‘It’s not nice to think of sending round the hat; but, good Lord! how many men I lie here and remember that had to do it! Morten’s dead—he was of my year. Shaughnessy is dead, and he had children; I remember he used to read us their school-letters; what a bore we thought him! Evans is dead—Kot-Kumharsen killed him! Ricketts of Myndonie is dead—and I’m going too. “Man that is born of a woman is small potatoes and few in the hill.” That reminds me, Dick; the four Khusru Kheyl villages in our border want a one-third remittance this spring. That’s fair; their crops are bad. See that they get it, and speak to Ferris about the canal. I should like to have lived till that was finished; it means so much for the North-Indus villages—but Ferris is an idle beggar—wake him up. You’ll have charge of the district till my successor comes. I wish they would appoint you permanently; you know the folk. I suppose it will be Bullows, though. ’Good man, but too weak for frontier work; and he doesn’t understand the priests. The blind priest at Jagai will bear watching. You’ll find it in my papers,—in the uniform case, I think. Call the Khusru Kheyl men up; I’ll hold my last public audience. Khoda Dad Khan!’

The leader of the men sprang to the side of the litter, his companions following.

‘Men, I’m dying,’ said Orde quickly, in the vernacular; ‘and soon there will be no more Orde Sahib to twist your tails and prevent you from raiding cattle.’

‘God forbid this thing!’ broke out the deep bass chorus. ‘The Sahib is not going to die.’

‘Yes, he is; and then he will know, whether Mahomed speaks truth, or Moses. But you must be good men when I am not here. Such of you as live in our borders must pay your taxes quietly as before. I have spoken of the villages to be gently treated this year. Such of you as live in the hills must refrain from cattle-lifting, and burn no more thatch, and turn a deaf ear to the voice of the priests, who, not knowing the strength of the Government, would lead you into foolish wars, wherein you will surely die and your crops be eaten by strangers. And you must not sack any caravans, and must leave your arms at the police-post when you come in; as has been your custom, and my order. And Tallantire Sahib will be with you, but I do not know who takes my place. I speak now true talk, for I am as it were already dead, my children,—for though ye be strong men, ye are children.’

‘And thou art our father and our mother,’ broke in Khoda Dad Khan with an oath. ‘What shall we do, now there is no one to speak for us, or to teach us to go wisely!’

‘There remains Tallantire Sahib. Go to him; he knows your talk and your heart. Keep the young men quiet, listen to the old men, and obey. Khoda Dad Khan, take my ring. The watch and chain go to thy brother. Keep those things for my sake, and I will speak to whatever God I may encounter and tell him that the Khusru Kheyl are good men. Ye have my leave to go.’

Khoda Dad Khan, the ring upon his finger, choked audibly as he caught the well-known formula that closed an interview. His brother turned to look across the river. The dawn was breaking, and a speck of white showed on the dull silver of the stream. ‘She comes,’ said the man under his breath. ‘Can he live for another two hours?’ And he pulled the newly-acquired watch out of his belt and looked uncomprehendingly at the dial, as he had seen Englishmen do.

For two hours the bellying sail tacked and blundered up and down the river, Tallantire still clasping Orde in his arms, and Khoda Dad Khan chafing his feet. He spoke now and again of the district and his wife, but, as the end neared, more frequently of the latter. They hoped he did not know that she was even then risking her life in a crazy native boat to regain him. But the awful foreknowledge of the dying deceived them. Wrenching himself forward, Orde looked through the curtains and saw how near was the sail. ‘That’s Polly,’ he said simply, though his mouth was wried with agony. ‘Polly and—the grimmest practical joke ever played on a man. Dick—you’ll—have—to—explain.’

And an hour later Tallantire met on the bank a woman in a gingham riding-habit and a sun-hat who cried out to him for her husband—her boy and her darling—while Khoda Dad Khan threw himself face- down on the sand and covered his eyes.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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