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'Nay, what is it?' he said, dropping into his most caressingand confidential tone - the one, he well knew, that few couldresist. 'Is - is there any need of a son in thy family? Speak freely,for we priests -' That last was a direct plagiarism from a fakir bythe Taksali Gate.
So did the lama speak, coming and going across India as softlyas a bat. A sharp-tongued old woman in a house among thefruit-trees behind Saharunpore honoured him as the woman honoured theprophet, but his chamber was by no means upon the wall. In an apartmentof the forecourt overlooked by cooing doves he would sit, whileshe laid aside her useless veil and chattered of spirits and fiendsof Kulu, of grandchildren unborn, and of the free-tongued brat whohad talked to her in the resting-place. Once, too, he strayed alonefrom the Grand Trunk Road below Umballa to the very village whosepriest had tried to drug him; but the kind Heaven that guards lamassent him at twilight through the crops, absorbed and unsuspicious, tothe Rissaldar's door. Here was like to have been a grave misunderstanding, for the old soldier asked him why the Friendof the Stars had gone that way only six days before.
Now the Jains officially recognize all the Gods of the Hinducreed, as well as the Lingam and the Snake. They wear theBrahminical thread; they adhere to every claim of Hindu caste-law. But,because they knew and loved the lama, because he was an old man, becausehe sought the Way, because he was their guest, and because hecollogued long of nights with the head-priest - as free-thinking a metaphysician as ever split one hair into seventy - theymurmured assent.
'It is I that am the woman of ill-omen,' cried the oldlady penitently. 'We that go down to the chattris [the bigumbrellas above the burning-ghats where the priests take their lastdues] clutch hard at the bearers of the chattis [water-jars - youngfolk full of the pride of life, she meant; but the pun isclumsy].When one cannot dance in the festival one must e'en look out ofthe window, and grandmothering takes all a woman's time. Thymaster gives me all the charms I now desire for my daughter's eldest,by reason - is it? - that he is wholly free from sin. The hakimis brought very low these days. He goes about poisoning my servantsfor lack of their betters.'
'It must be true, as the Tirah priest said when I stole hiscousin's wife, that I am a Sufi [a free-thinker]; for here I sit, Isaid Mahbub to himself, 'drinking in blasphemy unthinkable ... Iremember the tale. On that, then, he goes to Fannatu l'Adn [the Gardensof Eden]. But how? Wilt thou slay him or drown him in thatwonderful river from which the Babu dragged thee?' 2b1af7f3a8