The Finances of the Gods
The evening meal was ended in Dhunni Bhagats Chubara, and the old priests were smoking or counting their beads. A little naked child pattered in, with its mouth wide open, a handful of marigold flowers in one hand, and a lump of conserved tobacco in the other. It tried to kneel and make obeisance to Gobind, but it was so fat that it fell forward on its shaven head, and rolled on its side, kicking and gasping, while the marigolds tumbled one way and the tobacco the other. Gobind laughed, set it up again, and blessed the marigold flowers as he received the tobacco.
From my father, said the child. He has the fever, and cannot come. Wilt thou pray for him, father?
Surely, littlest; but the smoke is on the ground, and the night-chill is in the air, and it is not good to go abroad naked in the autumn.
I have no clothes, said the child, and all today I have been carrying cow-dung cakes to the bazar. It was very hot, and I am very tired. It shivered a little, for the twilight was cool.
Gobind lifted an arm under his vast tattered quilt of many colours, and made an inviting little nest by his side. The child crept in, and Gobind filled his brass-studded leather waterpipe with the new tobacco. When I came to the Chubara the shaven head with the tuft atop, and the beady black eyes looked out of the folds of the quilt as a squirrel looks out from his nest, and Gobind was smiling while the child played with his beard.
I would have said something friendly, but remembered in time that if the child fell ill afterwards I should be credited with the Evil Eye, and that is a horrible possession.
Sit thou still, Thumbling, I said, as it made to get up and run away. Where is thy slate, and why has the teacher let such an evil character loose on the streets when there are no police to protect us weaklings? In which ward dost thou try to break thy neck with flying kites from the house-tops?
Nay, Sahib, nay, said the child, burrowing its face into Gobinds beard, and twisting uneasily. There was a holiday to-day among the schools, and I do not always fly kites. I play ker-li-kit like the rest.
Cricket is the national game among the schoolboys of the Punjab, from the naked hedge-school children, who use an old kerosine-tin for wicket, to the B.A.s of the University, who compete for the Championship belt.
Thou play kerlikit! Thou art half the height of the bat! I said.
The child nodded resolutely. Yea, I do play. Perlay-ball. Ow-at! Ran, ran, ran! I know it all.
But thou must not forget with all this to pray to the Gods according to custom, said Gobind, who did not altogether approve of cricket and Western innovations.
I do not forget, said the child in a hushed voice.
Also to give reverence to thy teacher, andGobinds voice softenedto abstain from pulling holy men by the beard, little badling. Eh, eh, eh?
The childs face was altogether hidden in the great white beard, and it began to whimper till Gobind soothed it as children are soothed all the world over, with the promise of a story.
I did not think to frighten thee, senseless little one. Look up! Am I angry? Aré, are, are! Shall I weep too, and of our tears make a great pond and drown us both, and then thy father will never get well, lacking thee to pull his beard? Peace, peace, and I will tell thee of the Gods. Thou hast heard many tales?
Very many, father.
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