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Without Benefit of Clergy
by [?]

‘There is the answer,’ said Holden. ‘Mian Mittu has spoken. He shall be the parrot. When he is ready he will talk mightily and run about. Mian Mittu is the parrot in thy—in the Mussulman tongue, is it not?’

‘Why put me so far off?’ said Ameera fretfully. ‘Let it be like unto some English name—but not wholly. For he is mine. ’

‘Then call him Tota, for that is likest English. ’

‘Ay, Tota, and that is still the parrot. Forgive me, my lord, for a minute ago, but in truth he is too little to wear all the weight of Mian Mittu for name. He shall be Tota—our Tota to us. Hearest thou, oh, small one? Littlest, thou art Tota. ’ She touched the child’s cheek, and he waking wailed, and it was necessary to return him to his mother, who soothed him with the wonderful rhyme of Aré koko, Faré koko!which says—

‘Oh crow! Go crow! Baby’s sleeping sound,
And the wild plums grow in the jungle, only a penny a pound.
Only a penny a pound, baba, only a penny a pound. ’

Reassured many times as to the price of those plums, Tota cuddled himself down to sleep. The two sleek, white well-bullocks in the courtyard were steadily chewing the cud of their evening meal; old Pir Khan squatted at the head of Holden’s horse, his police sabre across his knees, pulling drowsily at a big water-pipe that croaked like a bull-frog in a pond. Ameera’s mother sat spinning in the lower verandah, and the wooden gate was shut and barred. The music of a marriage-procession came to the roof above the gentle hum of the city, and a string of flying-foxes crossed the face of the low moon.

‘I have prayed,’ said Ameera after a long pause, ‘I have prayed for two things. First, that I may die in thy stead if thy death is demanded, and in the second, that I may die in the place of the child. I have prayed to the Prophet and to Beebee Miriam. Thinkest thou either will hear?’

‘From thy lips who would not hear the lightest word?’

‘I asked for straight talk, and thou hast given me sweet talk. Will my prayers be heard?’

‘How can I say? God is very good. ’

‘Of that I am not sure. Listen now. When I die, or the child dies, what is thy fate? Living, thou wilt return to the bold white mem-log, for kind calls to kind. ’

‘Not always. ’

‘With a woman, no; with a man it is otherwise. Thou wilt in this life, later on, go back to thine own folk. That I could almost endure, for I should be dead. But in thy very death thou wilt be taken away to a strange place and a paradise that I do not know. ’

‘Will it be paradise?’

‘Surely, for who would harm thee? But we two—I and the child—shall be elsewhere, and we cannot come to thee, nor canst thou come to us. In the old days, before the child was born, I did not think of these things; but now I think of them always. It is very hard talk. ’

‘It will fall as it will fall. To-morrow we do not know, but to-day and love we know well. Surely we are happy now. ’

‘So happy that it were well to make our happiness assured. And thy Beebee Miriam should listen to me; for she is also a woman. But then she would envy me! It is not seemly for men to worship a woman. ’

Holden laughed aloud at Ameera’s little spasm of jealousy.