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Title: Jungle Jest
Author: Talbot Mundy
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Language: English
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Jungle Jest

by

Talbot Munday

Cover

Jungle Jest, Century, New York & London, 1932



BOOK 11 IN THE JIMGRIM/RAMSDEN/OMMONY SERIES

First published in Adventure as three stories, Dec 10, 1922, Jan 10, 1923, Aug 10, 1923
First book edition published by Century, New York & London, 1932
This e-book edition: Project Gutenberg Australia, 2014



TABLE OF CONTENTS



EPISODE ONE

First published as "Benefit Of Doubt" in Adventure magazine, Dec 10, 1922

CHAPTER 1
"All right, I'll remember."

Someone began to pray in a nasal snarl, and a stallion squealed for breakfast, but the sun did not get up, and seven or eight thousand other horses that knew the time ignored the stallion's appeal as phlegmatically as several hundred men cold-shouldered the religious argument. It was better to sleep than pray. Better to sleep than squeal for breakfast. That was all about it.

Horse or human, at a horse-fair let him rest who can. There is little enough peace in the world, and none at Dera Ismail Khan when the snow has left the passes and the foot-hills. There is horse-fair, holiday and hocus-pocus — money, maybe, and murder certainly; but no peace.

The stars had done a night's work and were fading away before the chill wind that blows the dawn along. To the northward the sky rested dimly on the dark mass of the Himalayas, and there was one warm light that marked the sentry-post by the bridge over the Jumna, but that was a long way off and made the darkness bigger and more bleak.

There was a smell magnificent, and one other light that moved. A man swinging a lantern walked among the rows of low tents, cautiously avoiding pegs and stooping at intervals to examine sleeping men who had taken advantage of tent-flies or piled baggage. But they were smothered head and all under blankets, and though he prodded one or two of them occasionally with a long stick that he carried ostensibly against dogs, he failed in his search.

Finally another dark form stepped from a shadow between two tents and cautioned him. This second man was obviously a Pathan policeman, and by the contrast between the two men you could tell, even in darkness, that the first was white. The white man swore, grumbled, and retreated to his own tent. Then suddenly the Lord of Light touched a mountaintop with an electric finger. Color was born and danced on the snow through a billion prisms. The wind increased quarrelsomely, and the camp awoke, each living being in it aware of emptiness and appetite.

Of such stuff music is made. Add the smoke of new dung-fires to the stamping and snorting of horse-lines. Send the whine of morning prayer through that, and the shouts of the saises dragging sacks of grain — then presently the steady munching as the beasts get fed, and you have a tune, if you know what that is. It contains no jazz — nothing syncopated — but a leisurely suggestion of long trails and a hum to the effect that life means business. Now and then the staccato thump as a hoof lands home punctuates the rhythm. Mares, whinnying, provide high notes that are nearly as eloquent as the mew of sea-gulls.

Music of the long leagues — immeasurable spaces — horse — and the smell magnificent of cooking and dung and unwashed men; tobacco, forage and dry grain in gunny-bags. That is Dera Ismail Khan when the passes open in the spring.

The white man was there to buy army remounts. That was, a quarter of a century ago, and his name does not matter, for he was no hero and never had been. Besides, he is dead and has probably learned his lesson. He belonged to that school of white man that asserts pride of race with boot and fist, demands obsequiousness, and is obsequious — the snob. Maybe the devil made them when the Creator's back was turned.

To him, as he sat in his canvas chair in the door of his tent, came ex- Rissaldar Mahommed Babar, leading a boy by the hand. It is not thought unmanly for a warrior of that land of battles to lavish affection on his male child, but the sight of it raised the white man's gorge, and he omitted to return the stately greeting — although a viceroy had more than once gone out of his way to shake hands with Mahommed Babar.

"Curse you! Why didn't you come yesterday?"

"I came the day before yesterday at sunset."

The rissaldar's face did not betray that he had noticed insolence. It hardly mattered, for none could overhear. The camp was alive and a-hum with too many noises for one mean man's ill-temper to attract attention, and the small boy knew no English. True pride is hardly ever self-assertive.

"You lie," said the white man. "I hunted the whole camp over for you. All last night I poked among the shadows looking for your one-legged servant. Just for you and your dilly-dallying I got ordered out of the lines by a bloody Pathan policeman! I won't listen to your lies!"

"Surely not, sahib, since I tell none. I arrived as I said. The boy fell ill. My man and I nursed him."

"And kept me waiting! That's another obvious lie. Look at the brat — there's nothing whatever the matter with him!"

"I have another son, who—"

"That'll do! You've kept me waiting while you've rigged the market against me. You promised to get the horses cheap! Kick that brat into the horse- lines and go to work now! I expect the best horses twenty percent cheaper than last year. Fail me if you dare, and take the consequences! Hurry! Don't stand there looking at me!"

Rissaldar Mahommed Babar continued to look for thirty seconds, saying nothing. His only reason for promising to help had been desire that the army of the Raj, whose salt he had eaten, and in whose ranks he had fought, should have the pick of the horses available. Year after year for ten years since he retired on pension he had performed the same friendly office of advising the remount buyers. But one white man is no more like another necessarily than horse resembles horse, and he stood considering the difference before he turned and led his son away.

That was altogether too much for the white man's patience. He had to be cringed to, and had not been. Instead, saises, horse-dealers of a dozen tribes, and even a camp constable saluted the rissaldar as he began threading his way through the horselines. The white man picked up a tent-peg, which is an awkward missile, threw it at the rissaldar, missed him, but hit his son. The boy yelped — once — and bit the cry in halves — remembering what he owed his stock. The rissaldar turned to face the white man, and all that end of the camp grew curiously still. It is neither safe nor wise to strike back in a conquered land. It would be even less sensible than hitting a policeman in London or New York. Yet everybody knew the limit had been overstepped.

"Are you afraid to strike me, that you throw things at the child?" the rissaldar demanded. He used a tongue that every hanger-on in that camp understood, and the white man got to his feet, picking up his riding-whip.

"Afraid of you?" He walked close with his lower jaw thrust out. "Take that!"

He struck with the heavy riding-whip, and the rissaldar made no attempt to parry the blow, which fell on his shoulder and brought blood welling up through the cotton shirt under a semi-military tunic. The blow had opened an old wound.

One, and only one, consideration kept the rissaldar from defending himself — the same that prevented him from striking back or summoning assistance. There were twenty rival clans in camp, every man of whom would have instantly made common cause with him if the rissaldar had raised a finger. They would have beaten that white man to death, with consequences that any fool could foresee.

But the white man mistook the self-control for meekness, a quality that exasperates ill-temper. He struck again and again, until the boy let go his father's hand and shouted shame on the horse-traders who could look on and not retaliate.

That was all that was needed. There would have been murder, and inevitable hangings afterward, but for another small boy. As he rode an Arab pony around the lines he saw the first blow struck, and, being the only son of Cuthbert "Raj-bahadur" King, who was sixth of his line to serve in India, he knew how to choose the right course even at that age.

While the men of a dozen rival factions ran to avenge the rissaldar, young Athelstan King spurred his pony in the opposite direction and reined in at his father's tent.

"What is it, boy?"

Those two had learned to understand each other in eight years. You must, if you ever mean to, in a land that the white man's son may not know between the years of eight and eighteen. It is as children that the English learn the art of governing, and grown men return to India to pick up reins which were dropped when they left for "Home" and school. Nine or ten words were enough. Raj-bahadur Cuthbert King lifted his son from the saddle and galloped across camp as fast as the red pony could lay hoof to earth under him.

He was in time to burst through a yelling swarm armed with knives and sticks and take on his own body a last blow aimed at Mahommed Babar. The white man was afraid now, with the bully's fear that seeks to terrify the strong by hammering the weak. The blow would have killed if it had landed on the old man's head. Instead, it gave Raj-bahadur King excuse for the only means of saving the situation.

He struck back, dismounted, and waded in with his fists, treating the white man to a licking such as few white men have ever had in front of an Eastern crowd. Not a man from Delhi to Peshawar would willingly have laid a finger on Raj-bahadur King. Rather than harm him they forewent their rage and stood back in a circle until it dawned that the thrashing he meted out was better, and more just, than the murder they had intended. After that they ceased shouting and watched in silence, while all the theoretic principles of the army were broken and an officer thrashed a civilian with his fists.

Finally Raj-bahadur King threw the victim into his tent, resumed his jacket, and addressed himself to Rissaldar Mahommed Babar.

"I'm sorry, old friend, that this should have happened. Are you hurt?"

"Nothing that I cannot endure for your sake, sahib."

"Is the boy hurt?"

"Not he. He has had a lesson."

King picked the youngster up and set him on the pony.

"Ride over to my tent," he ordered.

Then he took Mahommed Babar's arm and the two walked side by side across the camp, as equals, all the camp wondering. Raj-bahadur Cuthbert King was considered the equal of viceroys in all except rank, and greater than any viceroy in his grip on the hearts of men.

When they reached the tent he with his own hands set a chair for Mahommed Babar, and made his own son bring the old man breakfast, even as the Black Prince waited on the French king after Agincourt. Then they sat and smoked together in view of all those northern traders, so that the news of the honor done to Mahommed Babar was certain to be spread from Delhi as far as Khabul after a month was out. Then:

"Is there anything I can do to make amends, Mahommed Babar?"

"By your God, sahib, may dogs eat me if I bear one grudge! I am old, and that fool struck me harder than he knew. Let him not know. He is not worthy to have killed a rissaldar of the 'Peishwaris.' Moreover, if it were said that I die because of him, better men than he would presently be hanged for taking law in their own hands."

There was fire smoldering behind King's eyes, but he nodded.

"Why didn't you tell me? Gallopers could have brought an army surgeon here by noon."

"My time has come. Why trouble the surgeons? This is thy son?"

King nodded again. The rissaldar knew well the youngster was his son, but there are proper ways of approaching subjects, and a man who fought on the right side in '57 is not to be denied his measure of stateliness.

"This is my son: Like thine, he shall carry on the purpose. He shall serve the Raj. They two may be the last for all we know. None may know that, save Allah. My boy's name is the same as mine, Mahommed Babar. And thine?"

"Athelstan."

"A king's name! Good. Mahommed, lay thy hand on his. Be thou his man as long as Allah gives thee breath!"

"Shake hands with him, Athelstan," said Cuthbert King, swallowing something and hiding emotion angrily after the manner of his kind.

The two boys shook hands, the Englishman frankly with a smile, and the other with some embarrassment.

"Say something!" commanded Raj-bahadur King.

"All right. I'll remember," said Athelstan. And that was surely as good as anything he could have said.

"Mahommed," said the gray ex-rissaldar, moving himself very gently in the chair for fear of hemorrhage, "do thou remember likewise. Other men's memories will fail them in the years that come. There will be talk of this and that. Let no talk seduce. Hot words are emptiness. Nothing is good in Allah's sight but deeds well done. I, thy father, who am Allah's slave, will stand at the gate of paradise and question thy deeds when thy time comes! Color, clan, creed, tribe, wealth, honor are all nothing in the scales against one deed. Remember!"

"Do you hear that, Athelstan? This is for you, too. Are you listening?" demanded King senior.

"Take no vengeance. That is Allah's. But requite in full. Repay. Owe no man. Thou hast seen how this sahib repaid, disgracing his own countryman and honoring me. Think well on that."

The old man laid his head back and moved his hand to signify the episode was over.

"And now, sahib, shake hands with me. Thine is a friendship bearing no regrets. If your honor's servants have nothing better to do, it would be kind to have me laid on a litter and carried home. Good-by, sahib. May Allah bless your son — and mine!"



CHAPTER 2
"Twenty-five years later."

Poona, Bombay Presidency. Three words to a man who knows the western side of India like three sniffs in the dew to a hunting-dog. They tell the whole story. Poona, summer government headquarters, depot for artillery, cavalry and favored infantry, sick-and-short-leave station — second-class Simla, as it were, where the pale-faced men and women who have bridled the rising Eastern peril meet once in a lustrum and exchange remarks, was the same after the war as before it. Only the people had changed a little. There were new faces, and the old ones were older. That was all.

Pig-sticking, polo, and gymkhana dove-tailed into the day's work, and the nights were fabulous — Arabian. India lends herself to that. Hot skies and hard sport go together. The star-powdered Indian sky is the background of them all for nodding paper-lanterns. Turbaned servants, flitting on naked feet among shadows darker than themselves, suggest intrigue that never sleeps. A khaki uniform looks golden, a white one silver, and a woman's bare shoulders like a glimpse of Heaven.

The fortnightly dance at the gymkhana differed in no wise from a hundred that preceded it. A dozen scattered men in evening dress among two hundred only punctuated the color scheme and made the whirling pattern easier to read.

One of the men in black was Cotswold Ommony. He never wore uniform, being of the Woods and Forests. You could tell at a glance that he never walked abroad without a gun under his arm — a sturdy, stocky man with a queer, old-fashioned look that made you take a second glance at him.

He was the only man in the room who wore a beard; one of the very few that danced in the new style. Most of them waltzed round and round in the Victorian way that Byron thought so scandalous and that looks so absurdly antique to Americans. But Ommony did the fox-trot and the one-step. He was no expert, but an enthusiast, and the high and mighty into whom he bumped did not approve. They said so at intervals, but Ommony smiled; whereat you knew immediately why he held his job.

Among the scandalized objectors was young Mrs. Wilmshurst, so-called because her husband was a middle-aged High Court judge. She angrily chafed an elbow as she talked with Athelstan King against the veranda rail, with a blue Chinese lantern swaying gently overhead. They stood together exactly at the point where the yellow ballroom glare outpouring through wide doors and windows met dark night and defeat.

King was safe to dance with. He had not learned the new tricks. Moreover, he did not dance too much and get too hot, and had no beard; and women always liked to talk with him because he had never been known to make love to any one, and in a case like that there is always hope.

Although both men were in evening dress he looked as different from Ommony as a carriage-horse from a cart-horse; taller, although the two were really the same height; lighter, although they weighed about the same; darker- complexioned, in spite of Ommony's dark gray-shot beard; more active, although Ommony was prancing like a satyr, and King stock-still.

Mrs. Wilmshurst was in her bitterly cynical mood, which she believed becoming to a High Court judge's wife whose elbow has been hurt by a Woods and Forests man.

"Has India seeped into your blood and made you mad, that you should have left the army in your prime, Major King?"

"Perhaps," he answered. He was thoroughly bored with her, but quite able to be bored without letting her know it.

"I suppose there's more money in your present job."

"No. Less money."

"Gracious! Then you surely are mad! Do explain! I'm crazy about complexes. My husband has been reading Freud and talks about it at breakfast." She tapped his shoulder familiarly with her fan. "Come, let me analyze you!"

King turned to face the ballroom and leaned his back against the rail.

"There's a man enjoying himself! Look at Cot Ommony!" he laughed.

Mrs. Wilmshurst understood that she had failed to please, and her bitterness became as nearly genuine as anything she usually felt.

"Does he prance that way in the forest glades?" she wondered. "What a pity a man said to be so brilliant should waste his time among monkeys — and learn manners from them!"

"Ommony has learned more from the beasts than most of us learn anywhere," King answered.

"Oh, is he a friend of yours? I see you're huffed. So sorry. I thought you had no intimates — so everybody says."

"Ommony and I are friends."

"I suppose it would be rude to say I don't envy either of you! I like warmth about my friendships. How can you possibly be friends, when he lives in his great forest and you disappear over the Himalayas for months on end? Do you write each other billets-doux?"

"Practically never write. I think your next partner is looking for you," King answered. "Here you are. Don't let me rob you, Campbell."

She left on Campbell's arm, but had the last word and took care that King heard it.

"So glad you came, Captain Campbell. I was frightfully bored."

King chuckled and lighted a cigar. A moment later Ommony joined him, wiping the inside of his collar with a handkerchief.

"Hello," said Ommony.

"Hello, Cot."

"You're lean. What's the matter?"

"Nothing. Got a scratch up Khyber way. Brass bullet in the stomach. All right now."

"Where are you going next?"

"To stay with you."

"Excellent."

Ommony pulled out a gold watch that must have been an heirloom, because nobody nowadays would buy such a thing. "Seventy-two minutes. One A.M. train."

"Ready when you are."

The fact that they had not met for nearly four years was as unimportant as the water that had tumbled during that time over Poona bund. They resumed where they had left off, those two, hardly troubling to exchange remarks over a whisky-and-soda at the bar; then striding side by side into the darkness to interrupt gambling by candle-light and send their "boys" in search of baggage..

Servants and baggage went in a tikka-gharri to the station, but they walked, characteristically saying no good-byes. Ten words from each of them and their servants went about the business of going somewhere — anywhere — with that unsurprised contentment that is homage of elementary intelligence to men who know their minds. There is more than art or violence in being well served; more also than money payment.

They had not more than enough time to catch the train, but you could have hurried an era just as easily as either of those men. Two things — knowledge of the exact number of minutes at their disposal, and an all- absorbing interest — took them out of their way through winding streets instead of straight down the high-road to the station. Add to that the faith in their servants of two men who have kept faith, and you have their whole motive. But it was promptly misinterpreted.

India never sleeps. And because the long night of her subjection to innumerable despotisms has probably begun to wane and life moves in her hidden roots, night is the time when secrets draw near the surface. Just as you can hear the jungle grow at night, so you can see India seeing visions, if you look. Not very many trouble to look.

There were voices on the roofs. Guttering candles made a beautiful golden glow among shadows where only hate lurked. Light emerged from the chinks of shutters, sound crowding through after it — mostly of men talking all at once, but now and then of one man's voice declaiming. The gloom of the narrow streets, with the occasional ineffectual-looking "constabeel" under a lamp at a corner, produced an unreal effect, as if they were walking in a dream.

A door opened violently as they passed, and a copper-colored man with his long hair coiled in a chignon and sweat running in streams down his naked, hairy belly, stood boldly with a hand on each doorpost and eyed them as agreeably as a caged beast eyes its captors. His eyeballs rolled, and he spat into the gutter. Then, turning with slobber on his jaws as if frenzy had gone beyond control, he shouted in the Maharati tongue to the men in the room behind him:

"Come and look at them! Oh, brothers, come and look at them! How long shall we endure? Those lords, eh? See them swagger down the streets! We labor to pay their salaries, but—"

Someone pulled him in by the waist-cloth and the door slammed shut. The constable at the next corner, who had heard every word of the tirade, saluted rigidly and stared after King and Ommony in a sort of dumb perplexity. He was not obliged to salute them, for they were not in uniform.

"I've been up and down India recently," said King. "It's like that everywhere. It isn't honest discontent that common sense and guts could deal with, it's something else. The troops are beginning to get it. They're wondering. Did you notice that policeman? Nothing but his pay between him and anarchy. What's happening?"

"God knows," said Ommony.

"Of course, living in your forest—"

"You can learn a lot in a forest."

"Granted. But—"

"This, for instance — goats will keep a forest down. Control the goats, and they do it good; it grows. Turn them loose and they kill it. That's us. We controlled the goats for a hundred years, and India grew. We were so busy policing goats that we overlooked other things. The forest's getting out of hand."

"I often think we English are the blindest fools that breathe," said King.

"Queer, isn't it?" Ommony answered. "I've puzzled over it. Read a lot — specially foreign criticism. But the critics don't help. They only sneer at our faults as if we weren't aware of them. The nearest I've come to explaining it is that we're so busy policing goats, jailing robbers, passing cautious laws, cleaning unhealthy places, that we can't see beyond that. We're near-sighted."

"And where there is no vision—" King suggested.

"No foresight, yes."

"—the people perish. May I die with my boots on!"

"Amen!" said Ommony.

"Some of us will, some won't. There'll be all kinds of us, in all sorts of predicaments, when that hour comes. If that brass bullet didn't let all the steam out of you we'd better put on speed now. We've exactly seven minutes."



CHAPTER 3
"I'll prove to you that there's not much wrong with Mahommed Babar."

Ommony being official overlord of half-a-million acres of forest and stream, he and King traveled in a compartment all to themselves. Characteristically, Ommony asked no questions. Their car was cut off, bunted and shunted from one track to another. They smoked, said little, and were fed from luke-warm tin cans at intervals by servants who climbed monkey-fashion along the footboard for two long days and three longer nights. And at last they left the train at dawn at a station kept by one lone babu who was station-master, telegrapher, freight-agent, porter, and every other thing. He looked glad to see Ommony and told him the gossip of the line, which was mainly about sudden death, that being Moplah country.

A decrepit tonga waited, drawn by two nags not yet quite old enough for pension, and driven by a man, most of whose property was on his back (three yards of cotton cloth, less wear and tear) and he contented. That tonga was the last link for a while with the life that is smothered under stiff shirts.

"Feels good here," said King, with his knees nearly up to his chin on the back seat and the early morning flies making patterns on his sleeves and helmet.

"This is home," Ommony answered, lighting a cigar beside him, with his heels on piled-up luggage on a level with his head. "I hope to die here, if there's anything in death. Heaven'll be a forest. Lots to do; lots of time to do it. By George, it's going to be hot among the trees!"

A rut-worn red earth track began to ribbon out behind them. The forest closed in on either hand, and with it the stifling breath of trees with interwoven smells that are an open book to all the animals and some men. Ommony brushed the flies away with a horsetail switch and wallowed in contentment, while the driver tossed back for his consumption snatches of fact — true journalism — a bulletin of forest happenings since Ommony went away.

"There was a little fire near the place where Govind's pony broke a leg two seasons back. Dhyan Singh took a gang from the village and put it out."

"That shall be remembered."

"Govind has offended all the gods. It is true that his pony's leg mended, which was wonderful. But the beast was lame, nevertheless, and three days back a panther sprang at twilight."

"Which panther?" demanded Ommony.

"The black one, sahib, who slew the old boar in the millet patch beyond the charcoal-burner's. He slew the pony and ate the throat part—"

"That one always did begin at the throat."

"As the sahib says. Govind went to see what might yet be recovered. While he was gone Govind's wife ran away with Hir Lal, son of the blacksmith."

"I warned Govind he would beat that woman once too often."

"True. I heard the furious names the sahib called him. Mahommed Babar, seeing the sahib was absent, went after Hir Lal and made him give the woman back. Hir Lal recovers, but there is no skin or comfort on the backs of his thighs and loins."

"Did Mahommed Barbar use my riding-whip?"

"Surely, sahib. How else should he have authority? He took it from its nail in the sahib's bedroom, daring greatly lest a greater evil happen. And now Mahommed Babar knows not how to mend the broken whip. Nevertheless, Govind has his woman back."

"What else?"

"Govind beat her. She is as weary of blows as Hir Lal, who is a great rascal."

"There are others! What else has happened?"

"Shere Ali has changed his hunting-ground. He hunts now near the village and the people fear he will kill cattle. So they send six men when the cows go grazing, and work which needs doing is not done, because, though they bring the cows home too early, the six men say they are weary, which is a lie, but who shall prove it?"

"I'll interview Shere Ali!"

"Soon, sahib! Soon! That tiger grows too bold. The wolves have been hunting over Guznee way of late."

So it went, detail by detail the account of all the little things that, multiplied ad infinitum by the little things of elsewhere, make a world of news.

King screwed himself back into his corner and reveled in the only genuine rest, which is anticipation of the good time coming. Every great natural gift includes the consciousness of spaces in between events. The music of the spheres is not all noise. There are interludes. Only the men who understand true time can leap into action at exactly the right moment.

The forest closed in, and in, until they drove in a golden shaft between walls of darkness. The rank, lush after-monsoon smell had begun to yield to the hot-weather tang that gives birth to fire without rhyme or reason and keeps the naked gangs alert. Suddenly the drive curved and opened into a wide clearing with Ommony's house in the midst, and all the evidence of a white man's twenty-year-long vigil in a dark man's country. An obvious bachelor's house. The flowers and vegetables stood in straight, alternate rows. Saddles and such things, polished to perfection, rested on brackets on the front veranda, where three dogs were chained. A boy loosed the dogs as soon as the tonga came in sight, and the next few minutes were a tumult punctuated by shouts of "Down, sir! Down! Get off my chest!"

There was the first so-called police dog ever imported into India, an Irish wolf-hound nearly as high at the shoulder as a native pony, and the inevitable, quite iniquitous wire-haired terrier.

Then came the servants, observing precedence — butler, hamal, dog- boy, dhobie, sweeper, three gardeners — all salaaming with both hands, and Mahommed Babar standing straight as a ramrod over to the right because he was of the North and a Moslem, and would not submit to comparison with Hindus. He gave the military salute, although he was not in any kind of uniform; and in his left hand, that the world might see he was not afraid, he held the broken riding-whip. Having saluted his master he came to pay homage to King, who promptly shook hands with him.

"Are you satisfied?" King asked him.

"Surely. There is no such sahib as Ommony bahadur. But for these Hindus—"

"But for the night, it would be all daytime, wouldn't it?" King answered, laughing.

"Sahib, speak a word for me."

"Are you out of favor?" King answered. "What have you done?"

"Sahib, I am a Moslem of the North, and these—"

"You must face your own music," King answered. "I'm your friend to the gallows' side, if need be. I can't save you from yourself."

"The sahib is still my friend?"

King nodded.

"Enough. I am the sahib's friend."

King and Ommony went into the shuttered sitting-room, where several hundred faded books in glass cases provided most of the furniture. But there was a tiger-skin on one wall, three deep wicker arm-chairs, and a desk crowded with papers under lead weights. Through an open door was a view of Ommony's iron bed with its legs set in jam-pots filled with insect poison. The dogs came and flopped down on the floor with their legs out straight, panting. In his own house at last Ommony opened up.

"Here I am," he said. "Now. Tell me first why you left the army."

"Too many things a soldier can't do. Too many over you. They spoil every game by wanting to know at the wrong moment," King answered.

"How did you solve the money problem?"

"Found an American millionaire whose passion is pulling plugs. To use his own term, he hired me. I've a free hand."

"You didn't come all this way just to tell me that," said Ommony. "Do you want some good advice? There isn't any! I can show you what I consider a good example, but you'll have to be the judge of it."

"I want information."

"Ask and it shall be lied unto you. I can give you my opinions about alleged facts. I believe 'em, but I may be as wide of the mark as the pigs that perish."

"Who's running the ructions here in Moplah country?" King asked. "Who is at the bottom of the chimney, making smoke?"

"Whoever it is has made fire," Ommony answered. "Moplahs are fanatics. Fire's under 'em. I turned in a report a year ago, and was told to mind my forest. I hate to be obedient as much as any man, but I like the forest and don't like politics. Besides, I had broken my own rule, which is never to offer advice. I lay down. If a man comes all this way and asks, he either wants to hear me talk or has something of his own to say; that's different. There's fire under the Moplahs. They'll cut loose soon."

"Did you go to Poona to say that?"

"I went on leave because short leave was due. Chose Poona, although I hate the place, because I knew Fludd would be there. He could do more than anyone else to remedy this situation. Accepted dinner at the brute's house. Talked with his wife and daughter, who belong to all the societies for restricting other people. Hoping, of course, that he would ask for my opinion. He didn't. Here I am again, minus my leave and eight hundred rupees for expenses. All he said on the subject of the Moplahs was that they're sending judge Wilmshurst to investigate the rumored persecution of Hindus. He thought I'd be pleased to hear it. I didn't try to look pleased, so he changed the subject."

"And Wilmshurst will bring his wife," King suggested.

"Undoubtedly. Daren't leave her!"

"D'you care if I use this as headquarters?" King asked. "Wilmshurst will be intensely legal. He'll hang so many, and imprison so many adjusting the proportions nicely—"

"And brother Moplah will do the rest!" Ommony agreed. "Headquarters what for? Reception committee? I forbid Mrs. Wilmshurst the house!"

"Plug-pulling campaign. I want to keep the peace in spite of Wilmshurst."

Ommony laughed, genuinely, making almost no noise but throwing his head back.

"All right. What else?"

"What is the matter with Mahommed Babar?"

"Nothing. He's a first-class man. Between the devil and the deep sea. As the son of his father he wants to stand with us. As a pious Moslem owing money to a Hindu shroff he naturally believes death is the dose for Hindus and now's the time. Why? Has he said anything?"

King repeated what the Northerner had said when they arrived. Ommony nodded.

"He's all right. He's being tempted almost beyond endurance, but I'd rather trust him than Wilmshurst. Have you seen him out with tiger?"

The nearest to tiger-hunting that King had done for years was stalking greased Afridis in the northern mist.

"All right," said Ommony. "I'll prove there's not much wrong with Mahommed Babar. Do us all good. Mahommed's nerve may be going if he thinks he needs speaking for — moral nerve. Physically he's harder than either of us. Have to interview Shere Ali anyhow. Fancy any gun from that rack?"

That is as exciting as being invited to choose your own horse out of a bunch. There followed five minutes of absolute delight, Ommony remarking on the virtues of each weapon as King lifted them down in turn. He selected an Express.

"Good," said Ommony with one of his curt nods. "I'd sooner you'd take that than any. Precaution — self-defense; that's all. Stop him if you have to. Shere Ali's in his prime. Preserves the jungle balance. Be a shame to kill him. Are you ready? No, no dogs this trip. No, no shikarris. No, no bearers. Only Mahommed Babar and the jungli."

The jungli needed no summons. Naked except for a leather belt, he lived, moved and had his being within earshot in hope of a command from Ommony, and, like the dog, followed unless forbidden.



CHAPTER 4
"Fear and the heart of a fool are one."

Roughly speaking, Ommony's forest is fan-shape, with his bungalow in a clearing near the handle of the fan. The jungle is hilly and in many places impenetrable, but fire-lanes have been cut through and through it, and the local villagers' main source of revenue is laboring to keep those clear. They are also the best feeding-ground for the village goats, which is the reason why Ommony set forth to interview Shere Ali.

None of the lanes went straight, because of the conformation of the ground. They could seldom look back two hundred yards and see anything but solid jungle with heat shimmering up from it toward a brassy sky. Except the two white men, followed by Mahommed Babar and trailed by the naked jungli, the only moving objects were kites circling above the trees, who followed the view of two rifles on general principles. The jungli displayed scant interest, his bronze head was like a gladiator's, too familiar with fanged death to treat it seriously until face to face — unintelligent, perhaps, in some ways.

On the other hand, Mahommed Babar's manly Northern features — rather hawk-eyed he was, rather hook-nosed; and the corners of his mouth, scarcely suggested under the dark beard, were rather cynical — appeared preoccupied. Not nervous. Not in the least nervous. Bent on something — perhaps arguing with himself.

"We may have to execute Shere Ali," said Ommony. "I hope not. He shall have fair trial. His dam came down from Khalsa ghaut and hunted the forest for nine years before she killed a woman at the water-hole, and I had to do my bit. That's her skin on the wall in my sitting-room. I had this fellow in my arms when he was about the size of a family cat. Huh! He'd purr when you stroked him and claw and bite you the moment you stopped. The jungli found him, and we fed him chickens and mice until he was old enough to take his own chance in the jungle."

"Pity to kill him," King agreed. "What does he get away with?"

"A full-grown buck or a doe about every other day. If it weren't for him they'd graze in one place until the ground was sick of them. But, what with him and the wolves, they keep moving and the young stuff has a chance. However, he's taking to goats, apparently, and that's the first step on the road to murder."

"What's the reason?" King wondered.

"Another tiger, probably. Shere Ali may have a yellow streak. If another male tiger has elected to hunt this forest Shere Ali may be afraid to challenge him. No wild animal is dangerous to man until fear gets its work in. I hope he proves himself not guilty. Magnificent beast. Too good for a viceroy. I was hoping to keep him for the prince."

They might have been strolling in the Botanical Gardens for all the apparent precaution they took. But Ommony knew his men, as well as his forest. At the end of an hour's steady tramping the jungli took the lead uninvited, armed with nothing but a small flat tom-tom and a stick. Ommony said something to him in a language that sounded hardly human, and he disappeared immediately like a shadow among the trees.

Two minutes after that they emerged into a clearing of several acres with an almost dry stream winding through it. There were occasional bushes, but the open space sloped southward, and from where King and Ommony stood they had a clear view of the whole of it with the light on their left hand.

"He'll come that way," said Ommony, nodding toward the right front.

As if in answer to him there came a short, sharp rattling noise three or four times repeated. It was almost like a woodpecker's note.

"What the devil is that?" demanded King.

"The jungli's tom-tom. It's made of tortoise-shell and lizard skin. He can drive anything with it — even pig."

Mahommed Babar announced his presence with a cough and came closer. Ommony looked at him and then up at the kites, and laughed.

"The Romans used to call the birds good prophets. What do you think of them?" he asked.

"They expect you to die. Will you oblige them, Mahommed?"

"Inshallah, sahib." (If God wills.)

The tom-tom rattled again two or three times, and Ommony seemed familiar with its code, for he motioned to King to take his stand on the far side of the lane by which they had entered the clearing. He took the near side and stood with legs apart and his rifle balanced loosely in the crook of his right arm.

"Shere Ali will be here in a minute," he said. "I want to try him out, Mahommed. Will you go and stand fifty yards away — not on rising ground — the lower you are the more helpless you'll look. See if he'll kill man without being attacked."

Mahommed Babar glanced at King, who detected the Northerner's look of unfinished argument. It was not fear. It might be doubt.

"Take my rifle, if you like, and I'll go instead," King volunteered.

Mahommed Babar smiled. So did Ommony. The rattle of the tom-tom was repeated five or six times.

"Better be quick, whichever's going," said Ommony, and if there had been any doubt that ended it. Mahommed's face cleared. Those five words of Ommony's added to King's offer had established him as an equal as far as essentials were concerned. He moved his hand cavalierly and strode forward to play in the presence of death, unarmed. The tom-tom rattled again, three times more loudly. King opened his breech to make sure, being an army man. Ommony knew. His rifle lay along his forearm and he never once glanced at it.

Mahommed Babar walked toward the apex of an isosceles triangle, of which Ommony and King were the base, and stopped at the end of fifty yards, looking up. There was a lump of ground in front of him, three or four yards high, with a tangle of dead bushes on top. Shere Ali had come silently from the direction Ommony predicted and stood looking down at all three men with his head thrust out through a clump of high grass. King's hands fidgeted with the Express. Ommony remained stock-still.

The more or less unexpected had happened, as always in tiger land. Shere Ali looked down on Mahommed Babar, measuring the distance, snarling, one ear forward and the other back, and looked altogether too long for his own reputation. A tiger whose hand was not against man would have taken the clear road to safety along the watercourse after one swift survey.

Then Mahommed Babar did either a very bold and confident or a very afraid and foolish thing. He began retreating, backward. King swore between his teeth and raised his rifle midway. Ommony continued to stand still. Mahommed came very slowly, feeling his way behind him with each foot-trod in a hole, lost balance, staggered, and fell. The rest was all instantaneous. Yellow as sunlight, in his prime, magnificent, Shere Ali launched himself like a flash to wreak murder. Both rifles spoke at once. An Express bullet and a .404 went home, and the tiger fell short, writhing with a smashed shoulder and paralyzed hind legs. Getting to his knees, Mahommed Babar stared across a scant yard into the brute's eyes, and Shere Ali struck with the one uninjured forepaw, missing by inches, and then trying to struggle nearer. Aiming very carefully, King sent his second bullet exactly between the tiger's eyes.

Trial, sentence, and execution were all over in less than sixty seconds; and the jungli appeared between two trees, looking about as enthusiastic as a stuffed museum piece. His only comment was to rattle his strange little tom- tom; then he went to count the dead brute's claws and whiskers. Ommony must have moved, for it was his bullet that smashed Shere Ali's backbone and paralyzed the hind legs; but he was standing exactly as he stood at first, with the rifle lying on his forearm, legs apart.

He ejected the empty cartridge-case, reloaded, and strode forward, for one thing to make sure that the jungli did not steal claws and whiskers; for the superstition is that those things are good against devils, which, as every jungli knows, are all too plentiful. King reloaded the Express and followed Ommony, neither man having spoken a word since Shere Ali showed himself. It was Ommony who spoke at last. He came to a halt midway and felt for his cigar-case.

"That beats hell," he said wondering.

Mahommed had got to his feet and, glancing at the tiger once to make sure, had faced about. Presumably he was waiting for Ommony and King, but the old look of unfinished argument was on his face, with irresolution added. He glanced almost furtively from one man to the other, moved a pace or two — seemed to hesitate — and then started running. He made a circuit and disappeared at top speed down the lane they had come by.

"There's something I can't explain," said Ommony, as King caught up with him. "No smoking in the forest. Care to chew a cigar? You see that beast? He had no excuse for killing man. He wasn't hurt. He hadn't been driven far enough to make him nervous. I think he came by a yellow streak when we raised him by hand. But where and how did Mahommed Babar come by his? In a month Shere Ali would have been killing children at the water-holes. But who'd have thought Mahommed Babar would cut and run? Can you explain it?"

King shook his head.

"Somehow I don't believe it yet," he answered. "He and I were brats at Dera Ismail Khan. He had guts as a youngster. We gave that tiger benefit of doubt until he actually sprang. I vote the same for the rissaldar's son."

"Why did he leave the army?" countered Ommony.

"Resigned. Suspected of politics. Nothing was proved. I sent him to you to get him as far away as possible from Peshawar. There might have been trouble up there if anyone had thrown the resignation in his teeth. He was champion of the native army with the saber — ambidextrous — capable of fighting three at once. I've seen him use two swords at once for practice. Marvelous footwork. Shifts his ground so that one opponent is always stymied, and sometimes two. Hot man in a tight place."

Ommony checked the count of claws and whiskers and sent the jungli for a gang to skin the tiger and bring in the hide. He and King kept guard until the gang came, talking intermittently, swiping at flies with their handkerchiefs.

"Mahommed Babar had a claim on me," said King. "I wish I had a notion of what the real matter with him is."

"What is a man that thou art mindful of him?" quoted Ommony. "I know a little. He has been pestered out of his senses by the Moplah malcontents, who lack nothing but military training to make them almost invincible among these wooded hills. Mahommed Babar's a bit of a fanatic, and they've fed him the Koran until his blood boils. On top of that some of these gentry have been to Peshawar, and one of them heard a story of some insult offered to Mahommed's father by an Englishman. Not sure the Englishman isn't supposed to have killed his father. Anyhow, he spread the yarn here-abouts, of course, and they've been rubbing that into Mahommed Babar along with the Koran. I told 'em in Calcutta a year ago that the Moplahs would cut loose at the first opportunity. Maybe Mahommed Babar is opportunity. Was he a good soldier?"

"First-rate," King answered. "Two campaigns. Promoted for gallantry. Nothing wrong with him except a cursed bent for politics. He never could understand that a soldier mustn't touch that stuff."

"Soldier or any other wise man!" Ommony answered.

"Specially in India. Well, I'm afraid Mahommed Babar's lien on your friendship won't help him much. Did you see his eyes just now, before he took to his heels? We'd pulled a thorn out of him a minute or two before. He walked out like a man and a brother to meet Shere Ali. Then he and the tiger both had a yellow fit. Mahommed Babar knew we saw him flinch. Thought we'd be scornful."

Ommony got off the rock he was sitting on, saw the jungli gang coming in the distance, and turned to meet King's eyes.

"I'm afraid we've found him out," he said. "He's an enemy, or if not the next Moplah he meets will convert him."

He gave instructions about the skinning, and he and King walked back, not saying much, nor exactly aware of the forest in the way they had been. The gold had gone out of the morning. Something drab had entered in — nothing a man could explain, even to himself. Very soon another tiger would find his way into that part of the forest and Ommony would have the delight of discovering his lair, and of knowing where he hunted day by day. North, south, east, and west there were loads of men as fit to make friends of as Mahommed Babar, and for that matter King had friends everywhere. Nevertheless, the day was changed. News did not improve it.

They were met about a half-mile from the house by two of Ommony's servants, who came running to report that Mahommed Babar had packed his bedding-roll and ridden away at a gallop on his own gray pony. Furthermore, that certain chiefs of the Moplahs had come for a conference and were awaiting Ommony on his front veranda.

"Any men with them?" he asked.

"Nay, sahib. Three chiefs without followers. But they act boldly, as if their followers were not far off. Moreover, since when did a Moplah chief go unattended? Therefore, being afraid, we sent the hamal and two gardeners to discover where their followers are hiding. They have not come back, and we are more afraid."

"Fear and the heart of a fool are one," said Ommony, quickening his pace.

As they neared the house the third gardener met them with a message from the butler.

"The three men from Malapuram entered the house to help themselves to guns and ammunition, sahib. The butler forbade, but they threatened him. They were prevented by the dogs."

The dogs were still on duty when King and Ommony came in view of the veranda, the terrier standing gamely between the legs of the other two and making most of the noise. The Moplah chiefs, with the fanatical Moslem's loathing for dogs, showed their teeth almost as prominently as the beasts did, and were standing herded together at one end of the veranda with hands on the hilts of most un-Indian looking swords. Their sword-belts, rather like Sam Browns, were surely never made in India.

Ommony called the dogs off, rewarded them with curt approval, and sat down on a sort of garden seat between the sitting-room window and the front door. King took a seat beside him, crossed his long legs, lighted a cigar and proceeded to look indifferent. The Moplahs approached, slowly recovering their poise.

They looked nearly as un-Indian as the swords they wore. They had the long, Semitic Arab nose and the ineradicable Arab stealthiness added to truculence, inherited from Aram ancestors. One of them had red dye in his beard, which increased the Semitic suggestion.

Nobody knows what Moplah really means, or exactly whence the turbulent fanatics came; but they invaded India three centuries after the prophet Mahommed's flight from Mecca and ever since have been Moslems in the middle of a Hindu land. Moreover, in that impenetrable mountain jungle they have increased to a million strong — a million thorns in the side of Brahma and the Indian Government — rebels to a man in every generation.

Their approach to Ommony was after the manner of their kind — not deferent. On the other hand, it was not insolent, although there are men in the East who call everything insolence that does not include obsequiousness. Theirs was rather the approach of peace-makers, who come to reason with a weaker adversary to save him from his own mistakes; and Ommony, who knows men as understandingly as he knows animals, chuckled as he signed to them to sit down.

They squatted before him with their backs against the veranda rail — proud, fierce-looking fellows. Change their Arab-looking garments, give them a haircut, and you could imagine them driving cattle in Mullingar (forgetting, of course, the tell-tale noses). They waited for Ommony to speak, for manners is the breath of all the East.

"Have you come to serve notice on me to quit?" he asked them in their own tongue.

The man in the midst with the red beard took up the tale at once.

"Father of Forests" — that was what the one word meant — "it is better that you go. Your house and your goods shall be spared. Go, and come back afterward. Only leave the guns. We came for the guns and cartridges."

They knew their man — not quite as well as he knew them, but broadly nevertheless. Otherwise they would have beaten about the bush for an hour first. Ommony answered without a suggestion of superiority — which is the secret of real rule.

"The dogs would not let you take the guns."

"True. But now you are here and have understanding."

"Am I less than a dog?" wondered Ommony.

"Nay, sahib!"

"Then I, also, will not let you have the guns."

That was final. All three men recognized it. If he had lorded it over them, or argued, or threatened, there would have been a false note, which would have led to dispute, hot words, and quite likely murder. But he stated facts simply, and they understood.

"Father of Forests, you cannot fight against all of us. We are many. We rise in honor of the Khalifate, which is being sacrificed by the British for the sake of Hindus."

"As I've told you a score of times, you know nothing about international politics," Ommony answered. "You've been lied to by professional agitators, whose salaries are paid by the same foreigners who sent you those swords and sword-belts. Whoever enters politics is a fool. I have told you that often."

"You will be a fool if you fight against us, sahib."

"I don't intend to," said Ommony. "I shall stay here in my forest, on duty." He said "my forest" with the unconscious arrogance that came of having served the forest faithfully for twenty years. It was really the forest that owned him.

"But — but if harm comes?"

"Then my blood will be on your heads. I have been your friend. I never harmed any of you."

"That is true. Allah be witness, that is true. But if we take the guns and ammunition?"

"Allah will witness that also. It will be over my dead body."

"Ommon-ee sahib, that must not be."

"Don't try to take the guns then."

"But we need them."

"So do I."

"Oh, if you need them. Ah, that is straight talk." The three heads whispered together for a minute, looking devilish sly as they nodded, arriving at decision. "You will not give the guns to the Hindus."

"No."

"Good. That is satisfactory. You have always been a friend to us, Ommon- ee. You know our Koran better than our own priests do. You have known many of our secrets and have not told."

"That isn't true," said Ommony. "I have told the Government in Calcutta, in Otticamund, and in Simla all I knew of your secrets. I have warned them of your intentions. They told me to come back here and mind my forest. I did."

The Moplahs laughed. That was the type of joke that tickled them, for they did not doubt for a single second the deliberate truth of every word that Ommony uttered. (You can make your word worth more than Government paper at the end of twenty years if you try hard enough.) A Government refusing to believe the reports of its own best forester — that was humor. They cackled. A forester knows everything, or should. If he doesn't, the trees will make him so lonely that he will go mad, and from madness to the devil is only one step.

"Will the Government send troops to protect your house?" they asked.

"I hope not," said Ommony.

"Then, sahib, we must mount a guard to make sure the Hindus do not come and take the guns away."

"When do you begin?" asked Ommony.

They whispered again. This time they were longer reaching a decision, but they did not lower their voices much, and Ommony could easily have overheard if he had cared to. Obvious cut-throats though they were, they were rather like children playing at secrets in front of their nurse.

"Will you tell your Government?" the red-bearded one asked at last.

"Certainly," said Ommony.

"Ah! Then we will not answer."

"All right. My servants will give you food," said Ommony, by way of dismissing them. But they had not quite finished.

"Will you report on this interview?"

"Of course," said Ommony.

"We do not guarantee the messenger's life!"

"I will be the messenger. I myself will walk to the station and send a tar,"* answered Ommony. [* Telegram]

Humor appealed to all three of them again simultaneously. They cackled.

"The sahib will weary himself in vain. The wire is cut!" Ommony raised his eyebrows.

"The babu will send my message by the next train," he answered.

"The babu, who was a Hindu and would not recant, is dead of a cut throat," said Red-beard pleasantly. "Moreover, the train will not go because the rails are torn up."

"Oh, all right," answered Ommony. "No need then to tell the Government. They probably know already. Food is waiting for you. You have my leave to go."



CHAPTER 5
"Loyalty to whom—to what?"

Governments are like earthquakes. They sleep for protracted periods and then wake suddenly. Waking, they blunder expensively and — cui bono?

The easiest way to wake a Government is to cut the railway and the telegraph. The Moplahs did not mean that, naturally. Being simple sons of stream and forest, their idea had been, as usual once in a generation, to convert a few hundred thousand Hindus by fear, to make a horrible example of as many conscientious objectors as could be caught, and to keep the detested British Government afar off by severing communications.

Whereas, of course, if they had let trains and messages go through they would have gained ten days or so for unhindered violence. Nobody would have believed the alarmist reports until long after scores of Hindu villages had ceased to exist. So the Moplahs threw away their best trump card when they tore up the railway line.

To the uninitiated in such matters a damaged track looks serious; especially when the rioters — as the Moplahs were described at first — have removed the spare rails to be made into bullets, swords and what not else. Actually it was less than nine hours before the first train got through and reached Ommony's wayside station. He was sitting at dinner alone, when a hot, red-headed military man rode up from the station followed by two mounted orderlies. Hair had been rubbed off their horses' rumps by contact with the inside of a cattle-truck, but otherwise — except for the redness of the officer's face — there was nothing about them that suggested emergency.

The officer shouted from the saddle. Ommony sent out the butler to invite him to dinner.

"You're a cool one I must say," said the officer, striding in. "Or didn't you know?"

"Have a drink," said Ommony.

"The Moplahs are 'out."

"Sit down. Eat and drink. There are no Moplahs under the table," said Ommony.

The cavalry man ignored the invitation, but rather bridled at the jest.

"Haven't you a man named King here — Athelstan King?"

"No."

"He arrived by train with you this morning. Where is now?"

"If I knew I wouldn't tell you. Martial law yet?"

"Not yet."

"Neither King nor I are military men. He resigned his commission, you know. Sorry," said Ommony.

"I'm Major Pierson."

"Sit down. Eat. Drink. You're wasting my merry mood."

The cavalryman took a chair and helped himself to whisky.

"Merry mood? Great Scott! Yes, thanks. I'll eat. Are you simply a satyr, well-fed and isolated? I'm in command of an armored train patrolling the relaid track between here and Malapuram. I want information."

"So do I. We all do," said Ommony. "King and I went to the station before noon and buried as much of the babu's corpse as we could find. The Moplah chiefs were here this morning and gave me leave to live. They agreed not to steal my guns. King painted his face and tired his hair until no wild Moplah in all the Nilghiris could out-mopple him. He's gone — vamoosed, vanished, napoo."

"What about Mahommed Babar? He's on my list."

"Gone too."

"Where?"

"Ask Allah! King set out to find him. Now eat, drink, and tell me the news."

"There isn't any. This affair won't amount to much. Headquarters have wired for judge Wilmshurst to come and hold an investigation, but the old boy had already started. My orders are to bring in anyone I find along the line who feels frightened, with special reference to yourself, King, Mahommed Babar, and one or two others up the line."

Ommony looked straight into the major's eyes and deliberately blew up, crashing his open hand down on the table until the plates and bottles jumped. "I shall stay here. I told those opinionative asses at headquarters — in Calcutta, Ooty, Poona — sent word to Simla. Now you. This is the biggest show the Moplahs ever staged. Not going to be. Is!"

"Who's running it?" asked the cavalryman, with frank incredulity. "Savages always fail for lack of leadership. Have they hired a new Napoleon from the Army and Navy Stores?"

"That's a question for headquarters," Ommony answered.

"Scores of Moplahs were in France — sapper and pioneer units. Learned trench-digging and lots else. I warned the Government they've got bombs, modern rifles, ammunition, and even uniforms."

"Got 'em where?"

"Abroad. France, Italy, Japan, U.S.A."

"Who paid? Moplahs haven't any money."

"Whoever is running India's bid for independence paid. Best money's worth on Asia! Brother Moplah's going to keep a whole division busy. If he only had planes he'd raid Calicut. It's his turn. Hasn't staged a good show for thirty years. Do himself proud this time. Cares no more for brass hats and army corps than my terrier does for a steam-roller. He's been told that if he'll engage the British army for a month the whole of the North will rise at the British rear. They've promised brother Moplah half the loot and all the Hindu converts he can make. So he's out, and the British army's in for it!"

"You'd better come away then," said the cavalryman with the inevitable nurse-instinct that all soldiers feel toward civilians.

"Bunkum! I'm your only possible liaison with the Moplahs. You can't exterminate 'em. We've nobody to blame by ourselves."

"What for, pray?"

"Being English. Osseous formations on the occiput."

"Well, we can't help that."

"No. On the whole we're rather proud of it. Do you think you could so far penetrate the brass hats at headquarters as to make them see the wisdom of leaving me here?" said Ommony. "We're awfully proud of muddling through, you know. Tell them it would be Nelsonic rashness; that should turn the trick. I will act as liaison officer."

"If you like to call that a message, I'll deliver it," said the cavalryman. "Suppose you put it in writing. Eh? What?"

Ommony laughed. "I see myself! You might add, will you, unofficially, of course, that as things are likely to move swiftly my permission to remain here ought to be granted definitely within a few hours. How about tomorrow noon?"

"What d'you mean? Is that a threat?"

"From several points of view the Moplahs might do worse than kidnap me."

Major Pierson stared at Ommony, and Ommony smiled back with unquestionably genuine amusement.

"You see now why I won't put my demands in writing, don't you? They're demands. There's going to be wholesale murder, of course — bombs, machine-guns, bayonets — a beastly mess. Naturally, we win. That's inevitable. I can prevent some of the fighting, and owe no obedience to the army. So either I get my permission in writing before noon tomorrow to remain here — or the Moplahs kidnap me!"

Major Pierson's face became a mask — one of those obvious masks that announce to the wide world there is something to conceal.

"I'll deliver your message," he snorted, and Ommony chuckled.

"I shall be out when the answer comes," he said. "If it's 'Yes,' I'll return to the bungalow. Otherwise I'll be kidnapped." He turned his head and whistled on a low note that carried amazingly. The dogs, sprawling on mats by the door, looked up but did not move; they knew that whistle.

The jungli, naked except for a leather strap, appeared in the door and fidgeted. It was possible he might have come in if Ommony had ordered, but a room was too much like a trap for him to venture of his own free will. Ommony merely nodded in his direction.

"This is the man who will know where to find me. He'll wait at the station."

"D'you think you're acting loyally?" asked the cavalryman, pushing aside a half-finished glass of whisky-and-soda and brushing away crumbs as if Ommony's hospitality were now under suspicion.

"Loyally to whom — to what? I'm no soldier. The minute martial law's proclaimed I'm under the army's heel. They mean fight, and I know I can reduce the fighting. Ergo, I make my bargain in advance. I'm sober and in earnest."

"Wouldn't you obey an order to come away?"

"I should never receive it!"

The jungli in the door still fidgeted. He had left his lizard-skin tom- tom and stick somewhere and was at a loss how to draw notice to himself. It was the dogs who first sensed the note of alarm; they growled and called Ommony's attention. He turned his chair about, and the jungli promptly squatted in the doorway with his eyes on Ommony's face but a sort of glance in reserve for the cavalryman. Ommony grunted a monosyllable and the jungli turned loose floods of speech — little staccato freshets in his case that broke forth and were dry again. It was all about the cavalryman; that much was obvious even to the dogs, who watched him and were restless. The major, too, became impatient.

"Thus saith the Lord — but what?" he demanded.

Ommony grunted a dozen monosyllables and turned his chair again. The jungli disappeared. A big winged insect dashed itself to death against the table-lamp with an elan that almost broke the glass — first-class cavalry tactics.

"Your two orderlies have disappeared," said Ommony.

Major Pierson overturned his chair in a hurry to get to the door.

"Nonsense!" he said. "They can't have gone far. Orderly! Oh, orderly!"

He ran down the veranda steps in the pitch darkness and stood still at the bottom, listening, but could hear nothing.

"Orderly! Oh, orderly! Where are you?"

There was no answer. His eyes were growing used to the dark so he strode forward, trying far-sightedly to penetrate the blackness where the line of trees began. Suddenly he stumbled, tried to recover, and fell headlong.

"My God! Ommony! You there, Ommony? Dead horses — two of 'em. Hot! Dead about a minute! Blood! By God, my hands are all sticky with it!"

"Better come back," advised Ommony from the veranda.

"Got to see where the men are. God, if they're—"

"If you'll come back here I'll get your men for you."

Pierson wiped his hands on the dry grass and cocked his service revolver with an ostentatious click.

"What do you know about this?" he demanded, making his way back cautiously, peering sideways, trying to make out whether Ommony was armed. It was one of those panicky moments, euphemistically termed a crisis, when the army does things not easily explained in the hard light of tomorrow. Ommony recognized it.

"You'll be safe up here beside me," he said in deliberately commanding tones. (You can't safely plead with hysteria, especially in armed, grown men.) "Come on; I need your advice."

"I'll blow your head off if you try any tricks!" the major answered.

"Unfortunately I'm no use without my head! Come up!" said Ommony. "Let's talk this over."

"Talk? You do as I say!"

The major climbed the steps and tapped the muzzle of his revolver against the veranda railing. "Call your servants! Send two of them to the train to find out what's happening!"

"My servants have bolted," Ommony answered. He seemed not to see the revolver at all, although it was within a foot of him, in the shaft of light that came by the window shade. "The butler brought the coffee and followed the others for what they call tall timber in the West. The jungli has gone for your orderlies."

"You don't mean they ran too? For God's sake—"

"According to the jungli, they were surprised, gagged, bound, and carried off. He saw it."

"Good God! What's it all about?"

"The mystery is why the dogs didn't bark," said Ommony. "One of my servants must have attended to that. The dogs are above suspicion. So is the jungli."

The major sat down on the garden-seat between the door and window, pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his face. Then he shoved the revolver back into its holster."

"I say, was I beastly rude just now?" he asked.

"Not at all." Ommony produced his case, chose a cigar, and offered him one.

"Thanks. I mean, wasn't I—"

"Men gone — horses dead — any man would flare up."

"Dashed decent of you to admit it. Some men would have — What's that noise?"

Out came the revolver and was cocked — quietly meaning business.

"The jungli's drum. He's signaling. Listen."

There was no need to listen. You couldn't help hearing that peculiar, dry rattle. It penetrated like the note of a cicada.

"They'll be here in a minute," said Ommony. "D'you mind unloading that revolver?"

"What the devil? Do you think I'm—"

Ommony was much too wise to admit what he thought.

"I'm going to tell them we're unarmed."

"But suppose—"

"We'll know presently. Unload, please."

So the cavalryman unloaded, and that chance of accident was barred out. Ommony's hand closed in the dark on the empty revolver.

"Not in the holster. Always tell 'em the exact truth. Let me lay it down."

He laid it on the window-sill and strode forward to the head of the steps in the full yellow lamplight from the open door. All three dogs came and growled beside him with scruffs raised, and the terrier's sawed-off tail disappeared completely.

"The night's alive with 'em!" said Ommony. "Could your men scout as quietly? I tell you these Moplahs—"

A voice from the dark interrupted him.

"Oh, Ommon-ee!"

He leisurely lighted the cigar he had chosen two minutes before, and it occurred to the soldier for the first time that his host was in full evening dress — not dinner-jacket. Old-fashioned style. Stiff white shirt. It suited him so well that even out there in the jungle it looked perfectly in harmony.

"What do you want?" he said at last.

"Your tracker said that you wish to speak with us. But you are not alone. We see a khaki-sahib. We see his pistol by the window."

"It is not loaded."

"That is a trick to tempt us."

"You have my leave to come up here and talk. You shall not be harmed."

"There are dead horses, Ommon-ee!"

"Very well," said Ommony. "I will go with this sahib and not come back."

There came the noise of hissed argument from the blackest shadow, and presently the speaker's voice was raised again.

"We want your promise there is no trick, Ommon-ee."

"There is none."

"No attack from the te-rain?"

"What orders did you give the train crew?" Ommony asked over his shoulder.

"Just to wait for me."

Ommony translated that news into the vernacular, but cautiously.

"The train-men have no orders to attack. But you must not attack the train."

That satisfied them. The three chiefs who had presented themselves that morning rose like goblins from the gloom and approached — grinning — undoubtedly pleased with themselves. They squatted uninvited in the pool of light before the door.

"Where are the Rajput orderlies?" demanded Ommony.

"They are not dead — yet, Ommon-ee."

They glanced at the major, but he missed the point, not knowing the dialect. Ommony came back promptly with a point that everybody understood.

"Produce those orderlies unharmed, or clear out!"

"But we make war, we Moplahs. They are prisoners — our first!"

"You make war in my clearing and call me friend?" he retorted.

"We have not touched you," Red-beard answered lamely.

Ommony sat down beside the major and crossed his legs. He had won, and he knew it. All that remained was that they should know it too.

"The word of a Moplah is good or it is not good," he said abruptly.

"By Allah, it is very good!"

"This is sanctuary then. All who wish, of either side, have leave to come and go here unmolested."

"But Ommon-ee — they might come to make war here."

"Not while I live!" he answered. "Neither side shall make war here. Give back those prisoners."

"But Ommon-ee—"

"I have spoken."

They laid their heads together and whispered without much emphasis, there was so little to argue about.

"Very well, Ommon-ee."

The fellow with red in his beard raised his voice, and another man answered from the shadows. One of the three began to converse with Ommony, but he would not listen until the two prisoners were surrendered unhurt. So, as is said there was once in heaven, there was silence for the space of half an hour — lighted by fireflies and the glowing ends of two cigars. The dark was full of witnesses unquestionably, but even the usual jungle noises seemed to be suppressed for the occasion.

At last came the sound of footsteps and the voice of a native orderly reminding his captors that he had "told them so." He furthermore asserted they were pigs, and the night became instantly alive with recrimination. The shadows shrilled back with fifty voices that there would presently be no Hindu idolaters in Moplah country and the Rajput prisoners replied in kind. Ommony appealed to the major, who stood up and barked the order for attention. In perfect silence again the orderlies stood at the foot of the steps and saluted.

They were complete and unharmed, even to their small change, and admitted it reluctantly. They naturally thought that vengeance was in order, and it was pity to reduce the count in any way. Nevertheless, the fact was that although everything had been taken from them, all had been returned.

"Except the horses," remarked Ommony.

"They are dead," said the chief with the red beard.

"Have you horses that are fit for army remounts?" Ommony retorted.

"As Allah is our witness, we have no horses whatever, sahib."

"Then you must pay money. The horses were slain in this sanctuary after you had passed your word. You must pay. Everybody knows the price of an army remount."

"But we have no money with us, Ommon-ee."

"I don't care. Sign a promissory note, plus interest from date. Pay it here in my house whenever you like, or add it to the fines that the Government will levy after this foolishness is over. You must either pay now or sign."

"Very well, we will sign."

Ommony went into the house and wrote out a note for the proper amount.

"All three of you must sign," he said, handing them his fountain pen. Then, as he shook the paper to dry the signatures:

"One other thing."

"Nay, sahib, this is enough! We have done honorably."

"My servants have run away. One of them did as you told him and kept the dogs quiet while you seized the orderlies. Having obeyed you, he is yours. Keep him. Send the others back, and don't interfere with my servants again."

"Very well, Ommon-ee."

"And take away those horses. You have paid for them. We are not sweepers here to clean up after you! Leave the saddles and bridles."

The man with the red beard shouted and again the night became full of noise-grunting, many exclamations, much advice, and the sound of heavy bodies being dragged.

"You have my leave to go," said Ommony, and the three chiefs shook hands with him and went not quite so turbulent, but still looking fairly well pleased with themselves.

"By God!" exclaimed the major. "May I be eternally damned if I ever saw anything like it! Mr. Ommony, if my report of this affair counts you'll be here whether you like it or not until the chiefs are all hanged and this extraordinary show is over!"



CHAPTER 6
"Engage the enemy more closely."

In every generation there are scores of men who can disguise themselves as natives of the East and get by undetected. The really rare men are those who can do it and regain their Western heritage. It means something more than merely staining your whole skin black to act Othello. It is more like dying and being born again.

Athelstan King was dead to his own kind — to the past — to the world that knew him — possibly to the future. If he should die, they would say only this of him — that no man knew how he met his death, or why he courted it, and that few except Ommony had ever understood him. But that, too, is a most rare gift — the ability to go without praise and recognition. Ommony and King were both men who valued praise merely at its asset value. If it gave them command of more resources for the great game, good; if not it bored them.

King limped a little, for the white man's feet grow soft in boots, however hard he uses them meanwhile. He looked so like Mahommed Babar from the rear that even in broad daylight the Northerner's relatives might easily have jumped to the wrong conclusion. But it was dark in the jungle, although still fairly light overhead, and he held the end of a khaki turban between his teeth, as the men of that land do when in haste; from in front, when he strode into the luminous gloom of a clearing, you could not have told whether or not he was bearded, and Mahommed Babar might have thought himself face to face with his own shadow.

A jungli, who had never seen King clothed and in his right mind, and was too incurious to be suspicious, was leading jungle fashion at a dog-trot, not boldly down the middle of the lanes, as King went, but flitting from shadow to shadow, afraid of the dark and of devils, but much more afraid to disobey Ommony — who owned both devils and forests, as every jungli knew.

King ran heavily. The jungli made no sound that any but an animal could hear. King breathed heavily. The jungli, like a phantom, seemed to do without breath. At intervals the woods resounded with the crash of falling branches, and at every one of those sounds the jungli would leap almost out of his skin, springing, like Puck, from side to side of the fire-lane. Now and then there would come the clear cry of a hunted animal, and at every one of those sounds King would stiffen tensely, but the jungli took no notice.

They did not speak, for they had no word in common, Ommony being one of half a dozen men who have ever learned the jungli-bat,* and very few junglis knowing anything except their own and the animals' language. Ommon-ee had spoken. The jungli showed the way, and thereafter would say nothing because he knew nothing and did not care to know.

— — — * The incomprehensible language spoken by the aborigines, who live in the jungle, and who are probably the last of a race that was conquered and proscribed when India was first invaded, thousands of years B.C. — — —

Mahommed Babar doubtless believed himself beyond pursuit. Like all Northerners, and Highlanders especially, he had an inconvincible contempt for Southern, and above all lowland ways. As Ommony's steward of supplies, he had seen the junglis at their work reporting every incident in the forest, including the tigers' and the leopards' meals, but that had not persuaded him that such folk could ever outwit a campaigner like himself.

Was he not born in the Northern mists? Had he not scouted unseen on Allah's slag-heap by Quetta, where men are trained to outview the kites? Had he not been guide to the Guides* themselves? When such as he decide to vanish and leave no trace, there is less trace than a light wind leaves! Gone on a gray horse — that was the last the curious would know until it should suit him to enlighten them! [* A famous Indian regiment]

Nevertheless, four hours after he left it was told to Ommony that a panther had slain the gray horse while Mahommed Babar rested under a tree. Hairs from the mane and tail of the horse were brought in proof, together with a bit of fly-decked meat to show that the leopard had one eye-tooth missing.

An hour after that it was reported that Mahommed Babar stopped to pull a thorn out of his heel. It was even said from which heel and what kind of thorn it was. By that time King had used walnut stain so skillfully from head to foot that not even the mirror could expose his origin and Ommony Dutch-uncle-ing, as he called it, from an arm-chair, had done breaking up facts with a sledge-hammer.

Then King fared forth as the seventy did of old, with neither purse nor scrip, but — since the Good Book says nothing about pistols — with a perfect little Colt repeater nestling against his ribs and a great faith in his own high purpose. A jungli was whistled for and told to lead Sirdar Mahommed Akbar Khan on the trail of Mahommed Babar, and in the heat of the afternoon pursuit began.

Now a man on foot can run down anything that lives. He can walk down anything that lives, and within a day or two. With a five-hour start on a well-fed horse, and given the information that he is followed, another man, of course, can hold his lead provided he has legs and knows enough to abandon the horse at the end of the first forced march. But a man who has counted on a horse and lost it in the first few hours, and who thinks he has baffled pursuit, so that he has ignorance as well as disappointment against him, is in no shape to leave a determined huntsman behind for long. The outcome is simply a question of mathematics and the huntsman's wind. King's wind was good.

Moreover, although King had the white man's natural fear of the beasts who hunt the jungle lanes, Mahommed Babar was even more afraid of them, because unused. In his land men hunt men, which is another matter altogether. He was afraid to set his foot down where a snake might be hiding. He feared, as the evening closed on him, that the down-hanging tendrils were pythons in wait for the passer-by and a strangled meal. He had the North-born sense of direction, but no guide to show him practicable cuts. And although he had to perfection the swinging, almost tireless Hillman's stride, the end that he had in view was not so sure as the rock-strewn landscape he was used to marching down. There was a sort of jaw-set half-determination, at war with itself, that led to dalliance and reduced speed.

Whereas King's alert guide knew every short cut — every forest voice. He was afraid of devils, but believed that King could protect him from them, since Ommon-ee had said so, and whatever else Ommon-ee did he never lied. King was afraid of tigers, leopards, pythons, what not else, but knew that the jungli would give him ample warning of any of them. And the end King had in view was absolutely sure. He knew that because he was following first principles there was nothing whatever to argue about and the outcome was, as Moslems say, on Allah's knees.

When it grew dark and the fire-lane lay like the mold of loneliness in front of him Mahommed Babar felt inspired to climb out of harm's reach and wait for the dawn. He would not admit to himself that he was superstitious and that the in-drawn sigh of the tree-tops put him in mind of all the spirit-tales that haunt the Northern villages. He was a man and unafraid, he told himself, but a soldier likewise, who would travel better by daylight and could sleep well in a tree.

"Moreover, a leopard slew my horse, and I am easier to slay. I have no firearms. Shall I fight bagheela in the dark with a knife and my bare hands? Let us hope there are no pythons in this tree."

He chose an enormous, wholesome one that spread impenetrable shade above ten thousand feet of ground, and clambering with the sureness of a mountaineer discovered a dry branch near the top that had not been long enough dead to be dangerous. Climbing that, he found himself again in the short, clear Indian twilight and, bracing himself like a man at the mast-head, he surveyed the undulating sea of green that reached every way to the horizon — overlooking one fact. He was silhouetted against the crimson glare that the retreating sun had scorched on a tired sky.

King stopped by a stream, laughed curtly and sat down. Having satisfied himself that the jungli also had seen Mahommed Babar he got into the stream, cold water working on the Anglo-Saxon like magic; when he emerged and ate sandwiches he was fit to march all night if need be.

The jungli grunted and King looked up. Darkness comes very swiftly in those latitudes, and he was only just in time to see Mahommed Babar clamber down again and disappear into the opaque foliage. Another minute and the dead branch blended with the others in a blur against the night.

So King and the jungli went forward again, and were in time to hear Mahommed Babar drop from a low branch and resume his original direction. He had seen something; that much was obvious. Something friendly. Not too far away. King began to wish poignantly that he knew a language intelligible to the jungli — knew the general lay of the land — knew anything. The trouble was that the jungli had orders from Ommony to show the way taken by Mahommed Babar, and would therefore do that and do nothing else. Pantomime was no good; the jungli merely laughed at it.

The only possible remedy was to see what Mahommed Babar had seen — if there should still be light enough. King chose the same tree, since that was proven climbable, and bent all his faculties to the task of reaching the top before the last faint glimmer of light should die. He had signed to the jungli to stay below, but that had no effect; the jungli climbed too, and suddenly the merit of his stupidly literal obedience became apparent. He was showing the way still — step by step the only way Mahommed Babar could have climbed the tree! Swinging overhead like an ape, he pointed, first with one toe, then with the other, to the branches King should mount by, with the result that King reached the fork of the dead branch while a baleful lemon-yellow glare still flickered low in the west. It was freakish, like summer lightning.

He need not have hurried. What Mahommed Babar had seen became much more visible as darkness deepened. A series of fires placed roughly in the shape of the letter M flickered and gained brilliancy in the woods about five miles away, illuminating a wide clearing, and he could see dark shapes of men dancing around in circles and ducking. Pure Arab that. Nothing Indian about it. Brother Moplah was reverting true to type, as all men do when their primitive passions are aroused. You can recognize the pigeon-movement of Arabs dancing as far away as you can detect any movement at all, but the man does not live who can explain the significance of just that bobbing of the heads towards the center all together.

There was rising ground capped by a high rock on King's left front, about two hundred yards away. Because of the trees you could not see it until up in the tree-tops; Mahommed Babar had seen it and evidently decided it was better than the tree, for he was up there now, where he, in turn, had been seen by a Moplah scout. By a flash of sheet-lightning King saw Mahommed Babar step out and stand silhouetted on the summit of the rock. The next flash showed two men talking furiously.

King climbed down again followed by the jungli. There was nothing to be gained by guessing; much to be gained by the fact that Mahommed Babar did not suspect pursuit. For a man entitled to the benefit of the doubt and no more the Northerner was taking reckless chances, but not greater than King proceeded to take; for King, having no password or sign, risked being seen by Moplah scouts, who are as alert as they are blood-thirsty. For the life of him he could not make the jungli understand that he wanted to creep close and listen without being seen. The jungli understood that he should follow and overtake Mahommed Babar, and when you understand a thing, you understand it, naked or otherwise. King tried to send him back to Ommony, but he would not go, not having accomplished his task yet, so finally King put a cord around his throat and held him in leash by that, as you would a too-eager hunting dog. So they crept closer, each mistrustful of the other's smell, as the way is of humans as well as animals.

The arrangement did not last long. Restraint was intolerable and the jungli slipped out of his noose. Down there under the trees the range of vision ceased at about a hand's breadth from the eyes unless you had animal sight. The jungli vanished with the incredible speed of a shadow, and King thought he heard him break a twig about fifty paces ahead some seconds later, so he crept forward, groping with fingers on the ground. The great thing was to make no noise. Doubtless the jungli had made that little noise in order to guide him. Wonderful fellows junglis. Pity they could not talk intelligibly.

One thing was quite unnecessary — to be on guard against animals. The fires five miles away and the out-thrown ring of scouts would have driven every jungle denizen bigger than a hare to other hunting-grounds. Nothing to do but keep out of sight and go close — close — close; that is where secrets are learned and thoughtful little games prevented — close! Engage the enemy more closely — England's watchword, or it ought to be. It went through King's head like a refrain, like those snatches you repeat in time, to the thump of train-wheels.

"Closer! Closer! Nothing to be gained by hanging back!"

Then someone struck a light — touched off a fire of leaves and twigs on top of the pinnacle rock — and he saw Mahommed Babar seated facing the other man, talking with him earnestly. There were four men now, not two, and he recognized Mahommed Babar by the shape of his turban, which was unmistakable. They heaped fuel on the fire as if they wanted to be seen by all the country side. But, of course, the fire made it seem even darker down below, just as staring at it produced spots of light in front of the eyes that made the dark more difficult to penetrate than ever.

So King took his eyes off the fire and crawled forward again. He was sure he heard the jungli. Another twig broke, which is a way those people have of signaling. Ommony could have read the signal accurately, but all King could do was to follow the sound. Now he could hear the men talking on the high rock. He glanced up again and saw six, the last two standing. At any rate he hoped they were the last two.

He hardly felt the blow as two other men landed on his neck. Being perfectly unconscious instantly it did not trouble him that his face was pressed into the mold, or that his hands and feet were lashed with rawhide until the blood in them ceased circulating. He had engaged the enemy more closely, and the incurious jungli trotted homeward to report the news to Ommony.



CHAPTER 7
"I am the High Court judge."

The British are always taken unawares. They get more notice than other people, and they don't ignore the notice. They wonder at it. Sometimes they admire it. They are also always interested. But as for its meaning anything serious until afterward, the forebodings of Noah, Cassandra and the Prophets meant more in their generation — much more; men pelted Noah, mocked Cassandra and stoned the Prophets, whereas the British do none of these things. The British preserve a noncommittal attitude and wait and see.

They waited and saw at Ooitacamund. Saw the flames of Hindu villages. For a generation it had been notorious that regular troops could campaign in Moplah country only with the utmost difficulty because of the hills and impenetrable jungle. So there were no troops to speak of. There was not even a garrison to defend Calicut, and one had to be improvised when the first horde of wounded and panic-stricken Hindus came stampeding for protection.

Even if there had been troops available they could not have been used to advantage at first, because the Moplahs were ready and the British were not. There was a prevalent superstition to the effect that the Moplahs knew nothing about tactics or strategy. Therefore there was no need to be ready. Moplahs always had been savages; ergo, they always would be. Q.E.D.

Once a viceroy of genius had ordered Moplahs to be enlisted in the army, on the same principle on which Lord Channing enlisted Scottish Highlanders after the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. But brother Moplah did not take to discipline, albeit he liked fighting so much that he even fought with the other regiments and his own officers. It followed, of course, that he never could be disciplined.

Benevolent despotism therefore was the only dose for Moplahs, reinforced with aeroplanes, naturally. Aeroplanes had scattered the Somalis, who are a desert people, and had routed the Afghans, who live on treeless hills and plains. Therefore aeroplanes could easily police the Moplahs, who would fear them if nothing else.

But unfortunately aeroplanes can hardly accomplish much over hill and dale that is spread from end to end with a natural, impenetrable camouflage. And a bomb among trees, though it makes a lovely noise, does inconsiderable damage. Moreover, as Ommony had reminded King, scores of Moplahs went to France in the well-paid labor units, where they grew so familiar with bombing-planes that anything short of being actually hit by a bomb left them entirely unconvinced. And that kind of insouciance is more contagious than the itch.

The Moplahs broke all standing rules from the start. They sprang a surprise that was perfect in all its ways. They were well supplied with arms and ammunition, had a well-laid plan, displayed considerable strategy, used modern tactics, and obeyed somebody's orders — none of which things an honest Moplah ought to do.

In a pigeon-hole in Calcutta, with a duplicate in Simla and a triplicate in Delhi, there is a report drawn up by a painstaking committee, which sets forth for the confusion of future historians just how the Moplah "show" began. Nobody knows how it began. It started everywhere at once, and everyone concerned was much too busy taking his part on one side or the other to have any knowledge of what might be happening elsewhere.

Torn-up tracks and cut wires were the first intimation the authorities received. The spares kept at wayside stations and beside the track were carried off as plunder, but with commendable speed and resource the emergency crews replaced everything, thus providing brother Moplah with a second instalment of welcome iron-mongery. As the improvised armored trains patrolled the relaid track, just around the next curve, screened by trees before them and behind, the Moplah raiders helped themselves. Armored trains were isolated for lack of rails to run on. Crews were what is known as "scoughed" after the ammunition had given out.

Of course, not all the trains were caught in the open or wrecked in broken culverts between depots. After the first damage had been repaired and between raids there were even passenger trains that got through. For instance, the train attached to which was a coach containing judge Wilmshurst and his hot, although fashionable wife, who mourned like another Rachel and would not be comforted, arrived somewhere finally. As Ommony wisely said, the judge had not dared leave his wife behind.

The train winds through those hills like a patient worm possessed of brains. Ever it turns aside at each obstacle; always it appears again somewhere beyond, once more circling toward its ultimate objective, frequently passing a place on three sides within a mile or two before swerving in suddenly and dumping passengers or freight for a touchdown. The train always wins, unless the Moplahs are "out" and in earnest, and sometimes even then. Such is the fortune of war and its freakiness that neither judge Wilmshurst nor his wife as much as saw a Moplah; and when a subaltern commanding twenty men at a wayside station ordered them out of the train for safety's sake they not only disbelieved but were indignant.

However, you can't successfully oppose a British subaltern with anything less than steel or TNT when he has once assumed responsibility. The judge tried all the old methods of overawing a child, and his wife tried several new ones, but none worked. Not even blandishments accomplished anything. The youth gave his name as Charles Sutherland, and Mrs. Wilmshurst remembered she knew the Sutherlands of Southrey, but he was not interested.

"I could pick your family profile out of a million," she assured him.

"Where's Southrey?" he answered. "I'm from Blackheath. My people never had a county-seat. Dad was an architect. You're delaying us awfully."

She refused to leave the car that she had been complaining of for two hot days and nights, and told her husband he was "spineless" to let a mere subaltern impose on a High Court judge. So he from Blackheath ordered the car uncoupled and let the train go on without it — which it did for ten miles, at the end of which it fell into a broken culvert, where the Moplahs looted it.

As the solitary car in certain contingencies might make a superb addition to his scant means of defense, Charley Sutherland of Blackheath made his men put their shoulders to it and shove until it stood exactly at the angle with the station building that his martial eye approved. There he left it, with two fifteen-year-old boys in uniform on guard (attested, of course, as twenty-one), and two more, who were honestly eighteen, carrying water in kerosene cans for drinking purpose in case of siege. They filled the copper tank, but as Mrs. Wilmshurst promptly took a bath and said nothing about it the total accomplishment did not amount to much.

The station buildings were sufficient for their purpose, whatever that may have been. Undoubtedly they were no good for anything else. There was a ten by twelve concrete hut constituting ticket-office and babu's quarters, and from that a roof reached either way for fifty feet above a masonry and gravel platform. That was all, except that a wooden hut had stood fifty yards back from the station by way of zenana for the babu's family. There were nice black ashes where it had been. The babu and his family were Hindus, and the Moplahs had done the rest. Charley Sutherland, a sergeant, two corporals, and seventeen men arriving later on the scene raked up the ashes of babu and family into sacks and buried them, which was respectful, even if blasphemously carried out and not at all the orthodox way of disposing of Hindu remains.

Charley Sutherland and his twenty were there by the whim of naked luck, not otherwise. They had been sent to lend distinction to the funeral procession of a Moplah chief, whose relatives and whose village the authorities chose to honor for reasons best known to themselves. Having marched for twenty miles along a jungle lane, slept in a flea-infested thatched hut, "proceeded according to orders," and having even fired a salvo in the deceased's honor, they had marched twenty miles back again, only to discover a burned babu.

The station premises had been looted perfectly, but the arrival of Sutherland and twenty men had interrupted proceedings and the wire was not yet cut. Sutherland was a telegraphist of sorts and he managed to get headquarters before the raiding party thought of cutting the wire out of sight around the curve. Being only of sorts he had difficulty. Skepticism, blank incredulity, panic and fuss were among the elements at war with him, added to all of which he could send, like most "of sorts" men, much better than he could take. However, he managed to read off that trains will proceed as usual before a clangor unmistakable announced that the wire was cut and being shaken.

Thereafter Charley Sutherland assumed responsibility, and, being beyond reach of his superiors, did fairly well. He kicked a private of the line, which is strictly against the regulations, but as man to man, conveys enlightenment; and he let the only train go through, as per orders. But orders had said nothing about passengers, and although judge Wilmshurst and his wife said a very great deal, they ceased from being passengers and became occupants of a fort on wheels — the right wing of Charley Sutherland's defenses.

When he heard the wire go down he sent a sergeant and six men to bring in as much of it as could be "snaffled" without loss of life. The sergeant was a Lancashire man who had poached in Yorkshire and could fight either end up. The raiders abandoned their half-coiled wire and the sergeant's men dragged it in uncoiled — enough to make a breast-high fence of five strands between the station office and the Wilmshursts' car, with connecting strands so woven as to make a rather efficient net of it.

So far, good. There was more wire in the other direction and the sergeant's party sallied forth again. This time, having to do the tearing-down themselves, they did not bring in so much of it; but it was enough for a three-stranded entanglement on the other side, and meanwhile Sutherland had superintended the dismantling of the platform roof, and then ten-foot sheets of corrugated iron raised two-deep lengthwise and with sand and gravel packed between them made a bullet-proof and fairly efficient means of communication between the right and left wing. More iron sheets and sand around the car wheels completed the arrangement, and Charley, scratching the back of his head like an architect considering new plans, sat down on the edge of the platform deliberating what to do next. It was then that Judge Wilmshurst so far thawed as to call to him. Not by name, of course. Nothing so human as that.

"Have you any food?" he asked.

"The men have scant rations for one meal in their haversacks."

"How long do you expect to hold this post against an enemy?"

"Hadn't thought of that, sir. Hold it as long as we can."

"Have you ammunition?"

"Some."

"How many rounds?"

"That's a military secret," answered Sutherland, drying up. Wilmshurst smiled broadly.

"Would you mind listening to me a moment? I'm Grosset Wilmshurst — High Court judge — perhaps you never heard of me? My business here is to hold an inquiry into complaints laid by the Moplah headmen against the local administration. They knew I was coming. Now, if you'll send word to the nearest headman that I'm here, I think you'll find there'll be no trouble."

Sutherland looked actually shocked, and it takes a very great deal to shock a youngster of his profession. He had known the Moplahs more or less for six months, and the conceit of a man who supposed that his mere arrival from afar could cause trouble to cease in that neighborhood was breath-taking. Dead and burned babus he could face, but...

"Have you any idea what it means when the Moplahs are out?" he demanded. "Perhaps you think—"

"Tut-tut, my dear boy, try it."

"You know they've killed the station-master and his family, cut the wires, torn up the track behind you, and fired on my men?"

"I should have been here sooner. The minute they know I am here to inquire into their grievances they will calm down. Send word to them."

The judge's butler-like countenance was so self-assured that Sutherland was almost half-convinced. If he had been ten years older the judge's self- assertion might have appeared less absurd, but the judgment of youth is much more critical than Solomon's.

"If I had a man to spare, perhaps," he said dryly.

The judge's head retired through the window, but his defeat enraged Mrs. Wilmshurst to the blazing point. Fresh from her bath she confronted the limp, perspiring judge and demanded to know whether he supposed she had married him in order to be snubbed by a two-penny subaltern of infantry.

"Have you no manhood?" she demanded, and proceeded to display her own by stepping down on to the track to force the issue.

"What is this nonsense?" she demanded. "How dare you imprison a lady in this abominable way! You heard my husband. Send at once for the Moplah's headmen!"

"No need. Get back in!" commanded Sutherland, and shouted to his men to duck, pushing Mrs. Wilmshurst toward the door at the same time so violently that she collapsed on to the step, providing just sufficient clearance for a bullet, which clipped the brim of her panama hat.

Two more bullets plunked through Sutherland's helmet, half a dozen smashed the glass in the car windows, and one good answering volley under the sergeant's direction caused a temporary halt in the proceedings. Mrs. Wilmshurst climbed in and crouched on the floor.

"What does this mean?" asked her husband, head through the window again.

It was obvious what it meant. Sutherland read off the symptoms as one with vision reading to the blind.

"They've moppled your train, that's what! Scoughed everybody, or I'm a Hindu! Wonder we didn't hear the shooting — must have been some — no-train crew wasn't armed, that's right; they may have ditched the whole shebang and used knives! Anyhow, they've looted everything. I can see lamps, an oil-can, shovel, flags, some third-class carriage doors — give 'em another one, sergeant, they're gathering again!"

The volley tore across the barricade before the judge could get a word in, and the Moplahs, who had been swarming around the bend three hundred yards away, scampered for cover.

"There! That will do! That's enough, I tell you! Have you killed anybody? Let me manage this."

The judge was no longer ridiculous, even if not yet sublime. Sublimity, warts, and a butler's nose are not congruous; but he knew what he thought he could do, and proceeded to try it, tying his handkerchief to a walking-stick and waving it from the carriage window.

"Good God! You mean surrender?" Sutherland made a jump at the stick but missed.

"Certainly not! You leave this to me. Let me talk to them!"

"Be careful! Oh, be careful!" came the voice of Rachel Wilmshurst, but the judge ignored her absolutely.

The Moplahs had swarmed through the fringe of trees bordering on the line and already had Sutherland's scratch defenses threatened on two sides. They established that fact beyond argument by means of a scattering cross-fire, which ceased, however, when the judge had waved his white flag for about a minute. Ironically enough the Moplah leaders answered with the colored flags they had looted from the train, and presently, when it was clear that there would be no more shooting for the present, three white-turbaned, long-haired fellows in a kind of khaki uniform, armed with modern rifles and swords slung from the shoulder by a black belt, emerged from the trees and took their stand a little nervously by the ashes where the babu's zenana had been.

The judge with his flag in his hand walked forward to meet them, and Sutherland accompanied him after cautioning his men.

"Shoot at the first sign of treachery!" he ordered. "This is no surrender, I promise you that. Merely a palaver. If anything should happen to the judge and me, use your ammunition sparingly and fall back on the railway carriage. Protect the lady at all costs."

He had to run to catch the judge, who was marching like a man in a procession best foot foremost with the flag over his shoulder.

"Can you mopple their lingo?" asked Sutherland.

"No. No, my lad. I'll speak English to them. Key-language of the world — of the universe for aught we know to the contrary! Keep behind me, and don't try to interfere."

There is something in cocksureness after all. It was the key-language. All three of the Moplahs knew English, he with the green flag in the middle almost perfectly.

"You surr-ender?" he asked, making a dactyl of the word.

"No," said the judge. "I have come to tell who I am."

The Moplahs bowed — a shade ironically. One can afford to be polite when the outcome is inevitable; and as the agony was to be all on one side there was no harm in prolonging it.

"I am Grosset Wilmshurst, sahib."

The statement was received with blank incomprehension. The Moplahs glanced at one another for a cue, and someone shouted to them from the trees behind. The judge put on speed to explain.

"I am the High Court judge who was sent for from the Bombay Presidency to hold impartial inquiry into the Moplahs' grievances."

"Ah! Oh! Ah!"

That evidently did convey a meaning. The Moplah headmen looked in one another's eyes again and knew themselves unanimous.

"That is good. Then you are a prisoner," said the tall man in the middle.

"Stuff and nonsense! I came to inquire into your grievances. Do you treat a guest that way? Have you no sense of honor?"

The man in the middle began to translate that to the other two, who had only half-understood it, and the judge took advantage of that to turn on Sutherland.

"Leave this to me, d'you hear me? This is a case for the civil authorities. Go back there and tell my wife to keep out of sight. As long as they don't see her—"

But it was already too late. They both saw Rachel Wilmshurst stepping down from the car. The three headmen saw. Every Moplah in the fringe of trees had seen. There were shrill comments from the covert, not all of them unintelligible.

"I demand protection for my wife and myself," said the judge; and that, although he did not know it, was a thoroughly strategic attitude to take, for if Moslem law insists on one thing it is that the stranger demanding protection must receive it.

Needless to say, it does not always work, and the Moslem does not live who is not a quibbler over technicalities.

"That shall be seen," said the man in the midst. "You demand for yourself and your wife? You are High Court judge? Judge what name? Williamsshirse. Bohut atcha. You know bohut atcha? Bombay language. Very well. We take you and your wife. As for these others, it is too late to make demands for them. Besides, they are military. They kill — we kill — bloodfare regular business. Of course, you understand."

There followed one of those revolting arguments that leave all concerned dissatisfied. The judge and Sutherland asked time for consultation and were granted fifteen minutes by the headman's silver watch. They walked back toward the station arguing, the judge trying to overbear Sutherland and the subaltern falling back on sheer obstinacy.

"I tell you I will!"

"You shall not, sir!"

"You young ass!"

"Maybe. But you shall not while I have a man left to prevent you!"

The judge believed that he and his wife would be perfectly safe in the hands of the Moplahs. Furthermore, that the Moplahs would let the soldiers alone if they could gain two important hostages, and the loot from the first- class railway carriage, without a fight.

Sutherland, with a youngster's views, might perhaps have been persuaded to let the judge go. The judge was his senior and of the male sex. But bluntly and truthfully he swore that he and his men would die before any Moplah came within bayonet length of Mrs. Wilmshurst. He disliked her already cordially, and for sufficient reason; hoped never to see her again, and told the judge so to his face.

"But I'd like to be able to look my own men and my mother in the eye. What's more, I will! By God I will! She stays. That's all about it!"

The judge made the incredible mistake then of appealing to Sutherland's men over their officer's head. He stood with his back to the station building and spoke as if he were on the bench lecturing a row of lawyers.

"Now you men must know what the origin of this disturbance was. Your officer has told me how you came to be here. He has said nothing about your conduct in the village where you were supposed to attend a funeral, so I am left to draw my own conclusions. These Moplahs are a proud people, who bitterly resent such indignities as soldiers of an alien race can thoughtlessly subject them to; and they no more enjoy having their harems interfered with by aliens than you would enjoy having, let us say, your mothers carried off by Moplahs. However, the harm is done, and must be remedied. I am the only person who can do that. I am here on an investigation of Moplah complaints. I intend to report that in my opinion at least this one disturbance was due to our soldiers — to yourselves in particular — possibly others, too, but this disturbance certainly. Now I am going to order your officer to deliver my wife and me to those people as hostages in evidence of good faith—"

Sutherland saw fit to interrupt, and, since he did not care to dispute with the judge before his men, turned on the men, and barked them back to their posts.

"The next man who leaves his post without my order will be 'for it,'" he announced.

They had no particular reason for fearing the judge. Besides, he had warts and a butler's face, and they had heard his wife scold him unrebuked. Sutherland they knew. The regulations they knew. The sergeant they knew particularly well, and the sergeant feared no fifty-year-old civilian, whatever he might think of foes in shining armor. Each man proceeded to the post assigned to him, and squinted along his rifle because that was the obvious thing to do.

Brother Moplah, peering from the fringe of the woods, could not see what took place under the shelter of the station building, but did see the men return and line the ridiculous defenses. He naturally misinterpreted. Wishing to believe that all British officials were rogues and liars, and with his hereditary instincts almost out of control in any case, he translated suspicion into certainty.

Probably no chief gave the order. It was spontaneous combustion, as it were, the spirit of pirate ancestors taking charge and unquestionably blaming the breach of faith on the British. From three directions at once the ragged, independent firing poured out from the trees, and Sutherland stopped one of the first bullets with his shoulder.

Thereafter Judge Wilmshurst conceded there was no peace, and stepped down in favor of the military, obeying without argument. Sutherland ordered him back into the railway carriage with his wife, where the two lay obediently on the floor, the judge on the side whence the bullets were coming and she pouring into his ear in fitful detail her opinion of him for having brought her among such savages, and for having failed on top of that so signally in trying to assert his authority.

There was no peace anywhere; nor much hope, with only twenty men, and the rails torn up to prevent relief from coming. There were a corporal and three men on their bellies under the carriage, peeping out between the iron sheets that surrounded their lair like a petticoat; but four men were not enough when the Moplahs crossed the line lower down and proceeded to surround the whole inclosure. As Sutherland, with an arm swinging limp, dragged more men from the barricade and drove them into the carriage to fire from the open windows someone on the Moplah side had enough military genius to take advantage of the momentary confusion. They rushed the station building, gained the cover of the wall, and thereafter had the outcome in their own hand. It was merely a question of how many casualties, and were they willing to pay the price?

The Moplah will pay any price when his blood is up. They surged around the station building from both sides and jumped at the telegraph-wire entanglements, encouraging Tommy Atkins, age sixteen, enormously by the sight of writhing arms and legs and bodies like bloody scarecrows hung face-forward grinning across the wire.

As long as the ammunition lasted, and with the harvest in full view fifty feet away, there was no chance whatever of storming that nest of youngsters. Nobody misses much at fifty yards from behind a breastwork when life depends minute by minute on aiming straight.

But the ammunition did not last. At the end of fifteen minutes even the steadiest men had only two or three rounds left; and Sutherland knew that when it came to bayonets his boys would stand no chance again Moplah swordsmen. Stunned for the moment by the extent of their losses the Moplahs took cover, and Sutherland seized the chance to reduce his line of defense. There was nothing else for it. He had to abandon the station building, behind which the Moplahs were already gathering again for a final rush; abandon the sheet-iron barricades; abandon all except the railway carriage, underneath which he stowed his seven wounded, not reckoning himself. His kind never does reckon himself a casualty until unconsciousness supervenes and they carry him off on a stretcher.

Inside the carriage, kneeling on the seats that ran parallel with the windows, they waited, and tried not to damage Mrs. Wilmshurst with the heels of ammunition boots. Sutherland ordered a count of cartridges, each man calling out the number still remaining; but before that was half done the Moplahs resumed the attack, leaping the undefended barricades and charging at the carriage from all four sides simultaneously.

"Each man save one cartridge for close quarters!" ordered Sutherland.

He had eyes for nothing but his own men and the enemy, and did not see the handkerchief on a stick thrust through the window at his back and waved violently. All he knew for the moment, and wondered at, was that the Moplahs halted and ceased firing — halted with their prey by the throat, as it were — an unimaginable thing. But he was not dead or dreaming; he knew that because his shoulder hurt so. They did halt, and their chiefs came forward to parley again. He turned to look through the other window — and saw the white flag!

"Oh, my God! You rotter!"

The judge has not forgotten, nor will forget that last comment of Sutherland's until his dying day. The next moment a bullet fired from the rear by a Moplah who knew nothing of white flags drilled Sutherland through the temples, and it was too late to say anything in his own defense. The judge lifted the boy's body off his complaining wife and gave her his handkerchief.

"I suppose I'm in command now?" he said to the sergeant, who could not answer easily because his lips and front teeth had been shot away.

The judge was acting in perfectly good faith. So was the sergeant, who aimed a blow at the judge's stomach with his rifle; he only missed because his bayonet caught another man's tunic and steered the blow awry.

"We've surrendered. Now no more fighting!" said the judge. "Put up your weapons, men. You've done your best. Now the right thing to do is surrender with good grace."

He shoved his head through the open window and tried to make his meaning clear to the men underneath.

"Your officer's dead. We've all surrendered!"

Oaths answered him, and he was not sure whether he had been understood or not.

"The best thing we can all do now is to file out one by one," he said, with a feeling of inspiration. "Leave your rifles on the seats, and they'll not harm you."

The sergeant had collapsed. Disgust and loss of blood completed the Moplah bullet's work. One corporal was underneath and the other was dead. The remaining boys obeyed, laying their rifles on the seats dejectedly, with wicked barrack-room oaths, and filing down to the track one after the other.

The Moplahs let them come — took scant notice of them — only closed in and stood waiting; and the same headman with red in his beard who had palavered before came to the door with a hand stretched out to receive the surrender of Wilmshurst and his wife. Mrs. Wilmshurst, pale-faced and tousled, stepped down almost into his arms, and the judge followed. The Moplah chief, smiling but saying nothing, led them by the hand away behind the station building and then cried out an order in a language of which Wilmshurst knew not one solitary word. So his evidence is not trustworthy.

Months later, after the big surrender, the Moplah chiefs said that the men underneath the railway carriage had reopened fire, thus making unavoidable what followed. They said that four or five of their own men were shot down without warning, and went so far as to give names. However, unsupported by impartial witnesses, that evidence has not much value either.

The fact is unpleasant. The moment the judge's back had disappeared behind the station building butchery began, and did not cease so long as a soldier remained alive. The judge and his wife heard it all, of course, but were not allowed to see; the excuse for that being that they might have exposed themselves to bullets fired by the British soldiers.

Finally, when the carriage had been stripped of doors, windows, upholstery and everything removable, the Wilmshursts' baggage, of course, included, the British dead were piled into the carriage. Branches of trees, loose lumber from the station yard and some telegraph posts were dragged up. The babu's looted kerosene was poured over the lot, and a badly made imported Japanese match did the rest.

Thereafter the judge and his wife were made to walk interminable miles, until Mrs. Wilmshurst fainted.



CHAPTER 8
"The benefit of the doubt."

Ommony made shift for twenty-four hours without servants — rather fecklessly being used, like most Anglo-Indians, to being waited on hand and foot. A man can almost forget how to pull his own boots off after twenty years, just as an Admiral of the Fleet can forget how to tie a bowline. The cooking was the worst part. He opened cans, ate out of them, let it go at that, incidentally making discoveries about a Hindu cook's kitchen-keeping methods that are not good for the white man's temper.

Like most men who deliberately sleep at noon, Ommony burned midnight oil, reading omnivorously. So he was not in bed when the jungli returned at three in the morning. A twig struck the wooden shutter, making a noise not much louder than that of a big insect alighting, only different. A man's ears draw distinctions instantly after twenty years of life like Ommony's. He stuck a marker in the book and walked to the door without any more doubt or hesitation than a city apartment dweller who expects a friend.

Afraid, unseen, indiscernible, the jungli gave his version of what happened, sending forth his guttural monologue from behind a bougainvillaea. It being his experience that man gets punished for all kinds of occurrences that are beyond his own control, he kept out of Ommony's aim and reach, albeit trusting Ommony more than any other man. Ommony found a small bag of rice for him, which was a prodigious treat, tossed it in the general direction of the bougainvillaea, and returned indoors to meditate. The sound of the falling rice-bag convinced the jungli. He decamped, and the rice lay there until morning, where the squirrels found it.

The jungli had been sure of two things: that King was dead, and that Mahommed Barbar had ordered the slaying from the summit of a high rock. The rock was described so accurately that Ommony identified it.

"Benefit of the doubt?" he muttered, putting his feet on a chair and beginning to read again.

But he could not read — not even Schopenhauer, whom he idolized. His thoughts reverted ever to that rock — the pinnacle wolf-rock. The first time he had ever seen it was by moonlight. A wolf had sat alone, on the very apex of it, howling dismally; and he had shot the wolf because those were the days when he still thought he owned the forest, and was consequently lonely and irritable. Later, when he came to know that the forest owned him and made use of him, just as it made use of light, dew, warmth and all the creatures, he always remembered that rock as the wolf-rock, and regretted the lone wolf, whose cured pelt was on the floor beside his bed.

Strange that King should have met his death in that place. He wondered whether there was any possible connection. The more a man reads Shakspere, Schopenhauer, Goethe, and the Prophets, the more convinced he is of subtle interwoven causes and effects, impalpable but governed by law — leisurely, unhurried, inescapable. Live twenty years in the jungle, and either you open your mind to the unity of all things and all actions, or else go mad. Ommony sat until dawn and remembered. He had slain that wolf wilfully, unjudged — he whose business in life it was to judge the jungle, always considering the greatest good of the greatest number. Had that slow, certain law impelled him wilfully to let King go to his death?

For he could have prevented. He could have dissuaded, diverted, forbidden. Had the same unreasoning impulse that blinded him to the lone wolf's right to sit on a rock and howl, if so minded, blinded him, too, to the obvious treason of Mahommed Babar? If so, why had he sent King to his death instead of destroying himself? He laughed. It was early yet to beg that question; the law was leisurely! He was no such fool as to think that killing the wolf brought consequences. It was willingness to kill the wolf without good cause that would cause him to stumble forever until he should wake up and understand. Strange, though. He thought he had learned that lesson long ago. But if he had learned it, why should the circumstances force themselves so insistently on his mind now?

So a man thinks who has lived in the jungle for twenty years and loved the jungle most of the time. Ommony sat and puzzled over the impartial law that governs all creatures without hurry or emotion, until he heard the horses in the stable neigh for breakfast and his dogs came and thrust damp, curious noses into his hand. Even then he had not puzzled it out. The horses needed grain, hay, and water. More, they expected and would presently receive. The dogs wanted corn-meal and gravy in three plates set in a row on the veranda; and they too would get what they asked for, even if he had to cook the stuff. He himself wanted eggs, bread-and-butter, and tea, and nobody would bring them.

Responsibility. That was the word that suggested itself as the answer to the problem. Sense of responsibility was better, perhaps. But to whom, and for what? All he could answer positively was that he would feed the animals before he fed himself, and that he was sorry he had let King go the day before.

He did not waste time being sorry for King. No man who understands life in its simplest aspects wastes a second being sorry for a fellow who dies in harness "proceeding as per plan." That is the way to die. Whatever lies beyond that is inevitably based on good faith, hope, and manliness. But he was sorry to lose King, which is quite different, and he was extremely critical of himself for having let King go on such a hare-brained mission.

He broke about a dozen eggs but managed at last to fry two, and ate the mess out of the frying-pan. Then he went to the veranda for his morning smoke, and wondered all over again from the beginning why Mahommed Babar, or a lone wolf on a rock in the moonlight, should have been allowed to make such a mess of things, and what the connection might be. In a universe composed of units, every one of which was equally important — granted — nevertheless, why should Mahommed Babar — of the North — an interloper after all — be allowed to betray the hands that had fed and protected him and to order the death of a man — a real man such as Athelstan King?

Benefit of the doubt? Of what doubt? Which doubt? Cui bono? Murder was murder since Cain killed Abel, and why should the best man be the victim nine times out of ten?

So Ommony was entertained for the whole of a lonely day, while he and his dogs alternately or together policed the grounds and he fed the horses and chickens at intervals. Not a soul came near him. He did not dare go to the station to discover, if possible, whether trains were moving, and there was nobody to send. He almost forgot that he had ordered the Moplah chiefs to send his servants back; and be quite forgot his threat to Major Pierson to have himself kidnaped rather than desert his forest post.

Not that his threat made the slightest difference. Major Pierson lay face- upward beside a wrecked and burned train, while the crows picked the holes where his eyes had been. The Moplahs were on the job, and meant business if no one else did.

Toward evening the servants came back, looking foolish and afraid. Two had been beaten. One looked near death from exhaustion, and collapsed while the dogs went and sniffed him to make sure he was really someone who belonged. They all lined up before the veranda, headed by the butler, who gathered dust in both fists and heaped it on his head in token of abject repentance.

"Oh, you children of disillusionment!" said Ommony, smoking his cigar with that day's first touch of contentment. "Shall I dismiss you all or take you back again?"

"Father of forgiveness! We have nothing and nowhere to go. The Moplahs took all and drove us forth again. We will submit to fines and beatings without number. We are dirt. We abase ourselves. We have wept because the sahib's meals were not cooked and his bed not made. We are good Hindus. Pious people! We will not become Moslems! And we will serve the sahib faithfully forever — presenting ourselves for a beating forthwith!"

They all bowed repeatedly like a row of tall plants waving in the wind.

"Doubtless you have consulted on the way," said Ommony, stroking his beard between puffs of the cigar. "That is a clever proposal you decided to make. Whose idea was it? Yours? Exceedingly clever, since not one of you has ever known me to beat a servant or impose a fine! Did you ever see me beat even a dog?"

"Sahib, you have been our father and our mother. We are very much ashamed. All nine of us eat sorrow."

"Then why did you run away?"

"The Moplahs threatened us. We are Hindus, and they vowed all Hindus will be slain or forcibly converted. They sent word again and again. They said unless we went to them, to a village a day's march distant, and became converts of the Moslem priest, they would come here and murder us all, the sahib included. So we ran to the village, hoping to save the sahib's life."

"And you all became Moslems?"

"Nay, sahib. Therein our honor was at stake and we refused. Two of us were beaten. We were all robbed of our possessions. One of us was made ill with too much fear. But we refused to be converts, and at last the Moplahs took pity or else admired, we knew not which, and drove us forth again."

"A very pretty story!" answered Ommony. "So here you are — all honorable Hindus, eh?"

He chuckled. There is a certain way of knowing whether or not an individual has been admitted to the fold of Islam.

"Your clothes smell," he said to the butler. "They have contagion on them, but that is not your fault. The clothes must be burned. There are no women here. Strip, then, and enter the house. Take new cotton sheeting from my store-chest and clothe yourself decently."

The butler hesitated. But what was the use? You could never deceive Ommony for more than five minutes. He stripped shame-facedly, and Ommony laughed out-right.

"Nine new-made Moslems, eh? Well — you need comfort, not more punishment! Strip, all of you. Go and wash. Go to work. The butler shall give you each new cotton sheeting. Put that sick man to bed and I'll physic him presently."

The sick man was carried off moaning, "Not episin sawts — oh, no, not episin!" and the butler came out on the veranda carrying a bolt of white sheeting, to make sure.

"There is none to overhear," said Ommony. "Tell me the truth now. Who ordered you to run away from me?"

The butler hesitated, showing the jaundiced whites of his eyes. "Sahib, I am afraid. Is Mahommed Babar here?"

"No. He's gone."

"Run away?" Ommony nodded.

"Sahib, it was Mahommed Babar who ordered us. He said we should go to that village and be made Moslems, after which he would see that we were not slain. It was truly Mahommed Babar, sahib. He ordered us."



CHAPTER 9
"I will lead!"

Athelstan King recovered consciousness, but did not advertise the fact, not believing in advertisement, and having seen too many men betray their plans and their weakness at the instance of that up-to-date disease. He does not believe that it pays, and his dread of advertisement is of such long standing and so ingrained that it controls him even in the twilight between near-death and recovery.

So he lay still and discovered that he was lying on his stomach between a dozen men and a ridge of rock. He could touch the rock with his right hand. The men sat in a row between him and a bonfire, whose light danced and fell, alternating with shadow on the rock beside him. His head ached and there was a singing in his ears, but he could hear the men talking, and could hear others jesting across other fires not far away. He knew that his wrists and ankles had been tied, for they smarted where the thongs had cut, but someone had loosed them and the blood was circulating freely.

Moving inch by inch, he managed to turn his head and look under his left arm, but it took him a long time to recognize what he saw as anything but phantasy, because the blood was still surging behind his eyes. He had evidently had a bad blow on the head, and a cautious survey with his fingers discovered a bruise the size of half a mango — whereat he was content. Bruises that break outward hurt but are hardly ever serious.

The scene, as viewed between the hips of two men who squatted chin on knee, resembled a glimpse of Robin Hood and his merry men carousing in the open. There were even bows and arrows in evidence, but most of the men had rifles and bandoliers. All had peculiar swords of foreign make; and every single man had loot of some kind — when nothing else, then brass railway carriage handles or the buttons from an official's uniform. Headmen were haranguing groups in front of fires, for a Moslem loves to be told what he wants to think and will listen in raptures to almost anyone who will reel off the right sort of platitudes.

Obviously, these were men returning, not from one raid, but from a series of them. They had the loot of Hindu villages as well as of railway trains. Over beyond the fires he could make out the shadowy shapes of cattle and sheep; and herded in a corner between two bonfires, with a guard beyond them, were unquestionably prisoners, mostly young Hindu women, like himself unbound, but unlike himself, watched closely.

Gradually King began to remember the incidents preceding the blow on the head that had stunned him. He judged that he must have been transported a considerable distance since then. He remembered the pinnacle rock and looked for it, but it was not there. Instead, his eye rested on another — a monolith twenty feet high from the ground, shaped like a huge recumbent tombstone, on which men were seated talking in the dark.

He could not hear words at first; could not recognize a single voice, for they were all pitched low; and he did not expect to be able to understand the language in any event; but he listened, trying by sheer force of will to overcome the singing in his ears.

Presently the men who squatted near him got up and crossed over to the far side, without even glancing at him. Taking advantage of the shadows, King instantly started to crawl toward the monolith, and gained a point about twenty yards away from it, where a dozen dwarf trees cast impenetrable darkness. He lay there and listened again, beginning to imagine that a rather hard, not exactly nasal, but roof-of-the-mouthy voice might be familiar. There were certain notes in it that struck chords of memory.

Then, to his surprise, he recognized words — Hindustanee, which meant that one race was talking to another, using the lingua franca. That drew attention to the predominant voice again, and he was more than ever sure that he recognized it. Nevertheless, he could not catch more than a word or two here and there that were meaningless without the context. And he did not dare crawl nearer.

The men were not quarreling, but they were arguing. Some of them were shooting questions at the fellow with the Northern voice. That was it — Northerner! Mahommed Babar for a fortune! Knowing who the man was made it easier to hear what he said for some unfathomable reason.

"There are liars here as elsewhere evidently. You have listened to very many lies. You have only yourselves. No help from outside. Yes, it is true there is discontent. Yes, the North is full of violence. Yes, I have come from the North expressly to be with you. Very true, I would not do that unless I felt sure the cause I espouse would succeed. But I know more than you do. Listen! I tell you, you will only make these British obstinate by raiding out of your own territory. I know them. They are like those trees; they can be made to bend before the blast, and if they are uprooted they grow again, and they hardly ever break. By Allah, I say you must act wisely, brothers! Slay no more prisoners lest the British send an army corps!"

The speaker got up to pace restlessly to and fro, and King could see him clearly at last outlined against the crimson overglow of a row of fires a hundred yards beyond. It was Mahommed Babar — both hands behind him — chin down — staring at the rock before his feet.

Apeing Napoleon?

"Who is that fellow we seized by the look-out rock and brought along with us? He is a Hillman like yourself. Who is he?"

"How should I know?" Mahommed Babar answered. "Men from the Hills are sure to come in ones and twos. The news of your looting will bring them like kites. But do kites help?"

"Every Moslem's sword is welcome to strike a blow with us for the Khalifate!" someone shouted, and for a minute or two they all chorused, "There is no God but Allah, and Mahommed is his Prophet." The whole bivouac voiced the sentiment.

"How many times must I tell you that between us and the Northern tribes lie not only leagues but armies!" said Mahommed Babar when the noise had died down. "The men of the North have made you promises, but cannot fulfil! Can each of you fight a hundred? No. Neither can they. You are as far apart as the mountain was from Mahommed, and neither can get to the other! You must manage this the way I tell you, or you will be overwhelmed."

Apeing George Washington?

The others talked on. Mahommed Babar with hands knitted behind him continued to pace to and fro until the mauve of morning glimmered over the tree-tops and the glow of the bonfires paled. Then, of course, most of the raiding party proceeded to fall asleep. But someone blew a horn that sounded like a bagpipe, and a dozen others took it up, running officiously among the dying fires to waken everybody. Probably they had been feasting through the night on the flesh of Hindu cows. None paused for breakfast. They were up and away, on foot all of them, before the first golden shaft of sunlight pierced between the trees; and nobody seemed to remember King. At all events nobody looked for him, and none took notice of him as he took to the trail with the rest.

It was difficult to think at all with his head almost splitting apart with pain, and he rewound his turban to make sure that the early sun did not creep under it and put the finishing touch. They were marking nearly due west, and a cursory study of one of Ommony's forest maps had not conveyed much information. He did not know where he was to begin with, so could hardly calculate what place they might be heading for.

He did not know whether to approach Mahommed Babar and tax him with disloyalty — perhaps dissuade him even yet — or to let him alone and wait on events. Chance and the law of averages always play into the hands of him who waits. He did not even know whether Mahommed Babar had seen him or not; nor, if so, whether he had recognized him. That answer made on the monolith, "How should I know who he is?" might have been honest in either of two ways — plain truth, or the effort of a careful man to save a friend's life.

He decided at last to look for Mahommed Babar and watch for an opportunity. But whether his head ached so badly that he could not watch as alertly as usual, or whether Mahommed Babar avoided him, he failed — even when they reached a Moplah village and filed up the one tree-shaded street.

It was a prosperous enough village of about two hundred huts, some in considerable compounds, all inclosed behind a fence of sticks, and all shaded by enormous trees; underneath which the inevitable poultry put on muscle, fighting and chasing insects. Peaceful enough at the first glance, except that the little boys who came running out were noisy and pelted the prisoners, and the women peering through the high stake-fences shrilled like furies.

There was a mosque built mainly of mud and thatch at the upper end of the steep street, and someone was thumping a tomtom near the door. King made straight for that, confident in spite of the sickening pain in his head and the increasing curiosity of a dozen small boys, who detected his foreign appearance and were inclined to be abusive on general principles. Just as the center of a cyclone is the safest place, so is a mosque in Moslem country, if you can pass for a Mahommedan. Every Moslem has right of refuge there — the right to pray and meditate and sleep.

Moreover, the mullah very often fancies himself as a physician, or at least as a vendor of cure-all charms; so King had a double claim on him, in addition to a knowledge of the Koran that would establish his credentials in any community where, as likely as not, the mullah himself knew no more than a hundred texts. Moreover, women having no soul worth mentioning in Moslem lands, the mosque, the coffee shop and the barber's are sure to be free from the sex, which gossips no more than men, and is no more curious, but is different. The gossip of men falls nine times out of ten on unbelieving ears. The curiosity of men is fairly easy to withstand. It was a woman, not a man, who saw through Peter by the courtyard fire, and though he had no objection to lying thirty times if need were, whether cock crew or otherwise, King was resolved to avoid the dangerous sex as much as possible.

Nevertheless, a priest is usually the next most dangerous.

The mullah greeted King with undisguised relief. He craved the night's news, was full of a private stock of rumors of his own, wanted to mix with the crowd and do what the Scots call "arglebargle," yet dared not for fear of losing dignity. Evidently there was some local phase of politics that upset the usual procedure and, temporarily at any rate, robbed the priest of his privileges.

"Ah! An Afghan!" he exclaimed at sight of King. "No? An Afridi, are you? Well, the same thing. Both are true believers, and Islam is all one, or ought to be. The blessing of the Most High rest on you, my son."

He was a learned-looking mullah, with the white turban supposed to imply that he was a doctor of the Moslem law; but the crafty expression of his face, added to a sort of vague indefiniteness, provided excuse for reasonable doubt. If a small community lacks a really learned priest it must make the most of an ambitious one, and usually does.

He had a straggly beard through which he ran his fingers at frequent intervals, showing his fangs between rather simian lips, which could smile, nevertheless, extremely good-naturedly. Clearly a man who could let well enough alone; who would rob Peter but would certainly pay Paul; who would fight underhandedly or in any other way for his own interest, but would concede the other fellow's once his own was sure. In fact, not such a bad fellow, provided you did not poach in what he claimed were his preserves.

"It is good to meet a learned man among all these fools," said King. "I sat at the feet of the learned Sidiki ben Suliman of Delhi, of blessed memory, who filled me with a void of loneliness because so few can talk as he did."

The mullah's eyes changed swiftly as he went on guard. He was like a cat that wonders whether you mean to stroke or seize it. Plainly he was willing to admire King's learning, even if he would not comprehend much of it, for all India knows the name of the late Sidiki ben Suliman, and those who were taught by him are entitled to deep respect. But he was not going to be shown up before the villagers as an ignoramus; and if anything of that kind were on the cards he was going to denounce the new arrival out of hand.

"You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours," his brown eyes said, and King understood him perfectly.

Now King really had sat at the feet of Sidiki ben Suliman. That had been part of his Secret Service training, and the great Sidiki had accepted him quite frankly as an Englishman in quest of knowledge, who would inevitably do more good than harm in a world that is all too empty of what are called true seekers.

"Naturally I know much less than your eminence," said King, "and I have never had the inestimable privilege of being appointed mullah. But there are some things that the great Sidiki told me which your honor might be pleased to hear; and I have been fortunate in acquiring some medical skill that might increase your honor's reputation."

The mullah almost purred. He crossed one fat leg over the other and leaned back against a wooden upright of the portico, brushing a place on the floor with his hand as a hint to King to sit beside him.

"I perceive your honor is a man of great distinction," he said warmly. "My servant shall bring a wet poultice for your head, which I regret to see is injured, and may Allah bless your honor with a swift recovery."

They exchanged names, and the mullah rolled King's over in his mouth half a dozen times, liking the sonorous high sound of it.

"Sirdar Mahommed Akbar Khan! Your honor favors us. To what circumstance do we owe the good fortune of this visit?"

"I heard of what you Moplahs intend, and as a good Moslem I came to see for myself and possibly do some good here," King answered. "However, some of your outposts saw me first in the night-time and all but beat my brains out. Your men are alert and have keen eyes in the dark — good fighting men. There is no serious harm done. I shall recover. Many a harder blow than this has fallen to my lot in the Northern wars."

The mullah's servant came and bandaged King's head rather skillfully, clipping the hair around the bruise and laying on a kind of cool leaf that reduced inflammation.

"Tell me what chance you think we have! You are a soldier. Tell me, can we drive the British away from here, seize their ships, and send an army to restore the Khalifate in Stamboul?"

"All that is on the knees of God," King answered piously, grateful for the Moslem habit that makes that kind of reply acceptable. "Let us talk first of the great Sidiki ben Suliman and the wise sayings that he taught."

The mullah sent for food. He was delighted. Here was a man, not only of good breeding but of learning, not only of learning but of valor, not only of valor but of discrimination — a stranger most unquestionably versed in the law, who set the law first and politics after it — who was pious, wise, indisputably well disposed toward himself — one from whom he could learn priceless scraps of knowledge, to be retailed thriftily to the villagers afterward, and one whom he dared trust to give impartial, sound advice.

"Surely," he said. "If your honor pleases, tell me of the great Sidiki and his sayings, whose memory and whose wisdom may Allah bless forever. This is a stiff-necked people and I need such word as your honor brings for the better chastening of their pride. They are willing to slay the infidel and to circumcise the idolater, but they are backward in prayer and fasting, and in alms-giving less eager than these stones."

So for an hour they talked, eating chupatties swallowed down with draughts of cows' milk (for the plundered Hindu cows were lowing for relief, and the villagers were not so unmindful of their mullah's needs as he chose to maintain).

King's art — his whole art — consisted in being all things to all men, as that arch-strategist the apostle Paul advised; so as he talked the mullah warmed to him, calling him "my son," drinking in the absolutely simple proverbs that had fallen from the lips of Sidiki ben Suliman, deceased, wondering at his broad humanity, chuckling at his shrewdness; more and more patronizing him, and, as he patronized, delivering himself bound and helpless into King's net.

King asked no questions. Whoever has watched a lawyer examine even a willing witness must know that direct interrogation is the surest way to get the facts confused. He was simply sympathetic; not so flattering as friendly; willing to be waited on and accorded deference, but much more pleased to render service if that could be done with dignity. He owned the key that opens all doors in the world, and the oil that prevents the tell-tale squeak of hinges.

"Your honor is acquainted in the North. Do you know Mahommed Babar?" the mullah demanded at last. The really important subject must come to the surface, as a cat knows when she camps near a mouse-hole. King was at least as cautious as a cat.

"Who is he? What of him?" he countered.

"He came and worked for Ommon-ee, who is mad but who has been blessed by Allah with compensating gifts. He ran away from Ommon-ee and came to us; and my servants brought me word last night that he sets himself up as leader."

"What does he look like?" King asked, avoiding direct question.

"I have not seen him. He advises one course, whereas I have all along insisted on the other. I say, raid and plunder. We have always done it — always. We have met defeat, because of dissension generally, but we have always kept the plunder, for our villages are inaccessible. Hindu women make good wives when their cursed superstitions have been whipped out of them. The Moplah nation has grown to be a million strong because Allah has blessed us with the daughters of our enemies. I say: Raid in the name of Allah! This Mahommed Babar from the North says otherwise. What does your honor think?"

"I think," said King.

"In Allah's name think quickly, then, for I need advice! It is not good that a stranger should upset my authority. If he has valuable counsel for us, that is well, but he should address it to me first. Then with my approval it can be passed on by the elders."

"He lacks manners," King agreed. "Your wisest course is to arrange for me to have private word with him. Meanwhile, if you think his advice is bad—"

"It is the advice of an ape in the tree-tops!"

" — you may say there is another here from the North, whose advice may prove different."

"Excellent! Excellent! And you will say nothing without my sanction?"

"I will discuss each syllable with you in advance."

King entered the mosque and lay down in the cool, clean interior. The mullah departed, blessing him. He had let enough time go by to preserve his dignity, and now, with a wonderful new ally in reserve, whom Allah must have sent for the express purpose of upholding traditional authority, he could afford to approach the raiders and high-handedly "demand to know." Incidentally, of course, he would make a few inquiries as to the share of the loot that was due him, and would look the prisoners over — males first, of course, in the name of Allah, for likely converts. Females second, not quite so perfunctorily, in the name of prudence, since he had but two wives.

And because some of them wished to avoid the mullah, whose prayers were doubtless excellent but whose appetite for percentages was insatiable; and because it was the custom; and because there was nowhere else where men could talk at that time of day without being overheard by women (which is always inconvenient), gossiping parties of two and three, with an eye for the mullah as they made a circuit of the house, began dropping in to the mosque and squatting face to face on kaskas mats.

It was reasonable that King should lie there fast asleep against the wall. Even in the gloom everyone could see that his head was bandaged. He might be dying. Who knew? In the name of the Prophet, Allah bless the man!

And having breathed the word of charity, they spoke of blood — of this and that raid on the railway line; of this and that woman dragged screaming from a Hindu home — of jewelry, cash, cattle — and the tale of butchered Hindu traders.

But lordly though the count was, and uninterrupted the series of detailed victories, every little group opened presently on the subject of Mahommed Babar, until one group joined another, and, absorbed in a common subject, they all formed one wide circle — outside which, in the shadow, King lay presumably dead to the world. Not that he mattered. A Moslem, an obvious Northerner — a man with a broken head whom the mullah had been seen to feed on the portico — let him listen for all they cared.

Mahommed Babar had puzzled them. They recognized him for a good, grim fanatic, whose fiery impulse was to convert all India to Islam forcibly; but they did not understand his everlasting harping on the theme of caution — forbearance — discrimination.

What in the name of Allah did forbearance have to do with rebellion? Why discriminate between troops and civilians? Troops could hit back. Civilians usually couldn't! Civilians had money. Troops had none. And by the time you had driven British troops to bay and butchered the last man there was usually not any ammunition left. It was wiser, easier, more profitable and much less dangerous to kill civilians. Moreover, the soldiers never had women with them, and civilians always had.

The consensus of opinion was that Mahommed Babar was probably mad. Not that madness was necessarily against him. Most good leaders had a strain of divine frenzy that showed itself in unexpected ways. But it was a weird kind of madness that urged them to make common cause with the Hindus! Mahommed Babar actually said, and swore to it in the name of the Most High, that in Delhi and such-like ancient places even in Ahmedabad and Lucknow — Moslems and Hindus had fraternized and sunk old grievances in the hope of combining to clear India of foreigners from end to end. The man was obviously not a liar, but they did not believe a word of that. Someone had deceived him.

Why, the first thing they would do, if the British could be driven out of India, would be to — Allah! Think of it! How many Hindu virgins, and how many rupees in Hindu pockets, would remain between the mountains and the sea? Oh, Allah, Giver of all Good, hasten that day!

Nevertheless, Mahommed Babar had impressed them. Their neck of the woods lacked leadership. Their own mullah was a greedy fellow, full of talk and plentifully bent on rapine, but not inclined to take the field himself — which, indeed, was no misfortune, since he would be quite sure to lead into disaster if obeyed, and if he were disobeyed there would be even less discipline than at present.

Mahommed Babar would make a splendid leader. Trained in war — widely traveled and full of experience — scornful of personal gain, and therefore unlikely to tithe them too heavily — brave, for had he not faced their headmen the previous night and stood up to them unarmed, insisting on his determination to be heard? Magnetic — for had he not appealed from the headmen to themselves, and successfully? They had actually threatened their headmen with violence unless they gave the Northerner a hearing, and one by one the headmen had seen the advantage of befriending him.

Followed much laughter. It was funny to remember with what haste the headmen had scrambled to make friends with Mahommed Babar after the first one had shown the way. Hah! With what jealousy they competed for recognition! How they had flattered, who but ten minutes before were mouthing hot threats! How they had striven and intrigued for the privilege of being host to him!

Even now all the headmen were crowded together uncomfortably into one small room rather than let one man have Mahommed Babar's private ear. Allah, what a stifling heat in there!

What a mess of argument! If Mahommed Babar were indeed a leader he would drive those headmen forth and claim his privacy! By Allah, that was a brilliant proposal! Who had thought of it?

They all had, since somebody said it was brilliant. Each nudged the other and insisted on having been the author of the praised remark.

Why — how was it brilliant? Hah! Any man with half an eye could understand that. Let there be a sign from Heaven. Was not that the authorized, established, ancestral way of deciding knotty issues? If Mahommed Babar should up and drive those headmen forth, thus proving himself greater and braver and wiser than the headmen, then let him be accepted as their leader! If not, then no.

Let Allah, Lord of Life, decide the issue. Then if Mahommed Babar drove the headmen forth it would be the verdict of Allah and —

The speaker was interrupted by the arrival of the headmen in more or less of a cluster, each doing his best to seem the most important without offering the others too much inducement to challenge him. For a while they all whispered and talked at once, unable to elect a spokesman, until at last the youngest of them seized the advantage, speaking very rapidly and loud to avoid interruption.

"We advise that you engage this man Mahommed Babar to be leader for the present," he announced.

"We recommend it."

"We have considered the proposal in council and we strongly advise it."

"We will continue to be a council. He may do nothing without our approval. Subject to that, we advise you to appoint him leader for the present."

"We are unanimous."

"We urge you to agree to this at once."

The headmen were undoubtedly unanimous, but in nothing so much as preventing any one of their number from rising a little higher than the rest.

There came another man into the mosque. He was laughing and full of communicative malice.

"He drove them forth! I saw! I heard! From the street I saw and heard! He called them bellies full of wind and said he will appeal to less opinionative folk! He said he will offer himself as leader before us all, and we may leave or take him. If we take him he will lead. By Allah, he will lead, said he. If we reject him he will go away and we may stew in our own juice! So he said, standing in the door with legs apart, and they went away and held a council afterwards."

"Good! Let him be leader!" shouted someone, and they shouted agreement.

"But he must change that part about doing no violence to civilians! We must be allowed to loot or kill unhindered!" They agreed to that, too, unanimously.

"Let someone bring him and we will tell him so to his—"

The speaker's jaw dropped. There was silence. In the door Mahommed Babar stood, with head bent a little forward and hands behind him. He appeared to meet the eyes of every man in the mosque before he spoke. Then:

"I told these headmen that I will be your leader," he said quietly. "Does anyone object?"

None did. At least none cared to voice his disapproval.

"Very well, then," he said after a full minute. "I will lead. Henceforth there will be no killing of unarmed civilians. But there will be a plan and a purpose, and no back talk. I will give my orders to the headmen, who will enforce them. By Allah, since you have named me leader, I will lead!"



CHAPTER 10
"Hostages."

People live on the slopes of Vesuvius. They speak of the volcano's cruelty, its sudden anger, its destructive outbursts — of the names of its slain, of the square leagues of vanished orchards, and of the cities buried under lava. They continue to live on the slopes of Vesuvius. The profits while peace lasts are greater than on the crowded plains, and the human gambling instinct draws them to settle again among the smoking lava beds between eruptions.

Hindus live in Moplah country. They speak of the Moplahs' cruelty, their sudden anger, their destructive outbursts — of the names of the slain, of the square leagues of vanished cultivation, and of the cities buried in jungle that once hummed with Hindu life. Hindus continue, nevertheless, to live in Moplah country. The profits while peace lasts are greater than on the crowded plains, the gambling instinct draws them to resettle the smoking villages between outbursts of fanaticism.

The Hindus were there first, just as people were there before Vesuvius. Once in every fifty years or so since the Moplahs' first invasion, which is oftener than Vesuvius breaks loose, the Moplahs have readjusted the balance in their own favor, adding to themselves new wives, new cattle, new money, and new blood in the shape of compulsory converts. Estimates of the number of Hindus killed on those occasions vary from a score to a million, according to whether Hindu or Moslem makes the estimate and whether the inquirer is merely curious or a British Government official.

Undoubtedly there is more looting than murder, just as Vesuvius impoverishes more people than it slays. The Hindu can run and, moreover, has a merry little way of accepting the creed of Islam temporarily, together with its permanent brand, and reverting to Hinduism when the storm is over.

For the profits are prodigious. The Moslem is literal-minded. The Koran forbids charging interest, so he never charges it, but he will pay it willingly. And whereas under the ancient Moslem law no man's land or house could be attached for debt, the British have changed all that; a mortgage has become the money-lender's chief security. And a Hindu would rather lend money than till fields, especially with the legal maximum at twenty-four percent.

So once in a generation or so the balance really calls for readjustment, and it is only the Moplah's method that is reprehensible. Like Artemus Ward's kangaroo, he is an "amoosin' cus." He redistributes the money-lender's surplus and converts the villager to Islam, but is careful to leave the money-lender unconverted, in order to have someone from whom to borrow by and by. And although he plunders the towns and villages and puts priests to the sword, he as often as not leaves the Hindoo temples unharmed, in order to tempt the Hindu back again when recurrent peace sets in.

It was so at Podanaram, which the legends say was an enormous city before the Moplahs came. That may be true, for the Hindu temple that stands in the midst with narrow streets criss-crossing around it in every direction is much too big and well-built for a town of the present size. Some of its stones are enormous. There are evidences of its being an ancient Buddhist temple made over by the Hindus, although the Hindu carving has suffered, too, where the iconoclastic Moslem has knocked off ears and noses.

The temple appears suddenly and sets you wondering, just as Podanaram appears unexpectedly amid the jungle at the end of a winding forest path. The jungle has invaded the ancient city in sections, gaining foothold where it may, and enormous trees make it impossible to gain any idea of the size of the present community, or even to see the temple from anywhere except in front; the temple's rear is plunged into impenetrable gloom, and from overhead the monkeys drop down on to its pagoda-like roof, which in places has been rubbed into grooves by the action of branches and wind.

Podanaram now was headquarters of the most radical Moplah puritan reformists. The Hindu temple was official G.H.Q. Just as Cromwell stabled horses in cathedrals, the pupils of the Ali Brothers chose the most sacred Hindu shrine available for their designs against the Hindus, and the famous Alis being in hail elsewhere, those who carried on the good work were much more thorough than their teachers might have been.

The Moplahs, being sons of their sires, were split into factions, of course, although not so badly as usual. The rabid, self-elected G.H.Q. at Podanaram was aiming at unity by force of a good example. So they seized a hundred Hindus, men and women, and made them clean that temple from cellar to roof, there being nothing under the blue sky filthier than a Hindu place of worship, nor anything cleaner than a Mahommedan mosque.

Having cleaned the temple thoroughly, the Hindus were marched in procession to distant villages, where a dozen or so in each place were publicly and painfully executed, to the greater glory of Allah, who is the Father of mercies and men, and never sleeps.

Very ingenious, that. There was not a village in the radius of twenty miles thereafter that could claim no Hindus had been butchered in its midst. All being equally guilty, all must unite in repudiating foreign rule, repelling British troops and raking the coals of Jehannum. Nothing like blood-guiltiness to stir fanaticism, which was stirred accordingly.

Meanwhile, in a clean-swept G.H.Q., the puritan reformers began their bid for power, as such gentry always did and do. Loot, rapine, reformation, destruction of idolatry — those were the wages of the blind-obedient. Power was the reward of brainwork, and the key of all contentment. They chose, and would take nothing less. Control. The Key of Everything.

There were the individuals who had been taught by the cleverest agitators in the East. That their teachers were in jail only keened their appetite for vengeance and rebellion. Supplied with funds from the common Hindu-Moslem purse, they urged the butchery of Hindus, not because they cared, but because that was sure to be obeyed, and obedience is the very bones of power.

Schooled by shrewd demagogues, they knew that the outcome must be defeat. Therefore they planned for such disaster as should make the Moplahs turn toward themselves more desperately. For such outrage as should force the British hand and oblige retaliation. Then for such advertisement of British ruthlessness as should set alight the whole fire of Moslem India. By that light they expected to see their way to power indeed.

But little by little! First Moplah-land. Power first over the factious villages, never forgetting for a moment the obligation to provide for their own individual safety in any event. Better jail than death, for a man may use his brains between four walls. Knowing defeat was inevitable, they could plan for the days beyond defeat, and did.

And the first consideration of G.H.Q. must be intelligence. Village by village they arranged for spies, mullahs mostly, who kept them informed of every development. In the beginning, when a village sent its men-folk on a raid, G.H.Q. invariably sent a messenger in pursuit, who ordered just that raid in the name of G.H.Q. emphatically — only they called themselves the Khalifate Committee, which sounded more orthodox. So the suggestion of obedience was imposed and grew. None seemed to know exactly who the Khalifate Committee were, which helped immensely, and almost from the start men who would have defied their own headmen to their teeth obeyed the Khalifate Committee without murmur.

There are principles for winning the control of men, just as there are for training dogs. There are men who teach them; other men who study them as keenly as bankers investigate the laws of money. You take away a bone from a puppy, and presently give it back perhaps, to demonstrate your absolute authority, and by and by the puppy lets you do it with an air of resignation, almost reverence. You must do the same thing to a crowd if you hope ever to exercise unquestioned sway.

There came along a fire-lane through the forest a crowd of a hundred and fifty men carrying the plunder of a mixed train, dragging an elderly white man with them, who had warts and a butler's face, and carrying the prisoner's unconscious wife on an improvised litter. There were other prisoners, but those were the important ones. Incidentally they were also the greatest nuisance, since it took four men to bear the litter and four more to drag and shove the judge along.

He had said he was a judge, which was why they had spared his life from the start, and there was no precedent in living memory for killing or mishandling a white woman, so they had brought his wife along too.

The loot was very good indeed, including rifles. Most of the other prisoners were young women from a Hindu village down along the railway line — entirely satisfactory. The judge and his wife were a speculative quantity — perhaps profitable, perhaps not; certainly a cause for pride, but as inconvenient as a pair of European boots and quite likely dangerous, if one only knew.

They had sent word by runner concerning the judge and his wife, partly in spirit of boastfulness, but also to see what the reply would be — not to the Khalifate Committee in Podanaram, for that would have conceded too much, but to a village whose mullah they well knew would forward the news to the Khalifate Committee. Thus they could obtain a professional opinion without confessing themselves in need of it.

The professional opinion met them in the form of a stern command delivered to them in a forest clearing by a sub-committee headed by an ex-Brahman who had been forcibly converted twenty years before and wisely had made the best of the situation. A Brahman is constitutionally bent on self-assertion and inclined to reach the top, like scum on water. Nearly always an adept, too, at establishing his claim over ignorant men.

He told them to give up their white prisoners — to surrender them to the Khalifate Committee, who would take charge of them and be responsible. The men who carried the litter, and who shoved and dragged the judge, complied without demur; so the headmen were presented with a fait accompli, which like possession is nine points of almost any argument. The ex-Brahman ordered his own party to take the prisoners away, and himself stood guarding the retreat exactly in the middle of a narrow jungle path, like a swag-bellied Cerberus.

"The Khalifate Committee takes charge of all white prisoners," he announced. "Whoever conceals or neglects to hand over a white prisoner will be punished. You are allowed to keep all other loot," he added, as if that were a concession granted by incontrovertible authority.

It was cleverly done. The moment was accurately chosen. The raiders wanted to go home and eat, brag, sleep. They decidedly did not want to go to Podanaram and argue with men who were almost certain to have the best of any argument except possibly force. The headmen could have accomplished nothing by going without their following, who would almost certainly have refused to go, and all who were in favor of not carrying litters or pully-hauling corpulent kadis* said, "Aye." The "Ayes" had it. The raiders sought their own villages, one of which was that in which King lay nursing a bruised head and Mahommed Babar was establishing himself. [* Judges]

And so it happened that after many hot hours and much imprecation the judge and his wife were presented like captured animals before the door of a temple that would have stirred the judge's archaeological lees on any other occasion.

Mrs. Wilmshurst had recovered consciousness. In fact she had done that some hours ago, but had played 'possum for fear of being made to walk again in high-heeled shoes. The litter lay on the stones of the temple forecourt, and she sat on it, staring and being stared at by a row of Moslems, who varied all the way from cardinal-like sanctity to perfect ruffianism.

They broke no rules. As ever in such cases, they were nearly all foreigners — mostly from places as far removed as New York is from Mexico. The sprinkling of native-born Moplahs among them was enough to lend a skimpy patriotic flavor to the whole, as if a Moplah or two had felt obliged to import advisers. Enough Moplahs, in fact, were there to take full blame for the whole committee's actions, and being ignorant savages they were swamped meanwhile — bewildered — almost ignored — but kept in a suitable state of amenity by dint of flattery and bribes.

Their day of disillusionment was coming, when the time should come to surrender and send in those responsible for outrages. For the present the Moplahs stood long-haired, open-mouthed, marveling at fortune that had sent them British prisoners.

The men from Calcutta, Bombay, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Aden, Peshawar and the far North saw fit to be more polite to the judge and his wife than the Moplahs might have been if left to themselves. More polite and less agreeable. The Moplahs would have grinned and gloated, but would have fed them and let them wash.

There was a table, looted from where Allah only knew, but a good, teak, Christian table, set under the temple portico on the thousand-year-old flagstones just within the limit of the shade so as to have the advantage of whatever breeze was moving. Around that were chairs — one each for the committee, some of whom, Moplahs especially, had never sat on chairs until fate pitch-forked them into such prominence. They took their places, with an oily-haired Moplah at the table head for sake of the advertisement, nearly all cross-legged but some enduring the European posture as, for instance, Mrs. Wilmshurst endured her shoes, and the judge and his wife were requested to stand at the end of the table opposite the chairman.

The language elected was English, probably because the choice implied a patronizing air toward the judge.

The chairman had nothing to say. He stuck his tongue in his cheek, displayed his magnificent teeth, and lolled with his elbows on the table, making an occasional scrawl on paper with a quill pen, perhaps to disguise the fact that he could neither read nor write. He was a very obvious figurehead and none too beautiful.

The man who opened on the judge was an under-sized dapper little Delhi Moslem, seated on the chairman's right, who looked and spoke as if he might have been a practising lawyer. His mild brown eyes were only mild at the first impression. They were unflinching really — bold — calculating — afraid of nothing — and a lot too shrewd to take his share of the risks. That dark shade of brown that grows harder and darker as you look at it.

He recognized the judge, instantly, but gave no sign. The judge was not sure. There was something about the man's deliberate impudence that seemed familiar, but of course he had seen hundreds of the same type from the bench, and he did not care to run the risk of appearing to curry favor by recognizing someone whom he was not sure he knew. He stood with his hand on his wife's shoulder, helping to support her, and glanced from face to face, but always back again to the brown eyes of the undersized man from Delhi.

"You realize you are a prisoner?" asked the Delhi man.

"You need not be afraid. We do not beat our prisoners."

"I am not the least afraid," the judge answered, "but I would appreciate your providing a chair for my wife."

One or two of the committee had the grace to look uncomfortable, but the man from Delhi grinned meanly. The judge began to be very nearly sure he recognized him, and was glad he had not made overtures.

"She shall have a chair, certainly. Many an Indian has been made to stand at her whim, but we are not vindictive!"

He clapped his hands and a boy brought a broken chair from inside the temple. The judge, who was weary almost beyond endurance, was left standing. Mrs. Wilmshurst sat down, speechless almost for the first time in her life.

"If you are not afraid, your case is different from that of the unfortunates who so frequently stand before you for sentence — unfortunates whom you punish drastically for breaking laws they had no voice in making," said the man from Delhi; and at last Wilmshurst did recognize him. But he contrived to keep the recognition from his eyes.

"What do you propose to do with us?" the judge asked.

"Why should we propose at all?" the other retorted. "You are a prisoner. You should ask mercy."

He evidently meant to inflict as much verbal torture as possible, for he was settling himself comfortably, cross-legged. Nevertheless, he did not enjoy the paramountcy that he hoped for. There was sturdy opposition from a graybeard facing him, who wore the white head-dress of an educated man and was big enough to have made about three of him from Delhi.

"They are hostages," he said in English. "Make no error about that. I will agree to nothing else. They are hostages."

The man from Delhi smiled with lean lips, accepting the suggestion, but obviously reserving venom for later on.

"Do you realize what it means to be a hostage?" he asked the judge. "For every outrage perpetrated by the British troops against us you are liable to be made to suffer in your own body."

Wilmshurst smiled, rather wryly — because his feet were in agonies — but genuinely none the less. He was not such a fool as to suppose that men of the type before him would torture valuable prisoners. The suggestion was too absurd for him to answer with the obvious threat of what the British troops might accomplish in return. The point was not worth arguing.

Graybeard in opposition opened fire again, laying his fist on the table manfully and forestalling the Delhi man's next remark.

"You will write a letter," he said. "You will say in it that your wife and you are prisoners. You will say you have been well treated—"

"That will depend on the facts," Wilmshurst interrupted. "My wife has been disgracefully ill-treated, and so have I. We have had no food — no rest. If I write a letter I shall say in it what I consider true."

"Say what you like!" the graybeard answered. "You write the letter. Your friends will know you are a prisoner, and that is what we want."

"I shall read the letter, of course, before you seal it up," said the man from Delhi.

"I am willing to write," said the judge after a moment's reflection. His legal mind could see no possible objection to communicating with British Headquarters, wherever that might be. He rather suspected a trick, because the man from Delhi was connected with it, but for the life of him he could not see through the trick, so he supposed that none existed.

The man from Delhi, watching Wilmshurst with a quizzical expression that seemed to hint at ultimate consequence foreseen as yet only by himself, pushed paper, pen and ink toward the judge, who ignored them.

The Moplah at the head of the table said something in his own tongue, and there was a moment's discussion in which the man from Delhi did not join.

"You are promised good treatment and anything you want in reason that is in our power to do until we shall have formulated our final demands. That is not yet. We will discuss them. When our final demands go to the British, your treatment after that will depend on the British reply. Now write," said the man who sat between the chairman and the graybeard.

He had obviously had legal training, and seemed more than usually proud of his command of English, for he smirked self-complacently when he had done his speech.

The judge wrote:

To whom it may concern: My wife and I are prisoners in the hands of Moplahs, who have notified us that we are hostages, but have promised us good treatment for the present. Hitherto the treatment has not been good.

"Cross that out!" commanded the Delhi man, coming round to look over the judge's elbow.

"Certainly not," Wilmshurst answered, and signed his name. "Send that or nothing."

They were in a quandary whether or not to use that letter, and some of them did not care to argue the point in the prisoner's presence; so two of the committee — Moplahs, who knew no English — were told off to take them to the quarters assigned to them inside the temple. There were basins, great quantities of water, some soap, two towels, and two string-beds with cotton-stuffed mattresses and clean white sheets.

"Oh well, this might be worse!" said his wife, growing almost cheerful as the Moplahs locked them in.

"Might be worse? Yes. Might be better," said the judge. "That fellow from Delhi who did the talking is a man whom I once sentenced to twenty years for forgery and arson. He escaped from prison. His name was Aurung Ali in those days, but he has probably changed it."



CHAPTER 11
"Yours truly, John Linkinyear."

Ommony returned to first principles — to his forest — cherished it. As a military man he was nothing. As a forester he had work, and knew that he could do it better than anyone else, or otherwise he would have gone long ago to learn from the better man. War, and especially rebellion, means fire; fire in the forest means a generation's increase gone, and possibly baked earth in which no tree will root again. He went to work.

Many of the Hindus in the scattered villages had been murdered. Others had run away toward the coast, where in due course a warship put in appearance and produced an impression of safety where there was none. But it is impressions that count. Even a pitched battle is for no other purpose than to convince the enemy.

Ommony convinced his friends, which is always equally important. The one lone cruiser that dropped anchor off Calicut accomplished no more in its way than Ommony in his. He was a refuge in a stricken land — one white man unafraid. You could go to him and have your panic laughed at — then listen to strong sympathy and reassuring wisdom.

It was Ommony, leisurely regarding life from a wicker chair on his veranda, who pointed out that, whereas a village could be burned and its women carried off, the junglis who had no villages were safe.

"You can rebuild your villages," he said, "but can you come to life again? Moreover, will the Moplahs burn an empty village?"

Thereafter, whoever had overheard him might have understood why the Christian missionaries have no kind word for Ommony; for he talked to those pagans in the terms of their own understanding, so that they knew him for an elder brother, not a representative of unintelligible wrath.

"The gods of the woods are afraid for their trees," he announced. "I, who have served their forest, am protected. You have seen how the Moplahs spare me and my house, although they murder the white men in the trains. The gods are grateful. But how about you? Is it better to serve the gods with little cakes and withered flowers, or to go and look after the trees that the gods love? How do I know that the gods love the trees? People of no discernment! If the gods did not love the trees, why should they live among them?"

The logic of that was so much easier to grasp than the Moslem theory of one revengeful, flattery-loving Allah; and, moreover, it was so much more like what they were used to than the ordinary admonitions of a white man preaching allegiance to an incomprehensible Government, that they felt comforted and listened on, instead of shrugging their shoulders at the great gulf fixed between them and whatever gods there be.

"If you care for the trees, the trees will hide you," said Ommony. "That is the way of the gods, who reward for service rendered. If you let the trees burn, the gods will forget you. Pray, and the gods will laugh like the money- lender. Keep the fire-lanes clear; find the Moplahs' deserted watch-fires and slake the ashes; search for the heat where smoke is, and the gods will protect you, even as they do me. Moreover, the Deepartament, whose servant I am, will pay wages by the month."

So they left their miserable villages, cached their scant belongings, drove their cattle and goats into forest clearings under Ommony's directions, and submitted to be formed into gangs. The junglis, who are so wise that they have no homes and will not work unless the work amuses them, were set to guarding the cattle, driving them from clearing to clearing out of the way of the raiding Moplahs and not losing more than a fair percentage to the lords of the jungle. Leopards must eat, and the terrified buck were much harder to kill since the fighting started.

Other junglis, scouting to discover which way the Moplahs might come next — in order to give notice to the herdsmen — were told to keep a bright eye lifted for Mahommed Babar, and to discover what had been done with the body of Sirdar Mahommed Akbar Khan — for none of the junglis understood that King was an Englishman. Some of them had seen him in English clothes when he first came, and with a rifle when he helped to execute Shere Ali, but that only led to the logical inference that he was an Indian who could play a white man's part.

And meanwhile, the British authorities were not idle, although every precedent had been upset. Precedents are British gods, and it is distressing to see all your little deities broken on the earth, faces downward. Nevertheless, you can distress the British without immobilizing them, and they have this characteristic: that when the old gods are quite worn out and in disrepute they adopt nice new ones promptly.

The railways were out of commission, along with nearly all the bridges and a good proportion of the rolling-stock. The roads, too, were blocked with felled trees and great rocks loosened from the hills, for brother Moplah, who had seen the white man practicing his creed in France, had learned at last how to do a job thoroughly. Wherever a barricade of rocks and trees could be arranged to check the advance of troops, there it was. There, too, were trenches very skillfully designed and placed.

The torn-up railway track was about the only practicable line of advance; and as there were hardly any troops available, and such as there were were mostly needed to garrison fixed posts and protect defenseless small towns, the only possible course was to send junior officers in charge of small parties of men to patrol the line and keep the Moplahs worried.

Left to himself without a nurse in red tabs and brass hat a British subaltern can lead men. Whether wisely or not is not the question. He can be depended on to go three times as far as suggested and to have much less trouble with his men than if there were a canteen and a court-martial within reach.

So Lieutenant John Linkinyear, marching jauntily at the head of eleven men — having lost three en route and buried them — arrived at Ommony's one early morning just as Ommony was coming down the steps with a gun under his arm.

"Bacon and eggs!" demanded Linkinyear, whose last meal was a supper of dry biscuit. "For twelve of us! Section-halt! Stand easy! Let your mouths run!"

Ommony shouted to his cook to continue bringing hot food until further notice, and demanded news.

"I'm three days out, thank God, and out of touch," said Linkinyear. "The last I heard was that Sutherland of the Rutlandshires and twenty men got theirs — and a rumor about old Kadi Wilmshurst and his missus. It's true about Charley and his Ruts. We found their bones in the ashes of a first-class railway carriage. Gave 'em full military honors — loaded salute. They'd earned it. Charley was a first-class man. He'd actually thrown up earthworks with the railway carriage on one wing and the station building on the other — telegraph wire entanglement — iron off the station roof to keep the gravel and sand heaped up — no end good! Must have moppled 'em too — made 'em so sore they left the wire and stuff behind 'em — probably hadn't enough men left to drag it away."

"What was the rumor about Wilmshurst and his wife?" asked Ommony.

"They were in a train that didn't get through. I'm supposed to be sniffing for kubber* of them. Morning I left there was a note supposed to be from him saying he was a prisoner, missus along with him, and both safe. But nobody could swear to his signature and it was suspected to be a forgery."

"What good would the forgery do the Moplahs?" demanded Ommony. [* News]

"Dunno. Everybody's mad — Moplahs maddest of all — 'xcept of course the D.A.A.G. acting everything. He's no longer human. Theory was that Moplahs might be tempting us into a trap. Letter was dated from Podanaram or some such place. Never heard of it. Know where it is?"

Ommony nodded and led him into breakfast, leaving the men to wolf food on the veranda.

"How did you come to be here?" Linkinyear demanded between mouthfuls. "Why aren't you killed or circumcised? Are you a Moplah chief — wizard — mad mullah — what's the secret? You'll come away with me, of course?"

Ommony laughed and waved the suggestion aside.

"I've news of Wilmshurst and his wife. One of my junglis brought word last night of two white prisoners locked up in the temple of Podanaram."

"Man and wife?"

"Male and female made he them," said Ommony.

"Any description?" asked Linkinyear, pulling out his memorandum book. "Let's see — warts — age fifty-two—"

"No description, but who else could it be?"

"All right," said Linkinyear, "that's my next objective then. Which would you rather do, stay here or come with us? I'll have to borrow some sort of guide from you. Perhaps you know the way? You might be safer on the march with us."

For his own amusement Ommony mentioned the denseness of the jungle, describing it as pretty much one huge ambush. Then he described Podanaram and guessed at the number of troops that would be needed to assault the place. It all went by Linkinyear like so much weather.

"So you know the way. The luck holds! If Charley Sutherland had had my luck he'd have snaffled promotion out of this instead of making room. You know, these High Court kadis have influence — kadis' missuses even more so — what? You get me? Rescue a kadi and his beldame out of durance vile and the tide in the affairs of — what's your name again? — Ommony, and Linkinyear starts rising forthwith. Princesses in enchanted castles are possibly all right, but for practice give John Linkinyear, yours truly, one fat kadi and his wife in one tight fix. Return tickets, please, for Podanaram — but perhaps you can't march?"

Ommony thought he could march, but sensed a predicament unseen by the proponent of direct action.

"Some of the Moplah chiefs are my friends," he said. "Suppose I try to get word to them."

"Get word? Why? They'll know our game then. No. Let's steal a march on 'em. Nothing like unexpectedness — wins every time! We won't hurt your friends as long as they behave."

Ommony laughed again.

"They won't hurt me as long as I behave," he answered. "There's a truce that covers me, my house, property, and servants. Any one may come or go unmolested from here to the station. I can go unarmed anywhere, but they would consider I had broken the truce if I led a raid on Podanaram."

"I thought you were some kind of a wizard when you turned on bacon and eggs. All right, you stay here and I'll take another guide. If Podanaram contains Wilmshurst and his wife I'm off there to acquire merit. I see an extra star for this on the shoulder of John Linkinyear."

"I see you and your men face upward looking at the crows!" answered Ommony. "You've no chance, Linkinyear. I'll send word to the Moplah chiefs. Perhaps they'll come here to talk things over. Your wise course is to march back along the railway line and report. By the time you come this way again I'll have more news for you."

"Rats!" answered Linkinyear rudely. "Your eggs are good, Mr. Ommony. Your advice is rotten!"

Ommony produced cigars and summoned his reserves of patience, which exceeded those of his visitor by the amount of twenty years' accretion at compound interest. His trump card was that Linkinyear would never be able to find Podanaram without a guide, and none could possibly be obtained unless he, Cotswold Ommony, consented. With that for final argument, and a fund of experienced geniality for front line, he wore the younger man down, while eleven of the rank and file smoked pipes and listened through the open window.

The dispute lasted nearly all morning, with interruptions when Ommony went out to render off-hand justice between quarreling village folk, or to give orders for the guidance of the gangs. Whenever a native sent in word for Ommony, Linkinyear would follow out to the veranda and demand to know in his best attempt at the vernacular if he knew the way to Podanaram. He had no success. They all looked equally stupid. And he never once caught Ommony making signals with hand or eye, although he was smart enough to be suspicious and to watch for them. Ommony was not smart — merely wise.

Linkinyear would not return to G.H.Q. as long as it was humanly possible to remain away. His orders were to give the Moplahs something to think about, and if possible to make them believe that an attack in force was already under way against them. He would not sit down and be quiet in Ommony's bungalow while Ommony went to Podanaram to make inquiries, even if that should be permitted by Ommony's Moplah friends. Nor would he let Ommony go alone on any terms.

In fact, he vowed and declared that if Ommony's refusal to produce a guide should oblige him to return to G.H.Q. it would be his duty to take Ommony along with him. Whether or not it was his duty, he would do it. He convinced Ommony of that.

But the older man's moderation and good humor were having more effect than the youngster realized. Linkinyear yielded nothing of his demands, but gained nothing. He did not want to return along the line with Ommony in tow; yet Ommony, by everlasting obstinacy and exasperating good temper, obliged him to threaten that again and again as the only alternative to Podanaram. He threatened it most pleadingly, reducing himself to a mental condition in which he would have cheerfully offered Ommony a year's pay to yield, if only that would not have made himself ridiculous.

At last, being full of youth and overrunning energy, he reached the stage where the judge and his wife in Podanaram seemed to be the only goal worth striving for, and Ommony, biding that time, recognized it.

"There's only one way we can agree," he said at last.

"Name it!" snapped the youngster. "No toss of a coin! I won't gamble on it! I go to Podanaram, or you come with me to G.H.Q.!"

"An armed party leaving here for Podanaram would be attacked and butchered for a certainty," said Ommony. "But I might obtain permission for an unarmed party to go and speak with the prisoners."

"Fine!" agreed Linkinyear. "D'you think they'd swap the judge and his missus against the lot of us? That 'ud be good odds from their standpoint. Equally good from ours. If anything should happen to Mr. and Mrs. High Court Kadi our side would have to be enormously vindictive, whereas we wouldn't matter. Nobody would care if we got scoughed. The game is to get the judge and his wife away to safety."

"The Moplahs are not such fools," Ommony answered, looking Linkinyear candidly in the eye. "They know the value of a judge and an English lady. They'd set no more value on you and your men than G.H.Q. would! No. But you may be able to talk with the prisoners and come away."

"All right, I'll go you!"

"You would have to leave your weapons here." Linkinyear demurred.

"It's against all the rules of war and the British service! I wouldn't mind promising not to use them. We could agree to bury our cartridges somewhere, perhaps, but—"

"No butts or bayonets!"

"Man! We'd take their word not to attack us. They must take ours not to use our weapons."

"If I go," Ommony answered, "I go without even a hunting-knife. If you go, you do the same. I know the Moplahs. You don't. I propose to return alive, which we never would if we carried rifles."

"Unloaded rifles? Just for appearance?"

"The appearance is what would start trouble inevitably. No. White flag party. Same way that a Moplah might be allowed to penetrate our lines."

"I'll find out if the men are game," said Linkinyear, and walked out on the veranda, arriving just too late to surprise them grouped with their ears to the open window.

Ommony went to the back door and whistled the same jungli who had attended Shere Ali's obsequies. They exchanged guttural coughs and grunts for about a minute, and the jungli departed at a dog-trot.

"The men are perfectly splendid. Game to go anywhere on any terms!" said Linkinyear. "Now for your Moplah chiefs! Mind — you must make this a regular white flag party — honors of war — good faith on both sides — all that kind of thing!"

"Yes, all that kind of thing," said Ommony. "I've sent for the chiefs."

But it was dark — nine o'clock — before the same three chiefs came who had made terms with Ommony in the first instance.

"What is it, Ommon-ee? Who are these soldiers? We promised. You need no guards in this place."

"Be seated. My servants shall bring food. You have prisoners at Podanaram — a judge and his wife."

"Not we, but the Khalifate Committee. What of that, Ommon-ee? Do the British not take prisoners?"

Ommony chose a cigar and drew on his air of deliberate leisureliness.

"Have you ever defeated the English?" he asked after a moment.

"Not seriously. No. However, this time—"

"If they should defeat you, would it not be best if there were certain claims on their generosity that might be brought forward on the day of settlement?"

"We have treated you well, Ommon-ee."

"But I am only a forester. The prisoners at Podanaram are very important ones. If they should be ill-treated—"

"As Allah hears us, they shall not be!"

"If I should send word into the British lines that of my own knowledge those two prisoners are well and are being treated kindly, there would be satisfaction," said Ommony.

"Satisfaction begets good-will. And out of good-will no harm was ever born, even between enemies."

"That is true. We trust you, Ommon-ee. We will take you to see those prisoners, but you must not spy on us; you must promise that."

"I shall return to this place," he answered, "and these soldiers will carry my report."

"Good. They may wait here. Only we will take their weapons as guarantee. When you return we will give them back their weapons. That is fair."

"But not wise!" Ommony answered. "It is better to leave their weapons here, subject to your promise not to interfere with them, and to take the officer and his men, unarmed, with me. In that way there will be no excuse for hostilities."

The headmen objected strenuously, but Ommony refused equally strenuously to leave any of the party in his bungalow, saying that if anything under heaven were certain it was that news of soldiers being quartered there would leak abroad, and Moplahs from a distance, who knew nothing of the truce, would pay the place a business visit.

"These soldiers are too many," said the chief who had red in his beard. "Send all but two of them back to the British lines. Later, when those two return with your message, we will give them a safe conduct."

That was good common sense, but Linkinyear would not listen to it, for he himself would have had to return to G.H.Q. It would have been out of the question to send ten men back without so much as a non-commissioned man in charge. His adventurous heart was set on penetrating the jungle and the way to Podanaram and reporting the accomplished fact to his superiors. His men were no whit behind him in enthusiasm.

So Ommony held his ground, half admiring Linkinyear's persistence, and wholly minded on his own account to look into the condition of the prisoners. There followed an interminable argument as to disposition of rifles and ammunition, which it was finally agreed should be locked up in Ommony's Store-room.

Then the servants had to be sent for and carefully persuaded that the Moplah guard about to be set over them would guarantee their safety, and would not molest them, in Ommony's temporary absence.

Last, but not least, there were the white flag terms to be discussed, and the exact conditions of the safe conduct, which it was agreed in any event were contingent on the soldiers' good behavior.

One way and another, it was dawn before the white flag party left Ommony's bungalow and plunged into the gloom along a jungle fire-lane.



CHAPTER 12
"Mahommed Babar wants a cavalry saber."

The mullah's servant came into the mosque and changed the bandage on King's head as an excuse for listening to deliberations from which he would normally have been excluded. In theory the mosque is absolutely democratic, but in practice there are tyrannies and sharp distinctions that a man must understand before he can cope with Moslem politics. If the mullah had been there in person his servant would undoubtedly have been excluded.

But the mullah, of necessity, was playing for his own hand. Having advised the village elders to oppose the claims and the temperate methods of Mahommed Babar, he could ill afford to continue to advise them in their hour of defeat. On his way down the village he had seen them driven forth by the Northerner, and had divined, with professional insight into local politics, that jealousy among themselves had practically made Mahommed Babar a gift of the leadership.

So he sent the servant to change the bandage on King's head, King being another Northerner and therefore very likely destined to be the first one's ally. And as for himself, he took the obvious course — entered the house and the room assigned to Mahommed Babar's use, and waited.

His servant came first, reported that King's head was a great deal better; and gave an almost phonographic account of Mahommed Babar's final victory in the mosque. So that when the Northerner himself arrived, striding down-street with the peculiarly even motion of a man long used to spurs, and entered the house with his handsome head bowed gloomily, the mullah was well posted.

"Are you rested? Have you bathed? Permit my servant to trim your honor's beard and nails," the mullah suggested, rising and bowing.

Mahommed Babar stroked his beard and eyed the mullah for a moment in critical silence, well aware of the man's unstable friendship — equally aware of the mullah's possible importance as an ally, if wisely managed.

Nothing for nothing is the universal law of politics, with its practical opposite, quid pro quo. In the East there are symbols, still continuing, that have their counterpart in Western decorations and honorary titles.

"Bring me a saber," said Mahommed Babar. "A cavalry saber, clean and sharp; the heavier the better."

The mullah understood. He was accepted. Subject to Mahommed Babar's overriding authority, his influence was likely to be greater than ever. An orthodox leader of rebellion — rare, but, oh, how wise! The mullah bowed, and almost visibly began to plan small indignities for his political rivals.

"What became of the Northerner whose head was injured when the scouts surprised him in the night?" demanded Mahommed Babar.

"Your honor refers to Sirdar Mahommed Akbar Khan?"

"If that is his name. What became of him?"

"He has been in the mosque all morning."

Mahommed Babar started almost imperceptibly.

"Unconscious?"

"No. I had his head dressed. He recovers. He is anxious to speak with your honor."

Mahommed Babar began to pace the room, chin forward and hands behind him, to and fro, to and fro, wrestling with indecision. There were moments when his fine teeth and hard eyes gleamed with an iron resolve, followed almost immediately by a different interpretation of the same impulse. Once or twice be stood and held his dark beard in both hands as if about to tear it in the Eastern expression of distracted grief.

Mullahs, priests, ministers know all those signs. They can recognize pride, honesty, fine frenzy, patriotism, determination, compromise. The mullah watched stealthily, looking away each time Mahommed Babar faced about.

"What do you say his name is? Sirdar Mahommed Akbar Khan? Great names! A great man possibly."

He faced the mullah and stood with legs apart looking down at him, holding one elbow and stroking his beard again.

"See that he is respectfully treated. Let him have no weapons, but he may come and go unmolested. That is my order."

It was the very first detailed order given by Mahommed Babar since his grasp of the leadership, and the mullah's opportunity to attach his own imprint to authority.

"If he comes and goes but has no weapons harm may befall him, sahib. Better imprison him."

"I have spoken! If harm befalls him, let his blood be on your head! Let me have word of everything he says or does."

"Your honor will not speak with him?"

"No."

The mullah hesitated, devoured by curiosity, which eats the brains of some men as worms gnaw the belly of a dog.

"He has no beard, but — is he your honor's brother?"

Mahommed Babar glared. The word "brother" in the East has various significances. Moreover, a mullah's curiosity more often than not has teeth. Answer, and he perverts the answer. Refuse, and he draws his own conclusions. Appear to mistrust him, and he mistrusts you. Trust him, and take the consequences!

"You may get the answer to that question from Sirdar Mahommed Akbar Khan, and you have my leave to go!" replied Mahommed Babar, resuming his stride up and down the room with his hands behind him.

So the mullah returned to the mosque, where the elders had done arguing, and announced his restored importance in a short speech. He had prayed, he informed them; that being his business and he a faithful man. In answer the Lord of Mercies had inspired him to go and visit Mahommed Babar down the street. During the ensuing interview knowledge had been born in his mind in a flash that this Mahommed Babar was the Lord's appointed leader; and he had therefore blessed him in the name of the Most High, whose right arm would now surely uphold the Moplah cause.

Mahommed Babar, a very prince of men and a lover of God if there ever was one, had accepted the blessing and given thanks for it, requesting him, the mullah, to continue with spiritual meditations and wise advice. In view of the facts, and of his conviction that all this was Allah's will, it was his duty to urge them to obey Mahommed Babar implicitly in all things — for the present. He added the last words in more or less of an undertone, having not only a fine imagination but a well-developed bump of preparedness against contingencies.

The elders departed, discovering scant amusement in the mullah's sermon, but bent on making the most of the situation. They were so eager to keep an eye on one another that they flocked out, elbowing and shoving — hurrying down-street to undo the advantage gained by those who had stood nearest to the mosque door.

The mullah approached King, who was still lying down with his bandaged head cushioned on the folds of his turban.

"Your honor's brother is disturbed for your honor's safety," said the mullah. "He orders a bodyguard appointed for your honor, lest harm befall. There is a little room behind this mosque — clean, comfortable — my son and my servant would bring food—"

King noted the tense and was careful to look pleased. The mullah's under- handedness was easy enough to see through, but the word "brother" was not so easy. He suspected guesswork, not believing that Mahommed Babar would have proclaimed relationship for any reason. He had probably given orders that made the mullah suspect blood-relationship as the only likely explanation. There might even be a slight facial resemblance. He was no such fool as to enlighten the mullah one way or the other.

"Has your honor a weapon?" the mullah asked, almost off-handedly, not looking directly at him, but sidewise. Conscious of the automatic still tucked snugly against his ribs, King shook his head.

"Get me one!" he urged. "Those rascals who struck me on the head took mine."

The mullah looked relieved, and beckoned King to follow. Almost laughing, King obeyed him and passed out through the rear door of the mosque into a tiny court, at the back of which was a one-story thatched building. As a jail it was ridiculous. Nevertheless —

"This is where your honor must stay until further orders," said the mullah.

King noted the "must," and bowed acknowledgment. The mullah looked relieved again, as King observed. When men of the North, or Moplahs of the South, make prisoners, they search them; usually strip them, and invariably lock them in a place whence escape is impossible.

The mullah showed the way into a reasonable room, carpeted with matting. It had two windows, barred with upright wooden rods. The ceiling was low and of calico. The door had obviously been stolen from some ready-made imported building and could be kicked down easily. There was a folding canvas cot, a camp-chair, and a few odds and ends, including a bundle of old swords and bayonets in a corner, some of them dating from before the Mutiny. One of them was an enormous cavalry saber, much heavier than is used in any army nowadays.

The mullah made an armful of the weapons and pitched them all out in the yard, as if tidying the place. Reconsidering things, he brought the big saber in again. A very tactful man, that mullah. Quite a strategist.

"There is a cot — a chair — your honor may rest here and get well. Would your honor do a favor for me? There is no hurry, but when the head feels better. This saber now — an old one — I place no faith in such things, but prefer this."

He pulled out a Mauser repeating pistol and patted it meaningly. King noticed rust on the sliding action and wondered whether the thing would go off.

"Your brother, Mahommed Babar, wants a cavalry saber. Would your honor care to clean and sharpen this for him? See, it was a good one once. Whoever owned it knew how to use it, too. Look at the notches he has nicked below the hilt — nine, ten, eleven men! A fighter! Your honor — a fighting man, sharpening a saber must be — see, I have a box of implements; files, a whetstone, sand, leather, and some rags. There is water in that iron jar. Your honor is willing?"

Diplomacy! But two can play at that — none better than King, who can seem to play the other fellow's game more innocently than a sheep led by the bell-wether.

"If your honor's head were only—"

"Much better!" announced King. "Hardly aches now."

"I will be back in an hour. If that saber could be ready."

"Easily."

"I must find the right men for guards, who will treat your honor reasonably well."

It had been "bodyguards" the first time. "Reasonably well" seemed also a concession to unnamed contingencies. King bent his head to hide a smile and examined the blade of the saber.

"I would prefer this personally!" said the mullah, pulling out his Mauser pistol and patting it meaningly again. Very diplomatic!

"They are better than a sword," said King, reaching for the box of rusty files and things.

"So. I will be back in an hour," said the mullah, and went out, locking the door after him, incidentally forgetting in his haste the patriarchal blessing that he should have paused in the doorway to invoke.

Both men were beautifully satisfied. The mullah now had to ask no favors of the blacksmith, who was a person given to curiosity and almost as much independence as the men of his ancient guild who hammered armor for the knights of old. His guest was busy and undoubtedly believed himself a prisoner. He had time to hunt up discreet individuals, who would mount guard for a day or two and hold their tongues. There was no such simple way of reporting a man's sayings and doings as to keep the individual under lock and key. And, as he wanted very badly to be absent for the next few days, the arrangement was all the more convenient.

Last, but not least, the saber was likely to be cleaned and sharpened in such fashion as would delight even such a fierce soldier as Mahommed Babar. Excellent! There is no God but Allah, who is all-wise and who directs the thoughts of the faithful. Mahommed is the Prophet of Allah, on whom be peace! He emerged from the mosque and walked down-street with an air of contemplative statesmanship.

In the bedroom King worked at the saber contentedly. He might need it — if the mullah or his servants should return too soon. Meanwhile, it might be true that Mahommed Babar needed it, in which case King was this kind of man: he would either break the weapon or make it as near perfect as he could. He cleaned it — made it as sharp as a razor — within half an hour; tested it a time or two by hacking at the door until the cheap lock came in pieces; scratched on the blade with the sharpest file and the smallest letters he could compass: "To Mahommed Babar from A.K. with compliments"; returned it to its scabbard, stood it in the corner, and walked out. It was no use closing the door; the frame and lock were smashed too noticeably.

An hour later the mullah, returning with four chosen sycophants, discovered the bird flown but the saber leaning upright in a corner, clean and sharp. He did not examine the blade beyond testing of its sharpness with his thumb. And he had this element of greatness — he could see the uselessness of crying over spilt milk.

"Go and look for him!" he ordered. "Find him, be polite to him, and bring him back and keep him here!"

Then he went to deliver the saber to Mahommed Babar, for that was urgent. He delivered it in presence of all the elders, who were suitably and flatteringly jealous. Mahommed Babar did examine the blade, every inch of it — seemed able to read the inscription on it — possibly the maker's name. He looked pleased, and yet not pleased, as he nodded and slung the saber at his waist. A strange, uncommunicative, puzzling sort of man, Mahommed Babar.



CHAPTER 13
"To-night I will write down how ye did."

It was no mean accomplishment that Ommony had undertaken. Among those rival and fiercely jealous Moplah villages he himself could probably go unchallenged at any time. But it was "another thousand of bricks" to take with him an officer and eleven men — even an unarmed officer and men on good behavior, with full permission granted by three chiefs.

The trouble was that the chiefs' authority was largely local. Their influence, and Ommony's own, varied with the points of the compass. With distance from their village theirs diminished, although Ommony's actually increased in some respects as he went further from his home. Locally they knew him as a friend through thick and thin, fire, drought, and famine — a mediator between them and the Government — a scoffer like themselves at lawyers' law, but a masterful upholder of first principles. At a distance he was less well known but more rumored about. Men came from a long way off to submit their quarrels to him rather than go to court and be ruined with fines and fees; and they, returning well content, told stories about him, invented mainly on the way home, that made King Solomon of legend seem in comparison rather a cheap and silly potentate. In far outlying villages Ommony was almost a myth. They used his name to frighten children with and as a threat conclusive when the younger members of the village council would not see sense.

So, although the chiefs provided an escort of four men whose business was to emphasize the sacredness of the flag of truce under which the party marched, and although they all carried white flags nailed to sticks, it was Ommony's person that was really sacred. The white flags did not mean much, and the chiefs' representatives meant less and less as they drew near rival villages.

Entered another distinction, with its fine edge widening progressively. Ommony had lived among them for more than twenty years, through internecine outrage and occasional rebellion, with never an armed man to protect him. There had never been a man in uniform attached to Ommony's scant staff. He had been policeman, lawyer, judge, adviser, forest king, and friend so intimately and with so little friction that he was in a class by himself. Apart from the military arm — which to the Moplah is incomprehensible if it is not a direct invitation to fight. Soldiers fight — fight soldiers — the words worked either way.

And the ways of a rumor are wonderful. It turns on itself like a whirl of smoke blown in the wind, until the outside becomes the inside and sense is nonsense. Moreover, it grows, even as smoke grows, covering more ground as the particles of fact grow thinner. And in a forest that is even more the case, because the range of view is limited and the eye can seldom check up what the ear exaggerates.

So word was sent echoing from tree to crag by the Moplahs' outposts, and it became known for a fact in the village, where Mahommed Babar was busily evolving his plan of campaign, that Ommon-ee was a prisoner of war, and was being marched through the jungle by a British officer and ten men. Ommony was riding and the others were on foot, but it was described with how many knots Ommony's feet were tied beneath the horse's belly.

Naturally, the village wiseheads had to invent a reason for any such extraordinary turn of affairs; and, having no facts to go on, they depended wholly on imagination, which is the secret of most news anyhow. They decided that the British were bringing in Ommony with the purpose of exchanging him against the judge and his wife who were close prisoners at Podanaram.

Whereat was laughter. Who would hold Ommony prisoner for a day? Should they let the two prisoners go, whom they certainly could hold for ransom, and accept in exchange the one whom they would have to release instantly because of friendship and past favors? Moreover, Ommony had dealings with the forest devils, and might inflict disasters on them. Who knew? Such things have happened. How much simpler in any event to release Ommony and obtain his everlasting good-will, incidentally increasing their own stock of British prisoners, who would no doubt be very useful when the time for talking peace should come.

That was the argument, and action follows very close on argument in Moplah-land. Every step was easy except one, which was impossible. There was no way of surrounding the party in the forest without Ommony's junglis becoming aware of it.

So a jungli came hurrying to Ommony's stirrup and made noises with his mouth. Ommony wheeled his pony and addressed Linkinyear, who had refused the offer of a mount because it would make the men feel better if he marched with them. They were all swinging along at a good three miles an hour, carrying their tunics and brushing off flies with bits of twig and stuff — not sorry to halt — rather expecting to laugh, because Ommony's jokes seemed inexhaustible.

"Whatever happens next, don't show resentment or offer to hit back," said Ommony unexpectedly. He spoke to Linkinyear, but at his men. "Our escort are acting in good faith, but we're surrounded, and we might be attacked if there were any hastiness."

They surrounded Ommony to hear his explanation, not that he had much to say, although Linkinyear shot question after question at him.

"If you'll let me keep about fifty yards ahead," Ommony suggested, "that will look less as if I were relying on you for protection. The great thing is to show them from the first that we rely absolutely on their respecting a flag of truce."

He rode on. They allowed him nearly a hundred yards. So there was plenty of room, and the pony was hardly aware of disturbance behind him when fifty men rushed between Ommony and Linkinyear's party. It was over so swiftly that Ommony did not even see what took place. He wheeled his pony and spurred back; but when he got there and forced his way through the yelling crowd, beating them over the head right and left with his hunting-crop, most of the men were already dead and Linkinyear was struggling under half a dozen Moplahs, who were trying to tie him and at the same time to murder a private whom he was protecting.

It was amazing what they took from Ommony without retaliation. He beat them off as a huntsman whips hounds off a kill, cracking open more than one skull with the butt of his loaded whip. But he was too late to save the lives of more than Linkinyear and three men. Two more were so badly wounded as to be obviously in their death throes, and the rest lay with their throats cut Moplah-fashion, which is right back to the spine.

Then the escort of four men, who had been leading considerably in advance for the express purpose of preventing a surprise, came running back and swore with good reason that their honor was involved. They were perfectly ready to fight about it, and would have been killed in turn if Ommony had not threatened to do murder and thus force them to do violence to himself. Whether Ommony guessed it or not, they had peremptory orders from their chiefs to do him no injury on any pretext, and he made the most of his immunity as it developed.

Linkinyear was nearly off his head — just not quite mad enough to fling himself on the Moplah knives.

"You swine," he yelled at them in English. "You rotten, dirty blackguards! You know what a white flag means — you! Oh, you swabs! Look what you've done, you stinkers! Good, decent fellows marching under flag of truce and — just you wait, that's all! A hundred of you swine for every decent one of my men you've murdered! Say, they don't understand that. You tell them, Ommony. One hundred of the swine for—"

"Better give those men decent burial," Ommony suggested. "Do you know the funeral service?"

"No. Good God! How does it begin? Any of you men know the funeral service?"

"I'm sorry to say I know it by heart," said Ommony. He turned on the Moplahs, resting the whip on his thigh and speaking as if disobedience were unimaginable.

"Dig graves for those gentlemen!" he ordered.

The Moplahs demurred. They are not proponents of hard labor at the best of times. This was war — their war. There had recently arrived hugely exaggerated stories of a British victory somewhere down between Ooticamund and the sea, in which a raiding party of Moplahs had left their own dead on the field. There were stories that Hindus were burning the bodies by British order, and burning is everlasting shame and desecration to the Moslem. To be made to bury fallen British soldiers in the circumstances was something of an imposition, as they viewed it.

But not for nothing had Ommony been unofficial judge of all that land for twenty years. In their own tongue he could rake their very consciences over the coals of Eblis better than their mullahs could. For every argument that they could hurl at him he knew ten texts — could cite ten instances where they had come to him for help and had received it. Besides, they were afraid of him, and he feared nothing but his own opinion of himself.

They dug the graves — not one trench, but a separate grave for each dead man in a row along the jungle lane; and Ommony recited the funeral service seated on his pony, who behaved as if he had attended that kind of ceremony scores of times — motionless until the end.

"Damn them, they've got firearms! Let them salute my men!" exploded Linkinyear when Ommony had finished.

Ommony looked at him a moment and decided on heroic means to prevent worse trouble later.

"This was a horrible mistake," he said to the Moplahs, who had stood viewing the performance sulkily, waiting to push in the covering dirt with their hands when Ommony should give the word. "Honorable men who make mistakes must make just acknowledgment. How many of you bear a grudge against the dead ye killed?"

That was the kind of Solomon-like question with which he always had his way with them. None answered.

"If these men had come to fight, ye had a right to kill. But they came peacefully, observing peace. If they had died in fair fight, there would have been others of their own race, with firearms, to pay them final honors. But they died by your mistake, unfairly. Will ye rob as well as kill?"

They, whose notion of life was organized robbery, denied the imputation hotly.

"But the dead are dead!" exclaimed one of them.

"Ye can honor the dead like honorable men, and so yourselves be honored!" answered Ommony.

"How then?"

He told them. So the unbelievable took place. Four and fifty Moplahs, some with the blood of murdered soldiers on their bands, fired a salute at the tree-tops, not knowing what it meant exactly, but understanding that in some way they were wiping out a stain on their own honor and a score that would otherwise have increased against themselves with interest. They fired across the graves exactly as Ommony told them, and the scared crows winging from a tree near by looked like the souls of dead men.

Moslems — very ignorant Moslems — living among Hindus pick up by hearsay and observation innumerable Hindu superstitions, rail their mullahs how they may. The Moplahs glanced at the crows, met one another's eyes and stared at Ommony with new respect.

"By God! You know — by God! I say — you tell them, will you, in their own confounded bat — by God! They've done the right thing, damn it! Say that, will you, please?" demanded Linkinyear. "God damn them! They've done the decent thing!"

But Ommony had not quite finished. He made the Moplahs fell two big trees straight across the path, so that all would go around in future, making a new track. And none would tread on the graves until the forest had blotted them out completely, along with the thousands of others that dot the earth unmarked. Then:

"Tonight I will write down how ye did," said Ommony. "It shall be set down that ye slew like dogs and fools, but that ye honored the dead like decent men."

"Let it be set down that we did not rob the dead, but buried them in their uniforms," called out one of them.

"That, too, shall be written down," said Ommony.



CHAPTER 14
"But they stole no Hindu women?"

Mahommed Babar had done with indecision, even if jealousy had not altogether done with him. There were those who mistrusted, without feeling strong enough to oppose him. News of the first British success to date made the moment ripe for action. He spoke like a man. He laid good plans. He gave orders without excuses, as a leader should. And as he led off through the forest he inspired confidence. Nevertheless, he also inspired resentment.

There were those beside the mullah who hurried to Podnanaram to consult with the Khalifate Committee. Some went merely as tell-tales. Others were marplots, who would have plotted the downfall of anyone who seized the leadership. About a dozen men all told, including the mullah, took to the jungle path leading to Podanaram, and the mullah saw every one of them pass him, but could not help it, being loaded with a bigger belly and more years than they.

The mullah was, furthermore, suspicious that he was followed, and that delayed him. Not sure of it. Ten times at least in the course of a long day's march up hill and down dale he thought he saw somebody dodging out of sight behind him. As many times he stepped behind a tree and waited, and once he was almost sure his pursuer had crept up within twenty paces; but although he called, coaxed, challenged, cursed — and hunted among the tangled jungle growth as pluckily as if he had been a genuine fighting man instead of a rather spoiled, short-winded priest, he was still in doubt at the end of it.

The glimpses he thought he had had conveyed only one impression. Reason told him it must be false. It could not be possible, he argued, for Sirdar Mahommed Akbar Khan with that injury to his head to be following so persistently — unless and there another thought entered in — perhaps that injury was not so serious, in which case . . .

He put on speed for awhile. But endurance was more in his line. Speed distressed him. He sat down on a rock near a tree that shaded him from the afternoon sun, in a clearing from which he could see in several directions, and gave suspicion full rein, muttering the names of the Most High as a sort of touchstone against which to test his thoughts.

If Mahommed Babar and Sirdar Mahommed Akbar Khan were brothers — and whence did that suspicion come if it were baseless? — one might be spying for the other. Notoriously, brothers were either the closest friends or the deadliest enemies, almost without exception. Mahommed Babar had refused to speak with the Sirdar, yet had refused to have him imprisoned. Why? And he had ordered a report to be made of all the Sirdar's sayings and doings. Strange. Very.

It began to look possible that he, the mullah, was being used as a stool- pigeon. If he was to report the Sirdar's sayings, what would be easier than for the Sirdar to say things that should convey desired information? Obvious! And if he, the mullah, was to be the go-between — a go-between who was also to be spied upon — what was more probable than that the Sirdar was close on his trail?

Meanwhile, less than fifty paces from the mullah, King sat behind a tree from under whose lowest branch he could just see his quarry, and was very grateful for the short rest. The poultice of leaves had worked wonders, but the pain in his head still robbed him of fifty percent of efficiency. Nevertheless, the pursuer has all the advantage. It is much easier to keep a fugitive in sight than to make the pace, especially if the fugitive is short-winded and the pursuer long-winded.

Officers of the Indian Army are encouraged to hunt the most difficult big game in the world because of the experience it gives them, and the mullah would never have caught a glimpse of King unless he had so chosen. He had deliberately shown himself a dozen times for a fraction of a moment because he wanted him rather rattled. Nervousness upsets even a mullah's judgment, and it is by the other man's mistakes that the pursuer profits.

Cagey old bird, the mullah! He settled himself apparently for a well- earned snooze in the shade — but with his head turned in the direction from which pursuit would come. King could just discern beyond the clearing the only possible path by which the mullah could eventually resume his journey. So he skirted the clearing, which was a very difficult thing to do without betraying himself because of the denseness of the undergrowth and the necessity for crossing the open scores of times. Having reached the point where the track plunged again into the jungle, he sat down exactly in the midst of it, and waited. Cagey old bird though the mullah might be, there was salt on his tail!

When King began to make his circuit of the clearing the mullah heard a few dry twigs break, as King intended that he should. Thereafter was silence, and the mullah lay shamming sleep, with one eye watching the direction whence the noise of breaking twigs had come. At the end of half an hour he could endure the suspense no longer. He got up suddenly, and ran for the point where he had heard the twigs break, found nothing, beat about the bush for fifteen minutes, and returned jumpily nervous to the rock, where he had left his bundle of traveling necessities. It was gone!

The ground was too dry to take footprints. There was nothing to show whether bird, beast, or man had done the lifting, and the mullah in his heart suspected devils. Even his cotton umbrella was gone — that inseparable emblem of his dignity that, unlike all other dignities in this world, provided comfort too!

One point was settled at all events. It was a common thief, and not the Sirdar Mahommed Akbar Khan. No sirdar would steal a mullah's cloth bundle containing snuff, soap, tobacco, socks and a change of shirts. Luckily he had tucked his small supply of money into the fold of his belly-band. Luckily, too, he knew of a lodging for the night, where he would be treated with proper dignity, umbrella or no umbrella. He resumed his journey angrily, yet praising Allah in that he had not been killed.

He was telling his beads as he turned the corner into the jungle lane on the far side of the clearing, and it should not be written of a mullah that he screamed. It was not a scream. It was blended of oath, prayer, exclamation, agony of fear, astonishment, roar of rage, and recovering presence of mind. There is no one word in all the dictionaries that covers that ground completely; but there is one sound that expresses all of it, and the mullah used the sound, leaping backward at the same time like a colt that sees an adder in the path.

King rose easily from a sitting posture, holding the mullah's bundle and umbrella — very careful indeed not to startle his man any further. For that rusty Mauser pistol might go off after all, supposing the mullah could find it among the folds of his clothes.

"I saw that your eminence was tired, so I picked these up to carry them for a while!"

"How — why — what? — Allah! Why are you not where I told you to stay?"

"The saber was clean and sharp. None came. I was curious to see the village. I emerged — looked about me — caught sight of your eminence — and naturally followed."

"Naturally!" the mullah snorted. "Did the door open naturally? The lock was smashed to atoms!"

"Yes. A poor lock and a good saber! Which way shall I carry your eminence's bundle — forward or toward home?"

The mullah eyed him, hesitating. He looked tired, and there was pain behind his eyes as if his head ached terribly; but none the less he was an antagonist too well-set-up and limber-looking to be tackled except as a last resource. Besides —

"I have no means of protecting you. Can you protect me if we march together?" asked the mullah.

But no wise man shows his weapons until he means to use them.

"We came thus far," King answered, smiling. "If Allah pleases — is the road much longer?"

The mullah decided on direct tactics. This was a crafty fellow, who could outwit craft. It would be waste of words to try cozening him.

"Tell me truly how you stand toward Mahommed Babar!" he demanded. "Are you his friend or his enemy? I charge you, answer the the truth, or the curse of Allah and of all His angels shall pursue you forever!"

King answered without a moment's hesitation.

"Mahommed Barbar is a friend of the Moplahs and of all who love liberty," he answered.

"And you?"

"I, too, am a friend of the Moplahs."

That was as direct an answer as a man may expect in a land that had studied evasiveness for seven thousand years.

"You spy on me on his behalf?" asked the mullah.

"I am his friend. And you?" King retorted.

The mullah made a virtue of necessity — an easy enough thing to do when you are a fatalist by profession. Believing in prayer and direct answer to prayer — failing any means to rid himself of this man — and having prayed repeatedly for guidance in the present difficult turn of affairs, the mullah considered himself guided accordingly. This sirdar must be a guide sent purposely by Allah.

"I am his good friend!" he answered. "It was I who placed in his hands the saber that you sharpened, in token of Allah's blessing. He hitched the saber on and has gone foraying."

They swung into step together and walked in silence for a mile or two, until the sun got down so low that all was deep gloom under the trees; and the monkeys chattered overhead quarreling about perches for the night.

"Where are we going?" King asked at last.

"Podanaram. But not tonight. Tomorrow. I go to find out what the Khalifate Committee says about our friend Mahommed Babar. The news had gone ahead of me; no need for us to hurry. We are near a place where we can spend the night."

From under the trees you can see the stars before the sun goes down, but dimly. It was just as the stars shone forth with full brilliancy that the mullah pushed King up a side path whose existence was concealed by a tree-trunk lying parallel with the main track.

"Most men are afraid of this place," he said. "Are you timid about devils?"

Suddenly the mullah turned aside again, and a dim light showed itself a hundred yards away at the end of the gut of gloom. A man was holding a lamp — one of those earthenware things like a saucer, with a lip to take the wick. They followed the light, and the man led the way into an ancient temple that was part cave, part masonry — a Hindu temple, very likely once Buddhist, now indubitably Moslem superficially. For the noses had been knocked off the images that lined the walls, and some parts of their anatomy were missing altogether.

"This man was a Hindu priest," said the mullah with a self-satisfied smirk, taking the lamp and shifting it this way and that so that King could have a good view of their host. "I circumcised him. He is grateful. He and I have been good friends ever since."

Strange that a man should feel grateful for being circumcised against his will, and for having his temple walls shorn of their beauty. King met the Hindu's eyes, and one of those intuitive flashes of intelligence passed between them as incomprehensible as ether and electricity, no more, no less. The Hindu offered them water, washed the mullah's feet, then King's, with the forlorn air of a man who has lost his caste forever; and then brought food, which he served on the temple floor. King sat thinking, saying nothing. The mullah patronized the ex-Hindu, tossing him insignificant scraps of news and asking questions.

At last the mullah wiped his beard and announced his intention of sleeping until an hour before dawn, when he expected to resume his journey. With a dumb glance in King's direction that implored him to stay where he was, the Hindu led the mullah away to some chamber in the rear and presently returned. He made a small fire of crossed sticks on the temple floor between himself and King, and sat before it, saying nothing until the mullah's snores came thundering and rasping through an open door. Then:

"You are a Hindu at heart!" said King, looking straight at him.

"You are a white man — English!" the Hindu answered.

"If that were true, would it mean anything to you?" King asked.

"Hope!" he replied, speaking English. "I had almost given up hope. My spirit said you are English. You are a secret agent of the Government — an officer, I think. If you stay here I can be useful to you after that mullah has gone in the morning. Can you think of an excuse?"

"Easily. My head is injured. But how can you be useful?"

"Listen, sahib. You are here to work against these Moplahs — is it not so? I would give my right hand, and my left hand — my feet, eyes, liver — and all my life for one real chance to do the Moplah cause an injury! I am a renegade outcast, without honor in this world or the next. Nothing is left for me but vengeance, and I crave that as a hungry man craves food. I could have slain this cursed mullah, but I yearn to do the whole Moplah brood an injury! That mullah thinks he is the only guest who uses this place, and his talk is forever of devils, to keep others away from here. Stay here, sahib, and you shall know all the reports that reach the Khalifate Committee. Only promise me — on your sacred honor, sahib — that you will use the information against the Moplahs!"

"They must be defeated," King answered.

He showed King a place to sleep, in a niche behind a great stone image, and lent him a pair of most unpriestly blankets. But King was not allowed to sleep much, either during that night or those that followed. What the snoring mullah fondly dreamed was his own private preserve turned out to be a secret meeting-place. Ex-Hindus who had been converted forcibly to Islam, losing caste so that return to their own religion was hopeless, as every suppressed people in the world has always done, had formed themselves into a secret society with passwords, signs, and countersigns. But they were much more deadly dangerous than most in that they eschewed murder and confined their activities to spying, hoping to know so much about the Moplah cause that they could some day ruin it with information laid in the proper quarter.

King was awakened about midnight to sit up behind the stone image and listen to a man whose brother was secretary to the self-appointed Khalifate Committee. They had had to make use of ex-Hindus because the number of Moplahs who can read and write is approximately zero. A few mullahs. A few headmen. A few of the sons of the wealthier land-owners. No Moplah wanted any such menial task, and the virtue of the ex-Hindu consisted in his being so utterly forlorn and spiritless as not to be dangerous to anyone — presumably.

He described the Committee's reception of the news of Mahommed Babar's coup d'etat. They had approved the idea of a leader who led; who rallied a village around him and started on a foray almost before his leadership had been confirmed; a soldier, who had training and experience. But they objected emphatically to a leader who preached observance of the rules of war. In perfect pantomime, and even mimicking the voices, the man described each member of the Committee's reaction to the news.

"And they will do something terrible to offset the preaching of Mahommed Babar," he prophesied before he left.

There was no danger of the mullah overhearing, even if his own snores had not rendered the feat impossible. There were some small boys, who appeared from nowhere in particular and sat on guard in the doorway of the mullah's chamber. If he had wakened the alarm would have been given.

Never more than one visitor entered the temple at a time. There was some means of signaling with the lamp that kept new arrivals at a distance until whoever was talking to the ex-priest took his leave. In that way none but the ex-priest received the news, and none could swear who his informant had been. There was almost no chance for treachery.

It was like being in the center of a well-laid system of wires. Not an hour of the night went by but someone brought news. Of a Moplah raid. Of a Hindu village burned. Of a British force entangled in the trees and badly cut up. Of a counter-attack and a Moplah retreat. The dates of events were confusing, but the particulars were clearly given, as if the informants had trained themselves determinedly.

News came, about fifteen minutes before the mullah snored his final blast and came out to pray noisily on the temple portico, of Mahommed Babar's night's adventure. He had burned the railway bridges over the most difficult section of the line, and had chased away a contingent of sappers who had been trying to make the track practicable for an armored train.

"But they stole no Hindu women, and burned no villages!" said the informant, as if that were much the most important part of the story.

The ex-priest told the mullah that King was delirious with fever, and the mullah was so little disturbed by the news that he did not even trouble to confirm it, mumbling only something about the devils of the place.

"I will call for him on my return," he said blandly. Then, accepting a handful of chupatties to break his fast with on the way, he stepped out into the cool, rustling darkness that precedes dawn.

Thereafter King slept in snatches, and was entertained in snatches. His host never once let him be seen by the men who brought information. That seemed to be the first and most strictly observed rule of all, that each was entitled to full secrecy and only the ex-priest should meet any informant face to face.

The Khalifate Committee aired their views rashly, considering that their servants were all forcible converts. Not even the General Staffs in France ever talked more incredibly loosely. Almost every argument and change of opinion reached King's ears within six hours of its expression by an irritated member of the Committee.

More and more their discussion raged around the subject of Mahommed Babar. Reports were so constantly and so cleverly turned in that King even got to know what policy was favored by which Committee-man, and who were the most consistent zealots of the nine.

By midnight of the second night the news had become fixed in an alarming groove, as disturbing to the ex-Hindus as to King himself.

"Many villages, some a long way off, are offering allegiance to Mahommed Babar, and to all he makes the stipulation that the rules of war shall be observed. The Committee desire outrages. They wish to force the British to make stern reprisals. They have sent their messengers in every direction, urging the contrary of what Mahommed Babar teaches, and now they have a worse plan. They desire to antagonize the British against Hindus and Moslems equally. Thereby they propose to torture and kill the two English prisoners — the Kadi and his memsahib — and to lay the blame to Hindu converts; the argument being that British soldiery will draw no distinction between Hindu or convert but will retaliate on all and sundry. Well handled, that would make a good story with which to goad the rest of India to rebellion."

"If that is their plan, why do they delay?" asked the ex-priest shrewdly cross-examining.

"Because they hope for more prisoners. They wish to perpetrate a thorough- going outrage that will madden the English to a pitch of frenzy."

King waited the whole of another day listening to the development of that plan, and then there came news that put an end to mere eavesdropping. It was time to move swiftly. The mullah had not returned, and there was no news of him; so King accepted the chupatties that were ever a symbol of action in the Hindu world, and set forth with a lean, half-naked boy, who knew the distant village where Mahommed Babar was.



CHAPTER 15
"That kind of talk is always true."

The mullah, returning from Podanaram, avoided the temple where he had left King, reasoning that if, as was likely enough, the sirdar should escape, the ex-priest would be blamed for it. For himself, he had troubles enough without any added difficulty of making explanations to Mahommed Babar.

He returned to his own village in doubt about Mahommed Babar. The Khalifate Committee head decided to throw their whole influence against him. Choosing the weaker of two sides was not the mullah's guiding principle, and he would have cheerfully given the amount of a year's stipend for sure, prophetic knowledge as to which of the rival influences would prevail.

As a Moslem and a mullah, he could hardly disapprove a plan to murder a couple of foreign infidels, if the cause of Islam was to be gained by it. What did prisoners expect? They would be lucky not to be tortured as well as murdered. Nevertheless, the project scared him. In the long run the British always had been victorious. It would be unpleasant to be hanged. Vastly safer to have an alibi. If Mahommed Babar were really strong enough to prevail against the Khalifate Committee, undoubtedly the best plan would be to notify Mahommed Babar of the project. He could manage that without the Khalifate Committee learning of his "discretion," as he described it to himself, because he had promised them to return to his village and spy on Mahommed Babar. But he must have a witness, otherwise the double play would be no use. He must be able to prove, in the contingency of British victory, that he used his influence against the murder of European prisoners.

It was in that frame of mind that he approached his village near nightfall. The village was almost empty of inhabitants, excepting women and children, who, however, were creating a prodigious disturbance at the foot of the hill, where the one street entered the jungle. He hurried downhill to investigate, and was met by Ommony on pony-back, who knew him slightly, and whom he knew very well indeed by reputation.

"You step down opportunely out of Allah's lap," said Ommony by way of greeting. "Save these men's lives, will you? This is a British officer. These are three of his men. The remainder were killed in the jungle, while marching behind me under flag of truce — a bad mistake! Now these idiots of women want to kill the rest of them."

"Where are you going?" asked the mullah.

"To Podanaram."

The mullah thumbed his beads in secret recognition of the wondrous ways of Allah, and launched forth a string of abuse that sent the women homeward. That left some half-dozen old men and cripples, and four or five armed youths who for one reason or another had not accompanied the raiders. The mullah gave Linkinyear and the three men into their charge. Ommony protested. The mullah excused himself, but was adamant. He said it would cause a bad impression in the village if he acted otherwise, but invited Ommony, as a favored individual, to come to the mosque with him and talk the situation over.

Ommony yielded the point temporarily, knowing from experience how vastly easier it is to conduct an argument without an audience. Linkinyear did his best to look cheerful, and encouraged his three remaining men by sitting down beside them, ignoring rank over their protests. The mullah took Ommony's stirrup uphill, and the four Moplahs who had been lent by the chief for an escort took to their heels incontinently. Ommony tied the pony to a tree outside the mosque, and a jungli, whom no one had noticed hitherto, came and sat in the dust beside the animal. The mullah led the way around the mosque and through a gap in the fence into the room whence King had cut his way out with a saber. The door had not been repaired.

"If your honor will be seated, I will find my servant."

Ommony raised no objection. Unless your host in those parts commits himself to some extent by supplying food and drink you have small chance of gaining your point. He sat down on the bed and pulled out a cigar — paused — lighted it — smoked — smoked the whole of it. His host was gone more than half an hour, yet it was not politic to arouse suspicion by betraying it.

Meanwhile the mullah went into the mosque and sat there. He wanted time to think. He took off his turban and pressed his temples between both hands. Put on the turban again and knelt in prayer. Laid his forehead on the mosque floor — then rose and beat his forehead with his fists. Went out and found his servant, but suddenly changed his mind about what he had meant to say. Abused him roundly for looking like a fool, to the shame of his Creator, and then coaxed him, begging him to be discreet. Ordered him into the mosque. Ordered him out again. Called him back. Made him squat down before him. Warned him how Allah is omnipresent — omniscient — knows, hears, sees all things and reads men's hearts. Bound the servant to secrecy by half a score inviolable oaths — and then sent him downhill to tell the whole party who were standing guard over the prisoners to march all four of them away at once to Padanaram, and to bring him an answer.

The answer came back in the shape of a protesting Moplah, who accompanied the servant and demanded to know whether they were to march through the jungle by night. Was the whole world crazy all at once? The mullah told the servant to say yes. The other refused indignantly, because of the danger. The mullah cursed him; then cursed and coaxed alternately; then coaxed — through the mosque door. They compromised. The prisoners were to be taken out of the village immediately, sleep wherever there was shelter, hurry on to Padanaram at dawn. Praise Allah! The mullah had not compromised himself. He could claim afterward that he had sent the prisoners along, or that he had not. None had seen him talking through the mosque door, except the servant; he could beat him.

He returned to Ommony, who was pacing the room restlessly — had to go out again, however, because he had forgotten in the excitement to tell his servant to bring food. Came back again and sat down rather humbly on the floor in front of Ommony.

"And now, O Father of the Forest, let us seek to oblige each other," he suggested.

"Have you ordered food for that officer and his men?" Ommony demanded.

"That is what took this long while. It was necessary to see the food was suitable. It has been done."

He described in considerable detail the ingredients and condiments that had gone into the imaginary stew, whereat Ommony professed himself satisfied. Ommony began to explain the situation in detail, dwelling on the baseness of murdering unarmed men who came carrying white flags. He told why they were coming. He, Ommony, had consented to the expedition for no reason whatever except to save the Moplahs from consequences that inevitably must ensue if they should murder those two prisoners at Padanaram.

The mullah grew nervous again. He suggested that the consequences might not be so serious. Ommony disabused his mind. After the British victory, which must come sooner or later, the defeated Moplahs would be falling over one another to denounce the authors of every outrage, and nothing would be easier than for the British to identify culprits, who would be hanged after trial and conviction.

The mullah became very nervous indeed. Ommony pointed out that foreigners from other parts of India, who might look just at present like responsible people, would undoubtedly try to run away before the end came, leaving the Moplahs to shoulder the consequences.

The mullah, more nervous than ever, excused himself to go and see why the food was so long coming — actually to find his servant and countermand the order about taking those prisoners to Podanaram. But he could not find the servant. He had to get another man to make tea for his guest, and by the time that came at last it was after sunset.

"Where are my friends going to sleep?" demanded Ommony.

The mullah professed not to know. By that time he was too jumpy to invent a workable lie on the spur of a moment. Ommony insisted on finding out where they were to sleep; invited the mullah to accompany him, but threatened to go alone and investigate otherwise. Not knowing exactly what excuse to make, but hoping for something to turn up, the mullah took a lantern and followed him out, taking the lead as they passed through the gap in the fence and drew abreast of the mosque portico.

There a man ran into them — cannoned off the mullah in the dark and nearly upset Ommony. He was heaving — sweating — did not smell like a native of Madras — and Ommony's nose was jungle keen. The man collapsed on the portico, gasping for breath. Ommony took the lantern from the mullah and, stooping to see who had come in all that haste, looked into the face of Athelstan King!

"Oh, hello!" he said. "'Lo, Cot!"

Ommony and the mullah picked him up between them and supported him into the mosque, where Ommony kicked his boots off as a concession to the mullah's prejudices.

"Thought you were dead," he said, smiling at King in the dancing, dim lantern light.

"That was guesswork, Cot, not thinking! Is it true—" He lay down a minute, still panting for breath, then sat up again. "Sorry. Ran uphill. Is it true you had an officer and three men with you? Women said so. Why d'you let 'em take 'em to Podanaram?"

Ommony's lower jaw dropped a trifle as he turned on the mullah, that was all. The mullah recognized a crisis and proceeded to use his natural weapon.

"This person is an English spy, for he speaks English!" he announced. "You — you had our confidence! I will denounce you both!"

"Man without brains or hope of life eternal!" exclaimed King in the vernacular. "I come from Mahommed Babar, who now has four hundred followers. He cares nothing for mullahs — all for his friends! He is within a march of here."

The mullah chewed the cud on that a minute, then nodded and got up to leave the mosque.

"Sit down there!" commanded Ommony, who, however, had no weapon.

The mullah reached into the folds of his clothes for his own rusty Mauser — hearing a low whistle and, turning, found himself looking down the barrel of King's little automatic.

"Give me your weapon, and sit down!" ordered Ommony. The mullah obeyed in both particulars.

"I was scratching myself," he explained. "I wasn't going to use that."

"Allah's own truth!" agreed Ommony. "It wouldn't have gone off. Here, take it."

The mullah stored the Mauser away again with an air of drawing comfort from it nevertheless.

"We've got to do something quick!" said King. He tapped the mullah's knee with an arresting finger. "It is not too late for you to put yourself right! We are men worth making friends of, Ommony and I. Can you bring that officer and his men back here at once?"

"I don't know where they are," said the mullah impotently.

Ommony gave King a brief account of how they had come, King interjecting short, quick questions, which Ommony answered in the same laconic code. Then:

"Every prisoner in Podanaram, including Judge Wilmshurst and his wife, is going to be tortured and murdered!" King announced. "Some talk of making it a public exhibition. The majority favors doing it in secret and showing the bodies afterward from village to village — commit 'em as accessories — encourage further outrage — offset the influence of Mahommed Babar, who preaches decency and enforces it."

"Better get word to him," Ommony suggested.

"I've just come from him. Strange fellow. Had a long talk. Seems it was we who drove him to rebellion. Yes, you and I, Cot! 'Member when we shot Shere Ali? 'Member how he flinched, or seemed to? Swears he didn't. Swears he stepped back to tempt the brute, and had perfect confidence in us. When he saw the look on our faces he knew he wasn't one of us and never would be! That's his version of it. Says we thought him a coward, and he didn't care to argue."

"That kind of talk is always true," said Ommony. "A liar would have invented something plausible."

"I tried to get him interested in Mr. and Mrs. Wilmshurst; heard all about them in a temple where this mullah left me. Mahommed Babar said he was sorry for Mrs. Wilmshurst, hardly interested in the judge, and busy in any event. True, too. Really is busy. They're flocking to his standard in scores by the hour. Then there came a rumor about you and a party of British soldiers surrounded and cut up in the jungle."

"Mahommed Babar didn't believe a word of it — gave me leave to live — said he will always consider himself my friend — and hinted that the interview was over. I came hurrying here to investigate the rumor about you and soldiers. It's bad, Cot. Rotten. What are we going to do?"

"I can go to Podanaram," suggested Ommony.

"Worse and worse! They'd kill you out of hand, and impale your head to prove all hell's loose! No. Think of something else. This mullah. What about him? He cooked the goose. Can he uncook it?"

Ommony considered the mullah for a moment.

"He has points. He has points," he answered. "I wouldn't trust him out of my sight."

"D'you know where Mahommed Babar is?" asked King, and the mullah nodded.

Both King and Ommony considered in silence for several minutes. Each kept looking at the other. The same idea was dawning in both minds and the mullah recognized the birth of a force that would sweep him he knew not whither.

"I have been a friend to both of you — to both of you!" he muttered.

"Do you understand that the murder of those prisoners must be stopped?" King demanded at last.

The mullah nodded. He would have agreed to almost anything, but he seemed convinced of that.

"If we promise to report to the authorities that you did so, are you willing to use your influence to prevent those people from being tortured and killed?"

"In the name of the Lord of Mercies, yes."

"You realize that Mahommed Babar has forbidden outrage from the first? Good. As a mullah you have influence with his men? Good. If you go and argue with his men that this outrage at Padanaram must be prevented, he cannot accuse you of being in opposition to him, can he? Better and better. Go and do that. Go with Ommony sahib. If you do your work cleverly, when Mahommed Babar tells his men that this crime at Padanaram must be prevented, they will have been convinced already. They will obey with alacrity. Small time will be wasted. Will you do that?"

"Better let me go alone," the mullah answered, ever on the alert for a chance to switch plans undetected. Then suddenly he recalled an earlier thought that, he must have a witness if his alibi was to be the least use. "No. No. It is good. I will go with Ommon-ee."

King shut both fists in a characteristic gesture. "As you suggested; keep him in sight, Cot. I'm off to Podanaram — now — tonight — no argument. Arrive as soon after dawn as I can make it. Will you lend me your pony? Have to take a chance on leopards."

"Take the pony certainly. But what when you get there?" asked Ommony.

"Surrender, of course — tell 'em I'm an Englishman. They'll add me to the list for auto-da-fe. You tell Mahommed Babar where I am. Say I sent you. Don't say anything about his father and mine, but say as regards that tiger incident I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt."

"You think—"

"I know! Has the pony been fed?"

"He has. And there's a jungli who can get you by the leopards," answered Ommony.



CHAPTER 16
"Tomorrow a big victory!"

Although it lacked two hours of dawn, the roar amid the trees was like the din of a city. In a clearing, partly natural and partly new — hewn, the watch-fires threw sparks that would have set Ommony's heart on fire, but more by luck than arrangement the dry trees had not caught. There was a glow over the tree-tops, and a great din where the blacksmith labored, so that from half a mile away it might have looked like a Titan's forge. Only it would have been very risky for strangers to come within a mile, because of the pickets who guarded every negotiable track.

Mahommed Babar had done with indecision. He walked resolutely from one fire to the next addressing scant words to the men who cleaned their weapons by the blaze or merely awoke from slumber to greet him as he went by. No need to listen to what he said. His attitude — with a great old-fashioned saber slung from his shoulder by a modern Sam Browne belt; the reception he received; the air of alert expectancy he left behind him — all were perfectly eloquent. Nevertheless, the words, being the expression of the spirit in him, were important.

"Tomorrow a big victory! Obedience, remember — wait for the word — leave loot to the jackals — be tigers! Be proud! Seek nothing but to conquer in fair fight — and the rest is sure! You shall have a victory tomorrow, and then forward to another one!"

As savages will, they turned his words over and over by one fire, while he strode to the next, where someone would stir the sleepers and they would all sit up and grunt at him.

"They conquered India by discipline — by obedience to orders — by fighting fair and not establishing resentment. When they take prisoners they treat them well, caring for the wounded. Do ye so likewise. In no other way can ye win freedom."

He had the fiery eye and carriage of a man of action — looked like a fighting man — and yet refrained from foaming at the mouth and calling on God to curse whoever disagreed with him. Which, if they did not analyze, they at least appreciated. He told them at another fire how he had thrown his all, including life, into the scale. They might trust him to do his best for them.

"There are others who urge you to outrage now, who will run from the first sign of disaster. You will find me with you to the end, whatever that may be!"

By one fire a fellow sneered openly, demanding what hope of profit had brought him from the North to claim leadership.

"I fight for all India," he answered. "I forbid rape and murder, and you hate me. But I tell you, it is only by such fighting as I permit that you can win freedom and set India free!"

The idea of setting India free was a brand-new one to most of them. If he left an excellent impression, it was much like a ship's wake that prevails but seldom long. There were men who followed him surreptitiously from fire to fire, undoing his words, reversing them, pouring scorn on them, quoting the Koran in evidence that it is right to murder infidels of all sorts.

"He says that he will be with us to the end, but that is talk. Watch him! He will leave us in the lurch. Even tomorrow, possibly. The Khalifate Committee speak ill of him. They say he is paid by Hindus to protect their property and lives. It is hinted that he serves the British. If that were so, that might explain why he insists on treating prisoners so tenderly! Turn that thought over in your minds, my brothers! Victory tomorrow? For whom? For himself doubtless!"

He had no other means of thwarting the discontented element than that he took, constantly moving about and appealing to the spirit of the others. He had hardly had time to surround himself with a group of loyalists, hand picked, really to be depended on, although he had done his best along that line. Over by his tent, which was a tarpaulin spread over branches, his more or less inner guard waited for him. When he approached they showed him a good deal of deference; but that was not in necessarily every instance more than their way of excusing themselves for accepting his leadership. To obey him and not appear to respect him would have been to make themselves ridiculous.

The bonfire in front of a tarpaulin was his G.H.Q. Thither the runners came, bringing messages from the out-thrown intelligence units — spies, the enemy called them — scouts, they called themselves — experts unquestionably. Mahommed Babar sat down on a log with his saber across his knees, and two runners who had been waiting for him stood up to tell their story.

"The British work their way along the railway line. They toil by night, with great oil-burning lamps that roar exceedingly. Where the bridges are broken they use timber very cunningly. Soldiers guard the workers with machine-guns, and a tee-rain follows fifty paces at a time as fast as the rails are laid." Another took up the tale from another angle.

"They push supplies along the mended line — heavily guarded — food and ammunition for a thousand men perhaps—"

"Perhaps!" agreed Mahommed Babar with a dry nod. "They have no thousand men. Two hundred men in five days eat as much as a thousand men in one."

"They come fast, sahib! It is better we oppose them now."

"Let them come!" he answered.

Some of the men around the fire caught one another's eyes at that. One of them tendered advice;

"But, sahib, if we let them come too far there are others who will pounce on them and get the loot. We are not the only armed men in the woods."

"We are the wise men of the woods!" he answered. "Let others fight them. We will cut their line of communications when the time comes. They will be obliged to surrender. The more well-treated prisoners we have, the easier it will be to make satisfactory terms. What we must do is to defeat, not aggravate."

"Sahib, they say you have a purpose in holding us back."

"I have a purpose."

"They say a private purpose."

"None who believes that need follow me."

There began to be a fairly obvious division of his adherents into two. Perhaps a third of them believed their own advantage lay in supporting him as long, at least, as success might seem to attend his methods. Two-thirds proposed to use him for their own ends, and, if he would not be used, either to force his hand or else cast him off.

"We fighting men came to find a leader. You show us words and dalliance," one man grumbled.

"The woods are already full of loot, but the others have it all. Where is ours?" said another.

"Listen!" said a third. "There is a Hindu shroff who has fled to Calicut, but his house lies yonder, half a day's march. Once he lent me a little money. Three times with the aid of the notes I signed he took away all I had, and he claims that I still owe him more than he originally lent me. Lead to that man's village! Let me see the burning of his whole property! Thereafter you may lead me where you will!"

Mahommed Babar got to his feet, rested his hands on the saber in front of him, and met the gaze of every man in turn. The firelight shone in his eyes, and the most inexpert guesser might have known that even his Oriental patience was near exhaustion.

"How many times shall I tell you I am no man's agent?" he demanded. He spoke through his teeth, spitting the words at them. "I lead, or I do not lead."

"Very well, lead on!" retorted someone from just beyond the zone of light. "Thus far you have only led on little forays. We will give you until an hour after dawn to lead us against this big force that comes along the railway. Defeat that for us — lead us to all that loot — and we will follow you from here to the sea and plunder Calicut and give you all the richest gems in the city!"

That was short notice. The stars were already paling. A considerable murmur of applause greeted the last speaker, and before Mahommed Babar could reply another runner came, announcing that Moplahs to the north and westward wanted to know at what hour the attack on the railway repairing party should begin. He was answered in chorus.

"An hour after dawn! Mahommed Babar will lead us then or sooner!"

Somebody hustled the messenger out of the light-zone and sent him away on the run to deliver his answer. Other men by the bivouac fires began passing the word along, and the enthusiasm leaped from fire to fire until the whole clearing roared the news, and the men in the outer ring of Mahommed Babar's circle smiled.

Another word began passing from lip to lip among the shadows. "Now we shall see! He says he will be with us to the end. They say he will run from real danger. We shall know within an hour or two."

That was such obviously good leverage that the inner circle caught it up and used it.

"Now deeds may answer words and all will know that you are not paid by the enemy to save their lives and property!"

There was nothing indecisive in his answer. He drew his saber with a jerk of the wrist that made the fine steel thrum.

"It is good!" he answered. "Ye shall have your way! An hour after dawn I will lead against the British force — and by the holy blood of martyrs ye shall rub your noses into the worst of it! I will pistol the man who flinches! Headmen! — jemadars! — join your parties — inspect weapons — see the men are fed — be ready!"

In a moment he was almost alone by the fire, standing, staring rather gloomily in front of him, angry because he knew he was being forced into a mistake, yet seeing no way out of it. True, he might snatch a victory, but it would be costly and worth nothing. If he could only hold them back he knew he could accomplish something worthwhile, at almost no cost in life at all.

Well, there was nothing else for it; he must establish his reputation, on which authority must rest. He was turning to eat the food that a servant brought when another messenger arrived.

"A sahib comes!"

"A sahib? What sahib? You are crazy!"

But the sahib, walking swiftly and followed by a weary mullah, arrived almost as soon as the messenger.

"Don't shoot, Mahommed Babar!" said the sahib's good-humored voice. "I'm Ommony."



CHAPTER 17
"I am a rebel."

The door of the priest's chamber in the temple of Padanaram opened suddenly and they thrust a man in so violently that he stumbled and fell over the recumbent body of a soldier who lay asleep on the stone floor. There were only two cots. One was occupied by Mrs. Wilmshurst.

"Is this to be another Black Hole of Calcutta?" she complained.

The suggestion was absurd. It was a good, large, airy room for one thing. The sun was already above the trees outside and flooded the room through a large window set high in the wall, through which escape might almost have been possible, for there was no glass — no bars. Only, one did not know what was outside, and the judge was neither active nor adventurous. The soldier acquiesced, dog-weary, and knowing what they knew.

The judge had lent his cot for a few hours to Linkinyear, who sat up and stared.

"Oh, are we to have natives in here?" asked Mrs. Wilmshurst in the identical tone of voice that has made most of the trouble between the East and West.

The man recovered himself, apologized to the soldier, and faced Mrs. Wilmshurst's cot, on which she lay clothed, languidly fanning herself.

"Pardon the interruption, but they threw me in here," he explained.

"Oh well — if you couldn't help it, I suppose—"

"I could have helped it all right," he answered.

By that time they were all staring at him — judge, Linkinyear, three privates of the line, and Mrs. Wilmshurst — puzzled principally by the excellence of his English.

"Oh — beg pardon! I forgot. My name's King. Traveling incog, that's all."

"Not Major King — whom I met at Poona?" Mrs. Wilmshurst would have used her lorgnon if she had had one. "Mr. Ommony's friend? Well, I never! You look as if you need a bath. Sorry we can't oblige you."

"Well, well!" her husband exclaimed, stepping forward to shake hands. "At least we're safe then! The famous Athelstan King—"

"Not in the least safe," King interrupted. "Has anybody tried that window? Backs, please."

Two of Linkinyear's men stood face to the wall, and King climbed on to their shoulders. One glance through the window was sufficient.

"Not at all safe. Small yard — high wall — jungle. Two men with rifles on the wall, and probably others on the temple roof. Impracticable."

"What then?" the judge asked. "Why are you here? You say you could have helped it?"

"Heard you were all here, so came and surrendered to the Khalifate Committee. They were delighted, of course."

"Goodness gracious! Why didn't you run the other way and bring some help?" Mrs. Wilmshurst asked indignantly. "If the authorities knew we were here they'd—"

"No time," King assured her. She was right in her diagnosis. He was not a lady's man. "We're to be murdered. High noon today. Bodies disgustingly mutilated, before death or afterward — then placed on view — excite the Moplahs. Murder will be secret. Afterwards they'll advertise it. Scheme is to persuade Moplahs to go in for frightfulness wholesale."

"Oh, my God!" said Mrs. Wilmshurst. "What do they kill you with? Knives?"

"Pardon me, old top, but have you a weapon of any kind?" asked Linkinyear.

"Sorry. No. Had a pistol, but they searched me rather thoroughly just now," King answered.

"How do you know that is their intention?" asked the judge. "Perhaps they were only threatening you on purpose to terrify—"

"Oh no. You see, I didn't tell them who I was at first. They mistook me for a friend. Told everything. It was after that that I mentioned my real name and nationality, and of course then there was nothing to do but kill me or throw me in here. Mean minutes while they decided that point!"

"But, my dear man — that was quixotic, wasn't it? Outside, and incognito, there was surely always a chance in a thousand to help save us, whereas—"

"Whereas inside I've an even chance," King interrupted. "Cot Ommony has gone for help to a friend of mine, who has influence and some backing. He can't refuse to rescue me — at least, I hope not. He won't, if I know him. The risk is he may be overruled by the men about him. And, of course, he may arrive too late. I'd say the chance was fifty-fifty."

Mrs. Wilmshurst got up and paced the floor, trying to master herself. Her husband began to offer sympathy, a little clumsily but kindly. She shook him off.

"I tell you what," she said suddenly. "We ought to pray. Let's all pray. Do you hear me?"

They heard, but none responded. She returned to her cot to lie down and pray by herself.

"What do you say they kill you with? Knives?" she asked. "Oh, my God!"

King entered into details, in particular about the Khalifate Committee, whose prisoners they were.

"Moplahs are decent savages. That Committee are devils," he insisted. "All they're playing for is ructions, north, south, east, and west. Bag them, and this Moplah business might be over in a month or two."

"Why discuss that? They've bagged us!" said the judge with a wry smile.

"Oh, my God! I can't remember any prayers!" said Mrs. Wilmshurst. "Which of you knows a prayer?"

One of the privates did, and volunteered to prove it. Mrs. Wilmshurst welcomed him and they knelt against the cot, one on either side.

"Can't we stage a show of some kind?" wondered Linkinyear. "We might stand by the door and swat them as they come through — swat or scrag them. Kill a few before they snaffle us. The hell of it is they'll get the beldame anyhow. If I'd a gun—"

"Come and listen, Lu!" Mrs. Wilmshurst called to her husband. "This man prays beautifully! He has made me cry already! Come here at once!"

The judge went and sat on the end of the cot, listening with a rather puzzled look. He might have been hearing a witness in a rare language.

"If Mahommed Babar comes too late," said King, "there's this — perhaps we couldn't have used our lives to better advantage."

"How so?" demanded Linkinyear. "I'd rather take mine with the damage I'd done all in full view around me!"

"It might be the last of this Committee," King answered. "The sight of us all dead may arouse Mahommed Babar to the—"

There came a kick against the door. It opened slightly. There was a noise of scuffling, and it closed again.

"There! Someone's coming to the rescue! There! That comes of praying!" exclaimed Mrs. Wilmshurst, getting off her knees. The door opened wide. A man in a khaki shirt and pants, without much else on, was hurled in backward and the door slammed shut.

"There? Is that your Mahommed Babar?"

It was Cotswold Ommony, flat on his back. King helped him to his feet.

"'Lo, Cot!"

"'Lo, Athelstan!"

"Any prospect?"

"None whatever!"

"How did you come so quickly?"

"Borrowed his horse. When I gave him your message he was eating chupatties, standing in front of his tent. He went on eating.

"'My friend King sahib asks more than he knows,' he answered. 'You speak of the benefit of doubt. Whose doubt?'"

"'Your own,' I said. 'He has no doubt of you.'"

"He looked me in the face for about a minute after that. You know the way he strokes his beard, standing with his legs apart? He looked pretty much like a man, with an old-fashioned saber he's dug up from somewhere. I liked him. I hope he realized it."

"'No time to waste,' I said. 'This is post-haste or nothing!'"

"'You shall see what you shall see,' he answered, and began shouting for some of the headmen. They came running.

"'These are some of my most loyal,' he told me, and then began explaining to them what was wanted.

"You never saw such a riot! They turned on him like wild dogs. Accused him of treason. Said he had promised to lead 'em against troops on the railway line, and led they would be or else teach him what became of traitors! The mullah was down among the men already, playing his part, but some of the headmen ran and gave their version, and if it hadn't been for a half-dozen stalwarts they'd have scoughed Mahommed Babar there and then. Several men took shots at him. He strode in among them like a man and a brother. Good to watch."

"It turned their hearts like eggs on a skillet. They shifted the blame on me — said I'd come there to corrupt him. I became the target. Nine or ten of them missed me beautifully. He managed to control them for a moment somehow, and gave me his pony to escape on. Told me to cut and run back to my bungalow, where I'd be safe. I came here, of course, hoping my influence might have weight, but I'm worse than useless. The Committee told me point-blank they would rather cut my throat than anyone's, because of the effect on the country-side. They stripped me of nearly everything and pitched me in here, but I kicked two of them in the belly — hard! — before they got my boots!"

"What time is it?" King asked.

"Oh, about half-past ten — quarter to eleven — somewhere there. They took my watch. Not an earthly chance of Mahommed Babar's making it, even if he decides to and they let him come."

"Any one know any hymns?" asked Mrs. Wilmshurst. "I can hum tunes, but who knows the words of a hymn?"

Ommony did. They say in the woods that Ommony knows everything. He not only could sing hymns, but he could put that peculiar verve into them that distinguishes faith from mere habit of say-so. When Ommony hymned you knew somehow that God, Allah, Jehovah, Elohim, Maheshwara — it, he, they all are one! — was in heaven, and all was well with the world, at least in principle! You could believe it as long as he kept on singing, beating time with hand, foot, shoulders, head — sometimes with all his body. Captain of unexpectedness, he knew psalms — could sing them, too!

It takes time to roll out those stately meters. It may have been nearly noon when the door opened and a voice called:

"Come out, one at a time! Mr. Ommon-ee first!"

They half-closed the door again from the outside. It was impossible to see who waited. They intended to kill quickly, one by one, or else they were few out there and did not feel confident.

"We'll soon see," said Ommony, and walked out before the others could raise a hand to prevent him.

"Follow up?" whispered Linkinyear. One of those stage whispers that can penetrate stone walls and be heard through the talkie-talk of siege guns. He led; King was next; the others herded Mrs. Wilmshurst in between them; and they all surged for the door — which, however, was slammed in their faces.

"When they open again let me go first," said Mrs. Wilmshurst. "They won't dare offer violence to a woman."

"Ladies last!" King answered over his shoulder.

"Pig! Ill-mannered boor!" she retorted, and they all laughed. When the door opened again — just a little — very cautiously — they rushed it in a scrum all together, but failed of their purpose. Someone on the far side had forestalled them by placing a beam so that the door could only open wide enough to pass one person at a time. Linkinyear disappeared through the opening as if sucked through by a vacuum. The door shut suddenly — opened again and King felt his neck in a noose. He could not step back to avoid it because of Mrs. Wilmshurst, who pressed forward from behind. He was hauled through choking, and the door was once more slammed.

Young Linkinyear was already stripped to the waist and tied with his hands behind one of the fluted temple pillars. Three men were holding and tying Ommony when King was dragged in, and they tied him next. There were only nine of the enemy.

"The whole of the Khalifate Committee," said Ommony, "and only nine to our eight! If only we had known!"

One of the three who were tying him struck him on the mouth. The Committee's smallest, meanest, most self-assertive member nodded pleasantly at that, examined King's thin rope and struck it a few times with the edge of his hand to make sure that it bit into the flesh, and then took charge of proceedings, giving orders without any suggestion of sharing authority with others. He was the whole raise — the works — the brains — the up-to-date Napoleon.

"Now there are only four men and a woman in there. Draw your pistols. Stand by the door. Open it wide. Let them come through. If the soldiers make any resistance, shoot them, for they don't matter much."

The first man through was one of the three privates. He charged in with his fists clenched, ready to do battle with the universe. But a Hindu tripped him as he went by. Another noosed him as he lay prone, and dragged him, strangling, to one of the pillars, where he had no difficulty in tying him single-handed — passing the rope around the pillar and kicking his victim until he stood upright — then choking him helpless with one hand while he roped the man's arms with the other.

The second soldier through was knocked more or less unconscious by a pistol-butt, so that he, too, was easily tied in place by one man. The third soldier pulled judge Wilmshurst and his wife back into the room.

"Come on in, ye devils, and fight like men if ye can!" he challenged, striking his Lancashire fighting attitude, which holds feet as well as hands ready.

Instead of going in they sent a bullet. He fell forward, and his brains spread in a way that made Mrs. Wilmshurst scream. But that was the last exhibition she made of any kind of weakness. The judge took his wife by the hand, kissed her, and they walked through together. Once through the door they were seized, dragged apart, and tied like the others, the judge at one end and his wife at the other next to Linkinyear. Linkinyear, with a rope cutting into his wrists, called on all that was left of his lone command to act like men, and they responded by telling Mrs. Wilmshurst to "Cheer up, ma'am, and not be down-'earted!" Whereat she laughed and called them darlings. Her own wrists were in agony, but she said nothing about that.

There were twenty pillars supporting a dome. Six more were missing — had been knocked out and carried off by Moslems — and it was a marvel that the dome had not collapsed. The gap thus caused faced the temple door, which, nevertheless, was only dimly discernible in the gloom. The prisoners had been tied to the pillars directly facing the gap, so that when the door opened the light shone directly in their faces. On the right also, only dimly discernible beyond the pillars, was a blank wall with a huge image at either end and a long stone bench between the two. Eight of the Committee went and sat on that bench, while a ninth opened the door to look out on the temple portico.

A vicious-looking rascal stood out there with his back to the door, but turned and saluted.

"Remember," warned the Committee-man, "if anybody comes, rap loudly and give us ample warning!"

He spoke Hindustanee, the lingua franca. They all did. Among nine Committee-men there were five races and three creeds, and they could not have understood each other or their servants in any other tongue.

"All is well," said the ninth, joining the others on the stone bench.

The Moplah chairman no longer sat in the midst but at the far end. The place of importance was occupied by Aurung Ali, the little, self-important man. He was the only one who looked quite comfortable, lolling back against the wall with his hands folded in his lap contentedly.

"Well, your honor judge Wilmshurst," he began sarcastically, "I believe the pleasure of recognition is mutual, eh? I recall you were in no hurry when you sentenced me to twenty years' imprisonment. I will be equally patient and provoking! We are all going to enjoy ourselves thoroughly in secret session. Isn't it nice!"

He said that in English; then to the Committee in Hindustanee:

"Now you understand. The evidence of torture cannot be applied to a body successfully after death. It must be done, painstakingly, while they are living. I will not have them killed too soon. There must be proof, positive and convincing, that they were done to death miserably. This is an opportunity of a lifetime to inaugurate a reign of reprisal and counter-reprisal that will last until India is aflame from end to end! Now, who has a pistol?"

They all had. They produced them, thinking he wished that. He cackled meaningly.

"There you are! You produce them much too readily! You will use them too readily!"

"I say, shoot them first!" said a rather fat man, shifting his legs nervously. "Only Moplahs will see the bodies afterwards. They have no professional coroners. We can say they were tortured, and they will believe it. I am against this business of torturing."

"You mean, I suppose, that your brain has become as fat and flabby as your stomach! Idiot! We must take great care that the bodies fall into British hands! What would be the use of inflaming the passion of one side, without a corresponding hatred on the other?"

"We can easily make marks on them with a hot iron directly after death — almost the same second. None would ever know the difference," the other objected.

"No! Look here, you're going to spoil everything! Lay down your pistols, all of you! Lay them on the bench! Look — see — there is mine! To hear you talk you might be a lot of Gandhis preaching non-violence! Now, no backing out of this! We were all agreed. You must all commit yourselves. Each of you must lend a hand and torture somebody. Take your knives, and somebody bring the hot coal. Leave Mrs. Wilmshurst to me — I am sure the judge would rather have it that way!"

They obeyed him, laying their pistols on the bench, and in proof that it was fear and not compunction that had made him flinch it was the fat man who went at once to drag a glowing charcoal brazier out from behind one of the stone images. The remainder chose their victims with a businesslike air, Aurung Ali bowing sarcastically to Mrs. Wilmshurst.

"I want you to watch this, judge!" he said pleasantly, moving toward the brazier to choose an iron.

Not one of the prisoners said a word. Each stared at the devil in front of him. Each devil fingered a long knife, hesitating even yet to begin the abominable business.

"Now watch!" said Aurung Ali, whirling a hot iron.

But his movement was arrested by a quiet tap on the temple door from outside. Every member of the Committee turned and faced the door as if Nemesis had already entered.

"Go on, go on!" exclaimed Aurung Ali. "That is nothing. I ordered him to knock loud for danger. This is some minor matter. I will go and see."

He walked to the door, after thrusting the iron back in the fire to keep it hot, and drew the bolt back gingerly. The instant the edge of the bolt was clear the door was burst in violently, and the dead body of the man who had been left on guard was flung in like a sack, knocking Aurung Ali backward half-way across the temple floor. The blazing light of full noon shone in like a sunburst, and in the midst of that stood Mahommed Babar, with the mullah, haggard and red-eyed, behind him. Mahommed Babar held a pistol in each hand. There was nothing to be gained by moving. He stood there, summing up the situation, for about thirty seconds — then spoke to the mullah without turning his head. The mullah went to the stone bench and gathered all the pistols off it into his lap.

"This comes of hymns and praying!" announced Mrs Wilmshurst. The soldier who had prayed with her was dead, but that thought did not occur until afterward.

"If you would kindly cut our thongs, Mahommed Babar," said King, "we could—"

But he left the mullah to do that. Without answering King, he spoke again over his shoulder, and someone closed the temple door behind him. In the sudden change from light to gloom it was difficult to see, but none could mistake the sound of the saber licking from its scabbard, or the thrum as he wristed it to the attack.

It was then that Aurung Ali went mad and charged Mahommed Babar with a hot iron, upsetting all the charcoal on his way and screaming in the last frenzy of fear. There was a sudden swish and thud, and Aurung Ali's head rolled to Ommony's feet, where it lay mouthing at him.

Then panic seized the rest, and they pursued the mullah from shadow to shadow, from pillar to pillar, from corner to door. The mullah shook the pistol chambers empty as he ran and then threw away the weapons. They fought for the empty weapons, and screamed as they found them useless — rushing, swearing, imprecating, screaming — like rats in a pit with a terrier after them. And in among them — swift — unhurrying — certain as the act of destiny — Mahommed Babar's saber licked — and hacked — and thrust — until the last Committee-man backed away screaming in front of him and clung to Mrs. Wilmshurst for protection.

"You needn't kill him to oblige me," she said. "Is he worth killing?"

Mahommed Babar hesitated — stepped a pace back — and seemed to go off guard. The frenzy of cowardice gripped the other, and he lunged with his long knife, missing Mahommed Babar by an inch. A thwack — a thud and his head rolled to lie gaping near Aurung Ali's.

The mullah was struggling to cut thongs, making poor progress. Mahommed Babar shouted and the temple door was swung wide open. Twenty or thirty men peered in, crowding to see but not crossing the threshold. Mahommed Babar walked behind the prisoners and severed all thongs with his saber. King held his hand out. Mahommed Babar shook it, very stately and gently, perhaps because of the injured wrist.

"We're all awfully obliged," said King.

"I say — we're simply frightfully grateful!" said Mrs. Wilmshurst.

"You're a man and a brother, Mahommed Babar," put in Ommony.

"Won't someone introduce us?" asked the judge.

"Of course, you'll come with us, old man?" King asked, taking Mahommed Babar's arm.

Linkinyear led his two privates to bring their dead comrade's body from the inner room.

"No, sahib. I have my work to do. I am a rebel. Here are fifty men who have put the Committee's men to flight. They will escort you to the British lines. Please give them safe conduct back again."

"Ommony and I — this that you have done here — we can save you from a rebel's fate—" King began.

"Sahib, you and I are friends," he interrupted. "Forgive me, then, for my father's sake and yours. I am a rebel. I will be a rebel until the end."

He bowed to Mrs. Wilmshurst, then toward the open door, then to the judge, and kicked two gaping heads out of the way. "You have my leave to go," he said, and stood waiting, only shaking hands with King and Ommony as they went by.



EPISODE TWO

First published as "Treason" in Adventure magazine, Jan 10, 1923

CHAPTER 1
"There isn't a king, crowd, or parliament that
could make me the enemy of a man whom I approve."

Cotswold Ommony sat in what he called his "seat of custom," underneath the sambur antlers, between the front door and the window of the library, on his veranda that overlooked an acre or two of clearing on the outer, penetrable fringe of the forest.

A crowd of mixed Moplahs with a few veiled women among them squatted on the brown earth that was lawn for two or three months of the year. Man after man emerged into the clearing and added himself to the crowd.

All eyes were one way. They all watched Ommony's face — even the dogs, between the intervals of announcing newcomers — as if dreadful matters rested in the scales of his decision.

Beside him on a mat there squatted an almost naked individual who knew but one business, and who feared that such gods that he had heard of might envy his good fortune unless he also wore the tiger's eye-tooth around his neck. He cleaned a rifle more scrupulously than any mere military weapon was ever cleaned. Ommony watched that. He said something to the rifle's valet, who rose and held the barrel so that Ommony could squint along it.

"Son of Neglectfulness, it calls for three more drops of oil, and much perseverance!"

"Father of Eyes, it does!" agreed the naked man, without so much as looking to confirm the observation or dispute it.

The dogs announced the arrival of several more foot-weary men and women, who seemed — at any rate the men — to have improvised a wardrobe from somebody's rag-pile. Ommony hardly glanced at them, but chose a cigar from a leather case that held half a dozen, and someone below in the crowd accepted that as a sign.

"We are all here, Ommon-ee."

"So I see. The dogs know you are murderers, thieves, destroyers. They grow!"

"That is true, Ommon-ee. That is why we are here. We wish you to do something about it."

The speaker was a tall, lean, long-haired man with eyes like a bird's, who rose from the front rank of the squatting visitors as meek as a Jew on Sinai, all simple lines of ragged drapery from head to heel; with a nose like a vulture's beak and a neck that carried the head manfully for all the forward bend of deference.

"Because you did not burn my house or steal my goods am I beholden to you?" Ommony demanded, obviously enjoying his cigar.

"Nay, Ommon-ee. We did not burn or take away because you were our friend. That has nothing to do with this. Only we have escaped the cordon of troops, burying our weapons in the jungle, and you are the only friend we know of."

"You have to make peace with your enemies, not me," he retorted.

"Oh, Ommon-ee! You jest, but we are men between the upper and the lower millstone, who laugh lamely. We made rebellion, and we lost, as Allah knows. We seek comfort, not mockery."

"What have you made in the form of overtures?" asked Ommony.

"What could we do? Those who surrendered when the Raj made proclamation will escape death. Not so with us."

"How then? Did Allah breathe a special destiny into your bodies?"

"That must be. He is omnipotent and can do as He pleases. We are the last, who stayed with Mahommed Babar, whom the British proclaimed a traitor, threatening death to all who should give him aid, counsel, or encouragement. They offered a reward for Mahommed Babar, dead or alive. We be poor men, yet we did not seek that reward. Nevertheless, when the end came we proposed to deliver him to the British as the price of our own lives."

"Well?"

"When we sought him, he was gone!"

The comforting thing about Ommony was that he always sat still. When in doubt or puzzled he did not get up and pace the veranda restlessly. You could look at him in one place, and feel him look at you, and know that whatever the outcome Ommony would do his best because he was neither nervous, in a hurry, nor afraid.

"Mahommed Babar was my friend," he said at last, blowing the ash off his cigar away over the veranda rail. "If you would surrender my friend, why should I seek to save you?"

The speaker for the Moplahs dropped his jaw for about a second, as if he had just seen the answer to a hard conundrum; and instead of answering he sat down swiftly with his back toward Ommony, beckoning the nearest men to gather close. To them he explained the situation as it now appeared to him; they nodding, grunting, whispering — and presently hurrying outward to explain it to the others in intensely interested groups. They acted as if there were a screen that prevented Ommony from seeing them. It was ten minutes before the diplomatic interlude was over and the spokesman rose to his feet again.

"Oh, Ommon-ee, what if we spare Mahommed Babar? What if we will not inform against him? Will you help us then?"

He answered promptly.

"He was your leader, or he was not. He led you bravely, or he did not. He would have been a fool to leave himself in your hands at the end, or he would not. Judge for yourselves, then tell me the answer."

The Moplah chief sat down again. The conference was resumed. In three or four directions one handkerchief could have covered a dozen heads. It was like one of those games that children play, whispering until somebody shouts "ready."

They reached emphatic, gesticulating unanimity.

"Oh, Ommon-ee, we are agreed. In the name of Allah, who is Lord of Truth, as we be men, we will not betray Mahommed Babar."

"I see there are women among you," answered Ommony, wise in the evasions of the East.

"We answer for our women. They shall not speak."

Ommony seemed unimpressed, went on smoking and said nothing. Whatever his visitors' purpose they appeared to have failed in it. They conferred again, blundering only into deeper mazes of incomprehension, growing angry with the spokesman. Hissing abuse at him for not establishing their case, until at last he cursed them and got to his feet with both hands clenched and a look of forlorn hope.

"Oh, Ommon-ee, we are not liars. We will not injure Mahommed Babar. We seek only help for ourselves."

Ommony saw fit to hint at what was lacking.

"A man was drowning," he said gruffly. "Those on the bank said, 'Lo, you were a good friend; we will not throw stones at you!'"

The spokesman saw the point. The final whispered interlude lasted about two minutes. Then:

"Oh, Ommon-ee, we are agreed. As Allah is our witness, Mahommed Babar led us to defeat, but he led well. In the end he knew of our intention to deliver him to the British, and because of that he left us. We will not betray him. We will help him while we live, as Allah sends the opportunity."

Ommony nodded. Everybody nodded. The atmosphere changed almost as when the button is pressed that starts a big electric fan.

"There are those whose orders I obey. I might be told to ask you questions about Mahommed Babar," said Ommony.

"Oh, Ommon-ee, we would not answer you." He nodded again. So did they all.

"It is a pleasure to help brave men," he said.

"We be brave men, Ommon-ee. Are we not the last who held out?"

"You are outlaws," he said. "What is your answer to that?"

"We are rebels, but we are defeated. We surrender."

"They will say you have aided and abetted treason, helping the traitor Mahommed Babar. What will you answer?"

"Nothing. There is no answer. We beg you to help us, Ommon-ee. Accept our surrender and—"

"I have no authority for that," he answered.

"But you can help us?"

"I will write a letter. Surrender yourselves and deliver the letter to the nearest British post. I don't know yet what I can do, but I will do my best. My servants will give you food. I will come and see you where they keep the prisoners. You have my leave to go."

They trooped away to the back of the house, where Ommony's Hindu steward measured to them short weight of what meager fare the store contained, taking a receipt for overweight. Ommony sat still, smoking, frowning — watched the dogs as they watched the Moplahs trail away wearily, eyed and initialed the steward's store-book, sent the steward away, whistled the dogs to lie down near his chair — and continued to sit still; even though birds' voices and the setting sun told him it was time for certain routine duties. Unbidden, the jungli leaned the clean rifle against the wall and vanished.

Suddenly all three dogs rose upright with their ears alert. But they did not bark, and Ommony did not move. Diana, the Irish wolf-hound, laid her chin on his knee and thumped the floor slowly with a tail that never makes mistakes. The sun dipped under the topmost trees. The voices of all the servants arguing rose from the kitchen at the rear of the house. A man's footstep creaked. The fox-terrier's sawed-off tail made a shuffling sound wigwagging on the floor, and Ommony spoke without moving his head.

"Go into the library, Mahommed Babar."

He gave the man plenty of time, and then followed him in, after a very careful survey of the deepening gloom, which he sent the three dogs scouting to confirm. He obviously cared to have no witnesses.

"Sorry to keep you waiting. Pardon me if I lock the door."

Mahommed Babar looked startled and then checked himself. Ommony understood — left the key in the lock and deliberately turned his back on it, walking across the room to light the lamp. If it is bad manners to scare your guest, it is worse to appear to know that he is scared.

They stood on either side of a small teak table and looked in each other's eyes. The other was a very tired man, but still resolute. He wore a saber of the 'fifties slung from his shoulder by a Sam Browne belt, and a khaki uniform that was patched in a dozen places and half-concealed by a cape that once hung from German shoulders — possibly in the first rush into Belgium, for it was old enough. His turban was torn, and folded carefully to hide the tears. He had no boots, but sandals, with puttees over them.

"Before you go, Mahommed Babar, go into my bedroom and take anything you need," said Ommony. "You understand, anything! There's money in the dressing- table drawer."

"Perhaps I will not go at all, sahib. I came to discuss that."

"Sit down then. Are you hungry?"

"Yes."

"It's not safe to ask the servants — I'll get what I can myself."

Ommony went into the dining-room, returning with a tin of biscuits, water, butter and some cheese, locking the door again behind him.

"Now?"

"These Moplahs, sahib — the handful who rebelled with me until the end. They were so discouraged finally that they decided to hand me over as the price of their own pardon. You know there is a price on my head?"

"Yes, I know that."

"Pardon me if I eat and talk at once, sahib. The time is short. These Moplahs were in rebellion before I came, but I became their leader."

"Led like a soldier and prevented outrages!"

"Yes, sahib, that too was my doing. The British have called me a traitor, because I was once in their army, and have condemned me to death unheard. Nevertheless, if it had not been for me there would have been ten times as much outrage as there has been. I will die a rebel! I deny the right of any foreign government to outlaw me. But I will bargain. The British may have me, and hang me if they like, against their guarantee to pardon that last handful of mine. It is about that I came — to ask you, sahib, to intercede for them, and to conduct negotiations in case I must surrender."

"It is less than an hour since I promised to intercede for them in any way I can," said Ommony. "They won't betray you."

"But the British will punish them unless they betray me," Mahommed Babar objected.

"How can they betray you?" Ommony answered. "There is all this forest. Take what you need when my back is turned, and work your way northward over the border into the mountains—"

Ommony checked himself. He could see he was wasting words, suggesting the impossible.

"They could betray me," said Mahommed Babar simply. The men who ask fewest questitons find out most. Ommony asked none, understanding that his guest would have made no such statement unless the facts were damning and indisputable.

"Your last handful have promised to help you when Allah provides the opportunity," he commented, and Mahommed Babar smiled in the way a man does who has listened to large promises before. He did not look cynical, nor yet credulous.

"Well, sahib, to be hanged is disagreeable, and life imprisonment would be a thousand times worse than death. The question is, can you keep me informed of developments without getting your good self in trouble?"

Ommony nodded.

"There is a reward of ten thousand rupees for my head, sahib. I am proclaimed a traitor. They might do things to you, if—"

The two men's eyes met over the smoky lamp.

"There isn't a king, crowd, or parliament that could make me the enemy of a man whom I approve," said Ommony.

"Strategically you're a pawn against the whole back row. But you're brave, Mahommed Babar, and—"

"Sahib — Ommony sahib — I wish you would think twice. I want you not to feel you owe me anything because I saved your life on one occasion—"

"Tchutt!" Ommony interrupted scornfully with snapping fingers. "It was your plain duty. If I thought you held that over me I would kick you out of the house. Now — what is there exactly that I can do? If I hold too much communication with you they'll have me watched and trap you easily."

"Sahib, there is a high pole by the chicken-run, on which your honor hoists foolishness to frighten hawks. If an old boot should hang there I would put the leagues between us. If two boots I would make great haste. But if I should see an old cane chair-seat swinging in the wind I would understand that I may rest. And I would come if I should see a cooking-pot."

"All right," said Ommony.

"And letters, sahib — I shall need to mail them."

Ommony shook his head. "You may take pens, ink, paper, postage-stamps, whenever I'm not looking. I'll deliver any letter from you to the Government. But—"

"I understand, sahib. I will find a way."

There came a knock at the door.

"The butler," said Ommony. "Dinner. I must dress. Now, you know my house — where everything is — money, medicine, clothes, boots, writing- paper. Bear in mind that I'll be useless to you from the moment I'm suspected of befriending you. Go out by the window. There'll be a bag of things to eat on the veranda every night — take it or leave it. Good night, and good luck to you, Mahommed Babar!"

Ommony opened the door. Dinner was not ready after all. It was the steward, not the butler, who had knocked and gone away again.



CHAPTER 2
"How is Ommony exempt?"

All wars, all rebellions end the same way, with civilians and soldiers at loggerheads. The Moplahs had "come in," thanks to courage and good strategy as the soldiers believed, owing to force of circumstances as a committee of civilians insisted. But, as the Moplahs themselves explained it, because they had had enough. Either way it left plenty to argue about.

There was the usual division between men who advised drasticism — dubbed "Dotheboys," to their enormous indignation; others who believed in reconciliation — known as Sister Susies; and a third party mixed of civilians and military who were for moderation on the whole, with incidental and severe exceptions. They were known as the one-two-three brigade, because they talked a lot of nonsense about concrete and the way to lay foundations of enduring amity.

But all were agreed on one point, even if they reached agreement by a dozen different ways.

"The king-pin's missing. We'll soon have the work to do all over again unless we get Mahommed Babar!"

But none knew how to get him.

There was a council held in a great marquee pitched on a hill near the compounds where the prisoners loafed in tents and ate three meals a day. The British never let prisoners starve, although they send them to places like the Andamans and break their hearts. Opposing arguments were led by a Fellow of Oxford University, who contended that if the reward were increased some one would probably poison Mahommed Babar sooner or later; a financial genius, who was for equipping selected Moplah prisoners with firearms and forgiving them on condition they should hunt Mahommed Babar down — thus saving ten thousand rupees; and a soldier, who proposed the scandalous notion that Mahommed Babar should be treated honorably.

"Offer him personal indemnity if he will come in surrender and behave!"

The soldier's name was Tregurtha. He himself had been treated honorably on occasion, for he wore the V.C. ribbon. Nevertheless, the proposal was howled, sniffed, laughed at, snorted at, but found a seconder and reached the dignity of a debate. No matter what the legal members said about the impropriety of overlooking treason, three soldiers and several civilians kept harking back to the theory of treating a brave man bravely as a remedy for ill-will.

"Some of you talk as if you would have poisoned Botha and Smuts!"

"Piffle! Mahommed Babar is a foreigner — Peshawar way — what business has he in the South? Besides, he was in the army. So was his father. He's a traitor — ate our salt — that puts him beyond the pale, you know."

"What price George Washington and Lafayette?"

"D'you want to put him in their class?"

"Certainly! Why not!"

"Oh, let's talk sense. He's just a dacoit with more brains than usual. Any other Government in the world would run him to earth and hang him."

"Treason, gentlemen, is treason. Always recognized as a crime in a class by itself. It is treason to compound treason — to overlook it — or to permit it to exist unchallenged. The nation that tolerates treason commits suicide."

"Cromwell, George Washington, de Valera—"

"Order! Order!"

The leader of the drastic "Dotheboys" made up his mind to spike the milk- and-water party's guns once and for all by making them absurd.

"Suppose we concede the absurd principle of compounding treason, admitting forever our weakness and all that kind of thing — which I don't, mind you, for a minute. How are we to get in touch with this renegade? An outlaw — a runaway at large in an enormous forest — who is to tell him he may come in and be kissed on both cheeks? Perhaps some bright genius — ha — ha!"

"Easier than you think," retorted a man with a monocle. "The lot who stuck with Mahommed Babar to the end came in day before yesterday. I examined 'em. I asked 'em where Mahommed Babar is, and they said they'd promised Ommony they wouldn't tell."

"Say that again, will you!" (From the chair.)

"Promised Ommony they wouldn't tell. Said he's Ommony's friend and that Ommony insisted on it. Get that? He insisted. All said the same thing. They brought along a letter from Ommony, in which he volunteered himself as their next friend. I'll bet anybody one month's pay that Cotswold Ommony can get word to Mahommed Babar within the day. Who'll take me?"

That brought up for discussion Ommony's merits and demerits, which are an inexhaustible subject. Some men began telling anecdotes and had to be brought to order; several others agreed that it was just like Ommony's impudence to interfere; and there was one man, Parkinson Macaulay, who bided his moment skillfully and brought on climax.

"Can anybody tell me under what dispensation Mr. Ommony has dealings with traitors?" he asked.

The question was put in a penetrating voice that brought silence more swiftly than the chairman's gavel. Eyes met over the table. Most men present knew Macaulay and his reputation. Some had felt his steel, and had official wounds that rankled. None liked him.

"Harboring your country's enemies, holding communication with the enemy, trafficking with the enemy — treason! How is Ommony exempt? I ask for information."

At the end of a considerable silence a man who hated Macaulay more bitterly than most spoke up for Ommony. But as everybody understood his motive none cared to be associated with that effort and the defense fell flat. Macaulay resumed the offensive:

"I suggest that Mr. Ommony should be asked to come here and explain," he said acidly; and everybody knew what that meant. He had once tried a tilt with Ommony and met defeat. He would like exceedingly to have him at his mercy answering questions for an hour or two.

Colonel John Tregurtha laid his hands palm-downward on the table, leaned his weight on them, and spoke in a voice like a woman's. But for the fact that he wore the V.C. ribbon along with a dozen more you might have supposed he was afraid.

"This committee will not lend itself to the pursuit of private quarrels as long as I'm on it," he announced. "If Mr. Macaulay wishes to see Cotswold Ommony charged with treason or anything else, let him prove reasonable suspicion first — and in the proper place — or else charge him over his own signature."

The only man in the marquee who had no remarks to make or opinions to offer was the officer directing the Intelligence. After one casual reference to the fact that there ought to be a bar with assorted drinks provided, which was frowned on by the chair as irreverent, Colonel Arthur Prothero subsided into a condition of perspiring coma, from which he appeared to awake once or twice to make notes on the backs of envelopes.

He looked less intelligent than anybody in the room — even than himself; for from behind, although massive, he appeared alert and the back of his head was shaped like a thinker's. But he had small, protruding, lobster's eyes, a drooping mustache, whose ends came nearly to his chin; a low, creased forehead, and a cave-man way of stooping forward, as if he were always a little the worse for alcohol.

It was a case of almost perfect natural camouflage. His own contention — printed in brochure CXaaF21 and filed in the Royal Society's archives as well as in the Intelligence Department records — is that the appearance of cleverness is really stupidity's mask. Real brains, he says, need no advertisement and therefore Nature goes to no pains to develop a brainy type. A look of stupidity, says he, is the safest mask for brains to work behind; therefore beware of the stupid-looking man. And just as a hermit crab covers itself with odds and ends, and a leopard has brilliant coloring to disguise its craftiness, the really stupid fellow is sure to look handsomely intellectual.

That, he goes on to explain, is how all countries are so abominably governed. The crowd that used formerly to support the knight in the handsomest suit of armor with the gaudiest crest and plumes nowadays votes for the man who looks brainy, who invariably has no brains worth mentioning, and it ignores the owners of carefully camouflaged intelligence, who are clever enough to keep in the background and enjoy life instead of being public slaves.

He cites himself as an instance. His photograph is on the flyleaf of the brochure, side by side with drawings of the heads of a dozen notoriously stupid, intellectual-looking statesmen, who have been dead long enough for the depths of their folly to be understood. In contradistinction to them he cites himself as having avoided matrimony, as having a profession that keeps him out of the public eye; as being a man without a master to the extent that that is humanly possible. For almost nobody can give him orders, and he is in position to wreck the career of anyone — and as being paid by the public without the public having a word to say as to his activities. Not even the police may interfere with him. Yet, as he confesses with naive amusement, he resembles from in front a caricature of a drunken satyr, and in profile so that the warts show on his left cheek — the average man's notion of what a Prussian sergeant-major ought to look like.

As he remarks at the end of chapter one of the brochure: If he had not brains in more than usual degree, how should he have attained to such a height in his profession, be without a home or other dull encumbrances, possess ample private means accumulated through the Stock Exchange, and keep the finest cook in India?

He was much too clever to remain in that committee marquee, where he knew his advice would not be listened to, but, if given, might be held against him subsequently.

He stayed long enough to get his name down on the minutes — so as to be able to share the credit or repudiate the whole thing as he might subsequently see fit. Contrived to offend the right people, which is always profitable, picked the kernel out of the nut, as it were, and had himself called forth by an underling, in the same way that doctors have themselves summoned away from assemblages that bore them.

Outside, with one button of his tunic unfastened to make room for curry and rice in which his cook that morning had excelled himself, Colonel Prothero interviewed Major Bean and Captain Tilley, whom he had thoughtfully trained to do most of the work and take all of the blame for anything that went wrong.

"Something has turned up that may be important," he explained. "I shall be gone some time. Perhaps a day or two. You fellows carry on. Nothing'll come of this cackle in the tent. When they've talked 'emselves dry they'll agree on some idiotic scheme. All you need do is flatter Macaulay and just carry on as usual. I'll need Lal Rai."

Lal Rai was human — although some doubted it — was meticulously clean as to his person, and as to his raiment, such as it happened to be at the moment, most abominably unclean. Lacked certain fingers, some toes, most of his teeth, a portion of his nose and upper lip, one eye, but none of his born impertinence — and reminded the casual observer more of a stray terrier than of any other living thing. It was not that he looked like a terrier, for he did not. Presumably he thought like one. At any rate, the impression contrived to be conveyed to the observer's mind. Born in Calcutta slums, he had traveled, and in the end united all the tongues he had tried to learn into a sort of shorthand pidgin-English of his own invention.

He stood in front of Colonel Prothero without self-abasement, listened without reverence to instructions tersely conveyed in Bengali, nodded, neglected to salute. Put away in the fold of his turban an order scribbled by the colonel, and presently departed up the railway on a hand-car shoved by half a dozen coolies, who looked like bronze statues of Krishna but had not sense enough between them to avoid working hard for a lazy man.

Lal Rai came in due course to the station to Ommony's forest home. Left his coolies there unfed to bivouac against the up-turned hand-car; and just as evening fell set forth along the track to Ommony's bungalow, where he arrived about the time when Ommony sat down to dinner; and, cautiously avoiding the front of the house and the neighborhood of dogs, presented himself at the servants' quarters.

As he looked almost supernaturally stupid just then they were at no pains to investigate him, but let him cool his heels in the porch outside the kitchen door, where, from behind the mask of unintelligence, he saw and summed up everything that could be seen and calculated.

The ultimate result of that was that he paid no further attention to the kitchen staff, but betook himself to the door of the steward's one-room hut, where the steward presently stumbled over him and only ceased from cursing to discover that it might be wise to listen for a while instead. Lal Rai had a way with him when minded, and a terse habit of expression picked up from department officers. They went into the steward's hut, where Lal Rai ate enormously and the steward weighed pros and cons.

The pros had it. Until midnight Lal Rai listened to accounts of happenings and speeches in meticulously tiny detail repeated again and again. Even what a man did with his fingers while he spoke was told and made a note of. And at midnight Lal Rai went away, finding his way by moonlight to the station, where he slept on the one seat on the platform until dawn.



CHAPTER 3
"Foolishness to frighten hawks."

Colonel Arthur Prothero arrived shortly after dawn in a special car attached to a dawdling freight train. The car was shunted into the only siding, and he remained in it until his cook had prepared one of those breakfasts that make all earth look cream and rose-color, and every task worth while. Then, for the sake of digestion, he started on foot for Ommony's bungalow rather than send and ask for a conveyance.

It was not his purpose to catch Ommony unawares. He never did that kind of thing. There was no need. Lal Rai, getting off the one seat on the station platform, followed him like a dog at heel unbidden, and defiled the dewy morn with reminiscences, in which the names of Ommony and Mahommed Babar occurred repeatedly. Prothero made no comment, absolutely none. He strode along with hands behind him and might not have been listening; but he knew as much of that subject as Lal Rai did by the time he reached the clearing and discovered Ommony descending from the veranda with a gun under his arm.

He walked straight up to Ommony, of course, threw his overcoat to Lal Rai, which sufficiently explained that individual presence, and shook hands. Ommony, who knew him, asked no questions, which threw the burden of conversation on the colonel.

"Nice little place you have here."

Ommony knew that. Said nothing. Waited.

"Have I interrupted? You were off somewhere?"

"Merely a round of inspection."

"Good. I'll walk with you. Nice little place you have here," he repeated. "Quiet. Lots of solitude. Time to think, eh? Hello! Chickens, eh? Imported?"

"Just a notion to cross-breed English poultry with jungle-fowl," said Ommony, warming instantly.

He proceeded to explain all about jungle-fowl and their presumed descendants to Prothero, who only cared for any of them in a pot presided over by Louis Manoel, the finest cook in India. However, he followed Ommony about, asking questions as fast as he could think of them.

"And this? What's this?" he asked. "Totem — fetish — prayer- pole — village priest been making you do pooja to the local god?"

He laid his hand on a fifty-foot pole, like a flagstaff, from the top of which an old cane chair-seat fluttered and dived in the morning wind.

"Just a scheme to keep hawks and crows away," said Ommony. "I can't sit here and pot them all day long. Novelty is the secret. They get used to one scare, so I change it frequently. Here goes."

He put two fingers to his teeth and whistled. A servant came running, and he sent him in search of a pair of old boots. Meanwhile, he hauled down the chair-seat under Prothero's unsuspicious-looking eyes.

In point of fact Prothero was not suspicious. He did not have to be. There was Lal Rai, only fifty paces off, who suspected everybody — everything — always.

Ommony bent the boots on to the line and hauled them up, where they swung one above the other kicking seven league style.

"That should be a sufficient hint to bird, beast, or man, to clear out!" grinned Prothero. "What's that old kettle doing? Physic for the hens?"

"Goes aloft, too, on occasion."

Prothero's lobster eyes went through a gyration that Lal Rai noticed. He gave no answering sign, but his one eye rested on the kettle for a moment, whereat Prothero looked away.

Ommony whistled the dogs, which had been undergoing torture in the form of grooming in the stables. They came like the Gadarene swine with a rush, and had to be sternly forbidden to attack either Prothero or Lal Rai. Dogs detect the atmosphere of enmity at first sniff; but, as the boots on the high pole testified, Ommony needed no warning. He foresaw that all he needed was to keep an eye on Prothero; which is proof enough that not even Ommony foresees infallibly.

"Shall I lend you a gun?" he asked.

But Prothero was much too lazy to enjoy a gun, preferring to stroll beside Ommony and pay attention. He foresaw that all he needed was to keep an eye on Ommony, which is proof that he knew his business. What was more, he could afford to be agreeable. Ommony brought down a hawk that had been trespassing too much of late, and Prothero complimented him gracefully.

Next moment he paid an honest ungraceful compliment, wrung from him by emotion. For more quickly than the dogs could make up their minds, an almost naked, nearly coal-black jungli emerged from between the trees and caught the shot hawk before it reached earth. Prothero had never seen the man before, who had received no orders, but had followed among the trees — inaudible — and had surpassed the animals in guessing the hawk's flight, Ommony's aim, and the angle of descent. In his own way he was even more amazing than Lal Rai.

"I'll give you five hundred for that fellow?" Prothero said instantly, and then gasped — another helpless compliment. Ommony spoke to the man in the jungle dialect, which not more than a dozen civilized men have ever learned. The jungli answered, and Ommony understood, which was even more remarkable.

"By Gad, sir, you have talent!"

The jungli showed the hawk to Ommony, stuck a wing-feather in his tangled hair, and disappeared again.

"Five hundred, did you hear me? I'll give five hundred dibs for him! All right, a thousand then!"

"You may have him for nothing if you can catch and keep him," Ommony answered, and they walked three miles in silence down a fire-lane to a great crag that rose above the trees and afforded a view of square leagues. They climbed by what looked like a goat-path, that really had been made by Buddhist hermits centuries before, and had been used since by none save the animals and Ommony.

It wound corkscrew fashion around and around the crag, mostly hidden by low bushes that yielded and sprang back into place, shaking the air full of powdery smells.

Prothero followed, breathing heavily, resenting the strenuous exercise, but interested beyond measure in this man who could speak the jungle-bat.

"This is the Outlook Rock," Ommony announced. "You could see a fire from here within a radius of twenty miles—"

The words died on his lips as he turned slowly to sweep the horizon and presently face his own bungalow. Nothing of the house was visible except the thin column of smoke from the kitchen chimney. But straight down the fire-lane, through a gap between the trees and a notch between two hummocks, he could see the pole on which hung "foolishness" to scare the hawks — foolishness which should consist just then of two old boots.

He pulled out his field-glasses. Indubitably the kettle was now hoisted where the boots had been. It was blown out nearly at right angles by the wind entering the lidless hole and crowding out slowly through the spout. A big, chipped, once enameled, iron kettle — no mistaking it.

He turned and stared at Prothero, who had given no orders to anyone regarding any kettle, and could afford to look innocent, and in any event could not have seen such a small object with his naked eye at that long range. Prothero blew his nose and wiped the sweatband of his helmet, as if no such thing as a kettle existed. Possibly a shade too innocent.

"Got a cigar with you?" he asked, and Ommony produced one. Then the dogs came, brushing the undergrowth aside, led by Diana the wolf-hound, with the tail that never made mistakes. She thrust her great muzzle into Ommony's hand, and the long tail said things that are not in the dictionary. He twisted her ear by way of recognition, and stood thinking, thinking — motionless in one place, with the gun under his arm and both hands behind him — legs apart. Finally he glanced again at Prothero and whistled three short, peculiar, rising notes, that might have been heard a hundred yards away. The dogs took no notice; it wasn't their language. He did not speak for several minutes, and Prothero enjoyed himself, grateful for the company of a man who could be silent.

Then the jungli came in answer to the whistle and stood on the edge of a rock with a golden line of sunshine drawn down one side of his naked body, most astonishingly beautiful to see.

"You offered a thousand rupees for him I think," Ommony said at last.

"For the Service. We can use him."

"Like my steward instead?"

"What the hell would I do with your steward?"

"I don't know. Do you want him?"

"Why?"

"He'll be in need of a job presently," Ommony answered, and, without moving his head, spoke to the jungli in what sounded like a morse code made of grunts and consonants.

The jungli vanished.

"That is the end of the steward as far as I'm concerned. He'll be gone when we get back, bag and baggage. Now I suppose you want to see Mahommed Babar. Why couldn't you ask me decently?"

Prothero snorted. That was the first time he had been caught off guard in months and he was hardly ready with an answer. He hesitated, using his lobster eyes on Ommony in a swift effort at snatched, last-minute judgment. Finally he lied.

"Truth is, Ommony, you're being accused of treason. I came here to disprove it if possible. I hope you understand that anything you say to me is—"

"Is said in the presence of Allah and the wilderness," retorted Ommony. "Thereafter, my word against yours."

"Let's be friends!" said Prothero suddenly, holding out his hand.

He had judged his man. How could Ommony refuse him? Slowly he advanced his hand. Prothero seized it, leaped from judgment to unmerited conclusion, and threw away what he had gained, abasing himself in Ommony's opinion to the level of the worms.

"Friends! That's it! Scratch my back and you'll find me useful to you. Set a net for this Mahommed Babar, and there isn't a thing in my power that I won't do to oblige you. Alive if we can take him. Dead will do. It 'ud mean a feather in my cap, and promotion in your pocket."

Diana, the wolf-hound, returned from another wild gallop up and down the jungle lanes that radiated from the Outlook Rock, and once more her tail beat rhythmically as she thrust her wet nose into Ommony's fist.

"Sorry we can't be friends," said Ommony. "Have you a pistol?"

"Why? What d'you mean?"

"You must hand me your pistol if you wish to meet Mahommed Babar."

"Not friends, eh?" said Prothero. "I like you. You're a damned fool to oppose me, but — here you are!"

He held his automatic muzzle-end. Ommony took it.

"Now the other one."

Prothero laughed and pulled a small Webley from under the skirts of his tunic.

"I'm curious to meet the man, but I'll make you pay for this, you know—"

"As long as I live I will pay my own debts!" said a quiet voice in English, and Mahommed Babar stood before them — in Ommony's old hunting-jacket, wearing a shirt of Ommony's, but looking no more like an Englishman than a wolf looks like a bear. He had come across the ledge on which the jungli had stood fifteen minutes earlier, and waited with his back against the sun for Ommony to invite him nearer.

His black beard and an air of having been through prodigious hardships made him look older than he was. He stood like a god. The sinews outlined under the dark skin looked as if cast in copper. Only the ancient saber slung from a Sam Browne belt suggested that he might be dangerous. The dark eyes were dignified, almost mild.

"I came — to see the view," he said simply, glancing, however, in the direction of the pole on which blew foolishness to frighten hawks.

Prothero sat down on a lump of rock with his legs stretched out in front of him and proceeded to make the most of a predicament.

"My name is Jones," he said pointedly.

"I have no name," said the Northerner, and his eyes met Ommony's, who was in plenty of time to remove two pistols out of harm's way; which was the same thing as Prothero's reach.

"Sit down and let's talk this over," suggested Prothero. "There are no witnesses. We may arrive at something."

Ommony's head bowed an almost invisible affirmative, so Mahommed Babar took his seat on a rock facing Prothero, with the saber laid in its scabbard across his knees, in an attitude much too beautifully managed to appear alert, although it was that or nothing.

"You say your name is not Mahommed Babar?"

"I said, for the present I have no name."

"You could take a message to Mahommed Babar?" Prothero suggested, with his lobster eyes on Ommony's shot-gun. Ommony laid the gun down and beckoned the wolf-hound, who came and lay with her paws across the barrel. She was big enough and strong enough to tear a man like Prothero to pieces.

"I could if I would," said the man with the saber, showing his teeth in a milk-white smile.

Prothero took time. He was judging his man again. Not one element of honesty or fairness entered into Prothero's calculations, except in so far as they might govern the other fellow. He could not have existed in such elements, but he could observe them — study them — and did, as a fisherman observes the weather.

"He ought to know at whose expense he's enjoying liberty," he said at last, and noticed that the eyes of the man with the saber contracted just sufficiently to record a "touch." "He ought to be told what price others will have to pay for his freedom," he went on.

The flashing white teeth appeared again, but not exactly in a smile. It was more the way a wolf exchanges compliments.

"If you wish me to deliver such a message you must enter into details," he answered, raising the saber an inch or two and laying it down on his knees again in a gesture of nervousness.

Prothero was only too delighted to give details.

"Tell him that the last lot who surrendered, who held out with him until the end, will be denied the status of rebels and charged with treason in that they upheld him after the final proclamation. Some will be hanged, and the rest will be sent to the Andamans. The only way to prevent that would be for Mahommed Babar himself to surrender and eat his gruel like a man."

"You mean that the British will murder surrendered prisoners because they refuse to tell of Mahommed Babar's hiding-place? I don't believe you," he retorted. "I will take no such message as that. It would be a lie."

"You might tell him two were shot yesterday," said Prothero, blundering — not for the first time that morning. They had been shot by sentries while endeavoring to escape, and he would have been wiser to admit that, if obliged to mention the incident at all.

The man with the saber rose to his feet with perfect dignity, rested both hands on the saber hilt, and bowed.

"Then there is no need for discussion, for I know what Mahommed Babar's answer will be. He will say no bargain is possible; the men who slew those prisoners have no honor," he retorted.

His indignation was icy cold. Prothero had touched him on the virgin center of his heart, and what to almost any other man would have been admirable drew a chuckle from the Colonel of Intelligence. He had him! He had him now like a fish on a barbed hook, foul. No chance for him.

"He may not mind about his men, but how about his friend?" he asked.

"You mean, sahib?"

"I mean Mr. Ommony. Tell him — Hell! Let's stop this foolishness. Mahommed Babar, I am Colonel Arthur Prothero of the Intelligence. Unless you surrender at discretion — and to me, now — your friend Mr. Ommony will be arrested and charged with treason. It will be your fault, and the least he will get will be disgrace and imprisonment!"

That was another blunder.

"I think no judge would take your word against Ommon-ee's, and there are no other witnesses," Mahommed Babar answered.

"Several others," said Prothero. "His steward, my man Lal Rai, Moplahs — every single one of that last lot of prisoners, who all say Mr. Ommony bound them over not to betray you—"

Ommony's face was a picture. So was Mahommed Babar's. Emotions chased each other as the shadows of the clouds do on a mountain-side.

"Why not kill him, sahib?" said the Northerner, but Ommony shook his head. His whole career in that forest, which was all the life he cared about, seemed to be slipping away from him, and the end was smoke.

"Give him back a weapon, sahib, and fight him to the death! — or let me!"

Mahommed Babar drew the saber and sliced the air with it so savagely that the whistle and hum set all three dogs to barking; but Prothero did not flinch. He might blunder on occasion, but he was no such fool as to believe that Ommony would consent to his being killed.

"You'll have to surrender if you want to save him," he said, smiling like a man who holds all the remaining trumps.

Mahommed Babar glanced at Ommony, who shook his head, and at that the Northerner made his mind up.

"I judge you to be a liar; but answer this to whoever gives you orders — for every hair of Ommon-ee's that is offended I will slay an Englishman! I will teach you what rebellion means!"

He returned the saber to its scabbard with violence, and strode back to stand on the rock against the sky, where he looked like a bronze effigy of vengeance. Then with a wave of the hand he disappeared over the crest of the crag.

Ommony gave Prothero his pistols back — too soon, for he seized them and sprang for the ridge — but just too late; whereat he laughed, and clicked his teeth with his thumbnail for about a minute.

"I wonder what you have to say to all this," he said presently.

"Nothing. If I thought you would understand I could say a great deal," Ommony answered.

"Suppose we get back then in time for tiffin."

Ommony led the way, and at the bottom walked straight on down the fire- lane without waiting for Prothero, who heard a rustling among the undergrowth and stopped to listen. It was not the dogs, for they were in front, ahead of Ommony. He became sure there was someone lurking in a clump of dense thicket between two boulders and, there being no law for the outlaw, fired three shots running with his automatic, which naturally brought Ommony and the dogs back on the run.

"What frightened you?" asked Ommony. "There isn't a tiger or leopard within a mile of us."

"There's a man in there — hit — dead — your friend Mahommed Babar!"

The dogs were investigating.

"There's nobody dead, someone's hit," said Ommony, listening. "You wait here."

He made a circuit, following the line the dogs had shown him, and came on one of his junglis writhing in dumb misery with a broken knee and a hole shot through his lung, stabbing at the dogs, who he feared would obey the jungle rule and make an end of him. In his own opinion it was right, but to be resisted nevertheless. He was past recovery.

Ommony whistled. There came other junglis — four, five, six of them — flitting from tree to tree like homeless shadows. He questioned them. They had seen. He asked who had fired the shot. They pointed through the undergrowth at Prothero. Ommony called to Prothero, who came crashing through the bushes like a wounded buck.

"Here's your victim," he said. "Victim and six witnesses."

"Their evidence—"

"Plus mine," said Ommony dryly.

Prothero eyed him for a minute, clicking his teeth with his thumbnail.

"Very well," he said, "you and I had better understand each other. These poor devils won't know enough to make a complaint unless you — By the way, though — halt and as you were! How could their evidence be taken without an interpreter? And who's to interpret? You?"

Ommony faced him, answering nothing. It was true, he was the only possible interpreter, and if he himself were to stand charged with treason —

"I, too, was a witness!" said a quiet voice from behind the nearest rock.

For a second Ommony caught sight of Mahommed Babar's face. Prothero turned on his heel and emptied the automatic stupidly in the general direction of the voice, and then, while he reached for the Webley:

"Look!" said the same voice.

Two heads appeared above near-by rocks — strangers' heads that set the dogs growling savagely.

"These also were witnesses," Mahommed Babar continued, keeping carefully out of sight.

"Who the hell are they?" demanded Prothero. "Associates of yours? That outlaws 'em!"

"You are a murderer. That outlaws you!" replied Mahommed Babar. "You are only safe from me as long as you are the guest of Ommon-ee. Whatever harm befalls him shall recoil on you!"

Mahommed Babar disappeared and Prothero laughed. The jungli coughed his life out. The others picked the body up and carried it away. Ommony started homeward. Prothero, stowing away both pistols, swore and followed him.



CHAPTER 4
Peria Vur.

Ommony sat on his favorite seat on the veranda that evening, cursing not exactly fate but his own misuse of it. It is a chief part of his forest-learned creed, which he has drummed into the heads of scores who thought themselves unfortunate, that misfortune is not a cause, but the result of mistakes and misuse of opportunity. So he had no self-pity; only distress and a desire to know wherein he had stumbled.

For stumbled he certainly had. Whoever had heard Prothero's leave-taking that afternoon could not have failed to understand that Ommony's number was up, as the saying is. The colonel had made one last effort to reach terms dishonorable, and Ommony had simply laughed.

"Trap Mahommed Babar for me and I'll save your bacon!"

"Those dogs wouldn't do what you ask. Am I worse than a dog?" he had answered.

And Prothero had said:

"Yes! Less than a dog you'll be before I'm through. I'm a man of few principles, Ommony, but I live up to 'em. I never brook refusal or interference. If I go for a man, I get him. Now — I'll give you a last chances"

"Go to hell," said Ommony.

Whereat Prothero went to the railway station on Ommony's pony, having no sense of pride where his own comfort was concerned. Lal Rai followed on foot with several of Ommony's prized possessions concealed about his person, having no more pride than his master.

So Ommony's cook went to no pains with the dinner. And the butler neglected to put flowers on the table. The "boy" put broken studs into the white shirt that he laid on the bed, and deliberately picked out old socks with holes in them. It is in such little ways as that that kings first learn of their subjects' disaffection.

They reasoned that Ommony would dress for dinner in spite of the colonel sahib's threats and the whispered hints of Lal Rai, who was a badmash, but knew too much. Ommony always did dress for dinner even when alone, that being another section of his inviolable creed. A white man, to his way of looking at it, is a white man, and his home is his castle, wherein if he does not respect himself none will.

However, he continued to sit on the veranda that evening until after dark, taking no notice of the boy's announcement that hot water was ready — refusing to have his boots removed — keeping his gun beside him instead of letting the hamal place it in the glass case and bring the key as usual.

The butler, who had been many things to many masters, spoke darkly of suicides he had known. According to him, a white man always sat that way, with a gun beside him, and his head between his hands, and elbows resting on knees, when he contemplated blowing out his brains. He said the signs were infallible. Moreover, the dogs came and sat down beside their master miserably, divining his sorrow, which was an even more positive sign. Diana, the wolf-hound, moaned, and was rewarded with a few pats on the head, which brought the terrier into Ommony's lap in spasms of jealousy.

Dinner was announced by the butler — in a dirty smock because of the occasion. Normally Ommony would have dismissed him for the evening in shame and tribulation for daring to be otherwise than spotless. But Ommony did not even look up — did not acknowledge the summons — and the dogs, having understanding of their master's mood and not much patience with stupidity, growled at the butler for the first time since he had been engaged two years before, so that he fled precipitately and locked himself into his quarters.

Finally Ommony shook the terrier off his lap and pulled out a cigar. He could see no solution of the problem; therefore he would bide the event — mark time, as the soldiers have it. Prothero's power was too great, his influence too vast, and the fear of him in bureaucratic circles too well- founded for any one man in India to possess a chance against him, whatever the rights and wrongs of the argument.

He might charge Prothero with murder, it was true. But he had only jungle witnesses, and himself for interpreter, unless he should call on Mahommed Babar and his two unexpected friends, whose heads had appeared so opportunely near the scene. But he could not call on Mahommed Babar without putting the man's life in jeopardy, even supposing he could find Mahommed Babar now in any event. The owners of those unexpected heads were probably fugitives from justice, who had served to bluff Prothero nicely at the time but would never dare approach a township to give evidence against him.

And there was the whole unholy gamut of Prothero's ability to procure false witnesses, sustain false charges, tamper with evidence and blackmail officialdom. Moreover, there was that filthy beast Lal Rai, capable of swearing and procuring witnesses to prove whatever Prothero's ambitious heart desired.

There was only one thing to do, one course to take that he could see.

"Nothing!" he said aloud. "Nothing whatever, and trust whatever gods there be!"

"Your honor might take in Mahommed Babar and surrender him," said a voice he knew; and he realized all at once that for several minutes past Diana had been nuzzling into his fist to call attention, and the other dogs had been wagging tails and restless.

He turned his head to see Mahommed Babar standing in the dark inside the door, holding his hand back of him as if restraining someone else. He got up, taking the gun with him, and entered the library, where three men followed him, one of whom locked the door. He could not see who they were until he had lighted the lamp, but the dogs, who had come too, betrayed no alarm, so he set the gun down in the corner before he struck a match. The light showed Mahommed Babar and the other two strangers from the North who had witnessed the killing of the jungli. Mahommed Babar presented them.

"All Khan of Aira. Jhat Singh of Jubbulpore. Your honor's servants."

Jhat Singh was square and squat, but Ali Khan looked much like Mahommed Babar. Ommony eyed them without enthusiasm. Their presence only complicated matters.

"Mahommed Babar, I wish to hell you'd go away, and stay away — you and your friends!" he said rudely. "Ali Khan is an escaped murderer under sentence. You're no better than the company you keep. Get away from here!"

"Give me up, sahib! I am here to propose that," said Mahommed Babar. "Here are two men who will carry on my work. After I am hanged they will do better than I, being two in place of one and spurred to greater valor by the fate that overtook me."

"Damn it! D'you think I'm on your side?" demanded Ommony. "D'you think I protect you in order to see my own crowd slaughtered?"

"Nay, sahib, I know better. You have been my friend, and I offer you my life to save your honor. But I would be dishonest unless I showed you what the consequence would be. I speak in good faith. You may surrender me. These men, my brothers-in-blood, will carry on the task."

"You're talking rot!" Ommony retorted. "You're claiming blood-brotherhood with a convicted criminal, who richly deserves hanging. If you choose to surrender, go and do it. That's your affair. My business is the forest."

"Sahib, I would surrender if I saw no other way."

Mahommed Babar took a side-step rather swiftly in the direction of the corner. Ali Khan of Aira pocketed the door-key. Ommony noticed neither incident. Only the dogs began to grow unaccountably restless, so that Ommony had to chide them gruffly, laying his hand on Diana's neck to smooth the rising hair.

Mahommed Babar had his back to Ommony's shot-gun now.

"I do see an alternative," he said abruptly. "Can your honor control those dogs? Otherwise I must shoot the big one!"

The thing was over in a minute. Mahommed Babar's friends pinned Ommony's arms behind him, and the gun was leveled at Diana. So he spoke the word that saved the dog's life, and Mahommed Babar smashed in the glass of the gun-case, taking out three rifles, one revolver, a shot-gun, and some ammunition.

"During all the time you have trusted me I have never touched your firearms, sahib. But now it shall be perfectly clear that you are an unwilling prisoner. We will demonstrate the absence of collusion — thus!"

They had tied Ommony's hands, and Diana the wolf-hound was sniffing at the cord, wondering what to do about it yet obedient to the almost unbelievable command to "stay still." Mahommed Babar gave Ommony's rifles to his two friends, himself buckled on the revolver, laid the shot-gun on the table, and took pen and paper. He wrote in English:

Mr. Cotswold Ommony has been taken prisoner and is held a hostage for the lives of all Mahommed Babar's men who surrendered recently. Should harm befall those Moplahs, Mr. Ommony will suffer in like degree. Should they be set free unharmed, Mr. Ommony will receive the same treatment.

— Mahommed Babar (Sirdar),

Officer Commanding the remaining unsurrendered rebels against British rule.

He pushed it across the table for Ommony to see. Ommony laughed.

"Who'll believe that after Prothero's account is in?" he sneered. "You'd better shoot me and have done with it."

"We shall see, sahib. We shall see. We shall see," said Mahommed Babar, and began to give hurried orders to the other two. "We will leave this manifesto on the table. That should be a good place. Be good enough to control those dogs, sahib. It would grieve me as much as you to be obliged to kill them. Thus. Now we will proceed. Which servant would your honor prefer? Unfortunately one is all we can permit, and I advise the cook."

"Do as you damn please!" answered Ommony, walking out of the room with a shot-gun at his back.

"Your honor shall ride. Which horse do you prefer?"

"The gray one."

There followed panic almost indescribable in pitch blackness criss- crossed by the glow-worm flashes of three lanterns, as Mahommed Babar turned out Ommony's servants and put them to work producing such stores as he needed. Nothing more was demanded of Ommony than that he stand and be seen under the stable lamp with his hands made fast behind him and a shot-gun leveled at his head. Every one of the servants saw him — all three grooms, the gardeners, butler, hamal, boy, and two or three hangers-on. They saw the cook seized, too, and bound, protesting, to a tonga-wheel while the kitchen was rifled of delicacies.

Then the whole lot — provisions, delicacies, ammunition, odds and ends, and cook — were bundled into the tonga and driven away down a jungle lane, followed by Ommony on the gray pony with his hands still tied behind and the dogs in close attendance.

Mahommed Baber rode away last on Ommony's fourth horse — a beast that was nearly due for pension underground. He locked up the empty house first, and drove the other servants all away toward the railway station, after making sure they would report all they had seen by threatening them with torture if they did. Then he kicked the decrepit mount into a canter, overtook Ommony and reined alongside.

"Could your honor summon the junglis to keep leopards and such away?" he asked.

"No need," Ommony answered. "They never let me out of sight unless I go by train."

"Day or night?"

"Day or night. Loosen this cord, will you; it cuts like the devil."

"No, sahib. I am sorry. Nevertheless, I am pleased it cuts."

Mahommed Babar gave no explanation of that paradox — avoided being asked for one — rode on — overtook the tonga — exchanged places with Ali Khan, who was driving, and sent the other back to act rear- guard.

Ali Khan was distinctly curt with Ommony. Although a convicted murderer, apparently he did not like the name. The atmosphere of captive and captor — almost of threat — became unmistakable, and on the whole was rather a relief. At least a man knew where he stood, so to speak. Even the cord that bound his wrists seemed to hurt less.

They went at a slow trot as far as the ponies could drag the tonga. Close to the Outlook Rock the track became too difficult for wheels in the dark, so they took the ponies out, up-ended the tonga shaft so as to tip out all of the contents, cached everything except one haversack full of eatables which they loaded on the cook, left the tonga where it was, mounted the cook on one of the tonga ponies, where he sat lamenting dismally, and carried on.

The forest owned Ommony. He was its guardian spirit. There was not a track he did not know. It was not his boast, but his conviction, that you might blindfold him and lead him anywhere within its limits, and he would "place" himself almost instantly after his eyes were uncovered. It was certainly impossible to lose him by following any negotiable trail within ten miles of his bungalow; and as his eyes were not bandaged it was only a matter of minutes before he understood perfectly whither they were heading.

Once, in the days when the Buddha was something more than a tradition, those square leagues used to echo to traffic and the boom of temple bells. There were half a dozen cities in the area now claimed by Ommony's beloved trees. Roots, rain and wind had used the centuries to upturn and make mere stones of the masonry. Where towers had stood were mounds, in which the she- wolves dug to rear their young. In the market-places was a tangle of such undergrowth as only the wild pig could scramble into. Streets had become watercourses, boiling brown in the monsoon, almost unnegotiable tracks when the rain was over.

But there were visible remains of splendor, if a man knew where to look for them. There are papers in archaeological archives, written by Ommony, and filed by men who paid him graceful compliments, but neither cared nor understood, describing in extraordinary detail some of the Buddhist remains in Moplah country. They are accompanied by photographs and drawings — even maps — so that an inquirer could find his way to them without much more than a compass and an escort. But there is fashion in archaeology, as in other things. Ommony and advertisement don't jibe. He tells what he knows and, if it falls on deaf ears, turns his back, respecting societies no more than individuals. So his antiquities are almost as unknown as when he first discovered them and scratched among their carvings with a stick.

One, and the most wonderful, is the place he has called Peria Vur, which means Great City; not that there is any city left, but he argues that the temple, whose foundations and part of whose upper structure he discovered, can only have existed in a populous community. It may have housed as many as a thousand priests. Its gates that open north, south, east and west are more massive than those the ancient Egyptians raised, and, though in ruins, still bear witness to the traffic passing under them, for the stones are worn into channels by the tread of simply countless naked feet.

Ommony, with the aid of junglis, had done a little work in there with ax and spade at various time; but the jungle grows so fast again after the rains that year by year he could hardly find the clearing of the year before. He had ordered the junglis to drive animals away, and the track leading to the place had been kept more or less practicable by their repeated visits in the breeding season for that purpose. But as a rendezvous almost any jungle clearing would have been more practicable than Peria Vur when he last set eyes on it.

Nevertheless, to Peria Vur they were bound, for that winding track led nowhere else. As they advanced it became easier, instead of more difficult. In the pitchy darkness — not even stars were visible through the canopy of branches — it was quite impossible to tell how much work had been done, but there were no low-hanging twigs to strike a horseman's face, and the stirrups did not catch in undergrowth as formerly.

It was about nine miles, by a winding route that made fifteen of it, from the Outlook Rock to Peria Vur, and they covered the distance in three hours, which was proof enough that more than a handful of men had been busy. Then they were aware of three lights — red, green, yellow — evidently looted train lamps — swinging horizontally in line above the trees.

Someone — probably Mahommed Babar — blew a horn. One shrill blast. It was answered by the lights, which moved, and hung vertically. Also by another blast, which explained unmistakably the condition of the track by which they came. Elephants trumpeted.

There is a huge rock that you must skirt before you come on Peria Vur. Even by day it shuts off all view of the place from between the trees. It stands so high and bulks so big that bonfires on the Peria Vur side would be invisible to anyone approaching. On the top of that rock — the "Rump," as the junglis call it because of its shape — someone was managing the colored lights. The elephants — seven as it transpired — were tethered to the left of the track, and the party wound around between them and the rock, being greeted by a second trumpeted salute that nearly scared the ponies out of their senses.

Beyond the Rump Rock the scene was wonderland, for the elephants had cleared away all growth between rock and temple, exposing more than an acre of the ancient granite blocks with which the courtyard had been paved. Some had been piled on others by the pressure of roots from beneath, and none remained on the ancient level, so that to reach the temple one had to walk along a zigzag causeway, which was practicable none the less for beast as well as man.

Some of the holes between the paving-blocks made reasonably spacious caves and had been covered over with awnings improvised from looted odds and ends to make a bivouac. A dozen fires cast a crimson light on the weird scene, and legs, arms, heads appeared out of the holes like dead men answering the Trumpet Call. Only they looked once and retired, as if satisfied that Gabriel was only practicing.

Over in a corner, where a fire glowed brightest, rose the ding-ding-dong of a smithy in action and a number of tortured gnomes gesticulated in hell- flame, repeating the motions interminably.

Light glowed and danced all up and down the broken temple wall, which had been cleared of creepers and the disemboweling roots of trees that force their way into the masonry, overturning millimeter-wise. The great, wide temple door remained and was as clear and clean as on the day when worshipers brought the first offerings of flowers to strew the portico. Only, against the carved wall on either hand were set three stones — one on the left hand, two on the right — and three men were using them as chairs. The man on the left was smoking an ordinary English briar pipe. Those on the right sat with knees on a level with their chins.

Ali Khan dragged Ommony off the horse, for his hands were still tied, and gruffly ordered him to call the dogs back; they had rushed at the man who was smoking in the temple door, as if be were a well-known ancient enemy. Diana persisted longest, and he had to summon her by name, whereat the man with the pipe, who had retreated into the building, came out again and, staring with his head bent forward in the puzzling light, called:

"Oh, hullo, Ommony!"

The two men on guard — Sikhs by their turbans — who had also retreated in front of the dogs, came out and cautioned him, whereat he sat down obediently on his stone and laughed.

"Go forward, sahib!" said Mahommed Babar from the far side of the pony he had ridden.

Ommony approached the temple, picking his way carefully over the up-ended blocks, with his hands still tied, not greeting the man with the pipe until close enough to see his eyes, although well knowing who he was. Then:

"Hullo, Prothero," he said. "What are you doing here?"

"I'll answer when I've seen your hands," said Prothero.

Ommony turned his back to let him see, and Prothero whistled.

"I'm the same as you, Ommony, a prisoner. The rascals ditched my train and rubbed my nose in the dirt beside the track, but — by gad, sir! By the wrath of India's gods! Your wrists'll mortify if those thongs aren't cut! Here — someone come and free this man!"

Mahommed Babar strode up, drew his saber, which was razor-sharp, and severed the thongs in an instant.

"You chafe his wrists. You have nothing else to do," he said, looking in Prothero's eyes.

Then he gave an order to the guard and strode into the temple, where his footsteps echoed cavernously, and a few dim lights at far intervals made periods in the gloom.

"Sit down," said Prothero, not offering his own seat.

One of the guards rolled his stone across the doorway, and Ommony accepted that, Prothero sitting beside him and chafing at the numb wrists rather leisurely.

"You see what comes of befriending the wrong crowd," he said. "Now, if you'd done what I suggested, we'd have both scored heavily. Instead, we haven't a cook who can boil eggs without burning water. We haven't a change of linen. Possibly we haven't an hour to live. I detest the thought of death on an empty stomach."

"They brought my cook," Ommony answered.

"Then I forgive you! But Government won't! You're damned, my boy, irrevocably damned! You can't tell me that a man who can talk the jungle-bat and whistle up junglis from the undergrowth didn't know all about this encampment. You're done for — ab-so-lutely cooked!"

"I can tell you," said Ommony. "Getting you to believe the truth may be another thing. I ordered the junglis not to report to me any of Mahommed Babar's doings. That's fact. It was none of my business to keep an eye on him."

"Fact? Hmmm!" Prothero half-closed his lobster eyes and hummed a tune. "Tell that to the horse-marines."



CHAPTER 5
"Hah! He is Perr-r-other-o-o-oh!"

It was characteristic of Colonel Arthur Prothero that he said nothing about what had happened to the train-crew and his servants when Mahommed Babar's followers "ditched" the train. His silence was comprehensible. If shame was not in him, at least he was mortified not to have known that Mahommed Babar still had men under his command with sufficient morale to go raiding. The train had gone dawdling without an escort, without pilot engine, without any means of protection, for the staff imposed confidence in Prothero's assurance that there wasn't a "rebel left with guts enough to grin with."

So the ditching had not had to be very serious. A misplaced rail caused the engine to plow up fifty yards of track before the engineer came out of a day-dream and things stood still, just naturally, of their own accord. Whereat Prothero ceased from eating a ragout fin provided by his priceless cook, and shoved his inquiring head out of the window. The rest of him followed promptly, pulled out by Mahommed Babar and two Sikhs, who took away his pistols. He swivelled his lobster eyes about inquisitively until they drew a gunny-sack down over his shoulders, pitched him into a hammock, and started off through the jungle with him for the Lord knew where.

Being a philosopher after his own fashion, the ragout having been more than usually excellent, and the hammock being comfortable, he slept, the gunny-bag serving splendidly to keep off flies. Nor did he wake up until they reached Peria Vur, where they set him more or less at liberty, and he observed that Mahommed Babar was not present. He spent the rest of the day using his trained faculty for observation, seated in the doorway of the temple, until Ommony's arrival close on midnight — asking questions which were not answered, drawing deductions that were not entirely accurate, and "wishing like the devil that he had Lal Rai." When you have built your reputation on the genius of an underling there comes a feeling said to resemble homesickness if you have to get along without him in a crisis.

Now that Ommony had come he could think of nothing more appropriate than to go to sleep again. It was too bad about Ommony — a decent fellow but an awful fool to have antagonized himself, and to have got mixed up with this Mahommed Babar business. In fact, if it hadn't been against his strict principles he would have been inclined to overlook the personal aspect, and to make friends with Ommony. He never had forgiven anybody yet, but he might try, and the experience might be amusing. Church, for instance, baptisms, weddings, and all that kind of thing were decidedly amusing on the rare occasions when be attended.

But no gentleman could treat Ommony as an equal — sit and talk with him — compare notes — share confidences (as if Prothero ever shared confidences!) — knowing what the outcome must be. Why, even in self-defense, to prevent Ommony from making capital out of the accidental shooting of that jungli, he would be obliged to make out as black a case against him as possible. Prothero admitted to himself he was not squeamish, except in so far as cooking was concerned, but he hardly felt equal to sitting up with Ommony and being friendly in the circumstances.

Ommony was a such a confoundedly friendly fellow, hang it! You caught yourself liking him against your will if you weren't careful, and accepting little favors that might make subsequent relations extremely awkward. He wished he hadn't ridden the fellow's damned horse to the station.

So he said a gruff good night and asked the Sikh guard to tell him where to sleep. The man led him into the temple, to a dark hole already cleaned out and appointed. The other man remained in the portico with Ommony, decidedly thawing in manner as well as method the moment that Prothero had gone, for he merely requested Ommony to sit still where he was and, receiving the assurance, disappeared in turn into the temple interior.

Within two minutes of that Mahommed Babar came striding out, jangling his inseparable saber, and there was none to overhear when he sat down on the stone beside Ommony.

"Ommony sahib, for those cut wrists you may take whatever price you will! But what else could I do? How else could I have satisfied that devil Prothero that you are honestly a prisoner? I know that son of an evil mother. Well I know him! I will hold you as hostage for the safety of my friends — but him I will kill unless he serves my purpose obediently!"

He produced torn linen and some of the aromatic oils that India still relies on rather than the antiseptics of the West, dressing Ommony's cut wrists with the care of a trained nurse.

"You shall have no more ill-treatment, sahib. I would rather hurt my mother's son. It is on Prothero that reprisals shall fall if the British make those necessary. Prothero shall clear you of complicity in my rebellion."

"Rot!" answered Ommony cheerlessly. "How did you catch him?"

The sirdar explained how the train had been ambushed.

"That beast Lal Rai will get back to headquarters and give his version of it," Ommony grumbled. "Lal Rai has orders to make out a case against me, and—"

"You think so?"

Mahommed Babar whistled. A man answered out of darkness. The sirdar gave an order in the Pashtu tongue, and after a minute two Afridis appeared, dragging Lal Rai between them. He looked beaten, but unconquerable. His one eye gleamed in the firelight and he carried himself malignantly between his captors, powerless for the moment but convinced of his own ultimate resourcefulness.

"You know where your master is?" Mahommed Babar asked. He nodded. The nod was a challenge as much as an answer.

"You want to lose your master?"

The question was asked in Hindustanee, the lingua franca by which a hundred Indian nations interchange occasional ideas. The answer came in a gibberish of a dozen tongues mixed with a thieves' palaver — threat — all threat — unqualified by anything except abuse — the long and short of it, that he would come back from the grave, if necessary, to avenge the "Dekta sahib," which was apparently his own pet name for Prothero.

"Kill me — kill him — devils kill you!" he shouted, spitting. He evidently loved in his own fashion, which was more than his beloved master could confess.

"You can save your master," said Mahommed Babar.

"Only give chance, an' I 'member not plung-um hot iron in your belly!"

That was the limit of his gratitude — his utmost offer. He was all fight, unconquered, unconquerable, unafraid.

"You may take a letter written by Ommon-ee."

Lal Rai nodded. The gesture included utter contempt for Ommony, whose fate he considered he foreknew.

"You will say that if it is desired to save the life of Colonel Prothero the British will send a white flag party of not more than two officers, unarmed, to treat with me. Can you remember that?"

The one eye flashed scornfully. He could remember anything.

"The white flag party shall have safe conduct. They will be met at the place where the train left the rails, and escorted thence through the jungle. And you will say, furthermore, that if an armed force should be sent, it will not fare well with Colonel Prothero!"

At Mahommed Babar's instigation Ommony wrote, setting forth the situation. It was a short note, on a scrap of paper. Lal Rai stuck it in a fold of his loin-cloth.

"You may wait until dawn," said the sirdar.

"I go now!"

"Are you not afraid of the jungle beasts?"

"'Fraid nothing, and not you! Give a thing make noise with; I go."

"Did you see Ommon-ee arrive here?"

He nodded.

"Look at his wrists?"

He nodded again.

"Say at headquarters that Ommon-ee sahib was injured by the man who tied him. You understand?"

To Ommony it looked as if he understood too well. The one eye gleamed with a malignancy as full of intelligence as a cobra's. However, Mahommed Babar seemed confident, and dismissed him with an order to his guards to provide him with some noisy instrument and see him out of camp.

They gave him a tin pan with a hole in it, and saw him as far as the outer range of leaping shadows where the elephants rocked at their pickets and the mahouts slept between. There they warned him to make both noise and haste, and shoved him away with a devil's blessing.

Noise he did make; haste not. The scandal of his beaten tin pan died away into the dark, and ceased — ceased where he laid the tin pan down behind a tree and began to retrace his steps. Nobody saw him slip between the elephants, nor what he did; but a scream of rage suddenly ripped the night apart and in a moment the mahouts were yelling for assistance, crying that their charges had gone mad. They were fighting, as humans will, each believing the other had done stealthy injury, and there was so much confusion that even Mahommed Babar came out of the temple to lend a hand, and Ommony followed him.

All seven elephants broke loose. There was hue-and-cry to round them up, for panic-stricken elephants might go twenty miles before morning. Ommony's dogs joined in that fun naturally, and during the confusion Lal Rai reached the temple door unseen, crept in, and discovered without much difficulty the dark hole where his master lay.

Prothero was asleep, and affected no surprise on being awakened. He was used to having situations saved for him by his graceless factotum. Moreover, he never bestowed much praise, never admitted obligation, never let the other party grow too self-important.

"Where have you been all this time?" he demanded.

Lal Rai, in his own assorted gutter-speech, explained. He had the gift of laconism.

"Scoot. Caught. Knock-out. Gag-an' bind-um. Kick, shove, pull, drag along behind, and by-um-by me come easy. Kep' a dekko lifting. Fetch here — chuck um in dark hole. By-um-by Ommony write letter. Mahommed Babar orderum fetch me. Take letter. Me going. Coming back. Look for you. Now you savvy whole goddam bisnis."

"Show me the letter," growled Prothero.

"No can see."

"Strike a match, damn you."

"You see — ev'rybody can see. Never min' letter. Me eatum. You say what shall say — me say it, savvy?"

Prothero did "savvy" instantly and wasted no time on wordy gratitude.

"Give me that letter. Give it here! Now cut back to Headquarters and say this: 'My compliments to the General Commanding. Mr. Ommony caused my train to be wrecked and me to be taken prisoner.' You get that?"

Lal Rai repeated it word for word.

"'Mr. Ommony is here, at liberty to come and go among the rebels, with his dogs, his horses, his cook, and several guns.' Repeat that."

Lal Rai repeated it.

"Say, 'With Mr. Ommony's assistance, Mahommed Babar is raising a new force from the Punjab and all over the North.' Have you got that? Say the whole message over from the beginning. Good. Now add: 'Two hundred men resolutely led and moving swiftly could surround this party and finish the business.' Say the whole thing over once more. Excellent. Now go! Take care of yourself. Remember, my life depends on your getting through."

Small need to urge Lal Rai to take care. He was adept at that. Small need to urge him now to make haste; he had a shrewd idea what his fate might be if he were caught in camp after being ordered out of it. He dodged and ducked from shadow to shadow and ran for the spot where he had cached his tin can, for even he hardly dared travel the jungle at night without some means of scaring the beasts of prey.

Once escaped from the zone of firelight he said Prothero's message over and over again to himself — said it perfectly — even pronounced the words correctly, since the speech was another man's and not his own. They say that every criminal always forgets at least one important thing. He had forgotten nothing — except Ommony's dogs, which had out-distanced the elephants and turned them. Headed back by the dogs, the already sobering seven were met by their mahouts and stopped. Having ascertained that they were to be coaxed and petted, not punished, they surrendered accordingly. Diana, who could not count, proceeded to range the jungle tracks in search of stragglers, not quite uninfluenced by the delicious discovery that five tons of elephant would run from a hundred and twenty pounds of dog.

Being a wolf-hound, Diana had no nose worth speaking of, but eyes and ears that were miracles — eyes for the daylight and ears for the dark — ears that could catch the cadence of Lal Rai's stealthily retreating feet. And she had a tongue like the Inchcape Bell, which summoned the other two.

Luckily Mahommed Babar had not ordered Lal Rai's knife returned to him. He had nothing but his tin pan, and the stick he beat it with, to use in the dark on Diana. Even her milky fangs were invisible. She used the fangs on him, making no sound now, never relaxing her jaws except to seize a firmer hold, downing him — reaching for his throat — possessed of one sole purpose, for she knew him for her master's enemy — a thing to be destroyed.

It was the other dogs belling and yapping in pursuit who gave Ommony notice. He shouted Diana's name half a dozen times, and she let go her victim long enough to throw up her head and bell acknowledgment. He shouted again and she shut her jaws reluctantly. Lal Rai, who was under her, seized her by the forelegs; and he might have done an injury, for she was too well taught to disobey that call of Ommony's. She would not bury her teeth again in the creature he had ordered her to watch. But the other two dogs caught up, closed in; they knew much less discipline but more desire to make up for lost time. So Lal Rai was bitten and torn, while Diana looked on and Ommony hurried, arriving ahead of Mahommed Babar and about a dozen of his followers, all breathless from pursuit of elephants.

Lal Rai by that time was a beast at bay — bleeding, frothing — scared of every sound and shadow — outraged — unable to believe in anything but danger — death — fighting with fist and teeth. They had to seize him from behind. They threw him, and he gnawed their legs. They had to tie him with turbans and frog-march him — all in the dark, hardly knowing which end up he was.

So that when they came to the nearest fire and searched him for Ommony's letter it seemed obvious that he had dropped it in the struggle. Suddenly his frenzied mind became aware of what they were looking for, and a devil's delight in defeating their purpose — anybody's purpose except his own and Prothero's — seized him. "Yah! Yah! Sons of worms, I eat um!"

He yelled to them to cut his belly open and look if they did not believe him. Seeming to think in that crazy minute that an order from Prothero had magical qualities, or thinking, perhaps, that they thought so, he roared with malicious delight that a message had been written that would ruin all of them.

"Call me when he grows reasonable," growled Mahommed Babar, and turned away. Everybody knew what that meant, Ali Khan especially. Ommony remonstrated. He caught Mahommed Babar's arm and spoke with a catch in his throat.

"Are you forgetting your izzat?" he asked.

"Sahib, he has obviously slipped back and talked with Prothero. If you can make him talk to us in any other way—"

"Give me ten minutes," said Ommony, and the sirdar nodded. So Ommony went into the temple, and Mahommed Babar stayed by the fire superintending. They brought water as well as irons to be heated, and Lal Rai understood, setting his teeth and grinding them like a boar at bay. Ali Khan smiled with cold eyes and thin lips, understanding perfectly how to be master of such ceremonies.

But Ommony, understanding something else, shook Prothero until he could not feign sleepiness.

"They've caught Lal Rai," he said. "They're heating irons to torture him because he won't tell what your orders are. The only way you can save—"

"He won't tell," said Prothero.

"He will if you order him."

"I'm no such fool."

"You'll let him be done to death?"

"Oh, they won't go that far. And, if they do, damn it, man, it won't hurt Lal Rai half as much as it would you or me! We're, comparatively speaking, soft — at least I am physically. Done myself too well. You're soft-hearted and soft-headed. He's hard as nails — an animal — a peculiarly intelligent animal, good in his way, but no more in our class than the fish you catch or the bear you shoot."

"Then you won't say the word?" asked Ommony.

"No. If he were to divulge my orders they would probably kill you and me."

Ommony had what he wanted, but a quirk in his nature that other men, and frequently he, too, construed as weakness, impelled him to offer Prothero a last chance.

"Won't you come out and stand by?" asked Ommony.

"No. That 'ud be foolish."

"It might comfort the poor devil."

"He has no more use for comfort than a hunted animal. I'd make him nervous. The sight of what they'll do to him might upset me. I might weaken. Weakness is vice, only more disastrous."

"I shall tell him you won't come."

"Good idea. Tell him. Make him realize it's up to him to stick it out and see it through. It won't hurt for you to stand by. He'll want to show off in front of you. Your presence might help. Go on. Go and tell him I won't come."

Mahommed divined easily enough what Ommony had been asking Prothero. The obvious thing was to persuade him to say the word that would loosen Lal Rai's tongue. But he thought he knew better than Ommony what manner of man was Prothero, and laughed as Ommony strode out into the firelight from the gloom of the temple door.

"The pig's weak place is his belly, sahib. Did the brein respond to argument? Has he a heart?"

"Have you one?" Ommony retorted.

"Is it you who should ask that?"

"Are you going to torture that poor devil?"

"Ommon-ee, I will let him go if you care to say the word. You were my friend when none believed in me. But be my friend! Think twice! Prothero is the Head of the Intelligence. If I can learn what orders he gave to Lal Rai it is likely I can slip out of a tightening net."

Ommony knew better than to believe that. The unlikeliest thing was that Prothero had done more than appeal for help, with a detail or two as to how to reach him. But it is not wisdom to argue with a man in dire straits about things you can't prove to him. Mahommed Babar was not open to argument.

"Let me speak with Lal Rai alone," suggested Ommony.

So though Ali Khan displayed reluctance they drew away at the Sirdar's gruff command and left the captive gagged and trussed between two fires with the evidence of their intentions all around him. Ommony loosened the gag. Lal Rai spat in his face promptly. Ommony wiped off the spittle with the sort of deliberate care he would have used if it had been wind-blown dirt, and with no more resentment. Something in his manner of doing that conveyed more to the captive than words could have. He glared around at Ommony's dogs that sat showing their fangs at him, and from them to their master, who took an iron out of the fire and stirred the ashes contemplatively.

"Burn me! I will not tell!" he sneered.

"There is no danger of your being burned," said Ommony. "You are of no importance. But you can sit here, and see them torture your master with these irons and that water and not speak?"

"Hah! He is Perr-r-other-o-o-oh! They could burn him forever and he would not tell!"

"But will you permit that? That is the point. Will you sit here unharmed, and watch, and let them burn him, when a word from you — ?"

"What word?"

Ommony made a signal with his hand behind his back before answering, and Mahommed Babar began to draw near unostentatiously.

"If you tell what the message was that he gave you to take just now there would be no object in torturing him."

The one wild eye betrayed hesitation palpably. Ommony put in his subtlest stroke.

"It is true he will not come and tell to save you from being tortured, for he does not consider you are worth it. I have asked him. But you might tell to save him, for you are his man, and he is your master. Besides, he would never know."

"Never know?"

"Never know."

Ommony moved his hand again, and the sirdar came and stood quite close behind the prisoner.



CHAPTER 6
"I'm going to kick you out of this!"

It is team work that wins, even in questioning prisoners. The ability to watch and wait and support the other man is what makes captains in the end, and never a rebel leader lasted thirty days who could not play second fiddle to opportunity. Lal Rai was disposed to bargain for terms and guarantees, but Mahommed Babar, listening behind him, saw the drift and played into Ommony's hand.

"What are you waiting for?" he growled in a sort of stage-assassin's sotto voce, and Ali Khan and several others got up, wondering what he meant.

"The irons are hot. Are you afraid to burn his feet because his hide is white and his name is Prothero? His liver will be found whiter than his skin, I'll warrant! Must I show you? Take the fire into the temple and heat the irons there. Make haste. Have him tied and stripped before I come."

Those were Afridis, neither averse to inflicting pain nor ashamed of the impulse. The hills they are born among are cruel, and why should they not be? Moreover, they were rebels, whose heads, excepting Ali Khan's, were not yet priced only because the authorities did not yet know their names. If caught they might be hanged, and the preference for being hanged for something rather than for nothing is as old as draconic law. And Ali Khan, who would be hanged in any case, might just as well go the limit. In the mind of Lal Rai there was no question as to their intentions. In their shoes he would have done the same thing.

"I will tell," he said, with a great man's simplicity.

"Do not touch him until I come!" Mahommed Babar shouted, and Ali Khan, who at that distance looked like the sirdar's twin brother, threw up his hands in a gesture of disgust. The others looked not more pleased than hungry men would be if told to wait while the dinner cooled.

Lal Rai, taking all that in with one super-observant eye, hastened to repeat the message Prothero had given him. Parrotfish he pronounced the words almost perfectly, even apeing his master's voice, he who when coining his own phrases never used a word or part of speech without maltreating it.

"My compliments to the General Commanding. Mr. Ommon-ee caused my teerain to be wrecked and me to be tak-en peerisner. Mr. Ommon-ee is here at liberty to come an' go among the rebels with hees dogs, hees horses, hees cook, and several guns. Weeth Mr. Ommon-ee's assistance Mahommed Babar ees raising a new force from thee Punjab and all over thee North. Two hun'red men resolutely led and moveeng swiftly could surround thees party and fineesh thee bisnis."

Mahommed Babar made no audible comment but strode out of the firelight and returned, two or three times, with his hands behind him. Ommony's face betrayed emotion, but not incredulity. Lal Rai was a person whom you could disbelieve easily in most circumstances, but not when he reeled off that particular message in that particular tone of voice. It would have been as sensible to disbelieve a dog with feathers in his mouth, bringing in news of partridges. At last Mahommed Babar stood still and exploded — one word:

"Allah!"

It contained a whole encyclopedia of mixed information as to his own thoughts. He was full of scorn. He was amazed. He doubted what to do.

"I advise you to keep this fellow prisoner," said Ommony. "Put irons on him. Make sure of him."

The sirdar nodded. "And the other?"

"Let him go," said Ommony.

Mahommed Babar thought that was part of the snare of words being laid for Lal Rai. He entered no immediate objection, but shouted to his men to come and tie the prisoner carefully and followed Ommony away into the shadows.

"I do not see the connection," he said then. "I do not understand the trick."

"No trick," said Ommony. "Just let him go. I'd have the junglis watch him as far as the railway line. He's useless to you as he is, but—"

"I do not understand you, Ommon-ee. Listen to me. That man Prothero is a snake with the hide of a lion and the mentality of a hyena. You have heard the message that he hoped to send. If I let Prothero himself go he will tell worse lies. Moreover, he will know the way to this place, and—"

"Why be here?" wondered Ommony.

"Because I must!"

It was no use arguing that, no time for explanations.

"All the more, I advise you to let him go," insisted Ommony. "As a hostage he isn't the slightest use to you. They'll be searching for him now. My servants will have told all they know. By morning the scouts will have found my tonga in the jungle. It won't be very difficult to trace you from that point. They'll find the footprints of your elephants if nothing else. Reinforcements will be sent for. They'll surround you. You'll be killed if you don't surrender. And what's to prevent Prothero from telling any lies he pleases?"

"But, Allah! If I let him go—"

"He will tread on his own feet — dig his own pit-trap himself! If you must stay here—"

"I must."

"Then your only chance is a mistake by the other side! Keep Lal Rai and let the colonel go, for he's a man who'll make mistakes! You'll puzzle him if you let him go. He's absolutely sure to put a false construction on it."

"Sahib, I will have nothing to do with this!" said Mahommed Babar with a sudden exclamation of disgust. "If the British caught me they would hang me as a traitor, who am a rebel and no worse. I have caught him. I should hang him as a convicted jackal masquerading in a man's skin! It is in your hands. Do as you like with him!"

"Is it between him and me?" asked Ommony with a strange new thrill in his voice.

"I give him to you, sahib. I give you leave to turn him loose or kill him or trade him for yourself and go free, or do anything you will."

Ommony threw his shoulders back and instantly took Mahommed Babar at the letter of his word.

"Keep Lal Rai out of sight then," he answered with a grin, and started for the temple, springing to alternate paving-blocks with a playfulness that he had hardly felt since his school-days.

There is no such exhilaration as the courage that a man of peace produces when he has made up his mind at last that patience, having had her rein, is due to trot behind. Your mere berserker, used to hurling thew and steel into each chance argument — your bully, who delights to see the other fellow cringe — even your stone-wall fighter forever on the defensive — neither know nor can imagine such perfect thrills as he enjoys who knows in his heart of hearts that he has done all possible to avoid offense.

Ommony's boots rang on the temple floor as he entered. He knew vaguely where Prothero's corner was and struck a match as he drew near, whereat Prothero began calling to him from somewhere else. He followed the sound of the voice and came on steps descending. There was a glow of light below, so he went forward, down into a cavern where the ancient priests had held their mysteries, all cleaned out anew and hung with plundered mats and what not else.

They had Prothero tied in there — bound with ropes on a thing like an altar in the midst — but neither gagged nor blindfolded. They had their little fires and the hot irons staged so that he should miss no detail of what was supposed to be prepared for him. Fully believing that Mahommed Babar was in earnest, Ali Khan had gone to the length of sharpening a knife and describing to him how conveniently near the surface nerves are so that they can be opened up for more exquisite entertainment. So Prothero was in no mood for pleasantries, although he had not lost his courage when Ommony arrived; the sweat was running from his naked body in anticipation of the ordeal, but his eye was bold and he was asking no quarter. Plainly he had hurt a man or two in the scuffle when they seized him, for Ali Khan's nose was bleeding and another was chafing an injured arm.

"Loose him!" commanded Ommony. "The sirdar has given him to me."

They were about to refuse. No Afridi cares to be balked of his prey when the cruel side of him has been deliberately conjured uppermost. Ali Khan thrust out his lower jaw and flashed his knife. But Ommony made as if to call Mahommed Babar; and suddenly Diana appeared from the upper gloom. She had followed her master unbidden, and looked like a special kind of devil with white fangs flashing and eyeballs glaring in the glow of the torture-fires. Superstition is stronger than desire, more compelling than anger.

"Oh, if the sirdar says—"

"Take the fires away with you," said Ommony. "Leave that lamp."

One of them set the little clay lamp on a ledge on the cavern wall. Ali Khan, because it was the most unpleasant way of doing it, seared through the cords that bound Prothero, using one of the hot irons, and walked out swinging the weapon in illustration of his frame of mind. Ommony told the dog to follow to the stair-head and keep watch. Then he turned at last on Prothero and stood watching him pull on his pants and boots.

"You'd better leave your coat and collar off," he said. "I'm going to lick you!"

"What in blazes do you mean?" demanded Prothero.

"Just that."

"Good Lord! Are you mad? What possesses you?"

"General principles."

"Don't be an idiot!"

"Never more sane! You're a skunk. You've been given to me to do what I like with. I like to give you a licking, and kick you into the jungle! Stay up there, Diana! Do you hear me?"

Diana's tail thumped the stone upstairs in dumb acknowledgment of orders, and Ommony peeled his coat off, rolling up big flannel shirt-sleeves in a way that almost made him feel in school again.

But it was Prothero who was in school, and he began to take instruction with three different disadvantages. As he had remarked earlier to Ommony, he had done himself too well, and, although hale and strong, he was overfed. The dim light from the clay lamp did not suit his small eyes, whereas Ommony was used to peering down the gloom of jungle lanes. And he did not believe that Ommony was serious. Everybody knew Ommony for a man who preached peace almost to the point of getting fired for it.

He was not really convinced of Ommony's seriousness until an unimaginary fist struck him on the nose. Bellowing with rage he hitched his pants, squared himself and struck back, receiving another on the nose that made it bleed and added incitement to conviction.

The fight once on he proved no mean antagonist, for he was heavier and full of that ruthless, selfish courage that is apt to surprise those who count too literally on the maxims of the copybook. Bullies may be cowards, but most British officers can box a bit, and in his early days Prothero had studied the game for purely disreputable reasons, counting on the average officer's objection to having his head punched, as a safe basis from which to disregard the finer canons of conduct. He had almost wooed unpopularity, that being the easiest way for a man to climb who has scant social charm. It passes for strength of character.

So once or twice as they sparred around the altar in the midst of the cavern the advantage passed from Ommony to Prothero. But never for more than a moment, because Prothero's spirit was the cynic's bent on self-defense, Ommony's that of the dealer of chastisement. Moreover, Ommony had never done himself well in the Lucullian sense. If he was an epicure it was of thoughts, principles, and self-control. The self-controlled man who elects at last to fight is utterly invincible — except in the dark and then perhaps.

The dim light from the clay lamp handicapped Prothero. There was just enough of it to let him see the other's fists as they came on his guard. Sight and sensation were almost simultaneous, and although Ommony could not hit like Bob Fitzsimmons, his blows were amply hard enough to shake the teeth of the other, who felt himself weakening, sickening, dizzying, more and more distressed — and had no regard for what decent fellows call the game in any event.

Some men can take punishment, consider it as punishment, fight back but bear no malice, knowing they deserve what they are getting but intent on coming off as little damaged as may be in their own or the enemy's estimation. You may bet on those men safely — not that they will win; but that they are fit to laugh and live with — fit to be fought and forgiven.

Prothero was the other kind. Punishment, that he so loved to inflict, brought out the yellow devil in him either way. He could not hit except to kill. His vices were his virtues in his own opinion. Sportsmanship was cant, that he could use to his own advantage on occasion, but that he was never bound by. He was incapable of liking — of admiring — of respecting; but he could fear, and he could hate. He began to hate Ommony poisonously, as fear increased and he felt himself at his intended victim's mercy.

We hate men for the wrongs we have inflicted or intended to inflict on them. To Prothero, backing away around and around the altar, it began to seem an outrage that Ommony should not be tried for treason. Each blow that passed inside his weakening guard increased the sense of it. He, Prothero, needed someone to be blamed for the fact that Mahommed Babar was at large and in command of men. Why, then, not Ommony? What right had Ommony to resent being a victim. Or to refuse? Or to hit back? Damn him! Had he the impudence to think himself an equal! The son of a dusty old Cambridge bookseller the equal of Colonel Prothero of Cheltenham and the Intelligence?

By Gad! Was he, Prothero, going to take a thrashing from a shopkeeper's son? Not while he knew it! He would teach the fellow!

One eye was nearly out of commission. Glassy, over-fed, protruding things, they were only too easy to hit. But the one that Ommony had not yet reached caught sight of an iron, the size of a tavern poker, that had rolled against the wall and been forgotten. It was under the lamp. The dim light glinted on it. He had to look away, lest Ommony should see it too and be forewarned. Turning his head exposed the angle of his jawbone to a right-hand punch that sent him reeling backward, but it also gave him the excuse to give ground unsuspected. He sprang for the wall, jumped, smashed the clay lamp with his fist, and ducked instantly in the total darkness to grope along the floor.

Ommony's fist crashed against the wall, and the next he knew was a stinging blow as the iron struck him from behind between the shoulder-blades. The blow almost produced paralysis, but missed it by a fraction of an inch.

Colonel Prothero could see no sense in sportsmanship. But Diana could not even understand the meaning of the word! Subtle canine reasoning convinced her that the sudden darkness canceled previous orders. And possibly her huntress eyes could see in the total darkness, where Ommony's could not.

Prothero groped for the back of Ommony's head with his left hand and raised the heavy iron for the blow that should finish the argument — taking his time — making sure of his aim — laughing as Ommony turned half-toward him. He seized him by the hair with his left hand to force the head downward in position, and the laugh changed to a gurgle as Diana took him from behind with paws on his shoulders that bore him downward and jaws that tore his neck. He went down in the darkness, crying out.

No iron — no torture — nothing less than Ommony's voice and hand could have caused Diana's fanged hold to relax, as it did reluctantly. Then, because Ommony's back still pained him where the iron had struck, Diana was given the seat of Prothero's pants to haul by, and master and hound together dragged the Chief of the Intelligence upstairs into the temple, where the gloom was not quite so opaque, and there Prothero recovered, not having quite lost consciousness at any time. He was only torn and punched, whereas Ommony had been clubbed from behind, which is almost the worst thing that can happen to a man.

"Damn that dog of yours! Well, have you worked your temper off? You'd better shake hands," suggested Prothero, running true to type, as men do in most emergencies and using what he believed to be psychology.

Conscious of pain between his shoulders and its origin Ommony said nothing yet. He knew exactly what he was going to do — needed no suggestion. But he waited, for he was curious.

"A man who won't shake hands after a fight—" Prothero began.

"How did you hit me in the back?" asked Ommony.

"I didn't. I hit you on the chin. You staggered back against the wall and hurt yourself. I was bending forward to steady you when your infernal dog seized me from behind. D'you realize what he's done to my neck, confound it? He's torn the flesh out! Missed my jugular by half an inch. And you sit there refusing to shake hands! That's a nice return for my trying to steady you on your feet. You hit me first anyhow — attacked me like a madman."

"I suppose that's the story you'll tell at headquarters," said Ommony, smiling at last. The smile was invisible, because of darkness, but there, and as unmistakable as pain.

"Headquarters?"

"Yes. Have you still got that iron?"

He reached to make sure, and Prothero neglected the opportunity thus provided to strike him behind the ear because of Diana, whose shaggy hair was bristling and who was making music of a kind.

"Get up!" commanded Ommony, seizing a handful of Diana's scruff and leaning his whole weight on her as he got to his feet. "Get out into the jungle! Walk home and tell any lies you like! Cheat — chouse — perjure yourself — and have first move! I'll play what I have and beat you! Get out of here!"

Prothero ran to escape being kicked — ran faster because of Diana's music growling through her teeth behind him — and was bitten by the other two dogs that had been caught and held at the temple door by Mahommed Babar's orders. No Mohammedan quite likes the company of dogs in his living-quarters, and he had ordered all three kept outside, but nobody had dared handle Diana, whom Ommony now had to hold with all his might to prevent her from joining the other two and tearing Prothero to pieces.

The other two dogs were dragged off at last, Ommony contrived to leash Diana, and Prothero, refusing to believe his senses, yet aware of the toe of his enemy's boot, was driven past the fires, and past the elephants, and out into the jungle — bleeding, bruised, sans weapons, sans cook or cooking-pot, sans cigarette, sans anything.

But after Prothero had gone, with Diana's deep voice belling from behind to hasten him, Ommony whistled in a way that was peculiar to him, and a jungli came flitting between the tree trunks no nearer than was necessary. Only his outline was vaguely visible — that and the reflection of the firelight in his eyes — but he grunted, and Ommony answered. After about a minute's interchange of gutturals the jungli disappeared again along the trail of Prothero.



CHAPTER 7
"A cur, never!"

It is not good to be bleeding in the jungle in the dark, and all alone, especially if you can only see a star or two at intervals between the over- arching trees and have lost a great part of your sense of direction because one eye is nearly out of commission and the other bruised. Ill-temper and hatred are no help.

There are creatures that see in the dark and have wings and like blood and can sting. There are four-footed "fellamilads" with fangs that moisten at the smell of warm blood from far off. Eyes that gather up the almost non- existent jungle light and gleam as they dodge from tree to tree. Voices that whimper and whisper and yelp of hunger — voices that roar — and, the worst of all! — stealthy footfalls, announcing the approach of none knows what, but it may be a black panther. And there are snakes which rustle in the undergrowth, or hang down swaying among the creepers.

Prothero elected to climb a tree and wait in its branches until morning. But even as he raised his right foot painfully, using a hand to help his thigh that ached on the under part where Ommony's toe had met meat, a silent form, almost invisible, moved in the velvet gloom beside him and he leaped for the narrow glade again, where a man at any rate had room to swing his fists.

Whereat a low noise like the mewing of a cat made his blood run cold, and he retreated along the glade, slapping the back of his neck to kill mosquitoes and turning at every second stride to see what he should see, but hoping to see nothing.

The mewing ceased when he went forward. When he paused to listen it began again — sometimes so close that the goose-flesh rose up all one side of his body as if some creeping thing had touched him. He was being followed, but could hear no footsteps. He could almost feel the presence of a living being, but could see none. Once, when he struck out suddenly in a sort of panic of despair, he thought his fist actually brushed against something, but it might have been one of the countless winged insects that were fluttering all about him — there were lots of those.

A bat crashed into his face, filling his nostrils with a stink beyond analysis. He struck the creature to the ground and killed it, but cried out, almost on the verge of tears — he, Prothero of the Intelligence!

He mastered himself with an effort and continued down the glade, but stopped again after a minute, for he heard the crunch of strong jaws that devoured the bat. He had to consider. Only two animals in all the jungle would devour that filthiness — pig or hyena — the bravest and the meanest beasts that live. He was not afraid of hyenas, or need not be; but if it was pig — the lords of the jungle, the tiger and leopard, give right of way to the boar, and he would better choose a tree accordingly.

He chose a tree, and even as he raised his foot to climb some other creature struck the brute that ate the bat. It snarled and yelped and ran off whimpering. So he knew it was hyena and not pig. But who — what had struck the brute? Not another hyena, for he heard the blow — almost a thump — it might have been a kick — a hoof he would have thought, only he could hear no footfalls. He started to climb the tree, and that infernal mewing began again.

No use trying to climb away from any of the big cats. Each to his own element, and a man, even in extremity, is better on the hard ground and his own two feet. He groped about in utter darkness for a stick that would serve for a club, and his hand touched something neither warm nor cold that moved and drew an oath from him.

It might have been a snake, although it was hardly clammy enough. It had not feathers, nor any hair that he could feel. He had touched it, or it had touched him — which was it? — on a level with his waist. A snake can sit up to that height — some snakes can — but it had not struck, it had retreated.

Then a twig broke on his left, and another twig behind him, and the mewing began again. Colonel Arthur Prothero of the Intelligence cried out, on the threshold of hysteria.

After that he ran for a little while, hoping that the sound of his heavy footfall might scare away creatures given to mistrust of unfamiliar sounds. But the life of the jungle is lived by night, as it sleeps by day, and nearly all waking life is curious. He heard the crashing of the undergrowth as some big beast that knew his own power too well to worry about caution hurried to investigate. Stopping to hunt frenziedly for any kind of weapon — going on his knees to grope for down-wood — he heard what sounded like a fight. There were a dozen blows, a deal of crashing, snarling, growling, guttural grunting followed by retreat. But retreat of what he could not guess, any more than he could see what had caused retreat.

Had some beast — someone of the big cats — chosen him? Was it playing cat-and-mouse with him, and driving away competitors meanwhile? It felt, looked, sounded like it! He began to run again, partly to find out whether he was followed.

It was easy to run along the jungle lane, for the narrow slit overhead made the gloom luminous and the irregular line of trees on either hand was like two walls of blackness leaning inward, only just a trifle darker than the night itself. He could not hear anything following, and as he grew out of breath he stopped again to listen. Instantly, under the sound of his breathing and the humming of his own heart, he heard the mewing as distinctly as ever — closer than ever. He almost felt breath on his cheek, it was so close. He struck out, kicked, shouted, and his foot struck something neither soft nor hard that yielded and vanished, for when he kicked a second time there was nothing there.

The mewing resumed from behind him; not quite so close this time, but near enough to make his blood run cold — from about the height of his waist, or perhaps a bit higher, as well as he could judge.

At last he found a stick that would come away in his hand and was heavy enough for a weapon. He wielded it, whirled it about him, and shouted to raise his own courage, which was parlous near to disappearing altogether.

The stick struck something and broke. Whatever it struck was alive, for it grunted and gave way. Then instead of one sound of mewing there were three, distinct, from separate directions, and they seemed to be closing in on him. So he gripped the short end of the stick that was left in his hand and started off running again.

There came footfalls from behind him this time, but he could see nothing when he glanced over his shoulder. It was like the sound of soft feet galloping — not wolves or wild dogs, for they made no other sound and did not come fast enough — perhaps a hyena again. He stopped to stand at bay, and pursuit ceased instantly, which suggested a hyena more than any other brute.

But you can generally see a hyena's eyes, hung low and moving sidewise, and he could see nothing. He found another stick and charged with it, striking at the spot where he supposed the brute might be; but only beat the air and presently abandoned that, for it made him feel more impotent than ever.

Meanwhile the bruises Ommony's fists had made and the flesh torn by Diana's teeth had become a spread feast for the insects. He had come away without a handkerchief, so he tore off the tail of his shirt to make a bandage. In the dark he tore it badly. It was too short. He had to tear the whole shirt up to get a piece long enough to be any good. That did serve to cover up the actual open wounds; but it stuck to them and hurt nearly as badly as the insects had. Moreover, it left the bruises exposed, and his torso arrayed in nothing but a cotton singlet, through which the mosquitoes could drive their gimlets comfortably with the additional advantage of a foothold.

"Just like that cad Ommony to kick me out without coat or hat!"

Rage against Ommony helped for a little while, but gave place to chagrin. He did not feel proud of having been kicked out of camp by the bookseller's son. Ommony was a person who had friends. He, Prothero, was indisputably blessed with a number of steadfast enemies. He had always regarded his enemies as useful hitherto. They had provided him with opportunities to score vindictively and call attention to his dangerous qualities, which was the same thing in his mind as importance.

Ommony's friends were not only numerous, some of them were highly placed. That made the situation awkward. Damn the man! Why couldn't he be the nincompoop a bookseller's brat ought to be, and take the consequences! A mere Woods and Forests man who was friendly with rebels and knew the junglebat was such an obviously easy mark for a Colonel of Intelligence in search of a scapegoat! Friends or no friends, he could have contrived to blame Ommony for Mahommed Babar's continuance in the field if only the bally man hadn't presumed to take his own part so damned effectively!

He could have made a lovely scandal of it. A minor British official charged with treason! An insignificant but famous Woods and Forests man convicted of harboring his country's enemies! A notorious pacifist caught in the act of fostering rebellion! Suspected, tracked down, seen, overheard and taken by the famous Arthur Prothero, hero of so-and-so and such-and-such. He might have got a decoration out of it! And the leverage it would have given him over Ommony's erstwhile friends would have been priceless.

"That's what you think, is it? Well, I'm told you used to believe in Ommony, so your opinion—"

But who was going to be convinced now by circumstantial evidence without investigation? No one, except that ass Macaulay, who was known to hate Ommony and always to be convinced, in advance of the evidence, on whichever side his prejudices leaned.

Macaulay on your side was worse than useless. All the other influential men would wait before passing judgment. They would ask why Ommony had thrashed him, Prothero. And what would the answer be? Damn it!

He knew what the answer would be. People who liked Ommony were fanatics about him, and all fanatics were fools. They would assert and maintain that Ommony, being such as he was known to be, would never thrash a man without good reason. They would look into the reason. And, damn it! — whatever Ommony might say, there would be men who would believe, implicitly!

Dread of future developments added itself to immediate fear and the torture of insects. There were moments when it almost seemed better to face about and wait for the wild beasts that dogged him so persistently. He wished he knew more zoology, so as to know what animal mewed like that. Come to think of it, he had never heard an exactly similar noise, but that might be because he had never studied leopards except by way of shooting them occasionally. It might be a cheetah.

Someone told him once that cheetahs mew when tracking down their prey. If it was a cheetah there were very likely several of them. That made the recent chorus of mewing comprehensible. There were two or three hours yet until dawn. They kill at dawn or just before it preferably, he remembered — or so somebody had said.

Well, he always did hate a man who funked death when it could not be escaped. If it could be avoided, then any course was justifiable for a man of position and means. But was it avoidable now? Was there any other victim for the cheetahs, to be substituted for himself? No. Not even Lal Rai — that impudent, lying, rascally, useful dog Lal Rai.

He wondered what would happen to Lal Rai. To whose lot would he fall? He would surely fall to someone, for a man like that was never any use without a master. And he certainly would never find another master who would understand him and make use of him as he, Prothero, had done. Any one with idiotic notions about conventions and morality might as well hold a two-edged knife by the blade as try to employ Lal Rai. For a while he was almost happy, thinking of the tricks he had turned through Lal Rai's agency. But the mewing began again.

He was dreadfully tired as well as sore and irritated. He had an idea that his nerve would fail altogether if he continued retreating in front of that beastly, blood-chilling noise. As a man of notorious resourcefulness he felt reasonably sure that if there were a remedy within reach he would not have overlooked it. Death seemed inescapable. No way out. It was undignified, as well as stupid, to keep on running away from what could overtake him whenever it chose.

Beaten — defeated he might be. A cur, never! He chose a tree by the feel of it, and sat down with his back against its bole, to wait for death. He even composed his own epitaph, and wished he had a pencil with which to write it on a scrap of paper for the search-party to find and turn in at headquarters.

He waited a surprisingly long time, and nothing happened, except that the cloud of insects increased, and whenever he moved there was mewing. Hang it, it was almost like a house-cat's! That thought brought relief, after its absurdity had faded, and it is surprising what relief will do to a man whose nerves are all on edge.

He found himself struggling to keep awake. He had to rub his eyes repeatedly. More and more frequently his head fell forward on his breast. More than once his own half-finished snore brought him back to his senses with a start. When he heard other sounds, and thought he saw eyes in the dark very near him, he could not be sure that he was not dreaming.

Finally he decided that he might just as well be killed while asleep as while awake. So he made himself as comfortable as he could, laying his head against a root and curling up as if he were in bed. He fell asleep almost instantly, and was awakened by loud mewing shortly after sunlight had begun to penetrate the jungle.

He sat up, rubbed his eyes and looked. Six of Ommony's naked junglis sat around him in a semi-circle — sat and mewed at him, and pointed in the direction of the railway line.



CHAPTER 8
Colonel John Tregurtha, V.C., D.S.O., Etc.

In the big tent by the flagstaff, on the hilltop overlooking the compounds where the prisoners wondered what was next, Macaulay smiled meanly. He was at his best, always, when a reputation was in danger. And his best was his worst. He could break a man more skillfully and painfully, and read a more eloquent lesson from it afterward, than any man in India, except perhaps one missionary, who deserves a story to himself and shall be accommodated — one of these days.

Macaulay did not seem to feel the heat. He was probably as incapable of suffering or sentiment on such occasions as a hound in full cry.

Colonel John Tregurtha V.C., D.S.O., etc., on the other hand, wiped sweat from his forehead and swore in undertones. He sat across the table from Macaulay and studied the map between them in order to keep himself from doing violence — which must never be done to civilians.

Ommony had made the map, and there were ways in which it differed from the Ordnance Survey maps, as Macaulay had been careful to point out; but, as Tregurtha had made answer, Ommony was not an Ordnance Survey man, and it was the only map available.

"He should have taken the trouble to familiarize himself with requirements," said Macaulay.

"Was he ever paid for his work?" asked Tregurtha.

Macaulay withdrew into cynical silence behind his handkerchief. Tregurtha rubbed it in.

"I understand that we didn't even lend him the surveying instruments."

"Why should a Woods and Forests man make maps at all?" demanded Macaulay. "He is paid to look after trees."

"Don't his trees look good?" asked Tregurtha. "This is an excellent map."

"It looks to me like the work of a man whose attention is divided — improperly divided," said Macaulay.

"He includes geology, altitude, contour, running water with depth and periodicity, standing water, rocks, trees — a very good map," said Tregurtha. "Just the least confusing to a person not taught to read maps—"

"Do you refer to me as a person?" asked Macaulay.

"These peculiar marks are ancient buildings — not given on our maps at all," said Tregurtha.

"Probably not there," said Macaulay.

"This one is Peria Vur — or so he calls it."

"That, I take it, is his ultimate effrontery," Macaulay sneered. "The naming of places is a function of Government, not the privilege of Woods and Forests men. But, of course, as the place is probably not really there—"

Tregurtha got up and strode up and down to make sure of himself, then resumed his chair in the way a man faces the dentist. If his duty, as it seemed, was to speak to Macaulay civilly, he decided he could manage it.

"A spy has reported elephants at a point that seems to correspond with Peria Vur," he said.

"Doubtless wild ones," said Macaulay.

"The Air Force reported recently that their men have seen what look like camp-fires close to the same spot."

"Forest fires," the other answered. "Ommony was no doubt making maps instead of attending to business."

Tregurtha was about to retort, but a junior officer brought in a despatch marked "O.H.M.S. Secret." Tregurtha opened it, studied it, wrinkling his forehead for several minutes, and began wiping away sweat again — a process that annoyed the other, whose only natural function was declared by irreverent juniors to be indigestion.

"Let me remind you," said Tregurtha, "first and last I have urged reconnaissance of Peria Vur."

"You have insisted ad nauseam! I suppose you had the right to. I have opposed it for three reasons, which I don't mind repeating. In the first place, the expense. Second, the rebellion is over; armed reconnaissances should give place to peaceful measures. Third, Peria Vur is a mare's nest — one of this man Ommony's inventions for calling attention to himself. He craves notoriety. It's a disease with him."

Tregurtha laid the secret despatch face downward on the table, for it had become a habit with all who knew Macaulay to permit him no unnecessary opportunities. "Well, here's important news," he said. "From the Intelligence — delayed — cut wire. The train in which Colonel Prothero was traveling was derailed. Prothero was carried off. Ommony's bungalow was raided the same night; his stores were looted, and Ommony too was carried away prisoner."

Macaulay refused to be shocked.

"Prisoner fiddlesticks! He's hand and glove with every disaffected person in the country!"

"I suspect Peria Vur. The report says tracks lead in that direction, and Ommony's servants confirm the belief."

"I'd like to interview those servants."

"Nothing to prevent you. The predicament of Prothero calls for action."

"You may act in any way within your province, Colonel Tregurtha. Limits were laid down at the recent conference. The predicament of a Colonel of Intelligence! Hah! It ought to make a good story!"

"This is an emergency."

"I deny that it amounts to that," Macaulay answered, reaching for the despatch, and turning it face upward.

Tregurtha permitted him with ill-concealed reluctance. The men who write military messages in great haste are not adepts at presenting their case to sarcastic civilians. Macaulay, martinet-civilian, as Tregurtha was practical soldier, was there for the appointed purpose of bringing military measures to an end; he could combine business with pleasure, and did, his pleasure being such as it was.

"On the strength of this one scribbled note do you expect me to risk my reputation by permitting armed extravagance?" he asked with his choicest sneer. "What is obviously called for is an investigation as to how Colonel Prothero—"

"I will investigate," Tregurtha interrupted, pocketing despatch and map and getting to his feet.

"In person?" asked Macaulay, taken aback for the moment; then, recovering himself, "You will report to me, of course."

Tregurtha made no answer but strode out of the tent and gave his own orders wherever he felt he still had some authority. Under Macaulay's exacerbating regime the tendency was to set clique against clique, with everybody spying on everybody else and all power consequently centering into Macaulay's own hands. But not all men are amenable to that kind of thing, and Tregurtha had his resources. He made the most of them. There was no prohibition against sending out patrols in quick succession, so he did that, and gave them orders to rendezvous at a point along the line, whither he himself proceeded in an empty freight train.

So he arrived with about a hundred men next day at the point where Prothero's train had left the line and was still blocking the way. Labor gangs were already busy with it. Nobody had been killed; no loot had been taken from the train, which, except for minor damage, was unharmed. The train crew, the handful of passengers, Ommony's servants, and a few other witnesses had been rounded up by the first officer to arrive on the scene in charge of a patrol, and they were all indignantly anxious to tell their story and get away from the miserable wayside station, where they were accommodated in a shed that reeked of ancient skins and similar products of the country.

Tregurtha packed them into his train under guard and sent them back, after hearing what they had to say, and himself remained on the spot with most of his men, planning to return in the derailed train when the gangs should have put it in commission, and providing nothing else transpired meanwhile.

There was no proper breakdown machinery on the spot, and no chance of getting any until the wires should be mended, which was "not yet." So the soldiers were put to work, and what with showing the railway coolies how to do things, and being shown by them, it was night before the job was nearly done. And there were no flares. If it had not been for a culvert that the engine broke when it left the track — but there is always something.

So the men bivouacked happily, Tregurtha studied the situation, as his report expressed it afterward, and sent out scouts to find natives who might throw some light on events. Nothing happened, except for an incidental fight or two between the soldiers and the half-caste railway underlings, who hate one another as suddenly and fiercely as ants from a different hill. No native informants who had any valuable knowledge were discovered, and when morning came Tregurtha recognized himself as hardly wiser than the day before.

However, when the sun was just beginning to peer over the tree-tops and start the men swearing, there came stumbling to the edge of the bank above the track an apparition in a bloody singlet, with a fragment of a torn khaki shirt knotted around his neck. His eyes were almost entirely closed by bruises and mosquito bites, and he came forward as if goaded like an ox; as if direction were supplied by pin-pricks and the impulse to advance by fear of something following.

He in no wise resembled any form of military man, except for his puttee leggings and boots, which still retained shape, if not slickness and polish. His breeches were a mass of matted leaves and blood, for the jungle insects are hardly delayed by a thickness of cotton twill. He needed shaving, to say nothing of a bath; and in fact had reached the stage of misery, dirt, and discomfort in which he almost ceased to resemble a human being. He did not see the top of the bank, but stepped forward and fell over it, sliding and rolling twenty feet to the bottom, where he sat up presently, making no sound, only his swollen lips moving. A sentry from a point of vantage some way along the bank called attention to him as a man at sea might report a ship on the horizon. But it seemed to be nobody's business to go and investigate, and finally Tregurtha went himself, rather expecting to have to call for a non-com to arrest a drunken half-breed.

"Who are you, my man?" he asked when he came close enough.

"By Jabez, Tregurtha," he mumbled. "I'm damned if I know! I was Prothero once!"

Now Prothero and Tregurtha reckoned any way at all were as the poles apart. Tregurtha did not even regard Prothero as a good Intelligence officer, and as for his morals, manners, and personal habits he despised them de profundis. On various occasions he had found him out in ambitious prevarications, without, however, ever having had sufficient proof to force an issue; so almost the first thought that occurred to him as he beckoned for help was that he should guard against trickery.

No cause had any interest for Prothero unless it should profit him personally. That was notorious. It was therefore almost a duty to regard Prothero's statements with suspicion. There was, moreover, Macaulay. He and Prothero were known as the fox and badger, because they were allies but not friends, and had other peculiar characteristics that endeared them neither to each other nor to their subordinates, but made both of them dangerous to their equals and superiors.

So he avoided confidences for the moment on humanitarian grounds and superintended the sponging of Prothero's face. Then he had him almost embalmed in vaseline and bandaged from head to foot; all of which was very comforting after such a night as Prothero had spent, and set up a corresponding reaction in his mind — brought his natural inclinations uppermost. If you thaw out a frozen snake you must not be surprised if he bites you, but some folk never learn that.

Tregurtha had learned it, of course, but never really understood. He could dislike, distrust, and despise like any normal man; but he was constitutionally incapable of fathoming the obliquity of either Prothero or Macaulay; and he was unfortunately capable of pitying either of them, even when he felt most sure that they were poisonous rogues.

In other words, Tregurtha was a plain and decent fellow, who knew obliquity existed, and regretted the fact. But he was as a rod in the hands of any high-placed crook who dared make use of him. He might have learned the facts if he had questioned Prothero the minute he came on him, but he did not.

So by the time he had Prothero comfortably stretched on a seat in the very car from which he had been dragged by Mahommed Babar's men, with his own effects around him and his own servants, cook included, sent for from the railway station, the advantage had passed entirely into the wrong hands. It is a maxim of the Intelligence to say nothing without good reason; and Prothero, with his wits just sufficiently recovered to make him cautious, determined to give away no information unless and until he could find out how much was known already.

It would have been a breach of discipline, punishable under King's Regulations, to refuse to answer questions, so he took the simply obvious course of pretending to be "all in." He certainly looked the part, and the bandages added their picturesque suggestion.

"Lal Rai," he mumbled with his eyes closed, instead of answering the questions Tregurtha put to him.

His purpose was to commit himself to nothing; his interest in Lal Rai's whereabouts would be taken as only natural, no matter how much Tregurtha knew already or would be likely to find out later.

"I have no news of Lal Rai," said Tregurtha. "Try to collect your thoughts now. Just nod or shake your head, while I put questions. You were captured from this train and carried off — which direction? East? Northeast?"

It might have been the bandages that made the head movement so difficult to interpret. It seemed like a combination of nod and shake.

"Southeast?" Tregurtha suggested, and received the same answer — or so nearly the same answer that no sane man would swear to the difference.

"Who carried you off?" Tregurtha asked. "Mahommed Babar? Was Ommony a prisoner too? Did you see him?"

The movements of his head continued to mean either yes or no, until gradually Prothero became convinced that Tregurtha knew literally nothing, or he would not have asked such questions.

There was no doctor on the scene, as Prothero lapsed unchallenged into a kind of coma in order to think uninterrupted. He took his time about recovering; did not recover, in fact, until the culvert was reported practicable and Tregurtha went out to examine it. In Tregurtha's absence he sat up and demanded whisky; and the whisky provided just that touch of daring that, in his condition, was all that was needed to change irresolution into decision. As Ommony had correctly diagnosed, he was a man who would inevitably make mistakes.

As an inventor, who had wrestled with a problem for endless weeks, may sit up in the night and see in a flash the false key to his discovery, so, with the whisky fumes in his brain, Prothero saw not only how to have revenge on Ommony, but how to gather credit for himself. To men of his disposition no success is genuinely palatable unless it includes failure for someone else.

He saw how to discredit Tregurtha, who in his opinion was overrated and needed showing up. Overrated men ought to be shown up as a matter of religion. The solution was perfect — three-sided, as all perfection should be! He was careful to show just sufficient symptoms of recovery to induce Tregurtha to resume his questioning on his return from inspecting the culvert and ordering steam up on the engine.

Face to face with Tregurtha across the narrow compartment he allowed it to be dragged forth from him that a considerable body of outlaws, about whose numbers he succeeded in being unintelligibly vague, was at large in a clearing to the eastward. It was no part of his intention that Tregurtha should snatch one of those quick successes on which he had risen to distinction. So whenever Tregurtha questioned him about Peria Vur and ancient Buddhist temples he fell back on silence, vertigo, and incomprehensible mumblings through lips that masked his trickery to perfection.

Had not he himself cross-questioned hundreds of prisoners in his day? Did he not know all the side-steps of evasiveness, and how to state the truth while conveying the meaning of untruth? He contrived to convey the impression that these outlaws were a very ordinary company of malcontents, who might be surprised and rounded up without much difficulty; and the surprising fact that the train had not been burned or looted lent color to the suggestion. To Tregurtha, whose mind was direct and uncompromising, drawing simple conclusions from plain facts, it looked as if Mahommed Babar and a miserable handful had pounced on a couple of more or less important Englishmen with the notion of holding them as hostages — possibly to be exchanged eventually against indemnity for themselves.

"But how did you escape?" he demanded, and Prothero grew unintelligible again.

"Did you fight your way out?"

That was the kind of question Prothero was delighted to answer. To tell a lie truthfully tickled his sense of humor and complied with all his tenets. He nodded. He had fought his way out, hadn't he? He certainly wasn't going to admit that Ommony had kicked him out! He framed the words with cracked and purple lips, and made a gesture by way of illustration. Obviously, as a modest man, he could not boast of his own resourceful bravery, but the suggestion was in the air, nevertheless, that V.C.'s are mostly a question of available witnesses.

All of which naturally added to Tregurtha's growing conviction that the outlaws were an insignificant number, who should be handled with speed and resolution. Were there not Prothero's previous reports, to the general effect that not a rebel was left at large "with guts enough to grin with"?

Personal ambition did not influence Tregurtha, and he was man enough not to be governed by desire to score off Macaulay. But to his view the situation called for immediate action, and that was nearly, but not quite, all about it.

"Didn't they take you to Peria Vur?" he demanded. "Isn't there an ancient temple where they're camped? Elephants? An enormous rock that junglis call the Rump?"

Prothero's eyes were much too swollen and discolored to betray the thought behind them as it began to dawn how perfectly he could mislead the other man without incriminating himself. He permitted the impression to escape that he was gradually recalling impressions and incidents, which had been for a while obliterated by his experiences in the jungle. There was such a temple. They were camped there. He remembered.

"You came on foot from there to here? How far away is it then? Must be fairly close. You arrived here about eight in the morning. In your condition you can't have been marching many hours. Is it three-four-five miles?"

Prothero nodded at the word five. Fifteen was nearer the mark, and he knew it, but the truth might make Tregurtha over-cautious. Tregurtha remembered that Ommony's map, which he had in his pocket, gave the distance as fifteen or sixteen miles; but, as Macaulay had insisted, the map was not necessarily accurate. Prothero, who had come recently on foot, should know best.

"All right," he said suddenly, "I'll have this car cut off and send you along. Please tell Macaulay that my patrols will probably be in touch with the outlaws by the time you get there. He may expect to hear from me soon after. This should be a quick business, so I'll keep all of this train except your car, and use it for a base of operations. Hang it, man! I do believe you're smiling! Well, well, that's splendid! Feeling better already, eh?"



CHAPTER 9
"I will do anything you ask of me, Bahadur."

The showdown came at dawn. They do. If the history of crises could be written it would be set down that the turning-point in the career of nations as well as individuals occurs with almost mathematical exactitude between darkness and the rising of the sun.

Mahommed Babar came before the false dawn and awoke Ommony, who was sleeping fitfully on a heap of blankets in the lap of a stone Buddha. Together they mounted the Rump by a winding flight of steps cut the width of a human foot into the granite, and sat facing the direction where the sun would presently appear. There was an enormous lingam there, which Mahommed Babar used as a stool, sitting in the European way with legs thrust forward and his old-fashioned saber laid across his knees. Ommony sat on an altar to some obscure Hindu god that, like the lingam, had displaced, or, at any rate, had followed after the purer worship of the Buddha.

They were aware that they formed an almost perfect contrast — conscious of the fact that they were men of opposite color, differing creed, rival culture, seeking for a common denominator, as it were, through which they might attain to understanding. So they were silent all the while the false dawn flickered in the sky. For just as the really hungry hound pursues and does not give tongue, men who genuinely seek knowledge make no noise about it.

"How is it, my friend Ommony?" Mahommed Babar said at last. "We are men, we two. The world as we know it would be safer in our hands than in those of the men who do rule it. We have the merit of being honest. Why are we not successful?"

"Perhaps because we are fools," suggested Ommony.

"Nay, I think not. If a man is a fool who puts conviction to the test, then I have no use for the universe or all its laws!"

"Perhaps the universe with all its laws has a use for you," Ommony answered dryly.

"We mean the same thing, sahib, only we phrase it differently. But I would like to know what it all amounts to. My heart burns with rebellion. Who put it there? I see, I know, I admire such men as you; and I rebel against the culture that you worship! I defy your masters! I cannot rebel against what represses me unless I injure you; and if I ceased to rebel I would cease thereby to be a man, and be not worth your respect. What is the meaning of it all?"

"When I have looked I have nearly always found a middle way," said Ommony.

"A middle way? Hah! That is the obsession of the English. Compromise is its other name. I hate it! The middle way between light and darkness is gloom; between enmity and friendship is treachery; between rebellion and servitude is hypocrisy! I despise all three. Nevertheless, I am gloomy and a traitor and a hypocrite!"

"I shouldn't have supposed you were the last two," Ommony answered, biding his time like a fisherman.

"It is being a traitor and a hypocrite that makes me gloomy," Mahommed Babar answered. "I must betray the Moplahs, who stood with me until the end, or else my Northern friends, or you — or even possibly all three!"

"How does that make you a hypocrite?"

"I do the very thing I hate. I play off one alternative against the other. You think me a brave man — a bold man, Ommony?"

"I have considered you brave."

"I am afraid!"

"I have often been afraid," Ommony answered.

"I am a coward!"

Ommony chose a cigar from his case and stuck it in his teeth belligerently, up-tilted — lighted it with one hand, never taking his eyes off the other's face — and slightly closed his left eye, as he always did when studying the jungle.

"Hah! You eye me as a man who judges wine, and you are a good judge. But, you see, it isn't dawn yet, and who shall judge wine in a half-light?"

"Half-light! I think that's it!" said Ommony, and the rissaldar nodded.

"Something is happening, sahib, but we know not what. We see a little, but not enough. You see that the sun is setting on the day of empires — on the earth hunger that has made one nation rule another. I see the sun rising on new realms. Yet neither you nor I see clearly. I am a rebel, because my heart burns. You are—"

"My business is the forest," Ommony answered.

"I would praise Allah more profoundly if I might speak as you!" said the rissaldar. "You can devote yourself to the forest and injure none. Mine is rebellion, and it seems I must injure everyone! Yet, sahib, if the truth could be peeled, as it were, so that one might see it naked, it would be known that I would rather die than injure anyone except myself!"

Ommony nodded with understanding. To be born rebel, whose brave heart burns without envy, his own submission to authority always seems to be the greatest injury that he could do the world. The very strength of his compassion for the under dog strips him of patience. Pilate asked, "What is truth?" and washed his hands, committing murder to save himself trouble. The rebel sees untruth and strikes at it because he knows what truth is, yet not how to express it. He kills that other men may live — is willing to die that other men may live. The world has gone forward on the backs of rebels, continuing to treat them as vermin, yet making heroes of them after they are dead."

"What puzzles me is why you don't get out of here," said Ommony at last.

"How can I, sahib? When this Moplah rebellion began I lent my sword and became a leader. I sent letters to such cities as Peshawar. Men joined me from the North, and then I sent back to recruit others, appointing a rendezvous here, on this spot. Shall they come then and not find me here?"

"If the troops come and find you here—"

"There might be a fight!" Mahommed Babar answered. "That might possibly serve as an advertisement to keep my friends away! But I doubt it, and it might do the reverse. You remember that I suggested that you should mail my letters, and you refused? You were right to refuse. Besides, letters, are probably opened, so of late I have written none. My friends are in ignorance, and if I were to be taken without a fight they would never learn of it until they all came blundering into a trap. But if there were a fight, and I should defeat the British, news of that would travel on the wind. My friends might come hurrying all the faster — and to what? To a cause already lost — to sure defeat! So either way I am a traitor to my own! What shall I do, sahib?"

"That's the end of every problem, 'What are you going to do about it?'" answered Ommony. "Look. There's the dawn at last."

"Aye, but the dawn of what? Irresolution — irony — Nemesis — who knows? And how about you, my friend? You have kicked that hyena Prothero into the jungle. Your junglis will shepherd him. My scouts say that railway men are already working on the wrecked train, so he will find servants, if not friends. He will say what he likes about you! What if they kill me and you are taken?"

Ommony got to his feet and stretched himself, facing the rising sun.

"Lord knows!" he answered. "It's your affair as long as I'm your prisoner."

"And if I let you go?"

"It would then become my business."

Mahommed Babar rose with his back to the sun and stood facing Ommony. He smiled, but he looked like the image of robbed hope, not disillusioned but defeated. The sun's rays, edging him, only appeared to exaggerate his mental agony.

"It is a difficult thing," he said, "to set a hundred nations free!" He did not exaggerate. India is at least a hundred nations. Ommony laughed, but without scorn.

"The funny part about that is that you have to free one man first," he answered; and of the two, although he was prisoner and the other captor, he looked the less distressed in mind or body. Mahommed Babar was pale and drawn with anxiety. The sun, brazening as it rose, made of the surrounding tree-tops a shimmering sea of gold and silver, and of the rock they stood on an opal; but it made Mahommed Babar old and grim, although be was hardly as old as Ommony.

"I think that I will set you free," he said slowly — then broke out suddenly in bitterness: "It seems to make no difference what I do! I came to help these people, not myself; and they surrendered and left myself to pay the price! I sent for my friends, and I am become a bait that lures them to their undoing! Yet I intended less to make use of them than to provide them with opportunity! I took you prisoner because I hoped to save you from the stigma of having befriended me. But I think I have only made your situation worse! Prothero is free, for you freed him; he will lie about you to save his own face. Lal Rai is loose—"

Ommony gasped as if someone had hit him.

"Lal Rai gone! That rascal is Prothero's brains! I warned you—"

"I know you did, Bahadur. But he broke the iron with which we fastened him, slew two of my men in the night, and slipped away. None knew until early dawn. I sent men in pursuit, but—"

"Damn!" exclaimed Ommony.

"So there are two dangerous men who will accuse you. No man, sahib, ever had a better friend than you have been to me, and no friend ever steered a course more carefully. I could answer truly that you never stepped beyond the letter of your authority, but who will believe me?"

Ommony did not answer. Something told him that the upshot of it all was ripe for announcement, and that Mahommed Babar was only coming at it in his own way.

"I can save you, sahib, I think, but first tell me this: Am I of use in the world? I am a defeated man, but might my sword perhaps yet serve these people?"

"That is Allah's business," answered Ommony, in his usual unbigoted way that makes so many Christian missionaries hate him.

"Is it your business to—"

"My business is the forest!" he interrupted, sure that he could never insist too strongly as to that.

"If I let you go, will you do me one favor, sahib?"

"Because you release me? No."

"I do. You are no longer a prisoner. Will you do me a favor, sahib?"

"Ask. I'll answer yes or no."

"Lead British troops to this place! Let them take what they find, see what they see, draw their own conclusions — and do you say nothing!"

"No ambush?"

"None! I want you to promise me to keep hands off — to say nothing, know nothing, do nothing except see to it that news of my capture and death is made public. My friends must hear of it."

It was Ommony's turn to be irresolute. By the terms of the original permission given to him to remain at his forest post, when all other Europeans were hurriedly herded into Calicut because of the rebellion, he might regard himself as almost a neutral, in order that either side might have the ear of the other through him. In common with all neutrals, being human, he had not pleased both sides; although the Moplahs had never once doubted him and some of his own countrymen had understood.

He regarded it as none of his business to dictate to Mahommed Babar what he should or should not do. If the sirdar wanted to surrender that was his affair, between himself and his own conscience. What did occur to him and puzzle him was whether or not the Moplahs would understand, when they should learn eventually that he, Ommony, whom they had trusted, was the individual who guided troops to their ex-leader's hiding-place and so brought about his capture, and in all likelihood his death.

"Understand me, sahib, please! No lawyers to be hired to try and turn death into life imprisonment! As a friend I am asking you to lead the troops to this place and to let what may happen to Mahommed Babar!"

Suddenly Ommony squared himself and turned his back on the sun in order to see better into the sirdar's eyes.

"Your life is yours and you are master of it," he said slowly. "If I go, it will be my duty to bring the troops here, provided I'm asked to. If you're here when they come that's your lookout. All right. Do me a favor in return."

"Subject to the stipulations I have named, I will do anything you ask of me, Bahadur."

"Good. You've a murdering, torturing devil in your party, who richly deserved hanging a year ago. See that he's here, too, when the troops come. I refer to Ali Khan of Aira."

To Ommony's surprise the sirdar nodded, answering eye to eye unflinching.

"He shall be here. He is a rascal, but he has been brave, so let us pray they shoot him instead of hanging!"



CHAPTER 10
"I'm glad it's you, Tregurtha!"

Most men run as true to type as animals. Tregurtha did. As a wolf or a bear or an elephant will react in a definite way to a given set of circumstances, Tregurtha, given opportunity, could be counted on for forced marches, swift decisions, and a trick of catapulting his whole command at a hole in the enemy's line. He had won half a dozen distinctions that way, including the respectful title of "Sic 'em Tregurtha" from his men, and there was as much likelihood of changing him as of persuading the Sphinx to move along a bit.

Circumstances were decidedly in his favor. He no longer had any engine, so he couldn't return to headquarters. Prothero was on the way to see Macaulay, who, without any doubt whatever, running also true to type, would take immediate steps to spoil the game for all concerned; that was another certainty. He had a map, a compass, and a hundred and eleven men, plus a more than usually guarded admission from Prothero that the enemy was within striking distance. Plenty for "Sic 'em" to base a decision on.

So Prothero had hardly been gone twenty minutes when Tregurtha's dispositions were all made, down to the final selection of the dissatisfied eleven whose duty would be to stay and guard the train. The delighted hundred were drawn up awaiting the order to march, and Tregurtha was giving his final instructions to subordinates, when, however, according to Tregurtha's memoranda, twenty-two minutes and thirty seconds after the departure of Prothero's engine and one car, a one-eyed specimen of humanity emerged from the forest and descended on the railway line by the ancient and honorable means of sitting and so sliding. As he had no pants he wore out nothing.

He resembled one of those unfortunates released from the Bastille, in the beginning of the Terror. He was about as full of human charity. His one eye glared. From his wrists, by bent but unbreakable rings, hung the broken bar with which they had fettered him and with which, when he had smashed it, he had brained his guards. Furthermore, there was other than human blood on those pieces of iron. He had had no escort of junglis, and they who believe they are lords of the jungle had challenged his right of way. He could have chanted a one-night Odyssey had poetry been in him. However, he was a wholly prosy individual, laconic, and obsessed by one idea, outlined, defined, and expressed by the first word that escaped him after one of the eleven had pounced on him and led him to Tregurtha. "Perr-r-other-r-roh!"

Everybody knew that pest Lal Rai, either by sight or hearsay. Tregurtha recognized him instantly and knew, too, that news of the rascal's master was a key that would surely unlock speech. So he explained at once, and with sympathy, that Colonel Prothero was safe, comparatively speaking well, and already on his way to headquarters. Thereafter Lal Rai was provided with that lubricant of tongues that comes in a dented bottle, and given a seat in the shade on a camp-stool over against Tregurtha. Decidedly a seat of honor.

Lal Rai knew enough to dislike talking before witnesses, so as time was short Tregurtha conceded the point and there was none to overhear. Accordingly, Lal Rai was not afraid of being taxed with unlawful statements; and there was only one person to whom he ever told the truth in any event. There was fact in his account, but not much of it.

He had not seen Ommony thrash Prothero and drive him forth, so he was no more limited as to details than by his passion for revenge. Having been sent against Ommony in the first instance, he hated him as a good dog hates his master's enemy, and for no other reason. While he had lain under a displaced paving-stone in irons at Peria Vur his guards, who had had no orders to the contrary, described to him in joyous detail what was taking place, adding exasperating extras for their own amusement. Nevertheless, something of judicial hesitation had crept into Lal Rai's make-up, from constant association with officialdom, and he asked one question first. A lonely atom of the element of fair play lurked in him somewhere.

"Dekta sahib look-um like hell? Beatum bad?"

Tregurtha nodded. He saw no use in disguising that truth. And that settled it, naturally. Lal Rai was convinced and promptly turned imagination loose.

Luridly, with syncopated art, he pictured an attack by Ommony on Prothero. Ommony was the dragon of his story, Prothero Saint George, defeated, and the battle took place in a cave, as was picturesque, fitting and right. There were hot irons in it, and Ommony's dogs, and cold steel — blows rained with a bludgeon — horrible, dragony curses by Ommony. Piteous cries from the saintly Prothero — valor pitted against frenzy — and a final touch of perfect fiction reinforced by circumstantial evidence.

"You saw all this?" asked Tregurtha, with both gray eyebrows raised.

Lal Rai exhibited the broken fetter, still dangling from his wrists by rings.

"Me in it! Me beatum good! Killum too many men!"

He showed blood on the ends of the iron, and hairs sticking to the blood, which he swore were human hair. That gave Tregurtha, who knew what a leopard's hair looked like, his first real inkling of how much of the story to believe.

"Who began the fight?"

"Ommon-ee!"

"Did he simply attack Colonel Prothero?"

"Curse-um. 'Tack-um. Kick-um out!"

"Why?"

"Dunno!"

The mental picture of how Prothero had looked when he first came convinced Tregurtha that there was something in Lal Rai's account. Prothero had almost certainly been thrashed. However, he knew both men. He felt sure that Ommony had never thrashed anybody without utterly unpardonable provocation. He also realized that Lal Rai's account was colored by desire to avenge his master. But he did not realize the extent to which Lal Rai would dare go, for he had the usual senior officer's conviction that subordinates should not, and therefore do not, presume to instigate military movements.

But Lal Rai was made of atoms every one of which was disrespect. His soul was impudence. His god was Prothero. He knew where Ommony was, and, knowing less of military matters than a dog-like devotion to his master's feud, hoped, which in his case was the same thing as supposed, that Ommony could be taken red-handed in the rebel camp if Tregurtha and his hundred would only start at once and move swiftly. For himself, he was almost all in, but no more ready to quit than a wolf would be in the like predicament. A little more whisky — just a tumblerful — and he would guide them.

So he answered Tregurtha's succeeding questions with only one object in mind — to convince him how easy it would be to surprise and capture the rebels. He had no love for Mahommed Babar or for any of the men who had bound him and obliged him to make that desperate escape. He proposed to himself to enjoy their last predicament when Tregurtha should bring them to bay. But that was a side-dish — butter on the bread, you might say. The meal that should really satisfy was Ommony.

So whereas Prothero had tried to get Tregurtha to invade the jungle for one reason, and a mean one, Lal Rai persuaded to the same end from a different motive, after all not quite so mean, because it was based on loyalty to Prothero, whereas Prothero's malice was wholly selfish. Neither of them, of course, gave a moment's thought to the privates of the line who would be slaughtered inevitably if the rebels should ambush them and get the upper hand.

That, however, was the one remaining consideration that gave Tregurtha pause. He considered it, but experience had shown him what can be done by skating over thin ice, moving so swiftly that the enemy has no time to make plans and execute them. And he devoted the next five minutes to extremely careful cross-examination of Lal Rai intended to uncover what the risk might be, as that astute individual was quick to appreciate.

So Lal Rai's answers were framed to persuade him that advance was reasonably safe and the distance short. Within three quarters of an hour of Lal Rai's arrival on the scene he was limping back again, meditating exquisite amusement, guiding Nemesis in the shape of a British colonel, two captains, four lieutenants, and a hundred fighting men. Tregurtha for about the twentieth time in his life had crossed the Rubicon.

So the junglis, who had acted angels of the night to Prothero, and were asleep in the enormous hollow of a tree, awoke and fled before a column that came along the fire-lane noisily, four abreast, believing itself jungle-wise; whereas all the knowledge that it really knew was bravery — a good thing, but not all-inclusive. They fled before the frightening thump of feet, through a screen of Mahommed Babar's scouts composed of men who had crept oiled and naked through raw Peshawar mists at dawn to steal the rifles of wide-awake outposts, and whose only weapons had been won that way.

The junglis disappeared behind the screen of scouts, but the scouts remained, and intelligible word went back, exchanged from lip to lip, until it reached a plundered telephone restrung along the monkey-lanes, and Mahommed Babar learned the whole of what was happening, but not the whole of Tregurtha's intentions. And because there is never any knowing just how rash, ill-advised, and so occasionally brilliant a British colonel with a hundred men will be, it seemed wise to the sirdar to engage, and draw the column forward, until Ommony, no longer a prisoner but a free man burdened with a promise, could meet it and do the rest.

So the prettiest little fight took place that ever set the jungle leaves afire and scared awake the lovers of the dark. None better than Tregurtha could deploy a column in a tight place and advance — keep edging forward — ever alert like a man in the ring to punch with right or left as instant opportunity might offer. And none knew better than those wind-weaned Northerners how to fight a rear-guard action, neither yielding a yard too much nor standing a minute too long at any time. It was a nice, blind, bloody little mix-up, helped by the burning undergrowth and stinging smoke, costing a baker's dozen of men on either side and whetting the edge of the ardor of all concerned. It convinced Tregurtha that Prothero's and Lal Rai's information was correct about the nearness of Peria Vur and the rebels' stronghold. He proposed to keep advancing and to "sic 'em," so his men picked up their dead and were of one mind — his.

The reputations of great captains are built on their enemies' mistakes. Tregurtha, of course, knew that. He believed that once again by greatly daring he was upsetting all the enemies' calculations. In fact, the calculations of Mahommed Babar now were precisely made, and Tregurtha was kept advancing at the speed most convenient. The redoubtable sirdar took the field himself. Tregurtha's men were allowed no rest, given no glimpse of their antagonists, tempted, lured, enticed, retreated from, and once — when Tregurtha proposed to fall back on rising ground by water, for roll call and a breathing spell — informed by effectual means that retreat was impossible. They could not fall back on the railway if they wanted to. There was nothing for it after that but to continue the advance and strike at the heart of the rebels' stronghold.

Naturally, by that time every man in the column understood the predicament, and only the superstition of Tregurtha's invincibility prevented the men's morale from vanishing. The gloom of the jungle, penetrated by the irritating shafts of light that confuse eyesight and that caused the panther to invent those puzzling spots of his, the heat, almost insufferable, and the need to carry their dead as well as food and ammunition, were progressively effective — cumulative. Even Tregurtha was feeling the depression that foretells impending anti-climax, when the perfectly impossible occurred.

War — womb of melodrama — never staged anything more neatly, obviously, utterly theatrically turned.

Into the opal twilight of an opening caused by the enormous spread of twenty trees, in and out between the whiffs of dust and pools of light, nervous and yet persistent, dodging back a time or two but again urged on by the impulse of obedience, there emerged a wolf-hound, and was missed repeatedly by twenty men, who were in no mood for natural history. They swore, each time she dodged out of view, that they had shot a wolf, hyena, panther, leopard, jackal, antelope — practically everything except an elephant. It was Tregurtha himself who recognized the dog and blew his whistle for "cease fire."

As if she knew what the whistle meant, and as if she knew that he who blew the whistle must be officer commanding, Diana leaped out of the shadows, taking fallen tree-trunks in her stride, and thrust her great moist muzzle into Tregurtha's hand. He felt rather than saw the edge of folded paper, closed his fingers, and she was gone again, too swiftly to be patted, thanked, praised — gone with her haunches under her, shoulders and feet and sinews all one prodigious impulse, more beautiful and swift than a shadow of the tree-tops vanishing.

Tregurtha unfolded a slobbery half-sheet, pierced by Diana's eye-teeth, warm with her breath, and made out a message in a level, square caligraphy with which he was more or less familiar from constant study of a certain map.

To O.C. Troops marching on Peria Vur. If you will cease fire long enough to make the proceeding possible I will join you and bring information.

— Cotswold Ommony

The enemy's intermittent, scattered firing had all ceased several minutes before. Tregurtha shepherded his men into a safe formation, ringing the opening under the roof of golden-green with men who were gradually picking up the art of harmony with their surroundings. A man from the city streets might have strolled through the circle without seeing one of them. But the jungle undoubtedly smiled, as a city man smiles when a "hick" takes the sun on the sidewalk.

And Ommony smiled, as he came walking into the ring with a rifle at rest on his arm and three dogs at his heels. A jungli, as naked as black, bearing cartridges, flitted and trotted behind with that spring in his gait that a led Arab stallion uses when nervous. He shied like a horse when a man blew his nose, and was not reassured until he saw that the dogs were unsuspicious.

Lal Rai crouched by Tregurtha's feet and watched, his one eye looking less alarmed than mischievously curious — nevertheless aware of a certain tenseness in the situation. All three dogs raised their scruffs and growled at him. Ommony silenced them with a gesture, and they lay down, watching Lal Rai as if expecting to be told to tear him in pieces presently, Diana baring her teeth each time he moved even to flick a fly off. The jungli lay down beside the dogs on his stomach, chin on both hands. He watched Ommony, the only human being from all the outside world whom he could understand.

Ommony spoke first:

"I'm glad it's you, Tregurtha!"

The colonel unstiffened. Nothing in Ommony's words nor in his expression turned that trick. It was something in the air. If Ommony had sought to justify himself Tregurtha would have drawn on guard and might have missed the note, or the wave, or whatever it is that assured him Ommony was telling truth and totally reliable. Men are just like animals in that respect. They sniff-translate vibrations into smell — and either fight or make friends; but there are very few who understand the process that affects us all.

"You have information?"

Ommony nodded, and handed his rifle to the jungli, who sat up and nursed it in raptures of responsibility.

"You're all right," he said. "The rebels are retiring in front of you. Mahommed Babar wants to quit. The others won't let him surrender until they've had time to remove their belongings from Peria Vur. The elephants are forcing a line of retreat through the jungle. When they've cached their ammunition and supplies they mean to abandon the elephants and scatter. If you don't advance too swiftly you'll find Mahommed Babar, with possibly a handful, at Peria Vur, and he'll surrender at discretion. But if you attack too swiftly you'll force their hands. How many men have you — a hundred? Well, they have more than two hundred. They're desperate. Mahommed Babar wishes me to say that he is thoroughly tired of fighting and that he would appreciate it if he weren't obliged to surround you and cut you up!"

"Said that, did he? How far is Peria Vur?"

Ommony told him. There was more than half the way yet to go. Tregurtha glanced at Lal Rai, who looked in the other direction. He recalled to mind Prothero's nodded five-mile estimate. Swiftly, in the sudden way in which he saw the answers to algebraic equations at school, he grasped the fact that Prothero for one, at any rate, had lied intentionally. It often used to take him longer than anybody else to see a thing; but that was like Tregurtha. When he did see, he knew.

"Is it true you thrashed Prothero?" he asked.

"I did my best," said Ommony, opening his cigar-case, offering neither explanation nor excuse. Tregurtha watched him pull out a cigar, bite off the end and light it — eyed him thoughtfully with dawning appreciation for about a minute — then, "sic 'em" fashion, made his mind up.

"I'll have one with you," he said, shutting lips and teeth as if he had bitten off the end of doubt. "Give me a light from yours. Now sit down here and tell me your version of this."

"I've told it," said Ommony. "I was a prisoner until after dawn this morning. I was released, and then requested to bring you the message I've just delivered."

"Do you guarantee the truth of it?"

"No. I repeated it exactly. I believe it. It seems to correspond with what I've observed."

"Did Mahommed Babar make no stipulations?"

"Yes. He asked me to promise that news of his surrender and of his execution, if that takes place, shall be heralded broadcast in the interest of peace. He thinks the news will do more than anything to take the fight out of men who would otherwise keep flocking here from the North, to find him and fight under him. His only fear is that his capture may be kept secret."

"I say, he sounds like a sportsman, doesn't he?" said Tregurtha, blowing cigar smoke through his nose.

Ommony nodded.

"He has two hundred men?"

"More than two hundred," said Ommony. "He's commanding the rear-guard himself. He says, and I think he's right, he could have surrounded you and destroyed you half a dozen times this morning. You see that rock against the sky between the treetops? That's where he was ten minutes ago — gone now, of course."

Tregurtha gulped and swallowed smoke, which made him cough. Probably no man would like to be told that he has held the lives of his whole command in jeopardy all morning.

"This is an incredible business! You say if I advance slowly he won't attack, but will surrender at Peria Vur? You believe that? It isn't a trick to draw us into ambush?"

"You're at his mercy now, if he should care to attack," Ommony answered. "He gave me his word of honor there should be no ambush. I believe him so fully that I'm willing to return with you. Can't say more."

"All right, we'll take him at his word!"

Tregurtha was Tregurtha — unchangeable — half-school-boy with his itch for action and delight in other men's strong qualities. Ommony's first words. "I'm glad it's you, Tregurtha!" summed the whole situation up. There were half a dozen men available, of equal rank, any one of whom would probably have been incredulous on general principles, and might have retired to the edge of the jungle to await reinforcements. And a British retreat at that minute very likely would have tempted Mahommed Babar's rebels out of hand. It would have been like pulling lambs away before the eyes of wolves.

And Tregurtha's men were hero-worshipers. They idolized him as Lal Rai did Prothero, but with much more innocence. Realizing devotedly that he had snatched another victory by daring and great skill, which Ommony had come to announce, they went forward with a new enthusiasm, no longer needing impulse from the rear but Captain Cautions in advance of them to hold control.

There were stray shots now and then, but nobody was hit. There were shouts in the jungle at intervals, just beyond range, that suggested the presence of danger sufficiently to cause delay. But the shots and the shouts became fewer as hours and the miles sweated by and the crimson sun bore down below the higher tree-tops.

Then one prodigious bugle, winded by a man with leather lungs, clarioned a long laugh down the echoing fire-lane, and a feu-de-joie, or it might be a feu-de-congee, rattled through the trees like summer fireworks. Tregurtha's men answered it nervously, blazing at nothing; and theirs — the last echo of their useless volley — was the end. It was the blot, in place of period, that closed the so-called Moplah Uprising in Malabar. But that was all it closed, for incidents repeat themselves.

Tregurtha led on. And when the sun died down behind them, and the Rump loomed up enormous in the gloom at last, they saw a lone man seated there, in a sort of uniform, bowed, and with a saber of '57 across his knees. He made no sign. Tregurtha called to him:

"You may come down, Mahommed Babar. You're a man. We'll treat you decently."



CHAPTER 11
"Ommony was right in some respects."

Destiny makes no mistakes. We men are so perpetually fallible that, weary of ourselves, we invent a cause for disappointments and call that Destiny; but Destiny proceeds and is positive — with the precision of a calculating instrument. You punch a few keys here and it gives you a result there. No errors. No stray consequences.

Mahommed Babar did not come down from the Rump and surrender as requested. That surprised Ommony and annoyed Tregurtha. Tregurtha had in mind to do the decent thing and treat the rebel leader like a gentleman. He had proposed to himself to let him keep his sword, at least until they should reach the railway line, when it might possibly be mislaid as if by accident and not be seen again until turned into store at headquarters. He had decided to invite him to dinner al fresco, and to share with him the last two "tots" of whisky remaining in his pocket-flask. A gentleman resolved to act with courtesy is naturally annoyed by surliness.

And Ommony was twice surprised. That Mahommed Babar should be gloomy and aloof was in the circumstances comprehensible. But that his whole disposition should change in a few hours from that of a gallant commander to one of fear and surliness was puzzling. There was no reason whatever why he should not come down and shake hands and be introduced — unless he had not kept his promise to deliver Ali Khan to justice. Even so, perhaps, he had.

Ommony set about exploring the temple, peering into the holes under the paving-blocks where the rebels had made themselves at home, visiting the scene of his fight with Prothero in the vault below the temple, hunting behind the great image of the Buddha, in whose lap he had slept on a pile of blankets, investigating the shadows, bidding his dogs "go find him." But the dogs searched as vainly as he.

It was possible, and even probable, that Ali Khan had proved cantankerous, and at the last minute had had to be roped or even killed. But if roped, where was he? And if killed, where was his corpse? The man's crimes had been so abominable, and even his escape from jail, where he had awaited death, was contrived with such cruelty, that to leave him loose in a forest uncontrolled would be a worse crime than rebellion — a moral crime, whereas rebellion was only a legal one and might be a moral obligation. Yet the dogs could find no trace of him, dead or alive. And he hated to ask Mahommed Babar for an accounting of his given word — hated the idea of that as much as Tregurtha hated to send up a junior on the Rump to bring the defeated leader down.

The whole situation savored of anti-climax. The men lighted bonfires where the rebels' fires had been, and reflections of the flames danced merrily on the wonderful temple wall. The cook and his assistants, cursed, contriving, competent, began without argument to burn and boil the evening meal, so there was even that comforting smell to advertise contentment. There was even a trench ready-dug that would serve as a grave for their dead and rob death of its toil. There was plenty to eat; there was nothing to fear; there were dug- outs to sleep in and a temple for the officers; and yet there was gloom.

Something, somewhere had gone wrong, and even the cook's assistant stirring the slumgullion knew it.

Since Mahommed Babar would not come down, and there was only one way up discoverable, and that a narrow one eked out with hewn steps as wide as a man's foot, it was clearly beneath Tregurtha's dignity, as well as dangerous, to go up to him. If the man had to be dragged down, then a junior must do it. So he sent up a captain and two men, with orders to be polite if possible.

Waiting at the foot of the narrow, winding stair, that turned on itself like a snake in the dark, Tregurtha was presently aware of the captain's head that dropped through the dark to his feet and lay crushed like an egg. He felt hot blood splash on his hand, and almost before he could spring away in disgust the body of one of the privates came somersaulting down, striking the rock alternately with head and feet until it thudded on the captain's head and stayed there.

The third man shouted. He was putting up a fight. Tregurtha shouted too. There was a rush to clamber up and reach him before it should be too late and as only one at a time could use the steps they swarmed up the sides of the rock on one another's shoulders. Dozens fell back, and a number were injured, some badly; but nothing — no natural bar — can prevent the assault of men really determined. The fires of Vesuvius — Everest — the North Pole — nothing but the equally determined will of other men can hold them back; and nearly a score of them, clambering like apes, with bayonets shoved into the chinks to tread on and belts let down to haul the other fellow up, using teeth and nails and, chiefly, courage, scrambled on their bellies over the bulging summit. Then the rest was a matter of seconds and more team work. To their everlasting honor they took their prisoner alive, and unhurt except for the broken skin in places where the webbing they tied him with had bitten a mite too deep.

He had killed an officer and one man, mortally wounded a third, and seriously injured five more, including a lieutenant — all on the strength of a message, sent by Ommony, to the effect that he would surrender at discretion for the sake of peace.

Tregurtha naturally was indignant, although so proud of his men's performance that the two emotions choked him and he could hardly speak. They had taken the prisoner's sword away. A private, saluting very emphatically to call attention to himself — for the hope of decorations burns undimmed — presented it to Tregurtha, who took it in his fist by the middle of the scabbard, hardly noticing, and led the way to find a place where they should dare untie the prisoner's legs and arms without risking further violence or possible escape.

It did not prove easy to find just the right place. He made up his mind to ask Ommony. But where in hell was Ommony? What was he doing? What the deuce did he mean by absenting himself in a moment like that? And Lal Rai? Where the devil was that one-eyed scoundrel?

He knew in about a minute. He came on him gasping what looked like his last in a fight to the death with three dogs and the jungli who had trotted behind Ommony. They had to drive the dogs away with rifle-butts and drag the jungli free, too late to get any reasonable explanation from Lal Rai, who was raging semi-conscious in a hell full of imaginary monsters, acting like a cat in a fit — epileptic possibly. And as for the jungli, none knew his speech, even if he had said anything; he simply collapsed into absolute fear, which is stupidity.

The dogs did the explaining. Hurt by Lal Rai's fingers and the rifle- butts of his rescuers, they retreated to the first cause, the beginning, the basic fact that they understood, which is the way of intelligent men as well as animals. Without even glancing backward to see who followed, they sped into the temple's inner gloom and vanished downward, only the terrier giving tongue with a yap-yap-yap that gave away the whole itinerary as its tone changed, growing cavernous.

So they brought flashlights, a lantern, resinous torches, and followed — the colonel, two officers, and about a dozen men shepherding the prisoner, careful to use no violence, but hedging him in so closely that he would have had to kill three or four before he could start to escape.

The temple shadows danced in the torchlight and lamp-light, suggesting mystery and danger that the echoes more than half confirmed; but they followed the dogs, downstairs into the temple crypt, and came on them licking and whimpering over Ommony, who lay looking dead at the foot of the steps, between them and the thing like an altar on which Prothero had recently avoided painful entertainment.

But he was only stunned, for he was breathing. They picked him up, dogs protesting, and laid him on the altar, where he came to, blinking like a man just waking from a dream.

So he and the prisoner saw each other — looked for one swift moment into each other's eyes before the soldiers closed around their man again and hustled him away into the farthest corner. Question — Ommony's — met mockery — the sirdar's — as Tregurtha saw and noted mentally. It took more than seconds, usually, for Tregurtha's mental process to function, excepting in action. He knew he needed time to think.

"What happened?" he asked.

"Don't know," said Ommony, also needing time to think. Tregurtha walked around the cavern examining the walls carefully, making sure it was a safe place in which to keep his prisoner, then ordered two of them to carry Ommony up the steps if he could not walk, and himself led the way, stumbling over Ommony's rifle that lay in a shadow below the lowest step. So he picked up the rifle, and thought about that, too.

Outside in the temple porch, rifle in one hand, captured saber in the other, Tregurtha stayed to question Lal Rai, who was recovering his wits — malignant all of them.

"What happened?" he asked.

"Omm-on-ee."

"I'll speak with him presently. Tell me your version of it."

"Omm-on-ee going shoot-um me, damn-is-eyes, damn quick me knock-um down!"

"Didn't you try to kill him?"

"No! No kill-um! None my bisnis. He sahib, me Lal Rai no kill-um. He going shoot-um me then give-um shove. Dogs coming — me run quick!"

"What happened to Ommony sahib?" Tregurtha asked suspiciously.

"No savvy. Give-um shove, dogs coming, and me run!"

Tregurtha went back into the temple and met Ommony leaning on the shoulders of two men, limping with a twisted ankle.

"How is your memory working now?" he asked. "Do you know what happened?"

"I remember a blow on the back of the head. There's a bruise. You can feel it."

"You might have got that falling," said Tregurtha.

"I'm pretty nearly sure Lal Rai hit me from behind, said Ommony, not realizing yet that he was in a brand-new false position. He was still half- dizzy from the blow, or the fall, or from both.

"Did you see him?"

"Yes. He followed me into the temple. I called the dogs off him."

"He tells me you threatened to shoot him."

"No. Ordered him out of the temple, that's all. Then hunted here and there—"

"For what?"

"For a man I expected to find. Lal Rai must have followed me and struck me as I started down the steps."

"You had your rifle in your hand, of course?"

"Under my arm, the way I always carry it."

"Why didn't he brain you with it, or use it to shoot the dogs? He says you threatened to shoot him, so he pushed you and ran to escape the dogs."

"Probably the dogs prevented him from taking the rifle," Ommony answered, beginning to appreciate that he himself was now under suspicion.

"You mean possibly. It is just possible," Tregurtha answered. "A man attacking from behind according to your version would mean murder. Lal Rai knew the dogs were there. If he really did attack you he would naturally seize the rifle to defend himself against the dogs, if not to murder you."

"What do you suggest as the alternative?" Ommony asked dryly.

"His story is that you threatened to shoot him, and he knocked you downstairs backward. You've a bruise on the back of your head I believe.

"Oh, all right. Believe him if you want to," Ommony retorted.

It was the first time he had lost his temper since the ever memorable day when a member of the British Cabinet, traveling at national expense, had asked him to have tigers driven into a wire inclosure to be shot by his right honorable self before a battery of cameras. The present circumstance was not so aggravating, and be probably would not have lost control of his emotions but for that pain at the back of his head and the agony in his ankle. And if he had kept his temper nothing should have been easier than to regain Tregurtha's good opinion.

"I'll thank you for my rifle," he said, letting go the men he leaned on and holding his hand out. He wanted it to support himself, but Tregurtha, hot-headed at the best of times, misunderstood.

"No you won't. I'll keep it. There are things that you'll have to explain."

Tregurtha turned his back and strode away with head erect and lips set in a straight line under the iron mustache.

Cotswold Ommony's case began to look not so clear to him — in fact curiously turgid — rotten! All those rumors, all that talk about him, all that criticism at headquarters, might have had foundation after all.

"Where the smell of smokeless powder is, someone has pulled the trigger," thought Tregurtha to himself. "I should have remembered that. I'm too prone to take a fellow's word for everything. Can't afford it! Too damned trusting, that's what I am! Always refusing to believe ill of anyone. Foolish — foolish! Ought to be more careful."

It occurred to him that Ommony's report of the situation had been nearly all wrong — not wrong enough to convict him of deliberate falsehood, but sufficiently so to throw discredit on his whole judgment. This might be an ambush after all. Something had doubtless gone wrong with the enemy's plans, which was why they had caught the sirdar all alone there on the rock, and only taken the fellow after a struggle.

"Lord! How the fellow defended himself! What a scorpion at bay! Moslem- fanatic, of course — never had intended to surrender — end of his resources — seeking paradise by the usual route of killing a few unbelievers — well — he missed it — have to be shot like a gentleman and go to hell instead — altogether too bad that he got so many men before they captured him — good men, too — wonderful men! Too bad. And how about Ommony?"

He puzzled about Ommony, the while he took precautions, running no more risk on the strength of Ommony's assurance that there would be no ambush, no surprise attack. He posted every available man in person, placing them in twos, with orders that one should sleep and the other stay awake alternately. Then he went down in person and saw that his prisoner had food and a blanket, not speaking to him except in an official tone of voice to ask whether he needed anything, and receiving no reply.

"Surly devil!" he remarked, and came away after cautioning the men; presently he sent down his remaining captain to be in charge all night, and himself sat in the temple doorway, alert as a gray wolf, meaning to stay awake and sincerely hoping that Ommony would not come and try to talk with him. He hated that kind of thing.

"Beastly bad taste to insist on explanation, at the wrong time." However, Ommony agreed with him, it seemed, at least on that point, and did not come. He had given no orders that Ommony should be restrained in any way, and he could see him with his three dogs up on the top of the Rump, sitting smoking in the liquid, honey-colored moonlight.

"Rather decent of him, I should say. Shows tact. Keeps himself in full view without occupying anybody."

If there was one quality under heaven that Tregurtha esteemed above all others it was fairness. So he naturally was fair. He began to feel ashamed of having treated Ommony so cavalierly on the strength of the mere assertion of a one-eyed epileptic such as Lal Rai. He decided to question the rascal again, and sent for him. But nobody could find him. He sent a junior officer up to the Rump to inquire whether Ommony had seen him, but Ommony had not. Ommony, however, volunteered to summon junglis, who would track the miscreant through the jungle in the event of his having sneaked away.

"Very decent of him," said Tregurtha, and sat still smoking, thinking the situation over for about an hour.

The silence was only broken by the occasional snore of a tired man, the footfall of an officer quietly going the rounds, and the cry of the outpost men at regular intervals announcing that so far all was well. Those, and the voices of millions of insects, made up the nocturne. There was no suggestion of the presence of an enemy. A lieutenant, told off to patrol with six men along the new lane forced by the rebels' elephants in their retreat, came in to say that he had met no enemy except mosquitoes.

"Ommony was right in some respects," Tregurtha thought. "Honest enough, I dare say. Probably made use of by Mahommed Babar, who wanted to die in a spectacular fashion. Sorry I didn't give him back his rifle when he asked for it. Beastly rude of me! In front of witnesses, too. Well, a suitable apology in front of witnesses should offset that."

He began to wonder why Ommony should have thrashed Prothero, and that line of thought made him sympathetic, almost affectionate; for if ever a cad deserved kicking, Prothero was he, in his, Tregurtha's, judgment. Dearly he would have loved the task himself! Times without number nothing had prevented but the rules of the Service and the requirements of discipline!

"A cad with influence, money, and imagination. Is there anything worse?" Tregurtha wondered, and on top of it began to wonder, too, whether his own treatment of Ommony had complied with his standard of personal conduct — his own, by which alone he was entitled to judge others.

He decided to send for Ommony, and a moment later an orderly started up the Rump. He returned, however, to say that Ommony was sleeping with the dogs all around him. Was he to be disturbed, and if so might the dogs be killed if they should offer to prevent?

"No. Let him sleep. He's a hurt man," said Tregurtha.

That again seemed a strong point in Ommony's favor. True, the lower types of criminal can sleep in any circumstances, but the man of intelligence, caught in the act of illicit intrigue, and thereby in danger of life and liberty unless he can explain himself, is much more likely to lie awake and cudgel his brains nervously. A headache and a twisted ankle should make that sort of man yet more sleepless. If Ommony could sleep like that he was probably not guilty of anything worse than over-confidence.

At the suggestion of over-confidence he looked down at the row of medal- ribbons on his tunic. Most of them had been won by over-confidence — rashness some men called it.

Suddenly it occurred to him to wonder how a man with a badly twisted ankle could have climbed the Rump. He had given no orders to have him carried up there, and he could account in his head off-hand for the movements of every one of his officers and men since he made his dispositions for the night. He called to the orderly.

"How did Mr. Ommony get up there on the Rump? Who carried him? He can't walk. Find out, will you?"

At the end of five minutes the orderly returned with rather surprising information.

"They do say, sir, that 'alf a dozen black men came when 'e whistled an' carried 'im up there."

"Where are the black men now?"

"They're gone, sir. Cleared out at soon as 'e give 'em the word."

"Anybody see them go?"

"No, sir."

It dawned on Tregurtha again that, in spite of patrols who saw nothing, the whole of the jungle surrounding them might be full of enemies. So an hour before dawn he had all the men wakened, that being the deadliest time for a surprise attack. At dawn the cook and his assistants, cursed and cheerful, served what is known as coffee to the optimists who win wars, and smelling it — for it smells much better than it tastes — Ommony came down from the Rump, sitting and working his way gradually, hanging sometimes to Diana's collar. At the foot of the track he picked up a stick and used that, limping toward the "kitchen."

Tregurtha intercepted him, before two officers, a non-com and several men, deliberately.

"Good morning, Mr. Ommony. It appears you were right when you said we would not be attacked."

"Yes, it seems I was," he answered. "But after that affair last night I took no chances. There were junglis watching. They would have warned me."

"But you were asleep."

"They would have wakened the dogs. They know how to."

"Well, Mr. Ommony, I'm having your rifle cleaned for you. If you'll be kind enough to forget my remarks last night, which were totally unjustified, I'll—"

"Have a cigar," suggested Ommony, reaching into a hunting-pocket for his case. "I'll take coffee, please."



CHAPTER 12
"What'll you do?"

Macaulay sat in a rigid arm-chair in the big marquee — on the hilltop over by the camps where the Moplah prisoners wondered what was next — sniffed the scent on his handkerchief, and suffered. He always did suffer when unpleasant people inflicted their company on him, and he hated the smell of iodoform. Prothero reeked of the stuff. Moreover, he looked like the deuce, or as much of him did as you could see. Prothero, understanding perfectly, liked to see Macaulay suffer.

He should not have been there. He said so. Macaulay agreed with him. But what he called sense of duty, and what Macaulay knew was a captious spirit of suspicion, had dragged him from a sick-bed, swathed in smelly bandages, to offer advice as poisonous as the mosquito-bites that had given him malaria and, under the guise of conveying information, to find out Macaulay's intentions.

People who want to be powers have to keep awake and work. Macaulay smoothed his rather heavy black mustache behind the scented handkerchief, stroked his nose, and looked at Prothero from under heavy dark eyebrows with inquisitive malice that he hardly troubled to disguise. He was one of those men who believe there is just so much good in the world, and no more, to go round, and that therefore no profit can come to himself without a corresponding loss to somebody else. It did his heart good to see Prothero suffer, although, unlike Prothero, he would not have admitted it and much though he disliked the vulgarity of the spectacle. His eyes and his philosophy were not one. He could keep them separate, letting not the one know what the other doeth — much preferring toothache for his adversaries, because it hurts so exquisitely and perverts judgment so diabolically without upsetting the beholder's nerves.

He was obliged to consider Prothero, to listen to him and in fact to treat him as an ally. The rules and constitution of the Commission, whose chief member he believed himself to be, took care of that. To antagonize the Chief of the Intelligence would be suicidal. In the circumstances he believed himself capable of making use of his compulsory ally — his obbligato, as he ironically dubbed him — all things, and especially Prothero's present state of health, considered. So, although he detested the stench of iodoform, he smiled as he looked at Prothero across the handkerchief.

Nevertheless, you couldn't see very much of Prothero through the bandages, nor judge much from his bloodshot, protruding, half-closed lobster-eyes. Prothero had thoughts of his own, and much experience in concealing them.

"Trig'll be here before long," he remarked, as if the thought gave him comfort. It did, for it discomforted Macaulay. "Trig" was Tregurtha.

"Considering your reports that rebels were no longer in the field, and that Mahommed Babar had probably died of pneumonia — those, and the fact that there's been a rather sharp engagement, and Tregurtha is bringing in Mahommed Babar alive — I should think you wouldn't be too pleased to meet him," said Macaulay.

"I like Trig," Prothero answered. "He's such a plain, straight-forward simpleton. If he holds the ace of trumps he leads it. You know where you are all the time. He holds it this time and he'll lead it this time. You watch."

"I wonder what you mean?" Macaulay asked acidly. He could not guess whether Prothero was smiling because the bandage almost hid his lower jaw, and his eyes looked parboiled.

"He'll go for you, if I know Trig. You advised against a reconnaissance of Peria Vur — did everything you could to prevent it — and finally, when he did go, you turned in a report accusing him of insubordination and extravagance—"

"He has lost a lot of men," Macaulay snapped.

"But — he has brought in the rebel leader," answered Prothero, enjoying the afternoon and glad he came, although the fever racked him.

"The leader, who your reports said was a dead man long ago!"

"I had to turn in on demand such information as I possessed. Subsequently it was I who advised him to march on Peria Vur," said Prothero. "Ask Trig when he comes if that isn't so. You'll find he'll confirm it."

"Damn!" said Macaulay, frowning into his handkerchief. The oath corresponded to the roll of drums that immediately precedes a change of tune.

"Whatsamatter?" asked Prothero, cocking one red eye and trying at the same time to appear considerate.

"Nothing, except that by another of those strings of accidents Tregurtha seems to be snatching the chestnuts again! For a man of no consequence he gets much too much spotlight. Undeserved. He's only a lucky bungler."

"Who will lead his ace of trumps," remarked Prothero. "Can you beat it?"

Macaulay leaned back in his chair — leaned back till it rested on two legs, and his toe against the table was all that preserved equilibrium. From that angle he could look under his eyelashes and study Prothero, who sat in the direct path of a beam of sunlight.

"We might," he said — not accenting the "we," but prolonging it a little. "There'll be very little to divide," he went on. "A few minor medals, of course, but only one civil and one military distinction. Pity if the military one should go to Tregurtha, who has had so much more than his share."

"How do you propose to manage it?" asked Prothero, not accenting the "you," but dwelling on it. Having been caught recently and ignominiously he had no intention of walking into any trap set by such a known bird-limer as Macaulay. "What's your big idea?"

"Publicity, of course, is what confers distinction," said Macaulay. "If it gets out that Tregurtha made a raid on Peria Vur and took the redoubtable Mahommed Babar prisoner after a sharp fight against odds — well — imagine that in the papers with Tregurtha's photograph. All his old regimental friends would start wire-pulling. The sentimental element would shed tears and call the viceroy's attention. You and I would be obliged to recommend him for reward, to save our own faces."

"Whereas? You suggest?"

It was uphill work. Prothero was refusing his share of it, leaving the whole pull to Macaulay, who was beginning to wear a look of dark guilt, and was conscious of it — beginning to be conscious, too, that the other was amused behind that mask of evil-smelling calico.

"Look here," he said suddenly. "We'd better be frank with each other. Time's short. And I tell you, if I have to support Tregurtha on account of your refusing to take the sensible view and agree with me, that will be the end of our friendship, Prothero. The end of it. You understand?"

"Which end?" asked Prothero, and Macaulay winced. "If you've a proposal, make it," Prothero went on.

There was no one in the tent except themselves, but Macaulay got out of his chair to make sure that the sentry was not exercising every sentry's prerogative of hearing as much as he might. Then he went to a familiar-looking piece of furniture at the rear of the marquee and produced sounds like the tinkling of fairy sleighbells, doubly seductive and delicious because of the appalling heat. He understood at least one of Prothero's peculiarities.

"How about a whisky-and-soda?"

"Not too much soda," answered Prothero.

Macaulay did not drink, but made a gesture with his hand as much as to say that men just out of sick-bed were entitled to peccadilloes. Prothero drank copiously and with absolute indifference to anyone's opinion.

"That was good," he said, gasping. "Another one would be better."

Macaulay returned to the sideboard and refilled the glass, resuming his chair with a surreptitiously amused expression.

"Now that you think you've made me drunk, suppose you spill the beans," suggested Prothero. "I'm still sober enough to listen."

"You're a conscienceless brute," said Macaulay. "But I've brains. Trig hasn't. I like Trig."

"A recommendation from you to the effect that Mahommed Babar's capture should be kept secret would receive my indorsement. One more vote would give us a majority on the committee. My influence will secure that. In fact, I can swing the committee at almost any time; but the recommendation should come from you; it would have more weight and would make my task easier."

Prothero waved his nearly empty glass, and now the other could tell he was grinning, for the whisky had wetted the bandage so that it drooped from his mouth. He looked more than ever like a swathed and parboiled corpse, and the sight of him made Macaulay feel physically sick, but heroes are made of stern stuff, and it is a gross mistake to imagine that all heroes are virtuous. The public will decorate anyone who overcomes his limitations and gets away with most of the Ten Commandments without being actually caught at it. Macaulay was working for a decoration, and would have been a hero in his own opinion even if seasick. He made the supreme effort of an arduous career.

"Well, old fellow?" he asked.

"I've heard what you want," Prothero answered. "Point is, are you willing to pay for it — er — old fellow?"

Macaulay gasped. In all his long official experience he had never listened to anything quite so indecent. Men should be known by their fruits, not by their frank admissions. To talk like that was worse than to walk naked.

"Pay for it?" he asked with eyebrows raised, fiddling with his fountain- pen as if he expected to have to write a stiff check presently. "If you mean you want to borrow money—"

"Oh, you silly ass!" said Prothero. "I've got more money than you — more than I'll ever need. What'll you do, damn it? You want me to do something. What'll you do that'll do me any good? Don't look like an old maid in a Turkish bath — name your offer and give hostages, for I wouldn't trust you out of this tent!"

Macaulay was utterly scandalized, but did not see how to back out. Prothero had diagnosed him perfectly; he could be anything except naked. He enjoyed the smell of a pink much better when he called the thing Dianthus Jedewegii. His napkin was a serviette. Quid pro quo was "listening to reason," and he much preferred Dame Reason with her skirts below her knees, immoral old trot though he knew that she frequently was. He never paid cash for anything, but liked to have statements sent him subject to varying discounts, and when he didn't trust a man he never said so.

"Trig'll be here soon," Prothero repeated by way of clearing the atmosphere. "Suppose you measure me another whisky?" Macaulay measured him a stiff one, and it began to have its own peculiar effect, which varies with each patient, both in kind and degree. You never can tell in advance what the fumes will do. They made Prothero think of Ommony, who had thrashed him, Prothero, most confoundedly and kicked him into the jungle and dreadful night; Ommony, who now had Tregurtha's ear.

"There's a man I don't like," he said simply.

"Oh, very well," Macaulay answered, visibly relieved, although he disliked the vulgarity of the admission. "What is his name, I wonder."

"Cotswold Ommony is the name his carcass goes by."

Macaulay smiled thinly but seraphically. One of his own pet dislikes, and yet some people refuse to believe in coincidence.

"I want him broke!" said Prothero, and Macaulay smiled more perceptibly.

"My word, Prothero, aren't you vindictive?"

"I am! You bet I am! I want him broke. Break him, and I'll help you do Tregurtha out of a ribbon."

Macaulay was happy again. He had Prothero committed and the market beared; all that remained was to resume, deftly and immediately, garments of virtue that Prothero had rudely torn off.

"I take it we're agreed about Tregurtha being overrated," he said thoughtfully. "Neither of us would care to stand in the way of a first-class man."

"No, because a first-class man would lick the hell out of both of us," said Prothero. "If Trig had brains he'd beat us. As it is, we'll beat him."

Naked again! Macaulay clenched his teeth. He simply couldn't understand the nature of a man who liked his cynicism unadorned, or his oysters raw, as Prothero would probably have phrased it. However, virtue will assert herself:

"I have no compunctions about Ommony — another vastly overrated man," he said with the angular sneer of a cross-examining attorney. "I'm acquainted with the head of his department and will write a letter throwing light on some of Mr. Ommony's activities. He is notoriously hand in glove with every rebel in—"

"Don't make a fool of yourself," Prothero advised him. "Remember he's coming in with Trig, who tells the truth the way a mule kicks, at all four points of the compass. Trig may say that Ommony induced the surrender. There are more unlikely things, and people will believe Trig."

"Well, I happen to know something else against him. He draws a salary for looking after the forest, and spends the time that belongs by rights to his department making maps and things of that sort that are no possible concern of his."

The whisky was working in Prothero's brain, but not making him stupid — belligerent perhaps, and cynical, but it took nine or ten stiff shots as a general rule to upset his critical judgment.

"All right," he said suddenly. "Write your letter and I'll drop it in the post. You've got to prove to me that you'll break Ommony."

Macaulay frowned — more nakedness — but wrote and signed the letter.

"You'll indorse my recommendation as to secrecy about the capture of Mahommed Babar?"

"Sure. Whenever you make it," answered Prothero. And you couldn't see whether his tongue was in his cheek, because of the bandages.



CHAPTER 13
"Let the man alone!"

Ommony sat on a stone, gulping down stuff the cook described as coffee, and Tregurtha superintended the construction of litters for his wounded, Ommony and prisoner included; for a man can't march on a twisted ankle nor should a prisoner be dragged, and the horses taken from Ommony's stable by Mahommed Babar and his men had vanished in the general retreat. He took special pains about Ommony's litter and consulted him about it, seeking to make amends for his rudeness of the night before.

One of the easiest habits to acquire is forgetfulness of insult. Most successful men and all wise ones pick it up naturally and become incapable of carrying resentment in their thoughts. Like practiced mountaineers, they would laugh at the notion of burdening themselves with useless luggage, which is all resentment is. But the habit has its disadvantages, for it sometimes arouses the suspicion of the people who expect to be the butts of your resentment. They think you are either a hypocrite or a very subtle schemer, and of the two the suspicion of subtlety is usually worst.

Ommony, of course knew that, being a philosopher in some ways, but he forgot it for the moment under the agreeable influence of Tregurtha's frank apology. He, too, was desirous to please, and Tregurtha was communicative.

"Rotten bad about Mahommed Babar," he remarked. "The silly fool is so ill- tempered I daren't trust him. Have to tie him. Much rather treat him decently."

"Suppose I talk with him," suggested Ommony. "I haven't had a word with him since he was captured. Perhaps if I could speak with him alone I might—"

"You recognized him?" Tregurtha interrupted abruptly.

"Yes. Recognized the sword, too — it's there in that bundle. Let me see it."

An orderly brought the sword. Ommony, drawing it from the scabbard, looked for some initials scratched deep on the blade and began to explain how they came there. To Tregurtha's agitated mind he showed a little too much knowledge of the rebel's history.

"The point is, you recognize it?" he said, intertupting again.

"Yes, he's proud of it. Never let anyone else touch it, I believe. Now, if I should take that sword to him — he's sentimental like all patriots — and I might—"

"Thanks, the less you say to him the better!" Tregurtha snapped. "He told you he'd surrender! Did he? You'll oblige me, please, by keeping away from him."

Ommony understood that, very likely better than Tregurtha did. He knew he could only stir suspicion deeper by attempting to argue the point or to justify his own motives. Besides, the rebel leader had broken the promise in two ways by surrendering neither himself nor Ali Khan, so he needed no excuse for staying away from him.

He knew a little of the Moslem mind, having a gift and a liking, which is another name for it, for studying the abstruse. He understood the pride with which Mahommed Babar would strive to keep faith, and, pride failing, the recklessness with which he would deliberately go the limit of unfaithfulness. Reproach would not improve that frame of mind, and in the circumstances any attempt by Ommony to hold communication with him must unavoidably savor of reproach. Silence, aloofness, was the kinder course, as well as the only one tolerable to Tregurtha.

So Ommony begged leave for his bearers to lag behind, alleging the good reason that his junglis would not then be afraid to bring him word of any overtaking enemy. Junglis and the dogs were better than any regulation rear- guard.

Tregurtha sent his prisoner on ahead, with a lieutenant and twenty men told off to do nothing but guard him. His wrists and his ankles were lashed to the poles of the litter, and, since that arrangement would have submitted him otherwise to torture from flies, a burlap curtain was suspended all around him. Even that was raised at fifteen-minute intervals to make sure he was not up to tricks.

Tregurtha marched midway down the column, where he could handle the whole most easily whichever end might get into difficulties. The cook with his pots and pans and all the odds and ends borne cheerfully enough on poles by Tommy Atkins, who will make a joke of anything provided he only gets the kind of officer he loves, was between the main column and the official rear-guard, who again preceded Ommony. So only the dogs and the men who carried Ommony were aware of the one-eyed thing in rags who crept from a thicket on all fours, blubbering and ranting in a mixture of Lascar-English, French, Portuguese, Hindustanee, and a dozen other languages. He clung to the legs of the litter-bearers and refused to be kicked away. Ommony had to control the dogs sternly.

He was long past walking. Yet he could not be left, and every minute of delay increased the column's lead. He was pierced with thorns, fly-bitten, full of fever that racked him and shook his aching limbs, and worse than all those, mad with a fear that made his one eye bulge out of its socket.

"Oh, hell!" he groaned. "You know Lal Rai! You know-um! You not leave-um! Oh—" and he wandered off into a stream of dock-rat blasphemy that all meant nothing except that he was licked, conquered, begging for mercy, and as fit to be trusted as a wolf in similar circumstances.

In other words, there was just the possibility that he might be tamed a bit.

"Is that the bloke as 'it ye on the 'ead, sir?" asked a litter-bearer sympathetically, grateful for the delay and making use of it to light a clay pipe. "If 'e 'ad 'is rights 'e'd lead the dawgs acrost a line o' country! Let the blighter crawl, sir, if 'is feet ain't workin'. Serve 'im proper if 'e can't keep up. That bloke's a bad 'at — never done no one no bloomin' good. Ger-r-r-outo-that! Lemmy-leg-alone, d'ye 'ear!"

But though it had been a moral obligation to punish Prothero, it would have been descending to the culprit's level to wreak vengeance on his miserable servitor. There is a definite distinction in such matters. Ommony put his fingers in his teeth and whistled — then laughed, for the fear that had been was as nothing to the paroxysms when the first three naked junglis emerged like timid wraiths into the jungle lane.

A man in delirium tremens, seeing snakes, makes the same fuss that Lal Rai did, and for reasons as valid. The junglis would no more have harmed him physically than the shadow of a cloud will wreck a mountain. They were almost as afraid as he was, only they knew they had a friend in Ommony, and Lal Rai knew he had none even in far-away Prothero. That constituted all the difference, intangible, but enough, and his grimaces were like Pierrot's voiding his sense of emptiness.

The junglis are no more muscular than they are intelligible to the ordinary run, which is hardly at all. No more are they carpenters — builders of anything. The difference between them and the animals, anatomy excluded, is confined to this — that just a little more distinctly than the animals they are aware of the existence of a moral law, apart from physical desire. That is the ladder along which all creation moves, the only way it advances, and is the reason why the "missing link" is no more discernible than the exact point where light begins and darkness ceases. Or so says Ommony. There are high-priests, low-priests and followers of other cults who call him an impostor and an ignoramus.

At least he can understand junglis, and they him, which is unusual. He put them to work, which no other man ever did. They brought him some poles and the long, supple strands of a creeper, and held them while Tommy, with ingenuity and language suitable to the occasion, constructed a litter that would do. Whereat the junglis fell on Lal Rai, Ommony commanding, dogs on tiptoe with excitement, and Thomas Atkins critically amused. The wretch who had fled from those thin, naked forms through the night was incapable now of believing them able or willing to help him. He fought like an animal trapped. It was minutes before they could throw him and tie him in place in the comfortless thing they had made, whereon he was to travel like a man half- crucified, with Ommony's borrowed blanket thrown over him to keep off the flies and a night-spook fanning his face with a broken wild-plantain leaf.

The junglis were unused to carrying — except one of Ommony's guns on occasion, which was the highest honor within reach, and corresponded to Macaulay's yearned-for-decoration. When they moved their scant belongings, which was often, women labored, which is woman's business. It was incorrect, undignified to gather up that litter with its burden and bring up the rear of the procession, league on league.

Yet Ommony commanded, and they did, half-consciously aware that he knew dim, disastrous laws beyond their ken, which he obeyed and they did not dare disobey. Whereas all other men, except their own sparse remnants of a history-less race, were incomprehensible, astonishing, unable to explain, Ommony understood and could give reasons, that were reasons and not conundrums to the jungle intellect. Wherefore, although their women-folk would mock them and need beating, they obeyed, conceding doubtless that a beating would do the women good.

Once in a while Tregurtha sent back a non-commissioned officer to inquire whether all was well, so it was reported that the blacks were carrying Lal Rai. But nobody was interested. It was agreed the world would be no richer for him, and would hardly have been poorer if the wolves had overcome him in the night. They had Mahommed Babar, safe and alive, which was what they went for, and Tregurtha proposed to wash his hands of all association with the lying stool-pigeon Lal Rai, whose discreditable master Prothero might have the whole credit for him and his consequences! So he ignored the news of his existence, gave no orders concerning him, made no comment when the breathless, overtaking non-com hiccoughed his report. Least said, the soonest mended.

They halted for food and a rest, but food was scant. Tregurtha believed that a raiding party should travel light and lived up to his convictions. If the men wanted a square meal, they must march; the train was the larder; so the breathing spells were short, and Ommony, whose men must rest too, never came near catching up. Toward the end the junglis wilted like severed green stuff under their unaccustomed load, and had to be coaxed as well as waited for; so although they reached the train about midafternoon, the soldiers had eaten and were singing songs impatiently when Ommony came. Steam was up on a newly-arrived engine, which had brought a letter to Tregurtha from headquarters forbidding him, over Macaulay's signature, to go raiding into the jungle on any pretext whatever.

That letter put Tregurtha in a perfectly good temper. The wires were repaired, and Macaulay, he knew, must already be aware of what had happened, with what excellent result. The engine had brought an empty box-car, which was stuffy but an otherwise perfect place of confinement for the prisoner, who was locked in nearly naked, with no means of hanging himself, and watched through a small iron grating by two men, one at either end, who would give the alarm in a moment should he try to escape. Everything was excellent, including one of Ommony's cigars.

He was a troublesome prisoner — difficult to handle in proportion to his value and the cost of taking him. Whenever they had loosed one hand to let him eat or drink he had used it to pluck at his other fastenings, never saying a word, but toward the end of the journey glancing incessantly from right to left, as if he rather expected someone to spring out of the undergrowth and rescue him.

So they had taken great care; and even when they had him clear of possible ambush in the jungle and locked in the box-car, twenty men were told off to keep guard on either side of the track until the train should start, and the two who stood on the iron steps at either end were cautioned under penalty never to take their eyes away from the gratings through which they watched the prisoner.

But Tregurtha could override his own strict orders. And to him, obsequious and bland, armed with a permit to be out along the line, "to look into the extent of losses at the hands of Moplahs" — almost as beautifully forged it was, and quite as convincing, as the servants' references sold in the bazaar — came a Hindu gentleman in cotton clothes and turban, who "rejoiced to believe" that Mahommed Babar had been captured.

"That scourge of the villages! That terror of the jungle! Oh, sir, the country-side will bless you!"

That did not make Tregurtha's temper any worse. The decent gentlemen who held a country in subjection, being decent, like to believe themselves appreciated by the "thoughtful natives." The Briton in India is as sure of his duty and as keen on it as ever Roman legionary was in Britain. Moreover, he will cling at least as steadfastly, and die in the end as game. Meanwhile, he liked a little recognition, even on the lips of flattery.

"Oh, sir, how I would love to set eyes on him! He burned my property. I saw him standing with his officers giving the order to set my barn alight. I heard the words. I could recognize his voice again. If I only might identify him! Then I could tell all men I have seen him with these eyes — heard him with these ears — and even those who have said they receive no protection from the Government would have to take their words back!"

That was reasonable. It could do no harm to let him look through the grating at one end of the box-car, while the man at the other end moved to let the failing light shine through. Tregurtha himself gave the order to the men to get down off the steps and let the "Hindu gentleman" see inside. So the Hindu stood for possibly twenty minutes tip-toeing on the iron step, exchanging a few words with the prisoner, as if trying to persuade him to look up and be recognized. Tregurtha did not mind his talking with him. It was too late for words to make any difference. Weapons — nails — a small file — were the sort of thing to be looked out for. Satisfied at last, the Hindu gentleman, all gratitude and grins, asked after Ommony.

"For it was said, sahib, that he was taken prisoner by Mahommed Babar."

"Mr. Ommony is on his way here," said Tregurtha.

"If I might only see him too. Then I could satisfy everybody!"

"Go and wait there, at the end of the jungle-path, and you'll see him coming."

That being the apex, as it were, of all available permission, the Hindu sat down in the shade and referred inquisitive sentries to Tregurtha, who, when appealed to, answered:

"Let the man alone."

So when Ommony's litter at last came sweating jerkily along the fairway a man in Hindu turban, whom the dogs unaccountably did not challenge, strode out of the shadow of a great tree. He was a clean-shaven Hindu, unknown to the junglis or to Ommony; but Diana's tail, that never made mistakes, beat a sort of reassuring tattoo on the dry earth alongside the litter. The fox-terrier yapped, disliking Hindu clothing, and the setter cocked one eye warily. The sun being low beyond the westward trees, the light in the throat of the lane was uncertain, which accounts in the main for one or two things.

The Hindu as he drew near raised his right hand almost with the motion of an upward dagger-blow. The soldiers had halted. They dropped the litter, each with a separate oath. They were ready to kill for the sake of the man they had carried all that way and who, according to their view of it, was a "decent sort of bloke." Nevertheless, the dogs made no move, and the junglis, who were quite as watchful and suspicious as the dogs, did not even set their burden down. Questioned about it afterward, they said "the dogs told us," which was a long speech from them and more than usually full of explanation.

The Hindu did not strike. He did not come near enough to strike. So far as anybody knew, and notwithstanding the imagination of Private Joe Peebles who was litter-bearer on the forward port-end, he had no weapon. He simply tossed a folded letter into Ommony's lap, made a gruff exclamation whose purport no one caught, and vanished into the deepening gloom along the edge of the forest.

Ommony could have sent Diana to keep track of him, but the train was waiting and Tregurtha was beckoning violently. He could have sent the junglis, but they were prodigiously weary after their unaccustomed labor, and the same problem of lack of time entered into their case too. The simplest course was to open the letter and read it, and to do that he was obliged to have himself carried out into the open, where the light was better. Which being accomplished, there was no longer any sense in pursuing the Hindu, who, if in haste, had had plenty of time to put distance between them. Tregurtha called to him and the litter-bearers answered at the double, so he did not actually read the letter for several minutes.

There was the business of rewarding the junglis, for whom he begged fabulous gifts from Tregurtha — even a blanket apiece from the dead men's kit and — unbelievable, amazing wealth of wonders! — an army flannel shirt for each of them, as useless, and henceforth as fashionable, in the jungle as a silk hat at midsummer funerals in Maine.

It was after that, as the sun went down, Ommony sitting on the running- board of the train beside Tregurtha, whom he invited to read it along with him for politeness' sake, that the contents of the letter were revealed to four astonished eyes. The train had not moved on yet because a man with a cutting-in set had reported that headquarters was trying to phone Tregurtha along the mended wire and he expected they would overcome the bad connection in a few minutes. So together Tregurtha and Ommony studied, and studied again the remarkable note that, though never read at any trial, did constitute a plea for mercy more effective than the voice of any paid attorney in the world.

Ommony sahib, Salaam!

My heart is broken that I did not keep my promise to surrender to justice Ali Kahn, who is a murderer deserving death, and who himself admits it. Wherefore I sought death, but was taken prisoner, and am treated, as you see, with indignity, which may be just, since Ali Kahn escaped and I am at fault.

I have not the heart to appeal to you in person, nor to look into eyes that ever met mine fairly and without reserve. If opportunity is given me to end my life before the executioner can take the work in hand, I will seize on it. This, therefore, is perhaps a dying man's request, made to a friend whose heart it is believed is great enough to overlook the present for the sake of past esteem.

Sahib, I fear but three things: First, that your honor may suffer for having acted charitably, ever seeking to persuade me to avoid such violence as should include me among those to whom no quarter may be granted. It was through your wise advice that I kept that standard ever first in mind, and it is therefore due to you that I forbade, and sternly punished, excesses by my followers. Sahib, I implore you, let no consideration for my predicament interfere with your own care for yourself. I am as good as dead. You have your life to live. You need not spare my memory.

Second: I fear that my capture and execution may be kept secret in order the better to trap certain of my friends, who, if the news were published, would not leave the North in search of me. Permit me to remind you, sahib, that my reason for disbanding at this time and deliberately letting myself fall into British hands was none other than to save those friends of mine from hurrying to join a lost cause. My sacrifice will have been worse than useless, therefore, if the news should not be so widely published as to become common talk throughout the North. If it is the last favor, sahib, and although there can be no acknowledgment from me, I beg you in the interest of peace and for the sake of honorable men not yet indictable, use all your influence to break up secrecy!

Third: There is a fear that tortures me alone and therefore shall be mentioned with less emphasis. I fear that they will hang, not shoot me. Sahib, as you know, death by hanging is not conformable to my religion, nor is it worthy treatment for a man who, whether or not proclaimed guilty of treason, has been a rebel and no worse. If your honor should have time and the inclination, I would be grateful for such relief in this respect as one friend may contrive for another.

This letter is written with the aid of Ram Ghose, who, if caught and punished for passing pen and paper to me by means of a trick played on my captor, will beseech your honor's favor on the ground that it was he who treated your honor's dogs in your honor's absence at a time when they would otherwise have died of poisoning. He has no other claim on your consideration.

For the rest, Bahadur, kindly spare me the distress which is all that a final interview between us could accomplish. You live for India. I die for her. Your hope is in patience and the overturning evolution in the hearts of men. My faith is rooted deep in war, the saber and straight-forwardness. Only Allah, who knoweth all things, can decide between us.

May He, who judgeth pride, when all is set and off-set, reckon in my favor, if nothing else, than this — that with pride and gratitude I lived, and shall have died.

Your friend, (Sirdar) Mahommed Babar Khan (Once of the Dera-Ismail Border Regiment.)

"By God!" exclaimed Tregurtha, choking. "Gad! That fellow shan't be hanged if it costs my commission! He shall be shot by men of unimpeachable record who fought in France, if my name's Trig! So that's why he put up a fight instead of surrendering — 'fraid we'd hang him! Huh! A decent fellow who could write that letter should have known we'd never hang him! Can't you speak with him through the bars and persuade him to be sensible? We'll let bygones be. I'll take his parole if he'll ride where I can keep an eye on him."

But Ommony demurred. Better than most Englishmen he knew the Moslem mind, which is, however, not to say infallible.

"Hardly, after that request to be excused an interview. He'd think it an impertinence. I thought you had his wrists tied; how did he write that letter?"

Tregurtha explained how the Hindu had been allowed to stand for nearly twenty minutes on the iron step under the grating at one end of the box-car.

"A sleight-of-hand adept, I suppose. Slipped paper and pen through the bars, although I watched him and did not see. He stood speaking, wanted to hear his voice, too, for identification purposes." Suggestion works subtly. "He looked to me like one of those native doctors who travel around the country combining quackery and politics."

"I always wondered who treated my dogs that time," said Ommony, with eyes half-closed, remembering. "Mahommed Babar was working for me in those days, and on the spot. He didn't care to touch the dogs himself. Some Moslems don't, you know. Religion. He told me afterward he found a Hindu, who considered himself free from caste and understood dogs, but he never did say what the Hindu's name was. Well, that explains why the dogs didn't go for his throat when he threw the letter in my lap."

"What about publicity?" Tregurtha asked. "'Pon my soul, I'd like to oblige the fellow, but in my position—"

"This Hindu Ram Ghose has very likely started the ball rolling already. But, of course, official confirmation of the rumor—"

"I daren't do that," said Tregurtha.

"Have you any orders to give me?" Ommony asked him.

"Not a damned one! Technically, I suppose — no, I doubt if even technically I command your tongue. I could seize your correspondence if I cared to, but—"

"No orders, eh?" said Ommony.

"Not a damned one!"

"Any use for Lal Rai?"

"My God, no! He's Prothero's pimp. I wouldn't touch him with a barge- pole!"

"He may—"

"Lie on the line and let the train run over him! I hope he will!"

"May I have a compartment alone with him for an hour or two?"

Tregurtha nodded, motioned toward an empty compartment with his thumb, and walked away toward the nearest telegraph pole, where a signaler crouching on his knees was behaving like a terrier at a rat-hole, the difference being that sound instead of smell was exciting him.

"Connection's better now, sir! Got them!" he called out.

Ommony and all three dogs, pushed, pulled and generally mothered by a non- com and six privates, piled into the empty compartment, and, at Ommony's request, Lal Rai was shoved in along the floor the way they slid a casualty into an ambulance. There was no need for any armed guard; Diana did that part perfectly. At Ommony's invitation, seconded by music from between Diana's teeth, Lal Rai arose and assumed a squatting posture in the middle of the forward seat under the solitary lamp. Diana bared her teeth at him and they shone in the lamp's unpleasant, yellow rays. It was not yet time for Lal Rai to recover from the agony of fear; he knew from experience how those teeth felt when they closed on sinewy flesh.

"You hold-um! Me good feller!" he objected.

"Do what I say then," said Ommony.

Then the train started. It was too late for Lal Rai to jump out or yell for help, even if either course would have done him the least good.

"Peer-r-r-other-o-o my master — Dekta sahib—" he began.

But Ommony silenced him with a gesture, reinforced by the castanet rattle of Diana's teeth and an under-growl from the other two dogs.

"Listen!" commanded Ommony. "You may have your choice between going to prison for about ten years for attempting to murder me, or obeying me implicitly."

"You telling me, I do!" he answered, his eye on Diana.

There were elements of greatness to him. He was terse. But Ommony also went straight to the point.

"Do you know the newspaper correspondents?"

Lal Rai nodded. Well he knew them, regular as well as surreptitious. There were men employed around headquarters, who corresponded secretly, whenever they could glean facts, for as many as a dozen native papers each. Had he not been employed by Prothero to fool them by disseminating false news? He, Lal Rai, had access to the ear of every newspaper in India!

"I will write concerning the capture of Mahommed Babar," said Ommony. "It will not be signed. You may say you had it from a British officer. Show the account to every correspondent you can find within two hours of this train's arrival at headquarters. After that — you understand me, after that, not before — you will deliver a letter from me to Colonel Prothero."

Lal Rai nodded. It looked safe and easy. He saw no objection. But Ommony added the final, super-subtle touch.

"The newspaper correspondents will spread the news. My letter to your master will tell him how to take advantage of the news. But unless the news is spread first my letter will be of no use to him. You understand?"

He did. "Me do-um," he answered, nodding.



CHAPTER 14
"You exceeded your authority!"

The train came whistling in between the hills at dusk, and was met by Macaulay waiting side-by-side with a secretary. It had entered Macaulay's consciousness, in the way conclusions do when a man has nursed his own ambition long enough and with sufficient disregard of the other fellow's, that now if ever should the blow be struck that should change his lot from one of merely departmental drudge, as he described himself, to that of a power in the land. The divinely appointed minute, the stroke of destiny, that so many men before and after Napoleon have sought and missed!

So he brought the secretary with him to be witness that he left to Tregurtha no loophole. He was minded that Tregurtha should be sacrificed to the gods of his own destiny. The secretary was a gentleman from Bengal, with spectacles and a monumental stomach, who did not adore the military and most of all despised Tregurtha, who had once called him a "bellyful of objections," which was rude but accurate. With such a witness in his favor and the cards all stacked, Macaulay knew he had Tregurtha beaten before the play began. He intended that Tregurtha should have plucked a chestnut from the fire for him, and go not only unrewarded but discredited for his pains. And all this without especial malice, but because according to the creed Macaulay favored no man can attain to eminence without treading on another's upturned face. He supposed the universe was designed that way by its Artificer.

So, feeling en rapport, as it were, with Destiny, he smiled beneficently while he waited for the train. He had a flower in his buttonhole, and knew he looked handsome — no exaggeration, that. In a florid, well-dressed, rather too neat way he vaguely resembled one of those good-looking guides who board the boats at Naples to steer tourists into harm's way.

And he smiled as the train rolled in; smiled as Tregurtha stepped to the platform, smiled, with extended hand, as Tregertha failed in an effort not to see him quite so soon. Tregurtha had to shake hands and be patronized.

"I'm glad you're alive and well, at any rate," he said suggestively.

"What d'ye mean?" Tregurtha answered, wiping the sweat from the back of his neck with a bandana handkerchief. It only needed that earth-to-earthy touch to break the thin veneer of Macaulay's manner.

"Why, I understand, Tregurtha, you exceeded your authority! Conducted a foray! After receipt of a letter from me. I said in the letter — I have a copy of it — that in the opinion of the Commission no such enterprise should be attempted on any pretext!"

"You've got it all balled up," Tregurtha answered, and was going to say more, but Macaulay interrupted him.

"I understand it was you who got all balled up! How many men did you lose on this unwarranted raid?"

"I will report that in writing."

Tregurtha was growing about as stiff as an Airedale terrier making the acquaintance of a cur from foreign parts. He particularly did not approve of that kind of conversation in front of the Bengali, who was smiling like a courtezan and fanning himself with a palm-leaf.

"I understand you brought the notorious Mahommed Babar back with you?"

Tregurtha nodded.

"And I suppose your men have been as indiscreet as usual?"

"Am I expected to care what you suppose?" Tregurtha demanded. "My men have had no opportunity to speak with anyone."

"Mn-n! Well, you have shown small regard for the Commission's rulings! Be good enough to order your officers to keep silent. The men must be quarantined on suspicion of smallpox to keep them quiet; I will see the P.M.O. about that. The prisoner is to be handed over to a special guard responsible to me."

Tregurtha was too amazed to speak. His impulse was to kick the smirking babu and roast Macaulay for an impudent fool in front of all his men. When injury was added to the insult and a guard composed of uniformed police was marched on to the platform to take charge of the prisoner, he knew himself incapable of speaking without losing self-control. Macaulay produced a document signed by himself as the Commission's duly appointed executive member and witnessed by the fat man from Bengal, requiring Tregurtha to deliver the prisoner Mahommed Babar into custody. And almost before the station lamps were lighted the special guard of twelve policemen marched away with the prisoner in their midst.

Ommony, supported between two soldiers and followed by his dogs, limped up. Macaulay, who knew him quite well, raised his eyebrows, frowned, and stared point blank, as at an upstart who might presume to claim acquaintance. However, Ommony came straight up to him.

"Where can I sleep?" he demanded.

"I should say the prison would be the logical place, Mr. Ommony," Macaulay answered with his choicest sneer.

"I'll provide him with quarters. The man's a gentleman!" Tregurtha snapped before Ommony could get a word in.

"Oh, very well. Your definition, however, remains to be confirmed!" Macaulay sneered. "My own conviction is that people guilty of treason should be hanged, as high as Haman — as Mahommed Babar will be!"

Ommony set the example of turning his back; Tregurtha might have otherwise let loose the vials of his wrath. Macaulay chose that moment to play his extra trump — the one he carried up his sleeve.

"As friend to friend, Tregurtha," he said with apparent candor, resuming his social smile, "I advise you to apply for long leave. I believe it would be granted. I will use my influence. Otherwise—"

"I might stay here, I suppose, and punch your head! Is that the trouble?" Tregurtha retorted through a swollen and indignant throat.

The words seemed to force their own passage out through strangling muscles. Suddenly he turned his back as rudely and deliberately as he knew how to contrive, and strode down the platform to the sweeter, simpler atmosphere of Thomas Atkins faced with news of quarantine.

"Yes!" he roared at them, words flowing free at last. "You're quarantined! You've got the smallpox, you blighters, every mother's son of you! You've caught it by behaving like gallant men and you'll be cured when that's convenient to your betters! Not a word now! 'Ten-shunn!"

He marched them away, they mystified and he increasingly aware of the enormity, the characteristic blind and impudent enormity of the mistake that Macaulay had made. The idiot proposed to break him, Tregurtha, for disobedience, keep the affair as quiet as possible, and make some political use of the prisoner for his own ambitious ends. But it did not make him feel any better to know that he could show up Macaulay as a blundering ass. It was not within his scheme of things to break anyone in purse, pride, prospects, or reputation. He was not vindictive. The only man he cared to hit hard was his country's enemy, and only him as long as he persisted in the enmity.

Knowing he had done no wrong he had never lost confidence — only his temper. He recovered his temper on the march uphill, lending the pony they had brought to the station for him to Ommony, who needed it, and regaining judgment as the exercise set the blood to coursing naturally through his veins.

But there was nothing else to regain. No satisfaction. That fool Macaulay would compel him in self-defense to prove that he raided Peria Vur and captured Mahommed Babar before orders not to do so ever reached him. Macaulay's smug advice to him to apply for long leave meant that he was in the way. Good! He would stay there! Moreover, having pledged himself to see Mahommed Babar shot, not hanged, he would be obliged to face Macaulay over that issue too. It looked on the whole rotten for Macaulay, who was possibly all right in his way if you only understood him. He, Tregurtha, was a stubborn fellow, rather inclined to believe that stubbornness is sin but given over to it. He would hit back — have to — unavoidable. What was worse, he would wait and let Macaulay overreach himself, emulating Stonewall Jackson, as he always had done even before he studied strategy and tactics with a crammer. Macaulay's subsequent progress would be all downhill, and he, Tregurtha, was entirely sorry for him. But not in a sparing mood. Stubborn. Dogged-does-it.

He sent Ommony to the mess tent and marched his men into the quarantine inclosure, where he explained to them that the quarantine was no more than a precaution against loose tongues. Knowing that that explanation would only impel them to find ingenious ways of making public all they knew. He went to the length of saying the mistrust of them was none of his contriving, and that personally he would simply have put each man on his honor not to tell — which was true, as they knew perfectly.

"So I'll ask you to oblige me by holding your tongues," he said at the close of his remarks. And that naturally settled it. They would talk.

But it all took time. It was four hours after the train arrived before Tregurtha reached his own square tent and sat down to let his servant pull his boots off.

Meanwhile, about an hour before, say three hours after the arrival of the train, there had come seeking Prothero in his much more comfortably furnished wooden hut no other than Lal Rai, bearing a letter.

"So it's you!" said Prothero. "Well, I'll be damned! Where ha' you been?"

He opened the letter — then whistled — then again gave vent to the bromidic prophecy about his future state.

"When did he give you this? Train's been in a dickens of a time. Where ha' you been?"

He did not wait for an answer but read again:

My Dear Prothero,

Speaking for myself, whatever difference may have existed between us was adjusted by the steps taken by me to that end recently. That incident is closed and will continue so if will or act of mine have anything to do with it. With the idea of resuming satisfactory relations, am sending you the following information, which as Chief of Intelligence I believe you will be able to employ to the advantage of those most concerned, yourself included. You are under no obligation to refer to me as the source of your information.

Correspondents of newspapers — I don't know how many or which, but including the news services — have been informed of Tregurtha's brilliant exploit in capturing Mahommed Babar with the loss of so few men. Tregurtha, with characteristic frankness, has said that information supplied by you was what sent him off on his daring raid into the jungle. As I understand it, the newspapers have been told that you undertook the task of scouting alone, and that you returned with priceless information after adventures in the rebel stronghold.

Details were given to the newspapers without the knowledge of Tregurtha, and, in fact, in face of his strict orders to the men to say nothing.

For your special benefit the following precis of the situation is appended:

If Mahommed Babar's capture could be kept secret, Tregurtha, and you, might be deprived of the credit. There would be continued fighting, due to the fact that disaffected persons from the North would continue gathering to serve under a leader whom they would still believe to be at large. That would discredit the Intelligence, and so yourself.

If the news of the capture of Mahommed Babar, on the other hand, were to receive official confirmation and widest publicity, you and Tregurtha would receive full credit unavoidably. Further bloodshed would be prevented. Those who may have advocated the reverse policy would be discredited.

Bitter resentment, consequently trouble, would be sure to follow the hanging of Mahommed Babar; who, if to be executed, should be shot. This last point is very important. Considering Mahommed Babar's fine record in preventing excesses by his followers, it ought to be easy to oppose the views and expose the unsportsman-like motives of any who seek to have him executed with indignity.

Subject to observance of the above stipulation in regard to treatment of Mahommed Babar, you may count on my support in obtaining full official recognition of Tregurtha's achievement. It should not be necessary to refer to the manner of your departure from Peria Vur other than to say that I assisted you to escape.

Yours faithfully, Cotswold Ommony

Prothero glanced for a second suspiciously at Lal Rai, realized that his rascally factotum would perish rather than be party to a trick on his master, and chuckled. The whole thing looked to him as obvious as twice two.

He had always said Ommony was a decent enough chap. Evidently he had brains enough, too, to know he must lose in any long-drawn vendetta with the rather well-known "Dekta" Prothero.

"Mn-mn! Handsome does, eh? The amende honorable! Not so bad at that, friend Ommony! Well — we'll kick Macaulay in the face first; his number's up. Trig must be applauded. He wins. Lucky! I wonder what it is that makes a simpleton like Trig have all the luck — a one-track mind! A single-barreled gun who goes off whenever anybody pulls the trigger! Consistency must be the secret of it."

He began pulling off the bandages from his face and hands, and ordered a servant to prepare a tub for him. Having taken good care of himself and obeyed the doctor, he felt well enough to rise unswathed to the emergency. So he washed off all the ointment and got into uniform, strapping on his holster and a .45 Webley from force of habit.

"But if that ass Ommony supposes I'll forgive and forget—" he said to himself, half-closing his little protruding eyes as he adjusted his tunic before the mirror.

He whistled and walked out, followed by his servant with a lantern. Entering the mess tent, he discovered Tregurtha and Ommony sitting vis- à-vis across a table, discussing belated supper.

He nodded to Ommony, but laid his hand on the other's shoulder.

"'Gratulations, Trig!" he exclaimed, holding his hand out. "So you took my tip and pulled it off, eh? That's once when the Intelligence didn't fail you!"

"It was much farther to Peria Vur than you intimated," said Tregurtha.

"Intimated, eh? You didn't understand me. I was suffering — couldn't talk. Stands to reason I knew how far it was. Didn't I walk it, by Gad! Tell me now — would you have gone, but for me?"

"I can't say," said Tregurtha frankly. "If I had known really how far it was — no, I can't answer. It was what you said, or, rather, what your gestures implied, that finally decided me; that and what your servant told me. Your accounts agreed, and you were both mistaken!"

He was puzzled. After the manner of his kind, which passes the understanding of all sneaks — although Prothero knew perfectly what he would not do, even if not why he would not do it — he had deliberately avoided references to the circumstances of the meeting of Ommony and Prothero in Peria Vur. Lal Rai had said something about an encounter between them; but the statements of a brute like Lal Rai were no basis for impertinent questions, at least in his judgment. He never had liked Prothero. He did not like him now. He did not trust him. Nevertheless, he was not going to refuse him his due.

He, Tregurtha, had gone to get Mahommed Babar; had found Mahommed Babar; had brought Mahommed Babar in. That, as far as he, Tregurtha, was concerned was all about it. Except that he was glad to notice that Ommony and Prothero were not at daggers drawn.

"Sit down and drink with us," he suggested.

"Haven't time," said Prothero. "Just dropped in to congratulate you. My report on this should get you your brigade, old man. Macaulay, by the way, has done for himself. He has written a long complaint lambasting you, charging you with insubordination among other things. He claims to have sent you a letter in time to forbid your entering the jungle, but I happen to know that it never reached you."

"That's not quite true," said Tregurtha. "I received the letter on my return to the railway line. The engineer brought it."

"Better and better! More and more witnesses!" laughed Prothero. "But he's done worse! He has acted in the name of the Commission without first getting the Commission's vote! I knew he would. He counted on my support to give him a sure majority, and relied on having his action approved after the event."

"If you knew what he intended you should have made your objection clear to him," Tregurtha said sternly.

"You can't make some folk understand," sneered Prothero. "His plan was to take your prisoner away from you—"

"He has done that," said Tregurtha.

"I know. Did he suggest you should apply for leave?"

"Yes."

Prothero chuckled and nodded.

"Do you get the idea? The notion is to claim a civil service victory over the military, shelve you into obscurity, hang Mohommed Babar to oblige the Hindus, and blame the army for hanging him so as to pacify the Moslems. However, he's counting without my vote. His action will not be approved tomorrow when the Commission sits. He's done for himself! Now I'll go and formally identify the prisoner. Suppose you come with me," he suggested, looking hard at Ommony. "You and I both saw him at Peria Vur. And oh, by the way — Macaulay has reported you for making maps without permission."

"Damn!" snapped Tregurtha. "I shall insist on the Commission taking official cognizance of that map! Macaulay's reported you for it, has he? By the—"

"Come along!" said Prothero.

Tregurtha was glad enough to have him go. It savored to him almost of naked indecency that Ommony should have overheard such unclean official confidences.

So Ommony chained up his dogs and limped with the aid of a stick beside the least forgiving enemy in India. Prothero knew every inch of the way in the dark and ordered the man with the lantern to keep behind them because the unsteady bright rays bothered his inflamed eyes. Ommony could see in the dark almost as well as one of his own jungli-folk; but they had to go extremely slow because of his injured ankle.

So it was possibly fifteen minutes before the shadow of the police- station loomed in front of them with its one oil-lamp flickering over the sleepy man on guard in front of the door and another chink of light escaping between the shutters.

"Isn't it the limit?" asked Prothero. "To put a prisoner in here in charge of a dozen lying 'constabeels' when we've a stone cell, a searchlight, and regular troops! Nothing here but corrugated iron. Police asleep as usual, I'll bet you!"

They were not all asleep, for the man under the lamp challenged. Prothero answered, and the policeman lapsed again into a sort of camel-coma, chewing something, one hip protruding nearly out of joint.

They stamped into the police-station, where the officer of the night came out of a snooze with elbows on the desk to greet them sulkily.

"No," he said, answering Prothero's question. "There are orders he should not be seen."

"All right. Are you disposed to arrest me?" Prothero retorted.

"I shall report you. Your name, please!"

"Suit yourself. You know my name perfectly, you black rascal! Where are your keys? Open that door!"

"You must first sign a requisition," the policeman stipulated. Prothero agreed to that — was glad to; it would constitute more proof of Macaulay's unauthorized high-handedness. He scribbled a chit on the desk, and the officer opened the door leading to a stifling corridor that divided two rows of cells smelling strongly of disinfectant.

"The cell at the end on the right," he said stiffly, closing the door behind them and remaining outside — washing his hands, as it were, of complicity in the unauthorized proceeding. Afterward, Ommony remembered that the man was simply huffy, not apparently afraid.

"Can you beat that?" asked Prothero. "Not even a man on guard between the cells!"

There were no other prisoners that night. Two rows of empty cells flickered shadowy in the rays of oil-lamps that illuminated the passage fairly well but left the rear of the cells almost pitch dark. Prothero led the way, muttering to himself. Ommony stumped along after him, wondering about a number of things; but chiefly whether Mahommed Babar would be offended by his coming to identify him. Considering the emphatic request in that letter, he decided to keep in the background, and if possible to see the prisoner without himself being seen. He proposed to himself to enter the next cell, whose door was ajar, and to look for a hole in the corrugated iron partition. His hand was on the swinging grille when a yell from Prothero prevented him.

"Can you beat that? Quick! By God!"

He pulled his Webley out and fired.

"Where the hell are your dogs? You should have brought them!" he shouted excitedly. "Damn it, he's dead; that ends him! Head and shoulders through that hole! Ten more seconds and we'd have been too late! I suspect Macaulay of collusion with the police in this!"

That, of course, was ridiculous. But men say ridiculous things in the heat of a moment. The astonishing circumstance was that the prisoner was not dead, not even badly wounded. Prothero's bullet had grazed him and gone through the cell wall, knocking him down on the cement floor; plowing in transit a shallow course above his shoulder-blade that hardly drew blood.

The police officer came bursting in, lantern in hand, and temper out of hand, which made an awkward team of him and Prothero.

"Open the cell, you ass!" Prothero yelled at him.

"It is not your business to order me!" he retorted.

"Damn it! Are you blind? There's a hole in the wall you can see the stars through! He's got a cold chisel in there! How did he get it? Someone gave it to him! If it wasn't you, who did? Open that cell or I'll call a guard and—"

He had to go back for his keys, and that took time, for he was sulky and disposed to give himself time to think of some alternative. But he opened the door at last. Between them the policeman and Prothero dragged out the prisoner and put him in the next cell, Ommony keeping out of the way. It was Ommony who picked up the cold chisel with which the prisoner had forced apart the sheets of corrugated iron; it had the Government broad arrow and a number stamped on its upper end.

The policeman saw him with it in his hand, but did not see him give it to Prothero, who put it in his tunic pocket.

Then Macaulay came in. He said he had heard the disturbance a quarter of a mile away, and there was a fine row, everybody blaming everybody else. It took Macaulay's keen sense of obliquity to bring on temporary truce by concentrating blame on the policeman.

"Don't presume to contradict me!" he snorted. "Your motive is obvious. You knew there was a reward for this prisoner dead or alive, and you proposed to let him escape so as to shoot him in the open! If not, why did you post a policeman with a rifle outside this corner of the building? Don't deny it! I stumbled into him in the dark as I came along!"

"He was there to prevent an escape!" the policeman retorted indignantly; and he was going to say more, but was stopped by Prothero, who whispered. Something had given Prothero what he regarded as a bright idea.

"I suppose, as a matter of fact, if he should get away we'd never hear of him again," he said aloud, almost as if speaking to himself, directing the remark really at Macaulay — who bit instantly — but puzzling Ommony, who at last had swallowed his compunction and was leaning, looking through the cell bars. He knew there was a key to the puzzle within reach, but could not lay his finger on it. The prisoner turned his back, unwilling to be recognized.

"Get away?" Macaulay snapped angrily. "He must be hanged as soon, and as secretly as possible. This whole business should be hushed up!"

"When do you propose to have him tried?" asked Prothero.

"At once. There's plenty of evidence."

"But no need of it!" Prothero answered. "Mahommed Babar was proclaimed a traitor and outlaw. If you're bent on hanging him, it may take weeks. But if you want him shot you can have it done at dawn tomorrow by simply signing your name. If what you want is secrecy, all you need is a couple of witnesses and a firing squad. The men won't know who it is they're shooting."

That may have occurred to Macaulay before, but perhaps he had needed a co- conspirator to give him that kind of daring. He did not act or speak as if the idea was totally new to him.

"He'll only be trying to escape again, or else commit suicide, if we leave him in here," he said darkly.

"Beastly business, suicide, and difficult to hush up!" was Prothero's comment.

Macaulay nodded.

"To prevent the police from playing further tricks of this sort — yes," he said; "yes, yes — yes; yes decidedly. You'll receive an official communication from me before morning, Prothero."

Macaulay walked out. The policeman held the door open. Prothero went next; Ommony last, and the policeman touched him on the shoulder. He knew Ommony by reputation for a man who had a heart inside his ribs.

"You could save me much trouble, sahib, by letting me keep that cold chisel," he whispered. "They will use it otherwise to try to prove that we were helping Mahommed Babar to escape, so as to shoot him and claim the reward. Whereas that is not true. It could not be. It—"

"I gave the cold chisel to Colonel Prothero. I'm sorry I did, but it can't be helped now," Ommony answered.

The policeman noticed the tone of voice, observed the absence of the note of enmity — took heart of grace.

"Could you not get it back for me, sahib?"

Ommony shook his head. It was obviously out of the question and the refusal was emphatic. The policeman began to plead. "Let me tell you, sahib! Give me just one minute to explain! Mahommed Babar—"

"Will be shot at dawn," said Ommony. "I can't help you. If you want the cold chisel, you must ask the man who has it."

He saw him go to Prothero. The two stepped aside into the shadow outside on the porch. Ommony, limping out, passed the policeman coming in, without the cold chisel, but smiling like a man who drew four cards, and filled.



CHAPTER 15
"My country is the forest!"

There is a discontent that is divine. That night, in the tent provided by Tregurtha, it took such hold of Cotswold Ommony that his dogs moaned. Less complex than a man, they were better able to apply those elemental principles they understood. They loved Ommony and that was all about it. When he groaned inwardly they cried aloud, and were objurgated suitably.

They tell us that all problems are as simple as twice two, which may be honest information; but few look simple, and least of all Ommony's that night. He saw chicanery and double-dealing all around him, and the impulse was to expose it; yet he knew that if he tried to do that he would do more harm than good, and only in the end expose himself to the enmity of bureaucracy, which is specious, cruel, and vindictive the wide world over.

Besides, there is an irony that is divine, and it is sometimes well to let the mills of God grind on. Whoever made the mountains can make big ones into little ones with equal ease.

By the dim tent candle-light he studied again that extraordinary letter Mahommed Babar had written him; recalling incident by incident the circumstances that led up to it and the clever means arranged for its delivery. Almost too clever. Almost too like making a mere stalking-horse, convenience, of himself; a thing he should resent.

"My business is the forest!" he asserted testily in answer to that argument, bringing himself back with a jerk to first principles. "I don't have to resent unless I choose."

He understood perfectly that officialdom, if ever called on to review the facts, would deny he had any other duty than to lay bare all he knew. Bureaucracy would punish him for having an opinion of his own; would humiliate him for daring to be independent. Patrioteers would call his friendship for Mahommed Babar treason. They would say he set a personal regard above loyalty to country.

"My country is the forest, where my job is," he assured himself.

He had done his duty by the forest. Even he, least lenient of critics of himself, knew that.

If they knew all the facts they would say he had favored his country's enemies by helping a considerable horde of rebels to escape. But which were his country's enemies? They who used authority to further their own ambition in the name of taxpayers six thousand miles away, or he who stretched a point to do his utmost for an honorable man? He conceded he had stretched a point or two in favor of Mahommed Babar. But the doctrine of "my country right or wrong" did not appeal to him.

He wished he were back in the forest, where problems arose and things happened that he understood exactly how to deal with. Bureaucracy, supported by and supporting patrioteers, would hold him up to obloquy if it should ever find it out; citing against him instances from all the school-books to show that a man must sacrifice an honorable friend in favor of dishonest government. Should forgo his own first principles in favor of sacrosanct privilege and anything majorities might say are good.

Yet there were famous men he could think of who had stood by their friends in the face of that kind of criticism. Men whom he felt able to admire. Not wholly despicable characters. Practically all the men who ever rallied to a standard of rebellion would have to be included, along with all those who blazed new trails as traitors, if that were treason. He himself had striven to bring what element of flux he might into healing the breach between the East and West. If that was treason, then so be it! He could and would plead guilty with a high chin!

He had never been paid to do anything else than serve the forest. He had earned his pay. He decided, not for the first time nor the last, that he was a free man otherwise — free to live, move, have his being and befriend such branded traitors as he of his unfettered judgment should deem worthy of it!

That decision, naturally, carried action in its wake. Ommony unleashed his three dogs, left the candle burning, and returned to the police-station, meaning to share his own conclusions with the prisoner, through the bars if need were, but alone in the cell with him for choice. Although he did not realize it at the time, he saved himself whole from the avenger in that hour.

It seemed to him decent and compatible with love of country that a man about to face a firing-squad should know in his last moments that someone understood the circumstances and appreciated what he did.

"There's not a great deal a fellow can say to him. The less the better probably. Short — to the point — and friendly."

He followed the dogs along the winding path, turning over in his mind the things a fellow might say in the circumstances. He decided not to mention the fighting, or the distinctly questionable incident on the Rump when he fought like a devil instead of surrendering.

"What he did do, isn't the point. What he's doing now is the whole issue. Must be careful, too, not to start any discussion. Have to say a few words simply, that's all."

He had plenty of time to think, for the distance was more than a quarter of a mile and the state of his ankle obliged him to walk extremely slowly. Finally, in full view of the flickering police lamp, he decided on the words — his words, but the world's forgiveness and farewell according to his view of it.

"You're doing well. You've chosen the right course. They'd have taken you sooner or later and hanged you. Now you may die like a man and do good by it."

That, he decided was all right. Even if the jailer had to listen, that short speech could do no harm. None but the condemned would understand it, and he would realize that somebody appreciated the sacrifice sufficiently to forgo resentment.

"It isn't bowing to necessity that counts. It's the motive with which we face necessity — the unselfishness with which we do the unavoidable," he argued, not aware that he, too, was doing just that.

Nevertheless, he drew blank temporarily. The policeman met him at the door with that inconstruable laugh with which the East looks on the West's dilemmas.

"They came for him," he said simply, answering the unspoken question. Then, to the spoken one:

"Oh yes, he was violent — at first — that is until they told him he should be shot. Afterward he was well-behaved. But they carried him in a stretcher for fear he might go wild again."

"He won't," said Ommony, and the policeman nodded, comprehending.

"Did you get that cold chisel from Colonel Prothero?" Ommony asked him.

"No, and I no longer care for it," he answered. "It will not be used against me."

Ommony studied him a minute.

"Tell me," he said. "Don't count too much on—"

The policeman understood. Almost every man's hand is against the Indian police. He proceeded to make for himself a friend who could be counted on.

"Sahib, when it was learned yesterday evening by telephone that the train was bringing this important prisoner, Macaulay sahib began to make arrangements. The prisoners who were in here were removed. About an hour before the train arrived Macaulay sahib came in here to visit the cell. I had my arrangements made to put the prisoner in the end cell nearest to the office. It was Macaulay sahib who countermanded that and chose the cell at the other end. He visited it. He was alone in it. After he came out and closed the door none was in it until the prisoner was pushed in. Consequently, since the prisoner was searched and had no cold chisel, and could not have had that cold chisel In any case; and since I have ascertained that a cold chisel similar to that one is now missing from a storeroom which Macaulay sahib inspected yesterday, there is only one conclusion to be drawn! I draw it! Macaulay sahib wished him to escape! I shall hold my tongue, unless—"

"Unless Prothero should turn on you? Well, he wont!" said Ommony. "He would rather turn on Macaulay."

"I know that, sahib!"

Under the flickering lantern they looked straight into each other's eyes.

"The prisoner had a scar," said the policeman darkly.

"Was that what you talked about with Colonel Prothero?" Ommony asked him. "Had Prothero seen the scar?"

"Yes, sahib, he had noticed it. Would your honor care to see the records of two years ago?"

Ommony, not given as a rule to that kind of curiosity, accepted the invitation.

"You see," said the policeman. "I obliged Colonel Prothero to sign that chit tonight. He cannot say afterward that he was not here and did not speak with me. You see? But you do not look surprised, sahib. How is that?"

"Not the least surprised," said Ommony. "You said you'd hold your tongue. Do you mean to? I advise that. After dawn, when" — he spoke slowly and distinctly — "Mahommed Babar will be dead and buried, mine would be the only evidence worth anything to you if those men should try to make you a scapegoat. As long as you do hold your tongue, you may count on me implicitly."

They shook hands on that, but Ommony limped away aware of fear; for, like Tregurtha, he had crossed a Rubicon. Thenceforward he must carry on, although he knew that nothing could prevent that policeman from trying to blackmail all concerned and, failing that, from telling all he knew if one least step should fail in what should follow.

He returned to the tent and found Tregurtha sitting there, smoking irritably. He explained where he had been.

"I thought I'd cheer the man a little if I could, but they've removed him."

"I know they have. Damn it, that's Prothero's doing!" Tregurtha answered. "Macaulay must be drunk or off his head! He has given Prothero an order to have Mahommed Babar executed at dawn. There isn't one possible excuse for it!"

"Yes, there is," said Ommony. "Macaulay wanted Mahommed Babar to escape. He could have blamed the police for it; and without Mahommed Babar on his hands it would have been lots easier to discredit you. However, the escape failed. He's just as keen now on the execution, for fear the prisoner might tell how he came by a cold chisel. Macaulay recognizes Waterloo and wonders whether he's French or English!"

Tregurtha swore explosively.

"They've the right," he said, "but no excuse! Prothero is a bounder, and Macaulay's worse! However, there's only one thing I can do about it. Will you come with me and see the poor devil gets treated decently?"

They sat talking until shortly before dawn, Tregurtha just simply indignant and Ommony aching to tell what would drive him to a frenzy of defiant countermanding, yet holding his tongue for friendship's sake. Toward dawn they tied the dogs up and walked side by side to the execution ground in the valley between three hills.

They could not refuse to let Tregurtha witness the proceedings.

"Where's Macaulay?" he demanded.

"No need of him," said Prothero, tapping his pocket. "I've his signature. You leave Macaulay to me!"

The prisoner had been carried on a stretcher, but was standing now. They had given him back his uniform and his hands were not tied. Beside Prothero there was only one officer, a non-com, and a dozen men. Prothero ordered the prisoner blindfolded and tied, but Tregurtha interfered.

"No, if he prefers to stand and face it!" he said. "I forbid tying him unless it's necessary. Give him his chance to die like a brave man."

The prisoner, avoiding Ommony's eyes, glanced at Tregurtha gratefully and raised one hand to the salute in the first admission of any human feeling he had made since he was captured. The officer touched him on the arm and he stepped forward instantly to the sand-bank with a smile on his lips that hardly suggested defiance. It was more like triumph.

"Funny!" said Tregurtha. "I don't see victory in that death, but my! he's proud of it. And what's his complaint against you? Why don't he at least nod you a so-long?"

"Perhaps he thinks I know too much about him," ventured Ommony.

They fired as the sun rose facing the condemned man over the ridge that closed the valley's end. So he fell with the light in his eyes. And almost before the sand began to soak the blood up, Prothero produced a sheet of paper fastened in a clip on a writing-board. He, Prothero, certified the dead man dead; then passed the paper to Tregurtha, who wrote his name as witness.

"You'd better sign too. You knew him. Just write your name and the date below Tregurtha's," said Prothero, but Ommony shook his head.

"No," he answered. "I'll have nothing to do with it. My job's the forest!"

"Good man!" said Tregurtha. "Mind your own business, eh? Besides, it was a damned shame shooting that man!"

"No," Ommony answered, "it would have been a shame to let him live! But I'm pleased he escaped hanging."

"Lord!" exclaimed Tregurtha. "What d'ye mean, man? Is it pique because he didn't recognize you — or a touch of sun? Sun — must be! Come away! You'll feel better after breakfast." Just a plain, straight-forward, simple fellow, Tregurtha was.



CHAPTER 16
"A man's death is the most a man may ask!"

Cotswold Ommony sat in what he called his "seat of custom," underneath the sambur antlers, between the front door and the window of the library, on his veranda that overlooked an acre or two of clearing on the outer, penetrable fringe of the forest. The morning mail had arrived, and there was only one letter that interested him; although there was other interesting news, for Prothero had turned up on the same train and sent up asking for a conveyance to bring him from the station.

Prothero was always above-board — always fair and unsecretive — always announced his coming in advance. But that did not imply by any means that Ommony desired to meet him. He had sent the tonga to the station, but his gun was against the veranda rail, and the dogs knew what that meant. Meanwhile, he read the letter again and again — particularly part of it:

You have the news of course. Tregurtha is a brigadier. That pig Prothero they say has contrived to snaffle the only important decoration. It's not gazetted yet, but they say it's a foregone conclusion. Macaulay, who everybody thought was the man of destiny — he surely believed it himself — got a backstairs promotion downward and resigned! He's on his way home. Can't feel sorry for Macaulay, somehow. Nobody seems to know what caused his downfall, but everybody in this department feels triumphant about it, because he had the petty spirit to report you for making maps!

And by the way, about those maps — Tregurtha took it up with his usual combativeness and recommended for you everything in sight. It seems there are no funds from which you can be paid for making them, and as a decoration costs less anyhow they've set your name down for a C.M.G. or something —

He laughed, picked up his gun and started for the jungle, the dogs leaping and racing about him, showing the way to the lookout rock, as if he did not know it. There, at the end of the long fire-lane, he climbed at last.

A few minutes later a man's footsteps were distinctly audible, ascending. They paused.

"All's clear, Mahommed Babar. Come on up!" said Ommony.

The sirdar strode out on to the narrow level at the summit. He looked a trifle younger, perhaps because his beard was not so long. It looked newly grown, as if he had shaved it rather recently. He wore nothing resembling a uniform, but the semi-modern, simple garments of a Northern Moslem of good standing.

"I came to say good-bye, sahib. I have spent these weeks making sure my rebels scattered and laid down their arms. I have kept faith and will keep it."

"How did you persuade Ali Khan to die in your place? You came near breaking it with me," said Ommony.

"Near, but not quite! I was there, sahib! If harm had befallen you at any time since, I would have given myself up! I swore to you to be there and to surrender Ali Khan to justice. Did I not?"

"He didn't surrender," said Ommony.

"So I saw! He feared lest they would hang him. He was glad to die if he might die decently. He knew they would capture him sooner or later, for he was a man of few friends and many enemies; and as a murderer condemned to death he would certainly have been hanged whenever caught. So he offered to die in my place. When you left me, sahib, I intended to disperse my following and surrender, keeping only Ali Khan with me. He was not a man who should be turned loose. He deserved to die, and he knew it. He would have become a common bandit if I had let him go. After you were gone it was he who made me the proposal; I who agreed to it, liking well enough to see him act the man at last. When he was taken, I was within a hundred paces almost, lying along the bough of a great tree — watching. Thereafter there was nothing for me to do but write a letter and arrange for its delivery."

"Who delivered that letter?" asked Ommony.

"I did, sahib. The dogs and the junglis recognized me, and I saw you were puzzled. I shaved and took a Hindu part, and for two reasons — needing to make sure that you, sahib, should believe I was really in the box-car; and having promised Ali Khan he should be shot, not hanged, if I could manage it. When did you first know, bahadur, that it was Ali Khan, not I, who had been taken prisoner?"

"The night before the execution, after he tried to escape, when I saw him in the cell close up."

"Did he die like a man, sahib?"

"He did. I saw him die."

"Good! Surely a man's death is the most a man may ask! May Allah—"

He was interrupted by the dogs. Diana's clarion bark was bearing news, and the yelp and the yap of the other two confirmed it. Ommony stared jungle- wisely in the general direction of the tumult, studied the trees a minute and then laughed.

"You're not the only fellow who can lie along a bough, Mahommed Babar! Look!"

He called the dogs away.

"Lal Rai!" he ordered. "Get down and go back to your master! Tell him I'm coming! You hear me?"

There was a noise among the branches and then, presently, retreating footsteps.

"Will that dog Prothero — Is there danger, sahib? If so—"

"None whatever! What about you?" Ommony demanded.

"I go North tonight. I will keep faith. I will never return and make rebellion here. The weapons of those who scattered have been rendered useless."

"You'd best be going now. Good luck to you!" said Ommony, holding his hand out. "I've committed treason to a lot of rotters — for the sake of a damned good man. Go away and be just that! Yes — see you some day. G'by, Mahommed Babar!"

Five minutes later he was striding homeward, keeping the dogs to heel, for they had a way of making free with uninvited guests who did not assay up to standard. He reached his own veranda with three sets of glistening teeth on guard and six eyes flashing fire. Lal Rai crouched away at the far end, ready to jump the rail, and Prothero, rising from Ommony's favorite chair, looked nervous. Ommony went to the point the way he raised a rifle, only careful not to raise his voice lest the dogs should make a mistake.

"Your stool-pigeon told you he saw me, I suppose?"

Prothero accepted the challenge. He was a man who usually did the wrong thing when face to face with honesty. It was only dishonesty that he understood.

"Yes. He saw you with Mahommed Babar! That's why I'm here. I've heard of your goings-on!"

Ommony waited. He knew what was coming. Prothero could only have one possible motive for playing his ace of trumps so swiftly. He was in a clubbing mood. He meant to browbeat Ommony into usefulness to himself — to win the upper hand, and keep and use it everlastingly.

"That means," said Prothero slowly, "that you've saved your friend, and you and I had better reach an understanding."

Whereat Ommony was deadly wise; for there are bullies and then bullies, and with some it does not pay to let them voice their threats first. Prove you can win, before they start to try to bluff you.

"Let's!" he said, leaning back against the rail, motioning the dogs to keep still. "You knew that was not Mahommed Babar when you saw him in the jail. You knew before I did! You recognized the scar on Ali Khan's hand. You knew there was an entry in the office records minutely describing Ali Khan! You saw him when he was locked in there two years ago! The jailer knew that. You knew the jailer knew it! You were so anxious to break Macaulay that you risked a bargain with the jailer — a bad risk, Prothero! Knowing the dead man was not Mahommed Babar, you signed the death certificate! You invited me to sign it, you remember. I refused! Knowing you had shot the wrong man — or, rather, a different man — you sent in a lying report and have been recommended for a decoration, which you will accept, no doubt. It will look very pretty on you! You may wear it. I shall receive one too, and wear it. But I make no bargain with you! Perhaps I've nothing to bargain with. You're the best judge of that. You know now what I know. You know what Tregurtha shall know if you don't behave yourself! I've saved a friend, as you say, and you might break me, but Trig has clean hands and won't thank you for promoting him on false pretenses!"

"Well, let's shake hands and—"

"No! You came from the station in my tonga, but you'll walk back! There's no bargain between us. Any time you feel like denouncing me, remember I'd rather that than be your friend! But don't imagine that I won't hit back! Don't ever come here again or I'll set the dogs on you! Now go! Get out of here!"

So Prothero went — on foot — with Lal Rai tagging him. And it is a reasonable surmise that Prothero chose to be discreet, because he is still a Colonel of the Intelligence on speaking terms with Tregurtha. Ommony still lives in and for the forest; and Mahommed Babar is officially dead, not resurrected. There is a reward of two thousand rupees for Ali Khan, "dead or alive," which somebody might claim who knew enough to dig among graves beside the execution grounds.



EPISODE THREE

First published as "Diana Against The Ephesians", Adventure, Aug 10, 1923

CHAPTER 1
"Slow but sure—the Lord providing foresters"

Success in public service is the deuce. In a democracy they hate you. In any other kind of country you are overworked. But there are compensations. In India you get transferred and lent from pillar to post to cover the delinquencies of other men; but you may go, like Cotswold Ommony, in a barge with sixteen rowers down mile-wide waterways illuminated by an Indian moon.

Howard Craig, of Little Cold Springs near Omaha, Baptist missionary, says it is the same moon that shines everywhere; but Ommony refuses to believe him. What Ommony does not believe, and what he does, has caused him to fall foul of lots of men like Craig. He scorns the history books as poisonous fiction, the Bible as Hebrew politics mixed up with plagiarized mid-Asian ethics, and modern civilization as a shoddy re-hash of the worst of Rome, Egypt, Babylon, and Greece; pasted and held together by matter-worship, which is another name — so he says — for modern science. But he is the happiest man in India.

Concede him, though, no merit on the ground of contentment while the long sweeps rowed him southward, beating time to a song the boatmen's ancestors had sung a thousand years ago. For as the King of England is the son of England's king, so rowers are the sons of rowers, songs are the development of one song, and the same short, deep stroke drives Maharajah's boats as always did keep time to steersman's chanting, banishing discontent.

Nowadays the Maharajah owns a motor-boat; that is the fashion. Miserable men like viceroys and their secretaries, who must move with the times, and American millionaires, who believe they know what is due them, are conceded seats in the hot, noisy machine that hurries them into the picture and out again before they can spoil it. So gasoline has virtue.

But men who are known only by the work they do, and have no press notices, may enjoy the ancient pageantry. Cotswold Ommony leaned back under a moving canopy of colored stars in a stern seat that had been a royal throne; and his enormous dog Diana stood in the bows, rigid as a carving, baying whenever the temple bells ashore offended her. She looked like a figurehead — part of the boat.

There was a temple to every fifty yards of water-front, with palaces behind them and between. Branch water-lanes led at random amid fields and villages, and along all shore-fronts danced the new-moon-shaped lateens. There was no moon; but the stars seemed overcharged with light, and the Milky Way was awash with liquid fire.

Down in the boat's waist, where the guns stuck up between the blanket- roll and leather bags, sat Ommony's two servants. And forward, in the break below the little deck on which Diana the wolf-hound stood, was Toto, her attendant, expert at extracting fleas and thorns, eighteen years old and regarded in his own home circle as a made man. In deference to Ommony and the great Diana — not of Ephesus — he had postponed his wedding until this present wandering was over.

For Ommony was of the old school, miscalled feudal by its modern critics. Who served him, he served. It was as sure as that tomorrow's sun would shine that Cotswold Ommony would never leave India to draw his pension with even a dog-boy behind him unprovided for. Men knew that, although Ommony had never said it, and he was waited on accordingly.

They swung along a water-lane in which the stars and every shore-light were a million times reflected. The jewels of Indian legend and the mystery of Indian custom based on fifty thousand years of fact were all about them, nothing inscrutable to men with eyes, but dark, annoying and unreal to all who think the West will conquer the East in the long run.

Because they thought and lived in terms of an eternity far older than the stars, they rowed the stars down, unwearied, and the great hound in the bow stood shimmering gold in the rays of the rising sun, betraying at last what men and animals call life. She swayed her tail with mannerly reserve when another boat shot forth from a landing beside temple-steps and ranged alongside.

"Mr. Ommony? I'm Craig. I'm glad to meet you."

A tall, good-looking man with iron-gray hair that was longer and fuller than Englishmen wear theirs as a rule, dressed in white drill and a soft gray Stetson hat, stood up in the stern of the other boat and offered his hand.

"I've heard of you," said Ommony with truth.

He had heard much of many missionaries, and as to this man had had warning.

"Fine!" said Craig. "I've heard of you, too. They tell me you're the best forester in India. As soon as we knew you were coming we made a room ready at the mission. Mrs. Craig will try to make you comfortable. She has looked forward to this. You're the first white man to stay with us since the Committee of Inspection three years ago. I tell you, man, you're welcome!"

"You're good," said Ommony. "I'll come to breakfast but I can't stay."

Craig's face fell. Ommony, eyeing him soberly under the brim of the helmet he had donned at sunrise, divined unseen causes and subsurface currents. He was glad he had refused the invitation. Reason rallied to acclaim the intuition. But he liked the look of his would-be host well enough to offer an excuse, and was glad he could do it without much stretching of the truth.

"You see, Mr. Craig, I'm loaned by the Woods and Forests. It's the Maharajah's duty to lodge me properly, and he'd feel hurt if I ignored that. You know how these princes are."

Howard Craig knew too well — knew, too, that Ommony was not giving his whole reason. Dame Rumor is a jade, but sometimes just, and he had heard of this middle-aged man with a head so well set on his neck and a rather belligerent expression not nearly hidden by a grizzled, short beard, that he dared to decline any offer, princely entertainment not excepted.

"Mrs. Craig will be disappointed," he said; but Ommony had also heard of Mrs. Craig, and he betrayed no symptoms of relenting.

He has been accused of hating women — a manifest absurdity, as will appear.

At the quay, where there were great iron rings as old as the days of Hiram Abiff, set in stonework that none knew who laid in place, Craig had a swarm of mission-servants and hangers-on waiting to pick up Ommony's belongings. Ommony demurred.

"The Maharajah's men—"

"May come to the mission," Craig interrupted. "You're a white man—"

"Born in London," Ommony admitted.

"And a Christian—"

Ommony raised his eyebrows. Having had no breakfast, he declined that argument.

" — It's only right you should receive our hospitality. We're one color, if of a separate flag, Mr. Ommony; and you may feel need of the moral support of your religion before you're through here. The superstitious darkness of this native State is indescribable."

"I'll wager you've tried to describe it," Ommony answered, smiling, tucking under his arm the rifle that he never allowed to be touched by any one except himself and one jungli — in this instance left behind. "Come here, Diana. Never bite this man. You understand me?"

The great hound looked at Craig and sniffed him, slowly swaying her tail, puzzled but obedient. The boatmen, who had orders, but were growing used to missionary ways, watched Ommony, hoping he would steer them out of a predicament. He read the dumb perplexity.

"Any one ill at the mission?" he asked.

"Nothing that need frighten you," Craig answered. "Nothing contagious. Only a man with a broken leg and a—"

Ommony, interrupting, turned away from him and spoke to the head boatman in a tongue few missionaries know — and they not Protestants:

"Pay compliments to diwan sahib. Say I go to mission house to do what is possible for man with broken leg. Ask diwan sahib graciously to send men for my luggage after breakfast."

The boatmen grinned. The diwan was the Maharajah's representative. Their Maharajah was a poor thing possibly, but theirs, and they preferred him above all the advance agents of penny plain religions, their own being two-pence, colored, and prodigiously more comforting to the eye and ear, establishing, for instance, that their Maharajah was descended from the gods, the moon specifically; and they grinned because Ommony had recognized the royal prerogative. With the aid of a suitable lie or two they could now assure their prince that all due precedence had been observed. They ran off full of laughter, and Craig vaguely resented it.

"You can't tell whether they're laughing at us or at something else," he complained.

"That's easy — us!" said Ommony. "Don't you think we're laughable — teaching our great-grandmother to suck eggs?"

"You mean — ?" asked Craig.

"Let's not keep Mrs. Craig waiting," Ommony suggested. Craig was silent, wondering at this sturdy fellow with a gun under his arm, who strode beside him as if down forest-lanes, and spoke like one who knew men. Craig had heard a world of things of Ommony, some good, some bad. A human being then undoubtedly. A man, they said, who feared no government and no superior, but whom a million ignorant villagers looked up to, preferring his pronouncements to the law. Not an anarchist then, nor a totally bad man, for of their own free will folk do not submit to rogues. He knew too well how hardly they submit themselves even to imported righteousness and sacrament. Not a wholly good man, Craig decided, although not dissolute; none of the marks of vicious living were impressed on him. Wanton possibly. Too prone to trust his own opinion and to forfeit that of others for the sake of independence. A free-thinker. Godless? Well, he hoped not.

And Ommony, who had received official warning about Craig, pursued the even tenor of his way unprejudiced. He had heard too often of other men being warned against himself to attach the slightest importance to unproven hearsay. Each man obscurely knew that as far as things had gone he liked the other, but that was to be expected of Ommony, who liked or detested. Craig kept reservations. Ommony crossed each bridge as he came to it.

And even more reserved than her husband was Mrs. Craig, emerging from the screened veranda of a tidy, thatched house, smiling a welcome and wondering what the guest was going to bring into her life. Strangers can so easily upset things. She was almost glad — hardly able to look disappointed — when Craig blurted out that Ommony would only stay for breakfast; and she fell back on scolding Craig to cover her embarrassment. Why had he brought the luggage from the boat if Mr. Ommony wanted it elsewhere?

She was younger than Craig and equally good-looking, but her seriousness rather had the air of being laid on and then bitten in, whereas his was natural. She was thirty, or thereabouts. Ten years earlier she might have laughed without warning and without assuring herself first that it was right to laugh. If so, she would have been a very pretty woman.

There were signs of dimples, not yet quite ironed out by duty. She had violet eyes, expressive of much thought, not all of it somber; lips that ought to have been kissed — and may have been when Craig was wooing, but not much since; a line of hair cut straight across her forehead above level eyebrows; and feet that could have danced. Not that Ommony is any dancer, except for policy and exercise and his partner's sins; he merely observed a natural fact.

She had a trim, light figure, brown hair, and once on a time was no doubt called a "sweet girl" by her elders in Curlew, Oklahoma. Craig had never satisfied himself that sweetness is not vice.

"The man we sent up a palm-tree to watch for your boat said there was a golden calf in the bow. Breakfast's ready," she added pleasantly. "Does the golden calf eat breakfast? Does she come into people's houses? What a simply adorable dog!"

Diana was commanded to make friends while Craig frowned thoughtfully. Ommony recalled to mind the patient with a broken leg and asked to see him.

"Why, are you a doctor?" Elsa Craig demanded.

"A tactician."

Ommony saw her raise her eyebrows at her husband; but she led the way promptly to a cool, screened outhouse in the rear of the compound, where a convert from one of the basest forms of Hinduism lay at ease.

Ommony hardly looked at the man. He seemed to think the details of the case irrelevant. The clean, sweet-smelling room made no perceptible impression; he was more interested in Diana's nose sniffing against the screen from outside than in the carefully written card at the foot of the bed. He turned on Elsa Craig in the midst of her description of the case and interrupted:

"If anybody asks you, please say I came first thing to see the patient."

"But you haven't looked at him! You're not even listening to his history!"

She was piqued. Even unenthusiastic fishermen like boasting of the taken fish.

"I'll make the man remember me," said Ommony, and dug down in his pocket.

"No, no!" she objected instantly. "We don't allow that! This is not one of those missions. Presents are against the rule. They come because they want to be Christians, or they stay away. We don't bribe them to come here. Rather we expect them to contribute."

"Good," said Ommony, continuing to dig and thumbing loose a ten-rupee note. "Nobody has ever given this man a tip?"

"Not since he came here."

"Then he'll certainly remember me!"

He gave the man the ten rupees and met the obsequious salaam with a steady gaze that was unforgettable because it was the stare of intelligence making use of an inquiring mind. The stranger with a shut mind and blown-in-the- glass convictions is the one whose features and conversation men forget.

"Who are you that you should break our rule?" Elsa Craig demanded irritably.

"Only you can break yours. I observed my own. You can't make rules for me," he answered, and she saw laughter in his eyes, although his face was sober.

He was not mocking her, he was amused.

"Love of money is the—" she began to quote resentfully.

"You should have kept me out if you didn't want your convert corrupted," he assured her; then, looking again at the patient: "I'm Ommony sahib. Come and see me when you're well."

Elsa Craig, indignant, led the way out. She knew in her heart that what she resented was his having brushed aside a falsehood she had schooled herself to accept as truth. She did not mind his ruthless recognition of essentials, but she did mind his applying it to herself and her affairs. He had no right to doubt her husband's converts. And his first words, outside in the garden among the well-kept palms and flowers, only increased her anger.

"That's a bad rascal you have in there. Don't trust him!"

"Then why do you want him to come and see you?"

"So he'll remember my visit. What's his name?"

"It was on the card. John Ishmittee. He can't say Smith."

"What in heaven — ?"

Ommony stopped, turned and stared at her — not rudely, and she knew it. He was just astonished.

"He had another name. He had a past," she answered. "When he adopted a true religion he asked us to change his name, and we arranged it legally. He had a right to turn his back on all the past."

Ommony nodded, conceding all the claims of tolerance in full, but not of incongruity or humbug.

"Our backs are to what's behind us," he admitted. "He's facing a future, though."

"Is that why you bribed him?" she retorted acidly.

"Yes. Pay men in their own coin or they're not bought. Your coffee smells like a breath of Allah's heaven!"

She felt herself thaw, and resented that, too. If he had said simply "heaven" and had omitted "Allah" she could almost have forgiven him the earlier offenses; because not even the viceroy — and surely no bishop's wife — enjoyed such coffee as she set on the table. It was her connecting link with home, departing youth, and memories that she was never willing to let quite die, although they hurt. Whoever praised her housekeeping, and her coffee above all, touched the cord in her that had not hardened.

"Are you a Moslem?" she objected.

"Ask Allah that!" he answered with a curt laugh. "We'll all be surprised to discover what we really are when our time comes."

She froze again, suspecting that he knew, or that he thought he knew, what she was, though he had said no word that hinted it. She even knew he was sympathetic. He was like a surgeon, who cut deep and then looked under the bandages.

She felt that he had peered into the depths of her thought and understood, and that he was sorry for her and no more inclined to be ruled by her limitations than an eagle is to wear blinkers. The little conventional lies that he tolerated for the sake of courtesy meant no more to him than the big ones that he challenged on sight. Without saying a word, he seemed to her to have challenged her whole overlaid philosophy, which she had been ten years studying and smoothing, until she herself hardly knew it any longer for a lie.

No living man could do that and not be her enemy. No man could be her enemy and not sustain defeat if victory were in her. She smiled the little, hard, too-knowing smile that had cost her the love of a man in the States and married her to a missionary, who believed that sex was something to be ashamed of. She thought that Ommony did not see the smile. Her husband saw it, standing in the door of the heavily screened veranda, and imagined they were friends already. He prided himself on never entertaining jealousy — on always recognizing facts — on imperturbable good-humor.

"Eatmetights!" he called to them. "Wheats! Ham and — ! Let's play we're in the West!"

Ommony played with him. They sat down vis-a-vis and traded reminiscences, Ommony making fun of his own misadventures in the States, that time he used a saved-up leave in search of forestry and found none.

But Elsa Craig — although they praised her coffee — was depressed; not one suggestion that her husband might have made could have had more unfortunate results that morning. To play at being in the West — to recall old times — on top of Ommony's surgery — was torture, no less. She was cross to the servants and gave all her breakfast to Diana, much to Ommony's concern.

"That dog's on a diet," he cautioned her. "They're hard to raise in this climate. One meal a day—"

She was glad. She was not mean enough to wage war on the dumb beast, but it was very good to cause Ommony even slight distress. She left off feeding the dog, not to oblige the master, but because she admired the animal, making mental note that it tortured Ommony to see mismanagement he might prevent.

"How long do you expect to be here?" she asked him.

"Several months."

She was glad again. In time and with persistence one can make pain felt. She was almost, and on the surface quite, good-tempered when the meal was done and it was Craig's turn to show Ommony about the mission.

There was no risk of the Maharajah sending men for his luggage yet, for that was Southeast India — a native State — just warming up for the monsoon. Men were as lethargic as the flies.

"Many converts?" Ommony asked as they strode off side by side with the dog's nose between them, making free with Ommony's hand, thanking him for lawless ham and eggs provided by the enemy.

"Few. Slow progress. Slow but sure," Craig answered. "I have never tried for fireworks. Competition isn't keen here. No other Protestant denominations. I don't have to make a big superficial showing to get money. My private income helps out. Slow but sure's my motto — slow but sure, Mr. Ommony, the Lord providing."

"Providing foresters, for instance?"

Ommony looked straight at Craig. There was no evading his directness, although it was that and nothing more — no resentment — nothing sly — a straight question.

"Yes, sir, the Lord providing foresters — or one at any rate," Craig admitted. "You knew?"

"I know now."

Craig checked an exclamation of impatience. There had been no need to confess his hidden hand in the matter after all! He wished he had not admitted it. So many folk were willing to accuse missionaries of interfering in politics; Ommony was doubtless like the rest.

However, he could not withdraw the confession. Explanation seemed the wise course.

"You see, Mr. Ommony, something had to be done. The Maharajah is a weak man, alternately in the hands of his prime minister and a Hindu priest. Between them those two control the destinies of all these people."

Ommony's eyes twinkled. He had his own ideas of destiny and people, but he did not say anything.

"The priest is my deadly enemy. That is, of course, what you might expect," Craig went on. "You can hardly blame him. If I win, he loses. Converts to my religion mean increasing decay of his. I'd like to be his friend, but he won't let me."

Ommony contrived to look grave, but it was difficult.

"Have you offered to make friends with him?" he asked, looking the other way.

"Oh yes. I was aboveboard. I even offered to pay his son's expenses to America, so he might see for himself what Christianity and civilization mean. But the man is so enwrapped in superstition and a sense of Brahminical importance that there's no penetrating his conceit. I gave it up."

"I have to confess we're enemies. I'm sorry. He offends me in all ways possible, and I try to act with forbearance, but fact is fact."

Ommony looked frankly at his host, sizing him up, considering the automatic, educated humor that would laugh at the accepted jokes and frown at all uncensored ones — the obstinate courage — the enthusiasm that no flood might quench — the perfect orthodoxy — the manners that were one thing and the man that was another — all clearly written on the fine, too serious face. He knew that he and that man would never enjoy the same paradise; but he hoped to find a means of getting on with him in this world, in that city, for the present.

"Something had to be done," Craig continued. "It was no use talking to the Rajah, for I tried it. Each time the poor wretch entertained me he had to spend a week at the priest's dictation resanctifying himself. My very presence was pollution."

"So I tried the diwan. He's open to argument, and you can't say that for either priest or Rajah. The diwan is jealous of the priest — that's natural — resents all interference of the Church in politics. As an American I was able to agree with him in that respect without reservation. I made it clear my friendship might be worth his while."

Ommony laughed outright — one clear, "Hah!"

"What amuses you?" asked Craig.

"The Church in politics. Go on."

"I told the diwan what this State needs is forestry. Christ, and then forestry. The British confer knighthoods on men who put through great public improvements. I happen to know he is anxious for knighthood."

"I assured him there are means at my disposal of calling the attention of Government to any good or evil he might do. Then I suggested that by public forestry on an extensive scale he could not only serve his own case but inevitably injure the priest's. He saw it. The diwan has astuteness in a measure."

He paused for Ommony to ask the inevitable question. But Ommony judged it sufficient that he beat back laughter.

"Every tree cut down in this State pays a small tax to the priests — small, but in the aggregate immense," Craig went on after a dramatic pause. "So it is to the priest's interest that trees should be cut — to the diwan's and the people's to grow trees and conserve them."

It was Craig's turn to look critically at Ommony. It occurred to him to wonder how his guest was taking this confession. Some twinge of an uneducated conscience not yet dead, antedating his appointment as a missionary, perhaps, suggested that his guest might have opinions and a right to them. But as far as he could judge he had given no offense yet. Ommony, rubbing the dog's ear, strode beside him looking politely interested.

"The diwan is like all Orientals," he went on. "I could only get him to agree with me on condition he had his own way. He had heard of you. It was a case of you or nobody. If I could get you, then he was willing to defy the priest and go in for forest conservation seriously."

"And what were you to get out of this?" asked Ommony, controlling his voice but twitching the hound's ear so hard that she whimpered.

"Personally nothing, but the mission a great deal — those little, inconsiderable favors that amount to so much in the long run — an occasional visit by the diwan — recognition by the Maharajah in the form of a small financial contribution, just for the sake of the principle involved. Above all the discontinuance of picketing. They are not to sit at the gate and hound my converts through the streets. The local papers are to discontinue scurrilous abuse of me and to cease telling lies about my methods. No pressure of any kind is to be brought to bear on any of our converts. Don't you think now I was justified in using influence to get you sent down here?"

"You're your own judge," Ommony answered.

He hated to be asked to pass judgment on other men's mistakes.

"I mean can you forgive me for—"

Ommony laughed curtly.

"You're not responsible for any move of mine," he answered. "They told me you were trying to pull wires. I looked into it and applied for the transfer."

Craig looked at him again, and stroked his chin, and wondered.

"I know the diwan rather well. He's a friend of mine," said Ommony, and Craig continued wondering.



CHAPTER 2
"They conceded fish."

Craig presently felt his feet. Did he, Craig, not know all the wires he pulled, the influences he had brought to bear, the patience he had exercised to bring this essay into forestry to pass? Ommony, in his judgment, could no more have withstood the pressure than could any other cog in the immense machine of Indian government.

Ommony, he decided, was a vain man — one of those who, rather than confess themselves a part of a machine, must boast that they control it. Knowledge of human nature and of how to play on it is nearly the most valuable tool in any missionary's kit. Craig glanced at Ommony now with a changed expression in his eye, believing that he understood him.

Thenceforth he showed the mechanism of his mission in intimate detail, asking Ommony's advice wherever room might be for improvement and frequently where none was, and Craig knew it. As he had said, progress was slow; energy had had to find an outlet in perfecting processes rather than in caring for floods of converts, which in point of fact were non-existent. Four-and-twenty converts was the total, and even Craig admitted their conversion was a question of degree.

But there was a laundry, a carpentry, a printing-office, a loom, and appurtenances for weaving homespun, and a school, besides the raw, new-fangled chapel dwarfed by the roof of a thousand-year-old Hindu temple that overshadowed it from beyond the compound wall. On the gravel path leading to the chapel door the image of a Hindu god cast its black reflection, like Pulcinella pulling snooks.

Craig did not see it. Craig would rather have died than have confessed to seeing it. Ommony kept his thought about it to himself, suppressing the unbidden smile lest Craig, who was disturbed by the dog's efforts to enter the chapel, should draw wrong conclusions.

One wrong conclusion was enough for that first morning, but how should Ommony upset it without offense? He was perfectly aware of Craig's intention to flatter him into a frame of mind useful to the mission. Had Ommony not turned the same trick scores of times, changing a race-conscious, self-assertive junior into someone who could love trees? You can learn more about human nature in a forest than in teeming cities, and Ommony knew Craig disbelieved his statement about his coming of his own free will. But how should he convince him? Was the effort worth it? What would be the consequence?

"You say the diwan is your friend?" Craig asked as they turned toward the house again.

He tried to make it sound as if he thought the assertion true; but men who have listened for a lifetime to the voices that come down-wind through forests are not easy to deceive as to hidden meanings. Ommony was sorry he had made the statement, but he nodded.

"That's excellent," said Craig.

It was all he did say on the subject just then. Men were trooping through the gate to gather Ommony's belongings and carry them to the royal guest-house. There was a pompous Hindu officer in charge, walking as if the mission gravel did dishonor to his boot-soles, bent on making much of Ommony and snubbing Craig. Ommony shook hands and introduced him, forcing him to be polite to Craig, gaining the Hindu's admiration for his own tact but missing what he intended. Craig drew him aside.

"I appreciate your motive, but kindly don't force me to shake hands with that man again. He's one of my most malignant enemies. He'll brag now all over town that—"

Ommony cut him short by turning to say good-bye to Elsa. She emerged from the veranda smiling so serenely that for a moment Ommony was almost fooled. Only the undisguisable acid in her voice re-warned him.

"Come again — come often, Mr. Ommony. When you yearn to be understood, and for home comforts, and to hear your own language, you'll know where to find us."

So she thought she understood him. Hell! Ommony set his teeth as he rode the Maharajah's fat horse, sent for his discomfort and greater honor. He would rather be understood by the devil than by Mrs. Craig just yet! He suspected possibilities, but they were latent. Her own incomprehension, it seemed likely to him, would be the only safeguard for anyone who came within her reach — that, and perhaps the limitations of her too narrow orbit. She would dominate or die — use or usurp — control or conquer and then tread underfoot! She was dynamic mastery imprisoned! Good-looking as the deuce!

"So she started the ball, eh? I thought the diwan was telling the whole truth in his letter! Men-women? Give me animals and trees! We men are all fools!"

He rode through streets whose history was fading in the days when Rome first built a fort beside the Thames and called the fever-stricken mound Londinium — past buildings where a lore lies hidden that is foolishness to modern wisemen, but compared to which their most amazing calculations would be as journalese to Sappho — past pagodas never penetrated by the profane, not even by all-conquering warriors, who might else have destroyed what they could not understand; alongside waterways where ships they say were Solomon's once lay at anchor, loading gold, apes, peacocks, and the rest of the trash he prized; through awninged marts where modern mock enamelware displayed itself indecently beside the craftsmanship of self-respecting days; into the realm of elephants, where big, stake-hobbled brutes ceased dusting to salute at the command of a mahout; and beyond them to a triangle between three roads on which was set the guest-house, hidden by flowering trees and hedged in by a living fence of clipped bamboo.

It was a place quite fit for an emperor, if an emperor had brains enough to know it.

There, beneath the stone gate-arch on which the gods were carved in pictographs, whose inner meaning only a rare few still preserve, the diwan waited, white from head to foot — turban, hair, beard, clothing, shoes — his bronze skin looking handsomer in contrast, and his smile as gentle and as humorous as that of the too-naked god who posed in stone overhead.

"My friend, my friend," he said in English as Ommony dismounted, "I cannot say how you are welcome."

"You needn't."

"No, I think you know."

They entered the garden on foot together, the old diwan accepting Ommony's arm to lean on and the serving-men absorbing reverence for future use — that being India's ancient way; it has nothing to do with petty larceny and perquisites, that flourish equally and side by side with it; those are the weeds in India's Eden, encouraged, as her flowers are neglected nowadays.

They called each other sahib; for how else should five-and-forty years address five-and-seventy, or five-and-seventy answer a member of the conquering race? And, as was right, Ommony asked first the conventional questions concerning the Maharajah's health. He learned that in His Highness's condition there was "no change."

Conventions all observed, they sat and were unconventional — as much as India can be — on the deep veranda of the guesthouse in among sar and teak trees, sipping weak tea for politeness' sake, and for the sake of privacy selecting the corner that gave them full view of the house and garden. They were seen by a hundred observing eyes, but could not be overheard, even by the Christian gardener employed there to flatter Craig.

"He is what he himself would call 'the limit,' that Mr. Craig," said the diwan. "He insults me daily without knowing it. In intention he is merely galvanic; he would like to charge new life into us as they charge the battery of His Highness's motorboat. In effect, however, he is paralyzing!"

"As bad as that, Kalambi sahib?"

"Worse! I have spared you the infliction of the truth! You have seen his wife? She, who rules him, sought to govern me through my wife. She wrote, inviting herself to visit my wife 'in the seclusion of the zenana,' as she expressed it. I replied that the seclusion was too genuine at this time to be broken without unpredictable consequences. She answered accusing me of hypocrisy and marital tyranny — also of opening my wife's letters, which she claimed was illegal. But when I explained that my wife had been dead for more than twenty years she did not apologize."

Ommony sat back in the long chair facing the diwan and chuckled silently. "Her sort don't," he answered. "What did she do?"

"I don't know, sahib. But I received a call from the British Resident, who said he had been requested by the Secretary of State to suggest that I might with propriety use less prejudice in my relations with the wives of missionaries!"

"Good God!" Ommony exploded.

"There was a garden-party at the mission soon afterward, so I attended it to prove how little prejudice I have. And they were very kind; they let bygones be bygones; they made it obvious they had forgiven me. They gave me cakes I did not dare to eat, and much advice I would not take if death were to be the consequence of rejecting it. To avoid argument I asked to be shown the garden; and I talked to them a little of the knowledge of trees that I garnered years ago from you in your forest. I wish I had torn my tongue out rather!"

"Why?"

"Because I gave that woman an idea, and it would have been safer to give dynamite and fuses to some of the converts she and her husband keep about the place! They learned — I regret to say from me — that some of the Hindu temple revenues are raised by a tax on tree-felling — a tax imposed centuries ago to conserve the forests; paradoxically it has wasted them.

"Craig and his wife seized at once on that chance to wage war on our Hindu hierarchy. That very evening Craig came and promised me a knighthood, as if he had the dispensing of the King of England's favors. He did not know that I have refused a knighthood from every Viceroy since Dufferin."

"Didn't you hit back?" Ommony asked.

"I did. I lent them an elephant. I said — which was true — that the royal and ancient way of showing the Maharajah's favor is to do that. The chief mahout, of course, enlarged on the details of an elephant's rations. Contractors in receipt of hints delivered quantities of hay and grain together with their bills.

"Craig had to call on me and ask my influence in getting the loan of the elephant withdrawn with as little offense to His Highness as possible. I did so on condition that he should likewise grant me peace. He promised. He is honest. But he could not keep a promise he did not understand."

"How long did he let you alone?" wondered Ommony.

"Until next morning. He came then, alleging gratitude in that I had withdrawn the elephant, and offering in return to help me with all his influence in the matter of the forestry! He showed me a telegram he had received — of which I could have shown him the copy that I received before his reached him! — saying his friends had already taken the matter up in Simla."

"He had the impudence to say that a knighthood was hanging from ungrown trees for me to pluck, and that all I had to do was to grow the trees and take it. He considered that a pleasantry, I know, because he laughed at it. He added that since His Highness had felt friendly enough to lend an elephant, he ought to be easy to convince. He even offered to go to His Highness with me and give me the benefit of his eloquence."

He paused to let Ommony finish laughing. He would have preferred that he should not laugh, but he understood that the West can do that and be sympathetic. The East does not mix emotions.

"At what point did I come in?" asked Ommony at last.

"When Craig had written anonymously to the papers demanding a commission to investigate the decimation of our trees. He persuaded friends of his to do the same. There began to be editorials about it.

"You must understand — no doubt you do — that the priests, headed by Parumpadpa, were hard after me all this while. They resented less the attempt to cut their revenues than the scarcely-veiled attack on their authority, and they threatened me with expulsion from office unless I could drive forth this missionary out of our coasts.

"The threat to me was comparatively easy of fulfilment. It was impossible to drive out Craig. I believe that I am useful to the State and that my resignation would be detrimental. I can guess who would be appointed in my place, and what advantage those priests would take of him. So what could I do but temporize?"

Ommony nodded. He could have finished the tale himself, but the diwan continued:

"I at last persuaded Parumpadpa and his priests that one course remained, and that I alone could take it. If you, with whom I boasted I have influence, could be persuaded to come here and inaugurate the forestry regime, then we should have a man with us whose breadth of experience and tolerance might solve the problem without disaster. Otherwise—"

He paused, preferring that Ommony should imagine alternatives; but Ommony fell back on rule of seniority and manners, and the diwan had to finish his own sentence.

"Otherwise, there will be bloodshed — murder — poison — and perhaps religious war. Our Hindus are indignant that Moplahs should have slaughtered their co-religionists a day or two's march away. They are still more indignant at having been prevented by the British from retaliating. It would be too easy to arouse them beyond control. The consequences—"

"Would be on the knees of influences known as gods, who are less controllable than we are," Ommony conceded gravely. "Well?"

"The simplest course," said the diwan, "would be to kill Craig. A missionary sent in place of him might prefer fish to forestry. And as to indemnity, the temple funds would care for that. The Maharajah would apologize beautifully. There are even Christians in the mission who might be trusted to do the murdering, although they are not very trustworthy."

"But the difficulty there is that I dislike bloodshed from conviction — from within — outward — wholly. I believe I have sufficient influence remaining to prevent it."

"And it would be impossible to foresee any except the immediate consequences. So we must save Craig's life, although I think he is as much a menace as that other idiot who fired the shot at Sarajevo."

Ommony felt like a cat in the sun. Not one non-Aryan in a hundred million ever listened to the unmasked thoughts of the real ruler of an ancient Indian State. The key to their thoughts can not be won by force or influence, nor by any other means than friendship. He nodded, unlike Craig, for instance, who would have launched forth an unnecessary diatribe on murder.

"You mustn't expect me to side with you against Craig," he answered guardedly.

"If I had wanted — ah — the sort of man who would do that, I would not have asked the Woods and Forests to lend you for a while," said the diwan dryly. "A second course that has been suggested to me would be to have Parumpadpa murdered. A skillfully conducted preliminary secret propaganda might produce anarchy within the hierarchy in that event."

"In fact, the suggestion was made to me indirectly by an individual who would welcome my assistance in snatching for himself the office of chief priest — although what his friendship would be worth afterward I don't know. But there again we cannot foresee the indirect consequences. We might cry for Parumpadpa back again. The people would."

"It is true that Parumpadpa is no altruist. But he has no brains. And in his place there might be inflicted on us a priest with brains, than which there is no worse calamity."

A green cloud of parakeets flashed screaming between them and the sun, as if Nature herself felt forced to comment on that instructive saying. A great tame stork by a fountain untucked his other foot, stood to attention, nodded solemnly and went to sleep again. Diana, down below the veranda, raised her head from between enormous paws and growled.

"Suggestion three?" asked Ommony.

"Was made by the priests. It was that every alien forester sent here should be beaten to death by a mob. You understand, it would be very easy to arouse the mob on religious grounds. And if a Hindu were to be sent he could be killed with even less difficulty; there would be scores of ways of getting him into trouble. That was another reason why I begged for you to be sent here: it occurred to me you would be much more difficult to kill."

Ommony lighted his pipe. He had to do something to disguise his reaction to that compliment.

"What do you consider the solution?" he asked.

"You, my friend, are the solution. You have been invited here to that end. Whatever may be the limiting terms of your official instructions, privately you have carte blanche from me. You are to accomplish the incredible, as I have seen you do before."

"In the name of Craig and his accomplices — who came here uninvited — it has been ruled that we may cut down no more trees. People who are so poor that one pice is a consideration have been ordered not to pay the infinitely tiny wood-tax. They may purchase fuel instead at seven times the former price from neighboring unrestricted States. And we are to plant trees, although where has not been specified. There are no public lands available unless we take away the grazing-grounds—"

Ommony interrupted him with a gesture of impatience — the rebellion of an open mind, that recognized no real impossibilities, against prejudgment.

"An old story, Kalambi sahib. There are always fifty reasons for cutting trees, a hundred more for not replanting them — and politics. That's worse."

"Worse than religion?"

"Tell me about Parumpadpa."

"The temple chests are overflowing. Therefore he thinks more of power than of money just at present."

"Yet you say he has no brains?"

"None whatever, sahib. He is the perfect embodiment of abstract sanctity without a concrete reason. He presides over his Church as our Maharajah presides over his government; only to the Church there are no restrictions. Consequently the priests can make Parumpadpa do anything, whereas I can only advise my Maharajah to act constitutionally."

"What is Parumpadpa's weakness?" Ommony demanded.

"Vanity! That is why he heads the Church so ably. His subordinates flatter him, and he obeys."

"What's his strength?"

"The fact that there has been no war in this State for many generations. The people are not afraid of the threat of it. They do not know what it means. They would be very easy to excite and very difficult to subdue. They believe that Parumpadpa is their friend against these foreigners who increase the cost of fuel. Moreover, the priests stand well with His Highness, who is deeply devout and who is respected by the people because of his devotion."

"Then why didn't you advise him to answer the Secretary of State that he should mind his own business? Why not refuse point-blank to interfere with forestry conditions?"

"My friend, because at the time when this man Craig began his assault on our peace there was a question of fishing rights at issue between the British Raj and ourselves — highly important from the point of view of our improvident people; unimportant to the British, except as a tactical advantage. They conceded fish and demanded forestry."

Ommony knocked out his pipe and chuckled.

"Craig's a real calamity, eh? He has brains."

"He or someone with him," said the diwan darkly. "But he has no heart," he added, "and the heart, my friend can conquer cleverness."



CHAPTER 3
"Hail, Parumpadpa!"

Parumpadpa and his priests played the opening gambit, urged by circumstances out of their control.

The waiting game is best when your resources are an unknown quantity to your opponent. Leave initiative to him; block him without disclosing your own hand, forever riding on his shoulders, as it were, and tiring him more fatally the more he struggles. The East, and peculiarly India, understands that method.

But it was conceded in priestly councils — not held in crypts in which the Yogi brood over old mysteries, but in a temple back room like a vestry — that Ommony's arrival on the scene had forced their hand.

For instance, there were rumors, spreading swiftly on excitement's wings, that on the bows of Ommony's boat a golden god had stood, shaped like nothing ever known in Indian cosmogony. Some said his skin was tongues of flame, and others that his voice was like far-away thunder.

The boatmen — having held a consultation, too, where a Frenchman sold forbidden beverage — were suspected of collaboration in another rumor that whomever the new god touched was blessed and could pass along the blessing. The boatmen had all had contact, and were charging a rupee, a person to be touched in turn; which was bad enough.

But worse was that it all redounded to Ommony's credit. They would make a god of him next, with leave to plant or cut trees anywhere!

"We must do something," said Parumpadpa oracularly, having ascertained that his technical subordinates were of that opinion. He was a very learned- looking man, whose long robes, long beard, long gray hair descending to his shoulders, and long ascetic nose would have gained respect for him in any decent society, provided he kept still. The diwan's judgment of him notwithstanding, he had brains enough to appreciate his own stupidity. None could ever accuse him of responsibility for failure, or refuse him credit for success, because with priests, just as with other folk, the strongest faction wins, and he led deftly from the rear.

So Parumpadpa's, "We must do something," amounted in effect to a question, "What shall we do?"

There followed hours of a to-and-fro discussion, in which all theories had an airing, including those of murder; but none was found acceptable because Parumpadpa could not detect as much as a nucleus around which a faction might form with encouragement. The spy, who told the diwan of it afterward, said there seemed to be as many plans as priests.

But at last a man stood up, whose name was Jannath. It was he who had suggested to the diwan that Parumpadpa might be murdered, profitably to himself and perhaps, too, to the diwan. Jannath, pouring sarcasm from bitter lips, offered a plan that should break Craig's heart if nothing else, and volunteered to execute it.

That suited Parumpadpa, who detected sufficient jealousy of Jannath to make it quite safe to intrust him with the opening act of war. The first move is always the butt of condemnation. Even if it succeeds beyond all expectation, jealousy is sure to find fault with it.

And Parumpadpa was aware of Jannath's overtures to the diwan. The diwan had told him, to make politics more pleasant for all concerned.

"Let us hear Jannath's great plan," he commanded with sufficient sneer to establish later on if necessary his own claim to have disapproved it in advance.

Jannath, on his mettle, spoke of elephants and of the Feast of the Mahouts, to occur within the week. He spoke so eloquently that he convinced them. Parumpadpa sensed a big majority in favor.

"Jannath shall try his plan," said Parumpadpa. "Let the chief mahout be sent to me."

The chief mahout, an illiterate, almost casteless, wholly superstitious member of the useful underworld, would have been sufficiently enraptured to be interviewed by the high priest's subordinate. But Jannath was only given permission to be present at the interview for the purpose of bearing subsequent blame; and between them he and Parumpadpa reduced the chief mahout to a state of doddering acquiescence, in which he would have been willing to eat hot coals if so commanded; for never before in the history of that State had a chief mahout been granted an interview by the chief priest. He was the most blessed mahout in history. Thenceforward anyone who should seek his favor would have to pay double the former price. He went forth wondering, owned soul and body by the hierarchy, and beat his wife to assist her understanding.

Jannath had shown genius, for elephants are the most uncertain of all beasts and none can predict what they will or will not do, except their mahouts on occasion. When, as at the Feast of the Mahouts, you have nearly a thousand elephants in procession through crowded, narrow streets, on their way to be blessed at a temple, and winding thence, afterward, in ever-increasing circuits until the whole city shall have seen their flower-draped hugeness, the chance for trouble could hardly be improved. A cracker will start elephants stampeding. A small dog's bark, a drum with unaccustomed note, a shadow on a wall that should not be there, will madden them beyond control.

Mahouts may not be blamed for the custom, as old as the throne itself, of conferring on strangers the privilege of riding the royal elephants on the day of the feast. Mahouts are untouchables, who might grow heady if allowed a feast unto themselves; so in the beginning honored strangers were imposed on them — at the stranger's risk — for the same reason that the Maharajah always stayed away. Strangers were the skeletons at the feast. The Maharajah's absence was the false note inserted to act as a sedative.

On this occasion the only suitable skeletons available were the British Resident and Ommony. The Resident had toothache, or said so, and in place of himself sent his helmet and a case of "presentation" whisky to the chief mahout, who accordingly was drunk before the gambit opened, as Ommony was first to learn — unless you count the elephants: they miss nothing.

The mahout, rebuked suitably, insisted it was Ommony who was drunk, that being a sahib's right condition; he further asserted that the elephant was father of typhoons, progenitor of earthquakes, causer of calamities —

Wherefore would the sahib please be seated?

Ommony took his place in the howdah with misgiving, and as an afterthought whistled Diana, thinking the great hound would be safer up there than in the street and less likely to cause trouble. The mahout drank copiously from a bottle draped in cotton cloth and, remarking that doubtless all was well beyond the stars, whacked the elephant's skull with the butt end of the ankus. That elephant's name was Tippoo Sahib, and he has made a heap of history more than once. He arose and wandered forth a little too moist at the trunk end, as if he too had been imbibing the forbidden drink.

And animals no less than men ask only to be led. The hundred monsters in the palace grounds were used to following Tippoo Sahib, just as their mahouts were used to following their chief without much argument. So, though the time was not yet and the orchestra that should have played weird music had hardly set its ancient instruments in place, the rank and file of the mahouts, all self-conscious in their clean white clouts and turbans, allowed their charges to wheel into column and shuffle in Tippoo's wake.

Several people shouted, and a native officer galloped up in an effort to head the procession off. But the chief mahout, like an avalanche once under way, was capable of anything but turning back. Down came the heavy ankus drum-fashion. Tippoo Sahib, blowing the Rogues' Riot Call through a slobbery trunk, went forward through the orchestra, destroying two drums en route.

Priests' instructions were aflame in the mahout's mind. They might have burned themselves to ashes there had one of those two drums not circled Tippoo's forefoot like a napkin-ring. It irritated him beyond endurance. Stamp how he would, the loose, annoying ring would not drop off. In some way he connected it with the ankus blows that rained on him, and irritation burgeoned into wrath. The great brute trumpeted again, and this time most of the royal herd answered him.

"Set me down!" said Ommony.

But it was too late, and he knew it. One of those events had had its birth that like a dynamite explosion must increase. They will not go back into the shell. Their only end is in development, which a man may guide but not prevent, and he who gets in the way of them is nothing.

There was a high wall shutting in the courtyard surrounding the palace, and a great arched gate, through which six elephants might march abreast. Tippoo went straight for the gate at a speed not lessened in the least by Diana's barking, and the whole herd quickened into a mob behind, not knowing and not caring why, but simply following and in a hurry to catch up.

And even so there might have been no disaster, for a drunken mahout's and an elephant's thoughts are x, the unknown quantity. But outside the gate there were nearly nine hundred more thick-skinned anachronisms, each with a feast-keeping man on his neck, all drawn up ready for entertainment and decked in sufficient finery to grace even that occasion. There were torn draperies and broken chains; elephants were plucking at each other's trappings and their own; mahouts were becoming angry. There was nearly enough friction to start a fire before even Tippoo came trumpeting through the gate, making men's skin creep and terrifying every animal within a mile.

But a hundred more rioted in Tippoo's wake. The gate grew chock-a-block with struggling brutes, and even great blocks of masonry were shifted by the thrust against them. The panic spread like fire.

Ommony watched it helpless, clinging to Diana, who seemed to believe that by barking and jumping she might accomplish something.

The chief street of the city lay ahead like a bow-string taut between point and point of the curving water-front, and all the countryside in gala dress was packed between the shop-fronts, leaving hardly a lane for sober elephants — none whatever for emergency. Tippoo went down that cramped opening full speed ahead, and a thousand monsters raced for first place in pursuit. At one point there were ten of them neck and neck, and the crowd had nowhere to turn to escape them.

The unknown quantity of reason in the mahout's mind, inflamed by the presentation whisky, worked like an engine with the governor released. Turning once, he saw the helpless mob of men and women go down under the pell-mell avalanche of brutes. He heard Ommony's pistol; for the one lean chance was to kill an elephant or two and scare the others to wheel and retreat. But who, from a howdah on the back of a screeching, living earthquake, can hit the eyes of elephants in panic, with a .38 automatic? Ommony hit one, and did well. He might as well have shot to stop the monsoon.

Ommony had done his utmost, and had no more cartridges. But if the sahib was disturbed enough to shoot, why then should a reasoning mahout, the confidant of chief priests and the instructor of royal elephants, not show his capacity under emotion?

"Ganesha!* Hah!" [* The Elephant-god]

What enemy hath done this thing? Who but a Christian missionary — Craig — could have — would have — would have dared to spoil the Feast of the Mahouts, that had been a famous feast each year since the gods themselves last walked on earth with men? Great — oh, great and wise — were the priests who had warned him in advance that the elephant folk might know enough to trample Craig underfoot this day!

Whack! came down the heavy ankus on Tippoo Sahib's skull. Where was it — that mission garden, where the priests had warned him Craig was growing trees by means of which to impose his hated creed on a folk whose gods were plenty good enough, and kind, and not too critical?

Lo and behold, the garden of the mission! Lo, the foreign looking trees mocking their betters over the top of the garden wall! Lo, the gate! An arched gate! Too narrow and too low to pass an elephant!

"Hah! Ganesha!"

Whack came down the ankus once again on the brute's sore skull. Hook, knees, imprecations labored to change direction, even as the old gun- laying crews would work in the days of sail. Tippoo Sahib hove his rump and a restless tail to windward; and Ommony, grabbing Diana by the scruff with one hand, seized the elephant's tail and jumped! Diana's weight alone was enough to have destroyed his chance, but his hold on the short tail offset that, and when he let go and fell it was the hound's elastic strength that saved him. He was up, and off, and away out of the path of the pursuing herd at the same instant that Tippoo Sahib's forehead struck the wall above the narrow gate and toppled down a section wide enough to admit six elephants abreast.

Thereafter there was damage done, and Ommony beheld the whole of it from the roof of Craig's house, sitting between Craig and his wife, with the servants and the converts in a crowd behind them and Diana baying her disapproval to the skies.

For he and the dog had burst into the mission just in time to rescue the Craigs and round up the whole outfit out of harm's way. Only "John Ishmittee" with his broken leg in the little screened outhouse was left, like Lot's wife. Elsa called to him, but he stayed to gather up absurd belongings, and from the roof they saw the splintering outhouse disappear under a blue-gray wave of wrath.

The garden wall went down in sections like a dike when the sea gets through the weakest part. Three thousand tons — a thousand — the elephants poured in and milled, a blue-gray maelstrom, screaming as they cut their feet on things Craig had imported, and reducing just that piece of earth and all things on it to the state of a parade-ground-flat.

It grew into a sort of tune. The big blue shoulders rose and fell in unison as they worked like washerwomen at the tub, their fool mahouts nodding to one another, each forever saying the same thing, and all as helpless as the wrack that rides on waves.

"They have seen the Lord Ganesha. He has ordered it. He verily has ordered it."

Who had or had not ordered it made small difference to the Craigs just then. The elephants had broken in through the veranda screen, and the whole lower floor was a part with the gardena desert — a flat waste, much marked with trampled things whose part and purpose were no longer discernible. They heard the tear and twang of the grand-piano strings as one big brute drove a tusk in under them and ripped the lot to hell. The crash of glass and crockery was like the splash of spray.

"I'm glad I built the walls well," Craig said solemnly.

No more than that one reminder, of all that married life with Craig had been, was needed to destroy the fence that Elsa had painstakingly erected around herself. It went down like the garden wall. He cared for nothing but the concrete wall that still stood! Her feelings, her emotions, her regrets, even her sympathy, escaped him altogether!

He was glad, doubtless, that her body and the servants' and the converts' bodies were up there with life in them beside him on the roof; but the only thing that aroused his emotion to the point of speech was walls which stood!

"I hate you!" she said simply.

For a moment he thought she meant Ommony. That she should hate himself was so incredible that the thought failed to penetrate his understanding until her blazing dark eyes, looking straight at him, drove truth home.

"Elsa, are you sane?" he asked. "In front of a stranger — Elsa, I'm surprised!"

He might have used vitriol and have hurt her less. In front of a stranger! There was the whole point. That stranger understood her — knew — had known almost in the instant when they first met — that her married life and her mission field were dry bones draped. And in presence of the first man who had vision who had come into their lives, in the moment of heaped ruin when almost any excess of sentiment would have been excusable, he forgot her ten years' labor side by side with him, her courage and encouragement, her guidance, her restraint, even her money thrown into the fight with his — and praised his masonry that stood!

Not only that; he had not even the human charity to lie, as she herself had lied for ten lean years, and pretend that he held her dearer than bricks and mortar!

"Smash!" she said bitterly between set teeth leaning over to watch the elephants. "Go on! Smash it all! I'm glad! I'm glad!"

"Elsa!"

Craig was scandalized; afraid, too, that perhaps he had an unhinged woman on his hands. Ommony turned away and walked to the far side of the roof, holding Diana by the scruff lest she jump into the maelstrom beneath and perish underfoot. As surely as the dog saw outrage to be opposed with teeth and noise he, Ommony, sensed a greater climax; and he knew that only silence and a view as wide and wakeful as the sun's at dawn would be the least use.

"All the king's horses and all the king's men," he reflected; "yet — no king and his horses are the whole of it."

He began to pace the roof with hands behind him, followed by the dog, who only knew that where her laconic owner was solutions of all problems usually grew as if of their own accord. There was now a great crowd running from the streets to view the spectacle, and its voice was half a laugh, so blended with an angry undergrowl that not the cocksurest Christian would have mistaken it for friendly.

"It might be worse," Ommony reflected, looking down from a corner of the roof, first at elephants, then at men and veiled, shrill-voiced, excited women. "The crowd would have used fire. The brutes are merciful."

The mercurial Eastern mind had lost no seconds seizing on enlightenment. They understood below there that Craig and his household were suffering because the priests decreed it.

But someone had confirmed that. There were runners in among them whispering the news from ear to ear that Parumpadpa had begged the loan of the royal elephants for this purpose, and that the stamping-out of Craig and his Christians was the Maharajah's doing.

"Hail, Motherland! Hail, Parumpadpa!"

The cry went up from one voice. A hundred echoed it. A thousand rolled it up into a roar that thundered down-wind all along the water-front and set the city's rift-raff by the ears — that element that never stirs away from water save when the looting tempts. Ommony heard trumpets blaring in the royal barracks, and turned to watch the Maharajah's cavalry emerge through palm-trees for riot duty.

But he did not see that. It was Elsa's eyes he met, she standing not a yard away with fists clenched — calm — appearing enough otherwise, except that the line of her lips was harder and her eyes were brighter than most women's are.

"I believe you did that!" she said with a jerk of her head downward toward the elephants.

Ommony was rather too wise to argue just then with any woman in such a mood.

"There goes a life's work — two lives' work!" she went on. "Who are you, and what have you done? What do you amount to, that you should see our ruin?"

He saw no reason to defend himself.

"You think, because you have planted trees, you are fit to take pity on us possibly?"

She ground her heel into the roof.

"We have planted God's word in the hearts of heathen! I believe you were jealous, and you ordered this!"

Still Ommony did not answer. After all, he had planted a few score million trees, and the trees had grown. He believed that on their plane, in their degree, the trees have souls and life and consciousness; also that men who work have no need to assert themselves.

"You're a coward!" said Elsa Craig, and turned away from him.

Her scorn provided him excuse for silence; not that he would have dreamed of denying her accusation. Man that is born of woman is of few days and full of cowardice. Those who were not cowards have been crucified, slain, tortured, burned, imprisoned, everyone. Ommony was no exception, and the only difference was that, knowing himself a little, he was not annoyed by plain speaking.

He was a coward beyond doubt. He was afraid then. The elephant herd, and the mob that milled around them, more vicious and less manly than the brutes, did not disturb him very much, for all they can do to a man is break or burn him and that, like the toothache, though it hurts, is presently over with. He would not have been afraid to go down among the elephants, provided anything might be gained by that. He feared nothing he could see.

But as he had once told an intimate, his own Achilles' heel was in the air. The trees had taught him. Only a long view lends itself to forestry, and Ommony could foresee consequences far beyond the scope of ordinary vision. Like the trees, imprisoned by the destiny of trees but free from haste, he knew of wolves and little foxes — serpents in the undergrowth and unseen fowl that roosted above the boughs — knew and could not prevent their goings and comings.

He could see the hand of Parumpadpa's priests in this affair as plainly as Belshazzar once saw writing on the wall. He knew it was war, not accident, although he was wrong in thinking the chief mahout had received his whisky from the priests.

Knowing the nature of that kind of war, he knew there would be no quarter. Non-combatants would suffer like the rest; in fact there are no non- combatants when Church and politics join issue for the right to rule, although the majority imagine always they are on the fence, or above it all and out of it.

The priests would no doubt seek to destroy his, Ommony's, reputation. But that did not frighten him; that was not his Achilles' heel. Long, long ago, when he first laid all ambition on India's ancient altar and received in exchange for it the understanding that is only India's gift, he learned that reputation is delusion. It meant nothing to him who received men's credit for the work he had done. He had done the work, and that was all that mattered — except this: that he dared not fail.

Whatever his hand attempted he had finished. That was his reward for self- elimination. But even as Achilles, dipped in Lethe to be made invulnerable, had to be held to earthy weaknesses by one link, so Cotswold Ommony. He dreaded failure. He was afraid to fail. It appeared to him worse than sin — which is, after all, mainly ridiculous, like the fools who couch their lances at its specter.

As he saw life, the man who understands a little of the Law in force around him holds what he knows in trust. And since a thousand fall for one man's failure, the price in irremediable consequences — what the East calls karma — is too high to pay, yet must be paid inevitably.

So a man who thinks he knows himself a little — none may know more than that — should hesitate before he undertakes a task. Failure may whelm a million people, every quiver of whose agony must in the end be felt by him through whom affliction came.

It is a law with compensations. There is the corresponding side to it. Alternatively he who sows shall reap. But just then Ommony saw nothing but the shadow, knowing he had undertaken the immeasurable task of bringing surcease to an ignorant swarm, that lay beneath the hoofs of raging creeds as surely as the garden and the mission floor lay under the pads of elephants.

He wondered whether the trees he loved, in whose name he had come there, had taught him enough to know where to begin. At least he knew he would not attempt too much at a time.

And he could see Craig, gray with misery, back turned to his wife, staring down at the ruin and the blue-gray brutes beneath him. Ommony went over to him.

"I don't pretend to understand or criticize the will of God," said Craig, "but who shall pay me for all this?"

It is difficult to comfort anyone who figures accident in terms of income unless you can show him money. Ommony could neither do that nor answer his question.

Neither did he estimate the ruin as the will of God. Craig or no Craig, Ommony knew the driving force behind the mission and the certainty that as long as the West has dimes and quarters for the offertory plate, the East will not lack foreigners to assail her old philosophy; he knew, too, that an out-and-out victory for Parumpadpa and his priests would be as pregnant with evil consequences as men's conquests always are. He smiled to think of Parumpadpa's innocence — an old rogue gaging the West's resistance in terms of elephants and whisky-primed mahouts.

"I suppose you're glad to see this work undone?" Craig asked bitterly, watching him.

Undone it was. The elephants that had not won into the compound, but had had to satisfy themselves with overthrowing walls and making the surrounding huts and gardens into unsightly wilderness, were already coming back under control and being herded sulkily up-street. Sharp cries of mahouts and ankus- blows, now that there was no more harm to do, were gradually mastering the rest.

What recently had been a blue-gray sea of heaving trunks and shoulders sprayed with white turbans of mahouts was breaking up into separate eddies that whirled and were borne away on another tide. In fours and fives and dozens they returned with an air of satisfied accomplishment to the great maidan outside the palace wall, where they began to line up as straight as infantry on parade.

"I'm told this Feast of the Mahouts has never been a failure yet," said Craig. "They attribute it to their beastly god Ganesha. Well — the Lord moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform. At any rate, they'll have to admit Ganesha fails them this time. There won't be any feast now, that's sure; nor any procession. I'm glad of it. Why do you laugh?"

Ommony was not laughing. Nothing but a corner of a smile escaped him, and he regretted that. He knew, though he saw no use in telling Craig, that there would be all the greater feast and all the more processioning.

What if the flowers and frills had been torn from a couple of hundred of the elephants? Was a Christian mission not obliterated? Had the Lord Ganesha not avenged himself by the feet and the knees of elephants? True, men, women, and children — some said a hundred — had gone down beneath the brutes' stampede, but that was a thing to be blamed on Christians afterward.

"You and your wife, of course, will stay with me in the Maharajah's guest- house? You can't stay here," said Ommony.

Craig looked sharply at him, not so much surprised as critical of motives.

"Yes," he said after a moment's pause. "There's nowhere else to go. We must."

"Come when you're ready," said Ommony, and whistled his dog.

The elephants were not all gone yet, but he preferred the flattened garden even so.



CHAPTER 4
"My name is Craig!"

There is a fiction, more useful than a superficial view pretends, that royalty should be advised of events before any decision is taken. It gives the world breathing-space. It lends dignity and poise to what would else be nothing but a scramble — mad, mean, hysterical.

"My friend," said the old diwan from the arm-chair facing Ommony on the veranda where none might see him but the stork and the Christian gardener, and only Ommony could hear the quiet voice, "if you could only come with me!"

"Why not?" asked Ommony.

"Because, my friend, you shot dead one and badly wounded five of the royal elephants. Parumpadpa's audience must wait until after mine, but he has already sent private word to the Maharajah. The priest's version is that your pistol-shooting caused the stampede; therefore that you are alone responsible for the death of seventy people, and for the damage to the mission."

"That's just why I should go with you," Ommony answered.

"No. The priests would accuse you in His Highness's presence. You know how he is. He would only listen to the priests. Whatever you might say would fall before him like dead leaves blown against a fence. They have his ear."

"Take me with you," Ommony insisted. "I'm evidence — saw it all — give him a first-hand account—"

"He has had too many accounts," the diwan answered. "The priests were ready with their version of it all before it happened. You must turn the tables on the priests. You cannot do that by simply telling a story different from theirs."

Ommony stood up and knocked the ashes from his pipe. He laughed a little dryly.

"All right."

"Remember!" he said. "I sent for you to work a miracle."

Ommony chuckled again. He had not a notion what to say to the Maharajah — only a second-hand version of what the priests' messengers probably had said to him — that and the divan's assurance that the immediate outlook was the worst imaginable.

But he had the long view, backward as well as forward. It was his experience that, given will to do the right thing, Nature, Law, the Universe all must combine to put the answer in a man's mouth, to set the stage for him — if necessary to produce new agencies. All nature abhors a vacuum. A need, of thought of things, is proof in advance of its supply.

But he did not say that to the diwan, because the merely religious and the merely shrewd grow frightened at prospect of Reliance on the Unseen. It was wiser to look clever and pretend to having spare tricks up his sleeve.

So they went to the diwan's waiting carriage and drove for a mile down an ancient avenue, whose trees had seen a hundred Maharajahs of one lineage come and go. Then swiftly through that palace gate that only a diwan uses, and along between the sentries, armed with Snyder rifles lest '57 repeat itself.

The priests would use another gate and another door. But a man stood on the steps who was trained in the ways of priests, and he whispered to the diwan as the old man ascended the palace steps leaning on Ommony's arm.

"There is bad news," the diwan said to Ommony.

But Ommony had been hearing bad news all his active days. His business in life had been withstanding it. Fire, flood, and famine all concern the man who rules a forest, and all of those are less destructive and less fearful than the rumor they send ahead of them.

"Never mind it," he said curtly. "Let's go — see and judge for ourselves."

"I must warn you," the diwan answered.

It was no use Ommony protesting. He would rather not have known the details. All those things are only snares to hinder a man and spoil his aim and judgment. Look — see — act on intuition; that is the secret of resourcefulness. But the diwan had grown white-haired in the other school, that pits its wits against the enemy and plans in advance of the event.

"They have charged that you brought this on deliberately, sahib. They have said your purpose is to bring all of us into difficulty with the British by causing it to seem that we hate missionaries. His Highness believes the tale. They have shown him the bullets you shot at the elephants, and a bottle that once held whisky, which they say the chief mahout declares he had from you!"

"I'll tell him wilder news than that, if that's his mood! Lead on," said Ommony.

The diwan drew assurance from the boast. Not once, ten times, he had seen this man in other days take victory out of utter ruin as a conjurer takes rabbits from a hat. He understood that Ommony had learned a theory from India more faithfully than Indians do. As for practice of it, were the woods and ways not noisy with the tales of this and that amazing feat he had performed? Some even called him a mahatma.

But the faces of attendants on the palace stairs were eloquent. Ill news, a-weaving ill fame, had assailed diwan as well as Ommony. Smiles that should have greeted both were not forthcoming — rather sullenness and nothing said, along with the sidewise glance from eye to eye alert to improve upon another menial's impudence. Easier than read the wind by weather-vane you can guess your momentary rating at the court of any Eastern king from the demeanor of the flunkies.

The comfort within was absolute. In place of the whirring electric fans that make modern interiors sound and look like the 'tween-decks of a battleship the old embroidered punkahs moved with leisurely pause and swing that is as peace-conveying and restful as the ticking of old clocks. Carpets were laid three deep to silence footfall.

No new thing, new face, new custom was in evidence to disturb serenity. Colors were time-softened. Even the gold and vermilion on carved screens and the peacock-splendor of embroidery were tamed by the years until no stray tone of rawness broke the harmony. The bird by a stair-head in a lacquered cage whistled with a note as mellow as old wine.

Nevertheless there was an atmosphere of vague discomfort, because men's thoughts are stronger than the things they heap about them. Normally it was not a trying experience to wait in a teak, vermilion and gilt-lined throne-room until the heir of all the ages came and accepted homage. But the note of restfulness was lacking, and a noise suggestive of the penetrating anger of debate, muffled but not excluded by several doors, contributed to the sensation.

Ommony supposed it was the priests, awaiting their turn, entertaining courtiers with a sacerdotal concept of the crisis. But the strident voice and the protesting ones continued, even after the Maharajah entered the throne-room through ivory doors. Noise at that solemn moment was almost as contrary to precedent as Ommony's plain tweed shooting-jacket and the pipe, still hot, that nestled in his fist.

As the diwan had told Ommony the day he came, in the Maharajah's condition there was no change. He was as he had been five and thirty years, and as he would be until he died — too inbred to be educated, too well cared for to be ill, too sure of the past to comprehend the present. He had learned and forgotten nothing.

His face looked like a cameo beneath the old-rose turban, and his hands were those they drew in Persian miniatures six centuries ago. Perhaps he weighed a hundred pounds, and he looked as fragile as old porcelain; not bored, not angry — but obedient to laws and whims and superstitions that were growing ancient when the West was in leading-strings.

He nodded after a suitable pause, when the two attendants had given him the royal sword and target, without which royalty in that State is incognito.

"You may speak," he said with lips that scarcely moved. They were delicate, blue, sensitive — considerate of custom.

The diwan let go Ommony's arm and stood erect, no less aware of the advantage of years and stateliness than Ommony was of the virtue of plain dealing. Ever men have paraded their highest conceptions of manhood in all crises, and forever will. The diwan was about to weave of musical old words a cloak of dignity about his sturdy-standing, blunt, too honest friend and leave the argument to him. But all old beacons were adrift that day.

There was interruption — an intrusion, uninvited, unannounced, without the Maharajah's leave — as good as blasphemy!

Three doors in swift succession were kicked, swung wide and slammed again. A babel of angry protests rose and died away as the enormity of what was happening out-wondered speech.

The bronze doors, facing those of ivory that royalty used, burst open, and an angry man broke in, all white from head to foot, in an old white hat undoffed, his face as livid white as gypsum from expressed emotion, with a staphorn-handled riding-whip in one hand, as if he had come to chastise somebody.

"My name is Craig!"

He doffed the white hat slowly and stood waiting, as if the very announcement of his name should be enough to force all issues. Even as his courage had set armed guards aside and his arrogance had brought him through forbidden doors.

Two deep folds of an arras came to life. Two men armed with scimitars strode forward, one on Craig's either hand, and paused. At a nod from the Maharajah there would have been blood and entrails on the waxed floor; but it may be he caught Cotswold Ommony's eye. His right hand, which had been closed a long while on the hilt of the Sword of State, opened, and the two went back, not now behind the arras, but on guard in front of it.

Craig understood that play perfectly, but knew nothing of the etiquette of courts and cared less. He spoke again without waiting for invitation.

"I'm here to demand immediate satisfaction!"

There is a famous admonition to Christians to offer the other cheek, and cheek has become a missionary's lawful weapon. Craig had his with him.

"I demand compensation in full — an apology — and re-erection of my mission at the State's expense!" he announced, folding arms across his breast in the attitude of unyielding resolution.

If he had been a pagan defying fanatical invaders, or even a Christian told to swap religion or take the consequences, he might have challenged admiration. As it was he challenged anger.

The Maharajah, lineal descendant from the moon, who knew small English and less bad manners, bit his lip. None had leave to speak yet. Even the diwan's leave had lapsed.

The Maharajah held trumps. Little and inbred he might be lord of a little kingdom and less revenue, with tug-o'-war on top of him between the British and the priests, and only a nine-gun salute whenever he crossed his borders. But he could outplay Craig.

He made a signal — just a gesture of eye and lip — to an attendant, who at once relieved him of royal sword and target. He was in another world that instant, as immune from approach or address as if invisible. And he rose and yawned and sauntered out as if the veil between himself and lookers-on were actual, not assumed.

"Well, I'll be—"

"Damned?" suggested Ommony.

" — sugared!" Craig corrected.

The diwan sighed. He was helpless. Unless he should choose to concede to Parumpadpa and his priests a similar privilege, which they would doubtless multiply and never yield again, he did not dare presume to follow His Highness through the ivory double door.

Like the priests, he could send his unofficial messengers to whisper behind the scenes; but for the remainder of that day and all the next the Maharajah would be within his constitutional rights in refusing to grant audience. It was only another of those devices anciently contrived for taking haste out of affairs of State.

But the men who thought it out had not reckoned with the coming Christian's other cheek, so Craig stood like the horse-thief who had shot the judge; there was none now to be appealed to against mob law. His enemies had two days' unobstructed grace.

"Remember! I said a miracle!" the diwan reminded Ommony, touching his arm again.

He would have ordered a chair except for the contingent obligation of offering one to Craig.

"Where's your wife?" asked Ommony suddenly, and Craig looked at him with gathering resentment.

He did not consider that he had come there to be questioned sharply by this forester, whom he suspected of being a pagan in league with pagans to oppose good mission-work. But he could not avoid an answer.

"She is superintending the pitching of a tent."

"To live in it?"

Craig nodded.

"Unsafe! I offered you and her accommodation in my quarters," Ommony answered, squeezing the diwan's arm a little more tightly than politeness called for, but watching Craig.

"She objects in the circumstances," Craig said, making no effort to disguise the iron in his voice.

He was a good, hard fighter, willing enough to come out into the open. But then so was Ommony; and Ommony knew better why he fought. He turned toward the diwan:

"I advise you to order this man's wife detained under suitable guard for her own protection," he said deliberately, and turned his head again in time to intercept a look on Craig's face that was almost comic.

It meant relief from tension. It was almost like a prisoner's being turned unaccountably out of doors.

The diwan's old eyes twinkled, but he shifted nervously. Few but such as he can estimate the danger of meeting sword with sword — the zeal of missionaries with the blunter means of law.

By law he might take law into his hands for two days at his own risk; for the Maharajah might repudiate him afterward, that being another safeguard long ago devised to keep the throne in countenance. None but the British, and not even they until the Resident should be informed, could countermand his orders.

There was a rumor that the Resident was ill with abscess and had taken too much morphia to ease the pain. And for what had the diwan sent for Ommony unless to be guided by him?

"That is my order," he said simply. "I will go and attend to it."

He left the palace attendants to get rid of Craig as they might see fit. His excuse for withdrawing Ommony was that old age needed a strong arm to lean on.

"Better take up quarters with me," said Ommony over his shoulder to Craig. "Come whenever you see fit."

He did not propose to give Craig excuse for accusing him of open enmity. Perfervid zealots with the lid of conjugal restraint removed are capable of wild leaps into the chaos of illusion. He preferred to use Craig's energy to foil the priests rather than let it burn up in uncomprehending rage against himself; if only for the sake of the trees, which were his life's business, even as Craig's was converting Hindus. Besides, he liked the man — admired his courage if nothing else.

So presently he and the diwan found themselves alone together where the carriage waited under the porte-cochère. They were seen, because those Indian palaces are pierced in the recesses of a thousand carvings with eye-holes for the omnipresent spy, but none could overhear them.

"Where will you put her?" asked Ommony.

"Sahib, I—"

The diwan hesitated. Though he trusted Ommony he had the senior's dislike to lay bare mental processes, and to that was added Eastern unwillingness to be quite frank. Pride of the offensive sort was not in him, but he would have been a poltroon had he no respect for his almost absolute authority.

"I will consider."

"Do. Consider this. Defeat is to the irresolute; victory to the swift. If she appeals through the Resident to Delhi, that will mean that the British must interfere. And if they must, they're at the mercy of organized religion as much as you are. Better defy Big Business than the Church."

"The thing to do is to earn her gratitude. The way to do that is to let her get into the toils. Then get her out again. The way to defeat Parumpadpa and his gang is to compromise them badly. Did you ever go fishing? You should give the fish lots of line always before you strike."

"Man of enigmas! Just now you warned me to be swift!"

"I did. Are your horses swift? Then let's go driving."

It was then, and not until then that the diwan understood.

"Craig will return to his wife and warn her. Yes. But what if they go together to the Resident?"

"My servant told me Craig went there first thing. The Resident is in no condition to see anyone or do anything. The Residency doctor is away. The only immediate danger is that the Resident may have wired for someone to replace him."

"He has not," said the diwan, who had his own arrangements for knowing what telegrams were sent.

"He doesn't want the morphia habit to become official knowledge, no doubt," Ommony answered.

"But, sahib, what if the Craigs should send a telegram to Delhi? I dare not prevent that. There can be a little delay — an accident — a few hours—"

"Plenty!" said Ommony with confidence. "Listen, diwan sahib: I have your word for it that if Parumpadpa and his gang can find excuse to stir the mob against these missionaries there will be bloodshed — possibly a revolution."

The diwan nodded — shuddered.

"All India is on the verge of that," he answered.

"If Craig and his wife should win too handsomely that will be the priest's next move."

"Indubitably. See what they did! How swiftly the mob crowded to applaud the elephants: I have reported that was all due to an accident, but the priests are asserting it was due to you, and—"

"We must give them line — go fishing — driving, rather! After you, sir."

He helped the diwan into the carriage, and in view of as many spies as cared to see they drove off, the diwan fidgeting nervously. But Ommony chuckled. He knew now he had won.

"You recall the Peace Conference in Paris?" he asked.

"I was there," said the diwan. "I was there and learned nothing new."

"Few did! But there were master moves made. You recall how the Japanese stampeded the other representatives by packing up one night? They were only moving to another building, but the others jumped to the conclusion they were going home. There'll be jumping down here within thirty minutes!"

"God send you are right," said the diwan, "for I see only the jaws of war that open for us!"

"Let us drive as if we were very busy," Ommony advised him.

"It shall be as you say — for thirty minutes!"

"Your office first. The fact that we do nothing — say nothing — will make it hard for them to draw right conclusions — easy to make mistakes."

"Then a telegram in code about nothing to nobody! The babu will fail to understand it and either do nothing or else send gibberish along the wire. They may get a copy of the wire—"

"They will!"

" — and misinterpret it!"

So they drove by a roundabout route to the diwan's office. The diwan entered. Ommony remained outside. The diwan emerged again, looking serious, and a man who was sitting in the shadow of a doorway got up and hurried in the direction of a temple, where two priests peered under their hands out of gloom into the sunlight.

"You have five more minutes," said the diwan.

"To the Residency then."

"We shall not be admitted."

"Let us hope not."

"And after that?"

"It is their move. Then ours. And in the end there shall be more trees in your honor's domain than in all the four neighboring States together," said Ommony, leaning back on the expensive cushions and looking much less anxious than he actually felt.



CHAPTER 5
"By Jiminy, we'll now grow trees!"

Mobs never rule. They always think they do, imagining they choose new leaders when the old are trampled underfoot. Cozened and flattered and betrayed, a mob does murder that the rogues who rule may profit, and it sets new feet of clay on its own neck before its head can rise between one master and the next.

No man would choose Barabbas. No mob fails to prefer him. Men — individuals, that is — are stubborn thinkers, liable to err, but each in his own advancing stage a battler for his highest views of right.

As teams they can accomplish. As a mob they become that fluid horror, gorging flattery as hogs eat swill; that senses no impulse other than self- righteous greed and is manipulated for their own ends by men more evil than the beasts because more intelligent.

An Eastern mob differs in nothing from the rest except in increased subtlety. Its motives are the same; its fear and lust and cruelty are identical.

And as the sea is whipped into a rage by wind, or lulled into a temporary calm, so mobs are managed by the rogues who understand them and imagine that life is only a psalmist's three-score years and ten. All history is a proof of that, and of the other fact, that one man with his eye fixed on eternity is as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. There is a foretaste of eternity in planting trees.

The priests, and they who pandered to the priests, had lulled the mob's unrest as suddenly as the cries of children cease. That is done by promises, though not of loot, for they start action, but of something new about to happen. Expectation, veiled and vague, brings on a pause.

Ganesha had expressed his wrath by means of elephants. Now let them wait and see what next he had in store. Something marvelous was coming. There would be a miracle, let none doubt.

So Elsa Craig, unhindered, was ordering the pitching of a big tent in the ruined mission compound; and they who obeyed her were not Christians, for the converts had all decamped — as other converts once did in a famous hour. This and that man from the street had been called in, and was working for coin and curiosity. Some of them were priests' spies. All were aware they only hastened the undoing of the damned. Word had gone forth through the subtle avenues of Eastern news that the Craigs and all their root and branch were doomed. So there were three-score idlers doing ten's work, getting in one another's way and speaking to Elsa civilly.

Into that confusion Howard Craig came hot-foot, brushing sweat from his forehead with three fingers — a vulgarism Elsa hated.

"Girl," he almost shouted — and she hated to be called that — "you're to be arrested. Ommony advised the diwan in my hearing to put you under guard in some safe place until—"

Her anger checked him. Over his face there crossed the same look Ommony had noticed. Habits — loyal ones peculiarly — die hard, but again the thought occurred to him that worse than that might happen. Safe she then would be beyond all doubt; and he, without her to protect, without her to impose conditions on him, could accomplish more. He knew himself for no physical coward. He would dare —

"What did you say to that?" she demanded.

"Really, Elsa—"

"You agreed?"

"I did not. But I want you to agree. I think—"

It was scorn now. She could school herself to batten down her anger; but contempt, associating him with the proposal, was too strong for her and him. He could not argue against it.

Her unfairness struck the ground from under him. More than ever he was sure she would be better in a safe place in the diwan's custody; and she, too well able to read his thoughts, answered them instantly.

"Look!" she said, gesturing toward the throng who did her bidding, as much as to say the city would obey her if she were left to her own devices.

He swept the suggestion aside schoolmaster-fashion, irritably, with one hand.

"Listen, Elsa!" he stammered. "I went to the Residency. No admittance. Gould is sick or something. Couldn't get word to him, not even a note or a verbal message. So I went to the palace — shouldered past the guards — saw the Maharajah—"

"That nonentity!"

"I demanded instant satisfaction, and he left the room! At least I have lodged my protest before witnesses. Ommony was there, and the diwan—"

"What business had Mr. Ommony?"

"Listen, Elsa! Ommony is quite right. He said—"

He stopped because she was not listening. She had that uningratiating gift of switching all attention suddenly from whoever was addressing her to something or someone else. Not only did she not intend to listen, she actually did not hear.

She had seen Diana, Ommony's great staghound, lawlessly at large and nosing curiously in among the trash the elephants had made. Diana, once commanded to make friends and good-dog-fashion as sure of Ommony's discretion in such matters as she was unwilling to remain indoors.

"Please pitch the tent," she said suddenly, and without another word walked off to coax the dog.

Craig let her go, and stayed to do her bidding. He knew the uselessness of argument. In that mood she was capable of snubbing him for days on end, and the only remedy he had ever discovered was patient endurance; which, he consoled himself, was laid on him by his religion and his chosen path.

He hoped they would come and arrest her, never doubting they would treat her respectfully. The diwan was a gentle pagan likelier to yield his own life rather than offer indignity to a woman or any foreigner. Craig hoped it might happen while his back was turned, for that would absolve him of a hand in it.

Once under arrest by order of the diwan she could not reasonably expect him to drag her back to danger. Expect it she probably would, but not reasonably. Reason would be on his side. It would uphold him afterward.

She had said, "Please pitch the tent." He went about pitching it methodically, with the intricate precision he had used in building up the mission, measuring the pegs so many feet apart and gradually getting order out of chaos with a quiet, determined way he had of setting the example. He never realized, nor could, that nine tenths of the work was his while they who should have learned looked on.

And Elsa, stroking Diana's head, fingering the dog's ear as she had noticed Ommony did, picked her way disgustedly over the debris of the ruined wall into a deserted street; oblivious of direction and of every other thought except that life was all dry thorns in a weary wilderness.

She was the victim — she, who might have been the wife of a U.S. Senator! She thought she would have made a President of that man, if only he had not resented her efforts to guide him.

She had tried to make a famous man of Craig; she had forced her own broad thoughts into his narrow mold, accepting dogma that was all dry dust to her and weary routine. All hypocrisy to her and balm to him — laboring with converts she knew well were unconverted; all to the end that Craig might be a great one in the world, and she his proprietor. And now this!

Ashes and agony and gray remorse! Craig didn't understand. He could not. He cared only for the sticks and straw of trampled buildings — that and her physical safety.

No doubt he would sooner or later gather his scattered converts back, when the casteless crowd they once disowned had forbidden them right of reversion to their old religion. He was capable of putting them to work and rebuilding, replanting, rewhite-washing, like an ant, no better than an ant. A one-track mind, she reflected bitterly, leading from nonentity to nothing else!

That kind of thought acts like the blinkers on a horse. She walked forward, seeing nothing but the ground before her feet, her right hand on the staghound's shoulder. Diana guided her. Diana's nose, forever ascertaining news by sniffing moistly at the tainted wind and reading smells as men read books, became aware of faint iodoform and followed the direction of it up a little lane between old trees; by a picket fence, through an open gate into a fenced inclosure where a few huts leaned untidily. There Diana's eyes recognized something familiar. She trotted forward, leaving Elsa standing; and Elsa turned her head to look back down the lane.

She stepped into the shadow of the gateway instantly. She was just in time to avoid recognition by that self-same Hindu officer who had come to the mission that first morning to greet Ommony and superintend the removal of his luggage.

He was there on horseback with six troopers and a two-horse carriage — looking about him impatiently. Intuition argued he had come for her, and anger rose in a crimson wave to her temples.

He should look in vain! At least he should look in vain as long as possible! Determination to escape, to hide, perhaps to run away from Craig — was not quite definite; but she knew that officer's capacity for insolence, and one emotion was so heaped on another that reason hardly governed her.

A longing to hit back — to cause trouble and to give offense — surged in her. She stepped forward into the inclosure to annoy the officer, and she remembered that she might perhaps give Ommony some twinges of anxiety by keeping his beloved dog from running home to him.

The dog was sniffing at a pallet on which a man lay in the shade of palm- leaf eaves. Whether dead or only ill, that man provided her with excuse for trespass. If he should happen to be a high-caste man, who inevitably must repel any foreigner offering to touch him, she would none the less have done her duty in offering him aid; and it was very unlikely that a high-caste Hindu would be found in that place, or, if so, that he would submit to attentions from a dog.

She hurried forward, feeling relieved to have something definite to occupy her mind, stooped over the pallet, and cried out with astonishment.

"You! John Ishmittee! You were supposed to be dead! How did you come here?"

Diana had completed her investigation. Having no more interest, she moved away and stood in the midst of the inclosure, looking for new attractions. John Ishmitte began a rambling account of his adventures, interspersed with a few words of kitchen-English. But it was obvious at the end of the first few sentences that either he was out of his head or all his information of the elephant disaster was at second-hand. He was interrupted by Diana's battle-cry — no bark, but a growl like thunder in the hills — a noise that of dark nights made strangers' blood run cold; then instantly on top of it the worrying snap and snarl of action.

"Diana! Here! Here!"

But Diana was engaged. Eleven men — and Elsa knew them! — were attempting what not twice their number could have done without a net; to capture Ommony's white-fanged bodyguard and drag her away into a hut.

Two men were down with blood gushing out of gashed wounds. A third was by the throat, and the rest were in one another's way, all struggling for a hold of tail or legs. Boatmen all, none sober, and the lot the same men who had pulled the long sweeps of the Maharajah's barge that had brought Ommony.

"Here! Diana! Good dog! Here!"

As well cry to the clouds far overhead! And another man was down, making mud from the flow of a torn artery. But Elsa had the courage of her sex and race, that is as cold iron in some sorts of emergency. Running with mission- pattern skirts uplifted, she waded in and, seizing the hound's collar, thrust her forearm into the blood-red jaws. The fangs closed on it like a vice and forced a scream from her; but even in that summit of brute rage the hound knew an official friend and let the arm go, snapping to right and left and straining at the collar to reach the enemy again.

Elsa felt her grip on the collar yielding. It would have been easier to hold a horse. She flung herself on her knees and took the dog's throat in her right hand, throttling and gasping orders: "Down, Diana! Down, you hear me? Lie down!"

The hound obeyed, still growling like the rumble of a subway, and the drunken boatmen drew off in a semicircle, muttering their comments in a jargon not expounded in the missionaries' grammar-books.

Then down-lane there came the noise of trotting horses, clank of a saber on stirrup-iron and heavy carriage-wheels. Elsa turned her head with a gesture of nervous fear and cried aloud to the one sole creature there she had a claim on:

"John! John Ishmittee! Hide me somewhere! Those are the Maharajah's men!"

John Ishmittee, raising himself on the pallet, said something in the boatman jargon. The men Diana had torn and bitten dragged themselves away. The other five grinned, beckoned, pointed to a door in the wall behind the end hut. They urged her to make haste. Elsa — no whit afraid of them — consented.

But she did not dare let the dog go. Diana would have run home. The Maharajah's officer would see the dog and draw conclusions — guess that his quarry might be where the dog had come from. She gripped the collar with trembling fingers and dragged Diana with her.

The great hound came at first unwillingly. Then, throwing up her head, she uttered on long, penetrating howl, more desolate than a wolf's in winter, and obeyed with no more protest.

Ommony, up on a tower, where he stood to watch that no indignity should go with the arrest, heard the howl, watched through a single spy-glass, whistled to himself and gave instructions to the dog-boy, who was squatting on the tiles beside him.

"Trees!" he said to himself then, chuckling; "yes, by Jiminy, we'll now grow trees!"



CHAPTER 6
"The priests did this."

The crises of the world, that take so long a-brewing, are mismanaged or disposed of in the course of minutes. Any fool could sense the danger after Sarajevo, or can tell, when a strike has been declared, that trouble and loss will come of it; but it is given to few to recognize the half-hour in which the tide of evil may be taken at the flood and turned, cross-currents and all, into constructive use. Those are mostly men without ambition, who become great doctors, lawyers, statesmen, or, as in at any rate one instance, foresters.

Ommony came down the steps of an ancient tower built for watching water- lanes when piracy was open and a gentleman's pursuit. His stride was positive — the thirty-inch, deliberate march of Rome's centurions who conquered by the strength of an idea.

He was afraid, and yet his fear was only lest his own ability should fall short of attainment. He had seen. He understood. Remained to hold the thread of the solution through inevitable darkness, and to follow it to the outcome. He forgot himself. The outcome was to be new forests and — the necessary way toward that — peace between factions.

The dog-boy had gone ahead, and he had trained him as a good commander trains his staff, or as the Church trains zealots. So he could afford to pause in front of John Ishmittee and give that pawn of Destiny no inkling that a people's fate might possibly depend on him. He smiled and spoke leisurely, as if asking questions for his own amusement, providing no excuse for lies.

"Why, hello! How did you come here?"

"The sahib gave me money. I was tired of that bed in the mission. I paid the boatmen to bring me here."

"What have you to do with boatmen?"

"Sahib, I was of their religion once. And they have been saying that the sahib's big dog is a god in the form of an animal. The priests are angry with them, and the priests said there will be a punishment unless they seize the dog and drown him where the carcass can never be found.

"So they came to me, knowing the sahib was friendly with the missionaries, asking me to assist them in the matter. And I paid them to carry me hither — hoping thus to do your honor a service by dissuading them," he added by way of establishing his own pellucid innocence.

"You are a snake in the grass and an ingrate," answered Ommony.

"Nay, sahib!"

Ommony's alert, observing eyes, that appeared to watch nothing but the convert's face, were at work conveying information to a brain that was absorbed by only one objective. He detected cautious movement.

"You are a thief!"

"On my honor, sahib—"

"Let me look beneath that blanket! Quick now! Pull it back! No argument!"

It was a check-book, that only a fool would steal. He likely thought he could forge checks on Craig that a bank would cash. Ommony picked the book up, smudged a little ink on the inside of the cover with his fountain-pen and passed it back.

"Put your thumb-prints there — both of them!" He took the check- book back and pocketed it.

"Jail?" he asked. "You want to go to jail?"

"Nay, sahib!"

"Who came this way just now? Who went out that way?"

"Memsahib Craig."

"Did she wish to be seen?"

"Nay, not to be seen. She begged me to hide her. The boatmen—"

"Silence then for silence!" Ommony said sternly. "Whoever asks, say nothing! You understand?"

The convert did not understand, except that Ommony held evidence that could convict him. Having tasted jail, then hospital, no bird was more in love than he with re-won freedom. Ommony tapped his pocket meaningly.

"Tell a soul you have seen Memsahib Craig, and I'll say where I found this check-book! Moreover, I will prosecute you for trying to steal my dog! In addition I will tell the priests that you told me about their secret instructions to the boatmen—"

"Nay, sahib! Nay, not that! Not that of all things! I am dumb! See, sahib, I will tear my tongue out rather! Only if your honor will not tell the priests."

Eyes rolled piteously, and the dusky face turned ashen.

"Silence for silence!" said Ommony sternly, and passed along, out behind the end hut, closing the gate behind him and fastening it with a stick thrust through the iron padlock-rings.

He had not far to go. The dog-boy squatted in the dust beneath a window latticed across with iron. The building was an old one set in a bit of a garden with trees on either hand and with its back against a high wall, over which the roofs of houses rose in intricate confusion. The dog-boy looked up once and nodded, then went on working the dust into patterns with his fingers.

Ommony rapped on the dry teak door very quietly twice. After a minute's pause the door opened gingerly about six inches, and a drunken boatman's questioning face appeared. Ommony sent the man staggering and strode in, kicking the door shut again behind him.

For a moment in the inside gloom he was in danger. A cloth was drawn on a string across the only window, and his eyes were set for the outer glare.

The man who had staggered backward drew a boatman's knife, as good for gutting humans as for caught fish. A thing with a lanyard on it and a heavy handle that makes weight behind the iron blade. Ommony ducked from instinct, and the knife struck humming in the dry wood just behind him. He pulled it out and curled the lanyard on his wrist.

Then another drunkard recognized him and said three words in the boatman jargon that brought the knife-thrower down on his knees in abject supplication, lying with a drunkard's swift, absurd inventiveness.

"Heaven-born, the lanyard slipped through these fingers, which are sweating! It was the purpose to throw the knife into a corner, lest the heaven-born should hurt himself when about to strike me in evident anger!"

"Silence!" commanded Ommony in their tongue in a gruff, low voice, not meant to carry.

But it did, and it was recognized. A short bark and a low whine announced that Diana, near at hand, had recognized her master. Ommony clucked — that quieted the dog — and looked about him. There were only seven boatmen. Two wore bandages of soft white cloth that might have been the substance of a petticoat, a lot too well applied to have been done by their oar-awkward fingers. They were afraid — self-conscious — guilty of they knew not what exactly — in confusion because they did not yet know what was to be charged against them. Ommony's face was an enigma. Even with fumes of longshore arrack in their heads they knew enough to wait and see.

Ommony heard the dog's low whimper again, and then a woman's voice without fear instructing somebody — knew beyond any question that the dog would howl a warning to him if there was instant danger — and opened the door at his back. He beckoned the boatmen out into the sunlight, waiting until the last had slunk by. Then he shut the door and, glancing once quickly to right and left, led them into the evil-smelling shade of thick-boled trees, in a corner with the house on one side and the high wall behind. There no passer- by could have seen them.

"What does she do?" he demanded.

"Sahib, she has torn her garment to bind up woundings the dog did. She is well. None has harmed her. She begged us to—"

He cut that short with a gesture. He who is wise is careful not to learn too much. Nor does he ask to be informed of what he knows. He asserts what he knows when questions would invite evasion.

"You attacked the dog. The priests so ordered it."

"Sahib, we—"

"To the devil with your lies now! Answer me! This is the priests' doing?"

"The heaven-born knows too much," admitted one of them.

"You fools were pretending blasphemously that my hound is one of your gods incarnate. The priests heard of it and threatened you unless you stole the animal and drowned her. Now you have failed, will the priests admit they gave those orders to you?"

They grinned. They knew from much experience how the priests would handle that predicament.

"The priests will leave you to be punished for attempted theft of a sahib's dog — for being drunk — for hurling a knife at me—"

"Sahib, the heaven-born's honor heard this man confess it was a slip of the hand that—"

"And for violence to a memsahib! For decoying her and shutting her inside a stinking room for God knows what evil purpose!"

"Sahib, sahib, that is untrue! She—"

He checked them again with a gesture. They were sobering, and the lees of arrack fumes no longer were enough to keep too much truth from escaping unless he acted censor.

"Yet you are good boatmen. You rowed well on the journey."

That was art — immodest, opportune — applied, as all art is, to the occasion, using truth to point men's thought a fraction higher, prostituting pride of honest oarsmanship in this case to the ends of forestry. There is no pride like the boatman's in his skill.

"The priests did this," said Ommony.

He counted on the knowledge that all simple folk who live beneath the heel of priests and their religion, hating the one and drawing comfort from the other, tolerate the official for the sake of glimpses of divinity that they discern beyond him. It is easy to arouse antagonism to a priesthood — very hard to slay men's faith in what priests represent.

"They are always mischief-makers," said a boatman darkly, with an air of having heard more than he cared to tell.

The others nodded. Ommony felt the intuitive thrill that told him he was winning.

"Disaster comes of interference without knowledge," he assured them; and the East loves proverbs as the West loves beef and bread.

They nodded sagely. He was talking heart to heart, and had praised their oarsmanship. They understood him, at least.

To your boats, O watermen!"

"Shall the priests not finish what they started?" he demanded. "Will ye bear blame for their devices?"

"Nay, nay! What have we done?"

"Truly, ye have only sought to steal my dog, and that is an issue between you and me," he answered.

"Will the heaven-born not protect us?" asked a boatman, taking heart of grace.

"Ye are ingrates," answered Ommony.

"Na, sahib, we are boatmen, sons of boatmen. We be men whose hearts are in us."

"Ye are drunkards," he insisted.

"Nay! A little arrack—"

"To help the priests play tricks on you!"

"The stuff is all gone."

"Bring out the bottle then."

One went in and carried out an old glass flagon still about a third full of the forbidden, pungent stuff. He tried, but was not in time to prevent Ommony from seeing it.

"Ye are liars."

"Nay, we thought it was all finished."

"Give me the flagon."

The man yielded it, and Ommony poured out the poison on the ground before their eyes.

"Now it is finished. Buy no more of it."

"We did not buy that, sahib. One came saying it was a gift from the diwan sahib because we had rowed swiftly on the journey."

"It was the priests who sent it," said Ommony; and whether that was true or not they took his word for it, he seemed informed about so many things.

He was itching to get away, for he knew the priests were busy with their own solution of affairs. Having given them time in which to make mistakes, and a show of mysterious activity to force their band, it was of utmost importance now to find out what the priests were doing.

But he did not dare give these simpletons a hint of his impatience. The easiest way to fail in India is to let her sons know your affair is urgent.

"Listen now to me," he said, with an air of having all eternity to lecture in — an air disarming all suspicion, opposite to the customary way of sahibs, which by haste stirs opposition. "If ye should speak, the priests will turn your words against ye."

They nodded. They knew that.

"So say nothing. Watch. Be silent. Keep the memsahib within there.

"Ye shall see priests come presently and carry her away. Say nothing to them, nor let them see ye. Simply watch. Then afterward if any ask, and if ye would escape from the nets the priests are laying, answer simply what ye saw, explaining nothing, not excusing nor accusing. Say, 'The priests did this.'

"Ye understand?"

They did. He was advising them to use habitual taciturnity when confronted with whatever they could hardly comprehend. Easy! They nodded.

"Obey, and ye shall find me your friend. If ye disobey my warning, take the consequences!"

"The heaven-born truly will protect us?"

"Yes, unless ye drink again and let loose babbling tongues."

"On the word of boatmen, we obey!"

He gave the knife back, haft forward, to the boatman who had thrown it, and there isn't an emotion under heaven more enduring than that act of grace aroused. The knife was worth a rupee.

The boatman's pride, his dungaree jacket, a dirty turban and a loin-cloth were pretty nearly all he had. Pride outweighed everything, and the man salaamed, as once the rank and file saluted Caesar. There was manhood and a great emotion expressed in the uplifted hands.

"Warn the others," said Ommony and strode away, not guessing — knowing.

He had turned that trick.

The dog-boy followed him unbidden. He took no notice until they turned a corner into another alley.

"Go back," he said then. "Keep the dog quiet. Where the dog goes, follow. Leave a trail my messenger can pick up."

The dog-boy dropped astern like a mark thrown overboard. Ommony began to show speed. He had left a horse tethered at the gateway leading to the tower, and he surprised the fat, palace-trenched beast into a gallop with a bamboo cane broken from a hedge. Spluttered-up street dust stung the eyes of watchers who passed the word along. Before he regained the guest-house Parumpadpa in a temple cloister knew the line he had taken.

But his thoughts were his own, and he found the diwan waiting for him, fidgeting in the veranda arm-chair, so all the priests gained was anxiety.

"What have they done?" demanded Ommony, pretending unembarrassment for the diwan's benefit.

"My friend, they have done the worst!"

"That is always the best thing. It provides excuse for miracles," said Ommony, producing a cigar. "Tell me. There's loads of time."

The diwan laughed, but with an effort.

"Fail with your miracles," he answered, "and some of us won't live to see tomorrow!"

"As bad as that?"

Ommony threw the cigar away and chose another, so he might have been referring to tobacco, but the diwan recognized the nervousness that had forced the question.

"I dare not go near my office. They have besieged it — emissaries of the priests. They hope to force me to take action or to make a statement that will compromise me."

"The officer who went to — ah — to escort Mrs. Craig to — ah — a safe place — he had no orders to arrest, you understand — the terms were vague — he might interpret them as he saw fit without committing me — has galloped back to say she can't be found. I learned that five minutes ago by telephone. The idiot must have talked, for the priests are saying I have hidden her."

"Their men are stirring up the mob with a tale of my being in missionary pay. They say the missionaries stampeded the elephants. The missionaries are answerable for the resulting death and injury."

"I, they say, am sheltering the woman and being influenced by her behind the scenes. They say my ultimate purpose is to rob the temple revenues in order to get money to plant trees—"

"Well, isn't it?" asked Ommony.

"Trees that will occupy the grazing grounds and impoverish—"

"The priests! Yes, go on."

"Impoverish the people, they say. They blame Mrs. Craig and her husband for the increase in the cost of fuel. And Craig is making matters worse! He has gone to my office — forced his way in — and is waiting there until I come. The crowd outside is saying I befriend him!"

"Good!" exclaimed Ommony. "Couldn't be better! Don't you befriend him? Hasn't he your protection? Won't it be excellent afterward to be able to say that even the hostile crowd accused you of steadfastly protecting missionaries?"

"Afterward, my friend? The priests think it is time for a swift uprising. Who shall prophesy of afterward? There is a crisis now. They think the British will do anything to avoid despatching troops."

"That's almost true," said Ommony.

"They hope to drive all missionaries out, get rid of me and dictate politics in the future. They believe they have me and the missionaries compromised."

"Ha-ha!"

"They even speak of His Highness abdicating in favor of a minor."

"Idiots! Have you ten men whom you would dare trust with knowledge that you had stolen public funds?"

"Two score. But I do not steal."

"Ten is plenty. Do they look like priests?"

"Some could. There are the eight who usually watch the priests for me. They are in my house now. I can telephone."

"Do that. Have them rigged like Parumpadpa's men and send them here to me, ek dum. Tell 'em it's a life-or-death call."

There were servants in the hallway, much too obviously busy to be innocent, so the diwan used the extension in Ommony's bedroom. Even so, although he had his own man on the old-fashioned central switchboard, there was desperate risk of leakage.

But there is a risk in every ruse men undertake. Contrivances succeed because of other men's omissions more often than from perfection.

"They will be here in thirty minutes," he said, sitting down again in the arm-chair facing Ommony on the veranda after discovering the gardener too near and sending him to chase crows away from the distant flower-beds.

"Thirty minutes?" said Ommony. "That means an hour. Shall we waste it worrying ourselves, or use it worrying the priests?"

"If only I knew where Mrs. Craig is! Shall we not search—"

"And learn too much!"

The diwan looked relieved.

"I see you know."

"I haven't seen her since she disappeared," said Ommony, and the diwan nodded.

He began to regret less that he had trusted the solution into this man's hands.

"I vote we go," said Ommony.

"Where now?"

"To the Residency."

The diwan assented meekly. This was all new experience for him; his method, subtler perhaps, and much less active on the surface, resembling more those sub-sea currents that deflect a keel unknown to the eyes aloft. Storming along, tacking against the head-winds of sedition, reduced him to obedient bewilderment.

"I am like the dog's tail. I wag at your pleasure," he admitted, and Ommony chuckled over that confession all the way to the Residency, through crowded streets where men avoided wheels and cantering hoofs as by a miracle, assisted to it by the coachman's whip and objurgation that would have started riots in the West.

The Residency stood alone in sixteen acres of flowering shrubs and immemorial trees, surrounded by a low stone wall — a palace set aloof, an extraterritorial embassy, assigned to an individual whose mission is to watch the nearly independent ruler of a native State and act as communicating link with the British Raj.

There are States where the Resident is kept keyed up until he dies of too much physical and mental strain, collapsing like an overloaded fuse, and is replaced by a new one on less salary. And there are States, as this one, where a man goes for reward, or to be shelved because of inefficiency too vague to be punished by retirement home.

A few reports, occasional telegrams, a visit now and then to the central government to satisfy the lords of pigeon-holes that all is as it should be in the outer marches; that, quail-shooting — and a lot of morphia between-while was Gould's routine. And in his friend the doctor's absence he was prone to overdose himself, fearing abscess and loathing loneliness more than the poison's aftermath.

Gould was a flaw in the machinery, overlooked by the most alert bureaucracy on earth because no strain had hitherto arisen to test his weakness. Now the strain had come he was hors de combat — useless — worse, an obstruction in the way.

Ommony stormed at the chuprassi on the porch, swearing it was rank indecency to keep a diwan at the door. The menial admitted it; but the burra sahib was ill; orders were to admit nobody and to accept no messages. The door was not locked; Ommony noticed that. He returned to the carriage, helped the diwan out, and, shoving the chuprassi to one side, strode in.

"But this is an offense," the diwan objected.

All his innate sense of courtesy was aroused with a new and not vague fear of consequences.

"Come on!" Ommony answered, and the diwan came forward in the wake of swift decision.

Servants interposed themselves on the stairs, but Ommony, with the diwan leaning on his arm, strode on up, thrusting them aside, offering no explanation. They would not tell him which Gould's bedroom was, but he found it by opening door after door until he came on a locked one and kicked that in.

Gould lay in buttonless pajamas on a tousled bed beneath a punkah that had ceased to swing, unshaven, staring at the two intruders with eyes whose pupils were reduced to pin-points, conveying only mirage to the poisoned brain behind. He muttered unintelligibly.

"Wake up!" commanded Ommony, and shook him.

The answer was a motion like a child's sleep resenting to be disturbed. Ommony caught the diwan's eye.

"Witness this," he said.

Then he shook Gould again. No use. The man's intelligence was out of reach.

He went to the cabinet on the wall, chock full of patent medicines, old hypodermics, bottles — threw half of them out impatiently — found an emetic and forced a dose of it down Gould's throat that would have changed the routine of a mule's inside economy. The floor beside the bed grew horrible and the diwan clucked compassion. Gould's absent wits, recalled by violence, began to glimmer across the gulf between illusion and reality.

"Wake up!" Ommony commanded.

Intuitive caution came to the aid of the weakening drug and Gould affected a lapse, too dazed to understand anything except that silence possibly was safest. He moaned to awaken pity, and instead was shaken, pinched, slapped, taken by the neck and raised up — made to face reality whether he chose to or not. At last his lips mumbled some sort of question.

"I'm Ommony of the Woods and Forests."

"Go 'way, damn you!"

"This is the diwan."

"Too ill t' see him!"

"There's a crisis. Can you handle it? There's—"

"Gimme a shot, old fellow, will you? Stuff's in that—"

"Listen!" Ommony commanded. "Someone must wire. The Maharajah's life — yours — mine — the very State's in danger. Insurrection any minute. Get up and take charge!"

"Ill, I tell you! Go 'way! Who are you?"

"Ommony. Shall I act?"

"Don't know you! Lemme'lone!"

"I'll let you alone if you tell me to act for you."

"Go to hell!"

Gould tried to escape again into the realm of effortless illusion. Ommony shook him until his head rolled on his shoulders like a disconnected thing.

"Someone must act for you until the doctor comes."

"Doctor?"

The word impressed him. That was a friend, who knew how to return him to the world he dreaded, by easy stages. Contrast of that memory with this unease set him vomiting again.

"I'll wire for the doctor if you appoint me temporary substitute. Make over to me," coaxed Ommony.

"All right."

Gould collapsed on the bed and hid his face among disheveled sheets.

"You heard?" asked Ommony.

"I bear witness," said the diwan.

"Good. Let's leave him."

Ommony led the way down to a large, well-furnished office, where the official code reposed in a steel safe and a secretary was supposed to keep official hours. There was no sign of the secretary. Ommony sat down and wrote a telegram:

Gould seriously ill. Has made over to me. Send substitute for him and a doctor. Rush. Grave unrest here due in part to kidnaping of missionary Craig's wife and in part to fuel situation. Priests are so busy trying to establish alibi that suspicion rests on them. Troops may be necessary. Maharajah's forces possibly insufficient. Shall use my own discretion pending arrival of Gould's successor. Don't answer in code.

(Signed) Cotswold Ommony (Woods and Forests)

The diwan read it over half a dozen times. He suggested changes. Ommony overruled them.

"Why not in code?" asked the diwan.

"The priests wouldn't understand the code. Please have that sent at once over the public wire. Then order out every Maharajah's man available to keep mobs from forming. I represent the Raj now, understand. I'm with you, diwan sahib — to a finish!"

"And the finish?"

The diwan looked dejected.

"What will the finish be?"

"A forest!" Ommony assured him. "More trees than in all the neighboring States together! Courage, mon ami! We win!"



CHAPTER 7
"Silence, please, Memsahib!"

Mrs. Craig's subsequent account of these events was tinged in its early stages by resentment, and as to the end by mixed emotions. Some parts of it, as prejudiced, are not worth setting down; others, that do her credit, are withheld at her request. But the vein of actual occurrence, in so far as it served Ommony's as yet undeeded forest, is not difficult to trace.

No doctrine alien to her instinctive views was needed to set her bandaging those boatmen's wounds. The dog had torn the men badly and scared them worse, for to some imaginative folk a wound from a hound's clean tooth is more to be feared than the filth of their habitual surroundings. Having no other antiseptic she used the arrack left in a bottle in the inner room, and that stung them enough to satisfy their craving for immediate medical treatment. Most missionary women are adepts at first-aid surgery.

"Now go to the free dispensary," she ordered. "And don't tell anyone you saw me."

So they filed out, and were met by the rest of the crew, who added Ommony's commands to hers.

Then she sat down in the stifling room to consider her own case, first throwing all the covers off a string-cot for fear of the inevitable lice. She wondered why she did not feel ashamed of herself.

She had left her husband in the lurch. He was a good, plain, loyal fellow, who would never have left her. She did not doubt he was already exploring all imaginable holes and corners in search of her.

She smiled at that. It served him right, she reflected, for having presumed to agree to her arrest on any terms.

She had never lost her native color-prejudice. Americans abroad, with few exceptions, carry along with enormous trunks the rockset traditions of their home; and those, for good and evil, are as changeless as the East's conservatism, humans being human under whatever sky.

Arrest for any sake by dark-skinned aliens, whose culture — or lack of it — and creed she equally despised, was more unwelcome to her than death would be. That was not affectation; it was inborn, inbred, ingrained; and there are worse states of mind possessed by bigots who would blame her.

For another thing, though she hardly knew it, her whole being was in rebellion against the deadly sameness of the mission routine. Seven long years without vacation she had devoted half her energy to Craig's work and the other half to "improving" Craig himself, who was as unimprovable as salt; for what he was, he would be, true to his convictions and afraid of sin if he should venture half a step beyond them.

In total, she was playing hooky. She knew she should go back — considered that inevitable. There was neither profit, pride nor much amusement to be had from sitting in that stifling hut. But there was satisfaction in the thought of scaring Craig, a hope that by delay she might avoid the insolent protection of the Maharajah's men and a great contentment in offending Ommony by keeping his beloved dog from him. Ommony had seen through her mask of zeal at first glance, so she hated him, as we all hate those who discern what shams we are.

The behavior of the dog was unaccountable. After one penetrating howl Diana had followed her into the hut without objection and had lain in a corner, head on paws, as if listening and gathering news by means of an unhuman sense.

Once when a heavy step drew near she had trembled, although apparently not with fear. Then when a low voice had said one word in the next room in an unknown tongue, the dog had yelped and whined. The sound of someone clucking with tongue in his teeth had stopped the whining instantly.

Once after that she had whined, but the low voice of some young fellow crooning just under the window seemed to provide all the consolation necessary. Mrs. Craig tried to look out of the window and discover who the comforter might be, but he was too close to the wall for observation. The crooning continued at intervals, and the dog lay quiet but refused to come near her when she coaxed.

Presently, what with the heat and dread of insects, she decided to move on — perhaps to look for Craig — she would decide that point presently. She tried the door, but could not move it; not all her strength and weight could make the least impression on it.

She went to the window, but that was built into the wall and guarded on the outside by iron latticework. Only part of it was glazed, so she called through it in a low voice. The crooning that had comforted the dog ceased, but there was no other response.

She laughed — at herself. So this was the outcome! Seeking to avoid arrest, she had simply walked into the trap set by the Maharajah's men! She might have known Orientals would use underhanded means. No doubt whichever way she walked they would have simply closed a door or a gate on her. Her actual whereabouts was immaterial to them provided they had her trapped and under observation.

But what brutes! What a cell to keep her locked in! She thought of the Black Hole of Calcutta, and that brought all the calmness of her inborn courage to the surface.

No sense in beating like a bird against unyielding bars! She would rest and reserve her strength! She took the remainder of the arrack, wiped each stick and string of the bare cot, and lay down.

Then the crooning began again, and she was sure a spy had been set beneath the window, who perhaps could see her through some undiscoverable cranny in the wall. All that puzzled her after that was why the dog should like the crooning so and should decline her own proffered caresses.

She lay so long that she almost fell asleep, and had no idea what time it was when someone knocked and the great hound, with every hair bristling, sprang at the door ready to do battle the minute it opened. Elsa struggled with all her might, tugging at scruff and collar, but she could not drag the dog away. Nor had she any kind of rope, nor anything to fasten a rope to that would have held for an instant.

But the crooning resumed under the window, interspersed with unintelligible speech. Diana went back to her corner and lay down, head on paws as formerly, still growling like a volcano making ready to erupt, but offering no more fight. More mystery!

"Come! But you must take your own chance with the dog. I can't hold her!" she called in English.

She expected the Hindu officer who had always been at pains to show such guarded insolence. But in came two men whose ivory skin showed between the folds of garments more like Brahman priests' than soldiers'. She was not sure of it, not having mastered all the intricacies of caste and costume, but she was nearly sure they were priests or temple acolytes. She could see six more behind them waiting in the other room.

They smiled, saluted her, made gestures that invited her to come with them; in fact, were not uncivil in the least; and, strangest of all, they took no notice of the dog, who growled as if thunder quickened in her lungs. Undoubtedly the crooning outside the window kept the dog from attacking them; but how did they know they were safe? They had no weapons she could see — no means to defend themselves against flashing teeth; yet they were so supremely confident they did not even turn heads to look. Mystery again!

She decided to follow without protest. The dog submitted to be led by the collar, and she signed to the two to lead the way. But they stood aside for her and looked to make sure there was nothing of hers they should carry. The six in the outer room, with evident respect, but no trace of hesitancy, formed up around her, two ahead, one on either hand, two behind, and marched out into the open.

She saw the boatmen, some now wearing the unbleached calico bandages of the free dispensary. They all salaamed sheepishly in a group under the wayside trees, but made no other comment. The two men who had first entered the room brought up the rear of the strange procession, and at a little distance behind them a young man followed whom she suspected of being the author of the crooning.

She knew then by the declining sun that it was nearly five o'clock, and discovered, too, that she was hungry. She thought of Joan of Arc being led to the stake by priests, and smiled, by no means afraid of laughing at herself.

Romanticism, though it forever made appeal, was an element she had turned her back on long ago. She mocked it, for like the U.S. Senator it was part of the might-have-been. She assured herself there was no romance in her existence.

She tried to feel matter-of-fact. There were crows on the wall that cawed impudently. Overhead the kites wheeled ceaselessly against a pure blue sky. A pariah-dog glimpsed Diana's shape between her escort's legs and fled incontinently. The wheels of a bullock-cart were creaking, and the driver's agonized invective grated on her ear. All was as usual except that she, Elsa Maconochie Craig, was walking a prisoner in the midst of Brahman priests, perhaps within a stone's throw of her husband!

She decided to scream at the first profitable opportunity, and conserved her breath meanwhile.

But humdrum opportunities had ceased. It was a day of baffling unexpectedness. Out of the boatmen's sight, behind a godown that projected into the alley, one of her escort threw a sheet over her head, another wrapped it deftly, and a third, using English, offered sharp advice, with his mouth two inches from her muffled ear.

"Make no outcry! Obey us! We will gag you if you scream! Be wise!"

They had not hurt her. They had not touched her more than necessary. They did not seize her hands, which were free beneath the colored cotton sheet. And it was a clean sheet; it did not even smell offensive! They had hardly frightened her, but that may have been because of her iron courage.

Knowing they were eight to one, she decided not to try to resist them, just then at any rate. But she wondered why the dog did not offer fight; she had let go the collar in the first instinctive struggle with the sheet, and did not even know where the dog had gone.

Naturally, now she could not be aware of Ommony's dog-boy with both arms around Diana's neck engaging the hound's whole attention.

She heard a door open, remembered she had noticed it in the midst of a short, otherwise blind wall between two locked godowns, was led through, heard it slam and lock behind her, and felt herself pushed against the tail-end of a wheeled conveyance of some kind.

"Get in, please!" said the same voice that had cautioned her previously.

Again no violence was offered — no unwelcome aid. They let her grope her own way. Two men followed; then a third. She heard Diana leap in and felt the hound's head on her lap.

She guessed she was in an old-fashioned covered ox-cart with her back to the corner by the curtained front end. In a moment more she knew it, for the driver cried aloud and the wheels creaked.

Then interminable bumpings at a snail's pace over cobbled streets and unpaved roads that wound to right and left, leaving behind at last the noises that told of town life and fording narrow streams occasionally, where men seized hold of the wheels to help the oxen.

"Where am I being taken?" she asked once through the all-concealing yellow sheet. But the only answer came from the same man who had spoken twice before.

"Silence, memsahib, please!"

If they had treated her disrespectfully she might have made their business troublesome — might have obliged them to play their hand to the utmost and commit themselves to violent handling of a missionary's wife, for which there would be stern accounting afterward. But they did not.

The three men sat apart from her. She thought she could feel their eyes, but never a hand approached. So she sat still, listening to the wheels, the soft thud of the oxen's feet, and the tramp of the remainder of her escort marching alongside and behind.

She felt the gloom within the car grow darker and guessed the hour of sunset; but the cries of the driver continued, and the wheels bumped on, it seemed forever, until she could have wept from very weariness. But she was not of the weeping kind — took pride in that, and comfort from the pride.

It was probably after nine o'clock when she reached her destination. There at last they took the sheet away when the ox-cart halted before a gate under an arch, whose outlines were almost indeterminable in the gloom.

Again the men's politeness disarmed her. They appeared no whit ashamed of having carried her off, but bent on showing her all deference, and their salaams were manly, not the cringing sort she was accustomed to. They stood on the brick steps of a porch, four on either hand, saluting as if she were a captured empress. Iron in her character insisted on her going forward up the steps with no fuss and no questions asked.

She was a prisoner after their own hearts. They brag of her, those stalwarts, to this day.

The bronze-barred door swung open, and she passed in, hearing it clang behind, but never turning. So imperially, looking straight before her, Elsa Craig entered her prison, staring up beyond the arch, between sentinel trees, at stardust swimming in a purple sky.

She was in fairyland!

And she was glad to be alone! Craig, had he been there, would have spoken bitterly of images of gods that smiled benignly amid shrubbery, as if they were hiding to play games. She didn't care if they were idols. She loved them. They were beautiful.

There were fountains that tinkled and splashed music, even at that hour. The air was moist and cool. An old, old servitor advanced and, beckoning, walked down a brick path between verdure trained to grow in sequences as rhythmed as string symphonies. The scent of flowers and shrubbery arose and waned in obbligato to a melody of form. They skirted a lotus pond in which, between the lordly, lazy fronds reflections of stars reshone like jewels buried in the pool, and in their dim, calm light the meditative image of Jinendra sat.

They came to a house of marble as appealing to the eyes as are those ancient little temples that stand aloof wherever mystic worshipers have dwelt — all pure — each true line drawn by one who knew his life was neither this nor that thing but eternity. Candlelight within made peace, so prisoned in the stone, appear alive and welcoming.

The rays of a rising full moon touched the edges of the roof, redrawing man's concrete masterpiece in liquid silver. Elsa gasped. The old manservant, saying not one word, but beckoning as if he, too, felt the inspiration of the place, led on.

They approached the house, he ever turning to be sure she understood, up marble steps in which tree-shadows in irregular design lay as if each touch of purple had been drawn in place by Him who rules the symphonies.

As in a dream one passes disconnectedly from phase to phase, she found herself in a chamber where moonlight through the open window shone on a table spread for her — rice, bread, milk, honey — things that men may eat without accepting the role of executioner — not interfering with the karma of the beasts.

In a chamber next to it were clean clothes laid on a spotless bed of hand- wrought sandalwood. A woman older than the man made signs to her to change into the comfortable dress of a Hindu lady of rank — loose, lovely stuff embroidered richly, yet as simple in design as all true art.

She laughed. She needed that. Hitherto she was intruding. Now, bathed and rearrayed, she was no harsh discord but a new, strong note in harmony. The mirror, held by the old woman, told her that.

How Craig would have scorned!

The meal, with the old attendant silent behind her chair, was like supper before sailing into new dimensions. It dawned on her intelligence how mean and narrow is the Western view that mentions heathen in the same breath with ancient culture. She could doubt Christianity in that hour, along with all her educated notions, excepting one — she was still white, and American.

"Who built this place?" she asked in the dialect.

And as she spoke a bulbul piped his anthem to the rising moon.

"It was always here," said the old attendant.

"Who owns it?"

"The diwan sahib — now."

"Who formerly?"

"The diwan sahib's wife."

"But she has been dead for twenty years. Who lives here now?"

"None, save caretakers."

"Does the diwan sahib never use it?"

"Seldom. At times his honor comes to observe that all is as it was when she lived, for she loved the place. He planted and adorned it for her summer- house, building the high wall about it for her greater peace. She was a holy woman, and he loved her more than all else. Here she would come to meditate; and here she died.

"The diwan sahib gave orders to us to preserve all things as they were when she enjoyed them. And we also loved her. Therefore the command is easy of fulfilment, and the diwan sahib finds no fault.

"The fish in the pond are fed. None harms the birds. The gardeners pull weeds. None enters, save the diwan rarely. The memsahib is the first since she died."

"Why am I here?"

The question came to her lips unbidden, and was out before she could restrain it.

"None knows. The order came this afternoon. The diwan sahib sent word over his seal that your honor is to be treated in all things as she, the diwan sahib's wife, was, save only that your honor may not pass beyond the wall, nor may you receive guests."

"Then I am your prisoner?"

"The diwan sahib said you are his guest."

"I wasn't a willing guest."

"Whatever the memsahib wishes is an order, saving only the key of the gate."

She went out and walked in moonlight — watched and marveled at her own reflection in the lotus-pond — heard the liquid bulbul note that is Nature's effort to explain the gist of hope; and a great contentment grew on her. She began to wish Craig were there, believing it would move him too, to a mood more mixed with tolerance.

That set her thinking about Craig, and her own new tolerance shed kinder light on him. She saw the manliness of his erect and incorruptible pugnacity — the boy's heart that had borne him storming to the Maharajah in the face of what would have discouraged most men — the conviction, too rock-hewn to be altered by even her seven-year siege.

She found she could excuse a deal of narrowness for sake of that steadfast honesty, mistaken often, but, unlike her own, uncompromising. There, where she stood in moonlight, at a distance, she condoned his passionate regard for bricks and straw — discovered that, even if he thought otherwise, they were only landmarks he had set up on a hard trail. And now they were all to be reset. She would help him!

Suppressed intelligence awoke in Elsa Craig that night and mellowed her — until she thought of Ommony. She hated him! Which led to a belated recollection of the dog. She wondered what had happened to Diana, and who had fed her. Had she gone away again with those men? If so, the men must be Ommony's, or otherwise Diana would have rebelled. Yet — supposing they were Ommony's, why had the hound shown fight when they first appeared, only to be calmed astonishingly by the crooning and gibberish of somebody under the window?

She could not make head or tail of it as she strode with hands behind her along brick paths between the peaceful trees. The old attendant followed — silent as another shadow — keeping his distance unobtrusively. It was no use asking him. He had probably never heard of Ommony.

She wearied of the problem, and discovered then that she was weary in every atom of her being. So she returned and went to bed on a mattress stuffed with rose-leaves, shaken into utter softness by the old woman who attended her.

The last waking thought she remembered was of peace and the breath of sandalwood. But her dreams were of Ommony, whom she detested even more in that realm of illusion than she had done waking.

He appeared in the form of a ghoul with a great magnifying-glass, through which he scrutinized her, nodding as he analyzed in all its naked ugliness the pride, ambition and hypocrisy compounded, that he told her was the essence of her being! She woke up three times screaming at him that he lied, and each time the old woman brought her cooling drinks.



CHAPTER 8
"Sir William Molyneux will blame your priests!"

What Ommony hoped for was really the inevitable. Reactionaries always make mistakes, counting on what were possibly good tactics yesterday to force the issue of today, like those who shoot behind the moving mark.

On the heels of Ommony the priests' spies nosed and listened for the news. But they themselves were news. Public knowledge that the priests had plans afoot made countless other eyes and ears alert, and the spies were watched more closely than they looked out for Ommony. Accordingly when men, a move and several hours too late, invaded the alley where the boatmen lived, there were a score of hangers-on who overheard and oversaw what happened.

It was known to the priests that the diwan meant to imprison Elsa Craig for her protection. They supposed it done. They approved that and, as Ommony intended that they should, had heralded intention as a fact, denouncing the diwan to the mob for hiding the woman and being influenced by her behind the scene.

But Craig, rushing from his ruined mission compound to the diwan's office — thence, in the diwan's absence, to the taciturn police, demanding where his wife might be and trumpeting fear broadcast — had advertised to the priests the possibility of some miscarriage of arrangements. Craig ought to have known where his wife was. They wasted three hours speculating and conferring.

Then a minor spy sent word, shoulder over shoulder with the speed of relay signaling, that Ommony and the boatmen had had speech. So half a dozen master-spies were sent, for the sake of overawing numbers and the advantage of a checked account, to dredge out the boatmen's information. And they were so proud of being Parumpadpa's agents that they made no secret at all of what they were but swaggered to the rendezvous all six together.

"What said Ommony sahib?" they demanded.

"Nothing. He came for his dog."

"Where is the dog?"

"She bit some of us and went away."

"Where is Ommony sahib?"

"Who are we that we should know? He came and he went."

The hangers-on were crowding close. The spies became impatient. The boatmen, with Ommony's promise to befriend them recent in their ears, admired the notion of showing priests' spies the worst of it before an audience.

"Did he ask where the memsahib of the mission is?"

"He asked where his dog is, saying nothing else."

It began to be clear to one of the boatmen that misinformation would die stillborn unless brought forth voluntarily. Scorn of the priests' intelligencers and the simpleton's joy in intrigue compelled speech.

"Ha-ha!" he bawled out for the audience's benefit. "If he sought the memsahib of the mission, he should have asked you, not us! Lo, she hid in that house. Priests came and took her. We know that, for we all stood here beneath these trees and watched!"

In vain the boatmen were reviled. They stuck to the tale, refusing to change a word or to attempt an explanation. Threats were thrown away on them.

"We know not why she hid in there, nor where she is. Priests came, and they took her. We are boatmen . . . honest men!"

"Ye are liars!" said the spies; but that was small use.

The news was out. The unbidden audience, increased by the boatmen's shouts to nearly a hundred, was delighted. Whatever they might think of Parumpadpa — the opinions of him were mixed — they all conceded to the priests a near-divine omniscience in dealing with intrigue. The priests themselves had busily instilled that superstition.

So, faster than the spies decamped to bear the incredible information, the audience dispersed through different streets to brag of what they knew.

"Parumpadpa has carried off the missionary's wife and hidden her!"

"Parumpadpa was too clever for the diwan! He forestalled him! He sent his men to seize the missionary's wife!"

"They throttled her!"

"She lies in a crypt beneath a temple, none knows exactly where!"

"She is to be eaten alive by rats!"

Each version of the tale found believers, and the boatmen, strong in their faith in Ommony, but not so sure now of his exact instructions, confirmed everything, inventing new versions of their own.

"The priests told us to steal the new god Dhai Enna, who came in the form of a big dog and was enslaved by Ommon-ee."

That resembled many an Indian story of the gods on earth, passing muster easily among the ignorant.

"The memsahib of the mission also wanted to steal Dhai Enna, because she is against all gods and sought to kill this new one. So the priests took both of them, and that is all we know."

Public opinion, perennially instructed, had it that the priests were forever behind and in advance of every new turn of affairs. That "the priests think, then the diwan moves" was a proverb.

It was plausible, and even likely, that the priests should have forestalled the diwan's action. They had done that frequently in the memory of all who followed events with discernment.

So within the hour the city's humor changed from irritable anger to excited guessing as to what the other side would do. In vain the priests sent broadcast contradictions of the story. Those were taken for official fibs intended to deceive the enemy. The man in the street was on the inside this once, and the more the priests denied it, the more implicitly the mob believed.

Long after dark those who could struggle past the cordon of Maharajah's troops swarmed around the guest-house because someone said the diwan was in there conferring with Ommony. And none needed to tell the old diwan why they came; he had all the news by telephone.

And hot-foot through the sweating cordon and the clamoring mob, with shouts of "Tar! Tar!"* that made even that throng yield a passage for him, came a messenger in loin-clout and khaki jacket. [* Telegram]

"Tar for the diwan sahib!"

It was perfect — better than a play or than the tales men listen to of evenings. Verily the gods all had a hand in this! Events were on the anvil. Siva the Destroyer was evolving out of Siva who creates.

"Now watch!"

But it was too dark then to see from the top of the wall, and for fear of soldiers none dared penetrate within the guest-house grounds to see the diwan, vis-à-vis to Ommony on the veranda, tear open the envelop and sign for it. His hands were trembling so he could hardly read the penciled message. But Ommony chuckled.

The paper bore the marks of sweating thumbs, and was even crumpled. In all likelihood a copy of it was in Parumpadpa's hand that minute:

Cotswold Ommony accredited as temporary acting substitute for Gould, who is withdrawn on the ground of illness. His Majesty's Government regard with grave concern report that priests are suspected of responsibility for disappearance of Mrs. Craig. Please send motor-boat to railhead to meet Sir William Molyneux, who is proceeding on today's train to take over Residency. Pending his arrival please accord Mr. Ommony all privileges and assistance in tracing Mrs. Craig, who has His Majesty's Government's official recognition.

He passed the telegram to Ommony, who squealed delight.

"That's 'Brass-Face' Molyneux! A damned fine fellow, but the hardest nut in the bag. They keep him for emergencies. It was he who horse-whipped Rajah Kutch Dowlah—"

"He deserved worse," said the diwan.

"Yes, but nobody but Brass-Face would have dared. It saved a massacre. Now—"

"You see I am to help you find Mrs. Craig," the diwan interrupted, judging that no time for reminiscences.

"Go ahead. Help me."

"We know where she is!"

"The priests don't. The wire doesn't say where we're to find her."

The diwan stroked his beard, but his kind old eyes grew terrified. Not for amusement had he fought the priesthood during thirty intriguing years. He knew the depth of their ability to wreak havoc and avoid responsibility.

"My friend—"

"I accept full liability," said Ommony. "They'll break me on the wheel if this fails. I promise to absolve you."

"But isn't it the easiest thing to answer that telegram and say Mrs. Craig is safe and sound?" the diwan objected. "Then let Sir William Molyneux—"

"Come and wonder what the stew was all about, eh? Brass-Face is no diviner of subtleties. You'll get no trees. The priests will have scored. They'll lay the whole blame to the missionaries. Brass-Face will insult Craig — he hates the tribe."

"You'll be superseded. Your successor will be nominated by the priests. No, sahib, we've got to win this main!"

The diwan nodded. He was as clay in the hands of this man. No sooner was he nervous than the memory of something he had seen Ommony do brought back confidence.

"What then?" he asked, his eyes resuming their accustomed brown placidity.

"It's Parumpadpa's move next," Ommony answered. "He's sure to do something imprudent. The crowd's in no mood for—"

"Very nearly out of hand," the diwan answered. "Hear them!"

Over and through the trees surrounding the triangle on which the guest- house stood a gradually rising uproar increased and waned as if from two sides centers of commotion were approaching. It was hard to distinguish between rage and exultation, but it seemed as if the two elements were mixed. And in among the din the shouts of troopers and their officers ordering the crowd back subtracted nothing from the tumult.

Anger and adulation slowly separated into vortices, approaching separate gates at angles of the grounds, and they could hear the troopers leave one party to care for itself and go to the rescue of the other. Then through both gates mounted men entered galloping.

"Parumpadpa sends his emissary demanding audience!" said the first man.

"Craig sahib asks admittance!" said the other. Ommony caught the diwan's eye and nodded twice.

"Admit both!" the diwan ordered.

Neither spoke while the difficult business of letting the right ones in and keeping out unauthorized intruders was under way. Advice at the last minute to the man who must take the reins distracts. Then nothing but assurance of strong support is of the least use, and that is best done without words. The diwan felt aware that whether he should play his hand supremely well or make mistakes, he could count on Ommony to help face consequences, some men having the gift of conveying that assurance silently.

First came Craig, alone, white-suited, striding like a phantom up the graveled drive, hat in hand and brushing sweat with three fingers from his forehead.

"Mr. Ommony! Your Excellency! Can either of you tell me where my wife is?"

He spoke the instant his foot was on the veranda and approached their corner with one hand on the rail as if grateful for something to lean on. Ommony rose from his chair and pushed Craig into it.

"Thank you. I'm tired out. I've searched every conceivable place she might have gone to. Your boatmen, Mr. Ommony, tell me priests have carried her off. They assured me that one of our converts, John Ishmittee, saw it happen; but he has disappeared. Now the crowd say the same thing. I'm afraid—"

"Not you!"

Ommony spoke abruptly. The old diwan was too aware of sympathy to trust himself; it was not his way to cause unnecessary anguish. But Ommony was like a surgeon with a sharp knife, daring for the sake of what he saw beyond.

"Sit down here. Wait and see. Have you eaten?"

Over Craig's protest he called for sandwiches, and those arrived simultaneously with Parumpadpa's emissary — Jannath — none less — sent that he might be blamable if plans miscarried, since it had been he who first proposed them.

Jannath, rather puffy-faced and ivory-pale in the lantern-light, stood on the path below them with the official meekness and abominable pride so blended as only a Brahman can accomplish. He would not set foot on the veranda lest its touch defile his feet, and he waited for the diwan, who was not a Brahman, to salute him first.

The diwan accorded him the superficial gesture of reverence and mumbled request for a blessing that Brahmans accept perforce when deeper homage is refused. Jannath, equally perfunctory, responded.

Then for the space of a minute there was silence, broken only by Craig's munching at a sandwich that annoyed the priest until his eyes blazed indignation. It was not cow-meat between the bread, but Jannath chose to suppose it was.

"What good fortune brought you here?" the diwan asked at last politely.

"Parumpadpa sent me. He demands to know why you have told the people that the missionary's wife is in our hands. We know nothing of her."

"I said no such thing," the diwan answered quietly.

"Then whence the tale?"

The insolence was perfect, but the diwan knew the uselessness of letting that draw fire. His voice was gentle and his manner almost deferent:

"You priests know better than I whence rumors spring. By coming you have saved me from going to ask you that very question. Where is she? Whence the rumor?"

"We know nothing of her!" Jannath answered with disgust.

Craig left his chair suddenly, gulping the last of a sandwich, and leaned forward over the rail to peer into Jannath's face. Behind his back Ommony caught the diwan's eye.

"He can only do good," he whispered.

"If you priests don't know where my wife is, at least you can find her if anyone can," he said, speaking the language fluently enough but with a Western idiom that made the reasonable statement ring doubly offensive in the priest's ears.

Jannath stood like an insolent image in painted wood, ignoring him; and that offended Craig much worse than hot retort. He resumed:

"I've never harmed you. Repeatedly I've offered to be friendly. All the return I've ever had has been unfair accusations and malignant lies about my converts. I believe you priests were at the bottom of that elephant business. I believe you know where my wife is.

"If you priests kept your hands off her for reasons of policy, nevertheless I'm sure you know what happened. Indirectly, at least, if not directly, you're responsible for her disappearance. I demand her back at your hands!"

He paused, not for breath, for he was quite unconscious of himself, but to watch for the effect on Jannath, whose face remained as stolid as an idol's. Not for any inducement in the world was Jannath willing to appear to recognize before witnesses this enemy of all his kind. Craig, used to unresponsive audiences, came at him again, leaning forward, as it were with both hands on a pulpit-rail.

"Now I'm a Christian. You hate me for it. That's the offense in your eyes for which you've visited this cruel wrong on me. But I'll prove to you here and now what Christian ethics are. No vengeance. No, not even punishment if you'll reverse yourselves.

"Give me my wife back unharmed, and I'll ask the diwan and the British Government to take no steps against you. Now, tonight, I want her at your hands!"

Jannath remained motionless — ivory-white insolence — the flickering lamplight exaggerating the scorn of his proud lips. Craig knew he had made no impression and searched his magazine of arguments for anything that might penetrate the priest's chilled armor. He rightly judged an appeal for pity would be of no use; thought of threats, and, as his bearing betrayed, discarded those for the moment; then recalled that his own agitation for forestry would have depleted temple revenues if successful.

Perhaps that was all the trouble. If so — he would not yield on any point of principle; but the financial argument —

"If you return my wife unharmed to me tonight I will withdraw my claim for the damage done to my mission buildings. I will not retaliate. There shall be no consideration on my part of revenge."

"You hear him?" asked the diwan.

They both might just as well have spoken to the empty air. The priest refused to acknowledge by word or gesture that he was even conscious of Craig's demand. But the diwan seemed encouraged. He moved in his chair with a chess-player's suddenly born activity and read the telegram aloud, translating it for Jannath's benefit.

"You see," he said, "the British Raj is interfering. They accuse you priests. When Sir William Molyneux comes there is no knowing what will happen. It is best to have Craig memsahib found before he arrives."

"We know nothing of her!" Jannath insisted hotly.

"Be advised by me," the diwan answered. "Tell Parumpadpa to produce her before Sir William Molyneux arrives. They say he has scant respect for Brahmans."

For sixty breathless seconds Jannath dwelt on his retort, his face immobile but his eyes ablaze with energy that burned in the subtle brain behind them. But he reserved his subtlety for future use.

"The people threaten insurrection!" he said meaningly.

"Sir William Molyneux will blame you priests," the diwan answered. "Therefore it is to your advantage to calm the populace." Discovering strength where he had looked for weakness, Jannath cut short the interview, turning without another word and striding away magnificently, followed by attendants who emerged from shadows as if they were secret-service men to protect him against the diwan's treachery; instead of being Parumpadpa's spies intent on taking back an absolutely true version of what took place. Parumpadpa knew better than to trust to Jannath's sole account.

The crowd at the gate roared jubilantly as the Brahman appeared and the troopers forced an opening for him. Some of them looked for a hint that would have laid the city at their mercy; none expected less than an assurance of great doings presently.

But it may be that Jannath's face betrayed no optimism, or perhaps his followers, who had heard what passed, dropped words of caution here and there. It happened at all events that Jannath's progress through the mob was marked by lessening clamor, and within ten minutes of his leaving all the lined-up troopers sat their mounts at ease with only a dwindling crowd to watch. Then —

"We win!" said Ommony, reaching for cigars.

"You mean?" demanded Craig.

"Trees, fellow; trees!"

"My wife—"

"You'll have her back."

"You think Parumpadpa can produce her?"

"He must!" answered Ommony. "Brass-Face Molly is no long-range diplomatist. His reputation goes before him, and his trail is up and down the land. They know he'll fight without gloves. They'll produce her before he gets here if they have to make a new Eve out of Adam's rib to do it! Bed! The prescription for you is bed, my friend. Come on, I'll show you to your room."



CHAPTER 9
"Obey the priests!"

"Emergency and Heaven are the same thing — there is no night there," said Ommony, grinning, returning to the veranda. "Poor Craig's in hell. I gave him a dose of sulphonal. How about you, diwan sahib? Tired?"

"With a weariness none could guess who hadn't a throne and a people's destiny to watch. These old bones are all but ready for the dissolution. Months, a year or two perhaps, then rest. None meanwhile if there is duty."

"Well, there is," said Ommony, and sat down facing him.

The diwan waited. It was likely the night would hold as much anxiety for him as for Craig. Craig, should the drug do its duty, would suffer no interruption, whereas he would be called to hear every rumor. He preferred to stand the racket sitting upright.

"Those priests will make their big break now," said Ommony.

"Assuredly."

"They've two chances. The first is to find Mrs. Craig. How much risk is there of your men letting the cat out of the bag?"

"None. None whatever. All those men are absolutely loyal. The priests might search for a month, but they would never find a trace of her."

"Splendid. Parumpadpa has one move then, and he's checkmate."

"Tell me, sahib," said the diwan, "why did you insist that Mrs. Craig should change into Hindu dress?"

"For the same reason that Diana and the dog-boy are on duty. Don't ask to know too much just yet, sahib, or you may be obliged to lie your way out of it; that's a serious matter at your time of life. Are you sure you made it clear to your men that they were to order Mrs. Craig's own clothes thrown over the wall?"

"They understood. I made them repeat the instructions. I wish I understood your object half as clearly."

"There's a hitch somewhere," said Ommony, pulling out his watch.

For a while he was silent with his elbow on an arm of the chair and the short, crisp hair of his beard protruding through the fingers of one hand. The other was on his knee. He was listening, but the only sounds were the occasional stamping of a trooper's horse, and now and then voices as the lingering remnants of the crowd resumed stale argument.

"I'll have to go," he said after a while. "If I might do that without explaining things that no diwan in your predicament should know—"

"I will wait here for you, sahib."

"Thanks. That's good of you."

Ommony was on his feet when the sound that he listened for arrested him. It was almost like a jackal's cry, not indistinguishable from that by one unused to night notes in the wilderness. He grinned and sat down. After a pause he whistled one note.

Presently, a shadow among shadows, making no sound, Diana slunk across the driveway, disappearing instantly into the dark under the veranda's protecting edge. There she whined so softly that it was hardly audible.

Ommony snapped his fingers. The dog came stealthily up-steps and paused when she saw the diwan. He sat still. Ommony motioned to him to turn his head away. The instant he did that Diana leaped and landed in the dark behind Ommony's chair, thrusting her nose into the hand he let fall.

"When I gave orders to the dog-boy I forgot those gates might be shut and guarded," Ommony explained. "I suppose Di jumped the wall. That was a wonder of a jump, Di, old lady!"

"And it means?" asked the diwan.

"This."

He showed a piece of slobbery turban-end the dog had dropped into his hand.

"It's the dog-boy's summons."

He went into the house and came out hooded in the all-disguising cotton sheet the middle classes throw about them when they walk abroad at night. His trousers were rolled up, and his bare feet showed through sandals. On his head was a bunnia's turban, and his very walk was changed to fit the new part.

"Careful, sahib!" warned the diwan. "If they recognize you—"

"Risks are for the rashly wise to run," laughed Ommony. "I need your pass to get me by the troopers."

So — the diwan wrote an order to pass Bunnia Chirol Varma out or in, and Ommony sent his great hound into the bedroom out of harm's way. Then, having salaamed the diwan obsequiously, he walked to the nearest gate with the heels of his loose sandals rutching on the gravel and dislike of exercise written all over him as if he were a Hindu merchant to the manner born.

He swallowed insult at the gate, as bunnias must who crave the good-will of the military, answering abuse with meekness and sufficient flattery.

"It is good," said he, "that we have brave men for our protection. May many gods strengthen and bless you to preserve us from violence and our godowns from plundering if insurrection comes!"

Some coins changed hands — the "slipper-money" due by ancient custom from visitors to a gate's custodian, and no less welcome to a soldier in the right recipient's eclipse.

"Would that all bunnias were as wise as that one!"

With his turban just a little to one side, as surely no man in disguise would think of wearing it; he disappeared into the gloom, avoiding moonlight, threading unlighted thoroughfares with a woodsman's sixth sense of direction, and arrived presently at the little two-room hut with a wall behind it, in the alley where the boatmen lived. There, in the evil-smelling shadow of the trees beside the road, he sat down and whistled softly.

No sound answered him, not even footfall, but what might have been the dog-boy's ghost flitted across a shaft of moonlight and squatted down beside him. Even his breathing was inaudible.

"You found the clothing?"

"Nay, Dhai Enna did. They who tossed it over the wall are fools, moreover without conscience, making no signal. So the bundle fell into such a tangle of thorns and rocks as snakes love."

"I waited until God made me impatient. Then I sent Dhai Enna to make circuit of the walls, and she smelled it, where it lay so that no eye could have seen it. And so I, naked, wrapped my clothes on her for fear of cobras, and she brought it, leaving my jacket among the thorns. I did not dare fetch the jacket nor send the dog back for it, for fear of snakes."

"You shall have a new one," said Ommony.

"Nay, sahib, not a new one. The shooting-jacket with the leather pockets that the sahib tore at the armhole when he jumped off the elephant!"

"Yes."

The dog-boy thrilled in silence for a moment, then resumed:

"So I carried the bundle of clothing to the priests in the temple of Siva as the sahib ordered. I having no jacket, they believed my tale that I was a son of a gardener working for Bunnia Chirol Varma at his house by the waterside. They answered they had never heard of him, but what of that?"

"I said I had found the clothing by the water's edge and had wondered at how excellent it was. Meaning to steal it, I had run away. Then, fear obliging me, I had brought it back to them. I begged them to take it and to let me go and to say nothing. But they said much, calling me thief and what not else. One — a great one with a snout like a dog's and the upper half of his head bald and, as it were, swollen, said I should be kept within the temple. But I cried no, that the gods would visit me—"

"You will be a great man some day," said Ommony.

" — and they saw I was afraid. So another said I will be given to the police if I am found within the city. And at that I ran crying, 'No, no!' and found Dhai Enna where I had left her hidden, and had much trouble to bring her away unseen because of many men who watched the priests and some who saw me and wished to question me. But I escaped them all. Only the dog broke my hold and attacked some men who looked for me in a clump of bamboos in a garden. They cried out that Ommon-ee must be near and no doubt spying on the priests."

"Excellent!" said Ommony.

"So I came to this place, and sent the dog with a rag from my turban as the sahib ordered. I shall need a new turban."

"Granted. How did you get from the place where the memsahib is hidden to the temple of Siva? That is a great distance, isn't it?"

"There rode a fool of a peasant, much afraid of darkness, and his horse, which was a young one, was afraid of Dhai Enna. The man fell off and ran, crying, 'Bagh!'* So I caught the horse and rode, Dhai Enna following, and I turned the horse loose when I came to the city." [* Tiger]

"Very good. Now bring the head boatman here," ordered Ommony. "Be swift."

So after not much tapping on a broken pane but much whispering, the head boatman's bulk took form against a background of purple sky between the tree- trunks, and Ommony bade him squat down.

"Sahib, there came a priest who offered us money to leave the city," he began abruptly, being, too, a tactician in his way.

"How much money?"

"Not enough. We receive very small pay from the diwan, but it is every month, and we would be fools to forfeit that. He went away to get permission to increase his offer, saying he will return tonight."

"I think he will return with a totally different offer — perhaps a better one," said Ommony.

The boatman's self-importance was increasing; it could be actually felt. But watermanship breeds corollary; sly he could be, and avaricious; but he could not help responding to bold appeal and downright daring any more than his simple thinking could resist intrigue. He stated his case deliberately, as he would have faced a rising sea.

"If we should leave the city, then the sahib will have no more hold over us in the matter of our trying to steal his dog."

It was clear enough that the offense had dwindled to extremely small proportions in the boatmen's estimation.

"I undertook to be your friend," said Ommony. "Has that no bearing on it?"

"But the priest who came declared the priests are our friends."

"Do you believe him?"

"Nay, he was a liar. We know that. But the priests are willing to pay us much money perhaps."

"I'm not," answered Ommony. "I don't buy or sell friendship."

The boatman was silent for a long while. Longshore avarice pulled tug-o'- war with the spirit of open water in his inner man. The fact that Ommony was in disguise and obviously scheming did not simplify the issue.

"Are we to lose the priests' money and have their enmity?" he asked at last.

"Take it!"

"And deceive them?"

"Deceive nobody. I think the priests will come presently and offer you money for a service and for silence afterward. Accept the money, perform the service and keep silent.

"The priests will choose you because they already have a certain hold over you in the matter of your idiotic boasts about the dog and because you are the diwan's men, and they wish to make the diwan look ridiculous; moreover, because they know it is your business to draw the diwan's fish-nets before dawn, and there is no other crew available that might be trusted and that knows just where the diwan's fish-nets are."

"And the sahib will not turn his back on us afterward?"

"No. When the priests come, don't admit them to the house. Pretend there are women in there. Talk among these trees, so I may listen. When they have gone I will tell you whether it is safe or otherwise to carry out their orders. Go now, and caution the others."

Ommony moved back into the deepest shadow between the trees and the wall, where an old, ill-smelling crate up-ended offered absolute concealment. He tested the crate a time or two to make sure it would not squeak under his weight and then crawled into it, sitting motionless like a fakir meditating. The dog-boy retreated down the alley and hid where there was no earthly risk of discovery.

Ommony's state of mind was the hunter's who, with all the resources at his command and vast experience of beasts' ways, has set a trap and sits to watch it. He knew the priests were in a quandary; knew they were alarmed at the news of Molyneux being on the way. Was sure they were mystified by their belief that the diwan did not know Mrs. Craig's whereabouts; expected them to jump to conclusions, to which he had contributed by maneuvering the dog-boy. And he staked all on one shrewd guess, that the priests would be true to the past and, following the line of least resistance, try to compromise the diwan and absolve themselves in one stroke.

The risk was that it looked too easy. They might hesitate for just that reason. But there is always a risk, and if forestry is your religion you must be willing to take chances for it, going to the stake if necessary, blaming yourself for failure, adoring forestry for its success.

No Ananias holding back a sure thing for himself can win against the forces of reaction. For the sake of trees unborn, then, Ommony crouched in a filthy packing-case, chancing life, pension, and preferment on one main with India's priesthood.

If he should fail — if there were insurrection — even if the priests' hand should be strengthened as the net result, he would have all the blame. If he should win there would be a forest where none had been, and for himself, in course, oblivion. He judged the scales fair enough, but wished he dared smoke; the mosquitoes tortured him.

It was two hours after midnight — time enough to undergo the agonies of twenty times repeated fears — before the priests came; three, with Jannath in their midst. This time there was no ostentation; they came adroitly along the shadows where moonlight made splotches of dark purple hiding the pale-amber road.

The boatmen kept them waiting. There was maybe a conference within the hut, with someone holding out for a double-cross all round; but, if so, single views prevailed. There followed altercation at the door, for the priests were unwilling to expose their persons any longer in the alley for the benefit of chance wayfarers. If there were truly women in there, let the women be driven forth.

Noise won that argument. The priests could not afford to wake the neighborhood, and yielded for the sake of silence.

So the boatmen all filed out, none yawning; there had evidently been excitement enough already to drive sleep out of their thoughts. They sat down in a group beneath the trees with the backs of the nearest not a yard from Ommony's lurking-place, and promptly the head boatman, acting spokesman for the group, dispensed with inessentials.

"Have you brought the money with you?"

"Yes, but there is work to do for it. The money must be earned."

"Such work as what, for instance?"

"Oh, a little work. No danger. Nothing to fear. A little, simple task. An act. A statement of the plain truth. And then no talking afterward."

"Speak plainly," said the boatman. "We be plain men, not priests."

"Fifty rupees for each of you!"

"Little enough!"

"Nothing to do but take this bundle of a woman's garments with you when you go to draw the diwan's nets. Open it at the nets. Throw the garments in the water. Leave them long enough to let the water soil them. Gather them again. Return; and if you should meet one of us at the wharfside, say, 'We found these in the water.' That is all."

"And what if the police should meet us?"

"Say the same thing."

"And if we are arrested?"

"You will not be. We promise that."

The promise was received in silence. From that negative comment the priests might draw such solace as they chose.

"We should be told the true reason for this," said the boatman after some reflection; but the veriest child would have recognized the bargain formula.

He wanted the money and was afraid the priests might hang back if he agreed too quickly. Jannath saw the point. There followed a chink of silver as a bag changed hands, and then more chinking and much muttered counting.

"We have not said we will leave the city!" the head boatman announced then with a note of triumph.

He considered he had scored, and sought to establish the fact.

"No need!" Jannath answered. "Lo, these two are witnesses. Ye have the money. If ye fail now, or if ye talk unwisely afterward, or if ye say aught except that ye found the woman's clothing in the diwan's nets, then this will be said against you — aye, and proven! That ye told us where the garments are, and that we paid you to go and find them, because of a rumor that the woman has been carried off by priests."

"Even as we saw happen!" said the boatman, off guard.

There was nearly a slip then! Ommony squirmed in his hiding-place. Jannath possibly had not quite realized the depth of the boatmen's conviction that they really were priests who had come to the hut for Elsa Craig.

All that saved the day was that the money had been passed and counted. It would hardly do to quarrel with the boatmen now and have them perhaps go hurrying to the diwan with their tale before steps could be taken to silence them forever.

"He who speaks rashly to his betters of things he does not understand is a fool without profit to himself or others," said Jannath sententiously, temporizing, seeking for a loophole; and the proverb opened it, for of all the wisdom-adoring East, boatmen love proverbs best.

"We be plain men, seeking only money for our work," the boatman answered meekly.

"See to it that ye be plain men!" said Jannath, seizing on the man's mood. "See ye talk not! I can lay a curse on you that will kill; that will give no rest; that will bring you back to earth in the belly of a dog, a fish, a tadpole, an insect in a dung-heap, a snake without fangs crawling in the slime, a vulture feeding in the cesspits—"

"Peace!" said the boatman, grinding his teeth together.

"Peace! Give a blessing!"

And the other boatmen clucked and grunted restlessly.

Jannath refrained. It may have been beneath his dignity to squander blessings on such common clay.

"Be careful! Obey in all particulars!" he sneered, and went away with his brother-priests on either side of him.

The boatmen sat still, watching them retreat cautiously along the shadows; saying nothing, feeling possibly the Judas-guilt of having traded honest watermanship for silver of the Sadducees. But Ommony crawled out of his box and stretched himself, yawning and then grinning. That changed the aspect of affairs.

"The sahib heard?"

"Heard everything. You nearly spoiled it."

"Shall we do this thing? What if — ?"

"Obey the priests. Fulfil your bargain."

"What if—"

"I have told you. Then whatever happens, I'm your friend. If you're arrested you shall be released."



CHAPTER 10
"To the Queen's taste!"

Dawn rose unlovely, yet so like preceding ones that only men in agony of mind for their inventions knew the difference. The morning colors were all there, the quiet, the dissipating dawn-wind bringing in sea-sweetness; an hour of cool relief between a breathless night and baking day, yet few to relish it. The city then was in no mood to be caressed.

Craig came to the veranda red-eyed with a headache, and eyed disgustedly the sloppy saucer with its cup of chota hazri tea awash with buffalo cream. He swallowed the stuff and gasped, denatured profanity.

Ommony came out, brisk as he often was at daybreak. The great gray hound that followed him sniffed half a dozen times upwind, read all there was to know, yawned and lay down disgustedly. Ommony looked at his teacup, dumped its contents over the veranda rail, and shouted for the hamal.

"Chai!"* he demanded. "Chai, not dish-wash-water!" [* Tea]

He looked at Craig, who was pacing the corner like a schooner captain with the reckoning confused.

"How are you?" he demanded.

"Worried."

"Huh!"

Craig stared at him. He himself would have known how to be sympathetic if the cases were reversed. It dawned on him that this man might be worried too — perhaps had not slept.

"Mr. Ommony."

"What is it?"

Ommony paused in the act of lighting a pipe — in itself proof of nervousness to anyone who knew him; he almost never smoked until the sun was over the high boughs.

"You are fortunate in that you have no wife to disappear in distracting circumstances, Mr. Ommony. We all have a cross to bear. I am glad for your sake your troubles are not as serious as mine."

"Damned good of you!" said Ommony, recovering.

He rises to occasions like a war-horse, in the second stride. He had to manage this man. What was worse, he had to spare his feelings to the utmost, and yet did not dare admit him to the secret. He stuffed the unlighted pipe into his pocket.

"Your wife will be found, Craig."

"What makes you think so?"

"Intuition. Experience. I know these people."

"I'm afraid you don't know women. Mr. Ommony, I'm nearly off my head with self-reproach. Elsa was unhappy. A splendid, brave woman — out of her true environment."

"I'm sorry. The admission is forced from me. I have been unwilling to face the situation all these years; but last night, sleeping a little and dreaming of her, waking a great deal and turning it all over in my mind, I confess to myself that Elsa has been bravely putting up a losing fight."

"Seven years without vacation. Too long, Mr. Ommony! Seven years in an environment unsuited to her. Never a complaint. Yet never any joy in her task — that true inner joy that makes willing martyrs of some of us."

"Your arrival on the scene somehow, in some way — I'm not imputing blame to you — brought her unhappiness to the surface. Mr. Ommony — I hate to say it — I—"

Ommony took his arm and paced the veranda beside him, saying nothing.

" — I fear suicide!"

"Impossible!"

"I regret to say, not impossible. Her grandmother—"

"Fiddlesticks!"

"Pardon me. Her grandmother took her own life."

"Fiddlesticks!"

Craig's grief was poignant. Ommony's dilemma was at least an equal torture. Unlike him, he began to hesitate. Had he a right to inflict such grief on this decent fellow? Did he dare let him into the secret? He decided to feel his way carefully.

"Suicide? What brings that to mind? Are you monkeying with thoughts of it yourself?"

Craig stopped and faced him.

" — No, no, Mr. Ommony! A man's cross is his privilege. I will bear mine — bravely if I can. But if I cry out I will bear it. Elsa never cried out, until that first time when you heard her on the roof. I'm afraid — I'm afraid—"

"The fear's the hell," said Ommony. "Try faith."

"In my religion? I have faith."

"In her."

"Dread that she has taken her own life amounts almost to conviction."

"In me then. I believe she will be found alive and well."

Craig paused in the walk again and turned to look at Ommony with eyes fear-hardened, almost fanatic. They burned under the bushy eyebrows with that zeal that changes into frenzy.

"Are you drugging me, as you did last night? Do you mean to buoy me up with false hope?"

"I suggest you wait and see."

"It has crossed my mind that you and the divan together are playing some deep game. With me. With my wife Elsa for a pawn, Mr. Ommony. If I thought that — if I believed it—"

"Come on. This will relieve the pressure at least. Let's sit down and you tell what you'd do in an imaginary case like that. What would you do first?" Ommony suggested. "Let's suppose I—"

Craig refused to sit down. Taller than Ommony, he looked down into his eyes and laid one fevered, lean hand on the thickset shoulder.

"I know you would play no such trick on me. You're not a heartless man. But if you did — if it were proven — I would never rest until I had you out of the Service, you and the diwan both! You would not be fit for public trust!"

"You do believe in private vengeance then?"

"Not I. But I believe in duty. In such a case as you suppose duty would be as obvious as daylight. I would ruin you. I would make it impossible for you ever to perpetrate such infamy again."

"You don't consider, then, that the public interest might override private feelings on occasion?"

"Not a fair question, Mr. Ommony. Think for a moment and you will realize it. On occasion, yes; in principle undoubtedly; in instances of this sort, never!"

"Not only is it wrong to draw a missionary into politics, it is ten times over-wrong to draw his wife in! I am forbidden by the terms of my agreement with the Indian Government to enter into politics in any way. To lend my wife to any scheme involving local politics would be unthinkable! However, why flog imaginary horses? We're talking foolishly."

"Yes, what's the use?" said Ommony, and sat down, fingering his chin in discontent. Diana, aware of something wrong, got up and came to sniff the creases at the back of Craig's knees.

"Perhaps the dog could find her? Elsa! Where is she? Go find her!" Craig said suddenly.

The long tail waved response, but Diana would take orders from none but two men, and from one of those only when Ommony decreed it. She lay down, eyes on her master.

"She seems to understand! Mr. Ommony, send that dog to look for my wife — please!"

"We might do worse," he answered. "Di, go find her!"

The hound trotted off, stern down, broke into a canter on the driveway, bayed at the corner gate a minute or two, then, none answering, turned and sprang over the stone wall at the third attempt. Craig's hands as he watched were trembling, opening and shutting.

"Man!" He turned to Ommony. "I hope! There's new hope born to me! Elsa went off with the dog! She saw your dog in the mission compound. She asked me to go on pitching the tent, and walked off to speak to the dog. She was always soft-hearted with animals. Your dog knows where she is — what happened to her! Oh, God! Let's hope—"

"Yes, let's hope," said Ommony, aware of new developments. Craig with his head between his hands did not see the diwan's uniformed messenger coming up the driveway from the southern gate.

"The diwan sahib sends salaams, and will Ommony sahib please come immediately to the office?"

"I'll walk there with you," Craig announced. "Might be news; you never know."

Ommony could not refuse him, though he would have liked to. He dreaded what he knew was coming, knowing he would have his work cut out to manage the diwan and the priests without Craig on his hands in the bargain. It was a long walk to the diwan's office, and that was additional annoyance; he would have preferred to ride, but Craig for some reason objected to horseback, and he felt he owed Craig all the consideration possible.

So it was half an hour before they entered the courtyard of an ancient palace that had long ago been converted into suites of offices. There was bustle and activity, prevailing custom being to begin the day's business soon after dawn and close through the hot hours.

The courtyard was crowded. Some were the usual petitioners armed with screeds done by the public letter-writer, but the most were obvious partizans of the priests with the inevitable curious hangers-on.

"The High-Church Party," Ommony murmured, and Craig almost laughed.

There was no demonstration as they passed through the crowd, but none the less an atmosphere of insolent anticipation.

Upstairs in the spacious place that once had been the royal durbar-hall the old diwan sat in an office chair before a great teak desk. Jannath, avid of high-priesthood and too proud to sit, stood erect a little to one side, and there were priests behind him. Over against them a policeman and two of the diwan's subordinates stood looking worried.

On the blotting-paper on the desk lay an ominous bundle covered with a piece of cloth. Hardly acknowledging Craig's bow or Ommony's spoken greeting, the diwan drew the cloth back.

"Can you identify these garments, Mr. Craig?"

Craig stepped forward. One look satisfied him. He covered the bundle with the cloth at once as if it were his dead wife's face.

"Yes, Elsa's. My wife's. Where were these found?"

"In the water! In the diwan's fishing-nets!" said a small man from between two priests.

No priest himself, he had been brought to interpret, and as plainly enjoyed a chance to show spleen.

"By whom?" asked Craig.

"By the diwan's boatmen!" sneered the same assertive individual.

Craig turned to Ommony.

"I warned you I feared this," he said. Then: "Has her body not been found?"

"No," said the diwan, looking miserable, avoiding Ommony's gaze.

"That," said the priest's interpreter, "is for obvious reasons!"

And Jannath signified approval of the speech by nodding three times gravely.

"What do you mean?" snapped Ommony.

He looked belligerent, as if it might be well to answer him.

"The clothes were found in the diwan's nets, and our contention is that the diwan is the author of the charge that this lady was kidnaped by the priests. We believe he knows who made away with her.

"The clothes were thrown into the water, and he hoped they would be found and used as evidence against us. But, you see — his own men found them in his own nets! And in further proof that he has guilty knowledge he has caused those boatmen to be locked up where none can submit them to examination. They should be brought before a magistrate."

"Is all this true?" asked Ommony, as if every word of it were news to him.

Craig went and sat down in a chair in a corner with his head between his hands.

Jannath whispered. The interpreter nodded like a lawyer prompted from behind and resumed the attack.

"It is not only true, but we know it was by the diwan's orders she was killed! We know she was carried off in a covered cart by night. After that the diwan spread a tale that priests had done it. So when a man came and said a woman's clothes were in a water-way the priests paid the diwan's boatmen to go and look for them; and the boatmen told the truth to us—"

"That's more than you've told!" Ommony interrupted with a grin.

"Our point is that Craig memsahib is dead and that the priests are not responsible," said the interpreter, swallowing the insult. "The facts must be made public. There should be an investigation of the diwan's conduct—"

"Stop!"

The amazing happened. Craig rose from his chair in the far corner and strode over to the desk, with his own grief thrust into the background and a fine compassion softening the hard lines of his face. He laid his right hand on the diwan's shoulder.

"I know you would never be guilty of any such crime," he said simply. "During seven years that you and I have known each other you have been an honorable gentleman. I denounce the charges now made against you as unworthy."

The diwan's eyes were moist, and he could not speak. He glanced appealingly at Ommony.

"Good man, Craig!" said Ommony. "Wet clothes don't prove your wife's dead."

"The boatmen have told me, not one of them faltering, that it was priests who took her away," said the diwan struggling with emotion. "They are locked up to prevent tampering with evidence. They will be kept so until Sir William Molyneux arrives, after which there shall be full inquiry. Craig sahib—"

"Yes."

Craig was discovering new iron in his character. He stood erect. The patience he had lavished on the mission bricks and mortar was forcing a new channel for itself now the old was blocked.

"If I were you I would not lose heart," said the diwan.

"Not I!" Craig answered. "You may count on me to a conclusion. There is a motive. If these priests have made away with my wife for the purpose of discrediting you, they will have us both to reckon with! I'm with you! I will not believe she is dead until it is proven. Let the whole city search for her! Offer a reward! Make it ample!"

The diwan's eyes met Ommony's and read prodigious satisfaction there.

"From my own purse," said the diwan, "I will offer at once a reward of rupees one thousand to whoever finds Memsahib Craig."

"Alive," Craig added. "I'll contribute a thousand to that."

"Me too. A thousand," said Ommony quietly.

"There shall be a proclamation. Meanwhile," said the diwan, turning to the priests and speaking in their tongue, "the Maharajah's troops will enforce the law against rioting. Even outside the temple there must be no assembly. I urge you before these witnesses to use your influence to keep peace."

Jannath's puffy face for a moment lost its proud indifference. Black anger darkened it, and to Ommony's observing eyes the weakness of an underlying fear betrayed itself. Possibly the vision of high-priesthood was slipping away into the never-never land of useless dreams.

Then spite took hold, and Ommony, observing, scratched his chin. He made a signal to the diwan.

Stately, venerably dignified, the diwan rose and left the room by a door at the rear. Ommony glanced at Craig, who hesitated, then knocked at the diwan's private door and followed him in.

He caught Jannath's eye. Jannath stood still. He looked straight and curiously at the diwan's subordinates and the policeman; they excused themselves, mumbling this and that reason for retreating by the front way.

"We're not alone yet," said Ommony in the native tongue, smiling at Jannath dryly.

Jannath's face did not move. He was thinking furiously behind the mask. Every one of his entourage except the little restless rat of an interpreter was doing the same thing, like a group of graven images. The little man glanced sharply from face to face, alert for his cue.

Jannath muttered something. All except the interpreter walked out through the front door, and the doorkeeper closed it from the outside.

"We are not alone yet!" remarked Ommony.

Jannath's face remained perfectly expressionless. Not even the shark eyes betrayed the least emotion. He was mastering thought again, unlike Ommony, who was its servant, choosing between good and bad, wisdom and unwisdom, letting intuition lead him. At the end of a minute Jannath spoke again, and the interpreter followed the others out by the front door.

Ommony looked under the desk, out along the ledge below the windows, behind the big wall-map, into a cupboard partly filled with stationery, behind a screen in a corner.

"We're alone," he remarked.

"You are an evil man — a foreigner without right here," said Jannath.

"That's a question of opinion. Time presses. We should talk of facts," Ommony answered.

Then he baited his hook shrewdly and cast warily.

"I have you beaten," he said with an air of super-wisdom.

None more readily than Jannath would have scorned a mere show of diplomatic trumps. But an air of super-wisdom was something that the Brahman could not tolerate. His lip curled. Ommony looked wiser than before and sat down.

"I've outwitted you," he told him, and the priest's thin smile grew vague as he dallied with a dozen thoughts of how to overcome this boaster.

"Sir William Molyneux will come and will demand Memsahib Craig alive at the hands of you priests," said Ommony. "I know all about the boatmen. I was there listening when you came last night and paid them fifty rupees each. I overheard every word you said."

A look of astonishment, almost incredulity, escaped the priest's control; but it was gone in a second.

"Parumpadpa will be in a tight place, won't he?" said Ommony dryly. "Now if Parumpadpa had been wise enough to yield in the matter of the revenue from cut trees all this might have been avoided — mightn't it?"

The glare of an insane ambition leaped into Jannath's eyes. He almost gave assent, but checked himself.

"Parumpadpa has betrayed his office. Why don't you act sensibly and hand over Mrs. Craig?" asked Ommony.

"You know I don't know where she is!" sneered Jannath.

Ommony was no such fool as to admit his own knowledge, nor to enter into any bargain with an utterly relentless enemy. Fish catch themselves. That is the angler's whole art, making it look tempting to the fish to do so.

"If I could have my way about the trees I might — perhaps — put information in your way that—"

Enough. The hook went home.

"I will not treat with you about the revenue from trees," said Jannath, and his eyes assumed that insolent, inscrutable, superior stare that advertises treason in high places.

Outwitted? He had Ommony tricked two ways! He proceeded to emit a smoke- screen for his further confusion.

"Neither you nor I know where she is — nor anyone! You are an impudent impostor!"

He drew his white garments, symbolical of purity, about him, and without another glance in Ommony's direction walked out, prefiguring high-priesthood in his stride. The door slammed at his back, and after a minute the diwan came in through the other door.

"What happened?" he asked.

"I hooked him!"

"The danger is that the priests will arouse the mob. They may think that by killing Sir William Molyneux—"

"No fear now," laughed Ommony. "Jannath thinks he has the whole solution in his own head. He'll restrain the orders until Brass-Face gets here. I've managed to fool him."

"How?"

"To the Queen's taste!" answered Ommony, who keeps in his inner man a quite peculiar regard for the late, by him, for one, lamented, Queen Victoria.



CHAPTER 11
"Think it over!"

That afternoon Ommony strolled down the street that leads by the Temple of Siva. The city was strangely quiet, lulled into an ominous unrest and doing nothing while it waited for the gods to make the next move within a day or two. That was what the priests had recommended busily since less than an hour after Jannath's interview with Ommony.

In the temple portico stood Jannath, talking to his sycophants. He had stood there for an hour, since a spy brought word that Ommony was on the prowl; but Ommony, not knowing of that spy and only aware of another one who dogged him, took great pains to call attention to himself, examining old carvings on walls and doorposts all along the street. He appeared not to see Jannath, but continued his inspection of antiquities in that aggravating, superciliously interested way that white men have when they hope to prove they are not Philistines.

The moment he caught sight of him Jannath stepped into the shadow and slunk thence into the gloom inside the temple door. He watched. It was nearly five o'clock, so Ommony was very clearly outlined against house walls by the westering sun. A man with a carbine hidden under his cotton cloak stepped up beside the priest and showed the muzzle end suggestively, but Jannath shook his head.

"Leave this to me," he said, dropping his lower lip until all the small, betel-stained teeth showed.

There was no objection to that. It was known Parumpadpa had imposed on Jannath the problem of confounding Ommony; suspected that the job was more than usually risky; well understood, too, that Jannath was ambitious; and remembered against him that by jealous habit he would bite the hand that helped him to success.

Jannath desired no witness. He beckoned off the spy who was dogging Ommony about the city, and gave orders none was to follow himself. Then when Ommony turned a corner out of sight Jannath set out alone in pursuit.

The sycophants laughed.

"So much he thinks of dignity!" sneered someone. "Is it possible to think of Parumpadpa acting thus?"

And they sat down in the cool shade of the portico to gossip of the two men, taking sides, not sparing either. Ommony, with one of those small mirrors in his hand that women carry in vanity bags in public, began to hurry. Soon after Jannath turned the corner behind him he pulled out his watch and made a gesture of alarm.

Thereafter Jannath had to put best foot forward, aping dignity how he might, while Ommony grinned to himself, as hard as nails from perpetual exercise. He had a notion to tire his hooked fish early in the game, and no idea of the extent of Jannath's forethought. As they passed a great old archway that gave on to a stable-yard an ekka* drawn by a lean, dun pony came bumping out over the cobbles and followed the priest at a respectful distance.

— — — * A two-wheeled conveyance drawn by one horse — — —

So, though Jannath was blown and angry, he consoled himself when Ommony at last reached the clump of trees near the diwan's office where he had tethered his horse. There was a mattress full length of the ekka, and a cover stretched over it on iron hoops. The priest climbed in, and lay full length.

Maybe the diwan saw through the window. Someone from the diwan's office brought what might have been a map and handed it to Ommony, who studied it for a minute or two, sitting horseback so that the sun might shine from behind him over his shoulder.

Then, shoving the map, if it was that, into his pocket, he rode away. The ekka followed, the pony loping to keep up, and if Jannath did not grow seasick from the pitching it must have been because he had been a sailor in a recent incarnation.

Ommony set the pace just fast enough to keep the pony loping and the passenger worried. Time for undisturbed reflections might make Jannath reconsider his course, because, to put it mildly, it was risky and infra dig for a priest to do his own out-of-town espionage. There were obedient and reverent devotees by the score who would do that kind of thing for almost nothing.

But once more Ommony had banked on the inevitable. Pickpockets, footpads, common cheats and all the small fish hunt in schools. Big fish, aiming to supplant the biggest, stand or fall alone. They must. They know too much of their own treason to dare employ an underling who might betray.

If Parumpadpa were to learn that Jannath thought he held a key to the mystery, that key would have to be explained in council; or at very least in the high priest's private ear, and gone would be all hope of Jannath's using it for his own ends.

On the face of it Ommony's moves might seem connected up with gossamer that the slightest accident would break. In fact he was depending on known habits of his quarry, such as fishermen and hunters use. The only risk now was that Jannath might grow fearful on account of distance.

Even the document sent down from the diwan's office was a ruse. Ommony needed no map. He had had full directions from the diwan, and his woodsman's head retained that sort of information as some minds remember limericks.

There is art in being hunted as in hunting. It required that touch of suggestion to make Jannath think perhaps Ommony was not quite sure of the way — a strong incentive to pursuit; ask any hunter — and to heighten conviction that the diwan, too, knew where Elsa Craig was hidden.

Two pigeons in one shot! If Jannath could discover her, use that information for his own ends and also convict the diwan, he was a made high priest! The only course left open then for Parumpadpa would be to resign, adopt the begging-bowl and wander for his soul's sake.

"High time!" thought Jannath, lying on his elbows, holding his chin in both hands to offset jarring, and worrying the ekka's driver with lay advice as to how to keep the horseman in view.

Ommony, holding that small mirror in his fist, had no need to look behind him until darkness fell. Then, in the short, fast deepening twilight he made believe there was a stone in his horse's shoe, and so let the priest catch up.

When night fell, and no moon yet, he lighted a cigar and let the glow of that serve for navigating-light, for there were no roads, only cart-trails leading between field and field with the farmer folk's small fires aglow at intervals.

The wonder of it was that Ommony, with only the diwan's verbal outline and perhaps a map illegible in darkness, could lead unerringly. Life in the forests adds that gift to a man's own birthright — that, or, if he has no birthright, makes a beast of him.

They splashed through fords. The priest in the ekka made nothing of the fact that Ommony did not look round or wait to see who followed. White men act so, riding up and down the land all-ignorant of what is in it for the sake of a, to them, agreeable aloofness — white men and priests. The rest wonder, waiting on Karma, the Law of Cause and Effect that compensates all errors in the end.

"He's as selfish and blind and exclusive as all other white men," thought Jannath. "Truly, whom the gods intend to ruin they insert into a white skin!"

He, too, believed in Karma, but you have to do a lot more than believe in it to profit by its absolute precision.

There was one incident that might have given Jannath an inkling that he was fish, not fisherman. The ekka wheels stuck between stones in a ford, and Ommony waited while driver and priest got down knee-deep in the muddy stream to lift the wheel clear. He could not afford to let them lose sight of him.

A new cigar was the excuse, but if the priest had thought at all he might have known that the first one was hardly half finished. Truly, whom the gods intend to ruin they make eager and ambitious, and too sure of their own cleverness.

Not long after that the moon rose and Ommony increased the distance between them, satisfied that he was silhouetted against the enormous amber lantern of the sky. He could hear the crack-crack-crack of a stick on the wearying dun, and put his own horse to a canter presently, for he saw an outline etched with moonlight that answered a description. It was nearly time to land his fish.

He was a long half-mile in the lead when he came to an ancient gate under an almost prehistoric arch, above whose gloom great trees stood luminous in the moon's rays — but too far within the wall to be of use to intruders. He struck on the gate a dozen times with the butt-end of a riding-whip and then called out a dozen words that the diwan had entrusted to him. They acted like "Open, sesame!"

There was an answer from within, and the door swung open about an inch for an eye to peer through. Then it shut tight. Ommony's voice had accomplished more than one thing. Out of the dark along the shadow of the wall a great beast bigger than a wolf came in ten-foot leaps and landed in front of the saddle, like a devil out of Scripture, on Ommony's lap!

"Down, Di! Down!"

Diana licked his face and whined and wriggled like a puppy, leaped to the ground again and sprang back. Then, when Ommony dismounted, lay down to have her feet felt over in the dark for thorns. Ommony pulled two. There was no hurry.

The noise of the dun pony's cantering had ceased. Jannath had dispensed with the ekka now, lest the driver share his information, and was coming forward on foot.

Ommony calmed the dog's excitement; just one of her rare, exultant barks might have spoiled everything. Then, with her muzzle in his hand to make sure, he knocked on the gate again.

Once more it opened about an inch. He spoke through it, and shoved in a sheet of paper that bore the diwan's seal. An old voice answered him:

"Sahib, beware! There is a great beast that none ever saw before. He-she- it is a female — has besieged this gate since morning. I am fearful—"

"That's all right. I'm a tamer of such beasts. This one is sent by the gods to do the diwan's bidding. See — I hold her with one hand!"

"Now listen: close the gate. Wait there. When I knock again three times, open it wide! But if I speak when I knock, don't open it!"

There was no appeal beyond the diwan's orders over his seal and signature. The old man grumbled an affirmative. The gate closed tight, and one bolt clanged in place.

Ommony faced about to school Diana, whose fault now was eagerness. She was willing to go forth and conquer — even to lie down and keep still, if only Ommony were close at hand. But he planned division of effort and did not dare raise his voice. It was a stick that made her understand at last. She went and lay watching where he told her to.

Ommony stayed at the gate, not still, but moving up and down impatiently, ascending and descending the brick steps; pacing irritably to and fro in front of it; ascending again to strike on the gate and demand admission in the proper manner of a sahib who can't wake the gateman.

"I tell you I've the diwan sahib's authority! Open, do you hear me!" he shouted.

Once he had to whisper, for the old man was alarmed and wondered what it all might mean — whether he had his orders right or had perhaps mistaken them. But only Jannath was mistaken. He came nearer — much too near. He had a dagger in his hand, contending there was no least need for Ommony in this world when once the secret of Elsa Craig's whereabouts should be betrayed beyond all question.

Jannath avoided moonlight, kicked off his sandals, crept so close he hardly dared breathe for fear of discovering himself. Came closer — nearly trod on something in the dark that moved away an inch or two — and felt the goose-flesh rise as an unseen creature sniffed his leg! He raised the dagger instinctively. Moonlight glinted on the blade.

"Down him, Di!" Ommony yelled, and sprang too, to save the dog's life.

No need! Diana was as sudden as a mine exploded under the feet of scouts in No Man's Land. The priest's heel caught in a root of undergrowth and he went down backward with a thump.

"Hold him!" yelled Ommony.

When he reached the place at a run the priest was on knees and one hand, swiping right and left with the dagger and jibbering obscenity, Diana growling and dancing this and that way with jaws going like castanets to keep him where he was. Ommony sent the dagger spinning with a blow of the riding-whip and caught the priest's leg, turning him over on his back, where he lay still, breathing through his nose. There was very little said. Ommony said all of it.

"Get up! Hands above your head! Now walk in front of me! That way!"

Jannath obeyed, much less afraid of Ommony than of the dog, who growled at his heels. Long intimacy with the tricks to which men easily succumb makes Jannath's kind complacent in the presence of force majeure. They know too many subtle ways of turning force against itself. But a dog is a different matter. The corners of Jannath's eyes were on Diana's teeth, not Ommony's riding-whip.

Not speaking, Ommony struck three times on the gate. The bolt came clanging back. The gate opened half-timidly, as if the very wood had grown unused to intrusion.

"Forward!" Ommony commanded; and Diana went in first to make sure there were no traps for her master.

Instantly the priest switched round like an eel, aiming at Ommony's eyes with the heels of both hands, with all his might. Ommony stepped back, and the closing door caught him between the shoulder-blades.

The double blow missed, but Jannath was behind it with another dagger snatched from inside his clothes, and again Diana saved the night. She heard and, swerving like a wolf, snapped hold of the dagger-wrist before the blade could quite touch Ommony.

The priest screamed, for the fangs bit bone. Ommony relieved him of the dagger and then ordered the dog to let go. The old gate-keeper, trembling as he barred the gate, gave tongue to his displeasure.

"But this is all unseemliness. Here should be peace! No strife! No quarreling! The diwan sahib—"

"Desires this!" Ommony interrupted. "Now! Where's a safe place to lock this man up?"

"All is safe here, sahib. None can enter, none escape."

"I'll wager the rats get in and out. This priest is twice as smart! Show me a place with no window and a floor he can't dig through with his fingers!"

The old man led the way down a path between shrubbery and flowers to a stone hut shaped like a little wayside temple. It was full of gardeners' tools. Ommony pulled them all out, piling them in confusion on the path, and asked the old man to bring water "in something he can't use to dig a hole with." Then he spoke to Jannath.

"You're a Brahman. Shall I dress that wrist for you?"

The laws of caste are iron — the higher, the more rigid. Jannath hesitated. He was afraid of dog-bites.

"All right, think it over," said Ommony. "I'll think too," he added, grinning.

Then he shut the priest in along with a bowl of water the old man brought, padlocked the thick door himself, and put the key into his pocket.

"The memsahib? You came to see her?"

"Presently," said Ommony. "Take her my compliments. Ask her to be ready to receive a sahib. Let me out first. I must go out and return."

Outside he set Diana quartering the ground, for he guessed the priest had not come all that way barefooted. One pair of sandals look much like the next, but there are significant small differences, and the very last thing he wanted was a hue-and-cry.

Diana found them, and he put them in his pocket. Then he mounted his horse and set out to find the ekka and its driver — nearly lost both, for the dun believed Diana was a wolf and the driver agreed with her. They went a mile before he overhauled them.

"Back with you!" he ordered. "Drive on till you come to a gate in a wall!"

The driver obeyed, but he was wild-eyed. Once he made a jump for freedom, but Diana caught him, and Ommony threw him back into the ekka by the loincloth. After that he began to proclaim virtue, denouncing all wicked men and calling no less than Ganesha to witness that he never in his life harmed anyone.

Why was the sahib taking him, and where? He had done no wrong. For a very low price he had driven Jannath the priest — That was all Ommony needed to know. He knew the priest's name. Lock and key for him!

They came to the ancient gate, and over the old man's protests hauled the ekka up the brick steps and under the arch. Then Ommony brought his own horse in.

"But this is unheard of!" the old man objected. "Never were wheels or a horse in this place! Never in her day — never since then! It was her wish, and the diwan sahib—"

"Gave me full permission," Ommony assured him.

"It is sacrilege!"

"Leave the ekka here under the rock. Stable the horses somewhere. Have you any grain?"

Grain was produced. There were sacks full kept for wild birds beloved of the diwan's wife. Room was discovered for the horses in a shed beside the granary, and the driver of the ekka was shut in there along with them. Then Ommony returned to Jannath, having begged first from the old gatekeeper aromatic oil, which is never far out of reach in India.

"He will refuse it. He will say his caste forbids," the gateman grumbled, but Ommony was in no mind to be refused.

He found Jannath glowering like Marius in a dungeon.

"Now," he began, "suppose I dress your wrist and we'll be friendly."

Jannath cursed him, without emphasis, because no fraction of the curse was less emphatic than the rest — a venomous monotone. Ommony seized the injured wrist and washed it while the priest, not otherwise protesting, went on with the commination service. Ommony tore a long strip from the priest's own clothing, soaked it thoroughly in aromatic oil and bound it on.

"You will be a sow when the time comes!" Jannath assured him calmly.

"Maybe. I'll try to be a good sow and bring forth prodigies of young! Is the wrist comfortable?"

Jannath refused to answer. It was enough that he had submitted to defilement by a foreigner. He was certainly not going to acknowledge obligation to the impudent beast from oversea, who had done no more than dress an injury committed by his own dog.

"Listen to me!" said Ommony. "You came to find out where Memsahib Craig is."

The priest became suddenly alert.

"Incidentally to kill me."

The shark eyes gleamed in the gloom of the cell, but there was no response.

"What if I show Memsahib Craig to you alive and well? What then?"

As well argue with a mummy about metaphysics! Jannath was intensely interested; that much was as obvious as the malicious leer and the hate in his motionless eyes.

"Um-m-m! If I were to kick you," said Ommony aloud to himself in English, "that might only awaken the lust for martyrdom that's in the veins of all your kind."

Then to the priest in the other language:

"You're defiled already. You may as well wallow in defilement. Why not come to terms with me? You can wipe it all out together afterward in one course of holy disinfection in the temple!"

No reply — but a change behind the trustless eyes. Unyielding, Jannath was alert for opportunity.

"I'll admit to you I'm in a mess," said Ommony. "It never crossed my mind to use violence toward a sacred personage. How should I have known who you were? But here we are, and I've done it! What now? In one sense you're at my mercy, but you know quite well I won't kill you, so in another sense I'm at yours. We've got to get you out of this without involving me if possible. You understand?"

He did, for that was something Jannath could appreciate. The law of action and reaction as applied to evil was his life-long study. As the tides flow and the moon wanes, there is always repercussion in affairs of men, victors in their turn becoming vanquished and all plans being riddled full of flaws because of human lack of foresight. He could now resume where he had left off. Were the gods not with him?

"The Government is obliged to protect priests," he said acidly.

"Of course. That's what Government's for."

Jannath almost let a smile escape him. This was absolutely typical of an Englishman, making a bluff for days on end at being subtle and then becoming as transparent as a child!

"I shall do nothing," he announced with an air of finality.

"Nothing tonight," Ommony agreed sarcastically. "Tomorrow, though, unless I've come to terms with you, I'll go to Parumpadpa and—"

Jannath betrayed alarm. His eyes narrowed. He shrugged himself as if stung.

" — and I'll tell Parumpadpa the whole story," Ommony continued. "Parumpadpa might not excuse me — but at least he will make a laughing- stock and an example out of you! Think it over," he added, and walked out, padlocking the door behind him.

He chuckled as he found his way back to the gate and hardly grew serious until the old gatekeeper led him to within eyeshot of the Home of Peace where Elsa was installed. There another old man greeted him respectfully and led the way up the marble steps, on which the lightest footfall sounded like rank impropriety.

Ommony became aware that he was walking like a cat and smiled at himself. No humility was likely to serve much in the next few minutes. Thorough! That would have to be the keynote of the next tune, and he hated it, but let his heels ring on the marble and went up thenceforth boldly.

"Mr. Ommony?"

Elsa in the clinging draperies of India stood before him in a doorway, looking like a goddess, feeling as if she were in night attire.

"They said, 'the sahib.' I felt sure it was my husband. You mustn't see me like this."

"I've seen you," said Ommony.

Her detestation of the man revived and flooded her thoughts. Too surely he had seen her, and seen through her! The basis of their enmity!

"What do you want?" she demanded.

"Your help."

"At this hour? Where's my husband?"

"He's all right. He slept last night in the guest-house with me."

"Does he know where I am?"

"No. He's badly worried, but behaving like a man."

"Why don't you tell him where I am?"

Ommony's reply was truthful literally, if evasive.

"The dog traced you here. I came to find the dog. The man at the gate admitted me after some argument."

"The dog? Diana? She found me? Where is she? Bless her heart!"

Ommony whistled, and Diana came out of the shadows, where she was studying history with her nose to earth. At sight of Elsa Craig she threw her head up and bayed, all golden in the moonlight.

"She's hungry," Ommony said cunningly. "Have you anything she can eat?"

He had divined the password!

"Come!" she called to the dog, and Ommony went on up with Diana.

When Elsa returned from a hinterland of old women and cooking-pots with a great bowl nearly full of cooked rice, Ommony was seated on an ebony chair in the marble hallway. Elsa draped herself in a cashmere shawl and stood in the doorway against the full moon, watching Diana eat.

"May I smoke?" asked Ommony, craving something commonplace to bring them both down to earth.

"What happens next?" she answered, not caring whether he smoked or not.

She had small use for him, and showed it in her manner.

"I smoke," he said genially, and pulled out a cigar.

She watched him light it, he being at great pains to appear at ease.

"Do you propose to spend the night here?"

"Not for fifty rajahs' ransoms! I propose to talk to you and ride a tired horse back."

"Have you eaten since morning?" she asked.

"Why no. It was nice of you to think of that."

Having thought of it, she had to feed him. One of the old women was requested to put food before him in the dining-room. Elsa at last had recognized a quality she liked, and was quick enough to comment on it.

"So you thought of the dog first?"

"No, the horse. I'm next. The priest comes last."

"What priest?"

"Jannath. He was outside, trying to get in. I let him in. He had a dagger. The priests have said you're dead, and are trying to prove it. Here's one of Jannath's daggers."

He pulled the thing out of his pocket and showed it to her.

"He's in the toolshed now, considering new sins."

"Are you sure he's in there?"

"Perfectly. I have the key."

"But there are tools in there."

"No. I removed them."

"Heavens, Mr. Ommony! I wonder what all this means."

"So do I," he answered. "It means one of two things — trees or treason. Either I grow trees — a million of them — or you commit treason to yourself, your sex, your race, your husband, and the world! We've got to understand each other."

"Then kindly don't talk in riddles!"

"I'm a plain man," he answered. "You're the riddle. Would you rather snub me because I don't pretend to like your John Ishmittee — or help me defeat Parumpadpa?"

"To what end?"

"Trees!" he answered, knocking ash from his cigar. "You were at the bottom of this tree business," he went on. "Do you care to see it through?"

She leaned back against the doorpost, for she felt hot temper rising and herself not strong enough to battle with it. But she looked amazing with the moon's rays silvering her outline and the edges of her hair.

"See it through? And I'm at the bottom of it! Mr. Ommony, you thought you saw through me that first morning when you came to breakfast. You—"

"I recognized your courage," he interrupted. "I was sorry—"

"What right had you to be sorry for me?" she burst in, grinding her heel on the marble threshold.

"None. I was sorry to see courage wasted."

"Wasted? Our mission—"

"Wasted in a losing struggle with the Hindu priests. But, you know, you can't help people who defy you from the word Go. Now I need your help badly," he added, judging he had stood on the defensive long enough.

And Elsa did not answer, but stood wondering with her face toward the moonlight, until the old woman came and said food was ready.



CHAPTER 12
"How's the situation?"—"Ticklish!"

Elsa did not sit down facing Ommony across the buhlwork dining-table as he suggested; that would have looked too much like a signature of peace. There was none. Peace had vanished from the tranquil place.

But her thoughts had undergone a great change in the night and a day she had spent there. She went to the seat in the great square window looking out on moonlight shimmering among the lotus-leaves and sat there rigid; but she was conscious of a weakness in her own attitude, and not so sure of the impudence in Ommony's. After all, what had the man done to her? And was he not there offering protection and requesting her help?

"What do you want me to do?" she asked presently.

"Nothing you don't care to," said Ommony. "I can manage natives usually, but I wouldn't interfere with your judgment."

"It wouldn't pay you. What then?"

He finished eating very deliberately, and turned his chair so as to face her.

"My sympathy for your mission is about on a par with your sympathy for me. I don't pretend to any. But I like Craig. He's a man, and he's entitled to his own opinions and their product. He believes in his mission, and I'll help him as far as I can without surrendering my own judgment. My job is to provide trees for the generation that will follow us; and there we're on common ground, for the priests are against your mission and against me."

"Prejudice and all that sort of thing aside, and conceding to the Hindu priests a right to their own viewpoint, we've got to defeat them before either your mission or my trees have a ghost of a chance."

"We can't defeat them in the open, because they fight underground. Their weakness is in mutual mistrust. So is ours. Now what about it?"

"What can I do?"

"You can postpone your chastisement of me, for one thing, until we haven't an enemy in common who needs our undivided attention."

She smiled in spite of herself, aware that she did not dislike him so much as she had thought.

"Very well, we will postpone our enmity."

"That's thoroughly agreeable to me. The other thing I'll ask you to do is to let me play this hand, and to obey my orders implicitly. You'll need courage—"

"I think I don't lack that."

He decided courage was a sympathetic chord and harped on it, reminding her at long length that the white man's chance in India had always hung as much on woman's bravery as on any other factor. He even mentioned Lucknow and the Mutiny, and talked of the wives who wilt beside their husbands in the fever districts.

"Tell me your plan," she demanded after a while, and he unfolded it while she thrilled and trembled alternately.

"You understand," he said finally, "there's a chance you may not come alive through this. There's an equally strong chance that I may be broke forever for it; and if they kill you, they'll probably kill me and all the rest of us. We've got to win or take the consequences standing. Are you game?"

She nodded.

"But my husband? How much does he know?"

"Nothing. He would never have agreed. He has acted splendidly. Left to follow his own course he has been a prodigious help, but he would go up in the air at once if be knew the part you are to play. When he learns the whole truth he will probably denounce me for a scoundrel. He would never let you do it if he—"

"I will do it," she interrupted, drumming with her fingers on the window- sill, and Ommony did not disguse his smile of triumph.

"You'll make a dangerous opponent when the time comes to resume your enmity with me," he assured her.

Thereafter he wasted no time, but got to horse, and with Diana cantering beside him splashed through the fords on the way back, hoping against hope to reach the quay before the Maharajah's motor-boat could come with Molyneux.

Hope was confirmed. He had to wait, with the horse dripping sweat and the hound asleep, until an hour before dawn, hearing the thug of the approaching motor miles away and observant that a dozen priests, who waited in a group near by, had no boat in which to put out and obtain first audience. The diwan's representative, who came at the last minute, saluted cordially, but it was even his place to wait until Ommony, as acting substitute for the British Resident, should have tendered the first greetings.

So, though the priests pressed close, it was Ommony who blocked the gangway, and he who stepped down into the launch, awakening Sir William Molyneux, who slept the sleep of all God-fearing, unimaginative men.

"D'you mind backing out again, sir? We can talk unheard in mid-stream."

"Bet your last rupee! How's poor old Gould? Spiffy boat this — Tottenham Court Road cushions — slept all the way down."

"Gould's in the hands of the Maharajah's court physician. The priests are waiting on the quay to get your private ear."

"Want to confess me, eh? Well, that's premature. By gad, sir, I'm not nearly on my last legs. How's the situation?"

"Ticklish!"

"Found the missionary lady yet?"

"I know where she is."

"Why not pounce on her and pull the plug?"

"Didn't care to act prematurely. Needed you to use your well-known discretion in such matters. The priests daren't kill her—"

"What? Those rascals have her, and you—"

"Half a minute! Thought you might take better advantage of the situation. You'll find she's in Siva's temple. Tomorrow — no by Jove, today; there's the false dawn! — this evening there's a temple ceremony — feast of the full moon."

"They'll be at their wits' end what to do with her. I have the information. They admit the crowd at sunset. Meanwhile you might commit the priests to a statement, preferably in writing, that they haven't got Mrs. Craig. Then if you demand admission to the temple, say an hour before the crowd's due, and find her in there—"

"Yes," said Molyneux, "that sounds like common sense. Are you sure she's safe meanwhile?"

"Reasonably sure. My informant had word with her during the night. She seems to be comfortable and not put to indignity."

"But she's a lady! She must be suffering the tortures of the damned! These missionaries are a nervous lot, you know, Ommony. We ought to take that in consideration."

"Mrs. Craig is a plucky woman."

"Well, I'll take your word for her. So you think I should be a bit stand- offish with these priests?"

"I would gain time if I were you, sir."

The launch put back to the quay, and Sir William Molyneux stepped out to shake hands with the diwan's representative. But almost before the usual courtesies were over that deferent individual was thrust aside by a dozen others in the white robes of their office, who pushed forward a little narrow-faced man as interpreter.

"Sir William Molyneux—"

"That is my name, sir."

"That man—"

"Why don't you name him? Which man?"

"Mr. Ommony and the diwan have accused—"

He stopped. Molyneux had not been nicknamed Brass-Face without reason. The sight of his jaw alone would have stricken fear into a prize-fighter. When he frowned the brows came down over the normally good-natured eyes, and a thick, untidy crop of hair considerably shot with iron-gray increased the effect. It was growing dawn, and though a light mist moved on the early wind each line and contour of the bold face was discernible.

"Your diwan has the name of an honorable gentleman. I'm not here to listen to tales against him," he interrupted sternly.

"But, sir, he—"

"I will present my credentials to the diwan after breakfast. At the proper time, if he agrees, I may be willing to hear both sides to any dispute between you. I bid you good morning!"

They drew off, showing their resentment in every way they could, including remarks in their own language intended for his ears.

"Damn them!" exclaimed Molyneux. "I'd rather be friendly than tread on their corns. Can't they understand that? If there's anything I hate it is being rude without excuse. Confound them, why do they force it on me? I've a sincere respect for priests of all religions, Ommony. If my advice is not impertinent, I'd say — Hullo! Where did you get that stunning stag-hound?"

Diana made friends, and with the diwan's representative beside them for the sake of the amenities they walked to the guesthouse for breakfast, Molyneux postponing taking over the Residency until, as he expressed it, "the confounded stable's clean. But gad, sir, I can smell that poor chap's drugs from here!"

He walked, as his conversation was, down-rightly, not avoiding puddles left by the city bhists,* nor hurrying unduly, looking about him to admire the sights and distributing uncounted small coins to the beggars, who were up betimes for lack of luxury and aware of a generous man from long, long practice.

— — — * Water-carriers who sprinkle the streets from goatskin water-bags — — —

"Might be you and me, you know. Do you believe in all this reincarnation stuff? By gad, if I should be a beggar in the next life for my sins I'd hate to be refused an alms. Have you any more small change, Ommony?"

They breakfasted along with tales of hunting in the Dekkan, sniping in the gray mist up by Dera Ismail Khan, tiger-shooting in the Assam jungle and, above all, snipe.

"I'd rather shoot snipe, my boy, than go to Windsor!"

All things were met down-rightly by Molyneux, and each in turn, including poached eggs. Business and the diwan would come presently.

"We're young, you know. He's on in years. Let's not hustle the old gentleman. Where's Craig? Is there any means of smuggling comforts in to Mrs. Craig? Too risky? Damn! I hate to leave a woman in a predicament. Are you sure she's in no immediate danger, Ommony?"

Craig came in, and Molyneux met that emergency with customary frankness.

"So you missionaries have been playing politics, eh? Don't deny it, sir! Don't deny it! Let this be a lesson to you, damn me! Will you ever learn, though?"

"Well, so Mrs. Craig is missing, eh? And Ommony tells me you've acted like a man. That's good! That shows guts! We'll find her for you."

"Do you smoke? Drink? Chew tobacco? Swear? No? Well, that's right. I like a man who lives up to his convictions. I do 'em all myself; found chewing a great relief up North after Ovis Ammon — great rocks, you know, and leagues on end without a dram of water. Ever hunt? No? Well, each man to his taste."

That situation well met, he dismissed Craig from his calculations, and apparently from memory. It was time to visit the diwan before there was any mention of the plan to rescue Mrs. Craig. As they started to leave for the office, Craig put the question — "What do you propose to do?"

"Not much notion yet, sir. Why talk behind the diwan's back? The man's an honorable gentleman. He'll do the right thing certainly."

Craig remained at the guest-house, none too confident, his head between his hands in the chair on the veranda.

Down-right and all above-board, Molyneux strode into the diwan's office and refused to let the old man rise to greet him.

"Always glad to be of service to a man of your distinction, sir! I take it you're a mainspring of the State and I'm an oil-can? Eh? Now what's the difficulty? Priests, they tell me, and a missionary lady. Any plans?"

The diwan looked appealingly at Ommony, who had promised to bear the brunt and take all risks. So Ommony broke in.

"How much do you want to know, Sir William?"

"All there is to know! What else?"

"Do you wish to override the diwan?"

"No, sir. What the hell d'ye mean?"

"The diwan naturally knows the ins and outs of all this business. I've helped him at his request. The thing's involved, and unless you wish to override him he prefers, and I agree with him, to handle the underground end, if backed up in the open by your prestige. He doesn't like the idea of your becoming involved behind the scenes in any intrigue between him and the priests—"

"Ha-ha! Intrigue? Me? I never saw the use of it! So you and his honor the diwan have a little plan all cooked between you? Eh? Well—"

He pulled a letter from his pocket, tugged it out of the envelop, consulted it, and thrust it back.

"—my instructions give me latitude. They say you may be trusted, Ommony. I like a man who may be trusted. I invariably trust him once at any rate!"

"But, understand me, I'm responsible. By gad, sir, I accept responsibility! I trust you at my own risk! You fail, and you're responsible to me! I'll be abrupt with you! I'll take no excuses, mind! If your guts won't hold on that, you may tell me your whole plan and I'll adopt it or reject it. Now think it over."

"There's nothing to think over," said Ommony. "If you knew all I know you'd be handicapped, that's all. I invite you to play the hand as dealt. I'll lead up to you, and his honor the diwan will follow suit."

"Good. I like a man with guts. Dig your trenches, fire your mines, send for your shock troops, lay down your barrage, and over the top! That's business! Fail, and the drumhead afterwards; that's business too! Now what?"

It was the priests. They flocked in with the same interpreter, and he was primed, for they had had time to study their plan carefully, and they had new ammunition. One of them stood forward and reeled off a speech in his own language, pointing his finger at the diwan, but addressing Molyneux.

"Explain," said Molyneux when he was done, and the interpreter stepped up beside his chief.

"Memsahib Craig, the wife of a Christian missionary, has disappeared, following a slaughter of innocents in the city streets by elephants, who subsequently smashed the mission, all of which was brought on purposely by the missionaries in order that they might bring accusations against us! The diwan—"

"His honor the diwan," Molyneux interrupted.

"His honor the diwan caused a rumor to be spread that we, the priesthood of Siva, were responsible for all this and for the woman's disappearance."

"You mean Memsahib Craig's disappearance?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then why in blazes don't you say so?"

"Whereas we know nothing of the matter except this: that word was brought to us, saying a lady's clothes are in the waterway. So we paid the diwan's boatmen to look for them, and they found clothes, identified subsequently in our presence as Memsahib Craig's by Craig sahib himself — found them in the diwan's fishing-nets; which nets, I may add incidentally, are spread nightly by the diwan's orders for his own use and profit, he employing for the purpose boatmen paid from the tax receipts. We ask your honor to question those boatmen, whom the diwan now has under lock and key."

"Is that agreeable?" asked Molyneux.

"Perfectly," said the diwan. "The boatmen will tell you that they saw priests carry off Memsahib Craig."

"We maintain that they were not priests. We assert that they, if they exist at all, were villains in the diwan's pay. In further proof of which, a priest of ours named Jannath, who knew more about this business than his honor the diwan thought convenient, has likewise disappeared. We accuse the diwan of instigation and complicity!"

Molyneux leaned on the arm of his chair and faced the diwan.

"Any knowledge of this?" he asked.

"None," said the diwan truthfully. Molyneux frowned toward the priests again.

"Damme! What a mess of lies this is!"

"Sahib, we tell only the plain truth."

"Then you don't know where Memsahib Craig is?"

"No, sahib; but we believe she is dead, and that Jannath has also been drowned by the diwan's orders."

"Put that in writing!" ordered Molyneux.

They tried to avoid it, whispering excuse after excuse to the interpreter, the last of which was nearly valid:

"We have no authority. Our high priest Parumpadpa is absent."

"You seem to think you have authority to accuse the diwan sahib!" Molyneux retorted. "Bring Parumpadpa here!"

"Sahib, it is not fitting that our high priest should be subject to possible insult. We—"

"All right. I respect a high priest. Paper-pen-ink-blotter? Thank you. Now!"

He drew his chair up to the table and began to write in a fist of tombstone-maker's script, reading aloud as each word bit into the paper.

We the undersigned, being priests of Siva's temple, do declare on oath that we do not know the present whereabouts of Mrs. Elsa Craig, wife of a missionary, and furthermore that we had nothing to do with her disappearance.

"Sign that, all of you, in my presence."

The interpreter interpreted. The thing looked innocent enough. One by one they came to the desk and wrote their signatures. Molyneux blotted it and handed it back to the nearest priest.

"Take that to Parumpadpa. Have him sign it too. Tell him that if he refuses I'll know exactly what to think! Meanwhile I'll interview those boatmen. Bring that signed document to me this afternoon. If Mrs. Craig isn't found by six o'clock this evening I'll search the temple!"

"But the charge against us should also be in writing."

"Who has charged you?" Molyneux demanded, and they hardly dared admit possession of copies of official telegrams. They filed out.

"Has His Highness the Maharajah any troops that could be counted on in an issue with the priests?" asked Molyneux as soon as the door was shut.

"Many of them might be afraid of the priests. But there is a regiment of cavalry that served abroad. The men lost caste by crossing the ocean, and the priests have refused to reinstate them without great expenditure of money, which the men, most of whom have wives and families, cannot afford. That regiment would be entirely dependable."

"I'd like to speak with their commanding officer," said Molyneux. "They're all Hindus, eh? Not afraid to march into a temple?"

"They would enter if so ordered. But, Sir William, I should warn you: none but a Hindu has ever set foot inside the temple of Siva. There are sacred mysteries. The intrusion of an Englishman, however distinguished, would be considered sacrilege. An appeal by the priests to the mob—"

"I'll let you know when I'm afraid," said Molyneux. "Are the boatmen next?"

It was then that Ommony excused himself. He was not afraid of anything the boatmen might admit. Their tale would involve the priests undoubtedly, and the worst they could say of himself was that he had advised them to obey the priests in the matter of Elsa Craig's clothes. He yawned.

"Up all night," he explained.

"Take a nap," advised Molyneux.

But the diwan's eyes met Ommony's and twinkled.

"I think I'll ride it off."

"Good! Guts!" said Molyneux.

"May I have a horse? The one you lent me is all in."

"You shall have the best horse in His Highness's stable."

The diwan rang the desk bell.

"Now what — in blazes — Well — I said I'd trust you—"

Molyneux laid his iron jaw on a fist like a club, watching Ommony's broad back as he walked out.



CHAPTER 13
"Good dog, Di!"

Ommony rode furiously, but it was two hours after noon before he reached Elsa's hiding-place and tied his sweating horse under the arch.

"Have you fed him?" he demanded.

"Nay, sahib."

"Good. A fed priest folds hands on his lap and dreams all's well. Unfed, he worries. Worry does the wrong thing. Lord send I say the right one!"

Diana, dog-weary, flopped and fell asleep under the ancient arch, but Ommony walked to the tool-house and interrupted Jannath's meditations.

"Things look rotten for you priests!" he began. "Sir William Molyneux has come. At six o'clock he intends to demand Memsahib Craig alive and unhurt, and if she isn't forthcoming he'll search the temple.

"Parumpadpa is in panic. He committed all of you to a statement that she's dead, and now the other priests begin to see the unwisdom of that. They're about ready to turn on Parumpadpa. If you'll overlook my having handled you roughly last night, I'll give you a chance to produce Mrs. Craig and save the situation."

Jannath nodded. Promises not actually spoken are easier to repudiate. His eyes betrayed no intention of forgetting or forgiving anything, but a great, new hope.

"You understand," said Ommony, "if she isn't forthcoming by six, Brass- Face will search from dome to crypt. The mob can't stop him; he has troops. The only way to stop him is to produce her. If Parumpadpa can't produce her, and you do; if Parumpadpa swears she isn't there, and you demonstrate she is, producing her in the nick of time to save the temple from desecration — you win! Parumpadpa will be down and out — napoo — finish! Understand me?"

None knew that better than Jannath. He even smiled; but whether from long habit his facial muscles naturally bent that way, or whether there was new treachery awakening, would have been hard to guess.

"You'll have to be careful. If Parumpadpa's men catch sight of her they'll take her away from you, of course, and you'll have to bear the whole responsibility. They won't stick at sacrificing you to save their own skins. Do you know a secret way into the temple?"

Again Jannath nodded. He knew half a dozen secret entrances. He also knew things of which none but Siva's priesthood have an inkling, and what scandal there would be if any foreigner should be known to have penetrated the temple crypts.

Ommony was aware that there were subtle overturnings going on behind the inscrutable mask, but he had no time to spare, nor any means of guessing what the treachery, if that it was, might be. If he could have seen four hours ahead and could have known what desperate, dumb seconds were to hold the balance, he would have flinched. But men win mains by never knowing too much. All the truth at once would scare the wits out of the bravest.

"Will you take food?" Ommony asked him.

But Jannath had gone his limit in accepting defilement at Ommony's hands, and proposed to die rather than take food from him. He snarled a rebuke. So Ommony left him locked in, and went in search of Elsa Craig.

He found her ready, resolute, and less inclined to feel friendly than he hoped. She seemed to have slipped back into her earlier suspicion of him. However, she raised no objections, and walked beside him draped in the cashmere shawl over a silken Hindu costume that was once the diwan's wife's.

"You look wonderful," he said; but that only offended her.

She did not thaw in the slightest until she saw the dog under the arch; but endearments lavished on Diana then perhaps decided the outcome of the next few hours. Diana, like most hounds, would accept all the petting offered from a friend.

They harnessed up the ekka, its driver backing the corn-fed dun between the shafts while Elsa held them up, and Ommony wrote a short note to Molyneux on a leaf of his memorandum-book. Then he brought Jannath and motioned him into the ekka first.

"You'll have to ride with him," he said to Elsa. "Would you like my pistol?"

"It would only be bluff. I wouldn't use it."

"Um-m-m! Do you care if I put the dog in with you? She's tired and has a sore foot where a thorn went in."

That was the last thing to which Elsa would object. First aid to man or beast was instinctive with her. She would even have rearranged the bandage on Jannath's wrist if he had let her touch him.

Then with passengers inside, the ekka bumped down the brick steps, and the gate of the Home of Peace clanged shut behind them. A hot wind seared the landscape and Jannath, peering through the curtain in front, had to half-close his eyes.

"Put your head in!" Ommony commanded. "When we reach the city then tell the driver where to go without showing yourself. Now, drive like the devil!"

So the dun ate whip, and Ommony cantered alongside hoping the motion would not upset Elsa's stomach, or her nerves, which would be worse. It was touch and go whether they could reach the goal in time.

He did not dare to slacken speed, nor even to stop and ask her how she felt; for what could he have done about it? It was forward, and hard through the fords at risk of broken wheels, with the more mud and dust the merrier because that would help make them inconspicuous. And tough Scots ancestry in Elsa Craig held her immune from sea-sickness.

The ekka creaked and groaned. Its wheels shrieked torture. Time and again the dun pitched forward on weak knees, and once had to be unharnessed and pulled up again.

The sun wore down into a crimsoning sky. Long before they reached the city they could hear the tumult of a demonstration staged at Parumpadpa's order; for the high priest was unwise enough to think danger would make Brass-Face rescind a threat! They could hear drums reverberating like the roll of thunder, and Jannath, who knew how easily the mob could be worked to that pitch, smiled to himself complacently.

They had twenty minutes to spare when the dun staggered into the city, and Jannath, peering between the curtains, began to direct the driver right and left. For a while he seemed to be making for Siva's temple; but within a hundred yards of it, three dinning crowded streets away, he suddenly ordered a turn about, and they plunged into a narrow lane in the opposite direction. It was nearly blind on both sides — nothing but walls with barred doors at intervals and, here and there, the irregular outline of a roof against the sunset.

They stopped in the narrowest place, in front of the narrowest door of all, set deep into the wall and thickly studded with bronze nails. Jannath slipped out between the front curtains before Ommony could spur his horse between wheel and wall in the gut where the alley curved.

There was a narrow, barred slit in the door, and Jannath spoke through that. The door opened about an inch, as if someone within were holding it ready. Jannath shrank into the recess out of reach, and it was too late then to grab him by the neck and keep control of him.

With growing misgiving Ommony dismounted. The dog jumped out and made ready to attack Jannath from under the ekka at the first hint from Ommony; but it was in his mind that minute to call off everything. What right had he to risk a woman's life when he could save her by simply ordering the ekka to drive on?

He went to the rear end to lean in through the curtains and caution Elsa to remain inside. But she stepped out before he could speak.

"All ready!" she said, smiling.

Maybe the Christians smiled and spoke and looked like that before they stepped into the arena in ancient Rome. She was nothing if not admirable.

Then Jannath yelped. The ekka-driver whacked the foundered dun and drove away. Ommony had thrown his horses' reins over a peg on the tail-end; so the horse went too.

And out of doors before them and behind, some thirty yards in each direction up and down the alley, there came other priests and priests' attendants. There was no retreat, nor any use in sending the dog to change the ekka-driver's mind. There was room to have fought, now the ekka was out of the way, but an impulse not to fight — an inner prompting to go forward with the whole affair.

He could see in his mind's eye Molyneux in white drill, dress sword and official helmet approaching the temple entrance, striding straight and taking no heed whatever of side issues.

Jannath beckoned. The door opened wider. Elsa Craig, with less than a full glance at Ommony over her shoulder, walked straight in, and the dog followed at her heels. The priests — four or five from each direction — started to run as if their intention was to cut in in front of Ommony and block the way. With a sickening feeling in his heart of having mismanaged it all and failed, he followed Elsa with a leap, repeater in one hand and riding-whip in the other; and instead of priests at his back the door slammed shut — in darkness!

"Where are you?"

No answer. Not even Diana's whimper to announce her whereabouts. Absolute silence, and a sense of being shut within thick walls. No glint of light; the slit in the door he entered by was covered by an iron plate, and he could not feel what fastened it. Matches! He stuck the riding-whip under his arm to grope in his pocket; found a box of safeties, worried one out with impatient fingers, struck once without result, struck again — and the fire he saw was in his own eyes as he fell! He was hit hard, and he knew it — even knew it was a sandbag — felt the numbness down his neck and shoulders — knew enough to lie still.

He was not unconscious — knew that presently. He felt as if Cotswold Ommony were lying down and out, perhaps dead, while he, another man, was looking on, or, rather, listening-in, for it was much too dark to see. And his brain was working perfectly; he understood each word he listened to, in a language not so many know besides the priests.

"Is he dead?"

"I think so."

"Better hit him again and make sure."

"No need. If he comes to life I will hit him."

"Have you his pistol?"

"Yes."

"What is the meaning of all this, Jannath?"

"Send someone with money to that ekka-driver. He must either be killed or bribed to go away. What he knows must be covered up."

"Presently. No hurry about that. Brass-Face threatened to search the temple. He is on the way. Parumpadpa is distracted and blames all on you."

"Parumpadpa shall eat blame for this. I am the next high priest. Those who are my friends now will be recompensed. Parumpadpa has said she is dead. We will prove it."

"We have all said that."

"My friends, and I, will say that Parumpadpa ordered it. She must be killed and thrown into the crypt. We will show her, dead, to Brass-Face, saying Parumpadpa ordered it. To the people we will say that Parumpadpa is to blame for desecration of the temple."

"Why kill her? Why not give her up alive to Brass-Face?"

"She knows too much. She would deny what we say."

"Then what about this man?"

"Let him be found dead along with her. Of him we will say it is a scandal; that he loved the missionary's wife. Loving not such scandals, the British will be easier to manage afterward. Take this pistol and go in and kill her."

"Not here! There would be a noise."

"Then go in with a dagger or a rope."

"None dares. It is dark, and that dog is as big as a man — more savage, too, than ten men!"

"All right; let her walk into the crypt; that is easier. There you and I will kill her. Leave the dog to me. I will shoot the dog with this pistol; you use your dagger on the woman."

"I am afraid."

"Ask no favors then when I am high priest! You can see that Parumpadpa's day is done. His friends will fall with him. There will be a collapse. Who but I can restore our former prestige?"

"Then you will kill the woman, and I will try to shoot the dog."

"No. You must be compromised, so that I may be sure you won't betray me afterward. Come along; help me drag this thing."

"Ach-h! I hate to touch a corpse; it is defilement."

"That is why I haven't killed him, quite. We will finish the business in the crypt. Make haste. Brass-Face may be at the door already."

They each took a leg and dragged Ommony face upward over smooth flags with gaps between them; and every bump over the gaps brought Ommony to clearer consciousness. The healthy blood resumed its coursing, and he felt the life flow back through nerves and muscles, tingling like pin-points.

"Better listen first," said Jannath's accomplice. "Yes, I'll go with you. There must be no slip!"

"Leave me to watch here then, while you go."

"Not I! Come with me. Is that, door shut?"

"Yes."

"Come on, then."

They let go Ommony's legs and hurried down an echoing passage in the dark. Ommony lay still until he heard a door shut behind them in the distance before he got to his knees and fell forward again from vertigo. Afraid to try that again, lest reaction should overcome him altogether, he lay still, calling: "Di! Di!" in a low voice. Then he whistled, and heard Diana's snuffling beyond a door and the dog's low whimper. He crawled to the door, and felt a half-inch crack beneath it.

"Mrs Craig! Mrs. Craig!" he whispered.

"Mr. Ommony? Is that you?"

He groped in his inner pocket.

"Quick! Take this!"

And he pushed under the door the page from his memorandum-book, on which he had written a message to Molyneux.

"There's a leather loop on Di's collar, near the buckle. Fold this message and push it through the loop so that the paper sticks out at each end and can be easily seen. Then at the first chance send the dog for help. Just say: 'Bring a white man! Bring a white man!' and she'll do her best.

"Don't answer me! Don't try to speak to me! I'm supposed to be dead or dying, and that's the only chance we've got — except the dog; so preserve Di's life as long as possible. Hs-s-h! They're coming!"

He crawled back to the spot where they had left him and lay still, face upward. There were four now. Jannath and his friend had found two other men, or had been detected by them and had had to let them into the secret.

"Parumpadpa swears all is your fault, Jannath!"

"He will cease boasting presently! But silence! You two bring the woman and the dog while we drag this thing. Threaten her that if she does not keep the dog quiet you will kill them both instantly."

"Why not kill the dog at once?"

"Yes; no harm. But no noise; and be swift!"

All in pitch blackness Jannath and his friend began to drag Ommony, and the bumping over smooth, unevenly laid flags so dinned into his head that he could hardly hear the others open the door of the room where Elsa was. But he heard what followed — thunder! Volleys of angry growling split apart by Diana's war bark! Cries for help!

They let go Ommony's legs and ran back, crying for silence. He decided it was time to come to life and, now or never, to test his returning strength. He whistled — shouted:

"Good dog, Di! Down 'em!"

He managed to get to his feet. Jannath returned on the run, and Ommony could hear the sandbag whirling as the priest got speed up for a blow that should finish him. If he could only see!

But neither could Jannath see. The priest swung — missed — clutched at his victim — and went down as a chance left swing by Ommony went home under the angle of his jaw.

Down on his knees on the priest's empty belly went Ommony, searching for the pistol — found it — and brought the butt of a .45 down hard on the shaven head. That ended Jannath's chance of the high-priesthood. The skull broke like an eggshell.

Back down the passage there was pandemonium, echoes of growling, shouts, feet slipping on stone — and a woman gasping, crying:

"Careful! Careful!"

"Sic 'em, Di!" yelled Ommony.

The dog's best chance for safety against daggers lay in swift attack; and the more ferocious she was, the better his chance from the rear. He ran with both hands out in front, guided by sound, turned to the right when he felt the corner of the wall, and nearly fell again, for a man crashed backward into him to escape Diana's jaws.

He used the butt again. Diana smelled him — slobbered on him — began to wriggle and yelp pleasure — then yelped in earnest as a long knife reaching for her slit the skin along her flank. She turned and had that opponent by the throat before the echo of her yelp came off the wall, and Ommony saved a second stab point blank with the .45.

By its flash he saw Elsa, white and motionless against a corner of a four- square stone cell, and the third man coming for him, felt the wind of the dagger descending; thrust the muzzle against naked ribs — and fired again.

"Four all accounted for! Are there any more in there?"

"No more," said Elsa. "Are you hurt?"

"No. Come."

"We ought to stay and give first aid to these."

"They've had all they'll need! Come on!"

He took her hand and ran with her, Diana careering ahead to smell out ambush and making the long passage echo with a hunting-howl. Elsa tripped over Jannath's body and had to be helped up.

"What next?" she gasped.

"Straight through with the plan!"

"Do you know the way?"

"We'll find it! Come on — hurry!"

"I've hurt my knee."

"Come on!"

At the end of possibly a hundred yards of echoing darkness they ran into a door. He stopped and struck matches — three of them; the damned things wouldn't light.

Suddenly it occurred to him to try the door. It was unlocked. They ran through into gloom that was as daylight by comparison, and down endless steps, with Diana's waving tail always a turn ahead of them and her deep, delighted bark announcing, "All's well!"

Into another passage — deep below ground-level this one — and along that for fifty yards to rising steps. Diana charged up them and returned looking puzzled, standing where an overhead shaft allowed a beam of distant light to filter in.

"What is it, Di? Lord! If a dog could only talk! Come on; we'll have to chance it!"

Up, and up, dragging Elsa by the hand, she following gamely; turn, and turn again, another short passage — steps — and then a door-locked! No lock on this side — only a keyhole, big enough to thrust the muzzle of the .45 in easily. He fired, and an ancient iron lock fell loose on the other side.

Something still held, but a shove with most his remaining strength sent the door swinging, and Diana rushed in past him — into the crypt — no doubt of it, they were under Siva's temple.

In a gloom like twilight, images of what looked like a dozen different gods were ranged against the walls, as if one by one they had been superseded and relegated to this lumber-room. But the place was clean from use. There was an altar in it with a lingam, and away beyond that steps leading upward into golden light.

"Temple lamps up there!" said Ommony. "It's a goal! Come on!"

They could hear confusion in the temple — men's voices, and a noise as if things were being moved to barricade a door. Someone was giving orders. Ommony caught one's purport.

"They're coming! Shut the door now! Shut it in their faces!"

Then Diana must have burst among the priests like an apparition. Ommony, speeding up the last steps, lost sight of her, for the inside of the temple was a maze of pillars, images and colored lights, with a great clear space in the midst.

But the great door was open yet. The bolt that should drop into a hole in the stone threshold caught in the stones as they fumbled in their haste. There was a gap yet a yard wide, through which the outer twilight streamed.

"Good dog, Di! Get a white man! Go bring him!"

Like a flash the dog broke through; and then they raised the bolt, and the door slammed after her, missing the end of her tail by the breadth of a hair on it.

"Now," said Ommony, "if I'm not sick I feel like it. My head aches. Take this pistol and defend yourself. If you're alive when Molyneux comes in, say you came up from the crypt. Say nothing more if you can help it. Please obey that."

Then he sat down suddenly with his back against the wall in a corner and his heels sliding out from under him. His head fell forward on his chest, and Elsa, with the pistol in her right hand, stood there looking at the priests and him, and wondering what to do.



CHAPTER 14
"She euchred the Ephesians!"

Sir William Molyneux, advancing up the narrow street toward the temple with a mounted regiment behind him, met the diwan's carriage coming from the other direction and saluted. Behind the diwan was a company of infantry, not nearly so dependable, but there in order that the Maharajah's forces might be fully represented.

Brass-Face pulled out his watch. He seemed totally unconscious of a crowd that swarmed behind the troops and yelled at him from roofs and every imaginable vantage-point. A stone fell and broke within two feet of him, but he took no notice.

"Six-thirty! I've allowed them half an hour's grace. Diwan sahib, I intend to force that temple door unless they open it or produce Mrs. Craig."

A big stone knocked the watch out of his hand, but he took no notice. He was smiling — frowning over it — a little like a heavyweight considering the opponent from his corner of the ring.

"Ah! There's a priest. Perhaps they intend to be sensible."

The temple door was shut, but a priest came solemnly around a corner of the building, mounted the steps at the end, and then came down them straight toward Molyneux. Even the crowd grew still. The only sounds were the stamping of restless troop-horses and a dog's bark not far away. The priest stood still in front of Molyneux and waited to be addressed.

"Where's Mrs. Craig?" asked Molyneux in English.

"We do not know."

"What does he say?"

"He says he does not know," interpreted the diwan.

"Is she in that temple?"

"No."

"What does he say?"

"He says, 'No.'"

"He'll have to prove it! Tell him that! My information is that she is in there."

The diwan spoke, and the priest grew angry.

"She is not in there. We know nothing of her. She is probably dead by the diwan's orders."

"Lord! I hate this!" muttered Molyneux.

He turned half-about to say something to the troops' commanding officer but checked himself. He caught sight of a white man's helmet, someone — Craig, it could not be another — forcing his way violently toward him along the line between the troopers and the crowd.

"Let that man come! What is it, Craig?"

Craig burst through and ran to him, holding a great bleeding stag-hound by the collar with one hand-waving a piece of paper in the other — breathless.

"A letter — Ommony — my wife — they're in there!"

He thrust the paper into Molyneux's hand.

"But this is addressed to me, sir!"

"Can't help that! I read it before I knew. It was in the dog's collar. She found me, and I've found you! They're in there now! Get busy, man!"

"I accept that explanation. All right, Craig."

"Then hurry, man! Look sharp!"

But Brass-Face, whom no man ever succeeded in hurrying, paused to read the penciled note:

You will find Mrs. Craig in the temple. I will try to worm my way in and be with her. When you get this note it will be time to act swiftly. — C.O.

Swiftly was another thing from hurriedly. Molyneux and speed could be one unit on occasion, with unexpectedness on top of that to hurry the other side.

" — Open that door!" he commanded, feeling for his watch, forgetting it was in fragments at his feet.

He had meant to allow sixty seconds.

"We will not!" the priest answered. "There is an image backed against it. You may not — cannot-enter!"

The diwan started to interpret, but Molyneux did not wait for that. He seized the priest by neck and one arm, twisted the arm and forced the priest to face about.

"Forward!" he commanded. "Straight to that door you came through!"

Then over his shoulder to the Maharajah's officer: "Twenty men! Dismount 'em, and follow me!"

The priest went on a run, astonishingly undignified. The crowd, after one yell, grew dumb with amazement. Twenty troopers and their officer, all casteless, not enamored of the priests, swept Craig along between them, so that it almost looked to the crowd as if Craig were arrested. They began to yell again.

Molyneux came to a halt at a little side door between two projecting corners of the temple wall and ordered the troopers to drive out members of the crowd who had packed themselves in there in the hope of seeing something.

"Tell 'em to open it!" he ordered, squeezing the priest's neck. "Say if they don't I'll break it down!"

He backed up his threat by beckoning the troopers forward, and the priest, squirming and discovering no hope, cried out. Like an echo to his cry the troopers' carbines thundered on the wood; and someone inside drew the bolt.

Molyneux let go the priest's neck and jumped in with Craig at his heels. Diana nearly upset them both, dashing between them, yelping and then throwing up her head to make the great dome echo to her hunting-call. Then she led them in a series of elastic leaps, with toenails clattering and slipping on the marble, toward the rear of the building, where in lamp-lit gloom stood Elsa, at bay, surrounded by a dozen priests, with someone's blue repeating pistol in her right hand.

"My wife! Elsa!"

Craig ran forward, reckless of the priests, who backed away before Diana's reawakened fury. The dog seemed to think they had killed her master. She charged back and forth to lick him and savage them alternately.

"Elsa! What does this mean?"

"What?"

"This costume?"

"They took my clothes away and—"

That was enough for Molyneux. He was bending over Ommony to feel his heart-beats.

"Where have you been?" he asked.

"In the dark! Mr. Ommony brought me up those steps—"

"Admit the diwan!" Molyneux commanded. "Where's the high priest? Summon Parumpadpa!"

"Are you hurt?" he asked Elsa, resuming his slapping of Ommony's wrists with an eye on Diana, who appeared to view his ministrations with mistrust.

But she and her husband were being foolish and she didn't even answer him.

The diwan entered, leaning on a man's arm, and almost in the same second they brought in Parumpadpa, two priests on each side doing their best to enhance his dignity. But better gild the lily! He was all arch-priesthood typified. The long beard, nearly to his waist, and his robes of office made it seem a sacrilege to speak above a whisper.

But Molyneux kept him waiting. There were signs of life in Ommony, so he shook him and raised him up, then set him with back against the pillar. Not noticing the high priest yet, but holding Ommony by the lapel of his coat, he turned his head and whispered to the diwan.

"We've got to use tact! Get me?"

The diwan nodded and tried to hide a smile.

"The less said the better. You understand? His Majesty's Government would rather avoid a scandal.

"Does he know English? No? Will you interpret? Excellent! Hullo, this fellow's coming to! How now, Ommony? Feeling better?"

Ommony murmured something. Molyneux stooped to listen — nodded.

"Craig, come over here, please. Will you be satisfied if they pay for the cost of repairing your mission from the temple funds? Yes? Well, that's a Christian attitude. I like a Christian. Mrs. Craig, does that seem all right to you? Good."

He turned to the diwan.

"Tell them that, please!"

Parumpadpa listened with amazement he could hardly contain. He had expected personal indignity. Not knowing where Elsa had been, he could only suppose Ommony had broken in somehow and found her in the crypt, where some of his priests, he thought, must have concealed her without his knowledge. If so, these terms were mild. He gave assent, not bargaining, with all the dignity at his command.

But Ommony tugged Molyneux's coat, and he bent his head once more to listen.

"Oh! Ah! Yes, I get you!"

He turned to the diwan.

"Tell him this serious offense is against His Highness the Maharajah almost as much as against these innocent people."

The diwan interpreted. The high priest bowed.

"Law — order — His Highness's government must be respected."

The high priest bowed again, but with slightly more reserve. "Unless he wants His Britannic Majesty's Government to interfere and mete out punishment there must be an apology to His Highness the Maharajah—"

Parumpadpa almost let a smile escape him, but concealed it with another stately bow. Ommony whispered again.

" — and compensation in some form acceptable to His Highness."

Parumpadpa frowned.

"I understand this temple's revenue is drawn in part from a tax on all cut lumber. Will it be acceptable to His Highness if that revenue is transferred to the State for the specific purpose of planting trees?"

"I believe so. I may say, 'Yes,"' said the diwan. He interpreted, and Parumpadpa scowled.

"Tell him he may agree to that or do the other thing!" said Molyneux, glaring at the high priest.

And the high priest yielded. There was no alternative.

"Pens, ink, and paper!" Molyneux commanded. "We'll sign up now and get it over with."

So they set a table under the dome of Siva's temple, and for the first time in all history a contract between Church and State was drawn up and signed in that sacred edifice with Parumpadpa's signature, witnessed by Molyneux, and lacking nothing but the Maharajah's seal to make it absolute.

"There!" exclaimed Molyneux, throwing sand on his own signature to dry the ink. "Tact! That's the stuff! I told you I'm an oil-can! Assure His Eminence I have a deep respect for high priests. I like a man who takes his gruel standing up. Yes, sir; convey him my compliments!"

He put an arm like a grapnel around Ommony and, saluting the high priest with the other, started for the door.

"Why, hullo, you're making a quick recovery! Guts, Ommony! By gad, sir, I like guts in a man! Why, damme! You can walk alone! What's happened?"

"Trees!" said Ommony. "I see trees!"

"Still light-headed, I perceive. I wonder what hit you. The less said the better, of course. I mean to ask no questions. All's nicely settled. But between you and me, my boy, I've a notion you've put something over."

"No. Someone else did."

"Who then?"

"Diana! She euchred the Ephesians! Shall we go, sir? It must be dinner- time. Mrs. Craig and I had no lunch."

"Guts! By God, yes, that dog has guts!" said Molyneux. "We'll have to stitch that wound up for her, Ommony. I see she's still bleeding a bit. You hold her, and I'll stitch. By gad, sir, I admire a dog with guts!"



THE END

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