BEYOND THE PALE
by Rudyard Kipling
BEYOND THE PALE -
Love needs not caste nor sleep a broken bed. I went in search of love andlost myself.- Hindu Proverb. -
A MAN shouldwhatever happenskeep to his own casterace and breed. Letthe White go to the White and the Black to the Black. Thenwhatever troublefalls is in the ordinary course of things- neither suddenalien nor unexpected.
This is the story of a man who wilfully stepped beyond the safe limits ofdecent everyday societyand paid for it heavily.
He knew too much in the first instance; and he saw too much in the second. Hetook too deep an interest in native life; but he will never do so again.
Deep away in the heart of the Citybehind Jitha Megji's bustee* lies AmirNath's Gullywhich ends in a dead-wall pierced by one grated window. At thehead of the Gully is a big cowbyreand the walls on either side of the Gullyare without windows. Neither Suchet Singh nor Gaur Chand approve of theirwomen-folk looking into the world. If Durga Charan had been of their opinionhewould have been a happier man to-dayand little Bisesa would have been able toknead her own bread. Her room looked out through the grated window into thenarrow dark Gully where the sun never came and where the buffaloes wallowed inthe blue slime. She was a widowfifteen years oldand she prayed the Godsdayand nightto send her a lover; for she did not approve of living alone. -
* In DOS versions italicized text is enclosed in chevrons . -
One daythe man- Trejago was his name- came into Amir Nath's Gully on awandering; andafter he had passed the buffaloesstumbled over a big heap ofcattle-food.
Then he saw that the Gully ended in a trapand heard a little laugh frombehind the grated window. It was a pretty little laughand Trejagoknowingthatfor all practical purposesthe old "Arabian Nights" are goodguideswent forward to the windowand whispered that verse of 'The Love Songof Har Dyal' which begins:- -
Can a man stand upright in the face of the naked Sun; or a Lover in thePresence of his Beloved?
If my feet fail meO Heart of my Heartam I to blamebeing blinded by theglimpse of your beauty? -
There came the faint tchink of a woman's bracelets from behind the gratingand a little voice went on with the song at the fifth verse:- -
Alas! alas! Can the Moon tell the Lotus of her love when the Gate of Heavenis shut and the clouds gather for the rains?
They have taken my Belovedand driven her with the pack horses to the North.
There are iron chains on the feet that were set on my heart.
Call to the bowmen to make ready- -
The voice stopped suddenlyand Trejago walked out of Amir Nath's Gullywondering who in the world could have capped 'The Love Song of Har Dyal' soneatly.
Next morningas he was driving to officean old woman threw a packet intohis dogcart. In the packet was the half of a broken glass-bangleone flower ofthe blood-red dhaka pinch of bhusa or cattle-foodand eleven cardamoms. Thatpacket was a letter- not a clumsy compromising letterbut an innocentunintelligible lover's epistle.
Trejago knew far too much about these thingsas I have said. No Englishmanshould be able to translate object-letters. But Trejago spread all the trifleson the lid of his office-box and began to puzzle them out.
A broken glass-bangle stands for a Hindu widow all India over; becausewhenher husband diesa woman's bracelets are broken on her wrists. Trejago saw themeaning of the little bit of the glass. The flower of the dhak means diversely 'desire''come' 'write' or 'danger' according to the other things with it. Onecardamom means 'jealousy'; but when any article is duplicated in anobject-letterit loses its symbolic meaning and stands merely for one of anumber indicating timeorif incensecurdsor saffron be sent alsoplace.The message ran then- 'A widow- dhak flower and bhusa- at eleven o'clock.' Thepinch of bhusa enlightened Trejago. He saw- this kind of letter leaves much toinstinctive knowledge- that the bhusa referred to the big heap of cattle-foodover which he had fallen in Amir Nath's Gullyand that the message must comefrom the person behind the grating; she being a widow. So the message ran then-'A widowin the Gully in which is the heap of bhusadesires you to come ateleven o'clock.'
Trejago threw all the rubbish into the fireplace andlaughed. He knew thatmen in the East do not make love under windows at eleven in the forenoonnor dowomen fix appointments a week in advance. So he wentthat very night at eleveninto Amir Nath's Gullyclad in a boorkawhich cloaks a man as well as awoman. Directly the gongs of the City made the hourthe little voice behind thegrating took up 'The Love Song of Har Dyal' at the verse where the Panthan girlcalls upon Har Dyal to return. The song is really pretty in the Vernacular. InEnglish you miss the wail of it. It runs something like this- -
Alone upon the housetopsto the North
I turn and watch the lightning in the sky-
The glamour of thy footsteps in the North
Come back to meBelovedor I die! -
Below my feet the still bazar is laid
Farfarbelow the weary camels lie-
The camels and the captives of thy raid.
Come back to meBelovedor I die!
My father's wife is old and harsh with years
And drudge of all my father's house am I.-
My bread is sorrow and my drink is tears
Come back to meBelovedor I die! -
As the song stoppedTrejago stepped up under the grating and whispered- I amhere.'
Bisesa was good to look upon.
That night was the beginning of many strange thingsand of a double life sowild that Trejago to-day sometimes wonders if it were not all a dream. Bisesaor her old handmaiden who had thrown the object-letterhad detached the heavygrating from the brick-work of the wall; so that the window slid insideleavingonly a square of raw masonry into which an active man might climb.
In the day-timeTrejago drove through his routine of office-workor put onhis calling-clothes and called on the ladies of the Station; wondering how longthey would know him if they knew of poor little Bisesa. At nightwhen all theCity was stillcame the walk under the evil-smelling boorkathe patrolthrough Jitha Megji's busteethe quick turn into Amir Nath's Gully between thesleeping cattle and the dead wallsand thenlast of allBisesaand the deepeven breathing of the old woman who slept outside the door of the bare littleroom that Durga Charan allotted to his sister's daughter. Who or what DurgaCharan wasTrejago never inquired; and why in the world he was not discoveredand knifed never occurred to him till his madness was overand Bisesa... Butthis comes later.
Bisesa was an endless delight to Trejago. She was as ignorant as a bird; andher distorted versions of the rumours from the outside world that had reachedher in her roomamused Trejago almost as much as her lisping attempts topronounce his name- 'Christopher.' The first syllable was always more than shecould manageand she made funny little gestures with her rose-leaf handsasone throwing the name awayand thenkneeling before Trejago asked himexactlyas an Englishwoman would doif he were sure he loved her. Trejago swore that heloved her more than any one else in the world. Which was true.
After a month of this follythe exigencies of his other life compelledTrejago to be especially attentive to a lady of his acquaintance. You may takeit for a fact that anything of this kind is not only noticed and discussed by aman's own race but by some hundred and fifty natives as well. Trejago had towalk with this lady and talk to her at the Band standand once or twice todrive with her; never for an instant dreaming that this would affect his dearerout-of-the-way life. But the news flewin the usual mysterious fashionfrommouth to mouthtill Bisesa's duenna heard of it and told Bisesa. The child wasso troubled that she did the household work evillyand was beaten by DurgaCharan's wife in consequence.
A week laterBisesa taxed Trejago with the flirtation. She understood nogradations and spoke openly. Trejago laughed and Bisesa stamped her little feet-little feetlight as marigold flowersthat could lie in the palm of a man'sone hand.
Much that is written about Oriental passion and impulsiveness is exaggeratedand compiled at secondhandbut a little of it is true; and when an Englishmanfinds that littleit is quite as startling as any passion in his own properlife. Bisesa raged and stormedand finally threatened to kill herself ifTrejago did not at once drop the alien Memsahib who had come between them.Trejago tried to explainand to show her that she did not understand thesethings from a Western standpoint. Bisesa drew herself upand said simply-
'I do not. I know only this- it is not good that I should have made youdearer than my own heart to meSahib . You are an Englishman. I am only a blackgirl'- she was fairer than bar-gold in the Mint- 'and the widow of a black man.'
Then she sobbed and said- 'But on my soul and my Mother's soulI love you.There shall no harm come to youwhatever happens to me.'
Trejago argued with the childand tried to soothe herbut she seemed quiteunreasonably disturbed. Nothing would satisfy her save that all relationsbetween them should end. He was to go away at once. And he went. As he droppedout of the windowshe kissed his forehead twiceand he walked home wondering.
A weekand then three weekspassed without a sign from Bisesa. Trejagothinking that the rupture had lasted quite long enoughwent down to Amir Nath'sGully for the fifth time in the three weekshoping that his rap at the sill ofthe shifting grating would be answered. He was not disappointed.
There was a young moonand one stream of light fell down into Amir Nath'sGullyand struck the grating which was drawn away as he knocked. From the blackdarkBisesa held out her arms into the moonlight. Both hands had been cut offat the wristsand the stumps were nearly healed.
Thenas Bisesa bowed her head between her arms and sobbedsome one in theroom grunted like a wild beastand something sharp- knifeswordor spear-thrust at Trejago in his boorka . The stroke missed his bodybut cut into oneof the muscles of the groinand he limped slightly from the wound for the restof his days.
The grating slid into its place. There was no sign whatever from inside thehouse- nothing but the moonlight strip on the high walland the blackness ofAmir Nath's Gully behind.
The next thing Trejago remembersafter raging and shouting like a mad manbetween those pitiless wallsis that he found himself near the river as thedawn was breakingthrew away his boorka and went home bareheaded. -
* * * * * * * -
What was the tragedy- whether Bisesa hadin a fit of causeless despairtoldeverythingor the intrigue had been discovered and she tortured to tell;whether Durga Charan knew his name and what became of Bisesa- Trejago does notknow to this day. Something horrible had happenedand the thought of what itmust have beencomes upon Trejago in the night now and againand keeps himcompany till the morning. One special feature of the case is that he does notknow where lies the front of Durga Charan's house. It may open on to a courtyardcommon to two or more housesor it may lie behind any one of the gates of JithaMegji's bustee . Trejago cannot tell. He cannot get Bisesa- poor little Bisesa-back again. He has lost her in the City where each man's house is as guarded andas unknowable as the grave; and the grating that opens into Amir Nath's Gullyhas been walled up.
But Trejago pays his calls regularlyand is reckoned a very decent sort ofman.
There is nothing peculiar about himexcept a slight stiffnesscaused by ariding-strainin the right leg. - -