A STAR IN DARKNESS
art with life
Too closely woven, nerve with nerve intwined;
Service still craving service, love for love ...
Nor yet thy human task is done.”
In the verandah of Narkhanda dak bungalow Roy lay alone, languidly at ease, assisted by rugs and pillows and a Madeira cane lounge at an invalid angle; walls and arches splashed with sunshine; and a table beside him littered with convalescent accessories. There were home papers; there were books; there was fruit and a syphon, cut lemons and crushed ice—everything thoughtfulness could suggest set within easy reach. But the nameless depression of convalescence hung heavy on his spirit and his limbs.
He was thirsty; he was lonely; he was mentally hungry in a negative kind of way. Yet it simply did not seem worth the trivial effort of will to decide whether he wanted to pick up a book or an orange or to press the syphon handle. So he lay there, inert, impassive, staring across the valley at the snows—peak beyond soaring peak, ethereal in the level light.
The beauty of them, the pellucid clearness and stillness of early evening, stirred no answering echo within him. His brain was travelling back over a timeless interval; wandering uncertainly among sensations, apparitions, and dreams, presumably of semi-delirium: for Lance was in them and his mother and Rose and Dyan, saying and doing impossible things....
And in clearer intervals, there hovered the bearded face of Azim Khan, pressing upon his refractory Sahib this infallible medicine, that ‘chikken brath’ or jelly. And occasionally there was another bearded face: vaguely familiar, though he could not put a name to it.
Between them the two had brought out a doctor from Simla. He remembered a sharp altercation over that. He wanted no confounded doctor messing round. But Azim Khan, for love of his master, had flatly defied orders: and the forbidden doctor had appeared—involving further exhausting argument. For on no account would Roy be moved back to Simla. Azim Khan understood his ways and his needs. He was damned if he would have any one else near him.
And this time he had prevailed. For the doctor, who happened to be a wise man, knew when acquiescence was medically sounder than insistence. There had, however, been a brief intrusion of a strange woman, in cap and apron, who had made a nuisance of herself over food and washing, and was infernally in the way. When the fever abated, she melted into the landscape; and Roy had just enough of his old spirit left in him to murmur, ‘Shahbash!’ in a husky voice: and Azim Khan, inflated with pride, became more autocratic than ever.
The other bearded face had resolved itself into the Delhi Sikh, Jiwan Singh. He had been on a tramp among the Hills, combating insidious Home-Rule fairy-tales among the villagers: and finding the Sahib very ill, had stayed on to help.