Imágenes de páginas



one that can in nowise be being, entreating it, if indeed it medicined, even if Pětěra Gûru must have a victim, to take her himself were to take a hand and to spare her husband. She in the charming away of the had not been taught, as Chrisbad humours."

tian women are, to turn to God No one in Asia ever names in the hour of her despair; and leprosy. It is spoken of but though she breathed out prayer rarely, and then by all manner and plaint as she lay upon the of euphemisms, lest hearing its damp earth and tore at the lush

pronounced, it should grass, her thoughts were never seek out the speaker and abide for a moment directed heavenwith him for ever.

But when wards. She was a woman of the words “the evil sickness” the Muhammadans, unskilled in sounded in her ears, Mînah letters, ignorant utterly of the understood, with violent teachings of her faith, and, like shock of most complete com all her people, she was a Malay prehension ; and, alas for frail first, and a follower of the human nature, her first thought Prophet accidentally, and as was for herself, and it sent a it were by an afterthought. throb of relief, almost of joy, Therefore her cry was raised to pulsing through her. Her man the Demon of Leprosy, to the was a leper! No woman would Spirits of Wind and Air, and now be found to wed with him; to all manner of Unclean Creano co-wife would come into her tures who should find no place life to separate her from her in the mythology of a true husband; barren and childless believer. The old-world superthough she be, the man she stitions, the natural religion of loved would be hers for all his the Malays before

ever the days, and no one would arise to Arab missionaries came to tamdispute her right, her sole right, per with their simple paganism, to love and tend and cherish always come uppermost in the him. The medicine man turned native mind in time of stress or away, and walked slowly up trouble, just as it is the natural the path by the river - bank man—the savage—that rises to counting the coppers in his the surface, through no matter hand, and she stood where he what superimposed strata of had left her gazing after him, a conventionalism, in moments of prey to a number of conflicting strong emotion. But these emotions. Then a realisation things had power to help of the pity of it overwhelmed Mînah but little, to comfort her her,—a yearning, aching pity not at all, and any strength for the man she loved,—and in that she gained during that an agony of self-reproach she hour which she spent prone, in threw herself face downward on agony and alone, came to her the ground, among the warm, from her own brave and tender damp grasses, and prayed pas- heart,—that fountain of willing sionately and inarticulately,– self - sacrifice and unutterable prayed to the Leprosy itself, tenderness, the heart of a good as though it were a sentient and a pure woman.

The evening sun was sink- full meaning of the words that ing redly when at last Mînah fell from his wife's lips, he gathered herself together, re drew hurriedly away from her, arranged her tumbled hair and despite her restraining hands, crumpled garments with deft and sat huddled up in a corner feminine fingers, and turned of the hut weeping the hard, her face towards her home. deep-drawn tears that come to The moon had risen, and was a grown man in the hour of pouring down its floods of pure his trial, bringing no relief, but light, softening and etherealis- merely adding one pang more ing all upon which it shone, and to the intensity of his suffering. penetrating the chinks of the Vaguely he told himself that wattled walls in little jets and since Mînah must be filled splashes of brightness, when with horror at his lightest Mînah, tenderly caressing 'the touch, since she would now head of her husband, which lay most surely leave him, as she pillowed on her breast, whis- had a right to do, he owed it pered in his ears the words to himself, and to what little which revealed to him the full remnant of self-respect remained measure of his calamity. No to him, that the first signal for more awful message can come withdrawal should be made by to any man than that which him. It would help to ease the makes known to him that he path which she must tread, the had been stricken by leprosy, path that was to lead her away that foulest, most repulsive, and from him for ever, if from the least merciful of all incurable beginning he showed her plainly diseases; and Mâmat, as he that he expected nothing but listened to his wife's whispered desertion, that she was free to speech, cowered and trembled go, to leave him, that he was in the semi - darkness of the fully prepared for the words hut, and now and again, as he that should tell him of her inrocked his body to and fro, to tention, though for the moment and fro restlessly, he gave vent they still remained unspoken. to a low sob of concentrated Therefore, though Mînah drew pain very pitiful to hear. near to him, he repulsed her Leprosy has a strange power gently, and retired yet farther to blight a man utterly, to rob into the depth of the shadows, him alike of the health and the saying warninglycleanliness of his body, and of “Have a care, lest thou also the love which has made life becomest infected with the sweet to him; for when the evil.” terror falls upon any one, even Again Mînah moved towards those who loved him best in him, with arms outstretched as the days when he was whole though to embrace him, and too often turn from him in again he evaded her. A little loathing and fear. As slowly moonbeam, struggling through and with pain Mâmat began the interstices of the wattled to understand clearly, and walls, fell full upon her face, understanding to realise the and revealed to him her eyes






dewy with tears and yearning little child that having come upon him with a great love. by some hurt runs to its mother The sight was so unexpected to be petted into forgetfulness that it came to him with the of the pain-proved too strong violence of a blow, sending a for him, and he sank down, strange thrill through all his sobbing unrestrainedly, with his ruined body, and tightening head in Mînah's lap, and her soft something that seemed to grip hands fondling and caressing his heart, so that he panted for him. breath like one distressed with And thus it

about running

that Mînah made the great “ Have care!” he cried sacrifice, which in again, but Mînah took no heed was to her no sacrifice, and of his warning.

her husband brought himself “ What care I?” she cried. to accept what to him was “ What care I? Thinkest thou more precious than anything that my love is so slight a thing upon earth. that it will cleave to thee only in the days of thy prosperity? Two or three years slid by after Am I like unto a woman of this, and as Mînah watched the town, one who loveth only her husband she marked the when all be well, and the silver subtle changes of the disease dollars be many and bright ? to

to which he

prey Am I such a one, who hath no working their cruel will upon care save only for herself ? O him. He had been far gone Mâmat, my man of mine! in the disease even before the After these years that we have medicine man had mustered lived together in love dost thou courage to name it, and for know me so little, me thy wife,

many months

after the disthat thou thinkest that I will covery little change was noticewillingly leave thee because, able. Then, as is its wont, forsooth, the evil spirits have the leprosy, as though ashamed caused this trouble to befall of such prolonged inactivity, thee? Weh, I love thee, I love took a stride forward, then thee, I love thee, and in truth halted again, then advanced I cannot live without thee! once more, but this time with Come to me, Weh, come to me.” more lagging feet, then came And again she held out her to

to a standstill for a space, arms towards him, entreating then moved onward yet again. tenderly.

Thus, though the alterations For long Mâmat resisted, wrought by the ravages of the fighting against the temptation disease were cruel and terrible, sturdily for the sake of the love to Mînah, who marked each that he bore her, but at length change take place gradually, the longing for human sym- step by step, beneath her eyes, pathy and for comfort in his underlying the grey featuregreat affliction—a desire which, less face, in the blind eyein time of trouble, a man feels sockets, the aimless swaying as instinctively as does the limbs that






up in the





stumps, she saw as clearly as the strength of a man and of old the face, the glance, with the simplicity of a child ? the gestures that had been She never knew fatigue when those of her husband, and Mâmat needed tending; she seeing this

this she loved this never knew sorrow when he formless thing with the old was free from pain; she asked passion of devotion and ten- for no joy save that of being derness. He was utterly de

near him.

All the womanlipendent on her now. Twice ness in her nature, purified daily she bore him her and intensified by her sad back down to the river's edge, experience, and bathed him with infinite heart of this daughter of the

To her there seemed Muhammadans, fortifying her nothing remarkable in the in trial, blinding her to the act. She had done it for nobility of her own self-sacthe first time one day long rifice, obliterating utterly all ago when his feet were pecu- thought of her own comfort, liarly sore and uncomfortable, her own feelings and desires, had done it laughingly half filling her with a great conin jest, and he had laughed tent, and making the squalor too, joining in her merriment. of her life a thing most beauBut

it the only tiful. Her only sorrow means of conveying him river- that she was often forced to wards, and she carried him on absent herself from the house her back unthinkingly, as in order to take the share in matter of

In the the field - work which, under same way she had come to happier circumstances, should dress and feed him, first half have been performed by her laughingly, before there was husband; but the kindly vilany real necessity for such lagers, who pitied her in their help, but latterly his limbs hearts, though they could not had

grown to be so useless repress an occasional jeer at that without her aid he would her eccentric devotion have gone naked and have leper, lightened her tasks for died of starvation. Allah or her as much as was possible, the Spirits—Mînah was never so that she found her fields sure which of the twain had tilled, the crop weeded, and the larger share in the arrange- the precious rice grain stored, ments of her world had not with so little labour on her seen fit to send her a child in part that the whole operation answer to her prayer, but she appeared to have been done, never lamented the fact now. as it were, automatically. And Was not Mâmat husband and thus Mînah and her man spent child in one ? And did she many years of the life which not empty all the stores of her even the Demon of Leprosy love, both wifely and motherly, had been powerless to rob of upon him, who needed her all its sweetness. more sorely than a baby could have done, and loved her with It was some years after the





white men had entered Pahang left her own village, and to her for the purpose of quieting that the twenty odd miles of river troubled land that a new grief that separated her home from came to Mînah, tightening her the town were a road of wonheart-strings with an anxiety der through an undiscovered hitherto undreamed of. Men country. The ordered streets of whispered in the villages that the town; the brick buildings, the strange pale-faced folk who in which the Chinese traders now ruled the land had many had their shops; the lamp-posts; laws unknown to the old râjas, the native policemen standing at unhallowed by custom, not the corners of the road-shamebeautified by age or tradition, less folk, who wore trousers but and that one of these provided no protecting sârong; the vast for the segregation of lepers. block of Government offices, for At first Mînah could not believe to her this far-from-imposing her ears when the village elders, pile seemed a stupendous piece mumbling their discontent con of architecture; the made road, cerning a thousand lying ru smooth and metalled,—the wonmours, spoke also of this meas der and the strangeness of it all ure, which, so men said, was dazed and frightened her. What very shortly to become law in could the white men, who had the State of Pahang. What? so many marvellous things, want Separate her from her man? with her poor man, the leper, Tear him away from her, leav- that they should desire to take ing her desolate and utterly him from her? Ah, it was alone, while he, having none to cruel, cruel, more merciless and tend him, would die miserably, wanton than any of the deeds of crying vainly for her in the the old râjas, concerning which tones that none but she could men still told grisly tales with now interpret ? An agony of bated breath! consternation racked her at the She asked for me, since I had picture which the words of the bade her come to me in trouble, village elders conjured up. She and presently she made her way was wellnigh distraught with along the unfamiliar roads to fear, but in her heart there was the big house on the river-bank, also a wild desire to fight to the round which the forest clustered death to save her man from so closely in the beauty that no this bitter wrong, to fight as hand was suffered to destroy. does the tigress in defence of her She sat upon the matting on little ones.

my study floor, awed at the Mînah managed with some strangeness of it all, looking at difficulty to persuade and bribe me plaintively out of those great an old crone to tend Mâmat for eyes of hers, and weeping fura day or two. Then she set off tively. She had the simple for Kuala Lịpis, the town at faith of one who has lived all which the white men, she had his days in the same spot, heard men say, had their head- whither few strangers go, where quarters. Until she started each man knows his neighbour upon this journey she had never and his neighbour's affairs. It VOL. CLXV.NO. M.


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