one who, being unable to read, has
to seek recognition through more devious ways. His mother, meanwhile,
utterly indifferent, had turned to some household occupation.

"See, there is a new one; that one, may be; 'tis cleaner than the
rest," he muttered to himself, opening up the folded sheet conspicuous
by its whiteness.

It was written in the Nagari character, and his puzzled face cleared
at the sight.

"'Tis all right, mother!" he exclaimed; "there are but thirty one. The
other is a letter."

He was about to add a suggestion that Veru might have written it, but
checked himself, from fear of starting another tirade against the dead
woman.

"A letter!" echoed his mother, contemptuously. "Throw it in the fire!
I have no patience with folk who find their tongues too short to touch
friend or foe."

"But, mother," returned Gunesh, with a smile, "even thy tongue is not
long enough to reach over the world."

"And wherefore should I try? I tell thee, Guneshwa, that we
peasant-folk have naught to do with the world. What he can touch with
his hands is a man's portion till he dies, and 'tis theft to go
beyond. Writing is no good except for certificates. There is Devi
Ditta's house thrown into grief, just as the boy's betrothal began, by
the news of his father being killed in Burma. God knows where Burma
is. Far enough, may be, to keep the news back till a more convenient
time, if it came as God meant it to come. And the man is dead,
anyhow."

But Gunesh Chund refolded the paper and placed it in his waistband.
His friend the accountant could tell him its purport.

"The chills again?" asked his mother, with no anxiety in her voice,
when, coming back from Devi Ditta's house with a throat rendered
hoarse by neighbourly lamentations, she found her son huddled up under
his quilt. "You must get the sahib's white powder. For a wonder, it
does good."

"Quinine will not cure me, mother," he replied in a curiously muffled
voice that startled the hearer by its dull despair.

"What ails thee, then, Guneshwa?"

The man sat up amid his heavy wrappings and looked at her without
resentment. The ague cramped his blue fingers, and made him draw
shuddering breaths through widely distended nostrils, as he sat gazing
at her with wild eyes full of a mute appeal and reproach. Then, with a
little, almost childish cry, he fell back among the quilts once more.

"Thou knowest, mother; thou knowest it well."

Her heart throbbed, but her voice was steady as she replied:

"What do I know, O Gunesh Chund?"

"That Veru kept her promise and I broke mine! She knew you would not
tell me, so she wrote. That was the letter."

The old woman stood for an instant bewildered. Then, as she realized
that all her wisdom had not availed against the dead wife's knowledge,
she threw her lean arms up over her head and beat her hands together
wildly, while the court re-echoed with her high, resonant voice.

"She wrote it? Now may God curse her utterly! My curse upon her and
every woman who learns--"

A shivering hand reached out towards her.

"Hush, mother! I have had enough of curses to-day."

The mild reproof made her forget her anger in thoughts for him.

"Light of mine eyes! heart of my heart!" she cried, flinging herself
on her knees by the bed and stretching the arms, but now raised in
cursing, around him in fierce protecting. "She cannot hurt thee--she
dare not, if charms avail. The iron rings are about her hands and
feet, the nails are through her cursed, writing fingers--would God
they had been there ere she wrote that letter!--and the mustard-seed
lies thick between her grave and the hearth. I have sown it, and will
sow it with each new moon. Look up, Guneshwa! She cannot, she dare not
return."

"She hath returned already."

The old woman rose with a gesture of despair.

"Say not so! Break not thy mother's heart with idle words. 'Tis but
the chills, and thou hast them often. The powder will cure them."

"Perhaps 'tis so," he replied, listlessly. "But I have seen her. Ere
ever I knew of her death she met me on the common as I rode home. Nay,
weep not so soon; the truth will be told ere long, and there will be
time enough for tears then."

"There will be no need to weep at all, my son," she said, crushing
down her own dread in order to lessen his, and fiercely determining to
shed no more tears till life held nothing else.

She kept her word; though, as the days passed on, even her wilful
blindness could not fail to see how the strong man grew weaker and
weaker. Her heart stood still with fear, as she watched for the sleep
of exhaustion which followed each successive attack of fever and ague,
before stealing away to seize the opportunity for the charms she dared
not work save in secrecy.

Indeed, the subject was barred between them; and even when the fever
fiend held him in its grip, Gunesh Chund never alluded again to the
fatal ghost.

He put aside the _saukin-mhora_ which, in her clutching at straws, she
would have had him wear as a talisman, with quite a broad laugh.

"Wouldst have me altogether a woman, mother?" he asked, cheerfully. "I
deemed instead I was too soft for thee. But see! whether it be the
chills or the other thing, Death will come if he is on the road."

For all the courage of his words, a conviction that he was doomed
dulled his interest in all things save his fields, and when he grew
too weak to find his way there and back his patience broke into
restlessness.

"I will go and stop at the well, mother," he said at last; "the air is
freer out there, and I weary to death looking at these dull mud
walls."

So, leaning on his mother's arm, Gunesh Chund, the _lumberdar_, made
his way for the last time down the village street, to meet Death in
the open.

"It is good to be here," he said, with peace in his face and heart, as
he lay day after day, gazing with dull, contented eyes at the broad
expanse of newly-tilled soil, where the sun gleamed on the furrows.
The birds chattering in the mulberry-tree overhead, and the ceaseless
babble of the life-giving water flowing past him, filled his ears with
familiar comfort. There was nothing here to puzzle his slow brain;
nothing to disturb a nature welded, by long centuries of toil under
the sunny skies, into perfect accord with its environment.

So his mother, coming back from her unavailing spells, found him one
day looking out over the springing crops with sightless eyes and
placid face.

"I might have saved him," she said to herself with infinite
bitterness, as from the sleeping-place on the roof she watched the
smoke of his funeral pyre drift away into the cloudless blue--"I might
have saved him but for the letter. Oh, curses, curses, ten thousand
curses on those who taught her to write! Curses to all eternity on all
new-fangled ways!"

Once more her lean brown arms flung themselves in wild appeal towards
heaven, as she stood out against the sky facing the future--old,
sonless, hopeless.



                           THE BLUE MONKEY.


"Willie," Mark Twain tells us, "had a purple monkey climbing up a
yellow stick"; he further informs us that this quadruman made its
owner "deathly sick."

The following story shows the effect that a blue monkey on a gilt
spike had in a remote Indian village called Jehâdpore--a very ordinary
village set out on high, unirrigated soil, beside a large irregular
tank, whence the bricks of many generations of houses had been dug;
the only peculiarity about it being a glaringly whitewashed mosque
façade, rising above the whole and flanked by a palm-tree. Merely a
façade: viewed frontwise, distinctly imposing, with minarets and domes
in orthodox numbers and positions; viewed sidewise, as distinctly
disappointing. The jerriest of London jerry builders could have done
nothing better than this one brick front elevation, of which even the
domes were but _basso-relievos_.

Still it dominated the village in every way; for it was built in the
court-yard of ex-Rissaldar-Major Azmutoollah Khan Sahib Bahadur's
house, and he with his hangers-on represented Jehâdpore. It was a
Rângur village--that is to say, a village of Mohammedan Rajputs, a
race which supplies half the native cavalry of upper India with
recruits. That was the case at Jehâdpore. When the district officer
came round every year to attest and write up the big village note-book
there was always something to add on this score. Either the number of
those away a-soldiering had to be increased, or an entry made that
So-and-so had returned with a "_pinson_"[5] to his wife and family. On
these occasions the district officer invariably found an escort
awaiting him at the boundary, consisting of _sowars_ on leave
from various regiments (with their horses), a contingent of
"_pinson-wallahs_" in nondescript uniform on broodmares, and Khan
Azmutoollah Khan Bahadur, C.I.E., ex-_rissaldar_, at their head. He
was a very old man, as deeply wrinkled as a young actor doing the part
of an ancient retainer. In the privacy of that court-yard, garnished
by the jerry mosque, he clothed himself scantily in limp white muslin,
and his beard was tricoloured--white at the roots, red in the middle,
purple at the ends. But on his screaming stallion, sword in hand, a
goodly row of medals on his worn tunic, Azmutoollah's beard was of the
fiercest black, and the line of moustache shaved from the hard mouth
into an arched curve under his aquiline nose, curled right up to his
eyes. His voice, too, lost its quaver of age, and before he had safely
inducted the _Huzoor_ into his tents down by the tank that irregular
troop of cavalry had been put through enough man[oe]uvres to last out
three ordinary field days. It was the old soldier's _Kriegspiel_.


---------------------

[Footnote 5: Pension.]

---------------------


When it was over, and he dozed, wearied out by the unaccustomed
effort, on the wooden bed under the _nim_-tree, the hard roly-poly
bolster tucked in to the hollow of his neck--or something else--made
his sleeping-place a Bethel, and he dreamed dreams.

Then he had to resume the old uniform once more and go over to the
tents again with a petition. Rângurs always have petitions about
wells, or water, or brood mares; for, if they make excellent troopers,
they are intolerably bad ploughmen. That was why Mool Raj, the
hereditary money-lender of Jehâdpore, was able to send his son,
Hunumân Sing, to college and make a pleader of him.

The ex-_rissaldar_, with two sons and three grandsons in the old
regiment, waxed contemptuous over the "pleadery" career. But that was
his attitude in all things towards Mool Raj and the small Hindu
element the latter represented in Jehâdpore. The fact that the
Mohammedan population to a man was in the usurer's debt did not affect
the position of affairs at all, or detract from the feeling of
virtuous tolerance which allowed a most modest and retiring Hindu
temple to conceal itself behind the back wall of the mosque façade. It
was a great concession, for Azmutoollah was not the only _Hâdji_[6] in
Jehâdpore. The place was a perfect hot-bed of fighting Mohammedanism,
which only needed opposition to grow into fanaticism.


---------------------

[Footnote 6: Pilgrim to Mecca.]

---------------------


Yet, when Mool Raj added a new story to the Hindu temple, nobody said
him nay. They were good friends with the wizened, monkey-like usurer.

"_Bismillah!_ Khan Sahib," laughed one of the group of _sowars_ round
Azmutoollah's wooden bed. "He saith it is to save his soul from sin.
God knows he needs it, for he hath charged me rascally interest on my
last debt. If we must needs have a Hindu in the place, seeing God and
his Prophet forbid the true believer to soil his hands with usury,
then, by the _Imâms_, let us have a pious one!"

Even when he put a gilt spike on the top they spoke of it in
contemptuous kindness. "Whether he buries our gold or sets it on high
is all one, so long as he hath enough to lend us when we seek it. And
'tis thank-offering, he says, for his son Hunumân passing as B.A. God
knows what that may be, but the boy hath thin legs and a narrow
chest."

Azmutoollah Khan, C.I.E., looked distastefully at the extreme tip of a
gilt spike which from the farthermost corner of the court-yard showed
just over the façade.

"So far well," said the old martinet. "A Hindu may have repentance,
and he is like to ourselves in affection for his family--though, Allah
be praised, none of mine carry themselves like a '_lumpa ta heen_.'[7]
But that is an end of repentance and affection. I will have no
idolatrous spike under my eyes, and so I will tell Mool Raj. Let
Hunumân build himself a temple in Lahore out of his scholarships and
pleader's fees. We want none of his kind in Jehâdpore."


---------------------

[Footnote 7: Big crane.]

---------------------


The usurer came back from his interview with his patron quite
resigned. To tell the truth, he himself was not much set on these
pious additions which cost a heap of hard-won money. Their initiator
was Hunumân's mother, who, ever since her pilgrimage to Shah Sultan
had been rewarded by the long-prayed-for son, had looked on him as
doubly dependent on the favour of the gods--his very name, Hunumân,
having been bestowed on him because she had seen a monkey when she
first regained consciousness after the curious hysterical crisis which
seizes on most women at that most famous shrine. The inference being,
of course, that the monkey god was responsible for the baby--a
presumption not in the least weakened by the fact that Shah Sultan was
a Mohammedan saint to whom monkeys and gods were an abomination.

Chand Kor, therefore, gave shrill disapproval to Azmutoollah's fiat.
In her heart of hearts she nourished the ideal of a blue monkey god
perched on the top of that golden spike; and when, two days
afterwards, Hunumân Sing, B.A., came down for his vacation, she poured
the tale of intolerance into his ear.

Now, Hunumân Sing, after the manner of his kind, did not care--well,
what the Iron Duke said cost him twopence--for his godfather, nor,
indeed, for most of the beliefs of his mother. How could he? Who could
expect it of him? The cry which goes up now and again in India when
some clever lad, educated at a mission-school, openly forsakes his
religion, is beneath contempt. There is not one orthodox Hindu father,
north or south, who, pushing his lad on for the sake of worldly
success, does not do it with his eyes open to the inevitable gulf
which must separate them in the future. This particular son was like
many another son of the sort; a good lad, on the whole, if more
interested in his own development than anything else in the world.
This, again, was inevitable. When you have to cram the evolution of
ages into two-and-twenty years, and grow from a baby named after the
monkey god into a B.A., a strict attention to business is necessary.
If he was pushing, was not that also inevitable? Jonah's gourd had to
push "some," as the Americans say. For the rest, he was like hundreds
of the amiable, clever young graduates whom one longs to have in the
desert for forty days and nights opposite the Sphinx. One by one, of
course; for if there were two of them they would form a sub-committee
and vote the Sphinx to the chair. Then the millennium would come, of
course, and that would be inconvenient for _nous autres_.

But, though Hunumân cared not at all for the blue monkey god, he
worshipped liberty--especially his own; and he preferred it, if
possible, with a flavour of law about it. What! deprive a citizen, a
subject of the Queen Empress, from due exercise of religious right?
Who was Azmutoollah Khan, to promulgate such a pernicious attempt at
intimidation?--_vide_ section so-and-so.

Little Mool Raj, who seemed to shrivel smaller as he grew older,
listened to all this with great pride but steadfast inaction. He knew
who Azmutoollah Khan was well enough. He knew the temper of the people
who had enriched him all too well. Liberty was a fine thing, but money
was better--peace and comfort best of all. This latter conviction,
however, made him give way slightly before Chand Kor's tears; and the
next evening, when the _rissaldar_--major was interviewing two new
arrivals on leave, and bringing the wisdom of a lifetime to bear on
their horses, an odd noise floated over the sham domes of the mosque.

"Tis a donkey with the strangles, Khan Sahib," remarked Rahmat Ali.
"Yea, mine is a lucky one--five curls and--" He paused.

No, it was not a donkey. What was it? A camel snoring? A cow dying?
The women servants baking bread in the corner stood up to listen. The
two boys, heads down, arms interlaced, wrestling stark naked in the
sun, paused also. Then, suddenly, as if by mistake, an inconceivable
gamut, beginning with an earthquake, passing on to a foghorn, and
ending with a pennywhistle, let itself loose.

"God and his Prophet," yelled Azmutoollah, "it is a conch!"

As they stood petrified by the audacity, the low grunting recommenced,
and then once more something let go, lost control over itself, and
went skirling up like a burst bagpipe.

"My sword!" gasped the ex-_rissaldar_. "The idolatrous defiler of the
faith--the desecrator of my fathers' graves! A conch in Jehâdpore! By
the Lord who made me, 'tis the last!"

If the opponents had been better matched, there would have been
bloodshedding in the village on that calm evening; but what could a
dozen _sowars_ with drawn swords, headed by Azmutoollah, joined by
half the populace of the village, do against Hunumân Sing, who, with a
trembling in his knees but the courage of martyrs in his mind, stood
on the steps of the temple, nearly bursting himself in his efforts to
play the unwonted instrument?

A roar of laughter went up from the crowd, as, alarmed but determined,
he backed from the onslaught to the temple door, stumbled on the step,
sat down violently, and the concussion sent a perfectly supernatural
"Ker--whoo--oo--oo--oo--ph!" through the conch.

Even Azmutoollah's indignation could not withstand it.

"Go, Rahmat Ali, and take it from him ere he do himself an injury, and
seek Mool Raj, Kutb-u-din. 'Tis his blame, not the boy's."

But Hunumân was on his feet again, full of outraged importance. The
affair to him was deadly earnest.

"I am no boy, Khan Azmutoollah, but of legal age, with B.A. pass. I am
a loyal citizen of Victoria Kaiser-i-hind. Religious liberty enjoins
me to play conch if I choose, and I do choose."

The spirit was willing, but the flesh, in the hustling hands of half a
dozen troopers, was perforce weak. The Hindu is not naturally
resistant, and the fighting men around him were not slow to recognize
Hunumân's unusual show of determination.

"It is assault! it is battery! I am coerced. I claim my rights. The
law is on my side!" he gasped, between his struggles.

"Smash the blasphemous thing, and let the boy go," called Azmutoollah.
"Enough, Hunumân-ji. Seek thy law elsewhere--not here, in the house of
my fathers."

The conch lay shivered to atoms, but the young man felt himself master
of the situation. Just as the concussion of his fall had forced his
breath into the conch, so the pressure of illegal coercion made his
newly acquired love of freedom overflow into eloquence. Heart and head
were both full to inflation with the finest sentiments. As he stood on
the steps, haranguing the people, he would have done credit to the
House of Commons in a party discussion.

"By the faith, he speaks well! 'Tis a pity his shoulders are so
narrow," remarked a trooper, carelessly, as he strolled away to a
bare, beaten patch by the tank, where a number of naked boys were
standing in pairs, heads down, hands on knees, smacking their thighs,
and crying "Hull-la-la!" to give themselves courage ere closing for
the grip. Beneath the skeleton of a peepul-tree hard by, whence the
branches had been stripped for fodder, some elders were at work over
gymnastic exercises, swinging clubs, or--supported on palms and
feet--touching the dust with their foreheads, and then rising again
like a strung bow. The sunlight shone on their bronze sinews.

"Didst kill him?" asked one, breathlessly keeping the count of his own
performance.

"Kill him? Look you, Allah Baksh--there was not enough of him to
kill!"

And a chuckle ran round the assembly.

A fortnight after, when the district officer was playing whist with
the policeman, the doctor, and the young assistant, who was gradually
being taught that rules are occasionally more honoured in the breach
than the observance, Dhunput Rai, judicial assistant, sent in to ask
five minutes' leisure of the _Huzoor_. Every one laid down his cards
at once, and the doctor lit a fresh cigar, for Dhunput Rai was one of
those natives of the old school who many a time and oft have steered
the British bark safely through troubled waters, as their fathers
steered the alien armadas of the Mogul. He was a Brahman of the
highest caste, keen-witted, clear-sighted; privately a bigot, publicly
a statesman.

"_Huzoor_," he said, briefly, "young Lala Amr Nath the Extra hath this
day in a case given leave for a conch to be blown in Jehâdpore. There
will be trouble. In my opinion, it is a fitting occasion for the
_Huzoor_ to act under section 518, which gives absolute power to the
district officer in emergency."

Five minutes afterwards, Dhunput Rai took his leave with an interdict
in his pocket, and a deputy inspector of police and four mounted
constables rode out with it post haste, so as to arrive before the
earliest blink of dawn made conch-blowing compatible with anything
save sheer malice aforethought. It was a great blow to Hunumân and a
small circle of select college friends who had assembled to witness
the triumph of religious freedom. They consoled themselves during the
interval of appeal by writing an article to the 'Sun of Asia,' in the
course of which they promulgated several valuable new discoveries,
such as that there was one law for the rich and another for the poor.
Azmutoollah, meanwhile, admitted grudgingly that there was some sense
left in the _sahibs_ still, in spite of their setting goldsmiths'
sons, like Amr Nath, to rule over honest folk.

"I'm dashed if I can find a precedent," remarked the district officer,
disconsolately talking over the matter with the policeman, the doctor,
and the assistant. "And in a case like this, where every thing depends
on the environment, and it's sure to be appealed again, there is no
mortal good in anything but a precedent. If I say there will be a row,
I shall only be told with great dignity that Mr. Smith is expected to
keep his district in order."

There was a pause. Finally, the doctor spoke. He hailed from Aberdeen.

"It's an ill burd that files his ain nest, but for religious
into-lerance give me Scotland. Aw'm no saying ut'll hold as a
preeceedent amongst the heathen, but it's a preeceedent in the Court
o' Session. It was _aprepaw_ of a bell."

"A bell! Heaven be praised! the very thing."

"A bell is not a conch," remarked the assistant.

"Alias, I should say," murmured the policeman. "Bell, conch, call to
prayer: that's the spirit. Fire away, old chap!--Bearer, bring the
doctor-_sahib_ another peg."

So the precedent of a far-away cathedral, whose schismatic chime
annoyed good Calvinists, was brought to bear on Hunumân and the conch,
and the latter, not being an integral part of public worship, was
proclaimed a nuisance.

The deputy commissioner himself had no doubt about its being one, as
he wiped the perspiration from his brow, and remarked to Dhunput Rai
that that ought to finish the business.

The courteous old gentleman smiled.

"_Huzoor_," he said, "I have heard my father say that Akbar's order to
his judges was, 'Write ever with the pen which has been cut by the
sword; then there is peace in the land.' The case will be appealed,
and the pen of the _Huzoors_ is cut by machine."

He was a true prophet. Hunumân, backed by the 'Sun of Asia,' not only
appealed the conch question, but raised another in the interim by
putting a small blue plaster monkey on the top of the gold spike, in
fulfilment, it was urged, of the pre-natal vow made for him by his
mother, a pious Hindu lady, whose virtuous life was crowned with
honour.

The monkey remained there exactly five-and-twenty minutes after the
first beams of the rising sun disclosed the fact that it had been put
there during the night. That it remained so long was due to three
reasons: First, that the Jehâdpore troopers, if good swordsmen, were
uncommonly bad shots; second, that Azmutoollah's blunderbuss was a
flint-lock; third, that he insisted on letting it off himself until it
knocked him down.

This time the case was taken direct to the deputy commissioner, who,
urged on the one side by a remembrance of Dhunput Rai's remark, and on
the other by a sneaking fear of revision, decided that the blue
monkey, as an idolatrous image, was a distinct nuisance when displayed
unnecessarily over the top of a Mohammedan gentleman's private mosque.
On the other hand, viewed from the Hindu standpoint, the image of a
blue monkey might be an integral part of public worship. Azmutoollah
Khan Bahadur, C.I.E., ex-rissaldar, must therefore pay over to Mool
Raj and to Hunumân Sing the price of the destroyed blue monkey, as
they might wish to erect a similar one in a less conspicuous place.

Now, though Mool Raj's name was duly entered in the file as
complainant, the affair had long ago passed out of his hands and
become a real, solid, Heaven-sent grievance to a small knot of
advanced young pleaders. Indeed, the old man was so distinctly
unsatisfactory as chief victim, that they had more than once taken the
opportunity of his absence to advance matters a step. Azmutoollah
Khan, as shrewd an old soldier as could be found on either side of the
Indus, was not slow to notice this, and his blind opposition covered a
great longing to have these youngsters on the hip. After all, he and
Mool Raj had pulled along well enough for years before this B.A. was
thought of--ay, and their fathers before them. If the usurer had been
alone, the money screw could have been put on him somehow; since he
would not risk a pice for all the blue monkeys in heaven or on earth.

Azmutoollah Khan was cogitating these matters one afternoon on the
wooden bed, with his turban as usual standing like a helmet beside
him, when a party of boys rushed into the court-yard full of news and
excitement. Hunumân Sing, who, as every one knew, had come with some
friends in a bullock cart that morning, must have brought the thing
with him; but as sure as fate there was a blue monkey sitting on the
square pedestal in front of the temple which Alla Ditta, the mason,
had built in all innocence of heart last week--a blue monkey, not a
miniature marionette at the top of a gilt spike like the last, but a
life-sized affair, and, what is more, all the Hindus in the place and
many more from neighbouring villages were doing _poojah_ to it.

The fierce old Mohammedan's very lips turned pale. He never even
thought of his turban, but, bald-headed as he was, and stumbling in
his haste, was out of the court-yard into the narrow street. The next
minute a cry, that was not pleasant to hear, cut the calm sunshine
like a sword.

"_Jehâd! Jehâd! Futt-eh Mohammed! Jehâd! Jehâd! Futt-eh Mohammed!_"
shrilled the boys in refrain.

A knot of young men in patent-leather shoes, standing by the blue
monkey, heard the cry with a glow of triumph.

"Brothers and sisters," called one, in the polished, curiously
artificial tones of one accustomed to public speaking, "remember we
are peaceable citizens. There is to be no opposition. Our trust is in
truth and justice, not in violence. Our weapon is right, not might.
Stand aside and let them do their worst. 'I will repay,' saith the
law."

It was a bold paraphrase lost on all save that little knot of culture
which said, "Hear, hear!" as if to the manner born. The speech,
however, though admirable, proved somewhat superfluous. The first
sight of that mad assault coming round the corner sent the crowd,
composed for the most part of women and children, scattering hither
and thither like frightened sheep. Culture stood firm, unwisely firm,
for a minute. Then a voice rose in English:

"Gentlemen, discretion is better part of valour--nor is it permissible
to foster or excite breach of peace. We can speak with equal fluence
and freedom from roof of house." And they did.

The scene thus described sounds farcical. There was not even a grain
of comedy in it to the actors; least of all to the plaster monkey on
whose blue hide the sabres hacked fast. Above, on the roof, as on a
hustings, the new culture wielded the sword of the Spirit; below, the
older cult clinched argument by the sword of the flesh.

That night peace reigned in Jehâdpore. Young India, in a body, had
gone to report wilful destruction of private property accompanied by
violence, to the deputy commissioner. Old India sat triumphant but
thoughtful on the wooden bed, while the troopers laughed and drank and
made merry over the discomfiture of the blue monkey.

"By the Prophet," cried Rahmat Ali, "I swear it had a look of old
money-bags! And why not, seeing 'tis the father of Sri Hunumân? Ha-ha!
But thou shouldst have seen the old man's face, _rissaldar-sahib_,
when he returned but half an hour gone, and I told him we were but
waiting leisure to burn his books and clear off old scores in the old
way. He wept, and said 'twas none of his doing; that he asked but
peace, as in the old days. Yea, as he sat a-begging on his haunches,
praying forgiveness, he looked more like the blue monkey than ever."

Khan Azmutoollah Khan let off a detonating _roulade_ of Arabic
anathema as a _Te Deum_.

"Fetch him here, Rahmat! I have a plan. We old folk will settle it old
ways."

The next morning the deputy commissioner, the police officer, and the
doctor rode out in hot haste to the scene of what they were told had
been a bloodthirsty riot. At the village boundary they were met,
rather to their surprise, by the usual escort. The leader of the
little band was more military than ever, but there was an odd twinkle
in his eye as he obeyed the curt order to fall behind, and the
hint--which British majesty gave in the interests of law and
order--that his presence even there was undesirable. Hunumân Sing, and
a friend who had remained to see fair play, certainly seemed to think
the troopers jingling and clashing along in close order very much in
their way. They edged their ponies here and there, only to find
themselves perpetually ridden over; especially when, at the head of
the lane leading to the temple, British majesty reined up short, the
troop behind turned to stone, the horses on their haunches steady as
rocks. Then there was a wild hustle; the two ponies shot out in front,
where their owners managed to pull up flabbergasted at the sight which
met their eyes.

"How is this?" asked the deputy commissioner, sternly. "I thought you
said the blue monkey was destroyed; and there it is, in perfect
condition!"

There it was, indubitably--bright blue, with a long tail curving over
its legs.

From behind among the troopers came gentle grunts of disapproval, that
the ears of the _Huzoor_ should be assailed with such wanton lies.
Blue monkeys indeed! What quarrel had the faithful with blue monkeys?

"Khan Azmutoollah Khan sahib," called British majesty, "what does this
mean? I was told you and your fellows had wantonly destroyed Mool
Raj's monkey. Is this true?"

The old man rode up from behind, his martial dignity undimmed by the
discipline he respected and understood.

"I am no scholar myself, _Huzoor_," he said, saluting, "but I am a
just man for all that. I injure neither man nor beast wantonly. Let
the _Huzoor_ ask the blue monkey if it or its master hath aught
against me. Of these"--here he gave a contemptuous wave of his hand to
the pleaders on their ponies--"I know naught, nor did my fathers."

Then he rode forward. "Oh, _bunder-jee!_ speak for thyself and for thy
master."

"By the Lord Harry," shrieked the policeman, as the figure on the
pedestal rose slowly and salaamed, "it's old Mool Raj himself!"

"My lord!" faltered Hunumân, "this is irrelevant--this is contempt of
court."

"Peace! oh Hunumân! and respect the voice of thy parent," began the
blue monkey.

Then a roar of inextinguishable laughter played the mischief with
majesty.

Half an hour afterwards, when Chand Kor in tears was washing the blue
distemper off her lord and master's shrivelled limbs, he repeated his
injunction regarding the fifth commandment to his son, who sat
haranguing on liberty, freedom, public spirit, equality, fraternity,
and a host of other duties and privileges.

"They are good, my son," he said, "but money is good also, and peace
best of all. Ask no more. I am content, and thou hast naught to do
with it. The temple is, and the blue monkey was mine--at least I was
the blue monkey."

Then Hunumân Sing swore.

That evening the deputy commissioner held a friendly inquiry, and
everybody shook hands all round, excepting Hunumân Sing and his
friend, who left by _ekka_ before the proceedings commenced, vowing
vengeance on all summary justice. He was a full-blown pleader before
the famous case of "Mool Raj and a Conch _versus_ Azmutoollah Khan and
Others" came up before the chief court of appeal. On that occasion he
argued most eloquently on various subjects for half an hour, and was
about to resume his seat, covered with perspiration and honour, when a
voice from the body of the court cried:

"Respect thy parent, O Hunumân! Remember the things that are behind."

Coiled up neatly on his chair was a blue tail, and once more laughter
played the mischief with majesty.

Some people say that was why the appeal was dismissed. Anyhow, it is
certain that shortly afterwards Hunumân set up as a pleader in another
province.

So Jehâdpore brought up its troopers, and paid or did not pay its
debts in peace. And when Mool Raj died, the folk wagged their heads,
saying, "Well, he was not much to speak of as a man, but he was a
first-rate monkey."



                         SHAH SUJAH'S MOUSE.


He had no name. The village folk, it is true, called him Baba; but so
they called all such as he. Nor did he ever show that he identified
the word as anything more personal than the rest of the strange sounds
to which he listened serenely as if he had no part or lot in them.
Perhaps he was deaf, perhaps he was dumb. Perhaps he was neither.
Nobody knew, nor for the matter of that cared. He was one of Shah
Sujah's mice; no more, no less. In that lay the difference between him
and other men. A small difference in some ways; in others illimitable.
To the level of the brows he was as fine a young fellow as you could
meet; of middle height, with clean, straight limbs. Above that
nothing--nothing but a skull narrowed to the contours of a new-born
babe's, conical, repulsive, like a rat's. Whence the name Shah Sujah's
mouse.

The learned among us call such poor creatures microcephalous, and talk
glibly of joined sutures and osseous formation. The natives of upper
India have a different theory. These mouselike ones belong to Shah
Sujah's shrine, because they are the firstlings of barren women made
fruitful by the saints' intercession. Therefore, from their birth they
bear the token of the mother's vow, dedicating them to his service.
The seal is set on them from the beginning in mute witness to the
truth.

Whatever that truth may be; whether, as some say, the new-born babes
brought to be reared, like Samuel in the temple, are born as other
babies, and the typical distortion produced by slow pressure--as in
lesser degree the coveted bomblike foreheads of the Sindhi women are
produced--or whether, as others hold, a tradition favourable to the
wealth of the shrine is kept up, and additional gain assured by the
secret exchange, through agents all over India, of the normal babies
for that percentage of microcephalous infants which Nature makes--this
much is certain: all children dedicated to Shah Sujah are his mice.
There are hundreds of them; growing up at the shrine, dying there, and
during the cold months spreading over the length and breadth of India
begging with unvarying success of all women, fruitful and unfruitful;
living meanwhile on the broken food given them, but hoarding the money
with an odd unconsciousness of all save that in some mysterious way it
belongs to the saint; then, as the heat returns, wandering back like a
homing pigeon to the insignificant little shrine at Gujrât, which
means so much to so many.

Most of the mice are repulsive; some are more or less deformed, more
or less idiotic, making idiotic noises as they dawdle through the
village alleys carrying their hollow gourds in their outstretched
hands. He was not repulsive, and he made no sound of any kind; whether
from inability, or from some lingering consciousness that his sounds
would not be as those he heard, no one knew. In fact, no one knew
anything about him, save that he was a mouse; too naked to be dirty in
that country of canals and tanks, and seemingly quite content with a
beggar's staff and gourd as his only tie to this world. Here to-day,
gone to-morrow, secure of a meal, and of a sand blanket to sleep in if
the nights were cold.

Perhaps he had more sense than others of his kind. Perhaps the theory
of deliberate distortion was true, and his fine physique had struggled
against it more successfully than some. But all such things were idle
speculations, and there was nothing to be learned even from the big,
luminous eyes, somewhat over-prominent, which looked at everything so
serenely. At the children running out to him with their mother's dole,
at the lean dogs following him in hopes of a scrap, at the birds and
squirrels watching for the crumbs he might leave behind. Down by some
water-cut, his feet buried in the warm sand, his naked body covered
with the fairy garments made of sunbeams, the very minnows and
sticklebacks gathered round him in radiating stars, expectant of bread
cast on the water beneath the arching plumes of the date-palm
thickets--plumes almost touching the surface, and sending lanceolate
shadows, like the fishes themselves, through the sliding water as the
breeze stirred the leaflets.

It sounds idyllic viewed from our standpoint. From his, with that
osseous formation of the learned closing in like an egg-shell round
the embryon, God knows what it was. Until one day something happened.

Sonny baba went amissing. Fuzli, the _ayah_, prone on her stomach,
beating her palms in the dust, called God to witness that he had never
been out of her sight except for one single minute when she took a
pull at the gardener's pipe. This was down in the Taleri Bagh, where
the English roses blossomed madly beneath the mango-trees, and the
well-wheel under the big peepul-tree had the oddest habit of creaking
the first two bars of "Home, Sweet Home" as the slow zebus circled
round and round--


                    "'Mid pleasures and palaces."


Then a silence, save for the twitterings of birds and the soft thud of
a peepul fig falling, rifled, to the ground, until the bullocks were
back to the old spot. Then it began again--


                    "'Mid pleasures and palaces."


If there was no place like home, Sonny baba evidently did not think
so. Anyhow, he had left it. Had disappeared utterly in that luxuriant
little world down by the big canal, which was a maze of sunlight and
shadow, of thickets of sweet lime and groves of date-palms
interspersed with patches of tomatoes and gourds, and plantations of
pomegranates laden with leaf and flower and fruit--such ugly,
ill-humoured fruit, after all that beauty of blossom!

Yes, he was gone, and the solitary bungalow a mile up the road, nearer
the city, where the assistant commissioner in charge of the
subdivision lived, was in a lethargy of despair; for a child means
much when it has been waited for during long years. Every one, from
the highest to the lowest, was away searching; save only for the
mother walking up and down the pretty drawing-room clasping her hands
tighter and tighter as the hours went by, and the _ayah_, numb with
grief and remorse, in the dust outside. It was growing late. The sun
sent its picture of the _shisham_-trees to decorate the blank side
wall of the house; the wilderness of wild petunia, usurping the place
of the fast-yielding English annuals, began to send out a faint
perfume. And Sonny had been out all day alone, under the hot sun,
among the treacherous canal-cuts and the lurking snakes--Sonny, who
since his birth, three years ago, had never known what it was to be
alone.

"Thath way, manth."

It was a sweet little voice full of liquid labials. The _ayah_ gave an
inarticulate skirl of joy as she sprang from the dust.

"Leave me l'alone, l'_ayah_--I'th all light. Puth me down now, pleath,
man."

A cry came from within, a woman's figure came flying to the veranda, a
child bubbling over with glee went flying to meet it and bury a little
mop of golden curls in mother's dress.

"O Mummie, Mummie, he'th got 'quilth!'"

Then, after a time, with dignity: "Don'th, pleath; them kitheth hurth.
And, Mummie, don'th l'oo hear?--he'th got 'quilth.' Oh! l'ever tho
many 'quilth.'--Hathn't l'oo, man?"

The man was Shah Sujah's mouse. He stood as he had set the child down,
obedient to Heaven knows what understanding of the little voice. Now
he seemed to hear nothing as he looked serenely, almost brightly, at
those three out of his large soft eyes.

"_Ayah!_" cried the mother, clasping her darling tighter as by
instinct. "Who--what is he? Ask him--ask him about it all."

Not only the _ayah_, but many others, asked him, fruitlessly--people
running in from the court-house close by, hearing the news of Sonny's
safe return; wanderers coming in disheartened from the search.
Finally, Sonny's father, with an odd catch in his voice. But there was
no answer, and the child's tongue went no further than "Loths and
loths to eat, an' loths an' loths of quilth."

"Loh!" said the _ayah_, indignantly. "He is nothing but a mouse--a
_janowar_.[8] Give him a rupee, _Mem sahiba_, and let him go; if the
_Huzoor_, indeed, will not hang him for stealing my king of kings."


---------------------

[Footnote 8: _Jânwar_, animal.]

---------------------


"Don'th, l'_ayah_--them kitheth hurth.--O Mummie, don'th l'oo know
he'th goth 'quilth,' l'ever tho many 'quilth?'"

"Can't _you_ make out _any_thing, dear?" asked Mummie, almost
aggrievedly; it was dreadful to lose a whole long day of Sonny's life.

"No, dearest," replied her husband, meekly aware of the offence. "No
more than you can make out what 'quilth' means. Except, of course,
that the _tahsildar_ tells me that he--the man or the mouse, as you
please--has been begging right away to the river's meet and is now, no
doubt, on his way back to the shrine. Possibly he will meet an agent
at Mooltan; they are seldom later than this in calling in their
itinerants. He must have been in the gardens, and either met the child
after he had lost himself, or--or stole him. That is all, unless Sonny
remembers something when he is less excited. At any rate, _he_ brought
him back, unharmed, and--and--I should like to reward him."

"Reward him! Why, of course we must reward him. Think--only think what
might----" She paused, able to think, not to speak of it.

"Just so. But how? The _tahsildar_ says he will put any money into his
bag and never touch it. And--and it does seem mean to reward a man for
saving your son's life with broken victuals."

There was no help for it, however; though, just for the sake of
appearances and proprieties, they gave him five whole rupees for the
bag. He slipped them into it as if they had been pice, took up his
gourd and went away, his beggar's staff making little round holes in
the dust as he walked down the petunia-edged path, serenely, as if
nothing unusual had happened.

So that was an end of Sonny's adventure for the time, since ere he
woke, like a young bird at dawn next day, the child seemed to have
forgotten all about Shah Sujah's mouse; but only for a time.

At first they thought it nothing but a touch of sun fever from being
out all day which made the darling of their hearts so languid. He was
down in the heat a little later, too, than was perhaps quite wise, but
those holidays at the end of the month, which would give father the
chance of settling mother and son in the wee house among the Himalayan
pines, and of getting a whiff of fresh air himself, had been so
tempting.

But a week after, the doctor, summoned from headquarters, looked into
their scared faces and said "Typhoid," ere, loath to leave them to
this knowledge, he had to ride back, promising to arrange his work so
as to be there as often as possible. He stood talking in undertones to
the native doctor in the veranda before mounting, and the sound of
their voices made the mother shiver. It was soon after this that the
little voice began:

"O Mummie, he had 'quilth'--lovely, lovely 'quilth.' Whereth he
gone--the 'quilth'--man? I wanth to thee the 'quilth' again.--Dada,
will l'oo shend for the 'quilth'--man?"

"Can't you send for him--somehow?" She had Sonny in her arms, and the
heat of him struck through to her own breast. Yet she shivered again.

Two days after, when the cot was set out in the veranda for the sake
of the cool evening air, she bent over the child, who lay more languid
than suffering among the toys he liked to see even while he did not
care to play with them.

"Sonny, the 'quilth'-man has come. Dada has brought him."

Whence, is no matter. The fiat had gone forth, as fiats do go forth.
The order had been given to find and, if possible, to bring back one
of Shah Sujah's mice, who had wandered on northward through the
villages. They had found him, and he had returned with them peaceably,
contentedly, serenely.

"Thath's jolly," sighed Sonny. "Now, Mummie, l'oo'l thee the 'quilth,'
too."

He wanted to be carried out in those brown arms as before, and
stretched his hands to Shah Sujah's mouse, who stood just as he had
stood before, silent, uncomprehending, incomprehensible--except,
perhaps, to Sonny; but they took him, cot and all, as he lay, across
the petunias, and set him down under one of the great _shisham_-trees,
backed by palms and a wide-spreading banyan. The air was dry and
balmy; he was as well there as elsewhere until the dew should begin to
fall.

"Spec'ths l'oo'l flighten them, Mummie; 'quilths' is flightful fings.
'Posing l'oo an' Dada an' l'_ayah_ thits light away--light away."

So they sat right away, over the petunias once more, upon the veranda
steps, and two pairs of strained, anxious eyes looked at the group
under the trees. The third pair looked also, doubtfully. It was an odd
sight, certainly. The child's soft curls on the pillow, his flushed
cheek seen sidewise, his little hot hands clasped round the bars of
the cot. Beside him, on the grass, like a bronze statue, Shah Sujah's
mouse.

"Now, manth! if l'oo pleath," murmured Sonny. And, as before, he
seemed obedient to the liquid voice. A strange sound indeed! Not a
cry, not a whistle. More like the croon of wind through tall
tiger-grass. Scarcely audible, and yet a hush fell on the trees, as if
they stopped to listen. Jack, the fox-terrier, cocked his ears. A
horse neighed from the stables. Then came a rustle, as of leaves.

"I know," whispered Mummie, touching Dada on the arm. "He means
squirrels. How stupid of me! Look!"

Along the branches they came, circling shyly down the trunks, now with
a swift patter, now hanging splayed against the bark, petrified by
curious timidity. Odd little mortals these, with the mark of Great
Ram's fingers on their shining coats, and barred tails a-bristle. Soft
little mortals, not much bigger than a mouse, their round ears cocked,
their bright eyes watchful. Nearer and nearer, by fits and starts,
hopping from distant trees through the short grass as through a
thicket, while the croon went on, and Sonny's eyes grew heavy with
sheer satisfaction.

"Lovely, lovely 'quilth.'--Go on, pleath, manth."

Nearer and nearer; a dozen or more sitting up with the scattered
crumbs in their odd little fingers. Dainty over the feast, nibbling a
bit here and a bit there, and growing fearless, climbing on to the
bronze limbs, looking into the dark, serene eyes.

Sonny's grew heavier and heavier.

"I think he is asleep," said Dada, indistinctly, through a lump in his
throat. But Mummie could not speak at all.

"Dew fallin', _mem sahiba_" remarked the _ayah_, in a dissatisfied
tone. "Time Sonny baba leave _janowars_ alone."

It was a slow fever, as it often is with the little ones in India, and
every day for many days Sonny would rouse himself when the sun left
the air cooler and ask for his 'quilth.'

"It will not hurt him," said the doctor, who looked graver at each
visit. "Our best chance is to keep him going somehow. If you were on
the railway, I'd risk all and have him in the hills to-morrow; but
that long _dhooli_ journey--it is not to be thought of. We must keep
him going--keep hold on life as best we can."

So they used to carry him out under the trees to the quilth and Shah
Sujah's mouse. And some sort of a comprehension seemed to come to the
_janowars_, as the _ayah_ called them scornfully, of what was required
of them, for day by day the crumbs were scattered nearer the cot, and
day by day the timid courage grew into some new venture, rousing a
languid smile from Sonny.

"Lovely, lovely 'quilth,'" he would say, as the bright eyes looked at
him knowingly, and the patter, patter of the little feet came nearer.
But the sheer content came quicker and he slept sooner and sooner,
until one day when they were racing over the cot and playing
gymnastics with the bars, he made up his mind that there could be
nothing more to wake for, and fell asleep once and for all.

"Take her away at once," said the doctor, as in the early dawn they
drove back without the little coffin on the back seat of the dog-cart,
from the graveyard where Dada had read the service without a break in
his voice. There was no lump in his throat now; nothing but an angry
despair in his heart. "Take her away. I telegraphed for you to the
commissioner last night; that will give you three days. Then furlough,
privilege, urgent, private--anything. She must not come back till the
baby is born. And leave the _ayah_ behind--they will get talking of
the child."

That evening, when the servants were being paid off, and certificates
to character written, while the _dhoolies_ waited in the shade where
Sonny's cot had stood the day before, the _ayah_, whimpering but
indignant, asked what was to be done about the _janowar_.

"I'll look after that," said the doctor, kindly, seeing Dada's look.
"Five rupees, I suppose, and the _tahsildar_ to have him escorted so
far on his way north to the shrine. 'Tis time he were getting back."

Undoubtedly. Even the last few days had brought the heat. The roses
down in the Taleri gardens had dried to _pot-pourri_ as they grew,
smelling almost sweeter than ever. The mangoes grew larger and larger,
and the green parrots clung to them, eating the pulp as it ripened.
That was when the gardeners were away turfing a grave in the little
enclosure opening out of the garden, and planting red and white
quamoclit to twine up a wooden cross. It did not take long, for the
grave was small. So they came back to frighten the parrots, leaving it
to take care of itself; for the rains came early that year, and after
a time there was no need for watering.

So much rain, that three months after, when Dada, back from leave,
walked through the garden at sunsetting, many of the mango-trees were
ankle-deep in water, and a second crop of roses nodded at their own
reflection in the still pools. But the graveyard stood purposely on
higher ground, and its brick wall was backed by a perfect thicket of
date-palms stretching away to the low sand-hills, save on the side
marching with the garden. There oleanders and roses and elephant
creeper massed themselves into a hedge, and clambered over the arched
gateway where Dada paused. The doctor was there too, for fever comes
with heavy rain, and the outlying hospitals needed constant
inspection. As the gate swung open, they paused again, not at the
sight within, but at a sound they seemed to recognize. It was a shady
spot. To begin with, great branches swept over it from the garden, and
then in the far corner a huge peepul stood quivering its silver-lined
leaves. There lay the little grave, solitary in its square of grass,
for the place was divided into four by two narrow gravel walks ending
abruptly at the walls. Two other graves claimed other squares, the
fourth lay vacant. It seemed as if, when that was occupied, the shady
spot would refuse another tenant. Yet there were others even now.

"Who's that?" cried the doctor, sharply.

It was Shah Sujah's mouse. He sate propped against the peepul-tree,
and over the grass and the cross of quamoclits the squirrels were
chasing each other and playing pranks with the crumbs they were
scarcely hungry enough to eat, while the other _janowar_ looked at
them out of hollow serene eyes.

He shifted his gaze to the new-comers, but did not rise. He could not.

"Good God," muttered the doctor, kneeling down beside him, "the man is
a skeleton, and burning with fever. How the mischief-- Well, the first
thing is to get him moved to hospital."

When Dada came back with a string bed and four coolies impressed from
the garden, he found the doctor looking suspiciously at the crumbs, at
a piece of dough-cake and a bag of money. There were ten whole rupees
in it, besides odd coins.

"The poor beggar seems starved, and yet he had this and--he was
feeding the squirrels. There's something deuced odd about it all."

Odd, but simple, especially in the _ayah's_ eyes. "Master, having given
orders for the _janowar_ to go, the police had naturally taken him
away. He had come back again and begged--naturally, when the _mem
sahiba_ had given him sweet rice every day. But she had given nothing,
nothing at all, except information to the police. Then they had taken
him away again miles and miles, quite close to the highroad to the
shrine, and had bidden him to go home. Even a _janowar_ could have
found his way had he chosen; but the obstinate animal had come back
after the sweet rice. So then every one had been told not to give the
disobedient one anything to eat. Indeed, it was past time for alms to
Shah Sujah's mice; they should have been back at the shrine with their
earnings. To linger was sacrilege, nothing less, especially when the
_Huzoor_ had said he was not wanted any longer. But instead of going,
when he was starved out, as every one imagined, he must have hidden in
the damp garden and got fever. As to what he was doing on the little
king of kings' grave, that was mysterious. Perhaps now the master
might believe that _janowars_ were not safe round a sick--"

"_Chuprao_,[9] you fool!" shouted Dada. As the ayah sidled away, still
indignant, the two men sat and looked at each other.


---------------------

[Footnote 9: "Hold your tongue!"]

---------------------


"I'm afraid it's no use," said the doctor. "Starvation and fever are
ill companions; but I'll stay over to-morrow and see what I can do. It
is as much my fault as yours, if any one is to blame, but--"

The doctor, being orthodox, paused.

When they went down on the following evening to see the patient in
hospital they found the native assistant volubly apologetic. He had
seemed so content, not to say weak, that they had left him alone while
busy over an accident. Half an hour ago they had missed him from his
cot. "Doubtless delirium had supervened with acerbation of fever; but
since peons were out in all directions, by the blessing of God--"

"Come on, doctor," said Dada, impatiently interrupting the flow of
words.

He was there, face down on the grass, and the squirrels were playing
over his dead body and searching for crumbs.

"No!" said Dada, when the coolies came with a string bed again. "Bring
a spade or two. I'm going to bury him here."

The doctor, having religious views, looked doubtful. "I--I wonder if
it is consecrated ground?"

"I hope to God it is!" said Dada, fervently.

As they lingered at the gate when the work was over, a squirrel hung
head downward on the peepul-trunk, eying the new-turned earth
suspiciously. Then another with bushy tail erect came hopping
fearlessly over the grass--


                     "Cher ip--a pip--pip--pip!"


It was a challenge. The next moment they were chasing each other over
the cross of quamoclits.

Dada closed the gate softly.

"Lovely, lovely 'quilth,'" he murmured to himself.

The lump had come back to his throat, and the doctor gave something
between a laugh and a sob.

But they neither of them said anything about the other _janowar_.
Perhaps because there was a difficulty in finding an epithet to suit
Shah Sujah's mouse.



                                SUTTU.



                                  I.

A grove of date-palms; each cluster of carved stems set in its
feathery crown and base, separated from its neighbours by sandy
spaces, where the snakes sunned themselves right in the wayfarer's
path. Finding few victims, however; for the _karait_, stretched out
like a blue whip-lash, curved back to the prickly cover at the distant
step, and though the dusk-coloured vipers tied in true-lovers' knots
held their ground, their evil temper gave warning of their presence as
scale rustled on scale in the angry sliding of the watchful coil.

Day and night the sweeping fringes overhead swayed softly, even when
no breath stirred the tangle below. But now, when the coming of dawn
sent that curious whisper of wind through the world, as if warning it
of what the sun may disclose, the leaves tossed their long arms
wildly.

A stretch of level land curved inward to the palm-grove; outward till
it merged on the village common with its grey-spined caper-bushes set
with coral buds. In the distance, shadowy in the half light, was a
native town, flat-roofed against the sky. Close at hand an open grave,
with a man and woman standing beside it. A queer couple. The old man,
dwarfed to distortion, grotesquely ugly; the woman young, straight as
a palm, supremely handsome.

"Lo, they come, Shâhbâsh!" she said, in a bold, mellow voice which
fitted her appearance. As she shaded her eyes with her hand, the
coarse madder veil she wore fell from her broad shoulders as if cut in
stone.

"_Wah illah!_ Thou hast sight to boast of, Mother Suttu," replied her
companion. She might have been his daughter in age, but he used the
title of respect due to all decent women from one not of their own
blood.

"Yea, 'tis true," she echoed, carelessly. "The Potter's hand slipped
not when he made me. I have naught to bring against him." It was
perhaps a heartless truism, considering her company.

But then Shâhbâsh was bucklered against bitter thoughts by an
ingenious theory accounting for his own ill looks. A fairy, he held,
had fallen in love with him as a babe, when (as might be augured from
his name, which meant 'Well done! Bravo!') he must have been possessed
of extraordinary beauty. Her jealous determination to keep his
perfections to herself had attained its object in roundabout fashion,
by preventing the eyes of others seeing him as he really was. Hence
the distortion lay with them.

"I would thine eyes were as sharp for the future as they are for the
present," he said, thoughtfully, leaning on his adze-like shovel.

"'Twere better they were sharp enough to see through dust," she
answered, smiling broadly into the grave at her feet. "So thou didst
not find it after all, Shâhbâsh."

"Not a cowrie, not a _dumri!_ And I swear 'tis into the tenth dozen of
graves I have dug--with texts of the holy Koran pouring from me the
while without stint. Good sound texts, hard as melted solder on a
body's teeth. And to no good, except to pave a blessed bed for another
sinner. For they pay worse and worse, _mai_ Suttu. When old Feroz
Shah buried his son, last week, he left but a rupee's worth of clothes
on the corpse for perquisite. Look you! If I take not the very
winding-sheet which decency would leave e'en to the dead, thou and the
holy saint yonder will starve--to say naught of servant Shâhbâsh, who
needs muscle to sow men in this hard soil."

He let his shovel fall on the hard ground to show how it echoed to the
clang.

Suttu laughed. "If dead men do not pay, there are the dates still.
They will ripen ere long."

"Aye, but how long can they be kept? If the saint dies without
speaking, the others will find their tongues. A woman needs gold--or a
man. Thou wilt have neither unless thou wilt give up the religious vow
and marry the Kâzi's son. He is willing."

Suttu laughed.

"So are others that be not pock-marked and one eye to boot."

"_Tobah!_ And thou virtuous and a widow! Lo, he is a man, and beauty
is not safe for us. Was not I, Shâhbâsh, the handsomest--"

She interrupted him remorselessly. "'Tis safe for me, anyhow. The
grandfather may rouse any day and tell me where the gold is hidden.
Once it is found, none will covet the graveyard."

Shâhbâsh wrinkled his hideous face to an appalling frown.

"God knows! If not, then it is a case of digging graves all my life
till I get over-scant of breath for texts and mattock together. If
only the sickness would come, 'twould give more chance. For the fox of
a father-in-law will be claiming shares of treasure with thee if I dig
aught but graves. Lo! _mai_ Suttu, I tell thee, 'tis ghoul-like work.
I watch the old folk in the village, and my fingers itch to give them
a blessed bed in Deen Ali's yard. 'Tis destroying my soul. Thou must
marry, or I am damned!"

"Sure the fairy will make thee a paradise anywhere," laughed Suttu.
"Lo, they come! Is all prepared? Alms or no alms, Deen Ali's bed must
be ready for the faithful. 'Tis in the bond."

She spoke with a grave dignity quite apart from her previous manner.

"Would God they had put the alms in the bond likewise!" grumbled the
dwarf as he slid into the shallow grave to sweep some loosened soil
from the niche hollowed in the hard ground to one side for the
uncoffined tenant. Then he swung himself out again by his brawny arms
and strained his shortsighted eyes toward the advancing procession.

"'Tis well," he muttered, as a sudden braying of shawms, beating of
drums, and skirling of songs rent the still dawn. "At least they
remember that the burying of the old is as a bridal. Sure it may be
better than I feared, and they will not send the decent patriarch back
to his friends half naked."

It was an odd funeral. The bier, covered by a tissue-paper canopy,
swayed as it was borne shoulder-high at a slow trot. The crowd
laughed and sang. The streamers fluttered, flying round that still,
muslin-swathed form bound with tinsel. Only Suttu seemed in keeping
with it, as she stood forward welcoming it to Deen Ali's bed.

But the next instant, as she stepped aside to let it pass, a malicious
look of amusement was on her face as she returned the greeting of a
pock-marked man with one eye.

Then, her _rôle_ of hostess being over, she walked away to the
date-grove followed by admiring eyes. For Suttu, the _fakeerni_, if
somewhat outrageous, was distinctly attractive. That made her vow of
celibacy all the more unnatural.

She sat down on the edge of a back channel of the river, which, after
creeping tortuously in a deep, narrow bed, expanded here during the
rains to a broad, shallow lake, dotted by clumps of pillared palms,
beneath whose fringed crowns great bunches of fruit were ripening
fast. Each islet was reflected so clearly in the water that it needed
sharp eyes to see where reality ended and unreality began. Here and
there, showing where the perennial pools lay beneath the temporary
flood, stretched a green carpet of lotus-leaves, where the flowers
rose in varying height; the buds, still resting on the water; the
full-blown flowers flaunting between them and the mace-like stems on
which the hidden "jewel in the lotus" stood disclosed, while the
fallen petals floated like shells on the water, or lay piled up in
little pink heaps on the green carpet. A faint scent, as of bitter
almonds, perfumed the breeze which now and again ruffled the lake and
slid a fresh gift of rolling, sparkling water diamonds into the
leaf-cups. Beyond this was a golden sunrise, cloudless, serene.

Suttu, seated on the edge of grass which grew just as far as the
moisture filtered through the sand, and no farther, nodded at the
scene approvingly. The Potter had made no mistake here either; she
liked it, liked her own freedom purchased by an easy vow. The idea of
giving it up in favour of another ten years or more of marriage in a
stifling city quarter was absurd.

A kingfisher flashed down into the water like a sapphire, and her
quick eyes followed it.

"_Shâhbâsh!_" she cried, gleefully, as the bird came up with a bar of
silver in its purple bill.

"'Tis not Shâhbâsh," said a voice behind her. "'Tis I, come to ask--"

She leaped to her feet, confronting the Kâzi's son in real wrath.

"So! Will not even death keep thy mind from marriage? Why hast crept
here to see me alone? 'Tis not decent--far worse, 'tis not even
pleasant. Have I not told thee--aye, and others--that I am a pious
widow?" She drew a corner of her veil across her eyes and hid the
suggestion of a smile under the semblance of tears. "A pious widow
vowed to the sonless shrine of my ancestors."

The Kâzi's son drew a step nearer.

"Thou art too young and too well favoured for a religious. Every one
says so," he began.

"The Lord looks not at beauty, Mir Sahib," retorted Suttu, gravely;
"and 'tis well for some of us that it is so."

"A sharp weapon is no weapon against enemies, and thou hast enemies.
My house would protect you. Think! I am the Kâzi's son."

"Lo, why should I forget my lord's merit?" smiled Suttu, sweetly. "He
has not so many."

He bit his lip. Repartee of that sort he knew, but not from the lips
of reputable women. The whole affair had the intoxication of an
intrigue, and its defiance of conventionalities set his pulses
throbbing.

"Listen, O Suttu!" he said, curbing his passion. "Hussan, thy dead
husband's father, will claim the land when the saint dies, and God
knows how the case may go against a woman! Marry me, and I will gain
it, were thy father-in-law fifty times over the village accountant.
Hast heard the saying, 'Only the Kâzi can fight the Putwâri'?"

"Lo, if I came to thy house, there would be fighting enow to fill thy
stomach, without going to a neighbour."

She drew the coarse veil which she had slipped from her head back to
its place, with wide-spread arms, as she spoke; and the action
displayed the full vigour of her finely moulded form. He cursed her
bigness and boldness inwardly, but schooled himself to another and
more tender appeal.

"Why not, O Suttu? Lo, I am rich, I am young. I--I lie awake o' nights
thinking of it. Yea, I swear it! I get no good from my food. I love
you. If I died, the very houris in paradise would not tempt me.

"But I would make thy grave gladly, Mir sahib, and then may be thou
wouldst find rest."

It was too much. He seized her by the wrist and glared at her, every
evil instinct roused to fury. "Then I will buy thee. Thy father-in-law
has the right, for the saint is half dead already. Listen! I will buy
thee to be my slave. What dost say now?"

"That even slaves have naught to do with pockmarks and one eye." Her
free right hand came down on one cheek with a resounding slap, making
him stagger. Her left, thus released, followed suit on the other.
"Go!" she cried, "or I will make Shâhbâsh yonder strangle thee with
his monkey arms. Go! And remember that Suttu, the _fakeerni_, hath
slapped thee in the face!"

The Kâzi's son, entangled in the trail of his turban, which had fallen
off, caught sight of the gravedigger within call, and felt that his
chance was over. He stalked away, trying to look dignified as he wound
his head-dress on again, but conscious of a suppressed titter behind
him, making him grind his teeth and swear vengeance.

When he had gone, Suttu sat down again on the grass and slipped her
hands into the cool water. They tingled unpleasantly.

"Yonder beans look ripe," she murmured, "and they would eke out a
meal."

Five minutes after, her sleek black head was rising and falling, her
round arms gleaming in the overhead stroke which sent her straight to
a lily-field. A couple of moor-hens fled, leaving a rippling streak of
silver behind them. As she entered the leaf carpet it took in great
waves of water over the edges--waves which broke into dew-drops that
ran races with each other for first place in the leafy hollows.

The dragon-flies darted around her, timid but persistent; and myriads
of tiny insects, disturbed from the sweet stems, rose in clouds,
attracting the swift swooping of the bronze-winged fly-catchers.

Shâbâsh was waiting for her on the bank as she came back wading, her
arms full of blown lotus, her track marked by drifting petals. As she
approached he flung a few yards of tinsel and muslin on the ground in
extravagant, theatrical disgust.

"That is all," he cried; "by the faith of my fathers, six ells of
false tinsel and four of twopenny muslin for digging a grave in
_kunker_[10] soil. God and his Prophet! why didst not send them to be
born Hindus? Then 'twould have taken ten rupees of fire-wood to save
them from being burned in hell. And last night, look you, I cut a
sleeping snake in two as I dug, and both ends fell at my toes. _Ari!_
A riddle indeed in the dark, which be head and which be tail? And I am
to go through such moments for six ells of tinsel and four of such
muslin. No, _mai_ Suttu. 'Tis the Kâzi's son, or starvation."


---------------------

[Footnote 10: Nodulated limestone.]

---------------------


Suttu smiled as she stooped to wring the water from her scant
petticoat.

"Not so, Shâhbâsh. The Kâzi's son doth not like me. And lotus-beans
are good till the dates ripen. Then the gold! It may be in the next
grave."

He scratched his thick grey hair, on which he wore no turban,
doubtfully.

"God knows! Every full moon I stretch my sheet on the ground and dance
to please my fairy. Then when I fall into the trance I ask the old
question, 'Where is Deen Ali's gold?' But there is no answer in the
morning. Now, if the fairy cannot tell--"

Suttu laughed. "Dost not, may be, forget the answer? The black bottle
steals thy brains--"

'"Tis not the bottle," muttered Shâhbâsh, sulkily, as he gathered up
his perquisites. "'Tis the fairy steals my brains. For sure there be
not rum enough in it nowadays--"

So they walked home to the mosque-like tomb in the date-grove, she
with her sheaf of lotus, he with his shovel and shroud.



                                 II.

Suttu's great-great-grandfather had been a saint of the first water--a
double-distilled, above-proof performer of miracles; his holiness
being strong enough to stand two generations of dilution and still
leave spiritual distinction to his descendants. Yet the difference in
the saintship of Deen Ali, the original, and Inâm Ali, the present
incumbent of the shrine, lay more in their surroundings than in
themselves. The former, according to tradition, had lived for ten
years in a trance, oblivious of all save the touch of a certain
prayer-carpet on his feet; a carpet brought from holy Mecca, which had
been used--again according to tradition--by the Prophet himself. Then
sight, speech, action, were restored to Deen Ali for a space, and
while earth and sky wore the glorious apparel of sunrise and sunset,
his soul came back in praise and prayer.

Inâm Ali inherited the trance, but folk called it paralysis, and the
death in life yielded to carnal, not spiritual, food. Doubtless
physiologically it was quite as wonderful that twice a day, regularly
as clock-work, the half-dead organism should accept nourishment;
practically it was not so impressive.

But other things had changed too in the seventy-and-odd years since
Deen Ali had planted the Arabian date-stones he had also brought back
from holy Mecca in the land granted to his saintship. Curious holdings
these, burdened at times by quaint conditions in return for official
canonization; for in those days saintship paid. In this case the
offerings of the faithful had taken visible shape in the blue-tiled
tomb where Deen Ali's body lay under a stucco roly-poly twelve feet
long. Whether this length awarded to saintly tombs, which contrasts so
oddly with the curtness of those allowed to the laity, has reference
to the extent of piety, or whether some Mohammedan exemplar of old
really was of unusual stature, is a moot point. Certain it is that in
upper India, as elsewhere, the "unco guid" are tedious even when at
rest.

The blue-green dome of the saint's tomb, therefore, soared up into the
green-grey plumes of the palms, as a record of past munificence; and
round it the green-blue parrots circled and swept till the wearied eye
sought relief in the gold clusters of dates above and the gold sand
below.

Gold! If report said true, golden indeed with other records of
munificence. But where? That secret lay hid in Inâm Ali's paralyzed
brain. He must have known; for, despite the slackness of modern
offerings, there had never been any want in the mud hovel hitched on
to the tomb; until Suttu, coming in one evening with her veil full of
dates, had found the old man quite unconscious on the saint's high
wooden bed, which still stood over the grave under the dome.

The news thrilled the adjoining township with brief enthusiasm. Then a
bustling Hindu assistant surgeon got wind of the case, and sanctity
vanished before science. From that day, several years past, matters
had gone from bad to worse. A railway appeared, reducing offerings to
the lowest ebb; for, as Shâhbâsh declared with mingled truth and
tears, the pilgrims counted their third-class return tickets as
offerings to the shrine, and the traffic department charged dead
against charity in the extortionate fares for sheep, goats, and fowls.
On the other hand, the railway had certainly brought cholera three
years in succession--an unheard-of event--and that had increased the
chances of finding the gold in the digging of graves--graves, however,
for which the perquisites lessened month by month. That was due to the
village accountant's spite; spite born of family matters which went
back to the time when Suttu was born.

Inâm Ali, briefly, had lived for six months in hopes that a posthumous
child of his only son would be an heir to the saintship; and in his
first disappointment had been only too glad to get rid of mother and
child, by the former's marriage to the accountant and the latter's
betrothal to her stepfather's son. After a time, however, he had
bought the child back, with bribes, to keep him company, and
thereinafter had spent years in spoiling her. Consequently, when the
inevitable fulfilment of the betrothal came round, Suttu was dragged
off to _zenana_ life, struggling like a wild animal. She failed,
however, to fulfil her duty of bringing a son to inherit, through her,
the date-palms and the hidden treasure; and after one baby, born when
she was thirteen, ceased its feeble efforts to live, she settled
down--well, as a leopardess might settle in its cage.

Ten years after, she paid her first visit to the cemetery, in order to
cool her newly buried husband's grave with decorous tears. She went
there calmly, and then as calmly refused to return. She had made up
her mind to become a religious, she said. Now this fell in with both
the old man's and her father-in-law's views. The former was willing,
as before, to pay for her companionship; and the latter, with an eye
to a future when he should have Suttu entirely under his control,
thought it as well she should keep in with her grandfather and the
hidden treasure. So a religious she became, somewhat to the scandal of
the neighbourhood. Then came the paralysis, leaving Hussan _minus_ his
monthly payment, and quite uncertain whether Suttu said truth when she
denied all knowledge of the hoard. In truth, the position was awkward.
The saint might recover speech, and then, if he found that Suttu had
been violently used, he might resent it and make away with the
treasure. If, however, by starving her out, Suttu could be induced to
break her vow and marry, Hussan could no doubt get himself appointed
guardian of the shrine, and so have an opportunity of searching where
he chose. The task was not a difficult one, since the people around
were easily led to believe that her ways and works were anything but
what a _fakeerni's_ should be. So the offerings grew less and less,
the complaints of mischance or neglect more frequent; yet still Suttu
held her head jauntily and laughed when, of an evening, she met her
father-in-law prowling around the graveyard. It had a fascination for
him; and often when his feet were not there, his finger was tracing
its outline on the village map. There, within that little space, lay
the treasure, and a horrible conjunction of a half-dead old man and a
very much alive young woman prevented him from getting hold of it. The
thought kept him from sleeping when there had been a death in the
village, and he knew Shâhbâsh was digging and delving. And when he
slept he dreamed that the old saint sat up and spoke, but that no one
could hear a word he said. He did not know that Suttu and her henchman
had gone the crucial length of spreading the holy carpet Mecca-ways,
and setting the old saint's feet upon it, more than once, at sunrising
and sunsetting. In vain; the miracle would not work for gold; so they
had lifted him back again to the high wooden bed.

Shâhbâsh was really losing his temper over his part of the business.
Lotus-beans for breakfast were all very well, but you could not dig
graves on lotus-beans. Besides, the black bottle was always empty.

"Lo, _mai_, I grow thin," he grumbled; "then the fairy will cease to
care for me, and that is an end. Women are not to be trusted."

As he set to work on a baby's grave, he went on grumbling and
muttering to himself. He had been her father's foster-brother, and she
was the apple of his eye. For all that, he must eat. Some day her
enemy would tempt him to treason when he ached with hunger, and who
could be faithful on an empty stomach? He blubbered at the thought of
his own betrayal.

Thus, on the evening of the day when Suttu slapped the Kâzi's son,
matters were approaching a crisis all round; even Hussan, prowling
about the graveyard in the vague disquiet which beset him after every
fresh excavation of the soil, made up his mind to a bolder game. As he
picked his way through the short mud mounds, a sort of thrill shot up
his legs at the thought that he might be treading on gold; for the
hope of buried treasure takes possession of men, body and soul. He
found no one in the reed thatched-hut; but a savory smell of curried
beans from the fire-place showed that its mistress would soon be back
to supper. So he went over to the tomb where the saint lay on the
wooden bed under the dome, in which the faint breathing of the old man
swelled to a murmuring echo like a swarm of bees. Hussan stood beside
the bed, full of rage, malice, and greed. If he could only crack that
bald old noddle and pick out the kernel!

Suddenly the thought came that perhaps now--this moment or the
next--was the one appointed from all eternity in which speech would
return, and he stood petrified by expectation. Perhaps a call might
rouse the sleeping soul. He started as his own hoarse whisper grew to
a roar in the echoing dome. That should wake the dead. Then, as the
sound died ineffectually to silence, the desire to crack the old man's
skull at all costs returned. The kernel might take care of itself.

Something of this must have showed in his face, for Suttu, coming in
behind him, passed softly to the bed and raised a menacing hand. Only
for an instant. Then she sat down on the edge and laughed.

"Well! did he tell you?"

A brutal question; for the answer would be dinned into his ears by the
echo, and he knew it all too well already.

"Come outside, daughter," he said, with a curse; "one cannot hear
one's self speak in this chattering place."

They sat down on the topmost step of the low flight leading to the
tomb. The heat of the sun was over, but a scorching air struck up from
the bricks, making Suttu fan herself with the corner of her veil. No
wonder men coveted her, thought her companion, eying her askance. She
grew handsomer every day.

"Suttu," he began, taking the plunge boldly, "peace is better than
war. Give me half the gold, and I am content. Let it stay in the
family, Suttu."

"Whose family--mine or thine?" she asked, scornfully.

"'Tis the same. Lo, is not Murghub thy brother, since he is thy
mother's son, though he be but a poor natural?"

"Lay not that to her charge," retorted Suttu, flippantly. "She made no
mistake in me."

Hussan coughed down his impatience. "Well, well, I care not. I came
not to chop words. It is the gold, Suttu! I mean to have some of it."

"What gold? I know of none. I have seen none."

"Then have I! See!" He felt in an innermost pocket, and showed her,
lying in his palm, a broad gold-piece. "They make not such pieces
nowadays. Where that came from there are more."

She turned it over and over in her long, brown fingers. "Aye, 'tis
old. Didst steal it from him, then?" A backward toss of the head
indicated her meaning.

"Nay, he gave it."

"Wherefore?"

"For thee, Suttu, when thou wast a child. Give it me back. Stop! what
dost thou?"

"This," she cried, shrilly, seizing his clutching hand by the wrist
in a grasp firm as a man's, while in sheer bravado she held the coin
high above her head. "I will give it back to the old man, and see
what he thinks of thee for keeping it. What! wouldst fight for one
gold-piece, fool, and lose the chance of lakhs by my death? Yea, yea,
I know. Thou art not my heir in death, though thou mayst have hold on
me alive. Hands off, or I will fight too! And Shâhbâsh comes to his
supper. He is a devil when hungry!"

Her tone was still mocking, the grasp on his wrist firm but not
straining. Her temper in control as yet, but she meant mischief, if
mischief was to be; and for the life of him Hussan could not help
admiring her.

"Thou art a she-devil," he said, sulkily--"a she-devil, and no woman."

"I bore a son to your son, anyhow," she retorted quickly, and her
frown warned him that he had gone too far.

"If thou wilt but listen--"

"Not till I have laid this offering in the saint's hand," she
interrupted imperially, with a gesture of disdain. Hussan kicked his
heels savagely as she marched over the platform and entered the tomb.
He could see her stoop and lay the coin in the indifferent palm
resting beside the still body. She came back much the better for this
serio-comic interlude, for her dramatic instincts were strong, and she
played her part of independence vigorously.

"Well," she began, quite graciously, settling herself down on the step
beside her father-in-law, "if peace be better than war, what price
hath peace?"

The accountant leaned over to her eagerly. "Halves--halves in
everything save liberty. That is all thine own."

For an instant she felt tempted. Then her natural waywardness
returned.

"And if I claim the whole?"

"War! And that to a woman without gold--"

She gave an irritating chuckle. "Bah! It may come any day. Shâhbâsh
may find it; the old man may speak."

The very possibility of her words being true roused his anger. "Speak!
He will never speak again."

A rattle behind made them both turn with the alertness of those who
live among snakes. Suttu was on her feet in a second without a cry.
The accountant let loose a yell of dismay, and in his recoil rolled
back a step or two, where he lay clutching at the bricks wildly. For
the old saint was sitting up on his bed waggling his bald head over
the coin; he could not have looked more ghastly had he risen from the
dead.

The great moment was upon them!

This thought came first to both spectators; and they were too
uncultured to conceal it.

"Tell us where!" cried Suttu, as she stood.

"Yea, tell us ere you die!" echoed the accountant as he lay.

Not a very warm welcome back to life, but the old man, though he
raised his head at the cry, understood nothing. The dim eyes passed
the covetous faces and rested on the familiar landscape darkening
beyond the door of his tomb. Then the nerveless hand slipped from its
resting-place on his knee--slipped, slipped, till with a clink, and a
roll, and a rattle, given back a thousand-fold by the dome, the coin
fell upon the stone floor.

"Gone!" he whispered, "gone--yea, gone forever!"

But the look of life in his face had carried Suttu back to her
childhood, and her arms were already round the failing figure, as she
turned such fierce forbidding on her companion that he shrank back
silent.

"It is the last chance!" he whispered, after a time.

"I care not."

Suddenly the bald head fell back on Suttu's breast.

The chance was over.

They sat all through the night waiting for a sign, and none came.
Before the dawn broke, the old saint and his secret had gone together
into the darkness.

Hussan, as he walked cityward, felt that Fate had done him a good as
well as an ill turn. He had made no compact with Suttu, and, now that
the grandfather was out of the way, he could sue for guardianship at
once, and unmask a battery he had been keeping in reserve.

And Shâhbâsh, disconsolate over the cold curry he had actually
forgotten to eat in the hope of hearing his old master speak once
more, made gruesome faces over his coming task. The gold, for sure,
was not hidden under Deen Ali's roly-poly, so he would have to find a
resting-place in it for the last incumbent without greed of gain to
beguile his labour.

Only Suttu did not think of the future, but of the past, when the old
man had been her willing slave.



                                 III.

The dates were ripe. Great drooping bunches of them hung under the
swaying palm-leaves--rose-pink and purple-black, yellow and brown,
many-tinted like some rare agate. Shâhbâsh gorged himself on the
sickly-sweet fruit, and every one, far and near, grew visibly fatter.
But Deen Ali's Arabian dates were too valuable for home consumption,
and Suttu only awaited the new moon in order to summon the pluckers
and driers to prepare the fruit for market. Shâhbâsh, with a sigh at
the shortness of opportunity, ate all the more and thought of little
else.

Yet the four weeks since the saint's death had not been uneventful.
The Kâzi's son and the accountant had joined issue in their desire to
see Suttu worsted. As yet, however, there had been no overt act. To
begin with, the native of India does nothing in a hurry. In addition,
none gauges better than he the indisputable advantage of an old lie
over a new one. It is like port wine depositing a crust for itself out
of its own sediment. Finally, even a false claim acquires dignity by
being preferred deliberately, moderately. All these considerations had
coincided towards inaction--as yet.

But a day or two before the new moon matters changed. Suttu, coming at
dawn from her hut, saw a sight which literally took her breath away.
Three of the tallest stems in the nearest clump of palms were swaying
under the weight of men clinging to them by clamps and a rope passed
round their waists. Below, the freshly gathered fruit lay in heaps
under the fingers of women busy in sorting it and carrying it in
baskets to a drying enclosure already fenced in by hedges of plaited
leaves. In a word, date-picking was in full swing. Had she by chance
given the orders in her sleep?

Incredulous of her own sight, she roused Shâhbâsh, who still lay
snoring on the raised platform of the tomb.

He was on his feet in a moment, and shouting "Thieves!" loudly as the
only explanation, swung himself down like a monkey, and ran
gesticulating with windmill arms towards the trees. His ugliness, even
when familiar, was phenomenal; seen by the date-pickers, who as usual
were strangers employed by a big contractor, it appeared supernatural;
and the women, taking him to be nothing more nor less than the demon
in charge of the grove, flung down their baskets and fled, screaming.
The men would doubtless have followed their example, had it been
possible; but, rather than run the gantlet of the dancing, yelling
creature below, they dug their clamps tighter and held on in mortal
terror of what would happen next.

Suttu's more tardy appearance led to an explanation; from which it
appeared that the pickers had been sent by a contractor, who had
formally bought the crop from one Hussan the accountant.

"Leave them to me, _mai_ Suttu!" shrieked Shâhbâsh, in an ecstasy of
rage over this calm appropriation. "Lo, I will give them a crop of
blows if they come down. If not, let them starve and drop like bats in
the cold. I am in no hurry." He squatted himself on the matting and
helped himself to the gathered dates with both hands. But Suttu saw
further than the immediate present, and knew a protest must be raised,
and that quickly. She turned at once to that confidence in the power
of personal appeal which, thank Heaven, still lingers in India,
despite Western attempts to strangle it with red tape and smother it
with sealing-wax.

"Yea, watch thou," she cried, "while I go to the big _sahib's_ house
and cry for justice. He listens to the poor."

"_Wâh! wâh!_" assented the clingers, "but see us safe first, O
mother!"

"Let them be," said Shâhbâsh, confidentially, "else they may make away
with the dates they have picked. Lo, they are safer there till the
police come."

So there they clung, while the _fakeerni_, her indignation increasing
at every swinging stride, made her way to the deputy-commissioner's
bungalow.

He was a small, fair English lad, put in charge--with many
instructions to telegraph to headquarters if he saw signs of the
millennium or another mutiny--during the absence on three weeks' leave
of a senior man. He was just mounting his polo pony in order to keep
his hand in by chivying a ball round a stick, when wronged womanhood
appeared and flung out a pair of remarkably beautiful arms for
justice. Perhaps the fact that the complainant was superbly handsome
and struck a most impressive attitude had something to do with the
readiness with which he turned to the red-coated orderlies for a
translation of her _patois_ petition.

"'Tis Suttu, the _fakeerni_, and she comes to tell the Protector of
the Poor that contractors are feloniously picking her dates."

"Send and stop 'em. And, and--what the deuce is the right thing to do.
Oh, yes. Tell the police to report as usual." Then, as he rode off, he
nodded affably to Suttu. "Take comfort, mother; I'll see to it."

He had been swished at Harrow quite an incredibly short time before,
but he did the part of Providence neatly, while men for whom he had
fagged were enjoying the inestimable privilege of sitting on a
vestry--or the knife-board of an omnibus conveying them citywards to
act as copying-machines for the term of their natural lives.

Suttu's apparent triumph, however, dwindled in Shâhbâsh's eyes to
ignominious defeat when the police refused permission for any one to
pick the dates until the petition of Hussan for the land on behalf of
his son Murghub should be decided.

"What has that idiot to do with my land?" cried the _fakeerni_,
indignantly. "Lo, there is no drop of saint's blood in him. He is of
the second marriage."

The policeman sniggered. "I know not, mother! But this I hear, that
Hussan saith otherwise, and the Kâzi is with him. And births and
marriages are ticklish things to date, if the Kâzi be not friendly."

Suttu's heart throbbed. If the Kâzi were indeed her only refuge, she
might have to face the storm in the open.

"O thou with the yellow trousers on thy legs, and wisdom in head and
heart," moaned Shâhbâsh, "dost mean that these dates--Deen Ali's
famous dates--are to be food for parrots? while I----" He sat in the
sand, clasping his stomach, rocking backwards and forwards, a
ludicrous spectacle of woe; yet there was tragedy in the comedy.

That evening, when supper consisted of a few millet-cakes and a tray
of watery _pilu_-berries, which Suttu had gathered from the jungles,
he looked at the ripe dates overhead and felt that the hour of
apostasy had come. After the barmecidal feast he took his mattock and
went to the graveyard--not to dig, but solemnly to consider which of
Suttu's two enemies should have his services. Dawn found him returning
from the Kâzi's house, with the black bottle full of rum, and the
remains of a perfect feast of _bakkar khana_ tied up in a
handkerchief--both of which he hid carefully. All that day he did
nothing but vaunt the delights of a sheltered home combined with rich
food; especially to a woman--more especially to a woman who had
nothing to eat but _pilu_-berries and millet cakes! Suttu smiled at
him indulgently.

"Lo, God did not make me all stomach," she said. "I eat the air and
the sunshine; and I like to see the parrot people and the squirrel
people eat my dates, even if I can't."

Shâhbâsh gave a rumble of despair, and bolstered up his uneasy
conscience by telling himself such views were unnatural, accursed.

"Is a grave ordered?" asked Suttu, in surprise, when, that evening
after supper, the dwarf shouldered his mattock. "Who is dead?"

"The saddler's son. Leastways he was so nigh his end to-day that his
people gave me warning it might be wanted. And like as not they would
eat oaths had it been bespoke in form, for they are keen to quarrel.
Aye, aye, if lies were satisfying, my belly wouldn't be empty."

He disappeared into the soft, balmy darkness, grumbling and
muttering--to come back circuitously to the hiding-place of the black
bottle. He would need that for consolation, aye, for forgetfulness,
before midnight brought the bribed watchmen to guard the date-grove.
Then sooner or later after that some one's cries---- Well, why not?
Suttu would not be the first woman who had been carried off to a rich
marriage, and had lived to tell the tale cheerfully. Still, the
thought of those cries when the Kâzi and his friends came was
disturbing. Shâhbâsh took a great pull at the bottle. It would bring
the fairy, and the fairy was unfailing consolation.

Meanwhile Suttu sat on the steps of the tomb, too much disturbed, by
this outrageous claim of Hussan's, for sleep. The grounds which he
would put forward were easy to guess. He and the Kâzi would post-date
the second marriage, and ante-date Murghub, the idiot's birth, so as
to make him out her full brother. Besides, they had money for
evidence; she had none, and the neighbours were unfriendly. Her only
help lay in the Lord, and that, she knew, had nothing to do with a
court of justice. Still, it was as well to omit nothing which might be
of use; so she brought out the trestle-shaped stool, on which her
grandfather's copy of the Koran lay, and began to chant an additional
chapter of Holy Writ as a kind of bribe to favour. As she rocked
herself backward and forward, her lips busy with the long rhythm in
which the unknown words quite lost all identity, her mind was busy
over the time when she had learned it all with tears and trouble from
the saint, stern on this one point. How fond he had been of
divinations!--and Suttu paused in the middle of a pious apothegm to
recollections of her grandfather compiling date-names for his
neighbours--names, that is to say, which by the values of the
composing letters would give the date of birth. What if her own name,
Sutara Begum, was one of these, and the idiot's also? That would be
proof indeed! Perhaps Shâhbâsh---- She had started to her feet, when
she remembered her chapter, in some trepidation, since half a bribe
was no bribe. She would just go on chanting till Shâhbâsh came home.
It could do no harm, and might do good. Her round, full voice echoed
back from the tomb, and out into the date-palms.

"_Wâh!_ if she were really, after all, a pious one, and not a bad
walker," said one of the watchers to the other. His companion clucked
a denial. "_Thchu!_ 'tis likely she knows the Kâzi is to be here
to-night. That is woman's way."

Suttu chanted and chanted till she grew hoarse. Then she stood up and
listened. The night was still and silent. Not even the distant thud of
the mattock, so Shâhbâsh must be on his way back. She waited with the
little oil-lamp in her hand, eager for her question. Then impatience
gained the mastery, and still with the oil-cresset in her hand--for
the new moon gave little light, and snakes were common--she set off
swiftly through the palms towards the cemetery.

"Shâhbâsh!" she cried, but nothing stirred or answered as she picked
her way through the short graves. Suddenly she was brought up sharply
by something at her feet--something she had deemed another grave. It
was the dwarf stretched fast asleep on a white sheet. His grey hair
was twined with jasmine blossoms, and a black bottle lay empty by his
side. He had been dancing to amuse his fairy. That was no uncommon
affair; but whence had he got the inspiration, and the greasy remnants
of a feast which the light of the lamp disclosed? What villainy had he
been bribed to commit? Something, she felt sure, even if it were
nothing more serious than a failure to fulfil the duties of her
freehold, by having Deen Ali's bed ready for the saddler's son. If it
were that! She seized the shovel, and swinging it over her head
brought it down on the ground, where Shâhbâsh had outlined a grave,
with a thud which set her arms tingling. The soil was hard, indeed,
and surely that was twelve o'clock chiming from the court gong! Not
much time left; but softer spots were to be found than the one
Shâhbâsh had chosen. She took up the oil-cresset again and wandered
round to the extreme edge of the graveyard where it merged into the
sandier common.

Thud! thud! The strokes of the mattock echoing through the night made
the Kâzi's son smile as, about an hour after midnight, he crept alone
to the tomb. A man who is the prey of a purely animal passion does not
have his ears boxed for nothing, and his idea of revenge went further
than marriage. No one would heed Suttu's cries for help this time, and
the watchers were in his pay.

Thud! thud! Suttu's respect for her henchman increased at every
stroke. She was well into the grave by this time, digging round and
round methodically, though she ached all over. Yet, if she died of it,
that grave should be ready. What was that? Metal on metal! The
surprise sent a tingle all through her. Then she was down on hands and
knees, groping in the loosened soil.

Yes, it was the treasure at last, and no one, no soul alive, except
herself, must know of it. She looked round hastily into the darkness
and silence. There was no fear of interruption now; there might be
afterwards. Her best plan was to finish the grave, so as to obliterate
all trace of the spot whence she had taken that heavy brass pot, and
then, but not till then, to go home quietly. The next instant the thud
of the mattock began again. A lucky decision; for the Kâzi's son,
surprised at finding Suttu absent, was beginning to suspect treachery
from the silence, when the digging recommenced. Shâhbâsh, then, meant
to keep faith, and not seek safety in flight. But Suttu? As the
spoiler sat beside the friendly watchman he asked himself if the lies
he himself had circulated so diligently about the religious were true,
and she had an assignation elsewhere. He gnashed his teeth over the
thought and his own rejection.

"A step, my lord! it was a step!" whispered one of the guardians, and
the Kâzi's son crept towards the hut. He had not entered it before,
being assured it was empty; but now, thinking Suttu might have seen
him and slipped into the darkness for safety, he felt his way through
the door and so on by the wall.

Then a yell burst from him--a cry once heard never to be forgotten:

"Snake! snake!"

The watchmen heard it and came slowly, feeling their dark way with
sticks, lest where one snake was there might be two. Suttu heard it
also, and, lamp in hand, ran back to the hut, knowing that friend or
foe was in deadly peril.

Something huddled up, writhing, moaning, clasping one hand with the
other, shapeless, convulsed by fear, lay upon the ground--something
that flung itself before her and yelled for a charm--the saint's
charm--for mercy--for help--for anything.

"Thou!" she cried, "thou! What dost here?"

She knew well enough, and she thrust him back savagely.

"Never mind that now, mother," whimpered one of the men. "Give him the
charm. Sure God gave such to the saints for all men, and all men are
sinners."

"For men--not for dogs! Go, hound--go and die! I have no charm for
thee."

The wretched creature, struggling from the hands of the watchmen, who
strove to set him on his feet, caught her by the ankle. "Save me! save
me, to be thy friend! I know--I can save--I--"

He sank down helpless, foaming at the mouth from abject fear.

Suttu paused. There was something in that view of the case. If
anything could be done, if by chance-- By the light of the lamp she
examined the bitten finger closely, and an odd look came to her face.

"It was near the door, breast-high by the sticks of the thatch thou
wast bitten," she said, as she hastily concealed the wound under a
bandage.

"Yea, yea, thou knowest! The charm, mother Suttu, the charm! I swear
to be thy friend!"

The _fakeerni_ looked contemptuously at her writhing lover. "Swear by
thy son's head, fool! naught else will satisfy me!"

When the only oath a native will not break had been pronounced, Suttu
stood up with a laugh.

"The charm is worked, Mir Sahib. Thou wilt not die of that bite." Then
she checked herself, and with the same odd look on her face assumed a
graver tone. "Lo, I will work the charm. As for thee--go home, swift
as thou canst. Call the barber, let him bleed thee to faintness. Take
_kâla dâna_[11] and sulphur to the full. Eat naught for two days, live
righteous, and look not on the bite for a month. Then give a hundred
rupees to the saint's shrine."


---------------------

[Footnote 11: Ipomea seeds.]

---------------------


"'Tis all right, master," whispered one of the men. "There is no fear
of the bargain when payment follows cure. Lo, thou art better already,
and by this thou shouldst have been worse, had not the charm worked.
Hurry, hurry, lest harm come from disobedience!"

When they were quite out of sight and hearing, Suttu took the lamp,
went to the door of the hut and chirruped. From a hole in the wall a
pair of bright eyes looked out.

"The Brahmans say true," she chuckled, "and Ram befriends those who
befriend his favourite. Shâhbâsh would have had me tear the squirrel's
nest down, but I love the chattering things."

She had little time, however, to spare for amusement at her own trick.
The grave had to be completed, the treasure brought home by dawn. Her
arms ached worse than ever from their short rest, and there was a grey
glimmer in the east, before she judged that her work would pass
muster. Then she removed all Shâhbâsh's belongings to the side of the
grave, leaving him still in a drunken sleep upon the bare ground.

Finally, lifting the brass pot, which was carefully luted over with
hard clay, she carried it to the hut, shut the door, and by the
growing light through the chinks began to open up her treasure.

The pot was full of farthings--nothing but farthings. She sat and
looked at them hopelessly. What did it mean? Why should any one take
the trouble to bury farthings? The puzzle was beyond her, and when a
gleam of real sun warned her that time was passing, she hid the pot
under a pile of brushwood, and stepped out with a feeling of relief
into the open air. The world was ablaze with the clear, uncompromising
light of an Indian morning. The parrots were wheeling round the blue
dome, and a squirrel sat on the top of the thatch chirping over a date
stolen from the disputed crop.

Suttu thought of the Kâzi's son physicked, bled, and hungry. Her laugh
echoed out among the palms, and she felt more comforted than when, the
night before, she had sought solace in chanting.



                                 IV.

Shâhbâsh sat up and opened his mouth with a tremendous yawn. Then he
opened his eyes, and at the same moment reached around for the black
bottle. Its absence woke him thoroughly, and the further discovery
that he was on the bare ground made him instinctively cry "Thieves!"
before he was alert enough to notice the sight of his belongings on
the ground some little way off. Rising slowly, for he was stiff in his
limbs, he stumbled towards them, conscious only of a racking headache.
Memory of his own treachery had not yet returned, and when he all but
fell into a new-made grave on his way to the black bottle, his mind
seemed to him a perfect blank, and he stood transfigured before this
evidence of an industry which he could not remember. He sat down
helplessly on its edge, dangling his legs over the side, and peered
into it critically. Without doubt, if that was his handiwork, he must
have been very drunk indeed. The mere force of habit made him slip
into it, and, seizing the mattock, begin to trim the shape. Suddenly
he gave a yell, and the next moment was up on solid earth again,
clutching at something which had rolled out of the last spadeful of
earth--something which had clinked and glittered.

Undoubtedly; for all that, it was only a farthing. His face fell.
Still, a farthing was money, and pointed to money. Ah, how pleased
little mother Suttu would be!

The thought transfixed him again; this time by excess of memory. What
had happened to her? What had he done? What cursed fate was this, that
he should find money on the very day when he had given up hope and
faith? His trembling legs would scarcely support him, as, driven by
the necessity of knowing the worst, he stumbled towards the hut,
wondering how he should ever face the saint's roly-poly, or how he
would endure life without Suttu's laugh to lighten his labours.

What was that echoing among the palms? Surely, surely, it was her
laugh. Were the fiends playing tricks with him, or-- Hope literally
gave him wings, for, as he galloped forward, the sheet he had thrown
round his shoulders spread out on either side, and his matted hair,
still bound with chaplets, blew round his head like an aureole. Suttu,
standing on the steps, laughed louder at the ridiculous figure
gambolling towards her, uttering little cries of joy.

If he had looked like a whipped hound a minute before, he was like a
cur restored to favour now, in his delight quite forgetting the
necessity for caution, till Suttu sternly asked him to explain. Then,
inspired by elation, he lied magnificently. Was there no just cause
for joy when he had found the treasure?

"The treasure! Thou hast found it?" cried the _fakeerni_, paling
before the fear lest she had overlooked the real prize. "Where--what
treasure?"

"The saint's treasure--lakhs on lakhs! Listen, O incredulous! O
suspicious! and eat shame. Last night, urged by the virulence of thine
enemies, I vowed a mighty vow for the accomplishment of thy desires,
caring naught for my own ruin. I spread a cloth for my fairy, setting
it well with flowers, and dancing to please her. But when she came,
allured by my graces, I spurned her. Yea, I trampled her under foot. I
took my heart and hers out of our bodies and ate them before her face.
'Show me the treasures,' I cried; 'rescue my little mother Suttu from
the necessity of marrying a one-eyed, pock-marked man, or I set no
more cloths for thee!' Lo, thou shouldst have seen her clinging to me
like a weanling child; but I would none of her! Then she grew wroth,
saying she would ne'er return; but I answered, 'Who cares?' Think,
_mai_ Suttu--I, Shâhbâsh, said that to my fairy for thy sake, and thou
hast suspicions. Nay, smite me, but I said more. I said--what did I
not say?--till--till she smote me on the forehead, so--and I died.
Yea, I died as much as a man may and yet live. So--so--she dug a grave
for me--for she would not the jackals had my beauty. Yea, a grave! See
you, it was not much of a grave--a poor grave, such as a woman's hand
could make. Lo, my heart aches for the blisters there must be--"

"Go on, liar," said Suttu, calmly, "and let the blisters be. They will
heal without thy lip-salve."

"May I eat dirt if it be not true! Then, towards morning, being
chastened by blisters, her heart melted: so she buried the treasure
instead of me. That is how it came about."

Suttu could not resist a smile.

"But the treasure, fool--the treasure?"

Shâhbâsh, dancing round her, flourished a coin, which she snatched
from him hastily.

"Lo!" she cried, in tones of disappointment, "'tis only a farthing."

"Only a farthing!" echoed Shâhbâsh, ironically. "Hark to the
incredulous. Aye, but it means gold close at hand. Dost not know that
wise men put pennies when they take pounds, so that the _jinn_ who
guards the treasure may find the tale true when he counts the coins?"

Suttu's hand went up swiftly to her forehead; she gave a little cry.

"Dost mean they put farthings in place of gold?"

"Aye! Sure, a coin is a coin to the _jinn_, and when the last gold bit
is gone he sits guarding a pot of farthings till judgment. Ho,
ho!--ha, ha!"

His mirth left Suttu smileless.

"A pot--of--farthings," she muttered slowly. Then a light broke in on
her, and she threw up her hands, exclaiming: "Gone! Aye, he said it
was gone, and we thought he meant--gone! Yea, it is clear! Gone, gone,
gone!"

"What is clear? What hath gone?" asked Shâhbâsh, curiously. The need
for caution came home to her.

"'Tis clear thou art a fool," she said, "and my trust in thee is gone.
Why cannot folk leave me alone?" she continued, querulously. "I only
ask peace and quiet."

And then, to the dwarf's horror and amazement, she suddenly began to
cry--_mai_ Suttu crying like any other woman!

"'Tis but the _pilu_-berries," he whimpered. "Did I not tell thee they
were watery diet, apt to turn acid and destroy the courage? But there
shall be no more wild meats for thee, _mai_ Suttu. The treasure is
found."

It was, indeed. All that day the _fakeerni_ sat wondering what she had
better do; but, if she was quick to carry out a suggestion, she had no
head for the weaving of plots and plans. The pot of farthings
represented a few rupees, but not enough to purchase witnesses and
conduct a case in court. The Kâzi's son would at least not give
evidence against her, but even the break-down of this particular claim
would benefit her little. She must have something to live upon; and,
what is more, nothing but the hope of discovering treasure would keep
Shâhbâsh faithful to his salt, or induce the accountant to come to
terms.

Towards evening she strolled over to watch the dwarf, who had been
digging the grave deeper and deeper, longer and longer.

"Art going to bury a saint, O Shâhbâsh?" she asked, with a broad
smile.

From the trench behind the growing mountain of soil came grunts and
groans. Then a verse of the Koran, mingled with something suspiciously
like curses.

She sat down on the pile and looked over the level stretch dotted by
mud hillocks, with here and there a masonry tomb. On one of these a
squirrel sat perched, hard at work on a peach-stone which some
wayfarer on the adjoining path had flung aside.

Suttu's keen delight in open-air sights and sounds kept her watching
the dainty little creature as it shifted the prize this way and that
in its deft fingers so as to bring its teeth to bear on the hard
shell. It worked as hard as Shâhbâsh, she thought, with another of her
broad smiles, and deserved the sweet kernel. No, another squirrel had
caught wind of the affair and came pirating along with tail full set.
Lo, 'twas a play to watch! Up and down, round and round. The
peach-stone dropped here, snatched up there, now in this one's
possession, now in that, until finally the new-comer sat in the place
of the old, gnawing at the hard shell, and twisting it about with deft
fingers.

Suttu, with her chin on her hands, watched the second as she had the
first.

And, after all, there was no kernel in the peach-stone, nothing but a
shrivelled skin which had once----!

Suttu stood up, clapping her hands.

"_Shâhbâsh! Shâhbâsh!_" she cried.

The dwarf stuck his head out of the grave.

"Well, _mai_ Suttu, what is it now?"

She turned with a flaunt of her petticoat, a flinging out of her round
arms.

"'Twas the other 'Shâhbâsh' I meant, but 'tis all one. Leave digging,
and go and call Hussan, the father-in-law. I have made up my mind."


                          *   *   *   *   *


It was ten years after these events that the English boy, who had
stayed proceedings in the date-picking, returned to the district as
deputy commissioner. Gratitude, she averred, was her first reason for
appearing in my garden with a cunningly plaited basket of Deen Ali's
fruit. Afterwards a mutual fancy between her and my young barbarians
led to confidences when she came over with all sorts of odd toys made
out of palm-leaves and supplies of young squirrels for the children.
She was still undoubtedly handsome, and the indisputable possessor of
the tomb and the date-trees. The graveyard with its rights of alms and
treasure had passed into the hands of the village accountant, in
consideration of a monthly pension of ten rupees.

It was in answer to a query why she kept so many tame squirrels that
this tale was told.

"And you had no difficulty in persuading your father-in-law?"

"None, _Huzoor!_ God gave the bait, the fool swallowed it. The
farthing Shâhbâsh found bought him, greed and all. It was better than
fighting when the Kâzi would not swear to the marriage, and our names
were birth-names. He signed the stamp paper gladly; and the
perquisites have gone up again, so he hath lost nothing."

"Shâhbâsh?"

A big, broad smile came to her face.

"He digs, and his stomach is always full. What more can he want? The
squirrels are quite happy over the peach-stones while they are
gnawing. Shâhbâsh and the father-in-law think the kernel is inside,
that is all. I know it is not. So we are both content."

When I left the district on promotion, Suttu came out as I rode past
the blue-tiled tomb on my way to the river, with a great sheaf of
lotus-blossoms in her arms. A tame squirrel, reared from the perennial
nest in the thatch, peered from the folds in her veil, with furtive,
bright eyes. The parrots circled, screaming round the ripening dates,
and but a minute before my horse had shied from a _karait_, curving
back to the prickly covert. The well known setting seemed a part of
that familiar figure.

"May the Lord have the _Huzoor_ in his keeping ever!" she said,
decorously, as became a _fakeerni_. But her smile seemed to dim the
sunlight, as with a gesture full of grace she flung the lotus-blossoms
in my path.

That was my last sight of Suttu.



                         AT A GIRLS' SCHOOL.



                                  I.

It was a large, square block of a building, which had once been
somebody's palace. Not very old. That could be recognized by the odd,
reminiscent air of a Genoese palazzo which clung to it, proclaiming
the influence of some Italian adventurer in the Mogul times. In those
days, doubtless, its blank arcaded walls had risen from a terraced
orange-garden; but now the surrounding slums of a big, native city
ended abruptly, at varying distance, in an irregular brick-strewn
space, where buffaloes were tethered to eat street sweepings, and
their refuse in its turn was set out to dry in fuel cakes--that being
the last resort of matter in India, where poverty and greed fight for
the uttermost farthing of utility. Besides the buffaloes and the
refuse-heaps, the space in its longest angle showed the inevitable
weaver's warp twined in and out of tiger-grass stalks stuck slantwise
in the dust--inevitable, because it is never absent from an open
space in a native city. Sometimes solitary, like a huge worm impaled
and left to dry; more often tended by two chattering Fates, one on
each side, whose tongues gabble an accompaniment to the whirring
bobbins tied to long sticks which dance a ladies' chain through the
grass-stalks, as the bearers walk swiftly up and down the long length
of growing warp--up and down, with an outward swirl of a full
petticoat and a veil bulging backward, as the free brown arms twist
and twine. A common sight, a picturesque one withal, seeing that it
shows a good figure at its best. Sometimes beyond these two Fates you
may see Clotho spinning her lacquered wheel, but not often. As a rule
she hides in narrow alleys, where, set well over the central gutter on
a stool, she can discuss past, present, and future with half a dozen
neighbours at a time.

For the rest, the building was distinctly imposing. Like a palazzo, it
was tunnelled by one single high archway, leading into a central
court-yard, decorously circled by orange-trees in tubs. Above these,
again, was a further likeness in the three tiers of graceful arcades
surrounding a square of deep ultramarine sky. There, however, the
resemblance ended. A Genoese palace is sacred to silence and shadow;
this was set apart to sunshine and sound, excepting on a gala day,
when the philanthropic great ones came down to distribute prizes.
Then it burst forth into carpets, awnings, curtains, and even the
_Alif-Bey--wallahs_ (alphabet-class) in the first story bit their
tongues to keep them still. That was the noisiest story. All day long
the inmates chanted letters in high childish voices, while the
monitors stood over them like the parent bird, ready to drop a fresh
titbit of knowledge into the clamorous mouths.

Up-stairs, in the primary department, the babel had lost its first
barbarous simplicity; the makers of it did not always understand what
they themselves were saying, and the uncertainty of all things had
damped their infant light-heartedness. Higher again, in the third
story, quite an academic silence prevailed among the girls working
away at Euclid, algebra, and all the 'ologies, and they had learned an
automatic thrust forward of the arm towards the teacher worthy of a
British board school. This never failed to please exotic philanthropy.
The connection may not have been quite clear, but this particular
branch of knowledge was invariably looked upon as a sign that
education was really at last beginning to leaven the mass of
deplorable female ignorance in India.

Perhaps it was. Certainly this school, with its court-yard devoted to
the _dhoolies_ in which the pupils were carried to and from their
lessons, and its three stories of different standards, formed a
perfect ladder of learning; the lowermost rung being the listless,
lazy group of bearers lounging in the gateway with the female
chaperons until four o'clock chimed from a hundred gongs in the
city. Then they earned a monthly pay from the Government by
carrying the climbers of the ladder back to their homes in decent
seclusion--playing, as it were, the part of Prince Hassan's carpet in
transporting them into another hemisphere--nay, more, another world.
At any rate, from algebra and the exact sciences to a cell of four
walls, and, if Fate were kind, a few square yards of flat roof open to
the sky. Something of a mental somersault; therefore it was perhaps as
well in one point of view, if not in another, that many of the
claimants to genteel seclusion who were comfortably carried by a
paternal Government to their own doors, could, on arrival, set aside
the convenient pretence and go about to see their friends with the
more simple and less costly protection of a veil.

"_Ari_, sister!" said a young, dissipated-looking lounger in the gate;
"there is that baby awake again. Go, Chundoo, and call Fâtma."

The woman addressed--a big, brazen lump--went yawning and stretching
to stand on the bottom step of the arched stairway. Then she called
into the clamour above:

"Fâtma! Fâtma! The baby is awake."

Her hard tones echoed up the arcades, but the sing-song went on
without a break. After a while, however, a pattering step came down
the stairs, bringing into view a child of about ten, with a sharp, old
face. Her blue trousers were rent at the knees, her skinny hands
inconceivably smeared with ink--there was more ink than hand--and the
coarse cotton cloth she wore as a veil was frayed, worn, and dirty.
Beneath it, the odd little galloon of plaited hair on her forehead
showed sun-bleached and rumpled, despite its tightness. A competent
observer could have told at once that she belonged to the Cashmiri
quarter, and to either a poverty-stricken or a bereaved house. No
mother's fingers had been at that plaited hair for weeks.

"Where is Peru?" she began shrilly, still coming down the stairs.
"Gambling and dicing, or snoozing and sleeping. How am I to win
scholarships if my days are lost over a baby? _Ai_, sluggard! is that
you? Art not ashamed of thyself?"

So, passing through the knot of jeering men into a dark recess in the
entry, till her rating ceased over a year-old baby whimpering on the
floor on a ragged quilt. "Peace! peace, my son, it is I, Fâtma--yea,
it is Fâtma, thy father's sister."

The baby's fat, yellow legs--for it was one of those fair Cashmiri
children who look sickly among the brown ones--were astride her curved
hip, the whole balance of her thin bare body against its weight, as
she paused once more among the men to fling a parting gibe at the
sluggard.

"_Ai, teri nâni!_ 'Tis thy baby, I suppose--not mine."

A roar of laughter greeted the words, in which the girl joined, not
because she quite understood its cause, but because she was quick
enough to see that it was at Peru's expense, not hers. The veil which
Nature draws to protect childhood counts for little among the men and
women busy in drawing one to conceal their own unnatural vice, but
Fâtma's hoary knowledge of evil did not extend to a _double entendre_.
She repeated her sally in childish ineptitude, till Peru with a curse
bade her begone and take the boy to his mother.

"_Tobah!_ but she hath a tongue," murmured another lounger.

"_Pucki, burri pucki_" (ripe or ready--very ready), assented Chundoo,
shaking her head wisely. "'Tis time thou hadst a husband for her, O
Peru!"

"Not I. Who is to bake bread and take the child? 'Tis ten rupees a
month for the other, remember; and Fâtma--I swear it--is a good sort,
for all her tongue."

Meanwhile the object of their remarks had begun to climb the stairs
with her heavy burden. She had to sit down every now and again to
rest, for she was but a poor scrap of a thing, ill-fed from her birth.
She paused longer than usual at the turn of the stair whence you could
see both ways along the first-story corridors.


             "_One and one make two--oo--oo,
              One and one make two--oo--oo_,"


chanted the infant classes in full choir over their first table.

One and one certainly made two; and two were heavier to carry than
one. Fâtma clutched her burden tighter and toiled up the steps once
more, leaving the clamour behind her.

"_Ari!_ Is that babe hungry again?" queried a tall girl, flashing past
the next landing, plumaged like a parrot in red and green. "Babies
seem hungry things. I'm glad I haven't one as yet." She was a bride,
kept from her husband's house in order to enjoy a scholarship.

Fâtma, out of breath, said nothing, but leaned against a pillared
shaft. The baby, having seized on her inky thumb, was sucking at it
contentedly, for India ink is sweet and sticky.

"_Fifteenth page, second paragraph. Among the lower animals the
maternal instinct falls little short of that displayed by the human
race. Even in the family of Aves the female, during the period of
incubation_--"

Fâtma's foot was on the ladder again, for the babe, having sucked the
ink from her thumb, demanded something more satisfying.

Oh, how quiet it was up here in the long, matted corridor! One seemed
to have left the stress of life behind. Through the doorways leading
into darker rooms you could see groups of girls and women squatted on
the floor over their low desks. Here busy over pen and ink, here
murmuring from books. More circled round the terrestrial globe. An odd
company: some wrinkled and old, with shaven head and white shroud;
others dressed in the same fashion, but fair and fresh. Hindu widows
these, seeking solace for death in life endured or yet to come. A
young Sikh wife or two ablaze--ears, nose, and forehead--with jingling
gold set thick with jewels. And here, sharper than any, with finger
pointing to the pole, a small Bengali girl, who had been married these
seven years gone, and looked a perfect child.

All this interested Fâtma not at all. She had seen it too often. Her
goal lay in the end room among the second-year students, who sat on
benches.

"_Find the value of B in the following equation: A square plus X
squared equal AX plus B_," read out the teacher from her desk as Fâtma
entered. Whereat she promptly added in English, "Bother that baby!"

It must be remembered that the B, representing baby, does not enter
into equations at Girton or Somerville.

"I wonder you don't give it a bottle, Hoshiaribi?" continued the
teacher, sternly, as a delicate-looking young woman, rather
overdressed and overscented, took the child from Fâtma with a sigh,
and retired to a corner.

"Fâtma breaks them on purpose," replied the mother, sullenly; "she
says they disagree with him."

"Yea, 'tis true," assented Fâtma, gravely; "they give him a pain in
his inside; then he cries, and I have to sit up, since Hoshiaribi is
always tired, and Peru is too lazy."

Teacher looked at the little sharp face and was silent. That
household, consisting of disreputable, good-for-nothing Peru, who
gambled away the five rupees he gained by helping to carry his wife
and other students to and from the school; shiftless Hoshiarbi, who
spent half her scholarship of ten rupees on her clothes; and Fâtma,
whose eight annas, a week for cleaning the writing-boards seemed to
keep the whole going, was a perpetual puzzle to the English lady, even
without the child. And with it? She felt quite relieved when
Hoshiaribi came back to her equation minus the baby.

The afternoon sun was slanting in bars through the closed grass
chicks, making the floors ring-streaked. It was close on four o'clock;
the tide of learning slackened at full flood. Down-stairs among the
little ones, first to go, there would only be time to chant "_One and
one make two--oo--oo_" a few times more; so Fâtma sat down in the
sunny, sleepy corridor, with the baby in her limited lap; and as she
sat thinking, heaven knows of what, she jogged the base of its skull
backward and forward on the palm of her supporting hand in approved
native fashion. She did not know that it conduces to slight concussion
of the brain and consequent coma, convenient to the nurse; but she
knew mother always did it. This odd little woman of ten knew most of
the old-fashioned, old-established ways of the world she lived in;
and when the value of B had been discovered, she saw Hoshiaribi and
the baby into the folds of a white domino, and so, on their way
down-stairs to the husband, the curtained _dhoolie_, and the oblong
room up two flights of stairs in the Cashmiri quarter. Then she came
to linger sturdily yet unobtrusively in the corridor, till teacher,
coming out, busy over a mass of papers, nearly fell over her.

"Gracious me, child! what do you want? Why aren't you down-stairs?"

Perhaps Fâtma had been rehearsing her petition while she was nursing
the baby; anyhow, she had it clear and pat.

"_Huzoor_, I want promotion to the primary department. It is such a
long way to carry the baby to Hoshiaribi, and he sleeps not at all
among the infants. We make too much noise. And Peru goes away gambling
and forgets him, so I get no time for study. Thus, when Hoshiaribi's
scholarship ends next year we shall be destitute, since Peru's money
goes in quail-fighting, and we cannot fill our stomachs on eight
annas."

Incontrovertible facts, every one of them.

"Have you read your grammar through?"

Fâtma shook her head.

"Oh no, _Huzoor!_ But the baby could sleep in the upper primary, and
then, Miss Sahib, I could soon read it. Now I am always on the
stairs."

Another incontrovertible fact. Teacher had visions of the big,
yellow-legged baby going up and down the ladder of learning on Fâtma's
curved hip. That, however, could not possibly be held equivalent to a
pass from one department to another. Yet the child's face was deadly
earnest; a sudden sympathy and compassion brought a promise to
consider the matter.

"But there are already three babies in the primary!" shrilled the
Mohammedan head of that department, a portly lady with voluminous
skirts trailing behind her, and red betel-stained teeth. There was no
one in the school from the top story to the bottom who was the equal
in deportment of Mumtaza Mihr--un--nissa Begum, whose father had been
Munshi to some dead-and-gone Mogul. To begin with, she could silence
every one with Persian epithets, and the pebbles of her polished
speech hit hard. "These may Providence protect, but God hath sent this
proof of his bounty to a handmaiden who is 'second-year student.'
What! are we to reduce this gift of the Most High to a standard
beneath its birth? Let Hoshiaribi, out of her plenty, appoint a
wet-nurse, or let its amiable aunt supply it with 'Maw' at four annas.
To allow her a primary pass without due qualification, in my poor
thought, is non-regulation; and, in addition, a bad precedent."

Mumtaza mihr-un-nissa bowed her sleek, net-veiled head, and threw out
her podgy fat hands, as if deprecating her own opinions.

For all that, Fâtma stayed among the infants, and spent most of her
time on the wide stairs with the yellow-legged baby, while Peru joked
shamelessly with Chundoo on the sunshiny steps, and Hoshiaribi, in the
academic silence up-stairs, worked a crewel antimacassar between the
equations. It suited her indolent, comfort-loving nature. Ever since
she entered the school, nearly sixteen years ago, she had been in
receipt of a scholarship of sorts. At the beginning influence may have
had something to do with her good fortune, for her mother was only a
poor, good-looking Cashmiri, and her reputed father dead. But since
then she had justified her selection. If not clever, she was studious,
and quite understood that learning meant livelihood. In the good old
days when the one great object was to catch and keep a scholar, this
might have gone on indefinitely; but now, under new rules,
Hoshiaribi's scholarship would cease in a year, whether she passed or
did not pass. Then she must become a teacher, or starve on Peru's five
rupees.

The prospect was not pleasing. It would be a very different thing
having to worry over thirty unwilling pupils in a poky little room,
spending part of your own pay in bribes so as to get the grant for
attendance, and then never knowing from day to day if some neighbourly
spite would not result in empty mats on inspection-days.

"But if you pass," suggested a Hindu widow in her class, "you can go
on, as I am doing, into the medical school. That is two years' more
scholarship, and certain employment afterwards."

"'Tis all very well for you," muttered Hoshiaribi, sullenly. "You only
came in three years ago. I have been here all my life. I like it. I
don't want to go home and nurse the babies. I don't want to work. The
committee paid me to learn, and I have learned. I will learn anything
else they like. Why, then, should they take away my scholarship?"

"How foolish you are!" said the little Bengali; "you don't seem to
_understand_ what a _scholarship_ is."

"Perhaps I don't," retorted Hoshiaribi, flushing up. "My fathers were
not scriveners and quill-drivers since creation, like yours. My people
are poor. If I go home I must spin and grind corn. I will not. I tell
you _I will not!_ That is an end of it."

"Then you must teach."

"I don't want to teach. I want to stay here and learn."

"Be quiet, girls!" reproved the English teacher. "Do stick to your
lessons, and remember why you come here. Think, just think, of the
money that is being spent on your education!"

Hoshiaribi gave a triumphant glance at the Bengali girl. That was it.
They had paid her to learn, and she had learned. The rest was an
injustice.



                                 II.

A loud, resounding slap, another, and another! A torrent of irrelevant
abuse in a strange tongue. Then something which is the same all over
the world--a fit of hysterics.

Hoshiaribi, as she stormed and sobbed and laughed, might have been any
spoiled, overwrought young woman in any country.

That was an end of everything. After slaving for months, after doing
without a new bodice in order to pay the ungrateful imps, after
cozening and flattering their stupid, cow-like mothers, it had come to
this: that Sultani, on whose performances Hoshiari relied for a fair
inspection, had divided four thousand one hundred and seven by six
thousand three hundred and two. She had not only tried to divide
it--she had divided it--with a quotient of fifty-six, and a remainder
of five thousand and three. It was too much--too much in every way;
with Peru lounging all day at the Central flirting with Chundoo,
Fâtma thinking of nothing but the babies, the gold edge on the dress
she must wear at the wedding next week wanting renewal, and
inspection-day next month.

She propped herself up against the whitewashed wall at one end of the
room, Sultani, the injured prize pupil, at the other, and the two
sobbed vindictively across the intervening space, while a connecting
circle of alphabet-learners whimpered in sympathy with some one,
which, they scarcely knew, for they were mites of babies, not six
years old any of them.

The women up and down the central stair, which served also as a sort
of drain and dust-bin, came attracted by the hope of a scene, to
discuss the whole aspect of the affair without the least reserve. Peru
was a bad lot, and it was sheer tyranny of the _Sirkar_ to have
refused Hoshiar a scholarship after all these years. At the same time
she was a poor, flighty creature, and had no business to slap their
children; the latter train of thought becoming accentuated by the
arrival from a neighbouring tenement of Sultani's mother. Was it for
this her daughter had been bribed away shamelessly for a neighbouring
"missen," where, if they did read the Bible and try to pervert the
scholars, they made up for it in prizes? Was it for this that
base-born brat of a base-born mother had taken one rupee a month out
of Hoshiar's own pocket? These two questions were the theses of a
controversy, which spread like wild-fire till it embraced the personal
history of every one present, and the room was a seething mass of
excited women, bordered by a whimpering circle of small girls, until a
little figure came rushing up the stairs and forced itself into the
thickest of the clamour.

It was Fâtma returning from her daily marketing. Her already scrimped
veil was further abridged by all the corners being utilized as bags
for her various purchases; and as she flung out her skinny brown arms
in the small space still left between the combatants, and turned first
to one side and then to the other in vociferous reproach, her weighted
veil swung out, leaving her body quite bare. It was not much bigger;
certainly no fatter than it had been, eighteen months gone, when she
had struggled up the ladder of learning with the yellow-legged baby.

"_Ari_, mothers! _Ari_, sisters!" she scolded in her thin child's
voice. "This is unseemly! This is a deplorable word! Have you
forgotten this house is a school? You come here to learn, not to make
beast-like noises! What a bad example! Does not shame come to you?"

The fateful phrases, which had so often reduced the infant department
to tears, fell powerless, and Fâtma's own imperious temper asserted
itself. She turned like a whirlwind to the alphabet-learners; they
were her special charge, they at least should obey her.

"Come, my daughters," she cried, "let us leave this scene of infamy.
This is no place for us people. Come, let us go!"

The circle stood up instinctively. They adored Fâtma; besides, the
chance of escape was welcome. She thrust her new nephew, a babe of
three months, who had been squalling patiently in a corner, into the
biggest girl's arms, seized on the yellow-legged one herself, and so,
full of dignity, headed the little procession.

The women, touched by the passionate delight in children's ways which
is so marked among them, fell back with sudden laughter.

"_Ai! dil aziz! Wah_, the little marionettes. See how they go like old
women! Heart's-core! are we so wicked? Look at my Amma, Fuzli--not
four, I swear, and grave as a judge! _Tobah! tobah!_ Go not, little
lives. We are sorry. See, we bite our tongues, we hold our ears."

So, squatting down, standing aside, reaching over, the women,
chattering their amusement, let the babies pass. And, as for Fâtma,
she was "_pucki, burri pucki_." God knows why, but the bairns were set
to obey her. This one's Miriam, not four till _Baisakh_, leaped out of
bed at her first call, as she came her morning rounds for the pupils,
and that one's Janet had been known to refuse her breakfast if Fâtma
said it was late. Aye--_pucki, burri pucki_--for good, not evil, and
'twere well others were more like her. So, with side sniffs, they
pattered up and down the stairs to their several abodes, leaving
Hoshiaribi sulkily exhausted. Sultani and her mother, as they went
casting glances of final scorn at the odd little row of maidens ranged
along the gutter in the sunshine, piping away the incontrovertible
fact that "_one and one make two--oo--oo_" while Fâtma and her babies
sat opposite on a door-step and led the chorus.

So that was an end of the incident for one day. Unfortunately, it was
not the first of its kind, and Hoshiaribi had almost made up her mind
that it should be the last. She lay, feeling a perfect worm, as any
woman, East or West, might have done after the turmoil, kicking one
heel petulantly over the side of the string-bed on which she had flung
herself, and looked at the map of Asia and the map of Europe, which
hung on opposite walls, with equal abhorrence. She hated everything,
everybody. The last six months, since her failure to pass had sent her
as a favour to the lowest pay of a branch-school teacher, had been
sheer misery to her. For her husband's neglect she did not care, save
in so far as it gave her complaint a sound basis. She had been
betrothed to him, and so she had married him; but the six years since
she had lived with him as his wife had only taught her that she could
set her duty to him aside without reproach, for the sake of ten rupees
a month, and that he was quite content with this arrangement. She
looked once more round the long, narrow slip of a room with its mud
floor, its smoky rafters, its single-shuttered window two feet square,
giving on a close alley; then she thought of the cool, matted
corridors of the Genoese palazzo, the leisurely studies, the ease of
ten rupees compared with six, and rolled over, face down on the bed,
whimpering. She hated teaching, but it was that or starvation. At
least--unless--

Some one came jingling up the stairs, heralded by a strong smell of
musk. Hoshiaribi set up frowning; for all that, content to be
interrupted, since Meran bibi, reputation or no reputation, was at any
rate able to talk. At least she knew something of the world beyond
that swarming yet dead-alive Cashmiri quarter, for she had been
show-pupil for years at another branch school, knew the three first
readers by heart, and, after a somewhat tarnished girlhood, had
married a policeman; consequently, she was not a woman to be scorned
in the quarter, just because folks' tongues had cause to wag. She was
a buxom person, with oily hair, great bosses of silver tassels in her
ears, and a perfunctory veil of Manchester hitched on to the very back
of her head and drawn tight over her high bust. Finally, she had the
usual shrill voice in which she could always tell her gossip of the
latest "fassen" in the cutting of a bodice or the number of suits in a
bride's trousseau, for she came of a tailor family, and spent all her
days in gadding about, despite her pretence to the _purdah_; an
institution which is, as a rule, only inviolable when exotic
benevolence seeks to interfere with it.

She and Hoshiaribi fell on each other's necks in an elaborate stage
embrace, and then crouched up side by side upon the string-bed.

After a time, however, Hoshiaribi moved to put her head out of the
window and call to Fâtma below:

"Send those brats away--it must be close on four--and make some tea.
My head aches."

Surely, when the Creator made women with his right hand, his left must
have been busy over tea. These two groups had it sickly sweet,
cinnamon-flavoured, in little basins with an English flag, and "Union
is Strength" upon them in gay colours.

"Yea, 'tis true, Hoshiaribi. A star of emerald with a red centre,
three crinkles of gold lace, like a 'heart's comfort' in pattern on
the breast, and two rows of seed-pearls round the collar. Then the
bridal dress! To begin with, a full skirt--for, look you, the newest
'fassen' is six breadths, gored--"

So on, and so on, while the map of Europe winked at the map of Asia;
and Fâtma, after making the tea, was kneading as for dear life at the
dough of bare flour and water which, with the smear of some curd, was
to form the household dinner.

"Thou couldst see it easily," continued Meran, "and thou deservedst
something to cheer thee after those senseless fools. Come! I could
take thee by the Mori gate, a step from here; so into the gardens.
Lord! how they smell of orange blossoms--like any bride. Then we could
come home by the Badâmi bazar. To think thou hast never seen these
things, and thou so clever--one who has learned wisdom of the
_sahibs_! _Wah!_ it tickles me."

Meran's peal of laughter crackled like thorns, and Hoshiaribi flushed
up.

"I could have gone had I wished. Peru should not stop me. But I have
not chosen."

"Peru! Why, I tell thee, Hoshiaribi, he will marry the widow Chundoo.
Tchut! what matters it if thou art not a fool, slaving away to no
purpose? Look you, they wanted me to keep school. Not I! Come,
Hoshiaribi, 'twill do thy head good. I have to buy new tinsel for a
_kurta_, and the bazar is worth seeing. A fair for noise, with the
criers selling sugar-cane and fresh fritters. The shops full of
jewels, the people crowding, the soldiers marching up and down, the
_mem-sahibas_ in their carriages, and, above all, the wooden balconies
with the girls in white nodding and smiling; but the great ones like
Chandni, of Delhi, stand up and salaam as the big folk go by. Yet she
is naught to look at. Thou wouldst be twice her match for looks wert
thou not so pale."

Half an hour afterwards Fâtma was alone in the room. The babies were
asleep, so she had taken out a sort of lapstone, and was busy punching
gilt thread into stars through the front of a shoe upper. That, by
rights, was Peru's hereditary trade, which he had deserted in favour
of _dhooli_ bearing and a fixed salary of five rupees a month. It
came, therefore, more naturally than anything else to Fâtma, and so,
when the babies left leisure, she earned a pice or two by sweating for
an old woman and her crippled grandson who lived up the same stair and
were employed by a big shop. But for these odd earnings life could not
have gone on at all, what with Hoshiaribi's tea, and Peru's inroads
for dinner or supper when he was short himself.

There he was, even now, coming up the stair lazily. Fâtma had put away
her lapstone ere he arrived, and was ready to greet him with calm
contumely, even while she set two cakes a toasting in the embers, and
brought out the green leaf of curds. If the one was his right, as
master of the house, the other was hers as mistress; and she exercised
it fully, Hoshiaribi being away with Mai Rajjun, who had a new baby;
for Fâtma had no scruples about abstract truth when face to face with
the absence of a wife and the presence of an inquiring husband. With
that same unconscious knowledge that it was the right thing to do
which had made her jog the baby's cerebellum to keep it quiet, she
lied cheerfully to avoid possible disturbance. Peru accepted the
explanation with a like indifference to its truth. To begin with, that
same indifference to all save appearance is a common feature among
husbands; and then Peru would not have been exactly sorry to feel
cause of complaint. It would have balanced his own indiscretion.
Briefly, he had married Chundoo two days before, and had come to break
the fact to his first wife. There must be something painfully bald
about such a statement to European readers. When fully one half of
harrowing modern fiction is based upon the axiom that Thingumbob,
having married So-and-So, cannot possibly marry What's-his-name also,
it takes the starch out of a story when a hero can have as many wives
as he likes, and his religion counsels four.

The facts in this case were extremely bald. Chundoo, the chaperone, an
elderly widow, had taken a fancy to the handsome young scamp; and
having been appointed doorkeeper to a new female hospital, thought it
more respectable to have a man of her own. Then, _dhooli_-bearers got
six rupees at the hospital, instead of five at the school. That,
sordid as it may seem, was why Peru had news to tell. The reason for
his telling it was this: he knew perfectly well that Hoshiaribi would
never consent to live in the same house as Chundoo, and so his
responsibility for her maintenance would cease, as he could plead
poverty against any claim for separate alimony. As for her pay as a
teacher, that, if Central school gossip said true, would not be for
long; but Fâtma would look after the babies somehow. Such were his
thoughts as he sat watching the child's odd little figure busy over
the cakes, which he did not want, seeing that his new bride had given
him _kababs_ and _bakkharkana_ for breakfast. He had a sort of
affection for Fâtma, who was the only relation he had in that part of
the world. He did not mean her to starve, and, if she could not
manage, it would be easy to give a rupee or two on the sly. What he
_did_ want was to keep Chundoo in a good temper, by showing
conclusively that Hoshiaribi had no hold on his affections.

To be sure, he had shown this illegally for some months back, but now
law and order demanded something legitimate; so he would respectfully
command her to come and live with Chundoo, and, when she refused, be
quit of responsibility: for polygamy is made for the virtuous, not for
the vicious.

Suddenly Fâtma looked at him, sniffed, and looked at him again.

"Thou hast been to a wedding--whose?" she asked, suspiciously. In
truth, an odour of orange blossom and _attar_ began to be apparent in
the close room. Peru coughed, hesitated; it was a good beginning, and
might save him a scene with his wife; so he began.

"H'm!" commented Fâtma; "then that's an end of bread for your stomach.
God be praised!" That is how it struck her.

"Little imp of sin!" cried Peru, seizing her half roughly, half
jestingly, by the shoulder. "Keep a quieter tongue in thy head, or
I'll find a husband to gag thee."

She gave a shrill laugh of scorn, and twisted herself from his hold.

"A husband, indeed! Then Chundoo will take the babies? _Ai budzart!_
Think not I do not understand. Let be. They are my babies, not thine;
and, thank God, I go not to bed hungry this night."

She sat herself down on the floor as she spoke, and began calmly on
the cakes she had been toasting.

"Go, my brother--go back to thy Chundoo," she said, eying him
disdainfully--from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot,
dissolute idler was writ all over him--"Go! we have no need of thee."
Then her dignity gave way; she leaped to her feet, scattering the
broken cakes upon the floor, and the echoes of her plain speaking
followed him down-stairs and flooded up into the room where Lalu the
cripple sat, with a ray of sunlight glittering on the gold thread he
was laying on the leather.

"Heaven save her husband!" he muttered good-humoredly. Then he sighed.
Perhaps the thought that he would never have even a shrewish wife
oppressed him. When his grandmother died he would be quite alone in
the dark room, with the glittering thread which seemed to make the
darkness more dingy and dreary. He was a young man of five-and-twenty,
who might stand years of imprisonment in those four walls,
with--Heaven be praised!--a scrap of roof open to the sunlight beyond;
that is to say, if he could pay the rent. He looked down at his fine,
supple hands and smiled, knowing that so long as they were left there
was no fear. If only the rest of him had been to match, instead of
marred, twisted, helpless!

"'Tis God's will," he said half aloud, as fervently as any Christian;
for there are saints of all creeds, and this poor cripple, up three
flights of stairs in the Cashmiri quarter, was one of them. Then he
took to thinking tenderly of the odd little girl downstairs, whom his
grandmother did out of the uttermost farthing. Poor little soul! when
he was alone he would at least be able to give her what was due.

Meanwhile Fâtma, down-stairs, was nursing her childish yet all too
comprehending wrath against Peru for Hoshiaribi's return. Would she
not be angry? It would serve Peru right if she went off straight to
Chundoo's house and clawed her.

The room, with its one small window, darkened early. Fâtma put the
babies to sleep and went out into the alley to watch, eager to give
the first words of disaster. After a time she ventured round the
corner. No one. A little farther. No one. Down the next turn. No one
still. Perhaps she had chosen the other way. Back up the now pitchy
stairs to the dim room. No one there save the sleeping babies. Fâtma's
wrath--cooled, rose again against the loiterer, had time to cool again
into dismay. She knew well enough, young as she was, what Meran's
guidance might mean in the Badami bazar. For all that she waited
patiently, crouching on the stairs, peering down into the darkness,
watching, listening for the shuffling footstep of a veiled
woman--watching and waiting stolidly, without fear or blame.

Such things were, and neither Peru nor Hoshiaribi counted for much
with her save as extra appetites for dinner. When ten o'clock chimed
from the police station gong at the Mori gate, she went back to the
room and drew the bolt of the door. All was dark, save where a ray of
moonlight shone through a chink in the shutter. She stole over to
this, and, standing in the bar of light, undid a knot in the corner of
her veil. One, two, three annas, some pice, and a few cowries.

If the worst came to the worst, and Hoshiaribi did not come back, that
would buy a "Maw" at the gimcrack shop round the corner. So she
cuddled up on the bed beside the babies contentedly.



                                 III.

             "_One and one make two--oo--oo,
              Two and two make four--or--or_."

"That is enough, my daughters," said Fâtma, royally. "Miream and Anna
will play with Mohammed Ali; Janet and Kareem will take Ahmad Hassan
for a walk down the alley and back again. The rest of you will sit
still and think how good you are going to be to-morrow."

The little, large-eyed, gentle mites, ranged solemnly behind a row of
ink-pots, primers, and writing-boards, did as they were bid
decorously--for the organization of Mussamat Fâtma's school was
excellent, its discipline first class. The cleanliness, too, of its
primers, its pens, and its writing-boards was quite abnormal. Not
because of abnormal neatness, but because none of these things were
ever used. They were there because that was part of the game of
school, and Fâtma's school was emphatically a school with the learning
left out. To be sure, the pupils chanted their letters, and asserted
the gospel that one and one make two all the world over; but, after
that, education went down the by-path of learning how to sit still and
do as you were bid. Yet somehow the wee girlies liked it well, and
their busy mothers liked it better still. In that crowded quarter of
evil repute it was something to have a _crêche_, where for a few hours
the little ones with a tempting jewel or two were safe from the
avarice of any passer-by. And then Fâtma's pupils gave no trouble at
home. So the school throve, and though educationally, of course, it
was a miserable sham, it gave great satisfaction to all concerned;
Fâtma finding sufficient payment in the general good-will of her
neighbours, and the constant relays of nurse-maids she secured. She
had plenty of time now for the golden stars; and since Lâlu, the
cripple's grandmother, had died, Fâtma not only got full price for the
work she did for him, but earned something besides by cooking his
bread and doing his marketing when she did her own. An excellent plan,
said the neighbours, since Mussumat Fâtma, aged fourteen, was as
sedate as a great-grandmother, and poor Lâlu, for all his kind face
and clever hands, was not to be reckoned as a possible husband for any
one. The only thing over which the women shook their heads was this
lack of a husband for the girl, who, though she was a little crooked
perhaps, with hauling those big children up and down stairs, had not,
like Lâlu, lost her right to be married. What excuse could that rascal
Peru offer to his conscience for his neglect of the natural guardian's
first duty? He, and Chundoo, and Hoshiaribi flaunting away in the
Badâmi bazar, were no better than pigs of infidels. It would serve
them right if Fâtma were to appeal modestly to the elders, and let
herself go to a husband for the beggarly five _dumris_ the law
demands. Then Peru would have to support his boys, and would not even
get compensation in the price of the bride. But Fâtma herself scouted
the idea. She had seen enough of husbands, and would never marry. She
had her babies and her school; and then there was always Lâlu, who was
as wise as any saint, and as good as any father to the boys. She used
to leave them in his charge when she did her marketing; for this was
after hours, when her little school-maidens had gone home. And as for
Hassan Ahmad, the yellow-legged baby of two years past, if ever he
went a-missing, Fâtma knew she would find him cuddled up among Lâlu's
helpless legs, watching the gold thread loop itself into dainty
patterns very different from her coarse, crooked stars, and listening
contentedly to Lâlu's musical voice intoning some versicle of the
Koran. He knew as many as a Moulvi, she used to say proudly; for all
that she repulsed with scorn his suggestion that she should teach some
to her pupils.

"_Ai tobak, Mian_ Lâl Khan! Dost forget mine is 'primary girls'
school'? It is not a 'missen' or an 'indigenous school.' We do not
teach such things. Only letters and tables, and such like."

She did not care to confess that she herself knew none of the
versicles which even the poorest girl ought to know.

"Well, well, perhaps thou art right, Mussumat Fâtma," he replied. "All
learning is good." As he sat at his work he used often to pause and
listen with a smile to the chorus of children's voices, insisting on
the fact that one and one make two. After all, it did not differ much
from the creed he had somehow extracted from the sonorous Arabic
phrases which were so constantly on his lips. What was, was; what
would be, would be.

Meanwhile life was brighter for him because of Fâtma and the baby,
Hassan Ahmad cuddling close to him, and the children's chorus echoing
up the stairs. It was easier for Fâtma also. When she had closed the
door at ten o'clock one night, nearly two years ago, and counted out
the money in order to buy a "Maw," she had thought of nothing but the
immediate morrow. Now, when she barred it, she closed it deliberately
against all interference. Peru, at first, had come prowling round to
see how matters went, and Hoshiaribi had sent inquiries from the
Badami bazar. Fâtma had given both a cool reception. She was quite
happy, quite content. The babies did not belong to those _budzarts_;
they belonged to her. So, by degrees, they had left her to her own
devices, and for the last year she had seen or heard nothing of them.

It was a stifling afternoon in August. The dry heat which had baked
into the bricks with the June sun, had boiled out of them again with
the scanty rain of July into a sort of sodden vapour, like the hot
breath of some evil creature. The alley smelled horribly. Even the
inhabitants spat as they emerged from the dark drain of a tenement
stair, which all the sweeping in the world could not keep clean. The
very water spilled on it, as the woman carried the _chatties_ full to
their rooms, seemed to dissolve the dirt and give it greater freedom.
When those on the ground-floor sprinkled the entry for the sake of
coolness, the stench rose to the roof. And in and out the highways and
byways of the city cholera played pranks with the people--here to-day,
gone tomorrow; biding its time, till on some steamy, dull morning folk
would wake to find it in earnest.

"The sickness was at Haiyatun's yesterday," Râjjun would say to
Fâjjan; "it took the cousin who came from Umritsur. The police were
burning clothes and sulphur as I went by this morning. It is tyranny
when the Lord is over all."

"Yea, and they carried Mai Jeswant's man to the hospital, and the
doctors never left him, but he died all the same. Look you, 'tis God's
will."

And the two women grinding at the mill ground on. The one might be
taken and the other left before the day was out, but the meal was
wanted for the survivors' supper. People all over the world die
silently from pluck, or pride, or piety; but not all of them die as
these do, casting no shadow of blame either on the heaven above or on
the earth beneath. One has to go to civilized lands, and to a people
who profess a faith which proclaims its triumph over the grave, before
we find the fear of infection producing a selfish panic.

Fâtma, having attended the Central school during an epidemic, had
views on sanitary subjects and the procedure due to the dignity of a
primary school. She fumigated her maidens solemnly with sulphur, she
had covers to the water-pots, and confiscated melon-rinds with the
utmost rigour. This proved a vast amusement to the squatting circle.

"_Ari, Muallama!_" would come a little pipe. "Juntu hath a bit of
pumpkin in her veil; I saw it."

Then would ensue a sort of hunt the slipper, beset for each with
delicious tremors, lest, after all, the contraband morsel should be
found in your possession; until some one, seized by shyness or sudden
virtue, would give it up to be burned.

Fâtma, on a sultry August afternoon, had just been playing the part
of grand inquisitor over a gnawed fragment of cucumber, when a big
heavy-browed woman pushed her way unceremoniously into the room, and
sat down on the bed with an air of possession. It was Chundoo. Fâtma
had last seen her gossiping on the palazzo steps, and something told
the girl the visit boded no good. Her heart gave a throb, her usual
courage seemed to leave her.

"So this is thy school," began her sister-in-law. "Lord, what a farce!
But that is over. I have come for thee because thy wedding is settled
at last. The dates will be brought to-morrow, so thou hadst as well
return with me to-night. 'Twill save trouble."

The studiously careless tone of undoubted authority had its effect.
There was nothing incredible in it. Marriage in Fâtma's world meant
coercion. She had seen most of her contemporaries handed over to a
husband without even a pretence of consulting their wishes.

"I--I--want no husband," she faltered, utterly taken aback.

Chundoo laughed--a nasty laugh.

"_Wah illah!_ So girls say ever. 'Tis pretty behaviour, and thou hast
said it. The thing is settled."

"By Peru?" asked the girl, quickly.

"By Peru; who else? Look you, the scoundrel is in jail. Nay, why
shouldst start? It was his appointed end, and serve him right, wasting
my substance to a shadow. He robbed a peasant in the _serai_, treating
him with liquor, after '_Englis fassen_.' Well, he is there for two
years, and hath repented him of the evil and bethought him of his
duty. So I have found thee a husband--honourable, if somewhat old. But
thou, God knows, art a grandmother, so that matters not. And he can
afford to pay for a young wife, and keep her in plenty. So send these
brats away, and the woman I have downstairs will take them to
Hoshiaribi. Their father being in jail, they are her charge, not mine.
Come, chicken, there is no time to lose."

She laid her hand on the girl's arm as Fâtma stood stupidly staring at
her. The touch seemed to make her realize the situation, for she
darted with a cry to where her babies sat in the charge of the first
class.

Perhaps the little nurses, gazing with that stolid, wide-eyed dislike
at the strange woman who spoke so roughly to their teacher, thought
that the latter sought their protection. They gave it anyhow. In a
second, Chundoo was surrounded by a mob of twenty mites, full of
shrill cries and ineffectual beatings of tiny hands--ineffectual, till
the tiniest, giving way to the natural Eve, slipped down and
deliberately bit the enemy in the calf. Chundoo, yelling with pain,
slapped right and left. Fâtma, her fear gone before this attack on her
pupils, flew to the rescue. Such a scene had not been enacted within
those walls for two years. Before five minutes passed even the stairs
were blocked by infuriated mothers.

When Chundoo had been dragged off the Kôtwal, followed by half the
matrons in the alley, Fâtma sat down, dazed and dry-eyed, between her
two charges. That bite had saved her; she would not have to go that
evening, perhaps not even to-morrow. But afterwards? Girls had to be
married, and Peru could marry her to any one he chose. Even the
neighbours, when they heard about the husband, would side against her.
And it would be of no use to beg mercy of Peru in jail. That was the
very reason why they had thought of marrying her. The money would be
useful to keep Chundoo comfortable, and yet she would not be bothered
with the boys, as she would have been had Peru been free. Now
Hoshiaribi, their mother, must keep them, but Chundoo would get the
dowry. What did it matter who got it, if she must marry?--and if Peru
said she must, she must. There was no help; even the neighbours would
side against her.

A rapping on the floor above reminded her that she had forgotten
Lâlu's dinner. Poor Lâlu! Who would look after him when she was gone?
Drearily and still dry-eyed, she hitched the two-year-old on her hip,
and with a pile of dough-cakes and pease porridge in her hand toiled
up the stair behind Hassan Ahmad, who climbed the high brick steps on
all-fours, slowly, methodically.

It was almost dark in the room above, and Lâlu's voice came kindly
from a shadowy corner.

"Trouble no further, Mussumat Fâtma. I was loath to knock, yet knew
thou wouldst be vexed to forget. Set the food down--so. Sure thou hast
enough to-day without my service."

She gave way to tears then, and crouched down on the floor suddenly,
an image of forlorn, crushing grief.

"O Lâlu, Lâlu! Peru is going to marry me, and what will become of my
school? And what will become of my babies? And what will become of
you, O Lâlu?"

Hassan Ahmad had toddled over to the cripple's helpless knee, and
Mohammed Ali, half asleep, buried his head on the girl's thin breast.
There was no sound in the room save her sobbing, and a passing rustle
as if something in the shadows had tried to move and sank back to the
old position again. After a time the response came feebly:

"_Ai_, my sister, cry not. Marriage is good. It is the Lord's will,
and Peru hath the right."

Perhaps for the first time the cripple hesitated in his creed. To say
sooth, it seemed odd to put Peru on the Lord's side.

"Yes, he hath the right. Therefore I cry, Lâlu. Is there nothing to be
done, Lâlu? Canst thou not help at all?"

Lâlu, in the shadows, looked down at his dexterous hands, then covered
his face with them. They were good for nothing else. A girl must marry
where she was bidden, and even had the rest of him been as face and
hands, there would have been nothing to be done, nothing to be said.
What chance had a cripple, a girl, and two babies, against the will of
the Lord represented by law backed up by principalities and powers, by
custom and chief courts, by wisdom and civilization?

"Cry not, my sister, cry not. Marriage is honourable in all."

So by degrees Fâtma's sobs ceased before the inevitable.

"Come, Hassan Ahmad," she cried; "it grows late. 'Tis time for sleep."

"He sleeps already," replied the voice from the shadows; "'twere pity
to wake him, sister."

"I will carry Mohammed Ali first and then come back." Her old decision
and motherliness showed even through her utter dejection.

Lâlu gathered the boy closer and half mechanically hummed the chorus
he had so often heard Fâtma use as a lullaby. Yes, one and one made
two, and two and two made four. But only if God willed it so; not
otherwise.

"Stoop down, little mother, and I will lift the boy to thee," he said,
when Fâtma, feeling her way through the dark, paused as her fingers
touched Lâlu's knee. She felt his fine hands linger as he drew them
from the burden he laid in her arms--linger almost caressingly.

"One and one, and two and two, are what He chooses to make them.
Remember that, my sister."

"Not so, Lâlu. In school they are ever the same. The big teacher said
so. One and one is two all the world over."

He sighed, sitting crouched up in the dark; then he called after her,
"Peace go with thee, Mussumat Fâtma."

"And peace be thine, Lâlu," echoed back from the stairs.

The next morning the whole alley was being censed. A group of
policemen were standing round a bonfire of beds and clothes over which
the flames licked blue and clear as the brimstone was scattered on it.

Fâtma's room was empty, so was Lâlu's. So were several others in the
high pestilential tenements of the quarter. The cholera had grown
tired of playing at school. It had taken arithmetic and education and
creeds and customs all into its own hands and settled the problem its
own way. Two and two were not four, but none; and only Chundoo called
Heaven to witness that she had been defrauded of the remuneration
justly due to those who possess a marriageable female relation. The
rest of the neighbours said it was God's will.



                         IN A CITRON GARDEN.


This is a very idle tale--only the record of five minutes in a citron
garden. Not a terraced patch set like a puzzle with toy trees, such as
one sees on the Riviera, but a vast scented shade, unpruned by greed
of gain, where sweet limes, mandarins, shaddocks, and blood-oranges
blended flower and fruit and leaf into one all-sufficing shelter from
the sun. There are many such gardens in India, lingering round the
ruined palaces or tombs of bygone kings. This particular one hid in
its perfumed heart a white marble mausoleum, where the red and green
parrots inlaid themselves like mosaic among the tracery. For they
are decorative birds, and, being untrammelled by prejudice regarding
the position of their heads, lend themselves to many a graceful,
topsy-turvy pattern. Girding the garden was a wall twenty feet high,
bastioned like a fort, but, despite its thickness, crumbling here and
there from sheer old age; invisible, too, for all its height from
within, by reason of the tall thickets of wild lemon on its inner
edge. Four broad alleys, sentinelled by broken fountains, converged to
the mausoleum, high above a marble reservoir where the water still
lingered, hiding its stagnation beneath a carpet of lotus-leaves. From
these, again, narrower paths mapped the garden into squares, each
concealed by the dense foliage from the next. It was a maze of shadowy
ways edged by little runnels of water and bordered by roses and
jasmine, with here and there a huge white dræcena usurping the path.
Day and night the water ran clear and cool, to flood each square in
turn, till it showed a shining lake, wherein the roof of fruit and
blossom lay reflected as in a mirror.

A Garden of Eden; like it, tenanted by a woman and a snake; famous,
also, for its forbidden fruit.

Nowhere did shaddocks grow so regardless of possible danger to the
world. The green-gold globes weighed the branches to the ground; the
massive flowers burdened the air with perfume. For all their solid,
somewhat stolid look, they are fragile flowers. Gather a spray as
gently as you can, and only the buds remain; the perfect flower has
fallen. So, in a citron garden it is well to purge the soul from
"_karma_" or desire, in order to reach the "_nirvana_" of content in
which--so say the Buddhists--lies the full perfection of possession.

Naraini, the gardener's granddaughter, had different views. She stood,
at the beginning of the five minutes, beneath a citron-tree. One
dimpled brown hand held the branch above her, and, as she swayed her
body to and fro leisurely, the flowers dropped into her stretched
veil. She was not unlike a citron-blossom herself. Like them, arrayed
boldly in saffron and white; like them, looking the world in the face
with calm consciousness that she was worth a look in return. Finally,
her world was theirs--that is to say, these few acres of scented
shade. As yet Naraini knew no other, though the next day she was to
leave it and her childhood in order to follow the unknown bridegroom
to whom she had been married for twelve years.

The incessant throbbing of a tom-tom, the occasional blare of a
horrible horn in the ruined arcade which was all that remained of a
royal rest-house, proclaimed that the marriage festivities were even
now going on beyond the crumbling walls. From all this Naraini being
necessarily excluded, she had spent the morning in receiving the
female visitors with simulated tears, in order to impress them
with her admirable culture; thereinafter relapsing, with them, to
shrill-voiced feminine chatter until the heat of noon stilled even the
women's tongues. Then, driven by an odd unrest, she had slipped away
to the cool alleys she knew so well; even there busying herself with
preparations, since the flowers she gathered would be needed to strew
the bridal bed. It was no new task. Every year an old distiller came,
in blossom-time, to set up his still beside the well. Then, in the
dewy dawns, she and the old grandmother beat down the blossoms, and
when sunset brought respite from the heat Naraini used to watch while
the flowers were crushed into the pan, and luted down with clay as if
into a grave. And a grave it was to beauty. The first time she saw the
yellow mash which was left after the sweetness had trickled into the
odd assortment of bottles the old distiller brought with him, she had
cried bitterly. But a whole bottle of orange-flower water as her very
own had been consoling, and the fact that the label proclaimed her
treasure to be "_Genuine, Old, Unsweetened Gin_" did not disturb her
ignorance.

Every year afterwards the old man had given her another bottle, and as
she had always chosen a fresh label, she had quite an assortment of
them in the shed which served her as a play-room. And now, being
nearly sixteen, she was about to leave other things besides that row
of bottles labelled "_Encore_," "_Dry Monopole_," "_Heidsiecker_," and
"_Chloric Ether Bitters!_"

She was not alarmed. She had taken a peep at her future husband that
morning and satisfied herself that he had the requisite number of
eyes, legs, and arms. For the rest, men were kind to pretty girls, and
she knew herself to be a very pretty girl. It is hard to convey any
impression of the girl's state of mind to English ears, simply because
marriage had never been presented to her as an occasion for personal
choice. She had been happy hitherto; the possession of a husband ought
to increase that happiness, if Fate sent her a pleasant mother-in-law.
The man himself was a trifle, since men were always kind to pretty
girls. That, formulated so plainly as to rob it of all offence, was
Naraini's first and last argument for content.

As she stood swaying in the shadow, some one came down the alley. She
recognized him at once. It was the bridegroom; and the demon of
mischief, which enters into Eastern girlhood as causelessly as it does
into Western, suggested that she had him at an advantage. He had not
seen her since she was three years old--could not possibly recognize
her. Besides, what brought him there? An intolerable curiosity,
mingled with a pleasant conviction, made her stand her ground. Perhaps
she knew that the spot occupied by her was the only one visible from
the roof of the arcade, and drew her own conclusions. Perhaps she did
not. It was true nevertheless, and the bridegroom, having caught a
glimpse of something attractive, had taken advantage of the general
sleepiness to climb over the ruined wall for a closer view; for he was
of those who are very kind indeed to pretty faces. He, it must be
remembered, had caught no consolatory glimpse of his bride. People
told him she was beautiful, but that was always said: but here was
undoubted good looks; so, despite his wedding-day on the morrow, he
slipped into the citron garden intent on a lark. No more refined word
expresses his mood so clearly.

Naraini, however, neither shrieked nor giggled at the sight of a
stranger. She simply drew her veil closer, and went on gathering
citron-blossoms. He paused, uncertain of everything save her
entrancing grace. Was she only a servant, or did he run risks in
venturing closer? Naraini, meanwhile, behind her veil, gurgled with
soft laughter, pleased at being able to test the value of her beauty
on the man she meant to rule by it. So they stood--she in the shadow
at one end of the alley, he in the shadow at the other; between them
the scented path bordered by the runnels of water slipping by to bring
a deluge to some portion of that little world. Some might have called
it a pretty scene, instinct with the joy of youth; others might have
turned their heads away, praying to be delivered from the world, the
flesh, and the devil. Naraini thought of nothing save her own
laughter.

The garden seemed asleep save for those two, as, with the cruelty of a
chase waking in him, as in a cat stalking a mouse, the cruelty of
success waking in her as in a snake charming a bird, the distance
between them lessened.

Suddenly, with a burst of high, childish laughter, the veil full of
citron-blossoms was flung in his face, and Naraini was off down the
alleys, while he, with anger added to admiration, was after her.

The walls echoed to the soft thud of their flying feet--down one path,
up another, round by the tomb, scaring the parrots to a screaming
wheel. Confident in her superior knowledge, she paused on the topmost
step, ere scudding across the causeway, to fling back a handful of
flowers lingering in a fold. He set his teeth hard. If she tried short
cuts, so could he; and he was round the next square so fast, that she
gave a little shriek and dived into the thickest part of the garden,
whither the water was flowing, and where the beasts and birds and
creeping things innumerable found a cool, damp refuge. His blood was
up--the jade must be caught and kissed, if only in revenge! The
flutter of her saffron skirt at the opposite side of a square made him
try strategy. He crept into the thickest undergrowth and waited.

Something else waited, not a footfall off, but he did not see it. His
eyes were on that saffron flutter, pausing, advancing, retreating,
pausing again. Naraini had lost the bearings of her pursuer, and, like
a child playing "I spy," was on the alert for a surprise.

Suddenly came a cry as she caught sight of him, a shout as he bounded
out; both lost in a yell arresting her flight and his, as if it had
turned them to stone. He stood with the wide nostrils and fixed eyes
of ghastly fear, clinging for support to the branch above him, whence
the flowers fell pattering to the ground. On his ankle two spots of
blood, bright against the brown skin. Across the path a big, black
rope of a thing, curving swiftly to the roses beyond.

"Snake! snake!"

Her cry echoed his, as she ran back to him; but he struck at her with
clenched hand.

"Go, woman--she-devil! Thou hast killed me. Curse thee! oh, curse thee
for beguiling me! It has bitten me. Holy Gunga, I am dead! and I was
the bridegroom. 'Tis thy fault. I was the bridegroom." He had sunk to
the ground clasping his ankle, and rocked himself backward and
forward, moaning and shuddering in impotent fear. Naraini stood by
him. There was no hope: the big, black rope of a thing did its work
well; yet, even so, anger was her first thought.

"It was a lie! 'Tis not my fault! Why didst come? Why didst follow?
And if thou art the bridegroom, was not I the bride?" Then something
leaped to memory. She threw her hands above her head and beat them
wildly in passionate despair and horror.

"He is dead! he is dead! And I am the bride."

The words rang through the garden, and pierced even his grovelling
fear. As he turned to fly, he clutched at her skirts, and dragged
himself to her fiercely.

"The bride? Then the widow! my widow! Thou hast killed me, but thou
canst not escape me. A widow! a widow! a widow!"

His face was terrible in its fear, its regret, its revenge. She fought
against him desperately, but his hands held fast, shifting to her
waist, till he forced her down to the dust beside him, where she
crouched silent, like a young animal terrified into acquiescence.

"Thou shalt see me die--'tis thy fault--thou shalt see me die!" he
muttered again and again.

So they sat side by side in the grip of death, his head on her bosom,
his hands bruising her wrists, his eyes, full of despair and regret,
on her face.

The sun-flecks shifted over them, the citron-flowers fell upon them as
the afternoon breeze stirred the branches. And even when the swift
poison loosed his clasp, Naraini was still a prisoner to the dead
body, lying with its face of desire and disgust hidden in her lap.

She was a widow. The citron-blossom had fallen.

That night there was weeping and wailing instead of feasting in the
garden; and at dawn the women put bowls of sweetened milk into the
scented thickets to propitiate the holy snake, lest, having chosen one
victim, it might seek a pair. Perhaps, as far as happiness goes, it
might as well have claimed Naraini also.

After a time, to be sure, life went on as before. The old distiller
came, and Naraini shook the blossoms for him into her widow's shroud.
The sweetness of them was no less sweet as it trickled into the old
gin and champagne bottles, but Naraini got no share of it. What have
widows to do with the perfumes of life?

This is an idle tale of a five minutes' tragedy--perhaps none the
less of a tragedy because it is true.



                              NUR JEHAN.


   Long ago--so runs the story--in the days of King
      Akbar,
   'Mid the pearly--tinted splendours of the Paradise
      Bazar,[12]
   Young Jehangir, boyish--hearted, playing idly with
      his dove,
   Lost his fav'rite, lost his boyhood, lost his heart, and
      found his love.


---------------------

[Footnote 12: Hung and decorated in silver and white.]

---------------------


   By a fretted marble fountain, set in broidery of
      flowers,
   Sat a girl, half child, half maiden, dreaming o'er the
      future hours,
   Wond'ring simply, yet half guessing, what the harem
      women mean
   When they call her fair, and whisper, "You are born
      to be a queen."

   Curving her small palms like petals, for a store of
      glistening spray,
   Gazing in the sunny water, where her rippling
      shadow lay,
   Lips that ripen fast for kisses, slender form of
      budding grace,
   Hair that frames with ebon softness a clear, oval,
      ivory face.

   Arched and fringed with velvet blackness, from their
      shady depths her eyes
   Shine as summer lightning flashes in the dusky
      evening skies.
   Mihr un-nissa (queen of women), so they call the
      little maid
   Dreaming by the marble fountain where but yesterday
      she played.

   Heavy-sweet the creamy blossoms gem the burnished
      orange-groves;
   Through their bloom comes Prince Jehangir, on his
      wrist two fluttering doves.
   "Hold my birds, child!" cries the stripling, "I am
      tired of their play"--
   Thrusts them in her hand unwilling; careless saunters
      on his way.

   Culling posies as he wanders from the flowers sweet
      and rare,
   Heedless that the fairest blossom, 'mid the blaze of
      blossom there,
   Is the little dreaming maiden, by the fountain-side
      at rest,
   With the onyx-eyed, bright-plumaged birds of love
      upon her breast.

   Flowers fade, and perfume passes; nothing pleases
      long to-day;
   Back towards his feathered favourites soon the
      prince's footsteps stray.
   Dreaming still sits Mihr-un-nissa, but within her
      listless hold
   Only one fair struggling captive does the boy,
      surprised, behold.

   "Only one?" he queried sharply. "Sire," she
      falters, "one has flown."
   "Stupid! how?" The maiden flushes at the proud,
      imperious tone.
   "So, my lord!" she says, defiant, with a scornful
      smile, and straight
   From her unclasped hands the other, circling, flies
      to join his mate.

   Startled by her quick reprisal, wrath is lost in blank
      surprise;
   Silent stands the heir of Akbar, gazing with awakening
      eyes
   On the small, rebellious figure, with its slender arms
      outspread,
   Rising resolute before him 'gainst the sky of sunset
      red.

   Heavy-sweet the creamy blossom gems the gloomy
      orange-tree,
   Where the happy doves are cooing o'er their
      new-found liberty.
   Slowly dies the flush of anger, as the flush of evening
      dies;
   Slowly grow his eyes to brightness, as the stars in
      evening skies.

   "So, my lord!" So Love had flitted from the
      listless hold of Fate,
   And the heart of young Jehangir, like the dove, had
      found its mate.



                        SHURFU THE ZAILDAR[13]


---------------------

[Footnote 13: Head-man of a circle of villages.]

---------------------


   Then you'll give me a character, won't you? and
      say I'm a first-class _zaildâr_.
   Not a man of them's done half so much as old
      Shurfu to please the _Sirkâr_.
   Why, I've brought you full forty "suspected ones";
      that isn't bad as a haul.
   Look you! forty "suspected ones" _present_, and gone
      bail myself for them all.

   And a word, _sahib_--for your ear alone--if you'd like
      me to bring a few more,
   Just to make a round fifty on paper, and show that
      the work's to the fore--
   _Bismillah!_ they never shall say, while old Shurfu is
      one of the crew,
   That his district _sahib's_ schedules were shaky for
      want of a _budmâsh_[14] or two.


---------------------

[Footnote 14: Bad character.]

---------------------


   And what do I think of the system? Why, just what
      the Presence may choose;
   But a good cattle-thief nowadays must look after his
      p's and his q's.
   There are many more folk to be squared, and the
      hire of the bail to be paid;
   But it makes the lads three times as careful, and
      raises the style of a raid.

   Still the game, as a game, is no more; for your reign
      has been death to all sport.
   E'en a cattle-thief thinks like a banker, and scarcely
      gives honour a thought.
   'Tis mere money grub--pennies and farthings. What
      _I_ in my youth you have heard
   Was a noted--O fie on the Presence! It shouldn't
      believe such a word.

   There are twenty-three schools in my circle; I pay
      all the Government fees!
   I've made a canal and a garden! I've planted some
      thousands of trees!
   I've headed the lists and subscriptions! I've tried
      queer new crops on my land!
   Not a village of mine owns a dung-heap! My mares
      are all Government brand!

   Not a hobby his district _sahib's_ ridden, but Shurfu
      has ridden it too;
   Though the number of _sahibs_ has been awful, and
      every one's hobby was new.
   Well, I don't mind a glass, since there's nobody nigh;
      you won't tell, I'll engage.
   True! the Prophet forbids; but he didn't know
      brandy, and wasn't my age.

   When a man turns of eighty, there ain't many sins
      he has strength to commit,
   So his day-book can stand a few trifles. Aye, wine
      wakes the mem'ry a bit.
   As for Fuzla, we've all heard of Fuzla--the _best_
      cattle-thief in Punjâb--
   Pooh! you don't mean to say he ne'er met with a
      match on this side of Chenâb?

   I could tell you a story--well, half a glass
      more--but I'd best hold my tongue.
   So Mian Fuzla had never his match! come, that's
      good! Why, when we were both young--
   What the deuce am I saying? _Jehannam_ be mine,
      but I cannot keep still!
   I'll tell how I swam the Chenâb in full flood! Yes,
      by Allah! I will.

   Mian Fuzla had squared th' police on his side of the
      stream, as one can
   With good luck; but my cowards were cautious, and
      hadn't the pluck of a man;
   So Mian Fuzla got up in the bottle and sent me a
      message to say
   He had fifty-three head of my cattle, and when would
      I take them away?

   Now the waters were out, so the boast was scarce
      fair; but I took up the glove,
   And with Môkhun and Dittu to help, that same night
      crossed the river above
   While they thought all secure; but it wasn't! So
      dawn found us stealing along
   With a herd of a hundred she buffaloes, all of them
      lusty and strong.

   Well, we made for the river, through tamarisk jungle
      and tussocks of grass,
   And narrow-pathed tangle of _jhau_ that would scarce
      let a buffalo pass,
   With our thoughts on the footsteps behind, till the
      first level streak of the light
   Brought us down to the stream; and, by God! it
      had risen ten feet in the night!

   'Twas a broad, yellow plain, shining far in the rays
      of the sun as it rose,
   And a cold wind swept over the flood that came
      hurrying down from the snows
   With a swift, silent current in eddying swirls--not a
      sound, not a dash
   Save a sudden, dull thud, as the bank, undermined,
      tumbled in with a splash.

   Then we looked at each other in silence; the looks
      of the others said "No."
   But I thought of that challenge of Fuzla's, and
      made up my mind I would go,
   Though I knew that the odds were against me; so,
      bidding the cowards turn back,
   With a few of the beasts on their traces and try hard
      to deaden the track--

   For 'twas time, it was time that I wanted--I drove
      the rest down to the brink,
   But the brutes wouldn't take to the water; they
      loved life too well not to shrink.
   So I took a young calf from its mother--'twas cruel,
      but what did I reck?
   And butchered the brute with my hanger, and
      fastened my _pug_ round its neck,

   Then I dragged it right into the water, and buoyed
      it up well round the throat
   With a bundle of grasses and reeds that would keep
      the dead body afloat.
   I thought of that challenge of Fuzla's; then turned
      and struck out like a man,
   While the mother leaped after her young one, and
      all the rest followed the van.

   The flood swept me down like a leaf, and the calf
      swept me farther down still,
   But I knew 'twas a life or death struggle, and
      breasted the stream with a will;
   While the hope I could lead the beasts on, till 'twas
      safer before than behind,
   And the fear lest Mian Fuzla should win, were the
      only two thoughts in my mind.

   It was half a yard forward to half a mile
      downward, yet still I made way,
   While behind, in a long single file, the black heads of
      the buffaloes lay,
   Till I knew we had reached the big stream, and that
      now there was no going back;
   Then I gave one faint shout, and I cast off the dead
      calf, and let myself slack.

   So we drifted, and drifted, and drifted. I strove to
      recover my breath,
   But a numbness came over my heart, and I knew I
      was drifting to death,
   As the big, heavy beasts were swept past by the
      terrible force of the stream,
   And the whole world seemed slipping away, as I
      swam on alone in a dream.

   Then I wondered how Fuzla would take it, and how
      many miles I had come;
   Or guessed what the people would say when days
      passed and I never came home--
   Till it came to me, as in a dream, that the current
      was setting in shore;
   And after that, _sahib_, it is strange I could never
      recall any more.

   Only this I can tell you: we measured it after, from
      starting to end,
   And the distance was over ten miles by the straight,
      without counting the bend.
   So Mian Fuzla was beat; and sent me a _pugri_ with
      knots which his women had tied,
   And the song of the "Crossing of Shurfu" is known
      through the whole countryside.

   _Wâh! illâh!_ How my tongue has been wagging, and
      I the _zaildâr!_ But in sooth
   'Tis dull work for old Shurfu compared to the
      merry, mad days of his youth.
   _Ji salaam!_ And whatever you want, send for Shurfu
      the _zaildâr_; and, _sahib_,
   You'll remember that Fuzla once met with his match
      on this side of Chenâb!



                         SONGS OF THE PEOPLE.


                                  I.

                             PLOUGH SONG.

   Bitter blue sky with no fleck of cloud!
     _Ho! brother ox, make the plough speed_;
   For the dear hearth-mother with care is bowed
   As the hungry little ones round her crowd.
   'Tis the _buniya's_ belly grows fat and proud
     When poor folk are in need.

   Sky, dappled grey like a partridge's breast--
     _Ho! brother ox, drive the plough deep_;
   For the wind may blow from the north or west,
   And the hungry fledglings fall from the nest,
   Or the dear hearth-mother fold hands in rest,
     Ere harvest's ripe to reap.

   Clouds, driving up in the teeth of the wind--
     _Ho! brother ox, guide the plough straight_;
   For the dear hearth-mother feeds halt and blind,
   While the hungry little ones garlands bind
   Round the tree where the Dread One sits enshrined,
     On whom we poor folk wait.

   Merry drops slanting from south and east--
     _Ho! brother ox, drive home the wain_;
   For the dear hearth-mother will spread a feast.
   There's none shall be hungry--nor bairn nor beast;
   'Tis the _buniya's_ belly that gets the least
     When Ram sends poor folk rain.



                                 II.

                             SOWING SONG

   Sun-flash on the grain
     As it leaps from the sower's hand,
   Quick with desire to gain
     New life from the land.

   Seams, furrows, and scars
     On the face of our Mother Earth,
   For the gods set sorrow and tears
     At the gates of birth.

   Swift flight of the seed,
     Like a bird through the sun-bright air,
   To rot in the ground, or breed
     In the Dread One's care.

   Broken heart of soil,
     Taking all to its patient breast,
   With never a cease from toil
     Or a dream of rest.

   Wheat-grains grow to wheat,
     And the seed of a tare to tare.
   Who knows if Man's soul will meet
     Man's body to wear?

   Great Ram! grant me life
     From the grain of a golden deed;
   Sink not my soul in the strife
     To wake as a weed.

   Seek thy grave, O grain!
     Some day I will seek mine too,
   To rise from the level plain,
   The old in the new.



                                 III.

                            HARVEST SONG.

   Scorching sun that shrivels and sears,
   Withering wind in the rustling ears,
   Rattle of death as the dry stalks fall,
   Promise of life in the seed for all.
   Flash of the sickles, sweat of the brows,
   Rest in the noon, beneath sheltering boughs.
               _Gather and reap,
               Death is but sleep_.
   Golden grain ripens though lovers are dead;
   Lips long for kisses, but mouths must have bread.

   Blazing brass of the sky at noon,
   Broad, bright face of the harvest moon;
   Slow stars wheeling to meet the morn,
   Toilers asleep on the sheaves of corn;
   Stealthy snake with the lifted crest,
   Poisoned prick in a tired breast.
               _Gather and bind,
               Fate is but blind_.
   Golden grain ripens though dear ones may weep;
   Love longs for gladness, but toil must have sleep.

   Kine knee-deep in the glistening straw;
   Flocks of birds round the threshing-floor;
   Clouds of chaff from the winnowing-tray,
   Gleaming gold as they drift away;
   Wreath of smoke from the funeral pyre,
   End of love and its vain desire!
               _Gather and sheave,
               Why should we grieve?_
   Death finds new life in the Great Mother's breast,
   Rest turns to labour, and labour to rest.



                                 IV.

COTTON-PICKING SONG[15]


---------------------

[Footnote 15: This is often an occasion for mutual chaff between the
bands of boys and girls, which, as a rule, takes a riddling form.
Blossom and fruit grow side by side.]

---------------------


   In the field how many blossoms showing,
     In the field how many maidens rare?
   Golden, set with red, the blossoms glowing;
     Red veils sewn with gold the maidens wear.
        Oh, the merry hours
        Midst the maids and flowers!
     Tell us, which of these twain is most fair?

                    CHORUS OF BOYS.

            O golden bud!
              Spotless without thou art,
            Sin--stained within, like blood--
              So woman's heart.

                    CHORUS OF GIRLS.

               Not so! No, no!
               We will not have it so!
            O pale, pure bloom,
              Cold to the world thou art;
            Yet warm love finds a room
              In woman's heart.
   In the field the merry leaves are dancing;
     In the field small hands which never rest;
   Leaves with five points crimson-tinged and glancing,
     Fingers henna-tipped and daintiest.
         Fate a bright spell weaves
         With the hands and leaves.
     Tell us, which of these twain is the best?

                           CHORUS OF BOYS.

               Wind-driven leaves,
                 Busy at its command,
               Idle when none perceives--
                 So woman's hand.

                    CHORUS OF GIRLS.

                  Not so! No, no!
                  We will not have it so!
               Pitiful leaves,
                 Doing, by kindness planned,
               Work that no man perceives--
                 So woman's hand.

   In the field, down on the breeze is blowing;
     In the fields, the maidens' thoughts rise light;
   Down to bear the seed for wider sowing,
     Thoughts which fly to dear ones out of sight;
         Merrily they've flown,
         Thoughts and cotton down.
   Tell us, which of these twain does the right?

                           CHORUS OF BOYS.

               Unstable down,
                 By every idle wind
               Hither and thither blown--
                 So woman's mind.

                           CHORUS OF GIRLS.

                  Not so! No, no!
                  We will not have it so!
            Soft, white--winged down,
              Eager new work to find,
            Hoarding naught for its own--
               So woman's mind.

   In the field the husk-shells swing and rustle;
     In the field the merry tongues wag fast;
   Clatter! chatter! Oh, the laughing bustle!
     Smiles and jests at all as they come past.
         Yonder's a man--
         Answer if he can.
     "Blows and kisses, tears and smiling;
      Women's faith and man's beguiling;
      Money spending, money piling:
      Tell us, what in life will longest last?"

                           VOICE OF A MAN.

            Ram, give me strength,
              Else it will be unsung,
            For none can tell the length
              Of woman's tongue.

                           CHORUS OF GIRLS.

                  Fie, fie! Not so!
                  We will not have it so!

                          CHORUS OF MATRONS.

   Have patience, lassies--wait a little space;
     The bridal lamps will flame, the songs be sung;
   Then you can laugh, and teach your own good man
     To know the length of his good woman's tongue!



                               THE END.



                          *   *   *   *   *

                    _Printed from American Plates_

        Edinburgh: T. & A. Constable, Printers to Her Majesty.





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