Lispeth by Rudyard Kipling
Look, you have cast out Love! What Gods are these
You bid me please?
The Three in One, the One in Three? Not so!
To my own Gods I go.
It may be they shall give me greater ease
Than your cold Christ and tangled Trinities.
She was the daughter of Sonoo, a Hill-man, and Jadeh his wife. One
year their maize failed, and two bears spent the night in their only
poppy-field just above the Sutlej Valley on the Kotgarth side; so,
next season, they turned Christian, and brought their baby to the
Mission to be baptized. The Kotgarth Chaplain christened her
Elizabeth, and "Lispeth" is the Hill or pahari pronunciation.
Later, cholera came into the Kotgarth Valley and carried off Sonoo
and Jadeh, and Lispeth became half-servant, half-companion to the
wife of the then Chaplain of Kotgarth. This was after the reign of
the Moravian missionaries, but before Kotgarth had quite forgotten
her title of "Mistress of the Northern Hills."
Whether Christianity improved Lispeth, or whether the gods of her
own people would have done as much for her under any circumstances, I
do not know; but she grew very lovely. When a Hill girl grows lovely,
she is worth traveling fifty miles over bad ground to look upon.
Lispeth had a Greek face--one of those faces people paint so often,
and see so seldom. She was of a pale, ivory color and, for her race,
extremely tall. Also, she possessed eyes that were wonderful; and,
had she not been dressed in the abominable print- cloths affected by
Missions, you would, meeting her on the hill- side unexpectedly, have
thought her the original Diana of the Romans going out to slay.
Lispeth took to Christianity readily, and did not abandon it when
she reached womanhood, as do some Hill girls. Her own people hated
her because she had, they said, become a memsahib and washed herself
daily; and the Chaplain's wife did not know what to do with her.
Somehow, one cannot ask a stately goddess, five foot ten in her
shoes, to clean plates and dishes. So she played with the Chaplain's
children and took classes in the Sunday School, and read all the books
in the house, and grew more and more beautiful, like the Princesses in
fairy tales. The Chaplain's wife said that the girl ought to take
service in Simla as a nurse or something "genteel." But Lispeth did
not want to take service. She was very happy where she was.
When travellers--there were not many in those years--came to
Kotgarth, Lispeth used to lock herself into her own room for fear
they might take her away to Simla, or somewhere out into the unknown
One day, a few months after she was seventeen years old, Lispeth
went out for a walk. She did not walk in the manner of English
ladies--a mile and a half out, and a ride back again. She covered
between twenty and thirty miles in her little constitutionals, all
about and about, between Kotgarth and Narkunda. This time she came
back at full dusk, stepping down the breakneck descent into Kotgarth
with something heavy in her arms. The Chaplain's wife was dozing in
the drawing-room when Lispeth came in breathing hard and very
exhausted with her burden. Lispeth put it down on the sofa, and said
"This is my husband. I found him on the Bagi Road. He has hurt
himself. We will nurse him, and when he is well, your husband shall
marry him to me."
This was the first mention Lispeth had ever made of her matrimonial
views, and the Chaplain's wife shrieked with horror. However, the
man on the sofa needed attention first. He was a young Englishman,
and his head had been cut to the bone by something jagged. Lispeth
said she had found him down the khud, so she had brought him in. He
was breathing queerly and was unconscious.
He was put to bed and tended by the Chaplain, who knew something of
medicine; and Lispeth waited outside the door in case she could be
useful. She explained to the Chaplain that this was the man she
meant to marry; and the Chaplain and his wife lectured her severely
on the impropriety of her conduct. Lispeth listened quietly, and
repeated her first proposition. It takes a great deal of
Christianity to wipe out uncivilized Eastern instincts, such as
falling in love at first sight. Lispeth, having found the man she
worshipped, did not see why she should keep silent as to her choice.
She had no intention of being sent away, either. She was going to
nurse that Englishman until he was well enough to marry her. This was
her little programme.
After a fortnight of slight fever and inflammation, the Englishman
recovered coherence and thanked the Chaplain and his wife, and
Lispeth--especially Lispeth--for their kindness. He was a traveller
in the East, he said--they never talked about "globe- trotters" in
those days, when the P. O. fleet was young and small--and had come
from Dehra Dun to hunt for plants and butterflies among the Simla
hills. No one at Simla, therefore, knew anything about him. He
fancied he must have fallen over the cliff while stalking a fern on a
rotten tree-trunk, and that his coolies must have stolen his baggage
and fled. He thought he would go back to Simla when he was a little
stronger. He desired no more mountaineering.
He made small haste to go away, and recovered his strength slowly.
Lispeth objected to being advised either by the Chaplain or his wife;
so the latter spoke to the Englishman, and told him how matters stood
in Lispeth's heart. He laughed a good deal, and said it was very
pretty and romantic, a perfect idyl of the Himalayas; but, as he was
engaged to a girl at Home, he fancied that nothing would happen.
Certainly he would behave with discretion. He did that. Still he
found it very pleasant to talk to Lispeth, and walk with Lispeth, and
say nice things to her, and call her pet names while he was getting
strong enough to go away. It meant nothing at all to him, and
everything in the world to Lispeth. She was very happy while the
fortnight lasted, because she had found a man to love.
Being a savage by birth, she took no trouble to hide her feelings,
and the Englishman was amused. When he went away, Lispeth walked
with him, up the Hill as far as Narkunda, very troubled and very
miserable. The Chaplain' s wife, being a good Christian and
disliking anything in the shape of fuss or scandal--Lispeth was
beyond her management entirely--had told the Englishman to tell
Lispeth that he was coming back to marry her. "She is but a child,
you know, and, I fear, at heart a heathen," said the Chaplain's wife.
So all the twelve miles up the hill the Englishman, with his arm
around Lispeth's waist, was assuring the girl that he would come back
and marry her; and Lispeth made him promise over and over again. She
wept on the Narkunda Ridge till he had passed out of sight along the
Then she dried her tears and went in to Kotgarth again, and said to
the Chaplain's wife: "He will come back and marry me. He has gone to
his own people to tell them so." And the Chaplain's wife soothed
Lispeth and said: "He will come back." At the end of two months,
Lispeth grew impatient, and was told that the Englishman had gone over
the seas to England. She knew where England was, because she had read
little geography primers; but, of course, she had no conception of the
nature of the sea, being a Hill girl. There was an old puzzle-map of
the World in the House. Lispeth had played with it when she was a
child. She unearthed it again, and put it together of evenings, and
cried to herself, and tried to imagine where her Englishman was. As
she had no ideas of distance or steamboats, her notions were somewhat
erroneous. It would not have made the least difference had she been
perfectly correct; for the Englishman had no intention of coming back
to marry a Hill girl. He forgot all about her by the time he was
butterfly-hunting in Assam. He wrote a book on the East afterwards.
Lispeth's name did not appear.
At the end of three months, Lispeth made daily pilgrimage to
Narkunda to see if her Englishman was coming along the road. It gave
her comfort, and the Chaplain's wife, finding her happier, thought
that she was getting over her "barbarous and most indelicate folly."
A little later the walks ceased to help Lispeth and her temper grew
very bad. The Chaplain's wife thought this a profitable time to let
her know the real state of affairs--that the Englishman had only
promised his love to keep her quiet--that he had never meant anything,
and that it was "wrong and improper" of Lispeth to think of marriage
with an Englishman, who was of a superior clay, besides being promised
in marriage to a girl of his own people. Lispeth said that all this
was clearly impossible, because he had said he loved her, and the
Chaplain's wife had, with her own lips, asserted that the Englishman
was coming back.
"How can what he and you said be untrue?" asked Lispeth.
"We said it as an excuse to keep you quiet, child," said the
"Then you have lied to me," said Lispeth, "you and he?"
The Chaplain's wife bowed her head, and said nothing. Lispeth was
silent, too for a little time; then she went out down the valley, and
returned in the dress of a Hill girl--infamously dirty, but without
the nose and ear rings. She had her hair braided into the long
pig-tail, helped out with black thread, that Hill women wear.
"I am going back to my own people," said she. "You have killed
Lispeth. There is only left old Jadeh's daughter--the daughter of a
pahari and the servant of Tarka Devi. You are all liars, you
By the time that the Chaplain's wife had recovered from the shock
of the announcement that Lispeth had 'verted to her mother's gods,
the girl had gone; and she never came back.
She took to her own unclean people savagely, as if to make up the
arrears of the life she had stepped out of; and, in a little time,
she married a wood-cutter who beat her, after the manner of paharis,
and her beauty faded soon.
"There is no law whereby you can account for the vagaries of the
heathen," said the Chaplain's wife, "and I believe that Lispeth was
always at heart an infidel." Seeing she had been taken into the
Church of England at the mature age of five weeks, this statement
does not do credit to the Chaplain's wife.
Lispeth was a very old woman when she died. She always had a
perfect command of English, and when she was sufficiently drunk,
could sometimes be induced to tell the story of her first love-
It was hard then to realize that the bleared, wrinkled creature, so
like a wisp of charred rag, could ever have been "Lispeth of the