An hour later Scott was under way; the apothecary threatening him with the penalties of the law for that he, a member of the Subordinate Medical Department, had been coerced and bound against his will and all laws governing the liberty of the subject; the pink-shirted Eurasian begging leave to see his mother, who happened to be dying some three miles, away: ’Only verree, verree short leave of absence, and will presently return, sar—’; the two constables, armed with staves, bringing up the rear; and Faiz Ullah, a Mohammedan’s contempt for all Hindoos and foreigners in every line of his face, explaining to the drivers that though Scott Sahib was a man to be feared on all fours, he, Faiz Ullah, was Authority itself.
The procession creaked past Hawkins’s camp—three stained tents under a clump of dead trees; behind them the famine-shed where a crowd of hopeless ones tossed their arms around the cooking-kettles.
‘Wish to Heaven William had kept out of it,’ said Scott to himself, after a glance. ’We’ll have cholera, sure as a gun, when the Rains come.’
But William seemed to have taken kindly to the operations of the Famine Code, which, when famine is declared, supersede the workings of the ordinary law. Scott saw her, the centre of a mob of weeping women, in a calico riding-habit and a blue-gray felt hat with a gold puggaree.
’I want fifty rupees, please. I forgot to ask Jack before he went away. Can you lend it me? It’s for condensed milk for the babies,’ said she.
Scott took the money from his belt, and handed it over without a word. ‘For goodness sake take care of yourself,’ he said.
’Oh, I shall be all right. We ought to get the milk in two days. By the way, the orders are, I was to tell you, that you’re to take one of Sir Jim’s horses. There’s a gray Cabuli here that I thought would be just your style, so I’ve said you’d take him. Was that right?’
’That’s awfully good of you. We can’t either of us talk much about style, I’m afraid.’
Scott was in a weather-stained drill shooting-kit, very white at the seams and a little frayed at the wrists. William regarded him thoughtfully, from his pith helmet to his greased ankle-boots. ’You look very nice, I think. Are you sure you’ve everything you’ll need—quinine, chlorodyne, and so on?’
‘Think so,’ said Scott, patting three or four of his shooting pockets as the horse was led up, and he mounted and rode alongside his convoy.
‘Good-bye,’ he cried.
‘Good-bye, and good luck,’ said William. ’I’m awfully obliged for the money.’ She turned on a spurred heel and disappeared into the tent, while the carts pushed on past the famine-sheds, past the roaring lines of the thick, fat fires, down to the baked Gehenna of the South.