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Title: In the Permanent Way
Author: Steel, Flora Annie Webster, 1847-1929
Language: English
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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.

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                         IN THE PERMANENT WAY

                                In the

                            Permanent Way


                          FLORA ANNIE STEEL


                               New York
                        THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
                    LONDON: MACMILLAN & CO., Ltd.

                        _All rights reserved_

                           Copyright, 1897,

                      By THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.

                              *   *   *

               Set up and electrotyped, October, 1897.
                      Reprinted November, 1897.

                            Norwood Press
                 J. S. Cushing & Co.--Berwick & Smith
                         Norwood Mass. U.S.A.



       In the Permanent Way.

       On the Second Story.


       At the Great Durbar.

       The Blue-throated God.

       A Tourist Ticket.

       The King's Well.

       Uma Himavutee.

       Young Lochinvar.

       A Bit of Land.

       The Sorrowful Hour.

       A Danger Signal.

       Amor Vincit Omnia.

       The Wings of a Dove.

       The Swimmers.

       The Fakeer's Drum.

       At Her Beck and Call.

       Music Hath Charms.



The church-gong hung from the level branch of a spreading _sirus_
tree, whence the slight breeze of dawn, rustling the dry pods of a
past summer and stirring the large soft puff-blossoms of the present,
seemed to gather up a faint whisper and a fainter perfume to be
upborne into space--further and further and further--by the swelling
sound-waves of the gong as it vibrated to old Deen Mahomed's skilful

More like a funeral knell, this, calling the dead to forgetfulness,
than a cheerful summons of the living to give thanks for life, for
creation and preservation. You could hear each mellow note quiver into
silence, before--loud and full with a sort of hollow boom--the great
disc of bronze shook once more to its own resounding noise; seeming in
its agitation to feel the strangeness of the task more than the
striker; though, to say sooth, few things in earth or heaven were more
incongruous than this church chime and the man who rang it. For
Deen Mahomed, as his name implies, was of the faith of Islâm;
fierce-featured, hawk-eyed, with the nameless look of his race; a look
suiting the curved sword he wore, in virtue of his office as watchman,
better than the brass badge slung over his shoulder proclaiming him to
be a member of the Indian Church Establishment--that alien Church in
an alien land.

And yet the old man's figure fitted close with the building he
guarded; for despite the new title of St. John's-in-the-Wilderness,
the church remained outwardly what it had been built to be--a
Mahomedan tomb. Its white dome and corner cupolas rose familiarly into
the blue sky beyond the _sirus_ trees, where, even at this early hour,
a hint of coming heat was to be seen in a certain pallidness and
hardness. Within, beneath that central dome, encircled now by pious
Christian texts, lay buried a champion of another God, whose name,
interlaced into a thousand delicate traceries, still formed the
decoration of each architrave, each screen; lay buried, let us hope,
beyond sight or sound of what went on above his helplessness.

How this change had come about is of no moment to the story. Such
things have been, nay, are, in India, seeming in truth more fantastic
when set down in pen and ink than they do when seen in the warm clasp
of that Indian sunlight which shines down indifferently on so many a
strange anomaly of caste, and creed, and custom. Most likely when the
wave of evangelical fervour reached the East to prepare the way for
the Great Sacrifice of purification by blood and fire which came to
native and alien alike in the horrors and wonders of "Fifty-seven,"
some pious bureaucrat had felt a certain militant satisfaction in
handing over a heathen edifice to Christian uses. Such things
have their sentimental side; and this tomb had been--like many
another--Crown property, and so had become ours by right of
conquest. No one else, at any rate, had laid claim to it, except, in
some vague, mysterious way, old Deen Mahomed, and he only to its
guardianship as being "the dust of the feet of the descendants of
_Huzrut-Ameerulla-moomeereen-ulli-Moortáza_, the Holy." In other
words, an inheritor of the saints in light.

Now this sort of title is one not likely to find favour in alien eyes.
Despite this, Deen Mahomed remained guardian of the Church of St.
John's-in-the-Wilderness, thanks to that ineradicable sense--one may
almost say common sense--of justice which dies hard in the Englishman
of all creeds. The only difference to the old man--at least so the
authorities assumed--being that he wore a sword, a badge, chimed the
church-gong, and received the munificent sum of five rupees a month
for performing these trivial duties; which latter fact naturally put
the very idea of discontent beyond the pale of practical politics.
Apparently Deen Mahomed was of this opinion also; at least he never
hinted at objection.

Even now, as he stood unmovable save for one slowly swinging arm,
there was neither dislike nor approval on the fierce, yet indifferent
face looking out at the white glare of the tomb beyond the _sirus_
shade, at the worshippers--laden with Bibles and Prayer-books--passing
up the steps, crossing the plinth and so disappearing within, and at
the long line of vehicles--from the Commissioner's barouche to the
clerk's _palki_--seeking the shade to await their owners' return when
the service should be over. Not so wearisome a task as might be
imagined, since the big bazaar was near for refreshment or recreation;
so near, in fact, that any solemn pause was apt to give prominence to
the twanging of unmentionable _sutaras_ or bursts of unmistakable
laughter. For, as ill-luck would have it, not only the bazaar, but the
very worst quarter of it, lay just behind the fringe of date palms
which gave such local colour to the sketches of the church which the
Chaplain's wife drew for their friends at home. And yet, in a way,
this close propinquity to the atrocious evils of heathendom had its
charm for the little colony of the elect who lived beside the
Chaplain. In the still evenings, when the scent of the oranges which
were blossoming madly in the watered gardens round the houses filled
the air, the inhabitants would sit out among the fast-fading English
flowers, and shake their heads in sorrowful yet satisfied sympathy
with their own position as exiles in that invisible Sodom and
Gomorrah. Invisible, because St. John's-in-the-Wilderness rose between
them and it, shutting out everything save the impartial sky, whence
the sunshine poured down alike on Christian and heathen, just and
unjust. Thus the visible church was to them as the invisible one; a
veil between them and the people.

It was a square building recessed and buttressed to a hexagon. The
Chaplain, however, preferred to call it a St. Andrew's cross, and
perhaps he was right. Perhaps again Deen Mahomed and his cult had
really had as little to say to its form as the Chaplain; such
responsibility being reserved to the primeval _sraddha_, or
four-pointed death-offering. Be that as it may, there was a coolness
between the new parson and his watchman, owing to the former declaring
it to be a scandal that the latter should hold such office in a
Christian place of worship, when he was not even an inquirer!
Certainly he was not. He neither inquired of others nor tolerated
inquiry from them. He slept on the plinth of nights, chimed the gong
by day, and kept the rest of his life to himself. That was all.

Not one of the congregation filing into the church that morning knew
more of him than this. So he stood indifferently waiting for the first
note of the harmonium to tell him his task was over; listening for it
to pulsate out into the sunshine, and, blending with the last note of
the gong, go forth upon the endless waves of ether. Go forth
hand-in-hand, plaintiff and defendant; a quaint couple seeking
extinction, or perhaps the Great White Throne against which the ripple
of life beats in vain.

The note came this morning as on other mornings, and Deen Mahomed
turned, indifferent as ever, to his house. It was a mud and thatch
hovel clinging to one side of a miniature tomb, half in ruins, which
some follower of the saint had built within the shadow of his master's
grave. It stood just opposite the flight of steps up which a late
worshipper or two was hurrying, glad, even at that early hour, to
escape from the glare of sunlight. Yet on the warm dust before the
hovel a child of four or five sat contentedly making a garden, while
the coachman of a smart barouche and pair drawn up close by looked
down with interest on the process. 'Twas God Almighty, says Bacon, who
first planted a garden; but ever since the task has had a strange
charm for man, and even Deen Mahomed paused with a smile for the
little watered plots and pretended paths.

"Thou hast encroached on thy neighbour's land to-day, Rahmut," he
said, "and gone into the roadway. Lo! the _Sirkar_ will make thee pay
revenue, little robber."

"Trust them for that," put in the coachman quickly; then he chuckled.
"But the boy grows; yea! he grows to take _his father's place_."

The old man frowned, yet laid his hand gently on the child's head, as
he said evasively: "Have a care, Rahmut, whilst I am gone, and water
thy rose, or 'twill die in this heat."

He pointed to a drooping white rosebud which the little boy had stuck
in his centre bed.

"Ay," replied the coachman, "'tis hot indeed for the time of year."

"As hot a _Shub'rât_ as I remember. God send the night be cool and
bring peace."

"God send it may," echoed the coachman piously, his evil-looking face
showing the worse for his unction. "God send all get their deserts on
this the great Night of Record."

He made the remark without a quiver, oblivious, apparently, of a long
series of petty thefts against his master's grain, and many another
peccadillo of the past year. But then, though every faithful Mahomedan
believes that on _Shub'rât_ God comes to earth with all the saints in
glory, there, in the presence of the Dead, to write his Record for the
coming year upon the foreheads of the Living, things had a knack of
going on after this judgment much as they did before; especially in
regard to such trivial offences as the theft of grain from a horse.

"God send they may," re-echoed the old man, suddenly, fiercely. The
words seemed to cut like a knife; yet once more he laid his hand upon
the child's head almost in caress.

"Have a care, child, for thy self and thy rose. Thou didst not pick
it, sure, from the _sahib's_ garden?" he added hastily.

Rahmut threw up a handful of dry dust and spread his little skinny
arms in gay denial.

"Lo! _nâna!_ what a thought! I begged it of the _padre's baba_. He
comes ever to the assemblage with flowers, and the white _mem_, his
mother, bade him give it to me and that too--she brought it in her bag
of books."

He pointed with pride to some strips of torn white paper stuck in the
sand as walls to the garden. Then his tone changed to tears. "Oh,
_nâna! nâna!_ thou hast spoilt it!--thou hast spoilt it!" For the old
man in sudden fury had swept the remains of the offending tract from
their foundations, crushed them to a ball, and flung it across the
sunshiny roadway to the plinth, where it skimmed along the smooth
surface to roll finally to the very door of the church.

"No tears, child--no tears, I say," came in a fierce order. "If thou
wouldst not have me beat thee, no tears. Thou shalt not even play with
such things, thou shalt not touch them. I, the dust from the feet of
the saints, say it."

So, leaving the child whimpering, he turned to the hovel, muttering to
himself. Rujjub, the coachman, nodded to the next on the rank.

"The elephant escaped through the door and his tail stuck in the
keyhole," he said, with a sneer. "_Meean fakeer-ji_ will not have his
grandson touch the _Ungeel_ (Evangel), and chimes the church-gong
himself. But, in truth, he loves the old tomb--God smite those who
defile it--as he loves the boy. God smite those who sent the boy's
father over the Black Water to fight the infidel in China. Lo! even
_Jehad_ (holy war) is accursed with such leaders."

"Bah! Rujjub," retorted his fellow cheerfully. "'Tis so sometimes
without fault. 'He climbed the camel to get out of the way, and still
the dog bit him,' say the wise. The _Meean_ is half-crazed, all know
that. And as for thee! Did thy master pay as fair as mine we should
have less zeal from some folk, should we not, brothers? A fist full of
rupees brings peace, since there is no clapping with one palm!"

A chuckle ran round the squatting grooms at this home-thrust at Rujjub
the grumbler--Rujjub the agitator. The sweet high voices of English
women singing a missionary hymn came floating out through the open
doors. A hovering kite, far in the blue, swooped suddenly, startling
the green and gold parrots--inlaid like a mosaic pattern on the white
dome--to screaming flight for shelter towards the _sirus_ trees.
Little Rahmut, forgetting his tears, built fresh walls of sand to his
garden and watered the fading rosebud anew.

Then a sort of murmurous silence, born of the measured cadence of one
voice from within and the lazy, listless gossiping without, settled
down over the glare and the shade. Only from the hut came no sound at
all. No sound even from the little tomb where the old watchman knelt,
his hands on his knees in the attitude of prayer, his keen eyes
staring straight into the soft darkness--for the only entrance was so
small that the crouching figure blocked out the day. But darkness or
light were alike to Deen Mahomed, lost as he was to the present in a
dull memory and hope. Perhaps, when, years before, he had first begun
to hold his service in defiance of that other worship, he may have put
up some definite petition. Now there was none. Only the cry so seldom
heard by human ears, yet whose echoes so often resound like thunder
through the world--

                     How long, O lord! how long?

So he knelt, paralysed by the very perplexity of his own prayer, until
a louder burst from the harmonium and a sudden hubbub among the
carriages warned him that the service was over. He rose indifferently,
and came out into the sunlight. It lay now like a yellow glaze over
the white stucco of St. John's-in-the-Wilderness, over the gaily
dressed congregation hurrying to escape from it in their cool homes,
over Rujjub whipping his horses viciously, obedient to a sharp order
from the Englishman who had just handed a delicate woman into the
carriage, over Rahmut's garden with its white rosebud. And then----!

The whole thing was past in a moment. A plunge--a swerve! a little
naked imp making a dive before those prancing feet with an eager,
childish cry; then a shriek from the pale-faced lady standing up in
the barouche, a small figure, crushed and bleeding, in an old man's
arms, and a shout seeming to fill the air.

"Rahmut! Ah, mercy of the Most High! Justice! Justice!"

"Don't look, my dear," said an English voice; "please remember that
you--you had better drive home. It was the child's own fault. Doctor,
hadn't we better drive home?"

"Yes, yes. Drive home, dear lady!" said another English voice in
hurried approach to the scene. "You are not fit. Now then, good
people, stand back, please. Carmichael, make those niggers stand back.
I must see the boy."

It was easy enough to ensure compliance so far as the pale faces, made
paler by shocked sympathy, went; easier still to enforce it from the
darker ones accustomed to obey orders given in that foreign accent.
But how about the old man standing like a stag at bay, clutching the
child to his breast, and backing towards his hut with a loud, fierce

"Touch him not! Touch him not! Touch him not!"

"We are only driving him crazy," said the Doctor aside, "and I doubt
if it is much good. I saw the wheel pass right over the chest. Let him

"But it seems so cruel, so unchristian," protested the Parson.

The Doctor smiled oddly.

"That doesn't alter the fact. You're no good here; no more am I. Here,
you _chuprassie!_ Run like the devil to the dispensary, and tell Faiz
Khân he's wanted. If he is out, one of the Mahomedan dressers--a
Mahomedan, mind you--and he is to report to me. Come along, Parson.
The kindest thing we can do is to go away. It's humiliating, but

Apparently it was so, for a sort of passive resignation came to the
straining arms as the dark faces crowded round once more with plain,
unhesitating, unvarnished comments.

"Lo! he is dead for sure. Well, it is the Lord's will, and he hath
found freedom. See you, he wanted his flower, the foolish one."

"'Twas the horses did it," said another. "They are evil-begotten
beasts. Rujjub hath said so often."

"Ai! _burri'bât!_ All things are ill-begotten to one ill-begot, and
Rujjub's beasts know he stints their stomachs-full," put in a third.
"When I drove them in Tytler _sahib's_ stable they were true born
(_i.e_. gentle) as the _sahib_ was himself. Then he took pension and
went home to _Wilâyet_, and I have a new master who only keeps a
_phitton_ (phaeton). It is undignified; but, there, 'tis fate, nought

But Deen Mahomed, sitting with the dead child in his arms, was not
thinking of Rujjub or his horses, of _phittons_ or barouches, not even
of chariots of fire--in a way not even of Rahmut himself--but simply
of a tract and a child's tears--those last tears which were to be a
last memory for ever and ever. Yet even this thought brought no
definite emotion, only a dull wonder why such things should be. A
wonder so vague, so dull that when Faiz Deen arrived to give the
verdict of death, the old man, yielding readily to the inevitable,
echoed the truism that it was God's will.

What else, indeed, could it be to the fierce old fanatic with his
creed of _kismet?_

That same evening he lingered awhile in the big bazaar on his way
homewards from the sandy stretch of desert land beyond the city walls,
where he had left a new anthill of a grave among the cluster belonging
to his people; lingered not for pleasure but for business, since the
events of the day had made it necessary that he should spend yet a few
more annas from the five rupees he gained by wearing a sword, a badge,
and chiming the church-gong. For it was _Shub'rât_; the night--the one
night of all the long year--when the souls of the dead are permitted
to visit the ancestral home. Therefore little Rahmut, so lately
numbered amongst the cloud of witnesses, must not be neglected; he
must find his portion like the others--a Benjamin's portion of good
things such as children love.

It was already dark, but even there in the bazaar the little lamps of
the dead shone from many a house, giving an unwonted radiance to the
big brass platters of the sweetstuff shop where the old man paused to
haggle over full weight and measure; since even in feasting the dead,
the living must look after themselves. A strange sight this. The noisy
bazaar, more full of stir than usual, since many a thrifty soul had
put off marketing till the last. Overhead, the myriad-hued stars
which, in these foggy climes, come back to memory as an integral part
of the Indian night, and, beneath them, the little twinkling lamps set
out in rows. Thousands of them--so much was certain from the pale
suffused light showing like a dim aurora above the piled shadow of the
city. On every side the same soft radiance, save towards St.
John's-in-the-Wilderness rising dark beyond the fringe of palm trees.
This Feast of All Souls was not for it, and to the crass ignorance of
those who lived in the garden-circled houses behind it the twinkling
lights set for the dead were but a sign of some new wickedness in
Sodom and Gomorrah, or, at best, of some heathen rite over which to
shake the head regretfully.

So in front of the cavernous shop, visible by the glow, the old
watchman fumbled beneath his badge with reluctant hand, for a few
pence, listening the while to Rujjub's account of the morning's
tragedy given in the balcony above where the latter was lounging away
his leisure among heavy perfumes and tinkling jewels. One of the
hearers looked down over the wooden railing, and nodded cheerfully at
the chief mourner.

"It is God's will, father; no one was to blame."

"To blame," echoed Rujjub, with a thick laugh, for he was in the first
loquacity of semi-intoxication and still full of resentment. "The
_sahibs_ say I was to blame. It is their way. But they will learn
better. It is our blame if we do this and that. My brother's blame
that he would not fight over the seas and get killed like Rahmut's
father. 'Tis our blame for everything except for our rupees and our
women--the _sahibs_ can stomach them."

Some one laughed, a gay laugh chiming to the tinkle of jewels.

"_Wâh!_ thou mayst laugh now, Nargeeza!" continued the man's voice
savagely; "thou knowest not what virtue means----"

"'AH, brother, thou hast a hole in thy tail, said the sieve to the
needle,'" quoted the other voice amid a louder titter and tinkle.
Rujjub swore under his breath.

"So be it, sister! but a day of reckoning will come, and thou be
damned for thy dalliance with the infidel. Yea, it will come; it will
surely come."

The words echoed through Deen Mahomed's heart and brain as, leaving
the shrill squabble with its running accompaniment of titters and
tinkles and broad masculine guffaws behind him, he made his way back
to his empty hovel.

"Yea, it will come; it will surely come!" What else was possible when
God, a justly offended God, was above all? We in the West have not a
monopoly in the Tower of Siloam; that belongs to every religion, to
none more rightfully than to the Faith of Islâm, which leaves all
things in the hand of Providence.

The belief brought a certain fierce patience to the old man as he
finished his preparations for the ghostly guests who, on that night
alone, could partake of the hospitality of the living. The lamps, mere
wicks and oil in little shells of baked clay, were ready luted to
their places by mud, outlining the interior of the tomb where Deen
Mahomed performed all the rites of his religion; outlining it so
strangely, that when they were lit, the old man, kneeling before the
white cloth spread upon the floor, looked as if prisoned in a cage of
light. There was no darkness then, only that soft radiance reflected
from the newly whitewashed walls upon that fair white sheet on which,
with calm ceremony, he laid the little earthen platters of food one by
one, designating their owners by name.

"This to my grandson, Rahmut, who has found freedom."

That was the last dedication, and the old voice trembled a little,
ever so little, as it went on into the formula of faith in one God,
speaking through the mouths of his Prophets. Not one prophet tonight
but many, for were they not all on earth--Moses and Elias, Jesus and
Mahomed--taking part in the Great Assize where those dead ancestors
would plead for the living who had inherited their sins, their

Before such a tribunal as that there must be justice--justice for all
things just and unjust.

So, half-kneeling, half-sitting, the old Mahomedan waited for the
finger of God to write his fate for the coming year upon his
forehead--waited, resting against the wall, for the spirits of the
dead to come silently, invisibly, to the feast prepared for them. And
Rahmut had a Benjamin's portion to console him for those tears--those
last tears!


The church-gong was chiming again, and again it was _Shub'rât_. Not
for the first time since Deen Mahomed had put little Rahmut's platter
of sweets among the Feast of the Dead, for the years had passed since
the child had sat in the sunlight planting gardens. How many the old
man did not consider; in point of fact it did not matter to his
patience. In the end God's club must fall on the unjust; so much was
sure to the eye of faith. Something more also, if the signs of the
times spoke true. When the bolt fell it would not be from the blue;
the mutterings of the storm were loud enough, surely, to be heard even
by those alien ears. And yet Deen Mahomed, fanatic and church-chimer,
standing on that hot summer evening beneath the _sirus_ blossoms
smiting the voice from the quavering disc of metal, knew no more than
this--that the time was at hand. Whether it was always so, or whether
the great Revolt was always pre-arranged, can scarcely at this
distance of time be determined. Certain it is that many, like old Deen
Mahomed, were simply waiting; waiting for the sign of God to slay and
spare not.


The mellow note went out into the darkening heat; for the sun was
almost at its setting. St. John's-in-the-Wilderness showed all the
whiter against the deepening shadows of the sky.


Out into the stillness, the silence, as it had gone all these
restless, waiting years.


Yet again! How long, O Lord, how long?

                          *   *   *   *   *

God and his Prophet! what was that?

A clamour, and above it--familiar beyond mistake--one word, "_Deen!
Deen!_" ("The Faith! The Faith!")

Deen? Yes, Deen Mahomed!--A hot breath of wind from the east rustled
the dry pods and stirred the perfumed puff-blossoms--a scorching wind
from the east whirled the clamour and the cry into the old man's
ears--through his brain--through his heart.

"_Deen! Deen! Deen!_"

The disc of metal, unstruck, hung quivering; slower and slower,
fainter and fainter, till, like the breath of one who dies in his
sleep, the vibration ceased. But the note went alone into eternity,
seeking judgment; for the harmonium was mute.

"_Deen! Deen! Deen!_"

The cruellest cry that men have made for themselves!

                          *   *   *   *   *

It had been long dark ere the old man returned; to what he scarcely
knew. As he stumbled from sheer fatigue on the steps, and sat down to
rest a space, he remembered nothing save that the call had come and
that he had obeyed it. He had smitten more than metal, and had smitten
remorselessly. A terrible figure this; his old hands trembling with
their work; his fierce old eyes ablaze; his garments stained and
bloody. Beyond the white pile of the tomb the red flare of burning
roof trees told their tale, and every now and again an uproarious
outburst of horrid menace, and still more horrid laughter, came to
hint that the work was not all complete. Yet overhead the stars shone
peacefully as ever; and, above the city, the pale radiance of the
death-feasts showed serene.

The remembrance of the Festival and its duties came to the old man's
mind in a great pulse of satisfied revenge. The tomb was his again;
nay, not his, but the saints, of whose feet he was the dust; those
saints who would visit the world that night.

He sat for an instant staring over the way towards his own hovel, then
rose slowly, showing in every movement the fatigue of unusual
exertion. Well, he had done his part; he had slain, and spared not at
all. The others might linger for the sake of greed; as for him, his
work was done.

With a fierce sigh of relief he turned and limped towards the church.
It was darkness itself within the deep doorway; but the lamps were
there, and he had flint and steel. So one by one the lights shone out,
revealing the sacrilegious accessories of that past worship. And yet
it was not light enough for _Shub'rât_, not even when he had lit the
candles on the altar. Still, that was soon remedied. A journey or two
backwards and forwards to his own hovel, and a ring of flickering oil
cressets encircled the table where it was his turn, at last, to spread
the feast of the dead. So large a feast that there was not room enough
for all, and he had to set a square of lights round a white cloth laid
upon the floor.

"This to my grandson, Rahmut, on whom be peace for ever and ever."

That, once more, was the last offering; and as the old man's voice
merged into the sonorous Arabic formula of faith it trembled not at
all, but echoed up into the dome in savage, almost insane triumph and

This was _Shub'rât_ indeed--a Night of Record. And there was room and
to spare beneath those architraves, which displayed the Great Name
again and again in every scrap of tracery, for all the saints in
heaven to stand and judge between him and his forefathers for the sin
that had been done, the blood that had been spilt--those forefathers
who had ridden through the land with that cry of "_Deen! Deen!_" on
their lips, and had conquered. As they, the descendants, would conquer
now! Yea! let them judge; even Huzrut Isa[1] himself and the blessed
Miriam his mother; for there were times when even motherhood must be
forgotten. His trembling old hands, strained under the task which will
not bear description, rested now on his bent knees; his head was
thrown backward against the lectern on which the Bible lay open at the
lesson for the day; his face, stern even in its satisfaction, gazed at
the twinkling death-lights, among which little Rahmut's platter of
sweets showed conspicuous. Yea! let them come and judge; let them
write his fate upon his forehead.


[Footnote 1: Jesus.]


Fatigue, content, the very religious exaltation raising him above the
actual reality of what was, and had been, all conspired to bring about
a sort of trance, a paralysis, not of action deferred, as in the past,
but of deeds accomplished. And so, after a time, with his head still
against the lectern, he slept the sleep of exhaustion. Yet, even in
his dreams the old familiar war cry fell more than once, like a sigh,
from his lips,

                           "_Deen! Deen!_"

A horrible scene, look at it how you will; but, even in its horror,
not altogether base.

From without came a faint recollection of the blood-red glare of fire
in the sky, a faint echo of the drunken shouts and beast-like cries of
those who had taken advantage of the times to return to their old evil
doings. Within, there was nothing save the pale radiance of the
twinkling lamps set round the Death-Feast, the old man asleep against
the lectern, and silence.

Until, with a whispering, kissing sound, a child's bare feet fell upon
the bare stones--a tiny child, still doubtful of its balance, with
golden hair shining in the light. A scarlet flush of sleep showed on
its cheeks, a stain of deeper scarlet showed on the little white
night-gown it wore. Perhaps it had slept through the horrors of the
night, perhaps slept on, even when snatched up by mother or nurse in
the last wild flight for safety towards a sanctuary. Who knows? Who
will ever know half the story of the great Mutiny? But there it was,
sleep still lingering in the wide blue eyes attracted by the
flickering lights. On and on, unsteadily, it came, past the old man
dreaming of _Jehâd_, past the lights themselves--happily unhurt--to
stretch greedy little hands on Rahmut's sweeties. So, with a crow of
delight, playing, sucking, playing, in high havoc upon the fair white

                          *   *   *   *   *

Was it the passing of the spirits coming to judgment which set the
candle flames on the altar a-swaying towards the cressets below them,
or was it only the rising breeze of midnight? Was it the Finger of
Fate, or only the fluttering marker hanging from the Bible above which
touched the old man's forehead?

Who knows? Who dares to hazard "Yea" or "Nay" before such a scene as
this? Surely, with that blood-red flare in the sky, those blood-red
stains on earth, the passion and the pity, the strain and stress of it
all need a more impartial judgment than the living can give. So let
the child and the old man remain among the lights flickering and
flaring before the unseen wind heralding a new day, or the unseen
Wisdom beginning a new Future.

                          *   *   *   *   *

Deen Mahomed woke suddenly, the beads of perspiration on his brow, and
looked round him fearfully as men do when roused, by God knows what,
from a strange dream. Then, to his bewilderment, came a child's laugh.

Saints in heaven and earth! Was that Rahmut? Had he come back for his
own in that guise? Did the _padre-sahibs_ speak true when they said
the angels had golden hair and pale faces? He crouched forward on his
hands like a wild beast about to spring, his eyes fixed in a stupid
stare. There, within the ring of holy lights, on the fair white cloth,
was a child with outstretched hands full of Rahmut's sweets and a
little gurgle of delight in the cry which echoed up into the dome.

"Nanna, _dekho!_ (see)--_dekho_, nanna."

It was calling to its nurse, not to the old man; yet, though he had
begun to grasp the truth, his heart thrilled strangely to the once
familiar sound.

_Nâna!_[2] And it had chosen Rahmut's portion, had claimed the child's
place--the child's own place!


[Footnote 2: Grandfather.]


What was that? A step behind him--a half-drunken laugh--a dull red
flash of a sabre which had already done its work--Rujjub, with a
savage yell of satisfaction, steering straight as his legs would carry
him to a new victim. But he had reckoned without that unseen figure
crouching in the shadow by the lectern; reckoned without the confused
clashing and clamour of emotion vibrating in the old man's bosom
beneath the stroke of a strange chance; reckoned, it may be, without
the Fate written upon the high narrow forehead which held its beliefs
fast prisoners.

There was no time for aught save impulse. The devilish face, full of
the lust of blood, had passed already. Then came a cry, echoing up
into the dome:

"_Deen! Deen! Allah-i-hukk!_"

The old watchman stood, still with that stupid stare, gazing down at
the huddled figure on its face which lay before him, so close that the
warm blood gurgling from it horridly already touched his bare feet.

What had he done? Why had he done it? To save the child who had
claimed the child's place?--To be true?--Well, it was done! and those
were voices outside--men coming to pillage the church, no doubt--there
was silver in the chest, he knew--that, of course, had been Rujjub's
errand, and his comrades would not be far behind--they would find the
dying man, and then?--Yea! the die was cast, and, after all, it had
been Rahmut's platter! With these thoughts clashing and echoing
through heart and soul Deen Mahomed sprang forward, seized the child,
stifling its cries with his hand, and disappeared into the darkness.
None too soon, for the yell of rage greeting the discovery of the
murdered comrade reached him ere he had gained the shelter of the
trees. Whither now? Not to his house, for they would search there;
search everywhere for those survivors whose work remained as witness
to the existence of some foe. Alone he could have faced the pillagers,
secure in his past; but with the child--the child struggling so madly?
And the last time he had held one in his arms it had lain so still.
Oh, Rahmut! Rahmut! mercy of the Most High! Rahmut! Rahmut!

The words fell from his lips in a hoarse whisper as he ran, clinging
to the darkest places, conscious of nothing save the one fierce desire
to get away to some spot where the child's cries would not be
heard--where he would have time to think--some spot where the work had
been done already--where nothing remained for lustful hands!

The thought made him double back into the cool watered gardens about
the little group of houses beyond the church. The flames were almost
out now, and in one roof, only a few sparks lingered on the remaining
rafters. Here would be peace; besides, even if the cries were heard,
they might be set down to some wounded thing dreeing its deadly debt
of suffering. A minute afterwards he stood in a room, unroofed and
reeking yet with the smell of fire, but scarcely disturbed otherwise
in its peaceful, orderly arrangements--a room with pictures pasted to
the walls and faintly visible by the glare, with toys upon the floor,
and a swinging cot whence a child had been snatched. This child,
perhaps--who knows? Anyhow it cuddled down from Deen Mahomed's arms
into the pillows as if they were familiar.

"Nanna! Nanna!" it sobbed pitifully, "_Hil'ao, hil'ao, neendhi argia_"
(swing, swing, sleep has come).

"_So ja'o mera butchcha_" (sleep my child), replied the old man
quietly, as his blood-stained hand began its task. The wonder of such
task had passed utterly, and had any come to interrupt it he would
have given his life calmly for its fulfilment. Why, he did not know.
It was Fate. So the old voice, gasping still for breath, settled into
a time-honoured lullaby, which has soothed the cradle of most bairns
in India, no matter of what race or colour.

             "Oh! crow! Go crow!
                Ripe plums are so many.
              Baby wants to sleep, you know.
                They're two pounds for a penny."

So over and over in a low croon, mechanically he chanted, till the
child, losing its fear in the familiar darkness, fell asleep. And
then? In a sort of dull way the question had been in Deen Mahomed's
mind from the beginning without an answer, for he had gone so far
along the road, simply by following close on the Finger of Fate; and
now there was no possibility of turning back. For woe or weal he had
taken the child's part, he had accepted the responsibility for its
life, even to the length of death in others. Not that he cared much
for the consequences of the swinging blow he had dealt to Rujjub--he
was no true man.

What then? There was no chance of concealing the child. It slept now,
but ere long it would waken again, and cry for "Nanna, Nanna." That
must be prevented for a time at any rate. The chubby hands still
clasped one of Rahmut's sweeties, and the old man stooped to break off
a corner, crumble it up with something he took from an inner pocket,
and then place it gently within the child's moist, parted lips, which
closed upon it instinctively. He gave a sigh of relief. That was
better; that would settle the cries for some hours, and before then he
must have made over the child to other hands. Yes, that was it. He
must somehow run the gauntlet of his comrades, and reach the
entrenched position which the infidels--curse them!--had defended
against odds such as no man had dreamed of before. It was seven miles
to the north, that cantonment which would have been destroyed but for
those renegades from the Faith who had stood by their masters, and
that handful of British troops which had refused to accept defeat.
Seven miles of jungle and open country alive with armed and reckless
sepoys and sowars, to whom a man in mufti was fair game, no matter
what the colour of his race, lay between him and that goal, and Deen
Mahomed's grim face grew grimmer as he raised the sleeping child,
pillows and all, wrapped them in a quilt, and slung the bundle on his
back--slung it carefully so as to give air to the child and freedom to
his arms. He might need it if they tried to stop him. He gave a
questioning glance at the sky as he came out into the garden where the
scent of the orange-blossoms drifted with the lingering spirals of
smoke. Not more than an hour or two remained before the dawn would be
upon them. He must risk detection, then, by the short cut through the
bazaar; better that than the certainty of discovery later on in the
daylight by those ready for renewed assault upon the entrenchment.

"_Whok'umdar_," challenged the sentry ceremoniously set, as in
peaceful times, at the city gate.

"_Allah akbar wa Mahomed rusool_," replied the old man, without a
quiver. That was true; he was for God and his Prophet when all was
said and done. But this was little Rahmut's guest--_this_. He passed
his hand over his forehead in a dazed sort of way.

"_Ari_, look at his _loot_," hiccoughed one of a group in the street;
"before God he hath more than his share in the bundle. Stop, friend,
and pay toll."

"What my sword hath won my sword keeps," retorted Deen Mahomed
fiercely. "Better for thee in Paradise, Allah Buksh, if thou hadst
smitten more and drunk less."

"Let be; let be!" interrupted another. "'Tis Deen Mahomed, the crazy
watchman. I'll go bail, he hath no more than he deserves for this
day's work. And he is a devil with that sword of his when he is angry.
Lo! I saw him at the corner, mind you, where the _sahibs_----"

But Deen Mahomed had passed from earshot. Passed on and on, through
dark streets and light ones, challenged jestingly, or in earnest; and
through it all a growing doggedness, a growing determination came to
him to do this thing, yet still remain, as ever, a guardian of the
Faith. This for Rahmut's sake, the other for the sake of the Tomb,
because he was the dust of the footsteps of the saints in light.

Out in the open now, with the paling light of dawn behind him and a
drunken Hindu trooper riding at him with a cry of "_Râm! Râm!_" So
they dared to give an idolatrous cry, those Hindu dogs whose aid had
been sought to throw off the yoke--who would soon find it on their own
shoulders. A step back, a mighty slash as the horse sped by, maddened
by bit and spur, a stumble, a crash, and an old man, with a strange
bundle at his back, was hacking insanely at his prostrate foe. No
more, "_Râm, Râm_," for him; that last cry had served as the
death-farewell of his race and creed.

On again, with a fiercer fire in the eyes, through the great tufts of
tiger-grass isolating each poor square of God's earth from the next,
and making it impossible to see one's way. On and on swiftly, forcing
a path through the swaying stems, whose silvery tasselled spikes above
began to glitter in the level beams of the rising sun.

Then suddenly, without a word of warning, came an open sandy space, a
brief command.


So soon! It was nearer by a mile than he had expected, and there was
no chance of flight; not unless you made that burden on your back a
target for pursuing bullets. A fair mark, in truth, for the half dozen
or more of rifles ready in the hands of the cursed infidels.

"Who goes there?" came the challenge in the cursed foreign tongue. He
gave one sharp glance towards the picket, and bitter hatred flared up
within him; for there was not even a _sahib_ there who might,
perchance, understand. Yet there was no doubt, no doubt at all, even
to his confused turmoil of feeling, as to "who came there." A foe! a
foe to the death when this was over! So with a shout came his creed:

"_Allah akbar wa Mahomed rusool_."

Then in a sort of gurgle, as he fell forward on his face, it finished
in "_Deen! Deen! Deen!_"

                          *   *   *   *   *

"Nicked 'im, by gum! Nicked the ole beast neat as a ninepin," said one
of the picket.

"Wonder wot he come on for like that?" said another.

"B----y ole Ghazi, that's wot he was," put in a third. "They gets the
drink aboard, an' don't care for nothing but religion--rummy start,
ain't it? Hello! wot's that?--a babby, by the Lord!"

For the shock of Deen Mahomed's fall had awakened the child.

As they drew it from the blanket, the sun tipped over the tiger-grass,
and fell on its golden curls.

_Shub'rât_ was over.

"I wonder wot 'e were a-goin' to do with it?" remarked the inquirer,
turning the dead body over with his foot, and looking thoughtfully at
the face, fierce even in death. But no one hazarded a theory, and the
Finger of Fate had left no mark on the high, narrow forehead. But the
Night of Record was over for it also.

                         IN THE PERMANENT WAY

I heard this story in a rail-trolly on the Pind-Dadur line, so I
always think of it with a running accompaniment; a rhythmic whir of
wheels in which, despite its steadiness, you feel the propelling
impulse of the unseen coolies behind, then the swift skimming as they
set their feet on the trolly for the brief rest which merges at the
first hint of lessened speed into the old racing measure. Whir and
slide, racing and resting!--while the wheels spin like bobbins and the
brick rubble in the permanent way slips under your feet giddily, until
you could almost fancy yourself sitting on a stationary engine,
engaged in winding up an endless red ribbon. A ribbon edged, as if
with tinsel, by steel rails stretching away in ever narrowing lines to
the level horizon. Stretching straight as a die across a sandy desert,
rippled and waved by wrinkled sand hills into the semblance of a sandy

And that, from its size, must be a seventh wave. I was just thinking
this when the buzz of the brake jarred me through to the marrow of my

"What's up? A train?" I asked of my companion who was giving me a lift
across his section of the desert.

"No!" he replied laconically. "Now, then! hurry up, men."

Nothing in the wide world comes to pieces in the hand like a trolly.
It was dismembered and off the line in a moment; only however, much to
my surprise, to be replaced upon the rails some half a dozen yards
further along them. I was opening my lips for one question when
something I saw at my feet among the brick rubble made me change it
for another.

"Hullo! what the dickens is that?"

To the carnal eye it was two small squares of smooth stucco, the one
with an oval black stone set in it perpendicularly, the other with a
round purplish one--curiously ringed with darker circles--set in it
horizontally. On the stucco of one were a few dried _tulsi_[3] leaves
and grains of rice; on the other suspicious-looking splashes of dark


[Footnote 3: Marjoram.]


"What's what?" echoed my friend, climbing up to his seat again.

"Why, man, that thing!--that thing in the permanent way!" I replied,
nettled at his manner.

He gave an odd little laugh, just audible above the first whir of the
wheels as we started again.

"That's about it. In the permanent way--considerably." He paused, and
I thought he was going to relapse into the silence for which he was
famous; but he suddenly seemed to change his mind.

"Look here," he said, "it's a fifteen mile run to the first curve, and
no trains due, so if you like I'll tell you why we left the track."

And he did.

                          *   *   *   *   *

When they were aligning this section I was put on to it--preliminary
survey work under an R.E. man who wore boiled shirts in the
wilderness, and was great on "Departmental Discipline." He is in Simla
now, of course. Well, we were driving a straight line through the
whole solar system and planting it out with little red flags, when one
afternoon, just behind that big wave of a sand hill, we came upon
something in the way. It was a man. For further description I should
say it was a thin man. There is nothing more to be said. He may have
been old, he may have been young, he may have been tall, he may have
been short, he may have been halt and maimed, he may have been blind,
deaf, or dumb, or any or all of these. The only thing I know for
_certain_ is that he was thin. The _kalassies_[4] said he was some
kind of a Hindu saint, and they fell at his feet promptly. I shall
never forget the R.E.'s face as he stood trying to classify the
creature according to Wilson's _Hindu Sects_, or his indignation at
the _kalassies'_ ignorant worship of a man who, for all they knew,
might be a follower of Shiva, while they were bound to Vishnu, or
_vice versa_. He was very learned over the _Vaishnavas_ and the
_Saivas_; and all the time that bronze image with its hands on its
knees squatted in the sand staring into space perfectly unmoved.
Perhaps the man saw us, perhaps he didn't. I don't know; as I said
before, he was thin.


[Footnote 4: Tent pitchers, men employed in measuring land.]


So after a time we stuck a little red flag in the ground close to the
small of his back, and went on our way rejoicing until we came to our
camp, a mile further on. It doesn't look like it, but there is a
brackish well and a sort of a village away there to the right, and of
course we always took advantage of water when we could.

It must have been a week later, just as we came to the edge of the
sand hills, and could see a landmark or two, that I noticed the R.E.
come up from his prismatic compass looking rather pale. Then he fussed
over to me at the plane table.

"We're out," he said, "there is a want of Departmental Discipline in
this party, and we are out." I forget how many fractions he said, but
some infinitesimal curve would have been required to bring us plumb on
the next station, and as that would have ruined the R.E.'s
professional reputation we harked back to rectify the error. We found
the bronze image still sitting on the sand with its hands on its
knees; but apparently it had shifted its position some three feet or
so to the right, for the flag was fully that distance to the left of
it. That night the R.E. came to my tent with his hands full of maps
and his mind of suspicions.

"It seems incredible," he said, "but I am almost convinced that
_byragi_ or _jogi_, or _gosain_ or _sunyasi_, whichever he may be, has
had the unparalleled effrontery to move my flag. I can't be sure, but
if I were, I would have him arrested on the spot."

I suggested he was that already; but it is sometimes difficult to make
an R.E. see a Cooper's Hill joke, especially when he is your superior
officer. So we did that bit over again. As it happened, my chief was
laid up with sun fever when we came to the bronze image, and I had
charge of the party. I don't know why, exactly, but it seemed to me
rough on the thin man to stick a red flag at the small of his back, as
a threat that we meant to annex the only atom of things earthly to
which he still clung; time enough for that when the line was actually
under construction. So I told the _kalassies_ to let him do duty as a
survey mark; for, from what I had heard, I knew that once a man of
that sort fixes on a place in which to gain immortality by penance, he
sticks to it till the mortality, at any rate, comes to an end. And
this one, I found out from the villagers, had been there for ten
years. Of course they said he never ate, or drank, or moved, but that,
equally of course, was absurd.

A year after this I came along again in charge of a construction
party, with an overseer called Craddock, a big yellow-headed Saxon who
couldn't keep off the drink, and who had in consequence been going
down steadily in one department or another for years. As good a fellow
as ever stepped when he was sober. Well, we came right on the thin one
again, plump in the very middle of the permanent way. We dug round him
and levelled up to him for some time, and then one day Craddock gave a
nod at me and walked over to where that image squatted staring into
space. I can see the two now, Craddock in his navvy's dress, his blue
eyes keen yet kind in the red face shaded by the dirty pith hat, and
the thin man without a rag of any sort to hide his bronze anatomy.

"Look here, sonny," said Craddock, stooping over the other, "you're in
the way--in the permanent way."

Then he just lifted him right up, gently, as if he had been a child,
and set him down about four feet to the left. It was to be a metre
gauge, so that was enough for safety. There he sat after we had
propped him up again with his _byraga_ or cleft stick under the left
arm, as if he were quite satisfied with the change. But next day he
was in the old place. It was no use arguing with him. The only thing
to be done was to move him out of the way when we wanted it. Of course
when the earthwork was finished there was the plate-laying and
ballasting and what not to be done, so it came to be part of the big
Saxon's regular business to say in his Oxfordshire drawl:

"Sonny, yo're in the waiy--in the permanent waiy."

Craddock, it must be mentioned, was in a peculiarly sober, virtuous
mood, owing, no doubt, to the desolation of the desert; in which, by
the way, I found him quite a godsend as a companion, for when he was
on the talk the quaintness of his ideas was infinitely amusing, and
his knowledge of the natives, picked up as a loafer in many a bazaar
and _serai_, was surprisingly wide, if appallingly inaccurate.

"There is something, savin' yo'r presence, sir, blamed wrong in the
whole blamed business," he said to me, with a mild remonstrance in his
blue eyes, one evening after he had removed the obstruction to
progress. "That pore fellar, sir, 'e's a meditatin' on the word
_Hom-Hommipuddenhome_[5] it is, sir, I've bin told--an' doin' 'is
little level to make the spiritooal man subdoo 'is fleshly
hinstinckts. And I, Nathaniel James Craddock, so called in Holy
Baptism, I do assure you, a-eatin' and a-drinkin' 'earty, catches 'im
right up like a babby, and sets 'im on one side, as if I was born to
it. And so I will--an' willin', too--so as to keep 'im from 'arm's
way; for 'eathin or Christian, sir, 'e's an eggsample to the
spiritooal part of me which, savin' your presence, sir, is most ways


[Footnote 5: _Om mi pudmi houm_. The Buddhist invocation.]


Poor Craddock! He went on the spree hopelessly the day after we
returned to civilisation, and it was with the greatest difficulty that
I succeeded in getting him a trial as driver to the material train
which commenced running up and down the section. The first time I went
with it on business I had an inspection carriage tacked on behind the
truck loads of coolies and ballast, so that I could not make out why
on earth we let loose a danger whistle and slowed down to full stop in
the very middle of the desert until I jumped down and ran forward.
Even then I was only in time to see Craddock coming back to his engine
with a redder face than ever.

"It's only old Meditations, sir," he said apologetically, as I climbed
in beside him. "It don't take a minute; no longer nor a cow, and
them's in the reg'lations. You see, sir, I wouldn't 'ave 'arm come to
the pore soul afore 'is spiritooal nater 'ad the straight tip hoäm.
Neither would none of us, sir, coolie nor driver, sir, on the section.
We all likes old _Hommipuddenhome_, 'e sticks to it so stiddy, that's
where it is."

"Do you mean to say that you always have to get out and lift him off
the line?" I asked, wondering rather at the patience required for the

"That's so, sir," he replied slowly, in the same apologetic tones. "It
don't take no time you see, sir, that's where it is. P'r'aps you may
'ave thought, like as I did first time, that 'e'd save 'is bacon when
the engine come along. Lordy! the cold sweat broke out on me that
time. I brought 'er up, sir, with the buffers at the back of 'is 'ed
like them things the photographers jiminy you straight with. But 'e
ain't that sort, ain't Meditations." Here Craddock asked leave to
light his pipe, and in the interval I looked ahead along the narrowing
red ribbon with its tinsel edge, thinking how odd it must have been to
see it barred by that bronze image.

"No! that ain't his sort," continued Craddock meditatively, "though
wot 'is sort may be, sir, is not my part to say. I've ar'st, and
ar'st, and ar'st them pundits, but there ain't one of them can really
tell, sir, 'cos he ain't got any marks about him. You see, sir, it's
by their marks, like cattle, as you tell 'em. Some says he worships
bloody _Shivers_[6]--'im 'oos wife you know, sir, they calls _Martha
Davy_[7]--a Christian sort o' name, ain't it, sir, for a 'eathin
idol?--and some says 'e worships _Wishnyou Lucksmi_[8] an' that lot,
an' _Holy_[9] too, though, savin' your presence, sir, it ain't much
holiness I see at them times, but mostly drink. It makes me feel quite
'omesick, I do assure you, sir, more as if they was humans like me,


[Footnote 6: _Shiva_.]

[Footnote 7: _Mata devi_.]

[Footnote 8: _Vishnu Lukshmi_.]

[Footnote 9: _Holi_, the Indian Saturnalia.]


"And which belief do you incline to?" I asked, for the sake of
prolonging the conversation.

He drew his rough hand over his corn-coloured beard, and quite a grave
look came to the blue eyes. "I inclines to _Shiver_," he said
decisively, "and I'll tell you why, sir. Shiver's bloody; but 'e's
dead on death. They calls 'im the Destroyer. 'E don't care a damn for
the body; 'e's all for the spiritooal nater, like old Meditations
there. Now _Wishnyou Lucksmi_ an' that lot is the Preservers. They
eats an' drinks 'earty, like me. So it stands to reason, sir, don't
it? that 'e's a _Shiver_, and I'm a _Wishnyou Lucksmi_." He stood up
under pretence of giving a wipe round a valve with the oily rag he
held, and looked out to the horizon where the sun was setting, like a
huge red signal right on the narrowing line. "So," he went on after a
pause, "that's why I wouldn't 'ave 'arm come to old Meditations. 'E's
a _Shiver_, I'm a _Wishnyou Lucksmi_. That's what _I_ am."

His meaning was quite clear, and I am not ashamed to say that it
touched me.

"Look here," I said, "take care you don't run over that old chap some
day when you are drunk, that's all."

He bent over another valve, burnishing it. "I hope to God I don't," he
said in a low voice. "That'd about finish me altogether, I expect."

We returned the next morning before daybreak; but I went on the
engine, being determined to see how that bronze image looked on the
permanent way when you were steaming up to it.

"You ketch sight of 'im clear this side," said Craddock, "a good two
mile or more; ef you had a telescope ten for that matter. It ain't so
easy t'other side with the sun a-shining bang inter the eyes. And
there ain't no big wave as a signal over there. But Lordy! there ain't
no fear of my missin' old Meditations."

Certainly, none that morning. He showed clear, first against the rosy
flush of dawn, afterwards like a dark stain on the red ribbon.

"I'll run up close to him to-day, sir," said Craddock, "so as you
shall see wot 'e's made of."

The whistle rang shrill over the desert of sand, which lay empty of
all save that streak of red with the dark stain upon it; but the stain
never moved, never stirred, though the snorting demon from the west
came racing up to it full speed.

"Have a care, man! Have a care!" I shouted; but my words were almost
lost in the jar of the brake put on to the utmost. Even then I could
only crane round the cab with my eyes fixed on that bronze image
straight ahead of us. Could we stop in time--would it move? Yes! no!
yes! Slower and slower--how many turns of the flywheel to so many
yards?--I felt as if I were working the sum frantically in my head,
when, with a little backward shiver, the great circle of steel stopped
dead, and Craddock's voice came in cheerful triumph.

"There! didn't I tell you, sir? Ain't 'e stiddy? Ain't 'e a-subdooin'
of mortality beautiful?" The next instant he was out, and as he
stooped to his task he flung me back a look.

"Now, sonny, you'll 'ave to move. You're in the way--the permanent
way, my dear."

That was the last I saw of him for some time, for I fell sick and went
home. When I returned to work I found, much to my surprise, that
Craddock was in the same appointment; in fact, he had been promoted to
drive the solitary passenger train which now ran daily across the
desert. He had not been on the spree once, I was told; indeed, the
R.E., who was of the Methodist division of that gallant regiment, took
great pride in a reformation which, he informed me, was largely due to
his religious teaching combined with Departmental Discipline.

"And how is Meditations?" I asked, when the great rough hand had
shaken mine vehemently.

Craddock's face seemed to me to grow redder than ever. "'E's very
well, sir, thanking you kindly. There's a native driver on the Goods
now. 'E's a _Shiver-Martha Davy_ lot, so I pays 'im five rupee a month
to nip out sharp with the stoker an' shovel 'is old saint to one side.
I'm gettin' good pay now, you know, sir."

I told him there was no reason to apologise for the fact, and that I
hoped it might long continue; whereat he gave a sheepish kind of
laugh, and said he hoped so too.

Christmas came and went uneventfully without an outbreak, and I could
not refrain from congratulating Craddock on one temptation safely

He smiled broadly.

"Lor' bless you, sir," he said, "you didn't never think, did you, that
Nathaniel James Craddock, which his name was given to 'im in Holy
Baptism, I do assure you, was going to knuckle down that way to old
_Hommipuddenhome?_ 'Twouldn't be fair on Christmas noways, sir, and
though I don't set the store 'e does on 'is spiritooal nater, I was
born and bred in a Christyan country, I do assure you."

I congratulated him warmly on his sentiments, and hoped again that
they would last; to which he replied as before that he hoped so too.

And then _Holi_ time came round, and, as luck would have it, the place
was full of riff-raff low whites going on to look for work in a
further section. I had to drive through the bazaar on my way to the
railway station and it beat anything I had ever seen in various vice.
East and West were outbidding each other in iniquity, and to make
matters worse an electrical dust-storm was blowing hard. You never saw
such a scene; it was pandemonium, background and all. I thought I
caught a glimpse of a corn-coloured beard and a pair of blue eyes in a
wooden balcony among tinkling _sútáras_ and jasmine chaplets, but I
wasn't sure. However, as I was stepping into the inspection carriage
which, as usual, was the last in the train, I saw Craddock crossing
the platform to his engine. His white coat was all splashed with the
red dye they had been throwing at each other, _Holi_ fashion, in the
bazaar; his walk, to my eyes, had a lilt in it, and finally, the neck
of a black bottle showed from one pocket.

Obedient to one of those sudden impulses which come, heaven knows why,
I took my foot off the step and followed him to the engine.

"Comin' aboard, sir," he said quite collectedly. "You'd be better
be'ind to-night, for it's blowin' grit fit to make me a walkin'
sandpaper inside and out." And before I could stop him the black
bottle was at his mouth. This decided me. Perhaps my face showed my
thoughts, for as I climbed into the cab he gave an uneasy laugh.
"Don't be afraid, sir: it's black as pitch, but I knows where old
Meditation comes by instinck, I do assure you. One hour an' seventeen
minutes from the distance signal with pressure as it oughter be.
Hillo! there's the whistle and the baboo a-waving. Off we goes!"

As we flashed past a red light I looked at my watch.

"Don't you be afraid, sir," he said, again looking at his. "It's ten
to ten now, and in one hour an' seventeen minutes on goes the brake.
That's the ticket for _Shivers_ and _Martha Davy_; though I am a
_Wishnyou Lucksmi_." He paused a moment, and as he stood put his hand
on a stanchion to steady himself.

"Very much of a _Wishnyou Lucksmi_," he went on with a shake of the
head. "I've 'ad a drop too much and I know it; but it ain't fair on a
fellar like me, 'aving so many names to them, when they're all the
same--a eatin' an' drinkin' lot like me. There's Christen[10]--you'd
'ave thought he'd 'ave been a decent chap by 'is name, but 'e went on
orful with them _Gopis_--that's Hindu for milkmaids, sir. And
Harry[11]--well, he wasn't no better than some other Harrys I've heard
on. And Canyer,[12] I expect he could just about. To say nothin' of
_Gopi-naughty_;[13] and naughty he were, as no doubt you've heard
tell, sir. There's too many on them for a pore fellar who don't set
store by 'is spiritooal nater; especially when they mixes themselves
up with _Angcore_[14] whisky, an' ginger ale."


[Footnote 10: _Kristna_.]

[Footnote 11: _Hari_.]

[Footnote 12: _Kaniya_.]

[Footnote 13: _Gopi-nath_. These are all names of Vishnu in his
various Avatars.]

[Footnote 14: _Encore_.]


His blue eyes had a far-away look in them, and his words were fast
losing independence, but I understood what he meant perfectly. In that
brief glimpse of the big bazaar I had seen the rows of Western bottles
standing cheek by jowl with the bowls of _dolee_ dye, the sour curds
and sweetmeats of _Holi_-tide.

"You had better sit down, Craddock," I said severely, for I saw that
the fresh air was having its usual effect. "Perhaps if you sleep a bit
you'll be more fit for work. I'll look out and wake you when you're

He gave a silly laugh, let go the stanchion, and drew out his watch.

"Don't you be afraid, sir! One hour and seventeen minutes from the
distance signal. I'll keep 'im out o' 'arm's way, an' willing to the
end of the chapter."

He gave a lurch forward to the seat, stumbled, and the watch dropped
from his hand. For a moment I thought he might go overboard, and I
clutched at him frantically; but with another lurch and an indistinct
admonition to me not to be afraid, he sank into the corner of the
bench and was asleep in a second. Then I stooped to pick up the watch,
and, rather to my surprise, found it uninjured and still going.

Craddock's words, "ten minutes to ten," recurred to me. Then it would
be twenty-seven minutes past eleven before he was wanted. I sat down
to wait, bidding the native stoker keep up the fire as usual. The wind
was simply shrieking round us, and the sand drifted thick on
Craddock's still, upturned face. More than once I wiped it off,
feeling he might suffocate. It was the noisiest, and at the same time
the most silent, journey I ever undertook. Pandemonium, with seventy
times seven of its devils let loose outside the cab; inside Craddock
asleep, or dead--he might have been the latter from his stillness. It
became oppressive after a time, as I remembered that other still
figure, miles down the track, which was so strangely bound to this one
beside me. The minutes seemed hours, and I felt a distinct relief when
the watch, which I had held in my hand most of the time, told me it
was seventeen minutes past eleven. Only ten minutes before the brake
should be put on; and Craddock would require all that time to get his
senses about him.

I might as well have tried to awaken a corpse, and it was three
minutes to the twenty-seven when I gave up the idea as hopeless. Not
that it mattered, since I could drive an engine as well as he; still
the sense of responsibility weighed heavily upon me. My hand on the
brake valve trembled visibly as I stood watching the minute hand of
the watch. Thirty seconds before the time I put the brake on hard,
determining to be on the safe side. And then when I had taken this
precaution a perfectly unreasoning anxiety seized on me. I stepped on
to the footboard and craned forward into the darkness which, even
without the wind and the driving dust, was blinding. The lights in
front shot slantways, showing an angle of red ballast, barred by
gleaming steel; beyond that a formless void of sand. But the centre of
the permanent way, where that figure would be sitting, was dark as
death itself. What a fool I was, when the great circle of the
fly-wheel was slackening, slackening, every second! And yet the fear
grew lest I should have been too late, lest I should have made some
mistake. To appease my own folly I drew out my watch in confirmation
of the time. Great God! a difference of two minutes!--two whole
minutes!--yet the watches had been the same at the distance
signal?--the fall, of course! the fall!!

I seemed unable to do anything but watch that slackening wheel, even
though I became conscious of a hand on my shoulder, of some one
standing beside me on the footboard. No! not standing, swaying,

"Don't!" I cried. "Don't! it's madness!" But that some one was out in
the darkness. Then I saw a big white figure dash across the angle of
light with outspread arms.

"Now then, sonny! yo're in the way--the permanent way."

                          *   *   *   *   *

The inspector paused, and I seemed to come back to the sliding whir of
the trolly wheels. In the distance a semaphore was dropping its red
arm and a pointsman, like a speck on the ribbon, was at work shunting
us into a siding.

"Well?" I asked.

"There isn't anything more. When a whole train goes over two men who
are locked in each other's arms it is hard--hard to tell--well, which
is _Shivers Martha Davy_, and which is _Wishnyou Lucksmi_. It was
right out in the desert in the hot weather, no parsons or people to
object; so I buried them there in the permanent way."

"And those are tombstones, I suppose?"

He laughed. "No; altars. The native _employés_ put them up to their
saint. The oval black upright stone is Shiva, the Destroyer's
_lingam_; those splashes are blood. The flat one, decorated with
flowers, is the _salagrama_[15] sacred to Vishnu the Preserver. You
see nobody really knew whether old Meditations was a _Saiva_ or a
_Vaishnava_; so I suggested this arrangement as the men were making a
sectarian quarrel out of the question." He paused again and added:


[Footnote 15: A fossil ammonite.]


"You see it does for both of them."

The jar of the points prevented me from replying.

                         ON THE SECOND STORY

It was a three-storied house in reality, though time had given it the
semblance of a fourth in the mud platform which led up to its only
entrance. For the passing feet of generations had worn down the levels
of the alley outside, and the toiling hands of generations had added
to the level of the rooms within, until those who wished to pass from
one to the other had to climb the connecting steps ere they could
reach the door.

The door itself was broad as it was high, and had a strangely deformed
look; since nearly half of its two carven stone jambs were, of
necessity, hidden behind the platform. These stone jambs, square-hewn,
roughly-carven, were the only sign of antiquity visible in the house
from the alley; the rest being the usual straight-up-and-down almost
windowless wall built of small purplish bricks set in a mortar of mud.
It stood, however, a little further back in the alley than its
neighbours, so giving room for the mud platform; but that was its only

The alley in its turn differed in no way from the generality of such
alleys in the walled towns where the houses--like trees in a crowded
plantation--shoot up shoulder to shoulder, as if trying to escape
skywards from the yearly increasing pressure of humanity. It was,
briefly, a deep, dark, irregular drain of a place, shadowful utterly
save for the one brief half hour or so during which the sun showed in
the notched ribbon of the sky which was visible between the uneven
turretings of the roof.

Yet the very sunlessness and airlessness had its advantages. In hot
weather it brought relief from the scorching glare, and in the cold,
such air as there was remained warm even beneath a frosty sky. So that
the mud platform, with its possibilities of unhustled rest, was a
favourite gossiping place of the neighbourhood. All the more so
because, between it and the next house, diving down through the
_débris_ of countless generations and green with the slime of
countless ages, lay one of those wells to which the natives cling so
fondly in defiance of modern sanitation and water-works. But there was
a third reason why the platform was so much frequented; on the second
story of the house to which it belonged stood the oldest Hindu shrine
in the city. How it came to be there no one could say clearly. The
Brahmins who tended it from the lower story told tales of a plinthed
temple built in the heroic age of Prithi Râj; but only this much was
certain, that it was very old, and that the steep stone ladder of a
stair which led up to the arched alcoves of the ante-shrine was of
very different date to the ordinary brick one which led thence to the
third story; where, among other lodgers, Ramanund, B.A., lived with
his widowed mother.

He was a mathematical master in a mission school, and twice a day on
his way to and from the exact sciences he had to pass up and down the
brick ladder and the stone stair. And sometimes he had to stand aside
on the three-cornered landing where the brick and stone met, in order
that the women coming to worship might pass with their platters of
curds, their trays of cressets, and chaplets of flowers into the dim
ante-shrine where the light from a stone lattice glistened faintly on
the damp oil-smeared pavement. But that being necessarily when he was
on his way downstairs, and deep in preparation for the day's work, he
did not mind a minute or so of delay for further study; and he would
go on with his elementary treatise on logarithms until the tinkle of
the anklets merged into the giggle which generally followed, when in
the comparative seclusion of the ante-shrine, the veils could be
lifted for a peep at the handsome young man. But Ramanund, albeit a
lineal descendant of the original Brahmin priests of the temple, had
read Herbert Spencer and John Stuart Mill; so he would go on his way
careless alike of the unseen women and the unseen shrine--of the
mysteries of sex and religion as presented in his natural environment.
There are dozens of young men in India now-a-days in this position;
who stand figuratively, as he did actually, giving the go-by to
one-half of life alternately, and letting the cressets and the
chaplets and the unseen women pass unchallenged into the alcove, where
the speckled light of the lattice bejewelled their gay garments, and a
blue cloud of incense floated sideways among the dim arches.

And Ramanund was as good a specimen of this new India as could be
found, North or South. Not of robust physique--that was scarcely to be
expected after generations of in and in breeding--but of most acute
intelligence, and, by virtue of inherited spiritual distinction,
singularly free from the sensual, passive acquiescence in the
limitations of life which brings content to the most of humanity. He
was, by birth, as it were, a specialised speculative machine working
at full pressure with a pure virtue escapement. As President of a
Debating Club affiliated with the "Society for the General Improvement
of the People of India," he was perhaps needlessly lavish of vague
expressions such as the individual rights of man; but then he, in
common with his kind, have only lately become acquainted with the
ideas such phrases are supposed to express, and have not as yet learnt
their exact use--that being an art which history tells needs centuries
of national and individual struggle for its attainment.

Be that as it may, even in the strict atmosphere of the Mission
School, Ramanund's only fault was that he had assimilated its morality
and rejected its dogma. In the orthodox Hindu household upstairs, over
which his widowed mother ruled severely, his only crime was that he
refused to replace a wife, deceased of the measles at the age of six,
for another of the good lady's choosing. For that other matter of
slighting the shrine downstairs is too common now-a-days in India to
excite any recrimination; its only effect being to make the women
regard the rule which forbids their eating with the men folks, as a
patent of purity, instead of a sign of inferiority; since it is a
safeguard against contamination from those who, when beyond the watch
of secluded eyes, may have defiled themselves in a thousand Western

Regarding the wife, however, Ramanund was firm, despite the prayers
that his mother offered before the Goddess downstairs for his
deliverance from obstinacy. He used to accompany her sometimes on this
errand so far as the three-cornered landing, and then with a smile
proceed on his way to the exact sciences. Even the clang of the great
bell which hung in front of the idol within tip-toe touch of the
worshipper, as it used to come pealing after him down the stairs,
proclaiming that the goddess' attention had been called to a new
petitioner, did not bring a comprehension of facts to his singularly
clear brain. Those facts being, that, rightly or wrongly, the
flamboyant image of Kâli _devi_[16]--which his ancestors had tended
faithfully--was being besieged by as fervent a mother-prayer as had
been laid before any divinity--or _dev_-inity as the word really


[Footnote 16: Goddess.]


In truth Ramanund had no special desire to marry at all; or even to
fall in love. He was too busy with the exact sciences to
experimentalise on the suspension of the critical faculty in man;
besides, he had definitely made up his mind to marry a widow when he
did marry. For he was as great on the widow question as he was on all
others which appealed to his kindly moral nature. He and his friends
of the same stamp--pleaders, clerks, and such-like living in the
alley--used to sit on the mud steps after working hours, and discuss
such topics before adjourning to the Debating Club; but they always
left one of the flights of steps free. This was for the worshippers to
pass upwards to the shrine as soon as the blare of the conches, the
beatings of drums, and the ringing of bells should announce that the
dread Goddess having been washed and put to bed like a good little
girl, her bath water was available to those who wished to drink it as
a charm against the powers of darkness.

That was with the waning light; but as it was a charm also against the
dangers of day, the dawn in its turn would be disturbed by clashings
and brayings to tell of Kâli _devi's_ uprisal. Then, in the growing
light the house-mothers, fresh from their grindstones, would come
shuffling through the alleys with a pinch or two of new-ground flour,
and the neighbouring Brahmins--hurriedly devotional after the manner
of priesthoods--would speed up the stair (muttering prayers as they
sped) to join for half a minute in the sevenfold circling of the
sacred lamps; while, divided between sleep and greed, the fat traders
on their way to their shops would begin business by a bid for divine
favour, and yawn petitions as they waddled, that the supply of holy
water would hold out till they arrived at the shrine.

But at this time in the morning, Ramanund would be sleeping the sleep
of the just upstairs, after sitting up past midnight over his pupils'
exercises; for one of the first effects of civilisation is to make men
prefer a kerosene lamp to the sun.

Now, one September when the rains, coming late and ceasing early, had
turned the pestilential drain in the city into a patent germ
propagator, the worshippers at Kâli _devi's_ shrine were more numerous
than ever. Indeed, one or two half-hearted free-thinker hangers-on to
the fringe of Progress and Debating Clubs began to hedge cautiously by
allowing their women folk to make offerings in their names; since when
cholera is choosing its victims haphazard up and down the alleys, it
is as well to ensure your life in every office that will accept you as
a client.

Ramanund, of course, and his immediate friends were above such mean
trucklings. _They_ exerted themselves to keep the alley clean, they
actually subscribed to pay an extra sweeper, they distributed cholera
pills and the very soundest advice to their neighbours; especially to
those who persisted in using the old well. Ramanund, indeed, went so
far as to circulate a pamphlet, imploring those who, from mistaken
religious scruples, would not drink from the hydrants to filter their
water; in support of which _thesis_ he quoted learned Sanskrit texts.

"_Jai Kâli ma!_"[17] said the populace to each other, when they read
it. "Such talk is pure blasphemy. If She wishes blood shall She not
drink it? Our fathers messed not with filters. Such things bring Her
wrath on the righteous; even as now in this sickness."


[Footnote 17: Victory to Mother Kâli!]


Yet they spoke calmly, acquiescing in the inevitable from their side
of the question, just as Ramanund and his like did from theirs; for
this passivity is characteristic of the race--which yet needs only a
casual match to make it flare into fanaticism.

So time passed until one day, the moon being at the full, and the
alley lying mysterious utterly by reason of the white shining of its
turreted roofs set, as it were, upon the solid darkness of the narrow
lane below, a new voice broke in on the reading of a paper regarding
the "Sanitation of the Vedic Ages," which Ramanund was declaiming to
some chosen friends.

"_Jai Kâli ma!_" said this voice also, but the tone was different, and
the words rang fiercely. "Is Her arm shortened that it cannot save? Is
it straightened that it cannot slay? Wait, ye fools, till the dark
moon brings Her night and ye shall see."

It came from a man with an evil hemp-sodden face, and a body naked
save for a saffron-coloured rag, who, smeared from head to foot with
cowdung ashes, was squatting on the threshold, daubing it with cowdung
and water; for the evening worshippers had passed, and he was at work
betimes purifying the sacred spot against the morrow's festival.

The listeners turned with a start, to look at the strange yet familiar
figure, and Ramanund, cut short in his eloquence, frowned; but he
resumed his paper, which was in English, without a pause, being quick
to do battle in words after the manner of New India.

"These men, base pretenders to the holiness of the _sunnyâsi_, are the
curse of the country! Mean tricksters and rogues wandering like
locusts through the land to prey on the timid fears of our modest
countrywomen. Men who outrage the common sense in a thousand methods;

The man behind him laughed shortly, "Curse on, master _jee!_" he
said--"for curses they are by the sound, though I know not the tongue
for sure. Yea! curse if thou likest, and praise the new wisdom; yet
thou--Ramanund, Brahmin, son of those who tend Her--hast not forgotten
the old. Forget it! How can a man forget what he learnt in his
mother's womb, what he hath learnt in his second birth?"

Long years after prayer has passed from a man's life, the sound of the
"Our Father" may bring him back in thought to his mother's knee. So it
was with Ramanund, as in the silence which followed, he watched (by
the flickering light of the cresset set on the ground between them)
his adversary's lips moving in the secret verse which none but the
twice-born may repeat. It brought back to him, as if it had been
yesterday, the time when, half-frightened, half-important, he had
heard it whispered in his ear for the first time. When for the first
time also he had felt the encircling thread of the twice-born castes
on his soft young body. That thread which girdled him from the common
herd, which happed and wrapped him round with a righteousness not his
own, but imputed to him by divine law. Despite logarithms, despite
pure morality, something thrilled in him half in exultation,
half in fear. It was unforgetable, and yet, in a way, he had
forgotten!--forgotten what? The question was troublesome, so he gave
it the go-by quickly.

"I have not forgotten the old wisdom _jôgi jee_," he said. "I hold
more of it than thou, with all thy trickery. But remember this. We of
the Sacred Land[18] will not stand down-country cheating, and if thou
art caught at it here, 'tis the lock-up."


[Footnote 18: The first Aryan settlements were in the Punjab.]


"If I am caught," echoed the man as he drew a small earthen pot closer
to him and began to stir its contents with his hand, every now and
again testing their consistency by letting a few drops fall from his
lifted fingers back into the pot. They were thick and red, showing in
the dim light like blood. "It is not we, servants of dread Kâli, who
are caught, 'tis ye faithless ones who have wandered from Her. Ye who
pretend to know----"

"A scoundrel when we see one," broke in the schoolmaster, his high
thin tones rising. "And I do know _one_ at least. What is more, I will
have thee watched by the police."

"Don't," put in one of the others in English. "What use to rouse anger
needlessly. Such men are dangerous."

"Dangerous!" echoed Ramanund. "Their day is past----"

"The people believe in them still," persisted another, looking
uneasily at the _jôgi's_ scowl, which, in truth, was not pleasant.

"And such language is, in my poor opinion, descriptive of that
calculated to cause a breach of peace," remarked a rotund little
pleader, "thus contrary to _mores public_. In moderation lies safety."

"And cowardice," retorted Ramanund, returning purposely to Hindustani
and keeping his eager face full on the _jôgi_. "It is because the
people, illiterate and ignorant, believe in them, that I advocate
resistance. Let us purge the old, pure faith of our fathers from the
defilements which have crept in! Let us, by the light of new wisdom
revealing the old, sweep from our land the nameless horrors which
deface it. Let us teach our illiterate brothers and sisters to treat
these priests of Kâli as they deserve, and to cease worshipping that
outrage on the very name of womanhood upstairs--that devil drunk with
blood, unsexed, obscene----"

He was proceeding after his wont, stringing adjectives on a single
thread of meaning, when a triumphant yell startled him into a pause.

"_Jai Kâli ma! Jai Kâli ma!_"

It seemed to fill the alley with harsh echoes blending into a guttural
cruel laugh. "So be it, brother! Let it be Kâli, the Eternal Woman,
against thee, Ramanund the Scholar! I tell thee She will stretch out
Her left hand so----" here his own left hand, reddened with the
pigment he had been preparing for the purpose, printed itself upon one
lintel of the door, "and Her right hand so----" here his right did the
same for the other lintel, and he paused, obviously to give effect to
the situation. Indeed his manner throughout had been intensely
theatrical, and this deft blending of the ordinary process of marking
the threshold, with a mysterious threat suitable to the occasion,
betrayed the habitual trafficker in superstitious fear.

"And then, _Jôgi jee_," sneered Ramanund imperturbably.

"And then, _master jee?_" cried his adversary, his anger growing at
his own impotence to impress, as he clenched his reddened hands and
stooped forward to bring his scowl closer to the calm contempt, "Why
then She will draw fools to Her bosom, bloody though they deem it."

"And if they will not be drawn?"

The words scarcely disturbed the stillness of the alley, which was
deserted save for that strange group, outlined by the flicker of the
cresset. On the one side, backed by the cavernous darkness of the low,
wide door, was the naked savage-looking figure, with its hands
dripping still in heavy red drops, stretched out in menace over the
lamp. On the other was Ramanund, backed by his friends, decent,
civilised, in their western-cut white clothing.

"Damn you--you--you brute!"

The schoolmaster seldom swore; when he did he used English oaths.
Possibly because they seemed more alien to his own virtue. On this
occasion several came fluently as he fumbled for his pocket
handkerchief; for the _jôgi_ in answer to his taunt had reached out
one of his red hands and drawn three curving fingers down the centre
of Ramanund's immaculate forehead. The emblem of his discarded faith,
the bloody trident of Siva, showed there distinctly ere the modern
hemstitched handkerchief wiped it away petulantly. It was gone in a
second, yet Ramanund even as he assured himself of the fact by
persistent rubbing felt that it had somehow sunk more than skin deep.
The knowledge made him swear the harder, and struggle vehemently
against his comrade's restraining hands.

"It is a case for police and binding over to keep peace," protested
the pleader soothingly. "I will conduct same even on appeals to
highest court without further charge."

"In addition, it is _infra dig_ to disciples of the law and order thus
to behave as the illiterate," put in another, while a third, with less
theory and more practice, remarked that to use violence to a priest of
Kâli on the threshold of Her temple during Her sacred month was as
much as their lives were worth; since God only knew how many a silent
believer within earshot needed but one cry to come to the rescue of
Her servant, especially now when the sickness was making men sensitive
to Her honour.

So, in the end, outraged civilisation contented itself by laying a
formal charge of assault in the neighbouring police station against a
certain religious mendicant, name unknown, supposed to have come from
Benares, who in the public thoroughfare had infringed the liberty of
one of Her Imperial Majesty's liege subjects by imprinting the symbol
of a decadent faith on his forehead. And thereinafter it repaired to
the Debating Club, where Ramanund recovered his self-respect in a more
than usually per-fervid outburst of eloquence. So fervid, indeed, that
one of the most forward lights in the province, who happened to look
in, swore eternal friendship on the spot. The result being that the
two young men discussed every burning question under the sun, as, with
arms interclasped, Ramanund saw his new acquaintance home to his

Thus it was past midnight ere he returned to his own, and then he was
so excited, so intoxicated, as it were, by his own strong words, that
he strode down the narrow alley as if he were marching to victory. And
yet the alley itself was peace personified. It was dark no longer, for
the great silver shield of the moon hung on the notched ribbon of pale
sky between the roofs, and its light--with the nameless message of
peace which seems inherent in it--lay thick and white down to the very
pavement. There was scarcely a shadow anywhere save the odd
foreshortened image of himself which kept pace behind Ramanund's swift
steps like a demon driving him to his doom.

The low, wide door, however, showed like a cavern, and the narrow
stone stair struck chill after the heat outside. Perhaps that was why
the young man shivered as he groped his way upwards amid the lingering
scent of past incense, the perfume of fallen flowers, and the faint
odour suggestive of the gay garments which had fluttered past not so
long before. Or, perhaps, the twin passions of Love and Worship, which
even Logarithms cannot destroy, were roused in him by the memory of
these things. Whatever it was, something made him pause to hold his
breath and listen on that three-cornered landing where the brick and
the stone met. A speckled bar of moonlight glistened on the damp floor
of the ante-shrine and showed a dim arch or two--then darkness. And
all around him was that penetrating odour telling of things unseen,
almost unknown, and yet strangely familiar to his inherited body and

There was not a sound. That was as it should be when gods slept like

When gods slept...!

There was a sound now--the sound of his own contemptuous laugh as he
remembered his defiance of such divinities--the sound of his own steps
as he passed suddenly, impulsively, into the ante-shrine, feeling it
was time for such as he to worship while She slept, helpless as
humanity itself.

It was almost dark in the low-arched corridors with their massive
pillars surrounding the central chamber on all sides. But there, in
the Holy of Holies, two smoking swinging lamps threw a yellow glare on
the carved stone canopy which reached up into the shadows of the
vaulted roof. And by their light the hideous figure of the idol could
be half-seen, half-imagined, through the fretted panels of the iron
doors fast-locked on Her sleep; fretted panels giving glimpses, no
more, of flamboyant arms crimson as blood, and hung with faded
flowers. Blood and flowers, blood and flowers, blending strangely with
that lingering perfume of Womanhood and Worship with which the air was

Hark! what was that? A step? Impossible, surely, at that hour of the
night when even gods sleep! And yet he drew back hastily into the
further shadows, forgetful of everything save sheer annoyance at the
chance of being discovered in Kâli's shrine. He of all men in the

Yes! it was a step in the ante-shrine. A light step; and there
emerging from the darkness of the corridors was a figure. A woman's
figure--or was it a child's?--draped from head to foot in white.
Ramanund felt a throb of philanthropic pity thrill through heart and
brain even in his relief; for this was some poor widow, no doubt, come
on the sly to offer her ill-omened[19] prayers, and though he might
rely on her rapt devotion allowing him to steal round the corridors
unobserved, the thought of the reason why she had come alone filled
him with compassion. Partly because he was in truth a kindly soul,
partly because he was, as it were, pledged to such compassion.


[Footnote 19: A widow brings ill-luck with her.]


A widow certainly; and yet surely little more than a child! So
slender, so small was she that even on tiptoe her outstretched hand
could not reach the clapper of the big bell which hung above her head.
Once, twice, thrice, she tried; standing full in the flare of the
lamp, her veil falling back from the dark head, close-cropped like a
boy's, and roughened almost into curls. Something in the sight made
Ramanund hold his breath again as he watched the disappointment grow
to the small passionate face.

"She will not listen--She will not hear! No one ever listens--no
one ..."

It was not a cry; it was only a girl's whisper with a note of girlish
fear rising above its pain, but it echoed like a _reveillé_ to
something which had till then been asleep in Ramanund. Not listen! Was
he not there in the dark listening? Was he not ready to help?--God!
how young and slender she was down there on her knees thrusting the
chaplets she had brought through the fretwork fiercely ...

"_Mai Kâli! Mai!_ Listen! Listen!" The clear sharp voice rang
passionately now, echoing through the arches. "What have I done,
Mother, to be accursed? Why didst Thou take him from me--my beautiful
young husband--for they tell me he was young and beautiful. And now
they say that Thou sendest the other for my lover--thy priest! But I
will not, Mother, if they kill me for it. Thou wouldst not give
thyself to such as he, Kâli, ugly as Thou art--and I am pretty. Far
prettier than the other girls who have husbands. _Mai Kâli!_ listen
this once--this once only! Kill me now when Thou art killing so many
and give me a husband in the next life; or let me go--let me be
free--free to choose my own way--my own lover. Mother! Mother! if Thou
wouldst only wake!--if Thou wouldst only listen!--if Thou wouldst only
look and see how pretty I am!----"

Her voice died away amid that mingled perfume of love and worship, of
sex and religion, which seemed to lie heavy on the breath, making it
come short....

Truly the gods might sleep, but man waked! There, in the shadow, a man
looked and listened till pity and passion set his brain and heart on

The girl had risen to her feet again in her last hopeless appeal, and
now stood once more looking upwards at the silent bell, her hands,
empty of their chaplets, clenched in angry despair, and a world of
baffled life and youth in her childish face.

"She will not listen! She will not wake!" The whisper, with its note
of fear in it, ended in a booming clang which forced a vibrating
response from the dim arches as Ramanund's nervous hand smote the big
bell full and fair. She turned with a low cry, then stood silent till
a slow smile came to her face.

_Mai Kâli_ had wakened indeed! She had listened also, and the lover
had come....


The moonlit nights which had so often shown two ghost-like figures
amid the shadows of Kâli's shrine had given place to dark ones. And
now, save for a whisper, there was no sign of life beneath the dim
arches, since, as a rule, those two--Ramanund and the woman Fate had
sent him--shunned the smoky flare of the lamps, and the half-seen
watchfulness of that hideous figure within the closed fretwork doors.
Yet sometimes little Anunda would insist on their sitting right in the
very threshold of the Mother who, she said, would be angry if they
distrusted Her. But at other times she would meet her lover, finger to
lip, and lead him hastily to the darkest corner lest he should wake
the goddess to direful anger at this desecration of Her holy place.
Then again, she would laugh recklessly, hang the chaplets she had
brought with her round his neck, cense him with sweet matches, and
tell him, truthfully, that he was the only god she feared.

Altogether, as he sat with his arm round her, Ramanund used often to
wonder helplessly if it were not all a dream. If so, it was not the
calm controlled dream he had cherished as the love story suitable to a
professor of mathematics. The heroine of that was to have been wise,
perhaps a little sad, and Anunda was--well! it was difficult to say
what she was, save absolutely entrancing in her every mood. She was
like a firefly on a dark night flashing here and there brilliantly,
lucidly; yet giving no clue to her own self except this--that she did
not match with the exact sciences. Nor, for the matter of that, with
the situation; for there were grave dangers in these nightly

In addition, their surroundings were anything but cheerful, anything
but suitable to dreams. Cholera had the whole city in its grip now,
and as those two had whispered of Love and Life many a soul, within
earshot of a man's raised voice, had passed out of both into the
grave. But Anunda never seemed to think of these things. She was the
bravest and yet the timidest child alive; at least so Ramanund used to
tell her fondly when she laughed at discovery, and yet trembled at the
very idea of marriage.

Honestly, she would have been quite satisfied to have him as her lover
only, but for the impossibility of keeping him on those terms. An
impossibility because--as she told him with tears--she was only on a
visit to the Brahmins downstairs and would have to return homewards
when the dark month of Kâli-worship was over. And here followed one of
those tales--scarcely credible to English ears--of the cold-blooded
profligacy to which widows have to yield as the only means of making
their lives bearable. Whereat Ramanund set his teeth and swore he
would have revenge some day. Meanwhile it made him all the more
determined to save her, and at the same time realise his cherished
dream of defying his world by marrying a widow. Yet his boldness only
had the effect of making little Anunda more timid and cautious.

"What need for names, my lord," she would say evasively when he
pressed her for particulars of her past. "Is it not enough that I am
of pure Brahmin race? Before Kâli, my lord need have no fears for
that, and I have found favour in my lord's eyes. What, then, are the
others to my lord? Let the wicked ones go."

"But if people do such things they should be punished by the law,"
fumed Ramanund, who, even with her arms round him, and a chaplet of
_chumpak_ blossom encircling his neck, could not quite forget that he
was a schoolmaster. "You forget that we live in a new age, or perhaps
you do not know it. That is one of the things I must teach you,
sweetheart, when we are married."

The slender bit of a hand which lay in his gave a queer little clasp
of denial, and the close-cropped head on his shoulder stirred in a
shake of incredulity.

"We cannot marry. I am a widow. It would be better--so----" and the
"so" was made doubly eloquent by the quiver of content with which,
yielding to the pressure of his arm, she nestled closer to him.
Ramanund's brain whirled, as she had a knack of making it whirl, but
he stuck to his point manfully.

"Silly child! Of course we can marry. The law does not forbid it, and
that is all we have to think of. It is legal, and no one has a right
to interfere. Besides, as I told you, it is quite easy. To-morrow, the
darkest night of Kâli's month, is our opportunity. Every one will be
wearied out by excitement"--here his face hardened and his voice rose.
"Excitement! I tell you it is disgraceful that these sacrifices should
be permitted. I admit they are nothing here to what they are down
country, but we of the Sacred Land should set an example. The law
should interfere to stop such demoralising, brutalising scenes. If we,
the educated, were only allowed a voice in such matters, if we were
not gagged and blindfolded from engaging in the amelioration of our
native land----" he paused and pulled himself up by bending down to
kiss her in Western fashion, whereat she hid her face in quick shame,
for modesty is as much a matter of custom as anything else. "But I
will teach you all this when we are married. To-morrow, then, in the
hour before dawn, when the worshippers will be drunk with wine and
blood, you will meet me on the landing--not here, child, this will be
no sight for you or me then. Ah! it is horrible even to think of it;
the blood, the needless, reckless----"

Again he pulled himself up and went on: "I shall have a hired carriage
at the end of the alley in which we will drive to the railway station;
and then, Anunda, it will only be two tickets--two railway tickets."

"Two railway tickets," echoed Anunda in muffled tones from his
shoulder; "I came up in the railway from----" She paused, then added

"They put me in a cage, and I cried."

"You will not be put in a cage this time," replied Ramanund with a
superior smile; "you will come with me, and we will go to Benares."

Her face came up to his this time anxiously. "Benares? Why Benares?"

"Because good and evil come alike from Benares," he answered
exultantly. "Mayhap you have been there, Anunda, and seen the evil,
the superstition. But it is in Benares also that the true faith lives
still. My friend has written to his friends there, and they will
receive us with open arms; virtuous women will shelter you till the
marriage arrangements are complete."

She shook her head faintly. "We cannot be married--I am a widow," she
repeated obstinately; "but I will go with you all the same." Then
seeing a certain reproach in his face she frowned. "Dost think I am
wicked, my lord? I am not wicked at all; but _Mai Kâli_ gave me a
lover, not a husband." Here the frown relaxed into a brilliant smile.
"My husband is dead, and I do not care for dead men. I care for you,
my lord, my god."

Ramanund's brain whirled again, but he clung to the first part of her
speech as a safeguard.

"You are foolish to say we cannot be married. If you read the
newspapers you would see that widows--child-widows such as you are,
heart's-delight--are married, regularly married by priests of our
religion. Those old days of persecution are over, Anunda. The law has
legalised such unions, and no one dare say a word."

A comical look came to her brilliant little face. "And my lord's
mother--will she say nothing?"

The question pierced even Ramanund's coat of culture. He fully
intended telling his revered parent of his approaching marriage, and
the thought of doing so, even in the general way which he proposed to
himself, was fraught with sheer terror. What then would it be when he
had to present her with this daughter-in-law in the concrete? He took
refuge from realities by giving a lecture on the individual rights of
man, while Anunda played like a child with the _chumpak_ garland with
which she had adorned him.

And so with a grey glimmer the rapid dawn began to dispute possession
of those dim arches with the smoky flare of the lamps, making those
two rise reluctantly and steal with echoing footsteps past the
malignant half-seen figure behind the closed fretwork doors. The
blood-red glint of those outstretched arms with their suggestion of
clasping and closing on all within their reach, must have roused a
reminiscence of that past defiance in the young schoolmaster's brain;
for he paused before the shrine, his arms still round Anunda, to say

"Good-bye, _Kâli mai!_ Good-bye for ever."

The girl, clinging to him fearfully, looked round into the shadows on
either side. "Hush, my lord, who knows whether She really sleeps; and
She is in dangerous mood. _They_ say so." Her light foot marked her
meaning by a tap on the echomy floor.

"What, reckless one!" said her lover in fond jest. "Hast grown so full
of courage that thou wouldst signal them to come? Art not afraid what
they might do?"

The panic on her face startled him. "Ramu," she whispered, "for my
sake say it once--'_Jai Kâli ma!_' Say it; it will not hurt."

"Nothing will hurt, Anunda," he answered sharply. "Nothing _can_

"Can it not? Sometimes I have fancied, downstairs, that they suspect,

"If they do, what then? To-morrow will see us far away. I tell you the
times are changed. Why there is a police station within hail almost.
Nay, sweetheart! I will not say it. Come, the dawn breaks."

"For my sake, Ramu, for my sake," she pleaded, even as he drew her
with him, reluctant yet willing.

And now on the landing where the brick and the stone met, he paused
again, his pulses throbbing with passion, to think that this was their
last parting.

"Take heart, beloved," he whispered. "Sure I am Ram and thou art
Anunda. Who can hinder God's happiness when He gives it?"[20]


[Footnote 20: Ram anund. _Ram_, God; _anund_, happiness.]


The conceit upon the meaning of their names brought a faint smile to
her face, and yet once more she whispered doubtfully: "But this is
happiness. Ah, Ramu! it would be better--so----"

"It will be better," he corrected. "It is quite easy, heart's beloved.
A hired carriage and two railway tickets, that is all! As for _Mai
Kâli_--I defy her!"

Suddenly through the darkness, which seemed to hold them closer to
each other, came a sound making them start asunder. It was the clang
of the bell which hung before the shrine.

"_Kâli ma! Kâli ma!_" Anunda's pitiful little sobbing cry blent with
the clang as she fled downstairs, and the mingled sound sent a strange
thrill of fear to Ramanund's heart. Kâli herself could not have heard;
but if there had been others beside themselves amid the shadows?

He climbed to his lodging on the roof full of vague anxiety and honest
relief that the strain and the stress and the passion of the last
fortnight was so nearly at an end. It was lucky, he told himself, that
it had happened during holiday time, or the exact sciences must have
suffered--for of course the idea of Anunda's yielding to _them_ was
preposterous; Anunda who had made him forget everything save that he
was her lover. He fell asleep thinking of her, and slept even through
the wailing which arose ere long in the next lodging. The wailing of a
household over an only son reft from it by Kâli _ma_.

"The wrath of the gods is on the house," said Ramanund's widowed
mother when he came down late next morning. "And I wonder not when
children disobey their parents. But I will hear thy excuses no longer,
Ramo. God knows but my slackness hitherto hath been the cause of that
poor boy's death. The holy man downstairs holds that She is angry for
our want of faith, and many folks believe him, and vow some sacrifice
of purification. So shall I, Ramanund. This very day I will speak to
my cousin Gungo of her daughter."

"Thou wilt do nothing of the kind, mother," replied Ramanund quietly.
"I have made my own arrangements. I am going to marry a widow, a young
and virtuous widow."

He felt dimly surprised at his own courage, perhaps a little elated,
seeing how severe the qualms of anticipation had been; so he looked
his mother in the face fairly as, startled out of all senses save
sight, she stared at him as if he had been a ghost. Then suddenly she
threw her arms above her head and beat her palms together fiercely.

"_Mai Kâli! Mai Kâli!_ justly art Thou incensed. Ai! Kirpo! Ai!
Bishun! listen, hear. This is the cause. My son, the light of mine
eyes, the son of my prayers, has done this thing. He is the cursed
one! He would bring a widow to a Brahmin hearth. _Jai Kâli ma! Jai
Kâli ma!_"

"Mother! mother! for God's sake," pleaded Ramanund, aghast at the
prospect of having the secret of his heart made bazaar property.
"Think; give me time."

"Time!" she echoed wildly. "What time is there when folks die every
minute for thy sin? Oh, Raino, son of my prayer, repent--do atonement.
Lo! come with me even now and humble thyself before Her feet. I will
ask no more but that to-day--no more." She thrust her hands feverishly
into his as if to drag him to the shrine. "For my sake, Ramo, for the
sake of many a poor mother, remember whose son thou art, and forsake
not thy fathers utterly."

"Mother!" he faltered; "mother!" And then silence fell between them.
For what words could bridge the gulf which the rapid flood of another
nation's learning had torn between these two? A gulf not worn away by
generations of culture, but reft recklessly through solid earth.
Simply there was nothing he felt to be said, as with a heart aching at
the utter impossibility of their ever understanding each other, he did
his best to sooth her superstitious fears.

But here he was met by a conviction, an obstinacy which surprised him;
for he had been too much occupied during the last fortnight to observe
the signs of the times around him, and knew nothing of the religious
terror which, carefully fomented by the priests as a means of
extortion, had seized upon the neighbourhood. When, however, it did
dawn upon him that the general consensus of opinion lay towards a
signal expression of the Goddess' anger, which needed signal
propitiation by more numerous sacrifices, his indignation knew no
bounds, and carried him beyond the personal question into general
condemnation, so that, ere many minutes were over, she was attempting
to sooth him in her turn. That God was above all was, however, their
one bond of unity; in that they both agreed. The truth would be made
manifest by the sickness being stayed or increased by the sacrifices.
Meanwhile the very thought of these latter, while it roused his anger,
horrified his refinement into a certain silence, and kept him prisoner
to the roof all day for fear of meeting some struggling victim on its
way upstairs to the second story. This did not matter so much,
however, since all his arrangements were made, and he had even taken
the precaution to secure his railway tickets through a branch of
Cook's agency which had been lately opened in the city. He took them
out of his pocket sometimes and looked at them, feeling a vague
comfort in their smug, civilised appearance. Fate must needs be
commonplace and secure, surely, with such vouchers for safe conduct as

So the long hot day dragged its slow length along. Every now and again
the death-wail, near or distant, would rise in even, discordant rhythm
on the hot air; and as the sun set it began, loudly imperative, under
his very roof. The only son was being carried out to the burning
_ghât_, and the cries and sobs utterly overwhelmed the shouts and
shufflings of feet, the moans and murmur of voices, which all day long
had come from the second story. It was a relief that it should be so;
that the ear might no longer be all unwillingly on the strain to catch
some sound that would tell of a death-struggle in the slaughter-house
downstairs. And yet the scene being enacted, perchance, on that
three-cornered landing which, for once, visualised itself to
Ramanund's clear brain, was not one in which to find much consolation.
The crowds of mourners edging the bier down the narrow stairs, the
crowd of worshippers dragging the victims up. He wondered which
stood aside to give place to the other--the Living or the Dead? The
flower-decked corpse or the flower-decked victim? Flowers and blood!
Blood and flowers for a Demon of Death who was satisfied with neither!
Ramanund, excited, overstrained, wearied by many a sleepless night of
happiness, covered his face with his hands to shut out the sight even
of the book which he tried to read.

So, as the sun sunk red in the western haze leaving the roof cooler,
he fell asleep and slept soundly.

When he woke it was dark, and yet, as he stood up stretching himself,
a faint paling of the horizon warned him that there was light beneath
it--light that was coming to the world. The moon? Confused as he was
by sleep, the thought came to him, only to be set aside by memory.
There was no moon; for this was the dark night of Kâli.

The dark night! Then that must be the dawn when he had promised to
meet Anunda on the threshold! Was it possible that he had slept so
long? Yet not too long, since the dawn had not yet come, and he was
ready. Hurriedly feeling for the safety of those precious tickets, and
taking up a Gladstone bag which he had already packed, he stole down
from the roof cautiously; and from thence to the landing. There was a
new odour now blending with the perfumes of the flowers, and the
incense, and the women: an odour which sickened him as he stood
waiting and watching in the now deserted threshold. It was the odour
of the shambles; an odour which seemed also to lie heavy on the breath
and shorten it.

So by quick strides the grey glimmer through the stone lattice grew
and grew to whiteness. Yet no one came, and there was no light step on
the staircase below to tell of a late-comer.

"Anunda! Anunda!" he whispered more than once, even his low tones
seeming to stir the heavy atmosphere into waves of sweet sickening
perfume. Was it possible that she was waiting for him within--in the
old place?

That must be it, surely, or else something had happened. What?

With a beating heart he moved on into the ante-shrine picking his
steps in an almost morbid terror of what he might be treading upon.

"Anunda! Anunda!"

There was no answer save, heavier than before, that sort of scented,
wave coming back from his own words.

She was not there, and something must have happened.... Not there!
Impossible, with those tickets in his pocket, that hired carriage
waiting at the end of the alley, that police station round the

He strode forward with renewed courage, heedless of the damp
clamminess at his feet; strode recklessly right into the yellow
flare of the lamps. Save for that ghastly crimson upon the floor, the
walls, the canopy, the place lay unchanged, and quiet as the grave.
No! there was a change; the iron doors were open, and there, upon the
low stone-slab before those clutching arms, lay something....

God in Heaven! what was it?

A head--a small dark----

Ramanund's scream caught in the big bell which hung above him, and the
last thing he heard, as he fell forward on that crimson floor, was its
faint booming echo of his own cry.

                          *   *   *   *   *

When he came to himself again, six weeks had passed by. The heat was
over, the cholera had gone, and he lay in one of the new wards of a
new hospital whither his anxious friends had had him conveyed when
they found how ill he was. The very strangeness of his environment
held him silent for the first few moments of consciousness; then with
a rush it all came back upon him and, weak as he was, he sat up in bed

"Anunda! Anunda! My God! the shrine!--the blood!"

"It is a bad sign," remarked the doctor to one of his friends
significantly when they had persuaded him to lie down again quietly,
more from inability to sit up, than from obedience. "It is a bad sign
when the delusions remain after the fever has left the brain. However,
it is early days yet, and we must hope for the best."

"You should rid your mind of such things," said the pleader a week or
two afterwards when, despite Ramanund's growing strength of body, he
still reverted again and again to that terrible dark night of Kâli,
imploring them to search out the criminals and have them brought to
justice. "There is, pardon me, not a tittle of evidence for truth of
your story; but circumstantial proof to contrary as I will state
categorically. _First_, known dislike to and hatred for Kâli and such
like, leading to language in my hearing calculated to break the peace.
_Second_, known excitement consequent perhaps on general sickness,
stress of examinations before holiday times, and such like, leading to
general look of fatigue and absent-mindedness noticeable to friends as
myself. _Third_, known physical horror of blood leading to much
recrimination of sacrifices, and such like; even to extent of shutting
yourself up all day, as per mother's evidence, from fear of
disagreeables. _Finally_, profound feverish sleep watched by same
mother with dubiosity several times, ending in sleep-walk to the
reeking shrine where you are found by Brahmins after dawn unconscious.
What can be closer chain of convincing proof?"

"We have made every inquiry," said his other friends soothingly,
"short of informing the police; and we can find no trace of what you
assert. Human sacrifices in times of great sickness may sometimes,
doubtless, be on the _tapis_, but this one we believe is but figment
of a still clouded brain. You must have patience. All will come clear
in time."

And when he asked for his new friend, the friend in whom he had partly
confided his love story, they shook their heads sadly. "He was almost
last victim to cholera," they said, "the cause has lost a shining
light. All the more need, Ramanund, why thou shouldst shake off these
idle fancies, and be our leader to perfect freedom of thought and

Perfect freedom of thought and action! Ramanund as he lay slowly
recovering of his brain fever wondered if he would ever have the heart
to believe in such a thing again. Wondered if he would ever again dare
to call himself a representative of India--that India which had killed
Anunda. For that the horrible sight he had seen on the slab of stone
beneath Kâli's clutching arms was no dream or delusion, but a reality,
he never for an instant doubted. Why they had done her to death, was
the only uncertainty which tortured him as he lay hopelessly silent;
silent because there was no use in words when none believed them. Had
it been simply a religious sacrifice to stay the plague--a sacrifice
known to thousands who would guard the secret as a divine obligation?
The choice falling, naturally enough, on one who was a stranger, and
utterly helpless in the hands of her priestly relations? Or was it
merely the _jôgi's_ revenge for his challenge. Or was it jealousy. Had
they discovered the intrigue, and was the man who had drawn the
trident of Siva on his forehead also the man of whom poor little
Anunda had spoken with such terror? Yet what did it matter, since she
was dead? What did anything matter beside the memory of that piteous
whisper, "Oh Ramu! it would be better--so----"

Ah! why had he tried to interfere with the old ways?--why had he
sought for more--why had he not let her be happy while she could, in
her own way?

When he left the hospital he found his mother installed in a new
lodging. It would not be good for him, his friends had said, to return
to the old environment while his mind was still clouded by delusions,
so she had performed the utmost act of self-denial of which an Hindu
woman is capable, and removed herself and her belongings from the
house where she had lived her life. But she would have done anything
for Ramanund at any time; how much more so now, when the Goddess had
shown that She still held him as her faithful servant by signs and
wonders. Had She not drawn him in his sleep to Her very feet, on Her
dark night?--he who would never cross Her threshold! And had he not
been found there prostrate amid the blood of sacrifices, with one of
Her garlands round his neck?--he who would never wear a flower!

"A garland," faltered Ramanund when she told him this exultantly. Ay!
a garland which she would cherish as her dearest possession since the
Goddess Herself must have thrown it around him--a garland which she
should show him--if--if he ever again talked foolishness as he had
talked that day when he had frightened her so, not knowing that he was
already in a fever.

"Show it me now, mother," he said quietly.

So she showed it to him. The _chumpak_ blossoms were but yellow shreds
upon a string, scentless, unrecognisable; here and there clogged black
with the blood of sacrifice which had stained them as he fell.

"Take it away!" he cried fiercely, thrusting it from him. "Take it
away! Oh! curses on the cruelty--curses on the----"

"_Jai Kâli ma!_" interrupted his mother as she laid the relic back in
the little casket whence she had taken it. "_Jai Kâli ma!_ for She
stayed the sickness."

Ramanund looked at her in dull dazed wonder. But it was true what she
said. The cholera had slackened from that very time when he had been
found lying at the Goddess' feet.


This is the story of a backwater; one of those still nooks sheltered
by sedges whither the sere and yellow leaves drift and rest, while the
current beyond slips by swift as ever. Why this particular backwater
should have called itself a Technical School of Art-needlework has
nothing to do with the story. Briefly it was a sort of almshouse where
twelve old Mohammedan ladies drew a poor monthly pittance of some few
rupees, and sat contentedly enough year after year twining gold thread
on to fine net. What became of the work when it was done has also
nothing to do with the story. Perhaps it was sold to eke out the funds
of a charity which did its fair share of solacing sorrow in keeping
twelve pairs of small, soft, high-bred hands from the quern-handle;
that last resource of the poor in India now, as it was when the Great
Mogul refused to allow the importation of Western machinery on the
ground that God's best gift to the poor was the millstone about their

It was in this odd little courtyard, packed away decorously in the
very heart of the loose-living, gambling, gold-worker's quarter, that
Glory-of-Woman found shelter after many years of patient, peaceful
privation; for Fakr-un-nissa (that was how her name ran in the soft
courtly tongue of the most brutal of cities) was a _Syyedani_; in
other words, of the poorest and proudest, too poor to bring a dowry to
a husband of her own rank, too generous to take one without it, too
proud to stoop to a partner beneath her--or rather too gentle, too
conservative. There are hundreds such women in Delhi, and
Fakr-un-nissa had been more fortunate than most, seeing that being
learned in the Koran she had kept body and soul together by
recitations at fast and festival in the _zenanas_, and so been spared
hard labour. Perhaps it was this which made her look younger than her
fifty and odd years; at all events there was scarcely a wrinkle on her
small oval face, and her tall, slender figure showed no sign of age.

She was the youngest of the scholars, and every evening when the gold
thread and the filmy net had been locked away in a queer little carven
coffer, she was the last to slip her small feet into one of those
twelve pairs of curly shoes which all day long had been ranged against
the slip of wall doing duty as a screen at the door, and the last to
use the rickety _dhooli_ which the charity provided for the modest
conveyance of the fair ones to their homes. It provided a chaperone
too, in the shape of a big lump of a girl about twenty, who sat on the
steps all day chattering to the passers-by, giggling at their jokes,
and chewing _pân_. It was a queer arrangement seeing that Khâdjiya
Khânum, the eldest of the scholars, was past eighty; but then age had
nothing to do with the fact that she was a _Syyedani_, and Juntu only
a gad-about. There was another pair of shoes, however, placed in a
corner apart from the rest; for it had come to be a recognised custom
in the backwater that there should always be a thirteenth pair of feet
ready to slip into any vacancy made by the sure decay which comes
alike to rest as to unrest. And so, five years before, when
Fakr-un-nissa had stepped into the last pair of shoes left by a
deserted wife who had gone down into the grave leaving one forlorn
daughter behind her, the old ladies had cast about to choose a
suitable aspirant. Not that they really had the right to appoint any
one, but because experience showed them that the claims of a
gratuitous worker were seldom overlooked when opportunity came for
urging them. This time the choice fell, naturally enough, on the
daughter of the dead scholar. Just in her teens, she was hopelessly
alone in the world; for her mother, after estranging her own people by
a marriage with a Mohammedan Râjpoot, had quarrelled with her
husband's family; but not before little Yâsmin had been married, and
had, according to the Rânghar custom, become a widow for life by the
death of her childish bridegroom. For race is stronger than religion
and the old Râjpoot ideas have survived conversion. So Yâsmin in her
turn waited for a vacancy in the shoes; or rather Noorbânu waited,
since the old ladies would have nothing to do with the flowery,
half-heathen name, and set themselves diligently to transform her into
a "Lady-of-light." It was not altogether a successful attempt, for the
girl's wild Râjpoot blood waxed rebellious sometimes; but as a rule
Fakr-un-nissa's soft voice with its polished periods and careful
intonation would bring her back to obedience.

"Lo! thou shouldst mind me, Heart's Delight," Glory-of-Woman would say
with a smile. "Do I not stand in Thy mother's shoes? Thou art young
now, Yâsmina; so was I once; yet thou wilt be as I am, some day."

And Yâsmina would make a face. "Well! that is better than being like
Khâdjiya Khânum, or Maimâna Begum with her little eyes."

So the years passed bringing no blank to the roll of high-sounding
names, no break in the row of shoes, no vacant place in the semicircle
of old women which chased the sunshine round the court during the cold
months, and the shade during the hot ones. For they felt the stress of
the seasons in their old bones. Otherwise winter and summer were alike
to them; as was the green leaf and the sere since they had never seen
either. But Yâsmin felt the spring-time in her blood and began to
weary of being at every one's beck and call.

"She is a Rânghar! Bury a dog's tail for twelve years, and it will
still be crooked," said Maimâna Begum. She was full to the brim of
proverbial wisdom, and had a little clique of her own in that
semicircle of flimsy net, glittering gold thread, and withered hands.
Mumtâza Mahul's head, and those of half a dozen Lights, or Desires, or
Ornaments of the Palace, the World, or, of Woman, wagged in assent to
her words. It was easy to change a name but not a nature; and had
every one heard that some one had seen Noor-Bânu talking to a woman
with whom she ought not to have been talking?

Glory-of-Woman's thin face grew eager. "'Tis a cousin, Mai Khâdjiya.
The girl told me of it and I have inquired. A cousin of the father's,
married--yea! married, indeed, to a trooper, like he is, serving the
_Sirkar_ somewhere. Such folks lose hold on old ways, yet mean no
harm. We must not judge them as ourselves."

"_Wâh_, Fakr-un-nissa! Wouldst say the Devil meant no harm next. Thy
heart spoils thy faith. I marvel at thee, thou who dost fast and pray
more than is needful."

The ring of bitterness in old Khâdjiya's tones was explained by
the fact that it was nigh the end of the first ten days' fast of
Mohurrum-tide and she had not chosen that any, despite her age, should
exceed her in the observance thereof. And Fakr-un-nissa's zeal had
raised the price of self-complacency beyond reason.

"More than is needful!" echoed Maimâna Begum with a like tartness.
"Art not rash to say so, Mai Khâdjiya? Sure the virtue of some folk is
situate as the tongue among thirty-two teeth. It needs care to
preserve itself."

The white shrouded figures chuckled. They were not really ill-humoured,
or evilly disposed towards Glory-of-Woman; it was simply that her
excellent example had made all their old bodies rather fretful. "And
as for the girl," continued the acrid voice, "she is a cat on the wall.
God only knows on which side she will jump down."

Fakr-un-nissa's eyes flashed, and her fingers entangled themselves in
the gold thread. "Then, for sure, it is our part to make the right
side more pleasant than the wrong; not to be always finding fault
because she is young. Yea, 'tis so; for look you, it seems ever to me
that we are to blame--that we are in her place. Five long years is it
since she hath waited."

Khâdjiya Khânum's hands dropped from her work and flew out in vehement
crackings of every joint against ill-luck. "_Tobah, Tobah!_ (For
shame, for shame!) Mistress Fakr-un-nissa. Die if thou wilt to make
room for the hussy. As for me, I wait on the will of the Lord."

A murmur of assent ran through the semicircle once more.

"Nay, nay! I meant not so," protested Fakr-un-nissa hastily. "Lo,
death comes to all, and goeth not by age. I meant but this,--sure 'tis
hard to put it to words--that the old should make room for the young,
or make the waiting bearable."

"_Tchu!_ If the heart be set on a frog, what doth it care for a
fairy?" insisted the hoarder of other folk's wisdom. "Dost mean to
hint that in this place the girl hath not had virtue set constantly
before her, ay, and preached too? It seems to me that we have it
almost to satiety. Is it not so, sisters?"

Once more the chuckle ran round the circle, and Glory-of-Woman sat
still more upright. "Amongst thy other proverbs, canst not recollect
the one which says, 'Between the two priests the fowl killed for
dinner became unlawful to eat'?" Then the temper died from her face
and she went on in a softer tone: "I find no harm in the girl, and
what wrong hath she done this day more than another?"

"No more, for sure," put in Mumtâza Mahul, "since she is late at work
every day; that is no new thing, is it, sisters?"

"Yet she finishes her task as quick as any,--as I, anyhow," persisted
Yâsmina's advocate, who having come to the gold thread late in life
found it apt to knot.

"_Wâh-illâh!_ What a fuss about a wilful girl," put in a new voice.
"She is no worse than others, and needs restraint no more. She hath
grown saucy since we gave her money instead of broken victuals. Put
her back to the old footing, say I, when she had nought of her own."

Khâdjiya Khânum's veiled head nodded sagely. "Thou hast it,
Hameda-bânu. Lo, I, for one, know not why the girl was ever given such
freedom, save indeed that it tallies with Fakr-un-nissa's indecent
hastening of Providence. I am for the old plan."

"And I,"--"And I,"--"And I,"--assented a chorus of set, certain

Glory-of-Woman's fingers flew faster. "Then will ye drive the girl
from us altogether. I know it, I feel it. Yea, I, Fakr-un-nissa,
singer of the Koran till my tone failed me, remember it;--those days
when some other song seemed better and one must needs sing it! Think,
sisters, remember! The eyes of the body are two; the eye of the soul
is one." The work had dropped from her hands which were stretched out
in eager entreaty. "'Tis but patience for a year or two. Then, since
there is no harm in her, she will settle down as--as I--as I did. 'Tis
but the youth in her veins, and God knows that is soon past for a
woman; yet one's glory remains." Her voice regaining some of its past
strength, recollecting all its old skill under the stimulus of both
memory and hope, filled the little courtyard,--and availed nothing.

Half an hour afterwards, struck dumb, as sensitive natures are, by the
stress of passion around her, she was watching with stupid inaction
Yâsmin's final vengeance on that decorous row of curly shoes behind
the screening wall. To right and left, to this corner and that, they
sped before the reckless young feet while the reckless young voice
rose in mockery. "Lo, I wait no longer for old women's shoes. I will
have new ones of my own. Khujju, and Mujju, and the rest of ye can
sort them for yourselves, or go down to the grave one foot at a time
as seemeth to ye best. I care not; I wait no longer."

One pair flew full in Maimâna Begum's face, and then came a pause
before the last pair, an odd sound between a laugh and a sob, a sudden
sweep of the net veil over the shoulder, and a half-defiant nod to the
old white fingers. "These shall stay, because they were my mother's,
and because----"

The next moment she was gone, leaving the twelve old women sitting in
the sunshine, breathless, silenced by her youth, her unreason, her
fire. Even Fakr-un-nissa had no word of defence. But after a time,
when Juntu, full of smiles and winks, came from the steps to aid the
cackle which arose as the silencing effect of the shock wore away,
Glory-of-Woman began to feel the old pain at her heart once more.
"Because they were my mother's, and because----" She could fill up the
pause in two ways: "Because they are yours, and you have been kinder
than the others"; "Because they should by rights be mine." Both
answers were disturbing. She leaned back against the wall, pressing
her thin hands to the thin breast which had known so little of a
woman's life, save only that craving for another song.

"Towards the bazaar, sayest thou?" came Khâdjiya's wrathfully
satisfied voice. "To the bazaar, and in Mohurrum-tide, too! That means
the worst, and we were none too soon in getting rid of her, Heaven be

"The cousin lives close to the _Chowk_," put in Fakr-un-nissa faintly.
"Mayhap the girl goes there."

Juntu laughed. "The cousin is a bad one; no better."

Whereat Maimâna Begum remarked sagely that whether the knife fell on
the melon or the melon on the knife was all one; the melon suffered.
Yâsmin's reputation was hopelessly hurt by that going bazaar-wards.

"For a _Syyedâni_ perchance," retorted Juntu with some acerbity.
"Yet this I say: there is no harm in the girl though she be younger
than some folk who need _dhoolis_ to their virtue." She hated the
proverb-monger who never from year's end to year's end gave her a
_cowrie_ or so much even as a word of thanks. And then being
Mohurrum-tide, when in all pious houses the Assemblage of Mourning
must be held, the work was folded away in the old carved coffer, the
desecrated shoes sorted into pairs, and one by one the old ladies were
smuggled into the curtained _dhooli_ and trotted away to their homes,
with buxom Juntu chattering and laughing alongside.

"Dost recite the _Mursiâh_[21] at the Nawâb's this year,
Fakr-un-nissa?" asked Humeda-bânu, wrapping herself carefully in a
thick white veil.


[Footnote 21: The dirge in honour of the martyred Hussan and Hussain.]


Glory-of-Woman shook her head. "They have a new one. Last Mohurrum I
grew hoarse. Perhaps 'twas the fever; it had held me for days."

"Fever!" echoed the other. "Say rather the fasting. Thou hast a dead
look in the face even now, and as for me, God knows whether I feel
hungry or sick. Thou shouldst remember that thou art growing old."

"I do remember it," said Fakr-un-nissa half to herself.

In truth she did. As she sate awaiting her turn for the curtained
_dhooli_ she felt very cold, very helpless. Yâsmin, whom she had
loved, had broken loose from all tradition and gone bazaar-wards. The
very idea was terrifying. The brain behind that high narrow forehead
of Fakr-un-nissa's could barely grasp the situation. For fifty years
it had circled round the one central duty of pious seclusion, and
Yâsmin's choice seemed almost incredible. For there was no harm
in the girl; she had always been responsive to kind words. If she,
Fakr-un-nissa, could only have had speech with her alone! The thought
made her restless and sent her to the door, to peep, closely veiled,
round the screen and watch the _dhooli_ containing Humeda-bânu
disappear from the steps. Yet she had done her best, giving the girl
in secret what she could spare of the pittance; and this year there
would be no recitation-fees to eke out the remainder. Perhaps the
others were right, and this generosity of hers had fostered the girl's
independence. Khâdjiya and Maimâna would say so, for sure, if they
knew. Then was she to blame?--she who loved the girl, who had taken
the mother's shoes. The mere possibility was a terror to the
conscience where the womanhood that was in her had found its only
chance of blossoming. It is the same East and West. Glory-of-Woman, as
she stood, tall and thin, leaning against the dull brick screen, had
as much claim to saintship as any in the canonised calendar; and
wherefore not? Had not she spent nearly fifty years in learning the
lives of the saints by heart, and chanting the dirge of martyred
virtue? It came back to her dimly as she stood there. The sombre
dresses of the mourning assemblage, the glittering _Imâm-bârah_[22]
dressed with such care by reverent hands; and then her own voice above
the answering chorus of moaning and sobbing. She had power then, she
was helpless now; helpless and old, yet not old enough apparently to
die; though when all was said and done, it was not _her_ turn, but
Khâdjiya Khânum's. Yet she had taken the mother's shoes, and had
sat there silent when perhaps a word from her might have saved
that awful journey to the bazaar. Then the thought came to her
that the saints were never helpless,--not even the blessed Fâtima
herself--Glory-of-Woman had fasted and prayed for long days and
nights; she felt miserably ill in soul and body, in the very mood
therefore to slip her feet into the pair of shoes Yâsmin's
recklessness had spared, and, almost as recklessly, pass without a
pause to the doorstep. The next instant she was back again in shelter,
breathless, palpitating. Yet might it not be the voice of God? And no
one would know; she might be back ere Juntu returned, and even if she
were not, the gad-about had a kind heart. Besides, another rupee from
the pittance would silence her in any case.


[Footnote 22: A model of the martyrs' shrine; a permanent erection,
whereas the _tâzzias_ used for the procession are afterwards burned.
There is a celebrated Imâm-bârah at Lucknow, imported from England.]


East and West nothing is impossible to such religious exaltation as
changed the slow current in Fakr-un-nissa's veins to a stream of fire
scorching and shrivelling every thought save the one,--that she stood
in the mother's shoes yet had said no word. She wrapped her thick
shroud of a veil tighter round her and stepped deliberately into the
alley. The glory of woman, its motherhood, was hers indeed in that
instant, though she did not realise it; though the thin breast heaving
with her quickened breath had never felt the lip-clasp of a child.

It was a long, low room, opening by arches to a wooden balcony
without, into which, half-fainting with pure physical fatigue, she
stumbled after Heaven knows what trivial--yet to her sheer ignorance
almost awful--difficulties by the way. Yet she was not afraid; indeed
as she had passed through the crowded streets it had been wonder which
had come to her. That this should be a time of fasting and mourning,
and yet none seem to care! Had the world no time to bewail dead
virtue? Had it forgotten the Faith? And this, too, was no mourning
assemblage, though in some of the faces of the lounging men she
recognised the features of her own race, the race of the Prophet
himself. Had they forgotten also? She shrank back an instant,
until--beside a flaunting woman whose profession was writ large
enough for even fifty years of pious seclusion to decipher it
instinctively--she saw a slender figure crouching half-sullen,
half-defiant. The face was still veiled, but she knew it.

"Yâsmin!" she cried breathlessly. "Come back! Come back to us!"

The girl sprang to her feet with a fierce cry, and was beside the tall
white form in an instant, screening it with swift arms that strove to
force it back. "Go! I say go! Why art thou here? Thou shouldst not
have come hither! Go! See, I will come also if thou wilt not go
without me."

"Not so fast, my pigeon," tittered the flaunting woman, answering the
half-surprised looks of the men with nods and winks. "Thou art in my
charge now, since thou hast left the saints. Who is this woman? Let
her speak her claim."

Yâsmin's hand flew to Fakr-un-nissa's mouth. "Not a word, _Amma_,[23]
not a word. See, I will go; quick, let us go."


[Footnote 23: A pet name for mother or nurse.]


The surprise had lessened, and a man's voice rose with a laugh. "What,
let thee go for nothing, with an unknown? Nay, Mistress Chambelé, that
were unwise. She is thy cousin; the claims of kinship must be

"The claims of numbers, too," put in another. "Let the veiled one
unveil since she has come among us."

"Nay, brothers," interrupted a third hastily in a lower voice, "mayhap
she is one of the saintly women, and----"

A laugh checked the speech. "So much the better. What doth a saint

Some one had barred the doorway with thrust-out arm, and half a dozen
others with jeering faces lounged against the wall crying languidly,
"Unveil, unveil." But Yâsmin's arms clasped close. "I _will_ go," she
panted. "I will go with her. She,--she is my mother."

Chambelé's titter rang high and shrill. "_Wâh!_ That is a tale! See
you, friends; her mother hath been dead five years. Enough of this,
little fool! Thou hast made thy choice already; there is no place for
thee yonder with the saints."

"She hath her mother's," cried Fakr-un-nissa, freeing herself from
Yâsmin's hold with new strength, born of the girl's words. "Lo, she
speaks truth, my sister! I stand in her mother's shoes. Let her go in
peace, and she shall have them surely."

Something in the urbane polish of her speech awoke memory in the men,
and one, older than the rest, said with a frown, "Yea, 'tis enough,
Chambelé; let the woman go, and the child also if she wish it. She
will come back another day if she be of this sort; if not, there are

"But not without a ransom," interrupted one with an evil face and evil
eyes which had seen enough of Yâsmin's figure beneath the veil to
think her presence gave unwonted piquancy to the business.

"Yea, a ransom, a ransom for coming here, and spoiling pleasure! Let
the saint pay the price of the sinner; unveil! unveil!" cried half a
dozen jeering voices.

The sunshine without streamed through the arches in broad bands upon
the floor, but Fakr-un-nissa's tall muffled figure stood in shadow by
the door. A fighting quail was calling boastfully from a shrouded cage
over the way; the cries of the noisy bazaar floated up to the balcony,
a harmonious background to Chambelé's noisier laugh. Then, suddenly,
came a step forward into the sunlight, and the heavy white veil fell
in billowy curves like a cloud about Fakr-un-nissa's feet. For the
first time in her life Glory-of-Woman stood unsheltered from the gaze
of men's eyes. And those eyes saw something worth seeing, despite her
fifty and odd years: a woman beautiful in her age, graceful as ever in
the sweeping white draperies of the graceful Delhi dress; but a woman
forgetful utterly of the womanhood, even of the motherhood in her, as
with one swift outspreading of the arms she broke into the opening
lines of the _Mursiâh_, that dirge of martyred virtue which is as
closely interwoven with all that is best in the life of a Mussulman as
"Hark, the herald angels sing!" is with the Christian's tender
memories of home; a dirge sacred to the day and the hour; a dirge
forgotten by this new world. Fakr-un-nissa remembered nothing else.
Many and many a time listless indifferent hearts had responded to the
fervour of her declamation; women's hearts, it is true, and that was a
woman's derisive laugh! But above it rose a man's swift curse
commanding silence for all save that skilful voice; and not silence
only--for that was a sigh! So the cadences rang truer and stronger out
into the sunlight making the passers-by pause to listen.

"An Assemblage at Chambelé's house!" sneered some one. "That is a
sinner's ransom indeed."

But Glory-of-Woman heard nothing save those responsive sighs, saw
nothing but the orthodox beatings of the breast with which one or two
of the elder men gave in to custom.

The last _ameen_ left her still blind, still deaf. Then came a laugh.
"With half her years I'd take the saint before the sinner," said the
man with the evil face.

Glory-of-Woman stood for a second as if turned to stone. Then she
threw up her hands with a cry and sank in a huddled heap upon the
white curves of her fallen veil.

"God smite your soul to eternal damnation!" cried a man's voice.

But Glory-of-Woman was to hear no man's voice again. She had kept her
promise, and the last pair of curly shoes behind the screen was
vacant. In due time Noor-bânu slipped into them, for the eleven old
ladies and Juntu made peace with her for the sake of Fakr-un-nissa.

"Lo! the ways of Providence are not our ways," said Khâdjiya Khânum
piously over her horn spectacles. "And she was ever in a hurry. For my
part I wait on the will of the Lord."

Maimâna Begum cackled under her breath. "Hair-oil is wasted on a bald
head," she said in a whisper to Humeda-bânu. "Her time is near, hurry
or no hurry. Who comes, must go."

                         AT THE GREAT DURBAR

He sat, cuddled up in a cream-coloured cotton blanket, edged with
crimson, shoo-ing away the brown rats from the curved cobs of Indian
corn. The soft mists of a northern November hung over the landscape in
varying density. Heavy over the dank sugar-cane patch by the well,
lighter on the green fodder crop, dewy among the moisture-loving
leaves of the sprouting vetches, and here, in the field of ripening
maize, scarcely visible between the sparse stems. He was an old man
with a thin white beard tucked away behind his ears and a kindly look
on his high-featured face. Every now and then he took up a little clod
of earth from the dry, crumbling ridge of soil which divided the field
he was watching from the surrounding ones, and threw it carefully
among the maize, saying in a gentle, grumbling voice, "_Ari_,
brothers! Does no shame come to you?"

It had no perceptible effect on the rats, who, owing to the extreme
sparsity of the crop, could be seen every here and there deliberately
climbing up a swaying stem to seat themselves on a cob and begin
breakfast systematically. In the calm, windless silence you could
almost hear the rustle and rasp of their sharp white teeth. But Nânuk
Singh--as might have been predicted from his seventy and odd years of
life in the fields--was somewhat hard of hearing; somewhat near of
vision also. For when so many years have been spent watching the
present furrow cling to the curves of the past one, in sure and
certain hope of similar furrows in the future, or in listening to the
endless lamentations of a water-wheel ceasing not by day or night to
proclaim an eternity of toil and harvest, both eyes and ears are apt
to grow dull towards new sights and sounds. Nânuk's had, at any rate,
even though the old familiar ones no longer occupied them; fate having
decreed that in his old age the peasant farmer should have neither
furrows nor water-wheel of his own. How this had come about needs a
whole statute book of Western laws to understand. Nânuk himself never
attempted the task. To him it was, briefly, the will of God. His
district-officer, however, when the case fell under his notice by
reason of the transfer of the land, thought differently; and having a
few minutes' leisure from office drudgery to spare for really
important work, made yet one more representation regarding the
scandalous rates of interest, the cruelty of time-foreclosures, and
the general injustice of applying the maxim "_caveat emptor_" to
transactions in which one party is practically a child and the other a
Jew. A futile representation, of course, since the Government, so
experts affirm, is not strong enough to attack the Frankenstein
monster of Law which it has created.

In a measure, nevertheless, old Nânuk was right in attributing his
ruin to fate, since it had followed naturally from the death of his
three sons. One, the eldest, dying of malarial fever in the prime of
life, leaving, alas! a young family of girls. Another, the youngest,
swept off by cholera just as his hand began to close firmly round his
dead brother's plough-handle. The third, when on the eve of getting
his discharge from a frontier regiment in order to take his brothers'
places by his father's side, being struck down ingloriously in one of
the petty border raids of which our Punjab peasant soldiers have
always to bear the brunt.

And this loss of able hands led inevitably to the loss of ill-kept
oxen; while from the lack of well-cattle came that gradual shrinkage
of the irrigated area where some crop is certain--rain or no
rain--which means a less gradual sinking further and further into
debt; until, as had been the case with Nânuk, the owner loses all
right in the land save the doubtful one of toil. Even this had passed
from the old man's slackening hold after his wife died, and the
daughters-in-law, with starvation staring them in the face, had
drifted away back to their own homes, leaving him to live as best he
could on the acre or so of unirrigated land lent to him out of sheer
charity. For public opinion still has some power over the usurer in a
village of strong men, and all his fellows respected old Nânuk, who
stood six feet two, barefoot, and had tales to tell of the gentle art
of singlestick as applied to the equitable settling of accounts in the
old days, before Western laws had taken the job out of the creditor's

Strangely enough, however, Nânuk, as he sat coping inadequately with
the brown rats, felt less resentment against the usurer who had robbed
him, or the law which permitted the robbery, than he did against the
weather. The former had made no pretence of favouring him; the latter,
year after year, had tempted his farmer's soul to lavish sowings by
copious rain at seed time, and thereinafter withheld the moisture
necessary for a bare return of measure for measure. Briefly, he had
gambled in grain, and he had lost. Lost hopelessly in this last
harvest of maize, since, when the sound cobs should be separated from
those which the wanton teeth had spoilt, they would not yield the
amount of Government revenue which the old man had to pay; certainly
would not do so if the cobs became scarcer day by day and the rats
more throng. In fact, the necessity for action ere matters grew worse
appeared to strike Nânuk, making him, after a time, draw out a small
sickle and begin to harvest the remaining stalks one by one.

"_Bullah!_ neighbour Nânuk," cried the new man who, better equipped
for the tasks with sons and cattle, was driving the wheel and curving
the furrows for the usurer, "I would, for thy sake, the task was
harder. And as if the crop were not poor enough, the dissolute rats
must needs play the wanton with the half of it. But, 'tis the same all
over the land, and between them and the revenue we poor folk of the
plough will have no share."

Nânuk stood looking meditatively at a very fine cob out of which a
pair of sharp white teeth were taking a last nibble, while a pair of
wicked black eyes watched him fearlessly.

"They are God's creatures also, and have a right to live on the soil
as we others," he said slowly.

"Then they should pay the revenue," grumbled Dittu. "Why should _you_,
who have no crop whereon to pay? _Ai teri!_" he added sharply to one
of the oxen he was driving to their work, "sleepest thou? and the well
silent! Dost want to bring me to Nânuk's plight?"

So with a prod of the goad, he passed on, leaving old Nânuk still
looking at the brown rat on the corncob. Why, indeed, should he have
to pay for God's other creatures? In the old days justice would have
been meted out to such as he. The crop would have been divided into
heaps, so many for the owner of the soil, so many for the tiller, so
many for the State. Then if _Puramêshwar_[24] sent rats instead of
rain the heaps were smaller. That was all. And if the equity of this
had been patent to those older rulers, who had scarcely given a
thought in other ways to the good of their subjects, why should it not
be patent to those new ones who, God keep them! gave justice without
respect of persons, so far as in them lay? There must be a mistake
somewhere; the facts could not have been properly placed before the
_Lât-sahib_--that vice-regent of God upon earth. This conviction came
home slowly to the old man as he finished his harvesting; slowly but
surely, so that when he had spread the cobs out to dry on his cotton
blanket he walked over to the well, and, between the whiffs of the
general pipe, hinted that he thought of laying the matter before the
authorities. "I will take the produce of my field," he said, "in my
hand--it will not be more than five _seers_ when the good is sifted
from the bad--and I will say to the _Lât-sahib_, 'This is because
_Puramêshwar_ sent rats instead of rain. Take your share, and ask no


[Footnote 24: The Great God.]


Dittu, the new man, laughed scornfully. "Better take a rat also, since
all parties to the case must be present by the law."

He intended it as a joke, but Nânuk took it quite seriously. "That is
true," he assented; "I will take a rat also; then there can be no

That evening, when he sat with his cronies on the mud daïs beneath the
_peepul_ tree, where he was welcome to a pull out of anybody's pipe,
he spoke again of his intention. The younger folk laughed, but the
seniors thought that it could at least do no harm. Nânuk's case was a
hard one; it was quite clear he could not pay the revenue, and it was
better to go to the fountain-head in such matters, since underlings
could do nothing but take fees. So, while the stars came out in the
evening sky, they sat and told tales of Nausherwân, and many another
worthy whose memory lingers in native minds by reason of perfectly
irrational acts of despotic clemency, such as even Socialists do not
dream of now-a-days. The corn-cobs then being harvested, dried, and
shelled, he set to work with the utmost solemnity on rat-traps; but
here at once he realised his mistake. By harvesting his own crop he
had driven the little raiders further afield; and though he could
easily have caught one in his neighbour's patch, a desire to deal
perfectly fair with those who, in his experience, dealt perfectly
fairly with facts, made him stipulate for a rat out of his own.

This necessitated the baiting of his property with some of the corn in
order to attract the wanton creatures again; and even then, though he
sat for hours holding the cord by which an earthen dish was to be made
to fall upon the unsuspecting intruder, he was unsuccessful.

"Trra! not catch rats!" cried a most venerable old pantaloon to whom
he applied for advice, remembering him in his boyhood as one almost
godlike in his supreme knowledge of such things. "Wait awhile; 'tis a
trick--a mere trick--but when you once know it you cannot forget it."
All that day the old men sat together in the sunshine, profoundly
busy, and towards evening they went forth together to the field,
chattering and laughing like a couple of schoolboys. It was long after
dusk ere they returned, full of mutual recrimination. The one had
coughed too much, the other had wheezed perpetually; there was no
catching of rats possible under such circumstances. Then the old
pantaloon went a-hunting by himself, full of confidence, only to
return dejected; then Nânuk, full of determination, sat up all one
moonlight night in the field where--now that he had no crop to benefit
by it--the night-dew gathered heavily on every leaf and blade, on
Nânuk, too, as he sat crouched up in his cotton blanket, thinking of
what he should say to the _Lât-sahib_ when the rat was caught, which
it was not. Finally, with angry misgivings as to the capabilities of
the present generation of boys, the old pantaloon suggested the
offering of one whole anna for the first rat captured in Nânuk's
maize-field. Before the day was over a score or two of the village
lads, long-limbed, bright-eyed, were vociferously maintaining the
prior claims of as many brown rats, safely confined in little earthen
pipkins with a rag tied round the top. They stood in a row, like an
offering of sweets to some deity, round Nânuk's bed, for--as was not
to be wondered at after his night-watch--he was down with an attack of
the chills. That was nothing new. He had had them every autumn since
he was born; but he was not accustomed to be surrounded on such
occasions by brown rats appealing to him for justice. It ended in his,
with feverish hands, giving one anna to each of the boys, and
reserving his selection until he was in a more judicial frame of mind.
Still, it would not do to starve God's creatures, so every morning
while the fever lingered--for it had got a grip on him somehow--he
went round the pipkins and fed the rats with some of the maize. And
every morning, rather to his relief, there were fewer of them to feed,
since they nibbled their way out once they discovered that the top of
their prison was but cloth. So as he lay, sometimes hot, sometimes
cold, the idea came to him, foolishly enough, that this was a process
of divine selection, and that if he only waited the day when but one
rat should remain, his mission would bear the seal of success. An idea
like this only needs presentation to a mind, or lack of mind, like old
Nânuk's. So what with the harvesting and the rat-catching, and the
fever and the omen-awaiting, it was close on the new year when, with a
brown rat, now quite tame, tied up in a pipkin, some five _seers_ of
good grain tied up in the corner of his cotton blanket, and Heaven
knows what a curious conglomeration of thought bound up in his still
feverish brain, the old man set out from his village to find the
_Lât-sahib_. Such things are still done in India, such figures are
still to be seen, making some civilised people stand out of the road
bareheaded, as they do to a man on his way to the grave--a man who has
lived his life, whose day is past.

Owing also to the fever and the paying for rats, etc., old Nânuk's
pockets were ill-provided for the journey, but that mattered little in
a country where a pilgrimage on foot is in itself presumptive evidence
of saintship. Besides, the brown rat--to which Nânuk had attached a
string lest one of the parties to the suit might escape him on the
road--was a perpetual joy to the village children, who scarcely knew
if it were greater fun to peep at it in its pipkin or see it peeping
out of the old man's cotton blanket, when in the evenings it nibbled
away at its share of Nânuk's dinner. They used to ask endless
questions as to why he carried it about, and what he was going to do
with it, until, half in jest, half in earnest, he told them he was the
_mudâ-ee_ (plaintiff) and the rat the _mudee-âla_ (defendant) in a
case they were going to lay before the _Lât-sahib_; an explanation
perfectly intelligible to even the babes and sucklings, who in a
Punjabi village now-a-days lisp in numbers of petitions and pleaders.

So the _mudâ-ee_ and _mudee-âla_ trampled along together amicably,
sometimes by curving wheel-tracks among the furrows--ancient
rights-of-way over the wide fields, as transient yet immutable as the
furrows themselves; and there, with the farmer's eye-heritage of
generations, he noted each change of tint in the growing wheat, from
the faintest yellowing to the solid dark green with its promise of a
full ear to come. Sometimes by broad lanes, telling yet once more the
strange old Indian tale of transience and permanence, of death and
renewed birth, in the deep grass-set ruts through which the traffic of
centuries had passed rarely, yet inevitably. And here with the same
knowledgeable eye he would mark the homing herds of village cattle,
and infer from their condition what the unseen harvest had been which
gave them their fodder. Finally, out upon the hard white high-road, so
different from the others in its self-sufficient straightness, its
squared heaps of nodular limestone ready for repairs, its elaborate
arrangements for growing trees where they never grew before, and where
even Western orders will not make them grow. And here Nânuk's eyes
still found something familiar in the great wains creaking along in
files to add their quota of corn sacks to the mountain of wheat
cumbering the railway platforms all along the line. Yet even this was
in its essence new, provoking the wonder in his slow brain how it
could be that the increased demand for wheat and its enhanced price
should have gone hand-in-hand with the financial ruin of the grower.

To say sooth, however, such problems as these flitted but vaguely
through the old man's thought, and even his own spoliation was half
forgotten in the one great object of that long journey which, despite
his cheerful patience, had sapped his strength sadly. To find the
_Lât-sahib_, to make his salaam, and bid the _mudee-âla-jee_ do so
likewise, to lay the produce of the field at the sahib's feet, and say
that _Puramêshwar_ had sent rats instead of rain--that in itself was
sufficient for the old man as he trudged along doggedly, his eyes
becoming more and more dazed by unfamiliar sights as he neared the big

"_Bullah!_" said the woman of whom he begged a night's lodging. "If we
were to house and feed the wanderers on this road, we should have to
starve ourselves. And thou art a Sikh. Go to thine own people. 'Tis
each for each in this world." That was a new world to Nânuk.

"Doth thy rat do tricks?" asked the children critically. "What, none?
Trra! we can see rats of that mettle any day in the drains, and there
was a man here yesterday whose rat cooked bread and drew water. Ay!
and his goat played the drum. That was a show worth seeing."

So Nânuk trudged on.

"See the _Lât-sahib_" sneered the yellow-legged police constable when,
after much wandering through bewildering crowds, the old Sikh found
himself at a meeting of roads, each one of which was barred by a
baton. "Which _Lât-sahib_--the big one or the little?"

"The big one," replied Nânuk stoutly. There was no good in underlings;
_that_ he knew.

Police Constable number seventy-five called over to his crony number
ninety-six on the next road.

"_Ari_, brother! Here is another _durbari_. Canst let him in on thy
beat? I have no room on mine." And then they both laughed, whereat old
Nânuk, taking courage, moved on a step, only to be caught and dragged
back, hustled, and abused. What! was the Great Durbar for the like of
him--the Great Durbar on which lakhs and crores had been spent--the
Great Durbar all India had been thinking of for months? _Wâh!_ Whence
had he come if he had not heard of the Great Durbar, and what had he
thought was the meaning of the Venetian masts and triumphal arches,
the flags and the watered roads? Did he think such things were always?
_Ari!_ if it came to such ignorance as that, mayhap he would not know
what _this_ was coming along the road.

It was a disciplined tramp of feet, an even glitter of bayonets, a
straight line of brown faces, a swing and a sweep, as a company of the
Guides came past in their _kâkhi_ and crimson uniform. Old Nânuk
looked at it wistfully.

"Nay, brother," he said, "I know that. 'Twas my son's regiment, God
rest him!"

"Thou shouldst sit down, old man," said a bystander kindly. "Of a
truth thou canst go no further till the show is over. Hark! there are
the guns again. 'Twill be Bairânpore likely, since Hurriâna has gone
past. _Wâh!_ it is a show--a rare show!"

So down the watered road, planted out in miserable attempts at
decoration with barbers' poles unworthy of a slum in the East End,
came a bevy of Australian horses, wedged at a trot between huge
kettledrums, which were being whacked barbarically by men who rose in
their stirrups with the conscientious precision of a newly imported
competition-_wallah_. Then more Australian horses again in an
_orfeverie_ barouche lined with silver, where, despite the glow of
colour, the blinding flash of diamonds in an Indian sun, despite even
the dull wheat-green glitter of the huge emerald tiara about the
turban, the eye forgot these things to fix itself upon the face which
owned them all; a face haggard, sodden, superlatively handsome even in
its soddenness; indifferent, but with an odd consciousness of the
English boy who--dressed as for a flower show--sat silently beside his
charge. Behind them with a clatter and flutter of pennons came a great
trail of wild horsemen, showing as they swept past, dark, lowering
faces among the sharp spear points.

And the guns beat on their appointed tale, till, with the last, a
certain satisfaction came to that sodden face, since there were none
short in the salute--_as yet_. The measure of his misdoings was not
full _as yet_.[25]


[Footnote 25: A reduction in the number of guns is the first
punishment for bad administration.]


The crowd ebbed and flowed irregularly to border the straight white
roads, where at intervals the great tributary chiefs went backwards
and forwards to pay their State visits, but Nânuk and his rat--the
plaintiff and the defendant--waited persistently for their turn to
pass on. It was long in coming; for even when the last flash and dash
of barbaric splendour had disappeared, the roar of cannon began
louder, nearer, regular to a second in its even beat.

"That is the _Lât_-salute" said one man to another in the crowd. "Let
us wait and see the _Lât_, brother, ere we go."

Nânuk overheard the words, and looked along the road anxiously, then
stood feeling more puzzled than ever; for there was nothing to see
here but a plain closed carriage with a thin red and gold trail of the
body-guard behind it and before. The sun was near to its setting, and
sent a red angry flare upon a bank of clouds which had risen in the
east, and the dust of many feet swept past in whirls before a rising

"It will rain ere nightfall," declared the crowd, contentedly, as it
melted away citywards. "And the crops will be good, praise to God."

Once more Nânuk overheard, and this time a glad recognition seemed to
rouse him from a dream. Yes! the crops would be good. Down by the
well, on the land he and his had ploughed for so many years, the wheat
would be green--green as those emeralds above that sodden face.

"The _Lât_ has gone out," joked Constable Seventy-five as he went off
duty; "but there are plenty of other things worth seeing to such an
ignoramus as thou."

True; only by this time Nânuk was almost past seeing aught save that
all things were unfamiliar in those miles and miles of regiments and
rajahs, electric lights and newly macadamised roads, tents and
make-believe gardens, all pivoted, as it were, round the Royal
Standard of England, which was planted out in the centre of the
Viceroy's camp. As he wandered aimlessly about the vast canvas city,
hustled here, sent back there, the galloping orderlies, the shuffling
elephants, the carriages full of English ladies, the subalterns
cracking their tandem whips, and the native outriders had but one word
for him.

"_Hut! Hut!_" (Stand back--stand back!)

A heavy drop of rain came as a welcome excuse to his dogged
perseverance for sheltering awhile under a thorn bush. He was more
tired than hungry, though he had not tasted food that day; and it
needed a sharp nip from the defendant's teeth, as it sought for
something eatable in the folds of his blanket, to remind him that
others of God's creatures had a better appetite than he. But what was
he to give? There was the five _seers_ of grain still, of course; but
who was to apportion the shares; who was to say, "This much for the
plaintiff, this much for the defendant, this much for the State?" The
familiar idea seemed to give him support in the bewildering inrush of
new impressions, and he held to it as a drowning man in a waste of
unknown waters clutches at a straw.

Nevertheless, the parties to the suit must not be allowed to starve
meanwhile, and if they took equal shares surely that would be just?

The rain now fell in torrents, and the _kikar_-bush scarcely gave him
any shelter as, with a faint smile, he sat watching the brown rat at
work upon the corn, and counting the number of grains the wanton teeth
appropriated as their portion. For so much, and no more, would be his
also. It was not a sumptuous repast, but uncooked maize requires
mastication, and that took up time. So that it was dark ere he stood
up, soaked through to the skin, and looked perplexedly at the long
lines of twinkling lights which had sprung up around him. And hark!
what was that? It was the dinner bugle at a mess close by, followed,
as by an echo, by another and another and another--quite a chorus of
cheerful invitations to dinner. But Nânuk knew nothing of such feasts
as were spread there in the wilderness. He had lived all his life on
wheat and lentils, though, being a Sikh, he would eat wild boar or
deer if it could be got, or take a tot of country spirits on occasion
to make life seem less dreary. He stood listening, shivering a little
with the cold, and then went on his way, since the _Lât-sahib_ must be
found, the case decided, before this numbing forgetfulness crept over

Sometimes he inquired of those he met. More often he did not, but
wandered on aimlessly through the maze of light, driven and hustled as
he had been by day. And as he wandered the bands of the various camps
were playing, say, the march in "Tannhäuser," or "Linger longer, Loo."
But sooner or later they all paused to break suddenly into a stave or
two of another tune, as the colonel gave "The Queen" to his officers.

Of all this, again, Nânuk knew nothing. Even at the best of times, he
had been ignorant as a babe unborn of anything beyond his fields, and
now he remembered nothing save that he and the brown rat were suitors
in a case against _Puramêshwar_ and the State.

So the night passed. It was well on into the chilliest time before the
dawn, when the slumber, which comes to all the world for that last
dead hour of darkness having rid him of all barriers, he found himself
beneath what had been the goal of his hopes ever since he had first
seen its strange white rays piercing the night--the great ball of
electric light which crowned the flagstaff whereon the Standard of
England hung dank and heavy; for the wind had dropped, the rain had
ceased, and a thick white mist clung close even to the round bole of
the mast, which was set in the centre of a stand of chrysanthemums.
The colours of the blossoms were faintly visible in the downward gleam
of the light spreading in a small circle through the mist.

So far good. This was the "_Standard of Sovereignty_," no doubt--the
"_Lamp of Safety_"--the guide by day and night to faithful subjects
seeking justice before the king. This Nânuk understood; this he had
heard of in those tales of Nausherwân and his like, told beneath the
village _peepul_ tree.

Here, then, he would stay--he and the defendant--till the dawn brought
a hearing. He sat down, his back to the flowers, his head buried in
his knees. And as he sat, immovable, the mist gathered upon him as it
had gathered in the field. But he was not thinking now what he should
say to the _Lât-sahib_. He was past that.

He did not hear the jingle and clash of arms which, after a time, came
through the fog, or the voice which said cheerfully--

"'Appy Noo Year, to you, mate!"

"Same to you, Tommy, and many of 'em; but it's rather you nor I, for
it's chillin' to the vitals."

They were changing guards on this New Year's morning, and Private
Smith, as he took his first turn under the long strip of canvas
stretched as a sun-shelter between the two sentry-boxes, acknowledged
the truth of his comrade's remark by beating his arms upon his breast
like any cabman. Yet he was hot enough in his head, for he had been
singing "Auld Lang Syne" and drinking rum for the greater part of the
night, and, though sufficiently sober to pass muster on New Year's
Eve, was drunk enough to be intensely patriotic. So, as he walked up
and down, there was a little lilt in his step which attempted to keep
time to the stave of "God Save our Gracious Queen," which he was
whistling horribly out of tune. On the morrow--or, rather, to-day,
since the dawn was at hand--there was to be the biggest review in
which he had ever taken part; six and twenty thousand troops marching
up to the Royal Standard and saluting! They had been practising it for
weeks, and the thrill of it, the pride and power of it, had somehow
got into Private Smith's head--with the rum. It made him take a turn
beyond that strip of canvas, round the flagstaff he was supposed to

"'Alt! 'oo goes there?"

The challenge rang loudly, rousing Nânuk from a dream which was
scarcely less unreal than the past twelve hours of waking had been to
his ignorance. He stumbled up stiffly--a head taller than the
sentry--and essayed a salaam.

"'Ullo! What the devil are you doin' here? _Hut_, you nigger!
Goramighty! wot's that?"

It was the defendant, which Nânuk had brought out to salaam also, and
which, alarmed at the sudden introduction, began darting about wildly
at the end of its string. Private Smith fell back a step, and then
pulled himself together with a violent effort, uncertain if the rat
were real; but the cold night air was against him.

"Wash'er-mean?--Wash'er doin'--'ere?--Wash'er-got?" he asked,
conglomerately, and Nânuk, understanding nothing, went down on his
knees the better to untie the knot in the corner of his blanket.
"_Poggle_,"[26] commented Private Smith, recovering himself as he
looked down at the heap of maize, the defendant, and the old man
talking about _Puramêshvar_. Then, being in a benevolent mood, he
wagged his head sympathetically. "Pore old Johnny! wot's 'e want, with
'is rat and 'is popcorn? Fine lookin' old chap, though--but we licked
them Sickies, and, by gum! we'll lick 'em again, if need be!"


[Footnote 26: _Pagul_ = mad.]


The thought made him begin to whistle once more as he bent unsteadily
to look at something which glittered faintly as the old man laid it on
the top of the pile of corn.

It was his son's only medal.

"Hillo!" said Private Smith, bringing himself up with a lurch, "so
that is it, eh, mate? Gor-save-a-Queen! Now wot's up, sonny? 'Orse
guards been a-doing wot they didn't ought to 'ave done? Well, that
ain't no noos, is it, comrade? But we'll drink the old lady's 'elth
all the same. Lordy! if you've bin doin' extra dooty on the rag all
night you won't mind a lick o' the lap--eh? Lor' bless you!--I don'
want it. I've had as mush as me and Lee-Mitford can carry 'ome without
takin' a day-tour by orderly room--Woy! you won't, won't yer? Come
now, Johnny, don't be a fool--it's rum, I tell yer, and you Sickies
ain't afraid o' rum. Wot! you won't drink 'er 'elth, you mutineering
nigger? Then I'll make yer. Feel that--now then, ''Ere's a 'elth
unto'w her Majesty.'"

Perhaps it was the unmistakable prick of a bayonet in his stomach,
perhaps it was the equally unmistakable smell of the liquor arousing a
craving for comfort in the old man, but he suddenly seized the flask
which Private Smith had dragged from his pocket, and, throwing his
head back, poured the contents down his throat; the action--due to his
desire not to touch the bottle with his lips--giving him an almost
ludicrous air of eagerness.

Private Smith burst into a roar of laughter.

"Gor-save-the-Queen!" And as he spoke the first gun of the hundred and
one which are fired at daybreak on the anniversary of her Most
Gracious Majesty's assumption of the title _Kaiser-i-Hind_ boomed out
sullenly through the fog.

But Nânuk did not hear it. He had stumbled to his feet and fallen
sidewise to the ground.

                          *   *   *   *   *

"I gather, then," remarked the surgeon-captain precisely, "that before
gun-fire this morning you found the old man in a state of collapse
below the flagstaff--is this so?"

Private Smith, sober to smartness and smart to stiffness, saluted; but
there was an odd trepidation on his face. "Yes, sir--I done my best
for 'im, sir. I put 'im in the box, sir, and give 'im my greatcoat,
and I rub 'is 'ands and feet, sir. I done my level best for 'im, not
being able, you see, sir, to go off guard. I couldn't do no more."

"You did very well, my man; but if you had happened to have some
stimulant--any alcohol, for instance."

Private Smith's very smartness seemed to leave him in a sudden
slackness of relief. "Which it were a tot of rum, sir, as I 'appened
to 'ave in my greatcoat pocket. It done 'im no 'arm, sir, did it?"

The surgeon-captain smiled furtively. "It saved his life, probably;
but you might have mentioned it before. How much did he take?"

"About 'arf a pint, sir--more nor less." Private Smith spoke under his
breath with an attempt at regret; then he became loquacious. "Beggin'
your pardon, sir, but I was a bit on myself, and 'e just poured it
down like as it was milk, and then 'e tumbled over and I thought 'e
was dead, and it sobered me like. So I done my level best for 'im all

Perhaps he had; for old Nânuk Singh found a comfortable spot in which
to spend his remaining days when the regimental doolie carried him
that New Year's morning from the flagstaff to the hospital. He lay ill
of rheumatic fever for weeks, and when he recovered it was to find
himself and his rat quite an institution among the gaunt, listless
convalescents waiting for strength in their long dressing-gowns. The
story of how the old Sikh had drunk the Queen's health has assumed
gigantic proportions under Private Smith's care, and something in the
humour and the pathos of it tickled the fancy of his hearers, who,
when the unfailing phrase, "An' so I done my level best for him, I
did," came to close the recital, would turn to the old man and say:

"Pore old Johnny--an' Gord knows what 'e wanted with 'is rat and 'is

That was true, since Nâuuk Singh did not remember even the name of his
own village; and, though he still talked about the plaintiff and the
defendant, _Puramêshwar_ and the State, he was apparently content to
await his chance of a hearing at another and greater durbar.

                        THE BLUE-THROATED GOD

We sat after lunch in the stern of the steam launch watching the
bridge grow from the semblance of a caterpillar hung across the
horizon between clusters of temples and _topes_, to that of some
monstrous skeleton whose vaulting ribs rose high overhead into the
pale sky.

Bannerman and I had come out from England together, and come
up-country together; I to take up work at the bridge, he on a sporting
tour, with letters of introduction to the chief engineer. We had been
doing the sights of the native city, and now, in company with several
officials of sorts, were on our way home to the reaches above. And as
we surged through the yellow-brown flood we talked vaguely and airily
of old gods and new, of Siva's religion of stern reality, and
Krishna's pleasure-loving cult.

"You should read _Prem Sâgar_, sir," said Mr. Chuckerbutty, the native
assistant-engineer, aside to Bannerman, who had given his vote for the
latter; "it is of much merit, containing the loves of Krishna and
other cognate matter."

"It's a mere question of temperament," went on Bannerman, unheeding
the interruption. "Some people are born to one thing, some to another.
I was born to enjoy myself--Hullo! what's that?"

That was a low note like a bird's, a flash in the sunlight beyond the
huge pier along which we were edging our way up the current, and then
a cloop like a cork.

"Sambo," said some one.

"His name is Rudra, sir," replied Mr. Chuckerbutty.

"Nilkunta,[27] _Huzoor_," suggested the captain of the launch. I
looked from one to the other interrogatively.


[Footnote 27: Blue-throated; the name of the kingfisher.]


"The bridge-diver," said the first speaker, "sees after the
foundations and that sort of thing--knows the bottom of the river as
well as most of us know the top. A queer sort of animal--there he is
to your right."

Out of the yellow-brown flood a grave yellow-brown face crowned by a
curious brass pot not unlike a tiara, then two yellow-brown arms,
reminding me unpleasantly of snakes, curved up in the overhead stroke
as the swimmer slipped down to where a rope hung from one of the huge
ribs. He swarmed up it like a monkey, to sit still as a carven image
on the outermost buttress of the pier, his legs crossed under him, his
hands resting on his knees, his eyes fixed on the swirling water
below, so that the full eyelids drooping over them gave them an empty,
sightless look.

"By George!" said Bannerman carelessly, "he reminds me of the big idol
over at the temple. What's its name, Chuckerbutty? You're posted in
such things; I'm not."

The assistant-engineer, mindful of the B.A. degree superadded to his
ancestral beliefs, became evasive.

"Well, it doesn't matter. I mean the brute like a land crab with a
superfluity of arms. The brute we were talking of just now who crowds
life and all its joys into one eternal and infernal birth and
death--the most uninteresting events of life to my mind."

Bannerman was right. That figure on the buttress could not
fail to remind one of Siva, or Mahadeo,--the Creator and the
Destroyer,--barring, of course, the arms. And as I looked, the two
which the figure possessed rose slowly from its knees and hovered up
in the oddest fashion above its head; then sank again as slowly,
leaving one with the impression of any number of circumambient

"Does it when he dives," said a boy who was watching also; "must have
thought he saw something in the stream. He brings up all sorts of

The notion was absorbing until Chuckerbutty's idiomatic English, in
reply to a query of Bannerman's, roused me.

"Sambo is nickname; but indubitably verbal corruption of the Sanskrit
_Sambhu_, lord or master. Rudra, real name, has equivalent synonymous
meaning. The most ancient god mentioned in _Rig Veda_. Symbolised in
eight attributes, sun, moon, water, earth, air, fire, ether, and soul
of man. In other words, the visible and invisible universe--as Siva
the Creator, the Preserver, the Destroyer."

Chuckerbutty puffed at his cigar in quite a European fashion.

"What rot!" murmured Bannerman under his breath.

"And as for Nilkunta," put in the boy, "that is simple. It means
blue-throated, and Sambo is tattooed all round."

"Yet is that also name of Siva," interposed Chuckerbutty with
importance. "As per _Mahabharata_--

      'To soften human ills dread Siva drank
       The poisonous flood which stained his azure neck.'

"Nil-kunt is also sometimes applied to the bird kingfisher by
Europeans; but this is erroneous. It belongs properly----"

I heard no more, my thoughts being with that odd figure again. It was
certainly a most extraordinary resemblance.

"Well, if you really are going to fish for _mahseer_ at Hurdwar, Mr.
Bannerman, you should take advantage of that man's knowledge," said
the chief pompously. "He goes on leave next week--his home is
somewhere in the hills--and he knows everything that is to be known
about fishing."

Bannerman laughed. "Back myself against him any day, even on the
Ganges. I expect I've as much general good luck--in everyway--as any
one in this world."

He gave you that impression. In addition he was eminently handsome--if
a trifle dark for a country where people fight shy of any admixture of
blood. Extraordinarily graceful and supple too, doing everything with
extraordinary grace and skill. Beyond that, rich. For the rest,
cosmopolitan in mind and manners. As for morals, that does not enter
into the equation of a pleasant chance acquaintance, and the only
blemish I could lay finger on was an excess of jewellery. But that was
a hobby of his. He was for ever waylaying the passers-by and wanting
to make a deal for their ornaments, regardless of injured feelings. It
was a mere question of money, like everything else, he asserted, and
he generally succeeded in getting what he fancied. Apparently he
fancied Sambo, or Rudra, or Nilkunta--whichever you choose to call
him--for, a day or two afterwards, the man came to me clothed in the
loose garments and aggressive turban usually worn by Mohammedans. He
looked less startling, but the type of face was utterly new to me.

"I am a hunter, _Huzoor_," he said gravely; indeed I think his face
was the gravest I ever saw. "I kill to live; I live to kill. That is
all. I come from the mountains, and I know the river. Wherefore not,
since it is my birthplace? None know it as I; others may claim it, but
it is mine, and the fish also. It is all one to Nil-kunt the diver,
_Huzoor_. _Eshspoon_ bait, feather fly, or poach-net. I kill to live;
I live to kill. That is the old way, the best way; and if the _Huzoor_
comes with 'Buniah-man' sahib, he will catch big fish."

"And the sahib also, I hope?"

"The sahib thinks he knows, but he is a stranger to the river and the
old ways. He must learn them."

A week after this, Bannerman and I were encamped on the south side of
the gorge through which the sacred river debouches on the plains, with
Sambo, who was on leave, as our boatman. And curiously out of place he
looked in the English-built wherry which my host had insisted on
bringing up by rail. He had never, he said, been able to stand the
discomforts of a Noah's Ark, and he did not intend to begin
self-denial, even though he was in the birthplace of the most ascetic
cult the world had ever known; if indeed the worshippers of Siva had
right on their side in claiming Hurdwar as _Hara-dwara_--the gate of
Siva. For his part he inclined to the Vaishnâva view. _Hari-dwara_,
gate of Vishnu, was just as likely a derivation. It was only the
change of a letter; and yet that made all the difference between
believing in pleasure or penance. He talked away in his reckless
fashion about this as we fished fruitlessly, the first evening;
fruitlessly, for I was crippled with a slight sprain of the wrist, and
Bannerman caught nothing. And Sambo sat gravely sculling, with a
perfectly immovable face, until Bannerman, who was changing his fly
for the fiftieth time at least, leant forward suddenly and laid his
hand on the other's wrist.

"That's a fine cat's-eye," he said, looking at a ring on the supple
brown finger. "How much will you take for it?"

"I do not sell," replied Sambo, still without a quiver of expression.
The water dropped from the upheld oar like molten gold. I could hear
it fall in the silence, as those two sat looking at each other. But my
eyes were on those hands clasped upon each other; they were
extraordinarily alike in contour and not far apart in colour.

"Ten rupees! twenty! forty!" he went on. "What! you won't? Here! let
me see it closer. I don't believe it is worth more--even to me--unless
I'm mistaken. Hand it over, man!"

Bannerman turned the ring over curiously, and a sudden interest came
to his face.

"It isn't worth five, but I've taken a fancy to it. Fifty! a hundred!
a thousand!"

"I do not sell," repeated Sambo indifferently.

"Not sell! then you're a fool! Here, catch!"

He spun the ring like a coin high into the air. Perhaps he had meant
it to fall into the boat, but it did not, and as I leant over in
dismay I could see it sinking in shimmering circles through the sunlit

Sambo did not even seem surprised, but crossing the oars leisurely
proceeded to strip.

"It does not matter," he said briefly. "_Mai_ Gunga[28] is kind to me,
and I know my way to her bosom."


[Footnote 28: The Ganges.]


A minute or so afterwards he came up from the depths with the ring
fast held in his teeth.

"The fish are lying between the shallow and the deep," he remarked, as
if nothing had happened. "If the _Huzoor_ will believe me, he will
catch them."

Apparently the faith was wanting, for we did not see a fin till I
commenced fishing; and even then the luck was all with me. Bannerman
began to grow restive, suggesting that in a boat "one man's sport was
another man's spoil"; so we moved across the range of the Siwaliks to
higher ground. We pitched our tents between the river and a backwater,
where the boat--which despite my advice Bannerman insisted on bringing
round by road--lay moored beneath a big cotton tree. A desirable
resting-place certainly; cool and shadowy, and haunted by many a
kingfisher busy among the shoals of silvery fishlets in the still
water. Across the river, just above its great race to the gorge below,
stood a group of Hindu temples backed by sun-steeped slopes ablaze
with flowering, scented shrubs. Further up, however, the hills sank
almost to the level, leaving a wedge of sky clear, before rising again
in swift gradations of blue, cleft by a purple chasm marking the
further course of the river towards the snows of Kedarnath.

"You live yonder, do you not?" I asked of Sambo, pointing to the
peaks, as I stood settling my tackle.

For the first time a slow smile showed on the man's fine delicate
face. "No, _Huzoor_. I live everywhere. Wherever there are things to
kill, and that is in most places. But not here, sahib," he continued
hastily, turning to Bannerman, who was about to launch his minnow into
a likely spot. "This pool is sacred to the god yonder."

And sure enough, close to the water's edge, beneath the shade of a
banyan tree, stood a crowned image of Maha-deo, with his eight arms,
his necklace of snakes, and chaplet of skulls.

"Dash it all," muttered Bannerman impatiently, "as if the world were
not full enough of limitations as it is! I'll have it out with that
old land crab some day."

His irritation grew as the days passed bringing continued ill-luck.
But what wonder, he said, when the fish were fed and pampered by the
priests morning and evening, that they would not take his lure? For
his part he did not believe there was a fin in any other pool in the
river--at least when he fished it.

"The _Huzoor_ can see, if he chooses," said Sambo gravely.

"I suppose I can--as well as you, anyhow," retorted Bannerman.

"Then let him look." As he spoke Sambo swung himself into the branch
of a cotton tree which, swaying with his weight, scattered its huge
scarlet flowers on the water. Perhaps it was this, engendering a hope
of food; perhaps it was the curious low whistle he made, but instantly
the calm surface of the pool wavered, shifted, and broke into ripples.
Sambo stretched himself full length on the branch and craned forward
with his long blue neck.

"Plenty of them, _Huzoor!_ Beauties! That one with the scar is full
twenty _sirs_ weight. See! I will catch it."

He slid from the branch like an otter to reappear a second afterwards
with the fish bent round his neck like a yoke of silver.

"It is bad luck," he continued, "and the _Huzoor_ must do _puja_[29]
to the great god. That is the only way."


[Footnote 29: Worship.]


Bannerman's face was a study, and to soothe him I remarked that I had
been lucky enough without any one's help.

"How does the _Huzoor_ know?" asked Sambo boldly. "If he had been up
by dawn he might have thought otherwise, since the blood of the cock I
sacrificed in his name still reddens the feet of Ishwara."

"The devil you did," I exclaimed laughing; "then sacrifice two for
Bannerman sahib to-morrow."

The latter, however, turned on him fiercely. "If you dare," he began;
then pulled himself together, muttered something about its being
"d----d rot," and went off declaring he would fish no more till dusk
drove the glare from the water.

I found him hours after lolling on his bed, and reading a translation
of the _Prem Sâgar_. It was as amusing and true to life as a modern
French novel, he was pleased to remark, and Krishna with his milkmaids
the wisest of gods. In fact after dinner, as we sat smoking outside,
he recurred to the subject, denouncing the folly of all ascetic cults
from Baal downwards.

"You are awfully well up in it all," I said, surprised at his

"Seems to come to me, to-night, somehow," he replied gaily; "things
do, you know--previous state of existence and all that rot. Besides,
it's needed when a fellow calmly suggests my making a blood offering!
To a brute of a land crab too--a miserable fetish evolved from the
fears of a semi-ape-a creature incapable of rising above the
limitations of his own discomfort, counting this lovely life as mere
birth and death, and ignoring the joys between--the only realities in
the world."

He went on in this fashion, till, declaring that he meant to be up by
dawn, both to catch a fish and prevent the blood sacrifice, he turned
in. I could hear him humming the refrain of a French song as I sat on
the scented flood of moonlight.

It was not a night surely to waste in sleep! The very flowers kept the
memory of their colours, and every now and again I could hear the
silvery splash of a fish rising on the level reaches beyond. But from
below came a vibration in the air like the first breathing of an organ
note. That was the river racing to the gorge.

Scarcely knowing what I did, I strolled over to the backwater which
circled round the oasis of the valley. A fringe of trees marked its
course, and behind them the hill sloped up in a tangle of jasmine and
pomegranate, while on the river side grew shingle and grass tufted
with oleanders. In the distance, faint yet clear, came a snatch or two
of Bannerman's _fin-de-siècle_ song. And then suddenly, round a bend,
rose the low note of a kingfisher. Could it be a kingfisher at that
hour of the night?

By all the gods, old and new, what was this? Sambo? Could that be
Sambo knee-deep in the water? Sambo with a golden tiara on his head
and girt about the waist with a regal robe? Purple and red--at least
you guessed the colour, just as you guessed that the shadowy pillar of
that long neck was blue. Were those his arms curved above him, or were
they snakes, swaying, swaying in the moonlight with hooded heads and
open jaws? And was that cry Sambo's or the kingfisher's? Then, and not
till then, I saw the bird perched on a branch above the strange
figure; and even as I looked it swooped straight into those swaying
snake-like arms, bearing something in its mouth.

I suppose in my surprise I made some exclamation, for the figure
turned quickly. Then, for the first time, I felt sure it was only the
diver in his diving dress. The next instant he was beside me on the
bank, holding out a small land crab for my inspection.

"It is the best bait, _Huzoor_. Better than phantom or _eshspoon_."

I felt utterly bewildered and not a little aggrieved at his everyday
appearance. "But, but," I began, "how the mischief did you make the

His hand went up to his throat as if in explanation. "'Tis the trick
of their cry, _Huzoor_; besides birds are afraid of the holy snake;
and even the _Huzoor_ doubted his own eyes. It is good bait. If
Buniah-man sahib will consent to use it, he will have luck."

"Of course he will use it," I replied angrily; and then a sudden doubt
seized me. "I don't know, though. I don't seem to understand. I can't

"The _Huzoor_ has two eyes," he interrupted, with another of his slow
smiles. "Does he want a third, like mine?"

A third! Then I noticed a central spot on his forehead set in an oval
of white. In good sooth it was not unlike a third eye placed upright
between the others. I had seen similar ones painted on the images of

"'Tis but a caste sign, _Huzoor_," he explained; "I wear it
sometimes." He stooped as he spoke, gathered some dust in his fingers
and rubbed out the mark. "Lo! it grows late. Midnight is past. If the
_Huzoor_ rises with the sun 'tis time he slept."

True enough; but as I strolled homewards to the tent my eyes fell by
chance on the shade beneath the great banyan tree where the idol
stood. The plinth was empty! It lay reflected in the water vacant,
bare! Scarcely knowing what I did, or why I did it, I ran back to
where I had left Sambo, calling him by all his names in turn. But
there was no answer, and when in hopeless bewilderment I retraced my
steps it was only to find myself mistaken. The eight-armed image stood
in its accustomed place, reflected in the still water.

I was glad when the dawn came; one of those lemon-coloured dawns when
the sky grows light at once.

"Had the jolliest dreams," said Bannerman, coming out of his tent.
"Dreamt I was Krishna among the milkmaids. Wish I could find one in
this fish-forsaken place, I'd---- Hullo, what the mischief is that on
my line?"

It was Sambo's land crab neatly impaled on a Stuart tackle. I began an
explanation only to stop short at the--to me--absolutely
incomprehensible intensity of both the faces before me. Dimly I seemed
to recognise the situation and then it escaped me again.

"Tomfoolery! One might as well fish with that ridiculous fetish at
once," came Bannerman's jeering voice. "What was it Chuckerbutty
drivelled about? eight attributes--tall order for any god! Well! here
they go. No, Sambo, you may keep one--the soul of a man, if there be
such a thing----"

He had torn off five of the crab's legs, leaving three; two of them
the nipping claws, which, with gaping jaws, swayed about seeking

"There! take your offering, Siva! snakes, and souls, and all!" He
flung the maimed creature full in the idol's face as we sculled past
it. I shall never forget Sambo's look.

"You shouldn't do that sort of thing," I remonstrated in a low voice.
"If the priests saw it;--then this man----"

"Bah! Nilkunta won't mind, and rupees will settle anything." I tried
to make him understand they would not in these fastnesses of the Hindu
faith, but almost immediately afterwards his attention wandered to a
woman's figure which, as we rowed up the river, was outlined equally
against earth and sky, while figure, earth, and sky shared equally the
perfect reflection in the water.

"By George, a milkmaid!" he cried. She was not unlike one in dress,
certainly, but her face, marked with the crescent of Siva on the
forehead, was of a different type; beautiful too, and Bannerman simply
couldn't take his eyes off her.

"Who is she? Who can she be? Sambo! Rudra! Nilkunta! whichever you
are--do you know who she can be?" he queried in hot excitement.

"She is somebody's house, _Huzoor_." The voice was cold as an icicle.

"Somebody's house! What a way to mention a woman, beautiful--beautiful
as--but it's the old Puritanical game! A house--a hearth mother--the
British matron in Eastern disguise--Mrs. Grundy in a _sâri_. I say,
Nil-kunt, whose house do you think she is? I should like to buy the

"She is your slave's house," replied the man without a wink.

"The dickens she is," blurted out my companion, somewhat abashed for
the time. Perhaps that was Sambo's intention. At any rate I have no
means of knowing if he spoke the truth or not. Indeed, looking back on
it all, I scarcely seem to know what really happened, and what must
have been sheer fancy. Only this remains clear; a growing antagonism
between these two, a growing disinclination on Bannerman's part to do
anything but lounge away his days.

"Can't help it, my dear fellow," he would say, "it's the air, or
something. If I had a shepherd's pipe I'd play it. And as for flowers!
Do you know some one puts a bunch of them on my pillow every night. I
believe it's the milkmaid!"

There were flowers, too, garlanded round his door, while just over the
way those ominous splashes of red on Ishwara's feet seemed to grow
deeper and deeper.

At last I put the case baldly and crudely before him. Something was
going on which I didn't understand, which might get him into mischief
at any moment, and I appealed to his good sense to put the Siwaliks
between him and a temptation which seemed to have fascinated him. He
laughed, admitted the fact, and yielded; the more readily because our
time was almost up.

For the first two days he was rewarded by success in the lower
reaches; possibly--since fish shy at novelty--because we used a native
Noah's Ark, our own boat remaining in the backwater till we could send
coolies to fetch it. On the third he left the river early on plea of a
headache. As he had been in wild spirits all day, quoting the _Prem
Sâgar_ and singing French songs, I half thought he was going in for
fever, the day being exceptionally hot. But on my return at dusk the
servants asked if I would wait dinner for the sahib or not. Beset by
immediate misgivings I rushed into his tent, where I found a slip of
paper impaled like a bait on some tackle lying on the table.

"Off to the divine milkmaid! Don't wait. _Vogue la galère!_"

"How far?" I asked Sambo breathlessly.

"Twenty _kos_ by the road--the sahib borrowed the police inspector's
mare--not half that over the hills. But the moon is late, and the
snakes love the dark."

If it had been the darkness of Egypt I had no choice but to follow,
and half an hour afterwards I was stumbling along after Sambo. Even by
daylight the hills, heat-cracked, rain-seared, strewn with sharp
rocks, were bad walking; on a dark, hot night, with the snakes' eyes
gleaming from the stones, they were horrible--most horrible. The
straight fingers of the stiff candelabra bushes pointing up and up,
the gnarled stunted trees growing into strange shapes, reminding one
involuntarily of those antediluvian animals whose bones lie buried all
along the Siwaliks. A cold sweat of suspense lay upon my forehead
despite the scorching blast tearing down the ravines; scorching yet
laden with the scent of earth, as from a new-made grave.

"There has been rain in the hills beyond," said Sambo's voice out of
the dark. I lost sight of him constantly, and at the best of times he
was little more than another weird shape among the shadows. "Holy
Maha-deo! Have a care, _Huzoor!_ Let the snake pass in peace!"

As he spoke something curved over my instep. Such things take the
nerve out of a European; but I stumbled on, peering into the darkness,
trying to think of Bannerman's danger, and not of that next step and
what it might bring. But it came at last--just as we dipped into a
cooler, moister glen, where I could hear the flying foxes hovering
from tree to tree--a slither of the foot, and then a spiral coil
up my leg gripping the muscles tight. My shriek echoed from the
heat-hardened, resounding rocks until the whole hillside seemed
peopled by my fear; and even when Sambo, stooping down, uncoiled the
snake and threw it into the darkness, I could scarcely realise that I
was none the worse for having put my heel on a viper's head. My nerve
seemed gone, I could not move except at a snail's pace.

"Time speeds," came Sambo's voice again. "The moon rises but the
clouds gather. If the _Huzoor_ would only not mind----"

"I'd mind nothing if I could see--see as you seem to do," I muttered,
ashamed yet aggrieved.

"That is it," he replied, "the _Huzoor_ cannot see, and the holy
snakes do not know him as they know me. If the sahib will let me put
the caste mark on his forehead as it is on mine he need not fear. It
can do no harm, _Huzoor_."

True; besides the very idea by suggesting confidence might restore it.

"Lest the dust should fall into the _Huzoor's_ eyes," said the voice
softly, and I felt long thin fingers on my eyelids; then something on
my forehead, cold and hard, cold and hard like a ring---- The effect
of such pressure when the eyes are closed is always confusing, and I
felt as if I was dozing off when the same soft voice roused me.

"The _Huzoor_ can see now."

I opened my eyes with a start as if from sleep. Had the moon risen or
whence came that pale light by which I saw--what did I not see?
Everything, surely, that had been created since the world began; the
tiny watersprites in the half-stagnant pools, the flying motes in the
dim air. Or did I dream it? Did I only feel and know that they were
there, part of those endless, endless æons of life and death in which
I was a unit.

"Sambo," I gasped feebly, but there was no answer. Where was I? By
degrees memory returned. This must be the Gayâtri glen, for there, at
the further end, stood the great image of the dread Maha-deo where the
pilgrims worshipped; and surely the odd light came from that gleaming
cat'seye on its forehead? Surely, too, the snakes curled and swayed,
the outstretched hands opened and shut? My own went up to my forehead
in my bewilderment, when, suddenly, the light seemed to fade, till I
could just see Nilkunta's blue throat as he stood beside me.

"The _Huzoor_ has scratched his forehead; the blood trickles from it.
See, I have brought a _tulsi_ leaf. There! that is better." I felt the
coolness between my eyes, and something of my bewilderment seemed to
pass away.

"It is the Gayâtri, _Huzoor_, and yonder is Maha-deo. He is but
half-way, so we must press on. The sahib can see now; there is no

None. Yet did I see them, or was I only conscious of that teeming life
in the jungles? Of the tiger crouching by our path, the snakes
slipping from it, the deer standing to watch us, and strangest of all,
those shapes hiding in the dim shadows--undreamt-of monsters, neither
fish, flesh, nor fowl? Was it a dream? or--the idea brought a faint
hysterical laugh--was it the Zoological Gardens and the British Museum
rolled into one?

"We must cross the river, _Huzoor_," said the dim form flitting before
me; "Buniah-man sahib will have taken the boat."

I suppose it was the usual rope bridge swung across the narrowing
chasm of the river, but it seemed to me that night as if I walked on
air. Below me, not ten feet from the lowest curve of the loop, was the
Ganges, wrinkled and seamed, slipping giddily eastwards: overhead, a
stream of clouds speeding eastwards also.

"She rises fast," muttered Sambo. "_Mai_ Gunga is in a hurry

The whole world was in a hurry. I seemed to hear flying feet keeping
time with our own. Not an instant's pause was there even for breath
until we reached the last declivity above the little oasis of the
valley. The moon had risen, but the clouds hurrying across her face
gave greater uncertainty to the scene; still I could see a woman's
figure standing with widespread arms by the edge of the rising river.
I could see a man sending a boat across the shallows with mighty
strokes. And above the growing rush of the water I could hear two
murmuring voices, which seemed to fill the world with soft antagonism.
"_Ooma! Ooma!_" from the hills; "_Râdha! Râdha!_" from the valley.
These were calling to the woman, and, as in a dream, I seemed to
remember and understand; Râdha, the queen of pleasure; Ooma, the
mother of the universe. Krishna's mistress, and Siva's wife!

I looked round for Sambo. He was gone; so I ran on alone feeling there
was no time to be lost. My foot slipped and I fell heavily. But I was
up again in a second unhurt, save, perhaps, for that scratch on my
forehead, whence I could feel the blood flowing as I dashed into the
shadow of the banyan tree. Merciful heaven! what was this? A glare as
of noonday, and two radiant forms with a cowering woman between them!
between the chaplets of skulls and the chaplets of flowers. And behind
them was an empty plinth! Before I had time to realise what I saw,
came shouts and cries, a _mêlée_ and a scuffle. Armed men ran out of
the shadows, and then Sambo's voice was insistent, "Run, sahib, run!
'Tis your only chance. The boat--the boat!" Then some one hit me over
the head from behind, and when I came to myself I was lying in the
bottom of the boat. Bannerman was standing beside me shaking his fist
impotently at the twinkling lights on the bank, and Sambo sat aft
steering as best he could; for the oars had gone and we were racing
with the flood towards the rapids. They had bound up my head with
something, but I still felt stunned, and the rush of the rising river
surged in my ears through the thin planks as I lay. So perhaps it was
only my fancy that those two sat talking, talking, arguing, arguing,
about the old, old problems.

Till suddenly I sat up to the clear sound of Sambo's voice.

"It is not to be done, _Huzoor_. We are in the hands of fate. If death
comes, it will come, but it will end in birth."

The answer was that half-jeering laugh I knew so well. "I'll chance
it, Nil-kunt; I don't believe you."

Bannerman had stripped to the skin, and stood forward looking at the
narrowing rush of the river. I could see the great logs of wood, swept
from the hill-forests above, dancing along beside us on the curved
surface of the stream--so curved by the very force of the current that
as our boat, steered by Sambo's skill, kept the centre, the dim banks
slid past below us. Across them, just ahead, a curved thread not four
feet, now the flood had risen, above the water. The rope bridge! Then
I understood.

"Don't!" I cried feebly. "No man--can--withstand the force--of the

He crooked his knees beneath the thwarts and held up his arms.

"Don't----" I cried again.

The boat slackened for an instant; for an instant only. Then it shot
on, leaving Bannerman clinging to the rope--shot on round the bend,
leaving him hanging there between birth and death. But Sambo never
took his watchful eyes off those merry, dancing logs, which meant

The horror of it all was too much. I fainted. When consciousness
returned, Sambo, grave and composed, was bending over me. We were
drifting fast into the backwater before my own bungalow, and behind
us, looking spectral in the first glint of dawn, lay the great bridge,
the flare of the watch-fires on its piers telling of the severity of
the flood.

"The _Huzoor_ is at home," said the man quietly; "if Buniah-man sahib
had taken my advice he would have been at home also."

We had been a whole day and night on the river; but he seemed no more
fatigued than I, who had escaped all the suspense. For the rest, no
trace remained of the adventure save an oval scratch on my forehead
surrounding the faint vestiges of something like an eye.

"It is the mark of Siva," said my servant piously--he had come down
with haste by rail to bring the news of my death--"doubtless he took
the _Huzoor_ under his protection; for which I will offer a blood
oblation without delay."

Bannerman's body was never found; but some months after, when I was
inspecting foundations, I heard the kingfisher's cry, and the familiar
cloop of a dive at the further side of the pier. Then Sambo, Rudra,
Nilkunta--whatever you please to call him--showed his yellow-brown
face above the yellow-brown flood bearing a ring in his mouth: a
_Palais Royal_ affair--two diamond hearts transfixed by a ruby arrow.

I had seen Bannerman wear it a hundred times, but I had never seen the
inscription engraved inside.

              "Thy lips, oh! beloved Life, are nectar."

It was a quotation from the _Krishna_ or _Prem Sâgar!_

                         A TOURIST TICKET[30]


[Footnote 30: Copyright, 1895, by Macmillan & Co.]


"Dost forget, brother, that it is the Fast?" said Raheem, as with
gentle, determined hand he pushed the leaf-cup of sweets further from
the board on which his tools lay. There were not many of them, though
the inlaid work upon the sandal-wood comb he was making showed
delicate as lace. It suited the delicate hands employed upon it; in a
way also it suited the delicate brain behind the high narrow forehead,
which had a look of ill-health about the temples, where the thick,
coarse, black hair was also delicately streaked with silver; sure
sign, in a land where grayness is long deferred, of a troubled body or
mind. Raheem had barely touched middle age; in his case the trouble
seemed to be in both body and mind, to judge by his hollow eyes and
the expression in them as they rested on a younger man, who sat, as a
visitor, on the plinth of the combmaker's shop. His feet were in the
gutter, and his handsome head was nodding gaily to various
acquaintances in the steady stream of passers-by; for the odd little
shop was wedged into the outer angle of a sharp bend in the narrow
bazaar, so that as Raheem sat working at his scented combs he could
see both ways--could see all the world, coming and going, from dawn
till dark.

Hoshyar laughed, nodding his handsome head once more: "Yea! I forgot
that thou dost fast for both of us, and pray for both of us. Mayhap in
the end, brother, thou mayest have to go to Paradise for both of us,
despite all thy pains."

The busy hand ceased to work in a gesture of negation. "Say not such
things, Hoshyar. We go together, or go not at all. Thou knowest that
was my promise to the dead."

Hoshyar ate another comfit before replying with a shrug of the
shoulders: "'Twas not on stamped paper, though, and promises are
naught nowadays without it. 'Tis bad policy to be over-pious, brother.
As all know, the saint's beard goes in relics, and to tell truth, I
would be better pleased to leave Paradise to those who wish for it.
The world suits me. I was not born to be religious, as thou wert."

The comb-maker looked at him with a sort of perplexed patience. "God
knows His own work," he said in a low voice. "The Potter makes; the
World fills. I remember when thou first wentest to school, Hoshyar,
how thou didst weep because it prevented thee from prayer-time. And at
the festivals,--dost remember, brother, thou hadst a little coat of
brocade? Mother cut it from our father's old one she cherished so----"

"Old tales, old tales!" interrupted Hoshyar, rising with another shrug
of his shoulders. "If thou hadst wished me to continue in them, why
didst send me to school to learn new ones? Why didst not make me a
comb-carver instead of a clerk? Then might I have saved money, as thou
hast, gone on the great pilgrimage, as thou hast, and worn a green
turban like thine to show it, as thou dost----"

A sharp spasm of pain swept over the older man's face, but there was
anger also in his voice. "As thou wouldst have done also, clerk though
thou art, if----"

"Yea, I know, I know!" interrupted Hoshyar impatiently; "if I had not
emptied the bag so often. But 'tis a pity to let money lie idle. And
that time when thou hadst the sum needed for the journey, I would have
gone. I meant to have gone,--I swear it; but the leave failed, and
thou wouldst not, surely, have had me give up my post? Then, ere the
leave came, the money had gone instead. I can never keep it lying
idle, and so----"

Raheem's anger faded, leaving nothing but the pain. What use was there
in finishing the sentence, in reproaching the sinner with having done
far worse than let good money lie idle? The fact only made the
pilgrimage a greater necessity than ever, if Nakir and Munkir, the
recording angels, were to be bribed to leniency. "Thou shalt have the
green turban yet," he said quietly, "if thou wilt have patience. But
my combs are not like Peera's over the way: he makes a dozen to my
one; ay, and sells them, too, for folk buy ever the cheapest thing,
nowadays, even for an Eed-offering."[31]


[Footnote 31: Equivalent to our Easter.]


There was almost an incredulous wonder in his voice as he went on
working, while Hoshyar stood kicking one patent-leather shoe viciously
against a loose brick in the pavement. "And in the meantime the future
pilgrim must live," he remarked jestingly, as if, even to his
effrontery, it was easier to treat what he had to say thus, than in
earnest. "So if thou couldst spare a rupee or two from the bag,

His brother's eyes looked up, full of reproach. "I know what thou
wouldst say," he went on pettishly. "I have had more than my share
this month; but I need it sorely. The skinflints at the office have
cut my pay for being late,--as if I could help the tram car passing
full five minutes before its time,--so I had to walk. And then the
mixed train, which is ever an hour late, chose to be punctual; so
there was none to receive the waybills." He paused, and seeing the
doubt on Raheem's face, continued: "As for the combs, if thou hast
difficulty in selling, I might try. That one thou madest last with
jasmine flowers in ivory,--'tis a deft piece of work, and I know one
who might buy it."

"Not Yasmeena?" asked Raheem, his face hardening, despite the
girl-like flush which came to it.

Hoshyar laughed uneasily. "Thou hast Yasmeena on thy brain, brother.
She is no worse than others of her trade, and that will last till all
men are of thy way of thinking. Yasmeena! Nay, thou knowest she hath
not the money to pay for such costly gew-gaws, for she is not as the
others, _now_; she is not to be bought or sold herself."

A man more of the world than Raheem, noting the change of tone in the
last words, would have augured much of Yasmeena's power over the
speaker; but the comb-maker was too simple for such wisdom. "If _she_
buys it not, well and good," he replied, relaxing his frown; "but I
will lend myself to no truck between thee and her. And as for the
rupees----" He sighed, yet there was no hesitation in the hands which
began to unlock a brass-bound box lying beside his board. "Thou
wouldst rise earlier, brother," he continued, almost tenderly, as he
counted three rupees from a little bag into the outstretched palm
awaiting the gift, "if thou wouldst sleep a little earlier also. Lo! I
sleep and wake with the birds, since my work must be of the light."

It streamed full upon him and his tools as he spoke, a pale gold flame
of sunshine, searching for each flaw, each failure.

"Couldst not make it five, Raheem?" came the sordid voice. "That is
bare bread."

The flame of the sunshine had found a resting-place in Raheem's eyes
as he looked at the beggar from head to foot. "And this is salvation,"
he replied, dropping the bag back into the box with a chink, and
turning the key upon it.

Salvation! Yes; that is what it really meant to Raheem. It meant
salvation for one soul; but for which? After his brother had gone he
asked himself this question for the hundredth time, asked it almost
feverishly. Ought he to trust to the chance? Was it likely that he
would have time ere his life ended--that life which had always been so
uncertain--to make provision for both himself and Hoshyar in death? It
would not do to trust Hoshyar with the money. He, Raheem, must make
the pilgrimage for him; and was it likely when the rupees came so
slowly and went so fast that the hoard in the bag would be complete
for years? Ought he not then to make over--as according to the canon,
he could do if he chose--the virtue of that past pilgrimage to his
brother, and take the risk of the coming one upon himself? Hoshyar
needed virtue sorely, and yet the very thought of going forth to
the Judgment-Seat without the panoply in which for long years he had
found peace and shelter was a terror to Raheem. Could he do it? Nay,
it was too much; and yet,--if that promise to the dead were broken
wilfully,--what good would imputed righteousness be before the Throne?

And meanwhile Hoshyar his brother, a clerk in the railway, sat smoking
a vile cigar at the feet of Yasmeena, who, lounging on a string bed,
was drawing the scented sandal-wood comb, inlaid with the flowers
whose name she bore, through her sleek hair. "Give it me, beloved,"
she said scornfully; "then thy promise to the saint will be secure. I
must have it; 'tis the prettiest in the bazaar; even Gulanâri, with
all her airs, has not its marrow. See, I will sell it to her when I
tire of it, and then thou canst give back his three rupees to the
miser. Three rupees! I shall spend that in a day. And Monday is the
Eed. I must have a new gown for it, or----"

She did not finish her sentence, but her look was eloquent; and
Hoshyar, as he lay awake that night, her meaning driven home by hints
of coming coldness, racked his brains for some means of procuring the
dress. Raheem meanwhile lay awake also, thinking of a very different
costume; of a robe of righteousness, a wedding-garment. Those three
rupees given to Hoshyar had been meant for an Eed-offering, the Eed
which drew so near. There was no time to earn more. Should he go
empty-handed to give thanks for the added virtue of having been
granted life to keep the Great Fast, or should he offer up his
pilgrimage by making it over once and for all to his brother?

Hoshyar had been asleep for hours, and the sparrows were astir ere
Raheem found any answer. He would wait another day, he told himself,
before deciding; so he sat in the sunlight seeking perfection in his
delicate curves and lines, while the pale gold rays peeped and pryed
for flaws and failures.

"Have you a comb like that, finished?" asked a foreign voice, making
him raise his head and _salaam_ hopefully.

"None so good, _Huzoor_; but I have others." He took them from the
brass-bound box and waited; then noting the Englishman's look, said
wistfully: "I had one yesterday, but it,--it is gone. I could finish
this one quickly for the _Huzoor_ if,--if he pleased." There was a
catch in his breath. If he could sell something, surely he might keep
salvation a little longer.

"Can you finish it by Monday evening?"

It would mean working extra hours, mean working through the Festival
when all the world rested; but what was that in comparison with the
reward? Ten minutes afterwards Raheem was putting three rupees into
the bag. He had sold out his stock, and, still more wonderful, had a
promise of twenty rupees more on account for future work if he brought
the comb punctually on the Monday evening. He had not done such a
business for years. The Eed-offering was secure, and the chances of
his hoard reaching the necessary amount for a speedy pilgrimage

The sun shone brighter and purer than ever on the crowds assembled in
the Eedgâh,--a huge enclosure, set with trees and with a mere façade
of a mosque upon its western front, which lay beyond the city walls.
It shone on no more brilliant figure than Yasmeena's, who, in the
gayest of new dresses, was saying her prayers effusively; for if the
daily life be doubtful, there is all the more need to have the full
advantage of festivals; a theory which obtains all over the world. But
Raheem, despite his green turban of the Passed Pilgrim, despite the
three rupees given scrupulously in charity to his neighbour, felt
glad to escape, when prayers were over, to his work. And yet the sight
was one to stir most hearts: the long lines of men, women, and
children,--thousands and thousands and thousands of them,--half-seen
amid the shading trees; the boom of the firework-signal from the
eastern gate echoing like a cannon from the wide walls, and ending in
a silence like the grave; fifty thousand living, breathing beings
shoulder to shoulder, and not a sound, not a quiver; only the swish of
a bird's wings, only the hush of a breeze among the leaves. Then
suddenly came a great shout as from one throat, and the long lines
bent like a field of corn before a mighty wind. "God is great; there
is no god but God!"

And afterwards he had been used, wifeless, childless himself, to
wander with kindly eyes among the merry family parties picnicking
beneath the trees, watching the little ones' delight over their new
toys, the old men's delight over their grandchildren. Then, often, he
would hear folk say in a whisper: "Look at his turban! He is a Hâjji;
he has been to Mecca. Look, children, he has found salvation. God
grant you to follow in his steps!" But on this Eed he took off the
sign of saintship ere he began work; yet as he worked he shivered as
if he were cold without it.

The weight of the twenty rupees, however, which, when the comb was
finished and taken to the sahib at the hotel, were duly paid into his
hand, seemed to make his heart feel lighter. It meant two months'
work, and that meant two months' food. Then Hoshyar must have at least
five rupees. Still enough would remain to bring the hoard in the
brass-bound box within measurable distance of salvation, to make
it possible perhaps for him to wear his green turban without a
heart-ache. His present lack of the distinguishing mark seemed to
strike even the Englishman's eye, making him say kindly: "I thought
you wore the green, and you look the sort certainly; if not I have
something which may interest you. Here, Baboo, one of those leaflets,
please. If you want to hear more, go to the address of the Agency. I'm
off to-night."

Raheem, with a _salaam_, tucked the little printed page into his
common-place white headgear and trudged homewards, tired and
dispirited. It was too dark to begin work again as a distraction,
and he had not had the heart, somehow, to prepare himself a feast as
on other Eeds; so, bethinking him of the leaflet in his turban, he
took it out and began to read. It was in the Arabic lettering of
the Holy Book he knew so well, and his eyes were keen; still
the wording puzzled him. A pilgrimage to Mecca,--exceptional
opportunity,--specially chartered vessel,--_Firmân_,--absolute
orthodoxy guaranteed,--to start in a month's time,--a limited number
of tickets available at Moulvie Futtehdeen's, near the mosque,
Imambarah bazaar! Briefly, it was the prospectus of a pilgrimage,
which was being organised as a speculation by a well-known firm, whose
travelling agent combined the business with a private venture of his
own in all the artistic productions he could pick up by the way;
whence came the purchase of Raheem's combs.

"Thou hast the waybill, I see, Hâjji," came a cracked, wistful voice,
as an old man who was passing paused at the plinth; an older man even
than his looks, for the sparse beard was palpably dyed, and his dress
still had a youthful jauntiness about it. His face, however, betrayed
him by its wrinkles. He carried a huge _dhol_ (a kind of drum) slung
by a cord about his neck, and as he spoke his lissom fingers slid and
curved over the stretched goat-skin making a muffled, trembling boom.
"Not that it means aught to thee," he went on in a grumble to match.
"Thou hast the ticket to Paradise already. Would I had it also! I go
no nearer it, yet, than damning myself by playing to profligates,
and so putting by a nest-egg against my desire. How else, since
drum-banging is my trade, and drums ever keep bad company? But I grow
old, I grow old. Thus the sin is greater to a soul which should have
learned wisdom; but the pay is less by reason of fingers growing
stiff. So I am wicked both ways, and ere next year's pilgrimage this
empty maw of a thing may have swallowed me up, body and soul." He gave
a more vicious knuckling to the drum, which hummed and boomed in

"Next year's?" echoed Raheem.

"Ay; it comes every year, they say. There was a man at
Gulanâri's,--God knows, neighbour, I must burn if I die in such
company, and I so old! 'Tis the drum drags me to it--seest thou! it
will play naught but dance-tunes, though I swear I am weary of them as
a lame squirrel with her nest in the sky. I would play hymns, but that
I am hindered; and a man's belly, Hâjji Raheem, will not stay empty as
a drum and not shrink; so----"

"About the pilgrimage," suggested Raheem, knowing the drum-player's
talk of old.

"Ay, ay, for sure! The man--a saint for all his company--there, seest
thou, is the pull of it---- Had _I_ but the green turban, this devil
of a drum might take me where it would. But as I was saying, this man
said it was true, every word. He had been and returned comfortably for
the money."

"For so little," murmured Raheem, looking once more at the price
named. It was far less than what his previous experience told him
would be required.

"Little!" echoed the drum-banger, reproachfully. "That comes of making
decent combs. Didst thou try to wheedle salvation from a thing that
hath neither heart nor bowels of compassion, that is naught but a
devil of a noise that grows worse instead of better when 'tis whacked,
thou wouldst tell a different tale. Well, the cat, says the proverb,
killed seventy rats and went on a pilgrimage, so I must wait my turn,
though if I have not more than seventy sins, may I never play a
measure again. I swarm with them, neighbour, as flies on sugar." He
tucked the tempter further under his arm, and moved on, muttering to
himself: "And I have but half the money saved, so I am lost if I get
not virtue on a reduction."

Raheem sat looking at the paper stupidly, as the mingled growl of the
drum and its beater died away. Then suddenly those delicate hands of
his reached out swiftly to the brass-bound box. Surely he had so much,
or would have so much when those twenty rupees were earned!

So it came to pass in the following days that every minute of the
light found him at work on the scented combs, and whenever he finished
one, he spent some of his scanty rest in toiling over to the Imambarâh
bazaar, and paying over its fairly earned price to swell the deposit
which secured to him one of the limited supply of tickets. Finally on
one night, the very night before the day of starting, he packed up the
combs complete, took the price of the last one over to the Moulvie,
and received in return a neat little booklet full of incomprehensible
printed papers. He felt almost afraid of his new possession, with its
gay tie to keep everything in its place within the cover. Supposing he
lost something and found himself stranded? He broke out at the thought
into a cold sweat, and hunted hurriedly for the extra ticket which the
Moulvie had told him was to be used to the junction, since the railway
which passed through the town was not on the direct line. He found it,
an ordinary third-class ticket, tucked away safely; but the fright
made him resolve on keeping it separate and hanging the precious
remainder in a bag round his neck. The empty money-bag would do; or
better still, there were some bits left yet of Hoshyar's little coat
of brocade, and the ticket deserved a fine holder.

As he sat stitching away at the familiar fragments, however, by the
flicker of the cresset, a certain remorse assailed him at having seen
so little of his brother during the past month. True, Hoshyar, for
various reasons, preferred coming to see him; but ever since the Eed,
Raheem had been dimly conscious that something seemed to have come
between him and the soul he meant to save. Was it that he knew in his
heart it ought to be already saved? There was no longer any need,
however, for such questions. So soon as the bag was finished he would
go over and find Hoshyar; would find and tell him the great secret,
the secret which even Raheem's small store of worldly wisdom had kept

A sound at the plinth made him look up, and there was Hoshyar himself.
Something in his face made the sewer say quickly: "I set aside the
money for thee, Hoshyar, though thou camest not. It is here, five

Hoshyar looked at the little pile with a queer expression, and leaving
the plinth came within the reach of a whisper. "That will not serve me
to-night," he said quietly. "I must have thirty."

"Thirty!" echoed Raheem. "I have it not."

"Thou hast it in the box. See here, brother, thou hast told me always
that the money was mine--for my salvation. Well, I need it; I must
have it." He spoke almost carelessly as one who has a certainty of
succeeding; and in truth he thought so. Once before Raheem had almost
emptied the bag to save him from ruin, and he had calculated
deliberately on its being emptied again when he had bought Yasmeena
her new dress out of office-funds which would have to be replaced at
the end of the month. Raheem would not have given a _pice_ for such a
purpose, of course; but with detection and disgrace staring his
brother in the face it would be different. Besides, the money was his,
for his salvation. "Listen, Raheem," he went on, summoning up a
penitential tone; but his brother interrupted him swiftly, a sort of
dread in his dark, hollow eyes. "There is naught in the box now,
brother," he said, with a catch of fear in his voice. "I have naught
but this;" he laid his hand lightly upon the booklet, and its very
touch seemed to bring comfort, for he smiled. "'Tis my salvation,
Hoshyar, for I have given thee my pilgrimage. See, I am making a
holder for it. Dost recognise the stuff? 'Tis a bit of the little
brocade coat, brother."

Hoshyar had caught up the booklet, glanced at it, and now flung it
down with a passionate oath. "Salvation,--fool, 'tis perdition!" Then
he laughed suddenly, a loud, bitter laugh. "That is an end," he said,
rising to go. "I only waste time here. Good-bye, Raheem; 'tis well
thou hast a keepsake of me; thou art not likely to see much of me
these seven years to come."

"What dost mean, brother?" began the comb-maker, fearfully; but
Hoshyar, without another word, turned back to the bazaar.

"'Tis thou that art the fool," said Yasmeena, with a yawn, after
Hoshyar had raged for a quarter of an hour of his ill-luck, of his
brother's foolery, of her extravagance. "Why didst not take the
ticket? It must be worth something, surely?" Then a sudden interest
came to her languid eyes, where vice itself seemed weary. "Seest thou,
beloved, I have an idea! Old Deena the drum-player is for ever talking
of second-hand salvation. He hath forty rupees saved for it; that
would leave me ten as commission. He need not know; I can say I got
it; we of the bazaar get most things at times in our profession. And
the money was thine,--for thy salvation, remember."

Hoshyar looked at her as a man looks at a venomous snake he has no
power to kill.

"Lo, Baboo-_ji!_" said a trollop of a girl, lounging in with a giggle.
"Thy brother Raheem asks for thee below. 'Tis the first time,
methinks, he hath entered such a house, for he stands like a child,
clasping a brocaded bag as if there were pests about, and it held

Yasmeena sat up among her quilts and looked at Hoshyar. "Bid the good
creature to the courtyard at the back," she said in a level voice.
"Thou wilt like to see him alone, doubtless, Hoshyar. And, Merun, bid
some man take him a sherbet; he would be affrighted of a _houri_. Make
it of sandal-essence, girl, and bring it to me to see that it is
rightly flavoured. Thou likest not sandal-essence, Hoshyar, 'tis true,
but 'tis most refreshing to those who have walked, and thou needst not
touch it."

Hoshyar's look changed. It was the look now which a bird gives to the

Raheem was at the station next day in plenty of time, though, rather
to his surprise, he had slept later than usual that morning, and slept
heavily also; perhaps because he seemed not to have a care left in the
world after Hoshyar had retracted all his reproaches and bidden him go
in peace. Peace,--what else could remain in a man's heart after that
renunciation in the dark deserted mosque upon the homeward way, which
had left Raheem's conscience clear at last, left him without a
wedding-garment and yet content? And now, with his ticket to the
junction duly snipped, his bundle in one hand and the other assuring
itself of the booklet's safety in the brocade bag, he passed down the
platform in the rear of the rush from the waiting-shed, looking
diffidently for a seat in the close-packed carriages, which with their
iron bars and struggling occupants looked like cages of wild beasts.

"Here, neighbour Hâjji, here!" cried a cracked, familiar voice full of
elation, full of importance. "Now that demon of a drum hath gone there
is room for a saint or two. He is Hâjji already, my masters, and will
be a good companion. But 'tis done cheaper nowadays, and I, I swear,
have it cheaper than ye all. How much, is a secret; but the Lord kept
his eye on old Deena." So he went on boastfully, till even his voice
was drowned in the great shout which went up as the train moved on. He
was back on his own good fortune, however, when the hundred and fifty
and odd passengers in their carriage, separated into scores by iron
bars, had subsided into a mere babel of speaking voices. "No cover,
say you?" he replied resentfully to a captious criticism on his
ticket. "What good is a cover? Dew is pretty, but it don't quench
thirst; so I, being a pilgrim, drink plain water. My ticket will take
me as far as thine."

Raheem, crouched up between the drum-player and a fat butcher, heard
vaguely, and fingered the outline of his treasure in its bag of
brocade, feeling glad he had so honoured it; for it took him further
than Mecca, further than this world. The Gates of Pearl were set ajar
for him, and he could see through them to the glory and glitter of
Paradise. And so, after a rush through a long stretch of desert sand,
the train slackened, rousing him from a dream. This must be the
junction, and he must take out the other ticket; but not while a score
of folk were struggling over him in their rush to be out first. He was
out last, of course, and had barely time to snatch the booklet from
its bag, ere an official warned him to hurry up. So panting, confused,
his bundle in one hand, his treasure in the other, he sped over the
bridge to the next platform.

"Tickets, tickets, all tickets!" came another alien voice, and he
paused to obey, setting his bundle on the ground in order to have both
hands for his task. But the opening of the cover was to him as the
closing of the Book of Life; for it was empty.

"Pass on, pass on!" came the not unkindly voice of command once more.
"Out of the way, you there, and don't stand like a fool. You've
dropped it likely; run back and see; there's time yet."

So over the bridge again went Raheem, in frantic hope, back on his
steps again in frantic despair. "I had it, _Huzoor_, indeed I had it!
Here is the cover!"

The ticket-collector shook his head, and Raheem, with a dazed look,
turned away quietly.

"Trra!" came the voice of the drum-player sententiously and safely
from the window of a carriage. "He hath lost the inside; that comes of
a cover. Well, well, prayers are over; up with the carpet! But he is
Hâjji already, my masters, so 'tis not as though it were one of us

"Keep thy sins to thyself, chatterer," retorted his next neighbour
tartly, as the train moved on. "We be virtuous men enough."

"If you haven't money to go on, you must go back. The booking-office
is over there, and the up-mail will be in in a few hours."

This official view of the question, given by the authorities as they
gathered round the disappointed pilgrim, was simplicity itself, even
to Raheem. He never thought of connecting his ticketless cover with
Deena's coverless ticket. The fact that his chance was gone absorbed
him utterly; he had lost salvation, for the very thought of taking
back his gift to Hoshyar was impossible to him. That was the outcome
of it all. So he sat patiently waiting for his train to come in; sat
patiently, after he had found a place in it, waiting for it to go on,
so absolutely absorbed in his loss, that he did not even hear his
neighbours' comments on the delay.

"Line clear at last!" said the guard joyfully to the driver as he came
out of the telegraph-office, where but one instant before the welcome
signal had echoed. "Steam away all you know, sonny, and make up lost
time. I promised my girl to be punctual; there's a hop on at her

So, with a shriek, they were off for a twenty-mile scamper across the
desert; out with a bump over the points, out with a whistle past the
last signal, out with a flash by the telegraph-posts. But something
else was flashing by the posts also; for a message came clicking
into the station they had left not a minute ago, "_Mistake--line

"My God!" said the station-master in a thick voice, standing up
blindly. He was an old Mutiny man, but he was white as a sheet.

"It isn't our fault, father," began his son, a slim young fellow,
showing mixed blood.

"D----n it all, sir," shouted the other furiously, "what does it
matter whose fault it is? What's to be done?"

Nothing could be done, save to telegraph back quick as kind nature
could carry it: "_Line blocked--up-mail also_." Fateful words! The
line blocked both ways, and not a signal for twenty miles! Half an
hour of warning at the least, and nothing to be done; nothing save to
accept the disaster!

"Bring up the relief-engine sharp, Smith," said the Traffic
Superintendent at the terminus when, ere a minute was past, the
hopeless news reached him. "Graham, run over for Dr. Westlake, for
Harrison, too, if he's there; splints, bandages, dressers, and all
that. Davies, wire back to the other end to send what they can from
their reserve."

And so, swiftly as hands and brains could compass it, two more engines
fled shrieking into the growing dusk of evening behind those two, the
down-mail and the up-mail, coming nearer and nearer to each other on
the single line.

"Twenty minutes since they started, about," said one man, who was
standing with a watch in his hand, in curiously quiet tones. "It must
be soon now; and there is a curve about the middle. I hope to God
there is no friend of mine in either!"

"Royston's in the down," replied another studiously even voice. "He
was going to see his wife. But the firsts are well back; it's the
thirds, poor devils----" He paused, and the others nodded.

The thirds, doubtless! And in one of them, far forward, crouched
Raheem, staring out into the calm dusk, absorbed in the horror of
going back, going back to die before he had saved his own soul!

So, suddenly, through and above the rush and the roar and the rattle
that he scarcely heard, came a new sound forcing him to listen. It was
a quivering, clamorous, insistent whistle. It brought no recognition
to his ignorance, or to the ignorance of those around him, but far
back in the first-class carriages white faces peered out into
the gloom, and foreign voices called to each other: "Danger
whistle--what's up?" Still, it was a strange, disturbing sound with a
strange echo. And was that an echo of the rush, and the roar, and the
rattle? Raheem sat up quickly. Was it the end of all things? Why had
they struck him--Who--Hoshyar! Then thought ended in a scream of pain.

"There is a man caught by the feet under that wheel," said Dr.
Westlake not many minutes after, as he came out of the hideous pile of
wreckage all grimed and smirched. "He is breathing yet, so have him
out sharp. We may save him, but these others----" He passed on to seek
work significantly.

And so Raheem, stunned and with both feet crushed to a jelly, was dug
out; the only man left alive in the forward third-class carriage of
the up-mail. He was still unconscious when it came to be his turn for
the doctors in the crowded hospital. "Badly nourished," said Dr.
Westlake, "but it is his only chance. Harrison, the eucalyptus
sawdust, please; it is a good case for it, and we shall be short of

So two days afterwards Raheem, recovering from a slight concussion of
the brain, found himself in a strangely comfortable bed with a curious
hump of a thing over his feet under the coverlet. He did not know that
there were no feet there; that they had both been amputated at the
ankle, and that he was a cripple for life. And there was no reason why
he should find it out, since the sawdust did its work without more
ado, much to the doctor's delight, who, as he took Raheem's
temperature, talked of first intents and septic dressings to his
assistant. In fact, they were both so pleased that it came upon them
by surprise one day, when Raheem, with clasped hands, asked when he
was to die.

"Die? Rubbish!" said Dr. Westlake, cheerfully. "Not from this, at any
rate, and we will do what we can for the lungs afterwards."

Raheem's face did not lose its anxiety. "And when, if the _Huzoor_
will say, shall I be able to walk again?" As he lay in the comfortable
bed he had been making up his mind to sacrifice all comfort, to leave
life behind him, and start on foot for death, with his face towards

"Walk?" echoed the doctor, with a significant look at his assistant.
Then he sat down on the edge of the cot, and told the truth.

Raheem heard it, looking incredulously at the cradle; and then
suddenly he interrupted a platitude about its being better to be a
cripple than to die, with an eager question: "Then the _Huzoor_ means
that I shall never be able to walk again?"

The doctor nodded.

"May God reward the _Huzoor_ for ever and ever," said Raheem in a
whisper, raising both hands in a salute; and his face was one radiant

Dr. Westlake looked at his assistant as they passed on to the next
cot. "They are an incomprehensible people," he said in rather an
injured tone. "I never expected to hear a man thank me rapturously for
cutting off both his feet."

He did not know that cripples are especially exempted from the duty of
pilgrimage, and that the patient was repeating his version of the
text: "It is better to enter halt into life, than, having two feet, to
be cast into hell."

                           THE KING'S WELL

This is one of poor Craddock's many stories which he told me when we
were in the wilderness together, engaged--like another Moses and
Aaron--in preparing a way for a Western people across the desert, and
dividing its sand waves by a pathway of red-brick ballast edged with
steel. In other words, in making the railway on which he afterwards
met his death in trying to prevent a survival of past ages from being
in the permanent way of civilisation.

We used to sit at the door of my little tent--two Englishmen adrift on
a sand sea--and I used to listen while he talked; for the life he had
led made him the best of company, and his combined ignorance and
knowledge of the East was a perpetual surprise. Some of his stories
were grossly, frankly impossible, but this one, despite its
strangeness, I believed unhesitatingly; as any one would have done who
had seen, as I saw, the indescribable world-tarnish which long years
of loose living brings to the kindliest face, leave it clear, bright,
and eager to a rejuvenescence of love, and pity, and pain.

The sun had dipped below the rising rim of the great sand-circle whose
centre we were, but the sky was still a cloudless expanse of yellow
radiance dazzling to the eyes from sheer excess of light. There was
nothing far or near to differentiate one part of earth or heaven from
another save the thin red line of ridiculous little flags we had been
planting out during the day; and I remember thinking that I could not
for the life of me tell the exact spot where, five minutes before, I
had seen the last curved glint of the sun disappear--for one bit of
horizon seemed to the full as bright as another.

"Looks like the yaller bottle in the chemist's shop; don't it, sir?"
remarked Craddock cheerfully--"leastways, as I used to think when I
was a boy. Lordy! Lordy! boys is--is boys, I do assure you. Old
Pargiter's shop to our village was over against the public, sir, next
the church, an' comin' 'ome o' evenin's from the catechism, sir, it
seemed Je-rewsalem the Golden. Expect it was the anathysts, an'
sapphiras, an' rubies, an' them sort o' stones did it, for boys--is
boys, you see, sir." He gave an apologetic smear to his corn-coloured
moustache as if to wipe away the flavour of his own sentiment--the
wrist-smear of those whose hands are habitually soiled.

"It _is_ like a topaz seen against the light," I replied, accepting
both confidence and excuse with the calm indifference which always
encouraged Craddock to further indulgence. "I don't think I ever saw
it quite so dazzlingly clear, did you?"

He paused awhile, and the blue eyes, bloodshot by exposure to
unspeakable lights and unspeakable darknesses of all sorts and kinds,
grew a trifle absent.

"I dunno but what I 'ave, sir; leastways it looks more light-like from
the bottom o' a well. As, savin' your presence, sir, is only nat'ral."

"From the bottom of a well?" I echoed. "When was that, Craddock? you
never told me that yarn."

He paused again. "No, sir. It ain't a pleasing interlood, for
'twas in the Mutiny time, sir, w'en we was all mad devils, black an'
white--white an' black----," and then suddenly, as I have said, some
past pity and passion and pain seemed to come back upon him with a
rush, so that he sat staring into that cloudless sky as if he saw a
vision, and his voice came at last half to himself, "By the Lord as
made me I dunno which was worse, black nor white, white nor black; yet
it was white as did for me, Nathaniel James Craddock, at the bottom o'
the King's Well." Then he was silent again, and I sat silent too, for
there never was any use in pumping Craddock. His fund of experiences
was too vast for you to be sure of bringing what you wanted to the
surface. So, after a time, he began again deviously:

"Not as wot it was, so to speak, a well at all, but what they calls,
in the lingo, a _bawly_--a thing, you know, sir, with flights o' steps
a-leadin' down to the bowels of the yerth--right down to the water as
maybe a hundred or a hundred and fifty feet below the surface, as the
sayin' is, sir. It was just a large, round, black spot o' ink, that
was wot the water was, an' standin' on the stone edge you could see
right up the stairs to a round yaller spot of Je-rewsalem the Golden.
Two spots there were, sir, owin' to there being two flights o' steps,
an' many a time as I lay like a rabbit in 'is burrow down by the water
I'd tell myself luck was in there bein' two--two whites to one black,
yet after all it was white as did the business for me, sir, at the
bottom o' the King's _bawly_."

"You must have been very young in Mutiny time?" I remarked in casual
aid to his lagging confidence.

"One and twenty, sir--more by token I come to man's estate, as the
sayin' is, at the bottom o' that there well. Lordy! I can see it now!
A sort o' mist o' light from Je-rewsalem above a-fadin' away half down
the stairs, and leavin' the rest to get darker an' darker to the black
spot o' water; but it had a glint o' light on it too that come, God
knows how, when the sun was low." As he spoke I had noticed a curious
change in his voice; a sort of refining process, as if he were going
back to a self that was less rough, less common, and the change was
still more marked when, after a pause, he began again: "It was an
awful hot year, sir, just a white flame of heat--a burning fiery
furnace; but there wasn't none of us come through it praisin' an'
magnifyin'--leastways I didn't, but then I was a wild lot. Run away
from home, sir; that is how I came to be in the country, knowing a
good bit of the lingo for a youngster. Served my way out before the
mast, and then backed my luck. And won it too; for a Rajah fellow paid
me to wrestle with his men, and play monkey tricks. Lordy! I remember
the first time I got in grips with the champion, and he stood head
down expectin' me to go on buttin' like a goat. There wasn't one of
them could touch me, sir, but that wasn't no protection when the time
came. It's an odd sort of thing, I do assure you, for a man who knows
he could lick every one he sees, to be runnin' like a hare for dear
life, hidin' by day an' circumventin' the villages by night; but that
was how it was for three weeks before I come plumb--as the sayin'
is--on the King's Well. It was right in the worst country, and I was
footsore, and stumblin' like as if I were in liquor with the fever. A
queer sort o' place it was as I saw it first in the dawn which
come--as the dawns had a trick o' doin' in those times--a deal too
soon for Nathaniel James. It was right in the open in the middle o' a
lot o' broken bricks and little mounds o' mud--miles and miles of them
it had seemed to me, footsore an' stumblin'; for the place had been a
big city, so I'm told, sir, in the old times. And now it was nothin'
but a plain o' broken brick an' graves, except for a cluster of tall
old houses with the usual mud-huts a-crowdin' up round them. And I
knew from what I'd heard that the biggest murdering villains o' the
lot lived in them houses, poor _budmarsh_[32] Mohammedans, proud as
Lucifer, a-screwing the tails o' the ryots for a livin'--though why
ryots, sir, is hard to say, for a more peaceable lot o' able-bodied
men and women never was. Well, there I was in the worst place I could
have chosen, and the dawn comin' sudden all in a blaze. Then, right at
my feet I sees the _bawly_; just a hole o' broken masonry, an' the
steps leading down like a rabbit burrow. They didn't seem to be much
used that side furthest from the village among the graves, for the
drifted sand was a-lying thick on the topmost steps, and I didn't see
no footmarks to speak of, only a queer sort o' track that might 'ave
bin a man's and mightn't. Anyhow I thought I'd risk it, seeing as if
any one come down the one stair, I could hoof it up the other, an'
there's generally a lot o' little arched recesses at the bottom o'
_bawlies_ where I could lie low. So I chanced it. An' Lordy! wasn't it
cool as I hobbled down them vaulted steps. 'Twas a fine place, sir,
when all was said an' done. Half-a-dozen steps or so, and then a
landin', as the sayin' is, with a sort o' travellers' rest on either
side; but I went right down to the bottom, so as to see what sort o'
trap I'd got into. An' I found it none so bad, for there wasn't no
passage round as there is in most _bawlies_, but only a' arched room
on either side my stairs ending sheer in the drop o' ink which filled
up a round sort o' well that was vaulted over up in the dark
somewhere. So there wasn't no way of getting from one stair to the
other but by a leap such as there wasn't one but Nathaniel James in
the country side as could leap it; an' that would give me time. Still
I do assure you, sir, it takes the spunk out of a fellow to go
skulkin' round for three weeks with your life in your hand in baggy
silk trousers an' a dressin' gown--for I'd put on what they calls a
_killit_ as the Rajah give me for smashing up another Rajah's
champion--that's a dress o' state, sir, an' _killit_ or not, it nigh
killed me, for it was chock full o' embroidery an' that hot; but
beggars mustn't be choosers, and that night I run off from the Palace
it was all I could lay hands on. An' did its work too--just to give
what them surveyor chaps calls the proper contour, as the sayin' is.
Anyhow, what with the stain, a deal more knowledge of the lingo than I
have now, sir, an' through my being considerable stronger than the
only two fellars as caught me napping, here I was in the King's
_bawly_ watching them two round spots o' Je-rewsalem like a man in his
grave a-waitin' the last trump; an' the first pair o' feet I saw on
the stairs opposite set me a-tremblin' like a ferreted rabbit, even
though I knew that wot with the stairs, an' the drop o' ink, I'd 'ave
a good five minutes' start. But then I heard the jingles on them, sir,
and knew it was only a woman from the village comin' down to fill her
water-pot. There was a lot o' them come chatterin' and laughin' during
the day, but always down the further stair. And Lordy! it was cool
after the fiery furnace! I had a mouthful or two o' corn I'd _looted_,
so when dusk came it seemed to me as if I couldn't move on--small
blame to me, sir, seein' how cool an' quiet it was, and I so close on
done. But just as I was a-callin' myself names for bein' lazy, come a
footfall on my stair. Now you know, sir, them _bawlies_ bein' arched
an' all that, is awful echo-ey places, an' I do assure you I made up
my mind a man was coming down, slow and deliberate-like. I looked out,
an' couldn't see nothing, but there was the footfall just like a
procession; an' then somethin' let loose a bellow, and I felt inclined
to cut. But then I thought I'd wait a bit seein' I was stronger nor
most, an' the drop o' ink was handy for a corpse. So I waited until
the bellow come again; an' this time--bein' close as it were, an' out
o' the echo--I knew my friend, for I do assure you, sir, it was
nothin' but the biggest bull toad you ever see, coming flop, flop down
the stair for his evenin' drink. A great green thing with a yaller
waistcoat as sat up on the last step looked at me quite proud-like.
Lordy! how I laughed! It was the first laugh I'd laughed for three
week, an' it done me good; that an' seeing the bull toad go douse into
the water like a man, for it set me a-longin' for a swim too, an' when
I come out o' that drop o' cold ink I was a new man. Slept like a
babby in its cradle and woke to see through the maze o' arches a woman
on the t'other side a-rinsin' out her brass pot quite calm-like. She
was a-takin' his breakfast to her man in the fields, I expect, for
there was a pile o' them flapjacks on a platter beside her. I dun'no,
sir, if it was the sleep, or the sight o' food and me ravenin' wolves,
or just sheer devilry--for I was a wild lot--but I out o' my rabbit
'utch an' let loose a yell. You may well call 'em _bawlies_, sir, for
I do assure you I felt kind o' queer myself havin' made all that
noise. She gave no look, but let loose another yell of her own as she
turned tail and ran up them stairs like a lamplighter. It seemed to me
as if she was callin' on 'the King--the King,' but I didn't stop to
think. Now was my time. I was over the drop o' ink clear on to the
second step in my hurry, before she was half-way up to Je-rewsalem,
an' I was back again to the 'utch with the flapjacks making ready to
run if need be for dear life, when I heard the silver tinkle again an'
women's voices. Every word, sir, I could hear through its bein' a
_bawly_, an' I heard her"--he paused sharply, waited a second, and
began again--"There was two on them now, disputin' an' half-laughin',
half-cryin'; one was pullin' the other an' tellin' her she was a fool;
there wasn't no King, more's the pity, and if there was she wasn't
afraid seein' he was her _bâpdâda_;--that's ancestors, sir--but the
t'other wouldn't hear of it, an' kept sayin' 'twas well enough for
some folk as pretended wisdom, but every one knew the King's footmark
on the stair an' had heard his voice after dusk. My friend the bull
toad, thinks I, feelin' considerable easier in my mind, for I knew
enough o' their ways you see, sir, to know as there wasn't much chance
o' any one else comin' down my stairs if a ghost lived there; so I
listened to the argufying quite interested-like. But it wasn't no
good--the half-laughin' voice hadn't a chance even when it grew sober,
and cried shame on bein' frightened at the spirit of the good King,
who every day come down to his _bawly_ all alone, so that any pore
soul as wanted justice might go down the other stair and tell him what
was amiss across the black water with no fear. 'If he was only there
now instead o' bein' where saints are,' I heard her say, 'I'd go down
this instant an' tell him to stop it all--but there's no one to listen
nowadays--no one.' An' with that she come tinkling down the steps
alone--a tall girl, sir--but, there--'tain't no good describin' her,
for I never see her but in half-light till---- Well! she just rinsed
out her pot like the rest o' them and filled it; but afore she went
she stood so with it on her head on the t'other side o' the black
water for a moment, an' said quite loud an' bold-like, '_Salaam


[Footnote 32: Bad living.]

[Footnote 33: Greeting or peace to the King.]


"I was that wild sort, as I might have given a bellow just to frighten
her for the fun o' the thing, but I kept somehow a-thinkin' o' what
she had said of the old King a-trailin' down them steps in his royal
robes, and listenin' in that _bawly_ to all the pore folks' troubles,
an' a-promisin' never to forsake them but to bring justice with him
down the stairs to the end o' all things. Not that he was an old King,
sir, as I found out afterwards, but a young sort o' saint, as got
killed afore his time. You see I heard a lot o' talk from the women as
came down in companies, skeery, and just in a mortal hurry to fill
their jars and git home because of the girl as said she had heard the
King in the daytime. So that it came to me, sir, that I couldn't do
better nor lie hidden a day or two and get strong where I was, for
there wasn't no manner o' hurry. Like as not I'd get killed somehow
before I got to the river, and I couldn't help anyways, seein' as I
couldn't look to get into any o' the places where we was holdin' out
against the black devils. An' that evenin', when the old bull toad
come down for his swim, I just laughed again quite light-hearted, and
says as she said, '_Salaam Mâhârâj!_'

"Well, she was the only one as come alone after that, but come she
did, an' every time she come she would stand an' say loud-like, but a
bit wistful, '_Salaam Mâhârâj!_'

"She was a tall girl, but there--it ain't no use describing her.

"So what with the women coming all together I didn't have much chance
o' flapjacks, and what with the village bein' walled in an' full of
them murderin' nobility, I wasn't, so to say, successful in thievin',
an' at last I see it was time to move on. A bad time, too; for I heard
from the women's talk as there was crowds o' sepoys about a-screwin'
the pore folks' tails, an' I heard _her_ say to 'em once as it were
their fault. 'If they wasn't so frightened o' the King,' said she,
'maybe he'd come back and give 'em justice.' An' that evenin' when she
come down she stood so with her arms spread out lookin' up the stair
and said again, bowing down after their fashion, '_Salaam Mâhârâj!_,
your slave waits!'

"There was a pile o' flapjacks on the platter beside her water-pot,
an' maybe it was the sight o' them, and knowin' they would be worth
gold to me, or maybe because it was my last time o' askin', or maybe
the devil that was in me, but I just out o' my rabbit 'utch, in my
baggy silk trousers and dressing-gown--in the whole blessed _killit_,
sir--and stood quite still on the steps. It was most dark, you see,
sir, an' the contours was correc', so 'twas no wonder she give a
little cry, half-glad, half-afraid, as she come up from her salaam. I
guessed she'd run and leave me the flapjacks, but she wasn't that
sort. A tall girl--but there, it ain't no use describin'. Well afore I
could think what to do she was at it; such a tale o' wrong, sir, not
about herself, though she was one of those pore souls as is born
widows, but about Lord knows what of the people. An' I listened. Did
you ever listen, sir, to a woman's voice just chock full o' confidence
in your bein' a good sort? Well, I did; an' I dunno how 'twas, sir,
but the confidence was catchin'. I was a reckless, bold chap, you see,
an' I knew she had grit, so the next moment I was over that circle o'
black water and beside her. She give another little cry, but, my Lord!
she _had_ grit, for she drew back quick against the wall and thrust
out her hands to keep me off.

"'The King! the King!' she said, 'I thought you was the King!'

"An' with that I caught her by the hands. 'I'm not the King,' says I,
'but don't you be afraid, I'm only a pore man as won't hurt you.'

"'I'm not afraid,' she says, tryin' to make believe. 'You come down
the King's stairs o' justice,' she said, 'an' that's enough.'

"Then somehow, I dunno how it was, sir, but all in a moment it come
home to me that I'd go my whole pile on her, an' I drop her hands an'
I says:

"'Yes! I come down the King's stairs, and I'll be a King to you for
justice if you'll be a Queen to me.'

"And by God! sir, she was.

"So there we were, lookin' into each other's eyes and sayin' nothin',
till she gave a queer little laugh.

"'Why,' she says, 'you're a white man!' and with that she lay her
finger quick and confident on my wrist; an' sure enough, what with the
swim and the dark it were white indeed--white an' shivery, too, with
the touch somehow, so that I couldn't but keep her hand so and say:

"'Yes, my dear, I'm white and you're black; I'm a man and you're a
woman, but it shan't make no odds. I'm King and you're Queen in this
here _bawly_, and there shan't be nothing but justice atween us, so
help me, God!'

"An' there wasn't, sir. No! though we went our whole pile on each
other, I do assure you, sir."

The assurance was needless; one look at his face was enough--that
world-worn face with its bloodshot eyes, fixed on the dazzling glory
of the sky as if they saw a vision.

"I used to see her first against Je-rewsalem," he went on in a lower
tone. "Then I could hear her come down the stairs ever so soft to
stand close to the water's edge and cry, '_Salaam Mâhârâj!_'--for she
called me that, just for fun, you see, sir. An' there weren't much
wistfulness in her voice, sir, mostly laughter, an' somethin' better
nor laughter, when I come leapin' across that drop o' ink to stand
beside her for a little, an' tell her--what folks say to each other
when they've set their whole pile on each other, you know, sir. For
she wouldn't never come down the King's stairs, sayin' it was unlucky
an' what not. Excuses, sir, but I understood 'em and I didn't want
her, for you see it was justice between us I'd sworn, and I was a wild
lot. She had told her father--a blind old Brahman, sir, awful holy,
and nigh bedridden too--and he sent word to say stop where I was. The
villagers wouldn't venture down the stairs either, and if they did
wouldn't harm me, being, as I say, sir, as peaceable a lot o'
able-bodied men as ever was. But the maraudin', murderin' crew in the
big _hawelis_--that's houses, sir--was harbouring those mutinous
devils of Jack Pandies, and playin' high old Tommy for miles round, so
I'd better lie low till justice came; as it'd sure to do at last,
seein' that the Lord was King. They talks a sight, sir, about the
heathen and their ignorance, but I do assure you she knew a deal
more nor me; what with being of a king's family an' havin' a
bedridden saint of a Brahman for a father. An' they mayn't know much
book-learnin' p'r'aps, but some of 'em knows how to make a man put his
whole pile on them. And she had grit, my Lord! she had grit!

"Yet there was a catch in her breath that evenin' when I was nigh mad
with fear, lest she had come to harm because it was so late, and
hearing her footfall on the stair I leapt over, and nearly fell back
into the ink-pot through seein' her in a man's dress.

"'I'd rather you didn't come if there's danger,' said I quite
sharp-like, when she told me the sepoys was setting watch because folk
said the white soldiers were a-coming. 'Don't! I can't stand it here
in the dark, idle, thinkin' o' you God knows how. I'll fend for myself
quite well.'

"An' with that she laughed low with the little catch in her breath
still, and come a bit closer so as I could slip my arm round her a
little; an' by that I knew 'twas more danger than she let on--for she
was not that sort.

"'Now don't you come,' says I, as I might be the King himself givin'
orders, 'I won't have it. If the soldiers is comin', they'll bring
justice, an' if not a little starvin' won't hurt me, for I'm gettin'
quite strong again.' An' so I was, sir, what with the rest and the
food an' the happiness. For I do assure you, sir, on my solemn oath,
that I was happy at the bottom o' that King's _bawly_. Happy? By the
Lord! sir, 'twas enough to make a man happy to see the look she gave
me, as much as to say I was strong enough and everything enough for
her; for though it was nigh dark I could see her face from its bein'
so close to mine--she bein' a tall girl--but there, it ain't no use
describin'. There don't seem much to say, sir, when it comes to
lookin' at each other that way, an' so we stood silent a bit, till
sudden I hear the old bull toad at his jinks again, and partly to ease
off the sort o' burstin' feelin' at my heart I cries with a laugh,
'There's the King!'

"But she just lays her head down, pugree an' all, on my shoulder and
says with a sob, 'No, here's the King. The King as I come to for

He paused for so long, that something of the excitement which had been
thrilling in his tones seemed to pass into my mind, and I felt almost
a shock when he went on quite calmly:

"Well, it was arranged that she wasn't to come back for three days
onless somethin' turned up. I would have it so, an' she give in at
last. It was mortal dull without her, and I made up my mind when I see
her again to tell her I'd back my luck once more, and fight my way
safe somehow. Then when it was over I'd come back for her; for it
didn't seem it could go against me as I sat down by the drop o' ink
a-lookin' up to Je-rewsalem over the way, and a-wonderin' when I
should see her on the top step a-comin' for justice to her King.

"Well, she come at last. It were the second day, I think, sir, and it
took me all of a sudden, for, owin' to its bein' a _bawly_ in the
bowels in the yerth you couldn't hear nothin' of what was goin' on up
top. I was sittin' lookin' over the way when I hear a noise behind an'
a voice, '_Mâhârâj! Mâhârâj!_'

"It was she, sir, down the King's steps in the man's dress, an' behind
her, my God! not black devils but white ones with red coats an' set
bayonets!--'_Mâhârâj! Mâhârâj! Justice! Justice!_'

"I was out, sir, tearing up to meet her in a second, shoutin' in
English to hold hard--that she was a woman; but them cursed _bawly_
echoes mixed it all up, an' the cursed baggy trousers and things,
didn't give me no chance of a-hearin' through its bein' half-dark----

"'_Mâhârâj! Mâhârâj!_'

"I heard it plain enough, God knows. I hear it now sometimes, sir, an'
I see her face as I saw it for the only time in the light afore I fell
over her dead body a-lying on the steps half-way down the stairs o'

"They told me after, as I had finished the cry for her many and many a
time whilst I lay in 'orspital--for they'd struck me playful-like
before they found out I was white, an' I took mortal bad; but there
wasn't much use in justice then for none o' us. An' I never could tell
quite how it happened, for when I went back the village was just
bricks, and the corpses lyin' about thick, unburied. They had had a
hard fight as they told me, had the Tommies, an' bein' fresh from
Cawnpore was keen--as was nat'ral--an' she was in man's clothes, you
see, when she come flyin' down the steps o' justice calling for the

                          *   *   *   *   *

He sat silent, looking out to the now darkening sky where the light
had faded save in the widening rays spreading out from the grave of
the sun. And down one of them, as down a golden staircase, I seemed to
see a flying figure with outstretched arms pass to Jerusalem the
Golden with the cry "_Mâhârâj! Mâhârâj!_"

But Craddock was already clearing his throat suggestively for the
usual glass of whisky and water; yet ere he drank it his eyes wandered
absently, helplessly, to the horizon, and I heard him mutter to

"An' so 'twas white, not black, as did for Nathaniel James Craddock at
the bottom o' the King's Well."

And as I looked at him drink-sodden and reckless, I understood that
when the time came he too would have the right to pass down the King's
stair seeking justice--and finding it.

                            UMA HIMAVUTEE


Uma-devi was sitting on a heap of yellow wheat, which showed golden
against the silvery surface of her husband's threshing-floor. She was
a tall woman, of about five and twenty, with a fair, fine-cut face,
set in a perfect oval above the massive column of her throat. She was
a Brâhmani of the Suruswutee tribe--in other words, a member of
perhaps the most ancient Aryan colony in India, which long ages back
settled down to cultivate the Hurreana, or "green country"; so called,
no doubt, before its sacred river, the Suruswutee, lost itself in the
dry deserts west of Delhi; a member, therefore, of a community older
than Brâhmanism itself, and which clings oddly to older faiths, older
ways, and older gods. So Uma-devi, who was on the rack of that
jealousy which comes to most women, whether they be ignorant or
cultured, had the advantage over most of the latter: she could look
back through the ages to a more inspiring and stimulating progenitrix
than Mother Eve. For, despite the pharisaical little hymn of Western
infancy bidding us thank goodness for our birth and inheritance of
knowledge, one can scarcely be grateful for a typical woman simpering
over an apple, or subsequently sighing over the difficulties of dress.
The fact being that our story of Creation only begins when humanity,
fairly started on the Rake's Progress, felt the necessity for
bolstering up its self-respect by the theory of original sin.

But this woman could dimly, through the numb pain of her heart, feel
the influence of a nobler Earth-mother in Uma Him[=a]vutee--Uma her
namesake--Uma of the Himalayas, birthplace of all sacred things--Uma
of the sunny yet snowy peaks, emblem at once of perfect wifehood,
motherhood, and that mystical virginity which, in Eve-ridden faiths,
finds its worship in Mariolatry.

That she could even dimly recognise the beauty of this conception came
partly from the simple yet ascetic teachings of her race; partly
because there are some natures, East and West, which turn
instinctively to Uma Him[=a]vutee, and this woman among yellow corn
was of that goodly company.

Yet a sharp throb of sheer animal jealousy--the jealousy which in most
civilised communities is considered a virtue when sanctified by the
bonds of matrimony--seemed to tear her heart as her hands paused in
her patient darning of gold-coloured silk on dull madder-red stuff,
and her eyes sought the figure of a man outlined against the dull red

It was Shiv-deo, her husband, returning from his work in the fields.

She folded up her work methodically, leaving the needle with its
pennant of floss still twined deftly in and out of the threads as a
mark to show where to take up the appointed pattern once more. For
Uma-devi's work was quaintly illustrative of her life, being done from
the back of the stuff and going on laboriously, conscientiously,
trustfully, without reference to the unseen golden diaper slowly
growing to beauty on the other side of the cloth. That remained as a
reward to tired eyes and fingers when the toil was over, and the time
came to piece the whole web into a garment--a wedding veil, perchance,
for her daughter, had she had one. But Uma was childless.

Yet there was no reproach, no discontent in her husband's fine
beardless face as he came up to her; for he happened--despite the
barbarous marriage customs of his race--to love his wife as she loved

They were a handsome pair truly, much of an age, tall, strong, yet of
a type as refined-looking as any in the world. At their feet lay the
heaps of wheat; beyond them, around them, that limitless plain which
once seen holds the imagination captive for ever whether the
recollection be of a sea of corn, or, as now, of stretches of brown
earth bare of all save the dead sources of a gathered harvest. To one
side, a mile or so away, the piled mud village was girdled by a golden
haze of dust which sprang from the feet of the homing cattle.

"I saw one with thee but now," he said, as half-mechanically he
stooped to gather up a handful of the wheat and test it between finger
and thumb. "Gossip Râdha by her bulk--and by thy face, wife. What new
crime hath the village committed? What new calamity befallen the
part-owners? Sure, even her tongue could say naught against the

"Naught! thanks be to the Lord!" replied Uma briefly. "Now, since thou
hast come to watch, I will go bring the water and see _Baba-jee_[34]
hath his dinner. I will return ere long and set thee free."


[Footnote 34: Honorific title for a father.]


"Thou hast a busy life," he said suddenly as if the fact struck him
newly. "There are too few of us for the work."

The woman turned from him suddenly to look out to the horizon beyond
the level fields.

"Ay! there are too few of us," she echoed with an effort, "but I will
be back ere the light goes."

Too few! Yes, too few. She had known that for some time; and if it
were so in their youth and strength, what would it be in the old age
which must come upon them as it had upon the _Baba-jee_, who, as she
passed in to the wide courtyard in order to fetch the big brazen water
vessel, nodded kindly, asking where his son had lingered.

"He watchas the corn heaps till I return. It must be so, since there
are so few of us."

The nod changed to a shake, and the cheerful old voice trembled a
little over the echo.

"Ay! there are few of us."

All the way down to the shallow tank, set, as it were, in a
crackle-edge of a sun-baked mud, the phrase re-echoed again and again
in Uma-devi's brain till it seemed written large through her own eyes
in the faces of the village women passing to and fro with their
water-pots. They knew it also; they said it to themselves, though as
yet none had dared--save Mai Râdha, with her cowardly hints--to say to
_her_ that the time had come when the few ought to be made more. Ah!
if Shiv-deo's younger brother had not died before his child-wife was
of age to be brought home, this need not have been. Though, even then,
a virtuous woman for her husband's sake ought----

Uma-devi, down by the water-edge, as if to escape from her own
thoughts, turned hastily to spread the corner of her veil over the
wide mouth of the brazen pot and with a smaller cup began to ladle the
muddy water on to the strainer. But the thought was passionate,
insistent. Ought! What was the use of prating about ought? She could
not, she would not let Shivo take another woman by the hand. How could
they ask her, still young, still beautiful, still beloved, to give him
another bride? Why, it would be her part to lift the veil from the new
beauty, as she lifted it from the now brimming water-pot--so----

Uma Him[=a]vutee! what did she see? Her own face reflected in the
brass-ringed water, as in a mirror set in a golden frame! Clear as in
any mirror her own beauty--the lips Shivo had kissed--the eyes which
held him so dear; all, all, unchanged. Ah! but it was impossible! That
was what the pious old folk preached--what the pious young folk
pretended. She poised the brazen vessel on her head, telling herself
passionately it was impossible. Yet the sight of the wide courtyard,
empty save for _Baba-jee_ creeping about to feed the milch kine and do
what he could of woman's work, revived that refrain of self-reproach,
"There are too few of us." Shivo himself had said it--for the first
time it is true, but would it be the last? Wherefore? since it was
true. She set down the water-pot and began to rekindle the ashes on
the hearth, thinking stupidly of that reflection of her own face. But
water was like a man's heart; it could hold more faces than one.

"_Ari, hai!_ sister," called Mai Râdha, pausing at the open doorway to
look in and see the house-mistress clapping unleavened bread between
her palms with the hot haste of one hard pressed for time. "Thou hast
no rest; but one woman is lost in these courts. I mind when thy
mother-in-law lived and there were young things growing up in each
corner. That is as it should be."

A slow flush darkened Uma's face. "Young things come quick enough when
folks will," she retorted passionately. "Give me but a year's grace,
gossip, and I, Uma-devi, will fill the yard too--if I wish it filled.
Ay! and without asking thy help either."

It was intolerable that this woman with her yearly, endless babies
should come and crow over the childless hearth. Yet she was right; and
again the old sickening sense of failure replaced the flash of
indignant forgetfulness.

"Heed not my food, daughter," came the cheerful contented old voice.
"I can cook mine own and Shivo must need his after the day's toil. If
thou take it to him at the threshing-floor 'twill save time; when
hands are few the minutes are as jewels and it grows dark already.
Thou wilt need a cresset for safety from the snakes."

Once more the woman winced. That was true also; yet had she been doing
her duty and bringing sons to the hearth it would not have been so,
for the glory of coming motherhood would have driven the serpents from
her path.[35]


[Footnote 35: A common belief in India.]


She paused at the doorstep to give a backward glance, to see the old
man already at his woman's work, and her heart smote her again. Was it
seemly work for the most learned man in the village who had taught his
son to be so good, so kind? Yet Shivo of himself would never say the
word, neither would the old man. That was the worst of it; for it
would have been easier to have kicked against the pricks.

She passed swiftly to the fields, the brass platter--glittering under
the flicker of the cresset and piled with dough cakes and a green leaf
of curds--poised gracefully on her right palm, the brass _lotah_ of
drinking water hanging from her left hand, the heavy folds of her gold
and madder draperies swaying as she walked. It was not yet quite dark.
A streak of red light lingered in the horizon, though overhead the
stars began to twinkle, matched in the dim stretch of shadowy plain
by the twinkling lights showing one by one from the threshing-floors.
But Shiv-deo's was still dark, because there had been no one to bring
him a lamp. She gave an angry laugh, set her teeth and stepped
quicker. If it came to that, she had better speak at once; speak
now--to-night--before Mai Râdha or some one else had a chance--speak
out in the open where there were no spies to see--to hear.

It was a clear night, she thought, for sure; and, despite the red
warning, giving promise of a clear dawn. One of those dawns, maybe,
when, like a pearl-edged cloud, the far distant Himalayas would hang
on the northern horizon during the brief twilight and vanish before
the glare of day. _Ai!_ Mai Uma must be cold up there in the snows!

And Shivo must be hungry by this time; watching, perhaps, the
twinkling light she carried come nearer and nearer.

The thought pleased her, soothing her simple heart, and the placid
routine of her life came to aid her as she set the platter before her
husband reverently with the signs of worship she would have yielded a
god. Were they not, she and Shivo, indissolubly joined together for
this world and the next? Was not a good woman redemption's source to
her husband? _Baba-jee_ had read that many times from his old books.
So she felt no degradation as she set the water silently by Shivo's
right hand, scooped a hollow in the yellow wheat for the flickering
cresset and then drew apart into the shadows leaving the man alone to
perform the ritual in that little circle of light. He was her husband;
that was enough.

With her chin upon both her hands she crouched on another pile of corn
and watched him with sad eyes. Far and near all was soft, silent
darkness save for those twinkling stars shining in heaven and matched
on earth. Far and near familiar peace, familiar certainty. Even that
pain at her heart? Had not others felt it and set it aside? The calm
endurance of her world, its disregard of pain, seemed to change her
own smart to a dull ache, as her eyes followed every movement of the
man who loved her.

"Thou art silent, wife," he said, kind wonder in his tone, when, the
need for silence being over, she still sat without a word.

That roused her. Silent! yea! silent for too long.

She rose suddenly and stood before him, tall and straight in the
circle of light. Then her voice came clear without a tremble.

"There are too few of us in the house, husband. We must have more. We
must have young hands when ours are old."

He stood up in his turn stretching his hands towards her.

"Uma! say not so," he faltered, "I want no more."

She shook her head.

"The fields want them; and even thou----" Then her calm broke,
dissolved, disappeared, like a child's sand barrier before the tide.
She flung her arms skyward and her voice came like a cry.

"Ask her--ask thy sister--let her do all. I cannot. And she--_she_
must come from afar, Shivo, from far! Not from here--lest Mai

She broke off, turned and flung herself face down in the corn
silently, clutching at it with her hand.

Shiv-deo stood looking out over the shadowy fields.

"They need them surely," he said softly after a time, "and my father
has a right----"

He paused, stooped, and laid a timid touch on the woman's shoulder.

"Yea! she shall come from far, wife, from far."

Then there was silence; far and near.


There was no lack of life now in the wide courtyards, though the year
claimed by Uma's pride had scarcely gone by. And there was more to
come ere the sunset, if the gossips said sooth as they passed in and
out, setting the iron knife (suspended on a string above the inner
door) a-swinging as they elbowed it aside. From within came a babel of
voices, striving to speak softly and so sinking into a sort of
sibilant hiss, broken by one querulous cry of intermittent complaint.
Without, in the bigger courtyard was a cackle and clamour, joyfully
excited, round a platter of sugar-drops set for due refreshment of the
neighbours. It would be a boy, for sure, they said, the omens being
all propitious and _Purm-eshwar_[36] well aware of the worthiness of
the household. But, good lack! what ways foreign women had! There was
the girl's mother, disregarding _this_ old custom, performing _that_
new mummery as if there were no canon of right and wrong; yet they
were--those town women--of the race, doubtless of the same race! It
was passing strange; nevertheless Uma herself did bravely, having
always been of the wise sort. She had given the word back keenly but
now to Mai Râdha who, as usual, had her pestle in the mortar, and must
needs join in the strange woman's hints that the first wife was better
away from the sufferer's sight. _Puramesh!_ What an idea! She had
spoken sharp and fair, as was right, seeing that it was hard above the
common on Uma--so young, so handsome, so well-beloved! Many a pious
one in her place, with no mother-in-law to deal with--only two
soft-hearted, soft-tongued men--would have closed the door on another
wedding yet awhile, and bided on Providence longer. Small blame
either. It was not ten years since those two had come together; while
as for affection----


[Footnote 36: The Universal God.]


The rush of words slackened as the object of it set the swinging knife
aside, and came forward to see that naught was lacking to the
hospitality of the house. With those strange women within, lording it
over all by virtue of their relationship to the expectant mother, it
behoved her honour to see that there was no possible ground for
complaint. It was a year since Uma had flung herself face down upon
the wheat, and now the yellow corn once more lay in heaps upon the
white threshing-floor. Another harvest had been sown and watered and
reaped; but Uma was waiting for hers. And her mind was in a tumult of
jealous fear. Shivo with all his goodness, his kindness to her, could
scarcely help loving the mother of his child better than the woman who
had failed to bring him one. How could she take that other woman's son
in her arms and hold it up for the father's first look? Yet that would
be her part.

The strain of the thought showed in her face as she moved about seeing
to this and that, speaking to those other women serenely, cheerfully.
Her pride ensured so much.

Within, the coming grandmother heaved a very purposeful sigh of relief
at her absence. The patient would be better now that those glowering
eyes were away. Whereat Mai Râdha, the time-server, nodded her head
sagely; but the girlish voice from the bed, set round with lamps and
flowers, rose in fretful denial.

"Hold thy peace, mother. Thou canst not understand, being of the town.
It is different here in the village."

The mother giggled, nudging her neighbour. "Nine to credit, ten to
debit! That's true of a first wife, town and country. But think as
thou wilt, honey! Trust me to see she throws no evil eye on thee or
the child. She shall not even see it till the fateful days be over."

The village midwife, an old crone sitting smoking a pipe at the foot
of the bed, laughed.

"Thou art out there, mother! 'Tis her part, her right, to show the
babe to its father. That is old fashion and we hold to it."

"Show it to its father! Good lack! Heard one ever the like!" shrilled
the indignant grandmother to be. "Why, with us he must not see it for
days. Is it not so, friends?"

The town-bred contingent clamoured shocked assent; the midwife and her
cronies stood firm. Uma, appealed to by a deputation, met the quarrel

"I care not," she said; "settle it as you please. I am ready to hold
the child or not."

So a compromise was effected between the disputants within, before the
beating of brass trays announced the happy birth of a son, and they
came trooping into the outer court full of words and explanations. But
Uma heard nothing and saw nothing except the crying, frog-like morsel
of humanity they thrust into her unwilling arms. So that was Shivo's
child! How ugly, and what an ill-tempered little thing. Suddenly the
gurgling cry ceased, as instinctively she folded her veil about the
struggling, naked limbs.

"So! So!" cried the gossips, pushing and pulling joyfully, excitedly.
"Yonder is the master! All is ready."

She set her teeth for the ordeal and let herself be thrust towards
Shivo, who was seated by the door, his back towards her. She had not
seen him since the advent of the gossips at dawn had driven the
men-kind from the homestead. And now the sun was setting redly, as on
that evening a year ago when she had told him they were too few for
the house. Well, there were more now. And this was the worst. Now she
was to see love grow to his face for the child which was not hers,
knowing that love for its mother must grow also unseen in his heart.

"So! So!" cried the busy, unsympathetic voices intent on their own
plans. "Hold the child so, sister, above his shoulders, and bid him
take his first look at a son."

The old dogged determination to leave nothing undone which should be
done, strengthened her to raise the baby as she was bid, stoop with it
over Shivo's shoulder and say, almost coldly:

"I bring thee thy son, husband. Look on it and take its image to thine

Then she gave a quick, incredulous cry; for, as she stooped, she saw
her own face reflected in the brass-ringed mirror formed by the wide
mouth of the brimming water-pot, which was set on the floor before

"Higher! sister! higher," cried the groups. "Let him see the babe in
the water for luck's sake. So! _Ari!_ father, is not that a son
indeed! _Wah!_ the sweetest doll."

Sweet enough, in truth, looked the reflection of that tiny face where
her own had been. She let it stay there for a second or two; then a
sudden curiosity came to her and she drew aside almost roughly, still
keeping her eyes on the water-mirror. Ah! there was her husband's face
now, with a look in it that she had never seen before--the look of

Without a word she thrust her burden back into other arms, asking
impatiently if that were all, or if they needed more of her services.

"More indeed," muttered the grandmother tartly as she disappeared
again, intent on sugar and spices, behind the swinging knife. "Sure
some folk had small labour or pains over this day's good work. Lucky
for the master that there be other women in the world."

Uma looked after her silently, beset by a great impatience of the
noise and the congratulations. She wanted to get away from it all,
from those whispers and giggles heard from within, and interrupted
every now and then by that new gurgling cry. The excitement was over,
the gossips were departing one by one, Shivo and his father were being
dragged off to the village square for a pipe of peace and
thanksgiving. No one wanted her now; her part in the house was done,
and out yonder in the gathering twilight the heaps of corn were alone;
as she was. She could at least see to their safety for a while and
have time to remember those faces; hers, and the child's, and Shivo's.

Well! it was all over now. No wonder they did not need her any more
since she had done all--yea! she had done her duty to the uttermost!

A sort of passionate resentment at her own virtue filled her mind as,
wearied out with the physical strain, she lay down to rest upon the
yielding yellow wheat. How soft it was, how cool. She nestled into it,
head, hands, feet, gaining a certain consolation from the mere comfort
to her tired body. And as she looked out over her husband's fields,
the very knowledge that the harvest had been reaped and gathered
soothed her; besides, in the years to come there would be other hands
for other harvests. That was also as it should be. And yet? She turned
her face down into the wheat.

"Shivo! Shivo!" she sobbed into the fruits of the harvest which she
had helped to sow and gather. "Shivo! Shivo!"

But to her creed marriage had for its object the preservation of the
hearth fire, not the fire of passion, and the jealousy which is a
virtue to the civilised was a crime to this barbarian.

So, as she lay half-hidden in the harvested corn, the thought of the
baby's face, and hers, and Shivo's--all, all in the water-mirror,
brought her in a confused half-comprehending way a certain comfort
from their very companionship. So, by degrees, the strain passed from
mind and body, leaving her asleep, with slackened curves, upon the
heap of corn. Asleep peacefully until a hand touched her shoulder
gently, and in the soft grey dawn she saw her husband standing beside

She rose slowly, drawing her veil closer with a shiver, for the air
was chill.

"I have been seeking thee since nightfall, wife," he said in gentle
reproach, with a ring of relief in his voice, "I feared--I know not
what--that thou hadst thought me churlish, perhaps, because I did not
thank thee for--for thy son."

His hand sought hers and found it, as they stood side by side looking
out over the fields with the eyes of those whose lives are spent in
sowing and reaping, looking out over the wide sweep of bare earth and
beyond it, on the northern horizon, the dim, dawn-lit peaks of the

"He favours her in the face, husband," she said quietly, "but he hath
thy form. That is as it should be, for thou art strong and she is

So, as they went homeward through the lightening fields,--she a
dutiful step behind the man,--the printing presses over at the other
side of the world were busy, amid flaring gas-jets and the clamour of
marvellous machinery, in discussing in a thousand ways the dreary old
problems of whether marriage is a failure or not.

It was not so to Uma-devi.

                           YOUNG LOCHINVAR

Young Lochinvar, in the original story, came out of the West. In this
tale he came out of the East, and the most match-making mamma might be
disposed to forgive him; partly on account of his youth, partly
because he really was not a free agent.

They were cousins of course. In the finest race of the
Panjab--possibly of the world--cousins have a right to cousins
provided the relationship lie through the mother's brother, or the
father's sister; the converse, for some mysterious reason, being
_anathema maranatha_.

But Nânuk's mother, wife of big Suchêt Singh, head man of Aluwallah
village, was sister to Dhyân Singh, the armourer, who plied his trade
in the little courtyard hidden right in the heart of the big city. A
big man too, high-featured and handsome; high-tempered also as the
steel which he inlaid so craftily with gold. For all that, round,
podgy Mai Gunga, his wife, ruled him by virtue of a smartness unknown
to his slower, gentler nature. Not so gentle, however, but that he
mourned the degeneracy of these latter piping days of peace. They and
the Arms Act had driven him from the manufacture of sword hilts and
helmets, shields and corselets, to that of plaques and inkstands,
candlesticks and ashtrays. From the means of resistance to the
decoration of victorious drawing-rooms. Not that he nourished
ill-feeling against those victors. They were a brave lot, and since
then his people had helped them bravely to keep their winnings. Only
it was dull work; so every now and again Dhyan Singh revenged himself
by making a paper knife in the form of some bloodthirsty lethal
weapon, and put his best work on it, just to keep his hand in.

Little Pertâbi, his daughter, used to sit and watch her father at the
tiny forge set in the central sunshine of the yard. It was funny to
see the shaving of sheer steel curl up from the graver guided in its
flowing curves by nothing but that skilled eye and hand; funnier still
to watch the gold wire nestle down so obediently into the groove;
funniest of all to blow the bellows when the time came to put that
iridescent blue temper to the finished work.

Then, naked to the waist, the soft brown hair on her forehead plaited
in tiniest plaits into a looped fringe, a little gold filigree cup
poised on the top of her head, a long betasselled pigtail hanging down
behind, Pertâbi would set her short red-trousered legs very far apart,
and puff and blow, and laugh, and then blow again to her own and her
father's intense delight; for Dhyân having a couple of strapping sons
to satisfy Mai Gunga's heart felt himself free to adore this child of
his later years.

But even when there was blowing to be done, Pertâbi did not find life
in the city half as amusing as life out in the village at her aunt's
with cousin Nânuk as a playfellow. Nânuk to whom she was to be married
by and by. That had been settled when she was a baby in arms, for
in those, and for many years after, Suchêt Singh's wife and Mai Gunga
had been as friendly as sisters-in-law can well be. That is to say
there were visits to the village for change of air, especially at
sugar-baking time, while those who wished for shopping or society came
as a matter of course to the armourer's house. The world wags in the
same fashion East and West; especially among the women folk.

"They will make a fine pair! God keep them to the auspicious day," the
deep-chested countrywomen would say piously; then Mai Gunga would
giggle a bit, and remark that if Nânuk grew so fast she would have to
leave Pertâbi at home next time. Whereupon the boy's mother would
flare up, and sniff, as country folk do, at town ideas. In her family
such talk had never been necessary; the lads and lasses grew up
together, and mothers were in no hurry to bring age and thought upon
them. Perhaps that was the reason why men and women alike were of
goodly stature and strength; for even Mai Gunga must admit that Dhyân
was at least a fine figure of a man. So there would be words to while
away the hours before the men returned from the fields. And outside,
under the bushy mulberry trees, Pertâbi and Nânuk would be fighting
and making it up again in the cosmopolitan fashion of healthy
children. Of the two Pertâbi, perhaps, hit the hardest; she certainly
howled the loudest, being a wilful young person. Nânuk used to implore
her not to tease the sacred peacocks, when they came sedately by
companies to drink at the village tank, as the sun set red over the
limitless plane of young green corn, and she would squat down suddenly
on her red-trousered heels with her hands tight clasped behind her
back, and promise to be as still as a grey crane if she might only
look. Then some vainglorious cock was sure to show off his tail; every
tail was to Pertâbi's eager eyes the _most_ beautiful one in the
world, and she must needs have a feather--just one little feather--
from it as a keepsake--just a little keepsake. Now, what Pertâbi
desired she got, at any rate if Nânuk had aught to say towards the
possibility. So the little tyrant would play with the feather for five
minutes; then fling it away. But Nânuk, serious, conscientious Nânuk,
would set aside half his supper of curds on the sly and sneak out with
it after sundown as an oblation to the mysterious village god, who
lived in a red splashed stone under the peepul tree. Else the peacocks
being angry might not cry for rain, and then what would become of the
green corn? Nânuk was a born cultivator, true in most things, above
all to Mother Earth. Despite the peacocks' feathers, however, not
without a will of his own; for when, on one of his visits to the city,
Pertâbi insisted on handling the little squirrel he brought with him
housed in his high turban, and it bit her, he laughed, saying he had
told her so; nay, more, when she chased the frightened little creature
savagely, howling for vengeance, he fell upon her and boxed her ears
soundly, much to Mai Gunga's displeasure. A rough village lout, and
her darling the daintiest little morsel of flesh!

"I don't care," sobbed Pertâbi; "I'll bite him hard next time--yes! I
will, Nâno; you'll see if I don't."

Mai Gunga, however, was right in one thing. Pertâbi was an extremely
pretty child. The gossips coming in of an afternoon to discuss births,
marriages, and deaths took to shaking their heads and saying that she
might have made a better match than Nânuk, who, every one thought,
would limp for life in consequence of that fall from the topmost
branch of the _shisham_ tree where the squirrels built their nests.
Not much of a limp, perhaps, but who did not know that under the
bone-setter's care a broken leg often came out a bit shorter than the
other, even if it was as strong as ever? Mai Gunga's plump, pert face
hardened, but she said nothing; not even when a new acquaintance, the
wife of a rich contractor on the lookout for a bride of good family,
openly bewailed the prior claim on Pertâbi.

Nevertheless the next time that the sister-in-law came to town, and on
leaving it laden with endless bundles wrapped in Manchester
handkerchiefs spoke confidently of the meeting at sugar-time, Mai
Gunga threw difficulties in the way. She was too busy to come herself;
Nânuk, still a semi-invalid, must be quite sufficient charge for her
sister-in-law. Besides seeing that Pertâbi touched the eights, she
thought it time for village customs to give way to greater decorum.
Briefly, despite the peculiar virtue of some people's families, she
did not choose that her daughter should be out of her sight. The two
women, as might be supposed, parted with ceremony and effusion; but
Suchêt Singh's wife had barely arrived in the wide village courtyards
ere she burst forth:

"Mark my words!" she said, even as she disposed her bundles about her.
"That town-bred woman means mischief. I was a fool to give in to you
and Dhyân, instead of having the barber, as to a stranger. Not that I
want the little hussy above other brides, but I would not have Nânuk

Suchêt Singh laughed.

"Twenty mile of an _ekka_ hath shook thy brains out, wife. What talk
is this? They are two halves of one pea. As friend Elahi Buksh saith,
'_do dil razi to kia kare kazi?_' (when two are heart to heart,
where's the parson's part?)"

"Tra! That's neither in three nor thirteen," retorted his wife. "Give
me the barber[37] for certainty."


[Footnote 37: The barber is always employed in regular betrothals.]


Meanwhile Pertâbi was howling in the little courtyard, much to big,
soft-hearted Dhyân's distress.

"Let her go, but this once," he pleaded aside; "truly thou art over
anxious, and she but seven for all her spirit."

"Seventy or seven, God knows thee for a baby," snapped Mai Gunga.
"Would I had never listened to thee and thy sister, though, for sure,
the children were pretty as marionettes. It was a play to think of it.
But a mother knows her daughter better than the father, though it
seems thou wilt be ordering the wedding-garments next. So be it, but
till then Pertâb goes not to Nânuk; 'tis not seemly."

"I--I don't want Nânuk," howled Pertâbi. "I--I want the fresh
molasses--I do--I do."

Want, however, was her master, since her own obstinacy was but
inherited from her mother. So she sat sulkily in the sunshine,
refusing the armourer's big caresses or the charms of bellows-blowing,
while she pictured to herself, with all the vividness of rage, Nânuk
going down--going down alone--to watch the great shallow pans of
foamy, frothy, fragrant juice shrink and shrink in the dark, low hut
where one could scarcely see save for the flame of the furnaces. What
joy to feed those flames with the dry, crushed refuse of the cane and
leaves! What bliss to thrust a tentative twig, on the sly, into the
seething, darkening molasses, and then escape deftly to that shadowy
hiding-place by the well, and gravely consider the question as to
whether it was nearly boiled enough. Toffee-making all over the world
has a mysterious fascination for children, and this was toffee-making
on a gigantic scale. The legitimate bairn's part of scraping from each
brew never tasted half so sweet as those stolen morsels; if only
because, when you threw away the sucked twigs, the squirrels would
come shyly from the peepul tree where the green pigeons cooed all day
long, and fight for your leavings. Pertâbi could see the whole scene
when she closed her eyes. The level plain, the shadow of the trees
blotting out the sunshine, the trickle of running water from the well,
the creaking of the presses, the babel of busy voices, and over all,
through all, that lovely, lovely smell of toffee! Yes! sugar-baking
time in the village was heavenly, and Nânuk was greedy--greedy as a
grey crow to keep it all to himself!

When Spring brought big Suchêt to pay the village revenue into the
office, he and the armourer met, as ever, on the best of terms;
nevertheless their subsequent interviews with their woman-kind were
less satisfactory.

"Thou art worse than a peacock which cries even after rain has
fallen," finished the big villager testily. "What is it to me if women
come or go? Dhyân is a man of mettle and word."

Yet in his heart he knew well that the armourer had no more to say to
such matters in the narrow city court, than he had in the wide village
yard, where the kine stood in rows, and Nânuk's tumbler pigeons never
lacked a grain of corn at which to peck.

As for Mai Gunga, her wrath became finally voluble at the hint thrown
out by big Dhyân, that if she went no more to the village, folk might
talk of Pertâb being slighted. Slighted, indeed, with half the
eligible mothers agog with envy! Slighted, when but for this
cripple--yea! Dhyân need not make four eyes at her--she said cripple,
and meant it. He had a broken leg, and that to a man of sense was
sufficient excuse for breach of betrothals. If, indeed, there ever had
been such a thing as a betrothal; which for her part she denied.

Dhyân Singh swore many big oaths, vowed many mighty vows that he would
have naught to do with such woman's work. Not even if it became clear
that, as his wife hinted, his little Pertâb would not be welcome in
his sister's house. Yet he scowled over the idea, twisted his beard
tighter over his ears, as became a man, and looked very fierce.
And when a month or two later Suchêt Singh's wife met his halting
apology for Mai Gunga's absence with a distinct sniff and a cool
remark that she really did not care,--Nânuk could no doubt do better
in brides,--he came home in a towering passion to his anvil and made a
paper knife fit for a brigand. To have such a thing said to him, even
in jest, when he, for his sister's sake, had been willing to waive the
fact of Nânuk being a cripple!

"Cripple indeed!" shrieked the boy's mother, when Suchêt came back
from the city one day with Dhyân's remark enlarged and illustrated by
friendly gossip. "Lo, husband! That is an end. Whose fault if he
limps?--only in running, mind, not in walking. Whose indeed! Whose but
that immodest, wicked, ill-brought-up hussy's! Was it not to get her
another squirrel, because she cried so for his, that he climbed? Let
her have her girl; we will have damages."

So when sugar-baking time came round again, Suchêt and Dhyân, rather
to their own surprise, found themselves claimant and defendant in a
breach of betrothal case for the recovery of fifteen hundred rupees
spent in preliminary expenses. Yet, despite their surprise, they were
both beside themselves with rage. Dhyân because of the unscrupulous
claim when not one penny had been spent, Suchêt because of the slur
cast on his boy's straight limbs by the secondary plea in defence;
that even if there had been a betrothal and not a family
understanding, the crippled condition of the bridegroom was sufficient
excuse for the breach of contract. The actual point of the betrothal
being so effectually overlaid by these lies as to be obscured even
from the litigant's own eyes.

It was one gorgeous blue day in December that Suchêt rode in to the
city on his pink-nosed mare, with Nânuk on the crupper to bear witness
in Court to his own perfections. A handsome, soft-eyed lad of ten,
glad enough of the ride, sorry for the separation, even for one day,
from the village toffee-making; but with a great lump of raw sugar
stowed away in his turban as partial consolation. For the rest,
he had a childish and yet grave acquiescence. Pertâbi apparently had
been a naughty girl, and Mammi Gunga had never been nice. Yet the
"_jej-sahib_"[38] might say they were married; since, after all, he,
Nânuk, could run as fast as ever. _Tchu!_ he would like to show
Pertâbi that it was so.


[Footnote 38: Judge.]


The court-house compound was full of suitors and flies, the case of
Suchêt _versus_ Dhyân Singh late in the list, so the former bade his
son tie the mare in the furthest corner behind the wall, in the shade
of a spreading tree, and keep watch, while he went about from group to
group in order to discuss his wrongs with various old friends--that
being half the joy of going to law; grave groups of reverend bearded
faces round a central pipe, grave, slow voices rising in wise saws
from the close-set circles of huge turbans and massive blue and white

Meanwhile Nânuk ate sugar till it began to taste sickly, and then he
sat looking at the remaining lump and thinking, not without a certain
malice, how Pertâbi would have enjoyed it. Then suddenly, from behind,
a small brown hand reached out and snatched it. "_One two, that's for
you; two three, that's for me; three four, sugar galore; the Rajah
begs, with a broken leg_----" The singing voice paused, the little
figure munching, as it sang, with vindictive eyes upon the boy, paused
too in its tantalising dance.

"Did it hurt much, Nâno? I'm so sorry. And mother wouldn't let me keep
the squirrel, Nâno; but I howled, I howled like--like a _bhut_

The abstract truth of the description seemed to bring back the past,
and Nânuk's face relaxed.

"Father's at Court, and mother's gone to see the woman who wants me to
marry her son," explained Pertâbi between the munchings, "but I won't.
I won't marry anybody but you, Nâno. I like you, Nâno."

Nâno's face relaxed still more.

"You have got sugar-presses, Nâno, and the other boy has none. He
lives in the city, and I hate the city. Is there much sugar this year,

"More than last," replied the boy proudly. "We have the best fields

"Then give me another bit," interrupted Pertâbi.

"That is all I brought." There was a trace of anxiety in Nânuk's
voice, and he looked deprecatingly at the little figure now cuddled up
beside him.

"Oh, you silly! but it doesn't matter. We can go and fetch some more.
That's why I ran away. I knew uncle would bring you, so we can go to
the village early. Come, Nâno."

"Go to the village, Pertâb! Oh, what a tale!" It is easy to be
virtuously indignant at the first proposition of evil, but what is to
be done when you are at the mercy of a small person who hesitates at
nothing? Wheedlings, pinchings, kissings, tears, and promises were all
one to Pertâbi. At least a ride on the pink-nosed mare for the sake of
old times! They could slip away easily without being seen; yonder lay
the road villagewards--there would be plenty of time to go a mile,
perhaps twain, and get back before _Chachcha-ji_ could possibly finish
with his friends. She could get off at the corner, and then even if
_Chachcha-ji_ had discovered their absence Nâno could say he had taken
the mare for water, or that the flies were troublesome. Excuses were
so easy.

Ten minutes after, his feet barely reaching the big shovel stirrups,
young Lochinvar ambled out of the court-house compound with his bride
behind him.

"We must come back at the turn, Pertâb," he said, to bolster up his
own resolution.

"Of course we must come back," replied Pertâbi, digging her small
heels into the old grey mare. "Can't you make the stupid go faster,
Nâno? We may as well have all the fun we can."

So the old mare went faster down the high-arched avenue of flickering
light and shade, and Pertâbi's little red legs flounced about in a way
suggestive of falling off. But she shrieked with laughter and held
tight to her cavalier.

"Don't let us go back yet, Nâno!" she pleaded; "the old thing is all
out of breath, and _Chachcha-ji_ will find out you've been galloping
her, and beat you. I shouldn't like you to be beaten, Nâno dear, and
it is so lovely."

It _was_ lovely. They were in the open now among the level stretches
of young green corn, and there were the fallen battalions of red and
gold canes, and from that clump of trees came the familiar creak of
the press. Nay, more! wafted on the soft breeze the delicious, the
irresistible smell of sugar-boiling. Other people's sugar-boiling.

"It's time we were going back," remarked Nânuk boldly.

"_Tchu!_" cried Pertâbi from behind, "we are not going back any more.
See! I've tied your shawl to my veil. When I do that to my dolls, then
they are married; so that settles it. Go on, Nâno! it's all right.
Besides it is no _use_ going back now, they would only beat us for
getting married. Go on, Nâno--or I'll pinch."

Perhaps it really was fear of the pinching, perhaps it was the
conviction that they had gone too far to recede, which finally induced
young Lochinvar to give the old mare her head towards home. But even
then he showed none of the alacrity displayed beneath him and behind
him by the female aiders and abettors. His face grew graver and
graver, longer and longer.

"We can't be married until we've taken the seven steps," he said at
length. "Look! they have been burning weeds in the field. Let's get
down and do it, or the gods will be angry."

Pertâbi clapped her hands. "It will be fun, anyhow, so come along,

They tied the old mare to a tree, while, hand tight clasped in hand,
just as they had seen it done a hundred times, they circumambulated
the sacred fire.

"That's better," sighed Nâno. "Now, I believe, we really are married."

"_Tchu!_" cried Pertâbi in superior wisdom, "I can tell you heaps and
heaps of things. Our dolls do them when we've time; we are always
marrying our dolls in the city. But we can ride a bit further first,
and when we get tired of Pinky-nose we can just get down and be
married another way. That'll rest us."

So through the lengthening shadows, they rode on and got married, rode
on, and got married, until Pertâbi's braided head began to nod against
Nânuk's back, and she said sleepily:

"We'll keep the _gur-ror_ (sugar-throwing) till tomorrow, Nâno;
that'll be fun."

But when, in the deep dusk, the pink-nosed mare drew up of her own
accord at the gate of the wide village yard, and drowsy Nânuk just
remembered enough of past events to lift his bride across the
threshold, and murmur with an awful qualm, "This is my wife," Pertâbi
woke up suddenly to plant her little red-trousered legs firmly on the
ground, and say, with a nod:

"Yes! and we've been married every way we could think of, haven't
we, Nâno? except the sugar-throwing, because we hadn't any;
but--we'll--have--plenty--now; won't we, Nâno?" The pauses being
filled up by yawns.

It was midnight before Suchêt Singh and Dhyân, forgetful of their
enmity in over-mastering anxiety, arrived on the scene. The culprits
were then fast asleep, and the deep-chested country-woman, having
recovered the shock, was beginning to find a difficulty in telling the
tale without smiles. A difficulty which, by degrees, extended itself
to her hearers.

"Ho! ho! ho!" exploded Suchêt suddenly; "and so they didn't even
forget the forehead mark. I'll be bound that was Nânuk--the rogue."

"Ho! ho! ho!" echoed the armourer; "as like as not it was Pertâb. The
sharpest little marionette."

"Well, 'tis done, anyhow," said the woman decisively. "We can't have
it said in our family, Dhyân, that the vermilion on a girl's head came
save from her husband's fingers. He! he! he! Couldst but have seen
them. 'This is my wife,' quoth he. 'And we've been married every way
we could think of,' pipes she. 'Haven't we, Nâno?' The prettiest
pair--Lord! I shall laugh for ever."

"And--and Gunga?" faltered the armourer.

"Gunga's brain is not addled," retorted her sister-in-law sharply.
"Who bruises a plum before taking it to market? What's done is done.
We must cook the wedding feast without delay, have in the barber, and
keep a still tongue."

So, ere many days were over, Pertâbi and Nânuk, as bride and
bridegroom, watched the fire-balloons go up into the cloudless depths
of purple sky. The boy watching them shyly, yet with absorbing
interest; for did not their course denote the favour or disfavour of
the gods?

"The omens are auspicious," he said contentedly; but Pertâbi was in a
hurry for the sugar-throwing, in which she aided her bridesmaids with
such vigour that Nânuk had a black eye for several days.

"If you were to ask me, and ask me, and ask me to lift you on old
Pinky-nose again, I'd never do it--never!" he declared vindictively.

"Oh, yes! you would, Nâno," replied his wife with the utmost
confidence, "you would if I asked you; besides you really wanted to be
married, you know you did. And then there was the fresh molasses."

                            A BIT OF LAND

He stood in the hot yellow sunshine, his air of modest importance
forming a halo round his old rickety figure, as with one hand he clung
to a plane-table, old and rickety as himself, and with the other to
one of those large-eyed, keen-faced Indian boys who seem to have been
sent into the world in order to take scholarships. The old man, on the
contrary, was of the monkey type of his race, small, bandy-legged, and
inconceivably wrinkled, with a three days' growth of grey beard
frosting his brown cheeks; only the wide-set brown eyes had a certain
wistful beauty in them.

In front of those appealing eyes sat a ruddy-faced Englishman backed
by the white wings of an office tent and deep in the calf-bound books
and red-taped files on the table before him. On either side,
discreetly drawn apart so as to allow the central group its full
picturesque value, were tall figures, massive in beards and wide
turbans, in falling folds of dingy white and indigo blue; massive also
in broad, capable features, made broader still by capable approving
smiles over the old man, the boy, and the plane-table. So standing
they were a typical group of Jât peasantry appealing with confidence
to English justice for the observance of Indian custom.

"Then the head-men are satisfied with this _ad-interim_ arrangement?"
asked the palpably foreign voice. The semicircle of writers and
subordinate officials on the striped carpet beyond the table moved
their heads like clockwork figures to the circle of peasants, as if
giving it permission to speak, and a chorus of guttural voices rose in
assent; then, after village fashion, one voice prolonged itself in
representative explanation. "It will be but for three years or so, and
the Shelter-of-the-World is aware that the fields cannot run away. And
old Tulsi knows how to make the Three-Legged-One work; thus there is
no fear." The speaker thrust a declamatory hand in the direction of
the plane-table, and the chorus of assent rose once more.

So the matter was settled; the matter being, briefly, the appointment
of a new _putwari_, in other words the official who measures the
fields, and prepares the yearly harvest-map, showing the area under
cultivation on which the Land Revenue has to be paid; in other words
again, the man who stands between India and bankruptcy. In this
particular case the recently defunct incumbent had left a son who was
as yet over young for the hereditary office, and the head-men had
proposed putting in the boy's maternal grandfather as a substitute,
until the former could pass through the necessary modern training in
the Accountants' College at head-quarters. The proposition was fair
enough, seeing that Gurditta was sure to pass, as he was already head
of the queer little village school which the elders viewed with
incredulous tolerance. And, to tell the truth, their doubts were not
without some reason; for on that very day when the Englishman was
inspecting, the first class had bungled over a simple revenue sum,
which any one could do in his head with the aid, of course, of the ten
God-given fingers without which the usurer would indeed be king. The
master had explained the mistake by saying that it was no fault of the
rules, and only arose because the boys had forgotten which was the
bigger of two numbers; but that in itself was something over which to
chuckle under their breaths and nudge each other on the sly. _Ari
hai!_ the lads would be forgetting next which end of the plough to
hold, the share or the handle! But _Purumeshwar_[39] be praised! only
upon their slates could they forget it; since a true-born Jât's hand
could never lose such knowledge.


[Footnote 39: The Universal God.]

[Footnote 40: The Monkey-god.]


So, underlying the manifest convenience of not allowing a stranger's
finger in their pie, the elders of the village had a secondary
consideration in pleading for old Tulsi Râm's appointment; a desire,
namely, to show the world at large and the Presence in particular that
there had been _putwaries_ before he came to cast his mantle of
protection over the poor. Besides, old Tulsi, though he looked like a
monkey, might be Sri Hunumân[40] himself in the wisdom necessary for
settling the thousand petty disputes, without which the village would
be so dull. Then he was a real saint to boot, all the more saintly
because he was willing to forego his preparation for another world in
order to keep a place warm for his grandson in this.

And after all it was only for three years! They, and Tulsi, and the
Three-Legged-One could surely manage the maps for so long. If not,
well, it was no great matter, since the fields could not possibly run
away. So they went off contentedly in procession, Tulsi Râm clinging
ostentatiously to the plane-table, which, by reason of its straighter,
longer legs, looked for all the world as if it were taking charge of
him, and not he of it.

It looked still more in possession as it stood decently draped beside
the old man as he worked away at the long columns of figures; for the
mapping season was over, and nothing remained but addition,
subtraction, and division, at all of which old Tulsi was an adept. Had
he not indeed dipped far into "Euclidus" in his salad-days when he was
the favourite disciple of the renowned anchorite at Janakpur?

Gurditta by this time was away at college, and Kishnu, his widowed
mother, as she cooked the millet-cakes in the other corner of the
courtyard, wept salt tears at the thought of the unknown dangers he
was running. Deadly dangers they were, for had not his father been
quite healthy until the Government had insisted on his using the
Three-Legged-One? And then, had he not gone down and wrestled with it
on the low, misty levels of newly reclaimed land by the river-side,
and caught the chills of which he had eventually died? Thus when the
rainy season came on, and the plane-table, still decently draped, was
set aside for shelter in the darkest corner of the hovel, it looked to
poor Kishnu like some malevolent demon ready to spring out upon the
little household. And so, naturally enough, when Tulsi went to fetch
it out for his first field-measurements, he found it garlanded with
yellow marigolds, and set out with little platters of curds and
butter. Kishnu had been propitiating it with offerings.

The old man looked at her in mild, superior reproof. "Thou art an
ignorant woman, daughter," he said. "This is no devil, but a device of
the learned, of much use to such as I who make maps. Thou shouldest
have known that the true Gods are angered by false worship; therefore
I counsel thee to remember great Mahadeo this day, lest evil befall."

So he passed out into the sunlight, bearing the plane-table in
debonair fashion, leaving the abashed Kishnu to gather up the
marigolds. _Baba-ji_, she told herself, was brave, but he had not to
bustle about the house all day with that shrouded thing glowering from
the corner. However, since for Gurdit's sake it was wise to propitiate
everything, she took the platters of curds and butter over to
Mahadeo's red stone under the big banyan tree.

Nevertheless, she felt triumphant that evening when old Tulsi came in
from the fields dispirited and professing no appetite for his supper.
He had in fact discovered that studying text-books and making
practical field-measurements were very different things, especially in
a treeless, formless plain, where the only land-marks are the mud
boundary-cones you are set to verify, and which therefore cannot, or
ought not to be considered fixed points.

However, he managed at last to draw two imaginary lines through the
village, thanks to _Purumeshwar_ and the big green dome of Mahadeo's
banyan tree swelling up into the blue horizon. Indeed he felt so
grateful to the latter for showing clear, even over a plane-table,
that he sneaked out when Kishnu's back was turned with a platter of
curds of his own for the great, many-armed trunk; but this, of course,
was very different from making oblation to a trivial plane-table. And
that evening he spent all the lingering light in decorating the
borders of the map (which was yet to come) with the finest flourishes,
just, as he told Kishnu, to show the Protector-of-the-Poor that he had
not committed the _putwari_-ship to unworthy hands.

Yet two days afterwards he replied captiously to his daughter's
anxious inquiries as to what was the matter. There was naught wrong;
only one of the three legs had no sense of duty, and he must get the
carpenter to put a nail to it. Despite the nail, however, the anxiety
grew on his face, and when nobody was looking he took to tramping over
the ploughs surreptitiously dragging the primeval chain-measure after
him; in which occupation he looked like a monkey who had escaped from
its owner the plane-table, which, with the old man's mantle draped
over it, and his pugree placed on the top, had a very dignified
appearance in the corner of the field; for it was hot work dragging
the heavy chain about, and old Tulsi, who was too proud to ask for aid
and so disclose the fact that he had had to fall back on ancient
methods, discarded all the clothing he could.

And after all he had to give in. "Gurdit's father did it field by
field," said the head-men carelessly when he sought their advice.
"Fret not thyself, _Baba-ji_. 'Twill come right; thou art a better
scholar than ever he was."

"Field by field!" echoed Tulsi aghast. "But the book prohibits it,
seeing that there is not verification, since none can know if the
boundaries be right."

A broad chuckle ran round the circle of elders. "Is that all, Sri
Tulsi?" cried the head-man. "That is soon settled. A Jât knows his own
land, I warrant; and each man of us will verify his fields, seeing
that never before have we had such a settling-day as thine. Not an
error, not an injustice! _Purumeshwar_ send Gurditta to be as good a
_putwari_ when he comes!"

"Nay, 'tis Gurdit who is _putwari_ already," replied Tulsi uneasily;
"and therefore must there be no mistake. So I will do field by field;
peradventure when they are drawn on paper it may seem more like the
book where things do not move. Then I can begin again by rule."

There was quite a pleasurable excitement over the attested measurement
of the fields, and old Munnia, the parcher of corn, said it was almost
as good as a fair to her trade. Each man clanked the chain round his
own boundary, while his neighbours stood in the now sprouting wheat to
see fair play and talk over the past history of the claim; Tulsi Râm
meanwhile squatting on the ground and drawing away as for dear life.
Even the children went forth to see the show, munching popped corn and
sidling gingerly past the Three-Legged-One which, to say sooth, looked
gigantic with half the spare clothes of the community piled on to it;
indeed the village women, peeping from afar, declared Kishnu to have
been quite right, and urged a further secret oblation as prudent, if
not absolutely necessary.

So she took to hanging the marigolds again, taking care to remove them
ere the old man rose in the morning. And the result was eminently
satisfactory, for as he put one field-plan after another away in the
portfolio Tulsi Râm's face cleared. They were so beautifully green,
far greener than those in the book; so surely there could be no
mistake. But alas! when he came to try and fit them together as they
should be on the map, they resolutely refused to do anything of the
kind. It was a judgment, he felt, for having disobeyed the text-book;
and so the next morning he rose at the peep of day determined to have
it out legitimately with the Three-Legged-One. And lo! it was
garlanded with marigolds and set out once more with platters of curds
and butter.

"Thou hast undone me, ignorant woman!" he said with a mixture of anger
and relief. "Now is it clear! The true Gods in despite of thy false
worship have sent a devil into this thing to destroy me." So despite
Kishnu's terror and tears he threw the offerings into the fire, and
dragged the plane-table out into the fields with ignominy.

But even this protestation failed, and poor old Tulsi, one vast
wrinkle of perplexity, was obliged once more to refer to the circle of

"Gurdit's father managed, and thou hast twice his mettle," they
replied, vaguely interested. "Sure the devil must indeed be in it,
seeing that the land cannot run away of itself."

"It hath not run away," said Tulsi dejectedly. "There is not too
little, but too much of it."

Too much land! The idea was at first bewildering to these Jât
peasants, and then sent them into open laughter. Here was a mistake
indeed! and yet the lust of land, so typical of their race, showed in
their eyes as they crowded round the map which Tulsi Ram spread on the
ground. It was a model of neatness: the fields were greener than the
greenest wheat; but right in the middle of them was a white patch of

"_Trra!_" rolled the broadest of the party after an instant's
stupefaction. "That settles it. 'Tis a mistake, for look you, 'tis
next my fields, and if 'twere there my plough would have been in it
long ago." A sigh of conviction and relief passed through the circle,
for the mere suggestion had been disturbing. Nevertheless, since
Gurdit's father's map had never indulged in white spots, Tulsi's must
be purged from them also. "Look you," said one of the youngest; "'tis
as when the children make a puzzle of torn leaves. He has fitted them
askew, so let each cut his own field out of the paper and set it

Then ensued an hour of sheer puzzledom, since if the white spot were
driven from one place it re-appeared differently shaped in another.
The devil was in it, they said at last, somewhat alarmed; since he who
brought land might be reasonably suspected of the power of taking it
away. They would offer a scapegoat; and meanwhile old Tulsi need not
talk of calling in the aid of the new _putwari_ in the next village,
for he was one of the new-fangled sort, an empty drum making a big
noise, and, as likely as not, would make them pay double, if there
really was extra land, because it had not come into the schedule
before. No! they would ask the schoolmaster first, since he had
experience in finding excuse for mistakes. Nor was their trust
unfounded, for the master not only had an excuse in something he
called "a reasonable margin of error," but also a remedy which, he
declared, the late _putwari_ had always adopted; briefly a snip here,
a bulge there, and a general fudging with the old settlement-maps.

The elders clapped old Tulsi on the back with fresh laughter bidding
him not try to be cleverer than others, and so sent him back to his
drawing-board. But long after the dusk had fallen that evening, the
old man sat staring stupidly at the great sheet of blank paper on
which he had not drawn a line. It was no business of his what Gurdit's
father had done, seeing that he too was of the old school inwardly, if
not outwardly; but Gurdit himself, when he returned, would allow of no
such dishonesties, and he, Tulsi, was in the boy's place. There was
time yet, a month at least before inspection, in which to have it out
with the plane-table. So when the wild geese from the mudbanks came
with the first streak of dawn to feed on the wheat, they found old
Tulsi and his attendant demon there already, at work on the dewy
fields; and when sunset warned the grey crane that it was time to wing
their flight riverwards, they left Tulsi and the Three-Legged-One
still struggling with the margin of error.

Then he would sit up of nights plotting and planning till a dim, dazed
look came into his bright old eyes, and he had to borrow a pair of
horn spectacles from the widow of a dead friend. He was getting old,
he told Kishnu (who was in despair), as men must get old, no matter
how many marigolds ignorant women wasted on false gods; for she had
taken boldly, and unchecked, to the oblations again.

But in the end inspection-day found that white bit of land white as
ever, nay, whiter against the dark finger which pointed at it
accusingly; since, as ill-luck would have it, what only the natives
themselves may call a Black Judge was the inspecting officer. A most
admirable young Bachelor of Arts from the Calcutta University, full to
the brim of solid virtue, and utterly devoid of any sneaking
sentimental sympathy with the quips and cranks of poor humanity; those
lichens of life which make its rough rocks and water-worn boulders so
beautiful to the seeing eye. "This must not occur," he said, speaking,
after the manner of the alien, in English to his clerk in order to
enhance his dignity. "It is gross negligence of common orders. Write
as warning that if better map be not forthcoming, _locum tenens_ loses
appointment with adverse influence on hereditary claims."

Adverse influence on hereditary claims! The words, translated
brutally, as only clerks can translate, sent poor old Tulsi into an
agony of remorse and resolve.

A month afterwards Kishnu spoke to the headmen. "The Three-Legged-One
hath driven the _putwari_ crazy," she said. "Remove it from him or he
will die. Justice! Justice!"

So it was removed and hidden away with obloquy in an outhouse;
whereupon he sat and cried that he had ruined Gurdit--Gurdit the light
of his eyes!

"Heed not the Bengali," they said at last in sheer despair. "He is a
fool. Thou shalt come with us to the big Sahib. He will understand,
seeing that he is more our race than the other."

That is how it came to pass that Tulsi Râm sat on the stucco steps of
an Englishman's house, pointing with a trembling but truthful finger
at a white spot among the green, while a circle of bearded Jâts
informed the Presence that Sri Hunumân himself was not wiser nor
better than their _putwari_.

"And how do _you_ account for it? I mean what do _you_ think it is?"
asked the foreign voice curiously.

The wrinkles on Tulsi's forehead grew deeper, his bright yet dim eyes
looked wistfully at the master of his fate. "'Tis an over-large margin
of error, _Huzoor_, owing to lack of control over the plane-table.
That is what the book says; that is what Gurdit will say."

"But what do _you_ say? How do _you_ think that bit of land came into
your village?"

Tulsi hesitated, gained confidence somehow from the blue eyes: "Unless
_Purumeshwar_ sent a bit of another world?" he suggested meekly.

The Englishman stood for a moment looking down on the wizened
monkey-like face, the truthful finger, the accusing white spot. "I
think he has," he said at last. "Go home, Tulsi, and colour it blue.
I'll pass it as a bit of Paradise."

So that year there was a blue patch, like a tank where no tank should
be, upon the village map, and the old _putwari's_ conscience found
peace in the correct total of the columns of figures which he added
together; while the Three-Legged-One, released from durance vile at
his special request, stood in the corner garlanded with the marigolds
of thanksgiving. Perhaps that was the reason why, next mapping season,
the patch of Paradise had shrunk to half its original size; or perhaps
it was that he really had more control over the plane-table. At any
rate he treated it more as a friend by spreading its legs very wide
apart, covering it with his white cotton shawl, and so using it as a
tent, when the sun was over hot.

And yet when, on Gurdit's return from college with a first-class
surveyor's certificate, Paradise became absorbed in a legitimate
margin of error, there was a certain wistful regret in old Tulsi's
pride, and he said that, being an ignorant old man, it was time he
returned to find Paradise in another way.

"But thou shalt not leave us for the wilderness as before," swore the
Jâts in council. "Lo! Gurdit is young and hasty, and thou wilt be
needed to settle the disputes; so we will give thee a saintly sitting
of thy very own in our village."

But Tulsi objected. The fields were the fields, he said, and the
houses were the houses; it only led to difficulties to put odd bits of
land into a map, and he would be quite satisfied to sit anywhere. In
the end, however, he had to give in, for when he died, after many
years spent in settling disputes, some one suggested that he really
had been Sri Hunumân himself; at any rate, he was a saint. So the
white spot marking a shrine reappeared in the map, to show whence the
old man had passed to the Better Land.

                          THE SORROWFUL HOUR

It was one of those blue days which come to the plains of Upper India
when the rains of early September have ceased, leaving the heat-weary,
dust-soiled world regenerate by baptism.

A light breeze sent westering ripples along the pools of water filling
each shallow depression, and stirred the fine fretwork of an acacia
set thick with little odorous puffs, sweet as a violet. Despite the
ruddy glow of the sinking sun, the shadows, far and near, still kept
their marvellous blue--a clear porcelain blue, showing the purity of
the rain-washed air. A painter need have used but three colours in
reproducing the scene--red and blue and yellow in the sky; russet
and blue and gold in the tall battalions of maize and millet
half-conquered by the sickle, which stood in shadowed squares or lay
in sunlit reaches, right away to the level horizon.

Russet and blue and gold, also, in the dress of a woman who was
crouching against the palisade of plaited tiger-grass, which formed
two sides of the well-homestead. Seen upon this dull gold diaper, her
madder-red veil and blue petticoat, with their corn-coloured
embroideries, seemed to blend and be lost in the harvest scene
beyond, even the pools of water finding counterpart in the bits of
looking-glass gleaming here and there among her ample drapery. She was
a woman who in other countries would have been accounted in the prime
of life; in India, past it. Yet, as she crouched--her whole body tense
in the effort of listening--every line of her strong face and form
showed that she was not past the prime of passion.

"_Ari!_ Heart's delight! See, O father! Yon is his fifth step, and
still he totters not. What! wouldst crawl again? Oh! fie upon such
laziness." The high, girlish voice from within the palisade paused in
a gurgle of girlish laughter. "Say, O father! looks he not, thus
poised hands and feet, for all the world like the monkey people in
Gopal's shop when they would be at the sweets? _Ai!_ my brother! what
hast found in the dust? Cry not, heart's life. Mother will give it
back to Chujju again. So, that is good! Holy Ganeshji! Naught but a
grain of corn! Art so hungry as all that, my little pecking pigeon, my
little bird from heaven?"

"Little glutton, thou meanest," chuckled a base voice. "Still, of a
truth, O Maya, the boy grows."

"Grows? I tell thee he hath grown. See you not this two-year-old hath
turned farmer already? He comes to bargain with thee, having his corn
in his hand. Give him a good price, to handsel his luck, O Gurditta


[Footnote 41: Head-man of village.]


"I will pay thee for him, O wife! Sure, hast thou not given me the
boy, and shall I not pay my debt? Nay, I am not foolish, as thou
sayest. What! Wouldst have me kiss thee also, little rogue? So! Yet do
I love mother best--best of all."

The woman behind the palisade stood up suddenly. Tall as she was, the
feathery tops of the tiger-grass rose taller; so she could stand, even
as she had crouched, unseen. Unseeing also. Other women might have
lent eyes to aid their ears, but Saraswati was no spy--no eavesdropper
by intent, either. The lacquered spinning-wheel, the wheat-straw
basket piled with downy cotton cards which lay on the ground beside
her, testified to what her occupation had been, till something--Heaven
knows what, for she heard such light-hearted babble every day--in
those careless voices roused her pent-up jealousy beyond the dead
level of patience. She was not jealous of the child. Ah, no! not of
the child. Was it not for the sake of such a one that three years
before she had given Maya, his mother, a dignified welcome to the
childless home? But Maya? Ah! well was she called Maya--the woman
prolific of deceit and illusion, of whom the pundits spoke; woman, not
content with being the child-bringer, but seeking---- Saraswati's
large, capable hands closed in upon themselves tightly. She did not
need to peer through the plaited chinks to know the scene within. She
saw it burnt in upon her slow, constant brain. The tall bearded man of
her own age--her own type--her kinsman--the patient, kindly husband of
her youth; the child--his naked brown limbs dimpled still more by
silver circlets on wrists and ankles; those curving, dimpling limbs,
which, somehow, made her heart glad; and between them, degrading them
both, Maya, with her petty, pretty face, her petty, pretty ways.

Suddenly, as it had come, the passion passed--passed into that curious
resignation, that impassive acquiescence, which does more to separate
East from West than all the seas which lie between England and India.

"Old Dhunnu said sooth," she muttered, stooping to gather up her wheel
and bobbins methodically. "'Tis the child which makes him love her,
and I have been a fool to doubt it. I will delay no longer."

Behind the low mud houses, angled so as to form two sides of the
square, four or five jujube trees clustered thickly, and beneath them
the dark green whips of the jasmine bushes curved to the ground like a
fountain set with blossoms. Hence, and from the straggling rose hard
by, the women in the early dawn gathered flowers for the chaplets used
in the worship of the gods. There were so many occasions requiring
such offerings; sorrowful hours and joyful hours, whether they were of
birth, or marriage, or death. Who could say, till the end came,
whether they were one or the other? Only this was certain, flowers
were needed for them all.

Towards this thicket Saraswati, still with the same impassive face,
made her way, pausing an instant before the long, low, mud manger
where her favourite milch cow stood tethered, to stroke its soft
muzzle and give it a few tall stalks of millet from a sheaf resting
against the well-wheel. And once more the scene was red and blue and
gold, as the broad yellow leaves and blood-streaked stems blent with
her dress. There was not a change in her face, as, parting the
branches, she disappeared into the thicket, scattering the loose
blossoms as she went; not a change, when after a minute or two, she
reappeared, carrying a little basket with a domed cover, securely
fastened by many strands of raw cotton thread, such as she had been
spinning--a basket of wheaten straw festooned with cowries, and tufted
with parti-coloured tassels, such as the Jâtni women make for the safe
keeping of feminine trifles--an innocent-looking basket, suggestive of
beads and trinkets. She paused a moment, holding it to her ear, and
then for the first time a faint smile flickered about her mouth as she
caught a curious rasping noise, half-purr, half-rustle.

"Death hath a long life," she murmured, as she hid the basket in the
voluminous folds of her veil and walked over to the homestead. As she
entered by a wide gap in the plaited palisade, the scene within was
even as she had imagined it; but the barb had struck home before, and
the actual sight did not enhance her resentment.

"It grows late, O Maya," she said coldly. "Leave playing with the
child and see to the fire for the cooking of our lord's food. Thou
hast scarce left an ember aglow beneath the lentils while I was yonder

The reproof was no more than what might come with dignity from an
elder wife; but Gurditta, lounging his long length in well-earned rest
on a string bed, rose, murmuring something of seeing to the plough
oxen ere supper time. The big man was dimly dissatisfied with affairs;
he felt a vague desire to behave better towards the woman who had been
his faithful companion for so many years. But for her, he knew well,
things would go but ill in the little homestead by the well. Yet Maya
was so pretty. What man, still undulled by age, would not do as he
did? For all that, the little capricious thing might be more friendly
with Saraswati; there was no need for her to snatch Chujju in her arms
whenever the latter looked at the child. But then women--and Maya was
a thorough woman--were always so fearful of the evil eye. Fancy her
calling that straight-limbed, utterly desirable son, Chujju,[42] as if
any one would cast such a gift away in the sweeper's pan! As if the
gods themselves, far off as they were, could be deceived by such a
palpable fraud, or even by that ridiculous smudge of charcoal on the
boy's face which only enhanced instead of detracting from its beauty!
Gurditta laughed a deep, broad laugh as he strewed the long manger
with corn cobs and green stuff cut from the fodder field by the well.


[Footnote 42: From _chujj_, a sweeper's basket. One of the many
opprobrious names given to avert the envious, and therefore evil,


Meanwhile, within the house yard, Maya was sullenly blowing away at
the embers held in the semicircular mud fireplaces ranged along one of
the walls. A grass thatch, supported by two forked sticks, protected
this, the kitchen of the house, from possible rain and certain sun;
while on the other wall a similar screen did like duty to a triple row
of niches or pigeon-holes, wherein the household stores in immediate
use were kept out of harm's way. For the rest, was a clean-swept
expanse of beaten earth set round, after the fashion in a farmer's
house, with implements and hive-like stores of grain. Between the one
thatch and the other Saraswati moved restlessly, bringing pickles and
spices as they were wanted. And still the basket lay tucked away in
the folds of her veil.

"The raw sugar is nigh done," she said, stooping with her back towards
Maya to reach the lowest row of niches.

"We must use the candy to-night, till I can open the big store.
Luckily I bought some when we took the Diwali[43] sweets from Gopal."
Then, ere she replaced the cloth in which the sweetmeats were tied,
she held out a sugar horse to the child, who was playing by his
mother. "Here, Chujju, wilt have one?"


[Footnote 43: For the most part, sugar animals, such as are sold at
English fairs.]


Maya was on her feet at once, indignant, vehement.

"Thou shouldst not offer him such things. He shall not take them from
thee. I will not have it. Nay, nay, my bird--my heart's delight!
Mother will give thee sweets enough. Kick not so, life of my life!
Ganesh! how he cries. He will burst: and 'tis thy fault. Hush, hush!
See, here is mother's milk. _Ai!_ wicked one! would bite? Ye gods, but
'tis a veritable _Toork_ for temper."

Hushing the child in her arms, she walked up and down, followed by
Saraswati's calm, big black eyes.

"Thou art a fool, Maya," she said slowly, putting down the sugar
horse. "Gopal's sweets would not have hurt the child so much as thy
spitefulness." Then she turned to her work again among the niches.
When she rose the basket was in her hand, the threads were broken, and
the cover tilted as if something slender and supple had been allowed
to slip out. Perhaps it had, for behind the sugar horse, standing in
the lowermost niche, two specks of fire gleamed from the shadow. It
was growing dark now, but the harvest moon riding high in the heavens
and the now flaming fire aided the dying daylight, and a curious
radiance, backed by velvety shadows, lay on everything.

"I must sweep out the niches thoroughly tomorrow," she said
indifferently. "Methought just now I heard the rustle as of a
_jelabi_.[44] They love to hide in such places, and therefore I bid
thee but yesterday see to their cleansing, But, sure, what work is
done in this house mine must be the hand to do it. See to your
lentils, sister; methinks they burn at the bottom."

[Footnote 44: _Echis carinata_, the Indian viper. It lies coiled in a
true-lover's knot, rustling its scales one against the other. It is
the most vicious and irritable of all Indian snakes.]


Maya, with a petulant shrug of her shoulders, set down the child.

"Such work spoils my hands, and--and--folk like them pretty."

Even she, town born and town bred, did not dare before this grave-eyed
peasant woman to name her husband's name in such a connection,[45] but
Saraswati understood the allusion, and the simple, straightforward
naturalism drawn from ages of rural life which was her heritage, rose
up in arms against such depravity. But even as she lashed herself to
revenge by the thought, everything that was stable seemed to shift,
all that moved to stand still. Her heart ceased beating, the walls
span round, the moon quivered, the flames grew rigid. Ah, no! one
thing that moved would not pause. Chujju had caught sight of the sugar
horse, and was creeping towards it, now on his little fat hands, now
tottering on his little fat feet, his glistening eyes fixed on the
niche which held those gleaming specks of fire.


[Footnote 45: A husband's name should never be mentioned by a wife,
especially in matters referring to herself.]


No! nothing was too bad for Maya; and Dhunnu, the wise woman, had been
right when she said that the charm lay in the child. It must be
so--and death was naught. There! he was close now, one little hand
stretched out, the dimples showing--the---- Ah!

A cry, fierce, almost imperative, and Saraswati had him in her arms,
while something slim and grey fell from the niche in its spring, and
wriggled behind a pile of brushwood.

"I saw its eyes," she gasped, still straining the child to her ample
bosom, when Gurditta, brought thither by Maya's screams of "Snake!
snake!" stood beside her, his breath coming fast, his manliness
stirred to its depths.

Maya saw the danger swiftly. "Give him to me," she clamoured. "O
husband, make her give him to me. She would kill him if she could. She
put it there--I saw her put it there--I swear it."

Saraswati turned on her in calm contempt. "Thou liest, O Maya; since
Time began, spirit of deceit and mother of illusion. Thou didst _not_
see me put it there."

Then, with the same dignity, she turned to the man.

"Master! Take the child. He is safe. This much is true, I saved him."

That night, when the moon still shone in the cloudless sky, Saraswati,
her veil wrapped closely round her, stole softly from the homestead.
Past the resting oxen, out among the serried battalions of maize and
millet, where the tall sheaves, lying prone on the ground, looked like
the bodies of those who had fallen in the day's fight; down on the
sun-cracked borders of the tank, whence the water was sinking swiftly,
now the rain had ceased; by the ghostly peepul trees, shorn of their
branches which the camels love, and looking weird and human with great
arms stretched skywards; so on to the burning ghât beyond, with its
little cones of mud marking the spot of each funeral pyre, and the
twinkling lights set here and there by pious survivors. Saraswati
drew her veil tighter and sped faster as she passed through the more
recent ashes, as yet uncovered, but swept into little heaps; and
there--horrible sight!--still scattered, with the uncalcined bones
gleaming in the moonlight, and a faint line of smoke still circling
upwards, lay the most recent of all. That must be old Anant Ram, the
_khuttri_ (merchant) who had died that morning: an evil man, come to
his end.

She was trembling ere she reached the hut where Dhun Devi, the wise
woman, kept watch and ward over the ashes. It was a miserable shanty,
where she found the old woman asleep before a large iron pot,
supported on a trivet. Beneath it some cowdung cakes smouldered
slowly, yet not so slowly but that every now and again a blood-red
bubble showed on the contents of the pot. A flaring oil-lamp, filched,
doubtless, from those outside, stood in a smoke-blackened niche, and
by its light you could see festoons of dank, blood-red drapery
clinging, to a rope, while, with a drip, drip, drip, something fell
upon the floor--something which ran in rills right out to the
moonlight, and, sinking into the sand, stained it blood-red; a ghastly
setting to the wise woman's crouching figure, even though Saraswati
knew that Mai Dhunnu was engaged in no more nefarious occupation than
dyeing the webs of her ignorant neighbours with madder.

The old crone stood up hastily, then sank to her low stool again when
she had peered into her visitor's face. "Thou wilt not tell," she
whispered in a hoarse croak, which, coming in reality from a throat
affection, vastly enhanced her claims to wisdom in the eyes of the
villagers. "Thou art of the old style; not like these apes of to-day,
with their dog-eared books and their dyes which fade before a January
sun." The chuckle she gave suited her surroundings well; so did the
claw-like hand she laid suddenly on Saraswati's firm arm. "Well,
daughter! Hast plucked up courage? Hast learnt to trust the wisdom of
old Dhun Devi?"

Saraswati shook her head. "Thou must find other wisdom for me,
mother," she said briefly. "Such is not for me."

"Obstinate! I tell thee 'tis the glamour of the child."

"'Tis not the child, though the gods know the poison hath bit deeper
somehow since he came. Lo! I have tried it, and 'tis not my way. Nor
would I kill her. That were too trivial, seeing she is not worth life.
I want but my share. It is empty here, emptier than ever, somehow,
since the boy was born."

She clasped her strong hands above her heart. The glow of the fire,
spreading as the old woman fanned it with the tremulous breath of age,
lit up the big black brows knit above the puzzled black eyes.

Dhun Devi straightened her bent back, and looked at her companion

"Life is more than the shadow of a passing bird to such as thou, O
Saraswati! 'Tis not wise. For death is naught, and life is naught. The
soul of man circles ever, like the potter's wheel, upon its pivot.
Have I not seen it? Have I not known it? Did I not go through the
night of a thousand dangers myself, and bring five stalwart sons into
the day? Where are they? Have they not passed into the dark again?
Have not my hands piloted many through the Sorrowful Hour and sent
many from it? Lo! the snake would not have harmed the child."

"I care not if thou speakest truth or not, O mother, though thou art
learned above women in such thoughts, I know," muttered Saraswati
sullenly, with drooping head. "Only this I know, that way is not mine.
There must be others. See! I have brought thee my golden armlet.
_Dhun_[46] was ever as a sign-post to Dhun Devi. Is't not so?"


[Footnote 46: Worldly-wealth.]


The old dame's fingers closed greedily on the bribe, careless of the
open sneer which accompanied it. "Ways?" she echoed. "Of a surety
there are ways, but none so simple as death."

"Ay," said Saraswati quietly, "I have thought of that. The well is
deep, and the little feathery ferns in the crannies look kind. But
they would say Saraswati, the Jâtni, had been ousted from her own
well-land by a stranger, and that is not so. I heed not the girl;
deceit is her portion. 'Tis something here." Again she laid her hand
on her heart with a puzzled look. "Nor do I want _him_ only. Couldst
thou not turn the child's mind to me, so that, seeing his love,
Gurditta would hold me dearer also?"

Dhun Devi shook her head, but her keen, bright old eyes were on the
other's face.

"There is a way," she whispered, after a pause, "but death lurks in it
often with such as thou."

"Whose death?"

"Thine own. Do not all women know how the Sorrowful Hour----"

Saraswati caught the withered wrist in a fierce clasp.

"_Mai!_" she panted; "Mai Dhunnu! Dost speak of the Sorrowful Hour to
me--to me--after all these years! Is there hope--hope even yet?"

"If thou art not afraid----"


                          *   *   *   *   *

It was sunrise in the homestead, and a new harvest was waiting in
battalions for the sickle. The jasmine fountain showered its green
stems to the ground, but it was bare of blossoms. They hung in
chaplets from the thatch screen beneath which, on that stifling August
night, a woman had been passing through her Sorrowful Hour. In the dim
dawn the little oil-lamps set about the bed flickered uncertainly in
the breeze which heralds the day, and glinted now and again on the
lucky knife suspended by the twist of lucky threads above the pillow.
In a brazier hard by some pungent spices scattered upon charcoal sent
up a clear blue line, like the last faint smoke from a funeral pyre.
All that wisdom could do Dhun Devi had done, but a dead girl-baby lay
between Saraswati and the harvest visible through the gap in the
plaited palisade. The midwife shook her head as she peered into the
unconscious face on the pillow.

"Only a girl, after all the fuss," came Maya's high, clear voice, as
she sat cuddling Chujju in her soft round arms--Chujju, whom the gods
had spared. "To die for a girl--for a dead girl, too--what
foolishness! But 'twas her own fault. 'Tis bad enough for us young
ones, and dear payment, after all, for the fun; and she had escaped
all these years----"

Dhun Devi's claw-like fingers stopped the liquid flow of words.

"Go, infamous!" she whispered fiercely. "Such as thou are not mothers.
Thou art Maya, the desire of the flesh. Go, lest I curse the child for
thy sake."

With a little shriek of dismay, half-real, half-pretended, the girl
gathered the sleeping child in her arms and disappeared into the huts.

"The wheel slackens on its pivot," muttered the old woman, stooping
again over the still form on the bed. "I must get her to Mother Earth,
as a seed to the soil, ere it stops."

She stood at the gap and called. The fine fretwork of the acacia
branches showed against the growing blue of the sky. The little golden
puffs sent their violet perfume into the air. A bird sat among them,
chirruping to its mate.

"Come," she said, and the tall bearded man followed her meekly.
Together--he at the head, she at the feet--they laid Saraswati on the
ground with the dead child, half-hidden in her veil, still between her
and the great stretch of harvest beyond.

Suddenly, roused by the movement, she stirred slightly, and the big
black eyes opened. Dhun Devi gripped the man's hand as if to detain

"The child--is it well with the child?" came in a faint voice.

Dhun Devi's clasp gripped firmer; a look recalling long past years
came to her face.

"_Yea, mother, it is well; thy son sleeps in thine arms_."

Then, craning up from her crooked old age to reach his ear, she
whispered swiftly:

"Say 'tis so if thou art a man, and bid her God-speed on her journey."

So, with her husband's hand in hers, a child in her arms, and a smile
on her face, came the end of Saraswati's Sorrowful Hour.

                           A DANGER SIGNAL

They were an odd couple. The very trains as they sped past level
crossing Number 57 gave a low whistle as if the oddities struck them
afresh each time, and Craddock always went to the side of the cab,
whence he could see those two motionless figures on either side of the
regulation barrier which stood so causelessly in the middle of the
sandy waste.

There must have been a road somewhere, of course, else there would
have been no level crossing, but it was not visible to the passing
eye. Perhaps the drifting sand had covered it up; perhaps no traffic
ever did come that way, and there really was no need for old Dhunnu
and his granddaughter to stand like ill-matched heraldic supporters
displaying a safety signal. But they did.

They had done so ever since Dhunni--for the name had descended to her
in the feminine gender--was steady enough on her feet to stand alone,
and before that, even, she had given "line clear" from her
grandfather's arms. For it was always "line clear." No train ever
stopped at level crossing Number 57 of the desert section. Why should
they? There was nothing to be seen far or near save sand, and the
little square concrete-roofed, red-hot furnace of a place, suggestive
of a crematorium, which happened on that particular railway to be the
approved pattern for a gatekeeper's shelter.

It was very hot in summer, very cold in winter, and that was perhaps
the reason why old Dhunnu suffered so much from malarial fever in the
autumn months; those months which might otherwise have been so
pleasant in the returning cool of their nights, and their promise of
another harvest. The old man used to resent this fever in a dull sort
of way, because it was so unnecessary in that rainless tract. To
quiver and shake in a quartian ague when the battalions of maize are
pluming themselves on their own growth, and the millet-seeds, tired of
cuddling close to each other, are beginning to start on lengthening
stemlets to see the world, was legitimate; but it was quite another
thing to find a difficulty in keeping a signal steady when there was
not a drop of moisture for miles and miles, save in the little round
well which had been dug for the gatekeeper's use.

Dhunnu, however, had served the _Sirkar_ for long years in the
malarial tracts under the hills before he came as a pensioner to level
crossing 57, and when once the marsh-monarch lays firm hold of a man
he claims him as a subject for all time. It was this difficulty, no
doubt, in keeping a signal steady which, joined to the intense
pleasure it gave to the child, had first led to little Dhunni holding
the green flag, while Dhunnu on the other side of the gate kept the
furled red one in his shaking hand ready for emergencies. Then the
train would sweep past like a great caterpillar with red and green
eyes, and red and green lights in its tail, and Craddock would look
out of the cab, and say to himself that time must be passing, since
the child was shooting up into a girl. And still it was always the
green flag; always "line clear."

It became monotonous even to Dhunni who had been brought up to it, and
while her chubby hand clutched the baton firmly she would look
resentfully across at the furled red flag in her grandfather's shaking

"Lo! _nânna_," she said spitefully, "some day it will shake so that
the cloth will shake itself out, and then----"

He interrupted her with dignity, but in the tone in which a tit-mouse
might reproach a tiger-cat; for Dhunni, as he knew to his cost, had a

"By God's blessing, oh Dhun devi, that will never be, since east and
west is there no cause sufficient to check progress; and as that is by
order the green flag, so the green flag it will be."

Dhunni made no reply in words. She simply flung the safety signal in
the dust and danced on it with a certain pompous vigour which made the
whity-brown rag of a petticoat she wore as sole garment, cease even
its pretensions to be called a covering. For they were very poor,
these two; that was evident from the lack of colour in their clothing,
which made them mere dusty brown shadows on the background of brownish

"It shall be the red one some day, _nânna!_ Yea! some day it shall be
the red flag, and then the train will stop, and then--and then," she
gave one vindictive stamp to clinch the matter and walked off with her
head in the air. The old man watched her retreating figure with
shocked admiration, then picked up the dishonoured flag, dusted it,
and rolled it up laboriously.

"Lo!" he muttered as a half-gratified smile claimed his haggard face,
"she is of the very worst sort of woman that the Lord makes. A
virtuous man need be prepared for such as she, so 'tis well she is
betrothed to a decent house. Meanwhile in the wilderness she can come
to no harm."

So far as the displaying of danger signals went, Dhunni herself was
forced to admit the truth of this proposition, for even when the old
man lay quivering and quaking, he kept the key of the box in which the
red flag was locked, safely stowed away in his waistcloth. Once she
tried to steal it, and when discovered in the act, took advantage of
his prostration to argue the matter out at length,--her position being
that the train itself must be as tired of going on, as she was of
watching it. Whereupon he explained to her with feverish vividness the
terrible consequences which followed on the unrighteous stopping of
trains, to all of which she acquiesced with the greatest zest, even
suggesting additional horrors, until it became a sort of game of brag
between them as whose imagination would go the furthest.

Finally, as she brought him a cup of water from the well, she consoled
both herself and him with the reflection that some day he must die of
the fever, and then of course it would not matter to him if the train
stopped or not, while she could satisfy herself as to whether those
funny white people who looked out of the windows were real, or only
stuffed dolls.

"_Arin budzart!_" he whimpered as he lay prostrate and perspiring.
"Have I not told thee dozens of times they are _sahib logues?_ have I
not seen them? have I----"

"_Trra_," replied Dhunni derisively, "that may be. I have not, but I
mean to some day."

Then the old man, adding tears of weakness to the general dissolution,
begged her, if a train must be stopped, to stop a "goods," or even a
"mixed." She argued this point also at length, till the fever fiend
leaving him, Dhunnu resumed his authority and threatened to whack her,
whereupon she ran away, like a wild thing, into the desert.

It was a certain method of escape from the slow retribution of the old
man, but as often as not she would return ere his anger had evaporated
sooner than miss any one of the four caterpillars with the red and
green eyes and the green and red lights in their tails. They had a
fascination for her which she could not resist, so she would take her
whacking and then stand, bruised and sore, but brimful of curiosity,
to give "line clear," as it were, to a whole world of which she knew
nothing. Even that was better than having nothing to do with it at

And then, as her grandfather grew older and feebler, and required a
longer time to fetch the week's supply from the distant hamlet far
over the edge of the sandy horizon, there came at last a day when she
stood all alone in the very centre of the closed gate holding out the
green flag and salaaming obsequiously, for that was what grandfather
had done on one or two occasions when, owing to inconceivable
wickedness, she had been made to watch the passing of civilisation
while tied to a distant bed leg.

Craddock from his cab noticed the grave mimicry and smiled, whereupon
Dhunni smiled back brilliantly. And then something happened which
curiously enough changed her whole estimate of civilisation, and left
her with such an expression on her face that when her grandfather
returned half an hour afterwards, his first thought was for the red
flag. The key was safe in his waistcloth, yet still he began

"Thou didst not----"

"Nay," she burst out in fury, "I did naught. But they!--_nânna_, I
hate them! I hate them!"

Then it turned out that the white dolls had flung a stone at her--a
hard stone--yes, the pink and white child-dolls had flung a stone at
her just because she had smiled. So with hands trembling with rage she
produced in evidence a large chunk of chocolate.

Dhunnu looked at it in superior wisdom, for there had been white
children sometimes in that surveying camp below the hills.

"'Tis no stone," he said; "'tis a foreign sweetmeat. They meant well,
being ignorant that we eat not such things. When they first come
across the black water they will even fling bread."

As he spoke he threw the offending morsel into the desert and spat
piously. Dhunni looked after it with doubt and regret in her eyes.

"I deemed it a stone," she said at last. "Think you it would have been
sweet, like our sweetmeats?"

"_Ari budzart!_" cried the old man again. "Lakshmi be praised thou
didst take bread for a stone, else wouldst thou have eaten it and have
been a lost soul."

"I would have tried if I liked it, anyhow," said Dhunni shamelessly.
And that night, while her grandfather slept in the red-hot furnace to
avoid the dullness of dawn, the moon found something else on the wide
waste of sand, beside the crematorium and the regulation barrier, to
yield her the tribute of a shadow. It was Dhunni on all fours seeking
high and low for the chunk of chocolate, and when she found it she sat
up with it in her little brown paws and nibbled away at it for all the
world like a squirrel. The result of which experiment being that she
smiled brilliantly at every train from that time forth, perhaps in
hopes of more chocolate, perhaps from gratitude for past chocolate,
perhaps because she really was beginning to be more sensible.

"It is being born to her in lavish manner," said old Dhunnu boastfully
to an emissary of the future mother-in-law, who came as far as the
village to inquire of the future bride's growth and health. "Go, tell
them she gives 'line clear' as well as I do, but that she is not yet
of an age for the married state."

In his heart of hearts, however, he knew very well that the time could
not be far distant when he could no longer delay parting with the
girl, who was fast shooting up into a tall slip of a thing. And then
what should he do, for the fever fiend had a fast grip on him now--a
firmer hold than he had upon life. Sometimes for days and days he
could scarcely creep to the gate when the mail train passed, while, as
for the "goods" and "mixed," these low-caste trains he left entirely
to Dhunni's mercy; and safely, since the desire for the danger signal
seemed to have passed with the possession of responsibility--and

Thus Dhunni, far from the eyes of the world, which would have sent her
remorselessly into the slavery of mother-in-law, grew tall and
slender, and even in her old dust-coloured skirt and bodice caused
Craddock the engine-driver, as he sped by, an occasional pang of
regret as he remembered another tall girl with velvety eyes.

So time passed until, as luck would have it, a wedding-party from the
village where the future mother-in-law resided chose to try a short
cut over the desert, and actually crossed the line at level crossing
Number 57. The result being that Dhunni's readiness for the married
state became known, and a fortnight or so afterwards she sat looking
at the new suit of clothes and some jewels which had been sent to her,
with an intimation that the bridal procession would come for her in a
week's time.

The presents were poor enough in themselves, but then Dhunni had never
seen anything so bright before; except, of course, the red flag. And
though the little round mirror set in the bridal thumb-ring does not
allow of much being seen at a time, Dhunni saw enough to make her eyes
still more velvety, her smile still more bewitching.

"Favour is deceitful and beauty is vain," grumbled her grandfather in
equivalent Hindu, but it had no effect on the girl. All that day she
went about with an odd half-dazed look on her face, and when the women
who had brought the presents left in the afternoon, she went and sat
down by the gate, feeling vaguely that it was some one else and not
the old Dhunnu who was sitting there. The mail train had passed an
hour before, and the "goods" was not due till midnight, so there was
no chance of anything to interrupt the level monotony she knew so
well, and yet, as she sat leaning against the gate-post with the green
flag beside her, she was waiting for something; for what she did not
know. But the certainty that life held something new was thrilling to
her very finger tips.

It was a yellow sunset, full of light and peace. Then out of it came
suddenly a faint roll, as of distant thunder. She was on her feet in
an instant, listening, waiting. Ah! this was new, certainly. This she
had never seen before. An engine with a single carriage coming full
speed out of the golden west. Was she to give "line clear" to this?

The sound of a girl's laugh rang out into the light, and a scarlet
veil, deftly twisted round a bâton, hung clear into the line.

"What in the world's the matter?" asked an English boy, as Craddock
and the Westinghouse brake combined brought the final quiver to the
great shining fly-wheel. He was a tall boy, fair-haired, blue-eyed,
imperious. The girl had given a little gasp at the look on his face as
he had leapt from the still moving train to come towards her, though
she now stood looking at him boldly, the improvised signal still in
her hand.

"What is it, Craddock? Ask her. You understand their lingo, I don't."

Craddock, leaning over the side of the cab, surveyed the picture with
a magisterial air. "Sorry I brought 'er up, sir, tho' seein' a red rag
it's kind o' second natur' when your 'and's within reach o' a brake,
sir. And then she never done it before--not all these years."

"But what is it? I don't understand----"

"Saving your presence, sir," replied Craddock cheerfully, "there ain't
no reason you shouldn't, for it don't take any knowledge o' the lingo,
sir; no more o' any kind o' knowledge but what you're up to, sir,
being, as the sayin' is, born o' Adam--o' Adam _an_' Eve. It's
mischief, sir, that's what it is--mischief, and there ain't much
difference in the colour o' that, so far as I see, sir."

The boy's face showed nothing but angry, almost incredulous, surprise
for an instant, then something else crept into it, softening it. "By
George! Craddock," he said argumentatively, "I'd no notion they could
look--er--like that. She is really quite a pretty girl." He could not
help a smile somehow; whereat, to his surprise, she smiled back at
him, the deliberately bewitching smile born of that chunk of
chocolate. It recalled him to a sense of injured importance.

"This is most annoying, and when so much depends on my catching up the
mail," he continued. "She will be stopping the next train too, I
suppose; but it can't be allowed, and she ought to be punished. I'll
take her along and leave her at the first station for inquiry, they
can easily send another signaller by the down train. Tell her,

"Better _pukro_ 'er '_ath_,[47] sir," remarked the latter sagely as he
prepared to descend, "else she might 'oof it into the wilderness like
one of them ravine deer. Just you _pukro_ 'er '_ath_, sir, while I
_samjhaó_[48] her."


[Footnote 47: Take her hand.]

[Footnote 48: Explain.]


Dhunni, however, did not attempt to run, she only shrank a little when
the boy's white hand closed on hers. After that she stood listening to
Craddock's violent recriminations quite calmly. In truth she expected
them, for in those old games of brag with _nânna_ they had gone
further than words, up to hanging in fact. Yet still not so far as
this queer tremor of half-fearful, half-joyful expectation. That was
new, but pleasant, and filled her eyes with such light that Craddock
stroked his corn-coloured beard and shook his head mournfully.

"She's a deal 'arder than I took 'er for, seein' her always as it
were, sir, from a different sp'eer. A deal worse. If I'd a pair o'
bracelets ready they might give 'er a turn, but I've told 'er she'll
go to 'ell in every lingo I know, for fear she mightn't understand,
and I'm blest if she care a hang."

The boy gave a resentful laugh.

"I'll make her care before I've done with her. There! you
there!--what's your name?--stick her with you into the cook room. No;
shove her into my carriage and I'll do _chowkidar_[49] till I can hand
her over. Now, Craddock, on with the steam or I shall miss my
connection. Confound the girl!"


[Footnote 49: Watchman.]


It was easy to confound her in the abstract; easy also to glower at
the offender crouched in the off corner before you threw yourself into
the arm-chair in the other and began to read the last number of a
magazine by the waning light. But what was to be done when it was
gradually being borne in on you that a pair of velvety eyes, wild as a
young deer's, were watching you fearlessly. She was a good plucked
one, at any rate. Craddock had said she was as hard as nails and a bad
lot. Well, he ought to know; but she did not look bad, not at all. The
eyes were good eyes, full of straightforward curiosity, nothing more.
There she was bending down to try the texture of the carpet with her
finger, as if nothing had occurred--the little monkey--and what white
teeth she had when she met his involuntary smile with another.

After that, under cover of his book, he watched her furtively. It was
what is called an inspection carriage, a regular room on wheels, and
the boy, new to the honour and glory of such a thing, had hung
pictures on its walls, curtains to its windows. There was even a vase
of flowers beside the newly lit lamp on the centre table. The lamp had
a pink shade too, which threw a rosy light on everything, above all on
that slender figure crouching in the far corner. And outside the
golden sunset was fast fading into cold greys.

"You want to know what _that_ is," he said suddenly, in English,
laying down his book and pointing in the direction where her eyes had
been fixed. An expectant look came to them, and he stood for a moment
irresolute. Then he rose with an impatient shrug of his shoulders,
crossed to the small harmonium which lay open, set his foot to the
pedal and struck a single note. She drew back from the sound just, he
thought, as she had drawn back from his hand, and then looked at him
as she had looked at him then. By Jove! she had eyes!

Still looking at her he sat down to the instrument and played a chord
or two out of sheer curiosity. Her finger went up to her lip, she
leaned forward, a picture of glad surprise. And then a sudden fancy
seized him. He had a tenor voice, and there was a song upon the desk.
Singing in a train, even in a single carriage on a smooth line, was a
poor performance, but it would be fun to try.

"The Devout Lover," of all songs in the world! The humour, the bitter
irony of it struck him keenly and decided him. And as he sang he felt
with a certain anger that he had never sung it better--might never
sing it so well again.

When he turned to her again it struck him that she recognised this
also, for she was leaning forward half on her knees, her hands
stretched out over the seat. No one could have listened more eagerly.

In sudden petulance he rose and went to the window. There was only a
bar of gold now on the horizon, and, thank Heaven! they had come
faster than he thought--or he wasted more time in tomfoolery--for they
were already entering the broken ground. That must be the first
ravine, dark as a ditch; so ere long he would be able to get rid of
those curious eyes. Powers above! Was fate against him? Was he never
to arrive at his destination? And what did Craddock mean by putting
the brake hard on again when they were miles away even from a level
crossing? He was out on the footboard as they slackened, shouting
angry inquiries long before Craddock's voice could possibly come back
to him through the lessening rattle.

"Danger signal comin' down the line. On a trolly, I think, sir.
Somethin's wrong."

Apparently there was, and yet the English voice which sang out of the
darkness had a joyful ring of triumph in it, and the friendly hand
which followed the voice, after a minute or two, shook the boy's hand
amid warm congratulations on the narrowest escape; for no one had
thought it could possibly be done, or that warning could possibly be
given in time. It was the veriest piece of luck! Briefly, just after
the mail had passed, a big culvert had given not two miles further
down the line. They had telegraphed the information both ways of
course, though, as no train was due for hours, there was plenty of
time for repairs. Then had come the return wire, telling of the boy's
start to overtake the mail on urgent business. Every one had said it
was too late; and, after all, it had been a matter of five minutes
or less. The veriest luck indeed! If they had been five minutes
earlier ...

The boy looked solemnly at Craddock, and the light of the red lamp,
dim as it was, showed a certain emotion in both faces.

"That's about it, sir," said Craddock, a trifle huskily. "An' I
tellin' her she'd go to 'ell! Lordy! ain't it like a woman to have the
last word?"

He said no more then, but when it had been decided to return the way
they had come, and take a branch line farther down, and when the
trolly with its red signal had slipped back silently into the night,
he came and stood at the carriage door for a moment. And as he looked
at the figure crouching contentedly in the corner, he stroked his
beard thoughtfully again, and went on as if no interval had come
between his last words and his present ones.

"But she saved our lives, sir, by stoppin' us, that's what she done,
sure as my name's Nathaniel James, and when a girl done that, a man's
got nothin' left but, as the sayin' is, to act fair an' square by
her--fair an' square."

"Just so, Craddock," replied the boy, with a queer stiffness in his
voice. "We'll drop her at the gate again, and--and it shall be
just--just as if it--as if it hadn't happened." Then he added in a
lower voice, "Spin along as fast as you can, man, and let's have done
with it."

"I won't leave her a _h_ounce for a whistle, sir," said Craddock

So the carriage with the rosy light streaming through the windows shot
forth into the darkness in front, and the sparks from the engine
drifted into the darkness behind, and the roar and the rush drowned
all other sounds. Perhaps Craddock whistled in the cab to make up for
not being able to whistle on his engine. Perhaps the boy sang songs
again in the carriage because he could not speak to the girl. Anyhow,
they were both silent when the fly-wheel quivered into rest once more
beside level crossing Number 57.

"Stop a bit," said a rather unsteady voice as a girl's figure paused
against the rosy light of the open door. "It's too long a step. I'll
lift you down."

Craddock, looking over the side, turned away and gave a sympathising
little cough as if to cover some slighter sound. Perhaps he knew what
would have happened if he had been in the boy's place.

The next instant, some one sprang into the cab and turned the steam
hard on, some one with a half-pained, half-glad look on his face.

"Now then, Craddock, right we are!"

And Craddock, as he bent to look at the indicator, answered, "Right it
is, sir; fair and square. Full pressure and no mischief come of it."

"I hope not," said the boy softly; "but it is a bit hard to know--to
know what is fair and square--with--with some people."

Perhaps he was right; for Dhunni stood gazing after the red and green
lights with a dazed look on her face. The danger signal had come into
her life--the train had stopped, and then--and?

                          AMOR VINCIT OMNIA

This story began and ended in a public library. An odd, forlorn little
offshoot of progress, dibbled out beyond the walls of a far-away
Indian city, which drowsed through the sunny to-day as it had drowsed
through many a century of sunny yesterdays. True it is that in a
certain mimetic and superficial manner Poorânâbad had changed with the
changing years. It had evolved a municipal committee, and this in its
turn had given birth to various simulacra of civilisation; but in
effect the former was but the old council of elders in modern guise,
and the latter but Jonah's gourd, springing up in a day or a night at
the bidding of some minor prophet from over the seas. They came and
went, these minor prophets, each with his theory, his hobby; and even
when Poorânâbad knew them no more, it could remember its rulers by the
libraries and band-stands, the public gardens, the schools, and the
museums they had left behind them.

The library itself stood in the midst of a newly laid-out public
garden, which but two summers before had been a most evil-smelling
tank--at least, for nine months of the year; the remaining three found
it a shining lake flushed with fresh rain and carpeted with pink lotus
blossom. But culture of all sorts had stepped in with drainpipes,
bricks, mortar, flowers, and books, and the result was a maze of
winding walks, stubbly grass, and stunted bushes gathered round a
square stuccoed building of one room encircled by an arched verandah.
To east and south the deceptive walls and flat mud roofs of the native
city looked like towers against the sky. To west and north stood
avenues of _shìshum_ trees, with here and there a peep of the white
bungalows wherein the minor prophets dwelt and grew gourds.

Within, under the one roof hung with two punkahs, stood two tables,
the one littered with English magazines and illustrated papers, the
other bare, save for a few leaflets of the native press, with
high-sounding names and full of still more lofty sentiments. The
two bookcases, one at each end of the room, showed the same
well-intentioned, but unsuccessful, impartiality; for the eastern one
was nearly empty, while the western overflowed, chiefly with novels; a
dozen shelves of them to one of miscellaneous literature, made up for
the most part of works on the Central Asian question and missionary
reports. The novels, however, had a solid appearance, since most of
them had been re-bound by the district-office bookbinder in the legal
calf and boards which he used also for the circulars and acts by which
India is governed.

Before this bookcase stood the only occupant of the room, a tall weedy
boy of about fifteen. A boy with remarkably thin legs, somewhat of a
stoop in his narrow shoulders, and a supple brown finger travelling
slowly along the ill-spelt titles of the book; ill spelt, because the
Government bookbinder could hardly be expected to grapple successfully
with the title of a modern novel. The hesitations of this brown finger
might have served as an index to the owner's taste, and showed a
distinct leaning towards sentiment. It lingered over several
suggestive titles, until it finally settled on something writ large in
three volumes. After which the boy, crossing to a double desk midway
between the tables, wrote in the English register in a fine bold hand
any clerk might have envied:

              _Amor Vincit Omnia_. Govind Sahai, Kyasth.

So, with two volumes under his arm, and one held close to his soft,
short-sighted black eyes, Govind Sahai, of the tribe of Kyasths, or
scribes, made his way citywards down one of the winding paths. Thus
strolling along he was typical of the great multitude of Indian boys
of his age. Boys who read--great heavens! what do they not read, with
their pale intelligent faces close to the lettering? And their
thoughts?--that is a mystery.

Govind Sahai's face was no exception to the rule; it was young, yet
old; high-featured, yet gentle; the ascetic hollows in the temples
belied by the long sweeping curves in the mouth, and both these
features neutralised by the feminine oval of the cheek. He was the
only son of a widow, who, thanks to his existence, led a busy and
contented life in her father-in-law's otherwise childless house; for
the honours of motherhood in India are great. Yet she was poor beyond
belief to Western ears. Across the black water, in a Christian
country, such poverty would have meant misery, but in the old
simplicity of Poorânâbad the little household managed to be happy;
above all, in its hopes for the future, when Govind's education should
be over, and he be free to follow his hereditary trade as a writer.
His father had found his ancestral level, oddly enough, in compiling
sanitary statistics in an English office, until the cholera added one
to the mortality returns by carrying him off as a victim; after which
all the interest of life to the inhabitants of the little courtyard
and slip of roof which Govind called home centred in the clever boy,
who could only follow his father's trade if he succeeded in gaining
the necessary pass; for education has undermined heredity. So Govind
worked hard for the scholarship which would enable him to go to
college. Day after day he absorbed an amount of information which was
perfectly prodigious. Month after month found him further and further
adrift on the sea of knowledge. Even in play-time he gorged himself on
new ideas, as might be seen by the library register. It was not only
_Amor Vincit Omnia_ which showed on its pages, but many another
similar work:

       _Lost for Love_,            Govind Sahai, Kyasth.
       _Love the Master_,                "         "
       _My Sweetheart_,                  "         "
       _One Life, One Love_,             "         "

And so on down one column and up another, for the boy read fast.

On this particular hot, dusty May morning he became so interested in
his last book that he sat down on the parapet of the city's central
sewer, and twining one thin leg round the other plunged headlong into
a sentimental scene between two lovers, heedless of his unsavoury
environments. The interweaving of intellectual emotion and material
sensation pictured on the page seemed to this boy, just verging upon
manhood, to be an inspiration, lifting the whole subject into a new
world of pure passion. It appealed, as a matter of fact, though he
knew it not, both to his inherited instincts and his acquired ideas,
thus satisfying both.

"_My darling" said Victor, raising her sweet face to his, and pressing
a kiss on those pure, pale lips, "love such as ours is eternal. Earth
has no power_"--et cætera, et cætera, et cætera. The tears positively
came into his eyes; he seemed to feel the touch of those lips on his,
making him shiver.

_The little soft tendrils of her hair stirred with his breath as Una,
shrinking to his side, whispered, "I am not afraid when I am with you,
my king. I feel so strong! so strong to maintain the Right! Strong to
maintain our Love before all the world! For Love is of Heaven, is it
not, dear heart?" "Our Love is," murmured Victor, once more raising
her pure, pale_---- Et cætera, et cætera, et cætera.

Yes, it was very beautiful, very exalting; also very disturbing to
this inheritor of a nature built on simpler, more direct lines. That
ancestral past of his seemed brutally bald beside this highly
decorated castle of chivalry.

"Aha! Good evening, pupil Govind," broke in the accurate voice of
Narayan Chand, head master of the district school. "You have, I am
glad to see, availed yourself of advantages of public library. With
what mental pabulum have you provided yourself this summer's eve?"

As he spoke, he seated himself likewise on the parapet of the sewer,
and read over the boy's shoulder, _Amor Vincit Omnia_. Then his
spectacled glance travelled down the page, returning for comfort to
the title; that, at least, smacked of learning. "Ah, aha! I see. Light
literature. Good for colloquial, and of paramount use in _vivâs_. So
far, well. For superiority of diction, nevertheless, and valuability
to grammar studies, give me _Tatler_, _Spectator_, and such classics."

Govind closed his book in most unusual irritation. "Even in English
literature, master-_ji_, new things may be better than old."

"Of that there is no possible doubt," quoted master-_ji_, with
cheerful gravity. He was a most diligent reader of the English papers,
and used to sit at the library table for hours of an evening devouring
the critiques on Gilbert's or Tennyson's last with undiscriminating
absorption in the formation and style of the sentence. His quotations
were in consequence more various than select. "Of that there can be no
possible probable manner of doubt, as a modern poet puts it tersely,"
he repeated, tilting his embroidered smoking-cap farther from his
forehead and drawing the black alpaca tails of his coat round his
legs; "yet still, for all that, it is held, that--to speak
colloquially--for taking the cake of scholarship the classics----"

Govind Sahai put his feet to the ground and the first volume under his

"Master-_ji_, when one labours long days at cube roots, then classics
in the evening become excessive. Life is not all learning; life is
love also."

He was quoting from the book he had been reading.

"Sits the wind in that quarter," began Narayan sagely; then he looked
at the boy reflectively and changed manner and language. "That brings
to memory, my son," he said in Hindustani. "When comes thy wedding
procession? I must speak to the virtuous widow that it come in
vacation time, so as not to interfere with study."

A sullen indifference was on Govind's face.

"You need not fear, master-_ji_; I mean to have the scholarship. The
wedding will make no difference."

Narayan Chand smiled a superior smile.

"Nay, my son; it must--it should--_for a time_. So is the vacation
convenient. Thou canst return to school when the festal season is
over. Come, I will speak to thy relations even now."

The widow was sifting wheat. A pleasant-faced little dump of a woman,
with dimples on her bare brown arms.

"Mother," said Govind calmly, "is grandfather in? The master-_ji_'
hath come about my wedding."

"What have men to say to such things?" she answered, with a shrill
laugh; "go tell master--_ji_, heart of mine eyes, that it is settled
for the first week of vacation. Her people were here but now. _Hurri
hai!_ but I shall laugh and cry to see thee! There shall be nothing
wanting at all! Flowers and sweets and merriment. Thy granny and I
have toiled and spun for it. And the bride sweeter than honey. Fie!
Govind, be not shy with thy mother! Think of the bride she gives thee,
and tell her thou art happy."

She flung her arms round her tall son, kissing him and plying him with
questions till he smirked sillily.

"Happy enough, mother," he admitted, then felt _Amor Vincit Omnia_
under his arm, and sighed. "I would much rather not be married; at
least, I think not. Oh, mother, I would she had fair hair and blue

"_Lakshmi!_ hear him! Wouldst marry a fright, Govind? Wait the
auspicious moment; wait till I lift the veil. Oh, the beauty! fresh
from the court of Indra, wheat-coloured and languishing with jewels
and love."

Govind shook his head.

"Profane not the great name of Love." He quoted to himself, being
forced to this secrecy by the fact that the only language his mother
understood has no word for love--as he meant it. So he added
mournfully, "I am ready for my duty whenever you wish it, mother; that
is enough."

Nevertheless, he dreamt dreams that night as he lay curled up on his
short string bed, with the second volume of _Amor Vincit Omnia_ under
the quilt, so as to be ready for the early summer dawn. Out under the
stars in the bare, mud-walled courtyard, destitute to Western eyes of
all comfort, he dreamt the dreams of his race--of a gorgeously attired
bride, shy, yet alluring, looking at him for the first time.

"Thou hast a nightmare," said his mother crossly, when just before
daybreak he woke them all by sitting up in his bed and declaiming,
_Amor vincit Omnia_ in a loud voice. "'Tis that book under thy head.
Put it aside, and lie as thy forefathers lay; they dreamt not of
pillows. So shalt thou sleep sound and let others sleep also."

She went yawning back to bed, and lay awake till dawn brought work,
counting over the savings she had made, and calculating how much she
could spare for flowers and sweets and spiced dishes, for all the
hitherto unknown luxuries which, according to custom, were to make the
boy's life a dream of pleasure for a time. Only for a time, since the
scholarship had to be gained.

A month afterwards a red-curtained bridal palanquin containing a
mysterious bride was carried over the threshold of the little mud
courtyard, and Govind Sahai, with a silver triptych on his forehead,
his ears tasselled with evil-smelling marigolds, his scented tinsel
coat hung with jasmine chaplets, dismounted from a pink-nosed pony
amidst an admiring crowd. That was an end of the spectacle as far as
the outside world was concerned. Within it was only beginning for
those two fond women who had spun and scraped and saved for this great
occasion ever since the bridegroom was five years old. Much had to be
done ere they would sit down in proud peace knowing that no possible
enhancement of delight had been omitted. The boy himself went through
the countless ceremonies, all tending towards an apotheosis of the
senses, with a certain shy dignity; perhaps the sight of master-_ji_
doing wedding guest in a copper-coloured alpaca coat gave him
confidence by reminding him that even the learned stoop to folly. He
was pale, partly from the turmeric baths, which are supposed to
produce a complexion favourable to feminine eyes, partly because he
really felt sick after the unusual sloth and sweets of the last few
days. So much for his physical state. Of his mental condition this
much may be presaged: that if either his inherited instincts or his
acquired convictions had any reality whatever, it must have been

More chaotic than ever when, far into the night, after endless
tests and trials, Nihâli, the mysterious bride, proved beautiful

Well, the fact was sure; only the comparison remained doubtful. The
inherited instincts said a _peri_, the acquired convictions an angel.
Both, it will be observed, denizens of another world. But then there
are more "other worlds" than one.

                          *   *   *   *   *

"Master Narayan Chand hath sent to remind us that school re-opens next
week," said Govind's mother when nigh two months had passed; two
months during which the path of life had been smoothed, scented, and
decorated for the special use of a boy and a girl. Govind Sahai looked
up from his work, which was, briefly, holding Nihâli's slim,
ring-bedecked fingers. The fact that he did so on pretence of teaching
her to write is of secondary importance. She was undoubtedly a very
pretty girl, and her delicate, refined face was at that moment full of
adoring tenderness for the lad beside her. Not thirteen at the most,
she was taller than English girls of that age, but far more slender,
with a figure still following the straight lines of childhood.
Graceful for all that, since her small head poised well over a round
throat, and the want of contour was dexterously hidden by masses of
jewellery, gleaming through the tinsel-shot veil. Even from wrist to
elbow the thinness of the arm was concealed by the bridal bracelets of
white ivory lined with red, whilst the slender ankles beneath the
scarlet, gold-bordered petticoat were hung with silver-gilt jingles.

A typical bride briefly, arrayed in all attractions, save for the big
nose-ring, with its dangling golden spoon hiding the lip. Govind
objected to its presence, his mother to its absence--both, curiously
enough, for the same reason--because it served as a check to
indiscriminate kissing of the bride. The pious widow used to blush
over her son's habit of saying good-bye to his wife when he had to
leave her for an hour or two. It might be English fashion, warranted
by all the love-literature in creation; it was not decent. Neither did
she approve of seeing them, as now, seated together over that
ridiculous farce of pothooks. Marriage was one thing, love-making was
another, so she spoke sharply.

"Well," answered the boy, utterly unabashed, "dost think I have
forgotten, _amma jan?_ (Mother dear.) Nay! Nihâli hath been hearing my
holiday task half the morning. Hast not--O Nihâli?"

His arm, under cover of the veil, stole round the girl's waist and
remained there--a flagrant breach of decorum which, fortunately for
the female accomplice, remained unnoticed by mother-in-law, who was
busy over a knot in a thread she was skeining from her unending pirn.
Yet Nihâli, despite this awful lapse, looked sweet and good enough to
fill the heroine's part in any novel, and her looks did not belie her.
The past two months had been a fever of delight to Govind. With the
curious apathetic resignation to the limitations of custom so
noticeable in clever Indian lads whose brains are full of theories, he
had accepted marriage in the spirit of his forebears, only to find
that Love (with a big L) such as he had read of in books was actually
within his reach. To be sure, in books the object was chosen by the
lover; but what did that matter in the end? So he used up all the
stock-in-trade of the sentimental novelist for little Nihâli's
benefit, and she listened to his rhapsodies on perfect marriage and
twin souls, her eyes set wide with wonder, admiration, and belief. No
"first lady" in white satin could have played her part more prettily
than this Indian child of thirteen, who from her cradle had been
taught to venerate her husband as a god, and who now, in a sort of
rapture, found herself the object of a sentimental passion absolutely
novel and bewildering. She nestled her sleek head on his shoulder,
telling him that she believed every word he said. And so she did; had
he told her the world was flat, instead of explaining to her with
great pomp and precision that she was living on an orange depressed at
the poles, it would have been the same to her. The world she lived in
was of his creating. Like most Hindu girls of the higher classes, she
had a marvellous memory, and Govind had hardly known whether to be
pleased or pained at the discovery that, after hearing him read it
over a few times, she knew his repetition better than he did himself;
yet, shy of her own exploit, she only replied to his laughing
reference to the holiday task by a timid squeeze of the hand still
holding hers.

Mother-in-law broke the knot with a snap; a habit with the determined
little woman, who thereinafter would twirl the ends together as if
nothing had happened. One twist of the thumb, and all was as it had

"I know not what holiday tasks may mean," she said scornfully. "In my
time work was work, and play play. So must it be now. Nihâli's people
have sent to ask when she returns to them, after established custom. I
have answered, 'When school begins.'"

They had been so supremely, so innocently happy over their pothooks!
And now the consternation on their two young faces was quite piteous.
Mother-in-law, however, found it scandalous. Did not all decent girls
cry to go home long before the honeymoon was over? Had not she herself
wept bitterly in her time; and there was Nihâli actually snivelling at
the idea of leaving; before her husband, too! And Govind was no

"It is so soon," pleaded the boy, too much taken aback for instant
revolt; besides, the situation had never come into any of the novels
he had read, so he really felt unable to cope with it.

His remark only increased the pitch of his mother's voice. Soon, was
it? Had he not had two months of billing and cooing, to gain which she
and grannie had spun their fingers to the bone? Soon! Whose fault was
it if time had been wasted over alphabets and pothooks? Her shrill
tones brought grannie from her labours below, and before these two
eminently respectable matrons the guilty pair could only hold each
other's hands like the babes in the wood, feeling lost and miserable.

That afternoon he went over to the public library, for the first time
since his marriage, and spent hours hunting up precedents on the
subject, only to return discomfited and hopeless. Nihâli would revolt,
of course, if he bade her follow his lead; but how could he bear to
have the finger of scorn pointed at her by those unacquainted with the
theory of perfect marriage and twin souls? That night, when the rest
of the little household retired from the roof, leaving the luxury of
fresh air to the younger people, he and Nihâli sat down under the
stars on the still flower-strewn bed, and cried like the children they

So with awful swiftness the dawn came when Govind had to put on the
pale-pink turban proclaiming him a first-class middle student, and set
off to school with his books under his arm; books, on the whole, less
disturbing than _Amor Vincit Omnia_ and its congeners. Nothing further
had been said about Nihâli's approaching departure. It was inevitable,
of course; meanwhile, they must make the most of the time left to
them. So Govind looked haggard and feverish as he took his accustomed
place; nevertheless, being student by nature, the work beguiled him.
By evening he was lighthearted enough to run home and race up the
crumbling stairs leading to the roof, full of anecdotes and news for
Nihâli. There was no one to receive them. The roof itself had resumed
its normal workaday appearance, and in the very place where the little
bride had sat on her lacquered bridal stool, squatted his mother,
piecing two broken strands of her skein together as if nothing had
happened. And nothing out of the common had happened. Whose fault was
it if Govind flung himself on his face and wept like a baby for what
was beyond his reach?

His mother had expected so much when she planned her _coup d'état_.
But he continued to cry--which she did not expect; for something more
complex than simple passion had been aroused in the boy. Of that he
might have been ashamed; in this he gloried. Was it not, in short, a
legitimate subject for self-glorification? So he wept himself sick in
a subdued docile sort of way. Finally, master-_ji_ called one day in
consternation to say that, though painstaking as ever, poor Govind
could not remember the simplest problem; while as for riders, he just
sat and looked at them. The scholarship was thus in danger. She tried
scolding the boy in good set terms, but he met her reproaches with an
invulnerable superiority before which she stood aghast. What was to be
done? Perhaps this spiriting away of the bride in order to avoid a
scene had been an error, but was that any reason why she should be
requested to return? To begin with, it would be an appalling breach of
etiquette, and then there was the risk of consequences much to be
deprecated between such very young people. The whole household,
including master-_ji_, puzzled over the difficulty, which seemed all
the more puzzling because it was so uncalled for, boys having been
married at fifteen and sent to school again afterwards since time
began without any fuss. But then, those boys, had not read _Amor
Vincit Omnia_ and learnt to mix sentiment with passion.

While matters were at this deadlock, Nihâli's mother arrived on the
scene unexpectedly, and, _en petit comité_ with the women-folk, gave a
new turn to affairs. The possibility suggested was in a measure
disconcerting, but, on the other hand, afforded Govind's mother an
opportunity of retreating with dignity, since the girl must not be
allowed to fret as she had been fretting.

The result being that a week afterwards Govind Sahai did a difficult
rider in a way which made Narayan Chand dream dreams of a future when
folk would say, "This eminent man received primary and secondary
education at the hands of our most successful teacher of youth, Pundit
Narayan Chand." It was a dream he frequently indulged in about his

The little strip of roof was once more frequented by pigeons, and the
snappings and joinings of threads relegated for the most part to the
court below. Yet the boy's appetite did not return, and as winter came
on he developed a teasing cough in that narrow chest of his. The fact
was that he burnt the candle of life at both ends in more ways than
one. Perhaps if his soul could have been left in peace he might have
passed through the ordeal safely, as many a boy manages to do in
India. But it was not. Poor Govind had no rest. He strung himself up
to the highest pitch in obedience to the mixed result of his birth and
education. Then on this quivering instrument he proceeded to play
scales. It was Tausig's exercises on a zither. He had to teach
himself, teach Nihâli, think of the coming baby, and go through the
whole gamut of intellectual and physical emotion of which he had read.
The first string gave way when his mother, laughing, crying, and
blessing him all in a breath, put a boy baby into his arms on his
return from school one day. He sat down stupidly on the lowest step of
the mud stairs, gazing at what he held in a sort of bewildered amaze
at finding himself thus, till his mother angrily snatched the child
from him, saying he should be ashamed of shedding tears on a newborn
baby's face. It was very like Nihâli, he thought, only years older
with all those wrinkles. Then he thought helplessly how he had
decided, with Nihâli's consent of course, on a thousand contraventions
of old customs at this time. Yet there was she upstairs in the hands
of the wise women, and the baby ready to be doctored by its
grandmother. What could a boy of sixteen do against such odds? So the
little proselytising pamphlet he had read was put away with a sigh;
and after all Nihâli did very well under the old _régime_. He found
her, when the wise women permitted him, in the seventh heaven over the
baby. Was there ever such a doll, with its little sharp nose and
pinched-up lips! And would he believe it?--the tiny creature was so
lazy that grandmother had to tickle it so--on the mouth--before it
would take any interest in the sugar and spices! By and by, when she
could nurse it herself, it would be different. She lay smiling at the
idea, while downstairs, as they left the house, the gossips were
shaking their heads and saying calmly, "It is an unnecessary baby, but
a forerunner. Others will come. There is plenty of time."

Even when Nihâli could not nurse the child, and they had recourse to a
Maw's feeder, which Govind, with many blushes, bought at the same shop
which supplied him with slate pencils, those two young things feared
nothing. He used to bring his books to the roof where she lay with the
little quiet mouse of a thing tucked away in her veil. Then, while
the sun set red over the dusty city, he worked away at all the
"ologies"--worked somewhat feverishly, since more depended now on his
success. Sometimes Nihâli's smile gurgled over in laughter, and
Govind, looking up, would find baby's fingers being clasped round his

"Look you," she would whisper, as if in presence of some great
potentate, "I asked my lord if he wished to be a writer too, and see
how fast he holds!"

There was one thing, however, to which the baby did not hold fast, and
that was life. But not till the very day before the eventful
examination, which meant so much to Govind, did those two children
read fear in each other's faces about that other child.

"Oh, Govind! what shall we do? what shall we do?" wailed Nihâli, when
the grandmother, seeing them wild with anxiety, told them the truth,
while the great-grandmother stood by wagging her head and mumbling of
others by and by. What was that to them now? How he got through the
next day he never knew. He took the papers and went with them to his
desk; nay, more, he did his level best with them, nerving himself to
the effort chiefly by thoughts of master-_ji's_ disappointment if he
failed. But his personal interest in the matter seemed gone; that was
centred on a roof in the dusty city where one child sat crying over
another. What were _plus_ or _minus_ to him save a world with or
without an unnecessary infant?

All that night was passed beside Nihâli, waiting for his mother's
voice to say the end had come; but the morning found the little
sleeper still in the young mother's arms. Perhaps there was still
hope. He hastily swallowed some breakfast, and, delayed by this hint
of respite, found himself five minutes late in the examination-room.
The first papers had already been given out, and to avoid possibility
of fraud none save those present at the issue were allowed to compete.
So Govind had to sit idle for a while, knowing he had lost a definite
number of chances. Nor was this the worst; the pause gave him time for
thought. Hitherto, once within the familiar walls, old habits of
attention and forgetfulness had possessed him. Now, with nothing to
do, he remembered and yet forgot. So when the order to go up for the
second paper came he rose with his brain in a whirl, a wild desire to
cry, "Let me alone, my baby is dying!" seeming to blot out everything
else in the world. Perhaps had he done so he might have had a chance
in the examiners' human pity; as it was he pulled himself together,
and failed hopelessly.

In the pause before the _vivâ voce_ he sat looking straight before
him, dully conscious that he had done badly.

"Govind has never been the same since he married," whispered one boy,
and the other giggled.

"Silence!" cried Narayan Chand fussily. "Govind Sahai, your name is
first for _vivâ_. Come up, Govind Sahai, Kyasth." Then, as the dull
yet anxious face passed him, he whispered: "Now for value of light
literature. You are best at colloquial, my pupil, so courage, and
remember _Amor Vincit Omnia_ and such like things."

_Amor Vincit Omnia!_ The boy's last chance fled before those words.
When the ordeal was over, he turned back to his place mechanically. As
he passed the master-_ji_ once more, he read his fate in the
disappointed face raised to his, then in the confident smile of the
boy succeeding him, finally in the surprised nudging of the whole
class. Something seemed to snap in his brain; he paused, and, facing
the examiners, raised his hand. The rush of thought was too much for
him at first; then he broke silence in a gentle, deprecating voice:
"If you will be kind enough to excuse me, Sirs, I will beg leave to
retire. The exigencies of the case forbid explanation, but this much
is admitted--that _Amor vincit Omnia_."

"That boy speaks better English than I thought for," said one examiner
to the other, when the leave had been granted. "Give him five marks
more; he's failed, of course, but it's as well to be just."

When Govind reached home Nihâli's arms were empty. There is no need to
say more. It was an unnecessary infant to all save those two.

"You have failed, failed badly, my poor pupil, owing, doubtless, to
domestic bereavement," said the master-_ji_, when he called a week or
two later full of vexed sympathy. "Such circumstances point to special
privilege of entering again next year, for which we will apply. And
then, Govind, there must be no killing of birds with one stone. There
must be no complicated states of mind, confusing idiom."

But Govind Sahai, Kyasth, did not avail himself of the permission duly
given, as the pundit-_ji_ put it, "in consideration of the strictly
nonregulation death of his infant at a premature age."

The old grandfather, whose small life-pension had been the prop of the
household, died of autumnal fever, and during the ensuing winter the
result of his failure to win the scholarship came home to Govind with
depressing force, since even from that poor ten rupees a month
something might have been spared to stand between those three fond
women and the grindstone, that last resort of poverty. Then Nihâli's
mother, coming over unexpectedly and finding her daughter at the mill,
carried her off in a huff. This time Govind said nothing; the spirit
had gone out of him, and for the girl's own sake he gave in to custom.
He worked very hard, but as the winter advanced his shoulders seemed
to grow narrower and narrower, and the teasing cough became louder.
Good food, care, and rest might have done something perhaps; only
perhaps, for there is not much to be done when the candle of life is
alight at both ends, except to put it out. That is what happened one
April morning when the bougainvillea round the arched verandah of the
library looked like a crimson drapery. He used to go there every
morning before school hours, for the memory of his failure in _vivâ
voce_ rankled keenly, and he was possessed by a curious determination
to prove Master Narayan Chand wrong in attributing it to Govind's
unwise selection of books. So, secure at those hours from
interruption, he used to sit and study the idiom of light literature.

"Thou art not fit to go," said his mother tearfully one morning after
the boy had been kept awake all night by cough and fever.

"Reading will not hurt me, _amma jan_," he replied, "and the
examination is next month."

They found him two hours afterwards seated at the desk before the
ledger, his head resting on a novel he had just been entering in the
register. A horrible stain of blood from the blood-vessel he had
ruptured blotted the page, but through it you could still see, in his
bold handwriting:

_Amor Vincit Omnia_. Govind Sahai, Kyasth.

                        THE WINGS OF A DOVE[50]


A tall lanky boy of about seventeen sat halfway down the great
flight of steps at the eastern entrance of the Jumma Mosque at Delhi,
looking anxiously at a cage full of avitovats, twinkling little brown
birds with a suspicion of red amid their brown; flitting, slender,
silent little birds, never still for a second. He looked at them
half-satisfied, half-doubtful, and as he looked he turned a four-anna
bit over and over in his brown fingers. For though he was dressed as a
European his complexion was as dark as that of most high-caste
natives, and darker by a good bit than that of a girl some one or two
years his junior, who sat fondling a pigeon on a higher step, and
looking askance, also, at the avitovats.


[Footnote 50: Copyright, 1896, by Macmillan & Co.]


"The _Huzoor_ can have them for five annas if he chooses," said
the evil-looking bird-catcher who was squatting among his wares.
Though he used the honorific title, his manner was absolutely
devoid of courtesy, and he turned without the least change in it to
address a friend in the parrot line, who sat with his cages on the
step above. For this particular flight of steps is set apart to the
selling of birds, especially after prayer-time on Fridays, when the
pigeon-racers and quail-fighters buy and bet in the wide portico of
rosy stone and pale marble. The avitovats--having no value to the
sportsman--commanded but a slack sale, so the boy had plenty of time
in which to make up his mind; to judge by appearances a difficult
task, for his face was undeniably weak, though handsome, kindly, and
soft. He wore a white drill suit, clean, but sadly frayed; and his
grey wide-awake was many sizes too large for his small head. Perhaps
it was the knowledge of this, combined with a vague suspicion that the
hat knew quite as much about bird-fancying as the head within it,
which made him, in his perplexity, take it off, place it on his slack
knees and drop the four-anna piece into it, as if it had better decide
the question. Sitting so, with bare head, he looked handsomer than
ever, for its shape was that of a young Adonis. It was, in fact, the
only thing about him, or his life, which corresponded with his name,
Agamemnon Menelaus. The surname, Gibbs, used after those eight
resounding syllables to come as a shock to the various chaplains who
at various times had undertaken to look after young Gibbs' spiritual
welfare. Some of them, the more experienced ones, acquiesced in that
and many another anomaly after their first glance at his soft gentle
face; for it was typical of that class of Eurasian which makes the
soul of a chaplain sink within him. Others reached the same conclusion
after a reference to the mother, Mrs. Gibbs. She was a very dark,
pious woman, tearfully uncertain of all things save that she, being a
widow, must be supported by charity; by the offertory for preference.
She, however, made the problem of his name less intrusive by calling
him Aggie as if he had been a girl.

"They are young birds, as the _Huzoor_ could see for himself if he had
eyes," went on the bird-catcher with a yawn. "Next moulting they will
be as red as a _rutti_ seed. But it is five annas, not four."

Aggie had no lack of eyes outwardly; they were large and soft as
velvet, and as they looked down at the avitovats showed a thick
fringe of curling lashes. But there was an almost pathetic
guilelessness in them, and one brown hand hesitated about his
breast-pocket. He had another anna there, part of a monthly stipend of
one rupee for attending the choir, which he had intended to spend on
sweets--preserved pumpkins for choice; but the avitovats, with their
promise of scarlet plumage, cozened his indolent, colour-loving eyes
almost as much as the thought of the sweets did his palate. Should he,
should he not? The mere sight of the birds was a strong point in their
favour, and his hand had sought the inside of his pocket when a
whisper met his ear.


It was unmistakable, and he turned to look at the girl behind him. She
was sitting on her heels, crunched up chin and knees, holding her
pigeon close to her face as if to hide it. And as he turned she sidled
further away along the step with the curious gliding shuffle peculiar
to native girls and pigeons. "_Ka-boo-tri, ka-boo-tri, ka-boo-tri_,"
gurgled the pigeon, as if pleased at the motion. It was a blue-rock,
showing a purple and green iridescence on the breast, and the girl's
dress matched its colourings exactly; for her ragged cotton skirt had
washed and worn to a dark neutral tint, and the shot-silk bodice,
tattered and torn, with tarnished gold embroidery on its front, took
gleams of a past glory from the sunlight. Her veil had faded in its
folds to a sort of cinnamon brown, touched with blue, and both it and
the bodice were many sizes too large for her slight childish figure.

"If the _Huzoor_ is not to buy, let him give place to those who will,"
suggested the bird-catcher cavalierly. He had been too far to catch
the whisper, and thought to clinch the bargain by a threat.

Agamemnon Menelaus looked at him nervously. "Are you sure they are
young birds?" he suggested timidly. "They might,--they might be hens,
you know." There was a half-perceptible quiver of his handsome head as
if to watch the girl. The bird-catcher broke out into violent
asseverations, and Aggie's hand, out of sheer trepidation, went into
his pocket again.


This time there was a ring almost of command in the tone, and
Agamemnon obeyed it instinctively by rising to go. "_Ka-boo-tri,
ka-boo-tri_," came the gurgle of the pigeon; or was it partly a
chuckle from the girl as she sidled still further along the step?

"So! that is good riddance," said the bird-catcher to the
parrot-seller, angrily. "God made the rainbow, but the devil made the
dye-pot! Yet I thought I had sold them at last. He looked not so sharp
as that."

The parrot-seller yawned. "'Twas Kabootri did it," he remarked with
bland indifference. "She said 'hens.'"

The bird-catcher stared at him incredulously, then passed the look on
to the girl who still sat with the crooning pigeon held close to her

"Kabootri?" he echoed with an uneasy laugh. "Nay, neighbour, 'twas she
who told me but an hour ago that if I sold not something this Friday
she would kill herself. 'Tis a trick of words she hath learned of her
trade," he went on with a curious mixture of anger and approbation.
"But it means something to a man who hath cursed luck and a daughter
who has a rare knack of getting her own way."

The parrot-seller gave a pull at a bulbul-seller's pipe as if it were
his own. "Thou wilt be disgraced if thou give it her much longer,
friend," he said calmly. "'Tis time she were limed and netted. And
with no mother either to whack her!"

The uneasy laugh came again. "If the Nawab's pigeon wins we may see to
a son-in-law; but she is a child still, neighbour, and a good daughter
too, helping her father more than he helps her." There was a touch of
real pride in his tone.

"She said 'hens,'" retorted the parrot-seller. "Ask her if she did

"Kabootri! Kabootri!"

The call was a trifle tremulous, but the girl rose with alacrity,
throwing the pigeon into the air with the deft hand of a practised
racer as she did so. The bird was practised also, and without a
flutter flew off into the blue like an arrow from a bow; then, as if
confused by finding itself without a rival, wheeled circling round the
rose-red pile till it settled on one of the marble cupolas.

"What is't, father?" she asked, standing on the upper steps and
looking down on the two men. She was wonderfully fair, with a little
pointed chin, and a wide firm mouth curiously at variance with it, as
were the big, broad, black eyebrows with the liquid softness of her

"Why didst say 'hens,' Kabootri?" replied her father, assuming the
fact as the best way of discovering the truth, since her anger at
unjust suspicion was always prompt.

"Why?" she echoed absently. "Why?" Then suddenly she smiled. "I don't
know, father; but I did!"

The bird-catcher broke out into useless oaths. His daughter had the
dove's name, but was no better than a peacock, a peacock in a thief's
house; she had lost him five annas for nothing.

Kabootri's eyebrows looked ominous. "Five annas! Fret not for five
annas!" she echoed scornfully, turning on her heels towards the
gateway; and flinging out her arms she began the pigeon's note--the
pigeon's name and her own--"_Ka-boo-tri, ka-boo-tri, ka-boo-tri!_" It
was as if a bird were calling to its mate, and the answer came quickly
in the soft whir of many wings as the blue-rocks, which live among the
rose-red battlements and marble cupolas, wheeled down in lessening

"Lo! there is Kabootri calling the pigeons," remarked an old
gentleman, who was crossing citywards from the Fort; a stoutish
gentleman, clothed immaculately in filmy white muslin with a pale pink
inner turban folded across his forehead and showing triangularly
beneath the white outer one. He was one of the richest bankers in
Delhi; by religion a Jain, the sect to whom the destruction of life is
the one unpardonable sin, and he gave a nervous glance at the distant
figure on the steps.

"Nay! partner, she was in our street last week," put in his companion,
who was dressed in similar fashion; "and Kabootri is not as the boys,
who are ever at one, with sparrows, for a _pice_ or two. She hath
business in her, and a right feeling. She takes once and hath done
with it till the value is paid. The gift of the old bodice and shawl,
which my house gave her, kept us free for six months. Still, if thou
art afraid, we can go round a bit."

Kabootri from her coign of vantage saw them sneaking off the main
road, and smiled at their caution contemptuously; but what they had
said was true, she had business in her, and right feeling. It was not
their turn to pay; so, cuddling a captured pigeon to her breast, she
set off in an opposite direction, threading the bazaars and alleys
unerringly, and every now and again crooning her own name softly to
the bird which, without a struggle, watched her with its onyx eyes,
and called to her again.

"There is Kabootri with a pigeon," remarked the drug-seller at the
corner to his clients, the leisurely folk with ailments who sit and
suggest sherbets to each other, and go away finally to consult a
soothsayer for a suitable day on which to take their little screw or
phial of medicine. "She will be going to Sri Parasnâth's. It is a
while since she was there, and Kabootri is just, for a bird-slayer."

Apparently he was right as to her purpose; for at the turn leading to
Sri Parasnâth's place of business, she sat down on a step, and after a
preliminary caress fastened a string deftly to one of the pigeon's
feet. Then she caressed it again, stroking its head and crooning to
it. Finally with a bound she started to her feet, flung it from her
to flutter forlornly in the air, her level black eyebrows bent
themselves downwards into a portentous frown, and her young voice
rang out shrilly, almost savagely, "_Yahee, choori-yâh-mâr. Aihee,
choori-yâh-mâr!_ (Hillo! the bird-slayer! Hullo! the bird-slayer!)"

"Look out, brother," said a fat old merchant in spectacles, who was
poring over a ledger in the wooden balcony of an old house. "Look out
and see who 'tis. If 'tis Kabootri, thou canst take eight annas from
the box. She will not loose the bird for less; but if 'tis a boy with
sparrows, wait and bargain."

It was Kabootri, no doubt. Who else but she came like a young
tiger-cat down the lane, startling the shadowy silence with strange
savage threats? Who but she came like a young Bacchante, dancing with
fury, showing her small white teeth, and, apparently, dragging her
poor victim by one leg, or whirling it cruelly round her on a string,
so that its fluttering wings seemed like her fluttering veil? "Give!
_Ai_, followers of Rishâba, give, or I kill! _Ai_, Jain people, give,
or I take life!"

Sri Parasnâth put his turbanless bald head with its odd little tuft of
a pigtail over the balcony, and concealing his certainty under a very
creditable show of dismay, called down curses solemnly on her head. He
would send for the police; he would have her locked up and fined. She
might take the bird and kill it before his very eyes if she chose, but
he would not pay a _pice_ for its freedom. To all of which Kabootri
replied with a fresh method of doing the victim to death. She played
her part with infinite spirit, but her antagonist was in a hurry to
get some orders for Manchester goods off in time for the English mail,
so his performance was but half-hearted, and ere she had well begun
her list of horrors, the eight-anna bit came clinking down on the
brick pavement, and she, as in duty bound, had to squat beside it and
loosen the string from the pigeon's leg. As usual she had to drive it
from settling on her head or shoulders by wild antics, until it
fluttered to a neighbouring roof, where it sidled along the copings
with bright eyes watching her and soft cooings of "_ka-boo-tri,

Once beyond Jain eyes, she always gave back the call so as to assure
herself that no harm had been done. This time by some mischance there
happened to be a broken feather in the wing, and her lips set
themselves over the task of pulling it out; that being a necessity to
even flight. After which, came renewed caresses with a passion in them
beyond the occasion; for indeed the passion in Kabootri was altogether
beyond the necessities of her life--as yet. True, it was not always
such plain sailing as it had been with Sri Parasnâth. Newcomers there
were, even old customers striving in modern fashion to shake
themselves free from such deliberate blackmailing, who needed to be
reminded of her methods; methods ending in passionate tears over her
own cruelty in the first quiet spot she could reach. But of late years
she had grown cunning in the avoidance of irretrievable injury. A
dexterous slipping of the cord would leave her captive free, and she
herself at liberty to go round to some poultry-seller and borrow a
poor fowl under sentence of death, with which she would return to
unflinching execution. These things had to be, and her young face
would be like a Medea's as she did the deed. But even this was of the
past, since folk had begun to recognise the uselessness of driving the
girl to extremities. Thus her threat, "I will kill, I will kill!"
brought at most but a broken feather in a dove's wing, and a
passionate cuddling of the victim to her breast.

This one was interrupted brusquely by a question:

"Why did you say hens?"

It was Aggie. He happened to live close by in a tumble-down tenement
with two square yards of verandah, which were the mainstay of Mrs.
Gibbs' position. They, and the necessity for blacking Agamemnon
Menelaus' boots when he went to the choir, separated her effectually
and irrevocably from her native neighbours. He did not sing now,--his
voice had begun to crack,--but he looked well in a surplice, and the
chaplain knew he would have to pay the monthly stipend in any case.
So, this being Friday, Aggie was on his way to evensong, polished boots
and all; they were really the strongest barrier between him and the
tall girl with her pretty bare feet who stood up to face him, with a
soft, perplexed look in the eyes which were so like his in all but
expression; and even that merged into his in its softness and

"Because,--because they _were_ hens," she said with an odd little
tremble in her voice.

So the two young things stood looking at each other, while the pigeon
gurgled and cooed: "_Kaboo-tri, ka-boo-tri, ka-boo-tri_."


"So, seest thou, Kabootri, thou wilt turn Christian and then I will
marry thee." Aggie's outlook on the future went so far, and left the
rest to Providence; the girl's went further.

"_Trra!_" she commented. "That is fool's talk. I am a bird-slayer: how
could we live without the pigeons and the mosque? Thou hast no money."

They were sitting on the flight of steps once more, with a cage full
of scarlet avitovats between them, so that the passers-by could not
see the hands that were locked in each other behind the cage.

"Then I will marry thee, and become a heathen," amended Agamemnon,
giving a squeeze to what he held. She smiled, and the soft curves of
her chin seemed to melt into those of her long throat, as she hung her
head and looked at him as if he were the most beautiful thing in her
world. "That is wiser," she said, "and if thou dost not marry me I
will kill myself. So that is settled." He gave another squeeze to her
hand, and she smiled again. Then they sat gazing at each other across
the avitovats, hand in hand like a couple of children; for there was
guilelessness in his eyes and innocence in hers.

"Lo!" she said suddenly. "I know not now why I said 'hens.'" She
paused, failing to find her own meaning, and so came back to more
practical matters. "Thou hadst best be buying the birds, Aga-Meean[51]
[for so, to suit her estimate of him, she had chosen to amend his
name], or folk will wonder. And if thou wilt leave them in the old
place in the Queen's Gardens I will fetch them away, and thou canst
buy them of me again next Friday."


[Footnote 51: _Aga_, noble; _Meean_, prince.]


There was no cunning in her manner, only a solid grasp on the
exigencies of the position. Had he not a mother living in a house with
a verandah, and was not her father a bird-seller? Was he not at that
moment betting on the Nawab's coming pigeon-race on the platform above
them? Despite these exigencies, however, the past three weeks had been
pleasant; if Aggie was still rather hazy as to the difference between
young cocks and old hens, it was from no lack of experience in the
buying of avitovats. Kabootri used to give him the money wherewith to
buy them, and leave it again in the hiding-place where she found the
birds; so it was not an expensive amusement to either of them. And if
Agamemnon Menelaus had not grasped the determination which underlay
the girl's threats of taking life it was from no lack of hearing them,
ay, and of shivering at them. The savage, reckless young figure,
startling the sunshine and shadow of the narrow lanes with its shrill
cry, "I will kill, I will kill, yea, I will take life!" had filled him
with a sort of proud bewilderment, a sacred admiration. And other
things had brought the same dizzy content with them. That same figure,
sidling along the rose-red copings like any pigeon, to gain the marble
cupolas where the young birds were to be found,--those young birds
which must be taught betimes to play her game of Life and Death, as
all her world must be taught to play it,--was fascinating. It was
disturbing when it sat close to him in the Queen's Gardens, eating
rose comfits bought out of the blood-money, and cooing to him like any
dove, while the pigeons in the trees above it called "_Ka-boo-tri,
ka-boo-tri_," as if they were jealous.

The outcome of it all, however, was, as yet, no more than the
discarding of boots in favour of native shoes, and the supplanting of
the grey wide-awake by a white and gold saucer-cap which only cost
four annas, and lay on the dark waves of the lad's small head as if it
had been made for it. Kabootri clasped her hands tight in sheer
admiration as she watched him go down the steps with the cage of
scarlet avitovats; but Mrs. Gibbs, while admitting the superlative
beauty of the combination, burst into floods of lamentation at the
sight, for it was a symptom she had seen often in lads of Aggie's age.
His elder brother had begun that way; that elder brother who was now a
thorn in the side of every chaplain from Peshawur to Calcutta by
reason of his disconcerting desire to live as a heathen and be saved
as a Christian.

So, when Aggie, with a spark of unusual spirit, had refused to put on
the boots which she had made the servant (for, of course, there had to
be a servant in a house with a verandah) black with the greatest care;
in other words, when he had refused to go to church, since native
shoes and a Delhi cap are manifestly incompatible with a surplice, she
went over to a bosom friend and wept again. But Mrs. Rosario was of a
different type altogether. She seldom wept, taking life with a pure
philosophy, and making her living out of her handsome daughters by
marrying them off to the first comer on the chance of his doing well.

"There is no--need--to cry," she said comfortably, in the curious
half-_staccato_, half-_legato_ intonation of her race. "Your boy
is--no--worse than all boys. If they do not get--on--a place or get
married they fall--into mischief. God made them--so, and we must
bow to--His will, as we are Christians and not heathen. And girls
are--like--that too. If they--do--not--get--married they will give
trouble. So, if you ask my--advice, I say that if--you--cannot--get
your poor boy on--a--place you had better get--him--a--wife, or the
bad black woman in the bazaar will--lead--him--to bad ways; for he is
a handsome boy, almost as handsome as my Lily. He is too young,
perhaps, and she--is--too--young--too, but if you like he can beau my
Lily. You can ask some--one--for--clothes, and then he can beau Lily
to the choir. And give a little hop in your place, Mrs. Gibbs. When
my girls try me I give hops. It makes them all--right, and your
boy--will--be--all--right--too. You live too quiet, Mrs. Gibbs, for
young folk; they will have some pleasure. So get your son nice new
clothes, and I--will--give--a--hop at my place, and send my cook to
help yours."

This solid sense caused Mrs. Gibbs to lie in wait for the chaplain in
his verandah, armed with a coarse cotton handkerchief soaked in
patchouli, and an assertion that Aggie's absence from the choir was
due to unsuitable clothes. And both tears and scent being unbearable,
she went back with quite a large bundle of garments which had belonged
to a merry English boy who had come out to join his parents, only to
die of enteric fever. "Give them away in charity, my dear," the father
had said in a hard voice, "the boy would have liked it so best
himself." So the mother, with hopeless tears over the scarce-worn
things, had sent them over to the chaplain for his poor.

Thus it happened that before Kabootri had recovered from her intense
delight at the cap, Mrs. Gibbs was laying out a beautiful suit, cut to
the latest fashion, to await Aggie's return from one of those absences
which had become so alarmingly frequent. There was a brand-new red
tie, also a pair of lavender gloves, striped socks, and patent-leather
pumps. To crown all, there was a note on highly scented paper with an
L on it in lilies of the valley, in which Mrs. Rosario and her
daughters requested the pleasure of Mr. Agamemnon Menelaus Gibbs'
company at a hop that evening. What more could a young man like Aggie
want for his regeneration? Nothing apparently: it was impossible, for
instance, to think of sitting on the steps with Kabootri in a suit
made by an English tailor, a tall hat, and a pair of lavender kid
gloves. Yet the fine feathers had to be worn when, in obedience to the
R.S.V.P. in the corner of the scented note, he had to take over a
reply in which Mr. Agamemnon Menelaus Gibbs accepted with pleasure,
etc., etc.

"Oh, mamma!" said Miss Lily, who received the note in person with a
giggle of admiration, "I do like him; he is quite the gentleman." The
remark, being made before its object had left the tiny courtyard,
which the Rosarios dignified by the name of compound, was quite
audible, and a shy smile of conscious vanity overspread the lad's
handsome face.

About the same time, that is to say when the sinking sun, still
gloriously bright, had hidden itself behind the vast pile of the
mosque so that it stood out in pale purple shadow against a background
of sheer sunlight, Kabootri was curled up on a cornice with her back
to one of the carven pilasters of a cupola, dreaming idly of Aga-Meean
in his white and gold cap. He had not been to the steps that day, so
from her airy perch she was keeping a watch for him; and as she
watched, her clasp on the pigeon she was caressing tightened
unconsciously, till with a croon and a flutter it struggled for
freedom. The sound brought other wings to wheel round the girl
expectantly, for it was near the time for the birds' evening meal.
Sharâfat-Nissa, the old canoness who lived on the roof below the
marble cupolas, had charge of the store of grain set apart for the
purpose by the guardians of the mosque; but as a rule Kabootri fed the
pigeons. She did many such an odd job for the queer little cripple,
half pensioner, half saint, who kept a Koran class for poor girls and
combined it with a sort of matrimonial agency; for the due providing
of suitable husbands to girls who have no relations to see after such
things is a meritorious act of piety; a lucrative one also, when, as
in Sharâfat-Nissa's case you belong to a good family, and have a large
connection in houses where a good-looking maiden is always in request
as an extra wife. So, as she taught the Holy Book, her keen little
eyes were always on the alert for a possible bride. They had been on
Kabootri for a long time; hitherto, however, that idle, disreputable
father downstairs had managed to evade the old canoness. But now that
the great pigeon-race of the year was being decided on the grassy
plain between the mosque and the Fort, his last excuse would be gone;
for he had all but promised that, if he lost, Sharâfat-Nissa should
arrange the sale of the girl into some rich house, while if he won he
had promised himself to give Kabootri, who in his way he really liked,
a strapping young husband fit to please any girl; one who, being of
her own caste, would allow her the freedom which she loved even as the
birds loved it.

She, however, knew nothing of this compact. So when the great shout
telling of victory went up from the packed multitude on the plain, she
only wondered with a smile if her father would be swaggering about
with money to jingle in his pocket, or if she would have to cry, "I
will kill, I will kill," a little oftener than usual. Sharâfat-Nissa
heard the shout also, and, as she rocked backwards and forwards over
her evening chant of the Holy Book, gave a covetous upward glance at
the slender figure she could just see among the wings of the doves.
Downstairs among the packed multitudes, the shout which told him of
defeat made the bird-catcher also, reprobate as he was, look up
swiftly to the great gateway which was fast deepening to purple as the
sun behind it dipped closer to the horizon; for one could always tell
where Kabootri was by the wheeling wings.

"Have a care!" he said fiercely to the discreetly-veiled figure that
evening as it sat behind the narrow slit of a door blocking the narrow
stair, which Kabootri trod so often on her way to and from the roof.
"Have a care, sister! She is not easily limed or netted." A sort of
giggle came from the veil. "Yea, brother! Girls are all so, but if the
cage is gilt----"

It was just a week after this, and the sunlight behind the shadow of
the mosque was revelling in sheeny iridescence of her tattered silk
bodice, that Kabootri's figure showed clear and defiant against the
sky, as she stood on the uppermost, outermost coping of the gateway.
There was a sheer fall beneath her to the platform below. She had just
escaped from the room where she had been caged like any bird for three
whole days, and the canoness on the roof below was looking up at her
prisoner helplessly.

"Listen, my pigeon, my beloved!" she wheedled breathlessly. "Come
down, and let us talk it over together."

"Open the door, I say," came the shrill young voice. "Open, or I kill
myself! Open, or I kill!"

"Heart's blood! Listen! He shall be a young man, a handsome man."

Handsome, young! Was not Aga-Meean young? Was he not handsome? The
thought made her voice shriller, clearer. "Open the door, or I kill!
Open, or I take life!" The words were the words of the young tiger-cat
that had been wont to startle the sunshine and the shadow, making Sri
Parasnâth seek his cash-box incontinently; but there was a new note of
appeal in their determination; for if it was but three days since she
had been caged, it was six since she had seen Aga-Meean. What had
become of him? Had he sought and missed her? Had he not?

"Listen, my bird," came the wheedling voice; "come down and listen.
Kabootri! I swear that if thou likest not this one I will let thee go
and seek another. I swear it, child."

The sidling feet edged nearer along the coping, for this respite would
at least give time. "Swear it on the Holy Book. So--in thy right hand
and in thy left. Let me see it." She stretched her own hands out over
the depths, and at the sight the expectant pigeons came wheeling round

"I swear by God and His prophet," began the old canoness, gabbling as
fast as she could over the oath; but above her breathless mumble came
a little shriek, a little giggle, and a girl's voice from below. "Ah,
Mr. Gibbs! You are so naughty, so very naughty!"

Kabootri could not understand the words, but the giggle belongs to all
tongues, and it jarred upon her passion, her despair. She looked down,
and saw a well-known figure, changed utterly by a familiar, yet
unfamiliar, dress. She saw two girls about her own age, with tiny
waists, huge sleeves, and hats. It was Aga-Meean, escorting the two
Miss Rosarios, who had expressed a desire to see the mosque. And she
saw something else; she saw the look which the prettiest of the two
girls gave to Aga-Meean; she saw the look he gave in return. Her
sidling feet paused; she swayed giddily.

"Kabootri! Kabootri!" called the woman on the roof, eagerly,
anxiously, "I have sworn it. Come down, my pigeon, come down, my dove!
It makes me dizzy."

So that was Aga-Meean! The mistress said sooth; the wings made one
dizzy, the wings,--the wings of a dove!

She had them! For the wind caught the wide folds of her veil, and
claimed a place in the wide, fluttering sheen of her bodice, as she
fell, and fell, and fell, down from the marble cupolas, past the
purple shadow of the great gateway, to the wide platform where the
doves are bought and sold. And some of the pigeons followed her, and
some sat sidling on the coping, calling "_Ka-boo-tri, ka-boo-tri_."
But those of them who knew her best fled affrighted into the golden
halo of sunshine behind the rose-red pile.

                           THE SWIMMERS[52]

"Miriam, Miriam, what is it? Canst thou not tell a body, bound to a
millstone as I? Thy tongue goes fast enough when I wish thee silent!"
It was a woman's voice that was beginning to lose its fulness and
sweetness, in other words, its womanliness, which called up from the
courtyard, where the hum of the quern grinding the yellow Indian corn
deadened all other sounds.


[Footnote 52: Copyright, 1895, by Macmillan & Co.]


"It is naught, mother! Only Hussan and Husayn once more." It was a
woman's voice also from the roof where the Indian corn was drying to a
richer gold in the sunlight; but it was a voice which had hardly come
as yet to its full roundness, in other words, to its perfect

"Hussan and Husayn! What makes them be for ever fighting like young

There was an instant's pause; then the voice from the roof came
piously, "God knows!"

Probably He did, but Miriam herself might have been less modest as to
her knowledge. For the case stood thus. It was a corner house between
two sequestered alleys which intersected each other at right angles,
and there had been a lingering lover, expectant of some recognition,
in each alley. Now, if half-a-handful of golden corn be thrown as a
guerdon over the parapet just at the angle, and if the lovers,
hot-blooded young sparks, spring forward incontinently to pick up the
precious grains and meet, then----

"Indeed, mother, they were very like cocks," remarked Miriam gravely,
as she stepped daintily down the narrow mud-stairs again to resume her
spinning in the courtyard. Once more she spoke truth, but hardly the
whole truth; since when featherless bipeds are picking up grains of
corn out of a gutter, they can hardly avoid a resemblance to feathered

So the whir of the wheel joined the hum of the quern, and both formed
a background to her sudden girlish laugh at the recollection of what
she had seen through the peep-hole in the parapet.

The whole thing was a play to this Osmanzai girl, who, for all her
seclusion, knew perfectly well that she was the beauty of the village,
and that many another spark besides Hussan and Husayn would be only
too glad of half-a-handful of Indian corn to pick up out of the
gutter. But these two being the most expert swimmers in that quaint
bare colony of huts set on a loose shale slope with the wild wicked
rush of the Indus at its foot, were, perhaps, the most interesting.
That is to say, if you excepted Khâsia, the big soft shepherd who came
down sometimes from the grassy, fir-crowned slopes higher up the
gorge; the Maha-bân or Great Forest Hills, beyond which lay the Black

A strange wild country, is this of the Indus gorge, just as the great
river begins to think of the level plains in front of it. A strange
wild people are those who live in that close-packed, flat-roofed
village upon the shale slope, where a footfall sends the thin leaves
of mica-schist slithering away into the rushing river. There is no
stranger country, no wilder people. For this is Sitâna, the place of
refuge for every Mohammedan fanatic who finds the more civilised
plains too hot even for his fiery faith; Sitâna, the dwelling-place of
the Syyuds who, since the days of their great leader Ahmad, have spent
their lives in killing every hell-doomed infidel they can get hold of
in cold blood. And as the pigs of Hindus live on the other side of the
rushing river, it follows that those who kill must also swim, since
there is no bridge far or near. That was why Hussan and Husayn, and
many another of their sort, with carefully oiled thews and sinews of
bronze, would go down the shale slope on dark nights and slip softly
into the ice-cold stream. Then, if there was a glint of moon, you
could see them caught in the great upward curve of the mad current
inshore, the two skin-bladders that were slung under their armpits
making it look as if six dark heads, not two, were drifting down and
down; yet somehow drifting nearer and nearer to the other side where
the pigs of Hindus were to be found. But even a glint of moon kept
them, as a rule, talking of future nights--unless there was some cause
to raise their recklessness to fever-height; for even that glint was
enough to make the police watchers on the other, the English, side
slip softly also into the stream, and give chase. A strange, wild
chase indeed it was; down and down in the dark till the blockade was
run, or the venture abandoned for another night. Or stranger, wilder
still, two men with knives met on the crest of the current and fought
a strange, bloodless fight, hacking at the bladders because they were
larger than the head, and the loss of them meant equally certain
disablement. For there was nothing to be done in that wild stream if
they were pricked but to cast them free and dive--to dive down and
down past the current, to come up, please God! nearer home.

So, because of those watchers on the other side, the Sitâna swimmers
could not start openly, nor from the same place. They went singly,
silently, but the next morning ere the light came fully they would all
be resting together on the steps of the little mosque; unless, indeed,
some of them had not returned; were, in fact, to return no more. And
the worshippers would be crowding round one or two, perhaps, while the
others looked on enviously to hear how some traveller had been
happened upon and done to death in the dark upon the undulating tract
of low jungle on the other side. Then the worshippers going home would
say casually in their houses: "Hussan killed his man last night; that
makes him two ahead of Husayn. And Ahmad, the new one, hath another,
so that brings him next to Husayn, who will need to work hard." And
the women would gossip about it among themselves, and say that, of
course, Miriam, the village-beauty, would choose the best swimmer when
the time came for the curious choice which is allowed the Pathan girl
among lovers whom she is supposed never to have seen. As yet, however,
Miriam had only laughed, and thrown handfuls of yellow corn into the
gutter, and said things to the aspirants' female relations which were
sure to be repeated, and make the rivalry run fiercer than ever. She
did all this partly because of the big shepherd, partly because it was
good for the faith to stimulate the young men's courage, but mostly
because it amused her.

It was far, however, from having that effect on the Englishman who was
responsible for the reputation of the district over the water. The
more so because his name happened to be John Nicholson, and John
Nicholson was not a man to allow any increase of crime within his
borders without knowing the reason why, and meting out punishment for
the offence.

"What the deuce does it mean?" he said to the trembling native
official in charge of that particular portion of the country which lay
over against Sitâna. "There have been twenty murders this quarter
against ten in the last. And I told you that for every man killed on
our side there were to be two in Sitâna. What on earth are your
swimmers about? If they are not so good as theirs, get others. Get
something! There must be some fault on your part, or they wouldn't
cock their tails up in this way. Remedy it; that is what you have got
to do, so don't ask questions as to how it is to be done. I'll back
you up, never fear."

And then he took his telescope out, as he sat on his horse among the
low bushes down by the rushing river, and prospected before he
galloped off, neck or nothing, as his fashion was, to regain his camp
thirty miles away, and write an urgent letter to Government detailing
fully the measures which he intended to adopt for the repression of
these scandalous crimes. But even a telescope did not show him
Miriam's face as she sat spinning in the courtyard. And the rest of
the long, low, flat-roofed village clinging to the shaly slope seemed
very much at its usual; that is to say, the commonplace nest of as
uncommon a set of religious scoundrels as could be found north or
south. So he told himself that they must have been strengthened lately
by a new contingent of fanatics from the plains, or that the
approaching Mohurrum-tide had raised their religious fervour to
boiling-point. He allowed these reasons to himself, though he
permitted none to his subordinate; but neither he nor the scared
police inspector dreamed of that laughing girl's face over the
water which was the cause of Hussan and Husayn's unusual activity.
Still as he gathered his reins into his left hand he paused to give a
more kindly look from under his dark eyebrows at the inspector's

"Why don't you get some of their swimmers?" he asked curtly. "I
could." Doubtless he could; he was a man who got most things which he
set himself to get. Yet even he might have failed here but for that
girl's face, that handful of yellow Indian corn, and the fierce fight
which followed for both between those two, Hussan and Husayn, who, as
they were finally held back from each other by soothing, friendly
hands, felt that the end was nigh if it had not already come. Brothers
of the same belief,--fellow-workers in that stream of Death,--first
and second alternately in the great race for men's lives, they knew
that the time had come when they must be at each other's throat and
settle which was to be best once and for all--which was to be best in
Miriam's eyes. And then to their blind wrath came an authoritative
voice, the voice of the holiest man there, the Syyud Ahmad, whom to
disobey was to be accursed. "There is too much of this brawling," came
the fiat. "'Tis a disgrace. Lo! Hussan, Husayn, here among the elders,
swear before the Lord to have done with it. Swear that neither will
raise hand again against a hand that fights for the same cause. Swear,
both of you." A chorus of approval came from the bystanders as those
two, thus checked, stood glaring at each other. There were a few
grains of the yellow Indian corn still in the gutter at their feet;
and they looked at them as they swore never again to raise a hand
against one fighting the good fight.

That same day, at dusk, Hussan and Husayn sat on the edge of the
stream, their feet almost touching the water, their skin-bladders
beside them, their sharp knives hung in a sheath round their necks.
Their bronze muscles shone even in the growing gloom; from head to
foot they were lithe, strong, graceful in their very strength. They
sat close to each other as they had often sat before, looking out over
the tumbling rush of the wild current, to the other side of the river.

"Yea! Then I will go forth to-night as thou sayest, Hussan; and when I
return equal, we will draw lots which is to take service on the other

"So be it, Husayn; I will wait for thee. And see, if thou couldst kill
one of their swimmers, 'twere better. Then will it be easier to get
his place. Hit up, brother, from the water; 'tis more deadly than the
downward stroke."

And as they sat side by side, speaking quietly, almost indifferently,
the evening call to prayer rang out over the wild wicked stream, and
without another word they faced round from the river to the western
hills. The parapet of Miriam's house stood out higher than the rest of
the village. Perhaps they made it the Kaaba of their prayers, though
they were orthodox enough in their genuflexions.

"Hussan and Husayn have been made by the _Pir sahib_, to swear they
will not fight any more," said a girl, who giggled as she spoke, to
Miriam when they were coming back with their water-pots from the

"_Loh!_ there be plenty others who will," answered the round sweet
voice that had not yet come to its full sweetness and roundness. "They
are all like fighting-cocks, except the shepherds. Belike 'tis the
sheep which make them peaceful, so they have time to laugh. Hussan and
Husayn are ever breathless from some struggle. I would not be as

"Lazybones!" retorted the giggler. "Thy mother-in-law will need her
tongue. Thy water-pot is but half-full even now."

"Still, it is heavy enough for my arms," replied the sweet voice
indifferently, yet sharply, "and the river is far." Then it added
inconsequently: "But there are streams up in the hills that folk can
guide to their doors. And the grass grows soft too. Here is nothing
but stones; I hate them, they are so hard."

"And the big shepherd's mother is dead," put in another girl pertly;
whereat the rest giggled louder than ever.

Was it Hussan or Husayn who, three days afterwards, appeared suddenly
before the District-officer in camp with a nicely written petition on
a regulation sheet of English-made paper, requesting that he might be
put on as a swimming patrol on the river opposite Sitâna in place of
one who was supposed to have been killed or drowned? There is no need
to know. No need to know which it was who won the toss when Husayn
came back with a smile to say that, so far, they were quits, and might
begin a new game. Whichever it was, John Nicholson looked at the lean
bronze thews and sinews approvingly, and then asked the one crucial
question, "Can you?"

The man smiled, a quick, broad smile. "None better, _Huzoor_, on the
Indus. There is one, over the water, who deems himself my match. God
knows if he is."

John Nicholson, who had bent over his writing again, glanced up
hastily. "So that is it. Here, _Moonshee_, write an order to the man
at Khânpur to put this man on at once." He was back at his writing
almost before the order was ended, and in the silence which followed
under the white wings of the tent set wide to all the winds of heaven,
the sound of two pens could be heard. One was the Englishman's,
writing a report to headquarters saying that the increase of crime
must be checked by reprisals, the other the native's, bidding the
inspector put on the bearer as a Government swimmer.

"For signature, _Huzoor_," came a deferential voice, and the
still-busy pen shifted itself to the shiny paper laid beside it, and
the dark, keen, kindly eyes looked up once more for half a second.
"Well, good luck to you! I hope you'll kill him, whoever he is."

"By the help of God, _Huzoor_, by the help of God!"

Which was it, Hussan or Husayn, who in the growing dusk walked up and
down the shaly glacis below the long cluster of Sitâna, watching the
opposite bank with the eyes of a lynx for each stone of vantage, each
shallow whence a few yards' start might be gained? Which was it,
Husayn or Hussan, who in the same dusk paced up and down the low bank
on the other side watching in his turn, with untiring eyes, for the
quicker curve of the current where a bold swimmer might by one swift
venture drift down faster to the calmer water, and so have a second or
two in which to regain breath ere the fight began? What matters it
whether the panther was on the western bank and the leopard on the
eastern? They were two wild beasts pacing up and down, up and down,
with their feet upon the water's edge; up and down, up and down, even
when the moon rose and their shadows showed more distinctly than they
did themselves; for the oil upon their limbs caught the light keenly
like the glistening shale and the glistening wet sand at their feet.
Up and down, up and down, they paced, in the stillness and the peace,
with only the noise of the rushing river, slumberously, monotonously,
insistent; up and down, up and down till the cry of the _muazzim_ at
dawn came echoing over the water.

_Prayer is more than sleep! Prayer is more than sleep!_

Ay! more even than sleeplessness with sheer murder in heart and brain.
So peace fell between those two while they turned towards Mecca and
prayed; for what, God knows. Perhaps once more the real spiritual
Kaaba was what they saw with the eyes of the flesh; that flat-roofed
house just beginning to blush rosy in the earliest rays of the rising
sun; more probably it was not, since they had passed through love to
hatred. And then, prayers over, murder was over also for the time,
since they could not court detection by daylight.

"They are wondrous keen on the other side, despite the moon," said the
elders of the village and the officials over the way, alike; "but
there is no fear _our_ watchman will be taken at a disadvantage. He is
there from dusk till dawn."

"Ay!" replied wiseacres on either side; "but when the moon wanes, what

It came even before that, came with a great purple mass of
thunder-clouds making the Black Mountain beyond the Mahabân deserve its
name, and drawing two pair of eyes, one on either side of the stream,
into giving hopeful glances at the slow majestic march of gloom across
the sky. It was dusk an hour sooner, dawn an hour later than usual that
night and day, so there was plenty of time for sheer murder before
prayer-time. And as there was no storm, no thunder after all, but only
the heavy clouds hanging like a curtain over the moon, a faint splash
into the rushing river might have been heard some time in the night,
followed by another. Then after a while a cry broke the brooding
silence above the hurrying whisper below; the cry of faith, and fate,
and fight.

_Allah-ho-Akhbar! Allah-ho-hukk!_

Perhaps it was the _muazzim_ again, proclaiming out of due time that
"God is Might and Right"; or maybe it was those two swimmers in the
river as they caught sight of each other in the whirling water. If so,
Hussan struck upwards from the water, no doubt, and Husayn, mindful of
advice, followed suit; and so the six black heads must have gone
drifting down stream peacefully, save for the hatred in the two faces
glaring at each other, since the river hid their blows decorously. But
there was no trace of them on it far or near when the sun rose over
the eastern hills, and the big shepherd, singing a guttural love-song,
came leaping down the stony path towards Sitâna with a bunch of red
rhododendrons behind his ear.

Some days afterwards, however, the native official at the Police
Station rode over to see his superior, and reported with a smirk that
he had seen through the telescope a great weeping and wailing at
Sitâna. Two of their swimmers had apparently been killed in fair
fight, for their bodies had been brought up for burial from the
backwater further down the river; and as the new man, whom the
_Huzoor_ had appointed, had either absconded or been killed also that
just made the proportion what his Honour had laid down for future
guidance, two to one.

"H'm!" said John Nicholson half to himself, "I wonder which of the two
was really the better man."

                          THE FAKEER'S DRUM

"_O! most almighty wictoria, V.R., reg. britannicorum (V.I.,
Kaiser-i-Hind), please admit bearer to privileges of praising God on
the little drum as occasion befitteth, and your petitioner will ever
pray," etc_.

It was written on a scrap of foreign paper duly stamped as a petition,
and it did not need the interpolation of imperial titles to prove that
this was not by any means its first appearance in court. To be plain,
it had an "ancient and a fishlike smell," suggestive of many years'
acquaintance with dirty humanity. I looked at the man who had
presented it--a very ordinary _fakeer_, standing with hands folded
humbly--and was struck by the wistful expectancy in his face. It was
at once hopeful yet hopeless. Turning to the court-reader for
explanation, I found a decorous smile flowing round the circle of
squatting clerks. It was evidently an old-established joke.

"He is damnably noiseful man, Sir," remarked my _sarishtidar_,
cheerfully, "and his place of sitting close to Deputy-Commissioner's
bungalow. Thus European officers object; so it is always _na-munzoor_"

The sound of the familiar formula drove the hope from the old man's
face; his thin shoulders seemed to droop, but he said nothing.

"How long has this been going on?" I asked.

"Fourteen years, Sir. Always on transference of officers, and it is
always _na-munzoor_." He dipped his pen in the ink, gave it the
premonitory flick.

"_Munzoor_" (granted), said I, in a sudden decision. "_Munzoor_ during
the term of my office."

That was but a month. I was only a _locum tenens_ during leave. Only a
month, and the poor old beggar had waited fourteen years to praise God
on the little drum! The pathos and bathos of it hit _me_ hard; but a
stare of infinite surprise had replaced the circumambient smile. The
_fakeer_ himself seemed flabbergasted. I think he felt lost without
his petition, for I saw him fumbling in his pocket as the janissaries
hustled him out of court, as janissaries love to do, east or west.

That night, as I was wondering if I had smoked enough and yawned
enough to make sleep possible in a hundred degrees of heat, and a
hundred million mosquitoes, I was suddenly reminded of the proverb
"Charity begins at home." It had, with a vengeance. I had thought my
_sarishtidar's_ language a trifle too picturesque; now I recognised
its supreme accuracy. The _fakeer_ was "a damnably noiseful man." It
is useless trying to add one iota to this description, especially to
those unacquainted with the torture of an Indian drum. By dawn I was
in the saddle, glad to escape from my own house and the ceaseless
"_Rumpa-tum-tum_," which was driving me crazy.

When I returned, the old man was awaiting me in the verandah, his face
full of a great content; and the desire to murder him, which rose up
in me with the thought of the twenty-nine nights yet to come, faded
before it. Perfect happiness is not the lot of many, but apparently it
was his. He salaamed down to the ground. "_Huzoor_," he said, "the
great joy in me created a disturbance last night. It will not occur
again. The Protector of the Poor shall sleep in peace, even though his
slave praises God for him all night long. The Almighty does not
require a loud drum."

I said I was glad to hear it, and my self-complacency grew until I
laid my head on the pillow somewhat earlier than usual. Then I
became aware of a faint throbbing in the air, like that which follows
a deep organ note--a throbbing which found its way into the drum of
my ear and remained there--so faint that it kept me on the rack to
know if it had stopped or was still going on. "_Rumpa-tum-tum-tum,
rumpa-tum-tum-tum, rumpa_----" Even now the impulse to make the hateful
rhythm interminable seizes on me. I have to lay aside my pen and take
a new one before going on.

I draw a veil over the mental struggle which followed. It would have
been quite easy to rescind my permission, but the thought of one month
versus fourteen years roused my pride. As representative of the
"_almighty wictoria, reg. britannicorum_," etc., I had admitted this
man to the privileges of praising God on the little drum, and there
was an end of it. But the effort left my nerves shattered with the
strain put on them. It was the middle of the hot weather--that awful
fortnight before the rains break--I was young--absolutely alone. Every
morning as I rode, a perfect wreck, past the _fakeer's_ hovel by the
gate, he used to ask me if I had slept well, and I lied to him. What
was the use of suffering if no one was the happier for it?

At last, one evening--it was the twenty-first, I remember, for I
ticked them off on a calendar like any schoolboy--I sat out among the
oleanders, knowing that sleep was mine. The rains had broken, a cool
wind stirred the dripping trees, the fever of unrest was over. Clouds
of winged white ants besieged the lamp: what wonder, when the rafters
of the old bungalow were riddled almost beyond the limits of safety by
their galleries? But what did I care? I was going to sleep. And so I
did, like a child, until close on the dawn. And then--by heavens, it
was too bad! In the verandah surely, not faint, but loudly imperative:

I was out of bed in an instant full of fury. The fiend incarnate must
be walking round the house. I was after him in the moonlight. Not a
sign; the white oleanders were shining in the dark foliage; a firefly
or two--nothing more.

"_Rumpa-tum-tum-tum!_" Fainter this time round the corner.

Not there!

"_Rumpa-tum-tum-tum!_" A mere whisper now, but loud enough to be
traced. So on the track, I was round the house to the verandah whence
I had started.

No sign--no sound!

Gracious! what was that? A crash, a thud, a roar and rattle of earth!
The house! the roof!

When by the growing light of dawn we inspected the damage, we found
the biggest rafter of all lying right across the pillow where my head
had been two minutes before. The first sunbeams were on the still
sparkling trees when, full of curiosity, I strolled over to the
_fakeer's_ hut. It also was a heap of ruins, and when we dug the old
man out from among the ant-riddled rafters the doctor said he had been
dead for many hours.

This story may seem strange to some; others will agree with my
_sarishtidar_, who, after spending the morning over a Johnson's
dictionary and a revenue report, informed me that "such catastrophes
are but too common in this unhappy land after heavy rain following on
long-continued drought."

                         AT HER BECK AND CALL

"What is your name?" I asked.

"Phooli-jân, _Huzoor_," she answered, with a brilliant, dazzling

I sat looking at her, wondering if a more appropriate name could have
been found for that figure among the anemones and celandines, the
primulas, pansies, and pinks--the thousand-and-one blossoms which,
glowing against their groundwork of forget-me-not, formed a
jewel-mosaic right to the foot of the snows above us. _Flowerful
life!_ Truly that was hers. She had a great bunch of scarlet
rhododendron stuck behind her ear, matching the cloth cap perched
jauntily on her head, and as she sat herding her buffaloes on the
upland she had threaded chaplet on chaplet of ox-eyed daisies, and
hung them about her wherever they could be hung. The result was
distinctly flowerful; her face also was distinctly pretty, distinctly
clean for a Kashmiri girl's. But coquette, flirt, minx, was written in
every line of it, and accounted for a most unusual neatness and

She caught my eye and smiled again, broadly, innocently.

"The _Huzoor_ would like to paint my picture, wouldn't he?" she went
on, in a tone of certainty. "The Sahib who came last year gave me five
rupees. I will take six this year. Food is dear, and those base-born
contractors of the Maharajah seize everything--one walnut in ten, one
chicken in ten."

But I was not going to be beguiled into the old complaints I could
hear any and every day from the hags of the village. Up here on the
_murg_, within a stone's-throw of the first patch of snow picketing
the outskirts of the great glacier of Gwashbrari, I liked, if
possible, to forget how vile man could be in the little shingle huts
clustering below by the river. I will not describe the place. To begin
with it defies description, and next, could I even hint at its
surpassing beauty, the globetrotter would come and defile it. It is
sufficient to say that a _murg_ is an upland meadow or alp, and that
this one, with its forget-me-nots and sparkling glaciers, was like a
turquoise set in diamonds. I had seated myself on a projecting spur,
whence I could sketch a frowning defile northwards, down which the
emerald-green river was dashing madly among huge rocks crowned by

"I will give five rupees also; that is plenty," I remarked suavely,
and Phooli-jân smiled again.

"It must do, for I like being painted. Only a few Sahibs come, very
few; but whenever they see me they want to paint me and the flowers,
and it makes the other girls in the village angry. Then Goloo and
Chuchchu----" Here she went off into a perfect cascade of smiles, and
began to pull the eyelashes off the daisies deliberately. There seems
a peculiar temptation in girlhood for cruelty towards flowers all over
the world, and Phooli-jân was pre-eminently girlish. She looked
eighteen, but I doubt if she was really more than sixteen. Even so, it
was odd to find her unappropriated, so I inquired if Goloo or Chuchchu
was the happy man.

"My mother is a widow," she replied without the least hesitation. "It
depends which will pay the most, for we are poor. There are others,
too, so there is no hurry. They are at my beck and call."

She crooked her forefinger and nodded her head as if beckoning to some
one. For sheer lighthearted, innocent enjoyment of her own attraction
I never saw the equal of that face. I should have made my fortune if I
could have painted it there in the blazing sunlight, framed in
flowers; but it was too much for me. Therefore, I asked her to move to
the right, further along the promontory, so that I could put her in
the foreground of the picture I had already begun.

"There, by that first clump of iris," I said, pointing to a patch of
green sword-leaves, where the white and lilac blossoms were beginning
to show.

She gave a perceptible shudder.

"What? Sit on a grave! Not I. Does not the _Huzoor_ know that those
are graves? It is true. All our people are buried here. We plant the
iris over them always. If you ask why, I know not. It is the flower of

A sudden determination to paint her, the Flowerful Life against the
Flowerful Death, completely obliterated the knowledge of my own
incompetence; but I urged and bribed in vain. Phooli-jân would not
stir. She would not even let me pick a handful of the flowers for her
to hold. It was unlucky; besides, one never knew what one might find
in the thickets of leaves--bones and horrid things. Had I never heard
that dead people got tired of their graves and tried to get out? Even
if they only wanted something in their graves they would stretch forth
a hand to get it. That was one reason why people covered them up with
flowers--just to make them more contented.

The idea of stooping to cull a flower and shaking hands with a corpse
was distinctly unpleasant, even in the sunlight; so I gave up the
point and began to sketch the girl as she sat. Rather a difficult
task, for she chattered incessantly. Did I see that thin blue thread
of smoke in the dark pall of pine-trees covering the bottom of the
valley? That was Goloo's fire. He was drying orris root for the
Maharajah. There, on the opposite _murg_, where the buffaloes showed
dark among the flowers, was Chuchchu's hut. Undoubtedly, Chuchchu was
the richer, but Goloo could climb like an ibex. It was he whom the
_Huzoor_ was going to take as a guide to the peak. He could dance,
too. The _Huzoor_ should see him dance the circle dance round the
fire--no one turned so slowly as Goloo. He would not frighten a young
lamb, except when he was angry--well, jealous, if the _Huzoor_ thought
that a better word.

By the time she had done chattering there was not a petal left on the
ox-eyed daisies, and I was divided between pity and envy towards Goloo
and Chuchchu.

That evening, as usual, I set my painting to dry on the easel at the
door of the tent. As I lounged by the camp fire, smoking my pipe, a
big young man, coming in with a jar of buffalo milk on his shoulder
and a big bunch of red rhododendron behind his ear, stopped and
grinned at my caricature of Phooli-jân. Five minutes after, down by
the servants' encampment, I heard a free fight going on, and strolled
over to see what was the matter. After the manner of Kashmiri
quarrels, it had ended almost as it began; for the race love peace.
That it had so ended was not, however, I saw at a glance, the fault of
the smaller of the antagonists, who was being forcibly held back by my

"Chuchchu, that man there, wanted to charge Goloo, this man here, the
same price for milk as he does your honour," explained the _shikari_
elaborately. "That was extortionate, even though Goloo, being the
_Huzoor's_ guide for to-morrow, may be said to be your honour's
servant for the time. I have settled the matter justly. The _Huzoor_
need not give thought to it."

I looked at the two recipients of Phooli-jân's favour with
interest--for that the bunches of red rhododendron they both wore were
her gift I did not doubt. They were both fine young men, but Goloo was
distinctly the better-looking of the two, if a trifle sinister.

Despite the recommendation of my _shikari_ to cast thought aside, the
incident lingered in my memory, and I mentioned it to Phooli-jân when,
on returning to finish my sketch, I found her waiting for me among the
flowers. Her smile was more brilliant than ever.

"They will not hurt each other," she said. "Chuchchu knows that Goloo
is more active, and Goloo knows that Chuchchu is stronger. It is like
the dogs in our village."

"I was not thinking of them," I replied; "I was thinking of you.
Supposing they were to quarrel with you?"

She laughed. "They will not quarrel. In summer time there are plenty
of flowers for everybody."

I thought of those red rhododendrons, and could not repress a smile at
her barefaced wisdom of the serpent.

"And in the winter time?"

"Then I will marry one of them, or some one. I have only to choose.
That is all. They are at my beck and call."

Three years passed before recurring leave enabled me to pay another
visit to the _murg_. The rhododendrons were once more on the uplands,
and as I turned the last corner of the pine-set path which threaded
its way through the defile I saw the meadow before me, with its mosaic
of flowers bright as ever. The memory of Phooli-jân came back to me as
she had sat in the sunshine nodding and beckoning.

"Phooli-jân?" echoed the old patriarch who came out to welcome me as I
crossed the plank bridge to the village, "Phooli-jân, the herd-girl?
_Huzoor_, she is dead; she died from picking flowers. A vain thing. It
was at the turn beyond the _murg_, _Huzoor_, half-way between
Chuchchu's hut and Goloo's drying stage. There is a big rhododendron
tree hanging over the cliff, and she must have fallen down. It is
three years gone."

Three years; then it must have happened almost immediately after I
left the valley. The idea upset me; I knew not why. The _murg_ without
that Flowerful Life nodding and beckoning felt empty, and I found
myself wondering if indeed the girl had fallen down, or if she had
played with flowers too recklessly and one of her lovers, perhaps
both---- It was an idea which dimmed the sunshine and I was glad that
I had arranged not to remain for the night, but to push on to another
meadow, some six miles farther up the river. To do so, however, I
required a fresh relay of coolies, and while my _shikari_ was
arranging for this in the village I made my way by a cross-cut to the
promontory, with its patches of iris.

Deaths are rare in these small communities, and there were but two or
three new graves--all but one too recent to be poor Phooli-jân's.
That, then, must be hers, with its still clearly denned oblong of
iris, already a mass of pale purple and white.

I sat down on a rock and began, unromantically, to eat my lunch,
finishing up with a pull at my flask, and thus providentially
fortified, I stooped, ere leaving, to pick one or two of the blossoms
from the grave, intending to paint them round the sketch of the girl's
head which I had with me.

Great heavens! what was that?

I turned positively sick with horror and doubt. Was it a hand? It was
some time before I could force myself to set aside the sheathing
leaves and settle the point. Something it was, something which, even
as I parted the stems, fell to pieces, as the skeleton of a beckoning
hand might have done. I did not stay to see more; I let the flowers
close over it--whatever it was--and made my way back to the village.
My baggage, having changed shoulders, was streaming out over the plank
bridge again, and in the two first bearers, carrying my cook-room pots
and pans, I recognised Goloo and Chuchchu. They had both grown
stouter, and wore huge bunches of red rhododendron behind their ears.
I found out, on inquiry, that they were both married and had become
bosom friends.

I have not seen the turquoise set in diamonds since, but I often think
of it, and wonder what it was I saw among the iris. And then I seem to
see Phooli-jân sitting among the flowers, nodding her head and saying,
"They are at my beck and call."

If I were Goloo or Chuchchu, I would be buried somewhere else.

                        MUSIC HATH CHARMS[53]


[Footnote 53: Copyright, 1896, by Macmillan & Co.]


It was the very last place in the world where you would have expected
to hear the notes of a church harmonium; and the old man who, seated
on a reed stool, was playing _God Save the Queen_ with one finger, was
the very last person whom you would have expected to see performing
upon it. But there it stood, quite at home, between, the wooden
pillars which divided the central living-room from the crowd of
latticed closets around it; and there he sat, quite at home, on the
stool, his naked brown legs struggling with the bellows, his brown
fingers patting down the keys with a sort of pompous precision. For
Punoo was a music-master, and that was his pupil who, with a yawn, was
watching his proceedings from the floor while she threaded beads on a
string intermittently. That was also the last place from which one
would expect any one to take a music-lesson; but old Punoo being blind
was fully persuaded that Bahâni was dutifully at his elbow. This
blindness of his was, however, far more to his advantage than his
disadvantage as a master. It was, in short, the cause of his being one
at all; since had he had the use of his eyes no mother would have
dreamed of employing a man, who was not more than forty-five at the
outside, in teaching her girls. As it was, his time was fully taken up
in the houses of the clerks, contractors, barristers, and such like,
who for some reason or another desired to impart the exotic
accomplishment of music to their daughters or wives. But of all these
houses Punoo loved the one which contained the harmonium best; not
because of his pupil, since Bahâni, who was betrothed to a young man
who might be seen any day on a Hammersmith omnibus over on the other
side of the world, never learned anything; but because of the
instrument itself. To tell truth it had quite a fine tone, especially
when all the wind in its wheezy bellows was sent into one note. And
then the playing of it seemed to satisfy him from head to foot. All
the other instruments, the accordions and concertinas, even his own
fiddle with seven strings, of which he was really very fond, only
employed his head and his hands; but this made his whole body as it
were to toil and labour after melody. As he sat, his forehead bedewed
with perspiration, the expression on his sightless face, turned
upwards all unconscious of the dingy, sordid, smoke-blackened rafters
which limited his vision, was quite sufficient to make up for the lack
of it in the music; it was the expression of a prisoner who, through
the bars of a cage, sees freedom. But the odd little gridiron in the
centre of the dark room, which gave it some light and air from the
roof above, was scarcely large enough to allow even of Punoo's wizened
figure to pass through.

"Lo, it gives one a melting of the liver, and a sinking of the heart
to hear thee, Master-jee," remarked Mai Kishnu, bustling in with a
handful of radishes for the pickle-stew. "Canst not play something
more lively, something that goes not wombling up and down like an
ill-greased wheel, something with a count in it that gives a body time
to catch the beat of it? For sure I could make better music with my
ladle and tray; better music for a bride anyhow; and mark my word,
Bahâni, when thou art really one there shall be none of this
_boo-hooing_ and _ow-wowing_, that might set free thoughts of wolves
and God knows what monsters to damage all thy hopes."

"'Tis not likely, Mai," said Punoo, desisting to speak with great
dignity, "that Bahâni will have mastered so much. 'Tis not given to
all to play _God Save the Queen_ as I do."

"That is good hearing!" ejaculated the house-mother piously. "But the
girl gets on, I hope, Master Punoo. Her father writes of it often; and
the instrument, as thou knowest, cost fully ten shillings."

In Punoo's account, which he retailed to his other customers, it had
cost five times that amount, and he had a spirited description of the
auction where Colonels and Deputy-Sahibs, and Barrack-Masters had
bidden in vain against Bahâni's father Mool Chand, who was municipal
clerk in an outlying district. According to Punoo also it had cost
five hundred times that amount when the Padre Sahib,--sometimes it was
the Lord Padre Sahib--(the Bishop),--had sent for it originally from
England. There was a further legend, vague and misty even to himself,
which he kept holy, as it were, from profane use by locking it away in
his own breast, which hinted that the harmonium had been thrown on the
market from no desire to get rid of it, but simply from pecuniary
necessity; the Chaplain having been forced into selling his greatest
treasure in order to pay the bill for a new one. To tell truth,
Punoo's estimate of the harmonium was vague and misty on more points
than this. He was, in fact, absolutely ignorant of anything concerning
it, save that if you blew persistently at the bellows and pressed the
keys it made a noise which somehow or other seemed to set you free,
and yet kept you longing for something more. Punoo knew not for what,
having not the slightest idea that he had been born with music in his
soul, and that if he had first seen the light in the Western
hemisphere instead of the Eastern, he would most likely have been a
Wagnerite or some other kind of musical enthusiast.

As it was, to oblige Mai Kishnu he played _Minnia Punnieya_ as quickly
as he could, though it was a pain and grief to him to give up the
long-drawn notes which sounded so beautiful in _God Save our Gracious
Queen_. But Mai Kishnu stirred the pickle-stew to the new rhythm,
emphasising it properly with little strokes of the ladle upon the
resounding brass pot. Bahâni, she said, must learn that tune against
her man's return from being made into a _balester_ (barrister);
whereat Bahâni with the utmost decorum giggled and blushed over her
beads. She was a pretty, pert girl, who looked upon the future with
perfect serenity; for being married to her first cousin whose widowed
mother lived in the house, she knew exactly what the amount of
friction between her and her future mother-in-law would be; and knew
also that she would generally be able to escape quietly, as she did
now, from the scene of conflict, and leave the two elder women to have
it out at full length if they chose. They generally did choose,
because they nearly always had an interested audience; for the quaint
rambling old house with its rabbit-warren of tiny rooms opening out to
little bits of roof, was full of relations; chiefly women whose
husbands were away in Government employ. They each had a separate
lodging, as it were, though they were quite as often in some one
else's room as in their own, especially when the sound of shrill
altercation echoed through the wooden partitions. By a recognised
etiquette, however, all serious disputes were carried on in the
well-room where the women bathed. It was more a verandah than a room,
though the arches were filled up breast-high with a screening wall.
But through the hole in the floor, above which the windlass stood, you
could not only see right down into the well on the basement story, but
also see the people in the street coming for their water. It was when
Bahâni was discovered lying flat on the floor so as to crane over and
peep into the very street itself, that the fiercest quarrels arose
between Mai Kishnu and her widowed sister-in-law. And no quarrel ever
ran its course without a reference of some sort to the harmonium, and
the iniquity and idiotcy of learning to play tunes as if you were a
bad woman in the bazaar. In her heart of hearts Mai Kishnu agreed with
this view of the question, but she would sooner have died than confess
it, so she invariably carried the war into the enemy's country
instead, by insisting on it that Bahâni learned in deference to the
oft-expressed desire of her lawful husband, that husband being the
complainant's own son. And sometimes, but not often, for she was a
faithful defender of the absent municipal clerk, she would clinch the
matter by telling her sister-in-law that if there was iniquity or
idiotcy about, her brother was also to blame. Whereupon Râdha, who,
being the widow of an elder brother, really was, in a way, the head of
the house, would retort that in that case it was all the more
necessary for the women-folk of the family to remember that the
salvation of souls lay with them; so she would beg to remind all
present, that this being a dark Saturday or a light Friday, with some
particular event in prospect or some particular event in the past, it
behoved no pious women of that family to eat, say radishes, on that
day. Now, when you have just spent much time and skill in the
preparing of pickles for a large household, it is aggravating to be
told that it is an impious diet. Still there was always the obvious
retort that on such days widows ate nothing at all. So then Râdha,
with pharisaical acquiescence, would retire to her own little bit of a
room, with her husband's photograph (he had been a clerk also) hung
between two German prints of the Madonna and Herodias' daughter (which
did duty respectively for the infant Krishna and Durga Devi slaying
the demons) and begin counting her beads with a clatter, and repeating
her texts in an aggressively loud voice; while Mai Kishnu, after
sending the pickle-stew of radishes down in the window-basket as an
alms to the first beggar in the street, would begin to cook something
else; something as nasty as her deft hands could make it, since this,
oddly enough, relieved her feelings.

But Punoo would go on playing _God Save our Gracious Queen_ on the old
harmonium with perfect serenity, all unconscious of the fact that two
women were cursing it in their hearts as a malevolent demon bent on
ruining the household. It was a quaint household when all was said and
done, this colony of women, whose husbands were for the most part away
serving the Government in remote stations. Quaintest of all it was,
perhaps, when in the afternoon the boys belonging to it (and there
were many, thank Heaven! despite the demon) came home from school;
embryo clerks full of classes and examinations, yet with a word or two
for "crickets" and a desire for pickled radishes on every day in the

"Ask your Aunt Râdha," Mai Kishnu would say shortly to their
remonstrances over the nasty substitute for the delicacy. "'Twas she
forced me into giving your stomachsful of my best pickles to some
dirty beast of a beggar in the street. God forgive me if he was a holy
man, but he may have been a Mohammedan for all I know, and what good
will that do to my soul?"

But despite the "crickets" and the examinations, despite the vague
leavening of Western freethought, the boys fought shy of their Aunt
Râdha, perhaps from the veil of uncertainty which their education was
necessarily throwing over all things. There were so many ideas, and
one must be right; it might be this one. In a way they were more
afraid of her and her views than Mai Kishnu was, who never doubted at
all. But then Mai Kishnu knew that she could always have the upper
hand over her sister-in-law in the matter of cold baths in the winter
mornings; for Râdha thought twice about interfering with the beams in
other folks' eyes, when the mote of her own about warm water for
religious ablutions was ready to her adversary's hand.

The boys, however, though they ate the nasty substitute for pickles
without more ado, were not so biddable in the matter of _God Save
the Queen_. As they sat on the dark flight of steps between the
living-room and the well-verandah they used to pipe away at it in
English in the oddest falsetto. And Bahâni, who was a bit of a tomboy,
would imitate them, and then go into fits of shrill laughter at her
own gibberish.

Altogether it was a very quaint household, and it was a very quaint
noise indeed which went up to high Heaven from it; the boys' voices,
Bahâni's mocking laugh, Râdha's muttered texts, Mai Kishnu's vexed
clattering of her ladles and pots, and blind Punoo's perspiring
efforts after melody on the old harmonium. For he never attempted
harmony; that was beyond his self-taught execution altogether. But the
sense of it was there, showing itself in sheer delight at pulling out
all the stops that still existed, and blowing away till he could no
more from sheer exhaustion.

So the years had passed contentedly enough for every one; especially
for the old music-master who every day went away with the unleavened
cake, which was his only fee, knowing that even such payment was in
excess of his desires, since it was enough for him to have the honour
and glory of playing on the harmonium, and of boasting about his
proficiency on that instrument to his other pupils who were forced to
be content with an accordion or some such ignoble instrument.

And then one day the funny, old rambling house was in a perfect
ferment of preparation, and even Râdha's face was beaming; for her son
was coming home. He was coming from the Hammersmith omnibus and the
boarding-house in Notting Hill, coming from the rush and roar of
London to take up the threads of life again in the dark latticed rooms
where Mai Kishnu made pickles and his mother said her prayers; above
all where Bahâni waited for him, all dyed with turmeric and henna, and
clothed in tinselled garments. The little household temple up on the
roof, where there were more German prints doing duty as various gods
and goddesses, had scarcely an instant's respite from the
multitudinous rituals; and if there was a minute or two to spare, the
women downstairs were sure to remember something else which if left
undone would bring the most direful misfortune on the young couple.
There was no quarrelling now, only a babel of shrill kindly voices.
And there was no music, save of a kind to which Mai Kishnu could
clatter her ladles and pans; drubbings of drums and endless tinklings
of _sutaras_--for the good lady had set her foot down as regards the
harmonium, even to the extent of showing off Bahâni's accomplishment.
Accomplishment forsooth! What need was there of such fools' talk
between a newly-met young couple? And though Gunesha had come back
from the other side of the world dressed like a real Sahib, that did
not prevent his being a young man, and knowing a pretty bride when he
saw one. So, thank heaven! there they were at last, in the pleasant
cool upper room on the roof, which had been all newly whitewashed and
painted and strewn with flowers for the auspicious occasion, looking
into each other's eyes as young people should. It was all so proper,
so touching, so infinitely satisfactory, that for once Kishnu and
Râdha fell on each other's necks and wept tears of sympathy.

But Punoo wandered in and out as a privileged guest among the
merry-making and the bustle, sidling up to his closed treasure,
feeling it all over in sightless fashion, and longing for the time
when he should be called upon, as the bride's master, to display her
accomplishment; for by this time she could play _Minnia Punnieya_ and
a few other tunes quite correctly. But the days passed, and those two
on the roof, despite music and culture, despite all the sciences and
all the 'ologies, were quite content with those things which had
contented their fathers and mothers before them. It was not so with
old Punoo. Even his fiddle afforded him no comfort; and though his
other pupils' accordions and concertinas gave him the correct musical
intervals which his ear approved instinctively, but which his hand was
too unpractised to reproduce with the accuracy which satisfied him,
they were poor substitutes for that splendid tone which was born of
vehement pumping and perspiration. Perhaps it was really the latter he
craved; that feeling of labouring body and soul to give expression to
something within him.

Even billing and cooing like a couple of pigeons on the roof, however,
must come to an end, and after some three weeks of it, the barrister
one day discovered that there was a harmonium in the dark arches of
the living-room. He was beginning by this time to think that he had
perhaps drifted a little too far back into the old life, and that as
he had every intention, when this first very natural and inevitable
relapse was over, of setting up house on more civilised lines, it
might be as well to show off his new habits a little, and so emphasise
the difference which he meant to draw between his life and the life
led in the quaint old ancestral house. So without more ado, without
any asking of how it came there, or who played on it, he whisked his
coat-tails (for he had resumed European dress on his descent from the
roof) over the music-stool with the consummate air of a performer and
set his feet to the pedals and his hands to the keys.

"What a wheezy old thing!" he cried, when a sort of agonised moo as
from a sick cow came in response. Bahâni, standing decorously in the
shadow with her veil down in most alluring bashfulness, tittered, and
old Punoo, who had stood still in sheer surprise, moved forward with a
superior smile.

The barrister heard and saw, and a frown came to his self-satisfied
face. "The bellows are leaking," he cried again; "but never mind, it
shall do something; I'll make it!"

Something indeed! The women giggled and stopped their ears, but old
Punoo stood transfixed, a great pain, a great joy coming to his
sightless face. Was that the harmonium? Was that _God Save the Queen_,
that pæon of melody and harmony together, coming in great waves of
sound and bearing him away, further and further and further into some
unknown land that was yet a Land of Promise? And all these years he
had lived in ignorance; he had boasted, he had said that he could play
it, his priceless treasure! Priceless! ay, he had been right there.
Listen to it! Was it not priceless? A sort of passion of pride surged
up in him overpowering all thought of himself.

Then there was a loud crack, a wheeze, a sudden silence; and the
barrister stood up wiping his forehead, for he had worked hard. "That
has done for the old thing," he said with a laugh; "but it was past
work anyhow, and I prefer a piano any day of the week. Don't stand in
the corner, Bahâni. You must learn to behave like an English lady now,
and there is nothing to be ashamed of in your husband, I assure you."

Mai Kishnu and Râdha looked at each other as if for support, and the
vague affright and sheer surprise of their faces made them once more
sympathetic. "It is a new world, sister," whispered the one to the
other as they moved off respectively to their prayers and their
pickles, leaving the barrister making love to his bride over the
prospect of the piano he was going to give her.

But Punoo moved softly, blindly, over to his old seat and set his feet
to the pedals and his fingers to the keys. But no sound came from
them, not even that poor travesty of _God Save the Queen_ which had
once filled him with pride. And as he sat fingering the dumb keys,
idly, a dim content that it should be so came into the old musician's
soul. The swan-song had been beautiful, but it had been a song of
death. He, after all, had known the harmonium best.

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