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Without Benefit of Clergy
by [?]

‘God is great!’ cooed Ameera in the half-light. ‘Thou hast taken his misfortunes on thy head. ’

‘Ay, but how is it with thee, life of my life? Old woman, how is it with her?’

‘She has forgotten her sufferings for joy that the child is born. There is no harm; but speak softly,’ said the mot

‘It only needed thy presence to make me all well,’ said Ameera. ‘My king, thou hast been very long away. What gifts hast thou for me? Ah, ah! It is I that bring gifts this time. Look, my life, look. Was there ever such a babe? Nay, I am too weak even to clear my arm from him. ’

‘Rest then, and do not talk. I am here, bachari[little woman]. ’

‘Well said, for there is a bond and a heel-rope [peecharee] between us now that nothing can break. Look—canst thou see in this light? He is without spot or blemish. Never was such a man-child. Ya illah!he shall be a pundit—no, a trooper of the Queen. And, my life, dost thou love me as well as ever, though I am faint and sick and worn? Answer truly. ’

‘Yea. I love as I have loved, with all my soul. Lie still, pearl, and rest. ’

‘Then do not go. Sit by my side here—so. Mother, the lord of this house needs a cushion. Bring it. ’There was an almost imperceptible movement on the part of the new life that lay in the hollow of Ameera’s arm. ‘Aho!’ she said, her voice breaking with love. ‘The babe is a champion from his birth. He is kicking me in the side with mighty kicks. Was there ever such a babe! And he is ours to us—thine and mine. Put thy hand on his head, but carefully, for he is very young, and men are unskilled in such matters. ’

Very cautiously Holden touched with the tips of his fingers the downy head.

‘He is of the Faith,’ said Ameera; ‘for lying here in the night-watches I whispered the call to prayer and the profession of faith into his ears. And it is most marvellous that he was born upon a Friday, as I was born. Be careful of him, my life; but he can almost grip with his hands. ’

Holden found one helpless little hand that closed feebly on his finger. And the clutch ran through his body till it settled about his heart. Till then his sole thought had been for Ameera. He began to realise that there was some one else in the world, but he could not feel that it was a veritable son with a soul. He sat down to think, and Ameera dozed lightly.

‘Get hence, sahib,’ said her mother under her breath. ‘It is not good that she should find you here on waking. She must be still. ’

‘I go,’ said Holden submissively. ‘Here be rupees. See that my babagets fat and finds all that he needs. ’

The chink of the silver roused Ameera. ‘I am his mother, and no hireling,’ she said weakly. ‘Shall I look to him more or less for the sake of money? Mother, give it back. I have borne my lord a son. ’

The deep sleep of weakness came upon her almost before the sentence was completed. Holden went down to the courtyard very softly with his heart at ease. Pir Khan, the old watchman, was chuckling with delight. ‘This house is now complete,’ he said, and without further comment thrust into Holden’s hands the hilt of a sabre worn many years ago when he, Pir Khan, served the Queen in the police. The bleat of a tethered goat came from the well-kerb.