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The Story of Sonny Sahib   By: (1861-1922)

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'Ayah,' the doctor sahib said in the vernacular, standing beside the bed, 'the fever of the mistress is like fire. Without doubt it cannot go on thus, but all that is in your hand to do you have done. It is necessary now only to be very watchful. And it will be to dress the mistress, and to make everything ready for a journey. Two hours later all the sahib folk go from this place in boats, by the river, to Allahabad. I will send an ox cart to take the mistress and the baby and you to the bathing ghat.'

'Jeldi karo!' he added, which meant 'Quickly do!' a thing people say a great many times a day in India.

The ayah looked at him stupidly. She was terribly frightened; she had never been so frightened before. Her eyes wandered from the doctor's face to the ruined south wall of the hut, where the sun of July, when it happens to shine on the plains of India, was beating fiercely upon the mud floor. That ruin had happened only an hour ago, with a terrible noise just outside, such a near and terrible noise that she, Tooni, had scrambled under the bed the mistress was lying on, and had hidden there until the doctor sahib came and pulled her forth by the foot, and called her a poor sort of person. Then Tooni had lain down at the doctor sahib's feet, and tried to place one of them upon her head, and said that indeed she was not a worthless one, but that she was very old and she feared the guns; so many of the sahibs had died from the guns! She, Tooni, did not wish to die from a gun, and would the Presence, in the great mercy of his heart, tell her whether there would be any more shooting? There would be no more shooting, the Presence had said; and then he had given her a bottle and directions, and the news about going down the river in a boat. Tooni's mind did not even record the directions, but it managed to retain the words about going away in a boat, and as she stood twisting the bottle round and round in the folds of her ragged red petticoat it made a desperate effort to extract their meaning.

'There will be no more shooting,' said the doctor again, 'and there is a man outside with a goat. He will give you two pounds of milk for the baby for five rupees.'

'Rupia! I have not even one!' said the ayah, looking toward the bed; 'the captain sahib has not come these thirty days as he promised. The colonel sahib has sent the food. The memsahib is for three days without a pice.'

'I'll pay,' said the doctor shortly, and turned hurriedly to go. Other huts were crying out for him; he could hear the voice of some of them through their mud partitions. As he passed out he caught a glimpse of himself in a little square looking glass that hung on a nail on the wall, and it made him start nervously and then smile grimly. He saw the face of a man who had not slept three hours in as many days and nights a haggard, unshaven face, drawn as much with the pain of others as with its own weariness. His hair stood up in long tufts, his eyes had black circles under them. He wore neither coat nor waistcoat, and his regimental trousers were tied round the waist by a bit of rope. On the sleeve of his collarless shirt were three dark dry splashes; he noticed them as he raised his arm to put on his pith helmet. The words did not reach his lips, but his heart cried out within him for a boy of the 32nd.

The ayah caught up her brass cooking pot and followed him. Since the doctor sahib was to pay, the doctor sahib would arrange that good measure should be given in the matter of the milk. And upon second thought the doctor sahib decided that precautions were necessary. He told the man with the goat, therefore, that when the ayah received two pounds of milk she would pay him the five rupees. As he put the money into Tooni's hand she stayed him gently.

'We are to go without, beyond the walls, to the ghat?' she asked in her own tongue... Continue reading book >>

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