Many Inventions, by Rudyard Kipling

The Children of the Zodiac

Though thou love her as thyself.
As a self of purer clay.
Though her parting dim the day.
Stealing grace from all alive.
  Heartily know
  When half Gods go
The Gods arrive.
— EMERSON.

THOUSANDS of years ago, when men were greater than they are today, the Children of the Zodiac lived in the world. There were six Children of the Zodiac — the Ram, the Bull, Leo, the Twins, and the Girl; and they were afraid of the Six Houses which belonged to the Scorpion, the Balance, the Crab, the Fishes, the Archer, and the Waterman. Even when they first stepped down upon the earth and knew that they were immortal Gods, they carried this fear with them; and the fear grew as they became better acquainted with mankind and heard stories of the Six Houses. Men treated the Children as Gods and came to them with prayers and long stories of wrong, while the Children of the Zodiac listened and could not understand.

A mother would fling herself before the feet of the Twins, or the Bull, crying: ‘My husband was at work in the fields and the Archer shot him and he died; and my son will also be killed by the Archer. Help me!’ The Bull would lower his huge head and answer: ‘What is that to me?’ Or the Twins would smile and continue their play, for they could not understand why the water ran out of people’s eyes. At other times a man and a woman would come to Leo or the Girl crying: ‘We two are newly married and we are very happy. Take these flowers.’ As they threw the flowers they would make mysterious sounds to show that they were happy, and Leo and the Girl wondered even more than the Twins why people shouted ‘Ha! ha! ha!’ for no cause.

This continued for thousands of years by human reckoning, till on a day, Leo met the Girl walking across the hills and saw that she had changed entirely since he had last seen her. The Girl, looking at Leo, saw that he too had changed altogether. Then they decided that it would be well never to separate again, in case even more startling changes should occur when the one was not at hand to help the other. Leo kissed the Girl and all Earth felt that kiss, and the Girl sat down on a hill and the water ran out of her eyes; and this had never happened before in the memory of the Children of the Zodiac.

As they sat together a man and a woman came by, and the man said to the woman:

‘What is the use of wasting flowers on those dull Gods? They will never understand, darling.’

The Girl jumped up and put her arms round the woman, crying, ‘I understand. Give me the flowers and I will give you a kiss.’

Leo said beneath his breath to the man ‘What was the new name that I heard you give to your woman just now?’

The man answered, ‘Darling, of course.’

‘Why “of course”?’ said Leo; ‘and if of course, what does it mean?’

‘It means “very dear,” and you have only to look at your wife to see why.’

‘I see,’ said Leo; ‘you are quite right’; and when the man and the woman had gone on he called the Girl ‘darling wife’; and the Girl wept again from sheer happiness.

‘I think,’ she said at last, wiping her eyes, ‘I think that we two have neglected men and women too much. What did you do with the sacrifices they made to you, Leo?’

‘I let them burn,’ said Leo; ‘I could not eat them. What did you do with the flowers?’

‘I let them wither. I could not wear them, I had so many of my own,’ said the Girl, ‘and now I am sorry.’

‘There is nothing to grieve for,’ said Leo; ‘we belong to each other.’

As they were talking the years of men’s life slipped by unnoticed, and presently the man and the woman came back, both white-headed, the man carrying the woman.

‘We have come to the end of things,’ said the man quietly. ‘This that was my wife —’

‘As I am Leo’s wife,’ said the Girl quickly, her eyes staring.

‘— was my wife, has been killed by one of your Houses.’ The man set down his burden, and laughed.

‘Which House?’ said Leo angrily, for he hated all the Houses equally.

‘You are Gods, you should know,’ said the man. ‘We have lived together and loved one another, and I have left a good farm for my son. What have I to complain of except that I still live?’

As he was bending over his wife’s body there came a whistling through the air, and he started and tried to run away, crying, ‘It is the arrow of the Archer. Let me live a little longer — only a little longer!’ The arrow struck him and he died. Leo looked at the Girl and she looked at him, and both were puzzled.

‘He wished to die,’ said Leo. ‘He said that he wished to die, and when Death came he tried to run away. He is a coward.’

‘No, he is not,’ said the Girl; ‘I think I feel what he felt. Leo, we must learn more about this for their sakes.’

‘For their sakes,’ said Leo, very loudly.

‘Because we are never going to die,’ said the Girl and Leo together, still more loudly.

‘Now sit you still here, darling wife,’ said Leo, ‘while I go to the Houses whom we hate, and learn how to make these men and women live as we do.’

‘And love as we do,’ said the Girl.

‘I do not think they need to be taught that,’ said Leo, and he strode away very angry, with his lion-skin swinging from his shoulder, till he came to the House where the Scorpion lives in the darkness, brandishing his tail over his back.

‘Why do you trouble the children of men?’ said Leo, with his heart between his teeth.

‘Are you so sure that I trouble the children of men alone?’ said the Scorpion. ‘Speak to your brother the Bull, and see what he says.’

‘I come on behalf of the children of men,’ said Leo. ‘I have learned to love as they do, and I wish them to live as I— as we do.’

‘Your wish was granted long ago. Speak to the Bull. He is under my special care,’ said the Scorpion.

Leo dropped back to the earth again, and saw the great star Aldebaran, that is set in the forehead of the Bull, blazing very near to the earth. When he came up to it he saw that his brother the Bull, yoked to a countryman’s plough, was toiling through a wet rice-field with his head bent down, and the sweat streaming from his flanks. The countryman was urging him forward with a goad.

‘Gore that insolent to death,’ cried Leo, ‘and for the sake of our honour come out of the mire.’

‘I cannot,’ said the Bull, ‘the Scorpion has told me that some day, of which I cannot be sure, he will sting me where my neck is set on my shoulders, and that I shall die bellowing.’

‘What has that to do with this disgraceful work?’ said Leo, standing on the dyke that bounded the wet field.

‘Everything. This man could not plough without my help. He thinks that I am a stray beast.’

‘But he is a mud-crusted cottar with matted hair,’ insisted Leo. ‘We are not meant for his use.’

‘You may not be; I am. I cannot tell when the Scorpion may choose to sting me to death — perhaps before I have turned this furrow.’ The Bull flung his bulk into the yoke, and the plough tore through the wet ground behind him, and the countryman goaded him till his flanks were red.

‘Do you like this?’ Leo called down the dripping furrows.

‘No,’ said the Bull over his shoulder as he lifted his hind legs from the clinging mud and cleared his nostrils.

Leo left him scornfully and passed to another country, where he found his brother the Ram in the centre of a crowd of country people who were hanging wreaths round his neck and feeding him on freshly-plucked green corn.

‘This is terrible,’ said Leo. ‘Break up that crowd and come away, my brother. Their hands are spoiling your fleece.’

‘I cannot,’ said the Ram. ‘The Archer told me that on some day of which I had no knowledge, he would send a dart through me, and that I should die in very great pain.’

‘What has that to do with this disgraceful show?’ said Leo, but he did not speak as confidlently as before.

‘Everything in the world,’ said the Ram. ‘These people never saw a perfect sheep before. They think that I am a stray, and they will carry me from place to place as a model to all their flocks.’

‘But they are greasy shepherds; we are not intended to amuse them,’ said Leo.

‘You may not be, I am,’ said the Ram. ‘I cannot tell when the Archer may choose to send his arrow at me — perhaps before the people a mile down the road have seen me.’ The Ram lowered his head that a yokel newly arrived might throw a wreath of wild garlic-leaves over it, and waited patiently while the farmers tugged his fleece.

‘Do you like this?’ cried Leo over the shoulders of the crowd.

‘No,’ said the Ram, as the dust of the trampling feet made him sneeze, and he snuffed at the fodder piled before him.

Leo turned back intending to retrace his steps to the Houses, but as he was passing down a street he saw two small children, very dusty, rolling outside a cottage door, and playing with a cat. They were the Twins.

‘What are you doing here?‘said Leo, indignant.

‘Playing,’ said the Twins calmly.

‘Cannot you play on the banks of the Milky Way?’ said Leo.

‘We did,’ said they, ‘till the Fishes swam down and told us that some day they would come for us and not hurt us at all and carry us away. So now we are playing at being babies down here. The people like it.’

‘Do you like it?’ said Leo.

‘No,’ said the Twins, ‘but there are no cats in the Milky Way,’ and they pulled the cat’s tail thoughtfully. A woman came out of the doorway and stood behind them, and Leo saw in her face a look that he had sometimes seen in the Girl’s.

‘She thinks that we are foundlings,’ said the Twins, and they trotted indoors to the evening meal.

Then Leo hurried as swiftly as possible to all the Houses one after another; for he could not understand the new trouble that had come to his brethren. He spoke to the Archer, and the Archer assured him that so far as that House was concerned Leo had nothing to fear. The Waterman, the Fishes, and the Scorpion gave the same answer. They knew nothing of Leo, and cared less. They were the Houses, and they were busied in killing men.

At last he came to that very dark House where Cancer the Crab lies so still that you might think he was asleep if you did not see the ceaseless play and winnowing motion of the feathery branches round his mouth. That movement never ceases. It is like the eating of a smothered fire into rotten timber in that it is noiseless and without haste.

Leo stood in front of the Crab, and the half darkness allowed him a glimpse of that vast blue-black back and the motionless eyes. Now and again he thought that he heard some one sobbing, but the noise was very faint.

‘Why do you trouble the children of men?’ said Leo. There was no answer, and against his will Leo cried, ‘Why do you trouble us? What have we done that you should trouble us?’

This time Cancer replied, ‘What do I know or care? You were born into my House, and at the appointed time I shall come for you.’

‘When is the appointed time?’ said Leo, stepping back from the restless movement of the mouth.

‘When the full moon fails to call the full tide,’ said the Crab, ‘I shall come for the one. When the other has taken the earth by the shoulders, I shall take that other by the throat.’

Leo lifted his hand to the apple of his throat, moistened his lips, and recovering himself, said:

‘Must I be afraid for two, then?’

‘For two,’ said the Crab, ‘and as many more as may come after.’

‘My brother, the Bull, had a better fate,’ said Leo, sullenly; ‘he is alone.’

A hand covered his mouth before he could finish the sentence, and he found the Girl in his arms. Womanlike, she had not stayed where Leo had left her, but had hastened off at once to know the worst, and passing all the other Houses, had come straight to Cancer.

‘That is foolish,’ said the Girl, whispering. ‘I have been waiting in the dark for long and long before you came. Then I was afraid. But now —’ She put her head down on his shoulder and sighed a sigh of contentment.

‘I am afraid now,’ said Leo.

‘That is on my account,’ said the Girl. ‘Iknow it is, because I am afraid for your sake. Let us go, husband.’

They went out of the darkness together and came back to, the Earth, Leo very silent, and the Girl striving to cheer him. ‘My brother’s fate is the better one,’ Leo would repeat from time to time, and at last he said: ‘Let us each go our own way and live alone till we die. We were born into the House of Cancer, and he will come for us.’

‘I know; I know. But where shall I go? And where will you sleep in the evening? But let us try. I will stay here. Do you go on?’

Leo took six, steps forward very slowly, and three long steps backward very quickly, and the third step set him again at the Girl’s side. This time it was she who was begging him to go away and leave her, and he was forced to comfort her all through the night. That night decided them both never to leave each other for an instant, and when they had come to this decision they looked back at the darkness of the House of Cancer high above their heads, and with their arms round each other’s necks laughed, ‘Ha! ha! ha!’ exactly as the children of men laughed. And that was the first time in their lives that they had ever laughed.

Next morning they returned to their proper home, and saw the flowers and the sacrifices that had been laid before their doors by the villagers of the hills. Leo stamped down the fire with his heel, and the Girl flung the flower-wreaths out of sight, shuddering as she did so. When the villagers returned, as of custom, to see what had become of their offerings, they found neither roses nor burned flesh on the altars, but only a man and a woman, with frightened white faces, sitting hand in hand on the altar-steps.

‘Are you not Virgo?’ said a woman to the Girl. ‘I sent you flowers yesterday.’

‘Little sister,’ said the Girl, flushing to her forehead, ‘do not send any more flowers, for I am only a woman like yourself.’ The man and the woman went away doubtfully.

‘Now, what shall we do?’ said Leo.

‘We must try to be cheerful, I think,’ said the Girl. ‘We know the very worst that can happen to us, but we do not know the best that love can bring us. We have a great deal to be glad of.’

‘The certainty of death,’ said Leo.

‘All the children of men have that certainty also; yet they laughed long before we ever knew how to laugh. We must learn to laugh, Leo. We have laughed once already.’

People who consider themselves Gods, as the Children of the Zodiac did, find it hard to laugh, because the Immortals know nothing worth laughter or tears. Leo rose up with a very heavy heart, and he and the Girl together went to and fro among men; their new fear of death behind them. First they laughed at a naked baby attempting to thrust its fat toes into its foolish pink mouth; next they laughed at a kitten chasing her own tail; and then they laughed at a boy trying to steal a kiss from a girl, and getting his ears boxed. Lastly, they laughed because the wind blew in their faces as they ran down a hill-side together, and broke panting and breathless into a knot of villagers at the bottom. The villagers laughed too at their flying clothes and wind-reddened faces; and in the evening gave them food and invited them to a dance on the grass, where everybody laughed through the mere joy of being able to dance.

That night Leo jumped up from the Girl’s side crying: ‘Every one of those people we met just now will die —’

‘So shall we,’ said the Girl sleepily. ‘Lie down again, dear.’ Leo could not see that her face was wet with tears.

But Leo was up and far across the fields, driven forward by the fear of death for himself and for the Girl, who was dearer to him than himself. Presently he came across the Bull drowsing in the moonlight after a hard day’s work, and looking through half-shut eyes at the beautiful straight furrows that he had made.

‘Ho!’ said the Bull, ‘so you have been told these things too. Which of the Houses holds your death?’

Leo pointed upwards to the dark House of the Crab and groaned: ‘And he will come for the Girl too,’ he said.

‘Well,’ said the Bull, ‘what will you do?’

Leo sat down on the dyke and said that he did not know.

‘You cannot pull a plough,’ said the Bull, with a little touch of contempt. ‘I can, and that prevents me from thinking of the Scorpion.’

Leo was angry and said nothing till the dawn broke, and the cultivator came to yoke the Bull to his work.

‘Sing,’ said the Bull, as the stiff muddy ox-bow creaked and strained. ‘My shoulder is galled. Sing one of the songs that we sang when we thought we were all Gods together.’

Leo stepped back into the cane-brake and lifted up his voice in a song of the Children of the Zodiac — the war-whoop of the young Gods who are afraid of nothing. At first he dragged the song along unwillingly, and then the song dragged him, and his voice rolled across the fields, and the Bull stepped to the tune, and the cultivator banged his flanks out of sheer light-heartedness, and the furrows rolled away behind the plough more and more swiftly. Then the Girl came across the fields looking for Leo and found him singing in the cane. She joined her voice to his, and the cultivator’s wife brought her spinning into the open and listened with all her children round her. When it was time for the nooning, Leo and the Girl had sung themselves both thirsty and hungry, but the cultivator and his wife gave them rye-bread and milk, and many thanks, and the Bull found occasion to say: ‘You have helped me to do a full half-field more than I should have done. But the hardest part of the day is to come, brother.’

Leo wished to lie down and brood over the words of the Crab. The Girl went away to talk to the cultivator’s wife and baby, and the afternoon ploughing began.

‘Help us now,’ said the Bull. ‘The tides of the day are running down. My legs are very stiff. Sing if you never sang before.’

‘To a mud-spattered villager?’ said Leo.

‘He is under the same doom as ourselves. Are you a coward?’ said the Bull. Leo flushed and began again with a sore throat and a bad temper. Little by little he dropped away from the songs of the Children and made up a song as he went along; and this was a thing he could never have done had he not met the Crab face to face. He remembered facts concerning cultivators, and bullocks, and rice-fields, that he had not particularly noticed before the interview, and he strung them all together, growing more interested as he sang, and he told the cultivator much more about himself and his work than the cultivator knew. The Bull grunted approval as he toiled down the furrows for the last time that day, and the song ended, leaving the cultivator with a very good opinion of himself in his aching bones. The Girl came out of the hut where she had been keeping the children quiet, and talking woman-talk to the wife, and they all ate the evening meal together.

‘Now yours must be a very pleasant life,’ said the cultivator, ‘sitting as you do on a dyke all day and singing just what comes into your head. Have you been at it long, you two — gipsies?’

‘Ah!’ lowed the Bull from his byre. ‘That’s all the thanks you will ever get from men, brother.’

‘No. We have only just begun it,’ said the Girl; ‘but we are going to keep to it as long as we live. Are we not, Leo?

‘Yes,’ said he, and they went away hand-inhand.

‘You can sing beautifully, Leo,’ said she, as a wife will to her husband.

‘What were you doing?’ said he.

‘I was talking to themother and the babies,’ she said. ‘You would not understand the little things that make us women laugh.’

‘And — and I am to go on with this — this gipsy-work?’ said Leo.

‘Yes, dear, and I will help you.’

There is no written record of the life of Leo and of the Girl, so we cannot tell how Leo took to his new employment which he detested. We are only sure that the Girl loved him when and wherever he sang; even when, after the song was done, she went round with the equivalent of a tambourine, and collected the pence for the daily bread. There were times too when it was Leo’s very hard task to console the Girl for the indignity of horrible praise that people gave him and her — for the silly wagging peacock feathers that they stuck in his cap, and the buttons and pieces of cloth that they sewed on his coat. Woman-like, she could advise and help to the end, but the meanness of the means revolted.

‘What does it matter,’ Leo would say, ‘so long as the songs make them a little happier?’ And they would go down the road and begin again on the old old refrain: that whatever came or did not come the children of men must not be afraid. It was heavy teaching at first, but in process of years Leo discovered that he could make men laugh and hold them listening to him even when the rain fell. Yet there were people who would sit down and cry softly, though the crowd was yelling with delight, and there were people who maintained that Leo made them do this; and the Girl would talk to them in the pauses of the performance and do her best to comfort them. People would die too, while Leo was talking, and singing, and laughing, for the Archer, and the Scorpion, and the Crab, and the other Houses were as busy as ever. Sometimes the crowd broke, and were frightened, and Leo strove to keep them steady by telling them that this was cowardly; and sometimes they mocked at the Houses that were killing them, and Leo explained that this was even more cowardly than running away.

In their wanderings they came across the Bull, or the Ram, or the Twins, but all were too busy to do more than nod to each other across the crowd, and go on with their work. As the years rolled on even that recognition ceased, for the Children of the Zodiac had forgotten that they had ever been Gods working for the sake of men. The Star Aldebaran was crusted with caked dirt on the Bull’s forehead, the Ram’s fleece was dusty and torn, and the Twins were only babies fighting over the cat on the doorstep. It was then that Leo said: ‘Let us stop singing and making jokes.’ And it was then that the Girl said ‘No —‘but she did not know why she said ‘No’ so energetically. Leo maintained that it was perversity, till she herself, at the end of a dusty day, made the same suggestion to him, and he said ‘most certainly not,’ and they quarrelled miserably between the hedgerows, forgetting the meaning of the stars above them. Other singers and other talkers sprang up in the course of the years, and Leo, forgetting that there could never be too many of these, hated them for dividing the applause of the children of men, which he thought should be all his own. The Girl would grow angry too, and then the songs would be broken, and the jests fall flat for weeks to come, and the children of men would shout: ‘Go home, you two gipsies. Go home and learn something worth singing!’

After one of these sorrowful shameful days, the Girl, walking by Leo’s side through the fields, saw the full moon coming up over the trees, and she clutched Leo’s arm, crying: ‘The time has come now. Oh, Leo, forgive me!’

‘What is it?’ said Leo. He was thinking of the other singers.

‘My husband!’ she answered, and she laid his hand upon her breast, and the breast that he knew so well was hard as stone. Leo groaned, remembering what the Crab had said.

‘Surely we were Gods once,’ he cried.

‘Surely we are Gods still,’ said the Girl. ‘Do you not remember when you and I went to the house of the Crab and — were not very much afraid? And since then . . . we have forgotten what we were singing for — we sang for the pence, and, oh, we fought for them! — We, who are the Children of the Zodiac.’

‘It was my fault,’ said Leo.

‘How can there be any fault of yours that is not mine too?’ said the Girl. ‘My time has come, but you will live longer, and . . . ’ The look in her eyes said all she could not say.

‘Yes, I will remember that we are Gods,’ said Leo.

It is very hard, even for a child of the Zodiac, who has forgotten his Godhead, to see his wife dying slowly and to know that he cannot help her. The Girl told Leo in those last months of all that she had said and done among the wives and the babies at the back of the roadside performances, and Leo was astonished that he knew so little of her who had been so much to him. When she was dying she told him never to fight for pence or quarrel with the other singers; and, above all, to go on with his singing immediately after she was dead.

Then she died, and after he had buried her he went down the road to a village that he knew, and the people hoped that he would begin quarrelling with a new singer that had sprung up while he had been away. But Leo called him ‘my brother.’ The new singer was newly married — and Leo knew it — and when he had finished singing, Leo straightened himself and sang the ‘Song of the Girl,’ which he had made coming down the road. Every man who was married or hoped to be married, whatever his rank or colour, understood that song — even the bride leaning on the new husband’s arm understood it too — and presently when the song ended, and Leo’s heart was bursting in him, the men sobbed. ‘That was a sad tale,’ they said at last, ‘now make us laugh.’ Because Leo had known all the sorrow that a man could know, including the full knowledge of his own fall who had once been a God — he, changing his song quickly, made the people laugh till they could laugh no more. They went away feeling ready for any trouble in reason, and they gave Leo more peacock feathers and pence than he could count. Knowing that pence led to quarrels and that peacock feathers were hateful to the Girl, he put them aside and went away to look for his brothers, to remind them that they too were Gods.

He found the Bull goring the undergrowth in a ditch, for the Scorpion had stung him, and he was dying, not slowly, as the Girl had died, but quickly.

‘I know all,’ the Bull groaned, as Leo came up. ‘Ihad forgotten too, but I remember now. Go and look at the fields I ploughed. The furrows are straight. I forgot that I was a God, but I drew the plough perfectly straight, for all that. And you, brother?’

‘I am not at the end of the ploughing,’ said Leo. ‘Does Death hurt?’

‘No, but dying does,’ said the Bull, and he died. The cultivator who then owned him was much annoyed, for there was a field still unploughed.

It was after this that Leo made the Song of the Bull who had been a God and forgotten the fact, and he sang it in such a manner that half the young men in the world conceived that they too might be Gods without knowing it. A half of that half grew impossibly conceited, and died early. A half of the remainder strove to be Gods and failed, but the other half accomplished four times more work than they would have done under any other delusion.

Later, years later, always wandering up and down and making the children of men laugh, he found the Twins sitting on the bank of a stream waiting for the Fishes to come and carry them away. They were not in the least afraid, and they told Leo that the woman of the House had a real baby of her own, and that when that baby grew old enough to be mischievous he would find a well-educated cat waiting to have its tail pulled. Then the Fishes came for them, but all that the people saw was two children drowned in a brook; and though their foster-mother was very sorry, she hugged her own real baby to her breast and was grateful that it was only the foundlings.

Then Leo made the Song of the Twins, who had forgotten that they were Gods and had played in the dust to amuse a foster-mother. That song was sung far and wide among the women. It caused them to laugh and cry and hug their babies closer to their hearts all in one breath; and some of the women who remembered the Girl said ‘Surely that is the voice of Virgo. Only she could know so much about ourselves.’

After those three songs were made, Leo sang them over and over again till he was in danger of looking upon them as so many mere words, and the people who listened grew tired, and there came back to Leo the old temptation to stop singing once and for all. But he remembered the Girl’s dying words and persisted.

One of his listeners interrupted him as he was singing. ‘Leo,’ said he, ‘I have heard you telling us not to be afraid for the past forty years. Can you not sing something new now?’

‘No,’ said Leo, ‘it is the only song that I am allowed to sing. You must not be afraid of the Houses, even when they kill you.’ The man turned to go, wearily, but there came a whistling through the air, and the arrow of the Archer was seen skimming low above the earth, pointing to the man’s heart. He drew himself up, and stood still waiting till the arrow struck home.

‘I die,’ he said quietly. ‘It is well for me, Leo, that you sang for forty years.’

‘Are you afraid?’ said Leo, bending over him.

‘I am a man, not a God,’ said the man. ‘I should have run away but for your songs. My work is done, and I die without making a show of my fear.’

‘I am very well paid,’ said Leo to himself. ‘Now that I see what my songs are doing, I will sing better ones.’

He went down the road, collected his little knot of listeners, and began the Song of the Girl. In the middle of his singing he felt the cold touch of the Crab’s claw on the apple of his throat. He lifted his hand, choked, and stopped for an instant.

‘Sing on, Leo,’ said the crowd. ‘The old song runs as well as ever it did.’

Leo went on steadily till the end with the cold fear at his heart. When his song was ended, he felt the grip on his throat tighten. He was old, he had lost the Girl, he knew that he was losing more than half his power to sing, he could scarcely walk to the diminishing crowds that waited for him, and could not see their faces when they stood about him. None the less, he cried angrily to the Crab:

‘Why have you come for me now?’

‘You were born under my care. How can I help coming for you?’ said the Crab wearily. Every human being whom the Crab killed had asked that same question.

‘But I was just beginning to know what my songs were doing,’ said Leo.

‘Perhaps that is why,’ said the Crab, and the grip tightened.

‘You said you would not come till I had taken the world by the shoulders,’ gasped Leo, falling back.

‘I always keep my word. You have done that three times with three songs. What more do you desire?’

‘Let me live to see the world know it,’ pleaded Leo. ‘Let me be sure that my songs —’

‘Make men brave?’ said the Crab. ‘Even then there would be one man who was afraid. The Girl was braver than you are. Come.’

Leo was standing close to the restless, insatiable mouth.

‘I forgot,’ said he simply. ‘The Girl was braver. But I am a God too, and I am not afraid.’

‘What is that to me?’ said the Crab.

Then Leo’s speech was taken from him and he lay still and dumb, watching Death till he died.

Leo was the last of the Children of the Zodiac. After his death there sprang up a breed of little mean men, whimpering and flinching and howling because the Houses killed them and theirs, who wished to live for ever without any pain. They did not increase their lives, but they increased their own torments miserably, and there were no Children of the Zodiac to guide them; and the greater part of Leo’s songs were lost.

Only he had carved on the Girl’s tombstone the last verse of the Song of the Girl, which stands at the head of this story.

One of the children of men, coming thousands of years later, rubbed away the lichen, read the lines, and applied them to a trouble other than the one Leo meant. Being a man, men believed that he had made the verses himself; but they belong to Leo, the Child of the Zodiac, and teach, as he taught, that whatever comes or does not come we men must not be afraid.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/k/kipling/rudyard/many/chapter15.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38