‘Nay, indeed,’ said the gorgeously-clad wife of the Head Groom, joining the circle. ‘That is a strong man’s work. When I was a maid in my father’s house—’

‘Peace, woman,’ said the Head Groom. ‘Go on, boy.’

‘It is nothing,’ said Little Tobrah. ‘The big beam tore down the roof upon a day which is not in my memory, and with the roof fell much of the hinder wall, and both together upon our bullock, whose back was broken. Thus we had neither home, nor press, nor bullock—my brother, myself, and the sister who was blind. We went crying away from that place, hand-in-hand, across the fields; and our money was seven annas and six pie. There was a famine in the land. I do not know the name of the land. So, on a night when we were sleeping, my brother took the five annas that remained to us and ran away. I do not know whither he went. The curse of my father be upon him. But I and the sister begged food in the villages, and there was none to give. Only all men said—“Go to the Englishmen and they will give.” I did not know what the Englishmen were; but they said that they were white, living in tents. I went forward; but I cannot say whither I went, and there was no more food for myself or the sister. And upon a hot night, she weeping and calling for food, we came to a well, and I bade her sit upon the kerb, and thrust her in, for, in truth, she could not see; and it is better to die than to starve.’

‘Ai! Ahi!’ wailed the grooms’ wives in chorus; ‘he thrust her in, for it is better to die than to starve!’

‘I would have thrown myself in also, but that she was not dead and called to me from the bottom of the well, and I was afraid and ran. And one came out of the crops saying that I had killed her and defiled the well, and they took me before an Englishman, white and terrible, living in a tent, and me he sent here. But there were no witnesses, and it is better to die than to starve. She, furthermore, could not see with her eyes, and was but a little child.’

‘Was but a little child,’ echoed the Head Groom’s wife. ‘But who art thou, weak as a fowl and small as a day-old colt, what art thou?

‘I who was empty am now full,’ said Little Tobrah, stretching himself upon the dust. ‘And I would sleep.’

The groom’s wife spread a cloth over him while Little Tobrah slept the sleep of the just.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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