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Without Benefit of Clergy
by [?]


‘How old is he now?’

Ya illah!What a man’s question! He is all but six weeks old; and on this night I go up to the house-top with thee, my life, to count the stars. For that is auspicious. And he was born on a Friday under the sign of the Sun, and it has been told to me that he will outlive us both and get wealth. Can we wish for aught better, be-loved?’

‘There is nothing better. Let us go up to the roof, and thou shalt count the stars—but a few only, for the sky is heavy with cloud. ’

‘The winter rains are late, and maybe they come out of season. Come, before all the stars are hid. I have put on my richest jewels. ’

‘Thou hast forgotten the best of all. ’

Ai!Ours. He comes also. He has never yet seen the skies. ’

Ameera climbed the narrow staircase that led to the flat roo
f. The child, placid and unwinking, lay in the hollow of her right arm, gorgeous in silver-fringed muslin with a small skull-cap on his head. Ameera wore all that she valued most. The diamond nose-stud that takes the place of the Western patch in drawing attention to the curve of the nostril, the gold ornament in the centre of the forehead studded with tallow-drop emeralds and flawed rubies, the heavy circlet of beaten gold that was fastened round her neck by the softness of the pure metal, and the chinking curb-patterned silver anklets hanging low over the rosy ankle-bone. She was dressed in jade-green muslin as befitted a daughter of the Faith, and from shoulder to elbow and elbow to wrist ran bracelets of silver tied with floss silk, frail glass bangles slipped over the wrist in proof of the slenderness of the hand, and certain heavy gold bracelets that had no part in her country’s ornaments, but, since they were Holden’s gift and fastened with a cunning European snap, delighted her immensely.

They sat down by the low white parapet of the roof, overlooking the city and its lights.

‘They are happy down there,’ said Ameera. ‘But I do not think that they are as happy as we. Nor do I think the white mem-logare as happy. And thou?’

‘I know they are not. ’

‘How dost thou know?’

‘They give their children over to the nurses. ’

‘I have never seen that,’ said Ameera with a sigh, ‘nor do I wish to see. Ahi!’—she dropped her head on Holden’s shoulder,—‘I have counted forty stars, and I am tired. Look at the child, love of my life, he is counting too. ’

The baby was staring with round eyes at the dark of the heavens. Ameera placed him in Holden’s arms, and he lay there without a cry.

‘What shall we call him among ourselves?’ she said. ‘Look! Art thou ever tired of looking? He carries thy very eyes. But the mouth—’

‘Is thine, most dear. Who should know better than I?’

‘’Tis such a feeble mouth. Oh, so small! And yet it holds my heart between its lips. Give him to me now. He has been too long away. ’

‘Nay, let him lie; he has not yet begun to cry. ’

‘When he cries thou wilt give him back—eh? What a man of mankind thou art! If he cried he were only the dearer to me. But, my life, what little name shall we give him?’

The small body lay close to Holden’s heart. It was utterly helpless and very soft. He scarcely dared to breathe for fear of crushing it. The caged green parrot that is regarded as a sort of guardian-spirit in most native households moved on its perch and fluttered a drowsy wing.