The Path

To the Solid Ground
Of Nature Trusts the Mind that Builds for Aye.

*  *  *

Dedicated to the
Memory of
That Most Noble Gentleman,
Maulvi Sir Syed Ahmed Khán
K.C.S.I., LL.D.
Who Seeking to Unite the Piety of the East
With the Science of the West
Founded the
M.A.O. College at Aligarh

Chapter I

The Head Constable

At dawn on a January morning the camel-coach from Háfizganj drew up above the cliff at the point where the smooth surface of metal abruptly ends and the road winds downwards to the tract of level sand and the bridge of boats spanning the Barei River below Ronáhi. Through ten hours of a bitterly cold night, while the springless wheels of the clumsy vehicle rolled slowly over the eight-and-twenty miles which lie between the head-quarters of the British District of Háfizganj and the Ronáhi Bridge, the ten passengers, wrapped closely in their blankets and wadded garments, had sat crouched together on the straw amid their packages, almost motionless, dozing and sleeping. They were now stiff in limb and reluctant to move out into the icy mist hanging over the river valley.

“Alight, travellers! All passengers alight!” cried the conductor, battering the side of the coach with his staff. “Wake up! We are on the river-bank.”

He threw open the grated door with a loud clatter, and roughly shook the nearest passenger. The man drew back the hooded blanket from his face, looked with a shiver at the white mist, and slowly rolled out of the vehicle. The rest followed, one by one, without haste or effort to precede, and stood for a few moments in silent groups, holding their bundles and drinking vessels in their hands or slung over their shoulders. Some then went to the well in the mango grove, while others, eager to reach their homes on the opposite bank, walked down the pass; and the coach followed, swaying and creaking under its load of luggage, until it reached the level sand, where the strong camel, recovering its gait of dignity, strode forward, with head, proudly held aloft, to the planked causeway leading to the bridge.

A tall traveller wrapped in an Afghan cloak of camel’s hair, walking with long swinging strides, outstripped his late companions, and stood on the bridge mid-stream ere the others had reached the river’s edge. He paused, looking down at the dark current just visible in the grey light, attracted by the musical lapping of the water against the hawsers and boats. Then the clang of the bell from Shiva’s temple above the ghát was borne loud and discordant on the misty air, and he turned his eyes towards the veiled town. As he did so, the minarets and domes of the Great Mosque, faintly touched with the rose of advancing dawn, were for an instant revealed through a rift, and then again hidden by the grey veil.

A gleam of fire from the mount. I will go to it!” he murmured as he moved on, the Arabic text of the Kurán springing mechanically from his lips.

At a slower pace, as one lost in meditation, he descended from the bridge to the ferrymen’s hut, and then, aware of the approach of his fellow-travellers, he turned aside from the track to the drifted sand downstream. Here he unwound from his face the coils of his grey turban and adjusted it to his head. The countenance disclosed was that of a man of some six-and-thirty years, of olive complexion, with silky beard and moustache almost fair in colour. The brows were straight, the nose clean-cut and sharp, the cheeks hollow and the lips compressed; the eyes were large and darkened by lashes of unusual length. The stamp of meditation and study was on the brow and eyes, but the solid chin and firm lines of the mouth were those of a man who acts with courage and resolution, when once he has surmounted the difficulty of determining his course.

While the passengers from the camel-coach passed onwards up the steep ascent to the cliff, he lingered, looking downstream to the eastward. And while he stood with hands clasped behind his back, the mist began to glow with the rays of the sun, a breeze lifted it from the surface of the stream and revealed the wide river bed with its feathered grass, bounded on each side by the cliffs of the upland crowned with mango groves.

Now, the head constable in charge at the town end of the bridge, while reciting his morning prayer, had observed the figure of the traveller, visible for an instant through the mist under the light reflected from the summits of the Great Mosque, and he now waited by the water-side watching him. From a certain ingrained courtesy he hesitated to approach one who stood with eyes fixed on the red dawn rapt in meditation and perhaps in prayer, and one, too, whose demeanour was marked by a severe dignity. But the sun was dazzling beneath the mist, and the level rays caused the stranger to turn his head.

“Peace be with you,” said the head constable, approaching.

The traveller looked at the speaker a moment in silence, and noted the grey beard dyed red with henna. “And with you peace,” he answered politely.

“You came, sir, in the camel-coach from Háfizganj.”

“Even so,” replied the stranger.

“And whence come you? and your name and business, sir?” continued the constable.

Then the traveller with a slight frown demanded in a quiet tone, “Who are you, sir, who ask?”

“One in authority,” was the reply. “I am head constable on the bridge guard.”

“You bear no belt or badge or livery.”

“We have but now washed and prayed, and our tokens of authority lie there in the police-hut,” was the reply. “I must ask you to come there with me that your arrival may be registered.”

“Have you then orders to keep a record of all who enter the town?” asked the traveller, smiling.

“We use our discretion,” answered the officer. “Some there are who bear their characters written fair on their face and hands, on their dress and demeanour; but others there are, sir, like yourself, strange in bearing and garments, whom we cannot appraise by simple inspection. These we question and report to our officers, who then act as they think fit.”

“And if the traveller decline to speak?”

“Him we conduct to the Kotwál, who deals with him as his wisdom directs.”

“And your Kotwál, good sir---is he one of ourselves, of the Faith?”

“Truly,” replied the head constable good-humouredly. “In so far as he is a Thákur of the race of the sun and a Hindu, he is none of us. But in so far as he is a soldier, a man of honour and worth, who bore his sword with valour by my side, he is one of us. And he is loyal to our Tahsíldár who rules here in Ronáhi---Shekh Rafat Ali. Of him you may have heard, sir---an officer of alert wit and firm hand.”

“Well said, brother,” returned the stranger, unbending. “Common purpose and common danger, hardships endured side by side with mutual loyalty---these are strong links to brotherhood, though the creeds be diverse. So, brother, demand thus courteously made shall have a reply in courtesy---and I note that the Shekh Sáhib, Rafat Ali, is watchful as ever over the entrances and exits from Ronáhi. Tell me, then, have you heard of the Sayyids of Ronáhi, whose dwelling is by the great well of the ruined mosque?”

“Truly, sir,” replied the constable, “they are well known by repute. But they are poverty-stricken in these days, even, ’tis said, pinched for food. There are many women in a great waste of a house, and among them but one man dwelling, the old Mír Sáhib, Mahmúd Ali. But what of them, sir?”

“I am one of their stock. The Mír Sáhib you name is my father.”

Then the old head constable bowed with hands to his brow. “I greet you, Mír Sáhib, as of the line of the Prophet, whose name is blessed. May I ask your honoured name?”

“Ali Husain.”

“I knew not of a son of that name.”

“I left my father’s house many years ago.”

“But a brother, an elder brother, I think was here not long since, whose name I have forgotten.”

“Hasan Ali,” suggested the traveller.

“The same. We knew him as Háji Hasan. But he abode not long here. ’Twas said his presence was displeasing to our Tahsíldár, for some good cause no doubt. It may be that, like the old Mír Sáhib’s eldest son, he was a restless disloyal spirit. I speak as a faithful servant of the State,” added the head constable apologetically.

“Nay, speak without hesitation,” said the traveller. “You

refer no doubt to my eldest brother, Muhammad Taki. What of him?”

“Regarding him,” replied the loquacious officer, “the current report is that he joined the Wahhábi fanatics at Patna and disappeared. ’Tis said he crossed the Indus to the Hindustáni warriors, who fought a good fight with our men on the Black Mountains.”

“Well, brother,” replied the traveller, “if he fell sword in hand fighting for his faith and what he deemed right, surely he died well.”

“Truly,” answered the constable, “each is in the right in his own way: he who serving our rulers is true to his salt, and he who, in good faith, raises the banner against them. Whom God wills to conquer, he is the victor.”

“You say well,” said the traveller, laying his hand on the constable’s shoulder. “He who dares and endures for what he deems best, he acts for the best. But whence learnt you this high doctrine?”

“Mír Sáhib,” replied the constable, “these thoughts arise in the heart of those who have lived long and looked with calm eyes on the world, and seen noble hearts on either side of the contest. And I may tell you now, sir, long ago I met your brother Muhammad Taki, and had converse with him. He was many years your senior. His notions were dim, his speech confused though full of fire, and rebellion was in his heart; but he was a man of honour and his purpose high---and therein I would respect him, though I lodged a bullet in his head without remorse! But you, sir, if I may venture to say it, I trust you too are not one of those whom we honour for daring, though perversely, and destroy as attacking what we of sober judgments deem to be the right.”

The Sayyid smiled. “Who can tell whither zeal and a fiery heart may lead him? But, I pray you, write me down as a well-wisher of the State, who returns to visit his old home from wanderings in many cities.”

“Nay, Mír Sáhib, I am no man of the pen,” replied the head constable. “The Kayath clerk yonder in our hut will make the record in his diary as I bid him. And should our Tahsíldár desire further information, as is probable, he will no doubt summon you from your father’s house. Meantime, I crave pardon for detaining a noble traveller so long; no idle curiosity, but orders I obey have moved me.”

“A Shekh of the tribe of Kuraish, if I mistake not?” inquired the Sayyid.

“Of that stock, and Faizulla my name,” answered the man. “My home is far from here at Kara on the Ganges, a pleasant spot you, sir, may have visited in your travels.”

“I know it well, Shekhji---a town ’mid the ravines of the Ganges cliff, shady with tamarind and mahwa trees; and in the midst is built the house of Shekh Faríduddin, one of profound learning and skill to disentangle the intricacies of our laws and regulations.”

“He and I are of one stock,” replied the man with pride. “Ere long, when my pension is due, I hope to dwell beneath the shadow of his house, and await in peace the summons of the Angel of Death.”

“A quiet spot for repose and meditation now, but once filled with the bustle and ribaldry of the soldiers of the Málik-ul-Sharkh.”

Then with courteous adieu to the old constable, he proceeded slowly on his way up the steep road leading to the town.

Chapter II

The Potter’s Ass

The mist had vanished, and the black shadow of a mango grove now fell across the dusty road. Passing from the sunshine into the shade, the Sayyid paused, as one in doubt of his way, and then turned aside to the gateway of the grove, where he stood looking meditatively into the dark foliage and dense undergrowth.

His thoughts were of the officer on the bridge and his simple confession of faith. How precise and adequate was his rule of conduct: fidelity to the Government he served. His loyalty endowed his life with a steadfast purpose and a dignity patent among men. He was conscious of participating, to some extent at least, in the transcendent power of the enduring organism of which he was a humble member; for him his service was not the servitude of a hireling, but willing co-operation for some great, though indefinite, end. “He sees in the present rule a supreme authority maintaining law and order in a long-harassed land, ground ample to justify his devoted service, were he conscious of needing it. His feeling is akin to that of one who deems himself to be an instrument of the Divine Will: his personal insignificance is immeasurably ennobled in the glorious service and by the self-sacrifice it entails.”

Then the unconscious impulse to the Sayyid’s meditation broke through abruptly with the question: “We who would undermine an ancient edifice and erect in its place a future palace for man upon earth, can we preserve amid the ruin this same spirit of loyalty, and secure its support for the new structure? Will not piety wither and perish with the decaying creeds in which it grew and flourished? Under what dominating motive shall men follow the New Way to a goal which transcends self more completely than the ends of the State transcend the personal interests of that loyal officer on the bridge?”

But a flock of green parrots flew with discordant screams above his head, flashing into the sunlight from their roosting-boughs in the grove, the harsh cry of the peacocks answered from the field beyond; and the Sayyid, startled from his untoward reverie, turned from the dark grove to the dusty road. A couple of bullock-carts, creaking with unoiled wheels under piled sacks of coarse sugar, passed down to the bridge; a drove of brick-burners’ asses followed, laden with town rubbish for the kilns, and the driver belaboured the sluggards, and swore after the manner of his kind.

“Hold thy hand!” cried the Sayyid, advancing to the man. “The ass is overladen: his weak hocks are crushed together and bleeding raw. Hast thou no pity for the beast?”

The potter’s man looked at the speaker with stupid gaze, but recognized the bearing of a master.

“Sir,” he answered, “I am a poor man---Arey!” he shouted to the ass, seeing the beast about to lie down. “Hold up!” And he struck heavily with the cudgel.

“Hold!” cried the Sayyid imperiously, and the man paused.

“I am a poor man,” he pleaded again. “My mistress the Chaudhráin loaded the ass and bade me drive quick to the kiln, where fuel is lacking, and I must do her bidding. Hinder me not in my work.”

But the Sayyid laid his hand on the man’s shoulder to restrain him. “The hell of the ass is upon earth, and the devil is the potter’s man.”

“Hold up! hold up!” shouted the man, with a volley of oaths; but the feeble beast, freed from the stimulus of the staff, now sunk on his knees and threw the sack of sweepings on the highway. Meanwhile the rest of the drove had turned to browse on the roadside, some inclined, like their weakly comrade, to cast their burdens. The driver broke away from the Sayyid and sprang from one to another with his ready staff.

“See the mischief you have done, sir!” he cried, ready to weep with vexation. “See, one load upset! See, all casting their loads! Oh, the foul offspring of a foul mother! Oh, curse you all, and this fine gentleman, who brings this trouble on us! Oh, keep them moving, master! one and all will cast their loads. Keep them moving! Alack! how shall I answer my mistress, the Chaudhráin?”

“Drive on, fool,” cried the Sayyid. “Leave the broken beast and its load to lie here till you return.”

“Leave the load!” cried the man. “And the Chaudhráin, my mistress! She will break her staff on my back, and stamp on me, and spit in my face, one unfit for trust.”

“Let the brute lie,” repeated the Sayyid. “Do thou drive on, and I will tell thy mistress to send another ass forthwith.”

“Another ass!” exclaimed the man contemptuously. “Do we draw forth asses, as the waterman draws water from the well? And me the Jamadár of the sweepers will haul before the justices for casting muck on the road. Tobah, master, you have undone me with your meddling!”

And while speaking he tried to raise the fallen beast, but in vain, for the Sayyid checked his kicks and blows.

The Sayyid shrank from touching the foul sacks and filthy beast to aid the man, and grew weary of the sordid business.

“Your own brutality has brought the trouble upon you,” he exclaimed irritably. “Get over it as you can.”

He turned to pursue his way to the town, but the harassed man now called angrily to him: “You meddled with the Chaudhráin’s business, you, an idle fellow prating you know not what! Aye, fly, you white-clothed saunterer! But I promise my mistress shall call you to account!”

Then the Sayyid paused and thought: “This fellow, what knows he more than the behest of the Chaudhráin? His highest is to obey.”

He turned to the angry man, and silencing him with imperious voice and gesture, bade him throw the half-empty sack upon the beast, while he himself, with staff and rough words, urged on the rest of the drove, lest they too should cast their burdens. Then the man belaboured the fallen beast until he rose and rejoined the drove.

“Drive on, thou ass of asses!” said the Sayyid. “My business as to this galled beast shall be with thy mistress. But this I will say, she has a trusty slave in thee. Here is for thy worry.”

He gave the man a coin and strode away rapidly towards the town, oppressed by a feeling of humiliation.

Chapter III

The Red Fairy

The Sayyid, preoccupied with thoughts and hardly conscious of his surroundings, followed the wide road which skirts the town above the river valley.

“Greeting to the Mír Sáhib! Greeting to the traveller!” called a soft voice in a tone which fell on the ear like a touch from a gentle hand.

The Sayyid stopped, and at the corner of an alley leading to the town, saw a woman looking towards him with laughing face. Seated on a bamboo cot at the door of a house, she held a silver mirror and combed her glossy hair in the warmth of the early sun. Her garments were of bright chintz, quilted, the unbuttoned jacket displaying a tinselled bodice glittering in the sunshine.

“Here a noble wayfarer will find all he needs,” she continued mockingly. “No wife’s nagging tongue nor fractious child to harass his ease!”

A spirit of mischief shot from the girl’s black eyes, and she began again to comb her profuse locks and look at her mirror.

“Ah, a merry mistress of the dance,” replied the Sayyid, a smile curling his grave lips. “Your welcome is for the traveller bearing a well-filled purse at his girdle.”

She shook her head impishly. “Not so,” she answered. “Many, nay, most, with gold in their purse are but dull company. But the gallant who brings wit and poesy and the beauty and bearing of a Yúsuf is ever welcome, though damris only fill his purse.”

“Then perhaps like Sháh Mahmúd you draw gold from the rich to feast with gallant men of wit and learning?” replied the Sayyid.

“Why not?” she answered swiftly. “Can wealth be better employed? For, look you, men of wit and learning have little skill to filch and wrest gold from the toilers, or win wealth by craft in the market. But they are the flower of God’s creatures and deserve the best. Ill-gotten wealth is purified when spent on them, as surely as when lavished on the beggar horde.”

Then the Sayyid, attracted by the girl’s ready tongue and merry eyes, stepped on to the little platform and took a seat on the cane stool beside her.

“Your name, fair one?” he asked. “How do they call you?”

“They who address me with ceremony name me Chanda Báe, but for my intimates I have another style.”

“Hereafter I may learn it.”

“That is as may be,” she answered, laughing. “And you, sir, by your speech and bearing I judge one of the noble.”

“By race, a Sayyid.”

“Oh, I salute the Mír Sáhib! I guessed rightly as you came up the road---the sun on your head and garments, shining on one fitly honoured by the new day---aye, a very glory of light danced around you! . . . And, pray, whence come you, good sir?”

“From the East and South and the West and from beyond the seas---a wanderer for many years.”

“And the name by which your mother called you?”

“Nay, Lady Chanda,” he answered, “a mother’s pet name for her child sounds but trivial in the ears of the stranger. But you, Chanda Báe, who ask the question, did you know your mother?”

She was checked in her familiarity by a ring of severity under the gentle voice. Shaking her head, she replied submissively: “The old Mirásin by whose side I trotted when first memory faintly glimmers was even then old and wrinkled. Her voice was shrill and her words harsh; but then her hand was gentle and her care for me unwearying. I called her Granny. And she would tell me that just such a little fairy brat had been her daughter; that she loved me for the lost one, and for what I promised to become, if it pleased God to let me bloom. She dubbed me her Red Fairy---and, good sir, you know the saying, what we do, we do either for love or gain. How lucky I, that the Granny was strongly drawn to me by both!”

“Then that old dame gave you generous nurture and training in courteous ways,” replied the Sayyid. “The Persian words flow pure and clear and musical from your lips; and doubtless she taught you to sing and dance——”

“That, too, whether well or not, you shall judge when it pleases you.”

“Perhaps hereafter you shall show your art. But tell me this: Your grace and skill brought gold and fame; and the old Mirásin Granny, how fared she then in the household?”

The woman held up a warning finger. “Hush,” she said softly. “Listen!”

A faint, thin voice was audible from within, calling, and the words seemed to be: “Laliya! Lál Pari! “

“The Granny calls me,” said the woman. “Enter and judge.”

He followed her into the little courtyard, where on a cot in the sunny corner lay an old woman, her head raised on pillows above the bright quilt which wrapped her closely. The white hair was neatly plaited and brushed back from her many-wrinkled forehead, and eyes still bright lit up the shrivelled face.

“What is it, Granny?” asked the woman tenderly, as she drew aside the edge of the quilt from the toothless mouth.

In a fractious voice the old dame complained of neglect. Chanda Báe raised her gently and drew off the quilt to let the sun fall on her withered limbs. She stopped her querulous chant, pressed the girl’s hands to her forehead, and muttered:

“Little Red Fairy, my darling!” and leant back drowsily on the pillows.

“Shall I bring the hukka, Granny?” asked Chanda Báe; but the old woman shook her head and closed her eyes, desiring only to doze bathed in the sun.

The Sayyid, who, leaning against the doorpost, had looked on silently, now moved away, followed by the woman.

“She is half-blind, though her eyes still glitter,” said Chanda Báe. “Why should she be doomed to live? Surely, before the light has sunk so low it should be quenched! What strange order is this that binds us to tend this feeble flame, which lights nothing within or without, nay, casts gloomy rays on the world around?”

“Look you, Chanda Báe,” answered the Sayyid. “The ordinance is divine which bids you cherish with love the last breath of those who have nurtured you. And he who reasons of these things seeks in his secret heart a fair pretext of escape from this task of devotion. From each of us some pure service is demanded outside ourselves, that our mean little life may be sweetened. If care for your grandame were no longer yours, what flower of your life would remain? Surely the daily round of the dancer---the applause for a song, the joy of your glittering trinkets, the draught of the sweet cup, the caress of the lover of the hour---surely these would not fill the cup of your life? These set you no higher in the scale than the dove on yonder bough, fluttering and flying, billing and cooing in sunshine and shade. Take from your daily task the care for this helpless creature who reared and loved you, and what remains, if gauged at its true worth?”

“Master,” answered the woman, bowing her head, “I understand a service of love is needed to sweeten a life. But, master, if I too dare speak my mind, the joy in the sun and the light, in the shade and the breeze; the delight of the song and the dance, and the sweet savour of the dainties that I love---all these too are gifts of God. And I deem that those who dwell in the corner of seclusion, damning them as snares set by the Evil One, err widely from the path marked out for sane men and women.”

“The creed of a dancer, Chanda Báe,” he replied, smiling. “But I come not to preach the rule of the Darwesh and Bairagi.”

“Then,” she added eagerly, “will you not deign to tarry here? Let me at least prepare your morning meal, and after, if you wish, you shall go on your way.”

But he arose from his seat, and answered gravely: “Nay, Lál Pari, were I to linger this morning, can we be sure that I might not abide until driven forth, as a loiterer in the way to those who bear gold in their girdles?” And he added in a lower tone, harshly: “And the old saw holds, thrust not two daggers into one sheath.”

Then Chanda Báe’s eyes flashed, and loosening her hold on his arm, she exclaimed angrily, “Then am I mistaken: I saw you as one who would dare to repose and take his pastime by the way, still holding his purpose steadfast, as little hindered by a woman’s wiles as by the passing breeze which refreshes a strong spirit for the renewal of toil. Such is the attribute of a master. But since you are weak, I pray you depart!”

But he smiled again as he answered: “We will not test the strength of my purpose with the touchstone of thy wiles. If I were revealed as base, thou wouldst despise me; if as pure metal, then thy heart would be sore to have cast thy love at the feet of one who left thee as the trivial pastime of the passing hour!”

She stood silent a moment, looking steadfastly at his face, and his eyes met her glance unfalteringly, though a flame flickered in his heart.

“Master,” she said, “we women would yoke to our service the strongest of men: in this is our triumph; in failure our humiliation---deepest in abandonment. Yet there are those we serve even to sacrificing for their purposes all we cherish---if they but grant us a little love. But we love their goal, not for its own sake, but for the sake of him who strains to reach it.”

“Peace be with thee, Lady Chanda,” he said, laying a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Thy words and their melody will dwell in my memory with the image of thy bright face. And now, I pray thee, bid me depart.”

She pressed his hand to her forehead, bowing over it. “May your path lead to the compassing of what you seek and may that be worthy of your toil!”

She stood still, watching him intently until he disappeared, turning into the lane to the Great Mosque. Then she sat down lost in a reverie. It seemed he had come and gone as a vision in a morning dream.

Chapter IV

The Merchant

The Sayyid slowly pursued a circuitous road to his father’s house on the northern outskirt of the town, not unwilling to defer the first step in an enterprise in which his long-cherished freedom would be lost and the future course of his life irrevocably determined.

He stood for a while on the waste ground which lies between the town and the Great Mosque, erected by the renowned chieftain who, for a brief term, maintained order amidst the confusion under the feeble successors of Aurang Zeb. He noted that during his long absence nothing had been done to preserve the noble edifice from decay: the dilapidations had become more extensive, and no attempt at repair was apparent. But on the other side of the square, facing the Mosque, a new house had been erected, where formerly stood the unpretentious little residence of one Lála Madan Lál, grain merchant and sugar refiner. It was a handsome masonry building with a wide facade painted white and blue---under the morning sun, the most conspicuous object in the great square. In front of the gateway, on the wooden platform, a man was sitting with red-bound account-books open before him. Crossing the waste ground, the Sayyid recognized him as the merchant himself, Lála Madan Lál, now a man well past his fiftieth year.

“Greeting to the Lála Sáhib,” he said, standing in front of him.

The merchant looked up from his ledger, examining the visitor for a moment with penetrating gaze, and answered quietly, without rising: “Greeting to you, sir. Your countenance is not strange to me, though I cannot recall your name, nor where we have met.”

“You knew me well in former days,” replied the Sayyid. “Before I left my home to travel abroad.”

Then the merchant, taking off his horn spectacles, scrutinized the face of his visitor. “Surely,” he said, “you are one of the sons of Mír Mahmúd Ali the Sayyid.”

“His youngest son, Ali Husain,” replied the Sayyid.

The merchant shook his head with a complacent expression: “I seldom forget a face and name.” Then rising politely, he pointed to a cane stool covered with a white cloth which stood beside him on the platform. “Pray be seated, sir, and tell me how I may serve you.”

“As I crossed the square,” replied the Sayyid, accepting the invitation, “I noted this new mansion of yours, Lála, an ensign of extended and profitable business.”

“Or of most injudicious expenditure,” replied the merchant, smiling.

“Knowing you of old, I can offer my congratulations without fear of error,” returned the Sayyid.

“I thank you,” answered the merchant. “In these days we merchants dare display our wealth in fine buildings without attracting the spoiler’s hand. But you, good sir, I trust that you bring from your enterprises wherewith to relieve the indigence of your people?”

“What, Lála?” replied the Sayyid. “In these days do you meet men of my race possessed of a gathered hoard?”

“Nay, sir,” answered the merchant, with a little laugh. “As I said, we are safe from the spoiler’s hand. And truly it is as you would imply: you Sayyids lack the skill to earn gold, though you know well how to lavish it. But tell me, if you return home as poor as you departed, why here at all, seeing you bring another hungry mouth to share the scanty commons of your old house?”

“Allow me, before I answer, to ask you a question,” replied the Sayyid. “Consider, then, in the plain terms of debit and credit of this workaday world, the pitiful case of those who live on the bread of charity, and tell me, what profit do they yield for the outlay on their maintenance?”

“I think you lay a trap for me,” answered the merchant, laughing, “evading thereby my question, which perhaps was intrusive, if not rude.”

“Not so, Lála,” replied the Sayyid. “You were wont to see things stripped of glamour, and to measure them, as in balancing the ledger, by figures that do not err.”

“Ah, good sir, I doubt much you seek to trick me into measuring sugar by the yard, and the size of my vest by the ounce,” returned the merchant, his little eyes twinkling merrily. “Nevertheless, as you press me, I will answer in the terms of your question, as any child indeed might answer it. Seed sown on the barren salt-plain yields no return; we write off the loss and the account is closed. But doles bestowed on the unproductive poor yield increase of hungry mouths: the more we lavish, the more is needed, and the waste grows ever greater. The world were richer if all the beggar brood were stifled at birth. . . . There, then, is the answer in the terms of your question. Your almsgiving is not only unprofitable as yielding no return to the investment, but positively pernicious as endlessly increasing the unprofitable consumer.”

“A clear answer,” replied the Sayyid. “But knowing this so well, how do you defend your own conduct, seeing that you yourself are wont to lavish alms?”

“Ah, sir,” answered the merchant, “here again the explanation is obvious. The scale of profit and loss applies to the acquisition of wealth, but there are relations between man and man which are determined by far different rules. Though we deem the life of the leper, of the halt and the blind and of all the impotent brood to be utter misery, yet we cannot withhold the hand of charity and see them perish. The impulse to charity springs from the depths of the heart and is esteemed sacred in every creed.”

“I thank you, Lála Sáhib,” returned the Sayyid. “And thus you show the rules of the market to be inadequate to measure the whole conduct of man. And doubtless you will freely admit they are equally insufficient to measure the worth of man against man.”

“I take your implied rebuke, good Master Sayyid,” said the merchant, with a smile, as the speaker paused and looked in his face. “My question, why return with empty pocket, bringing but another hungry mouth to share the scanty commons of your home, was indeed inappropriate when addressed to a man of learning whose profession yields so scant a return in gold. Truly I know well that your worth, as that of the old household to which you belong, may be supremely great, though not measurable by the scale of the market-place. But this also permit me to recall to your notice, that but for the stores of the wealthy, there would be scanty maintenance for the learned doctors while they ponder over the mysteries of life and death and the ultimate fate of man. This also I would urge regarding my own practice, that the true value of a teacher may not be at once manifest, and that shrewd merchants, such as your humble servant, being aware of this, bestow a tithe of their wealth on holy men, lest perchance one should perish in whose breast there smoulders the faint spark which, kindled hereafter to a flame, would shine as the Light of the World.”

“Well said, master merchant,” returned the Sayyid. “I thank you for the reminder; and I think indeed that by different paths we are moving to not wholly dissimilar goals. It is most true that wealth is the basis on which is erected the higher life, and I am at one with you in honouring those who in the way of fair dealing succeed in its pursuit. Let them exult with clear conscience when a well-laid project is rewarded by 200 per cent profit!”

“Good words, Master Sayyid,” broke in the merchant, laughing. “I go to rest with joyful heart, when my foresight in buying is confirmed by a goodly rise in the market price.”

“But,” continued the Sayyid, “I hold they need constantly to be reminded of the wider life of which the market is but a little part.”

“And for this we provide,” said the merchant, interrupting. “We maintain our Pandits and their temples, our Maulvis and the mosques, that our leisure may be filled with spiritual thoughts.”

“True,” replied the Sayyid. “But these same worthy doctors encourage a wider egoism: they teach us cunning ways to ensure our own felicity hereafter. They bring with them the very taint of the market, bidding us give alms as a profitable investment for our future comfort and repose. . . .”

“What motive, then, would you have them hold before us?” asked the merchant, looking at the speaker in some surprise, for his voice had suddenly grown deeper in tone.

“I will tell you,” replied the Sayyid, and his words now had the passionate ring of enthusiasm. “They shall learn to realize their partnership not only with those now living, but with those yet to be born. Each shall see himself as a link in that Greater Whole, the Ever-Living Generations of Man. He shall pass beyond the narrow scope of his individual welfare to that transcendent whole of which he is but an infinitesimal part. He shall feel acutely that his activities pass beyond himself and become agents for the weal and woe of his people now living and to be born. He shall regard the nobility of his life as measured by the extent to which his conduct tends to promote a higher life in the great society in which his lot is cast.”

The Sayyid paused, and the merchant said, with a complacent smile: “Surely, Master Sayyid, you have been dwelling far apart from this workaday world among docile creatures of your own fancy, if you think the conduct of men can be other than it is.”

“Not so, sir,” answered the Sayyid. “For I know that there is an affection, even now potent in man’s heart, which justifies my hopes. You know the jingling adage which the wise woman in the market quotes with solemn shake of her head: all we do springs either from garazmandi or from daradmandi, from self-love or compassion.”

“Aye! Who does not know the beggars’ whining cry: Khuda dardmand kare garazmand na kare: May God make thee pitiful, not selfish!”

“Yes, and therein speaks the sure instinct of our people,” continued the Sayyid. “To help ourselves, to help others to care for self, to care for others; to ward evil from ourselves and from others. The germs of compassion lie in the heart---surely there, though their growth may be perverted and stunted and even stifled. But I hold they may be cultivated to a passion to be dominant over conduct, and inspire men through Love of Man to achieve the highest life.

“But as yet in most men this impulse of pity, or as I would call it, love, is but feebly developed. It is moreover a blind motive, excited only by present misery. It needs the guidance of wide knowledge to attain its ultimate dominion over conduct. As the force which as lightning rends the greatest trees and overthrows the sacred pinnacles has been tamed and yoked to be a sure and swift messenger, so shall this blind impulse of compassion be yoked to serve the highest knowledge; it shall furnish the burning energy to convert thought into the far-reaching actions needed to raise man in generations to come to the summit of power over the forces of nature and over his own fate.

“And this I maintain, that among no people of the world is this impulse, which I dare call divine, more powerful than among our own. Hereafter it is they who shall apply the science of the Western world most passionately to the work of the Betterment of Man.”

As the Sayyid spoke, he arose from his seat, and his eyes shone with the fire of inspiration. The sceptical spirit of the merchant was overawed.

“Master Sayyid,” he said, rising also, “I know not rightly what strange doctrine this is which you bear back as the treasure gathered in your wanderings in search of Truth. I cannot say whether your hopes are based on foundations which will crumble in the light of reason and under the harsh teachings of experience, or whether they be indeed inspirations of the Divine Spirit. But this I feel, that you speak from a burning heart, and this is at least one condition for ultimate success. And I trust that hereafter we may find leisure to discuss in detail, and with other learned men, the sublime questions upon which you have touched in their widest aspect.

“Meantime, permit me---you return to a poor household, and the treasures you bring will hardly minister to their bodily needs---I beg you will use these poor coins for the comfort of the reverend Sayyid your father.”

He drew two gold mohars from his purse and tendered them on his open palm. The Sayyid took them with a bow and bound them in a fold of his girdle, saying:---

“It is indeed a privilege of wealth to bestow it where we choose, and I think it needs a wiser head to spend money well than to earn it.”

He bowed again and was about to depart, when the merchant detained him.

“One question, Mír Sáhib, before you go. Such converse in the early morn, before we enter the dusty ways of trade, refreshes the soul as does the morning prayer and the offering on the shrine wherein we worship. I pray you, now, answer that tricksy question with which you posed me when you started this discussion: why should we, you asked, preserve by charitable doles the impotent wretch, hideous in aspect, a blot on the fair face of the earth, a misery to himself, and to all who look on him a pain?”

“Did you not yourself give the practical answer?” replied the Sayyid. “Your pitiful heart will not permit you to withhold the hand of charity. My friend, the impulse to charity is a tender plant and needs most careful nurture, that it may grow to be a dominant influence in the wider life of man under the guidance of the ever-increasing knowledge. Meantime, to refuse succour to these miserable creatures hardens the heart. Beware, then, lest charity, lacking nourishment, wither away. Assuredly the gentle heart in the ecstasy of unchecked compassion will preserve from destruction creatures from whom shall spring unnumbered woes hereafter. Let this risk be incurred rather than impoverish the pitiful heart! For verily therein lies the germ of that Love of Man whereon I fix my hopes. But, as the science of medicine, as now apprehended, finds its true mission rather in the prevention of disease than its cure, so shall the enlightened charity which I conceive seek out the causes of evil, and with stern heart and firm hand divert and destroy them. Then shall crude, impulsive pity be transformed into the Love of Man.

“And now, master merchant, let me go on my way, for the duty of the working day calls us both.”

Chapter V

The Young Cavalier

Leaving the merchant’s house, Sayyid Ali Husain went from the square of the Great Mosque by the lane into the main street known as Inayatganj. The sun had risen above the haze and reek of the fires newly kindled to cook the morning meal, and now shone in the face of the Sayyid as he walked past the unopened shops to the central market-square in front of the Fort. As he was about to turn into Sheonáth’s Lane, which leads to the Sayyids’ Ward, he was met by a rider on a grey Kábul horse with bells on the bridle and martingale jingling merrily. He stood aside to observe the gallant figure riding by---a handsome gentleman of some four-and-twenty years, with curled moustache and trimmed beard, who sat jauntily on his embroidered saddle, flicking flies from his horse’s ears with a horsehair whisk. He was dressed in a gold-laced tunic, buff leather belt and leggings; and the gold fringe of an Afghan turban hung negligently down his back. As he passed the Sayyid, their glances met, and with an exclamation he drew rein.

“Surely I know your face, sir,” he said eagerly. “If I mistake not, the Mír Sáhib, Sayyid Ali Husain?”

“That is my name,” replied the Sayyid, smiling pleasantly as he looked up at the gallant youth.

“You have forgotten me, then,” returned the rider. “Has this beard so completely changed the features of the boy of twelve who was your pupil?”

Then the Sayyid, resting his hand on the horse’s plaited mane, looked closely in the face of the young man, who returned his glance with frank, unembarrassed eyes.

“Surely, little Shaukat Ali, my old pupil!” he exclaimed.

The young man leaped impetuously from his saddle and embracing the new-comer exclaimed:---

“A thousand welcomes home to Ronáhi! When did you arrive, Mír Sáhib? Whence come you and where have you been hidden all these long years? Surely matters of grave import must have kept you away from those who loved you here!”

“And meantime you have shot up to fair manhood,” returned the Sayyid, still holding the young man’s hand.

“Good heavens!” exclaimed the young man. “How many men and cities must you have seen! What treasures of knowledge must you have gathered, while we here have moved in the same old round!”

“I learn that your father still rules in the Tahsil yonder,” replied the Sayyid, pointing to the Fort. “Affairs then are stable in Ronáhi. But, if your leisure serves, will you walk with me through the lane towards my father’s home? We can exchange news by the way.”

The young man threw the bridle to his groom, and turned with his old master into the narrow passage running between lofty walls to the little hamlet known as the Sayyids’ Ward.

“What news of the venerable Maulvi Nazar Ali?” asked the Sayyid.

“He is even as you left him, still engaged in studying and explaining the commentators and traditions.”

“And hopeful as ever of a revival of the pure Faith of Islám?”

“I believe he never doubts that, though he cannot affirm that the day is near. But if I may venture to say so, I sometimes think he moves in circles, like the oxen treading corn.”

“But beneath his feet no grain is released from chaff and straw,” added the Sayyid, with a smile as the young man hesitated.

His companion shook his head. “Little for the winnowing wind to clean.”

“Hardly, I think, shall a message delivered in ancient days, worn and trite, and smothered under ponderous commentaries---hardly shall such a message sound a clanging summons to arouse men of to-day from the engrossing cares of trade and pen and plough. For this we need a Leader and Guide fired by a new inspiration. The Light is upheld as a torch in night by the hand of the One.”

The Sayyid spoke with sudden excitement and his voice was harsh. The young man looked up in surprise.

“Does our venerable Maulvi not await this Imám of a New Dispensation?” asked the Sayyid.

“As to that I cannot say,” answered his companion. “Maybe, like the soldiers awaiting the order to march, he marks time. But I am one of the outer worldly circle to whom he confides nothing; perhaps aware that his words would raise but a passing ripple, as the breeze on the stream. My brother is still devoted exclusively to things spiritual, and one at least of our house must look to provide those good things of the world without which even his saintship would perish.”

The Sayyid laughed. “Aye, lad, for in these days the God of Islám doth not send down food and raiment even to the most prayerful mortals. But, tell me, what return have you made for nurture so bountifully enjoyed?”

They had now emerged from the lane, and were standing in the sunshine on the strip of open land between the town and the Sayyid’s hamlet. The Sayyid held his old pupil at arm’s-length and looked steadfastly in his handsome face, and noted the carefully tended beard and moustache and the jaunty twist of his turban.

“One thing you have done,” continued the Sayyid, his voice softening again; “you bring us a fair countenance bearing the impress of strong health and a merry heart: a great boon as things are among us. But much is demanded from one so happily endowed!”

A flush came over the young man’s face, but he answered without hesitation: “Master, you were wont to say, ‘Let each set his eye steadfastly upon his goal, and though his path may be devious, he will attain it at last.’ Believe me, if I have not yet found the path, it is not that I am disposed to live idle in my father’s household. He and his father served our rulers with honour, and our ancestors before them were faithful agents of the Dehli Kings. I trust the time is not far distant when I too shall do no less---the honour of our fathers calls on us to be no lesser men. But now, to-day, I ride out on business to our village, Chitauna, which my father has placed under my control.”

“Ah, I remember!” said the Sayyid, laughing. “In the northern march by the river lies a great waste haunted by hogdeer and florikins.”

The young man laughed. “True; and with your permission I will send a quarter of venison and a tender bird to your household yonder.”

“Good luck attend you! The game will be welcome, especially as fallen to your gun.”

Then they parted, the young man cantering away northward by the track outside the town.

Chapter VI

The Weaver Headman

The Sayyid watched the young cavalier until he disappeared beyond the Pási hamlet, and then slowly crossed the wide cart-track and waste land to the weavers’ huts, built under the shadow of the house of the Ronáhi Sayyids.

Beneath the chequered shade of the great tamarind-trees, women, dressed in blue jackets and trousers, were walking rapidly to and fro, reeling off the yarn between upright canes to form the long warps for the men’s looms, while Núru, the headman of the weavers, seated on an old bamboo cot in the genial warmth of the morning sun, drowsily looked on at the work and the passers-by. He was a wizened old man, with blinking beady eyes and a wispy beard and moustache, snow-white against his black complexion. He had watched the horseman ride away, and now idly followed the movements of the Sayyid: saw him stand to look at the new house erected by old Pandit Sheonáth between the lane and the ruins of the Sayyids’ mosque, and stop again before the newly repaired platform of the Great Well---behaving (the old weaver thought) as a stranger alert to notice things which have ceased to be remarked by residents. But when the stranger left the well and paused, as his eye fell upon the old man, the latter cast aside his blanket, rose nimbly, and hurried forward to bow humbly, both hands raised to his forehead.

“Peace be with my lord!” he exclaimed. “The Sayyid Mír Ali Husain, son of my reverend master. Welcome home!”

“And with you be peace, Núru Juláha, my old friend,” replied the Sayyid. “So many years have passed, and you recognize me at a glance?”

“I know not how many years have gone by since last I set eyes on my young lord,” answered the weaver. “How should I not know one who grew to manhood before me? Good luck is surely mine to-day, that I am first to greet your return. Would that the mirror of your father’s eyes were clear to reflect the features of his beloved son! But God’s will be done!”

“Do you mean my father is blind?”

“Sir, my lord, your honoured father distinguishes light from darkness. ’Tis strange no news of this calamity has reached his son. And now I recall his words, it was but yesterday at this hour, when he sat yonder before his gateway: he told me that of his beloved son, Ali Husain, he knew not whether the lad still drew breath or had passed to join the Blessed Ones.”

“You are right, old man,” replied the Sayyid, interpreting the old man’s thought. “To those who desire to send a message to Ronáhi a swift messenger is ever at hand to bear it; for there is no corner of the world which may not be reached by our ruler’s post.”

“Doubtless,” replied the old man humbly, “my lord had sufficient reason for sending no message. But a father’s heart grows sick, lacking news of a beloved son. And now again I recall to mind: not long ago the postman brought me an order for twenty rupees from my son in Tanjor and counted out the coins, here where we stand, clinking into my hands. It happened that your honoured father, leaning on his staff and led by little Najaf, came up, and exclaimed I was a father happy in my son. I read his thought, as he turned from me and faced the blazing sun with widely opened eyelids.”

“You have still a tender heart, Núru,” said the Sayyid. “But tell me, what does your son in Tanjor, so far adrift from home?”

“He left me, my lord, seeking bread,” answered the old weaver. “For, look you, fabrics from beyond sea fill the shelves of the cloth merchants, and our looms lie idle. Our country ladies no longer come to us as of yore for the muslin we weave. But about my son Ahmad, in Tanjor; there he is styled Shekh Ahmadulla, and runs many looms, whereon are worked silken carpets for the nobles and merchants in the south; rich folk are many there. And the lad has promised that some day he will return to take me and many of our brethren to the wealthy city where he dwells; and there we shall eat our bellyful, and never more shiver in the bleak winds of Mágh, which here in the north cut the hungry man sharp as swords.

“And you, my lord, you no doubt bring home not only comfort of kindly words, but wherewithal to replenish a slender store. For ’tis well known that the ladies yonder bind their waist-strings tight, though the old master has ever plenty, thanks to their ceaseless care.”

The Sayyid gazed sadly at the withered face and answered: “Aye, Nuru, these saintly women! They will bleed themselves faint to sustain those they love, and ask not even a bare acknowledgment! And now, God be with you, Núru. I go to my father’s house, bearing them what comfort is within my power.”

And he passed onwards to the lofty gateway of the old house.

Chapter VII

The Ronáhi Sayyids

About fifty yards beyond the weavers’ huts stands the house of the Ronáhi Sayyids, surrounded by a lofty wall of uncemented bricks. The entrance beneath a gate-house is closed by great folding doors of sál-wood, studded with iron, and is approached by a paved ascent for carts and chariots driving into the spacious courtyard. But no tracks of wheels now mark its surface; and the rusted door-sockets would snap under the strain of opening. For the few who come to the old house, the little wicket in one valve in the great door is sufficient entrance.

The Sayyid stood for a moment before the closed door listening to the faint sounds of women’s voices from the gate-house above, and then, pressing the wicket gently ajar, he unhooked the chain by which it was fastened within. He stepped into the deserted passage flanked by the recesses occupied formerly by the footmen at the gate, whose comrades in the chamber above beat the kettledrum at every watch through the day and night. This passage opened into a wide courtyard, enclosed on two sides by dilapidated arcades, once used for stabling horses and cattle and for servants’ dwellings. Fronting the gateway was the house, a two-storied edifice with a large reception-hall and spacious quarters for the ladies of the family. A broken bullock chariot, a few stools and bamboo cots, water-jars and miscellaneous household utensils lay scattered under the crumbling arcade.

In the sheltered north-west corner the old Sayyid was seated on a cot raised on a wooden platform, basking in the sunshine with his clasped hands resting on the flowered quilt, which covered him waist downwards. The wisps of his white hair from beneath his starched cotton cap fell over his temples, and his purple tunic, unfastened, showed his thin chest covered with hoary down. The white-bearded face with its sharply defined features was still as the face of death.

The Sayyid stopped under the arch, hesitating to approach. But the blind man had heard his step.

“Is that you, Rajban?” he asked in a gentle voice. “What bring you from market?”

“Father, it is I, your son, Ali Husain,” answered the Sayyid and hastened to kneel at the old man’s side and press the thin hands to his lips and forehead.

Then, with an inarticulate cry, the blind man clasped his son’s head, and passed his hands over his face, calling loudly for the mother to come to her son. The mistress of the house hurried from the inner apartments followed by her spinster daughter, but the other members of the household, the wife and widow of the two absent sons and the one granddaughter, stood respectfully at a distance.

Now when the clamour of the first greetings subsided and the tears of joy had been dried in the women’s eyes, the lady Sitára Begam spoke:---

“Your garments are travel-stained, your hair unkempt. And, alas, my son! your face is lean and eager-eyed as that of one who feeds in haste on scanty food. We will not ply you with questions, much as we long to hear where you have tarried these many years, and what has befallen you. All this you shall tell us at leisure; but now, your pressing need is for the bath and clean raiment and food. Do you sit awhile with the old father while we women prepare it all.”

“Ah, dear mother,” said her son, pressing her hand to his forehead, “it was ever your first and last thought to let the men of the house lack nothing that a woman’s care can bestow!”

Then, turning to his brother’s widow, Mihr-un-nisa, who with the other two women had now approached: “For your sake I could wish it were my brother, Muhammad Taki, returned.”

“Have you any news of him?” she asked eagerly.

“I heard only that he went with others to the mountains beyond Pesháwar.”

“Then why may he not return?” cried the widow. “As you have returned after twelve long years, lost as he.”

But the old man intervened with ruthless decision: “We know well my son Muhammed Taki was in the Black Mountains with his comrades who fell before the rifles of the Farangis and the Sikh soldiery. He was a man to stand in the van of the fray---to flee never.”

“As God’s will,” said the widow, in a low voice. “Slain if a man, if living, a coward. But for God there may be a middle way.”

Then she drew forward the girl Zeb-un-nisa, who had stood shyly back, with her face half covered.

“Come forward, little daughter, and show thyself to thy uncle. He will cherish thee as his own, if I may judge from his voice and features.”

Then the girl held out her hand and disclosed the face of a girl of some fifteen years---a face of singular beauty, lit up with almond eyes glowing darkly in unmeasurable depths.

“My child,” said the Sayyid, taking her hand, “what a father could do in care for thee, that I will do.”

She bowed silently, raising his hand to her forehead.

“I saw thee last a shiftless little maid climbing with a doll into yonder old chariot---unbroken then---a sweet nimble elf! Now thou hast grown to be the flower of this ancient house. They have named thee well, little daughter.”

“She is a good child, our little Zeban,” said the mistress of the house. “I would thou hadst brought home a son to be her mate!”

The Sayyid made no reply; but turning to the third lady, who had not yet spoken: “Let me greet you, my brother Hasan Ali’s wife. I beg you will look to me as a brother for help in case of need.”

“Ah, brother-in-law,” replied Ashraf-un-nisa, a sharp-featured woman of thirty, “I would have you persuade your elder brother that a wife’s place is in her husband’s dwelling.”

“Where tarries he now?”

“The men of your house, it seems,” she answered, “are lacking in the kindly courtesy which prompts letters to their family. Where does he linger? I cannot tell; but some six months ago I received from Haidarábád, in the Dakhin, a draft on the banker, Bábu Baijnáth.”

“Perhaps my brother hopes for permanent service under the Nazzám Sáhib, and will then fetch you to a new home.”

“I trust him not,” she answered. “I know the old song, Dakhin ki nári siyáni---crafty the women in the South! But I pray you, sir, break through this evil habit of the men of your house, and abide here to help this household of deserted women.”

“I will do the best I can, lady,” he answered.

Then, turning to his mother, he silently gave her the two gold pieces he had received from the merchant, mindful of the weaver’s hint that the straitened means of the household were concealed from the blind man. The old dame took the coins in silence and raised them to touch her forehead.

“Come now, you little flock,” she said, turning to the women. “We must be busy to make ready the feast. And when our dear one is rested and refreshed, he shall tell where he has tarried abroad, and what has befallen him during these very many years since he left this ancient house.”

Chapter VIII

The Household of the Sayyid

Now while the Sayyid, Ali Husain, bathed and changed his travel-stained dress for the fresh garments which his mother brought forth from the chest in her treasure-house, he began to realize the unhappy position of his long-neglected kinsfolk.

A few words from his mother had revealed to him the cause of their present penury. The little freehold estate granted to their ancestor by the Ruhela chief, who preceded the British Rulers, had been resumed by the State and assessed to revenue, and the balance of rent was insufficient for the necessities of the household, even when supplemented by the sale of the embroidery at which the ladies worked all day, and by the small fees paid to the spinster, Nasíba Bánu, as reader of the Kurán.

The old Sayyid Mahmúd Ali had always lived as a retired scholar, occupied with Arabic and Persian studies and occasional discussions in theology, philosophy and poetry with his friends, Maulvi Nazar Ali and Mufti Tafazzul Husain and a few other learned and pious, but futile souls. He regarded his little ancestral estate as sufficient to support him as a gentleman of leisure, and himself contributed nothing to the family income. He had left the household management to his wife, Sitára Begam, and now in his blindness was hardly conscious of her difficulties in providing for his daily needs.

The faces of the women were wan and pinched; their winter clothes threadbare and patched; their trinkets reduced to the few indispensable to a lady. The gentle Nasíba Bánu had withered away unwedded, the wives of his two brothers pined in widowhood and neglect: three wasted lives; and the girl, Zeb-un-nisa, the one bright creature in the house, seemed destined, like her aunt, to fade into dreary maidenhood.

And the three strong sons born to the house turned to things spiritual, neglecting the sober realities of daily life. The eldest pursued a phantom unsubstantial as a madman’s vision and perished in the vain pursuit. The second, too proud and too impatient of control to serve, was a sour fanatic, wasting his days with vague ambitions. But the third---Ali Husain himself? He had chosen to pursue knowledge only: to see men and their ways, and stand aside as a critic to judge them; to be free to come and go when and whither he pleased---to be his own master always.

But now he was confronted by the grey figures of these poor ladies, whose very existence he had for years almost forgotten. Had he not, like his brothers, abandoned the duties of his home for a pursuit as futile as theirs? In all parts of the world, with pity and contempt he had seen men devote their lives to phantoms of their own creation. Was he wiser than they? How noble beyond cavil was his mother’s steadfast devotion to her household! It had sweetened the life of the blind scholar, given strength to the deserted women, and reared this exquisite flower of girlhood, his niece Zeb-un-nisa. How could he justify before this brave lady his abandonment of those who, with constant affection, had nurtured his youth and early manhood? He was tortured by doubt, and by the remorse which springs from acknowledged failure in a service of love.

But after a little while relief came with the thought: the justification of his conduct must lie in the spiritual crisis through which he had passed, and in the purposes which he had so long and earnestly pursued. This and these he would lay before his people at length and without reserve; thus only could he vindicate his conduct both before himself and before them.

Then he banished the doubts as the stealthy whispers of a heart craving for ease: whether or not his purposes were as futile as those of his brother, the Wahhábi zealot, must be proved by the issue; he would pursue them undismayed, let the result be what it may! Yea, the blighted lives of the men of his own house now arose before him as a new and urgent summons to the contest. Within the narrow compass of these four walls was the very epitome of the great tragedy---man slain by the evil ghosts sprung from his own brain!

Chapter IX

The Sayyid’s First Audience

Now when the Sayyid had eaten the dinner prepared by his mother and sister, two ladies famous for their skill in cookery---a savoury khichri of split peas, rice and spices served with mullet fresh from the Barei River and wheatmeal cakes hot from the girdle---he recovered his cheerful self-confidence and listened with affectionate interest to the rippling chatter of his father.

At noon his sister Nasíba Bánu joined them, bringing, from force of habit, the folio volume from which at this hour she was wont to read to her father; and shortly after, the mistress of the house, her morning duties finished, took her seat by the old man’s side. But the other women of the family remained discreetly apart in the inner chambers.

The old mother had thrown back her muslin shawl, exposing her grey, well-shaped head, the straight brows under a many-wrinkled forehead, dark hazel eyes still bright and clear, firm lips and sharp chin---the whole a reduced image of the harsher face of her son.

She entered at once on the subject which preoccupied her mind. “My son,” she said, speaking with precision and without hesitation, “twelve times the season of rain has passed over us since you left us; and your sister, who hoards every line you wrote, tells me six have gone by since your last letter came. In my heart I mourned, saying, Surely the boy loved us, and knew well the yearning of his mother for her son.”

“Come, come!” interposed the old man. “Come, come, good wife! You will recall that I maintained some good and sufficient reason prevented his writing. What say you, daughter?”

“He did, mother,” affirmed Nasíba Bánu. “And you will remember, I told you what befell one of the Mufti’s friends: he was condemned on a false charge to years of imprisonment in a distant land.”

“A melancholy consolation too!” exclaimed the old man “But what matters now? Our little Ali is here. Thin, thin I grant; but his muscles are firm and elastic, and his skin smooth and pliant, and his voice full and melodious. Home then again in health, bringing from his wanderings wisdom and new knowledge. And now let him abide in peace. He will mend the fortunes of our house, and recover our ancient rights, so cruelly seized. He shall read all the documents. Aye, aye! the years of his absence will be forgotten. And it seems but a few months ago since he left. It was the day of the great flood, when the river flowed through the Saráogi Temple.”

The garrulous old man paused, and the mistress of the house continued in her decisive tones: “Speak then, my son. What strange spirit drove away thoughts of us and of our unstinted love?”

Ali Husain looked steadfastly in his mother’s face for a few moments, and then taking her withered hand, raised it to his forehead.

“Mother, I respect those words of the Prophet: ‘We have ordered man to act kindly to his father and his mother, whether one or both attain old age before him.’ But, mother, one rule is not for all at all times. A purpose in life may so completely engross the energies that a man must needs pursue it as eagerly and ruthlessly as the hound his quarry---conscious that if he swerve or linger the quarry is lost.”

A puzzled expression came over his mother’s countenance, and his father spoke: “Indeed it is written, ‘Fix thy whole heart in the work in hand.’ But it is also written: ‘No wise man will appeal to a woman’s reason: the avenue of conviction is through her heart.’”

At this moment the conversation was interrupted by a knocking at the gate, and the old servant Rajban entered, bearing a basket of fruit and vegetables. It had been sent, she said, by the Mufti Tafazzul Husain of Tigri; the Mufti himself, accompanied by the Maulvi Nazar Ali, was approaching.

A shade of annoyance fell upon the face of the mistress of the house at the interruption, and the old man was perplexed, but Ali Husain spoke with decision and eagerly:---

“I beg, mother, and you too, father, I beg you will admit our old friends. They were dear friends in my youth; from each I learnt much; they loved me, and I respected and loved them. They shall hear from my own lips what I purpose to relate; they are my father’s closest associates, and shall be the first to hear and judge me. Oh, indeed, they come in the very moment of need! Let me bring them in!”

And hardly waiting for his mother’s reluctant assent, he hurried to the gate, and introduced the two visitors as soon as the arrangements for their reception were complete.

They were men past their seventieth year, and in demeanour equally marked by the easy dignity of respected age and acknowledged rank. The first, Tafazzul Husain, who bore the courtesy title of Mufti, was a man of erect, lean figure, with white moustache and shaven face, high, narrow forehead and languid eyes. He wore a black silk cap with high oval crown, gold embroidered, the symbol of the judicial office, which had been hereditary in his family under the Dehli kings. A landowner of wealth living at Tigri, he was widely known as a Persian scholar reputed to have penetrated the mystical meaning hidden under songs of love and wine written by the great lyric poet Shamsuddin Muhammad, known as Háfiz of Shiráz. Much of this exoteric lore he had endeavoured to instil into Ali Husain, who had listened with respect, but ever-increasing scepticism.

His companion, Maulvi Nazar Ali, a man of short, slight stature, sloping shoulders, wrinkled face, quiet dreamy eyes and a long silver beard, had been distinguished as a professor of Arabic letters and theology, but now in his declining years, lived a dependent and friend of Shekh Rafat Ali, the Tahsíldár of Ronáhi.

Now when these old friends of the family, with moist eyes and voices touched with emotion, had congratulated the old parents on their son’s return, and the preliminary ceremonies and explanations had been disposed of, Ali Husain took his seat to relate his history. He sat on the right of his father, who laid a hand upon his shoulder from time to time, as though to assure himself of his presence by touch as well as hearing. On the left of the old man sat his wife and daughter, their heads now covered by their veils; and facing them the venerable Maulvi and Mufti sat with their eyes fixed inquiringly on the austere face of their former pupil.

And he, first glancing slowly from one to another of the silent and motionless group, spoke in a mellow voice in easy flowing words, without haste or hesitation.

Chapter X

The Sayyid’s Apologia---The Two Apostates

“It was one morning at dawn. I stood on the sea-strand at Kákináda.”

“In what country?” inquired his mother; “I know not the place.”

“It lies on the shore of the eastern sea, south of the Godavari. There merchants from both coasts gather, dealing in cotton for export in bales to the English mills.”

“But what led you to that distant port?” again interrupted his mother.

He looked at her for a moment quietly, and continued:---

I sat there by a pile of cotton bales, and the dry land breeze blew fresh, driving seaward the foam of the breaking waves, and I watched it flecking the grey sea. That was the ever-memorable dawn of the day when the New Light first shone upon me.

And as I sat brooding, there came by an English gentleman, clad in white. He walked feebly, leaning on a stick, as one lately risen from a sick-bed. He stopped to rest against the bales, and I noticed that his cheeks were hollow, his red beard untrimmed, and that beneath heavy brows his eyes gleamed feverishly. His countenance was that of a man who thinks much, living apart from the bustle of the mart and affairs. When he noticed me, we exchanged steadfast glances, and he addressed me in our tongue, speaking as a scholar:---

“Surely, from your face and garb, you come from the north?”

Then rising, I bowed, answering: “And I---am I right too in conjecturing that I address one whose days are passed in meditation and reading and converse, rather than in pursuit of wealth or office?”

He smiled gently as he replied: “It is true, a man’s calling is stamped on his features and demeanour.”

“Perhaps,” I continued, looking closely at his grave thin face, “I may be permitted to ask: Are you not one of those whom intense belief inspires to preach your creed to the heathen, the creed of Christ Jesus the son of Mary?---honoured is he in this world and the world to come and near to God.”

“I was a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he answered simply. “And you, sir, may I ask your calling?”

“One moment, sir,” I answered. “You say you were a preacher “

A slight flush came over his cheek and quickly vanished as he answered: “Would you have one so wasted in body and so weak of voice preach to a congregation, or contend against a quick adversary?”

As he spoke he held up his hand, displaying the thin fingers and wrist.

Then I answered: “But if your belief in a call from God remains unshaken, it should still impel you to seize the occasions of intimate converse, such as we hold now. May I then ask, again, whether you have now abandoned your mission?”

“You have divined rightly. I have no longer a mission,” he replied, and asked what calling I followed.

“Can you not guess?” I answered, smiling, and held out my hand palm upwards for him to examine. He touched it lightly with his frail fingers: “A man of the pen and of books,” he said. “Your garments are worn; your form tells of spare diet. But your eye is clear and bright, your lips are red, and your demeanour and speech suggest energy, resolution and capacity. Had you sought for wealth you must have gained it. What then hindered you? Did you commit some crime in the haste or indiscretion of youth? Did a restless spirit lead you to intrigue against the State? Or are you perhaps one of those who fall between two worlds, caring little for that in which we live, believing faintly only in that promised hereafter?”

“There you touch me closely,” I answered. “I confess, a waverer who has lost both worlds.” Then, after a pause, I continued: “But let me venture to guess your history. I gather it from your words and features and manner. In your early manhood there was kindled in your mind a burning desire to proclaim the truth among the heathen. But slowly amid discussion and controversy your belief crumbled, corroded by the strong acid of reason. And now, deprived of the basis of your life, your occupation gone, you know not whither to turn. You are a born teacher, impelled to preach the faith that is within you; with your loss of faith your occupation is gone, your days are void and life seems futile. You came among us convinced that you were an instrument chosen by the Divine Will for the propagation of His Revelation of the Salvation of Man; you exulted in strength conferred by delegation from the All-powerful and All-wise. And now your truth has been revealed as error, or, at best, as false as that of those pagan priests upon whom you looked with pity if not contempt. You have fallen to the ranks of the common herd; you who soared above the world, lie with broken wings on the slime-bank of the stream of life!”

“You speak as a seer,” he said softly, “but perhaps from your own experience.”

“Nay, not so,” I replied. “I was indeed a student of our Law and Tradition, but unmoved to proclaim Islám to the unconverted. No; m* old creed held me lightly and it slipped from me almost unnoticed. But I have thought, if I went forth as a preacher, I would wish for the absolute belief of a madman in his kingship and in his divine right to rule mankind.”

Then he took up the word: “And so you may partly realize the agony through which I passed. The warm breathing soul which filled the world had vanished; the light of the world was quenched; I beheld the misery of life comforted by no hope; endless generations borne on a purposeless current through a sea of miseries: disease, poverty, starvation, oppression, bereavement their lot, and neither goal nor end!”

“I think I understand the real cause of your dejection,” I replied. “A great purpose filled your life, your days were devoted to work, your nights to plans and hopes. All this you have lost, and now, with a fiery heart and active mind eager for a task, you live blank and purposeless days; and the prop which helped your faltering steps has been snatched from you, and you totter as a child who first stands to run alone. This, and not the loss of your old belief, is the prime cause of your despondency.”

“Your words bring the confirmation we all seek,” he answered. “Yes, I have felt this. My mind has grown clearer. A man shall stand firm and look undismayed on truth, and order his life thereby. I strive to apprehend all the implications of this great fact, that the generations of man have their sole dwelling here under the sun, and that their fate has been, is now and ever shall be, dependent on the natural forces around them and their own sentient life within.”

“Thus is health restored,” I said. “In the eagerness of fresh pursuit the heart beats strongly. But may I ask, when you abandoned the Christian Church, did you not seek a substitute in one of the other great creeds which flourish side by side in this land? They offer specious explanations of life and death and immortality.”

He smiled as he replied: “The faith in which each man is born and bred may fit him as his own garments, even as his own skin. But an alien faith adopted is at best a misfit. No; all alike are founded on crude guesses grown venerable by age and infinite repetition, and on the dreams of sages prompted by their own cravings and aspirations. But now, my friend, answer me in your turn, how do you reconcile with honesty your continuance in the circle of Islám?”

Then I replied: “I will answer frankly. I would not cut myself off from my own folk and the sphere of work to which I have been bred. A creedless man, severed from the circle of those dear to him and from the genial society of his fellows, wanders alone, as a solitary elephant driven from the herd, or as a leper and outcast. Islám forms a great brotherhood throughout the world. Wherever I go I find sympathy and the human intercourse without which I cannot live. When I sit with Christians or the Hindus, they respect me as a member of a great community. Shall I abandon this great communion with all its kindly sympathy for which I yearn, and wander in solitude, an outcast, whom none will tend in sickness and whose corpse none will honour with burial?”

Now while I was speaking the sun rose clear of the bank of mist which had shrouded the horizon, and the level rays fell upon my companion’s face. Scorched and dazed by the sudden blaze of heat and light, he shrank into the shadow of the bales.

“There is so much I should like to discuss with you,” he said. “And it may be that in the exchange of thoughts the light we both need will arise. But I must now turn homewards, for I am too feeble to endure exposure to the sun.”

I asked permission to walk by his side, and he rested on my arm and his staff as we passed through the throng of sailors, fishers and porters. He stopped under a shed when the horn of a steamship sounded the signal for clearing, and we watched the black cloud from her funnel, saw the last boat leave her, and heard the throb of the great engine as her head slowly turned seaward.

“Bound with cotton for the looms of the West,” he said in a low voice. “I was to have left this country with her, but I was too feeble. Perhaps it is as well. I feel unequal to a new task.”

But I said: “My friend, perhaps even now a new career may be opening before you and your old vigour may be revived. I think there is much you may teach me. And as you say, the interchange of thoughts between kindred minds may kindle a new light in each.”

We had now reached the gateway of the house, and he stopped under the shade of a tree.

“I must rest awhile,” he said. “My power of attention is soon exhausted. But when the shadow of the house is cast to the eastward, and the wind blows from the sea, I sit outside and overlook the strand. Will you come to me then? I shall be alone, for my host is absent on business.”

So I bowed and departed to the house of the Borah merchant whose guest I was.

Chapter XI

The Teacher

At the third watch the wind blew fresh from the sea, bearing murmurs of the breakers and of the busy port to the garden where my new friend awaited me. He was reclining in a long chair, watching eagerly for my arrival. I noticed that he was carefully dressed, with a coloured necktie and a red sash, and his hair and beard had been trimmed. The depression of the morning had vanished and his countenance was animated.

As though reading my passing thought, he said with a smile:---“You, too, have donned fresh white clothes. Is the change emblematic? You have indeed bound the green turban on your brows, but that I interpret as merely the ensign of a descendant from Muhammad Mustafa, surely one of the mightiest who has walked this earth. He dared to cast off as a filthy garment the pagan superstition in which he was reared and to proclaim his emancipation. I claim closer spiritual kin with your great ancestor, inasmuch as I have not shrunk from that painful ordeal of which you spoke with so much feeling.”

Then I answered: “The heart of the Prophet was filled with the new message entrusted to him for delivery. He demolished the old structure only to find space for the new.”

Then he, expanding my suggestion: “He was assured that the All-powerful had chosen him as the mouthpiece of the Divine Word; that what Omnipotence ordains shall be surely executed; and that therefore to preach Islám could be no vain task.”

“Yes,” I added, “convinced that he was an instrument of the Omnipotent, he could not hesitate to act.”

Then he took up the word: “He could accept with a confident heart the scoffs and ridicule, the hatred and outrage which await the preacher of a new faith.”

Then I continued: “ He felt justified in destroying the superstition, though it had supported men under affliction, for he brought a new Revelation complete and Divine to replace it. He could endure all things, assured of Divine favour and ultimate success.”

And as he remained silent, I added: “And you, my friend?” He answered:---

“The alienation of my old friends and colleagues has pained and depressed me, and I have no Kurán to preach---not yet. But now, my friend, may I learn your position? Have you discovered some happy compromise to enable you to continue an agent of the old faith? To you as a teacher the people of Islám come with reverence to learn the Law of God as delivered to His Prophet. Did they but suspect that for you the Fatiha and the Kalimatán---the Prayer and the Two-Fold Creed---are but strings of words signifying nothing, they would shrink from your company, and the pious merchant whose hospitality you now enjoy would drive you forth from his house.”

I was silent, looking outwards to the glittering ocean but discerning nothing, and he continued:---

“But, as I said, you have perhaps found a middle way to reconcile your outward conformity with the rectitude which befits a man.”

“Listen, then,” I replied at length. “I feel no strong antagonism against my ancestral creed. He who walks on the way laid down in the law of the Prophet walks in the path of righteousness: a good Muslim is a good husband, father, son; an honest dealer in the market; charitable and kindly to the poor and suffering, and a brave soldier to defend the right. I have no mission to amend the Prophet’s law of conduct, nay, rather I would strenuously support it. Were the bonds of law slackened, I hold that men would relapse into anarchy. The sanction it gives to right conduct is of the strongest and the result most beneficent.

“Then, too, consider my limited function. It is not to teach that Muhammad is the Prophet of God and to convert men to this belief. I address only those for whom his Kurán and the Traditions are the supreme law; I set before them in the plainest manner I can command the rules for the conduct of life laid down in that law. These are good in themselves, and accepted by Muslims as from God.

“But how different was your task, my brother!---to convert the heathen and Muslim to the creed of Jesus Christ. You called aloud to all, ‘Believe thus and thus, or hell shall be thy portion for eternity.’ I, addressing none but the followers of the Prophet, call upon them to live the good life which their Prophet has prescribed.”

My friend smiled approvingly, and he answered: “The distinction you draw between my mission and your task is real and important. But let us consider more closely your position. Every morning you join in prayer, even leading your people in the ceremonial of worship; and daily a hundred times you repeat ceremonies and phrases which imply acceptance of the Divine Mission of the Prophet. Now answer me this; Is it so important for the welfare of your pupils that you personally should continue to be their teacher? Are you then justified for their sake in passing your life in hypocrisy?”

I remained silent awhile before replying: “I have no over-weening esteem of my value as a teacher of morals. There are very many orthodox teachers of our people to take up my work.”

“Then answer again,” he continued. “Through open apostasy you would become an outcast from your people. But for this, would you conform to the rites?”

I again hesitated before replying: “You have said. I would not wear the mask.”

“Then, my friend,” he continued, “you live as an impostor merely because you have a craven heart.”

I hung down my head in silence.

“Oh, my brother!” he exclaimed. “Is not the false darwesh hateful to all true men? Fearing the unjust resentment of your people, you dwell among them as a living lie.”

Again I could not answer; for he had but found words for my own feelings and thoughts, which had so often struggled for expression.

Then he continued in a softer tone: “My brother, you are silent because you know that explanations, fit perhaps to palliate such conduct in another, can never exculpate a man of your character.”

Then at length I answered without evasion: “The whisperings of mine own heart speak aloud through your voice. They cannot remain unheeded.”

“Ah, my brother!” he exclaimed eagerly, grasping my hand, “I felt sure I had not misread your features, nor your demeanour, nor your words. But now brush aside this personal matter. You and I stand side by side on one common basis, facing the world. Let us examine together what action is demanded from us; or rather, for I am now but a broken man, what obligation, what solemn duty, lies upon one such as you, one in full vigour and endowed with the gifts of a teacher. Aye, we are both preachers by natural impulse. Shall we not dare to preach a new Gospel and to suffer even to martyrdom? We cannot claim, like the half-insane prophets of old days, to be bearers of revelations from an All-mighty and All-wise God. Shall we not, in our solitary conviction, nobler and more greatly daring than they, stand forth as teachers for the sake of Truth and the welfare of man?”

He paused, and I waited for him to speak further.

“And consider this,” he continued, speaking slowly: “when shall our leaders be emancipated from this hypocrisy? You and I are not alone in our loathing of this illusory world of ghosts, created in ancient days for the terror and comfort of man struggling against nature, which threatened to overwhelm him. Thousands like ourselves reject the dominion of the spectral powers; united, they would form a brotherhood, within which each would find the kindred and sympathy indispensable to the heart of man and to the development of his highest powers. Let these be summoned from among all creeds to acknowledge the bond of their common humanity, and combine for one end, to render this our dwelling-place habitable for man, to combat the ills of his life, and raise him to the highest state to which his nature is capable.

“And consider now the wasted energies of some of our best. Dwellings for men are needed, abodes of health cleansed of their poisonous surroundings; and behold! men build temples as sanctuaries for phantoms. Above all we need knowledge of the causes of disease, the source of countless miseries: but we waste our wealth and days in the vain propitiation of phantoms!

“If all the intelligence now devoted to futile inquiries and disputes regarding the will and nature of phantoms were directed to the discovery of the real causes of suffering and to their prevention, to the removal of the evils of life, then at last might man become the crown of life under the sun, an end justified by mere existence!

“Think of the Brahman Pandit expending his keen brain on the vain subtleties of his Upanishads, and endless ceremonial observances; of the days of your chosen Maulvis wasted in repetition of the Kurán and the exposition of its endless confusions; and last, not least, of the Christian priest and theologian devoting his trained intellect on those dubious letters of Paul and the weird nightmare of John the Divine. Think of this, and then try to estimate the waste of that most precious product of life, the human intellect: consider what might have been achieved for the amelioration of the lot of man, had all this energy been rightly applied!

“The first condition for the removal of an evil is to discover its cause, and for this the best intellect of man alone will suffice. What a pitiful spectacle, this endless misapplication of the best!

“Do you understand, then? If we would work for the one and only great and worthy end, the betterment of man in this world, then we must first emancipate men from the phantoms of the past. The intelligence of man must be free for the great work to be done in this world of ours; and it is for you and the like of you to make this emancipation the great task of your life.”

But the excitement with which he spoke exhausted him; he sank back in his chair, and pressing his hand to his heart with an inarticulate cry, he fainted.

He never recovered consciousness, and before sunset ceased to live.

When he was buried with Christian rites, I stood by with three of his race.

Chapter XII

A Spiritual Conflict

Then I sat down and wrote out every word he had spoken and every word I had ventured in reply, and revising again and again, I had before me in fair script all that had passed between us. And when it was complete, I wandered to solitary places on the strand, and wept over the loss of one who might have been my teacher and leader, my colleague and friend. Only for those brief hours had I known the delight of that human intercourse in which thoughts and feelings pass from mind to mind and heart to heart without reserve, to unite in the harmony of two kindred souls. And I wept that never should we commune together more. But as I turned slowly homeward in the gathering darkness, hope glowed faintly in my heart that he would visit me in my dreams and in profound meditations like to dreams.

For some time I continued to live with the family of the Borah merchant, but each day my task became more irksome, and I began to loathe the prayers and the observances of our faith.

At last, it was before dawn while I lingered about the place on the strand where I had met him, his voice spoke clearly to me through my heart, saying:---

“Thou hast heard my words with understanding. My message was delivered to thee alone. It was for thee to bear it onward, or to refuse it in clear honest judgment without subterfuge. Why dost thou do neither?”

There was a sharp sting in the tone, which excited me at once to defence, and I answered: “Yours was the bitter lot of the lonely man and the outcast, and in solitude you sank into despair. Too late you learnt that man is impotent and miserable, unless he dwell in sympathy with some great community. You seek to found a new communion of outlaws, among whom you may recover this comfort. You would build a refuge for yourself under the pretext of philanthropy. You would entice me to the sacrifice to win a comrade of your evil state.

“And hear my plea: I am honoured among my people, and my influence is surely for good. I impress on my pupils reverence to those wise and noble teachers, the sages and poets of Araby and Persia, now neglected, for the study of their immortal works yields no profit measurable in gold. Shall I abandon this good work which lies before me merely to escape the irksome repetition of prayers and ceremonies, empty of meaning to me, but fraught with comfort to all my weaker brethren? Surely not.

“And the mission you summon me to undertake is arduous beyond measure and lightened by no prospect of success. For consider the herd of miserable men. They follow their spiritual leaders whither they lead, ever under the guidance of the few. Will the doctors of Islám abandon their teaching, whereby they live and are honoured? Will the Christian minister renounce his sacred office and the comforts it bestows? Will the Pandit and the Brahman priest burn their books and starve with wife and children? Never! and as these teach, so will the people follow in fear of awful spirits and in reverence of ancient ways.

“And know this: superstition may be changed in form, but uprooted never! You call me to a task impossible to accomplish. You would sacrifice me for an end beyond the reach of man.”

As I formulated this defence, I walked the strand with a quickened step, refreshed in spirit.

But ere long my pace slackened and I again heard his voice speaking in the depths of my heart:----

“The Salvation of Man shall be through a thought which lies as a germ in the heart of the seer; under his brooding meditation it shall unfold its nature; it shall ascend to the light on the wings of his words, and soar abroad on the breath of his passionate pleading.

“In the hearts of the few who dare to give it harbour, it shall unite with kindred thoughts, gathering fresh and more vigorous life to fly in ever-widening circles through the world, and after many days, all men shall hear the sound of wings and be shaken by the rush of the beaten air.

“Do thou beware! Such a germ has been lodged in thy heart for nurture. Beware of the curse which falls on him who smothers the seed of truth! He is even as the mother who destroys the fruit within her womb, that she may escape from the pangs of labour and the drudgery of nursing a child. She is an abomination among men!

“Beware! If thou yield to the pretexts of a craven heart, thou shalt live a life of self-contempt. Better to perish alone and swiftly in the pursuit of a great purpose, accomplishing nothing, than to live in conscious baseness for a cycle of years!”

I stood still, abashed at this stern voice. I could make no answer, for all my pleas were revealed as pretexts spun by the brain at the promptings of a feeble heart.

I resolved to sever myself from the great communion in which I had been bred, hereafter to follow whatsoever way was revealed by the new light.

Chapter XIII

The Sayyid’s Call

Now it happened that a great sailing ship had come to the port to load the bales of cotton which my patron the Borah merchant had collected. When I returned to the house he spoke of the large profit to be realized: the spindles of the great mills in the West were rusting and the weavers starving for lack of cotton fibre; early delivery of the cargo was important and the ship would sail at dawn.

While he spoke I remembered a distant connection of our family, who some years before had left his home at Patna to settle in London as a teacher of Arabic and Persian. He had invited me to join him as assistant and see the country of our Rulers. This invitation suddenly flashed in my mind as affording an opening to a new career. I appealed at once to my patron to aid me to obtain a passage in the ship. Both he and his sons, my pupils, were reluctant to permit me to go, but when they found my resolution firm, they generously arranged for my passage and advanced the money I should need on landing in England.

Then I thought: “Thou hast left the People of Islám. Thy father and thy mother will lament bitterly. Surely it is best they should think thee dead.”

So I sailed at sunrise and struck from the tablets of my memory all thought of my kin---and perhaps you will think it was so far wise and pitiful.

Of the voyage and my sojourn in Europe I need say little. On shipboard the days and nights of uninterrupted meditation were a constant delight. Often my dead master seemed in communion with me, and expanded the few words he had spoken into long vistas of thought. His voice whispered in the balmy air of our Indian sea and in the storms of the south; and when we bore northward again, and the constellation of the Great Bear arose above the horizon, it became clearer, and his doctrine more definite. In a cold storm of wind and rain, under a leaden sky, we entered the great port of Liverpool, and I left the ship sorrowfully, and the friends I had made on the voyage.

In London our cousin received me with kindness and engaged me as his assistant. But there was no sympathy between us, and we soon separated in mutual displeasure. I found pupils in Arabic and Persian and acquired a reputation among the doctors of the colleges. They received me as one of the guild; for among the learned there is a sure bond of sympathy underlying their various rules and creeds.

Thus passed four years. I learnt much as an eager student of the science of the West, and as a teacher gained sufficient for my current needs and for a future store. At the beginning of the fifth spring my summons came and I obeyed the call at once. It was early morning and I was walking, as was my wont, in the gardens which extend over wide areas about the royal palaces. In this solitude amidst the great city, the voice of my master spoke within my heart in menacing tones: “Why dost thou linger now that all is ripe for action? Thou knowest that the time has come to fulfil the mission which I gave to thee. Beware! Thou art held here only by the spell of this new life; by its freedom from care; by the genial intercourse with thy learned friends; by thy dalliance with new branches of science; by thy pleasant daily task with these youths, high of spirit and eager of heart, who frequent thy lecture room---all trivial bonds for thee, who art summoned to a great work among thine own people. Thou art ripe for thy task, and each day passed among these pleasant ways is waste of thy life. Beware, lest thou perish, as I perished, with thy work undone!”

So spake the voice, and I knew my hour had come.

Within fifteen days I departed and travelled eastward by land through the great cities of Europe to Stambul and Cairo; thence through Syria and Persia, Herát and Kábul, until I stood once more among our own people in the market-place of Pesháwar.

I began the pilgrimage of my life in this pleasant town of Ronáhi where for generations my folk have been known and honoured; so I resolved that the opening of my new life and of my mission should be here, and hereafter it should be as seemed best.

I have spoken, dear kinsfolk and friends. I have revealed through what stages I passed to become what I am. I pray you turn not your hearts from me utterly, though I have left the path which you deem the only path for the righteous.

In full knowledge and after long deliberation I have chosen, and I shall follow my way.

He ceased speaking, and for a while profound silence fell upon the little assembly.

Chapter XIV

The New Path

Then his mother, bowing her head over her drawn-up knees, moaned; his sister sighed and wept silently; the Maulvi, muttering the sacred name under his breath, looked in the face of the blind old man, waiting for him to speak; but the Mufti, as one emancipated by habits of speculation and curious of new doctrine, was about to question the Sayyid, when the voice of the master of the house checked him:---

“My son,” he said, speaking in measured tones, “you had resolved to communicate with us no more, that we, mourning you as dead, might not suffer the pain and humiliation of a son turned rebel to the Faith. What led you to abandon your purpose and return home to proclaim your apostasy?”

But before Ali Husain could reply, the Mufti intervened eagerly.

“But your doctrine, my worthy young friend. I pray you let us hear somewhat of the principles you have to teach. What bird of light has this long incubation hatched? It may well be, sir,” he added, turning to the old man, “that much in his new doctrine is, when rightly understood, in harmony with our ancient Faith. We know well how elastic to the mind acute in exegesis are the holy texts.”

“Honoured father,” replied Ali Husain, “permit me, I beg, first to answer my respected patron. The reply to your question will then follow naturally.”

“Our Mufti Sáhib speaks to the point,” answered the old Mír Sáhib. “We listen and wait.”

Ali Husain paused awhile with half-closed eyes, as one who in meditation loses consciousness of place. Then slowly raising his right hand he passed it across his forehead, his eyes opened wide, his features lit up, and he began to speak, first in a quiet voice, then with warmth and vehemence and the conviction of one who has passed beyond the cold shadow of doubt.

“I speak to the followers of the Prophet, whose name is blessed! He, Muhammad the Chosen, came into the world the Prophet of Islám, as the last in the line of inspired teachers---Adam and Abraham and Moses and Jesus---each the Prophet of his age, explaining and developing the Message of those who went before and proclaiming a new Dispensation for men.

“Each Divine Revelation was directed to the needs of the age. In the course of generations men’s hearts and minds expanded, and a new revelation was sent down adapted to the new age. Or, in the terms in which I would express it: so much as in each successive age could quicken the hearts of men was the revelation of the age. The necessary limit was the capacity of man to make the revelation part of his moral nature and a rule he felt bound to obey. All beyond this limit fell, and will fall, as seed on barren ground, to wither and drift away with the dust as waste.

“And I would beg you to recall this to your minds: as each Divine Messenger came forth announcing the new Revelation, the people cried out against him as a false prophet and a rebel against the Divine Laws. Thus did Jesus and his disciples suffer at the hands of the Jews, and thus did his own tribe deal with Muhammad the Chosen.

“And now as to the application of this great fact of Successive Revelation. I teach, and will maintain, that the Revelation of the Prophet of Islám was a revelation to his age, in the process of time doomed, like the Revelations of his predecessors, to be superseded by a new Message, fitted to the ever-growing mind of man and the changed conditions in which he lives.

“And as the Message of the prophet of the past was an offence, and even an abomination to all those who held by the ancient ways, so shall it befall the Revelation to come.

“And now, my friends, I claim from you an open mind to the message I am here to deliver.

“And I ask you to believe that I cherish a profound respect for the great teachers of the past, but I hold in deeper reverence the Light I am called to bear among men, and I would brand as the prince of apostates him who denies the truth that is in him and preaches a lie.

“And you demand how I know that I bear a Message of Divine import? And I answer: The days are past when a teacher shall give heed to a Voice from the mountain or heard in a dream. No; the new message to man must spring in the heart of the thinker. Its germ is delivered to him from the thinkers of the past and the present; fostered by prolonged study and meditation, this expands into a truth urgent for proclamation to the world. And day by day the conviction grows stronger in the mind of the thinker that the one thing needful to struggling man is the knowledge of this truth; and a passionate impulse gathers in his heart to go forth to the world as a teacher, ready to endure all for the sake of the Message which he has to deliver. Though he suffer contempt and mockery, contumely and outrage, and his dearest turn from him in sorrow and anger, yet he shrinks not from his mission for his faith is unfailing that the day of acceptance shall surely come, when his Message shall be known as Divine and the messenger honoured among the greatest of the sons of men.

“So much then in explanation of my claim to stand forth as a teacher among my people.

“And now as to the doctrine I preach: First, and before all, I teach that among all the great nations of the world a moral law has grown up in the hearts of men, and is manifested in right conduct. The first test of a man is his conduct in relation to his family, to his fellows, and to the State. What religious ceremonies he observes, what prayers he repeats, are of importance only as they influence his conduct for good or ill, and elevate or depress the standard of his life. This and nothing else is the test of the worth of his religion.

“I teach that man, under the guidance of knowledge and through discipline in right, is destined, in the process of the ages, to subdue the forces of the world to the purposes of his highest life; that here, in his dwelling-place under the sun, he shall grow wiser and stronger and nobler, and stand forth at length as the manifest master of the world.

“I teach that the causes of evil and good lie at our feet, above and around us, here in this visible, tangible world and not else where; and these can be measured and weighed and revealed to the eyes of science; that the constant endeavour of man shall be to attain clear knowledge of these causes, to the end that he may master them and bend them to his will.

“Thus, and thus only, shall he remove the causes of vice and disease, of folly and poverty, and strengthen the faint of heart make men wiser and stronger and nobler, and rear each generation to bear the standard of life to an ever higher pinnacle.

“And I call upon all men, and each in the measure of his power, to take part in this unresting contest against evil, that the hell in which we live may be transformed into the heaven which is revealed, though but vaguely, even now in the ideal of the seer and the divine image formed by the poet’s vision.

“And as the soldier of the king through long and arduous discipline is trained, not for his own sake, but for the cause he serves, and marches to battle regardless of self, bent passionately on victory only, so shall the warrior of humanity be trained for the contest against evil.

“Through this training shall he achieve the moral unity of man, that each shall strive for all and all for each.

“I teach that the fate of man lies in his own hands only. He sows the seeds of good and evil by his own deeds, and the harvest is reaped by his own children, here in this world of ours, and not elsewhere.

“I call upon him to live in this proud consciousness: that he is master of his own fate, that what he is now and shall become, and his children after him, is the work of his own wisdom and striving, and no charitable dole conferred upon him by any being not man.

“His glory shall be in his own brave heart, in his keen and crafty brain, in the skill of his hand, in his energy, renewed and augmented from generation to generation; and he shall look back on his conquests of the past and gather therefrom a buoyant hope that victory shall be the assured end of all his toil.

“And he shall rejoice in the contest itself as the very flower of his life.”

Chapter XV

Some Guides on the Way

“So much then I speak now of the supreme end of man’s efforts: to subdue to his will the forces of nature, that he may thereby achieve the highest life here under the sun. I can speak briefly only: days and nights would be needed for the complete expansion and explanation of this greatest of themes.

“But I would have you know this, and apprehend it clearly, that my precepts regard conduct only, the manner in which man shall act to man, and towards the community to which he belongs.

“That the end and aim I set before you is the progressive welfare of man as a member of a nation; that this is determined by his thoughts and conduct under the conditions of his lot here under the sun. If his own strength suffices not, he perishes, for there is no help for him elsewhere---none. If he win, all the glory is due to his prescient mind and brave heart, for ally in the great contest had he none.

“Now just as the health and energy of our living body result from the proper function of each of the innumerable little cells of which it is built up, and, again, as each of these innumerable cells is dependent on the actions of the body as a whole, so it is with man and the nation. The welfare of the nation is dependent on the nature and conduct of the men and women and children who in each generation combine to form it, and the welfare of each of these again is affected by the action of the nation as a whole.

“Each is supported by all and all by each. Each has a task to perform and needs the protection of the State that he may perform it unhindered.

“Thus, to pass to homely things, the first rule of life is that each shall duly perform his own task: the judge in his court, the merchant in the market, the ploughman in the field and the maker of shoes shall deem it his first duty to produce good honest work, the best he is able. No task, however lowly shall be lightly esteemed, if it be duly done; honour is due to the good workman in every sphere, and disgrace to the shirk whatever his rank.

“And these too are homely rules of the upright life: ---

“He who pledges his word shall redeem it; let none promise more than he can execute.

“Beware of releasing another from his bond, lest a pillar of our common life be shaken and the cause of justice abandoned for private ease: generosity is a choice pretext of the indolent and timid; and he who refrains from enforcing his right for the grace of his God hides his selfish heart under the dazzling mantle of piety. And the debtor who accepts a release for charity’s sake accepts degradation, for to return less than is due is to sacrifice the dignity of life.

“These and such as these are the precepts of the upright life, and they are prescribed to believers with more or less stress by all great teachers of the past. But, unlike these, I teach that righteousness consists wholly in conduct which conforms to the moral law, and in no way whatsoever in belief in the Last Day and in angels, nor in constant prayer.

“Now much, very much of the evil of life springs from unrighteous conduct of man to man; from envy, hatred and uncharitableness; from the oppression of the weak by the strong, and the grinding of the poor for the profit of the few; from unfair dealing, cheating, thieving, and all the well-known forms of vice and crime, condemned by every one of the great creeds.

“But of all the ills which afflict man and goad him on to curse life, none brings in its train miseries so endless and far-reaching as sickness and disease.

“Children perish and the hearts of the parents wither and their joy in life is quenched. Parents are swept away in their flower, and their young left orphaned, ill-fed, ill-nurtured. The wife and the husband, whose happiness in their joint life adorned the world, are severed in their prime, and the one remains to hate life.

“And worst of all is the long life sapped by disease, which darkens the sun of the world, and passes from one generation to another, a poison to the race.

“And I teach that the prime work for man of to-day is to seek out the causes of disease and destroy them; they are the chief agents of his present misery, and the potent hindrances to his progress to a higher physical, mental and moral life.

“And this you must learn, and comprehend in all its bearings as a central doctrine of the new faith: All disease is the product of germs borne from without and lodged in the body and blood, even as the poisonous weeds and noxious blights spring from seeds ripened under the sun and borne into our fair harvest of corn and fruit. These germs of disease, invisible to the naked eye, earth-borne, water-borne, air-borne, enter the flesh and blood of man, multiply therein myriadfold, and produce the plagues and pestilences which rage among our people. These germs of disease may be revealed by the keen eyes of science---many are already revealed---and destroyed before their poisons gather strength; and plagues shall be banished.

“And I teach that the most noxious of superstitions is this: that diseases are caused by the action of malignant demons, to be propitiated by sacrifices, offerings and prayers, and diverted by talismans, charms and incantations.

“I call upon our priests and learned doctors to abandon this most pernicious of errors, to cease their vain prayers and invocations to the dread phantoms shaped by ignorance and terror, and to follow the new path of knowledge of things at their feet, whereby only shall the remedy of ill be achieved. They shall cease to preach patience under these afflictions as evils irremediable or sent down to punish the wicked, and shall urge men to combat them through exact knowledge with unceasing energy and inexhaustible patience, that they may be utterly extirpated from the generations of the world.

“But consider for a moment the ways of our Hindu neighbours---the afflicted mother bearing her poor offering to the Daimon Sitla to save her child; the shrewd bankers and merchants and pandits sacrificing to idols in the shrines when their wives and children lie on the bed of sickness. Are their ways not the ways of madmen who construct phantoms out of their own imaginings, even as do children in their play? You pity their folly, not without contempt.

“But, my friends, I beg you, look to yourselves and consider in patience, with calm inquiring spirit, whether your own practice be less perverse than theirs.

“I call upon my people to cast these pernicious delusions from them, and receive the new light which alone shall show the way to health and strength and freedom.

“Believe me, my friends, the empty shadow of a phantom world has gathered over the spirit of man in the past and dimmed his sight, hiding from his apprehension the real world at his feet and around him and over his head. But the day draws nigh when this shadow shall be lifted, and at last he shall see with clear eyes this earth lighted by the sun, and shall discern its beauty and the glory of life thereon. He shall rejoice in his own strength as a warrior, resolved to subdue the forces of nature and make them his slaves. He shall rejoice in his own freedom to shape his own weal, owing all he wins to his own brave heart and foreseeing brain.

“He shall scorn to receive alms, even from a god!

“And now, my friends, let this suffice for the present. I have set forth very briefly some of the doctrines which I come to teach.

“And well I know, my friends, the dense mass of the delusions I seek to dissolve to make way for the truth. And I know well that not to me shall it be granted to behold a converted people. This great victory shall come about only after very many years and after very many teachers of the truth have come and passed away. But one shall begin, and I will be he. Aye, the one shall begin, and he shall teach with burning, unresting zeal the Faith that is in him, pursuing ever the noblest ends, the welfare of man here under the sun, living now and to live through the unnumbered ages to come.”

Chapter XVI

Epilogue to the Sayyid’s Apologia

The Sayyid paused in his impassioned speech, and his hearers sat silent, overawed. But when the Mufti was about to speak, he held up his hand with an imperious gesture to check him, and continued:---

“And now, dear father, I will answer your question. You ask why I come here to speak the things I have spoken, when on that great day when the light of pure knowledge first shone upon me I purposed to abandon all my kindred and be among them as one dead. I had said in my heart: I will be very tender of the feelings of those whom I loved and who loved me, whom I love now and respect, all those now assembled about me to-day.

“But the time came when I probed my heart and discovered the true ground of my resolution in a secret cowardice. I feared these dear ones would regard me as a rebel against the Faith, as one misled by the whisperings of Satan; and I shrank from defacing this image of my youth which I knew they cherished.

“And then I said in my heart: Thou wouldst shake the faith of thy people; thou wouldst assail their most sacred beliefs. Thou bearest a truth which burns within thee as the great need for the ultimate salvation of man. Wilt thou not dare to offer this to them thou hast loved best, to open before them this precious treasure, which thou hast spent thy life to gather?

“And I said: Where for many generations thou and thy folk have been known for their noble lineage and bearing, and conduct and learning, there shall thy preaching begin. These weighty credentials of ancient nobility and integrity I will bear with me into the new sphere to which I am called.

“And I said: What lesson is this which thou wilt teach before the world, but dare not declare openly before those of thine own household? Shall a rumour come to them from afar that the beloved son is spreading abroad doctrines abominable to all good men, which he shames to utter before those among whom he lived from childhood to manhood? Nay, these dear ones shall be the first to learn what I purpose, what I am now and what I teach; and I think, though they grieve over me as one gone astray, they will not withdraw their love and respect.

“Thus, dear friends, I have spoken, and the days of my teaching are begun.

“But you, my revered father, and you, my beloved mother and sister, I pray you ponder calmly on what I have said, and commune together regarding me and my purpose. And believe this, that to you I come not to discourse of matters hard to understand, but to exchange in old intimacy thoughts that spring from my heart against thoughts that spring from yours.

“And to you, revered Maulvi, who guided my first steps into the Book of the Prophet and the lore of the Arabs, I would say: I have gone far afield since we parted, have seen many men and many cities, and explored wide spheres of thought---all strange to the old circle in which we lived together so many years. But now as ever I cherish my old respect for your true and gentle spirit, and I beg that between us there may be no controversy. Let it suffice that both you and I seek the same end, the welfare of our people.

“And you, venerable Mufti, you are one who know how widely the mind must range in the pursuit of truth; you know well how many there have been of our own people who, in secret, have spoken somewhat of that which I dare to proclaim openly before men. There is much I would gladly discuss with you in quiet, when occasion serves you.

“And lastly, I ask you all to bear in mind that what I have spoken to-day may be proclaimed through the town: I have no secret message for the chosen few, only clear words for all to hear.”

He stood up, his cheek burning and his eyes gleaming as with fever.

“And now let the assembly disperse,” he said imperiously, “and permit me to depart, for I need solitude and rest. But when you call me back among you I will return.”

He threw his shawl over his shoulder, and bowing low, left the house before any ventured to speak.

The weavers at their looms and their women at the warps watched him as, heedless of all around him, he strode swiftly across the open space between the huts and the town, and disappeared in the shady lane under the house of Pandit Sheonáth.

Chapter XVII

The Gardener

The Sayyid Ali Husain, concealing his features under a fold of his Kashmir shawl, crossed the market square with rapid steps to the lane which leads southwards to the river. Here he slackened his pace and, with hands clasped behind his back, passed the lofty walls of the merchants’ residences, the houses of the clerks, small traders and artisans, to the little gardens beyond and the park-like grounds where, near the river cliff, stands the Kothi Mubárik Bunyád, a great stucco edifice built by the grandfather of the present owner, Khán Bahádur Khán, for the reception of his English visitors.

The Sayyid noted that the main door under the portico and the Venetians of the deep veranda were closed. He went round the house to the open field stretching to the cliff of the river. No one was visible, and no signs of recent visitors marked the clean grass. He stood for a while by the well, as though in hesitation, and then, turning towards the row of servants’ huts, called loudly for the watchman.

Beyond the huts was an orchard of orange and lemon and mango shrubs, bordered by date palms and plantains. From the midst of these there now appeared an old gardener with a mattock in his hand. He scrutinized the stranger deliberately, and, satisfied from his dress and bearing that he was a person of rank, he came forward.

“You seek Akbar Khán,” he said respectfully. “He will return shortly from the market.”

“The mansion is unoccupied, I see,” said the Sayyid. “Is it long since you have had guests here?”

“Some months,” replied the gardener. “Few come at this season. The house is chilly in these winter days, when folk love to bask in sunshine. But you, sir, are a stranger, and no doubt would like to go over the fine place where our Khán Sáhib entertains our Rulers. It is one of the sights of Ronáhi; but it should be seen when the chandeliers and the sconces are ablaze and glitter in thousand reflections from the mirrors. I promise you, it is fairer than a Diwali night at the house of our great banker, Bábu Baijnáth.”

“Can you show me over, old man?” asked the Sayyid.

“Nay,” replied the gardener, “that I cannot do. But if your honour will deign to wait a little, Akbar Khán, the butler, will return, and for a small fee, which your honour will not grudge, he will gladly open the mansion.”

“I am not pressed for time,” answered the Sayyid. “But you, old man, you are Totá Rám Máli, whom I left here many years ago, and now you know me not.”

The gardener examined the stranger’s features and shook his head doubtfully.

“You have then forgotten the boy Sayyid Ali Husain, who used to wander through your orange groves in the early morning, and at noon lie beneath yonder pípal-tree, reading or idly breathing the air from the river.”

“Aye, aye!” exclaimed the gardener, his old face wrinkling into a smile of pleased recognition. “’Tis indeed the little Mír Sáhib! Surely I had recognized you at once, but for some change in your features and voice. And the report went that the young man had died abroad. Ahi! Ahi! How often in those days you wandered about our orchard, plucking the fruit, each in its season, knowing well the choicest; and you would sit sucking the juice yonder, under the pípal, and looking across the river, as watching I know not what. And our fruits are now as they were then, my once little master; the orange-tree of your choice is laden with ripe fruit. And we have peach-trees now in blossom. Come and see, come and see! You were ever free of the great Khán Sáhib’s orchard, and surely now as then.”

The old man led the way, through the hedge of plantains down the broad path bordered by orange- and lime-trees laden with golden fruit; and the air was sweet with the aromatic scent, and memories of his boyhood and youth filled the Sayyid’s heart.

“That is my old favourite,” he exclaimed, stopping before a dense bush on which small oranges with thin skins shone amid the dark foliage. He plucked one and, stripping the rind, tasted it. “You are right, old man. The old flavour cool and bursting with juice, sharp and sweet! This at least has lost nothing during the long years. And you, old man know well as ever how a noble tree responds to a loving hand; how gracious are the fruits of the earth to those who know good stock and tend it with skill. But tell me, have you dwelt here all these years?”

“I have never left for a day since last you stood by my side.”

“And the days have passed in peace and contentment?”

“Look you, Master Sayyid, I have tended my trees and plants through the changing seasons, and the evils of blight and parching winds and of hail and flood have fallen upon them. But there were ever new to replace the old, and a choicer stock; and the joy of watching the young growth with its promise is greater than tending the decay of the old. And so the seasons and years rolled by, and each day brought its task and its fruit and the hope of increase.

“But, sir, my sons are lost to me---all: two strong men carried off by the plague, and the little one perished from the fever which wasted our people three years ago. And with him was taken his mother. Ahi! Ahi! Now I am alone!

“Nevertheless the trees and the plants blossom and grow and bear fruit, and the daily task must be done; and Bhagwan grant it may be thus to the end!

“But as to that tree bearing the smooth orange with few pips and bitter-sweet juice, you mistake. The tree you knew was torn up in the great flood. This is of the same stock and bears more freely and a sweeter fruit. It is well the old tree perished or there had been no room for its nobler successor. Such, sir, is the way and will of Bhagwan.”

“Such is ever the way when man is brave and steadfast to overcome the evils which befall him; and when, like you, old man, he has the knowledge as well as the will, he surely succeeds.”

Then, bidding the gardener call when Akbar Khán, the butler, returned, the Sayyid left the garden, and crossed the field to the great pípal-tree which stands on the river cliff. Below runs the stream, and beyond stretch the yellow sands and the wide tract of grass, now silver feathered and waving under the light western breeze. The Sayyid’s excitement after the painful ordeal with his kinsfolk had subsided, and his thoughts had been turned into a new channel by the voice of nature speaking through the old gardener. He leant against the tree-trunk motionless, and in his reverie lost count of passing time as one in profound sleep.

Chapter XVIII

The Butler

The Sayyid was aroused from his reverie by a deep bass voice, and the portly old butler, Akbar Khán, bowing respectfully, approached.

“Welcome back, Master Sayyid,” said the new-comer heartily.

“Ah, Bara Miyán,” exclaimed the Sayyid, returning the old servant’s greeting. “Truly the passing years have dealt gently with you since we parted. Your beard is whiter, but the breadth of your shoulders and the girth of your waist keep all their old dignity.”

“I would, Master Sayyid,” returned the butler, laughing and smoothing his full beard, “I would I had the catering for your dainty appetite for a month or so. I warrant the hollows of your cheeks would be filled out once more. If I may be pardoned, surely you bring with you home the marks of one who has gone through much toil on scanty fare.”

“Nay, as to that,” replied the Sayyid, “I think we Ronáhi Sayyids were ever a lean stock. But your thought is kindly and I doubt not you have lost none of your skill in preparing wholesome and savoury dishes.”

The old butler answered complacently: “Truly, I hold, sir, that for a man who would be healthy and wise there are two prime needs: good food and sound sleep; and the rest follows by the will of God. The ill-nourished brain breeds sickly fancies, and sleepless nights drive men crazy, and starving men are afflicted by visions.”

“Well said!” replied the Sayyid, smiling. “And I am assured that the wise physician regards the skilful cook as a most useful ally.”

“Nay, sir,” answered the butler, “I go further, and hold that the good cook ministers to health better than your physician, and the physician is wise who knows this.”

“But there is risk,” returned the Sayyid, “lest your dainty dishes excite to excess.”

“Ah, indeed, it is with these as other good things in the world,” replied the butler. “Only the healthy and wise know how to enjoy them; and they know without teaching the capacity of their stomachs. Yes, Master Sayyid, I hold too that the best things are for the chosen few, who know the good from the indifferent. And as for the mob of our folk, let their bellies be filled with dál of bájra and karamuli rice cooked in mustard oil; that will suffice!

“But tell me, sir, now, where have you tarried all these years? Have you returned with wealth and wisdom and the sanctity of the Hajj? And shall we style you Háji like your somewhat acid brother Hasan Ali?”

“I have travelled far, old friend,” replied the Sayyid, “and farther in thought. But though the income of the day has sufficed amply for my needs, I have brought back little which would be deemed wealth in the market.”

The old butler shook his head as in gentle disapprobation. “And you have not got rid of your old bent for solitary meditation, for here I find you, as of yore, seated under the old tree, like a darwesh in his corner or a heathen yogi by the holy river.”

“But consider, old friend,” replied the Sayyid, smiling, “to pile up wealth is not the task of the Sayyid, but of the merchant. Let him minister to the learned, in exchange for their wisdom. He is well paid by a sweet verse or a distich packed with meaning; these are pearls beyond price and imperishable. And, believe me, the poet hath a finer joy in his craft than any dealer of them all in his 100 per cent profit on a sale.”

“Ah, sir,” exclaimed the butler, laughing, “I hear the voice and words of the little scholar of yore.”

“That is well, old friend,” replied the Sayyid. “I return home less a stranger than I feared. But tell me now, are guests expected in the mansion?”

“I come but now from the Khán Sáhib,” answered the butler. “There was no mention of coming guests. Indeed, at this season they are rare. Would it were otherwise! This great hall has not been filled since the noble Sayyid Ahmad Khán tarried here to confer with our gentry.

“A noble gentleman indeed,” said the Sayyid warmly. “He addressed the assembly?”

“Aye, and his voice and words held me under a spell as none other has done before or since. Swift and clear and strong as the Sárdhá stream from the gorge by our Bhutia market. I listened with delight, though his words were addressed to our nobles and gentry, not to us who serve at their call.”

“What said your master? Did he approve?”

“I know that he gave him an order for a thousand rupees to be cashed by our banker Baijnáth. So I guessed he thought well of his project, though many declared there was hidden heresy in his counsel.

“Your Khán Sáhib was wont to think and act for himself,” replied the Sayyid. “And when his heart prompted him to help, he gave with generous hand.”

Then after some further inquiry as to Khán Bahádur Khán and his household, the Sayyid parted from the old butler and turned again towards the town.

Chapter XIX

The Pathán Nobleman

Refreshed in spirit by the solitude on the breezy cliff above the river, and cheered by the warm reception of the two humble friends of his youth, the Sayyid returned to the town with brisk step and erect bearing. He passed through the lanes of the Afghan Ward and entered the Little Bazar, where at the third watch of the day the fumes from the shops of the cooks and confectioners fill the air and many idlers congregate. The residence of the great Ruhela landowner, Khán Bahádur Khán, forms one side of this little market-place.

Under the lofty gateway the retainers with swords in their belts were lounging about as of yore, and within a recess of the porch the old Jamadár Imdád Ali, seated on a cane stool, was gazing indolently at the traffic in the street.

The Sayyid entered the porch, and, addressing the Jamadár by name, greeted him with the salam and a salutation of courtesy. The officer arose at once from his seat and returned the salutation with dignity, but without any sign of recognition.

“You have then forgotten me,” said the Sayyid. “Have these twelve years so changed my aspect, or what?”

Then the Jamadár scrutinized his visitor in the calm way of one accustomed to take stock of men, and replied, somewhat haughtily:---

“Sir, in the space of twelve years many come and go through this gate.”

“Will you then inform the Khán Sáhib that Ali Husain, son of Mír Mahmúd Ali, is present and desires to speak with him?” replied the Sayyid.

Then the Jamadár bowed respectfully, saying: “I pray you, sir, excuse my defect of memory. And indeed a report ran that Ali Husain the Scholar no longer moved among God’s creatures on the face of the earth.”

“Not yet have I finished my allotted task,” replied the Sayyid, with a smile.

“May God grant you strength to accomplish it,” returned the old Jamadár heartily.

“I thank you,” replied the Sayyid. “And now, for my leisure is brief, may my presence be announced to the Khán Sáhib?”

The Jamadár led the way into a spacious quadrangle surrounded by arcades and the latticed apartments of the residence. On the side facing the gateway, in a little reception hall, clerks were transacting business with accountants and peasants from the Khán Sáhib’s estates. Leaving the Sayyid to wait here, the Jamadár ascended the narrow staircase to the upper story, whence he returned promptly, inviting the visitor into the presence chamber.

The door at the top of the stairs admitted the Sayyid to an airy chamber with six arches overlooking the quadrangle. Here on a cushioned dais he found the Pathán noble, a man of fine presence, and a fair complexion inherited from Kandahári ancestors. By his side the estate treasurer was seated, but as the visitor entered he collected his books and papers as though his business was completed and, bowing, left the room.

“Welcome back to Ronáhi, Sayyid Ali Husain,” said Bahádur Khán cordially, and without rising greeted him with the salam and shifted a cushion for him on the right. “A few minutes ago the report of your return reached me, and a rumour, too, that you had brought strange wares from abroad, which our reverend Maulvi Nazar Ali and the old Mufti of Tigri are engaged in appraising.”

The Sayyid smiled as he replied: “I remember we used to say it was an even chance whom the news of the day would reach first, the Khán Sáhib or our Tahsíldár.”

“Ah, sir, our folk rejoice in brief importance as first bearers of news,” answered Bahádur Khán. “But I think many years have passed, Mír Sáhib, since you honoured Ronáhi with your presence. Do you find us much changed on your return?”

“Youths have grown to manhood, and men I left in their prime I find wrinkled and grey; but the aspect of the whole is unchanged.”

“What!” exclaimed the Khán Sáhib, laughing. “And the new pavement in Ináyatganj, and the lamps at the cross roads, and Lála Madan Lál’s mansion over against the Great Mosque!”

“Yes,” replied the Sayyid. “These I duly noticed, as also the increasing ruin of the Mosque, and the new shrine at the house of our old neighbour, Pandit Sheonáth. But the things you mention are but as changes of raiment, like the new yellow uniform of the Tahsíldár’s men. In substance all is unchanged: our folk are reproduced from generation to generation, each like its predecessor as one swarm of bees to another; the old toils and troubles and the scanty joys of life mark the faces of to-day as of yesterday: all seems fixed and unchanging in their lives as the river yonder, though the stream is never two instants the same.”

“What would you have, good sir?” demanded the Khán Sáhib abruptly. “Shall not the child resemble his parents? Shall he not follow his parent’s trade? And shall not the trade stamp its character on the man? Are not the needs of each generation the same, and shall not men ever work together supplying these in the sure ways of their fathers?”

“True, the needs of men are indeed unchanging in substance, as the weight and hardness of the rock; and were they different man would cease to be man. But the ways and means by which his needs may be served offer a free scope to his activities; they are under his control. But of this divine privilege our people live unconscious even as the bee building its honey cell, as the bird weaving its nest, and as the woman grinding corn in her quern, as her mothers for countless generations have ground in the past.”

“Ah, my friend,” replied the Khán Sáhib, smiling, “have you so long dwelt in foreign lands amid strange ways that you forget that habit and custom embedded in the living fibre are the bonds of the caste and guild and nation? If these slacken, the poor fools drift helpless as straws on the stream, or perish in disorder as bees in a hive which has lost its queen.”

“Nay, sir,” returned the Sayyid warmly, “I know well the value of ingrained habit and reverence of custom. But I know this too, that in this moving, advancing, struggling world of to-day, a people which clings rigidly to ancient ways is doomed to subjection, even to extinction as a people: it has lost its energy and courage, and shrinks from the toil of learning new ways, and fears to tread an untried path.

“We sorely need teachers to inspire our people to advance the new ways of the world; to indoctrinate our choicest youths with the new science and the new methods. At present I find we are held in bondage by obsolete creeds, hide-bound and strangled as a snake by its old skin, which it fails to cast!”

The Khán Sáhib noted the animation on the face of the speaker and shook his head, smiling sceptically. But the Sayyid continued now in a quiet, persuasive tone:---

“Let me relate a little scene I once witnessed at Mazagon. On the wharf a little crowd of men squatted close together each with his bundle by his side, gaunt in feature, lean of body, and clothed in ragged garments, and they sat silent and depressed of mien amidst the bustle of the great seaport. Coolies they were, from our northern villages, embarking for the plantations beyond the seas. And as I stood watching these, there came by a band of gallant fellows---stalwart, easy-moving men, wearing bright caps and turbans and muslin jackets; and they talked aloud cheerily and laughed unrestrained, and one fellow sang. And following them came a gang of harbour porters laden with their baggage. Coolies these fellows also, bred in our northern villages, who had come home from the plantations beyond the seas, bearing in their girdles well-filled purses and drafts on the Dehli and Mathura banks. They passed onward to join the train, which in less than forty hours would bear them to their homes a thousand miles away.

“What hope for the future in this contrast! Good food and plenty, and liberal treatment for fair work, had transformed the poor labourers of our villages into the men of this gallant band!”

“You care much for these poor folk, for their full feeding and liberation from generations of oppression?” asked the Khán Sáhib meditatively, after a pause.

“Much!” exclaimed the Sayyid, “nay, above all. I would, remove the evils under which our people suffer and give them the fairest and widest scope for their faculties. They would expand as those village coolies.

“Look you, Khán Sáhib, you asked what changes I find returning after many years. I answer none in the mass: our people lie as I left them, depressed amid the old evils. But I no longer regard these evils as inevitable; for many I know there are remedies already at hand. We are, I hold, at the beginning of a great change for better things; for there is a new spirit abroad in the world, working with unresting energy to lay bare the cause of evils and remove them ere they can act. Ah, but for this!---were I convinced that the ceaseless round of birth, misery and death were unchangeable, I would, had I the power, annihilate the whole race, for ’twere better not to be!”

“You are bitter, Master Sayyid,” said Bahádur Khán gravely. “You are blasphemous too.”

“Nay,” replied the Sayyid, with a slight smile, “I did but express crudely the doctrine of our Hindu neighbours: that to live is to be miserable and that the wise seek self-annihilation by absorption into the divine essence.”

“A most damnable doctrine!” exclaimed the Khán Sáhib angrily. “The comfortable self-deception forged by a weary heart which seeks alone repose!”

“Most true, Khán Sáhib,” exclaimed the Sayyid joyfully. “I echo your words, as mine own. ’Tis a doctrine hateful to men who know the joy of contest, whose sons shall renew the fight with inexhaustible energy until at length they prevail. For that is the very core of my creed: that man shall be master of evil, and in the long contest shall find a joy of life ever renewed.”

“Bravo, Master Sayyid!” said the Khán Sáhib heartily. “I cannot indeed vouch for the orthodoxy of your creed, but ’tis at least a good faith for a nobleman and warrior to bear on his march through life.”

“If he but dare to look about him with clear eyes undisturbed by visions, such a creed shall be his,” replied the Sayyid. “But to return, Khán Sáhib. You charged me with blasphemy when I expressed bitterness at the misery in which our people live from generation to generation.”

“Forsooth, Master Sayyid, you spoke blasphemously of annihilating the world I love.”

“But consider the saints and holy men of Islám; have they not shrunk into the corner of seclusion? Have they not rejected the world you love, damning it as contaminating the spirit? Do they not strive to live oblivious of the world, absorbed in contemplation of hidden things?”

The Khán Sáhib replied with scornful lip: “Ah, these saints of Islám, from the great Pír-i-Dastagír downwards, and their disciples of to-day! I love them not, Master Sayyid. But should you choose the path of Salár Masáud Gházi of Bahraich or another, and the austere life needed to achieve saintship, I promise at least to throw you a coin as I pass!”

“And a glance of contempt,” added the Sayyid. “I thank you, Khán Sáhib; and your contempt would be deserved and your coin ill-spent. Surely their lives are a profanation of the world we love and would embellish with our work and lives. Ah, Khán Sáhib, you are with me in spirit, whatsoever be your profession! A man shall live in close kindred with men; he shall bear a brave heart in the struggle against the evils which threaten to overcome him and his fellows; he shall never abandon the hope that, through the combined efforts of men, evils shall diminish and joys increase, until the day comes when all shall join in your creed that life here in the world shall be loved, though the end for each be death.”

Bahádur Khán saw the eyes of the speaker kindle, and a chord within him vibrated in unison with the words. He was silent awhile with grave countenance, before he answered:---

“Sayyid Ali, you find words for thoughts which have haunted me from time to time. There are few to whom they could have been spoken.”

“A man shall dare to speak as he feels,” answered the Sayyid sharply. “To smother the light that shines in one’s own bosom is to quench a revelation.”

Bahádur Khán shook his head deprecatingly and replied: “If a man is inspired to be a teacher and guide on a new path, well! But let the physician minister to the sick; let the landlord care for his lands and his people; let the banker deal with money for his clients; let the husbandman plough and sow and reap and harvest, each at his best. But as to hidden things and the mysteries, let them all follow the ways of their fathers, and leave the teaching of doctrine to the maulvi and pandit, and to any seer, if indeed there be such, upon whom alights inspiration of new truth and the impulse to proclaim it.

“And, brother,” continued the Khán Sáhib gently, “as to these seers, these self-styled bearers of a new light, they have ever been many in this land of Hind; men intoxicated with their own fancies, and filled with the conceit of the madman, who proclaims himself the mouthpiece of God. Brother, of crazy prophets is no end, and the light of head and heart are drawn into their circle, as the dry leaves and straw and rubbish into the eddies of the wind.”

“True,” replied the Sayyid. “For man has spun out of his own entrails a hidden world, and must needs fill it with strange creatures shaped by his fancy, and adorn them with the awful halo of divine mystery. False are the revelations of mysteries which find no acceptance; true are those which prevail. But the origin of both is the same: each is born of the unchecked fancy of the mystery-monger. It is indeed as you say, Khán Sáhib.”

“Well, not precisely, Master Sayyid,” replied Bahádur Khán. “You extend my words, which applied only to the herd of the false prophets, to the chosen one who reveals the truth.”

“Aye,” answered the Sayyid, “the truth for the Muslim, the truth for the Jew, and the truth for the Christian. The one true revelation for the Jain, the one for the pious Shaiva, and the one for his rival the Vaishnava! Aye, all and each, truth for the sectaries; and all equally based on the wild imaginings with which a child fills the dark places he dare not enter!”

The Khán Sáhib made no reply, and the Sayyid continued:---

“But you, Khán Sáhib, have frankly expressed the sane repulsion of a man at the aspect of these saints of the afflicted crowd; you shrink from them in secret disgust as blasphemers of the world you dare to love. Surely, a natural revolt of the spirit in one such as Bahádur Khán.

“For has not a kindly nature endowed you with health and strength, and with head and heart to deal wisely with the wealth which is yours? Never has sickness darkened your days; and if a passing ailment checked for a brief while the strong current of your life, it flowed again thereafter with a keener enjoyment. Has not your energy in action been inexhaustible? Your days have been filled with the cares of a great estate and of numberless dependents. Have you not been daily called to exercise authority over the folk of these lands, and received honour from the Rulers? Your leisure has been filled with the excitement of the chase, with the dalliance of love, and converse with men of wit and wisdom; the lays of our best songstresses have been a joy to you, and from our poets you have drawn a delight which brings no satiety. In your house is a son, who may succeed even his father not unworthily, surely a rare gift as the world goes!”

“Nay, then, who would not choose to live such a life as thine? And if the Angel of Death summoned thee, thou couldst answer his call, saying, ‘I have lived a life that is good, and though it come to end utterly, yet it has not the less been a great good. And were my strength and faculties unimpaired I would have it prolonged for years unnumbered yet.’

“Do I speak truth, Khán Bahádur Khán?”

“Aye, brother, the truth. It is even so,” answered the Khán Sáhib earnestly.

“And surely you would say with me, what a glorious world were this, if all men lived a life as complete as mine?”

“You are right, brother,” exclaimed the Khán Sáhib, and continued earnestly: “And troubles in the house and obstacles in the path, hostile attacks and unjust claims, all these have been but as the toil and sweat and danger of the chase---excitements without which there were no zest in life or the hunt. Yes, brother, what a bright world were this, with its wholesome pungency, were all men endowed with health and strength, brave hearts and generous spirits! And who would exchange its bitter-sweet for the wearying sameness and cloying joys in Paradise? Yes, brother, the sickly and the weak, the faint of heart, those starved in body and mind---these are crushed under the sore burden of life, and hunger and pine for the Paradise of the pious, where rivers flow through unbroken shade, and rich feeding and rest and dalliance are perpetual!”

“And these evils of life,” cried the Sayyid in rapid words, “the miseries from which each generation sees no escape, but into the phantom world of spirit, leaving each generation to follow and suffer again, crying in craven tones, ‘Such is the will of God’: these evils have their sources in this world of ours; and within this world and not elsewhere are the remedies. Here is the great truth to be grasped and realized, that the causes of all ill lie within this world and come not from a phantom world of spirit; they may be controlled by skill and craft guided by exact knowledge, and not otherwise: by no penance or prayer shall the evils of this world be lessened for the generations of man.

“To seek out the causes of disease and remove them, to prevent famine and learn to rear strong men fitted to cope with evil and enjoy life: we need to combine all our knowledge, energy and wisdom in this great work, and surely in the process of years men shall be born to be masters in their own and only sphere, in this glorious world under the sun; to create and maintain by their own unabated energy a Paradise nobler than that of any prophet’s dream.”

Bahádur Khán shook his head mournfully, and replied: “A beautiful dream, O Sayyid, but a dream! It is easy to drug the mind against the ills of life by a firm belief in a life to come, wherein shall be compensation for all suffering; it is easy to rely amid misfortunes on Divine help and mercy; it is a sure comfort to see in patience under affliction a way to blessings from the All-powerful, to know that the feeble heart may sink in lassitude and gain Divine approval without toil; all these are sure comforts in misery, and they are here with us. But to abandon all these pleasant solaces, and seek out the causes of ill and lay them bare and combat them, this is impossible for the many, nay, possible for the few only; and the end, moreover, is beyond the scope of the living, too remote and too doubtful to bring any comfort to the misery of to-day.”

“I know, I know well,” answered the Sayyid. “The task is gigantic, and the obstacles to success may well seem to be insuperable. And well may you ask, how shall men be delivered from the blight of the invisible world of mysteries, which is for them as real, nay, more real, than the visible tangible world itself? But this I hold, that what has been attained by the few must surely be possible for many. And this I know, that never yet has the whole intelligence and energy of the leaders of men been directed purposively to the betterment of the life of man here and what has been attained in the past by partial and unconscious effort excites the strongest hope of achievement in the future through the conscious concentration of knowledge and skill upon this one great purpose.”

Bahádur Khán shook his head doubtfully, and after a brief pause, said: “Sayyid, you speak as one driven by a burning faith---such faith as lights in kindred souls an answering flame---and some will surely follow your path. But as for me, I confess freely that you have set words to many of my errant thoughts; but I am no reformer of men’s ways and creeds. And in my own sphere I deal with each matter of the hour, guided by such knowledge and wisdom as I have gathered in a life of constant action, even as the craftsman shapes the material of his art.”

“’Tis a wise course, Khán Sáhib,” replied the Sayyid. “One within the channel of safety laid down by the common sense of man, and the prudent pilot of the freighted ship will not diverge therefrom. Nay, I well know, Khán Sáhib, that those only can follow me who are free to risk reputation, honour and loss of friends, and to incur the animosity of some of the very best among our own people. But I thank you, Khán Sáhib, for frank sympathy. It has shown me that in the hearts of some of the noblest of our people there is a chord which will respond to my call.

“And now,” he continued, preparing to take his leave, “I have a boon to ask---nay, two boons.”

“Speak, Master Sayyid,” answered the Khán Sáhib. “And I feel sure you would not ask what I would not willingly grant.”

“The first is for hospitality. Your guest-house by the river is vacant. May I be permitted to dwell there for a few days while I complete my work in Ronáhi?”

“Surely,” replied the Khán Sáhib. “But may I ask what hinders you from going to your old home, where vacant chambers are wasted for lack of tenants?”

“The reason is simple. My presence will be irksome to my parents and kinswomen while I proclaim such doctrines of emancipation from old ways as those which I have freely expressed to you, and indeed to them already, to their pain.”

“Forgive my intrusion on your private relations with your house,” returned Bahidur Khán courteously. “Surely you shall be my welcome guest as long as you choose to dwell in my poor house. I will at once issue orders to my Jamadár for your entertainment; and in return, I will claim freedom of discourse with you; for men of learning and experience and wide travel are rare, and there are many matters on which I would gladly hear your views. The favour will be yours, Master Sayyid.”

“I accept willingly, noble Khán, and I fear not to burden you, though I hold the old saw true---a guest for a day is welcome, and for a second day too; but for the third, a weariness to the soul.”

“But the rule has many exceptions,” replied the Khán Sáhib, laughing.

“You are good indeed,” said the Sayyid, “and I venture to ask the second boon. I desire an opportunity to address our people here publicly. At your invitation they will assemble, and the one place suited for such an assembly is the great hall of your mansion by the river.”

Bahádur Khán paused before he replied: “Your brothers, Master Sayyid, left an evil reputation as Wahhábis and seditious men---men whose days were spent in intrigues against our Rulers. I am, as you well know, a sincere supporter of the present rule.”

“And there I stand with you on common ground,” replied the Sayyid. “I hold its maintenance to be indispensable for our people of to-day. I have been an observant witness of the beneficent influence over the whole of this land, from the region of the Five Rivers to the low shores washed by the eastern sea, from the snowcapped mountains to the sultry forests of Travancore; and if the need should occur, I will raise my voice in strenuous support of the Administration under which we live. But that is not my charge: I have other and, as I hold, more weighty matters in my mind; of some of these I have spoken frankly with you to-day. I bring a message from the West regarding the science of things of our daily life, and with affairs of State policy I have no concern.”

“That then is clear,” replied the Khán Sáhib. “But understand also that I shall not impress the stamp of my approval on your doctrine, and shall be, moreover, free to enter my protest against it.”

“Undoubtedly,” answered the Sayyid. “I crave but a hearing, and those only can receive my message whose hearts are moved thereto. I kindle a fire, but those only shall be enlightened from whose sight the mists of ancient illusions are cleared; unto them shall be granted to see things as they are, and the world shall be revealed to them in all its inexhaustible wealth as the kingdom of man.”

The Khán Sáhib smiled ironically as he replied: “One thing at least is clear to me, Master Sayyid, that you assume with easy grace the style and prerogatives of the inspired teacher. No doubt, like your predecessors of all times, you will discover the main obstacles to the acceptance of your doctrine in the lack of wit and the corrupt hearts of our people, in their hardened prejudice and deadly apathy!”

The Sayyid answered, smiling, quietly: “Of this at least I am certain: that the new, however simple, must dislodge cherished errors to secure its dwelling-place in the heart of the people. An illusion nestled warmly in the bosom of man is like the priest of the shrine, who slew his predecessor and must be slain himself by the next claimant to the ministry.”

“Well, well, Master Sayyid! I like your image of the deadly combat between the old and new; and, indeed, without contest in some shape there would be little zest in life.”

“It is the wind and the stream which keep sweet the water of life; else were it like the stagnant pool of a temple mantled with the slime of many washings. It is the storm which strips from the pípal the seared leaves which stifle the green foliage of the spring.”

“Good, then, Master Sayyid,” returned the Khán Sáhib. “Here at least you and I are one. But as to your request, I see not why I should not assemble our people to hear you, and it would be no unpleasant spectacle to witness your vigorous attack and the valiant defence of hoary error against the new claimant to the sacred seat. But I will give you my answer hereafter. And now, Master Sayyid, though you are a belligerent spirit, Peace be with you, and God your protector.”

Then the Sayyid, with courteous words and salutation, took leave and departed.

Chapter XX

The Serving-man and the Message

The sun had already sunk behind the evening haze when Sayyid Ali Husain passed out of the wide gateway into the Little Market. The place was crowded, and the air heavy with the greasy fumes from the shops of the cooks and confectioners. The Sayyid stepped aside into a little recess, and stood there scrutinizing the faces of the people as one who seeks an acquaintance. Many turned to look at the austere countenance lighted by kindly eyes, and the Muslim workmen bowed respectfully as they met his glance, and they felt honoured by his grave acceptance of their salutations.

Among these was a youth of some eighteen years, a thick-set, sturdy fellow, with square face, snub nose and deep-set eyes. When the Sayyid acknowledged his salute, the youth again bowed, and lingered as though awaiting an invitation to approach.

“What is it, boy?” asked the Sayyid. “I think you seek something.”

Then the lad’s broad face lit up with a pleasant expression, and he answered with unembarrassed frankness:---

“Sir, I stood leaning against the tobacconist’s shop yonder by the Khán Sáhib’s porch, and I saw your honour come out from the courtyard. The Jamadár Imdád Ali and all his men rose respectfully and saluted, and when you had gone the Jamadár, speaking to one of his men---indeed, to my cousin, Báz Khán---see, there he stands leaning on his staff, the tall fellow with the big beard---addressing him, the Jamadár said: ‘That gentleman is Sayyid Ali Husain, the Scholar, son of the venerable Mír Mahmúd Ali. He has but now arrived from travels over the four quarters of the world.’ Then Baz Khán answered, looking after your honour: ‘I had not taken him for a student of books. He has the bearing of a master whom one might serve with honour.’ Then I thought: Baz Khán is one who speaks what he knows, and I at once followed your honour’s steps, and stood apart watching you overlooking the throng. Sir, I need a master, and would serve you.”

“What service do you seek, lad?” asked the Sayyid.

“I can serve as body-servant, can cook with some skill, can wield a club when needed, and act as a trusty messenger.”

“Can you obey an order without question?” asked the Sayyid gravely. “Can you speak the truth, when your master demands it?”

“That can I do,” answered the young man, with decision “And I can lie too without faltering at his bidding; deceive whom he pleases, but never him whose salt I eat.”

“And your name and lineage?”

“Khálik Dád Khán, at your honour’s service, son of Usmán Khán, bailiff of the Tikori Rája.”

“Why have you left Tikori?”

“I wished to see the world, and moreover at times my father forgets I have reached manhood.”

“Where do you reside here in Ronáhi?”

“My father’s sister is married to the woodseller whose stacks and thatching grass lie out yonder by the Begam Bágh. I am living there, and help in the wood trade.”

“Let me see your hands,” said the Sayyid, and when the young man held them outstretched, the Sayyid felt the palms, that they were hardened with work. “Good!” he said. “And now listen. You see yonder Shekháni chaffering for parched grain? Her name is Rajban. Go to her and say, ‘Rajban, Sayyid Ali Husain bids me bring you to him at once,’ and bring her here.”

He pointed to a woman with stooping shoulders. The hood of her shawl, thrown back, displayed the sharp features, toothless mouth and grey hair of a woman of sixty.

The young man bowed, and at once made his way through the crowd. The Sayyid saw the old woman turn round to his messenger with some sharp reply, hesitate, and then follow without delay. Standing on the step below the Sayyid, she raised both her hands to her forehead, bowing low, and the young man Khálik Dád drew a little apart, waiting further orders.

“Rajban,” said the Sayyid, “tell me of my people; what has happened since I left them this morning?”

“Oh, Sayyid Ali, my fosterling, what have you done to bring this grief and dismay upon our house?” exclaimed the old woman piteously, wringing her hands. “And your coming was as the light after long, long darkness!”

“Nay, tell me, good Rajban the nurse, what happened after I left,” urged the Sayyid gently.

“Ah, Sayyid Ali, my fosterling, how could you quarrel with those who loved you, and flee from them in anger? What cruel words did you speak to pierce the heart of a mother?”

“Nay, good Rajban,” urged the Sayyid again, “answer my question---and know this surely from me, that what they in the house told thee of me is true, and enough; and what they told thee not, thou needst not know. But answer, I pray.”

“Grief and dismay and weeping,” replied the old woman. “Your mother, the venerable lady, went apart, and wept in silence; and the little lady, your sister Nasíba, turned to her embroidery on her seat over the gateway, but her eyes were blinded with tears and her fingers trembled, and she sighed helpless as one broken of heart. But the master sat long in grave discourse with the Mufti---a most worthy and kindly gentleman---for the Maulvi had departed in silence, with the face of one amazed. Oh, Sayyid Ali, my fosterling, that you we loved could bring such trouble upon us!”

“Listen, Rajban the nurse,” returned the Sayyid, in a quiet voice. “Be not loud in your grief, where your mistress is silent. And understand this, that ere long I will surely bring some comfort to those I love best. But give heed to my words now, and obey.”

“Nay, Sayyid Ali, am I not then here to serve, even as I served you day and night, when I held you a babe to my breast? To serve you and the house!” and she bowed, touching his feet.

“Doth thy memory avail thee to bear a message of import?” asked the Sayyid.

“Ah!” she answered. “Alas, I am old and somewhat dazed with the agitation of the day. I pray let your message be brief and clear.”

“My words must be delivered as I speak them,” he replied, and signalled to Khálik Dád to approach.

“Boy,” he said, when the three stood close together in the recess, “hast thou a memory with a firm grip to bear words they are spoken, adding nothing, omitting nothing?”

And the youth answered with decision: “So I understand the words, I can bear them as spoken. Test me, master.”

“Listen, then---and thou, Rajban, give heed. Do thou go straightway from here to my father’s house---this old woman will conduct thee---and while thou speakest there, she shall stand by.

“To the noble lady, my mother, say: Your son, Ali Husain saith: His love for you and his father is unshaken, and his heart is very sore for your grief. But know this, and ponder it well: a great task has been imposed upon him; if he should seek to evade it, he would lose his integrity and honour, and sink debased in his own esteem, and not less in that of the noble mother who bore him.

“And to my revered father and to the lady, my mother, to both thou shalt say: Your son, Ali Husain, prays you will regard him as one who follows the light of truth in honesty and reverence, as his fathers have done before him, though his Path be not the same as theirs. When you call him, he will come as your son, and there shall be no controversy within our house. His concern is now for your welfare, and he will not depart until this is assured.

“Thus shalt thou speak, boy. And thou shalt add, that I tarry here as the guest of Khán Bahádur Khán at his mansion by the river.

“Hast thou understood?”

“Every word, my lord,” answered the young man, bowing. “I will repeat it as spoken.”

“And thou too, Rajban; thou wilt stand by while the boy delivers his message, and wilt confirm his words.”

“I have heard, my lord, and will do your bidding,” replied the old woman.

“And further, boy,” added the Sayyid, “on thy way back, order Bál Singh, the camel man, to send my pack and baggage to the Khán Sáhib’s mansion. And, for thyself, bring thy white clothes and what more thou needest and do my bidding. And now begone.”

Chapter XXI

The Mistress of the Potters

When Sayyid Ali Husain passed from the Little Market through its narrow end into the town square, the sun had already set, and the chill mist, mingled with the acrid smoke from the cooking fires, had settled upon the town. Little lamps flickered in the shops, and on the trays arranged beside the cross-roads to display the parcels of dhák leaves for platters, packets of snuff, toilet appliances, parched grain, etc., for sale to the poorer classes, who were strolling about chattering, chaffering and laughing.

The Sayyid walked slowly through the crowd, pausing from time to time to look at the paltry wares and at the hucksters, men and women, all alike pinched in feature from insufficient nourishment. He took up his stand on the rising ground under the wall of the Fort, beside the gateway to the Tahsíldár’s court, whence he could look on to the square, lighted here by two oil lamps. It was the same crowd he had known in his youth, quite unchanged during the thirty years to which his memory ran.

“Thus have they lived from generation to generation, fixed securely in their ancient ways, seeking no change and accepting none---a patient, industrious, peaceful, honest folk, who meekly accept their poor lives and a scanty reward of much toil, as ordained by the Divine will. Their habits and beliefs are intertwined in their very fibres, and established through the mystery of sanctity which envelops them. Under what impulse shall they find resolution to throw-off ancient bonds such as these? And in this bondage, how shall they become other than they are? But if these ingrained habits and beliefs are slackened, shall not the race itself perish, lacking the strong mechanism by which, through innumerable generations, it has been held together? Who shall dare to cry: ‘Better perish as a people than live for ever as now’?”

These reflections, suggested by the demon Doubt, ever most alert in dejection, began to harass the Sayyid as he stood apart from the market throng. He escaped from them into realities when his eye fell upon a man and woman on the roadway who, talking eagerly together, were casting inquisitive glances towards him. Under the lamp of the Fort gate, he recognized the driver of the galled ass, and the stout woman with him, judging from her white shawl, dark blue skirt and embroidered shoes, could be none other than the Chaudhráin, his mistress.

“Ho, there! you potter, driver of asses!” he called at once “Come hither! and you too, Chaudhráin!”

The woman looked at him for a moment without moving, showing a rugged old face with firm mouth and square jaw; and then, as though satisfied by her inspection, approached, followed by her man.

“Accept my greeting, mistress,” he said, raising his hand.

“I greet you, master,” she answered, looking him in the face with bold, inquiring eyes.

“You are the Chaudhráin of the potters and this fellow’s mistress?”

“Aye, master,” she answered in a harsh tone. “I am the Chaudhráin; and you, so my man tells me, are the fine gentleman who promised to deal with the Chaudhráin in the matter of that galled ass. Behold me here at your service, master.”

“You have a faithful servant in this fellow here,” remarked the Sayyid.

“That I should know best,” replied the woman sharply.

“And yet you knew not that he loaded a crushing burden on a galled beast and belaboured her until she sank down in torture.”

“What concern of yours, whether I knew it or knew it not?” answered the woman angrily.

“Think you the souls of the merciless live again in the potter’s asses?” said the Sayyid.

“Like enough,” she replied sharply. “And he who stands between the cudgel and their wicked backs is like to get bruised. But who may you be in Ronáhi to ply me with questions?”

“That, dame, you may know by your own quick wit,” he replied, smiling, and stepping down beside her, so that the light of the lamp fell upon his face, he said: “Look well in my eyes; scrutinize my face feature by feature, and then tell me if you know me not.”

She returned his gaze at first without faltering, but soon her eyes fell, and the rebellious expression on her face relaxed.

“Come, good dame,” he continued. “Look again. I surely think you know me.”

“Nay, I know you not,” she replied, in a doubtful tone. “And yet, it seemed——”

“Speak on,” he said, as she paused, standing with eyes fixed upon his. “Speak what is in your mind.”

Then she answered in a low voice: “Master, pardon the rudeness of my speech. In the dim light I could not read your face. But now I see the face of one who, I know not when or where, has helped me in some trouble.”

“Ah, dame, the features of the boy are still traced in the face of the man; and under the maze of lines which toil and vice and hardship and passion have drawn, the mother still sees the baby face. True, dame, I am long a stranger in these streets, but when a boy my wandering feet led me often to the Potter’s Pool, yonder by the Ganges Gate, where then Pem Ráj sat shaping his jars on his whirling wheel. And often as I sat beside him I chanted the little doggerel riddle:---

Máti rúndhún, chak dharún, pherún bárambár;
Chátar hai to ján le men ját, gánwár.”

He chanted the simple words in a low voice, and the chord of memory responded in the old dame’s heart: she saw again the fair little boy as he crouched by the wheel in the shed, and her dead husband looked affectionately upon him, while her two infant sons lay on their backs in the dust, crowing at the song.

“They are gone, master,” she said, with a tremor in her voice, “the Chaudhri and the two sons---and now no one lives to remember that, but only you and I.”

“And you remember, too,” he continued, laughing---“you remember the impudent little song I picked up, I know not where, and sang to your face till you threatened to beat me?---

Dekho kharmasti is kumhári ki,
Upará, kahti hai, sar-i-bazár.”

The old woman laughed through her rising tears, her mood changing as quickly as the tones of an instrument under skilled hands.

“Ahi, ahi, the rogue!” she exclaimed. “And when you and I depart, these sweet memories shall vanish for ever.”

“Nay, nay, mother,” he replied, “not utterly; the like, aye the same, though under changed raiment, shall live ever in the hearts of kindly folk; for youth and its sports and merriment shall never perish. Nay, good dame, when you and I march away, life shall be always as we knew it, though under a changed outward shape. But tell me further now, how came it that my face recalled the aspect of one who had helped you in trouble?”

“Aye, that I can answer,” she replied quickly. “It was a dim memory of those days when your fair little face and chatter softened the morose Chaudhri, and laughing he dubbed you ‘Little Sunshine.’ To bring joy to a house where there is gloom and strife is a boon which the proudest may accept with a grateful heart. Ahi, ahi! and when I hear the fuel-seller crying along the lane, I shall laugh under my shawl over the memories you recall. I thank you, master.”

“And, dame,” he said, “a word to explain what I did this morning. When I see one of God’s creatures despitefully used as that poor ass, my heart burns in anger, and I hardly restrain my hand.”

“Say no more, master, say no more,” she returned heartily. “I think our cruelty comes most from heedlessness. But for us, it will be enough that you have spoken and our way shall be guarded by your wish.”

“I thank thee, Chaudhráin,” said the Sayyid. “Such compliance as thine is a joy to both, to the leader and the led.”

Chapter XXII

The Thákur Badgeman

The Sayyid was still conversing with the potter-woman when a man in the orange livery of a Tahsíldár’s orderly came out of the gate and approached, evidently wishing to address him. Then he dismissed the woman with a God-speed and, turning to the orderly---

“You seek to speak with me,” he said, and noted with pleasure the man’s broad shoulders, erect bearing, and strong features fringed by a crisp beard.

“Aye, sir,” replied the man brusquely. “The Tahsíldár Sáhib calls you within.”

The Sayyid looked at the man’s bold face for a moment in silence, and then asked in a quiet tone

“Tell me, my man, did your master name him you were to summon?”

“My orders were to summon you to his presence,” replied the man in the same tone as before, but with perceptible hesitation.

“I think that, by your aspect and speech, you are a Thákur, perhaps from Aonla, beyond the river?” said the Sayyid.

“As you say, sir,” replied the orderly, drawing himself up and thrusting his hand in his red embroidered belt. “But that is neither here nor there. I was bid call you, sir.”

“Softly, Thákurji,” returned the Sayyid, clasping his hands behind his back and shaking his head. “Let me first be sure I am the man your master called to mind. Bethink you, did he not name him you were to summon?”

Then the orderly hesitated a moment before replying: “Is not your name Ali Husain, by caste a Sayyid?”

“Did, then, your master bid you call Sayyid Ali Husain?”

“That was his order,” answered the man bluntly.

“Come now, Thákurji,” returned the Sayyid. “Bethink you again; our Tahsíldár was wont to be a mirror of courtesy. And you, his messenger, know this well, that a trusty delivers his message word for word as it is spoke nothing, omitting nothing. You grant this, Thákurji?”

“Surely,” answered the man gruffly.

“Then you can, as a trusty messenger, deliver my answer to the Tahsíldár Sáhib?”

The man nodded in reply.

“Then carry back this answer to your master,” continued the Sayyid, with a sardonic smile. “Sayyid Ali Husain, son of Mír Mahmúd Husain, sends his respectful greeting to the Tahsíldár Sáhib, and saith: A Thákur messenger hath summoned him to your presence with these words: The Tahsíldár Sáhib calls you within. Thus spake the messenger, without the courtesies which pass between gentlefolk on such occasions. The Mír Sáhib Ali Husain now requests confirmation or correction of the form of the summons; then as the message, so shall be his reply.”

Now when the orderly heard these words spoken in the deliberate tone and manner of one assured of obedience, he was shamefast and crestfallen in demeanour, and answered: “Mír Sáhib, I can indeed bear the message, and will do so if you command. But, sir, owing to my haste to comply with orders, some misunderstanding has arisen, and I would explain that one of our clerks reported to the Tahsíldár Sáhib that Sayyid Ali Husain was without the gate in conversation with the Chaudhráin of the potters. Thereupon he called to me, saying, ‘Sarjit Singh, do thou bear my greeting to the Mír Sáhib, and invite him to honour me with his presence if his leisure serves him now.’”

“Ah, Sarjit Singh, say you so?” answered the Sayyid, laughing. “Then I will honour myself by attending on your master at once. I see, Thákurji, it was your hasty zeal which changed his speech into the jargon of a rustic. Lead on, Sarjit Singh. I follow.”

Standing at a respectful distance, a few bystanders who had listened with appreciation to the little altercation now dispersed, quietly chuckling at the humiliation of the burly Thákur.

Chapter XXIII

The Tahsíldár of Ronáhi

The Sayyid followed the orderly through the barbican gate into the spacious courtyard, in the middle of which stands the stucco building used for the court and offices of the Tahsíldár. Passing through the veranda, where many clerks were at work by lamplight, he entered the little court-room brightly illuminated by wall-lamps. Here Shekh Rafat Ali, the Tahsíldár of Ronáhi, seated on the white cloth of the dais, was affixing his signature to documents, and giving instructions to the clerk, to whom he passed on the papers signed.

“Welcome to you, Sayyid Ali Husain, and peace be with you,” called the Tahsíldár, as soon as the Sayyid entered. “I pray you be seated for a minute while I dispose of these papers for to-night’s post.”

The Sayyid returned the salutation and silently sat down on the right of the official, watching him as he glanced rapidly over each document and affixed his signature with a swift pen. He was a man of about sixty, of thick-set figure, dark complexion, and full beard dyed to a glossy black. His forehead was wide and square, his eyes sharp and sparkling, deep set beneath his heavy iron-grey brows. It was a countenance clearly expressing sagacity and resolution, and also a humorous and kindly disposition.

When he had completed the work and dismissed the clerk, he turned to the Sayyid.

“My son told me he had met you this morning on your arrival, and hearing just now from one of my clerks that you were at the gate, I ventured to invite you to exchange greetings.”

“You honour me, Shekh Sáhib,” replied the Sayyid. “I was rejoiced to learn that you were in the enjoyment of good health and still exercising authority in the old town.”

“Ahi, ahi, Sayyid Ali! One needs all one’s vigour to cope with the ever-increasing stream of work which flows through this office, and ever-widening knowledge to deal with it. Look at this,” and he held up a bundle of papers, laughing. “These are my notes on which to-night I must write a report on the habits of the Gangetic porpoise! But by God’s grace we old officials maintain our control, and adapt ourselves to new ways But tell me, how long have you been absent?”

“Twelve years have passed since I set foot in the town.”

“So long, is it? But for us who have touched our seventh decade years glide swiftly by. Yes, yes, I remember now, my son Shaukat was but a little boy when you left us; you find him a tall fellow.”

“A gallant cavalier, Shekh Sáhib---one, I take, of a buoyant disposition and sweet nature.”

“You are right,” replied the Tahsíldár, with a complacent smile. “The lad has a merry heart, as befits youth. Gravity will come upon him with the toil and responsibility of affairs soon enough. What think you, Sayyid Sáhib?”

“Soon enough,” answered the Sayyid. “Truly most of us grow up to be depressed with the gravity of business. I love one who keeps a cheerful heart in his bosom ready to expand in merriment as soon as leisure serves.”

“Ah! there I am with you,” replied the old official, with merrily twinkling eyes. “I hold that he who cannot cast aside the cares of office in the hour of relaxation is burdened with a task beyond his strength. He is like the pack-horse who, when the halt is called and his saddle loosened, has not vigour left to roll on his back, kick his heels in the air, and neigh in defiance.”

And the Sayyid continued, laughing: “Perhaps you may know the distich---

God grant thee a wife, good man, who with joy and sweet smiling greets thy return!
God save thee, good wife, from a mate who comes weary and glum from his work!”

“A pretty conceit,” replied the Tahsíldár, nodding approval.

“It seems then, Tahsíldár Sáhib, you would have people as full of vigour for play as for work, in happy alternation.”

“Well, yes, master Sayyid,” replied the official doubtfully. “Well fed, full of spirit, and hating sloth. But consider, thus transformed, they would be a folk hard to rule and likely to shake some of us from our seats! Nay, the result of such a change would be tremendous beyond the power of calculation. As it is the wheels of government run smoothly, for the multitude, being underfed, have no energy left to trouble us; and the rest, whose bellies are well filled, expend their leisure in idle enjoyments and repose. And so, my young friend, the world wags easily on its way.

“And thus you see,” he added with a smile, “we all have a professional point of view, and mine is that of an official who has to maintain order. We would not indeed keep our people, like a tame tiger, on scanty diet, lest they should become disorderly; but we are cautious, we old officials, and ponder how we shall control the full-fed tiger conscious of his strength.

“And here, my young friend, you will have noted how a wary official is aroused to alertness even by the faint shadow of a change; for truly, such a transformation of our people as we have fancied is too remote for practical consideration. We know well how any innovation in the constituted order disturbs the balance of class to class and interest to interest, through which peace and stability are maintained; and to preserve this delicate balance is our first duty.”

“I understand, sir,” replied the Sayyid, when the official, ceasing to speak, looked at him with an inquiring expression, waiting for his answer. “I too, sir, recognize fully the paramount importance of law and order. I know that ancient customs, habits and observances must be respected, even though offensive to our reason. But, sir, permit me to answer at once your challenge, so courteously implied, and to speak frankly of myself. I would address you as the most respected of my old friends and the kind patron of my youth.”

The old official nodded assent with a complacent smile, and the Sayyid continued:---

“I am one who with due reverence measures and weighs old customs and ancient creeds with the gauge and scales of my garnered knowledge and prolonged meditation; and I dare to follow the truth that I find and proclaim it to the world, even at the risk of the perdition which lies awaiting those who err.

“I have learned to regard the welfare of man here under the sun as the supreme end of all endeavour. Creeds and morals habits and customs, laws and rules, all these are valuable or pernicious as they promote or hinder man in his ceaseless effort to subdue the forces of the world to his welfare. This is the one and only final measure to appraise all conduct, all morals and all creeds.

“I have sought and seek to apply this measure to the ways and beliefs of our people; with reverent hand to separate what is evil and preserve what is good, and to offer surer guidance to them and the generations to come.

“But I well know how hard it is to pierce through the glamour and awe of ancient ways and to see things as they are; I know how difficult it is to appraise these with cool clear judgment; what unwearied energy is needed in the investigation, and what patience to await the final result; and I know well how difficult it is, through speech and writing, to render new ideas and new ways of regarding the old intelligible to our people.

“And whether or not I possess in adequate measure the faculties requisite to surmount these difficulties I dare not aver. But this I know, that very few there are among those possessing the necessary endowments who can free themselves from the sordid cares of the passing day to undertake this task; and that for the rare one who enjoys this freedom and is conscious that this great task is laid upon him as a solemn obligation, for him there is no choice: if he shrink from its fulfilment, he will surely blast his life utterly with the flame of his own self-contempt.”

The Tahsíldár watched the face of the speaker as it kindled with enthusiasm, and after a brief pause answered with a saddened countenance:---

“Sayyid Ali, I understand. You reveal yourself as one who deems himself the chosen vessel of great and rare talent, and the bearer of some mission to our people, even perhaps as were the prophets sent by God. Now, I will not venture to say that there may not be in the future, as there have been in the past, chosen vessels of the inspiration of God. But this we know, that very many among us have suffered from illusions and a vain presumption of their own abilities, and these have cheerfully suffered martyrdom in their folly. Aye, truly, the crazy zealot no less than the true prophet is ready to grasp the crown of martyrdom.

“For us who are men of the world, passionate conviction, spiritual exaltation, and the claim of Divine inspiration are no credentials of truth and wisdom of doctrine; nay, rather, they excite a cold scepticism: we are wont to weigh the doctrine in the market scale of practical things, and to find it kicks the beam.

“But we have to rule a credulous people, who are ever ready to believe a ghostly absurdity to be as natural as the flowering of the dhák trees in the spring, if only they hear a crazy zealot shout it with sufficient passion and iteration.

“Now, Sayyid Ali, such enthusiasts bring no good to our people, but possible tumult; as witness that self-styled prophet Rám Singh Kúka, who with his foolish followers was quelled in blood after much mischief to peaceful folk. Now, it is our practice here to detect seeds of mischief before they have time to germinate, and to cast them out; for we know well that once spread among our people they will run their course of evil, as does the cholera, in spite of all our efforts to check them.

“And of one thing more I must remind you, Sayyid Ali. Our people cherish above all their time-honoured customs and the religion they have received from their fathers. Acts or words which outrage these will excite the most torpid into a passionate crowd, as uncontrollable and terrible as a swarm of wild bees aroused from their hive by the touch of a rash hand.

“We wardens of the people watch with sleepless eye to avert such an occurrence. That is our first duty, and we fulfil it with unflinching sternness.

“Thus much, then, I have spoken, Sayyid Ali, as your old friend, once your patron, and one who would gladly see the son of Mír Mahmúd Ali preserved from the fanaticism which has afflicted some of his stock.”

Then the Sayyid, having first bowed respectfully, replied in the quiet tones of dispassionate discussion:---

“I thank you, Shekh Sáhib, for your words of kindly warning. I well know that the first duty laid upon the wardens of the people is to discover and remove with a swift and sure hand all elements of disorder, as we smother the first spark in the thatch; the successful ruler is he who has the keen eye to detect the danger and the prompt resolution to remove it; and may I add, Shekh Sáhib, that herein your renown is spread wide? And I hold that in these days the maintenance of peace and order is our supreme need. This is secured to us under our present Rulers and can be secured only through their dominion. Moreover, with this security we enjoy complete freedom of action and thought, provided only we do not infringe the equal rights of our fellows.

“Thus, Shekh Sáhib, I am no less than yourself a loyal adherent of the present Rule, and would commit no act nor speak any word to arouse disorder.”

“That is well, Sayyid Ali,” said the official, when the speaker paused. “You state the principles which guide me even more clearly than I could do myself.”

Then the Sayyid continued, noting the favourable impression made by his quiet exposition, and holding under firm control the fervent words which were ever ready to spring from his lips:---

“But, sir, you are right: I am conscious of a message of grave import which I have to deliver. But I am not one, like the Christian missionary, to stand at the cross-road and address the dregs of the people, the ignorant and impressionable, telling a strange legend of an incarnate God who died to save the least worthy. My teaching is addressed to the leaders of our people, to men of intelligence and learning and experience in the ways of life, in the past and present, who can look forward into the future with sound judgment founded on the knowledge of to-day. To all these, of whatever creed, I would address myself, but chiefly, nay, solely at first, to my brethren of Islám.”

“And may I ask,” inquired the Tahsíldár, “what this message is you would deliver to our people?”

“Somewhat I have already laid before you in the widest terms,” answered the Sayyid. “A long exposition would be needed to develop these principles in detail. But in a few days I hope, with the permission of Khán Bahádur Khán, to address an assembly of our people in the hall of his mansion, where I venture to hope you, Shekh Sdhib, will honour me, without prejudice, by your presence.”

While the Sayyid was speaking an orderly stood at the door, and when he ceased, announced that the great Khán Sáhib had just entered the gateway and was approaching.

“Good, then,” said the Tahsíldár, rising with the Sayyid. “As to the assembly, doubtless the Khán Sáhib will discuss the matter with me. Meantime, I thank you for your visit and the explanations you have so patiently given me.”

The Sayyid accepted his dismissal from the interview with due ceremony and departed, exchanging a smile of intelligence with the Khán Sáhib, whom he met in the veranda.

Chapter XXIV

A Message from the Sayyid’s Home

“Aye, truly peace is our supreme need of to-day. Indispensable the strong hand to suppress, coldly and ruthlessly, the disorders of the crowd intoxicated with an exclusive creed. Peace, that we may breed new leaders released from this curse, animated by new ideals, and reared in the new knowledge, which shall slowly sap the power of intoxicated mystics.

“But peace as a means: the new men shall hate subjection, and shall wisely prepare to accomplish their great purpose.”

As the Sayyid passed out of the Fort into the square, he murmured under his breath an emphatic supplement to his restrained exposition before the wary official.

He crossed the square rapidly, heedless of his surroundings, and entered the lane leading to the mansion by the river. But on the way he lingered in converse with Faizu the waterman, and when he reached his destination the night was already advanced.

Brilliant lights shone through the tall glass doors and under the porch, where the old butler stood ready to receive his master’s guest.

“Sayyid Sáhib,” said the butler, bowing with profound respect, “all is prepared as the master directed; and if anything is lacking for your comfort, I beg I may be informed.”

“I thank you,” replied the Sayyid. “The hospitality of the great Khán Sáhib is well known, and in you he finds a worthy agent. For the present, I most need repose and seclusion after the fatigues and agitations of the day.”

The butler bowed and led his guest to a side chamber, which, with an adjoining room, had been prepared for his reception. He then discreetly retired.

On the threshold of the chamber the youth Khálik Dád Khán awaited, now dressed in a bright quilted tunic with buff leather belt, white turban and drawers. The Sayyid’s bedding had been unrolled and spread on the cot, and his two valises unstrapped ready to be unlocked. On an inlaid table by the bed stood a brass vase filled with flowers, a goblet of water, a silver drinking-cup, and some oranges in a silver plate; and beside it was spread a rug of thick pile, pleasant to tread under bare feet. Curtains covered the glass doors, and the whole chamber bore an aspect of comfort and quiet seclusion very grateful to the traveller wearied with the constant movement and strain of a long day.

The Sayyid greeted the boy with a nod, and taking an orange from the tray, sat down on the bed.

“I see you have lost no time, boy,” he said.

“All my master’s orders have been executed,” replied the boy, bowing.

“What did your uncle the timberman say to you?”

“He said,” replied the boy at once: “‘We knew the Mír Sayyid Ali Husain as a learned and steadfast student. Do thou serve him faithfully.’”

“Your father and his brothers were trusty folk: where they bound themselves to serve, they served with zeal. Where they were not bound, they practised a bold licence. Did you pay the porterage?”

“Six paisas to Pem Singh’s man.”

The Sayyid drew a leather purse from his girdle, and, giving it to the boy, bade him count the contents, and when he had done so, added: “Note the amount, guard the purse, pay what is needed, and render me the account and balance daily.”

The boy accepted the charge with a grave bow and waited in silence for further orders.

And when the Sayyid had eaten the orange, he spoke again: “You delivered my message to Mír Mahmúd Ali?”

“As commanded,” answered the boy.

“Relate all from the beginning, as you saw and heard.” Then the boy, standing before his master with clasped hands, spoke thus:---

“The old-Shekháni announced my office and led me through the court to a closet, where lamps flamed in the niches, and there, beside a brazier of charcoal, the Mír Sáhib sat, wrapped in his quilt. And near him, with her feet drawn up on a stool was the venerable lady, covered by a muslin veil. Then, standing inside the doorway, I said with due respect: ‘I bear a message from my master, Mír Ali Husain. And he bade me deliver it to his father, Mír Mahmúd Ali, and to the lady his mother, and to none other.’ And the great Mír Sáhib spoke: ‘I am he you seek, and here on my right is the Begam Sáhiba. Speak!’ Then I replied: ‘My master bade me deliver his message in the hearing of the old serving-woman, that she might bear witness I speak word for word as uttered by my master. And she crouched on the threshold as I spoke, and when I had delivered all my message she affirmed: ‘By Allah, the youth has spoken the message word for word as delivered to him in my presence.’ And I waited, standing with clasped hands and downcast eyes before the venerable Mír Sáhib and the lady, and in the silence I heard the sound of sobbing, and the muslin veil was shaken.

“Then the Mír Sáhib spoke: ‘Who art thou?’ he demanded, and his voice trembled, but whether from the weakness of age or other cause, I cannot say. I answered, giving my name and my father’s name, and said: ‘I am the body-servant of the Mír Sáhib, Mír Ali Husain, and his bidding I do.’ Then he: ‘The name and repute of thy father are known to me: one whose zeal in the service of the Tikori Rája outruns discretion; whose resolution in the execution of his master’s will shrinks not from bloodshed and slaughter.’ He turned his blind eyes towards me as though expecting an answer, and I replied: ‘Sir, that is so. I am the son of my father and the young Mír Sáhib is my master.

“Then he asked my age, and when he heard I was but eighteen, he said: ‘But a boy yet. Thou art fortunate to serve one so noble as my son, and one of such wide knowledge and wisdom. Under his guidance thy rash spirit may be converted to the ways of peace, and justice and wisdom. The Tikori Rájputs are violent and high-handed; and as master, so is the man.’

“Then silence followed, and I stood waiting as before, until the venerable lady spoke, saying, ‘Let the youth wait without. We will recall him to bear our answer.’ Then the old Shekháni led me to a recess in the gateway where a light was burning, and prepared the hukka for me, and while I smoked she talked garrulously and inquired many things, and I answered with due discretion.

“And when a ghari had passed I was recalled to the closet, where the master of the house and the lady were seated as I had left them, and I stood as before inside the doorway.

“Then the master of the house spoke slowly and in clear words thus: ‘Do thou bear these words from me to my son, Ali Husain, thy master: Our firstborn son hath been lost, we know not how, but if he hath been slain fighting for the faith with the Hindustáni warriors on the Black Mountains, then his death was honourable, though surely he erred in waging war against our present Rulers.

“Our second son, Háji Hasan Ali, came home after long absence, and tarried for a brief time, but he wrought trouble and departed in bitterness.

“And there remained our third son, our. beloved Ali Husain, the scholar, the thinker, the youth of gentle spirit and kindly ways, he whose countenance brought sunshine into the house where he came. Our hope has ever been that he would abide with us in our old age, aid our weakness, and close our eyes when it pleased God to call us away.

“‘And he came; and his voice was sweet as of old, his ways full of courtesy and respect; and while he sat with us over the feast of his returning, it seemed the bright days were to be restored to our house, and our loneliness cease.

“‘Such were our hopes. And there came the honoured friends of our house, the Mufti of Tigri and the venerable Maulvi, who rejoiced with us. And then before them the blow fell which shattered our peace and hopes. For my son spake words of dreadful import, and it seemed that Satan had come in the semblance of our son, and through his mouth spoken words of blasphemy. Or surely some strange frenzy has driven him, our pious son, to believe as fools believe, and revel in impiety. And I cried aloud in the words of Holy Writ: “Surely God hath sealed up his heart and his hearing and dimness covereth his sight.” And we pray now, calling on the Almighty and the holy name of his Prophet, that the Lord will unseal his heart and clear the dimness from his sight, and restore him once more to the use of right reason and to the true belief; and that he will thereupon return to the house of his fathers to be a prop to our old age and receive the blessing we would bestow upon him.

‘“This is our message. Do thou bear the words as spoken to our beloved son.’

“Then the clear voice of the noble lady took up the word saying: ‘Thou hast heard, Khálik Dád Khán, and shalt deliver as spoken. And add these words from me: ‘Let not my son Ali Husain evade any duty which is imposed upon him by his clear sense of right, even though he perish as his brother has perished. So only shall he live in integrity. But his brother erred grievously in his judgment; let my son Ali Husain beware that he too is not upon the path of error. And his mother is oppressed by a grievous fear that her son Ali Husain is now led astray by the whisperings of Satan, and her prayer by day and night shall be that God the Gracious and Merciful deliver him from the web of error in which he is entangled. His mother’s heart yearneth for him sorely, nevertheless she could not endure his dwelling here in his father’s house while the dark shadow of apostasy---she prays it be a passing cloud---is cast upon his soul.’

“The noble lady ceased speaking, her head sank down upon her knee, and old Rajban quickly led me away.

“And now, as the words were spoken to me, so I have delivered them to my master.”

The Sayyid had listened without moving, looking straight in the young man’s face, and he noted signs of suppressed emotion. He was silent for some time before he spoke in a low but unfaltering voice: “Boy, know this! Each shall hold steadfast to that which is for him most holy, though the heartstrings snap. Thus doth the venerable lady my mother, and her son also follows the path which for him is sacred.”

Then the boy answered simply: “Whither my master leads, I follow; what he commands, I obey.”

The Sayyid looked at the youth for a moment in silence, then bade him wait without, and let no one approach until he called.

Then the Sayyid stretched himself upon the couch and with covered head lay motionless as a corpse, sunk in a reverie as deep as sleep. But when the ninth hour was struck at the gateway of the Fort, he arose and, striding up and down the room, cast aside the shroud of meditation and recalled the boy.

“Boy,” he said, “thou hast witnessed the undeserved distress of a father, whom I hold most worthy of a son’s reverence, and of a mother, whose wisdom and kindly spirit have encompassed me from my youth upwards. It is a harsh fate which compels a son to inflict sorrow upon these.

“But know this, as my mother knows it: no honourable man shall permit pity to restrain his hand from inflicting the blow which is demanded for the success of the great cause to which he is dedicated. For him such pity is a canker of the soul, which he shall excise with resolute hand, though he faint under the pang of the knife and the loss of blood that is life.

“But, boy, be sure of this: that the cause for which thou wouldst crush pity in thy heart is the noblest, and that under its fair semblance thou seekest not thyself, and that thou hast the rare gift of a fine understanding to discern this. And know this surely, that between man and man, pity and mercy is a holy bond never to be relaxed in the conduct of daily life. Dost thou understand?”

“Partly, my lord,” answered the youth, perplexed.

Then the Sayyid once more paced the room, brushing his hand across his brow to sweep away the web of reverie still clinging to him. And when he stood before the boy again he spoke in a changed tone:---

“Hast thou witnessed the funeral of a Frankish soldier? No. His comrades follow the bier to the grave with slow steps, downcast heads and reversed arms; and from the muffled drums come sobs, and from the instruments moans as strained in a wordless voice from a broken heart. But when the lost comrade is covered with earth and the volley fired, then a change, like a sudden gleam of light in gloom. Joyful music breaks from the drums and fifes, and with heads erect and brisk steps, the mourners march away, eager to greet a new day, when death shall not throw gloom on life and a new comrade shall fill the void in the ranks.

“Boy, thou shalt not brood over sorrow and poison the fountain of life.

“But enough. I heard voices; who attends without?”

“The young son of the Shekh Sáhib, our Tahsíldár. I told him my master slept and my orders were not to disturb him. Now he paces the great hall, moving noiselessly.”

“I will join him shortly. Beg him to remain to sup with me.”

Chapter XXV

The Waterman and the Dancing Girl

In the early morning, when the folk exchange news and gossip by the wells, and at mosques and temples, the report was current that the Khán Sáhib was entertaining a notable guest at his mansion by the river. Some said the visitor was a celebrated Maulvi from Rúm; others that the great Sayyid from Koel had come again to levy a cess on his brethren of Háfizganj; while others maintained the stranger was none other than a son of the old Mír Mahmúd, who had returned with a retinue too numerous to be entertained at his own home. Many false rumours regarding him began to spread through the town; but Faizu the water-carrier, a man of truth, related what he had seen and heard, neither more nor less.

Faiz Baksh, known familiarly as Faizu, was an old man much respected in the guild of water-bearers for his piety and honest heart. He spent many hours of the day reading the Holy Kurán, and at gatherings of his friends was wont to explain the Sacred Verses, guided by an interlinear translation in his cherished copy of the Arabic Book. And when some of the more strict of his brotherhood doubted the propriety of his assuming the office of interpreter, he would reply that he merely construed word for word the Holy Text, and left the explanation to each hearer as the light of his own understanding and the impulses of his heart guided him; and those who were in doubt of the meaning of the Revelation he advised to consult the venerable Maulvi Nazar Ali, the interpreter of hidden things.

Now it was among the morning duties of the Faizu to bear water to the house of the dancer Chanda Báe. She was again sitting in the rays of the newly risen sun, where the Sayyid had spoken with her, when the old man came from the lane, bent forward under the tense water-skin, which shone with rainbow colours under the sunshine. He filled the jars with the fresh-drawn water, from which a little cloud of vapour arose in the cold air; and when he had emptied the skin, he paused in front of the young woman to exchange the gossip of the morning.

“Mistress,” he said, “have you heard of the distinguished visitor at the mansion yonder, a guest honoured by our great Khán Sáhib?”

Chanda Báe looked at him meditatively, while he shifted the slack skin from his shoulder and squatted beside it; and the last drops trickled from the loose orifice to form a little pool about the foot of her cot.

“Distinguished, do you say?” she replied at last, drawing back her quilt to let the sunshine fall on her head and neck. “Wherein lies his pre-eminence?”

“He whom the Khán Sáhib entertains in the mansion is surely thereby distinguished,” answered the water-bearer, gazing on the shapely head and neck of the girl with a pleasant smile on his grim face.

“Nonsense, Faizu,” she answered. “You spoke of a distinguished visitor, not of one who acquired distinction through the Khán Sáhib’s hospitality. Is Bahádur Khán a ruling prince that he confers nobility by his notice?”

“That our Khán Sáhib honours the visitor is proclamation of distinction,” replied Faizu with confidence.

“What then have you learnt of this honourable stranger?” she asked.

“I will tell you, mistress,” he answered, settling himself comfortably on his heels.

“What you know you will speak truly,” she returned, smiling. “And what you have heard, you will deliver as you heard it.”

“Even so. And knowing you love to hear the morning news I bring it, as a little flower, an offering to you, fair mistress. Listen then!

“Yesterday, when I came on my round somewhat late, I met a stranger, whose bearing was that of a man of dignity, and he walked with his head bent forward as in meditation. But as he drew near the well and raised his head and looked on me, his eyes were shining lights, and he passed onward towards the Great Mosque. And when I came here with my water-skin, you asked me if I had noticed the man and knew him, and I saw disappointment on your countenance when I answered he was a stranger. Now, mistress, I have learnt his name and his lineage and even spoken with him.”

“Ah, good Faizu,” she exclaimed eagerly, “tell me then all you know! Ah, you good, cunning Faiz Bakhsh, you guessed what I most wished to learn!”

“Listen then,” continued the old man, smiling complacently. “In the evening when the lamps were lit I stood near the gate of the Fort, and there I beheld him again. And the loud-voiced shrew, the Chaudhráin of the potters, whose tongue is a whiplash for her men, she it was who was addressing him, as he stood on the little mound under the lantern. Amid the hum and buzz of the market and at the distance where I stood, I could not distinguish her words, but she was speaking in angry tones, scolding as is her wont. Then I saw him addressing her, and sudden her posture changed, and she bowed down until she touched his feet. Then he dismissed her as a noble dismisses a suppliant, and he left her to enter the Fort with the yellow-coat badgeman. But as she came my way, I inquired as to the stranger, and she answered briefly: ‘The stranger, Faizu? He is one I loved as a boy and now revere as a master.’ And she went on her way quickly without further speech.”

Chapter XXVI

The Sayyid and the Dying Cook

“Is that all?” inquired the dancer impatiently, as Faizu paused.

“Nay, but the beginning,” he answered complacently, and continued: “Fortune favoured me last night, when I went to a house in the Murái’s Lane, which, you know, leads to the mansion by the river. Perhaps you have heard of Mír Bakhsh? He was head cook in the house of our Khán Sáhib’s grandfather, and lived long, a blind old man, pensioner on their bounty. I think his years were not less than one hundred, but his wits kept bright, his hearing sharp, and his mind filled with pious thoughts, meditating all day on the verses of the Holy Kurán, which I have read to him night after night. He would hear my footstep coming from afar when it sounded to none other in his house.”

“Well, well!” said the dancer. “But continue. What happened on the way?”

“Yes, I will relate that,” replied the water-carrier, nodding deliberately. “You must know then that I bore under my arm the Holy Book, wrapped in its silken case, and my thoughts dwelt on the Sura I was to begin reading to the old man; it was that entitled Al Araf; but I would have you know, mistress, that the interpretation of that mystic name has been revealed to none, not even to the most holy Shekhs and Maulvis of the past; but it treats of the pride of Iblis and his fall and his spite against the children of Adam.”

“Ai, ai!” exclaimed the dancer with an impatient gesture, but laughing good-humouredly, “hereafter you shall interpret to me the wonderful chapter. But now, I beg, tell me quickly what happened.”

“Well, mistress, it was thus: At the corner by the house hangs a street lamp, set there by our worthy Tahsíldár, perhaps to guide visitors to the old man’s door. As I reached the lamp I heard a quick step behind me, and, the light falling on the face of a tall man, I recognized the stranger who had spoken with the Chaudhráin, whom I had met yonder in the morning, the same of whom you, mistress, so eagerly questioned me. His eyes met mine under the lamplight, and in them was mastery, so that I bowed low, repeating, ‘Master, peace be with you.’ And he stood at once and received my greeting and returned it with courtesy---even as a younger to a grey beard borne with dignity.

“Now, my empty water-skin was slung over my shoulder---for you must know, mistress, that when my reading is finished I draw water from the well outside the house to fill the jars. Now the stranger noticed this and likewise the silken covered Book in my hand, and spoke saying:

“‘Thou bearest, it seems, a double blessing for men, refreshment for the body and refreshment for the soul. Dost thou dispense both, or is the Book for another?’

“Then I answered: ‘Sir, I bear both to the old blind man who dwells in this house.’

“‘In this house?’ he repeated. ‘In years gone by I remember there dwelt here a venerable man, whose years were countless.’

“‘He lives still,’ I answered. ‘He sitteth even now awaiting my coming.’

“And as I spoke, the voice of the old man reached us from the house, calling feebly: ‘With whom do you speak, Faizu? If you would speak together, bring your friend that I may hear you converse.”

“‘Let us go in,’ said the stranger, and bade me lead the way.

“Inside all was dark except for the faint light from the street lamp, so I begged the stranger to stand while I kindled the light in the niche of the chamber, where the old man sat huddled up in his thick quilted coat.

“‘Who is your friend, that I may greet him?’ asked the old man.

“‘I heard you call and entered,’ said the stranger, and the old man interrupted, saying, ‘I know not your voice nor your step.’

“‘A noble stranger whom I met without,’ I explained. ‘Seeing what I bore in my hand and over my shoulder, he happily proclaimed me the dispenser of the two things most needful for the sons of Adam.’

“‘Nay, worthy waterman,’ he interposed, ‘thou dost improve my plain words.’

“‘Sir,’ I replied, laughing, ‘I express the inner meaning. Surely pure water is the first need of the body, and what under the sun can vie with a deep draught in the thirsty month of Jeth? And surely every want of the soul finds its satisfaction in the words of the Prophet (whose name is blessed); and what delight for the spirit can vie with that of reciting the Holy Book?’

“Then he answered: ‘If men thirsted for the message of the Prophet as they thirst for water, then were all the nations of the world good Muslims. How then canst thou call that most needful which men leave untasted, not caring to taste?’

“But I answered his riddle promptly: ‘As water is the first need for life here, so the words of the Holy Prophet are the first need to salvation. Men live here through draughts of the one, and shall live hereafter in Paradise, if their spirits absorb the other.’

“‘Well answered,’ replied the stranger, smiling graciously. And then, addressing old Míru, he said: ‘I recollect once in the month of Bhadon I came by here while the warm rain fell in torrents. Not less than twenty years have passed; but your face is unchanged from that I looked on then, while you sat beneath the thatch by the house-door, alone and motionless. And my boyish fancy ran: Behold, this venerable Shekh sits in meditation through the hours, undisturbed by the clamour of the world and the gaudy shows of the sunlight. Doth he pierce into the region of the spirit, where lie the mysteries of God? And I stood long in the lane wondering, while the rain fell without pause on my bare head and shoulders; wondering how the days passed for one so venerable, utterly lost as you seemed in a waking trance; and in the patter of the rain from the eaves of the thatch my footsteps coming and going were lost.

“‘Tell me now, I pray you, aged Shekh, in answer to my silent question of those long gone days, how doth the day pass by, doth it flit noiselessly as the winging of the bat, or move with the quick flutter of the flying dove? and what thoughts stream by to fill the vacant hours?’

“And the old man, raising his sightless eyes to the speaker replied: ‘Sir, by the accent of your words I judge you are one bred in these parts, and your voice has a familiar sound, though I cannot name you. But your tone is courteous and noble, as of one with a right to command and question, and I answer: Know that for eighty years I have eaten the salt of the great Khán Sáhib of Ronáhi. In my youth and manhood I was the trusted servant of the noble house, and from day to day my work went on undisturbed; though without, the world was full of wild rumours and battles, of the raids of the Marahtas and of Mír Khán and the coming of the Franks. In our great house plenty and provisions never lacked, and each day without fail I served the wholesome and savoury food for the master’s table. And so the years passed for me in service unbroken, though the great storm beat outside our walls; until at last, after many years, my sight grew dim, and my master lodged me here with a daily portion of choice food served from his own kitchen, where I had ruled from youth to age, and never am I forgotten on the day of Id, nor when the calls of the quail announce the winter and cold.

“‘And now, sir, the days and nights pass swiftly in unbroken calm, and I reckon them not, nor the years. And as I sit alone, clear visions of early days arise, more real than the things of to-day, and what befell yesterday vanishes as of no concern. Aye, and I recall with joy those days of my lusty youth, when I loved the caresses of fair women, and their song and their prattling words, and the merry sports of my children and again of my grandchildren. And now I know the time is near when I shall again renew all past joys in Paradise, even tenfold magnified, and others reserved only for the blessed. And I think of these, and the sure restoration of all the delights of my young days and manhood.

“‘And then as I bask in the sun, when the bitter winds blow in Mágh, and lie deep in shade through blazing Asárh until the soft, moist winds blow once more in the season of rains, the sweetest time of all the year. And through them all come the visions of the delights which await the Faithful; and these I know will be my portion ere long.’

“The old man ceased speaking, and his face, turned towards the stranger, was lit up by animation, such as I had never seen on it before.

“Then the stranger answered quietly, with pity in his voice: ‘I thank thee, Mír Bakhsh, for all thou hast revealed, and while thou hast spoken I have seen into thy heart as into a crystal vase. Let me in return read to thee the words of promise in the Book.’

“He bade me draw forth my Book and open at the chapter beginning ‘When shall befall The surely Befalling’

“And I forthwith unfastened the cover, and the leaves fell apart, opening from long use at the very chapter he named.

“‘Listen, old man,’ he said, taking the Book from me. ‘You shall hear once again that vision which has cheered your old age with hope.’

“Then with full, round voice he recited those blessed words, glancing only at the text and speaking even as words of his mother tongue. And when he had completed the portion he interpreted thus:---

The Day shall come, that Fated Day---
And the Earth shall be shaken
And the crumbled mountains
Scattered as dust---
And those that are chosen,
Ranged on the right,
Shall be near to their God
In gardens of Bliss.
There on couches golden and gemmed
Shall they recline face to face,
Served by youths never ageing
With all fruits to their taste,
All flesh meats that they love,
And draughts of pure wine,
That perplex not the head nor unbridle the tongue.
And women are there---
Like pearls in the shell are their eyes,
And they speak not folly nor ever chide---
Under wide-spreading shade
On lofty couches
The chosen repose
With these women, created
To be as virgins ever.

“Then he closed the book gently and, speaking slowly: ‘Such, O Mír Bakhsh, is the promise, and such, old man, is thy supreme vision of the fittest reward for the faithful cook, and surely when the Last Day comes, thou shalt not know disappointment!’

“Then the old man, raising both his hands, cried eagerly: God is great! God is great! These are the rewards of a faithful life: and often has Faizu recited these blessed words but never did he expound them as now I have heard them. The vision is before me, as things seen and felt; and surely I know that all the joys of my youth shall be renewed and heightened as heaven above earth. God is great, and He is bountiful beyond measure to those who have kept His law!’

“Then his hands sank down, his voice failed, he gasped, his head fell forward, and he would have reeled from his seat had I not supported him. He had fainted.

“The stranger laid him out at length, his head low and his feet raised, and I fanned his face and sprinkled water. But his eyes were fixed in their sockets and his lips motionless.

“Then the stranger, having felt the old man’s heart and pulse, said quietly: ‘Dead; and he passed away even as he beheld the vision of that heaven for which his heart yearned. Surely the old man was blessed in his end.

“‘And thou, Faizu,’ he commanded, ‘do thou go straightway to the Khán Sáhib’s to report his death. And if any witness is needed from me, know that I am Ali Husain, son of Mír Mahmúd, and that I now tarry as a guest in the mansion of the Khán Sáhib yonder by the river.’

“He left me without further speech, and I summoned the neighbours and dispatched a messenger to the Jamadár at the Khán Sáhib’s.”

Chapter XXVII

The Dancer’s Message

When the water-carrier ceased speaking, Chanda Báe sat for some time in silence.

“Ahi, ahi!” she said at last softly. “Faizu, I think the old man’s frail heart was shaken to fragments by the clear strong words of the Sayyid, as the decayed branch is snapped by a swift wind.”

“God is great!” said the water-carrier solemnly. “The old man’s soul slipped away in its eagerness for the joys of Paradise.”

“His appointed end had come,” said the dancer, as dismissing the subject; and added in a changed tone: “But, Faizu, old man, will you do me a service?”

But the water-carrier continued: “My grief is sore for his death. Daily for half a score of years after nightfall have I sat by him reciting from the Book.”

“It seemed death had forgotten him, so insignificant he had become,” said the dancer. “And for your occupation, Faizu, another will as eagerly welcome your coming to read after nightfall. So let him rest in peace. And now, Faizu, answer my question: will you do me a service and bear for me a message to this noble Ali Husain?”

“But, mistress,” replied the man, “what message would you send to one so exalted? And how should I deliver it?”

“Faizu,” she answered, “this Sayyid is so exalted, indeed, that our great ones are before him as before Rustum his followers. What matters to him the inches of one above the other?”

“What then do you know of this son of the old Sayyid?” asked the water-carrier.

“Yesterday at sunrise,” she replied, “I sat here, and as he passed on his way he tarried with me in converse, and, Faizu, when he departed, it was as though the Angel Gabriel had visited me. Again this morning I have waited and watched, but in vain. Go you to him from me, and speaking in private, say: Chanda Báe, the dancer and singer, hath many matters she would gladly speak to the Mír Sáhib, Sayyid Ali Husain. In the second watch of the night she will come, if my lord permits, and show her skill in song and dance---such service she can offer; it is the best she hath.”

“I think, mistress, he will surely answer with disdain,” said Faizu positively.

“Not so,” she returned sharply. “Go straight as you are bid. And to the serving-man who waits on his threshold, say you come to speak of the death of old Mír Bakhsh, and you shall be admitted. But beware of this, Faizu, none must know that I went even to the noble Sayyid unsummoned. Those who seek the Lál Pari must invite her with soft words and gifts, or she doth not come.”

Then the water-carrier was persuaded, and promised to deliver the message privately to the Sayyid.

Chapter XXVIII

The Boy Khálik Dád

Towards the close of the first watch of the day Faizu, the water-carrier, walked up the drive to the mansion by the river. He had exchanged his working dress for white drawers, a tunic of purple cloth bound with narrow silver braid, and a turban, ample and white, beneath which his thin old face, with its bright eyes, beak-like nose and scanty grey beard and moustache, shone dark and glossy as that of an Abyssinian. Under his arm he bore his copy of the Kurán wrapped in its frayed silken case.

Several men were seated in the sunny veranda, and in front of them, with his broad back turned to the world without and his arms crossed on his breast, stood Khálik Dád Khán. The old butler was there with his attendant table servant, an orderly in bright yellow livery, and seated on the only stool was a stout grey-bearded man, wearing a sword slung from an embroidered baldrick, the Jamadár of the Khán Sáhib, who bore himself with the dignity of one wielding authority over a great household.

Faizu greeted them with the salutation, and those seated on the veranda responded with courtesy, for they all knew the old water-carrier as one respected for his piety, guileless character and knowledge of the Sacred Book. But the youth Khálik Dád, who had turned round at the crunching of the brick rubble under footsteps, knowing not the old man, and observing his low obeisance before the Jamadár, acknowledged his salutation merely with a careless hand raised to his turban.

Then Faizu said: “Whom should I ask for admission to the Mír Sáhib, Sayyid Ali Husain, who has alighted at the mansion?”

“I am his doorkeeper,” replied Khálik Dád. “What is your business with the master?”

“I beg you will announce that Faiz Bakhsh, the water-carrier, awaits and seeks to speak a word in private.” And when the youth replied that the master was engaged and must not be disturbed, Faizu continued: “I will then sit here to wait his pleasure. But I beg you will announce me as soon as you can approach the Mír Sáhib.”

And he sat down on his heels on the grass plot, not venturing to intrude uninvited on the little party assembled in the veranda. Then Khálik Dád turned his back and resumed the interrupted conversation on the trivial gossip of the day, forgetting the presence of the water-carrier, who was sitting beyond earshot. And the old man sat motionless, musing as patient old men are apt to muse, while time passes over them swiftly and softly, leaving no imprint of its passage on their minds.

At length the voice of the Sayyid was heard from within calling Khálik Dád, who hurried into the house, his careless demeanour changed at once to that of one who approaches a superior. He reappeared to call the orderly, who came forth after a brief interval bearing a letter, and departed leisurely towards the town.

Then the Jamadár was summoned, and after a prolonged interview came forth stroking his white beard complacently. He exchanged a few words of banter with the butler, mounted his sleek Bhtitan pony, and rode away at an amble, throwing a friendly greeting to the water-carrier as he passed.

When the butler was admitted to the Sayyid and his assistant departed to the kitchen, Faizu again approached Khálik Dád.

“Master servitor,” he said civilly, “has my attendance been announced to the Mír Sáhib, and what order did he give?”

“As I told you, old man, the master is engaged,” replied the youth.

But Faizu was persistent, saying, “I beg you will let your master know that Faiz Bakhsh, the water-carrier, desires speech with him regarding the death of Mír Bakhsh, the cook.”

“What concern has my master with the dead cook?” returned the young man.

“The deceased was chief cook of the great Khán Sáhib,” answered Faizu.

“Surely his place will be easily filled,” replied Khalik Did pertly.

The butler, now coming from the house, was passing on to the cook-house, but Faizu stopped him.

“Stay, master butler,” he said. “I am here bearing a private message for the Mír Sáhib, but this youth bars the threshold and will not announce my presence.”

But the butler laughed, replying: “Old friend, you know not the custom. Pass but a damri into the doorkeeper’s palm.”

“Nay,” replied the water-carrier, shaking his head gravely. “I come unfeed to do a friendly office, and well I know the Mír Sáhib will charge no fee for a consultation.”

“As you please; but custom is custom,” replied the butler, going on his way.

Then Faizu, turning to the youth: “Is this true that the butler says of you?”

“Look you,” replied Khálik Dád, nodding amicably and showing his teeth in a broad smile, “if I announce a visitor out of season, the master is wroth, and I suffer. Now it is out of season, and is it fair that I should suffer this without compensation?”

“Master servitor,” replied the water-carrier with gravity, “my days are brief. I have yet much to do. To tarry long here is an injury to those who sent me, to him to whom the message is sent, and to myself. But, hark you, if your master is wroth when you announce me, here I have a piece of silver, which shall be yours as compensation. But if the master be pleased to receive me, then naught will be due to you. Do you understand?”

Now while he was speaking there rode through the gate a young cavalier in gay dress mounted on a grey Kábul horse with bright trappings and jingling bells.

“Behold,” exclaimed Khálik Dád, laughing mischievously, “a fair piece of work had I done, if the young Shekh Shaukat Ali were delayed on the threshold while a water-carrier occupied the few spare minutes of the master.” And he hastened into the house to announce the new arrival, while Faizu stood aside and watched the young Shekh spring from his horse, throw the bridle to his running groom, and stride up to the veranda swinging his riding switch, just as Khálik Dád reappeared and with respectful bows invited him to enter.

But the old water-carrier came forward and after courteous salutation addressed Shaukat Ali:---

“May I be pardoned, sir? for two gharis I have waited here on the threshold of the Mír Sáhib to deliver a message to his private ear. But he knows not of my presence. I beg you will inform him that Faiz Bakhsh the water-carrier, with whom he stood last night beside the dying cook, awaits to deliver a message. And it may be that the Mír Sáhib, regarding my long tarrying and the import of my message, will give me precedence in audience even before your honour.”

The young Shekh listened with respect, and quickly apprehending the position, addressed Khálik Dád: “Hast thou announced the presence of this respectable old man, who bears the Holy Book?”

And Khálik Dád answered, excusing himself: “My master was not disengaged, that I should announce such a visitor.”

“I will do your bidding with pleasure, old man,” said Shaukat Ali, turning to the water-carrier. “And if the Mír Sáhib will grant my request, you shall have precedence. Come, lead the way, young Khán,” he added sharply to the youth.

In less than a minute Shaukat Ali reappeared. “Come, old man,” he said. “The Mír Sáhib bids me lead you to his presence.” And he lifted the hanging screen from the door, and signed to the old man to precede.

They passed through the entrance hall and the great main room of the mansion, known as the Chamber of Assembly, to a room overlooking the river, where the Sayyid was standing and, fronting him, Khálik Dád with crestfallen demeanour, his hands pressed palm to palm.

“Peace be with you, Chaudhri! You are welcome,” said the Sayyid, greeting the old man with a grave voice. “This youth who serves me is Khálik Dád, son of the Jamadár of Tikori, Usmán Khán. Perhaps you know him or his father?”

“His father I know well by name and repute,” replied the water-carrier.

“What of his father’s repute? Speak frankly.”

“Of my own knowledge I know nothing,” replied Faizu, hesitating.

“I inquired as to the repute current in the town.”

“Of that I can speak by your command,” answered the water-carrier. “His father is reputed to be a faithful servant of the Tikori Rája, one who in his service shrinks from no toil or risk. But he is known as of violent temper and reckless spirit, who in pursuit of his office respects neither the rules of Islám nor the law of the land. Men say he will exact his fee from a tenant of the estate even to the last handful of flour. But, above all, faithful to the noble house he serves.”

“You hear, Khálik Dád,” said the Sayyid.

“My lord, it is true,” replied the young man simply.

“One then,” continued the Sayyid, “who would serve his master’s will wholly, while he ate his salt, and crave release when he could no longer do so without fretted spirit.”

“My lord, it is so,” replied the youth.

“And thou, too, art of this colour and stamp?”

Khálik Dád bowed in silent acquiescence, and the Sayyid continued:---

“Dost thou wish to serve where none shall be admitted to the presence, rich or poor, proud or meek, until he has laid the entrance fee in thy itching palm?”

The young man looked up into his master’s face and answered earnestly, “My lord, I wish to serve my lord and in all things as my lord would wish.”

“Enough then,” commanded the Sayyid, “do thou learn then both the letter and the spirit of my mastership. But when this grows irksome, stand before me, as a man of strong heart and bold countenance, and say, ‘Let thy servant depart, for his heart can no longer beat in unison with that of his master, nor eagerly seek ways best to serve his will.’”

“I am head and eyes the servant of my lord,” said the youth humbly.

Then the Sayyid, laying a hand on the young man’s shoulder: “Good, my son! Speak then: what hast thou to say to this worthy senior, whose speech is gentle, who doth his daily work in honesty, and whose leisure is devoted to the study of Divine Law?”

The young man hesitated a moment, and then, turning to the old water-carrier, said humbly: “O Shekh, I erred in the spirit of youthful presumption. May I be pardoned for the contumely I inflicted upon you?”

“Nay, say no more, my son,” replied the old man. “And truly, now, I have to thank your heedlessness that I have heard the Sayyid Sáhib’s words on this weighty matter of master and man.”

“Enough then,” said the Sayyid. “And now, boy, attend without on the young Shekh Sáhib, and let none enter here until Faiz Bakhsh summon thee.”

Chapter XXIX

The Sayyid And The Waterman

When the young Pathán had left, Faizu, at the bidding of the Sayyid, explained his errand, saying:---

“My lord, in the morning I bear water to the house of a certain Kanchan dancing-woman, who goes by the name of the Lál Pari. This morning, when I had filled the jars, she stopped me, inquiring regarding a noble stranger who had exchanged words with her in passing. I replied, saying that I had seen the stranger go by in the morning and noted his noble aspect; and then I related (may my indiscretion be forgiven!) that after nightfall I had met him again, and with him entered the house of Mír Bakhsh, the cook, who, hearing certain verses of the Holy Book recited by the stranger, had suddenly passed away. And in conclusion I told her that the stranger regarding whom she so earnestly inquired was none other than the Sayyid Mír Ali Husain, son of Mír Mahmúd Ali of our town, and that he was now a visitor in this mansion. Hearing this, she commanded me, saying, ‘Go thou to him from me, and speaking in private, say: Chanda Báe, the dancer and singer, hath many matters she would gladly speak with the Mír Sáhib, Sayyid Ali Husain. In the second watch of the night she will come, if my lord permits, and show her skill in song and dance---such service she can offer; it is the best she hath.’ And the Kanchani said further: ‘To the serving-man who waits on my lord’s threshold, say you come to speak of the death of Mír Bakhsh, and you shall be admitted.’

“Thus, my lord, she hade me, and so I have done.”

“What did you reply?”

The water-carrier hesitated a moment before replying: “May I be pardoned for my words, but they were: ‘I think, mistress, he will surely answer with disdain.’”

“Tell me now frankly,” commanded the Sayyid, “as fully as you delivered the message, why did you deem I should disdain the woman’s offer?”

“I spoke on the spur of the moment, without meditation,” answered the man.

“Reflect, then, Faizu, what at the back of your mind prompted the quick reply?”

“I meant not that my master would treat her with contumely: God forbid!” returned the water-carrier apologetically.

“What then?” demanded the Sayyid.

The old man reflected a moment before answering, “Perhaps it seemed that a wide gulf separated the Mír Sáhib who had spoken with me over the dying man from the light fantastic figure of the dancer.”

“And yet you knew I had conversed with her in the morning.”

“True, from her lips,” replied the water-carrier. “But a nobleman shall exchange courteous words in passing with one whom he would not willingly receive in his house. For the woman said: ‘I will sing and dance before my lord,’ and perhaps I felt that the wisdom and dignity of my lord would not brook the frivolity of this woman, in whose skill the common herd of the town delight; he would shrink from it, as a noble soul shrinks from that which is base. But, may I be forgiven? I presume not to judge my master’s conduct.”

“True, friend,” said the Sayyid. “But think, you bear pure water to all alike, not inquiring nicely into the fitness or unfitness of those whose jars you fill.”

“My lord,” answered the old man gravely, “my office is to refresh with water those who need it.”

“And my office?” asked the Sayyid.

But the old man shook his head in doubt, as not comprehending, and the Sayyid continued: “Tell me then, how esteem you her calling and the woman herself?”

“My lord,” answered the water-carrier at once, “the woman was born a Kanchan and bred a dancer and singer, as I was born and bred to draw water and bear the skin. She follows her inherited calling: what else should she do?”

“And you, outside and beyond your calling, are a student ot the Holy Book. What is the woman outside hers?”

“She my lord? One who speaks kind words and wise, and has a helpful hand for those in trouble; she cares for the decrepit Kanchani her mother with unfailing patience and cheerfulness; and if I, an old water-carrier of no importance were sick and in need of choice food, she would prepare it for me with her own hand; for, you must know, she is skilled in cooking dainty dishes for that toothless old creature she calls her mother.”

“And what say you of her calling?”

“Sir,” answered the water-carrier, apologizing, “as I said she was born and bred to it, and what for other women would be gross sin doth not corrupt her; just as usury is not forbidden by the law under which the banker lives, and practising it, he is guiltless, and his fair fame untarnished. And consider, my lord, were she to abandon her calling, how should she live, and where should we find dancers and singers to grace our festivals?”

“Then consider, Faizu,” said the Sayyid, smiling. “The woman herself you esteem highly---gracious, kindly, well spoken and even wise; her aspect is bright, full of life and health; and as for her trade, she is not as a Kanchan corrupted thereby, though it were abominable for other maidens and matrons. She ministers by her art to the harmless pleasures of our social life, nay, is even a protection to the chastity of our homes. And yet, Faizu, recognizing all this, your first thought was that I should reject her with disdain. Why then, O Faizu?”

And now at length it seemed to the old man that he discerned clearly the real grounds of his objection, and he answered:---

“A little maid playeth with her doll, and it is fit; but she groweth to womanhood and will abandon it as foolishness. We sit by and laugh while children run hither and thither at hide-and-seek; but the game is unbecoming for the student. A young man may delight for a while in dalliance with a dancer, but when he becomes a householder he shall renounce such pastime as indecent, and live in strict order and sobriety. And again, when the young Shekh, now sitting without, passes roistering through the market with merry comrades, we smile complacently; but were the grave official, his father, who rules this city, to do the like, we should be shocked, and say the old man has sunk into dotage and folly. And so, my master, it seemed to me, in my simplicity, that it ill became the learning, wisdom and gravity of my lord to share in the frivolous pleasures which this woman offers to the common folk among us. It is repugnant to our esteem for one we have exalted to link him with such associates.

“But, my master, I do not say my judgment was right, but I think this, or something like it, lay at the back of my mind to prompt my unconsidered speech.”

“I thank you, Faiz Bakhsh,” replied the Sayyid. “You have given voice to an instinctive feeling of the people, that a master and teacher should stand above the common pleasures, so completely occupied with weighty matters that he passes through life like one who goes through the market heedless of the throng. And the notion so entirely possesses our people, that the holy man who squats yonder below the cliff, speechless, begrimed with dirt and ashes, exposed naked to the scorching sun and blighting frost, commands their reverence, through his mere austerity and no other merit. And they have infected our saints of Islám with this monstrous notion, in spite of the ways of the Prophet and his successors, and they have thus created hypocrites numberless.

“But, believe me, Faizu, a great part of the wisdom of life lies in the due enjoyment of the bright things of the day. They are not only good in themselves, but when hard tasks grow stale and irksome, they endow us with fresh energy and a heart lightened to grapple manfully in the contest again. But, inasmuch as these things hold fast the fool until his spirit is sodden, and his power of achievement has perished, they are damned as the lures of the devil. Well, let the fools perish from the fair face of the world, and leave the strong to live in the unimpaired enjoyment of all the varied capacities with which a bountiful nature has endowed them! Nay, shall life be shorn of its joys that the fool may be saved?

“And this too I say: He who hath passed his youth without the enjoyment of youth hath lived a flowerless life; and in old age he shall look back on colourless days, sore in his secret heart for lost opportunities and life half-lived.”

“Aye, aye!” said the old water-carrier, with a complacent smile. “This I know well, how great the delight in age to recall the pleasures of youth! But this too I know, that he who in old age repines that these pleasures are no longer his lot is a grey headed fool.”

“Well spoken, old man,” replied the Sayyid, smiling. Then in a changed tone: “And now as to your message. You shall bear my greeting to Chanda Báe, and say that the Hall of Assembly here shall be lit up ready for her reception at the hour she names. And if you choose, Faizu, you can come and witness her skill.”

But the water-carrier hesitated, and replied in a halting voice: “My lord, I would think of you as one from whose lips wisdom and learning flows, and would remain apart——”

“As you will,” said the Sayyid, as the man broke off, lacking fitting words to express his feeling. “And in this and such-like matters I think your own impulse a safer guide than any reasoned course you would deduce from the Holy Book.”

The water-carrier bowed to take his leave, and then turned again, saying: “May I ask one boon before I depart?”

“Surely. Speak!”

“I read the Holy Book daily——”

“Give me thy book,” replied the Sayyid; and taking the volume he untied the silken strings and, placing the back on the ground beside him, allowed the volume to open at a place, gaping from frequent use. The leaves separated at the beginning of Chapter 36, which, known as The Heart of the Kurin, is recited by the bedside of the dying.

“You often read these words of promise to those who lie in the agony of death,” remarked the Sayyid.

“I have done so for very many years,” replied the water-carrier.

The Sayyid closed the book tightly and again allowed the leaves to fall apart. They opened at Chapter 44, displaying a well-thumbed page with frayed edges.

“The promised joys of Paradise,” said the Sayyid. “This then is the chapter most demanded in your recitations.”

“Those who read and those who listen never weary of the recital of these glad tidings,” replied the water-carrier.

The Sayyid made a third trial of the book, and it opened at Chapter 12.

“The most excellent history of Yusaf and Zulaikha,” he remarked with a gentle smile.

“Aye,” said the water-carrier. “Wherever I may begin, people will surely ask to hear of Zulaikha at the close. Those three chapters are indeed those I mostly read and I know them best. And the boon I would ask is this: I would ask my master at his leisure to let me attend his exposition of these chapters, that I may carry his words to the poor folk who come to me to refresh their souls from the Holy Book.”

“As to that, Faizu,” replied the Sayyid, “you know that the recognized interpreter of the Book is Maulvi Nazar Ali, formerly my revered teacher. It is not my mission. I bring a new Message to my people, one hard to understand; few shall be those who comprehend, and fewer still who have the strong hearts to adopt my rule for the guide of life. I look to the young: the old shall remain in their ancient ways.

“And now, Faiz Bakhsh, bid the young Shekh Shaukat Ali come to me, and then bear my reply to her who sent you.”

The water-carrier silently tied together the strings of his book, bowed reverently and departed.

Chapter XXX

The Young Cavalier and His Friend

After the departure of the water-carrier, the Sayyid went into the west veranda, where on a carpet were arranged some low cane stools and a bamboo cot covered by a red quilt. He stood looking across the field to the great pípal-tree which stands above the river on a little promontory formed by a conglomerate bed of lime and gravel. Beneath the tree, on the very edge of the cliff, is a little heap of ruins, a fragment of some building which long ago crumbled into the river-bed. He would have walked meditatively across the field to the tree, but Shaukat Ali came from the house, stepping noiselessly on the carpet with unshod feet. The Sayyid looked at the young man with an absent expression on his face, and then begged him to be seated, waiting for him to speak.

“The fact is,” said the young man apologetically, “I come on behalf of a friend—”

The Sayyid waited for him to continue.

“One Muhammad Násir Khán, of whom I spoke last night.

His father is the timber-merchant, Nawáz Khán.”

“I do not recall a merchant of that name,” remarked the Sayyid.

“He settled here some eight or ten years ago. He passes most of his time in the sál forest and the marts of the south. But my friend dwells here, managing the transit of the timber from the forest.”

“A rough life,” remarked the Sayyid.

“Very, but it suits him. When I spoke to him this morning of your return, he begged to be introduced to you.”

“What is his age?”

“Eight-and-twenty. His wife is from a respected family of Rámpur, and he has two children, stout lads.”

“Is he a man of any education?”

“Of the usual merely,” replied Shaukat Ali.

“Or piety?”

The young man shrugged his shoulders as he answered: “I think his piety rests on him as easily as his ungirdled tunic.”

“What are the tastes that fill his leisure hours?”

“In the forest, his gun,” replied Shaukat Ali. “And he loves to break a restive horse. Otherwise, unsociable in the city.”

“Quick-tempered, perhaps, and rough of speech,” suggested the Sayyid.

“That is so.”

“What attracts you to him?”

The young man looked puzzled, and replied: “I think he loves me.”

“A strong, resolute, active, daring fellow, I take it,” said the Sayyid.

Shaukat Ali assented.

“One who sees clearly what he wants, and acts promptly to get it,” suggested the Sayyid.

“Yes,” replied Shaukat Ali. “He is sharp to foresee profit and loss, but inclined to bold strokes, which often turn out well.”

“If you were in a position of difficulty and in need of counsel, you would turn to him?”

“To him first among my friends,” replied Shaukat Ali, and added with a smile, “but I am not sure I should follow his counsel.”

“Perhaps because it would need a man of Násir Khán’s character to carry it through,” suggested the Sayyid.

“That is likely,” answered the young man simply.

“He would not understand that the counsel of a rough-rider may need a rough-rider to act on it,” continued the Sayyid.

The young man laughed. “You would imply I am no rough-rider.”

“Why should this enterprising young merchant and daring horseman seek my acquaintance?” asked the Sayyid.

“My friend is interested in all that interests me,” replied Shaukat Ali.

“Well, bring him to me to-morrow morning.”

“Pardon me,” replied the young man, hesitating. “I told him I was coming at this hour, and he promised to meet me here if he could complete some business.

“Then if he is come, you may invite him now, replied the Sayyid rising from his seat. He stepped from the chilly veranda into the open field and the sunshine, while Shaukat Ali went back through the house to see if his friend had arrived.

Chapter XXXI

The Fisherman

Then a flight of green pigeons flew swiftly over the Sayyid’s head, to settle on the pípal, and he went under the tree, idly trying to discern the birds, but they were indistinguishable among the leaves of the lofty summit, and he turned to look down on the river. Below the cliff the shallow stream ran through the sandy bed, and a shoal of mullets swam upstream with noses cutting the surface. A fisherman stood ankle-deep in the water, over his left arm his casting net, motionless as a bronze figure. As the shoal approached, the net was cast, and spreading out like the web of a gigantic spider, with a melodious tinkling it splashed the surface and enclosed the fish in its toils, and they flapped among the meshes, churning the water into a little circle of foam. The fisherman drew the string closing the mouth of the net, and dragged it to land.

The grace and efficiency of the action fascinated the Sayyid; it was perfect of its kind, like the swoop of a hawk striking a bird on the wing; in an instant the lives of a score of swift, eager creatures were forfeit to the consummate skill of the destroyer. He hurried down the steps to the river, and approached the fisherman, who was now picking the wriggling fish from the net and laying them gently on wet grass in his basket.

“A good cast, brother,” said the Sayyid.

The man looked round sharply, as he crouched between the net and basket, and reading a sympathetic expression on the speaker’s face, smiled, nodded, and went on with his task.

“Four-and-twenty,” said the Sayyid, when the man had released the gills of the last fish from the net. “How many fish did you count?”

“One under thirty, master,” replied the man.

“Cast them back into the stream,” commanded the Sayyid, “counting one by one as they splash. If your reckoning of twenty-nine be correct, then I will give you two rupees as their price; but if my reckoning of twenty-four be true, then shall you receive one rupee only.”

“Nay, master,” replied the man. “They are prime fish. I have stood one whole ghari in the cold water here waiting for a cast, and shall I throw away what God has granted?”

“Do thou cast them back, as I bid thee,” said the Sayyid, “and gain the wager. Cast, ere their gills dry and they stifle. Cast, I say!”

Then the man, constrained by the tone of authority, yielded and one by one dropped them into the current, where they splashed for an instant helpless until the stream ran through mouth and gill, and then sped away in silver streaks. There were twenty-nine.

“You have won the wager,” said the Sayyid.

But the man looked at him with forlorn countenance, crying, “Alas, for my lucky cast! Surely, after thus wasting God’s gifts, my luck will vanish!”

“Thou hast earned double their price current in the fish market,” replied the Sayyid, handing the man the promised two rupees.

The man took the coins and bound them in the corner of his narrow girdle, but returned no thanks.

“Look you, master,” he said. “I have wasted the yield of my toil. The husbandman who burns his grain is accursed; the fruit of labour is the gift of God. Master, why did you constrain me to evil?”

“What is thy name?” asked the Sayyid.

“I am called Báladeo the Malláh,” answered the man ruefully. “Look you, master: the serving-woman of Umráo Singh the grain merchant awaits me in the market. His wife has set her heart on a dish of mullet, and the lady is far gone in pregnancy. And now I have wasted good food and broken my promise to the woman, and brought disappointment into the merchant’s household.”

“Go upstream,” said the Sayyid. “Thou canst cast thy net once more over the shoal.”

“Master,” replied the man, “these fish are very wary. I may wade all day on these cold shallows under the biting wind and get never a cast. And what luck can I hope for after my folly?”

“I bade thee do as thou hast done,” replied the Sayyid. “If blame there be, it is due to me, not to thee.”

But the man sat with forlorn aspect between the empty basket and the wet casting net. Then the Sayyid said, laughing slightly: “Come, Báladeo, let us together search for comfort in this trouble of thine.” And he sat down beside him on the dry sand. “Answer me this, Báladeo,” he continued. “Didst thou cast back the fish in order to win the stake?”

“Nay,” answered the man. “I cast them into the river because I was constrained, and thought not of the stake.”

“Good, then! Thou wert the mere instrument of my will.”

“Aye, I could not but obey.”

“Thou wert then no free agent and must be held blameless,” continued the Sayyid. “What a fool then art thou to sit here ruefully repenting an act which was not thine, but another’s!”

The fisherman looked doubtfully at the speaker, who continued:---

“Thou didst not cast away the draught of fishes. The act was mine through thy unwilling hand.”

But the man answered: “The daemon of the river granted the luck. He surely saw the hand which threw away his gift, and nothing can he know of the inward constraint that forced my hand to reject his gift. You, master, may bear the guilt, but the bane is mine.”

“But, since thou art freed from the burden of guilt, thou canst bear the ill-consequences with an easy mind.”

But the fisherman replied, with a little dry laugh: “Master, the sense of unjust suffering is very bitter. If I suffer for an acknowledged evil act, I suffer the bitter due. God hath linked these two together: folly and its bitter fruit. That is justice. If I suffer for another’s guilt, that is intolerable.”

“Then, Báladeo, if the evil result be prevented, thou wilt be at ease?”

“Why not, since the guilt was yours, not mine?” replied the fisherman. “If fish be provided for the lady big with child; if her serving-woman learn I broke not my promise wilfully, and the daemon of the river apprehend that I took his boon fully, and let it slip as one suddenly stricken by the evil eye.”

“Good, then!” said the Sayyid. “Now gather up thy net for a cast.”

The fisherman stood up, shook his net free of water and ranged it over his left arm and shoulder, fold upon fold.

Then the Sayyid, standing on a little sand hillock to overlook the stream, said: “Yonder, downstream, between thee and the sun, under the shadow of the sand-bank, is gathered a shoal of fish. Cast thy net there.”

The fisherman entered the shallow water without a splash, and his net again sprang up, and hovered until its fine meshes had expanded into a circular web, to settle down and encompass a multitude of silver fish, small fry, two or three inches in length.

“Behold,” cried the Sayyid, laughing, as the man drew the net to land. “A clear and certain sign that the daemon of the stream is not averse to thee.”

“But, master,” replied the man, “I was but as the musket in the hands of the fowler: the cast was yours, not mine.”

But the Sayyid answered, laughing: “Nay, Báladeo, in thy words: the daemon of the stream saw but the hand which cast the net, and nothing can he know of the constraint which guided it.”

The man looked up doubtfully and answered: “That may be so.”

“It is clearly so, on thine own showing,” returned the Sayyid. “And now, gather up thy basket and tackle, and follow me to the fish-market. When the serving-woman comes for her fish, leave me to deal with her, and thou shalt be acquitted in her eyes of lack of skill, of ill-luck, or neglect of thy promise, and of waste of the boon which the fair-chance of the morning brought to thy net.”

He led the way by the path under the cliff, past the bathing ghát to the hollow way which leads to the temple of Máhádeo amid ancient trees, and upwards to the town. Thence they passed through the lane to the fish-market, southward of the city square.

Then the Sayyid commanded the fisherman, saying: “Sit in thy wonted place. When the serving-woman comes I will join thee at the fit moment. But speak no word of thy meeting with me nor of the mullets returned to the water.

The fisherman bowed in submission, and took up his position in the market under the shadow of the tun-trees by a woman who had for sale a large rohu. And he opened his basket to display the pile of silvery fry.

Chapter XXXII

The Old Bookseller

Leaving the fisherman, the Sayyid strolled away to the bookseller’s shop at the corner, where the fish-market joins the main street. The shopkeeper, a wizened Shekh with rheumy eyes behind horn spectacles, was seated amidst piles of books in yellow paper covers, Persian, Urdu and Hindi. He saluted his visitor with the salam, and the Sayyid, having returned the courtesy, addressed him by name, saying: “Masíhulla, it seems you have forgotten me, an old customer.”

“Forgive me,” replied the dealer apologetically. “But, indeed, I recall neither your features nor your voice.” But when he learnt the Sayyid’s name and lineage he removed his spectacles, and having scrutinized his visitor closely, said: “The little Mír Sáhib! Ahi, ahi! Now I look closely, I well remember your features, but much changed, if I may venture to say so, by lines and wrinkles and hollow eye-sockets. Has sickness and meagre fare been your lot?”

“Neither, Masíhulla,” answered the Sayyid. “Never a day’s sickness, but much study and meditation leave their marks.”

“Ahi, ahi! and I remember, sir, you were a close student in your youth, too,” said the bookseller. “And I marvel I did not know you at once, for the report of your return has reached me, and with it a rumour of sinister import, which I trust may be unfounded.”

“What rumour, Shekhji, and brought to you by whom?” inquired the Sayyid; and the old man answered deliberately:---

“I have a son, who, I may tell you, is a gossip and a ne’er-do-well. He sometimes writes copies in the office of the Tahsíldár, idle otherwise. He is one who picks up all the rumours of the town, and brings them, when he deigns to visit his old father.”

“I remember him,” said the Sayyid. “Nasarulla, the copyist, and I think he was once in trouble on a charge of forgery.”

“He was acquitted, sir,” replied the bookseller sharply.

“Yes, I remember now,” said the Sayyid. “He was defended by that skilful pleader, Kázi Bashíruddin.”

“Who preserved the judge from committing a grievous error,” returned Masíhulla quickly.

“Just so,” remarked the Sayyid, in a dry tone. “But the sinister rumour your son repeated?”

“You will doubtless authorize me to deny it,” answered the old bookseller. “’Twas said that both the father and mother refused harbour to their long-absent son, because during his sojourn among the Franks he had adopted the Christian faith.”

“From whom did your son get the information?” asked the Sayyid.

“His authority was good,” replied the bookseller. “The statement of the weaver headman, who dwells in the shadow of the old Sayyid’s house; and as the worthy man told his tale, he wept that such infamy should befall the family of his old master.”

“Infamy?” repeated the Sayyid, with a slight smile. “Tell me now, Masíhulla, for you were wont to deal in subtle distinctions, did the alleged infamy lie in the abandonment of Islám or the supposed adoption of the creed of the Christians?”

“In the apostasy, surely,” replied the bookseller warmly. “What matters whether an apostate from the One True God turn to the Treble God of the Christians or the ugly Trinity of the Hindus? What saith the Holy Writ? Those who turn aside shall be cast forth to be broiled, and as their skins are burnt away, other skins shall replace them and their torments shall be endless.”

The Sayyid was about to reply, but the old man, excited by the recitation of the text, exclaimed:---

“But you deny not this report. Is it then true? Tobdh! That one of the lineage of the Prophet, the son of the venerable Sayyid Mahmúd, should have fallen away from the band of the faithful!”

“Gently, worthy Masíhulla,” said the Sayyid quietly. “Surely your indignation is eager to overleap the limit of your knowledge! Yet in your sober mood you will affirm that such reports are to truth as a measure of chaff to a grain of wheat! Listen, old friend! If you would learn in what relation I stand to my beloved and revered father, go to him at his house. He will gladly break the monotony of his long dark days in discourse with one who is not only a seller of books, but himself a student of religion and morals. Exchange the garbled report which has reached you for the truth you will learn from that venerable old man. And further, if you would hear what doctrines I have to teach to our great brotherhood, the people of Islám, come to the assembly to be convened a few days hence by the Khán Sáhib at his river-side mansion, and you shall learn all from my own lips. Until then, mindful that justice is divine in all creeds, give no credit or currency to a report passed to you through a polluting channel.

“And now, worthy Masíhulla, I salute you, as my leisure no longer serves for further discourse.”

He bade the bookseller a courteous adieu, and left him disconcerted by the rebuke from a master whom he had rashly thought to upbraid.

Chapter XXXIII

The Serving-Woman

Watching from the bookseller’s shop, the Sayyid had observed a Kahár woman approach Báladeo the fisher and squat on her heels in front of his basket. He walked slowly down the roadway and stood behind the woman, who was upbraiding the man as one unfit to be trusted.

“What is it, padháni?” inquired the Sayyid, addressing her. “What has Báladeo done to offend thee?”

The woman turned her head quickly, and beneath her blue hood displayed a dark face with grey hair brushed smoothly over the forehead; her eyes were bright, the teeth, exposed between the full lips, sound, and but few wrinkles scored the corners of the eyes and mouth. A sharp rebuke against uncalled-for intervention seemed to have arisen to her lips, but the grave face which looked down upon her with kindly eyes checked the words, and she spoke with less aggression:---

“Pray, master, is Báladeo Malláh your servant, that you would learn how he has misled an old customer?”

“This I know,” replied the Sayyid, “that he is master of his craft.”

“Master of his craft!” exclaimed the woman scornfully. “This fellow Báladeo!”

“Aye, I repeat it,” returned the Sayyid. “A rare master of the casting net.”

“A rare boaster,” replied the woman. “The outcome of his bragging is such trash as this!” and she pointed with contempt at the basket of small fry. “Such trash any urchin can catch in his wicker sieve! Or, look you, master, if so skilful, then a cheat, who has sold his mullet to another customer for a higher bid.”

“Nay, dame, not that either,” said the Sayyid. “I know him to be a man of his word. But speak, wherein has he offended thee?”

Then the woman looked with suspicion on the Sayyid, and turning to the fisherman, said: “Is this fair-spoken gentleman thy man of law, come to restore thy fair fame by crafty twisting of words?”

“Never, never!” replied the fisherman. “Who am I to call in so noble a gentleman to deal between you and me? But I beg of you, good dame, tell him your grievance; he may find sweet words to assuage your wrath, and perhaps restore my fame which has so dark a shadow cast over it.”

“Then, as thou wilt,” she answered, now shifting round to face the Sayyid, who stood over her with hands clasped behind his back. “Sir, know then that I have dealt with this ill-starred fisherman for more months than I can count, and he has served us well and drawn much profit from our custom. For I am servant of the Kurmi merchant, the Chaudhri yonder in the Old Market. A good house, sir, as you may guess from seeing me.”

“Tell me thy master’s name,” said the Sayyid.

“A merchant widely known, sir,” answered the woman, “and called Umráo Singh, the Chaudhri, son of Kishan Singh.”

“Kishan Singh? I remember him as Chaudhri of the Kurmi merchants.”

“He died some twelve years ago.”

“Now I recall your master,” said the Sayyid. “In those days a stout lusty youth, wont to swing the clubs and wrestle too; an athlete.”

“Aye, aye!” exclaimed the woman. “And I warrant not one in the whole grain market will swing my master’s massy clubs with ease and grace; aye, ’tis a joy to witness him ply them. But as to wrestling, it would ill befit him now to step into the arena---and truly a long-limbed man would hardly encompass his girth.”

“Well, good dame,” replied the Sayyid, “in the days I speak of, young Umráo Singh was deft and nimble in a wrestling bout, and sweet of temper when his antagonist pressed his shoulders to the sand---a rare feat too.”

“You speak truth, fair sir,” she replied in a softened tone.

“And now, good dame,” continued the Sayyid, “tell me what complaint has the household of this worthy Kurmi against Báladeo.”

“Ah, now I will tell you,” replied the woman. “You will know well, great is the need in such a house as ours that the father should be succeeded by a son, as goodly a man as his father, aye, and grandfather and great-grandfather too---all of whom I served. Have I not bewailed two old masters borne down at full age to the ghát yonder? Well, sir, you should know that three daughters have been born in our house---maids, I warrant, full of grace, sweet-faced, straight-limbed, wide-hipped, fit to be mothers of lusty sons. So far has our house been blessed. But, alas! no son has been granted to our prayers, nor to our many offerings and pilgrimages. And surely none more fitted to beget a son than my master, the Chaudhri; none whose stature is more manly! And what woman fairer to bear his seed under her bosom than our mistress, the Chaudhráin?”

“As thou sayest, dame,” remarked the Sayyid with gravity, “the vigour of the stock has been shown in the three daughters.”

“Aye, truly,” said the woman heartily; “and their brother should be even as the young Krishna among the Gopis.”

“Even so. And now what mishap has befallen?”

“That I will tell, sir, for I see you are one to understand, being led by a kindly heart. Know, then, that our mistress is again big with child and now seven months gone. And it was promised by the holy man at the Nanda Devi temple, that if she became pregnant in the month of Asárh she should bear a man-child, and, by the grace of God, even this happened to her, to fill our house with hope---but hope now tempered with much anxiety. And the counsel of our Baid was strict: ‘Let her be thwarted in nothing,’ he said; ‘whatever she yearns to eat, let that be served to her.’ Thus when yesterday morning she longed to eat a dish of mullet, I went forth to the market, but none could be bought. So I called this fisherman from his house---Báladeo Malláh, by name---and he answered that the rain on the hills had brought down a cold flood, and the fish were lying torpid in the deep pools; but in the morning, when the sun rose high, they would swim upstream in shoals, and he would net all I needed. This I told my mistress, but she was very vexed, saying that, had I sent the man to the river to cast his net, he surely would have brought the fish. So I soothed her with promises of to-day, and spoke of the mode of cooking them and her craving became more keen. ‘Surely, nurse’ cried, ‘if I get not mullets for my repast to-morrow I will eat nothing, so sorely does my heart crave.’

“And now, good sir, you can understand the calamity ill-starred fisherman! He bragged of his skill, the plenty of mullets, and would now fob me off with a basket of paltry fry! And surely I think the wretch has sold his catch to the wife of the Khatri banker, who will pay for the delicacy whatever the rogue chooses to ask!

“And now what shall I say to my mistress? She will fast and sulk and fret, and who knows but her child may be untimely born, or checked in growth, and born a girl!”

“Ah, good dame, now indeed I understand your grievous plight,” said the Sayyid with gravity. “A way must be found to appease the craving of the lady or to direct it to another dish.”

“God has surely given you a kindly heart for the troubles of women!” she exclaimed. “Alas, men treat them lightly! But surely, sir, nothing is trivial which touches the welfare of the child in the womb.”

“You speak well, dame,” exclaimed the Sayyid with emphasis, and with sudden exaltation he continued: “The life to come is entrusted to the woman as a sacred treasure, and she shall be cherished and honoured in her sublime office above all creatures on the surface of this wondrous world. In her womb sits brooding the eternal hope of man, destined to bring forth the guide to the highest summit of being!”

“Good words, my master!” cried the woman, clasping her hands and bowing over them. “Surely a woman may hope to be blessed as was Rohini, and nurture in her womb B@la Rám or even a Krishna!”

“Let her cherish the hope,” replied the Sayyid. “And now listen, good dame. Go back straightway to thy mistress, and bear my words to her, repeating them word for word as I speak them. Thus shalt thou say: ‘In the market beside the fisher Báladeo I met a Sayyid, and he sends his greeting to the noble lady of Chaudhri Umráo Singh. And he saith: he stood on the river-bank while Báladeo drew forth in his net a catch of nine-and-twenty mullets; but the fish now swim free in the stream, each full of life as before it was entangled in the net. The Sayyid will tell how this came about and why, and he only can tell. Now, if the lady permits, he will relate this to her, and the lady’s longing shall be stilled, and the child she nourishes shall rest in comfort again. And he saith: No woman with child shall fret, when he can speak the words to soothe her heart.’”

“I will do your bidding,” answered the woman. “But know that the master has gone to his village of Umráopur and the lady cannot admit a stranger to speech unless her husband permits.”

But the Sayyid answered, “I am even as the healer of the sick. Lead the way, and I will wait on the threshold for the lady’s summons.”

Then the serving-woman obeyed, and, followed by the Sayyid, took her way to the merchant’s house in the Old Market.

Chapter XXXIV

The Merchant’s Wife

The serving-woman preceded the Sayyid through the narrow lane into the spacious Old Market, where the houses of the bankers, grain-merchants and clothiers look on an avenue of tun- and shisham-trees, beneath which the weigh-men, money-changers and small dealers sit on market days. She stopped in front of a house notable from the beautiful carving adorning the doors and windows and the graceful design of the balconies. On the left of the entrance was a counting-house, where the merchant’s manager and a couple of clerks were seated; on the right, a dealer in small-ware, pocket-knives, mirrors, combs and various toilet appliances kept his shop.

Then, addressing the Sayyid, the woman begged him to take a seat on one of the cane stools beneath the trees, while she delivered her message.

“Yonder,” she said, “my mistress can see you through the balcony, and will judge whether or not it be prudent to admit you.”

The Sayyid acquiesced in silence, and crossing the roadway, sat down under the central avenue with his face towards the balcony. The place was quite still, for it lies apart from the line of traffic, and the trade has been transferred to a new site in Inayatganj. And as he sat undisturbed alone, he sank into meditation so profound that he became unconscious of the passage of time, and motionless as a figure cut from a marble block. Through the foliage the rays of the sun fell upon his white turban, and it was illuminated as by a halo, above his face, still as the face of death. But when the serving-woman returned, the rays had passed and formed a circle of light upon the ground to his right.

“Sir,” she said in a hushed voice, “my mistress begs you will come to her.”

But he looked at her as one dazed from deep sleep, and she repeated her request.

“Who art thou, and from whom hast thou come?” he asked, rising slowly.

Then the woman exclaimed in surprise: “Did you not even now send me with a message to the Chaudhráin?”

“If thy mistress has need of me, lead me to her,” he answered; and the woman preceded him to the great door, where the wicket was opened to admit them. But as he stepped into the courtyard there came before him in a flash of distinct inward vision all that had passed since his meeting with the fisherman, and each incident fell into its place in all its connections as a part of one organic whole.

The little courtyard was enclosed by an arcade supported on carved pillars of dark wood. The entrance to the inner apartments was closed by a heavy curtain, and to the right of this, under the arcade, was a little chamber into which the sunlight now fell, showing a light couch with silken cover and cushions, placed near a perforated wooden screen. At the request of the serving-woman the Sayyid took his seat on the couch, and became aware of women’s voices whispering behind the screen.

“What seek you from me, Master Sayyid?” It was the voice of a woman, high-pitched, speaking through the screen.

“Who questions me?” asked the Sayyid in reply, and the serving-woman, standing below in the yard, explained it was the Chaudhráin herself.

“How shall I know that it is indeed the lady, the consort of Chaudhri Umráo Singh, who speaks?” asked the Sayyid again.

“Who shall dare impersonate the mistress in my house?” was the sharp reply. “What is your name and your lineage, and whence do you come?”

Then the Sayyid told her his name and lineage, and added: “My father is perhaps known to you, lady?”

“Assuredly by name,” she replied. “A gentleman of high repute among his people for learning and piety, but, I gather, lacking skill in matters of business.”

“As you say, lady, a scholar, but unskilled in the traffic of the market. But I come about your affairs, good dame. Tell me then, has this woman delivered my message?”

“Surely,” replied the lady. “Or why should I have admitted you to the house?”

“Then I beg, lady, you will repeat word for word the message she delivered.”

“Willingly,” answered the lady. “Thus my woman spoke: ‘Beside the fisher Báladeo in the market I met a Sayyid. He sends greetings and saith: While he stood on the bank Báladeo drew in his casting net from the river nine-and-twenty mullets. But these fish swim free in the stream, each full of life. He will tell how this came about, and why, and he only can tell.’ And much further she told. And why, pray,” she concluded in an angry tone, “and why were not the netted mullet brought to me? And why is not the false fisher here to be shoe-beaten as a breakfaith?”

“I will relate what befell him through my intervention,” replied the Sayyid, smiling at her petulance. “And I think surely you will acquit the fisherman without transferring your displeasure to me. But first, good dame, permit me to examine the palm of your right hand.”

At once there was thrust through the screen a plump, soft hand, stained with henna on the palm and nails. The jewelled rings sparkled in the sunlight, and the heavy gold bracelet glowed as a band of fire, fit adornment for the taper fingers and the shapely wrist; and the palm lay open in a cup like the expanded flower of the lotus on the surface of a sunlit lake.

“Surely,” thought the Sayyid, “this fair-moulded hand of a woman is one of the beautiful things under the sun.” But having gazed an instant, he said:---

“May I be allowed to feel the pulse?”

“Why not?” she answered; and he laid his finger-tip on the hollow of the wrist and felt the quick but strong and regular throb.

“Enough,” he said.

The hand was swiftly withdrawn, and the lady exclaimed with sudden impatience: “But come, sir, I did not summon you as a palmist or a physician. If you have aught to tell, let me hear it.”

Then the Sayyid, smiling gently again, replied: “Lady, as I sit here in the noonday sun you can see my face clearly.”

“Surely, sir. I have eyes to see,” she answered sharply.

“Then, lady, you can read in my countenance whether I am one to waste words over the solemn folly of palmistry or play the physician to a woman in sound health, whose sole need is wholesome food and cheerful company.”

Then with a ring of rebellious laughter in her voice she returned: “I would know why I have been tricked out of my promised dish of mullet fried in butter with Nipál pepper.”

As she spoke, two little girls aged from four to six years came forth furtively from behind the curtain, and, hand in hand, stood gazing at the visitor. The little maids, with their dimpled faces and beautifully moulded arms and feet, were a delight to the beholder, and the Sayyid’s features relaxed into a soft smile as he gazed upon them in silent admiration. Then the elder girl, attracted by the expression on his face, approached nearer, leading the younger by the hand.

“Show me thy hand, little woman,” he said. She complied without hesitation, and the gold band on her wrist, struck by the shaft of sunlight, gleamed as fire.

“A maiden of exquisite beauty and fairest promise,” thought the Sayyid, but he said: “I thank thee, little one. And now if thou wilt sit beside me here in the warm sunshine, thou too shalt hear all I have to relate.”

Then, turning again to the screen, he began:

“Hear now, lady, what I have to relate, and may your displeasure be appeased: Know then that the fisher Báladeo was sore troubled at the loss of his haul of mullets, saying, ‘The lady in the Old Market will be vexed that the promised fish are not delivered, and this Kahárin, her servant, will brand me as clumsy or faithless’: and he charged me, saying, ‘It is for you to avert the evil sprung from your intrusion.’

“Know then, lady, my meddling with his fishing came about in this wise: I stood on the river-bank, and the water danced and sparkled in the sunlight, and from its surface a thousand thousand silver flakes leapt and vanished. A shoal of fish, their gold and silver heads cutting the surface, glided upstream, and the diamond spray above them flashed and fell in rainbow tints. I watched them speeding upwards, living rays of light, and my heart rejoiced at the brilliant creatures, perfect in their crystal sphere. Then suddenly a shadow expanded, settled upon the water, a blight of life; the shoal was enclosed in the meshes of the net and dragged to the land, a gasping and struggling heap, and all the grace and beauty and rejoicing life changed to a turbid river, a dry sand-bank, and creatures writhin in the agony of death. Then my anger sprang swift, as under the shock of a sudden blow, and curses on the destroyer arose on my lips. Aye, for the moment I was as one who should see this fair maiden struck down by a ruthless hand——”

“Nay, nay!” cried the lady in a voice of dismay. “Speak not such ill-omened words!”

“Listen further, good lady,” he said imperiously, checking her. “Then I spake to the fisherman, put constraint upon him as a master on his servant, and bade him quickly cast back the fish into the stream: and each darted away once more uninjured and lives perfect in its own sphere. And as those beautiful fish were saved, so may these fair maidens be protected when danger hovers near them; and the words are of good omen, portending life victorious over threatened ill.”

He abruptly ceased speaking, and the lady cried, struck by a sudden thought, “O Sayyid, surely, surely, I fear had those fish been brought into this house some calamity would have befallen. Even as you say, there may be some strange link between their lives and the welfare of my babes!”

“Nay, lady, I did not say that,” replied the Sayyid, “nor dare I hint at it.”

While the Sayyid was speaking, the two children had drawn nearer until they crouched beside him on the cot, and with eyes fixed upon his face sat motionless, fascinated by the measured tones of his voice. Now as he laid his hand unconsciously on the head of the younger and smoothed her glossy hair, she smiled in his face under the caress.

“See these babes!” cried the lady. ‘They cling to him as to a protector. Aye, aye, these little ones know a kindly heart as surely as does a cat. And we mothers know and feel things hidden from the understanding of men. And sure am I that some daemon of spite would have fallen upon us had those fish been brought to our kitchen! Tell me, sir, you who are wise, tell me, I pray, what ill-luck would have come upon us?”

The Sayyid laughed as he answered: “Only this I know, that had I not restored those fish to the river and life, I should never have rejoiced looking on these two maids and listening to the voice of the noble lady, their mother. I know not if any evil was averted, but I know well what I should have lost.”

“And I——” began the lady impetuously, but checked her words and said: “I think you can tell if you choose. Why will you hide from me the ill-luck from which we were saved?”

“Truly I cannot tell,” he answered. “Such guesses are the vain fabric of nimble fancy based on no reality. And now, lady, one request: Báladeo, the fisher, waits at the gate; may he learn from your lips that from his failure to fulfil his promise no ill has befallen the lady of this house?”

But the lady persisted. “Sayyid, I cannot rest until I hear your guess as to the ill which has been warded from me and mine.”

Then the Sayyid laughed again as he answered: “I am not one to read omens nor proclaim vain guesses. But when your husband returns, tell him how I came, what passed between us, omitting no word or action; perhaps he will reveal to you his guess of what good or evil might have befallen the house but for my meddling. But if he fail to satisfy you, let him know that I tarry in the mansion by the river.”

Here the fisherman was led in, and the lady’s attention was diverted.

“Listen, Báladeo Malláh!” she called loudly to the man. “I thank thee for thy concern for me and mine. That the mullets were restored living to the stream I deem of good omen. Thy skill in thy craft, thine honesty and kindly heart have become known to me, and this is ample amends for the lack of a savoury dish. Take then thy rupee and depart in peace.”

Then the fisherman, having bowed to the ground, addressed the Sayyid, saying: “Sir, your promise has been fulfilled, and good, not evil, has come from your thrusting your hand into my business.”

And now the elder girl, who had been called by her mother, came forth from the curtain bearing a little tray of silver, whereon was set pán and rose essence in a gold goblet. The Sayyid accepted the courtesy and left the house.

Chapter XXXV

Whisperings of the Tempter

The Sayyid passed out of the Old Market into Inayatganj and returned to the mansion by the way he had come down the hollow way to Máhádeo’s shady temple and the bathing ghát; thence under the cliff to the steps, cut in the conglomerate rock, ascending to the great pípal-tree. He crossed the field to the veranda, where he found the carpet and seats as he had left them, but the glass doors to the house were all closed. No one was visible; from the house came no sound, and without all was still. He sat down on the couch and, looking vaguely across the river valley, became lost in a day-dream. He felt the pressure of the two children nestling by his side; he saw the fair jewelled hand thrust through the dark screen into the sunlight. Then the vision vanished, and left him oppressed by a sense of utter loneliness; he felt the bitter solitude of the outcaste severed from the warm bands which unite men in a common life.

Then the definite thought emerged: a man lives but a maimed life unless he be linked to wife and child. What was this great mission for which he was to sacrifice the completion of life for which his heart craved?

Reformers of the people, teachers of new creeds, clamant guides through the devious ways of life, were they not, all but a few---very few!---mere victims of illusion and self-conceit, misleading by their crazy asseveration a little band of vain, restless, ill-balanced creatures, the fools of the day, objects of fair ridicule to a commonsense world?---all, with their leader, doomed to vanish, like the little vortex of dust and leaves yonder whirled upwards by the gusty wind from the river?

But he who stablishes a house and rears strong sons, who administers his estate with honesty and practical wisdom, and fulfils each little task of the day with loving care, his life is well spent, and he works securely to the betterment of the world, though narrow be the sphere of his influence.

Who but the madman, or his near kinsman, the inspired prophet of God, can feel assured in the secret chambers of his heart that he is bearer of a message of import to man? that his summons to men to abandon their well-tried ways is not the aberration of an abnormal brain?

And here, at his old home, work fruitful of good lay ready to his hand. He had but to return to his father’s house and by thrift and skilful administration restore its wealth and dignity. Here he might become a centre of forces of enlightenment and order, sure means to the elevation of life.

Then his spirit broke loose from the spell, and sprang in revolt against the Tempter. A voice of scorn exclaimed in his heart: “Success! What success? To render the livelihood of a little group more secure; to provide them with better food and clothing, and comfort their lives? That we may batten in fat ease and rest satisfied in a base life! This, when the crying need of the day is to foment a spirit of discontent; to excite men to cast off the half rotten spiritual garments in which they are swathed; to liberate them for a higher stage of spiritual and social life.

“Oh, thou coward! Thou knowest well that thy doubt, arrayed in specious reason, is but the offspring of fear! Thou hast seen turned upon thee faces of hatred, ridicule and contumely; thou hast grown faint before a vision of the worst---utter disregard of thy passionate voice; and now thou wouldst find pretexts for retreat, here on the very threshold of thine enterprise!

“Too late, thou fool. Dare! or perish miserably stricken by thine own self-contempt!”

He arose abruptly from his seat and turned to enter the house. But the glass door had been bolted from the inside. He shook it violently to attract bis servant within, and as he did so, the bolt, carelessly fastened, slipped down from its socket. Entering, he shot the bolt and, passing through the silent rooms to his chamber, lay down on the bed to seek calm for his ruffled spirit. Hardly had his head touched the pillow than he fell asleep.

Chapter XXXVI

A Seed of Mystery

Not long after the Sayyid’s return, the butler came into the central hall bearing candles for the candelabra, and through the open door of the side chamber, he saw him asleep in the bed. With an expression of surprise, he approached softly to assure himself that his visitor and none other lay there. He left the house noiselessly to return with his table attendant and Khálik Dád Khán, and the three stood for a few moments looking at the sleeper in reverential silence. Then the butler and his man retired without a sound, but the boy, Khálik Dád, wrapped his mantle about his head and sat on the threshold to watch by his master.

When at length the Sayyid began to move and murmur inarticulately, Khálik Dád approached.

“Is that you, boy? What hour is it?” asked the Sayyid, sitting up.

“Past the third watch,” replied the boy. “The gong of the Treasury Guard has struck four.”

“What of Shekh Shaukat Ali and his friend, Násir Khán?”

“They waited long. We knew not what to tell them, or where to seek for your honour,” replied the boy, and added with hesitation: “Perhaps Násir Khán felt he had been slighted.”

“Ah, it maybe so, perhaps justly,” said the Sayyid. “Still, my business was urgent. But what has happened, boy, that you look so strangely on me?”

“May I be pardoned!” answered the boy, raising his hands, pressed palm to palm. “But I am troubled in mind.”

“What trouble? Speak out, boy.”

“It is thus, my master. When the two gentlemen came back from the west veranda saying my master had departed, I searched through the house and grounds. Then, after waiting long, I locked all doors of the mansion and went to my dinner.

“When I returned to sit in waiting, the doors were still fastened. It was then that the butler entered and saw my master lying in deep sleep on this couch, and we marvelled how he had passed through locked doors, and awe fell upon us.”

“Art thou sure every door was fastened?” asked the Sayyid.

“I shot every bolt into its socket, and they are as I left them. On the side door the butler’s padlock was fastened from without.”

“What thinkest thou?”

“That my master was borne away and restored in a trance by some invisible power. There are those, we know well, for whom walls and doors are no barriers.”

The Sayyid mused awhile with eyes fixed on the young man: “This unseen world, forged by fancy, is no less real for him than the world of sense. Nay, rather of greater import, as esteemed more potent in its influence and affording the readiest explanations of strange events. Who shall dare hope to change this most ancient bias to the crooked ways?” But he answered sharply: “Know, boy, that I went and came, as men go and come, on firm ground through open doors. If thine eyes and ears had been alert, thou hadst seen my coming and going. Do thou cast out of thy mind these fancies bred of ignorance. Now, as to our visitor Násir Khán, it shall be explained to him that my discourtesy was seeming only. Where is he to be found?”

“He lives with his father in the quarter of the timbermen, yonder, near the Nakta Dána gate. A large house on the edge of the pond.”

The Sayyid nodded, and bade the boy fetch him a draught of water fresh-drawn from the great well.

Chapter XXXI

The Kurmi Merchant

When the young man Khálik Dád returned bringing the water: “There awaits without,” he said, “one Umráo Singh, by caste, I think, a Kurmi, but a grain merchant of high repute in the Old Market. He affirms that the master was in his house to-day at noon, and that he comes as bidden.”

Hearing the message, the Sayyid felt his heart spring with joy: he might once more enter that home of the fair wife and mother which haunted him now like a sweet vision from a long gone past. He drank the water eagerly, and ordered the visitor to be brought to the west veranda, where the sun was bright and the air warm, for the chill and dim light within the great house had suddenly become oppressive.

Standing on the veranda, he saw his visitor approach, a man of some thirty years of age, tall, broad-shouldered, with bull neck and square, good-humoured countenance. He walked with dignity; and with easy self-reliance bowed to the Sayyid and gravely acknowledged his courteous greeting.

When the ceremonies of meeting were complete, and he had settled himself at ease on the cane stool in front of the Sayyid, he began: “Sir, I would be assured that I am addressing the stranger who came to my house this morning during my absence.”

He looked with direct glance at the Sayyid, examining his countenance, and the Sayyid answered: “If, sir, you are the husband of the noble Chaudhráin, the mistress of the great house in the Old Market, who honoured me with a summons this morning——”

“The same, Master Sayyid.”

“Then,” continued the Sayyid, “you have heard from the lady all that passed during my visit and the odd circumstances which led to it.”

“The whole, related as soon as I returned.”

“You will then have apprehended,” continued the Sayyid, “the exceptional circumstances, which justified my visit during the master’s absence.”

Then the Kurmi merchant answered, with a pleasant smile on his broad face: “A gentleman of tact and nice feeling knows when the rules of etiquette may be waived, and he is careful to guard against any abuse from the liberty.”

The Sayyid bowed, and waited for his visitor to continue.

“I come, sir, and I beg to be excused the seeming frivolity of the occasion; but you, sir, doubtless know well that at times and seasons the whims of a lady must be treated with gravity.”

The Sayyid nodded assent, and his visitor continued with easy frankness: “The lady demanded of me an answer to her question, or riddle, shall I call it? What calamity, she asked, would have entered our house with the dish of mullet? From what evil were we preserved by the auspicious intervention of the stranger? I treated the question lightly as frivolous, and, I confess it, sir, became irritated at the persistency with which it was pressed. Then the lady, I speak it in confidence, became angry and grew feverish, and bade me go at once to the Sayyid Ali Husain, so the lady named you, sir---you, she persisted, alone could solve the riddle and set her mind at rest.”

The stalwart visitor smiled amiably with a deprecating expression for having so completely yielded to the caprices of his wife.

But the Sayyid answered gravely:---

“Any matter which may affect the unborn son of the house is of moment. The smallest obstacle may divert the spring of life into a disastrous channel.”

“You spoke of a son, sir,” interrupted Umráo Singh. “I thank you for the good omen.”

The Sayyid smiled as he replied: “What, Master Chaudhri, do you, a shrewd man of business, living here in Ronáhi in the centre of enlightenment, do you seriously regard a random word as an omen? What possible connection can you find between the gestation of a child in the womb and a casual word?”

The merchant answered gravely: “Sir, we know not: links may or may not be in the unseen world even between things so far apart. But the unseen powers rule both, and they may be pleased to shed light on what shall come hereafter by such an omen as fell from your lips---lights and signs to those who have the skill to interpret. The lady of the house will rejoice hearing the happy word, and through her exultation fresh energy will pass to the child she bears.

“Nay, sir, I do not say that a fair word spoken shall directly influence the sex of the unborn child, but I do say that the daemon who knows all may choose to reveal the future such a chink as opened by your speech.”

Then the Sayyid thought again: “Here once more! This man is whole and sane in body and mind, brave of heart, shrewd in wit. Yet these spirit figments of dark and ancient days are as real as the things he sees and touches! Surely this taint is inherited as a kind of mental syphilis from which very few of us escape!” But he answered: “So far true, Chaudhri; no freak is too absurd to be attributed to inscrutable spirits: we have no rules whatever for estimating their conduct. We might frame guesses without limit as to how these creatures of the twilight and darkness may exert their influence upon us: they are utterly futile, being susceptible of no test. Rather would I see one such as you consider shrewdly the precedent question: what genuine grounds have we for crediting the reality of these daemons outside the brains of the credulous? Believe me, with your sound sense you would speedily deliver yourself from the terrors of night and the hampering of your ways by vexatious warnings.”

Then the Kurmi merchant answered with the quiet assurance of a man who knows his ground: “Sir, as the wisdom of our fathers has prescribed, so we believe and act: against this venerable authority we cannot set up our single judgment. Our lives are moulded by the traditions amid which we are born and reared; without these we are spiritually naked; for these are the very garment of our spiritual life.

“And consider, sir, were I to sit down to test these traditions by the light of reason, I should perforce abandon the needful business of life; ere I reached any practical guidance through the maze, all my worldly goods would have vanished. Nay, rather than turn gosáin or jogi to live on charity pursuing such speculations, I follow stoutly the venerable traditions, which by use and wont fit me as nicely as my skin over my bones and muscles.

“And meantime the learned Pandit whom we feed cares for these matters, leaving us to follow the course of our daily work. Thus our days are well spent, our coffers replenished, and the worthy Pandit, who casts the horoscope, fattens on our superfluities.

“And bethink you, sir, were I to follow your counsel and proclaim these spirit influences mere futile fancies, the women-folk in league with the Pandit would rise in revolt, the comfort of my home-life be destroyed, until, pestered to death, I should return to the old ways; and these, as I said, are no more irksome than the tunic which wraps me warm on this chilly day.”

The Kurmi merchant ceased and looked at the Sayyid with an expression of frank self-confidence.

Then the Sayyid, refraining from controversy, said with a smile: “I see, Master Chaudhri, you base your philosophy of life on the ancient precept:

Let the peasant till and the merchant trade,
Let the priest be guide in our prayers,
Let the ruler keep ward over lives and goods,
Then each and all shall thrive.”

“That is true wisdom,” replied the merchant. “And if one encroach on the office of another, then confusion follows.

“And now,” he continued, “may I hear your answer to the riddle to bear back to my disturbed household? And to show, sir, that I am earnest in my request, and deem the Maulvi no less than the Pandit worthy of his fee, for it lies with us to enable them to live in meditation undisturbed, I bring this gift for your acceptance.”

And on the fold of his kerchief he tendered four gold mohars.

“I accept the gift,” answered the Sayyid. “And now as to the riddle. The lady will have it that if those mullet, which now happily swim in the river, had been cooked for her supper, some calamity would have alighted on her unborn child, or at least upon her household; and it is her persistent whim to hear from what calamity she was saved.

“Now, I will not, as a mere matter of speculation, deny that future events---real events, not mere fancies---being separated from us by time only, might be foreknown if the mind were freed for an instant from the condition of time by which it is limited. But if, as in the present case, the event is purely imaginary and can never come into existence, then assuredly it can never be foreknown. Thus the lady’s question involves a self-contradiction.

“This brief indication, without further expansion, will be sufficient for a man of your acute intelligence. But addressed to the lady such reasoning would be not only futile, but excite the feminine mockery it would deserve. The lady indeed seeks only to be amused by a play of fancy, and well knows in her heart that this demand of hers is a mere game of what children call ‘make-believe,’ and she will mock at the man who treats it as a grave problem of science. She chooses to exercise her whimsical power over the menfolk. Thus we must yield to her caprice and take part in the game.

“Let us then return at once to your house, where, sitting by your side I will relate to her a fable which shall divert her from her purpose. The lady shall seek to reveal the hidden meaning, and will be satisfied; and so we shall win the game.”

The Chaudhri Umráo Singh assented, and inviting the Sayyid to sit beside him in his bullock chariot, drove back to the Old Market.


The Pandit and the Heifer

Now when the Sayyid once more sat in front of the carved screen in the house of the Kurmi merchant, and heard again the whispers and light laughter and the jingle of trinkets and rustle of silk within, and near him on a couch the master of the house reclined, he related his fable as follows:---

In the days when Nawáb Wájid Ali sat on the throne of Awadh, and in the great city of Lakhnau there were gathered together from all parts dancing women and mimes and poets and pimps and catamites to adorn and amuse the dissolute idleness of a puppet king and court---in those days, there dwelt in a suburb of the city one Pandit Káshi Náth, a man so devoted to study and meditation that he lived unconscious of the hum and traffic of the great bazaars and the revelry in the palace of the King and the mansions of the nobles; unheeding even the Frankish rulers, whose soldiery and guns dominated the figures clad in cloth of gold and decked with jewels who bore the titles of Kings and Ministers of the realm of Awadh. The days passed for him in an unbroken succession of pious observances, in the study of the Shástrás, and in ministrations among a little group of merchants, whose eager pursuit of gain he checked for a brief interval by his presence.

Now one morning, when the Pandit had performed his ablutions and laid his chaplet of flowers in the temple outside the city, he returned home past the Mírza’s Grove, and there, in a grassy enclosure, he beheld three dwarf heifers grazing, sleek creatures with fawn coloured coats, glossy under the morning sun. Two lay in the sunlight chewing the cud of contentment, and the third, in colour like the nilgáe, stood over them and looked on the Pandit with soft dark eyes. He stood still as a carved figure with arm extended, and the little creature slowly approached and licked his hand. Her great mild fair broad forehead, shapely horns and gentle demeanour fascinated the Pandit, and in his fancy she became carnation of peace and rest amidst the ceaseless current of things of sense. When he turned to go on his way, he was as one who had held communion with a holy spirit.

But on the fourth day, as he approached the enclosure he heard from the distance the lowing of a cow in distress, and through the bars he saw two of the heifers in excited attitudes trotting across to the opposite fence: but the third heifer, his friend, was gone. The cattle boy too, who daily sat watching the heifers from the top of the bank, was not at his post. A boding anxiety took possession of the Pandit. He clambered over the ditch and up the bank, to overlook the enclosure into the grove, whence the piteous lowing seemed to come; and there, amid the trees, he beheld his favourite, a cord about her horns, dragged away by a Mohammedan in stained garments, and the cattle-boy followed, urging the unwilling beast with his staff. Then the Pandit’s heart stood still.

But Pandit Káshi Náth was a man of contemplation, wont to hold aloof from the current of events, and never had he ventured to thrust forth his hand to control them. He stood for a moment transfixed with dismay, shuddered, and murmured words from the Shástrás; and then in profound depression, seeing nothing, turned his steps to his home.

But all the way the piteous lowing of the heifer haunted him; day by day the dumb creature had come to him pleading for protection, and her last imploring cry was addressed to him, he understood this now, now that it was too late. When he reached his house he shunned his wife, and retreated into a recess in his own shrine to pray and meditate with aching heart. Then his sorrow became remorse, his remorse a bitter reproach, and the clamour of an inner voice grew ever louder; he was as one who, having rashly sinned, awakes to his wickedness, and feels the pang which will never slacken until the sin has been expiated or the evil done obliterated from the face of the world. The gentle creature who had besought his protection might have been saved had he but intervened. Now the sin of the slaughter of kine lay heavy upon him.

At last he arose, spurred to unwonted action. He bound a white turban about his head, donned his white jacket, and in the knot of his waistcloth tied a purse of money and hurried forth. He remembered now that the grove and garden with the little cattle enclosure belonged to a noble of the Court, whose house stands not far from the city square. Thither he hastened, threading his way by instinct rather than conscious guidance through the traffic and the maze of alleys. The grave demeanour and deliberate step becoming a venerable Pandit were changed to the hurried gait of one who seeks a physician for a friend in sore need of help.

But when he arrived before the great archway of the princely mansion he knew not how to act. His simple purpose had been to fall at the nobleman’s feet and beg the heifer might be spared and delivered to him for any price demanded. And now he stood before the gate, where the Jamadár and a group of men-at-arms were lounging and talking and laughing together and completely barring his entrance.

But the piteous lowing of the gentle creature filled his ears, and the dread thought was in his heart that he might even now be too late. He advanced boldly into the gateway to pass into the courtyard, but the Jamadár checked him with rough voice:

“Ho, Panditji, whither so fast?”

Then Káshi Náth stopped, and clasping his hands: “Sir,” he cried, “my business is very urgent. I would beg the help of the Nawáb Sáhib to prevent the shedding of innocent blood. By your father’s head, I beseech you, admit me at once to his Excellency.”

“Innocent blood!” exclaimed the Jamadár. “Where? Whose?”

“There is no time to spare. Even now it may be too late!” cried the Pandit piteously. “Even now, even now the knife may be whetted. See, see, I bring a ransom.” And he displayed his silver coins.

“Explain, old man,” replied the Jamadár sharply.

“The heifer!” cried the Pandit. “The heifer coloured like a nilgáe! They have dragged her to slaughter. A word from the Nawáb will save her. Behold, here is her ransom, her price!”

“Is the old man distraught?” exclaimed the Jamadár.

“I saw her dragged away,” continued the Pandit, unheeding; “dragged away from the Nawáb’s garden, out there by the Mírza’s Grove; taken by a butcher for slaughter.”

The Jamadár, now at length comprehending, laughed in the Pandit’s face. “Thou foolish old man, what heed should his Excellency pay to these matters! If the beef at his feast is juicy and tender, he says ’tis well; and if it be tough and dry, he will rate his cook and steward. Doth he know or ask whence it comes? And to-day he feasts his friends from Bilgrám, and if the most savoury and tender of flesh be not served, some one will rue it.”

Then the Pandit replied: “I pray you, Master Jamadár, dally not with me here. If I be too late, a blight will fall upon my life. Take me, I beg, to one who hath authority in this matter, that I may ransom the heifer.”

He spoke piteously, as one begging for the life of a child, but the Jamadár, deeming him to be a man distraught, answered: “Get thee gone, old man, and be wise in time. If the heifer came in to the shambles at dawn her blood is shed, and should you see the butcher whose hand is red, I know not what disaster your madness might provoke.”

Now among the men-at-arms lounging in the gateway was a Rájpút from Bárabanki, a stalwart ruffian, holding his club ready for any fray with little question as to the cause. But the Pandit’s plea and pitiful aspect moved him, and he spoke to the Jamadár:---

“I pray you give heed to this reverend man. If then trouble befall, it will alight on his head. But if we drive him away, his curse will blight us and this house.”

“Who gave thee warrant to speak?” cried the Jamadár roughly. “Hold thy tongue till thou hast licence to wag it.”

The Rájpút bit his beard angrily, but was silent at the word of command.

Then the Pandit took the turban from his head and fell down before the Rájpút, crying, “Lo, you; you are a Hindu. You can help; and if the heifer be slain while I tarry here helpless, the blood shall be upon your head. I pray you take this silver, lead me to one of authority to stay this slaughter, and what befalls then shall be on my head.”

The face of the Rájpút blanched green, and clasping his hands he addressed the Jamadár: “Take you the money he offers and order me to lead him within to the Chamberlain.”

But the Jamadár saw in the man’s interference only a revolt against discipline to be suppressed at once.

“Mán Singh,” he said with cold severity, “I commanded thee to hold thy tongue until thou hadst licence to speak.” And turning to the Pandit, “Good man, get thee gone, and bring not dissension and tumult into the guard-room of the Nawáb. And thou, Mán Singh, lead him on his way elsewhere and report to me thy return.”

But the Pandit crouched unmoved, bare-headed, and cried: “Lay no hand on me, Mán Singh. I leave not until I know whether or not the heifer lives. On thy head is the blood of slaughtered kine, on thine and the head of thy son.”

Then Mán Singh cried in dismay: “I touch not this reverend man! I go to the Chamberlain, come what may.”

But as he moved quickly to pass into the courtyard, at a sign from the Jamadár he was seized by two men right and left and tripped up. He dragged down the men with him, and the three struggled on the ground swearing and shouting, while the Pandit added to the clamour, crying in shrill voice, “Dohái, Nawáb Sáhib ki! Nawáb Sáhib ki dohái!”

In the midst of this confusion, there turned from the street into the archway a lady’s litter borne by liveried bearers and preceded by runners wearing purple coats, gold-laced, who shouted: “Make way! Make way for the Begam Sáhiba!” At the same moment the Chamberlain came forth, and his weak voice added to the clamour.

But the Pandit threw himself in front of the litter, crying for justice. At this instant the young nobleman himself came hurriedly from the upper chamber, and the struggle ceased, and a rough hand threw the Pandit aside, but failed to still his shrill cries.

“Silence that man! Silence!” cried the Nawáb Ali Zamán.

Then the Pandit, seeing he had attracted the Nawáb’s attention ceased his cries, and joining his hands: “It is your Excellency’s justice I seek. Hear my prayer!”

Then the Jamadár, standing at attention before his imperious master, reported what had happened, briefly and clearly, without adornment, in the manner that befits a soldier making a report to his officer. And when the Nawáb had heard this and looked towards the Pandit, the latter spoke:---

“My lord, here I bring the price, twenty, forty rupees---Company’s sika rupees. I pray you to release the heifer.”

Then the Chamberlain spoke: “My lord, a heifer, dwarf and barren, was brought in this morning for to-night’s feast, and now doubtless hangs up flayed in the slaughter-house.”

Then the Nawáb Ali Zamán, addressing the Pandit sternly, said: “The heifer is mine, not thine. See the confusion thou hast stirred up by thy folly. It is too late. Get thee gone, and learn to be less meddlesome henceforth.”

But the Pandit answered: “My lord, may I see with mine own eyes? If she live I will save her, paying all I possess. If she is slain, then her blood be on the house which slew her.”

Now the lady in the litter had commanded her bearers to set her down within the recess on the right of the great archway, and listened to all with attention. And at the last words of the Pandit she shuddered for her little son, now three years old, and for her unborn child that now leaped in her womb, so that she grew faint. Then she bade her eunuch summon her husband to her side, and the Nawáb coming at once, she said swiftly: “Let that old man have his wish. If the heifer live, give her to him from me, and let him bless my son and thy son and our child unborn. And quick, quick, for even now the knife may be at her throat.”

And the young nobleman obeyed with grace. “Old man,” he said, “it shall be as you will. If, seeing the heifer, you know her as the one you seek, take her as a free gift from the lady yonder. If it be now too late to save her, know, old man, that I and mine have done what we could to serve you, and that had you but come more swiftly here, all would have been as your heart desired.”

And he commanded his Chamberlain to lead the Pandit quickly to the butcher’s yard.

The Chamberlain with hasty steps led the Pandit round the side of the house, past the elephant and horse stables, to the little yard at the back of the house where lived Nanhe the butcher. The Pandit followed with beating heart, speechless, and when the Chamberlain threw open the door of the yard, he stood on the threshold, not daring to step into the polluted place.

“Ho, Nanhe Kassáb,” cried the Chamberlain. “Hast thou slaughtered the fat beast?”

An answer came, and the Chamberlain pushed back the door widely, that the Pandit might look in.

The Pandit’s heart shrunk in his bosom and he gasped, for the heifer lay there on the ground, her throat just severed, and the butcher’s foot pressed on her side drove the blood in a fount from the gash.

He staggered back, muttering “Too late! too late! Upon my head! Upon my head!” and hurried away in tremulous haste, he knew not whither.

The Sayyid ceased, and after a few moments the silence was broken by the voice of the lady behind the screen:---

“Alas! alas! What an awful calamity! That the holy man should have looked on such horrors!”

“He was warned by the Jamadár!” replied the Sayyid.

“He could not abandon his purpose without sin,” she answered. “But the issue: tell me what befell the holy Pandit, for therein lies the pith of this lamentable tale.”

“That same day he abandoned wife and home, a pilgrim to the shrine of Badrináth of the Snows.”

“He returned to his folk purified?” she asked.

“Whether or not he reached the mountain shrine is unknown. All trace of him vanished from the world.”

“Ahi, ahi!” she answered, sighing. “Still, his days were full and the day of release came not unfittingly. But of the others. What of the Rájpút clubman?”

“He was dismissed for insolence to his officer and for causing the affray. Not long after he was hanged as a dakáit outside the Kánhpur jail.”

“He was doubtless a ruffian,” remarked the lady. But what of the Jamadár, who by hindering the holy Pandit at the gate shared in the guilt?”

“The Begam Sáhiba was wroth with the Jamadár, and to avert the evil omen she had him transferred from the palace guard to the villages by the Kheri forest, and there within one month he died of fever.”

“Ahi, ahi!” exclaimed the lady. “In Asárh men die there like rotten sheep. If the Begam Sáhiba knew this, she surely sinned.”

“This is further related,” replied the Sayyid. “When her woman brought the news of the Jamadár’s death, the mistress was coming downstairs from the roof. She missed her footing and fell.”

“Well?” exclaimed the lady impatiently.

“That night she was delivered in agony of a son stillborn.”

“Tobáh! tobáh! Alas! alas!” cried the lady in profound distress. “Poor thing! poor thing! And all these calamities might have been averted had but the Pandit acted with swift decision on his first impulse of pity!”

“You have said, lady,” replied the Sayyid, rising from his seat and bowing before the screen. “And now may I be permitted to depart? Be you of good heart, and the child to be born of you shall be a worthy son of his father. And you know well that the peace of the household rests in the hands of the mistress.”

Then the Kurmi merchant led his visitor into the Old Market and with ceremony bade him adieu.

Chapter XXXIX

The Timbermen

Leaving the Old Market by the northern exit, the Sayyid went through by-lanes to the timbermen’s quarter, which lies on the north-east verge of the town, not far from the entrance through the old rampart known as the Nakta Dáná gate. Here, on the margin of a large pond, stands the house of Ali Nawáz Khán, the timber-merchant, and at a safe distance from inflammable buildings are stacked the sál logs and planks of mango and shism wood. The house itself, surrounded by a high wall of sun-dried bricks, is entered by a passage beneath a thatched gate-house, wide enough to admit a loaded wagon to the courtyard.

Three young men were seated in front of the gate-house: a broad-shouldered young man, wrapped in a gown of grey wool and wearing an oval cap of white embroidered cotton, was lounging on a cot; and in front of him, seated on stools, were two visitors dressed in quilted tunics, buff riding-gaiters and loosely bound turbans. As the Sayyid drew near, he noted that the face of the man on the cot was yellow and emaciated, as that of a man who has suffered from ague. He guessed this to be the man he sought, and saluted him with the salam. The young man, who had scrutinized the stranger with bold curiosity, now arose quickly from his couch and courteously returned the greeting.

“If I mistake not,” said the Sayyid, “you are Násir Khán, son of the Khán Sáhib, Ali Nawáz?”

“At your service, sir,” replied the young man in a deep voice. “And if business relating to timber brings you, I may perhaps be able to settle it in my father’s absence.”

“Not business, but a debt of courtesy brings me,” replied the Sayyid, and giving his name, he said: “You came to me this morning with your friend Shekh Amir Ali, when to my regret I was prevented from receiving you.”

Then Násir Khán bowed low, and with ceremony led his visitor to the seat of dignity, an arm-chair of European pattern. The two visitors would have retired, but the Sayyid, explaining that he came on no private business, begged them to remain. He learnt they were landowners from the forest border, Banjáras by caste, dealers in rice and forest produce, and led the conversation to subjects in which they were interested----the trade in the forest marts, the Bhotia dealers from beyond the Snowy Range---and thus speedily set the three young men at their ease.

Now while they sat conversing, there came running from the lane at the side of the house a sturdy old man, with dusty beard and loins girt for travel. He stopped in front of the little company and, panting for breath, cried without ceremony:---

“Khán Sáhib, Khán Sáhib! They are bringing it in, Sher Muhammad’s men, the great sál log we left lying in Majgáon!”

“What?” exclaimed Násir Khán, springing from his seat in sudden excitement; “who tells you this?”

“I saw it myself,” replied the man. “I was at Shekhupura about the thatching grass, as you know. I fell in with the wain out there beyond the Natni’s Grove. Shekh Chhangli was walking beside. I joined him, of course, and saw our secret mark on the end of the log, and below will be our brand.”

“How long ago was this?” asked Násir Khán.

“I told Chhangli I had urgent business in the town and ran on swiftly,” answered the man. “The wain must even now be nearing the Nakta Dáná gate, and within an hour will be lodged in the old Shekh’s timber-yard.”

“Not a moment to be lost!” cried Násir Khán, slapping his thigh violently with open hand. How many men with that scoundrel Chhangli?”

“Five, and a team of eight bullocks,” answered the man.

“Call up all our men, Píru,” cried his master, and turning to his visitors: “You will excuse me, gentlemen; this business admits of no delay,” he hurried into the house.

In answer to the shouts of Pir Bakhsh, half a dozen men, bearing their clubs, hurried out of the timber-yard, the foremen of the sawyers and wood-cleavers, and gathered about him in an excited group, girding their loins and binding their turbans tightly round their heads and below their chins, while he explained the business in hand.

“What is the meaning of this?” asked the Sayyid of the visitors, as they stood at the gate waiting for Násir Khán’s return.

“It means a fight,” replied the younger of the two Banjáras, laughing. “Clubs will swing, for the Shekh’s men will assuredly not yield till beaten.”

“Násir Khán is not fit for a fray,” said his companion. “He is thin as a split bamboo and weak as a potter’s ass.”

“You will not keep him out of it,” returned the other. “When the blood gets into his head he is as ungovernable as a mast elephant.”

“Do you know anything of the dispute?” inquired the Sayyid.

“Nothing except that last year there was a quarrel over a log between the Patháns and Shekhs in the forest above Bamani Bágh. The Gurkha captain, Bhawáni Singh, decided in favour of the Patháns, but the Shekhs asserted the captain had been bribed.”

“So an old quarrel. Doubtless the log has been branded by the Shekhs also.”

“That is likely,” answered the Banjára.

“Will you go with your friend?” asked the Sayyid.

The two Banjáras exchanged glances and shook their heads, and the elder replied: “If he asks us, we can’t refuse. I would rather keep out of it.”

“Quite right,” said the other, “I am not one to fight for the love of it.”

“Then,” said the Sayyid, “send the watchman to call the Kotwál. He will take possession of the log until the right is decided by court.”

“Nay, nay,” replied the Banjára. “That would be bad faith to our friend. The watchman will take good care to make no report to the Kotwál till those fellows have had their fill of fighting.”

Here Násir Khán returned, dressed in a close-fitting jacket and heavy turban, and a sword hung from his belt.

“Listen a moment, Násir Khán,” said the Sayyid earnestly.

“Nay, I cannot delay,” answered the young man excitedly.

“Where is Mamu?”

“Gone to the market,” was the answer.

“Both on business at the Tahsil.”

“Confound them!” exclaimed Násir Khán. “Five men you said with Chhangli?”

“Five,” answered Píru. “But others may come out to meet them.”

“One moment, Násir Khán,” interposed the Sayyid again holding the young man by the arm. “ Will you not go first to Sher Muhammad himself?”

But Násir Khán laughed scornfully. “And let them bear my sál log to their yard, where every mark will be erased? Besides the old Shekh is away at Dehli. This is Chhangli’s work, the ugly ruffian! Excuse me, I cannot tarry to bandy words. Come on, men.”

And he moved off rapidly, followed by his men.

“Come, gentlemen,” said the Sayyid, turning to the two visitors. “Let us follow and prevent a fray.”

But the Banjáras smiled.

“You see the wild mood he is in,” said one.

“As well try to stop a charging bull,” said the other. “We shall only involve ourselves in a nasty business.”

“Take my advice, sir,” said the first Banjára, addressing the Sayyid gravely. “Keep clear of this business, unless you wish to hang about the police and magistrate’s offices for a month.”

“Aye, and a week more at the court of the judge,” added the other. “Leave these fiery Patháns and Shekhs to settle the matter in their own way.”

“They love a bout with clubs.”

“If they are harried afterwards, they will have had their sport first.”

“Listen then, gentlemen,” said the Sayyid, now assuming authority. “If you will not inform the police or the Tahsíldár, go down at once to the Khán Sáhib’s mansion by the river. There you will find my man, Khálik Dád. Order him to come full speed to the Nakta Dáná gate, where I need him urgently. I cannot linger now, but must follow that hothead, if the affray is to be averted.”

Then without further words he hurried into the lane to follow Násir Khán.

Between the huts at the back of the house run two lanes, one to the left, striking the rampart-road a little south of the salient angle at the Nakta Dáná gate, the other to the right, joining the road at some distance to the north-east of the same point. Násir Khán led his men by the latter in order to intervene between the entrance to the town and the Shekh’s timber-yard, and stopped on the road to confer with Píru. But the Sayyid chose the direct lane to the left, and arrived first at the Nakta Dáná gate, a mere breach in the ruin of the ancient ramparts, through which the north-east road enters the town.

He climbed the mound to its summit, about thirty feet above the road, and looked up the straight causeway into the open country. A herd of cattle driven across the road raised a cloud of dust. He could hear only the tinkling of their bells, the cawing of the homeward bound crows, and the cries of the parrots whirling in flocks to their roosting-places in the groves. As he stood thus, the sun touched the horizon, casting a red gleam from below a band of cloud, and in the gathering twilight enveloped his figure in light. At the same instant the dust raised by the passing cattle blew aside, and far up the road he discerned a wain fallen on its side, and a group of men and cattle gathered about it. The sun sank and darkness fell.

Meantime Násir Khán, having satisfied himself that the timber wain had not entered the town and that no men from the Shekh’s yard were coming out to meet it, moved on to the Nakta Dáná gate. At the curve of the road they came in sight of the mound; Píru, who was leading, saw on its summit the figure enveloped in a dusky red mist. He started and paused, pointing at the figure; and all the men saw it for an instant before it vanished into grey mist.

“Did you see that, master?” he asked in awe-stricken voice of Násir Khán. “The she-devil of the old gate, surely.”

“She haunts there,” said one of the men. “Had her face been turned, we might have seen the slit nose!”

But Násir Khán answered, laughing: “To my eyes the figure was that of the Angel Gabriel alighted on the old bastion with a message from heaven. A good omen, surely.”

But Píru shook his head gravely. “Nay, surely, it was the Slit-nose Devil. She has been seen hereabouts often enough, and brings ill-luck on those who see her.”

The men murmured that an evil eye had been cast on their enterprise.

“You have marked the figure ill in your fright,” replied Ndsir Khán. “The Slit-nose Devil has indeed hair and body red as henna stain, but her figure is short and thick, her legs and feet crooked, and her arms reach to the ground like a langúr’s; but the figure yonder was slight and slim and erect as a cypress. The Angel Gabriel then, brothers; unless indeed some lad standing atop of the old tower, as I take it. So come along, men, and if the she-devil was there, you’ll find the marks of her sharp heels and clawed feet on the ground. Thou shalt look for thyself, thou owl, Píru.”

In the gathering darkness the men followed their master, keeping in touch with one another, for all were infected with dread of the supernatural. As they entered the pass through the old rampart, a peremptory voice called, “Stay, Násir Khán!” and the Sayyid descended from the mound in front of the startled group.

“Sayyid Ali Husain!” exclaimed Násir Khán, loosing his hold on his scabbard. “How came you here? Did you alight like a hawk on the summit?”

But the Sayyid, unheeding the question, said: “Listen, Násir Khán: the wain with the log stands out yonder, broken down, on the road by the Natni’s Grove.”

“How know you this?” demanded Násir Khán.

“From the mound you will see the flickering of the fires just lighted,” replied the Sayyid.

“Wagoners waiting morning to enter the town,” answered Násir Khán.

“The Shekh’s men camped by their broken cart,” affirmed the Sayyid positively.

“Whether or no, we will see speedily,” replied Násir Khán, leaping down to the road. “Come on, men.”

“Stay!” said the Sayyid again in a tone of authority. “Listen: plan first, then act. Listen! Tell me, what will Shekh Chhangli do, now that his wain has broken down?”

“Do?” answered Násir Khán impatiently. “There is a skilful wheelwright in Natpura. He will repair the wain, and before morning dawns the log will be in the Shekh’s timber-yard, unless we stop them. The scoundrel Chhangli is no fool, and became wary when Píru sped away like a running postman.”

“Listen, I say,” said the Sayyid again. “Until the wain is mended the log cannot be moved.”


“If there is a riot before the repairs are done, the wheelwright will hide away lest he be entangled in a stranger’s quarrel.”

“Well?” exclaimed the young man, again impatiently.

“Wait then until the wain is repaired and the oxen yoked; it can be driven into the Pathán’s timber-yard as easily as into the Shekh’s.”

Here Píru, who had been standing behind his master listening, spoke: “Master, the stranger’s counsel is good. They bear the burden of the transport and we gather the profit.”

“And remember this,” added the Sayyid, “Natpura is the Shekhs’ village, and the tenants will turn out at Chhangli’s call.”

The impetuous young man stood in doubt, and the Sayyid continued:---

“If perchance the log be not the one you claim, Chhangli will go for the night to his home in the town to return at leisure in the morning.”

“Nay, as to that,” said Píru, “it is our log. I know the log well, and saw our secret brand.”

“We will go on at once,” said Násir Khán, “and see what has happened.”

“Aye,” replied the Sayyid. “Set the fight going on their ground---the act of a fool!”

“The stranger is right, master,” said Píru. “Craft wins.”

“Give me your hand, Násir Khán,” said the Sayyid. “As I thought, burning; your cheeks aflame; your lips dry as parched gram; fever raging in your veins.”

“My head aches to bursting,” exclaimed the young man.

“My mouth is dry as sand in Jeth. Get me water, Píru.”

“There is no well here, and no pot to draw water if there were,” answered the man.

“Curse the fever!” cried the young man. “My head whirls. I will go on and settle this business. Stay me no longer, Master Sayyid.”

“Folly!” replied the Sayyid. “The watchman out there is their man; the Shekhs with a score of their tenants would master you now; and hereafter in court too with a cloud of witnesses.”

“The stranger speaks wisely, master,” put in Píru gravely. “All the Natpura clubmen would turn out at Chhangli’s call. And look you, master,” he added in a low voice, “our men are downhearted at the vision of the Slit-nose Devil.”

“You hear what this old fellow says,” urged the Sayyid, “if your fevered brain can grasp the sense. Sit here, while we take counsel calmly. There is time and to spare before the wain can be moved, and here we guard the only pass.”

He led Násir Khán aside to the bank, sat him under a ním-tree, and clasped his fevered temples with cold hands.

“Yes, we guard the pass,” repeated Násir Khán more quietly.

“Now listen to my plan,” said the Sayyid, assured that Násir Khán had become submissive. “Send one of your men forward as a belated traveller to join the group round the broken wain. Order him to come back swiftly in the darkness and report what is going on.”

“Rahim’s brother lives in Majgáon. He can easily approach them as though coming from his village.” It was Píru who spoke.

“Instruct him at once,” commanded the Sayyid; and then, standing up, he whispered to him: “Ere long your master will be helpless with fever. Send a man back for the bullock chariot to bear him home---sick or victorious or beaten. Let them bring water too.”

Píru nodded assent, and went down to the men squatted in a group by the road.

It was now quite dark and the cold night mist settled, chilling them to the marrow. The men murmured to one another, cursing their folly for running heedlessly out to the fray without a blanket to wrap them through a long night ambuscade.

And now, soothed by the firm pressure of the Sayyid’s cold hands upon his throbbing temples, Násir Khán became calm, content to guard the pass until his spy returned. At length he broke the long silence, speaking in a drowsy tone, hardly above a whisper:---

“Master Sayyid, your hand is as soft and pliant as a woman’s. No hand for a coarse task such as this. Why do you expose yourself to the night-chill and to the risk of a broken head over a matter in which you have no concern? I beg you to go back to the town. I cannot permit you to be entangled by my reckless spirit.”

“You would have fallen headlong into the hands of the Shekhs in yonder grove,” replied the Sayyid. “It was well I was here to check you.”

“That is true,” admitted Násir Khán. “My blood was hot to set on the ugly villain Chhangli and his gang. Still, my folly on my own head---and a fight is a good thing too. And we may have it yet, though my limbs are languid now. But you do not answer my question. What charge lies on you to incur risk for me?”

The Sayyid replied: “This fever bestows on the brain for a while wonderful insight, if the patient be kept quiet. But if you move to action, the vessels of the brain will swell to bursting; and you will see a bloody mist, as a drugged darwesh bent on martyrdom. But for your question: Tell me, then, you are wont to obey the precept, to give alms to the poor?”

“Aye, surely,” answered the young man. “The rule and custom demand it.”

“Well,” said the Sayyid, laughing, “my rule is to help the strong; to aid those who are fit to live and do good work hereafter. The destruction of a good man in an idle enterprise is a most pitiful spectacle.”

“You think I may serve some purpose hereafter?” said the young man.

“I am sure of it,” answered the Sayyid. “In any case, I would not have one of your stamp waste his life, misguided by the white heat of fever.”

Then Násir Khán laughed lightly: “But admit, Master Sayyid, in such bouts as this men are tested and trained for war.”

“Would you have your friend Shaukat Ali here to-night? asked the Sayyid.

“Little Shaukat, the sweet youth!” answered Násir Khán, stifling a groan. “Nay; he must follow the official path his wary father has cleared for him. Nay, I love the youth too well to lead him astray. Nor, good sir, would I have you exposed on my account.”

“Have no fear,” replied the Sayyid, “Where I come, I lead; and where I lead, I fear not the risk.”

“You speak with a pleasing confidence,” said Násir Khán groaning again with aching head.

“Silence!” said the Sayyid in a low voice. “I hear footsteps coming from the town, a man running.”

The figure of a man was now just visible in the darkness. He stopped on the road below them, letting the butt of his staff strike the surface with a heavy thud.

“Khálik Dád,” cried the Sayyid. “Stand. I am here.”

“My master!” The young man was at his side in a moment.

“Are you safe?”

“Safe, lad.”

“But I heard groans.”

“From one in fever, not a stricken man.”

“Take this cloak, sir,” said Khálik Dád, unrolling the Sayyid’s camel-hair cloak. “You have chosen a gusty corner to couch on a bitter night.”

“This is Násir Khán, burnt up with fever,” said the Sayyid. “Cover him with the cloak.”

“Nay, sir,” answered Khálik Dád, remonstrating. “A fever fit is fire enough to keep him warm. Ward the chill from your own liver, master.”

“Who is this fellow?” asked Násir Khán hoarsely.

“My man, come at my call.”

“What, you have the end of the telegraph wire in your pocket!” said Násir Khán, laughing in spite of his aching head.

“Put on the cloak, Násir Khán,” said the Sayyid.

“No,” he replied. “Your man is right. The furnace within needs an outlet, not cloaking.”

“In my village men lie in a cold pool through night to cure fever,” said Khálik Dád.

“Put the cloak on your master, good fellow,” said Násir Khán. “’Tis for you to protect him from his heedlessness.”

“What else have you brought, lad?” asked the Sayyid, donning the cloak.

“A lantern, matches, a bag of parched grain, money, a drinking cup and cord, my blanket and club.” The young man ran through his list with grave complacency.

“Bravo, lad,” said the Sayyid. “Wilt thou give thy blanket to this gentleman?”

“If you order, sir. Not otherwise,” answered Khálik Dád.

“Well spoken, lad,” cried Násir Khán. “Let not the heedful suffer for the heedless. Ahi, ahi! my head, my head!”

“What orders for me?” asked Khálik Dád.

“Stand by ready. We await the return of a spy from Natpura.”

As he spoke the quick beat of bare feet running on the dusty road was audible, and the spy came in. The wain, he reported, had broken down at Natpura; under the light of a blazing fire, Chhangli and his men were slowly jacking up the axle on blocks of wood, while the wheelwright adapted a new wheel to bear the weight of the great log. Chhangli proposed to drive in before dawn, but the repairs could not be completed till after midnight.

While the man delivered his report, Násir Khán, leaving the Sayyid to question the spy, sat still, holding his head between his hands.

“Now we have the facts,” said the Sayyid, “the action to be taken is clear. Do you hear, Násir Khán?”

But Násir Khán muttered unintelligible words of the Slit-nose Devil blazing on the summit of the tower, and the Sayyid perceived that the crisis of the fever had come on. At the same time a jingle of cattle-bells and rumble of wheels sounded, the light of a lantern shone over the road, and a chariot drawn by Hánsi oxen rattled out from the town.

The Sayyid turned to Píru, the foreman, speaking in a low voice:---

“Your master is delirious, and in another half-hour he will break out in cold sweat with chattering of teeth. Set him in his carriage and drive him home.”

“He will not go,” answered Píru. “And what of our log?”

“Your men are cowering together like quail under a hawk,” replied the Sayyid. “Will you lead them to stop Chhangli and his band?”

“Master,” replied Píru, in a whisper, “they have shivered together murmuring that the she-devil has cast a blight on the master and men and the enterprise. The heart is out of them.”

Násir Khán now rose to his feet and cried: “The blasted she-devil has her claws in my brain. Hold her off!”

Píru shrank back in terror; but the Sayyid grasped Násir Khán by the shoulder and hand. “Silence, Násir Khán! Silence, I say. You will rouse the Tahsíldár’s men, yonder in the octroi hut. Silence! Do you heed my voice and know me?”

“Know you?” exclaimed Násir Khán vaguely. “Aye, aye, you are the son of old Mahmúd Ali yonder, the Sayyid. Drive off the Red Witch! She drags me to hell!”

The Sayyid threw his arm round Násir Khán and held him firmly. “Rest on me,” he said quietly. “Khálik Dád, lad, give a hand here with the gentleman. Now, Násir Khán, step down with me, as I command.”

Then Násir Khán submitted to the voice of authority and was led down to the chariot.

“Ah, my chariot!” he muttered. “How comes it here?”

“Get you in, man,” said the Sayyid. “Sit close in the shelter out of the damp cold. You can drive where you choose.”

“Good, good!” muttered Násir Khán. “Drive on, Beni, straight to the Natni’s Grove. Rattle on! You men, follow swift. We’ll beat out the rascally old Shekh’s brains, though he has six fingers.”

They helped him into the padded seat, where he crouched down on the cushions and pillows, conscious of comfort to his aching body.

Then the Sayyid drew Píru aside. “Now for counsel. First: you can identify the log as yours?”

“We felled it two years ago in the forest above Bamani Bágh,” replied the foreman decisively. “Last season we got it down as far as Majgáon. Know it? Why, it has our brand and secret mark, and I and our men can swear to it.”

“Good then,” said the Sayyid. “Go now straight to the Kotwál. Charge Chhangli with stealing the log, and let the police understand that unless they intervene promptly and take the log into their custody there will be a fight for its possession.”

“Not one of our men will dare to stop the wain,” said Píru dubiously.

“The police need not know that, simpleton,” replied the Sayyid, “even if it be so, which I doubt.”

“Sir, your counsel is good,” said Píru. “But my master? How shall I answer to him? He loves neither police nor courts of law.”

“Say I constrained you and I will explain,” replied the Sayyid. “Now, call off your men, and away. Meantime I will take charge of your master.”

In a low voice he ordered the ox-man to drive swiftly home, and mounted to the seat by the fever-racked Násir Khán. By the time they reached the house the sick man lay prostrate, shivering from head to foot in the cold fit of the ague. Hardly conscious, he was taken in by his household. Here the Sayyid left him and drove with Khálik Dád to the mansion.

Many versions of the incidents of the night spread through the town, and the most marvellous met with the readiest acceptance.

Chapter XL

The Red Fairy Again

The first watch of the night had passed, and the cold night-wind from the mountains rattled the Venetian shutters of the mansion by the river. But the great hall was warmed by the logs blazing on the hearth and odorous with freshly burnt frankincense; and the flames of many wall-lamps, reflected from the mirrors and sparkling from the prisms of the glass chandeliers, filled it with dazzling light.

In the illuminated hall the Sayyid sat alone. The wood crackled and the flames rose and sank; the wind moaned between the slits of the shutters, a jackal cried, and the Sayyid, seated on a chair, with one knee drawn up and his foot resting on the edge, was motionless, looking vaguely into the glowing logs.

The old butler, having served the evening meal, had retired with ceremony, and now the silence and solitude began to depress the Sayyid. He forced his reluctant mind to consider means of re-establishing comfort and dignity in the household of his blind father, but his thoughts wandered restlessly, and the emptiness of the great hall grew more oppressive.

He was aroused by the ringing of ox-bells and the rumble of wheels on the road to the porch. He looked eagerly to the door; it opened and closed to admit the singer Chanda Báe, glittering in silk and jewels. She stood before the mahogany background of the folding doors in the full blaze of light, raised her hands to her forehead, bowing low, and waited for him to speak. Life came into the hall and its splendour was justified.

“Welcome, Lady Chanda,” he said gravely, without moving from his chair.

“I pray you, master, speak the word thrice,” she answered.

“Welcome, Red Fairy, welcome!” he repeated with a smile. May fair fortune follow thy coming and alight upon thee here.”

“Shukrulla! she answered, but did not approach.

“Come hither,” he said. “I pray you stand here in the red glow of the fire, where I may best see you.”

She advanced at once, and the silver anklet-bells tinkled with merry music as she moved to the rug in front of the hearth. Here, with grave countenance and downcast eyes, she stood under his inspection, motionless, but for the gentle swaying of her many pleated skirt over her jewelled feet and the rise and fall of the muslin veil wrapped across her bosom and over her head. Her face was framed in its misty folds; and in the blood-red stone on her forehead, held by a band of fine silver chains, the reflected fire flames throbbed and danced.

“Surely, Chanda Báe,” he said at length, speaking slowly, “surely you have come to me bearing all your choicest raiment! I know not when I have looked on so fair a blending of jewels and embroidery, of silk and gauze.”

She now raised her eyes and looked at him with an expression of doubt and timidity, for her fine ear had detected an undertone of harshness in his voice.

“Do you then contemn these ornaments we women love?” she asked simply.

“Nay, surely not,” he answered with involuntary eagerness. “They cover you as the feathers of a bird, an expression of your nature, a part of yourself. The glitter and the colours and the grace of the folds are a delight to the eye, as the lights on the night of Nauroz. Shall we gaze on the stars of the night, on the ripples of the stream under the sun, on the golden oriole flashing through the dark foliage of the grove, and rejoice, and disdain such adornments as yours?”

“Doth the fair raiment of a woman bring light into life even as these?” she asked.

“Even as these, aye, and more,” he answered warmly. “And I thank thee. But, come, will you sit and taste of these dainties?” He pointed to the cushions spread beside him in front of the fire and to the tray of dried fruits, sweetmeats and pan on the low table.

“I thank you, master, that you have permitted me to come, she replied. “But these adornments which have pleased you, they are those of the singer and dancer, merely aids to my art; my art which I have striven to make perfect without pause, since I first ran by my old mother’s side. Who can know the golden bird which sits brooding on the bough, till he flies? Who can know the bird of dawn, till he raises his voice in song?”

But the Sayyid answered, with a smile which to Chanda Báe seemed coloured with mockery:---

“But consider, Lál Pari, the song of the bird is the expression of his own nature, like his form and plumage; but the words of our singers spring from the heart of the poet; they are set to music by another; and the song, taught by the teacher, may be as alien to the singer’s nature as the head-gear of the West on the brows of the East.”

Then Chanda Báe replied warmly, with flashing eyes: “Nay, sir, this does not hold! We singers have warm feelings and aspirations, which we can find neither words nor melodies to express. Of these the poet and musician are the inspired interpreters, and through the singer’s voice they spring to life. They arise and soar into the living world, and the rapture of the singer passes into the hearts of those who hear.”

“Into the hearts of some, Lady Chanda,” he answered, now with sympathy, and repeated the Persian verses:---

Only the Bird of the Dawn
Interprets the Book of the Rose;
All can open the leaves,
Few their meaning disclose.

“Aye, my lord!” she exclaimed. “And the singers who can infuse life into the poet’s words are few.”

“And of these, you are one?”

“The songs that leave me cold and unmoved are many,” she answered, “and these I hate to sing.”

“Will you then sing one of those that springs from your heart?”

“Most willingly,” she replied. “But whether it will reach the heart of the hearer depends on what lies there concealed. We can awaken sleeping feeling; we cannot implant it.”

“Then is your singing a touchstone to the heart of the hearer?”

“It is a test of sympathy,” she answered.

“Then will you not defer your song for a while, lest the assay prove a disappointment?”

But her face became downcast and she answered: “I do not fear.”

“Doth not the musician first tune his instrument?”


“Then first by your presence and words bring harmony to my spirit. We who come direct from the harsh voices and crude things of the world do not readily respond to the call of poesy and the minstrel.”

But she replied eagerly: “That which my songs will not touch will not be moved by my presence and speech. My song is the voice of the heart addressed to the heart.”

“So let it be then,” he answered. “Let the musicians come.”

Chanda Báe raised her hands to her forehead, clapped them twice, and called in a voice clear as a free swinging silver bell. Two old men entered, lean and tall and gaunt, clothed in white, with heavy turbans, the one bearing a sitar, the other a little drum. They bowed with dignity and took up their stations behind the singer, right and left, with grave faces awaiting the signal.

Then the drum rumbled gently, hardly touched with the finger-tip, and the sitar followed in a low tone like the distant ripple of running water, slowly increasing in volume until it subordinated the bass and led the plaintive melody. The singer, with eyes fixed on the glowing logs, stood awhile as in a trance, until, raising her eyes, sparkling like the jewel on her brow, she awoke to passionate life in her song.

I awoke with the dawn in the sky,
Alone, with heart in dismay;
I moved not, nor uttered a cry,
So stricken in terror I lay.

I sank in his arms as a bird
Swoons in her dread;
When his grasp was relaxed, and I stirred,
All terror had fled.

He arose, and I laughed in his face,
And clung to his side;
And he gently unclasped my embrace
And gravely replied.

I go, he said, forth to the world,
Where many await,
To see my banner unfurled,
In love or in hate.

Not for me is the couch and the feast,
Nor mirth nor repose;
Not for me is the glow from the east,
Nor the song, nor the rose.

But brief is the draught I shall drink
From the beaker of life;
I am borne on the torrent, to sink
Ere long in the strife.

Be thy fate to wither alone,
Bereft of thy mate,
No heed shall there be to thy moan,
To thy love or thy hate.

I come and go as the wind,
And haste to my end;
What I leave in ruin behind
I turn not to mend.

But new life shall spring from the dust,
Better or worse,
Fair or unfair, just or unjust,
Blessing or curse.

Then I rose from the couch, and I spoke
Words that burst from my heart:
At thy coming light as of day broke;
Night falls, if thou depart.

Thou hast tarried an hour, and thy grace,
Though thou go, shall ever abide;
And the glow of thy fleeting embrace
Shall never subside.

Nevermore would I see thee again,
To die, if we part;
Let me live to cherish the pain
Of thy love in my heart.

Then let the call from the world be obeyed;
Thou must move on afar---
Not by one such as I is delayed
The course of a star.

Begone! I can bear it no more;
Begone, let the agony cease!
He left. At the clang of the door
I sank down in peace.

The Sayyid sat still, his chin resting on his hand, watching the rapt face of the singer, and listening intently to the song. Gradually the voice and the melody subdued him, and the form of the singer receded into a misty distance. Thence proceeded vague sounds which shaped themselves in his heart into the despairing cry of life spent and wasted, and yearning for annihilation as the only refuge from futile suffering. The song became a rhapsody of the craving for life transmuted, under the cruel pressure of reality, into the craving for cessation of being.

Then the song ceased and the singer reappeared, as though, condensed into solid form out of the particles of a floating haze. She stood before him, her head sunk over her bosom and her arms hanging listless, awaiting to hear him speak; and the musicians had noiselessly departed.

He was as one aroused from a profound reverie which still obscures perception of surrounding things.

“Chanda Báe,” he said at length in a low tone, “your song was a spell to cast me into a trance. Your voice, the incoherent words, and the melody became symbols suggesting things inexpressible, dim thoughts and feelings for which words are vainly sought; blind impulses, an ever-changing process of life; larval forms perishing incomplete!”

To the singer his words were as indefinite as her song; but she was conscious that the barrier of imperfect sympathy had melted away. She spoke eagerly when she answered: “Master, I know not these things. But this I know, that when I sing that song my heart yearns for something beyond the reach of all endeavour. I lose consciousness of self, and the passion of some being cries aloud through my voice, no longer mine, but the instrument of his utterance; for me, only to deliver a mystical message unalloyed.”

Then the Sayyid, still under the influence of his reverie, answered: “Aye, beyond the reach of endeavour! The craving for complete life never to be satiated; the equilibrium of perfection lost the instant attained.”

“I know not,” she exclaimed again. “No words can express the deepest emotion; song only and music. Or perhaps the roar of the river in flood, the beat of the tempest and hail, the flash and roll of the thunder, the cries of the beasts in the forest at night, and I know not what else; aye, the shriek I once heard of a woman when her child, gripped by a hidden monster of the pool, vanished for ever.”

Then the Sayyid, following still the thread of his reverie answered: “Germs innumerable, each striving to unfold the idea hid in it primal cell! The end of man: to strive ceaselessly, each generation a step towards completer life under the sun.”

Chanda Báe had approached almost unconsciously, and now seated on the carpet at his feet, listened with upturned face aware, as their eyes met, of the common emotion under their different thoughts. And these now drew nearer as she responded:---

“Aye, myriads perish miserably having known no joy! In pity only do they find comfort. How shall woman live without this comfort of pity? Our prayer is addressed to the Most Merciful God, to the Compassionate, and not to the stern Lord of Judgment.

“Have you, master, considered the lot of woman? All who live beyond the years of their bloom enter upon long days of misery. This is the law from which none shall escape. Their beauty fades, their forms wither; strange pains and nameless disorders rack their feeble frames; their joy and pride, all shall vanish utterly, and to the man for whom they lived they shall become a burden and blighting of life, taking all, giving no return evermore. Surely the days of the faded woman are full of misery for herself and all her people.

“But she shall endure her life, if in her sore distempers she feels the comfort of a compassionate heart. We pray to the Most Merciful, for ’tis pity we need---pity, the gentle follower of the love which once blessed our lives.

“Surely the most miserable lot in this world of sore afflictions is that of the faded distempered woman, abandoned to her fate!

“What sayest thou, master? What sayest thou of this misery of all women?”

Now the Sayyid, delivered at last from the spell cast over him by the song, and moved by the near approach of the woman and her soft cry for help, answered:---

“Chanda Báe, with thee dwells the old dame thou callest mother, her life prolonged and rendered endurable by thy care alone. For her thou carest even as for a child of thine own. But a child is a well-spring of hope, and his growth in strength and beauty rewards the patient, selfless care of the passing day. But the nursing of this old dame is a toil, whence naught is returned, not even gratitude. For in the aged gratitude is dead. They exact ceaseless care as a right, and their return is made in querulous words, plaints of neglect and charges of selfishness, and they will sacrifice a young life utterly for small comforts to their withering lives. In the long drawn out, monotonous nursing of the aged, the heart of the young grows dull and the mind dim, in harsh self-suppression.”

“Master,” she exclaimed in surprise, “would you counsel me to abandon her weak age and many distempers? Surely not! Could I live with the thought stinging me like a wasp through the long hours of the silent night? Nay, rather than allow her slowly to perish from neglect, I would slay her with swift poison. The crime were less. How could I pray to the Compassionate, who appointed me to be the instrument to solace her old age?”

Then the Sayyid, smiling gently, answered: “This, Chanda Báe, I hold, that the most beautiful of all things we know is the tender and compassionate heart that, oblivious of its own profit and loss, seeks only to lessen the burden of a sufferer through administration in love. Thy care for the old dame is the flower of thy spiritual life, and it shall endure as a sweet memory until thy heart is still. Beside the bed of suffering tended by love springs this divine flower.

“And to thy bitter cry for the afflictions of the fading woman I answer: The forms of suffering are countless and together constitute the misery of life. But each of us deems his own affliction the most cruel. Know, that life is the constant struggle against forces watchful to destroy; and when, in the contest, the flood of life waxes higher and stronger, the heart is filled with joy of conscious strength and delight of victory; when it ebbs, the sense of weakness and approaching defeat brings misery in its train. But the joy of success cannot be known, except in a contest wherein the imminent issue is failure and misery.

“The brave heart cries, ‘We will subdue these hostile forces,’ and, after each victory, rises to a life more complete; and what we leave undone, those who follow shall accomplish, and through our failures they shall see the way to success.”

He paused, looking fixedly upon her face, and she waited in silence for him to speak further, and a secret dread troubled her, seeing the harsh expression of his face.

“And as to thy question, Chanda Báe. Depressed in spirit thou hast looked into the future and seen thyself with beauty faded, when no man shall care to look on thee in love, when the grace of thy supple limbs is changed to ungainly stiffness, thy sweet voice to a husky cry. Thou hast seen thyself stripped of all that makes life dear, cast aside as a worn and tattered garment, to be trampled in the mire. Thou hast seen all this as in a vision, and the cold dark shadow lies over thy heart.”

“I would die before the blight falls on me,” she answered. “Though the days of my living be few, they shall be counted golden, and not less happy in their swift end.”

“Listen then, Chanda Báe,” he continued. “Perversion from the course laid down by nature for each brings sure retribution.

“The life of woman follows one natural path to completion and her childish delight in her doll is its beacon. Her way is to wifehood and motherhood, and for this her heart craves. In her declining years, when beauty fades, she finds a new life in her children and grandchildren; and this new life is not less, but more and nobler. Her care for the house and home is a sacred duty, and surrounds her with a halo of love. And thus shall her life be beautiful, though youth has faded from her sacred head.

“She is not abandoned, she is not miserable, as thou sayest; nay more, her life is better and nobler than in the days of her youth and beauty. But thou hast seen this, Lál Pari, thou fair singer, and thy soul is shaken in its foundations at the perversion and stunting of thy natural growth.”

“Perversion of life!” she exclaimed. “And if, when form and skill begin to fade and slacken, and my jewels and hidden hoard equal the dowry from a rich father---if then I mate with my Kanchan caste-fellow and rear tender girls to follow my trade, would that not also be a perversion?”

“It is the issue of such lives as thine.”

“Would you condemn it as a perversion of my life?” she persisted.

“Thy heart has revolted against the degradation of woman,” he answered. “Listen, Chanda Báe. Better were it for thee to die than live ever conscious of a degradation of thy nature, mated to one thou must despise, and training others in the way against which thy soul has revolted.”

“True, oh my master!” she cried. “My soul has revolted against my lot. And in death only is there escape! Such are your words.”

Then, testing her further, he urged: “But, bethink thee. The potter follows the trade of his father; the skinner no less, and the sweeper shrinks not from the task of his caste: each fulfils his daily work, foul though it be, with no sense of degradation, but rather taking a certain pride in its due fulfilment; and he rears his children to follow him.”

“Aye, and so it is with our Kanchan women!” she broke in. “But I am not as they are. I am I, and my soul has revolted. My life is a perversion of the body! But for those who see not this, nor feel it, there may be no sin.”

She paused for a moment, before continuing, in a pleading voice: “But, master, I love my singing and the dance; I love the verses of the poet and the melodies those old men play for my songs. And I grudge no toil, nay, I love the toil, needed for perfection in my art. But, I would live for one man only to whom my heart yearns; with him would I abide all my days, and minister to him. But the touch of all men else is pollution to the body and soul——”

“From this thou canst be free.”

“How free?” she exclaimed, “when he whom I would serve heeds me not, but regards me as a thing of naught?”

“If thou hast the will to escape from bondage, the way is open,” he answered gravely.

Then she cried bitterly in reply:---

“Aye! aye! I might don the garb of holiness devoted to the service of God! Repent all the sins I have committed wittingly or unwittingly, and bind myself solemnly to sin no more! Become a murid although drawn to no murshid! Nay, when I find the sage to serve, then only will I become a disciple. But I have known these holy men and seen their ways! Let the old and ill-favoured follow them, not one in the bloom of her days!”

Then, falling in with her humour, he answered: “True, Chanda Báe, the ‘Way’ of these Pírs is the way of illusion, or the ready cloak of hypocrisy for knaves; and the disciples are unworthy to live in the world they abandon. But now, I pray you, lay aside for awhile this attempt to loosen bonds without the loss of that which renders life lovable. Can you not with your nimble fancy bear us into the condition for which your heart yearned, and sing the joyous song of fruition, the song of the delight of conquest? Doth not the song of attainment begin---

I have waked from my dream, and the morn Drives darkness away?”

“Aye!” she cried with quick animation---

“Anew in my bosom is born The joy of the day.”

She sprang to her feet, clapped her hands, and called loudly to the musicians. Then she stood in front of them as before, pensive, but with head raised, while they preluded a swift and cheerful movement with sharp decisive beats.



Unclasped is the Book of the Rose,
And all may read it who will,
But its meaning none can disclose.
If the bird of the morning is still.

But the nightingale’s song shall reveal
What the leaves of the Rose Book contain;
Then the poet shall listen, and steal
As much as his verse can explain.

Then the singer shall come with her spell,
And music be wed to the word,
And the three united shall tell
All that was read by the bird.

And listening this garland I wove,
A chaplet only for those
With ears for the songs of the grove,
And eyes for the Book of the Rose.


Oh, joy of the bird on the wing,
Mid blossoms and bough!
When stirred, by the coming of spring,
All life is aglow.

And hid in the shade of the grove,
The kokla raises his voice;
He calls from a heart full of love,
To live and rejoice.

And the butterfly rests on the flower,
Sips and rises in flight;
She exults in the gleam and the power
Of her wings in the light.


And the leaves and the buds of the trees
Unfold to the rays of the sky,
And waked by the kiss of the breeze,
Rustle and murmur and sigh.

And squirrels chase squirrels in play,
And love drives lizards to strife,
While cicalas aloft on the spray
Chant new springings of life.

And the fish shall leap in the stream,
The antelopes bound o’er the plains;
Mid the clouds the eagles shall scream,
Wanton with spring in their veins.

And the air and the sky and the earth,
And the stars that twinkle above,
Rejoice, proclaiming the birth
Of Spring, the herald of Love.

Chanda Báe waved the musicians away, and sitting once more at his feet, looked up with glistening eyes, silently pleading for sympathy.

But the song had run like fire through his veins, and he feared to speak lest his voice should reveal his emotion and enhance it. He raised his hand as though to hush the charm, and turning away, fixed his eyes intently on the flames dancing over the logs. His features were rigid and his teeth clenched.

But Chanda Báe could not endure the prolonged silence. She gently grasped his hand, pressed it to her forehead, and murmured hardly audibly, “Has then my song displeased my master?”

Then he turned to her, withdrew his hand, and spoke in rapid words: “The spell of all the singers of the grove has been uttered through thy lips. The spell that banishes thought of before and after, and holds the spirit in the ecstasy of the moment, the golden moment of supreme fruition of life.”

He paused and with knitted brow looked upon her in silence for a while. Then in more measured tones continued:

“In thy song is the lightening of the heart, the beguiling of the mind from uneasy thoughts, refreshment as in after the toil and sweat of the day. But like the juice of the grape and the sap of the poppy---a snare for the weak a danger even to the strong.

“But, Chanda Báe, I am the master; and the mark of the master is this: he stands firm in the present, aware of the past with eyes on the future, moving on his course to the haven of his will, steadfast, unswerving.

“Listen, then, thou sweet singer. Give heed to what I ask. We spoke of thy release from bonds that surely galled thee, and I bade thee show thy skill and sing the strain of rising life. Thou hast sung and shown thy full power. Tell me now, wouldst thou dare to abandon this thy master-art?”

She hung down her head to answer only, after a long pause: “Shall I never sing again to win your praise as the comforter of the weary, to cheer the despondent and strengthen the strong?”

“Truly, Lál Pari,” he replied, “I fear that without thy art thou wert as the nightingale suddenly bereft of his voice, the flame bird of the grove stripped of his golden plumes, the eagle shorn of his pinions.”

“Ah, master!” she exclaimed, “these are bitter-sweet words. But the day cannot be far when this fate shall befall me.”

“The day cannot be far when every tongue that speaks shall be still,” he replied. “But the process of decay is gradual, almost imperceptible: when the full round notes no longer spring from the throat, when the once supple limbs cease to move with grace; then has the energy which drove them abated and repose is not unwelcome; the once keen senses no longer rejoice in intoxicating joys, but are quickly satiated with calmer pleasures. Thus doth kindly nature soften grief for the loss, and encourage the new pleasure in the memory of past triumphs and the calm contemplation of age.

But, Chanda Báe, my question was whether, in the fullness of thy strength, thou couldst abandon thy art, and thy instinct revolted as against a form of self-mutilation. And rightly!

“For the wholesome impulse of each is to show forth his beauty and exert his skill and art to the utmost; and thus is the stream of life filled with glory. He who hath great gifts shall rejoice in them as the most divine parts of his nature. The flower of the singer’s life is her song; cherish it as the most precious!”

He paused, and Chanda Báe answered with hesitation: “But, master, the full power of the singer and dancer can be displayed in the assembly only.”

“That is her true sphere, the scene of her greatest joy and triumph,” he answered. “Therein, as in her natural element, she moves and lives.

“And now, this condition of thy full life being thus determined, consider how impossible is the attainment of that for which, in sudden impulse, thou wast craving.

“Thy cry was: I would live for one man only, for him to whom my heart yearns: I would minister to him and abide with him all my days. But know, that man loves woman, not for her art and craft, but for herself only; under these adornments he sees only the woman, fair and tender of heart, and her love for him, and the one he would choose to be the mother of his child. If pride in the possession of a renowned singer drew him, it were a taint in his proffered love and a bitterness to the woman who seeks love for herself alone.

“Do my words reach thy heart?”

“You have said, master,” she answered.

“Then consider further, Chanda Báe,” he continued. “The one whom thou hast imagined as thy chosen mate,---would he stand by patient to see thee in the assembly in all thy brilliance, where thy voice and look and gesture, each and all, are a challenge to every one with the courage of a man to win thee away from thy chosen mate? His heart would strain with jealous pangs to breaking-point: thou wouldst inflict on him an agony which thou thyself couldst not endure to inflict nor he to suffer twice.

“And, Chanda Báe, art thou driven to choose between alternatives, each equally cruel: to abandon thy art or abandon thy lover; to crush the flower of thy life or tear thy love from thy bosom?”

The singer was silent for some time, looking wistfully into the fire, before she answered: And yet, master, you said that the way of escape was open if the will were real?”

He — Hast thou then the firm will to abandon thy art?

She — And cripple my life!

He — Then wilt thou cease to sing the songs which awake a craving in the hearer’s heart, or those lyrics of triumph which course through the veins like flame?

She — To abandon these would be to abandon my art.

He — Canst thou sing these with a cold heart unmoved by thy theme?

She — No song of passion can touch the hearer if the singer’s heart be cold.

He — And thus, Lál Pari, we reach the goal. It is not in thy soft heart to refuse to gratify the passion thou must inflame. Thy life has taught thee. And this, in thy secret heart, thou knowest well, though never before have words exposed its bare reality to thee.

A long pause ensued before she replied: “It is as you have said, master: you have unravelled the tangled skein and laid it out from end to end. But may your handmaid speak much daring? Has the love of woman then been so utterly uprooted from your heart?”

But he vouchsafed no answer to her whispered question, and spoke further with a new tone of harshness in his voice:---

“And, Chanda Báe, I will yet further reveal thee to thyself, and thou shalt ponder on my words in the light of thine own past and thy most secret desires.

“Thy woman’s heart goes forth to the man of thy choice, even as the heart of a pure woman. A warm vision arises before thee of a life devoted to the service of one, and to his child and thine. Thou hast seen thy life linked to his, even to the ministering to his feeble age. This is the vision of the bride, beckoning her away from all else on which she has set store.

“But for thee, for one of thy nature, for one bred and reared in thy ways, this is an illusion only, a phantom of no reality. It shall surely vanish, and be replaced by an uncontrollable desire of release from bonds thou hast woven about thyself and another.

“And when thou hast regained thy freedom, thou shalt look back on this brief passage of thy life as a time of intoxication and of supreme delight. No pangs of separation shall gnaw thy heart.

“But what of thy victim? What if he, simple and true, regarded thy illusion as a reality, and thereon constructed the fabric of his life? Then he shall see that thou hast cheated him with an illusion, and his life shall become very bitter, and none shall marvel if, in his bitterness, he slay thee. For surely thy instinct shall lead thee to seek the steadfast man, who will utterly believe thee and utterly surrender himself to thee. When the illusion is swept away, and he destroys thee in his despair, his crime shall not be reckoned black by those who know the heart of man and the heart of woman.

“Hast thou heard and understood?

“Then beware! And when this passionate vision besets thee, turn aside and shrink from the cruel issue. But if pity for thy victim move thee not, then remember that jealous love revels in the torture of the beloved, and will fall on the mangled body and weep and weep in a passion of pity and joy and savage anger. But what he has done he would not undo.”

Then Chanda Báe’s head sank upon her arms, and she wept.

But the Sayyid arose and with slow steps paced up and down the great hall, with his hands tightly clenched behind him. And when, after a long while, he again stood beside her and her sobbing had ceased, she looked up pitifully and murmured:---

“What shall I do, master? All doors you have closed against me.”

“What shalt thou do?” he replied hoarsely. “Thou must follow thy life as it is determined for thee by thy nature, by thy breeding, by thy nurture.

“Thy art shall be a delight to men. But for thee the path of true love is closed, and the semblance of it breeds disaster.

“And now, Lál Pari, thou sweet singer, it is time for thee to depart. I thank thee for thy songs and the display of a nature so gentle and yet so dangerous as thine. When I hear thee sing again it shall be in the assembly, and may that day be not long deferred.”

Then the singer arose, and grasping both his hands, pressed them to her bosom and forehead.

“Master,” she said in a low voice, “you have seen things as a seer, and my way and yours must be apart.”

And she left without another word, and the door closed sharply behind her.

The Sayyid stood before the hearth with arms crossed on his bosom, and murmured the words of the song:---

“Begone! I can bear it no more,
Begone! let the agony cease.
She left. At the clang of the door
He sank down in peace!”

Chapter XLI

The Gossip

To the east of Ronáhi is a dense plantation of mango-trees, and beneath their shade pineapples grow luxuriantly. The place is known as the Sati’s Grove, taking its name from the little monument near its eastern border, where some nameless and forgotten widow gave her life to the flames, seated on the pyre by her husband’s corpse. Here in the grey morning, while the mist still lay thick over the fields, the Sayyid sat on the crumbling plinth, and meditating the address he was to deliver in the assembly, began to shape the phrases themselves. Now while he sat thus under the shroud of thought, the breeze swept the mist into flocks and wisps, and the red ball of the sun shone on the horizon edge. He arose and, throwing aside his shawl, stood bathed in the genial warmth and murmured in a low chant:---

The West to the East

The goal of life is to live;
Joy is the waxing of life,
Sorrow its wane.
Lacking the spur
Of strife, it wanes;
Goaded by need,
It waxeth.
What is earned hath worth;
What is given,
Clay for the moulder.
Every gain
A means to more;
Each step
A step to a higher;
He who rests
Is touched by death;
Or sink!
Life is a craving for power;
Vanquish or die!

He stood for awhile gazing over the wide plain, green iridescent with young wheat drenched in dew, and his long shadow fell behind him over the little monument, towards the quarter which all Muslims face in prayer.

When at length he turned round, he saw, at the corner of the grove where the path joins the cart-track, a man standing to watch him. He awaited the Sayyid’s approach, and, accosting with the salam, spoke deferentially:---

“Pardon me,” he said, “but I think I am addressing the Mír Sáhib, Ali Husain, son of Mír Mahmúd Ali?”

The Sayyid looked at him sharply: a lean man wrapped in a quilted shawl, with sharp features, pinched nose, prominent brows and cunning little eyes. Then, repelled by his aspect, the Sayyid returned the greeting coldly, and said curtly: “I am he you name. What is it you seek?”

“Indeed, sir, many years have passed since we met, but news of your return reached me and I readily recognized your figure and face. Perhaps you may remember Nasarulla, son of Shekh Masíhulla the bookseller.”

Then the Sayyid, repressing his dislike of the man and his intrusion, replied with some politeness: “I recall you now. Your father, with whom I conversed at his shop, mentioned that you were employed about the court.”

“Mere odd jobs, alas!” answered the man. “But our Tahsíldár will provide for me when a vacancy occurs. May I be permitted to walk back with you to the town? Our paths coincide.”

“How do you know that?” asked the Sayyid curtly.

“I go into the town, and whichever path the Mír Sáhib may choose thither will be convenient to me.”

Then the Sayyid struck into the track which leads across the fields to the Sayyids’ Quarter, on the north of the town.

“Report hath it,” said Nasarulla, “that you, sir, have returned from long sojourn in Farangistán bringing a budget of new doctrines.”

“Is there then any report as to the nature of the doctrine?” asked the Sayyid.

“Aye, sir,” answered the man, with twinkling eyes. “Rumour has even gone so far as to affirm that the young Mír Sáhib has joined the congregation of the Nazarenes. But rumour often lies.”

“Very often, Master Shekh,” replied the Sayyid drily.

“It is reported on good authority,” pursued Nasarulla, “that since his return the young Mír Sáhib has entered no mosque, nor performed the ablutions of the Ritual, nor offered the obligatory prayers.”

“It would seem then that rumour has been very busy with my ways,” remarked the Sayyid coldly.

“May I be authorized to contradict these pernicious rumours?” continued the man. “Such lies should not circulate regarding the son of our venerable Sayyid. Our pious folk are pained.”

The Sayyid replied gravely: “You, Nasarulla, who sit all day at the porch of the Tahsíl hear all the rumours of the town. What further is reported?”

“It is rumoured that the venerable Mír Sáhib has forbidden his son to cross his threshold, as a renegade. May I on your authority contradict this?”

“Will they believe you, Nasarulla?” asked the Sayyid, smiling slightly.

“No doubt,” replied the man positively. “My credit stands high among the people about the court.”

“Tell me one thing,” returned the Sayyid. “When the people learn that I am but an orthodox Muslim like my fathers before me, will they not cease to be interested in my affairs?”

“Truly,” answered the man, “they will respect the Mír Sáhib, but interest in him will be no longer keen.”

“No doubt; indifferent whether I come or go,” replied the Sayyid, nodding complacently to his companion. “Then, Nasarulla, I will show how you may better serve me, for your offer is surely prompted by generous interest in me and mine.”

“Without doubt,” replied Nasarulla, glancing sideways at him, to read from his face whether his words were spoken in irony or simplicity. But the Sayyid’s countenance was now quite grave and inscrutable.

“That is well, Master Shekh,” continued the Sayyid. “Now you sit daily in the centre, where is the exchange of news and whence gossip spreads to all four corners of the town. Know then, that the welfare of our folk is ever near to my heart and never long from my thoughts, and I have come with a message, which I desire to deliver to them publicly. When therefore speech runs upon me and my affairs, let this be known, and state that the purport of the Sayyid’s message has not yet been revealed. His purpose is to deliver a public address to his friends and the brotherhood of Islám in the great hall of the Khán Sáhib’s mansion, where the Khán Sáhib will himself preside over the assembly. Until then no one can know what the Sayyid Ali Husain has to deliver, nor what is his creed or his ritual. This you will make known, and you can add that you yourself have conversed with the Sayyid intimately, and that he confided this to you; and so forth, Nasarulla, as men season the news they bring.”

“Surely will I do that, and right willingly,” replied the man. “But, sir, consider this: if I had authority to contradict the report of apostasy, many would hurry to hear your discourse who shrink from a renegade.”

“As to that I gave you a reply even now,” answered the Sayyid. “Of this be sure, that those who come shall hear things which they have never heard before, and of great import to our people.”

“May I be permitted one question?” persisted the man. “As I came upon you standing alone by the Sati’s Grove, facing the rising sun, it seemed to me you were chanting some hymn, such as the fire worshippers address to the rising sun. Is this then part of a new ritual?”

But the Sayyid shook his head, smiled deprecatingly, and asked: “Tell me now, Nasarulla, what brought you so far afield in the cold morning mist?”

Then the man answered: “I passed the night in Rasúlpur with a client who has litigation in court, and returning, I noted you standing in the manner of a Parsi adoring the sun: surely, by your demeanour, worshipping the rising sun.”

“Ah, you know then perhaps,” replied the Sayyid, “apart from all ritual, that the sun is the source of life upon this earth, and without his rays no living thing, even the most lowly, could move and live.”

“Nay, I know not that,” answered his companion eagerly. Nor is it writ in the Kurán, where indeed is the verse, ‘Thou shall not worship the sun.’”

“Where also is written, in the same chapter, the forty-first, entitled ‘Clearly Displayed’: ‘The sun is the sign of the power of God.’ Thus is it even as I said. But, Nasarulla, I will not now in any way anticipate my public discourse. Only this much can I say: I come to raise our folk from the lowly state into which they have sunk and lead them on the way to a new life.”

“But, sir, I fear much our Rulers will hardly permit so rebellious a teaching.”

“Have no fear of that, my friend,” replied the Sayyid. “Nay, rather bring to my discourse all the officials, headed by the great Tahsíldár himself, and then---for you, Nasarulla, have a rapid pen---do you write down word for word what I deliver, and send it as the report of a loyal man to our Rulers in Háfizganj, aye, under my sign and seal.”

Then after a pause, he added: “And the suggestion is good. I pray you speak to your father on the subject. Let him make an authentic record of my discourse; he shall then lithograph the whole at his press, and the profit on the sale shall be yours and your father’s.”

“It shall be thought of, Master Sayyid,” replied the man. “Indeed, I will speak to my father, who has a skilful and rapid writer employed on his lithographic press.”

“Indeed, I should be well pleased to see my old friend, your father, gain much profit from the sale. But here we part, Nasarulla. Your way lies left, to the square; mine right, to my father’s house. Peace be with thee!”

He dismissed Nasarulla, who would have willingly lingered in further discourse.

Chapter XLII

The Weaver Headman Again

Relieved from the importunity of Nasarulla the copyist the Sayyid walked quickly past the great house of his fathers to the weaver’s hut, where Núru the headman was setting up a long warp. The old man responded to the Sayyid’s greeting, but continued his work as though disinclined to enter into converse. Then the Sayyid bade him let the work stand awhile; he had business with him. Núru laid aside his great brush with much care, and came shyly towards the Sayyid, who waited apart from the huts, under the tamarind tree. The old man looked timidly in the Sayyid’s face, and having bowed low, both hands pressed to his forehead, spoke in a low voice:---

"You are the master and the son of the master: what is your bidding?”

"There is perplexity in thy face and manner," returned the Sayyid. "Tell me first, what has disturbed thee?"

Then the old man answered: "Master, we have lived for three generations under the shadow of your house. We serve the Sayyids of Ronáhi now, as we served them in the days of their prosperity; and, master, the distress of the house touches us."

"Speak freely, old man," said the Sayyid.

"Master," went on the speaker, with much hesitation, "it is this: The young Mír Sáhib returned after many years, returned as one who had been lost. There was rejoicing in the old house, and his father and mother kissed his head and wept for joy. But now, the old Mír Sáhib and the Begam Sáhiba sit lamenting for a son lost in this world and in the world to come."

He broke off again, and the Sayyid bade him speak out clearly all he had heard of the happenings in the household. Then the old man, being encouraged, continued:---

“Sir, my old sister, Nasíban, she who held you in her arms as a babe, she still attends the ladies yonder. Partly from her, but also from the utterings of the old master himself——”


“Pardon the words,” continued the weaver, “they come sorely from my tongue---that the young Mír Sáhib declared before them his apostasy from the Faith!”

“And what more was reported?”

“That you will never again enter your father’s house, but stand apart as one entangled in the noose of Satan. But God is great, and God is merciful! Tell me that my ears and senses have cheated me.”

“Didst thou speak with my father regarding this matter?”

“Nay, God forbid! That I dared not! But I pray you, sir, there is here surely some cruel error, which a word from you will set right.”

The Sayyid stood in silence some time before he answered in a hoarse voice: “Bethink thee, old man. Has the glory of Islám ever shone bright over the land during thy long life?”

The weaver shook his head mournfully and replied: “When I was a child, Islám was trampled under foot by the Marahtas. We were delivered from their oppression by the English, who then fitted their own yoke to our necks.”

“A yoke lightened by justice,” added the Sayyid. “And this in the glorious land of Hind, where those great and noble rulers, Akbar Khán and Aurangzeb, held sway! But I come, old man, seeking to lay firm foundations on which hereafter our folk shall rise again.”

“Ah, sir,” exclaimed the old man eagerly, “I felt sure some gross mistake had come between you and your household. But go, quickly, I beg of you, and remove from your father’s mind the error under which he groans!”

“But, Núru, bear in mind that when the old foundations crumble they must be removed to make way for the new.”

“True, true,” replied the weaver doubtfully.

“But the aged adhere to their old bases with pious pertinacity, and cannot see that the whole structure is in danger.”

“True, true! we old folk cannot leave our old ways.”

“Know this then, Núru. I seek to give new strength to our folk, that they may once more bear themselves proudly among the nations of the world; and ere many days are passed, I shall deliver my message before all who choose to hear. But now, Núru, I need they sister Nasiban to bear a message to my kin yonder. Is she within?”

“She is in attendance on the Begam Sáhiba.”

“Go then quickly, and bid speak in private to my sister Nasiba Bánu, and bring her to thy house. I have much to say to her. And clear thy women’s apartments that my sister and I may confer without interruption.”

“I obey, my lord,” replied the weaver. “If the cloud of error can be lifted, my heart will be eased.”

Chapter XLIII

The Sayyid’s Sister

While Núru the weaver went to deliver the message, the Sayyid crossed the cart-track to the great well. Near this are the remains of the Sayyids’ Mosque, desecrated by Marahta soldiers when they raided Ronáhi. The well-head had been repaired by the weavers, but the sacred building had been abandoned, and crumbled to a mere heap of bricks. It was a sign to the Sayyid of the apathy into which the once ardent spirit of his people had sunk; an apathy from which they could be aroused only through the inspiration of a new creed.

Seated here, he saw a little muffled figure come forth from his father’s house, and following Núru, hurry across the warp-walk to the headman’s hut. Then Núru signalled that all was clear within.

When the Sayyid entered the courtyard, he found his sister, Nasíba Bánu, standing alone, still wrapped close in her veiling sheet, but as he approached, she cast it aside and fell upon his neck and wept, and the whole form of the little old maid was shaken with emotion.

“Brother, brother!” she cried, between her sobs. “Why didst thou ever return? Why bring this dishonour upon our ancient house? Would thou hadst hidden this shame far from us, that no rumour might reach us! Surely, surely, this cannot be my nursling! Satan hath sent some changeling in his shape to cheat and torment us!”

He held her hand in silence until the first outbreak of her emotion had passed.

“Sister,” he said, “hush thy sobs and listen! We have a task to perform; to find a way to comfort their old age; to relieve our father and mother in their distress. I called thee to help me in this. Together we may succeed.”

“But the hand which struck the blow was thine,” she claimed.

“Through me indeed,” he answered. “But under the compulsion of a most sacred duty. And this urgent motive thou must understand, if we are to relieve those whom we love most.”

She threw up her hands helplessly, exclaiming: “I understand nothing! Thy words are empty sounds, void of meaning!”

“Listen, then, and I will fill them with sense,” he replied “Control thy distress and listen. Be thyself, sister: remember thou art a Sadáni, one of a race to suffer with clenched teeth and hands; no mean woman to fill the air with futile wailing. Thou and I are of a master-race, strong in self-control and resolute in action. Dost thou understand me?”

“Aye, this I understand.”

“It is the honour of the Sayyid to stand amidst distress, watching warily for the first glimmer of light, quick to interpret the signal for action. Be firm then, and look on the seeming iniquity of thy brother and nursling as one of the many evils which God wills thee to suffer. Wilt thou do this?”

“I will try,” she answered, with some composure.

“We each and all,” he continued, “regard our own affliction as the most bitter and hardest to endure. And this delusion is our pretext for disordered grief and empty anger, or for sinking helpless under the blow as too heavy for man to bear.

“Let the evil that befalls thee be a challenge to thy courage, to thy strength to endure, and thy capacity to overcome: a test to thy womanhood, and a spur to thy spirit to unfold all its hidden strength.

“Do my words appeal to thee, sister?”

Then she answered with recovered control: “Thou hast expressed feelings which lacked words.”

“Then, listen further, and gather fresh strength,” he continued. “Sister, upon thee has fallen a cruel fate, but rather than bring a shadow of dishonour upon our ancient house, thou hast borne it with patient and even cheerful heart. A woman such as thou wast in thy youth, debarred from the joy of wedlock and motherhood and from the rule of her own house, loses the very flower of her life, and for that loss can find no compensation. But this lot thou hast accepted, and devoted thy life to the care of our old parents.”

“Alas, brother!” she exclaimed, “for long years it was hard to bear; but that is passed; we will not idly lament, but rather protect from this fate the young girl who now grows to womanhood in our house!”

“Bravely spoken,” he exclaimed. “And to that same task I have now come to set my hand.”

But the lady Nasíba shook her head sadly, and made no reply.

“Ah, I understand thy silence,” he returned. “What can I do for the household, I who have been rejected as a renegade from the Faith? I will show thee hereafter how it shall be effected through thy aid. But first we have to lift this cloud of grief which my conduct has cast over you.”

“Oh, brother!” she exclaimed eagerly. “Say thou wast beguiled by Satan---misled, but for a little while only.”

The Sayyid replied gently: “I know thou dost homage to truth: thou hatest a liar.”

“So were we taught by our father, and I hold by his teaching.”

He. — He who cheats with specious words and hypocrite face, setting forth what he knows to be false, is he not the most base of men?

She. — Surely so I deem him.

He. — And one who would deceive his father and mother, saying falsely, This I hold and that I reject---what of him?

She. — A dissembler and trickster.

He. — Thou wouldst have thy brother be true in his words and honest to act on his belief?

She. — Not otherwise. But he shall believe the truth and act thereon.

He. — Herein then we are at one. And now consider this: The many passing their days in ceaseless toil shall accept their creed from their teachers. But a few there are, very few, whom their nature urges and occasion serves to gather store of knowledge, and without haste, unresting, to ponder long thereon, and pierce to the core of things, to bring thence new truth to light. Upon these few is laid a sacred duty, to proclaim the truth they have found. They shall not shrink in fear of the penalty they bring upon themselves, nor (harder still) foreseeing the suffering they cause to those they love best.

“Surely not,” she answered warmly. “If to the qualificati0 you name one more be added, without which these are vain& nay, more, one which renders all these needless——”

“You mean inspiration from God,” he said as she paused.

“Yes,” she replied; “revelation from the Most High, who announced His ordinances to the Prophet (whose name is holy) and to those Friends of God who preceded him. Brother, hath God vouchsafed a new dispensation, that you dare to stand forth here as a preacher?”

“Assuredly,” he exclaimed, with a sudden outburst of enthusiasm. “Even as the Prophet was inspired, and in equal measure, do I claim that truth has been revealed to me. Nay, nay! Thou shalt not rob man of his glory by ascribing his best

She. — By the Voice of God?

He. — The Voice of God is the Light of Truth lit by man in his own heart to show the way to life through the dark and tangled thickets of the world.

She. — Brother, how knowest thou this Light is of God?

He. — Even as the Prophet knew and not otherwise.

She. — How? how?

He. — By the supreme and absolute conviction that glows within me. None but the Prophet heard the Voice; none but he saw the Vision. None other than he could confirm them as coming from God. But for him was no place for doubt; for him they bore the undeniable stamp of truth, and he proclaimed them, and they were received by his people.

And so also of that which I teach. It shall shed a light to guide men through the devious ways of life, and they shall receive it; very few in the beginning, but more hereafter; until at length it shall be for a new generation the accepted guide through the ways of life.

If then, as I deem, what I teach is the true Way, it shall surely prevail in the end; for through the ages those who follow truth shall wax in power, and those who follow error shall dwindle away and be utterly vanquished.

As the Sayyid spoke the fire of enthusiasm shone from his countenance and imparted fervour to his words; and his sister was silent, awed, as dominated by some new power.

Then, after a pause, he continued in a quieter tone: “Sister, thou didst tend me as child and youth: from my first days and for twenty years, I grew up in daily communion with thee.”

She. — Thou wast my beloved nursling.

He. — Was I ever honest and true in thy sight?---seeking the right and eager in the pursuit of knowledge?

She. — Thou wast without guile: none like thee have I known.

He. — Then, sister, trust me now. And say, was I one misled by illusions and vain visions?

She. — Thou wert an ardent spirit, yet clear in sight and cool in judgment.

He. — Then, sister, when I speak these things to thee, I claim thy trust in memory of those days.

Then, his voice again fervid with ardent zeal, he continued: “And this I say to thee, for thou art one to understand: He whose heart is filled with a passionate conviction that he bears a message to mankind, that his mind has been opened to truth of great import to his people, he shall deliver it: he cannot do otherwise and live. I, then, cannot do otherwise---and still maintain my integrity, before myself, before thee, and before our kin.”

Again the lady Nasíba was awed by the earnest voice and countenance kindling with enthusiasm.

“I understand thee, brother,” she said timidly; “but——”

She broke off, uncertain how to express what was in her mind.

“Speak, dear sister, I beg thee,” he urged gently. “I, too, shall understand even broken words from thee.”

Then, gathering confidence from his pleading tone, she continued:---

“When thou wast a child and youth I watched thee waxing in mind and body and nobility, and I thought of thee as one by whom hereafter great works would be accomplished; works, I mean, for our people, such as those our Maulvi hoped from his chosen pupil. But——”

She again broke off, and her brother, with a gentle smile now took up the word:---

“But never hadst thou dreamed, nor canst thou now conceive that thy nursling should stand forth as the bearer of a new message of no less import than that of the Prophet of Islam.”

She assented in silence, bowing her head.

“But, sister,” he continued, “not now; I do not ask thee now to admit my amazing claim. Wait; but wait convinced only of my utter sincerity. No! the self-conviction of the teacher is no warrant for the truth of his doctrine: it infuses into his words the glow of life; but the truth of his doctrine can be shown only by its power to reach the hearts of men, to command their assent, and by dominating their conduct to raise them to higher and more complete life here under the sun.

“But enough, dear sister. It is enough now that you understand that I could not act otherwise without the sacrifice of my integrity and the loss of my own self-respect, and yours not less. You do understand this?”

Then she laid her hand between his opened palms and answered earnestly: “I understand, brother; and can wait and hope in trust.”

“Then this I beg of thee,” continued the Sayyid. “Speak to my father in thine own words, that he too may apprehend my case and grieve no more, because I deem I have a sacred duty to fulfil, even unto martyrdom. Let him pray that the very truth may be within my heart and that truth may prevail. And cease not thy gentle persuasion until he share thy trust in me; and as he thinks, so will our mother, guided by him in this.

“And ere long I will come to my father’s house, where I have much to settle for the welfare of you all, and not least for that of the little maid, Zeban.”

She pressed her withered cheek against her brother’s, and he departed.

Chapter XLIV

The Old Master

The dwelling-house of Shekh Rafat Ali was in a quiet lane not far from his office in the Fort. A wide gateway, rarely closed, opened into a yard, where, under a shed stood an old buggy and an elegant bullock chariot. On one side was an arcade with doors admitting to the private apartments.

Sayyid Ali Husain entered the yard without ceremony, and learnt from the orderly under the arcade that the Tahsíldár was at his morning meal, but would be pleased to converse with his visitor if leisure permitted him to wait. Then the Sayyid took a seat in the sunshine, and soon, immersed in his thought, became indifferent to the lapse of time. And while he was seated thus, there arrived the venerable Maulvi Nazar Ali, clothed in his full white turban and quilted gown of ample folds. It was the hour for his daily interview with the Tahsíldár’s elder son, a student and recluse reputed to be engaged in writing a great polemical treatise on the Sects of Islám.

The Maulvi started slightly when his eyes fell upon his old pupil, and then, after a moment’s hesitation, perceiving that he was unnoticed, he would have passed into the house; but the bustle of the orderly greeting the new-comer aroused the Sayyid from his reverie, and he stood up at once to bow respectfully before his old master. The Maulvi returned the salutation with reserve, and they stood for a few moments in embarrassed silence, aware that the servants of the household were within earshot.

“Maulvi Sáhib,” said the Sayyid at length, “I was sending to inquire when I might be permitted to pay my respects.”

But the old man interrupted hastily, “I know not when I may be at leisure.”

Then the Sayyid drew near, and spoke in a low tone: “There is much I wish to say——”

But the Maulvi again interrupted hastily: “Sayyid Ali Husain, you deprecate all discussion between us——”

But the Sayyid interrupted in his turn, and leading the Maulvi to the end of the arcade away from the servants’ offices, said deferentially: “I referred to public debate. But not even in private would I seek to defend my own doctrines, nor to impeach those you so powerfully uphold. No: I would speak with you concerning my family, and especially regarding my old father in his present distress.”

But the Maulvi replied with asperity: “Surely, Ali Husain, you must know that for him there can be no comfort until you acknowledge your errors. But if I can help to clear these from your mind——”

The Sayyid shook his head with a gentle smile, and the Maulvi continued:---

“Then he can find comfort only---as one who sorrows for the death of a beloved---through healing time. But if his grief is made more bitter by the impious preaching of an apostate, who seeks to seduce the weak and ignorant from the True Faith---ah, Ali Husain, if you would spare your father, begone, I pray you, to some distant place whence no rumour of your devilish teaching may reach his ears. Let him think of you as dead! Let him be preserved from this scandal: that one of the race of the Prophet, of the house of the Sayyids of Ronáhi, under the shadow of the Great Mosque, which his fathers helped to raise——”

“Maulvi Sáhib,” replied Ali Husain, gravely interposing, “I have my mission to fulfil. It is sacred to me, and must be obeyed at all costs.”

Then the old professor, grasping Ali Husain by the arm, spoke eagerly, pleading: “But listen, Ali Husain! You were wont to be docile; you were my beloved and chosen pupil. I beg of you, come to me; we will confer at length; not hurriedly, but for many days, in close and quiet communion of mind to mind and heart to heart. I will sweep this illusion from your spirit; you shall be delivered from the whisperings of the Great Deceiver, whose prime triumph it is to ensnare one such as you. Nay, I pray you, defer your deliverance and give quiet and attentive consideration to my words. Oh, my beloved pupil, I will be very patient and listen to all. We will discourse through the silent night, and then again till noon, and at length this veil of illusion shall be lifted, and once more you shall discern the truth.”

But notwithstanding the pleading tone of the speaker, his assumption of infallibility excited antagonism in his old pupil, and the answer came in firm tones not untinged with asperity: “Maulvi Sáhib, all you can urge is well known to me---every thesis, every text. In the new world of real things amidst which we live, they are but lumber impeding our vital activities. I could not undertake to discuss this ancient and mouldy lore, nor can I even endure to listen to its exposition. All I could hope from such a discussion would be that you, listening with attention to what I have to teach, might perceive dimly that there exists a vast sphere of real knowledge compared with which the speculations of the sages of Islám are but webs spun out of the brain.”

But the old professor could listen no longer. He exclaimed with a flash of anger: “Great God! What presumptuous blasphemy is this?”

He would have continued with fiery vehemence, but Shekh Rafat Ali, from his adjacent closet, heard the raised voices and came forth himself.

“Gently, Maulvi Sáhib,” he said in a stern grave voice, and laid his hand on the shoulder of the excited old man. “This dwelling of mine is the abode of peace.” And the venerable Maulvi was checked at once, and hung down his head. “And you, Sayyid Ali Husain, you came not here to dispute with our reverend professor: such discourtesy is strange in one of your training and race.”

“Your pardon, sir!” answered the Sayyid, bowing respectfully. “If my voice was raised above the pitch of propriety, may I be forgiven. If my demeanour showed disrespect, it belied my feelings.”

“Shekh Sáhib,” said the old man respectfully, but with dignity, “if a man, suddenly stung to the quick, utter an ejaculation of pain even in the presence of majesty, he may be pardoned, provided he check it at once, conscious of his ill-breeding.”

“True, old friend,” returned the Tahsíldár, “and the pardon is freely granted.”

Then the Maulvi, having bowed once more, spoke in his habitual quiet voice: “But may I crave a few words in private?” Then, checking himself, he added: “Or rather with you in the presence of this quondam pupil of mine, whom they concern?”

The Tahsíldár looked at both his visitors doubtfully, but Sayyid intervened, saying: “I pray you, sir, grant this boon to one whom I, as all who know him, regard with profound respect.”

Then the Tahsíldár led them through the arcade and inner courtyard to his private reception-room, where he bade them be seated right and left on the white mattress, and himself took his seat against the silken pillow fronting them.

“Speak then, Maulvi Sáhib,” he said, “and briefly and to the point, for my leisure is scanty.”

Then the Maulvi suppressed his emotion and spoke: “Thus then it is. A sore calamity has befallen the blind old man, Mír Mahmúd Ali, the father of this youth: he is stricken by the hand of his own beloved son.”

“Continue,” said the Tahsíldár, as the speaker paused.

“This youth was reared to be a pillar of the Faith, and on him our hopes---my hopes---rested in complete trust.”


“Now in his own household, before me and the assembled family, he has proclaimed himself an apostate, one upon whom rests the curse in the words of Holy Writ.”

“I have heard something of this,” interrupted the Tahsíldár, and the old man continued:---

“Upon his house he has brought shame and upon his own soul damnation, and the heart of his old father is stricken.”

“I can well believe it,” remarked the Tahsíldár.

“But this headstrong youth, heartless and led by the counsel of Satan, will add bitterness to our distress by publicly teaching blasphemous doctrines, even at the door of his father’s house, and, with a perversity beyond credence, has asked counsel of me, how he may alleviate his old father’s distress!”

“But, Maulvi Sáhib,” said the Tahsíldár, “you are his father’s oldest friend and the preceptor of this young man’s youth.”

“True,” returned the old professor, “and I have counselled him, saying: ‘Thou rash youth, thou wouldst lay a profane hand upon the Sacred Writings! Hold, I bid thee, until thou hast conferred at length with me, thy old teacher and master, and thou shalt assuredly once more see the Divine Light shining from the words of the Prophet of God.’”

“Did he not then heed your counsel, having demanded it?” asked the Tahsíldár.

“Alas, sir! the youth turned upon me with presumptuous words, that if I would but hear him, I should learn; but God forbid that such words should profane my lips!”

“I think, Maulvi Sáhib,” remarked the Tahsíldár, “your faith is too firmly rooted to fear any shock.”

“Surely, surely,” exclaimed the old professor eagerly. “But now, Tahsíldár Sáhib, I come to you as one in authority, of wisdom and the ripe experience of years; I beg you will command this rash young man to sit in debate with me for at least ten days; to listen with open ears and docile mind to all I have to urge; and in the end, surely he shall be released from the delusions cast over him by Satan.”

“And if he refuse?” asked the Tahsíldár.

“Then, sir, let him be directed to depart at once, and abide far away, that the scandal of his impiety may not reach us and his father’s ears. He shall then be as one dead, remembered here only as the studious youth whom I loved; for he was the most learned and docile of all those who have sat at my feet.”

Then Shekh Rafat Ali turned to the Sayyid, who had listened with unmoved countenance.

“Shekh Sáhib,” he said, “since you permit me to reply, I will frankly explain my position. But first, let me remind you that our venerable Maulvi, renowned as a scholar and teacher, is a most competent judge of his pupils. I venture then to accept as final his judgment of my work while I sat at his feet; and I will affirm that during those many years I measured the expanse and plumbed the depths of Arabic and Persian lore. I perceived that I had exhausted all it could offer me, and turned to the new science of Europe for further knowledge. Therein I have gathered a rich harvest, and I now return bearing this as the greatest boon I can offer to the people among whom I was nurtured.

“Briefly, then, sir, my position is this: The Tree of Knowledge groweth ever. Those who batten on the fresh fruit are the leaders of the world. But those who chew the withered leaves slowly perish: they succumb in the ceaseless contest between man and man, and race and race, and nation and nation.

“I come now to teach living truths of momentous import to our people. For those who comprehend this new knowledge the ancient lore is transformed into a confused mass of baseless guesses, and to discuss the truth of these, a vain occupation.

“These ancient creeds and doctrines are not vanquished in controversy with the effete doctors who profess them. They crumble before the new spirit: the old leaves on the Tree of Knowledge wither when the new expand into the sunlight and suck away the sap which nourished them.

“Let then the venerable Maulvi continue to teach as hitherto: I know his doctrines are interwoven with the fibres of his life. But when his pupils come to me a new light shall shine upon them, and shall reveal the true nature of his teaching as the spinning of a vain web out of the simple guesses of the childhood of man.

“So much then, sir, to dispose of my old master’s plea for prolonged debate between him and me: a waste of energy, barren of any result but friction and heat, soreness and anger, where mutual respect and toleration should prevail.”

The Sayyid paused, and Shekh Rafat Ali, perceiving he had more to add, signed to him to proceed.

“And now,” continued the speaker, “permit me to set forth a conception of my action which I think our venerable friend has not yet realized. Listen!

“In this land of Hind, is there any hindrance to Islám? Are we not free to perform the ceremonies of our religion? to preach what we think fit to our own people and to the heathen, and enrol unchecked all we can persuade? Our mosques and shrines are protected, and we are at liberty to erect new ones where we choose. Our laws of marriage, divorce and inheritance are enforced, and our endowments protected from misapplication and embezzlement.

For the children of Islám this Land of Hind is, beyond dispute, the ‘Abode of Peace.’

“But, my friends, doth Islám, favoured thus with complete liberty, thrive among us? Doth not our venerable Maulvi openly deplore the decay of the Faith, the apathy of our people, and the utter depression of their spirit? How often have I heard him lament that our Faith has lost its vital energy, and that our ruined mosques and shrines are visible manifestation of its decay! Say, my respected teacher, do I not correctly summarize your words?”

The old Maulvi looked at the speaker for an instant and bowed his head mournfully without speaking. And the Sayyid continued, with animation increasing to vehemence:---

“Listen then! I come a whirlwind springing up in the very heart of Islám, to shake our people from their lethargy. And they shall shudder and cry, Here cometh one seeking to destroy our ancient Faith, and already the bases on which it is built tremble. Let our leaders and teachers arouse themselves, or all will be lost. Aye, the lash as of a scourge shall fall upon them, and they shall be stung to rise in defence: and the Faith shall be once more awakened to life and action, or shall perish utterly in the storm.”

Then checking his fiery declamation, he continued:—

“Do you understand, my friend? If Islám be the one True Faith, let it arise in all its energy, and in this new contest for its very life go forth as the one great Truth and conquer the world. Under the touchstone let its purity be revealed, and the Faith prevail.

“Thus, my revered friend, I beseech you, look upon me and my mission; see in my antagonism an instrument of God to stimulate the people of Islám to a life of renewed activity in the exercise and promulgation of their Faith!”

The Sayyid ceased and bowed low before his old master.

But the Maulvi knew not what to reply to this unexpected application of his well-known lamentations over the decay of Faith. Was this indeed a divinely appointed agent to excite Islam out of the long apathy? He looked to Shekh Rafat Ali as though expecting him to speak.

And the official at once seized the opportunity of putting an end to the controversy, and, as he spoke, a faint shadow of humour fell upon his rugged face.

“Truly Mír Sáhib, we know well that when strong men are in danger they are braced to action, their spirits are eager for combat and then only do they put forth all their strength. What think you, Maulvi Sihib? If this young man’s father, our old friend Mahmúd Ali, could be induced to regard his son as a possible instrument for arousing Islám from apathy, would he not derive some modicum of consolation for tne defection of one of his race? The suggestion is new, and requires turning over in many ways. I beg you, Maulvi, do this, for the sake at least of the blind old man, your intimate friend. Meantime, leave this young man with me, for I have business to transact with him that must not be delayed.”

The Maulvi rose at once, and departed with mournful but most courteous salutations.

Chapter XLV

The Persuasion of an Old Official

When the Maulvi had departed, Shekh Rafat Ali addressed the Sayyid in his quiet tone of conscious authority:---

“Let me remind you, my friend,” he said, “that among our people whom you stigmatize as sunk in apathy there are enthusiasts in plenty and fanatics not a few, whose resentment easily finds vent in riot and violence.”

“Sir,” replied the Sayyid, “I know it well. But I am not here to preach in the market-place before the rabble of carders and weavers, who rave and foam at the mouth, shouting ‘Hasan, Husain!’ in their pagan processions. They will remain, and cannot but remain, here as elsewhere, passionately attached to their debased superstitions. No, sir, my mission is to the leaders of our people; to men of some knowledge and understanding, whose task it is to care for their welfare. And I am a loyal subject of those now set in authority over us. But of this I spoke when I was admitted to an audience yonder in your office.”

“Well, well, my friend,” returned the Tahsíldár. “We will think of the matter. You will readily understand, however, our distrust of one who threatens to shake the Faith of our people until it totter, like a tree in the storm-wind, though this be the bombast of verbosity.”

The Sayyid bowed in acquiescence.

“And now,” he said, “have I your permission to open the purely personal matter which has brought me to your private house this morning?”

“My time is limited,” replied Shekh Rafat Ali.

“I will be brief,” returned the Sayyid. “It first concerns your younger son, Shaukat Ali. Since my return I have spoken much with him, not indeed on the doctrines which I am here to teach, but on many other subjects. His candour, his happy disposition and courteous ways, his handsome presence and gallant bearing, all these qualities have impressed me strongly.”

The Tahsíldár nodded, and the Sayyid continued: “I gather that as yet no negotiation for his marriage has been opened.”

The Tahsíldár nodded again, waiting with unmoved countenance for the issue of this exordium, and the Sayyid went on:—

“In my father’s house dwells the widow of my brother Muhammad Taki, and with her their only child, a sweet maid Zeb-un-nisa, now of marriageable age. I should esteem a marriage between her and Shaukat Ali a happy result of my return home.”

Shekh Rafat Ali looked at the speaker sharply, and a faint expression of surprise was on his countenance as he demanded:

“Has the matter been broached to the Mír Sáhib, your father?”

“Not yet.”

“Nor with the lady your mother?”

“With no one. I speak to you first, as is fittest.”

“During your long sojourn abroad can you have forgotten the chasm which separates the noble house of the Sayyids from men of my class---Shekhs?”

“The pride of my people with our poverty condemns our daughters to wither into soured old maids for lack of mates. To this cruel folly I would put an end.”

“You are sanguine of your power of persuasion,” said Shekh Rafat Ali, interrupting. “Your parents will hold by the practice of their tribe, the more firmly in their poverty.”

“I think not,” replied the Sayyid in a decided tone. “But now, in complete privacy, sir, between you and me only: assuming the maid is all I describe, one I would seek as a mate for my dearest young friend, and that the head of my house consents to the alliance?”

“Under those circumstances,” answered the Shekh, “I think my boy’s mother would consider the proposal. But before I could open the matter, certain considerations of expediency have to be weighed.”

“And these?”

To be frank with you, Master Sayyid, I am an officer of the State; a like career is before my younger son; and I must consider how an alliance with your house might affect our official position. The father of the maid was a notorious rebel and a Wahhábi, killed with other fanatics on the Black Mountains. Further, your brother, Háji Hasan, is a known mischief-maker and intriguer, a rebel at heart. I had to warn him that his health would be benefited by residence abroad, and he now lives, a centre of sedition, in Haidarábád. Thus the connection with your family is likely to prove troublesome to us; and it would afford an excellent ground for our enemies to defame us to our Rulers. But that is not all. I watch your action with suspicion. You will be involved in bitter controversies with our people, and danger to yourself and your followers will inevitably ensue. Thus the alliance might hinder our promotion as loyal servants of the State---the prime ambition of my son.”

The Sayyid had not anticipated this obstacle. Rafat Ali, he knew, was a Shekh of uncertain lineage, not one of the noble tribe of the Kuresh; one therefore to welcome the honour of an alliance with a noble and exclusive house. For a moment his subconscious pride of race excited a feeling of resentment at the attitude of the cautious official, and he hesitated to reply. But as he was silent, the Shekh continued, and afforded the link he needed:---

“And I may add this: were this alliance contracted, I should assume a potent influence in the house of my son’s wife---I mean, as the head of the united families and a public officer of rank and authority.”

“An influence gladly to be accepted by all of us,” replied the Sayyid eagerly. “The assurance that my father’s household is under your protection and guidance will relieve me of a painful anxiety. For my sojourn here will be very brief, and I shall never return. My mission will call me wherever the leaders of our people dwell---from Multán to Islámabad on the eastern sea, from Dehli to Maisúr in the south.

“No one will remain in our old home to render the connection irksome to a loyal official. My father’s years are numbered, and his gentle character is well known to you. My brother Háji Hasan will dwell abroad, well pleased to be free of household ties, so long as you, sir, consider the air and water of this northern tract unsuited to his peculiar temperament. The history of the dead Wahhábi conspirator will be forgotten when the old Sayyid stock is represented by children born to the son of a loyal servant of the State, Shekh Rafat Ali.”

“You speak to the point,” replied the Tahsíldár. “But frankly, you yourself constitute the element of danger. And this might be removed, if you would defer the opening of this self-imposed task or mission, as you style it, until you have left our provincial jurisdiction never to return.”

But the Sayyid shook his head gravely, dismissing the suggestion as beyond discussion. He answered: “Here then, sir we have reached a definite issue: if during my short sojourn here there arises from my words or conduct no legitimate offence to our people or to the State, nothing to excite scandal or suggest disloyalty, then the only difficulty on your side to the proposed alliance will be removed. I think that is a fair statement of the position?”

Shekh Rafat Ali assented.

“Then,” continued the Sayyid, in the same practical tone, “I will in strict privacy lay the project before my family, without revealing that I have already mooted it with you. If I fail to remove their prejudices, the matter will be closed. If I gain their assent, as I doubt not but I shall, then the project will go no further until you are satisfied that nothing in my conduct impedes its completion. But I must act now without delay, for my time here is very brief.”

The calm judicial manner in which the Sayyid now dealt with the case impressed the old official strongly. He replied promptly: “Do then as you propose, my friend. Nothing will transpire as to the conference; none shall know that I declined the offer, nor that your house refused to wed a daughter to my dear son. And I may add now how greatly I should be pleased if he were united in marriage with your noble house.”

The Sayyid then accepted his dismissal from the audience, and left, satisfied that the powerful official was now biased in his favour and would himself be present in the assembly.

Chapter XLVI

A Noble Lady’s Task

To the Sayyid meditating in the veranda of the mansion a visitor was announced, one Khwája Ahsánulla, steward of the noble widow, Husaini Begam, the mistress of many villages in the district of Háfizganj; and a lean old man was introduced, dressed in white garments with a broad girdle of gold lace. The expression of his sharp features fringed with a white beard was grave, and leaning on a carved ebony walking-stick, he bore himself with dignity as he approached the veranda.

When the somewhat elaborate ceremony of greeting and reception was disposed of, the Khwája, seated on the cane stool facing the Sayyid, opened his business.

“Sir,” he said, “the name and high repute of my mistress are doubtless well known to you?”

“Who in these parts has not heard of the venerable lady?” replied the Sayyid. “Her able administration of her estates, her severity and no less her generosity, are notorious.”

The Khwája answered sententiously: “Where stern measures are needed to maintain her just authority, the Lady Husaini does not shrink from enforcing them; where a generous hand is rightly demanded, the lady will open it wide.”

“And under your guidance, Khwája Sáhib, no doubt with discretion,” added the Sayyid.

“Women, sir,” replied the steward, “even the wisest of them, are ever impulsive; often severe to excess and generous beyond measure; but none so well knows to strike the right mean as the noble lady who honours me with her confidence.”

The Sayyid bowed and the steward continued:

“The lady is at present residing in her town-house in the Mírza’s Quarter.”

The Sayyid again bowed in silence.

“She has learnt with interest that you, sir, are town.”

The ceremonious steward again paused, and the Sayyid waited in silence for him to continue.

“My lady has heard that the Mír Sáhib is as deeply versed in the learning of the West as before his departure from his native town he was skilled in the lore of Arabia and Persia. Some marvels have reached my lady’s ears; but these I need not specify, for you, sir, well know how gossip is wont to magnify common actions into great exploits.”

“It is indeed notorious,” remarked the Sayyid.

“Exactly,” said the old steward, and went on deliberately; “My lady, then, having heard this, sends me, her humble servant to wait upon the Mír Sáhib, and to state that she desires to confer with him on matters which concern her very nearly.”

“May I ask, Khwája Sáhib, what those matters are?”

“I venture to guess that they refer to her two great-grandchildren, left orphans in her charge.”

“Then,” said the Sayyid, interested at once, “I beg you will bear my greetings to the lady. I will attend at the hour she may fix.”

“The chariot now awaits at the gate,” replied the steward. “My lady is advanced in years far beyond the common span. She brooks no delay in any business on which she sets her heart.”

Then the Sayyid consented to accompany the steward, and, seated in a richly appointed chariot drawn by a pair of sleek Hánsi cattle, passed through the main street to the Mírza’s Quarter. With loud jangling bells the chariot rattled over the paved ascent through the wide gateway, to draw up in the courtyard before the arcade of the women’s apartments.

While the steward went to announce his arrival, the Sayyid waited in a carpeted chamber under the arcade. A tray of sweetmeats and sharbat was brought, with the request he would honour the house by tasting these while the lady prepared to receive him.

He remembered well, as a child, visiting the “great lady” with his mother, and now he recalled all the incidents of his visit, not least vividly the tray of sweetmeats which had then been set before him and carried home to be enjoyed at leisure. These dainties had been prepared by the lady herself, a skilful confectioner, and he thought he recognized her hand in those now set before him.

Khwája Ahsánulla now reappeared, and conducted the visitor to the large apartment over the arcade, where a little figure swathed in many garments was seated alone on a cushioned dais, her eyes just visible below the hood of her shawl. It was the mistress of the house. She dismissed her steward, saluted her visitor with the salam, and bade him be seated on the dais to her right.

“I salute you, Begam Sáhiba, again after the lapse of thirty years,” said the Sayyid.

“Have we then met before?” asked a low, but rather shrill voice from beneath the shawl. “I remember most things, but that has escaped my memory.”

“For a whole morning I ran free through these chambers, and even now can recall every corner into which I peered. Yonder, in a deep closet, was a great chest of sandal-wood filled with silken garments. While you conversed with my mother, I wandered about unheeded. I ascended those stairs to the roof and stood on the parapet looking over the houses into the open country. It seems that I was missed, and you, my lady, came up the dark staircase, saw me standing on the parapet, and feared to call or approach, lest, startled, I should fall into the street.”

“True, I remember now,” said the lady. “I saw the child on the edge raise his arms as a diver about to plunge. I shuddered in terror, but uttered no sound nor moved. Then the child thrust his fingers in his ears, and in shrill voice sent forth the Muazzin’s call; and ceasing, danced along the parapet to the staircase wall, where he leapt down to my side.”

Then the Sayyid took up the word, laughing: “And he called, ‘Oh, grandam, give me wings of the kite, and I will soar over the city and away to the forest on the skirt of the hills.’”

“That was the child’s cry,” said the old lady. “But I thought the boy was your lost brother, Muhammad Taki. Tell me, was it a madcap freak to frighten your mother, or to display a tumbler’s skill to the folk in the street below?”

“Nay, I believe I thought nothing of either,” answered the Sayyid. “I loved to climb to lofty places, to pretend I had alighted a moment from flight to soar again over the earth. Even now a precipice fascinates me, and I stand on the brink with boundless space above, around, and far beneath men move as creeping ants.”

“A strange fancy, sir,” said the lady. “Have you since then climbed to dizzy heights of thought, to stand with observant eye and calm brain where men’s heads swim?”

“I have at least striven to reach a summit and survey our daily life as the winding course of a continuous stream: to comprehend the art of living, but not to escape from the common life.”

“May I know what you have noted in this wide survey?”

“One thing notably, lady,” he answered. “That from the starved and sickly body no worthy life can spring, no fair flower of thought can bloom. We need most the art to prevent poverty without diminishing the source of energy, and to protect men against disease without weakening their strength for the inevitable contests of life.”

“Aye, aye,” she answered. “A good purpose, but vain, I fear. The common herd of our people, feeble and foolish and ignorant, are doomed to poverty; and sickly mates will ever breed sickly stock. Never shall they become strong and wise; never shall the sickly cease to breed. But tell me further; from the heights you have scaled, have you looked down on the creeds and sacred rites of men, as from yonder parapet you looked on the crowd in the market?”

The Sayyid answered briefly. “To one who stands apart in calm contemplation they are the outward manifestations of blind strivings to propitiate unseen powers. The sacred rules and rituals bring to their votaries moral guidance, comfort, terror or sustaining hope, whether the unseen powers addressed are mere creatures of fancy or really existing divinities.

“But tell me, lady, you did not summon me here to give you puzzling answers to such questions as these? ’Tis, I know, the wont of women to ask not caring for the answer, but seeking a pretext to hold a man in converse and penetrate into his hidden nature.”

“True, O Sayyid,” she replied. “But I have heard that you come from abroad bringing new learning and doctrine as a remedy for the woes which afflict us; I too am troubled, and long have sought in vain for a wise counsellor.”

“May I hear the history of these troubles?” said the Sayyid. “Great they may have been, but they have not, I know, subdued you to that patience which is apathy.”

“Well said, O Sayyid,” she replied; and drawing aside her shawl, she displayed a resolute old face, thin with small features, lit with large and brilliant eyes, now steadfastly fixed on her visitor.

“Lady,” he said, “a generation has passed since as a child I looked on your face, and I see little change.”

“Never have I been disabled by sickness except in those happy days when I bore my children. Would that those who sprang from me had inherited the pith and marrow of my father’s stock!”

“May I hear your history?” he asked.

“The cipher of your life is writ on your features,” she replied. “I address one I can trust, and who will understand.”

She paused a moment, and then spoke in quiet tones, with easy fluent speech:---

“My father, Chágtái Kásim Beg, came from Balkh some eighty years ago, and took service as trooper at the Court of the blind King of Dehli. With him came my mother, a lady of Samarkand, and my four brothers, all many years senior to me, for I was last of the brood and called mockingly the grandchild.

“Now my father, a shrewd judge of men and affairs, had not been long about the Dehli Court before he saw clearly that the Faringis were becoming the dominant power. He abandoned the service of the feeble King and with a band of troopers joined the French. Here again his foresight did not fail him: before their power collapsed and Agra fell, he withdrew to Lucknow, and there found honour for himself and his sons in the service of the Great Company. He died a pensioned Risáladár some twenty years ago, a lonely man aged more than fourscore years. For all his sons, the flower of our house, had been slain, fighting the battles of the Great Company. The two eldest fell on the skirts of the hills in battle against the Gurkhas of Nipal. The two others marched with the great army to Kábul, but when they turned their faces eastward again, they were slain with thousands of their comrades in the Jagdalak Pass. Like their father, they were men of the sword, true to their salt, whether serving under Moghal Marahta or Faringi. Ai! ai! stalwart men, tall and straight and fearless, as men should be. They should have left a strong stock of boys, but God granted it not, and none of their seed survive. I alone am left, and my children’s children, of the house of Mír Chágtái Kásim Beg, the brave cavalier from Balkh!

“Now in the days when the army of the Great Company first held Ruhelkhand and Farrukhábád, my father became intimate with the Jágirdár of Amaria, and gave me in marriage to his only son. I bore him five children, but one only survived infancy, and when I was left a widow the boy was four years old. Of my husband’s family no man was left; my father and brothers, all restless spirits, impatient of peace and idle life, dwelt wherever the army of the Great Company marched. Thus, a widow of twenty years, I was left to my own resources, to rear my son and administer his estates. Sixty years have gone by and never for a single day has the burden been lifted from me.

“For, alas! my son, like his father, was a weakly youth, and died of a wasting disease two years after his marriage, leaving one only child, a boy. His widow was a helpless fool. I was mistaken in the reading of her wits when I chose her for his wife, or she lost them after bearing a child and losing her husband.

“Thus, at the age of forty, I began anew to rear a master for the house and estates. He was a sweet youth, amiable and harmless, lacking physical and mental strength. When the time came, I found a strong mate for him in a Turk family at Faizábád, and I hoped to see a great-grandson to rule after me as a man should rule. But, alas! the fate of our house fell upon my grandson within four years of his marriage; he died leaving two children, a girl and a boy.

“And thus for a third time I was left to rear the infant heir of this great estate.

“Since then some twelve years have passed, and the boy and girl are the delight of my life and the unceasing anxiety. The boy has the strong frame of his mother, and is like her in countenance, and the girl, most strange, is the image of what I was at her age: fair as a daughter of Samarkand.

“Look you, then, Master Sayyid: for sixty years I have administered this estate; village after village have I added to the tale of those left by my husband; no debt or incumbrance lies on them; our credit with the bankers is unequalled on this country-side. Through all these years I have striven to rear a strong man to inherit this fair estate and to rule it, as I have ruled for his sake. For three generations feeble son has followed feeble sire to an early grave; and now, when at length a youth of stronger pith grows towards man’s estate, my end draws near. Who shall guard him and his lands and people when I am gone? His mother? She has the strength of the buffalo and the wits of one! How shall he be preserved from the follies of unchecked youth? Soon the accursed horde of parasites and pimps and intriguers shall gather about the youthful heir; this ordered house shall become a house of disorder; the unjust stewards shall oppress the people and rob the idle master, and this fabric I have raised shall crumble and fall!

“In my household is none to take my place when I die!

“Counsel me now, O Sayyid, by the light of your new learning: from the lore of our doctors and sages comes faint help. This boy I have reared, this estate I have built up, doomed perhaps to quick ruin and waste, when bereft of my guiding hand! Ahi! ahi! Kites and vultures, jackals and dogs will gorge themselves, the young master will sink in debauchery before he reach maturity, and all my sixty years of ceaseless care be rendered vain!”

The lady’s voice sank into a moan, and she looked eagerly to the Sayyid. But he remained some time meditating before he spoke.

“I have heard and understood,” he said. “But before I venture to give counsel, I must know more. This first: looking into the future, surely you have, in your mind’s eye, seen this boy grown to manhood with some nobler purpose in his life. He was, in your dreams at least, destined for some great office, not merely to enjoy the results of your long labour and expend the piled up wealth in the ostentation of a wealthy lord---in great retinues and lavish feasting, in almsgiving without stint to priests and beggars.”

But she interrupted eagerly: “I hold, sir, that the chief of a great estate shall expend his income in a generous spirit, not hoard it. He shall surround himself with the fine things of life. His clothing shall be costly, and the jewels and garments of his women the richest and most choice in the land. His servants shall be clad in handsome livery; his equipages shall be of the best; his elephants, horses and carriages such as befit the stables of a prince. But over all expenditure he shall maintain a minute check, that for every piece of gold paid out full value be received, and nothing be purchased but what is needed.”

“But, lady, you would have the magnificence of his train a means to some end?” put in the Sayyid.

“Assuredly,” she answered. “People are impressed by these outward signs of wealth; they are symbols of a power behind them: they delight the throng, and are an unfailing source of pleasure to the women of the household.”

“True,” said the Sayyid. “But tell me this: how would you have your successor regard them?”

“Ah, I have thought of that,” she answered quickly. “He shall indeed recognize that these rich appointments yield a fair pleasure to the sense of beauty and fitness and embellish life; but in his heart he shall regard them, and all his wealth, as a means of power, that his influence may extend even into the great world, aye, and command the respect of our Rulers themselves.”

She paused a moment, and then exclaimed passionately: “Ah, had I been a man, what might I not have achieved! I who, imprisoned in these four walls, under the veil, have compelled obedience to my will throughout our many villages! All through my long widowhood I have cherished the hope of rearing a man to extend our power beyond the barrier which holds me back.”

“May I then know,” asked the Sayyid, “what career you have dreamed for the son of your house?”

“The strong man,” she answered, “the man hungry for power and rank, if he be endowed with patience, perseverance and craft, will find his way to his end. But the precise end and the means hang on his nature, and on the occasions offered.”

“True, lady,” replied the Sayyid, “but I think your aspirations have taken some precise shape.”

“When the Great Rebellion broke over this land, had I been a man——”

“The Ráni of Jhánsi was no poor substitute for a man,” suggested the Sayyid, interrupting.

“She and all her followers perished, and the ruins of her palace stand on the bare rock to witness the rashness of the woman. I, as a woman, pondered and judged wisely. I made my people loyal to the Rulers, and my reward came: three rich villages forfeited by the rebel Nawáb——”

“But,” again pressed the Sayyid, “you do not answer my question: in what special career would you have him pre-eminent? This in imagination at least you have determined?”

“Ah, sir,” she replied, “these are perhaps but the idle fancies of a fond old woman; but they are at least attempts to give some definite shape to the heart’s desire that the son of her forefathers should reach the summit of power. Yes, I confess: I have even seen him bearing the spoils of a province to the Royal city, acclaimed by the people as a conqueror, and honoured by his king; then himself chief minister, ruling with rigour and justice and wisdom. But,” and here she lowered her voice, “more often, I have seen him in my fancy the centre of a great federation of the nobles of Hindustán, their acknowledged leader. You smile? But know that the attainable, here and now, cannot satisfy my ambition. I desire the highest, but know not what the boy may be fitted to achieve.”

“Nor how he shall be best prepared to attain to that eminence which is within the range of possibility?” added the Sayyid.

The lady shook her head. He continued:---

“Vague aspirations and fancies, and no plans to prepare the youth for such office as may be within his reach. Let me then bend your mind to the hard facts of everyday life, beyond which you have soared. Tell me now, lady, who now rules this great estate?”

“Who!” she exclaimed. “Who but I? Has not the poet Sadi written, ‘Thou shalt rule thy realm or yield thy throne’?”

“Aye, with the grim sequel,” added the Sayyid, “‘Who neither rules nor yields shall be cast down.’ Then, lady, when your guiding hand is withdrawn, whose shall replace it?”

“His; the boy’s; none other’s.”

“Is then the management of a great estate an easy task?”

“An easy task!” she exclaimed scornfully. “Nay, a ceaseless care. Trusty agents, hard to find; and none trusty to the ignorant and careless master.”

“Thus a difficult task,” said the Sayyid. “To draw from the land the dues of the lord with a fair consideration of the rights of his people. To secure trusty agents and watch that they neither oppress the people nor forgo the rights of their lord; neither oppress the peasants nor cheat their master. Thus an office requiring much experience and knowledge, industry and clear, quick judgment, and firm hand.”

“God forbid,” she exclaimed, “that this estate, which I have nursed for two generations, should fall into the hands of an idle spendthrift!”

“Thus then, lady,” said the Sayyid, “the very first task which lies before the youth is to rule this estate with knowledge and vigilance such as yours. Tell me, then, what training and teaching is preparing him for this first duty of his life?”

“A boy of fourteen!” she exclaimed. “He learns manners and morals and piety from the Persian poets and sages and the Sacred Book, under the guidance of our learned Maulvi.”

A shade of a smile passed over the Sayyid’s face, but he answered gravely: “Yes, every boy shall learn reverence for his elders and the law, to love truth and hate a lie, to be active in body and hate sloth, to protect the weak from oppression, but to exact his own rights with the same scrupulousness as he yields the dues of others. He shall be trained to industry and regard idleness as a crime; he shall learn that knowledge of the world and its ways is the source of power, and to be ignorant is to be helpless.

“But none of these things will he learn if he live with flatterers and sycophants, with liars and the slothful and idle; for a boy will assuredly mimic the people about him and give scanty heed to precepts of books, which none of his associates obey.

“Let him spend no more time on grammar, rhetoric and the ancient laws; these are dying things of a fading past, to be left to our learned doctors and pedants, and those few who may choose them as a pastime. He shall learn to write with fluency and accuracy, to compute with readiness, to keep accounts as a merchant. Let him be taught something of the surface of this earth and its distribution among the nations; of their history, and, not least, of the constitution of the world as revealed in the science of the West.

“But to prepare him for the first business of his life, the administration of his estates---this is your task, lady, for of these matters you are the master.”

“You would make me his teacher?”

“I would choose the ablest of his folk,” replied the Sayyid. “The one with the widest knowledge of these matters and of their successful ordering; one, too, with a fine sense of justice and right, and discernment for what is fitting, and stern resolution to enforce these. Can you name any of your people who is your equal?”

The old dame shook her head, and the Sayyid continued:---

“The peasant boy runs by his father, aids him in his ploughing and sowing and reaping, in the care of his beasts; and with the air he breathes he draws in the experience accumulated by generations of tillers of the soil. When his father departs the field knows not that the master is changed.

“Do then the like of this for your boy. Place him at your side as an assistant and even counsellor in your administration. Assign to him small matters of business, watch patiently his skill in dealing with them, and increase his responsibility as his skill grows. Let him have money to spend as he wills; if he spend it well, give him more; if he waste it in follies, give him less.

“Thus only in actual work and in his own responsibility shall he learn the practical business of his life. And then, if he fail for want of ability, he fails lacking that which none can bestow on him: the potter’s ass cannot bear the burden of the camel. But if he fail, lacking fit training, the fault lies on the head of his elders, whose neglect he shall curse.”

“But my bird, my young eagle,” she exclaimed, “he shall soar a king among birds, and you would fence him within the run of the domestic fowls!”

“Not so,” answered the Sayyid. “If he be of the eagle’s brood, he shall spring from the sure foundation of his life and soar upwards the first of the fowls of the heavens.

“Surely I deem there is no better training for one who would rise to eminence than the management of a great estate. He deals with men of all ranks and classes. He deals with the Rulers of the land and all the official hierarchy beneath them down to the humble village watchman and accountant; with the noble and merchant and banker, with the horse-dealer and cattle-dealer, with all the tillers of the soil, from the sleek Brahman with his ploughmen to the lean labourer whose thread of life is barely kept from snapping by his daily handful of parched grain. He must know each and all, their ways and their shifts and their cunning, and not less what each keeps close to his heart as holy; and this he learns to respect.

“Dame, dame, even you do not realize what a harvest of varied experience is to be gathered!---what a range of accurate knowledge is needed for successful management, what discernment of men and their worth, what tact and resolution in dealing with them; what keenness of wit and clear judgment is demanded for holding the scale of justice fairly between the lord and the tenant!

“And if in this great task he be successful, his lands and his people thereon shall flourish, and his reputation and power shall increase. His counsel shall be sought by the Rulers, and he shall speak with weight and be heard with respect.

“Then, who knows? may be realized your dream. If he be one of the eagle brood, his pinions will be strong to soar aloft. Who knows? When the last of our Faringi Rulers has departed, and tumult rages through our land, the contest of State against State, of race against race, then one shall come, the centre of a federation of our nobles, to restore order, uphold justice and open a new age in this long harassed land.”

“Aye, if the man be only after my own heart!” exclaimed the lady.

“Thou shalt set him on the way, dame,” said the Sayyid. “Thou shalt give him the instruments and the training: but the faculties to use them are inborn, not to be engrafted by any teacher, however skilled.

“But mark this well, dame,” continued the Sayyid. “All faculties lie dormant until they are aroused by use: they gather strength by exercise and wither away lacking it. And herein lies the danger to the scion of a great house. He is beset by those who will seek to relieve him of every irksome task; and the women of his household, the first to entice him away from all strenuous work.

“Unless he be firm in character and hold fast by habits of industry, he will sink into the slough of idle pursuits and sensuality, the slough in which myriads before him have been engulfed.

“Let him then look with suspicion and disfavour on all those who seek to relieve him of trouble; they are his deadly enemies. Let him cherish those who press upon him the performance of his severe daily task.

“He shall sternly exact much from his servants, but more from himself. He shall be a master whom men shall be proud to serve; whom many shall regard with awe; whom a few shall love, but these even to the sacrifice of themselves.

“And you, dame, I think you alone in this great household can set before him this high standard of life. Let it now be your prime task.”

“I alone!” she exclaimed. “I who have measured eighty years of active life!”

“What then have you done for him hitherto---for the boy you would train to be a master of men?” asked the Sayyid harshly.

“Done!” she cried bitterly. “He has sat with his tutor and played. He reads the Holy Kurán and rides a horse!”

“The futile course of a people blind to the needs of the day,” replied the Sayyid.

“My remaining days can be few only,” said the lady. “Who shall take my place beside him when I am gone?”

“He is hard to find,” answered the Sayyid. “The rare man with the knowledge and faculties needed will seek things for himself, and never devote himself to the nursing of a boy! But there is one way. You have a daughter. Let her marry the man after your heart, if you can find him! Then let him share the estate.”

“Then he, not my boy, will be master,” she answered.

“Ah, you would train your boy to be a wrestler, but withhold him from the contest lest he be defeated! But I say, unless he meets and overcomes rivals he shall never achieve pre-eminence.”

“If he oust my boy from his rightful seat!” exclaimed the lady.

“In the struggle for the throne between the sons of King Sháhjáhan, the strongest emerged as conqueror, the great Aurangzeb. If your boy is unfit, let him yield his place to the other as head of the house. You have to take measures to secure a worthy successor to yourself, and one who may bring to pass the great things of which you have dreamed. The first chance for your boy; the second for the husband of his sister.”

“You give me stern counsel, and hard to follow!” exclaimed the lady.

“Dame,” replied the Sayyid, “I give the counsel you demanded: to raise up a head of this house fit to succeed you, and to be the first among men.

“But I can say no more! Let the boy himself come before me. I would speak to him alone.”

Chapter XLVII

The Young Nobleman

At the call of the lady, her great-grandson came before them, a strong boy of fourteen with the first down upon his cheeks.

“Irfán Ali,” she said, taking his hand, “this gentleman is the Sayyid Ali Husain, a wise counsellor, who desires to speak with thee. Listen to his words and give answer without reserve to all his questions. Lead him to the terrace, where you can speak together at ease uninterrupted.”

The boy bowed respectfully, raising his hands to his forehead, and in silence led the visitor by the staircase to the terraced roof. Here under a little arcade open to the morning sun was spread a mattress covered with white cloth, and on it two cushions of dark brocade. In the niches were some flowers in pots and vases of deep blue pottery; and on the mattress there stood a reading-desk with the Kurán. A lacquer tray with writing materials, some books and papers lay near it, giving to the little shelter the aspect of a student’s room.

“Will the Mír Sáhib honour me by taking a seat?” said the boy in a quiet voice, and arranged the larger cushion against the wall for his visitor. The Sayyid complied at once, and the boy stood on the edge of the mattress with bare feet.

“This surely is your study,” said the Sayyid, “and you give me the place where your tutor is wont to sit, and your seat is there?” He pointed to his right hand, to the cushion by the writing materials.

The boy bowed, and, taking his seat, looked frankly into the Sayyid’s face, waiting for him to speak. For a few moments they sat face to face in silence. In the boy’s features the Sayyid read clear traces of his Tátár ancestors---the oblique outer angle of the eyes, the grey iris and fair complexion. The contour of the head and face was square, the cheek-bones high, the nose somewhat wide and the jaw heavy. But the eyes were large, the white more than usually dominant; the mouth was small, the lips pouting, the upper curved like the strung bow. He sat in an easy posture, with his right ankle clasped in his left hand, free of a boy’s shyness, and during the conversation fixed his eyes steadfastly on the face of his visitor.

“Once as a boy,” said the Sayyid, “I ran about on this terrace, but I do not remember this little arcade.”

“It was built for me and my sister,” replied the boy. “When my tutor is away we have here a little house of our own.”

“Is your tutor away now?” asked the Sayyid.

“He has gone to his home in Rámpur,” replied the boy. “His father died---an officer in the service of the Nawáb. Now Maulvi Nazar Ali comes daily in his place.”

“I too,” said the Sayyid, “sat at the feet of the venerable Maulvi up to the age of eighteen, and learnt all he could teach me---at least all I could profitably learn.”

The boy looked surprised. “But the Maulvi has read and read again, and studied all the days of his long life; and he is old, very old---not so old as my great-grandmother, the Begam Sáhiba, who is older than any one living. And you, sir, had learnt all he could teach when only four years older than I am now. That was wonderful.”

“My son,” answered the Sayyid, “had I purposed to follow him as a learned doctor of grammar and rhetoric, of poetry and ethics, of theology and the traditions, I must have studied many more years under his guidance. But I turned aside to other branches of knowledge, which concerned me more. Shall I tell you how it happened? It was when I was a boy that my curiosity was excited. A map of the world came into my hands---a great plan showing in relative sizes all the lands and seas and countries of this globe on which we dwell. I pondered much over it, examining the distribution of land and sea, and read the names of great countries of which I had never heard, and they covered wide spaces beside which all this Land of Hind was shown as a little plot. And I learnt that these countries were held by myriads of people, and possessed mighty cities without number. Then I thought how small a part of the whole great world is that on which our people dwell! Surely it is fit that I should learn something of these countries and their people; these are creatures of God, and what God has seen fit to create is fit for man to know. As I grew up this first impression was never erased, so that when I had completed the course of a student under our Maulvi, I bethought me the time had come to learn of other nations and their ways and science. I would return hereafter to the lore of Islám. The new knowledge would take its proper place beside the old, each throwing light upon the other, for all are manifestations of the Divine Being in this world of ours under the sun, and there must be one great harmony between the fragments of one great whole.

“Of our people, their history and lore, I had learnt much; but of the great nations by which they were surrounded and hemmed in, nothing. I was eager to know how they had risen to rank and power, to dominate the once great people of Islám. So I learnt to read their books and speak their tongues, and visited their cities and conversed with their learned men and merchants and soldiers and statesmen. And amidst all these weighty matters I found no leisure to return to the teaching of our venerable Maulvi.”

The boy reflected a while when the Sayyid ceased speaking, and then asked doubtfully, “But now, sir, that you have at length returned after such long travels in pursuit of knowledge, will you not complete those studies under our Maulvi which you deferred?”

The Sayyid smiled slightly as he replied: “Had I intended to become a professor of Arabic and Persian lore like our venerable friend: but I come now a teacher of the new knowledge of the West, of those new truths which it behoves our people to understand, if they would regain their position among the nations of the world.”

Then the boy again reflected before he asked: “Then you esteem the new knowledge of more importance than the old.”

The Sayyid answered enigmatically: “The clothing of the body consists of many garments, from the turban that binds the head to the shoes that guard the feet over rough ground. If the Maulvi provides the turban, I at least would furnish the shoes to give a firm footing over the rough ways of life, and enable the wearer of the turban to pass beyond the narrow circle which he can tread with bare feet.”

The boy paused as before and then asked: “Will you show me this great map of the world of which you spoke?”

“You have never seen it?”

The boy shook his head.

“Strange!” murmured the Sayyid. “Well, come to my lodgings at the Khán Sáhib’s mansion. I will show you marked on the map the track of my travels.”

“And will you tell me of your travels and all you saw?”

“Much I could tell you.”

“Did you see wonders such as Sindibad saw?”


“Sindibad of the Sea,” answered the boy. “Here it is written the history of his travels.” He took a volume which lay beneath the reading-desk and opened it eagerly. It was an Urdu translation of the Arabian Nights from the popular English version. “Look, here he tells of the rukh, a bird so vast in size that flying above it hides the sun like a cloud. Her eggs are as big as the dome of the Great Mosque. When Sindibad bound himself to her leg, she flew away with him as a kite might fly with a midge.”

The Sayyid smiled, and turned over the leaves of the well-thumbed volume. “Aye, aye, here are all the wild and merry tales, set down clear and easy for all to read who list. These fancies of the old Arab story-tellers, full of merriment and grace and pretty fancies and wild imagination; of waste places haunted by jins and paris and afrits; and of the folk in the busy streets of Al Basra and Bághdad, the Abode of Peace, in the days when the great Khalífa Harún-ur-Rashid ruled.

“Aye, aye, boy, when I was a boy I read these stories. And well I recollect my disappointment when I learnt that Sindibad’s rukh and the serpents and the valley of diamonds were but fancies such as those with which I had filled dim morning and evening, the dark grove and the hollows of the ancient tombs. All lies and idle fancies!”

“All lies and idle fancies!” repeated the boy doubtfully.

“Aye, which vanish with the fancy which creates them, as the reflection in the water when the object is removed. Did you then think them true?”

“Oh no, not all,” answered the boy. “But I thought the history of Sindibad---much of it---might be true.”

“Ah, boy,” replied the Sayyid, “those marvellous things were ever reported of places remote from the dwellings of those we know, of places trod only by the traveller’s foot. But now all parts of the earth have been crossed and recrossed, aye, mapped and scheduled as our own village fields, and no country is left where the fancy may range unchecked by realities. In all places the course of things proceeds as naturally as in our own streets and fields and forests; and man under changed garb, with light or darker skin, is not more strange to us than we to him. Nay more, the starry spheres, their movements and material elements, have now been brought within the region of things known and measured, and no more shall the unbridled fancy people them with figments of the brain.

“And now the great end and aim of wise men is to banish creatures of fancy from the great world and replace them by ordered knowledge; to clear away the web of lies and empty guesses by which realities have been obscured, and display the world about us as it exists. A clear eye to see, an acute ear, a sensitive touch, a calm and penetrating brain to interpret, to discern the true and reject the false; to live consciously in a real world, whence the phantoms are banished; these are the great needs of man in his life here under the sun.

“However holy the mask under which falsehood lurks, dare to tear it aside and reveal the hallowed lie in all its nakedness. Cast it from your mind as you cast aside the idle Arab tales.”

He closed the book and threw it beneath the reading-desk.

The boy had listened with attention to the words of the Sayyid, and now asked eagerly: “But where shall I find a teacher of this new learning?”

“If you have the will to learn, not a mere whim born of passing curiosity, but a steadfast desire, press the Begam Sáhiba, and the means of learning here, or elsewhere, will be found. If you need aid in this, go to Khán Bahádur Khán, a strong man of sound sense, fearless but prudent.”

“Surely I will speak to the Khán Sáhib,” replied the boy. “But you, sir, will you not help me?”

“My abiding here is of the briefest, and many tasks I have to complete before I go. Ask the Khán Sáhib to take you out shooting.”

“I have been with him several times,” answered the boy eagerly. “Once I sat on his elephant with him when he shot a tiger in the sál forest near Dakhnabad. I saw the tiger first; he was peering through the bush. Then I touched the Khán Sáhib; he saw his eyes and the great beast fell stricken by a bullet in the neck. Then I dismounted and went quite near to the tiger as he lay gasping and gnashing his teeth, and I was not afraid.”


“Yes, and I went with him to shoot wild-fowl in the great swamp, and I shot thirteen, though my gun has only one barrel, and the Khán Sáhib’s has two.”

“Bravo, my son!” said the Sayyid heartily. “You are in good hands: the Khán Sáhib is a true nobleman.

“And now one word before I leave: hate idleness and sloth and luxury as the poisons of life; relinquish no task because it is hard and irksome: obstacles are set in your path that you may prove your strength in overcoming them, and thereby distinguish yourself among men.

“Now, lead me back to the lady, your grandam. She will inquire what has passed between us: see that you relate all with exactitude, omitting nothing, embellishing nothing. It is a nice art to report with precision.”

When the Sayyid was once more in the presence of the lady, and she inquired eagerly for his judgment on the boy, he replied:---

“You desire that this boy should grow up to be the best among the leaders of men?”

“Aye, a leader among our people,” said the lady.

“The boy hath a heavy brow, a strong solid chin, an eye that looks straight into the eyes of him with whom he converses, and the weak smile of the self-conscious plays not about his mouth. He fixes his attention upon the matter before him, eager to understand; he has intelligence and resolution to pursue. He has faculties worthy of most careful culture.

Such is my judgment from my brief interview. But what he may desire and what he may pursue, good or evil, I cannot tell. Awaken ambition in his heart. Set by him a fair rival in his sister’s husband, and above all, train him by your side to deal with real affairs. A ruler shall be trained in ruling and responsibility. None can rise to his full strength without wrestling with obstacles and rivals. Risks must be incurred, for through these only is the path to the highest. Guide him, but shield him not from the contest.

“For the rest, I have spoken already; and he will report all I have spoken to him.

“And now, lady, may I be permitted to depart?”

Then the Lady Husaini summoned her attendants, and her boy Irfán Ali brought atar and pán. The lady herself drew eight gold ashrafis from the purse at her girdle as a nazr to her visitor; and then, the ceremonies of departure being completed, the lean steward Khwája Ahsánulla conducted the Sayyid to the chariot and escorted him back to the mansion.

Chapter XLVIII

The Bookseller Again

When the young man Khálik Dád Khán returned from his prayer of the dawn, he found his master seated in the east veranda, wrapped close in a shawl, and so completely absorbed in reading a little pocket volume that his approach was unnoticed. He stood at a respectful distance, his arms crossed over his chest, waiting. When the rays of the sun, piercing the mist, lit up the still figure of the Sayyid with a roseate glow and the light was reflected from the page to the reader’s eye, then the Sayyid, looking up, bade the youth approach and speak what he had to report.

The youth bowed low, and answered, “In the market-place there is one Masíhulla, printer and bookseller, whose name is not unknown to my master.”

The Sayyid nodded assent.

“A man with an aspect to dismay a merry heart,” continued Khálik Dád. “Sour and bitter as the unripe mango.”

“Well, sharp and bitter,” said the Sayyid. “A seasoning to the plain food of life.”

“True,” replied the youth readily, “condiments in due measure; in excess, spoiling the dish.”

“Well, what of him?”

“It was last night,” continued the boy. “In the market under the bookseller’s shop I met an old acquaintance, one Zálim Singh of Tikori, and, exchanging news, I named your lordship, and, may I be pardoned, dwelt with pride on my master’s qualities. Then Zálim Singh spoke words of happy omen and went on his way. But as I stood a moment a voice from the shop called to me, and turning, I beheld the horrid man I have described. He beckoned and smiled, showing the two dog-fangs of his upper jaw. Seeing his grey beard, I drew near, and asked respectfully how I could serve him. Then he---and I report his words as spoken: ‘Thou art a well-favoured youth, with bold eyes; may a happy fate befall thee!’ ‘God grant it,’ I answered, and thanked him for his prayer. Then he: ‘Did I rightly hear when thou spakest with that young Thákur that thou art in the service of one——,’ and he named your lordship as familiar with your lineage. And when I answered, as one who esteems the rank he holds, that indeed I had that honour, he, with a sneer, replied, ‘A service surely paid more amply in honour conferred than by coins for the purse.’ To which I answered proudly, ‘My lord’s fortune is mine; as his rises, so will mine; if his should sink, mine with it.’ And he replied, ‘A worthy sentiment, well fitting the tongue of ardent youth.’ Then I, not wishing to exchange idle talk with the ill-favoured salesman, demanded what business he had with me, or mayhap with my lord. But he answered, ‘The fair face of a stalwart youth bears a charm for the eye of the aged; it cheers his heart as doth naught else. I beg you will sit here in converse a few minutes.’ So I took my seat in the shop amid the piles of books, and he inquired my name and lineage. Then he: ‘I know your uncle, the wood-merchant of the Begam Bágh, an honest man and pious, unfailing, I believe, in the five daily prayers.’ To which I replied, ‘The husband of my aunt is indeed noted among us as a nimázi, nicknamed Hasan the Prayerful.’ ‘Why do you smile?’ he asked; and I replied, ‘His wife, sister of my father, wields a sharp and bitter tongue and rules the household with a high hand; and we say among ourselves that Hasan the Prayerful hath great need of comfort in that refuge of peace, the mosque, to endure with patience the clatter within his house.’ Then the bookseller, grinning, ‘I think, boy, you are dyed and stamped to your father’s pattern---in riot and strife you would find your profit, and deem peaceful folk sheep for your shearing.’ But I answered, laughing, ‘We guard them as watchdogs for our keep. How should these men of peace live at ease, with leisure for their many prayers, unless we men of the club and the sword kept ward?’ ‘Aye, aye,’ he answered, ‘your kinsfolk the robbers provide for that---crafty allies! The guardian of the flock is the preying wolf under a livery. But come,’ he continued, ‘as to your noble master: know you not he is reputed a renegade?’ And I replied, ‘I know not what evil tongues may have averred.’ And he went on ‘Moreover, that he is cast out from his father’s house on this charge.’ Then I demanded sharply on whose report he affirmed this, and he replied, ‘I do not affirm it, but state the gossip current in the market, and ask you what truth is in it.’ But I replied, ‘Question me of my own affairs and I give answers. Of my lord’s, question him, not me.’ Then he replied, grinning, ‘You do not deny it. You know well that he neither performs the prescribed ablutions nor offers the prayers required of every Muslim.’ To which I replied, ‘My master is one of dignity, honour and learning, whom I serve to death. If you would learn what sect he follows, Suni or Shiah or Wahhábi or the Báb, question him yourself; and, giving patient hearing to his answer, you, too, shall learn---even you whose beard is white and scant, whose eyes are dim and teeth shed from their gums; even one of your learning and years---shall learn that he walks in the way of righteousness, and you shall be moved to follow whither he may lead.’ But he replied, grinning complacently at his cleverness, ‘Behold, boy, thou hast laid bare the heresy of thy master. Had he been a true Muslim, careful to follow the ordinances of the Prophet (whose name is holy), thou hadst cried out with indignation he was no renegade, nor cast forth of his father’s house; an angry denial had leapt from thy lips. Behold, simple boy, thou hast exposed thy master’s shame.’

“Then, my lord, I was inflamed with wrath at his speech, but fearing the displeasure of my master, I held my tongue in control, and rising from my seat, I replied briefly: ‘From my refusal to babble of my master’s concerns infer this only, that I am his trusty servant.’ Then he answered with a smile and a sneer: ‘Thou art indeed a trusty slave, and what is more, a fair and stalwart lad, but withal a simpleton. I beg you will visit me again: thy speech and manner are fragrant of ingenuous youth. Meantime, guard thyself from the wiles of Satan, who employs these plausible folk to decoy the foolish from the path of righteousness.’

“Then I left the man, not daring, out of respect to my lord, to unloose my tongue. And now I have told all, and if, as I fear, I acted with indiscretion, I would plead for pardon. But, if my master permits, I would fain fetch the old jackal by the ears to answer for his insolence.”

The Sayyid smiled as he replied: “Nay, the man shall come self-moved, not hauled by the ears like a sheep to the shambles. And he shall serve our purpose. And as to your words to him, they were well said. But what think you, boy? May it not be that the old man was moved to protect your youth from doctrines which he deems lead straight to hell-fire?”

“Nay; but this I know,” answered the young man brusquely. “He sought to make me a traitor to a master, than which is no surer way to hell. My lord, I was taught by my father, and hold his teaching firm, that all perfidy may be forgiven, except that of wife to husband and man to master. This I know, that lying and all the craft of a specious tongue are weapons of attack and defence, even as the sword and the club, but to direct them against the master is base as the stab of a traitor’s dagger.”

“Well said, boy,” said the Sayyid. “These are the niceties of a soldier’s honour, unknown to the chapmen of the market. Among them, ‘Let the buyer beware’ is a sound adage. But as to your anger against this man, know that the strength of honour is tested by the strain to which it is subjected. A man must pass through the ordeal to prove his manhood. He shall not shrink from temptation, but strengthen his heart to withstand it, and thus only shall he gain the glory which is the meed of the strong wrestler. I doubt not that the old rogue deems you now a sturdy youth, whose virtue it would be his pride to overcome.

“But as to Masíhulla! You will pass his shop on your way to my father’s house, whither I am now sending you. Say to him: ‘My master, Sayyid Ali Husain, sends his greetings, and begs Shekh Masíhulla will attend on him here to-night, for he would confer with him on matters of importance.’

“And now to the other business. When you have taken your morning meal go straightway to my father. Having delivered most respectful greetings, say: ‘Your son, Ali Husain, desires to confer with you on a matter which will not brook delay. It concerns the household only, and may not be communicated to a third person, however trusty. In what touches the welfare of the house, his interests and those of his father are one, however much they may differ in faith and ritual. He begs, therefore, that his father the Mír Sáhib, will summon him to his house without delay.’

“As I have spoken, so deliver my message, with strict observance of the respect due to venerable age and rank and to the father of your master.”

Chapter XLIX

An Irreverent Youth

The youth Khálik Dád Khán, having eaten his morning meal, donned his tunic of grey cloth piped with green, bound the many folds of his white turban about his head, and, with grave demeanour and deliberate steps, proceeded to the shop of Masíhulla the bookseller in the market-place. As he stopped in front of the counter, the old man came forth from the locked recess at the back, bearing books to display for sale: and his grim face relaxed into a broad smile as he recognized his visitor and acknowledged his respectful salutation.

“Welcome,” he said. “And tell me, have you heeded my counsel and recited your morning prayer?”

“I have not failed therein, Shekh Masíhulla.”

“Good youth. Fail not then at any one of the five appointed hours, and surely then you shall gain the approval of every good Muslim, though you be wild in your ways, as is the wont of hot youth.”

“Excellent,” replied Khálik Dád, with grave face. “An easy way to a fair reputation. I thank you, and will not needlessly tread the thorny path of conduct.”

“Oh, foolish youth,” returned the other, “thou shouldst know that the Prophet (whose name is blessed) sends hypocrites by a rough road to hell-fire.”

“Then,” replied the youth, grinning, “might it not be safer to leave prayer until the heart moves thereto?”

“You are over-subtle, and irreverent to boot,” returned the bookseller sharply. “Surely you have caught the trick from your master.”

“Nay, sir,” replied the youth, “if my speech lacks propriety, the fault is inborn. But, concerning my master, come but to speech with the noble gentleman I serve and you shall learn grace. For know, I reported to him all that passed between us last night, and he desires further acquaintance with you.” And he repeated his master’s message as it had been delivered to him.

Then Masíhulla answered: “The Sayyid Sáhib is gracious and he has skill to choose an agreeable messenger. Tell me, boy, how long have you served this master?”

“A few days only, measured by the course of the sun, but measured by what has befallen in those days, longer than I can readily define.”

“What!” exclaimed the bookseller, “were your days then blank before and now crowded with events beyond computation?”

“Somewhat so,” answered the youth gravely. “I divide my life into two periods, as might the wasp or the bee: the many indistinguishable days of larval life and the brief time on wing in the sunlight.”

“What? And he, this Sayyid, hath made thy wings to spread and thine eyes to open to soar in the sunlight?”

“So I would say,” answered the youth.

“And what strange events have filled these wondrous days, close-packed as sweet fruits in the camel panier of the Kábul merchant?”

“Ah, Shekhji,” answered the youth, “were I to enumerate these with due commentary, I might sit here in converse till the sun stands high at noon. But I have commissions of urgency from my master. Pray tell me, then, what answer to his invitation?”

He rose from his seat on the ledge and stood in the roadway.

“Well, well, we shall surely foregather hereafter, and then, boy, I would gladly hear this roll of wondrous things. Bear then my respectful greetings. I will attend upon the Mír Sáhib at the appointed time and place, head and eyes at his service. But as to yourself, boy; give heed to my counsel for daily prayers. Know, that though thoughts wander while you recite the sacred words, yet they are the words of God and His Prophet (whose name is holy), and, slowly perhaps but surely, they draw the heart to heavenly things, and excite at last a full comprehension of their meaning. Then shall the gracious God give heed, and allot to thee a choice seat in the heavenly mansion.”

“I thank you for your pious counsel,” replied the youth. “And I doubt not there is a magic in the sacred words, for enclosed in a secret amulet, they repulse the assaults of malign spirits, though neither wearer nor speaker interpret the text. Nay, sir, I trow there lurks a force in the text itself, apart from its comprehension.”

He bowed to the old man, and, without waiting for his reply strode away with the self-confident gait of a Pathán clubman.

Chapter L

The Prophet Ibrahim and the Gabar

Seven days had passed and still no traveller came
To the tent of Ibrahim, the Friend of God.
Then, his morning meal untouched, lest one perchance
In need of food should cross the wilderness,
He went to the oasis marge and gazing round,
Beheld upon the sandy track, alone,
A way-worn man, whose head was blanched with years,
And he hailed him in courteous wise, and bade
Him welcome in his tent to bread and salt.
 The traveller paused, but when on Ibrahim’s face
He read the characters of a kindly heart,
Then with grave acceptance he followed to the tent,
And those of the household of the Friend received
The aged wanderer as an honoured guest.
 Now when the trays of bread and meat were set
Before the company, and each in Muslim wise
Recited reverently the name of God,
The traveller alone sat silent with closed lips.
Then spake Ibrahim, “O thou of many days,
Lackest thou the piety befitting age?
Or knowest thou not that none shall break his fast
Before he calls upon the grace of God?”
 The stranger answered, “I know no laws or rites
But those prescribed to worshippers of fire.”
Then Ibrahim, whose name is blessed, shrunk
From the miscreant of the Gabar tribe,
Unfit to consort with the pure of faith,
And drave him back into the wilderness.
 And straightway out of heaven a Voice pealed forth---
thou not harbour for a single day
One whom I have fed for an hundred years?
What though he be a worshipper of fire,
Thou shall not withhold the hand of charity.
Quick recall him, and in My name. He weepeth
And throws dust upon his head, and cries to Me
Against hard usage by the Friend of God.”
 The Prophet knew the Voice, and hastened forth
To the aged wanderer of the wilderness,
And spake: “A thousand blessings on thy head!
God hath heard thy prayer: I am His messenger.
Return to my abode: take food and rest.”
 The Gabar bowed his head, confessing God.
Henceforth, no poverty oppressed his soul,
Rich in the treasure of the one True Faith.

When Khálik Dád Khán had passed the warp-walk of the weavers and drew near to the old house of the Sayyids, he saw on the platform by the gateway an old man seated alone upon a cot. His head, covered by a starched cap, leant on a pillow propped against the wall: and the rays of the sun fell full upon his face and on the open sightless eyes. The countenance was placid as in death. A feeling of pity mingled with awe was excited in the young man’s breast, and, as he approached with hesitating step, the aspect of the dead orbs exposed to the sun caused him to shudder as before the mystery of death.

“Who comes there?” demanded the Sayyid Mahmúd Ali in a feeble voice.

The young man stood at the edge of the platform and, bowing low, answered:---

“I am Khálik Dád Khán, son of Usmán Khán of Tikori, with reverent salutation to the Mír Sáhib.”

“With you be peace,” said the old man. “Your voice is familiar, the voice of a youth, but I do not recall your name.”

“Reverend master,” replied Khálik Dád, “it was I who brought a message from your son, the noble and gentle Sayyid, my master.”

“I remember well,” returned the Mír Sáhib. “I trust my son, your master, is in good health and fares well.”

“Reverend sir,” answered Khálik Dád, standing with clasped hands, “I left my master but half an hour ago. His eyes were clear, his voice was strong and silver toned, his words precise; and his aspect and motion that of one ready to cope by speech or action with whatever chance may bring.”

“Untouched then by any brooding care?” suggested the old man.

“His countenance was serene, expressing neither joy nor sorrow.”

“How occupied?” asked the old man.

“When at sunrise I came for orders, he was seated on the veranda, looking into a book.”

“What book, boy?”

“A little volume bound in red leather, which he bears about in his pocket. I know not of what it treats.”

“Neither Arabic nor Persian?”

“Surely not; nor Sanskrit. Printed in small frankish characters.”

“I would I knew what book he read.”

“Surely my master would gladly explain what is writ therein. He reads it often when alone, and murmurs foreign words.”

“Ah, do you say that?” exclaimed the old man eagerly “Aye, if he chose he would recite it all. In the days long passed, when my son lived here with me, he was a great reader and retained all he read with marvellous memory. Yes, yes, lad a firm sure memory, a quick and subtle mind.”

“Perhaps then, sir,” replied Khálik Dád, “that has endowed him with his skill in speech. His words flow from his lips in rhythm and melody; they please the ear and pierce to the heart!”

“Say you so, lad; say you so! What, his speech is sweet to hear?”

“Aye, sir,” replied the youth warmly. “Sweet as the words strung by the poet Sádi, which our old schoolmaster at Tikori would recite through the night.”

Then the old man moaned, and raised his hands to his face, murmuring: “Oh, my son, my beloved son, why have I lost thee? Surely, I affirm, boy, never were the verses of the Bostán chanted with so sweet a voice as by my little Ali! Even now I can hear it rise and fall with the rhythm.”

And the old man repeated in a low voice---

“Seven days had passed and still no traveller came
To the tent of Ibrahim, the Friend of God.”

But he broke off, for a pang shot through his heart. He, too, as Ibrahim in the fable, heard a Voice upbraiding, but it spoke through the beatings of his heart. He clasped his hands convulsively, and, after a long pause, murmured in a low tone, “Alas, that one so bounteously endowed should stray from the path of the righteous!”

“Reverend sir,” said Khálik Dád, with respect in his voice, “Sayyid Ali Husain, the Mír Sáhib, is my most honoured master, and of this I am most assured, that the way he thinks fit to tread can never be the way of evil.”

“Well said, boy, well said!” muttered the old man. Then in a clear tone he asked: “Tell me, boy, hath he then so completely gained thy respect and love?”

The youth answered proudly: “Sir, I live in his shadow. To his father I may be permitted to speak of my master with boldness. Let me tell of my first approach. I stood leaning against the counter of Niázu’s shop, the tobacco-seller, yonder in the Afghan Market over against the entrance to the Khán Sáhib’s house, when I saw coming through the throng one who seemed lost in thought---as a holy darwesh repeating a silent prayer---a tall man of spare figure with sharp features and eyes set deep under heavy brows. He stood a moment before me, and from his eyes a gleam of light fell on mine. I would have bowed low as before a presence, but he turned aside, and I saw he was one who looks on the waking world in sleep. Then I watched him cross the road and enter the archway to the Khán Sáhib’s house. There the old Jamadár bowed low and conducted him into the courtyard. But I stood where he had left me, held fast by the vision of the face turned to me but for an instant, and thought, ‘This man I will serve, for he is a true master.’ So I waited, watching for him to come forth. After a long time he came; but now he walked erect with firm step and the alert features of a hawk, noting all things. And I stood to attention, and his eyes fell on me, and he measured me in silence from head to foot, and I bowed low, and said, ‘My lord, I seek service.’ Then he looked closely on my face, and I think read in my heart the characters of one who serves his chosen master to the utmost end of strength. Thereupon he bade me serve him, and confided to me that message which I delivered here, and I bore back the answer from this house---upon which be peace!”

The old man’s head sank upon his breast, and he was silent for awhile. Then, raising it, he again repeated lines from the Persian fable, but now in full voice:---

“But straightway out of heaven a Voice pealed forth---
‘Canst thou not harbour for a single day
One whom I have fed for an hundred years?
What though he be a worshipper of fire,
Thou shall not withhold the hand of charity.’”

“Sir,” said the youth. “May I be pardoned? I cannot follow the Persian words. I pray you speak our common tongue.”

“Doth the Lord of the World rebuke me through the tongue of a boy?” muttered the old man, his head again sinking over his breast.

“Ah, reverend sir,” exclaimed the youth, “if I have offended may I be pardoned? We Patháns of Tikori are ignorant and unlearned folk, little skilled in address.”

“Nay, boy, no offence,” answered the old man. “I but mutter words as old men will.”

“Then, sir, may I now deliver a message I bear from my master?”

The old man bade him speak quickly, and the boy repeated the message as he had received it, saying: “Your son Ali Husain desires to confer with you on a matter which will not brook delay. It concerns the household, and may not be communicated to any third person, however trusty. In what touches the welfare of the house his interests and those of his father are one, however much they may differ in faith and ritual. He begs therefore that his father, the Mír Sáhib, will summon him to his house without delay.

“Thus spoke your son, in the words I deliver.”

The old Sayyid sat long in silence motionless, his face again turned with open eyelids to the sun. The youth shuddered, for it seemed the old man had sunk into a coma as of death. At length he ventured to arouse him by touching his hand, and spoke:---

“I hope, sir, the purport of my message was clear. May I hear the answer I am to bear back?”

The full meaning of his son’s words had now dawned upon the old man’s mind, and he answered eagerly: “Yes, boy, yes. Tell thy master, tell my son---say, the welfare of the house links our hearts to beat together for one common end. I pray you, beseech him to come when he wills, but soon. I sit here day and night to await his coming.”

But while he was speaking the wicket was opened by a little withered hand; a veiled head was thrust forth, and the voice of Sitára Begam fell sharp upon their ears:---

“To whom sends the master greetings?”

“I will explain,” replied her husband hastily. “Begone, boy, and quickly deliver my answer.”

“Wait,” said the lady in a peremptory tone.

But the youth had turned to leave, and said promptly, “I have my answer and must deliver it swiftly.” And he bowed and left with nimble feet, heedless of the lady’s call.

“Come in, old man,” she said in a severe tone. “What message and answer is this? Hath our unhappy son repented and returned to the way of the Prophet (whose name is blessed)?”

“Lead me in,” he answered, “and thou shalt hear.”

Chapter LI

The Old Sayyid and His Wife

Now when the old Sayyid was once more seated on his pillowed dais in the sunny corner of the courtyard, he bade his wife rub his feet and ankles, cold and numb from agitation. The firm pressure of her skilful hands restored circulation and warmth; he was comforted and spake thus:---

“Mother of my sons, I sat without, meditating; and there arose before me, as a vision, one balmy day in Bhádon, when the leaves rustled gently and the doves murmured among them, and beside me on this spot was crouched our little Ali, he too murmuring from ‘The Abode of Fragrance’ of Shekh Sádi Shirázi, murmuring very softly; and the sounds all blended into one sweet whole. Then I remembered how I closed my eyes and listened, and the voice of our little son floated on the music of the leaves and buds, as the river-fowl on the bosom of the stream. And I sat motionless, lost in the reverie, until I was aroused by a footfall light and brisk as the step of youth, and I was saluted by a voice I knew as that of the boy who brought the message from our son and bore back a stern reply. Then I encouraged him to speak of his master, our son, and I perceived over all his words the purple hue of reverence to an honoured teacher, aye, even of a disciple to a saint. Wife, my heart leapt with gladness to hear him speak, leapt until it ached. And then the voice of our little son sounded again down the long years, as, crouched by my side on that day in Bhádon, he recited, and, hardly conscious, I repeated aloud---

Seven days had passed and still no traveller came
To the tent of Ibrahim, the Friend of God.

“Then a pang like the stab of a knife pierced my heart, for I knew these were the opening lines of the Parable of Hazrat Ibrahim Khalílulla and the Gabar. And it seemed that a rebuke from God had spoken through the voice of youth:---

Then straightway out of heaven a Voice pealed forth:

Then straightway out of heaven a Voice pealed forth---
‘Canst thou not harbour for a single day
One whom I have fed for an hundred years?
What though he be a worshipper of fire,
Thou shall not withhold the hand of charity.
Quick recall him, and in My name. He weepeth
And throws dust upon his head, and cries to Me
Against hard usage by the Friend of God!’”

The old man paused, then grasping his wife’s hand he exclaimed: “Wife, what answer should I give to the rebuke of my Creator? Surely all unwitting that youth delivered a Divine message? But listen! I trembled in every joint, my senses closed to the world, and I sank in a trance. Then a voice spake in my heart: ‘Recall thy erring son. He shall dwell with those who tread the path of righteousness, and like the Gabar harboured in the tent of the Friend of God, he too shall escape from the web of delusion woven by Satan and be restored to the people of Islám.’ From my trance I was aroused by the boy, who bore a message from his master, our son, that he begged permission to come here to discuss with us a matter of grave import to our house. And thus was the door opened for his return as by the hand of destiny. Then I bade the boy summon his master to come hither quickly.”

The grey Sádáni was silent, and saw the twitching of the old man’s mouth and eyelids, but the sightless eyes were dry. She pressed his hand and spake: “Husband, as thou hast said, so shall it be. But hereafter it shall be between us as may be. I can promise nothing.”

Chapter LII

The Sister Pleads

Now while the old Sayyid sat thus in conference with his wife, the old maid, Nasíba Bánu, was waiting behind the screen with the folio volume of Firdausi’s Sháh Náma in her hand, for it was the hour of her daily task to read to her father. But she heard him speaking with a decision and a clear articulation long strange to him. She listened while he related his vision of the child, and his words recalled the past before her so vividly that she too heard the earnest little voice repeating the parable. But the purport of her mother’s answer was inaudible.

Of her secret interview with her brother in the weaver’s hut she had said nothing: in awe of her mother she deferred speaking until a favourable opportunity occurred. But she had pondered long upon all his words, on the rhythmical tones of his voice, on the rapt expression of his features and wide gaze of his eyes, and, as she meditated in solitude, the impression grew stronger that her brother spoke as one inspired.

And now she felt the time had come, and on the impulse of the moment she approached her parents with the book under her arm.

“Mother,” she said, speaking quickly; her heart was palpitating as before a dread ordeal. “Before I begin to read, may I tell you of something very strange, over which I have been thinking much?”

Then her mother nodded assent, and Nasíba Bánu took her usual seat in front of the old couple, laying the unopened book on her lap.

“In the name of God and His Prophet, whose name is blessed,” she murmured. “Mother, I went to old Nasíban’s house, but when I returned I was so shaken by what I had seen and heard that I could not speak. And I waited awhile that a bright haze might dissolve and things uncertain show their real shapes.”

“Speak then, daughter,” said her mother. “We are here to listen and aid.”

“It is of my brother, of Ali Husain---who came and then was lost once more.”

“Ahi, ahi!” murmured the old man. “Lost, lost!”

“Nay, nay, I pray to God not lost,” exclaimed his daughter, and gathering courage she went on eagerly: “He came to me at Núru’s house. Let me tell you all I saw and all he spoke. I was in the middle of the yard and I saw him enter, his face drawn in sorrow, his eyes wet with tears. He fell upon my neck and wept, but I drew back and spoke harshly. But while I spoke he fastened his eyes on me, and I saw his countenance, cleared of the mist of sorrow, begin to glow with light, as the face of the Angel Gabriel, and while I rebuked him I was unable to sustain his gaze. He led me by the hand to the couch and sat at my feet. ‘My sister,’ he said, ‘I am sorely grieved at the affliction I have brought upon our parents. But this I know, that understanding what I am, and the task I have to perform, they shall find consolation in a new hope; that from the Sayyids of Ronáhi a leader of our people shall arise.

“‘Listen! Thou knowest that the eldest son of our mother sought to achieve a great end in the old way: he died the death of a martyr, lost among the nameless throng who perished in a wild attempt to restore life to a body from which the spirit had fled for ever. Aye, had one such as the Prophet Muhammad (whose name is blessed) entered on so vain a task and striven to give new life to the crumbling idols of the Kuraish, he too had passed away unknown into an unknown grave. But his heart was inspired with the new faith of the age; he dared to testify before his own people and before all the tribes of Arabia, and in the end his strong faith prevailed.

“‘And now that thirteen centuries have passed since the Flight, in the slow revolutions of the years, a new age has again dawned upon the world, even as in the past a new age was heralded by each of the nine great prophets, by Adam and Seth and Enoch, by Noah and Abraham and Moses, and last by David and Jesus and Muhammad.

“‘And it is I who come proclaiming this new age; I, sprun from the stock of Muhammad Mustafa, will teach our people the new Way, and if they heed my teaching I will restore them to their high place among the nations of the world.’”

“Tobáh! tobáh!” groaned her mother, and closed her ears with her hands to shut out words of evil omen.

“Hear me, mother, hear me!” exclaimed her daughter. “My brother spoke no random words of empty vaunt. Profound conviction rang clear in his voice and shone forth from his eyes. Is he not then one to whom might be revealed the new light? Who nobler than he? Who more righteous? Who through long years hath more zealously studied the law and words of the Prophet? As I heard him speak I heard a voice filled with the inspiration of truth and full of divine harmony, as the words of him whom we have followed, the ninth of the great prophets of God!

“Mother, mother, we will hear him, for we know, as none can know so well, that from the lips of our beloved Ali Husain nothing evil can come forth. Mother, we will hear him and ponder on his words, and if indeed they be of God they shall prevail; if not, then shall they vanish utterly as the passing wind, and he too shall go down as one misled by the wiles of Satan.

“Remember, mother, those of the Prophet’s household, those who knew him best, they were the first to put trust in him---his wife Khadija and Ali, her son; his uncle Hamza and his father-in-law, Abu Bakr. And when the pagan tribes of Mecca turned against him, as against one blaspheming, they of his household preserved him---they, the divinely appointed instruments to guard the messenger of the Lord.

“And, mother, remember this: God chose for his ninth messenger the camel-driver of Mecca, and none had foreseen the choice. And now, I deem that from among the Sayyids of Ronáhi one is called to proclaim the new Way---he comes not with a mighty host and the thunder of cannon, but without noise and heralding, as came Muhammad the Chosen, a lone voice of persuasion, speaking from one obscure house.”

While the Lady Nasíba spoke her blind father sat motionless, his hands clasped on his lap, his head sunk on his bosom. Now he raised his head, and on his face was an expression of resolution.

“Hush, wife,” he said, laying his hand upon her shoulder. “Shall the master of the house be silent when such words are spoken within his walls?” Then, turning towards his daughter, he addressed her in a stern voice, with measured words: “Daughter, thy affection for thy brother and nursling hath surely obscured thy mind. Thou knowest not the full force of the words thou speakest and the plea thou wouldst urge. Thou knowest that for an apostate from the Faith the penalty is death.”

But she answered fearlessly: “What my brother denies and what he maintains I know not, but of this I have no doubt, that all he teaches springs from a pure heart. He is learned in the Kurán and the Traditions, his judgment is clear and piercing, his zeal for truth most certain. I would accept his interpretation of the law and the limits of the Prophet’s mission as of no less value than that of our venerable Maulvi himself.”

“Child,” exclaimed her father, “dost thou not know that he rejects the words of the Prophet of God (whose name is blessed)?”

“Father, I have said,” she answered. “I fear not to walk under my brother’s guidance. We will hear his doctrine of the Divine messenger and his interpretation of his message.”

“Child,” returned the old man, “the line of the prophets was closed by Muhammad, whose name is holy.”

“So we have been taught,” she answered, “that he, Muhammad the Holy, was the seal of the prophets.”


“But,” she continued firmly, “I know not why I should accept any interpretation before that of my brother. And this I know well, learnt from my father: that the men of the Prophet’s own tribe rejected his teaching with anger, and but for the protection of the patriarch of his tribe he had perished at their hands. But his protector, Abu Tálib, was not among those who followed his teaching. Father, will you do less for your son than Abu Tálib did for his nephew, Muhammad the Holy?”

“Daughter,” returned the old man, “what was permitted to Abu Tálib before the revelation is not permitted to us to whom it has been delivered.”

“Father,” she answered, “it has been said that fraud has foisted tricks of the devil even into the holy text. My brother shall sort true from false with skill no less than those before him.”

The little old maid was transformed into a fearless advocate; her voice and gesture and countenance, as she spoke, closely resembled those of her brother, and to the mother it seemed she was inspired by the very spirit of her son.

“Enough, daughter,” she interposed, gently but with decision. “Believe me all these specious pleas are but tests of the sincerity and zeal of those who tread the straight path.”

“Let it be so then, mother,” replied her daughter eagerly. “Only those who listen can be tested as gold by the touchstone. Those who close their ears and the mouth of the new teacher have but feeble trust in their own zeal and sincerity.”

“Who has taught thee these subtleties, child?” demanded the old man, raising his head again.

“Love of my brother,” she answered. “From him no evil thing can spring.”

“Enough, child,” again interposed her mother. “Know that we have summoned thy brother to confer on matters affecting our household. It shall be hereafter as seems fit.”

Then the little Lady Nasíba bowed her head and was silent; and the reading of the Sháh Nama was deferred, for her father desired now to meditate alone.

Chapter LIII

The Sayyids Reunited

Now when the Sayyid learnt from Khálik Dád all that passed between him and his father, he resolved to go to his house without delay.

The sun had just passed the meridian when he emerged from the dark lane on to the open ground between the town and the Sayyids’ Quarter. He stood for a moment looking at the old house: its crumbling copings, cracked walls, blocked water-channels and yielding buttresses. To the right lay the ruins of the Sayyids’ Mosque, and the broken platform of the great well, partly repaired by the poor weavers. The foundations of the house were sapped and its superstructure decayed. It stood, with those who dwelt within, an emblem of Islám. But, as the old stock of the Sayyids would be revived by infusion of new blood, so was the people of Islám destined to recover its vigour through the new faith in the great future of man on the conquered earth!

The Sayyid struck the door with his staff and called: “Ho, within! I, Ali Husain, await on the threshold.”

Then the chain rattled, the little wicket opened, and his sister, Nasíba Bánu, answered: “Enter, brother! May the blessing of God and His Prophet alight on thy head!”

“Hast thou spoken as I bade thee?” he asked.

“I spake as my heart moved me,” she answered. “They await thy coming anxiously.”

“I must speak with them alone,” be said. “Go with the rest into the inner rooms out of earshot, and let no visitor intrude upon us.”

The little old maid took her brother’s hand, bowed over it, and went forward to do his bidding.

He followed after an interval, and crossed the yard to the padded dais, where his father was seated facing the entrance, with his wife on his right. The old man raised his sightless eyes towards his son; but the mother kept her head bent over her needlework, her hands trembling. Then the Sayyid, having bowed low, spoke:---

“May my coming bring new fortune to our ancient house! Father, mother, I pray you, think of me now only as the son of the house seeking the best for its present welfare; forget for awhile that in matters of national policy our ways lead us apart. I come here now in love and respect, to aid all within this old home of my own folk.”

He bowed again low before them, and awaited his father’s words. Then the old man answered slowly:---

“So let it be, my son. And surely no word to shock our ears will be spoken by my son within his father’s house.”

“Father, what you hold sacred is sacred to me within your dwelling.”

Then his father answered: “This then is the abode of peace, and no controversies from the world without shall enter. The bond is between parent and child, linked to maintain the welfare of the house.”

The Sayyid looked towards his mother, who now, raising her head, spoke in a low voice: “The master’s words are mine. Linked together we may yet be strong.” She drew him to a seat beside her and said: “Let there now be peace and love between us.”

Then the old man embraced his son, and passed his hand over the features, feeling sensitively for its expression.

“Thy voice I know,” he said in a low tone, “and it is very sweet in my ears.”

The welling up of suppressed emotion checked speech. Then the Sayyid broke silence to speak of personal matters, and gradually the embarrassment vanished and intimacy was in some measure restored.

His mother dwelt on the discomfort in their home from the bickering of three querulous women, her own unwedded daughter and the wife and widow of her two sons. Then the Sayyid replied, speaking with a purpose:---

“Mother, the women are ill at ease because their lives have been maimed. Three things chiefly are needed to the comfort of a woman, and if one of these be wanting, she frets, even though she know not why. She craves for the respect and love of a husband, for a child of her own to tend, and for a household under her rule. If she possess these, then, though her lot be hard, she shall never feel that her life is vain. But if she lack these, luxury shall bring no contentment.

“The neglected wife sinks low in her own esteem, conscious of her failure to bind the man with the tender links of love.

“And the childless woman is vexed by the cravings for motherhood, which will not be stilled.

“But though she be blessed with a loving husband and fair children, yet if she dwell in the house of another, she chafes, balked of her right to rule. Better to dwell in a hovel as mistress than in a palace where another woman rules.

“Consider then the bitter lot of these poor women of our household. An abandoned and childless wife; a widow dependent for her daily bread, living vexed lest her daughter be doomed to wither in maidenhood; my sister, debarred by our poverty from wifehood and motherhood and a house of her own!

“Ah, mother, what hidden misery have these women suffered, maimed in their natural affections! How should they not be fretful!”

“My son,” replied his mother, “this is true; but their inflictions are as the visitations of the storm and drought, least injurious when borne with patience.”

“Aye, some honey may be found in the most bitter cup of affliction by a proud consciousness of a steadfast heart. But now I would speak of the one child of our house, and how she may be preserved from the hard fate of these poor women, the child you have well named Zeb-un-nisa, the one bright creature springing up in this crumbling house amidst these sad and withered women and the clamour of their querulous tongues. Shall she too be doomed like my sister to a wasted life? Tell me, mother, what have you done to find the bridegroom?”

“Alas,” replied his mother, “we have no means to furnish forth the marriage-feast and to bestow a dowry; who of our race will receive her as a beggar’s brat, even though our sense of honour were sacrificed?”

“But what have you done for the child?” he demanded again.

“Done!” repeated his mother irritably. “What could we do? Our scanty means suffice to keep the spectre of starvation from the door. The freehold estate was confiscated by the State and all these long years no help has come from you.”

“Your reproach is just,” he answered. “I have been a pilgrim absorbed from day to day in pursuit of one end, all else forgotten as by one in a trance. But let that pass. I am here now to help and counsel. I would see provision made for this girl, as for mine own daughter. Some influence I have and some little means, and I would employ them in finding a bridegroom for the maid.”

“The boy speaks well,” said the old man eagerly, now first intervening. “Sixty years have passed since these walls echoed to the minstrels’ strains and the wedding chants and this dwelling was savoury with the marriage-feast. Aye, aye, I could die cheerfully if I saw the last maiden of our old stock borne away by a bridegroom worthy of her lineage. You say well, my son, and my hope must be in you.”

“Hast thou any fit mate for the girl in thy mind?” asked his mother.

But he judged it not yet expedient to reveal his project, and shortly after departed, satisfied that he had prepared the way.

Chapter LIV

The Publisher

Now when it became known throughout the town that Sayyid Ali Husain was an honoured guest in the mansion of the Khán Sáhib; that he had been long closeted in private conference with the Tahsíldár, whose son, the young Shaukat Ali, attended him as a disciple on a master; and further, that the noble and powerful Moghal lady had received him as a visitor of distinction;---it became patent to all interested that the son of old Mahmúd Ali, returned after so many years, was a man of importance and dignity, and that to visit him conferred a certain distinction.

Thus Masíhulla the bookseller was flattered by the summons to attend on the Sayyid, and came at the appointed hour, full of curiosity, eager too for an opportunity of rebuking heretical opinions. He would address the Sayyid with the courtesy due to his rank, but chastise the presumption which sought to fashion anew the stable ways of an ancient people.

When the salutations were disposed of and he had settled down in the seat to the right hand of the Sayyid, he himself opened the conversation, saying: “Doubtless, sir, your servant has reported what passed between him and me, when he delivered his message.”

The Sayyid answered with a gentle smile: “I was indeed pleased that one with your wide knowledge of books and men should be interested in my doctrines. But was not your usual acumen at fault when you inquired touching these grave matters of a youth, neither by training nor age competent to expound them?” The bookseller had no reply ready to this unexpected rebuke, and the Sayyid continued:---

“But let that pass, Masíhulla. It is true I have a message to deliver to our people, calling on them to prepare to regain that eminence among nations which once was theirs.”

Masíhulla shrank back on his chair, and asked in a low voice: “You bring them incitements to rebellion?”

The Sayyid smiled. “Not so, Masíhulla! I am a loyal subject of our Rulers. I have indeed entered on a new Path and would have our people follow me. But the way is not for the aged, nor for those who cover their indolence with the pre-text of patience of spirit and submission to the will of God.”

Then the bookseller interrupted sharply: “You then teach a doctrine to be rejected by men of age and knowledge and experience, and accepted by ignorance and the presumption of youth. Surely the doctrine is self-condemned.”

“Not so,” replied the Sayyid. “The challenge is to contest; the victor shall be acclaimed leader by the new generation now growing to manhood. Our youth shall be aroused from the apathy in which their fathers have lived, to achieve new things, new knowledge, new powers, through strenuous labour.

“I call upon the masters of the ancient lore to defend it from the attacks of those who, with me, follow the new learning. And when the storm and stress has passed, maybe the old Faith shall stand forth with enhanced glory; or perhaps, Masíhulla, when the storm subsides, the old light will be found quenched for ever, and the new light will shine to guide mankind to happier days of new conquests over the world in which we dwell. Do you understand?”

The old bookseller shook his head. “Not what you seek, nor my concern therein.”

“I would arouse you,” replied the Sayyid, “and all who think with you, out of your torpor, to stand forth as champions of the old doctrine. You shall feel that the stronghold of your creed and rites and customs is assaulted, and unless you are capable in defence, it shall fall.”

“What!” exclaimed his visitor. “You would goad Islám to exertion like a lazy bullock in the well-run!”

“The comparison is yours,” replied the Sayyid. “I would incite the leaders of the old ways to vindicate their right to leadership or retire before the leaders of the new.”

“Death is the penalty of apostasy,” said Masíhulla.

“Ah, sir,” replied the Sayyid, “the sword of the executioner is no longer obedient to the Maulvi’s word. He must now defend his faith by the zeal for his faith and the strong grounds on which he sets its base. Under our Rulers, speech is free to all equally: each is at liberty to teach the creed of his choice and impeach the creeds he holds to be false and noxious. Never, I deem, in the long history of the world, has there been such complete freedom of prophesying as we possess. Now at last the hand of the bigot and pious tyrant has been disarmed. Reason and sentiment, under the protection of the law, appeal to reason and sentiment, unhindered before the world.

“Creeds, my friend, in this Land of Hind, are no longer propagated and defended by the warrior excited to enthusiasm by a proclaimed mandate from God. Each creed must stand by its own intrinsic merits, by the earnest faith of the believers, by their force of persuasion and reason, by their power to kindle that fire of enthusiasm which spreads as doth the forest fire.

“Such is the boon we enjoy in these days, the new dispensation of free thought and free speech.

“What say you to this, Masíhulla?”

“This much,” he answered. “Our Rulers are strong to enforce their law and exact the penalty.”

“True,” continued the Sayyid. “Then it is for you, for all who stand forth as leaders of Islám, to defend their Faith under the conditions of this new dispensation. And to do this you must understand the real nature of the attack to be met. Then, I say, summon all your learning and subtlety and eloquence to meet it and vindicate the claims of Islám. If you lie in languor and torpor, as now, without spirit to enter the new lists, then judgment shall go against Islám by default, and it shall cumber the earth as a dead thing, until a new generation sweep it completely away.

“What say you, Masíhulla?”

“This much,” he answered. “That you, sir, are one endowed with the flowing speech of an advocate, skilled even to make the best of a poor case.”

“But I doubt not, Masíhulla,” continued the Sayyid, “you have defenders of the Faith, learned and dexterous, who are able and eager to expose the errors of a rash man, however carefully he swathe them in specious sophisms.”

“Aye, sir,” replied the bookseller, “such there are. And it were a choice spectacle to behold the stripping of false prophet and his exposure in all his ugly naked falsehood to the ridicule of Believers! And then the mocking laugh of Iblis shall be heard over the victim of his guile!”

The Sayyid smiled: “Come then, my friend. I see you are ready for the fray. You stand firmly on the rock with foundations laid by God and His Prophet deep in the heart of man. Come then, Masíhulla, and prepare the field for the fray!”

“I, sir?”

“Aye, you, my friend, And you shall find therein both profit and renown. Listen. Spoken words reach but few, and in carriage are garbled. What I speak to our people in the assembly must be written down as I speak it. That shall be your task. You alone here in Ronáhi possess the appliances---a rapid and skilful writer and the lithographic press. It shall be your charge to make the record; the pamphlets shall be stored for sale in your shop, and thence despatched throughout the country as the pronouncement of the Sayyid of Ronáhi.”

“What!” exclaimed the bookseller; “shall I be the instrument for disseminating error?”

“Call it error or call it the new Path,” replied the Sayyid. “Either way it is the sharp stimulus needed to arouse our people. This you have comprehended, I think. But you have not yet realized that the whole profit of the sale of my address shall be yours only; and this you can expend on brilliant treatises, wherein my errors shall be refuted entirely to your satisfaction and that of their many purchasers.”

Then the old bookseller pondered before he replied doubtfully: “Sir, there is indeed some cunning in this proposal. And perhaps profit and honour shall accrue to my little Ronáhi press. And truly, sir, if the great Khán Sáhib and the nobles and gentles his friends assemble to hear you speak, an exact record of the spoken words should be made. Men shall then sift the wheat from the chaff at leisure, freed from the glamour which eloquence casts over the spoken word. Yes, yes, if the great Khán Sáhib approves, and a fair guarantee against loss be given to me. . . . Yes, I will consult my son.”

“Aye, do so,” replied the Sayyid. “He has ambitions to raise a rival in Ronáhi to the great press of Nawal Kishor in Lucknow.

“And this I add: You, Masíhulla, hold that God is Omnipotent and wills His truth to prevail. Then, from this portentous debate---from the clash of the new knowledge of the West and the ancient lore of the East---there shall emerge the true doctrine of the Godhead and all His commandments to man.

“He who dares not this contest hath surely in his secret heart doubts of the revelations of the Prophet of God!

“Do we understand one another now, Masíhulla?”

Then the bookseller, kindled to some warmth, answered, “You challenge Islám to come forth in a fair contest, to awake to its conscious power as inspired of God. And you demand that from the press of Shekh Masíhulla of Ronáhi shall proceed the first flashes of the flames which shall utterly destroy the rash prophet and his new faith. So then let it be, sir. I, though advanced in years, am a combatant, and would stand in the very centre of the contest.”

“Bravo, Shekh Masíhulla!” replied the Sayyid. “Thy courage shall bring thee renown throughout Islám, and that profit which is its fit meed!”

Then Shekh Masíhulla left the presence of the Sayyid and stood without in speech with Khálik Dád. “Fair youth,” he said, “I have conferred with your master on matters of weighty import. If indeed he be a fiend of hell come to pervert mankind, then I doubt not God hath permitted this to His own greater glory. And I wonder not that you have looked on him as one in whose service is honour. Thou art a fair youth; take this guerdon, and know I am thy friend.”

Chapter LV

Sayyids and Shekhs

When on the following day the Sayyid again went to his father’s house, his fervent imagination had transformed the proposed marriage of his niece with Shaukat Ali into a project of union between two races, from which should arise a leader of the Great Reform. He knew that very many years must pass before his new doctrine could be widely accepted, that he himself could do little more than indicate the goal to be reached. His successor must see the end more clearly defined, and possess the practical ability needed to select the means and instruments for its attainment. He now began to see himself as the herald of the master and leader to come after him. From the union of the Sayyid woman with the Shekh this destined leader would spring. From his father he would inherit the resolution, patience, swift, sure judgment and practical ability of an administrator; from his mother the enthusiasm for a great ideal and the selfless courage to pursue it. The two diverse strains harmoniously combined would constitute the liberator of the people from ghostly tyranny, and their skilful guide on the new Path; the practical genius of the Shekhs would realize the ideal of the Sayyid’s heart!

He found his father basking in the sun of the courtyard. Under the influence of his son’s respectful words and touch the old man’s constraint melted away; he spoke garrulously of the past, and seemed almost oblivious of the long separation. Then, caressing his son’s hand, he cried:---

“I would I could see the light of thine eyes; it was very bright when the little scholar sat here before me. Ah, Ali Husain, would I had a son of thine upon my knees to renew those happy days which once were mine!”

The Sayyid pressed his father’s hand, and the old man continued:---

“That child, our little Zeban, has tricks of speech and manner so like thine, my son. Her father as a boy was not unlike thee, but you grew apart with years. “

“I watched the girl closely,” replied the Sayyid, “and my heart is drawn towards her as to a daughter.”

“A gentle wench and wise, and apt to learn,” said the old man.

“I doubt not,” replied the Sayyid. “Since we parted yesterday I have thought much of her and her future. And now, if you permit, I would lay before you my thoughts. I pray you let my mother come, and my sister. We will consult together on this matter.”

Then the two women were summoned, and the Sayyid, having barred the outer door, took his seat on the dais beside his sister, facing the old couple, and he spoke thus:---

“Let me first tell you what befell me a few days ago. You know the Mughaláni lady, Husaini Begam. For sixty years she has ruled her estates with firmness and wisdom, and now in her ninth decade she retains the vigour of her best years. Her brothers were brave soldiers, and she, a flower among women. But her father, looking to wealth and rank, mated her to a sickly youth, and three generations of the sons withered in early manhood and died. But when the great-grandson grew to man’s estate the Lady Husaini, breaking away from the old custom, chose for him a wife from a house of many children and strong; and now, at length, in the fourth generation, the evil blood seems cleared from the veins of the children. The lady called me to advise regarding the training of the boy, and I found him worthy of the best.

“And when I left the venerable lady, I thought of our beloved Zebun-nisa, and the son she should bear to restore the vigour and honour of our ancient house, and perhaps to stand forth as the leader whom our people so sorely need. This maid is the pride of our house. Her shape and limbs are strong and supple and fine as those of an Arab mare from Najd; her cheeks glow with health, her mouth is fragrant as the rose, and from her eyes there shines rare intelligence, and a fire which shall burn into the heart of a man. How rich would be her wedded life passed with a congenial spirit blessed with health and strength like hers! What a fair and noble brood would spring from her womb!

“Then while these thoughts ran in my mind, I again met a youth I had known as a boy; he had grown to the promise we love to see in the young, the promise of a wise and vigorous manhood, blessed with the generous nature that draws love. And I conversed with him long, and drew out his inmost thoughts, his hopes and his fears.

“Then the two trains of thought grew together and I knew I had found the man I would choose for this sweet maid of our house, well named Zebun-nisa.”

“Who is this youth?” inquired the old man eagerly, as his son paused. “Tell me his name and lineage.”

“His father is a master of men, one of the first in power of our people——”

“And his folk and home?” demanded the old lady.

“He bears his writ of nobility on his countenance; the youth you knew well in former days when he came as my pupil---the youth Shaukat Ali, son of our Tahsíldár.”

Then a silence fell upon his three listeners; each felt the shock, but respect for the speaker checked their speech.

At length the Lady Sitára said in a low voice: “My son, surely thou hast dwelt too long abroad and become forgetful of the nice honour of our house.”

“Hast thou forgotten whence this man has sprung?” said his father. “A Shekh, by mere courtesy; no Kuresh.”

“Nothing of this have I forgotten,” replied the Sayyid quietly. “Well I know the estate from which this great officer arose---through his own worth, his integrity, his industry, his piercing intellect, his cool temper and fine tact in handling men---his rulers and no less those he rules. And knowing this well, I would choose his son for the daughter of our house.”

His mother now broke out in angry voice: “It is an outrage! A daughter of the Sayyids of Ronáhi and one whose lineage is lost in the New Muslim crowd!”

“Hath this self-styled Shekh dared to employ thee as an emissary?” exclaimed the old man.

“We, whose lineage reaches back unstained to the grand-daughter of the Prophet (whose name is holy)!” cried his mother.

“Shall my face turn black with dishonour among our kindred from Shámli to Bilgrám!” exclaimed the old man. “The Sayyid of Ronáhi a name of shame!”

“Surely the favour of our Rulers has filled this would-be Shekh with wind!” cried his mother.

When the old people paused breathless, the Sayyid spoke again: “Mother, father, a little patience! I beg you to wait awhile and ponder. And first, let my sister speak. She is one of us, and as proud of the house as we. Sister, speak frankly!”

Then the old maid, looking first timidly at her mother, answered: “Brother, I know well that the welfare of our house and the happiness of our beloved Zeban is nearest thy heart. I would hear all thou canst urge for so strange a departure from the ancient custom of our house.”

And turning to her father: “Father, I beseech you, turn not away hastily. My brother’s heart is devout; his experience of the world is wide, and he seeks our welfare only. Dear father, dear mother, shall we refuse a hearing to my brother, the very flower of our house?”

“Thou hast some of thy brother’s subtlety, wench,” muttered the old man. “Aye, as you say, we will hear him further.”

Then his mother added in a low voice: “Daughter, thou shalt not say we repulse a once loved son unheard---nay, even if he impugn things holy.”

“Fear not, mother,” said the Sayyid. “I know well the shock of a breach in ancient custom; but I know, too, on how slender a basis of law and reason this custom rests.

All True Believers are brethren. That is the text, father; on that, take your stand. Our custom is but the heathen barrier of caste. If in the Laws and Traditions there be any canon against the marriage, you, father, will produce it. If you think fit, consult Maulvi Nazar Ali, who, I doubt not, will accept as final the great text I quote.

“Of this then I need not speak further. But know, that never would I have pained you by counselling a breach in our ancient practice had I not first learnt to value and love this youth, and discerned in him one who will be to our daughter and our house a strong support and a source of vigorous life.

“You shall learn to know the youth, and gauge him as I have done; and the maid herself, our little daughter, shall see him and hear him speak. He shall sit here in free discourse with you and she, behind the screen, shall see and hear all that passes. But none, neither the youth nor the maid, shall know of our project.

“Of the issue of this test, for my part, I have no fear; the ancient custom will sink in abeyance, as when the great King Akbar wedded the daughter of the Rájpút chief.

“But if, after this test, you still remain unmoved, I urge no more, and none shall know this matter has been discussed. But I shall depart from Ronáhi with a sad heart, that the sweetest flower of our old stock has been sacrificed, even as the Brahman Sati burnt on her husband’s pyre, or the child-widow doomed to lifelong solitude. And never will I return to see our little maid blighted by the heathen pride of birth.

“I have spoken!”

“Oh, mother, mother!” exclaimed Nasíba Bánu. “Give heed to his words.”

“I leave you now,” continued the Sayyid. “The rest will be best spoken by my gentle sister. To-morrow at this hour I will return with the youth Shaukat Ali, and you will be ready to receive him.”

Then the Sayyid arose and respectfully begged permission to depart.

Chapter LVI

“All True Believers Are Brethren”

After the departure of his son, the blind old Sayyid sank into a reverie deep as a dream. Thoughts and fancies, linked by the most casual associations, streamed through his mind, but beneath all a dim consciousness of his son’s words. The shock of the suggestion for an alliance with an ignoble house, and his instinctive hostility, began to subside. Gradually many advantages of the proposed connection became apparent. He began to remember the praises he had heard of the youth Shaukat Ali from the old Maulvi; he dwelt on the official rank and influence of his father, and almost unconsciously he repeated again and again the words of the sacred text: “Kulli múminín ihwa” (“All True Believers are brethren”), the sacred proclamation of the equality of all Muslims. But after a little while his thoughts wandered, and the instinctive abhorrence for intermarriage with an ignoble tribe became once more predominant. He was swayed to and fro, alternately urged by reason and checked by the deep-seated pride of race.

But the ultimate decision lay with the mistress of the house, the Lady Sitára. She had been profoundly impressed by her son’s presence and voice, and still remained under their influence. Could she refuse to comply with her son’s demand for the reception of the youth on the morrow---oppose her son’s most ardent wish and alienate him for ever? Her fond hopes must be abandoned that amid his old surroundings he might be cured of his strange infatuations and restored to the True Faith.

Then she reflected that her son’s project was founded on the personal qualifications of the youth, qualifications of which she herself was now to judge. Would it not imply a brutal disregard for the judgment and earnest wish of a beloved son to reject the test to which he offered to submit?

And none knew better than the old dame how sour is the life of the unmarried woman. And she loved her granddaughter very dearly.

Thus, in spite of her repugnance to the proposed alliance, she was strongly moved to admit the youth to the proposed reception and trial. After all the decision would still be left to her.

Having reached this point, she at once informed the old man and her daughter that her son’s wish to introduce the youth should not be opposed, but that her concession did not imply her acceptance of the proposal.

“Surely not, surely not,” said the old man, relieved that a decision had been reached. “Truly there is weight in the reasons our son urges, but to sacrifice the dignity of our race——”

“Aye, indeed,” said his wife, “what shall justify us? But enough, we will see the youth and hear him speak; so far, to please our son.”

The Nasíba Bánu ventured to speak. “You know, mother, I visit the ladies of the Shekh Rafat Ali’s house to read to them.”

“I have not forgotten,” replied her mother. “I also remember meeting the young man’s mother at the Khán Sáhib’s house; she was a lady of fine bearing and courteous manners, and showed a proper deference to me.”

“She is a lady, from the noble Shekhs of Bachraon,” replied her daughter. “Her speech is wise and her words well chosen, and her influence on her husband is, I know, weighty. She rules her house with kindly authority and commands the love and respect of her people. As the wife of her son, Shaukat Ali, our little maiden would nestle on her kindly bosom as a child on a foster-mother.”

“Aye, aye, daughter,” said her mother sharply. “All I have heard of the Shekháni is favourable. She is mistress in her household, and so will remain, whosoever comes as her son’s wife.”

“And this youth, Shaukat Ali,” continued her daughter; “he is the apple of her eye, and holds in the family a place like that of our beloved Ali Husain before he left us.”

“Who can foresee the conduct of a youth when he leaves the protection of his home to fight his own way?” said her mother dryly.

But her daughter continued: “I have often seen the youth and more often heard him speak.”

“So then thy old heart has been touched by this model youth,” said her mother, interrupting.

But her daughter persisted undisturbed: “This evening I go to their house, and with your permission and her mother’s Zeban shall come with me, and if the Shekháni lady be not drawn to our little maid, my judgment is sadly at fault; nay, I shall marvel much if she say not in her heart, ‘Such a maid would I choose for my son.’”

“Nay, daughter, the woman would never aspire to that,” remarked her mother. But her heart was touched by the picture of the mother-in-law who would be the second mother to the young bride, and she allowed the project to drift onwards.

Chapter LVII

Two Forlorn Women and a Maid

When darkness had closed in, Mihr-un-nisa, the widow of the Wahhábi rebel, and Ashraf-un-nisa, the childless wife of Háji Hasan, were seated together in a little chamber of the inner courtyard. It was warmed by a brazier of charcoal and lighted by a couple of oil wicks burning in niches.

The widow, a woman of five-and-thirty, was prematurely aged, sad of countenance and depressed in manner. Her habitual attitude to life had been confirmed by certain words she once overheard spoken by the mistress of the house: that had it pleased God to remove the widow after she had suckled her only child, her daily portion of food would have served better to nourish the growing girl. These bitter words excited no resentment in her bosom; she regarded herself as useless in the world, a burden on the scanty means of the family, and thought of death as a release from a joyless life. She felt that her own daughter would hardly have missed her, for the girl, in heart and mind and feature, belonged to her father’s stock, and she had found in her aunt, Nasíba Bánu, the active love and sympathy for which she craved.

Her companion, the sharp-featured Ashraf-un-nisa, was a woman of tougher fibre. Her temper was acid and her tongue sharp, and, except when overawed by the mistress of the house, she plied it freely. She accepted the charity of the indigent family as a compensation inadequate to the wrong she had suffered from her husband’s neglect; she secretly resented the perversity of fate, which had bestowed a child upon her imbecile sister-in-law and left her in solitude.

The widow Mihran was brooding beside the brazier when Ashrafan bustled in and took a seat on the opposite side. She looked at the motionless figure for a while in silence, and then suddenly exclaimed in a harsh voice:---

“Surely you are the most stupid woman in the world!”

The widow looked up placidly, but made no reply.

“Do you hear, sister-in-law, or are you senseless as a doll of rags?”

“Of what do you speak?” asked the widow, with her eyes fixed on the glowing coals.

“Will not the fate of your daughter arouse you from torpor?” cried Ashrafan.

The widow shook her head.

“You mean you are helpless!”

“What avails worry when one must bear?” murmured the widow.

“Aye, aye, ever the cant of the weak of heart,” cried Ashrafan. “What, have you not cared to ask why the girl has gone to the great Shekháni?”

“Our mother-in-law sends her, and the girl goes eagerly,” replied the widow.

“Oh, thou thing of naught!” cried Ashrafan. “Dull as one drugged by opium! Is then thy daughter of so little concern? Arouse thee and speak.” And she shook the widow by the shoulder.

“Why should not the girl go?” said the widow. “She will see fine jewels and garments of silk and gold; and odours of savoury meats fill that house.”

“Aye, aye, you know that, sister-in-law; that awakes you,” said Ashrafan, laughing bitterly.

“Ah, I enjoyed these things once,” said the widow. “In Patna, in our house, before my husband grew mad.”

“Listen, woman, and give heed to matters of to-day.”

“Of to-day? these are blank,” replied the widow dolefully.

“Blank!” exclaimed Ashrafan, angrily shaking her arm.

“Blank, and your girl of age to marry!”

“What avails it?” replied the widow. “A pauper Sayyid!”

“Were she my child,” replied Ashrafan, “I would have her wedded, aye, even though the only man were one such as that gallant young Pathán, servant of Ali Husain, whom we saw yonder with the old folk---whose head I would clasp and kiss.”

“For shame, sister! What indecent words are these!”

“Thou art torpid as a withered hag!” exclaimed Ashrafan. “What! did you not mark how the girl fixed her eager eyes on the youth, as we peered through the lattice?”

“Nay, I marked it not.”

“Have you forgotten then how the blood throbs in tumult through the veins at her age?”

“I beg, sister, you will not speak thus of the girl,” pleaded the widow. “It is indecent.”

“It is real as her rounded limbs and swelling bosom,” replied Ashrafan. “Hast thou not marked that? Nor that the maid sits and broods, and tears uncaused break from her eyes. Shall she too wither unwed, and her wholesome desires turn to sourness and poison her body and soul?”

“What can I do?” cried the widow. “I, weary, helpless and weak?”

Ashrafan shrugged her shoulders. “I ask again, can you not guess why she was taken to the house of the Shekhs?”

“I have answered,” replied the widow. “Why should the girl be debarred from a little jaunt of pleasure, when a litter is provided free of cost?”

“Listen then, sister,” continued Ashrafan. “Have you not daily before you the grey face and dimmed eyes of the blighted Nasíba, she, alas! one of many among our tribe? In yourlong brooding loneliness, have you not feared lest a starved and stunted life such as hers be the lot of our little maid Zeban? She has grown to womanhood, and, though she know it not, she yearns for a mate, even as the flower here strains to the sunlight, and fades and droops and decays if it fail to reach it. Ah, soon will the days of the spring come upon us, and the streets will be filled with the laughter and songs of the merry Hindu women, proclaiming the delights of wedded love and the supreme joy of motherhood. And the girl shall listen entranced to the songs, and her heart shall beat wildly to the music; and that shall be all!---no fruition shall follow, and she shall droop as the sunless flower! And all the women and girls our neighbours, the little women of the little people, even the poor woolcarder’s girl in yonder hut, all shall have joy in their days; but this girl of ours, this strong lusty girl we have reared, one fitted to be the mother of men, she shall be debarred from the chief joy of a woman’s life!”

“Sister, sister,” exclaimed the widow, aroused at length. “What can I do?”

“Do!” cried Ashrafan. “Let the thought sting thee, that life unwedded is life stripped of that which is best in the world. Let it break thy rest at night, the dread that this befall thy daughter, the one bright living thing in this dead household; aye, dead though not yet buried.”

The sharp words had at length bitten into the mother’s apathetic heart, and she answered with a touch of eagerness: “What can I do? What can we do? The mistress of the house is filled with pride, and how shall the girl marry without a gallant marriage-feast and a dowry fitted for one of her noble tribe?”

“Curse on the pride that would sacrifice a maid!” cried Ashrafan, “which would deprive her of the very food of life! Give ear then, sister. I sat behind the screen listening, when they thought me afar; and that strange creature, Ali Husain, discoursed with them. His eyes gleam with fire like that I once saw lighting the face of a mad maulvi, who came preaching from the West! Their talk was all of a mate for the maid, and who should he name but the young son of the Shekháni---Shaukat Ali!”

“One of no lineage!” exclaimed the widow.

“So said the old dame, and grew angry and would not consent.”

“Then it cannot be.”

“Cannot be!” cried Ashrafan. “In this you shall not submit. We will stand by Ali Husain; we, and old Nasíba shall join us.”

But the widow’s heart shrank from contention with the mistress of the house.

“Yes, our sister Nasíba,” continued Ashrafan; “the old maid has a tender heart, and if the girl is drawn to the youth, she will dare much to get them married. And listen, sister. To-morrow the youth comes to the house. The girl shall see him and hear him speak, aye, and she shall know why he comes, and she shall sicken for love of him, if her heart’s desire be not gratified. Then at last even your tame spirit shall rise to defend your child lest she pine away and die longing for forbidden love. Or say, woman, wilt thou sit by and see her perish?”

“Thou, the mother, shalt resolve the issue, and thy will shall prevail. Aye, we will have a wedding in this house of the dying Sayyids of Ronáhi; and thou, poor creature, shalt renew thy life in joy that thy daughter is held to the bosom of a strong man to whom she shall cling with a passionate heart, yearning for the crown of a woman’s life!”

“Ah, sister, then could I die in peace.”

“Die!” exclaimed Ashrafan contemptuously. “Live, rather. None shall sing the nuptial hymn with such ardour as thou. None shall rejoice more that in due time a man-child shall be born and cling to the neck of his grandam.”

“Oh, sister, sister,” cried the widow, “I feel a new spirit of hope! Surely, surely this shall be.”

A noise in the outer courtyard interrupted them, and they beheld two covered litters borne into the courtyard bearing the girl and her aunt.

Soon the girl came hurrying into the little chamber; her eyes sparkled, her lips were red and her cheeks hot.

“Oh, mother! oh, aunt!” she exclaimed. “What things I have seen! She, the great Shekháni, and her daughter-in-law showed me their dresses and jewels. Never could I have imagined things so beautiful! And the sharbat was delicious, and the sweets---I have brought a great tray of them for you. The Domini singer too; she played on the guitar and sang---ah, my heart was enchanted! Never was so sweet a song! And the mattress and pillows covered with silk; and in the porch frankincense burnt, filling the hall with sweet scents. I leant back and beautiful dreams rose up, like visions of Paradise.”

Then Ashrafan interrupted, with a laugh and caress: “And whither wandered the thoughts of the little maid?”

“Whither? Ah, how can I tell!” replied the girl. “But I closed my eyes as the music rang, and I fancied it all mine own---the raiment and jewels and savoury things, and the silken cushions---under the palm glossy and smooth as a silken stream. But when the music ceased, I heard a voice from the outer court calling ‘Mother, come forth!’ and the voice seemed part of the music and dreams.”

“Who was calling?” asked Ashrafan.

“When the mistress returned, she said her son Shaukat had called her to fasten a brooch on his turban: he was going to sup in the Khán Sáhib’s mansion; he was a very fop, the boy.

“Then the Domini singer, hearing the words, chanted:---

Nadyá kináre bará pánká, re bará pánká.
Chhotí nandí ká bhayá, bará bánká re bará bánká!

“And then we all laughed together at the jingle of nonsense!”

Then Ashrafan, again interrupting: “Surely it was the young Shaukat Ali: he frequents the circle of our brother Ali Husain. Report saith he is a gallant youth. Did you happen to see him?”

“Alas, no!” replied the girl. “But his voice fell as sweet on the ear as the Domini’s song.”

“Was his voice like that of your uncle Ali Husain?” asked Ashrafan.

“Somewhat, yes. Full and strong, but smooth without a harsh note---like the kokila’s song.”

“Aye, aye!” exclaimed Ashrafan. “I know the voice: it caresses like the breeze of the morn in Sáwan playing on the cheek, like the touch of a loving hand stroking the ringlets!”

“I know not that,” answered the girl, looking at her aunt with some surprise. “But I wished I could hear it again.”

“Ah, girl, you make me long to hear it,” said her aunt. “If ever the youth come here I will creep near to hear this wonderful voice---and look on the speaker too. I will judge and tell thee; for of voices of men I am expert to judge. And if his face be as sweet as his voice, surely the youth is a Yúsuf to move the heart of a woman till it thump in her bosom like the beat of the sugar-press!”

Ashrafan laughed merrily, and spoke no more of the youth. But the voice haunted the maid Zeb-un-nisa, and her desire to see the speaker grew stronger.

Chapter LVIII

The Bridegroom

Over the gateway of the Sayyids’ house was an airy chamber, which had in old times been used as the guard-room. Here the drums had been beaten at each of the changes of the watch through day and night, and bands of musicians had played at each festival of the house or tribe. It overlooked the courtyard through open arches, and on the opposite side, the windows, closed by dilapidated Venetian shutters, afforded a view over the open ground, where the weavers stretched their warps, across the cart-track to the head of Shiv Prasád’s lane, which led through narrow ways into the market square.

In this old gate-room, when the white mist of the morning had arisen in wisps and wreaths, pierced by the morning sun, the old maid Nasíba Bánu was seated with her niece Zeb-un-nisa on the strip of coarse cotton carpet spread over the rush matting. The aunt’s rapid fingers plied her needle embroidering; but the girl’s work lay on her lap neglected, while she peered through the slits watching the traffic in the road: the wagon laden with wood, creaking slowly along the deep ruts; the drove of asses bearing rubbish to the kilns beyond the weavers’ huts; the beggar lounging by with monotonous chant: “Khudá diláyá so lungá”; the rapid movements of the weaver-women setting the warps; the daily events of this quiet hamlet, which the murmur of the busy market-town barely reached.

Suddenly the girl arose with an exclamation and stood close to the shutter. “Look, aunt!” she cried. “Look, what a gallant cavalier is riding down!”

A rider on a grey horse was coming directly towards them at a hand gallop, his figure, garments and accoutrements all lit up to shine and glitter by the morning sun. He drew rein at the weavers’ huts, and they could then distinguish the figure of a young man, upright and square of shoulder, sitting his horse with an easy grace. He wore a close-fitting tunic of purple cloth turned up with gold braid, a dove-coloured turban with gilt fringe, and buff-leather gaiters. His face, lit up by the sun, was of an olive tinge, square and well-moulded, and adorned by a silky moustache and beard. He dismounted at the house of the weaver headman, and leaving his horse with one of the lads, strode rapidly across the path to the gateway, and was lost to view.

The two women watched him in silence, a bright vision to both.

“It is the Shekh Sáhib’s son,” whispered Nasíba. “I know him well, and the grey horse too, stabled in his father’s courtyard.”

“The one we heard call to his mother last night?” asked the girl.

“The same, whom they name Shaukat Ali.”

“What a handsome youth!” whispered the girl.

“A masterly horseman, so they speak of him,” added the aunt.

“He must be coming here!” cried the girl, and, without waiting for a reply, she ran, crouching behind the parapet of the terraced roof, to the staircase facing the gateway, whence, through a narrow opening, she could overlook the courtyard to the entrance.

She had hardly gained her position when her uncle, Ali Husain, entered the courtyard, leading the young man by the hand. She watched intently, holding her breath, while the youth bowed respectfully to the old Sayyid and took the proffered seat on the dais with his face turned to the little window. An animated conversation followed between the three men, inaudible from the girl’s position. She longed to hear the youth’s voice, and had almost resolved to cross the corner of the courtyard to the perforated screen near the dais, where she guessed her grandmother was listening to the speakers, when her uncle and the young man both rose, came over to her side of the courtyard and stood near the staircase. The girl started back flushing, fearing she might be seen, and pushed against her aunt Ashrafan, who, unnoticed, had been standing beside her.

“Hush!” whispered her aunt, raising a warning finger and holding the girl’s shoulder. “We cannot be seen. Listen!”

She pushed the girl close to the aperture. Then Shaukat Ali, standing so close that the girl could see every line of his face, spoke, continuing his conversation with her uncle.

“I know well that my father regarded the resumption of the Royal grant as a harsh measure, and expressed this opinion frankly to the authorities.”

“These matters are dealt with by general rules,” replied the Sayyid.

“No doubt,” said Shaukat Ali. “And in absence of the deed of gift from the Delhi King, I suppose the resumption was strictly legal. But, with your permission, I will discuss the whole question with my father, and afterwards take the opinion of Maulvi Abdul Hakk, the leading lawyer in these revenue cases.”

“Our funds are limited,” replied the Sayyid.

“As to that, there need be no difficulty,” replied the young man. “The Maulvi will gladly aid the venerable Sayyid Mahmúd without fees.”

“Then I leave the matter in your hands,” said the Sayyid. “Let my father know what is going on;, he will eagerly expect your visits and find a new interest in life. Come now, and explain to him what you propose.”

They walked slowly back to the old man’s seat, out of earshot.

But Zeb-un-nisa had seen Shaukat Ali’s face animated by the discussion, heard him speak, and, in gazing and listening, she became oblivious of her surroundings. Her eyes remained fixed upon him until he stood up to depart.

“Quick!” whispered her aunt, touching her shoulder.

“Quick, we will see him mount his horse and ride away.”

And they hurried back to the gate-room, where Nasíba Bánu was still seated over her embroidery. The three women clustered against the Venetian shutter and watched the Sayyid and Shaukat Ali, leading his horse, as they walked across the open space to the lane.

“A noble youth!” exclaimed Ashrafan. “May he find a worthy wife!”

Aunt Nasíba nodded. The girl looked silently at the shady corner where Shaukat Ali had disappeared, and behind her back the two women exchanged glances of intelligence.

Chapter LIX

The Old Sayyid’s Vision

The mistress of the house, Sitára Begam, seated behind the screen close to the old man’s dais, had watched Shaukat Ali closely, noting every movement of his features and every word he spoke. She knew enough of the disputed claim to the freehold to admire the skill with which the young man extracted from her husband the essential details of the case and explained what steps should be now taken.

“Wife,” said the blind Sayyid eagerly, when she joined him, “did you hear? That young man understood at once all the strength of our claim; he put all the points better than I have been able to do myself. He will consult his father, the wisest head on these matters in the country-side. Did I not tell you that attorney of ours was an arrant ass? Now the great pleader, Abdul Hakk, will see to our rights.”

His old grey face was illuminated by a flush of youth reflected from young Shaukat Ali. So thought the old dame, as her husband ran on, eagerly repeating all that had passed; and she thought, too, that her son had skilfully played upon his father’s foible and linked his interests close with Shaukat Ali.

Then the old man took up another theme: “And, good dame, did you hear what the youth said of our son?”

“Nay, tell me,” she replied, humouring him.

“You saw with what profound respect the lad addressed me? ‘Sir,’ he said, ‘your son, my friend and former master, will pardon my speaking of him to his father. I will say how great a privilege I esteem it that he now permits me to sit with him in familiar intercourse, and to profit by his profound learning and wide experience.’ Then our son spoke, laughing: ‘The gain is not all on one side, father. This youth possesses a fund of practical knowledge which I, who have been immersed in books and meditations, feel I sadly lack. He is the fresh breeze to awaken the dreamer to the needs of actual life.’

“So spake our son, dame. And I, too, seemed to gather fresh life from the lad’s resolute voice and the encouraging words he spoke. And listen, wife,” here his voice sunk lower, “a new desire has sprung up in my heart: I would have near me such a gallant youth when our son departs---as he assuredly will, for he has the restless spirit of the wandering prophet. And, wife, I thought how blest had been our lot if one among the wild sons thou hast borne had been such a sober youth as this.”

Then the old dame thought, “What a subtle craft has our son to lead in the way he chooses, seeming to guide not at all!” But she answered gently: “The youth hath touched thy heart, my old lord.”

“Dame,” he continued, “didst thou scan his face and note his demeanour well? His voice was clear and manly; his words precise, and spoken as by a scholar, and sincerity rang in them all. But what of his face?”

“His face,” she answered. “Yes, I saw his eyes are well open, and twinkle like the star of Orion; but when he listened they were calm, and he looked straight in the eyes of your son, unblinking. Yes, his face is well-shaped and honest, inherited from his mother, a lady indeed of noble birth.”

“It is well! it is well!” exclaimed the old man. “Thus indeed is he imaged in my mind’s eye! Oh, wife, how fortunate were our dear grandchild if her future were joined to one such as he!”

But now the old dame answered sharply, with a harsh ring in her voice: “Master, the blood of the Prophet (whose name is blessed) is in our keeping!”

But she saw a cloud fall on the old man’s countenance, and checked her tongue, speaking softly:---

“Ah, if only the youth were pure of blood! I would love to nurse a son of our dear girl if he were the father!”

The old man’s face brightened, and he again took up the word eagerly: “Aye, through such a son might the old glory of our house be revived! Listen, wife; it springs from my heart as from a well of prophecy. In that child might even be merged two great streams of power: the profound devotion of our unhappy son, Muhammad Taki, whose spirit yearned to recover the lost estate of Islám, all oblivious of the obstacles of the passing day; and with this, the practical wisdom of these Shekhs, gained in the business of the market, the courts and the land! What might not be accomplished by one endowed with surpassing zeal for the great cause and practical wisdom to choose the means of achieving it! Such in the past was the great King Akbar; he combined worldly wisdom with the aspirations of the men who ponder over wide visions. A new light for our race, one to lead them to pre-eminence among the nations of the world!”

The old man’s countenance glowed with sudden enthusiasm, and for a moment the blind eyes appeared to gleam. The likeness of his voice and features to their son, Ali Husain, startled bis wife, and she sat silent. But the old man cried:---

“Oh, thou mother of Ali Husain, speak! Verily my heart yearns to that youth, Shaukat Ali! and if he were one of our house, I could die knowing all would be well with you under his care.”

Then the old wife answered gently: “Oh, my beloved husband, thou too art a dreamer! But let there be no haste in these weighty matters. My old head moves not quickly in new ways. Surely I know that thou and thy sons, one and all, even the sour Hasan, have brains to spin fancies like the poet and prophet, brooding on hidden things. Do thou soar aloft; for me time for deliberation is needed.”

Then she left him; and with head thrown back against his pillow he sat motionless, while through his excited brain visions passed, revealing generations of his descendants, destined to achieve the ideals of the Sayyid through the practical wisdom of the Shekh.

Chapter LX

The Lady Sitára and Her Daughters-in-Law

But Sitára Begam was troubled in her mind, driven diverse ways by her pride of race and by her reluctance to thwart her beloved husband. She thought: “He is weak, he has lost firm grip of mind, or never would he accept the indignity of such an alliance. But as it now is, if this proposal be barred, he will lose once for all his revived joy in life and will sink deeper into apathy and the shadow of death.”

Seeking to dismiss the subject from her thoughts, she went for distraction to the inner apartments, where her daughters-in-law were seated together. Ashrafan pressed her to stay while the old man slept, arranged the cushion for her, and inquired as to the visitor who had conversed at such length with the master of the house. The old dame answered irritably that he had come to advise on their claim to the rent-free land; his tongue ran as glib as an attorney’s.

“At least a well-favoured young man,” remarked Ashrafan. “I caught sight of him through the aperture.”

“Well-favoured!” exclaimed the mistress. “Well, as to that, women of your years are apt to find a Yúsuf in every youth with a downy chin.”

“At least I know a handsome youth from a black weaver-boy,” replied Ashrafan good-humouredly. “May I know his name and lineage?”

“That you may send him a message through old Rajban?” returned the old dame sharply.

“Good mother-in-law,” replied Ashrafan with dignity, “why this imputation on your son’s wife?”

“Why this indecent curiosity as to a visitor because he is fresh with youth?” returned the other. “By God, I will block up those peep-holes, since the sight of a man causes such a flutter!”

Then Ashrafan answered in a higher pitch: “Surely your long experience must have taught you that errant impulses will not be checked by locks and bars.”

“It has indeed,” returned the old dame, “also that the watchful eye will surely detect the hussy’s shame.”

But the harsh tones and sharp words grated sorely on the nerves of the widow, and standing up, she cried piteously: “Oh, mother, mother, please! Oh, Ashrafan, please cease!” And she laid her hand on her sister-in-law’s mouth.

The touch checked the sharp reply springing from Ashrafan’s lips. She was silent, and, remembering her purpose, controlled her irritation.

“Yes, you are right, sister,” she said. “Pardon me, mother-in-law, that my tongue outruns my respect. And truly, since the visitor was but a legal adviser, I am not concerned with him. But I thought the young man might have been the son of Shekh Rafat Ali, whom we all know so well by repute. And they say wise men may breed fools, but wise women never. And we have heard, how often! our sister Nasíba discourse by the hour of the wise wife of the Shekh, her wit and benevolent ways. And the Shekh Rafat Ali, is not his sagacity and justice reputed here second only to that of Hazrat Sulaimán? And they say of him, he will flog a thief and send a full meal to the poor man and his wife. Thus it happened I was curious as to their son; but since the visitor was not he, what matters who he was? Though of this I am certain, the young man’s countenance bore the stamp of frankness, not of a lawyer’s craft.”

While Ashrafan ran on thus, the old dame sat silent, a little ashamed of her irritability.

“How came you to think the young man was the son of the Shekh Sáhib?” she asked.

“I merely put two and two together,” replied Ashrafan. “You know how much Nasíba chatters of the Shekh’s household and of this son, the pearl of the family, whom they call Shaukat Ali. Well, our brother-in-law conversed with the visitor within earshot and named him Shaukat Ali, which hearing, I looked on the young man with warm interest. Aye, mother-in-law, I have no son, no child, and never shall I bear one, but in heedless reverie I have shaped a son of mine own, a dream child; and, forgive me, he has grown up not unlike the youth I then looked on.”

“Who shall affirm that therein thy lot has been worse than mine?” replied the old dame---“I who have borne and reared three sons and one daughter? Each son has been in his manhood as a thorn tearing my flesh, and my daughter has withered in lonely maidenhood!”

“Little happiness has been mine as the wife of thy son!” returned Ashrafan. “But verily I believe the joy of a mother will outweigh in the scale all heartaches her son may cause her in his manhood.”

“Ah, my daughter,” replied the old dame with some emotion, “rarely shall a mother see her son grow to the fair flower of manhood she pictured when she nestled him to her bosom and watched him smile in his sleep!”

“Ah, mother,” responded Ashrafan in the same tone, “if we women could rear the man we dream, the world were filled with shapes like the Angel Gabriel. But surely one thing we may do: seek for our daughter’s husband one not unlike the fancied manhood of the babe at our breast.”

“A pretty thought, my daughter,” said the old dame, rising.

“But, alas! while seeking the one, we leave our daughter unmated.”

“That never!” exclaimed Ashrafan. “Wed a boor rather than waste in lonely maidenhood!”

The old dame shook her head with a sad smile, and left them to go to her daughter in the chamber over the gateway.

Chapter LXI

The Maid Zeb-un-nisa

As the mistress of the house slowly climbed the steep stairs to the chamber above the gate-house, she felt a twinge of compunction: she had not fulfilled her promise to take the girl with her behind the screen that she might see the youth and hear all his words; she feared lest a vain vision of the future should spring up in the girl’s sensitive heart. She was now to learn that she had broken her pledge in vain, and that a spark had not only been kindled, but was already rising to a flame.

Her daughter and the girl Zeb-un-nisa were together, busy with their needles. They arose as she entered, and arranged the cushions for her seat.

“Oh, grandmother,” exclaimed the girl, “I wish you had been here to see that gallant horseman gallop down the road, all aglitter in the morning sun!”

“What horseman, little daughter?” asked the old dame.

“He who came but now and left with my uncle---the son of the Shekh Sáhib.”

“How did you know who he was?”

“I stood here at the shutter, and when I cried to aunt, ‘See who rides down like the son of a king!’ she looked and named him. But I should have known him by his voice, when he was speaking with uncle.”

“How by his voice?”

“Among a thousand,” answered the girl, laughing. “I heard him speak to his mother.”

“I noticed nothing special in the tone of his voice,” replied the old dame.

“Oh, how could you fail? Why, grandmother, among other voices, it was as that of the kokila among the flock of chattering birds!”

“How should you judge, child?”

“My uncle’s voice is clear and mellow too,” continued the girl. “But yesterday morning it rang as harshly as the rattle of metal on metal. When I saw the young man’s features I thought, never could he speak like that, threatening as the rumble of a storm!”

The old dame looked at the girl’s animated face and answered, but gently, not to check her: “My child, none can say what may be the voice of a man in anger, who has heard him only speaking in love. The tigress will purr over her suckling cubs as gently as a cooing dove!”

“Aye,” replied the girl quickly, “but her lips curled back and her terrible fangs must surely betray her. I saw the young man’s face.”

“To me he seemed like others of his age,” returned the old dame quietly. “At best, the fair promise of youth, seldom fulfilled.”

Then her daughter ventured to intervene, saying: “This youth, Shaukat Ali, is the chosen friend of my brother, who, we know, is intimate with few, and those only the most worthy.”

“Your brother,” replied the old dame, “may choose to endure the society of the son of the great Tahsíldár.”

“But my brother sought his counsel regarding our claim to the estate. He must then have considered the young man’s advice to be of value.”

“He would gain the father by flattering the son,” returned the old dame.

“But, mother,” urged Nasíba, “you yourself heard all he said, and can judge whether he showed knowledge and intelligence to explain and reply.”

“Nay, of the matter I know nothing; but I grant he seemed to speak with knowledge and sense and ready words.”

Then the girl, clapping her hands and laughing merrily, cried: “Then, grandmother, what a rare creature is this young friend of my uncle! We saw him ride like a prince of men; he managed his steed with the grace of Rustum; he speaks with the voice of a charmer of men; from his lips fall wise counsel and choicest phrase! Surely the great Shekh and his lady are doubly blessed in their son! How happy will be the woman he leads to his house as a bride!”

The old dame was moved by the words of the girl and her sparkling eyes. She answered: “Well, child, no doubt his mother has marked for him some bride from their own tribe; they are as common up and down the country as little fish in the river yonder.”

Sitára Begam arose, stroked the girl’s head affectionately, and returned to sit in silence beside the old man. But the recurring burden of her reverie was: “Surely one so fair, so full of health and life and capacity for love, shall not grow and flower and wither unwed!”

Chapter LXII

The Lady Sitára Yields

On the following morning again the young Shaukat Ali came to the old Sayyid’s house to report the result of his consultation with Maulvi Abdul Hakk, an advocate endowed with silver tongue and rare skill to awaken an Appellate Court to a clear sense of exhaustive knowledge of law and practice and of peculiar sagacity to discern the errors of the courts below. His opinion was favourable to the further prosecution of the claim, and he held out strong hopes of success.

The face of the blind man kindled with excitement when the name of his visitor was announced; he gave him the warmest welcome, and during the discussion which followed he was transformed from the dreamy student and half torpid invalid to a man alert to understand, quick to suggest, and eager for action to attain his purpose.

Thus it seemed to the mistress of the house, while she sat watching and listening behind the screen. In her fancy the eager spirit of this gallant youth had passed into the old man’s heart.

Now when the visitor arrived at the gate and the cry of “Pardo.” had warned the women to retreat, Aunt Ashrafan pushed back the girl from the entrance to the inner court, compelling her to seek a refuge in the old dame’s quarters on the further side. Thus she found herself behind the screen with her grandmother.

“May I stay?” she asked timidly. “Some visitor is coming.” And when the young man entered it was too late to drive the girl away, even had the old dame wished to do so; and she was indeed drifting irresolutely. Thus standing behind her grandmother the girl saw and listened, and forgot all in rapt attention.

And when Shaukat Ali had left and the old dame arose to join her husband, the girl exclaimed, “Oh, how happy, doubly blest, is the great Shekháni, the mother of this youth! The light of the household and dearest to his mother’s heart!”

The old dame saw the flush on the girl’s face, the glitter of her eyes, and the quick breath through parted lips. She drew the girl to her side, kissed her without speaking, and joined her husband, who was eagerly waiting for her.

But the girl Zeb-un-nisa remained standing and her eyes filled with tears.

Chapter LXIII

The Sayyid and the Bridegroom

When Shekh Rafat Ali learnt that the ancient prerogatives of the Ronáhi Sayyids no longer barred a marriage alliance with a family of high official rank, and that the girl Zeb-un-nisa herself had found favour in the eyes of his wife, he set aside his remaining scruples and intimated his willingness to open negotiations.

But the Sayyid Ali Husain desired first to speak of the proposal to Shaukat Ali, and with the father’s sanction he addressed the young man as follows:---

“My eldest brother, Muhammad Taki, cared little for the things of this world, seeking only to accomplish the will of the Lord. He perished in an attempt to shake the foundations of a great State with the crumbling lever of an effete fanaticism. When the bullet pierced his brain it was well sped.

“He hath the reward of Paradise for his insensate act!

“He left a daughter, and I dare affirm that the best act of his life was the begetting of this fair creature; the one justification of his life, though he knew it not.

“My second brother, whom you know as Háji Hasan, cares neither for rank nor wealth, nor the comfort that it brings; driven hither and thither by a restless spirit, he wanders wherever intrigues are rife against our Rulers, seeking help to restore the creed and rule of Islám. He wastes his life in desultory efforts to arouse to new vitality a perishing body, and sees in the convulsive twitchings of dissolution signs of returning vigour.

“Then consider my father. He has devoted a long life to obsolete lore: dead theology, dead ethics, dead science, and a literature unrelated to the needs of daily life. He has added nothing to what he has received, shed no new ray of light on the lumber of the past. Our simple folk pay him reverence as one uncontaminated by the sordid cares of a toiling, suffering world, and devoted to God!

“Thus three wasted lives! They have pursued an end which they deemed pleasing to their God---they who might have achieved so much both for themselves and our people, had they but been free from the bonds of their outworn creed!

“One brother remains, the youngest, I who speak to you now. Shall our ancient stock be at length justified on the scroll of history by my work? This only I know: I seek to accomplish the best I can see for the welfare of our people. I know my message is true, but whether it shall be received through me or through another hereafter, or fail utterly to reach the hearts of our folk, I cannot foresee.

“But this I know, that no wedded life can be mine, for I hold most true the words of the Prophet writ in the chapter entitled ‘Mutual Deceit’: ‘O True Believers, verily in your wives and children ye have an enemy; beware of them.’ I devote my life to my work!

“But the thought oppresses me that this ancient stock may perish utterly with all its dauntless energy to achieve the highest that it knows, and its readiness to sacrifice all private advantage for one great end beyond itself!

“One creature only remains through whom there is hope ---the little maid of whom I spoke, the daughter of my dead brother Muhammad Taki. She is a child such as I have dreamed might be mine: in her I have found the very shape of my dream, now the opening blossom of sweetest womanhood! She is one to adorn a palace and bear to a noble sire sons to rank with the highest in the land, even to become hereafter leaders of our people. She hath beauty of face and form, a mind quick, sprightly and penetrating, abundant health, and a cheerful, brave heart.

“But who shall care for her welfare when I depart?---and depart I must on my life’s mission. My father blind and sinking to imbecility; my mother aged and feeble and utterly inexperienced in the world; the rest helpless women; a feeble poverty-stricken house, whence no dowry or marriage-feast can come!

“I would have her wed away from our brotherhood to one of a house devoted to strenuous work in practical life, free from the religious fanaticism which has blighted my own folk.

“And now, my son, the issue of all this. Thy mother is famed as one of the wisest among women. She has noted the maid well. Do thou speak to her of my dear niece, and give good heed to her words. And then thou shalt thyself look upon the maid; and perhaps my hope may be fulfilled, and thou shalt become as a son in the ancient house of the Sayyids of Ronáhi.

“Thou, Shaukat Ali, art indeed to me as a beloved son; on thee I would bestow the greatest gift within my power---this maid, Zeb-un-nisa. Aye, the greatest of boons for a man is a good, wise wife; to be the light of his home, to rule his household, and leave him, free from care within, to fulfil his work in the world as a man.”

Thus spake the Sayyid to his young friend.

The image of the veiled form he had seen cross the courtyard to his mother’s apartments came before the youth with sudden vividness, and a desire to lift the veil and look upon the face grew warm.

And when he had listened to his mother’s praise of the girl he was restless for the day when he should see her; and when that day came the flame of mutual love was kindled, and the hope of the Sayyid proceeded to fulfilment.

Chapter LXIV

The Assembly

The leading Muhammadans of the city and neighbourhood were assembled in the great hall of the mansion. They sat in silence, almost motionless, looking with grave faces towards the dais, where Khán Bahádur Khán and some of the principal gentry had their places. Beside his host, with arms folded over his breast, was seated the Sayyid, his features and lips set firm, his eyes fixed upon a far distance beyond the lines of faces confronting him; but those who sat near noticed that his breath came and went in deep inspirations and long aspirations.

Then Khán Bahádur Khán stood up. A faint rustle of movement passed over the audience, but no sound was uttered. He spoke in full voice from the chest, with clear articulation and perfect ease:---

“Gentlemen, let me first thank you all for coming here to-night in answer to my invitation. Not since the day when Maulvi Ahmad Khán came among us have so many of our folk met to hear an address. Not a few of you here will recall his words---words delivered with a persuasive eloquence rare among our speakers. And yet, you will remember, his speech provoked much resentment. To a few only among us he seemed to find words for our own thoughts, and to encourage new hopes for the future of our people, in these latter days sunk low in the world.

“Nevertheless, within a few hours the current of our lives and thoughts ran unchanged in the old bed. His eloquence had fallen like a blast of wind on a sheet of standing water; it passed, the ripples subsided, the scum gathered, and all was as before. Or, shall I say, we listened with attention, and then judged it best to continue on our old way?

“Yes, my brothers, we are steadfast in our ways. We can listen unmoved to a call to change the customs and habits by which the fabric of our life is held together. No fickle folk we, to be lightly stirred by the charming voice of the most eloquent innovator of them all.

“We dare then listen without anxiety to what our old fellow-townsman, Sayyid Ali Husain, has to lay before us. If his teaching runs counter to our cherished ways and beliefs it slides over us, even as water splashed on a greasy jar. But there is surely edification in learning how far one so highly gifted as this Sayyid has been influenced by contact with strange folk and strange learning. Perhaps he comes as a warning to us not to expose our young folk to similar risk. Perhaps, too, we shall complacently realize our own ripe wisdom, so easily do we discern the errors this learned gentleman has so laboriously made his own.

“But this, too, I would impress upon you---no man shall obstinately close his mind against a message of new tidings. For this much we know, that from the earliest days of our history we have records of new messages delivered, of ancient messages extended or even superseded. And I deem there is no man who shall so completely know the ways of the All-wise and All-powerful as to say of a surety, ‘He has revealed in the past all truth, He has delivered to man His final message, and from this Sayyid, who now comes before us, there can proceed no word of divine inspiration.’

“Assuredly, my brothers, not the wisest of us can be certain of this.

“I bid you then bear this in your minds and keep an open ear.

“And now a word as to this noble and learned fellow-townsman who is about to address you. For four generations his people have lived honoured amongst us. His father, the venerable Sayyid Mahmúd, has dwelt here to extreme old age, respected for his learning and piety. His son, Ali Husain, we knew well, first as a studious youth, then as a teacher distinguished for his knowledge of the Arab and Persian doctors. He now returns after long study and experience abroad, desiring to address us on matters which he deems profoundly important to our people.

“What he has to deliver I know not. But I shall listen with attention and respect; and having heard all he has to say, I shall follow the way I myself judge to be the best. I beg that all you here will do the same.

“Stand forth then, Sayyid Ali Husain! The assembly will give you a fair hearing from beginning to end of your discourse. More than this neither I nor they can promise.”

A subdued murmur passed over the audience, but none spoke. Then the Sayyid stood up in the full light of the chandelier, and the assembly was still. For some seconds he remained silent, his right hand slightly raised, his lips compressed, his brows drawn down, and his nostrils expanded with deep breathing; but his eyes moved steadily over the throng at his feet, gathering their fixed glances into a focus. Then he began, in a low, almost gentle voice:---

“Khán Sáhib, Khán Bahádur Khán, my noble patron and friend! First I must thank you for giving me an opportunity to address this great assembly. I thank you too for the words you have spoken on my behalf. I begin an arduous task, but under happy---under the best of auspices.

“And you, my friends, my former patrons and companions of my youth, I feel deeply the honour you confer by assembling to hear me, though I am conscious that I owe this rather to your respect to the house to which I belong than to any merit of my own. Happy indeed is he who is born into a noble house! but upon him lies a stern obligation to maintain the high standard of his predecessors. Better to be born base than to sink from nobility to baseness.

“But, whether or not I be worthy, my conduct in life and my words, working in the hearts of men, alone can show forth. Only this I know, that none of my predecessors have spoken with more complete conviction of the truth and import of the message he had to deliver. Of the worth of what I shall lay before you, those here now, and those to whom it passes hereafter, will judge. You have granted me all I can ask, a fair occasion for speech. Believe me, the ardour to propagate a new truth is not less urgent than that which impels men to beget a son to succeed to their name and fame and possessions.

“My brothers, I come before you as one bearing treasures for your acceptance. But they have been gathered in lands remote from this old town, and in spheres of thought even more remote from that in which we have been bred. Only after much thought can their full value be discerned, only when obscuring mists have melted from the mind. It shall then be manifest that in the treasure house of kings no such priceless jewels are stored as those I offer.

“But first permit me to speak of what I have been in the past adding somewhat to the words of our noble host.

“Many among you here present knew me as the son of the venerable Sayyid Mahmúd and the grandson of the learned Maulvi Ahsán Ali, a scholar renowned from Lahor to Dakha and Haidarábád, whither you may remember he was summoned to the great debate on the Dár-ul-Harb and the Dár-us-salám. Among these learned and pious men my youth was passed, and I drew in the science of our people even with my mother’s milk. I was an eager student, trained under that most able and strict of masters, Maulvi Nazar Ali, my revered preceptor, whom I see before me now. And I dare affirm that few have traversed so wide a field of Arabic and Persian science as I had completed when I left my home in the twenty-third year of my age.

“Since then fifteen years have passed, for me years of travel and study and thought. No region of Hindustán and the Dakhin has been unvisited by me. My feet have trod the road from Jidda to the shrines of the Prophet. Misr and Rúm and the Muslim land stretching to the margin of the western ocean have been my abiding places. I have dwelt in the chief cities of the Franks, and long in the capital of our Rulers, where I lived in familiar intercourse with many of their most learned men.

“I have seen much, learned not a little, and meditated long, and ever have held one purpose before me, to bring home to my people the fruits of my toil. And I waited patiently till the fruit was ripe; then only did I turn my face again to my country, resolved to devote my life to the mission upon which I enter to-day.

“I speak then as one who, having first measured the length and breadth of the science of our people, has since surveyed the vast region beyond its limits and learnt how narrow these are, even as those of a single village on which we look down from a lofty peak, noting the little plot in an immense plain.

“So much then as to myself it was needful to speak.”

The Sayyid paused and scrutinized the faces of his audience, but could discern no responsive sympathy, nor any signs of eagerness to hear what he had to lay before them. But they sat still, attentive, with eyes fixed upon him, and none turned to his neighbour.

He who addresses an audience, pleading in a tone of sweet reasonableness, moves their self-complacence, setting them on the bench of judicial wisdom. He is as a plaintiff before a judge.

But he who stands forth as a master and leader on a new Path shall speak as one holding the very truth and proclaiming it with authority. His influence flows from his masterful will, from his profound conviction, and his faculty of clothing his faith in words which appeal direct to the heart as the blast of the trumpet, the rattle of the drum and the rhythmic shout of the war-cry.

The Sayyid pleaded no more, but spoke as a master.

Chapter LXV

The Address

Address to the People of Islám: being the discourse of Sayyid Ali Husain of Ronáhi, delivered before the assembly convened by the noble Khán Bahádur Khán

My Brothers! I stand before you as a counsellor of new ways, and I affirm that the day calls the people of Islám to abandon their old ways for new, or go down for ever among the nations of the world.

This world is a battlefield, whereon every nation is victor or vanquished.

But I see our people still bending their fathers’ bows, stringing them with fresh cords, fixing to their shafts new feathers and points, polishing their steel caps and mailed coats, and whetting the edge of their curved scimitars; and I see them marching forth in all their antique panoply against the deadly artillery of to-day---doomed to destruction.

And I come to warn you while time serves. You shall abandon these obsolete weapons. You shall prepare through new knowledge and skill to forge mighty engines of warfare and make them your own, and to stand forth armed as warriors of to-day, fit to cope with the greatest nations under the sun.

But the path to the goal of eminent knowledge and disciplined skill is very long and very arduous, and none can achieve it encumbered by dead things of the past. These must be cast aside, however dearly cherished; and then, with heads cleared and eager hearts, patient but unresting, you shall learn and master the living forces of this new age.

Then and then only shall you enter, with well-grounded hope, into the great contest of the nations of the world.

But these dead things of the past are beliefs and customs esteemed too holy to be touched or exposed to the new light of to-day. When therefore I summon you to cast them aside as encumbrances of your lives, I shall seem to preach impiety against the holiest. Be not afraid: piety shall not perish; its object only shall be changed.

Before then I set forth what we must cast aside and what preserve, in order to press forward unhindered in the new way, I would have you understand in how reverent a spirit I approach this great inquest.

This then first: I know well, and deem it a sacred truth, that the bond of our common life is custom, and that piety sustains it: when piety decays, the bond slackens and our common life is in peril of dissolution.

I would preserve with fostering hand the spirit of piety, though I loosen the bonds of ancient custom. I know that piety will survive in the heart, though its object has perished.

Creeds and solemn rites shrivel to shells devoid of life. But purer objects shall be presented to the spirit of piety, and over them holiness shall be diffused. For holiness lies not in the rites themselves, but is shed over them by the spirit of piety.

I would foster piety until it grow to be an ardent passion, that all our conduct affecting the generations to follow us may be sanctified and sanctioned by piety. Only when this is achieved shall we move onwards with conscious purpose to the goal of our life here under the sun.

But this I know, that our common life is imperilled by new conditions in the world, and that venerable custom must yield, that we may endure.

But I know this too, that in all change from ancient customs lurks peril of dissolution, and that in new ways is no secure bond for a common life unless they be linked to a spirit of piety. None can be sure that, the sacred bonds of old times being dissolved, new shall be found supported by pious sanction to take their place.

Nevertheless, when the crisis comes we must face this risk, adapt our ways to a changed world, or we must as a people perish.

And standing before you now, I affirm this crisis has come upon the people of Islám; they must change their ways or forfeit their place for ever among the nations of the world.

This is the very kernel of what I would teach, and my object is this only, to preserve our people and raise them again to their ancient glory.

And this in brief is the message I bear:---

I come to awake in you a sense of the greater life of which each of us is a part; a quick apprehension of an ever-living whole, which is to the little span of the life of each as the viewless sphere of the great world is to the space within these four walls.

Each shall regard himself as a phase in the process of life; and he shall appraise his own worth in the measure of his advancement of that process.

I would excite in your hearts a passion to labour as husbandmen for a harvest to be reaped hereafter: to strive for an end which transcends yourselves and all the needful cares of your daily life.

But first a word of these needful tasks, and of the sweet things of life, lest, in urging the claim of that which is afar, I should seem to overlook the good that lies at our feet: to forsake the solid to-day, from which only can we move to the morrow.

For a man’s first care shall be for himself and for that little group whose fate is linked with his;

He shall cherish his health and maintain his strength and garner his goods, ever watchful lest he or his sink to be a charge on the toil of others;

And he who fails to repay the cost of his nurture, fails in a debt of honour;

And base as the thief and cheat is he who makes no fair return for the good he receives;

And he who eats the bread of charity is shamed in his manhood.

All those who fail in these things mar the face of the world, and if they sink down under shame and die, it is well.

But I know that the many are utterly spent in the task of maintaining themselves and their folk and their own little nook in the world. If they fulfil this task in honour, they keep firm and sound the base on which the future is builded.

And as to the sweet things of life, I teach that man shall enjoy the savour of food, the show of fine raiment, and the adornment of dwelling and temple.

The play of light and of shadow, and the glory shed from the sun and the moon and the stars;

The lays of the poet; the bloom and the scent of the rose, and the nightingale’s song;

Friendship and love, and the commune of heart to heart and mind to mind;

Aye, and the chase, and the contest of man against man.

The delight in these is the glory of the passing day, now and of days to come; even as the trees and the flowers and the grass, the rivers and lakes and hills, are a glory on the surface of the eternal earth.

But of this I speak merely in passing, that each man is an end unto himself, and none shall lightly cast away his own.

But my theme is this, that the great ends of life transcend the living man: he is a means to the greatest hereafter, and if he sacrifice himself for this, the highest crown of glory shall be his due.

Give heed then, my brothers, and strive to apprehend the greater life of which each is a fragment.

Much, I have said, we must yield to the claims of the passing day---much, but not all. Let the claims of the greater life keep these within bounds.

Listen, my brothers! In the heart of every man lurks a consciousness of something more worthy than himself.

Amid the cares of the day it is dim, and men are unaware of its presence.

I would raise this feeling to a passion to become a supreme impulse of your lives.

It is hid in your bosom as a smouldering fire. Let it burst into flame and all other lights of the soul are subdued, as the light of the torch by the sun.

I come as a blast, to kindle that spark to a flame, to leap up the known light of your lives!

And this something more worthy than self of which you are dimly conscious---this I would have you apprehend as the greater life of which each of us, and each generation, is but a fragment the life of man now living and to be born, here under the sun, in unbroken deathless chain for all time.

I would direct the glowing passion of your hearts to this one end, the greater glory of man here on earth under the sun, that in each generation man shall become more completely master of his own fate, and rise to heights of power and glory beyond the scope of the imagination of to-day.

This, then, I teach to be the supreme end of all endeavour of man.

But for each of us living in the world of to-day the immediate end shall be the greater glory of the nation of which we are a part: the greater self which all here to-night are called to serve, our own nation, the people of Islám.

In the past the cause of Islám kindled the hearts of our ancestors, and the glory of their achievements shall not fade. A like passion I would excite again, that our people may follow a new Path with the old oblivion of self, and accomplish things not less than those of old days.

A new Path, I say, for the virtue has gone out of the old creed. The flame of the old passion has grown dim.

I bring the teaching of the new age as fresh fuel for the flame of life, that it may once more leap skyward.

The old spirit shall awake from slumber, and men, forgetful of their own weal and woe, aye, even of the profit and loss of all those living to-day, shall once more pursue with passion an object outside themselves, the welfare of that greater self, of our own people, of the people of Islám.

But the Path we must follow is new; it is the path marked out by the science of the new age.

But I have said, and I repeat it, when piety decays the bond of our common life is in peril of dissolution.

And I affirm that all things under the sun wax and wane, and not least that which men have held most sacred, the very object of their piety, their spiritual creed.

And as this creed wanes the spirity of piety shall starve and wither, and the people shall sink into corruption and perish as a people, unless, ere it be too late, a new faith arise and endow the spirit of piety with fresh life; unless this befall, the people shall vanish from among the nations of the world, and their place be filled by those inspired by the new creed of the age.

What then of the ancient creed of our people? Doth it still with unimpaired energy urge our people on the path of glory? What were the nations of Islám in the past, and what are they now?

I crave your forbearance, my brothers; answering these questions, I must speak frankly touching sacred things.

Who among those here present is ignorant of the glory of Islám? Is it not manifest to all from the tradition of our fathers, from the monuments of our kings, from our many chronicles, and from the writings of our sages and poets? But none here can tell the story of that glorious past as it has been told with profound knowledge and burning eloquence by my venerable teacher, whom I see before me now, Maulvi Nazar Ali. Many of us here to-night have sat with rapt attention while he unfolded the splendid record of our achievements in long bygone days. And have we not marked the sudden depression of his voice and countenance when from the past he turned to treat of the present? Surely none of us who heard him speak can forget his words! Would that in a prelude to my discourse to-night he had unfolded before you that great panorama of the glories of Islám!

A few words only can I speak to recall these to your memory.

For six centuries the Christian nations held unbroken sway from the Euphrates to the western sea, the boundary waters of the ancient world; and then-one and all succumbed before the arms of Islám. Their dynasties were humbled, and their people, awaked from long apathy, eagerly embraced the new Faith adding myriads to the victorious standard. Our empire extended from Magrab-ul-Aksar and Cordova with its six hundred mosques on the west, through Algiers, Tunis, and Egypt on the east; from Istámbúl, Damascus, Bagdád, Bukhára and Samarkand; from Ghazni and Delhi to the great cities of the Dakhin; and in learning and the graces of poetry, and in the amenities of life, no other nation could vie with ours.

Such was the Empire of Islám, in the past, established and maintained by the ancestors of our people of to-day. But all the glory has departed, and now, like a steed whose strength is utterly spent, Islám lies prone before the new nations of the world!

Brothers, I have sojourned in all these regions where our people dwell, and everywhere I found decay. The nations of Islám lie abject, existing only through the sufferance of the Franks. The Sultán and Khalifa at Istámbúl retains his citadel through the mutual jealousies of the Great Frankish Powers; through his impotence only is he permitted to hold the salient point of the East and the Western world.

And what of the people in the lands under the Prophet’s law? What of the rulers and the ruled? I have dwelt among them with eyes and ears open and with an inquiring spirit, and I dare affirm that the leaders are sunk in corruption, a band of do-nothings and eat-alls. Their learned men mumble old texts, from which all virtue has departed; at best they are like old men who bask in the sun and crouch in the shade, murmuring tales of their vigorous youth, and heedless of the present, they pass on to death. And the people, the toilers---they tread the paths their forefathers have trod for a myriad years, deeming themselves fortunate to escape from the extortions of their rulers with a meagre sustenance for the passing day. Everywhere corrupt and feeble rulers dwelling in decayed palaces and a people sunk in torpor or seething with rebellion. The mosques and shrines and the great domed tombs raised by the masters of the past are decaying, as a body perishes when life has departed.

Of such as these are the nations under the rule of Islám.

Then, my brothers, I entered the lands of the Franks, passed from the mouldy air of a ruinous vault to the sunlight and fresh breeze of the heavens.

And I found eager life everywhere---thoughts directed to the new needs of the day; resolution to cope with every power of nature and subdue it to the will of man; knowledge ever expanding. Obstructing mountains are pierced; distances annihilated by the magic of steam and the electric spark; one man’s strength multiplied a thousandfold; the mightiest powers of nature yoked to the service of man. And with unwearied patience and infinite skill they are revealing the hidden causes of sickness and death, and the time draws surely near when they will destroy in the germ those pestilences which ravage the people and spread desolation through our land.

Such was the contrast, my brothers! Wherever the flag of Islám waved, the decrepitude of age; among the Frankish nations of the West, the energy of youth.

I proclaim it to you: the creed of Islám is no longer a living force: its spirit is spent and our people moulder in lingering decay. The fresh life and expansive energy which now moves and moulds the nations is transferred to the new faith of the Franks.

And I come to teach this creed of the new age to our people, that under its inspiration they may strive on equal terms among the nations of the world.

And this new force which is to control the world is the exact knowledge of the processes of visible and tangible things and of the constitution of man himself; and the new creed, the firm belief that this knowledge is the supreme necessity for man dwelling here under the sun.

And the new creed affirms that of all that happens in this visible and tangible world there is a cause within the world; that this cause may be known; and that through this knowledge the processes of the world will be subdued to the will of man, and by no other means whatsoever can they be controlled.

Some four centuries have now passed since the wise men of the West, becoming conscious of the power of the knowledge of real things, first came under the influence of this great new faith, and began to abandon to priests and the common herd the unsubstantial phantoms of the invisible world of spirits. Now, at length, in our day, this new creed is the dominant force in the dominion of the world.

If a man fell sick these doctors of the new faith sought the cause in his blood and tissues, and scornfully brushed aside the old belief of evil spirits as the agents of disease and of exorcisms and spells as remedies. All these creations of the childhood of man they have banished to the realm of fancy, where dwell the afrits and jinns and fairies of ancient fables.

If the seed fails to grow and blight afflicts the crop, they seek the cause in the surrounding physical conditions and in minute destructive germs invisible to the naked eye; the influence of malignant spirits and of the evil eye has no longer any place in the sphere of exact knowledge.

And thus of all things that happen. For the world is a complex of physical forces to be unravelled and weighed and measured, and subdued and guided to serve the purposes of man.

And knowledge of these forces and the art to control them grows surely from day to day.

And meantime the people of Islám gnaw old bones out of which the marrow has utterly perished!

But, you would ask, among these people who seek solely through the mastery over visible and tangible things to render the world the most fit and noble dwelling for man, what office is performed by their religion, with its dogmas of God the Father and of the soul, after death immortal in heaven or hell?

Brothers, I have dwelt among them and noted well their profession and their practice. They profess a tranquil respect for their religion; they perform with grave demeanour the routine of worship, and maintain priests to remind them on one day in seven, at least, of a spiritual side of existence. But their creed and its rites are set apart, not to intrude on the eager life of the working day. In this they are absorbed, and bond in this only to the laws, physical and moral, which determine the course of life here under the sun.

And their priests have invented a fair dogma to reconcile their practical life with their religious creed: that the service of man is the service of God. Thus has the religious man been transformed into the practical man, who devotes his powers and opportunities to the task of leaving this world under the sun at his death better for man’s dwelling than he found it at his birth. On one day in seven he may profess to believe that this life does not matter much; but his practical concern on the other six days is to subdue the world to the purposes of man and to help men to live a nobler life therein.

Thus in practical life they are freed from the many-coloured web which the unbridled fancy of ancient days has spun around the fate of man. The true creed of their leaders---of their statesmen and learned doctors, of their physicians and chemists and engineers, of all those who stand forth as the men of the age---is, that by knowledge guiding the crafty hand all nature shall be moulded to the will of man, as the clay is moulded by the potter; that by conformity to the moral and economic laws which determine the welfare of man as a citizen of the State, the social life shall be raised in each generation to a higher level. They believe that the knowledge of these laws and of the processes of the world can be acquired only by patient and unbiassed searching into real things, and that only those people who stand in the foremost rank in the acquisition of knowledge and its application to the arts of peace and war shall maintain a place among the great nations of the world.

This, my brothers, is the genuine creed of the leaders of the West. Their professed spiritual religion counts but few fibres in the web of their daily life. It was borrowed from our dreaming Eastern world, and now gives way before the passionate purpose of the West, for the advancement of man to his highest life here under the sun.

This then is the new Faith I preach to my people:---

The sole sphere of man’s activity is within the visible tangible world, and all his aspirations shall be limited to that sphere.

His task is to subdue the forces of nature to his will; and this task he shall pursue with undaunted heart and unresting energy, ever holding this faith steadfast, that in the end he shall be master of all things, even of his own fate.

And his device shall be: Man master of his own fate!

And now, before I proceed to expand and explain these fundamental doctrines of the creed I preach, I would have you note one point wherein the new knowledge differs from those revelations of things unseen upon which devout men ponder day and night.

The new knowledge is solely of facts observed; the old was of facts revealed.

But facts observed are true now and for all time; true here in this Land of Hind, in the lands of the West and the lands of the East, true for Muslim and Hindu, true for the Christian and Buddhist. There are not many sciences, but one only.

But what of the so-called facts of revelation?

Have not our wise and learned men searched the lore of the Pandits and turned away with contempt from the fine-spun web of their fancies, which captivates those already persuaded of the Divine inspiration and of the truth of the figments they assume?

Again, who among our learned men has not pitied the deluded Christians who teach the fable of the Eternal God transformed to the Infant of Days, of the Divine Being expiring a malefactor on the Cross?

And yet, my brothers, the doctors of the Hindus and Christians, who teach these strange things, are wise and learned and honest seekers for truth. And how do they regard the creed of Islám? For them, at best, a fine web of fancy spun from a heated brain.

And some of you here may remember the judicial finding of the great Akbar Sháh in the case of the competing creeds. It is writ in the Muntakhab-at-Tawárikh of Abdul Kádir Malük Sháh Badáoni, in these words:---

That every creed equally receives valiant support from its own learned doctors;

That all creeds have produced saintly men and are equally rich in their revelations and miracles;

That for the impartial mind there is no sound reason for accepting one as true and rejecting the others as false.

Thus decreed the great King after hearing the pleas of the Muslim and Christian and Hindu.

Thus it is then with the “revealed truths”: truths only for those within the pale of the sect, elsewhere scoffed at as dreams and phantoms, with no basis outside the believer’s mind.

But I repeat it, the new knowledge founded on facts observed is fixed in real things and valid for all, for the Muslim no less than the Hindu and Christian.

I would release you from these shifting visions of revelation, and lead you to establish your welfare on the real things in this world under the sun.

The age is approaching when you shall at length be delivered from this bondage of an unseen world: when you shall stand erect and fearless, bowing before no phantom power; when your purpose, in all piety, shall be to establish in this world under the sun a dwelling-place ever more fitted for those who come after you; aye, the effort of each shall be to make this land, this city, his own dwelling, subserve ever more completely the manifold needs of human life.

(The speaker paused and then continued in a lighter tone:---)

My brothers, the mass of honey in the hive is formed of countless drops, each made up of minute particles gathered by myriads of distinct efforts: so it is with the welfare of the tribe and the nation.

Let then each man order his home to be the fittest dwelling-place, and thenceforth his efforts shall be to the betterment of his city, his tribe and his nation.

Before each of you lies a noble task ready to his hand; and the way to its fulfilment is through exact knowledge of the processes of this world in which we live.

This, my brothers, is the new instrument which you shall make your own: exact knowledge of the processes of the world; and you shall use it for the advancement of our people, those now living and, yet more, those unborn.

Such is the supreme end, and such the first condition of its ultimate achievement: the mastery of all nature through knowledge to the one end, the greater glory of our life upon earth!

I would have you pursue this end with a passion no less strong than the passion of the saint striving for the salvation of his own soul. I would have you apprehend as the greatest of truths that the way to this end is through exact knowledge.

You shall esteem no toil too great for the acquisition of this knowledge, and no sacrifice too great for the sake of progress on this way, even to the doing of deeds from which your hearts now shrink in terror.

I would have you so dispose your hearts that your dominant and abiding impulse shall be the subordination of your own transitory life to the eternal life of your people. Nay, more: you shall regard your life as but a phase in the life of your nation; and the canon of your life shall be the advancement of our people, now and hereafter, here upon this earth.

And to those of you whose imagination can embrace a wider humanity beyond the nation of each, I would say, Let your life be an active working for the betterment of man by the conquest of the evil which is under the sun. Let your aspiration be to do a deed which shall work for all time towards this great end; and let your faith be that your highest aspirations shall be fulfilled in the generations to come.

So much then, only briefly for the present, of the supreme end, of the passionate desire of achievement I would kindle, and of science, the white light of the world.

And now, before I proceed to speak further of our own people of to-day and their still vigorous life, I would say a few words in passing of the share of each of us, down to the most humble, in this great work for the whole.

And you know well that only through the joint work of all is the welfare of the whole sustained. I would again remind you, lest my teaching be misunderstood, of this relation between the daily task of each and the welfare of the whole.

I say, then, that each one of us who duly and honestly with all his heart fulfils his daily task, maintaining himself and his own with the fruits of his toil, untainted by the bread of charity and ill-gotten gain, lives a worthy life, contributing a share to the preservation of the common life now and hereafter.

No other creed insists on this primal duty of each so emphatically as does that which I teach. It is the very first condition of right conduct. By the toil of all these humble workers is built up and sustained the common life and the infinite life with all its endless possibilities. I affirm that the one good thing is life; the one thing for which we all must crave, more life, stronger life, more varied life, and life raised to the highest of which rich human nature is capable.

Each, then, who labours duly within his own sphere, however humble, maintains the fabric of life, and thus works for a great and noble purpose beyond himself, and in his own sphere shall be honoured as a worker for the supreme end.

Thus I cast a glory over the myriad honest workers in the land.

But I would awaken in our people a new zeal, through a growing consciousness of this, the growing consciousness that they are working towards the perfection of man. And to our workers I say:---

The work of each man’s hand, let it be the best. The knowledge each inherits, let him extend it. The instrument of his calling, let him improve it.

And make clear to your minds the boon conferred by him who invented the weaver’s loom, by him who first constructed the plough, by those who brought kine to the yoke and bridled the horse. Or ponder on the marvels which have followed from the invention of writing: the thought which for a moment flashed through the brain, the spoken word which perishes with the speaker and hearer, has been transformed into a living force, transmitted through all ages---the written word, the most imperishable of a man’s deeds.

And to those endowed with insight and technical skill I would say: Emulate these great inventors of the past, and transmit more perfect appliances to the generations to follow. Rest not content with the ways and instruments you have inherited, but strive sedulously to render these better fitted to serve the purposes of life.

Thus much I speak in passing, to link my teaching with the daily work of the toilers at the fabric of our common life.

And I repeat, and I would the words might be burnt into your hearts: The betterment of man is through the extension of knowledge of the forces of the world, and through the application of this knowledge to subduing these forces to the purposes of man: thus only shall disease and poverty and early death be overcome and man achieve his highest life.

And now, my brothers, I must speak again of our own people, of the people of Islám, and I speak with a heart full of hope. I have said the States of Islám are decayed, their rulers feeble and corrupt, and the vital breath has gone out of the ancient creed. But I affirm now that we men who live now, we, the descendants of those who did great deeds, we still retain our physical and mental vigour, and, man for man, are no less than our ancestors. The Arabs of the Desert, the men of Iran, the Turks of Samarkand and Bukhára, and those who live under the Sultan of Rúm, in form and stature, in capacity for action and endurance, in courage for contest; these, I say, are no degenerate stock.

And here in this hall I see before me men and youths, Shekhs, Patháns and Sayyids, fit to vie man to man with any race under the sun. And tens of millions of men such as these are bred in this Land of Hind and among the mountains about Kábul, Kandahár and Hirát.

In the men of Islám themselves I see no decay. And I dare affirm that in high courage and intellect they are, man for man, no way inferior to the Frankish people of the West. Nay more, in quickness of mind and craft of hand I esteem our people more richly endowed than the people in the West. And as to the chosen few, the flower of our race, our men of learning, our statesmen and leaders, they are no less gifted in moral and intellectual pre-eminence than those who are now the Rulers of this land.

I assert then with assurance and hope that, although the spirit of Islám has decayed and as a great polity perished, although the States bereft of the spirit have crumbled, yet the men themselves of these States are as the men of the past, and need but a new faith and a new polity to combine them once more into a great nation, and new methods and instruments of power.

The men are there as of old, but they lack the implements and training, and, alas! the eager spirit to combine for great ends. In the struggle of the nations they are feeble as a sailing-ship driven by the fickle and indomitable winds beside an iron-ribbed rival driven by the ordered power of steam. They are helpless as a band of swordsmen before men armed with rifles, as a crowd against a company of disciplined troops.

Dominion falls to the weapon, the instrument, the machine; to organization and discipline: those are masters in this world of ours who bring these to the highest point of efficiency and dare use them to supplant their rivals.

Hence the dominant power of the people of the West: their best thoughts and energy have been steadfastly directed to perfecting their instruments for the production of wealth and their weapons and organization for war, while we have passed our days in brooding over dead things, and in fantastic hopes of a phantom world beyond the gates of death!

They have yoked the forces of nature to the chariot of man, while we creep on our way unchanging as a flock of sheep.

They have dared to enter on new and perilous ways, while we shrink from new ways as a child from a dark room.

They offer a lip-homage to an ancient creed, but in action rely on the physical and moral facts observed in the world we know; but we are trammelled in our daily life by our piety to our fathers’ ways, burdened as with the corpse of a great ancestor we dare not bury away in the sweet earth.

Thus it happens, my brothers, that with all our high qualities of heart and intellect we lag far behind in the great race among the nations of the world and live under an alien rule.

I would arouse the old spirit in our leaders and excite a passionate desire to master the new knowledge and the new arts, that they may raise our people once more to the foremost rank among the nations of the world.

This, then, I repeat is my mission: I would set our people on the path which leads to the foremost rank among the nations. And I teach that the guide on this path is knowledge, knowledge of real things; and that progress on this path is made by the application of this knowledge to the arts and crafts, whereby our power over the real forces of nature is achieved.

And I would arouse in you a burning desire to acquire this knowledge and master these arts, and a passion to attain a place of power and dignity among the nations.

And I would turn you aside from the vain pursuit of the illusory objects held before you by all revelations so-called. I would deliver you from the superstitions which lead you astray, that you may move unhampered in the path to the great end which I set before you.

Dare to cast away the crumbling superstitions held together only by a halo of sanctity inherited from ancient days; dare to embrace with passion the new knowledge and to learn to know facts observed from facts revealed, and to seek mastery over the real forces of nature, through which only is your weal and woe determined, and the time shall surely come when you shall be restored to your ancient dignity.

But now you are led astray from the right way by the illusion that the good and evil you enjoy and suffer are dependent on unseen powers of an invisible world; that these must be propitiated; that their character and will and pleasure must be comprehended in order to secure their aid and avert their anger. Thus are your thoughts and endeavours and desires directed to a phantom world, and turned away from those realities on which your true salvation is wholly dependent. You seek the causes of plague and pestilence and famine in the anger of phantoms, and look not at your feet and around you for the real causes in the poison germs which lurk in air, earth and water, in the food you eat, in the filth you breathe; and propitiating these phantoms, you rot and perish from generation to generation.

Until these hoary delusions and diseased impulses connected with the phantom world are rooted out, and a wholesome faith in the real things of the world implanted, you can make no sure advance on the way to the mastery of the evils which afflict you.

I would see our people the first to embrace the new faith and to pursue passionately the new way, that they may become predominant among the nations of the world.

I pray you now, my brothers, start not in dismay at the plain bold words I speak. They leap from my heart like flames to kindle in your hearts a burning desire to follow the new way to salvation in this life under the sun.

I repeat that, in the age in which we live, science and the arts founded on science are the dominant factors of the wealth and welfare of nations, and that no nation can endure except this great truth is next to the heart of her leaders.

And I teach that in this life, here beneath this sun, is the supreme end of man: that through increase of knowledge he shall become master of his own destiny and controller of the world.

But I teach that before he can securely advance on the new Path he must be delivered from the phantoms sprung from his own brain, from the brood of his childish fancy, from all vain hopes and fears of a spirit-world.

Yes; delivered first from all vain hopes and fears of a phantom world.

Our lives are haunted by the crude imaginings of days long gone by and their dread halo of holiness! We live in abject servitude to dreams proclaimed as revelations of truth to a simple and credulous folk. Our faculties of knowledge are clogged, our lives blighted, the real worth of things disfigured, by a poisonous mist of superstition.

While the leaders of the people of the West, guided by the new knowledge, triumph over nature and rule our ancient land, we live in a world of ghosts and shapes devoid of substance. The whole conduct of our lives is perverted by that most damnable illusion that we live here as mere sojourners on our way to a spirit world, to a monstrous heaven or a still more monstrous hell.

We waste most precious years and pervert the healthy intelligence of each generation of our eager youth teaching fables for history and instilling poisonous beliefs; we spin them about with tissues of error which cling to them as garments of obstruction even to the end of their days. And the realities which touch their lives to the core are despised as base things or barred out as profane.

Until this great illusion is swept from the minds of our leaders, all my teaching of the supreme end of man here under the sun, and of the sanctity of our life in this world, must be vain. Never can you step free and unfettered on the glorious path I would open out while you are under the spell of this ghostly illusion.

I speak of the hollow phantom of the soul of man and the pernicious figment of the life beyond the gate of death.

You know that it has been written concerning the soul of man that it was created by the command of God; and you have been taught that it is immaterial and not generated like the body; that it enters the body of man at his birth, to dwell therein for a brief while until, released by death, it pass into a world of spirits, to be there damned or blessed for immeasurable ages on an estimate of its conduct during its fleeting sojourn in the flesh. Thus is the real man changed into a visitant from another sphere, devoid of genetic connexion even with the parents from whom he sprang.

And this spectral figment has been wrapped about in a glamour of sanctity, through which the eye of man dares not to pierce to the hollow core! But let the heart be calm and the mind delivered from the thraldom of venerable tradition, and this spirit shall be exposed in the light as a spectre bred in the land of dreams, a phantom shaped by man’s brain in the remote ages when knowledge was but a frail infant struggling to light through a mist of dreams and phantasms of the day. Knowledge, now grown to manhood and distinguishing realities from figments of fancy, has disclosed the nature and origin of this figment of a soul, and released men from its haunting presence.

And men shall revolt against this filching from life under the sun through generations this its most noble flower, to deck therewith the emptiness of the thin spirit. No longer shall the flesh be stripped of its great glory to fill the inane.

For look you, the conscious life of man, with its complex web of desires and will and thoughts, spun over depths of feelings dim to the point of vanishing, this is the very flower of life under the sun, brought forth at length after countless ages of strife for mastery. The thought, which reveals the processes of the world and penetrates to the limits of time and space; the will, persistent to attain its goal amid terrors of ruin and death; the heart, filled by suffering and wrong with pity and anger, beating with love and reverence for the fairest and most noble and with hatred for the craven and base---these are the very flowers of life under the sun, and they spring from our flesh and blood, sown in the long agonies of the generations of man; and in ages to come they shall expand in new beauties and powers beyond the imaginations of to-day.

And these are the very justification of life.

But these flowers and fruits have been wrenched away from fleshly life and set up as a soul apart, an isolated self-contained unity, invisible, impalpable, void of shape; and the body, thus shorn of its glory, damned as a gross, corruptible, corrupting thing.

Surely the very culmination of perversity!

Strip from the tree leaf, flower and fruit, and a bare stem remains; blow the flame from the lamp, and you shall leave but a stinking wick; cut the light and heat from the sun, and a cold dead ball shall cumber the stellar space; deprive a thing of that wherein it hath worth, and what shall remain but the worthless?

Forsooth, by such jugglery as this has been created the pure spirit and the body of man damned as corrupt!

But now at length the conscious sifting of the real gold of knowledge from the dross of fancy and guess has laid bare this monstrous perversity and vindicated the claims of the generations of man to their own glorious flowers.

This art I would teach you, my brothers; and you shall learn to look with clear unperverted vision on the world within which we dwell;

And the old awe before venerable fancies of the credulous past shall be swept from your hearts;

And the haunting ghost of man’s fleeting, flitting soul shall vanish.

Then shall the wondrous things in your midst be revealed to your vision: the body of man as a sacred vessel, whence spring the sources of thought and feeling and conscious will: the holy temple of the passions and a link of eternal life.

Then shall your striving become steadfast for the perfection of this shrine of conscious life; and when, at the close of your days, you sink to rest, no dim fears shall oppress your heart, and your lips shall murmur:---

“I have worked at the fabric of life to the best of my power; my deeds are imperishable, and a part of the glory to come!”

Thus far of the hoary illusion of man’s soul, the pursuit of a phantom in a phantom sphere.

The time is approaching when the centre of attraction for man’s efforts and hopes shall be shifted from this ghostly inanity to the generations of man upon earth;

When no leader of our people shall brood over his own soul a self-centred egotist driven by hopes and fears of his own gain and loss; he shall see himself as a link in the endless chain of life, as a phase of ever-growing humanity; and his self-love shall be transformed into love of man, and he shall esteem his works as good as they promote the welfare of his people now living and to come; and the final end and aim of all his effort shall be the mastery of nature and, through this, the generation of the perfect man.

And a word of this love, not of self, which I would kindle in the hearts of our leaders:---

Love impelleth the mother to toil and suffer that her child may wax in health and strength and beauty; aye, the tigress layeth down her life for her cub and the dove for her unfledged nestling;

The good craftsman loves the work of his hand apart from any profit of his labour;

The true servant discharges his duty in pure love of its fulfilment;

A man will care for the honour of his guild, oblivious of self;

So shall our leaders hereafter care for the welfare of man, here in the flesh, upon earth; that each generation may wax in knowledge, right living and power, to the ever-increasing perfection of life here under the sun.

Thus, my brothers, I would turn your thoughts from the vain things of the spirit world to the real forces of this our world, which alone determine our fate, good or evil.

In the dim past ages the infant imagination of man created these phantoms and shadows of reality, and spun for them a dwelling-place beyond the gates of death. And upon these shadows, projected by man’s own brain into emptiness, have been built up the great creeds of the world.

Let me now speak briefly of these, of their irreconcilable conflict of doctrine and the measure of their practical agreement.

These religions of the world, these revelations from an unseen realm, where lurk spirits most potent over fate, and whither every man shall go after death, and the sacred rules for belief and conduct prescribed to man that he may gain the favour and avoid the wrath of the dread powers---

These are without number; in no region of the earth so many and varied as in this Land of Hind, where the Muslim dwells beside the Christian, amid the millions whom the Brahman guides on many and devious paths.

And the follower of each diverse way is well assured that to him alone an awful unseen power has revealed the true way to a firm city in the shoreless universe, wherein he shall find a fit dwelling after death; and he doubts not that all other ways lead but to hell.

And in each of these diverse ways there is great comfort to the weak and fortitude to the strong.

Consider then awhile religion as the comforter.

Among men the weak and afflicted are beyond count; and how weak are women, and how few escape prolonged suffering! and one and all they turn for help to powers of dread, finding no comfort upon earth.

Have we not watched the endless pilgrim stream rolling onwards to Hardwar? Bands of men and women, weary and footsore, with scanty clothing against the dews of night and the biting wind from the mountain gorge; and in their girdles they bear the savings of long years of toil to buy the help of the preserver, Hari. Like sheep along the dusty road at eve, they move with eyes fixed as in a trance.

But note the cry: “Gangá mán kí jai! Bom!” From mouth to mouth it rolls along the line; the lagging steps grow brisk, the dull eyes bright, aroused by fervent hope in the Great Mother; for hath she not sent forth the sacred stream from the cavern of ice and opened a way through the mountain range to the Steps of Hari, there to wash away the sins of her votaries and save them from aeons of life and misery?

And sustained by this weird faith, they bear their burdens with patient heart. But watching the pilgrims pass, the Muslims murmur, “Shall the destiny of man be changed by washing in a mountain stream? Bewildered pagans! Misled and fleeced by greedy priests, they march surely to everlasting fire!”

And thus has generation of heathen followed generation, cease lessly calling on a phantom for help! Pitiful!

But beside the Muslim watching the pilgrims pass stands a Christian, and his lips too curl with contempt of their heathen ways. But what shall the Muslim say of the faith which in affliction comforts and sustains this man?

He is taught that God, the Almighty, the Merciful, wroth with man for his sins, condemned him to hell. But His only begotten Son intervened, and offered himself to suffer death, a vicarious sacrifice to atone for the sins of man; and God consented to forgive even the greatest of sinners if, believing in this great sacrifice, he called upon the blessed name of the Son. Then the Son entered the womb of Miriam and was born as the Prophet Isa. He suffered most ignominious death on the cross with thieves and robbers, consummating the great vicarious sacrifice demanded by the wrathful God. But, know this further: God the Father and God the Son are one: thus it was God Himself who entered into Miriam’s womb and was born to die on the cross; God was the Deity to be appeased and the victim sacrificed both in one, that He might be moved or move Himself to forgive sins and save man from his destined hellfire!

Such is the central dogma of the Christian creed! And the countenances of True Believers mantle with the smile of superior wisdom, and their hearts are moved to pity mingled with contempt for the deluded Nazarenes, our fellow-countrymen and our Rulers! And they ask one of another, Could the imagination of man in the delirium of fever fabricate a creed more monstrous in its immeasurable absurdity?

And yet, my brothers, these dogmas, which you esteem to be profanation of the Most High, are held with assured belief by men of noble character, keen intellect and profound learning; and unspeakable is the comfort they bring to the afflicted, for they doubt not that, through the holy name of Isa, their sins shall be forgiven, and they shall receive in a life hereafter compensation for all the misery and injustice they endure here under the sun.

And thus has generation of Christians followed generation, ceaselessly calling on an empty name for help! Pitiful too!

Thus, my brothers, you shall grave this truth in your hearts: those who follow the way of Ráma and Krishna and those who follow the way of the Prophet Isa are steadfast in faith even unto death, as are those who follow our Prophet Muhammad, the True Believers; and even as these, they too are comforted in affliction and fortified in deeds.

Let the creed be false, let the creed be true, its virtue is one to the heart of suffering man! For its virtue of comfort and of impulse to deeds springs not from its truth or falsehood, but from the faith, unswerving and absolute, which fills the heart of the True Believer.

It is no test of the truth of a doctrine that it brings comfort in affliction and courage in conflict;

And doctors of unimpeachable wisdom and honesty testify to the absolute truth of each of these three antagonistic creeds and to the utter falsity of the other two; but their testimony is valid for nothing beyond their own undoubting belief.

And now of another aspect of these three great systems of religion---their rules of practical morality, of the conduct of man towards man.

Mark this: widely different as are the doctrines revealed by the dread unseen powers, yet their great rules of moral conduct are in substance the same:---

Thou shalt not lie; thou shalt be true to thy bond; thou shalt not steal nor murder nor commit adultery; thou shalt care for thy children and respect thy parents and the aged; thou shalt be clean in thy ways, help the suffering, oppress none.

These are commandments in all creeds;

And they are the indispensable bonds of association: without them men cannot live and work together to form a tribe, a city or state.

If this moral bond is slackened, and mutual trust decay until each man live and strive for his own hand, then shall the State crumble, as a building when its parts cease to cohere. And there shall come against it a band united by mutual trust, mutual help and a common purpose, and shall utterly destroy that State.

And in this world of ceaseless strife between race and race and creed and creed, all those have surely perished which failed to obey rules of mutual conduct such as these. As the human body cannot live and flourish without the mutual co-operation of all its parts, so can no State endure, except through the observance of these rules of righteous conduct.

I have dwelt long in the Christian West, and looked with equal eye upon the ways of our Hindu neighbours and of our own folk, and among all I have found good men, whose walk in life is noble and righteous; and no less have I found in all and each liars and cheats and foul livers, and men debased by crime;

And this too have I found---that the men of each and all of these ways flatter their souls with the comforting illusion of the superior righteousness of their own folk, and the depravity of the votaries of rival creeds!

And this also I have learnt on my travels, that a man’s life and goods are secure or in danger as the law is most surely enforced. Where the ruler is strong and just and wary, right is maintained between man and man; but where the ruler is weak and vicious, there justice, the base of our common life, is undermined and the fabric of the State crumbles.

But give ear now to the parable of the King and the Visionaries of the Land of Ghosts:---

Between the mountains of Káf and the Miyáh Rákidat, or Still Waters, lies the country of Khálistán. Here in ancient days there dwelt a people, fair to look upon as a herd of deer or a flock of swans; and they were fearless to cope with the hostile forces of the real world, and of ghostly things they had no care. And their ruler was a wise king devoted day and night to his royal task. He was one who kept the springs of justice pure of pity for present grief and pain, and refused to enfeeble the nation to gratify the people of the passing hour.

Now one day, in the full meridian of his reign, it was reported to him that certain strangers had penetrated the eternal snows of the mountain passes. And in the report it was written: These strangers, frost-bitten and gaunt, entered the kingdom in three separate bands; and between them is no intercourse, even mutual repulsion from common bread and salt. But they one and all affirm that they come to preach of a life after death, and of rewards and punishments allotted to every man for his acts during his brief sojourn under the sun. And they condemn the things of this life as worthless in themselves, and teach what men shall believe and what do in order to pass over to eternal happiness after death. But the leader of each of the three bands lays down a different way to this supreme end, and warns his hearers that the ways of the other two lead to a pit of everlasting misery.

When the king had read the report, he commanded the three leaders to be brought into the presence; and they appeared---three doctors of reverend aspect, bearing severally the distinctive emblems of the Crescent, the Cross, and the Trident.

And the king conversed with them together and with each alone, giving a patient hearing while they set forth their doctrines and the grounds whereon they were based; but he checked them sternly when they sought to appeal to his hopes and fears.

Then, on the demand of the king, each of the doctors produced the map and the surveyor’s report upon which he relied for his knowledge of the Land of Eternal Light and Darkness beyond the Gates of Death. These documents the king examined with care such as he was wont to bestow upon a survey for a projected canal or road.

To his many questions regarding details and apparent inconsistencies the doctors had ready replies, for they had devoted their lives to the study of their own records and were masters in the art of exegesis. And the king was convinced that if the authenticity of any one map and survey was accepted, then the dogmas founded on it must be substantially true.

But he remarked that although the three independent surveys dealt with one and the same region, yet they differed so extensively both in detail and in their great outlines that if one of the three was correct the other two were indubitably false. And this was admitted by each of the doctors, who earnestly bade the king beware lest, adopting either of the rival surveys, he should proceed on the way to destruction.

Then, in answer to the king’s demand for verification of the correctness of the original record, each doctor stoutly maintained that if his own particular document were studied by the king with a mind unbiased and ardent in the pursuit of truth, he would discern in it, without fail, a sublime revelation beyond the power of human wit to fabricate.

But since it appeared that this alleged intuition of truth was evoked equally by the study of any one of three records, of which two were false, it afforded no criterion of authenticity. Each of the doctors then named witnesses who, professing to come from the region beyond the Gates of Death, confirmed the accuracy of his own surveyor’s report. But the witnesses of each were rejected by the other two as wilful liars, or, at best, victims of illusion. And it appeared that these learned doctors had contended one against the other for many years, but that none of them had convinced the others of their errors; for no independent verification of the several records or of the accuracy of the witness could be adduced.

When at length the king perceived that in the way of testing alleged facts and examining inferences by the light of experience and reason he could advance no further, he commanded the doctors, each in turn, to plead for his faith in his own way.

Then was unloosed a flood of eloquence skilfully addressed to the deepest emotions of the human heart. The doctors spoke in moving terms of the miseries of life and the inability of feeble man alone to contend against them. They awaked terrors of the wrath of all-powerful spirits and inspired awe before the unknown. They described the horror of death and the pang for a loved one lost, and dwelt sweetly on the comforting hope of resurrection and reunion, on the yearning for love and sympathy amidst the cruel and inexorable forces of nature. They expatiated on the infinite comfort from a Divine Protector, caring for all, and filled with pity even for the most abject of mankind; on the Divine Judge who would surely reward the good and the righteous and punish the wicked and oppressors. They drew pictures of terror of the awful fate reserved for those who refused to believe the messages they came to deliver; they offered salvation and eternal joys and threatened hell.

All this and much more they unfolded before the king with persuasive eloquence, ardent with the fire of absolute faith.

And as each speaker ceased the king thought, “How hard shall it be for the simple man to resist such an appeal as this!” Then he commanded the doctors to be removed under guard, and himself retired into his chamber of reflection, where all is still.

Now the king was quick to read and interpret the book of men’s hearts. He had marked the reverend aspect and austere manner of the strangers, and on their faces recognized the stamp of sincerity. For them the unseen world with all its spiritual influences was as real as the visible and tangible world about them. Of their intellectual ability there could be no doubt; each was profoundly versed in his own lore and skilful to explain it in clear and eloquent speech warmed with complete conviction.

Then the king thought: had either of these venerable men come as a teacher to his childhood, how surely had he accepted him as a manifest messenger of truth! And if any one of them came alone to men and women weak in sorrow and affliction, what eager reception would he find for his doctrines of release and rest, of eternal happiness and victory, of the protection and love of an all-powerful Father, Lord of both worlds! How surely would their faint hearts yearn for flight from the battle of life and turn aside from the only true way, the way through knowledge to the subjection of the forces of the world to the service of man!

Then the king summoned his secretary into the presence and commanded him to engrave a royal edict as follows:---

Whereas three bands of strangers have, without the royal permission, entered our country, purposing to teach us new rules of conduct. They avouch that beyond the Gates of Death lies a Land of Eternal Life, whither it behoves every man to guide his course during his brief sojourn here under the sun; and they call upon all men to abandon things of the earth and to-day for the sake of eternal things hereafter;

Therefore we commanded the leaders of the three bands into our presence, and we have conversed with them at length, separately and together, and we have examined with care the map and reports which each severally produces, depicting and describing this invisible world. And having well considered these and all that the doctors urge, we decree:---

That, apart from the statements made by these people, we have no knowledge or record of the existence of this invisible land nor have we even heard of it by report.

And we find that each of the surveys of this unseen country, which, independently one of the other, the strangers produce, differs fundamentally from the other two; and that each of the leaders vouches for the absolute trustworthiness of his own surveyor and for the accuracy of his map, and asserts, with passionate conviction, that the two other surveys and reports are either wilful forgeries or the productions of diseased imaginations;

That no independent evidence whatever is produced in favour of any one of the three surveys; no criterion, intrinsic or extrinsic, offered for distinguishing the false from the true. And that, independently of the conflicting statements of these strangers, no single fact or datum indicates that this invisible land has any real existence whatever.

And inasmuch as out of the three conflicting surveys two are necessarily false, and there is no ground for inferring that any single one of them must be true, and deals with any reality existing outside of the surveyor’s imagination. Nor is there reason to infer that one at least of these leaders must be an unerring judge of truth: two of the leaders have undoubtedly been grossly deceived, the error of the third is a probable inference.

And further: If the invisible land were a reality, these several surveys should show some fair agreement. If, on the contrary, it is a figment of the brain projected into space, and the several surveys the product of a disordered imagination, then such discrepancies as we find would inevitably occur in the separate records. Hence the intrinsic character of the records themselves is suggestive of the non-existence of the region which they profess to depict.

To sum up, then, briefly:---

We have no independent evidence to show that this land beyond the Gates of Death exists at all, and the discrepancies between the three separate reports raise a strong presumption that they have no common reality for their basis;

We have no grounds for believing that one at least of the three contradictory records must be true:

The conviction of each of these leaders of the authenticity of his own record is equally absolute, and we have no test to discriminate between them.

And finally, the contents of the self-styled surveyors’ reports are intrinsically akin to phantoms forged in the workshop of dreams; we find no ground to warrant our accepting them as anything more substantial.

Thus an examination of the strangers and their documents discloses no ground whatever for abandoning our clear and definite duty: the steadfast endeavour to exalt man’s life here under the sun.

Surely no sober merchant in the marts of the world would venture his capital on such flimsy grounds! Surely no wise man ever abandoned his home and its present duties to sail to a remote treasure island, trusting to such maps and surveys as these!

Yet we have in these reverend doctors themselves examples of the pernicious influence these illusory promises may exercise over most capable and earnest men; and we will not expose our people to the danger of a like perversion from the true way.

We therefore command that the three learned and reverend intruders and all their followers be expelled from our kingdom by the same mountain passes through which they entered. Should any of them re-enter, the captain of the guard is commanded to slay them, and cast their bodies and whatsoever they bear with them into an abyss amid the eternal snows.

My brothers! Strong of heart as the king in the parable, looking on real things with clear unfaltering glance, shall be the leaders of the world!

But wine and opium and the juice of the hemp---potent to soothe pain, to banish care, to exalt the depressed, to waft their votaries into regions of ineffable joy and shape golden dreams of future bliss---

These too have their fit place in the scheme of the world;

They are drugs for the sick, stays for the impotent and poor in spirit, refuges from stern reality for those unable to cope with inexorable forces hostile to life.

Like unto these are the illusions of the spirit world created by longsuffering man. Phantoms called up to aid his weakness now become his tyrants!

But the strong man stands steadfast confronting the real world, seeing therein his sphere of work;

Master through his crafty brain, undaunted heart and skilful hand, to mould and subdue all things for the greatness of man under the sun.

He shall look on the forces of evil with unquailing eye, shall disclose their origins, and destroy or bend them to slaves of his will.

He shall dare defeat; and his shall be the joy of victory and of power working through generations of men.

And he shall scorn all illusion as the sapping of strength for the contest;

No slave of the spirit world woven of terrors in the childhood of man.

And his assured faith shall be that man marches through the ages onward---through battle to the mastery of the world, to a pre-eminence which no living man can express in the terms of the knowledge of to-day.

Such shall be the creed of a man and a freeman.

And this I proclaim to you as the great message I bear from the West to the East.

Let the East awake from its illusions and dreams and lead on the new way as it once led on the old!

And, give heed! the race which shall first accept this new and greatest of creeds shall start first on the road to dominion.

The creed of the Christian was for the meek of heart, for the poor and the weak, for sheep needing a shepherd.

The creed of the Hindu for those weary of spirit who seek infinite rest.

But Islám was the creed of the warrior!

Let the people of Islám cast away the lumber of the past! Let them embrace the new faith as they embraced the old, and they shall again be leaders among the nations of the world.

And now, my brothers, I would speak of the inevitable life under the sun, and of its glories, which the preachers of the vanity of life would blight, and of the victories of man over external nature and over his own heart.

My brothers, you have heard the despairing cry of ancient sages, and even listened to them with reverent heart: that man lives a fleeting phantom under the sun; he sinks into night, and the work wrought by his hand passes as the print of his foot on the dust; he is as a bubble on the surface of the stream, that floats and bursts and vanishes;

If he earns his bread by toil, his days are sour, and his chief gain the weariness which brings the oblivion of sleep; and from the bread of idleness spring vain things, and the sickening of the sated soul.

“Surely every man at his best estate is altogether vanity,” “and better is he who hath not been.” Thus spake Dáúd the king, and after him Sulaiman, whom some have esteemed the wisest of men.

And many there are, some even of our choicest spirits, whom these teachings have driven into the corner of retirement, to seek salvation through brooding over empty spiritual things and these have been revered as saints and holy men!

But I, my brothers, I stand before you to show forth the falsehood of these hoary sayings: to proclaim the supreme worth of life under the sun; that it is immeasurable as time and infinite in significance, and that through man’s stubborn will it shall be raised to a power to subdue the world to its service as embodied in man.

I will strip from these teachings the fair semblance of wisdom and holiness. I will show forth to you in words of clear meaning the base roots from which they spring. Aye, I will sweep away the misty glamour of “wisdom-not-of-this-world” which wraps their core, as the silken web spun round the worm:

They are pretexts of the heart lacking strength to contend against evil; tinselled cloaks woven by crafty reason to disguise the impotent will and console those who fail;

They are excuses for sloth and pleas for inaction;

They are the bitter cry of the spirit cloyed with unearned luxury and languid from self-indulgence;

They are incense burnt to flatter a dread power whose kingdom is not of this world;

They are a lure to many gentle spirits who desire to live in peace and righteousness, a subtle poison to paralyse the will to action.

Such are these teachings under the fair vestment of holiness and wisdom!

For consider the living of to-day, the vastness of life in this passing hour; its roots reach back into the remotest past, and it shall put forth flower and fruit in the innumerable days to come. The life in each instant is a link in an uncoiling chain, whose beginning is lost in the countless ages that have gone by and whose ending no man can discern.

With never a breach in the chain, generation follows generation, reproducing as it was produced, seed, root, stem, flower and fruit in endless succession, each transmitting the nature derived from its parent stock, modified by its own actions and passions; each receiving the torch of life to replenish and pass on.

Each of us is a unit in the endless chain of life, heir to an immeasurable past, to-morrow the product of our wills shaping the inheritance from our fathers, each of us in his degree determining his own fate and the fate of all that follow him.

Every man weaves threads in the web of human life and the weaving ceases never;

And man is the weaver and man is the web: the loom is the loom of life, each of us a strand woven and weaving.

The immeasurable fabric of life is the aggregate achievement of the myriad workers on its living strands; and its grandeur and perfection rise and fall with the persistency of the worker’s will and craft: it is the outcome of the efforts of each and all, even as the victory of the nation banded in arms redounds in glory to each who bears himself as a man in the fight, whether he live or whether he die.

No creature of a day then is man, for in him there lives an immeasurable past, and through him is moulded the nature of the countless generations to come.

And consider a moment the work of his hands.

Stand on the cliff where the mighty Ganges breaks forth from the mountain gorge. You shall see its torrent, checked in its course by the dam, transformed into a peaceful stream, and, guided through a network of channels, spread its water over the parched lands whence year after year bounteous harvests spring. Famine vanishes and man waxes in wealth and vigour.

Shall the thousand workers whose brains and hands combined to complete that great instrument of the welfare of our people raise the bitter cry, “How vain is the toil of man!”?

Or look yonder, where the dome of the Great Mosque rises into the dark heavens, glittering and trembling under the rays of the rising moon, quickened as with life. At morn and eve you have seen it glow warm, and at noon gleam dazzling white; and through the torrents of rain you have beheld its grey mass stand steadfast, an emblem of the power of man to confront the elemental forces and baffle them; and your hearts have exulted. Surely an enduring monument of the master whose mind conceived its massive strength and grace and of the craftsmen who built it! Shall these masters and men whine and moan, and cry in abject spirit, “How full of bitter toil is life! How vain its fruit!”?

Again, consider this ruby set in a hoop of gold. Watch the shafts of light break from its many facets, flashing as the eyes of swordsmen poised in combat. Look within its narrow sphere, and you shall discern calm depths of pure red light, unfathomable. Linger over it a thousand times, and you shall not be sated with its beauty.

This gem, a gift and token to me from a dying man, an ever-present symbol of the spiritual life he kindled and of my pledge to pass it on undimmed; this gem, a joy for ever to those who have eyes to see, and for the heart, a memorial living ever.

But the jeweller who cut and polished and set this ruby has crumbled to dust; behold the very flower of his life lives here as full of beauty as when it left his hands!

And what of the matchless poems forged in the brain of the poet of Shiráz? Doth not their melody move our hearts even as it moved the assembly in the rose-gardens of Musalla five hundred years ago? Nay, for ten who heard them then, a thousand recite them now.

Thus, my brothers, do the works of men endure; they are forces acting through the ages, for good or evil, to the generations to come.

Thus, my brothers, I have spoken of the worth of the life of man, measured by its influence on countless generations to follow, and of the indissoluble bond between the past and present and the future.

But now I will show you a sure way to the vanity of life and the haven of mortification. And the lure to this way is the illusion that each man is created a self-contained unit, with no vital links with his fellows, and that his final end is his own happiness.

Let a man seek his own joy and profit merely, and he shall pursue a phantom vanishing ever before his outstretched hand, and he shall surely find his life a vain thing and the craving of his heart shall never be stilled.

For each of us is but a fragment subordinate to a great complex whole, and no end therefore to himself. Every man is a segment of the sphere of life: if he attempt to make himself the final end of bis desires and actions, he obstructs his faculties in their natural expansion, a perversion distressful to the heart. And the issue is the bitter consciousness of a life spent in a vain pursuit.

For consider the heart of man: it is the garner of an immemorial past, wherein are gathered the germs of the future. It is the living tissue, wherein is brooded the coming age. As the travail of the mother finds its compensation in the life of her child, so doth the life of each man demand for its completion the generations to follow; and no single life is a closed circle complete in its own circumference.

His emotions, desires and thoughts, inherited from his ancestors, point beyond his narrow life to a future without which they are void of purpose.

The heart of a man is no brooding-place of his own happiness, but of the race to come.

Only as a unit subordinate to the greater life of man can he know the worth of life; only as living, whether consciously or not, in this subordination can he enjoy his own life to the full extent of his faculties.

Thus, my brothers, I proclaim, each of us is a unit in the immeasurable procession of life, bound indissolubly with the living world in which our lot is cast; and the worth of each is measured by his value in the great world-process: each an organ worthy only as it serves the complex organism of which it is a constituent part.

Yes, my brothers, we have all heard in ceaseless iteration the old old psalm of the misery of man under the sun: of the endless perpetuations of generations as the endless repetition of a worthless thing.

It is the piteous cry wrung from the suffering heart of man and re-echoed through the ages. Nevertheless man cleaves to life with unrelaxing grip; and the voice of nature speaks through this untutored testimony of his heart.

Listen! A gnat arose to the surface of the pool from the darkness below wherein he was bred, and resting a moment, shook the drops from his glittering wings and soared upwards into the sunlight. But the blast of the hot wind bore him to the dry sand to perish. “What a vain thing is life!” was his cry. Bright and glorious in its emergence: a spark of hope, quenched even as kindled in the heart.

As the dying sigh of the gnat, so is the psalm of the misery of man!

But you shall learn that the vainest of vain things is this condemnation of life.

Not now will I dwell on the joys of life to contrast them with its sorrows: not on the glorious flowers which spring in its spacious garden, on love and the joy of the mother in her child on hunger appeased and desire gratified; aye, and the sweetness of vengeance for wrong; nor on the gladness of the bright day and the song of the bird and colour and fragrance of flowers; nor on the pride in work well done and success achieved; nor on that ample delight in living known to all strong spirits;

Not on the glorious phases of life which to the brave heart filled with health and energy outweigh all its pains;

For I well know that to post in the ledger of life its pleasures and pains and strike the balance, and inscribe thereon happiness or misery---this is a task beyond the reach of the accountant man.

And, in good sooth, there is no chartered weighman in the market of life, who shall hold the scales on an even beam and proclaim the portentous weighment for all mankind, past, present and to come.

But even though the contemplative mind, assuming a common measure of equivalence for pains and pleasures, bring forth at the close of a cunning calculus a negative result, yet shall men in action live and endure, unheeding of the specious reasoning: they shall eagerly strive for life, and shudder to the centre of their being before the spectre of destruction.

For life under the sun is the great inevitable, and man’s verdict of reason but the passing glitter on a wavelet of the stream of life.

My brothers, life is inevitable. Life is ours, we are life. The will to live is ours and we are the will.

Life under the sun, whether adjudged good or evil, is the inevitable: life enduring beyond all measurable time; for man, then, infinite.

This is the fixed adamantine axle on which the conscious thought of man shall turn, and his whole endeavour shall be to mould his living to a perfect shape.

For consider the ceaseless production and reproduction of life. Look on the world with clear vision undistorted by the glass of error which ancient teachers have set up between the eye and the reality of things;

And wherever you shall search, except in the flame and in spheres of cold more intense than that which wraps the peaks of the Abode of Snow, in all places you shall find life:---

Teeming life in the air, on the earth, and under the waters waxing and waning and changing in ceaseless upbuilding and breaking down;

And yet the myriad creatures discerned by the unarmed eye are few to the countless multitude of living things which the magic lens of science reveals: specks of life so small that the sphere of a water-drop is to each as the sphere of the world to man.

And mark again the actions of men determined by their two master-impulses: they are peers, and in their conflict the chords of men’s hearts are rent: the fierce will of each to uphold his own life and the fierce will to procreate life anew. Man shall endure to the uttermost rather than yield to the pursuer death; but his lust shall drive him even into the jaws of famine and death.

And these twin master-impulses of men are but a phase of the great world impulse filling every crevice in the world with living things.

Aye, you shall burn the corpse in the blue core of flame and scatter the atoms through space, and once again they shall combine in kindred groups and build up a new base for the mind of man!

This then is the great fact of this world under the sun: the ceaseless production, destruction, and reproduction of life; of living things infinite in form and number, from creations below the range of vision upwards to the greatest which range through earth and air and water---culminating in man himself.

Thus life is the consummation of the process of the world, and the crown of life is man.

And the cursing of life is the cursing of the world under the sun:

He that is whole of heart and body hears the curse with anger, contempt and pity, and turns with zest to the work and strife and joy of the passing day.

Every fibre in his strong heart cries out against the teachers of the vanity of life.

But I bid you beware of them, for their deadly doctrine is cloaked under a fair semblance of wisdom; it is the very product of decay, putrid; and the healthy mind which absorbs it will be infected, even as pure blood is poisoned by contact with the rotten flesh of a corpse.

But the ineffectual and frustrated, the sick and the poor in spirit, fatten on this insidious poison, as the diseased stomach will feed on garbage.

Let them perish, them and their progeny, the inert, the sated, the beaten, the decayed of spirit: let the sanyasi wither by his holy stream and the darwesh starve in his shrine!

Let them abandon the world to those who with the joy of battle in their hearts move forward with steadfast spirit to subdue the forces of nature to serve an ever-augmented life.

And their creed shall be that man is the crown of life, and that his conquests in the past are but promise of greater victories to come.

How glorious the tale of his achievements! How marvellous!

Who shall count his works and name their divers forms?

He has curbed the raging torrent, and it flows as he wills.

The wind is his slave, and the vapour of water, and the lightning his swift messenger;

Over the trackless ocean and through the storms he rides secure direct to his haven;

His roads pierce the roots of the hills; his bridge spans the widest of rivers.

No barrier on the face of the globe shall bar his way, no force of nature escape his yoke;

Man the worker of wonders!

The glory be his!

Chapter LXVI

The Assembly Dismissed

The Sayyid ceased speaking, and resumed his seat beside Khán Bahádur Khán. For a few instants his audience remained silent and motionless under a dominant impression of bewilderment.

This man professed to bear a new message to Islám; necessarily then an exposition and development of the old creed, or a new revelation of spiritual things and the will of God, inspired by mystical insight into the Divine ways. Not only did he offer none of these, but he swept aside the Faith itself as mere human tradition filled with errors no less than those rooted in the superstitions of the Hindus and Christians: three creeds equally leading men astray from the true way of life into an empty waste! Did he not affirm that the old beliefs in the unseen world and the God of their fathers had fulfilled their purpose, and must now be cast away as the mere solace of the childhood of man? Even Muhammad the Prophet a dreamer of dreams, his revelations exhalations from an excited brain!

So much at last they had grasped painfully. But what was the nature of this new doctrine of man and his place in the world very few of his hearers could tell; his words rang with the sacred phrases, but the sense seemed changed!

Then the brief silence was broken by Maulvi Nazar Ali. The old man arose: his eyes flashed red and foam flecked his beard, his outstretched hand trembled as the pent words rushed from his lips, a torrent breaking its barrier.

“Blasphemy against the Almighty! Slander of the Prophet! Spoken by the son of a devout house, by my once loved pupil, by one of the race of the Prophet! Woe! woe! Surely Satan speaketh through his mouth! But for the blasphemer an apostate the penalty is death!”

A murmur of approbation arose from the assembly as the old man paused to take breath. Fanned by further words of the excited Maulvi the murmurs would have swelled to an angry roar, but Bahádur Khán stood up, and with a commanding gesture cried: “Silence, friends! Silence, until I, the master of the house and of this assembly, have spoken. None speaks here without my permission, and whom I permit I call by name.”

The murmurs were stilled, but the Maulvi stood firm and exclaimed: “It is for me to protest; the obligation is mine.”

Then the Tahsíldár Rafat Ali, who sat not far from the Maulvi, intervened in the quiet voice of conscious authority: “Maulvi Sáhib, the master of the assembly bids you sit in silence. Here, you and I alike obey his rule.”

The excited old man looked for a moment in the face of his patron, and then sank into his seat, muttering the holy name.

“I thank you, venerable Maulvi,” said Bahádur Khán. “Hereafter on a fit occasion you shall speak to our people unchecked. Now the word lies with me.

“Gentlemen, this I have first to say: I thank you all for attending as guests in my house, and I thank you for the quiet hearing you have given to this son of the Sayyids of Ronáhi; for the courtesy to me and to him, while he expounded strange doctrines and uttered words shocking all good sons of Islám. You have listened with self-restraint, treating him as my honoured guest, here under my protection and speaking by my permission.

“And now, briefly, as to the words he has spoken to-night. My friends, this man, by long toil and much thought, has gathered ideas among the doctors of the West, and seeks to lay them before his countrymen, whose welfare lies nearest to his heart. Brothers, understand this, I speak no word of approval of his teaching; many things he has said which have shocked us all, as our venerable Maulvi has rightly proclaimed. But this I affirm before you, that, however erroneous and even blasphemous may seem much that he avers, I know of a surety that he is without guile, his purpose is pure, his object is one only---the welfare of the folk among whom he was bred. Yea, I know the man and my judgment does not err. I have heard all he has spoken, and I dare aver that through all he seeks this only, to arouse the people of Islám, our nation, from the lethargy into which they have sunk, that they may recover their once glorious place among the nations---these great nations destined utterly to overwhelm us, unless a new energy guided by new knowledge endow us with new power.

“This, my brothers, is the very kernel of his appeal; this the one purpose he has in view. His methods and doctrines, his affirmations and denials, are all subordinate to this great end, the aim of his life. These may be all erroneous, many are assuredly so; but this I affirm, that the spirit which inspires him to speak these harsh and bitter words, daring greatly, unfaltering, before this audience, is a spirit of nobility; and only through the aid of such a potent spirit can those who now follow the guidance of the Prophet of God hope to achieve power among the peoples of the world.

“But, my brothers, I say---not approving the words of the speaker, that by this or by that our people are impeded and checked---only this much do I affirm to be true: the fact, upon which he lays stress, and with stinging words compels us to feel as degradation---the decadence and decrepitude of Islám. This he has brought home to all here; and for my part I offer him thanks. And now I call upon you one and all to join me in this, and in the prayer that we may shake off our long lethargy and strive in the right way to reach the goal he has set before us.”

There was a murmur of approval throughout the hall as the speaker paused.

“And now enough,” he continued. “Not now the occasion to debate what he has urged, nor to raise the cry of indignation that a rude hand has been laid on holy things. All this hereafter, when each has had time to think calmly on what he has heard; when each has made clear in his heart the great purpose of his pleading---that the people of Islám shall once more regain their ancient vigour and determine their own future unimpeded by the Great Powers of the Western world!

“And now the assembly breaks up, and I bid you all depart in peace!”

As the Khán Sáhib ceased his servants entered bearing trays laden with pán to distribute among his guests. They arose and bowing left the hall, following the Tahsíldár and principal gentry. Until they had passed out of the porch to the drive lit up by festoons of lanterns they spoke only in undertones; but, as their distance from the imposing presence of the noble Pathán increased, the voices grew louder, until at the gate they became vehement with disapprobation, and many rash words were spoken.

Chapter LXVII

Making the Record

But Bahádur Khán remained seated on the dais leaning back easily against the pillow, and beside him sat the Sayyid with gleaming eyes, fevered cheeks and throbbing heart. Three men had been detained by Imdád Ali, the Jamadár, under his master’s orders: old Masíhulla the bookseller, with his son Nasarulla the copyist, and the lithographic writer, Kanhai Lál. These he now brought before the Khán Sáhib.

“Have you executed the orders of the Sayyid Ali Husain?” demanded Bahádur Khán of the bookseller.

“My son has recorded every word spoken,” was the reply.

“Then, Nasarulla, you have a rare treasure in your bundle. Show me the record.”

Nasarulla handed a bundle of papers to the Khán Sáhib, who glanced from sheet to sheet of the scrawl: “I can decipher no sentence,” he said.

“My lord,” said the copyist humbly, “I have written all in my shorthand.”

“Read me this sheet,” said Bahádur Khán, taking a sheet at random.

Then the copyist, having adjusted his spectacles, read slowly, deciphering word by word:---

“I would preserve with fostering hand the spirit of piety, though I loosen the bonds of ancient custom. I know that piety will survive in the heart though its object has perished. . . . Holiness lies not in the rites themselves, but is shed over them by the spirit of piety.”

“So it was spoken,” affirmed Bahádur Khán. “Neither more nor less.” And he commanded the copyist to read other portions, and his memory confirmed the accuracy of the record.

“Listen now to my orders,” he said. “In yonder chamber are light and warmth and fair sheets of writing-paper, and what refreshment you need shall be served to you. Sit you there, Nasarulla, with Lála Kanhai Lál, the caligraphist, and dictate to him every word you have written, and when the work is complete, deliver it to me with your shorthand notes. I will examine it, and sign each page with hand and seal as a true record. If I am satisfied I will reward you with a liberal hand. But until the whole is complete you shall not come forth from the room.”

“They shall obey,” said Masíhulla the bookseller. “But, my lord, the noble Sayyid here promised that this discourse should be printed at my press and sold for my profit alone, in pamphlets for all who choose to read.”

“As the noble Sayyid promised, so shall it be,” replied Bahádur Khán. “But he shall be approved or condemned on an unimpeachable record. Lead them away to the task.”

The grave Jamadár Imdád Ali beckoned the two men to follow him, and dismissed the old bookseller from the presence.

Chapter LXVIII

Dismissal of the Sayyid

Then Khán Bahádur Khán, being left alone with the Sayyid, addressed him:---

“Ali Husain, you stung our people almost beyond endurance; you attacked the foundations of their daily lives; the fabric of custom and belief trembled; horror filled the hearts of some, and some feared the roof-beams would fall to crush, not only the blasphemer, but those who listened to his words without protest.”

The Sayyid answered: “But for your swift intervention and words of authority, the assembly had closed in clamour and tumult.”

“I doubt it not.”

“At least the hot expression of resentment comes from a heart that is alive,” continued the Sayyid.

“We have zealots enough, and more than enough, among us still,” replied Bahádur Khán. “But now a word as to your doctrine and yourself. First, to encourage you on the way upon which you have entered, I would say that with the spirit of much you have spoken I am in sympathy. I hold that the honour and glory of man lies in his own achievements and not at all in what he may receive by the grace of God; that, moreover, it resides in the action itself and not in any reward he may receive here or hereafter; this is but the essayer’s stamp on the precious metal. Nay, more, he who lives by the grace of God is as the parasite fed from the table of a wealthy neighbour. And much more could I say in approval of some of your doctrine; but it is needless.

“For I would have you understand this, that I would dwell among my folk in peace, performing my daily task unhindered. I conform to things as they are, for conformity is in no wise irksome: for me the phrases and ritual of our folk are like the courtesies of life, which facilitate human intercourse.

“But for you, Ali Husain, the task is another; and I say to you, boldly follow your bent; teach the truth that is in you; and the risk---and the honour and the glory---is on your own head.

“Among the more fiery spirits of our people you may find disciples; if not, then---well, prophets innumerable have arisen in this Land of Hind---have arisen and perished---their doctrines lost and forgotten utterly. May you be more successful than they!

“And now to the practical issue. My hospitality extends until to-morrow at noon: at that hour this house will be closed. Here your mission is fulfilled. I counsel you to depart. My horses are laid out on the road to the railway, station at Sháhgarh; my carriage is at your service at any hour before noon you may fix.

“As to the printing and publishing of your discourse, I will see it fitly done, and the original version will remain in my archives.

“And now, my friend, I bid you farewell. Vain would be the prayer, Peace be with you! for wherever your mission shall take you, there you shall surely kindle the fire of strife. But I wish that you may gather many followers among the flower of our people, and that the rumour of your success may travel to us in Ronáhi, where your opening discourse was spoken.”

He pressed the Sayyid’s hands in his and departed.

Chapter LXIX

The Sayyid and His Servant

The Sayyid was left alone, and sat, a solitary figure, in the brilliantly lighted hall, leaning back, his hands clasped loosely together in his lap. The events of the evening arose before his mental vision in disjointed scenes. Then he heard fragments of his own discourse, as they might have been spoken by one of his own form and voice, not himself, and he listened to himself as one of the audience, and his words seemed not his own; some daemonic power had found utterance through his voice, speaking indeed thoughts that were his, but clothing them in words and sentences, and launching them into the world.

But when the throbbing of his temples sank to a slower beat a feeling of depression settled upon him: as he was alone now, abandoned by all, so he would remain, a vain prophet with no single follower to cheer his heart with hope.

But while he sat thus the young man Khálik Dád had approached noiselessly, stepping with naked feet over the thick carpet spread for the audience.

“Master,” he said at length; and the Sayyid looked up to where the lad stood with hands pressed palm to palm, and a faint smile lit up his eyes. “Master, what are your orders for the butler?”

“Orders, boy?” replied the Sayyid vaguely.

“Shall the house be closed and the lights quenched? The second hour after midnight has struck.”

“So late, boy? Lend me a hand to rise: my limbs are stiff.”

“Tea and wafer cakes are set by the bedside,” said the boy.

“Will you take some refreshment and repose?”

The Sayyid stretched his arms, drew a deep breath, and asked: “Are all our friends gone?”

“Imdád Ali the Jamadár remains, having charge of the rogue bookseller’s son and the scribe, shut in yonder. The Khán Sáhib has given orders that none shall disturb my master until he rise in the morning of his own motion.”

“He has kindly thought for his guest,” remarked the Sayyid “Yes: bid the butler close the doors and put out the lights.” And, followed by the boy, he went into the little chamber, where beside his bed, a lamp with an opal shade burnt on the table.

“You can go to sleep,” said the Sayyid, taking a seat on the bed and sipping the steaming tea.

But the boy lingered, asking if he could be of no help.

“With your permission, master, I will obey the Khán Sáhib’s order and permit none to disturb you until you call.”

The Sayyid nodded, and the boy, preparing to leave, began to adjust things with slow elaboration, as though seeking an excuse for further speech, while his master drank the tea and nibbled the biscuits.

“Did you hear what I spoke to our people?” asked the Sayyid, humouring him.

“Aye, my lord, every word.”

“Did you understand?”

The boy shook his head and replied: “But I bear the words in mind, and hereafter, when I repeat them to myself, the meaning of what was obscure will slowly come forth.”

“Did you understand so much, that I struck, as with an axe, at the stem of the tree of faith?”

“The Maulvi Nazar Ali, whom all men here respect, cried out upon words of blasphemy.”

“Listen then, boy,” said the Sayyid, now speaking sharply. “Venerable men will stamp upon me the brand of apostasy. Know that I absolve you from your bond of service: you are free to depart.”

“What words are these, my master!” exclaimed the boy. “Am I then dismissed?”

“I said thou wert free. I will not involve thee in the odium which shall be mine among our people.”

Then the boy, drawing himself up, crossed his arms over his breast and answered:---

“Sayyid Ali Husain, I chose you for my master, and when persecution and danger beset you, then I would serve you most. I am the servant of my master, and it is for me to guard him day and night.”

“Even amidst the obloquy of all thy people?” said the Sayyid.

“Master,” answered the boy, “I know whom I serve, and that his words cannot but be wise and good, though their full import be not clear. And look you, master, I am a Pathán, a man of the club and the sword, as my father and his father before him. I have chosen you for my master, and whether your creed be that of Islám or that of our Christian Rulers whom we all serve; or that of Máhádeo, like that of the Rája my father serves; or that of the Saráogi banker, my uncle’s master, I serve you to the death. My fate is linked with my master’s, whether that brings honour, welfare and wealth, or ignominy, distress and poverty.”

He clasped the outstretched hand of his master, and bowing, pressed it to his forehead.

“Good, my son,” said the Sayyid, in a voice touched with emotion. “Thy fresh brave heart throws new spirit into mine. Thou art one to welcome contest as bracing thee to do thy best!

“And now begone! But, one thing more: at whatever hour the young Shekh Shaukat Ali comes, I would see him.”

And now the passing despondency had vanished, and stretching himself on the couch, he fell into a dreamless sleep.

Chapter LXX

The Youth Shaukat Ali

When the pale light of the dawn shone through the chinks of the shutters, Khálik Dád again stood beside the bed, where his master lay in profound sleep, his breathing inaudible and his features fixed. The boy gazed, and a feeling of disquietude crept over him, for in the dim grey light the face and form bore the stillness of death.

“Master!” broke from his lips as an involuntary cry, and to his relief the sleeper awoke.

“What is it, boy?” he asked in a quiet voice, without moving.

“Sir, I obey your order merely. Shekh Shaukat Ali is without, to speak with you when you have risen.”

The Sayyid raised himself on his elbow. “Throw open the doors and admit him at once.”

“It is bitter cold,” replied the boy. “An icy fog hangs over all. Shall I not rather light a lamp?”

The Sayyid nodded assent and lay back on the pillow, his head resting on his arm. “Is the young man alone?” he asked.

“Násir Khán, the timber merchant, also seeks speech,” replied the boy. “And the dancer Lál Pari.”

The lamp now burned brightly by the bed, and the young man Shaukat Ali entered, wrapped in an Afghan cloak of camel’s hair.

“Welcome, my son,” said the Sayyid, without moving from the couch, and signed to his visitor to sit at the foot. “I knew you would come with the dawn.”

“I sought to speak with you after the assembly,” replied the young man. “But the Khán Sáhib forbade any to disturb you.”

“He did well.”

Then the young man continued: “I promised your father to go him straight from the assembly, at whatever hour it broke up.”

The Sayyid nodded in silence, and the young man continued: “He and the Begam Sáhiba had watched through the night for my coming. As I crossed the market square Núru, the weaver headman, and a couple of his fellows, who had been at the assembly, joined me, and the burden of his talk was that the son of the venerable Mír Sáhib had spoken blasphemy of the Holy Prophet and of God the Creator and Upholder of the world; he had sat spellbound in dread lest the roof should fall and crush the heedless throng of listeners. Then I spoke soothing words to the old fanatic: that he had comprehended little of the true purport of the message, which was indeed a call to the people of Islám to achieve their salvation in their own way, uncontrolled by alien rulers: a message of hope and a call to life; he should ponder and wait in patience to understand. I left him at his hut more calm, and passed into the house.

“I found them seated in the little chamber by the brazier of charcoal, and the Lady Sitára greeted me, saying, ‘Here is our beloved Shaukat Ali, the friend of our unhappy son.’ And the old man called down a blessing and bade me sit and tell all that had passed in the great assembly. Then I answered: ‘What your son spoke you shall hear hereafter; I will, if it please you, read it out word for word as it was spoken. This is not the time for a hasty recitation of weighty sentences. Know this only now, that it was a call to the people of Islám to change our ways, that have led us into tribulation; to live in the world of to-day, a world of new forces and new conditions of good and evil; to prepare our youth to use the new methods and implements through which only shall our people achieve greatness among the nations of the world; it was a summons to earnest endeavour to raise our people from the despondency into which they have sunk.’

“Then the old man, after a brief silence, asked me, saying, ‘My son, hast thou thyself accepted this teaching as thy guide?’ Then I replied without hesitation: Many things were spoken by your son; much very briefly, needing detailed elucidation, and much I failed to comprehend. But many of his doctrines, comprehending them as I do now, I cannot accept to guide my conduct. It seemed to me that in his zeal to clear the way to the great and noble end he has in view, he would destroy beliefs and customs which support and console our people, and rightly, and which will in no way hinder them from the great end he holds before them. But for the rest, I am heart and soul with him to work for this great end, and will consider what means shall be employed to encompass it. Hereafter I would go over with you all his sayings and counsels, as they have been recorded word for word by order of the Khán Sáhib, and we will sift out what is befitting the present state and the past of the people of Islám.’

“Then, after a pause, he asked: ‘And the assembly that heard his words, how did they receive them?’ And I answered, ‘He spoke as one inspired to proclaim a revelation; his words were impassioned, and the assembly listened swayed by the magic of his voice and mastery. But they sat silent, unconvinced, listening often in spite of their feelings of revolt against some things he spoke; and when he ceased, and the spell of his presence and voice was removed, these feelings were expressed in murmurs of disapproval. But of this I am convinced, that no one of those present but hereafter shall relate with pride that he heard that speech; and this house shall be honoured as the birthplace of Ali Husain the Teacher and the abode of his youth, and Ronáhi shall be renowned as the city where his mission to the people of Islám was first announced.’

“Thus, my friend and teacher, did I venture to speak, and thereafter begged I might be allowed to retire. I left them with spirits uplifted by the words that I spoke.”

The Sayyid pressed the hand of his young friend in silence, seeing he had further matters to relate.

Shaukat Ali continued: “When I returned home my father called me into his cabinet, where he was reading dispatches that had come in during the night. In answer to his inquiry I said I should see you at dawn. Then he bade me deliver this message, saying: ‘With regard to the Sayyid’s discourse, of which he has been delivered to-night, tell him this: Among our people the one only bond is their common faith---there is one God and His Prophet is Muhammad. We are of tribes and races innumerable, and if this only bond is released we fall into groups alien one to another, having no common interest. Yet he would have us abandon the Faith and still remain one people!

“‘Next, say this from one experienced in the hard facts of life: Our people are full of resentment at the obloquy he has cast on their cherished beliefs, and there are fanatics enough among us here to incite violence against a proclaimed renegade, even though he be of the tribe of the Prophet. I would not have my governance here discredited by riot, and least of all through the conduct of one with whose family we are now to be so closely linked. Let him then depart without delay from this town, and carry his strange mission elsewhere beyond the circle of my rule and the circle of the officers who stand over me. No profit to his cause, evil only, can result from his abiding here.

“‘Tell him further, however, that I am not without sympathy for the spirit that moves him, and that in many points he has urged I concur. But I bid him beware, lest in growing despair of reform he turn with passion to destroy. And so wish him God-speed on his way.’

“Such was my father’s message, and as he spoke it, so I deliver it. And I beseech you, my dearest friend and teacher, give heed to his warning; he doth not err in these matters. Nothing, believe me, will be gained to your cause by tarrying here. None will listen calmly now, for our venerable Maulvi Nazar Ali will fan into a fierce flame the anger aroused against you. After many days the excitement will subside, and the spoken words will begin to work their way among the best of our people here, and through them they will spread.”

The young Shekh clasped the hand of the Sayyid.

A long silence ensued, while the Sayyid reclined with his eyes fixed meditatively on the face of his friend, silent until he could control bis emotion and speak calmly. Then he spoke:---

“I well knew thy devotion, my beloved, and that thou wouldst come with the dawn.

“For the words of comfort to my father---they were well and bravely spoken---I thank thee. He and my honoured mother abide in the old way, and they shall not be vexed by the presence of a son who attacks what they esteem most holy. I shall see them no more, and they, through the happy callousness of helpless age, will suffer very little from the loss of their son, and remember him only as the child and youth whom they loved. And I know that thou wilt care for them.

“One thing I yearn to see: the son that shall be born to thee and Zeb-un-nisa---the flower among women. My hope is strong that he shall grow to be a leader of our people, to achieve those things which I, but a dreamer and a poet, can only shadow forth. The first step has been taken; he shall lead the new generation onwards towards the goal. He shall unite the profound piety of the people of Hind to the living knowledge of the West, and shall lay the foundation of the New State, wherein man shall be master in this world and devoted to the advancement of generations to come.

“And with regard to thy father’s warning: my message to the people of Ronáhi is delivered and my work here accomplished. I go now to the great cities where our youth are becoming aware of the new forces which have arisen and the ground is prepared for the seed I would sow.

“And now, my beloved, we must part. I have much to complete in a short time. Go thou and bid Násir Khán come; he awaits without, seeking immediate speech with me.”

They embraced, and the young Shekh left in silence.

Chapter LXXI

Násir Khán’s Devotion

When Násir Khán, son of the timber merchant, had taken his seat beside the Sayyid’s couch, he began at once abruptly:---

“I come without delay to learn in what way I may best serve the cause you have at heart.”

“You heard me speak last night?” said the Sayyid.

“Every word,” answered Násir Khán.

“And the speech of Bahádur Khán?”

“That too.”

“And heeded the cry of indignation from our venerable Maulvi and the murmur of anger which followed?”

“All, Sayyid Sáhib. But I judge for myself and go my own way. Yes, not a word you spoke was lost to me; what I understood I approved, and the spirit of all appealed to my heart. But I am a man of deeds, not words. If I care for the end, I fight; in contest I breathe freely, even before impending defeat.”

“Did you understand that I branded Islám as the creed of decay?”

“I know well,” he answered with decision, “that the States of Islám lie rotting in decay. I see no hope of a fresh spring of energy in our ancient ways. Nay, these afford a specious excuse for our apathy, which is esteemed most pious submission to the fate decreed of God.”

“Did you understand further that I seek to prepare our people for the great world contest, wherein is determined which nation shall rule and which shall obey?”

“That it was which moved me most,” he answered eagerly.

“Yes; but do you understand that we have no hope for success in this struggle for pre-eminence while we are swayed by this blighting creed? We must escape from spiritual bondage ere we can compete with the nations of the West.

“But,” exclaimed Násir Khán, “let us achieve freedom from political control and release from this spiritual bondage will surely follow.”

“Not so,” replied the Sayyid, “we should sink to deeper degradation. Look you, were this land under an Islámic power, I, and all those with me, who seek to overthrow the tyranny of the phantom world, would inevitably incur the penalty prescribed for the renegade---a shameful death! Where new light arose it would be quenched, and the old darkness close again around us.”

“Then,” said Násir Khán, his first eagerness checked, “you counsel no movement against our alien Rulers?”

“Assuredly not,” answered the Sayyid. “It would be futile, and therefore a crime. Moreover, were it possible, then, I say, to establish a State on the decayed system of Islám would debar our people from advancing on the new path to knowledge and power, and condemn them to rot in stagnation.

“No, I repeat it: our first and indispensable step must be to achieve freedom from the bondage of the revelations of the Prophet! And here in this Land of Hind, under our present Rulers, we enjoy freedom of thought and speech and all the knowledge of the modern world is accessible to us, nay, if we but choose, it will be brought to our homes.

“Yes, Násir Khán, I foresee a time when our people shall arise to pre-eminence such as the world has not known: when they shall have made their own the knowledge and crafts of the West; science, with all its wondrous applications to the arts of war and peace; when our unsurpassed intelligence and incomparable skill in handicrafts, our patient toil and frugal lives, shall carry these beyond the limits attainable by our Western teachers; when with these shall be associated our profound spirit of piety and our gift of insight, and there shall result the spiritual wedding of the science of the West and the religion of the East.”

Nasir Khan was silent for a while, bewildered by the vision unfolded.

“This,” he said at length, “is the vision of a seer, looking into a remote future. But granting it may be realized hereafter, how may I, a man of deeds, concerned with things here about me, to-day and to-morrow, how can I aid in its attainment?”

“That follows from what I have said,” answered the Sayyid. ?We need first peace and freedom, and protection from the ancient intolerance and spiritual tyranny of the Maulvi and zealots of the petrified Book. This we secure best under our present Rulers. Give loyal support to them, and aid in the dissemination of knowledge they offer.

“See that every youth is reared in the science of the West, and the childish creed of our people shall melt as a mist of the night.

“But, beware! for those who renounce an old creed and its rules are under sore temptation to licentiousness. Bear thou thyself in all things with righteousness and sobriety, that thy conduct may be a standard for our youth. By conduct only, by no belief or ritual ceremonies, shall man be esteemed.

“Beware, too, lest having abandoned Islám they be led to follow the Christian or any other of the so-called revelations, changing only the form of their creed, not its essence. Superstition is a holy disease to which the heart readily succumbs: man’s weak spirit craves for revelation of things beyond the reach of sense, and for consolation and help from a mystical power. Many are akin to those who abandon the intoxication of wine, and then yield to the enticement of the juice of poppy and hemp.

“And as to the kernel of my teaching: that all man’s life is here under the sun and not elsewhere, and that the sources of good and ill are here within this sensible tangible world, and not elsewhere; that every one of us shall use his powers and opportunities for the advancement of the generation to come and for the establishment of the kingdom of man over all things under the sun; ponder on this, considering well its far-reaching implications; and then, when occasion is offered, explain it fearlessly to those with whom you live.

“So much then briefly, Násir Khán. For more, neither leisure nor occasion serves.”

A cloud of disappointment lay over the countenance of the young man. But he asked:---

“Is there then no secret tenet to be revealed to the chosen few, who when the time of action comes will dare to set life and all on the venture?”

“None,” replied the Sayyid. “I would establish no secret brotherhood for rebellion: what I teach, I teach openly to all. From all who follow me I demand, first and foremost, upright conduct and loyalty in the affairs of daily life; a firm resolution to see things as they are, with eyes and mind undimmed by the deadly errors of ancient superstitions, and absolute acceptance of the world under the sun as the one destined kingdom for man.

“And now, my brother, I bid thee farewell, for I have much to do before I depart a few hours hence. I bear my message to our people in the great cities, and there I would most gladly meet thee again.”

Then Násir Khán arose and bowed as before a master, saying:---

“I would I might stand by you in a contest with life at stake! Meantime, I will follow the Way as far as in me lies, but how far this may be, I know not now.”

Chapter LXXII

The Sacrifice of the Red Fairy — The Departure

In the grey light now spreading through the morning mist the lamp by the Sayyid’s couch burnt with a pale flame. Khálik Dád entered, asking for orders as to the woman Chanda Báe, who waited, persistently craving speech with the master.

“Throw wide open all doors and windows of the great hall,” said the Sayyid; “the air is foul from the breath of the crowd. I will walk there; then let the woman come.”

When he entered the hall he wore a plain tunic of black cloth, and in place of the turban a crimson skull-cap or fez, and the costume tended to heighten the austere expression of his face. Twice he paced the length of the long room, refreshed by the misty air which now crept through; then, ordering the woman to be admitted, he awaited her, standing by the little dais.

She entered through the folding door, and, wrapped closely in a grey shawl, stood on the threshold.

“What do you wish from me, Chanda Báe?” he asked briefly.

“May I be permitted to approach?” and when he signed to her, she slowly, with downcast eyes, walked the length of the hall, and sank down at his feet in the posture of worship. But when he bade her rise and speak she obeyed at once, and, standing erect before him with eyes raised to his, drew aside her shawl. Then he saw that she was dressed in white quilted garments devoid of all adornment, and the gold and jewelled trinkets of her wrists and ankles, ears and neck, and the rings of her fingers, all were removed. He looked at her in silence, waiting for her to speak.

“Master,” she said in a low voice, without withdrawing her eyes from his, “I stood last night in the assembly, hidden among the crowd at yonder door. Every word spoken by the master reached my ears.”

She paused, watching his impassive face.

“And when the discourse was ended and the murmurs quelled by the stern voice of the Khán Sáhib, I withdrew and listened outside to what men said. And one whispered below his breath ‘Satan hath taken the shape of the pious Sayyid, to entice the Faithful on the path which leads to hell.’ Then another: ‘This Sayyid was seen in the darkness at midnight standing above the Nakta Dáná gate clothed in a red flame. He had flown through the air from the house of the timber-merchant. Then he vanished from the gate again, and was found here seated on his couch.’ ‘Aye,’ said another, ‘and they say he vanished from here by day and was seen in the Old Market seated as in a dream. Then again, at the same hour, passing through doors locked and barred, he was borne in sleep to his couch.’ And other marvels they spoke one to another, regarding the master. But one cried in a louder voice, growing bolder as he got further away: ‘All signs of one in league with Satan, if not Iblis himself, who is skilled to speak honeyed words, covering blasphemy? And there answered another under his breath, ‘A blight will fall upon us and our town if this man abide among us.’ ‘Curse him and spit,’ cried one. And yet another cried, ‘He opens the gate of Paradise who slays an apostate.’

“But, master, these were all talkers, not doers, and I left them angry at the babble and drove home in my chariot. Then I barred the door, blew out every light, and sat silent by my sleeping mother. But all through the night I heard your voice ringing in my ears, and the words were repeated, repeated, as you spoke them, and never before were words thus held fast in my mind; and as I repeated them, they were sweet in my ear as the words of the poet I love, even Háfiz the poet of Shiráz.

“Now, when the false dawn came and the bitterest cold, I moved to draw my shawl closer, and my hand touched the face of my mother; it was cold, and she moved not to the touch. Then I shuddered with dread as I felt her bosom cold as death; she had died there in her sleep!

“But when I lit the lamp and knew this surely, the shock passed, for I thought such a release for her was meet, and for me no less. I swear by God that I have served and cherished her whom I called mother with care and love in return for her tenderness to my girlhood. But now that she is gone I feel no grief: I rejoice that I am freed from the long bondage and service, though I swear by God it hath been a service rendered in love.

“And swiftly thoughts of the future crowded on me, and of my master and his words.

“Many women have abandoned the world, all its good and all its joys: and, freed from the bitter pangs of love, they abide in continual ecstasy, communing with the Divine spirit. Master, I crave to live henceforth for one purpose only, to serve my master as his slave, abandoning all else to help him in the work he has chosen.

“Behold, master, I have cast aside every adornment I possess, cast away the life that hath been mine; I would live in abstinence and purity all my days, yielding all I have, my goods and my beauty, my body and my soul, all to help my master on his way!”

She sank down clasping his feet, weeping over them.

“Stand up,” he said roughly. She relaxed her hold, and he drew back, but one outstretched hand lay on his foot. “Rise, I command thee,” he said again. “Rise, and hear what I would speak.”

She slowly arose, and with head bowed, arms loosely hanging by her side, stood as one who awaits a verdict.

But he spoke in a softer tone: “Look up, Chanda Báe; look in my face while I speak to thee.”

She slowly raised her head and looked upwards to his face. He saw her dark eyes lustrous with tears, the corners of her mouth drawn down, and lips quivering with suppressed sobs. All the boldness of the dancer’s eyes had vanished, and he saw before him the timid face of a pleading girl.

Pity struggled for mastery; his heart throbbed and ached; the muscles of his throat contracted, choking him. Had he spoken, he must have uttered a curse to break the spell becoming ever more potent in his loneliness; but he turned away, and walked to the open door to look out on to the silver mist. The keen edge of the rising wind blew upon his face; the paroxysm subsided and he turned back. She stood unmoved where he had left her.

“Chanda Báe,” he said softly, and in so low a tone that the voice was but a murmur in her ear. “Listen to my words. Give heed: this matter touches thy life, but most me and my work.

“Chanda Báe, thy words have flown from thy heart to mine and nestle there; and there they shall abide while my heart beats.

“But mark this well and grave it in thy mind: thou wouldst cast away all that is thine, health, youth, joy of the day, thy life, to support and console me through my task. Chanda Báe, I too have cast away all that men cherish, that I may achieve the one end. All men and all women are to me of worth only as they serve my purpose; all those that hinder me on my way, man, woman, and child, even through their love and devotion, all these alike I would remove from my path with ruthless hand, aye, even as I would blast the rock obstructing my path to my goal.

“Chanda Báe, lay this to thy heart, and thou shalt know its meaning.

“But, Chanda Báe, thou shalt have thy wish; thou shalt aid me on my way; thou shalt sacrifice thyself for my sake. Thou shalt preserve me from a dread allurement, which like the little creeper clinging round the forest tree, growing into its tissues, sucks the sap of life.

“Chanda Báe, dost thou understand?

“I am one who, to fulfil his task, must dwell apart. Oh, Chanda Báe, I claim this sacrifice from thee for my sake. Never again come before me! Let me not hear whether thou art living or dead!

“But know that thy voice and thy words and thy glance have strengthened my heart, and they shall dwell with me ever, if thou wilt obey and leave now, this moment, and for ever!”

He ceased speaking. For an instant they looked eye to eye, and then, falling, she kissed his feet.

“I am thine, my beloved,” she murmured. “I leave thee now and for ever, though I die in despair.”

She arose, pressed his hand to her forehead, and turned away. With slow steps she passed through the door into the veranda, and vanished in the dense mist hanging over the river cliff.

The Sayyid paced up and down the great hall with sobbing breath and anguish in his heart, and the beads of sweat dropped from his forehead.

And when the mist lifted, the Sayyid stood on the veranda. Before him, the meadow to the cliff and the waving grass of the river valley lay bathed in the new light, but the uplifted veil of mist revealed no living form. The Sayyid shuddered, and knew that in the secret chamber of his heart a hope had lingered that Chanda Báe would have paused beneath the great tree on the river cliff.

“Khálik Dád!” he called, turning sharply to the house. “Let the Khán Sáhib’s carriage be brought. Prepare all things. We depart at once.”

At midnight the Sayyid alighted at the railway station of Sháhgarh, and was soon lost among the crowd borne in the train to the city he had chosen for the centre of his teaching of the new Way, that man’s life is moulded by man and his kingdom the earth.

The End


Book Review

THE PATH. An Indian Romance. By Edmund White. Methuen and Co. 6s.

Stories of Indian life are innumerable, but for the most part they are merely tales of Europeans in India, with the swarming natives and the oriental life of that vast continent as a decorative background. “The Path” does not belong to that category. It is an attempt to view India from within, to show something of the inner life of the dark-skinned, turbaned people whom we rule, and more especially to depict modern forces in conflict with ancient beliefs amid this old-time people, whom the new thought is today touching at a hundred dlfferent points with results as yet incalculable.

The new thought forces are here typified in the Indian reformer, Sayyid Ali Hussain: the ancient beliefs are seen in his father, the old Sayyid, and other orthodox members of his family: and we witness Ali Hussain’s progress and development until be suffers the fate of other moral pioneers and is expelled from his native town. The book shows the fragment of a life, and its interest consists, first, in its exposition of the “new Way, that man’s life is moulded by man and his kingdom the earth,” and, secondly, in its pictures of Indian scenes and people—people of all classes, princes, nobles, merchants, servants tradesmen, dancing girls—drawn, not from the standpoint of the outside observer, but from that of one who has looked into the heart and minds of these men and women so far removed in race and habits from us of the Western world. That he has been wonderfully successful will no surprise to those who remember a former book of Mr. White’s, “The Heart of Hindustán.” But the present volume has a far deeper and more penetrating interest than that collection of tales, and will add much to its author’s already considerable reputation.

(The Oxford Chronicle. December 18, 1914. p. 4)