The Naulahka: A Story of West and East, by Rudyard Kipling

IX

We meet in an evil land,
    That is near to the gates of Hell —
I wait for thy command,
To serve, to speed, or withstand;
    And thou sayest I do not well!

Oh, love, the flowers so red
    Be only blossoms of flame,
The earth is full of the dead,
The new-killed, restless dead,
There is danger beneath and o’erhead;
    And I guard at thy gates in fear
        Of peril and jeopardy,
    Of words thou canst not hear,
        Of signs thou canst not see —
    And thou sayest ‘t is ill that I came?

— In Shadowland.

Tears stood again in Kate’s eyes as she uncoiled her hair before the mirror in the room Mrs. Estes had prepared against her coming — tears of vexation. It was an old story with her that the world wants nothing done for it, and visits with displeasure those who must prod up its lazy content. But in landing at Bombay she had supposed herself at the end of outside hindrances and obstacles; what was now to come would belong to the wholesome difficulties of real work. And here was Nick!

She had made the journey from Topaz in a long mood of exaltation. She was launched; it made her giddy and happy; like the boy’s first taste of the life of men. She was free at last. No one could stop her. Nothing could keep her from the life to which she had promised herself. A little moment and she might stretch forth her hand and lay it fast upon her work. A few days and she should stoop eye to eye above the pain that had called to her across seas. In her dreams piteous hands of women were raised in prayer to her, and dry, sick palms were laid in hers. The steady urge of the ship was too slow for her; she counted the throbs of the screw. Standing far in the prow, with wind-blown hair, straining her eyes toward India, her spirit went longingly forth toward those to whom she was going; and her life seemed to release itself from her, and sped far, far over the waves, until it reached them and gave itself to them. For a moment, as she set foot on land, she trembled with a revulsion of feeling. She drew near her work; but was it for her? This old fear, which had gone doubtfully with her purpose from the beginning, she put behind her with a stern refusal to question there. She was for so much of her work as heaven would let her do; and she went forward with a new, strong, humble impulse of devotion filling and uplifting her.

It was in this mood that she stepped out of the coach at Rhatore into Tarvin’s arms.

She did justice to the kindness that had brought him over all these leagues, but she heartily wished that he had not come. The existence of a man who loved her, and for whom she could do nothing, was a sad and troubling fact enough fourteen thousand miles away. Face to face with it, alone in India, it enlarged itself unbearably, and thrust itself between her and all her hopes of bringing serious help to others. Love literally did not seem to her the most important thing in the world at that moment, and something else did; but that didn’t make Nick’s trouble unimportant, or prevent it, while she braided her hair, from getting in the way of her thoughts.. On the morrow she was to enter upon the life which she meant should be a help to those whom it could reach, and here she was thinking of Nicholas Tarvin.

It was because she foresaw that she would keep on thinking of him that she wished him away. He was the tourist wandering about behind the devotee in the cathedral at prayers; he was the other thought. In his person he represented and symbolised the life she had left behind; much worse, he represented a pain she could not heal. It was not with the haunting figure of love attendant that one carried out large purposes. Nor was it with a divided mind that men conquered cities. The intent with which she was aflame needed all of her. She could not divide herself even with Nick. And yet it was good of him to come, and like him. She knew that he had not come merely in pursuit of a selfish hope; it was as he had said — he couldn’t sleep nights, knowing what might befall her. That was really good of him.

Mrs. Estes had invited Tarvin to breakfast the day before, when Kate was not expected, but Tarvin was not the man to decline an invitation at the last moment on that account, and he faced Kate across the breakfast-table next morning with a smile which evoked an unwilling smile from her. In spite of a sleepless night she was looking very fresh and pretty in the white muslin frock which had replaced her travelling dress, and when he found himself alone with her after breakfast on the verandah (Mrs. Estes having gone to look after the morning affairs of a housekeeper, and Estes having betaken himself to his mission-school, inside the city walls), he began to make her his compliments upon the cool white, unknown to the West. But Kate stopped him.

‘Nick,’ she said, facing him, ‘will you do something for me?’

Seeing her much in earnest, Tarvin attempted the parry humorous; but she broke in ——

‘No; it is something I want very much, Nick. Will you do it for me?’

‘Is there anything I wouldn’t do for you?’ he asked seriously.

‘I don’t know; this, perhaps. But you must do it.’

‘What is it?’

‘Go away.’

He shook his head.

‘But you must.’

‘Listen, Kate,’ said Tarvin, thrusting his hands deep into the big pockets of his white coat; ‘I can’t. You don’t know the place you’ve come to. Ask me the same question a week hence. I won’t agree to go. But I’ll agree to talk it over with you then.’

‘I know now everything that counts,’ she answered. ‘I want to do what I’ve come here for. I shan’t be able to do it if you stay. You understand, don’t you, Nick? Nothing can change that.’

‘Yes, it can. I can. I’ll behave.’

‘You needn’t tell me you’ll be kind. I know it. But even you can’t be kind enough to help hindering me. Believe that, now, Nick, and go. It isn’t that I want you to go, you know.’

‘Oh!’ observed Tarvin, with a smile.

‘Well — you know what I mean,’ returned Kate, her face unrelaxed.

‘Yes; I know. But if I’m good it won’t matter. I know that too. You’ll see,’ he said gently. ‘Awful journey, isn’t it?’

‘You promised me not to take it.’

‘I didn’t take it,’ returned Tarvin, smiling, and spreading a seat for her in the hammock, while he took one of the deep verandah chairs himself. He crossed his legs and fixed the white pith helmet he had lately adopted on his knee. ‘I came round the other way on purpose.’

‘What do you mean?’ asked Kate, dropping tentatively into the hammock.

‘San Francisco and Yokohama, of course. You told me not to follow you.’

‘Nick!’ She gathered into the single syllable the reproach and reproof, the liking and despair, with which the least and the greatest of his audacities alike affected her.

Tarvin had nothing to say for once, and in the pause that fell she had time to reassure herself of her abhorrence of his presence here, and time to still the impulse of pride, which told her that it was good to be followed over half the earth’s girdle for love, and the impulse of admiration for that fine devotion — time, above all — for this was worst and most shameful — to scorn the sense of loneliness and far-awayness that came rolling in on her out of the desert like a cloud, and made the protecting and home-like presence of the man she had known in the other life seem for a moment sweet and desirable.

‘Come, Kate, you didn’t expect me to stay at home, and let you find your way out here to take the chances of this old sand-heap, did you? It would be a cold day when I let you come to Gokral Seetarun all by your lone, little girl — freezing cold, I’ve thought since I’ve been here, and seen what sort of camp it is.’

‘Why didn’t you tell me you were coming.’

‘You didn’t seem particularly interested in what I did, when I last saw you.’

‘Nick! I didn’t want you to come here, and I had to come myself.’

‘Well, you’ve come. I hope you’ll like it,’ said he, grimly.

‘Is it so bad?’ she asked. ‘Not that I shall mind.’

‘Bad! Do you remember Mastodon?’

Mastodon was one of those Western towns which have their future behind them — a city without an inhabitant, abandoned and desolate.

‘Take Mastodon for deadness, and fill it with ten Leadvilles for wickedness — Leadville the first year — and you’ve got a tenth of it.’

He went on to offer her an exposition of the history, politics, and society of Gokral Seetarun, from his own point of view, dealing with the dead East from the standpoint of the living West, and dealing with it vividly. It was a burning theme, and it was a happiness to him to have a listener who could understand his attitude, even if she could not entirely sympathise with it. His tone besought her to laugh at it with him a little, if only a little, and Kate consented to laugh; but she said it all seemed to her more mournful than amusing.

Tarvin could agree to this readily enough, but he told her that he laughed to avoid weeping. It made him tired to see the fixedness, the apathy, and lifelessness of this rich and populous world, which should be up and stirring by rights — trading, organising, inventing, building new towns, making the old ones keep up with the procession, laying new railroads, going in for fresh enterprises, and keeping things humming.

‘They’ve got resources enough,’ he said. ‘It isn’t as if they had the excuse that the country’s poor. It’s a good country. Move the population of a lively Colorado town to Rhatore, set up a good local paper, organise a board of trade, and let the world know what there is here, and we’d have a boom in six months that would shake the empire. But what’s the use? They’re dead. They’re mummies. They’re wooden images. There isn’t enough real, old-fashioned downright rustle and razzle-dazzle and “git up and git” in Gokral Seetarun to run a milk-cart.’

‘Yes, yes,’ she murmured, half to herself, with illumined eyes. ‘It’s for that I’ve come.’

‘How’s that?’

‘Because they are not like us,’ she answered, turning her lustrous face on him. ‘If they were clever, if they were wise, what could we do for them? It is because they are lost, stumbling, foolish creatures that they need us.’ She heaved a deep sigh. ‘It is good to be here.’

‘It’s good to have you,’ said Tarvin.

She started. ‘Don’t say such things any more, please, Nick,’ she said.

‘Oh, well!’ he groaned.

‘But it’s this way, Nick,’ she said earnestly, but kindly. ‘I don’t belong to such things any more — not even to the possibility of them. Think of me as a nun. Think of me as having renounced all such happiness, and all other kinds of happiness but my work.’

‘H’m. May I smoke?’ At her nod he lighted a cigar. ‘I’m glad I’m here for the ceremony.’

‘What ceremony?’ she asked.

‘Seeing you take the veil. But you won’t take it.’

‘Why not?’

He grumbled inarticulately over his cigar a moment. Then he looked up. ‘Because I’ve got big wealth that says you won’t. I know you, I know Rhatore, and I know ——’

‘What? Who?’

‘Myself,’ he said, looking up.

She clasped her hands in her lap. ‘Nick,’ she said, leaning toward him, ‘you know I like you. I like you too well to let you go on thinking — you talk of not being able to sleep. How do you suppose I can sleep with the thought always by me that you are laying up a pain and disappointment for yourself — one that I can’t help, unless I can help it by begging you to go away now. I do beg it. Please go!’

Tarvin pulled at his cigar musingly for some seconds. ‘Dear girl, I’m not afraid.’

She sighed, and turned her face away toward the desert. ‘I wish you were,’ she said hopelessly.

‘Fear is not for legislators,’ he retorted oracularly.

She turned back to him with a sudden motion.

Legislators! O Nick, are you ——?’

‘I’m afraid I am — by a majority of 1518.’ He handed her the cable-despatch.

‘Poor father!’

‘Well, I don’t know.’

‘Oh! Well, I congratulate you, of course.’

‘Thanks.’

‘But I’m not sure it will be a good thing for you.’

‘Yes; that’s the way it had struck me. If I spend my whole term out here, like as not my constituents won’t be in a mood to advance my political career when I get back.’

‘All the more reason ——’

‘No; the more reason for fixing the real thing first. I can make myself solid in politics any time. But there isn’t but one time to make myself solid with you, Kate. It’s here. It’s now.’ He rose and bent over her. ‘Do you think I can postpone that, dear? I can adjourn it from day to day, and I do cheerfully, and you shan’t hear any more of it until you’re ready to. But you like me, Kate. I know that. And I— well, I like you. There isn’t but one end to that sort of thing.’ He took her hand. ‘Good-bye. I’ll come and take you for a look at the city tomorrow.’

Kate gazed long after his retreating figure, and then took herself into the house, where a warm, healthful chat with Mrs. Estes, chiefly about the children at Bangor, helped her to a sane view of the situation she must face with the reappearance of Tarvin. She saw that he meant to stay, and if she didn’t mean to go, it was for her to find the brave way of adjusting the fact to her hopes. His perversity complicated an undertaking which she had never expected to find simple in itself; and it was finally only because she trusted all that he said implicitly that she was able to stay herself upon his promise to ‘behave.’ Liberally interpreted, this really meant much from Tarvin; perhaps it meant all that she need ask.

When all was said, there remained the impulse to flight; but she was ashamed to find, when he came in the morning, that a formidable pang of home-sickness drew her toward him, and made his definite and cheerful presence a welcome sight. Mrs. Estes had been kind. The two women had made friends, and found each other’s heart with instant sympathy. But a home face was different, and perhaps Nick’s was even more different. At all events, she willingly let him carry out his plan of showing her the city.

In their walk about it Tarvin did not spare her the advantage of his ten days’ residence in Rhatore preceding her coming; he made himself her guide, and stood on rocks overlooking things and spouted his second-hand history with an assurance that the oldest Political Resident might have envied. He was interested in the problems of the State, if not responsible for their solution. Was he not a member of a governing body? His ceaseless and fruitful curiosity about all new things had furnished him, in ten days, with much learning about Rhatore and Gokral Seetarun, enabling him to show to Kate, with eyes scarcely less fresh than her own, the wonders of the narrow, sand-choked streets, where the footfalls of camels and men alike fell dead. They lingered by the royal menagerie of starved tigers, and the cages of the two tame hunting leopards, hooded like hawks, that slept, and yawned, and scratched on their two bedsteads by the main gate of the city; and he showed her the ponderous door of the great gate itself, studded with foot-long spikes against the attacks of that living battering-ram, the elephant. He led her through the long lines of dark shops planted in and among the ruins of palaces, whose builders had been long since forgotten, and about the straggling barracks, past knots of fantastically attired soldiers, who hung their day’s marketing from the muzzle of the Brown Bess or flint-lock; and then he showed her the mausoleum of the kings of Gokral Seetarun, under the shadow of the great temple where the children of the Sun and Moon went to worship, and where the smooth, black stone bull glared across the main square at the cheap bronze statue of Colonel Nolan’s predecessor-an offensively energetic and very plain Yorkshireman. Lastly, they found beyond the walls the clamouring caravansary of traders by the gateway of the Three Gods, whence the caravans of camels filed out with their burdens of glistening rock-salt for the railroad, and where by day and by night cloaked and jaw-bound riders of the desert, speaking a tongue that none could understand, rode in from God knows what fastness beyond the white hillocks of Jeysulmir.

As they went along, Tarvin asked her about Topaz. How had she left it? How was the dear old town looking? Kate said she had only left it three days after his departure.

‘Three days! Three days is a long time in the life of a growing town.’

Kate smiled. ‘I didn’t see any changes,’ she said.

‘No? Peters was talking about breaking ground for his new brick saloon on G Street the day after I left; Parsons was getting in a new dynamo for the city’s electric light plant; they were just getting to work on the grading of Massachusetts Avenue, and they had planted the first tree in my twenty-acre plot. Kearney, the druggist, was putting in a plate-glass window, and I shouldn’t wonder if Maxim had got his new post-office boxes from Meriden before you left. Didn’t you notice?’

Kate shook her head. ‘I was thinking of something else just then.’

‘Pshaw! I’d like to know. But no matter. I suppose it is asking too much to expect a woman to play her own hand, and keep the run of improvements in the town,’ he mused. ‘Women aren’t built that way. And yet I used to run a political canvass and a business or two, and something else in that town.’ He glanced humorously at Kate, who lifted a warning hand. ‘Forbidden subject? All right. I will be good. But they had to get up early in the morning to do anything to it without letting me into it. What did your father and mother say at the last?’

‘Don’t speak of that,’ begged Kate.

‘Well, I won’t.’

‘I wake up at night, and think of mother. It’s dreadful. At the last I suppose I should have stayed behind and shirked if some one had said the right word — or the wrong one — as I got on board the train, and waved my handkerchief to them.’

‘Good heaven! Why didn’t I stay!’ he groaned.

‘You couldn’t have said it, Nick,’ she told him quietly.

‘You mean your father could. Of course he could, and if he had happened to be some one else he would. When I think of that I want to ——!’

‘Don’t say anything against father, please,’ she said, with a tightening of the lips.

‘Oh, dear child!’ he murmured contritely, ‘I didn’t mean that. But I have to say something against somebody. Give me somebody to curse, and I’ll be quiet.’

‘Nick!’

‘Well, I’m not a block of wood,’ he growled.

‘No; you are only a very foolish man.’

Tarvin smiled. ‘Now you’re shouting.’

She asked him about the Maharaj Kunwar, to change the subject, and Tarvin told her that he was a little brick. But he added that the society of Rhatore wasn’t all as good.

‘You ought to see Sitabhai!’

He went on to tell her about the Maharajah and the people of the palace with whom she would come in contact. They talked of the strange mingling of impassiveness and childishness in the people, which had already impressed Kate, and spoke of their primitive passions and simple ideas — simple as the massive strength of the Orient is simple.

‘They aren’t what we should call cultured. They don’t know Ibsen a little bit, and they don’t go in for Tolstoi for sour apples,’ said Tarvin, who did not read three newspapers a day at Topaz for nothing. ‘If they really knew the modern young woman, I suppose her life wouldn’t be worth an hour’s purchase. But they’ve got some rattling good old-fashioned ideas, all the same — the sort I used to hear once upon a time at my dear old mother’s knee, away back in the State of Maine. Mother believed in marriage, you know; and that’s where she agreed with me and with the fine old-style natives of India. The venerable, ramshackle, tumble-down institution of matrimony is still in use here, you know.’

‘But I never said I sympathised with Nora, Nick,’ exclaimed Kate, leaping all the chasms of connection.

‘Well, then, that’s where you are solid with the Indian Empire. The Doll’s House glanced right off this blessed old-timey country. You wouldn’t know where it had been hit.’

‘But I don’t agree with all your ideas either,’ she felt bound to add.

‘I can think of one,’ retorted Tarvin, with a shrewd smile. ‘But I’ll convert you to my views there.’

Kate stopped short in the street along which they were walking. ‘I trusted you, Nick!’ she said reproachfully.

He stopped, and gazed ruefully at her for a moment. ‘O Lord!’ he groaned. ‘I trusted myself! But I’m always thinking of it. What can you expect? But I tell you what, Kate, this shall be the end — last, final, ultimate. I’m done. From this out I’m a reformed man. I don’t promise not to think, and I’ll have to go on feeling, just the same. But I’ll be quiet. Shake on it.’ He offered his hand, and Kate took it.

They walked on for some moments in silence until Tarvin said mournfully, ‘You didn’t see Heckler just before you came away, did you?’

She shook her head.

‘No; Jim and you never did get along much together. But I wish I knew what he’s thinking about me. Didn’t hear any rumour, any report, going around about what had become of me, I suppose?’

‘They thought in town that you had gone to San Francisco to see some of the Western directors of the Colorado and California Central, I think. They thought that because the conductor of your train brought back word that you said you were going to Alaska, and they didn’t believe that. I wish you had a better reputation for truth-telling at Topaz, Nick.’

‘So do I, Kate; so do I,’ exclaimed Tarvin heartily. ‘But if I had, how would I ever get the right thing believed? That’s just what I wanted them to think — that I was looking after their interests. But where would I be if I had sent that story back? They would have had me working a land-grab in Chile before night. That reminds me — don’t mention that I’m here in writing home, please. Perhaps they’ll figure that out, too, by the rule of contraries, if I give them the chance. But I don’t want to give them the chance.’

‘I’m not likely to mention it,’ said Kate, flushing.

A moment later she recurred to the subject of her mother. In the yearning for home that came upon her anew in the midst of all the strangeness through which Tarvin was taking her, the thought of her mother, patient, alone, looking for some word from her, hurt her as if for the first time. The memory was for the moment intolerable to her; but when Tarvin asked her why she had come at all if she felt that way, she answered with the courage of better moments —‘Why do men go to war?’

Kate saw little of Tarvin during the next few days. Mrs. Estes made her known at the palace, and she had plenty to occupy her mind and heart. There she stepped bewilderedly into a land where it was always twilight — a labyrinth of passages, courtyards, stairs, and hidden ways, all overflowing with veiled women, who peered at her and laughed behind her back, or childishly examined her dress, her helmet, and her gloves. It seemed impossible that she should ever know the smallest part of the vast warren, or distinguish one pale face from another in the gloom, as the women led her through long lines of lonely chambers where the wind sighed alone under the glittering ceilings, to hanging gardens two hundred feet above the level of the ground, but still jealously guarded by high walls, and down again by interminable stairways, from the glare and the blue of the flat roofs to silent subterranean chambers hewn against the heat of the summer sixty feet into the heart of the living rock.. At every step she found women and children, and yet more women and children. The palace was reported to hold within its walls four thousand living, and no man knew how many buried, dead.

There were many women — how many she did not know — worked upon by intrigues she could not comprehend, who refused her ministrations absolutely. They were not ill, they said, and the touch of the white woman meant pollution. Others there were who thrust their children before her and bade her bring colour and strength back to these pale buds born in the darkness; and terrible, fierce-eyed girls who leaped upon her out of the dark, overwhelming her with passionate complaints that she did not and dared not understand. Monstrous and obscene pictures glared at her from the walls of the little rooms, and the images of shameless gods mocked her from their greasy niches above the doorways. The heat and the smell of cooking, faint fumes of incense, and the indescribable taint of overcrowded humanity, caught her by the throat. But what she heard and what she guessed sickened her more than any visible horror. Plainly it was one thing to be stirred to generous action by a vivid recital of the state of the women of India, another to face the unutterable fact in the isolation of the women’s apartments of the palace of Rhatore.

Tarvin meanwhile was going about spying out the land on a system which he had contrived for himself. It was conducted on the principle of exhaustion of the possibilities in the order of their importance — every movement which he made having the directest, though not always the most obvious, relation to the Naulahka.

He was free to come and go through the royal gardens, where innumerable and very seldom paid gardeners fought with water-skin and well-wheel against the destroying heat of the desert. He was welcomed in the Maharajah’s stables, where eight hundred horses were littered down nightly, and was allowed to watch them go out for their morning exercise, four hundred at a time, in a whirlwind of dust. In the outer courts of the palace it was open to him to come and go as he chose — to watch the toilets of the elephants when the Maharajah went out in state, to laugh with the quarter-guard, and to unearth dragon-headed, snake-throated pieces of artillery, invented by native artificers, who, here in the East, had dreamed of the mitrailleuse. But Kate could go where he was forbidden to venture. He knew the life of a white woman to be as safe in Rhatore as in Topaz; but on the first day she disappeared, untroubled and unquestioning, behind the darkness of the veiled door leading to the apartments of the women of the palace, he found his hand going instinctively to the butt of his revolver.

The Maharajah was an excellent friend, and no bad hand at pachisi; but as Tarvin sat opposite him, half an hour later, he reflected that he should not recommend the Maharajah’s life for insurance if anything happened to his love while she remained in those mysterious chambers from which the only sign that came to the outer world was a ceaseless whispering and rustling. When Kate came out, the little Maharaj Kunwar clinging to her hand, her face was white and drawn, and her eyes full of indignant tears. She had seen.

Tarvin hastened to her side, but she put him from her with the imperious gesture that women know in deep moments, and fled to Mrs. Estes.

Tarvin felt himself for the moment rudely thrust out of her life. The Maharaj Kunwar found him that evening pacing up and down the verandah of the rest-house, almost sorry that he had not shot the Maharajah for bringing that look into Kate’s eyes. With deep-drawn breath he thanked his God that he was there to watch and defend, and, if need were, to carry off, at the last, by force. With a shudder he fancied her here alone, save for the distant care of Mrs. Estes.

‘I have brought this for Kate,’ said the child, descending from his carriage cautiously, with a parcel that filled both his arms. ‘Come with me there.’

Nothing loth, Tarvin came, and they drove over to the house of the missionary.

‘All the people in my palace,’ said the child as they went, ‘say that she’s your Kate.’

‘I’m glad they know that much,’ muttered Tarvin to himself savagely. ‘What’s this you have got for her?’ he asked the Maharaj aloud, laying his hand on the parcel.

‘It is from my mother, the Queen — the real Queen, you know, because I am the Prince. There is a message, too, that I must not tell.’ He began to whisper, childlike, to himself, to keep the message in mind. Kate was in the verandah when they arrived, and her face brightened a little at sight of the child.

‘Tell my guard to stand back out of the garden. Go, and wait in the road.’

The carriage and troopers withdrew. The child, still holding Tarvin’s hand, held out the parcel to Kate.

‘It is from my mother,’ he said. ‘You have seen her. This man need not go. He is’— he hesitated a little —‘of your heart, is he not? Your speech is his speech.’

Kate flushed, but did not attempt to set the child right. What could she say?

‘And I am to tell this,’ he continued, ‘first before everything, till you quite understand.’ He spoke hesitatingly, translating out of his own vernacular as he went on, and drawing himself to his full height, as he cleared the cluster of emeralds from his brow. ‘My mother, the Queen — the real Queen — says, “I was three months at this work. It is for you, because I have seen your face. That which has been made may be unravelled against our will, and a gipsy’s hands are always picking. For the love of the gods look to it that a gipsy unravels nothing that I have made, for it is my life and soul to me. Protect this work of mine that comes from me — a cloth nine years upon the loom.” I know more English than my mother,’ said the child, dropping into his ordinary speech.

Kate opened the parcel, and unrolled a crude yellow and black comforter, with a violent crimson fringe, clumsily knitted. With such labours the queens of Gokral Seetarun were wont to beguile their leisure.

‘That is all,’ said the child. But he seemed unwilling to go. There was a lump in Kate’s throat, as she handled the pitiful gift. Without warning the child, never loosening for a moment his grip on Tarvin’s hand, began to repeat message word by word, his little fingers tightening on Tarvin’s fist as he went on.

‘Say I am very grateful indeed,’ said Kate, a little puzzled, and not too sure of her voice.

‘That was not the answer,’ said the child; and he looked appealingly at his tall friend, the new Englishman.

The idle talk of the commercial travellers in the verandah of the rest-house flashed through Tarvin’s mind. He took a quick pace forward, and laid his hand on Kate’s shoulder, whispering huskily.

‘Can’t you see what it means? It’s the boy — the cloth nine years on the loom.’

‘But what can I do?’ cried Kate, bewildered.

‘Look after him. Keep on looking after him. You are quick enough in most things. Sitabhai wants his life. See that she doesn’t get it.’

Kate began to understand a little. Everything was possible in that awful palace, even child-murder. She had already guessed the hate that lives between childless and mother queens. The Maharaj Kunwar stood motionless in the twilight, twinkling in his jewelled robes.

‘Shall I say it again?’ he asked.

‘No, no, no, child! No!’ she cried, flinging herself on her knees before him, and snatching his little figure to her breast, with a sudden access of tenderness and pity. ‘O Nick! what shall we do in this horrible country?’ She began to cry.

‘Ah!’ said the Maharaj, utterly unmoved, ‘I was to go when I saw that you cried.’ He lifted up his voice for the carriage and troopers, and departed, leaving the shabby comforter on the floor.

Kate was sobbing in the half darkness. Neither Mrs. Estes nor her husband was within just then. That little ‘we’ of hers went through Tarvin with a sweet and tingling ecstasy. He stooped and took her in his arms, and for that which followed Kate did not rebuke him.

‘We’ll pull through together, little girl,’ he whispered to the shaken head on his shoulder.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/k/kipling/rudyard/naulahka/chapter9.html

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