The Head of the District

There’s a convict more in the Central Jail,
Behind the old mud wall;
There’s a lifter less on the Border trail,
And the Queen’s Peace over all,
Dear boys,
The Queen’s Peace over all.

For we must bear our leader’s blame,
On us the shame will fall,
If we lift our hand from a fettered land
And the Queen’s Peace over all,
Dear boys,
The Queen’s Peace over all!
The Running of Shindand.


The Indus had risen in flood without warning. Last night it was a fordable shallow; to-night five miles of raving muddy water parted bank and caving bank, and the river was still rising under the moon. A litter borne by six bearded men, all unused to the work, stopped in the white sand that bordered the whiter plain.

‘It’s God’s will,’ they said. ‘We dare not cross to-night, even in a boat. Let us light a fire and cook food. We be tired men.’ They looked at the litter inquiringly. Within, the Deputy Commissioner of the Kot- Kumharsen district lay dying of fever. They had brought him across country, six fighting-men of a frontier clan that he had won over to the paths of a moderate righteousness, when he had broken down at the foot of their inhospitable hills. And Tallantire, his assistant, rode with them, heavy-hearted as heavy- eyed with sorrow and lack of sleep. He had served under the sick man for three years, and had learned to love him as men associated in toil of the hardest learn to love—or hate. Dropping from his horse he parted the curtains of the litter and peered inside.

‘Orde—Orde, old man, can you hear? We have to wait till the river goes down, worse luck.’

‘I hear,’ returned a dry whisper. ‘Wait till the river goes down. I thought we should reach camp before the dawn. Polly knows. She’ll meet me.’

One of the litter-men stared across the river and caught a faint twinkle of light on the far side. He whispered to Tallantire, ‘There are his campfires, and his wife. They will cross in the morning, for they have better boats. Can he live so long?’

Tallantire shook his head. Yardley-Orde was very near to death. What need to vex his soul with hopes of a meeting that could not be? The river gulped at the banks, brought down a cliff of sand, and snarled the more hungrily. The littermen sought for fuel in the waste—dried camel-thorn and refuse of the camps that had waited at the ford. Their sword-belts clinked as they moved softly in the haze of the moonlight, and Tallantire’s horse coughed to explain that he would like a blanket.

‘I’m cold too,’ said the voice from the litter. ‘I fancy this is the end. Poor Polly!’

Tallantire rearranged the blankets; Khoda Dad Khan, seeing this, stripped off his own heavy-wadded sheepskin coat and added it to the pile. ‘I shall be warm by the fire presently,’ said he. Tallantire took the wasted body of his chief into his arms and held it against his breast. Perhaps if they kept him very warm Orde might live to see his wife once more. If only blind Providence would send a three-foot fall in the river!

‘That’s better,’ said Orde faintly. ‘Sorry to be a nuisance, but is—is there anything to drink?’

They gave him milk and whisky, and Tallantire felt a little warmth against his own breast. Orde began to mutter.

‘It isn’t that I mind dying,’ he said. ‘It’s leaving Polly and the district. Thank God! we have no children. Dick, you know, I’m dipped—awfully dipped—debts in my first five years’ service. It isn’t much of a pension, but enough for her. She has her mother at home. Getting there is the difficulty. And—and—you see, not being a soldier’s wife—’

‘We’ll arrange the passage home, of course,’ said Tallantire quietly.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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