BY WORD OF MOUTH
by Rudyard Kipling
BY WORD OF MOUTH -
Not though you die to-nightO Sweetand wail
A spectre at my door
Shall mortal Fear make Love immortal fail-
I shall but love you more
Whofrom Death's house returninggive me still
One moment's comfort in my matchless ill.
-Shadow Houses. -
THIS tale may be explained by those who know how souls are madeand wherethe bounds of the Possible are put down. I have lived long enough in this Indiato know that it is best to know nothingand can only write the story as ithappened.
Dumoise was our Civil Surgeon at Meridkiand we called him 'Dormouse'because he was a round littlesleepy little man. He was a good Doctor and neverquarrelled with any onenot even with our Deputy Commissioner who had themanners of a bargee and the tact of a horse. He married a girl as round and assleepy-looking as himself. She was a Miss Hillardycedaughter of 'Squash'Hillardyce of the Berarswho married his Chief's daughter by mistake. But thatis another story.
A honeymoon in India is seldom more than a week long; but there is nothing tohinder a couple from extending it over two or three years. India is a delightfulcountry for married folk who are wrapped up in one another. They can liveabsolutely alone and without interruption- just as the Dormice did. Those twolittle people retired from the world after their marriageand were very happy.They were forcedof courseto give occasional dinnersbut they made nofriends therebyand the Station went its own way and forgot them; only sayingoccasionallythat Dormouse was the best of good fellowsthough dull. A CivilSurgeon who never quarrels is a rarityappreciated as such.
Few people can afford to play Robinson Crusoe anywhere- least of all inIndiawhere we are few in the land and very much dependent on each other's kindoffices. Dumoise was wrong in shutting himself from the world for a yearand hediscovered his mistake when an epidemic of typhoid broke out in the Station inthe heart of the cold weatherand his wife went down. He was a shy little manand five days were wasted before he realised that Mrs. Dumoise was burning withsomething worse than simple feverand three days more passed before he venturedto call on Mrs. Shutethe Engineer's wifeand timidly speak about his trouble.Nearly every household in India knows that Doctors are very helpless in typhoid.The battle must be fought out between Death and the Nurses minute by minute anddegree by degree. Mrs. Shute almost boxed Dumoise's ears for what she called his'criminal delay' and went off at once to look after the poor girl. We had sevencases of typhoid in the Station that winter andas the average of death isabout one in every five caseswe felt certain that we should have to losesomebody. But all did their best. The women sat up nursing the womenand themen turned to and tended the bachelors who were downand we wrestled with thosetyphoid cases for fifty-six daysand brought them through the Valley of theShadow in triumph. Butjust when we thought all was overand were going togive a dance to celebrate the victorylittle Mrs. Dumoise got a relapse anddied in a week and the Station went to the funeral. Dumoise broke down utterlyat the brink of her graveand had to be taken away.
After her deathDumoise crept into his house and refused to be comforted. Hedid his duties perfectlybut we all felt that he should go on leaveand theother men of his own Service told him so. Dumoise was very thankful for thesuggestion- he was thankful for anything in those days- and went to Chini on awalking-tour. Chini is some twenty marches from Simlain the heart of the Hillsand the scenery is good if you are in trouble. You pass through bigstilldeodar-forestsand under bigstill cliffsand over bigstill grass-downsswelling like a woman's breasts; and the wind across the grass and the rainamong the deodars say- 'Hush- hush- hush!' So little Dumoise was packed off toChinito wear down his grief with a full-plate camera and a rifle. He took alsoa useless bearerbecause the man had been his wife's favourite servant. He wasidle and a thiefbut Dumoise trusted everything to him.
On his way back from ChiniDumoise turned aside to Bagithrough the ForestReserve which is on the spur of Mount Huttoo. Some men who have travelled morethan a little say that the march from Kotegarh to Bagi is one of the finest increation. It runs through dark wet forestand ends suddenly in bleaknippedhillside and black rocks. Bagi dak-bungalow is open to all the winds and isbitterly cold. Few people go to Bagi. Perhaps that was the reason why Dumoisewent there. He halted at seven in the eveningand his bearer went down thehillside to the village to engage coolies for the next day's march. The sun hadsetand the night-winds were beginning to croon among the rocks. Dumoise leanedon the railing of the verandahwaiting for his bearer to return. The man cameback almost immediately after he had disappearedand at such a rate thatDumoise fancied he must have crossed a bear. He was running as hard as he couldup the face of the hill.
But there was no bear to account for his terror. He raced to the verandah andfell downthe blood spurting from his nose and his face iron-gray. Then hegurgled- 'I have seen the Memsahib! * I have seen the Memsahib! ' -
* In DOS versions italicized text is enclosed in chevrons . -
'Where?' said Dumoise.
'Down therewalking on the road to the village. She was in a blue dressandshe lifted the veil of her bonnet and said- "Ram Dassgive my salaams tothe Sahiband tell him that I shall meet him next month at Nuddea." ThenI ran awaybecause I was afraid.'
What Dumoise said or did I do not know. Ram Dass declares that he saidnothingbut walked up and down the verandah all the cold nightwaiting for theMemsahib to come up the hillandstretching out his arms into the dark. But no Memsahib cameandnextdayhe went on to Simla cross-questioning the bearer every hour.
Ram Dass could only say that he had met Mrs. Dumoise and that she had liftedup her veil and given him the message which he had faithfully repeated toDumoise. To this statement Ram Dass adhered. He did not know where Nuddea washad no friends at Nuddeaand most certainly would never go to Nuddea; notthough his pay were doubled.
Nuddea is in Bengal and has nothing whatever to do with a Doctor serving inthe Punjab. It must be more than twelve hundred miles south of Meridki.
Dumoise went through Simla without haltingand returned to Meridkithere totake over charge from the man who had been officiating for him during his tour.There were some Dispensary accounts to be explainedand some recent orders ofthe Surgeon-General to be notedandaltogetherthe taking-over was a fullday's work. In the eveningDumoise told his locum tenenswho was an oldfriend of his bachelor dayswhat had happened at Bagi; and the man said thatRam Dass might as well have chosen Tuticorin while he was about it.
At that momenta telegraph-peon came in with a telegram from SimlaorderingDumoise not to take over charge at Meridkibut to go at once to Nuddea onspecial duty. There was a nasty outbreak of cholera at Nuddeaand the BengalGovernmentbeing short-handedas usualhad borrowed a Surgeon from the Punjab.
Dumoise threw the telegram across the table and said- 'Well?'
The other Doctor said nothing. It was all that he could say.
Then he remembered that Dumoise had passed through Simla on his way from Bagi;and thus mightpossiblyhave heard first news of the impending transfer.
He tried to put the questionand the implied suspicion into wordsbutDumoise stopped him with- 'If I had desired thatI should never have come backfrom Chini. I was shooting there. I wish to livefor I have things to do... butI shall not be sorry.'
The other man bowed his headand helpedin the twilightto pack upDumoise's just opened trunks. Ram Dass entered with the lamps.
'Where is the Sahib going?' he asked.
'To Nuddea' said Dumoisesoftly.
Ram Dass clawed Dumoise's knees and boots and begged him not to go. Ram Dasswept and howled till he was turned out of the room. Then he wrapped up all hisbelongings and came back to ask for a character. He was not going to Nuddea tosee his Sahib die andperhapsto die himself.
So Dumoise gave the man his wages and went down to Nuddea alone; the otherDoctor bidding him good-bye as one under sentence of death.
Eleven days later he had joined his Memsahib ; and the Bengal Government hadto borrow a fresh Doctor to cope with that epidemic at Nuddea. The firstimportation lay dead in Chooadanga dak-bungalow. - -