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Title: The Nine Unknown (1923)
Author: Talbot Mundy
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0900641.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: August 2009
Date most recently updated: January 2010

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supplied by Tejaswy Appalla. Corrections in 2010 by Bob Barnett.

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18Jan2010- Fixed paragraph in Chapter VI and added text for missing
pages in Chapter XXI.

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Nine Unknown (1923)
Author: Talbot Mundy




CONTENTS:

    I  "I CUT THROATS WITH AN OUTWARD THRUST!"
   II  "PRODUCE BUT THE GOLD, THOU PORTUGUESE!"
  III  LIGHT AND LONGER WEAPONS!
   IV  "HERE'S YOUR PORTUGUESE!"
    V  "THE NINE'S SPIES ARE EVERYWHERE!"
   VI  "THEY FLED BEFORE ME!"
  VII  "SHAKESPEREAN HOMEOPATHIC REMEDY!"
 VIII  "HE IS VERY DEAD!"
   IX  "SILENCE IS SILENT."
    X  "CAN'T HATCH A CHICK FROM A GLASS EGG."
   XI  "ALLAH! DO I LIVE, AND SEE SUCH SONS?"
  XII  "I AM DEAD, BUT THE SILVER CORD IS NOT YET CUT."
 XIII  "I FELT THE TINGLE OF THE MAGIC AND FELL UNRESISTING."
  XIV  "WE'VE GOT YOUR CHIEF!"
   XV  "ABANDON CAN'T AND CANT ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE!"
  XVI  "SAHIBS, THAT IS A TRUE SPEECH!"
 XVII  "THERE WILL BE NO WITNESSES--SAY THAT AND STICK TO IT!"
XVIII  "HE HAS WHATEVER SHE HAD!"
  XIX  "ONCE WHEN THEY WHO KEEP THE SECRETS--"
   XX  "NEVERTHELESS, I WILL TAKE MY SWORD WITH ME!"
  XXI  "MY HOUSE IS CLEAN AGAIN!"


* * *



CHAPTER I - "I CUT THROATS WITH AN OUTWARD THRUST!"


I had this story from a dozen people, or thirteen if you count Chullunder
Ghose, whose accuracy is frequently perverted. One grain of salt is never
enough to add to the fat babu's misstatements, although any one who for
that reason elected to disbelieve him altogether would be just as wide of
the mark as the credulous who take what he says at face value. Chullunder
Ghose should he accepted warily. But the others are above suspicion, as
for instance King, Grim, Ramsden, the Reverend Father Cyprian, and Jeremy
Ross, all of whom regard the truth from various points of view as
economical.

Chullunder Ghose considers all truth merely relative at best--likes to be
thought a liar, since under that cloak he can tell diluted truth
unblushing. Consequently he is the only one whose real motive for taking
part in this magnificent adventure is not discoverable; he scratches his
stomach and gives a different reason every time he is asked, of which the
likeliest is this:

"You see, __sahib__, had luck being habitual is bad enough, but better
than absolutely no luck. Consequently I took chances, trembling much,
stirring innate sluggishness of disposition with galvanic batteries of
optimism, including desire to keep wolf from door of underfed family and
dependents."

He certainly took chances, and he appears to have survived them, for I
had a letter from him only a week ago begging the favor of a character
reference and offering in return to betray trade secrets in the event of
his securing the desired employment.

Then there is Leonardo da Gama the Portuguese, who is dead and tells no
tales; but his death corroborates some part of what he said to me, for
one, and to others as will presently appear. His motive seems to have
been mercenary, with the added zest of the scientist in search of a key
to secrets, whose existence he can prove but whose solution has baffled
men for generations.

The Reverend Father Cyprian, past eighty and custodian of a library not
open to the public, aimed and still aims only at Hindu occultism. He
regards it as the machinery of Satan, to be destroyed accordingly, and it
was for that reason he gave King, Grim, Ramsden and some others access to
books no human eye should otherwise have seen. For Father Cyprian
collects books to be burned, not piecemeal but in one eventual holocaust.

Some lay brother peculiarly conscious of a sin appointed Father Cyprian
by will, sole trustee of a purchasing fund, hoping thus to rid the world
of the key to such evil as the Witch of Endor practised. For half a
century Father Cyprian has been acquiring volumes supposed long ago to be
extinct, and it was possibly the last phase of his beleaguered pride that
he hoped instead of burning them piecemeal to make one bonfire of the lot
and go to his Maker directly afterward.

In that case even pride may serve appropriate ends; for if be had burned
the books as fast as acquired, King could never have studied them and
drawn conclusions. He took King, Grim, Ramsden and certain others into
confidence subject to a stipulation; there were and are still said to be
nine super-books whose contents total tip the almost absolute of evil.
King and his friends might use what Cyprian already had, and might count
on his counsel and assistance; but if they should come on any of the nine
books, those were to be Cyprian's to be burned along with all the others.

They were not to study the nine books, if obtained, and above all they
were not to reveal their contents to any outsider; for Cyprian's purpose
was, and is, to abolish the very memory of those books' existence and the
deviltry they teach, or are supposed to teach. (For some say they teach
wisdom.) But they might make what use they cared to of information picked
up on the side, and they were free to deal with individuals as
circumstances and their own discretion might dictate. Father Cyprian, in
fact, cared and cares not much for consequences. He believes in cutting
off the cause, and he is sure those nine books are the key which, if
thrown away, Will leave the cause of necromancy impossible to rediscover.
So much for him.

Jeremy Ross came laughing on the scene, laughed with gay irreverence all
through the piece, and still laughs, no more inclined to take life
seriously than when he faced the Turks in the three-day fight at Gaza,
sharing one torn blanket with a wounded Turk and destroying his chance of
promotion by calling a British colonel "Algy" to his face. On the other
hand, he is as unconquerably opportunist as when he tramped Arabia, lost,
and survived by means of a reputation for performing miracles.

Jeremy's admitted motive was desire to learn more tricks and their
underlying principles. He is convinced that even the "rope trick, so
often told of and so invariably unconfirmed, in which a Hindu is supposed
to climb a rope into the air and disappear, is simply the result of
well-trained ingenuity.

"A chap who knows how can do anything," says Jeremy, and he proposed to
learn how all the Indian tricks are done.

The motives lie did not confess, but which were just as obvious as the
laugh on his lips and the sunburn on his handsome face, were loyalty to
Athelstan King and Grim and Ramsden, a kind of irresponsibility that
makes him plunge for amusement into every game he sees, and a bedrock
willingness to fight every combination of men and circumstances for the
right to be his own master. He has no use whatever for orders from
"higher up," for swank, eyewash, stilts, inherited nobility, or what is
known as statecraft.

"A diplomat's like me," says Jeremy, "only I call mine tricks and he
calls his statesmanship."

It was enough that King and Grim had winded the stronghold of secret
tyranny. Instantly Jeremy was game to make a pitched fight and a picnic
of the business of destroying it; and lie was quicker than either of them
at penetrating the outer screen of commonplace deception. He got along
remarkably well with Father Cyprian, in fact, astonishingly well, all
things considered.

James Schuyler Grim is the protagonist of peace where there is no peace.
His passion is to introduce two pauses in the strife of men where only
one was formerly, and so little by little to give some sort of new
millennium a chance. Arch-pragmatist is Grim. He holds men's lives, his
own included, as worthless unless at work, and his highest expression of
friendship is to pile task on task almost to the breaking point. He, too,
resists interference from "higher up," but without Jeremy's turbulence
and with much more wisdom--nearly satanic at times; which is one reason
why Jeremy does not always mock him to his face.

Jeremy does mock Athelstan King, because King is of the seventh
generation in the British army and respects accordingly the little odds
and ends of precedent and custom that to the Australian resemble
idol-worship. Jeremy was a trooper. King was a colonel but is now
employed by the same multi-millionaire who furnishes supplies for Grim
and Ramsden; in fact, he took Jeremy's place, for Jeremy can not abide
the power of purse-strings and would rather juggle by the roadside for
his daily bread than yield to any man on the ground of surplus cash.

Jeff Ramsden is another independent, who rather prides himself on being
slow of wit and heavy on his feet, whereas lie is really a solid thinker,
building argument on argument until he is convinced, and setting one foot
down before he prospects with the other. He is stronger physically than
almost any two normally developed athletes, but it would probably break
Jeff Rams-den's heart to lose his comfortable savings, whereas Jeremy
loses his last cent as cheerfully as he would win the other man's.

Then there are Narayan Singh, and Ali ben Ali of Siktinderam, soldiers of
fortune both, the one a Sikh with pantheistic tendencies and the other a
Pathan with seven sons. At any rate, Ali ben Ali is pleased to admit they
are his sons, and none denies that he fought and slew the indignant legal
owners of the mothers, although there are cynics in the crag-top villages
who vow that Ali flatters himself. The mothers' statements (there were
seven) made for the most part under duress shortly before death were not
considered trustworthy evidence in the land that Ali comes from.

Ali has enemies, but is a man, whatever else; and perhaps the highest
compliment ever paid Narayan Singh is that Ali ben Ali of Sikunderam
respects him and would think three times before challenging the Sikh to
fight, even if a mutual regard for Grim and King did not put quarreling
out of the question. They are awfully disrespectful of each other's gods,
but came to an early understanding on the basis propounded by Narayan
Singh after a night-long argument:

"If your ridiculous Allah objects to my opinions why doesn't he smite me?
I challenge him! As for thyself, Ali ben Ali of Sikunderam, thou art
worth a dozen Allahs, being less cowardly, more generous, and not afraid
to stand up and be seen!"

"It is a pity about you, Narayan Singh," Ali ben Ali answered nodding
tolerantly. "I shall make a friend of you in this world only to see you
torn by devils in the next. However, that is Allah's business, who is
Lord of Mercies."

"Who is a big joke!" Narayan Singh corrected. "He will turn thee into
worms!" warned he of Sikunderam.

"Then I will gnaw the big thing's belly!" said the Sikh.

They agreed to postpone the debate until the next world and to be stout
allies in this--a plan which if followed universally would abolish a deal
of waste of time.

"For if I slew you, or you slew me," said Ali ben Ali, "there would only
be half our manhood left!"

And that was a point on which they could agree at once, for neither of
them had a poor opinion of himself, any more than either cared a rap for
Grin's and King's idealism. What they chose to follow were the men, they
being men, and like attracting if not like at least its tribute.

Burt they were also attracted as much as Chullunder Ghose was by the
glamour of the unknown quantity and the lure of fabled treasure; the babu
being all acute imagination and alarm, they all adventurous.

Surely ancient sciences meant nothing to them; yet it was pursuit of
ancient science and of nothing else that brought the twelve together, and
that might have added the thirteenth if the number thirteen had not
justified its reputation by proving fatal to da Gama the Portuguese. And
that was no pity, but for scientific reasons.

He drank too frequently and inexpensively, and washed too sparingly to be
good company. His appetite in all ways was a glutton's, drink included,
and he took his erudition as he did champagne or beer or curried
anchovies, in gulps.

Nor was he nice to look at--saffron, under shiny black hair, with a pair
of coal-black eyes whose whites were yellow and red with long
debauch--short--stout--asthmatic--dressed always in rusty black
broadcloth and occasionally white drill pants, with black boots tied with
broken laces. His face was seamed and lined with tales untenable and
knowledge unfit to be known. His finger-ends were swollen and his nails
close-bitten. His shirt, which might have been a petticoat for stripe and
color, bulged through the gap between his pants and vest, increasingly
untidy as the day progressed, and he hitched his pants at intervals. He
had a little, black imperial beard that only half-concealed a chin cloven
not by nature but by some man's weapon. The cleft had the effect of
making him look good-humored for a second when he smiled. The smile began
with a sneer malignantly, passed with a peculiar melting moment through
an actually pathetic phase, and ended cynically, showing yellow
eye-teeth. He had no idea whatever of making himself pleasant--would have
scorned himself, in fact, for the attempt if he had ever tried it--and
yet he blamed the world and did the world all the injury he could for
refusing to love him. He always wore a round black hat like an English
clergyman's, and never took it off, even indoors, until he was seated,
when he held it rolled up as if he kept his thoughts in it and was afraid
of spilling them.

It was Chullunder Ghose who decoyed him into the office in the
side-street off the Chandni Chowk, which is the famous Street of the
Silversmiths in Delhi, and a good street if you know what goodness in a
street consists of. Men--all manner of men--go by.

They had an office in a side-street, one flight up over a Maharatta
drug-store, with the name "Grim, Ramsden and Ross" on a brass plate on
the door. The next-door building was a warehouse for hides, hair, tallow,
gum, turmeric and vicious politics, through the midst of which they had
access to a back stairs by arrangement. But the front stairway by which
you reached their office was a narrow, steep affair between two
buildings, littered with fruit-peel and cigarette ends, and always
crowded with folk who used it as a sort of covered grandstand from which
to watch the street or merely to sit and think, supposing that anybody
_could_ think in all that noise.

You had to pick your way up-stairs gingerly, but going down was easier,
because if you placed your foot flat against the back of a man's head,
and shoved suddenly, he would topple forward and carry a whole row down
with him, due to the fact that they sat cross-legged and not with their
feet on the step below as Europeans would.

Existence there would have been precarious, but for Narayan Singh, Ali
ben Ah and Chullunder Ghose--the first two truculent and the third a
diplomat. It is fashionable nowadays to show contempt for Westerners by
pushing them off the sidewalk and making remarks in babu English that
challenge reprisals; so that, even though King, Grim and Ramsden can
disguise themselves and pass for natives of the East, and Jeremy in plain
clothes can make an Arab think he is an Aras in disguise, the firm's name
on the brass plate would have been enough to start trouble, if it had not
been so obvious that trouble would include a Sikh dagger, an Afghan
_tulwar_, and the adder's tongue of the least compunctious babu in all
India.

It was the babu's tongue that drew da Gama past the door. He was afraid
of it, in the same way that some politicians are afraid of newspapers,
and it may be that he hoped to murder the babu as the simplest road to
silence. All are agreed he was surprised and angry when Narayan Singh;
swaggering down the narrow passage, bunted into him as he stood
hesitating and, picking a quarrel on the instant, shoved him backward
through the office door. Inside he found himself confronted by the whole
party, for Narayan Singh followed him through and locked the door at his
back.

He stood at bay, in silence, for a minute, showing his yellow teeth, his
hands making the beginnings of a move toward his pockets and repeatedly
refraining. So Ali ben Ali strode up to him and, taking him in one
prodigious left arm, searched him for weapons. He pulled out a long knife
and a black-jack, exposed them, grinning hugely, in the palm of his right
hand and returned them to their owner. There was no pistol. Then he
pushed the Portuguese toward the office stool, which was the only seat
unoccupied. Da Gama sat on it, putting his heels on the rungs, with his
toes turned outward, whereafter he removed his round, black hat and
rolled it.

The others sat around the wall on bentwood chairs, or otherwise as
temperament dictated, all except Father Cyprian, who had been accorded
the desk and revolving chair in deference to age. Cyprian held the
desk-lid raised, but lowered it suddenly, and at the noise da Gama
started, stared a second, and then swore in Portuguese between his teeth.
None in the room understood Portuguese, unless possibly the priest.

"You recognize me, I believe?" piped Cyprian, almost falsetto, his little
bright eyes gleaming through the wrinkles and his mobile lips spreading
and spreading away into a smile that advertised amusement and was
certainly a mask.

He has a face like a friendly gargoyle, full of human understanding and a
sort of merry disdain that goes with it.

"Keep to your trade of mumbling Mass! What do these others want?" the
Portuguese demanded rudely. "I have nothing to do with priests!"

His low-pitched asthmatic voice was an absolute contrast to the other's.
So was his surliness. There was no connecting link between them but that
one, swift, momentary cloven lapse from hardness as the Portuguese's face
changed from one scowl to the next. But Cyprian recognized that and was
swift, before the human feeling faded:

"My friend," he said, "it was you who tried to steal my library, and I
have never sought to have you punished, for I know the strength of the
temptation--"

"You are a miser with your books--a dog in a manger!" the Portuguese
retorted. "You break your own law, which says you shall not hide light
under a bushel!"

"It is darkness that hides!" the priest answered with another of his
expansive smiles. "It was you, my friend, who tried to murder me--a sin
from which I only saved you by being one inch to the eastward of your
bullet's course."

"You lie like any other priest!" da Gama growled.

"No, no. Not all of us are rash. In fact, we--we all of us are--are
occasionally careful. Is this not the pistol that you tried to shoot me
with?"

He raised the lid of the desk again and drew out a surprising thing born
of the law against carrying firearms. It was a pistol built of springs
and teak-wood, nearly as clumsy as the old museum holster pieces but as
able as a cobra to do murder at close range. Da Gama was silent.

"My friend, I have not even blamed you," the priest went on, his thin
voice squeaking with the rust of years. "I have pitied you, and as for me
you are forgiven. But there are consequences."

"What?" the Portuguese demanded, betraying, between scorn and anger, once
again that moment of human feeling.

"Something is required of him to whom so much has been forgiven," the
priest answered firmly.

"What?" the Portuguese repeated.

Jeremy reached for the pistol and began fooling with the thing, as
pleased with its mechanism as he was impatient of preliminaries. Ali ben
Ali of Sikunderam drew out his own long knife and thumbed its cutting
edge suggestively.

"You for twenty-five, and I for fifty years have sought the same thing,"
the priest said, speaking slowly. "You have taken one line, I the other.
Mine is best, and now you must follow mine, my friend--"

"For I cut throats with an outward thrust," Ali ben Ali interrupted. "The
point goes in across the wind-pipe and the knife's heel separates the
neck-bones."

It was horribly well spoken. Ali ben Ali failed in his youth for a
Bachelor's Degree but passed in rhetoric. Da Gama shuddered.

"Peace!" commanded Cyprian.

"For the present," assented he of Sikunderam, stowing the knife away with
its hilt projecting. For religious reasons he was careful not to show the
alien priest too much respect.

"What do you want?" da Gama asked.

Father Cyprian reached into his desk and produced a little
chamois-leather bag. Opening that he poured about thirty gold coins into
his hand and held it out toward the Portuguese, whose eyes changed
expression suddenly.

"The balance of those," said Cyprian, "and the nine books. You may have
as much of the money as you can use, my friend, and you may have my share
too, for I need none of it. But the books must be mine to do as I choose
with."

Da Gama went through all the motions of his smile and ended on the usual
sneer. "No doubt! If you have the books you will need no money."

"I shall do as I please," the priest answered, not choosing to argue that
point. "Do you know whence these came? Look at them."

He poured the coins into da Gama's open hand, and the Portuguese's dark
eyes seemed to take fire from behind. None was of more recent date than a
thousand years B.C., and one or two were of such soft gold that all the
impression had been rubbed and squeezed away.

"The little bag--you know the little bag?" the priest asked, handing him
that too. "You recognize it? Yes? You left that, you remember, with the
money in it when you tried to shoot me, and my servant pulled your coat
off. He would have captured you, but--"

Da Gama smiled again, beginning and ending meanly, on a note of
insolence, but passing inevitably through that momentary human stage.

"But never mind," Cyprian went on. "You may have them back, except the
gun. My servant shall bring your coat. You have been forgiven. But where
did you get that money? I must know."

"Yes, we must all know that," agreed Ali ben Ali's deep voice, and the
Northerner drew his knife again, thumbing its edge with a kind of
professorial appreciation.

Grim, dressed as a Punjabi, had sat watching da Gama's face. Now he saw
fit to betray that really it was he who was in charge of the proceedings.

"You understand?" he asked. "All that Father Cyprian asks for is the
books."

"And you?" da Gama demanded, sneering again. It seemed to be his policy
to get on terms with strangers by provoking. "You care only for money?"

Grim dug into the folds of his loose upper garment and produced a
telegram from his employer in New York.

INVESTIGATE AND REPORT ON PERPETUAL DISAPPEARANCE OF SPECIE IN INDIA.
MELDRUM STRANGE.

He passed it to da Gama, who read it and cocked one eyebrow:

"Your alibi?" he suggested, pronouncing the word as if it were
Portuguese, which for undiscoverable reasons made it more offensive.

Grim ignored that.

"We want to discover what has happened to the billions of dollars worth
of gold and silver that has been won from the earth during the thousands
of years since mining was first commenced. The cash in circulation
doesn't account for one per cent. of it. Where is the rest?" he
explained.

"What if you find it?" asked da Gama.

"If you help, you may have as much of it as you can use," Cyprian
interposed.

"Father Cyprian wants the nine books," Grim repeated. "He wants to
destroy the knowledge that has enabled certain unknown men for thousands
of years to drain the world of its supply of gold and silver. I wish to
discover where the gold and silver is. You may have enough of it if your
help amounts to anything."

"I also desire to know where the gold and silver is!" remarked Ali ben
Ali, from his seat on a cushion in a corner. "I, too, desire enough of
it!" he added, sticking his long-knife point-downward in the floor and
laying the palm of his hand on the hilt to stop its trembling. "My heart
quivers as the knife does!"

It was easy to believe him. At that moment his gray-shot beard framed
avarice and not much else, except the ruthlessness that gave it energy.
His eyes contained the glint of morning on the Himalayan crags. Ali ben
Ali of Sikunderam saw many visions at the mention of the magic name of
gold and silver.

"I cut throats with an outward thrust!" he added meaningly, pulling up
the knife again and glancing at the Portuguese.

Then Athelstan King took a hand.

"The same men who own those nine books keep the secret of the gold and
silver coin," he said, speaking downright as his way is.

"How do you know?" da Gama sneered.

"Because like you I have devoted years to the pursuit," King answered;
and in his eyes there was the sort of steely gray strength of the hunter
who looks up-wind and into sunlight.

"Pursuit?" Da Gama was at his usual occupation, sneering. "Did you catch
much?"

"You, at any rate!" King answered; and Chullunder Chose observed the
opportunity for self-advertisement.

"His honor having given orders to this babu--said babu having followed
same," he smirked, wiping sweat from his hairy chest with a handkerchief,
perhaps to call attention to the diligence with which he had labored.

Then he chose to emphasize and illustrate dexterity by throwing down the
handkerchief and catching it between his toes.

"You're simply a prisoner," said King, looking straight at the
Portuguese.

"This," said Narayan Singh, on the floor beside Ali of Sikunderam, "is
the writing of one Dilji Leep Singh, who swears that he helped you steal
books out of a temple, but was never paid for it. He will be a witness if
required."

Narayan Singh laid a paper on the floor just within range of da Gama's
eye, and it was that that really turned the trick. He had imagination. He
could see defeat.

"You may have a fair share of the money, if we find it with your
assistance," Grim reminded.

"And I have forgiven you," added Cyprian.

"But I cut throats with an outward thrust," said Ali ben Ali of
Sikunderam.

"Oh, what is it you want?" the Portuguese exclaimed, throwing up his
clenched fists suddenly--theatrically. "Am I briganded and held to ransom
after twenty-five years? All right! I surrender! Write down your
promises, and I will tell!"



CHAPTER II - "PRODUCE BUT THE GOLD, THOU PORTUGUESE!"


But they wrote no promises. It was da Gama, desperate to the point of
daring them to take his life and never sure that Ali ben Ali or the Sikh
would not accept the challenge, who wrote down terms on a half-sheet of
paper.

"Hell! There! My minimum! Without you sign that there is not a torture in
the universe severe enough to make me talk!"

"Same being Portuguese opinion, anarchistic possibly! This babu risking
personal humiliation volunteers advice--be skeptical!" remarked
Chullunder Ghose, rolling off-center so as to reach the door of a small
cupboard.

He pulled out a gallon jar of whisky and shoved it along the floor
sufficiently noisily to attract da Gama's notice. Father Cyprian walked
out, saying nothing, and Narayan Singh relocked the office door behind
him.

"Advice not being asked, same tendered deferentially, which is--" said
the babu, pausing--"give him one drink, subsequently withholding
remainder of contents of gallon jar pending answers to questions. No
water on any account!" he added, pursing up his lips.

The sweat broke out on da Gama's forehead. He was no hero, but was gifted
with imagination. As long as the priest stayed he had banked on that
unbegged forgiveness, calculating, too, that the priest would tolerate no
illegal violence in his presence. But Cyprian was gone, and he looked
around the room. They all knew, and he knew they knew, what the whisky
torture meant to a man of his disposition. He shoved the crumpled
half-sheet into his pocket and capitulated.

"What do you want to know?" he demanded hoarsely.

"Give him one drink," ordered King, and then, when the Portuguese had
tossed that down his throat--"Where did you find those coins?"

"In the ruins of a temple. I can not describe the place."

"Why not?"

"It has no name."

"You can lead us to it."

Da Gama nodded.

"Yes," he said. "I can lead, but you will find nothing. That is, I
removed the gold--you see it. You may search a thousand years. I brought
it all. I am intelligent--me. You have not the intellectual requirements.
Yet I tell you, I know nothing--nothing! Only Cyprian the priest is
capable, for he has books. But the fool thinks they are wicked, and he
won't tell! He is a dog in a manger--a miser--a--"

"Never mind him. Tell us what _you_ know," King interrupted.

"I know that none of you will live unless you cease from interference
with the Nine Unknown!"

"Put that whisky back into the cupboard!" Grim ordered.

Chullunder Ghose obeyed. It was stifling in the office and for the second
time the Portuguese capitulated.

"There is only one course worth trying," he said, trying to moisten his
lips, which had grown dry at the mere mention of the whisky jar. His
tongue looked a size too large. "You must subsidize me--support me. You
must get those books from Cyprian and let me read them. You will all fail
otherwise. I am the only man who ever lived who carried the search for
the Nine Unknown the little way that even I have gone. I am the only one
who found _anything_. They have made several attempts on _my_ life. What
chance would _you_ have to escape them? Whisky please."

Grim shook his head.

"Then water!"

"Earn your drink," Grim answered.

"_Tshaa!_ Well--it doesn't matter what I tell you! You will be
useless without me. You lack the required intelligence. The problem is
vertical, not horizontal. All the clues are cut off--blind from
underneath. There--you do not understand that. What is the use of telling
you? The Nine Unknown are at the top. That is a simple statement. Nine
individuals, each independent, collectively forming a self-perpetuating
board--each known to all the other eight but to no other individual on
earth--not known, that is to say, to any other person in the world as
being a member of the Nine. You understand that?

"Each of the Nine, then, appoints nine others known only to him, and each
of whom supposes his principal to be merely a servant of the Nine. They
think the orders they receive from him are second-hand orders, passed
along. Thus, there are eighty-one first lieutenants, as it were, who
think themselves to be second-lieutenants. And each of those eighty-one
employs nine others, in turn known only to himself, making seven hundred
and twenty-nine third lieutenants, each of whom knows only eight, at
most, of his associates, but all whom are at the service of the Nine,
whom they know neither by sight nor name. You follow me?

"Every one of the seven hundred and twenty-nine third lieutenants has
nine men under him, of his own choosing, each of whom again has nine
more. So the chain is endless. There are no clues. If you discover, say,
a fourth lieutenant, all he knows is the identity of the individual who
gives him orders and, perhaps in addition to his own nine subordinates
the names of eight associates, none of whom knows more than he.

"When one of the Nine Unknown dies, the other tight elect an individual
to take his place. None but they even guesses that a vacancy was filled.
None, except the Nine, knows who the Nine are. Each first, second, third,
fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth lieutenant is responsible for nine;
and they to him. Nothing is written. No muster-roll."

"How old is this organization?" King demanded. "How old is India?" the
Portuguese retorted. "How many dynasties have thought they ruled? They
levied taxes and they all paid tribute to the Nine! If the money the Nine
have received during all those ages had been invested at compound
interest the whole world would be so awfully in debt that people would
understand what has been happening and might possibly wake up. But there
is wisdom in the books the Nine make use of--one book to a man, each book
dealing with a branch of wisdom. They have simply hoarded money, letting
the nations use gold as it is won from mines and only taking tribute of
principal, not interest. Do you believe that?"

King, Grim, Ramsden and Jeremy nodded. Ramsden read aloud from a
memorandum book:


"Last year the production of silver alone amounted to more than a hundred
and sixty million ounces. The East absorbed more than a quarter of
that--"


"And is howling for silver again!" said King. "Where did forty million
ounces disappear to? There is some in circulation--not much; ornaments
account for some of it; a little has been hoarded by the peasants, but
it's less in these days of high prices and taxes; where is the balance?"

"I have none of it, Lord knows!" exclaimed Chullunder Ghose, holding up
both hands with pious resignation.

"Where did it disappear?" said the Portuguese. "Here is some"--he shook
the chamois-leather bag--"but all I found was leavings in a crack of a
temple cellar, where they stored the tribute a thousand years ago."

"Nevertheless," remarked Chullunder Ghose, "India continues swallowing
gold and silver in measures of _crores_, that which is swallowed not
reappearing in any discernible shape, contrary to teachings of political
economy, which being religion of West is probably poppycock possessing
priests with check-books and top-hats. Where is gold and silver? That is
whole point."

"Babylon had gold and silver," said the Portuguese. "Where is it?"

Jeremy took twenty sovereigns from his belt. (He always carries them,
they constituting his uttermost reserve, never to be spent, but to be
bluffed with.) He jingled them from band to hand as if their music
inspired him. Da Gama went on talking:

"_Always_ India has imported gold and silver--always! But where is
it? Some jewelry, but not much; the bracelets of one generation are
melted by the next. A very small percentage disappears from wear. Of
course, there is a little lost. A little more is buried and forgotten.
But the balance--the accumulated surplus of at least six thousand
years--I estimate it as a heap as great as the pyramid of Gizeh! And.
where is it?"

Chullunder Ghose blinked. Ali ben Ali drew his knife and stuck it
quivering in the floor again. Narayan Singh breathed sibilantly through
set teeth. Jeremy palmed his twenty sovereigns in a pile, and they all
disappeared except one, which was fascinating; he did it again and again,
and you couldn't tell where the nineteen were until he caught them out of
air in his left hand.

"What became of the gold of Solomon?" da Gama asked. "He had so much of
it. The records say men thought nothing of gold and silver during his
reign. He died, and the gold went--where? Some say Solomon himself was
one of the Nine Unknown--"

"Who says that?" King demanded.

"I for one!" da Gama answered. "But there are books. Ask Cyprian the
priest. He has them. Where is the gold the Spaniards and the Portuguese
shipped home from South America and Mexico? Where is all the product of
the Rand and of Australia? They took seven billions of dollars worth of
gold and silver from the Comstock--just one reef in Nevada--yet tell me:
how much gold and silver is there in the world to-day? The greatest
hoard--greater than all other known hoards put together--is in the United
States Treasury, and it doesn't amount to a hat-full compared to the
total that is known to have been mined in the course of history! Where
has the rest disappeared?"

"That's what we're asking _you_," Grim warned him; and Ali ben Ali drew
the handle of his knife back and let go so that it hummed like a thing
thrown.

"I must see the books that Cyprian the priest has," da Gama answered,
looking at the knife and shuddering.

"They give no clue to the treasure," King answered.

Da Gama actually laughed, a thing he hardly ever did. It sounded like
something breaking. Jeremy laughed too, like breaking water, and palmed
all twenty sovereigns with one sweep, instantly showing the same hand
empty.

"The hand deceives the eye!" said Jeremy. "And I've seen written stuff
that fooled a banker's clerk!"

"No book can fool me!" said da Gama, slapping his forehead and showing
the cloven weakness as he smiled. "I know Sanskrit as Max Müller never
dreamed of knowing it! Show me the books of Cyprian the priest and I will
tell you where the treasure is!"

"You're talking rot!" said Jeremy. "If Father Cyprian has the books and
they contain the secret, why can't he go straight and find the
treasure? Eh? We wouldn't waste whisky on you!"

"Pardon me, but it is little whisky that you waste," da Gama answered.
"As for Cyprian, the man is blinded by fanaticism. He knows a little
Sanskrit--just perhaps enough to pass for erudition among
ignoramuses--brut he will not read what he sees. He is purblind."

"I read what I saw, and I know more than a little Sanskrit," King
retorted quietly, but da Gama was more than ever cock-sure and sneered
back at him.

"If Cyprian the priest were not a fool," he said, "he would have set his
communicants to stealing books from me! For I have the keys to his books,
and he can not read his without mine. And all my keys are good for is to
fit the locks that he guards like a miser! Get me his books, and I will
unlock their secrets for you in a week. In ten days I will show you such
a heap of gold and silver as will make you mad! I wish to see you mad!
Have no fear that I will disappoint you!"

Nevertheless, there was not one man in the room who would have dared
place Father Cyprian's books in the hands of da Gama.

"Let's see; you have escaped the vengeance of the Nine how many years?"
asked Grim, and da Gana laughed again. He saw the point.

"Bring us your books, and you shall compare them with Father Cyprian's,"
said King. "Thereafter, the books are his, but you shall have as much as
you can use of any gold and silver found."

Da Gama hesitated. He had intellect, and worked it--prided himself on
that. Few of the human passions, except drink and avarice and infidelity,
had any influence with him, so he reviewed the situation on its merits,
being candid with himself. Like Grim, he sought no solace but results,
and he would have wondered why Grim despised him, had he been aware of
it.

"I can not bring my books," he said. "They weigh too much."

"We'll carry them," offered Jeremy.

"Give me a drink," da Gama answered, nodding. It was obvious he agreed,
with a proviso.

The babu poured forth whisky into the office tumbler and presented it. Da
Gama drank.

"We should have an understanding," he said, smacking his lips. "There was
wisdom in the accumulation of gold and silver by the Nine. Don't
disregard that. It all has to do with the _Kali Yug_ [*] and its end
that was prophesied six thousand years ago. The purpose is to cheapen
money by the squandrous abundance of it--"

[* The age of darkness referred to in Sanskrit writings.]

"Krishna!" gasped Chullunder Ghose.

"--to abolish capitalism--do you see?" da Gama went on. "That will be the
end of the _Kali Yug_. Capitalism is the age of darkness. To put in
place of money--brains--intellect, that is the idea. To cheapen money by
abundance, not of promises to pay, but of veritable gold and silver.
Money being worthless, brains will count--intellect--you understand me?
Have you intellect? No! Just habits! Have I intellect? Oh yes! But have I
the reforming zeal? By no means! I am lazy. Let the world remain material
and money-drunk; it suits me better! Can you accomplish anything without
my intellect? No indeed. You can not understand the Sanskrit, which is a
language of conundrums. You would turn the floods of money loose and
create a havoc. Money would be worthless, and you no better off. In the
books the Nine Unknown possess is the only secret of how to prevent the
havoc. It means high thinking, and that is hard work--too hard. I say,
let us take advantage of the money, and not turn it loose. Let the
_Kali Yug_ persist! Let us be rich--wealthy--affluent beyond the
dreams--"

"Nay, nay! There is no affluence beyond my dreams!" said Ali, plucking at
his knife. "I could use a million _crores_ of gold and silver! I
would buy the North--and build a city--and raise a _lashkar_ [*]
such as Iskander's [**]--and--and speak not of millenniums! The world
will burn my day out! Produce but the gold, thou Portuguese!"

[* Army.]

[** Alexander the Great.]

"Produce the books!" said Grim.

The Portuguese got down from the high stool and leaned his back against
it.

"Are we agreed about the money?" he asked, looking from eye to eye for
disagreement.

His was that disposition. He would promise anything to men in whom the
seed of disagreement lay, knowing that the future would hold opportunity.
But his wandering eye was fascinated by Jeff Ramsden's clenched, enormous
fist. It seemed to symbolize. It was a totem. It did not stand for
intellect, but it was heartbreakingly honest, neither Latin in its
attitude toward a problem, nor cynical, nor unjust--not too
credulous--just aboveboard, and direct, and faithful.

"Produce the books!" repeated Grim.

But he was dealing with the Latin temperament, which is not frank,
reserving always little secret back-ways out from its commitments.

"I will go and arrange it," da Gama answered. Whereat Jeremy did three
tricks in succession with a coin, as if by way of illustration.

"I'll go with you," Ramsden volunteered. "I can carry quite a lot of
books."

"No!" said the Portuguese, contriving to look scandalized in the way the
Latin nations do when any one suggests a view of their back-yard. "There
are my personalities. I mean, I am not a pip-show. I go alone. I will
arrange. You may meet me. You shall have the books."

"I have seven sons," announced Ali ben Ali of Sikunderam, with his steel
eyes focused on infinity, as if he were dreaming of his distant hills.

"Well--they would, no doubt, do to carry books," said the Portuguese, not
understanding him.

Whereat Ali ben Ali got up and left the room, Narayan Singh locking the
door again when he was gone. The others understood that perfectly.

"Go and make your arrangements. Where will you meet us?" Grim demanded.

"Do you know my quarters? There then," said the Portuguese. "In an hour?
No, that is too soon. I have books in one place and another. They must be
collected. Come to-night."

"Leave one of those coins with me," said Jeremy. "You shall have it
back."

Da Gama made a gesture of magnificence and passed the chamois-leather
bag. Jeremy tipped the contents into his hand, and chose, holding up a
coin between his fingers.

"What's it worth?" he asked. "You can have it when you like, but--"

"Write me a receipt for it."

Da Gama took a crumpled sheet of paper from his pocket and straightened
it out, smoothing the reverse side.

"This babu advising skepticism, as aforesaid! Safety first!" advised
Chullunder Ghose, squirming nervously. "Same being ancient adage!"

"I get you," laughed Jeremy, and he waved aside the proffered sheet of
paper, which da Gama pocketed again with an air of impudent indifference.

Jeremy produced an English five-pound note from his pocketbook and wrote
his name on it. [*]

[* A formality usually required before any responsible party, will cash a
stranger's bank-note.]

"Take it. I'll trade back whenever you say."

The Portuguese looked disappointed but folded the five-pound note on
second thought and slipped it in the lining of his hat.

"So," he said tartly, "I can not make use of that one, since it is
offered as security. If your excellency had another of the same
denomination, to be lent me pending--"

King pulled out his wallet at once and produced the equivalent of five
pounds in Indian currency notes. The Portuguese accepted them, and they
needed no signature.

"_Gracas_. To be repaid, _señor_. Then we meet tonight--at
my--ah--hotel."

He bowed magnificently, wholly unaware that the gesture made him look
ridiculous. Narayan Singh unlocked the office door, and he backed out,
continuing to bow, ignoring nobody, treating Chullunder Ghose to equal
deference, the sneer on his yellow face giving the lie offensive and
direct to his politeness, and he unconscious of it. He believed he made a
most impressive exit.

"He is thirsty--very thirsty. And he has five pounds," remarked
Chullunder Ghose, as apropos of nothing as the Northerner's remark had
been about his seven sons.

"Let's look at the coin," said Grim, and Jeremy passed it.

Grim is a numismatist, if a job in a museum at the age of eighteen can
make a man that. They sent him to the Near East subsequently on the
strength of what he knew. He shook his head.

"It's the same one Cyprian showed us. I've never seen one, nor a
reproduction of one like it. I believe it's older than Cyrene. It's not
Indian--at least, that isn't Sanskrit lettering--and it's better made
than any of the earliest coins we know about. That might be a coin from
lost Atlantis!"

"Pre-Adamite!" suggested Jeremy, but Grim was serious.

"I tell you," he answered as the door burst open and Ali of Sikunderam
strode in, "we're in touch with the riddle of all history--the riddle of
the Sphinx perhaps! Oh Lord, if we can only keep in touch!"

"By Allah, there are worse responsibilities than seven sons!" said Ali
ben Ali, grinning. His grin sat crosswise of a black beard like sea-foam
in the night. "If keeping touch is all your honor asks, then count it
done!"

"Does a watched pot boil? or a watched thief steal? or a watched door
open? Your sons will interfere with him!" remarked Chullunder Ghose,
scratching his nose with an action suggestive of thumbing it.

"Bellyful of forebodings! They have orders not to interfere with him,"
the Northerner retorted.

"Simply to watch?" asked King.

"Simply to watch him."

"Watch me!" said Jeremy. "Come close if you like."

He palmed the prehistoric coin in half-a-dozen ways in swift succession,
making it move from hand to hand unseen, and plucking it at last from
mid-air, said:

"I'll bet a fiver the Don steals a march on us."

"He will steal nothing!"

Ali ben Ali of Sikunderam held up a hand as if declaiming in the mosque.

"My seven sons are the cleverest thieves that live! A thief can fool a
non-thief, but not a professional. They are seven to one!"

But Jeremy laughed. Whereat Ramsden, bearded like the bust of Anthony,
unclenched his fist and let go the burden of his thoughts. He was a
prospector by profession, used to figuring in terms of residue.

"Forty million ounces!" he exclaimed. "Do you know what only one million
ounces a year, say, for six thousand years would mean--how many trains of
box-cars it would take to move it? It would need a fleet of ocean liners!
Talk of secrecy's a joke!"

"Nine Unknown having kept said secret for six thousand years!" Chullunder
Ghose retorted.

"And whose is the money by right?" asked Grim; that being the kind of
poser you could count on him for.

"The fighter's--the finder's!" shouted Ali of Sikunderam, and Narayan
Singh agreed, nodding, saying nothing, permitting his brown eyes to glow.
And at that Chullunder Ghose looked owlish, knowing that the soldier wins
but never keeps; sacrifices, serves, eats promises, and dies in vain. He
did not tell all he knew, being a rather wise civilian. He
sighed--Chullunder Ghose did.

"There possibly may be enough for all of us!" he said, rolling his eyes
upward meekly.

Then Cyprian returned from strolling in the Chandni Chowk with that
incurious consent of crowds conferred on priests and all old men--between
the hours of indignation.

"You didn't hurt him? Children, you didn't hurt him?" he demanded. "Did
lie drink a little too much? Did he talk?"

King and Grim repeated what had happened, Cyprian smiling, shaking his
head slowly--possibly because of old-age, yet perhaps not. At eighty
years a man knows how to take advantage of infirmity.

"The long spoon!" lie said. "The long spoon! It only gives the devil
leverage! You should have kept him here."

Ali ben Ali flared up at that, Koran in mind along with many other
scriptures that assail the alien priest. "My sons--" he began.

"Are children, too," said Cyprian. "I credit them with good intentions."

"They are men!" said Ali, and turned his back.

Then Jeremy, who has no reverence for any one or anything, but two men's
share of natural affection, took Cyprian by the arm and coaxed him away
to lunch at a commercial club, promising him a nap on a sofa in a corner
of the empty cloakroom afterwards. The ostensible bait he used was an
offer to introduce a man who owned an ancient roll of Sanskrit
_mantras_; but it was Jeremy's own company that tempted; Cyprian
leans on him, and seems to replenish his aging strength from the
Australian's superabundant store--a strange enough condition, for as
religion goes, or its observances, they are wider than the poles apart.

"All things to all men, ain't you, Pop!" said Jeremy. "Come and eat
curried quail. The wine's on ice."

"And there you are!" remarked Chullunder Ghose, as the two went out,
illustrating the "thereness" of the "areness" by catching a fly on the
wing with his thumb and forefinger and releasing it through the open
window, presumably unharmed. "Matters of mystery still lack elucidation,
but 'the wine's on ice!' How Anglo-Saxon! Wonderful! United States now
holding greater part of world's supply of gold, and India holding total
invisible ditto, same are as plus and minus--so we go to lunch! I
dishonestly propose to issue bills of exchange against undiscovered
empyrean equity, but shall be voted down undoubtedly--_verb. sap._ as
saying is--brow-beaten, sat upon--yet only wise man of the aggregation.
Sell stock, that is my advice! Issue gilt-edge scrip at premium, and
pocket consequences! Sell in U. S. A. undoubtedly, residing subsequently
in Brazil. But there you are! Combination of Christian priest, Sikh,
fanatical Moslem, freethinker, agnostic, Methodist minister's son and
cynicalist, is too overwhelming for shrewdness to prevail. Myself, am
cynicalist, same being syndicalist with opportunist tendencies. I go to
tiffin. Appetite--a good digestion--a siesta. __Sahibs__--humbly
wishing you the same--_salaam_!"

Chullunder Ghose, too, bowed himself out backward, almost as politely as
the Portuguese had done--indubitably mocking--giving no offense, because,
unlike the Portuguese, he did not sneer.



CHAPTER III - LIGHT AND LONGER WEAPONS


In their day the Portuguese produced more half-breeds per capita than any
other nation in the world; there are stories about a bonus once paid for
half-breed babies. Their descendants advertise the Portuguese of Goa
without exactly cherishing the institutions of the land that gave them
origin. They have become a race, not black nor white, nor even yellow,
but all three; possessed of resounding names and of virtues that offset
some peculiarities; not loving Goa, they have scattered. A few have grown
very rich, and all exist in a no-man's land between the rival castes and
races, where some continue to be very poor indeed. Others are cooks,
stewards, servants; and a few, like Fernandez de Mendoza de Sousa Diomed
Braganza, keep hotels.

His was the Star of India, an amazing place with a bar and a license to
sell drinks, but with a separate entrance for people ridden by
compunctions. It was an ancient building, timbered with teak but added to
with sheets of corrugated iron, whitewashed. Some of the upper rooms were
connected with the cellar by cheap iron piping of large diameter, up
which those customers who had a reputation to preserve might pull their
drink in bottles by a string. Still other pipes were used for whispering
purposes. In fact the "Star of India Hostelry" was "known to the police,"
and was never raided, it being safer to leave villains a place where they
thought themselves safe from observation.

As happens in such cases, the Star of India had a respectable reputation.
Thieves only haunt the known thieves' dens in story books. It was no
place for a white man who insisted on his whiteness, nor for Delhi
residents, nor for social lions. Nevertheless, it was crowded from cellar
to roof with guests belonging by actual count to nineteen major castes,
including more or less concealed and wholly miserable women-folk. The
women in such a place who keep themselves from contact and defilement
suffer worse than souls in the seventh pit of Dante's hell.

Nine out of ten of the guests were litigants in from the country, waiting
their turn in the choked courts, tolerating Diomed's hospitality because
it was cheap. The farce of caste-restrictions could be more or less
observed. Intrigue was easy. You could "see" the lawyer of the other
side. And as for thieves and risks, where are there none? The tenth in
every instance was undoubtedly a thief--or worse.

There lived da Gama, pure blooded Portuguese, greatly honoring the
half-breed by his presence. Like the caste-women, da Gama kept within the
stifling walls by day as a general rule. But, again as in the women's
case, his nights were otherwise. _They_ went to the roof then, where
such little breeze as moved was hampered by curtains hung on
clothes-lines to make privacy. _He_ went to the streets, and was
absent very likely all night long, none knowing what became of him, and
none succeeding in entering his locked, large, corner room.

That night King, Grim, Ramsden and Jeremy went to Diomed's hotel to keep
their tryst with da Gama. They were dressed, except Jeremy, as Jats--a
race with a reputation for taking care of itself, and consequently seldom
interfered with; surly, moreover, and not given to answering strangers'
questions. Jeremy wore Arab clothes, that being the easiest part he
plays; plenty of Arabs go to Delhi, because of the agitation about the
Khalifate, so he excited no, more comment than the other three.

Mainly, in India, the religions keep apart. But that is where the Goanese
comes in. He acts as flux in a sort of unacknowledged way, currying favor
and abuse from all sides. There were in Diomed's Star of India hotel not
only Sikhs and Hindus, but bearded gentry, too, from up Peshawar way,
immensely anxious for the fate of women-folk they left behind them, but
not so respectful of a Hindu's matrimonial prejudices.

So the roof was parceled into sanctuaries marked by lines of sheeting,
each stifling square in which a lantern glowed--a seraglio, crossing of
whose threshold might lead to mayhem; for nerves were on end those
murderous hot nights, and lawsuits had not sweetened dispositions.

To the Northerners the quartering of that roof by night was pure sport,
risk adding zest. They were artists at making dove-cotes flutter--past
grand masters of the lodge whose secret is the trick of making women coo
and blush before their husbands' eyes. And not even an angry Hindu
husband takes chances, if he can help it, with the Khyber knife that
licks out like summer lightning in its owner's fist. So there were
doings, and a deal of wrath.

King, Grim, Ramsden and Jeremy found da Gama's room and drew it blank.
There was a key-hole, but it was screened on the inside by a leather flap
that yielded when pushed with a wire without giving a view of the room.
Some one--there was always some one lurking in a corner in the Star of
India, possibly a watchman and perhaps not--volunteered the information
that the "excellency __sahib__" might be on the roof.

Fernandez de Mendoza de Sousa Diomed Braganza, sent for, denied having a
pass-key to the room or any knowledge of its occupant's movements. He,
too, deliberately non-committal, suggested the roof and, deciding there
was no money to be made, began to be rude. So Grim offered him fifty
rupees for one look at the inside of da Gama's room.

"There is nothing in there," Diomed insisted.

Grim raised the offer to a hundred and then pretended to lose interest,
starting away; whereat the Goanese chased all possible informers out of
the passage, produced an enormous key, and pushed wide the two-inch teak
door that was supposed to keep da Gama's secrets.

"I told you there was nothing in there!" he said, pocketing Grim's money.

He was right to all intents and purposes. There were a bed, one chair, a
little table, half-a-dozen empty shelves, and a cheap old-fashioned
wardrobe, from which such garments as da Gama owned had been thrown out
on the floor. For the rest, a dirty tumbler, two empty bottles, a carafe,
pens, ink, paper, a dilapidated dictionary and some odds and ends.

"Where are his books?" Grim asked.

"Gone!" said the Goanese unguardedly.

"Then there _were_ books!"

"That is to say your excellency, __sahib__--how should I know? Are you
spies for the police? If so--" Grim showed him another hundred-rupee
note.

"I am a poor man," said Diomed. "I would like your honor's money. But
I know nothing."

The eyes of a Goanese are like a dog's, mild, meek, incalculably
faithful; but to what they are faithful is his own affair. He is likely
not faithful to the world, which has broken trust with the half-breed too
often for the shattered bits to be repaired. He was afraid of
something--some one--and too faithful to the fear to take any liberties.

Nevertheless, the room was dumbly eloquent. It had been raided recently
by men who were at no pains to conceal the fact. Even the pockets of the
clothes were inside out.

"How many men came?" Grim demanded.

"_Sahib--bahadur_--your excellency's honor--I do not know!
Are you spies for the police?" he asked again, and then smiled suddenly
at the absurdity of that, for the police don't argue with hundred-rupee
notes. "I will die rather than say a word!" he continued, and crossed
himself.

"You know Father Cyprian?" asked Jeremy in English, so unexpectedly that
the Goanese stampeded.

"You must all come out! I must lock the door! You must go away at once!"
he urged. "Yes, oh yes, I know Father Cyprian--an old man--veree
estimable--oh, yes. Go away!"

"Take my tip. Confess to Father Cyprian! Let's try the roof," said
Jeremy; and as it was no use staying where they were the others followed
him.

"You see," said Jeremy over his shoulder, pausing on the narrow wooden
stairs, with one hand on the rail, "if he goes and confesses to Cyprian,
Cyprian won't tell us, but he'll know, and what's in a man's head governs
him. Better have Cyprian know than none of us."

They emerged on the roof into new bewilderment, for there were
sheets--sheets everywhere, and shadows on them, but no explanation--only
a pantomime in black and white, exaggerated by the flapping and the
leaping lights. Somewhere a man sang a Hindu love-song, and an Afghan was
trying to sing him out of countenance, wailing his own dirge of what the
Afghan thinks is love--all about infidelity and mayhem.

"That's one of Ali's seven sons," said King, so Grim cried out, and the
man came, swaggering between the sheets and breaking down a few as his
elbows came in contact with the string, leaving a chattering rage in his
wake that pleased him beyond measure. Nor was it one of the sons at all,
but Ali of Sikunderam himself.

"Where is the Portuguese?" King asked him.

"My sons have him in view. I don't know just now where he is."

"Where are they?"

"That's just it. I don't know. They were to report here one by one, as
each watched him for a distance and then turned him over to another."

"And none has returned."

"No, none yet."

"What have you been doing?"

"By Allah! Quarreling with Hindus. If you _sahibs_ had not come
there is one who might have found his manhood presently and made sport--"

"Have you watched da Gama's room?" demanded King.

"Nay, why should I? Who should watch a bat's nest! I have held the roof,
where my sons may find me."

"Then you don't know who, or how many men went to the Portuguese's room?"
Ramsden asked him.

"Ask the Prophet! How should I know! You heard me say I kept roof," he
retorted. He had a notion that Ramsden was a subordinate who might be
snubbed, because he said less than the others.

"Are your sons as wide-awake as you are?" Ramsden asked; and Jeremy,
seeing his friend's fist, drew deductions; he whistled softly and stood
aside.

"My sons are--"

"The Seven Sleepers!" Jeff suggested, finishing the sentence for him;
which was cartel and defiance in the raw code of Sikunderam, although
Ramsden hardly knew that yet.

He learned it then. Ali whipped his knife out and sprang, being due some
education too.

The knife went whinnying through the air and pierced a sheet, where it
knocked a Hindu lantern out and was recovered presently. Before a hand
could interfere or a word restrain them Ali and Ramsden were at grips.
The hairy Northerner within the space of ten grunts lost his footing and
began to know the feel of helplessness; for Ramsden's strength is as
prodigious as his calmness in emergency.

As easily as he had wrenched the knife away Jeff whirled the Afghan off
his feet and shook him, the way a terrier shakes a rat, making his teeth
rattle and a couple of hidden knives, some cartridges and a little money
go scattering along the roof--shook him until all the kick was out of
him--shook him until his backbone ached and even his desperate fingers,
weakening, ceased from clawing for a hold.

Then, holding him with one hand by the throat so that he gurgled, Jeff
set him on his feet, reserving his other fist for such necessity as might
arise.

"This had to come," he said. "Now--you know English--are we friends or
enemies?"

He let go with a laugh and shoved Ali back on to his heels, ready to grip
again if the other should choose enmity.

"By Allah! Wait until my sons learn this!" gasped Ali, rubbing the throat
under his beard where Jeff's thumb had inserted itself.

"I will lick them two at a time when their turn comes. Now's your turn.
What's _your_ answer?"

Ali looked in vain for a hint of sympathy. The others stood back, giving
the man of their own race full opportunity. There was nothing for Ali ben
Ali to do but capitulate or fight. He did not stomach either course
contentedly.

"If I say friend you will think I am a coward," he retorted.

"If you say enemy, I will know you are a fool!" said Ramsden, laughing;
and that was additional cause for offense, for whatever you do you must
not laugh when you speak of weighty issues with Sikunderam.

"You laugh at me? By--"

Ramsden realized his error in the nick of time. Sikunderam would submit
to being thrown off the roof rather than be laughed at.

"I jested with the thought that you could he a fool," Jeff answered.

It was lame, but it just limped. It gave the Northerner his chance to
back down gracefully.

"By Allah, I am friend or enemy! Nothing by halves with me!" said Ali. "I
am not afraid of life or death, so take your choice!"

"No, _your_ choice," Jeff answered.

"Mine? Well, I have enemies and by Allah a friend is as scarce as an
honest woman! Let these be witnesses. I call you friend!"

"Shake hands," said Ramsden, and Ali shook, a little warily because of
the strength of the grip he had felt.

"You have the best of the bargain," he said, striving to grin, not
finding it too easy, for he passed in his own land for a man who brooked
no insult. "You are one man and I eight, for I have seven sons!"

"If they're included," answered Jeff, "that saves my thrashing them!"

"They _are_ included, for the sake of thy great thews," said Ali.
"Now they are yours as well as mine. Your honor is theirs, and theirs
yours. We become nine!"

"Nine again!" laughed Jeremy. "If any one were superstitious--!"

Jeff thought of a superstition, and of Ali's knife that had gone
slithering through the sheet and smashed a lamp. The Northern knife is
more than weapon. It is emblem, sacrificial tool, insignia of manhood,
keeper of the faith, in one. Jeff set out to find the knife and give it
back, doing the handsome thing rather more effectively because of
clumsiness.

Seizing a handful of the Hindu's. slit sheet, he tore the whole thing
down, disclosing two inquisitively angry women and a man. The man was
stout, and could not speak for indignation, but was not so bereft of his
senses that he did not know the value of a silver-inlaid Khyber knife.

Jeff threw the sheet over the women, solving that part of the problem
with accustomed common sense, and solved the other with his toe,
inserting it under the indignant Hindu, who was exactly wide enough of
beam to hover the whole weapon under him diagonally as he sat still with
his legs crossed. Jeff seized the long knife, picked up a corner of the
bobbing sheet, pushed the Hindu under it to join his women-folk, and
offered the knife to Ali, hilt-first.

"Thou art my brother!" exclaimed Ali, minded to grow eloquent. Emotion
urged him to express his fundamental creed, and the easiest thing in the
world that minute would have been to start him slitting Hindu throats.
"Together thou and I will beard the Nine Unknown!" he boasted. "We nine
will show the rest the way! By Allah--"

He was working himself up to prodigies of boasting, to be followed
certainly by equally prodigious feats, for that is how swashbuckling
propagates itself; and no mistake is greater than to think swashbuckling
is unimportant; the world's red history has been written with its
sword-points.

"Thou and I--"

But there came interruption. One of his sons arrived, striding like a
Hillman up the stairs and touching nothing with his garments, as a cat
can go through undergrowth. A young man, with his beard not more than
quilling out.

"Now we shall know!" said Ali, and King took the youngster's elbow,
swinging him into the midst, where he stood self-consciously.

"Where is the Portuguese?" King asked him. "The Portuguese?"

Ali of Sikunderam, magnificently posing, scratched his beard and grew
increasingly aware of anti-climax as the meaning of the question was
explained. The youngest of the seven sons with his spurs to win and no
more than a murder yet to his credit seemed to be lagging behind
opportunity--forgot--was stupid.

"Oh! Ah! Yes. That little yellow man--him with the little black beard and
the black coat--da Gama--him you mean? How should I know where he is? Oh
yes, I followed him a little way. But there were others, who left this
roost with him, carrying books and rolls and things like that. One
beckoned me and ordered me to carry books. Hah! He was a Hindu by the
look of him, a man in a yellow smock. Having received my answer, which
was a good one, he acknowledged his mistake and paid me a compliment. He
said he had not understood. He had been told that porters and dependable
guards would come, and had mistaken me for a porter. He asked my
forgiveness, standing in mid-street with his arms full of musty
books--what sort of books? Allah! How should I know! Not a Koran among
them, you may be sure of that!--I wasn't interested in his books--He said
that men would soon come from a house in the next street, who would seek
to kill him, so would I go to that house--he described it to me, and an
evil place it is--and obstruct the men who came out, quarreling if need
be? Well--that was a man's work, and I went. I have just come from
there."

"What of da Gama? What happened? Did you see the Portuguese?"

The questions came like pistol-shots in several languages--English,
Punjabi, Pushtu, Hindustanee.

"No. I don't know what became of the Portuguese. There was a woman
there--inside. I followed her in. Men came later, and I hamstrung one of
them! When I can find my brothers we will all go to that house, and there
will be happenings!"

There was nothing to be said. Not even Ali spoke a word. The youngster
went rambling on, inventing things he might have said and deeds he might
have done if he had thought of them at the time, until it slowly dawned
on him that there was something lacking of enthusiasm in his audience.
Ali did not even trust himself to utter a rebuke, and none else cared to.
The vibrations of bitter disappointment--if that is what they are--made
themselves felt at last, and the young man backed away, explaining--to
himself--to the night at large:

"How should I have known? The man said _he_ would carry books, and
would I do the dangerous work? Am I a coward? How could I refuse him? And
besides--"

There came two others of the seven--older men--hard breathing, breaking
out in sweat, and anxious for news of Abdullah the youngest. They had
seen nothing of the Portuguese at all. In accordance with a plan--a
"perfect" plan as they explained it--they had waited in the appointed
shadows to see the Portuguese go by. There were only six streets he could
take, and they had watched each one, leaving the youngest to tag along
behind the Portuguese and act as communicating link. Whichever way the
Portuguese should take, the brother whom he passed would follow; and
Abdullah, the youngest, would run to inform the others. The plan was
perfect. The Prophet himself could not have devised a better one.

But Abdullah had not come. And another man _had_ come, who said
Abdullah was lying belly-upward of a knife-thrust in another street. So.
They went to see, Suliman first finding Ahmed, so as to have company and
help in case of a brawl. Not finding Abdullah they had come back.

"There is Abdullah," remarked Ali dryly. "Beat him!"

Which they did. Like the immortal Six Hundred at Balaclava, theirs not to
reason why. They beat him to the scandal of a whole community that
bivouacked on one roof, and rival roofs with no such violence to
entertain them cat-called comment to and fro, casting aspersions on the
house and good name of Fernandez de Mendoza de Sousa Diomed Braganza, who
could not endure that in silence, naturally. He came up on the roof to
investigate.

Running into King and cannoning into Grim off Ramsden, Diomed recognized
the strangers who had invaded his hotel, paying money for unprofitable
answers, and undoubtedly not sent by the police. That was enough. The
stranger is the man to turn on, because the crowd is sure to back you up.
Besides, he had their hundred rupees, which probably exhausted that
source of revenue--and the dry cow to the butcher, every time!

Striking an attitude that would have cheapened Hector on the walls of
Troy with his straight black hair abristle like a parokeet's crest,
Diomed Braganza called on the "honorable guests of his hotel" to "come
and throw robbers off the roof,"--a dangerous summons on a hot night in a
land where passion lies about skin deep and nearly all folk have a bone
to pick with Providence.

There had been enough North country horse-play, and enough meek tolerance
for once. The women's voices chattered like a hennery aroused at night,
and the men responded, from instinct and emotion, which combine into the
swiftness and the fury of a typhoon.

"I am your servant! I have tried to make you comfortable! These ruffians
are too many for me!" shouted Diomed. "Come and help me, noblemen--my
guests!"

They came with a rush, the nearest hesitating under cover of the flapping
sheets until they saw and felt pressure behind them and the dam went
down, not in a tide of courage but of anger with the racial rage on top,
which is the swiftest of all, and the fiercest.

That was no time to argue. Ramsden took Diomed by thigh and shoulder,
raised him overhead, and hurled him screaming and kicking into the thick
of the assault, to create a diversion if the half-breed had, it in him.
And he hadn't! He had shot his bolt and served his minute. Three or four
went down under his impact, but the rest ignored him as the spate screams
past an obstacle. And there were knives--clubs--things thrown. Over and
through and under all the noise there was a penetrating voice that
prodded at the seat of anger:

"They are spies! They are government agents! _Bande Materam_!" [*]

[* Hail Motherland!--the slogan of the Indian nationalist.]

Ramsden held the stairhead for the others to back down one by one, King
dragging Ali ben Ali by wrist and neck to keep him from using his Khyber
knife that according to his own account of it had leaped from the sheath
unbidden. (Ali was not the first, at that, to blame his true reactions on
to untrue circumstance.) And even so, King only held him as you hold a
hound in leash, until the moment--which occurred when Grim and Jeremy
fell backward down the stairs together, struck by a bed hurled at random;
wooden frame and loose, complaining springs that whirred like the devil
in action. King dodged to avoid the thing, and Ali cut loose to uphold
the testy honor of Sikunderam.

So there was a scrimmage for a minute at the stairhead that beat
football, Grim and Jeremy returning, forcing their way upward to stand
with their friends, and the others all in one another's way as each
insisted on retreating last and all except Ali helped to plug the narrow
exit. They had Ali's sons in the midst of them, for precaution, but that
arrangement did not last long. Ali's Khyber knife was whickering and
working in the dark a stride or two ahead, and some one reached Ali with
a long stick, drawing blood. Ali yelled--not a call for help
exactly, yet the same thing, "_Akbar! Allaho akbar_!" the challenging,
unanswerable battle-yell of Islam, naming two truths, one implied--that
"God is great" and that the witness of it means to die there fighting.

Might as well have tried to hold a typhoon then as Ali's three sons.
There was one who had been beaten, with his pride, all raw, aspiring to
be comforted in anybody's blood. He broke first, but the other two were
only a fraction of a second after him, and there was a fight joined in
the dark a dozen feet ahead, where men hurled broken lanterns, bed-legs,
copper cooking-pots, friend hitting friend--where a fool with a whistling
chain lashed right and left--and answering the "_Akbar! Akbar! Allaho
akbar_!" of Sikunderam there rose and fell the "_Bande Materam_!" of some
one prodding Sikh and Hindu passion.

"Hail motherland!" You can stir the lees of almost any crowd with that
cry. Thought of retreat had to go to the winds as King, Grim, Ramsden and
Jeremy hurled themselves into the fray to disentangle Ali and his
illegitimates, if possible--as all things, of course, are possible to men
whose guts are in the right place.

Possible, but not so easy! It was dark, for one thing; all the lamps were
smashed that had not been extinguished by the women, and Ali had
deliberately struck to kill at least a dozen times, using the quick,
upturning thrust that lets a victim's bowels out. There was blood in
quantity that made the foot slip on the roof and, though it was
impossible to see how many he had hit--and his own count of a hundred was
ridiculous--there was no doubt of the rage for retaliation. The men in
front were yelling to the men behind for light and longer weapons, and
three or four came running with a pole like a phalanx-spear, while shouts
from below announced that some had fallen off the roof.

Another shout, worse, wilder, turned that shambles into panic in which
women fought men with their long pins for a footing on the stair.

"Fire!" And the acrid, stringing smell of it before the cry had died away
and left one man--Grim--aware that he who had started the "_Bande
Materam_" and he who had cried "Fire!" were the same! It was the note of
cynicism--the mechanical, methodical, exactly timed note--the note of
near-contemptuous understanding that informed Grin.

Not that information did him any good, just then. There was a rush of
panic-stricken brutes, plunging deathward in the lust for mere life,
screaming, stripping, scrambling, striking, tearing at the clothing of
the ranks ahead; and the half-inch iron pipe that did for stairhead
railing went down like a straw before it, so that men, women, children
poured into the opening like meat into a hopper and there jammed, filling
the jaws of death too fast! Others leaped on top of that, hoping to
unplug the opening by impact, or perhaps beyond hope, crazed. There
wasn't anything to do that could be clone. No seven men in all the earth
could tame that rush--not even Ramsden, who fought like old Horatius on
the bridge across the Tiber, and was borne hack on his heels until lie
swayed above the street and saved himself by a side leap along the low
parapet.

Then the smoke cane, billowing upward all around the roof, and a
scream arose from the people jammed in the stairhead--song of a
charnel-house!--hymn of the worst death!--and an obbligato made of
crackling. Then the smell, as human flesh took fire, worse even than the
Screaming and the roar of flames!

Through all that ran a bellowing--incessant--everlastingly repeated--on
another note than the mob-yell from the street and the brazen gong of the
arriving firemen--penetrating through the scream and the increasing crash
of timbers--giving a direction through the choking smoke as a fog-horn
does at sea.

"Jimgrim! Oh, J-i-m-g-r-i-m! Oh, J-i-m-g-r-i-m! It is I--Narayan Singh!
Come this way, J-i-m-g-r-i-m!"

Over and over again, unvarying, on one note, nasal, recognizable at last
as bellowed through the brass horn of a phonograph--the summons of a sane
man in a sea of fear!

Grim gathered the others. There was light now and a man could see, for
the flames had burst the roof. Thirty or forty more of Diomed Braganza's
guests swooped this and that way in a herd like mercury on a tipping
plate, and one cried that the bellowing through the trumpet was the voice
of God! That was the end, of course. Fatalism multiplied itself with fear
and they leaped, hand-in-hand some of them, some dead before they reached
the street and others killing those they fell on. Sixty feet from coping
down to pavement--plenty for the Providence that governs such things!

"Jimgrim! Oh, J-i-m-g-r-i-m! Oh, J-i-m-g-r-i-m! It is I--Narayan Singh!
Come this way, J-i-m-g-r-i-m!"

Grim took to his heels and the others after him, running along the
two-foot parapet because the roof was hot and smoking through--leaping
the right-angle corner to avoid a flame that licked like a long
tongue--making for the middle of the rear end, where the smoke blew back,
away from them, and they saw a man like the spirit of the black night
shouting through a brass phonograph horn thirty feet away from a roof
across the narrow street.

"Jimgrim! Oh, J-i-m-g-r-i-m!"

"Here we all are! What now, Narayan Singh!"

"_Sahib_, there is a ladder below you! Reach for it!"

Too low! Too late! The ladder lay dimly visible along a ledge ten feet
below. They saw it as the roof gave in and a gust of flame scorched
upward like the breath of a titanic cannon, illuminating acres. All the
secret tubes for conveying drinks and information in the "Star of India"
were carrying draft now. The core of the inferno was white-hot. King's
and Ali's clothes began to burn; the others were singeing. Narayan
Singh's voice through the brass horn bellowed everlastingly, emphasizing
one idea, over and over:

"For the love of God, _sahib_, reach that ladder!"

The ladder was out of reach.

"I don't cook good!" laughed Jeremy, amused with life even in the face of
that death. "I'd sooner die raw! Anybody strong enough to hold my feet?
Not you, Jeff--you take his--it calls for two of us. Hurry, some one!"

Jeremy leaned on his stomach over the parapet. King seized the long Arab
girdle, knotted that around his own shoulders so that the two of them
were lashed together in one risk, and laid bold of Jeremy's heels.

"Over you go, Australia! Yon belong clown under!"

Jeremy laughed and scrambled over. Ramsden laid hold of King's ankles,
setting his own knees against the parapet; and to the tune of crackling
flame and crashing masonry the living rope went down--not slowly, for
there wasn't time--so fast that to the straining eyes in the street it
almost looked as if they fell, and a scream of delighted dread arose to
greet them.

Jeremy reached the ladder, grabbed it, and it came away, adding its
weight and awkwardness to the strain on Ramsden.

"Haul away!" yelled Jeremy--not laughing now.

The turn-table motion of the ladder in mid-air was swinging him and King.

Jeff Ramsden's loins and back and arms cracked as he strained to the
load. The others, obeying Grim, held him by the waist and thighs to lend
him leverage, Grim holding his feet, in the post of greatest danger at
the rear, where the flame roared closer every second.

"Quick, _sahib_! Quick!" came the voice of the Sikh through the brass
horn.

Ramsden strove like Samson in Philistia, the muscles of his broad back
lumped up as his knees sought leverage against the parapet and King's
heels rose in air. (His legs would have broken if Jeff hadn't lifted him
high before hauling him in.) Grim, unable to endure the heat behind, put
an arm around Jeff's waist and threw his own weight back at the instant
when Jeff put forth his full reserve--that unknown quantity that a man
keeps for emergency. The ladder and the living rope came upward. And the
parapet gave way!

It was Grim's arm around Jeff's waist that saved them all, for Jeff hung
over by the thighs; the Afghans' hold was mainly of Jeff's garments, and
they tore. The broken stone hit King and Jeremy, but glanced off, harming
no one until it crushed some upturned faces in the crowd. And Jeff's task
was easier after all without the stone to lean on. He did not have to
lift so high. He could pull more. King, Jeremy and ladder came in, hand
over hand.

"Quick! Quick! Oh quickly, _sahibs_!" came the Sikh's voice through the
horn.

But the heat provided impulse. There was only one way to get that ladder
across from roof to roof. They had to up-end it and let it fall, trusting
the gods of accident, who are capricious folk, to keep the thing from
breaking--they clinging to the butt to prevent its bouncing over. And it
fell straight with four spare rungs at either end. But it cracked with
the weight of its fall, and by the light of the belching flame behind
them they could see the wide split in the left-hand side-piece. Some one
said that Jeff should cross first, because his weight was greatest and
the frail bridge would endure the strain better first than last.

Jeff did not argue, but lay on the ladder and crawled out to where the
break was, mid-way. Across the midway rung he laid his belly--then set
his toes on the last rung he could reach behind him--passed his arms
through the ladder--and seized with his hands the rung next-but-one in
front. Then he tightened himself and the ladder stiffened.

"Come on! Hurry!" he shouted.

They had to come two at a time, for the last of the roof was going and
they stood on a shriveling small peninsular beleaguered by a tide of
flame. The Afghans came afoot, for they were used to precipices and the
knife-edge trails that skirt Himalayan peaks, treading along Ramsden's
back as surely as they trod the rungs. But King and Grim crawled, King
last. And it was when Grim's hand was almost on the farther coping, and
King's weight was added to Jeff's midway, that the ladder broke.

Narayan Singh had turbans and loin-cloths twisted through the rungs at
his end long ago, and had a purchase around a piece of masonry. So only
the rear end of the ladder fell to the street. King clung to Jeff's waist
while the other half swung downward against the opposing wall, and the
thrilled mob screamed again. Jeff, King and ladder weighed hardly less
than five hundred pounds between them. They went like a battering ram
down the segment of an arc, spinning as the turbans up above, that held
them, twisted.

It was the spin that saved them--that and the madness of Narayan Singh,
who snatched at the ladder and tried to break its fall with one hand!
Both circumstances added to the fact that the ladder broke unevenly,
caused it to swing leftward. It crashed into the wall, but broke again
above Jeff's hands, and catapulted both men through the glass of a
warehouse window, where Narayan Singh discovered them presently laughing
among bales of merchandise. They shouldn't have laughed. There were more
than a hundred human beings roasted in the building they had left. Maybe
they laughed at the unsportsmanship of Providence.

Narayan Singh was deadly serious, though unexpectedly.

"I watched the Portuguese! _Sahibs_. I _thought_ these seven sons are not
the princes of perfection they are said to be! They made a plan in that
whispering gallery that you just left! But I kept my own counsel. I
followed the Portuguese. I know where he went. The Portuguese has talked.
The Nine Unknown are aware of danger! You are spied on. They knew you
would come to this place. Some one in their pay set fire to the hotel,
and said you did it! Their agents now are telling the mob to tear you in
pieces! They say you are secret agents of the Rai, who set fire to the
place because a few conspirators have met there once or twice! _Sahibs_,
if you are caught there will be short argument! They saw you from the
street. Listen! They come now! What shall we do?"

"Do? Track the Portuguese!" said King. "How's that, Jeff?"

"Sure!" said Ramsden, something like a big dog in his readiness to follow
men he liked anywhere, at any time, without the slightest argument.



CHAPTER IV - "HERE'S YOUR PORTUGUESE!"


They escaped by way of the roof by means of the oldest trick in Asia,
which is the home of all the artifices known to man. All thieves know it,
and some honest men. You join in the pursuit. You call to the human
wolves to hurry. You have seen the fugitive. You wave them on, answering
questions with a gesture, saving breath to follow too, glaring with
indignant eyes, impatient of delay, but overtaken--passed. So, falling to
the rear, you face about at last and, while the wolves yelp; on a hot
trail in the wrong direction, you walk quietly in the right
one--yours--the opposite--away.

They found a stair down to the street through the house of a seller of
burlap, who was edified to learn that they were authorized inspectors. He
obeyed their recommendation to shut his roof-door tight. They took some
samples of his goods to prove, as they said, by laboratory tests that the
fire risk in his house was nothing serious, which made him feel immensely
friendly. And out in the street they became customers of the
burlap-merchant, hurrying home after a belated bargain--bearing
samples--an excuse that let them through the fireline formed of regiments
just arrived, whose business seemed to be to drive every one the way he
did not want to go.

So presently, behind the drawn-up regiments, they threaded a thinning
crowd toward the north, leaving the tumult and the honking motor-horns
behind. The streets grew dimly lighted and mysterious, to Jeremy's
enormous joy. His passion is pursuit of everything unconventional. They
strode down echoing alleys where no European ever goes, unless there is a
murder or a riot too high-tensioned for the regular police. They stopped
and ate awful food in a place where sunlight never penetrated, drinking
alongside surly ruffians, who sat on their knives in order to keep
conscious of them all the time.

The way they took led by taverns out of which the stink of most
abominable liquor oozed--raw, reeking ullage with the King of England's
portrait on a label on the bottle--where women screamed obscenities and
yelled in mockery of their own jokes--places where the Portuguese had led
his night-life, and had not been loved. Time and again Narayan Singh,
with a sheepskin coat hung loosely on his shoulder as a shield, peered
into a den--sometimes opium, sometimes drink was the reek that greeted
him--to inquire whether the Portuguese had headed back that way by any
chance. Invariably he was cursed, and certain gods were thanked, by way
of answer. One could gather that da Gama was not liked even relatively in
the places he frequented.

Narayan Singh, full of his office of guide, and proud of his
accomplishment in having found and blazed da Gama's trail, visited every
haunt the Portuguese frequented, talking between-whiles.

"It was here they sat, _sahib_--he and the man who gave orders to the
others who carried the books. And the Portuguese told all about our
meeting in the office, I listening, pretending to be drunk--so drunk
along the floor they all but trod on me! Da Gama desired to play you on a
hook, saying he needed money from you. Therefore the other said--nay,
_sahib_, I never saw him before, and don't know who he is, but he wore
yellow--the other said the Nine will give da Gama money, if he will go to
a place he knows of, where he will discover it left in a bag for him. The
Portuguese asked how should he believe that? and the other answered that
neither the Nine nor any agents of the Nine tell lies for any reason;
moreover, the other added that all you _sahibs_ and your servants--by
whom he meant Ali and his sons and me--will be roasted to death within an
hour or two. So I rolled out of this _kana_[*] into the gutter, which is
cleaner, and as soon as I had watched da Gama to another place I ran to
warn you. Let us only hope he has not escaped us between then and now."

[* A word meaning almost any kind of place.]

"Can't!" laughed Jeremy. "He's no more than a shilling up a conjurer's
sleeve! Process of elimination gives the answer."

So they harked along da Gama's trail into a rather better quarter of the
city, where the ladies of undoubtful reputation ply the oldest trade
without severely straining any caste laws. Priests live fatly
thereabouts. Whoever entertains a Sikh, for instance, or Mohammedan, or
Hindu of a lower caste than hers, may regain purity for payment--which is
very shocking to the civilized, who only buy seats in the senate, or
perhaps a title, or who "use their pull with the press" to hush up things
the public shouldn't know.

There, in a rather wider street, in a house that had gilded shutters,
they sat cross-legged on embroidered cushions vis-à-vis to a lady
sometimes known as Gauri, which is a heavenly name. She was pretty
besides inquisitive, and the turquois stud in the curve of one side of
her nose contributed a piquancy that offset petulance. Her vials of
vituperation were about full, and she outpoured almost at the mention of
da Gama's name.

Know him? Know that slime of adders stuffed into a yellow skin? She
wished she did not! But who were the gentlemen, first, who wished to know
about him? Men whom he had robbed? Amazing! What a mystery, that such a
_pashu_[*] as that Portuguese could win the confidence of any one and steal
as much as one rupee! Yet he had robbed her--truly! Her! A lady of no
little experience--He had robbed her of a thousand rupees as lately as
yesterday. He had laughed at her to-day! The beast had spent her fortune!
Practically all her savings, except for a jewel or two.

[* Unmitigated brute having neither soul nor conscience--a very
comprehensive Hindi word.]

And he had robbed others! Although it served the others right! Vowing
fidelity to her--the brute--he had intrigued elsewhere, as she had only
just discovered, coaxing other women's savings from them. What did he use
the money for? To bribe the priests' servants to bring him old books out
of temples--smelly old books full of magic and ancient history! _He_
said that if he can get the right book he can find so much money in one
place that all the rest of the wealth in the world wouldn't be a candle
to it! She was to have a tenth of all that. She supposed he made the
other women equally tempting offers.

As a rajah on his throne might feel toward a dead dog on a dung-heap; so
she felt toward da Gama! She wished the Lords of Death no evil, but she
hoped they might have the Portuguese, nevertheless! He had come that
afternoon and laughed at her! She had asked him for a little of her money
back, and he had mocked her to her face! He had boasted flatly that she
would never see one _anna_ of her money back, and had then gone, mocking
her even from the street!

Whereat Jeremy, adept at following the disappearing shilling, hinted to
King in a whisper. So King made a suggestion, and the priestess of
delight blew cigarette smoke through her nose in two straight,
illustrative snorts.

She--hide that _pashu_ in her house--now--after all that had happened?
There _was_ a day when she had hidden him--a day born in the womb of
bitterness, begotten of regret! How vastly wiser she would have been to
leave him to the knives of the men he had robbed! He was always a thief.
She knew that now, although then she had thought he was persecuted.

King made another suggestion, launching innuendo deftly on the ways of
jest as he accepted sherbet from the Gauri's maid. She looked as if she
wished the drink were poisoned, and retorted without any button on her
rapier:

"Thug! You would like to search my house to steal the Portuguese's
leavings! There is nothing! He took all! And it would cost me three
hundred rupees to the priest to repurify the place if I let such as you
go through it!"

Now a fool would have taken her statement at face value, believing or
disbelieving as the case might be, and learning nothing. A clever fool
would have paid three hundred for the privilege to search, learning that
the Portuguese was not there, but otherwise no wiser after it. Wisdom,
yoked up with experience, paid attention to the price she quoted and, not
liking to be cheated, doubled the price and made a game of it. For,
although _all_ cheat him who buys, and _some_ cheat the gambler, the odds
against the gambler are so raised already by the gods that some folk let
it go at that.

"Three hundred for the priest? I'll bet six hundred you don't know where
the Portuguese is now!" said King.

Her eyes snapped.

"Tell for less than a thousand?" she retorted scornfully. "I am not a
spy!"

"But I am a gambler," King answered. "I offered to bet. I will bet you
five hundred you don't know where da Gama is this minute."

"You said six hundred!"

"Now I bet five. In a minute I reduce my stake to four. Next minute
three--"

"I have no money to bet with," she answered. "Da Gama has it all!"

"Yet, if you were betting on a certainty you wouldn't lose, so you could
afford to stake your jewelry," King answered. "I will bet five hundred
rupees against that necklace of pearls that you can't tell me where the
Portuguese is!"

"Who would hold the stakes?" she asked hesitating.

That was a poser, but Ali of Sikunderam was ready for it. He drew forth
his silver-hilted knife and made the blade ring on the floor.

"You hold them!" he said, looking hard at her--upwind, the way he was
used to viewing the peaks of Sikunderam. "If my friend wins, I come to
claim the stakes. I am old in the ways of women, and I come with this in
my right hand! Only if you win you keep the stakes."

She judged his eyes, and understood, and nodded. King laid on the carpet
five one-hundred rupee notes. She laid her necklace opposite. Ali of
Sikunderam raked all the lot together with the point of his weapon and
then pushed them toward her. She put on the necklace and folded the
notes.

"I could send my maid," she said. "The place is indescribable."

But the maid of any such mistress as Gauri is more untrustworthy than
treachery itself. Having nothing to lose, and the world before her, her
eccentric trickery is guaranteed.

"I deal with principals. I bet with you," said King.

"I can not go there! I am afraid to go there! It is too far!" exclaimed
Gauri. "It was my maid, not I who followed him. She knows the way. I--"

Ali of Sikunderam ran a thumb-nail down the keen edge of his knife, and
Gauri shuddered, but it was Narayan Singh who voiced the right solution.
He leaned over and touched the nearest of Ali's sons, who was
day-dreaming over the maid's delightfulness--perhaps imagining her
likeness in the Moslem paradise.

"Two horses!" he commanded. "Instantly!"

The youngster cane to with a start and glanced at his sire, who nodded.
King produced money. Gauri claimed it.

"Let the owner of the horses send his bill to me!" she insisted, and
nearly enough to have bought two horses disappeared into a silken mystery
between her breasts.

So Ali's youngest went on an errand he could run without much risk of
tripping up, but "instantly" is a word of random application and he was
gone an hour before the horses stood incuriously at the door perceived by
half a hundred very curious eyes; for the doings of a lady such as Gauri
are of deeper interest than chronicles of courts.

It was not until Ramsden came forth, bulking like a rajah's bully, and
the others formed up like the riff-raff hirelings who attended, to the
unprintable pursuits of aristocracy, that the crowd went its way to
imagine the rest and discuss it over betel-nut or water-pipes.

Gauri ceased expostulating when it dawned on her that she would ride
escorted by nine assorted footmen. That is an honor and a novelty that
comes to few of her position on the stairs of disrepute. And then, there
was intrigue, that was neat and drink to her. There was the
possibility--the probability of venomous revenge; and a bet to win, if no
chance of her money back from the Portuguese.

She began to try to stipulate before the hour was up.

"If I find him for you, you must kill him!" she insisted.

"If you don't find him, you lose your necklace," King retorted.

"What if he tells you his secrets?" she said suddenly. "The _pashu_ will
be afraid. He will tell the secret of the treasure! He has had ten
thousand rupees of my money! You must tell me what he tells you--"

She grew silent--looking--reading men and faces, as the third of her
profession was. King's eyes had met Grim's and the glance passed all
around the circle--not of understanding, but unanimous. They recognized a
chance, and without speaking all accepted it. So King conceded terms:

"Daughter of Delight," he said, "if in obedience to us you help find
treasure, you shall have your share of it.

"How much?" she demanded.

But it is wiser, if you want to shorten argument, to let East's daughters
bear the market for themselves.

"How much do you want?" King asked and she named the highest figure she
could think of that conveyed a meaning. (_Crores_ look nice on paper but
are over ambition's head.)

"A _lakh!_" she said, laughing at her own exorbitance.

"Good! If your help is worth an anna you shall have a _lakh_ of rupees!"
King answered.

She demanded, naturally, two _lakhs_ after that, but Ali of Sikunderam
declaimed on the subject of unfaithfulness. A _lakh_ she had said; a
_lakh_ she should have; his Khyber knife was there to prove it! He was as
vehement as if they had the treasure in the room with no more to do than
divide it, and she capitulated, more fearful of Ali's Northern knife than
of all other possible contingencies. She understood the glint in those
eyes that were the color of the breeding weather.

"A _lakh_," she agreed; and then the horses came, and fiscal whispers had
to be exchanged between the owner of the horses and the maid, who
indubitably swindled everybody, though she had to part with a "reward" to
Ali's son, that being India--specifically Delhi and the seat of
government, where extortion is the one art that survives. The horses were
an illustration--crow's meat, hungry, made to labor for a last rapacious
overcharge.

But nothing more was required of the horses than a walking pace. The two
veiled women rode them in the midst of men who were in no haste, because
to seem to hasten is to draw attention. It was better to swagger and
invite attention, which has a way of producing the opposite effect.

They headed as straight as winding ways permitted toward the northern
outer fringe of Delhi, where the ruins of the ancient city lie buried
amid centuries' growth of jungle. Not a tiger has been seen in that
jungle for more than thirty years, but few care to wander at night there,
for everything else that is dangerous abides in that impenetrable maze,
including fever and fugitives from justice.

As they left the last of the modern streets the moon rose and they
followed a track that wound like the course of a hunted jackal between
ancient trees whose roots were in much more ancient masonry. The "servant
of delight," as she preferred to call herself since her mistress was what
she was, led with King's hand on her bridle-rein, recognizing the route
by things she was afraid of--ruins shaped like a human skull that drew a
scream from her--roots like pythons sprawling in the way--a hole in a
broken wall that might be a robber's entrance--terrified, and yet
employing terror consciously--enjoying it, as some folk like to sit in a
rocking boat and scream. Life to amuse her had to raise the gooseflesh
and offend the law, both of which are accomplishments of night in
northern Delhi; so her faculties were working where another's would have
turned numb.

They came at last to the world's end, where a shadow blacker than a coal
mine's throat declared that life left off, and might have been believed
except for moonlight that glistened beyond it along the ragged outline of
a broken wall. There, under the bough of an enormous tree, whose tendrils
looked like hanged men swinging in the wind, they turned into a space
once paved so heavily that no trees grew and only bushes strangled
themselves, stunted, between masonry. On the far side was a building,
still a building, though the upper part had fallen and the front looked
like the broken face of a pyramid.

Once it had been magnificent. The outside and the upper portions had
collapsed, from earthquake probably, in such way as to preserve the
middle part like the heart of an ant-heap. Partly concealed by bushes was
an opening indubitably dug by men through the débris. That they entered,
into a tunnel that was once a corridor open on one side to the air. And
at the end of fifty dark yards, guided by matches struck two at a time,
they turned to the left into a hall, whose marble sides had been quarried
off long ago, but whose columns were still standing like rows of twisted
Titans holding up the world's foundation.

There was a platform at one end, on which had stood a throne. But on it
now were a canvas camp-bed, an old black hand-bag with a dirty shirt in
it, a couple of pairs of filthy blankets, and a lantern. Some one lighted
the lantern, and about a million bats took wing; the air was alive with
them, and the women hugged their heads, screaming.

A few opened tin cans tossed into a corner showed how some one had
contrived his meals; and one meal at any rate was recent, for there was
unspoiled soup remaining in a can beside the bed. But no sign of the
Portuguese. Not a hint of where he might be. Only the certainty that he
had been there that day! There, on the bed, turned inside out and empty,
lay the chamois-leather bag that Cyprian had given back to him; but there
was no more trace of the coins that had been in it than of da Gama.

Narayan Singh was the first to speak:

"Da Gama came for money, _sahibs_. I heard the boast made that the Nine
never lie." He seemed afraid his own word might be doubted since they
hadn't found da Gama. "Nevertheless--the money that we know he had is
missing--gone--where?"

He picked up the chamois-leather bag and shook it. "Up somebody's
sleeve!" chuckled Jeremy. "Look for the Don and I'll bet you--"

He spoke English, and the women's exclamations stopped him.

Ramsden went looking, not so talkative but bashfully aware, as big men
sometimes are, of strength and an impulse to apply it. It was foolish to
go looking in an empty hall, but men who don't pride themselves on
intellect occasionally are better served by intuition. He stooped over
where a solitary section of a broken marble column lay on top of débris
in a corner of the floor, and they heard his joints crack as he shoved
the marble off the heap.

"Here's your Portuguese!" he said quietly.

He might have found a golf-ball. But he, too, spoke English and the women
exclaimed at it. The maid seized hold of Jeremy's hand and began to
examine his fingernails, which inform the practised eye infallibly; but
Jeremy snatched his hand away and hurried to hold the lantern and look
with the rest at what Ramsden had discovered.

The yellow rays shone on the body of the Portuguese laid dead and hardly
cold in a shallow trench hoed in the rubble. The marble column had closed
it without crushing what was in there, and the corpse was smiling with
the funny, human, easy-natured look that the man had worn in life for
fragments of a second as he passed from sneer to sneer. He had died in
mid-emotion, and the women vowed the gods had done it. They promised the
gods largesse to save them from a like fate.

There was no other explanation than theirs of how he died, nor of who
else than the gods had killed him. They searched the body. There was no
wound--bruise--no smell of acid poison--no snake-bite--nothing, but a
corpse with a scarred chin, smiling! And no hat!



CHAPTER V - "THE NINE'S SPIES ARE EVERYWHERE."


For those who sacrifice themselves upon the altar of her needs--whether
supposititious needs or otherwise--India holds recompense, as such
quarters for instance as Father Cyprian's, wedged between two gardens in
a sleepy street, with the chimney of a long-disused pottery kiln casting
a shadow like that of a temple-dome on the sidewalk in the afternoon.
From India's view-point Cyprian was all the more entitled to
consideration in that he had never openly conducted any siege against her
serried gods. He had saved the face of many a pretending pagan, holding
in the privacy of his own conscience that the damned were more in need of
comfort than an extra curse. So pagan gratitude had comforted his old
bones, unpretending pagans not objecting.

He was housed ascetically; but there is a deal more repose and
contentment to be had in quiet cloisters than in the palaces of viceroys,
princes, bishops. Tongue in cheek, he had pretended to the
arch-pretenders that he thought their magic formulas bewildering, doing
it repeatedly for fifty years until it was second nature, and men, whose
minds were rummage shops of all the secondhand old-wives' tales, not only
used their influence to repay flattery but labored, too, to unearth facts
for him beyond their understanding. India, surviving Anglo-Saxon worship
of the playing fields and all unnecessary sweat, takes her amusement
mentally. It was "entertainment exquisite" to bring to Father Cyprian,
the alien albeit courteous priest, new facts and revel in his
intellectual amazement. (For in fifty years a man learns how to play
parts, and, as Jeremy had noticed, Cyprian was "all things" to a host of
various men.)

He could discuss the metaphysical, remote, aloof though omnipresent All
of Parabrahman just as easily as listen to the galloping confession of a
Goanese in haste to unburden conscience and, as it were, dump burdens at
the padre's feet. Shapely, dignified old feet, well cased in
patent-leather slippers, resting on a folded Afghan _chudder_ to keep
them off the tiled floor.

Fernandez de Mendoza de Sousa Diomed Braganza watched them, as he knelt
and searched the very lees of his imagination. He was very proud indeed
to confess to Father Cyprian, a rare enough privilege, that of itself, if
boasted of sufficiently, would raise him twenty notches in the estimation
of the envious world he knew. All he could see below the screen were
those old aristocratic-looking slippered feet, but they were reassuring,
and he longed to touch them.

"And so, father, that Arab, speaking English veree excellentlee, so that
in fact T was awfulee taken by astonishment and made suspeecious--yes
indeed--recommended me to come to you for confession!"

"Why did you obey an Arab?" wondered Cyprian.

"Oh, I think he, was the devil! How else should he speak English and
laugh so light-heartedly? I saw his head against the night sky and I
think he had horns--oh yes, certainlee!"

Cyprian cautioned him.

"If _he_ was not thee devil, that one, then the other was--the great
brute dressed as a Jat who seized me as if I were trash to be thrown away
and hurled me against my customers! Father, I assure you I was like a
cannonball! He hurled me and I upset many men--oh yes, decidedlee! And
though the whole hotel was subsequently burned, and from below I saw
those veree selfsame individuals burning in the flames, I have seen them
since! If they are not the devil, they are salamanders--"

"It is not for you to say who the devil is," warned Cyprian, aware of how
the Goanese mind leaps from one conclusion to another. "How is it you
escaped?"

"Oh, veree simplee. I have been most faithful in the matter of the
candles for the altar of Our Lady of Goa, so when that--I am sure he was
thee devil!--hurled me into the ranks of nay customers I was assured in
my conscience that that is enough, and I fled first, before there was a
stampede, which I foresaw infalliblee. So when the stampede began I was
on the stairs, and there I smelt the smoke and went to see as Moses went
to see the burning bush, and seeing flame I ran to thee street and was
saved. But my whole hotel and my fortune are up in flame--oh pity me!"

So Father Cyprian pitied him with due restraint, and dismissed him after
a priceless homily in which he pointed out how profitably Diomed might
have given all that property to the Church, instead of keeping it for the
devil to make a bonfire of. Whereafter he told his servant to open the
slats of the jalousies and admit sufficient of the morning sun to make
the place look cheerful.

And a plain, cool, white, stone room with an ancient tiled floor and
vaulted ceiling is a great deal easier to make cheerful than any
sumptuously furnished boudoir in the world. The delights of mild
asceticism are immensely keener than the pleasures of the epicure. The
sun came in, obedient, and the light and shadow alternated in long
triangles on floor and wall, leaving the rear of the room in shadowed
mystery.

There was no sign of the library--merely a breviary, and one or two books
liberally marked with penciled slips on a table against the wall. In
addition to the chair that Cyprian used there were six others, equally
simple and equally almost impossibly perfect in design and
workmanship--each chair as old as the Taj Mahal and no two chairs alike,
yet all one unity because of excellence.

A man may be ascetic without craving ugliness--an anchorite, in
moderation, without shutting out his friends, A bronze bell from a
vanished Buddhist temple announced visitors.

The servant--Manoel--another Goanese--soft-footed as a cat and armed with
pots of fuchsias came in to announce what he regarded as too many
visitors at that hour of the morning.

"They are _not_ elegant. Not in the least--oh, no."

"Their names?" asked Cyprian.

Manoel mispronounced them, was reproved, set the pots down, and departed
to admit the visitors, changing his mood like a chameleon, only much more
swiftly and with rather less success. For instance, it did not convince
Cullender Ghose, who entered first, as impresario.

"Hitherto not having poisoned padre _sahib_, said sacred person being
vigilant, you therefore impel malevolent influence of evil eye on these
unholy _sahibs_ who are honoring this babu with employment? Stand back,
son of miscegenation! Cease from smiling!"

Who _would_ smile if addressed in those terms by an arrogantly fat babu?
Not a _bishop's_ butler. Still less Manoel. He scowled and--so tradition
says--a man must smile before he can blast with that dreadful bane called
Evil Eye in which the whole of the Orient and most of the newer world
believes implicitly. Under the protecting scowl Chullunder Ghose, with
his back to Manoel for extra safety's sake, marshaled the party in--Grim,
Jeremy, King, Ramsden, Ali of Sikunderam, Narayan Singh, and one of Ali's
sons who was beckoned in by Chullunder Ghose for "keyhole prophylaxis,"
as the babu explained in an aside. The other sons remained squatting in
the dust in the patterned shadow of a great tree opposite. Falstaff never
had a raggeder, less royal following as far as mere appearance
went--inside or outside the priest's house. They all looked like men who
trod the long leagues rather than the pavement.

For though in the new, raw world, where twenty centuries have not
sufficed to give the sons of men a true sense of proportion, he who would
be listened to must masquerade and mountebank in new clothes of the
newest cut, India knows better--looks deeper--and is more wise. So in
vain that net is laid in sight of her. Viceroys, kings and all their pomp
are side-shows, and the noise they make is a nuisance to be tolerated
only for the sake of more or less peace. They are heard in the land and
not listened to--seen, and appraised like shadows on the sands of time.
The men who go in rags out-influence them all.

Manoel the Goanese, for instance, with all European error multiplied
within him by miscegenation, scorned that ragged bodyguard beneath the
tree for servants of men of no intellect or influence; and even so, a
passing constable, with native vision warped by too much European drill,
but with all his other faculties and fondnesses alert, paused over the
way to meditate how innocence might be made to pay tribute to worldly
wisdom--paused, scratching his chin with the butt of a turned wooden
truncheon and both eyes roving for a safe accomplice.

"That constabeel is a Hindu pig with hair on his liver, who designs an
inconvenience to us--by Allah!" said one Hill brother to the next.

And all six nodded, in a circle, resembling bears because of sheepskin
coats hung loosely on their shoulders.

So within; the padre's servant Manoel approached the seventh, who stood
guard by the door of Cyprian's sitting room, offering cakes to Cerberus.

"Taste it," he suggested. "Veree excellent--from oversea--the land of my
ancestors--it came in a great flagon. Onlee veree distinguished people
have been given any."

A hand like a plucked bear's paw closed tight on the long glass, and with
both eyes on the Goanese the Hillman poured a pint of sweet, strong
liquid down his throat, not pausing, not even coughing. The glass was
back in the hand of the Goanese before the other had finished his gasp of
astonishment.

"Tee-bee! You like it, eh? Come, then, into the pantry, where is plentee
more. You shall have your fill."

 "No, for I don't drink wine," said Rahman, wiping his lips on a sleeve.
 "Such dogs as thou know nothing of the Koran, but to drink wine is
 forbidden."

 In vain the Goanese brought more, in a glass jug, tempting scent and
 vision. Rahman stood with his back to the keyhole, just sufficiently
 inflamed by one pint of Oporto to have split the Goanese's stomach open
 at the first excuse, and not quite sure that he hadn't already excuse
 enough for it. So Manoel kept his distance, and the conference within
 proceeded safely.

Cyprian began it, naturally, beaming on them with his loose, old lips and
eyes that never betrayed secrets.

"So you failed? I see you failed," he said, glancing from face to face.
"He gave you the slip, that Portuguese?"

"They killed him," Grim answered simply.

"Ah! A longer spoon than ever! Too bad! But his hat--you found his hat of
course?"

"No. Missing!" answered Jeremy. "He had a five-pun' note inside the band,
with my signature."

Cyprian's lips moved, but he said nothing audible.

"Worse than that!" King added. "In his pocket should have been a paper on
which he had jotted down terms he was prepared to make with us. We
wouldn't sign it, but the terns were down and an enemy would draw
conclusions."

"Gone too?" asked Cyprian.

"Yes. Taken," King answered. "Pocket was inside-out."

"Worse yet!" put in Ramsden. "All those ancient coins have disappeared.
here's the bag--empty!"

"All except this one!"

Jeremy held up the one he had given pledge for. Cyprian took it, turning
it over and over in a hand as soft and smoothly wrinkled as a royal
grandmother's.

"Coins gone? Hat gone? Eh?" said Cyprian. "That hat--he kept his
memoranda on a strip of parchment inside the sweat-band. If we had the
hat--well--if we had the hat, I might have fitted his key into my lock,
as it were. Well--so we are worse off than before!"

"Much worse!" remarked Chullunder Ghose. "Flesh creeping, holy one! This
baba, consumed by elementary anxiety, calls attention to arresting key of
situation, which is: Enemy lurking in ambush, is now aware of opponents'
identity. Opponents being us! Alarming--very! Unseen, and selecting
opportunity with exquisite precision, will sneak forth and smite us
shrewdly, wasting no time! _Verb. sap._! Your obedient servant,
_sahibs_!"

"He knows," said Cyprian nodding. "He knows."

Ramsden half-unconsciously clenched two enormous fists, and Cyprian
laughed.

"If we could deal with them in that way their secret would have been the
world's five thousand years ago--wouldn't it?" he said whimsically. "No,
my friends. They may do violence to us; we must admit that possibility.
But it behooves us to use other means. We are lost if we try
violence--babes in the wood, eh? No whit safer then than Sennacherib's
Assyrians. We might as well walk barefoot into a cavern full of snakes!
But the Lord slew the Assyrians. The Lord, too, fought against Sisera.
Wisdom! We must be wise! You understand me?"

He was trying to be all things at the same time to seven men of differing
creeds, not one of which was his, and he was much too wise to venture on
the freehold of religion, although that, and no other motive, was the
impulse that had kept him laboring for fifty years. He knew that Jeremy,
for one, would openly rebel at the first suggestion of creed or dogma, to
say nothing of Narayan Singh and Ali of Sikunderam, who perhaps were not
so important, although quite as unwilling to be compromised.

"Nobody understands a damned thing!" answered Jeremy. "I know what we
saw--a dead Don minus hat, and his pockets inside-out. We all know what
the woman said. I've heard you. It all amounts to nothing, plus one gold
coin--"

"Perhaps I'd better hear about the woman," Cyprian suggested.

Jeremy told him, reproducing the whole scene and Gauri's conversation,
down to the last remark of Gauri when she saw da Gama lying dead.

"'See? See? They fooled him, and the fool tricked me! I am a greater
fool! I tell you, none but a _fakir_ has the better of a _fakir!_ Men say
of me, and such as me, that I learn secrets. _Phagh!_ Go and be _fakirs_,
all of you! That's what Gauri thought of it," said Jeremy.

"And she was right. She was right," said Cyprian.

Whereat Jeremy whistled. He smelt adventure coining down
wind--unexpected--just the way he likes it best. Chullunder Ghose, who
loves to feel his own flesh creep, made a noise like a stifled squeal and
shivered.

"Padre _sahib_, be advised by me!" he interrupted. "Being far from
affluent baba perspiring much for underdone emolument, am nevertheless
like package of Autolichus containing products of experience! That Mister
Ross can be a _fakir_, yes. He is so clever, he can even imitate himself,
same being most difficult of all cynicisms. But he is Australian. His
deity is Nth power of Irreverence, same if brought in contact with
high-church parties lacking sense of humor, being much more dangerous
than dynamite with fuse and caps! I speak with feeling! Mister Ross will
make conjuring tricks with seven-knotted bamboo rod of holiest mahatma,
and we are all dead men--families at mercy of the rising generation--oh,
my aunt!"

Jeremy smiled, pleased; he likes applause. Head suddenly on one side like
a terrier's who hears the word cat, he watched Cyprian's face, alert.

"There is truth in what Chullunder Ghose says--truth, and exaggeration,"
Cyprian announced. "There is always danger in attacking deviltry. But
exaggeration in such cases is"--he was going to say a sin, but checked
himself--"a serious mistake because it terrifies."

Every man in the room except Chullunder Ghose smiled broadly at that.
Cyprian smiled too, and none of them, except perhaps the babu, realized
that he had chosen that means of eliminating any shade of terror from the
argument.

"You!" he said suddenly, pointing a finger at Jeremy. "You! Are you able
to govern yourself? Can you understand that if you play this part, one
laugh at the wrong minute may mean death?"

"I hope I'll die laughing--in my boots," responded Jeremy.

"Your death--and others!"

"Whose, for instance?" Jeremy came back at him. "I've seen men in India
I'd kill for sixpence each!"

"These--your friends," said Cyprian.

"That's different. All right. I don't laugh. I make up as the
lousiest-looking holy man you ever saw. What after that?" demanded
Jeremy.

Cyprian looked hard at him. In one soft palm lay the gold coin, and he
tapped it with a forefinger.

"This is our only point of contact," he began. "You must take it and do
tricks. You must challenge the Nine in public! It is dangerous, and
others must go with you to prevent abduction. Are you willing?"

"Bet your life!" said Jeremy. "Who comes?"

"Oh, my God!" remarked Chullunder Ghose, aware of the wheels of Destiny.

"My young friend Jeremy, do you command sufficient self-control to let
yourself be disciplined by our babu?" asked Cyprian.

The padre's lips moved pursily, as if he were masticating something, and
his face was toward Jeremy, who grinned, but his mind was already far
away considering something else. Grim noticed it and grew aware that
Cyprian had made his mind up without waiting for the answer. Quick work!
But Grim is constitutionally cautious.

"How about the babu?" he objected. "Can Chullunder Ghose--"

Cyprian banished the objection with a gesture.

"You must be dumb, friend Jeremy--dumb!" he went on, forcing deep thought
to the surface through a sieve that strained out all unnecessary
words--particularly all unnecessary argument. "Chullunder Ghose must
talk."

"My God! You see me shudder?" exclaimed the babu, not exaggerating.

His fat shoulders heaved as if an earthquake underlay them, and a kind of
grayness settled on his face. Nevertheless, none doubted his intention. A
century or two ago he would have braved the Holy Inquisition out of
curiosity.

"Whatever is said, Chullunder Ghose must say," repeated Cyprian.

"Hear me say it now, then! Caesar, _moriturus te saluto_! Speech,
committing me, silence absolves actual offender! My belly shakes, yet
family must eat. _Sahibs_, increase my microscopical emolument!"

Never was a man more serious. Chullunder Ghose, all clammy with anxiety,
rolled his handkerchief into a ball and caught it with his naked toes
repeatedly; but King moved over, and sat on a cushion on the floor beside
him.

"You and I have tackled worse than this together," he said.

"Ah! Yes. _You_ and I! But this Australian! He would tie a knot in the
tail of Hanuman* himself, and trust to irreverence to get him out of it!
He will cry, Cooee!--and pretend to a Brahman that such is colloquial
_lingua franca_ of the gods!"

[* The monkey-god.]

"It is!" laughed Jeremy. "Australia's God's country. If I can't talk the
dialect, who can?"

"Peace, peace!" said Cyprian, smiling. "Let us joke afterward. Colonel
King, may I trust you to instruct friend Jeremy--drill him, that is? We
can not afford mistakes."

King nodded. In all India there was none else who had traveled, as King
had done, from end to end of India in different disguises, penetrating
the reputedly impenetrable. If King had but possessed a tithe of Jeremy's
gift of doing marvels with his hands, he would have been the man to send.
But you don't discover jealousy in men of King's attainments. A trace of
that would have made them fail a hundred times. Both he and Grim were
safer men than Jeremy, and knew it; but they were also much less
brilliant, and knew that too. As far as courage went there was nothing to
choose, although they would all have picked on Ramsden if asked who was
least amenable to fear; and Ramsden, knowing too well what it cost him to
control those thews of his, would have picked Narayan Singh.

"You know there is a Hindu festival at Benares very soon?" said Cyprian.
"I am old, or I would go with you. I know those ceremonies. I could guard
against mistakes. Now, understand: the danger is abduction! There will be
a million men and women in Benares--more! You--disguised--unknown--you
could vanish as easily as seven pebbles from the beach! So you must all
go, each to watch the others. Be two parties. Jeremy, Chullunder Ghose,
Ramsden--one. The other, all the rest of you, pretending to be strangers
to the first. But all Hindus, mind--able to claim acquaintance if you
must."

"We shall be in next world very presently!" remarked Chullunder Ghose.
"What is object of this impropriety?"

Cyprian made a noise with his tongue. He did not like the word
impropriety. He answered looking anywhere but at the babu.

"The Nine Unknown must keep themselves constantly informed. In order to
know they must observe. To observe they must go, or send their
representatives. To be in touch with the mind of the mass--which their
purpose must be certainly--they will take care to attend the festivals,
in person or by proxy. If one of their number should go to Benares--as is
possible--extra precautions will be taken of course to preserve
incognito. But in any case there will be at least one of their principal
lieutenants there to bring dependable reports. You understand that?
Now--"

The old man was warming up. He moved in his chair restlessly and kept
wiping his lips on a lawn handkerchief. His gestures, losing the
indeterminate, painstakingly tactful quality, were becoming imperative.

"In cryptographic books in my possession it is laid clown as inviolable
rule that one of the Nine _always_ visits Benares at this season of the
year. They receive money--gold and silver--that accumulation never
ceases. And the East changes slowly; without a doubt a great deal of the
money even in these days of banks goes to Benares, Hardwar, Prayag and
such places by porter at the times of pilgrimage. Some one is there to
receive it. You understand?"

Ramsden opened his mouth at last. Economy--constructive, pioneer economy
was his long suit.

"It would take a freight-train to haul the money. The amount that
disappears in one year--"

"Could be carried among a million pilgrims without attracting notice,"
Cyprian retorted. "Do you realize your opportunity? Contact is our
problem! If, by challenging attention, you can once make contact with the
Nine Unknown, you may leave the rest to me! We will presently find the
books! Then you may have the money--any one may have it! The books--those
nine books--they are the true goal."

"If the cash really goes to Benares, it would take a train to haul it
out!" Ramsden insisted. "In that case we need only watch the railway--"

"Who said the money is hauled out again?" Cyprian retorted testily. "For
all you know there is a hole under a temple in Benares--"

He checked himself, aware that for the first time he had awakened
incredulity. Even Chullunder Ghose allowed an expression of mockery to
light his face up suddenly. Ali of Sikunderam exploded:

"Allah! If the Hindus had that much money in a hole beneath a temple, the
Hills would have smelt it years ago! Moreover would the English not have
learned of it? They smell gold as a thirsty horse smells water in the
plains. And if the English were afraid to take it on a pretext, would the
Hills refrain? Would that bait not have brought the _lashkars_* yelling
down the Khyber? And would guns have held them back in smell of all that
loot? Allah! Show me but one sack of gold, and I will show you how
hillmen plunder--I and my sons!"

[* Hillman armies.]

But Ali of Sikunderam was wax in Cyprian's hands. Swift, subtle flattery
turned his indignation into boasting, out of which net there was no
retreat.

"You and your sons--invaluable! Splendid! You should have a part, but oh,
the pity of it! You are Moslems."

"Aye! The pity of it!" answered Ali. "When the _sirkar_ needed men to go
to Lhassa who should not upset the heathen bellies of Thibetians with a
true religion, was I chosen with three sons to make that journey because
we could not act Hindu? Doubtless! Bring me a thousand Hindus, and if one
of them can pick me out of a crowd as not being a Hindu of the Chattrya
caste, I will go back to my Hills and hold my peace!"

"But not in Benares. You would not dare in Benares," suggested Cyprian.

"By Allah, in Benares they shall think me a double-holy Brahman born in
paradise! I will have the sadhus kissing feet within the hour!"

"So. Excellent!" said Cyprian. "That is, if you dare."

"I would like to see the thing I dare not do--I and my sons!" answered
Ali.

"You speak of them as yours. I would rather heat them pledge themselves,"
said Cyprian.

"By Allah, they will swear to what I bid them swear to!" answered Ali.
"If I say a hill is flat, they prove it! If I say a Hindu wears his belly
inside out, they demonstrate that, too, on the nearest unbeliever! If I
bid them be Hindus, they will even shave themselves and look that part.
Wait and see! I will bring them in."

He strode to the door to tell Rahman, who was standing guard, to go and
summon them. Rahman went off to obey and the door was closed again, but
opened a minute later by Chullunder Ghose, who leaned his whole weight on
the knob and used it suddenly. Manoel, the butler, entered on his knees
and fell face-downward, saying nothing, amid silence.

"Eavesdropping!" exclaimed Cyprian at last.

The Goanese did not answer--too afraid, or too wise. He lay with his face
between his hands in an attitude of abject supplication.

"Put him outside for the present," ordered Cyprian; and Ramsden took
Manoel by the waistband, tossing him into the pantry as you throw a stick
into the fire.

"I tell you," said Cyprian, "we war with powers! The Nine's spies are
everywhere. More than once I have suspected Manoel, but--"

The door burst open again. It was like a thunderclap in that quiet
sanctuary. Rahman stood with a hand laid flat on either door-post,
leaning in, his eyes screwed tip and glinting like the heart of flint.

"They are gone!" he said.

"Allah! My sons gone?"

Ali leaped up and drew his knife, though none, not even he, knew why.

"All gone!" answered Rahman. "There was no fight, for there is no blood.
I think they went of their own will."

"By Allah, then they saw the prospect of a fight!" swore Ali.

He stood on feudal right that instant--claimed Ramsden's help, they two
having plighted troth over a restored knife, and there is no pledge more
inviolable.

"Brother, I need thy strength," he said with dignity.

And Ramsden did not hesitate. Believing that his wits are slow and that
strength is all he has, he volunteers for all the odds and ends and heavy
work, the others conceding the point to avoid discussion, but setting far
too high a value on him to risk him unnecessarily. (You may discuss a
man's thews to his face, but not his spirit.) So they trooped out behind
Jeff, Jeremy leading, leaving only Grim alone in the room with Cyprian.

It had occurred to Grim, as intuitions do come to a thoughtful man in a
flash sometimes, that if the guard left in the street had gone so
suddenly there was a chance that some one hoped to gain advantage by
their absence.

If so, then Cyprian was the obvious objective. If not, even so it would
do no harm for one of the party to stay and protect the old man.

He offered no excuse, no explanation; simply stayed.



CHAPTER VI - "THEY FLED BEFORE ME!"


Having eased his mind concerning the requirements of another world,
Fernandez de Mendoza de Sousa Diomed Braganza began to speculate on the
improbabilities of this one--improbability of credit in the first place.
None had been so foolish as to underwrite the fire risk on his hotel. It
was a dead loss. It was equally improbable that any of his erstwhile
guests would pay their bills, since the books were burned; they would
blame him for the loss of their effects, and probably bring suit against
him.

He knew equally well that the police would be in search of him that
minute to arrest him on a charge of criminal responsibility. He knew his
wisest course would be to go to the police and surrender himself because
Father Cyprian, the next-door-to-infallible, had said so, and,
deciding to do that, he hurriedly reviewed another long list of
improbabilities--acquaintances, who had been friends before the fire,
who might be asked, but probably would not consent to furnish bail.

So he turned to the left when the padre's front door shut behind him,
minded to call on one acquaintance on his way to the police. That
circumstance prevented him from seeing the arrival of Grim, Ramsden,
Jeremy, King and all the others, who approached Cyprian's from the
opposite direction. They were within before Diomed turned and retraced
his steps. So all he saw were Ali's sons in the dust under the tree--them
and the constable opposite, who was rubbing at his jaw-bone with the end
of a yellow truncheon to assist the processes of thought.

What brought him back was nothing more concrete than one of those changes
of mind, like the action of a ship in irons in a light wind; in India
they call them disembodied spirits that govern men in their extremity. He
had vacillated--thought of another acquaintance, who might be less
difficult to pin to than the first. Noticing the constable he chose the
other sidewalk, naturally. And with both eyes on the law's hired man from
under the sheltering brim of his soft felt hat he just as naturally
stepped by accident on the skirts of the sheepskin coat of one of Ali's
sons.

The men of Sikunderam don't fancy being stepped on. It is even likely
they would choose a Goanese last if obliged to name the individual to be
permitted some such liberty. Nevertheless, the act was obviously
unintentional and nothing more than a mild curse would have followed if
Diomed had not, tripping and trying to recover, kicked the hilt of a
yard-long northern knife. And that is sacrilege. A Hillman would not kick
his own knife.

So the curse that leaped from the lips of one of Ali's sons was like the
hissing and explosion when you plunge a hot iron into oil. Diomed sprang
back as if a snake had bitten him, and even the constable across street
awoke out of speculative meditation, for it looked as if the gods had
come to life to solve his problem for him. It is good to be alert and on
hand when the gods arrange the play.

And as he sprang back Diomed knew the face of his antagonist for one that
had cursed him previously--on the roof before the fight and the fire
began. He recognized him as a man who had been held back by the others
lest he use steel prematurely. And thought in the mind of a Goanese
confronted by predicament is as swift and spiteful as an asp's. It
recoils automatically on the person who aroused it.

Now he could surrender to advantage! Now he need not go empty-handed to
the mills of the police that grind so small, and so impartially, so be
that they get their grist! This came of confessing his sins to Father
Cyprian! Now bail was unimportant. There were dozens who would hurry to
his aid if it were known he had scapegoats, locked up in the next cell,
ready to be sacrificed.

All of that passed through his mind with the speed of starlight, in
between the opening and closing of the Hillman's angry teeth. He beckoned
the constable, who came, standing warily a good yard from the sidewalk,
not enamored of the chances yet, for they were six to one and the gods
not finished shuffling. It is the privilege of the gods to make things
easy for a man.

"Arrest all these!" commanded Diomed, in English for the sake of extra
emphasis. "They are the villains who set fire to my hotel! I warn you
they are dangerous! Arrest them instantlee!"

The constable could recognize the danger without help. He was perfectly
aware of six long knives--not yet free of their scabbards, but poised
between earth and air like Mohammed's coffin. Moreover, the fire was news
to him.

"Brothers, I _said_ that constabeel designed an inconvenience to us!
Stand back-to-back!"

The "brothers" stood so, around the tree-trunk, inoffensive as a third
rail.

"In case you reefuse to arrest them I will reeport you! This is a highlee
important case--veree!" said Diomed, pulling out a pencil to write down
the constable's number. "I saw these men set fire to my hotel!" he added.

But the constable, preferring life to an eulogium in the Gazette,
demurred.

"Where are your witnesses?" he countered, grinning.

Diomed flew into a rage immediately. He knew the law, or said he did, and
threatened to invoke the whole of it, including dark and lawless
influence, on the constable's unrighteous head. He named names. He cited
instances. He mentioned the policeman's ancestry. Raising his voice
indignantly he summoned all the neighborhood to witness
cowardice--corruption--a policeman in receipt of bribes refusing to
arrest six murderers!

The neighborhood had no will to associate itself with outside scandal,
having plenty of its own, and the few who had been in the street
departed--all but one. A man in an orange-yellow smock, with a big, red
caste-mark in the middle of his forehead, a twisted orange-yellow turban,
and no other visible garment, property or distinction, stood where
another great tree marked a narrow cross-street and beckoned, holding his
forefinger close up to his eye as if in some way that lent long range to
the invitation.

And the constable by now was more enraged than Diomed, with this
addition, that his rage was based on absolute injustice; for the things
that Diomed had said of his female relatives were not to be borne by a
man of spirit and some authority. They had reached the stage of snapping
fingers, and Diomed's two arms were waving like semaphores as he leaned
forward, showing simian teeth, to spit denunciation in the constable's
indignant face.

"One beckons," said a voice beside the tree.

"And you are corrupt--corrupt--everybodee knows it--son of an evil
mother--you accept bribes from all and sundree and--"

"He wears a yellow garment, brothers, such as the _sadhus_* wear, but
yellower. He is only one. We could beat him if he lied to us. He beckons,
and he signals silence--"

[* Wandering holy men.]

"All together--run, then!"

They were gone like leopards flushed from cover, down-street, each with
a hand on the hilt of a Khyber knife, as good to stand in way of as the
torrents of Sikunderam in spate. They swooped on the man in yellow as if
he were foe, not friend, meaning to seize him and whirl him along
between them; but he knew the nature of the squall he had evoked, and he
stepped down the side-street; he had vanished when they reached the
corner, and they wasted half a minute casting this and that way like a
pack of hounds before one of them saw him beckoning again, and the six
went full-pelt at a right-angle to their first course, hardly thinking
now, but all of one mind and three purposes: to outrun the constable, to
overtake the man in yellow, to keep together.

"There!" exclaimed Diomed, pausing in a torrent of abuse. "Now all thee
world can see how you let criminals escape!"

And the abuse had got its work in. There is poison in the stuff, that
breeds miscalculation. It is like a smoke-screen thrown off by a human
skunk to mortify whoever has weak sensibilities. The constable was angry
and aware of duty to be done--some one to be arrested. Six criminals,
accused of arson, had escaped under cover of the seventh's volleys of
abuse, and so the seventh must be guiltier than all! He raised his
truncheon--actually to hammer out a signal on the side-walk--but, in
Diomed's excited imagination, to attack. And Diomed struck him--twice, in
the face, with the flat of his hand, hysterically--struck an officer of
the law in execution of his duty!

So the truncheon went to work in earnest, and poor Diomed was beaten over
collar-bone and forearm until he wouldn't have dared move them for the
agony. Then he was handcuffed ignominiously, swearing, beseeching,
praying, and marched away, followed by inevitable small boys as free from
the vials of compassion as the monkeys are that some say are their
ancestors. They said things that excited Diomed to wilder imprecations
yet.

And among the boys there was a dwarf--a man in orange-yellow, taller by
half a head than the tallest youngster, and as stocky as two of them, but
gifted with the same free movement, so that he passed in the crowd
unnoticed. He edged his way closer and closer to the constable, who
glanced about him nervously, aware that in these "higher education days"
the riots and the rescuing are done by school boys while their elders do
the propaganding in the rear. He hurried, driving his prisoner in front
of him with thumps from the truncheon on the backbone just above the
trousers-band. It was several minutes before the dwarf could edge close
enough to speak low and yet be heard.

"You are fortunate!" he said at last. "Surely you have promotion in your
grasp! You have taken the infamous Braganza, who is charged with burning
his hotel and murdering a hundred guests!"

"I knew it! Come and give your evidence!" the constable retorted, for the
East lies glibly or not at all. He tried to seize the dwarf as a material
witness, but missed him in the crowd, and had to hurry on for fear of
losing Diomed, whom he charged presently with arson and with employing
six Afridis to preserve him from arrest. "I fought them all, and they
fled before me," he asserted.

Meanwhile, there was a strange assortment of individuals in more or less
pursuit of Ali's sons, with Ali in the lead, of course, since the "sons"
were his valuable property, and with Chullunder Ghose as naturally in the
rear, as utterly indifferent to the sons' fate as the noon is to the
netting of fish at ebb tide, but on the job and anxious notwithtstanding.

"For if an earthquake had emptied Bedlam, releasing affinities of swine
of Gadarenes, and if government officials plus editors of daily press
were in charge of whole proceedings, _that_ would be diamond-edged sanity
compared to _this!_ This is worse than acting on advice of experts! This
is--oh, my aunt!"

He was not far wide of the mark; for as he waddled, wiping sweat from his
fat face, he could see the whole long-drawn line extending down-street,
each in his own way calling curious attention. Jeremy, for instance,
reveling in being taken for an Arab, looking ready to go mad and do a
whirling dervish dance at the first excuse, with the long, loose sleeves
of his black coat spread like wings, in full flight after Ali.

Then Ramsden angrily, annoyed with Jeremy for making such a public
exhibition of himself yet unable to overtake him and remonstrate,
striding along like Samson who slew the Philistines.

King next, side by side with Narayan Singh, neither of them even
fractionally off-key, and therefore about as noticeable as two true notes
in a flat and sharp piano scale.

"Man that is born of a woman is like ginger-pop!" remarked Chullunder
Ghose, pausing to consider. "Cut string--cork flies--and he spills
himself! Step one on the path of wisdom is to _be_ wise--_ergo_--by the
waters of this Babylon I sit me down and weep--thus--tree, I greet you,
weeping sweat, not tears! Great tree, what a world of men and women you
have mocked! Mock me a while, your shade is comforting and your shafts of
wit pass overhead! Now let us see--King _sahib_ is remarkable for sanity.
_Ergo_, he will notice me in rear. Observing emulation of Fabius
Cunctator by this babu, King _sahib_ will suppress inborn proclivities of
Anglo-Saxon and pattern his thought accordingly.

"He will follow down that street to next corner, where he will park
himself broodily, sending Narayan Singh forward to repeat process. Thus,
whenever I proceed as far as corner and become conspicuous, King _sahib_
will observe me and will signal to Narayan Singh. We shall thus be in
touch. And the others will behave as the sparks that fly upward, which
can't be helped. That is my guess. Being heirs of all the ages, I shall
sit in shade and see the world go by. Suspicious? Very!"

Chullunder Ghose was right. King did turn the corner in pursuit, and at
the next one did sit down on the veranda of a boarding-house for Sikhs,
where Narayan Singh, who kept up the pursuit along another street, could
find him and whence he himself might see Chullunder Ghose if the babu
should see fit to come to the corner and signal. The others, following
Ali of Sikunderam, who shouted inquiries a hundred yards ahead, stuck to
the pursuit like people in a motion-picture comedy.

"Item one, a fool is very foolish," said Chullunder Ghose to himself,
leaning his fat back against the tree and flapping flies with an enormous
handkerchief. "Therefore congenital deficiencies of Ali's sons comply
with formula. _Verb. sap_. If they had been attacked said idiots would
have stood at bay by door of padre's house, in accordance with law that
nature abhors a vacuum--doubtless. Empty heads apply, at spigot of
authority to be filled with instructions. They would have focussed
attention on padre's house inevitably. _Quad erat--nicht wahr_? _Ergo_,
they were not attacked.

"What then? A woman? Much too early in the morning. And again--no fight!
If six such idiots pursued a woman, or women, through the streets of
Delhi, there would be bad blood spilt as certainly as there are speeches
when a politician pursues office. Therefore not a woman. This time not
the sex that bringeth forth in sorrow and regretteth same.

"Then a man! The unproductive sex! At least as sorrowful but less opaque!
Motives more easily discernible. The six translucent jewels of Sikunderam
have been decoyed--and by a man, or men--therefore for profit! Whose?
Why? I lift a stone. Why do I lift a stone? Because I need the space it
sits on--or I wish to throw it--or--if he--they--needed the space on
which the sons of Ali sat--or the street in which they sat--I see--I get
you--'Steve, I get you!' as Jimgrim says--behold, I see through mystery!
Let us hope actions are not so loud as words. Thou tree--thou solid,
dumb, obtruding tree, farewell!"

There came a _tikka-gharri_* drawn by one horse on the way home from
assisting at the _Rishis_** only knew what all-night revelry. Chullunder
Ghose signaled the driver, who declined a fare sleepily, without success.
The babu waddled to mid-street and had climbed in before the protesting
jehu could whallop his nag to a trot.

[* Hired cab.]

[** Spirits.]

"Give her gas!" said Chullunder Ghose, translating slang learned from
Grim into opprobrious vernacular.

So the weary cabman whacked the wearier horse and, better to call
attention to himself, the babu stood up screaming that he had a
gall-stone and would die unless in hospital within the minute. He was
seen, heard, contemplated.

But he only drove two blocks, around a corner, and then paid the
astonished cabman the exact fare. If he had overpaid him he would only
have multiplied suspicion. Then he walked back three blocks, parallel to
the street in which was Cyprian's house, and turning the corner suddenly
was just in time to see three men in orange-yellow smocks approach
Cyprian's door and ring the bell. He stood there long enough to watch
them enter and see the door shut again behind them.

"Kali!" he exclaimed then. "Let us hope Jimgrim is appreciative! Dogs of
the Wife of Siva the Destroyer! Oh, my aunt!"

He had been in time to see Ali of Sikunderam charge up the steps and
plunge into the building--for the men he hurled his questions at had
misdirected Ali and he had covered an unnecessary mile before learning
that his precious sons were foul of the law.

He ran like an articulated jellyfish until he reached a corner whence he
could see King perched on the boarding-house veranda. There, ignoring all
discretion, he pulled his rose-pink turban off and threw the thirty yards
of silk in air, whirling it until King raised a hand in answer.

Promptly King leaned out over the veranda-rail at the corner of two
streets and made a gesture that Narayan Singh saw from a quarter of a
mile away. And the Sikh, not optimistic, having seen too much, but
understanding that the gang was wanted back at Cyprian's, went at the
double to retrieve as many of the gang as possible from a building in
front of which two square lamps advertised--POLICE.

Narayan Singh had seen Rahman follow Ali, and then Jeremy, then Ramsden.
None had come back down the steps, so he was in no doubt what to do,
although he did not know yet how absurdly simple the strategy of the man
in orange-yellow had been, nor how simpler and more finished would be
that of Jeremy.

Like will-o'-the wisp in orange livery he had simply led those six
North-country swashbucklers a dance along street after street--up the
stairs of the police station--and there had accused the lot of them of
theft! There was nothing whatever for the police to do but hold them.

When Ali got there pandemonium was loose, for the six sons' weapons had
been taken and they were resisting further search as desperately as hell's
imps would object to baptism--teeth--talons--imprecation--horizontal
mostly, with a couple of policemen laboring at each limb and each lot
expanding and contracting soddenly in spasms. One policeman--he who had
recently arrested Diomed the Goanese--went from lot to lot using a
truncheon unapplauded, aiming at the heads of Afghans but oftener
hitting his friends. He said nothing about recognizing them, having
already claimed to have defeated them in mortal combat. The obvious
solution was to stun them lest they recognize himself, but it was
extremely difficult to hit their heads.

And into that confusion Ali leaped like a firecracker, knife and all, to
be brought to a stand by the officer's revolver. The officer was in his
place, in charge, behind the desk. There might have been murder done, for
Ah was in no mood for compliance, with his darlings being whacked and
twisted under his eyes. The fact that the police were bleeding, and his
sons not more than warming up for a morning's work, added to his zeal,
and instinct warned him that the man in yellow was the "father" of the
rumpus. Therefore, Ali was for springing at the man in yellow's throat
when Jeremy strode in smiling like an illustration from the Book of Ruth,
with Rahman yelping like a wolf a step behind him.

"_Salaam aleikoum_! Peace! Let there be peace!" boomed Jeremy in a voice
with a ventriloquial note that fills a room. He sounded, as he looked,
like a man from the Old Testament. Ah detected magic in the wind and
yelled a word that his sons obeyed on the instant. Even so, the police
were human and eager for revenge, but Ramsden walked in.

Baring his forearms, he offered to kill with his hands the first three
constables who struck a prisoner. So there was peace as Jeremy requested,
and the man in yellow took advantage of it, going close to two of Ali's
sons, who were held fast, with a policeman on each wrist. He said he
wanted to identify them. Jeremy observed, and Ramsden observed Jeremy.
The officer observed all three, but Jeremy's hand is swifter than any
eye.

"They are the men who stole from me!" said the man in yellow. "I had a
gold coin similar to this one in each hand. Rushing at me, they seized my
wrists and took the money, which you will find on their persons. Search
them!" He drew from a pocket in his smock and displayed one ancient coin
that Jeremy and Ramsden identified as having belonged to the Portuguese
da Gama.

"Search them!" ordered the officer, tapping his revolver on the desk.

"Wait! First let me also identify!" said Jeremy; and he, too, went close
to the same two of Ali's sons.

He removed and palmed a coin that the man in yellow had secreted in the
nearest man's sash.

Not satisfied with that, he walked tip to the police officer and
whispered to him. Then, from him, to the man in orange-yellow who was
beginning to look less pleased--a mite impatient.

"Have I ever seen you anywhere?" asked Jeremy. "Were you ever in
Jerusalem? Jaffa? Alexandria?"

"No!"

"He lies!" said Jeremy. "I know him well! This was a trick by the Hindu
to steal a gold watch from your honor," he went on, smiling at the
officer as if butter hardly ever melted in his mouth. "However, as the
Prophet saith, on whom be peace, 'Let not words and emptiness of speech
suffice!' Search all three men!"

Now Ali's sons stood still, submitting, for they had felt what Jeremy's
nimble fingers did. And Jeremy, with his back to Ramsden, passed to him
two gold coins for safety's sake, stepping forward again instantly. The
jaw of the man in orange-yellow dropped.

"He--that Arab--" he began.

But the searchers had stripped Ali's sons in vain, and it was his turn.
The first hand thrust into his pocket drew out the officer's gold watch
and chain.

"Magic!" exclaimed the officer. "He never once came near me!"

"Lock him up then! Such as he are dangerous!" said Jeremy not turning a
hair, and the officer accepted the advice, insisting, too, however, on
holding three of Ali's sons as witnesses.

It was then, as the door of one cell slammed on all four and a fifth
already in there, that Narayan Singh strode in, appraised the situation,
and strode out again, leaving as many to follow him as could or would.



CHAPTER VII - "SHAKESPEAREAN HOMEOPATHIC REMEDY!"


Grim and Cyprian sat face to face in silence with a shaft of sunlight
streaming through the space between them. Infinitely tiny specks of
dust--for Cyprian was a martinet and Manoel used cloth and broom
incessantly--danced tarantella-fashion, more or less as gnats do, in the
golden fairway.

"You observe them?" said Cyprian presently. "Each one of those moving
specks is itself made of billions of infinitely tiny specks all in
motion. That is the way the universe is made. All atoms--all in
motion--in an all-pervading essence known as ether. You know that? It is
in the books--the oldest of all books as well as the newest. The ancients
knew about it seven thousand years ago, if we accept their heretical
chronology. I have their books to prove it. These Nine Unknown are the
inheritors of scientific secrets that used to form the basis of the
Ancient Mysteries. Yes, that's so. That's so. There isn't any doubt of
it. Not religious secrets, understand me--no, no, they are enemies of all
religion! They use scientific truths to stir superstition by pretending
their phenomena are miracles! Devils' work! They know--the rascals! They
have knowledge! Compared to them our modern scientists are just as Julius
Cesar would have been if somebody confronted him with Paine's fireworks
or an eighteen-inch gun or the radio. Clever fellow, Csar. Bright as a
button. He would have tried to explain it away; tried--but there would be
the phenomena--effect--result of cause; you have to know the cause to
understand effect. No use repudiating it. Our moderns fail exactly as
Julius Caesar would have done. And the Nine Unknown laugh. Devils!

"Nothing suits them better than to have the scientists, the newspapers,
the governments, the secret service, the police, all vow that no such
knowledge as theirs exists--no such organization. Above all they chuckle
because the church denies them. Missionaries are their best friends. To
declare they are non-existent without proving it leaves the rascals free
to do as they please, without lessening the superstition of the crowd.
You understand?"

Grim did not. He has the pragmatist-adventurer's view of life,
dissatisfied with all veils hung between himself and noumenon, and
studying each phenomenon from the angle of "what's the use of it?"

"Why deny what you can't prove? Why not discover their science and employ
it properly?"

Cyprian interrupted him with a frown and a flash of temper that betrayed
volcanic will unweakened by his age and only curbed by discipline.

"_Tchut!_ Wiser minds than yours decided about that long ago. Beware of
the sin of presumption! These people have been branded as
magicians--tricksters! Their pretensions, magic--tricks!
Humbugs!--evil-workers!--liars!--cheats! They have imposed on
superstition. Take the consequences. Banned by the Church. Outlawed. Burn
their books! Who shall say then that they have, or ever had, a scrap of
scientific knowledge? That is my task--fifty--two-and-fifty years of
effort. Burn the books! The nine books! Burn them! They have defied the
Church--_sed prevalabit_!"

"I don't get you," answered Grim. "Knowledge ought to be known. Those
books--"

"Are mine! To do as I see fit! Did you not agree?" demanded Cyprian.

Grins had agreed, but that did not admit the whole contention. Grim,
because he keeps an open mind, has been accused by missionaries of
belonging to nearly every heathen cult in turn, but his name stands
written on no muster-roll. He is under no vows of obedience. He
countered:

"King and I have talked this over--lots. King has been on the trail of it
for twenty years you know. Are you sure the Nine aren't honorable men,
who know more than is safe to teach the public?"

Cyprian smiled at that like a martyr prepared to die for his convictions.

"Only, some one killed the Portuguese," Grim went on. "Why? If they know
so much, why kill a drunken crook you can afford to pity?"

"I have told you. They are devils," answered Cyprian.

"And while the hotel burned there was a voice urging the crowd to attack
us," Grim continued. "The same voice shouted, 'Fire!'--deliberated
creating panic. Some one had searched the Don's room--carried his books
away. Same man--same men more likely--returned to burn their tracks. That
hardly seems like men who, as you put it, have inherited the knowledge of
the Ancient Mysteries."

The expression of Cyprian's face changed. He drew on his mask of patience
that at eighty a man has learned to use consummately or not at all. It
was quite clear that if he gave discussion rein these colts of other
creeds would gallop away with him, Grim particularly. Discipline was out
of the question. Whip he had none. Argument was useless. It would do no
good to tell a man like Grim to let speculation alone.

"Would you go and find my servant Manoel?" he asked; for helplessness is
like a weapon, in a wise man's hand.

Grim left the room.

Manoel sat cross-legged on a blanket in the corner of the pantry, hardly
having moved from the spot where Ramsden dumped him down. The sin of
speculation--if it is a sin--could not be laid to him, for he was
dumb--determined--obstinate--like a clog that has hidden to escape a
thrashing and will neither run away nor come to heel. He did not even
shake his head when Grim ordered him into the padre's presence; so Grim
went back and reported the state of affairs, having more than one purpose
in mind.

And it seemed good to Cyprian just then to supply Grim with the
wherewithal to take his mind off the subject they had been discussing.
Helplessness was put to work again.

"I am old. It tires me to undertake these--do you think Mr. Ramsden
frightened him too much--I wonder--would you mind, eh? See what you can
do with him--persuade him to come in here--yes? Such a rascal as he has
been!--no, by no means always honest--but a servant--he has been a
comfort. Will you talk to him?"

That was tantamount to _carte blanche_. Grim, incapable of nosing into
the domestic secrets of his host, could, would and did crowd every limit
to the edge when given leave. He squatted clown, cross-legged too, in
front of Manoel and waited until the shifty brown eyes had to come to a
rest at last and meet his gray ones. (The passport says they are gray,
which makes it legal, but no two agree as to their real color. Possibly
they change, although his zeal is fixed.)

"You're in luck. You've one chance!" Grim said speaking in Punjabi.

Manoel did not answer; but the word luck probed the very heart of inborn
passion.

"Da Gama and Braganza had no luck at all," said Grim, and Manoel lowered
his eyes, not straight downward but along the arc of an ellipse because
of certain racial peculiarities.

"Da Gama died. Braganza's house was burned. Do you feel brave?" Grim
asked him.

Manoel looked up--suddenly.

"Who are _you?_" he asked.

His lips parted loosely. The corners of his mouth dropped, and he shifted
his eyes to left and right, showing more than was wholesome of the
bloodshot whites.

Dread, unexpected and acute, was unmistakable; it acted like a solvent on
the sullenness of fear. Grim saw his chance--almost too long to be called
chance; he had nothing to go on but conjecture.

"Who do you _think_ I am?" he retorted. "Look into my eyes! Who am I?"

Manoel hesitated, with the expression of self-conscious innocence facing
a firing squad. Having double-crossed friend and enemy alike there was
nothing to fall back on but his conscience, obviously! Grim bored in,
wishing he knew something definite to base assault on.

"Didn't you expect me?" he demanded.

"Yes, but--"

The million-to-one shot landed! Grim's face hardly changed expression,
but his eyes had laughter in them that the Goanese was far too scared to
recognize.

"--but I didn't look for a Punjabi. He who told me wore a yellow smock--a
_sadhu_. I have not had time."

"Time!" Grim retorted, forcing the note of indignation.

"I have not had time, and I have not been paid," said Manoel, shifting
his eyes again, and then himself, so that Grim, who was all alert
suspicion, jumped to a conclusion.

"Do you know they killed da Gama?" he asked, setting his face like brass,
and Manoel shuddered. "Do you mean to tell me you have not been paid?" he
went on, fixing his eyes on the Goanese and speaking slowly.

And whether or not Manoel had pocketed his price, imagination warned him
he was helpless, at the mercy of some one who would harvest whether he
had sown or not. Admission that he had been paid was no proof of it at
all, he being what he was.

"But now he knows I was at the keyhole. He will dismiss me. And first he
will investigate. So he will find out, and I do not dare! I will give the
money back!"

That, too, was no proof that he had been paid. But it _was_ proof that he
had taken more than one step on the path of treason. Grim turned and
swiped at a fly. Again the unhappy Manoel shifted--not so much his eyes
this time as his whole person, although his eyes did move. It was because
his eyes moved that he did not see Grim looking in the little kitchen
mirror.

"Give it here!" said Grim.

"The money? I--I--"

"No. Give _it_ here--or--"

"Let me go then! I must run! I do not dare stay and face his anger!"

But Grim knew now, and he is one of those who use knowledge, patiently or
promptly as the case may be. He leaned forward. Manoel screamed, as a
chicken does when a housewife has her by the legs. Grim seized him by the
collar-band, and all ten chocolate fingers closed on the iron wrist. Grim
jerked him forward, threw him on his face and sat on him, proceeding then
to raise the blanket.

"Thought so! Yow! You little scorpion!"

He seized his victim's wrist and twisted it until a knife dropped--kicked
the knife across the floor--glanced at the back of his thigh to observe
that it was hardly bleeding--laid the folded blanket on the Goanese's
head and sat on that--then lifted what had been beneath the blanket,
carefully.

It needed care. It was an old book bound in vellum, crackled with age.
Within, in sepia, beautifully written in the Maharatta tongue, with
diagrams, on paper yellowed with age and thumbing, was what purported to
be a literal translation of a very ancient roll.

The first page, on which the translator's name had very likely been, was
missing. On the second was a pentagram within the dodeahedron--the
geometrical figure on which alchemists assert the universe was built.
Beneath that was a diagram of the Hindu cosmogony side by side with the
Chaldean. On the third page, in Maharathi at the top, as if continuing a
paragraph from page one, was the following:

Whereafter, being certain that the roll would not be missed until (here a
name was illegible) should come again, I hid in the cave with the hag who
made provision for my needs, and by the light of the unextinguishable
lamp I labored at the construing, with haste, that the whole might be
accomplished, yet with diligence, lest errors enter in.

This finished volume witnesseth.

Which being done, this shall be hidden in a place known only to the hag.
Whereafter, I will endeavor to return the roll lest (the undecipherable
name again) should fall under suspicion and stiffer for infidelity. That
risk is great, for it is hard to come at the place where the rolls are
kept.

But death is no more than the gates of life.

The hag has her instructions. So this fruit of my long husbandry shall
fall into the right hands. He who guided hitherto being All-wise to
accomplishment.

Then here begins:


On the next page, at the top, in bold Maharathi characters, was the first
law of the Cabalists, and of all alchemists and true magicians since the
world began.

AS ABOVE, SO BELOW.

Grim read no further, for the stuff absorbed him to the point where
near-unconsciousness of every other circumstance prevailed. His whole
being yearned to the lure of that musty volume and its secrets. He craved
it as some unfortunates crave opium. The merely physical appeal of drugs,
prodigious though it is, monopolizes no more than the intellectual
attraction of the unknown does a man of Grim's temperament. If he had
read another page he would have read a dozen, and a dozen would have only
whetted appetite. He closed the book with a slap that brought the pungent
dust out, and removed himself from Manoel's head.

"You insect! If you had the original of this I'd trade you my right hand
for it!"

"Let me go!" sputtered Manoel. "Oh, sir; I am afraid to face him! Take
the book and let us both go!"

But Grim took book and Manoel, each by the back, and shoved the Goanese
along in front of him into the padre's presence.

"He seems to have been keeping this for you," he said and laid the volume
on Cyprian's knees.

"Had he read it?" demanded Cyprian.

"Oh, no! Oh, no, sir! Oh, father, oh, no, no! It is black magic and
forbidden. I would never read it!"

"What odds? He wouldn't understand a word," said Grim, and Cyprian
nodded.

"Let him go," said Cyprian. "Drive him from the house!"

But Grim had spoken English, and the fear that gnawed Manoel's bowels
multiplied. It dawned on him that he had been tricked. Grim, then, was
Father Cyprian's friend, and not--

"No, no, no!" he shouted. "No! You must be merciful! This is my
sanctuaree! I may not be driven forth! I tell you I did it to save you
from murder because you are old! You are ungrateful! You commit a great
sin if you drive me forth!"

He wanted to throw himself down in the attitude of supplication, but Grim
had him by the neck.

"He expected somebody," said Grim. "Shall we see this through now?"

"Face the adversary!" Cyprian answered.

But age gave way to youth. He waited for Grim to make the next decision.
And Grim held his arm out, helping--almost lifting the old man from his
chair.

"You'd better be seen at the door," he said. "We'll let them see Manoel
go empty-handed."

He turned on the Goanese and shook him.

"Listen, asp! Get your belongings. Oh! Only a blanket, eh? Preparations
all made--everything out of the house but that?"

He followed him to the pantry, watched him through the door, and seized
him by the neck again as he emerged.

"Now, you've another chance. Don't speak in the street! Show you haven't
got the book--look scared--walk! You understand me? If you disobey
I'll--"

"Oh, oh! Onlee let me not go! I will--"

Grim stood back. It was Cyprian, trembling with age rather than emotion,
who stood in the doorway and sped the errant Goanese with his left hand
raised palm-outward and a look of pursed-up horror.

"I tell you, father, I did it to preevent murder!" sobbed Manoel with
great tears running down into his whiskers. "Give me benediction then,
I--"

Cyprian did not deny him that. It possibly accomplished more than Grim's
threat. Manoel departed down-street with his head hung, and the blanket
draped over one arm, avoiding all encounters; and a man in orange-yellow
by the great tree opposite--where Ali's sons had sat--drew such
deductions as he saw fit. Grim standing in shadow within saw the man make
a signal.

"Good!" he said. "Shut the door now," and Cyprian obeyed as if learning
lessons. It was hard, maybe, at eighty to learn to dispense with even a
dishonest servant.

They returned to the sitting-room, whence the cloistered peace had gone,
although the sunlight still streamed through the spaced jalousies.

"Pity the first page is missing," said Grim by way of making
conversation.

"It isn't!" snapped Cyprian, and looked to see.

Confronted by the fact, his last strength seemed to vanish and he sat
down, knocking the book to the floor. Grim rescued it.

"On the first page, at the top, was the finest cosmogony ever drafted,"
said Cyprian, "and underneath it an explanation of the terns used."

He spoke as if hope were dead forever. Grim changed the subject, or tried
to--

"Let's hope our crowd don't return too soon!"

"I should have searched that blanket," Cyprian grumbled. "He had the
first page wrapped in it. I know he had!"

Grim tried again. "Tell me what the 'unextinguishable lamp' means on page
two," he demanded.

"Mind your own business!" Cyprian snapped back, struggling to be calm.
"If I will burn books, shall you rifle their secrets first? Phoenix from
the ashes, eh? No, no! Hear no evil--see no evil--know no evil--that is
my advice to you, my son! What I burn need not trouble you!"

"Are your books in this house?" Grim asked, suddenly alarmed at a random
notion.

But Cyprian chose to be amused at that, shaking his head sidewise with
the palsied humor of old age.

"Do you think I am in my dotage?"

Grim had no time to reply. There came a long peal on the bronze bell,
that clanged on its coiled spring as if the temples of all Thibet were in
alarm. Grim went to the front door, opened suddenly, and stood back.

Three men entered, all in yellow smocks. They came in swiftly, almost on
the run--stopped suddenly--and hesitated. They were surprised to see
Grim.

"I am the padre _sahib's_ new servant," he said in the dialect, smiling.

Then he turned the key and threw it out through the little round
peep-hole that exists somewhere or other in most Indian front-doors.

"Father Cyprian is in there," he said, with a jerk of his head in the
direction of the sitting-room.

They eyed Grim curiously, saying nothing. Bigger, stronger than Grim as
far as appearance went, they wore the impudent expression of men who have
been taught from infancy that they are better than the crowd, of other
clay--bold, yet with a sort of sly air underlying impudence, and an
abominably well-fed look, although they wore the simple smock of the
ascetic. Finally they all three smiled at Grim, and one of them motioned
him to lead the way into the sitting-room. The man next to him who
motioned had a long silk handkerchief in one hand, and on his forehead
the crimson signet of the goddess Kali. Grim stepped back instead of
forward--ducked--stepped back again--and stood in the pantry entrance
with blood chilled and the gooseflesh rising.

"My hour is not yet!" he assured them.

Except for Grim's activity there had hardly been a motion visible, and
yet--the handkerchief was in the other hand. The executioner had missed.
And if there had been a score of witnesses they would likely all have
sworn there had been no attempt made, for the pride of the Thug* is in
his swiftness. None sees the strangling when it happens, it is so quick.

[*Thuggee, as far as its practise by wandering bands is concerned, was
stamped out by the Government long ago; but its methods, and the skill of
its practitioners, survive.]

All three men smiled with the coppery, cast expression of determination
that can bide its time. Grim motioned them again toward the sitting-room,
and they went in one by one, the man with the handkerchief first, and the
last man turning on the threshold to assure himself that Grim was not
bent on reprisal. But no effort was made to exclude him. The door was
left open until he walked in after them and closed it--having his own
reasons.

Cyprian was very near collapse. The apparition of the three in
orange-yellow came like an almost mechanical dénouement, to which
Manoel's misconduct had been overture--warning perhaps. His old hands
clutched and clutched again the carved ends of the chair-arms. But he
said nothing. He was fighting for self-mastery. His lips were moving,
probably in prayer; and repeatedly his eyes sought Grim's, although Grim
refused him any answering signal. Grim knew he held the winning hand, and
he who knows that is a fool if he fails to play it carefully.

His cue was to make believe he had no weapon--to postpone violence--to
unmask purposes--to ascertain facts--before admitting the possession of a
forty-five. Even when the orange-yellow exquisite tried thuggery he had
not so much as made a gesture to reach his weapon, and the three were
fairly satisfied that he was unarmed. They sat down in a row on the long
strip of yak-hair rug that covered half the floor, facing the shuttered
window, at an angle of forty-five to Cyprian.

Grim went and sat in the corner facing Cyprian, whence he could watch
them at an angle athwart the flowing lines of light. They were nearer to
the door than he was, but had no forty-fives, which made a difference.
They produced what they did have--two old-fashioned muzzle-loading
pistols between three of them--cocked, and fitted with percussion caps.
Grim looked afraid, and Cyprian _was_ afraid.

"You want what?" Cyprian demanded, speaking English for no other reason
than that those words trembled out first.

"Books!" replied the middle of the three men, using the same language
with a readiness and absence of foreign accent, that astonished because
of his bronzeness and the orange-yellow smock. There was no reason why he
should not know English, except that he looked like one of those who
pride themselves on their refusal to learn it.

"What books?" asked Cyprian feebly.

But only his voice failed. There was no suggestion in his eye that he
dreamed of yielding. Rather, he was recovering self-command as the effect
of shock receded.

"All the books you have, including that one," the same man answered,
pointing at the volume Grim had saved from Manoel's clutches.

Cyprian took his own time about answering that, moving his lips and jaws
as if first he had to masticate the words and glancing down at Grim
repeatedly to see whether Grim had any signals for him.

But Grim sat still, the way a _chela_ sits by the feet of his _guru_,
unpresuming, waiting for the wisdom to come dropping word by word from
the privileged lips of age. When the time should come for Grim to give a
signal he was minded to make it abrupt and unmistakable.

"Who are you men?" demanded Cyprian at last; and the three in yellow
looked amused. Either they disbelieved that he did not know, or they
thought it amusing he should dare to ask; it was not clear which.

"We are they who demand the books," answered he with the handkerchief,
and his companions nodded.

"And if the books are not here?" Cyprian asked.

"We will take that one, and you with it! Later you will show us where the
others are."

Grim heard the noise he was waiting for, but did not move, for the sound
was vague as if, on the sidewalk, thought was producing words, not action
yet. He hoped the bell would not ring--hoped the key dropped through the
hole would be interpreted--hoped Cyprian would not have apoplexy at his
next remark. For it was time and he was ready.

"Holy one," lie said in the dialect, playing the part of the _chela_
still, "would it not be wiser if I tell them where a _few_ books are?"

He allowed his eyes to wander furtively in the direction of the far wall,
where the room was in shadow.

"And I win!" he exclaimed in English suddenly.

They had turned their heads to follow the direction of his glance. They
looked back along the barrel of a forty-five. And of all things in the
world that are difficult, the hardest is to tell which of three of you
sitting side-by-side will be first in the path of a bullet.

"They are hollow-nosed bullets," Grin assured them. "Put your hands up,
please!"

They held their hands up, palms to the front, suggesting Siva's image.

"We are not afraid," said the man in the middle. "We are watched for.
Others come."

"Yes, others come," said Grim, aware of noises penetrating through the
thick door and thicker walls.

"Bet you they're in here! What'll you bet?" demanded Jeremy's voice as
the door flew open and the whole crowd poured in, Jeremy leading--all the
crowd, that is, who had been in the room before and two besides.

Ali of Sikunderam came last, volcanically angry, muttering Islamic
blasphemy into his ruffled beard that either he had tugged at or some
other man had pulled.

Narayan Singh went straight for the two pistols and kicked them away from
their owners. One went off. A lead ball as large as a pigeon's egg was
flattened on the stone wall close to Cyprian and the smell of cheap black
powder filled the room. Using that as an excuse the three in
orange-yellow put the ends of their turbans across their mouths and
nostrils, moistening them thoroughly with spittle.

"Being very holy men no doubt, oh yes!" remarked Chullunder Ghose,
picking up both pistols as his own perquisite. "Spirits of the cess-pool!
Who invoked them? That is the worst-smelling powder! Are infernal regions
advertised by Christian missionary actual? My aunt! Shall I open window,
holy one?"

But Cyprian was losing consciousness. King went at a bound for the door
and was in time to stop the three strange visitors with three blows.
(India, who knew almost all human knowledge long before the West was
born, has yet to learn to use her fists.) He bade Ali and his sons hold
them, and returned to discover what the source of the reeking smoke was.
He suspected a grenade with some new sort of fuse. But there was only the
assassin's long silk handkerchief, dropped on the carpet as if by
accident. He kicked it and nothing happened, though the smoke did not
cease.

Meanwhile, Grim was holding Cyprian's head while Ramsden lifted him and
Jeremy forced a window. Between them they got the old man's head into the
fresh air. He showed signs of recovery. But the three coughed so
violently that they could hardly hold him up, and the open window seemed
to make no difference inside the room; there was no telling where the
smoke came from.

Nor was it actually smoke; rather a thin mist, with a hint of pearliness
and green in it. There was a faint suggestion of sweetness and a little
ether. It was a compound undoubtedly, and there was lots of it, but
neither King nor yet Chullunder Ghose exploring on hands and knees could
find its source nor any container that might have held it.

Outside the room, where the gas or whatever it was spread swiftly but not
so densely into the hall, Ali and his sons were taking law into their own
hands. There was a cellar door--a trap with big strap-hinges--and the
weight of the door, with rust and friction added, was as much as two men
striving mightily could move. That appealed, and the sons of Ali raised
it. Down below was a stonewalled cellar twelve by twelve or so, empty of
everything except some builders' trash.

Ali with his drawn knife drove the prisoners one at a time until they
jumped down in there.

"If they break their legs, may Allah mortify the stumps!" he requested
piously.

Meanwhile, tearing about the room, upsetting things and vowing there were
devils loose, Narayan Singh lost equilibrium, fell over Chullunder Ghose,
and collapsed with his head near the silken handkerchief. King seized him
to drag him from the room, and noticed a burn where his face had touched
the silk. Chullunder Ghose picked up the handkerchief and dropped it with
a yell.

Ramsden, Jeremy and Grim picked Cyprian up between them and ran for the
door with him, meaning to make for the street. They met King dragging the
Sikh, and for a second there was a tight jam, into which Chullunder Ghose
came headlong.

"Oh go! All go! Only go!" he shouted. "Now I know it! Manicheean
magic![*] It is death! It is unquenchable!"

[*The Manichees were Persians, whose teaching was a form of dualism. But
they also celebrated mysteries and were said to practise magic and
theurgy.]

Cyprian heard him.

"Poison--from the ancient books!" he gasped. "Come away!"

They had reeled through the door in front of the babu's impact.

"Where are those prisoners?" King shouted.

Ali and his sons began to labor at the trap-door, but it had jammed in
place and was difficult to start again. Chullunder Ghose, purple with
effort and choking, sized the situation up and charged back into the
sitting-room.

He came back like a "soccer" forward, shouting and kicking the
handkerchief along in front of him.

"Out of my way! Out of house! Quick!"

They fled before him--all but Ali and his sons. The men of Sikunderam
considered dignity and flight before a babu, at his order, incompatible.
They went on working at the trap, and raised it about six inches.

"So! Good! Now down again!"

The babu kicked the handkerchief through the opening and, as Sikunderam
showed no symptoms of obedience, jumped on the trap, forcing it out of
their fingers and down into its bed with a report like an explosion.
There he squatted, looking like a big bronze temple image.

"Now is good!" he said. "Keep open house until gas shall evanesce!
Practitioners of Manicheean deviltry will now be hoist like engineers
with own petard! Shakespearean homeopathic remedy! _Verb_ very _sap!_ Oh
yes! Tell _sahibs_, no more danger now!"

And saying that, Chullunder Ghose himself keeled over.



CHAPTER VIII - "HE IS VERY DEAD!"


In one hot brick cell, closed by an iron door with a peep-hole in it,
there were three of the sons of Sikunderam, one Hindu in orange-yellow
with a crimson caste-mark on his forehead, who had refused his name, and
Fernandez de Mendoza de Sousa Diomed Braganza, whose name and occupation
were as well known as his temper was notorious and his predicament acute.

None of the others seemed to worry much. The "sons" were aware that
father Ali and his patrons knew their whereabouts, and it is Law in the
North, whence they came, that the feudal claims are first. There would
either be a rescue, or a use of influence, or possibly raw bribery this
side of midnight. They were sure of that, whether rightly or wrongly.

And he in orange-yellow, having had the trick turned back on him by
Jeremy, was none the less apparently at ease. He wore the
would-like-to-be-dangerous smile of the hanger-on of priests not subtle,
rather threatening--the smile of a man who holds himself superior to
others as rule number one of policy. There is nothing in the world more
sure than that the priests and politicians _always_ abandon their clients
when convenient; nor anything more fixed than the assurance of the
due-to-be-abandoned until the miserable fact confronts them.

Diomed, on the other hand, was neither full of faith nor hope; and he
never did pin much to charity. Having counted on forgiveness of his sins,
he found that there was fortune still to reckon with; and he did not
believe that fortune ever favored Goanese much. He supposed he must sin
some more.

"We are five in one predicament. Shall we compare notes?" he suggested.

Being first man in that cell he felt almost _in loco parentis_, a guise
that any innkeeper assumes without much difficulty. That son of Ali whom
he had recognized in the street was not one of those detained, so he was
unaware of facing men whose enmity he had already, and could not lose
without suitable compensation, of which they, and they only, would be
judges.

The sons of Ali held their peace. Their knives had been taken from them.
Talk is no equivalent for steel. Lacking the one, in the North's opinion,
it is unheroic and incontinent to substitute the other.

"Wait!" says Sikunderam. "The hour of God's appointing cometh! Wait,
saying nothing!"

But the man in orange-yellow, regarding Allah as a myth, served an even
more destroying goddess, whose devotees are encouraged to seek
opportunity, not wait. He spoke, and his voice was strangely reminiscent,
so that Diomed stared open-mouthed at him.

"Some one set fire to a hotel in the night," he said.

"Mine! My hotel!"

"So there are three," said he in orange-yellow: "he who knows the secret,
they who wish the secret kept, and he or they who wish to know who did
it."

"Do you know who did it?" demanded Diomed, thrusting his little
black-bearded face forward so as to read the other's expression better.

But there was no expression, except that cast-copper smile betokening
superiority. He in yellow was returning the compliment by watching
Diomed, so neither of them saw the rapt attention displayed on the faces
of Ali's sons. But the men of the North, who are fools, as all India
knows, were born with their ears to the whimpering wind. They are easy to
deceive, but as to voices and the memory of voices never. Six eyes from
Sikunderam, more used to lean, long distances, met in the cell gloom and
three heads nodded almost imperceptibly.

"They who wish the secret not known may bid first," said the
orange-yellow man. "Nothing for nothing and from nothing. The key that
opens is the key that fits. My necessities are a lock that holds me. Has
any one the key?" He stared into the eyes of Sikunderam, impudently,
challenging. In the dark of the cell they looked like three young
startled animals.

"Whoever would take on himself the theft of that policeman's watch would
have my friendship," said he in orange-yellow.

"You know!" exclaimed Diomed. "You know who burned my hotel!"

"I know!" he confessed, with another of his bronze smiles, glancing
surreptitiously, at Ali's sons.

His need was to make _them_ understand him. Diomed might shout to heaven
that he had stolen the watch, and the world would only vote him mad; but
if one of those Hillmen should confess, and the other two should confirm
it, what court could help believe?

"I will say who set fire to the hotel unless--"

"It was they! It was they! They did it!" Diomed interrupted. "Now I know
them! They are the devils who fought on the roof! They are the sons of
evil mothers who--"

He was silenced by a slap across the mouth, backhanded, that made his
lips bleed and cut the knuckles of the smiter. But not one word was said
to him. Nor did he who had struck the blow speak at all, for economy is
the essence of good teamwork.

It was the second of three self-styled brothers who pointed a lean
fore-finger; and the third who gave tongue to what all three had in mind.

"Aye! Thou knowest! And we know! We know the voice of him who cried
'_Bande Materam!_' That same voice--thy voice--cried 'Fire!' before the
fire was set!"

"Ye were there then?" the Hindu answered mockingly; and Diomed, with a
half-breed's instinct for coming violence, drew his knees up to his chin
on the bench. He screwed himself into the corner to be able to jump
either way.

"Aye, we were there, seven of us and the father of the seven, a Sikh too,
and a Jat and some _sahibs_, who will swear to that voice of thine, thou
raven croaking in a cave! We are not men who can be imposed on! We--"

The man in orange-yellow interrupted. Like all who pride themselves on
their intelligence he underrated that of his would-be victims. He
threatened them. Whereas, two things are sure: if you threaten the men of
Sikunderam you must be able to make good, and prove it; and if you plead
to them, you must prove you are empty-handed--a true supplicant for
charity. Between those two poles all earth lies belly-upward to be
bargained over. They are poles like light-houses that no man possessed of
open eyes could miss. But pride is like box-blinkers.

"You Moslems don't like to be hanged. I can call witnesses. Better make
terms with me!"

The Indian courts of justice war with a system of perjury that is older
and more popular than law. The consequent precautions and delays, and the
system, that if ten men swear to a thing and twenty swear against it, the
twenty win, may lend itself to obvious abuses that, according to
Sikunderam, are avoided easiest with cold steel.

The sons of Ali had no steel. Tradition would have counseled patience and
dissimulation. But the heat in the cell was growing insufferable for men
born where the clean air whistles off everlasting snow-peaks, and
stuffiness--being kin to strangulation--breeds hysteria, which in turn
brings all innate proclivities to the surface and upsets any calculation
based on intellect. He in orange-yellow was an intellectual. He knew the
rules. The sons of Ali were no psychologists.

"Let him die before he does us injury! Be quick, my brothers!"

That was a call for action, understood and never argued, over. He in
orange-yellow gave a shout blended of agony and unbelief as fingers like
hairy spider-legs closed on his throat. Other parts of his anatomy grew
palsied with pain, in a grip that he had no more chance of breaking than
a sheep has of breaking the butcher's hold. Noise ceased.

It was at that stage of proceedings that the cell-guard, whose ear had
been to the peep-hole, hurried to summon his officer. He ached with
ill-will, because his sinews had been twisted when the sons of Ali
objected to arrest. He wanted to see them dragged out one by one and
beaten. But exactly at the same moment there entered from the street
three men in orange-yellow, with the caste-mark of Kali on their
foreheads, who approached the desk and made signs to the bewildered
officer. The bewilderment was all too obvious.

He was as displeased as a magistrate might be to whom an arrested
violator of the law made masonic signals; nevertheless, not nearly so
certain what to do, since there was no appeal in this case to his honor
and the dictates of conscience. He was bluffed before they said a word to
him.

"This is a day of reckoning," announced the leader of the three. "One of
ours is in your keeping. He is part of the price. We demand him."

The Moslem officer hardly hesitated. Saying nothing, but livid under the
impress of that fatalistic fear which is the only force blackmail has, he
started toward the cells and disappeared through a door into the
corridor, followed by the cell-guard. The door slammed, but opened again
a minute later. The officer stood there beckoning. The three followed him
in, and the door, slammed shut a second time.

"Look!"

The officer flung the cell-door open and the cell-guard brought his
carbine to the charge, showing his teeth for extra argument. The three in
yellow, self-controlled, peered in like visitors being shown the sights,
their bronze faces showing no more emotion than the image on copper
coins; but the police-officer was trembling with anxiety.

"I ask you to believe--" he stammered in Punjabi.

One of the three interrupted him, touching his sleeve, not wasting any
words.

The three were interested--neither more nor less. There was possibly as
much trace of amusement on their lips as you may see on the granite
monument of one of the old Pharaohs--semi-humorous acceptance of the iron
rule of destiny, observed without surprise. The officer tried speech
again.

"Beware, most honorables! They are dangerous!"

The same quiet hand on his sleeve requested silence. The three had seen
all there was to see, but continued looking; for the processes of thought
are said to be accomplished best with all eyes on the object.

In front of the door, as if laid there for inspection, was the body of
the individual in orange-yellow who had threatened the sons of
Sikunderam. Most of his throat had been torn out by human fingers, and
the back of his head lay flat against the shoulder-blades in proof of a
broken neck. Both arms were twisted so that the hands were around again
to where they should be, backs to the floor. The feet were toe to toe,
after describing three quarters of an outward circle, and a leg was
obviously broken.

"He is very dead!" remarked the one voice of Sikunderam, speaking for
three minds.

The sons of Ali sat back on the bench, backs to the wall, in an attitude
that gave them leverage in case one indivisible impulse should decide
them to attack. They could launch themselves from the wall like tigers
out of ambush. One hint of reprisals and no cell-door on earth would be
able to slam quick enough to keep them in.

But unaccountably there grew an atmosphere of calm, as if Allah, Lord of
Kismet, had imposed an armistice. The electric tension eased, as it were,
and muscles with it. Some one in yellow smiled, and Sikunderam answered
in kind through a gap in a black beard. All three men in yellow strode
into the cell, stepping over their co-religionist, and one of them turned
to beckon in the officer, who, at their suggestion, sent the cell-guard
to the office out of sight and hearing.

"Is it lawful to imprison these five, of three languages, three races,
three religions, in one cell?" was the first question. There was only one
answer possible:

"No, but--"

The same quiet finger on the same sleeve banished the explanation.
Without a word said it was made clear that the legal, or rather the
illegal fact was all-sufficient.

"Most honorables, that is how your co-religionist in yellow met his
death!" piped Diomed, emerging out of a catalepsy. "Most worthy followers
of Kali, these three savages attacked him without excuse and butchered
him brutally. I offer to give evidence!"

Miscegenated intuition--perverted, that is--told Diomed that his chance
lay in taking sides against the man in uniform. The three he addressed
were obviously visitors, not prisoners, and the officer's fear of them
was plain enough.

"This policeman threw us into one cell in the face of protests. _He_ is
responsible."

He pointed at the officer, who scowled but the three ignored both of
them. Instead, the one who acted spokesman launched a question at the
sons of Ali that was half-proposal, half-riddle, and breath-taking
regarded either way.

"You understand, that if you escape from this cell illegally, you are
guilty of that in addition to the charge of murdering this man?"

"And other charges--other charges, _señores_! They burned my hotel!
Arson! That is what the judges call it--an indictable offense!"

One of the sons of Ali smote Diomed over the mouth again, and nobody
objected. There was a little something after all in his thought that
fortune hardly favors Goanese. The sons of Ali fell back on the code of
Sikunderam, which calls for incredulity at all times, but particularly
when a Hindu makes a proposition. They looked what they were exactly--men
from out of town. The smiter rubbed his knuckles.

"Ye speak riddles," said the spokesman.

"You understand, that they who might set you at liberty, ignoring
authority, would have the power to overtake and kill?" asked the man in
yellow.

It began to dawn on Sikunderam that these were overtures for a bargain.
All three faces closed down in accordance with the code that decrees a
bargain shall be interminable and he who can endure the longest shall
have the best of it. But the men in yellow were in haste. One of them
drew a long silk handkerchief from hand to hand with a peculiar,
suggestive flick.

"You understand that for all advantages there is a price? Go free!"

"But--but--" said the officer.

The finger on his sleeve commanded silence. He obeyed.

"Go free, in the fear of Kali, Wife of Siva, the Destroyer! Go free,
until a day of reckoning! When Kali asks the price--observe!"

As if one thought functioned in the minds of all three, one of the men in
yellow stepped toward the Goanese and taking him by the shoulders jerked
him to his feet. The Goanese was too astonished to defend himself.

"Have I not offered--" he began; but the second of the three in yellow
pushed him sidewise, so that he reeled backward on his heels toward the
third.

There was a motion of the handkerchief, as quick as lightning but less
visible, and Diomed fell unpicturesquely--dead--a heap of something in a
soiled check shirt and crumpled collar--so dead that not a muscle
twitched or sigh escaped him.

"For a death there must be a death," said one of the men in yellow.

The teeth of Sikunderam flashed white in a grin of pleased bewilderment.

"Hee-hee! He didn't slay your yellow man. We did it!" chuckled the
spokesman.

The Thug was at no pains to explain his beastly creed. It was better to
leave the three less cultivated savages to speculate on what the
sacrifice had meant. His point was won. He had impressed them. They had
seen the swiftness of the silken death. Undoubtedly they would soon begin
to ponder on the fact that Diomed was slain in the presence of an officer
of police, and to couple that with another mystery.

"Go! Let them go!" ordered one of the three, and the officer began to
fumble with the lock.

He flung the door open with an air of petulant impotence, and it struck
the cell-guard, who had crept back to listen. The door hit his heel as he
ran and one of the three in orange-yellow stepped out into the corridor
without the least suggestion of surprise. He beckoned him. Not a word was
said. The second--not he with the handkerchief--held out a hand to warn
the sons of Ali that freedom was postponed. The first man continued
beckoning, and the cell-guard kept on coming, carbine at the charge, as
if he intended violence. But he stepped into the cell with his eyes fixed
in a stony stare, as if he had been hypnotized. It was the second man's
turn to beckon; and as the "wretched, rash, intruding fool" obeyed the
unspoken call of nemesis, the third man used the handkerchief. The
cell-guard fell in a heap on Diomed. The officer picked up the carbine
mechanically and laid it on the bench.

"Now go!" said the spokesman, motioning the Hillmen out with a gesture
worthy of the angel of creation bidding the aeons begin. "Kali is
all-seeing. Ye can not hide. Kali is all-hearing. Ye may not tell. Kali
is unforgetful. Therefore, when a price is set pay swiftly--even as ye
saw this man pay!" He laid a finger on the officer's sleeve, who trembled
violently. "For if not, ye will pay as these did!" He signified the
corpses with a gesture. "Go!"

So the three went, wondering, not troubled as to what the official
explanation would be, of three murders in a cell and three lost
prisoners. The newspapers next day might call that mystery. To them
another mystery was paramount, and all-absorbing:

Who were the men who had released them? Where had they learned that skill
with a handkerchief? Why had they slain Diomed? And why had they three
been released? Moreover, what would the price be that was mentioned, and
would they--three Moslems--be justified in paying it, suppose they could,
to the priests, of a Hindu goddess? How much would they dare tell to Ali,
their ferocious sire, considering the silence that was laid on them? And
if they should tell Ali, and he should tell Jimgrim, for instance, and
Jimgrim should consult the others, would the priests of Kali visit
vengeance on themselves as the fountainheads of disobedience?

There was more to it besides:

If Kali was all-seeing, as the Three had warned them, did that simply
mean that they were being followed?

He in the middle faced about suddenly and walked backwards with his arms
in his brothers'; but he could see no Hindus in pursuit. They tried a
score of tricks that Hillmen use when the stones are lifted in the
valleys and the "shooting-one-another-season" has begun--tricks that the
hunted leopard tries, to assure himself that he has left the hunter
guessing wild. But though they hid, and strode forth suddenly from
doorways, so that passersby jumped like shying horses in fear of highway
robbery, they detected no pursuit.

"The man in yellow lied to us," said one of them at last. "They let us
go, and that is all about it."

"But why?"

"They were afraid."

"But of what? They could have killed us easily."

"Nay! None slays me with a handkerchief! By the Bones of Allah's
Prophet--"

"They could have slain the cell-guard in the passage, and could then have
shot us with his carbine through the hole in the iron door. They were not
afraid of us!"

"Nevertheless, we three are afraid of them!" announced the brother who
had spoken first. The other two did not dispute the fact. "I say--if we
are wise--we will--hold our peace--a little while--and wait--and see--and
consider--and if perhaps--there should seem to be a need--and an
advantage--then later we might tell. What say you?"

"Allah! Who put wisdom into _thy_ mouth?"

"It is wisdom! Let us consider it!"

They agreed to use their own term, to leave the proposition
"belly-upward" for a while.



CHAPTER IX - "SILENCE IS SILENT."


Cyprian was not in a quandary. He would have known what to do, but his
eighty-year-old lungs were too full of a sickly-tasting gas for him to
function physically. That which is born of the spirit is spirit, but the
brain must wait on material processes. He was just then in Jeremy's
keeping--held in the Australian's arms--being thought for by Jeremy.

And as the stars in their courses once warred against Sisera,
circumstances and his reputation combined to trick Cyprian. Never would
it have entered Jeremy's head that dignity, discipline, responsibility to
some one higher tip were necessary ingredients of Cyprian's code. Having
saved the padre's life the only other thing that Jeremy considered was
"the game."

Then there were the neighbors. Right and left were locked godowns stored
with merchandise. Opposite, behind shade trees and a wall were Goanese,
who would not have thought it moral, expedient, polite or safe to
interfere in the padre's doings uninvited, even supposing they had seen
what was going on. And the heat prevented their seeing anything, for May
was merging into June and none who could afford to stay indoors dreamed
of venturing forth.

The remainder of the street's inhabitants were Moslems with a sprinkling
of Hindus at the lower end; and every one of those knew Cyprian by
reputation as a student, and perhaps a practitioner of black magic--a man
to be feared, if not respected; moreover, a man with influence. Nine out
of any ten of them would have looked the other way if Cyprian's house
were burning down. The tenth in nearly every instance would have run as
far away as legs or a bicycle could take him.

The constable, whose duty it was to patrol that street, having quitted
himself well with one arrest that morning, retired to a basement cellar
to brag of his doings and gamble on fighting quails.

On top of all that there undoubtedly had been some deliberate clearing of
the street by influences never named but referred to, when spoken of at
all, as "they." The street was as peculiarly empty as it sometimes is
when a royal personage is due for assassination.

The obvious course for a man in Cyprian's position, with three would-be
assassins in his cellar and his whole house full of anesthetic, was to
report at once to the authorities, leaving subsequent developments to
take their course. But Cyprian was in no condition to give orders; and
none of the others, King included, cared to invoke official skepticism.
No man, who confesses to himself that he is searching for a heap of gold
as heavy as the Pyramid, and for the books that explain how the heap was
accumulated, is exactly unselfconscious when official investigation looms
among the possibilities.

There was furthermore Narayan Singh, unconscious--in itself an almost
incredible circumstance; for that doughty Sikh is a drinker of notorious
attainment and less likely than any of them to succumb to fumes. He had
keeled over like a gassed canary. King and Grim were giving him first
aid, considering his recovery of vastly more importance than any
debatable obligation to call in the police. They knew the police for mere
bunglers at best and sheer obstructionists as far as true inquiry was
concerned. They knelt on the sidewalk one each side of the Sikh, who
breathed like a cow with its throat cut; and Jeremy, holding Cyprian like
a baby in his arms, came and watched.

"If you can make him vomit, he's yours!" he advised. "Get something
functioning--no matter what. One natural process encourages the next.
Knead him in the solar plexus."

King and Grim, having tried all other methods, experimented with
Jeremy's.

"Damn it! There's an antidote if only we could lay our hands on it," said
King. "I've heard about this stuff--saw its effects before. It's a
capsule as big as a rupee. They puncture it under a handkerchief. The
minute the air gets to it the contents turn to gas. Beastly stuff burns
the skin as it emerges, but changes again as it spreads and becomes
anesthetic. The thieves who use the stuff carry the antidote with them.
It's all in one of Cyprian's books."

"If pop 'ud wake," suggested Jeremy. But Cyprian only sighed.

"Where are the three Hindus?" Grim demanded.

"In the cellar. All pitched 'em in there--first-class job. Chullunder
Ghose is sitting on the hatch to keep 'em out of further mischief,"
Jeremy announced.

"Ramsden--where's Rammy?" Grim demanded.

"Here."

Jeff, with a cloth about his face well drenched in water, had been
exploring the floor of the sitting-room on hands and knees for evidence
that would explain the enemy's method. He emerged through the front door,
panting.

"Gas is disappearing," he gasped.

"Rammy! Narayan Singh is going West! Get a move on! Get those three
Hindus. _Make_ 'em produce their antidote! Stop at nothing!" That was
Grim with the mask off--dealer in fundamentals.

So the purple patch that was the shadow of Jeff Ramsden ceased from
existence on the white wall--simply ceased. He can be swift when occasion
calls for it. Within, where more or less silence had been, was a great
noise, as Jeff's weight landed on the trap and that of Chullunder Ghose,
capsized, complaining.

"Off the trap! Lively!"

Ali of Sikunderam and his sons had been lying belly-downward listening in
vain for noises from below. Imagination yearned for cries of pain and
half-invented them. But the door was too thick, and sat too tightly in
its bed for even their fond wish to get itself believed.

"By Allah I swear I broke the legs of all three!" boasted Ali, face to
the wood.

But he said no more, for Ramsden seized him by arm and leg and threw him
clear, the sons scampering away on hands and knees before the like
indignity could happen to themselves. Then Ramsden got his fingers into
the only crevice, strained, grunted, strove and gave it up. The door and
frame were jammed hermetically.

"Crowbar!"

All Sikunderam--to employ their estimate--scattered in search of cold
iron, while Jeff continued torturing his fingers vainly. One of the sons
came in from the street on a run with loot from a Moslem godown. Blood on
his forearm told the story--view of a crowbar through a
window--action--acquisition.

"Good!" said Ramsden, and the woodwork began splintering forthwith--old
teak, as dry and hard as temple timber, ripping apart with a cry as if it
lived, and desired to live.

"Get a rope--or a ladder!" Ramsden grunted.

Out on the sidewalk, under Jeremy's running fire of comment and advice,
Narayan Singh had vomited and was showing other signs of resuming the
burden of life, as Jeremy had prophesied. Cyprian, on the contrary, had
fallen into the easy sleep that overtakes old folk and infants, so that
Jeremy, sniffing to make sure the gas was all gone, carried him inside
presently and up the narrow stone stairs to the first-floor
bedroom--clean, simple, severe as a monastery, yet comfortable, since
only the needless things were missing.

The head of the bed was backed against an iron door that was papered
over, white like the rest of the walls, with an overlapping fringe to
hide the tell-tale crack.

The legs of the bed were set tight against wooden blocks screwed down to
the floor, with the obvious purpose of re-enforcing the lock that was low
enough down on the door to be hidden by the bed-frame. Jeremy noticed how
tightly the casters were jammed against the blocks, as if they had been
subjected to tremendous pressure, and it was that, as he laid Cyprian
down, that caused him to scrutinize the door more curiously.

He is sure of his senses, having trained them. Too used to deceiving
others' eyes he disciplines his own. He could have sworn that the door
moved--inward--by a fraction of an inch; that is to say toward the wall
and away from the head of the bed. He tested it, after making sure again
that Cyprian was sleeping, and discovered he could get the fingers of one
hand in between the bedpost and the door. And there was a long mark on
the wide paper covering the iron door, in proof that it had recently
pressed outward against the bed.

So either the lock was unlocked, or it did not function, or else it had
been locked again since he entered the room.

Curiosity eats Jeremy like acid. He must know or be miserable. Mystery
merely whets appetite. With an, other glance to make sure Cyprian was
sleeping, he cautiously pulled the bed clear of the wooden blocks and
rolled it a yard along the floor. Then he stooped to examine the keyhole.
There was no key in it, and there had not been, for it was still stuffed
with soap, and a piece of white paper rubbed on to the soap was in
place--Cyprian's modest effort at constructive camouflage. On the floor
lay an irregularly oblong sliver of white stone--two inches by an inch.
The door had been forced from the inside, recently.

Jeremy tore back the paper from door and wall in two considerable strips.
The tongue of the old-fashioned lock projected not more than an inch into
unprotected stonework and was merely resting now in a neat groove that
the fallen sliver fitted. Nothing--on Jeremy's side, that is--prevented
the door from swinging open. He tested it with his fingers. It refused to
yield.

And he could swear he had seen it move when he first laid Cyprian on the
bed.

He glanced at Cyprian, half-inclined to wake him--glanced at the iron
door again and speculated.

"Probably the old boy keeps his books in there. Shock might kill, if he
wakes and learns thieves are in the coop. Sleep on, Melchizedek!"

Knowing the danger to himself of using firearms, in a country in more or
less perennial rebellion, where the carrying of modern weapons is
forbidden except for sport, Jeremy looked about him for an implement less
compromising to himself. In a corner, behind a cretonne curtain under
which the padre's garments hung, he found an Irish blackthorn walking
stick--a souvenir of Ballyshannon days, where Cyprian once did temporary
duty. The stick was as strong as a professional shillalah with twice the
length--a deadlier weapon than gun or sword in given circumstances.

Down-stairs Ramsden broke up the trap-door section by section--layer by
layer. It was so thick and so well carpentered that nothing less than
absolute destruction laid the hinges bare. By the time it was possible to
reach the bolt, that swung in place across the whole width of the trap
and bit into twelve-inch beams, there was no more sense in fooling with
it, for the door was totally destroyed. Jeff used the bolt for a purchase
for his rope, the sons of Ali having failed to find a ladder, and went
down band over hand into the dark.

Not even the eyes of Sikunderam could see more than an unexpected red
light, and trash heaped in a mess below; but there seemed to be less of
the trash than when Ali had flung the three into the pit. Where a pile of
boxes had been, that should have lessened Jeff's descent, there was
nothing to meet his exploring feet and he had to drop the last yard, for
the rope was short.

The next they all knew was a roar like a bull's as Jeff joined battle
with an unseen foe; and that was followed by an increase of the crimson
glow and the indrawn roar of a furnace. It was like a glimpse into the
bowels of a great ship, or into Tophet.

"Come on! Help, you fellows!" was all the explanation Jeff had time
for--English at that--a sure enough sign he was excited.

King left Narayan Singh in Grim's hands--came on the run--and swung down
the rope like a sailor. And Chullunder Ghose was next, "so curious" as he
explained it afterward, resembling a seaman less than any other being in
the world, first jammed in the broken trap like a cork in the neck of a
bottle--breaking the hold of the wood-work by sheer weight and
strength--then suddenly descending with the rope like red hot wire
between his hands, to fall the last yard and be met--as it seemed to
him--by an ascending floor constructed of upturned splinters.

And clown on Chullunder Ghose in that unfortunate predicament there
dropped Sikunderam in swift succession, sire and sons, grateful for the
cushion--but to Allah, not the babu--and stepping off without pausing to
pass compliments.

At the cellar's farther end there was a door clown, and the whole of
Cyprian's arrangements for the eventual holocaust of black books were
plain to see in the light of a galloping fire. The holocaust was
prematurely born. The three had set the match that was to have been
Cyprian's torch on his last pilgrimage. The books, stacked hundreds in a
pile inside an ancient pottery kiln, were all alight and the glue in the
backs of some of the more modern ones was priming for the rest.

Cyprian had stacked ample fuel under them in readiness, but to that the
three had added trash. There was no fire-door to be shut to exclude a
draft; the furnace-jaws gaped wide. The chimney at the junction of
Cyprian's house and the godown was serving its ancient purpose, and the
trap-door that Ramsden broke was letting enough draft to feed the
ravening fires of Eblis. Out on the sidewalk Grim saw the shadow of
sulphur-and-black smoke belching from the summit of the old quiescent
kiln; Narayan Singh was left to do his own recovering, and Grim, guided
by instinct, took the stairs four at a stride instead of plunging like an
_ifrit_ into Ramsden's broken hole.

He was just in time to see Jeremy swing the blackthorn down two-handed on
the back of a head that emerged for reconnoitering purposes through the
cautiously opened iron door. The blow would have cut the head clean off
if the weapon had only been an ax. A man in yellow fell face-forward and
his shoulders prevented the door from shutting, although some one tried
to pull him back in by the feet. Simultaneously Grim and Jeremy seized
the iron door and wrenched it wide open, and a stab like a fork of
lightning missed Grim by the thickness of a moonbeam--missed and was not
quick enough, for Jeremy brought the blackthorn down on a long knife with
a serpent handle, disarming a yellow, invisible some one, who dropped
whatever else he held and retreated into deeper gloom.

Cyprian slept on, moving his lips and old fingers as if dreaming. Jeremy,
all-trusting in his own luck, signaled, passed the blackthorn into Grim's
hand and reached for matches. Grim agreed with him. With their feet they
shoved the victim of Jeremy's weapon back whence he had come and stepped
through over him, closing the iron door at their backs. Then Jeremy
struck a match--in time--exactly in the middle of the nick of shaven
time. The blackthorn came in use again--crack on a wrist that thrust
upward with another such knife as the first man had tried to sting with.
The blow broke the wrist. Some one smothered an exclamation.

"Curse these matches!" exclaimed Jeremy, and struck another.

On the floor of a closet about ten by ten lay two of the Three. The man
whom Jeremy had first struck was dead undoubtedly. The other's leg was
broken--Ali's work--and now the wrist was added to his inconveniences. He
was writhing in pain, though making no noise, and all mixed up with the
dead man. Evidently two of them had been carrying the fellow with the
broken leg, and the third had run back through a door that faced the iron
one--a rat in a stopped run, panicking this and that way.

Jeremy struck another match and Grim tried the inside door. As he laid
his hand on it the fugitive, finding retreat cut off below, came charging
back and Grim recoiled against the wall, guarding with the blackthorn
like a single stick. The man in yellow lunged at him with a knife such as
the other two had used, but as he lurched forward with his weight behind
the thrust the point of another knife knocked his upper front-teeth out
and cut through his upper lip, emerging an inch or two, then turning
crimson in the flow of blood. Through the opened inner door came red
light glowing and diminishing--glowing and diminishing--silhouetting Ali
of Sikunderam.

"It is all in the trick of the thrust, _sahibs_," announced Ali, stooping
over the victim to withdraw his beloved weapon. "See--the neck is
broken--thus--the point of the knife goes in between two vertebrae, and
Allah does the rest!"

"What's that fire below there?" Grim demanded.

"The old kiln. Rammy sahib--"

"What's burning?"

"All the priest's books, praise Allah!"

Grim's face looked ghastly in the waning red light. In that moment he saw
all his hopes go up in smoke and flame.

"There'll be a blaze through the top of the chimney by now that'll bring
the whole fire brigade!" he announced with resignation.

"Not a bit. Trust Ramsden," said another voice.

Athelstan King came up like a stoker from a ship's inferno, more than a
little singed and sucking burned finger-ends.

"Ramsden found an old sheet of corrugated iron underneath the litter and
bent it to fit the fire-door. The draft's in control. It was hot work."

"And the books?" Grim asked him.

"Napoo! No more books! Where's the padre?"

"Fast asleep."

"When he learns this it'll kill him," said King with conviction,
unconsciously confirming Jeremy's first guess.

Ramsden came up the narrow stairway and demanded light. The glow behind
him was so low that his bulk in the door obscured it altogether. Grim
cautioned him and opened the door into Cyprian's room. The light fell on
Ramsden's singed beard and his clothes all charred in patches.

"All red ash now," he whispered. "No more smoke." Jeremy tiptoed into the
bedroom and stood looking down at Cyprian. Presently he felt his pulse.

"Fever!" he whispered. "He's unconscious."

Ramsdell gathered tip the man with the broken wrist and leg and laid him
on the floor in Cyprian's room. They all trooped in, followed by Ali and
his sons, Chullunder Ghose last. The babu was the only one who showed any
symptoms of contentment, although he, too, was singed, and burned about
the hands.

"Expensive consideration for man with family on microscopic stipend!" he
remarked, removing a burned silk turban and readjusting it. "What shall
do next?"

None answered. None knew exactly what to do. One of Ali's sons--the
youngest--succumbed to the weak man's impulse to invoke the Blessing of
the Platitudes.

"Silence is golden," he announced sententiously.

"Oh excellent advice! O god out of a Greecian box! O oracle!" Chullunder
Ghose exclaimed. "All the wisdom of all those wicked books is incarnated
into this fool! Silence is not only golden, it is silent! Silence is as
silence does! _Verb_ very _sap!_ O _sahibs_, let us muzzle all these men!
Shut up this shop until darkness intervenes, then beat it, in jargon of
Jimgrim sahib--same expressive--very! Beat all concerned, this prisoner
included unless the gives us every information, plus!"

"Plus what?" asked Ramsden.

"Plus obedience--not like these sons of Himalayan mothers, whose only
virtue is that they economize by sleeping mostly in the jail!"

Ali was over by the window, looking out into the street.

"My sons are here," he announced grandiloquently, trying to hide a grin.

"Where? Outside? Call them in!" King snapped. "We don't want more
publicity."

Ali threw the window open and beckoned. The sons came lumbering up-stairs
like half-trained animals.

"Tell the _sahibs_: how did you leave the jail?" demanded Ali. Maybe
intuition warned him that they had a splendid lie all cooked and ready to
serve.

"We fought our way out! See--we left our knives in the guts of the
police! Each of us slew three men!"

"Allah! My boys! My sons!" exclaimed Ali.

The others all looked down at Cyprian. Jeremy took a towel and put water
on the old man's parched lips. None--not even Ali--as much as
half-believed the story of the fight with the police, but all knew it was
based on lawlessness of some sort that would not add to Cyprian's peace
of mind when he should recover consciousness.

"If he pulls through this, the worry and disappointment will kill him
anyhow," said Ramsden, rather ignoring the circumstance that for upward
of eighty years Cyprian had been training himself to withstand the slings
of fortune.

"We might give the old boy a chance," suggested Jeremy. And in his eye
there gleamed antipodean mischief.

Ali was still at the window.

"Lo, a constabeel!" he announced. "He observes smoke issuing from the
chimney without a tikut.[*] Lo, he speaks with Narayan Singh, who lies to
him. A child can tell you when a Sikh lies. Lo, he writes a reeport in
his parketbuk.[**] There will be a summons before municipal magistrates.
I know the custom."

[*Ticket. The English word is used to mean any kind of pointed and
numbered permit.]

[** Pocketbook.]

Narayan Singh, a little weak yet as to equilibrium, came up-stairs and
thrust his head cautiously through the bedroom doorway.

"There will be a summons for smoke-nuisance against a Hindu, name of
Murgamdass," he announced with a grin.

Grim caught all eyes, glancing from face to face, as a captain measures
up his team in an emergency.

"Did the policeman appear suspicious?" he asked quietly.

"Very!" Narayan Singh answered. "He suspected a Hindu of seeking to avoid
payment of fee for necessary permit to use furnace within municipality. I
confirmed his plausible suspicion, hoping--"

"Anything else?" Grim asked him.

"No, _sahib_. Nothing else."

"You fellows game?"

Grim caught all eyes again. If they were not game, none are. There were
all the brands and all the elements of that geist that is all-conquering
because it simply can not understand defeat.

"Two courses," Grim announced. "We can call in the police, and quit."

Chullunder Ghose sighed like a grampus coming up for air.

"Or we can carry on and face the consequences. Vote please. Those in
favor--"

Chullunder Ghose raised both hands; all the others one.

"Ayes have it. Very well. Then after dark we'll take these two dead
yellow-boys and plant them where their friends put da Gama. Meanwhile,
take Cyprian somewhere and get a good doctor for him. Don't say who he
is. Ali, you and your sons guard the prisoner while we find a good place
to hide him in."



CHAPTER X - "CAN'T HATCH A CHICKEN FROM A GLASS EGG."


That night there stood in front of Cyprian's an ox-cart, tented and
painted to resemble the equipage of old-fashioned country gentry's
womenfolk. Chullunder Ghose had conjured the thing from somewhere,
magnificent Guzerati bullocks included, selecting the form of conveyance
least likely to be interfered with by police.

But to make assurance on that ground doubly sure there was Narayan Singh
as driver, naked of leg and otherwise garbed as a Hindu, reenforced by
Ramsden and two of Ali's sons, the latter shaven, and so angry at having
to adopt Hindu disguise that it would have called for a whole squad of
"constabeels" to arrest them.

Directed by Ramsden the corpses of the two followers of Kali were
laboriously trundled by the oxen as far as possible in the direction of
the scene of da Gama's death, and thence carried by Ali's protesting
sons, who dumped them naked into the débris where the Portuguese had
lain, and rolled the same broken pillar over both of them that once had
helped to hide da Gama's remains.

Judged as corpses they would have looked more edifying in the
orange-yellow smocks they wore in life, but smocks, dyed just that color,
are not purchasable in the open market. Thrift is thrift--the careful use
of opportunity.

In another part of Delhi a more dangerous negotiation was proceeding,
rendered no easier by the almost unconquerable yearning to fall asleep
that was the natural consequence of two nights' wakefulness in Punjab
heat.

It was Jeremy's proposal. Grim had seconded. King demurred. Chullunder
Ghose had so squealed and chuckled with approval, vowing the whole
proposal a stroke of genius "better than the gods could think of," that
King gave in.

They drove the still unconscious Cyprian, wrapped in a blanket, to
Gauri's house and lodged him there--a member of an order of strict
celibates, in the house of a lady of Rahab's trade!

"What's the odds? He doesn't know it," argued Jeremy.

The lady was over ears and eyes in delicious responsibility--intrigued
until her fat ribs shook with giggling--unaware of the patient's
identity, for they had put him into a nightshirt, but as sure as that the
stars were shining, that life--her life as she loved it--was being lived.

"If you hold your tongue you shall have for yourself one full share,
equal to that of each of us, in whatever we discover," Grim explained to
her.

"But let one hint drop, and you eat my knife!" said Ali. And Gauri
believed both of them.

In all lands where the laws are written for the benefit of privilege
there are smugglers--not only of contraband jewels and rum, but of
contraband knowledge and skill. There are men, who belong to no certified
profession, who can do as well for you in the way of experience, and at
half the price, as any blockade runner can in the matter of lace or
tobacco. No license confers skill, any more than payment of the duty
improves art. Many a doctor, barricaded from or pitched out neck and crop
from his profession knows more than the exclusive orthodox. But he has to
follow Aesculapius and Galen in peril of imprisonment and fine. That is
the point. He must not talk.

None knew, and none cared, why Doctor Cornelius MacBarron might not any
longer use the title legally that his patients conferred on him
gratefully, whether the law approved or not. For one thing he was an
Eurasian--fifty-fifty--Caledonian Light Infantry on one side, and a dark
mama--no sinecure to go through life with. So he might not choose. What
people said to or concerning him he had to tolerate, extracting now and
then advertisement, more profitable than solacing, from the
scandalous--even if merited--slanders of the regular professionals.

It was bruited abroad in Delhi--behind the drugstore counters, and in
mess-rooms, and elsewhere--that at absurdly reasonable prices Cornelius
MacBarron would cure anything--and what's more, hold his peace. He was
said to have quite a wide following, and to know more secrets than a
banker.

Whatever he knew, and whomever he recognized, he said nothing when
brought in a cab in broad daylight to the Gauri's scandalous abode. With
the long, lantern jaws and raw bones of a Scotsman, sad brown eyes, an
unenthusiastic presence and a sallow skin, he did not seem to invite
conversation or curiosity. Rather he repelled both.

"There's your man," said Jeremy, showing him Cyprian in Gauri's scented
bed. "Cure him if you can."

MacBarron did not ask, "Who is he?" but "Is he hurt?"

"No. Sick. Old. That's all," answered Jeremy.

"My fee will be fifty rupees--per visit," MacBarron announced, as if
saying his prayers.

Jeremy produced the money. MacBarron folded it, and spoke again--

"Leave me alone with him, please."

Whereat Jeremy demurred, but was overruled by the others, who conceded,
under the inspiration of Chullunder Ghose, that it was reasonable. A man
without the right to practise has excuse for dispensing with witnesses.

MacBarron emerged from the bedroom about fifteen minutes later and
announced, like a verger opening pews, that in his opinion the patient
would recover.

"He must lie still. Here is a prescription. Let him drink it as often as
he will. You may pay me now for a second visit; that is wiser."

So they paid hint, and he was on his way to the waiting cab when King
detained hint.

"Not so swiftly! We've another job. Do you mind walking?"

MacBarron minded nothing if he was paid. King led him through narrow
streets to a place where three alleys came together on the right-hand
side and a high wall on the left with a narrow door in it concealed the
lower story of a minaret, whose mosque had long since succumbed to the
ravages of time.

The door opened when King struck three blows on it, and Ali's dark face
appeared in a challenging scrutiny.

"He groans much, but says nothing at all," Ali announced abruptly, and
turned his back to lead them in.

The minaret was Ali's good provision. _Wakf_, the system of Moslem
endowments for charitable purposes, is as liable to abuse as any other
human scheme for standing off the evil day. Ali's blood-brother, having
lent his sword in a blood-feud to which a wealthy merchant in the Chandni
Chowk was party, was now in receipt of a comfortable income and the job
of muezzin to a minaret without a mosque. In theory he was supposed to
cry the summons to prayer at the appointed times, but in practise he was
neither seen nor heard, lest busybodies should inquire into the source of
his revenue.

Naturally, no man with a sinecure like that would be willing to share it
for nothing. He demanded hotel prices, and was indignant when Ali
withheld ten per cent. as his own commission. But the virtue of him was
that he was just as much bent on secrecy as any one, and the watch he
kept in consequence was priceless. Even after Ali had admitted King and
MacBarron within the wall Ali's brother examined them and grumbled at
having to entertain half Delhi.

"Is this a _Salleevayshun-armee-khana_?" he demanded.

King led MacBarron by the winding inner stair to a room at the top of the
minaret, where the muezzin was supposed to sleep, and whence the now
decrepit gallery was reached by a narrow door in the masonry. The door
was closed, and such light as was available came through a six-inch slit
in the wall, for Ali's brother would permit no artificial light for fear
of attracting attention.

On a truck bed in the darkest part of the round room lay the sole
survivor of the three who had burned Cyprian's books. The whites of his
eyes gleamed in darkness, but the rest of him was nearly invisible, for
they had taken his yellow robe away, and his coppery, dry skin was of a
shade that nearly matched the gloom. It was too hot to endure blankets.

MacBarron glanced at him, and then at King without visible emotion.

"My fee will be a thousand rupees," he announced.

"Check do?"

"Cash."

King was obliged to return and obtain the money from Grim. That took
time, because Grim had to send a messenger to cash his check. When King
reached the minaret again the prisoner's leg was already in plaster of
Paris brought by Ali from a Goanese apothecary's, and the wrist was being
manipulated in spite of the Hindu's protests. They had tied him to the
bed; there was no other way of controlling him. The only thing he had not
done to make trouble for them was to cry aloud.

"That arm must come off," announced MacBarron five minutes after King's
return. "The reason is this--"

He went into details, deeply technical, displaying the same fearlessness
in diagnosis that an engineer does when ordering parts of a locomotive
scrapped. His objection to witnesses had vanished, for it was obvious
that none of this secretive batch of clients would dare to expose him;
and he had sufficient sense for situations not to ask the prisoner's
permission. The whole conversation was in English until he bent over the
bed at last and, looking straight into the victim's eyes, said curtly in
Punjabi--

"Your arm must come off at the elbow."

That produced speech at last--coppery, resonant argument all mixed with
threats intended to convey one point of principle: Anything--anything
went; they might burn him living; he would not resist. But he would enter
whole into the next world, with his right wrist fit for Kali's service!
If they sought to take his arm off he would work a vengeance on them! If
they did not believe that, let them take the first step!

"Hocus-pocus!" said MacBarron, not particularly _sotto voce_.

"Is the leg all right?" King asked him.

"It is set. It will heal. He will limp."

"Good enough. Please come again this evening," said King.

"To cut the arm off? Very well. That is two visits in twenty-four hours.
Two hundred rupees extra. In advance."

King paid him, and he went.

"By Allah, we of Sikunderam, who think we will plunder India when the
British go, must first take lessons from that man!" remarked Ali.

"Go below and keep watch!" ordered King, and in a minute he and the
prisoner were alone together, looking in each other's eyes.

"Want to lose your arm?"

The man grinned in agony. The grin was half-grimace, but there was
defiance and even amusement there.

"The arm that knows the trick of the handkerchief--the killing arm?"

King put as much cruelty and mockery as he could summon into his voice.

But the trouble was that King knew well how far in the worst extremity he
would be willing to go. And what was strength of character, too manly to
take full advantage of helplessness even for any reward, the other could
read but could not understand. He misinterpreted it as weakness--fear.
Whereas about the only fear King has (and that unspoken--secret--sacred
in his inner-being) is that he may not in some crisis quit himself as if
all the decent fellows in the world were looking on.

"Will you amputate?" asked the Hindu, pointing to the injured wrist with
his other hand and grinning again. He had feared MacBarron. He was no
more afraid of King than a priest is of policemen. The worst of it was
King knew well that, whatever power this fellow might have of summoning
assistance without the use of obvious means, he would not use it except
in dire necessity.

There is no rule more strict than that, probably because the penalty for
breach of it is unimaginably awful. Radio is a joke, a mere clumsy
subterfuge, compared to the gift some Indians have of communicating with
one another across great distances. Every man who has the least
acquaintance with the East knows that. But they don't give up their
secret even in extremity, or use it without unquestionable reason.

It was possible that he might tell secrets under the torture and fear of
amputation. But King was not morally capable of doing that. Instead he
tried bribery--a bargain he would have said.

"Keep your arm and join us. You may have one full share in any discovery
we make."

The man laughed genuinely--just as copper-voiced as he was
copper-skinned. It was as if some devil in an unseen world had reached
over and struck a gong in this one--three rising notes and then the
overtones, all mockery.

King laughed too, on a descending scale. He appreciated--what few from
the Western Hemisphere can realize--that money, a material reward, or any
of the compensations that the West deems valuable have no weight whatever
in the calculations of the thinking East. The politicians and a few of
the bunnia class have swapped old lamps for new, but at the very mention
of western money or wisdom the old East laughs. She can afford to.

"All right," King said. "Where are we then?" He turned his face away
deliberately, as if discouraged. "If I can't overcome you, what do you
propose to do with me?"

He gave the man time to consider that, then met his eyes
again--objective-thinking Anglo-Saxon challenging the East that thinks
subjectively or not at all. Neither could pierce the other's veil.

"You are no use," said the Hindu, letting his head fall back on the
folded blanket that served for pillow. His eyes were alight with fever.

In spite of the intolerable heat King made sure that the door leading out
to the gallery was locked, for whoever dares set limits to the capacity
of esoteric India is likely to find himself surprised. Then he left him,
giving orders below to keep on the _qui vive_ and not to give the
prisoner water or information. He would let the man torture himself a
while and lift his veil in his own way.

And presently at Gauri's house, superintended and giggled over by Gauri
and her maid, King, Grim and Jeremy put on the three orange-yellow smocks
that had been the garb of the enemy, coppering their skins with some
compound of vegetable greases that Gauri procured for them, and changing
every expression of their faces until Gauri and the rest pronounced them
perfect strangers. Then Grim and Jeremy submitted to King's drill, which
was exasperating in insistence on minutest details, Gauri prompting him.

"Do you think you could manipulate a handkerchief the way you saw it
done?" King asked, tossing one of Gauri's long silk scarfs to Jeremy.

He imitated perfectly the swift, apparently effortless pass from hand to
hand. There is nothing that Jeremy can't imitate. Nothing was lacking
except the will to kill by strangling the victim, and the secret of how
it is done.

"Can't hatch a chicken from a glass egg," he said apologetically. "I'm
safe until I thug somebody."

King was insatiable--drilling, drilling, making them repeat all manner of
proposed behavior in emergency, until they struck at last from very
weariness, and Gauri brought cooling drinks and comfort in the shape of
flattery.

"Perfect!" she told them.

"Nevertheless, this deferential babu, like wholesale tiger smelling traps
invariably, would better accompany this expedition," said Chullunder
Ghose. "Obesity is only disadvantage--curiosity impelling--adipose
impeding--striking happy medium at all times--"

"You be still!" commanded King.

"Certainly, _sahib_! I desist! Am silent! Sublime satisfaction in service
of noblemen makes obedient babu dumb! Your humble servant. Mum's the
word, like Yankee skirmisher in No Man's Land! Nevertheless--"

He paused, looking up under lowered eyelids like a meek, ridiculous, fat
schoolgirl.

Grim recognized the reference to a Yankee skirmisher as an appeal to
himself. "Spill it!" he ordered. "Be quick."

"Silence being self-imposed on all three _sahibs_, somebody should come
along to scintillate with clever verbiage. Self being otherwise
unoccupied--"

"Whatever you said would give the game away," Grim interrupted severely.

"Even secret hymn to goddess Kali?"

He intoned it, throwing out his chest and making a pig's snout of his fat
lips around the lower bass notes, that rumble and roll like the voice of
the underworld glorifying in destruction, making of cruelty, death and
disease sweet satisfaction for the dreadful bride of Siva. Few ever heard
that hymn who were not initiates of Kali's dreadful cult, or--

"Were you ever held for the sacrifice?" King asked him suddenly.

"__Sahib__, I am superstitious! Reference to secret details of risky past
might cause repetition of same, which decency forbid! Am dumb!"

He would not tell how he had learned that hymn. He knew the value of it,
and of silence. He was indispensable.

"No extra charge!" he announced with pursed lips.

"One break and you're fired!" said Grim.

"One break and we are all dead!" he retorted. "Awful! Yet--at nay
age--nevertheless--how many last chances I have had! Cat-o'-nine tails is
rank outsider compared to most of us! Whoever boasted of dying daily had
me in mind. _Verb. sap_."

They waited until long after dark, when Ramsden reported the safe
disposal of two corpses, and was detailed to take care of Cyprian.

"Tell him he's in the house of an Indian gentleman, whose wife can't very
well interview him in her husband's absence," Grim advised. "Say his own
place was full of gas, so we had to lock it tip. If he asks any more
questions, tell him the doctor says he must sleep."

Narayan Singh was told off to await the doctor. Then the three,
Chullunder Ghose following, set forth on what was actually a forlorn
hope.

"Pray, you men!" said King, half-laughing. "If we can't get an inside
track to the Nine through this man, we may as well admit defeat. He's
dry--full of fever--in pain--half-conscious. We can fool him now or
never."

They could almost fool themselves. Their shadows on the street wall so
resembled the parts they played that they had the sensation of being
followed by assassins, the heavy footsteps of Chullunder assisting the
suggestion.

They totally fooled All of Sikunderam and his suspicious brother. Ali
thrust his long knife through the partly opened door in the wall and
threatened to disembowel the lot of them unless they made themselves
scarce.

"By Allah, shall a Hindu set foot on the sacred threshold of a mosque?"
he demanded, as the rightful keeper of the place shifted a lantern this
way and that behind him to expose the intruders better.

The voice of Chullunder Ghose was revelation--impiously making use of
holy writ from the shadows in the rear:

"And they came unto their own, but their own received them not. Even in
A. D. seventy they knew the nature of Sikunderam! Give sop to Cerberus,
_sahibs_! Price of admission is payable in Beehive brandy!"

"I knew it all along!" said Ali with a curt laugh.

"Aye, any fool would know it;" his brother agreed.

"Open the door then, fools!"

Chullunder Ghose waddled in first, pushing aside the two custodians,
bowing in his three employers, retiring again behind them to hold up both
hands like the leader of an orchestra directing _pianissimo_. Thereafter
not a word was said.

In creaking, bat-winged darkness they four mounted the minaret stairs,
pausing each half-dozen steps to listen for sounds from above. Chullunder
Ghose, holding a flask of water destined for the prisoner's use when he
should acquire the right to it by bargain, stopped on the rickety floor
below the upper room and sat, cross-legged, with his face toward the
opening through which the other three must pass--a square hole at the
stair-head. Low sounds--human speech assuredly--emerged through it, using
some other than the ordinary language of the streets.

The words ceased as King in the lead reached midway up the last flight of
stairs. A face appeared in the opening--coppery even in that dim gloom--a
new face, not the prisoner's. King, never hesitating, took the next step
and the others followed. A word would have betrayed them. But even the
babu--he particularly--rose to the heights of instant self-command.

A stanza of the hymn to Kali rose from the babu's throat like a burst of
faraway organ music, and the face in the opening withdrew. King went on
up. He had not hesitated. He was not lost.

Keeping step, not harrying, not looking to the right or left but
purposely moving like men in a dream, the other two followed him through
and sat down along-side him in the attitude the three book-burners had
taken on Cyprian's yak-hair carpet, Jeremy at one end.

The owner of the unexpected face thrust his hand against the door that
led to the gallery, letting in sufficient star-light to reveal the
orange-yellow of his long smock. Then he sat down facing them, with his
back to the wall by the head of the bed.

He said something, using a language that is dead--extinct--that never did
exist according to some authorities. Instead of attempting to answer, all
three bowed low from the waist with their hands palms-outward, like
temple images come to life. And again Chullunder Ghose's gorgeous
barytone burst forth in praise of death.

There is this about ancient mysteries. Nine-tenths of them, if not more,
are forgotten and the words a generation passes to the next one--"mouth
to ear and the word at low breath"--if not t substitute are no more than
a fragment of lost knowledge. He who had spoken in perhaps the
mother-tongue of lost Atlantis was content to carry on in Punjabi.

"Ye heard his call, too? Brothers, ye were awake! I came up the outside
and broke the lock with a chisel. Ye were cleverer! Ye did not slay, for
I hear the voices of the guards down-stairs. Ye did well. Are there
orders? Ye are not of my Nine, for ye make no answer to the signal."

Speech was impossible. Their one chance was to pretend to a vow of
silence, such as _fakirs_ often take. Instead of speaking Jeremy flicked
the handkerchief from one hand to the other with the diabolical,
suggestive swiftness of a past-practitioner of Thugee.

The man by the head of the bed betrayed astonishment--maybe disgust.

"By whose order should he die?" he demanded. "I have tested him according
to rule. He has not betrayed. His failure is not complete. He--they--two
of them are dead--burned all the books because they could take none. This
one sent the Silent Call to give us information. He deserves life."

He paused for an answer. And the first sign having succeeded, Jeremy
repeated it--as an executioner whose patience was exhaustible.

Promptly, as if they had rehearsed that very combination, Chullunder
Ghose sang of the death that is Kali's life, and his voice boomed through
the opening in praise of pain that is Kali's ease--and of want that is
her affluence.

That tide in the affairs of men that Shakespeare sang was surely at flood
that night! It brimmed the dyke. He by the head of the bed was aware of
it, restlessly.

"The Nines are no longer interlocked as formerly," he grumbled. "One Nine
has an order that another counteracts. There is confusion. There is too
much slaying to hide clumsiness. Our plan was patterned on the true plan
of the Nine Unknown, but we are a bad smell compared to their breath of
roses! They know, and are Unknown. We do not know, and too many know of
us."

A thrill that commenced with King and passed through Grim reached Jeremy,
but none of them confessed to it. They sat still, expressionless, three
bronze faces staring straight forward, only Jeremy's fingers moving in
the overture to death. The long silk handkerchief flicked back and forth
like a thread in the loom of the Fates.

The man on the bed groaned dismally, and as if that were a signal for the
bursting of the dyke that stood between ignorance and understanding--for
there always is a dyke between the two, and always a weak point where the
dyke will yield if men can only find it--he by the head of the bed called
up from his inner-man the lees of long-ago forgotten manliness. Then not
in anger, but calmly as became a follower of the Destroyer's Wife, he
cast his ultimatum at the three.

"I, who shall be slain for saying this, yet say this. Listen, ye! Dumb be
the spirit in you as the lips your vow has sealed! This man, whom ye have
come to kill because he failed, lest failure be a cause of danger to
worse devils than ourselves--is my friend!"

He paused, appearing to expect some sign of astonishment. Friendship is
treason to Kali. Comment was due, and Chullunder Ghose obliged, hymning
new stanzas in praise of Her who annihilates.

"This man once spared me. I spare him. Ye shall not sacrifice him. Hear
me! I came, not knowing who he was. Ye came, knowing. Your orders are to
kill _him_. Mine are to go to Benares and slay one said to be a true
Initiate of the Nine. But I am weary of all this. Ye _shall_ not slay; I
_will_ not--unless--"

He paused again, making no motion with his hands. But he left no doubt
there was a weapon within reach with which the argument might be
continued if convenient to all concerned. Jeremy's hands moved, but only
to manipulate the handkerchief. He, Grim and King all had pistols, so no
need for hurry. King broke silence, sparing words like one who mistrusts
speech--

"We three have grown so weary of it all that a watch was set on us, lest
we fail."

Confirming that, Chullunder Ghose's barytone hymned one more stanza to
the Queen of Death. The man on the bed groaned wearily. In the street the
sound of revelry--the last verse of a drunkard's love-song--announced and
disguised the news that Narayan Singh arrived on the scene with the
doctor.

"If there is only one who watches you, is there any reason why we four
should fear him?" asked the man by the head of the bed.

That sounded like a trap. In dealing with the secret brotherhoods it is
safe to suspect that every other question is asked for precaution's sake.
The wrong answer would be an astringent, drying up confidence at the
source.

"So be _one_ died--" said King, not daring yet to speak openly, because
he did not know the key-phrases that identify man to man.

The other nodded.

"I am not an executioner," he said. "Let your brother use his skill."

And he nodded suggestively at Jeremy. The man on the bed groaned again.
Chullunder Ghose was absolutely still. From below came Narayan Singh's
carousal song and the voices of Ali and his brother commanding silence in
the name of decency.

It began to be clear to King that his suspicion was accurate--that the
members of one Nine did not know the members of any other Nine and had no
means of challenging. Each Nine reported to its chief, who in turn was
one of nine. That was what da Gama said, and though the Portuguese was
not to be believed without deliberation, even deliberation must have
limits. King took the chance.

"I have no means of testing you," he said. "You do not respond to my
signs."

"Nor you to mine, brother! Let us then give pledges satisfactory to
each."

"If we let this fellow live," King answered, and paused, observing that
the man by the head of the bed pricked his ears.

He remembered that as Kali's follower he must not offer to deprive the
goddess altogether of her prey. There must be a substitute.

"Will you betray the Initiate of the Nine to us in Benares in order that
we may not fail to make Her a sacrifice?"

"No!" came the answer--abrupt and firm. "Substitute him who sings to Her
below there!"

It was time for heroic measures. Insofar as reason applies to murder, he
was reasonable. And besides, King was aware of a sound in the outer
darkness that Chullunder Ghose heard too, for the babu sang to drown it.

"I believe you are an impostor! I believe you know nothing of Benares! I
believe you are that faithless member of another Nine whom we were told
to watch for! If there should be a substitute I think that thou--"

King pointed an accusing finger at him. Jeremy made the handkerchief
perform like a living thing. It even looked hungry.

"Nay, nay!" said the other.

"Show me proofs!" said King.

The subtle noises in the night had ceased and there was now no cause for
hurry. It was almost possible to see--as one could sense--the pallor on
his face as the man by the head of the bed reached out to push the door a
little wider open and admit more starlight. Whatever his weapon was, he
had to see clearly to use it. As his wrist reached out across the opening
a huge hand closed on it--from outside.

It was no use screaming, though the blood ran cold. The followers of Kali
train themselves to self-control. It was no use moving, because two
repeating pistols, King's and Grim's covered him.

He could not speak. Terror, the stronger for being suppressed, gripped
him tighter than the unknown hand that held his wrist against the
door-frame like material in a vise.

The door of the minaret below slammed suddenly, and one man was heard to
enter. King felt the wheels of destiny turn once and drop the finished
solution like a gift into his hand. Destiny had chosen the right man, and
his assistants waited on him, saying nothing, offering no advice, not
even glancing sidewise to observe him. It was apparent to the man by the
head of the bed that they, all three acted on instructions in accordance
with a pre-arranged plan, that which is obvious being untrue nine times
out of ten.

"You are he whom we should watch for," King said slowly. "There is talk
of your sedition. That is why, they sent you to Benares. That is why you
were picked to sacrifice that true Initiate of the Holy Nine."

King paused and took another long chance. Had not the others acted in
threes? "You were ordered to Benares, where two others should join you.
You, who can not use the handkerchief, were to be decoy. We are they who
should have met you in Benares! Yet you can no more tell which of us
three are the two than you could escape from the task imposed on you!"

The man's jaw dropped. He believed himself taken in the toils of the
relentless machine that owned him and a thousand others. There is no more
paralyzing fear than that.

"You would have cheated HER!" said King.

He rose and made a sign to Grim and Jeremy that was not easy to mistake.
They lifted the unconscious prisoner off the bed and, taking more care of
his bandaged leg than was quite in keeping with the circumstances,
carried him down through the opening in the floor. From below came the
sound of one short strangling cry.

"Clumsy!" said King. "He lacks practise!"

Then there was whispering and the sound of a dead weight being carried
down wooden stairs. The door below slammed. There was the noise of men's
feet outside--then of wheels. First Grim returned, and then Jeremy. The
expression on their faces was of great elation suppressed and crowded to
the point of near-explosion.

"You will go to Benares. You will lead to the slaying him who was
appointed for the sacrifice. You will be judged thereafter by the
judges."

Some gesture that King made must have been visible from the
outer-gallery, for the hand that held the wrist let go. The door was shut
tight from without. In the ensuing darkness King descended, leaving Grim
and Jeremy to guard the new prisoner, and Chullunder Ghose, holding both
sides in silent laughter that made tears stream down his cheeks, motioned
him toward the ground floor. Chullunder Ghose remained where he was,
wallowing in exquisite emotion.

Narayan Singh, descending by broken masonry, groping for foothold, found
his foot in King's hands and so reached _terra firma_.

"_Sahib_, it would seem the gods are with us! The doctor has a place
where he can treat that patient better than in this tower. He and I
brought a litter on wheels and men to push it. The babu signaled me that
there were doings up-stairs, so I climbed by the broken masonry, knowing
the value of surprise in an emergency! Shall the doctor amputate?"

"Tell him no," said King, "but keep him _incommunicado_."



CHAPTER XI - "ALLAH! DO I LIVE, AND SEE SUCH SONS?"


There was a cellar below the minaret--a mere enclosure in between
foundations, but no less practicable as a dungeon on that account.
Therein they cached the prisoner with Narayan Singh and three of Ali's
sons on guard, instructed not to show themselves to the man they guarded
but to be as rabid as wolves at bay toward all trespassers.

Then, because a good rule is to hold your conferences where not even
friends expect you, King Grim and Jeremy went and sat like great owls in
the shadow of a wall above a low roof several hundred yards away. There
they could see one another and not be seen.

King met Grim's eyes. Grim met King's. The two spoke simultaneously--

"You were right!"

"Pop Cyprian won't believe it though!" laughed Jeremy, yawning. "Sleep
under the stars, you blighters! Here goes then!"

He curled himself up, and was breathing like a kitten in a moment.

"There are two Nines!" King said with conviction.

"The real gang, and this Kali outfit!" Grim agreed.

"Right! But as Jeremy says, Cyprian won't believe it."

King faced toward Grim and as if playing cards they tossed deductions to
and fro, each checking each. "One's good. The other's bad."

"The Kali outfit patterned their organization after the real Nine's, in
the hope of stumbling on the secret."

"They've spotted a real Initiate of the Nine."

"Bet you! Maybe one of the Nine. Marked him down. Expect him in Benares."

"Told off this man-in-yellow to kill him."

"What for? _Qui bono_? Ring in one of their own thugs to pose as the dead
man?"

"Probably. He might discover something before the remaining Eight get
wise."

"But why pick a man who can't use the handkerchief, and whose loyalty
must have been questionable?"

"Probably he's the only one who can identify the proposed victim."

"If so, they'll watch him."

"Which means they'll have watched him to-night!"

"Uh-huh. They must have seen him enter the minaret."

"Good thing we left Narayan Singh on guard."

"You bet--and those three sons of Ali's who were in trouble with the
police. They'll fight like wolves."

"All nerves. Better than watch-dogs. What next?"

"Sleep!" said Grim.

And they did sleep--there on the roof, where none but the stars and the
crescent moon could see them and only Chullunder Ghose knew where to
track them down.

Chullunder Ghose slept too, hands over stomach and chin on breast, with
the broad of his back set flat against a wall and his whole weight on the
trap-door that provided access to the cellar--turban over one ear--so
asleep that even minaret mice (hungrier than they who live in churches)
nibbled the thick skin of his feet without awaking him.

The North--Sikunderam in particular--can sleep, too, when it has no
guilty conscience; and it begins to measure guilt at about the deep
degree, where squeamish folk leave off and lump the rest into one black
category. None the less, although the sons of Ali yawned when Narayan
Singh posted them around the iron-railed gallery, with orders to keep one
another awake and summon him at the first sign of an intruder, yawning
was as much as it amounted to. They sat like vultures on a ledge and
listened to the Sikh's enormous snores that boomed in the waist of the
minaret. (He calculated that the second floor, midway of either, was the
key to the strategic situation.)

Nominally each of Ali's sons from where he sat could view a hemisphere,
so that their vision actually overlapped. But in practise there was one
whose outlook included a high, blank wall, over which it was humanly
impossible for an enemy to approach, because there were spikes along the
wall, and broken glass, and beyond it were the women's quarters of a much
too married rajah.

So that one--Habibullah was his name--was more or less a free lance, able
to reenforce the others or to spell them, without that extra loss of
self-respect that might otherwise have attended desertion of a fixed
post. Narayan Singh had said, "Sit here--and here--and here." Burt he had
evidently meant "Divide the circle up between you." So Habibullah
construed it, the other two confirming; but it was an hour before
anything happened. Then:

"One beckons," said Ormuzd--he facing due east. There was a roof in that
direction on which the light from a half-shuttered upper window fell like
a sheet of gold-leaf. "One sits like a frog in a pool and beckons. Come
and see."

So Habibullah, having faced west long enough, changed his position and
sat by Ormuzd.

"Huh! He beckons. Is his garment yellow, like that of him we slew in the
jail, or does the light make it seem so?"

They watched with the infinite patience of Hillmen and all hunting
animals, until the third brother came around to lend two eyes of
flint--just one look and away again, back to his post.

"He beckons," he agreed.

"Does he beckon to us or--"

"To us!" said Habibullah. "Moreover, he is clothed in yellow. The light
shows it. He is one of those who loosed us from the jail."

As if confirming Habibullah's words, the man on the roof in the pool of
light raised up a Himalayan _tulwar_, shaped so exactly like the one that
Ormuzd left in the police station that the two who saw it thrilled like
women seeing a lost child. The northern knife is more than knife.

"What does he want with us, think you?"

"Go and see!"

"That drunken dog of a Sikh who snores within there will awake and--"

"Never mind him. Climb down by the broken edges of the stone. We have
done worse many a time in our Hills."

But caution is as strong as curiosity in the mind of Sikunderam. No
Highlander who followed Bonnie Charlie to his ruin was as hard to pin
down to a course--or harder to turn from one, once on his way. Habibullah
sat and weighed the pros and cons--including the likelihood that he in
the pool of light might be a _shaitan_--until the other two cried shame
on him. His reason in the end for going to investigate was fear that
their loud arguing might wake Narayan Singh and that the Sikh might
possibly claim all the credit for some discovery.

Hand over band at last he went down the broken side of the
minaret--leaped like a goat on to the street wall above the heads of Ali
and his brother, who were sleeping the sleep of innocence in the shadow
of the gate--and gained the street.

But none came to meet him, as he had half-hoped. He was left to his own
devices to find a way up to the roof the man had beckoned from--not
nearly as easy a feat as threading the bat-infested ledges of eternal
hills. In one street an unwise "constabeel" presumed to demand what his
business might be; whereat Habibullah ran for half-a-mile in zig-zags,
never losing direction; and finally, by way of a stable and the iron roof
of a place where they sold chickens, he climbed to a point of vantage
whence he could look down from darkness into the pool of light.

"_His-s-s-t_!" he remarked then to attract attention. And a second later
his skin crawled like a sloughing snake's all up his spine and then down
again.

The man in the pool of light took no notice, but another had leaned out
of the darkness almost within arm's reach and, flashing a little electric
torch, grinned straight into his face.

"You should go to him--go to him--he beckons, does he not? Go to him
then!" he whispered.

The whisper was the worst part of it. If he had spoken out loud
Habibullah would have tried a little bombast to reassure himself. As it
was, the creepy sensation increased; nor was there any knowing how many
other men there might be grinning at him from the darkness--grinning at
him who had no knife! He could see one of his brothers--just a shadow
motionless among the shadows of the minaret, and the sight made him
lonelier than ever.

"Why wait for the handkerchief?" suggested the voice beside him; and that
settled it; Habibullah leaped down on to the roof like a young bear,
making all the noise he naturally could.

But the noise did not startle the man in yellow, who sat in the midst of
the pool of light. It did not as much as annoy him. He smiled--a beastly,
bronze, arrogant smile that chilled the blood of Habibullah worse than
the other man's whisper had done.

"You beckoned?" said Habibullah, forgetting that he who speaks first most
often has the worst of it.

The other shifted himself out of the patch of light suddenly, and left
Habibullah standing there.

"Did I beckon a fool for the police to shoot at?" he asked from behind a
chimney. "Their nets are laid. The order is to seize all strangers from
Sikunderam. You and your brothers are as sure of death as the fat sheep
in the butcher's hands, unless--step this way out of the light, fool!"

Habibullah obeyed, and was sorry he obeyed, on general principles.

"Who are _you_?" he asked. He tried to make his voice sound truculent,
but it was only desperate. He wished he had not come.

"You left the jail without asking who I am. Why ask now? Better obey me."

"In what respect?"

"In all respects!"

Obedience is a hard pill to force down the throat of a Hillman. The fact
that lie thought himself helpless did not sweeten the dose for
Habibullah. The other was a Hindu, which made it worse. So he said
nothing, as the only way he knew of nursing his disgust, and perhaps the
man in yellow believed that silence signified assent (although perhaps
not. He was wise in some ways.) Nevertheless, he proceeded to display his
ignorance.

"There are two men dressed like me in that minaret."

"_Two_ men?" said Ali, looking hard at him.

"_Two_!" he answered positively. "One is injured. One is whole. The whole
one is at fault and the injured one has failed. Both die to-night. It is
your business to admit three of us into the minaret."

"Mine?"

"Yours and your brothers'."

"But--Bah! By Allah, what you ask is impossible! We are not alone there.
There is a Sikh--"

"True. And a babu. Do they not sleep?"

"But there are others, who keep watch outside by the door in the wall."

"Aye, and _they_ sleep, or how didst thou escape unseen? Kill them, too,
and earn merit!"

Habibullah withdrew again into the silence, for emotion choked him. He
could contemplate killing Narayan Singh and Chullunder Ghose with
comparative calm, even while doubting that three of them could master the
turbulent Sikh. But to murder in cold blood, without warning, All ben Ali
of Sikunderam, sire, tutor, patron, paymaster, hero, bully and
belligerent accomplice, was something that not even sons of the Hills
could consider, say nothing of do. Hardly believing his ears he bridled
speech, the slow, dour cunning of the mountains coming to his aid at
last. The limit of amazement being reached--fear having worked its
worst--he rose above both like a swimmer coming up for air.

"How much will you pay?" he demanded.

The man in yellow laughed--a conquering laugh all full of scorn and
understanding.

"Rupees, a thousand!" he answered.

"Show me! Pay now!"

Habibullah stooped and held his hand out--mocking. He did not believe
that man in yellow had a thousand rupees, certainly not that he would
part with them. But the other produced a roll and counted the money out
in hundreds:

"--eight, nine, ten!" he said, placing the lot in the Hillman's extended
hand. "Blood-money! These are witnesses!"

He made a sound exactly like the hum of a bronze bell struck with a muted
hammer. Instantly two faces, thrust forward into the light like
disembodied phantoms, grinned at him.

"Go! Kill! And when you have killed set a lantern on the gallery of the
minaret!"

Habibullah glanced down at the ten bank-notes that his fingers closed on,
and all the Hillman's yearning for the hardest bargain ever driven surged
in his ambitious breast.

"How shall we slay without weapons?" he demanded. "The police had our
_tulwars_--"

The man in yellow interrupted him by passing hilt-first the _tulwar_ that
he had used to signal with. It was not Habibullah's own. He raised
it--possibly to glory in its balance as it quivered like something golden
in the window-light--yet even so perhaps not; for the North is quick to
use the unsheathed argument.

He was aware of the click of an old-fashioned pistol in the dark not far
behind him, so he lowered the _tulwar_ again and thumbed the edge of it.
Concession had bred appetite:

"We are three," he said. "We had three weapons--two more such as this."

"Aye," came the instant answer. "Thine and another's. That is not thine.
That will be claimed by its owner. Thine and the other may be had for
service rendered."

It was shrewd. No knight of the Middle Ages set a value on golden spurs
one atom greater than the Hillman's superstitious reverence for his
knife. With it he reckons himself a man; without it, something less, and
so is reckoned.

Nevertheless, the greater the weight on one side of a bargain, the more
determined should the haggling be. That is scripture. Habibullah cast
about for an alternative and landed a good one at the first attempt.

"You say two yonder must die? My brothers and I might kill those, saving
trouble with the Sikh, who is a man of mighty wrath, to kill whom would
offend his masters. Better bind him while he sleeps, and tell him
afterwards that others did it. Then kill the babu, who is useless and has
the tongues of ten women. Whereafter slay--we three could slay--the two
men you say are due to die to-night."

That was a long speech for Habibullah. It produced a profound impression
and he struck an attitude while the two disembodied faces appeared in the
shaft of light again and conversed with number one. They spoke a language
he knew nothing of, and displayed skill in the use of light and shade
that was beyond his understanding, for although he screwed his eyes, and
dodged, he failed to see anything but faces; and in the end he began to
be afraid again, more than half-believing number one was speaking with
spirits of the air.

"Only the spirits don't use pistols," he argued to himself. And twice he
heard the click of a pistol hammer as if some one in the dark were
testing it, not nervously but as a warning. "I would like to lay this
blade just once where the neck of that face should be!" he thought.

And some one seemed to read his thought, for a pistol in a hand
unconnected with any evident body emerged into the light and warned him
pointblank.

"We should have to see bodies of the slain," said number one at last in
plain Punjabi; and the two faces vanished.

"All Delhi may see them for ought I care!" Habibullab answered,
forgetting for the moment that there was only one prisoner in the cellar.

"So we should have to enter the minaret."

"Lo, I make you a gift of the minaret!" laughed Habibullah, growing
bolder as he realized his point was gained. These were not such dangerous
people after all. How his brothers would wonder when he regaled them with
the account of his skilful bargaining!

"You will need to arrange for us to enter," said the man in yellow.

Habibullah was silent, scratching his young beard, pondering what that
proviso meant.

"The guard at the gate must be slain," his interlocutor went on. And
Habibullah's beard continued to be scratched, a row of milk-white teeth
appearing in a gap in the black hair as his lower lip descended
thoughtfully.

Strange arguments appeal to savage minds. The rock on which Habibullah's
wit was chafing itself keen just then was not the stipulation to kill Ali
of Sikunderam (for that was excluded--imponderable--abstract--not to be
reckoned with, and having no weight)--but the puzzling, protruding,
concrete circumstance that he in yellow did not dream of entering the
minaret by any other way than the front door.

Could he not climb? Was he lazy, or afraid, or proud? What was the matter
with him? No man, having murder in his mind and able to command the very
captain of the jail, was worth taking seriously if he only thought in
terms of front-doors! Habibullah knew exactly what to do now.

"There is no other way than to kill those who guard the gate," said he in
yellow.

"No other way," Habibullah agreed. "I will do it."

"How will you let us know when the work is done and the gate is
unlocked?" the other demanded.

"We will light a lantern and carry it thrice in a circle around the
gallery. Then come swiftly, for we will open the door and wait for you;
and we will tell the Sikh after, wards that it was you who bound him,"
said Habibullah.

He was not sure yet what he meant to do. But he was sure he would outwit
the man in yellow, whom he thoroughly despised now, not fearing him even
a little, so mercurial, albeit simple are the workings of the Hillman
intellect. He had the man's money. Why should he fear him? Who feared
fools? Not Habibullah! Father Ali should have reason to boast of one son
this night!

Something of his thought exuded--emanated--some vague aureole of ignorant
conceit emerging under the cloak of pretended assent.

"Remember!" warned the man in yellow. "This is a part of the price to
Kali, payable for your release from jail! There will be more to pay
another time. And he who fails to pay Her the least particle of Her
demand--is less to be envied than a woman dying as she bears a dead
child!"

Habibullah shuddered, and recovered. He was not a woman, praise be Allah!

"It is time I go," he said abruptly, and in a moment he had swung himself
down into the street along which he could see the "constabeel" vainly
pursuing imaginary footsteps. He kept behind the "constabeel" and gained
the minaret without accident. He was minded to beat on the door in the
wall and swagger in triumphantly with all that story to relate and a
thousand rupees to confirm it with. Only the suspicion that the man in
yellow possibly could see him from the roof prevented.

He still did not know how the Hindu should be tricked. He knew that
pocketing the money for a murder he had not the remotest intention of
committing was only part of the business. They must be fooled to the full
taste of Sikunderam, and none--no man on Allah's footstool--could do that
half as well as Ali, father Ali, who was sleeping by his brother at the
gate--father Ali, wiliness incarnate!

So he climbed the outer-wall like a bear in the hills, making much less
noise than he normally did on level ground. And he dropped so lightly
into shadow on the other side that Ali did not wake until the hot breath
rustled in his ear.

"Look, father Ali! Look!"

He held the money--all that money!--most incautiously in the rays of the
hooded candle that bode in a crevice of the wall against emergency.
Ali--waking--seized the money--naturally--even before he rubbed his eyes.
It was in the hidden pocket under two shirts, and with a sheepskin jacket
double-buttoned over all, before poor Habibullah could protest.

And then, in the righteous wrath of an outraged sire, Ali ben Ali rose
and cursed his son for daring to absent himself from post without
permission!

"Allah! Do I live--and see such sons? The dung a pigeon drops on a ledge
will stay there! Yet you leave! O less than ullage! Less than the stink
of a debauch--for that clings! Son of all uncleanliness, get to thy perch
again!"

So Habibullah went, for there was no gainsaying father Ali. He who had
slain in seven duels the husbands of the mothers who had borne the sons
he claimed, was not to be withstood by one son single-handed in the hour
of rising wrath. The necessary element was speed, and Habibullah used it,
shuddering as a new curse hounded his retreat.

Nor did he enter the minaret, for that would have been to awaken the babu
and the Sikh too soon, before he--Habibullah--should have time to think.
He climbed by the broken masonry again like a steeplejack, and swung
himself up on the gallery between his wondering brothers.

"Mine!" said one of them, pouncing on the _tulwar_.

"You shall have it in exchange for mine!" said Habibullah, snatching it
away. "Peace! Listen!" He had done his thinking. "Father Ali bade me say
this: He will beat whichever of you leaves the gallery! He gave me other
work to do."

Which untruth being loosed, and therefore off his conscience, Habibullah
entered the minaret through the gallery door and descended the creaking
stairs, after carefully fastening the door behind him lest his brothers
overhear and make a hash of what should be a neat, nice piece of
strategy.

He was angry with father Ali--not to the point of rebellion yet, but full
of indignation and desirous of revenge. He was minded to take his
information to a man who, all his faults considered, was a generous
soldier of mettle and resource. The money was gone; but the chance for a
creditable deed remained; and if his own brains were insufficient for the
task, he knew where to find sufficient ones.

So he stooped over Narayan Singh and checked him in mid-snore. The Sikh
seized his wrist and let go again.

"The foe?" he demanded. "Trespassers?" (Whoever is not friend comes into
Narayan Singh's category of "foe," to be dealt with accordingly.)

"Hus-s-s-sh!" warned Habibullah. "Let the babu not hear!"

"No! Let the babu sleep!" Chullunder Ghose called up on his seat on the
hatch. "There is first the thunder and then these whisperings! My God,
for the gift of silence in these precincts! Oh, well, oh, very well, I
come! Unfortunate babu is slave of circumstances in all things!"

He came waddling up the stairs, and struck a match so suddenly that
Habibullah cursed him.

"Hillman's curse is Hindu's blessing!" said the babu piously. "Now spill
the beans! Unleash the dogs of war and let speech coruscate! Give her
gas!"

So Habibullah could not help himself. He was obliged to tell his tale to
both men, neither of whom believed him because he could not show the
thousand rupees that he boasted of having "lifted" from the man in yellow
on the roof. In fact the whole tale was too fishy, coming on top, as it
did, of that other yarn about fighting a way out from the police cells.

"That I should leave a virgin bed on a trap-door for this!" Chullunder
Ghose sighed. "I lie, thou liest, he lies--what unregenerated Prussian
calls _die Lust zum Fabulieren_! 'Gas!' I said, and he delivers hot air!
Oh, deliver me!"

"If you could prove a word of it--" Narayan Singh suggested sleepily--"I
might believe the next word; and if that one were true I would credit a
third, and so further. As it is, if you are not back in your place on the
gallery within--"

But Habibullah was desperate, and desperation has resources of her own.

"What if I bring the three in yellow to the front gate? Will you help me
slay them?" he interrupted.

"I would _like_ to slay them," said Narayan Singh. "Whoever promenades
the streets in yellow with the mark of Kali on his forehead ought to be
severed between skull and shoulders. Go back to the gallery and keep
watch! In the morning I will tell your father Ali to discourage lying
with a thick stick!"

"Lend me a lantern. I will prove it to you!" said Habibullah.

Chullunder Ghose arranged his turban sleepily.

"Observe a symptom of _in vino veritas_," he remarked, "wine being
possibly imagination in this instance. The savage believes what he says,
even supposing same is untrue."

Narayan Singh rose with a sigh and discovered a lantern he had hidden
where none else would find and adopt it. He lit it with blasphemy,
burning his fingers, ordered the babu back with his fat hind-quarters
on the trap-door, looked disgustedly at Habibullah, shook himself to make
sure the weights were there that told of hidden weapons, and yawned.

"Forward! Up-stairs! Prove it! If you fail to prove it, over with you!"

Habibullah led the way. With the lantern in the skirts of his sheep-skin
coat, lest the enemy catch sight of it before the stage was ready, he
stepped out on the gallery, with the Sikh peering over his shoulder
suspicious of tricks. Then he ordered his brothers inside, they
protesting volubly, making a show of disinclination to desert the post.
Narayan Singh was deeply edified.

"Dogs on a dung-hill are as noisy and as timid!" he said pleasantly.
"Better kneel in there and pray for good sense--if Allah is listening!
Now, show thy proof!"

He shoved Habibullah outward to the railing and was close behind, but
Habibullah begged him to stay in the open door and watch the light
streaming from a window over a roof some way in front of them; and still
suspecting trickery the Sikh obliged. He could not stand upright, but
bent forward with a hand on either post.

Then Habibullah, holding the lantern in his left hand, turned to the
right and made the circuit of the gallery three tines, swinging the
lantern constantly to call attention to it. And when he had made the
third circuit, as it were of the walls of Jerico, the light streaming
from the window that Narayan Singh watched went out suddenly--yet not so
suddenly as when one switches off the current. Some one invisible had
held an obstacle between the window and the minaret. He lowered it, and
the light streamed forth again.

"They have seen. Now they will conic to the gate to be slain!" said
Habibullah. "And if you, _sahib_, wish to have the credit for it all,
take my advice and climb down this way, not waking father Ali!"



CHAPTER XII - "I AM DEAD, BUT THE SILVER CORD IS NOT YET CUT."


Grim nudged King. King jerked at Jeremy's flowing Arab headgear.

"Watch the minaret," Grim whispered.

The crescent moon had gone down. There was no light other than the
glorious effulgence of the stars. The minaret--a phallic symbol posing as
sublime--rose stately and quiet from a pool of purple darkness. Nothing
moved. Not even a dog barked, for a wonder.

"Got the creeps?" asked Jeremy.

"Watch the minaret!"

A lantern appeared at the summit and disappeared--flashed for an instant,
as it might be from the skirts of a protecting coat. Then, as whoever
held it turned, its rays shone full on a man unmistakable--too tall for
the door--bent forward in it, bearded and immense--Narayan Singh! The
image was gone in an instant, but left no doubt. The Sikh was alert and
moving.

"Something's wrong," said Grim.

"Wrong with your nut!" said Jeremy.

The lantern flashed again, and this time did not disappear. In some one's
left hand--not Narayan Singh's, for they could see the legs beyond it and
they did not move as the Sikh's would--it made the circuit of the gallery
three times--then vanished.

"What do you suppose that means?"

"Sons of Ali fell asleep and off their perch. Narayan Singh looking for
remains of 'em!" suggested Jeremy.

"It wasn't Narayan Singh who made the rounds," King answered. "That light
to our right front disappeared and came on again after the signal."

"Signals, sure!" said Grim.

"Could the Sikh--"

"No!" Grim answered. "Narayan Singh is O.K."

"Trick-work nevertheless," said Jeremy. "There _were_ three of Ali's sons
on that gallery. They looked like great horned owls and we wondered
before we all went to sleep what it was that resembled horns. Remember?
Where are the three now?"

"I vote we investigate," said Grim.

"Seconded!"

"Unanimous!"

They reached a dark passage by way of neighboring roofs and dropped
to street-level, nearly frightening to death the same policeman
who had been disturbed by Habibullah. The servant of the public
peace retreated at full speed and left them all that part of Delhi for
experiments--assassination--robbery--what they willed. Since nationalism
raised standard and voice the streets have not been safe for a lone
policeman.

"If they've rescued our prisoner--" Grim began.

"More likely garroted him to keep him from talking," said King.

"Well, in either event--"

"We're flummoxed!"

King made no secret of his pessimism. He was all for action; all for
reprisals; but he felt sure there had been disaster.

"If they've got him, we've lost our inside track. We'll never get
another!" he said miserably.

There were no street sounds as they made their way cautiously along the
shadows. Now and then a dog yelped in the distance, but as happens often
when the moon has gone down all the neighborhood seemed hushed. Just once
they heard--or thought they heard a cry and the _thump-thump-thump_ of
something falling. Then all was still again.

Suddenly a voice rose--high-pitched, eager, exultant:

"My son! Oh, Allah! Oh, my son!"

Another voice, low-growling, cursed the first one into silence. Then a
door slammed. Voices again rose and fell in excited talk as it might be
behind a wall; they were muted; the resonance was gone.

Grim, in the lead, began running. The others broke into a trot behind
him. Grim stopped and drew his pistol. King came abreast feeling for his
own weapon. Jeremy did the same on King's right. They were fifty paces
from a man sitting in deepest shadow on a stone by the street-door of the
minaret, who held his hand up, saying nothing.

"Narayan Singh!" said Grim at half-breath.

"Hurt?" (That was Jeremy.)

The Sikh seemed to be bending over something. He was holding up his hand
for silence rather than to ward off an attack. He had recognized friends.
They heard him growling in the general direction of the door, as if less
talking behind him were what he craved. He rose as they approached,
standing astride one fallen object, with another at his feet and a third
behind him.

"It is good you came, _sahibs_. If you will drag these corpses in I will
climb the wall and break the necks of Ali's sons! The sons of evil
mothers shut the door on me, and are making more noise than stallions in
a horse-camp!"

King laid his head to the door in the wall and gave tongue in the
guttural speech of Sikunderam:

"Open, there, Ali! And silence!"

The door opened wide in a moment and Ali stood framed in the gloom:

"King sahib! _Sahibs_! Allah's blessing! Lo my boy! My Habibullah! Pride
of my old heart! He slew three yellow ones with three blows of a
_tulwar_! Three in three blows! There they lie! Lo! Look! The _tulwar_!
See the blood on it! See the nick in the blade where it bit too deep and
struck the wall beyond! A smites! Ho! A true son of Sikunderam!"

"Peace! Silence!" ordered King, and turned again to help drag in the
corpses of three men in yellow smocks.

"He shall have a purse and fifty rupees in it!" Ali boasted.

But Narayan Singh cut that short, brushing by him, straight forward to
essentials, discovering Chullunder Ghose recumbent on the trap-door,
acting dead-weight.

"Back again, then?" said Narayan Singh--it might be scornfully.

"_In statu quo_," the babu answered, smirking. "Unless dead, in which
case disembodied spirit might emerge unobserved, prisoner is in durance
vile beneath me--among rats!"

"You weren't here five minutes ago," said the Sikh. "Get off. Let the
_sahibs_ see."

"I was certainly successful rogue in former incarnation," said the babu,
rolling to his hands and knees and heading for the door. "_Karma_* now
reversing rôle, I get away with nothing--absolutely!"

[* Karma. The law by which sins of a former life are inevitably
compensated for in this life or a future one, and good deeds in the same
way are rewarded.]

Narayan Singh raised the trap skeptically. Nevertheless, the prisoner was
there. He blinked up at Grim, King and Jeremy. Smocked like himself in
yellow they exactly fitted the only mental picture he had. Priest of a
dreadful creed, dread was his portion. Likely he was only kept from
suicide by the teaching that he who robs Kali of the joy of killing in
her own way is doomed to flicker in the astral gloom for aeons, useless
and hopeless, until finally he ceases in darkness and never is.

"Others were less fortunate than thee. To them no opportunity to make
amends and ease the pangs of afterlife! Behold them!" King said, speaking
as if he himself were Karma, judging dead souls.

One by one--head in one hand, body in the other--Narayan Singh dumped the
corpses of three followers of Kali down into the rat-infested dark; and
Jeremy held the lantern so that he who had not lost his life yet might
see and comprehend.

"Consider _them_," King warned him. "_They_ died not by the handkerchief
but by the sword, displeasing _Her_ in death as well as life!"

And outside, just beyond the rays of the candle set in the niche of the
outer wall, Chullunder Ghose held high dispute with Ali of Sikunderam.

"Shame?" said the babu. "I am utterly disreputable. Therefore appreciate
value to others of what I lack. I assess shame of Habibullah at rupees a
hundred. Ante up, as Jimgrim has it! Make it slippery and soon, as Jeremy
_sahib_ would say!"

"You have no honor!" Ali retorted hotly.

"None!" agreed the babu. "All dishonor me--including you! Insult me with
rupees a hundred, or I will tell who slew those three! Habibullah will
then resemble egg thoroughly sucked by grandmother--all hollow! The money
please."

"May the curse of the Prophet of Allah, whose name none taketh in vain,
wither and disintegrate thy bowels! May the worms that die not eat thee!
May food be to thee like ashes and thy drink as bitter as a goat's gall!
May thy--"

"Certainly!" said the babu. "Money please! Or else--"

So Ali of Sikunderam drew painfully from somewhere underneath his
shirt--like a man pulling out a long thorn or a well barbed
arrow-head--one bank-note for a hundred rupees, and the babu pouched it.

"Then it is agreed," said Ali, "that Habibullah slew those three with
three strokes of his _tulwar_?"

"Agreed," said Chullunder Ghose. "Do you wish receipt in writing with
stipulation black on white? Will sign same. No extra charge!"

"See this!" said Ali, showing his own knife. "The bargain is made. You
have the money. Keep faith, or feel this!"

"My aunt!" said the babu, and shuddered. (But the shudder may have been
the camouflaging movement under which he slipped the money into hiding.)

King, Grim and Jeremy emerged from within the minaret, listening to
Narayan Singh, who wiped his hands on a piece of sacking and talked in
low tones.

"Give Habibullah credit for it, _sahibs_. He was afraid of them, but what
odds? He and I climbed down by the broken masonry and waited in the
shadow of the wall. I would have used a pistol, but feared the police, so
when the three came near I said to Habibullah 'Draw, and smite!' The
fellow's hand was trembling so that he nicked the edge of the _tulwar_
against the wall! And they came on, perhaps thinking we were waiting to
welcome them. So I took the _tulwar_ from him and struck three times.
Then I gave the weapon back and said: 'Well smitten! Good sword,
Habibullah!' And Ali heard, listening through the key-hole. He opened the
door and called his bastard in, slamming it again on me. So I waited,
hoping no police would come to see the bodies and start trouble."

Grim laughed silently. He had seen the Sikh's harvest before, and could
have told his sword-cuts from among a hecatomb.

"Habibullah's head will swell, though, if we let him boast of what he
didn't do," said King.

"Let it swell, _sahib_. It will fall the easier. These men in yellow are
no Sadhus* blessing their enemies. They hold revenge more sweet than a
hill-bear does wild honey. Let Habibullah boast of it!"

[* Holy men]

"Let's go!" said Jeremy suddenly. "I'm betting all I've got, those three
were watched. For every one Narayan Singh killed there'll be ten on our
track before morning!"

The eyes of all four met in the light of the match that Jeremy struck to
light his cigarette. All four men nodded.

"Chullunder Ghose!"

The babu heard King's low call and came on the run, like a hippopotamus
in flight for water.

"Quick now! Think!" King ordered. "Problem is to evacuate. Take away the
prisoner--leave corpses here--all go somewhere safe, unseen. Do you think
we can make the office in the Chandni Chowk?"

"Oh golly!" said the babu. You could feel him growing gray that instant.
"Best imaginable is sane ox-cart used for general obsequies under
direction of Ramsden _sahib_. Same is at Gauri's--probably--oxen asleep
in gutter and--"

"Go get it!" ordered Grim. "Narayan Singh, go with him! Send Ramsden
back, and wait at Gauri's, both of you!"

"For my emolument I take a manifold of risks!" Chullunder Ghose said.
"Oh, fickle Fortune, I am undone this time! _Eimai, Ollola_, as Greeks
would say! I vanish!"

And he did. His adiposity was no apparent handicap when sweet life was at
stake. He had the gift of making even Ali's sullen brother open swiftly,
and the door slammed shut behind babu and Sikh before King and Grim could
light their cigarettes from Jeremy's. Thereafter he made no more noise
than a parish clog would, slinking down dark alleys.

Followed conference. At best they would be a noticeable cortège marching
in front and rear of an ox-cart drawn by such magnificent beasts as
Chullunder Ghose would bring presently, if luck permitted. And at worst
sonic one in yellow would tip off the police to interfere, perhaps
accusing them of running contraband. Arrest, then, would be inevitable,
and would mean the end of their investigation of the Nine Unknown.

Evidently more than one of the spurious Nines was linked against them,
all guided by an unseen hand. There was no guessing whence the next
assault would come, although it was fair to presume it would be
surreptitious. Ali of Sikunderam, called into conference, turned Job's
comforter:

"_They say_ these followers of Kali have noiseless weapons, _sahibs_!
Tubes that deliver a poisoned dart with accuracy as far as a revolver
shoots! The poison is brewed from the venom of cobras and the blood of
vampires--very quick stuff. A man struck by it falls conscious, yet
stupefied, and in great pain sees himself decompose until the stink from
his own body suffocates him in the end!"

"What do you advise?" King asked him.

"An exorcism! Let my brother hunt up a brewer of potions, and all the
darts of Kali will never hurt us! A man known to my brother brewed me a
potion before I returned to the Hills once on a time to establish
Habibullab's parentage. Behold me: I live! He who disputed my claim was
buried in more than one piece and in more than one place! Ho! I scattered
him among the villages as Allah spreads the wind! I hewed him! I--"

"Good! Let your brother go," King interrupted.

There was virtue in the strange proposal. Ali's brother was a surly,
ill-conditioned brute, too long possessed of a sinecure to be depended
on. In a pinch he would be a positive handicap to whichever side he was
on, and to be rid of him by any tolerable means was good use of
opportunity. The brother himself provided all the absolution necessary.

"I should be paid!" he objected. "They ask to have their lives preserved.
They could not find the magician without me. They should pay me rupees
fifty!"

He could have had more, if he had only known. Grim paid him fifty and
spoke him civilly, shoving him out through the gate. It was Jeremy,
watching him curiously over the top of the wall where a broken stone
provided a safe vantage point--just out of curiosity, to see which way he
went, as he explained it afterward--who saw him shot down from behind by
a dart that made no noise.

A part, then, of Ali's croaking had been accurate! His brother lay, if
not dead, motionless. Jeremy, up at his niche in the wall, reported some
one in what might be a yellow smock creeping up along the darkest
shadows, searching the body, taking money and everything else he could
find. Whereat Ali, using Habibullah's back for vaulting horse, leaped on
the wall with the stone in his hands that had once sat in Jeremy's niche
and, standing for better effect, hurled the stone down on the back of the
head of the robber--and was gone down like a deep-sea diver in its wake
before a voice could check hint. None knew--not even he--whether he had
lost his footing or just followed to make sure.

They heard a skull crack under the impact of the stone, and Ali's voice,
calling before his feet touched earth for the door to be opened for him.
King opened and admitted some one else! A man in a yellow robe, exactly
like those they three were wearing, strode in and stood with folded arms
confronting them--producing the effect of ice on hot imagination!
Habibullah raised the candle. Its light shone on beads of sweat on the
cruellest face, as the handsomest, that any of the three had ever seen.

Bronze, as the other men had been. Smiling like the Sphinx--an incarnate
enigma. Tall. Strong as a gorilla, judging by the heft and set of
splendid shoulders. Standing with the air of absolute authority that only
years of use of it can give. In majesty, in intellect, and in
impressiveness, as far above those others who had hounded them as eagles
are above the beasts they watch.

He stood in silence, and in due time with one finger pointed at the
tell-tale cigarettes. Those contradicted the disguise of yellow robes and
caste-mark. Surprise, or whatever it was that had numbed the minds of all
three, now set King's wits moving again. He wondered why Ali had not
taken advantage of the open door, and strode to shut it before any more
of the enemy could enter. He with the bronze face touched him on the arm.
King kicked the door shut with his foot, and as the spring-lock snapped
he turned about to face a weapon he knew well.

He had cut his eye-teeth in the Indian Secret Service, and therefore knew
the feel of hypnotism. He knew the only way to stand against it--switched
his thought instantly to another object--anything--anything whatever, so
be it served to concentrate his will and was outside the thought of the
practitioner. Mathematics was King's formula. They vary. Each man acts on
experience, and some withstand while others fail. He worked out in his
head the cube of 77, and turned to swing for the jaw of the hypnotist.

His brain felt free but the blow failed. It glanced off as if guarded by
a pugilist; and yet the newcomer had not moved. That was descent into
subjection--step one! The others would follow swiftly. The man with the
bronze face smiled at him, and King faced about--turned his back on
him--worked with an ice-cold frenzy at the problem of the square of the
hypotenuse--eliminating all else, visualizing the diagram--winning back
to self-command and sanity.

The other two stood motionless. As they described it afterward, they
thought they had been struck by one of Ali's fabled darts, making them
inert while still aware of what was happening. They felt no pain, but
there was a strange sensation in the ears and behind the eyes.

King was not more than half-in-command of himself. Habibullah and the
other two of Ali's sons were stricken with superstitious awe. And on the
door that King had kicked shut Ali of Sikunderam was now thundering with
a fist and the hilt of his knife; it sounded like marriage tom-toms in
the distance--somewhere away at the other side of Delhi--yesterday--last
week--months ago--anywhere and any time but here and now.

"So it's up to me, is it?" said King to himself.

He sized up his antagonist, and fancied matching strength with him still
less than he did the risk of attracting police to the scene. Suddenly he
drew his automatic. And as suddenly the man in yellow moved a hand that
touched the pistol. A shock like electricity went up King's arm and he
dropped the pistol because he could not help it. The man in yellow, still
smiling through his bronze mask, kicked it away into the shadows.

"Any more weapons?" he asked--in English! His voice was as magnificent as
his stature--as surprising.

King knew he counted on the effect of it, for the hypnotist works by rule
of thumb and uses one trick after another until the resisting victim
yields. He hung on to his remaining self-command like a man over-board
clinging to an oar, and was conscious of the sound of wheels advancing
tip-street. He could hear bullocks' feet. He knew what that meant.

Ali's hammering ceased, and just as suddenly began again.

"What do you want?" King demanded--a very unsafe question to put to a
skilful hypnotist, unless you happen to be just as skilful in defense. It
was tantamount to lowering his guard by way of tempting an opponent. But
he knew that all he had to do was gain time now and keep the man's
attention. A hypnotist engaged in trying to master three strong men at
once is as oblivious to other sounds and circumstances as his victims
will be when he has control of them.

"You!" said the fellow with the bronze face. "Only you! These are not
strong enough!"

He pushed Grim and Jeremy--brushed them aside with his left hand, and
they fell to the ground as if he had pole-axed them. That of itself had
almost been enough to overcome the last of King's resistance, only that
King's face was toward the wall and the bronze man had his back to it.
King saw something, the other did not even hear.

"You know so much, you shall be a Ninth, and later on perhaps a captain
of a Nine!" He continued to speak English.

The bronze smile never varied, but the dark eyes changed; they were
considering King's resistance, speculating as to the source of its
strength, calculating which next trick to play. Slowly, the way a serpent
moves advancing on a spell-bound bird, his right arm began to approach
King's eyes, and every faculty the man owned was concentrated in one
immense magnetic effort to induce a responding state of mind in King.
King knew that if the finger touched him he would go down under it
beaten--for the time at all events.

He stepped back--saw the wall--again saw something else--another, less
inhuman hand--stepped back again and shouted to help break the spell:

"Rammy!"

Jeff boasts that eight of him would weigh a ton. If so, two hundredweight
and a half of solid bone and muscle landed from the top of the wall
feet-first on the shoulders of the hypnotist--as unexpected and as
efficacious as a mine exploded in a crisis! The hypnotist was caught
off-guard, and all his deviltry was no more good.

Slow to think and cautious as he always is, Ramsden had lain on the top
of the wall to listen and look before jumping. He knew what to do. He had
the whole plan mapped out in his mind. But he knew, too, that his only
chance of executing it was to keep the bronze enemy engaged. Give him a
minute's respite and he would be as dangerous as ever. The two had gone
down on the stone flags hard enough to knock the senses out of any
ordinary men. But the enemy recovered as swiftly as a snake recoiling for
the strike, and Jeff had to wade in fist-first whether he wanted to or
not, taking the fight to him, giving him no grace for concentration,
forcing him on the defensive, barking his orders at King like irregular
explosions from a motor-car's exhaust.

"Let Ali in! Out o' here! Leave this erne! Get Grim! Get Jeremy! Quick!
Quick! Cyprian's! I'll fix this--"

Fixing consisted of catch-as-catch-can, no hold barred, all the fist-work
thrown in there was time and room for. He of the bronze face knew his
hour was come unless he could break the arms and legs of his heavy
assailant. His occult powers were as contingent on environment and
suitable conditions as are steam and electricity.

Jeff knew he could expect no quarter. Weight for weight they were a
match, and strength for strength--a man who had kept fit by wrestling
because he loved the last ounce of the grit and guts he drew from the
Great Quartermaster's store--and another who had cultivated strength from
a delight in mastery, and cruelty, and the ability to go unchallenged.
The magic of good nature, slow to wrath, against black magic and
relentlessness!

It was not easy to judge which way the odds were.

They tore, wrenched, struck and scrambled for holds like lions in the
mating season when the lioness looks on. Once the man in yellow set his
teeth into Jeff's collarbone and tried to tear it out; but that only
offered Jeff a steady target for his fist; it was as good as a head in
chancery; Jeff's fist went home into the other's jaw with a blow that put
all hypnotism out of the question for the rest of that fight; it was like
the thump of a pole-ax in the slaughter yards.

Every hold that either got was broken by fist-work or some other means
that would be reckoned fouling in the ring. Again and again each crashed
the other's head down on the stone flags. They fought beside the stones
that had fallen from the summit of the minaret, striving to break each
other's bones against sharp corners. Once, when the man in yellow drew a
deep breath, Jeff got three fingers in under his ribs and all but tore
them out. That was the only time when pain drew a cry from either of
them. According to Ali, who was hectoring his sons, dragging out the
prisoner, helping King to carry out Grim and Jeremy, and narrating his
own adventure between breaths, they looked like a tiger battling with a
python as they rolled, heaved, struck and snarled for breath under the
torture of each other's holds. King said they looked like an illustration
out of Dante's Hell.

They bled from collision with the masonry. They soon became so slippery
with blood that no hold held, and that was when Jeff's advantage
gradually told--(if gradually means much in a fight that was as swift as
the whirling typhoon is from start to finish.) Ramsden had the other's
arm bent backward around his head and was twisting it with one hand while
he kept a scissors-hold and pounded the man's eyes with the other
fist--when King at last got the prisoner and Grim and Jeremy, with Ali's
sons for guard, into the covered ox-cart.

King came on the run then. He reached the spot as the bronze man broke
the scissors-hold and writhed heels-over-head to untwist the tortured arm.
And as King picked up a broken stone to brain the enemy, Jeff rose--swept
tip his weakening man by neck and leg--lifted him--and with an effort
born of twenty years' clean living and good will hurled him head-first on
to the flags. His skull cracked like an egg.

"I _said_ I'd fix him. Let him lie," said Jeff beginning to feel himself
for damages.

"No, bring him," King answered.

Without waiting for the reason Jeff gathered up the still pulsating body
and carried it outside to the already crowded bullock-cart. There All was
holding forth to his sons, talking to them from the driver's seat through
the embroidered curtains:

"Remember that, sons of forgetfulness! Bury my brother and bear it in
mind against the day of revenge. He died like a fool, but I was wise. I
felt the tingle of the magic and fell unresisting. Put him in the wagon
gently. Lo, they took the rupees Jimgrim gave him! But I live! Hah! I lay
considering how to attack that devil from behind! When the tingling left
my bones I used my knife-hilt on the door, and if Rammy _sahib_ had not
come I--"

"One man make room for this corpse! Let the prisoner make its intimate
acquaintance!" King interrupted.

So Ali's advice to his sons was cut short and one of the guards had to
get out and follow the cart, in which were now two corpses, the prisoner,
All and two sons, and Grim and Jeremy. Ramsden acted as driver, sticking
his toes under the bullocks' tails in the fashion of Hindustan and
steering with a tail in each hand, making noises to the patient brutes
pretty closely resembling the cry of an angry parrot.

Ramsden could have passed for a hospital case without extra make-up. His
late antagonist had used the losing desperado's recipe, disfiguring where
he could not break, in the vain hope of destroying the superior man's
morale. With hair torn from his black beard--raw seams where the Hindu's
fingernails had grouted--blood in his hair, and turban gone--torn
raiment, and great bruises showing through the rents--Ramsden looked more
like a wild man from the Hills than any sort of civilized being. And that
was no ill circumstance in itself, for it tended to prevent interference.

The same solitary constable who had run when Grim, Jeremy and King
dropped down into the street like highwaymen, came close to regain his
own self-respect by bullying these night-farers. But King walked in front
in yellow garb, with that red caste-mark on his forehead; one of the sons
of Ali with a _tulwar_ walked behind, making the keen steel whistle and
announcing that three heads with three blows was his average score. Worst
of all, Ramsden sat perched above the shaft-tail, looking capable and
willing to pull any man to pieces--growling like a big bear.

So the constable remarked it was a hot night, and Habibullah called him a
liar, saying no heat was like that of Tophet, where the enemies all went
whom he beheaded three at a time with three blows.

"Ho! I scatter their brains for the birds!" he shouted, until even father
Ali--richer than he had been--considered it expedient to reprimand him.

"Have I wasted rupees fifty on an empty boaster?" he demanded acidly
through the rear embroidered curtains; and thenceforward Habibullah
marched sedately, thumbing the _tulwar_ instead of swinging it,
reflecting on life's little ironies no doubt.

Inside the ox-cart Grim and Jeremy recovered presently, not having once
lost consciousness. The effect of the bronze man's hypnotism had been
like that of the drug curare, paralyzing the nerve centers yet leaving
them free to feel and to think as acutely as ever. The hypnosis lasted
several minutes after the man's death.

"Proving," said Grim, "that we ourselves did it to us. All he did was to
know how to make us do it."

But that did not help Jeremy. He was disconsolate. Shame ate his heart
out that he, the deceiver of thou sands, the ventriloquist, the conjurer,
should have fallen captive of another's bow and spear.

"For it's as much a trick as palming 'em!" he grumbled. "I swear it's a
trick! By crickey, I'll learn it, and by God I'll hypnotize the whole of
India! You watch!"

Grim lit an oil lamp that hung in a bracket from the roof and, more with
the notion, of quieting Jeremy than anything, began to introduce the
prisoner to the corpse.

It was no use pretending any longer to the prisoner that they were Indian
members of a different Nine; he had heard them speaking English.

But there was a chance that he knew no German, and an almost equally good
one that superstition had eaten all his judgment long ago. Grim whispered
a long while in German to Jeremy, who presently raised the battered
corpse and propped it in the corner, where the feeble lamp-rays shone on
the face and the open eyes. The jaw fell, and Grim, watching the
prisoner's face, settled back into his own dark corner satisfied.

The corpse spoke!

"I am dead!" it announced in Punjabi through broken teeth that had left
their mark indelibly on Ramsden's fist.

The prisoner gasped. All and his sons grew gray with fear. Their teeth
chattered. Ali would have used the hilt of his long knife on the corpse
to beat it into silence but for Grim's restraining arm. The atmosphere
was perfect for any kind of illusion--stifling, electric, full of panic.

"I am dead, but the silver cord is not yet cut," said the corpse.

Even Grim felt a shiver pass through him. He reached up and turned the
light out lest the illusion fail, for the jaw had dropped unseemly and
betrayed no intention of closing again to frame the words that Jeremy
put into it. Nevertheless, they had seen the blood and the broken
teeth--enough to account for faults of pronunciation.

"I see dimly--only dimly," said the corpse. "Who sits against me?"

Two of the sons of Ali, deathly frightened, named their names. The corpse
went on with sharper accent:

"Who else? I smell--"

The word smell may have had significance unknown to Jeremy. It made the
prisoner toe the line. He sat up straight and answered:

"I sit in front of you. Why speak Punjabi? Talk in our tongue!"

"I? I? Who is I?" the corpse demanded angrily. "Nanak."

"Ah! I had looked for Nanak. I was seeking Nanak when the Karma overtook
me.* Nanak--listen!"

[* i.e. when he was killed by Ramsden.]

"Speak the secret tongue!" said Nanak, trembling in his last effort to
retain incredulity and self-control.

Grim struck a match and blew it out. The moment's flash lit up the dead
face, making it seem to move--an accident--one of those accidents that do
occur to men who strive persistently. All that Grim had intended was to
guard against Nanak's escape.

"Nay. For I will not speak twice; and these must understand," said the
corpse. "Hear thou me, Nanak. These are they of an alien race whom the
gods have sent to unmask the Nine Unknown. Obey them, Nanak. For. the
Nine Unknown are known to the gods, who have endured them long enough."

The prisoner had passed the point of incredulity and hesitated on the
verge of full belief.

"If thou speakest truth," he said, "tell me, why art thou dead, and I
living?"

A poser for the priests! But the answer was as prompt as the solution of
any trick staged by Jeremy.

"Karma* overtook me. The tale of thy years, Nanak, has a while to run.
Thy willingness to shield a friend at thy cost has obtained thee a
privilege. Obey these men, Nanak, that the gods may love and recompense
thee!"

[*It is an axiom that neither man nor any of the gods can prevent the
fulfillment of the law of Karma.]

The corpse ceased speaking. In the ensuing silence Nanak with a crackling
throat sought to induce it to say more, wheedling, imploring, praying for
answers to a score of doubts that tortured his bewildered mind.

But if Jeremy knows one thing it is this: Never repeat a miracle! If
lightning never strikes the same tree twice, no conjurer need hope to
mystify again the same audience in the same place with the selfsame
trick.

Grim struck another match and lit the lamp. The corpse looked more dead
than even Ali's brother did, who lay face-downward with the thin, round
end of a brass dart just protruding from the base of his shaved skull.
The dead thing's head lolled sidewise and rolled with each bump of the
two-wheeled cart, amid a chorus of quick, low-breathed exclamations of:

"Allah! Lord of Mercies! Nay, there is no God but Allah! Allah! Allah!"

Then came Chullunder Ghose, near-naked and beside himself, charging by
King, not recognizing him, distracted, slippery with sweat. King's
fingers slipped off his arm and failed to bring him to a halt. He ran
straight at the big oxen, that will gore a white man but permit the
vegetarian Hindu almost any liberties. Setting a foot on the how of the
yoke between them he leaped along it and collapsed in Ramsden's lap--a
mound of hot flesh on a fellow every inch of whose anatomy was sore.

"Oh terrible! Most awful happenings! Rammy sahib--"

Ramsden, saying nothing, bundled him over the rump of the near ox to the
street, where he lay for a minute calling on a pantheon of gods and
devils. It was luck that preserved the wheel from passing over him. King
turned back; Grim and Jeremy emerged; Chullunder Ghose was hauled clear
of hoofs and wheels. Ali of Sikunderam suggested drastic remedies.

"A Hindu thinks fire is a god.* Burn him then with latches! Let the god
wring speech from him!"

[*Agni--the principle of fire.]

"Oh, terrible! Oh, awful happenings!" moaned the Babu.

They could not wait there in mid-street while Chullunder Ghose rambled of
uncertainties. Nor was there room for the babu in the covered cart
without removing guards or corpses. Corpses had it. One corpse at least.

"Out with him! Into the shadow! In with the babu! That's it--drive on,
Rammy!"

Noises that only oxen understand emerged from Jeff's aching throat, and
with a tail in each hand again he sent the conveyance forward, only to
bring it to a halt a moment later.

Now another apparition raged up-street, as nearly naked as the babu had
been--bearded, this one--swift--enormous--with a turban still in place and
shaking what looked like a club in his right hand.

"_Sahibs_!"

"Quick, Narayan Singh! What's happened?"

He could hardly speak for gasping. There was spittle on his black
beard--smoke, and its stinging red-rimmed traces in his eyes--a cut
across his knuckles where le had guarded a blow--and a bloody, wet mess
where a knife of some kind had passed between arm and ribs.

"They got my pistol!"

"Who? How? When? Where?"

"They did! Now! From behind!"

"Where, man? Where?"

"Her house! Gauri's!"

"Where's Cyprian?"

"_Sahibs_! _Sahibs_!" Narayan Singh was wilder-eyed than ever. The thing
in his hand was no club, but a broken section of a bed-rail. He shook it
like a clansman summoning the border-watch.

"They have burned the house!"

"And Cyprian?"

"My sons! My sons!" yelled Ali of Sikunderam. "I left four of them at
Gauri's!"

He waited for no ceremony of permission--charged down-street with the
remaining sons, waving his Khyber knife, beside Habibullah, bidding him
make good his newly won fame as a smiter of three in three blows. And in
the nick of time Jeremy pounced on the prisoner, who was seizing the
obvious advantage; they fought under the wheels, rolling over and over,
hardly noticed until Jeremy found breath to shout for help--a shout that
saved Chullunder Ghose.

For while the babu lay in something like hysterics, grateful for the
darkness in the covered cart, three men in yellow crept from the rear and
groped over the cart-tail, seizing Ali's brother's corpse by both the
feet and dragging it out in such light as there was for inspection.

"Dead! Nay, he is not the boaster!" said a voice in Punjabi.

"Look!" said another. "They fight under the cart! Our _guru_ is alive!"

"Nay, we found the _guru's_ body! Those are others! Slay!"

It was then that Jeremy shouted--then that King, Grim and Ramsden darted
around the cart--then that one of the men in yellow answered:

"Nay, I say I _saw_ the boaster run!"

So whether they fled from Grim and Jeremy, or whether Jeff's appearance
was too terrifying, or whether they dared all in lust for vengeance on
the man who "slew three Kali-wallahs with three smites," did not
transpire. They fled, dodging the blows aimed left and right at
them--dodging even the terrific swipe of Narayan Singh's broken
bed-rail--leaving behind neither explanation nor the corpse of the guru
with the bronze face--although where they had cached that was another
mystery.

King tied the prisoner, Ramsden superintending. They roped him into the
cart by arm and legs, while Grim kept watch and Chullunder Ghose gasped
up his bad news, sentence about with the Sikh.

"They killed the Gauri with a cord!"

"_Sahibs_, they fired the house and--"

"They seized me, and--"

"_Sahibs_, I went for Cyprian, but they had him already. The bed was
empty, and I broke it for a club to--"

"Hell, you men!" said Ramsden. "Why not go to the house and see."



CHAPTER XIII - "I FELT THE TINGLE OF THE MAGIC AND FELL UNRESISTING"


They went. They saw. There was not a trace of Cyprian--only the Gauri's
house in flames and a belated fire-engine in charge of a weary man who
said:

"These women's houses are a bad risk--jealousy, you
know--carousal--anything may happen--lamp upset arson maybe--you
police--"

But the policeman had his hands full and, being a white officer, in a
land where they say the white man's bolt is shot, sought excuses for not
interfering too much.

"Native prejudices, don't you know."

There lay a man in mid-street, belly-downward, with a great wound in his
back such as ten lives could have sped through--a northerner--Hillman by
the look of him--perhaps Sikunderam. Quarrelsome lot, those tribesmen.
Probably he set the fire and died for it.

But what should a wretched policeman do, with the certainty that a Hindu
lawyer would he hired by somebody to accuse him of stirring racial
passions? He ordered the corpse carried to the morgue, to await
identification.

Around a corner hardly a hundred yards away stood Ali of Sikunderam, most
bitterly reviling fate between the bouts of explanation that he
brandished, as it were, in the teeth of friends:

"_Sahibs_, they slew him as a beast is slain--my Habibullah! They ran
from behind and hit him with a butcher's cleaver! What can I do? How can
I claim the body? The police--"

"But how--listen, Ali! How did they come to pick Habibullah?"

"_Sahibs_--have I not said? The house was burning and no _ishteamer_*
yet. And no police. One stood by the corner and asked me as I ran, 'Who
is the great one who can slay three men with three blows?' Who am I that
I should swallow pride? I answered: 'Lo! My son, my Habibullah! He slew
three with three blows! Will you see him try the feat again?' said I. And
with that the fellow shouted, 'Him first!' pointing. Whereat about a
dozen men ran forth from a doorway, and one of them smote my son with the
cleaver!"

[*Ishteamer: fire-engine. Anything that goes by steam.]

"What did you do?" asked Narayan Singh, standing in the shadow of the
ox-cart for concealment's sake; for he looked like a man who had come hot
from fighting.

"What _could_ I do? _Ishteamers_ came--two of them--and the police. May
Allah blast the lives of the police! I ran--I and my two sons. What
else?"

"No sign of Father Cyprian?"

"None! Nor of my four sons!" answered Ali, running the fingers of both
hands through his gray-shot beard. "If my sons lie in the ashes yonder,
burned by Hindus, may Allah so do to me and more likewise unless I burn
half of Delhi to the ground! I will lay India waste! I will raise a
_lashkar_* in the Hills and raid and rape this land until a Hindu won't
dare show himself! I--"

[*Army.]

"Hs-s-sh!" said King. "We can't wait here. What next?"

"What next is where to hide ox-cart!" sighed Chullunder Ghose.
"Characteristic of ox-carts being tractability! Requirements of this
party, self included, being absence from the flesh at present! Even the
police could trace us by the corpses--like a lot of bottles! Debauch of
bloodshed! Self am drunk with blood--inebriated--very! I say office! That
is advice of blood-drunk babu! Go to office. Subsequently I lose ox-cart
in Chandni Chowk, being goat as usual!"

"But the prisoner?"

"I said 'subsequently,'" sighed Chullunder Ghose, oppressed in spirit by
the world's obtuseness and its too material demands. "To the office with
the prisoner; to hell with me. Your servant, _sahibs_! _Vae victis_!
Caught with stolen ox-cart, trying to conceal same under garbage--no
friends--no attorney--ten years--_verb. sap._--are we going? Yes?"

They went, but Ali and one son backed off, promising to turn up at the
office by another route. Ramsden, with Jeremy to lend him aid and
countenance, sought an Eurasian apothecary, to whom Jeremy told
fabulously interesting tales of dark intrigue while Ramsden was sluiced
out, salved and bandaged--"à la queen's taste," as the man of drugs
described it. Thereafter Jeremy and Ramsden chose a round-about route,
using every trick in Jeremy's compendium for throwing off pursuit--which
brought them, subject to the quirks of Destiny, beneath the window of a
building, whence policemen issued--five--that minute freed from extra
duty--arguing.

"It was a hundred-rupee note!" said one of them. "Nay, fifty!"

"I saw!"

"I likewise!"

"I say it was fifty!"

"I saw you take it from his clothes. It was in a leather purse. You threw
the purse away. It was a hundred!"

"Fifty!"

"Show us then!"

They all stood in a group beneath a street light, and the man who had
emerged first drew a fifty-rupee note from his pants pocket, carefully
unfolded it, and held it in the pale rays.

"Good that we were all dismissed together, or it would have been but ten
by now!" said one of them, and they all laughed.

"Who can change it? Ten for each of us!"

They laughed again. Not one of them had change. Ramsden and Jeremy were
within five paces when the laugh was cut short--turned into the blasphemy
of spitting cats--and like the blast that whoops along the valleys of his
homeland Ali of Sikunderam with one son swept into the middle of the
group, snatched the fifty-rupee note, spat in the face of the man who had
held it, and vanished!

"Hell!" exclaimed Ramsden. "Now we're it'!"

He was right, or he would have been, but for Jeremy. Failing the right
victim, pick the easiest and "shake him down!"

The five policemen turned on two who might have money, and who looked
easy to convict of almost anything.

"_Sahibs_!" said Jeremy; and the very title flattered them. "This is the
servant of the _Burra-wallah_ High Commissioner Dipty _sahib_. He and I
recognized those rascals!"

The police closed in around them.

"This bandaged bear? The Dipty-_sahib's_ butler maybe? A fine tale!"

"Aye! And an end to it, unless ye use discretion!"

Jeremy fell back on dignity of the assumed kind--something that he lacks
unless by way of mimicry. To a man those five police were Moslems. Jeremy
was robed in the hated garb of a Hindu sect notorious as more fanatical
than even the most bigoted "True-believers." But the police of most of
the cities of the world have experienced the fruits of interference with
entrenched ecclesiastics. However lawless, they let them alone if they
may, occasionally envying, no doubt, the opportunities for "honest
increment" so hugely greater--so immensely safer than their own.

This follower of Kali doubtless had his own way of exerting influence. It
_might_ be true that the "Dipty-sahib" kept a strong man in his pay for
private reasons. If it were a lie, the man in bandages seemed none the
less to be befriended by a member of a dangerous cult.

"Dogs!" snarled Jeremy. "Will ye snoot among the garbage, or be laid on a
true scent?"

He was giving them no option really. No policeman, not the most
cantankerous Mahommedan, would dare refuse a clew from a religious
personage. None might wear those orange-yellow robes except the
recognized initiates of a dreaded mystery. That much was notorious.
Surely no initiate would play a trick on the police.

"You know where we may find those robbers?" one asked with as much
deference in his voice and manner as he found compatible with
True-believing.

"I know," answered Jeremy. But he knew, no more than they, as he
recounted afterward, the sheer, stark impudence of the trick he was going
to play on them. He was simply "spieling," as he called it--"talking to
encourage the ideas to come;" and whenever Jeremy does that the
unexpected happens.

"Show us, _sahib_."

Jeremy's whole facial expression changed. The idea had come to him,
smiling from the blue. He wore now the look of rapt intensity with which
he holds an audience, while his subtle fingers achieve impossibilities of
legerdemain. That look of itself alone would have been sufficient, but
for Ramsden; he had to explain away Ramsden satisfactorily, or else to
extricate him brazenly, and the difficulty only added to the zest.

"You know _our_ house?" he asked, selecting his words to avoid a
compromising wrong phrase. (He did not even know at that time whether or
not the followers of Kali had a temple, or even a meeting-place in
Delhi.)

"The temple of Kali? Surely," said one of the police. "Well--go to that,
and--"

They looked disappointed, and the air of deference waned visibly, as
Jeremy noticed; but they did not know he noticed it.

"Nay, better; I go with you. Lead on. We will follow to attract less
notice."

The police agreed to go four in front, provided one of them might follow
behind for "discretionary purposes."

They were not capable of quite trusting a Hindu stranger in the
circumstances, any more than Jeremy was really sure they could guide him
to the enemy's headquarters. But the police know scores of things of
which they do not comprehend the significance. They led Jeremy and
Ramsden to the very door of a temple, on whose front the image of the
Dreadful Bride of Siva scowled through her regalia of snakes and skulls.

It was a battered image. Moslem rule and riot each had taken toll of it.
The nose was missing. Not a snake or skull of all her ornaments was
whole. The dirt of a generation and the tireless energy of time had
joined their forces, so that Kali's face was ground like that of the
poor--into unrecognition; part of the disguise, that, like the necklaces
and snakes. None cared. None visited that temple to ask unpleasant
questions. Though the purlieus of the door were clean enough to appease
the municipal inspectors, the gloom within was unattractive. He who
lurked in a yellow smock in the shadows beyond the threshold was no
showman, but a guardian of sacred privacy, whose very glance was a
rebuff.

"Do ye dare enter?" Jeremy asked of the about-to-be-confused police.

They naturally did not dare. It dawned on them that they were fooled, and
helpless.

"You should look for your Hillmen in a coffee-shop, three streets to your
right and straight along for half a, mile," he told them, smiling.

So they smiled back, dejectedly, as victims of a practical joke who do
not care to admit they are annoyed. They saw him thrust Ramsden toward
the inner temple gloom, and turned away with a grim jest about Hindus and
holy places that would have done credit to the Prophet of Allah himself.

"Let's sit," suggested Jeremy.

Ramsden sat down, almost on the threshold, almost absolutely invisible in
the deep night that precedes dawn; and Jeremy beside him, next the
street.

"We'll give them time to lose sight of us, and then hoof it," said
Jeremy. "Meanwhile, we know now where the yellow-jackets' nest is. If a
yellow-belly sees us he'll mistake me for a member of the gang."

"Not so!" said a voice in the dark within a yard of him, in English.

He looked into the eyes of death--of Kali!--of the Goddess of
Annihilation!--into the eyes of Siva's awful Bride! Her arm reached out
toward him from the darkness. Living snakes, encircling her hair like
tresses of Medusa, writhed as in torment. Skulls that might have been of
monkeys or of men--that was no telling in that light--rattled like dry
gourds on a rope about her shoulders. There was a faint smell, not of a
charnel-house, but of herbs that suggested prophylaxis, and by inference
the reason for it--blood!

"Catch hold of me!" gasped Ramsden, reaching for Jeremy's hand. But he
was fixing his attention elsewhere.

The goddess was young, as with a youth eternal. Full lips, cheeks,
breasts--burning eyes aflow with something else than greed--a plump arm,
shapely as a serpent--grace of movement--snakes--and dry skulls!

And the smell--the word "smell," Jeremy remembered, had brought that
yellow-robed prisoner to his senses--the penetrating, subtle smell of
herbs did more than offset things. It banished them! They faded out.

Ramsden had lost consciousness, huge and heavy, with his shoulders across
Jeremy's thighs, until some one took him by both feet and drew him into
the temple. Jeremy felt himself going. The gloom swam--full of Kali's
glowing eyes--she seemed to have scores of them that everlastingly
reduced themselves to two.

"I felt the tingle of the magic and fell unresisting."

He remembered Ali's boast. He let himself go--lay back in the arms of
some one whom he could not see--Kali's arms and her snakes for aught he
knew!--and let them drag him unresisting head-first into the darkness
that was cool and echoing and dry.

So he was conscious when they slammed a door on him. Nor would he have
been Jeremy if he had lain still, uninquisitive. He set to work to grope
about a great room, stumbling over Ramsden's inert bulk, until his hand
rested on a truckle-bed and his ears heard breathing. He produced matches
from the belt in which he kept cigarettes and money under his
smock--struck one--saw a face he knew, and burned his fingers while he
stared at it.

"By God! Pop Cyprian!"



CHAPTER XIV - "WE'VE GOT YOUR CHIEF!"


"Rammy, old top!"

Jeff Ramsden had moved, and Jeremy's voice in the womb of blackness
greeted his return to consciousness. But he had to repeat the words
several times before there was any answer; Jeff had forgotten where he
left off, and lay cautious like the centipede "considering how to run."

"Listen, it's me, Jeremy. We're under Kali's temple, and Pop Gyprian's
here sleeping like a baby on a full meal. I've struck matches--seven
left--can't find lamp or candle. I'll strike one more, and keep the last
six for emergency. Wake up!"

It dawned on Jeff that Jeremy did not consider this was an emergency. He
laughed.

"Good enough!" said Jeremy. "Don't stare at the match. It's the last,
remember."

There are those who don't believe in miracles, but accept the turning on
of light as commonplace. Moreover, they may vote, and some are known as
educators.

This happened: where nothing was, and no light, suddenly a vaulted crypt
developed, glowing with the color of warm gold wherever rays from a mean,
imported Japanese match shone on a projection. Agni, leaping from the
womb of wood, had wrought another wonder, that was all. (The age of
miracles is done.)

Between two shadows of carved pillars lay Cyprian face-upward, like a
corpse laid out for burial, but breathing rhythmically, smiling like a
man who sees beyond the veil and is agreeably surprised. He lay on army
blankets on a bed that could be carried easily, and was covered up to the
armpits with a white sheet. The shadows all around him leaped like things
alive. Arches appeared and vanished. Jeff tried to guess the height of
the vaulted roof above him.

"Blast!" remarked Jeremy. "That's the fifth time! My fingers are cooked
through."

Light vanished, but the momentary picture left its impression on the
retina. For seconds, though his eyes were shut, Jeff saw the golden
masonry, and Cyprian in an aura that the shadows were closing in like
floods to overwhelm.

"I've tried to wake him," said Jeremy. "I've pinched him. He don't move.
But his respiration, temperature and pulse all seem about normal. Do you
suppose he's hypnotized?"

"I know I've been poisoned," Jeff answered. "You'll have to pardon my bad
French."

He vomited enormously; but even so, with that necessity off his mind, he
could not remember what had happened.

"You were knocked over by a smell," said Jeremy. "It didn't get me."

That was swank unshriven--Jeremy, not long ago a victim of the hypnotist
whom Ramsden slew, reasserting his equality. Subsequently, from beneath,
as memory always works, the salient points of recent history emerged into
Jeff's consciousness, developed by the acid understanding that Jeremy had
some need to assert himself.

"Wasn't I in a fight?" asked Jeff.

"No, old top. The other Johnny was. You won. Listen: King, Grim and the
rest of 'em are prob'ly in our office in the Chandni Chowk, waiting for
us. We're under the floor, and maybe under the cellar of Kali's temple. A
lady runs the place whose hair needs combing--no, not cooties--snakes!
She wears men's skulls for ornaments. Vamped 'em possibly. Our crowd hold
one yellow-belly prisoner, and what with Narayan Singh and you we've
killed a bag-full. Contrariwise, they've got us. My guess is we're safe
enough as long as our crowd is alive and alert. But if they should burn
half of Delhi in order to roast our folks alive, why then--"

"Why then you would be _spoorlos_,* wouldn't you!" said a voice in the
dark, that was a man's, but for all the money in the world not Cyprian's.

[* Without a trace.]

Jeremy accepted that as an emergency and struck match one of the
remaining six. A breath blew it out before it finished sputtering. He
struck another, sheltering it between his hands. Eyes laughed at him, but
a breath blew the match out before he could see the face that framed
them. Nevertheless, he was nearly sure that breath and eyes belonged to
different individuals. He struck a third match and Jeff prospected in his
own way. Jeff's fist, launched not quite at random in the dark, hit some
one hard and sent whoever it might be crashing backward against Cyprian's
cot, upsetting man and cot together--waking Cyprian.

"Mercy, where am I? Light! Turn on the light!" said the old priest
querulously. Memory failed him, too.

But a voice spoke like the resonances of a bronze bell, in a tongue that
neither Jeremy nor Ramsden knew, and slowly--almost like aurora
borealis--soft light beginning dimly in a dozen places filled the crypt.
It seemed to commence among corners and slowly to collect itself into a
whole, until at last it framed nine individuals, the chief of whom in the
center out-frowned all the others as a mountain dwarfs the hills. He was
motionless, immense, a man who had attained the stark simplicity of
elemental knowledge and a kind of power that goes with it. Except for one
thing he could have passed for a Mahatma--one of those pure embodiments
of spirituality, who set the whole world first and themselves last, thus
conquering the world. In his eyes there glared the cold fire of ambition.
He was proud with the pride of Lucifer, who fell. Pride is the first of
all foes that the Mahatma vanquishes, and so this individual's
attainment, if prodigious, none-the-less was not good.

Compared to the man whom Jeff fought in the yard of the minaret he was as
two to one. Even his physical strength seemed twice that of the former.
In poise, calm, majesty of brow, and magnetism he more resembled one of
those temple images that sit in the gloom and stare through eyes of
amethyst, than any ordinary being. He looked aloof from human standards;
yet--the hunger for human power burned in him, and could be felt.

His coppery skin shone, well groomed, although hardly clothed at all, and
his muscles were like bronze castings. His smile was thick-lipped, but as
static as the rest of him, as if it had been cast in place. On his
forehead, under an orange-yellow turban, was the crimson caste-mark of
the cruel goddess whom he chose to serve, but he wore no other ornament,
nor any clothes except the yellow cloth twisted scantly on his loins. His
feet were bare, and he sat with their soles turned upward in the attitude
impossible, or at best a torture, to the western races.

"_Bong!_"

The word, if it was one, sounded like a hammer on bell-metal, producing
overtones that hummed away into infinity. The eight who were with him
hurried like supers betrayed by a rising curtain to straighten themselves
into rigid attitudes on either hand--all except one, the woman. Jeremy
knew her again, although the snakes and skulls were missing. Alone of all
of them she sat irregular--apart from the exact arc of a circle that the
others kept--like a picture of Herodias, lacking John Baptist's head just
yet a while. Lovely, if you love that kind of thing. Rich, ripe,
full-lipped, with eyes of a challenging candor that had looked with
curiosity and some amusement--but no pity--into more and worse evil than
the rest of the world suspects there is. Sex-insolence robed in a
leopard-skin.

She had jewels on most of her fingers, and on one toe what looked like a
wedding-ring set with diamonds; but her nostril had not been pierced for
the jeweled stud so much affected by Hindu women, and her earrings were
not the usual drooping things but emeralds cut table-shape and set so
that even the claws of the setting were invisible.

The others were seven men in yellow smocks, not remarkably different from
those who had conducted the offensive hitherto, but possibly a mite more
sure of themselves and a shade less anxious, consequently, to create
impressions. Seven men so much alike in motive and self-discipline that a
kind of graceless unity had settled on them, making of men of varying
height and weight one pattern molded by unanimous desire.

"Who are these people? Where am I?" Cyprian demanded, sitting up.

Instead of answering, the bronze man in the midst pointed a finger at
Jeremy and spoke in English: "You and he, pick up that bed and set it
down between you!"

By "he" he meant Ramsden. By giving a command that would probably not be
disobeyed he intended to impose his will. The most imperial control must
have beginning, and the hypnotist does not live--nor ever did--who can
exert authority without by some means gaining first the victim's own
consent.

Jeremy was done with being hypnotized.

"You go to hell!" he answered civilly in English.

"Ditto!"

Ramsden reenforced him with a gruff voice and a gesture like a
gladiator's. He feared poison-gas much more than any mental trickery.

"Come over here, Pop!" Jeremy said to Cyprian. "Try to walk."

Cyprian made the attempt, getting his feet to the floor and then
thrusting himself up with both hands. He did not do badly. Jeff caught
him before he tripped and fell, and set him down like a child between
himself and Jeremy, where the old man, leaning against Jeff's shoulder,
shut his eyes after one hard look at the nine who faced him. He was
conscious, for his lips were moving. He might have been memorizing a
formula.

"Can you do this?" said Jeremy, smiling impudently into the face of the
enemy's spokesman.

He avoided the woman's eyes. She had a long silk handkerchief that she
plied between her fingers restlessly. He snatched it without looking at
her, and went through the motions of the Thug-assassin, tossing the
handkerchief at last into the lap of the immense man in the midst. It was
the essence of disrespect--irreverence.

"Beat that if you can!"

The woman giggled. He who should have been respected spoke in an unknown
language.

"_Bong!_" or so it sounded, and about eight other syllables. It was as
startling as the gong that checks ten thousand horsepower in mid-turn.

Four of the nine got up and passed behind the pillars to their rear,
returning in a minute with a wooden stretcher and a great weight on it.
The woman giggled again.

"Look!" said the man in the midst, again in English.

But Jeremy had looked. His cue was disobedience. It did not interest him
to con again the features of the man whom Jeff had fought and
killed--whom he had made to sit up and seem to speak in the ox-cart.

"I get you!" he answered, laughing. "Who killed Cock-Robin? That it? Want
to bet? I'll bet the man who took his number down can do the same to you!
Come! Put your money up!"

Disobedience increasing into disrespect, was rising to Jeremy's head like
wine. His voice and the little curt laugh betrayed it. Cyprian's old,
lashless eyes opened a trifle--hardly wider than walnuts at a winter's
end--and his lips ceased moving. When he spoke at last he had pulled
himself together and there was the strength in his voice that is the
accumulation of half a century's conceded deference. He spoke as one
having authority:

 "Peace in the presence of death!"

"I'm not joking, Pop," said Jeremy; but the fumes were no longer rising.
"Rammy can lick that blighter!"

"Peace!" commanded Cyprian.

He was still leaning against Ramsden's shoulder. Jeff's right arm was
around his waist as if it had been a girl's. Depending on Jeff's grip the
old man leaned forward--raised one finger--pointed at the bronze face
opposite--opened his eyes wide at last. He seemed to be drawing deep on
his reserves of strength.

"Peace! Do you hear me!" He was speaking English just as Jeremy had done.
"As long as we are unaccounted for--"

It was the bronze man's turn to laugh. He and the woman rang a carillon
like bells in tune. The other seven smiled, as if the abyss in which
their thoughts dwelt swallowed any sound they might have made.

 "My brother!" said the bronze man simply, making a gesture toward the
 bier. The two words explained the whole of his attitude, although the
 word did not necessarily imply blood-relationship.

"Watch out you don't join him in Hell!" sneered Jeremy, bridling,
repeating his curt, dry laugh--the danger signal.

So Cyprian reentered the lists, raising his head off Ramsden's shoulder.

"You do not dare!" he said, pointing a lean forefinger. And again he
spoke English. "You have no occult power! You can harm no men who are
awake. You are a weak thing--a poor thing--helpless--human flesh and
blood! You are as helpless in the face of honesty as that!"

He pointed at the corpse. Wise, wise old Cyprian! Nine out of any ten
religionists would have voiced some tenet of their creed, and so have
given the enemy an opening into which to thrust the barbed darts of
religious rivalry.

"You will never get my library," he went on. "Trustees have orders what
to do with it. And if you harm me, can you pick the knowledge from my old
dead brains?"

The woman laughed aloud. The man in bronze smiled triumphantly. Jeff
Ramsden's arm closed around Cyprian, and Jeremy leaned forward, as if to
interpose his own body between the old man and the shock that was
trembling on cruel lips to be launched. News of the burning of his books
was likelier than not to unhinge Cyprian. It was a bomb reserved to
batter his defenses. Jeff forestalled it--drew the fuse.

"Your books are up in smoke," he said. "Rather than let them carry even
one away we--"

No need to finish the friendly lie. Cyprian understood that friends had
been forehanded with the torch.

"All?" he demanded.

"Every last one," said Jeff.

"You _know_ that?"

"Yes."

Cyprian stiffened himself, almost as if ten years were taken off his age.

"I am content. I have deserved it. It was pride that prevented me from
burning them long ago. You are certain they are all gone?"

Then the old man bowed his head, and the enemy understood there was no
more chance in that direction. There is little you can do in that way
with a man who owns nothing and asks no more favors of the world. But you
may threaten. He tried that next: "At your age death without water--"

"Is easier than for you!" said Cyprian.

"At the mercy of ants--"

"God's creatures!" answered Cyprian. "I am old. I can face my end."

Or you may tempt--perhaps.

"We know much. You know a little. Add yours to ours, and we can track the
Nine down."

Cyprian bent his head again, this time to hide a smile; but the woman saw
it. She made some kind of signal to the man. Cyprian was elated. The
double confession couched in ten words, that these, too, were hunting the
Nine and did not even know their whereabouts, was like a breath of
incense.

The man with the bronze smile read the woman's signal and appeared to be
digesting it. He said nothing for about a minute. Then:

"We have a man who knows a member of the Nine by sight."

Jeff and Jeremy looked up, and down again, not daring to complete the
exchange of glances. Even so, it was enough. The nine who watched all
recognized the movement and interpreted it. The woman held her hands
palm-downward about midway from her bosom to the floor and moved them
outward in a motion that suggested leveling the earth for new erections.

"Your friends hold him prisoner!"

"You deduce that?" Cyprian asked, looking up with a swift bird-movement
of the head.

Ignorant himself of whether it was trite or not, he was afraid that Jeff
or Jeremy might blurt out an admission. He knew better than to give away
one scrap of information. Tell the enemy nothing. Concede nothing. Yield
nothing. That was next to being his religion. That was why he bought up
books on occultism and the secret sciences. It was part and parcel of
him.

Jeff detected Cyprian's call for discretion sooner than Jeremy did. His
slower wit was working at full power, plugging as it were against
obscurity; whereas Jeremy, knowing himself the quicker, was leaping from
one possibility to another. Jeremy, if left to it, would have tried to
strike a bargain, leaving mother-wit to solve it when the time for
double-crossing came. Jeff would have used force. What his mind was
pondering, deliberately rather than obtusely, was: Why had he not been
searched? The comfortable weights disposed beneath the ragged costume he
was wearing were enough proof of the fact. Did these men, knowing not a
shot had been fired in the long night's hurly-burly, simply deduce from
that a lack of firearms? Were they so careless?

Jeff doubted it. There was another reason. Figuring the probabilities he
guessed that only two or three had captured him and Jeremy with the aid
of gas, and had been glad enough to get them under lock and key until the
others came. But they would hardly dare use gas again with their own
unprotected persons in the crypt. Not very swiftly, but as surely as he
sets his feet when walking, Jeff reviewed the argument, and then, as if
the wound beneath a bandage hurt him, shifted his position.

Jeremy was on another track. He wanted to know what they knew, unlike
Jeff, who did not care and only wanted to be out of it. A jest died
still-born on Jeremy's lips. It would have suited his sense of fitness to
make that dead man speak again, and Cyprian, aware of indiscretion in the
air, shook nervously.

But he with the bronze smile realized that nothing he had said or clone
had brought the prisoners nearer to the right subjective state in which
he could impose his will on them. And he lost patience. Time seemed to be
an element in his immediate affairs, and the woman kept making signals
that impressed the others, if not him. Suddenly he moved--about six
inches--leaning forward and thrusting his hands in front of him as if
they were serpents' heads.

"You--three--may--not--live--longer--than--you--can--endure--_Her_--agonies.
Unless--you--choose--to--be--of--use!" he said.

Each word was separate--almost as if etched--spoken in English with an
accent learned at one or other of the universities. And at the word "Her"
his eyes met the woman's, as if she were the expert in applied torment.

"The younger shall be hurt first. The older shall look on," he said as if
it were an afterthought.

"How be of use?" asked Jeremy.

"Like this!" said Jeff; and he was on his feet before the words had
shaped themselves.

He could be quick when thought's slow processes had ground out a
conclusion. Loosing bold of Cyprian he leaped at the woman and had thrown
her into Jeremy's lap before Cyprian's shoulders hit the floor.

"Hang on to her!" he yelled.

And then, with every sinew aching from the former fight, he launched
himself straight at the man in the middle, landing on his neck before a
man could move to his assistance. One tenth of a second then would have
been plenty for the whole of Jeff's plan to go up in smoke like Cyprian's
library, but he was squandering no tenths. With a hand on the back of the
neck of his enemy he hurled him forehead-forward to the stone
floor--stunned him. And as the seven sprang to assist their chief Jeff
dragged him out from under them, cuffing two into unconsciousness and
knocking another into the discard somewhere behind the pillars. Then at
last he drew his automatic pistol, and throwing his back against a pillar
stood at bay, with a foot on the bronze man's stomach and the pistol
muzzle threatening him.

"Are you heeled?" he called to Jeremy.

But Jeremy had his hands too full for any such issue as a gun. He had the
daughter of the Ohms to wrestle with. A trapped leopard with the smell of
the forest in her lungs would have been a toy compared to her. No python
ever wrapped and unwrapped coiling energy so fast, nor struck so swiftly.
She was strength and hate and savagery all compressed into the heart of
charged springs, and a knife in each hand made her no whit easier to
overcome. What was worse, Jeff had only knocked out three of the seven.
Four were on their feet and fancy-free--it might be they were doubly
dangerous for lack of the control the man in their midst had exercised
before Jeff laid him out.

Jeremy with his knee in the woman's stomach twisted one wrist until she
dropped that knife with a scream of anger. But her right wrist was
stronger than his left, and her stomach muscles could resist his knee.
She slipped out from under him and kicked the fallen knife. One of the
seven pounced on it, and Jeff shot him dead before he could raise his
hand to drive the blade into Jeremy.

But that was not Jeff's plan. Noise, that might bring help was likelier
to bring more enemies. Gas was what he feared. As long as there were
living followers of Kali in the crypt it was hardly likely their friends
would turn the gas on. He wished the giant under his foot would show
signs of life. If Jeremy should kill the woman and he should shoot all
the others there would probably be a greater risk of gas than ever.

But Destiny was overturning. They were down inside the works. Like a pair
of interwoven springs released Jeremy and the woman fought in spasms, she
using teeth and he his fists at last--for how else should a man release
his biceps from unyielding jaws? The underlings in, yellow lurked behind
pillars for their opportunity, as likely as not possessed of firearms and
afraid to use them yet lest Jeff should finish off their chief. The
woman, for a second mastering Jeremy, writhed close to a pillar. Jeff
decided he must shoot her--just as two men moved--the man under his foot
and Cyprian. Both moved at once--spoke--used the same word--

"Cease!"

Then: "Don't shoot again. Put up your weapon," ordered Cyprian.

He under Jeff's foot shouted something at the woman in a tongue that not
even Cyprian understood, and she, with a last dynamic dig with her knife
at Jeremy's right eye, laughed and relaxed, so that Jeremy scattered his
strength and she slipped away from him before he could recover. She had
the knife poised for throwing, with the haft against the heel of her hand
and her elbow well back, when Jeff coughed and her eye looked down the
barrel of his automatic. Jeremy laughed and took the knife and thanked
her for it, in return for which she spat so nearly straight into his
mouth that he could neither eat nor drink for days without remembering
it.

And all that while the light--the pale, cool, unexplained light that had
started in a dozen places and appeared to join itself together into
one--had continued steadily, casting no shadow in their midst but leaving
all the outer portions of the crypt in darkness.

It began to grow dim; not at once, but gradually, as it once came,
resolving into separate mysteries, each withdrawing, and each growing
less. Jeremy went for the woman again, but she laughed, escaping his
clutches easily, mocking him and as the light waned focussing her thought
on Cyprian. It was as obvious as the increasing dimness that when
darkness came Cyprian was due for her attentions.

So Jeff Ramsden, feeling that his plan was no good after all--but game
until the gods should hoist his number--bent his knee rather than his
shoulders and seized the man beneath him by the wrist.

"Come close, you two! Quick!"

Cyprian and Jeremy obeyed him, in a twilight so dim now that the pillars
of the crypt resembled tree-trunks in a forest, and the shadows moving in
among them, ghosts.

"Tie this man, Jeremy!"

So Jeremy took the girdle from Cyprian's black soutane and kneeling on
the bronze man lashed his wrists behind him so that nothing less than
sharp steel might set them free again.

"Let me go. I'm going to turn you out of here," the man protested.

"I know you are!" Jeff answered.

As he spoke, in front of him, somewhere among the deepening
pillar-shadows, an arm moved swiftly and a knife struck the pillar behind
him half an inch above his head. The woman's laugh rang ghostly like a
pixie's in the forest, but the broken blade fell on Jeff's trussed
prisoner and buried itself in the flesh of his arm. He cursed, and the
woman left off laughing. Jeff took aim at where her laugh had seemed to
have its origin, and fired. The pistol-flash, like lightning in the
night, showed nothing but the pillars--and a gloom beyond--and no less
than a dozen faces over yellow smocks, all waiting in the outer dark for
_something_ to begin.

"I've four shots left and no spares. Where's yours?" Jeff asked Jeremy.

There was no answer, but the sound of a struggle--strangling it might
be--then of heavy breathing through the nose--and--

"_Bong!_"

It was the same word in an unknown tongue that had produced obedience
before. But it was not the same man using it. It may be that a man with
all his wits about him and no other care to subdivide attention might
have detected mispronunciation: But there was much to think of.
Expectation held its breath. It was pitch-dark now.

Jeremy, feeling for Jeff's hand, guided it to the prisoner's mouth, not
speaking. Jeff felt a gag made of a turban end, and understood; his two
immense hands closed on the victim's jaws, and the gag was tightened into
place and held there by a pistol-butt. Nevertheless, the voice of the
bronze man once more broke the silence--speaking English with an accent
learned at one or other of the universities--each word separate.

"Good. You--have--won--this--bout. It--is--conceded. Go--free.
Your--three--lives--in--exchange--for--mine.
My--men--will--show--you--to--the--street--in--safety. Go--free."

Then Jeremy's voice--this time indubitably Jeremy's:

"All right, cocky! You come with us to the street as guarantee of good
faith! And I want to understand each word you say. Feel the knife on your
Adam's apple? It'll cut in halves the first word you use in any other
than the English language! Now--give your orders!"

The voice changed to bell-metal.

"Lead them to the street and let them go. Let no harm touch them."

Jeremy's voice again, high-pitched and disrespectful, taking no man nor
his makings seriously:

"We've ten shots and a knife to keep our end up with. We'll croak you at
the first hitch!"

Bell-metal again:

"Make haste! The day increases. Lead them to the street."

"In darkness!" ordered Jeremy. "No light to see to shoot us by!"

"In darkness!" said the bell obediently.

There was movement somewhere--almost inaudible footfalls. Then a voice at
a little distance, speaking in Punjabi--

"This way--come!"

Jeremy gathered up Cyprian, who leaned back in the hollow of his arm
reserving all strength for emergency. Jeff, holding the gag firmly with
the pistol-butt, seized the prisoner's neck in fingers like a vise and
put such pressure on the jugular and carotid as answered all objections
in advance. Together, in an eight-legged group like a spider treading
warily, they started for the voice, each touching each--Jeff's strength
as taut and alert as dynamite with fuse attached.

"All is well. Keep coming!" said the same voice.

"All 'ud better be well!" remarked Jeremy. "We've got your chief. He gets
it first remember!"

Whoever controlled that mysterious light obeyed the order to keep it
turned off. That made discovery impossible, but eased no nerves. A dozen
times the giant whom Jeff was dragging writhed in a sudden effort to
eject the gag, and many more than a dozen times between the middle of the
crypt and a door set somewhere in its invisible circumference they drew
in breath believing they were attacked.

"This way, _sahibs_!" the voice kept calling, too sugar-sweetly to be
free from guile; and they kept following, too fearful to refuse. Time and
again they cannoned into pillars, as if whoever led them was boxing the
compass in a calculated effort to confuse.

"The door in less than ten steps, or I shoot!" said Jeremy at last.

The click of the slide of his automatic as he tested it confirmed the
threat. But they were at the door. He tripped over a step that instant.
And if Jeff had not needed his pistol-butt for forcing home the gag there
would have been an all-betraying flash--and only India's gods know what
next. Jeff used his fist instead--letting go his prisoner, swinging with
all his weight behind a left-hand hay-maker, and hitting he never knew
what. It vanished along with what might have been a feminine scream cut
short. When he swung again there was nothing there.

"Come on!" said Jeremy, and:

"This way, _sahibs_!" said the voice.

They mounted invisible steps and came to a ramp sloping upward between
stone walls. It seemed to curve around the circumference of three parts
of a circle, and they took each step with shoulders against the wall,
prospecting carefully, with a foot in advance for fear of traps. Once,
when they had mounted for as many minutes as was possible without giving
vent to emotion, Jeremy stopped in the lead and forced himself to breathe
steadily a dozen times. Then, obtaining self-command:

"Remember! No lights!" he called out in the bell-metal voice.

"No lights! This way, _sahibs_!" came the answer.

Once or twice bats struck them in the face, but there was no other
opposition until a great door creaked on heavy hinges and a darkness
something less opaque announced that they were in the temple. It was
still impossible to see a hand outstretched a yard before the eyes; but
there was another quality to darkness, and the echo changed. The door to
the street was shut. They knew it must be daylight, but there was nothing
to prove it--not a crack that the faintest ray shone through.

But there was noise. Something--a man by his breathing--labored at a
bolt, or it might be at a swinging bar that held the outer door shut. He
muttered at his work.

"Krishna!" was perfectly distinct--not a word you would expect in Kali's
temple, she having little in common with the god compassionate.

There was the sound of hoofs--in itself no startling circumstance, for
they let the sacred bulls pass freely in and out of many Hindu temples.
But the squeak of unoiled wheels was added to it; and if that meant
anything it was that the dust of unclean streets had defiled a sacred
floor. Dust on a bull's feet is one thing; on wheels another.

He who had led the way out of the crypt drew breath between his teeth and
called to his chief in the secret tongue for orders. Jeff set his back
against the heavy door to hold it open, Cyprian whispered something
neither heard, and Jeremy took chances at a venture. He answered in
Punjabi, in the bronze voice:

"I will see these to the street. Return, thou, and call the others to
attend to this when these have gone!"

That certainly was vague enough. But it covered as much of the facts as
anybody knew, and there was no need to explain why the chief did not
answer in the sacred tongue. How should he dare be misunderstood by the
men who held him as their hostage?

The guide seemed disciplined until his own will was an automatic agent of
obedience. He turned with a retching of bare feet on stone and started
back. Invisible, he sought the invisible door unerringly, and
Jeff--invisible as either, and as ignorant of what might happen next as
any one on earth--played by ear, as a musician might, for the peak of the
man's jaw as he passed. He hit it, which was a miracle. He sent him
stunned down the dark ramp, spinning on his heels and falling backward;
and the heavy door shut tight on him before the echo of the blow had
ceased.

"My aunt!" said a voice in English. "Now is winter of a babu's
discontent! _O tempora! O mores!_"

The belaboring of fists on iron was resumed as if in panic.

"To the last man and the last rupee--and then the deluge!" said the same
voice.

The beating on the outer door redoubled--something like the fluttering of
a moth against a window-pane, but heavier.

"Chullunder Ghose!"

"O gods whom I have mocked, am I in hell? Who knows my name?"

"Strike a match, Jeremy!"

The light, as the sound of its striking, was nearly swallowed in the
blackness of a domed roof. But a few rays showed two oxen yoked to a
two-wheeled covered cart, one standing and the other lying down, while a
fat man humped against the temple door shielded his eyes with a forearm.

Jeff laughed, and Jeremy heaped swift conclusions into one mess to be
brushed away:

"Selling out to the enemy? Double-crossing us? Got captured? What's the
secret, babu-ji?"

"They greet me with an insult! Oh, my elements! A Frenchman would have
fallen on my neck! This Anglo-Saxon race is--"

"--in a hurry!" Jeremy cut in. "Omit the captions--spill beans!"

"_Are_ spilt! _Any one_ can pick up same! Was suitably engaged in losing
ox-cart--uncamouflaged and less amenable to shrinkage than well fed
elephant or long-distance cannon. Very exercised in mind--_verb, sap_.
Could neither sell nor give away same for obvious motives. Hyena-headed
_shroff_* approached clandestinely refused to lend even small sum on such
security without proof of ownership. Same being _non est_ in legal
verbiage, sought to leave oxen straying in public thoroughfare. Brute
beasts, having appetites, refused to be lost, and followed lone
acquaintance--me!--presumably on of f-chance. Most perplexing! Prayed.
Not often efficacious, gods who are neglected in between-times continuing
stand-offish in emergency as working rule. Nevertheless, bright notion
burst bomb-like on imagination. Bring outfit here! Deposit same in midst
of enemy, decamping forthwith. Off-shoulder burden of responsibility in
lap of adversary, handicapping same! No sooner said than attempted--came
here--door open--drove in--caught by curiosity was urged by inner
impulses to forage, being poor babu with family in need of aliment. Shut
temple-door accordingly in fear of observation from without. Immediately
all was dark! Panic! Terror-stricken! Sought to open door again and
failed! O God, what shall we do?"

[* Money-lender.]

Jeff Ramsden felt his way to the temple-door and groped for the
fastenings.

"Where are our friends?" he asked.

"Presumably in office wondering what next! Oh, we are in the wrong place
for solaces of friendship! O my God, what next!"

Jeremy, groping, lifted Cyprian into the ox-cart and asked him to stay in
there. Ramsden discovered the trick of the door-fastening and set his
strength against a spring that held a beam in place. It yielded inch by
inch.

"Pull on the door!" he grunted.

Chullunder Ghose obeyed and in another second sat down hard on the stone
floor, blinded by inrushing light. The street outside was bathed in the
early sunshine, and a loiterer or two--the usual beggars and the usual
social nondescripts--turned to observe what might he. The least commotion
would have brought a crowd wondering. Whatever was to be done must be
commonplace--as calm and apparently in keeping with ancient precedent as
all the other unnoticed extravagances of a land of paradox.

Jeff glanced behind him, screwing his eyes up to penetrate the gloom.

"Chuck the prisoner in!"

"Leave him!" urged Jeremy.

Jeff strode into the dark, felt the prisoner with his toe, gathered him
up, and hove him like a sack of potatoes in through the embroidered
curtains.

"Chullunder Ghose! Get in and sit on him!"

The babu knew better than to disobey. Jeff in that mood is force in
motion, not to be turned aside or made to cease.

"Jeremy! Walk in front!"

Jeremy looked once at him, no more afraid of Jeff than of the oxen, yet
aware of something else. The idea that had caught Jeff Ramsden in its
orbit and was using him as steam can use the locomotive, was
irresistible. He grinned, saluted impudently, turned on his heel, and led
the way, the rents that the woman had made in his yellow smock making him
look more than ever like a member of India's great uncountered and
unquestioned beggar-holymen.

Jeff, with a tail in each hand and his toes at work, tooled the ox-cart
carefully out through the temple-door, leaving it gaping wide behind him,
not once looking back, assuming to the best of his ability the expression
of bored insolence that sits so often on the faces of men who deal with
privilege. Even his voice as he cried to the oxen (that refuse to go
unless they hear agony) had the tired note of second-hand sanctity. The
ox-cart bumped over the cobbles. The splendid, hungry brutes helped
themselves at random from frequent sacks of grain beneath the street-side
awnings, and from infrequent carts--objurgated, but indifferent from long
use. Jeremy reproved with time-worn proverbs some one who kicked the
off-side bullock in the mouth for too bold robbery. All was well; or all
seemed well, until from behind embroidered curtains at Jeff's back
Chullunder Ghose piped up again.

"Not knowing plans, not offering to pass on same. Respectfully advise
attention, nevertheless! In Chandni Chowk and environments this ox-cart
will be as invisible as elephants in Pall Mall! Ford car might pass
through unnoticed. Airplane would not cause comment. We are antique
anachronism, subject to inquisitive police and mockery of youthful
element. I urge judiciousness! Moreover, of two religious personages in
my charge, one peeps through the curtains at the rear and the other
chokes as if the gag were disagreeing with him. On which one shall I
sit?"

It was Father Cyprian who solved that riddle--he who eased the gag in the
prisoner's mouth in time to prevent asphyxiation, and he who whispered to
Jeff through the front curtains, annoying Chullunder Ghose, who yearns to
enjoy full confidence in everything.

"I have seen a friend of mine--Bhima Ghandava by name. I did not know he
was in India. He must have just returned from his travels. We shall be
safe in his house."

"Who is he? Will he admit us?" Jeff objected. Jeff's mind was bent on
another course, and he yielded un, gracefully.

"Yes, he will admit us. He will hide this cart. He is my friend."

"Which way?"

Jeff drove his toe under the tail of the near ox, crying like a sea-bird
in the gale's lee, and they changed direction, leaving Jeremy to walk the
middle of a street alone until he turned of his own accord and took the
situation in. Thereafter he strove to follow with dignity, as he had led
with grace.

They wended time-hallowed streets, avoiding the great thoroughfares and
hunting quiet as the homing pigeon goes. There might have been a compass
under the naked crown of Cyprian's head. And at last they reached a wide
teak gate in a high wall at an alley's end, where Cyprian, reaching from
the ox-cart, pulled a brass chain. Eyes scrutinized them through an iron
grill.

"Can you entertain us? Have you a messenger?" asked Cyprian. And a voice
with a smile in it answered in English:

"Why certainly. Welcome! Come in!"

Then some one rattled iron bars, and the great gate swung inward to admit
them.



CHAPTER XV - "ABANDON CAN'T AND CANT ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE!"


"We're no good!"

Athelstan King was spokesman, on a cushion on the office floor with his
shoulders wedged into the corner and Grim facing him, on another cushion,
backed against the desk. King was suffering from ex-officialitis, a
disease that gets men harder in proportion to their length of service.
His best work had been done without the shadow of officialdom--over the
border, where the longest purse, the longest wit, and the longest knife
are Law--but that had not preserved him from official commendation
afterward, which is a poison more subtle than cocaine.

Grim, on the other hand, had never been praised by any one except his
enemies, and by them only for ulterior purposes.

"I feel good," said Grim, yawning and keeping an eye on the prisoner, who
was blindfolded and tied behind the desk.

"Phah! _Melikani!_"* remarked Ali of Sikunderam, sitting son-less and
despondent with his back against the door. "Moreover, shaven and
unmarried! What do _you_ know of life's bitterness?"

[* American.]

"Nothing!" Grim agreed. "Life's sweet."

"I have lost my son--my best son!" Ali grumbled. "Allah is Lord of
Mercies, but my Habibullah was a jewel too good to die."

They had heard that a dozen times at least between the night that seemed
a thousand years away and morning that was just beginning to describe how
villainously filthy was the office window. They spared their comments.

"I dare not claim the body, but the _Wakf_** will bury it, which is
_something_."

[** Moslem charitable fund.]

Narayan Singh, his black beard resting on his chest, woke out of a
reverie and seemed to consider Ali for the best part of a minute.

"Unless your remaining sons are more wakeful and alert than pigs that
perish, they will be even as Habibullah," he said presently.

"Pigs?" Ali bridled at the word. Nerves were on edge that morning. "My
sons are posted all about us as the eyes of angels! What do you mean by
pigs?"

"I go to see how many of them sleep," the Sikh answered. "Let me pass."

Ali moved away from the door ungraciously and as slowly as he dared. If
the Sikh had only weighed a little less--had only lacked an inch or so of
reach--had only a shade less courage and a shorter list of dead men to
his credit--there would have been a fight that minute. As it was, there
was only a delay while Ali removed his mat, lest the Sikh's foot subject
it to defilement. Narayan Singh strode out, and Ali slammed the door
behind him with violence that made the clouded-glass pane rattle.

"We erred in demeaning our society, admitting persons without _izzat_,"*
he announced to whom it might concern.

[* Honor. (There is no exact equivalent.)]

"_Chup!_" said King and Grim together--a very rude word in the
circumstances.

Neither of them cared who knew that Narayan Singh might have their blood
and bank accounts to back him for the asking.

"There's dust in my lungs!" announced King. "This .office building is a
fire-trap. If the enemy marked us down they'll burn the whole block.
We'll have drawn ill fate on to the heads of a hundred people--or more.
Suppose we move on."

"Where to?" Grim objected. "How will Rammy and Jeremy find us? This was
the rendezvous."

"Was! If they were alive they'd be here."

"Life's longer than that," Grim objected. "Then there's Chullunder
Ghose--"

King interrupted, smiling with a tired, wry face--not cynical, but sorry,
because of the probabilities:

"They've caught him with the ox-cart. There must be a million ways to get
into trouble with that contraption. We shouldn't have sent him."

"But we did," Grim answered. "Here's our place until some one shows up."

King knew that. Left to himself he would never have suggested any other
course. Had he doubted Grim he would never have voiced his own doubts.
But there is comfort in the privilege of pouring forth unwisdom to be
contradicted. He had been that kind of rebuttal-witness for many a good
man in the toils of discouragement. It was his turn.

"Oh, go to hell!" he answered wearily.

For an hour after that they sat in silence, listening to the brassy
ticking of the export-clock--the quarreling of birds along the
roof-edge--all the noises that an Indian population makes in getting
ready for the day--unpleasant noises for the most part from the western
view. Alternately they slept by fits and starts, but there was always one
of them awake, and all three instantly caught the rhythm of Narayan
Singh's returning feet. Ali opened the door for him unbidden, forgetful
already of the dawn's resentment.

"And the boys--my sons--?"

"Are awake _now!_" the Sikh assured him, and faced the others to announce
his news.

"There are tales in the street of an ox-cart, driven by a god some
say--some name the god--wandering all night about the city. The _bunnias_
laugh, but the crowd is saying it portends events. Men say the oxen were
as big as elephants, and the cart like the Car of Jaggernathi! They say
it means India will rise and free herself!"

"Has the hour come for the North then?" wondered Ali, plucking at his
knife.

"If six men of the North stay awake, I think none in yellow can pass
them. But if the enemy should come in pink or green--above all green--"
Narayan Singh went on.

"My sons are not fools!" Ali countered hotly, getting to his feet.

But Narayan Singh took little notice of him.

"If a man in green came, asking for the whereabouts of friends of Father
Cyprian, I think our six would let him through unchallenged--"

"You lie! By Allah, in your beard, you lie!" said Ali with his left hand
on his long knife, thrusting the hilt outward.

"I _think_ the man in green is past the inner-guard already," said
Narayan Singh, with his ear cocked for the outer passage but his eye on
Ali's weapon.

"A man with green silk lining to his long cloak, and on his forehead a
caste-mark such as I never saw--two triangles, one on the other. A man
with a woman's smile--"

"My sons would gut him!" Ali swore.

But Narayan Singh opened the door. A man who answered well enough to the
description walked in with the considerate deference of one who needs
defer to nobody. The smile was a woman's as the Sikh had said, and the
face a preserver of secrets, although sunnily handsome. Nothing that that
man wanted to conceal would ever become news. He told nothing--gave away
nothing, except that he was something of a dandy and comparatively
well-to-do. The caste-mark on his brow--two yellow triangles one on the
other--told nothing; one could not even guess whether he was Hindu or
Mohammedan; his eyes were like a Parsi's, and his costume was a
compromise--European shoes for instance, and imported socks showing under
the green-lined old-gold cloak.

"Friends of Father Cyprian?" he asked, glancing from face to face.

There was no challenge in his glance, and no fear. He did not see a
prisoner in yellow peeping at him from around the desk, but Ali did.

King got off the floor and advanced toward him.

"We're anxious for news of Cyprian," he said.

"I was told to bring three _sahibs_--Grim, King and Narayan Singh."

"By whom? To bring us where?" King asked.

"By Father Cyprian. As to where--that is--"

He hesitated, giving King full opportunity to frame whatever speech he
had in mind. And King flung irresolution to the winds:

"Fact is, we're afraid to be seen on the streets," he confessed. "There
were incidents last night. Arrest would be inconvenient. We--"

"I have a closed car," the newcomer announced.

But that eased no anxieties. A closed car outside an office in that
narrow street would only arouse curiosity. The first inquisitive
policeman would learn the car's number after which to trace its course
through Delhi would not call for much ingenuity.

But the anonymous messenger told where he had left the car, which of
itself was proof that he could only come from friends. Then within the
minute, leaving Ali to guard their prisoner and gather the somnolent sons
beneath his wings, King, Grim and Narayan Singh were in full flight by
the private route, through the warehouse where men dealt in wholesale
drugs and outlawed politics--out by a back-door to another street--across
that to a sub-cellar gambling-den, whose lawless owner could not afford
to tell tales--out by a window into a yard--across the yard into a shed
where a Jew swapped camels and was hand-in-glove with all illicit
traffickers--through his side-door into a blacksmith's shop, and out of
that into a street where a big closed Daimler with crimson curtains
waited. It looked like a Maharajah's car, but lacked the royal insignia,
and there was no small platform up behind for footmen.

"If your honors please--"

The suave guide, holding his cloak to show as little of the green lining
as might he, bowed them in, followed, and slammed the door--which was
signal and direction; for without a word said, a driver who looked like a
Gourkha but wore spectacles, started away at the highest speed
conceivable in those thronged, narrow streets.

In fifteen minutes, by the grace of those who guide the comets in their
wild ellipse, having hit nothing, killed nobody, he blew his horn in the
throat of a _cul-de-sac_; and by the time they reached the end of it a
great gate opened, admitting them without reducing speed.

They could hear the great gate slam, and the clang of iron bars that fell
in place, but could only see ahead because of the crimson curtains. And
ahead was nothing but the whitewashed stall the car belonged in, wide
open to receive it. They came to a standstill with the front wheels on
its threshold.

But their guide opened the near-side door and they stepped out into a
garden of half an acre in which a fountain played. A house, that
certainly had been a temple not so long ago, stood face to the fountain,
and there were flowers everywhere--in hanging baskets--in niches where
perhaps the images of gods had been--on steps and balconies, in windows
on a score of ledges, on the roofs raised one above the other--and in
masses to right and left of the driveway and the walk that curved between
the fountain and the house.

They were thirty yards away from a pillared portico that shaded the
house-entrance. Rioting colors, the splash of water and the sunlight on
ancient masonry, the quiet, the coo of cloves, and that peace that comes
from absolute proportion of design, united to make them feel in another
world, or else on another plane in this one. The assurance of their guide
completed the effect. Unquestionably he was confident of introducing them
to wonders.

"Please feel at home," he said, smiling. "There should be a sign over
this doorway adapted from the famous warning above the gate of Dante's
Hell--Abandon CAN'T and CANT all ye who enter here! Another mystery?
Ha-ha! You will understand it after breakfast."

Breakfast! They could smell new-roasted coffee and hot rolls! They were
willing to abandon almost anything that instant. Only manners checked a
stampede!

"I would burn a city for half such impulse!" swore Narayan Singh. "My
belly yearns like a woman for her lover!"

But a man came forward in the portico to greet them, who might have
checked a royal progress. Not that there was evidence of majesty about
him, or of potential violence. There was nothing whatever forbidding in
his whole surroundings. He might have been the spirit of the place, but
his smile was compact of all the manly elements, and hate omitted.

He was middle-sized, more than middle-aged and yet so hale and well
preserved that his age was difficult to guess, nor was his nationality
determinable, although like his messenger he wore distinctly oriental
clothes--a costume of compromises for the sake of comfort--Hindu on the
whole. But he wore no caste-mark. There were no twin triangles on his
brow beneath the plain white turban.

His beard, and, as presently appeared, his hair, were iron-gray, not long
but affluent and carefully groomed. Hands, face, forehead were netted
with tiny wrinkles that seemed to have been smoothed out rather than
caused by time; the impression was that he was growing young again, after
having faced the worst the world could do to him. Great hunters, great
explorers, great law-givers, great sailors have such lines as his. He
knew. He had looked in the jaws of infinitely worse than death and had
not flinched. Fear for himself had no hold on him. Therefore he was lord
of all he surveyed, and not proud, because pride is foolish, whereas he
had humor. The humor shone forth from his eyes. Ease made her home with
him.

"Please feel welcome," he said in English. "I am Bhima Ghandava, and this
is my house. Your friends are up-stairs. Your wonderful ox-cart is in my
stable, the oxen have been fed, and so have your friends and their
prisoner. As soon as you have washed you will find breakfast waiting.
After that I am sure you would rather talk than sleep, although the sleep
would do you more good, so please come to the library."

There was nothing to do but accept his invitation and follow his
green-lined _chela_* into a place where marble, cool water, soap, towels,
and the bathroom smell made life for the moment no longer a dream but an
exquisite luxury.

[* Disciple.]

The white man _thinks_ the bath is a religion peculiar to himself. The
English made a privileged Order of it centuries ago, and it is the only
creed that the whole West can agree on. But it also is the one lone
recognizable common denominator by which West and East may understand
each other in the end--the outward and visible product of an inborn
yearning to be clean. There was no difference between Grim's and King's
devotion to the ritual and Narayan Singh's, except perhaps the Sikh
enjoyed his most.

Then rolls and coffee on white table-linen in a chamber in which priests
had kept the Mysteries before men forgot what such things are and what
simplicity must go with them.

An atmosphere outlives the men who made it. It is easy to feel lawless in
a smugglers' den--brave and determined 'tween-decks in a ship just home
from drifting in the polar ice. It was easy to feel then and there that
the hatch was off the hold of the impossible and all things waited for
accomplishment by them who dared, and knew. There was a sense of being in
the very womb of faultless Destiny.

"I would trade nay whole accomplishment and all my medals, just to know I
was worthy to sit here!" said Narayan Singh piously--then set his teeth
into a buttered roll and washed a titanic mouthful clown with coffee that
smelt of paradise.

There were no attendants. The messenger in green-lined finery whom their
host had called his _chela_ vanished when he had shown them where to go.
None intruded on their privacy until the food was all devoured, and even
then it was an old acquaintance who burst in on them, weary-eyed and as
contented as a bear among the honey-pots.

"_Sahibs_! Exquisite adventure! Luck at last! Gods whom we have long
offended have forgiven us! We are in house of holy adept, whose tobacco
is as perfect as his point of view! I swear, thou swearest, he swears! I
drink, thou drinkest, he drinks! Rammy _sahib_ consumed one quart of
imported stout at seven A. M. Jeremy _sahib_ had whisky-soda. Me, I have
drunk cognac, contrary to caste and precedent. Am intoxicated with
exuberance! Ghandava _sahib_ drank gin--I am sure--I saw him! He does all
things same as everybody. _Sahibs_, secret is, he doesn't _give_ a damn!
He knows too much! He is incorporated essence of accumulated ancient
knowledge! Ask him anything--I bet he knows it! He put oil on Rammy
_sahib's_ injuries that has made him feel like pigs in clover. You, you
incredulate--but me, I know a good thing when I see same. I want somebody
to bet with!"

Chullunder Ghose sat down cross-legged where a shaft of golden sunshine
quivered between the slats of a shutter, and fanned himself with a
handkerchief.

"Am commanded to escort you three _sahibs_ to _sanctum sanctorum_ soon as
gorges rise at thought of further rations. Personally I ate nine rolls
and drank a gallon. Emulate me. There is lots more!"

They followed him up stone stairs worn by the tread of ancient
feet--stairs set in the heart of the masonry by builders who had no need
to economize in labor or material, and passed between what once had been
the priests' rooms, walking on rugs whose origin was Asia from Mongolia
to Damascus. At the end of one long passage was a door at least a foot
thick carved with the stories of the gods; Chullunder Ghose thumped that
with both fists. It opened at once, as if by a hidden mechanism.

They found themselves in what was probably the largest room in the
building. It opened by means of high windows on a deep veranda banked
with flowers, and its ceiling was vaulted in four sections, with one
pillar in the midst to support the inner ends of all four arches.
Somewhere were hidden ventilators through which fans drove cool air; the
purr of the fans was dimly audible and, just as with Ghandava's costume,
there was enough modernity about the place to provide comfort without
sacrificing any aspect worth preserving.

The deep, long window-seats, for instance, were upholstered in brocaded
cloth, and the stone floor was spread with several layers of rugs. There
were books wherever shelves could be fitted between projecting portions
of the masonry; and an enormous toucan, neither caged nor chained, sat
perched on a bracket projecting from one wall, looking futuristic.

Bhima Ghandava himself rose out of an overstuffed leather armchair to
greet them. Ramsden was sprawling in another one. Jeremy sat cross-legged
on a divan in a corner near the big bird, whose phonetics he was trying
at intervals to imitate. The prisoner, unbound, sat like a big bronze
idol on the floor with his back to the window; and Chullunder Ghose
resumed the perch he had left at one end of a window-seat. Cyprian was
not in sight, but there was a sound of book-leaves quickly turning that
suggested him.

"Please be at home," smiled Ghandava.

They collapsed into deep armchairs, but Narayan Singh gave up the effort
to feel comfortable in his and after a minute squatted on the floor
instead, with his back against it. Bhima Ghandava resumed the window-seat
_vis-a-vis_ to Chullunder Ghose, and then--as if he might have been
watching through a peep-hole for the proper moment--the green-lined
_chela_ entered, addressed him as "most reverend _guru_,"* asked whether
he needed anything, and was dismissed.

[* Teacher.]

It was conceivable--although not certain by a thousand chances--that that
little incident had been designed on purpose to suggest the proper
attitude of deep respect. Perhaps the _chela_ had himself conceived it to
that end. Ghandava was not in need of the sort of mechanism that
surrounds mere royalty. He provided his own atmosphere.

"I am trying to make this prisoner feel at home, too," he said with an
air of comical regret, "but he seems to yearn for brimstone and red-hot
coals! This is too tame!"

The bronze man sat immobile. Not a feature moved. His wrists were unbound
but he had crossed his arms over his breast and held them so as if
hypnotized. The proud smile on his thick lips seemed to have been frozen
there. He hardly seemed to breathe. He did not blink. When King, Grim and
Narayan Singh entered he did not so much as glance at them. He was like a
dead man at a feast.

"He imprisons himself!" said Ghandava. "You see before you the embodiment
of fear and not the slightest need for it. No combination of physical
terrors could reduce him to that condition. He is self-hypnotized. He is
afraid with a fear that is within himself--that he has cultivated in
himself--that he has used to govern others. Dynamite could hardly loosen
it. What shall we do with him?"

That was hard to answer.

"He's the head of their gang, and he's dangerous," said Jeff.

"To whom?" Ghandava asked. "He seems safe to us at present!"

Whereat Cyprian piped up, emerging from behind the only detached bookcase
in the room, wiping spectacles and looking as if he had been cataloging
all his life.

"You are right!" he said sharply. "He is only a danger to his friends. I
say, release him!"

Ghandava glanced at Jeff, whose fist had done the capturing. By right of
_lex non scripta_* the decision was up to him. But Jeff, though an
irresistible force when his mind is made up, is no leaper at blind
conclusions or interpreter of men's minds. His forte is common sense,
applied.

[* Unwritten law.]

"Stow him incommunicado, while we talk," he suggested, and that was
carried by acclamation.

Bhima Ghandava summoned the green-lined _chela_ by means of an electric
hell.

"Such arrogant simplicity! How simple are the great! He who could _think_
and be obeyed! To use a common bell--such meekness!" exclaimed Chullunder
Ghose, rolling his eyes in an ecstasy.

Bhima Ghandava explained what was required. The _chela_ addressed remarks
to the prisoner, who took no more notice of them than the image of Buddha
would if a fly had rested on it. King leaned over and prodded Chullunder
Ghose in the stomach with a pole meant for closing windows.

"Less emotion!" he commanded.

Jeff hove himself out of his chair and seized the prisoner under the
arms.

"Lead the way," he said simply.

But as if the threat of violence and the physical contact were all that
were needed to resolve the prisoner's fear, he instantly began to
struggle, springing upright as if Jeff's touch had released a spring, and
smiting Jeff with his clenched fist three times running between the eyes.
Jeff reeled backward and then, closing with him, had to fight like Samson
to save his neck from breaking; for the bronze man got him by a hold
below the arms and, spinning him upside-down, crashed his head against
the floor and set his foot on the bent neck. It was only three layers of
rugs that saved Jeff from being killed.

For once "Rammy old top" was in the hands of a stronger adversary. Though
he swept the man's legs together with one arm and threw him, thereafter
using every artifice he knew, sending home punch after terrific punch
when opening offered, he could not pin his adversary down. His previous
injuries, though rendered nearly painless by Ghandava's oils, were a
handicap. Each sledge-hammer blow that his opponent landed, each volcanic
wrench at Jeff's arms and legs, made matters worse.

The end could have only been postponed for seconds. The others began to
rush to Jeff's assistance. Even Chullunder Ghose was on tip-toe to plunge
into the fray, and Cyprian lay down his spectacles to look for something
heavy. But Ghandava's out-stretched hand kept all of them, _chela_
included, standing back, they not knowing what he meant to do, yet
certain he could command the situation in a second when he chose. Even
Cyprian expected it, and laid down the heavy brass vase he had picked up.

But for half-a-minute the pace was too quick for Ghandava, or so it
seemed. Jeff and his prisoner twisted and writhed like bears at war in
spring-time. The bronze man hurled Jeff clear, sprang to his feet again,
seized a wrought-iron cobra meant to hold a lamp and lifted it to brain
him.

The thing weighed about two hundred pounds, and Jeff's forearm, raised to
intercept it, would have smashed like kindling.

Yet it was Ghandava's hand--smooth, soft palm upward--that met the full
force of the blow, arresting it midway--a hand that looked as if it could
not lift the bronze snake, let alone resist it! And he said one word, in
Sanskrit possibly, at least in an unknown tongue, that seemed to stiffen
the prisoner again from head to foot, so that he stood transfixed with
the heavy bronze thing in his hands, arrested in mid-motion.

"Now take him away," he said quietly; and instead of Jeff the _chela_
touched him. The giant set down the iron cobra and followed the _chela_
like a man in a dream--out through a door, at the end of the room, that
closed on both of them.

"If we use force in their way they can conquer us," Ghandava said almost
apologetically. "It was what you know as luck, friend Ramsden, that
enabled you to capture him last night. You took him by surprise, or he
would have twisted you as a basket-maker twists the reeds between his
hands. The same with every other force they use; if you stand up against
it, it will flatten you. You saw me then? What I did was to redirect his
energy. If I had turned it inward it would have destroyed him. Instead, I
used it to arrest that iron weight in mid-career--used his energy, not
mine. It is only a question of knowledge."

"Like riding a horse!" suggested Jeremy. "But how? Tell you what, sir,
I'll swap you! Show me that trick, and I'll teach you any two you like of
mine!"

Ghandava laughed merrily and got back to his place on the window-seat.

"I rather doubt my need to know your tricks," he answered, "and to learn
mine, if you care to call them tricks, would take more years than you
believe you have at your disposal. Besides--how should I dare to teach
you, if I could?"

"Why not?" asked Jeremy. "I'm not a crook."

Ghandava smiled again.

"Few of us are what we think we are," he answered. "You--all of you--are
on what Hindus call the Wheel. You are tied to Destiny, the agents of it,
bound in your appointed places. Every star--planet--meteorite--each speck
of dust that swings into view does so in obedience to law. Order is the
first law. None can escape his destiny."

"Ah! Now we all get fortunes told! I shiver on brink of expectancy! Am I
to be plutocrat? To go to jail? To travel overseas? To be distinguished
personage?"

"You're going to be prodded in the belly!" King assured him.

"Ouch! _Sahib_, there should be a law against this! Cease!"

"If I could tell fortunes, do you think I would?" Ghandava asked.

Cyprian, with his thumb between the pages of a black book, came toward
the window and chose a high-backed chair in which he could sit without
doubling up like a rag doll. He preferred dignity to any kind of comfort.

"To be brief with you, Ghandava," he said, as if calling a meeting to
order, "we are all in your debt for princely hospitality. Is there more
we may expect of you? Our purpose is to expose the Nine Unknown. We want
the secrets of the Nine Unknown--their books--their treasure--"

"Their treasure!" sighed Chullunder Ghose.

"Their treasure and their knowledge!" Grim agreed.

"Their books!" said Cyprian. "Can you help us?"

"Can I, do you mean, or will I?" asked Ghandava.

He smiled as if he found the situation funny.



CHAPTER XVI - "SAHIBS, THAT IS A TRUE SPEECH!"


Ghandava began to pace the floor with hands behind him.

"To begin with, nothing is impossible!" he said, with an abruptness that
made Cyprian blink.

Chullunder Chose sighed like an epicure in presence of his favorite dish,
deftly avoiding King's attentions with the window-pole. King was in favor
of hard facts and no delirium.

"Does it strike any of you that this account of the Nine Unknown is
ridiculous?" Ghandava asked.

"Not in the least!" said Jeremy promptly, and the others nodded.

"We _know_," said Cyprian.

"Da Gama told us," said Chullunder Chose.

"They've persecuted us ever since we took the field against them," said
Narayan Singh.

"That is what appears to me ridiculous," Ghandava answered. "You presume
a body of nine men, inheritors, as you describe them, of the scientific
secrets of the ancients. You credit these nine with such wisdom that
according to you they have been able to accumulate enormous quantities of
gold at regular intervals for thousands of years without any one
discovering either its hiding-place or their method. Yet you say they
have persecuted you without success. How do you propose to account for
their alleged success along one line, and their rather clumsy series of
failures along another? Do the two accounts appear to you compatible?"

"They don't," Grim said. "We decided yesterday that those who are
attacking us probably belong to a different organization."

"Does it occur to you," Ghandava asked, "that these Nines who have
attacked you are themselves in search of the real Nine?"

"That had occurred to this babu," Chullunder Ghose admitted
self-complacently, with his hands folded across his stomach.

"Why didn't you tell us then?" King demanded.

"Belly being tender part of my anatomy, have said nothing that might
provoke assault on same," the babu answered with both eyes on King's
prodding pole.

Jeremy produced the three coins that remained from Da Gama's original
treasure trove. He passed them to Cyprian, who handed them to Ghandava.

"Those look like evidence to me," said Jeremy.

"Don't forget," said King, "we've another prisoner in the office, who
swears he was told off to kill a member of the real Nine in Benares."

Ghandava nodded, but Cyprian joined issue with him.

"Why believe what he says? The organization is a series of Nines, each
member of a Nine being himself a captain of another Nine and so on. I am
entirely satisfied on that point. Thus, the only means of control or of
investigation is from the top. Da Gama said so. One Nine knows nothing of
another. For all we know the Nine Unknown may be at war with one another.
A subordinate told off to murder one of the Principals might say in
honest ignorance--"

Ghandava interrupted him with a gesture.

"Doubt from the unexpected quarter! I see I must explain," he said; but
he paused for almost a minute. His next words were dramatic--

"I am myself commissioned by the Nine Unknown!" For a second there was
silence. Then--

"God bless my soul!" exclaimed Cyprian.

Ghandava laughed. Cyprian crossed himself unostentatiously. The others
betrayed astonishment tinged with incredulity, except that Narayan Singh
and Chullunder Chose, while surprised into speechlessness, looked
disposed to credit almost anything.

Ghandava on the whole seemed not displeased with the reception of his
statement.

"The 'Nine Unknown' are known to themselves by another name; and by yet
another name to their few confidants; but they do exist, and they are the
inheritors of all the scientific knowledge of the ancients," he went on.
"And the gold that has vanished in the course of centuries? Are they
inheritors of that?" asked Ramsden. "My friend, if I should know the
secrets of the Nine, does it occur to you that I would tell them?"

"Their books! Their books!" Cyprian muttered, and Ghandava took that up
with him.

"Others have wanted those. They who burned the library at Alexandria did
so in order to secure them, and that was when men's memories were fresher
than they are now. _They_ failed, as all others have done. The Emperor
Akbar tried to get the books. He plundered India for them. But he died in
ignorance of their whereabouts, although in those days some of them were
kept within an hour's walk of Akbar's palace."

"Then _you_ know where they are now!" Cyprian said excitedly. He could
keep neither lips nor fingers still.

"My friend, I have just returned from extensive travels. I know
_nothing_, beyond that the Nine sent for me and that I have been
commissioned to perform a duty."

"Where are the Nine now?" Cyprian asked him, and Ghandava laughed.

"We wander from the subject," he replied. "These spurious Nines, whose
organization you describe, have existed for centuries. They seek the
undiscoverable secrets of the Unknown Nine. Their own secrets are mere
hypnotism, mere trickery, mere evil hidden under the mask of
Kali-worship, Thuggee and what not else. In the place of Knowledge they
have grafted superstition, and in place of Truth, fear. They rule by
fear, over- and under-riding the law by keeping the custodians of public
peace in a constant state of fear of them. They have nothing whatever in
common with the Nine who have commissioned me, and who are
altruists--simply."

"Nonsense!" exclaimed Cyprian. "I mean--pardon me, I beg to differ! If
they were altruists, and have the knowledge you pretend, they would
reveal it to the world--"

"For the world's undoing!" Ghandava added dryly.

"How can the world be undone by useful knowledge?" King objected.

"Or how can there be too much treasure?" asked Chullunder Ghose. "Let
loose even the dogs of war--devouring monsters!--and give me money
enough--This babu will buy the victory for either side! If your
principals have all that money, why didn't they buy the best side in the
late fracas of 1914 and finish the business swiftly? Ouch! King _sahib_,
I beseech you, lay the pole down!"

"Why do they not now buy India's liberty?" Narayan Singh demanded. "The
British tax-payer--"

"Who ever purchased liberty?" Ghandava answered. "Liberty is earned, or
it ceases to exist!"

"Then what are they hoarding gold for?" Ramsden demanded.

"Altruism?" asked Cyprian with raised eyebrows and wrinkled forehead,
looking over his spectacles. "Is there no need of altruism at this
moment?"

Ghandava fell back on his smile.

"You assume too much," he answered. "Altruism has nothing to do with
selfishness."

"Then your people are not altruists in any recognized sense of the word!"
snapped Cyprian.

The old man was getting more and more impatient, possibly because he felt
the control of the situation and of the party slipping from his grasp.
Yet it was he who had introduced Ghandava. There was not much he could do
about it.

"You mean their altruism is not comprehensible to you?" Ghandava
answered. "You assume that the gold that has disappeared for centuries is
all accumulated in one place and lying useless. I think I can assure you
that is not so."

"But the knowledge?" King objected.

"The books!" insisted Cyprian.

Ghandava smiled again and pointed a finger at Cyprian.

"You, my friend, would burn the books if you could find them! Akbar, if
he had found them, would have used the knowledge they contain for the
carving of new empires. Those who burned the library of Alexandria would
have done at least that. Those whom you call 'my people' have their own
interpretation of the books and their own opinion of their proper use."

"But knowledge," King objected again, "if knowledge is true it can't do
harm, can it?"

"No? Of what is dynamite the product? Of no knowledge?" Ghandava
retorted. "Was it ignorance that built the big guns and invented
poison-gas?"

"The money! The money! Where is the money?" Chullunder Ghose exclaimed
excitedly.

"Gold is not money. Gold is gold," Ghandava replied. "Tell me--is humanly
comprehensible energy continuous without fuel? Energy must be
released--is that not so? Water--coal--petroleum--the tides--harnessing,
you call it. Did it never strike you there is more energy contained in a
ton of gold than in a million tons of coal? Does that open any vistas? Do
you see that to squander gold as money would be only to debauch the
world, which is already too debauched, whereas gold's energy released in
proper ways might change the very face of nature? I am telling you no
secrets. All the chemists know what I am hinting at. They don't know how
to release the energy from gold or uranium or thorium, that's all."

"And you?" They chorused the question. He ignored it.

"These Nines, who are variously disguised as anarchists and
Kali-worshipers, know very well that the day of gold _as money_ is past.
Paper based on gold is the present medium. Paper serves the purpose.
Presently the gold will go--as money. It is then that its real potency
will be discovered. _These three coins that I hold in my hand contain
sufficient energy to blow the whole of Delhi instantly into smithereens_.
Can you imagine what might happen if the wrong individuals should learn
the secret of releasing that energy?"

"Inform the right ones then!" suggested Cyprian, with an intonation not
quite innocent of sneer.

"Who are _they?_" asked Ghandava. "Governments? They would use the
knowledge to annihilate defenseless nations. Scientists? They would
incorporate, and then subdue the world into a new commercial slavery.
The. churches?"

He turned to Cyprian.

"You--your church, my friend, would burn the books containing the secret
knowledge--that is by your own admission. And tell me: which of the other
churches would you be disposed to trust?"

"Well, what do you propose to do with the gold, or the energy released
from it, or the secret knowledge?" Grim demanded.

"That, my friend, is fortunately not my province!" Ghandava answered,
chuckling. "Have you money in your purse?"

Grim nodded.

"Do you know arithmetic?"

He nodded again.

"Some languages? A little natural science? A reputation possibly? Some
skill in diplomacy perhaps? A little self acquaintance, worth more than
all the rest? And the sum-total of all that is your capital?"

Grim nodded.

"What do you propose to do with it?"

Grim grinned, beginning to see the point.

"Is that my business?" asked Ghandava. "It is every man's own business
what he does with the knowledge that he knows! It is the business of
those who keep the ancient secrets to say what they will do with them. As
long as they keep the secrets--"

"I am like a flat balloon!" Chullunder Ghose broke in. "Oh grief, why art
thou part of me! I who was all optimism--how my buoyancy solidifies and
bears me down! I saw a pyramid of gold. Necessitous by force of _Karma_,*
how I thanked the gods! And now this holy _guru_ takes the pyramid away
and gives us energy! Oh energy! You jade! I love you not! My belly aches
for money and a long rest! Ow! King sahib--please!"

[* The law that the sins of former lives inevitably must be met in this
and future ones.]

"But if others steal the secret--" Jeremy suggested.

Ghandava hesitated. If guesswork had a chance of uncovering his thoughts,
he was speculating whether it was safe to continue. He seemed most afraid
on Cyprian's account. They say, with how much truth outsiders never know,
that information won by any of his cloth is the property of all of his
superiors on demand--and they are a goodly number.

However, Ghandava bound none of them by oath. Instead--again if
guesswork's aim was true--he limited himself to explanations that would
not explain, and to statements capable of more than one interpretation.
That is the ancient and accepted way. All prophets and all great teachers
have adopted it in self-defense.

"I, too, am on the Wheel," he said, pacing the floor between them like an
old sea-captain on the poop. "I serve my little purpose in the great
design, and thereafter disappear. Within my own sphere I am useful;
outside it helpless. You recall? You came to me, asking advice and
assistance."

"We've heard some bad advice," said Cyprian with the deliberate rudeness
that old age claims to justify.

Ghandava took no notice of it. He even avoided the odious alternative of
offering the other cheek self-righteously. Not even a fly, departing on
the wing, could have been less recognized than Cyprian's remark.

"You have a plan, I suppose?" he suggested.

He addressed them all, but they all looked at Cyprian; for it was he who
had been interrupted while laying down the lines of a plan, in his own
place, previous to the holocaust of books. He seized the opportunity to
resume the reins.

"I had a very good plan," he said peevishly. "I proposed just now that we
let a prisoner go, but you have hidden him somewhere."

Again Bhima Ghandava refused to take offense. An old man's querulousness
seemed to mean no more in his philosophy than the barking of dogs a mile
away. The absolute indifference to petulance offended Cyprian more than
anger might have done and his feeble old hands fidgeted more nervously
than ever on the chair-arms.

Jeremy, observing more intently than the others, crossed over and sat
beside him. Cyprian laid a hand on his shoulder and ceased trembling. He
was always more at ease with Jeremy to lean on.

"Suppose you tell the plan," Ghandava suggested, sitting back in one of
the deep armchairs.

In that attitude you could imagine him in rooms at Oxford or on a
grass-bank under a big tree taking part in a village council. In fact you
could imagine him doing almost anything except starting trouble.

Cyprian, seeming to draw strength from Jeremy, obliged himself to smile;
but he was plainly subduing passion.

"Had I known, Ghandava, that you are connected with the Nine Unknown, I
never would have come here. You _know_ that," he said, shaking his head
at him.

"Yes, I know it," said Ghandava. "That is why I never told you, friends
though we have been. But now that you are here and know the fact, suppose
we make the best of it?"

Ghandava was talking at the others now, _through_ Cyprian. It was growing
clear that Cyprian had made his mind up to withdraw. Ghandava, realizing
that, was equally determined not to lose the men who, by an accident, had
come within his orbit.

"The best?" said Cyprian squeakily. "You tell me you are employed by the
Nine--in their _confidence_--and you ask me to tell you my plan for
obtaining knowledge of them, and perhaps for capturing their books!"

Ghandava continued smiling, but if he had looked superior he would have
lost the good-will of every man in the room, especially Jeremy. He was
not aggressive; not on the defensive. He was more like a counsel called
in to pass judgment on a problem, seeking the solution as he listened.

"You speak as if you had the _right_ to the Nine's books," he answered
quietly. "They would dispute that. From certain knowledge I assure you
there is nothing on earth more impossible than for you to discover where
the books are. You can not even prove that the books exist!"

"Have you ever seen them?" Cyprian asked him dryly, suddenly motionless,
watching under lowered, wrinkled lids.

Ghandava laughed.

"I have seen _some_ books. How shall I know to which of them you refer?"

"_All_ of them!" snapped Cyprian.

"My friend, I will tell you something," said Ghandava. "There are
hundreds of thousands of books, each one of which would come within your
definition. There are libraries in crypts beneath the desert sands, that
represent the knowledge of nations that disappeared before Atlantis took
shape. There are books whose very alphabet _fewer_ than nine men know,
written in a language compared to which Sanskrit is a _modern_ tongue.
There are individual books among those that contain more true scientific
knowledge than all the works of all the modern chemists and metallurgists
put together. If you had all the books you would have no building big
enough to contain a _tenth_ of them. And if you were twenty years old you
would not have time to learn the wisdom contained in one book--which
book, however, it is not within your power to find."

He spoke as one having authority. But he said no more than is commonly
said in the East among men who look deeper than the daily press for fact,
and who listen to the real news of the hemispheres that susurrates below
or else above the bleatings and bull-boastings of such as sell what they
call learning in the market-place. Cyprian, King and Grim, for instance,
were not in the least surprised. Narayan Singh nodded. Chullunder Ghose
assented less silently:

"I have prayed to the gods; I have even bestowed expensive presents on
the gods, depriving unfortunate family of necessaries to that end. I have
promised the gods, so often and so suppliantly that they can not help
having heard--if there are any gods! I have even told the priests the
gist of my intentions, same being probable secret of failure down to
date. If I can find _one_ such said ancient book and sell same to
American Museum, U. S. A., I will found orphanage with half of proceeds,
and no questions asked as to orphans' pedigree. Our Ali of Sikunderam
may--Ouch! King _sahib_, please apply pole to proper purposes!"

"So it amounts to this," Ghandava said. "If your purpose is to rid the
world of an evil, I am at your services in so far as I agree with you
what evil is. If you hope to intrude on those who have commissioned me, I
must merely look on. I may possibly prevent you."

"Let's make a bargain then," suggested Jeremy.

But Bhima Ghandava had no appetite for bargains.

He made a grimace more suggestive of contempt than anything he had said
or clone since they entered his house.

"I will do what I _can_ do, freely," he answered.

"We're your guests. Outline what you will do," Ramsden suggested.

Cyprian agreed to that. There was nothing to lose by listening to what
Ghandava might intend. But the trouble was that he intended not to give
away his hand.

"Father Cyprian had a plan," he said, and folded his arms, leaning back
to listen.

"Go on, Pop!" urged Jeremy. "Lead what you've got! Make him play higher
or pass!"

Cyprian yielded, not as the men of the world yield, but with a sort of
dry, implied assertion that surrender is a victory.

"We all discussed a plan--we had agreed--hadn't we?--Jeremy to visit
Benares--disguised--Chullunder Ghose to talk for him--Jeremy to be dumb
_fakir_--do tricks--Take the coins of course--Display them--By their
means attract attention of these rascals--"

"Attention of the _rascals_--excellent!" Ghandava commented.

"The others," Cyprian continued, "Ramsden, King, Grim, Ali of Sikunderam
and all his sons--go to Benares, too--disguised as Hindus, naturally.
Watch. When Jeremy attracts attention of the enemy, they watch--they
watch. You understand me? Very well then. That was the plan: To watch,
and then track down the enemy."

"I will help you to watch and track down the enemy," Ghandava said, as a
man might who is promising to vote the party ticket.

He was firm, and enthusiastic. Every one in the room believed him, even
Cyprian. But to believe is not perforce to consent.

"You understand? For my part, I have made no promises," said Cyprian.

"I have asked none," said Ghandava. "What I have to give, I give. When do
you propose to start? How will you travel? Where will you stay when you
reach Benares? I will do this for you," he said, unfolding his arms and
sitting forward. When he opened his mouth suddenly in that way the
outlines of his jaw and chin showed distinctly through the gray beard and
altered his whole appearance. He seemed to age enormously--to be as old
as Cyprian--to know, from having suffered it, the whole of earth's
iniquity--and yet to have retained (perhaps, though, to have gained) a
knowledge and assurance beyond human means of measuring. When he moved
his mouth again, enumerating what he would do, the look of old-age
vanished and he was almost on apparent footing with Ramsden and Narayan
Singh.

"I will do these things for you; I will arrange for your protection--"

Cyprian snorted, as if he had taken snuff.

"How?" he demanded. "How?"

But Ghandava waved aside the interruption.

"I will give you permission to say you represent the Nine Unknown. That
will lend authority to Mr. Jeremy's claims to be a wizard!"

"We might _say_ we represented the Nine Unknown without _any one's_
permission!" Cyprian objected acidly.

"You _might_. But without permission it would be _very dangerous_,"
Ghandava assured him; and again there was none in the room, not even
Cyprian, who doubted.

Chullunder Ghose shivered and gasped like a fish out of water, and
Narayan Singh, squatting on the floor, leaned forward that his eyes might
look closer into Ghandava's.

Not that Ghandava minded any of those demonstrations. He seemed oblivious
to praise as well as criticism of himself.

"I will provide you with means of traveling to Benares," he went on.

"Oh for the wings of the spirit! Give us but a blessing, great Mahatma,
and we shall be in Benares in a minute! Put power on us! Ouch!"

King returned the window-pole to its place at rest beside him, and
Ghandava continued, ignoring the babu's rhapsody:

"I will provide quarters for you in Benares. And a man shall guide you
into secret places."

"What in return for all this?" Jeff demanded.

"Nothing in return. I am proposing to help you in tracking down your
enemy," Ghandava answered.

"Protection? You spoke of protection," said Cyprian. "How do you propose
to do that? Black art?"

Ghandava smiled at him.

"The enemy will use black art," he answered. "The enemy will destroy
itself. At intervals it does. The hue and cry accumulates, and grows so
great at last that the Nine protect themselves by letting ever such a
little knowledge pass out into the hands of the enemy. They try to use
it, and they die. There was Sennacherib--you have heard of him and his
army of Assyrians? I could cite you fifty instances from history, and for
every one such there are a thousand that men never heard of."

"Then you mean, your Nine masters preserve their precious secrets merely
for their own protection?" Cyprian demanded.

Mention of Sennacherib's army and other Old Testament victims of
imponderable forces roused him like a watch-dog guarding against
trespassers. That was his field.

"No, but they protect the secrets, and the secrets them," Ghandava
answered. "I will show you why. If one of you will open the big album on
that small table by the door you will find in it more than ten thousand
newspaper clippings in more than twenty languages, every one of which is
a direct statement of what the nations are preparing to do in the next
war. You will see mention of gases that will decimate whole cities in an
hour; or submarines that will render the seas not navigable, and so
starve peoples; of airplanes carrying two-ton bombs loaded with such
poison as will penetrate all known substances and kill men in agony; of
guns with a range exceeding a hundred miles; of newly discovered methods
of vibration that will shake whole cities into ruins; and of many other
things, some even worse than those.

"_The forces that the Nine Unknown can use are infinitely greater than
any those war-devising idiots have dreamt of!_ Shall they trust their
secret to the daily press? And shall they not defend themselves and their
secret against the ambitious rogues who stop at nothing to possess
themselves of what, if they had it, would put the whole world at their
mercy? And they have no mercy, you know," he added reminiscently, as if
he had investigated and could bear true witness.

"Then you're asking us to track down the enemy so that you may pounce on
him? It that it?" asked Ramsden.

"My friend, I ask nothing!" Ghandava answered, leaning forward, laying
both hands on his thighs for emphasis. "Those who have commissioned me,
forever give without exacting or accepting a return."

Narayan Singh nodded gravely.

"_Sahib_," he said, "that is a true speech. That is how a man may know
that he deals with the _Buddhas_* and not with rogues. They give, because
they _will give_, and ask nothing because none can recompense them."

[* The word is best known as the title of the Lord Gautama or Buddha. It
means "the enlightened."]

Cyprian snorted.

"How about the gold then--the gold they hoard like misers?"

"Did _you_ ever part with gold to them?" Ghandava answered, with the
first hint of tartness he had allowed to escape him.

Then, as if regretting that lapse, he crossed the floor and laid a hand
on Cyprian's on the chair-arm.

"My old friend, I will never harm you--never!" he said quietly. "You
would like to rid the world of certain knowledge--or rather of the
possibility of learning it, for the world is ignorant of its very nature.
Well, those who have commissioned me are just as careful to keep that
knowledge hidden. The difference is that we preserve it--you would burn
it--that is all. There is no chance of its becoming known. But if you
will be patient you shall glimpse what might happen if even a millionth
part of the knowledge were made known to men not ready for it. You shall
see a wonder, and then guess, if you will, what Caesar--who crucified a
million Spaniards simply because he had the power and the
inclination--would have done with poison gas! Thereafter, consider what
the world to-day would do with even one of the secrets kept by those whom
you have heard of as The Nine Unknown!"

Cyprian's eyes were not dry, but a strong light came through the window;
he pretended it was that. His lips moved silently. Then--

"I will burn all their books I can find!" he said in eighty-year
falsetto.

"All you can find," Ghandava answered, smiling.

"I will not go to Benares," Cyprian announced.

He was trembling violently. He looked almost incapable of going home.

"Stay in my house. Search my library for forbidden volumes!" Ghandava
urged him.

Cyprian stood up, steadying himself on Jeremy's arm, then brushing Jeremy
aside.

"These shall go!" he said. "To Benares! They shall go--and shall see. And
if they see books, they shall bring them--bring them back--back to me. I
will burn what they bring! Ghandava says he makes no demands. These made
me a promise. All the books they find are mine to do with as I please!"

He looked about him, as if expecting to be contradicted. But it was true,
they had made that promise. None answered.

"Now, make whatever plans you like!" said Cyprian, sitting down.

Jeff was still pondering the same perplexity, revolving it and
overturning all the possibilities to find what lay beneath, just as he
would have explored a mineral prospect.

"I don't understand yet," he objected, thrusting his lower jaw forward,
meaning to understand if it took all day. "You ask nothing from us? You
ask us to go to Benares, don't von?"

"No," Ghandava answered. "You were going to Benares."

"What do you want us to do when we get there?" Jeff demanded.

"Nothing!" said Ghandava. "Yet your purpose was--in going there--I
think--to get in touch with and to undo--will the word serve?--then to
undo an organization _calling itself_ the Nine Unknown. I have offered to
help."

"You say that it _isn't_ the Nine Unknown," Jeff objected.

"Are you less intent on that account?" Ghandava asked. "When you came
this morning you were anxious for an issue with your enemy. You have felt
the teeth and talons of the underlings. You asked me for help in
discovering the captains. I will help."

"You propose to take advantage of us?" Jeff suggested. But his smile
withdrew the sting.

"No more than you of me," Ghandava answered. "We go the same way. Let us
march together. There will never be a stage of the proceedings at which
you are not at liberty to withdraw."

"Accept that!" ordered Cyprian, pursing his lips up, nearly rising to his
feet again, and sitting down.

They accepted, one by one, each meeting Ghandava's gaze and nodding. That
was the nearest they came to a pledge at any time.

"And, now," Ghandava said, "we may as well bring in the prisoner again."

Almost before the last word left Ghandava's lips Chullunder Ghose
squealed delightedly. Ghandava rang no bell. No gong announced his
pleasure. Yet, exactly as he gave the wish expression the door at the end
of the room opened wide and the green-lined _chela_ entered, leading the
prisoner as easily as a farm-hand leads a bull.

"Did you see that? _Sahibs_, did you notice--"

King prodded the babu into breathless silence. The prisoner turned with
his back to the window and faced Ghandava, who observed him like a
professor of entomology considering a wasp, not unkindly, almost with
familiarity, wholly curious. The bronze man seemed no longer to be
hypnotized.

"What shall be done with you?" Ghandava asked.

The prisoner smiled loathsomely--a brute unable to see plain motives.
"You can do nothing with me! Your law is you may not shed blood," he
answered.

"If I let you go, will you let these friends of mine go in peace to
Benares?"

The bronze man hesitated. Then a smile of evil cunning added to the
coarseness of his lips, and he drew himself up with an effort to seem
princely.

"Yes," he said in Hindi--arrogant, according favors. "That is granted."

"Go then!" said Ghandava; and the green-lined _chela_ led the giant out.

"Sleep now. You all need sleep," Ghandava said, and none, not even
Cyprian, objected when he showed them to cool rooms within thick walls
where silence and soft mattresses held promise of delight. They all
slept, saving Grim, who lay awake and thought of Ali of Sikunderam alone
in the office with a prisoner.



CHAPTER XVII - "THERE WILL BE NO WITNESSES--SAY THAT AND STICK TO IT!"


Unity is the profoundest law. Man, attempting little bush-league
innovations imitates unconsciously the Infinite. So the custom is the same
in Naples, or Palermo, or Chicago--Pekin--Delhi--Teheran--Jerusalem--who
wages a vendetta does so on his own account, at his own risk, and he
recognizes no higher law than his own will.

Police--all governments--are off-side--enemies in common, whom foes
should unite to defeat. Whoso calls in the police is despicable in the
eyes of friend and enemy alike.

And there is another rule, almost universal throughout nature. The
unusual, the unexpected, the unconventional are fighting cues. The
sparrow with white feathers, the man with new ideas, the fellow whose
weapons are not _en règle_, alike must meet intense resentment. Fists in
a land where daggers are the rule, are more heretical than ragtime in a
synod. Heresy is provocation.

So there came to Ali of Sikunderam, in the office up the alley in the
Chandni Chowk, a woman--veiled. Men say that was nothing exceptional in
his experience. Seven sons by seven mothers are excuse for that witticism
on which slander feeds, and scandal is self-multiplying--very breath in
the nostrils of the scandalized. Nevertheless, it was nothing unusual for
a veiled woman to be seen in that neighborhood. Scores--hundreds of them
threaded the alley daily. None paid attention to this one as she climbed
the crowded stairs, although that may have been partly because observant
eyes--and in India all eyes are observant--might have noticed that
several men in rather dingy yellow robes were watching her possessively
from up and down the alley. No wise man insists on trouble in such
circumstances.

She was veiled when she knocked at the office door. But the instant Ali
opened she threw back the veil, as if she knew whom she would find in
there and what means was the best for holding his attention. Certainly
she seized it on the instant.

"Queen of all pearls! Pearl among queens!" he said, staring at her.

She being alone, and he well armed, there was nothing about her that he
needed to fear; and there was much he found no difficulty in admiring.

She was full-lipped, heavy-breasted, and her long, black, oily hair was
coiled in thick ropes that resembled snakes. She had full, bold eyes like
Gauri's, whom Ali had thought of honoring with his feudal attentions
until her house was burned, which made her not worth while. And she wore
the same air of worldly wisdom and of tolerance for the world's
too-little virtue that had made of Gauri such an easy lady to hold
converse with. She was Gauri's size--height--so like Gauri that the
floors of memory swept Ali's caution out from under him. But her golden
ornaments were heavier than Gauri's. The emeralds in her ears were worth
as much as all of Gauri's fortune before da Gama looted her. And in one
other aspect she was noticeably different.

There was a swelling under her left jaw that looked almost like the
mumps, only it was more inflamed and discolored. Some one or something
had struck her, not only recently but terrifically hard.

"Queen of the queens of Paradise, who hit thee?" he demanded.

He spoke tenderly--for him; but the Asian ardor blazed behind his eyes,
and no woman not on adventure bent would have faced him without
blenching. Ali, however, did not consider that. Men think less alertly
after going long without sleep.

"Am I in paradise?" he asked. "Art thou a houri?"

She smiled at him. It may be that the smile cost agonies, on account of
the swollen jaw, but she answered in a soft, low voice that thrilled with
the suggestion of mystery, speaking--marvel of all marvels!--in his own
tongue, the guttural, hoarse Pushtu of Sikunderam.

"Prince of princes! Captain of the thousands!"

Perfect! That is exactly the way to speak to a Northern gentleman. Ali
stroked his beard and rearranged the riding-angle of his Khyber knife.

"Djereemee-Rass _sahib_, King _sahib_, Jimgrim _sahib_, Ramsden _sahib_,
all send greeting. With the sons of queens, who call thee sire, your
honor's honor should follow me to a certain place."

She smiled again, and Ali stroked his beard until it shone under his hand
as if from brushing.

"Who struck thee?" he demanded for the second time.

"A man in the street--a _badmash_*--a man in yellow--one of those who
worship Kali," she answered.

[* Low-down scoundrel.]

Ali hesitated. Natural suspicion stirred a naturally shrewd wit, and
memory, on the verge of sleep, awoke with one of those starts that bring
the recent panorama of events in a flash before the mind. That set him
thinking. She bad asked him to bring his sons; therefore they had not
been waylaid yet. She had a tiny spot of crimson on her forehead, where
the caste-mark of the Kali sect had been recently rubbed out. She, if one
of the enemy, might know the names of all the white men in the party,
because of the five-pound note in da Gama's hat-band, signed by Jeremy,
and the sheet of paper in da Gama's pocket on which the Portuguese had
jotted down terms--and undoubtedly names. Ali added those circumstances
tip and multiplied the total into certainty: She sought to decoy him in
order to force from him news of his friends' plans and present
whereabouts.

"Queen of cockatrices!" he spat out suddenly, and slapped her with his
flat hand over the jaw where the swelling was.

He slapped as he augured, shrewdly. Pain was so sudden and intense that
for a minute she could not scream, but lay on the office floor holding
both hands to her face and rocking herself. He stooped over her,
according to his own account to feel for weapons, but made a commencement
by twitching at an emerald ear-stud, and the speed with which she drew a
dagger then was swifter than a snake's. He sprang clear, avoiding her
upward stab by the width of the goose-flesh on his belly.

"Mother of corruption!"

She had had her chance and lost it. Whipping out his long knife he
knocked her dagger spinning, and with his teeth showing clean as a
hound's in a battle-laugh between the gray-shot black of beard and
upper-lip he set one foot on her and pressed her to the floor.

"Mother of evil tidings! What ill-omen brought thee? Speak!"

But she would not speak, although he showed his swordmanship, whirling
his blade until it whistled within an inch of her defiant eyes. And from
that he drew his own conclusions.

"So! Not alone? An escort waits--too far away to hear screams--but will
come unless the she-decoy returns in time. Hah!"

He removed his foot from between her breasts and she raised herself with
a hand on the floor, but he kicked her under the injured jaw again and
with the same toe sent her floundering behind the desk, where the
prisoner in yellow lay.

Suddenly then it occurred to him that she and the prisoner should not
hold intercourse. It only takes a second for the East to tell the East
the news. He pounced on her again and dragging her away, flung her across
the room, bending then over the man in yellow to make sure his bonds were
taut and cursing him for having dared to see what he could not help
seeing.

"Allah! If I were a hard man I would tear thy tongue out to save talk!
Luckily for thee my heart is wax. I am a man of mercy."

He repaid attention to the woman then, and it was time; she was creeping
along the wall toward the door. He seized her by one foot and, she
kicking like a caught fish, pulled her back to the farthest corner, where
he tied her hand and foot with thin string meant for wrapping parcels,
using the best part of a ball of the stuff, for Ali was no sailor.

The rest of his task was simple enough--and satisfying. He removed the
emeralds from her ears, the gold from her neck, wrists and ankles, and
every one of the jeweled brooches that fastened her outer garments.

She called him a pig of an Afghan for that, and he was in the act of
gagging her by way of reprisal when another knock sounded on the office
door.

He knew it was none of his sons. They had their own private code of
signals. He picked up the only rug and heaped it over the woman to
conceal her.

"Mother of a murrain!" he growled in Pushtu. "Does death tempt you? If
so, make one sound, and die thus!"

In pantomime he showed how a Khyber knife goes in below the stomach and
rips upward. Then he arranged the rug over her and turned to face the
door.

"Open!" commanded some one--a stranger with a strange voice, speaking
Hindu.

There was only one voice. He could only hear one man shifting his feet
restlessly. He could not see through the frosted-glass panel of the door,
nor through the keyhole for the key was in it.

"Who are you?" he demanded.

"A messenger. The _sahib's_ sons have sent me."

That was an obvious lie. The sons of Ali of Sikunderam knew better than
to instruct their furious sire by, deputy.

"How many of you?" he demanded.

"One."

But he suspected, and suspicion was unthinkable without its concrete
consequence, with Ali's nerves in that state. He struck the glass panel
with his knife-point and as the glass broke clapped his eye to it.

He could only see one man--a fellow in a yellow smock, apparently
unarmed. He, too, used the broken pane to get a glimpse of Ali. He used
it to good purpose. Drawing back suddenly he thrust a long stick through
with such force that it drove Ali back on his heels and sent him reeling
against the desk. And before he could recover a lean hand beneath a
yellow sleeve inserted itself through the broken pane and turned the key.
One man walked in, followed by five others, the last of whom closed the
door behind him and stood with his back against the broken glass.

"Be swift!" said the first man. "Two belonging to us are here. A woman
and a man. Where?"

But six to one, though odds enough, were no conclusive argument to Ali of
Sikunderam. And there are few, who have not seen it, who are able to
imagine the swiftness and the spring-steel savagery of the North at bay.
All six drew knives from under their smocks, but all too late--Ali had
laid out two of them, gutted and writhing in their own hot bowels, before
he had as much as to guard himself. And as the third man advanced with a
jump to engage, the sixth screamed; some one in the passage thrust a long
knife through the broken glass and pierced him through the kidneys from
behind.

The reserves had come! Now three men had to deal with Ali and with six of
Ali's sons!

But they were three stern fighters, and they, too, had reenforcement.

She on the floor, whom Ali had struck and kicked and covered up,
struggled--only ifrits or a sailor could explain how--from the
tight-wound string, and seized a knife whose hilt was slippery with the
blood of its erstwhile owner. With that she slashed the lashing on her
ankles, and a yell from one of Ali's sons warned him in the nick of time
that she was up on her feet and coming.

Rahman's pantomime saved him. Rahman, speechless with excitement, ducked
as he, too, would have ducked if the knife had been swinging at the base
of his on skull. And Ali imitated, hardly knowing what he did, guided
more by telepathic instinct than by his reason. For the second time the
woman's knife missed him by a hair's breadth. The back of his neck felt
seared as if a hot iron had almost touched it, so close and so terrific
was the woman's lunge.

But it was _her_ last act, not his. The North's retort discourteous is
quicker than the wild boar's jink and rip. The impulse brought her
stumbling against his back and he threw her with the "chuck" they boast
in Cornwall--over his shoulders, forward--caught her as she fell--thrust
her like a shield with his left hand into an opponent, driving the long
knife with his right into her body three times--and then slew the man
behind her with a downward blow that split his skull midway to the mouth.
The knife stuck in the tough bone. The men in yellow rushed him, taken in
the rear themselves by Rahman and the other sons. All let go the Khyber
knife and drew his dagger; and from that moment there was no more hope or
thought of quarter--no hope for whichever side was weaker, unless
interruption came. And the odds were five to two, for two of Ali's sons
were down.

And who should trespass into other men's disputes in Delhi, in these days
of non-cooperation and distrust? A man might yell for help the day long,
and no more than tire his lungs. There is trouble without wooing it, and
he who starts a fight may finish it counting on no interference from
strangers.

Now the office was a shambles--blood and bowels on the
floor--loose-limbed dead men yielding this and that way to the kicks of
the frenzied living--grunts--low, explosive oaths--the sudden, sullen,
lightning thrust and parry as the daggers struck or missed--no shouting
now.--no breath for it--the stink of raw blood and the electric thrill of
death's wings--thumping of feet growing fewer. No beasts fight as evilly
as men.

Three of Ali's sons, including Rahman bled to death on the office floor
while their sire raged like a typhoon over them, working with a dagger
for room and time in which to free the long knife from his victim's
skull. And then with a foot on the skull and a wrench he had it. So, not
neatly, as Narayan Singh would have slain, but roughly like the butchers
who cleave meat in a hurry as it hangs, he hacked the two remaining
Kali-men to death, saving three sons--one so badly wounded that his only
chance was in the hospital.

"And so what?" he demanded, questioning Allah it might be as he wiped his
reeking blade on a victim's smock.

The two whole sons asked nothing, but proceeded to the looting, one
stripping his dead brothers first of every valuable thing and the other
naturally picking out the woman. Ali laughed at him.

"Fool! Am I brainless? Should I tie her and not scratch?"

He had no more breath for words. Disgust at losing three, it might be
four sons in such a mean fight half-unmanned him. With a gesture he
ordered the woman thrown under the rug again where he himself had hidden
her, and the son obeyed. He did not really know why he ordered that. He
was hardly thinking. Rather he was looking about him for a bandage for
his son's wounds. Suddenly he thought that if he left the wounded son
there, as he must, the presence of the woman's body might make lying
difficult; and Ahmed would have to lie like history or else say nothing
when relief should come. Lying is much the easier of those alternatives,
to a man born north of where the Jumna bends by Dera Ghazi Khan.

"Take her out! Cover her in that!" he ordered; and the prisoner behind
the desk, hearing but not seeing, made a mental note of it.

He heard, too, the grunting and heavy footsteps as the two uninjured sons
picked up the rug with the woman's body and carried it out to be dumped
in the unused cellar where rats would eat it, and whoever found bones
might conjecture what he pleased.

Then Ali, bandaging his wounded son as carefully as circumstance
permitted, gave him water and forbidden whisky from the office gallon
jar, and bade him sit there with his back propped in a corner until some
one should come from the Moslem hospital--to whom he should lie like a
gentleman.

"These men in yellow came--broke in--found me and my brothers--attacked
us murderously--and were slain by me, Ahmed son of Ali ben Ali of
Sikunderam. I know not why they came, nor who they are."

That was the lie, and surely good enough for a man at death's door, in a
land where a trial may take a year awaiting.

"There will be no witnesses: Say that and stick to it!" said Ali. "Beg of
the _Wakf_ for proper burial for thy brothers and, it may be, also for
thyself!"

Then he gagged and blindfolded his prisoner, released his legs and
hurried him out between the two uninjured sons through the door at the
end of the passage into the warehouse, where all was gloom among the
bales and none asked questions in any event. Thence he sent one son
running to find a man, whose word was good with the Moslem hospital, and
sat down on a bale of aloes to consider.

The problem was how now to get in touch with King, Grim, Jeremy and
Ramsden. He was not afraid of being caught, because only his friends had
keys to the warehouse door, nor afraid of consequences if he should be
caught, since in a land of lies, who lies the best is king. Dead men are
not efficient witnesses, and Ahmed had been well trained. But the
prisoner was an embarrassment, and he did not care to dispose of him
without instructions.

He removed the stuffy blindfold from the prisoner, not from merciful but
mercenary reasons. The drugs in the bales all about them were pungent and
exceeding dry. He had a thought, that became him as soldier of fortune.

"Are you thirsty?" it occurred to him to ask.

Unwilling to admit it, for he guessed the motive, the prisoner shook his
head. Ali gravely doubted him. He sought a bale of capsicum, and pulling
loose a handful crushed the stuff to powder under the prisoner's nose. If
he had not been thirsty previous to that, his condition now was
indisputable.

"You shall drink when you tell me where my friends are!" he said bluntly.

"I don't know that," the prisoner answered.

"By Allah, but you do! You saw the fellow with the green-lined cloak, who
took my friends the _sahibs_ and the Sikh away with him. You recognized
him, for I saw your eyes. Tell me where he lives."

The prisoner coughed up most of the torturing dust.

"I will tell you when you tell me what you did with HER," he answered,
the water running from his eyes. "Where have you hidden her?"

"I killed her," Ali answered, so promptly and frankly, that the prisoner
was sure he lied.

"Let me speak with HER, and I will tell you anything you want to know,"
he answered.

"Answer my question. Moreover write an order for a thousand rupees
payable to my son, who will collect the money and bring water back with
him. Then you shall drink," said Ali; and having thrown more dust of
capsicum into the prisoner's lips and nostrils, he settled down to bide
his time and meditate.

Sleep was overtaking him again. He had to wrestle with his senses.
Thoughts shaded into one another, and the outlines blurred until a
half-dream and a fact were indistinguishable. He could not guess what
capital to make of the prisoner's belief that SHE--whoever _she_ was--was
still living. He had slain her, that was sure.

The prisoner wished to speak with her, that was also sure. Ergo, she
meant something to the prisoner; but what? And what might it all mean to
his friends the _sahibs_? Ali was forever thoughtful for his friends,
when his own immediate and perhaps prospective needs had had attention.
How he wished he had brains like Jimgrim _sahib_, or King _sahib's_
experienced wisdom, or Jeremy _sahib's_ swift intuition, or even the
ability to grind an answer out as Rammy _sahib_ did, seeming to compel
his intellect to work by brute force! He tried that, but solutions would
not come.

He heard his son return and listened dully to the account of how the
ambulance was coming presently. He heard the ambulance arrive, as in a
dream, and heard the tramping and excited comments of the men, who found
all those corpses and one unconscious Hillman in the office, and were
suitably impressed. He heard the tramping and the voices die away, and
later, as the heat increased, sent one of his two sons for water, which
he drank in the prisoner's presence. Then, giving orders to his sons to
increase the prisoner's thirst by all means possible, he fell asleep and
dreamed, according to his own account of it, of emeralds and wild-eyed
women and of a great high-priest who came and blessed him, making signs
in the air as he did so with an unsheathed Khyber knife.

He awoke with a start, and stared into a strange face!

"Is this he?" a quiet voice asked, and then he heard a voice he would
have known in any crowd as Jimgrim's:

"Sure. Say, Ali? What did you keep the prisoner dry for? And what does
the locked-up office and broken glass mean? Bhima Ghandava _sahib_ and I
have had to come the back way because of a police guard on the stairs and
in the passage. Why?"

Ali explained and, drawing the two aside, told partly why he gave the
prisoner no drink.

"He believes SHE still lives," he added, wondering what Grim would make
of it.

Grim glanced at Ghandava.

"Loose him and let him go!" advised Ghandava, almost instantly.

"By gad, sir--by the Big Jim Hill--I do believe you're right!" Grim
answered.

"Ye are mad!--both mad!" said Ali, staring stupidly. "Good enough. Let
the prisoner go!" commanded Grim.



CHAPTER XVIII - "HE HAS WHATEVER SHE HAD!"


It was Grim, returning from the Chandni Chowk that afternoon, awaking
them one by one, who summoned another conference in Ghandava's great,
cool library. Ghandava had disappeared, but the smell of artful cookery
ascended from below-stairs, and the green-lined _chela_ kept himself in
evidence at intervals, incurious and yet alert. He never seemed to
listen, nor to keep from listening, but hovered in and out like a
house-mouse busy with affairs behind the scenes. Once he was gone for a
whole hour.

"Giving my imagination utmost creeps!" as Chullunder Ghose remarked.

"Ghandava fears only this," said Grim: "The prisoner may be too incensed
by Ali's ill-treatment. He was a wabbler to start with. You remember,
when we caught him in the minaret he was flinching from doing murder in
Benares. He'll return to his superiors, because there's nowhere else for
him and he may flop hack altogether. He'll say the snake-woman is alive
and that we've hidden her. His murderous instincts may have been so
stirred up by Ali that he'll volunteer to identify and kill us all as
opportunity permits."

"Why should Ghandava worry about our getting killed?" asked Jeremy,
unimpressed.

"He's in with us," said Grim.

"Where is he?"

"Gone. Benares!"

Jeremy whistled. Again he saw adventure coming to him on the wing
down-wind, and liked it.

"You see," said Grim, "they won't rest while they think we've got that
woman. They'll not look for her corpse while they think she's alive, and
they'll probably try to kill us one by one until we give her up."

"Tell 'em she's dead then, and where to find the body," Jeff suggested.
"Where's Ali and where did he hide it?"

"No!" Grim answered instantly. "Let's get a woman to represent her! Keep
them tracking us--you get me? Let them think their woman has swapped
horses--joined us. One man we've let go will give them ground for that
idea. The other--the big one--will tell 'em we're cahooting with the Nine
Unknown--"

"How'll he know that?" Jeff objected.

Grim signified the green-lined _chela_, who had come in through one door,
apparently to set a book in place, and walked out through the other at
the rear.

"He showed him the way out. He told him that," said Grim.

"Oh glorious! Oh exquisite! What ignorant West would call 'Telepathy'!"
Chullunder Ghose exclaimed. "Mahatma, knowing what outcome of conference
will be, _wills_ that _chela_ shall say thisly and do thusly! Krishna!
This is--"

"Billiards!" said King, and prodded him in the stomach with the
window-pole.

"I forsee fortune!" Narayan Singh announced. But what _he_ means by
fortune is the opportunity to use his faculties, including swordsmanship.

"Thou second-sighted butcher!" said the babu.

"_Chup!_"* commanded King.

[* Shut up!]

"You see, it's this way," Grim resumed. "Ghandava knows how we hit this
trail, considers we're honest, and says we're useful to his employers.
We're helping to put the hat on these criminal Nines, whose hour, by his
account of it, has come. He plans to reciprocate. He'll let us see what
we started after."

"The gold?" demanded Ramsden.

"So I understand him."

"Books! Tut-tut! The books!" said Cyprian, emerging with a big book in
his hands from behind the detached case.

But Grim shook his head. Ghandava had said nothing about showing where
the secret books were kept. Cyprian shrugged his shoulders, losing
interest, and if he cared that men had died he did not show it. Probably
he wanted not to seem to know too much.

"Where's Ali?" Ramsden asked again.

"Gone with two sons in search of Gauri. She looks enough like the woman
of the snakes to pass for her in a pinch with the lights turned low. At
any rate, she's our lone chance," Grim answered.

"Pooh!" said King. "She'll funk it."

"Broke. House burned. Past the bloom of youth. Funk nothing!" Grim
retorted. "She'll jump at the hope of a _lakh_ of rupees."

"Who'll pay her the _lakh?_" wondered Jeremy.

"That was the bargain we made--a _lakh_ in return for her help if we find
the money."

"And if we can't collect?"

"Grim, Ramsden and Ross must pay her a solatium."

"And if Ali can't find her?"

"Then the plan's down the wind."

But it was not, although Ali came within the hour and swore that neither
he nor either of his sons could find the woman.

"She is doubtless already in the household of a priest," he swore
resentfully. "I could have scared the fool! By Allah! She would have
obeyed if I had found her!"

"Oh, my God! _Hinc illae lacrimae!_" remarked the babu, voicing the
collective gloom. "We get a mental glimpse of gold and lo, it vanishes
physically with the veil of an immodest woman!"

But they were reckoning again without the green-lined _chela_.
Fastidious, ascetic, handsome, one would have selected him no more than a
church verger to know Gauri's whereabouts. Yet he came in smiling--said
they should be getting ready--and offered to find Gauri soon enough.

"For I have means within means," he explained, without explaining.

"Get me a carriage. Send me home!" commanded Cyprian.

But that was vetoed instantly. The battle in the office was as sure to
cause investigation as a fire does heat. Cyprian might have been seen
passing in and out on several occasions, and if inquiry should lead to
his house there were the furnace and the ashes of burned books to excite
suspicion further.

"Stay here, Pop, until we come back from Benares, or our bargain's off!"
said Jeremy.

"You mean--you mean?"

"If you leave this house before we return, and we find books, we'll keep
'em!"

"Take the padre-_sahib_ with us!" urged Narayan Singh. "He is old and
little. Somewhere we can hide him."

Behind the old priest's back the green-lined _chela_ shook his head,
disparagingly. But there was no need. Cyprian, loaded down with more than
weight for age, would have refused that anyhow. Nor did his empty nest,
with its secret squirrel-horde of books gone, attract him any more than
the prospect of answering awkward questions. There would be no
servant--no tidings--none of the associations that had made the place
worth while.

"I will stay here," he said simply, and returned, black book in hand,
behind the bookcase.

Then came the game of getting ready. Little, little details are the
nemesis of dams, designs and men. They had to think of all the details of
manner and habit, and they ended up by lamp-light, weary, with the
green-lined _chela_ looking on. Then, after supper in the room below, it
was all to do over, for Gauri came with her maid and drilled them, while
Ali snored and dreamed of vengeance on every man in India who had worn,
did wear, or ever should wear a yellow smock; and it happened thus that
their edifice of make-believe was crowned--pluperfect.

For Gauri was a pauper. Shabby clothes were all she had, so she and the
maid, whose lack of fortune was involved in hers, were as sharp-eyed and
hungry for a chance as adjutants* at dawn.

[* An enormous bird protected in India as a scavenger.]

"How did you come here?" Ramsden wondered, when they paused between
rehearsals.

Gauri glanced at the snoring Ali, shuddered at his long knife, and
explained:

"They said he--that one--looked for me. I was afraid. His knife is his
god. Better trust one who worships his belly. Better trust Chullunder
Ghose! I ran and hid. But another in a green-lined cloak came, saying Ali
wanted me in behalf of a _sahib_ in the Street of Shah Jihan. One who
overheard him told me, and I went to see. There a man with a caste-mark
such as I never saw met me and brought me hither. That is how I came.
Now--ye say Ali slew that woman whom ye wish me to resemble? Slew her
without witnesses?"

They nodded, waiting. Something was in the wind, for her eyes shone.

"Pay me for my services whatever jewelry she had!"

"But--" Jeff Ramsden's thoughts were a bar behind the rest as usual.

She interrupted him.

"_He_ has whatever _she_ had," she said simply.

She had cast her die, and she was a gambler heart and soul. Nothing--no
argument could change her once the stakes were down; and she had named
the stakes--her neck against whatever Ali's loot amounted to!

So Ali had to wake up, she protesting that the best way would have been
to loot him while he slept. Grim did the explaining, taking all for
granted, to save time.

"Ali, there is an argument. You settle it. One says, whoever finds this
gold should have the whole of it; the others, that all should share and
share in any case. What say you?"

And if the North loves one thing it is playing Solomon, pronouncing wise
decisions, justice in the abstract being one thing and according it
another.

"We being friends," said he, "what injures one is injury to all; and by
Allah, what profits one should profit all of us. So we should share and
share alike."

Grim looked disappointed--subtlest flattery!

"Then if I alone should of my own skill win a treasure, should you share
that?" he demanded.

"By the Prophet of Allah, why not?" All answered, delighted to have
Jimgrim on the hip. "Whatever any of us finds while our agreement lasts
belongs to all, to be shared between us."

Grim might have jumped him then, but Grim was wise.

"Then could the vote of all of us dispose of the discovery of one?"

"Why certainly, by Allah, yes!" said Ali. "Was that not agreed in the
beginning?"

"Then let us vote on this," said Grim: "Gauri offers her service for the
jewels you took from the woman you slew in the office! Some one should
propose a motion! Let us see the jewels anyhow."

Trapped--aware that he was trapped, and on the horns of his own
verdict--Ali looked about him; for the East may not be made to hurry even
in dilemma, having earned that right by studying dignity for thirty
thousand years. He had two sons. Conceivably he might tempt Chullunder
Ghose, or threaten him, and cast four votes. Omitting Cyprian, who might,
or might not vote, that left the odds five to four against hint, for he
knew Narayan Singh would side with his Western friends, and there was no
doubt in his mind whatever what they would do.

He might refuse to show the loot. He might walk out, explaining he would
think the matter over, and naturally not return. He who had lost so many
sons had a right to consider himself--to recompense himself as best he
could. Yet he was not quite sure of the value of his loot. The gold was
heavy enough, but the ear-studs might be glass. In the long, long pause
that followed Grim's question he even considered the thought of
betrayal--for he was born north of Peshawar, where treason and a joke are
one. But he knew that if he went to the police, then lie would have to do
his own explaining of perplexing matters that were best let lie.
Moreover, the police might--nay, _would_ search him.

And the men he faced were men. In his own storm-tempered, hillman way he
loved them.

"It was knowing that myself must first comply with the decision, that I
answered as I did," he said with dignity, hitching to the front beneath
his shirt the leather-pouch in which he carried his own secrets. "Lo, I
set example. Look! By Allah, let none say Ali of Sikunderam fell short of
an agreement!"

Handful after handful he pulled out the necklace--little golden human
skulls on a string of golden human hair--the bracelets--the anklets--the
brooches--and the earrings last. He tossed the earrings into the midst of
the heap, half-hoping none would notice them; but by the light he saw in
Gauri's eyes he knew that whether they were glass or not they, too, were
gone for just so much of the forever as a woman could withstand his
siege.

"Lo, I have given five sons and now this!" he said with dignity. "As
Allah is my witness, I give, knowing there is recompense."

"Some one should make a motion," Grim repeated.

"What I give is given," said Ali, gesturing magnificently. "I will not
vote."

Ramsden picked the necklace up and weighed it in his hand.

"This ought to be enough alone," he said. "It's worth about--at least--"

"No! No! All or nothing!" Gauri screamed, and her eyes looked nearly as
infernal as the woman's in the temple had done. "See! Look! The
ear-studs--Kali emeralds!--none like them!" Then her voice dropped. "I
must wear those--all those," she added, confidently, knowing her case was
won. "The priestess' insignia! Mine! Keep your _lakh_ of rupees! I choose
these!"

They agreed, for they had to. Even Ali agreed to it. But his wintry eyes
met hers, and she breathed uneasily as she put her head through the ugly
golden necklace and the maid set the studs through the holes in the lobes
of her ears.

"Each emerald a fortune!" the maid whispered. But Ali heard it.

"Aye, a fortune!" he said nodding. "Who should grudge a dowry to the
queen of cows?" Which was a Hindu compliment, intentional, so understood
and shuddered at. She knew the North, or rather the freebooting blades
who came thence.

"Wear them! Wear them! They become thee!" Ali urged her.

So, with the jewels on and her hair arranged in heavy coils, the lady of
delights--as Ali called her--looked not so unlike the priestess. All she
lacked was, as Chullunder Ghose assessed it, "just a year or two of
education."

The worst was that she thought a course of visiting from shrine to shrine
and making little offerings to gods and goddesses in turn, along with
favors to the priests, entitled her to know it all. Of men she was a
shrewd enough judge. She could weigh the chance of wrath and pick a
living in the trough of evil. But of women--save such women as
herself--she knew scarce anything, and that distorted.

"Self, knowing women too well, can attempt conversion," said Chullunder
Ghose and set to work to try to teach her how a priestess, used to the
public eye and awe, would sit, and stand, and move about, and be.

Time and again she flung herself to the floor in tantrums, cursing the
fat babu in the names of the whole Hindu Pantheon. Repeatedly he coaxed
her back to patience, helped by the maid, who kept reciting what the
emeralds were worth--pure music!--music that had charms to soothe the
Gauri's breast.

"Even so they tell me chorus girls are taught to act as duchesses!" said
the babu. "Failing all else shall escape to London and start academy of
female manners! Watch me, Gauri--beautiful Gauri--goddess among women,
watch me--walk like this!"

And in spite of stomach big enough for two men, hams that would have
graced a Yorkshire hog, and a costume not intended for solemnities--his
turban was pink--he walked across the room with perfect grace--Falstaff
playing Ophelia, surpassing good.

She imitated him. He sighed.

"Thus, _sahiba_." None had ever called her that. The title is for wives
of honest husbands, and she softened, even to the brink of tears. "You
are a queen--a goddess. All know it. That is not enough, though. You, you
the goddess, know it! You are not afraid of what they think. You do not
_want_ them thus to think. They _do_ so think. You _know_ they think. You
are a goddess! Now, Bride of the Mountains, walk across the room again."

"Aye, Bride of the Mountains!" murmured Ali.

Chullunder Ghose had meant a pious compliment, for one of the names of
the Daughter of Himavat, the Bride of Siva, Him who sits upon the peaks,
is Gauri. But All misinterpreted, and Gauri understood. The jewelry was
hers; and she was Ali's--no escape! She burst into tears again, beat on
the floor with her fists, had hysterics, and obliged the poor babu to
start again at the beginning.

Then the road! Old India by night in yellow smocks beneath an amber moon,
with an ox-cart following, in which the women lay--a two-wheeled, painted
cart with curtains, driven by the green-lined _chela_ and drawn by the
same two splendid Guzarati beasts well fed and rested in Ghandava's
stable! The ancient gate--the guard, too sleepy to make trouble, too
respectful to draw curtains, and aware of the weight of silver in shut
palms--then the wide way flowing on forever between shadows so silent and
drunk with color that the creaking of a wheel alone recalled a solid
world.

And Jeremy--drunker than the shadows were! Full--flooded--flowing over
with delight; the memory of wild Arabia awake within him and a whole
unknown horizon beckoning in moonlight to adventure such as Sinbad knew!
He danced. He sang wild Arab songs--as suitable as any, since an unknown
tongue was all conditions called for. He flicked a long silk handkerchief
with imitative skill. And the few, afraid night-farers drew aside to let
the short procession pass.

Jeff Ramsden, striding like a Viking with a rod across his shoulder,
meant ostensibly for vicious dogs, a calf like Samson's showing under the
yellow smock, and an air of ownership. He owned the earth he trod on.
Good to see.

Then King and Grim together, yellow-smocked and striding just as
silently, more modern, more in keeping with the picture and matched, as
it were, in the setting by Chullunder Ghose, who walked after them
without enthusiasm, not needing to pretend, except to creed; pink turban
gone, he, too, was in orange-yellow.

Then Narayan Singh, in yellow like the rest, a little too ostensibly
unarmed. The hilt of something swinging as he strode was exaggerated by
the smock that covered it, and his shadow resembled a monster's.

Then the cart. Then Ali and his two sons, not pleased with playing Hindu,
looking like dark spirits of the night whom men might well avoid.
Wayfarers beg rides in India even as in the West, but none did that
night. None stole a ride. And the multitude, who make it their profession
to extort alms by the ancient processes--who watch the highways and by
day or dark flock forth like bugs to pester--not recognizing innocence,
desisted.

All one night they trudged the highway with the geometrical designs of
irrigation ditches glinting in the moonlight all about them; and at dawn
they were offered bed and board by a Brahman, who called the green-lined
_chela_ "holy one." At one end of the garden-compound, of which his house
formed the front, was a long shelter subdivided into stalls, in which he
said it was his privilege to acquire merit by entertaining pilgrims. He
asked no questions--only offered food and asked a blessing in return--so
there they slept on string-cots, three to a stall, the women-folk
remaining in the closed cart, angrily complaining of the heat.

Then night again and another march, the women, too, on foot; for they
left the ox-cart with the Brahman--six or eight miles' walk in mellow
moonlight to a wayside station, where a Hindu station-master said they
honored his poor roof, and where, by dint of lies along the wire, he
finally secured a whole reserved compartment for them on a through train
for Benares.



CHAPTER XIX - "ONCE, WHEN THEY WHO KEEP THE SECRETS--"


BENARES! Mother Gunga, who if she would, could tell of the birth of
half-a-world, lapping the steps below the _ghats_. Crimson fire and
leaping flame where they cremate the dead. Moonlight on a hundred
thousand heads and shoulders, as the "heathen" stand breast-deep
reflected in the stream and pray for blessedness. Built on Benares! For
the temples that have stood a thousand years are crumbling above
foundations that were ancient cities before Hermes was Hierophant of
Mysteries. Troy seven times rebuilt on Troy is but a new thing to
Benares.

The train rolled in, panting at the end of awful night; and it was no
more to Benares than a new bird added to the hordes of feathered
scavengers.

Under the hot iron roof the train disgorged its crowd, itself impersonal,
they seeking abstract bliss--an iron-age implement subserving Manu and
His laws. It was no more to Benares than the flies that drone around the
_ghats_ at dawn.

The green-lined _chela_ led, threading the swarm that checked and
gathered itself, bleating for its females and its young like sheep,
demanding neither food nor sleep but the view of Mother Gunga and the
privilege of plunging in at sunrise.

Gauri and her maid walked beside Chullunder Ghose, both veiled.

"One sees us!" said the babu. "Let the veil fall open."

On the journey they had labored over it, cutting and stitching until if
loosed it fell so perfectly that her face could be seen in profile--which
was best--and be covered again instantly. Gauri saw a man in yellow
staring at her, and snatched the veil together.

"He is big, and I am afraid of him!"

"Good," said the babu.

"But he saw I am afraid!"

"Better! He knows you are not a goddess! You _should_ be afraid of him!
Now, not knowing, he will go and say he knows, same being excellent in
politics but no good when up against Jimgrim and the green-lined
_chela_--latter being devil very likely, though I think not. Woman,
behave fearfully! He turns again and looks."

So Gauri hid behind Chullunder Ghose's bulk, as if she were a merchant's
wife out for the first time far from home. And the very tall man who had
turned and looked beckoned another, shorter, nearly naked one, who came
and followed the party, presently beckoning others to keep him company.

So, though they threaded a score of streets not wider than an ox-cart,
turning this and that way almost incomprehensibly like ants, and entered
at last a high door in a wall, which slammed behind them and was bolted
and barred by some one in a cabin like a sentry-box, who performed his
task unseen, they knew they were not lost to knowledge. They could hear
the footsteps of the spies, who ran to tell their whereabouts to whom it
might concern.

And here--in a quiet clean oasis--the green-lined _chela_ seemed no
longer in authority. He accepted orders from a plan in white, whose bald,
bare head was fleshless--skin on bone, as if it had died but still was
needed by the body. Only his eyes lived, burning, down deep in the
sockets. It seemed he was host.

"Introduce us. What's his name?" Grim asked.

"No name," the _chela_ answered.

Only then they all remembered that the green-lined _chela_, too, had
given no name, then or at any time.

"What's yours?" Grim asked him, but he laughed and shook his head.

So, failing introduction, Grim lined up the party, named them, and began
to speak about Ghandava. That name, too apparently meant nothing here.
The living skeleton in white took no account of it. He turned on his heel
and led them indoors, into an ancient palace, nowadays as plainly
furnished as a monastery, and up-stairs to the first floor. There, saying
nothing, he made a gesture, signifying that the floor was theirs and,
turning to the _chela_, who had followed, dismissed him with a
monosyllable. The _chela_ neither spoke nor displayed the least emotion,
but turned and went.

Nevertheless there was an atmosphere of comfort, and even of
friendliness. The man in white stood waiting by the door until silent
servants brought water and a heap of clean sheets. Others brought
food--bread, vegetables, milk--and then, but not till then, the man in
white left them, not having said one word except to the _chela_ to
dismiss him, yet contriving to convey the thought that they were welcome.

"And why not welcome?" wondered Jeremy. "Bemares looks to me to need
jazzing."

"My God!" Chullunder Ghose exploded.

All they long front of that floor was a veranda, cool and deep, facing
the Mother of Rivers above ancient roofs. They had five separate vistas
between temple domes, and down one lane of ancientry could see the
granite steps, and thousands of naked men, and women veiled in lightest
muslin, descending to bathe and pray; for sunrise is the holiest hour of
all.

Rafts on the river's bosom swarmed with Brahmins sitting rigid in the act
of meditation. Between the rafts the stream flowed spread with flowers,
because none of the thousands had come empty-handed, but with garlands,
loose blossoms and plaited strings of buds by way of offering:

The cooing of doves was all about them, and the music of temple-bells.
The breath of Mother Gunga, who gives life and takes it, pervaded
all--miasmic say the scientists, ignoring truth of a millennium. (They
drink the water where the ashes of the dead are strewn, and take no
hurt.) Birds everywhere, especially crows lining the ridges of temple
roofs with jet black; and down the granite steps to the river's brink,
between the men's bare legs and over the gaudy garments laid aside,
monkeys scampering to drink, unfearful and unnoticed.

"Good!" said Jeremy, sniffing and filling his lungs.

Along a street below them caste-less bearers were carrying the dead on
litters, to be bathed a last time at the river brink before being laid
out on their funeral pyres. None noticed. In Benares it is life that
counts, not death, and life is of the spirit not the senses. When a
pilgrim shuffles off his mortal coil they make away with it and burn it
swiftly, lest it hamper his efforts to climb higher.

Down another vista lay the ruins of a temple like an island in the
stream; for centuries ago, when Gunga rose in spate, she underswept the
walls and rooted in among them till the whole enormous building tumbled
into the flood. Now a naked _fakir_ stood on the highest stone of its
ruins--young, with long hair on his shoulders--poised against the blue
sky--

"Fancy free!" suggested Jeremy. "That lad looks happy. Nothing to wear,
nor do but stand still! How many meals a day, I wonder?"

"One," said a voice; and there Ghandava stood, among them, unannounced!

"I have creeps!" remarked Chullunder Ghose.

He glanced at the door. It was locked on the inside, but Ghandava might
have clone that--only the lock squeaked badly, and nobody had heard it.

"There are three of them. The three are one," Ghandava went on, taking no
notice of the babu's nervousness. "They stand on that stone all day and
all night, taking turns, relieving one another."

"Why?" demanded Jeremy.

"It always was so," he answered. "But their vigil is nearly ended."

Ghandava was bright-eyed; not from opium, that is a feverish glow, but
with the light of the ecstasy men earn, who by denying self attain
self-knowledge. Harder work than laying bricks!

"Why?" demanded Jeremy a second time.

"Seek, and to every question you shall know the answer, if you seek well
enough, my friend," Ghandava replied. "There are others who seek
answers," he added cryptically.

Whereat Chullunder Ghose recounted how a man in yellow had set spies to
follow them through the streets. Ghandava smiled.

"You are protected," he said quietly. "You shall decoy them to another
place."

"For that they may attack us in the other place?" Chullunder Ghose asked
in consternation.

"Because their time is come."

But Ali of Sikunderam grew angry at answers in the shape of conundrums.
The Hindu garb and his losses fretted him. He paced the floor like a
Hillman, which is a wholly different stride from any Hindu's, and rounded
on Ghandava at the end of a turn--head and shoulders over him--his
fingers on the hilt of something underneath the smock.

"By Allah, I have paid already more than all these! Five sons I have
given!" lie exclaimed. "Shall my life follow theirs without a reason?
Name thy intentions step by step, _Mahatma-ji_!"

He used the word Mahatma as soldiers of fortune of the Middle Ages used
the word monk--insultingly, and Ghandava, it seemed, knew better than to
smile at him. An air of patronage night have been a spark to fire the
tinder of the Hillman's wrath.

"Sit down then. I will tell you," said Ghandava, choosing a stool for
himself and pausing until all were seated on chairs and mats.

He let it appear that Ali's protest was what moved him, and All made sly
grimaces at his sons to signify that they should learn a lesson in
deportment from their sire.

"Lo, we listen. By Allah, we have ears," said Ali at last importantly.

"You were seen to arrive in Benares," Ghandava began, "because the
prisoner you let go from my house in Delhi forewarned those who are
interested. You were seen to have this woman with you, and they are
saying now that their priestess has wormed her way into your confidence,
as otherwise she would surely have escaped and returned to them. Now, if
one of you were to meet with one of them, and were not afraid, and should
confirm that theory, taking an actual message perhaps from Gauri to them,
using the formula, '_She says_'--"

"I am not afraid!" Narayan Singh said, interrupting. He stood up, and all
who saw him knew he told the truth. He was afraid of neither death nor
devils.

Ghandava nodded.

"I spoke to you all of the Wheel," he said quietly. "The Wheel turns and
unless we are alert an opportunity is snatched or taken, for us or
against us. In a place, which you shall see, the Nine have preserved for
centuries a truth--knowledge of a truth, that is; for truth is like
skill, unless used constantly it disappears. The time will cone, but is
not yet, when that truth may be given to the world with safety. Those in
whose hands the ancient secrets are, being human, have made mistakes.
Knowledge in the hands of criminals and fools is worse than ignorance.
Let me illustrate:

"You have heard of the scientist who, seeking without wisdom for the
knowledge he could neither weigh nor measure, introduced into America a
moth that killed the trees? So. Once, when they who keep the secrets
thought the time had come, they entrusted to some chosen individuals
instruction concerning the scope of man's mind. But the time was not
ripe. They who learned were faithless and self-seeking, so that from that
one secret that escaped there sprang the whole evil of witchcraft,
sorcery, necromancy, black magic, hypnotism, what is now called 'mob
psychology,' the black art of propoganda, and inventions that are even
worse.

"Again: Surgeons and doctors know no more anatomy than a mechanic knows
of alchemy. They who keep the secrets once taught certain men the
rudiments of what was common knowledge long before Aesculapius. Those,
though, turned the knowledge to their own account, so that it died again
of selfishness--which is all-destroying; and all that remains of the art,
that it was sought to heal the world with, is the trick by which
practitioners of Thuggee kill their victims with a silken handkerchief!

"Chemical dyes mean poison gas. The art of flying, which was understood
in India ten thousand years ago, means bombing of defenseless cities.
Alcohol means drunkenness. Morphia, which is an anodyne, means vice. Only
very rarely do the men appear in whose hands knowledge may be trusted.
Then, and not until then, the world goes forward.

"But those who seek knowledge for selfish ends persist. In that way they
are faithful! They seek it like prospectors--at times alone, at times in
hordes. And because of the Wheel and the Law, as men unearth gold so
these lawless seekers after knowledge draw near at times to the
discovery. They _would_ discover. They _would_ possess themselves of
secrets and destroy the world, unless they who keep the secrets were
alert.

"Through alertness it is possible to see that they destroy themselves, as
the hosts of Korah, Dathan and Abiram did in your Bible days--as Babylon
destroyed itself, from too much wealth--as he who discovered gunpowder
destroyed himself; only swiftly, and secretly, lest the world learn too
much and inquire for more.

"The lawless Nines who hide under the mask of Kali-worship, by
elimination and persistence have come near to discovering the place where
the secret of gold is kept. The place must be changed--nay _is_ changed;
but lest they learn that, they shall be allowed to find the former place
and to take the consequences. It is there that the Wheel turns and _you_
enter in."

"How so?" demanded Ali truculently; but none took any notice of him,
which seemed to set him thinking on his own account. He listened
attentively, but with a changed expression, while Ghandava went on with
his story.

Suddenly Chullunder Ghose threw up his hands in consternation.

"Holy one!" he exclaimed. "Emolument is more than pleasing, same is
necessary on this plane on which we function! Is profit barred? Is all
excluded but the risk? Myself am text-book of scientific ignorance and
not proud, but--family and dependents--impoverished babu--_verb. sap._,
Most Holy One!"

Ghandava chuckled.

"You shall see, and may help yourself," he answered.

"When shall I go with my message to these people?" Narayan Singh asked,
standing up again.

Ramsden rose, too, stretching himself, nearly as tall as the Sikh and
half-again as heavy--a man to count on in tight places.

"I'll go with you," he said quietly, meeting the Sikh's eyes.

Narayan Singh bowed, smiling a little. It was just the smallest
inclination of the head, but a whole song set to music could never have
answered half as much. He said no word. They understood each other.

"When shall we go?" asked Ramsden.

"When you have seen," Ghandava answered. "You must see; and every word
you subsequently say to them the woman must say first to you. It is
essential that these criminals destroy themselves. All you are asked to
do is to make that simple for them!"

They ate breakfast all together on the deep veranda, Gauri and her maid
as anxious as Chullunder Ghose about the rules of caste they broke, yet
none of the three willing to pose as holier than Ghandava, who ate with
them and had been a "heaven-born" until he abandoned caste altogether.
Gauri consoled herself with the sight of the plundered emeralds.

"I shall have enough to pay the priests," she said aloud, as if answering
the voice of conscience.

She did not see Ali's flint eyes blazing, nor the sly, secretive
acquiescence of his sons; nor did she know why, when the meal was done,
the sons threw dice on the veranda floor. No money passed between them,
but they threw three times, watching each main breathlessly, and he who
lost swore acridly in the name of Allah.

Ghandava watched it all but made no comment, unless, about five minutes
later as he faced the Ganges, an adaptation of two of the Apostle Paul's
most wholesome axioms that he let fall had bearing on Ali's attitude:

"Since all things work together for our good, and now is the appointed
time, why not? Shall we be going?"

He did not say where they were going. They followed curiously, both women
keeping close to him and Ali bringing up the rear with his two sons. It
was as plain as clay that the North was in the mood of those old
Highlanders who followed Prince Charlie once as far as Preston Pans. The
rear, where they can do least demoralizing, is the right place for those
gentry.

Ghandava led up-stairs--the last way any one expected--out on to a roof,
and up by a winding flight of steps that circled about a tower, with a
stone curtain on their right that rendered them invisible from anywhere
unless so distant that their heads would be unrecognizable. And then
down--through a door at the summit of the tower--round and round a
circular stairway in the tower's core, with ample air to breathe, but in
darkness so deep that Ghandava's reassuring voice seemed to come from
another world:


"This way! This way!"

And the echoes rumbled down into infinity like the voice of an
underground stream. Ghandava's spirits seemed to rise as they descended.

Both women screamed at intervals, but there was always somebody for them
to cling to, and the voice of Ali behind them proving his own
fearlessness--to himself at least--by lecturing his sons.

"A man is a man in the dark! A man is a man in the devil's face! A man
dies fighting, and Allah receives him into Paradise! Fear is a fool's
religion, sons of Ali!"

"Aye, and the world is full of fools!" Chullunder Ghose confessed. "Self
being one! Are there snakes?"

"No snakes!" Ghandava answered.

"Insects?"

"None!"

"Lost souls?"

"No. They would find no rest here!"

"We are going down--down!" The babu's voice boomed hollow. "We are surely
in Gunga's womb!"

"Not yet!"

"Oh--, where are we then? I hear the rushing of waters!"

"Only air--good air," Ghandava called back.

"I hear water boiling!"

"No, for there is none."

The babu's trepidation served to keep the women from hysterics, since he
voiced another fear than theirs and the two disputed mastery instead of
blending into panic and hysteria. Guided by Ghandava's voice and the feel
of cool, smooth masonry now on one hand, now the other, they hurried in
single file along a tunnel whose floor felt polished under-foot as if a
hundred generations has passed over it.

"No bats!" Chullunder Ghose complained. "So there must be devils!"

"No, no devils," said Ghandava.

"Krishna! What then? Look! See! I am blind! I saw another world! I can
not see! I am blinded! I swim in fire! Why do I not burn?"

They stopped. They had all seen one flash, and then nothing but its
aching image in the retina--light to which a blow-pipe flame would have
been gloaming!

"Watch! Wait!" called Ghandava.

"Not again! Not again!" cried the babu, and his cry re-echoed in
imprisoned space--"Again, again, again, again, again!" Then the
light--three flashes.

"God!"

That was King, clapping both hands to eyes that had been overstrained on
active service.

"Allah! I saw devils!" (That was Ali.)

"Holy One, where are we?" (That was the babu.)

"Under the bed of Ganges!"

"The fire? Is it Agni?*"

[* The Spirit of Fire.]

"Electricity!" said Ramsden, speaking from memory of fuses blown out in
the wilderness.

"No." Ghandava was about to explain, but three more blinding flashes
interrupted.

"What then?" asked Ramsden, positive, from memory.

"Gold!" fell the answer on breathless silence, in which they could all
hear Ali and his two sons loosening their Khyber knives.



CHAPTER XX - "NEVERTHELESS, I WILL TAKE MY SWORD WITH ME!"


A pale-green astral-looking light developed gradually, turning the heart
of darkness into twilight. They discerned the shadowy outlines of a cave
buttressed with titanic masonry. There were no images, no carvings on
walls, nor anything to mar simplicity. The proportions expressed restful,
pure and final peace.

There was no smell of dampness, although Ghandava said they were under
the bed of Ganges. There were no bats, no filth, no occupants. There was
nothing in there--in an acre of earth's foundations--but one square altar
set against a wall; and thence the light came, seemingly.

Ghandava led to the altar with no more outward reverence than the vergers
use who show the crowds around cathedrals. It was of some green substance
so like jade to the eye that Ramsden, advancing an incautious finger,
touched it. He drew it back with an oath.

"Pardon! I should have warned you. Are you hurt?" Ghandava examined
Jeff's finger. "It burns like radium."

"Oh, buncombe!" said Jeremy, breaking an hour's silence. "I've carried
gold in my belt for years. My belly hasn't got a mark on it!"

Every one laughed, even Ali, and the women who knew no English. But
Ghandava continued as much at ease as if he stood before a blackboard.

"You see?" he said, and pointed to where the wall arched over the altar
in the shape of a shovel, base to the ground, with the apex leaning out
above the center of the green stone. Exactly in the middle of the arch
emerged what might have been a pipe of some unrecognizable substance, and
for a space of two or three feet around it the stone wall seemed to have
the consistency of pumice, as if its life had been burned out.

"Hot gold drips from that opening, drops on the stone below, and
dissipates into electrons!"

"Hell!" said Jeremy.

"Men could raise hell with it, couldn't they!" Ghandava answered. "There
is more force in one drop than in a box of dynamite--more in a ton of it
than in Vesuvius!"

"Who tends it?" asked Jeremy.

"Those whose turn it is," Ghandava answered. "They are beyond that wall."

"Where is the store of gold?" demanded Ali hoarsely.

"Gone! Removed!"

"There can never have been much gold, or who could have moved it in
haste?" the Hillman sneered, nudging his two sons.

"Never more than enough at one time in this place than to keep the drops
dripping," Ghandava answered. "It has been dripping since long before
Atlantis disappeared. Calculate it! There is enough in store to continue
the process for as long again. But it must continue elsewhere. We must
find another way of purging Gunga."

"Riddles! Forever riddles!" Ali grumbled. "Who believes a word of all
this? Allah--"

Ghandava interrupted him:

"Have you ever thought how many thousands bathe in Gunga daily? How many
dead, who died of sickness, are laid on the banks for the stream to wash
them? How many drink as they stand waist-deep in Gunga? And how few die?"

"They say it's the sunlight," King objected. "I've read that germs of
sickness can't live in Ganges water because of the strong sun."

"And you believe it?" asked Ghandava. "If so, why does the sun not kill
germs in the Amazon, or the Congo River, or the Jumna or the Irrawaddy?"

"Damned if I know!" said Grim. "Go on, Ghandava. Tell."

"Billions of people have drunk Ganges water, since the pilgrimages began
so long ago that there is no record of them. None ever died of drinking
it. They have come with cholera, and plague, and small-pox. For lack of
fuel for the pyres they have thrown their dead unburned into the stream.
And beside the dead they have drunk the Ganges water, taking no harm.
That is because of this."

He signified the altar-stone and paused:

"Gold is the greatest purifying agent in the universe. In the words of
the Hermetic Mystery: 'AS ABOVE, SO BELOW.' Gold is thus also the root of
every evil. Gold, resolved into electrons, is the greatest force
available to men. It is also by the same law men's greatest weakness.
Released it could abolish labor, lack, necessity for digging coal--or it
could obliterate! There is gold enough in the world to usher in the
golden age, or to wipe out civilization!"

He paused again dramatically, then added:

"Nine men know the secret!"

"The devil they do!" said Jeremy.

"Many have sought for the secret until a few of them know nearly where to
look. A week--a month--a year and they would find this place. It is
wisdom to let them find it now. So say those who have commissioned me."

"By Allah, I weary of words!" shouted Ali, all his patience vanishing
into its elements as gold had done. His voice reverberated overhead.
"Show me as much gold as I can bear away, I and my sons, or--"

In the dim green light he met Narayan Singh's eyes--could not avoid them.
The big Sikh leaned and shoved a shoulder under his chin, shoving him
backward so that he could use his right eye only with difficulty; and his
sons could not have helped their sire without first passing King and
Grim, with Ramsden on King's left-hand and Grim against the wall.

"Friend Ali, peace, I pray thee!" said the Sikh.

There was no alternative. The hilt of something underneath the Sikh's
long smock made that fact clear.

Ghandava looked up at the spout above the green altar, listening. He said
nothing, but started to walk away, and they followed in a frightened
group, the women hurrying past him and the men, especially Ali, trying to
disguise fear by striding measuredly. Chullunder Ghose gave up that
effort.

"Lo! I claim merit! My share of the gold is a gift to Mother Gunga!" he
blustered, struggling to the last to make a joke of it, and ran. Shoving
the women in front of him he disappeared into the dark and they could
hear his heavy footsteps stampeding until the echoing noise was swallowed
in a tunnel-gurgle sounding like a laugh.

"The gold is uncontrollable when it begins to drip," Ghandava explained.
"The process can be started but not stopped. It has been so for a hundred
centuries. Not even they who keep the secrets could exist inside the
cavern when the drops fall."

As they left the cave a blinding flash burst behind them, casting their
shadows forward into the tunnel like the fragments of shelled infantry.
Even so, facing away from it, their eyes were hurt. Intellect itself
seemed stupefied, and was restored by a breath of indrawn air that reeked
of hot Benares, all decaying flowers, humanity and grease.

"It ventilates the tunnel," said Ghandava. "That air, drawn in, will be
burned up in the next explosion."

"Where does the product go?" Grim asked him.

"It is used."

"Why doesn't the explosion burst the cave?"

"It would, but the quantity is measured."

That was all they could extract from hint by way of information. When
they asked more questions he reminded them that these were ancient
secrets and himself no more than a man commissioned for a task.

"Already you have seen more than uninitiated individuals ever saw _and
lived to tell about_," he assured them. "And this is only one of very
many wonders that are done with gold. This is only a trifling matter
compared to what can be--what _is_--done daily."

"Then you are an initiate?" asked Grim. But he did not answer that.

Another flash behind them that sent tattered shadows leaping into the
dark ahead showed an opening in the right-hand wall, set at such an angle
and so narrow that they had passed it on their way down without being
aware of its existence. Ghandava led through it now, ignoring the babu
and the women, who by then were ascending the circular stair in the panic
that will yield to nothing less than daylight.

"You shall see, because you must say you have seen," he explained, taking
Ramsden and Narayan Singh each by the arm, as the passage widened and
turned back nearly in the same direction they had just cone. Evidently
they had only made a circuit to pass through the end wall of the cave.
"Say nothing that is not true, even to the enemy!" he added.

And now it felt like entering the workshop where the gloaming is woven of
green and golden ether. They approached a cavern--not too close, for he
restrained them--in which three men watched as if attending looms, only
that these looms were invisible and the shuttles resembled fish that
darted to and fro forever on the sane course, each swallowing the other
as they met. The pale green light resembled water--the men, great hooded
seals--and the silence finished the illusion, so that the ears strained
for a sound of waves on some imaginary beach.

But there was no sound--not even a foot-fall; and of gold they saw no
more than one bar that a man in a hood brought down steps from a gallery
hewn overhead. Even the steps resembled submarine rocks, and the whole
illusion was so perfect that they caught themselves not breathing, and
wondering how long they could stay submerged.

When Grim started to speak Ghandava held a hand up and restrained him.
Silence, it seemed, was part of the twilight mystery. There was no heat,
it was cooler there than in the other cave; no light but the dim
opalescence in which shuttles made of other light swam. Nothing to
understand. It stripped incomprehension naked and left it aware of
itself.

"Come!" said Ghandava. "You have seen a workshop older than Benares! You
have seen enough!"

Ali had seen enough to stir cupidity, and it controlled him. He brushed
by with his hand on his knife-hilt and was for plunging into the cavern
with his left arm hiding his face. The illusion of green water was too
real to be faced without subconscious precaution of some sort. He walked
forward with the sidewise pendulum motion of one who wades into the
surf--threw up both hands suddenly--turned--and came hurrying back with
eyes and tongue protruding. "No air!" he gasped.

But something else had terrified him--something he could not, and never
tried to explain. Followed by his two sons he took to his heels, pursuing
Chullunder Ghose and the women up toward daylight; and was first out on
the summit of the tower with a view of all Benares, in spite of the
others' long start, thanks to the legs and the wind of a mountaineer.

"Behold, who would worship Allah?" asked Narayan Singh; and there being
no more Moslems there, none answered.

Slowly, with Ghandava in the lead, they returned by the tunnel and the
steps within the tower, none saying much because of breathlessness, nor
any climbing better than Ghandava, much the eldest, who waited at least a
dozen times for them to overtake him. Up near the summit of the tower he
opened a door that admitted to a gallery with a pierced stone screen
around it; and there in full sunlight, with eyes aching, and with the
sound of Ali's voice arguing above, they squatted down facing the Ganges
to learn what more Ghandava had in store for them. He sat meditating for
ten minutes before he spoke. Then:

"Only Truth persists. All _things_ are relative, and pass when they have
seen their day. Truth is and all phenomena are Maya.* It is nothing,
then, that what you have just seen must vanish. Benares has vanished ten
times. The river below you has swallowed city on top of city, and the
cavern we were in lies under the foundations of a temple whose steps the
Ganges laved long before Egypt grew beside the Nile. This was the Temple
of the Mysteries before the Pyramids were built. And now it perishes. But
Truth remains."

[* Delusion.]

"Were the men we saw below there any of the Nine Unknown?" demanded
Ramsden.

"None of them," Ghandava answered, looking him full in the face. "The men
you saw are _chelas_. You will never see the Nine Unknown."

He was growing restless, for Ghandava. There was still the air of contact
with eternity that made him so courteous and earned respect for him
without his claiming it. But there was a subtle change, nevertheless,
though he waited to speak again until he had their absolute attention.
Then:

"The appointed time is now. I will instruct Mr. Jeremy and those who are
to work with him. Are you two ready?"

Ramsden and Narayan Singh met each other's eyes and nodded gravely.

"There is a _chela_ below, who will lead you to the place where the
Kali-worshipers make ready. He will leave you there. Gauri, in a minute,
taking words from my mouth, will give you a message to deliver. They will
believe the message, but will keep you with them unless they are more mad
than there is reason to believe. There are grades of madness. Theirs is
familiar, and understood. All then that will remain for you to do will be
to persuade them to watch Mr. Jeremy, and to follow him to the woman. You
will be cared for. Play your parts, tell only truth, say no more than you
must, and remember you are rendering a service to humanity."

"Nevertheless, I will take my sword with me," announced Narayan Singh.



CHAPTER XXI - "MY HOUSE IS CLEAN AGAIN!"


It WAS noon when Narayan Singh and Ramsden, following a _chela_ fifty
years of age, chose what shadows were available in streets that baked
like ovens between the stifling walls. The _chela_ led them past an
opening in a carved wall and gave the agreed signal, passing on as if
unconscious of them. They turned and walked boldly into a ruinous temple,
whose floor was deep with the dung of sacred bulls and whose only light
was from little oil-dishes swung by wires from a roof invisible in gloom.

As the eyes grew used to the dark they were aware of the big bronze man
in yellow who had been their prisoner, standing with his back to an
inner-door with arms folded over his breast. They could see the white
teeth glistening between thick lips, and the whites of his eyes with a
glow behind them.

He in no way resembled a spider, yet Jeff thought of him as one.
Imagination painted in the web. He looked as if he expected them and,
saying nothing, beckoned, with his other hand behind him on the handle of
the wooden door. When they were near enough he threw the door open and
stood aside to let them pass in.

Jeff led the way with the nerves of his neck all tingling in expectation
of a silken handkerchief from ambush. The only thought in his head just
then was whether his neck-muscles might not be strong enough to resist
the handkerchief for the necessary fraction of a second until his fists
could come in play. Imagination! For in step behind him strode the Sikh,
who, if nothing more, would have given the alarm in time.

They were in a round room lighted by kerosene lanterns and scant rays
filtered through old sacking stretched across openings in the gloom
overhead. The walls were the base of a dome, whose arch was dimly
visible, and around the walls not less than seventy men in yellow sat
facing the center, where a plain stone platform a yard high stood in the
midst of pillars that rose up in the form of a pentagon into the dark--a
pillar to the apex of each angle.

They wore no masks, but the faces of all alike were stamped with evil and
it would have been next to impossible to memorize the varying features.
Proud, confident, deliberate crime was the key-note according unity, and
it might have been four-score reflections of one face for all that a man
could remember otherwise. The enormous bronze man leered at Jeff,
thrusting his face so close that it was all that Jeff could do to refrain
from punching him again; but all he did was to lead Jeff and Narayan
Singh to the platform, where he left them to face whichever way they
chose.

"You may sit down!" said a voice in English.

But they continued standing. To have sat or squatted would have betrayed
the long sword under the Sikh's smock--their only weapon. Jeff had left
his automatic behind on Ghandava's advice, since--as Ghandava phrased
it--"it is easier not to kill when the means are absent. He who
interferes with no man's _karma_ is wisest."

They turned around, peering through the pillars to discover from which
face the voice had come. He who had spoken waited until they both faced
him, then spoke again--

"Where is SHE?"

He was a little man--the smallest in the room, and his voice was as tiny
and mean as his English accent was ludicrous, stressing each syllable,
querulous, excited, full of a kind of schoolmaster authority.

"_She_ sent us," Jeff answered, and there was silence for the space of
half a minute while they all considered the reply. Then:

"That may be so," a voice said from across the room. "How else should
they know this place?"

"Why did _she_ send you?" asked the little man.

He appeared to be in haste for information. Jeff obliged him.

"_She_ said to me and to this other man: 'Obey me, and be rewarded. Tell
those whom you will find in the place I name to follow you to where a
_fakir_ in the robe of Kali is performing feats. Follow the _fakir_ to
wherever _he_ goes. _He_ will lead to the place of the secrets you two
men have seen.'"

"You have seen? What have you seen? They say they have seen!"

He translated the information into another tongue, and there was a chorus
of exclamations. Then the little man said again--

"What have you seen?"

Jeff told him: "We saw the gold turn liquid and drop on the green anvil.
We saw it turn to blinding light with a great explosion. We saw the place
behind the wall, where the secret is and the men prepare it. But we only
saw one bar of gold."

"Bah! Bah! Who cares for the bars of gold if we have the secret! Where is
this place?"

"The gold-light blinded us," Jeff answered. "We were led. But the _fakir_
knows the way."

"How should _he_ know?"

"He can make the dead talk," Jeff answered with perfect irrelevance, and
there was another pause while they considered that.

Narayan Singh nudged Jeff. A man who had risen from the wall was walking
toward them. He came close and looked into their faces, all unconscious
of the sword that trembled on the Sikh's thigh. They recognized their
first prisoner whom Grim had let go. Without a word he returned to his
place by the wall and then, standing:

"That is so," he said. "These are the same men. Their _fakir_ makes the
dead speak, having stolen that secret from the Nine or learned it from
the books of Cyprian. One of them slew Kansa, our leader in Delhi, and
they brought the corpse a distance in the cart with me. In the presence
of all who were in the cart, Kansa spoke to me, being dead, bidding me
obey these people."

He sat down. His speech, too, was received in silence.

"Why does _she_ not come to _us_?" asked the man with the squeaky voice
at last. And Jeff, primed an hour before by Gauri picking words from
Ghandava's lips, was ready with the answer:

"She said if we would help her, we may become as you, members of your
order, sharing in all things. So we help. It was _she_ who went before us
into the place where gold becomes light. She said she will be there
waiting, only we must come soon."

"What sign did she give?" the big, bronze man demanded with a sneer.

And for answer to that Jeff threw into the lap of the little man with the
squeaky voice a golden skull twisted from the end of a necklace that
morning in spite of Gauri's protests. The little man considered it a
minute. Then:

"This is trite," he said at last. "_She_ would not have told the secret
signs. See, all of you!"

And he sent the gold skull passing around the circle from hand to hand,
until it returned to his again.

It was as clear as twice two, even to Jeff's ponderous intellect, that
these men were not being taken by surprise. Some one had been there
already--some one at Ghandava's instigation probably--warning what they
could expect. They were like men strained to the start of a race, so
keyed up by expectation that caution was irksome and at most perfunctory.

However, there followed a debate, because some maintained that one of the
messengers ought to be kept prisoner while individuals should be sent
with the other to investigate the _fakir_ and report. The majority were
for obeying the summons immediately. They said She was a seeress and they
said other things about her, that would not look well between the covers
of a book, but that explained a great deal of their ritual and
superstition. And at last the prisoner whom Ali had kept without water
got tip on his feet.

Jeff broke into a sweat, and Narayan Singh drew in breath sharply between
his teeth, for on this man's temper--so Ghandava said--more depended than
was good to contemplate.

But it seemed he was not so revengeful against Ali as to offset that
against success: he spoke fluently in a tongue that not even Narayan
Singh knew, apparently urging them to obey the summons and make
haste--touching his own breast, as a man might who argues that his
judgment of a situation was more trustworthy than others. They appeared
to yield. Then the big bronze man who had acted janitor raised another
point.

He, too, used the secret language but his argument was plain enough. He
demanded that Jeff and Narayan Singh be tied and put in his charge. That
was agreed to. He had copper-wire in his hand in readiness to tie their
wrists together, but the other man who had been prisoner forestalled him
with thick twine. He refused to tie their bands behind their backs, as
the other wanted to, arguing that that would attract attention passing
through the streets, but lashed Jeff's right wrist to Narayan Singh's
left. Then some one gave them a basket to carry between them with a cloth
thrown over it so that their wrists were hidden.

There was no more said. The man who had tied them lost apparent interest
and mingled with the others. The big bronze man leered threateningly in
Jeff's face and pointed toward the door, following about one stride
behind with the evident intention of killing at the first suspicion of
trickery, and the others filed out one by one in solemn procession led by
the smallest man of all, who had spoken first.

Seventy men in single file, headed by two stalwarts carrying a basket
between them, would arouse comment anywhere but in Benares. There, there
are fifty more astonishing processions on almost any day of the year, and
all are so absorbed about the business of their own escape from _Maya_
that none disturbs himself about the other man's affairs. They were not
even noticed. If one thing about them were remarkable it was that they
excited no remarks, despite the yellow smocks and the caste-mark of their
dreadful goddess; and when they filed through a gate into a temple-yard
and vanished they passed from the mind of the crowd as well.

It was a yard like any of a hundred in that city of clustered shrines.
Four walls, carved deep with the forgotten stories of a thousand gods,
enclosed an oblong space paved with heavy blocks in front of a temple
whose every inch was carved in high relief--and all so black with age and
dirt that none might read what legend it embodied. It was hidden lore, as
safe from public knowledge as the books whose ashes lay in Cyprian's
kiln, or as the Mysteries of the Nine themselves.

But on the temple steps in front of the portico a part was being enacted
that any one might interpret how he chose.

A _fakir_ smeared with ashes, and as nearly naked as the law permits,
with more meat on his well-ribbed frame than the ordinary run of _fakirs_
boast, was doing tricks with three skulls before a spell-bound gathering
of nondescripts. It was amusing stuff, and the effect on the audience was
like champagne, laughter being ten times welcome in a place where all
else is so serious as in Benares.

For a while he would keep the three skulls circling in the air in the way
that any common juggler can contrive; but then, with both arms suddenly
extended to their limit, he would cause the game to cease and the skulls
came to a dead rest facing the audience, one on the palm of each extended
hand and the third on his plain black turban.

Then each skull talked to each, or tossed amusing scraps of wisdom to the
audience.

It was perfect foolery, so masterfully done that folly seemed no part of
it. To an audience asking only to believe, and dreading more than
anything to criticize, it was inspired--miraculous--in keeping with the
place--undoubtedly contrived by unseen Powers.

The advent of the seventy in yellow, with two stalwarts bearing a basket
at their head, was so plainly a religious portent that the audience,
already enraptured, now gave double credence--a condition that reverted
on the seventy, causing them, if not to believe in the _fakir's_ occult
powers, at least to credit his authority.

The _fakir_ set the jawless skulls again in motion and the seventy sat
down to see. Then a fat man with a naked stomach, his sanctity expressed
by ashes, and a pink silk turban crowning all, came and sat in front of
the _fakir_, below him on the paving stones, facing both him and the
audience. And while the three skulls bobbed and circled in air the fat
man spoke in Hindustance, which was the only language likely to be
understood by more than a handful of any Benares audience.

"Hear what _she_ says!" he whined in a nasal singsong. "Who is _she_? Let
any ask who dares! Where is _she_? Let him tell, who can find her! What
says _she_? The skulls will tell! Now listen!"

They ceased from circling in air and rested as before on the _fakir's_
head and his extended hands. The _fakir's_ ashen face was motionless, and
no breath seemed to come and go now through his slightly-parted lips.
Only his head jerked suddenly from side to side from one skull to the
other, so that all eyes followed his. He appeared to be wondering as much
as they did at the dead things' hollow voices.

Hollow they were--maybe to cover mispronunciation and croaking, as may be
forgiven dead things. And as each one spoke, it moved, not much, but
enough to suggest an unseen lower jaw--although if the _fakir's_ hands
moved too no one observed it. Not even his head seemed to nod, to account
for the movement of the skull that rested on it. The _fakir_ said never a
word.

"I am the skull of Akbar!" said the left-hand skull.

"I am the skull of Iskander!" replied the right-hand one.

"And ye were two fools!" croaked the upper, all eyes watching it as the
_fakir_ turned his upward.

"I had gold in my day!" announced the Akbar skull.

"I had more! I had more!" the thing that named itself Iskander answered.
And the audience thrilled. They were Hindus. Neither of those famous
kings had been of their faith.

"Where is the gold now?" croaked the upper skull. "I buried mine!" said
Akbar.

"I buried mine!" Iskander answered.

"Where?" demanded the skull on top.

"I forget!" said the right-hand skull.

"I lost the secret!" said the one on the left.

"I keep the secret!" croaked the upper one.

"Who art thou?" asked the Akbar skull.

"I am a woman in a leopard-skin! I am _she_ who knows the secret! They
who have the right should follow me!"

"Yes! Whoever is not afraid of the spirits that guard the secret,
follow!" piped the fat man; and the greater part of the audience
trembled, glancing sidewise at one another and remaining seated. They
were no such fools as to trespass into ancient secrets. Some began to run
away, fearing sorcery.

Tossing the skulls from hand to hand the _fakir_ disappeared into the
temple. The courtyard emptied. The men in yellow, led by Jeff and Narayan
Singh carrying the basket, followed the _fakir_ one by one. Another of
India's every-day marvels was a thing gone by, to be discussed and
magnified and finally forgotten or else woven into the fabric of
religious legend.

Jeff and Narayan Singh walked swiftly. They wanted to speak, but did not
dare, for they could not outdistance the bronze man at their heels; and
the others came equally fast, breaking into a run as the _fakir_
disappeared down an opening in the hollow-shaped floor of a dark chamber.

The _fakir_ was all alone, and seemed in haste. (No sign of the fat
impresario.) In darkness they could hear the _fakir's_ naked feet
shuffling along an echoing tunnel, and the big bronze man urged Jeff and
Narayan Singh to run. Jeff kicked something, and a hollow rattle
announced a skull bouncing away in the dark ahead of him. The bronze
giant's toes struck another one, and a man somewhere behind them kicked
the third. The _fakir_ had abandoned his dead oracles! He appeared to be
in full flight.

That was too much for the giant. He thrust Narayan Singh aside and rushed
by, following by ear, bellowing back to the crowd to hurry after him. And
as the first half-dozen forced themselves between Narayan Singh and the
right-hand wall the blade of a knife passed between his wrist and
Ramsden's. The thongs that held them together parted, and a voice said:

"Wisely, _sahibs_! Hold the basket as before!"

They turned to look, but could not see. The tunnel was alive with men who
hurried by them, until every man of the seventy had passed, excepting
one. He tugged at them.

"Now turn back!" he urged excitedly.

"Who are you Jeff asked, but he could not answer. The Sikh had him by the
throat and was burning the darkness with his eyes, trying to recognize
him.

"Quick! Who are you?" Jeff repeated.

As he spoke the faint reflection of a far-off flash of light lifted the
darkness, like summer-lightning. Simultaneously Jeff and the Sikh
recognized the prisoner whom Ali had kept dry. He was scared--in pain
because of fingers clutching at his throat--but unmistakable. The Sikh
let go.

"Quick! Come away!" he gasped, pulling at them.

Both men answered with the curt laugh that expresses resolution but no
humor. They did not propose to leave friend _fakir-_Jeremy alone in the
van of that stampede.

"Where is Chullunder Ghose?" Jeff blurted. The babu was to have been on
hand to keep them posted.

"Ali? Where is Ali?" Narayan Singh demanded--presumably of the gods who
order men's affairs.

"I don't know! Something has gone wrong! Ghandava sahib said--I promised
him--"

They did not stay to listen.

"Forward _sahib_!" urged Narayan Singh, and the whistling air announced
he had drawn steel from under the yellow smock.

"Fools!" said the voice of a man in yellow, but they left him standing.

It was blind work--blind as Jeremy's must have been. Holding each other
they charged at top speed into night in which they could see nothing but
the blood behind their own eyes. Once another flash in front of them
lifted the darkness for a second; but it was only as if it were the echo
of a strong light; it made matters worse by confusing the darkness,
filling imagination with a million terrors.

Then something--some one--animal or man--in head-long flight toward
them, the noise of his hurrying feet all mixed in the volleying echoes
of the stampede on ahead! Impossible to guess! It might be the tail end
of the mob returning. Echo of another flash--then din incredible that
drove the eardrums inward--then it--he--who--whatever it was diving
headlong under the swipe of the Sikh's sword and clinging to their legs
to save himself!

"For God's sake!"

"Jeremy!"

"Rammy, old top! Quick! Help me up! No--stand here! Stop them! Some'll
come back! Somethings wrong!"

"What is it?"

"God knows! Juice didn't work or something! Half of them dead and the
other half milling around the cave to find things! Pitch black--blazing
light--pitch black again--and every one crazy! Got a knife Narayan
Singh?"

"A sabre, _sahib_!"

"Good. Swat them!"

It was time! Another flash, fiercer than any yet, and a blast of hot
wind followed by the scurrying of feet. The Sikh sprang forward, and
they heard the swish and thump of his weapon as he struck down three men
in succession. Then a scuffle and the Sikh's cry of warning as a man
burst by him.

Jeff charged--blind--bull-headed--at an enemy he could only hear--and in
a second he was at death-grips with the giant who had acted janitor! He
recognized the fellow's grip again--the deadlt enormous strenth and the
python-hug, crushing and releasing, crushing and releasing. Then, in
another of those echo-flashes he could see his face leering with thick
lips----

"Quick! Oh God! That's the end!" yelled Jeremy. "Come you fellows!
Water! For the love of----"

He never knew afterward whether he saw the end first or sensed it
coming. There was a blinding flash and a din beyond imagining--then
wind--a hot blast--scouring out the tunnel, driving them in front of it
like wads down a gun-barrel, until it ceased in what seemed vacuum.
Lungs ached, and they retched; but a blast of air ice-cold by contrast,
came whistling back, providing breath, but no other surcease, for they
heard like a flood at war with fire the seething roar of water, and the
earth's foundations seemed to shake beneath them.

"Are you there?" yelled Jeremy, groping wildly for his friends.

Narayan Singh gripped him by the shoulder, and the two turned back for
Jeff. They stumbled on him, wrapped in death-grip with his adversary. The
Sikh's foot struck home into the bronze giant's stomach. Jeff's fist,
breaking from a python-hold, descended like a poleax on the giant's neck,
and in a second the three were careering headlong for the tunnel's end
with the pressure of a full gale and the roar of a boiling flood so near
behind them that in their spines they knew the very feel of death. By the
arms the two dragged Jeff waist-deep out of surging water that followed
and swamped the hollow temple floor, and the three fell all together
gasping in the sunshine on the portico.

There presently Chullunder Ghose, still smeared with ashes and
half-naked, cane to them with the erstwhile prisoner in yellow trying not
to appear to walk with him. The babu was triumphant, the man in yellow
sheepish, hiding fear under a veneer of pride.

"Where is Ali?" gasped Narayan Singh.

"Gone!" said Chullunder Ghose. "_Sahibs_, all is lost but honor!"
Nonchalantly he toyed with one great emerald ear-stud. "Am unfortunate
babu, but there are compensations. Devil, being slow on foot presumably,
takes hindermost fugitive who is too fat to run--sometimes! There _are_
exceptions. Am same. Exceptional this time--very!"

"_Where_ has Ali gone?"

"Where does flame go when _any_ person blows out candle? To where it came
from, I _suspect_. _Verb. sap_. All _did_ come from Sikunderam, same
being suitable environment for gent of his kidney. Ali said to me: 'May
Allah do so to this son of my mother, and more likewise, if those
_sahibs_ are not asking for destruction. I have lost too many sons. What
shall I do about it? There will be police investigation and many corpses
to explain.'--And this babu, being abject individual, had access of
enlightenment, plus memory of much experience with legal luminaries. Am
known to the police. Same is reciprocal. Police are also known to me.
Nice, isn't it" he asked, turning the emerald toward the sunlight.

He was ordered bluntly to explain himself, and to cut the explanation
short.

"Am not explainable," he answered. "Am portion of riddle of universe, but
capable of genius on occasion. It occurred to this babu that you are very
ballistic _sahibs_--oh yes, very--likely to be spat forth same as bullets
from throat of any cataclysm. Yes--am optimist. Having assisted Jeremy
_sahib_ to juggle with skulls in temple compound, am henceforth capable
of believing anything--even that Jeremy _sahib_ will survive underworld
explosions. Ergo--_sahibs_, there is no hurry; I tell you Ali has
vanished; so has everybody!--ergo, it occurred to this babu _most_
opportunely that scapegoat is needed to obsess intellect of seriously
exercised police, who will be spurred to indiscreet enquiries by
higher-ups in club armchairs. Who better than Ali? What solution better
than elopement to Sikunderam? No sooner thought than said--for a price!
Good counsel in emergency is surely worth two emeralds, but an Afghan is
more thrifty than Scotchman, Jew, Armenian and Greek combined, plus
Yankee trader thrown in. He would only part with one! Pretty, isn't it?
Worth, what would you say? How much?"

"Come now, come--what happened?" Ramsden demanded.

"Solution happened, _sahib_, this babu advising, Ali making much haste to
elope with lady. Thus. The Gauri knew too much. Too much knowledge, in
brain of lady of her mode of living, leading to blackmail sooner than
later always, same leading to inveiglement in nets of the
police,--distance should therefore lend enchantment to otherwise somewhat
faded charms of said enchantress. _Nicht wahr_? She has dowry--less one
emerald, surrendered as extremely meagre fee to this babu, who explained
to her that unless she shall hide her charms in Sikunderam with Ali, who
will make her, perhaps and perhaps not, queen of many cutthroats, the
police will inevitably capture her and take the jewelry. And to Ali this
babu remarked that unless he shall take the Gauri with him, she will most
certainly betray to the police his weakness for butchering inoffensive
members of Hindu religious sect. And as for the maid, let Ali's son take
her, she also knowing too much. Advice was accepted--on spot--instantly.
Three-fold solution--very excellent. Ali has a wife, who has a dowry. One
son has a wife, who has youth and good looks. The other surviving son has
an example. They are gone--northward. Can you beat it? as Jimgrim would
remark."

"Where are King and Grim?" demanded Jeff.

"Hunting for me, _sahib_. They are very angry. I can not imagine why.
They suspect me of complicity in flight of Ali. Most unreasonable. I am
here to beg your honors' confidence--and _some_ additional emolument, not
as inducement--oh, no, most unnecessary!--but by way of reward in advance
for holding my tongue! Am not altruist," he added significantly.

"What do _you_ want here?" demanded Jeremy, looking straight into the
face of the erstwhile prisoner.

"Protection!" he answered, rather humbly. "Bhima Ghandava has
disappeared."

"What of it?" asked Jeremy.

"He is that member of the Nine Unknown whom I was to have killed! I
betrayed my party to him, thinking it better that they should all perish.
But now Ghandava _sahib_ has disappeared, and I have no friends!"

Chullunder Ghose tapped him on the shoulder.

"Have you money?" he demanded. "No? Jewelry? No? Well--am charitable.
This babu will give advice in _forma pauperis_. Go and be a hermit, which
is proper course for individual with aching conscience and no friends!
Go! Be off! In words of Hamlet, stay not--"

But the man in yellow was already gone; perhaps he was afraid of King and
Grim, angry, sweating, baffled, who came hurrying across the temple
courtyard.

"Bhima Ghandava has disappeared!" King announced out of breath, and then
listened while Ramsden related what had happened.

They went and pounded on the door of the house where they had been
lodged, but none answered, and they desisted at last in fear of the
police. However, the police were all busy on the waterfront, where an
ancient ruin on which _fakirs_ used to stand in turns, had vanished into
the river--by earthquake, as the newspapers asserted afterward--although
no seismographs recorded any earthquake in Benares.

There was nothing to be done but to return to Delhi, and no man but
Cyprian to whom they dared to go. To have asked anybody else to obtain
European clothing for them would have led too surely to enquiry. They
searched for him first at Ghandava's house, but found that empty and
deserted. Cyprian was back in his own home, being nursed by Manoel, who
looked ashamed--repentant.

"The rascal!" said Cyprian. "The rogue! The impudent, incorrigible
sinner! You remember, there was a front page missing from one of my
occult books that be had hidden under a blanket in the pantry? Well, he,
Manoel had torn it out. I found him--where do you think? I found him in a
rear room in a back-street starting a new religion with the aid of that
page of symbols! Rascal! But he is not altogether bad. He has been a
comfort. See, my sons--my house is clean again!"

"But why did you leave Ghandava's house?" asked Jeremy.

"They came and took all the furniture away!"

"Who did?"

"I don't know. People I had never seen before. They provided me with a
carriage to come home in, but gave no explanations. I hope Ghandava is
not in difficulties. He was always a courteous host and a considerate
friend, but there is only one possible result of dabbling in occultism
and the black arts."

"We heard," said Jeremy, "that he is one of the NINE--one of the actual
NINE UNKNOWN."

"Oh, no," said Cyprian. "Oh, no! I don't believe it. Whoever the Nine
Unknown are, they are devils--men without souls! Bhima Ghandava is a
gentleman. No, no, he can't be one of them."

"Nevertheless, Pop, I believe he is!" said Jeremy.

"So do I," said King and Grim together.

"I'm pretty nearly sure of it," said Ramsden cautiously. "Remember: he
said that what _we_ saw was merely a trifle--nothing compared to all the
other knowledge of the Nine Unknown."

"My son, it is easy to say things," said Cyprian.

"Aye," exclaimed Narayan Singh, "and difficult to know things. But I
_know_. And no man can persuade me I do not know. Bhima Ghandava is one
of them."

"Knowledge," said Chullunder Ghose, rubbing his fat stomach, "what is
knowledge for, if not for use? Myself, am pragmatist. Myself, am
satisfied that _sahibs_ wisely trusting this babu to hold his tongue will
provide same abject individual with continuous employment at a generous
remuneration. No, _sahibs_, no! Am good sport! No--no threat intended!
Blackmail not included in my compendium of ways and means! Am gentleman,
accepting sportsmanlike standard of West and looking forward to reward--"

"In hell, I'm afraid, unless you mend your ways, my, friend!" said
Cyprian.



THE END



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