Outside that circle again was a rude square, traced out in bits of red brick alternating with fragments of broken china; the whole bounded by a little bank of dust.
The water-man from the well-curb put in a plea for the small architect, saying that it was only the play of a baby and did not much disfigure my garden. Heaven knows that I had no intention of touching the child’s work then or later; but, that evening, a stroll through the garden brought me unawares full on it; so that I trampled, before I knew, marigold-heads, dust-bank, and fragments of broken soap-dish into confusion past all hope of mending.
Next morning, I came upon Muhammad Din crying softly to himself over the ruin I had wrought.
Some one had cruelly told him that the Sahib was very angry with him for spoiling the garden, and had scattered his rubbish, using bad language the while.
Muhammad Din labored for an hour at effacing every trace of the dust-bank and pottery fragments, and it was with a tearful and apologetic face that he said “Talaam, Tahib,” when I came home from office.
A hasty inquiry resulted in Imam Din informing Muhammad Din that, by my singular favor, he was permitted to disport himself as he pleased.
Whereat the child took heart and fell to tracing the ground-plan of an edifice which was to eclipse the marigold-polo-ball creation. For some months, the chubby little eccentricity revolved in his humble orbit among the castor-oil bushes and in the dust; always fashioning magnificent palaces from stale flowers thrown away by the bearer, smooth water-worn pebbles, bits of broken glass, and feathers pulled, I fancy, from my fowls—always alone, and always crooning to himself. A gaily-spotted sea-shell was dropped one day close to the last of his little buildings; and I looked that Muhammad Din should build something more than ordinarily splendid on the strength of it.
Nor was I disappointed.
He meditated for the better part of an hour, and his crooning rose to a jubilant song.
Then he began tracing in the dust.
It would certainly be a wondrous palace, this one, for it was two yards long and a yard broad in ground-plan.
But the palace was never completed. Next day there was no Muhammad Din at the head of the carriage-drive, and no “Talaam, Tahib” to welcome my return.
I had grown accustomed to the greeting, and its omission troubled me.
Next day Imam Din told me that the child was suffering slightly from fever and needed quinine.
He got the medicine, and an English Doctor. “They have no stamina, these brats,” said the Doctor, as he left Imam Din’s quarters. A week later, though I would have given much to have avoided it, I met on the road to the Mussulman burying-ground Imam Din, accompanied by one other friend, carrying in his arms, wrapped in a white cloth, all that was left of little Muhammad Din. IN FLOOD TIME Tweed said tae Till: ”What gars ye rin sae Still?” Till said tae Tweed: ”Though ye rin wi’ speed An’ I rin slaw— Yet where ye droon ae man I droon twa.” There is no getting over the river to-night, Sahib.
They say that a bullock-cart has been washed down already, and the ekka that went over a half hour before you came, has not yet reached the far side.
Is the Sahib in haste? I will drive the ford-elephant in to show him.
Ohè, mahout there in the shed! Bring out Ram Pershad, and if he will face the current, good.
An elephant never lies, Sahib, and Ram Pershad is separated from his friend Kala Nag.
He, too, wishes to cross to the far side.
Well done! Well done! my King! Go half way across, mahoutji, and see what the river says.
Well done, Ram Pershad! Pearl among elephants, go into the river! Hit him on the head, fool! Was the goad made only to scratch thy own fat back with, bastard? Strike! Strike! What are the boulders to thee, Ram Pershad, my Rustum, my mountain of strength? Go in! Go in! No, Sahib! It is useless.
You can hear him trumpet.
He is telling Kala Nag that he cannot come over.
See! He has swung round and is shaking his head.
He is no fool.
He knows what the Barhwi means when it is angry.
Aha! Indeed, thou art no fool, my child! Salaam, Ram Pershad, Bahadur! Take him under the trees, mahout, and see that he gets his spices.
Well done, thou chiefest among tuskers.
Salaam to the Sirkar and go to sleep. What is to be done? The Sahib must wait till the river goes down.
It will shrink to-morrow morning, if God pleases, or the day after at the latest.
Now why does the Sahib get so angry? I am his servant.
Before God, I did not create this stream! What can I do? My hut and all that is therein is at the service of the Sahib, and it is beginning to rain.come away, my Lord, How will the river go down for your throwing abuse at it? In the old days the English people were not thus.
The fire-carriage has made them soft.
In the old days, when they drave behind horses by day or by night, they said naught if a river barred the way, or a carriage sat down in the mud.
It was the will of God—not like a fire-carriage which goes and goes and goes, and would go though all the devils in the land hung on to its tail.
The fire-carriage hath spoiled the English people.
After all, what is a day lost, or, for that matter, what are two days? Is the Sahib going to his own wedding, that he is so mad with haste? Ho! Ho! Ho! I am an old man and see few Sahibs.
Forgive me if I have forgotten the respect that is due to them.
The Sahib is not angry? His own wedding! Ho! Ho! Ho! The mind of an old man is like the numah-tree.
Fruit, bud, blossom, and the dead leaves of all the years of the past flourish together.
Old and new and that which is gone out of remembrance, all three are there! Sit on the bedstead, Sahib, and drink milk.
Or—would the Sahib in truth care to drink my tobacco? It is good.
It is the tobacco of Nuklao.
My son, who is in service there sent it to me.
Drink, then, Sahib, if you know how to handle the tube.
The Sahib takes it like a Musalman.
Wah! Wah! Where did he learn that? His own wedding! Ho! Ho! Ho! The Sahib says that there is no wedding in the matter at all? Now is it likely that the Sahib would speak true talk to me who am only a black man? Small wonder, then, that he is in haste.
Thirty years have I beaten the gong at this ford, but never have I seen a Sahib in such haste.
Thirty years, Sahib! That is a very long time.
Thirty years ago this ford was on the track of the bunjaras, and I have seen two thousand pack-bullocks cross in one night.
Now the rail has come, and the fire-carriage says buz-buz-buz, and a hundred lakhs of maunds slide across that big bridge.
It is very wonderful; but the ford is lonely now that there are no bunjaras to camp under the trees. Nay, do not trouble to look at the sky without.
It will rain till the dawn.
Listen! The boulders are talking to-night in the bed of the river.
Hear them! They would be husking your bones, Sahib, had you tried to cross.
See, I will shut the door and no rain can enter.
Wahi! Ahi! Ugh! Thirty years on the banks of the ford! An old man am I and—where is the oil for the lamp? * * * * * Your pardon, but, because of my years, I sleep no sounder than a dog; and you moved to the door.
Look then, Sahib.
Look and listen.
A full half kos from bank to bank is the stream now—you can see it under the stars—and there are ten feet of water therein.
It will not shrink because of the anger in your eyes, and it will not be quiet on account of your curses.
Which is louder, Sahib—your voice or the voice of the river? Call to it—perhaps it will be ashamed.
Lie down and sleep afresh, Sahib.
I know the anger of the Barhwi when there has fallen rain in the foot-hills.
I swam the flood, once, on a night tenfold worse than this, and by the Favor of God I was released from Death when I had come to the very gates thereof. May I tell the tale? Very good talk.
I will fill the pipe anew. Thirty years ago it was, when I was a young man and had but newly come to the ford.
I was strong then, and the bunjaras had no doubt when I said “this ford is clear.” I have toiled all night up to my shoulder-blades in running water amid a hundred bullocks mad with fear, and have brought them across losing not a hoof.
When all was done I fetched the shivering men, and they gave me for reward the pick of their cattle—the bell-bullock of the drove.
So great was the honor in which I was held! But, to-day when the rain falls and the river rises, I creep into my hut and whimper like a dog.
My strength is gone from me.
I am an old man and the fire-carriage has made the ford desolate.
They were wont to call me the Strong One of the Barhwi. Behold my face, Sahib—it is the face of a monkey.
And my arm—it is the arm of an old woman.
I swear to you, Sahib, that a woman has loved this face and has rested in the hollow of this arm.
Twenty years ago, Sahib.
Believe me, this was true talk—twenty years ago. Come to the door and look across.
Can you see a thin fire very far away down the stream? That is the temple-fire, in the shrine of Hanuman, of the village of Pateera.
North, under the big star, is the village itself, but it is hidden by a bend of the river.
Is that far to swim, Sahib? Would you take off your clothes and adventure? Yet I swam to Pateera—not once but many times; and there are muggers in the river too. Love knows no caste; else why should I, a Musalman and the son of a Musalman, have sought a Hindu woman—a widow of the Hindus—the sister of the headman of Pateera? But it was even so.
They of the headman’s household came on a pilgrimage to Muttra when She was but newly a bride.
Silver tires were upon the wheels of the bullock-cart, and silken curtains hid the woman.
Sahib, I made no haste in their conveyance, for the wind parted the curtains and I saw Her.
When they returned from pilgrimage the boy that was Her husband had died, and I saw Her again in the bullock-cart.
By God, these Hindus are fools! What was it to me whether She was Hindu or Jain—scavenger, leper, or whole? I would have married Her and made Her a home by the ford.
The Seventh of the Nine Bars says that a man may not marry one of the idolaters? Is that truth? Both Shiahs and Sunnis say that a Musalman may not marry one of the idolaters? Is the Sahib a priest, then, that he knows so much? I will tell him something that he does not know.
There is neither Shiah nor Sunni, forbidden nor idolater, in Love; and the Nine Bars are but nine little fagots that the flame of Love utterly burns away.
In truth, I would have taken Her; but what could I do? The headman would have sent his men to break my head with staves.
I am not—I was not—afraid of any five men; but against half a village who can prevail? Therefore it was my custom, these things having been arranged between us twain, to go by night to the village of Pateera, and there we met among the crops; no man knowing aught of the matter.
Behold, now! I was wont to cross here, skirting the jungle to the river bend where the railway bridge is, and thence across the elbow of land to Pateera.
The light of the shrine was my guide when the nights were dark.
That jungle near the river is very full of snakes—little karaits that sleep on the sand—and moreover, Her brothers would have slain me had they found me in the crops.
But none knew—none knew save She and I; and the blown sand of the river-bed covered the track of my feet.
In the hot months it was an easy thing to pass from the ford to Pateera, and in the first Rains, when the river rose slowly, it was an easy thing also.
I set the strength of my body against the strength of the stream, and nightly I ate in my hut here and drank at Pateera yonder.
She had said that one Hirnam Singh, a thief, had sought Her, and he was of a village up the river but on the same bank.
All Sikhs are dogs, and they have refused in their folly that good gift of God—tobacco.
I was ready to destroy Hirnam Singh that ever he had come nigh Her; and the more because he had sworn to Her that She had a lover, and that he would lie in wait and give the name to the headman unless She went away with him.
What curs are these Sikhs! After that news, I swam always with a little sharp knife in my belt, and evil would it have been for a man had he stayed me, I knew not the face of Hirnam Singh, but I would have killed any who came between me and Her. Upon a night in the beginning of the Rains, I was minded to go across to Pateera, albeit the river was angry.
Now the nature of the Barhwi is this, Sahib.
In twenty breaths it comes down from the Hills, a wall three feet high, and I have seen it, between the lighting of a fire and the cooking of a chupatty, grow from a runnel to a sister of the Jumna. When I left this bank there was a shoal a half mile down, and I made shift to fetch it and draw breath there ere going forward; for I felt the hands of the river heavy upon my heels.
Yet what will a young man not do for Love’s sake? There was but little light from the stars, and midway to the shoal a branch of the stinking deodar tree brushed my mouth as I swam.
That was a sign of heavy rain in the foot-hills and beyond, for the deodar is a strong tree, not easily shaken from the hillsides.
I made haste, the river aiding me, but ere I had touched the shoal, the pulse of the stream beat, as it were, within me and around, and, behold, the shoal was gone and I rode high on the crest of a wave that ran from bank to bank.
Has the Sahib ever been cast into much water that fights and will not let a man use his limbs? To me, my head upon the water, it seemed as though there were naught but water to the world’s end, and the river drave me with its driftwood.
A man is a very little thing in the belly of a flood.
And this flood, though I knew it not, was the Great Flood about which men talk still.
My liver was dissolved and I lay like a log upon my back in the fear of Death.
There were living things in the water, crying and howling grievously—beasts of the forest and cattle, and once the voice of a man asking for help.
But the rain came and lashed the water white, and I heard no more save the roar of the boulders below and the roar of the rain above.
Thus I was whirled down-stream, wrestling for the breath in me.
It is very hard to die when one is young.
Can the Sahib, standing here, see the railway bridge? Look, there are the lights of the mail-train going to Peshawur! The bridge is now twenty feet above the river, but upon that night the water was roaring against the lattice-work and against the lattice came I feet first, But much driftwood was piled there and upon the piers, and I took no great hurt.
Only the river pressed me as a strong man presses a weaker.
Scarcely could I take hold of the lattice-work and crawl to the upper boom.
Sahib, the water was foaming across the rails a foot deep! Judge therefore what manner of flood it must have been.
I could not hear, I could not see.
I could but lie on the boom and pant for breath. — But later on I received full enlightenment; and so did Khem Singh.
He fled to those who knew him in the old days, but many of them were dead and more were changed, and all knew something of the Wrath of the Government.
He went to the young men, but the glamour of his name had passed away, and they were entering native regiments of Government offices, and Khem Singh could give them neither pension, decorations, nor influence—nothing but a glorious death with their backs to the mouth of a gun.
He wrote letters and made promises, and the letters fell into bad hands, and a wholly insignificant subordinate officer of Police tracked them down and gained promotion thereby.
Moreover, Khem Singh was old, and anise-seed brandy was scarce, and he had left his silver cooking-pots in Fort Amara with his nice warm bedding, and the gentleman with the gold pince-nez was told by those who had employed him that Khem Singh as a popular leader was not worth the money paid. “Great is the mercy of these fools of English!” said Khem Singh when the situation was put before him. “I will go back to Fort Amara of my own free will and gain honor.
Give me good clothes to return in,” So, at his own time, Khem Singh knocked at the wicket-gate of the Fort and walked to the Captain and the Subaltern, who were nearly grey-headed on account of correspondence that daily arrived from Simla marked “Private,” “I have come back, Captain Sahib,” said Khem Singh, “Put no more guards over me.
It is no good out yonder.” A week later I saw him for the first time to my knowledge, and he made as though there were an understanding between us. “It was well done, Sahib,” said he, “and greatly I admired your astuteness in thus boldly facing the troops when I, whom they would have doubtless torn to pieces, was with you.
Now there is a man in Fort Ooltagarh whom a bold man could with ease help to escape.
This is the position of the Fort as I draw it on the sand”— But I was thinking how I had become Lalun’s Vizier after all. THE BROKEN-LINK HANDICAP While the snaffle holds, or the long-neck slings, While the big beam tilts, or the last bell rings, While horses are horses to train and to race. Then women and wine take a second place For me—for me— While a short “ten-three” Has a field to squander or fence to face! —Song of the.
R. There are more ways of running a horse to suit your book than pulling his head off in the straight.
Some men forget this.
Understand clearly that all racing is rotten—as everything connected with losing money must be.
In India, in addition to its inherent rottenness, it has the merit of being two-thirds sham; looking pretty on paper only.
Every one knows every one else far too well for business purposes.
How on earth can you rack and harry and post a man for his losings, when you are fond of his wife, and live in the same Station with him? He says, “On the Monday following,” “I can’t settle just yet.” You say, “All right, old man,” and think yourself lucky if you pull off nine hundred out of a two-thousand-rupee debt.
Any way you look at it, Indian racing is immoral, and expensively immoral.
Which is much worse.
If a man wants your money, he ought to ask for it, or send round a subscription-list, instead of juggling about the country, with an Australian larrikin; a “brumby,” with as much breed as the boy; a brace of chumars in gold-laced caps; three or four ekka-ponies with hogged manes, and a switch-tailed demirep of a mare called Arab because she has a kink in her flag.
Racing leads to the shroff quicker than anything else.
But if you have no conscience and no sentiments, and good hands, and some knowledge of pace, and ten years’ experience of horses, and several thousand rupees a month, I believe that you can occasionally contrive to pay your shoeing-bills. Did you ever know Shackles—b.
G., 15. 1-3/8—coarse, loose, mule-like ears—barrel as long as a gatepost—tough as a telegraph-wire—and the queerest brute that ever looked through a bridle? He was of no brand, being one of an ear-nicked mob taken into the Bucephalus at £4:10s., a head to make up freight, and sold raw and out of condition at Calcutta for Rs.275.
People who lost money on him called him a “brumby”; but if ever any horse had Harpoon’s shoulders and The Gin’s temper, Shackles was that horse.
Two miles was his own particular distance.
He trained himself, ran himself, and rode himself; and, if his jockey insulted him by giving him hints, he shut up at once and bucked the boy off.
He objected to dictation.
Two or three of his owners did not understand this, and lost money in consequence.
At last he was bought by a man who discovered that, if a race was to be won, Shackles, and Shackles only, would win it in his own way, so long as his jockey sat still.
This man had a riding-boy called Brunt—a lad from Perth, West Australia—and he taught Brunt, with a trainer’s whip, the hardest thing a jock can learn—to sit still, to sit still, and to keep on sitting still.
When Brunt fairly grasped this truth, Shackles devastated the country.
No weight could stop him at his own distance; and the fame of Shackles spread from Ajmir in the South, to Chedputter in the North.
There was no horse like Shackles, so long as he was allowed to do his work in his own way.
But he was beaten in the end; and the story of his fall is enough to make angels weep. At the lower end of the Chedputter racecourse, just before the turn into the straight, the track passes close to a couple of old brick-mounds enclosing a funnel-shaped hollow.
The big end of the funnel is not six feet from the railings on the off-side.
The astounding peculiarity of the course is that, if you stand at one particular place, about half a mile away, inside the course, and speak at ordinary pitch, your voice just hits the funnel of the brick-mounds and makes a curious whining echo there.
A man discovered this one morning by accident while out training with a friend.
He marked the place to stand and speak from with a couple of bricks, and he kept his knowledge to himself.
Every peculiarity of a course is worth remembering in a country where rats play the mischief with the elephant-litter, and Stewards build jumps to suit their own stables.
This man ran a very fairish country-bred, a long, racking high mare with the temper of a fiend, and the paces of an airy wandering seraph—a drifty, glidy stretch.
The mare was, as a delicate tribute to Mrs.
Reiver, called “The Lady Regula Baddun”—or for short, Regula Baddun. Shackles’ jockey, Brunt, was a quite well-behaved boy, but his nerve had been shaken.
He began his career by riding jump-races in Melbourne, where a few Stewards want lynching, and was one of the jockeys who came through the awful butchery—perhaps you will recollect it—of the Maribyrnong Plate.
The walls were colonial ramparts—logs of jarrah spiked into masonry—with wings as strong as Church buttresses.
Once in his stride, a horse had to jump or fall.
He couldn’t run out.
In the Maribyrnong Plate, twelve horses were jammed at the second wall.
Red Hat, leading, fell this side, and threw out The Gled, and the ruck came up behind and the space between wing and wing was one struggling, screaming, kicking shambles.
Four jockeys were taken out dead; three were very badly hurt, and Brunt was among the three.
He told the story of the Maribyrnong Plate sometimes; and when he described how Whalley on Red Hat, said, as the mare fell under him—”God ha’ mercy, I’m done for!” and how, next instant, Sithee There and White Otter had crushed the life out of poor Whalley, and the dust hid a small hell of men and horses, no one marveled that Brunt had dropped jump-races and Australia together.
Regula Baddun’s owner knew that story by heart.
Brunt never varied it in the telling.
He had no education. Shackles came to the Chedputter Autumn races one year, and his owner walked about insulting the sportsmen of Chedputter generally, till they went to the Honorary Secretary in a body and said, “Appoint handicappers, and arrange a race which shall break Shackles and humble the pride of his owner.” The Districts rose against Shackles and sent up of their best; Ousel, who was supposed to be able to do his mile in 1-53; Petard, the stud-bred, trained by a cavalry regiment who knew how to train; Gringalet, the ewe-lamb of the 75th; Bobolink, the pride of Peshawar; and many others. They called that race The Broken-Link Handicap, because it was to smash Shackles; and the Handicappers piled on the weights, and the Fund gave eight hundred rupees, and the distance was “round the course for all horses.” Shackles’ owner said, “You can arrange the race with regard to Shackles only.
So long as you don’t bury him under weight-cloths, I don’t mind.” Regula Baddun’s owner said, “I throw in my mare to fret Ousel.
Six furlongs is Regula’s distance, and she will then lie down and die.
So also will Ousel, for his jockey doesn’t understand a waiting race.” Now, this was a lie, for Regula had been in work for two months at Dehra, and her chances were good, always supposing that Shackles broke a blood-vessel—or Brunt moved on him. The plunging in the lotteries was fine.
They filled eight thousand-rupee lotteries on the Broken-Link Handicap, and the account in the Pioneer said that “favoritism was divided.” In plain English, the various contingents were wild on their respective horses; for the Handicappers had done their work well.
The Honorary Secretary shouted himself hoarse through the din; and the smoke of the cheroots was like the smoke, and the rattling of the dice-boxes like the rattle of small-arm fire. Ten horses started—very level—and Regula Baddun’s owner cantered out on his hack to a place inside the circle of the course, where two bricks had been thrown.
He faced toward the brick-mounds at the lower end of the course and waited. The story of the running is in the Pioneer.
At the end of the first mile, Shackles crept out of the ruck, well on the outside, ready to get round the turn, lay hold of the bit and spin up the straight before the others knew he had got away.
Brunt was sitting still, perfectly happy, listening to the “drum-drum-drum” of the hoofs behind, and knowing that, in about twenty strides, Shackles would draw one deep breath and go up the last half-mile like the “Flying Dutchman.” As Shackles went short to take the turn and came abreast of the brick-mound, Brunt heard, above the noise of the wind in his ears, a whining, wailing voice on the offside, saying—”God ha’ mercy, I’m done for!” In one stride.
Brunt saw the whole seething smash of the Maribyrnong Plate before him, started in his saddle and gave a yell of terror.
The start brought the heels into Shackles’ side, and the scream hurt Shackles’ feelings.
He couldn’t stop dead; but he put out his feet and slid along for fifty yards, and then, very gravely and judicially, bucked off Brunt—a shaking, terror-stricken lump, while Regula Baddun made a neck-and-neck race with Bobolink up the straight, and won by a short head—Petard a bad third.
Shackles’ owner, in the Stand, tried to think that his field-glasses had gone wrong.
Regula Baddun’s owner, waiting by the two bricks, gave one deep sigh of relief, and cantered back to the Stand.
He had won, in lotteries and bets, about fifteen thousand. It was a Broken-Link Handicap with a vengeance.
It broke nearly all the men concerned, and nearly broke the heart of Shackles’ owner.
He went down to interview Brunt.
The boy lay, livid and gasping with fright, where he had tumbled off.
The sin of losing the race never seemed to strike him.
All he knew was that Whalley had “called” him, that the “call” was a warning; and, were he cut in two for it, he would never get up again.
His nerve had gone altogether, and he only asked his master to give him a good thrashing, and let him go.
He was fit for nothing, he said.
He got his dismissal, and crept up to the paddock, white as chalk, with blue lips, his knees giving way under him.
People said nasty things in the paddock; but Brunt never heeded.
He changed into tweeds, took his stick and went down the road, still shaking with fright, and muttering over and over again—”God ha’ mercy, I’m done for!” To the best of my knowledge and belief he spoke the truth. So now you know how the Broken-Link Handicap was run and won.
Of course you don’t believe it.
You would credit anything about Russia’s designs on India, or the recommendations of the Currency Commission; but a little bit of sober fact is more than you can stand. ON GREENHOW HILL To Love’s low voice she lent a careless ear; Her hand within his rosy fingers lay, A chilling weight.
She would not turn or hear; But with averted face went on her way. But when pale Death, all featureless and grim, Lifted his bony hand, and beckoning Held out his cypress-wreath, she followed him, And Love was left forlorn and wondering, That she who for his bidding would not stay, At Death’s first whisper rose and went away. Rivals, “Ohè, Ahmed Din! Shafiz Ulla ahoo! Bahadur Khan, where are you? Come out of the tents, as I have done, and fight against the English.
Don’t kill your own kin! Come out to me!” The deserter from a native corps was crawling round the outskirts of the camp, firing at intervals, and shouting invitations to his old comrades.
Misled by the rain and the darkness, he came to the English wing of the camp, and with his yelping and rifle-practice disturbed the men.
They had been making roads all day, and were tired. — About ten o’clock, as far as I could judge, when the Moon had just risen above the lip of the crater, Gunga Dass made a move for his burrow to bring out the gun-barrels whereby to measure our path.
All the other wretched inhabitants had retired to their lairs long ago.
The guardian boat drifted down-stream some hours before, and we were utterly alone by the crow-clump.
Gunga Dass, while carrying the gun-barrels, let slip the piece of paper which was to be our guide.
I stooped down hastily to recover it, and, as I did so, I was aware that the diabolical Brahmin was aiming a violent blow at the back of my head with the gun-barrels.
It was too late to turn round.
I must have received the blow somewhere on the nape of my neck.
A hundred thousand fiery stars danced before my eyes, and I fell forward senseless at the edge of the quicksand. When I recovered consciousness, the Moon was going down, and I was sensible of intolerable pain in the back of my head.
Gunga Dass had disappeared and my mouth was full of blood.
I lay down again and prayed that I might die without more ado.
Then the unreasoning fury which I have before mentioned laid hold upon me, and I staggered inland toward the walls of the crater.
It seemed that some one was calling to me in a whisper—”Sahib! Sahib! Sahib!” exactly as my bearer used to call me in the mornings.
I fancied that I was delirious until a handful of sand fell at my feet, Then I looked up and saw a head peering down into the amphitheatre—the head of Dunnoo, my dog-boy, who attended to my collies.
As soon as he had attracted my attention, he held up his hand and showed a rope.
I motioned, staggering to and fro the while, that he should throw it down.
It was a couple of leather punkah-ropes knotted together, with a loop at one end.
I slipped the loop over my head and under my arms; heard Dunnoo urge something forward; was conscious that I was being dragged, face downward, up the steep sand slope, and the next instant found myself choked and half fainting on the sand hills overlooking the crater.
Dunnoo, with his face ashy grey in the moonlight, implored me not to stay but to get back to my tent at once. It seems that he had tracked Pornic’s footprints fourteen miles across the sands to the crater; had returned and told my servants, who flatly refused to meddle with any one, white or black, once fallen into the hideous Village of the Dead; whereupon Dunnoo had taken one of my ponies and a couple of punkah-ropes, returned to the crater, and hauled me out as I have described. To cut a long story short, Dunnoo is now my personal servant on a gold mohur a month—a sum which I still think far too little for the services he has rendered.
Nothing on earth will induce me to go near that devilish spot again, or to reveal its whereabouts more clearly than I have done.
Of Gunga Dass I have never found a trace, nor do I wish to do.
My sole motive in giving this to be published is the hope that some one may possibly identify, from the details and the inventory which I have given above, the corpse of the man in the olive-green hunting-suit. IN THE HOUSE OF SUDDHOO A stone’s throw out on either hand From that well-ordered road we tread, And all the world is wild and strange; Churel and ghoul and Djinn and sprite Shall bear us company to-night, For we have reached the Oldest Land Wherein the Powers of Darkness range. —From the Dusk to the Dawn. The house of Suddhoo, near the Taksali Gate, is two-storied, with four carved windows of old brown wood, and a flat roof.
You may recognize it by five red hand-prints arranged like the Five of Diamonds on the whitewash between the upper windows.
Bhagwan Dass the grocer and a man who says he gets his living by seal-cutting live in the lower story with a troop of wives, servants, friends, and retainers.
The two upper rooms used to be occupied by Janoo and Azizun and a little black-and-tan terrier that was stolen from an Englishman’s house and given to Janoo by a soldier.
To-day, only Janoo lives in the upper rooms.
Suddhoo sleeps on the roof generally, except when he sleeps in the street.
He used to go to Peshawar in the cold, weather to visit his son who sells curiosities near the Edwardes’ Gate, and then he slept under a real mud roof.
Suddhoo is a great friend of mine, because his cousin had a son who secured, thanks to my recommendation, the post of head-messenger to a big firm in the Station.
Suddhoo says that God will make me a Lieutenant-Governor one of these days.
I dare say his prophecy will come true.
He is very, very old, with white hair and no teeth worth showing, and he has outlived his wits—outlived nearly everything except his fondness for his son at Peshawar.
Janoo and Azizun are Kashmiris, Ladies of the City, and theirs was an ancient and more or less honorable profession; but Azizun has since married a medical student from the Northwest and has settled down to a most respectable life somewhere near Bareilly.
Bhagwan Dass is an extortionate and an adulterator.
He is very rich.
The man who is supposed to get his living by seal-cutting pretends to be very poor.
This lets you know as much as is necessary of the four principal tenants in the house of Suddhoo.
Then there is Me of course; but I am only the chorus that comes in at the end to explain things.
So I do not count. Suddhoo was not clever.
The man who pretended to cut seals was the cleverest of them all—Bhagwan Dass only knew how to lie—except Janoo.
She was also beautiful, but that was her own affair. Suddhoo’s son at Peshawar was attacked by pleurisy, and old Suddhoo was troubled.
The seal-cutter man heard of Suddhoo’s anxiety and made capital out of it.
He was abreast of the times.
He got a friend in Peshawar to telegraph daily accounts of the son’s health.
And here the story begins. Suddhoo’s cousin’s son told me, one evening, that Suddhoo wanted to see me; that he was too old and feeble to come personally, and that I should be conferring an everlasting honor on the House of Suddhoo if I went to him.
I went; but I think, seeing how well off Suddhoo was then, that he might have sent something better than an ekka, which jolted fearfully, to haul out a future Lieutenant-Governor to the City on a muggy April evening.
The ekka did not run quickly.
It was full dark when we pulled up opposite the door of Ranjit Singh’s Tomb near the main gate of the Fort.
Here was Suddhoo, and he said that, by reason of my condescension, it was absolutely certain that I should become a Lieutenant-Governor while my hair was yet black.
Then we talked about the weather and the state of my health, and the wheat crops, for fifteen minutes in the Huzuri Bagh, under the stars. Suddhoo came to the point at last.
He said that Janoo had told him that there was an order of the Sirkar against magic, because it was feared that magic might one day kill the Empress of India.
I didn’t know anything about the state of the law; but I fancied that something interesting was going to happen.
I said that so far from magic being discouraged by the Government it was highly commended.
The greatest officials of the State practiced it themselves. (If the Financial Statement isn’t magic, I don’t know what is.) Then, to encourage him further, I said that, if there was any jadoo afoot, I had not the least objection to giving it my countenance and sanction, and to seeing that it was clean jadoo—white magic, as distinguished from the unclean jadoo which kills folk.
It took a long time before Suddhoo admitted that this was just what he had asked me to come for.
Then he told me, in jerks and quavers, that the man who said he cut seals was a sorcerer of the cleanest kind; that every day he gave Suddhoo news of the sick son in Peshawar more quickly than the lightning could fly, and that this news was always corroborated by the letters.
Further, that he had told Suddhoo how a great danger was threatening his son, which could be removed by clean jadoo; and, of course, heavy payment.
I began to see exactly how the land lay, and told Suddhoo that I also understood a little jadoo in the Western line, and would go to his house to see that everything was done decently and in order.
We set off together; and on the way Suddhoo told me that he had paid the seal-cutter between one hundred and two hundred rupees already; and the jadoo of that night would cost two hundred more.
Which was cheap, he said, considering the greatness of his son’s danger; but I do not think he meant it. The lights were all cloaked in the front of the house when we arrived.
I could hear awful noises from behind the seal-cutter’s shop-front, as if some one were groaning his soul out.
Suddhoo shook all over, and while we groped our way upstairs told me that the jadoo had begun, Janoo and Azizun met us at the stair-head, and told us that the jadoo-work was coming off in their rooms, because there was more space there.
Janoo is a lady of a freethinking turn of mind.
She whispered that the jadoo was an invention to get money out of Suddhoo, and that the seal-cutter would go to a hot place when he died.
Suddhoo was nearly crying with fear and old age.
He kept walking up and down the room in the half-light, repeating his son’s name over and over again, and asking Azizun if the seal-cutter ought not to make a reduction in the case of his own landlord.
Janoo pulled me over to the shadow in the recess of the carved bow-windows.
The boards were up, and the rooms were only lit by one tiny oil-lamp.
There was no chance of my being seen if I stayed still. Presently, the groans below ceased, and we heard steps on the staircase.
That was the seal-cutter.
He stopped outside the door as the terrier barked and Azizun fumbled at the chain, and he told Suddhoo to blow out the lamp.
This left the place in jet darkness, except for the red glow from the two huqas that belonged to Janoo and Azizun.
The seal-cutter came in, and I heard Suddhoo throw himself down on the floor and groan.
Azizun caught her breath, and Janoo backed on to one of the beds with a shudder.
There was a clink of something metallic, and then shot up a pale blue-green flame near the ground.
The light was just enough to show Azizun, pressed against one corner of the room with the terrier between her knees; Janoo, with her hands clasped, leaning forward as she sat on the bed; Suddhoo, face down, quivering, and the seal-cutter. I hope I may never see another man like that seal-cutter.
He was stripped to the waist, with a wreath of white jasmine as thick as my wrist round his forehead, a salmon colored loin-cloth round his middle, and a steel bangle on each ankle.
This was not awe-inspiring.
It was the face of the man that turned me cold.
It was blue-grey in the first place.
In the second, the eyes were rolled back till you could only see the whites of them; and, in the third, the face was the face of a demon—a ghoul—anything you please except of the sleek, oily old ruffian who sat in the daytime over his turning-lathe downstairs.
He was lying on his stomach with his arms turned and crossed behind him, as if he had been thrown down pinioned.
His head and neck were the only parts of him off the floor.
They were nearly at right angles to the body, like the head of a cobra at spring.
It was ghastly.
In the centre of the room, on the bare earth floor, stood a big, deep, brass basin, with a pale blue-green light floating in the centre like a night-light.
Round that basin the man on the floor wriggled himself three times.
How he did it I do not know.
I could see the muscles ripple along his spine and fall smooth again; but I could not see any other motion.
The head seemed the only thing alive about him, except that slow curl and uncurl of the laboring back-muscles, Janoo from the bed was breathing seventy to the minute; Azizun held her hands before her eyes; and old Suddhoo, fingering at the dirt that had got into his white beard, was crying to himself.
The horror of it was that the creeping, crawly thing made no sound—only crawled! And, remember, this lasted for ten minutes, while the terrier whined, and Azizun shuddered, and Janoo gasped, and Suddhoo cried. I felt the hair lift at the back of my head, and my heart thump like a thermantidote paddle.
Luckily, the seal-cutter betrayed himself by his most impressive trick and made me calm again.
After he had finished that unspeakable triple crawl, he stretched his head away from the floor as high as he could, and sent out a jet of fire from his nostrils.
Now I knew how fire-spouting is done—I can do it myself—so I felt at ease.
The business was a fraud.
If he had only kept to that crawl without trying to raise the effect, goodness knows what I might not have thought.
Both the girls shrieked at the jet of fire and the head dropped, chin-down on the floor, with a thud; the whole body lying then like a corpse with its arms trussed.
There was a pause of five full minutes after this, and the blue-green flame died down.
Janoo stooped to settle one of her anklets, while Azizun turned her face to the wall and took the terrier in her arms.
Suddhoo put out an arm mechanically to Janoo’s huqa, and she slid it across the floor with her foot.
Directly above the body and on the wall, were a couple of flaming portraits, in stamped-paper frames, of the Queen and the Prince of Wales.
They looked down on the performance, and to my thinking, seemed to heighten the grotesqueness of it all. Just when the silence was getting unendurable, the body turned over and rolled away from the basin to the side of the room, where it lay stomach-up.
There was a faint “plop” from the basin—exactly like the noise a fish makes when it takes a fly—and the green light in the centre revived. I looked at the basin, and saw, bobbing in the water, the dried, shrivelled, black head of a native baby—open eyes, open mouth, and shaved scalp.
It was worse, being so very sudden, than the crawling exhibition.
We had no time to say anything before it began to speak. Read Poe’s account of the voice that came from the mesmerized dying man, and you will realize less than one half of the horror of that head’s voice. There was an interval of a second or two between each word, and a sort of “ring, ring, ring,” in the note of the voice, like the timbre of a bell.
It pealed slowly, as if talking to itself, for several minutes before I got rid of my cold sweat.
Then the blessed solution struck me.
I looked at the body lying near the doorway, and saw, just where the hollow of the throat joins on the shoulders, a muscle that had nothing to do with any man’s regular breathing twitching away steadily.
The whole thing was a careful reproduction of the Egyptian teraphin that one reads about sometimes; and the voice was as clever and as appalling a piece of ventriloquism as one could wish to hear.
All this time the head was “lip-lip-lapping” against the side of the basin, and speaking.
It told Suddhoo, on his face again whining, of his son’s illness and of the state of the illness up to the evening of that very night.
I always shall respect the seal-cutter for keeping so faithfully to the time of the Peshawar telegrams.
It went on to say that skilled doctors were night and day watching over the man’s life; and that he would eventually recover if the fee to the potent sorcerer, whose servant was the head in the basin, were doubled. Here the mistake from the artistic point of view came in.
To ask for twice your stipulated fee in a voice that Lazarus might have used when he rose from the dead, is absurd.
Janoo, who is really a woman of masculine intellect, saw this as quickly as I did.
I heard her say “Asli nahin! Fareib!” scornfully under her breath; and just as she said so, the light in the basin died out, the head stopped talking, and we heard the room door creak on its hinges.
Then Janoo struck a match, lit the lamp, and we saw that head, basin, and seal-cutter were gone.
Suddhoo was wringing his hands and explaining to any one who cared to listen, that, if his chances of eternal salvation depended on it, he could not raise another two hundred rupees.
Azizun was nearly in hysterics in the corner; while Janoo sat down composedly on one of the beds to discuss the probabilities of the whole thing being a bunao, or “make-up.” I explained as much as I knew of the seal-cutter’s way of jadoo; but her argument was much more simple—”The magic that is always demanding gifts is no true magic,” said she. “My mother told me that the only potent love-spells are those which are told you for love.
This seal-cutter man is a liar and a devil.
I dare not tell, do anything, or get anything done, because I am in debt to Bhagwan Dass the bunnia for two gold rings and a heavy anklet.
I must get my food from his shop.
The seal-cutter is the friend of Bhagwan Dass, and he would poison my food.
A fool’s jadoo has been going on for ten days, and has cost Suddhoo many rupees each night.
The seal-cutter used black hens and lemons and mantras before.
He never showed us anything like this till to-night.
Azizun is a fool, and will be a purdahnashin soon.
Suddhoo has lost his strength and his wits.
See now! I had hoped to get from Suddhoo many rupees while he lived, and many more after his death; and behold, he is spending everything on that offspring of a devil and a she-ass, the seal-cutter!” Here I said, “But what induced Suddhoo to drag me into the business? Of course I can speak to the seal-cutter, and he shall refund.
The whole thing is child’s talk—shame—and senseless.” “Suddhoo is an old child,” said Janoo. “He has lived on the roofs these seventy years and is as senseless as a milch-goat.
He brought you here to assure himself that he was not breaking any law of the Sirkar, whose salt he ate many years ago.
He worships the dust off the feet of the seal-cutter, and that cow-devourer has forbidden him to go and see his son.
What does Suddhoo know of your laws or the lightning-post? I have to watch his money going day by day to that lying beast below.” Janoo stamped her foot on the floor and nearly cried with vexation; while Suddhoo was whimpering under a blanket in the corner, and Azizun was trying to guide the pipe-stem to his foolish old mouth. * * * * *
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