In Clive's Command eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 411 pages of information about In Clive's Command.

It was a song about a banya {merchant} with a beautiful young daughter-in-law, whom he appointed to deal out the daily handful of flour expected as alms by every beggar who passed his door.  Her hands being much smaller than his own, he pleased himself with the idea that, without losing his reputation for charity, he would give away through her much less grain than if he himself performed the charitable office.  But it turned out bad thrift, for so beautiful was she that she attracted to the door not only the genuine beggars, but also many, both young and old, who had disguised themselves in mendicant rags for the mere pleasure of beholding her and getting from her a smile and a gentle word.

It was a popular song, and the warder himself was tempted to stay and listen until, the hour for locking up being past, he at last recollected his duty and bundled the prisoners into the shed.

“Sing inside if you must,” he said, “but not too loud, lest the overseer come with the bamboo.”

Inside the shed, reclining on their charpoys, the men continued their performance, changing their song, though not, as it seemed to Desmond, the tune.  He, however, was perhaps not sufficiently attentive to the monotonous strains; for, as soon as the warder had left the yard, he had unlocked his fetters and begun to work in the darkness.  Poised on one of the rafters, he held on with one hand to a joist, and with the other plied a small saw, well greased with ghi.  The sound of the slow careful movements of the tool was completely drowned by the singing and the hollow rat-a-pan of the tom tom.  Beneath him stood the Babu, extending his dhoti like an apron, and catching in it the falling shower of sawdust.

Suddenly the figure on the rafter gave a low whistle.  Through the window he had seen the dim form of the sentry outside approach the space lighted by the rays from the lantern, which he had laid down at a corner of the shed.  Before the soldier had time to lift it and throw a beam into the shed (which he did as much from curiosity to see the untiring performers as in the exercise of his duty) Desmond had swung down from his perch and stretched himself upon the nearest charpoy.  The Babu meanwhile had darted with his folded dhoti to the darkest corner.  When the sentry peered in, the two performing Marathas were sitting up; the rest were lying prone, to all appearance soothed to sleep.

“Verily thou wilt rap a hole in the tom tom,” said the sentry with a grin.  “Better save a little of it for tomorrow.”

“Sleep is far from my eyes,” replied the man.  “My comrades are all at rest; if it does not offend thee—­”

“No.  Tap till it burst, for me.  But without sleep the work will be hard in the morning.”

He went away.  Instantly the two figures were again upon their feet, and the sawing recommenced.  For three hours the work continued, interrupted at intervals by the visits of the sentry.  Midnight was past before Desmond, with cramped limbs and aching head, gave the word for the song and accompaniment to cease, and the shed was in silence.

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In Clive's Command from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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