The attic room is no colder than the bedroom downstairs where Ram Dass has helped the Sahib to his bed, but the damp and the chill still linger despite the glowing fire. The monkey curls unhappily in his cage by the fire; he is not used to captivity while Ram Dass sleeps, but Ram Dass does not trust him not to find a way to open the attic skylight and escape across the rooftops. There is no warm refuge for him to find there, only a cold city where such as him would starve, but a monkey cannot be expected to understand such things.
He himself should be sleeping; soon enough it will be time to rise in the dark and dress by candlelight and the embers of the fire. Instead he goes to the window, climbing lightly up onto the table to see across the bleak rooftops. His own fingers play across the latch, and then he opens it and climbs out onto the chill slate, closing the window behind him to spare the monkey the cold.
A few steps brings him to the child's window, and he sits cross-legged to watch her for a while, despite the cold. She is sleeping wrapped in her thin blankets, her face buried in the hair of the doll who is her faithful if silent companion. He is reminded as always of his own youngest sister as a sleeping child, sprawled with one hand resting on the back of her own clay doll as if to be sure it had not woken fretful in the night. In her sleep, this child clings to her doll as if to a sister who might comfort her if she woke.
He wonders what story has ended for her in this attic. The stories she tells are all of the world as she would have it, of herself as a tragic queen, and not of whatever commonplace miseries she has suffered, although he can guess enough. Some soldier father has sent her home to these unfriendly shores, and then died and left her penniless and friendless. He thinks she would probably have been better off left an orphan in India, where surely her father's regiment would at least have taken up a subscription to see her clothed and fed.
But then the world is full of beggar children, in India and England alike. The little children of the Sahib Carmichael are young enough to take pleasure in their small acts of generosity without thinking of those who will go hungry tonight. It might be better for his own Sahib to still be young enough or lighthearted enough to do so himself, but there will be no peace for the man now. Even if they find the child they seek, he will not stop looking too closely at the streets of this maddening city.
If Ram Dass expected England to be different, he knows he was foolish to do so. The Sahib's stories of rambling houses in the country and green fields on summer afternoons, told sometimes in quiet moments in camp, were only the kind of tales anyone tells about home. There may be places where laughing boys play cricket under sunlit skies, but those boys are as far away from the attics where poor children sleep as they are still from the Sahib tossing and turning in his bed. There are distances counted in other things than miles.
He hopes for the Sahib's sake that the other child, the one Carmichael means to go look for in Russia, has not come this far from her childhood. This little one can hardly be called a child anymore, any more than Ram Dass was when he left his home as a boy to find work among soldiers. If that other child has these same shadows in her eyes when they find her, it will grieve the Sahib.
"He visits me in dreams," he said abruptly, that very morning, while Ram Dass was lighting lamps against the winter dark. "And I have no answers for him. I feel sometimes that he is in torment still, and will be until she is found. And if I cannot find her --"
"Surely you will find her," Ram Dass said.
Privately he finds it hard to imagine that the Sahib Crewe is in torment over the fate of his child. He seemed never to have a moment's worry or care, his face lit with pleasure over the prospect of glittering jewels, and perhaps nearly as much at the company of his friend. That sort of man would surely have thought, even in the last extremity of his illness, that he would recover, and his fortunes as well.
He cannot be sure, having only known Crewe for a few weeks. Long enough to know that he treated his servants kindly and fetched a doctor for the small daughter of the cook when she was ill; that he gave many parties that were a great deal of work for all concerned and had the habit of letting his clothes lie wherever he dropped them; that it was rumored he was in love with the wife of one of his friends, but only by those who would not have known whether it was true or not. Crewe's own manservant who had been with him for years in the army very properly did not gossip.
It is possible that the Sahib knows Crewe better from their boyhood together, although Ram Dass wonders how much he could say now himself about the friends of his own boyhood. The boys with whom Ram Dass smoked cigarettes and planned future glory in the army are men, now, and he knows them less than he knows the man he has served these many years. Some of them may be here in England, raising the children of Sahibs and dreaming of their families at home. He would not know if they were in London unless they happened to be in the same street.
The street is nearly deserted at this hour, although Ram Dass has ventured far enough into the city at night, curious to explore outside the wall-less compound of the square of houses, to know that the city is not. A few streets from here carriages still roll by, bringing rich men and women home from parties or the theater, and the less fortunate move in the shadows. Some sleep where they can, in doorways or alleys, and others spend their nights wakeful in the various professions of the desperate.
It has troubled him to think that this little girl might join them, but he has seen that she is a sensible enough child to understand that the winter weather is killing and that outside these walls her life would not be improved. If she were a boy, she might try to make her way back to India, but the docks hold their own dangers. She is best off making her peace with her cage, as Ram Dass is doing with his own.
But he cannot think of this house as a cage when he has chosen it himself, as he reminds himself when his nerves begin to fray. They do so often enough these days, under the pressure of the oppressive weather and the flavorless cooking and the suspicious looks he is given by underservants who do not speak his native tongue and pretend they do not understand him when he speaks their own. He was not bound to cross the ocean to these cheerless shores.
He has thought often enough of whether he could have chosen differently, when at last the Sahib opened his eyes in hospital and knew him as his familiar companion rather than some phantasm of his illness.
"The mines are ruined," the Sahib said as if in answer to an unasked question. His voice was hoarse, having hardly been quiet half an hour of the night. Ram Dass was not sure if he remembered any part of what he had said, having alternately cursed and plead for mercy from some harsh and unseen judge, and sometimes repeated over and over places they had been in the army years ago or snatches of half-remembered conversation, as if trying to remind himself of something real.
"I'm ruined with them, and all those poor fools who trusted me. I don't expect I've even got your last month's pay. I ..." His hand shook against the bedsheets, jerking like a baby's when he tried to lift it. "Will they turn me out of this place, do you suppose?" he asked, and when he looked up with shadowed eyes he still seemed to look into the abyss.
"Be still," Ram Dass said. "I will pay, if they come seeking money for your care and you have none. I have not spent all my pay as soon as I got it like a young soldier."
The Sahib closed his eyes, and then turned his face away, as if he believed that even in the extremity of illness and exhaustion his tears shamed him. "Why?" he asked finally when he could find his voice.
There were any number of truthful answers, from the fact that it would have shamed Ram Dass to leave his master ill and penniless to the fact that he would have been hard-pressed to find another position if it became known that he had abandoned the Sahib so. "You are my friend," he said finally, and turned away so that he would not see if the man still wept.
The letter bearing news of the recovery of the Sahib's fortunes arrived while he was still in hospital, and he had Ram Dass read it over twice, and then managed to clutch it in a shaking hand to read it over again himself, the paper crumbling in his fingers. He laughed, then, breathlessly and humorlessly enough that Ram Dass half-rose to call for a doctor.
"No," the Sahib said. "I'm not delirious." He released his grip on the letter, and it fluttered from his hand to the floor like a broken-winged bird. "I don't deserve this -- to be spared the consequences of my own foolishness--" He put a hand to his face.
"You have consequences enough, I think," Ram Dass said. The English doctors said little to him and little of the truth to the Sahib, but he could read well enough the message in what they said. With luck he would walk. With luck he would sleep again without evil dreams that woke him struggling blindly against hands that sought to keep him still. The man's health was broken, and he might never be able to work again.
"I can only think that if the news had come sooner, then Ralph might still be alive -- his little girl might not be orphaned by my wicked carelessness."
"Your friend might well have died even had he known himself a rich man," Ram Dass pointed out. "Many Englishmen do, when there is fever." He wished that letter had not come while the Sahib was still so ill. His eyes when he had read it had been those of a man who longs to die, and it was only his determination to find the little girl that made Ram Dass think he might still try to regain his strength.
"I still may myself," the Sahib said. He looked up at Ram Dass. "I must write a will now that it matters again -- even if I die, I must know that someone will find the girl."
"You will find her yourself," Ram Dass said. "And now you need have no concern while you are recovering." He did not speak of his own relief, the principal servant of a man who owned diamond mines having a much different future than a man burdened with an ill Englishman who could provide nothing for his own support. He expected the Sahib knew of it, but they understood each other well enough that he did not reproach Ram Dass for it.
"They tell me I must leave India," the Sahib said, a number of weeks later. He was still feverishly unable to keep to one topic for very long, and his hands still roved in palsied jerks across the bedclothes, though now he could move with help from the bed to the armchair to stare across the sunlit courtyard. "And I must find the little girl. I must tell her -- I must explain --"
He hardly seemed strong enough to undertake the voyage to England, but it was true that the summer's heat would likely do him no good, and that another fever would be the end of him. The trouble with hospitals was that in them it was impossible to avoid the sick. And the climate in England was supposed to be healthful, a belief that Ram Dass now can hardly credit. "Then I will make ready for us to go to England," he said.
He was curious to see England, and now that he has seen it, and would gladly exchange it for his own warmer and brighter home, he knows that he is still needed. There is a satisfaction in being needed, particularly by someone one is fond of. He thinks that the little girl sleeping in the attic room understands that well enough. Her nights would be harder if the little drudge who carries coal did not sit at her feet and hang on her every word.
He will not really leave England, even though he will never like sleeping wrapped in thick blankets wishing he could throw open the windows to catch a warm night breeze. He will grow used to the weather in time, he expects. Perhaps someday when the Sahib is well again he will take that other little girl with him to India, and spend more long years himself far from his home. The world is not so large that India is lost forever, except in the sense that the Sahib's England is lost as well, and this little girl's home, wherever it may have been in the ever-more-distant past.
In the meantime, he is resolved to make of the Sahib's cold house in this foreign land a home rather than a prison. He wishes the child in the other attic were able to do the same. His attic bedchamber has a well-laid fire and a bed heaped with blankets and thick carpets laid on the floor. In her barren room, he has never seen a fire lit or any more bedclothes brought up against the winter weather.
Surely some of those things he might bring to the child without her mistress punishing her for it. It would not bring back her vanished past, but it might be some hint to her that a future still lies before her, one that does not have to end as her tragic stories do. There is a way forward, he wants to tell her, as if he could lay a map before her that he has spent long years drawing for himself; she may yet come to find satisfaction in work well done, and to make a home in cold places.
The child sleeps without stirring, the deep exhausted sleep of a soldier at the end of a desperately long march. There is a rat exploring the footboards for any traces of her meager supper, but Ram Dass knows she has made a pet of the wretched creature, and trusts it will not harm its mistress.
He retreats to slip in his own window, feeling chilled in every bone. His stiffness as he climbs down from the table reminds him that he is no longer a boy himself. But the banked fire is warm, and his thick bed inviting with its layers of quilted Chinese silk. The monkey is sleeping now in its cage, curled up on its cushion in the embers' glow.
He hopes the child will dream of India, if that will bring her comfort. He closes his own eyes and thinks instead of all he might do in the morning.