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Without Benefit of Clergy
by [?]

‘Is it not seemly? Why didst thou not turn me from worship of thee, then?’

‘Thou a worshipper! And of me? My king, for all thy sweet words, well I know that I am thy servant and thy slave, and the dust under thy feet. And I would not have it otherwise. See!’

Before Holden could prevent her she stooped forward and touched his feet; recovering herself with a little laugh hugged Tota closer to her bosom. Then, almost savagely—

‘Is it true that the bold white mem-loglive for three times the length of my life? Is it true that they make their marriages not before they are old women?’

‘They marry as do others—when they are women. ’

‘That I know, but they wed when they are twenty-five. Is that true?’

‘That is true. ’

Ya illah!At twenty-five! Who would of his own will take a wife even of eighteen? She is a woman—aging every hour. Twenty-five! I shall be an old woman at that age, and—Those mem-logremain young for ever. How I hate them!’

‘What have they to do with us?’

‘I cannot tell. I know only that there may now be alive on this earth a woman ten years older than I who may come to thee and take thy love ten years after I am an old woman, gray-headed, and the nurse of Tota’s son. That is unjust and evil. They should die too. ’

‘Now, for all thy years thou art a child, and shalt be picked up and carried down the staircase. ’

‘Tota! Have a care for Tota, my lord! Thou at least art as foolish as any babe!’ Ameera tucked Tota out of harm’s way in the hollow of her neck, and was carried downstairs laughing
in Holden’s arms, while Tota opened his eyes and smiled after the manner of the lesser angels.

He was a silent infant, and, almost before Holden could realise that he was in the world, developed into a small gold-coloured little god and unquestioned despot of the house overlooking the city. Those were months of absolute happiness to Holden and Ameera—happiness withdrawn from the world, shut in behind the wooden gate that Pir Khan guarded. By day Holden did his work with an immense pity for such as were not so fortunate as himself, and a sympathy for small children that amazed and amused many mothers at the little station-gatherings. At nightfall he returned to Ameera,—Ameera, full of the wondrous doings of Tota; how he had been seen to clap his hands together and move his fingers with intention and purpose—which was manifestly a miracle—how later, he had of his own initiative crawled out of his low bedstead on to the floor and swayed on both feet for the space of three breaths.

‘And they were long breaths, for my heart stood still with delight,’ said Ameera.

Then Tota took the beasts into his councils—the well-bullocks, the little gray squirrels, the mongoose that lived in a hole near the well, and especially Mian Mittu, the parrot, whose tail he grievously pulled, and Mian Mittu screamed till Ameera and Holden arrived.

‘Oh villain! Child of strength! This to thy brother on the house-top! Tobah, tobah!Fie! Fie! But I know a charm to make him wise as Suleiman and Aflatoun. Now look,’ said Ameera. She drew from an embroidered bag a handful of almonds. ‘See! we count seven. In the name of God!’

She placed Mian Mittu, very angry and rumpled, on the top of his cage, and seating herself between the babe and the bird she cracked and peeled an almond less white than her teeth. ‘This is a true charm, my life, and do not laugh. See! I give the parrot one-half and Tota the other. ’ Mian Mittu with careful beak took his share from between Ameera’s lips, and she kissed the other half into the mouth of the child, who ate it slowly with wondering eyes. ‘This I will do each day of seven, and without doubt he who is ours will be a bold speaker and wise. Eh, Tota, what wilt thou be when thou art a man and I am gray-headed?’ Tota tucked his fat legs into adorable creases. He could crawl, but he was not going to waste the spring of his youth in idle speech. He wanted Mian Mittu’s tail to tweak.