The Sacred Crocodile

To U. S. M.

Eleven of these stories have appeared in the Cornhill, three in the Treasury, and a portion of one in Chamber’s Journal, by whose Editor’s kind permission they are here reproduced. The story entitled “The Sacred Crocodile” now makes its first appearance.

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The Sacred Crocodile

It happened in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and twenty in the very heart of that same India upon whose age-old customs and traditions we of the West were at the moment busily imposing, ready made, with a wave of the hand, a wonderful Western structure of Councils of State and Legislative Assemblies and Representative Government.

Buri Mandalini sat crouched in a corner of the dark little mud-walled room, her hands clasped tightly round her knees and her head bent low upon them. On a charpoy against the opposite wall, a little brown figure, on the once white sheet spread under it, lay the naked figure of a tiny man-child. For the first time for many hours it lay quite still. All through the long hot night it had tossed tormented from side to side, its pitiful infant wail breaking feebly on the hot, breathless stillness. All through those endless hours Buri Mandalini had crouched beside it, endeavouring in her ignorant way to soothe its suffering. The little palm-leaf fan, with which she had striven to ward off the flies and mosquitoes from the tortured child, lay fallen beside the bed, gay in its cloth edging of blue and yellow and green, the one touch of colour in the drab, cheerless room.

It was nothing but a one-roomed hut, raised on a two-foot plinth that the water lapped when, in the rainy season, the great river beyond broke its banks and flooded the whole country-side round Bitadanga. But now it stood high and dry, and the fields around it, in this land of extremes, lay parched and barren. For weeks no storm had come to relieve the blazing heat that day after day burned up the earth as in a furnace. Simple as it was, the hut had a picturesqueness all its own, the artistic instinct, that wonderful inheritance of the East, alive even in the untaught peasant hands that built it. Its four mud walls raised on the plinth were crowned by a roof of great gulpatta leaves that hung low down and half hid the tiny veranda beneath it. The one room, half divided into two by a mud wall partition, had no window. Only the open door gave light, which now was stealing inch by inch across the floor as the sun rose. It had just caught the woman as she crouched despairingly in the corner that faced the light, revealing her in all her abandonment of despair. Outside in the little veranda her man slept soundly, rolled from head to foot like a mummy in a dirty white cloth. Quickly the sun rose higher in the heavens and still not one of the three moved. It was as if they had been turned to stone. Yet there was something in the woman’s crouched-up figure that told that for her at least the blessed relief of sleep had failed to come. Though her face was hidden her whole attitude was a picture of abandoned hope. She was not weeping. The Indian woman does not weep. The paid mourners weep aloud for her. Her own real grief is voiceless, borne silently suppressed, like so many of her other emotions, as long tradition has demanded.

The sun had risen until it caught and illuminated the little figure on the bed, revealing all its piteousness. Fever-racked, its poor emaciated limbs lay stretched full out as if in helpless exhaustion. So slightly did the tiny body move, as its faint breath came, that it might almost have already passed into the Great Beyond. But as the sun, creeping across the room through the open doorway, caught its face, it stirred and gave a feeble cry. The mother seemed almost to have been waiting for that very cry so swiftly did she spring to her feet and move towards the bed. As her shadow fell across him, the child grew still again, and the mother moved noiselessly across the room and closed the half of the door that shut the sun from off the bed. Then as the child still slept she moved away about her household duties and as she did so the long roll of cloth in the veranda unwound itself and Sarup Mandal emerged, blinking in the sunlight. He was small of stature, well knit and sturdy, but though not old in years his face was deeply lined and wore the heavy serious look of his race and class, as if the joy of life and the beauty of the world had found no place in his drab existence. He moved slowly, like one tired and listless, as he went inside the hut, and, folding his cotton sheet, placed it on the end of the bed. Leaning over he looked down at his sleeping son and the sombre look on his face deepened. For a moment he stood so, then moving silently away he sat down on the edge of the veranda until such time as the morning meal was ready.

A few minutes later, her preparations for the meal completed over the fire let into the floor of the room, the woman joined him.

“There is no hope,” she said dully. “The gods must needs take this one also.”

For a moment the man did not speak. Gazing out over the bare expanse of untilled paddy fields towards the great river beyond, his impassive face showed no sign that he had heard. Again the woman spoke, querulously, like one broken and without hope.

“It is already five sons that the gods have taken. Must they take this one also?”

Then he moved quickly and swiftly in sharp contrast with the slowness of his movements hitherto.

“What have we done?” he cried aloud, the words pouring out as if, long pent up, they flowed like a torrent once released. “What have we done to bring down the wrath of the gods upon us? Is it you? is it I? Wherein have we offended?”

The woman, surprised at his outburst, drew back against the wall, clutching her sari against her breast.

“We must appease the gods,” she whispered, her eyes dilating. “We must appease the gods.”

But her man, his one sudden outburst over, had grown silent again. Again it seemed as if he did not hear. She drew nearer.

“We must appease the gods before it is too late,” she whispered, timid yet daring, carried away by her passion to save her son.

But now he impatiently brushed her aside.

“Bring food,” he commanded her. “To-day I go to the hāt.”

Meekly she brought him his morning meal and went back into the room while he ate it. No Indian woman may share her man’s meal. She would partake of hers when he had gone. Standing by the bed she gazed down at the sleeping child. He was six months old, older than any of the previous sons she had borne, who had all died in the first few months of their existence. This one had seemed so strong. It was with such great hopes that she had given him birth. She remembered how gaily she had gone about her household duties during those first few months, crooning to him always the age-old songs of childhood of her race, striving always to avert the anger of the gods. He was so strong—surely the gods would spare her this one son. They had taken six. Surely they would not rob her of the ecstasy of joy that, robbed of so much, had concentrated itself upon this tiny figure on the bed.

She heard her man rise and start off on his journey to the hāt. He had not come to look upon his son again. The woman in her dull way marvelled. It was not that he did not care. That she knew. What man of his race was there who did not greatly desire a son to follow after him and perform his death ceremonies when his own time came? It might be that he cared too much. Yet she herself could not have left her son without a glance. The ways of men were strange ways.

Her own meal quickly over she carried the vessels to the edge of the veranda, to wash and polish them. Of worn brass, much rubbed, they shone in the sunlight, a dazzling patch of brightness against the drabness of the mud-built hut. Carefully and leisurely she washed and polished them. Mechanically her hand moved backwards and forwards over them countless times. It was almost as if she had forgotten time, as if the movement had mesmerized her. Long after they had shone to their utmost limit the slow movements of her hands went on. What to her was time? Her household duties were few. The whole long day stretched out before her. It was as if she clung to this small duty as something to pass the idle hours away, as something to prevent her thinking of the new sorrow that had come to her.

A feeble little wail from within brought her back to life suddenly. Hurriedly taking the vessels within and placing them in their accustomed corner of the hut she moved swiftly to the bed. The merciful oblivion of sleep that had enfolded the helpless infant scarce an hour before the dawn, had ended in a fretful wakefulness. Quickly the woman crouching on the ground beside the charpoy folded him against her breast and rocking herself to and fro crooned to him a lullaby. But the child lay nerveless in her arms, his little whimper of distress the only sign of life he gave. And at each little whimper there came a swift momentary break in the woman’s voice as she drew him closer to her breast. Always she rocked herself to and fro, mechanically as she had polished the cooking pots and pans, as if she had forgotten life and had become but a thing of constant motion. Yet always as the child whimpered there came that momentary catch in the crooning of the lullaby.

It was hours later that gradually she ceased her rocking movements. For some time now the child had ceased to whimper. All her efforts to give it sustenance had failed, and now reaching out her hand she took a lota full of milk and dipping her finger in it placed it upon the infant’s lips. Thrice she did so but each time the little head turned feebly away and the milk ran off its lips. With a weary movement she turned and placed the child upon the bed again and picking up the fan from the floor beside it waved it gently over the fragile body. The sun had fully risen and the stifling heat in the little hut was unstirred by the smallest breath of air.

A shadow darkened the doorway, and Buri Mandalini looking round saw the shrunken form of an old woman between her and the sunlight. It was Mussamat Bibi, the gossip of the village, hag-like and toothless yet with a tongue that wagged cruelly. Now, her dirty sari drawn over her head, her grey hair escaping in wisps from underneath it, her eyes the only living thing in her dead face, she seemed to Buri Mandalini like some hideous ghoul come to torment her. But fearful of her, like all the village, she dare not bid her go. Glancing at the child and deeming that he slept she moved hurriedly across the little room and drew the woman out on to the veranda. She should not throw her shadow over the man-child on the bed.

Sitting on a strip of matting on the mud-baked floor of the veranda Mussamat Bibi spoke. It seemed to the despairing woman who listened as if each word were specially designed to torture her.

“It is the sixth, is it not so?” the old hag quavered with a movement of the head towards the open doorway that led into the hut.

“It is the sixth,” came the trembling whisper of admission in reply.

“And it will die,” came the prediction, the old woman’s voice rising almost to a shriek. “It will die this day.”

The other woman bowed her head and this time no whisper came from her.

“The gods are angry,” went on the shrill, evil voice. “Dost thou not see? Dost thou not know?”

But still the woman beside her did not speak.

The hag leaned forward till her hot breath fanned the other woman’s cheek.

“Listen and I will tell thee,” and this time she too whispered, a hoarse croaking whisper that made the other woman shudder. “Vow a vow unto the gods.”

Buri Mandalini looked up quickly. Then her head drooped again.

“It is too late,” she murmured.

The hag drew herself still nearer.

“For this one, yes,” she hissed. “He will die to-day.”

She paused a moment as if gathering herself together for her greatest effort.

“But another will come, the seventh, it is I who say it.”

She drew back, watching the effect of her words upon the stricken woman beside her.

For a moment, Buri Mandalini, all her thoughts centred on the tiny bit of humanity, that was flesh of her flesh and that still breathed, made no sign. Then suddenly she looked up and gazed fascinated into the face of Mussamat Bibi. As she gazed into those beady bright eyes opposite to her, she drew back terrified, yet unable to drag herself away from their compelling glance. It seemed as if she knew that though the prophecy just made to her was one of untold joy there lay behind it something sinister. It was clear to the frightened woman that Mussamat Bibi had yet more to say.

“Thou shalt have a seventh son,” the old woman announced in clear decisive tones, “but lest he die too, now quickly vow a vow unto the gods.”

Mussamat Bibi rose from the ground, and bent over the cowering woman.

“Dost thou not know?” she hissed, pointing with one hand dramatically across the fields towards the west. “Dost thou not know? There in the sacred tank, the Thakur Dighi, has lived for all time great Kala Pahar the Sacred Crocodile. Vow to offer thy child to him and he shall return it to thee, strengthened and endowed with long life. Dost thou not know, oh ignorant one, mother of six men sons, yet all dead ere they grew to man’s estate?” She lifted up her voice in one loud wail, pointing again this time within the doorway towards the bed whereon the man-child lay. “All dead, I say, all dead. Vow quickly thy seventh son to the Sacred Crocodile in the Thakur Dighi by Khan Jahan Ali’s tomb.”

Her voice ended in a shriek as she turned and sped away by the path across the fields towards the river.

The crouching woman beside her scarce heard the last sentence. The sudden announcement that her man-child within was already dead brought her to her feet with a cry. Like a flash she was inside the hut and snatching the child from off the bed, she peered into its face thrust forward into the sunlight. But there was no need to peer into its face. The very touch of it in her arms told the mother that her child was dead. For one moment she clasped the already cold little form close against her heart, then turning slowly she placed it on the bed again. For a long time she stood looking down upon it. Her clasped hands twitched ceaselessly. There was no other outward show of grief. It seemed as if all that the woman had gone through had deadened her, as if she had reached the limit of her anguish and there was no more strength left in her. Slowly, like one out of whom the spirit had fled, she sank down to the floor and her head rested wearily against the edge of the bed close by the tiny body of her son. Then mercifully, utterly exhausted, at last she slept.

The sunlight that through the open door had worked its way all day across the room was finally receding from it inch by inch when the woman awoke. It seemed to her that no awakening she had ever known had been so bitter. Six sons the gods had given her and she had failed to bring even one to man’s estate. Dragging herself to her feet she walked slowly out into the fields beyond the hut. There was a Champa tree beyond the fifth field on the west. Alas! how well she knew it. For each one of her dead sons she had woven from it a garland for his bier. For the sixth time—for the same purpose—she made her way towards it. It was in full bloom and the sweetness of its pale yellow blossoms scented the air. Quickly she gathered branch after branch and carrying them back in her arms sat down in the veranda to weave her garland.

She had just completed it—no great garland did the tiny form need—and had brushed the stray leaves over the edge of the veranda, when her man returned from the hāt. She stood up with the garland in her hand and met him in the entrance. Seeing the garland he paused.

“It is even so,” she said, in a dead set voice. “Thy son is dead.”

No sign of expression passed over the man’s face. Dully he looked into the woman’s eyes. There for both lay bare all the tragedy that had come to them. Together they went in and looked at the little figure on the bed. It lay very still.

It was the man who first turned away. Passing on to the veranda he sat down heavily, like one tired out physically and mentally. The woman turned quickly and watched him go. It seemed as if in a flash she had made up her mind. Suddenly eagerness succeeded the dull apathy she had worn all day. She trembled as she moved across the room, her eyes now ablaze.

She came and stood behind the man as he sat crouched up against the wall. Stooping down she spoke quickly into his ear.

“If there be another son,” she whispered eagerly, then all tremblingly halted as if she feared to speak.

The man stirred uneasily. “Another son!” The desire of every Hindu for a son was implanted strong within him. Six times he had been baulked of his desire. His face set. They were growing old. “If there be another son!” What would he not do to attain that desire of his heart?

The woman had stilled her trembling. She spoke again.

“Let us vow a vow here and now in the presence of our dead son.”

The man rose slowly and faced her. Her hands clasped the sari close against her breast and she swayed against the wall.

“If the gods give us another son,” she whispered brokenly, “we will offer him to the Sacred Crocodile in the Thakur Dighi, and he will give him back to us endowed with health and long life.”

For a long time the man was silent, regarding her.

“So be it,” he murmured at length.

Then passing again within they made their vow unto the gods beside the dead body of their sixth-born son.

At sunset they bore the little body with its fading garland to the burning ghat.

The breathless heat of the hot weather passed at last into the cooling freshness of the rains. The long enforced idleness of the dry season, when none can till his sun-baked fields, was over and Buri Mandalini and her man were busy, first with the ploughing of the newly sodden earth, then with the planting and transplanting of the fresh young paddy, standing ankle deep in water as they worked. And as she worked, glad at the outset of the occupation that kept her thoughts from harking backwards, the first awakening of new joy to come sprang up within her. Slowly the first doubts grew into certainty and by the time the rains were over, Buri Mandalini in her simple ignorant way, but in a wonder of triumph, was singing her great Magnificat. For the seventh time she would be the mother of a son. In her exaltation she never for a moment doubted that it would be a son. No other thought so much as entered into her head. Her simple faith held. She had vowed her vow and the gods had accepted it. This time there would be no misgivings. This son would live. When he was seven weeks old he should be offered to the gods and they would give him back to her strong and endowed with long life—her man-child whom she would watch through every stage of growth with a passion of delight all the stronger that six times it had been baulked.

So throughout the winter months there was joy again in the house of Buri Mandalini. The paddy crop was good, and poor as they were they had enough to store against the coming of the following harvest. All seemed to be well with them. When the hot weather began again and work for her, outside her household duties, ceased, the woman waited in a great contentment. When the hot season was far advanced her time would come.

It was just a year and a month since the cry of a man-child had been heard in the little hut. Then it had been the feeble wailing cry of a child in pain. Now on a sudden there came another cry, again of a child, but this time of no puling infant but the lusty cry of a strong man-child’s first contact with the world. Sarup Mandal, sitting motionless in the veranda outside, heard it with a thrill of joy that stirred the very depths of his soul. Across his dull expressionless features there flashed for one brief moment a radiance that transformed them. It was as if he had answered the woman’s Magnificat with a no less triumphant Nunc Dimittis of his own.

For two whole months the woman and the man lived in a world of dreams. The joy that had come to them seemed to have raised them above all the petty things of life. Uplifted, they went about their daily duties, performing them mechanically, the one thought uppermost in their minds that once more a man-child, flesh of their flesh, lived. Not once throughout the long two months did either of them speak of the vow that they had made a year ago. Each knew that the thought of it loomed large in the other’s mind. Each knew that the other had no thought but to fulfil that vow. Not to fulfil a vow to the gods would be unthinkable. Such a thought never entered their simple minds. Surely this time—the seventh time—the gods would be merciful. So, wrapped up in their joy, they seemed to have forgotten the evil luck that had pursued them. Only the mother, crushing the infant to her breast, sometimes trembled in her joy. But this child was so strong. None that she had ever borne before had been so fine a man as this. Round and plump, he laughed and crowed all day. Always the sun shone radiantly within and without the little hut at Bitadanga.

As each day ended the mother tied a fresh knot in the long string she had hung upon the wall so that there might be a record of his growth. The month of Pous had ended, and still neither of them spoke of the vow, though each again was conscious that it filled more and more the other’s mind. All was so perfect, it needed all the mother’s courage to break in upon the daily round of happiness. Yet she must do it. The vow had been made. All day on the fifteenth day of the month of Magh she thought of it, holding the child in her arms or playing with him as he lay at her feet, laughing up at her. The two months had almost gone. There must be no more delay. To-morrow she and her man would set out with their man-child to fulfil their vow. Fear seized her suddenly as she thought of it. Once and once only the temptation flashed through her mind to ignore her vow. But the horror of that thought to her untutored soul was greater than the horror of fulfilling it. There was nothing to be done. To-morrow they would perform the vow that they had made. Surely the gods would be kind. Surely they had already approved the vow in sending her the child. Surely they would not take it away when she fulfilled it.

That night when Sarup Mandal came home she spoke to him of their vow. His dull face showed no sign, but passing over to the bed he looked long down at his small sleeping son. Then turning quickly away he spoke briefly.

“Be it so. To-morrow at dawn we go.”

All night the woman lay awake with the child in her arms, clasped warm and supple against her breast. A stupor had come over her. It was not that she feared or doubted. She had vowed a vow and she would fulfil it. For the rest it was what the gods willed. The fatality of the East was a part of her being. There was no hanging back. There could be no hanging back. She must simply go straight forward. Beyond what lay so plain before her she dared not look. What would be, would be. Yet as the child breathed its warm life against her breast she trembled. A terrible fear clutched at her breast. What if the gods took this one also. Then truly nothing else mattered. She would gladly go to meet whatever new reincarnation might await her. No reincarnation could then be worse than the living horror of this.

And all night long her man slept soundly by her side. Again she marvelled. It was she alone who kept the dark night watches.

Before the dawn she was astir. The morning meal must be prepared ere they started on their ten-mile walk to the Thakur Dighi and they must leave as the day broke. The man and the man-child were still asleep upon the bed when all was ready, and for a moment she stood beside them before she woke them. The child lay full stretched in careless abandon, fast asleep, and as she looked at his sturdy limbs and strong well-knit form a great wave of passionate love swept over her. The gods must spare her this. Quickly she would offer him to the Sacred Crocodile so that quickly she might get him back, strong and endowed with long life. A fever of impatience seized her. She must perform her vow and reach the great result. Hastily she roused her man, and, while he ate, made the few arrangements necessary for their journey. Then having broken her own fast and set the hut in order she took the still sleeping infant in her arms and together she and her man set forth upon their fateful journey.

There was a strange stillness in the air at dawn. For two days now there had been no rain and the world in a hushed stillness lay waiting for its coming. The sun that was creeping up in the heavens as they passed along the ails between the fields would soon be a ball of fire, blazing down upon a damp and breathless world. Buri Mandalini, carrying her babe, followed meekly behind her man as he strode ahead, striking direct across the fields with primitive instinct straight for their destination. Only once on the long ten-mile journey they rested beside a tank under a great banyan tree, where resided an old Fakir, clad only in a loin cloth, his body smeared with ashes and his long matted hair coiled stiffly round his head in plaits. For years he had sat there, lost in contemplation of the things of other worlds, and Buri Mandalini salaamed to him reverently as she passed, while Sarup Mandal dropped a coin in the carved bowl that stood beside him. The Fakir made no sign. The man and the woman and the child might never have been for all the notice he bestowed upon them. They were a part of this world which only the bare vulgar necessities of life demanded he should consider. His sole aspiration was the attainment of utter independence of this world and the things of it. These three so fraught with things of this world passed on their way unheeded.

The sun was high in the heavens when they neared their journey’s end. The fever of impatience that had seized the woman earlier in the morning had passed, leaving only a dull numbness in its place. She too seemed to have acquired something of the Fakir’s detachment from the world. One thought and one only seemed to attach her to life and mundane things—the infant that she carried in her arms. Her whole soul had become absorbed in him. Neither the heat of the day nor the weariness of the long journey could touch her. Her life had gone out into this small being, flesh of her flesh, her seventh yet only son. Nothing from without could affect her. She felt neither fear nor indecision. Her exaltation was too great to admit of definite thought. They were nearing the Thakur Dighi. The end of their pilgrimage was in sight.

Suddenly at the turn of a jungle path they came full upon it. For a moment they paused dazzled by its magnificence. In front of them rose up the great mausoleum of Khan Jahan Ali. To Buri Mandalini, who had never before in all her life seen a masonry building, whose horizon had been limited by the village in which she had been born and bred, it was a thing of infinite wonder. Even upon her mind, centred as it was upon the infant in her arms, it forced its colossal greatness, exalting still more her already half-delirious mind. The great dome stood out towering and magnificent in her sight. It was a Mohammedan mausoleum, but to her in her ignorance that meant little. The legends of the sacred Thakur Dighi of which she knew so well the tales, told her at her mother’s knee, were a curious mingling of Hindu and Mohammedan traditions, those two fiercely opposed religions. Khan Jahan Ali, so the story ran, a great warrior, at the head of 60,000 men, marching with a mandate from the Emperor at Delhi to reclaim the Sunderbans had achieved his worldly task and turned his thoughts to God. Desiring of God to be shown the place where he should spend the remainder of his days in preparation for the end he was directed to this spot, and here he settled, building his beautiful mosque, the Sath Gambuz of the sixty columns, and this his mausoleum. Beside him lies his Dewan, once a Hindu, but drawn by the force of his friendship for his master to embrace the faith of Islam. “This tomb,” so runs the simple inscription upon it, “is a part of the garden of heaven and of a great friend Muhammad Tahir 863 Zil Hijjah.”

In front of them lies the enormous tank, the Thakur Dighi, and as Buri Mandalini gazed at it in awe and wonder the story of it flashed again through her mind. Khan Jahan Ali had begun to dig this tank—that necessary thing in the East beside any dwelling-house—but dig as he might no water came. For many days they dug until at last buried deep down in the earth they came upon a Hindu Temple. The workmen, frightened at this strange phenomenon, fled and told Khan Jahan Ali. Unafraid, he hurried to the spot and entered into the temple. There to his amazement he found a devotee sitting in contemplation. Khan Jahan Ali besought him to help them in obtaining water, which the devotee with a wave of his hand immediately proceeded to do so effectually, that Khan Jahan Ah and his followers only just had time to escape from the tank without being drowned. The tradition is that the devotee’s temple still exists at the bottom of the tank. Was there not a story, that men whispered in fear, how once a woodcutter lopping the branch of a tree that overhung the lake, looking down actually saw the temple? Had he not cried out in his fear and excitement “Lo, I see the devotee sitting in his temple,” and had not the branch of the tree on which he sat immediately broken and precipitated him into the tank, the water of which closed over him and from which he never emerged? It was not well to speak of these things, but had they not been whispered from mouth to mouth for generations?

Buri Mandalini with her child hugged close against her breast stood at the top of the wide shallow steps that led down to the tank. The great moment had come at last.

It was all quiet here now, but at the great festivals, especially at the full of the moon in the month of Chait, these steps and all the surrounding banks would be crowded with a great company of the sick and sorrowful seeking alleviation of their griefs or vowing offerings if their great desires should be vouchsafed to them. Now save for a few little groups of pilgrims like themselves the place stood deserted. Sarup Mandal, sitting at the top of the steps, had already entered into conversation with them with the free intercourse of the East. One man, he learned, suffered from a pain in his chest. He knew not what it was. He had come in simple faith to offer food to the Sacred Crocodile, believing that by so doing he would be rid of his pain. Another had come to offer garlands to the Sacred Crocodile in gratitude for the cure of his disease in consequence of a vow that he had made to it. It was three months ago that he had come, bowed down with sickness, and here on this spot he had vowed a vow and lo! on his return home he had been cured of his sickness that had lasted many years. Now he had come to return thanks. Buri Mandalini, sitting respectfully behind her man, heard these things with an exquisite thrill of joy. The Sacred Crocodile did indeed hear the prayers of suffering humanity. She looked down at the infant in her arms. She must offer him, but soon she would receive him back strong to grow to manhood and blessed with long life. And what was that they were saying now? Another little group had joined them. They were speaking of another cure that the Sacred Crocodile had brought to pass. It was a case so like her own that her heart leapt within her as she listened. This woman a month ago had brought to the Sacred Crocodile her sick child—an infant at the breast—who was near to death, and even as she returned home he had begun to recover. Now she had brought him back and as she showed him proudly to the interested little group of onlookers, he crowed happily, the very picture of health and strength. Buri Mandalini, from her humble place on the outskirts of the group, watched him with eager eyes. Her heart beat tremulously. So would her son be.

Then Sarup Mandal told the little group why he had come. He had not come merely to promise or to offer fowls. He had come to give his infant son himself to the Sacred Crocodile, believing that he would return him strong and endowed with long life. His announcement created a little stir even among the stolid group of peasants. This was a thing beyond anything they had done or known. True they had heard—as who had not?—that the Sacred Crocodile would return an infant given to it endowed with new life, but they had been content to repeat it as a legend. Their dull imagination had not carried them so far as to put it to the test. Yet now that it was actually before them, the vague tradition about to be made a living thing before their very eyes, they did not shrink. To not one of them did there come a thought of protest. To not one of them did it seem a thing of madness. It was an accepted belief. Why should not this man and woman put that belief into practice? True, they felt a stir of unusual excitement. This was more than feeding the Sacred Crocodile with fowls—their usual gift. But it was an event that they contemplated with equanimity. Not into the minds of one of them did it enter to cast doubt. Besides, who would dare the anger of the Sacred Crocodile by coming between him and his votaries? Were not the Sacred Crocodiles the very descendants—some said the very same crocodiles hundreds of years old—whom Khan Jahan Ali himself had called and in whom some of his sanctity now resided? Strange mingling of Hindu and Mohammedan legend, but the simple ignorant minds of the votaries now gathered by the Thakur Dighi neither knew nor understood.

Sarup Mandal, his dull brain elated by the sudden importance that had come to him because of his vow, rose to fulfil it. Buri Mandalini, following him, went down the great broad steps. The infant at her breast lay still, asleep. The mother drew him closer as she reached the lowest step. For a moment the two stood there looking out over the still unruffled expanse of the great Thakur Dighi. Not a ripple broke the shining surface of the water. Then stooping down the woman placed the child upon a great white stone that stood just above the water’s edge.

Immediately, retreating a few steps backwards Sarup Mandal lifted up his voice and cried with a great cry “Ho, Kalapahar,” “Ho, Dhalapahar.” The silence that followed was one that could be felt. It over-awed the little company that waited and held them spellbound. Buri Mandalini as in a dream moved up the steps that separated her from her husband and stood beside him. Her eyes were one moment on the child, that lay quite still upon the stone, the next flashing over the still surface of the Thakur Dighi. Again Sarup Mandal lifted up his voice and the call rang out over the unruffled waters—the same call that Khan Jahan Ali had used five hundred years before and that had never yet failed to bring its response. A third time the call rang out and then mysteriously far off across the lake there came a ripple on its surface that lengthened and widened and drew nearer. Above the water, ahead of the trail, a point of black suddenly appeared, that grew larger and clearer as the great beast drew near. Once again for the fourth time Sarup Mandal called and the point of black grew into the outlines of a great snout hurrying through the water. It was quite near now, and Buri Mandalini gazed at it fascinated. It was coming straight for the stone whereon the child, her man-child, lay. She gazed stupefied. She could see the whole great body just beneath the clear surface of the water. Her lips moved as she prayed, prayed wildly. It seemed to her as if the great beast paused a few paces from the child.

“Tomar hazal niya esechhi tumi lao,”1 she cried suddenly, holding out her hands towards her son.

Then with a swift sharp movement of its ungainly body the huge beast rose half out of the water and seized the child in its mouth. One shrill startled infant cry rang out as with another quick movement the Sacred Crocodile dragged the child with it under water and disappeared. Rapidly the smooth surface of the Thakur Dighi closed over them and the last ripple on its shining surface died away.

It was all over so quickly that the little group stood as if mesmerized. With folded hands and bent heads, their loin cloths drawn round their necks, the man and woman near the water’s edge waited with unswerving faith. They never doubted but that in a moment the Sacred Crocodile would return with their infant and restore him to them endowed with the strength and length of years that they so passionately desired. They had stood within a few feet and seen the ghastly jaws of the crocodile close on the desire of their hearts, yet they had not shuddered or cried out. They were fulfilling their vow. Surely the gods to whom they vowed, surely the god that was in the Sacred Crocodile would not desert them or play them false. No thought of such disaster filled their minds as they waited patiently, the woman’s lips moving as she prayed.

And so the fateful long-drawn minutes crept slowly by.

The two figures near the water’s edge never moved. Hands folded, heads bent they still stood motionless. How long they stood they knew not. Time for them had lost its meaning. The one thought absorbed them—the return of their child. Surely the greatest moment of all their lives was near at hand.

But amongst the little group at the top of the steps as the dragging moments passed there came a stir. One frightened pair of eyes looked into another and one by one each little group, after one furtive glance at the two figures below, and out over the unmoving surface of the lake beyond, stole silently away, their vows all unfulfilled. Surely to-day was no auspicious day. Their dull minds failed to grasp the full extent of what actually had happened. Only suddenly they were afraid. So one by one they crept away, leaving the man and woman by the water’s edge alone.

The woman still prayed on.

It seemed as if knowledge came to the man suddenly. It was as if he sensed that the others had fled from them, leaving them alone. He straightened himself from his bent attitude of reverence and looked round timidly. It was as he had felt. The others had shrunk away from them in fear. What was it? What was it that had happened? Surely the Sacred Crocodile would yet restore their child. Had they not vowed a vow? and would the gods mock them? A wild rush of thought surged through the man’s dull brain. He looked round quickly at the woman beside him. She still stood with her hands folded, her head bent, and her lips still moved in prayer. The great realization had not yet come to her.

Seizing her by the arm he lifted up his voice in anguish.

“Khanja Ali Thakur,” he cried, his voice ringing out startlingly and appealingly across the water, “Amar chhele nichhi, ar to dile na.”2

Then at last the woman ceased to pray. Suddenly she too awoke to the horror of great darkness that had engulfed the man. Dazed and uncomprehending, all they knew was that their child was gone. The man-child for whom they had prayed, for whom they had vowed this great vow, had gone from them. The Sacred Crocodile, coming swiftly in answer to their call, had taken him and had not brought him back to them. The man grew frantic, calling again and again, wildly beseeching in his despair. Beside him stood the woman, her mother’s heart within her turned to stone. Sinking like one from whom all life and hope had suddenly gone out, she fell upon the steps and lay still, a huddled inert figure. For a few brief moments longer the man called, but ever more faintly, his cries growing weaker and yet weaker in the great agony of his despair. Then he too threw himself full length upon the steps and lay beside the woman, as still as she. For both of them life was over. Their man-child was gone. Their faith in the gods they trusted was gone. What more remained? This was the end.

Above them the sun shone down mercilessly, lighting the unruffled surface of the water to a blaze of molten silver. The age-old bricks of the steps grew hot like coals of fire. But the man and woman neither stirred nor felt. This to them was the end.

But alas! for them it was not the end.

It was there on the steps of the Thakur Dighi that the majesty of the Law, in the person of the village choukidar, found them hours later. They were just as they had fallen, in the first agony of the realization of their grief. There had come to them no thought of returning home. There had been no thought of flight from the law, because in their ignorance they did not know that they had contravened the law. They had vowed a vow to the gods and had performed it. That was all.

That too was the view taken by the Jury, when after wandering, dull and uncomprehending, through many strange places and formalities, the unhappy man and woman were finally brought up to hear its verdict. But the Jury was of their own fellow-countrymen, upon whom the vaunted jury system of the West sits with a difference. The Judge, on the other hand, was of another race, to whom the offering of an infant to a crocodile could be naught else but culpable homicide. And finally the High Court in ponderous dignified words approved the Judge’s reference and drove down the full force of the letter of the law upon the bowed heads of the stricken man and woman. But it mattered little. For them the curtain had already fallen beside the Thakur Dighi. That was the end—the utmost limit beyond which, mercifully, human suffering might not go.

Divider

Concerning Fishes

He was a globe-trotter and a German. It was quite impossible to mistake him for anything else, even after he had shown you his under-waistcoat of the Stars and Stripes.

I found him far away in a village miles from anywhere in the heart of India, and my first glimpse of him was of a full-length figure lying face downwards on the edge of a tank peering down into it through gold-rimmed spectacles.

I think it was the hottest day that I ever remember, and when one has done some twelve hot weathers in the plains of India it takes something in the way of heat to stand out prominently in one’s memory. I had ridden fourteen miles from the nearest dâk bungalow to inspect a Police Outpost, and as I sat in the tiny veranda, under a dirty little punkha that creaked and flapped horribly, trying to work out the statistics of crime from a maze of vernacular figures, hideously written, the Head Constable in charge suddenly unburdened himself of a much more astonishing piece of information than any of his carefully recorded annals afforded.

“Sir,” he announced with seeming irrelevance in the midst of my inquiries as to the doings of a certain criminal tribe, “a European is at present residing within the jurisdiction of this Outpost.”

“A European?” I repeated, looking up at him in surprise. No European officer had been to inspect this particular Outpost for over two years. There were no planters anywhere within miles, and no missionaries had made of it the scene of their labours. Historical antiquities there were none, neither had the soil hitherto given promise of hidden wealth in gold or coal or other marketable commodity to attract the ubiquitous prospector. I could imagine no conceivable reason why a European should come to Anantpara, many why he should stay away.

The Head Constable was hoping shortly to become a Sub-Inspector, and was therefore anxious to exhibit not only his command of English but also his official zeal. His English was of the exciting order that continually aroused anticipations of good things to come. His zeal in the official presence simply bristled out of him.

“Sir,” he said solemnly, but with obviously restrained eagerness, “I thinking he is doubtless German spy.”

“And what steps have you taken in the matter?” I asked, irresistibly drawn to imitate his seriosity. I am not sure that there is such a word as that, and being in the jungle and without a dictionary I cannot look it up. But no other word could so adequately describe that zealous Head Constable’s demeanour.

“Sir,” he prefaced his reply, and the everyday appellation on his lips became so deep and impressive that it made one feel like a prisoner at the bar being sentenced by a judge in full-bottomed wig for some heinous offence, “Sir, the European supposedly German, only arriving late last night and knowing you honour arriving this morning, there are no steps taken up to date.”

“Are you sure he is a European?” I asked, thinking he was probably some unfortunate Eurasian loafer who had wandered far afield, though still wondering what could have brought even such as he to Anantpara. “What is he like?”

“Sir, I have taken his description in prescribed form,” the Head Constable hastened to assure me, hurriedly seizing a paper-bound book from a neighbouring shelf and beginning to read, with great and solemn deliberation, in a monotonous, sing-song voice. “Name—unknown: age—about thirty forty: facial characteristics—square chin, straw-coloured moustache, brown eyes, obstinate hair——”

I am afraid I heard no more of the physical features of that “European supposedly German.” The sudden vision conjured up by the “obstinate hair” was so vivid that it almost robbed me for the moment of due official gravity. I saw so clearly that hirsute appendage which no amount of brushing could effectually subdue. Could that zealous Head Constable have proved his knowledge of English to greater effect? No other adjective in the language could have so adequately described the kind of hair one knew so well, and in particular upon a German head.

“Has he given any account of himself?” I asked, when the Head Constable had come to the end of his description and saluted proudly.

“Sir,” was the reply, “thinking him to be German and that it unwise to give him scent police watching him, I have not openly addressed him, but have kept him under strictest observation.”

The criminal statistics that a moment before had seemed the most exciting fare that Anantpara could provide paled in interest before this amazing new arrival in our midst. By degrees and many devious ways such as the Oriental mind loves, the Head Constable unburdened himself of all the information he possessed. The stranger had arrived at dusk the night before, “dropping from the skies,” as the police officer at first picturesquely put it, only admitting when severely pinned down to it that he had in reality arrived very prosaically in a humble and mundane bullock-cart, with only one servant and a diminutive tent, which I eventually elicited was now pitched a few hundred yards from the Police Outpost on the edge of a large tank.

Beyond that, the information was disappointing. In spite of all the Head Constable’s alertness nothing further of interest had transpired. In addition to the fact that the man was a European and had arrived unannounced from nowhere in particular, itself a sufficiently astonishing thing to have occurred in Anantpara, there had been nothing to excite suspicion, as the Head Constable, evidently burning for adventure that might lead to promotion, was forced reluctantly to admit. The stranger and his servant immediately on arrival had pitched the tent, and then both had promptly retired for the night. Leaving a constable to keep watch, the Head Constable had taken his meal and slept, but alert before the dawn he had himself spied upon the tent till the hour of my arrival had forced him again to give over the duty to another constable. So long as he had remained at his post of observation neither the Sahib nor his servant had emerged.

The constable had been left with strict instructions to report immediately on any movement of the enemy, and even as we talked he arrived breathless. The Sahib was distinctly visible inside the tent “taking off one lot of clothes and putting on another,” as the constable graphically put it.

I had grown almost as eager as the Head Constable himself to solve the mystery, so finishing my inspection in what I considered a sufficiently reasonable time to allow the stranger to make his change of clothing, I started off in the direction pointed out to me as that in which his tent was pitched.

It stood, the smallest of possible tents, under a mango tree close by the edge of an immense tank. Beside it, stretched full length face downwards on the ground, his face peering over the edge of the tank into the water below, lay the figure of a man that fully bore out the Head Constable’s graphic description, “European supposedly German.” There was no mistaking that peculiarly Teutonic heaviness of build, those stolid fresh-coloured features so far as they could be seen, and that flaxen head of obstinate hair, half hidden though it was by a topi. So rigid and tense was the whole body that, instead of making as much noise as possible, as first thoughts naturally suggested, I found myself almost tiptoeing as I approached him. His absorbed interest fascinated me. It acted on one like a man standing still in the road and looking up intently into the sky. One is bound in such case to stand still and look up there too. Instinctively I drew as near to him as I could and peered down into the water from behind him. But, strain my eyes as I might, I could see nothing to attract his interest and for a moment I felt like the crowd that has been fooled and wants to scrap the practical joker. I coughed gently to intimate my presence. But still the rigid figure on the ground did not move. “Good morning,” I next ventured. It was by no means a cordial greeting. It was quite obviously only a somewhat irritable demand to be taken notice of. And it certainly took effect, though not quite in the way I had imagined. Swiftly, and with scarce a movement of the rest of his body, his right hand shot out, fingers extended, unmistakably indicating silence. The movement was at once so commanding and so beseeching that there was nothing for it but to keep quiet and wait till the absorbing moment had passed, which I did, wondering with what sort of lunatic I had to deal.

It must have been full five minutes that I waited, and I was just about to make another effort to end what seemed a rather ridiculous situation when something happened. The figure at my feet relaxed so suddenly and heaved so deep a sigh of disappointment that I almost stooped and grabbed at it, thinking it was going to fall over into the tank. Then pulling itself together, it rose with surprising agility considering its bulk and, before I quite realized what had happened, I was being gripped warmly by the hand and a large shrewd face behind large gold-rimmed spectacles was looking down into mine. It was an extraordinarily big face even to surmount so big a body, and the spectacles looked simply enormous. The only thing that was small about him were his eyes, and they looked tiny behind the great gold-rimmed glasses.

“No luck, no luck,” were his first words, as he held my hand and wrung it till I nearly jumped. “I guessed I had found a wallago attu that time, but no luck, no luck.”

“Found what?” I exclaimed involuntarily, somewhat dazed by this sudden springing to such exuberant life of the so long motionless figure.

At that he dropped my hand and looked down at me solemnly, all his exuberance slowly disappearing as he looked. It gave one the uncomfortable sort of feeling that he was really noticing one closely for the first time and finding one not at all up to what he had expected.

“A wallago attu,” he repeated slowly, still regarding me fixedly. The way those little beady eyes peered out at me from behind the large gold-rimmed spectacles was positively horrible. It somehow seemed completely to turn the tables upon me and made me feel that I and not he was the lunatic after all. He looked at me as if I were some strange being who did not understand the simplest English. I began to feel that it really was a disgraceful thing not to know what a wallago attu was.

I suppose I looked the ignorance and bewilderment I felt. Was a wallago attu a microbe, an insect, or a fish?

“I am thinking,” he at last said slowly, when I suppose he felt he had shrivelled me up sufficiently, “I am thinking you not know much about ze fish.”

I hurriedly endeavoured to explain that the pressure of official duties had hitherto left me little time for the study of piscatorial science, but I felt that I had sunk irretrievably in the estimation of Professor McWoos. For that was the name on the card he hastened in the most correct foreign manner to present to me.

Mutual explanations followed. Apparently accustomed to arousing suspicion, he lost no time in impressing upon me his identity.

“McWoos,” he said emphatically, as if challenging me to deny it, as I glanced down at his card. “Professor McWoos of Alantara University, U.S.A.”

If something of surprise and suspicion peeped out from behind the judicial calm that should rest upon the official countenance as I looked up at him again, may I not be forgiven in the circumstances? It was sufficiently amazing that a strange European or American should turn up in this remote part of India at all, but when that individual announced himself in a strong German accent, which his appearance did nothing to belie, as the possessor of a Scotch name and as the Professor of an American University, one felt transported into a new world of wonderment. In this he obviously had the advantage of me. Having got so far across India in war time it could be no novelty to him to arouse the feelings of suspicion he doubtless saw expressed in my countenance, whereas I was completely taken by surprise and filled with wonder as to how it had come to pass that his presence in the land had not been notified to us by a watchful Government. Meanwhile he was still regarding me fixedly with his little beady eyes from behind the big goggles, and so for a moment we stood facing one another. Then he dramatically played his trump card. Slowly undoing his coat and waistcoat he flung them open and disclosed underneath a sort of under waistcoat of the Stars and Stripes.

“I am citizen of ze United States,” he said, proudly tapping himself on the chest.

Much as I laughed over it all afterwards, I had no desire to laugh at the moment. That was one of the extraordinary peculiarities of Professor McWoos. He so filled the landscape while he occupied it, that one lost one’s sense of proportion. However ridiculous might be the things he said or did, judged by the ordinary standards of conventionality, he so over-shadowed his surroundings and impressed one with the force of his personality that he carried one completely away with him. It was only afterwards that one realized how weird he really was.

Then with one of those swift changes of manner that were so delightful and so characteristic of him, he was beaming again, and almost before I knew it we were sitting amicably on the bank of the tank while he explained things to me.

“To have ze body of a German and ze soul of a free-born citizen of ze States, ach, it is terrible,” he sighed, with a gesture of disgust. “You would not think I was born in ze States and my madar and fadar born there too, hein?”

His bright little eyes peered round at me appealingly as if imploring me to answer in the affirmative he yet knew to be impossible. Fortunately he spared me a reply.

“Do you know,” he hurried on, leaning forward and putting one large hand impressively on my knee while with the other he made a dramatic sweep over the universe in general, “do you know I would gif ze world to speak like you.”

His great German body heaved with the sigh his protesting English soul vented inside it.

“I hate my body,” he murmured tragically, gazing out over the tank.

He said it so passionately and dramatically that, far from wanting to laugh, one really felt one was in the presence of a great tragedy. He carried one along with him so amazingly, and he was so terribly in earnest, that one simply longed to help him. I wanted to suggest the fasting cure as the only possible hope that occurred to me at the moment. Professor McWoos seemed to divine my thoughts with one of those quick flashes of intuition of his.

“Ze fast, it is of no use,” he said bitterly; “with this gross German body I have ze appetite, mein Gott, what appetite! I am pig. I know it. Zat is ze difference. Ze true German, he is pig but he does not know it.”

This article, however, set out to be one concerning fishes. So far it has been chiefly concerning Professor McWoos of Alantara University, U.S.A. Only a few lines more must suffice to introduce him to my readers before he in time introduces them to the fascinating study of piscatorial lore as he introduced it to me beside the tank at Anantpara, on that hottest of June days long ago. His grandparents, it appeared, had emigrated from Prussia many years before, and he himself had been born in Alantara; but though both his parents had been born citizens of the United States, they had always lived in the big German quarter of the city, in what, from his description, must have been a curious little bit of Prussia transported across the seas. The little German colony, there as elsewhere, had kept to itself, obstinately ignoring its neighbours and refusing to merge itself in its surroundings, with the result that the Professor grew up almost as much a German as if his grandparents had remained in the Fatherland. Hence the German body and the German accent that so offended his sensibilities. His one joy was that not only he, but both his parents, were natural born citizens of the United States. “Though what use zat?” as he pathetically put it, if no one would believe it unless he told them, and often not even then. All the rest of his family clung tenaciously to their German traditions. Only he among them all had the English soul. The war had made the final breach between them. He had changed his name and shaken for a time at least the dust of Alantara off his feet, making of it a long desired opportunity to travel and pursue his piscatorial researches in the East. It was only in changing his name that he had exhibited one weakness for things German. Apologetically he explained it to me. His family name had been Woosnam, and he had felt a pang in parting from it. So he had compromised. He had kept half of it and added a prefix that surely covered any deficiencies. The result was somewhat weird, but that mattered not at all. It had the one thing needful. It was unmistakably British.

But it was impossible to keep the Professor long away from his hobby. If he had one passion stronger than his antipathy to all things German, it was his passion for all things piscatorial. His horror at my ignorance on the subject was undisguised. Not once but several times during our conversation I feared he had decided I was not worth talking to. A man who had never heard of a wallago attu! I could hear his inward snort of contempt. But by this time the charm of the Professor’s extraordinary personality had won its way, and such was his power of impressing one that for the first time in my life I felt an interest in fish and fishing stirring within me. So when he had got over the first shocks of finding that though I had been in India some ten years, I had seriously neglected my wonderful opportunities of studying the ways and habits of fishes but that I really was interested, his desire to impart knowledge, doubtless acquired in the University of Alantara, overcame his prejudice against one so ignorant and he grew quite friendly.

We sat on the bank under the shade of a tree and talked fish for over three hours. It was wonderful what his enthusiasm did. I felt a new world opening out before me. All my lost opportunities of studying fish life rose up before me and reproached me as Professor McWoos did his best to make up for them and simply poured information into me. And what was so particularly pleasing in so learned a person on so specialized a subject was his willingness to talk down to my level. He began by launching forth into a learned discussion of the Pseudeutropius atherinoides and the Hemipimelodus itchkeea, but he soon realized that my untutored brain was unequal to the strain of it, and he began to discourse quite simply of the wonders of fish life.

“The wallago attu?” he cried, in answer to my appeal to him to enlighten my ignorance. “It is ze fish that once tried to turn a somersault and couldn’t recover. So it has had to live upside down ever afterwards.”

I was a little annoyed to find that a fish that bore the imposing name of wallago attu, and that had been responsible for exposing my ignorance, should be only a common or garden freshwater shark after all. Of course I had seen it often, but the Professor’s graphic description threw a new light upon it. When one came to think of it, it certainly did bear the appearance of swimming upside down.

“A long pseudo-dorsal fin on ze under side,” the Professor was explaining excitedly, “with just a whisker of a fin on top, and its barbels, a fourth as long as its body, coming from the under jaw in front of ze eyes. I have not caught one yet in a tank, but I shall,” he ended emphatically, “I shall, though I have ze bad luck just now.”

He had, however, caught one in a river. It was a tall story, but it was impossible to disbelieve it when you heard it from the Professor’s own lips. Like everything else about him, it was only when you thought it over afterwards that you found it difficult to grasp. That wallago attu, or Bagarius, as it seemed to be called when it lived in a river, weighed ninety pounds, and swallowed a twelve-pound rohu as the Professor was playing it on his sixteen ounce salmon rod. Both were duly landed, though I must add that the Professor did not strain my credulity by declaring that he caught them both unaided on his salmon rod. A boatman speared the Bagarius in the nick of time, and the two of them were landed with the rohu inside.

Then he discoursed learnedly but gaily of the Periophthalmus and the Anabas scandens, the strange fishes that can travel on dry land and pay country visits at will. Here, curiously enough, in what might otherwise have sounded his tallest stories, I was able to corroborate him. I have seen fish by the thousand out for walks over dry ground, and I recovered something of my self-esteem in being able to give the Professor some first-hand information on his own pet subject. At low tide at certain seasons of the year in the Sundarbans the sloping mud-banks are covered with wriggling fish that work their way over the ground with wonderful ease and rapidity. It is an extraordinary sight when seen for the first time. One feels as if one of the fairy tales of one’s youth had come true at last. The Professor had never as yet seen it in India, and I felt that I almost reinstated myself in his esteem by being able to tell him of it at first hand.

“But has it been that you have angled for a fish among ze branches of a tree?” he asked suddenly, turning upon me with one of his abrupt disconcerting little questions.

That I had to admit I had not done. The Professor had. To picture him casting a line into a tree trying to attract the climbing perch off the branches was no difficult task after you had talked with him for ten minutes. One could so easily imagine him throwing his whole soul into it and doing it with intense and serious interest. He had also dug below ground for the Ophiocephalus, a fish that apparently, instead of walking the earth like the Periophthalmus, burrows down into it. It is a fortunate fish, since when the river or lake in which it happens to be dries up, as rivers and lakes have a habit of doing in India, it can regard the disappearance of its natural element with equanimity and, burrowing down into the mud, it can form a cell for itself, where it can peacefully lie dormant until the rains come again. They have been dug up two feet below the mud bed of a lake from which the water had receded months before, full-grown fish ten to twelve inches long, not torpid and inert, but lively and vigorous and quite prepared to swim away again in their natural element when the opportunity was given them.

“I have in Alantara one received,” the Professor told me, and if you had heard him telling it you could not possibly have disbelieved him. “A friend from India sent, in a lump of mud in a tin trunk packed. And when I have opened ze trunk and broke ze mud ze fish jumped out all lively and swam away.”

Thereupon he glared round at me again, suddenly fierce and indignant.

“Zat is one of ze wonderful things of zis wonderful world and you have not known it. What is ze good of living in ze wonderful world if you do not look at it?”

I felt duly crushed and murmured something about regret for a misspent life, but the Professor brushed aside my apologia with an eloquent wave of the hand, apparently determined to expose my ignorance to yet greater depths and leave me no shred of self-respect.

“Zen zer is ze Pseudeutropius atherinoides and ze Hemipimelodus itchkeea, but what use, to speak of zem to you?” he said with another wave of his hand and typical German rudeness that for the moment I felt far too crushed to resent. Besides, in a moment he would be smiling again and discoursing so delightfully that one would forgive him.

“But ze Siluridae, you do know zem?” It was almost pathetic the way he asked the question. He seemed to have fallen back upon the Siluridae as a last resort. It was hard to disappoint him, but I had to confess ignorance even of simple things like the Siluridae too.

“Zey are ze scabless fish,” he said with a sigh, after a moment’s pause, as if he had struggled with himself as to whether it was worth while to enlighten my ignorance or riot. “Have you not read Leviticus?”

It was one of his sudden disconcerting questions again, and so unexpected a one that I thought for the moment I must have misunderstood him.

“Leviticus,” he repeated impatiently. “Ze book of Leviticus in ze Bible.”

Glad of the opportunity of at last being able to answer one of his many questions in the affirmative, I hastened to assure him that I really had read Leviticus. To be strictly truthful I should have said that I had heard it read in church, but I was so elated at knowing something about what he was speaking of that I let that pass. Moreover, there was no time. The Professor had hurried on with his new question and my elation was short-lived.

“Ah, zen you know all about ze scabless fish,” he asserted, in a tone that made of it an interrogation.

But alas, the Book of Leviticus and scabless fish had no affinity in my memory. I could only confess that I was mystified. The Professor sighed again.

“Whatsoever hath no fins, nor scales in ze waters, zat shall be an abomination unto you,” he quoted slowly and impressively. “Ze Jews were only permitted to eat ‘whatsoever hath fins and scales in ze waters, in ze seas, and in ze river,’ and what was ze law for ze Jews is ze law also for ze Mohammedans. You have been in zis country for ten years and you have not known zat.”

I had not known it, but it interested me much now that I did know it. Neither Jews nor Mohammedans I learned are permitted to eat the “blood which is the life,” and it is for this reason that they cut the throats of all animals slaughtered for food in order to let the blood escape before death ensues. There is a tradition among the Mohammedans, so the Professor proceeded to inform me, that the Prophet did this for them in regard to fish, once and for all, because fish die so quickly after being removed from the water that when large quantities are caught there would not be time to cut their throats before they expired. And in support of this theory the Mohammedans point to the gill opening in proof of this having been done.

“So zey eat any fish which have ze gill openings developed well,” the Professor concluded.

Later on we sat under the tiny punkha in the Police Outpost inspection room, sharing the contents of my tiffin basket, and the Professor grew less stern and contemptuous. Not less piscatorial, that would have been impossible from what I saw of him, but piscatorial in lighter vein.

“You have never heard of ze cat-fish and ze cod-fish?” was one of his sallies. He looked at me with a humorous twinkle in his eye and his head on one side like a bird, his fork suspended in the air meantime. It sounded like a nursery rhyme, but I shook my head. I had not heard the story. Professor McWoos laughed his delightful deep chuckling laugh. Then he demolished the little bit of sausage on his fork and began.

“Once upon a time,” he narrated, “ze cod-fishers in ze North Sea wiz a difficulty confronted were. Zey were bringing ze cod home alive in ze big tanks on board zeir ships, but zey found that zough ze cod-fish did alive remain, zey arrived home wiz zeir flesh so flabby from no exercise getting in ze tank, zat zey not any more good eating were. It was ze bad business. But what you tink zey do? Suddenly some genius of ze cat-fish thought, and zey put one in ze tank. And ze result? Mein Gott! All ze voyage home ze cat-fish ze cod-fish round and round ze tank chased, no rest to zem giving. Ze result was zat ze cod-fish from so much exercise getting, home in prime condition arrived. Never was zer such cod-fish, zo plump, zo meaty, zo tender. Now zey always in ze tank a cat-fish put, and ze cod ze sluggish livers do not any more get.”

The Professor laughed heartily at his own story and tucked into his lunch again.

“A pretty story with an excellent moral,” I said in appreciation of it.

For a moment he stopped in the midst of his lunch and looked at me with his head on one side again.

“You zee it?” he asked, with the pleased surprise of one who discovers a gleam of intelligence where one least expected it. “You see it? Splendid! We should all of us flabby get, if we trouble of some sort to stir us up had not got.”

“I know a fish story with a moral too,” I said, memories out of the dim passages of my early days recalled by the Professor’s moral tale. “It’s about a crab.”

Arracansaura scabens,” murmured Professor McWoos lovingly.

“There was once a crab,” I narrated, “which saw a lot of other crabs ready boiled and decked out for the table, and being still of a sombre dull brown hue itself it envied them their beautiful bright red coats with such bitter envy that it cried and cried and refused to be comforted. In the end it created such a fuss and made itself such a nuisance that it got its wish and became a beautiful bright red lobster too—but only to meet a speedy and ignominious end at a suburban tea-party.”

“Good, good,” laughed Professor McWoos. “We struggle and strive, we strive and struggle, and when we there get it is all dead sea fruit. And since you seem ze moral story to like,” he went on with a chuckle, as if he had at last talked himself down to my level, “perhaps you know ze story of ze frogs. It is not a fish story exactly, but it very near it is.”

“We have zis morning had ze stories illustrating ze necessity of trouble and ze futility of human wishes. Zis story illustrates ze virtues of perseverance,” he said solemnly, as if he were addressing one of his classes in the lecture-room. “Zere were once two frogs. Side by side zey lived, and side by side zey overbalanced and into one bucket of milk fell splash. One frog he gave up ze ghost at once and zunk to ze bottom and zere died, but ze ozzer would not in give. He swim round and round and round and round, in his efforts to survive, until at last his struggles ze milk so churned up, zat it butter became, and ze brave little frog a footing at last on ze top of it found.”

But with that, lunch was over and my time was up. Reluctantly I bade the Professor farewell and left him to pursue his search for the wallago attu. Later on I saw him again in a very different setting. But that is another story.

Divider

The Cliff of the Pungo Nari

The sunbaked earthen floor of the tiny courtyard had been swept till it was speckless. The morning sun, blazing full down upon it, raked it pitilessly and found no flaw. Muru Mandalini had performed her daily task with all the precision a Santal maiden should.

The high mud walls that flanked the court-yard on three sides were thatched with coarse red convex tiles, both mud walls and tiles as neat as hands could make them. The low one-storied hut that completed the square was roofed with the same red tiles and wore the same new-swept look. The deep veranda of the hut, raised a step above the court-yard, was empty save for the great earthen water-jar at one end and the rough charpoy with its neatly folded coarse brown blanket at the other. Between them the door that led into the one living-room of the hut was open, revealing out of the darkness within a dazzling patch of burnished gold, the one brilliant note of colour in the dull drab setting, a row of great brass plates standing upright against the wall and a group of brass utensils on the floor beside them, the sun caught their smooth polished surfaces and lit them up like mirrors.

Over all the court-yard and beyond there brooded a great silence. Santal land is the land of silences. Nature seems to have withdrawn within herself in this secluded strip of land, the Damin-i-Koh, where even British rule, that is so little a respecter of persons, has drawn back, hesitating to enforce its one law for all, and still leaving it a Non-Regulation province of the Empire. There is an awesome stillness in the Santal forests. In whole great tracts bird life is extinct. The Santal is so fierce a shikari that he has exterminated with his bow and arrow everything that moves on foot or flies with wings.

Suddenly on to the stillness that brooded over the little court-yard there floated from far off down the village street the thin faint notes of a reed pipe. Soft and pleading, with just the touch of melancholy that is never far below the surface in Santal land, it stole upon the still air with its strangely thrilling appeal. Then abruptly and mysteriously as it had begun, it ceased. For a moment there was silence again. Then as if in answer there came from within the inner room beyond the veranda the slow monotonous crooning of a Santal song.

“I said in my heart
As I sang at dawn
It will be a rich man’s son.
Yet, lo, he was nought
But a peasant lad
Who came when the work was done.”

Muru Mandalini sang the old Santal folk-song, as, seated within the shadow of the doorway, she briskly polished the great water-pot that was her mother’s chief pride. It already shone till it reflected the laughing eyes of Sital Mandalini’s daughter, but to make brightness yet more bright was a daily duty that Muru Mandalini would no more have thought of neglecting than of omitting to adorn her comely person with all the arts and graces a Santal maiden may.

She laughed softly when the song was finished. Not only the peasant lad, but the rich man’s son as well, had lain their homage at her feet. She would assuredly meet them both before the day’s work was done, and they would both press their suits upon her urgently as young men should. They were fine upstanding men of the flower of Santal youth, and one was the Headman’s son. Muru Mandalini laughed again. The world was very fair.

None disputed that she was the most beautiful girl in all the village. Even the other maidens, truest compliment of all, hailed her queen. She was but just at the dawn of womanhood, a dawn that comes earlier in the East than in the West. Tall and slim, her supple limbs showed off the full grace of their carriage beneath the cunningly draped sari. It was only one long white cloth, with a red border wound skilfully round the waist, one end hanging loose and thrown gracefully over the head or across the shoulder, but no costume donned with a true eye to effect could have been more becoming. As she picked up the water-pot, polished beyond all reproach, and poising it gracefully on her head moved out into the veranda, across the court-yard and down the village road towards the tank, she made a perfect picture of the symmetry and grace of motion.

Many an admiring glance was cast upon her as she passed. Her wonderful dark eyes that seemed to flash from nut brown to coal black, peeped out coquettishly beneath the sari that she had drawn above her head. She was fully conscious of the admiration she aroused. All up the village street she was wondering if Bharat Manjhi, the Headman’s son, would be at the door of his father’s fine, large house at the farthest end. It was the most comfortable and desirable home she had ever seen. She looked at it with a quick smile of contentment as she passed. Well thatched, its large court-yard walled in solidly against curious eyes, it gave full promise of the spaciousness and comfort that she knew well lay within. With scarce a movement of her graceful head she glanced in at the open doorway as she passed; but the compound was empty of life. Doubtless the Headman and his son had gone off to the fields, or, perchance, she would find them performing their ablutions or drawing water at the tank.

Turning swiftly to the left she moved on down the rough track towards the water’s edge. It was a huge tank, almost a jheel, well fed from a multitude of streamlets from the hills beyond. To one side weeds and rushes hid its edges, gorgeous pink-and-white water-lilies blossoming in profusion all along the farthest bank. On the side nearer to the village it was deeper. Here was the ghat, the general bathing-place with its broad stone steps, and, beyond, the huge flat stones where the village washermen beat out their clothes to a dazzling whiteness. Farther on another flight of steps led down to clearer water whence half a dozen women were drawing water in earthen gharas and great brass pots.

Coining up from the bathing ghat Muru Mandalini recognized, while still a great way off, the splendid figure of Dhurmu Murmu, the peasant lad of her song. He was a magnificent specimen of his race, his strong, well-built limbs perfectly rounded, his stride easy and lissom, his head held high. He swung along with all the ease of an athlete, every limb in play, every muscle hard and sinewy. He was as graceful in his manly way as she in her slimmer, softer suppleness. His only garment, a loin-cloth tightly tied about his waist, gave all his limbs free play. His head, set gracefully on his fine strong neck, was uncovered, and his long black hair, made shining and glossy with much oil, was twisted in a knot and pinned with a rough twig behind. His skin, deep brown, was smooth and soft, hairless and comely as a woman’s, yet full of strength and manliness. In his hand he swung a short curved sickle. In the tight-drawn loin-cloth about his waist was stuck the reed pipe that but a while before, all unknown to him, had drawn forth the song from Muru Mandalini.

He smiled as he saw her, his splendid rows of milk-white teeth flashing in the sunlight against the darkness of his skin. She looked at him approvingly out of her deep brown eyes. His face was his only fortune, she thought with regret. What more could a girl want, even the acknowledged beauty of a whole countryside, than so fine upstanding a youth as this for a mate? Pity indeed that he should chance to be that rare thing among the Santals, a landless man, merely a day labourer working for his hire. Yet he was very good to look upon, and her eyes smiled up at him. Her sari drawn up over her head almost hid her face.

“Thy eyes are like twin stars in the tail of the Bear,” he said laughingly as he drew near. “Why veil them in a mist?”

She drew the sari closer across her face, but the eyes still flashed out merrily.

“What do the stars care who look upon them?” she laughed back at him. “Do they twinkle the brighter because a peasant lad passes by?”

“Thy words are as ready as a mina’s,” he said admiringly, noting the graceful curves of her figure, the perfect poise of her head as she skilfully balanced the great brass water-pot upon it. “Thou wilt make a talkative wife, I trow, a fit match for the mother-in-law.”

She threw back her sari at that and took the brass pot from her head, tucking it under her arm. The sari fell back and left her shoulder bare. The sun shone on the rich brown flesh, firm yet soft moulded. The boy was dazzled by her beauty; She tossed her head again and moved on.

“The Headman’s wife is dead,” she cast at him over her shoulder with a mocking laugh. “It is well for the young wife to enter a house where no mother-in-law rules.”

With one swift glance to see how he took this parting shot she tripped lightly on her way. Dhurmu stood for a moment looking after her, the smile arrested on his lips. Then, with something of the sunlight gone from his face, he too turned and swung off towards his labour in the fields. It is not well to be reminded of a rival, and Bharat Manjhi, the Headman’s son, was no rival to be despised. Would he not reign in his father’s stead, the Ijardar of all the village, the holder of more bighas of land than any other for miles around? And he, Dhurmu Murmu, had nothing, not even a foot of land. His father had fallen on evil days and, mortgaging his few fields to the Mahajan, he had finally lost them all and died a broken man. Dhurmu was the eldest of his five children. How could he hope to save enough to buy land with four hungry young mouths dependent on him and his daily wage but eight annas? His mother and the elder of the children, it is true, earned something at the busy seasons of transplanting and of harvesting, but what was that to last against all the idle months of the long hot weather when there was nothing to be earned? How could he hope to outbid the Headman’s son for Muru Mandalini’s favour? What had he to offer in comparison with him? He could hardly afford to pay the pan, the bride price, that her parents would demand, and that would assuredly be high, for Muru Mandalini’s suitors were many and her parents might pick and choose at will. Dhurmu Murmu went on his way crestfallen and cursing his luck, his happy-go-lucky buoyant spirits for the moment in eclipse.

Muru Mandalini joined the group of women who leisurely filled their water-pots and gharas at the edge of the tank. They had seen her encounter on the road and met her with jokes and teasing laughter. All knew that Dhurmu Murmu would give his right hand for a smile from Muru Mandalini.

“What said he to thee, Brightness of Dawn?” laughed one.

“Tell us what says a lover to a maid?” asked another—banteringly.

“Did he speak of the coming marriage season?” queried a third.

“Or perchance it was of his rival, the Headman’s son, that he spoke,” suggested a fourth, whose beauty ranked next to Muru Mandalini’s and who was jealous of the fact that she was overlooked by two such handsome swains.

Muru Mandalini set down the brass water-pot, laughing and gay, well pleased at the little stir her arrival had caused. Merrily she answered chaff with chaff. Her wit was as spontaneous as the brilliant flashes from her sparkling eyes. Her temper stood the good-humoured bantering, schooled by long custom. Her companions did not spare her, and their jests would have shocked any but a Santal maiden. But Muru Mandalini was a match for them all.

Having filled their water-pots, the women, Muru Mandalini at their head, filed slowly up from the tank, one behind the other in one long line, walking so from long habit of many generations, dating back to the days when no path through the jungle that covered the land was wide enough for two to walk abreast. Nothing ever changes in Santal land. Dead and gone ancestors had walked in single file of necessity because the paths were narrow. To-day their descendants of many generations still walk so even though the roads are wide and smooth. If you ask the women why they walk single file along the open road they will only laugh, not knowing, and wondering why the stranger is interested in such odd things. So with all the acts of life, the Santal unthinkingly performs them, guided by an instinct inherited through many generations which have never deviated by a hair’s breadth from custom and tradition.

At the door of his father’s home stood Bharat Manjhi as they passed. He was every whit as fine a lad as Dhurmu Murmu, the peasant’s son. Muru Mandalini noted this by no means for the first time as she drew near. Richer than any other in the village, there was little to distinguish him as such in appearance. Who can afford it in Santal land decks his wife and children in ornaments of beads and silver and bell metal, but a single garment, a dhoti, long worn and seldom washed, is good enough for himself, whether he be headman or landless labourer. The rich man’s son is not to be discerned from his poorest neighbour in outward appearances, save at a festival when he condescends to make display. Bharat Manjhi and Dhurmu Murmu, though they represented the highest and lowest grades in Phulpahari, might have been of equal standing outwardly so far as the eye could tell. In that at least the rivals stood level. Bharat Manjhi had no adventitious aid from fine clothes.

But he had no need of aid to manly beauty. His athletic frame showed to perfection, his strip of clothing, scantier if possible than Dhurmu Murmu’s, giving every limb full play. None in all the countryside could beat him in running, in shooting with the bow, or in tirelessness in the chase. He could wrestle with and throw every rival he had met of his age and standing. He had all things that Santal youth could desire, and, in addition, he was the Headman’s son. All the fields that lay round this end of the village would be his, a hundred bighas, the lowest lying and richest of all, cut up into tiny plots whereon the corn was even now ripening into the ear and promising a sixteen-anna harvest.

All these things flashed through Muru Mandalini’s mind as she drew near the Headman’s house and saw his son leaning in the doorway, winding thread wherewith to make his fishing nets. Though there was little to choose between the rivals outwardly, this one had such overwhelming advantages. If she married him she need never have a care for the future. All would be provided. With all those fields and all that stock of grain, the severest famine would matter little, or at least would touch them last of all among their neighbours. Whereas if she married Dhurmu Murmu she must help him in daily tasks as a labourer working for his hire. Would any maiden hesitate? Muru Mandalini smiled in answer to Bharat Manjhi’s greeting and threw him a word, jest for jest, but she would doubtless see him later on that day, and the water-pot on her head, full to the brim, was heavy. She moved on gracefully up the street, the long file gradually dispersing as each reached her door until Muru Mandalini alone was left.

A quick step came down the road behind her. She was but ten paces from her own door. The footsteps quickened. Slowly she turned to see who came so fast, yet knowing full well who it was. Bharat Manjhi laughed as he came up to her.

“Dost thou love carrying water from the well?” he asked. Slowly and gracefully she lowered the vessel and placed it on the ground at her feet, just outside the doorway of her home.

“Who talks of likes and dislikes when poverty is at the door?” she answered lightly. “We are not all Headmen’s sons.”

He was looking straight into her face,, but she refused to meet his eyes. She was gazing up the village street with a smile that Bharat Manjhi failed to understand. It urged him on as it was meant to do.

“But some may be wives of Headmen’s sons,” he said quietly.

The colour spread over her face and her eyes danced, but still they refused to meet his. She was looking at a tiny child lying full length in the roadway fashioning castles out of the dust. But for him the village street was deserted. The sun was mounting up in the heavens. Every man, woman, and child had gone to labour in the fields.

“Maybe,” said Muru Mandalini at length indifferently, in answer to Bharat Manjhi’s last words.

Bharat Manjhi was piqued. Not another girl in the village but would have given him more encouragement.

“Durga Shamu would give her eyes to become the wife of the Headman’s son,” he said, thinking to make her jealous.

“Maybe,” she said again, and still she never looked at him.

The child in the road had suddenly with a sweep of his tiny arms demolished his splendid castles in the dust. She watched him with well feigned interest, apparently regardless of the man by her side. But coquette to the core, she was yet conscious of his every movement, of every fleeting look that crossed his face. She read him through and through. All the girls of the village were at the feet of the Headman’s son. He was not so sure of her. Her simulated indifference irked his vanity. She saw the hold she had over him increasing day by day. He had already spoken of marriage festivals. They would be celebrated as none before had ever been in the village. For a whole week they would be prolonged with dancing, drinking, and merry-making. Within a short time his father would send to her father to arrange the necessary preliminaries of the marriage, to fix the bride price and appoint the day.

Sital Mandalini, glancing out from the inner room, impatient at her daughter’s long delay, saw her standing with Bharat Manjhi. She drew back hastily. Delay mattered little if she was making such good use of her time. She sat down again, gathering up the rice that she had ground between the stones. The loan from Bharat Manjhi’s father weighed upon her mind. It was a year since it had been taken to celebrate the marriage of her eldest daughter, and already, doubtless, the interest was mounting up. With their tiny plot of cultivation there was little hope of paying it off. They were already in Bharat Manjhi’s hands. A marriage between the families would settle all. He would not see the old couple dispossessed in their declining years.

Busy with her thoughts Sital Mandalini occupied herself with household duties till her daughter came within. She did not long delay. Then, together, having left all ready to prepare the midday meal when they returned, they started for the fields. The sun was already well up in the heavens, thanks to Muru’s gossiping, and they were well-nigh the last to enter on their labour. It was the tiniest of fields on which they started. Meghu Mandal was already at work, and silently they joined him. It was a busy scene. The whole land lay in ridges between the hills, rising from the hollows in the centre, tier on tier, like a giant’s staircase up the slopes. In almost every field on the higher slopes busy groups of toilers were at work, cutting the rich ripe paddy with their short curved scythes, binding and stacking it neatly as they passed on. Only in the hollows where the rain lay longest was the rice still green. Even in the field where Muru Mandalini worked, half-way between the hollow and the hills, the mud and slush, varied with pools of water, was ankle deep. But the workers made light of the discomfort of the reaping, glad only that the season had been favourable and that there was so much good grain to store against the days that lay before another harvest.

In the next field, separated only by the narrowest of ails, worked Dhurmu Murmu. He was toiling not for his own land with the joy of possession, not with all the passion of a Santal for his land burning in his breast and making him forget discomfort and fatigue, but as a hired man, labouring here to-day and there to-morrow with none of that vital interest in the soil that only ownership can give. Small wonder that he worked half-heartedly. Small wonder if many a time his scythe lay in rest and his glance stole to the graceful figure bending low over the waving corn in the adjoining field. They were approaching one another as the paddy fell before their sickles. At the edge of the field by the ail they would meet. Muru Mandalini saw and knew, but she gave no sign.

Slowly they worked, drawing nearer, until at last they stood side by side with only the narrow ail between them. Muru Mandalini kept her eyes lowered on the work of her hands as if it absorbed all her interest and as if unconscious of his near presence. Dhurmu, stopping work at last, spoke.

“It is ill working on another man’s land,” he said. “It is better for the landless man that he go to the mines or the tea gardens where labour is well paid.”

He looked at her, hoping that he might read regret at his going in her face. But Murmu only bent lower over her work. Never was more industrious maiden.

“It is doubtless better,” she murmured.

“For who would marry a landless lad?” he asked, desperate at her indifference.

“Ah, who?” she said, and looked up at him and laughed.

“I go at the close of the harvest,” he said bitterly.

“Doubtless thou wilt return a rich man,” she murmured.

“’Tis for thy sake I go,” he said, looking at her wistfully.

She looked up at him and laughed again suddenly, a delightfully rippling laugh that thrilled through every vein in Dhurmu’s body.

“Then for my sake thou wilt come back,” she said.

Dhurmu bent forward eagerly leaning across the ail. His face, aglow with hope and delight, looked into the merry laughing face of Muru Mandalini.

“I will,” he said eagerly, “but thou, wilt thou await my return?”

Muru Mandalini cast down her eyes. She was busy binding up the corn again, discreet as a Santal maiden should be. She hung back when it came to a promise. Besides, was she at all sure that she had any intention of waiting? Life was much too delightful at the moment to face the ugly necessity of making a definite decision for the future.

Sital Mandahni’s sharp voice calling from the other end of the field saved her from replying. Straightening herself from her labour as she came to the edge of the field, she had seen and was quick to interfere. The youth was a handsome youth and the girl was young and doubtless foolish. It was well to take no risks. What use in her eyes was a peasant lad with no money wherewith to pay even a substantial pan? She called sharply to her daughter.

Muru Mandalini hastily bent down and continued her reaping. Her mother’s tongue was sharp and her hand was heavy. She had no wish to meet their force on her return.

Dhurmu Murmu saw that he was dismissed. Yet he would seize what chance he might.

“But an hour after sunset the moon will rise to-night,” he said quickly.

She bent lower over the waving corn.

“The Cliff of the Pungo Nari is a fair spot in the moonlight,” he spoke eagerly. She made no sign. Sital Mandalini, weary of his persistence, was coming towards them across the field.

“Thou wilt meet me there?” he whispered.

She looked at him with a curious half frightened smile and nodded as she pulled the cloth over her head, then stooped again to her work in earnest as her mother’s footsteps approached. Dhurmu, reading consent in her eyes, swung round well pleased and strolled away. Muru Mandalini scarce heard her mother’s angry reproaches. Her brain was in a turmoil of excitement. What had she done? To what had she committed herself? and with the poor man’s son!

Night was falling. The swift, brief hour of union, hastening twilight into dark, had passed, leaving the world in shadow. The stars, brilliant in the cold clearness of an Eastern autumn night, looked down upon the Santal village, that seemed suddenly to have fallen asleep. Away over the hills rose like a halo the first white brilliance of the rising moon.

The cliff of the Pungo Nari stood towering in the shadow, a huge black mass against the starry night, her glorious mantle of white blossom hidden till the whiter moon should reveal the fullness of its beauty. The world lay hushed as if expectant. Not a leaf stirred. Slowly the moon rose shining full upon the frowning mass of rock to which the trailing Pungo Nari, the bridal creeper, clung lovingly as if to hide its rugged front. High up, well-nigh to its very summit, the long trailers crept, a mass of tiny snow-white blossom clothing the face of the cliff in a mantle of white, like snow.

At the foot a space lay bare, framed in a circle of sal and tamarind and peepul. On the short green stubble a barking deer and his mate browsed peacefully. Here night had already fallen and the forest was theirs. Man’s reign had ended with the day. Yet suddenly, heads poised as if they scented danger, they stood a moment, then swiftly and noiselessly turned and fled beneath the shadow of the trees.

Breathless with running, yet treading cautiously now that her goal was reached, Muru Mandalini drew near the trysting-place. With feet as light and mien as timid as the deer who had fled at her approach, she emerged from the shadow and stood in the open, panting and half afraid. Then seeing that she was alone, she smiled a swift coquettish smile that swept across her face like a flashing ray of moonlight on the sombre cliff behind. All was well. The comedy was in train.

They were doubtless coming, the peasant lad and the rich man’s son. With both in the madness of her mood she had made the Cliff of the Pungo Nari a trysting-place. Laughing softly to herself, she began to climb the steep cliff-side. A short way up was an overhanging ledge of rock, where hidden by the trailing creeper of Pungo Nari, she could watch unseen the comedy. Nimbly she made her way from ledge to ledge, using branch and creeper to aid her progress, advancing with the agility and suppleness of some wild cat. Ensconced among the creeper she looked down. It was early yet. The moon, gliding slowly above the hills, still held half its brilliance in reserve. Muru Mandalini drew the sari closer above her head and waited. The night air was crisp and chill, but she paid little heed, straining eyes and ears below. Who would come first? Surely that would be an omen. He who came first would be her fate. She laughed softly. The excitement of expectancy held her in thrall, she scarce knew or stopped to ask herself what she desired, carried away by the thrill of the moment. The rich man’s son or the peasant lad? She laughed again, leaving the answer to fate.

Suddenly she bent forward, almost overbalancing on the narrow ledge of rock. From far off came the sound of the rustle of fallen leaves and the rhythm of hurrying feet. Her breath came quick. The hand that held the sari, clutched about her neck, trembled. The beating of her heart seemed suddenly to fill the world with tumult. He was coming, and she knew not who he was. The firm steps grew nearer, more distinct. They came to the edge of the forest, then halted suddenly. Muru Mandalini, tense with excitement, almost screamed aloud at the unexpected check. It seemed as if the beating of her heart must be heard below. She waited breathless. Quietly a figure strode out into the open, full into the light of the rising moon. Muru drew back with an odd little laugh. It was Dhurmu Murmu, the peasant lad.

He stood close under the rock, so close that Muru Madalini must needs lean far out to see him. For a moment he listened, then hearing no sound he drew from his waist cloth a short reed pipe and began softly to play. The clear notes, with their wild mysterious refrain, stirred strange thoughts in the heart of the girl crouching on the ledge of rock above. So softly he played it seemed to her that he played to her alone in all the great wide world of space. The weird melancholy pathos of the music, so strangely heard, made quick appeal to the troubled spirit of unrest that dwells deep in every Santal heart. A great longing leapt up within her. Like the lifting of the mist, the veil of coquetry and vanity that she had drawn about herself faded, and she saw beneath. For one brief moment she looked into her own heart and knew. Swiftly the vision vanished. The music below had ceased. For one brief moment a deathlike silence held. And then at last she heard. In the centre of the open space Dhurmu Murmu stood listening to the far-off sound of coming feet.

In pure lightness and joy of heart as he drew near Bharat Manjhi began to sing. It was a song that the Santal swain sings in the first flush of his courting.

It fell now with strange effect on the ear of the waiting man and the hidden maid who heard it. Even from above Muru Mandalini could see the look of surprise and anger that flashed on Dhurmu’s face. For a moment the old coquetry returned. She smiled. What would that look be when Bharat Manjhi appeared? She laughed softly and settled herself more securely on the ledge of rock. It would be worth seeing, this meeting of the two men she held in the hollow of her hand.

There was no halting of Bharat Manjhi’s steps on the edge of the forest. Dhurmu Murmu, tense and rigid, had listened breathlessly, leaning forward, straining his eyes to see who the new-comer might be. He had not drawn back into the shadow. Right in the centre of the clearing he stood defiant. This night was his. Who was it dared to intrude?

Singing blithely, Bharat Manjhi swung straight out into the open. The two men stood suddenly face to face, and the song died on his lips. Muru Mandalini in her aerie overhead for the first time knew fear. A vague presentiment, that in her thoughtlessness she had let loose forces she could not control, swept over her. Never before had she seen that look on Dhurmu Murmu’s face. She gazed down at him spellbound.

At the first flash of recognition each had divined. Muru Mandalini had fooled them both. And in that same moment of recognition the long hidden and unacknowledged jealousy, each for the other, leaped into flame. It was fiercer in the heart of Dhurmi Murmu. Always he had known it was there, the underlying bitterness against the man to whom the gods had given so much that they had withheld from him. Would he not too have been the champion of the village and all the pergunnahs at running, in shooting with the bow, and in the chase, but for Bharat Manjhi, whose prowess in them all he could never quite attain? Good sportsmanship had kept back envy and bitterness till now, even when Muru Mandalini had become the goal. But at last, let loose in a sudden torrent, they overwhelmed him. He had come to the trysting-place aglow with the thought that he had won. Had she not promised that she would come? And then, once again, Bharat Manjhi had appeared to snatch the prize from his grasp.

Muru Mandalini leaned far over the ledge of rock. In the moonlight the two figures stood out clear-cut like an etching in the clearing below. For what seemed to her long minutes they stood dead still, facing, their eyes ablaze, each magnificent body poised and taught. Then, like arrows shot from a bow, they leapt together across the intervening space. It was, in each, the spring of a wild animal, superb, awake with the primitive instinct to fight and kill to protect his mate. Muru Mandalini thrilled at the sight, the fear that had crept over her forgotten in the primitive joy of battle that lies deep down in every Santal heart. And were they not fighting for her? Something cruel and fierce, some instinct dormant in her till now but handed down through countless generations of primitive fighting men welled up in her and made her glory in the fray. She would be his who won. She was freed from the necessity of deciding for herself. The gods had willed it so. She would be his who won.

Locked in each other’s arms, the two figures swayed right and left across the clearing. Often on days of festival they had pitted their strength, but never before in this grim earnest. From time to time as they turned and twisted Muru Mandalini caught sight of their faces in the moonlight. Even in the exultation of the moment she shivered at their grimness. They were like wild animals at bay. Surely he who won would have paid a bride price no other bride in all the pergunnah had demanded.

Which would win? Always, in innumerable contests, the Headman’s son had won, but won hardly. Which did she desire to win? For the moment all thought seemed paralysed as she looked down at the fight, fascinated. This pitting of strength appealed to every inherited instinct in her veins. Joy and the lust of battle drove out every other thought.

So swiftly were they moving now, so wildly did they swing from side to side, that she could scarce distinguish them. Twice they had broken apart, only to rush together, like two magnificent denizens of the forest, with greater fury. Suddenly fear seized her again. A fleeting cloud had passed over the moon. Strain her eyes as she might she could distinguish nothing save their white loin cloths, moving patches of light in the darkness below. Then as swiftly as it had disappeared the moon shone out again.

The brief darkness had made no impression on the fight below. Still locked in each other’s arms they struggled ever more and more fiercely. Muru Mandalini, high above them, could hear them panting with the effort of it, great deep-drawn breaths that sounded awesome in the silence. Suddenly the truth of it came to her. She tried to cry out, but her voice stuck in her throat. She struggled on the narrow edge of rock as though she too were in the grip of some strong hands. She beat her breast again and again; she fought to voice her fear, and stay the agony of the fight below by crying out aloud. But she was dumb. Only great gasping sobs came from her. She could not cry out. And even as she struggled the end came.

The sound of the scuffle and the panting of the combatants below ceased abruptly in one heavy dull thud. Muru Mandalini grew suddenly calm again, struck motionless by the horror of it. Bharat Manjhi’s foot had slipped on the turf. It was the advantage for which each had waited and struggled. And it lay with Dhurmu Murmu. Quick, like a flash of lightning crossing the sky, he had seized his rival and hurled him head foremost with all his force against an enormous boulder projecting at the foot of the cliff. With a sickening thud Bharat Manjhi’s head had crashed against the rock and he had fallen a limp inert mass at its foot.

For a moment Dhurmu Murmu stood looking at the crumpled, huddled-up body. With head thrown back, the light of victory blazing in his eyes, his great chest heaving from the fight, he looked like some splendid creature of the forest glorying in his strength and prowess. Again, age-old forgotten things stirred in the heart of Muru Mandalini as she gazed down upon him, spellbound. For the last flickering moment the joy of battle drove fear from her.

Then with the spring of some wild animal Dhurmu was kneeling before the fallen figure, clutching at it frantically, dragging the lifeless face into the moonlight. With the inert figure in his arms he gazed down into the upturned eyes that stared at him unseeing. And as he gazed, he knew. No breath came from the parted lips. The head fell back limp and heavy, exposing the magnificent column of the neck. And as it fell Dhurmu saw that his arm, where it had rested, dripped blood. With a quick, horrified movement he sprang to his feet and the body of Bharat Manjhi rolled over on the ground, the lifeless face turned upward in the moonlight. And as it lay it seemed to Muru Mandalini, on the ledge of rock above, that the sightless eyes turned straight to gaze at her accusingly.

Then at last her voice came back to her in one great remorseful cry. It rent the silence like the scream of some wild night bird startled in its aerie. So weird and full of grief, it woke even Dhurmu Murmu from his fascinated gaze upon the dead man at his feet. Involuntarily he looked upwards. Muru Mandalini was standing full height with arms outstretched, the cry still issuing from her lips, her white sari clean cut in the moonlight against the dark background of the rock. To the living man below she seemed some figment of his brain. Surely this must be all some nightmare of a dream. But when, with one last wail of agony that froze his blood, the figure on the ledge sank back and, with hands clasped against her heart and eyes mad with terror, gazed down upon him as if suddenly turned to stone, he knew that there was no awakening from this horror, as in a dream. Swiftly he glanced down again at the huddled figure at his feet, then once more at the crouching figure of the woman on the ledge above.

In that moment for the first time he fully realized and knew. And as he looked from the dead man lying stark before him to the living, shrinking woman above, something broke loose in the untamed soul of Dhurmu Murmu.

With one great leap he was well-nigh half-way up towards the ledge of rock on which the woman stood. She had mounted by a circuitous path, zigzag along the cliff side. He sprang straight towards her up the almost impossible steepness of the rock. Fascinated she looked down and watched his coming. He climbed like some wild mountain goat. Sure and unerring, he found foothold where no foothold was, his firm hands seeming to cling to the sheer smooth surface of the rock. And as he came Muru Mandalini could see that blood, the blood of Bharat Manjhi, all bespattered him, his own blood from torn hands and chest mingling with the dead man’s. Then at last Muru Mandalini knew what real fear was. All that had gone before was horror, shock, fright, disgust—terrible, but not to be named in the same breath with this. This was personal. This was the fear of life, the fear of death. She crouched down upon the narrow ledge, her eyes fixed staringly upon the rapidly advancing head below. The horror of this thing that she had done rose up and confronted her. But even that paled before this terrible thing that gripped her—the fear for herself. What would Dhurmu Murmu do when he reached the ledge of rock? Why was he climbing at such mad pace, tearing himself unfeeling against the ragged rock? Was it to accuse her for the dead thing that lay below? Or was it to claim her by right of his prowess and his conquest? For her he had slain a man. What would he do when he reached her? Time seemed to stand still breathlessly.

His face appeared at last above the ledge of rock. He was climbing desperately to the last foothold before leaping up beside her. Crouched back as she was, his face was suddenly within a span of hers. He was panting with the fierceness of his climb. The carefully oiled black locks that she had always known were in wild disorder, dust-laden, matted with sweat and blood. A cruel cut ran all across his cheek and lower lip, dripping red. His hand that gripped the ledge beside her was torn and lacerated. She saw it all in one swift glance. But it was his eyes that held her. She felt like some terrified bird, a hawk with outspread wings hovering above it, poised to dive. She was a frightened hare, gazing into the eyes of a boa-constrictor. It seemed to her an endless age of time that he held her thus. She wanted to scream, she wanted to shrink back farther against the rock, but she knew that so long as he held her with his eyes she could not move. She was paralysed. She could not even take her eyes from his. And as she looked into them she knew what it was that had broken loose in the untamed heart of Dhurmu Murmu, as he looked into the face of the man he had slain below.

At last he moved. She could see his torn hand grip firmer on the ledge beside her. There was in his face the look of a wild animal about to spring. She knew he was gathering himself together to make the final leap upwards. For one brief flash his eyes left hers to gauge the distance, and the spell that held her broke. With a wild cry she leapt to her feet and, without a pause for thought, jumped sheer out into the emptiness below. Quick as she he leapt upwards, but as his feet touched the ledge hers left it, and if he would save her he must seize her in his arms before he had won his balance. It was a matter of seconds. But the violence of her leap overwhelmed him before his feet were firm upon the rock. For a moment they wrestled falling, his strength swinging her above him again, almost back on to the ledge of rock. Then together they fell headlong, dragging with them long trails of bridal blossom as they fell.

Now after nightfall no villager passes below the Cliff of the Pungo Nari. Every year when the bridal creeper is in flower they say that Muru Mandalini climbs again to the ledge of rock, and that one night in every year her death-cry rings out upon the silence. But no Santal will admit that he has heard it. It is not well to hear the death-cry in Santal land.

Divider

Concerning Snakes

He was a most venerable-looking old Mohammedan with a flowing grey beard, dignified with all the dignity of the East. Not even his dirty white puggaree, or his still dirtier heterogeneous collection of garments, consisting mainly of a seeming multiplicity of shirts, jauntily surmounted by what had once evidently been a Sahib’s waistcoat of gorgeous hue, a dhotie, and a pair of carpet slippers in the last stages of decay, could hide the presence that was his birthright as a Follower of the Prophet. I found him seated cross-legged under the porch at the foot of the veranda steps as I came out of my bungalow on my way across to katchery.3 Two hours before my chuprassi4 had told me that a tamasha-wala5 was waiting outside and asking permission to show me his conjuring tricks; but I had sent a message saying that I was too busy to see him, and had promptly forgotten him. With true Eastern patience and persistence, however, he had waited on, doubtless discovering the hour that I usually went to court, and obtaining permission to seat himself in full view on the drive by means of a small gratuity to my chuprassi, his reward coming as I ran down the veranda steps and found him successfully blocking the way. Beside him were two large open baskets, carefully covered over with cloths that had once been white, and a small bundle tied up in a red and white duster. In front of him in a semicircle were five little baskets, round and flat, a piece of string attached to the top of each. Between his knees rested a quaint little drum, painted in scarlet and yellow, which he proceeded to beat loudly as I approached.

“Salaam, Sahib, salaam,” he said, without rising, but bowing his head almost down to the ground as he sat.

A chuprassi, suddenly roused to officiousness, ran forward to remove the obstruction he had doubtless condoned, if not permitted, and I was about to pass on saying that I had no time to see him just then, when by chance I caught sight of his eyes fixed unblinkingly upon me. They were, I think, without exception, the most curious eyes I have ever seen. I had been several years in India and had heard much of Indian jadu,6 but never before had I looked into an Indian’s eyes that riveted the attention with anything of the magnetic force of this old man’s. Set in his wrinkled brown face, they seemed the colour of the brightest gold. Out of the darkness of his skin they gleamed with a sparkling glitter that reminded me curiously of a tiger’s into which I had once looked at quarters much too close to be pleasant. They had the same horrible fascination as if they held one against one’s will, and they inspired the same uneasy feeling that if one gazed long enough into them one would lose one’s personality and sink into nothingness. One felt as one looked into them that if ever any man possessed mesmeric influence it was the owner of those glittering, red-gold orbs.

It was, doubtless, only a matter of a few seconds that the old man’s eyes held mine, but it was long enough to give me an uncanny sensation such as I have seldom experienced. I felt as if in the midst of a very commonplace morning’s work I had been suddenly brought up against something altogether unusual and mysterious. It seems an absurd thing to have to set down in cold print, but I was conscious that something was happening, yet not quite sure, even in the blazing Indian sunlight, that what I saw was not pure imagination. The drum that had been throbbing monotonously under his supple fingers ceased abruptly, and after what seemed a moment’s hesitation his hands moved stealthily upwards. With his eyes still fixed upon mine he slowly unbuttoned the gorgeous waistcoat, and out from under each of his armpits a snake uncurled itself. With rapid sinuous movements they glided from either side round behind the man’s neck, and changing places wriggled back under the waistcoat, which he quickly but with the same stealthy movements rebuttoned. It was all over in a moment, and though I seemed to have seen what I have described, it was as if I had seen it “in a glass darkly,” and as I looked down at the old man beating his drum again exactly as he had been a few seconds before, I felt that I could not be absolutely certain that I had really seen anything at all.

With a quick jerky movement of his head that released my strained attention, the old man took his eyes from my face and, leaning forward, quickly lifted the lid of each of the five baskets that stood in a semi-circle in front of him. From each with the same uniform movement, almost as if they were worked by mechanism from within, rose a cobra. Curled up inside, each one filled its basket to the fullest extent, and as the lid was lifted uncurled itself to the height of about a foot, and, expanding its head, stood, if it can be called standing, swaying gently from side to side, facing the old man, the rest of their bodies still coiled up in their baskets. The jadu-wala was making a soft hissing sound through his teeth, and gently passing to and fro in front of them a short coloured stick that he had produced from somewhere out of his voluminous clothing. The five snakes, all exactly alike and raised the same height from the ground, with their evil fangs darting and quivering as if they longed to strike, swayed ceaselessly from side to side as if top-heavy or mesmerized by the slowly waving wand. Then, as quickly and as deftly as he had removed the lids of the baskets, the jadu-wala replaced them, the cobras submitting to be pressed down with the lids over their heads and curling themselves up again in the confined space allotted to them without the smallest protest.

The last cobra covered up, the old man looked up at me. The change that had come over his expression was startling. In place of the tense eager look and the glittering compelling eyes there was a bland and child-like smile, deprecating and subservient, while the eyes seemed to have softened into nothing more arresting than a weak, unnoticeable light brown.

“Where are the other two snakes?” I asked him, pointing to his waistcoat, beneath which they had seemed to disappear.

“The other two snakes, Sahib?” he answered with delightfully simulated surprise and incomprehension. “Poor jadu-wala only having five snakes, all five being here,” and again he quickly lifted the five lids and shut them down again. All the five snakes were certainly there. But that by no means proved that there were not two more.

“The two that crawled out of your waistcoat and back again,” I said, “where are they?”

“Out of my waistcoat, Sahib?” he queried again with his innocent smile. “There being nothing here,” and with that he opened his waistcoat and pulled at his shirts, slapping them and pressing them close against his chest. Rising up, he shook himself and offered to let me search his person myself. But it was not necessary. It was obvious that whatever may have been there before, there was nothing there now.

“Nothing here, Sahib. Nothing,” he repeated, readjusting his costume and sitting down again.

Then he buttoned his waistcoat and patted himself on each side of his chest and looked up at me with his bland and deprecating smile.

“Never any snakes here, Sahib,” he said.

“Never any snakes there?” I exclaimed, the surprise and incredulity, altogether without dissimulation, being in my voice this time.

“Never any snakes here, Sahib,” he assured me. Then, looking up into my face with a smile of almost injured innocence, he laughed softly as at some absurd and impossible idea. It was an excellent bit of acting. In spite of myself it increased my doubts as to what I had actually seen.

To my further surprise, when I asked him to do the trick again he stoutly denied all knowledge of it. No snakes had ever crawled out of his waistcoat. It must have been the Sahib’s imagination. Nothing I could say would move him. He was most anxious, however, to show me other tricks. I pulled out my watch. He had already delayed me some ten minutes, and I was due to take my seat in court in just two minutes more.

“I can’t stay now,” I said.

“Then I will return when the Presence pleases,” he said quickly, determined not to be baulked of his show.

Suddenly I remembered that I had a dinner-party on that evening. Watching him might be a welcome relief from the ordinary desultory after-dinner conversation of a small mofussil7 station for those who did not play bridge.

“I have a burra khana8 on to-night,” I told him, “and if you will come here at nine o’clock and give a good performance before my guests, I will give you some backsheesh and a chit.”9

The old man leaned forward eagerly.

“And some whisky?” he added quickly. His eyes glowed again with their curious glittering light, and there was nothing of the bland and childlike in the pathetically keen old face that looked up into mine.

Now whisky and all strong drink are anathema to the true Mohammedan. The Koran strictly forbids indulgence in them to the Followers of the Prophet. But when I expressed my surprise at his request, “Kia karega,10 Sahib, kia karega?” was all he said, spreading out his hands deprecatingly. “I am old and feeble, and the roads I travel are long. Kia karega?”

Then, as I shook my head at him reprovingly, he added, unexpectedly, “Moreover, Sahib, did not Hafiz love the flowing bowl, and was he not buried in Shiraz as a good Mussulman after all?”

“Be not sad, whatever change
O’er the busy world may range;
Harp and lute together bring
Sweetly mingling string with string.
Unto Hafiz, Boy, do you
Instant bring a cup or two:
Bring them, for the wine shall flow,
Whether it be law or no!”

The quotation from the old pleasure-loving Persian poet in the soft, mellifluous Persian tongue, fell glibly from his lips as if he had used it often before in self-defence; but I had no time to stay and point out to him that, admirable as Hafiz might be as a poet, his greatest admirer would hardly select him as a type of Mohammedan virtue, and I hurried off to court, the old man promising that he would not fail to turn up at nine o’clock that evening.

It was considerably past that hour when we came out of the dining-room after dinner, and the old tamasha-wala was already waiting for us in the veranda, where he had carefully disposed himself and his chattels. As I had expected, an Indian jadu-wala quite failed to entice the confirmed bridge-players away from the card-table, and when we had settled them to their game, eight of us remained, three ladies and five men. Seating ourselves in the dimly lit veranda, five of us were more or less in a semicircle, with three of the men slightly behind. The old man’s curious eyes were at once noticed and commented upon. He had so arranged the light from the little native chiraghs11 placed on the ground beside him that it fell full upon his face, leaving everything else as much as possible in shadow. That he was considerably above the average of Indian travelling conjurers was evident from the first tricks he displayed. They were much the usual stock-in-trade, but they were excellently done, and his manner was perfect. The mango trick, consisting of the planting of a mango-stone in a flower-pot and the gradual growth of the tree, shown at various stages, until it reached the height of about two feet; the extraordinary production of a pair of pigeons and a couple of rabbits from nowhere in particular and their equally mysterious disappearance; and the juggling with dice under half a dozen little bowls turned upside down on the ground, were only the best of many. All of them were performed with the strained concentrated expression that had struck me so forcibly in the morning. The accomplishment of each brought the same bland and childlike smile, as if, while obviously looking round for our applause, he almost apologized for showing us anything so absurdly simple. He could count up to six in five different languages, and he seemed to be prouder of this scrap of knowledge than of any of his tricks. “One, two, three, four, five, six,” he repeated again and again, appropriately and otherwise, followed by “ek, do, tin, char, panch, chah”; “un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six”; “ek, dui, tin, char, panch, chhai”; and so forth. The air, immensely pleased, with which he did it was delightful.

For nearly an hour he entertained us before he came to the snakes. Then the five little baskets were produced and placed round him in a semicircle. One by one he deftly lifted the lids, and one by one the cobras rose about a foot in the air with their hoods expanded, facing him as they had done in the morning. With the small stick in his hand gently waving to and fro and the soft hissing sound coming from between his teeth, he seemed to hold them under a spell. Gradually one became aware that the motion of the stick had changed and that the hissing sound had grown louder. Slowly, with lithe and sinuous movements, the snakes uncurled themselves out of their baskets and glided backwards, still raised, with hoods expanded, the same height from the ground as before. All five of them, moving absolutely together, seemed perfectly under control; but though the backs of their vicious-looking heads were towards us, it was difficult not to draw away as one watched them slowly approaching nearer, uncurling themselves as they came. I think we all, if we did not actually push back our chairs, involuntarily tucked our feet under them as far as they would go. Though apparently completely hypnotized, they looked just about as venomous as anything well could do. When they had uncoiled themselves about a foot and a half, the movement of the wand and the hissing sound changed again, and as slowly and as creepily as they had uncurled, they curled themselves back, until they stood up out of their baskets as at first. One by one the jadu-wala clapped the lids over their heads and covered them up with his left hand while with his right he still wielded the wand that never ceased moving.

We all felt a little relieved when they were safely back in their baskets again.

“I am not a nervous person and I have not screamed for many years,” said one of my guests, with a shudder, “but if those snakes had come one inch nearer I should have disgraced myself and done it.”

The old man was sitting back smiling at us with his most ingratiating smile. He had shown us all his best tricks, he said. The tamasha was over.

“But you have not shown my guests the trick you did this morning,” I said, speaking to him in Hindustani. I was prepared for him to deny its existence again at the outset, and, perhaps, to have some little difficulty in persuading him to do it, but I never expected him to persist in refusing as he did. It was quite obvious that this was no feigned reluctance, adopted to enhance the value of the trick, but a genuine desire to escape showing it again. Only after much pressure, and apparently inadvertently, did he admit having done the trick, by saying that he had shown it to the Presence once and that it was impossible to show it again. Deprecatingly but firmly he begged to be excused. It was not possible to do it twice. It was only when I made judicious references to the backsheesh and the chit that he seemed to pause and remember something.

“And the whisky?” he asked again quickly, with the same light in his eyes as when he had spoken of it in the morning.

“No,” I said, “there will be no whisky for a jadu-wala who refuses to show his best trick.”

“But if I show it?” He leaned forward in his anxiety awaiting my reply.

Then I am afraid that I was tempted, and fell. Apparently nothing but whisky had the power to persuade him, and I felt that I must see that particular trick again.

“Yes,” I promised him, “you shall have the whisky if you do it.”

Even for a moment longer he hesitated. Then he salaamed.

“It shall be even as the Presence wills,” he said, with a sudden access of dignity that accorded strangely with his eager craving of a moment before.

I had told none of my guests what this trick was, as I was anxious to see what effect it had upon them. I had merely told them that it was a trick that I especially wanted them to see. The reluctance the old man had shown to perform it still further riveted their attention.

He was sitting back absolutely rigid, his arms folded across his chest and his eyes closed. For several seconds he sat so, and we watched him in a waiting silence. Then suddenly, with no other movement of his head or body, he opened his eyes. So startlingly did they flash out of his dark skin that it was like the unshading of two brilliant lights, and it seemed to me that they fixed themselves straight upon mine. Still for a few seconds more he made no other movement, and then he leaned slowly forward. Together both his hands shot out, and he lifted the lids of two of the baskets, the second and fourth of the semicircle. For an appreciable moment he held them aloft, the inside of the lids exposed. The man’s blazing unblinking eyes seemed never for the fraction of a second to leave my face, but I was steeling myself against anything in the nature of hypnotism and I stooped over and looked into the baskets. They were both empty. There could be no doubt so far. Five minutes before each had contained a cobra. In the interval none of us had seen him touch them.

Slowly replacing the lids he sat back again, and his long, thin, brown hands stole stealthily to his waistcoat. Fight against it as I might, I felt coming over me again the same extraordinary sensation that I had experienced in the morning. Those wonderful eyes with their steady gaze seemed to be drawing me out of myself, robbing me of my faculties to such an extent that I could not be sure whether I really saw things or only imagined them. As before, the waistcoat unbuttoned, a cobra seemed to uncoil itself from under each arm, raise itself with expanded hood, then from either side glide round the back of the man’s neck and disappear again within his waistcoat as he rebuttoned it. Still slowly and with deliberate movements he leaned forward and lifted the lids of the same two baskets he had previously opened. A cobra in each immediately raised itself, with hood expanded, a foot in the air. And all the time the man’s eyes had never left my face.

For a moment after he had finished and sat back with his usual deprecating smile, no one spoke. Then I turned to the guest who was seated on my right. She was sitting back in her chair with her eyes still on the old man’s face.

“What exactly did you see?” I asked her.

It seemed to me it was with something of an effort that she roused herself as I spoke.

“I thought,” she said slowly, and I noticed that everyone was listening intently to her reply, “I thought I saw a snake creep out from under either arm as he opened his waistcoat, wriggle round the back of his neck from opposite sides and change places, disappearing again into his waistcoat, but I can’t be sure if I really saw it or not. The man had his eyes fixed on me all the time in such a curious way.”

There was an unmistakable rustle of interest round the little group.

“His eyes fixed on you?” I exclaimed quickly, with perhaps more of emphasis than I was aware of.

“Yes,” she said, turning to look at me in some surprise, “he seemed to single me out and keep his eyes fixed upon me in the most uncanny way from the beginning of the trick to the end.”

“But that’s exactly what he did to me,” I said.

Simultaneously after a momentary pause of astonishment we turned to the other guests. It was obvious that all their attention had been fixed upon us. Then it seemed as if everyone spoke at once, and the burden of what each one said was the same. Each believed that the old man’s eyes had been fixed upon him or her and upon no one else. Everybody was quite certain about himself, but fully convinced that everybody else was under a delusion. The contention between the guest at one end of the semicircle and the guest at the other grew quite warm. The thing was an impossibility.

“You are all of you making a mistake,” came a voice with almost startling suddenness out of the darkness behind. “He was looking over all your heads at me all the time.”

Turning, we found that Dummy had been standing in the doorway behind us. Strolling out from the card-room, he had arrived on the scene just as the old man was about to begin the trick, and he had watched it all through. He had stood right to one side and considerably behind. It looked in the dim light almost impossible for the jadu-wala even to have seen him.

“Are you serious?” I asked.

“I would take my oath on it in your court to-morrow,” was the reply.

“I enjoyed it immensely,” said the lady who had sat on my right as she wished me good night a few minutes later, “but I shall see snakes for quite a long time afterwards, and the worst of it will be that I shan’t be quite sure whether they are really there or not.”

When all my guests had gone, I went into my study and wrote the old man a chit and sent it out to him with some backsheesh. In accordance with my promise, I told my bearer12 to give him some whisky as well. The bearer, an eminently respectable old Mohammedan, was, or pretended to be, scandalized and asked me disapprovingly how much he was to give. Rather doubtful as to what the old man would expect of me I ordered out enough for two pegs. But within a minute the bearer was back again carrying that amount in a tumbler on a tray.

“Jadu-wala not taking,” he said briefly, “Jadu-wala demanding whole bottle.”

For a moment I hesitated. For the old man to be caught drunk and disorderly, or even drunk and incapable, by the police outside my house after giving a performance there was not to be desired. Yet the reward, however rashly promised, in return for the trick which he had shown such reluctance to exhibit must necessarily be given to the old man’s satisfaction. I compromised, and sent him out a half-tumbler full.

Within less than a minute this time the bearer was back with the empty glass on the tray and a flickering smile on his impassive face.

“Buddha taking all at one gulp,” he said.

I sincerely trusted that Buddha had a strong head. But what happened to him afterwards I never knew. Next morning he had completely disappeared. One of my guests, wishing to see him again, wrote round to ask me if I could find him and send him to her, but though I had every possible search made, no trace of him could be found. He and his snakes had vanished as completely as the latter had vanished at his bidding the night before.

People who have never been in India, and who believe that residents out there go in hourly dread of snakes, are as far from the truth as the globe-trotter who, never setting eyes on a snake throughout a cold weather tour along the beaten track, jumps to the conclusion that snakes are mostly a myth. The average Englishman in India, apart from the forest official and others whose work brings them into close contact with the jungle, may live in many an Indian district for months without so much as seeing or even hearing of a snake. Living for the most part in houses well raised above ground-level on brick or stone plinths, and set in the midst of gardens or compounds kept clear of jungle, it is rarely that a European is bitten by a snake. On the other hand, some districts are particularly snaky, and it is a common occurrence, especially in the rains when they are washed out of their hiding-places, for snakes to be found in one’s garden, or more rarely at close quarters in the house itself. Thatched roofs, especially if old and dilapidated, provide them with most desirable quarters, and in some of the dâk bungalows in out-of-the-way places where they are seldom used snakes congregate in numbers. It is not conducive to that unruffled frame of mind so necessary to the real enjoyment of a meal to have a snake drop unexpectedly from the roof on to the centre of the dining-table, and to know that another may follow at any moment. Neither is it altogether calculated to encourage one to linger in one’s bath suddenly to spot a krait dangling uncertainly in the thatch ceiling overhead. One is also inclined to resent being taken at a disadvantage when a Russell’s viper, one of the most deadly of all the tribe, drops out of the sleeve of one’s dressing-gown as one goes to put it on in the morning. It is something of a shock to the strongest nerves to step suddenly upon a snake and to feel that you have been bitten, even though you do discover later on, some time after you have given yourself up for dead, that the snake had luckily bitten you right on your biggest and toughest corn, through which the poison could not penetrate. Yet all these things have been known to happen, most of them many times.

The Indian unfortunately is by no means so immune from snake-bite as the European, and every year snakes lay a heavy toll on human life among the poorer classes. The enormous areas of waste and jungle lands that remain in most Indian districts provide ample breeding grounds, and the Indian ryot, living often in mud-walled, thatched-roof huts, round which the rankest vegetation is allowed to grow unchecked, falls a frequent prey to snake-bite. Last year in one district in Bengal alone 555 cases of deaths from snake-bite were recorded, 4,510 being recorded for the whole province; and though, as one old official report that I came across recently explained, “mortality from snake-bite doubtless covers a multitude of sins,” being a convenient fiction to account for the death of an undesirable relative or neighbour, the great majority of reported cases are true.

Amongst this same file of correspondence I found an interesting account of efforts made by Government to exterminate poisonous snakes in days gone by. Apart from the point of view of snakes, it is interesting as showing the watchful care of a paternal Government and the varied duties expected of a district magistrate. In 1858, the magistrate of a certain district drew the attention of Government to the heavy mortality from snake-bite, and asked permission to offer a reward of four annas for every snake brought in, dead or alive. Government sanctioned the proposal, but with the proviso that, in order to prevent fraud, the district magistrate should himself see the snakes’ heads cut off and the reward paid. Within a few months 7,846 snakes had been brought in, involving an expenditure of 1,961 rupees 8 annas. This a careful Government seemed to consider too great a price to pay for the extermination of reptiles, and the reward was promptly reduced to 2 annas. But it was soon seen to be a case of economy overreaching itself, the magistrate somewhat sarcastically reporting that “there were few persons in his district willing to risk their lives to bring in a live snake for 2 annas.” By 1861 the number of snakes brought in had dwindled to eight, involving an expenditure of only 1 rupee for the whole year, and Government, if its efforts were not to be rendered futile, was forced to raise the reward again to 4 annas. The result was astonishing. The district magistrate who had strongly urged the increased reward reported on 14th July, 1862, with evident satisfaction at the success of his efforts, that forty-seven snakes had been brought in on one day, and seventy on another. Only seven days later, however, the magistrate was plainly a trifle overcome by his own success. “Ninety-seven snakes,” he wrote, “were brought in on Saturday, and 118 to-day,” and the duty of superintending their decapitation had become so burdensome that he applied to Government for permission to depute some other officer to perform the task. Attending 118 executions a day was materially encroaching on his more onerous duties. But a careful Government, doubtless a little alarmed again at the expense involved, refused this seemingly reasonable interest. No eye but the magistrate’s own could be trusted to see that the snakes were alive when brought in, and were properly beheaded, so that they might not be produced again to claim the reward. Those months of the year 1862 were decidedly bad times for snakes. From 29th May to 14th October no fewer than 18,423 snakes were reported to have been brought in, making an average of over 100 snakes a day; while from 15th October to 7th December the number increased to 26,029, giving an average of 463½ a day. These figures, when reported, at once put a watchful Government on the alert. How was it to be accounted for that more snakes were being caught in the cold weather, when snakes are supposed to disappear, than during the rains, which is pre-eminently the snaky season of the year? The magistrate was asked to submit an explanation of this surprising circumstance without delay. That much-harassed official, seeking for a reason, ascribed the increase to “the increased expertness of the snake-catchers, and the larger number of persons who had abandoned their occupations and taken to this comparatively lucrative mode of obtaining a livelihood.” This explanation, however, Government did not consider wholly satisfactory, expressing grave doubts as to whether all the snakes paid for had really been poisonous ones; to which the magistrate rejoined with some warmth that he had exercised the greatest possible discrimination, and that 40,000 rupees would not have paid for all the snakes brought before him had the non-poisonous ones not been rigorously excluded.

In spite of the heavy mortality they occasion, it is astonishing with what superstitious reverence snakes, especially cobras, are regarded in many parts of India. So far from killing the snakes that take refuge in their houses, many of the poorer and more ignorant people afford them shelter and food, apparently fearless of consequences. Others, though not going the length of showing them hospitality, will carefully catch them, and taking them out to the jungle, let them loose again. The cobra figures, always as an object of respect, in many an Indian legend and folk tale. The Nagbansis, one of the many races that people the primitive land of Chota-Nagpur, connect the cobra with the origin of their race. Pundarika Nag, the great serpent, so they relate, transformed himself into human shape and won the hand of Parbati, the daughter of a high-caste Brahmin of Benares. But devoted as the couple were, there was one thing that detracted from the happiness of the bride. Pundarika’s assumption of the human form was perfect, save for one thing. The double tongue of the serpent he was unable to disguise, and his wife discovering it, with true wifely curiosity, demanded to know the reason of this strange phenomenon. Much as she protested her love for him, Pundarika feared that he would lose her respect if the truth were known, and with deep insight into the feminine mind, he took her on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Jugernath at Puri by the sea to divert her thoughts. All went well so long as the novelty of the road and the attractions of the holy place lasted; but on the return journey Parbati’s curiosity returned, and Pundarika, goaded by her importunity, at last told her the truth. But no sooner had he told her than shame at the disclosure overcame him, and he jumped into a lake close by and disappeared, never to return again in human form. Parbati was grief-stricken at this unanticipated result of her curiosity, and forsaking her new-born child, she threw herself, in a paroxysm of grief, into the lake into which her husband’s body had disappeared. The unfortunate infant thus deserted was not left long alone. A Brahmin passing by, carrying his idol, the image of the sun, and stopping to drink by the side of the lake, was startled to see the child lying on the bank with a great hooded snake on guard over it. Terrified at the apparition, the Brahmin turned to run away, stooping as he did so to pick up his idol. To his surprise, he was unable to lift it from the ground, so heavy had it suddenly become. As he hesitated, overcome with fear, the snake spoke, announcing itself as Pundarika Nag, who had returned to guard his deserted offspring. Relating his story to the Brahmin, he confided the infant to his care, prophesying that the child would one day become the Raja of the country in which they then were, and directing that he should always be known as the snake-crowned Raja. It is from this child that the Nagbansi family claim descent, and they are said to wear their turbans so wound round their heads as to present the appearance of a snake with the head protruding in front. The crest of the family is a cobra with a human face under its expanded hood. Though the serpent in the legend represents the Devil, to be able to claim relationship with him is considered a very ancient and honourable connection.

Not long since the Zoological Gardens were in need of a fresh supply of snakes, and I promised to do my best to procure some for them. A list of those especially required was sent to me, ranging from the non-poisonous betachra (the tree-snake) and the dhamin (the rat-snake), for which 4 annas only were offered, to the deadly sankhamuti (the krait) and the chandrabora. (the Russell’s viper), which were valued at 1 rupee; but I was given a sort of roving commission to collect as many snakes of every kind as could be obtained. I rather wondered as I read the letter whether the authorities at the Zoo remembered that my district was something over 3,000 square miles in extent, and I luckily refrained from letting the demand for snakes be issued over the whole of it. Fearing that my experience might be somewhat like that of my predecessor, who had been so overwhelmed by the supply of snakes that his offers of reward had produced, I sent out only to a few selected localities, notifying by beat of drum that snakes brought in to me on a certain date about a month hence would be paid for at a fixed rate. I also wrote to three of the leading zamindars of the district, asking if they could provide any from their estates. Two replied, promising a supply, but the third was doubtful. “As there is no such man within my zamindary as can catch the living snake,” he wrote, “I think it will be difficult for me to supply specimens of varieties of snakes in time. However, I will try to look after a man who can catch the living snake, and to supply in time some sorts of snakes.”

In the press of many other matters, I had quite lost count of the appointed day, and was astonished one morning, on going into my veranda, to find the compound invaded by a large crowd, squatting on its heels and guarding innumerable little baskets grouped around it. The snake-catchers had arrived, my chuprassi informed me. There were already some fifty or sixty of them, and new recruits continued to add to the number. My appearance on the scene was the signal for a hasty advance, and a clamorous desire to exhibit their dangerous trophies. My little head-clerk, who arrived on the scene with the office file concerning them under his arm, and a bag of money in his hand wherewith to pay for them, viewed the situation with obvious apprehensions. “Sir,” he said, looking at me solemnly, “I beg to be excused, but I have no acquaintance with the habits of snakes. I fear much there will be difficulty in controlling so many of such poisonous character.”

“It will be your duty,” I replied, regarding him with the same solemnity, and irresistibly led to imitate his manner, “personally to examine each snake, compare it with the description in the list, and pay for it accordingly on the spot.”

For a moment he looked at me reproachfully, then with a resigned, “As your honour pleases,” turned nervously to his unaccustomed task.

After that it seemed to be a case of snakes everywhere. Restraining the impatience of the snake-catchers to exhibit their specimens, we seated them on the ground at considerable distances apart, and warily I and my little head-clerk went amongst them to inspect what they had brought. A few of them had come in quite long distances with only one snake of the value of 4 annas; but most of them were the proud possessors of several, and some eventually went away with what to them was considerable wealth. About half the snakes were cobras, but of these the variety seemed infinite, varying in colour from the darkest olive or black, with a wonderful purple iridescence, to a pale chocolate, fawn, or yellow. Various as they appeared, however, the snake-catchers divided them only into two classes—those with spectacle-like marks on the hood, which were known as gokhuras, and those without, called keutias. One, a splendid specimen some five feet long, was a glorious reddish-brown, shading near the hood into a brilliant orange. The Russell’s vipers, smaller, but no less deadly, were a light chocolate-brown, with three series of large, black, white-edged rings down the back. To these the slender, brilliant green tree-snakes formed a striking contrast.

The snake-catchers were full of information. Cobras and Russell’s vipers, it appears, can bite one another with impunity, but almost every other snake succumbs to the bite of either of them. A fowl bitten by a Russell’s viper is said to die in thirty-five seconds, a dog in from seven minutes to several hours, a cat (in spite of her nine lives) in fifty-seven minutes, and a horse in eleven and a half hours. The most astonishing piece of information given me was that the hooded snakes were all females and poisonous, while the males were all hoodless and innocuous. I am bound to add, however, that an expert on snakes has since informed me that much of the information given to me with such confidence by those snake-catchers must not be wholly relied upon.

The skilful manner in which the men handled the snakes was marvellous. In spite of the openly expressed fears of my little head-clerk and my own secret misgivings, they seemed to have them under perfect control. Though the poison had doubtless been extracted from most of them, they hissed and struck with their venomous-looking fangs as the men cleverly caught and held them, proudly displaying their size and beauty. All were carefully paid for and listed in my presence; but unfortunately other duties called me away, and I was not present to see them packed up in the boxes specially made to receive them. Later in the day the head-clerk told me, with an obvious sigh of relief, that they had all been packed and dispatched.

It was only then I learned that the boxes prepared had run short, and that seventy-four snakes had, therefore, been packed in the last two boxes. When I remembered the size of the boxes, my sympathies for the first time went out to those unfortunate snakes. The Black Hole of Calcutta must have been nothing to it. I upbraided my little head-clerk, but his desire to have those poisonous snakes safely boxed and dispatched and off his hands seemed to have extinguished any humanitarian instinct he may have had. “Sir, it was necessary to dispose of them,” the much-worried little man gravely replied to my expostulations; “the snake-catchers had been paid, and being desirous of going away, even threatened to let loose their snakes if I did not take delivery.” Yet how they got so many into those two small boxes I cannot imagine. I feel that the end of this snake story ought to be that when the box arrived at the Zoo only one very large fat snake was found inside. But truth compels a less picturesque though almost as disastrous an ending. Only twelve of those unhappy snakes had survived the journey.

Divider

The Marriage of Peter Khan

I had been in the district for over six months—a district of more than half a million souls—the only British officer, and, as I believed, the only member of the Christian Faith.

A few miles beyond the border flourished a large mission station, but the border here consisted of one of the broadest rivers of India, a full mile wide, an effective barrier. Mine was a district of river and forest, difficult of access, without roads, the many waterways the great highways of such trade and commerce as existed. No part of India could have offered greater difficulties to missionary enterprise.

It was, therefore, with considerable surprise that I one morning received a letter from the mission across the border that a small Christian settlement existed at a place called Khankhali, far down in the south of the district in the midst of a perfect network of waterways. The letter was a brief one and gave no details, merely asking if I would be good enough some ten days hence to take down on my launch the Bishop of the diocese for a confirmation among this little company of far-off members of the Church. For my launch, except for a tedious journey of several days in a country boat, was the only means of getting him there. I wrote back gladly offering to take the Bishop and to give every help I could.

Greatly interested in this little community I sent for the head of my office and asked for information. But I was at once met with a blank wall of ignorance. No one knew anything about it. Even the name of the place was unknown and the map made no mention of it. Official after official was sent for but no information was forthcoming. With one consent they denied all knowledge of this little isolated community of another faith. The office held no record of it. So it being located more than a hundred miles from headquarters I was, until the Bishop arrived, in ignorance of all but its existence.

It was a glorious February morning when we set forth. The Bishop was an old friend of mine, tall, white haired, venerable, a true type of the real Father in God. His reputation for saintliness was only equalled by his reputation for his gift of tongues. His diocese covered an enormous province and beyond, wherein a perfect Babel of speech reigned. It was rumoured that within six months of his coming to rule over the diocese he had mastered three of the most widely spoken languages and that he had conducted the whole service and preached extempore in each. Hitherto, long as I had known him, I had had no personal experience of this gift of his, but if rumour spoke true he was a shining example to us in the services, who nowadays for the most part fall sadly short in sound working knowledge of the language—that only real open sesame to the hearts of the Indian people. It is difficult to get to know and understand a people whose every shade of language one can understand; but how grasp the thoughts and hopes and aspirations of a people whose tongue one can only speak haltingly and understand imperfectly? Yet the Powers-that-be, that sit aloft far off and rule the India of to-day, lay so much stress on endless figures and reports that this essential to a sympathetic understanding is forgotten. Whereby the personal touch that means so much everywhere and in India in particular is wanting. Later on, on this same journey when we reached our destination, this was to be brought home to me with full force.

Steaming down the great river the Bishop and his chaplain told me all they knew of the little Christian settlement we were going to visit. Some fifty years ago it seemed two young orphans from the mission settlement across the border, imbued with the pioneer spirit, had been given a grant of unreclaimed land at Khankhali. For the first four years they had had a hard struggle. The virgin forest, untouched by the hand of man through all time, had been a formidable obstacle, but by dint of much labour, bit by bit, they had conquered, and, with every foot of ground cleared, the virgin soil released from bondage had abundantly repaid their toil. Then one had turned back, tired of the loneliness and isolation, and drawn by the claims of civilization. The other had returned to the mission settlement only in search of a wife to help him in his work and to found with him a new settlement in the forest. Among the girls just starting out in life from the mission school he had found what he sought, an orphan like himself with no kith or kin and lured by the glamour of this new life of independence. From that day to this, now more than fifty years, neither had ever left the little settlement they had wrested from the primeval forest.

Prosperity had come to them in full measure. Their flocks and their herds had increased abundantly, their paddy fields spreading ever farther and farther into the forest. Rich fields of waving corn now covered what but a few years since had been the unreclaimed jungle. Seven sons and five daughters had been born to them. Sons-in-law and daughters-in-law had been provided for them as need arose from the Christian settlement across the border, and their numbers had increased and multiplied until now in the fourth generation they numbered some two hundred souls. It was ten members of the fourth generation that the Bishop was now on his way to confirm in the Faith of their fathers.

After an eight hours’ run we drew near to Khankhali. Many miles behind we had left the limits of civilization. The great broad river that flowed in its strength and grandeur well-nigh straight to sea had been left behind, and by devious waterways we had travelled through the heart of the forest. By winding and ever narrowing streams the little launch had ploughed her way, the Secuni anxiously plying his lead to take the soundings and calling out his readings with a curious sing-song lilt, the only sound save the pounding of the engine in this vast land of silence, “Do baum mila nahi,” “Ek baum do hath,” “Ekunter do baum,” the musical cry came up to us from the lower deck as we sat above, beside the Sevang at his wheel. The tide was at the ebb and the serang, who knew every inch of these rivers, was anxious that we should get through a certain khal where the river shallowed before the tide had quite gone out. Overhead the sky was one unclouded vault of blue. On the water the sun glanced, making it a pathway of gold. The air was still fresh with the freshness of the winter’s morning. From time to time across the narrow streams or closer in against the banks there flashed the brilliant vision of a kingfisher, a splash of glorious orange and purple and green and blue. As the sloping banks of the river beds were left high and dry by the retreating tide, they furnished huge crocodiles, almost the colour of the mud on which they lay, with resting places on which to bask in the sun. They lay in rows tails downwards towards the stream and as the launch approached they slipped noiselessly into the water. They form an easy target for the sportsman, but they are not too easy to secure. A bullet may kill dead but the shock may be just sufficient to slide it down the bank into the stream which carries the unresisting carcass swiftly away. But to-day we were on a mission of peace and no dead crocodile floated down to sea. I had shot many and should have many chances more, and to-day there seemed to rest a special peace on river and forest. We were on a mission of life, not death. The Bishop dozed in his chair as the day advanced and once I heard him murmur as he fell asleep, “The River of Life,” and again softly, “a great river—a great river flowed through the midst of it.”

It was nearing noonday as we came in sight of Khankhali. A sudden bend in the river revealed it awake and stirring with excitement in the noonday sunlight. From afar we saw it first in miniature. Here at last the forest no longer held complete sway—a great open clearing lay cut in the midst of it. On every side it still stood menacingly ready to encroach again and dominate it if man should but for a moment stay his hand. Thick, almost impenetrable, forest on every side and in the midst this great open stretch of level ground without a forest tree to break its triumph. Neat and trim, divided into fields by tiny mounds, and in the centre, some way back from the river, the village, set with its groups of towering palms and leafy plantain trees. On the river bank awaiting our arrival was surely every inmate of the settlement clad in spotless white that cried aloud the great occasion. It was all so clean and neat that, viewed from a distance, it looked like some childish toy, some Noah’s Ark affair of one’s earliest memories.

Then as we drew near the crowd grew from a mass of tiny moving marionettes into individuality. The central figures, round which all the others seemed unconsciously to group themselves, were an old, old man and an old, old woman. The former, a portly but dignified figure, grey-headed, yet still erect, leant on a long staff that he carried in his hand. He wore only a loin cloth, newly washed to a dazzling whiteness, with one end thrown loosely round his shoulders, his venerable head bare to the sun. The latter, his wife, was no less remarkable a figure. Still upright, like her spouse, her mass of hair was scarcely streaked with grey and but half hidden by the red-bordered sari that she had drawn over it. Round her neck hung a necklace of bright red beads. Her ample skirts were of the same spotless white, red-bordered. They were a splendid patriarchal couple and might have walked straight out of some Biblical story. Around them in picturesque array were grouped their descendants, men, women, and children of every age, all clad in the same spotless white, a great company of witness.

A little apart from them was another group, smaller and though different yet strangely like. Surely this was the meeting place of East and West. For that little company apart consisted of three English men and two English women, clad also in spotless white, their bare feet almost as brown from toil and exposure to the sun as the great company of brown feet beside them. Only the shape of their white garments and their topees distinguished them from their Indian fellow Christians. They were a little company of priests and sisters from the neighbouring mission station, come thus far to welcome the Bishop and attend the confirmation. They had travelled for two days by country boats, their usual form of travelling, with all its discomforts to a European, a part of their teaching being to share the lives of those amongst whom they labour as far as it is possible. I had heard much of their splendid work and self-sacrifice, and from the brief glimpse I had of them that day it was not difficult to see how fully they had won the love and esteem at least of this little community. To see them walking over the ploughed fields and along the rough river bank bare foot was an astonishment. They had found it more convenient to go about their work unshod and though shrinking from the first initiation through which one must necessarily pass to “this freedom,” one envied them the attainment of it. The landing reminded one in its picturesqueness of some picture of the landing of the Pilgrim Fathers. As we stepped ashore the old patriarchal couple advanced to meet us and fell on their knees at the Bishop’s feet. Simultaneously the whole company knelt and on the waiting silence fell the beautiful words of the Church’s blessing, first in English, then in the vernacular. For a moment after he had finished the impressive silence held. The Bishop’s lips still moved, his hand still uplifted, a wonderful light upon his face as his eyes rested on this faithful little company in partibus.

Then they all rose to their feet again and the old couple greeted us one by one with a quaint little unexpected touch of dignity and led us along a path between the fields towards the village.

It was the cleanest village that I have ever seen in the East. The roadway had been swept till it was well-nigh innocent even of dust. The mud walls of the huts on either side were smooth and clean, the thatch above them as neat as skill could make it. Slowly the long procession, headed by the Bishop and the patriarchal couple, wended its way along the winding street and at last arrived at the centre of the village, opposite the old man’s house, by far the largest and most sumptuous in the village. In front of it, in a wide open space, stood the Hall of Audience, the village meeting place. The hall was open on all sides and consisted of nothing but a great thatched roof supported on many pillars roughly cut from the trees of the forest and raised on a mud plinth, two feet high. Here chairs had been placed in a formal semicircle with a few low stools in front, and here we took our seats in ceremonious audience.

And then no sooner had we seated ourselves in such apparent harmony than I gathered that something was wrong. Alas! my knowledge of the vernacular lagged far behind the Bishop’s, but even so I could not fail to grasp that some grievous hitch had arisen in the proceedings. The old man, seated on his humble stool, facing the Bishop, who sat in the centre of the semi-circle of chairs, was speaking faster and faster, urgently and yet more urgently. The old woman beside him had clasped her hands appealingly and the happy smiling face of her welcome had grown strained and anxious. The Bishop, too, whose kindly features had so far radiated goodwill and peace, looked grave.

Putting up his hand to stem the old man’s torrent of words he asked a question in English of the priests beside him. Then turning, still kindly but very gravely, he spoke to the old man and the woman beside him and again there came an eager flow of language from the patriarch. Behind him the crowd of his descendants hung silent on his every word. It was a fascinating scene. The old man, even to one without full understanding of his speech, was obviously pleading with the Bishop who as obviously found it hard to refuse and as hard to grant his request. Finally the Bishop rose and I gathered that he would consult with the priests and give his decision before the confirmation service, which was fixed to take place in half an hour’s time. Rising with deep salaams the old man and his wife followed by all the others, filed out of the Hall of Audience and we were left alone.

The Bishop was deeply concerned. The eldest great-grandson of the patriarch, who was one of the candidates for confirmation, had committed a flagrant breach of the Church’s law. The priests in whose spiritual charge the little community lay had decided that he could not be confirmed and the old man had been appealing to the Bishop against their verdict. The boy had married his niece!

The situation was explained to me. Peter Khan, who was only eighteen, the old man’s grandson and the future ruler of this community, had since the last visit of the priests married his sister’s daughter.

“But surely,” I pleaded, looking for a way of escape as I remembered the anxiety in the old man’s face, “surely she cannot be his actual niece, his very own sister’s daughter?”

But apparently she was. His eldest sister was seventeen years older than himself, and the girl, her daughter, whom he had taken to wife, was now sixteen years of age.

It seemed that the boy, Peter Khan, and his father had travelled to the mission station with the girl, and the couple had been married by one of the priests in the church there, the fact that the contracting parties were within the prohibited degree of consanguinity being deliberately concealed.

“Perhaps they did not know it was forbidden,” I still pleaded, anxious only that nothing should dim the splendour of this great day in the little Christian community.

But there was no escape that way. A somewhat similar breach of the Church’s law had recently occurred and the whole matter had been carefully explained to the little community.

“Then why did they do it?” I asked despairingly, feeling that a cloud I could not dispel was falling over the promise of the day.

The answer finally won over my sympathies to the erring contracting parties. It was a love match. And so to legalize the inevitable, the father of the boy—alas! with the old patriarch’s connivance—had conspired to deceive the priests and conceal this “cause and just impediment.”

For this I was bound to admit there could be no excuse. Not only had they broken an ordinance of the Church to which they belonged, they had deliberately lied and deceived. Punishment was due and must fall. How could a Bishop of the Church confirm one who had so openly defied its tenets?

I turned away, sad at heart that the glory of the day must thus be dimmed, leaving the little group in solemn conclave. There was nothing I could do or say. This was a matter for the Bishop and the priests to decide. Wandering down the deserted Hall of Audience I stepped out into the sunlight. It was only then that I saw him for the first time. He was leaning from outside against one of the rough-hewn pillars that supported the thatched roof, the very picture of disconsolate despair, a picture to inspire an artist. Even as he stood with his head sunk low on his chest, his shoulders bent forward and his hands clasped loosely in front of him, one could see of what exquisite material he was made. He wore nothing but a loin cloth, the sari that had been round his shoulders having fallen back, unnoticed in his great dejection, and trailing loosely on the ground. There was no one else in sight. The rest had gone off, as arranged, to make all ready in the little church at the farther end of the village street. Surely this must be he who had sinned and who was even now awaiting the verdict of the little conclave at the other end of the Audience Hall.

I stopped a few paces in front of him.

Hearing my steps he looked up and sprang hastily to attention, drawing the fallen sari half around him. Then his eyes having for a moment met mine, fell to earth again and he stood quite still.

I do not think I have ever East or West seen anything human more fully exemplifying the glory and beauty of youth. He was magnificent. Straight as an arrow, supple as a willow, his every movement was a thing of grace. Slim and lithe, his broad shoulders were splendidly moulded, his head so finely set upon them it were as if the Sculptor had given just that one last touch and shown therein the triumph of youth and of His own art. The features did not fail the wonderful form. They were classic in their beauty, his skin a warm soft brown, his hair black with a wave in it on which the sunlight glinted. As a model he would have been a joy. His supple body seemed made to express every passing emotion. As I had seen it first there could have been no more perfect representation of desolation and despair. Now as he stood magnificently before me there was a strange mixture in his attitude of humility and self-respect. It was as if before me he was humble, but as if in his own eyes he had kept his self-respect.

“You are Peter Khan?” I asked at last.

His eyes glanced up at me again for a moment and looked honestly into mine.

“Alas! Sir, I am,” he replied, speaking in English that was almost perfect.

Again there fell a silence. I was seized with a great desire to know what was passing in the boy’s mind, what mind there was set in that beautiful body. Should I find that physical beauty here, as so often elsewhere, covered only a shallowness of mind, or that this rare frame, as it gave every evidence of doing, housed as rare a mind and intellect? But what right had I to probe into this trouble that had come to him and that he obviously took so hardly? Yet there was something in his attitude, some subtle appeal in his distress, that made it impossible to pass by in silence.

Stumblingly, curiously impressed by his innate dignity and quiet calm, I spoke to him of his offence. Was there any way in which I could help? Was there no loophole of escape from this impasse into which he had wandered? Why had he done this thing that the Church from which he now sought confirmation so strictly forbade? How could the Bishop of that Church confirm one who had so openly defied its precepts?

Yet in the face of his calm dignity I felt as if I were floundering among doctrinal pitfalls of which I knew nothing. All the time that I was speaking his great dark eyes that seemed to glow with honesty and truth looked into mine, not defiantly, but with a great respect as if he hung on every word I spoke. My sympathies were so entirely won over to his side that I floundered more and more and stopped suddenly.

For a moment longer his calm clear gaze remained fixed earnestly upon my face. And then he spoke.

“But, Sir,” he said quietly, yet earnestly and with all respect in his voice, “but, Sir, what did Abraham do?”

The question was so utterly unexpected that I almost gasped. Had it not been put so simply, so earnestly, rather as an assertion, a conclusive argument of defence, than as a question, I should have dissolved in laughter. The astonishment of it so broke the tension of the last few moments that only his perfectly serious eyes fixed still upon me kept me from even smiling.

Wildly I tried to remember what it was that Abraham had done. I knew it was something dreadful according to modern ideas, but for the life of me I could not remember exactly what offence it was he had committed. Was it a greater or a lesser crime than marrying his niece? Search as I might among any Biblical recollections, for the moment, it escaped me.

And. meanwhile opposite me stood this Indian Christian boy who was seriously pleading Abraham’s offence, whatever it was, in mitigation of his own, and waiting for my judgment. One of the many thoughts that flashed across my brain was how very hard it was on Abraham that his sin should be pleaded as an excuse for another sin, instead of a warning, how many thousand years afterwards?

What could one say? Only the old trite words that our day was not as Abraham’s day, that Abraham’s sin should be a warning not an example, that Abraham lived before the Christian era, before the truth in its fullness had been revealed. And as I spoke his eyes slowly left mine and remained fixed on the ground and his whole splendid body seemed to droop back into despair again. Then once more there fell a silence between us. He was so humbled, so obviously impressed by all the things I had said that my heart went out to him.

At the other end of the Audience Hall there was a little movement among the group of Bishop, priests, and sisters as if they had come to a decision and the conclave was breaking up. I felt quite sure what the result must be. Was there nothing I could do to set things right?

“Oh, why did you do it?” I asked despairingly.

Quickly he stepped forward and bending down took my hand in both his and raised it to his forehead. Then dropping it he stood and faced me to his full height.

“You have been kind,” he said softly, “and I will tell you, I will tell you why I did it.”

For a moment he paused and I watched the inward struggle to find utterance. It seemed as if the words fought within him against speech.

Then at last they came slowly but with such a ring of quiet pride and confidence that I would that girl of sixteen, niece or wife or whatever she might be, had heard them. They would have been a wonderful memory for her to have carried with her till her dying day.

“Because I love her better than anything else in the world.”

If one’s sympathies had not been already with him, those words, spoken as they were, would have swept one for ever into his camp. I shall never forget the quiet challenge to the world, the pride and joy of youth, the steadfastness and intensity that rang in every word.

In the face of them I was dumb. What more was there to be said? He was wrong still, but how could I speak to him more platitudes of honour and duty? Love had swept away all arguments, all laws, human and divine. That one wonderful sentence of his had raised the matter to so high a plane that I could not further intrude. This indeed was holy ground and I could only pass by reverently, leaving the matter to a higher court than mine.

This time it was I who took his hand, and as he again bent and placed his forehead on it I knew that he had read my unspoken sympathy.

The little conclave at the other end of the Audience Hall had not broken up, as I thought, but was still sitting. The Bishop sat silent in the midst and the little company of the three priests, the chaplain and the two sisters was gathered round him. It was evident that the verdict was not unanimous and my heart went out to those who were fighting what I had felt from the first must be a lost cause. As I drew near to join them a woman’s voice alone was speaking, pleadingly.

The first words I caught seemed to arrest my footsteps and I halted beside one of the pillars a few steps off from the little group. Here again was holy ground on which I might not tread. They were only a few brief words that I caught yet it seemed as if the woman in eager pleading for another was laying bare her own soul.

Was he, the boy, alone to suffer? Were not his father and the elders, even the patriarch himself far more to blame? And then as the culmination of her pleading she spoke of the love that had sprung up between this boy and girl, and the strange shy way her voice hesitated over the momentous word served to reveal so much of the speaker’s life. The word, as she breathed it, seemed like a benediction. Her voice was the voice of a mother crooning her child to sleep. The brief glimpse I caught of her face was alight, alight with the mother-love.

I turned quickly away. Again I had trodden on holy ground. And as I passed out into the sunlight I marvelled greatly. By what earthly paths had such heights been reached, by renunciation and self-sacrifice or through the experience of a great love that had come and gone? It was not for me to know, but the uplift of that brief glimpse into the beauty of another’s soul remained.

Outside, the old man and his wife and a few of the elders of the village had gathered to receive the Bishop’s verdict. For a few moments I talked with them, of the last year’s crops, of the present year’s prospects, of the cyclone that had swept this part of the district two years before, of anything save the thing that was filling all our minds. And then a movement of chairs in the hall behind us told that the conclave was over at last. I went to meet them as they slowly came towards us and learned what I had known must be the verdict. There would be no confirmation of Peter Khan that day.

The Bishop broke the news to the little group outside the Audience Hall and then seeing Peter Khan still standing apart by himself he moved over and spoke to him. What he said I could not hear, but the kindness in his manner was unmistakable. Peter Khan stood before him just as he had stood before me, with the same attitude of mingled self-respect and humility, but this time he was silent, uttering no word in his own defence. And as the Bishop ceased speaking Peter Khan fell on his knees before him and kissed his ring. Very gently the Bishop’s other hand rested on the boy’s head and his lips moved.

As we passed down the village street towards the church I could not resist looking round for one last glimpse of Peter Khan. He had sunk down on to the raised plinth that formed the floor of the Audience Hall and crouched there, a limp, pathetic figure, his head buried in his hands. For a moment I hesitated, hating to leave him there. All the others of the great family to which he belonged were gathering in the church. He alone was an outcast.

I think the Bishop who was walking beside me divined my thoughts.

“The service in the church might be too poignant for him,” he said softly. “We can but leave him—with God.”

“Could there have been found no way out?” I cried rebelliously.

“I would have done anything I could,” said the Bishop, and there was deep trouble in his voice, “but to let pass not only so flagrant a breach of the Church’s law but so gross a deception whereby they had obtained the Church’s blessing on a union they knew the Church could not approve, would be unquestionably a great mistake. There is always the danger of an isolated Christian community like this relapsing into unchristian ways, and to have overlooked this glaring breach of discipline would only have encouraged further lapses. One cannot be too careful and this particular little community has always been a model of its kind.”

Knowing the Indian character as I did, I could but endorse every word that the Bishop had said.

“Then there seems no way out?” I said bitterly.

I think the Bishop realized how deeply my sympathies were aroused. Gently he put his arm in mine.

“God will find the way out,”he said softly.

At the end of the village street stood the church, mud-walled, rough thatched, scarcely distinguishable from the other buildings save for the tiny open belfry at one end, wherein a tiny bell was clanging with the utmost vigour. Apparently there had never existed the need for a vestry and much concern had arisen as to where the Bishop should robe for the service. The nearest building was what looked from the outside much like a cowshed, and even that stood on the other side of a rough ploughed field. But wanting anything more suitable it had been requisitioned and thither the Bishop and the priests retired to prepare for the service. The sisters and I passed straight into the little church.

It was a never-to-be-forgotten sight inside. The eastern end might almost have been the eastern end of a church in the West, the same altar seemly arrayed, the hangings of red cloth, the floor of the little chancel in front tile-paved, the candles in the tall brass candle-sticks alight, the vases filled with bright flowers and, dominating all, the great brass cross in the centre. All were of the West. The rest of the church was of the East, eastern, in sharp contrast. Save for the Bishop’s chair beside the altar against the wall and one just outside the chancel rails for myself there was no other seat throughout the church. The whole congregation sat on the floor, cross-legged, a great white-robed company, as orderly arrayed as if they were arranged in pews. Even the priests and the sisters, true to their principle of obliterating all possible differences between East and West, sat with the rest of the worshippers on the floor, and I marvelled throughout the service, as we sat and stood and knelt, at the ease with which they did what to my unaccustomed self would have been so difficult a feat. From my chair beside a window immediately on the left of the altar in front of the chancel steps I could see across the ploughed field to the little shed that was being put to such honoured use as a robing place. For a brief space we waited in a silence that could be almost felt, so strange was it brooding over that great crowd of close packed humanity.

Then through the open window I saw surely one of the strangest and most picturesque sights of all my Indian experience. From the little shed, much like some pictorial representation of the shed that housed the Manger at Bethlehem, there came the sound of the Bishop’s voice in prayer and the intoned “Amen” of men’s and boys’ voices. Then from out the open doorway emerged the little procession. First came two small acolytes carrying two tall lighted candles, then a third bearing the cross, behind them the three priests in single file, and behind them again the chaplain bearing the crozier. Last of all came the Bishop in full canonicals. Slowly the little procession made its way across the ploughed field towards the church, the midday sun shining full down upon it. It was a wonderful picture, the accustomed western scene in its unaccustomed eastern setting.

Almost in silence, no distracting shuffling of feet, no scraping of chairs, the bare-footed congregation had risen to its feet. The procession passed up the church, and the service began. It was all in the vernacular and it was strange to hear the old familiar hymn tunes well and heartily sung in words of another tongue. There was no accompaniment, one of the priests leading each hymn which was sung with a splendid volume of sound that would have put to shame most western congregations.

Then came the actual confirmation. At the appointed moment four boys and five girls advanced and knelt at the chancel steps. They varied astonishingly in age. A Bishop’s visit was so rare a thing that it happened while some had been fortunate enough just to reach the right age others had passed it but had had to wait many years and were full-grown men and women before the opportunity came. So the candidates ranged in age from about fourteen to twenty-four. The service itself had evidently been well rehearsed, so well that as they came to the chancel steps each one knelt in his or her appointed place, so well that between the last two boys on the left hand side there was a vacant space. It was evidently there that Peter Khan had knelt at the rehearsal. I found it hard to take my eyes from that vacant space.

The Bishop gave his address seated in his chair facing straight down the church. He gave it without a note in fluent vernacular and the congregation listened spellbound. In a few grave but kindly words he spoke of the sin that had been committed, the sin that had marred the full completion of to-day’s service, the sin of many for which one youth was bearing punishment. And then he spoke to them of the One without sin who bore the sin of all the world.

A last hymn and then the Bishop, holding his pastoral staff, gave his blessing to the kneeling congregation with uplifted hand, the beautiful old familiar blessing first in English then in an unfamiliar tongue.

Passing out behind the Bishop’s little procession I stood outside to watch the congregation leave the church. The smallest of the girl candidates for confirmation I had specially noticed for her bright intelligent face and self-possessed bearing. As she passed out close beside me, she was joined by apparently a younger sister, a head shorter still, who seized her eagerly by the hand and looking up into her face asked earnestly:

“Did you understand what he said?”

“Oh, yes,” said the lately confirmed one with an immense air of superiority, “I understood. But he made lots of mistakes.”

I always wondered if even the Bishop’s delightful sense of humour would have quite appreciated this aspersion on his gift of tongues. I refrained from putting it to the test.

For many days I was haunted by my last glimpse of Peter Khan, that splendid figure of youth, broken and despairing, outside the Hall of Audience at Khankhali. I rebelled against my inability to help. What was there that anyone could do? As the Bishop had said truly, only a higher Power could find a way out. All I could do was to ask one of my subordinate officers who went that way some three or four times a year to take him books from me and bring me news of him.

Two years passed and always when I heard it was that things were going on just as they had always done at Khankhali. Only for the first time now there were two members of that large family who never entered the little church. Peter Khan had remained faithful to the woman he loved.

Then at the end of the second year there came news from Khankhali that the wife, who was no wife in the eyes of the Church, had died and with her Peter Khan’s firstborn son.

Verily, as the Bishop had said, the way out was being found by the decree of a higher Court than ours.

For three months I waited fearing to intrude and yet wondering greatly how Peter Khan had taken this new grief. Then there came further news of him and finally a letter.

“It was the will of God,” he wrote in his careful schoolboy hand. “I think it is God calling.”

Further he wrote of how he had made his peace with the Church and how greatly he himself desired to enter that Church as a priest. The mission had consented to take him for two years’ training before anything final was decided, but there was one great wish in his heart—that before he left home and people he might be confirmed there in the little church that he had always known. There where he had sinned and been so long an outcast he wanted to make what restitution lay in his power. There was only one way that the Bishop could come. That was on my launch. Would I bring him if he consented to come? Would I get him to come?

I wrote off at once to the Bishop, delighted to be able to play this small part in the reinstatement of Peter Khan. By return I received a kind reply from the Bishop saying that he would gladly come. So a date was fixed and some weeks later he and I again set out in the glory of a winter’s morning for a confirmation at Khankhali.

It was all as it had been before, the same waiting group on the river bank, the same little company of priests and sisters. But this time there was an added thrill of expectation, an added note of exultation and rejoicing, that was unmistakable on every face. Between the old patriarch and his wife stood Peter Khan, radiant.

So recent had been the Bishop’s last visit that there was no other candidate of age for confirmation. It was for Peter Khan alone that the Bishop had come this great way. For him alone was the greatness and wonder of the day.

I only had the chance of a moment’s talk with him before the service. The tears were in his eyes as he thanked me again and again for what I had done for him. It was so little, I protested, touched by his gratitude.

“It was your sympathy,” he said with that curious directness that gave such weight and such sincerity to all he said.

I spoke to him of his future plans, and the brief uninterrupted moments fled. The great gathering was moving off towards the church for the culminating scene.

“I have been so fortunate,” he said as once more he took my hand and placed his forehead upon it.

I think I must have looked surprised at the word he had used. I had not looked upon Peter Khan as fortunate.

“God gave me her,” he said softly, “and now He is giving me Himself.”

Divider

Concerning Chuprassis

Where would the official world of India be without the chuprassi? Much abused as he is, often idiotically stupid, but always indispensable, resplendent in scarlet and gold or shamelessly grubby in tattered white and frayed chapkan, how would the great Indian government machine revolve without his ever-ready hands and tireless feet?

I remember how difficult I once found it to explain to an essentially English and untravelled family at home exactly what position the six chuprassis allotted by Government occupied in my Indian household. “Six men-servants!” they exclaimed, secure in their comfortable English home, where domestic affairs ran like clockwork through the years under the efficient superintendence of a very limited number of women-servants. “Six men-servants doing practically nothing!” I could see from their astonished faces that they were picturing their peaceful establishment suddenly invaded by an army of six men in livery, and wondering how in the world they could feed and sleep them and cope with them generally. Six English men-servants would be so very solid and substantial: it was difficult to explain the mysterious elusive personalities of six Indian chuprassis. It is not easy to conceive of an English servant whose duty is neither in the house, the garden, nor yet the stables, and whose only place of evidence in one’s house is on the doorstep. “Six men-servants standing on the doorstep!” was perhaps the natural exclamation, and it flashed across one, as it had so often done before when discussing more serious things, how difficult it is to give a true impression of the real India to those who have had no actual personal acquaintance with it. Only a personal knowledge of the ways and manner of life of the Indian servant could dispel that picture of six men-servants sitting together doing nothing on one’s doorstep.

Has any official with six chuprassis ever seen them all together at one time? If so, it has been when they forgathered salaaming to present a petition or to attend him at some local Durbar or other special occasion. For the Indian chuprassi is an elusive being. One never quite knows, when one shouts for one, which of the six will appear. They have their roster and two or three of them will be on duty at the same time throughout the day, but they come and go, relieving one another silent-footed and unnoticed. Their spell of duty done they vanish, and over them forthwith falls a veil of impenetrable mystery. The fathomless East swallows them up. Their homes are somewhere in the bazaar, often a couple of miles or more away, and of their home life one knows nothing. Their presence during their spells of duty grows so familiar, one gets to know so well their little tricks of speech and manner, their alert watchfulness or their somnolent stupidity, that one forgets how little one really knows them and their intimate domestic life. It is only when one comes suddenly upon one of them divested of the spotless puggaree and chapkan and the smart badge of office in which one has always known him, that one remembers the other and more human side of him that one seldom or never sees. The tousle-headed, scantily-clad, and by no means cleanly figure in banian or dhotie is scarce recognizable, and when recognition slowly dawns upon one, comes as something of a shock.

Yet even if it were possible to show a greater interest in the chuprassi’s life outside his official duties, it is doubtful if he would appreciate it. There is a story that one official’s wife, fresh from home and burning with a desire to identify herself with Indian life, began by taking a deep and motherly interest in her husband’s chuprassis. At first doubtful and suspicious of this inquisitive Mem-sahib, who wanted to know so much about their private and personal affairs, they rapidly blossomed out when they found that the Mem-sahib was not only extraordinarily credulous but exceedingly generous. Their families thus spread and flourished, and their sisters and their cousins and their aunts multiplied and languished under all sorts of mysterious ailments, when they discovered that help pecuniary and otherwise was theirs for the asking. One chuprassi, during her husband’s absence in camp, waxed so eloquent of the distress in his family circle—it grew to sixteen members, eight of them down with a lingering fever and the other eight sickening for it—that the Mem-sahib considered it her duty to go down into the bazaar and come to the help of that afflicted household in person. The chuprassi demurred hastily, assuring her that his house was no fit place in which to receive a Mem-sahib, and hinting that a little pecuniary help would be much more suitable; but that Mem-sahib came of determined stock and held to her purpose. Unfortunately she did not set out at once but deferred her visit until the cool of the evening, which gave the chuprassi time to make the necessary rearrangements in his household. Even then she failed to arrive on the first evening owing to a series of misadventures, but on the second evening she duly reached the chuprassi’s house in the depths of the bazaar. There were only seven children and three women out of the sixteen of whom the chuprassi had drawn so piteous a picture, but by the time the Mem-sahib had reached the tumble-down, straw-thatched hut in the indescribably dirty, narrow street and had groped her way into the dark and stuffy living-room amidst the crowd of excited onlookers, she was hardly in a condition to be critical, especially as she had stepped plump on to a sleeping baby just within the doorway and nearly squashed the life out of it. She came away appalled at the conditions under which the poor chuprassi was forced to live, and at once plunged enthusiastically into schemes for model dwellings and the better housing of the poor. The chuprassis, ignorant even of the meaning of these things, but fully alive to the necessity of turning this unlooked-for interest in their personal affairs to account, prepared still further attacks on that Mem-sahib’s sympathy; but unhappily their besetting sin was their undoing and they fell out among themselves, one of them immediately turning King’s evidence on the return of the Sahib from camp. The Mem-sahib had been grossly deceived, he protested, full of righteous indignation, now that he was no longer in league with the perpetrator. The chuprassi, whose house she had visited, had no relatives but one old mother, the rest he had hurriedly hired for the occasion. Investigation proved that the truth lay neither with the original offender nor yet with the King’s evidence man, but somewhere midway between. The chuprassi had other relatives besides the one mother alleged, yet some of the family he had shown to the Mem-sahib as his own had been undoubtedly hired. It may be that that Sahib had dim memories of a fictitious aunt of his own whose serious illness had called him hurriedly to Town in his Varsity days, or it may be that he despaired utterly of ever getting to the whole truth of the matter, but that chuprassi remained on in his service, a somewhat subdued and sadder man. As for the Mem-sahib she was happily of the type that nothing will deter from good works, so the slump that ensued was only in chuprassis. Them for the future she left severely alone.

Her adventures by the way on her first attempt to visit the man’s house were alone sufficient to have deterred a less determined and devoted doer of good deeds. She had arranged to drive there in her victoria, but when the time came to start the coachman protested that he did not know the part of the town where the chuprassis lived, and expressed the gravest doubts about being able to get the carriage there on account of the probable narrowness of the roads, neither victorias nor wheeled traffic of any kind being usually provided for in laying out chuprassis’ quarters. The syce when appealed to took his cue from the coachman and professed the same blank ignorance, with the result that the Mem-sahib ordered his place on the box-seat to be taken by another chuprassi who did know the way. The coachman expostulated vigorously, gloomily prophesying all sorts of dreadful happenings if the syce were left behind, but the Mem-sahib, with all the courage of ignorance, scoffed at danger, and they at last set forth. Farther and farther into the bazaar they penetrated, the roads growing narrower and narrower as they went, until at last they could only pass by shutting up the shops on either side, the mat awnings that projected over the roadway having to be closed down. Time and again the coachman stopped and protested, only to be urged on again fearlessly by the Mem-sahib, but when he finally stopped for about the seventh time it appeared that a real difficulty had occurred, and a fierce and wordy altercation ensued between the coachman and the chuprassi on the box. They had taken the wrong turning, and the coachman was abusing the chuprassi in the choicest terms for not having warned him in time, while the chuprassi was equally unrestrained in his language in protesting that the coachman had paid no attention to his clearly expressed instructions. The Mem-sahib tried in vain to pacify them, but the difficulty was that the wrong road having been taken there was absolutely no possibility of turning the carriage round and pursuing the right road. Meanwhile the horse unaccustomed to such strange places and objecting strongly to the inevitable crowd that was rapidly closing round it, began to get restive, and the Mem-sahib ordered the chuprassi to get down and hold its head. The chuprassi, obedient but greatly fearing, never having touched a horse’s head before, succeeded only in irritating the already irritated animal still further, with the result that it stood on its hind legs and brought one of its forefeet down with great violence on the chuprassi’s foot. The chuprassi limped aside hurriedly, with a howl of pain, his foot bleeding profusely. while the coachman, looking down and seeing the blood, added to the confusion by promptly fainting and having to be bolstered up by the Mem-sahib on the box-seat. Fortunately that Mem-sahib was both a horsewoman and a holder of the St. John’s Ambulance certificate, so she succeeded in pacifying the horse and getting it out of the shafts, as well as binding up the chuprassi’s foot and bringing the coachman to with a plentiful application of much cold water. But in spite of her ministrations, the latter refused to revive sufficiently to be of any practical use, and there being no one else who could drive the horse they returned from their drive not “with the lady inside” but with the wounded chuprassi and the still palpitating coachman inside and the lady doing Jehu on the box-seat!

It was a chuprassi of quite a different type from these, venerable and of the old school, who once summed up in a single delightful sentence his first impression of a hill station after a lifetime in the plains. He lived in a district far from the hills and he had never thought to visit them. But fate ruled otherwise. A mad dog, now practically an unknown terror in England, is unhappily still a by no means uncommon thing in India. Happily, however, the long horror of the journey home to the Pasteur Institute in Paris is a thing of the past, a few hours’ railway journey to Kasauli bringing one within reach of the Pasteur treatment. Doubtless many now hurry up to Kasauli who but for its accessibility would take no precaution save such as the local doctor might devise, but with the treatment so easily within reach it is not worth while to run the risk. So as soon as a dog goes mad, or is even suspected of having gone mad, all who have been bitten or even licked by it set out for Kasauli forthwith. Government provides free railway passes to those unable to bear the expense of the journey, so chuprassis, servants, sweepers, and menials of all kinds with whom the dog has come in contact are able to start off on the trip at Government expense. While the necessity of having to hurry up to Kasauli at a moment’s notice is generally a most inconvenient upset to the Sahib and Mem-sahib, interfering with their daily round of work and pleasure, it is something in the nature of a pleasant outing to the menial, who probably never in his life before has travelled so far afield and will never again get the chance. This was the case of the venerable old chuprassi whose remark on his return from Kasauli, where he had been hurriedly sent with a party of dog-bites, is worthy of record. The unusual experience of the long train journey and his first sight of the Himalayas seemed to have made strangely little impression upon him, though much of his uncommunicativeness doubtless sprang from the hereditary instinct of the East to hide its inmost thoughts and feelings from the West. Yet the brief sentence into which he gathered up his reminiscences was wonderfully comprehensive and effective. “It was not really cold up there,” he said, “but still you don’t sweat, and what you eats you digests.” To one who has struggled through the heat of a long hot weather and rains and a monotonous course of murghi rost and murghi boiled, that chuprassi’s description of a healthier clime will make instant appeal.

Another chuprassi I knew once had a marvellous escape from a snake-bite. It was in broad daylight and in full view of his Sahib and several other people. The Sahib was out in the district making a local inquiry, and the chuprassi was on ahead showing the way along a narrow village road. Suddenly a cobra came out of a patch of jungle beside the path and raising its head made a dash at the chuprassi’s foot. There could be no doubt that the snake got it all right. The chuprassi turned and fled back screaming, and it was only with difficulty that the Sahib, who had no means at hand of dealing with a snake-bite, was able sufficiently to quiet him to enable him to examine his foot. They got him on the ground at last and the Sahib hastily searched for the mark. For a long time, however, he could find no mark at all. Then at last he found it. The cobra had got the chuprassi full in the middle of his biggest corn. As the man himself put it when he sufficiently recovered to realize that he was safe, it wasn’t a very nice corn but it was just as well he had it.

There was one of my own chuprassis who unhappily met a sadder fate. It was only slowly that it began to dawn upon me what was wrong with him. He was always falling ill and remaining away from duty for days at a time, and it grew obvious at last that it was no ordinary illness. Each time that he returned to work that horrible greenish-yellow hue, that makes a dusky skin so ghastly in illness, seemed to have settled more deeply on his face, and with it had come a haunting look of tragedy. Then at last, when suspicion had grown in my mind almost to conviction, it was confirmed by a petition put in by the amlas of the Court. They did not like any longer, they wrote, to take petitions and other papers from the hands of this chuprassi, because—he was a leper. It was a cruel position. Much as one felt for him, there was nothing to be done but to remove him. Yet for a day or two I hesitated, hating to have to tell him. He had done twenty years’ service, and with his work as a chuprassi I had no fault to find. Rather there had been a pathetic eagerness about him to fulfil his duties. It was a hard thing to have to turn him out. But even as I hesitated the solution of the difficulty came. The man, doubtless knowing full well the unhappy fate that awaited him, suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. His family denied all knowledge of his whereabouts and there was no reason to disbelieve them, for they were obviously left practically destitute. Though every inquiry was made, no trace whatever of his whereabouts was ever found. Silently he had gone out into the night and disappeared, enshrouded in the great and mysterious heart of the East that jealously hides so many things within itself from Western eyes.

But it would be giving a wrong impression of the ubiquitous chuprassi to end this brief sketch of him on a note of tragedy. He is so eminently a peaceful, placid person, dozing on the doorstep. Life is doubtless strenuous at times for some of his class, but for the most part it is a soft billet. The gorgeous red and gold chuprassi of the highest among the officials is a dignified and stately personage, whose chief duty it is to ornament the doorstep, to take in one’s card when one calls on the great man, to carry round his notes and his Mem-sahib’s invitations, or to give an air of splendour to the front seat of his carriage and pair or the less imposing but more modern motor. Less fortunate chuprassis, serving lesser lights in the mofussil, are still superior beings, but they are a hardier race and many of them are ready to turn their hand to almost anything at the Sahib’s or even the Mem-sahib’s bidding. One chuprassi used to bicycle fifty miles a day to bring my dâk and take a pride in doing it up to time. Another would do his twenty miles a day on foot, in the damp and heat of the rains, as cheerfully as in the bracing cold of the winter months. But the Chota Sahib’s, especially the married Chota Sahib’s chuprassi, is the most accomplished of them all. Where funds are limited and servants do not tumble over one another as they usually do in India, the chuprassi is a valuable addition to the household as general utility man. If you cannot afford a nurse-maid for the baby, a venerable grey-haired chuprassi with thirty years’ service to his credit will make an excellent substitute, and trot the infant up and down the veranda by the hour with infinite care and tenderness. In fact the chances are that the baby will get so fond of him that it will sleep more peacefully in his arms than in any other, and howl the house down when taken from him. I once came upon such a venerable chuprassi in a Chota Sahib’s bungalow with one infant in his arms and rocking another in its cradle with his feet. My only fear was that, taken by surprise, and in his desperate efforts to rise and salaam to me, he would drop the one and upset the other. As it was we only saved the bottle between us by the skin of its teeth. Another chuprassi in the very same veranda was making butter out of milk in a whisky bottle. He did it every morning, he told me, and it took three hours. It looked a very tiring task, and I think of the two I should have preferred holding the baby, which at least did not seem to require such continuous jogging up and down.

A chuprassi’s pay is one of the many things in India that seem to have stuck. What it was in the beginning so it is now, and ever shall be, fitly expresses the iron dustur, the custom of the country that makes so much in Indian life possible or impossible, as the case may be. The civilian’s pay, which, when it was first fixed many years ago, was a handsome allowance, still remains much the same, though the cost of living has more than doubled, in some places trebled. Yet the tradition of the Heaven Born and the pagoda tree still survives. In the same way, the chuprassi in his humbler walk of life has failed to move with the times so far as his pay is concerned. It still remains the six or seven rupees a month that once was a comfortable allowance, but is now scarcely even a living wage. It is some cause for wonder that men can still be found to take the post on such inadequate pay, and one can only suspect that, though discreetly hidden from official eyes, valuable perquisites attach to it somewhere. How much a month one’s chuprassi makes out of his billet beyond his official pay must always, however, remain one of the many mysteries that India veils. He is a great man, the servant of the Sahib, backed up by all the prestige of the British Raj, and it is not to be expected in a land where poverty makes life so much a question of annas and pice that he should not make these things pay. He is the custodian of the doorway that leads to the Presence, and though he wields no keys he could doubtless make himself unpleasant to a visitor who rudely ignored his claim. And doubtless there is a dustur here too that one never fathoms, but that serves to make the chuprassi’s billet well worth while.

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Concerning Elephants

“I know now what I was in a former life,” said a charming girl friend of mine just out from home, after her first ride with me on an elephant in an Indian jungle. “I was a mahout.”

We were camping in a little open patch of greensward near a tiny village on the edge of a vast sal jungle, a picturesque two-roomed thatched bungalow our temporary headquarters, supplemented by a row of tents a hundred yards away. There were four of us on that particular shoot, two men—and Lady and Miss A., newly arrived in India and fresh to camp life. Miss A.’s enthusiasm over the four elephants I had provided to take us to the beats each day was delightful. She had never ridden one before, even in childish days in the Zoo, yet always, so she confided to me, the elephant had been her mascot, and she had made a great collection of them in brass and ivory and silver and jade. Here we were on common ground, for from my own earliest years the elephant has always exercised for me an extraordinary fascination. It is one of my earliest memories. Whether I actually saw one I know not, but by one of those odd tricks of memory whereby one forgets the big and remembers the little things of life I can still recollect struggling in my young enthusiasm to pronounce the word and attaining only the quaint contortion of “ephnata.” And so strange is the hold of first impressions gained in one’s earliest years that as “ephnata” they have ever since subconsciously remained in my mind. My childish imagination pictured a long line of them, with great swaying howdahs, slowly swinging their way through tall grass jungle, and so curiously true to life was the picture then drawn that when in after years I saw the whole thing in reality it seemed impossible that I had not seen it in actuality before.

So my charming girl guest and I were able to talk elephants to our hearts’ content, her enthusiasm culminating in the declaration that she knew at last what she had been in a previous life—a mahout. But in curious contrast to her delight was her mother’s dread and horror of them. On the first day of the shoot she had mounted the one provided for her in fear and trembling, and her discomfort was so obvious that I obtained a palki for her for the remaining days of the shoot.

“I am sure this elephant dislikes me. I can feel it,” she repeatedly asserted during the first day’s ride, and our laughing expostulations failed to convince her to the contrary. The sequel unhappily proved that after all her instinct was right.

The elephant she had been given was a fine tusker, one that I had often before taken out shooting and that had never shown the smallest sign of anything wrong so far as I had seen. During the shoot too its conduct was irreproachable. It had accompanied us carrying the servants and tiffin each day since the first when Lady A. had ceased to use it.

The last day of the shoot came, and on our return to camp cameras were produced to take snapshots of elephants and beaters, and Lady A. was induced to mount her elephant again to complete the group. I took the first photograph from the veranda of the little bungalow, which was raised about three feet from the ground, the line of elephants forming the picture being about fifty yards away. When I had finished, Lady A. said she would like to take a photo too, and the elephant knelt while she dismounted. She started to walk across the open space that separated us, while I awaited her on the veranda, turning the film I had just taken and putting away my camera. Suddenly I heard a shout, and looking up I saw one of the most terrifying sights I have even seen. Lady A., who had got half-way across the open space, after one quick startled glance over her shoulder, was racing madly for the bungalow. Behind her the elephant from which she had just dismounted was tearing after her, bellowing ferociously, its trunk raised and its eyes rolling, its mahout wildly endeavouring to stop it. It was one of those scenes that remain printed on one’s mind that nothing can ever obliterate. There was nothing to be done. One was helpless. It had all been so sudden and it was all over in a matter of seconds. It was just a question of a second more or a second less whether the elephant caught her. All I could do was to await her in the veranda in the hope of being able to swing her up into it just in time. Fortunately, terrified though she was, she saw her only chance. There were no steps on that side, but she came straight for me where I stood awaiting her with outstretched hands. Had the bungalow been a few paces farther off one dare not think of what must have happened. The elephant was obviously out of all control and moving rapidly; as Lady A. reached the veranda, and I swung her up into it, its outstretched trunk could not have been more than six feet from her. So madly had it charged that it was only stopped by the bungalow itself, one of its forefeet leaving an impression several inches deep in the hard little gravel path right up against the veranda wall. What had really affected it one will never know. The Raja who had lent it to me and the mahout who had ridden it for fifteen years both assured me that it had never before shown the slightest signs of running amuk when on duty. Lady A. always declared that the antipathy was personal and that she had felt it from the moment she had first mounted it. There is the possibility that she did in some way communicate to it her fear and dislike, and that the animal resented it. It is certainly curious that the other three of us had, time after time, walked close to it and fed it with bananas, and it had never shown the least antipathy to any of us. One other strange thing came out in the photograph I had taken with Lady A. seated on the elephant. The animal is looking out of the corner of its eyes in a most curious way, as if it were trying to see behind it, the whites of its eyes showing angrily in striking contrast to those of its peacefully posing comrades. It was a horrible experience, and one that one cannot be too thankful did not end in disaster.

*  *  *

I have begun this article with the story of an elephant that ran amuk. But it is the only occasion during many years’ acquaintance with them that I have ever known such a thing to happen. On every other occasion they have proved the brave yet docile creatures that I had always pictured them. One’s first sight of them at a big shoot is unforgettable. Thirty enormous great beasts, their huge ears flapping and their trunks waving, stand ready for the day’s work on an open space on the edge of a dense grass jungle. Some carry howdahs, heavy wooden structures holding half a dozen people, others merely thick pads like mattresses whereon one sits or clings as comfort or necessity demands. About them there is nothing ornamental, everything is strictly for use and workmanlike, save for the white and coloured paint in quaint patterns on some of the great broad foreheads. The elephants themselves stand in magnificent array, their huge bodies motionless save for the swish of the tail and the flapping of ears that never cease. The wonderfully sensitive tip of the trunk seems always to be roaming over the ground searching for something that it may pick up and devour. For an elephant’s appetite is insatiable. Hour by hour he will eat steadily on, breaking up and stripping great branches of trees, or browsing about amongst a heap of straw or leaves. But to-day the great line of elephants is on serious bent, and the long trunks merely sway to and fro over the hard bare ground as if impatient for the fray. The word given, they move slowly in line straight into the dense grass jungle. As they go the centre of the line gradually holds back, while the ends move faster, until the straight line becomes an ever widening curve and finally a full semicircle. From the other end of the jungle another line has been advancing in the same formation, until finally they meet and the enormous semicircles form a complete circle, enclosing the densest patch of tall, waving grass. Then for a moment they halt, adjusting the spaces between them, seeing that no gaps are left through which the tiger may escape. It is a thrilling moment. Every movement in the grass, caused nine times out of ten by a puff of wind, rivets the attention. Time after time one imagines one sees the glimmer of stripes, yellow and black, crawling stealthily through the grass. A rustling here and a movement there distract one. One longs for half a dozen eyes, fearful that at the critical moment the great beast that almost certainly lies hidden somewhere close before one will flash by while one’s gaze is averted elsewhere on a false alarm. Then there is the anxiety as to one’s mount. Will the elephant one is riding stand absolutely stock still at the critical moment? It is not easy to shoot from an elephant under the most favourable conditions with it slowly moving forwards and the howdah swaying. The tiger may spring into and out of sight again, before one can level one’s rifle or get one’s steadiness of aim. If the elephant is absolutely staunch it is difficult enough, but it may be that the animal one is riding has seen no sport for many a day and has grown slothful with solemn state processions and friendly marriage feasts. He may actually turn tail and run at the critical moment. If so one will have one of the most terrifying experiences of one’s life. To be run away with on horseback is bad enough, but it is nothing to being run away with by an elephant. On a horse, even if one has for the moment lost control, one still has the reins, there is still the saddle, and in the last resort one is not very far from the ground. But on a runaway elephant one has none of those things to comfort one. So far from having anything in the way of reins in one’s hands, the mahout even has none. He has nothing but an ankur, a formidable instrument with two sharp points, one straight at the end and the other in the form of a hook beside it, convenient for digging violently into the animal’s head. This is the only outward and visible means of commanding obedience that the mahout possesses. Instead of a saddle which one can grip and so possibly maintain one’s seat, one either has a howdah that lurches violently from side to side as the ponderous beast crashes on and threatens every moment to break away or be smashed to matchwood against a projecting branch of a tree, or else one has a sloping pad which may slip off with the violent motion and to which one has to cling precariously at most undignified and uncertain angles. Nothing one can possibly say or do will have the slightest effect. For sheer helplessness there is no situation to beat it. The height at which one is being hurtled through the air is an added terror. There is no slipping off with any safety. If one attempts to do so at the side, one may get trampled under foot or the elephant may feel you doing it and seize you in its trunk, while if you attempt to swarm down the rail a kick from the great hind feet coupled with the fall may knock you out for all time.

So as one sits facing the patch of jungle waiting for the thrilling moment when the tiger shall appear, a whole panorama of possibilities flashes through one’s brain. And then suddenly, after an infinity of false alarms, right in front of one, creeping noiselessly with never the rustle of a leaf, an enormous head appears. It is so wonderful, so unlike the coming one had anticipated that for a moment one feels it must be an hallucination of one’s brain. The expected has come so unexpectedly. One had watched for the rustle in the grass, the quivering of the leaves and branches of the low shrub jungle, and behold, the great beast moving with its marvellous stealth has crept into sight low on the ground without the stirring of a blade. The elephant that one is riding sees the apparition of the enormous striped head in the grass at the same moment one sees it oneself, and a sudden tremor runs through its great body. It is like the rumbling of an earthquake underneath one. But happily it stands firm. The shot is an easy one, for the tiger hesitates a second too long before making his final spring for liberty and falls back with a bullet through the brain. One cannot sufficiently admire the elephant. Helpless against attack from its lithe, quick-moving enemy, it has nevertheless stood stock still with the ferocious beast staring it full in the face, ready to spring, within ten feet of it. Yet but for that one quick quiver of excitement it has stood absolutely still.

Not so some of the other elephants. On the opposite side of the circle, another tiger has appeared. This one, more cautious, had given no sign of itself till it had leapt straight out of its hiding-place and on to the trunk of the nearest elephant. It was a supreme test to which my own mount had fortunately not been put, and it was too much for the elephant concerned. With a loud terrified trumpeting it swung round and fled, its rider vainly trying at the same time to maintain his hold on the howdah and bring his gun into position to fire. So swift was the flanking movement that the elephant executed, almost before the tiger had landed on its trunk and before it could get a hold, that the latter was swung clean off and fell back into the grass. It was all the work of seconds, and it had been impossible for the other guns to fire while the tiger was in direct line with the elephant. It was not until it had actually fallen back into the jungle and the elephant had fled trumpeting that firing was possible. Then a volley of shots rang out directed at the spot where the tiger had fallen, but so quick had been its recovery as it fell that it had completely disappeared. Not a movement of the grass betrayed which way it had gone. As the half-dozen shots ceased the elephants in the immediate vicinity moved slowly up to the spot on which they had been concentrated, every eye fixed on the grass and everyone expecting to find the tiger lying there dead, not the smallest sign of it having been visible since it fell back into the long grass. But to everyone’s astonishment as the elephants halted right in front of the place there was not a trace of it. Cautiously they were driven right over the spot and round and about it, but the tiger had disappeared as completely as if it had never been. The word was quickly passed to the rest of the line that had halted, still in circular formation, that the tiger must have doubled back into the small patch of jungle that remained in the centre. So the complete circle of elephants was again formed, but it was curious that as they slowly advanced they showed none of the tense excitement, the extraordinary alertness, they had shown at the outset. It seemed as if they knew that there was no tiger in the patch in front of us. Gone was their extreme caution, as if they were carefully feeling each foothold to stand fast against attack. It was almost gaily and jocularly that they swung forward the few paces that remained until a final halt was called, as if they knew and smiled at our ignorance in approaching so carefully this empty patch. When the great circle had moved almost to its limits, one elephant was sent in to beat the jungle and drive out the tiger if he still remained. But although almost every foot of ground was trampled over and every eye was riveted on it there was no sign of life. The tiger had made a marvellous escape. Though the jungle in every direction all around was beaten for hours no further trace of it was found. The elephant that had fled had a nasty wound in its trunk that the tiger’s claws, as they were flung off, had left. Its whimpering when it was finally brought to a halt with much application of the ankur and loud-voiced expostulation on the part of its mahout was pathetic. Coming from so huge a beast it was so quiet and plaintive, almost like the sobbing of a little child. Its enormous body quivered, and every movement was sensitive and terrified as it was driven off home. Owing to its wound it escaped the punishment it would otherwise have received for turning tail.

Another elephant was not so fortunate. It had merited punishment without mitigation, and on its return home the Maharaja who had organized the shoot ordered it to be beaten. He fixed the hour and said that he would be present to witness it. The hour came and the men in charge were all ready to carry out orders, but the Maharaja did not appear. After waiting for some time they sent to the palace to find out if he was coming, and the answer came back that he was sleeping and could on no account be disturbed. They were thus torn between two alternatives. The Maharaja’s order must be strictly obeyed, as they knew full well. The elephant had been ordered to be beaten at a certain hour, but in his presence. That hour had already passed and His Highness was asleep. What was to be done? After a hasty consultation they decided to carry out the order in his absence and trust that His Highness would have forgotten the incident when he awoke. So the punishment was duly inflicted. It was an astonishing sight. The offending elephant was chained up in the usual way by great chains loosely tied round its feet. It stood in an open space outside the philkhana, and obviously knew it was in disgrace, looking the very picture of dejection, its usually moving trunk and flapping ears kept quite still, and the whole body drooping. A little way off its mahout stood upbraiding it quietly in one long stream of abuse, his flexible voice apparently from the note of interrogation in it addressing to it reproachful questions and answering them himself. Then the largest and most powerful elephant was led out, and at a word from its mahout it rushed at the offender. It was a most thrilling scene that followed. The great beast, representing authority, belaboured the other with its trunk, butted it, kicked it and went for it in every possible way with relentless fury. It seemed impossible to believe that it was not urged on by some personal animosity and that it was merely carrying out orders. Yet such was the case. In fact the sequel proved that not only was it carrying out orders but that it must have felt that the punishment it was inflicting was deserved, that the offending elephant had betrayed its caste and brought contumely on its kind. The unfortunate beast upon which all this execution was done made not the smallest effort to resist. It took it all with a dejected resignation that was pathetic. Finally one terrific onslaught felled it to its knees and it sank down helplessly. It was itself a magnificent specimen and its absolute submission and resignation to its fate were astonishing. The sequel proved in his case too that the wonderful animal intelligence was not at fault and that it knew that it deserved the punishment and took it in the right spirit. The beating over, the executioner which the moment before had seemed instinct with such mad fury was led quietly away, while the offender rose slowly to its feet, shook itself, and resumed its ordinary appearance with none of that abject dejection it had previously shown. It was all perfectly done. An offence had been committed, just punishment had been inflicted, and the whole thing wiped off the slate.

But alas! that apparently satisfactory conclusion was not the end. His Highness the Maharaja awoke refreshed with sleep an hour later and remembered the offending elephant. Word was sent that he was coming down himself as he had announced to see due execution done. Great was the consternation in the philkhana among the terrified mahouts. What was to be done? True, they had carried out the orders to beat the elephant, but they had disobeyed the order to do it in the presence of His Highness. And doubtless knowing well the capriciousness of potentates they were consumed with fear. There was only one thing to be done. His Highness must not be told of what had happened and the punishment must be reinflicted. So the unfortunate offender was hastily brought out again and chained up in the place of execution. But it was at once noticeable that this, though the same, was a very different elephant from the one that had been led out a short hour ago. This time there was no abject submission, no resigned consciousness of guilt. Instead there was an inquiring alertness that plainly asked what all this meant. However, he submitted himself to be tied up, though as everyone waited for His Highness’ coming he plainly showed that he not only did not understand it but further that he did not at all like it. The mahout stood by, this time silent, but as uneasy and resentful as his charge.

A few minutes later His Highness arrived and the same huge elephant which had done execution before was led out to do it again. But he too wore the same extraordinarily expressive look of surprise and doubt, and when ordered as before to inflict punishment, instead of rushing to obey with every sign of good-will he stood stock still a dozen paces away. The terrified mahout hurled at him every epithet he knew, but without the smallest effect. The elephant never moved. The Maharaja was so astonished at the sight that he could scarcely believe his eyes. This was his favourite elephant Moti Mahal, and for thirty years he had never seen it disobey orders. He had known it since he was a boy. It had always carried him, on State occasions and shikar alike. He had ridden it at both Delhi Durbars, and its magnificent physique had been admired amongst the finest specimens India could produce. Yet here for the first time in his life it stood absolutely unmoved by the order given to it, an order repeated by the terror-struck mahout with every term of endearment, with every term of abuse, and with every threat he could imagine. The elephant stood motionless, its great ears flattened back and its trunk hanging limp and still. For a moment the onlookers were paralysed by the fear of some terrible explosion of wrath on the part of the Maharaja. But he stood as still as the elephant, giving no sign, until even the mahout’s flow of language ceased and a silence that could be felt ensued. No one dared break it by telling the Maharaja the cause of the trouble, lest an even greater explosion of wrath should ensue. Then very quietly the Maharaja walked close up to the elephant and stood beside it. It was a brave act. That something had gone wrong was obvious. The Maharaja was almost alone in having no clue as to the cause of the trouble. So far as he knew the elephant might suddenly have gone mad. Yet he never hesitated; and as he stopped beside it the great beast salaamed unbidden and then thrust out its trunk in a gentle caressing way towards him. It was absolutely as if it were trying to express its loyalty, yet explain why it could not do this thing. Justice had been done. The offender had been punished and he could not inflict the punishment again. The Maharaja spoke never a word, but turning ordered the elephant to be led away and another brought to inflict the punishment.

The order was quickly carried out and an elephant that had sometimes acted as executioner brought forth. He was almost as fine a one as Moti Mahal and the moment the order was given he rushed for the offender in the most approved style. That unfortunate animal had continued to regard the proceedings with an unmistakable look of uneasiness, and as it heard the order and saw the other great beast rushing for it suddenly showed fight. Nothing could have been more striking than the contrast between its present behaviour and that of an hour ago. All the meekness and submission were gone, and in their place raged a perfect fury of indignation and resistance. He had sinned and taken his beating like a man and now he was having none of it. For a moment the executioner was so astonished at the way his onslaught was received that he hesitated for a fatal second with uplifted trunk. With a scream of anger the outraged offender got in so hefty a blow that he nearly swept his assailant off his feet. To the latter this was against all the laws of giving and taking punishment and, outraged in his turn, he renewed his attack with increased vigour. The unhappy offender was chained by the legs, but apparently so keen was usually the appreciation of justice and so docilely was punishment usually taken that no attempt had been made to render the chains exceptionally strong, and they snapped like whipcord in the fury of the mêlée. The battle that ensued was terrifying yet magnificent. The two great beasts screaming and trumpeting went for one another for all they were worth, trunks waving and huge bodies butting against one another with such violence that they seemed to shake the very ground beneath them. Forehead to forehead they pushed and swayed, every muscle in their struggling bodies strained to the utmost. Standing on their hindfeet, their forefeet interlocked in the air, they fought furiously. Side by side, their flashing trunks landing a stunning blow wherever possible, they struggled, leaning at amazing angles, raising a cloud of dust around them. It was an astonishing sight. Suddenly with a movement wonderfully quick for so enormous a body the elephant that had been called in to inflict punishment slipped to one side and caught the other as it staggered a thundering blow that sent it sprawling on the ground. Then seeing its opponent down it quietly trotted off back into the philkhana. The offender whose feelings had been so justly outraged picked itself up and for a moment stood as if dazed. Its mahout, seizing the opportunity, very pluckily mounted it and in another moment it too moved quietly away. The surprise of the whole thing and the magnificence of the fight had held everyone spellbound. When it was all over, the Maharaja, who had so far never said a word, moved off with some members of his staff in the direction of the philkhana. Whether he was told or what subsequently happened was never known. The Maharaja made no reference to the subject, and tentative inquiries to the staff were met with true Oriental politeness but complete evasion.

No one who saw the incident could doubt the sagacity of the elephant. The acknowledgment of wrongdoing and submission to just punishment were most obviously portrayed. Indignation at being called upon to suffer punishment a second time for the same offence was manifested in no uncertain way. Even a more marked sign of intelligence was the refusal of Moti Mahal to inflict a second punishment on the same offender. Yet in spite of this and so much other evidence of its intelligence the elephant is in some respects extraordinarily stupid. It is a mass of contradictions. It is at once the most timid and the bravest of beasts. Most of them when alone are terrified of horses, even of dogs and small animals, of anything moving quickly. Some will shy at a bullock cart or swerve at the sound of a rustle in the grass. Many a time I have ridden an elephant along a country road from which the agitated voice of the mahout, uplifted afar off, has hurried everybody and everything living out of our way lest the great ponderous beast should be frightened. Doubtless in some instances it is the case of a nervous rider communicating his nerves to his mount, yet there can be no doubt of the extreme timidity of the animal, absurd considering its size. Watch him passing over ground that he fancies unsafe. He is always haunted by the fear that the earth beneath him won’t bear his weight, and nothing could be more cautious than his progress where the ground is soft, or in crossing a river, a caution that is not without its fearsome side to the rider, who remembers that so great is the elephant’s horror of sinking into the ground that, in case of need, it will seize the load on its back and place it under its feet to secure its foothold. On the other hand, nothing could furnish a better picture of calm courage than a staunch elephant at a beat for tiger or at keddah operations when tackling their own species in the wild state. Ordinarily it is the most docile of beasts. It will plod along for miles placid and obedient. Yet if one is to judge by the amount of verbal exhortation, the cries of expostulation and the number of resounding thumps with the ankur on the animal’s head that the mahout indulges in, some elephants at least need continuous effort to keep going. Constant padding by the mahout’s feet behind the ears just where they join the skull seems also necessary. But all these would be of little avail if the elephant wanted to be nasty. It may be that the great beast does not realize its strength. It may be that it is naturally of a peaceful disposition, though no one who has seen it in its wild state will subscribe to the latter belief. The wild elephant seems to revel in its strength and to glory in destruction, yet the quickness with which the angry rampant beast, once caught, subsides into the placid beast of burden is one of the mysteries of nature. No other wild animal works such tremendous havoc when wild or is tamed so easily when once caught. It is usually only a matter of a few days. The wild elephant, angry and bent on destruction, is finally driven into the keddah by its tame and obedient kind to capitulate to them completely and almost immediately. The suddenness of the change from unregenerate licence to obedient domesticity is amazing. The elephant is truly an animal of contrasts.

One last contrast. To the Western mind the elephant is a great heavy lumbering beast. No Englishman in the exuberance of his affections would compare his lady-love to one. Yet an Indian desiring to pay a compliment to the woman he is courting tells her she walks like an elephant. It is only when one stops to think that one remembers how, in spite of the great heavy body, the feet do move extraordinarily lightly and softly and easily over the ground. So next time you desire to be particularly pleasant to the lady to whom you are talking, tell her she walks like an elephant. But perhaps you had better explain first and tell her so afterwards!

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Concerning Tigers

“Baron Stalbenheim awfully anxious shoot tiger. Will you give him chance?”

Sent by a friend of mine from the other side of India, the above telegram was my first introduction to the Baron. It was typical of the way things happen out East. The Baron had chanced to run across this particular friend eight hundred miles away, about the only man I knew in that part of India, and the friend having no tigers in his own district but being evidently impressed by the Baron and his keenness to shoot one had passed him on to me. I had wired back “delighted” and this was all my previous knowledge of Baron Stalbenheim, who arrived, after a further exchange of telegrams, a few days later. Having only a limited acquaintance with the German nation I am afraid I pictured him in my mind’s eye, as I drove to the station to meet him, as the German Baron of English popular fiction. With the result that he was so unlike what I expected, as he got out of the train, that, in spite of the improbability of two Europeans alighting at that wayside station, my eye instinctively looked beyond him in search of someone more like the picture of my imagination. No one from his appearance would have suspected the little man, who advanced towards me and warmly gripped my hand, of being obsessed by the desire to shoot a tiger. Instead of the big, muscular Teuton, rather beefy and obtrusively healthy, as he had taken shape in my mind, he was short and very thin, a man of about thirty-five, pale and delicate looking, with pince-nez and a pronounced stoop. He was so absolutely of the student type that I wondered for a moment whether the friend who had sent him had put the tiger into his telegram by way of a joke. But the first minute of his conversation was enough to reassure me on that point, and to disclose the fact that the desire to shoot a tiger, at least for the moment, completely obsessed the Baron Stalbenheim’s mind.

“I love much the arms,” he told me eagerly, as gun-case after gun-case was hauled out of the carriage, “but I haf never yet shot the tiger. You haf shot many, is it not?”

It was humiliating to have to confess it, but I had at that time shot none. I felt that it was creating a very bad impression at the outset.

“But it may be that you haf not tried?” he said, looking at me critically as if his opinion of me depended altogether on my reply. To have had a chance of shooting a tiger and not to have tried, it was obvious, would mean instant condemnation beyond redemption in the eyes of Baron Stalbenheim in his present frame of mind.

“It has not been for want of trying,” I was happily able to explain to him with truth, “but the fact is that the jungle here is so dense and so low-lying, often only just above river level, that it is impossible to beat it or even in most places to get through it on foot, so the chances are all in favour of the tiger. It is not so much a case of getting at the tiger as of waiting until the tiger comes to you. It’s thus very largely a matter of luck.”

From the moment that he arrived I could get the Baron to talk of nothing but tigers. He seemed not to have another idea of any kind in his head. I grew interested, and tried to discover when and how this all-absorbing desire to shoot a tiger had arisen. But I failed signally. All the Baron’s past, like his present and his future, seemed to be filled by this one subject. Never had my limited stock of tiger stories, gathered during a year’s residence in the Sunderbans, been listened to with such rapt attention.

It was not until we had started off in the launch for the most promising shooting ground near the sea face, that the dangerous side of the Baron’s obsession began to show itself. Even before we had weighed anchor he was busy with his guns. The upper deck was literally strewn with them. There were guns and rifles of every size and make in beautiful leather cases. It was their absolutely brand-newness that gave me the first suspicion, and the way in which the Baron handled them very soon confirmed it. He did it with all the confidence of ignorance. By the time we had started they were all fully loaded and laid promiscuously about the deck, pointing in all directions. It was almost impossible to choose a spot on which one or other of them was not turned. A mild remonstrance on my part being brushed aside with a condescending, if not contemptuous smile, I carefully moved one or two of them when the Baron was not looking, and drew our deck-chairs into a quiet corner. It was impossible, however, to keep the Baron still for long, and it was difficult to know whether one preferred him moving about or sitting down, since when he did sit down he was generally balancing a couple of rifles, fully loaded, across his knees in one’s close proximity.

“I love much the arms,” he told me several times, fondling them in a way that made even the Serang, who prides himself on being a bit of a shikari, look jumpy.

For miles the river ran through paddy fields, and its smooth surface was unruffled by any moving object alive or dead. The Baron was obviously impatiently waiting for something to shoot at, time after time jumping up and levelling gun or rifle at imaginary objects on river or bank. At the entrance to the Sunderbans, however, things changed. Here there were many things to serve as targets for him to aim at, and he missed no possible opportunity. On either bank, low-lying, scarcely rising above the water’s edge, the forest shut in the river, one long magnificent avenue of trees with the broad swift-flowing stream between. But the wonderful peace of it—the peace that had fallen in great measure or small upon every other visitor I had brought this way—was gone. The Baron regarded all things only as targets on which to practise his skill. Weapon after weapon he took up and fired to right and left as we sped along, trying to get his hand in, as he put it, for the tiger he hoped to draw upon later. His constant and reckless firing so got upon my nerves that I was forced to tell him more tiger stories to keep him still.

“It was just here,” I told him, as we swung round out of the broad main stream into a narrow khal scarce wide enough for two steamers to pass, “that a tiger was shot not long since as it swam across the river. It was just one of those lucky chances that sometimes come to one shooting in the Sunderbans. There are five of us officers at headquarters, and though we have been here for over a year, not one of us has been lucky enough to bag a tiger, though it has not been for want of trying. Yet up from Calcutta comes an old retired Government clerk, who has spent all his life on an office stool and has scarcely ever had a gun in his hands before, but who suddenly gets bitten in the unaccustomed leisure of retirement with the desire to shoot a tiger. A cousin or nephew in the Forest Department up here gives him the chance, and the very first day they get here a tiger swims straight across in front of their budgerow and the old man bags it with a single shot.”

“I shall be like that,” said the Baron confidently and impressively. “Things always happen differently to me from what they to anybody else do.”

I laughed and assured him that the chances were at least ten to one against him. Numerous as tigers are in the Sunderbans it is only rarely that one is lucky enough to see one while passing along the rivers on a launch or budgerow. Yet they have been known to be found asleep on the bank fully exposed to view, while once I came upon two taking a bath in the shallow water by the river bank, splashing about with their tails and thoroughly enjoying themselves. It is on the sea front, however, that there is the best chance of coming across them, the miles of sand that separate the forest from the sea being often found covered with their pug marks. The Baron’s excitement as to what the morrow, when we should reach the sea front, might bring, was intense. Little did either of us foresee what was to happen before the morrow dawned.

Anchored for the night just above a tiny village on the bank, we were sitting on the upper deck, watching the glorious sunset that was enfolding the long, broad stretch of river in a wonderful garment of crimson and gold. Over all there had fallen the great stillness and the great peace. Even the Baron, after an exhausting day devoted to the expenditure of innumerable cartridges, had at last subsided. The river itself seemed almost to be at rest after the haste and heat of the day—stretching away into space, on the one hand a lake of life and fire in the setting sun, on the other a still expanse of silvery grey, already merging into the shadow of night. On either side the exquisite tangle of trees that clothed the bank grew into two broad fines of blackness against the lightness of the sky.

In our long deck-chairs, with our feet upon the rails, we sat facing the bank, on which, some fifty yards or so away, but a little lower down the stream, stood a tiny village, a mere collection of bamboo, mud-walled huts among the trees. Just immediately in front of us was a small opening in the jungle, where the bank gradually shelved down into the river. I should hardly have noticed it, but for the figure of a woman, with a brass water-pot under her arm, swinging gracefully out from between the trees and passing down to the edge of the river to draw water. She seemed to furnish the one last little touch of picturesqueness to the peaceful evening scene. I watched her lazily as she moved a few steps into the stream and stooped with unerring eastern grace to fill her water-pot.

Then suddenly in the midst of the exquisite stillness there came to us both the sense of coming danger. I sat up quickly, wondering at the strange feeling of tension that had gripped me. And then I saw. Out from between the trees on the path by which the woman had come shone two glowing points of fire. The huge form crouching behind them was only faintly outlined against the surrounding shadow. Between it and the woman drawing water from the river there could not have been the space of ten feet. Yet so noiselessly had the danger come that she was all unconscious of it. I turned to seize my rifle, but the Baron was before me and the report of his rang out. For a moment in the gathering dusk I could not see what had happened. Then the horrible truth dawned upon me. The tiger had disappeared as noiselessly as he had come. Only the form of the woman lay motionless where she had fallen, half in, half out of the water, with the brass lota still clasped in her hands.

I am bound to say that the Baron did all that was possible afterwards. No one could have been more upset than he was. He talked no more that night about shooting tigers. After we had returned from the village, where we had gone at once to see if anything could be done, we ate a very silent dinner and turned in. But all night long the low throbbing of the drums and the weird mourning chant of the women in the village down-stream floated up to us, and kept us awake. Twice I went up on deck feeling it impossible to remain down below. Overhead a brilliant company of stars shone out of a cloudless sky, and mirrored themselves in the still clear stream that seemed to hover motionless between the turning of the tides. The forest on either bank rose out of the silver stream like a sable setting. No sound of nature broke the stillness. Only in the village down-stream was there any sign of life, bright red lights gleaming out of the darkness whence the throbbing of the drums came with such maddening monotony, broken only by the long, low wailing cadences of the mourning dirge. Dawn came and the drums still beat. Only the chanting of the women had died down, its sudden cessation bringing a new sense of desolation in the cheerless, dim half-light that heralded in the day.

Soon after the sun was up I went ashore. Though I anticipated no trouble at all from the villagers, I thought it best, for his sake and theirs, to leave the Baron on board. As I expected, they took what had happened resignedly. It was “kismet.” Such had been the woman’s fate, and who can fight against Fate? I could do nothing but present the husband with the one hundred rupees which the Baron had wished to give. He was a man of the poorest cultivating class, and such a sum meant much to him. He had probably never in his wildest dreams imagined himself possessing so much. He received it, however, in a dull stolid manner that might have covered amazement at his sudden wealth, or expressed indifference to it, as compensation for the loss he had suffered. I wondered much which it was as he leisurely tucked the money and roll of notes into his waist-cloth. But I was not to be left long in doubt. I had passed out of the village on my way back to the launch, and was nearing the opening in the trees where the tragedy had taken place, when I happened to look round and saw the man following me. It was evident from his manner that there was something he wanted to say, so I stopped and asked him what it was. He folded his hands and put his head on one side with a deprecating hesitating look, standing on one foot and scratching himself with the other.

“Well,” I said encouragingly, “what is it?”

For still another moment he hesitated. Then he spoke. “Sahib,” he said, drawing nearer and speaking hurriedly, “I have got another wife at home. Would the Sahib pay as much if he shot her too?”

I found the Baron sitting gloomily on deck with all his guns put away. For the first time since the accident the glimmer of a smile crossed his face when I told him the story.

“And anyhow,” he commented, evidently disposed to take a brighter view of things again, “anyhow if I had not killed her the tiger would haf, which would probably haf been much more painful. Also the husband would not haf got the hundred rupees. So after all it seems that I am the only one to be—what you call?—pitied.”

With which philosophical reflection he called for his guns again, and I once more went in fear of my life. But we saw no more tigers that trip.

The scene that we had watched of the tiger stalking its human prey, though seldom witnessed, is unfortunately only too common a one in the Sunderbans. Every year there is a heavy toll of life levied among the wood-cutters, honey-gatherers, and fishermen, whose occupation leads them into the depths of the forest, as well as among the cultivators who earn a precarious livelihood from the soil on its outskirts. The fishermen who live in their boats have the greatest security, but tigers have been known on several occasions to board them at night, and drag out and carry off the sleeping occupants. The wood-cutters and honey-gatherers, who perforce often have to sleep in the forest itself, usually build machans, or platforms, raised well off the ground among the trees. Even here, however, they are by no means safe. An incident that happened to one party of wood-cutters is sufficient evidence of the ferocity and resourcefulness of the Sunderbans tiger, once he has acquired a taste for human blood. Each party usually takes with it a fakir, whose duty it is by his incantations to protect the other members against attack from wild beasts. This particular party, some twelve in number, had taken the precaution to provide themselves with a fakir, and had built a large platform between two trees, nine feet from the ground, for their further safety. The first night the fakir slept with them on the platform, but, in spite of his presence, a tiger came while they were asleep and dragged one of the wood-cutters from the platform. It must have sprung up the trunk of the tree and held on with three feet, while with the fourth it dragged the nearest wood-cutter from off the platform. In the trunk of the tree, just over nine feet from the ground, it had left the marks of its claws, and in one of the holes was found a claw which it must have wrenched off in dropping to the ground again. Yet so silently did it secure its prey that none of the other sleepers on the machan awoke. The man must either have been struck senseless by a blow from the tiger’s paw, or, if not killed instantly, have become so paralysed with fright as to be unable to call out. It was not until the following morning when the others awoke that they found one of their number missing. Cautiously following up the tracks of the tiger, which were only too clearly marked by blood-stains, they found what remained of their comrade’s body some three hundred yards away. The tiger having eaten his fill had made off with the dawn, in all probability to return again at dusk. The wood-cutters, having no other means of taking their revenge upon the tiger, poisoned the remains of their comrade’s body in the hope that the tiger would come and finish his meal. The tiger did return the next night, but, unfortunately, from excess of zeal they had so over-poisoned the body that, as my little head clerk put it, the tiger was “unable to contain the contents in its interior” and so escaped scot-free, after only a temporary indisposition.

Upon the fakir naturally fell the wrath of the remaining members of the party which had engaged him. They had brought him to protect them from the tigers, yet the very first night one of their number had been carried off. Thoroughly roused by what had happened, and writhing under their contempt and sarcasm, the fakir grew boastful and foolhardy. It was only because he had fallen asleep that the tiger had dared to come near them, he declared. In future he would remain awake at nights and they should see that they would not be again molested. Not only would he remain awake, but he would stay below on the ground underneath the machan for their complete protection. To appreciate the courage that this demanded can only be understood by those who have come in contact with the absolute terror that the near vicinity of a tiger arouses in these people. It is an astonishing thing that the fakir should have offered to remain below, and that his party should have allowed him to do so. However, remain below he did, with the result that on the following morning there was no fakir to be found. He had disappeared as silently as their comrade the night before, and his mangled body was found later, on almost exactly the same spot. Altogether unnerved by two such tragedies the wood-cutters fled from the place, and it was long before anyone could be induced to work in that part of the forest again.

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Whatsoever: A Legend of the Gita

Already the evening sun cast long shadows across the rough mud floor. The old man, eager and absorbed, bent low at his task, transcribing the intricate Sanskrit characters upon a roll of yellow parchment with an infinite care and patience. Out of the east raced a frowning mass of cloud that threatened to rob the day of its last brief spell of life. The old man, bending lower, sighed for the lost sight of his youth. There was so much of the sacred book that still remained to be transcribed, and his eyes were failing and the light grew dim.

It was the lowliest of dwellings. From the bare earth floor to the ill-thatched roof through which the noonday sun made eyes of dazzling light there was nothing of pretension. Here in this one room, with its tiny veranda that faced the setting sun, life was at its simplest. The rough-made charpoy stood lengthways against the wall, the row of brass water-pots and cooking-pans polished with all a housewife’s care, the iron-bound wooden chest, the strip of matting on which the old man sat crosslegged, and the broad low stool on which the sacred books were placed, these, with the woman’s loom, sufficed. The old Brahmin, punctiliously performing the elaborate Hindu ritual, and absorbed in contemplation, a dreamer unmindful of the things of earth, was content; and if the woman, his wife, who sat beside him at his work, sighed at times for the distraction of her sex, she too was content, knowing something of what love was and what love was yet to be. For after many years her many prayers were answered, and she waited now with all the passion of exultation of the childless Hindu wife the coming of her first-born child.

Hour after hour they had sat, unmindful of the passing day. The old man, lovingly transcribing the sacred manuscript, was lost to earthly things. The well-known words, expressing all the beauty, all the mysticism of his belief, lifted him beyond himself into a realm of pure delight. But although he knew well-nigh every line of the sacred book by heart, he was careful to relax none of his habitual care. His it was to hand down the divine message intact to generations yet to come. It behoved the scribe to seek diligently that no error might mingle with the truth. One hand lay upon the sacred book, the finger moving slowly across the page as, with the other hand, he transcribed the well-known words upon the unfolding roll of parchment. All through the heat of the day he had sat thus, never moving from the cramped position, a look of absolute absorption on his clear-cut face. Only from time to time he raised his eyes, and as they fell upon the woman by his side he smiled. Always when he came to earth again from the mystic region in which he mostly dwelt, she was there beside him waiting to meet his smile with glad response. The faithful wife, the love of his old age, was the one tie that bound him still to earth.

Sitting by his side in close but silent communion, she too had spent no idle day. Busy at the loom, she wove the new white cloth that should clothe her lord fittingly at the coming festival of the great God Mahadev. It was simple work. Her deft fingers, thrusting the bobbin rapidly from side to side, moved half-mechanically, leaving her thoughts free to weave a network of their own design. And as hands and brain wove busily she smiled, for the picture that her wandering fancy wove was fair. Through ten long years she had waited in a land of dreams, with ever a prayer of longing on her lips. Now the weary time of waiting seemed but as yesterday. She was on the very threshold of that same land of dreams. Already she heard the first faint cry of dawning life, and felt the play of little hands about her breasts. Her heart beat high with triumph. The gods had not left her childless. Her time was near, and every moment of the day her soul rose in a wordless song of exultation and thanksgiving. Life seemed one great Magnificat.

Still the deft threads wove themselves, flying from hand to hand with unabated vigour. The piece was almost done. It would be surely ready against the great day of the great god’s festival. She smiled again with the joy of work well done. Only the regular rhythm of the loom and the spluttering of the quill upon the parchment broke the evening silence. The world was very still.

It was the woman who first saw that the day was done and that it was time for work to cease. The loom stopped suddenly, seeming to break the last link with the departing day. But the old man heeded not, and as the woman watched him lovingly with folded hands a quick look of troubled recollection chased the joy from off her face. Ever since the midday meal even until now she had forgotten. What were the material things of life beside the exultation of the soul that had been hers? Yet the swift descent to earth that followed was not to be escaped. Already it had drawn to sunset and the wherewithal to prepare the evening meal was lacking. At midday she had forborne to speak of it. Why trouble her lord before the need arose? Had he not anxiety enough to finish the sacred manuscript before the light of his eyes should fail? But now he must needs be told, and suddenly she grew afraid. Outside the dread scourge of famine brooded over the land like some beast of prey ahunger for its victims.

Still the Brahmin laboured at his task unconscious of the woman’s fear. The rough-made horn-rimmed spectacles that he had reluctantly adopted to restore the sight of youth had slipped down and rested upon the very tip of his nose as he bent still lower in the feverish endeavour to puzzle out the letters that seemed so strangely blurred and interlaced. So engrossed was he in his task that he did not recognize that it was the failing light as much as the blindness of his eyes that was making all things dim. He was only conscious of a vague resentment that his eyes should refuse to let him carry on his beloved work to its final close. But now there was only one more sentence on the page. He would finish that, then rest.

“They who depend on Me, putting aside all care, whatsoever they need, I Myself carry it to them.”

Slowly he traced the words. “They who depend on Me.” It was a hard saying when the light of the eyes was failing, yet surely then, if ever, dependence became a need. “Putting aside all care.” Was it possible to do that with this great trouble clouding his last brief years? He checked his mind suddenly wandering into thoughts that savoured of irreverence and unbelief. “Whatsoever they need.” It was a beautiful thought. “Whatsoever.” Surely the renewal of the gift of sight might be included in this comprehensive term. It was surely a need. “I Myself carry it to them.” He paused ere writing them, struck anew by the familiar words. They seemed to come to him with a fresh message of their own—a definite promise spoken by one whose non-fulfilment of His word was inconceivable. A sudden rush of surprise and joy thrilled him. For the first time his hand trembled as he wrote the final words. His mind was a tumult of mingled hope and doubt. “I Myself carry it to them.”

Then suddenly, even as he finished, he drew back. Surely there must be some mistake. He looked long at the words that he had written and again consulted the sacred book. No; he had transcribed them aright. Yet surely there must be some mistake. Was it within the realm of probability that the Lord would act a servant’s part, and Himself carry to His servants whatsoever they might need?

“Light of mine eyes,” he said, turning to consult the faithful partner of his life, “does it not seem to thee irreverent to write the word ‘carry’ here? Surely the transcribers have been misled, and our Lord must have said ‘send’? Surely He who is Lord of all would not condescend to act as the servant of any, to carry him whatsoever he needs?”

“Doubtless, beloved,” answered the woman, smiling with wifely pride at his quick perception, and glad that he had turned to seek her counsel and advice. “Doubtless it is as thou sayest. They have written the word by mistake, the careless ones. It should be, as thou sayest, ‘send’ not ‘carry.’”

Then the old man, taking his penknife, carefully erased the word that he had written, and in its place wrote the word that he conceived more suitable to the dignity of God. No doubt assailed him. That the vague Omnipotent Deity should send His blessings to a waiting world by means of myriads of His obedient servants, that he could grasp. But that He should condescend to act as His own messenger—that was indeed beyond belief.

The light had almost failed. The swift twilight of an Indian day had faded, leaving only the roseate afterglow above the western hills to tell that the night was young. Elsewhere banks of lowering purple cloud had well-nigh covered the heavens. An angry roll of thunder from out the east told of the coming storm. At that at last the old man raised his head and saw that the night had come. Sighing, he reverently closed his books and laid aside his pen. The day had been all too short, for there were many pages yet of the sacred manuscript that remained to be transcribed. Lovingly his hands fingered the leaves, reluctant even now to relinquish till the morrow their self-appointed task. It was a labour of love that he had set himself to do, and the passionate desire of an old man had seized him to complete his task before death came. His hand was firm still.

There was none who could transcribe so well as he. It was only the light of the eyes that slowly but surely failed. The fear grew always that he might not finish before the darkness fell.

Slowly he rose up, laying the sacred books aside. His limbs were cramped with long sitting, and a strange giddiness seized him as he struggled to his feet. He remembered now that it was long since he had eaten, and that he had sat unmoved all through the heat of the day.

“Wife,” he said, turning again to the woman at his side, “I go to perform the acts of worship before the evening meal.”

But she stood before him with troubled eyes.

“Beloved,” she said with a tremor in her voice, “I have delayed even until now to tell thee. I feared much to trouble thee at thy labour. But food have I none. There is nought with which I can prepare thy evening meal.”

The old man smiled down tenderly into the anxious face of the woman.

“It matters not,”he said gently. “Shall we not call upon the Lord to fulfil His own promise to send us what we need? Meanwhile, I go to worship.”

But the face of the woman was still troubled as the old man passed without. She sat down helplessly with folded hands. The words of the Gita were beautiful words, but the mind of the careful housewife fell back unconsciously upon material things. Faith and hunger go not often hand in hand.

Suddenly she started up. Without, a gentle knocking, that at first had passed unheeded, had grown louder and broken in upon her reverie. Surprised that one should come to seek admittance at that hour, she hastened to the door and flung it wide A gust of wind heralding the coming storm swept in, driving the first heavy drops of rain against her face. Bending forward, she peered into the blackness without, and for the moment, buffeted by the storm, saw nothing. Then, her eyes grown more accustomed, dimly without the circle of light that fell from within across the threshold, she saw the figure of a youth. Slowly her gaze fixed itself upon the open basket in his hands. It was filled with all the good things, ready prepared for eating, that the heart of man could desire. The youth held them out towards her.

“Who sent us these?” she asked, lost in great amaze. The youth smiled, and it seemed to the woman gazing wonderingly into his face that the smile was the sweetest and yet the saddest she had ever seen.

“Thy husband asked me to carry them for him,” he answered. His voice vibrated with a great tenderness, yet it seemed to the woman that beneath it lay the sorrow of all the world.

Still uncomprehending, she raised her hands to take the basket, and as he gave it to her the cloak that he wore slipped from off his shoulders. The woman started back with a cry of horror, and the basket fell at her feet. Above his heart were deep cuts and gashes, from which the blood still flowed.

“Alas! good sir,” she cried, “how hast thou come by these such grievous wounds?”

The tenderness in the voice was as great as before, but the note of sorrow was deeper as he answered her.

“Thy husband,” he said, “gave me these wounds ere he asked me to carry for him these things. And the weapon he used was small and sharp.”

Stooping down, he gathered together the contents of the basket that had fallen and, placing them in the hands of the woman, turned quickly and passed into the night. Recovering from her amaze, she called after him again and yet again, but no answer came. Silently at last she went within and closed the door. As in a dream she emptied the basket of the good things one by one, and placed them on the ground. Her astonishment but grew the more as she noted their excellence and worth. Whence had her husband obtained such things as these? And why, above all, had he whom she had never known to injure the smallest of earth’s creatures wounded so cruelly the beautiful youth whom he had made his messenger? A great pity welled up in the motherly heart of the woman as she thought of his blood-stained wounds. Pondering on these things, she set out the evening meal.

Slowly the old man, bent and weary, re-entered the house. The woman was startled to see how great his weakness had become. He seemed to have aged suddenly. A tenderness mingled with her reproach.

“Alas! lord of my life,” she said, forgetful for the moment even of the welcome food in her indignant sympathy, “why was it that thou didst so cruelly wound thy messenger?”

The Brahmin gazed at her amazed, without understanding.

“My messenger?” he said.

“Yes, lord of my life, him whom thou sentest with all these good things,” she answered gently, seeing him perplexed and speaking indulgently as if to some forgetful child. She pointed to the sumptuous repast that she had spread.

“I sent no man to thee,” he said, his troubled gaze passing from her to the abundant store of food and back again. “I sent no man to thee.”

“Yea, but thou didst, dear lord,” she said, half coaxingly, thinking still that his memory failed. She looked at him fondly, and again she noticed with a pang the cruel signs of the passing of the years. “Surely thou dost forget.” She laid her hand upon his arm, and anxiously sought his wandering gaze. “Surely, dear lord, thou dost forget. The youth who brought me these things said that thou hadst bidden him carry them for thee.”

Even as she spoke a strange light dawned upon her troubled face. In that same moment she met the old man’s eyes. Each saw as in a flash the understanding in the other of this strange mystery. A great awe and reverence filled them. They knew that it was the Lord Himself who had come to them. They knew in what manner it was that they had wounded the heart of God.

Quickly the old man with trembling hands brought out again his manuscript. He must repair at once all that might be repaired. Carefully he erased the word that he had substituted, and reverently restored the original rendering. “Whatsoever they need, I Myself carry it to them.”

But the woman looking over her husband’s shoulder was very troubled.

“Even the manuscript bears traces of what has been,” she said sorrowfully. “For the wounds over the heart of God were deep.”

The old man sighed. “Is it not ever so?” he said. “The sin may be forgiven, but the stain of it remains.”

“Alas!” the woman whispered, awestruck. “Alas! that we should all unwittingly have so wounded the heart of God.”

Again the old man put away the sacred books. Bowed with awe and wonder, he sat down to partake of the good things that the Lord Himself had carried them. Reverently he ate the simple feast as if it were a sacrament.

A strange look of hope and joy lit up the old man’s face, erasing the lines that care and time had written so deep upon it. But the woman, seeing it, feared greatly. That strange and mystic light she had seen on but one face before. Then it had been the final spark before the fire of life went out.

“Beloved,” she whispered anxiously, touching him gently on the arm. “Beloved, is all well with thee?”

“Yea,” he answered, and his voice seemed far off, as if it spoke back to her across a great distance, “it is well.”

For into the heart of the Brahmin had come the dawning of a new hope. “Whatsoever they need.” Surely he needed the gift of sight to enable him to finish the work that he had begun, and the heart of God was merciful.

But into the heart of the woman there crept a vague foreboding. Silently she arose and set about her household duties. Removing what remained of the sumptuous repast, sufficient for their simple needs for many days to come, she prepared against the night. Unfolding the roll of bedding, she smoothed it on the charpoy, adjusting the pillow in the warmest corner where no draught might come.

“See, beloved,” she said, “all is ready that thou mayest take thy well-earned rest.”

But turning she saw that he already slept. His head, pillowed on his arm, rested upon the wooden chest wherein his beloved manuscript lay. From the mystic light upon his face it seemed as if he saw more clearly though the eyes were closed. The fear in the heart of the woman deepened. It would be cruel to wake him from so sweet a sleep. She would wait until he woke.

Sitting over against him beside the bed she listened anxiously. Nothing but the old man’s breathing broke the silence. Oddly irregular it came, now weak and fluttering, now deep drawn like a sigh, all fitful and uncertain. The woman, fearful, hung upon each breath. Hour after hour she listened, and still he slept. Then at last her thoughts wandered, drowsily pondering upon the thing of wonder that had made this a day so greatly to be remembered. Truly the Lord had been good to them. Faith was easy now. Was there not sufficient food, with the careful economy that she knew so well to practise, to last them at least seven days? Her head sank lower on her breast, and she dozed contentedly. The Lord Himself had heard their prayer, and Himself had carried to them what they needed. She would never lose faith again.

Suddenly she started awake, filled anew with fear. Yet the first glance reassured her. All seemed as it was before. The lamp still flickered feebly, showing in shadow the sparsely furnished room, the bed prepared, but still unoccupied, the low square stool whereon the ink and pens still rested, and the figure of the old man as he half-sat, half-lay against the wooden chest, his arm outstretched upon it as if in fond protection of the treasure that lay within. But in a brief space the very silence struck a chill upon the woman’s heart. Tense with excitement she leaned forward, listening for the fitful breathing that ere she slept had filled the room. But no sound came.

In a flash she recognized the truth, and for a moment the horror of it held her motionless. Then she threw herself upon the ground and tremblingly laid her hand on his. But there was no response.

“Beloved,” she breathed, a great fear clutching at her heart. “Beloved.” Her voice was like the cooing of a dove in sudden fear for its mate.

She reached out and touched his forehead, pushing back the snow-white hair as she had often done in play.

“He is cold,” she murmured, and drew her own cloth close about his head. Passionately she kissed his lips, and refused to own them cold.

“Come, beloved,” she crooned, and threw her arm about him. “Thou art tired with thy long day’s work. See, it is the time of rest, and thy bed is ready. Wilt thou not sleep, beloved?”

She strove to raise him in her arms, but the weight was beyond her strength. The lifeless body slipped from her and fell at her feet. One moment she stood thus, looking down upon it, then with a cry she threw herself beside it in a very paroxysm of despair and weeping. Her grief was tempestuous, like the west wind sweeping through the forest. Her tears were like the falling of rain, her moaning like the rushing of some mighty torrent.

It was long ere the storm ceased. Outside the night drew near to morning. Already the east had lightened with that first faint mysterious light that heralds in the dawn. Within, the lamp flickered feebly as if it fain would flee before the coming day.

Suddenly the woman lifted her head, and saw that all the room was filled with a bright and glorious radiance. Over against her, with the same sad smile upon His face, stood the Youth whom now she knew to be the Lord. With quick, wild appeal she stretched out her hands to Him.

“Lord, it is but a few hours since Thou camest to us carrying all that we did need,” she cried. “Why now hast Thou taken from me him whom I most need?”

The face of God shone with a divine pity. But as yet He answered not. Then the woman spoke again, passionately, her pent-up feelings finding outlet in a flow of words.

“Thou knowest, Lord,” she cried. “Thou knowest he was all in all to me. Was he not all my care by day and night, and went I not always as one shielded by his presence? Every morning early with the dawn, ere the first faint glimmering fight stole out of the east above the everlasting hills, illuminating Thy world with radiance, did I not rise from my beloved’s couch, all noiselessly, that I might not break the perfect slumber that refreshed his soul against the labour of the coming day? Mine it was, poising the water-pot upon my head, to speed along the village street towards the ghat to draw the water for our daily needs, while yet the village slept, careful, as every woman should be, that no man might see my face. For was I not his, and his alone? What man besides should see my face? Dear Lord, forgive that I speak thus to Thee.” A breathing space she paused, then again her passion of despair swept onwards. “But having drawn the water from the stream, leaving the others to gossip, did I not hasten back to make all ready against my lord’s awaking? Mine it was gently to rouse him when the hour was come, and mine was ever the first face on which he gazed. Then in the same breath he would give thanks to Thee for Thy fresh gift of life, and for me that I was his. And is there aught to loving hearts that can compare with those first moments of reunion after the mysterious oblivion and forgetfulness of sleep? Then for a moment he would tarry, calling me ‘Glory of morn’ or ‘Blush of dawn,’ or some fond name that sounded like music in mine ears because it was his voice that spoke it. Dear Lord, forgive that I speak thus to Thee.” Her voice sank lower as if with sudden shame. Then the tumult of her feelings welled up again in words. “And Thou dost know, dear Lord, how all the morning hours, as I prepared the midday meal and swept and garnished up the house I sang for very joy of heart, no song of words such as musicians love, but a song enraptured, spontaneous and triumphant, like the notes of some wild glad bird from whom Thou hast withheld the gift of speech, only to give more freely the far greater gift of song. For love made all the daily drudgery of a housewife’s toil a thing of light and ease. And when my work was done I was content to sit apart, watching my beloved as he worked, ever absorbed in copying the sacred books that they might be handed on pure and untutored to the generations yet to come. Hour after hour would I sit thus beside my loom, and always, when for a brief space he rested and looked up, his eyes met mine, and he would smile and I would be content. And when he went abroad and I perforce must stay, how eagerly I waited, shielded by the lattice from the rude gaze of passers-by, as the hour of his return drew near. And once I do remember as he tarried long beyond the usual hour, how doubt and fear did cast me into so great a fever that at last, drawing my robe about my face, in defiance of all custom I did venture out in search of my beloved. And when I had gone but a few steps from the threshold I met him hurrying homeward, and I remember how gently he did chide me as if I had been but a child. Dear Lord, forgive that I speak thus to Thee.” Her voice fell, and when she spoke again it rose scarce above a whisper. “And now, when mine hour draws near, he was all gentleness itself, and I was safe and hidden in his love.”

She paused.

Her words had flown in one tempestuous stream, striving to give speech to the impassioned sorrow for her loss. Now a storm of sobbing checked all utterance.

And still the Lord stood by and spoke not, knowing full well how oft the prayer itself brings the relief it asks.

At last the woman raised her hands, and spoke again with passionate outpouring.

“Dear Lord, hast Thou forgot the child that even now leaps in my womb? Now it needs be that he come into the world and never know a father’s gentle care and guidance. He will never lisp the tender name and hang around a father’s knee, and as he grows to manhood there will be none but me to guide his unaccustomed feet along the unknown ways. And how shall I, a poor weak woman, whose duty lies at home, fit him to meet the world without? Dear Lord, forgive that I speak thus to Thee. But I shall ne’er see my beloved more. No more for ever shall I lie beside him through the silent watches of the night, soothing his unrest and weariness with gentlest caress. No more again for ever shall I watch him at his work, and meet the smile that ever lay so ready to his lips for me. No more shall I await his coming, lingering behind the lattice with fond expectant gaze. No more shall I work and labour for the love of him. And now, alas! dear Lord, it is not even given to me to place his new-born child upon his knees that it may crave his blessing.”

There fell a silence broken only by the sobs that shook the woman as she lay upon the dead man’s breast.

And then upon the stillness there came the voice of God.

“Child,” He said, with infinite compassion, “hast thou so soon forgot? They who depend on Me, putting aside all care, whatsoever they need I Myself carry it to them.”

The woman raised her tear-stained face.

“But, Lord, he is dead.” The cry was wrung from her with the hopelessness of her despair.

“Lo!” came the gentle answering voice of God, “I Myself have carried to him all that he did need.”

The tears streamed down the upturned face of the woman.

“But, Lord, he is dead,” she said again, soothed by His voice but still all uncomprehending.

Again the Lord spoke tenderly as to a little child

“I have carried to him in very truth all that he most did need. I have carried to him the greatest gift that I have to bestow upon a weary, waiting world—the blessed gift of perfect rest.”

Wonderingly the woman knew that the Lord Himself had dried her tears. But the look of unutterable despair still lingered upon her upturned face.

“But I, Lord, I who am left while he is taken?” she said fearfully. “What shall I do? How can I face life alone without him who was my protector and my guide?”

And at the very thought of the dark loneliness to come she cast herself again upon the dead man’s breast, tearless now but very sorrowful.

A look of infinite compassion swept over the face of God. Gently the touch of His hand fell upon her bowed and weary head.

“They who depend on Me,” He said softly, “putting aside all care, whatsoever they need I Myself carry it to them.”

“Lord,” she cried, looking up quickly, with a dawning hope upon her grief-stained face. But even as she raised her eyes the presence of God had passed from out her sight.

Then the woman rose quietly and took up again the daily burden of her household tasks.

Divider

Concerning Pigs

We were sitting in the veranda of one of the most delightful bungalows in Behar. It had been built in the old days when indigo planting was a thing worth doing, and more fortunate than many, it had survived the downfall of the industry, carrying on its traditions of unbounded hospitality, good cheer, and almost luxurious comfort undiminished. Twenty miles from anywhere, the house was a veritable kingdom within itself. Almost every conceivable thing that the heart of the average man could desire was to be found within it. While sitting in the spacious panelled hall one needed but the smallest stretch of imagination to feel oneself back again in some old manor house in the homeland.

The veranda looked out across a garden gay with flowers and green with lawns over a wide stretch of ploughed fields that sloped gradually away from the house. Out of a patch of sugar-cane, right in front of us, emerged suddenly a sow and litter, not wild as at first one might almost have imagined at that distance, but followed by a small boy who was evidently directing their wayward footsteps homeward with some difficulty. The sight of them once more turned the conversation towards the topic that absorbed so much of the sporting interest of the neighbourhood, and many an exciting pig-sticking reminiscence was narrated. We were a large party staying with our host and hostess. There were their four assistants, a married couple globe-trotting, another married couple from a factory near by, two girl friends of our hostess, myself, and last, but by no means least, our host’s cousin, Mrs. Hugesson-Willoughby, universally known to and beloved by a neighbouring province as Berengaria. It was Berengaria’s first visit to a pig-sticking district, and keen rider and sportswoman that she was, she was intensely interested in hearing of the sport at first hand from men who were so thoroughly well versed in it as our host and his assistants.

“Well,” she said at last, after listening to many an adventure of the chase, “you have told me a lot about pigs that I did not know before, but I should not mind betting that there is one thing I can tell you about a pig that none of you know.”

“Wild or tame?” asked our host.

“Either,” laughed Berengaria. “At least I have only met tame ones so far, but I imagine, that in this thing I am going to tell you about, a wild pig would be the same.”

We were all much interested and some of us wanted to take on the bet, but Berengaria waved them aside.

“I have never yet met anyone who knew,” she said, “so I won’t bet on what’s practically a certainty.”

Berengaria, famous for her wonderful gift of story-telling, had succeeded in fully arresting our attention. We all waited with breathless interest to hear what she could tell us about a pig that none of us knew.

“Are any of you aware of the fact,”she asked, her words falling impressively on the interested silence, “that one tablespoonful of castor-oil will kill a pig on the spot?”

We all laughed. We certainly had none of us heard such a thing and we one and all scouted the idea, thinking that Berengaria was merely joking.

“But I am not joking,” she asserted. “I assure you it’s a fact that one tablespoonful of castor-oil is enough to kill in the space of a few minutes the biggest pig you can produce.”

The idea seemed preposterous. That castor-oil, so great a benefactor to the human race, should have such fatal results on a pig was not to be seriously considered. Besides, not only was castor-oil extremely beneficial to humans, one had often given it to one’s dogs with equally good results.

Someone was already suggesting that we should try the experiment forthwith.

“There’s no need to do that if you’ll take my word,”laughed Berengaria.

“But how do you know?” we asked.

“I’ll tell you the story,” she said, “then perhaps you’ll believe.”

There was a little rustle of pleasurable anticipation as we settled ourselves comfortably in our chairs to enjoy Berengaria’s story. Berengaria was evidently in great form and I only wish I could write the story as she told it.

“I give you my word it’s an absolutely true story,” she began. “My father was the Rector of a country parish in the days of my youth and we kept a pig. At the time of my story that pig had a litter of twelve little piglets. My sister and I were much attached to the pig and we called her Sally. Now, my mother always made a point of taking my father away for a fortnight every year so that he might get a complete rest and change, not only from his work but from us children too. During that fortnight Aunt Agatha always came to look after us at the Rectory.

“I suppose my sister and I were about six or seven years old at the time of the tragedy of the pig. Father and mother had gone off and Aunt Agatha was in charge. I remember it all most vividly. I can see Jim the gardener coming across the lawn towards us as we were having tea in the summer-house and telling us with an expression of much concern that Sally was ill. Deserting our tea we flew off at once across the paddock to look at her. She had refused to eat anything all day, Jim said, and he ‘didn’t at all like the looks of her.’ We found her standing up in one corner of the sty, not moving about as she generally was, and though we called to her and offered her the choicest of apples she declined to take any notice of us, quite unlike her usual affable self. Jim was much distressed, and we were full of sympathy but quite at a loss what to do, until suddenly Aunt Agatha had an inspiration. Aunt Agatha was the kind of person who always does have inspirations at critical moments, though unfortunately, as in the present case, they could not always in the end claim the appellation ‘brilliant.’

“‘Castor-oil, Jim, that’s the thing,’ she exclaimed confidently. ‘Do you think you could give her a tablespoonful?’

“Jim was doubtful if we could make her take it but the faith of none of us was the least doubtful in the efficacy of the remedy. Aunt Agatha hurried off and was soon back again with a bottle full of castor-oil, a tablespoon, and a large saucer.

“‘We will see if she will take it herself first,’ she said, and measured out a full tablespoonful of the castor-oil into the saucer. Jim went into the sty and held out the saucer to Sally, and rather to our surprise—we had been dosed with castor-oil ourselves and were fully prepared to sympathize with her—after sniffing at it for a moment doubtfully she lapped it up as if with great relish. We were all delighted. Our faith in the remedy was touching considering how cruelly it was betrayed a moment later. Jim had come out of the sty and we were all about to move away, congratulating ourselves on our efforts and assuring one another that Sally would soon be all right now, when to our horror we saw her suddenly stagger and collapse stone dead before our eyes.”

I am afraid for a moment we all laughed at the tragedy of the Rectory pig, and then it seemed as if we all had something to say, some theory to expound.

“Of course, Aunt Agatha got hold of the wrong bottle and poisoned the unfortunate pig,” chuckled our host.

“It wasn’t the castor-oil, the pig would have died any way,” was the general verdict.

Berengaria sat smiling during these various sceptical suggestions, saying nothing. It was only when we had more or less exhausted all possible explanations to account for the death of the pig apart from the castor-oil, that she spoke.

“You have not let me finish the story yet,” said.

We were all attention again, wondering what sequel there could possibly be to so tragic an ending.

“My sister and I wept bitterly at the loss of Sally,” Berengaria continued, “and it was only with difficulty that Aunt Agatha managed to get us away while Jim dragged her out of the sty. Jim was afraid it might be some infectious disease that she had died of and he said it would be best to burn the body at once. I remember well even now how suddenly we dried our tears in thrilled interest on hearing that Sally was going to be burned on a real funeral pyre. We implored Aunt Agatha to let us be present. But Aunt Agatha was too much distressed to pay attention to us just then. She regarded herself as in charge of everything while father and mother were away, and it was too annoying of Sally to have gone and died just when she was responsible. No one, least of all Aunt Agatha herself, had the smallest suspicion that it was she who was really the cause of the unfortunate Sally’s death.

“When the dead pig had been taken away we were allowed to go back to look at the twelve little motherless piglets. They were fortunately quite old enough to get along by themselves, so there was no cause for anxiety that way; but as we looked at them Aunt Agatha, nervous and upset, began to think that one or two of them did not look quite so well as they ought. We hurriedly called Jim away from his arrangements for the funeral pyre and pointed out to him three of the piglets that we thought were not looking their best.

“‘It was because we didn’t take things in time with Sally. If only we had given her the castor-oil earlier,’ I remember Aunt Agatha saying, her faith and ours still pathetically clinging to that well-known remedy. ‘I think it would be best to give those three some castor-oil at once, Jim,’ she added; ‘we’ll give them a small dessertspoonful each. That will probably prevent them getting worse. There is nothing like taking things in time.’

“So the three little piglets were separated from the rest and the doctoring began. The first little piglet, to our delight, lapped up the castor-oil as happily as its mother had done, and Aunt Agatha was leaning over the sty to pour out another dessertspoonful with the saucer that Jim was holding when my sister and I both gave a scream that made Aunt Agatha spill nearly half the bottle. That poor little piglet, which had stood stock still after taking the castor-oil, suddenly staggered just as its mother had done, and then quietly collapsed stone dead. It was only then that the really awful nature of the tragedy dawned upon poor Aunt Agatha. I shall never forget her look of horror.

“‘It must be the castor-oil,’ she exclaimed, and then she in her turn gave vent to a scream.

“The other two little piglets were greedily lapping up the castor-oil she had spilt on the floor of the sty. Jim seized them and pulled them back, but it was too late. They had lapped it all up, and almost as he dragged them away they expired and there were three little corpses lying side by side.”

We all laughed again, but though we thought it an excellent story, not one of us was convinced. Though we did not doubt Berengaria’s veracity, and she again vouched for the truth of her story, we all felt that there must be some other explanation and that such havoc in the pigsty could not have been caused by that splendid curative remedy—castor-oil.

“Poison has been known to get into the wrong bottle,” I said sceptically. “Are you quite sure it was pure and undiluted castor-oil?”

“Jack,” said Berengaria, turning to her cousin after apparently considering my question for a moment and then making up her mind to give me her answer this way, “Jack, though you have to murder a pig to do it, you must prove to these sceptical people that your cousin speaks the truth. If you can produce a pig to-morrow, I will produce the castor-oil.”

“Right you are,” laughed our host, and turning to us all he announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to inform you that a pig will take castor-oil at six o’clock to-morrow afternoon on the lawn after tennis.”

If Berengaria had told her story in order to furnish a lively topic of conversation and make her cousin’s house-party a success, she had certainly succeeded. The discussion that resulted as to the probable cause of the tragedy of the Rectory pigs and the interest of the experiment to be made on the following day, that would finally set at rest all doubts on the matter, were a constant source of amusement and provocative of much wit and mirth. Even in that pig-sticking neighbourhood, pigs could never have absorbed so much of the conversation before.

By six o’clock on the following afternoon it was already growing dark, and we had finished tennis and were enjoying cool drinks on the lawn, all ready for the great experiment. The pig was produced by the sweeper, trotting along in front of him, all unsuspicious of the awful fate that awaited it. It was a healthy-looking animal, about half full-grown. Berengaria was ready with a bottle of castor-oil, a tablespoon, and one of the dog’s dinner-plates.

“Now none of you can say afterwards that there was anything wrong with that pig, can you?” she asked triumphantly as the pig came leisurely across the lawn.

Just then the pig caught sight of us and turned to run away. The sweeper, however, and his assistants were ready for it and headed it back again. The pig gave vent to the shrillest and most indignant of squeals and grunts, and the vigour it exhibited before it was finally steadied with a rope round its hind legs was more than sufficient to prove our hostess’ contention that at least there was nothing wrong with this particular pig.

“And any of you who like can taste the castor-oil,” Berengaria offered magnanimously, handing round the bottle. “I got it this morning from the Doctor Babu at the local dispensary.”

We none of us showed any desire to taste the castor-oil. But we all carefully inspected the bottle and some of us even went so far as to smell it.

I held the plate while Berengaria measured a tablespoonful of castor-oil into it. Then I handed the plate to the sweeper who placed it in front of the pig. For a moment the pig sniffed at it suspiciously, and we waited with breathless interest. If it declined to lap it up of its own accord it would certainly need all our united efforts to dose it with a spoon. It looked at first as if it was going to turn away, but suddenly it seemed to change its mind and lapped up the castor-oil, licking the plate clean.

Now I am bound to confess that for my part I never expected to see any immediate disastrous consequences to the pig. That, too, was the attitude of all the others present without exception. We had laughed and joked about Berengaria’s story, but I don’t think it had really seriously occurred to any of us that we should see the animal, on which we were going to try the experiment, drop down dead in front of us.

All our attention was fixed intently on the pig. Seconds passed and nothing happened. I had a curious feeling as I stared at it as if I were being hypnotized. Was it my imagination or had the pig really begun to sway ever so slightly from side to side? When it finally rolled over and immediately expired in front of us the feeling of hypnotism was complete. We all sat for a moment absolutely still, fascinated. It was Berengaria’s triumphant voice that broke the silence.

“There,” she cried, “didn’t I tell you so? Now perhaps you will believe me.”

Two or three of us went across and examined the pig. There was certainly no mistake. The animal that had been so vigorous a few minutes before was now stone dead.

Even that ocular demonstration, however, failed to convince all of us. I think we were most of us still a prey to the Englishman’s deep-rooted suspicion that he is having his leg pulled whenever he is confronted with anything utterly new and surprising. It was so unexpected, and castor-oil still seemed such an impossible thing to produce sudden death that one felt there must surely be some other explanation. But Berengaria would be satisfied with nothing but complete submission.

“Well,” she exclaimed at last in despair, “you are the most difficult people to convince I have ever come across. You are convinced, aren’t you? “she added, turning to me.

“No,” I laughed half in fun, “I don’t think I am. I feel as if I had been hypnotized.”

“But what will convince you if that won’t?” she demanded, waving the castor-oil bottle dramatically towards the dead pig.

“You see,” I began judicially, “that is, after all, only one instance.”

Berengaria cut me short.

“Would you believe if you saw another pig die?” she asked eagerly.

“Oh yes,” I said with a laugh, not taking her seriously, “if a second pig died after a dose of castor-oil I couldn’t resist evidence like that.”

Berengaria turned quietly and gave an order to the sweeper.

“Fortunately I told them to bring two pigs,” she said, “and though they cost me ten rupees each it’s worth it to convince such doubting Thomases as you.”

The second pig was brought up and the same procedure was followed. It was given its tablespoonful of castor-oil which it lapped up as greedily as its predecessor had done, and then it promptly expired.

“There,”said Berengaria, “if that won’t convince you, nothing will. And, in any case, I decline to sacrifice more pigs to your incredulity. That last one looked at me so reproachfully I feel like a murderess.”

Gentle reader, I think I see upon your face the sceptical smile that once sat on mine. But if you will be guided by me don’t give castor-oil to your own pet pig. Give it to a neighbour’s pet pig that you particularly dislike. No one could accuse you of poisoning his pig with a nice wholesome medicine like castor-oil.

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The Fury of Asaf Khan

Asaf Khan swung down the village street, the blackest of black rage in his heart.

He swaggered as he walked at all times, the swagger that only a Pathan knows, but to-day there was a blatant fierceness in his swagger that scattered the children at their play and drove frightened women against the walls on either side as he passed. His passing was like a whirlwind of hate.

The countenance of Asaf Khan was no pleasing one to draw men to him at the best of times, but to-day the cruelty and bitterness and hate, that always lay scarce masked behind it, blazed forth into a very epitome of speechless passion. His blue and white turban, from beneath which his black oiled locks escaped in straggling wisps and flapped menacingly as he walked, sat at a rakish angle on his head, dirty and ill-tied, one end of it streaming out defiantly behind. His once white shirt, held together in front by a silver chain of buttons, was covered only by a rough fur waistcoat, worn and greasy, hung with more silver chains. His huge baggy trousers added the last touch of truculence to the swiftly moving figure. Across his left shoulder, ever ready to hand, his gun hung by a strap. Tied tightly against his back, a small bundle held all that he needed for the road.

On the narrow veranda that bordered the house of Janab Ali Khan, the last house in the village, a little group of men sat silent, smoking and ruminating in the midday heat. The angry passing of Asaf Khan woke them to sudden life. He was gone almost before they had noted his coming, but his going left a strange thrill behind him. Was not Asaf Khan at once the pride and terror of the clan? And were not his smallest doings a never-failing source of gossip, wherever men met along all that countryside? Fierce, restless, turbulent, lustful, beyond even the fierceness, restlessness, turbulence and lust of his fellows, he held them all in thrall. And to-day, as he swept by with the fury of the whirlwind, there was evidently that afoot that promised food for talk.

“What now?” asked Janab Ali, roused suddenly out of his somnolence and blinking in the sunlight.

“I know not,” answered Munsur Khan, leaning out of the veranda to watch the quickly disappearing figure, “but to-day the passing of Asaf Khan is like the passing of the wind on the mountain tops.”

“And when Asaf Khan moves swiftly there is trouble ahead,” chuckled Mazaffer Khan, who, old and toothless though he was, still loved the stir of strife.

“No one runs unless he has an ugly daughter to dispose of, and Asaf Khan has no daughter,” murmured Mian Mia sententiously, whereat Janab Ali laughed and then suddenly drew back with a furtive look around. It was not well to laugh where Asaf Khan was concerned.

“There is trouble brewing,” he muttered, and relapsed into the still placidity from which the sudden apparition of Asaf Khan had roused him.

But, underneath his outward impassivity, the brooding somnolence had fled. A tumult of reminiscence of the past and speculation for the future raged within him. For had he not suffered at the hand of Asaf Khan, his mother’s sister’s son, from his youth up? His own hand slipped half unconsciously beneath his shirt and fingered the old scar on his breast that he would carry to his grave. That was but one of many things he had scored up to the account of Asaf Khan.

Swaggerer and bully that he was himself, he trembled inwardly at that brief glimpse of the other’s wrath. Janab Ali’s siesta in the hot hours that followed that afternoon was strangely fitful and disturbed.

Meanwhile, out in the blazing sunlight Asaf Khan strode on. The rocky path that was the continuation of the village street towards the south, sloped downwards, narrowing till at last it clung against the hillside with scarce room for a man to pass. On the one side towered the rugged rock-face, destitute of covering, bleak and uncompromising. On the other a sheer drop of five hundred feet ended in yet more rock, rugged and unkempt, dotted here and there with drab, coarse jungle. Over all the sun blazed down till earth and rock exuded heat. But along the narrow track, heedless alike of the gulf below and the sweltering haze above, Asaf Khan abated no jot of his swiftness. Mile after mile he sped on, tireless and unseeing, blinded to the world without by the rage that held him in thrall within. Slowly the sun crossed over the deep ravine from one long line of hills to the other, leaving the path at last in shadow, and still he gave no pause.

Then, at last, on a sudden he halted and glanced round him like one waking out of a dream. Rapidly he took his bearings. Every inch of the landscape so far as he could see he knew by heart, every precipitous foothold up the mountain-side, every rough ill-marked track that led down to the plains below. Even he was astonished at the distance he had travelled. For five long hours he had marched on heedless, his unspent passion carrying him on untiring. Now he was a dozen kos or more from the village he had left at noon-day.

Swiftly glancing round he remembered, high above him a cave where he had often rested. With the agility of a mountain goat he was on a level with it a hundred feet above. With the quick instinct that leaves naught to chance, and with the frontierman’s suspicion of everything, animate and inanimate, he cautiously approached. There was no knowing what beast of prey or enemy of his or his house might lurk within. On the narrow ledge near the entrance there had been a recent fire. The ashes lay fresh and unscattered. Far out on this deserted mountain-side they proclaimed a human presence, still here or but lately gone. Peering round a jutting eminence of rock he came in full view of the yawning entrance to the cave. Brave man that he was he drew back a moment at the sight that met his gaze. Here was indeed the human presence, but torn and mangled beyond recognition. The head hung half over the cliff, the flesh torn almost completely from it, the eye-sockets turned upwards in ghastly sightlessness. The mangled body, half stripped of its coverings, lay in pools of blood that the mid-day sun had partly dried. Swarms of flies crept over it, while farther off, on another ledge of rock, five vultures sprawled in amazing attitudes drunk with gorging on it.

Swift and silent Asaf Khan swung his rifle into place. From where he stood he commanded the open entrance to the cave. Within, doubtless asleep from repletion, lay the destroyer. The cave was small and the entrance to it low and narrow. There was no loose stone that he could throw within. A cartridge that would have wakened the cave to life was too valuable a thing to fire at random. Asaf Khan must needs wait the setting of the sun and the voluntary stirring of the beast within. And so, as the light slowly failed, he stood rigid, immovable, as fixed as the rock against which he leant, his eye unswerving upon the entrance to the cave.

The long moments dragged on with no sign of stirring, without or within. Only once Asaf Khan’s swift glance left the mark. A sudden rustling beyond the entrance made him turn. But it was only the twinkling of an eye, and his fixed gaze was back again. A vulture, dozing as it sat, had fallen over and with widespread wings lay helpless in a drunken sleep.

Darkness fell at last and still no movement. So tense was his eagerness, so keen the fierceness of his desire to avenge his kind upon the beast of prey that for the moment Asaf Khan had lain aside his anger. A child of nature, one thought at a time alone possessed him. As passion had swept him during the long hours of the afternoon, so the lust of the chase dominated him at sundown. This killing was demanded on the instant. That other killing on which he had brooded all the day must wait.

Then, just as the moon rose slowly above the distant heights, the quick ears of Asaf Khan caught a sound from within the cave. His finger itched upon the trigger, his eyes so fixed upon the entrance as if they would by sheer force of will draw out from it what lurked within. Out of the yawning blackness of the opening two balls of light suddenly blazed out. There was no further sound or movement, no sign of aught else save two red glowing coals of fire. Still Asaf Khan waited. He must be very sure before he fired. Though none was by to see, his own izzat was seldom absent from his thoughts. He would not wound his pride. Besides, there was a temporary shortage of cartridges in the clan. One shot must suffice.

And then at last his long patience was rewarded. Framed in the darkness of the entrance that backed the rising moon, a great striped head appeared and then remained immovable. Still Asaf Khan waited. Slowly the great head with the blazing eyes was lifted, its huge jaws opening in one mighty roar that woke the echoes in great waves of sound along all the mountain-side. It was a magnificent challenge, a defiance to all the world. Yet in the very height of its magnificence it suddenly broke off, ending dramatically in a low, gurgling moan. Straight into its open jaws Asaf Khan had fired, and the bullet of Asaf Khan seldom diverged by the smallest fraction of an inch from the mark he chose. The heavy body fell over with a thud, and after a moment of gasping breaths lay silent, half in and half without the cave. Leisurely Asaf Khan emptied the breech of his rifle, and reloading, rounded the rock and stood over the dead thing at his feet. Spurning it with his foot, he drew from his belt his great clasp knife and, stooping down, cut off the long outstanding whiskers from the still palpitating head. They were a charm that might be useful in sickness or to ward off the evil eye. Moreover, there was one in the village he had left to whom he would present them on his return. And as the thought of her came back to him, the black rage that the immediate lust of killing had thrust aside in him blazed up again. Seizing the great beast’s carcass in his fury he dragged it to the edge of the cliff and thrust it violently over. It fell bumping from rock to rock, limp and helpless, that which but a few moments before had flung so magnificent a defiance to the world.

Turning quickly away as the last thud of the falling carcass sounded faintly below, Asaf Khan’s gaze fell on the dead body of the Pathan at his feet. The moon shone full upon the ghastly heap of mangled flesh and torn clothing. Stooping down he raked it with his eyes striving if he might identify it, then failing, drew it back along the ledge and covered it reverently with the chapkan that lay beside it. In the morning he would do what he could to give the dead man burial. To-night it behoved him to keep watch, lest he too be taken unawares in his sleep and be made a thing of naught even as the man beside him.

So his scanty meal, taken from his bundle at his back, quickly finished, he set his back against the rock, gazing out over the yawning precipice below, that, backed by the line of hills beyond and bathed in the light of the moon, formed a superb panorama of a desolate untamed world. The great rock-mountains stood out in every irregular contortion, a vast etching in light and shade, clear-cut against the cloudless blue of the sky. The moon was rising high in the heavens, casting ever new shadows, but seeming ever to hold the world in sleep. No sound broke the stillness. Asaf Khan was alone with his thoughts.

His arms clasping his knees, his chin thrust forward and resting on them, he sat huddled up against the rock, looking out unseeingly. Sombrely he brooded. The rage in his heart still smouldered. All the hate and passion that had been slowly growing up within him for many a day past had culminated in his furious exit from his home that morning. His purpose was set. Nothing was of moment to him until that purpose was accomplished. There was but one way he could restore his self-esteem.

Over and over again he turned the matter in his mind, nursing his grievance. The younger son of his father, the Chief of the village Hunzar, he had always been overshadowed by the prowess of his elder brother. First and foremost in all things, mightiest in the chase, wisest in council, fearless in warfare, Alam Khan had dwarfed the younger son, strive as the latter might by daring deeds to win applause. There was a quiet strength in the one that the other lacked, a calmness in emergency, a clearness of vision, a quickness in decision that inspired confidence throughout the clan. None but a few malcontents, the disgruntled, the dissipated would put the younger brother in the elder brother’s place. And the knowledge had long rankled in the turbulent breast of Asaf Khan. Even as he had striven by wild and yet wilder deeds to win renown he had been conscious that he had but lost more ground. Violent and unbridled, he had inspired no confidence among his fellows and men spoke of him in whispers, half scornful, half afraid. His turbulence and insolence had become a byword in the clan. Alam Khan was the one man he feared, and he hated him accordingly.

And then had come the thing that goaded him to a fury that exceeded any he had ever known in all his wild career. His elder brother, venturing on evil intent too near the frontier, had been caught redhanded and now lay in a British jail in a frontier outpost, so rumour said, awaiting death at the hands of the law. It was only that morning that the news had come, bringing matters to a climax in the wooing of Asaf Khan. For since Alam Khan had left, more than a month ago, Asaf Khan had used every art he knew to win the heart of the woman his brother loved. Beginning it as a pastime out of sheer devilment as soon as his brother’s back was turned, the unexpected resistance he met with had inflamed him. Opposition was the one thing above all others that enraged the heart of Asaf Khan, and moreover the maid was very fair, while her tongue lashed him with its wit. No man, woman, or child in all his life had dared speak to him as she spoke. Safe in the knowledge that she was the beloved of Alam Khan, she scoffed at this younger brother who, she divined, held him secretly in dread. Always as he boasted of his prowess she had answered with the yet greater deeds of Alam Khan. Always as he talked she had smiled her mocking smile, until Asaf Khan’s rage had turned at last to love. This was the woman he had so long sought, as fearless as himself, loyal as a woman should be to her man. But when he sought to speak to her as a lover might she laughed aloud at his clumsy efforts and told him how exceeding well Alam Khan knew the lover’s art. Always, always it was of Alam Khan she spoke, until bitter hate and baffled love swept Asaf Khan to fury. And then that morning had come the news—Alam Khan a prisoner, like to die. The light bantering of the woman had turned suddenly to scorn and contempt. Was he going to sit down and let his brother die? Was he after all his boastings, to stay here and make no effort for his brother’s rescue or work nothing to avenge his death? With wild and bitter words she had lashed him, while Asaf Khan groaned in the fury of his wrath. Unless he lay down disgraced for ever beneath the scorn of a woman’s tongue he must go forth to rescue the one man he feared and hated, to bring that man back to the woman who loved him and who had scorned his own advances. Was ever such a fate as his? Small wonder that he had flung out of the village at mid-day, goaded beyond endurance, blind with the lust to kill.

Wrapped in such bitterness of thought, Asaf Khan sat brooding through the long hours of the night. It was only just before the dawn that the tenseness of mind and body relaxed and he fell asleep. But he slept lightly, as sleep all men who live on that borderland where wild beasts lurk and human treachery is rife, and from time to time he stirred uneasily. It was truly as if he slept with one eye waking.

With the dawn he was astir again. Before the first flush of exquisite pink had touched the farthest hills he had done all that could be done for the dead man at his side. There was no possibility of forcing the hard face of the rock to give him sepulture. Dragging the mangled body within the cave he had swiftly, with Herculean strength, forced great boulders across the entrance, blocking it securely from beast or bird of prey. It pleased him thus to exert his strength. It pleased him that he had baulked the vultures that still lay gorged in drunken sleep close by. His hand was against every man’s. He had killed the beast of prey that would have slain him if it could, and he had robbed the birds of prey of their spoil. It was a good beginning of this new day, and Asaf Khan smiled a smile of triumph as he forced the last boulder close against the entrance to the cave. Then letting himself down the steep face of the rock as nimbly as he had swung himself up it the night before, clinging seemingly to the bare hill-side, finding footing where never an inch appeared, he was on the path again, stopping only to drink at a tiny mountain stream that trickled between the rocks. To-day he must march all day, but sunset would see him near his goal. The flame that was alight within him, deflected for a brief space by the need of immediate action the night before when faced by the man-destroyer, burned ever more steadily as the long hours of the day lagged slowly by. Hard from his youth up, physical exhaustion was unknown to him. His swift marching, hour after hour, left no trace of weariness in body or mind. Rather each step served but to confirm him in his purpose, to rouse his mental activity to ever greater flights. His fancied wrongs beat in his brain with every step. They assumed fantastic shapes that drove him mad. His fierce imaginations wove them ever to yet more distorted guises until he almost cried out with agony. Sweat poured in great drops and rivulets from off his face. Scorned by a woman! He who had scoffed at all the softer feelings, now racked and tortured by the pangs of love like any stripling, and that love, that passionate outpouring of him, body and soul, spurned! The brother who all his life had stood in his way, to thwart him now in this—the intensest feeling of his thirty years. It was a man mad with love and hate that strode into the tiny village of Lorzai as the sun set on the second day’s march.

The little group on the outskirts of the village, with the quick eyesight of the frontier, had spotted his coming long since while he was still a great way off, a mere speck upon the horizon.

“It is Asaf Khan,” one quicker sighted even than the rest had announced a good hour since.

Filled with speculation as to the wherefore of his coming, they had moved to the end of the village street to gain the first tidings.

“Salaam-un-alaik,” came the traditional greeting as he drew near.

“Alaik-us-Salaam,” the curt reply fell with no sense of incongruity from the lips of the man who breathed blood and hate.

“Thou has received the news?” one hastened to ask the new-comer. “Doubtless it is because of that that thou comest.”

“What news?” queried Asaf Khan, his face suddenly expressionless as a mask. He was of the breed that never admits ignorance on any matter.

The little group hesitated. Even the spokesman who had thrust himself forward with the question drew back. There was that about the new-comer, well known as he was to them all, that froze the speech on their lips. Travel-stained from head to foot, his face lined with rivulets of sweat and dust, his eyes bloodshot and ablaze, Asaf Khan was not one to whom one willingly broke bad news. And the news was very bad.

“What news?” repeated Asaf Khan glaring round at the little group.

Perforce one must speak. They could not all remain speechless before him. The most timid of them all, terrified by the silence, blurted out the truth in short, nervous sentences.

“Thy brother is condemned. On the eighth morning he will be hanged. There is no reprieve.”

Whereat there fell again a silence.

The little group hung upon Asaf Khan and awaited his next move.

For a moment he stood stock still, his face immobile, expressionless. Then swiftly, with the back of his hand he wiped the sweat and dust from his forehead.

“Give me food and sleep,” he said and lurched suddenly, like a drunken man. The two days’ march and the fire that had consumed him had told at last even on his magnificent physique.

With a babel of tongues now that the tension was relaxed, they led him into the headman’s house and placed food and drink before him.

As impetuously as he did all things, Asaf Khan ate and drank with much slobbering and loud gurglings. The others talked. He listened. Never a question did he ask as, their tongues once loosed, they poured out to him their story embroidered with much detail. Alam Khan had been caught in the very act, his rifle still hot with the murder it had done. Short shrift had been shown him. Within a week the formalities had been complete, the many formalities that the British loved, and he lay now condemned to die the common hangman’s death. What shame for Alam Khan, the great Chief’s son! What shame for Alam Khan, the great warrior, the great hunter, the great leader of men. But surely his brother, the no less great Asaf Khan, had come to rescue him. To him fell the glory of saving the honour of his clan. All would yet be well. Glory be to Allah and to Asaf Khan!

If there were needed anything to inflame him to greater madness, if there were a greater madness to which he could attain, this was the talk to do it. Refreshed with food and drink, exalted by the fulsome praise lavished upon him, maddened by the desire to prove his worth, the braggart came uppermost in Asaf Khan. The meal over he was free to talk, and talk he did till one by one his hearers crept away, the novelty worn off, or fell asleep as they sat in the circle that surrounded him. The ashes on the hearth had grown cold and grey before at long last lassitude overcame even the exultant boastings of Asaf Khan and the loud strident voice was hushed in sleep.

The last to rest, he was the first astir. This was his day of days and he rose to meet it in an uplift of exultation. Picking his way out among the sleeping forms he was gone before most of the village had awakened, striding on across the last level lap that lay between the hills and the frontier outpost that was his goal. Wrapped in a wealth of trees it stood out like an immense oasis on the barren plain. A sharp line cut straight across it. On the one side lay the wide spacious English quarters, the great cantonment set out in neat array, the whiteness of its bungalows ablaze in the sunlight. On the other side swarmed the native city, a jumble of roofs, a picturesque disarray in yellow and brown and red, close-packed in every conceivable formation, the old fort towering above them. But it was on the cantonment that the eagle eye of Asaf Khan rested. His long sight could just make out the square formations of the troops at drill, specks in the distance, yet even so moving with amazing precision as one man. Asaf Khan laughed as he watched them. What fools the English were, with their parades, their drills, their close formations. Give him but a dozen of his men well hidden, and could he not mow them down with his rifle-fire like corn before the sickle? Yet it fascinated him, this proud array of militarism. The lust of fighting was the strongest instinct in his blood. For long hours in his younger days, when his clan had been at peace with the great White Raj, bribed for a time into a feigned submission, he had sat hidden in a pepul tree that commanded the parade ground, watching the endless movements of the men at drill. The quick sharp words of the commands that came like pistol shots, the even tramping of many feet that was like the sound of distant thunder, the rattle of rifles brought suddenly into place that froze the blood in his veins, these things were amongst his earliest memories in life and had always fascinated him. It was many years now since he had seen it all. The truce between his father’s house and these same white soldiers had been a brief one. Good behaviour had soon grown irksome. Now as he marched unquestioned across the border line that separated British territory from the no-man’s land beyond—fools that these British were to let any man come and go as he pleased—he wondered if there would be any who would recognize him. Ten years was a long time, and he had been a smooth-faced stripling when last he had been here. Now his great unkempt beard half covered his face. Yet it was as well to take no risks. The White Raj had a big score up against him did it but know. So avoiding the English quarter he plunged straight into the heart of the native city.

In his younger days he had known every street and alley in the busy trading mart, and the house of Daud Khan, his father’s friend, was not difficult to find. An old man, yet as upright as Asaf Khan himself, his beard still full and henna-dyed to a deep red fierceness, Daud Khan was one of those astute tribesmen who live secure on British soil and grow rich with the trade that is but a mask to cover many more profitable but less honourable undertakings. There was nothing about frontier politics that Daud Khan did not know. Asaf Khan could have gone to no more authoritative source for information. They would have given much for Daud Khan’s knowledge at the great white bungalow beyond cantonments over which the British flag flew so proudly.

It pleased Asaf Khan that the old man, peering at him with hawk-like eyes, failed to recognize him. It was a tribute to his manhood. There was not much that Daud Khan forgot. The stripling that he had known had gone for ever. Asaf Khan was a man and safe from prying eyes, unrecognizable even in these haunts of his youth.

Within the main room whither the did man, with joyful greeting as soon as he had made himself known, had led him, Asaf Khan heard strange tidings. What fools the English were! They had taken his brother redhanded. Yet they had not shot him out of hand. They were hidebound with rules and forms and regulations. They had put him on trial and let weak-livered lawyers talk. Amazing people! Now when they had condemned him as needs they must, they had made delays. There were still eight days before he would be hanged. Eight days! What might not happen in eight days? Truly the ways of the English were at all times wonderful!

Meantime the prisoner was kept close guarded in the Fort. Daud Khan knew the very cell where they had placed him. Together, the doors of the main room discreetly shut, they pored over a plan of the Fort, more accurate and detailed than any that could be found in the Fort itself. Every inch of space was accounted for, every gun placed and every sentry-beat exactly marked. There was nothing missing. Only that very morning a change had been made under secret orders from headquarters. It had been carried out with the greatest possible secrecy. But the plan already marked it and the sun had not yet set. Daud Khan’s intelligence was amazingly to date. On a slip of paper attached to the plan was the secret password that would admit to the Fort that night, and below it was the cipher code that veiled—or so the English thought—what fools the English were!—their communications with the outside world.

Asaf Khan gloated over it all. The completeness, the perfection of it seized his imagination. Daud Khan smiled at his appreciation and revealed yet more to him. There was one place where the Fort might be entered unobserved. With all their elaborate precautions there was one spot the English had forgotten. Not only might entry be made into the Fort but access be obtained right up to the walls of the very room where Alam Khan lay. Their heads close together, fingers moving over the map, they devised a plan. They would rescue Alam Khan from the hands of the English. They would take him right out from the inmost recesses of their most guarded inner cell. It would be a brilliant feat. Asaf Khan glowed in anticipation with the glory of it. His name would ring throughout the countryside as that of the man who had defied the whole force of the British Raj and freed his brother, under sentence of death, from its clutches.

But the plan needed at least half a score of trusty confederates, and here Daud Khan shook his head doubtfully. There were no trusty men left in the city. They had all become fat with much trading. The love of money had sapped their manhood. The fighting spirit of their fathers had gone out of them. The British had won a bloodless victory. The men of the frontier had sold their birthright for a mess of pottage and had become lapdogs at the feet of the Resident Sahib. It would be necessary for Asaf Khan to go back to his own country to fetch men in. There was still time. They must come by different paths to avert suspicion. They must meet in Daud Khan’s house on the sixth day from now. Meanwhile he, Daud Khan, would keep watch and no movement in the Fort should escape his cognizance.

So within the hour Asaf Khan was on the road again, back by the way he had come.

But the going was not as the coming. After the first level stretch it was all up-hill, one continuous climb, breathless and exhausting. Day and night he must be on the road. He must not cut it too fine. There would be no rest for him for many long and weary days. All that night he marched by the light of the moon. Only an hour before the dawn, the hour when the moon had gone and left the world in inky darkness did he give himself rest. Even then his sleep was fitful and with the first faint light he was on the road again, upwards and yet again upwards.

It was at mid-day that he reached the place where the track he followed crossed the great white road that the sahibs had built right across no-man’s land up to the farthest frontier. Crossing it he rested high above it on a ledge of rock that gave him a view straight down it for a couple of miles as it wound its tortuous way along the mountain-side. He had done well even for him and by nightfall he should be in his own village again, enlisting secretly his picked men for the great adventure of their lives. He could afford to sit and rest awhile.

This great ribbon of road had always fascinated him. He hated it. He hated the strength and the determination that had gone to the making of it because they were the strength and determination of an alien race. It was a symbol of their domination. They were harnessing these great mountains whose freedom was his birthright. Along this road trade would come, sapping the vitality of the hillmen as it had sapped the vitality of the men in the city below. He hated it. Its calm impassive strength as he looked down upon it infuriated him.

And then, as he looked along its winding length, far away at the farthest end a tiny speck came into view. Steadily but swiftly it came on, making light of the steep ascent as surely, as evenly as those troops had marched on the parade ground below, but more quickly. There was something dominating, magnificent, triumphant, that awoke a grudging admiration in the soul of Asaf Khan. And yet he hated it, hated it with all the bitterness of his hate. It was the symbol of the power of an alien race. Just as this wonder thing of iron and wood moved so surely, without visible means of propulsion, so the English had moved surely and relentlessly ever nearer and nearer to the fastnesses among the mountains that were his home. Their oncoming was relentless, unswerving. They came as straight and as confidently as that little speck below was climbing the steepness of the road towards him.

Its coming fascinated him. While it was still a great way off he could see that the tiny speck of moving mechanism had two occupants, one was at the wheel the other beside him, the back of the car filled with their baggage.

Asaf Khan half unconsciously drew back behind a boulder and watched. Something was stirring within him, sweeping him before it like a leaf before the wind. A great wave of madness was surging over him. The fury within his heart was focusing itself on one single thought. What a target for his marksmanship that tiny speck below would make!

Suddenly in a flash it came to him. He was going back empty-handed, nothing as yet achieved. He remembered his parting words to the mocking woman he had left. He had sworn that he would not return till he had done some deed that should set the countryside ablaze. And he was returning, nothing as yet accomplished, returning but to ask the help of other men! She would mock him again. He could do nothing of his own. He must needs come back for other men to help him. He ground his teeth in fury. The little speck below, steadily pushing its way undaunted upwards, grew ever larger.

Slowly Asaf Khan’s rifle came into place. Some force without himself had gripped him. Every sense seemed to have left him save one blind mad impulse to stop the proud triumphant oncoming of that little speck below, that little speck that to him represented the mighty forces that lay behind it. Now it had come full into view. In a moment it must pass below him, and climbing swiftly the ascent beyond, would disappear from view round the bend of the road. The purring of the car became a roar as it passed beneath him. The two men in it were sahibs. Asaf Khan could see their white faces and the white hands of the one at the wheel. They were talking and laughing as they passed. Slowly the rifle above them followed their movements. Asaf Khan’s finger itched on the trigger. Now their backs were towards him. Swiftly he fired. The man at the wheel fell forward over it, his khaki back a sudden patch of ugly red. The man beside him, with no glance behind him, with no touch of hesitation, seized the steering wheel and tried to get in touch with steering gears and pedals. Even in the full flush of the moment’s intense excitement Asaf Khan admired the magnificent coolness, the splendid pluck of it. But even as his hands touched the wheel and his foot fumbled for the brake, he too fell forward. Asaf Khan’s aim had not failed him.

The scene that followed awoke a strange mingling of awe and triumph in the wild heart of the man who watched it. The car, robbed of its guiding hand, made never a swerve but rushed straight on, its pace unaltered. For a hundred yards the road ran dead straight, then disappeared suddenly round a corner of the hill-side. Asaf Khan watched, fascinated. Up and up, still full speed ahead, the car mounted ever nearer to the fatal turn round which there was no living hand to guide it. With all its magnificent confidence it was riding straight for destruction. Asaf Khan held his breath in awe and triumph. Unhesitating the car mounted the last lap, and it seemed to the watcher above that at the last moment it even accelerated its pace as it dashed straight over the edge of the cliff. So fast was it going that it shot into the air, then turned a complete somersault and fell crashing on to the rocks two hundred feet below.

With a cry of exultation Asaf Khan leapt to his feet. He had triumphed over this wonder thing of the West. He had brought two of the boasted race to a speedy end in the very plenitude of their confidence and power. They had talked and laughed in their pride as they passed him but a moment ago. Now they lay mangled and torn at the foot of the rocks, their devil machine that moved so fast with all its wonderful mechanism a useless thing, broken beside them. With a cry of triumph he let himself down, hands and feet clinging to the bare hill-side until he reached them. Then swiftly turning over the two dead bodies, he cut the ribbons from off their breasts. One of them had two whole rows of ribbons. Asaf Khan chuckled as he savagely cut them off. This must have been a big man among them. There was a leader the less in the white army to-day.

It was not until he had the ribbons safely tied up and securely tucked in his belt that realization of what he had done seemed to come to him. He had overstepped the final limit at last. Henceforth his life was forfeit. The sentence was death. And then he laughed. They should never take Asaf Khan alive. Swiftly scouring the horizon on every side, he climbed back again and rejoined the path that led homewards. If he had marched speedily before, he sped now as it were with wings. He must needs hasten, and do what he had to do before the whole countryside was awake. The deed that he had done that day would be told along all the frontier but none must know as yet that his was the hand that did it. In the days to come he might boast of it. But not now. Now he would only tell her, the woman who had mocked him, the woman at whose feet he Was going to cast the ribbons he had cut from the dead men’s breasts. Desire lent speed to his feet. Surely to-night she would be his. Surely she would succumb at last to the tale of his prowess as he would tell it, vouched for by the ribbons he had brought her as a trophy. As the sun set, panting with the long steep climb and with the impatience of his desire he halted for a space just within sight of his goal, miles off as yet across the mountains. His triumph was at hand.

Three hours later he was passing up the village street, down which he had stridden in such fierce anger four days before. The whole village lay in darkness. The moon had not yet risen and all the world seemed wrapped in sleep. Only from the far end of the rough irregular street there came a gleam of light. It was from her house, the house from which he had flung out to the sound of her mocking laughter. It stood away from the other houses at the very top of the street. Asaf Khan drew near. She must be still awake while the rest of the villagers slept. It was well. He laughed softly, fingering the bundle of ribbons at his waist. When he produced them and tossed them to her, that would be the dramatic moment. She would not scoff then.

Outside the room, in the low veranda that protected it, he paused. There was the murmur of voices within. He drew back with a shock of surprise. Surely his ears deceived him. Yet that voice, deep and harsh, surely he could not mistake it! Yet how could this thing be? And then she laughed. That laugh at least there was no mistaking. A bitter fury swept over him as he remembered on what a note he had heard it last. Softly, like one in a trance, he drew near and put his eye to a great crack in the door that gave him a full view of the room within. He reeled and almost fell against the door at the sight that met his gaze. In the corner a small lamp burned, throwing its light full on the two figures in the room. On a piled-up heap of cushions sat the woman who had scorned him, her eyes alight, eagerness, welcome and delight in every movement. Beside her half sat, half lay the splendid figure of a man. A wave of blood seemed to sweep up into the brain of Asaf Khan as he looked, blinding him, paralysing every limb of his body as if he had been turned to stone.

For a space he neither saw nor heard. In his head was the noise of many waters, as when in the rainy season the mountain torrents leap over the rocks. Then slowly the blood seemed to recede out of his head and body, leaving him stone cold. It was the impossible that had happened. The brother whom he had thought a prisoner in the enemy’s hand in the Frontier fort, the brother whom he had made such plans to rescue to his own great glory was here before him, a free man, welcomed by the woman of his heart—that same woman who had scorned him, Asaf Khan. He could but just have arrived. These were the first words of reunited lovers they were speaking. He was telling her in boastful words of his escape. She was glorying in his exploit. Black rage grew blacker in the listener’s heart. This was a deed that would ring throughout the countryside to his brother’s glory. He, Asaf Khan, had no part in it. And all through these last few strenuous days he had pictured himself in the leading part. He was to have returned in triumph, the hero, the rescuer, leading his brother passive, the grateful rescued man, by the hand. And now his brother alone had done it—a wonderful feat as he told it to the woman by his side. He had needed no help. Asaf Khan could hear in imagination the mocking laughter of the woman when next he should meet her face to face.

And then, suddenly, he realized it—there was no need of imagination. She was mocking him even now. Her words came to him, clear and distinct. The man had finished his story and the woman had taken up the tale. She was telling with mimicry and scathing comment the story of his—Asaf Khan’s—wooing of her. With little bursts of laughter and much gesticulation she told it. All the things that he had spoken in the fierceness of his passion he heard repeated, his voice, his manner mocked. How different the words he had spoken sounded, coming mockingly from her lips. He ground his teeth in fury. Passion swayed him so that he clung against one of the wooden pillars of the house for support. Not being able to mock sufficiently as she sat, the woman sprang to her feet and mimicked his gait, his swagger, his violent gesticulations as he had flung himself out of her house, a few days gone. Then with a swift change of manner she had flung herself on the cushions again and was murmuring soft words of love to the man beside her. Never before had Asaf Khan heard those exquisite soft notes in her voice. He knew now that he had heard them in imagination—in his dreams. They seemed to beat into his brain. And when at last he heard them in reality they were not for him. They were mocking him even yet.

Resting his head on his hand, Alam Khan’s gaze never left the woman’s face. She swayed towards him as she talked, but still he did not touch her. With a smile on his lips and passion lurking in his eyes, he seemed to be revelling in every moment until the supreme instant when he would clasp her against his heart. She was crooning her love for him and scoffing at every other man in the world—particularly at Asaf Khan. And Asaf Khan, listening without, heard every word, clear and distinct. Finally working herself up to a dramatic climax she used a word of contempt for him that made the blood surge up again within him. He was less than the dust under her feet. He, the man beside her, was the one man in the world, her lord, her king. Half swooning in her exultation she fell forward, and the man at last with a swift fierce movement drew her to him.

For the second time that day Asaf Khan’s rifle came slowly into place. Again two shots rang out in quick succession, and before even the lightly-sleeping village was astir, Asaf Khan by devious ways had sought once more the mountain path. But this time his way lay northward, into the unknown.

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Concerning Buffaloes

As one looks at its huge ungainly form and dull protruding head, with the wide frightened eyes, one is not surprised that even primitive man felt it necessary to invent a legend to explain how so ill-favoured a beast as the buffalo came to be created. Here was the opportunity, that primitive man loved, to explain the inexplicable by a wild flight of imagination into the regions of another world where all things are possible. Surely God himself could not have made anything so clumsy and stupid looking as the buffalo. And so in the far-off days when the world was young a legend arose and still lives with all the tenacity of a legend in the East, long after it has ceased to be actually believed.

Presumptuous man, runs the legend, eaten up with his own conceit, looked upon the lower race of brute beasts and in the pride of his strength boasted that he could create them as easily as God, if only the secret of imparting to them the gift of life were his. Whereupon God, Who hears the vain boastings of man, gave into his hands the secret of imparting life, and man set confidently to work to produce the form of a beast wherein to place it. Still puffed up in, his own conceit man determined that his beast should be larger than any other beast that God had made, and for many days he worked diligently upon its form. It should have an enormous body, man decreed, with wide and terrifying horns to push its way unmolested through life, as the triumph of human handwork. For many days he laboured with unwaning confidence until, at last, it was ready, and to crown his efforts he placed within it the breath of life. Then the buffalo arose, staggering to its feet, and after one frightened glance at its maker lumbered heavily away, its foolish head held high, vacantly and superciliously sniffing the air. In a flash man’s folly stood revealed to him and his conceit fell from him. His attempt to outrival the handiwork of God had put him to open shame, and in his disgust he turned and implored the Deity to take back again the gift of imparting life, acknowledging his own incapacity and the divine omnipotence. Then God took back the power that He had given, but the buffalo He left to remind man of his presumption and his weakness. So the buffalo remains to this day the ugliest among created beasts, a standing witness to the incompetence of man to play the part of God.

There is no domesticated animal that recalls more vividly one’s memories of the East. Even the sight of an unfortunate couple caged in a western Zoo, robbed of their Oriental setting, brings back with a strange nostalgia some forgotten picture into which they fitted with all the perfection of Nature’s art. It was only a few months since they had formed so usual a part of the daily scene in the midst of which I had been set that the accustomed eye had almost failed to note them, save as small component parts of a picturesque whole. But to see them again in a western Zoo on a raw, cold afternoon, with grey clouds heavy with rain lowering overhead, brought back with a vividness nothing else had done a glimpse of the gorgeous sun-warmed East. Out of the cold and greyness one stepped again into a world of cloudless sunshine. Along the well-remembered road beneath the giant palms, moving lazily under the burning sun in the heat of the day, there comes a string of sagars, the most primitive means of conveyance in a primitive land. Roughly held together with wooden pins, their wheels of solid wood, they creak and groan like things in pain as the buffaloes harnessed to them saunter slowly by. Their heavy feet, clumsily lifted, scatter the red dust in clouds and the long string of them disappears in a purple haze.

One sees it all again in a flash, and as the picture disappears another takes its place. From a spacious veranda, gay with flowers, one is looking out across the garden at one’s feet to the open country beyond. It lies spread out like a map away to the distant hills that the western sun is already lighting to exquisite shades of purple and blue. In the foreground, in half a dozen tiny fields ploughing is in full swing. The early rains have almost flooded the low-lying land, and the cultivator wades ankle deep in the rich brown soil, urging the buffaloes that drag his primitive wooden plough to greater efforts. But shout to them as he may, prod them with his stick or strike their thick grey hides, they pay not the smallest heed, never bestirring themselves out of the slow, swaying walk that brings them at last, unhurried, to the end of the furrow.

Then the second picture fades and a third one takes its place. One is back in the great city, the second city in the Empire, driving in and out among the various obstructions that crowd the main thoroughfare leading to the station. A constant stream of wayfarers, clad in every variety of garb, throngs the footway and loiters carelessly across the road, miraculously escaping instantaneous death with all the calmness and unconcern of the East. Reckless ghari-drivers urging on diminutive tats clatter by; trams that fill up nearly half the roadway rumble past with a noisy ringing of bells; a gorgeous carriage and pair, with a Raja reclining at ease on its purple cushions, rolls luxuriously through the crowd; while the modern taxi, the latest recruit of the road, darts in and out with astonishing rapidity but with more skill than prudence. And then in a moment amidst much shouting they are all held up. From a side street crossing the road there has come a string of carts. The enormous buffaloes, as unconcerned in the midst of the crowd as if they trod some deserted village road, move slowly onwards into the heart of the traffic, straining against their heavy loads, long iron supports that protruding from the carts in front almost hit them on the back and trail out behind to sweep the unwary wayfarer off his feet. But heavy as his burden is, none of the sympathy that is meted out to the bullock, with its mild plaintive eyes that speak so eloquently of dumb suffering, is his. Always he wears that vacant supercilious look, whether toiling beneath the yoke or roaming at large in the fields, a look on which no one would venture to bestow his sympathy.

Then with a quick change of thought one is back again in an Indian hill station amongst a regiment of Goorkhas. It is the great day of their Puja, and the sepoys of the regiment with their wives arid children, a picturesque cheery crowd in many-coloured garments, are gathered round a great open space just beyond the regimental quarters. In the centre of the open space is an enormous post some six feet high firmly planted in the ground. When all is ready for the sacrifice a buffalo is brought out and its head tied firmly against the post as near the ground as possible. Then a sturdy little Goorkha sepoy steps forward and raises his kukhri with both hands. For a moment he stands, every muscle in his magnificently moulded arms and legs taut. Then with one clean sweep he severs the head of the buffalo. It is seldom that a Goorkha fails to decapitate the huge beast with a single blow, and great is the humiliation of one who does so fail. The strength and skill required are considerable. It is not a pretty sight to watch save for the unfailing precision and success of the blow, but no slaughter could be more speedy or humane.

Yet one last scene flashes across the mind before the greyness of the west descends again. It is evening and the sun is setting over the tall bamboos in a blaze of orange and mauve and blue. Between the bamboos runs the wide uneven road, the houses of the village scattered here and there on either side with picturesque lack of symmetry. Straight down the centre of the road strolls a herd of buffaloes, occupying all its width and seemingly untended. Though usually harmless the buffalo cannot be guaranteed not to make an unprovoked assault, and they look formidable beasts as they bear down upon us. But from out behind them there suddenly rushes the smallest of urchins some three feet high, and one knows that all is well. Belabouring the great beasts with strange cries and a stick half as long again as himself, he heads them off and makes a path for us to pass. It is an astonishing feat. Meekly the huge beasts obey this tiny specimen of humanity whom they could crush and gore to death with one blow of hoof or horn. To crown it all, as we pass safely by he scrambles up on to the greatest beast of all and lies face downwards full length along its back, kicking his heels in the air. Once again, as so often in the East, a Biblical word picture springs suddenly to life: “And a little child shall lead them.”

One buffalo was once responsible for a most interesting case, or rather series of cases, in the local courts. A shikari was standing with his gun beside a railway embankment, waiting for a train to pass, the embankment being so high that he could not see over the top of it. Just as the train was coming there strayed on to the line from the other side a buffalo, which lumbered across the rails right in front of the passing train. The buffer of the engine caught its hind-quarters and sent it flying down the embankment right on to the shikari, who had no warning of its coming till it was crashing down upon him. As it knocked him over his gun went off and brought the buffalo who had just escaped one sudden death to another equally sudden if less painful. The shikari was badly knocked about, and among other injuries broke an arm. The result was extremely complicated. The owner of the buffalo sued the shikari for killing his buffalo, the shikari sued both the owner of the buffalo for the damage the buffalo had done to him, and the railway company for throwing the buffalo at him, while the railway company sued the owner of the buffalo for allowing it to trespass on the line. All these intricately connected cases were sent to subordinate Indian magistrates for trial, and were the occasion of much anxiety and distress among them. “It is a case of many dilemmas,” wrote one harassed officer, while another began his judgment with the words: “There has been much storm in the teacup of this case.” In the result, however, things squared up wonderfully. The owner of the buffalo had to pay for his buffalo trespassing, and for the damage it had done to the shikari in its involuntary flight, but he got compensation from the shikari for shooting it, though the act was purely involuntary and unintentional, while the railway company was fined for “throwing a projectile at the shikari,” a decision which was subsequently reversed on appeal. The owner of the wayward buffalo appears at first sight to have come off worst, but it must not be forgotten that in addition to getting compensation for his buffalo he had the satisfaction of eating it too.

A wild buffalo may prove a most formidable beast to tackle. Though an easy target, he takes some killing, and a wounded buffalo is a thing to be given the widest possible berth. One of my globe-trotting visitors once had a most unpleasant experience. He was Mr. Eldon P. Quintz, an American millionaire who, having spent his youth and middle age in making a fortune in the manufacture of rifles, had been seized comparatively late in life with the desire to fire them off himself.

“I guess if every rifle I’ve turned out of my factory killed one wild beast there wouldn’t be a wild beast left in the world,” he boasted to me one day.

“Wal,” he said, in answer to my tentative inquiries as to whether he had done much big-game shooting before, “Wal, I’ve just got to admit that I made rifles for thirty years before it ever occurred to me to fire one off. But when it did occur, I just fired until I’ve hit well-nigh everything there is to hit.”

But a buffalo he had not yet hit, and his keenness at least was refreshing.

It was a wide open patch of swampy ground in the midst of thick jungle with no cover in it at all, save a group of low-growing shrubs in the middle. The jungle was on three sides; the fourth was open, sloping down to an estuary of the sea. Right in the centre of the opening on the low-lying shore we found a group of four buffaloes, a bull and three cows. It was a long shot from the edge of the jungle on either side, but they made a splendid target, their great black forms clear cut against the open stretch of muddy shore and sky. They had not seen us, and we decided that we would work half-way round to the edge of the jungle, one on each side, so as to get them between two fires. Of course, as my guest, my American friend was to fire first, and I took the position farthest away from them so that I should only fire in case he missed and drove them towards me. Each of us had only one shikari with him.

Our plan worked out without a hitch, both of us keeping well under cover as we worked our way round and the buffaloes getting no inkling of our presence. Doubtless being more accustomed to jungle life I reached my coign of vantage considerably before Mr. Eldon P. Quintz, and I waited patiently for him to shoot. At last his rifle rang out and the bull fell with a thud, but plainly only wounded. For a moment the other three stood absolutely stock still looking at it stupidly as it struggled on the ground, and then they suddenly, as if with one consent, turned upon it and began to gore it as it lay.

It was an extraordinary sight, and it being too far off for me to fire, I was watching through my glasses expecting to see Mr. Eldon P. Quintz put another shot into the unfortunate bull, when my shikari, who was standing behind me, plucked my sleeve with an exclamation of astonishment, pointing to the little clump of bushes in the centre of the open. Turning my glasses I saw my American friend struggling through the mud, and a moment later taking cover behind the bushes and aiming again at the fallen buffalo. It was a foolish thing to do, the little clump of bushes offering no shelter, and escape being impossible through the more than ankle-deep mud should the buffalo charge. A shot rang out and the struggling mass on the ground grew still. The other three buffaloes at once stood stock still again and sniffed the air as if scenting their pursuer. Then two of them lumbered off into the jungle on the side away from me. For a moment the third one hesitated, and then, to my horror, charged straight at Mr. Eldon P. Quintz as he stood right in the open, having deserted in the moment of excitement even the small shelter of the clump of bushes. I almost expected to see him do the one fatal thing, turn and run for the cover of the jungle, which he could never have hoped to reach in the heavy mud with the buffalo charging at a pace that was, considering its bulk, amazing. But Mr. Eldon P. Quintz showed grit. With the buffalo bearing down full upon him he stood and took steady aim. Whether he hit or not I could not tell, but, at any rate, the shot failed to stop the charge. Yet even so Mr. Eldon P. Quintz stood firm. For a moment longer he faced the now furious beast, and then he was hurtling in the air, tossed clean over the great brute’s back and plunging head first into the mud.

So great was the impetus that the buffalo had gained in the charge that it was some distance before it could turn, but turn it eventually did, with the obvious intent to trample and gore its fallen enemy. It looked as if nothing could save Mr. Eldon P. Quintz and restore him unhurt to the Rifle Factory that he so much loved. He had scrambled to a sitting posture, but that was as much as he could do. All his energies were employed in rubbing the mud out of his eyes. But luckily for him in the nick of time there came a diversion. His shikari had apparently followed him out into the open and had taken shelter in the clump of bushes, but the sight of the Sahib, of whom he had been placed in charge, being tossed in the air was too much for his nerves, and he fled terror-stricken from his hiding-place full in view of the buffalo. His dhoti streaming out in the breeze behind him caught the buffalo’s attention and seemed at once to have all the proverbial effect of a red rag on a bull. Forgetting his first victim he charged straight after the fleeing shikari and, catching him as he fled, impaled the unfortunate man on one of his horns and ran round madly with him carried aloft. Fortunately he was now within full reach of my rifle and a lucky shot laid him out stone dead. The shikari was horribly gored, but eventually he recovered as a pensioner of Mr. Eldon P. Quintz, whose life he had undoubtedly but all unwittingly saved. Mr. Eldon P. Quintz. himself was none the worse for his adventure, and the buffalo’s head now adorns the dining-room of his house in Fifth Avenue. I should very much like to hear Mr. Eldon P. Quintz telling his admiring guests over the walnuts and the wine the story of how he got that head.

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The Trial of Luck

It was the morning of the great Sohrae Festival.

All the village was astir with the dawn, every household eager with anticipation. For to-day would take place the annual ceremony of the Trial of Luck whereat good fortune throughout the coming year would be bestowed by the gods upon one fortunate recipient. It was the most exciting day of all the year in Santal land. None but the gods knew upon whom the luck would fall. To all there was an equal chance. Happy would be the man, woman, or child who so far as the coming year was concerned might from to-day look forward into the future with confidence. The Luck of the Sohrae never failed.

Among the first astir was Surjia Mandalini, the Headman’s daughter. All the long night through she had scarcely slept with excitement. From her little newar cot in the open veranda that faced the courtyard she had watched the stars pass over the top of the tamarind trees and eagerly waited for the dawn. It was of such immense importance that the Luck to-day should fall upon her. The year that lay ahead, for good or ill, would be the most momentous she had ever spent. For months there had been much talk that she was fast approaching marriageable age. Often when they thought she slept in this same little newar bed when night had fallen, she had lain listening while her parents talked. Though they still regarded her as a child and spoke before her of things they thought she did not understand, it had become evident to Surjia Mandalini’s small mind that they did not deem her any longer too young for marriage. Many of her friends, moreover, but little if any older than herself, had already in the previous marriage season been wedded with all the ceremony that a Santal loves. As she lay gazing up at the stars and waiting for the dawn that would usher in the great day of the Trial of Luck, Surjia remembered how she had envied the pleasurable excitement and the temporary importance that had been theirs as centres, each in her turn, of the great ceremony. And now her own time was at hand. Only the day before she had overheard a conversation in which it had been stated that she was already above the marriageable age.

Yet as the long hours of the night lagged and the stars crept slowly across the space between the tamarind trees, there had come to her a strange and unwelcome sense of doubt. For fifteen years she had lived the life of a child. Year by year she had followed the wonderful round of religious observances with awe and reverence, and already she had begun to experience the fear and dread that is the inheritance of the ignorant Santal mind, which trembles before the unknown and peoples the unseen with spirits evil and malign. But never until the idea of her coming marriage had taken possession of her mind had she begun to think. And now she was conscious that with thought had come a greater fear than any that had yet arisen in her heart. Had this same vague feeling of dread, she wondered, arisen also in the minds of her companions whose bridal importance she had so much envied? Had they welcomed the great occasion as much as she had fancied that they did? With that absolute reticence and implicit and unwavering obedience to custom that is ingrained in the Santal mind they had never spoken even to her in childish confidence. And now she in her turn must take up the burden of her race and accept whatever the gods through her parents might give. If only the gods would favour her to-day and allow the Luck to fall upon her she could go forward into the future with confidence. The Luck of the Sohrae never failed.

One by one she passed in review all the possible bridegrooms in her own and the neighbouring villages upon whom the choice of her parents might fall. There was Tulsi Manjhi, young and well favoured, the son of the Headman of the adjoining village. His father was rich in many head of cattle, well able to pay the Pan, the bride price that her father would doubtless demand. His younger brother, Manasa Manjhi, Surjia dismissed with scarce a thought. Surely her father would not choose him. If there was one thing that Surjia, in common with all her race, admired more than anything else it was strength. Manasa Manjhi in her estimation was a weakling. He had never won a contest in the great arrow shooting competitions, neither could he run with the speed of his fellows. He was lazy and unkempt, and Surjia dismissed him quickly from her mind. Then for a moment her thoughts lingered on Sibhu Mandal, he to whom the Luck had fallen at the last Sohrae, whose year of good fortune would end to-day. He was a youth of whom any girl might be proud. His sturdy, well-knit figure was always among the first in every contest. None could speed the arrow with more deadly aim than he, nor was more tireless in the chase. But could his father, who was a poor man, pay the bride price? She was the Headman’s daughter and none but he who had many head of cattle to offer could hope to win her.

Her stepmother’s voice broke in upon her thoughts. The dawn had scarce crept from grey to palest rose but already she was astir.

“Get thee up, thou lazy one,” came the stern, harsh voice that Surjia dreaded. “Is it not to-day the Trial of Luck, and wilt thou sleep instead of putting thy fortune to the test?”

“Nay, nay, mother,” answered Surjia, hastily scrambling off the little newar bed and gathering her sari round her, “I was not asleep. I but lay thinking.”

“Thinking?” Maru Mandalini turned upon her with mingled suspicion and contempt. “Thinking? Of what wert thou thinking, pray?”

Looking into her stepmother’s stern face the impulse that more than once had come to her to speak her thoughts, to unburden her mind and peer into the future through the older woman’s greater knowledge, died quickly. Her secret musings, brought out into the light, would meet with nothing but contempt from the hard, silent woman who was all she had ever known as mother.

“I was thinking but of the Trial of Luck,” she said quickly, and passed out into the courtyard to perform her morning toilet.

But as she carefully plaited her thick black hair and decorated it with the pale yellow sarma blossoms culled from the tree that overhung the courtyard her spirits rose. She had never so much as caught a passing glimpse of herself in a looking-glass, but with the instinct of her youth and sex she knew that she was comely. It was not solely because she was the Headman’s daughter that all her little world, save perhaps only her stepmother, had smiled upon her. Moreover, had not Bhola Manjhi, her devoted slave, shown it in a thousand ways? He was only Bhola Manjhi, it is true, a dependent in her father’s household, but none save Sibhu Mandal could equal him with bow and arrow or in the chase. Busy with her toilet and her thoughts, she did not see that he had entered the courtyard and was standing in the doorway gazing across at her with laughing eyes.

“It is upon me that the Luck will fall to-day,” he said suddenly.

Surjia, lost in her thoughts, started so at the sound of his voice that the plait of her hair she was busy upon slipped out of her fingers. She frowned at him as she tossed her head, and seizing the plait again, went on with her toilet. Bhola was a person whom she had snubbed from her earliest years. A penniless orphan whom her father had adopted out of pity he had always held a secondary place to her, her father’s only child though she was but a girl. Always, so long as she could recall, he had been at her command and being assured of his loyalty and devotion she had treated him with scant respect. He had never so much as entered into her small scheme of things save as a willing and useful slave. Often as her mind had recently lingered on thoughts of approaching marriage Bhola had never for one instant presented himself to her as a possible bridegroom. She would have laughed the idea to scorn if it had been suggested to her.

“I shall have great luck in the coming year,” he spoke again, undeterred by the contemptuous silence with which she had received his former remark.

Surjia merely tossed her head again and refused to look at him. Then as he did not speak she glanced at him out of one corner of her eye to make sure that he was still there.

“And when did the gods confide to Bhola Manjhi what they intended doing?” she asked scoffingly.

“I dreamed it in a dream before the dawn this day,” he answered, speaking as one whose faith is simple but implicit.

For a moment Surjia’s nimble fingers paused in the arrangement of her hair and she glanced up at him between the three long plaits that hung across her face. His voice had so strong a ring of confidence that even she was impressed. Then with a little shrug of amusement she flung back the plaits and began to coil them deftly on her head.

“It will be as the gods please,” she said. “But it will not be upon thee that the Luck will fall. Mine will assuredly be the Luck to-day.”

But even as she said it she knew that her voice had none of the confidence of his. With a sudden anger in her heart she felt that she would hate him if the Luck that she so much desired should fall to him and not to her.

Three hours later the sun was shining with all the brilliance of an unclouded Indian morning upon a scene of unwonted animation. Long and straggling, the village street was astir with life and interest. Every man, woman, and child in the village was out of doors and seemingly inextricably mixed up with an immense number of cattle of every size and description, from huge ponderous buffaloes blundering uncertainly here and there in response to the excited cries of their owners, to tiny goats that darted in and out among the feet of the larger animals and butted into men’s legs, making confusion worse confounded. A cloud of dust filled the air, choking in its intensity and settling like a thick veil over the village. Noise, heat, and confusion reigned supreme.

Surjia Mandalini, with a group of her companions, sat on a low bank at the farthest end of the village street, watching the final preparation for the great Trial of Luck. Opposite to her in the centre of the road they were marking off a circle on the ground some four feet in diameter, and covering it carefully with a thick layer of freshly cooked rice. When all was ready and the circle lay a glittering patch of white on the brown dusty road, the Headman stepped forward and reaching over with much ceremony placed an egg in the centre of the circle on the rice. A stir of excitement passed through the little crowd of onlookers as the Headman stepped back, and all eyes were fixed with fascinated interest on the egg. The Trial of Luck was set. Within a few minutes all the cattle of the village would come, driven along the village street from its farthest end, and the feet of one of them would break the egg bringing to the fortunate owner luck throughout the coming year. To every villager there was a chance. No household was so poor that it did not possess some four-footed beast, and so in the hearts of all, as they watched the egg ready placed there, lived the hope that upon them the gods might deign to smile, giving them the prize in the coming Trial of Luck.

Meanwhile as the crowd opposite the circle of rice increased, the village street save at the farthest end had grown well-nigh empty. One by one refractory buffaloes, mild uncomplaining oxen, and agitated goats had been driven into one great herd where, in charge of half a dozen herdmen of the village, they waited the signal that would tell them that the Trial of Luck had begun. Then the signal given, the cattle slowly began to move along the street, a picturesque, confused and struggling mass. With absorbed interest Surjia Mandalini watched them come, eagerly looking for the great black buffalo that, at her request, her father had allotted to her as her own for this day’s Trial of Luck. Alike as all buffaloes might look to the casual observer, Surjia knew hers as soon as the seething mass turned the last corner of the village street that led into the straight towards the magic circle. Her heart almost stood still with joy as she recognized him, for he was coming blundering on in the very centre of the herd. Surely he must walk straight over the egg and crush it beneath his heavy feet.

“Nevertheless the Luck will be mine, not thine,” came a mocking voice at her ear.

Turning quickly, Surjia found that Bhola Manjhi stood beside her, his eyes smiling into hers. Angrily she turned away again and scanned the oncoming herd.

“Thy heifer lags behind altogether out of sight,” she flung back at him scornfully.

“Nevertheless the luck will be mine, not thine,” came the confident mocking voice again.

But the supreme moment had come and Surjia was watching with breathless interest. The silence of eager expectation had fallen upon the crowd that lined the roadway on either side. The road itself some twenty feet across was bounded by low banks between which the cattle, driven slowly onwards from behind, must pass. Already they were within a few yards of the circle and every owner’s eye was fixed upon his own beast in the jostling herd hoping against hope that it might bring him luck. Right in the centre, its nose uplifted and sniffing the air as if protesting at having to play its part in the strange ceremony, still came Surjia Mandalini’s buffalo chosen by her for to-day’s Trial as the largest of all her father’s beasts. With clasped hands and eager eyes she watched it slowly drawing nearer. It seemed to take an interminable time with its deliberate tread to cover the short distance that remained. Now it was only ten feet away, now five, and still it came straight for the circle. Surely the gods favoured her. Surely the Luck was hers. It was only a couple of feet away. And then suddenly its stupid head that hitherto had been held so high, taking no note of the road under its feet, went down suspiciously and sniffed uncertainly at the great white circle on the sun-burnt road. Surjia could have screamed aloud in her excitement. Another step and the Luck was hers. It seemed long minutes that the buffalo hesitated. Then with a nervous start it drew back, its enormous body thrusting itself against the crowd behind and scattering the smaller beasts right and left. With a frightened ungainly rush it swerved off to the right and fled blundering past the circle, leaving it untouched. The mass of beasts, broken in the centre, streamed by on either side, only one or two trampling the edges of the circle as they hurried by. The excitement amongst the crowd grew. Truly the race was not always to the strong. The gods gave the Luck to whom they would. More than half the herd had passed by and still the egg lay untouched in the centre of the circle even as the Headman had placed it before the Trial of Luck began.

Bhola Manjhi’s eyes had searched the herd from the first moment that it hove in sight, but nowhere as yet had he distinguished the heifer on which all his hopes rested. His first real possession, earned by his own labour in the fields, he had lavished for many months much care and affection on this same heifer. Many an hour he had spent in tending it and no other heifer in the village was as sleek as his. And now it was to bring the Luck so much desired. Far back in the struggling crowd he caught sight of it at last, its glossy well-groomed coat shining in the sunlight. The crowd of cattle had thinned perceptibly, the greater number having passed by on either side of the circle and the little black heifer as it drew near was walking daintily almost alone. Straight for the circle it came, and Bhola watched it breathlessly. Would it, too, swerve aside at the last moment? The crowd gazed with fascinated attention. Without the smallest hesitation it walked straight on to the rice and, as if it had deliberately calculated its paces, smashed the egg beneath its foot.

An eager buzz of conversation broke the long silence. Disappointed themselves, all the villagers crowded forward to congratulate the lucky owner. Bhola Manjhi, the orphan, the landless youth, was the hero of the hour. With one hand caressing the little black heifer that had brought him such great luck he laughingly replied to their congratulation. Surjia Mandalini alone had given him no word. When she had seen that the Luck was really his she had flung angrily away from him with tears of disappointment in her eyes. If anything could have damped the joy of Bhola’s triumph it would have been that, but what could anything matter now that the Luck that was his for the coming year would assuredly in good time give him all that he desired?

That night the village was given over to the wildest orgies. The Sohrae festival was at its height and it was a time of unbridled licence. Quiet and content as the Santal is, uncomplainingly pursuing the monotonous round of daily toil, once a year at the time of the Sohrae he seems to throw off all restraint and give himself up to unrestrained indulgence.

For hours Surjia Mandalini danced in the nautch that night. The women, formed in a semicircle with linked arms, followed the drummers with slow graceful movements absolutely in time and rhythm, never tiring, never out of step. Surjia at the head of them, the best dancer of them all, almost forgot in the excitement of the dance her disappointment of the morning and her unreasoning anger against Bhola Manjhi who had won the success that she so much coveted. Yet when in the movement of the dance she caught sight of him again she frowned and refused to look at him. Later, when the dance was over for a time, he sought to speak to her but she would have none of him. She would always hate him, she vowed to herself bitterly.

Wearied out at length she had gone home with her stepmother and quickly fallen asleep. In spite of the throbbing of the drums and the noise of singing that came across the fields she slept for hours, the sleep of a child, only to wake with a start, all her faculties painfully alive again. A great shout of laughter close at hand had wakened her and, half raised in her little cot, she peered out into the darkness. Across the court-yard she could just discern the figures of her father and Bhola Manjhi staggering in, fuddled with much rice beer. They seemed to be supporting one another, each leaning heavily upon the other, and talking continuously in loud laughing voices. And as she watched and listened Surjia suddenly caught her own name spoken. What else she heard she could never quite remember, but in a flash it came to her that her father in drunken maudlin tones was addressing Bhola as his future son-in-law. That could mean only one thing. Surjia’s brain reeled with the unexpectedness of it. Her eyes fixed upon the little scene in the court-yard she lay motionless. The two figures, the old heavy figure of her father and the lithe figure of the youth, swayed from side to side in a maudlin embrace. Again she heard her own name, this time on Bhola’s lips. He was speaking with a note of triumph. The old man babbled on unceasingly. Finally with a rush, as if they had at last lost their balance, they tumbled over into the veranda against the mat wall of the inner room, and lay like logs. No sooner did they reach the ground than their steady, stertorous breathing told her they were asleep.

Surjia crouched down in her bed and tried to think. In the first light that was already creeping out of the east she could see her stepmother’s stolid form stretched full length on the ground a few yards away. The noise in the court-yard had failed to awaken her. She, too, had partaken of much haria and slept the sleep of exhaustion. There was no help to be found in her. Full well Surjia knew that she would but echo what the Headman, her lord and master, decreed. Not only would she support him, she would do so with taunts and threats that would but add to its bitterness. There was no escape. This was the marriage to which she had so looked forward. After all her hopes and dreams she was to find a bridegroom in the plain, unromantic figure of Bhola Manjhi, whom all her life she had known and snubbed and bullied, and whom since the Trial of Luck that morning she had felt she hated. All her passionate little soul quivered with protest. By the name of every god she could remember she swore that, come what might, she would never wed Bhola Manjhi.

When the excitement of the Sohrae was over, all the talk of the village was of the approaching marriage of Surjia Mandalini, the Headman’s daughter. Already invitations had been issued far and near. The Santal having no written language of his own, and living in blissful ignorance of pen and paper, has from time immemorial adopted a simple form of invitation as effective as if written in black and white. Surjia, in spite of herself, had watched with absorbed interest while her father had made the invitations ready. Taking a number of pieces of string he had carefully tied a similar number of knots in each. Neither he nor anyone else in the village could count, so it was only by putting the strings side by side and carefully comparing the number of knots that he could secure each invitation being the same. This being accomplished the pieces of string were sent off by special messengers to his various friends. The recipients, untying one knot each morning, would all arrive at the correct date of the wedding and would assemble at the Headman’s house on the day on which the last knot was untied.

The piece of knotted string, retained by the Headman for his own guidance, hung from the central rafter in the open veranda, and every morning Surjia watched her father untie a knot with growing rebellion in her heart. Yet with all the reserve of the Santal mind and implicit obedience to time-honoured custom she had from the first made no protest. Reverence for custom and tradition was as strong in her as in her parents. Yet in her small passionate heart she was that rare thing in Santal land—a rebel. She had vowed that she would not marry Bhola Manjhi, and she would not.

Secretly she laid her plans. When there were only two knots left on the string she would run away. Once the year before she had gone with her father to the Mission House five miles across the fields towards the sunset. It was her only glimpse of the outside world. Her father had had some case to settle before the White Sahib there, and firmly fixed in Surjia’s memory were the merry laughing faces of the girls in the Mission School. Never before or since had she seen so many girls together. While her father had been busy with the Sahib, some of them had spoken to her and she had listened with absorbed interest to the glowing accounts of life in the Mission School. She, who as an only child had lived so much alone without the companionship of other girls, had felt a great longing for this cheery life among other girls of her own age. The White Sahib, too, had spoken to her kindly in her own tongue. She remembered that, as he patted her head, he had asked her with a smile if she too would not like to go to school and learn to read and write. She was going to him now, when there were only two knots left on the string, to ask him to take her in.

It was the third day before the wedding. Only three knots remained on the string that hung on the rafter. Preparations for the marriage ceremony were almost complete, and in spite of herself, Surjia could not resist the general air of excitement and expectation that prevailed, not only in the Headman’s house but through all the village. There were to be great doings and she was to be the centre of them. But to-morrow, she told herself again and again, to-morrow just before the dawn she would make her flight. To-day, however, there fell yet another of the many festivals observed in Santal land in which she must take part.

Like all ceremonies prescribed by custom it must be religiously performed and nowhere more religiously than in the house of the Headman whose duty it was to pass on traditions uncurtailed and undiminished to the younger generation. To-day’s ceremony was one of the strangest of all the yearly round. As noon drew near all the inmates of the house, reinforced by uncles, aunts and cousins from far and near, gathered in the living-room where all were seated in a circle on the floor, and the doors were closed. There being no glass windows in Santal land, the room was in darkness when the doors were closed save for a lamp that had been placed on the ground in the centre of the group and that threw all the surrounding faces into clear relief. Some twenty men, women and children all told had assembled, and when all was ready the Headman solemnly handed round cotton wool, which each one stuffed in his or her ears so that it was impossible for them to hear. Then at a given signal, each one began to shout the foulest abuse conceivable at his or her neighbour. It was the one moment in the year when you could tell your husband or your wife, or your sister, your cousin or your aunt in the plainest possible language at the top of your voice what you really thought of them. And this without any unpleasant consequences since neither they nor anyone else could hear what you said, though they could see you say it. All your bottled up wrath of the past year you could pour upon your defenceless victim’s head, and from the clamour that ensued when the Headman gave the signal for tongues to be unloosed it was obvious with what relief one and all seized the opportunity. Perfect pandemonium raged.

For days Surjia Mandalini had looked forward to this ceremony. Bhola Manjhi would be there and it would be a joy untold to be able to abuse him, to tell him to his face that she was fooling him, that she hated him and that never, never would she marry him. When the time came she had been careful to take her place opposite to him and the moment the signal was given she began to shriek abuse at him, throwing the words into his face with all the vehemence of which she was capable.

“Thou thinkest thou wilt marry me within a few days’ time,” she shouted with scorn, “but thou shalt not. I would sooner marry the herdman’s son than thee. I hate thee, thou plain-faced menial. Oh! how I hate thee.”

But shriek at him as she might, he never so much as looked at her. He was busy directing all his abuse at other people. He was altogether ignoring her. Purple with rage she shrieked yet more loudly at him.

“Sooner than marry thee I would become a handmaid to the herdman. I spurn thee as a beggar under my feet. I hate thee as the fawn hates the beast of prey, the dove the fowler, and the beast of prey the hunter. I hate thee, I hate thee, I hate thee.”

Yet still Bhola Manjhi never so much as looked at her. Regardless of the others, she shrieked at him again and again. Swept away by her fury she poured upon him the foulest abuse, words she had never used before and but half understood, words she had heard from men in their drunken moods at the Sohrae. Yet still he sat ignoring her.

For a moment she stopped, breathless and exhausted, her face distorted with anger. She felt as if she were stifling in the heat of the room and the passion of her absorbing but futile rage.

Then suddenly he turned upon her and his eyes blazing he began to shout at her. Now was her opportunity. She could shriek all the fury and abuse she desired straight into his face. But a sudden horror swayed her. She was dumb. Struggle as she might she could make no sound. Her hands flew up and clutched her throat as if to release her voice, but no words came. His eyes, riveted on hers, seemed to hold her as in a vice. His shrieked abuse, though lost in the dull babel of sound, held her spell-bound. Her senses reeled, but gazing fascinated into his eyes she realized it at last. This was her man, her lord. She might shriek abuse, she might inwardly defy, she might hate, but this was he to whom her obedience was due. The immemorial traditions of her race had conquered. In that moment the woman in her gave her allegiance to the man. A miracle had been wrought. She knew that she loved him.

That evening under the tamarind tree beyond the court-yard, they stood together as the sun set over the low crest of the hills towards the west. In every line of the attitude of the woman there was glad submission. In the attitude of the man there was the pride of possession and protection.

“It was well that I and not thou should win in the Trial of Luck,” he said.

Her eyes fluttered up to him questioningly.

“In order that I might give it as a marriage gift to thee,” he whispered, and leaning forward he did what he had never dared to do before, kissing her full upon the lips. And at that kiss the soul of Surjia Mandalini awoke.

“It is even as if I had won,” she cried, in the joy of her new-found womanhood, and raised her lips again to his.

Divider

Concerning Crocodiles

My little Head Clerk, with the familiar bundle tied with red tape under his arm, stood in front of me.

I was struggling with rows and rows of revenue figures, which is not good for a man, and at which it is not wise to disturb him with the temperature at 105°. It was only two days before that I had taken over charge of the district, and here was a whole page of last year’s figures calling upon me to testify, in the little blank space at their foot, to their veracity. All through the long hours of the hot afternoon I had wrestled with them, yet knowing full well that it was impossible to make quite sure of them, and that the only thing to be done was to sign one’s name and trust to the luck that so seldom fails. Just as my pen hesitated over the signature that made me responsible for many more lacs of rupees than I could ever hope to make in the service, my little Head Clerk appeared. I turned upon him, fully prepared to vent upon him my long pent-up irritability and annoyance.

He was five feet nothing, very sallow and very slight, and he habitually looked much wiser than anybody could ever possibly be. He really was very wise, but it took an annoyingly long time to get his wisdom out of him. He knew every section and sub-section of every code by heart, and he loved nothing better than to quote them at you at full length. He took an unholy joy in raising every possible legal difficulty in order that he might promptly solve it out of his vast store of knowledge. He was a perfect treasure, but a most annoying person at times.

“Sir,” he said, eyeing me solemnly over the top of his gold-rimmed spectacles as I looked up at him with a frown, “it is a question of a reward for a crocodile.”

I put down my pen and gave him my whole attention. Crocodiles sounded so much more interesting than revenue figures.

“Is a reward given for a crocodile?” I asked, ignorant as yet in these things. As I have said, it was only two days since I had taken over charge of the district, and in the districts of my previous experience crocodiles had played as small a part as snakes in Iceland.

“A reward is always given,” pronounced the little Head Clerk with his usual slow deliberation, as he untied the red tape that bound the bundle; “the only question that remains for your Honour’s decision is how much that reward shall be.”

The point was new to me. I had done many things during my five years’ service in India, but I had never before been asked to decide on the merits or demerits of a crocodile. I suggested that before proceeding further in the matter it might be as well to inspect the specimen in question.

“It awaits your Honour’s inspection in the veranda of the Court,” said the little Head Clerk, and we forthwith proceeded to inspect it.

A crowd gathers quickly in the East, where no one is in a hurry, and outside, beyond the veranda a sea of heads struggled to gain a glimpse of the enormous monster as it lay at the top of the steps. It measured fourteen feet from the tip of its tail to the tip of its snout, and the proud shikari who had shot it, with an antiquated gun that looked as if it would be far more dangerous to the person brave enough to fire it than it could possibly be to anything he aimed at, stood beside it—the hero of the moment. It was the first time I had ever met a crocodile at close quarters and its hideous ugliness fascinated me as it evidently did the ever-growing crowd of natives, upon whom it served to exercise something of a hypnotic effect. Its enormous mouth had been propped open with a stick, and its huge cavernous jaws gaped as they must often have done in life, paralysing its victims with the helpless terror that renders escape impossible. With its great dirty brown body, short straddling legs, and long sinister tail, it looked the most hideous of created monsters. The sickly yellow-white skin, stretching from throat to tail beneath it, which properly cured would make so excellent a piece of leather, seemed only to add a last repulsive touch.

“Sir,” came the voice of the little Head Clerk beside me, “the reward may be anything your Honour pleases up to and including rupees fifty.”

“This surely is about as big as you ever get, isn’t it?” I asked, feeling that it was impossible to imagine anything on the same lines, outside a museum of prehistoric monsters, on a much larger scale.

“Sir,” he replied quickly, and with something of mild reproach in his voice, “it is not according to the size of the crocodile that the reward is given. The question for your Honour’s decision is whether this crocodile is a man-eater or only man-eating.”

For a moment I was puzzled. One plays many parts in one’s capacity as a Magistrate in India, but how to decide whether a crocodile was a man-eater? Still more how to decide between a man-eater and one that is only man-eating?

“Man-eater or only man-eating?” I repeated vaguely, feeling that both must be much the same from the man-eaten point of view. “What is the difference?”

My little Head Clerk paused for a moment as if rehearsing his reply. Then he delivered himself with his usual deliberation.

“Sir,” he said slowly, “there is a great difference. A man-eater is one that eats humans habitually; a man-eating crocodile is one that eats them only very occasionally, as it were by accident.”

I hid a smile as the distinction dawned upon me. The man-eater deliberately sought out men. The man-eating merely did not refuse them if they happened to come along. But there still remained the difficulty of deciding which this particular crocodile might be. I turned again to the little Head Clerk for guidance.

“What we find in the stomach will infallibly prove,” he said. “It is necessary that we have it opened in the presence of the Assistant-Surgeon.”

I was somewhat relieved when I was assured that it was by no means expected of me that I should be present at the operation. A note to the Assistant-Surgeon was all that was required. He would inform me what were the “contents of the interior,” as the Head Clerk with unwonted delicacy put it.

Half an hour later came back the following note from the Assistant-Surgeon:

Honoured Sir,

I have the honour to acquaint your Honour with the contents of the crocodile kindly submitted by your Honour—one female skull much mangled, one smaller ditto intact (probably female child’s): one female thigh-bone: two small silver anklets and one bracelet belonging to small-made woman or child (female): and much human hair, also undoubtedly female.

Your Honour’s humble servant,

Sd/ —Gurudas Sen.
Assistant-Surgeon.

The “contents of the interior “ seemed to me to make the case look black against that crocodile. He could hardly have swallowed all that “as it were by accident.” My little Head Clerk, however, thought otherwise.

“The haul is insignificant. We often find much more,” he said, running his eye over the list of human contents with something of contempt. “Besides,” he added in a tone that implied a still poorer opinion of the crocodile, “nothing appertaining to a man has been found inside it. The practice is that the full reward of rupees fifty is only given when male remains are found inside, less for women, and still less for children.”

I smiled inwardly at the graduated scale which was so typically Indian, or perhaps one should say Eastern, for does not the Chinamen in case of danger rescue first the men and men-children and then the women and girls, Eastern women having not yet demanded equal rights with men? Worth considerably less than their lords, and masters in life, they do not rise in value even when eaten by a crocodile.

Under the circumstances I suggested a reward of forty rupees. The Head Clerk evidently thought that too much, but I stood firm.

“I consider it evident,” I said, irresistibly drawn to imitate his speech and manner, “that this crocodile had undoubtedly adopted evil habits, beginning with women and children, which, giving it a taste for human flesh, would lead it on to become a man-eater in real earnest. I therefore award rupees forty as a reward.”

“As your Honour pleases,” he murmured, submissive but unconvinced, as he re-tied the bundle with the red tape. It was quite obvious that he considered I had paid a large price for perhaps only “one woman and a female child.”

The next time that I saw a crocodile I saw not one but dozens. The great rivers that flow into the Bay of Bengal are tidal for over a hundred miles inland and many of them swarm with crocodiles. In the hot weather and rains, when the water is warm, nothing is to be seen of them, save occasionally the tip of a snout above the water, which hastily disappears as the launch approaches. But in the winter months, when the water is cold, they crawl out and sun themselves on the sloping mud banks as the river recedes with the ebb-tide. For miles inland at high tide the rivers overflow their banks or lap the roots of the trees that form the dense forests on either side, leaving here and there as they recede a few feet of gently sloping silt. Here the crocodile, cautiously lying just above the water’s edge, basks in the sun, as many as a dozen being sometimes seen in a row, their enormous dirty-grey bodies scarce distinguishable against the muddy bank. They always reminded me of that delightful picture in Punch labelled “No bathing to-day,” in which prehistoric men in various garments had come down to the sea-shore to bathe only to find the water full of strange monsters eagerly awaiting their arrival. A semicircle of bamboos driven into the bed of the river to form a stout palisade affords the only safe protection for a bathing place, and even there occasionally a crocodile will enter from the bank during the night, awaiting the first bather in the early morning as his victim. The older ones, huge brutes that run to eighteen feet in length, seem always to sleep with one eye open, and it is difficult to approach near enough to get a shot. With only the slightest movement of the tail they slide down gently into the water and disappear just as one draws within range. The smaller ones, on the other hand, sleep so soundly that one can get within a few yards of them unobserved. But even then one cannot count the coveted skin as won. A crocodile is a difficult beast to kill stone dead. The fatal spot is just behind the ear, but to find that spot from a launch or boat that is never quite still requires a more than unusually good aim. If the first shot does not get right home there is seldom time for a second, the huge great body, with a sudden rush, disappearing into the stream. Even if struck and mortally wounded the shock may give the body an impetus that sends it sliding down the bank into the water, and once engulfed in one of the big rivers there is no retrieving it.

Stories of their boldness and ferocity are numerous in the Sunderbans. At one Thana (police station) on the river bank, not long since, the Daroga (police officer) was mustering a number of accused who had been arrested in a dacoity case, preparatory to marching them into headquarters, when suddenly up the low shelving bank rushed an enormous crocodile, seized the nearest of the prisoners and carried him off in full view of his comrades and the police, before any one of them could interfere, even had he had the courage to do so. Another smaller river was infested by a monster that was known to have carried off seven persons, and a special reward was offered for it. A native shikari, with a wonderful native blunderbuss, finally shot it, and, accompanied by many of the villagers, brought it in with great triumph to headquarters to secure the reward. I went out into the veranda to inspect the kill, congratulated the shikari on his success and the villagers on having got rid of so great a pest, and saw the money reward paid out to them in my presence. An hour later when I left office, though the crocodile had been taken away, I saw them still grouped together just outside the veranda, and as I passed it was evident that they wanted to speak to me. I stopped and asked them what it was they wanted. For a moment they hung back with that deprecating look a native wears when he makes a request but is not quite sure of its reception. Then one of them bolder than the rest stood forward and, with his hands folded together in an attitude of supplication, gave voice to their petition.

“Huzoor,” he said, “your Honour has paid us for killing the crocodile, but inside that crocodile are our wives, our sisters, our cousins, and our aunts. Will not your Honour give us monetary compensation for them also?”

Only once did I meet in the Sunderbans with what were called tame crocodiles. They were in an enormous tank, one of the many constructed by the great Khan Jahan Ali, in whose day, four hundred and fifty years ago, a great town flourished, of which nothing now survives save the great mosque with its seventy-seven domes and the tomb of the warrior saint. The tank is known as the Ghoradighi, the curious tradition attaching to it being that it covers as much ground as a horse could run round, without tiring, though, large as the tank is, one cannot be impressed with the staying powers of the horse in question. In this tank are a number of crocodiles said to be the descendants of those placed there by Khan Jahan Ali. The natives call them tame crocodiles, and they certainly show an utter fearlessness of them that contrasts strongly with their horror of those in the great rivers—men, women and children drawing water and bathing in the tank with the utmost unconcern. “God knows who has taught them to forget their pristine ferocity,” as my Babu guide said. One of the villagers usually is anxious to show them to the visitor and begins to call them with curious sing-song intonations “Ao Khalapar”—“Ao Dalapar” (“Come, black side.”—“Come, white side”). For a time nothing ruffles the exquisite stillness of the lake, the great pink lotus flowers with their wide-spreading leaves alone breaking the smoothness of its surface. But long before I had noticed the slightest movement, the little group of villagers beside me has seen them coming. The faintest ripple on the water, and then above it, just visible, there appears the tip of the monster’s snout. Rapidly, followed by another, it moves across the lake towards us. Right up into the shallow water below the bank, exposing themselves fully to view, they half swim, half wade, then, with their hideous, greedy eyes fixed upon the foremost villager, they wait. What follows is horrible. Two wretched shrieking murghis (chickens) are held aloft to attract them nearer still, and are finally thrown out to them. With extraordinary agility, considering their huge bulky bodies, the crocodiles dart forward and the unfortunate murghis with a final shriek disappear within the hideous capacious jaws. The huge monsters glide back again into the lake and the water closes over them into its unruffled smoothness.

Divider

The Hour of Union

I

“God is great,” cried Sibhu Manjhi, breaking the long silence. “God is great. But He is very far away.”

A stir like the rustling of leaves through the forest before the wind, moved the assembly, waking it again to life. Packed close, cross-legged upon the ground, the village elders had sat all night in conclave at the Manjhi Than. Hour after hour discussion and argument had waxed keen until with the waning of the moon, spent and weary, they had one by one succumbed to silence. Yet of dispersing each to his own home no man took thought. The air was full of rumours and disquiet, and that marvellous sixth sense, known only to the Santal and to such as he who have lived akin to nature and probed her hidden mysteries, was awake with the unerring instinct of great events impending. So through the long watches of the night they sat in a great silence, dreaming and brooding over their bitter wrongs, but still watching, waiting with a dawning hope, for the coming of they knew not what, for the unknown which yet they knew must come.

“God is great.”

The cry pierced the silence like a wail of pain. Not only was it an acknowledgment of the greatness of God, the intense despair and pathetic lilt in the voice of Sibhu Manjhi seemed to reveal in the cry no less an acknowledgment of the infinite smallness and insignificance of man.

Again the words stirred the waiting group. A deep murmur like the moaning of the north wind among the Kusum trees passed over it from end to end. The tension grew. Instinct seemed to forewarn each and all in the self-same moment that the long period of waiting was drawing to its close. The unknown for which they had watched expectant was at hand.

Eight long hours since, urged by no spoken summons, but drawn by a common instinct, they had wended their way towards the Manjhi Than—the unpretentious village meeting-place, with no claim to architecture save a raised floor of sun-baked earth and roof of thatch held up by rough-hewn wooden posts. On the raised platform was space only for the village elders. The younger men sat close without, beneath the roof of sky and stars, listening with attention and respect to the words of weight and wisdom that fell from the old men’s lips.

“God is great.”

Thrice the cry had rung out on the night air like a challenge. The third time it met with a defiance, a voice, shrill and mocking, on the outskirts of the crowd took it up and flung back words of blasphemy.

“There be no gods.”

It was awesome defiance. The whole assembly quivered as if it felt the touch of a lash. None in all Santalia, save Rajan Manjhi, the madman, would have dared cast such contumely on the gods. For twenty years this one man alone had scoffed, cutting himself adrift from custom and tradition, denying all those things that the race held most in reverence. Yet all men knew that the gods had dealt hardly with Rajan Manjhi, and pityingly they shook their heads. Much grief, they said, had robbed him of his reason, and they forgave in him what in another would have roused them to stern acts of vengeance in defence of their vague, mysterious but omnipotent gods.

Even from his youth up troubles had fallen thick round Rajan Manjhi. In his first days he had wrestled with that dread spectre famine, enduring its awful tortures and watching one by one the life go out of the feeble frame of every member of his father’s house. Then in later days pestilence had swept the land, robbing him of five of his seven sons, the pride of his eye. Two only had grown to manhood, to be cut off in the flower of their youth through Hindu scheming, hanged as criminals, because forsooth they had but defended their freedom and their rights in the old primeval way, as their forefathers had done before them in all the generations of the past.

So, robbed of his all, the iron had entered deep into his soul. Were there gods who could let such things be? He faced the world defiantly. What if his lands were mortgaged? The funeral ceremonies of his sons must be performed. There was no alternative but the moneylender and his loan, and he was in no position to haggle as to terms and interest. It was the beginning of the end. Stealthily step by step, within the letter of the law, the money-lender had drawn him and all that he had into his relentless clutches. He was but as a child, simple, improvident, with no thought for the morrow, in the hands of a crafty, cunning trader of a higher and more civilized race. Now he was landless, a fate than which the Santal can conceive none worse. All had gone—the fields that he and his fathers had rescued from the jungle with so much toil and tilled and ploughed to smiling fertility, the oxen and the ploughs he had so often followed, the little homestead with its store of grain, even the tiny hut, mud-built, rough thatched, but invested with the magic charm of home. There was nothing left.

But the crafty moneylender was ready with one last loan, for Rajan Manjhi had one valuable possession—himself. Of what use to the new owner were his fields, if he had none to cultivate? Rajan Manjhi must be his bond slave for all time to come. “In consideration of having received twenty rupees I undertake to work out this debt with interest at 75 per cent, at any time I may be called upon to do so.” Rajan Manjhi, ignorant even of its wording, had signed the bond, and therewith had signed away his liberty for ever. Interest ran up by leaps and bounds. Never free to earn money elsewhere, he was cunningly entrapped—and there were many such as he—with no hope of escape from the snare. There was but one chance—an appeal to the most primitive of all methods of defence. Then had come madness and robbed him even of that. Was there room for wonder that men heard his blasphemy in such a case and raised no protest? Yet for themselves, dull, beaten down by oppression, they still lay under the influence of long centuries of unquestioning submission to the decrees of the gods as under a narcotic, and shuddered at his wild defiant words.

“There be no gods.”

The silent crowd was moved to its very depths at the repetition of the cry. None spoke. All waited for Sibhu Manjhi, the headman of the village, to raise his voice in protest.

“Nay,” he said at last, reprovingly, as to a child, “it is but that the gods have turned their faces from us. They are angered and we, robbed of our fields, our homes, our liberty, how shall we appease them? How yield them fitting sacrifice?”

The hoarse, passionate voice of Rajan Manjhi answered back, uplifted in one great appealing cry.

“If there be gods let them avenge the insults that I cast upon them, and my wrongs.”

“Peace,” said Sibhu Manjhi tremblingly, “naught but evil can come of words such as these. Who are we that we should deny the greatness of God?”

“But we—we are so infinitely small,” wailed Rajan Manjhi mournfully, his wild paroxysm of madness passing as suddenly as it had come, leaving him a prey to apathy and despair.

“It may be,” said Sibhu Manjhi gently. “But hast thou not seen the hawk swoop out of the air straight with unerring eye upon the smallest of earth’s creatures? Or again dost thou not know how far the eyes of our young men see from the Hill of Mandar? Is it not to four score kos? Shall not gods see farther than mere men? We are small and very far away. It may be. Yet God is great.”

The last words rang out like a confession of faith. Their confidence quieted the unrest, and no man spoke again. The stir of excitement subsided like the stilling of the leaves at the dying of the wind, and once more the silence fell.

The hot suffocating air of the summer night hung heavily, unmoved and breathless. Beneath the thick thatch roof of the Manjhi Than it lay upon the close packed mass of naked, perspiring humanity, heat laden, like a pall. Nothing stirred. Even nature, the ever-wakeful, seemed to have fallen asleep in that brief space before the dawn. The crescent moon had long since sunk from sight behind the bold, irregular line of tree-clad hills that rose as if to screen the village from the outer world, and only the stars cast their pale, uncertain light upon the silent crowd that still sat on expectant at the Manjhi Than. The myriad forms of life that make the Indian summer night throb with speech to him who hath ears to hear seemed to have caught the hush of expectation that held all human interest. Even the cicada had ceased its sharp, incessant cricket-chirp, and the fireflies that had illumined every tree with their inconstant flitting light had silently and mysteriously disappeared as if they fled like late revellers, afraid to meet the dawn. Only once far off along the line of hills a deer barked—a quick short bark, half fear, half protest, seemingly unconscious, spontaneous, as in its sleep a dog barks in a dream.

It was a silence that could be almost felt, a silence of nature more luminous than speech, more impressive than any human sound. To the Santal who had lived close to the beginning of all things, who had seen and spoken with nature face to face, no veil of civilization drawn between, it was a silence that spoke in language the key of which there had been no need for him to seek, since to each and all it had come by instinct as a birthright of his race.

Then suddenly all its drowsiness and languor left the waiting group. Each man sat straight, tense, eager, alert, drawing from the voiceless speech of the silence of the night the certain knowledge that the expectation that had so mysteriously arisen would not lack its due fulfilment. Each knew that within a brief space now would come the first faint stir to herald the approach of dawn, the soft cool breeze like the breath of life to break at last the hot, dead stillness of the night, the carolling of birds, the uncertain light hovering on the borderland of day and night, and then the slow arising of the great sun-god in all his strength and splendour from his couch in the east, bathed anew in a brilliant bath of gold.

But it was for none of these things—the daily gifts of nature to man—that they had so long waited. They would come as they had come morning by morning back beyond even the limit of experience and tradition, but, with them, whence and how none knew, yet knew of a surety, there would come to-day that, which had never come before. For years they had suffered, nursing their wrongs in a deep and sullen reserve. To-day they divined afar off the first sign of deliverance, their marvellous insight, more marvellous and wonderful than the latest triumph of science, that bridges space and gives knowledge straight to the mind by no known means of communication, had suddenly stirred them to the depths of their wild untrained mysterious nature, and they knew that this marvellous instinct never lied. Each man sat taut, straining forward as if listening for the sound of the distant footsteps on the hills of him who should bring great tidings. Not a quiver, not a movement passed over the whole assembly. Not a leaf in the forest stirred. A hush of awesome silence hung over the waiting earth, and man and nature paused breathless as if afraid to break the spell. It was almost dawn.

And then at last it came. Long before the faintest sound had broken the stillness to any ear unattuned to the mysteries of nature’s speech every Santal at the Manjhi Than had heard and understood. Slowly the tense, eager look of expectation on every face softened to the satisfaction of faith fulfilled. None spoke, but the deep breath of tension relieved swayed them, like a field of corn raising its head again after the passing of a storm of wind. Once more they settled down to wait in silence.

Far off along the winding path that ran along the steep hill-side behind the village there came a sound that even ears, deaf from long contact with the noise and stir of the outside world, might hear and understand. Distinct it came, the sound of hastening footsteps, stirring the fallen leaves as their even patter beat full and clear and rhythmical upon the sun-baked earth. He for whom unconsciously they had waited long hours was coming, running and alone.

Now, in all Santalia no one runs and none passes through the forest alone at night, unless it be of the last necessity. “No one runs unless he has an ugly daughter to marry” is their contemptuous proverb, for haste is a thing unknown among them. Nature is slow and deliberate, and has taught her children thus. The noise of life has not yet come to stir them into haste. Through the forest, peopled by the spirits, evil and malign, of his imagination no less than by the still more dreaded beasts of prey, no Santal goes at night alone. Yet the messenger who was coming towards them with the dawn must have braved the dangers of night and forest alone, and he came in haste. Truly the news that he carried must be news indeed.

But as yet he was still far off, and even as he came the dawn broke. It seemed as if the faint sound of hurrying feet had broken the spell that bound the waiting earth and sky. Nature awoke. The dim half light, hovering for a space as if afraid to battle with the darkness of the night, steadied and changed its dead dull grey to softest pink and gold. The morning breeze moved through the forest, and drooping nature, gasping through the long hot night, sprang up to meet its touch. The great trees bent their branches gladly to do it reverence. The leaves and birds stirred noisily and laughed and sang for joy. The minas crowding the tall bamboos cried shrilly that the day was come, and the golden oriole cast its glorious liquid note of gladness on the air. The stars blinked sleepily in the sun’s face and one by one went out.

The sound of hurrying feet drew near, clear and regular, rising even above the stirring of the earth at the touch of dawn. All eyes were turned towards their coming. High up along the hill-side the path ran, and through the trees, stripped bare by the fierce hot winds, the figure of a man at length emerged. Clad only with a cloth about his loins, his dark-skinned limbs were silhouetted clear against the dust-brown earth, moving with perfect grace and rhythm as his feet sprang lightly along the rough, uneven path. So lissom the poise, so sure and unerring the steps, he seemed some denizen of the jungle, indissolubly akin to the rugged mountain side, the huge gnarled trees, and the echoing voices of the morn.

A brief, tense moment and, scorning the zigzag path as he leaped from rock to rock, he was among them. The crowd had parted at his coming, leaving the way clear to the Manjhi Than, and the runner, breathless and spent, his body dripping great drops of sweat, flung himself prostrate at Sibhu Manjhi’s feet. In his hand outstretched he held a small torn slip of paper, soiled with the heat and dust of the way. For a moment only he lay, his strong, supple limbs quivering as breath came in quick, short gasps. Then he rose and, keen-eyed, looked round upon the expectant crowd.

“Johar.” He spoke the Santal form of salutation sharp, as if it had been a defiance.

“Johar.” The reply was unanimous, deep-voiced, yet spoken as by men who wait impatiently for what lay beyond the formal words of greeting.

“Lo, my feet have trodden strange ways,” he cried, his great chest still heaving from his mighty effort. “I have come by unknown paths. Truly they whom the gods call need strength.”

He held out the soiled strip of paper that all might see.

“A message from the gods,” he cried. His voice quivered with awe and expectation.

There was an eager straining movement amongst the crowd to see this thing of so great wonder. For the gods of the Santals are invisible and vague, and in all their history and tradition no revelation of the divine to the human eye had ever once been made.

“Lo, Marang Buru has appeared to man, nay, even unto four men, brothers, sons of Chunai of Bagnidihi, has the Great Spirit revealed himself.”

Awe fell upon the listening group. This was news that had no parallel, astonishing beyond all the limits of their experience, scarce to be grasped even by the imagination. Ignorant and superstitious, they went continually in fear of the dread spirits of the nether world. That one of these, Marang Buru, greatest of all save Thakur the Supreme Being, should have shown himself to mortal eyes struck fear and terror to every heart.

“Not once only, but seven times did he appear.”

Every word seemed to beat upon the listening group like a flail.

“The first time he came it was as a cloud descending from the skies. Then as a tongue of fire.”

He paused and looked round upon the eager, upturned faces. No bearer of tidings of whatever moment could have desired a keener, more intense attitude of absorbed interest than that which held his audience.

“The third time he came it was as a hooded figure veiled in a mist that none might see his face. For on the face of Marang Buru none may look and live.”

A sharp indrawing of the breath spoke of the superstitious terror of the crowd. Involuntarily men shrank together even as a herd of deer shrinks inward at the first sign of coming danger.

“Again the Great Spirit fell as a dark shadow in the open where no earthly shadow might ever fall.”

“For the fifth time he appeared as a mountain rising suddenly out of the earth.”

“As a Sal tree springing up where no trees grew, he came the sixth time.”

Again he paused. If it was for effect, it succeeded to the full. They held their breath to hear the seventh and last form in which the Great Spirit had visited the earth.

“Last of all he appeared as a white man, but clothed like a Santal, with naught but a cloth about his loins.”

Even the face of Rajan Manjhi reflected for a moment the awe that had fallen visibly upon the silent group. But abruptly, as if to break the spell of the old beliefs that threatened to draw him back within their insidious grasp, he turned aside and sat down alone on the outskirts of the crowd. None heeded him, for none but he had aught else save thought and reverence for the message of the gods. His head sank slowly till his chin rested on his knees. His eyes, staring on the ground at his feet, were fixed unseeing, with that dreamy, mystic look known only to eyes that have gazed beyond and seen those things to which the outside world is blind. Strangely innocent, because strangely ignorant of the knowledge of good and evil, Rajan Manjhi was back again in the past, his mind flooded by a crowd of recollections. The murmurs of the assembly, the hushed whisper of awed inquiry as the elders of the village discussed the startling tidings, though they beat upon his outward ear, yet made no impression on his mind. In the midst of the crowd he was as much alone as when musingly he sought his far-strayed cattle on the distant hills at sunset.

This talk of the gods, this story of the Great Spirit’s revelation, had awoke strange sensations that Rajan Manjhi had deemed long since dead. The old faiths and the old traditions were not to be denied. None might lightly cast them aside. They clung like some lichen to a giant of the forest. It might wither, it might for a season relax its hold, but no drought, however prolonged, could altogether rob it of vitality, and with the first touch of rain it would renew its deadly hold. Even so it was with the old faiths. At how many oft-recurring festivals had he not cast contempt upon the gods? He alone of all men had not done honour to Marang Buru, had made no sacrifice to Jahir Era, or propitiated Sing Bonga in the Sacred Grove. Even the great sun-god he had mocked, bidding him deviate for one moment from his daily appointed course if he indeed were God. Had he not even in the dead silence of the night stolen noiselessly to the Sacred Grove, contemptuously obliterating the Sindur marks that the worshippers had placed upon the altar stones, defiling those same stones beneath,his feet? Yet now in a moment twenty years of scoffing were of no avail. The old faiths gripped strangely at his heart. Steel it against them as he might, he knew that the awe and reverence that he had shared with his fellows in the early days of life for all the things that appertained to a Santal’s gods were there still, deep down, ingrained in the very fibre of his being, from which no escape lay. The traditions of a thousand years were not to be lightly cast away in the moment of twenty years. Out of the past he heard their call. Even as it was in the beginning even so it must be until the end.

Sharp like a stab of pain came this new glimmering of doubt. He had blundered on blindly, cursing Fate and the gods. What if there were gods after all? Rajan Manjhi shuddered, then tremblingly casting out the thought, he sprang to his feet.

The crowd still gathered round the messenger of the gods. The strip of paper had passed reverently from hand to hand. It was a leaf of the book, they learned, wherein no word was written that mortal eye could read, which Marang Burn had given to the sons of Chunai of Bagnidihi at his seventh and final revelation, enjoining them to distribute the pages to the north and to the south, to the east and to the west throughout Santalia, that all might know that he had made the coming enterprise his own. Even as Rajan Manjhi strolled up, the messenger, rising from a hastily prepared meal that they had placed before him, tightened the loin cloth about his waist, prepared to set forth again to carry the great news to yet other villages across the hills.

“It is well,” he said, lightly touching Sibu Manjhi’s outstretched hand. “The gods have spoken. Who is man that he should disobey?”

At the back of the crowd Rajan Manjhi opened his mouth to defy the gods as he had done daily these many years, but lo, the words refused to come. His lips worked uncertainly, as if they struggled for speech against some overwhelming force, then closed tightly with a grimness like that of a man vanquished, but defiant and determined to the end. He made no acknowledgment of the gods. His silence did not imply as much as that. Only some vague intangible influence held him back against his will from his old free-spoken denial of their being.

Girt and refreshed, the runner was ready to set out. His keen eye, alight with fervour, scanned the faces of the crowd. All men hung waiting for his panting words.

“From afar off have I brought the message of the gods,” he said. “Hence, my way lies by yonder forest paths to tell all things to them that have not heard. As for you, make ready. See to the bow, and the quiver that it be full of arrows. Make keen the edge of the axe. Then wait. Tarry for the footsteps of one who shall come after me, a Sal branch in his hand, to bid you rise and strike. Marang Buru approves our enterprise. Make patience. Such a one will come. God is great. I go.”

He turned, and the crowd opened out a way for him towards the village. Settling at once into the easy, steady trot of the Indian runner, he passed swiftly down the rough uneven street. Eagerly, its interest still held, the crowd watched him as he wound his way along the zigzag path across the fields beyond the village. Looking neither to the right nor to the left, he ran as blithely and buoyantly as one new starting, awakening refreshed from sleep. Yet since sunrise of the previous day he had known no rest save in the villages, as he paused, to give the message of the gods.

That day, for the first time within the memory of man, the day’s work went undone. No man put his hand to the plough and none prepared his fields against the coming seed time. The cattle strayed at will throughout the village, entering even the court-yards unmolested, while the goats, still bolder, searched for the food the hard burnt earth denied them among the pots and pans that were the housewife’s pride. The women, hastily preparing the midday meal, hurried off to gossip, for once forgetful to sweep the floor and polish up the brass utensils as every Santal housewife should. Even the noisy, chattering children left their play and, clinging round their mothers’ knees, watched in an awestruck silence the solemn conclave of the men.

But at the Manjhi Than all was activity. There the men were busy preparing their bows and arrows, making sharp their axes, and seeing that their drums and pipes gave full sound. Not a Santal of them all but was eager for the fight.

A stripling scarce come to years of puberty stood before Sibhu Manjhi, a quaint mixture of boldness and deference on his beardless face.

“Thou art but a child,” said the old man, eyeing the boy with a look half of contempt for his youth, half of admiration for his fearless upstanding. “Thou art but a child. Stay, guard thou the women.”

The blood mounted up and suffused the youth’s face, darkening the rich deep brown of his skin.

“Am I not also a Santal—a man?” he asked protestingly. “What are the years? Is my aim with the bow less feeble because the hand is young? Have I not followed the chase and held the plough?”

“Maybe,” was the laconic answer, “but war is for grown men.”

The youth made no reply, but, seizing his bow, looked round as one who seeks a quarry. On the topmost branch of a pepul, a green speck among the green leaves, perched a green pigeon ruffling its gay plumage in the sun. So like a leaf among the leaves it looked, the untrained eye might not distinguish it. But every Santal saw, and watched the youth as silently he drew the bow taut with all his strength. Like a flash the arrow sped, wavered, and fell short among the branches. There was a chattering and flight of birds, the pigeon on the topmost branch the last to leave its perch, winging its way leisurely after its fellows as if contemptuous of the youth’s designs.

“It was beyond thy strength,” said Sibhu Manjhi pityingly.

Again an arrow sped, well judged and confident, flying like a hawk upon its prey. Caught in mid-air, the pigeon fell to earth straight as a die. Silent, but aglow with the pride of a sportsman when his shot goes home, the youth turned and flung his bow at Sibhu Manjhi’s feet. The old man stooped and picked it up.

“Come,” he said, with a tremor in his voice as he gave it back into the young man’s hands. “Come. The gods love such as thee.”

That day was as full of incident as all the years that had gone before.

She had been the mother of Santals. She had achieved the one ambition of the women of her race to be the mother of sons, strong and skilful with the bow, but she was only a woman, old and wrinkled and grown feeble with the years. The gods had been kind, then cruel. Her sons were dead. The old man who sat busy whittling the wood for his arrows against the march was all she had left of kith and kin in the world. For one weak moment her brave heart failed her. It was hard to meet the coming years and death alone.

She went up noiselessly behind and, crouching, touched him on the arm.

“Husband,” she whispered, “thou art old, and the way is rough and long.”

The old man bent over his work unheeding, as if he heard her not.

“War is for youth,” she went on, gaining courage from his silence, “for hot blood and strong limbs. Thou art old. Thou hast played thy part, and I—even I—am bent and feeble”—her voice sank again to a whisper. “I cannot face the years alone,” she sobbed.

The old man turned at that and looked her full in the face.

“Woman!” It was but a word, yet it summed up a whole volume of reproach. Was she a mother of Santals and would keep back a mother’s son from the fight?

“Woman!” She quivered beneath the contempt in his voice as if he had struck her. Her hand dropped from his arm. Her head drooped piteously.

“I go to make all ready against thy setting out,” she said humbly, and moved away ashamed.

For a woman reproved by her husband, runs the Santal proverb, naught remains but the water at the bottom of the well. Surely that one contemptuous word was reproach enough—the first that he had spoken in all the years that had gone by. She went to busy herself hastily with preparations for her lord’s departure, bowed with her sorrow. There were all the lonely days to come in which to brood over that one word of such deep and abiding reproach.

It drew at last towards sunset. Unled and lowing softly, as if they divined disturbance in the air, the cattle wandered homewards from the distant grazing grounds where they had strayed at will. The metal tinkle of the brass and the softer notes of the wooden cowbells mingled musically, falling gently on the evening air. In a line one behind another the women wound their way up from the tank beyond the village—an earthen garha. on the head of each, filled to the brim with water for their lords’ refreshment, and steadied as they walked with gracefully uplifted hand. Across the fields along the narrow ails they came, the long line winding with the turnings of the path, regular and sinuous like the movements of a snake. A crowd of twittering minas settled in a pepul tree above the Manjhi Than, chattering volubly ere they settled themselves down to woo repose from the falling night. The air was heavy, enveloping all things like a cloud. The earth glowed like a furnace with all the concentrated heat of the long day. The sun, a blood-red ball of fire in a dull-grey sky, was sinking angrily behind the fringe of hills. For a fleeting space the brief Indian twilight fell, day and night clasping hands in the solemn hour of union.

Suddenly there was a stir among the crowd. Just as at the dawning of the day there had come the sound of hurrying feet along the forest track, so now in like manner at sunset it came again. From afar, it might have been the same lithe form that had already come and gone, the same agility, the same grace, the same unweariedness. But, as he drew near, men saw with a strange thrill at their hearts that he carried not a slip of paper but a Sal branch in his hand. It was the Santal’s fiery torch. There was no need of words. Instinctively each man shouldered his bow and tightened his grip upon the handle of his axe. It was war.

The runner ran with the speed of a deer hard pressed. He made no pause, only slackening speed as he ran. He held the Sal branch aloft that all might see. It had but two leaves. As he passed through the crowd he lifted up his voice.

“It is war,” he cried. “Upon the Sal branch two leaves remain. The two leaves are two days. Then let every man go meet at Barhait. There shall the gathering of the tribe be. Thy wrongs shall be redressed. Lo! the gods have heard thy prayer. Great is the power of Marang Buru.”

Swiftly he passed on. Nine days since the Sal branch had borne nine leaves. Seven days and seven leaves had gone. There remained but two days, and to many villagers as yet the harbinger of war had not come. There was need of haste.

Within an hour the moon would rise. Daylight still lingered. To reach the trysting-place within two days there must be no delay. All was ready. The sacrifice performed, they might set out forthwith.

Slowly the procession wound its way across the fields towards the Sacred Grove. The priest, carrying the snow-white cock for sacrifice, marched at its head. Rajan Manjhi, his face alight with the lust of battle, brought up the rear of the warrior band. Behind, not venturing near, followed the women with the children at their breasts and clinging round their knees.

In haste the priest performed the sacrifice. Upon the upturned edge of an axe he pressed down the neck of the cock, severing the head from the body. The blood flowed out in a dark-red stream over the stone altar at the foot of the towering Sal tree that raised its head above its fellows in the Sacred Grove. The priest chanted his time-honoured formulas. Pricking his arm, he offered human blood to the Great Spirit, and rose up. “The gods are satisfied,” he said; “they have tasted human blood. It is enough.”

Straightway the men turned their faces to the march. The farewells were brief. Each man, fired with the joy of battle, hid deep in his heart the love of home. The women, dry-eyed and tearless, bade them God-speed. The children, wide-eyed and wondering, gauged little of the depth of feeling that lay behind that silent parting, and unknowing, watched it as a show. Yet in after years they would tell the story of that setting-out to their children’s children as the most precious memory of their race.

The strain was over. Buoyant, eager, moving in a new world of unrestraint, the warrior band swung out, heads lifted, the light of battle in their eyes. Along the narrow hill-side track whence the messenger of war had come, the long-drawn procession filed. The drums’ deep throbbing, vibrant with passion, beat a martial note, and the shrill pipes flung defiance on the evening air. Even the soft music of the flutes grew sharper, keener, ending in a wail that seemed a dirge for those for whom there would be no return.

Where the path circled round the hill-side the long line halted. Though in their hearts there was no turning back, the eyes of each man sought, this once again, his home. No sign of regret, no sign of weakness or of mourning flitted for a second across a single face in all that varied company. Stern and eager, uplifted with a great resolve, they took this last farewell. Below them lay the fields that by fierce incessant toil they had snatched from the rampant dominion of the forest, where they had fought face to face with nature in her sternest mood, where after long strife they had emerged victorious and forced her, once subdued and bearing no malice, but bowing submissive to strength and perseverance, as all things must, to become the faithful ally of her conqueror. The passion of the intake still burned, deep, ineradicable in every Santal heart. Now, these same fields on which they had so freely lavished of their best were theirs no longer. The enemy and the oppressor had come and snatched them from them even in their hour of victory. A great bitterness surged up in the heart of every member of the warrior band. With a low cry—their first and only show of emotion—that was half a groan of anguish, half a murmur of defiance, they turned their last gaze for a space upon the group of women and the homes that few might see again. Slowly at last they drew away, their faces set to endure and their eyes towards the future where revenge and stern retribution lay. The drums took up again their note of defiance. The fateful march began.

But be the battle never so keen, the women, waiting and watching perforce with folded hands, feel ever its keenest brunt. Yet, while the men passed slowly from before their eyes, they made no sign. It might be that they passed to death. But fiercely they held back their tears. Were they not mothers of Santals—mothers of men? The passion of motherhood stirred in their veins—the passion not of protection, but of the pride of sacrifice.

Still, though they were mothers of men they were but weak women. When the last of the warrior band had turned the crest of the hill and passed from sight the enthusiasm, the passion of renunciation died slowly. There came a chill as when the cold rain-breeze sweeps over the heat-laden earth before the storm. They strained their eyes and saw nothing. Their men had gone.

The air was still with the dead stillness that precedes the storm. High banks of cloud unnoticed had arisen out of the west and dimmed the sun. A gust of wind arising blew the last low sound of the drums across the hills. Suddenly a woman sobbed. Like the snapping of a cord, the spell was broken and one shrill bitter cry went out upon the evening air—the most pathetic of all human sounds, the stricken cry of a mother for her son. Then every woman lifted up her voice and wept. The children, awestruck at this unwonted show of grief, clung closer and cried as children do, unwitting the cause, for sympathy. The mothers clasped them firmly to their hearts, yet wept on still, even at the touch of little hands upon their breasts refusing to be comforted.

Beyond the hills the men marched on in silence, their faces set like masks, stern, inscrutable, revealing nothing of the tumult that lay beneath. Whether their thoughts flung backward to the weeping women and their much-loved fields or forward to the fight to come no man might say. The Santal, akin to his latest conqueror in this, makes no vain show of feeling.

But from the warrior band, one man for a space turned back. Lagging behind, furtive and cunning, he watched his chance. None seeing, he rapidly retraced his steps towards the Manjhi Than. The women had moved off towards the deserted village. Their dirge floated back across the fields. Above, the huge masses of cloud rising out of the west covered the sky. A cold gust of air, infinitely refreshing, swept over the land. Afar off there was the first faint welcome sound of an abundance of rain. A single drop splashed heavily on the altar stone as Rajan Manjhi flung himself beside it. The sindur and bloodmarks of the sacrifice stood out, a clear patch of colour in the waning light. Seizing a handful of dry leaves, he brushed them with fierce energy to and fro across the stone. The bright red marks grew blurred and faint. In a moment more they had disappeared, and Rajan Manjhi drew back, a smile of mockery on his lips.

He laughed ironically.

“There be no gods,” he said, and spat contemptuously full on the altar stone.

Rapidly the clouds leaped up, covering the already star-lit eastern sky. The first low growl of thunder rumbled out of the west. Rajan Manjhi rose up to seek again his comrades on the march.

“If there be gods,” he cried, “let them give of the enemy ten lives for each son they slew of mine. If there be gods let them avenge the insults I have cast upon them and my wrongs.” He turned to fling the words back into the Sacred Grove—at once a wild defiance and an unconscious prayer.

The answer came swift and sudden. The lowering clouds opened to a blinding zigzag line of fire. With a crashing sound like a human scream of terror, the upstanding Sal above the altar stone split from top to bottom and fell heavily, the wailing of rustling leaves and snapping branches drowned in the angry reverberating peal of thunder overhead.

For a moment Rajan Manjhi stood as if turned to stone. Then, abruptly, staggering like a drunken man, he turned and fled.

“What if there be gods?” he muttered with trembling lips. His face blanched even beneath the darkness of his skin. His eyes gleamed like coals of fire, bloodshot with a great fear. What if there were gods and he had defied them twenty years?

The sky grew lurid, black-red, shutting out the last glimpse of day. The earth opened wide her arms to welcome on her bosom the gift that the lowering heavens had so long withheld. The hour of union set in the angry majesty of storm and the grateful falling of the rain.

II

The young man stood in the door of his tent watching the dawn.

It came slowly, as if fighting its way inch by inch through the dull grey banks of cloud. Only the dim uncertain light and a streak of pink in the east told that the night was passed. Over the lowlands the mist hung still and heavy, like smoke from a village fire on a winter’s night. Above, dense masses of snow-white cloud enveloped the hills, pure and mystic, drawn like a veil to hide some divine mystery from the eyes of man.

Then, in the twinkling of an eye, it seemed, with typical Eastern suddenness, all was changed. The streak of pink grew to a wider band of red and gold, and lit the world to day. The clouds fled out of the east racing across the sky, rolling over one another in their haste, as a vanquished army flees from a conquering host. The mist grew filmy, ghostlike, and vanished mysteriously into the air. The billowy clouds of white rolled slowly up the hill-side slopes, lifting like a curtain, until at last they revealed in all their majesty the rugged peaks and crest whereon the foot of man but seldom strayed.

The earth, radiant in her garment of green, awoke to meet the dawn. But three days since she had lain, dust-laden and weary, stricken, beneath the touch of sun and wind, drab and brown, unkempt like a woman in rags. Now she was changed beyond belief, wooed back to life and vigour at the first falling of the rain, exultant and exuberant, clothed in an exquisite mantle of every varying shade of yellow and green. To-day she laughed and sang for joy at the rising of the great sun-god, who deftly put the finishing touch to her newest dress with the glorious pink gold light from his flashing rays.

The Englishman looked out from the door of his tent with an answering light in his eyes. The joy of an Eastern sunrise still held for him its mystery and charm. Scarce six months since he had watched his first from the deck of an outward bound ship at sea. But that and none that had followed had been as this. Not only the earth but the sun itself seemed to have awakened to new brilliancy and life at the coming of the rain, and, at setting and rising, bursting through the clouds, it threw its rainbow beauty upon the rain-cleared air and sky.

The dawn grew to morning, its exquisite tints melting in the fuller light of day. The sun filtered through the trees and shone upon the great white tent, half hidden in the leafy shade of the mango tope that crowned an eminence above the undulating lowland slopes. Facing north it looked out upon a glorious view, stretching far away in front and on either side to east and west across ridge on ridge of tree-clad heights and bold, rocky escarpments, standing out jagged and uncompromising against the delicate background of feathery green. Mountain torrents in miniature gushed out of the crevices, falling with the sound of music in a froth of spray over the rocks beneath, gurgling and splashing, and murmuring coquettishly until they gained the level stretches far below and settled down to seek their final bourne. Here and there among the trees a tiny village raised its head, the red-tiled roofs of yellow-brown straw-thatch adding the one touch of colour beyond the rich red soil of the well-ploughed fields upon the lower slopes.

The Englishman, standing in the door of his tent, swept the vast expanse with his keen grey eyes and saw that it was good. Already this wonderful mysterious East, with its mighty forces, held but lightly in a leash, its centuries-old secrets hidden deep down against inquiring eyes, its vast unknown possibilities in the days to come, its dark fanatic faiths, its rigid castes, its absolute submission to ancient custom and belief—all these things had seized him, as they had seized and will still seize many another through all the centuries, in their compelling grasp that none on whom it falls may lightly cast aside, But above all the strange aboriginal race among whom he dwelt, sprung whence no man with certainty could tell, dominated him. Out of the unknown in the far-back ages they had come by devious routes to this their promised land, which nature seemed in the beginning to have designed for them and kept untenanted against their coming. Simple with a strange guilelessness, long preserved by their jealous exclusiveness against all contact with the outside world, their one passion lay in the possession and cultivation of the soil. Time after time they had cleared the jungle and ploughed the land, only to be driven on, in the great race movements of the past, by the press of stronger and more cunning peoples in their rear. Thus it had come to pass that, low down in the social scale, and uncivilized as they were, they had been pioneers—pioneers of cultivation, and of all the civilizing influences that follow in its wake. Only here at last they seemed to have found a permanent home—given to them twenty years since by the British Government, a vast, wild stretch of jungle upland untouched since time began. Now it appeared a prosperous smiling land, where all was well with this far-travelled people. To the Englishman in the door of his tent, as to those in authority over him, no cloud appeared upon the sky.

Yet already the Santal fiery cross, with its clarion call to arms, had passed him by in the night. At the breaking of the very dawn that he had just watched the Sal branch had been stripped of its last leaf. Already the storm had begun.

Suddenly the first inkling came. The absolute and unusual silence once realized struck him like a blow. The morning noise and stir of his camp, the crackling of twig fires, the gossip of the men, the rustle of the oxen among the straw, the soothing cries of the syce, and the stamping of his horse impatient of its grooming, all were stilled. It was like a silence of the dead. Bishtu Singh, the orderly, faithful in little things and ever at his post, was not in sight. Gripped by a sudden fear, he called aloud. The usual quick response, “Huzoor,” failed. He called again more loudly from the door of his tent. His voice seemed to carry far out along the upland slopes, until the overhanging rocks flung it back with mocking echoes. Slowly the echoes died away. The dead silence that ensued was startling. All his camp following should have answered to such a shout of the Sahib as that. Then in a flash it came home to him with a strange leap at the heart. He was alone.

He stood amazed in the midst of his small encampment. The two bell tents, the bamboo grass huts temporarily erected, were empty of all sign of life or habitation. The rough, native fireplaces, holes in the earth with walls of brick, were cold and filled with ashes, and no fires had been lit in them that day. Not a single cooking utensil, not a scrap of native clothing or property was left. There was something sinister in the wholesale clearance. The silence and loneliness, where all should have been stir and life, were awesome. The Englishman gazed on the deserted encampment with a stare of dumb astonishment and incomprehension.

Then in a moment he was kneeling beside his horse. For the first time a great bitterness surged up in his heart against this people among whom he dwelt. Why had they done this thing? His thoughts towards them had been all of good. What harm had he done them that they should wreck their vengeance thus? His horse lay stiff, full length on the ground, its legs drawn up as if it had kicked against the pain of death. In its side was an arrow, deep thrust, straight over the heart, at the end of it a strip of paper tied with string. The eyes, glazed, yet wide-stretched, still looked as if they gazed on fear. The nostrils were swollen and distended as if with a great trembling of that same fear.

Fierce, ungovernable rage swept up in the boy’s heart and fired his brain. He sprang up, his eyes sweeping the deserted camp with quick defiance. No living thing met his gaze on which to vent his wrath. He turned and swung off down the narrow path that led to the tiny village, scarce a gunshot distant, across the fields, striking with his riding-whip at the waving grasses and the creepers that overhung the path as he went. His face worked with anger, transforming the soft boyish lines into the hard, stern features of a man.

In the village he stopped suddenly. The passion died out of his face, giving place to a surprise that was almost fear. It was the sudden meeting of the unexpected, the unknown, the mysterious, that brings panic to the weak and comes as a momentary shock of fear even to the strong. Everything here was as deserted as his camp. The men had left their ploughs, thrown down carelessly against the wall in their courtyards, even on the road, as if they had fled in haste. Of the oxen which drew the ploughs there was no sign. The goats and fowls, that no Santal village is ever without, had disappeared. The women, ever busy with their brooms about their houses, making neatness still more neat, had gone, and with them the tiny naked children that but yesterday had played fearlessly before their doors along the narrow village street, down which nothing swifter than the lumbering bullock cart, or sagar, ever came. Inside the houses there was nothing left, save here and there a crazy charpoy or the broken fragments of an earthenware ghana. The bright brass pots and pans that are a Santal housewife’s pride no longer shone against the inner wall.

The boy drew back from his first wonder. The momentary look of awed surprise passed into the calm intense look of one who seeks the key to the mysterious and unknown. Yesterday had passed as any other day. There had been no sign of the coming flitting that had taken place between the sunset and the dawn. He sought in his memory in vain for any warning that might have passed unheeded. Surely there had been none. The sun had set on a land seemingly smiling and contented. It had risen on treachery and desertion, and no man remained to tell him what the meaning of these things might be. The utter silence maddened him. Something had happened, something of which he knew nothing; and he was the sole officer in charge of this far-off corner of the district. For the first time the responsibility, that he had borne lightly hitherto, lay heavily upon him. What if something that he might have prevented had been passing before his very eyes and he had not seen? Again and again he searched his memory, but found no warning sign of what had come.

Slowly, his head bent in thought, he retraced his steps. What was there that he could do? He was helpless. It was more than fifty miles to his headquarters station, and there was no white man between. Having killed his horse they had robbed him of all means of communication with the outside world. There was no other way of traversing the rough jungle paths save on foot, and what progress could he hope to make alone by an unknown track? Yet he must set out and make the attempt. To remain was useless. Why, having killed his horse, he asked himself, had they left him? What scruple had held them back? Above all, where was his faithful orderly—the man of another and higher race, who looked upon the Santal with scarcely veiled contempt, who, even if unfaithful to his salt, could surely have no part or lot in their mysterious doings? A hundred questions flashed through his bewildered brain and found no answer. Doubt and perplexity overwhelmed him. The sudden change in all things between the sunset and the dawn numbed him to despair by its absolute incomprehensibility.

He knelt again beside his horse, closing the glazed eyes; then, turning, drew out the arrow, crumpling up the strip of paper and casting it aside, little dreaming of its strange significance.

A light step came over the ground as of one fleeing, who looked behind in fear—so light that when it stopped behind the Englishman he did not hear.

“Sahib.”

The boy started up, and the Santal, who had stooped and lightly touched him on the arm, shrank back before the look in his eyes. He was an old man, shrunk and withered, the skin hanging in great loose folds upon his body, yet strong and wiry, whom even now fatigue had no power to touch. Old as he was, in all Santalia no shikari’s name met more respect than Dharan Murmu’s. For many days now he had followed the Englishman’s camp. Time and again the Sahib and he had sat side by side in the machan that he had built, where unerring instinct foretold that the quarry would come. The love of the chase had drawn them together as East and West are but seldom drawn. So it came to pass that he alone of all the camp turned back and sought the Sahib in his hour of need.

At the sight of the old man the boy’s anger cooled. There was something strangely pathetic in the eyes that scanned his face with the look of a dog’s in fear.

He drew near again, glancing round and whispering in his excitement as if the forest itself had ears. His eyes had caught the crumpled strip of paper flung carelessly aside. One long, withered arm shot out, pointing at it tremblingly.

“Knowest thou what it means?” His other hand clutched the boy’s arm as he leaned forward quivering.

The boy gazed at his face in a new wonder. Was this the quiet, mild-eyed man whom he had known but yesterday?

“No,” he said, drawing back from the old man’s touch upon his arm.

The Santal threw up his arms wildly, his face thrust forward. His voice, when at last it came, was hoarse and trembling.

“It means that our long agony, an agony like that of a woman great with child, is past, that we who have waited long in patience for the deliverance that did not come have heard at length a voice from the gods and have risen up as one man to burn, to plunder, to murder, and to eat.” His voice rose gradually from the first hoarse whisper until it ended in a shout. “Yea, have not we and our wives and our sons and our daughters been but as bond slaves to the oppressors? Have not we ourselves lost one by one our lands, our homes, our small possessions, and our freedom, and the freedom of our sons and daughters even unto many generations?” His voice sank again suddenly and grew quieter, though vibrant still with passion. “But to all death cometh, and the gods have appointed us to be the instruments of death to the oppressors. Lo! our prayers have not been offered up in vain. Not long shall our wrongs go unredressed.”

To the Englishman it had been from the beginning a day of awakening and wonder. He failed to grasp the full significance of the old man’s words. Spoken rapidly and excitedly, he but dimly understood their meaning.

“Your wrongs?” he said incredulously. Had not all things smiled and had there not been content in all the land but yesterday?

“Yea,” answered the Santal, his breath quick and feeble from the passion of his speech. “Have they not cried to the gods these many days like the wail of a child in pain?”

A low cry escaped the boy’s lips.

“And I never knew,” he said. “I never even so much as knew.”

The old man’s face softened at the sound of the pain in the boy’s voice.

“What if thou hadst known, Sahib? What couldst thou have done alone against mahajan and zemindar, old in craft and cunning before even thou wert born?”

The boy turned upon him, still half incredulous.

“You have suffered,” he said bitterly, “You have endured great wrongs, and you never even so much as let us know.”

It seemed impossible to him, as it has seemed to many another who has read the story since, that he and others in authority should have had no inkling of the coming storm. He utterly failed to comprehend the depth of reserve in a whole race of men that could suffer and make no sign.

The Santal spat contempt.

“Are we not men?” he said. “Are we children that we should fret and cry? Nay, we bide our time, then strike.”

The boy paced restlessly to and fro. The one thing for him to do was to reach the headquarters station and give the alarm. But how to reach it before the Santal levies, doubtless hurrying thither, bent on murder and revenge?

The old shikari seemed to divine his thoughts.

“They have gone to Barhait,” he said. “It lies between thee and the Sirkar.”

The boy stopped suddenly, a question as to the fate of Bishtu Singh, the orderly, on his lips.

Again the Santal divined almost before the words were uttered.

“Death is an ugly thing,” he murmured. “It was not meet that the Sahib should see.”

“Death?” The boy drew back. He knew now how close it had passed beside him in the night. Even as they talked it seemed to him that it still lurked near at hand.

“They killed him as he slept,” said the Santal, calm again and speaking with contemptuous indifference, as if this was a matter of but little interest and moment. “Thy other servants of the cursed Hindu race lie with him. Their bodies lay all night before the Sahib’s tent. It was I, even I, who returned while it was yet dark and took them away. It was no meet sight for the eyes of the Sahib at dawn.”

It was strange that this one man alone in all his following should have shown consideration for his feelings which all the rest had done so much to outrage. The old man’s forethought touched him. “They lie yonder under the leaves,” he continued, pointing out beyond the camp.

The boy turned sharply and resumed his restless pacing to and fro. The treacherous murder of his men by this people in whom he had put so much faith was a bitter awakening.

“It is well. They sleep,” said Dharan Murmu, as if dismissing them finally from his thoughts. He drew a step nearer and touched the Englishman on the arm again. His voice sank. “But—I came to warn thee, Sahib.”

The boy gazed down into his troubled face. There was evidently something still to come.

“Warn me?” he said, thinking not of himself. “Of what?”

“Stay.” The Santal stood with outstretched hand, his head thrown up as a beast of the forest throws up its head at the first faint sound of danger. The boy paused and listened, but no sound came to his untrained ear, strain it as he might. He grew impatient and moved as if to speak.

“Stay.” The old man waved him aside impatiently. Still no sound came. Nothing broke the dead silence.

“Lo! my eyes are blind with age, but I see, I see strange things”—the voice was the voice of Dharan Murmu, but it spoke as the voice of one in a trance. His face was tense and drawn. “Lo! my ears are dim with age, but I hear—I hear strange things. The gift that the gods give, is it not greater than hearing or sight, or any other sense? And it grows keen with age. Lo! I see a great host of men afar off. Across the hills by the path from the east they come—I hear the tramp of advancing feet. I see the surging crowd—the flower of Santal youth. They come as men angered. The lust of blood is in their eyes.” He drew himself erect, suddenly calm. The strange light died out of his eyes. He turned and faced the boy. “It is death that cometh to thee, Sahib,”he said quietly.

In the silence that followed, the first sound of the advancing host reached the Englishman’s ears. The dead, monotonous roll of drums came from far off across the hills. It was like the angry rumbling of an advancing storm.

The two men stood face to face, erect, each gazing full into the eyes of the other as if he would read the thoughts behind. In the eyes of the one were enthusiasm and exultation. In the eyes of the other a great sorrow and distress. In the eyes of both was courage. It was the dawning of the one bond that could unite the East and the West—the ignorant, uncivilized Santal shikari and the English boy. Both would rise to meet the call unflinchingly when the call should come.

The old man looked in the young man’s face and was satisfied. There was no fear, only a great grief that these things should be and that he had no power to bid them stay. The horror of responsibility unfulfilled had sunk deep into his soul.

The vanguard of the advancing host reached the summit of the hills. The moving figures stood out like specks among the trees against the skyline. Like ants they came, swarming along the crest of the hills, beating the jungle with wild cries as they advanced, their natural passion for the chase strong even in these, the supreme moments of their lives. The boy watched them fascinated. Spread out for a mile or more along the hill-side they seemed to him like some relentless flood that must needs sweep all before it. He himself was as a man with his back against the rocks watching the oncoming tide that must engulf him, from which no escape lay.

Dharan Murmu watched him keenly under his deep bent brows. A strange weakness arose in his heart for this white Sahib. He was the first and only one of his race he had ever seen. Like the rest of his kind, with true clannish exclusiveness, he had looked at the intruder askance when first he had come among them. But thoroughly imbued with this tribal instinct as he was, Dharan Murmu’s reserve had already partially given way through intercourse with this same Englishman whose enthusiasm for shikar had won his heart. Had they not sat side by side night after night, in the absolute stillness, waiting for the brute beasts of the forest what time they left their lair? Had they not together followed the chase, and had not the old man found in the youth an energy as keen, a passion for sport as great and a tirelessness almost as enduring as his own? Surely there was some truth in the vague rumour that these new-comers, the Englishmen, were their own kith and kin, descendants of a long-lost brother of the ancestor of their race. The Englishman was indeed a being apart from the hated Hindu and Mussulman moneylender and rack-renting zemindar. Against the English the Santal had no war. Yet who could answer for the doings of that oncoming host, drunk with all the passions of war let loose?

The power of intense devotion that lies dormant in the heart of primitive man suddenly awoke in Dharan Murmu at the swift approach of danger to this fearless English boy. Out of strength came weakness.

“It is death,” he said, pointing towards the moving, shouting mass of humanity that now covered the whole hill-side. “Should I not know? It is death.” The boy made no reply. His eyes were still riveted on the scene before him. The long range of hills against the Eastern sky was alive with men. Disappearing and reappearing among the trees, leaping from rock to rock, lowering themselves by roots and branches with the agility of apes they came, their dark brown bodies, naked save for a cloth about their waists, moving like a kaleidoscope, a constantly changing mass of black specks in a maze of green.

“The Sahib is young,” said the old man, still watching the youth’s face with his keen dark eyes. “Is it fitting that the Sahib should die?”

The boy turned slowly and looked him in the face. The old man saw and knew. The Sahib would die. Perhaps it was most fitting so, and he knew for a surety that the Sahib would die unflinchingly, even as one of his own race.

“We must turn them back,” he said.

The old Santal laughed softly.

“Can a man stay the gathering storm, or resist the uprooting force of the wind, or turn the sun from its course? It is even so with yonder host. Many years the Santal suffers and makes no cry. Then he strikes, and nothing in heaven or earth can turn him aside until he has had his fill. I, even I, Dharan Murmu, know and have seen. And the end is death.”

III

Far ahead of the rapidly advancing host the whole jungle was astir. The wild unearthly cries of the beaters, the deep, bass booming of the drums, and the shrill braying of the pipes had started every living thing for miles. In advance came the sound of chattering and fluttering of birds among the branches. First to fear and first in flight, a pair of peacocks, a glorious flash of colour in the sun, rose suddenly on the wing with their discordant cry, and flew by low above the trees. A flight of doves, with their mild-toned note of protest, swiftly followed, a crowd of twittering minas in their wake, shrilly exclaiming and squabbling even as they went. A partridge, rising clumsily but just above the undergrowth, flew heavily to cover. Only a parcel of crows lingered, black and impudent, cawing raucously, immune even from a Santal’s all-embracing aim. Below on foot a marvellous procession fled by across the clearing in the jungle that faced the small encampment. At the head, most timid and most fleet, a hare darted past beneath the undergrowth, ears back, fear starting from its eyes. Then, close behind, no less timid but hampered by the long grass and trailing creepers, a herd of tiny barking deer paused a moment where the jungle ended, heads tossed high, sniffing the air for danger, then, seeing none, scampered across the greensward and disappeared. A trio of heavy sambhur crashed through the jungle in their wake, their magnificent antlers tearing the trailing creepers as they came. A sow, hampered with a family of six, grunted and squealed and blundered by. A huge boar followed as if covering their retreat. Then came a pause. It was dramatic, like the pause before the entry of the last and greatest guest of all. The beaters, still with their tireless chorus of hoarse shouts and piercing cries, drew nearer. Only one more long patch of cover lay between them and the open. The old shikari heard and touched the boy lightly on the arm. To him as yet no sound had come, only a rustling in the grass that might have been a passing breath of wind riveted his eyes. Stealthily the waving of the undergrowth advanced. A faint sound of movement came, the snapping of twigs, the swish of grass and creeper thrust aside. On the very edge of the jungle the rustling ceased. All near by was still. Then, with a catlike, sinewy motion the great striped beast cautiously thrust out its head and looked angrily across the open. Noiselessly, wriggling almost like a snake, it slowly drew its body clear of the undergrowth, until its tail lashed the air. The hideous braying of the horns grew louder. Drawing itself together in half a dozen easy lollopping strides, it was across the open and hidden again in the undergrowth beyond.

The shikari drew his breath sharp and looked piteously at the boy. It was cruel to have let slip so great a chance as this. But he doubted as he looked if the other had even so much as seen.

One by one the beaters emerged bearing the spoils of the chase. At sight of the Englishman they raised a shout that quickly merged in the renewed braying of horns and pipes and throbbing of drums. The whole open space was black with men. They swarmed round the trees a thick dense ring of perspiring, yelling, gesticulating humanity. The boy lifted up his voice and spoke, but his words fell back, drowned in the appalling din, like a cry for help in a storm at sea.

There seemed no leader. The great, unwieldy crowd swayed and circled, all but jostling the Englishman as he stood, calmly, the central figure, awaiting the pause that must come even in their shrieking madness. Their cries were unintelligible. But none could mistake their hostility. It seemed impossible to believe that these wild, passion-stirred men, with their distorted faces and flashing eyes, mouthing like madmen, brandishing aloft their swords and shields, were the quiet peaceful Santals he had known. He had seen them dull, plodding men, pursuing monotonously the immemorial daily round, mild and gentle mannered, full of a quiet yet unsubservient respect. To-day they were devils of hell let loose. For years they had borne the burden. To-day, having thrown it off, they had thrown off with it all restraint, and stood forth in all their naked savagery, drunk with plunder and debauch.

Gradually, from sheer temporary exhaustion, the tumult subsided. On the outskirts of the crowd the smoke of many fires rose up. The spoils of the chase were rapidly, there and then, made ready for the mid-day meal. The rice beer that banghi-walas had carried in the rear came up and stood invitingly in huge earthen pots. The shouting sank to the confused babble of a thousand voices bandying words. Apart, a group of headmen, the sons of Chunai of Bagnidihi in their midst, held conclave.

The Englishman made his brief, hopeless fight. Never before had he realized his utter helplessness and uselessness. He could not even speak their tongue. Scarce one among them knew any language save his own. But for Dharan Murmu he might have died without even knowing of their wrongs, without one attempt to turn them back and promise them inquiry and redress. He had lived among them, an officer responsible for their welfare, and after many months he could not even speak to them direct. He had trusted, like almost all his fellow-officers, to the interpretation of the Hindus, their bitterest foes. Was there wonder that their grievances had never reached his ear?

They made no pretence of listening to his words. When Dharan Murmu would have translated, they silenced him with opprobrious cries. They were drunk with the intoxication of freedom from restraint. Already they had tasted blood. Only the day before they had butchered an inspector of police and all his constables. Everywhere Hindu and Mussulman, zemindar and moneylender, were paying heavy toll for the years of their oppression. The unanimous verdict against this strange Sahib was death.

Only one voice was uplifted in his favour among the chiefs.

“We fight not against Sahibs,” said Sibhu Manjhi; but Rajan Manjhi had cried him down.

“Have we not murdered and robbed and plundered and burned?” he had urged. “Is it these things that the white Sahibs love? Will they not exact an eye for an eye and a year in their great stone prisons whence none can escape for every deed that we have done?” Then, mockingly to gain his end, he had made use of the gods he denied. “Lo! the gods have turned away their faces from us. They demand a sacrifice—a sacrifice of human blood. In our path they have cast this fitting sacrifice. Who are we to turn aside from what the gods send?”

It was not meet that he should die while the sun-god still reigned in the heavens. He should die at sunset, at the very moment when the ball of fire had disappeared behind the western hills. Then Marang Burn, the Great Spirit, would be satisfied.

Suddenly there was a shout. A column of smoke shot up from the back of the tent. A moment and it had burst into flame. A line of fire crept like a snake along the roof, leaving naught but falling ashes in its wake. One by one the ropes fell limp and useless, burned through. The flaming tent swayed unsteadily, then fell sideways with a crash, a blackened smouldering heap. The boy watched it, a great helpless rage in his heart. Within were all his small possessions, the valueless but valued trifles he had brought from home. Their loss hurt him more than he could have believed. It seemed like severing the last link with his old life, with the past and home. The fire smouldered out and the wind caught the ashes and blew them mockingly in his face. He stood alone, without a possession in the world or any hope of help, facing an infuriated mob of savages in whose flaming, bloodshot eyes his sentence was writ clear.

He stood by the ruins of his tent waiting. As yet the sun was high overhead. It wanted many hours of sunset. Dharan Murmu sat crouched on the ground near by, watching the young man’s face like a dog, and as helpless as a dog to stay the end.

The hoarse babble of the men as they talked at their meal rose up on every side. Wild, naked, unkempt, they looked strangely like a herd of beasts clawing their prey. With their hands they tore the half-cooked meat limb from limb, and washed it down with the intoxicating rice beer from rough-made leaf cups.

But the Englishman gazed out upon the scene with unseeing eyes. Of death there was no fear. But to die a failure, with the trust committed to him unfulfilled! Under his very eyes this tumult had been long fermenting, and he had not even known. Even yet the wrongs they suffered he but dimly understood. Fenced round by his Hindu clerks and underlings, the Santal’s enemies, was there cause for wonder that their grievances had never reached his ears? He suddenly realized how far apart from this primitive people committed to his charge he had lived even while in their midst. What did he know of their daily lives, their interests, their innermost thoughts and minds? With a pang he realized how small his knowledge of them was. The difference between his preconceived notions of them and the manner of men they had shown themselves to-day was startling. They had revealed possibilities in themselves such as he had never conceived. From quiet, contented tillers of the soil, dull, plodding, conventional, they had become devils of unrestraint. The thought that he could give no warning of the coming storm maddened him. It was impossible now. They would shoot him in the back as they shot the beasts of the forest. There was nothing left. He must die with his face to death.

The sun seemed to move on wings. Already the full strength of its heat was passed. It drew rapidly towards the west.

Suddenly the pity of it rose up within him and gripped him by the throat. His youth revolted at the inevitable and lashed itself in vain remonstrance. To be here among these Eastern peoples playing his small part in great destinies had been the ambition of his youth. And he had but just begun.

He saw himself back again in the far-off home, days when this ambition had first taken birth. Round the old Rectory that nestled among the elms within the shadow of the old, grey, time-worn church in a peaceful English village his earliest memories clung. There in those first years that mould a man’s life for all time he had learned the lessons that no afterdays could altogether destroy. Even now he thought with a thrill of pride of his passionate boyish devotion for the gracious presence that had guided so wisely those small beginnings. She had come of a race of warriors—men who had done great deeds inscribed on the roll of England’s fame—and she had proved worthy of her race, moulding her son with skilful hands, womanly and tender always, yet strong and wise, mindful ever of the days to come. So, setting out well equipped to face the first journey of life, he had held in his thoughts, then as always, the one woman in the world.

The sun sank lower, throwing long shadows towards the east. But the boy paid no heed. Time passed, and he was back once more in memory in another scene of youth.

It was the supreme moment of his brief college days. He could hear them now—the hoarse, encouraging cries of his fellows—as they raced along the bank, the musical splash of the oars, even, rhythmical, excellently in time. He was straining every nerve, the veins standing out like whipcord on his forehead. It was the last night, and there was but one boat ahead. Every night they had scored a triumph. There was but one more to record and but this one chance. The blood seemed to surge up into his head, the noises grew confused. One thought, one purpose only stood out clear. He must not fail. He must stroke the boat to this last victory. The seven behind him responded to his efforts as one man. It was done. A moment’s half oblivion of breathlessness, then the awakening to the joy of triumph.

He saw again his College Hall that night—oak-panelled, the pictures of benefactors dead and gone looking down in stately array upon the uproarious mirth of a generation of later days. Even the dons upon the dais, forgetful of much learning, scorned not to rehearse again in words the prowess of the eight, glorying in the fresh honour that these had brought to the foundation whose fame and reputation they held so proudly dear. The long tables, full length down the hall, were crowded with eager rows of fresh-faced boys, their eyes alight with the triumph of their fellows, which shed reflected glory on themselves whose part had been but to stand by and cheer. A murmur of excited talk filled all the hall. One man’s name above all others was on every lip. The boy, gazing into death’s dark face in a far-off Indian jungle, lived again his brief fleeting hour of triumph.

The term was over. He had left the coach at the main road at the end of the village and was hurrying home to the welcome of warm hearts which even now were uplifted in joy at his triumph. Down the trim-kept path between the neat box hedges came a lady with eager expectant feet. Very fair and tall she was, all womanliness, yet full of hidden strength, with the glorious light of exultant motherhood in her eyes and yet another strange mystic light beyond that it is given even to few women to know. He saw her while he was yet far off, and hastening, leaped the gate and was by her side. Together, heart to heart, they passed within. She was the one woman in the world for him still.

The sun had grown to a glowing ball of fire in a dull grey haze. It drew to the crest of the hills as a needle draws to a magnet. But the boy, enthralled in the land of dreams, still paid no heed. The fight of joy and triumph died out of his face. It was the one great sorrow of his life on which he looked again. How different a homecoming from those he had always known. Summoned back he had come with speed. Travel-worn and torn by a great dread, he had reached the gate where she had so often stood to welcome him. The absence of her gracious presence chided him to the heart. But he was in time. Thank God for that. He was kneeling by her side there by the window in the upper room that looked upon the sweet familiar, old-world garden, whence the scent of many flowers came softly on the evening breeze. The old grey church, with its message of eternity and hope looked out among the trees, and, away across the meadows, the gentle tinkling of a bell where the sheep cropped contentedly the fresh young grass came with a grateful sense of peacefulness and rest. Soft white masses of fleecy cloud played lazily across the sky, while a flight of swallows flitted by, proclaiming that the resurrection of the earth was nigh. He saw the quiet glory of the scene again, and heard the gentle voice that spoke in quiet tones last messages of hope and blessed words of comfort.

There was an ominous stirring amongst the crowd. A dozen men, the flower of Santal youth, far-famed in the chase, fingered their bows and plucked at the arrows in their quivers. The sun sank rapidly. It had almost touched the ragged crest of the hills. The old shikari watched it with fascinated gaze.

“The Hour of Union,” he whispered, awestruck, knowing that the hour was come.

The boy roused suddenly from his dreaming.

The Hour of Union! Surely it was that. The words broke with significant force upon his thoughts of that last scene. They called up memories of other words, solemn and majestic, oft repeated beside that same presence in that same grey church among the elms, yet repeated with how little understanding. The Communion of Saints. She, too, had spoken of that in her last hour. The Communion of Saints. He realized now the full beauty of its meaning and significance. For him the Hour of Union had come.

The thought uplifted him. The great glory of an unseen presence filled all the air, enfolding him in its protecting calm. It almost seemed that he could hear the beating of an angel’s wings.

The sun had well-nigh gone, slipping as the eye watched it down behind the summit of the hills. Only a blood-red disc still held its own as if it clung to earth. A score of Santal youths stood up. There came the sound of bows drawn taut. A great silence held all the vast assembly. Every eye was turned towards the west, waiting till the great sun-god had finally withdrawn. At last, in the full majesty of purple and gold, he slipped from sight. Then all the host turned and looked upon the man whose eyes still looked upon the west. Upon his face was the light of joy and triumph. But it was hidden from their eyes and understanding.

There was the sharp sound of bows released, the whir of arrows that found their mark with unerring aim. Swiftly the Hour of Union closed, crowned in a halo of blood-red splendour that yet gave promise of a full and glorious dawn.

IV

They had fought well-nigh all day in torrents of rain. Under foot the ground was sodden, the fields a sea of mud and slush knee-deep. Everywhere the land lay fallow. No man had stayed to cultivate. Burning with their wrongs they had marched to wreak vengeance on their oppressors, plundering as they went. The common daily round of toil was stopped. There would be no harvest. The trim rice-fields lay bare and desolate, the homesteads empty, the mud-built, straw-thatched huts neglected, falling to decay beneath the heavy rains. The Santal, hugging his grief, looked on these things and fought his last fight with fierce despair. Beneath his eyes the fields he loved, for which he had striven and toiled in days gone by, for the possession of which he had stood forth to fight, lay trampled under foot, untilled, untouched, and falling back to jungle. The heart of the Santal yearned over the deserted land like the heart of a mother over the dying child at her breasts.

It was the last stand of the warrior host that had started out in such brave array three months before. Posted in a rough, mud-built fort that crowned a rocky tree-clad eminence, they were ready to fight with their backs against the wall until the end. Beyond there was no retreat. Slowly, disputing every inch of ground, they had already given way, leaving their dead in scores along the road they had come, yet dogged and determined, fighting in these last days with all the passion and enthusiasm of their first ardour, and with a new dull obstinacy bred of disaster and defeat. The very possibility of surrender was never for a moment in their minds. They had fought. They had been defeated time and again. What was there left for the vanquished but to die?

It was no work for British troops. Even the Sepoys had no relish for it. Butchery they called it, and did it with reluctance, yet knowing that it needs must be. Promises of pardon, if indeed they ever reached the rebels, met with no response. Promises of immediate redress alike were unavailing. The Santal knew nothing of an enemy that gave quarter to a vanquished foe. He and his kind neither gave nor asked it. He would not ask it now. So, since surrender was a word they did not know there could be no peace again to that once fair land until the last spark of rebellion had been extinguished by the sword.

It grew to sunset and the end was near. The rain had ceased, and away towards the west the clouds that had hung heavy all day lifted. Still the drums beat out their note of defiance, silenced only as the drummers fell, and the pipes rose up in one shrill final wail of agony and despair ere they, too, fell from lifeless hands to make no more martial music and to be attuned for all time hence to one long lament. Huddled together, half-way up the slope of the hill, they waited. From below came the short sharp words of command, the sound of preparations for the last attack. The even, regular tramp of men, oncoming, determined, persistent, would have struck terror to less stout hearts. What could a huddled crowd, ill-armed and leaderless, hope against the forces of discipline and order, well-trained, intelligent, obedient to command? It was the old story of system and organization against individual prowess and disunion. Not a man in all the Santal host but knew it. Yet not a man but preferred defeat and death to surrender and submission.

At the edge of the open the Sepoys halted. Time was passing. They must storm this last retreat ere night fell, and the sun, bursting through the clouds, at last showed low on the horizon. The men were dead weary. They had fought on all day in desultory warfare for which they had no taste. Maddened by continuous flights of arrows and sudden ambushes as they advanced, they were sick of the work and eager to be done. With a hoarse cry they charged up the slope. But this last brave remnant that forced admiration even from their maddened foes was to be spared, if spared it would allow itself to be. There was to be no firing till the word was given. Surely that would be unnecessary unless this small decimated band of men, ten times outnumbered, practically dashed itself to certain death.

A storm of stones, huge boulders, crashing, thundering, leaping down the slope, rained on the advancing troops. A volley of arrows, aimed unerringly, stung them to frenzy. It was beyond endurance. Swiftly at last, to save an ignominious retreat, the word was given. A line of smoke hung for a moment in the damp air, then rose and vanished. Yells of pain and rage mingled with the warlike cries above. A drum that had rolled a challenge ceased suddenly, and the skirl of a pipe stopped short, broken off in the midst of a note of passion and despair.

It was a hand-to-hand encounter now. With axes raised aloft, the Santals threw themselves down upon the Sepoys and worked dire havoc. But discipline and numbers told. Without hope the Santals fought, filled only with the lust to kill until the end should come. Their dead strewed the ground. Sepoys, men of the hated race, hacked out of recognition, mingled their blood with theirs.

On the hill-side there was no single rebel left upstanding. Each had fallen where he stood. Only round the mud-fort beyond the fighting still went on. It was a ghastly scene laid bare by the dying light. The sun sank in a crimson blaze as if reflecting the blood-soaked earth and the red streams that trickled down the slopes. Even yet a drum beat feebly like an echo. Shot through the thigh, a drummer still played on, feebly striking, even as death glazed his eyes and robbed his hands of strength, his last wild note of unconquerable defiance. Truly the gods of the Santals slept.

Round the rough-built fort the last and final scene of all drew to its close. Surrounded on every side protected only by a tumbling mud wall and door of bamboo, it seemed incredible that it should have held out so long.

Within, the defenders had fallen one by one. Suddenly the arrows that had shot out with such deadly effect ceased. There was but one man left. Throwing aside his bow, he seized his axe and grimly nursed its edge. Crouching against the farthest wall, hid in deep shadow, he waited for the end.

There was a pause outside at the sudden silence within. Fearing some new trick, a Sepoy crept cautiously along the wall and reached the door. He heaved against it with all his strength and it fell inwards with a crash. But the doorway was scarce five feet high and narrow, so that but one man at a time might pass through, stooping. The Sepoy peered within, but the waning light failed to reveal aught save the dead piled up in careless disarray, lying as they had fallen and trampled on in death.

In the far corner Rajan Manjhi waited, his eyes gleaming out of the darkness like coals of fire, crouching like a wild beast about to spring. His knotted hands gripped the axe he held until the veins stood out. The face of the Sepoy—a Pathan—black-bearded, high-turbaned, was silhouetted against the light without. Rajan Manjhi watched it, his lips moving almost as if they prayed. The Pathan bent his magnificent height and stepped within. But even as he drew himself upright again he paused. Out of the darkness two eyes like the eyes of a panther he had once tracked and slain gleamed at him. For the bare fraction of a second he hesitated. His gods, unmindful, slept. The two glaring eyes were upon him, and his head rolled among the dead that cumbered the floor, struck off at one mighty blow.

Rajan Man]hi drew back quivering. His whole body shook like an aspen with the fierceness of his passion. The last and greatest moment of his life had come. His lips moved.

“Oh, Great Spirit,” he panted in quick short gasps. “Thou whom I have defied, grant this. There is one life yet. Ten for each son of mine that they slew have I slain—all save one. Grant but this one.”

A cry came from outside—the cry of a comrade to his fellow. All was still. Then a second figure darkened the doorway and stooped cautiously within.

Rajan Manjhi drew back tense and rigid. The trembling ceased. He nerved himself, waiting breathless. Then with a wild yell of triumph he sprang forward and struck with all his force. The headless body fell heavily into his arms. He spurned it from him and trampled it under foot.

Outside they were hastily pulling down the wall. Wild shrieks and incoherent imprecations came from within, striking dread even into brave hearts. The cries were unearthly, like those of a malignant spirit seeking into whom it might enter and find rest.

The wall fell. A row of Sepoys, bayonets fixed, faced the wild figure that stood, hands outstretched, upon the pile of dead. There was a moment’s hush. The end had come.

“Oh, Great Spirit, thou that answerest prayer, I do acknowledge thee.” The words were a hoarse cry, the words of a man broken but strong in death. “Ten lives for one hast thou given. Thou hast avenged the insults that I cast upon thee and my wrongs.” The voice rose to a shriek. “Yea, there be gods. I do acknowledge thee. I come.”

With the dread death song of his race upon his lips and his axe uplifted, he sprang clean into the air off the heap of dead on to the ring of bayonets, exacting his last overpowering measure of revenge as the nearest Sepoy fell crushed beneath his mighty onslaught.

So, searching for the light, an acknowledgment of the Divine wrung from his lips with his last breath, the troubled spirit of Rajan Manjhi passed. The Hour of Union, that had come at last to unite conquered and conquerors alike in a great quietness and confidence, gently drew the veils of forgiveness and oblivion over the wrongs and sorrows of the past.

The End


  1. The child is yours; take it. 

  2. I have given you my child and you have not given him back to me. 

  3. Office or court. 

  4. Orderly. 

  5. Conjuror. 

  6. Magic. 

  7. Country. 

  8. Big dinner. 

  9. Letter of recommendation. 

  10. “What can I do?” 

  11. Lamps. 

  12. Indian servant.