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Title: Selected Stories Author: Talbot Mundy * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1300041h.html Language: English Date first posted: December 2012 Most recent update: December 2012 This eBook was produced by: Blue Tyson and Roy Glashan Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
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SO long as its colors remain, and there is one man left to carry them, a regiment can never die; they can recruit it again around that one man, and the regiment will continue on its road to future glory with the same old traditions behind it and the same atmosphere surrounding it that made brave men of its forbears. So although the colors are not exactly the soul of a regiment, they are the concrete embodiment of it, and are even more sacred than the person of a reigning sovereign.
The First Egyptian Foot had colors — and has them still, thanks to Billy Grogram; so the First Egyptian Foot is still a regiment. It was the very first of all the regiments raised in Egypt, and the colors were lovely crimson things on a brand new polished pole, cased in the regulation jacket of black waterproof and housed with all pomp and ceremony in the mess-room at the barracks. There were people who said it was bad policy to present colors to a native regiment; that they were nothing more than a symbol of a decadent and waning monarchism in any case, and that the respect which would be due them might lead dangerously near to fetish-worship. As a matter of cold fact, though, the raw recruits of the regiment failed utterly to understand them, and it was part of Billy Grogram's business to instill in them a wholesome respect for the sacred symbol of regimental honor.
He was Sergeant-Instructor William Stanford Grogram, V.C., D.S.M., to give him his full name and title, late a sergeant-major of the True and Tried, time expired, and retired from service on a pension. His pension would have been enough for him to live on, for he was unmarried, his habits were exemplary, and his wants were few; but an elder brother had been a ne'er-do- well, and Grogram, who was the type that will die rather than let any one of his depend on charity, left the army with a sister-in-law and a small tribe of children dependent on him. Work, of course, was the only thing left for it, and he applied promptly for the only kind of work that he knew how to do.
The British are always making new regiments out of native material in some part of the world; they come cheaper than white troops, and, with a sprinkling of white troops among them, they do wonderfully good service In time of war — thanks to the sergeant instructors. The officers get the credit for It, but it Is the ex-noncommissioned officers of the Line who do the work, as Grogram was destined to discover. They sent him out to Instruct the First Egyptian Foot, and it turned out to be the toughest proposition that any one lonely, determined, homesick fighting-man ever ran up against.
He was not looking for a life of idleness and ease, so the discomfort of his new quarters did not trouble him overmuch, though they would have disgusted another man at the very beginning. They gave him a little, white-washed, mud-walled hut, with two bare rooms in it, and a lovely view on three sides of aching desert sand; on the fourth a blind wall.
It was as hot inside as a baker's oven, but It had the one great advantage of being easily kept clean, and Grogram, whose fetish was cleanliness, bore that in mind, and forbore to grumble at the absence of a sergeant's mess and the various creature comforts that his position had entitled him to for years.
What did disgust him, though, was the unfairness of saddling the task that lay in front of him on the shoulders of one lone man; his officers made it quite clear that they had no intention of helping him in the least; from the Colonel downward they were ashamed of the regiment, and they expected Grogram to work it into something like shape before they even began to take an interest in it. The Colonel went even further than that; he put in an appearance at Orderly Room every morning and once a week attended a parade out on the desert where nobody could see the awful evolutions of his raw command, but he, actually threw cold water on Grogram's efforts at enthusiasm.
"You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear," he told him a few mornings after Grogram joined, "or well-drilled soldiers out of Gyppies. Heaven only knows what the Home Government means by trying to raise a regiment out here; at the very best we'll only be teaching the enemy to fight us! But you'll find they won't learn. However, until the Government finds out what a ghastly mistake's being made, there's nothing for it but to obey orders and drill Gyppies. Go ahead, Grogram; I give you a free hand. Try anything you like on them, but don't ask me to believe there'll be any result from it. Candidly I don't."
But Grogram happened to be a different type of man from his new Colonel. After a conversation such as that, he could have let things go hang had he chosen to, drawing his pay, doing his six hours' work a day along the line of least resistance, and blaming the inevitable consequences on the Colonel. But to him a duty was something to be done; an impossibility was something to set his clean-shaven, stubborn jaw at and to overcome; and a regiment was a regiment, to be kneaded and pummeled and damned and coaxed and drilled, till it began to look as the True and Tried used to look in the days when he was sergeant-major. So he twisted his little brown mustache and drew himself up to the full height of his five feet eight inches, spread his well-knit shoulders, straightened his ramrod of a back and got busy on the job, while his Colonel and the other officers did the social rounds in Cairo and cursed their luck.
The material that Grogram had to work with were fellaheen* — good, honest coal-black negroes, giants in stature, the embodiment of good-humored incompetence, children of the soil weaned on raw-hide whips under the blight of Turkish misrule and Arab cruelty. They had no idea that they were even men till Grogram taught them; and he had to learn Arabic first before he could teach them even that.
[* fellah, plural fellaheen (Arabic) — a peasant or cultivator of the soil among the Egyptians, Syrians, etc. Webster's Dictionary, 1913 edition. ]
They began by fearing him, as their ancestors had feared every new breed of task-master for centuries; gradually they learned to look for instant and amazing justice at his hands, and from then on they respected him. He caned them instead of getting them fined by the Colonel or punished with pack-drill for failing things they did not understand; they were thoroughly accustomed to the lash, and his light swagger-cane laid on their huge shoulders was a joke that served merely to point his arguments and fix his lessons in their memories; they would not have understood the Colonel's wrath had he known that the men of his regiment were being beaten by a non-commissioned officer.
They began to love him when he harked back to the days when he was a recruit himself, and remembered the steps of a double-shuffle that he had learned in the barrack-room; when he danced a buck and wing dance for them they recognized him as a man and a brother, and from that time on, instead of giving him all the trouble they could and laughing at his lectures when his back was turned, they genuinely tried to please him.
So he studied out more steps, and danced his way into their hearts, growing daily stricter on parade, daily more exacting of pipe-clay and punctuality, and slowly, but surely as the march of time, molding them into something like a regiment.
Even he could not teach them to shoot, though he sweated over them on the dazzling range until the sun dried every drop of sweat out of him. And for a long time he could not even teach them how to march; they would keep step for a hundred yards or so, and then lapse into the listless shrinking stride that was the birthright of centuries.
He pestered the Colonel for a band of sorts until the Colonel told him angrily to go to blazes; then he wrote home and purchased six fifes with his own money, bought a native drum in the bazaar, and started a band on his own account.
Had he been able to read music himself he would have been no better off, because of course the fellaheen he had to teach could not have read it either, though possibly he might have slightly increased the number of tunes in their repertoire.
As it was, he knew only two tunes himself — "The Campbells Are Coming," and the National Anthem.
He picked the six most intelligent men he could find and whistled those two tunes to them until his lips were dry and his cheeks ached and his very soul revolted at the sound of them. But the six men picked them up; and, of course, any negro in the world can beat a drum. One golden morning before the sun had heated up the desert air the regiment marched past in really good formation, all in step, and tramping to the tune of "God Save the Queen."
The Colonel nearly had a fit, but the regiment tramped on and the band played them back to barracks with a swing and a rhythm that was new not only to the First Egyptian Foot; it was new to Egypt! The tune was half a tone flat maybe, and the drum was a sheepskin business bought in the bazaar, but a new regiment marched behind it. And behind the regiment — two paces right flank, as the regulations specify — marched a sergeant-instructor with a new light in his eyes — the gray eyes that had looked out so wearily from beneath the shaggy eyebrows, and that shone now with the pride of a deed well done.
Of course the Colonel was still scornful. But Billy Grogram, who had handled men when the Colonel was cutting his teeth at Sandhurst, and who knew men from the bottom up, knew that the mob of unambitious countrymen, who had grinned at him in uncomfortable silence when he first arrived, was beginning to forget its mobdom. He, who spent his hard-earned leisure talking to them and answering their childish questions in hard-won Arabic, knew that they were slowly grasping the theory of the thing — that a soul was forming in the regiment — an indefinable, unexplainable, but obvious change, perhaps not unlike the change from infancy to manhood.
And Billy Grogram, who above all was a man of clean ideals, began to feel content. He still described them in his letters home as "blooming mummies made of Nile mud, roasted black for their sins, and good for nothing but the ash-heap." He still damned them on parade, whipped them when the Colonel wasn't looking, and worked at them until he was much too tired to sleep; but he began to love them. And to a big, black, grinning man of them, they loved him. To encourage that wondrous band of his, he set them to playing their two tunes on guest nights outside the officers' mess; and the officers endured it until the Colonel returned from furlough. He sent for Grogram and offered to pay him back all he had spent on instruments, provided the band should keep away in future.
Grogram refused the money and took the hint, inventing weird and hitherto unheard-of reasons why it should be unrighteous for the band to play outside the mess, and preaching respect for officers in spite of it. Like all great men he knew when he had made a mistake, and how to minimize it.
His hardest task was teaching the Gyppies what their colors meant. The men were Mohammedans; they believed in Allah; they had been taught from the time when they were old enough to speak that idols and the outward symbols of religion are the signs of heresy; and Grogram's lectures, delivered in stammering and uncertain Arabic, seemed to them like the ground-plan of a new religion. But Grogram stuck to it. He made opportunities for saluting the colors — took them down each morning and uncased them, and treated them with an ostentatious respect that would have been laughed at among his own people.
When his day's work was done and he was too tired to dance for them, he would tell them long tales, done into halting Arabic, of how regiments had died rallying round their colors; of a brand new paradise, invented by himself and suitable to all religions, where soldiers went who honored their colors as they ought to do; of the honor that befell a man who died fighting for them, and of the tenfold honor of the man whose privilege it was to carry them into action. And in the end, although they did not understand him, they respected the colors because he told them to.
WHEN England hovered on the brink of indecision and sent her greatest general to hold Khartoum with only a handful of native troops to help him, the First Egyptian Foot refused to leave their gaudy crimson behind them. They marched with colors flying down to the steamer that was to take them on the first long stage of their journey up the Nile, and there were six fifes and a drum in front of them that told whoever cared to listen that "The Campbells are coming — hurrah! hurrah!"
They marched with the measured tramp of a real regiment; they carried their chins high; their tarbooshes* were cocked at a knowing angle and they swung from the hips like grown men. At the head of the regiment rode a Colonel whom the regiment scarcely knew, and beside it marched a dozen officers in a like predicament; but behind it, his sword strapped to his side and his little swagger-cane tucked under his left arm-pit, Inconspicuous, smiling and content, marched Sergeant-Instructor Grogram, whom the regiment knew and loved, and who had made and knew the regiment.
[* tarboosh, tarbush (Arabic) — a red cap worn by Turks and other Eastern nations, sometimes alone and sometimes swathed with linen or other stuff to make a turban. Webster's Dictionary, 1913 edition. ]
The whole civilized world knows — and England knows to her enduring shame — what befell General Gordon and his handful of men when they reached Khartoum. Gordon surely guessed what was in store for him even before he started, his subordinates may have done so, and the native soldiers knew. But Sergeant-Instructor Grogram neither knew nor cared.
He looked no further than his duty, which was to nurse the big black babies of his regiment and to keep them good tempered, grinning and efficient; he did that as no other living man could have done it, and kept on doing it until the bitter end.
And his task can have been no sinecure. The Mahdi* — the ruthless terror of the Upper Nile who ruled by systematized and savage cruelty and lived by plunder — was as much a bogy to peaceful Egypt as Napoleon used to be in Europe, and with far more reason. Mothers frightened their children into prompt obedience by the mere mention of his name, and the coal-black natives of the Nile-mouth country are never more than grown-up children.
[* Mahdi — Muhammad Ahmad ibn as Sayyid Abd Allah (1844-1885) - otherwise known as The Mahdi or Mohammed Ahmed - was a Muslim religious leader, a fakir, in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. He declared a jihad and raised an army after declaring himself the Mahdi in 1881, and led a successful war of liberation from the Ottoman-Egyptian military occupation. He died soon after his liberation of Khartoum, and the state he founded fell victim to colonial maneuverings that doomed it to reconquest in 1899. Wikipedia, q.v. For more information see the Wikipedia article Mahdi. ]
It must have been as easy to take that regiment to Khartoum as to take a horse into a burning building, but when they reached there not a man was missing; they marched in with colors flying and their six-fife band playing, and behind them — two paces right flank rear — marched Billy Grogram, his little swagger-cane under his left arm-pit, neat, respectful and very wide awake. For a little while Cairo kept in touch with them, and then communication ceased. Nobody ever learned all the details of the tragedy that followed; there was a curtain drawn — of mystery and silence such as has always veiled the heart of darkest Africa.
Lord Wolseley took his expedition up the Nile, whipped the Dervishes at El Teb and Tel-el-Kebir, and reached Khartoum, to learn of Gordon's death, but not the details of it. Then he came back again; and the Mahdi followed him, closing up the route behind him, wiping all trace of civilization off the map and placing what he imagined was an insuperable barrier between him and the British — a thousand miles of plundered, ravished, depopulated wilderness.
So a clerk in a musty office drew a line below the record of the First Egyptian Foot; widows were duly notified; a pension or two was granted; and the regiment that Billy Grogram had worked so hard to build was relegated to the past, like Billy Grogram.
Rumors had come back along with Wolseley's men that Grogram had gone down fighting with his regiment; there was a story that the band had been taken alive and turned over to the Mahdi's private service, and one prisoner, taken near Khartoum, swore that he had seen Grogram speared as he lay wounded before the Residency. There was a battalion of the True and Tried with Wolseley; and the men used methods that may have been not strictly ethical in seeking tidings of their old sergeant-major; but even they could get no further details; he had gone down fighting with his regiment, and that was all about him.
Then men forgot him. The long steady preparation soon began for the new campaign that was to wipe the Mahdi off the map, restore peace to Upper Egypt, regain Khartoum and incidentally avenge Gordon. Regiments were slowly drafted out from home as barracks could be built for them; new regiments of native troops were raised and drilled by ex-sergeants of the Line who never heard of Grogram; new men took charge; and the Sirdar* superintended everything and laid his reputation brick by brick, of bricks which he made himself, and men were too busy under him to think of anything except the work in hand.
[* Sirdar (Hindi from Persian) — here, the title given to the British commander of the Egyptian army. MSN Encarta Dictionary, q.v. For other meanings of this term, see the articles in The Hobson Jobson Dictionary and Wikipedia. ]
But rumors kept coming in, as they always do in Egypt, filtering in from nowhere over the illimitable desert, borne by stray camel-drivers, carried by Dervish spies, tossed from tongue to tongue through the fishmarket, and carried up back stairs to Clubs and Department Offices. There were tales of a drummer and three men who played the fife and a wonderful mad feringhee* who danced as no man surely ever danced before. The tales varied, but there were always four musicians and a feringhee.
[* feringhee (Hindi from Farangistan, "Land of the Franks," i.e., Europe) — a European. Platt's Dictionary of Urdu, Classical Hindi, and English. ]
When one Dervish spy was caught and questioned he swore by the beard of the prophet that he had seen the men himself. He was told promptly that he was a liar; how came it that a feringhee — a pork-fed, infidel Englishman — should be allowed to live anywhere the Mahdi's long arm reached?
"Whom God hath touched—" the Dervish quoted; and men remembered that madness is the surest passport throughout the whole of Northern Africa. But nobody connected Grogram with the feringhee who danced.
But another man was captured who told a similar tale; and then a Greek trader, turned Mohammedan to save his skin, who had made good his escape from the Mahdi's camp. He swore to having seen this man as he put in one evening at a Nile-bank village in a native dhow. He was dressed in an ancient khaki tunic and a loin-cloth; he was bare-legged, shoeless, and his hair was long over his shoulders and plastered thick with mud. No, he did not look in the least like a British soldier, though he danced as soldiers sometimes did beside the camp-fires.
Three natives who were with him played fifes while the feringhee danced, and one man beat a drum. Yes, the tunes were English tunes, though very badly played; he had heard them before, and recognized them. No, he could not hum them; he knew no music. Why had he not spoken to the man who danced? He had not dared. The man appeared to be a prisoner and so were the natives with him; the man had danced that evening until he could dance no longer, and then the Dervishes had beaten him with a kurbash* for encouragement: the musicians had tried to interfere, and they had all been beaten and left lying there for dead. He was not certain, but he was almost certain they were dead before he came away.
[* kurbash (Arabic) — a whip or strap about a yard in length, made of the hide of the hippopotamus or rhinoceros. It is an instrument of punishment and torture that was used in various Muslim countries... Excerpted from Wikipedia. ]
Then, more than three years after Gordon died, there came another rumor, this time from closer at hand — somewhere in the neutral desert zone that lay between the Dervish outpost and the part of Lower Egypt that England held. This time the dancer was reported to be dying, but the musicians were still with him. They got the name of the dancer this time; it was reported to be Goglam, and though that was not at all a bad native guess for Grogram, nobody apparently noted the coincidence.
Men were too busy with their work; the rumor was only one of a thousand that filtered across the desert every month, and nobody remembered the non- commissioned officer who had left for Khartoum with the First Egyptian Foot; they could have recalled the names of all the officers almost without an effort, but not Grogram's.
EGYPT was busy with the hum of building — empire- building under a man who knew his job. Almost the only game the Sirdar countenanced was polo, and that only because it kept officers and civilians fit. He gave them all the polo, though, that they wanted, and the men grew keen on it, spent money on it, and needless to say, grew extraordinarily proficient.
And with the proficiency of course came competition — matches between regiments for the regimental cup and finally the biggest event of the Cairo season, the match between the Civil Service and the Army of Occupation, or, as it was more usually termed, "The Army vs. The Rest." That was the one society event that the Sirdar made a point of presiding over in person.
He attended it in mufti always, but sat in the seat of honor, just outside the touch-line, half-way down the field; and behind him, held back by ropes, clustered the whole of Cairene society, on foot, on horseback and in dog- carts, buggies, gigs and every kind of carriage imaginable. Opposite and at either end, the garrison lined up — all the British and native troops rammed in together; and the native population crowded in between them and wherever they could find standing-room.
It was the one event of the year for which all Egypt, Christian and Mohammedan, took a holiday. Regimental bands were there to play before the game and between the chukkers, and nothing was left undone that could in any way tend to make the event spectacular.
Two games had been played since the cup had been first presented by the Khedive,* and honors lay even — one match for the Army and one for the Civil Service. So on the third anniversary feeling ran fairly high. It ran higher still when half time was called and honors still lay even at one goal all; to judge by the excitement of the crowd, a stranger might have guessed that polo was the most important thing in Egypt. The players rode off the pavilion for the half-time interval, and the infantry band that came out onto the field was hard put to drown the noise of conversation and laughter and argument. At that minute there was surely nothing in the world to talk about but polo.
[* Khedive (from Persian for "lord"), also known as "Viceroy" — a title created in 1867 by the Ottoman Sultan Abd-ul-Aziz for the then-governor of Egypt, Ismail Pasha. From 1882 Egypt was a British dependency. When World War I broke out in 1914, Egypt belonged to Turkey and was ruled by a Khedive. Wikipedia, q.v. ]
But suddenly the band stopped playing, as suddenly as though the music were a concrete thing and had been severed with an ax. The Sirdar turned his head suddenly and gazed at one corner of the field, and the noise of talking ceased — not so suddenly as the music had done, for not everybody could see what was happening at first — but dying down gradually and fading away to nothing as the amazing thing came into view.
It was a detachment of five men — a drummer and three fifes, and one other man who marched behind them — though he scarcely resembled a man. He marched, though, like a British soldier.
He was ragged — they all were — dirty and unkempt. He seemed very nearly starved, for his bare legs were thinner than a mummy's; round his loins was a native loin-cloth, and his hair was plastered down with mud like a religious fanatic's. His only other garment was a tattered khaki tunic that might once have been a soldier's, and he wore no shoes or sandals of any kind.
He marched though, with a straight back and his chin up, and anybody who was half observant might have noticed that he was marching two paces right flank rear; it is probable, though, that in the general amazement, nobody did notice it.
As the five debouched upon the polo ground, four of them abreast and one behind, the four men raised their arms, the man behind issued a sharp command, the right hand man thumped his drum, and a wail proceeded from the fifes. They swung into a regimental quickstep now, and the wail grew louder, rising and falling fitfully and distinctly keeping time with the drum.
Then the tune grew recognizable. The crowd listened now in awe-struck silence. The five approaching figures were grotesque enough to raise a laugh and the tune was grotesquer, and more pitiable still; but there was something electric in the atmosphere that told of tragedy, and not even the natives made a sound as the five marched straight across the field to where the Sirdar sat beneath the Egyptian flag.
Louder and louder grew the tune as the fifes warmed up to it; louder thumped the drum. It was flat, and notes were missing here and there. False notes appeared at unexpected intervals, but the tune was unmistakable. "The Campbells are coming! Hurrah! Hurrah!" wailed the three fifes, and the five men marched to it as no undrilled natives ever did.
"Halt!" ordered the man behind when the strange cortege had reached the Sirdar; and his "Halt!" rang out in good clean military English.
"Front!" he ordered, and they "fronted" like a regiment. "Right Dress!" They were in line already, but they went through the formality of shuffling their feet. "Eyes Front!" The five men faced the Sirdar, and no one breathed. "General salute — pre-sent arms!"
They had no arms. The band stood still at attention. The fifth man he of the bare legs and plastered hair — whipped his right hand to his forehead in the regulation military salute — held it there for the regulation six seconds, swaying as he did so and tottering from the knees, then whipped it to his side again, and stood at rigid attention. He seemed able to stand better that way, for his knees left off shaking.
"Who are you?" asked the Sirdar then.
"First Egyptian Foot, sir."
The crowd behind was leaning forward, listening; those that had been near enough to hear that gasped. The Sirdar's face changed suddenly to the look of cold indifference behind which a certain type of Englishman hides his emotion.
Then came the time-honored question, prompt as the ax of a guillotine — inevitable as Fate itself:
"Where are your colors?"
The fifth man — he who had issued the commands fumbled with his tunic. The buttons were missing, and the front of it was fastened up with a string; his fingers seemed to have grown feeble; he plucked at it, but it would not come undone.
The answer to that question should be like an echo, and nobody should need to ask it twice. But the string burst suddenly, and the first time of asking sufficed. The ragged, unkempt long-haired mummy undid his tunic and pulled it open.
"Here, sir!" he answered.
The colors, blood-soaked, torn — unrecognizable almost — were round his body! As the ragged tunic fell apart, the colors fell with it; Grogram caught them, and stood facing the Sirdar with them in his hand. His bare chest was seared with half-healed wounds and criss-crossed with the marks of floggings, and his skin seemed to be drawn tight as a mummy's across his ribs. He was a living skeleton!
The Sirdar sprang to his feet and raised his hat; for the colors of a regiment are second, in holiness, to the Symbols of the Church. The watching, listening crowd followed suit; there was a sudden rustling as a sea of hats and helmets rose and descended. The band of four, that had stood in stolid silence while all this was happening, realized that the moment was auspicious to play their other tune.
They had only one other, and they had played "The Campbells are coming" across the polo field; so up went the fifes, "Bang!" went the drum, and, "God Save Our Gracious Queen" wailed the three in concert, while strong men hid their faces and women sobbed.
Grogram whipped his hand up to the answering salute, faced the crowd in front of him for six palpitating seconds, and fell dead at the Sirdar's feet.
And so they buried him; his shroud was the flag that had flown above the Sirdar at that ever-memorable match, and his soul went into the regiment.
They began recruiting it again next day round the blood-soaked colors he had carried with him, and the First Egyptian Foot did famously at the Atbara and Omdurman. They buried him in a hollow square formed by massed brigades, European and native regiments alternating, and saw him on his way with twenty-one parting volleys, instead of the regulation five. His tombstone is a monolith of rough-hewn granite, tucked away in a quiet corner of the European graveyard at Cairo — quiet and inconspicuous as Grogram always was — but the truth is graven on it in letters two inches deep:
HERE LIES A MAN
DAY broke on the Red Sea, pale and hard-yellow, like low- grade molten brass. The big revolving light on Matthew Island ceased to turn; its reddish rays sickened and waned and died; the dirty, shark-infested waves—oily and breakerless—reflected the molten shimmer of the sky, and the humidity increased by a degree or two.
No birds twittered. There was nothing, either animal or human, amid the awful desolation of the Twelve Apostles, that seemed glad to greet the dawn. Aloes were the only thing that grew there, unless you count the sickly-looking patch of vegetables, some twenty feet by twenty, that succeeding reliefs of sergeants had coaxed on to the bald, hot hideous rock to make them homesick.
Sergeant Stanley, of the Fifty-Fifth ("God's Own"), arose from his sleepless cot as a bugler turned out the shirt sleeved guard. There followed in time-accustomed sequence the growled command—sweet-toned 'reveille,' wasting its sweetness over unresponsive desolation, the click of arms presented, and the Union Jack rising up a white-smeared flagpole; it flapped once or twice, and then drooped despondently "Order Um-m-ms! commanded Stanley. "Guard... dismiss!"
Another twelve-hours' sun-baked idleness was under way.
Stanley saw to the sweeping of the guard-room, and the making of the serried rows of beds; then he strolled to the one and only bungalow, to ask whether or not his officer was up as yet. A Somali boy answered that he was not up. Stanley turned, and the boy followed him along the winding foot-path that descended down the cliff-side to a ledge of rock beside the sea.
Near the bottom of the path they were preceded by a thousand scampering crabs, which fought with each other for the right of way and flopped into the water noisily, like frightened ghouls caught prowling after dawn. The Somali boy singled out the largest of them and crushed it with a well-aimed stone; instantly a hundred other crabs cut short their scurry to the sea to tear it into little pieces and devour it.
"Ugh!" growled Stanley. "You, Twopence! What in blazes d'you mean by that? Isn't there hell enough on this rock without your adding to it? Get back d'you hear—back to your master!"
The Somali grinned, but he obeyed. He knew the temper of the white man marooned on the Twelve Apostles, and he could gage the consequence of disobedience pretty accurately, from experience. Stanley kicked the struggling crabs into the sea, and watched for a while the huge fin of a tiger shark scouting to and fro in lazy, zigzag sweeps that scarcely produced a ripple on the blood-hot water.
As the sun grew higher, the oily waves died down—beaten down it seemed, by the brazen reflection of the sky, and from the distance, growing gradually nearer, came the steady thug-thug-thug of a propeller. Big, black, bristling with iron wind-scoops, a Peninsular and Oriental liner hurried past, slam-banging down the Red Sea at sixteen knots to make a head-wind for her passengers.
"Not so much as a signal!" muttered Stanley to himself. "Lord help 'em, they think they're suffering! Punkahs above the tables, and lemonade, and ice! Open sea ahead of 'em, all the worst of it behind, and can't even run a string o' flags up to pass the time o' day!'
The sun turned paler yellow yet, and as it rose a yard or two above the cast-iron ring of the horizon, the sea below where Stanley stood turned pale green and transparent. He could look down into it, and see the million rainbow-tinted fishes feeding on each other—the everlasting cannibal-fight for the survival of the biggest. A shark, sneaking amid the coral out of reach of larger sharks, swept suddenly among the fish in lightning flashes.
Then, to digest his bellyful, he came and rested lazily beneath the ledge of rock where Stanley stood. And the long arm of a giant octopus reached out, flicking at the end like a beckoning finger, and pulled him—struggling —fighting—plunging downward to the parrot-beak below. Stanley shuddered. "That's no way to die!" he muttered. Then he glanced again over to the hurrying liner, and his look hardened into something scarcely civilized.
"It's for the likes o' them that the likes of us are festering here; let 'em pay the price! Let 'em say then if it's worth it!"
Stanley was just one man of a hundred and fifty thousand who take their turns in guarding the Empire's outposts, only his happened to be a rather more than usually awful turn. He was a railway porter's son, dragged up in the slums a stone's throw from Liverpool Street Station, and his history was like a thousand others: caught stealing; sent to truant-school by a paternal Government; claimed from the truant-school as soon as he was old enough, and broken in to selling newspapers and blacking boots and carrying handbags; taught to touch his forelock (he never had a hat in those days) to anybody who would tip him twopence; half-starved, wholly beaten, ever inch of him, and rubbed into the muck of poverty and vice and crime; taught that a gentleman is a free-handed cad with money, and that a smug is a man who has a sense of duty. And then -
At the age of eighteen, caught and coaxed and cajoled by a recruiting sergeant. Sworn, and drilled, and taught to clean himself. Treated like a man by his superiors, and exactly on his merits by his equals—a thing that he had never known before. Sardined in the bowels of a troopship, and introduced, along with prickly heat and fever, to a race who, from past experience, with Englishmen, believed the things he said because he said them. And, barely yet recovered from the shock of his new-found sahibdom, starved and frozen and led—led all the time by men who understood the business—through a hill campaign in Northern India.
Promoted after that to the rank of sergeant—a full-fledged, tested connecting-link between the bayonets and the brains. A man of pride and cleanliness bewildering to new recruits—straight-backed and polished as a service cleaning-rod.
But the desolation of the Twelve Apostles, as those Red Sea island rocks are named, had seeped into his soul. Even the British sergeant must be busy, unless he is to lose that indefinable, but absolutely certain Regimental grip that tightens up his moral fiber while it trains his muscles. There was nothing here to watch but fishes and the outlines of the eleven other barren crags. It was too hot to drill; the regulations allowed an officer to dispense with every routine that was not absolutely necessary to the preservation of good order and discipline. It was too lonely and wild and awful to do anything but quarrel with any one who was fool enough to speak.
A man could not swim for fear of sharks and worse things; he could not play games, because the ragged rock-surface was hot enough to raise blisters through the soles of ammunition boots; he could not read because the sweat ran into his eyes; and through the long, wet-blanket nights he could not sleep for prickly heat. It was hell, ungarnished. And there were five months and one week more of it ahead—for a second lieutenant, two sergeants, four corporals, and fifty men.
The Fifty-Fifth (and don't forget that they are 'God's Own,' and ready to prove it in close order at a moment's notice) were stationed that year at Aden, fresh from a five year breeze-swept residence on Shorncliffe heights; and Aden is a perfectly good copy of the Inferno on its own account, with devils and deviltry thrown in. But Aden is absolutely child's play—a pellucid, angel-haunted paradise—compared to any single one of the Twelve Apostles. And of all the Twelve, the one that men have christened Matthew is the worst—the baldest—the bleakest—the hottest—the one with most claim to be the model that Satan tried to imitate.
It was because of the coral-guarded natural wharf that Matthew was chosen and a light was built on it—two hundred feet above sea-level, and sixty-thousand candle-power; and because the coast-dwellers of the Red Sea practice piracy as a religion, and had yet to have instilled into them their latter-day disrespectful awe for the would-be Pax Britannica, the Fifty-Fifth were forced to send a six-monthly contingent to guard the brass and copper fittings that were worth a Red Sea Fortune.
Once a month, or thereabouts, the Admiralty steamboat came, with stores and year-old magazines for the lighthouse keeper, and mail from home (perhaps); and once in six months came the cockroach-ridden transport from Aden with the fifty man relief. In the interim was torment, in which pirates came no nearer than the sky-line to curse the warning pillar of light that prevented so many profitable wrecks.
Sergeant Stanley shuddered at the sea and at the aching sky-line, and then turned and shuddered at the baking rock behind him. He loafed up the path again and found the men squabbling at breakfast; it was beneath his dignity to join in the discussion, but there were four corporals to snub; he did that properly; and the other sergeant was a ten-year enemy of his. By the time he had insulted him sufficiently—with caustic service-comment on his method of maintaining discipline—he had worked himself into a frame of mind that looked on suicide as foolish only because it deprived the dead man of his power for harm. His mental attitude emanated from him like an aura, and was quite obvious in his perfunctory salute when he reached the bungalow again.
"Rounds all correct, sir!" he reported.
"Morning, sergeant!" said the one-starred representative of Empire, nodding to him from his long chair on the veranda, and hitching his pajamas into more official shape.
Second-Lieutenant Brasenose laughed aloud, with all the cynicism of one- and-twenty fun-filled years.
"Come up and sit on the veranda!" he suggested. "Have some chota hazri with me—these eggs aren't more than a month old!"
"It'll be another bender of a day, sir!" said Stanley, taking the proffered seat, and wondering to himself at the whiteness of the skin that showed down the front of the pajama-jacket. "Tender as a chicken!" he thought.
"Just like any other day, sergeant! They mold 'em all on one pattern hereabouts! There's no originality—rocks, Arabs, heat, Somalis—everything's the same as it was in old King Solomon's time! Go on, help yourself to eggs. Twopence! Where are you? Bring the sergeant a cup, can't you! 'Pon my soul, I believe the lighthouse-keeper's been here since Solomon's day too!"
"He's the ignorantest man I ever talked to!" said Sergeant Stanley, sniffing at an egg suspiciously.
"That one no good?" asked the officer. "Chuck it away—try your luck on the next; my second one didn't stink a bit!"
"It beats me, sir, how you keep your appetite!" said Stanley, with grudging admiration.
"The answer to that's easy, sergeant. I keep busy! It's perfectly obvious why you men don't enjoy life on the island: you lie on your cots all day and smoke and quarrel until you're peeved all to pieces. Any fool could explain that! What is puzzling is how the lighthouse-keeper enjoys himself so much. He simply loves his job. He doesn't take any exercise beyond climbing up and down the tower every now and then; and he hardly ever reads; he doesn't drink, and he doesn't smoke, and he eats his service rations and prefers 'em to soft tack; and 'pon my soul and honor, I believe he's the happiest man I ever met!"
"He's too ignorant to understand, sir!" said Stanley.
"He understands natives well enough! answered Brasenose. "Have you noticed how he's tamed his Somali assistants? A man who can tame Somalis isn't ignorant—he's wise!"
"I'd as soon tame sharks, sir!" answered Stanley.
Brasenose leaned back and looked at him through puckered eyes. "Have you tried catching 'em?" he asked.
"How—catching 'em, sir?"
"Hook and line—fun of the world! They fight you for half an hour sometimes. See here!" He bared a freckled forearm that was lean and brown and sinewy beyond belief. "I got all that catching 'em. Look at this!" He showed the callous where a thirty-fathom line had ripped across his fingers. "A shark did that—a thirteen-footer. Caught him out beyond the reef there—fought him for three-quarters of an hour, and gaffed him right in among the rocks. You ought to have seen the fun, too, when we got him into the boat! He thrashed about like a good 'un and all but did for one of the boat-boys before we settled him at last with an ax! You ought to take to fishing sharks, sergeant—it 'ud be no end good for you—keep your mind off grouching, and all that kind of thing, and give you enough exercise to keep you fit!"
"I'd get sunstroke, sir!" said Stanley, who had no enthusiasm left.
"Go out at night then. I go in the daytime, but there's no reason why you should; they'll take the hook all right at night. Take a whale-boat and two or three of the boys tonight, after I get back, and try your luck!"
"How about the men, sir?" suggested Stanley. "They're in need of watching! They're quarreling like wild-cats half the time, and if I go away for more than half an hour at a stretch, they fight!"
"There's another sergeant, and I'll keep a close eye on them myself. Take a whale-boat tonight. If you're not back by daybreak it won't matter—I'll see to everything. Come up here and tell me what luck you've had after you get back."
It almost amounted to an order, and Stanley, whose theories on sport had been picked up in the slums of Whitechapel and were closely associated with the art of sitting still and betting on a certainty, cursed him inwardly for an interfering jackanapes. To his face, though, he was civil.
"Very well, sire," he answered, getting up to go. "Shall I take the barrack servants?"
"Yes; take four of them, if you like. And take some food along with you; they'll eat it, if you won't, and they'll show you where the best fishing is —round between Simeon and Levi is a pretty good spot—tell 'em to take you there first. So long, sergeant!"
Second-Lieutenant Brasenose went in, whistling, to dress, and then—after a careful inspection of the men and quarters—ran singing to the wharf, where he started off for another day's hot but otherwise unqualified amusement. Stanley, when inspection was at an end and the men were sprawling on their cots again exuding discontent, stood down by the shore alone for a whole hour, gazing eastward to the hard horizon. Beyond it there was land. What kind of land was immaterial: it was not the Twelve Apostles!
That afternoon he packed stores into a whale-boat, and added fish-hooks and a line as an afterthought. He spent a whole hour choosing four from the ten half-naked barrack servants. It was noticeable that he picked the least contented.
That night, as the first rays of the giant revolving lantern lit on the oily sea, and began to sweep its surface in sixty-second, astronomically perfect, revolutions, they silhouetted for a second the form of a regulation helmet in the stern of a four-oared boat. The boat was headed east by northeast, and there lay no islands in its course.
Ten minutes later still, while Second-Lieutenant Brasenose—pajama- clad again and sun-burnt—sat writing up his daily official log, a knock came at his door, and it was followed by the grizzled, wrinkled face of the lighthouse-keeper, yellow in the lamplight.
"Has any one got leave of absence?" he demanded.
"Yes. Sergeant Stanley—and four boys. I was just writing in the log here that the climate and conditions seem to be very trying to the men. I told Stanley he may go shark fishing, to try and get rid of his grouch. If that's a success, I shall try to get the men interested too."
"Did you tell him where to go?" asked the lighthouse keeper.
"Yes—more or less. Between Simeon and Levi, I suggested."
The lighthouse-keeper nodded, and closed the door behind him again without another word. Brasenose sat still and listened to his heavy foot steps crunching the coral in the direction of the light.
"Strange old codger!" he muttered to himself. "I wouldn't care for his job! Lord! Fancy a lifetime of it!"
Fifteen minutes after that, the four-oared cutter from the lighthouse slid down the ways into the sea, and the phosphorus creamed and dripped and bubbled from its bows.
"Now hurry!" said the lighthouse-keeper, and some one grunted.
Then, with the short, quick, deep-in-the-middle stroke of Somali oarsmen, the cutter sped into the night, east by northeast—a trail of phosphor- fire behind it, and a string of oar-dipped iridescent pools on either hand.
And, still five minutes later, the lighthouse-keeper paused at the threshold of his light to answer Brasenose's question.
"Yes, that's my cutter gone away."
"What's she after?" asked Brasenose. it was none of his business, but he was curious.
"Catching things!" said the lighthouse-keeper surlily. he shut the door in the Lieutenant's face.
THERE was no moon, and the stars hung like round balls of polished metal beneath purple-black; the black waves followed one another lazily, showing only a splash of milk white foam here and there, but lighting up the whaleboat and the oars and the whale-boat's wake with the phosphorus. The horizon only widened for a moment when a bigger wave than usual caught up the wave in front of it; then there was fire in that spot for half a second. Stanley leaned back in a corner of the stern, with his right arm hooked above the tiller, and one eye all the while on the Somali who was rowing stroke.
The Somali's gaze was fixed on the big revolving light behind them; and Stanley would put the helm up or down in the direction of his nod. But no one spoke; the glow of Stanley's pipe, the kunk-tunk of oars against the thole pins, and the heavy breathing of the boatmen were all that distinguished them from the Flying Dutchman's jolly-boat.
The brown skins of the Somalis blended with the night; Stanley's khaki shirt was of a piece with it; and the boat's sides, dripping phosphorus, were but another splash of dancing light amid the luminous, life-laden blackness. They were low-sided—half-hidden in the trough of a beam-on Red Sea swell—rising over it second after second, only to sink between again, invisible. And behind them, up above their heads, the revolving light on Mathew kept up its ceaseless vigil, winking at them every sixty seconds with a bloodshot eye.
It irritated Stanley. He could feel it every time it revolved. It seemed to be taking one quick look at him every minute of the sixty that made up what seemed to be a year, as if it watched him to be certain where he was. He began to turn his head at the second he expected it, to catch the reddish gleam from the corner of his eye, and look away again; and when he fought that inclination, and gazed steadfastly ahead of him into the blackness, he caught himself wincing when the light was due.
Then he began to count the periods—and then the seconds in between them. The chunking of the oars against the thole pins became the measured intervals before the light appeared, and it irritated him when their tale differed. He swore at the Somalis, ordering them to keep better time; and the Somalis swore back at him. That was his first reminder that authority depended now upon himself, and that he was alone, with no traditions and training of the Fifty-Fifth to back him up. The discontented men whom he had picked had consented readily enough to row him shoreward; for on Mathew he had been a sergeant, and what he said seemed good. But here, in the welter of the sea, he was nothing but a white man at the mercy of four blacks. Ashore they would be the men who knew the ropes, not he; conditions would be reversed, and he would have nothing but a very little money and a nearly inexhaustible supply of ignorance to sustain him in command. Might and right and the proof of both of them are what give control in Red Sea waters; here were wrong and helplessness, and the Somalis recognized them—and began to show it. They snarled. He drew out a small revolver and laid it ostentatiously upon the seat beside him.
For a while after that the heavy breathing and the laboring at the oars went on in silence. The Somali who rowed stroke had only one foot braced against the stretcher; the big toe protruded up above it, and it moved—once toward Stanley, once away again—with each strain at the oar. Thirty times between each two revolutions of the light the stretcher creaked, and the toe jerked forward and back again. if it were thirty-one times, or twenty-nine times, the universe was wrong, and Stanley was ill at ease. That timing of the toe became even more important than direction.
Before long, if the big toe beckoned to him thirty times exactly he would have luck that night, and if it didn't—He hated to think what would happen if it didn't! He counted, and it beckoned twenty-nine times; so he tried again. He might have counted wrong, he thought, or have missed one movement in the darkness. He waited two revolutions, and then commenced—one ... kunk ... two ... kunk ... three ... kunk—twenty-nine, and no light had appeared. He lived a lifetime almost, between the last stroke and the reappearance of the light, screwing his head round to catch the first glint of it and listening with both ears for the squeaking of the stretcher. And when the light did come, the Somalis had stopped rowing!
The luck was out, then! Well, luck or no luck, he was going on! He rose from his seat and cursed the rowers, letting the tiller bang to whichever side it would while he emphasized his rhetoric with shaken fists. "Row!" he growled. "Thirty times a minute, d'ye hear!"
He could see the stroke-man's face, but not the others. He heard a voice, though, from the bow—one low, guttural exclamation that made the stroke-man prick his ears and look behind him; when he looked back he was grinning, and from then on he ceased to watch the light. When he started to row again, he set the time hardly half as fast as formerly; and count how he might, Stanley could not make the oar-strokes fit in with the light. He cursed them, and coaxed them, and threatened them, and offered them rewards; but they only laughed, and kept on pulling at their own pace. Away up forward, somewhere in the illimitable blackness, the bow-oar began to croon a Somali boat-song—leisurely as the gait of centuries, minor keyed and melancholy—and the pace slowed down still further to the time of it. And suddenly the stroke-oar shouted a long, deep-throated ululating howl that pierced the blackness all around them, and brought the gooseflesh breaking on Stanley's skin.
He thought he heard an answering yell, but he told himself that would be impossible; there was no land between him and Matthew, or between him and Arabia either. His pipe had gone out, and he tried to light it, to show how perfectly at ease he was; but his hand, curved into a shelter round the blazing match, shook so violently that the stroke-oar grinned again.
He looked behind him, to judge how great a distance lay between them and the lighthouse, and—one on either hand, twenty yards away, and well outside the phosphorescent swirl the oars had made—he saw two other little pools of fire that kept pace with them. He forgot the steering then, to watch them, fascinated. Sometimes they diverged a little to the right or left, but they always followed, and when the rowers ceased, to call his attention to the steering, the pools of fire came nearer—much nearer. One came right under the counter of the boat, and from the middle of it a big black fin protruded. Something bumped the bottom of the boat.
"Row!" yelled Stanley.
He picked up his revolver, in a frenzy of night-intensified horror, hurled it at the fin, and missed.
The revolver bubbled downward in a splurge of phosphorus, and the shark, rolling lazily, dived after it, belly upward—eighteen feet of black, fire-dripping, hungry cruelty.
"Give way there!" shouted Stanley, now beside himself with fear. "Row!"
He had no revolver now. He shook his fists at them, and the stroke-man suddenly unshipped his oar, thrust at him, and sent him sprawling on the seat. The older shark swept nearer silently. The stroke-man shouted. Stanley drew his hand inside the boat one-fiftieth of a second ahead of the snapping jaws. The shark's nose brushed his sleeve! The boat rocked as the whole length of the monster rolled, porpoise-like, against its side. Stanley leaned forward with his head between his hands. He was voiceless, almost—physically sick with fear.
"O God!!" he groaned. 'Not that way! That's a dog's death!"
The Somalis began to row again, listlessly, not troubling about direction; Stanley slipped off his seat on to the bottom, and sat there where the sides of the boat would hide the horrors from him. They seemed less awful when he could not see them. The stroke-oar shouted again, and stopped rowing, and this time Stanley was sure that he heard an answering shout. Suddenly, he caught the chunk of oars behind him. He leaped up like a maniac.
He was a deserter. They were after him! Was this to be the end of his attempt! Back to the torment of the island he had left—with disgrace, and irons, and trial, and ignominy added to it! Reduced to the ranks—two years maybe four years on the Andamans ... caught like a noosed steer—punished—and turned loose, pensionless without a character!
He would die sooner! He would dive among the sharks before they caught him! With the foolish, childish instinct of a man hard gripped by fear, he began to pull his boots off.
Then another thought occurred to him. He sprang forward, sat down on the stroke-man's thwart and seized the oar. The man resisted. Stanley kicked and pushed him away toward the stern. After that he set the pace himself and made it a rowser—rowing until the veins swelled on his temples, and his breath came in noisy gasps; his head grew giddy with the heat and sweat and effort. The others had hard work to keep pace with him, but he kept them going until he noticed that the Somali in the stern had put the helm hard up and held it so. And when he saw what had happened, it was too late. Splitting the phosphorescent wave in front of it like a fire-lit wedge—chunking regularly like the stroke of Nemesis—swirling, fire-hung, and beautiful a four-oared cutter swung out of the darkness suddenly, bow-on. The fire-splashed oars tossed upward—the helm went hard over in a gurling, phosphorescent welter—and the two, lighthouse cutter and station whale-boat, rose and fell side by side in the same trough of the lazy-looking waves.
Then long brown arms seized Stanley by the shoulders and the legs; and—too sick with fear, and shame, and disappointment even to struggle—he was lifted out and laid, back downward, in the cutter.
"Hayah!" said a voice he had not heard before.
"How!" came the ready answer.
"Hunk ... kunk! Hunk ... kunk! Hunk ... kunk!" began the oars again.
The revolving light on Matthew began growing nearer, and the cutter's oars were echoed by the laboring whale boat crew, who kept their station close behind, between the following tiger-sharks. The stroke-man passed Stanley a can of drinking-water, and he emptied it.
"Who sent you?" he demanded.
No one answered him. Only the revolving light on Matthew winked, and grew brighter every time it turned.
A BLACK crag loomed up from the blackness: the oars flashed upward at a muttered order and rattled on the thwarts; and the cutter's side ground against stone steps hewn at the lighthouse foot.
"Bring him along!" said a quiet voice. Stanley looked up to see the shadow of a grizzled man who held a lantern and looked down on him from the top step with little more than curiosity.
The Somalis seized and carried him, protesting, up the steps, where steps, where they held him for the lantern-bearer to look him over. It was old Jim Bates, the lighthouse-keeper. Stanley flushed from head to foot. "Is this your doing?" he demanded. "What d'you mean by—" "That'll do!" said the lighthouse-keeper, lowering the light.
He turned his back without a word of explanation and walked up the winding path that led to the white tower on the cliff above him. The Somalis hustled the unwilling Stanley up the path behind him; he struggled, and the sweat on his wrists made them slippery, so that he almost broke away. Then they pulled their loin-cloths off and twisted them like tourniquets around his elbows, and Stanley yelled aloud with the pain of it. But Jim Bates never once looked round.
A moment later, Stanley saw him talking to the sentry on an upstanding crag that jutted out seaward by the lighthouse; he could just make out their two forms, like black shadows—the sentry leaning on his rifle, and the old man pointing somewhere away beyond. But the Somalis hustled him along and pushed him through the lighthouse door and up some more steps, and turned the key of a round, whitewashed, bare-walled room on him.
There was no light in there, but a little that was something less than light filtered in through a slit in the outer wall, and once a minute he could see the flash as the revolving lantern up above swept round on its interminable vigil. On the floor above him, too, he could hear the purr and click of the revolving mechanism.
Ten minutes later the door opened again and a Somali beckoned him.
"Come on!" he said, and preceded him without any explanation.
Stanley followed. He felt like a fool, obeying the behest of a nearly naked savage.
He wanted to be proud, but he could not feel proud; he had to do as he was told, and follow up the winding steps.
The door was open on the floor above, and he saw Jim Bates, with a long- necked oil-can in his hand, stooping down above the mechanism, testing something. The Somali left Stanley standing there, but Jim Bates took no notice. Stanley coughed, to call attention to himself, but Bates continued oiling; then he pulled his watch out, studied the indicator, and gave a half- turn to a finely threaded screw, when he appeared satisfied, for he laid the oil-can down and walked toward the door.
"Come on!" he said to Stanley, as he started up the steps. Stanley, without the slightest notion why he did so, followed him.
They wound on and on, up the narrowing spiral—past a clean-swept sleeping-room, through which the shaft of the revolving lantern passed; past a kitchen and a living room, with indicators in them, so that the man in charge might watch the revolutions of the light even while he cooked and ate; past a store-room, and an oil-room, and another engine-room—up on to an iron-railed platform round the outside of the light.
"Sit down!" said Jim Bates, jerking his thumb in the direction of a camp- stool.
Stanley sat on it, for his knees were trembling from the climb, and the steamy heat affected him. He tried to speak, but the light raced round and dazzled him; up there on the platform it seemed to be turning three times to the minute instead of one, and before he had time to recover from the glare of it, it was round again, purring on its roller bearings, and looking straight into his soul and mocking at him.
"Look out yonder!" said the lighthouse-keeper. "Don't try to face the lamp!"
Stanley did as he was told. He looked out and downward across a world of blackness that might have been the Pit. Once in every minute every single inch of the horizon and the black welter in between was eyed out by the blood-red rays behind him; and dancing on the night-black wave-tops, the phosphorescent fire seemed to be laughing back at the man-made, man-watched, man-protecting lamp.
"See yonder!" said the keeper, pointing.
Over to the eastward twenty little lights were dancing on the water, irregularly spaced. They were yellow and they looked like hearth-lights.
"Dhows!" said Bates, as if the one word conveyed a history, and a treatise on the history, with a lecture on morality thrown in. It was five minutes before he spoke again. "They dowse them glims when they're busy!" he said presently.
Stanley cared nothing for the lights; he was busy thinking. What evidence was there against him? Nothing! He had got a night's leave, and had gone off in a whale boat, and had come back again. How and when, and why he came back, was nobody's concern except his own—unless he chose to force an explanation from the lighthouse-keeper!
"They're fishing now!" confided Bates suddenly, in his usual abrupt tones that invited no reply. "They come where they can see the light and curse it while they fish!" he added, as if he felt rather sorry for them.
"Good luck to 'em then!" growled Stanley. "They can't curse it more emphatic than what I do!"
But Bates took no notice of him; when he did talk he seemed to be talking to himself, and he never appeared to listen to an answer.
"If any one deserted from this island, they'd catch him sure!" he volunteered, after another five-minutes' vigil with a watch in his hand and one eye on the lantern.
"Who said I was a deserter?" snarled Stanley promptly. Here was his opening at last; he could clear himself of suspicion and make the lighthouse- keeper feel like a fool!
But Bates did not answer him. He waited until the light flashed round, took one quick, keen look at him, and then went down the steps again. He was gone ten minutes, while Stanley sat motionless, with his chin resting on the blood warm iron rail in front of him.
"They'd kill a man for the buttons on his shirt!" said a voice behind him suddenly, and Stanley started, to find that Bates was back again, looking across his shoulder at the dancing lights.
"Used to be a wreck here, maybe once a month!" he added. Then he walked round the platform and leaned against the railing on the far side.
Stanley wanted to swear, but the words would not come. He wanted to jeer at Bates for an interfering fool—to laugh at him—to threaten him with dire vengeance—to force an apology—to reassert his dignity and sergeantdom. But Bates's silence and the darkness of the mystery of the night had taken hold of him, and he had begun to feel very unimportant, away up there above the purring engines. A sergeant of the line seemed a very little thing, and his personal opinions even less, amid that teeming, hungry desolation with its black, steel-dotted dome.
"See yonder!" said Bates, after a minute or two of communing. He certainly was communing, this grizzled veteran; his silence was as eloquent as other people's speech, if only one could understand it, as the Somalis evidently did. He pointed to another group of lights—four of them this time, red and green beside each other, and two white lights up above; they were far away on the horizon.
"She's headin' this way!" he remarked.
The white lights spaced a little, and the green light disappeared.
"Changed her course, you see!"
The steamer light grew gradually nearer; other lights blazed out as her sides came into view, and she passed—a little group of heaving and falling dots of fire, that died away at last below the southern sky-line.
"Three more of 'em!" said the lighthouse-keeper. "Look!" A liner went by, in a blaze of light, and with a dull-red glow above her smoke-stacks; Stanley could hear her twin propellers chugging, and—when the great light swung its rays to wink at her—he could see the bellying wind-sail up on the forward mast.
"She'll be a Frenchman! There'll be eight hundred souls aboard of her!" Jim Bates seemed in a communicative mood.
"Why should we watch out for Frenchies?" demanded Stanley, in another effort to assert his manhood.
"Why not?" said the lighthouse-keeper, pulling out his watch, and counting revolutions. Then he went down the steps again, and was absent for ten minutes.
Stanley sat still and watched the sky-line, facing alternately to the north and south. Almost incessantly the steamer lights seemed to pop upon the sky-line—coming and going up and down the hell-hot gateway of the East.
"Frenchies!" said a voice beside him. "Dutchmen—Germans—Roosians - Eyetalians—Norwegians—English—they're maybe half o' them English. They make us from the north or south, as the case may be, and steer wide. 'Hum dekta hai!' as the lascars say. 'I'm on the watch!'"
"What do they care?" growled Stanley.
Jim Bates walked once around the platform, and pulled his watch out, and checked off a revolution before he answered him. "The point is, we care, my son!"
Then he went down again, and Stanley sat and watched the heaving steamer lights for fifteen minutes. By the time Bates came back he had decided to make friends with him. He had not exactly changed his opinion about Bates's ignorance, but he felt forced to admit a certain respect for him; and it was just possible, too, that Bates had decided not to report him to the lieutenant in the morning. He decided to do a little tactful questioning on the last point. "Have a smoke?" he suggested, holding out his pouch when Bates appeared again.
"Try a chew, then!"
'Tain't right and proper! I've got this light to watch! I keep fit to watch it! See those lights yonder?"
The fishing lights were still bobbing up and down upon the water, and Jim Bates stood and gazed at them for three or four minutes before he spoke again. "If this light wasn't here," he said presently, "them pirates 'ud quit fishing. They'd hang around this rock. There'd be a steamer—maybe two or three of 'em—pile up here in half no time, an' dirty work done. If I weren't fit an' well to run the light, it 'ud mean the same thing. An' if you soldiers weren't here to hoist that flag in the morning an' guard me, this light 'ud be here just as long as it took them pirates to get here! D'you begin to understand?" This time it was Stanley who did not answer for a full five minutes.
"How about when the light goes wrong?" he asked then. "What if the engine gives out? What then?"
"I sweat her round by hand, son, with one eye on the indicator! I sweated her round once fourteen nights hand running until the relief-boat came—me and the Somalis takin' turns!"
"An' you did that for a lot o' foreigners that can't even take the trouble to dip an ensign when they pass?"
"No. Nor yet for the pay, neither!"
"What did you do it for, then?" Bates looked hard at him "Struck me it was the game!" he answered. "There's a crank there for that purpose."
The oily waves swished up against the rock below; the phosphorescent glow danced interminably through the darkness. Down the middle of the narrow sea, from six to ten miles wary of the twelve night-hidden rocks, the liners and the tramps plowed busily with swaying masthead lights. Round and round purred the tireless lantern, blinking warning of the danger to every point in turn; and the yellow lights to the eastward of the sea-line bobbed and dipped and rolled. From somewhere in the blackness came a human voice, high pitched in a sing-song cadence.
"Hark!" said the lighthouse-keeper; and Stanley pricked his ears for what he knew was coming.
Then, from down below him, where the big up-ended crag protruded seaward, deep-throated and resonant rose the voice of the sentry whom he could not see:
"Num-ber ... Five ... A-l-l-'s w-e-l-l!"
"Hum dekta hai!" hummed the lighthouse-keeper without looking at Stanley.
"A-a-a-a-l-l's ... w-e-l-l!" came another distant voice. And silence followed, broken only by the purring of the lamp and the swishing of the waves below, which seemed part and parcel of the silence.
Stanley swallowed a lump in his throat and shifted his position restlessly. The lighthouse-keeper nodded, and went below again.
Stanley laid his chin on the iron rail and stared at the distant moving lights, with eyes that took in nothing. He was thinking of the past - Houndsditch and the cold, wind-swept street-corners where the newsboys stood; bustle and clamor and dirt, and nothing in the world to fight for but elbow- room and bread—begrudged pittance of the starveling underdog; suspicion; sometimes the cold, uncomfortable hand of charity and always the everlasting, haunting fear of hunger. Home, sweet home, in fact! What did he owe the Empire, or the world at large?
The lighthouse-keeper brushed past him on his way around the platform. Stanley held out a hand and stopped him.
"Where was you born?" he demanded.
"Bermondsey—Long Lane. In the rookeries back o' the big glue factory."
"Well—you had a chance, didn't you? You lived—you didn't have to fight?"
"I begged, son, until the truant-officers got hold of me. When they were through with me I sold papers, and blacked boots, and carried bags for a living: d'you know what that means?"
Stanley did not answer. He laid his chin on the rail again and gazed out into the night. The lighthouse-keeper checked the revolutions, and went below; the dancing yellow lights moved off to the eastward; the red and green and white lights came and went along the sea-lane; but Stanley never moved. The breeze fell, and the heat and the humidity intensified. Away over to the eastward the faintest fore flickering of yellow light began to play on the horizon, and from below him came the deep-throated sentry-call:
Then the light went out with a suddenness that hurt, and the purring of the engine ceased. Stanley stood up with a jerk and rubbed his eyes.
"Had a bad dream, son?" asked the lighthouse-keeper, emerging through the door on to the platform. "It's time to turn the guard."
SAM BAGG stood on the highest point of the Thumbmark's upper ridge, staring through his binoculars. He did not see what he looked for; so he put them in their case and stood still, thinking. He had stood on that spot, thinking, most mornings for eighteen years, soaking into himself whatever it is that good men get on the very verge of things.
He was an even-tempered man, but it was not considered wise to approach him when he stood in that place, in just that attitude; and Luther, the imported half-breed missionary, hid himself among the plantains that formed the outer fringe of Bagg's little garden, round the thatched bungalow.
"I wish—oh, I do wish I could tell what will happen!" Luther sighed, watching between the thick stems.
But Bagg was thinking of what had happened, since in that way only can a man judge whether he has earned his salt. He was thinking right back to the beginning—eighteen years ago—when nobody knew very much about the six-and-fifty little islands that make up the Gabriel Group.
Greater and Lesser Gabriel, Inner and Outer Islands, and The Crown are named on the charts—the remainder are shown as black dots; but each one in reality is a red-and-green-and-yellow jewel set in a purple sea, with dazzling white edges to mark the setting. And in the beginning Bill Hill had been king.
Bill Hill did as he chose in those days, and that was always beastly; but Bagg, aged thirty, stepped out of a man-of-war's boat, in a clean white civilian uniform, and the man-of-war hung about in the offing for fourteen days, to give him moral backing. After that Bagg managed without assistance.
Bill Hill—he was called Chief after Bagg came—was the quarter-breed son of a half-breed trader of the bad old days and spoke English fairly well, though he could not sign his name. He lived in a big thatched hut, in a compound with a high palisade round it, at the other end of the island, and cultivated that brand of secretiveness which he thought was privacy.
Bagg's ideas of privacy had been learned at Rugby, where he fagged for a tradesman's son and slept in a dormitory with nineteen other boys. He had some experience of minor consulates and rather more of famine-relief work in Baroda and Guzerat—that is to say, he had a fund of patience to begin with; but the speed with which he induced Bill Hill to have a house built for him out in the open was surprising.
The house was nearly all veranda, wind-swept from three sides; and Bagg lived on the veranda most of the time, in full view of anyone who cared to look, apparently cultivating no privacy at all. But nobody ever seemed able to guess what he was thinking about, whereas Bagg guessed Bill Hill's next move in advance nine times out of ten.
Luther, who was trying hard to do so, could not guess Bagg's thoughts now, though the snuff-and-butter-colored man was supposed to be more intimate with him than any other person on the islands.
"If only one might guess how far Bill Hill dares go!" thought Luther, with fear stamped on his not uninteresting face.
Up on the natural parapet facing the sea Bagg was thinking just that same thing—only with the difference that he did not show it.
"It looks like a show-down," he told himself.
Very early in the game things had settled down into a warfare of sap, pin prick and attrition in which Bagg was the defender and Bill Hill all the other things. Bagg had grown gray-haired and gray-bearded at the game; but Bill Hill, whose revenues under Bagg's supervision were treble what they had been, was fat and had grown ambitious, even to the point of being carried in a hammock when he took the air. He was in a mood by now to take advantage of an opportunity; and to him—and to Bagg—and to Luther—and to the islanders, who had known the real Bill Hill before Bagg came—the opportunity looked ripe, though, of course, each saw it from a different angle.
Bagg quartered the sea again and the horizon with his old-fashioned glass, balancing himself against a gaining wind that stirred the shore—line palms already to a crazy dance. His white drill suit, of the fashion of twenty years ago—for he sends his worn-out suits to Calcutta to be copied—was clean and well pressed; but perhaps his trimmed beard and his finger nails were the best surface indications that he had kept his ideals bright all these years. There are few men who can do that in the islands.
"Dashed if I see a sign!" he told himself. "That's haze over there."
A very ugly, dark-copper-colored native, in a white trade suit of much later pattern than Bagg's, approached him at a dog run along the track Bagg's feet had made on his daily morning walk.
"Breakfus', master!" he said with emphasis, stopping below the ridge of rock. But Bagg did not turn his head; he looked down, on his left, at the whaleboat beached on the sand of a tiny cove, and again seaward, where the waves raced, white-topped, between him and Lesser Gabriel, two miles away, and the sea birds beat up against the wind in hundreds.
Nobody molests the sea birds, because somebody has told the natives that they are loving thoughts, which will turn into devils if they are killed. Luther has tried hard to undermine the superstition and has even asked Bagg's help; and in the evenings, when the low stars swing almost within reach, Bagg has let the more inquisitive natives sit on his steps and talk to him. But they never come when Luther is there, and they are a shy, uncommunicative people. The superstition remains, and Luther cannot tell why, any more than he can guess why Bagg should think so much of sea birds. And Bagg does not care to explain that they remind him of springtime at home.
"Guzzling their fill before the storm," said Bagg aloud; for he knows all the weather signs. "Now—was that smoke, I wonder?"
"Breakfus', master!" said the servant's voice again.
"Has nobody seen the steamer from the North End?"
Bagg asked without troubling to turn his head. The wind blew the words back:
"No, sah. No word dis mawnin', master."
"Get up here and look!" Bagg ordered; for the natives have keen eyes. "Is that smoke on the sky line over there?"
The native stared long, under a flat hand, but shook his head at last.
"No, sah. Steamer not comin' datway. Steamer comin' always by North End, sah. Breakfus' now, master—breakfus,' him ready long time!"
Bagg swept the sea with his glasses again, but the servant protested.
"Send oowhaleboat over Lesser Gabr'el, sah. Bimeby some feller maybe see from dar."
"No," said Bagg.
"Oowhaleboat feller, he all ready by-handy, sah."
"No," repeated Bagg. "It's blowing up for a gale. They'd be swamped in the narrows, without a helmsman! I'll go to breakfast." It is one of Bagg's obsessions that he, and only he, can steer the whaleboat through those waters in a blow, though in the dim, unwritten dawn of history there were war canoes among the Gabriels and have been ever since. But a man is entitled to his own opinion; and at least Bagg has not drowned himself nor anybody else, though from the whaleboat he has explored every nook and cranny of the islands and knows them as some men know other people's business.
Bagg jumped from the parapet and started for his bungalow at a pace that made the native shuffle to keep up, hurrying by without looking up at the flag, which snapped and rippled from its pole on a high mound between the bungalow and the sea. The native, who perhaps was half his age, looked older the moment they were in action, in spite of Bagg's pointed gray beard.
"Who's that?" he asked, stopping when he reached the steps, for he had caught sight of colored cotton between the plantain stems.
"Mishnary feller—Luther, sah."
Bagg continued up the steps and took his place before a table that was white with washed linen and fragrant with coffee, grown as well as ground close by. He ate and slept and wrote his letters all on the veranda.
"Put a chair for him at the table and tell him to come."
The native hurried to obey, while Bagg poured coffee for himself with the manners of a town-bred man.
He sat straight at table. There was no hint about him of the man who has even dealt with beach combers.
In a minute Luther came up the steps, spectacled and nervous, his thin legs seeming yet thinner in red-check cotton trousers. A black cotton shirt under his white jacket was the only attempt at clerical attire, except the sun hat; he removed a huge white topee as he came.
"Take a seat," said Bagg cheerily. "Have breakfast?"
"No; thank you, sir; I have eaten."
"Take a seat then."
Bagg helped himself to fish that would have made an epicure's mouth water; but in the islands one is either hungry or one is not. Luther drew a chair back from the table and a little on one side, and sat on the front edge of it, as though the back part were on fire. He is never quite sure of himself in Bagg's presence. It had been Bagg who wrote to the missionary society for him, and guaranteed him enough to live on; Bagg had ordered the little schoolhouse built, and Bagg had appointed him secretary to the Legislative Council. Yet he admits, even to the natives, that he does not understand Bagg.
For instance, in the matter of geography: Bagg ordered him, when he first came, to teach it to the natives. So, after he had given them their lesson in religion he would tell them about Gabriel Mendoza, the Portuguese, who discovered the islands and gave his name to them. Surely Bagg approved of that, because the information was in the textbook Bagg provided.
Yet the natives insist that when God made the world He left one place in the ocean incomplete, and ordered the Archangel Gabriel to try a hand. So Gabriel, who had sighed for just such an opportunity, wrought his very craftsmanliest; but, being lesser than the Master Craftsman, he pinched the finished jewels a mite too hard when he came to set them in the sea.
Luther is sure that sort of heresy leads straight to hell, and he said so from the first; but Bagg's boat crew took him in the whaleboat and showed him the marks of thumb and forefinger on every one of the islands. Yet, before he began to teach, Luther and Bagg were the only two people thereabout who knew anything concerning either God or Gabriel.
Legends have strange ways of springing up. Once, at breakfast, as it might have been now, Luther asked Bagg to help root out the superstition; but Bagg smiled at him.
"One thing at a time, Luther," he said. "Mustn't go too fast. Be gentle with 'em. There hasn't been a head-hunt since either of us came here—now has there? Besides," he added, "why is that rock called the Thumbmark on the chart if the story isn't true?" And Luther could not answer that.
It was all very disconcerting; so that, though Bagg was invariably kind to him and treated him to many confidences, he never felt at ease on Bagg's veranda. He is not always sure that he is not being laughed at.
"What is it, Luther?" Bagg asked him now between two drinks of coffee; and he fidgeted before he answered.
"A Council meeting, sir. I am sorry to say, sir, it is a meeting of the Legislative Council." He pronounced his English very well, except that he minced it a little. "Bill Hill—I mean the Chief, sir—sent to me this morning and demanded that I call a Council meeting. I replied, of course, that hitherto I have always called meetings at your direction, and not at his."
"Well?" asked Bagg, eating leisurely and not showing any particular emotion, though Luther trembled.
"He came to me, sir, carried in his hammock. Sir, he abused me frightfully! Sir, he called me names—abominable names that I will not repeat to you! Sir, in the end he told me I am secretary by your orders and my job is to call meetings; so, unless I call a meeting, he will act on his own account, without one! I am sorry, sir, to have such a tale to bring to you; but it is the truth."
"He has a perfect right to summon the Council."
"But not to act on his own account unless it is called."
"Call a meeting, then," said Bagg.
"Sir, there never should have been a Council—it is a foolishness!"
But Bagg begged to differ and signified as much by resuming his breakfast. That Council had been his first studied effort to curb Bill Hill's tyranny. It was his child, just as the road round the island was his trade-mark, and the twenty-one police were the beginning of what should be some day.
It had taken him six years of written effort, with three-month intervals between replies, to get the Foreign Office to consent to the Council; but now, even though Bill Hill were to force a vote by means of threats or bribes, Bagg had the veto and could curb him. Bagg nominated half the members, and the Council itself the other half; so that the membership was more or less permanent. And in course of time they had learned a little of self- government.
"Sir," said Luther, too afraid to be diffident as usual, "you do not understand. You are not behind the scenes as I am. Let me explain."
"Glad to listen," Bagg assured him.
"Bill Hill no longer coaxes and persuades—he threatens, and at last the Council members are afraid. There are some who actually want the old times back. Bill Hill says there is no steamer any more—and where is the steamer? What can anybody answer him?"
"Oh, it's late—that's all," said Bagg, more hopefully than Luther quite believed he felt.
"Sir, it is two months overdue!"
"Seven weeks," corrected Bagg. "Broken down, I suppose. Once before it broke down and they sent our mail on a cruiser."
"Yes, sir; but even the cruiser was not ten days overdue. Now this is seven weeks; and Bill Hill says the Protectorate is a thing of the past and you have no authority. He asks where is the promised steamer that should come every month and take away his copra. He says there is nothing with which to pay the police. He says he is rightful king, and you are a—I will not repeat what he says you are, sir."
"Bill Hill's thirsty," said Bagg judicially. "He expected brandy and it has not come; so he's restless."
"Sir, he is worse! He calls this Council meeting expressly to depose you, sir. He has threatened all the members, and he holds their promises—all except mine; he tells me I am secretary and must write your deposition in the minutes, or he will have my head off! Sir, he pointed out the post on which he will have my head spiked!"
"Better do what he says, then," smiled Bagg, still eating and not letting Luther know by any outward sign that he felt disturbed. "Go to the meeting, Luther, and keep the minutes: bring them to me afterward. You'd better remind 'em that nothing's legal without my signature."
"But, sir, if the Council votes as Bill Hill wishes—and how dare it do otherwise?—he will not only succeed in deposing you, he will have you killed!"
"Not while the police are mine!" said Bagg. "Besides, you don't understand, Luther; the Council can't depose me. This is a Protectorate, not a Colony. This isn't British territory. It's protected by Great Britain. The islanders govern themselves under British protection, in accordance with rules mutually agreed on. That's the theory of the thing; and the fact is, Great Britain would back me up in any sort of an argument."
"I only hope it is true, sir. I know Bill Hill does not believe it—and he will act as he believes!"
"Well, run and summon the meeting, Luther. Keep the minutes and report to me. Then, at least, we'll know what the Chief intends."
Far more nervously than he had mounted them, the half-breed missionary descended the steps and hurried down Bagg's stamped coral road in the direction of the four-square Council House some two miles away.
"Boy!" called Bagg, the moment the missionary was out of hearing.
"Find the sergeant of police and tell him to bring all his men. I want them to drill in front of the flag this morning."
"Breakfus' things, sah—take um away?"
"Find the sergeant of police and deliver my message first."
The native went off at a run and disappeared down a track that led, among plantains and breadfruit and bamboos, to a native village. Bagg picked up his glass and walked to the Thumbmark parapet again, stopping this time to take a long look at the flag.
The spray was beginning to sing over the rock, and when the big sou'westers blow the Thumbmark is a very bursting place of all the big waves in the world, but, as yet, a man could stand on the ridge and be fairly dry; so Bagg stood there and stared at the sky line. Maybe his forearms trembled as he held the glass; but, again, it may have been the wind blowing up his sleeves.
"Looks like it to me!" he said after a while, wiping the object lenses carefully. "It's coming end on and it's thin, so it's hard to tell; but—it looks like it to me."
As a means of passing time before he looked again, he began to watch the birds, which were growing weary of work against a gaining storm or else too gorged to care any more. One after another—presently in fives, tens, twenties—they let themselves be blown down the wind between the islands to shelter in the lee of Greater Gabriel. So an hour passed, and then Bagg yielded to impatience and looked again at the southwest.
"Two masts and two funnels!" he said cheerfully. "Now for Bill Hill! If this doesn't tame him—But it will—it will!"
He jumped from the rock and walked back leisurely to his bungalow, to sit on the top step and turn his glass on the Council House, where the greatest crowd was gathering that he had ever seen together on the island.
"They're all there!" he chuckled. "They'll none of 'em see what's coming!"
The flag snapped in the wind like a whip-crack; and that reminded him! For the first time, he realized that his order to the police had not been obeyed, for nobody was drilling on the stamped dark earth behind the flag mound.
"Boy!" he shouted. "Boy!"
But none answered, and no one came.
"Boy!" he thundered half a dozen times. Then he frowned and lit his pipe. He had shown a bold front to Luther, the half-breed; but he could guess, even better than Luther, how near the native Chief was to getting the upper hand. His pipe went out and he did not relight it. He leaned back against the veranda pole; and his shoulders began to look very tired—more in keeping with the gray hair.
"I rather counted on the police and that one boy," he admitted to himself. "Seems I was wrong! Lord, but it takes time to teach a man how little he is and how little he matters! Think of it—after eighteen years!"
He looked up at the flag which the police had been taught to salute at dawn and dusk.
"But for the flag I could almost wish no help were coming! I shall look small—shan't I?—without one friend after eighteen years, except perhaps Luther! He's not a native; he'll stand by me for his own sake. He'll have to! Yes, the flag wins—law and order wins—help, here in the nick of time; but I lose! I'll apply for a transfer; they'll have to grant it after eighteen years—eighteen years and not a friend on all the islands! If the police and that one boy had stood I'd have been satisfied. I expect I've been too mild. They're used to whips and scorpions. They need a stronger hand over 'em. Well, I did my best. I suppose that's why help's at hand."
There was a feeling creeping over him—a lonely feeling—which had to be battled with, for manhood's sake; so he took up his glass again and began to watch the crowd near the Council House. He saw the fat Bill Hill get into a hammock for the procession. He could see some of his white-skinned constables shepherding the crowd, and Luther walking timidly beside Bill Hill, with the minute book under his arm.
"I must remember to give Luther a good word:" he reminded himself; and as he spoke the procession started.
It was a motley throng—dark skins, cotton suits, shells, feathers—unusually silent but coming swiftly; for the natives can move like smoke blown before the wind. As they drew nearer Bagg thought some of them looked guilty, and he was glad of that. He noticed that his policemen skulked behind.
"It's something if they even feel ashamed!" he thought.
He relighted his pipe now and made himself comfortable on the top step; for, whatever the outcome, he meant that Bill Hill should be met with dignity. He was rather glad that he had found himself a failure.
"I might have died thinking I had really won," he argued. "I'd have gone out proud. I suppose the Lord, who made the wide world, wouldn't laugh at a man; but—my word, I'm glad I knew in time!"
The procession advanced more slowly as it neared him; but it had to approach at last, and from every side his little garden was invaded. Four stalwarts dropped the hammock pole and Bill Hill rolled out, sweating like a pig; the fat brute looked like a Roman senator of the Decline and Fall, with a wreath of flowers awry on his oily hair and his fat legs showing under a baggy white chemise.
"You're deposed!" he said in perfectly good English, pointing at Bagg with a fat forefinger. Bagg smoked on, apparently unperturbed, watched in breathless silence by as many of the crowd as could get near enough. "You're no good!" said Bill Hill. "It's a lie about your ships! This isn't a Protectorate! You're deposed!"
"By whom?" asked Bagg, quite calmly. He wanted to gain seconds. There was a far-away look in his eye that the Chief mistook for terror; so he dared to draw a long stride nearer.
"You're deposed by your Council—our talkers! I was king before you came, and I ran things right. Now I'm king again—your Council says so! It's written in the book. You sign it!"
It seemed to tickle the savage's fancy that Bagg should be made to sign the minutes of his own deposition.
"Take him the book!" he ordered. "Take him the book and show him where to sign."
So Luther, very frightened but not daring to disobey, brought the minute book to Bagg on the top step.
"Show me the entry, Luther," said Bagg, for he did not want the half-breed to look seaward for a moment yet.
"Give him a pen—put it in his hand and make him write!" yelled Bill Hill, turning to explain to the crowd, in their own tongue, what was happening. And as he turned his jaw fell. He seemed suddenly changed to stone. The whole crowd followed his gaze seaward. Bagg smiled.
A cruiser, with two funnels and two masts, and decks all cleared for action, steamed almost casually close inshore!
"I told you a ship would come!" said Bagg.
It occurred to him, then, that it might be well to dip his flag by way of salute, and he started for the pole to do it; but almost the instant he moved the cruiser spoke. From her ensign halyard she broke out the red, white and black of the German Navy, and from a forward port casemate a six-inch gun let rip.
A shell struck the mound on which the British flag was raised, and burst; a second shell burst at the very foot of the pole; a third hit the pole and brought the flag down; and a fourth whined through Bagg's bungalow, bursting in the garden at the rear. Then the cruiser ceased firing for there was nothing more in particular to aim at—the crowd, including Bill Hill and the police, had vanished into thin air.
"Now that's awfully good shooting!" Bagg said stupidly.
There was nothing else to say. His job and his flag and his point of view had all been shot away from under him and he had not even heard a rumor of any war. For a minute he stood and watched the natives, whom he could see now, running down the road for the distant village as though their thatched huts would protect them against gunfire; and it was his sense of humor that brought him to himself. He caught sight of Bill Hill, deserted by the hammock men, waddling down the road as fast as fat legs could be made to move him, shaking impotently angry fists at all the world. Bagg laughed aloud. "There won't be any brandy on the cruiser either," he reflected.
For a minute after that he watched the cruiser, understanding well why her captain did not drop anchor opposite the Thumbmark in such a gale, though he would have dared to do it himself, since he knew the waters.
"He'll anchor in the roadstead," he reflected, for his wits were working again. "Now—what ought I to do first?"
The cruiser's masts went out of sight behind the longshore palms and Bagg's eyes wandered. They lit on the flag, lying tangled in its halyard under half of the pole. He walked to it, unbent it, and rolled it up carefully. So much was obvious.
"What next?" he wondered, looking through his glass in the vague hope of seeing Luther somewhere.
"No; I've got to see this through alone. Well, Luther, you were my friend as long as you dared be. I wonder whether I can do any better than you? Seems to me I've got to bolt too. Difference is, you knew where to run to and I don't. Oh, I know! The papers!"
Rather ashamed of not having thought of that before, he ran to the bungalow and brought out the steel dispatch box that held his official papers, diary and money. Then he filled his pocket with tobacco.
"Is there anything else that matters?" he wondered, stroking his gray beard. "No; nothing else—I can get food anywhere—unless the natives give me up. If they do that I'm done—but I'm not done yet! If the sail and mast are not in the whaleboat, I am, though."
He formed the daring plan of sailing the whaleboat single-handed across to Opposite Point on Lesser Gabriel.
"They won't know yet on the other islands that my authority has been challenged by Bill Hill. Perhaps I can get a following of some sort. At least, I can try. If only I had one man to help me! Imagine—not one man to stand by after eighteen years! I didn't think a fellow could fail so badly as all that!"
With the steel box in one hand he followed the path to his left front, and climbed down steps cut roughly in the coral to the cove below. He was feeling lonelier than ever in his life; but he had barely reached the bottom when eight men rose, like the dead from their graves, to greet him, shaking wet sand from their copper-colored bodies. They so startled him that he nearly dropped the box.
"Why are you here?" he asked. "What do you want?"
A big man—bull-necked and ugly, showing sharp eyeteeth when he grinned—answered him:
"Waiting all along you come!"
Bagg remembered then his orders of the night before that the whaleboat crew should be ready in the morning; he gave that order most nights whether he meant to use the boat or not, since it kept the crew out of mischief. He had no doubt that Bill Hill knew of the order and had taken advantage of it to cut off his retreat by water; his heart fell into his boots. Another man spoke and Bagg felt his fear confirmed.
But the big man interrupted, waving toward the beached boat with a sinewy, shiny arm.
"Bill Hill no good! Bill Hill one damn—Sam Bagg plenty good! Sea, him big! Come on!"
He snatched the steel box from Bagg's hand and tossed it into the boat, helping Bagg in after it over the stern. Two men took their places on the bow seat and the rest shoved; in a minute they were up to their necks; in another second they were scrambling in over the sides and the boat's nose was headed straight for the cove's mouth and savage water. They all began rowing, taking their time from the bull-necked man at stroke; and, before Bagg knew it, he was standing in the stern, the rolled flag between his knees, steering instinctively.
"Give way, all!" he shouted suddenly. "All to- gether! Swing to it now!"
Eight sets of copper-colored shoulders, alive and lumpy under satin skin, swung evenly to a tune of squealing thwarts and grunting rowlocks. The whaleboat leaped for the narrow entrance and staggered drunkenly as the full force of the gale took her on the starboard shoulder.
"Pull!" roared Bagg, himself by now. "Pull!—Ho! Pull!—Ho!—Pull!—Ho!"
Because they knew him and were used to him they labored at the oars, when an ordinary native crew would have quit and jumped; so that after a while Bagg got the staggering boat stern-on to the sea, and they were able to race along with no more effort than was needed to keep just ahead of the following wave. Bagg still stood up, wearing across the channel as he saw his chance, and wondering why he had not thought of his boat's crew first of all.
"I might at least have offered them a chance!" he argued; he was not in a mood to spare himself if he could only see where he was wrong.
They were rowing more or less in the wake of the cruiser, and Bagg saw her drop anchor opposite Bill Hill's palisade five miles down the strait. He saw a cloud of steam, and judged it must come from her whistle, though the gale prevented him from hearing.
"That'll fetch 'em!" he admitted. "If they keep whistling and don't shoot they'll have every native on the island round them in less than an hour! So much the worse for me, I suppose—the Germans'll demand me and the war canoes'll come after me. What's it all about, I wonder?"
More or less diagonally, and by cautious, small degrees, he wore across the strait to Opposite Point, and there was less than a foot of water in the boat in proof of his coxswainship when he ran in under the promontory's lee. The crew beached the boat and dragged it high out of the water, while Bagg hurried to climb the overhanging rock. There, on the top of it, he sat watching through his glass, and watched, in turn, by the crew below; they did not ask him any questions—he had always told them things if they waited long enough.
"So, eight stood by me!" he was saying to himself. Eight—after eighteen years! That's eight better than none; makes me feel more like a man."
That the cruiser should take on water first and that the natives should answer the whistle and bring the water were things only to be expected; all the ships that call do that. The sweet-water wells on Greater Gabriel, combined with the roadstead, which is sheltered from the prevalent sou'westers, would be ample excuse for seizure of the group by any vagrant navy. Bagg watched the war canoes sneak out, loaded with a cask apiece, and saw the casks hauled up by the cruiser's derricks, to be emptied and sent back for more. He saw fruit go on board, too, and some pigs and fish. All that was easy to understand.
It was obvious why no steamer had come with his mail for seven weeks. It was obvious there must be war; and he supposed the British fleet had somehow failed to get command of the seas and keep it. But he could not guess what the war was about, or what the Germans wanted with this tiny group of islands so early in the game as this must be.
"They can't have been fighting much more than a month," he argued. "Has it got to this already?"
What ought he to do? Should he bury the flag, he wondered—or hoist it somewhere, out of sight of the cruiser? Either course seemed foolish; yet he supposed there was a right course to take.
"I wonder what one of those men one reads about in history would do?" he thought. "I mean one of those chaps who seem to be born to meet emergencies. This is an emergency, all right. Why don't I fit it? I suppose it's because I haven't fitted from the first. If I had handled my job right the natives would all have stood by me—or nearly all; and if I'd been that kind of man I'd have known what to do now. I expect that's it. Well, I did my best anyway," he added, beginning to turn against the lash of his own self-criticism. "Eight stood by me. I won eight!"
He grew tired of watching the cruiser and began to search the island through his glass; so he saw a landing party march toward his bungalow, their white uniforms visible from miles away. He saw them presently surround the little building, and laughed; for he supposed they were shouting to him to come out. He saw men enter it and drag his few possessions into the open. Then he swore aloud, for he saw a man go to windward and set fire to the dry thatch.
"Dogs!" he muttered.
In fifteen minutes the little building that had been his home for eighteen years was gutted to the ground, and its smoke lay like a dirty stain across the island.
"That's wanton!" he swore. "There's no excuse for it! Suppose they are conquerors, have they no decency—no respect? Bill Hill could do no worse!"
He watched them hurry back, marching along his road—the road that had cost him such year-long effort and patient persuasion: the road that stood for the awakening of six-and-fifty islands and the humbling of Bill Hill.
"Damn them!" he swore again, pulling out his pipe and lighting it, to smoke so furiously that the sparks flew in a stream down the wind.
After a while the cruiser began whistling again, and the landing party started running. He could see the steam go R-r-r-r-rrumph!—in short, sharp blasts; and each blast was an added insult, as though the burning of his house were being celebrated. He was too angry to wonder why the landing party hurried so fast on board in one of the cruiser's launches; and he was taken completely by surprise when the cruiser got up anchor and turned down the wind, to steam leisurely away between the islands in the distance.
"Now what in the world—"
He searched as much as he could see of the horizon; and from his point of vantage he was sure that more of it was visible than from the cruiser's masthead. Yet he could see no smoke; and, judging by the cruiser's speed, it did not seem reasonable to suppose she had news of any enemy.
"Just dropped in, burned my house, made trouble, and passed on again! I wonder whether an English cruiser ever did a thing like that? I suppose so—though I'd rather think not. I rather think the man who did it would catch it from home."
He watched the cruiser until her crew were indistinguishable through his glass and then slipped down the rock face on his hands and heel to where his boat's crew waited at the foot.
"Man the boat!" he ordered.
"Goin' where?" asked the big man who pulled the stroke oar.
"Back to the island."
"Bill Hill, him no good!"
"No more am I, my friend; but my place happens to be on the Thumbmark and I'm going back. I'm sorry I came away."
The native did not understand him, for a sentence in English should contain but one verb and one substantive to pass current among the islands; yet there was something in Bagg's attitude that convinced him he had better obey. Bagg did not look aggressive—far from it; he looked like the same Bagg who had explored the islands for days at a time in the whaleboat—and that was the point. Once these men had been Bill Hill's slaves, and they knew the difference between having to do things and doing them because Bagg wished.
"Bill Hill cuttin' t'roat quick!" said the bull-necked man in a last effort to dissuade.
"Very well," Bagg answered. "Man the boat! I would I had not left my post," he added to himself. "At least I can go back to it."
He bent the flag to a boat hook and raised it in the brass tube intended for that purpose in the whaleboat's stern.
"I'll go back the way I came," he said climbing in and seizing the iron tiller. "No—four of you in your places this time—I'm going upwind. Push off—the rest."
The crew sensed his new mood or they would never have won up into the wind at all. His steering and their terrific labor at the white-ash oars got the boat fore-and-aft into it, with less than a foot of water flopping in her, after about two minutes. And then the real fight began. He could have dropped down with the wind to Bill Hill's landing and have dared Bill Hill to do his worst; but he chose that Bill Hill should come to him, and that he should first win back to the post he had deserted. After which he did not see that it mattered what happened.
So the eight oars chopped the waves sea style, deep in the middle. Bagg stood in the stern and the wind shrieked. Inch by inch, up and down hill like a carrousel boat, thumped on her bottom as she rose, and soused as she plunged again, the whaleboat jerked ahead. He steered them out near to midwater, where they had to row or drown; and the eight backs swung in unison, while Bagg looked straight ahead, conscious all the while of the smoke that streamed past him from the ruins of his little house.
"Will it never stop smoking?" he wondered. It seemed like blood to him—like a flow of blood he couldnot stanch. "Pull!" he shouted. "Ho! Pull! Ho! Good men! Good boys! Pull, then! Ho!"
And they gave him the very best of all their strength, because he could praise them while he went to have his throat cut! They obeyed him because he was Sam Bagg; but they did not doubt Bill Hill—for they knew him too, of old.
They had come down the strait in twenty minutes. They fought back to the cove in something like three hours; so that the afternoon was well along and the storm was dying down, as usual toward evening, when Bagg steered into the entrance and the rowing ceased.
"Give way!" he shouted, still standing. "Beach her!"
But they were almost too weary to row through the last hundred yards of comparatively still water; and when the boat's nose touched the sand at last they lay forward on their oars, breathing heavily. Bagg ran by them over the thwarts and jumped ashore, carrying the flag on the boat hook under his arm, and the dispatch box in the other hand.
"Pull her up high and dry!" he ordered, without waiting to see whether they obeyed.
He hurried on to the coral steps. He did not suppose the landing party from the cruiser had left him anything worth recovering, but he wanted to see and to be there. He hurried so fast that he did not see three natives watching him, or that they ran down another path to the cover to speak with his weary crew. But at the top of the steps he turned to shout to the crew to follow him; so he saw all eight of them, with the three who had just come, take to their heels and scamper across the sand, up the other path, and away toward the distant village.
"I thought I had eight!" he said, smiling at himself. "Well, thanks for the ride, you men!"
By a freak of wind-swept fury the fire had left him nothing but his steps—the flight of front steps that were shiny from being sat on—resting on the coral block that had been part of the bungalow's foundation. All of the veranda was burned—only the steps to it remained, leading up to nothing. A little smoke still hurried down the wind, but the fire had died for lack of fuel. In front of the steps lay his one twenty-year-old tweed coat, which he had kept against the day when he should leave the islands; the landing party had not thought it worth looting. He picked it up, laid it on the top step and sat down on it, lest ashes should soil his white drill trousers.
For thirty minutes he sat there, his elbows on his knees and his chin on his hands, exactly as he had sat most evenings for eighteen years. The difference was that now he had a flag on a boat hook laid across his knees, which used to fly from a pole on the mound near by, and that now there was no house behind him. But the sea made the same noise and the islands looked the same. He noticed it.
"I suppose a man gets arrogant," he said aloud; for men who live alone form a habit of talking to themselves. "I tried not to. Lord knows I tried; but I suppose I did. I suppose Rome didn't know she was proud either. That's it! It was pride—and this is the fall. I fall hard and it hurts. I must have been very proud.
"I suppose the Germans have taken these islands and will come back by and by to enforce their rule. I dare say that'll be good for the natives, or otherwise it wouldn't happen to them. I can imagine Bill Hill being penitent—and not so fat nor drunken—under German rule. They'll rule him! They won't call this a Protectorate—it'll be a Colony; and they'll enforce the goose step, among other disagreeable things. All rather different to what it's been!
"I'm sorriest about the Legislative Council; it was child's play, of course, the way it was constituted; but I think the natives would have learned to govern themselves and curb Bill Hill in the end."
He leaned back, forgetting for the moment that there was no veranda post to rest his back against. Then, for a while, he rested his chin on his hands again, watching the sea birds beat up along the strait toward the sunset.
"End of the gale!" he remarked. "They'll roost on Lesser Gabriel and be ready for their breakfast with to-morrow's tide. Happy beggars! They can live on the islands without ruling them or being ruled—no Foreign Office to twist their tails. I hope the Germans will treat them decently."
Staring at the sunset, as he generally had done at the day's end, he followed his train of thought until it brought him back in a circle to the beginning. And then, since thought was a habit with him, he saw his initial error.
"What if the Germans haven't taken the islands? What if they watered and passed on? That seems more likely. I can't believe the British Navy has been licked! I don't believe it! If the Germans had meant to take the islands they would have left my house for their representative to live in. It was a raid—look in, get water, make trouble, and pass on. Well, what then? What happens?"
He whistled softly.
"I would rather the Germans had stayed," he admitted. "I must have done some good in all these years. I've failed, but I must have dropped one or two fertile seeds; the Germans would have cultivated them. Now all I've done—however much or however little—will be undone; for Bill Hill will see to that. Bill Hill will come and cut my throat, as the boatman said."
He unrolled the flag and spread it over his knees like an apron, not realizing what he did. No imaginative man can relish the thought of having his throat cut.
"And after that Bill Hill will run things in his own sweet way for a while, until our navy finds time to readjust things."
He fidgeted with the flag again, rolling and unrolling it, leaving it spread over his knees at last. He made a strange picture, silhouetted on the steps in the light of the setting sun.
"For the islands' sake, I would rather the Germans had stayed," he said at last. "For my own sake, I believe I'm glad they went. I think I'd rather die than have my own crowd find me here—without a friend—after eighteen years. Yes, I've failed. I had better die. What was that about 'All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword'? I believed that when I came—so I did. I can answer to that!
"I've lived here eighteen years without sword or gun—and they were head- hunters when I came here! Yet, I die by the knife! And yet I believe! Yes, I do—I believe! I believe! I've failed, and that's why the knife gets me; but I wish I knew how or in what I have failed. Lord! I have tried!"
Chin on his fists again, he sat and stared into the setting sun that was like to be his last.
"I suppose they'll wait until dark to come and murder me," he mused. "That'd be Bill Hill's way."
It was only by inches, so to speak, he became aware that he was watched; and the lower edge of the sun's red disk had almost touched the sky line before he knew that there were natives on every side of him, watching him, like shadows among the shadows.
"Are you afraid of me?" he asked at last,
"Him coming now!" boomed a strong voice, and he recognized the man who had pulled the stroke oar.
"Strange!" he thought. "Now I wouldn't wait to see Bill Hill murder him!"
But it was Luther who stepped out of a shadow,with natives on each side of him and behind. Suddenly a thousand figures showed themselves in rings all round him, and Luther drew nearer; so that they two were in the middle of a ring.
"Sir!" said Luther, speaking very loud for Luther. "Mr. Bagg!"
"Yes?" said Bagg a little wearily. He was disgusted that Luther should be spokesman for Bill Hill.
"I am spokesman for these natives. They order me to speak in English, very plainly, that there may be no mistake."
"I'm listening," said Bagg, though it was evident that he would rather have done with it all.
"Those Germans came; and they said that the English are beaten; that there are no English ships or cruisers any more; and that these islands are no longer a Protectorate. Their captain—the captain of the cruiser—he explained that these islands are now free, not belonging to anybody but the natives. Bill Hill asked him: 'Do the Germans not take the islands and hoist the German flag?' But he answered: 'No; the Germans cannot be troubled. The islanders are free to govern themselves.' "
"That's what I feared!" groaned Bagg. "Well, Luther, what then?" he asked, for the half-breed had paused and was conferring in whispers with the men who pressed behind.
It seemed to him that Luther was begging mercy for him, though he could not hear what was said. The men behind urged, but Luther seemed to hesitate.
"Well, Luther, what is it?" he asked again.
"They say, sir—these islanders—that they believed the captain of that cruiser; and that, being free, and no longer under British rule, they have done as they chose. I am to say, sir, that they have killed Bill Hill, and that his head is on a spike of his own palisade."
There was dead silence for two minutes. Bagg waited, breathless. The skin of his back was tingling.
"They say, sir, since they have now no Chief and there is no British rule, and they are free, and Bill Hill was bad man, and you are good man, will you be their king?"
Bagg stared; then his head went forward between his hands.
"They ask, sir," continued Luther, "shall they build you a new house here, or will you live in Bill Hill's house at the other end?"
BY birth and speech Dan Ivan is United States American, descended probably from Russian exiles, although he denies it and weaves theories to prove another derivation of his name. I met him first six thousand feet above sea level, where the lions were hungry on account of frosty nights and water was scarce; and hearing his voice before he came in view I thought at first it was a woman's, for it was suggestive of a song about ideals.
My sixteen oxen had been straining at the yoke like crazy things for the past two hours so that I knew water was near, and as a matter of fact his wagon and mine reached it almost simultaneously from opposite directions—a thin, rusty stream crowded with boulders.And while the oxen and our boy drank I filled my pipe and we two surveyed each other across the water human fashion, our dogs sniffing on the opposite bank from me. (My dog, being fed I suppose at Government expense, had seen fit to cross over and be insolent.)
The upshot was that after a little talk we agreed to camp together on his side of the stream and I sent my wagon over. Game was so scarce that the young lions were hunting in packs, as they often did Umtali way until personally conducted millionaires and poisoned bait became the vogue; we set our boys at once to cutting stacks of thorn, I at pains to prove my crowd the best disciplined, yet less successful than I wished. I noticed that his kaffirs liked him finely. We outspanned the wagons end to end, with a chain stretched taut along, to which to make the oxen fast at night.
While the beasts grazed we stood guard on opposite rocks and did not talk much. He bagged a lion before sunset, and I think it was that shot of his, sure and swift, leaving him perfectly collected yet thoroughly well pleased, which first convinced me I had met a man worth noticing. It was a difficult shot in a bad light, but what seemed to content him was that he had saved the ox. He did not look twice at the trophy.
When we had eaten and had made the rounds once or twice to be sure the fires were well placed and the boys alert we up-ended two buckets midway between the oxen and the ring of fires, because the least comfortable things to sit on are the likeliest to keep a man awake. In that manner, with rifles across our knees, and dogs between our feet (there being almost no night prowler that does not prefer dog to bullock meat), we grew acquainted.
There is no other such way to get to know a man. Great silver stars swinging in the wind below black darkness; the thousand little sounds that make what men call silence; crooning of well-fed kaffirs and the steady munch while oxen chew the cud before they sleep; now and then the whimper of a jackal—the bark of a young lion—the roar of a half a dozen others, and an instant rattle as the frightened oxen shake and wrench the chains; the purring of old pipes and the smell of good tobacco mingled with the smoke of green thorn—all those things in combination cast what superstitious people call a spell, disclosing the common denominator, as it were—the natural, uncluttered view through which two men may glimpse each other.
He shot a second lion about midnight, wiping my eye as the saying is. There were more than a dozen raging about the camp and we could see their eyes every once in a while, surprisingly high when they stood erect to peer between the fires. But until midnight they were content to roar and there is no particular danger while that mood lasts; we kept the boys heaping fresh thorn on the fires, made our dogs lie close, and talked.
But about midnight the lions grew silent except for occasional muttering and I warned Ivan (for he was later come to that part of the world than I) that now we might expect trouble.
"The hungriest one," I told him, "and that's to say the fiercest, 'll be on us presently wherever the widest gap happens to be."
He looked incredulous—I suppose out of politeness because he thought I expected him to. I ordered more fuel on two fires that looked to me lower than the rest. And even while I shouted to the boys a two-year-old male lion took his chance, leaping as if flung from a catapult, snarling, roaring, and ripping the darkness into slits. If anything that lives is swifter than a lion bent on murder, I haven't seen it.
Of course the oxen went mad, and the chain parted; four of them broke loose at once, the boys yelling and scampering to round them up again. (They might as well have yelled and scampered at a land-slide.) My dog got between my legs and nearly tripped me, and what with shouting for more and yet more fuel and one thing and another (for other lions might likely follow their leader) I fired two shots and missed. I swore afterwards that the green smoke made my eyes swim, but that was because Ivan blamed it on my negroes and the dog.
He only fired once. The lion passed straight over him, landing plump among the frantic cattle, stone-dead from a bullet through the heart. The cattle were nearly all loose by that time (some of them running back to the chain and trying to hide between the fast ones), and I suppose it was an hour before we had dragged the trampled carcass free and set four boys to skinning it. By that time four of my team and two of his were lost forever, killed and dragged off by the other lions waiting beyond in the dark. We could hear the feast being held—flesh tearing, and the jackals and hyenas whimpering for leavings—now and then a roar and a yell, as a lion turned to drive a jackal off, but we could see nothing to shoot at.
There was not much risk of another raid, for the lions had plenty, but we kept watch, talking in spasms as you might say, sometimes silent for half an hour on end and then suddenly speaking both at once. Being angry with myself for having missed twice, and depressed by the loss of valuable oxen, I dare say I was sour company. Dan Ivan on the other hand was cordiality itself.
"I'll tell you what," he said at last, as the false dawn flickered under a narrow cloud bank and there came on us that chill drowiness that heralds day, "I'm doing nothing in particular in this country—nothing I mean that ties me—merely shooting—prospecting—looking for trouble I suppose you'd call it. I might as well take one direction as another. Would my wagon be safe if I left it here?"
"Safe as a house," I told him. "No native would care to touch it, and if a white man dared we'd soon catch him."
"All right," he answered, "Then suppose we travel together for a spell—share up the oxen and leave my wagon?"
I pressed down tobacco with my thumb and eyed him sideways, for in Africa one's ideas about Americans are usually colored by Nick Carter. Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes° is as true today with most of us as it was two thousand years ago.
"You said you're looking for trouble," I answered. "I'm not."
He laughed, and frankly as a woman, proceeded to disarm suspicion.
"Not that kind of trouble. I'm looking for life. Trouble seems to stand between me and it, that's all."
"How d'ye mean?" I asked, for he looked more alive than anyone I had seen for months. Healthy complexion, firm muscles, abundant, straight-dark hair, no sign of malaria, or symptom of the whiskey appetite that haunts that part of Africa; money enough (for he had already told me so) to travel wherever he wished; it seemed to me that if anyone already knew what life might mean he ought to be the man.
"Yes," he said, laughing, I suppose at my expression. "Life! I'm looking for it!"
"You mean excitement," said I.
"Yes and no," he answered. "Excitement's a by-product. I may recognise the real thing at last by the excitement it will bring. But perhaps I shall feel solemn. Who can tell who hasn't seen it? I'm seeking a breath of life that wasn't tasted first by someone else—unselfishness that isn't negative, yet won't turn to ashes—life without a lie in it, love without a hint of lust—"
"And you're searching Africa for that?" said I, fearing he might go off into a rhapsody unless checked. (I wanted breakfast.)
"Searching the world for it!" he answered, and then flushed as if angry with himself. I judged he would like to recall nine-tenths of all he had said, and took that for a very healthy sign.
"O, very well," I said, "I'll go you. Leave your wagon here until there is a chance to send for it. When you've found what you're looking for, introduce a chap, that's all."
"I certainly will," he answered.
"Let's eat," said I.
I felt sure he was either in love or else looking to fall in love, and that part of the prospect was a bore; on the other hand he was equally sure I took him literally (I was to learn subsequently the amazing depth of his conviction that he only needed speak to be believed).But promises made at random have uncanny tricks of self-fulfilment. No doubt he forgot the promise, yet long after I, too, had forgotten it he did introduce me to what fed the cravings of his soul. Meanwhile a deal of water (some of it muddy) flowed beneath the bridge. Now and then we found ourselves on either side the stream, but there always proved to be a bridge to cross by.
It got so after a time that my dog would sleep on his cot and his dog on mine. Our boys took orders from either of us and mixed up our belongings inextricably. We shared everything except money, of which he seemed to have inexhaustible supplies; and after two years of living together in tent and wagon, quarreling (for he was a radical to his very roots), and making up (because affection seemed half his life), I thought I could guess pretty accurately what he would say on most subjects. The book of Lamentations was written by a complete and silly optimist, for instance, compared to him in one mood; compared to Dan Ivan when he smiled the writer or the Ninety-first Psalm might almost be dubbed misanthrope. I knew what he thought of kings and queens and pawns, and learned of glory because being pawn earned me only his wrath, not hate. He knew what I thought on the native question, and I. D. B. We were such friends that we could even sit together and not talk for hours on end. Yet he held a bewildering surprise in store.
News reached us by runner one evening of Paul Kruger's declaration of war on England, and of the beginning of the Boer raid on Cape Colony. Never doubting, I read the message aloud to him.
"It looks like a call for us two," I said.
He pricked his ears and eyed me swiftly. "It's more," he answered, "it's judgment day!"
"We'd better trek to the nearest British post and join the first force we get in touch with," said I, thinking aloud.
"British post?" he asked, as if the words puzzled him.
"They'll never guess you're American. Promotion ought to come quickly to you and me. Don't let's waste time waiting for commissions, let's enlist," I urged.
"Enlist on the British side?" he spoke sadly, as if grieved by thoughtlessness.
"What else?" I asked, beginning to feel bewildered.
He shook his head reproachfully. "I shall fight for the Boers of course." Then he filled his pipe as if he had made the most natural statement in the world.
"Are you joking, Dan?" I could think of nothing else to say and he did not trouble to answer. When he looked up from the pipe I could see his eyes burning as if his heart were on fire, and his breath came slow and evenly as when he sighted on a mark.
"Come with me and fight on the right side!" he said suddenly—yet without that earnestness with which he would have urged medicine if I were sick, so that I smelt a rat. It was my turn not to answer. I had a boy who spoke Chironga, a dialect Dan did not know, and I gave some orders in a low voice. Then, full of his own idea, he leaned forward to lay his hand on mine.
"We're friends, aren't we," he said: "Were ever two men better friends than we? Then shake hands!"
I shook hands, although I did not see use of it.
"This is good," he said. "This is as it ought to be. You go your way and I mine. Let us hope we meet in battle!"
I lay back and laughed, but he took no notice.
"Understand," he said. "If we meet on the field I shall do my best to kill you. Do you do the same by me."
"I sat up and struck his hand away, awake to the tact at last.
"You Quixotic ass!" I jeered. "D'you think I'll be sacrificial lamb to ease your silly soul? War be it!—if we're on opposite sides, we are now! You're prisoner! I've ordered your rifle taken to my wagon! You'll be handed over to the first British officer I meet. Go to your wagon and behave like a prisoner—stay there until further orders!"
He obeyed at once, with no look of reproach that might have made me angrier, no argument that might have helped me justify myself, so that I felt the full brunt of it. I struck camp like a man in a dream and headed southward, with an outfit showing like a Noah's Ark in silhouette for all the Dutch to see. Dan Ivan with his weird ideals and hot intolerance had crept into my heart more than I knew, and I suppose my fool heart mourned for him.
The rest of that night I rode ahead in a state of increasing nervous agony, thinking mostly of how to reach a British post uncaptured. And when after dawn I did bring up in a friendly laager Dan's wagon was empty, and he gone. Some of his boys had vanished with him, and although I punished the remnant for not warning me I was secretly glad; for to have handed Dan over to authority would have gone against the grain. The word "spy" was on everybody's lips, and there were more men dealt with by a firing party in those early weeks of war than I care to tell about.
With my experience they made me transport officer almost at once, and presently I grew contented at the size of Africa that made it more and more unlikely Dan could get a shot at me. Usually there was an army and anything from twenty to a hundred miles between us.
Later I was put in charge of a prison camp, because it developed I knew Dutch and could discipline Boer prisoners without breaking their heart. I forgot all about Dan in that environment, being rather too busy to eat or sleep except between times, until one afternoon they led him amid the captured ragged end of a commando to the camp gate and pushed him through.
He was not on terms with the other prisoners. It seemed he had not wanted to surrender and their leader, being hungry and irritable, used a sjambok as the simplest means of making him see reason. There was a great red welt across his face. I noticed that the Boer commandant kept him at a careful distance, eyeing him restlessly, so that even if he had not been a prodigal son, as it were, fetched home in spite of himself, I would have berthed him alone for his life's sake. But I gave him to understand that at the first attempt to escape he would be chained up like a dog.
"You look like a dog that's been robbing garbage cans," I told him. "Have you come home to be washed?"
He groaned aloud. He and I had both been physically dirtier than that many a time without worse than human longing for a bath; but now I left him knowing that no hell of my invention could be half as ghastly as his own, and being a brute I laughed as soon as I was out of sight. Then, remembering holy charity I sent him towels, and relays of hot water, and my own soap. Three days afterwards, judging from more than two years knowledge of him that reaction should be nearly due, I invited him to dinner in my tent.
"What's in store for me?" he asked at once, and I stared in amazement. Whenever Dan felt normal the future was always a mountain range to be reached in three leaps and a stride, and he was intolerant as the prophet Elisha of such mere obstacles as rivers in between. But he had no right to feel normal yet, that I could see.
"That rather depends," I anawered, "On which side wins this war."
"No it doesn't!" he snorted. "If you English can't win it I shan't be set free by Boers! I'm through with them! I went to fight for liberty—for the right of little nations against big ones—for decency and truth and sweetness, against lies and lust!"
"And didn't you find 'em, Dan?" said I, in no mood to spare him altogether. Offering the other cheek is well enough, and I was raised on that Prodigal Son story until I can say it backwards word for word, but heaven seemed a long way off just then and Dan was near. "Didn't you find unselfishness," said I, "that wasn't negative yet didn't turn to ashes?"
"Ashes and dust!" he thundered, bringing down his fist so hard on the table that a sentry looked in through the tent flap. "Tyranny, corruption, vice, selfishness, dirt, ignorance, arrogance of ignorance—"
"You didn't scrape deep enough, Dan," I interrupted. "Under the tyranny and dirt there might be—"
"Damn you, shut up!" he growled. "The dirt's mental, you know that. The worst of 'em wash oftenest. It was glamour drew me—dross—pyrites! I've been trying to perpetuate a crime—trying to make the world go backwards! On the face of it there was never such patriotism, and there are a few good men at the top—a very few. At the bottom—'way down under, with the dust of ages in their eyes, there are good poor fools. But I've grown familiar with all that lies between and I tell you—oh, hurry up and win this war! Win it, I say! What's in store for me? Am I prisoner until peace?"
"It looks like it, Dan. Take my advice and don't look for too much purity and sweetness in our army jails!"
"Can't my consul do anything?"
Every American in trouble in foreign parts demands that his consul shall override law, custom and commonsense—in the name of liberty, of all things. It is a nation of incorrigible humorists.
"He can call attention to the full circumstances of your case," said I.
"Um-mm! said Dan. "Ah! Um-m-m! You mean—?"
"It 'ud be wrong to advise my country's enemy."
"Enemy? Me?" His eyes grew round like a child's, and his indignation was not in the least affected. That was Dan's simplest charm, that when he changed anchorage, so to speak, he did it completely, leaving no kedge to windward.
"And how about my life, Dan? I see this thing selfishly."
"Old man—I thank God I didn't kill you!"
"Well," I said. "I'd advise silence. If you call too much attention to yourself they're certain to jail you in Cape Town. The jail is crowded and the grub's monotonous."
"What's the alternative?" he urged. As a matter of fact I was groping mentally for ways and means that seemed yet without form and void. His thought was swifter than mine, and read mine.
"Men who can talk the Taal and manage Boer prisoners, and who have also had experience in India, are scarce," I said.
"That's you," he nodded. "Go on."
"I've been calling attention to my rare and signal virtues. Somebody's got to personally conduct a ship-load of prisoners to India soon."
"And supposing you're told off to do it, what then?"
"If you kept quiet you might get included in the number."
"Good! I'll be still!"
"If you could get to India—I heard you urge us to hurry and win the war; didn't I? and made no secret of your changed sentiments; and behaved yourself sensibly (supposing that's possible), they might be induced to accept your parole—over there. It might be managed."
"Of course it can be!" He reached for my tobacco, and leaned back to roll himself a cigarette.
"I shall have to pull strings—and strings," I reminded him, resentful of the ease with which he could forgive himself. He had tossed the past behind him as a man throws orange peels.
"Hurry up and pull 'em, then!" he laughed. "Do you think I doubt you? D'you expect me to fear you won't arrange it?" He reached his hand across the table. "You're my friend," he said simply. "It is I who was mistaken, not you. I shall never make that mistake again."
"Not even for love without lust?" I sneered.
"Never!" he answered, smiling bright-eyed like a woman; "Next time the road forks and we differ I'll let you go, that's all. Won't you shake hands?"
So I shook his hand, although I admit I intended to refuse, and from that minute he felt toward me as if we had never parted and no water had come down beneath the bridge. For my part it was not so easy to let the past obliterate itself, and it was weeks before I could look at him without resentment; but that was because his willingness to try new ways and be a rebel, and admit himself mistaken and throw his heart once more over the biggest fence in sight, had put to shame my own contentment with the ruts. In my heart I knew that for all his defeat his spirit had been going forward while mine stood still.
During those following weeks, in which resentment died in the light of his utter disregard of it, we moved to another continent and he was too seasick, and too interested, and much too far flung into the future to dream of writing home, even supposing he could have won permission; so the United States newspapers did not get wind of his whereabouts, and oblivion shut him in.
Then, on the edge of the Apollo Bunder in Bombay he greeted India—stood and sniffed a dozen times—laughed at the feast of color and eternal novelty of things that never change—breathed deeply—fell in love—and India swallowed him.
When a man such as he loves at first sight he is not to be chained by anything so rigid as the Government. He was free of all the land from Peshawur to Comorin within three months, and I, who got the credit for it, was but his implement.
And love finds strange accomplices. If Dan had only adored some girl no doubt he would have pressed into his service her resentful parents as the most unlikely agency in sight. But he had dared fall in love with a continent of three hundred million people, and, needing freedom for his courtship, he used the very hatred of his jailer to obtain his release—-hatred, fear, and me incidentally.
I contracted fever, said to be due to overwork, so instead of being hurried back to bring more prisoners I missed a trip or two and saw Dan nearly every day. Within a week he had filled my head with the thought of quitting military service; within ten days he had convinced me how it might be done; and within three months by telegram and letter I had turned the trick. I was appointed to study the whole subject of indented labor from the point of Crown Colonies, practically at my leisure, wherever the unindented coolie loved and lived.
It was after my appointment that Dan's jailer's hatred of him entered into the scheme. He disliked Dan as intensely as only a materialist can dislike a man with vision, and feeling like a lost dog in sight of the maze of Dan's ideals he snarled and showed bewilderment in mean ways. Dan, with unbelievable good humor, goaded him to greater lengths and then, on Dan's suggestion, it was I who pointed out to a personage the danger of Dan's smuggling out an account of his ill treatment that might finally reach the United States newspapers.
The ancient sport of twisting the lion's tail happened to be in full swing just then, and the lion was being more than usually careful (having a big war on his hands), so that it was not so very greatly to be wondered at that presently Dan was paroled in my custody. We being both non-entities, nobody was jealous; and the mention of our new status in the papers was so small, and stowed away among important items, that probably nobody saw it. I secured railway passes for us both, and we set forth like boys from school.
I mentioned that he had fallen in love with India. From the heat to the insects, from the smells to the snakes and temples and the view, including trees and roads and people, he made one vast idol of it all, keeping second place in his heart for me because, he said, I had given him the golden opportunity.
We traveled, and hunted, and looked. We rode pig together at Palanpur; shot tiger at Sirohe, where tarantulas and heat combined nearly to put an end to both of us; played polo at Mount Abu, and he played so well that a junior Civil Servant denounced what he chose to call insolence on the part of a paroled prisoner. (We had to go away lest the parole be withdrawn, and that was of course the best thing that could happen, for it drove us further afield.)
There was not a district worthy of its name up and down the length of India that we did not visit, overlooking no opportunity for sport, yet mindful always of the end in view and of the great report that must be written.
(Perhaps some day they will take that report from its pigeon hole and publish it to an astonished world. It would have been worded ten times as radically if Dan had had his way, but I was in awe of the Powers that Be and respectful of their feelings, and in the long hot nights, when our cots were side by side that one punkah might fan the two of us, I made him see discretion if not reason.)
The burden of Dan's song, day in day out, was that he had found his proper métier—his bent—his plane—his role. God must have made him for the very purpose of detecting India's galls and healing them. We must write this report together, using our combined powers of observation, my patience, and his wit. It should go in over my signature, and be received with gratified amazement by a Secretary of State, who would pass it on to a Viceroy, who would promptly send for me. Then I, out of the goodness and fearless honesty of a simple heart, should assure the Viceroy that other fingers than my own had wielded that amazing pen, and—to put it in plain American—that he, Dan Ivan, was the guy. The Viceroy, of course, would send for Dan at once and load him with responsibility. (Never mind the salary—mind you tell him I'd work for the love of it. If you forget that, you and I are not friends!)
Under the spur of that enthusiasm and those wonderful ideals the report grew long, and there were many places where the ink was smudgy because sweat had mingled with it in the heat of midnight oil. (We've got to have this thing done, you know, and ready to turn in the minute they give me back my parole!)
Unexpected things were written in it. We camped one ever memorable night, for instance, with the traders who had brought three thousand horses from over the northern border. When the grain was eaten, and the squealing and whinnying almost ceased; when the pipes were lit, and we all sat on little carpets thinking we could hear the stars, a man sang. Dan never knew a word of that language, but almost until dawn he set down by fitful candlelight the thoughts the man's song brought him. The last sentence was to the effect that poetry and music are avenues to men's hearts.
"As if Government doesn't know that!" said I, when he waked me to make me read it.
"Rot! All Governments think a brass band's music! Show me a Government record or one Government decree poetically worded! You can't! Of course you can't! There isn't one! Now that fellow who sang knew all about spiritual things—I know he did, you needn't argue—you could tell it by his voice and the way he would stop to meditate between one stanza and another—the song was a prayer—nothing less—a verse-prayer in a minor key. Such men must be met on their own level."
I laughed because I happen to know Pashtu. "Shall I tell you the gist of a dozen of the least indecent verses?" I asked, and as he did not answer I sketched the details briefty.
"Well—what can you expect?" he retorted when the shock wore off after a minute or two, "The Government licks 'em with a stick for minor crime—wouldn't that brutalize an angel?"
"What would they do in America," said I, "to anyone who sang that song in public?"
"No American would sing it," he answered, scandalized.
"But supposing I went to America and sang it?"
"Who would suppose such foolishness? The point is, these men would respond at once to wiser treatment. They yearn for righteousness, and Government gives 'em irrigation and a new stone jail."
It was true about the irrigation, and where that is there is little surplus labor. The report was to be about supplies of unskilled labor available for Crown Colonies.
"Let's try a native state again," said I.
"One where Government hasn't perverted 'em so much," he agreed.
So we found a native state less civilized than most, and while we studied the crowded hordes who some day might be loosed on a desert colony to grow wheat, cholera struck like a snake in the night and nearly a thousand died before morning. There were three other white men within a hundred miles; they pressed us into service, and though other help came as fast as camel and horse could hurry, it was long before we were free to seek less melancholy places.
For a while Dan's name was a charm to conjure with in that old city of hot nights. They corrupted it to Danee Vanee, and he moved among them almost as a god, with straight, dark hair like theirs—brown eyes like theirs—graceful, lean limbs—his head crowned with a turban against the scorching sun—not so unlike their proudest in appearance that they could not detect his sympathy and trust him.
Government heard of his doings by telegraph (for I attended to that myself), and over the wire in the course or a week or two came Dan's release from parole as reward for service rendered. Watching him as he read the telegram I saw his old super-intolerance for the accepted, cut-and-dried judgments sweep over him like fire, and because I was more tired than I had ever been I grew afraid and warned him not to be a fool.
"I won't be," he answered, crunching the telegram and tossing it to me to lock in our one despatch box, that contained the great report. "But I'd like 'em to know how much I care for their rewards!"
"They might have expressed it more tactfully," I admitted, "but wasn't it the proper thing to give you back your freedom?"
"How can they give me back my own?" he demanded.
Nevertheless, he spent the greater part of that night concocting a letter that would express sufficiently to satisfy convention, yet not too much to scarify his conscience, some kind of appreciation; and the final result was a marvel of ingenuity.
" 'Render unto Cæsar—' " he quoted as he sealed the letter. "Cæsar's a harder one to please than God!"
Next day there was the old light behind his eyes, and the old swing back in his stride again. Danee Vanee passed from being minister in mental chains, in whom the natives (chained by superstition) recognized a fellow prisoner, to that much more rare amazing thing, the free man serving unpaid from choice. And in the pride of having scorned the praise or Caesar he fell victim to the wine of being worshipped. He thought it inspiration. (Later, because of his clean ideals, inspiration came of it.)
The soldiery (not quite as well drilled as the regular Indian army, nor nearly as sure of themselves) began to look to him for approval of their own lame efforts, presently for advice and after a while for orders. It came to be the normal thing, that nobody commented on, for Dan Ivan, the American without a scrap of authority or rank, to shout to men whose cousins were the playmates of a reigning prince, and to see his orders obeyed at a run. We were forced to admit (we others, who did have semblance of authority and therefore precedence and pride and other handicaps) that only the spirit of democracy could have earned him such confidence; arrogance, and the habits of ages had to yield before his clear perception of essentials. Yet, our very appreciation of him contributed to his fall, for we trusted him too far.
The cholera waned to a mere dozen deaths a day and we began to think of our own affairs, when a whole district thirty miles down stream took sick. It was as if we had subdued the center of a forest fire to find ourselves surrounded and cut off. Short handed even after all the help that had been sent us, there seemed but one sensible thing to do—to leave Danee Vanee in unofficial (but actual) charge of the main camp and ourselves invade the countryside in twos with all the native assistance we could raise and train. And so for a month we all forgot everything except the battle with ignorance and dirt.
Then, as the scourge burned itself out as it were, we began gathering again toward the centre and, three days march by bullock cart from headquarters, I got the first intimation, that Dan might be in need of help. A scrawl reached me in his handwriting, asserting that the most ridiculous condition had arisen and if I could come it might be a good idea.
So I cut the three days journey into two, and found Dan under arrest with an armed guard at each door of his quarters. The British resident, who of course was officially held responsible for leaving Dan in charge, had been given leave of absence by wire and a military man "who knew not Joseph" had come by camel to investigate. I found him busy and disinclined to answer questions; so, after a few words with the only other European on the scene I drove through the main bazaar to see things for myself, and thence to Dan's verandah, where I found him smoking moodily.
"This is where our road forks a second time," he said, laughing without a trace of mirth. "You're in time to say good bye!"
"You've got plenty of friends," I answered. "Why not see it through."
"That's what I've done," he said, shoving both hands deep into his pockets. He no longer wore the Rajput turban but was United States American again in panama and linen collar. "I've taken thought and seen it through. I'm clean through. I leave tomorrow."
I noticed there was no regret in his voice, and swift as lightning he detected what I missed.
"Come with me!" he urged. "I'd be sorry to lose you."
"I'm sorry too, what possessed you, Dan?" I answered, taking the only other chair and reaching for his cigarettes; they were of the cheap, bazaar kind, although I noticed a box of imported ones unopened on the table.
"Help yourself to the others," he growled. "That new military specimen who's here to investigate sent them up—I suppose as a sort of sedative. Help yourself, and take the rest back to him, won't you?"
"What possessed you?" I repeated. Plainly, in his bitterness he classed me with tyranny because of my appointment.
"Sense possessed me! Horse sense! Common sense! Decency! Cholera took charge again a week ago—two hundred and eleven cases the first night. All the old blankets had been burned and I wanted new ones—to soak in hot water, like we did at first, and wrap round the poor devils' tummies to ease the cramp. Weren't any blankets. What could I do! What would anybody do—I mean any man with a heart in him? I learned that Hookum Lal, the old scoundrel, had twenty bales of 'em in his godown in the main bazaar, so I sent him word to deliver 'em at once and charge to me."
"He sent back an answer that the price was trebled and the terms cash with order. What would you have done?"
"Almost anything," I said, "except what you did."
"Oh—ah—yes—of course," he retorted, "I forgot for a moment you've a commission of kinds. Strange what a Government label will do to a sane man! I'll tell you what I did. I sent the old scoundrel an offer in writing of the old price plus ten per cent, and he didn't even answer. I sent along the money, but he wouldn't take it. So I called twenty soldiers—you know how they used to like my ordering 'em about—and marched at the head of 'em in a hurry to Hookum Lal's godown. He had the gall to sit there with the door locked behind him. I'll bet a thousand he was waiting for me. He had a key in his lap as big as a fireman's axe. I tossed the money in his lap and told him to hand the blankets over."
I squealed, for I could not help it, and Dan looked at me sadly, as if I were damned for no fault of his.
"What did he do?" I asked.
"Hookum Lal? He spat. He tossed the money aside, and spat into the dust between us."
"I kept my temper, but I told him men were lying in agony for lack of his blankets to alleviate the pain."
"Go on. And he?"
"He raised the price another hundred per cent."
"Of course. That's his creed. What happened next?"
"Why then I believe I kicked him. He got up and ran like a lump of fat on a hot stove, sputtering; so I didn't waste any more time. I ordered the soldiers to stave in the godown door with their butts, and they tried it at once, but the door proved too solid for that game. So I showed 'em how to make a battering ram out of a teak beam from an old house near-by, and we had the door down in fine style in very few minutes. Then I pressed some onlookers into service and made 'em carry the blankets to where I needed 'em. What are you laughing at?"
"The arrogance of ignorance," I said. "Go on."
"As soon as I began to put the blankets into use the soldiers left en bloc. Deserted isn't the right word. They marched off in fours, under their own officer. Next thing that happened was a riot—no, not in camp—outside—crowd came surging from the city and proclaimed bloody murder from every bit of rising ground. No soldiers in camp now, of course, to keep order—and all the cholera patients who could walk or even crawl began slipping out to join the crowd. That's what gave the cholera the merry little boost it got. Next thing, the crowd began throwing stones, and I took a stand where I thought I could do most good and dared 'em to come any further. Yes, I had your gun, and I took good care they saw it. No sign of Hookum Lal anywhere. I'd have shot that gent on sight, but he knew better than to show up. What d'you suppose happened next?"
"You're telling it. Go on."
"The soldiers came back, only twice as many of 'em, led by a man on horseback who wasn't a soldier at all—an oldish looking wasp of a man with white whiskers dyed blue and a slit in one ear. The prime minister for aught I know."
"Prime minister's near enough," I said. "Go on."
"Well. They arrested me. Bluebeard gave the order and they—you might almost call 'em my own men—they seemed to take a delight in hustling me into this place. You'd have thought I'd poisoned a couple of rajahs and a crown prince! Never a sign of Hookum Lal. Never a word of him. Haven't seen him since I kicked him and he ran. Somebody—the prime minister, I suppose—telegraphed the Indian Government, and they sent that curried colonel person who confirmed my arrest—and sent me cigarettes, confound him! When I spoke of Hookum Lal he said, "A-hem! Hurrr-umph!" and twiggled his moustache and walked away. What d'you suppose he meant by that?"
"Do you expect the Indian Government to flatter Hookum Lal more than it must?" I hazarded.
"Oh, I see. Well, this military gent came back presently, holding his moustache on with one hand, and had the gall to offer me pay for my services to date at the corresponding rate of a British sergeant major, on condition that I leave the country."
"What did you do? Spit, like Hookum Lal?" I asked.
"No, I laughed at him. Then he said they would also pay my first class passage to America."
"What did you say?"
"I told him to go to hell, and he hasn't been back since. He's sent me cigarettes—Government stores, I suppose—"
"Nothing of the sort," I said. "If you'll open the box you'll probably find his own initials and his regimental crest on each cigarette."
"Oh. I beg his pardon. Here—pass me the box and I'll smoke one. Help yourself."
"So the long and the short of it is you're deported."
"No! By gorry no! By gee! If it amounted to that I'd stay and hire lawyers and drag in the consul, and fight the Indian Government to the last ditch. I don't give a damn for the Indian Government, and I've been at no pains to hide the fact. I leave India at my own initiative and my own expense. I'm going back to God's country. I've been in this glorious jail eleven days, waiting for nothing but for you to come and lend me the price."
Now that was exceedingly inconvenient. Because he had not chosen to let his New York bankers know where he was, I had financed him during the whole of his stay in India; and in addition to that we had all beggared ourselves buying emergency supplies with small prospect of Government refunding us.
"I shall have to borrow it," I told him.
"Go ahead," said he. "I'll make it good."
"Twelve per cent's the lowest rate a shroff would charge."
But it isn't easy to borrow considerable sums of money without security when your job is as impermanent as mine was. I had to get my note endorsed; and I have chuckled a good deal wondering what Dan would have said had he known who endorsed it. I went straight to the "curried military gent," who "twiggled his moustache" and wrote his name on the back of the paper without a moment's hesitation.
"I'd have been happy to lend him the money myself," he explained, "if he'd cared to ask. He seems to be a man of very proper spirit. It's too bad to have to take the case seriously but, you know, the politics of these native states—especially these smaller ones—is a ticklish business—and er—I might add—the position of a pardoned prisoner of war is—ah—rather ticklish too. We appreciate his services. We would much rather overlook this business, but—candidly—we don't dare."
"My own impression," I said. "is that he's too upset by the natives taking sides with Hookum Lal against him to care what Government thinks or does."
"But they didn't," he answered. "They killed Hookum Lal—beat him to death with lathies (sticks). It was only when the men who did that were arrested and thrown in jail that public opinion swung and our friend found himself in a tight place. The diwan arrested him to save his life."
"Mayn't I tell him that?" said I.
"I think not. If I'm any sort of hand at judging men he'd want to open the whole business from some Quixotic notion of duty. We want it closed."
"But the men who killed Hookum Lal?" I objected. "Are they to be scuppered behind his back? Mayn't he put in a word for them?"
The man in charge of the situation smiled at me. "That's neither more nor less, than the point," he said. "Your American friend would imagine they killed Hookum Lal out of regard for himself. As a matter of fact, however, five of the murderers were heavily in debt to Hookum Lal—two had been dispossessed of their homes by him, and three were the servants of the reigning rajah's younger brother who recently tried to borrow money and was refused. It's a complicated business."
"By Gad it is," I agreed, and we both sat still for a quarter of an hour each, avoiding the other's eyes. "All the same," I said then, "if you'll forgive my offering advice—"
"No use!" he snapped, bringing his heels together. "He leaves India—of his own accord or of ours, it scarcely matters to us which. For his own sake, let him go of his own free will, knowing nothing: Say nothing to him! Yes, you may take him to Bombay."
So I went back to Ivan wondering how I should spend those next days in his company without divulging that I knew what he must not know. I went by way of the bazaar, to borrow money for him, and three hours had passed before I helped myself to a cigarette again beside him. I saw then there was a new light in his eye, and I suspect he read some change in mine. I had forgotten for the time the existence of another white man within reach, and Dan's first words were like an electric shock.
"Conant looked in," he said. "He was rather drunk."
"Good Lord!" I gasped. "Has Conant told you—now, look here, Dan, don't be a fool—let me tell you something else—"
"What's the use?" he sneered. "It took a drunken man to show me my mistake—you're sober. I came out into the world to look for what I call the Real Red Root, and all I've done is try to tamper with the result of twice- two's-five. I'm off now back to God's country—where a man can look without burning his eyes. Show these people a new idea, and they'd try to eat it—believe me. it 'ud upset their stomachs too! Their God's their belly. I'm no camomile tea for soothing stomach aches!"
"I wish I understood you," I admitted. "Did Conant tell you—"
"He told me everything, and a lot more."
"And you're willing to go?"
"Wish I could start this minute! Come with me!"
"I'm to take you to Bombay—I mean go with you. You don't travel under arrest."
"Come to America."
"Oh," I said airily, "for one thing I shall come back here and do what I can for those poor devils who murdered Hookum Lal."
He laughed. "Camomile tea for the colliwobbles!" he said grimly. "They'll swallow all you'll give 'em! After that they'll have the colliwobbles worse than ever!"
"All the same," said I.
"Yes," he interrupted, "I know—I'd have said the same thing once. I fought for the Boers once. I was willing to stay here forever, once. I've seen a great light. I'm going home."
From a man who had prayed once to sacrifice his friend in battle for the sake of dim ideals this was drab and disillusioning. I suppose my face showed it, for he dropped the scornful note and laid a hand on my shoulder.
"You're in a rut," he said, "and you like the rut, old man. I'm in the ditch, and I don't like it. But a ditch is better than a rut for lots of reasons; there's more room, for one thing. For another, it's not respectable and you aren't supposed to stay in—nobody minds which side of it you step out; and when you do step out you can see which way the ruts run, and keep away. You don't understand that, either, do you? Well, it's a national failing to want to set the world right—and a national duty for that matter. The mistake I've made was in cussing at other people's ruts instead of gouging new ones; I cussed, and edged over, and they ditched me. Stay in your rut, and be comfy, and good luck to you—I'm off!"
"I'm sorry," I said, "I shall miss you."
"Follow me when you do!" he retorted. "I shall blaze a trail."
"And the great report?" said I.
"Belongs with the Boer Army and the Southern Confederacy and pipe dreams in the land of Twice-two's-five! Finish it, and then forget it! It won't set the world on fire. You'll get more out of it than anyone."
I did not doubt that was true.
So I traveled to Bombay, in a manner in charge of him, and we did not talk much. To have hunted, and journeyed, and quarreled, and played with a man; more than, all that to have worked with him and come to his rescue when his honor seemed involved is to weave such a harness of affection as the human finds it hard to break. We were friends all right. We scarcely said good bye on the steamer, and I turned my back on him before the steamer left, with a feeling of tragedy. Yet I was not sure that I was right and he wrong, which made it worse. He had undermined my self-content.
I finished the report, after they had hanged Hookum Lal's murderers, and took no more joy in one conclusion than the other. Then, in the course of wandering, I hunted tigers, because in some ridiculous way a tiger seemed to represent jealousy. I was not jealous of women in the least, but I ached when dread told me some iconoclast in pants would tempt Dan Ivan and rob him of his vision.
The first letter he sent me enclosed a draft for what he owed without a word of thanks, which was as it should be. Had he wasted ink on that sort of gratitude I should have known that friendship was already dwindling into mere acquaintance; so I took heart of grace and grew more contented. Not until the fifth or sixth letter (and the intervals were long) did any new phase declare itself. He began then to mention week-ends spent at somebody's country house, and in some vague way I gathered her father was well-to-do.
When he married I resisted the desire to travel round the world and see him. I never met a man more sure than he to make a reasonable woman happy, but an evening's talk with me, I thought, might likely reawaken wanderlust. So I gave the woman time. The "great report" being finished, I got a commission to study the subject of draught oxen, and set out to travel the length and breadth of India again.
His letters grew if anything more regular. I could not detect a trace of the notorious married man's inclination to drop youth's friendships and slide backward into morbid middle age. Yet, there was something in every letter that evaded comprehension—something, neither marriage nor parenthood, that put new strength into his thoughts.
Time after time I wrote asking an explanation, but he ignored the questions. He never even told me what might be the nature of his business, although it grew more and more evident as one year followed another that something vast had spurred and engaged his whole energy.
I scanned book-lists vainly, in the thought that authorship might have claimed him. Failing a clue there I turned toward politics, and, trying to glean from Anglo-Indian and European papers intelligible glimpses of American public life, decided cryptograms were easier and lit fires with the puzzles journalists had made. Yet curiosity grew, and Dan's letters began to grow fewer, with less and less in them of information.
I did not exhaust the subject of draught oxen, because that is an illimitable realm (unlike the visible supply of beasts); but as the yearning to see Dan grew uncontrollable I turned in at last a report of kinds and claimed leave of absence (which was granted, without pay). Having a job of my own to return to I was surely at liberty to track Dan down, and so that experience became mine of crossing two oceans to where men reason with the blue sky for a limit, and rather often speak their thoughts. It was more potent than new wine, and for three months I wandered, wondering.
Dan had done none of the things I imagined for him, and that very fact kept me from going to him at once. His name seemed too often on men's lips, on trains and in hotels, and a sort of false shame bred hesitation. I thought it might seem I was sponging off him, and I think perhaps I would have returned to India without seeing him at all had not word of his troubles reached me. I could not resist seeing how he met them now-a-days, so I took train almost across the continent with a telegram in advance of me to make my coming known.
It was a wild, grim region where I alighted in the rain at dawn, and the crew who manned the narrow-gauge spur-track train that met me looked like incarnate spirits of the place. I sat on the edge of a tip-truck surveying the panorama of iron mountains (remembering I had first met Dan beside an iron-colored stream) until a lump of ore whipped by my ear, and the man with a gun on the truck next behind advised me with pungent metaphor to hide myself. After that I lay on iron dust hidden by the truck side until we brought up with shrieking brakes in the midst of a grim town, set on the rim of a gaping wound in Mother Earth. Never having seen anything like it, I let myself be led unprotesting down street after street of endless ugly shacks.
It looked like a town with no more ideals than beauty. One whole street of shacks had been burned quite recently and their charred frames wept in the rain like skeletons of lost ambition. At one end was a bare pole that might have borne a flag, and tattered rags were trodden in the mud near-by in proof of what its purpose had been. I picked up one rag and carried it along.
When I came on Dan at last he was standing by a gaunt iron-ore building labelled Offices. There was a man-height wall above the roof and a man with a rifle paced behind it, for I could see his hat and the rifle barrel. I gathered Dan's hunting days were not yet altogether over.
"You're welcome!" he said, snatching a word with me, just as he snatched my hand between orders that he emphasized with swinging list.
"I see you're in trouble again," I said, going to what looked like the heart of things at once to save time.
"Not a bit of it!" he laughed. "I'm in my element!"
There wasn't a doubt of that. Voice, eye and bearing were those of a man at man's work. Men who could scarcely speak English some of them, came running to get his orders and hurried to obey, understanding him and one another.
"What have you got?" said I, "and when did you get it?"
"I've a wife and two sons," he answered; but I knew that wasn't the answer, and he knew I had not meant that: Marriage with him had been the rounding out of his private life, no more, no less.
"What is here that's good?" I asked, "that you look so pleased with yourself?"
"Can't you see it?" he asked.
"I saw this as I came along," said I, and I showed him the torn strip from his national flag I had brought with me.
"There's a big one up there they can't reach," he said, laughing and glancing at the roof where a big flag bellied in the driving rain. "If that had been a white flag, or a black, or a red one they'd have hung garlands on it. They tore it down and trod on it because it stands for what'll get them in the end, and they know it, yet don't understand."
"If I had any authority here," I said, "they'd understand in short order what it meant to dishonor the flag of the land they live in!"
"But it isn't the land they live in," he answered. "Only about one in a thousand of 'em has even seen America in the distance!"
"Talk sense!" I urged him, and he laughed.
"A man lives where his heart is," he answered, smiling with that same far vision in his eye that first made me respect him. "Thousands and thousands are born under this flag who neither know where America is nor what it means. I didn't know. How should I? How should they? I was born over here, but I never lived in America until I'd hunted, and hunted, and found the root of things. America is my country now, and no man can put me out of it or make me afraid. It's no joke, man, that America is God's country! Heaven and America are one!"
"This looks more like hell," I said, illustrating what I meant with a sweep of the arm that took in treeless chasms, red chaos, and machinery that burrowed insect-like into creation's very womb.
"Hell's wherever you dig and grovel for the Root!" he laughed. "Heaven's the fruit of digging!"
"Did you dig your Root out of that great hole?" I asked him. "I know you've dug money out of it, but—
"No," he interrupted: "I dug it from the first place I tried—from my own heart, red and bloody. Do you know why I left America—I mean in the beginning?"
"Unless memory fails," I said, "There was something about love without a hint of lust—"
"That's it! Love is the right word after all." Lust is the mirage. Most of that flag-burning brigade can sing, "My country" with a fine fervor—know the words better than I do! Trouble with 'em is, each one's thinking of something different while he sings—beans, perhaps meat seven days a week—pianos on the installment plan—oh, anything! Yet they're here because they know there's something better than their understanding grasps yet; and because they've crossed seas to find it, they surely shall!"
"Meanwhile they take your wages and burn your property!"
"They'll build it again!" he laughed. "Just yet they've nothing to sacrifice, and they feel the lack.They've run away from gods of property and boundaries, so they burn what they find of that sort over here."
"To stay this side—I mean to be one of you—would I have to carry a torch and tread on flags?" I asked.
"Of course not. You've made your sacrifice. Will your heart not burn for what you've left? I didn't know it, but what drove me out of America on my travels was a sense of guilt! I'd nothing to give! Do you bring nothing with you? America demands a sacrifice from each one of us."
"What sign shall follow them that believe?" I asked him.
"A simple one. When you learn to love so well that you begin to see heaven through the blood and tears, you're on the fair way to become American. You are one when you know at last America's a state of mind! You'll be ready then to fight and die for what you know, and you'll feel tolerant of all the poor who haven't learned that yet! But there's no peace till you reach that point. Heaven and America are one! Are you afraid?"
"No," I said, "I'm not afraid."
"Will you come on in?"
"Yes," I said. "I will." I felt like taking off my shoes, as used to be required on Sinai.
JOE MOLYNEUX told this story. We were sprawling on my rug on a Florida beach, staring at Hell Shoal, where the big new bell-buoy swam. The gulls and terns were waiting for the tide, half asleep on the abandoned hulk of Sharpe's million-dollar yacht.
It had been a nearly new yacht when it went on Hell Shoal. Never less than arrogant in his reactions, Sharpe had insulted Providence forthwith by ordering the biggest bell-buoy in the world. He had set it, with or without the government's permission, well to seaward of that graveyard of incautious ships. No ordinary bell was good enough for Sharpe in that mood. He had consulted Molyneux, who introduced Ramon Turner.
Ramon Turner cast the bell and then vanished without waiting for his money. Molyneux and I had come to listen to the bell; but, like many other things that Sharpe had ordered made, it was apparently too big. It needed waves to make it boom. No sound came.
There had been a hue and cry—a nine days' wonder about Ramon Turner. I asked Molyneux what he supposed had become of him? Molyneux stared at me for about a minute before he answered. Then he broke into the story suddenly, beginning 'way back at the tap-root of it, so that I did not at first understand that he was answering my question.
You see, he began, I collect bells. I have wandered all over the world collecting them. They amuse and interest me. I can tell, by the sound of an ancient bell, pretty nearly its date and who cast it; also, sometimes, what is in it besides metal. Have you noticed that bells have character? At certain periods of history it was the custom, when an important bell was cast, to sacrifice a man by flinging him alive into the molten metal. That was called giving a soul to the bell—soul—virtue—character—one or the other, and no matter which. Have you ever noticed that some bells die, and some don't?
I first met Ramon Turner in a shop near the British Museum where young artists could occasionally sell their work at bread-and-cheese prices or better. I resist temptation to buy young men's stuff; it is so easy to be led astray by youth with a torch and a plausible line of revolt. However, that day, on one of the display pedestals, there was a bronze statuette that almost undermined my resolution. The statuette is on my writing table now, although I didn't buy it. When it was put up for auction there were no bids. It was returned to the pedestal, so I examined it again. It was a nude figure of a woman, about eighteen inches high, posed very casually, carrying a Chinese sunshade. Quite an ordinary subject, but magnificently handled. It conveyed a kind of concentration of emotion. It was a statement in bronze of something almost absolute. I had never seen anything like it and I was debating whether or not to make a private offer for it, when a voice said from behind me: "It's yours since you like it so much."
I turned and looked into the face of Ramon Turner. He had gone to pieces by the time you met him—in fact long before you met him. But even so, with that straw-coloured beard and those haunted eyes he was charming enough, in his own way, wasn't he? I mean when you could break through his reserve. He had come to look of recent years like a nihilist in second-hand reach-me-downs. But in those days, I assure you, he was handsome and so full of life and vigour that he arrested attention; clean and clean-shaven; fine intellectual features; insolently amused by such important things in life as he thought trivial; alert; intelligent. I liked him at the first glance. At the second glance I liked him better. But I did not make the mistake of thinking he would be an easy man to get along with in the event that his ideas should differ from one's own. He smiled—you remember his smile, how curiously boyish and yet twisted by torment it was? And he remarked, as if he and I had known each other for a lifetime: "You see, you know living metal. These fools here know nothing but the bargain price of dead stuff. Vultures!"
I refused the gift, of course. He wrapped the thing in newspaper and took it out under his arm. I happened to turn down the same street and saw him go into a pawnbroker's shop. The long and short of that was that I interrupted his argument with the pawnbroker, who was refusing to lend more than, I think, ten shillings, and invited him to dinner. It was only five o'clock but I supposed he might be hungry, so we went there and then to the Holborn grill-room. Over beer and beefsteak we became rather friendly. I lent him five pounds, not expecting to get it back but rather counting on my money's worth in the form of future conversation. As you know, he could talk like someone out of one of Wilde's plays, skating on brilliant, thin ice over dark profundities. That shoal, as we see it now glittering in sunlight, reminds me of his conversation. There was spiritual peril close under the fascinating surface. Never, in all the years I have known him, have I heard from him one word of disrespect for love or woman, but I gathered from his conversation over dinner that day that he might be a dangerous man for a woman to know too intimately. There appeared to be one woman; he spoke of her with such peculiar contentment in his voice that I could not help wondering what sort of person she was.
I soon learned, because he did repay the money. In the letter in which he enclosed a five-pound note he invited me to drop in for a meal whenever I might be passing his way. My home in Surrey was not more than ten miles from his studio, so I drove over; and there began the most intensely agonizing, and at the same time tragically important experience I have known. Understand me: I think Ramon Turner is dead, or I wouldn't speak of it. As the only one concerned still living, the story is mine, and pondering such memories alone does not help to explain them or forget.
Ramon Turner's studio was simply an abandoned barn that he had rebuilt. It was exactly in key with his character. There was nothing superfluous. He had made the furniture himself. At one end, behind a brick wall, he had a small foundry, where he did all his own casting and experimented with metals, alloys, temperatures. There was a bathroom and one bedroom reserved for the use of guests. He and Dorothy lived, cooked and worked in the rest of the place, which was a huge square room with one long window at the north end and a skylight.
Dorothy was Ramon's model. Where and how he found her, who she was or what her previous history had been, I never knew because I never cared to ask. It was immediately obvious that she came of decent stock and had been nicely educated. I imagine they had simply met and recognized each other as the two halves' of one existence. They had probably not talked it over much before she ran away to live with him. It was one of those things that naturally happen. They seemed completely to round out each other's enjoyment. He worked like a Titan. She encouraged him, providing the only sort of peace that such a man as Ramon could enjoy or understand or even tolerate.
No, they were not married. I don't believe they had even thought about marriage until one day I suggested to them that it might be wiser. I had formed a habit of dropping in to spend the day and they seemed to accept me as a sort of lay confessor, drawing me into conversation about their intimate affairs, and keeping, as far as I know, nothing they thought worth knowing hidden from me. So I felt entitled to offer advice. But Ramon turned on me like a war-lord accusing a traitor.
It appeared he regarded marriage as an insult to his own intelligence as well as a trap devised by tyrants seeking to exploit humanity, particularly women. He used all the familiar arguments as well as one or two that seemed to me original, and it was very easy to agree with him in theory. In practice, as I told him, theory is sometimes treacherous in proportion to the amount of clear reason it seems to contain.
You knew him. You can probably imagine how that loosed his tongue and how he railed at my middle-class morals. Success, as he declared he measured it, was calculable only in terms of autonomy—not anarchy, but individual freedom to govern oneself. Love, he insisted, is either absolutely free or else a form of prostitution. He admitted no alternative, conceded nothing to con-vention. He asserted with considerable logic but no caution, and without the slightest fear of the fallibility of human judgment, that the same rule applies to art, religion and anything else that has any importance at all. He was extraordinarily plausible, as most fanatics are.
But the least touch of fanaticism always affects me in the way that bell-buoy over there should affect a sailor. It makes me suspicious of surfaces—just as too much patina sets me looking for faults in a bronze.
As a matter of plain fact it was not simply Ramon's conversation, or his prodigious skill with metal that had brought me again and again to their studio. I had business, as it happened, that made those increasingly frequent visits quite a strain on my time. I neglected business. The truth is, I was in love with Dorothy. I knew it. Ramon never guessed it. I think she never suspected me of being more than friendly. But she is the reason why I have remained unmarried all these years. Other women, however desirable my reason may assure me they are, have served only to remind me that no one possibly could fill the place which Dorothy found vacant. I did not even know it was vacant until I met her.
There is no reason or logic in being in love, any more than there is in religion. The experience brings out either the best or the worst in us—perhaps both. It made me doubly—trebly careful not to disturb their idyll. But it also made it next thing to impossible to keep away; and it made me meddlesomely eager to persuade them to get married and out of reach of a danger that I thought I foresaw. Knowing they were hard up, I even went to the length of offering to stand them a wedding and a week's tour on the continent.
Of course, as I can see now, I merely toughened Ramon's obstinacy. Possibly, if I had held my tongue, he might have changed his mind; and marriage, I feel absolutely certain, would have made impossible what did happen, she being the woman she was. If Ramon had suggested marriage, she would have accepted his reversal of attitude as a sort of reward to herself for having tried so faithfully to understand him. She trusted him, always, instantly, however paradoxical he might seem. The breathless business of follow-my-leader after him through realms of almost always brilliant thought kept her excited and happy. Except when she was doing the housekeeping she used to pose for him from dawn to dark, he working in wax, now and then even in bronze with a chisel and file and corundum, striving to catch form in motion and the play of light and shadow on her naked flesh. She had the legs and torso of a Diana by Michael Angelo, if you can imagine that (you remember his David?); and she had an unself-conscious, tireless pose no matter how you posed her, that was as baffling to reproduce in any medium as, for instance, the colour and flight of those gulls on the shoal. But her real charm was her genuineness. Ramon was trying to reproduce that. She was eternally young and eternally learning, very often perplexed by Ramon's paradoxes, but always so sure he was right that I think she was only puzzled as to why she could not always understand him.
And Ramon, like many another artist, loved to reveal his inmost nature while he worked. He was a dangerous man in those moods. When he talked about love he was worse than dangerous. He utterly denied the right of anyone to own a hair or a hope or a second of time or a claim on the conscience of anyone else. He denied a man's right to inhibit a woman from any experience. He insisted that love is the most dynamic force in nature. A man who should disrespect a woman merely because the love with which he loved her had aroused sex instincts that she could not govern, had no right to the name of homo sapiens.
"Chastity," he insisted, "is a sin if it is based on anything but the intention to do with oneself as one pleases. The worst sin is stupidity."
I used to try to turn the conversation. But Doro-thy was much too much in love with Ramon to permit that. She nearly always smoked cigarettes while she posed. She would inhale slowly, as if that helped to ponder his remarks. Then along with the smoke she would shoot some question at him, over her naked shoulder, that would start him off again distinguishing between love and the lies that are told about it by hypocrites and spiritual cowards who know love would rob fear of its rule over men. It was wonderful theory—wonderful. Probably true. But hardly suitable, without some mental safeguards, to the gross world we have to live in.
You see, she was innocent; and Ramon was her first, her only love. She was almost divine in her innocence.
She lacked experience with which to qualify and possibly to doubt the absoluteness of the laws he laid down for her guidance. And she was a healthy girl with healthy appetites—as clean and naturally pagan as a mortal daughter of some Greek god. Body and soul she was Ramon's and he knew it; but the fool could not rest until he had convinced her that he would continue to love her whatever might happen. I believe he was telling the truth as far as he could see the truth. But who sees all of it? It never dawned on her or on him either, that something within herself might prove less generous than Ramon's attitude. It was a paradise without a serpent until Ramon introduced one.
He went up to London to sell some bronzes. He returned with a person named Major Aleck Proudman of the Anglo-Indian army, and I knew the paradise was lost before a word was spoken. Ramon was a plain damned fool in money matters and he had had one of those economical brain-storms that such fools get. He had agreed to take Proudman into his household as what is euphemistically called a paying guest. I have no doubt the suggestion came from Proudman, who had seen the bronzes in an auction-room and learned that they were more or less portraits of Dorothy.
Proudman still had three months of his leave unexpired, and he described himself as fed up with London. I learned later that the men with whom he had been associating had found he was a cad and had dropped him; one or two women had made the same discovery. His haunts had grown uncomfortable. He had, so to speak, descended to the picture galleries and auction-rooms for lack of company when he ran into Ramon. He was a perfectly obvious type—the sort that wins promotion and gets the soft jobs by a mixture of guile and blackmail. An envious smart Aleck, whose natural instinct was to acquire for himself by intrigue whatever some other man might have obtained by good fortune or merit. He was damned good looking, though, if all you see is surfaces. He was muscular. He could sing, do tricks with cards and tell amusing stories. He was much too smart to be a drunkard, but he introduced champagne the day after his arrival on the scene. That and what is usually called sex appeal become an absolutely deadly combination in the hands of an unprincipled man or woman.
His game was obvious from the beginning, but what could I do? I did try to warn Ramon. I even tried to warn Dorothy. But neither of them was good at taking hints; they liked outright statements of opinion and they rather naturally, and quite accurately, suspected me of being jealous. I more than suspected myself of the same disgusting motive. So I took what seemed to me to be the only decent course and prolonged my absences, until at last I let three weeks go by without paying them a visit.
Ramon, when at last I did drive over, was away again in London, and the first glance told me what had happened. Proudman had accomplished what he came to do. He looked like a cat that has just eaten the canary. Dorothy looked enough defiant to inform me that the after-taste of the episode was not what she expected.
And now fate or something stepped in. Ramon came home in an ambulance, hurt in a railway accident—so badly hurt, if I may make my meaning plain without going into details, that for several months, although perfectly bright in his mind, he was unquestionably physically out of action. He was paralyzed from the waist down. He had savagely refused to be taken to a hospital after the accident. His confidence in Dorothy was so great that he felt his one chance was to get to her at the first possible moment. Someone sent a telegram but it arrived two hours after he did. When they carried him in on a stretcher his relief and his faith in Dorothy and his love for her were so obvious that even Proudman noticed it. And he must have been blind if he had not realized how instantly and utterly unimportant he had become in Dorothy's estimation.
Proudman showed his colours then; he promptly packed up his belongings and rode away in the same ambulance that had brought Ramon. He said it would save everybody trouble. He was that kind of man; in any crisis he could always pull a more or less plausible mask over the face of safety first. To put it plainly, he scooted, remarking that his leave would be up in a few days anyhow. He hardly said good-bye, he was in such a hurry. And he went away owing a week's board.
Naturally, I resumed my former position as next friend. I threw up business, put my means at their dis-posal until the railway people settled for damages, introduced a very eminent specialist of my acquaintance, spent most of my time at the studio and did whatever could be done to make Dorothy's job easier—running errands and all that kind of thing, but mainly helping her to entertain the patient when his natural mental energy made him irritable. It was torture for a man of Ramon's constitution to be forced to lie still. And it was torture to me to watch Dorothy's face as the weeks went by and to read there something that she did not dare to tell me or Ramon.
I couldn't pretend to myself that I didn't know her secret. Probably I knew it almost as soon as she did. There were signs one could not overlook. Perhaps the least of them was the self-control with which she hid her horror of the champagne that Proudman had left behind him. There were two bottles. I saw her bury them by night. But one can't bury memories that way. Ramon, of course, observed her unhappiness but he naturally supposed it was due to his own condition, so he did his utmost to be cheerful. He was a plucky fellow. When he couldn't think of jokes he praised her and boasted of his convalescence. It was the fight he made that, together with Dorothy's nursing, gradually pulled him out from the shadow of death. But Dorothy, of course, grew daily nearer to her crisis and the shadow of that grew deeper.
My specialist friend was not an obstetrician. Maternity cases were not in his line. Dorothy was none of his business excepting in her role as nurse. But he drove over from his private hospital every evening after his heavy day's work was done and it became absolutely impossible as weeks wore by for Dorothy's condition to escape his notice. And of course she knew that. One night, she pledged him to secrecy, told him her condition and implored him to perform an operation. He refused. He gave her a talking to—said what any decent doctor naturally would say—and bluntly but very kindly offered, at the proper time, to make provision for her in a private maternity hospital conducted by someone he knew.
It was the night after that, that despair made her make me her confidant. She told me of her conversation with the doctor and, not knowing what in the world to say, I asked her why she dreaded to become a mother?
She confessed then, what I knew from the first, that the child would not be Ramon's. She would not have had the slightest objection to bearing Ramon's child. She spoke soberly, calmly, truthfully and with such magnificent self- control that the tragedy which was eating her heart out momentarily escaped my notice. I was naturally looking for solutions, not for blind ends, so I made the gross mistake of quoting the Book of Proverbs, to the effect that it is a wise child that knows its own father. I told her frankly I would keep her secret, and that Ramon would probably never suspect.
She broke down then. It was the worst hour I ever went through. It was even worse than what followed because it left one's emotions numbed; things went from bad to worse, but one could never again be quite so sensitive. Ramon was asleep. Until long after midnight she sat with me under a tree in the garden and told me, bit by bit, between agonied silences, what it means to love, as she did, and to know that words—mere words—the words of her beloved—had let grossness seem something less than treachery, so that she fell, as she put it, from grace.
She said: "And now I am no longer Ramon's. And he isn't mine. I have no right to him."
If I had not loved her, as I never loved anyone else in my life, it might have been easier to find words to relieve her distress. If she had pitied herself, perhaps I could have found some way to comfort her. But she was too brave. She had no self-pity, and no blame for anyone else—not even Proudman.
"What does Proudman matter?" she insisted when I cursed him and the day she met him. "What did he know? He is simply a treacherous animal. If it hadn't been Proudman it might have been you. It would certainly have been someone. I let words and curiosity deceive me into thinking cleanness can't be touched by dirt. So now I'm dirty, and I can't ever feel clean any more."
The iron had gone far too deep into her soul for me to reach it. It had entered mine, too, which didn't matter, except that it made me so loathe Proudman that my wits almost deserted me and I probably made all the possible mistakes. For instance, I suggested that it might be better for me to break the news to Ramon. But she very quickly knifed that impudence. She answered she, and only she, would tell him the entire truth. She was only waiting for him to be well enough. Did I think he was well enough now to be told?
I said yes, the sooner the better, since it had to be done. So she said she would wake him and tell him.
"But alone, please. Go away until morning."
One does not study one's own comfort at a time like that. I walked home—ten miles. It was about daylight when I let myself in and lay down on a couch, not expecting to sleep. I was imagining that interview, wondering what they would say to each other. I suppose because I was so upset, it did not occur to me until then to wonder why she should have taken me into her confidence at all. Why had she not told Ramon first? I puzzled over that until I tubbed and drove back. Then it was already too late to ask her. I heard Ramon calling for her, and I found her for him.
She had killed herself. Poison. I don't know where she got the stuff. She had been dead perhaps fifteen minutes, and it was I who had to break that news to Ramon. Of course, I understood then why she had told me. She was preparing me to stand by Ramon and befriend him.
He actually stood up when I told him what had happened. It was the first time he had stood without help since his accident. He was naked—he always lay naked in bed—and he stood like a man hearing sentence of death on himself. I think he did die, in a certain sense; he was never again the man he had been, nor I, either. I supported him out to the foundry and he stood there looking at her body without speaking, until at last he collapsed from weakness and I carried him back to bed. He said nothing at all—not one word until the wretched business of the inquest, which was held in the studio. The doctor and I gave almost all the evidence, so Ramon was spared that torture. He merely had to nod his head in answer to about a dozen questions.
I stayed on, of course, and had my hands full. Ramon almost passed out, and perhaps he should have done. But the doctor and I between us pulled him through it.
At the end of six weeks he could walk about a bit. I took him to the seaside, to a beach like this one; and it was there, as we lay in the sun, that at last he told me what took place that night when Dorothy had sent me home and went into his room to tell him what he knew already. He swore to me that he had known it for more than a month. He had merely been waiting for her to tell him in her own good time, so that he could take her into his arms and somehow make her understand that not even that had changed his love for her.
But when she at last did tell him, in a hundred dry words that sounded like the cinders of her self-respect, his own emotion got the better of him and he could not speak as he intended to. His words sounded hard and lifeless even to his own ears. The phrases he had studied so carefully and stored up against that moment sounded trite and stilted. Then his voice broke, because he knew it was all his own fault; and she thought it broke out of grief for her having deceived him. He said they must do the right thing; meaning get married at once. She said, certainly she would do the right thing; and suddenly she braced herself, threw off her depression and kissed him, saying she was grateful that he had not spoken one unkind word. He told her to go and get some sleep.
"I sent her to her doom," was the way he phrased it. "I should have kept her there and talked to her and made her promise to begin with me all over again. But I felt so guilty—so damned guilty."
To get that sense of guilt out of his head I had to get him interested in something else. He had an uncanny gift for understanding metal, so I persuaded him to design and cast some bells and he began before long to experiment with almost his old eagerness. He had a notion that some bells are alive and some dead; and he reverted again and again to the ancient superstition that caused so many bell founders to throw living men into the molten metal.
"Something in it," he insisted. "And what's the difference. You doom one poor devil to death by fire or bayonet or drowning, for the sake of another's fame or for a foul political idea. Then you call him the Unknown Soldier, and you say he died well. Doom's a strange thing. Why not doom him to death for the sake of a sound that shall boom forth in beauty for ever? I'd prefer that to being skewered in a Flanders slaughter-yard to please a bigot in a brass hat."
Morbid. However, he became less morbid as the weeks went by. I had found him a place in London where he could work sixteen hours a day if he wished; and I introduced him to a man who owned an enormous foundry, where he could study as much as he pleased and keep abreast of metallurgical invention. I began to have hopes of his making a name in the world. He was beginning to make exquisite bells with a tone as good as anything I have ever heard. He was even beginning to speak of Dorothy without a break in his voice—when the damned unpredictable happened.
There came a letter from Proudman in India, addressed to Dorothy, in care of me. I couldn't keep it from Ramon; he was having lunch with me the day the servant laid it on the table. He seized it and tore it open. When he had read it he said nothing, but passed it back to me, and I knew all my work had gone for nothing—his too. There was hell in his eyes. He had reverted, as suddenly as a man dies from a bullet, to the point where he and Dorothy and Proudman were the three ingredients of one apparently predestined doom. I don't believe in destiny. I don't believe in anything much. I am simply telling you what happened.
I read that letter. It appeared that Dorothy had written to Proudman telling him that she expected to become the mother of his child. Of course, there is no knowing what she had really written to him, but I can't imagine her, with her pride, doing more than to inform him briefly how matters stood. It was one of those letters one has to imagine, and perhaps it was hysterical. But I imagine it as pitifully brave. Most likely she had already made up her mind to kill herself. She may have wanted to give Proudman an impulse to examine himself and find, if he could, the seeds of decency. If so, her aim missed.
He had taken his time about answering. He had deliberately waited until the baby had time to be born; and now he wrote bluntly that of course she had been sensible enough to pretend the child was Ramon's. He added he would come and see her, one of these days, when he could find an official excuse for a trip to London. And he assured her he would keep her secret on condition she should continue being gracious to himself.
I have never read such a vile letter. Killing is not in my line. I am probably too lazy or too indifferent to practise murder, and perhaps I lack the skill. But if he had been in that room, then, I know I would have tried to kill him.
I knew Ramon intended to do it. He made no comment, but his face set hard, like moulded brass. And you remember his eyes as they were when you knew him? They changed then; the humour went out of them then, in that minute, and never returned. They became as you knew them. Two minutes later he asked me to sell all his bronzes for any price they should bring, and he brought all the stuff that evening—about a ton of it, in hampers, in a hired van. It was then that he gave me the bronze that I have on my desk. It is the only portrait I have of Dorothy—the statuette that brought about our introduction. He kept nothing for himself.
I turned my place into a showroom and sold his stuff for quite good prices considering the pressure I was under. Ramon could hardly wait for the money. He did not talk, read or amuse himself. I don't think he slept. He merely paced up and down; and when I drove him out of my place because I could not endure his restlessness he went for long walks, returning after dark to ask what pieces had been sold. I could not persuade him to touch liquor; he drank water and ate scraps of whatever was set in front of him.
As soon as I had all the money I turned it over to him. He bought a passage to India, second class. Then he counted what he had left, made an estimate and returned about half of the balance to me. I was to mail it to him if he should discover he needed it after three or four months. Then he packed one suitcase and travelled overland to Brindisi, catching the mail steamer at Port Said.
He did not write and I began to worry about him at the end of the third month. Also I became deadly curious. I knew a tragedy was marching hour by hour to a conclusion that would smash all theories of right and wrong but leave us no step nearer to knowing why things happen. Perhaps if we did know why, we might lose interest.
Perhaps I should say I was fascinated, like a sentimentalist at a bull-fight or a witness at a hanging. Anyhow, I went to India, without a notion of Ramon's whereabouts. But Proudman's name was in the Army List and I discovered he was engaged on special duty, at a place called Angaut, not far from Benares. Special duty means secret service. So to Angaut I went. It's a hell of a place—no club—no hotel—nothing. But I reasoned that Ramon probably would not be far from Proudman, and I had a good excuse for visiting the place; there are foundries there. Some of the better Benares temple bells were cast at Angaut, and even to-day there are men in Angaut who possess the traditional skill.
Have you heard of the bell Kabadar? It received a lot of notice in the papers, all over the world. They built a special temple for it on the bank of the Ganges. A special priesthood, none of whom is less than ninety years old, ring it by hauling a rope that swings a beam against the rim. They ring it at dawn, at noon, at sunset and at midnight. Their special teaching is that anyone may do exactly as he pleases but must take all the consequences of whatever he chooses to do; and the beam strikes the bell in such fashion that by a trick of the timber on metal it seems to cry out—yell describes it better—the word Kabadar! Kabadar! Kabadar! That means beware. You may do what you wish; but beware.
They were casting that bell at Angaut when I got there. Bells are my peculiar obsession, so I naturally went to look on. That was how I found Ramon. He was nearly naked, in a breech-clout and turban, in charge of the foundry; but I don't know how he had imposed himself on the proprietors. He was certainly not being paid. He was equally certainly having his own way and had been accepted as a master-guildsman possessed of secrets that were not to be spied into. It appeared that he had mixed the metal, which was nearly ready to be poured. I asked him to let me watch him do it. He refused, looking me straight in the face as we stood side by side on a platform, slightly to one side and higher than the top of the huge crucible in which the liquid mass lay. It was hotter up there than the lid of Tophet; and when he skimmed the stuff with a long- armed ladle I wondered his fists didn't melt. It looked ready to me. I asked when he proposed to pour it. He looked hard at me again and answered:
"It lacks an ingredient."
Then we got down off the platform and he spent the next few minutes slicing at the furnace and ordering charcoal pitched into what he called the cool holes. When he was satisfied with the fire he ordered his native assistants out of the building. Then he looked at me again and spoke of Proudman without naming him:
"He is camped," he said, "outside the town. He has been told that if he comes at midnight, someone here will give him news of Dorothy that may turn out to be important. If he comes at midnight, I will pour at midnight."
I asked bluntly: "You will kill him?"
He answered: "No. Why should I?"
I asked: "What then?" And he answered:
"Seeing I didn't warn Dorothy, ought I to warn him?"
"Ramon," I said, "I warn you. You will add one evil to another and it won't make black white."
"I will do what I will do," he answered; and I turned and left him.
Now I know what is crossing your mind. Why didn't I go and warn Proudman? It will surprise you to learn that I did. I found him in his camp outside the town, declined his offer of a chair and a drink, and told him what I had to say in very few words:
"Proudman, if you go for news of Dorothy you may regret it. Stay away."
"Oh?" he said, "is that so? Are you keeping her or only hoping to? And what became of Ramon Turner? Is he cherishing his child? Or did she keep it—or get rid of it—or what?"
I answered: "I have warned you, Major Proud-man."
He laughed. He made it quite clear he was not afraid of me. I suppose that, wandering about the country on special service, he had had no opportunity to read the brief account of Dorothy's death that may have got into the weekly papers. Plainly he supposed she was in India. He probably suspected she had come in search of him and that the message, somehow sent him by Ramon, was from her or else from someone in her confidence.
He never can have had the slightest doubt about my being jealous of him, and he probably supposed that jealousy was still my motive.
"You may go to the devil," he answered. So I left him; and I can't say I regret I did. Why I didn't tell him Dorothy was dead is one of those unanswerable questions that I haven't let trouble me much. Perhaps he seemed too gross a swine to talk to. Or perhaps I thought it Ramon's business. Ramon told him, that night.
But I had qualms. Do you know what Indian night is? Purple—black—solemn with stars and thick with clotted silence. There was no moon. Proudman, I knew, could take care of himself in a fight; but I was not so sure of Ramon, who had so recently recovered from an injury that almost killed him. Besides, Proudman might bring an attendant, although that, considering the man, was more or less improbable, he being a secretive brute who pried into others' affairs but liked to keep his own entirely to himself. I remembered how often he had quoted the proverb: Keep your own keys and counsel. And as it turned out, he did come alone, ten minutes before midnight, in civilian clothes, bare-headed, walking in the deepest shadow and making rather less noise than a dog would have done, because the dust lay inches deep. He was wearing a dark, alpaca suit, and I could see the white V of his silk shirt when he was about ten yards away. He passed within two feet of me and never knew it. I was behind a buttress of the foundry wall, a few feet from the door. He walked in without hesitating and left the door open behind him. I followed. There was a dark passage before one turned at a right-angle to face the crimson fire-glare and the glow of the molten metal on the smoke-blackened roof. The only audible sound was the smothered murmur of the furnace. Proudman's voice almost startled me out of my skin.
"Anyone there?" he demanded. I heard Ramon answer: "I'm here. Come on up."
So Proudman groped his way along the wall and climbed the brick steps to the platform that was up above the crucible. I could see them both then—shadows against reflected hell-glow, Ramon naked to the waist and Proudman looking startled, and then pugnacious, as he stared and recognized him. There were no preliminaries.
"Dorothy is dead. She killed herself on your account," said Ramon. "Have you anything to say?"
"Why? Have you any rights in the matter?" Proudman answered. "What's this? A trap?"
"It's doom for one of us," said Ramon. "In a sense I'm as guilty as you are. I ought to have known you're a swine, and I ought to have warned her. That's why I give you an even break. It's you, or me, or both of us. Are you ready?"
Proudman was no believer in even breaks. He drew an automatic. Ramon's fist—I heard, I didn't see it—struck him like a pole-axe and he fired once as he toppled sideways—sprawling—splash into the liquid metal.
I can't describe it. I can see it now with my eyes open. It was indescribable. The metal leaped up like a mass of liquid flame. It crackled and exploded. All the remaining cartridges in Proudman's automatic burst and sent sprays of the metal squirting up like rockets. Why Ramon wasn't splashed to death, I don't know. Nothing touched him. He stood for a moment outlined like a crimson devil in the glare, and I thought he intended to jump in. But the metal suddenly grew quiet. Ramon seized a hammer and beat furiously on a gong he kept up there for summoning the foundry gang, and they came running from their quarters nearby—half-asleep yet, crowding through the door into the passage. Some of them bumped into me. Not knowing me from Adam, and not recognizing me in the weird gloom, those swore afterwards that they had bumped into Proudman, whom they did know, and had seen him leave the foundry a few moments before the pouring of the metal. So much for circumstantial evidence.
Suddenly Ramon shouted "Pour!" in English, and I waited long enough to see the stream of white-hot metal flow into the mould prepared for it. I don't know why I should be fool enough to expect to see bones and buttons. Proudman's body and that bell were one inseparable substance, mixed forever; and I don't know or care where his soul went, supposing he had one.
I walked to the beastly dâk-bungalow near the rail-way station and turned in, not to sleep, I can assure you. Two days passed before there was a hue and cry for Proudman. His servants had not thought much of his absence; he was in the habit of disappearing for days at a time on secret business and I don't know why they reported him missing as soon as they did. He was traced to the foundry; but as I told you already, the men swore they had seen him leave the place. No one asked me any questions. Ramon was patiently watching the cooling process, using methods of his own to keep the casting from cooling too quickly. A policeman asked him whether he had noticed Proudman.
"Cast a bell like this, and what else would you notice?" he retorted. "Ask the men. Search if you want to. I'm busy."
That was all that happened, as far as I know, that concerned us. Someone told a wild tale about Proudman being seen in a dangerous dive in Benares. The search for him widened and widened in rings until it died of inanition. It was several weeks before the bell was ready to be moved and hung in place. I travelled meanwhile. Then I went with Ramon to the ceremony when the bell was dedicated and we sat together on a ghat beside the river, at sunset, waiting for the sun's red rim to dip below the skyline. We were silent until the bell's voice greeted darkness—sudden—awe-inspiring.
There were thousands of people bathing in the Ganges and the lights of funeral pyres glowed in the dusk like rubies.
"Kabadar! Kabadar! Kabadar!"
"Perfect!" said Ramon. "Perfect!"
"Was it?" I asked him.
"No," he said after a pause. "You know it wasn't."
"Do as you like," I said, "but take the conse-quences!"
"Yes," he answered, "there are always conse-quences. Doom's a strange thing."
I laughed at that. I don't believe in doom or destiny. I know too much philosophy to take much stock in human guesses about right and wrong; and I have seen too many so-called just men suffer, and too many blackguards enjoy their goods, to believe in what men call a higher law. Ramon's phrase gave me a handle to seize and I laid hold. I rated him, ridiculed, ragged him mercilessly—stung him till he struck back. For a while I even brought his sense of humour to the surface and his eyes lost something of their baffle danger. I persuaded him to come with me to England. And in England I persuaded him to take a course in metallurgy.
It was no use. There were too many things to remind him of the days with Dorothy. His evenings he spent with me and talked of nothing else but Dorothy, and if I took him to a show or to a prize-fight he would sit up until daylight afterwards to make up for the time lost. Ramon meant far more to me than a brother; there was nothing I would not have done for him, if it would help. But the job of enduring his gloom much longer would have driven me crazy and I jumped at the chance of visiting the U.S.A. on business with Sharpe, whose broken yacht you see yonder.
Ramon announced he would come too and I couldn't dissuade him. On the voyage he was worse than ever. However, Sharpe turned out to be a generous eccentric who enjoyed the use of influence and liked to help unusual people when the mood was on him. I surprised him in one of those moods and Sharpe got Ramon quite a good job in a Pittsburg foundry where they needed such a man for their experimental work.
Then Sharpe went to his home in Florida and I went travelling. The next I heard of Sharpe was that his yacht was wrecked on Hell Shoal. He sent me a long telegram. He had already forgotten Ramon's name and where he was employed, so he asked me to spare no expense in finding him and bringing him to Florida as soon as possible. That was easy enough; Ramon was sick of Pittsburg, where it seemed that someone's young widow had been fascinated by his figure and by his eyes that looked so tortured by experience. Perhaps his talk, too, shook her loose from some of her illusions; I have noticed women enjoy that, whereas men usually don't. At any rate, Ramon came away with me.
You know Sharpe's home near Tarpon Springs? It looks like an eccentric Moslem's dream of paradise, except that all the houris are of marble and the liquor is kept under lock and key. Sharpe offered to obliterate about a million roses and to erect an electric foundry on the site if Ramon would undertake to superintend it and then cast the biggest bell-buoy in the world for Hell Shoal. Afterwards—Sharpe is always good at justifying his extravagances—Ramon was to cast bronze statues for the garden.
Ramon leaped at the proposal. He became a new man—almost a reincarnation, if you could call it that, of the Ramon who had lived and loved and worked and caught thought on the wing for Dorothy. You know Sharpe? You know how he does things—spe-cial airplane—long distance telephone—telegram—he is afraid to die before the thing gets done. That suited Ramon; he flung himself into the work, and I went travelling again, more happy about him than I had been since the old days in the studio in Surrey. Knowing he would not write, even if he promised, I arranged with the foreman to send me a telegram in time to bring me back for the casting of the big bell, and it came two full months before I expected it. I had to hurry. I came by train and plane and auto and arrived near midnight. They were to cast next morning. Sharpe came with me to the foundry to find Ramon, who he said was keeping watch at the switches.
"Careful fellow. Splendid fellow. Trusts no one. Takes no chances." Sharpe kept up a running comment as we entered the place and climbed to the upper platform. There was no Ramon there, but Sharpe didn't appear to notice it. He peered into the crucible, masking his eyes with a bit of smoked glass. "How is that for the blood and bones of Doomsday Bell?" he asked me, chuckling at his joke. But I was looking at some splashes of hot metal on the wall, and I came over suddenly faint and weak. Sharpe helped me off the platform, grumbling at my stupidity. He said I must have known I couldn't stand the heat.
"Ramon!" he shouted. "Ramon!"
However, nobody found Ramon. Nobody will find him, I imagine. Next morning it was the foreman who pulled the plug and let that metal run. Sharpe hired detective agencies to hunt for Ramon. I kept silent. What do you think of it?
"Listen," I answered. I could see the wind come rippling from seaward, and the gulls were stirring.
"Doom!" the bell sang. "Doom! Doom! DOOM!"
"THERE'S only one thing worse than corruption when it comes to enforcing the law, and that's sentiment," said Quinn. He glanced through my library window at the distant row of eucalyptus. "If I wasn't your friend, I'd have raided that queer group at the end of your garden long before this. They're all tramps. Now I have a warrant for the one they call Sirdar—his right name is Duleep Singh. What makes you think he'll be here tonight?"
"Because I have been invited to go down and hear him talk."
"What do you know about him?'' Quinn asked.
"Many months ago," I said, "the Sirdar and three other men came to my front door. I invited them in and they introduced themselves as an ex-officer of the British Indian Army, an ex-sheepherder named Whittlesea, an ex-tramp steamship captain named Jones, and a French ex-circus clown named Lamont. They called themselves a committee of the Exiles Club, which, they said, has fewer than a hundred members scattered all over the United States. They asked permission to use the shed by the eucalyptus grove in the hollow at the end of my garden, and I hadn't the hardihood to refuse."
"No," said Quinn, "you wouldn't have. What do they use it for?"
"A sort of clubhouse. They drop in from time to time, build a bivouac fire, listen to the Sirdar, and admit new members. Their ages range all the way from eighteen to eighty."
Quinn snorted. "Have you listened in to what they talk about? Hell! If you'd stolen up on them once or twice, as a sensible man would do, you'd have phoned me long ago to come and pinch the whole gang. Listen here:
"Some months ago a man was found dead on a lonely road about fifty miles north of here. He'd been killed by one blow with a heavy weapon—killed and robbed. He'd been dead several days, but the body was more or less identified by a couple of Hindu fruit-pick-ers. Said they had known him in India. Said his name was"—Quinn referred to his notebook—"Yussuf bin Ibraim.
"This identification was unreliable, but we sent out a tracer, with full particulars. Nothing came of it, except a report from several states that a foreigner, who did sword tricks and gave his name as Duleep Singh, had gone to the police in quite a number of places asking for the wherabouts of Yussuf bin Ibraim.
"Get that? It began to look like one of those feuds that have their origin abroad but come over here to get finished. Your Sirdar makes his living doing sword tricks. Did you know that? It's my belief that he's the head man of a gang of cut-throats, who are using your garden as headquarters. I've some men posted. When the Sirdar comes, we'll bag the lot of 'em and find out what's what. Who did you say was in charge of the camp?"
"Old Whittlesea. They all call him Mr. Whittlesea. He's the ex-sheepherder. He despises houses and beds. He lives, like Diogenes, in a big ship's water-butt that he rolled all the way from the wharf. He's gardener for the group—raises vegetables, keeps the place tidy and buries the trash."
"I will bet you," said Quinn, "that he buries the loot. We'll find out."
"You're in plain clothes," I said. "Why not come down to the bivouac with me and listen in before you make your arrest."
"The word 'sirdar'," I answered, is an Indian title of distinction. You say you've a warrant, but your case against him seems rather vague. If you're sure he can't escape, why not gather all the evidence you can?"
Quinn's eyes were watching the window. An automobile headlight flashed on and off three times down by the front gate. He interrupted: "That's the signal from the men I've posted. It means that the Sirdar's come. Your idea is good. If you and I should overhear 'em talking, you'd be a good witness. Something might come of that. I can whistle for my men when I'm ready to take him."
So I wrote a note to the Sirdar, saying I had a guest whom I should like to bring if he had no objection. I gave the note to my dog Bosco to take down to the bivouac, and I opened the window screen to let him jump out.
We sat in silence for several minutes. Then Bosco jumped back through the window. He lay still, whining sotto voce and thumping his tail on the floor to announce a visitor of whom he approved. It was too dark to see much, because the moon was on the other side of the house, but Mr. Whittlesea's limp was unmistakable. As if the house were a trap, he came no nearer than he needed to without having to raise his voice. "Mister, ef you an' y'r comp'ny'd care to jine us a while, there's corfey. Tea for them as likes it."
There were twenty-two of them around the fire. I introduced Quinn as John O'Connor and he sat down at my left hand on an upturned box. I sat on a roughly carpentered bench, between him and Joe Abram, who is a trainer of vicious horses. He looks like the Merchant of Venice in overalls. But he smells of old leather and horse, and they say he can gentle savage brutes that no one else can handle.
We sat for I don't know how long, drinking good coffee out of very clean tin mugs and gazing through the vista of eucalyptus trees at the moonlight silvering the slowly heaving kelp on the Pacific. Quiet: soft, slow wind in the trees, the cry of insects, the rustle of quail on a date palm, the far-off murmur of the sea, the firelight, the immensity of heaven—and the butt of Quinn's revolver bulging just exactly where his hand could reach it in a fraction of a second.
"Sirdar," I said. "my friend and I have been wondering why you ever came to America. Will you tell us?"
Over beyond the fire the Sirdar stood up, bearded, erect, in an ancient beach- robe that in moonlight resembled a toga. His right hand was on the hilt of the saber with which, for a dollar or two, he does what look like superhuman tricks.
"It is a long tale," he said. "But will you listen?"
There was a chorus of grunts. Mr. Whittlesea spoke: "Night's young. Cut the 'pologies."
The Sirdar drew a long breath. For about a minute, as if searching memory, he gazed along the moonlit glade. Then he looked at us one by one; I think he was suspicious. But his voice, when at last he spoke, was firm and resonant:
"Such as this was the night of the justice that fell upon Yussuf bin Ibraim, Khan of the Abazai. I had served my time and was no longer a soldier on the night when Yussuf bin Ibraim the Afridi, on a black mare lifted from the horse lines of the Bengal Lancers, stole my son's wife. Through the darkness, with her on his saddlebow—she willing—he spurred for Kalat— with my son at his heels on a Kathiawari gelding.
"Fleet and stanch was the black mare, hard to see or to hear in that darkness. Nowhere is it darker and more trackless than at night in the howling gorges beyond Quetta on what is known as Allah's Slag Heap. But anger, like a magnet, drew the one toward the two. The mare was overburdened. The gelding gained. My son, being not yet eighteen or experienced in border warfare, let fly. Nine shots with an old Martini rifle. All wild but the last. That slew the woman. She fell from Yussuf bin Ibraim's saddle, lifeless.
"Then Yussuf bin Ibraim reined the foundered mare and waited in the dark. He was reckoned the deadliest swordsman from Duazab to Shal Kot. None was better than he with tulwar. A left-handed man. As tricky as a devil. My son, whom Allah blessed with more courage than brains, had at him with the clubbed Martini, having used his last shot. Yussuf bin Ibraim slew him and wiped the tulwar. Upon me fell duty."
"Corfey, anyone?" asked Mr. Whittlesea.
He passed the pot around and broke the spell. The Sirdar looked now like a gray-haired druid. He raised the tin mug to his lips, set it down, and resumed:
"I, with my own hands, dug their graves. As I have told you, though a Moslem born, I have been blessed by higher teaching. To the Guru I went, at whose feet I had sat when soldiering was done.
"I liked him: 'What shall I do?'
"He answered: 'I have taught much. You have learned a little. Now is the time for you to reap what I sowed.'
"So I asked him: 'Though I seek not vengeance, since I may not, shall I sit submissive to the will of Yussuf bin Ibraim? Shall I accept the name of coward? Shall I beg his mercy, lest he come and slay me also?'
"My Guru answered: 'Who has taught you that a coward's cloak might possibly redeem the killings that you did when you were under oath to kill? When you were a soldier, did I blame you? Did I forbid you to slay at the word of command?'
"I answered: 'You bade me be true to my soldier's oath. I was. Until that soldier's oath, which I had freely given, had been fulfilled to the last obedience and the last minute, you refused me the teaching I sought. But I am no longer a soldier. Now I am under oath to you, to abstain from bloodshed and to be a servant of peace.'
"He answered: 'Have I taught you to fear death in the service of peace?'
"I said he had not taught that; or, that if he had, I had not listened.
"Then said he: 'Have I taught you that it is wise or manly to let theft and murder go unanswered? Of a truth this is on your head and on the slayer's. He has slain your son. You, of your own free will, have pledged yourself never again to slay, for any reason: never to seek vengeance. But have I taught that you shall tell the slayer that you will not slay? Consider that. And since you may not curse, then bless, for it is just as easy. Use what you have, though its use shall take you to the earth's end.'
"I answered: 'I have nothing to use but my hands and my skill with the sword.'
"He answered: 'Use what you have.'
"So I went after Yussuf bin Ibraim, who slew my son and mocked me from the hills. He fled. Week after week I hunted him, village to village and fort to fort, until by accident I learned how vainly I was spending my strength. The Sirdar's—that is to say the Indian Government's—agents had sent forth word that Yussuf bin Ibraim was an outlaw. It was known he carried money in his belt. So all men's hands had turned against him. Even in that lawless borderland there was no safe refuge. He had shaved. He had changed his name. He had fled, none knew whither.
"I returned to Quetta. Presently I learned that Yussuf bin Ibraim had been seen to take ship from Karachi. I followed—to Bushire, to Aden, to Egypt. He had more money than I. It was no light task to follow him. In Cairo he saw me on the street and fled—to Alexandria, France, London, with a forged passport.
"Knowing it forged, I could have had him arrested, deported to India—hanged. But could a hangman do my duty? Could he comfort me? Or could he keep my oath? The Quetta hangman would have been my substitute, relieving me of what? Of my responsibility for having taught my son so ignorantly that he died by the hand of a border thief? I prayed that the arm of God might otherwise employ the guardians of justice—and leave it to me to deal with Yussuf bin Ibraim!
"But I had to wait in Cairo for my pension money.When it came, I followed Yussuf bin Ibraim to London, where I earned a living by feats of swordsmanship for shillings—aye, and when shillings failed, for ha'pence.Seeking, seeking, seeking. And at last I learned that Yussuf bin Ibraim had gone with horses to New York.
"I followed. It was months before I learned that he had joined a circus. When I overtook the circus he had been discharged. He was said to have gone westward. I hunted and I hunted until I found his trail. Teaching swordsmanship, performing feats in side shows, sharpening razor blades, I earned my way as I went, I followed Yussuf bin Ibraim. He had changed his name thrice in three years since he slew my son. But there is a magic that guides migrating birds, and a magic that guides determination to its goals. At last I found him, on a western ranch, where he was putting horsemanship to use.
"I watched. It was a marvel how a man whose sword had been so swift to slay should have such patience for a brute whose only purpose was to kill him if it could. I saw him tame that stallion. He used no violence. He wore down violence, until the brute's intelligence came forth from baffled passion, and he obeyed the man. But me he saw not.
"That night—it was a night like this one, calm with the peace of the beauty of God—I followed Yussuf bin Ibraim along a winding track. I overtook him where he rested in a hollow, sitting gazing along a fold between the foothills at the moonlit sea.
"I had brought two sabers wrapped in a bundle— this one, and another that I use when I split sticks in mid-air. These sticks are thrown at me by anyone who thinks the trick worth the money. The sabers were of equal length, but that other was better suited to a man used to the Afghan tulwar.
"I stood silent, until he raised his head from between his hands and turned—and saw. For a moment he did not recognize me. Then he knew that his hour had come. He stood up. For the space of a hundred breaths we faced each other, thirty feet apart.
" 'Slayer of my son,' I said at last. 'Is this the end of your running away?'
"I threw that other saber to his feet, but he stood irresolute. He thought I meant to kill him when he stooped for it. I turned my back, turning again too soon for him to play that border trick on me.
" 'Sirdar Duleep Singh,' he said then, 'slay me, and the hangman has you. If I slay you, then the hangman has me. This is not the Harnai. Il-hamdu'lillah, there is law in this land. Let there be peace beween us.'
" 'I have only my saber,' I said, 'wherewith to make peace. I have sworn to use it.'
"Thereat he came on. No more than a panther was he irresolute when he couldn't escape. He was true to his fame. He attacked. Crouching, smiling, counting on the left-hand skill that always gave him the advantage against a right-handed man, he was resolved to make swift work of it. The moonlight shimmered on a blade that stole toward me, creeping, creeping nearer, ready for the thrust and slice.
"But he hesitated. I, too, took my saber in the left hand. I am either- handed. He had never fought a left-handed opponent. Moonlight on his eyes revealed his fear that now he faced the very vantage he had thought was his. He checked. He kept his distance, waiting for me to attack.
" 'Not so easy,' said I, 'as to hew down a lad in the dark! Do you fear death, Yussuf bin Ibraim?'
"Then steel touched steel and sparks flew. Yussuf bin Ibraim knew, he knew full well his hour had come. The moment his blade felt mine, he knew it. It enraged him. Rather than die tamely, he outdid that stallion I had watched him conquer. He threw away caution, experience, skill. He came at me with thrice the fury of a panther, pitting youth against my years.
"I remembered my oath. I let him squander strength and wind until his lungs lost their vigor and his tricks their cunning. Then I disarmed him, with a twist of the wrist. His saber lay on the earth between us. He was well nigh breathless, but he found speech:
" 'Slay then. End my shame.'
"I, too, was breathless. 'Which shame?' I demanded.
"He looked down at his saber that lay between us.
" 'Then take it up,' said I. 'and let pride have its will."
"I stood back. He resumed his weapon. And again he came at me. The pause had breathed him. He was less wild, more cunning, stalking me to make me face the moonlight. But the magic of my Guru's teaching was upon me, and I wore him down. I wearied him as he had wearied that savage stallion, until he panted and drooled at the mouth, until he stumbled—and then suddenly leaped backward. He hurled the saber at me. It came flashing point-first.
"But I can split sticks in the air. The bread I eat is paid for by the people who buy my leave to hurl them at me. So I turned aside the saber. It struck rock away beyond me.
" 'Slay!' he said then. 'And may Allah curse your soul.'
"But I lowered my point. I said: 'If Allah curses not, then what?'
" 'I am ashamed,' he answered.
" 'Which shame now?" I asked him. 'You may have your weapon. It lies yonder.'
" 'Nay,' he said. 'Slay!'
"I answered: 'Who art thou, to give me leave to slay?' And he was silent. So I asked him:
" 'Have I hunted you by land and sea to discover no deeper shame than makes a brute to treachery?'
"He answered: 'My shame lies deeper."
"I said: 'Name it.'
"He stood silent. But I waited.
Presently he said: 'Sirdar bahadur, I am ashamed that I slew your son.'
"Said I: 'I knew that. Shaving and running and changing names is not an evidence of pride. I slay not. Why not?'
" 'Mash Allah,' he answered. 'I know not why, unless that your honor is higher than mine.'
"I said: 'I, too, have slain men's sons. I obeyed a law and my oath. You also. You obeyed the law that you knew, Yussuf bin Ibraim. Has it rewarded pride?'
" 'I am ashamed,' he answered. 'How many times shall I say it?'
"So I asked him: 'Will you yield to a law that is higher than yours or mine?'
" 'Which law?' he asked. 'The hangman's?'
" 'Nay,' said I. 'The law that brought me hither and that stayed my hand, which could have slain the slayer of my son.'
"And he said: 'If I yield not?'
" 'Then,' I answered 'you shall go free, Yussuf bin Ibraim, to pursue the consequences of your own law.'
"He stood silent for the space of a minute, or longer. Then he said; 'Sirdar bahadur, I yield."
Quinn nudged me. "He may tell that," he said, "to a jury. Yussuf bin Ibraim was found dead of a sword-wound." He put a whistle to his lips. I don't know why he hesitated.
The Sirdar stared at us. He drove his naked saber point into the earth and raised his hand high. "Did I speak truth?" he demanded. "Yussuf bin Ibraim! Stand up! Answer—"
Joe Abram got up from beside me. Joe—Yussuf; Abram—Ibraim. He strode toward the Sirdar. Together they turned seaward and walked arm-in-arm along the moonlit glade.
"I'll be sugared," said Quinn. "Well, I told you that identification was doubtful."
"Corfey?" said Mr. Whittlesea.
IT was as a wave on the face of eternity that the Rajput Royal Horse went oversea, in 1914, to fulfill an immediate destiny, and to fire, in the shell- ploughed Flanders mud, its rifled requiem above the graves of its honored dead.
John Lawrence Burnham joined the regiment in Flanders, nineteen, green from an English public school and Woolwich, rushed through special courses for the war. He had been born in Rajputana. The first words he had ever learned to speak were Rajasthani. His father, who had commanded the regiment, was killed near Dargai, and the only son, aged seven, went to England with his mother, to be schooled and, if he pleased, to forget and to be forgotten. He remembered. He used Rajasthani in his dreams, that were all of turbaned, bearded horsemen, the smell of harness, and the thunder of lance-shod squadrons knee-to-knee.
So, since his name headed the examination list, it was his privilege to be gazetted to the regiment that his father had died leading. He arrived in Flanders when the German guns were devastating everything except the imponderable will to resist.
Burnham was a rather handsome youngster, with romantic eyes which only his mother knew were the masks of an iron will. He looked like merely one more victim for the guns and the gas and the smothering mud. They needed officers who might be safely strained beyond all human measure of manhood. So he was put under the merciless observation of a veteran Rajput Rissaldar-major, whose ironic eyes judged horse or man with equal candor, and who cared for nothing whatever on earth except the regiment's izzat.
Burnham made good. He had not dreamed his boyhood dreams for nothing. The Rissaldar-major's first confidential report of him was guarded, on a note of watchdog undergrowl:
"A boy of few words but a ready disposition, Colonel bahadur. The eyes of a dreamer. The heart, it may be, of a man."
"Very well, Rissaldar-major. Rub his nose in."
So the grim, ungracious business began, unmounted, in the teeth of the German drive. He had vigilant, sarcastic, courteously-worded insolence to take from one who was a subordinate in theory but in practise a merciless maker of men. Try how the Rissaldar-major might, and for the regiment's sake he did his utmost with humiliating irony and subtly unbalancing praise, he could find no unsoldierly flaws in young John Burnham. With the aid of a hundred abrasive oriental irritants, he stripped off the racial surface, and looked, and found a man beneath it.
There was a second report, less guarded, made by night while a German barrage, short by a couple hundred no-man's yards, exploded malice on the tortured mud:
"He is one of us, Colonel bahadur."
"Let the men know."
"Are they blockheads, Colonel sahib? They already know it. Of your honor's favor, may my son be transferred to his troop?"
"Oh. Is he as good as that? Very well."
The young sowar Kangra Gunga was the same age, almost to a day, as Burnham. They were born beneath the same sky, where the wandering Pilgreet River plunges from a mountain's flank, nearby the war-wrecked fortress walls of Gaglajung. As children they had been sung to sleep by the self-same lullabies, that are ballads of ancient Rajput chivalry. Kangra Gunga was a tall, upstanding youth whose dark eyes smouldered with the ancient pride.
"My one son, Burnham sahib. Demand of him double, that he may honor the regiment's name, and my loins also."
The Rissaldar-major loved the regiment as Cromwell his ironsides: "Ye dead men, who are not yet dead, die clean at the appointed time—aye, die as I will!" Kangra Gunga loved the regiment as a watchdog its home, ferociously obedient, sullen with strangers, uncommunicative. Burnham loved the regiment as a knight his mistress; nothing could be too good for her, no sacrifice sufficient. They were three iron men, allied by one and the same intolerance, and veiled by the same incomprehension of each other's viewpoint. No effort of Burnham's could thaw out Kangra Gunga's occult strangeness. He remained an enigma.
Vigilant, attentive, sullen, the young rajput watched Burnham with a curious gaze that might mean oriental jealousy. It might be the unexplainable hatred, such as men and animals sometimes generate toward each other. There were times when Burnham even harbored the disturbing thought that the rissalder-major might have set the young sowar to spy on him. It felt like being watched by destiny.
The problem could only be pondered beneath the surface of routine discipline, in moments snatched from the incalculable gales of sudden death, in the night watch, or in rat-infested dugouts. A cavalry regiment was teaching itself how to burrow and fight like beleagured rats. Burnham, in addition to that, was studying the men whom he must make himself fit to lead. He was feeling his way toward that middle line between familiarity and arbitrary wilfulness that is the secret of command. In the ranks of death an officer discovers that line soon, or never. Burnham found it.
But whether in the front line or at the base camp, he could find no key to the puzzle of Kangra Gunga's gaze—always the same, like the gaze of a caged and tameless panther. He gave it up, left the riddle to produce its own solution.
Then came the day when the Germans loosed their utmost hurricane of high explosive shells and hordes of men, to smash through to the Channel ports. Every available man was flung into the line; to plug gaps where the dead lay thicker than wheat in the blast of hail, and no man knew anything except that he still lived and must hold on.
It was spastic chaos, in a mystery of darkened days and shell-lit nights, where death slew at random. There was no survival of the fittest. They died who died. Flesh and blood, things and theories were buried in one havoc. Entire regiments ceased to exist.
But there remained the incredible, actual fact. The line held. Shattered, decimated, twisted, broken, there was an army still in being. Reserves of men awaited sunset to flow forward as the tide resumes dominion of a hurricane- swept beach.
Night. What was left of the regiment clung to a couple of hundred yards of shell-torn mud. It dug in. Nearly all the officers were dead or dying: it looked like the end of the Rajput Royal Horse. A wounded, semi-conscious orderly, drunk with pain, crawled forward through the flare-lit darkness, delivered his message and died.
"Hold on until relieved."
Burnham was the junior of three British officers left living. He and the rissaldar-major, on the right wing, hurled by a bursting shell into the same mud crater, crawled out and grinned in the shuddering glare of gun-fire. Kangra Gunga crawled to them and crouched, awaiting orders, that being his job.
There was a hurriedly thrown-up breastwork. There were more or less ninety men. There was a ruined dugout, and no cover for the wounded or the ammunition. But a hundred yards ahead there was a well-made trench that had been taken and retaken before the guns had made it No-Man's Land. It might be possible to seize that still unbroken refuge.
Burnham said what he thought, with his mind made up. He wasn't asking advice, but the veteran, from war-learned habit, gave, with the blunt authority of mentor to a pupil:
"Nay, nay, sahib. Keep touch. Better retire leftward, rearward, lose a little ground but—"
"Oh, if you're afraid, I'll hold your hand!"
Burnham shouted it to make himself heard. It did not occur to him that his words were a graceless insult, and that Kangra Gunga must have heard them. Peril and responsibility demanded every faculty he had. He was aware of nothing but shuddering, shell-lit night and instantly determined aim. He gave his orders. He and the rissaldar-major bent united effort to the task of getting ninety men, in darkness, into the new position. Kangra Gunga was an undistinguishable detail in the stealthy, well-disciplined rush, until the trench was gained.
As soon as he could spare time, Burnham worked his way along the trench, speaking to each man by name as he passed. He wanted to consult with the rissaldar-major. He found the veteran dying, the only casualty in that well- handled move that he had ventured almost insubordination to prevent. Burnham knelt beside him:
"I insulted you without meaning to," he said. "I'm sorry. I beg your pardon."
"Granted, sahib. Speech such as that at such a time means nothing. It is forgotten. Does my son live? Send him to me."
The message was passed from mouth to mouth along the trench, but the rissaldar- major was dead before Kanga Gunga could reach him. The young sowar knelt beside his father's body. He looked up at Burnham. A guttering candle-end, and then a Very light revealed his face and the expression in his eyes. Burnham turned his back.
It was the wrong thing to do. An hour or so later, when he had had time to think, he knew it was wrong. But what is said and done, is said and done. Unsaying and undoing are a new beginning, on a new page of the Book of Problems.
The remainder of that night was torment. It swept the past into oblivion as if it were a peopled city buried beneath volcanic lava, only to be tediously excavated, piece by piece in course of time. No one who survived that night was what he had been. New essentials emerged. Burned like scars on Burnham's memory were the unintended insult, the rissaldar-major's forgiveness, and the unforgiving enmity in Kangra Gunga's eyes.
Daybreak found the regiment still holding on, but its living were almost as lifeless as the dead. There was more life in Kangra Gunga's hatred than in Burnham's body. There was more sullen threat in the sowar's patient gaze than there was promise in the pale sun peering through the gray rain.
It was their last view of Flanders trenches when some fusiliers relieved them and they dragged their wounded and themselves through miles of mud toward the waiting lorries and the base. It was the last of France. The last of Europe. They were too few to survive as a separate unit. They were sent to Egypt and brigaded with other remnants as emergency forced hurried improvisation. They were lost in the trackless fury of a world-wide war. When peace came, the authorities struck the regiment's name from the rolls.
So the Rajput Royal Horse became one squadron of a mixed-race regiment, containing troops of almost every manly Indian breed that can become good cavalry. Accident, or someone's sentiment, or, if the Rajputs were right, their destiny, attended to it that the new composite frontier regiment, of which they were only one not readily distinguishable unit, should bear the old regiment's black, three-headed panther crest and the two-fold motto: "Always. No excuses."
So the rebirth was not without good portent. At the first full parade, when the remnants of other decimated regiments and new, vainglorious recruits rode line on line with them, and all were one, within one discipline, beneath the ancient symbol, the veteran sowars jested low-voiced in the ranks:
"Lo, it is born with a caul, this mongrel! Bid the bard sing the Lay of Alha! Pay the midwife double!"
But it was double trouble for the midwife. Major John Lawrence Burnham was the last left living and undisabled officer who had served the old izzat and earned the name Companion in Arms. It was upon him that the brunt of the new beginning fell.
The hundred thousand gods of Rajasthan must have had a hand in it, for the new commander was exactly the man to get the utmost out of Burnham, just as Burnham was the man to lick the regiment into shape. Burnham did it in spite of his Rajputs. Their scorn of less lineaged blood than their own, and of chivalry less absolute than theirs, undid a hundred times the substance of the stuff that Burnham spun and wove with all the patience of a poet and the calculating vigor of a blacksmith.
But the core of the heart of the regiment, nevertheless, was those Rajputs. They refused to yield one fragment of their claim to be the regiment itself. On them all other men must pattern their behavior or be damned. They explained nothing. They excused nothing. They told no secrets. They would descend to no man's level. Let the others reach theirs, if they had it in them.
So the sowars of several races in other squadrons, being soldierly and curious, used their imaginations. Burnham was a man about whom it was next to impossible not to invent such tales as Indians love to tell by firelight under the silent, star-hung sky. He was handsome. He rode like a centaur. He had medals, scars and the graceful modesty that maddens women and excites men to observant silence. Kangra Gunga was Burnham's shadow.
Of Kangra Gunga, too, it was easy to imagine tales. He was a gentleman in arms, of harp-sung lineage, who refused promotion. Why? Kangra Gunga kept his thoughts to himself. But he shadowed Burnham, never insubordinate, but always watchful. Guesswork grew into a legend as unshakable as regimental pride, that Burnham had insulted the hot-eyed Rajput under fire, in the presence of death. The merest raw recruit could draw the inference that Kangra Gunga must have sworn by his father's beard, and by his sword-hilt and by the hundred thousand gods of Rajasthan, to be avenged in an hour that destiny should grant.
It was perfectly understood why Kangra Gunga would await an hour of destiny. He was a Companion in Arms. His private feud was his, to be pursued to its end at his own discretion, subject to the regiment's first, overriding claim on his allegiance. He would die ten million deaths and face their consequences rather than betray the regiment's izzat. On that score there was nothing to argue about.
None knew, except Burnham and Kangra Gunga, what had been the nature of the insult. None even pretended to know. That Kangra Gunga never spoke of it was reckoned proof that it had cut to the heart of the Rajput consciousness that cherishes its wounds and keeps them unhealed for the day of vengeance.
An impeccable soldier, Kangra Gunga contrived, by the use of all the ingenuities that soldiers learn, to be detailed for every sort of special duty that enabled him to keep his eye on Burnham. With the quiet condescension of a born aristocrat he got on confidential terms with Burnham's body-servant. There was nothing that Burnham did, and almost nothing that Burnham said, that Kangra Gunga did not know. And Burnham knew that. But there was nothing he could do about it. He grew used to it.
Of course the story reached the colonel's ears in time. One evening he and Burnham, on shikar together, having slain their boars and dined, sat under a tent club awning and watched the rising moon. Along the foreground fifty yards away the moon and starlight cast the long shadow of Kangra Gunga, standing near the line of tethered ponies. Over beyond the horse line, where the servants' and the beaters' camp-fires glowed, someone was singing. Night and the Lay of Alha wrought their magic. There was intimacy in the air. The colonel, staring at Kangra Gunga, lighted a cigar and broke the long silence:
"That man. What about him?"
"Top hole with the ponies."
"Not bad. Horse sense runs in the blood of that breed from Gaglajung. You'd have had a close squeak this morning, if he hadn't been behind you with another spear when you broke yours. That boar nearly had you."
"Yes," said Burnham. "Kangra Gunga could have ditched me pretty badly. Damned if I know why he didn't. That was a tight place. No one could have blamed him if he'd been a second late."
"What's this queer story I hear about you and him? You'd better tell me."
So, for the first time, Burnham told the story of the rissaldar-major's death, and of how, in the heat of battle, he had spoken graceless insult overheard by Kangra Gunga.
"Have you ever mentioned it to him?"
"No. I should have spoken to him at the time. My fault that I didn't. Afterwards, it was too late."
"Any truth, do you think, in the gossip that he's biding his time for revenge?"
"I don't know. He's a thoroughbred. Steel guts. Cast-iron memory."
"We could get rid of him."
"If he were a badmash, yes," said Burnham. "But he's a good soldier. Besides, the men would see through it. It would rot morale. They'd say I funked him. Do less damage to get rid of me."
"Have it out with him. I don't want you killed in the night, or poisoned, or any stink of that sort."
"What's there to say to a man who thinks in terms of eternity?" Burnham answered. "He will stand to his code. He will never betray his own izzat by an act of treachery. To suggest that one believed he even contemplated that would be a measureless insult."
"Take him away alone and have it out with him," said the colonel. "Settle it once and for all, or I will do it for you."
But it was not so simple to have it out with Kangra Gunga as to wish to do it. There was not only the man's absolutely perfect manners, not only the racial gulf between East and West, and the barrier of reserve between rank and file. There was the fact that the regiment watched. Nothing might be said or done that could be misinterpreted by men whose discipline depended on the integrity with which their officers observed the finer points of regimental honor.
Burnham applied for short leave for a shooting trip. He took Kangra Gunga with him, in charge of camp equipment.
A visit to Gaglajung and a sight of his home, where tigers were reported to be taking too great toll of cattle, might release emotion. Where Burnham and Kangra Gunga had been born, beneath the same all-seeing stars, beside the same wild river, Kangra Gunga might find speech to relieve the strain of imprisoned hatred.
At last, when they stood alone together by the plunging Pilgreet River in the place where Burnham's mother's camp was pitched in the week that saw both men born, Burnham broke the long silence:
"We were playmates here. Remember? You pretended to be Arjuna. To this day there's a scar on my scalp where you clipped me with a blunted arrow." He removed his helmet. "Do you remember the lie we told your father, to account for the bit of a wound?"
Kangra Gunga's dark eyes watched the forefinger parting the crisp hair. Burnham continued speaking:
"Splendid man, your father. A grand soldier. Not a scrap of meanness in him, and no vindictiveness. With his dying breath he forgave me for a thoughtless insult."
"Yes?" said Kangra Gunga.
"There's the old scar. Can you see it?"
"Yes." He met Burnham's eye. He spoke slowly. "My father thrashed me for the carelessness with bow-and-arrow. But he thrashed me twice again for the lie."
"You may speak plainly," said Burnham. "There are no witnesses."
"What do you wish me to say?" asked Kangra Gunga.
"What is this resentment that you hold against me?"
"Nay, nay! Spoken words are not falcons that return to be hooded."
He saluted. Burnham nodded and he strode away to attend to the ponies.
Three days later, a wounded tigress charged from a thicket. Kangra Gunga shot her dead within a yard of Burnham's back. It was as plain as if his smile had said the grim words, that he would let no brute beast rob him of revenge.
That night Burnham summoned Kangra Gunga to the camp-fire. Seated by invitation, Kangra Gunga smiled when Burnham asked him point-blank:
"What is the issue between us? Let us speak of it, once and for all."
"I will listen to whatever your honor is pleased to say," Kangra Gunga answered.
"Why have you refused promotion? Why not follow in your father's footsteps?"
"Is it not sufficient that I bear in mind my father's izzat? Have I failed of a sowar's duty?"
"Look here, now. I admit that I insulted your father. It was unintentional, and I apologized at the first possible moment. He accepted my apology."
"He was already dead when I reached him," said Kangra Gunga.
"You have saved my life twice. Why?"
"Was it not my duty?"
"Very well. I have nothing against you, of course, if you do your duty. Good night."
Burnham had to tell the colonel of his failure.
"But I wish, sir, you could see your way to let it ride a bit longer. I think I'll solve it, sooner or later."
The colonel raised gray eyebrows. "Perhaps too late!"
"For the sake of his grand old father's memory I'd like to see this thing through to its end," said Burnham.
"You mean your end, don't you? Damned ass!" said the colonel.
"If the men should think I'd funked him, that might be the end of their respect for any of us."
"Have it your own way. But remember: slow revenge is slow fire. If he ever kills you in your sleep, don't return from the grave to haunt me for sympathy. You won't get it."
Thereafter, a rumor of war obscured all minor interests. There is endemic warfare in the mountains, where the lean Afridi pray to Allah for the coming of the great jihad, when they shall plunder India's plains.Hence, frontier regiments.
Beyond the frontier, the crops had failed. Complaining women and the yearning of their own bellies had made the young men pious. Hugging their smuggled rifles, stolen or bought for their weight in silver, they had been listening to the hot-mouthed mullahs preaching Paradise for death in battle.
Gathering lashkars had been viewed, by the Royal Air Force. They had been warned and, since they mocked at warnings, realistically bombed. The high explosives shattered a few sangars, scarred the mountains and raised roaring echoes along valley and ravine. The mocking hillmen had retorted by depositing at Peshawar Gate three severed heads that recently had graced the shoulders of the village elders of a clan that claimed British protection: one last insolence too many.
The regiment prayed to its squadrons of gods to send it first into the field.
Fretful weeks of waiting. Sudden climax. Marching orders. A delirium of joy. And then the easy, affluent outpouring as of well-trained hounds gone hunting.
A mere hill campaign. It barely made the front page, for a day, in a pause in the riot of world events. Success depended on swift and masterly attack, against ferocious marksmen, amid mountains where the droning air force rarely could discover ambush, and the cavalry bore the brunt of reconnaisance as in days gone by. Raw wind and iron rations. Plundered forage for the horses. Blind trails, mapless wilderness and midnight sniping. Staff work beyond praise but this side of perfection. Somebody blundered.
There was a retirement, due to a misread signal, amid echoing gorges, where the hillmen had prepared an ambush unseen from the air. Seven officers down. The rules of warfare downwind with the yells of the ambushed hillmen.
Burnham and twenty men, of whom one was his orderly, Kangra Gunga, were surrounded, waterless, within the wall of an abandoned sangar, unseen from the air because a gray cliff leaned between them and the sky.
There was only one thing to be done. Burnham sent Kangra Gunga galloping to ask for aid or orders, water and ammunition. He saw him ride through a hail of flanking rifle-fire and pitch head foremost from his shot horse.
"Dead!" said a sowar, staring between piled rocks. "Who next?"
There were nineteen pairs of eyes that glanced at Burnham. Nineteen silent witnesses that destiny had solved a riddle, looking to see how he liked it.
Burnham climbed a rock for a more commanding view. He saw a way of escape. Like many another one-man's fortress in the mountains, this one had a cunningly contrived back entrance. Well hidden by tumbled rocks, along the flank of the overleaning cliff, there was a path that offered precarious foothold for a led horse. One by one the men might steal away, unseen by the enemy. They might perhaps reach safety. It was worth trying. Burnham gave his orders and the escape commenced, one man at a time, at well-timed intervals.
The remainder defended the naked slope by which the enemy must climb. They kept up a hot fire through the gaps: in the broken wall; and as they vanished one by one, the others fired the faster, dodging from rock to rock to deceive the hillmen; until only Burnham and two sowars held the sangar—and then Burnham and one. He bade the last man go. The man demurred.Burnham spoke sharply: "Obey!"
Two minutes passed. Burnham used a wounded sowar's rifle, dodging from rock to rock, pretending to be ten men. At last he drove his horse along ahead of him, because he needed to be free to use the rifle if the hillmen should rush.
Too late. A number of hillmen had climbed for a deadlier angle of fire. Almost a machine-gun gale of bullets screamed from a ledge three hundred yards away and killed the horse. That hitherto unoccupied crag commanded the first fifty yards of the stairway trail by which the men had escaped. To attempt it now was certain death. But even from that high vantage point, the enemy could not command the space within the sangar wall. They could not see it was deserted. For the moment, Burnham was safe where he was.
Darkness at the latest would bring the hillmen swarming up the slope to use their steel. So Burnham, taking cover with a rifle on his knees, sat down to wait for darkness—and the end. It might be worse. Hundreds of men of action have had to retire and rot to death, on half pay, in an English suburb. He had got his men safely away, that was the important point. He sat wondering which of the junior officers was alive and would take his place.
He was startled when Kangra Gunga, toward evening, crawled from between two boulders, stood, saluted and came forward, offering his water bottle. Burnham wet parched lips.
"Did you get through with your message?" he demanded.
"Yes. My horse was shot. I crawled until I found a sowar scouting forward, and to him I gave the message."
"Very well," said Burnham. "You weren't told to come back here. Couldn't you have escaped?"
Their eyes met in the deepening shadow. A full minute passed in silence, broken by the cat-call laughter of the hillmen, before Burnham spoke:
"We'll be dead in a minute or two, you and I. Care to shake hands?"
"Is it a command?" asked Kangra Gunga. He stood rigid at attention, his eyes glowing.
"No," said Burnham.
There began to be heavier firing, down below in the ravine where the impatient hillmen awaited darkness.
"Stand to," said Burnham. "This looks like the end."
"If you are afraid, I will hold your hand," said Kangra Gunga.
Neither man spoke after that for several minutes. They kept up a steady rifle- fire at hillmen who were dodging up the slope from rock to rock. Below them, the ravine was thunderous. Rifle-firing echoed and reechoed amid crags that deflected the din. It was impossible to see or guess what was happening, except that for the moment the assault, up the narrow approach to the sangar, had ceased.
Burnham and Kangra Gunga faced each other again, and Burnham smiled, a little wearily.
"Have you been waiting all these years for your chance to say that?" he said slowly.
"In the presence of death I have said it," Kangra Gunga answered.
Burnham stared at him. "This is not the first time we have looked at death together."
"Let it be the last time, sahib! It is possible to crawl to safety by the way I crawled in. I will hold this sangar while you do it. None will ever know you ordered it, unless you tell it."
"I understand you," said Burnham. "You don't believe that your father accepted my apology?"
Kangra Gunga's eyes had changed.
They were the eyes of a man who believed he had made a mistake, but who would take the consequences standing.
"You," said Burnham, "how dare you even think I'd lie to a companion in arms? Take this rifle and go, by the way you came. You hear me? Obey!"
Sudden and terrific squalls of rifle-fire resumed in the ravine. Then a trumpet call, equally sudden, and no mistaking it.
"That's the regiment," said Burnham.
"Find them. Tell them where I am."
Kangra Gunga saluted. "May I speak?"
"Look! They are coming at us again! The hillmen mean to finish us before the regiment prevents. Sahib—
"Obey my order."
"Nay, I disobey it! I will die here. Major Burnham sahib, I had no sooner spoken than I knew it was wrong. But I spoke. I can not recall it. And you answered as a good companion in arms—aye, even as my father might have answered. I am ashamed. I will die here."
"As you were," said Burnham. "You may stay here.Quick now, use your rifle."
For several minutes they lay side by side, firing steadily into the shadows. It was clear now that the hillmen were in full retreat, fighting a rear-guard action. A dozen of them were making one last desperate attempt to storm the sangar. The assault checked, hesitated, dwindled, ceased. Below, the squalls of rifle-fire advanced up the ravine like a hailstorm driven by a high wind. Burnham leaned his rifle against a rock, and again he and Kangra Gunga faced each other. At last Burnham spoke:
"Anything else on your mind?"
"No, sahib." I have said what I said. I am ashamed."
"So I was, once," said Burnham. "As your father said to me, it is forgotten. Now would you care to shake hands?"
"I HAVE!" said the Honorable William Allison. And he closed his lips so tightly when he had said it, and his merry face looked so comically sorry, that Gladys Powers had no need to guess what the answer was.
"Tell me all about it!" she said promptly. She smiled back at him, but there was concern in her big dark eyes. "First of all, what did you say?"
"Me? Oh, I told him I'd like the deuce to marry you, don't you know, and all that kind of thing—said you were dashed charming girl and so on, and that I thought we'd hit it off together."
"And did you say it offhandedly like that?"
"Why, of course! You didn't expect me to go down on my knees to him, did you?"
She was trembling on the very verge of laughter, and drew out her handkerchief to hide it from him.
"No," she bubbled. "Go on. What did he say?"
"Said he'd no time for hereditary boneheads—dashed if I know what a bonehead is, exactly, but I'll bet it's something rude—and that he wouldn't let his daughter marry one on any terms! Said there were boneheads enough in the States, without coming across the water to find one! He added a lot of tommy-nonsense about the idea of an aristocracy being all wrong anyhow. So I asked him whether he'd have liked me any better if I'd been a brick-layer!"
The dimples began to dance again. She loved this lean, clean-looking Englishman very dearly; but love had not killed her sense of humor.
"Most extraordinary thing, but the mention of bricks seemed to make him positively savage!"
"He made his money building, you know. He's been fighting the brick-layers' union all his life; he says that, from first to last, they've cost him fifteen million!"
"He must be most uncommon oofy, to spend that much money fightin' a lot of brick-layers!"
"Father's not exactly a pauper, you know!"
"Confound him—he called me one!"
"That's exactly what you called yourself when you proposed to me!"
"I know I did. But I didn't mean it as literally as all that! I've got fifteen hundred a year of my own. I said that as his son-in-law I supposed I might amount to something financially some day! But he got awfully red in the face, and said he wouldn't have me for a son-in-law at any price. I asked him whether we couldn't come to some sort of terms. He said no! So I reminded him that as a business man—which he seemed so infernally proud of calling himself— he must realize that there's a way of compromising everything. He thought a little after that. Then he said suddenly that if I'd prove to him that I'm not a bonehead, he'd consider it. By the way, what the deuce is a bonehead?"
"A fool. Go on—what then?"
"I invited him to be a little more explicit. He said, 'Go and make some money, and bring it here and show it to me!' I asked him how much money, and he thought for a minute, and then snapped out, 'Ten thousand!' 'Dollars?' I asked him. You see, I could have borrowed that much, at a pinch, and have brought it round to him this afternoon! But he said: 'No; pounds! Go and make ten thousand pounds within the next six months, and show it to me. Then I'll let Gladys do as she likes about it!' So I bowed myself out."
"And can you do it?" asked Gladys Powers eagerly.
"Not if I want to keep out of jail, I'm afraid! You see, I've had no business training."
Gladys Powers dug the point of her umbrella into the frozen February grass, and frowned.
"I call it mean of father," she exclaimed, "to talk to you that way! He's forever preaching against what he calls 'bucking the other fellow's game,' and now he tells you to go and do it! He knows perfectly well that you're not a business man! Besides, he's bucking somebody else's game himself, and he's seen how futile it is!"
"Whose game's he buckin'?"
"Yours. He's perfectly crazy to get into society over here, "and he hasn't been able to do it."
"He'd find himself in society in a minute, if he'd let you marry me!"
Gladys smiled, in spite of herself. She knew that her father would either get what he wanted on his own merits and by his own efforts, or do without.
"Oh, if you could only get the better of him!" she exclaimed. "He'd think the world of you! Won't you try? Do try! It isn't that you're poor—he doesn't mind that; he wants me to marry a man with brains. Beat him! Then he'll have to admit that you've got brains. Try! Won't you?"
And she said "Won't you?" in a way that went straight to the heart of the Honorable William Allison. He stood in front of her for a moment stock-still, gazing straight ahead beyond her.
"I'll have a try!" he said in a low voice. "Tell me—is he really keen on this idea of gettin' into society?"
"He's crazy about it! He's crazy because he's failed! He hates failure, and he means to keep on at it until he's won!"
Bill Allison reflected again for about a minute; he was beginning to look singularly gloomy.
"I don't see how that's goin' to help much," he said, more to himself than to Gladys Powers. "Still,"—and he looked straight into her eyes, and she read resource there, and believed in him and took courage,—"I can but try! We'll see!"
AN HOUR later the Honorable William Allison strolled into one of the most exclusive clubs, and subsided gloomily into a deep arm-chair. It was one thing to say that he would try, but quite another thing to think out a feasible plan on which to act.
"Confound the man!" he muttered savagely.
"Hullo, Bill!" said a pleasant voice beside him; and he started and looked round.
"You, Galloway? Why the deuce didn't you speak before? How long have you been here? Were you here when I came in?"
"Thought I'd watch you, Bill! Dashed interestin', believe me! First time in my life that I ever saw you lookin' gloomy! Been busy wonderin' what's up! Money-lender naggin' you?"
"No. Nothin' to speak of."
"Liver out of order?"
"Never better in my life."
"Some female woman been unkind to you?"
"Bill—you're in love!"
"You can't deceive me, Bill! So she won't have you, eh? Well, you'll get over that all right. There are heaps more women, Bill, and they're all of 'em too good for you and me! Your troubles don't amount to anything—listen to my tale of woe! Trainin' stable all gone to the deuce—eight rotten gee-gees all eatin' their useless heads off—three of 'em lame—two of 'em crocks that couldn't win a sellin' plate to save their lives—an' that brute Souffrière so savage that nobody can do a thing with him! He half killed an unfortunate stable-boy the day before yesterday. The boy's in hospital—at my expense! Takes a sight of the whip to induce any of the other boys to go near the brute. Pity of it is that he's entered for the Grand National—and he could win it, if only I could find a man to ride him!"
"He certainly could win it!" said Bill Allison, with an air of absolute conviction.
"I know he could, Bill! But I've got to sell him; there's nothin' else for it! My stable's been losin' me money for so long that I simply can't stave off my creditors for another week!"
"But why sell the best horse you've got? Why not keep him, and sell the rest?"
"Seen the others?"
"Yes, I've seen 'em."
"Would you buy 'em?"
"Well, speakin' personally, no! Still—"
"Shut up talkin' rot, then! Souffrière's got to go: I'm goin' to sell him next week."
"Is he fit?" asked Allison. An idea seemed to have risen new-born behind his eyes, for they positively blazed as he leaned forward and looked at Galloway.
"He's fit as a fiddle—now. He won't be, though, in a week's time. All he needs is gallopin', and, I tell you, I can't get a man to ride him."
Bill Allison lay back in his chair again, with his tall hat tipped forward over his eyes. His long lean leg, crossed over the other, moved up and down rhythmically, and the fingers of his right hand drummed gently on the arm of the chair.
"Tell me, Sammy." he said suddenly, "are you keen on sellin' Souffrière? D'you want to get out of the racin' game for good?"
"Want to? I should say not! If I could think of any way out of quittin'— "
"I've thought of one!"
"Out with it, then, as you love me! I'd give ten years of my ill-spent life for the right idea!"
"Ten years won't do, Sammy, my boy! We'll have to do this on half shares and hold our respective tongues. Also, we'll have to be singularly—most uncommon—careful!"
I'm the carefulest young fellow you ever knew, Bill. There's not even a woman can make me talk, when I don't want to!"
They talked together for the next three hours, mysteriously; and every now and then one or the other of them was emphatic.
At the end of that time the Honorable William Allison hurried to his chambers and superintended the packing of his portmanteaus. A little later he took a train into the country. But his friend Sammy Galloway, contrary to his original intentions, remained in town.
THERE was nobody in London with a more varied or extensive acquaintance than Sammy Galloway. He was popular for his sunny disposition and his thoroughly sportsmanlike qualities; and, although his comparative poverty precluded his returning hospitality to any great extent, his presence at all kinds of social functions was in very great demand. So he had no difficulty whatever in securing an introduction to Mr. Franklin Powers.
Sammy was ushered into the largest room of the most expensive private suite in the most up-to-date hotel in London; and he was kept waiting there for fully ten minutes before Mr. Powers appeared. To use his own expression, he was" sweatin' like a horse" when his host finally arrived and demanded, rather brusquely, what he might want.
Mr. Powers had been just long enough in England to realize that letters of introduction from influential sources were seldom guileless when addressed to himself. He had made the discovery that society is as greedy of favors from millionaires as it is chary of extending them. So there was a note of challenge in his voice, and it acted as a tonic to Sammy Galloway. He left off feeling nervous, and displayed true genius by tackling his quarry in the one way that was at all likely to have effect. "I've come to talk business," "he said, as he resumed his seat.
"Good!" said Franklin Powers. "I'm listening!"
"I've been told—and I won't divulge the name of my informant on any terms— that you are anxious to get into the best society over here."
Powers stood up as though a spring had been suddenly released inside him. "Go on!" he said non-committally.
"I can show you the way—on terms."
Powers sat down again, and the two men looked at each other in tense silence for about a minute. Each liked the appearance of the other. There was no gainsaying the rugged strength of the millionaire; he looked like what he was—a born fighter, whom many victories had made self-confident. And Sammy Galloway, who looked the acme of good nature, also looked honest. His introductions, too, were unexceptionable.
"Let's hear all about it!" said Mr. Powers.
"I'm not here for fun!" said Sammy. "There are a lot of things I'd rather do than this. But, as long as you understand, to begin with, that I'm playing my own game as well as yours, we ought to hit it off all right."
Powers nodded. "I hope it's not introductions!" he said. "I've tried 'em— had dozens of 'em. All they ever got me was invitations to charity bazaars, and a pink tea or so now and then!"
"Lord, no!" said Sammy. "You've got to do a thing like this off your own bat! Introductions are all right, of course, to begin with, provided they're the right kind. But a man wants more than that. Nobody cares much where a man comes from; what he's got to do is to be something or do something out of the ordinary. Millionaires are as common as stray dogs! What's wanted is a millionaire who's something else besides; and—and that's where I come in!"
Powers nodded again. "Go on!" he said. "I'm interested!"
"You want to do something big in a social sort of way that'll make the right crowd take notice of you."
"I've given a couple of very expensive parties," said the millionaire. "But that didn't work. Half the people I invited didn't come, and those that did come weren't any good!"
"Exactly!" said Sammy. "Any fool can give a party! Now do something decent!"
The millionaire stared hard at him, not quite certain how to take that remark. "What would you do, for instance?" he asked after a moment.
"Win a classic race!"
"Win a what?"
"Be the owner of a horse that wins the Grand National, for instance."
"The only horses I've ever owned were truck-horses. I don't know a thing about race-horses. My daughter and I use autos. I wouldn't know how to go about it."
"Exactly!" repeated Sammy. "That's where I come in! I own a horse that can win the National, and I've got to sell him. I'm broke, you understand."
Powers got up again and began to pace the room. "How do you know he can win the National?" he demanded abruptly.
"How do you know in advance that you can put through one of your big business deals?" asked Sammy.
"That's different. It's my hand that puts them through. I succeed where another man would very likely fail. I know how!"
"That's my case again," said Sammy triumphantly. "I could sell this horse for enough money, to get me out of debt; but the man who bought him couldn't win the National with him. He needs riding, and I've got the only man in England who can do it. He's a brute of a horse—savage as they make 'em; wants a real man on his back."
"Then you want me to buy your horse? Is that what it all amounts to?"
"Not by a long way! I could sell him, as I told you. There are more than a dozen men I know who would take a chance on buying Souffrière. I'm offering you more than just a horse, and I'm asking more than just the price of him. I'm offering to win the National with him for you, and I'm willing to be paid by results. That horse is worth about three thousand guineas as he stands; they'd pay that price for him for the stud, and anyone you care to ask will confirm what I say. I'm asking you two thousand guineas for him—cash; and in return for that amount I'll transfer him, engagements and all, into your name. If he doesn't win the National, he's yours anyhow, and you'll be able to sell him again for enough to get back the two thousand—together with the expenses of my training-stable, which I'll expect you to guarantee from now until the race comes off. If he wins, I get your check for ten thousand pounds immediately after the race."
"But why do you come to me?" asked Powers suspiciously. "Why don't you go with your offer to one of your own countrymen?"
"I thought I'd be able to make a quick deal with you, for one thing, and I knew you'd got the money. Besides, I've got ulterior motives. When the thing's all over, I've a friend I want to introduce to you; possibly he can put something in your way, too. He'll be able to help you socially better even than I can. But I want you to learn to have confidence in me first. One thing at a time."
"But how is this business of winning the Grand National going to help me socially?"
"Believe me," said Sammy darkly, "there's positively nothing you could do that would help you more!"
Powers drew the stub of a pencil from his pocket, and tossed it up and down on the palm of his hand in a movement that was characteristic of him when he was making up his mind.
"Supposing he wins, who gets the stake?" he asked.
"When is the Grand National run?"
"Latter part of March—six weeks from now."
"And this jockey you speak of—are you sure of him?"
"Absolutely! If he doesn't ride the horse, you can call the deal off, and I'll pay you your money back!"
Powers looked hard at him through narrowed eyes. He was stil1 uncertain. The pencil-stub was still dancing on the palm of his hand. This man was certainly a gentleman—his introductions were beyond all question everything that they ought to be. He looked honest and spoke squarely. The proposition was unusual, but—
"Will you give me your word of honor that this proposition's on the level?" he demanded.
Powers tossed the pencil up and caught it. His mind was made up. "I'll go you, then! How much cash did you say? Two thousand guineas? Two thousand one hundred pounds, eh?"
And Mr. Franklin Powers produced his checkbook and made out a check in favor of Mr. Sammy Galloway for that amount.
SIX weeks later the fashionable sporting crowd put in its annual appearance on Aintree racecourse. It was tall-hatted and fur-coated, and as different from a summer-season racing crowd as could easily be imagined. The people who brave the March winds at Aintree are those who go racing for the love of it, and not just because it happens to be the thing to do.
Galloway, most immaculately dressed, leaned against the paddock railing and talked through it to his friend Allison. Allison was overcoated from ears to heels; he looked thinner than when he and Sammy had talked together at the club, but the glow of health was on him, and he seemed happy as a school- boy.
"What odds are they laying?" demanded Allison.
"Twenty to one!"
"I don't wonder!" said Allison, looking over his shoulder at Souffrière. The big red devil of a horse was being led round and round the paddock at what was intended to be a walk—blanketed until nothing of him was visible except his savage eye, which peeped out through a hole in his hood. As Allison spoke, the brute snorted and squealed and snatched at his leading-rein, and a pitched battle followed between him and the man who led him. Above the buzz and clamor of the crowd came the raucous bellowing of a book-maker: "Twenties, Souffrière! Twenty to one, Souffrière!" But no one seemed anxious to bet on him.
"Have you got the money on?" asked Allison.
"The whole two thousand?"
"Every single penny of it."
"So we stand to win forty thousand pounds, eh?"
"We do—or else lose everything!"
"Don't think of it! How did you keep old Powers out of the way?"
"He and Miss Powers were awfully keen to come into the paddock," said Sammy. "But I told him it wouldn't do. Said I wanted his entrance on the scene to be as dramatic as possible; asked him to wait until the race was over before showing up, and then lead in the winner. He and Miss Powers are sitting in a box right in the middle of the grand stand, and they're both of 'em half frantic for the race to begin. I'd better go over to 'em now, and try to keep 'em quiet. So long! Good luck, Bill!"
"So long, Sammy! Good luck!"
As Sammy Galloway joined the little party in the box, Souffrière's price began to alter in the betting.
"Why, they're only laying fifteen to one against him now!" said Gladys Powers. "Listen! I wonder why that is?"
"Dunno, I'm sure," said Sammy, taking the vacant chair between her and her father. "Unless some one in the crowd's spotted who's goin' to ride him."
"Why, is the jockey so well known? I thought he was just one of your men."
"Oh, he's fairly well known," said Sammy. "Listen! They've shortened him some more!"
"Twelve to one, Souffrière! Twelve to one, Souffrière!" barked the bookies.
"What's the jockey's name?" asked Gladys.
"Just Bill. Look! There they come!"
There was a sudden silence, and everybody craned forward to watch the horses coming out. Seventeen of them, prancing and cavorting, filed out, one by one, on to the course. They missed their blankets, for the March wind nipped them; and as they danced on tiptoe in their eagerness to get their heads down and be off, they presented as fine a spectacle as could be witnessed anywhere. The last to come out was Souffrière—seventeen hands of plunging red deviltry; and as he reared on his hind legs and seesawed through the gate, the crowd began to hum again with conversation.
But the bookies were still silent. To a man, they were watching Souffrière through field-glasses. Suddenly one of them closed his glasses with a snap and turned toward the rest.
"It is!" he yelled excitedly. "Tens, Souffrière ! Ten to one, Souffrière!"
The last-minute plungers, who always form a quite considerable percentage of the betting crowd, took that to be an echo of inside information. There was a rush to get on at ten to one, and in a moment the price had shortened down to eights. The bookies bellowed it out above the ceaseless murmur of the crowd.
"He'll be the favorite in a minute at this rate!" said the millionaire, grinning with pleasure that he took no trouble to conceal.
Souffrière was the biggest and by far the finest-looking of the field. He came on to the course sideways, fighting for his head like a mad devil. He seemed the squealing, dancing, plunging, lashing embodiment of energy. His red coat shone like new satin, and his great muscles played up and down beneath it like springs of tempered steel. He was a picture of a horse. Anyone with half an eye could see that he was trained down to the last touch; and the rider who sat him so perfectly, and coaxed and steadied him, seemed as lithe and well trained as the horse.
"That man's face seems strangely familiar!" said Franklin Powers, staring through his field-glasses.
Gladys Powers had thought the same thing; she too was watching closely through her glasses.
"Who did you say his jockey was?" she asked Sammy. "Bill who?"
"Watch, Miss Powers! This'll be worth watching!"
"It looked almost like—"
"Oh, all men look pretty much alike in racing-kit! Watch!"
Every rider excepting Souffrière's gave his horse a trial jump over the first fence on the course. But Souffrière was taken straight down to the starting-point. It seemed better, to the man who rode him, to take the first jump blind than to let the horse have his head yet for so much as a second. He kept him by the starting-gate until the other horses came and lined up on either side of him.
"They're off!" roared the crowd.
It is like the thunder of a big wave on rocks, and the growl of the undertow—that sudden exclamation of the waiting crowd. It thrills even the oldest race-goer. Gladys Powers leaned against the rail in front of her and tried to stop her heart from palpitating by pressing it against the wood. The silence of the dead followed, as the horses raced neck and neck for the first jump. They reached it all together in a bunch. Souffrière rose at it as if it were a mountain, shot over it without touching a twig, and landed neatly in his stride on the far side, half a length in front of the rest. Between that jump and the next he continued to gain steadily.
But the Grand National is a five-mile race, or thereabouts—five miles of the stiffest going in the world. The jumps are prodigious. No ordinary horse could get across them, and none but the stoutest-hearted man dare try to ride him. The pace was a cracker, and Sammy Galloway—gazing through his glasses beside Gladys Powers—grunted and ground his teeth.
"What's the matter?" asked Gladys.
"He's taking it too fast!" He had reached the open ditch already—a misnamed contraption with a guard-rail in front of it and a thumping big fence on the far side; it had been the death of more good men and horses than all the other risks of steeple-chasing put together. As Galloway spoke, Souffrière's rider dropped his hands, and the horse swung his great hind legs under him and leaped over it like a cat. He cleared it without touching, and his rider—his head a little to one side—watched his fore feet critically to see how he placed them when he landed.
"Look at him!" said Sammy. "Ain't he cool! But what's he takin' it so fast for?"
Souffrière was a full length in the lead now—striding along as though he found the going easy, and eating up the distance between jumps with long, easy strides that told of tremendous strength still in reserve. He had a hundred and forty pounds to carry,—twenty-eight pounds less than the top weight,—and he was making nothing of it. The two horses next behind him rose at the open ditch together, cannoned heavily, and fell—one of them with a broken back. The remainder cleared it; but the accident gave Souffrière a lead of two full lengths. The race had still nearly four miles to go, and Galloway, watching through his field-glasses, could see Souffrière's rider looking behind him to see where the others were.
"Take a pull, man! Take a pull!" he grumbled aloud. "There's simply tons of time'"
"Didn't you give him instructions how to ride before the race started?" asked Gladys, who had been reading up horse-racing matters since her father had become an owner.
"Me? Tell Bill how to ride!? I should say not! He's out and away the best horseman in England! Watch him!"
Souffrière, slugging his head against the bit, seemed bent on increasing the lead still further, and his rider seemed quite disposed to let him do it. The great horse was still sweeping along without any apparent effort, and jumping as a cat jumps—carefully. The pace, though, was nothing short of tremendous. It was much too hot to last, and the field was tailing out behind already. As they rounded the turn for home, Souffrière was more than four lengths in the lead. Six other horses were waiting on him, and going strong— one little brown horse, that was running fourth, seeming to go well within himself. They were all six letting Souffrière make the pace for them, and every one of them was clearly to be reckoned with.
As they galloped up toward the grand-stand, though, Souffrière's rider seemed to be cracking on the pace even a little faster. Those who watched him narrowly enough through field-glasses could see him speaking to the horse. Gladys was one of those who watched the rider's face. Suddenly she clutched at Sammy's sleeve and whispered to him.
"Tell me, Mr. Galloway, who's that riding him? It looks from here like—It is! Isn't it?"
"Quiet now, Miss Powers!" said Sammy. "Don't give the game away! Yes—it is! Watch him!"
As Souffrière galloped past the grand-stand, Sammy Galloway found time to scrutinize Mr. Powers' face for a second. The millionaire was watching the horse as though his whole fortune depended on his winning. He had no time to study the rider, and no idea as yet who was on the horse's back; and Sammy heaved a sigh of relief as he turned to watch the race again.
The horses were starting on their second journey round the course, and there was beginning now to be something different in the gait of Souffrière that was noticeable to a close observer—his stride had lost a little of its elasticity. Carefully nursed, he looked good to win the race yet, especially considering the lead he had; but there were more than two miles of wicked country still ahead of him, and he needed riding.
Saving the one question of pace, he was being ridden perfectly; no man could have ridden him better. Jump by jump, his rider schooled him over the fiercest course in England as coolly and perfectly as though he were out for a practice gallop; and, so far, Souffrière had not touched a twig. But the pace was a killer.
A booky voiced the general sentiment. "Ten to one, Souffrière!" he roared. Several people laughed. Nobody ran to bet with him. Then, at the water-jump, Souffrière put a foot wrong as he landed, and stumbled badly.
"He's down!" roared the crowd.
Gladys Powers smothered a scream and clutched at Sammy's sleeve. He was not down, though. The stumble had cost him a good length of his lead, but he was up and going strong.
Now two of the other horses were beginning to challenge Souffrière's lead. Whips were going. Their jockeys moved on them, and the distance between them and Souffrière began to grow gradually less. They gained very little on him between the jumps, for his long, easy strides were in his favor, arid he was almost able to hold his own; but at each jump they lessened his lead, for he had begun to pause before taking off, and he was landing clumsily. Each pause, and each mistake, cost him five yards or more.
Then there were only three jumps left to take, and a straight run home of less than two furlongs. He might do it yet, but it seemed very doubtful. Sammy Galloway gripped his glasses, and ground his teeth, and swore beneath his breath. Gladys Powers clutched his arm again, and her father stood up in the box—rigid with excitement.
"Oh, Bill, you idiot!" groaned Galloway. "Steady him, man! Steady! Take a pull, and let 'em pass you! You'll catch 'em again in the straight! Oh, you idiot!"
Even as he spoke, the man he apostrophized took up his whip and sent home three good rousing wallops to Souffrière's ribs. The second horse—the little one that had been running fourth so gamely all the way—was coming up hand over hand.
"Twenty to one, Souffrière!" roared a booky, and a chorus of other bookies echoed him.
Then the horses and their riders caught the intoxicating roar from the stands—the roar of an appreciative crowd, that has turned the heads of contestants ever since the dawn of history and has ruined many a fellow's chances. It was the crucial moment. All of the horses were stretched to their limit.
"My God!" groaned Galloway. Souffrière's rider was flogging like a wild man—or seemed to be. It was the one, absolute, and only thing he should not have done! Just behind him—gaining on him fast, and coming up on the inside—was the little brown horse. He and Souffrière charged at the last hurdle side by side, racing shoulder to shoulder for it, with Souffrière's head only the least bit in front.
Crack! came his rider's whip. Souffrière slipped badly at the take-off, and hit the hurdle hard with both hind legs.
"He's down!" roared the crowd.
This time Souffrière was really down—kicking and struggling like a brute possessed. His rider was still on him, clinging with both hands to his neck, and trying to force his weight backward into the saddle again. Souffrière kicked, and struggled, and rose to his feet. Gladys Powers screamed. Powers swore, and smashed his glasses against the rail in front of him. The third horse rose at the jump, cleared it, and missed Souffrière on the far side by about an inch!
"Now ride!" yelled Galloway. "Ride, man! Ride!"
The man in front had glanced over his shoulder, and, seeing that he was leading by a safe margin, had pulled up a bit to save his horse. There was more than a furlong still of straight going on good green grass, and the race was still to win.
"It's all up!" groaned Galloway; and the millionaire looked toward him and nodded. "Worth it, though!" he said, with a wry smile. "I was never more excited in my life!"
"Thank heaven, he wasn't killed!" said Gladys. She was white as a sheet, and trembling.
"Oh, watch!" said Sammy. "Watch!"
The crowd was yelling and thundering in the stand. They had reckoned without Souffrière and his rider! The big red devil was game to the last kick, and his last kick was not due yet by a long way. It dawned on the brute suddenly that there were two horses now in front of him. That, and the whip, and his rider's spurs convinced him that there was still a fight ahead, and he settled down to catch them in real earnest. He passed the second horse like a flash, and gave chase to the little one in front with his eyes shut and his head slugged against the bit—while the crowd roared and yelled until the grand-stand sounded like the thunder of an army.
"Oh!" yelled Galloway. "Look at that, will you!"
The whip was out again, and Souffrière's rider was putting in all he knew. The whip rose and fell like a flail.
"He's not floggin' him! D'you see that? He's not floggin' him! Oh, Bill, you're the cunnin'est old dog that ever —"
Bill was flogging at his boot. The rider of the first horse heard the whack-whack-whack behind him, and started his own whip going. He flogged his horse, though. The game little fellow changed his feet, and in that second Souffrière caught up with him. Then down came Bill's whip on Souffrière's flank, and he spurted, and the two flashed past the winning-post in a thundering, snorting, sweating, wild-eyed streak—so close together that no one outside the judges' box could tell which was the winner.
Then the roar of the crowd died down to expectant silence, while everybody watched the number-board. A man started fumbling with the numbers, and Sammy saw them even before they were on the board.
"Ten—seventeen—six!" he read off.
Ten was Souffrière!
"Come on, Mr. Powers!" said Sammy Galloway. "You're too late to lead him in, but you can see him in the paddock!" He took Miss Powers' arm, and the millionaire followed them to the paddock at a run. Souffrière was already blanketed again, and was trying hard to eat a stable-hand who was leading him back to his box; and Galloway left them looking at him, while he hurried round to the weighing-room door. There he waited patiently, and presently the Honorable William Allison emerged in jockey-kit—covered with mud and foam, but beaming. "Bill, you idiot, we've won twenty-five thousand pounds apiece, and it's just twenty-five thousand more than you deserve! What, in heaven's name, possessed you to ride the race like that?"
"Point is, I won it, Sammy! Had to ride it that way! Haven't been riding Souffrière in his gallops every day for nothing, you know! I got a line on him right away at the start. If you pull him, he sulks and fights. You've got to let him gallop his worst all the way, and whip the steam out of him at the finish! Got that check for ten thousand yet?"
"Of course not! I can't ask him yet!"
"You must, Sammy! I've got to have it!"
"Better leave it till Monday, hadn't we? Let him settle up like the bookies do; that'll be soon enough."
"No, Sam; I've got to have it now! Go and find him, and make him write it out, while I have a tub and a change. Bring it to me in the dressing-room."
"All right, Bill; I suppose you're running this. I'll ask him. But, I say, I'd feel awfully mean if he tried to kick me! I'm beginning to like the old boy!"
It seemed to Mr. Franklin Powers a little bit like sharp business to be asked for his check almost the instant the race was over. He was beginning to wonder, too, where all the social glamour was that had been promised him; nobody had noticed him as yet. However, he was a man of his word, and he produced his check-book and a fountain-pen, and wrote out a check for ten thousand pounds in favor of Sammy Galloway. "Meet you in the box!" said Sammy, turning to hurry away again. "I'm going to bring something in the society line to introduce to you," he added over his shoulder as an afterthought.
Twenty minutes later Sammy Galloway came back to them; and with him was the Honorable William Allison—quite immaculately dressed, smiling as usual, and perfectly at ease. He raised his hat to Gladys, but said nothing to her. She watched him in absolute amazement, for the contrast between this dandy and the man in silk who had ridden Souffrière was almost unbelievable. Allison walked straight up to the millionaire, and produced a folded piece of paper from his pocket.
"Here's the ten thousand you mentioned, Mr. Powers," he said, smiling affably.
Powers seized the piece of paper and examined it. It was his own check for ten thousand that he had given Sammy Galloway!
"This isn't yours!" said the millionaire. "You're not Galloway!"
"Look on the other side, won't you? You'll see that he's indorsed it over to me!"
"What's the meaning of all this?" asked Powers.
"That's the ten thousand that you told me to go and make! I preferred that it should be ten thousand of your money, that's all!"
"Then you and Mr. Galloway are—er —"
"Accomplices?" suggested Allison.
"And was this talk about getting me into society all bunk?"
"Not a bit of it!" said Sammy, stepping forward. "Allow me, Mr. Powers! This is my friend that I said I'd like to introduce to you afterward. You'll remember, I said he can do more for you socially than even I can!"
"Who thought out this scheme?" asked Franklin Powers—bewildered for almost the first time in his life.
"Bill did!" said Sammy. "I simply obeyed orders! He planned the game, and he rode Souffrière. No other horseman in England could have brought him in a winner. It took a man with brains to win this race and to put through such a scheme. We were both of us broke, and we've each of us made twenty-five thousand, thanks to him—and you!"
"You've got everything you bargained for!" said Allison, trying not to laugh. "As my prospective father-in-law you'll have the entree into society right away. May I take it that your—ah—your objection is—ah—withdrawn?"
"You may! Shake!"
The Honorable William Allison turned to Gladys. "Care to come into the paddock?" he asked her, almost casually.
"I'll go anywhere in the world with you!" she answered.
An actress who is not exactly in the first flight is bound to be more or less of a nomad; so there was nothing particularly astonishing in not hearing from Mrs. Crothers for several months.
True, she might have written; but if she were ever to become famous, her autograph would be valuable for its very rarity, for she seldom wrote to anyone.
When she went away from New York with some touring company or other, she simply dropped out of her friends' existence for a while; and when she came back again, she resumed her acquaintanceship just as she had left it off, without explanation or comment.
So it was even less astonishing that she should arrive at my flat one afternoon, panting from the exertion of climbing so many stairs, and demand tea. That was to be expected of her.
What really was remarkable was her gorgeous raiment. It was so magnificent and up-to-date that even Ugly, my mongrel hound, scarcely knew her.
She rang my bell as though it were a fire-alarm, and, when I opened the door for her, pushed past me into the sitting-room with an air of indescribable importance. Then she threw her new fur jacket over the typewriter, as a signal that work was over for the day, and subsided into my armchair.
I produced tea and cigarettes, and sent the boy out for cakes, and while he was gone for them, I stood and gazed at her in the silent wonder and admiration that I knew was expected of me.
As soon as the cakes came, Ugly laid his gigantic muzzle in her lap; and it was not until she had given him about half a dollars worth that she paid any attention to me.
"You'll make him awfully sick!" I ventured presently.
"Nonsense! A change of diet's good for him. Besides, I like to feed him."
That, of course, settled it. I relapsed into my former condition of awe and bewilderment.
"You notice it, then?" she asked me, with the least suspicion of a smile, when Ugly had swallowed the last of the cakes.
"I'm not blind! Climb off that high horse, Kitty, and tell me all about it."
"That's what I came round for."
"I knew you did. I'm waiting."
"You're in too much of a hurry. I don't think you've admired me enough yet!"
"It's like Ugly and the cakes. You'd like some more awfully, but it wouldn't be good for you. You'll have to tell me the story first, if you want any more admiration. Besides, I'm too dazzled to be able to think of any words that would do you justice."
"It isn't a story at all. It's something that really happened. I've just come back from England."
This was really amazing. That Kitty Crothers should cross the Atlantic was almost unbelievable. She hated to leave Broadway, and it was only stern necessity that induced her to travel even in her own country.
"Did you get all that finery in London?"
"No, Paris! But I'll come to that presently. I must tell you first what I went for."
"I can guess that. Your late husband owned some property over there, or was heir to it, or said he was. You went over there to collect. Isn't that right?"
"More or less. But how did you know?"
Shortly after her husband's death I had recommended a lawyer to her on that very business. He had failed to trace any connection between the late Amos Crothers and the Carruthers estates in Essex; but he sent in a bill of costs which I had to settle. So the question seemed just a leetle bit superfluous. But as she seemed to have forgotten the incident, it seemed best to equivocate.
"You told me yourself," I said. "Go on."
"I'm going on, if you'll only give me time. The first trouble I had was raising enough money for the trip. Of course the passage itself didn't cost so much, but you've got to have some money at the other end, haven't you?"
She seemed to expect an answer, so I said that in my experience money was quite useful in England.
"Well, I never met with such difficulty in my life. I tried at first to syndicate myself, but you'd never believe how incredulous people are — at least, all the people who've got money!"
"That's how they get it, Kitty."
"Do they? It isn't how I got it."
Her face broke up into dimples as she smiled reminiscently. It was evidently a good story that was coming, but she kept me waiting several minutes for it while she enjoyed the memory of it herself.
I had to break into her reverie.
"How did you get the money for the trip?" I asked.
"I didn't get it. That's the funny part about it! I offered several people ten percent of the whole thing if they would finance the trip. That was businesslike, wasn't it?
"And I assured them that the estates were worth millions. But — you can believe me or not, as you like — they simply wouldn't listen. I tried everybody I knew, and scores of people I didn't know; but it was no use. Positively nothing doing!
"You've no idea how stuffy business people are! I thought at one time of trying you; but I knew you couldn't even pay your club dues as a general rule, so you were out of the question. I just didn't know what to do."
"How on earth did you get across, then?"
"Oh, I had enough money for a second-class passage; but by the time I'd tipped my cabin steward, and paid the cab fare at Southampton, there was only forty dollars left; and it was even less when the money-changer had finished swindling me.
"I never was good at arithmetic, and in the end I called one of those delightful English policemen. He was polite, and even fatherly; and he wouldn't even look at the dollar I offered him; but he figured it out three times in his notebook, and got the result different each time, and in the end I had to take what the banker offered me. But I know he swindled me!"
"Did you go to a bank to change it?"
"Sure! Where else should I go?"
"The London and Southwestern, I think it was called."
"And you called in a policeman?"
"Whom did you see?"
"The manager, of course."
Now, the manager of a main branch of an English joint-stock bank is as consequential as an admiral of the fleet, and much more important.
"I'll go on with the story when you've finished laughing," she said.
"I'd give a year's income to have been there when it happened! Didn't he order you out of the bank?"
"Certainly not. He was as polite as possible. He offered me a chair, and made a clerk bring another one for the policeman, and left us to figure it out. He asked me, though, if I'd mind sitting in the outer office while we worked it out, because he was busy; but he wasn't in the least rude."
"Go on," I said. "I'm ready to hear anything after that."
"Well, of course I engaged a room at the best hotel. I had lots of trunks, and the only thing I could do was to throw a bluff; so I went to the best hotel, and took the best room there was in it. They must have thought I had millions."
"I don't see how you make that out. Millionaires don't travel in the second cabin, and they must have seen the labels on your trunks."
"What d'you suppose I tipped the cabin steward for? All my things were marked, 'Wanted on the voyage,' and I made him pull all the labels off before we got to Southampton and put on first-class labels."
"You ought to have been a criminal. But perhaps you are one. I'd better wait until you've told me how you got the money."
"I went to bed early the first night, because I wanted to think out a plan, and I can always think better in bed than anywhere else."
"D'you mean to say that you hadn't thought out a plan before you started?"
"Oh! How stupid men are! How could I possibly make a plan when I hadn't any money, and didn't know where I was going to stop, or what Southampton was like or anything? It was different, of course, after I'd landed and had taken a room at the hotel. I was on the scene then. But, of course, I hadn't any plan until I got there."
"What was your idea, then? Just to trust to luck?"
"Something like that. At all events, the luck was all my way on that trip. But it didn't look very promising that first night. I lay in bed, and thought, and thought, and I couldn't make head or tail of it. And at last I gave it up and went to sleep.
"I felt better in the morning, but even then I realized that my chance of success was pretty thin. I hadn't enough money to pay one week's bill at the hotel. It was an expensive place, and I had to order expensive wine at dinner to keep up appearances. I'd got to be quick.
"So directly after breakfast I sent for the local directory, and looked through the list of lawyers. There were dozens and dozens of them; but I picked out the one with the most space allotted to him, and then looked him out in another part of the book, and found he was also the mayor. That was the man for me.
"I couldn't pay anybody's bill as things stood, so it seemed best to me to run up a real, fat bill with a big man, who might possibly wait for his money and give me a chance to turn round.
"Then I asked to see the proprietor of the hotel. When he'd finished bowing — they're not in the least like American hotel proprietors, they're really polite — I asked him if he knew Mr. Lewisohn; and he told me that Mr. Lewisohn was his lawyer and conducted all his legal business."
"He was probably the gentleman who sued the guests who neglected to pay their bills," I suggested.
"Probably. But he said that Mr. Lewisohn was a most influential and respected gentleman. I suppose he meant by that that he had a big political pull; but they have such a funny way of expressing things in England, and you can never be quite sure what they do mean."
"I know it," I said. "They call a 'four-flusher' a 'chancer,' even when she's a woman and pretty."
She actually blushed.
"I wasn't a four-flusher. And if you're going to be rude, I won't tell you the story. I knew that I was after a certainty; the only difficulty was in getting somebody with money to believe it."
"I was only citing an instance," I said guiltily. "Go on with the story."
"Well, I told Mr. Bertram — that was the proprietor's name — that mine was most important business, and that I wouldn't have an inkling of it get in the papers for anything; and I asked him to be sure not to answer any questions about me to anybody. He said he would be most discreet — just like that — 'most discreet.'
"Then I asked him whether I could count on Mr. Lewisohn to be most discreet, and he assured me that I could; so I asked him to telephone for an appointment for me, and he did it at once. Later on I ordered a carriage to drive round to the lawyer's office.
"They tried to palm off a one-horse thing on me at first; but I sent it back and ordered a landau with two horses, and the proprietor of the hotel came out himself and helped me into the carriage.
"In Southampton people don't usually drive when they're going to see their lawyers; they walk. I know that, because when I got there I wasn't kept waiting a minute. The clerk showed me right in.
"Mr. Lewisohn proved to be a little man, with a shiny bald head and a ring of coal-black curly hair all round it, just like a monk's. He was sitting in a dark corner at a large roll-top desk, with rows and rows of black steel boxes on shelves behind him.
"Until your eyes got used to the light you could scarcely make out his features at all, and he made me sit on a chair where the light fell right on me. But I'd taken a lot of trouble with my toilet that morning, and I didn't feel nervous in the least.
"He didn't put his feet on the desk, or smoke, as Broadway lawyers do; but he sat back and listened to what I had to say with his hands folded in front of him, and his thumbs twisting round and round each other slowly. And every time I stopped talking he nodded.
"I told him that I had had a letter of introduction to another lawyer, whose name I wouldn't mention; but that Mr. Bertram, the proprietor of the hotel, had told me that Mr. Lewisohn was much the best lawyer in the place, and I had decided to place my business in his hands.
"I'm not sure even now whether he was so used to hearing himself described as the best lawyer in the place that it had ceased to interest him, or whether he was suspicious of any attempt at flattery. I'm inclined to think he was suspicious — the least attempt at civility makes the English suspicious — I've found that out. At all events, he didn't seem to appreciate it very much.
"But he kept on nodding and nodding while I talked, and when I mentioned the Carruthers estates he woke up at once and began making notes. At last he made another appointment for the following day; and I had evidently succeeded in impressing him favorably, because he showed me to the door of the office himself, instead of letting the clerk do it.
"And, of course, then he couldn't help seeing the carriage and pair; I was glad of that.
"Of course, I knew he'd telephone to Bertram before I had time to get back to the hotel, but that didn't worry me; all Bertram could say was that I had first-cabin labels on my trunks, and that I had engaged an expensive room. Besides, he knew nothing against me, anyhow.
"I wasn't afraid of Bertram; and, as it turned out, I must have been right, because when I went back the next day Mr. Lewisohn was politeness itself, and after we'd talked for nearly an hour he took me out to lunch. I kept the carriage waiting all the time, and drove him back to his office afterward. It would never have done to seem worried about money."
"He didn't let you pay for the lunch, did he?"
"Of course not. But I had to pay for the carriage — or, rather, I had it charged up on my bill. I was getting so short of ready money that I was beginning to feel desperate. I hadn't enough money to pay my fare back to New York, even third class, by that time, because I'd been spending my ready money pretty freely in order to keep up appearances.
"I was seriously considering a visit to the hockshop, and was wondering whether I'd got anything with me that an 'uncle' could be induced to lend money on, when who should come to stay at the hotel but a real English aristocrat — the kind you only read about in the Sunday paper, and never come across in real life.
"He was about twenty-two years old, with red hair and a pimply face, and simply oceans of money. It was he who saved the situation.
"Of course, he didn't carry the money with him; but you could tell he had it by the awful arrogance of his manservant and the deference the hotel people paid him. You can always tell when a man's got money."
"How was it, then, that the hotel people couldn't tell that you hadn't any?"
"I'm not a man — I'm a woman."
"I see. Is there any way of telling when it's a woman?"
"Not unless you're a woman yourself. A woman can sometimes guess. But I'll never finish if you keep on interrupting so."
"All right; I'll be good."
"When his lordship came into the hotel and saw me in the lobby he stared harder than was polite; so I went upstairs to my room and stayed there. But you can bet I didn't have dinner upstairs.
"I got out my very best dress — the one I'd been keeping for emergencies — and came down just a little late — not too late, you understand — but late enough not to have to go in with the crowd. He was waiting about in the hall to watch me go in, and, though he didn't stare quite so hard that time, he followed me into the dining room and sat down at the next table, with his back toward me."
"Beastly rude of him!"
I thought I was wanted to sympathize, but I mistook my cue.
"I told you not to interrupt. He wasn't rude at all. He must have bribed the head waiter like a whole board of aldermen, because the man came over to me at once and said that my table had been reserved by some other people, and would I mind if I sat at the next table for that evening.
"He said that Lord Tipperary had the next table, but that he was sure that Lord Tipperary wouldn't mind. And he actually had the nerve to go to Lord Tipperary and ask him if I might sit at his table, just as if they hadn't fixed it all up between them before dinner.
"So I pretended to be rather annoyed; but not too annoyed, and changed places; and, of course, the head waiter had to put some other people at my table, though there were several other tables in the room that were disengaged all through dinner; and in about a quarter of an hour Lord Tipperary and I were quite like old friends.
"It was the first time that I'd ever talked to a lord, and I found he was quite like a human being. I was never more surprised in my life. He didn't say 'Haw!' or 'Don'tcherknow!' like English lords are always supposed to; in fact, he didn't give himself any airs at all; but he used the most astonishing slang I ever listened to, and I don't think I understood more than half of it.
"After dinner we went out and sat together in the lobby — to watch the people, he said — but he was too busy talking to me to see much of what was going on.
"Of course, I had to be awfully careful what I said to him; and I was so busy puzzling out how to make use of him that I suppose I must have seemed rather absentminded, and after a bit he noticed it and asked me if I wasn't feeling well. I had to say something, so I told him that I found English surroundings a bit depressing at first.
He was an awfully nice boy, and he said at once that he knew a way to change all that. He offered to take me driving in his four-in-hand next morning. He said that a drive round the countryside would make me fall in love with the country, 'and all that kind of thing.' He said that he wasn't much of a 'dabster' at quoting poetry, but the scenery was 'simply spiffing,' and that was about the most intelligible thing he did say about it.
"He told me that he was down to see his lawyer on business connected with his property in the neighborhood, and that he'd brought his horses with him 'because that man Lewisohn's as slow as a hearse, and he's sure to keep me hangin' about here for the best part of a month.'
"When I discovered that Mr. Lewisohn was his lawyer, too, I had to go up to my room. I wanted to be alone, and laugh, and make a fool of myself.
"Of course, it was a bit early yet to be jubilant, and I still didn't see how I was going to manage. But I knew that a coincidence like that only happens about once in a lifetime, and I knew I'd have brains enough to make use of it when the right time came. But the difficulty was to wait for the right time.
"I was in a desperate hurry, and beginning to get excited, and I knew that if I was to play my cards properly I'd have to let off steam at once. So I went upstairs and kicked my pillow all round the room for about ten minutes. After that I felt better and went to bed.
"Next morning I told Lord Tipperary what I was in England for — at least, I told him as much as I thought necessary. He seemed to be interested; and when I told him I'd been to Lewisohn, and that I was afraid I wouldn't get the same amount of attention as an old client would have done, he offered to take me round that very afternoon and introduce me to Lewisohn in a proper manner.
"He said: 'Why, he's my lawyer! I'll take you round and tell him you're a friend of mine. He'll look after you, all right. He's as slow as one of his own horses, and he's stagy; but he's honest, and there isn't a better lawyer in England. I borrow money off him when I get broke — that's to say pretty often.'
"So we had lunch together at the hotel, and I took him a little more into my confidence. I didn't tell him that I had only thirty shillings left, though it was a fact; but I did say that I'd be tickled to death to get my business settled up, because I needed the money very badly.
"When I said that he looked at me quite sharply, with his eyebrows raised ever such a little, and I saw that I'd made a mistake.
"They're not so easy as they look, those English! I suppose that rich English lords have so many people trying to play them for suckers that they get naturally suspicious, anyway. But just as I was thinking that I'd put my foot in it, and had spoiled my only chance, I had an inspiration that was absolutely divine.
"I asked him if he ever gambled; and he said at once that he did. He said he was always gambling, and nearly always losing — backing horses, for the most part — but that he would gamble on almost anything; and he asked me if I knew of anything to gamble on.
"Then I knew that I'd won — all but the shouting. The rest was easy.
"I said that I hadn't ever gambled, which was perfectly true; but I said I was going to begin. He nodded, and said he would stand in with me, because 'beginners' luck always was a good thing to bet on. He said he didn't care 'a continental' what it was that I was going to bet about, he was going to 'back me to win.'
"So I told him that that was my reason for being in such a hurry to get some money; I wanted to get the money on before the good thing was a thing of the past. But I wouldn't tell him what the good thing was. I didn't know yet myself, for one thing. But I had to tell him something.
"Suddenly I remembered a second cousin of mine who used to be secretary, or something like that, in a zinc works at Pittsburgh, and that gave me another idea. Poor old Amos always used to be pestering my cousin at Pittsburgh to give him information so that he could play the market, and the only time he ever did give him any Amos played it and lost. He lost nearly all we had.
"So what I said was that I had received some private information from a man who used to be a friend of my late husband. Before my husband died he had promised him that he would look after me, and this was his way of doing it. He had told me to raise every cent I could, and buy certain shares and hold them for a rise.
"Lord Tipperary got awfully excited. He hadn't ever gambled on the Stock Exchange, and the idea of doing it simply tickled him to death. He wanted to know the name of the shares at once, so that he could 'go up to town and get the money on.' He said it was 'awfully sporting' of me to want to 'put all my money on one horse,' and he didn't like it in the least when I refused to tell him which shares they were.
"But I couldn't tell him, for the simple reason that I didn't know the name of any shares, and I'd have to look them up first in a newspaper. So I got out of it for the time being by saying that the information had been given to me under a strict pledge of secrecy, and that I couldn't think of divulging it to anybody.
"That afternoon he drove me round to Mr. Lewisohn's office, and he introduced me properly, as he had promised to do. We had a long talk with the lawyer, but nothing much came of it, except that he promised to be as quick as he could about my business.
"Lord Tipperary asked him at once how long he thought it would be before he had my affairs settled up, and he said: 'Some weeks.' Then Lord Tipperary looked at me with the most comical expression of concern, and I had to laugh outright; and Lewisohn seemed awfully surprised that Lord Tipperary should take so much interest in my affairs, but he didn't say anything — at least, not then.
"After we left the office that boy did nothing but pester me to let him into the secret; and at dinnertime he said: 'Look here, Mrs. Crothers, it's an awful shame your not being able to get any money out of old Lewisohn for a month or two; you'll probably miss having the flutter through it. Can't we work it this way. I'll go up to town and open an account with a firm of brokers that I know of, and arrange it so that you can buy the shares on my account without my knowing the name of them; then we'll go shares in the profits. How's that?
"'Then, tomorrow morning I'll go round to old Lewisohn before I go to town, and tell him to be sure and let me have a few thousands at once, so that we sha'n't be stuck for money. He's arranging to borrow some money for me, and he can easily let me have a few thousands right away.'
"Remember, it was pounds he was talking about, and not dollars! And there was poor little me, with only a few shillings in the wide world, and a great, fat hotel bill running up! Do you wonder I began to fed excited? Of course, I agreed to that arrangement, and the next morning I went round to the Public Library to look up Pittsburgh.
"I read up all about Pittsburgh in a fat sort of encyclopedia; and though reading about it in that book bored me almost to tears, and reminded me in some indescribable way of Monday morning's breakfast at a boarding house — I can't tell you why, but it did! — I managed to concentrate my mind on it sufficiently to remember afterward that the National Zinc Amalgamation was one of the biggest concerns there.
"Then I went back to the hotel and sat in the lobby, studying out the financial column of a morning paper. The American papers are bad enough, if you open them at the financial page, and I don't believe the jargon they put in them really means anything at all; but the English papers are infinitely worse; and I'm sure I nearly cried trying to understand it.
"There were two different things named in one column that might, either of them, have been the Zinc Amalgamation. They were both called N.Z. Am., but one had the word 'com.' after it with a full stop, and the other had the word 'pref.' There was a footnote at the bottom of the column which said that the 'com.' had been largely dealt in. The 'com.' and the 'pref.' were quoted at different prices, and I think it was the most confusing mix — up that I ever tried to puzzle out.
"I never would have puzzled it out if it hadn't been for Bertram, the proprietor. He passed me where I was sitting in the lobby, and smiled. I asked him what he was smiling about, and he said that it was easy to tell my nationality without hearing me speak, because American women were the only women who ever read the financial columns of the papers.
"I told him I was only reading out of curiosity, and I asked him what 'com.' and 'pref.' meant. He gave me quite a little lecture, and explained the whole thing; and after that I began to feel ready for the fray.
"At about twelve o'clock a telephone message came from Mr. Lewisohn, asking me to call round at his office; so I ordered out the carriage again, wondering what it meant. When I got there I was shown right in to his office, and he lost no time in coming to the point.
"He sat in his usual corner blinking at me, and he made me sit right in the sunlight that was streaming through the window. He watched my face as carefully as a cat watches a mouse, and I hoped I had not put too much powder on — I came away in rather a hurry. His first question completely took my breath away. He said:
"'Mrs. Crothers, how much money have you in your possession?'
"I suppose my face showed that I was taken by surprise, and he must have guessed the rest; for he said at once:
"'You needn't tell me. I think I know sufficient. Now, Mrs. Crothers, Lord Tipperary is a valued client of mine. I have known him since he was a boy. His father was also a client of mine, and his grandfather used to entrust his business to my father. You will perhaps admit that I have a right to be interested in his welfare.
"'Now I want you to tell me exactly what is the nature of the business that you have entered into with Lord Tipperary. He called on me this morning, and told me a little, but not enough. There is no sense in a case like this in beating about the bush. I will give you fifty pounds for your information.'
"I said: 'I will take your fifty pounds, Mr. Lewisohn, because I need it, but I would have told you the nature of the business at once if you had asked me.'
"The expression on his face changed a little, as though he didn't believe me, and were smiling inside himself; but he was too polite to let it appear on the surface; he merely bowed, and motioned to me to proceed. So I told him the same story of the shares that I had told Lord Tipperary.
"But he seemed to expect something else, and when I had finished he sat with his eyebrows raised a little, waiting for me to continue.
"When I said nothing, he asked me: 'And the name of the shares?'
"I said: 'No, Mr. Lewisohn, that was not in the bargain. If I tell you the name of the shares, the secret will be out!'
"He said: 'Madam, it was distinctly in the bargain. I must insist on knowing the name of the shares. So far as the secret is concerned, there is no safer depository for a secret of any kind than within the four walls of a lawyer's private office. I can assure you — in fact, I promise you faithfully — that what you may tell me will remain an absolute secret.'
"'But even Lord Tipperary doesn't know,' I objected.
"'I am aware of that, madam. In fact, that is precisely why I insist on knowing myself.'
"He pulled a lovely crinkly Bank of England note for fifty pounds out of his waistcoat pocket, and made it crackle absentmindedly between his fingers; and all at once I blurted out that the shares were called National Zinc Amalgamation, Common.
"He passed me over the fifty pounds at once; and I think I never saw a man look so utterly surprised in all my life.
"He said: 'Madam, I have to apologize. We are all liable to make mistakes, and I have made one. Your secret is, of course, safe in my keeping; and in return for it I will tell you one of mine. I am myself a heavy buyer of National Zinc, Common, and I believe it will eventually reach par or somewhere near it.
"'I made the great mistake of supposing that you were an adventuress, and that you were trying to work off some worthless securities on my client. Believe me, such a thing is quite common, and in every case that has come under my notice it has been done through the agency of a woman. I suppose your idea is to take the shares off the market, and hold for a rise?'
"I hadn't the least idea what he meant by taking them off the market, but I know that poor old Amos lost all his money by speculating on margin — whatever that means. So I told him that I had a horror of margins. That seemed to tickle him to death.
"He rubbed his hands together, and his eyes sparkled, and he beamed at me over the top of his spectacles for quite a minute before he said anything else. Then he shifted in his chair, and turned right round toward me, leaning forward with one elbow resting on his knee.
"'Now, listen to me, Mrs. Crothers,' he said. 'I'm going to make you a little confidence. My client, Lord Tipperary, has been spending far too much money. Too much for his own good. He is altogether too fond of borrowing, and still fonder, I am sorry to say, of gambling.
"'I have been trying for over a year past to persuade him to pull up, and pay some attention to improving his financial position. You appear to have found the key to the situation, and my proposal to you is this.
"'Let me manage the account for you. We will let Lord Tipperary imagine that he is gambling, whereas as a matter of fact I will purchase the shares outright in his name, and hold them for him until the right moment comes to sell them again.
With the funds belonging to him that I can get together I can purchase a considerable block of shares, and their increase in value within say about six months or a year should help materially toward straightening out his finances.
"'Once I have his written permission to buy the shares, and his promise not to sell them before they reach a certain figure, I can manage the rest. One of his pleasant little peculiarities is that he never breaks his promises.
"'As for yourself, how would it be if you were to receive ten percent of the net profits on the transaction? I am sure Lord Tipperary would agree to that, and I think you are justly entitled to it for persuading my client to do what I could not talk him into doing myself.
"'Of course, I am aware that under the present arrangement existing between you, you would receive half the profits; but knowing Lord Tipperary as I do, and with all due respect to yourself, I would doubt very much there being any profits to divide. When too entirely inexperienced people open an account on the Stock Exchange, there can be only one result — a dead loss. Don't you think my arrangement would be better?'
"Well, of course, I thought it was better, and when Lord Tipperary returned from London I made him go round and settle it that way with Mr. Lewisohn. The lawyer agreed to supply me with funds as long as the agreement lasted, and though his idea and mine on what constituted enough money to go on with were slightly divergent, I got enough out of him from time to time to pay my hotel bills.
"And National Zinc, Common, went up, and up, and up. I'm not going to tell you how much I made out of it!
"But that isn't all. Before the agreement came to an end, and while I was still waiting in Southampton, Mr. Lewisohn discovered that as Amos's widow I was entitled under somebody or other's will to a life interest in a small part of the Carruthers estates. So Amos was right, after all! The income isn't much, but it's regular and safe, and I needn't go on the stage again.
"Lord Tipperary is the nicest boy in the world, but I couldn't have him falling so violently in love with me that people began to talk about it; so when I had got all the money that was coming to me, I said good-by to him and Mr. Lewisohn, and absconded to Paris. I bought all the clothes I wanted in Paris, at least all the clothes I absolutely couldn't do without, packed up my belongings, and then came straight back to New York.
"You can't think how glad I am to be back! There's no street like Broadway in the world! Now, where are you going to take me to dinner?"
I looked at her for some moments, studying her finery, and considering ways and means.
"The nattiest place in town," I said at last. "Wait while I put some decent clothes on."
"Not a bit of it," she said firmly. "They won't allow Ugly in a natty place. Besides, you can't afford it!"
So we went to the same place that we used to go to in the old days when she was hard up resting in New York between engagements.
And we enjoyed ourselves just as much as we used to; even if the restaurant was a cheap one. Afterwards, when I had seen her home, and we were still chattering on the pavement outside her apartment, I said:
"Well, good night, Kitty. I've come to the conclusion that you're a better actress off the stage than on it!"
"You're getting too wise," she said, laughing. "Good night!"
KITTY CROTHERS perennially hard up — working at her profession for a few months, doing one-night stands all over the country, and returning to spend her hard-earned savings along Broadway — we all of us knew and understood; but Kitty Crothers with money was something to make the gods on Olympus sit up and take notice.
There was absolutely no knowing what she would do with it, and the problem interested her friends for days. No doubt it amused the gods as well.
The money she brought back with her from England was a considerable sum when reckoned in English pounds; when she had it transferred into francs in Paris the amount of it took her breath away; and on her return to New York it was not the rate of exchange that worried her, for she completely ignored that, but the fact that the money sounded less in dollars than it did in francs.
"I wish they'd trade in francs on Broadway," she said plaintively. "I'd have five times as much money."
"Why didn't you stop in Paris?" somebody asked her, "You'd have had it all in francs then, and it would have lasted much longer with Paris prices to pay for everything."
"They haven't a Broadway over there, though," she answered reminiscently. When she is in that reminiscent mood her eyes half close dreamily, and her lips take on the faintest shadowy suspicion of a smile that always foreshadows wisdom. She drawls out her brightest epigrams dreamily, so that you don't notice that they are epigrams until it is too late to applaud; that is probably the reason why she was never in the first flight as an actress.
"They have the loveliest frocks in Paris, and the loveliest restaurants, but I haven't any use for their boulevards. They're all right for men, but not for women. In Paris nobody bumps into you, and if a man happens to be in your way he bows and raises his hat and makes way for you at once, and when you're past him he follows you.
"I'd rather be bumped into at the corner of Forty-Second Street by fifty honest men in a hurry any day of the week, No, sir! When they transfer Broadway, and the Broadway crowd, and the Broadway atmosphere to Paris, I'll go and live there — but not before."
"Well, what are you going to do, Kitty, now you're rich?"
"I'm going to be addressed as Mrs. Crothers, for one thing, by all nonentities, and most other people."
The nonentity retired, abashed, . "What are you going to do, Mrs. Crothers'?" I ventured.
"You're a nonentity, too; but you're not included in the bunch of 'other people.'"
"What are you going to do, Kitty?"
She sat still for a while, thinking; then she lit another cigarette. She refuses to smoke mine since she came back from Europe; she has a brand of her own — Russian — with her initials on them. She says they taste better with her initials on them.
"Out with it, Kitty; I know you've got a plan."
"I've a plan, but I don't see any sense in unfolding it to you; you wouldn't approve."
"As if that made any difference."
"Oh, well, as long as you realize that, I'll tell it to you; but, remember, I've quite made up my mind."
I got ready to listen, and Ugly did the same, putting his great nose on her lap. He always pretends to listen to her, though as a matter of fact he is only watching for biscuits or candy. Dogs are hypocrites just like the rest of us.
She gave him quite a quarter of a pound of expensive candy before she began to unfold her plan.
"You see," she said at last, "I've got to have some object in life. I hate work just as much as you do, and now that I can afford to be lazy I'm going to make up for lost time. I wouldn't go on the stage again if they offered to star me in 'R0meo and Juliet.'"
"Of course, when one's a capitalist there are heaps and heaps of ways of making money without working."
"Heaps of ways of losing it, too, Kitty."
"True for you! And they're all of them either troublesome or dishonest. I can afford to be honest, and I never did enjoy trouble, anyhow."
"You're not thinking of going into business, then?"
"Not just at present. I've bought some bonds and locked them up in a safe- deposit place, and hidden the key. All the business I'm going to do for the present is cutting off the coupons twice a year."
"That's not half a bad idea. I thought you said I would be sure to object? I think you've been really wise!"
"Oh, but that isn't going to be my object in life; I'm not going to live just for coupon cutting. I've decided to be of some use in the world."
"You're surely not going to write a novel?"
"And become a nonentity like you for the rest of my life? No, sir! I had to sell my brains when I was an actress, and I got just about as much money for them as you do for yours.
"I'm going to use them myself now, thank you. I'm going to pick out a young man of promise, and use my influence and experience, and money if necessary, to help him become a great man."
"Run a sort of salon, you mean'?"
"No. One at a time to begin with."
"Who's to be the first victim? How would I do?"
"As if anybody could do anything with you! I've chosen Paul Gurwicz."
"This certainly is the place where I object! I'm more or less responsible for Gurwicz. You met him at my flat, and you've no right to try your experiments on him. Choose somebody I don't know."
"I'm not going to experiment at all; I'm going to make his fortune."
"He'll fall in love with you."
"Well? Will that hurt him?"
"No. It'll do him good. But he'll want to marry you."
"Nonsense — I'm old enough to be his mother."
"I've heard of old women of twenty-eight — or is it twenty-seven — marrying children of twenty-two before now."
"I dare say you have. But when the right time comes I'm going to marry him to some one else, which settles that difficulty?
"Going to act as a sort of deputy to Providence, eh'?"
"If you like to put it that way."
"When do you begin?"
"I've begun. He's in love with me already."
She blushed guiltily as she said it, but when I laughed she flared up at once indignantly.
"I don't see that it concerns you, anyhow. In what way are you responsible for him?"
"I'm the only friend the boy's got in New York."
"Nonsense! You're not his friend. You let him come and sit in your room, and talk about his plans and ambitions, and then when you get bored you throw cold water on him."
"You'll have to see the janitor about that, Kitty; there's never any hot water to be had. Besides, I've got to work sometimes—"
"Good afternoon!" said Kitty. "I didn't know your work was so important." And out she went, leaving me to study out this new phase of Mistress Kitty Crothers.
It was not her plan that worried me; it was the victim she had chosen. Any ordinary victim would have been a lucky man, whatever the outcome; but with Gurwicz it was different.
As his name implies, he is a Russian, and Russians are always volatile, and often dangerous. They are like dynamite — useful enough if they are handled properly, and quite dependable; but awfully dangerous in the hands of a beginner. And at this game Kitty Crothers was distinctly a beginner.
I knew quite a lot about Gurwicz, for his least noticeable characteristic is reticence about himself His grandfather was a Russian peasant with ideas on the rights of man that were beyond his station in life and years ahead of his time. Like his grandson, he was a genius and a fluent talker, so that the Russian government came to hear about his enlightenment, and sentenced him to death.
He seems to have had the sense, though, to choose his friends wisely, because they had influence enough to get his sentence transmuted to one of imprisonment for life in one of the Siberian lead-mines, and he was thrown into jail with a gang of fellow unfortunates to await transportation. Being a genius, he invented a brand-new way of breaking out of jail, and escaped over the border to Germany. He went to Breslau, where he married the daughter of another political exile.
His son was a still greater genius, with still less common sense, however, for he became a social democrat and got himself shot by the German police in the course of an unauthorized demonstration.
But he had married a German woman — almost the only sensible thing he ever did — and their son Paul managed in some way to combine his father's and grandfather's genius and fire with his mother's Teutonic phlegm, and grew up into a man to be seriously reckoned with.
When a man like that falls in love something usually happens. Either he wins the woman that he wants, or else he goes utterly to the deuce and takes a considerable number of quite inoffensive people with him. And here was Kitty Crothers, serenely unconscious of her unwisdom, deliberately encouraging Paul Gurwicz to fall in love with her!
The worst of it was that I reckoned myself a friend of Kitty Crothers, and cared nothing for Gurwicz, and yet I could not see how to prevent her from burning her fingers.
Not many days passed before she me to my flat again, and this time she brought Gurwicz with her. He was painfully shy and awkward, and tripped over nearly everything in the room before he at last subsided into a corner, where he sat watching Kitty.
If ever a boy was in love, Paul Gurwicz was, and he was the most awkward and uncomfortable lover I have ever seen. I tried to draw him into conversation, and so did Kitty, who wanted to show him off, but we both failed until I remembered that the basis of his ambition was aeroplanes, and asked him some question or other about them. After that we had to sit and listen to a fervid monologue on aeroplanes, while he waved his arms, and spilled his tea over the carpet, and made a most unusual ass of himself.
He told us all he knew about aeroplanes, which was a surprising amount; and he lectured us on the folly of trying to build flying-machines without first of all thoroughly mastering the theory and making the necessary mathematical calculations on paper.
After about twenty minutes of it the flood of his enthusiasm swept away the barrier of his shyness altogether, and he told us how he, Paul Gurwicz, had really studied the theory of flying, and knew how to calculate every stress and strain to which a flying-machine could possibly be subjected. And Kitty kept looking across the room to me with an expression on her face which meant: "There! Isn't he clever?"
Two other fellows who had dropped in said it was dashed interesting, and dropped out again, and after that I no longer cared what Kitty did to him. I felt sorry for her, though, because I felt certain that she was storing up trouble for herself.
During the months that followed I was forced into being anything but a disinterested spectator. Kitty did not want him to make any new friends, for fear they might lead him astray; so she encouraged him to visit me whenever he had the time. She dared me to discourage him, knowing well that I would not lose her friendship for a dozen men like Gurwicz.
So I had to listen to the man, and take an interest in his infernal aeroplanes. The result of my listening to him, and my apparent interest, was that he gave me a certain measure of his confidence; and the time came when he admitted to me that he was in love with her and intended to marry her when he had saved his first ten thousand dollars.
He was awfully foolish about her, describing all her faults as virtues, and all her virtues as faults which he meant to eradicate when he had married her. It was no joke having to listen to him; but I got some fun the following day, for I repeated his conversation to Mrs. Crothers word for word, and she wilted at the notion of being reformed by Gurwicz.
I rubbed it in, and it did me good. I think it did her good, too; but it did not tum her aside from her plan, as I had hoped. She came into my flat one day shortly after that, bubbling with laughter, to tell me of his proposal to her.
"His nerve is getting better," she said, "or worse — I don't know which. He's beginning to take quite a preparatory interest in me, instead of worshiping me from a distance.
"How d'you think he began? He objected to my coming so often to your flat. He said people would talk about it. As if anybody would ever dream of talking about you! I asked him if he didn't think you were respectable, and he said no, he was sure you were not. He's learning to talk English awfully well, but he's not quite sure of the difference between respectable and respectful yet.
"He said he had watched your face very closely whenever he had mentioned my name to you, and that he had noticed that you always smiled in a mysterious sort of way that he didn't like — a cynical sort of smile, as though you could tell all sorts of tales if you only cared to — or dared. I think it was 'dared' he said."
"Never mind whether he said 'dared' or not, Kitty; he's going to stop your smoking cigarettes after he's married you. He told me so. But go on — tell me how he proposed." "I'm coming to that; don't be in such a hurry! I asked him what it could possibly matter if people did talk about my going to your flat, and he said that it mattered very much, because he hoped some day to make me Mrs. Gurwicz, and he hated like anything to have people talking about his future wife in any way but with the utmost respect."
"Didn't he go down on his knees, or anything? I thought foreigners always did that." "Indeed, no! H e talked all the time as though he were conferring a favor on me."
"What did you say?"
"I couldn't say anything at first for laughing."
"Did he see you laugh'?"
"I don't think so — in fact, I'm sure not, I pretended to be embarrassed — and so I was, awfully. I told him, after I had recovered my equanimity a little, that he was much too young to think of marrying me, and that I should be an old woman when he was still only in the prime of life and just beginning to be famous. That made him awfully angry.
"You know how he goes up in the air when he's in earnest about himself? Well, he went up in the air then, only more than usual. He treated me to a complete synopsis of his achievements up to date — the boy really has done well for himself, even you must admit that — and he tried to prove that he was at least twice as wise and twice as old as most men are at his age. I'm not at all sure that he's not right about that."
"You mean that he's wise to be in love with you? I know at least ten men who're just as wise as he is."
"No, I didn't mean that. Don't interrupt. Well, it was no use discouraging him for the present, that wouldn't have fitted in with my plan at all.
"I want to see him a big man — right at the top of the tree — and I want to know that it was I that goaded him into getting there. So I told him that I would never marry a man who was a nonentity, and that he must win his spurs before daring to propose to me."
"What did he say to that?"
"He tried to make out at first that he had won his spurs already, but I laughed at that idea. Then he argued that he would have a much greater incentive to work if I would definitely promise to marry him, and at last he got on his dignity, and said that if I didn't promise him he would throw up his job and go to Canada, and lose himself somewhere in the Northwest.
"I had half a mind to take him at his word, because the boy is so clever that I'm sure he'd make good even if you dumped him down right in the middle of a desert."
"Why on earth didn't you, then? Wasn't it a splendid chance to be rid of him?"
"Can't you understand that I don't want to be rid of him? I want to be able to give myself the credit for his success. Of course, it would be awfully romantic to follow him up to Canada, but I had more than enough of Canada when I went there with touring companies, and, besides. it would have probably led to complications — and the business is getting complicated enough already without any extras!"
"I can imagine that Mr. Paul Gurwicz up in the northwest of Canada, or anywhere else for that matter, might prove a bit of a handful once he discovered that there was a lady on his trail. If I'd been you I'd have let him go to Canada, or to the deuce for that matter, until he chose to come to his senses." "That's exactly where you'd have been wrong. Men have no perception at all. I put him off for a year. That gives him one year in which to make good, and it gives me a whole year to think up a good way out of the difficulty. I told him I would give him a definite answer one year from now."
"How did he take that?"
"He didn't say a word. You know that nasty little black note-book that he always carries about in his pocket? Well, he pulled out his watch first, and then he opened his note-book and set down the exact hour and minute.
"Then he bowed — you know how he bows? — with a stiff back, as though he were hinged in the middle — and stalked out of the room to go and win his spurs. The boy was really impressive, and I feel sure he'll do something big. He's certainly determined enough."
"He'll probably make some big kind of trouble."
"Not he! I've made a man of him. I know I have."
The next I heard of Gurwicz he had thrown up his job. Up till now he had been clerk to a contracting engineer, and his salary had been raised twice because of his almost uncanny genius for calculating quantities and other complicated things connected with a section of the new Subway. He told me he wanted a job now in some factory where they made the engines of automobiles. He didn't seem to care a rap about salary. He said, in fact, that he had saved enough to keep him for a year if necessary.
But he wanted to learn all there was to know about internal combustion engines before looking for a job in an aeroplane factory. So I gave him a letter to a man I knew who was foreman in an up-State automobile factory.
Three weeks later I received a letter from the foreman telling me if I knew of any more youngsters of the same type to send on a car-load at once "collect." So it seemed that Mr. Paul Gurwicz was busy making good.
During the six months that followed Kitty Crothers was restless and, I thought, unhappy. She seemed to miss having Gurwicz to order about. He wrote to her regularly — long, passionate letters, in which he reiterated his undying devotion — and I know she wrote to him, because she used to show me her letters before she sealed them up. She wanted to be sure that they were affectionate enough without being too affectionate.
When Gurwicz came back to New York with a finger missing and the best part of six months' pay in his pocket — they had put him on a salary within a week of his arrival at the automobile factory — I offered to put him up. It seemed possible that the tension might grow a little acute, and I wanted to be on the scene when the trouble started.
He was as much in love with Kitty as ever, and hardly ever left my flat, he was so anxious to be in when she called. He talked about her until I lost my temper, and then sat on a chair in the corner and thought about her, and in the end she had to remind him that his career was still to make.
After that he used to stay out all day hunting a job, and one evening he told me that he had signed a contract to work for a man whose name was already world-famous as a maker and manipulator of aeroplanes.
He started work the following day without saying a word to Kitty, and it was I who broke the news to her. She grew serious at once, and said it was time to get busy. "He's bound to make good," she said, with a return of her old enthusiasm. "Now that he's started on his chosen career, he'll never look back. Remember it was I that goaded him into it."
"Yes, but you haven't got yourself out of it yet. I've a notion that that won't be quite so easy. He'll be back for his answer when the year's up, and then look out for squalls!"
"Not he! He'll be engaged to some one else. I know the girl already. The only thing is to arrange for them to meet at your flat."
"Not if I know it. Gurwicz by himself was bad enough, but Gurwicz and his sweetheart billing and cooing round here would be too much altogether. This is your funeral, and you must stage-manage it. I'm not going to have anything to do with it at all. I'm merely a looker-on."
She was angry with me, and called me a shirker, and lots of other things, but a few days afterward she invited me to dinner to meet Paul Gurwicz and a Miss Maud Gillespie — her niece or cousin or some such relation.
When I got to the restaurant she and Gurwicz were already there, and I was in time to hear Gurwicz tell her that his future as an aviator was already assured, I never knew a man who had less doubt as to his eventual success.
He went up in the air and waved his arms about in his usual emphatic way, but she seemed scarcely to be paying any attention to him. When he left off boasting to get his breath she told him for the first time who the fourth member of the party was to be.
"And I want you to look after her for me, Paul," I heard her say. "It's almost her first dinner away from home, and she's dreadfully shy with strangers. I want you to draw her out and make her feel as though she were among friends. I'd ask him to do it, but he's much too stupid."
When she said "him" she meant me, and Gurwicz had the indecency to look as though he agreed with her; but the niece arrived before I could think of anything suitable to say in self-defense.
The girl was the absolute antithesis of Gurwicz. He was tall and very thin. She was of medium height, at the most, and plump. Never having seen her mother, it was of course only guesswork, but I was prepared to swear that by the time she was forty she would be fat.
He had blond hair that stood up straight on end as so many Germans wear it; her hair was very dark-brown — almost black, He was a visionary, a dreamer — with the strength and ambition to make his dreams come true; she was a woman of the domestic type, who would only dream when she had indigestion.
Even then she would only dream that her house was not in order. She was no more shy than a domestic cow is shy. She was a ruminant.
He was restless and ambitious; she was placid. He had a face that was positively ugly, redeemed, though, by the obvious intelligence that flashed and flickered over it incessantly, and only slumbered when he slept; she was good-looking in a sleepy, wax-madonna sort of way, but her expression never varied.
They were utterly unlike.
And yet, from the way that Kitty Crothers behaved, it seemed that this was the female that she intended should supplant her in the affections of Paul Gurwicz. She talked to me at one end of the table, and left the niece and Gurwicz alone at the other.
I tried once to engage the girl in conversation, but Kitty kicked me so violently on the shin that for the next few minutes I was hard put to it not to swear.
"I was only trying to make her feel as though she were among friends, it seems, though, she's come to a game of football," I remarked.
Kitty only laughed, and by the time my shin-bone had left off tingling Miss Gillespie was too busy listening to Gurwicz for me to be able to get a word in edgeways. He told her all the most interesting things he knew, and they were all about himself. She proved to be a good listener — a thing he had grown unaccustomed to of late. Instead of raillery and chaff and openly expressed unbelief he met with silent approval and wonder.
He found himself accepted for the first time in his life at his own valuation. Even Kitty Crothers, during her most valiant efforts to encourage him, had found it difficult to conceal her amusement at his egoism. But Miss Gillespie frankly considered him a superior being, and evidently felt more like burning incense to him than laughing at him.
So Gurwicz enjoyed himself, and the two of them forgot all about us. Gurwicz's way home and mine lay together for part of the distance, and we walked it together. During the walk he asked me how old I supposed Mrs. Crothers was, and I snubbed him promptly and properly — with the fiat of a metaphorical shovel on his impudent mouth — but he scarcely noticed it.
I saw little of him after that, though I often saw his name in the papers as a daring and successful aviator and once, when I went to Belmont Park, I saw him make a flight. Miss Gillespie was there, too, and so was Kitty Crothers.
After the flight Gurwicz stood with his back toward us, talking to Miss Gillespie, and it was she who pointed us out and brought him over to speak to us. He was a trifle condescending, and I thought the least little bit in the world annoyed.
He paid more attention to me than he did to Mrs. Crothers, and I tried to drive him up to her gun by belittling his attempts to fly. But he avoided her carefully, enduring my raillery as the lesser of two evils, and Miss Gillespie glared defiance at me in a way that betokened more than a passing interest in him.
His relief when he was called away to attend to one of his machines was too evident to be mannerly, and I turned to Kitty with a smile and some little joke about ingratitude. To my amazement, she was on the verge of tears.
"Please take me away from here," was all she would say, and I took her away, wondering.
"The little beast!" she burst out presently.
"Which of 'em?" I ventured.
"Paul, of course. I can't blame her. I meant her all along to many him. She's just what he needs. She'll worship him, and be blind to his follies and conceit; and she'll nurse him when he's sick, and keep house for him, and think he's a superior sort of god.
"Even if he beats her, she'll forgive him. I'm not sure he won't beat her! I almost hope he will! I'm sure he's beast enough. Fancy his leaving me like that without a word of apology or regret!"
"But didn't you want to marry 'em off`? Wasn't that the idea all along?" I remarked inquiringly.
"Of course it was."
"Well, you've got your own way, so what's the trouble? There's nothing left to do but choose the wedding presents. Mine's going to be an art pepper- pot — a small one, to hold red pepper."
"I believe I shall get mine at the ten-cent bazaar."
"I would if I were you. But what are you so dreadfully annoyed about? You married him just as soon as you chose to the girl you picked out for him. I don't see."
"Oh, how stupid men are! Can't you see that he broke loose before I intended him to, and not in the way I meant him to at all. Instead of my despising him, as I really did all along, he despises me. The little beast thinks I was in love with him, and that he turned me down. Oh, I could kill myself!"
"You will have better luck next time. You will have more experience, and will know how to manage the next campaign better."
"Never again! Men aren't worth the trouble. If you're good to them and take an interest in them, they despise you for it, and imagine that you do it simply because you're in love with their superior souls. They haven't got any souls! Oh, I hate men!"
"Try keeping chickens, Kitty — they might be more grateful, and you'd have the satisfaction of wringing their necks if they weren't."
"I believe I shall follow your advice. I'd do anything that would help me to forget Paul Gurwicz."
"Believe me, Kitty, we'll forget him this evening at dinner. Come on, let's get back to Broadway."
I WENT to India to hunt tigers. But I came away looking for something else.
It was many months before I saw a tiger, in full moonlight, in the graveyard at Mount Abu in Rajputana, where the legends on more than half the tombstones read "from wounds inflicted by a tiger." He was insolent, arrogant, splendid, and I think he knew I watched him. At intervals he stood snarling and muttering as if he sneered at the names on the tombs of the men who had died of wounds from his ancestors' fangs. It was a weird experience. I had no rifle. I could only watch.
Another man also watched, squatting like an idol on the cemetery path. He was a turbaned, smoothshaven Hindu, clothed in white, and he betrayed no fear. The tiger, moving carelessly; with his great weight slouched below his shoulder blades, went straight toward him. But he appeared to me to take no notice of the tiger. The brute walked past him, almost touching him, and then leaped the cemetery wall and vanished. But when I approached the Hindu, he got up and ran. To this day, I don't know the answer to the questions I wanted to ask. But this subsequently happened:
I announced my intention to shoot a tiger. Being young, brash, ignorant, and very unwise, I made the announcement at the Club that was full of people who really knew India. They smiled. A friendly subaltern of my own age, who had been refused leave to go tiger-hunting, relieved his own bitterness and enlightened my ignorance, by request, after several drinks:
"You damned idiot, the tigers here are kept for Viceroys and Princes of Wales and Maharajahs. You haven't a chance. They'll never let you see a tiger. How? Easy. Someone will tip off the natives, and the tigers will be driven away before you can get anywhere near them."
However, I was not without resources. I had a "boy," a fifty-year-old, one- eyed Moslem, whose only noticeable virtue was pride of service. I explained the situation to him. After due reflection, he delivered a verdict that "our" honor was involved: honor might be restored at a cost of ten rupees for traveling expenses. He was absent four days and returned with a plan. He explained:
"Down on the plains below Abu they are all ignorant Hindus who believe in hundreds of gods. Sahibs, as a rule, are disrespectful to the gods. So if you, sahib, should show some respect, it would create a good impression and something might happen."
He then told of a tiger that was killing men almost daily. He said a very distinguished personage had been appealed to, to come and shoot the tiger; and might come soon. But meanwhile men died daily.
We departed by stealth that night on pony-back. And as we took the moonlit trail that plunged downward through the jungle, the white-turbaned Hindu, whom I had seen in the cemetery several nights before, followed us, on foot, keeping his distance, down, down, downward toward the oven-hot plains.
The heat was atrocious. I lay most of the following day on a cot, in a place called a dâk bungalow, watching scorpions and snakes and rats. About four in the afternoon, I loaded my brand new double-barreled Express, which had never been fired, and followed my servant for a couple of miles through dry, sparse jungle. He kept coaching me over his shoulder and warning me how to behave at the journey's end. So when we came to a beautiful little Hindu shrine, I sat down on a hot rock and let him pull my boots off. I approached the shrine barefooted, horribly afraid of scorpions and very skeptical.
The shrine was enclosed on three sides, but open in front. Against the rear wall was an image of an Indian god. With his back to the image, beside a small stone altar, sat a very ancient-looking hermit, with a long beard and long hair, wearing nothing but a loin-cloth. I squatted in the dust outside the shrine. The old hermit chanted a mantram—one of those beautiful Indian hymns that wail in a minor key toward Infinity. He bestowed what I believe was a blessing, in a language of which I understood not one word. I laid a small offering in the dust and backed away, more skeptical than ever, and humiliated. I had behaved like a fool. What had a hermit to do with a tiger?
But I had that mantram in my ears. I remember it now.
Angry, sitting down to have my boots pulled on, I caught sight of that white- robed Hindu; he was peering at me from between two trees. When I saw him, he ran. Presently, I started back toward the dâk bungalow, and had walked about two hundred yards, when I noticed some monkeys making a big fuss in the trees at the edge of a nullah. My servant whispered the ominous word "Bagh!" A moment later a tiger came up out of the nullah straight toward me. It was the man- eating tiger that had terrorized the countryside and that I had seen in Mount Abu cemetery. I killed him with the first bullet ever fired out of my new rifle: the first shot I had ever fired at big game.
Call that luck, if you like. But luck can't account for the hermit. Luck doesn't explain why the tiger walked straight to his death. There was a mystery. Was the key hidden in the mantram that the hermit sang before the image of his old stone god?
MANY years ago, in Rajputana, the writer climbed several thousand feet above sea level for a moonlight view of an historic landscape. He was, in those days, an opinionated young Englishman, rather recently from public school, educated in the traditional "white man's burden" theory of empire and in the Church of England attitude toward religion. After months of wandering in India, it was only just beginning to dawn on his not very observant, nor particularly critical, but rather idly curious mind, that virtue is neither racial, national, nor even international, but universal; and that possibly lots of Western theories are wrong.
The effect of that dim perception was humiliating. As it happened, it coincided with a personal dilemma that called for an immediate decision. The result was acute anxiety. There appeared to be a choice of two alternatives, each equally distressing.
A chance-met Indian acquaintance had remarked that when perplexed and baffled he always sought solitude amid the most beautiful surroundings he could find. He had said it was an infallible aid toward reaching wise decisions. He had rather casually mentioned that particular mountain. I don't know to this day whether he knew in advance what I was likely to find near the summit. At any rate, I had decided to try the experiment.
There was a full moon. The trail was easy, but it was a long climb; so it was close on midnight when I neared the summit. On a knoll that commanded the superb view was one wind-bent tree that looked as if it had been painted there by a master artist. Beneath the tree, on a mat, was a native of India wearing a yellow turban; he was accompanied by three younger Indians, who sat a few yards away from him and who appeared to be in a state of trance, as if the marvel of the moonlit view overwhelmed their senses. I did not know in those days that there is any difference between a trance and concentrated meditation. The older man in the yellow turban, on the mat beneath the tree, seemed, however, to be fully conscious and aware of my approach.
Rather than disturb total strangers, with whom I didn't want to talk in any event, I turned aside in search of another view point, where I could be alone with my own thoughts. It was rather irritating to be overtaken presently by one of the younger men, who invited me to come and be seated beneath the tree. I hesitated, almost declined, then yielded suddenly to curiosity. I am quite sure that curiosity was my only conscious motive, but what inspired the curiosity I don't know. I suspect the man under the tree of having used a perfectly legitimate metaphysical means of capturing my attention.
After one glance at me he dismissed his companions. They vanished like soldiers obeying an order, giving the impression that it pleased them to obey. Then, offering me a Kashmir shawl as protection against the cool night breeze, he signed to me to sit beside him. For about ten or fifteen minutes he appeared to gaze at the view.
I studied him. I recalI a very definite sensation that, though his gaze was in another direction, he was studying me. I felt intensely curious, wondering whether he might be one of those mysterious gurus that are so often told about but seldom met. He didn't look like an ascetic or a specially saintly person, but I began to conceive a respect for him that may have had something to do with my not starting the conversation.
He was a healthy-looking, brown-eyed man, clean-shaven and no darker than an Italian; broad-shouldered, deep-chested and apparently muscular. He almost exuded health and cleanliness. His first words were a question:
"Sahib, has this beauty introduced you to the calm that you came seeking?"
It had not yet, and I said so. His question even brought on a kind of mental panic as I remembered how soon I must decide the problem that had made sleep impossible. He asked another question:
"Are you familiar with poetry?"
"No more of it than they made me memorize at school."
"Painting? Sculpture? Architecture?"
"But you do seek relief from worry?"
"And inspiration? You came craving an idea?"
"Yes—although I don't know how you knew that."
He chuckled. "That is no secret. I saw the color of your thought from far off. But if we should discuss your trouble, that might lead to making much of it. To flatter trouble is to feed it. Shall I not rather speak of the remedy?"
Leaping at once to a wrong conclusion, I supposed he was probably one of those professional fortune tellers who read their client's thought and predict as a surely forthcoming event, what the client wishes might happen. Thousands of Indians can do that trick. Without enthusiasm I invited him to say what he pleased.Promptly he surprised me with another question, "What is beauty?"
Receiving no answer, he continued, "You perceive the beauty of this valley beneath?"
"Yes. I came here for that purpose."
"And the beauty of the moonlit mountains, and of the purple sky and the stars?"
"Then what is it? Since you perceive it, tell me what beauty is."
He waited, but I could think of nothing better than a dictionary answer, learned at school: "Beauty is a quality of what we see, or hear, or feel."
He was silent for so long that I supposed he was disgusted with the answer. But after a while I followed the direction of his gaze and saw what he was looking at. Along a ledge of rock to our right, slightly higher than where we sat, a tiger had crept into view, not fifty feet away. The magnificent beast stood in full moonlight, motionless, gazing down into the valley, apparently unconscious of our presence. The man beside me didn't whisper; he murmured, so that his voice was like one of nature's sounds:
"You perceive his beauty? Be aware of it. Look! It is only ugliness that kills. There is no harm in beauty. But does brother Bagh perceive the beauty of the view? Not he! He looks for food for his belly. Brother Bagh must live thousands of lives before beauty, to him, will mean other than cunning and strength and a full meal."
The tiger caught the sound of his voice, turned suddenly, stared at us, snarled and disappeared.
"Strong!" said the man beside me. "But he is afraid! Are you also a tiger, that you also are afraid?"
I had not been conscious of the slightest fear of the tiger. I said so.
"But you're afraid of beauty! You can't define it. A tiger can't even perceive it. If your definition were right, there would be no beauty if there was none of us to see, hear, feel it. Is beauty then nothing? Why do you fear nothing?"
"I am not afraid of it."
"Then why do you hide from it behind a definition? Was it not for the same reason that the tiger just now ran away from us?"
"I don't think so. The tiger suspected we might have guns."
"The tiger defined us as dangerous. Was he right?"
"Conscious of his own ferocity, the tiger saw ferocity in us. He fled from his own ignorant opinion of you and me. And what have you fled from, that brought you climbing hither in the night?"
"Something personal," I said. "I don't care to discuss it." But I felt that was a graceless answer, so I changed the subject, a bit awkwardly:
"I have heard," I ventured, "of people who can control tigers mentally. Did you control that one?"
"Did he harm you or me?" he retorted. Then he chuckled. After a moment he said, "It is true that tigers obey impulse. But they don't discriminate. They obey the impulse, whatever it is. Are you a tiger, that you obey impulse—whatever it is? Do you define impulse also as a quality—perhaps of what you do?"
I replied: "I suppose the quality of what I do depends upon the nature of the impulse."
Then he asked a strange question,
"What are the dimensions of an impulse?"
I was silent. I could think of no answer.
"How would you distinguish," he asked, "between a spiritual, all-wise impulse that awakens healthy energy and an evil impulse that inevitably harms, and ultimately, somewhere, sometime, brings its offspring home to its begetter?"
I answered, "No one can distinguish. It's a harsh world, and whatever we do, someone suffers. We rob Peter to pay Paul. We can't help it."
He paused again, while I thought of the alternatives between which I must choose on the following day. They were humiliating, cruel. I dreaded both.
"Shall I tell you what beauty is?" he asked after a while.
"If you please."
"No. It must be as you please. Ask, and I will tell you."
"Beauty is a dimension of spirit."
He let that sink in, while I gazed at the moonlit- valley, and the mountains, bathed, drenched in beauty.
But the mountains were matter, not spirit. Beauty a dimension?
It was several minutes before he spoke again: "Beauty is the first of spirit's infinite dimensions that we learn to recognize. It is not with the eyes, but with the spirit, that we perceive beauty. The eyes see matter, but the soul sees spirit. Trust your soul, and you shall see miracles. The beauty that your soul perceives is a dimension of the life that knows no death."
"But we die," I remarked. "The age of miracles is dead, if there ever was such an age. I have seen plenty of so-called miracles, performed by so-called holy men— yogis and people like that. Most of them were plain fakes. The rest were of no practical use whatever."
"Were they beautiful?" he retorted.
"No. They seemed to me stupid. Some of them were revolting. Why should one want to stick knives in himself? Or to be able to sit staring at the sun? Or to be buried alive for fourteen days? Or to walk on fire?"
"One should not wish things," he answered. "But is it our business what other men do? What do you do?"
I laughed. I can almost hear the echo of my own laugh, thirty-five years later.
"Do?" I said. " 'Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble.' I am no exception. I get into trouble."
"Is there any beauty in your trouble?" he asked.
There was a woman. She was more beautiful than any other woman I had ever seen. But I didn't speak of her. I said:
"It seems to interest you, so I'll tell you this much—mine is a damned grim predicament. There's no beauty in that. If I can't find a practical solution, before tomorrow—"
He interrupted. It was the only time he did interrupt, looking straight at me, speaking not loud but with spastic vehemence, as if he warned me of danger:
"Practical? Sahib, the only practical solutions are mystical ones, since they bring newness. The impractical ones are the brain-bred phantasies that feed desire. Is it mystically wise, or beautiful, to lend one's strength to fear by determining how cruel fear shall be? Did we do that to the tiger? Nay! We perceived his beauty. And what happened?"
"Are you telling me," I asked him, "that a mystic can solve any problem?"
He looked at me again. "I am telling you this: the key to mysticism, and to all the limitless perfection of the higher law, is Beauty. As it penetrates our conciousness, it heals, and harms no one. Meditate on Beauty, and your own soul—your higher consciousness—will lead you, gradually, into—"
"Must one go into a trance?" I interrupted. "Has one got to be like those yogis who sit cross-legged, and breathe once a minute, and go for days without food and drink? You don't look to me like a man who does that kind of thing."
"Are those things beautiful?" he answered. "Sahib, meditate on beauty. It unfolds, little by little, and one by one, the true dimensions of Reality. Then the unreal and the cruel fade like darkness before sunlight. Magic, remember, is nothing but spiritual law applied to material needs."
I remarked, "I have heard of black magic. Is that spiritual?"
"Yes." he answered. "But is it beautiful to build on cruelty, hatred, scorn—and to use lies as weapons? It is learned, too soon, by those who use gray magic, which looks less ugly."
"What is gray magic?"
"It is the use of beautiful words as a glittering means to cruel and selfish ends."
"But how can anyone help being selfish?"
"Is beauty selfish?" he retorted. "Sahib, I am telling you what ten thousand years of selfish self-affliction, and austerity, and learning of long words, could never teach."
"Is mysticism incompatible with normal activities?" I asked. "Love—business—fun—amusement?"
He laughed. "Try it! A true mystic is a man of action. He thinks, and then does. He does well, because he wills rightly. Sahib, stay here a while and let Reality make us a miracle. I need one also."
Side by side we sat until the stars paled in the sky. At intervals he spoke. I listened. For the most part we were silent. The passionate beauty that drenched those mountains seemed to enter into me, until I felt—I actually knew for moments at a time—that Beauty is a dimension of Reality. We can't create Beauty—it is. We can let it enter into us—become one with it, part of it. And it changes the very substance of consciousness. But no miracle happened—not yet.
When daylight came, we said good-by to each other, and I left him to face my dilemma, which had to be met that morning. The descent of the mountain was a sort of via dolorosa. Instead of having found a solution, I felt more than ever baffled and unable to choose between two grim alternatives, but I tried to cling to the night's experience. Though dread was almost physically sickening, I did at least remember the guru's words; and though I could not, by any effort of will, recall the night's mystical wonder, it had been real. I knew that, at any rate. But the morning's contrast filled me with a kind of gray nostalgia as I approached the drab dâk bungalow, for a bath and a meal before facing the day's unsolved problem.
I was met at the door by a man who was not supposed to meet me until noon. He was an Indian lawyer. I told him curtly that I would call on him and discuss the wretched business at the proper time in his office. He smiled. He produced an envelope. He said:
"But, sahib, I bring good news. Beauty, if you will forgive my humor, has decided that the Beast is after all a victim of his own too chivalrous emotion. These, sir, are your letters. There will be no lawsuit. Will you kindly give me a receipt?"
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