Through the Fire
The Policeman rode through the Himalayan forest, under the moss-draped oaks, and his orderly trotted after him.
Its an ugly business, Bhere Singh, said the Policeman. Where are they?
It is a very ugly business, said Bhere Singh; and as for them, they are, doubtless, now frying in a hotter fire than was ever made of spruce-branches.
Let us hope not, said the Policeman, for, allowing for the difference between race and race, its the story of Francesca da Rimini, Bhere Singh.
Bhere Singh knew nothing about Francesca da Rimini, so he held his peace until they came to the charcoal- burners clearing where the dying flames said whit, whit, whit as they fluttered and whispered over the white ashes. It must have been a great fire when at full height. Men had seen it at Donga Pa across the valley winking and blazing through the night, and said that the charcoal-burners of Kodru were getting drunk. But it was only Suket Singh, Sepoy of the 102d Punjab Native Infantry, and Athira, a woman, burningburningburning.
This was how things befell; and the Policemans Diary will bear me out.
Athira was the wife of Madu, who was a charcoal-burner, one-eyed and of a malignant disposition. A week after their marriage, he beat Athira with a heavy stick. A month later, Suket Singh, Sepoy, came that way to the cool hills on leave from his regiment, and electrified the villagers of Kodru with tales of service and glory under the Government, and the honour in which he, Suket Singh, was held by the Colonel Sahib Bahadur. And Desdemona listened to Othello as Desdemonas have done all the world over, and, as she listened, she loved.
Ive a wife of my own, said Suket Singh, though that is no matter when you come to think of it. I am also due to return to my regiment after a time, and I cannot be a deserterI who intend to be Havildar. There is no Himalayan version of I could not love thee, dear, as much, Loved I not Honour more; but Suket Singh came near to making one.
Never mind, said Athira, stay with me, and, if Madu tries to beat me, you beat him.
Very good, said Suket Singh; and he beat Madu severely, to the delight of all the charcoal-burners of Kodru.
That is enough, said Suket Singh, as he rolled Madu down the hillside. Now we shall have peace. But Madu crawled up the grass slope again, and hovered round his hut with angry eyes.
Hell kill me dead, said Athira to Suket Singh. You must take me away.
Therell be a trouble in the Lines. My wife will pull out my beard; but never mind, said Suket Singh, I will take you.
There was loud trouble in the Lines, and Suket Singhs beard was pulled, and Suket Singhs wife went to live with her mother and took away the children. Thats all right, said Athira; and Suket Singh said, Yes, thats all right.
So there was only Madu left in the hut that looks across the valley to Donga Pa; and, since the beginning of time, no one has had any sympathy for husbands so unfortunate as Madu.
He went to Juseen Dazé, the wizard-man who keeps the Talking Monkeyss Head.
Get me back my wife, said Madu.
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